Monday, October 31, 2005


It's Halloween, and at our house, it's not just for kids.

My 76-year-old mother-in-law has decorated her heart out. We have three scarecrows keeping watch on our front porch, pumpkins glow in the yard, a witch hangs from a broom on our flag pole, a ghost peeks out of the spouting above the garage, and a mammoth black spider lays in wait on a giant web near our front door.

A sign in our driveway warns visitors to TURN BACK NOW ... or else. Nobody pays any attention.

But inside it's even spookier. Another gigantic black fuzzy spider rests on the living room window ... scarecrows and pumpkins decorate the fireplace mantel ... a fiber optic pumpkin sparkles on the TV ... a demon mounted on the wall sings "Wild Thing" every time you open the front door ... a stuffed witch wiggles all over the family room singing "Happy Halloween" when her foot is pressed ... and orange and black balloons sway from every light fixture, doorway, mirror and ceiling fan in the house. Fall flowers and leaves adorn every table and mantel.

But this is nothing.

Wait until I tell you about our Christmas decorations.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

It's Good To Spend A Few Days With Mama

... it reminds me of why I left home at seventeen. Whew. I love her to death, ya know? But man, she can zap it out of me. Knock the wind right out of my sail, I'll tell ya.

Michael and I returned last night from a three-day trip to visit Daddy and Mama in their beautiful home in Ocala, Florida. It's good to remember the special things about them, which are plenty. Along with a ton of memories, precious and full of love, I feel at this time of my life spending time with my parents are moments to be cherished. Now and in the future. It's time to remember how great it was to be a kid and hone in on only the good times. Honor them, like I'm supposed to.

Aspirations that often fall short.

Dad and I have so much in common, with our talks about the old days ... sharing stories, pictures, and memories of relatives long deceased. My interest in history is shared by that of his own. I could listen to his tall tales all night long, for as a writer I draw from him. While we talk and Daddy replays his childhood memories, Mama rolls her eyes. Daddy bores her. She's heard it all before. She attempts to change the subject numerous times. She'd rather talk about my siblings, or the grandchildren, or the latest illness of one of her friends. Or her favorite TV preacher.

A generally happy woman, Mom is always glad to see me, and has prepared lots of food ... usually her killer roast with gravy and carrots and potatoes all mixed together, mmm-mmm, melts in our mouth. Salad, biscuits, pickles, relish, applesauce, is always on the table. It's a feast. And the pie, let's not forget the pie and ice cream. She shoves every bit of food she can our way, eyeing our plates, making sure we eat it all and taste everything or we hear ... "You don't like relish anymore? Try some olives, dear, your Dad loves them ... how about trying this fresh pineapple and there's melon in the fridge if you want some ... Need anything? How 'bout some coffee? What can I get ya? ..." and on and on and on.

The first evening is fine ... all talk is light ... new projects completed on their house, a new paint job on the shutters, dormers Daddy built in his shop and put on the roof all by himself, new flowers in the yard and the ones that died recently for no reason, the weather, the latest purchase at the garage sale around the corner ... what the doctor said at their last appointment ... little pieces of their lives all pieced together like a pattern for a dress you'll never wear.

I know she's suffered physically. A great deal, actually. She waddles instead of walks and then sits with her feet up a lot. Her eyes are bad, and she'd rather stay home than go anywhere. But one thing's not changed a bit. Her illness has not changed the fact that she's a tough bird. The most opinionated woman I know. Nobody can have one but her.

Somehow, we fell into a little heated discussion about politics, and she called me a damn Democrat! Now I don't consider myself a Republican OR a Democrat, I have always been open minded and vote however I feel, not according to political parties. But it nearly floored me when she said it. And she pissed me off enough that I agreed with her (to piss her off) ... "so what if I'm a Democrat, so what?" (My own faults and flaws mixed with hers is like a powder keg ... always has been.)

"I can't believe I raised a liberal!"

"Mama! I'm entitled to an opinion, but it doesn't mean I love you any less or you love me any less, right?"

She didn't hear a word I said after that. Not a word. I had to just cut off the conversation. Nip it. Stop it. It was going nowhere. There is no opinion in the world more important than hers and she's right, it doesn't matter how good your argument, or what proof you have, or what you say in your defense ... she won't hear it ... she'd die first before she would admit you might be right.

"Let it go, Mom!" I said it three times before she finally ... thank God ... changed the subject.

But there sat Daddy ... in the corner ... smiling from ear to ear ... didn't say a word ... I'm sure he was happy she was nagging somebody else for a change.

Stubborn lady, I swear. And I think, that's why she's still alive. An illness that should've killed her, couldn't. So maybe I should be thankful she's still full of piss and vinegar.

I've taken pride in believing the generation gap between me and my daughter is minimal compared to that of mine and my mama's. And it scares me to death when I hear the same words she would say come out of my mouth once in a while. So I put it in prospective, I am her daughter, nothing will change that. And I love her, despite her closed mind and sharp tongue. Nothing will change that, either. Nothing.

October 31st, Halloween, tomorrow, is their 52nd wedding anniversary. She says she didn't realize at the time that they were married on Halloween, but she did wear a black and orange checked wool suit. I love to remind her she was married on the "devil's holiday" when she starts in about me reading those devilish books, like Harry Potter. Oh well, we could have a pissing match every time we talk, I suppose. But I think, when it gets right down to it, she loves me enough to avoid our differences of opinion ... most of the time.

So ... I'll just keep the conversation light from now on. Keep the trips short, and build good memories, ones that don't hurt. So someday, in the distant future ... all I'll remember are the precious memories about spending a few days with Mama.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

We Find Our Own Way

It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

A quote. A simple one, yet so true. You can take us anywhere, and we're writing ... in our heads ... always listening for that word or phrase that we can use or turn to fit the story. Collecting ideas like some people collect sea shells or stamps. It never stops.

We cut out articles, clip pictures from magazines, gather quotes, we're always searching for new pieces to fit or become a story. A writer never leaves the house without pen and paper. Some people look at a crime scene or children playing at the beach or a farmer plowing his field and they see ... a crime scene, children playing at the beach, and a farmer plowing his field.

A writer sees, hears, tastes, feels, and smells a story. Some of us even dip into that sixth sense and go beyond the story ... we interview characters and see the plot unfold first hand.

Crazy? Maybe.

But some days I think we have to be a little crazy to be a writer. We have to find our own way, every writer's process is different. There are no rules when it comes to gathering ideas and finding the piece of the story that's missing. In all of the books I've read on writing, each author relays their own theory and ideas as to how to find the muse and the inspiration to write the next bestseller.

Sometimes you wake up and it's there, on occasion it springs out of you like a geyser, and don't kid yourself, more often than not ... we're fact finding, researching, listening, gathering outside information to fill in the blanks or store up for the next story.

We can read every book on writing from every great author that thinks they have the answer to it all ... but in the end ... we have to find our own way.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Uphill Journey

If you've read my Journey 2005 on my web site, you'll see wonderful things have happened to me on this pathway to publication. Many famous authors and agents have crossed my path, and opportunities that don't ordinarily happen in the life of a struggling writer.

But what I don't tell you that I'm letting slip out on this blog, is that those opportunities I talk about, the conferences, writer's events, book signings, and chances to see and speak to the right people in the business ... Michael and I go after them like hound dogs after a rabbit. And it's not easy. It takes money, first of all ... believe me, we pinch pennies sometimes, and we make painful decisions of one conference over another. Lots of research goes into Michael's part, we make decisions like which direction is best for my career, or how do we get there from here (in more ways than just the travel,) and how do we allow enough time for me to write that week? I have to write every day.

We don't dilly dally in any city, and while there we seek out the independent book stores and make the rounds. Usually we're lucky and make right decisions, but once in a while we miss the mark and we should've gone to this conference instead of that book signing ... and sometimes our plans fade through no fault of our own.

This week, I was scheduled to be in West Palm Beach, but hurricane Wilma changed that itinerary for me. It devastated the eastern coast of south Florida. The show director called this morning to inform me the show has been cancelled and rescheduled for Dec. 9th through 11th.

The key in promoting oneself is to be flexible. Because all your plans can hit the toilet in one big plop overnight.

The journey to publication is often an uphill climb, it's a tough trek to see your work in print, and even in the best of circumstances ... getting your name out there can be like getting a root canal. Sometimes the process is painful, but is sure feels good when it's done. On to the next event.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Autumn Sundays In The South


It starts on Fridays with High School games. The members of my household, with one eye on ESPN, start to think about their "picks" for Sunday's family football pool. They cover the internet stories, especially the "experts" on They study the statistics and the Sports sections of the daily newspaper. The telephone conversations fly back and forth between my husband and his son on Saturdays. First, they cover their favorite college teams, then ease on into the Pros.

"Who's on the injured list? ... What the hell is wrong with that quarterback? ... That jackass can't keep his hands on the damn ball ... Delhomme is gonna kick butt this week ... Not sure about that Eagles defense, but T.O.'s lookin' good today ... Houston? You picked Houston to win? You crazy?"

By Sunday afternoon I can smell the popcorn and hear the screams from the family room ... "Go baby Go! ... Aww, that was a bad call, ref, you suck!"

And on and on. For five glorious months. And I love every minute of it. It's a well known fact I spend Sundays writing in my office, but I support their every scream, hoot, and holler and sometimes come out to sneak a peak if it sounds more exciting than usual. I can catch up on the scores and who's winning the pool. Even though I don't partcipate, and am no real fan of any particular team, I enjoy the sounds of the family as they laugh and carry on watching their football. The good times they'll remember always. My, how they love this sport. Especially Mama.

Nobody watches as closely as my 76-year-old mother-in-law, whose records for picking winning teams are better than Chris Collinsworth, Chris Carter, Bob Costas, and Dan Marino. In fact, most of my family is better than these guys at picking the winners. Sunday morning, when the majority of the Bible belt is on their way to church, my family gathers round the table to give thanks that New England's not looking too good this year and to gamble on the whether Tennesse will whip Arizona. A debate over Atlanta and New York heats up ... the stakes are high and we're off ... the excitement begins at lunch time Sunday and ends after Monday night's game.

Then it starts all over again the next week.

It's like I always say, the family that picks together, sticks together.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tea With Lee

Held at the Fearrington Barn and sponsored by The Women's Center, author Lee Smith was our hostess and presented featured award-winning author Elizabeth Spencer. Elizabeth has written nine novels, seven short-story collections, a memoir and a drama. One of her novellas, Light in the Piazza, was adapted into a Broadway musical which has won 6 Tony awards.

A room full of Southern women ... all sipping tea, coffee, or lemonade. A couple hats, lots of jewelry, clicks of friends, and a table full of finger food and desserts. It could've been a scene from one of Elizabeth's novella's, over 100 gracious and lovely Southern ladies ... sitting in white chairs next to columns of twinkle lights.

I pictured what it would've looked like had the year been 1945 or 1955 even. Everyone would've worn their favorite hat, dresses, (no pantsuits), gloves, heels, red lipstick, barbie doll hairdo's, and instead of new age music playing softly, it would've been the Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, or a little "Sentimental Journey," possibly.

The styles have changed, but not the protocol. The teas in the South are alive and well. And yesterday, was a wonderful glimpse into the writings of a true legend in the world of Southern Literature. Elizabeth Spencer captured our imaginations as she read from her memoirs and spoke about LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. "A little story that has followed her for years," she said. She reflected on her youth, growing up near the shores of the Gulf, memories that speak to her heart and yet break her heart. The results of the recent hurricanes have certainly affected her.

"Elizabeth writes with passion in all its glory ... " Lee Smith said. "A courageous writer who was not afraid to tackle taboo subjects in the South of the 40s, 50s, and 60s."

The afternoon flew by listening to her speak about the South, of Italy, and all the places she's been that have inspired her as a writer. Before you knew it, it was time for the door prize. Guess who won?

A signed copy of LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, signed by both Lee and Elizabeth. A treasure. But that's not all. A signed copy, by Elizabeth, of the poster from the Broadway play, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. It will look lovely framed and hung on my office wall, don't you think?

Thank you to The Women's Center for this memorable afternoon, and to Lee Smith and Elizabeth Spencer who constantly inspire me to write. To walk in even a few of their footsteps would be to live a dream.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Daydream House

Every morning I wake up to several Suzanne Beecher columns in my email box. Reading them with a cup of coffee is usually how I wake up. I love all the different chapters from books I may or may not purchase. I highly recommend you join her free book club. Her blog is great too. After all these years, I feel like Suzanne and I are old friends. I learn something about her every day.

This morning she writes about the house at the beach she daydreams about. She writes "I know this house well. I've never actually been there, but my "house by the ocean" daydream is very familiar to me. It's the fantasy that I always start thinking about when I feel like I need to regroup. It's a great daydream."

When I read this, it startled me. Because my house daydream is my favorite regroup daydream. Now that I think about it, it's my only daydream. The difference is that my house is in a meadow in the mountains. High up ... with a view of the Blue Ridge ... for miles and miles. A log home with a wrap around porch and lots of comfy chairs and rockers on the porch. And a swing. It doesn't look like a resort home, it's an elegant farm house. There's a small barn and a pasture with horses. And quiet. No noise. Just a breeze through the trees and the sounds of birds and deer, and a running stream nearby.

In my daydream, I can drive to the ocean in three hours, if I want. For shopping and a walk in the sand by the ocean. But I prefer to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and live in the mountains. It feels safe there. The seasons change. And the children show up. All of them. For every holiday.

There's a smaller cabin on the land, down by a running creek that leads to a lake. A well-stocked cabin and beautifully decorated. Guests use it. I often have guests, visiting writers that need some solitude. But they enjoy sharing meals at the main house, where I cook mouth pleasing meals and we talk and laugh and read books by a roaring fire from a great stone fireplace made from rock found in the mountain. A bottle of North Carolina wine is opened in the evening, and music floats softly through the house. Two wonderful dogs sit by our feet and stretch, tired from a day of running over a hundred acres of mountain property.

I share Suzanne's dream when it comes to the eclectic feel and the feather bed with the handmade quilts. My house isn't too big, nor is it cramped for space. No way, but the bathrooms are fully loaded with great tubs and soft, plush towels. All kinds of soaps, candles, lotions, and bath salts. Oh yes, and the kitchen is jammed with a full freezer, a stocked bar, and shelves of my favorite dishes and tea cups I've collected over the years. It's a gourmet kitchen with great cook books from my favorite Food Channel cooks, like Paula Deen and Ina Garten.

The morning sun warms the house and the breathtaking views are never the same two days in a row. Ahh yes, it's a daydream alright. But who knows ... maybe someday ... right now, I have to go, I think I hear Pat and Sandra Conroy knocking on my daydream door.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ghosts in Carolina

A few days ago, I wrote about my characters and how they nag me. How they show up at odd times during the day, lean over my shoulder while I write, and insist I make changes or say, "you got that spot on, Sugah" ... anyway, it drew some attention. I received a few emails from other writers who experience the same thing.

I bet you think we're all a little crazy, huh?

You have to be a little crazy to be a writer. Especially a Southern writer. Not everybody who reads your work likes it, but it's fascinating reading nonetheless. Southern writers can go beyond the boundaries of Dixie, but they still have that deep, rich, prose or that plot that demands attention to the end and beyond.

Rummaging though stacks of old books in Reed's Bookstore in Birmingham, I stumbled upon an old trade paperback, GHOSTS WITH SOUTHERN ACCENTS AND EVIDENCE OF EXTRA SENSORY PERCEPTION. A book of short stories and experiences compiled by Flo Hampton Scott and published by Southern University Press in 1969. Stories like "Be Proud You Got A Body," "The Sheep-killer Ghost," "Many Folks Met The Ghosts of Evergreen," and "Mr. Tweeter And The Mean Haint." If you can find this book, buy it. It's a fun read this time of year. And, for me, an account of what Southerners believe and choose to pass on.

My point is ... Southerners believe in things beyond the limits of their five senses. First of all, we're all taught about faith from the time we start Sunday school classes. Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. From the Bible, we learn all kinds of stories and scriptures that support a world beyond what we know. We believe in the spiritual. We've seen evidence of angels and demons in many revival tents and tabernacles. Real or contrived, it makes no difference. "Southerners own their haints," or so my grandma used to say.

So as a writer, for my antagonist to talk to me in the middle of the night, I'm not alarmed at all. If I'm awake, I may go to the office and rewrite a little, but sometimes I just roll over and tell him "this can wait 'til mornin', get on out of here. Let me sleep a little, I'll talk to ya later." He generally leaves me alone. Until morning.

Are there such things as ghosts? I'm reading Jodi Picoult's SECOND GLANCE. It's a facinating story on a tribe of Indians in Vermont in which their burial grounds are being threatened by a land developer. I would think there's a good amount of truth in this novel. I've heard thousands of stories over my lifetime that are supposedly true. My own mama has had experiences that if it would've been anybody else, I never could believe it.

Writers are sensitive to words heard, whether they be audible or of the mind. It doesn't matter. We're recording all the time. And what I believe makes no difference. It's how I use my beliefs to make you believe that interests me. Ahh, the power of the writer ... no wonder we're visited often.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Age? Weight?

If you're like me, or most people over the age of 35, you hate those questions. I don't mind the age question so much anymore. I'm okay with it. I've learned to accept the fact that even though I feel 21 inside, I know that 51 doesn't look like 21 anymore. And sometimes I feel like I've earned my battle scars.

But weight? None of us want to go there. Even my skinny butt friends think they have weight problems. The yo-yo syndrome has plagued me and many women all our lives. There's big bucks in weight loss products, pills, potions, exercise equipment, and books. Even celebrities get on the bandwagon - believing they have the solution to obesity. From Richard Simmons to Dr. Phil, everybody "has an answer." Every authority on weight loss is out there pedaling their books and theories with the answers to your fat loss.

Uh-huh. And most of us, have have been dumb enough to try them all. Wasting thousands of dollars every year on all the solutions to our battle of the buldge. And our metabolism just keeps on slowing down ... year after year. Especially when you eat lots of FRIED food, which is a way of life down South.

Remember when you could run all day as a kid? Never get tired? Swim until you were one giant prune? Ride your bike for miles? Then, over the years ... you bogg yourself down with all the cares of the world you never had as a kid. And you get fat.

Maybe the secret is to be care-free. Simplify your life. Who knows. I think the trick is, to come up with your own solution. Find your own way. What works for you. I personally hate routine. No two days are alike for me. So that makes it difficult. But somewhere we all have to find time to eat better and exercise more. I think it all boils down to that.

Aging is a process and not a very nice one. If we can get healthy and remain healthy along the way, it makes it less painful to deal with. I don't mind aging, I hate getting winded walking up a hill.

Here's to your health!

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Jodi Picoult, An Author of Research

I could’ve stayed until morning listening to this phenomenal woman speak. The Stanley County Library in Albermarle held a fundraiser (dinner and speaker) this past Saturday evening with Jodi Picoult. Author of such great books as Second Glance, My Sister's Keeper, and Vanishing Acts.

Wow. And Jodi can talk. She relayed her stories around her research, career as a writer and her books with such enthusiasm and exciting detail. Jodi goes to any length to research her stories. And she doesn’t write what she knows. She writes what she learns. Take a look at her work and her web site at

Tiny, petite, and full of boundless energy, she’s funny. Her warm personality gives you the feeling you’ve known her all your life, or that possibly she’s a distant cousin come to visit. No two books alike, her stories are often dark, but sprinkled with humor. She's an amazing speaker who kept us spellbound for over an hour with her travels and experiences as she learned about firefighting, ghosthunting, living with the Amish, and much more.

One of the great authors of this century, Jodi has not received near enough praise and recognition for her work, in this writer’s opinion. She may have found a new place to do some research, however. In her rare visit to the land of tobacco and cotton, Jodi was amazed she wasn’t seeing more plantations and visions of the Old South as she drove past strip malls and car dealerships and mentioned it to her driver. He promptly pulled the car over, stopped, then turned around so he could look her in the eyes and said, “You burned ‘em all.” Proof positive that even after all these years and generations later, Southerners still remember the "war of Northern agression" like it was yesterday.

I just hope he smiled after he said it. I don’t want Jodi to think we aren't ladies and gentlemen, after all, even if she is a Yankee. Come back to the South anytime, Jodi. As you can see, we reek with story.

I believe Jodi Picoult could travel anywhere for research and write another bestseller. She’s timeless. She's class. She's a beautiful person.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Joyce Ann King

Former beauty queen, a debutante of the 50s, and the Jackie O. of the South, (clothes-wise.) When I think of my mama, I think of a spotless house, a house that Home Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, or HGTV would kill to photograph, a perfect yard, a wardrobe from here to eternity, and a home cooked meal-three times a day. I think of children, and laughing until my stomach hurts. I think of her silly and often goofy way of asking too many questions or saying something stupid and off the wall. Sweets. Mama loves anything sweet … cookies, cakes, pies … she adores pastries. Unfortunately, she passed that on to her all of her offspring.

And I think of a workhorse.

Good God in heaven, the woman could work like a pack mule. Up before dawn running the vacuum by my bed, and still scrubbing floors at two in the morning, then fix a full course breakfast by seven. I swear she never stopped. I’ve seen her take a heavy bucket of tar pitch to the roof and spend hours patching holes on a hot day! She’s dug ditches, laid carpet, mowed and tended to two acres of flowers and gardens, cooked endless meals, ironed and starched mountains of ruffled 100% cotton curtains, wiped snotty noses and diapered too many baby butts. And still looked pretty for church on Sundays.

But it was what she wanted. Her biggest desire in life was to have a family and a beautiful home. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It's still her comfort zone. She was and is, a happy woman. And she passed on that desire of home and hearth to me. She had no thought of leaving her babies and working outside her home. Mama was there for us, every day. We had her at a moment’s notice. We still do.

In her seventies now, illness has tried to bring her down, and we almost lost her a time or two a couple years ago … but the woman is amazing. She takes a licking and keeps on ticking! She's like a prizefighter in a ring who won't go down no matter the punch.

My mama’s stories all center around her horrible childhood. The story she tells that breaks my heart is about the roach in the roast. She knows what it means to go hungry. I suppose that's why she's known for force-feeding her children and her guests. Then, there are her memories of giving birth to her five children. She holds nothing back—believe me, relaying her labor pains as clear today as the day I was born.

She makes no bones about how she loves us all, but loves us all differently. We’ve all given her major hissy fits. I think she’d have strangled us a few times if she could’ve got away with it. But over the years, she's learned not to worry so much and has slowed down ... some. At least we try to restrain her, and it’s not easy. Time has put some Band-Aids over her wounds, but it often hurts me to see her getting older. I hate it.

She’s proud of her grandchildren, though. Carries on about them, you’d think they were made of gold or something. All nine of them. Aaron, Jillian, Britney, Bethany, Sara, Samuel, Kelsey, Shaina, and Marissa. And her two great grandsons, Evan and Caleb.

I made her a grandma when she was only 39. Can you imagine that? It’s her world. My daddy and her grandchildren. It’s all she talks about.

She’s had her moments in the sun. She was and still is, despite having to take a ton of drugs like Prednisone, a striking woman, and kind. Very kind.

My mama has learned she can talk to God in her living room; she doesn't need to be in church to hear His voice. Her childlike faith is the basis for her many spiritual revelations, after all the woman has heard, felt, and seen things that most people only read about, or see in movies, or think people like her are crazy. Nah, Mama's just open to the Spirit, "ain't nothin' strange about that," she says. For her, talking to her heavenly Father is no different than me picking up the phone and calling my own daddy. She's the most spiritual woman I know.

My life and my mother’s life are nothing alike. She’s been loved for over 51 years by the same man. Her childhood a blur, a family of alcoholics and siblings that didn’t give a damn about her most of her life, she’s still a peacemaker.

Today is her birthday … she’ll never read this … computers are as foreign to her as the man in the moon. She won’t let daddy have one, it "doesn't go with the d├ęcor of my house." So Daddy still uses his manual Royal to type and never complains. Her home is "her" castle. He worships the ground she walks on. And she in turn, caters to his every need. A near perfect union.

She was born, Joyce Ann Oaks, on October 16, 1934. She lived many years in Alabama, Tennessee, and Summersville, WV. She attended Nicholas County High School, which is where she met Daddy. Darrel King fell in love with her the moment he laid eyes on her. She was, and still is, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Please give us many, many more to celebrate.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Be A Fearless Writer

How does one write with no fear? Fear of what?

Fear that you may come off looking like an idiot on paper? Fear of pissing somebody off? Fear of what your "family might think." Fear of making stupid grammar and spelling errors. Fear of ... well, you name it ... I'm sure we could make a long list.

As a writer, I've learned that passion for your craft overcomes most fear. Eventually, you'll develop editing skills or hire one. And if you let fear stop you, you're really not a writer. If your story is worth reading, then write it, if only for yourself.

Look at the massive amount of books in the world. Do we like all of them? No. Are they all rivoting stories of wonder and magic? No. Are they brilliant pieces of literature to pass on to future generations? I certainly hope not. What do they all have in common? They're published.

Some editor, somewhere, liked it.

I know the competition is tough. I've heard all the statistics and have read the realities and horror stories of the publising world. I subscribe to Publishers Weekly and watch it carefully. I suppose it all boils down to that old cliche of believing in yourself.

Author, Diana Gabaldon once said to me ... in fact, she wrote it down when she signed my copy of DRUMS OF AUTUMN ... three simple things 1. read 2. write 3. don't stop.

Go to my website and read the poem on the contact me page - SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER - then shake all the fear out somehow. We must not live in fear. We cannot fear the future. We therefore, WILL NOT write for fear of what other's think, fear our own inadequacies, or for fear itself. (Darn, if Roosevelt wasn't on to something when he said that ...)

Fearless ... one of my favorite words. If you know me, you know that's true.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Life In The Slow Lane

It's one of the reasons I love the South. Everything, and I mean everything, is just a little slower down here.

Of course, it can get a little frustrating in traffic, or when you need a plumber. We don't honk our horns much or use turn signals, and service people could come anytime within the next 90 days. Just be sure and be home for 90 days, hard to tell when he might just show up. Then, you never know, it's very possible your grandma knew his grandma and after an hour of shootin' the bull with the plumber and drinking the last of your sweet tea, you're invitin' him to dinner and he's callin' his grandma ... "guess who I'm havin' dinner with?"

People do good work, just don't expect it done when you want.

I've been to Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City a few times in the past couple years, and it's like waking up after surgery getting back to North Carolina. Or recovering from a bad cold, or the flu. I'm a country girl. I like saying hello to strangers. I enjoy taking an hour or two for lunch. Seems I rushed through the first fifty years of my life ... I'm not wasting a single moment in the next fifty. Oh sure, I enjoy my computer and my cell phone and I'm not interested in going back to the 50s. But when I can ... I'm gonna sit back with my feet up, go to lunch with my girlfriends, have romantic dinners with my husband, take a drive to the mountains for no reason, open all the windows and breathe the country air while sipping coffee on the deck.

There are so many horrific catastrophes and problems in the world. So much injustice and heartache. It covers the news media, it's why CNN was created. You've got to be aware, care, and be a good citizen. Contribute. But you've got to stay sane too. That's why people move to the South, in my opinion.

It's just a little slower down here.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

My Definition Of A Rare Book

I finished my second reading through one of my favorite books, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA. I love this novel, but I have a hard time with the ending. Understandable, if you've read it. Dorothy Allison's award winning epic will forever be a timeless piece of Southern literature. (In my mind, at least.) A dark and moving tale of growing up poor in the not-so-distant past of the South.

If I'm not writing, I'm reading. Sometimes two and three books at a time. Well, you know what I mean. When I need a break from the keyboard, I kick back with a book. By the end of the day, the strain on the old eyes results in eyedrops and aspirin.

I think I belong to five book clubs and subscribe to way too many newsletters. Online and otherwise. Reading, a passion, sometimes cuts into my writing time. A problem that not's unusual to most writers. Usually, I can find a stopping place and get back to work.

But even after the second time through, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA kept me reading for three days with few breaks. I love those kinds of books. They're rare. Rare indeed. I love to read them, but more than that ... I want to write them.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Out Of The Dark

Twenty years ago this month, I started my search for a way out of the dark.

I'm taking the liberty to be a little preachy today. I was raised to be a conservative. A religious zealot. A Bible believing fundamentalist. Hard-core Pentecost. What it says is what it means. Church three and four times a week, two hours of prayer time every Wednesday night, and at least one forty day fast a year. I watched people run down the aisle and scream for redemption. Like if they hollered loud enough, made a big enough spectacle of themselves, they’d be sure to reach the ear of God. Our lives revolved around the church, its people, its sole pastor, and its rules.

What a life, eh? As women, our choices were few.

I was told because I went to a certain church, believed this way, that I was “better off” than everybody else. I figured with all we had goin’ for us, we were God’s chosen people, not the Jews. In the 70s, I just knew the rapture was going to take place. My kids would never see high school, and why save for the future? Why buy a house? No need to save for your child’s education. Why bother? Give every extra dime to the church to win the lost through the media of television. In fact, don’t have children. Not in this day and age. Don’t bring children into this world of sin. It’s less time and money you’ll have to give to the church!

I grew up with the notion of ask and ye shall receive. I don’t think it's that simple. I think you can ask until your blue in the face, and you’ll get what you get. Whether you deserve it or not. I’m not sure about divine intervention. I’ve seen too much to the contrary.

I’ve seen many pay a huge price for their sanity to get out from under the heaviness of “scared religion” in more than just one church. It ain't easy. Many never recover. Never feel worthy, or good enough, ever again. The idea that salvation comes from a single moment of divine intervention infuriates me. I know men and women who are genuinely evil. In their mind, they’ll ask for forgiveness on their deathbed and think they’ll be alright. Mmm-mmm. Can you swallow that? Not me. But that’s okay. I sure don't have the answers about all that, and neither does anybody else no matter how divine they lead you to believe they are.

And yet I know – salvation is a gift. You don’t have to get all washed up before you accept it. But what bothers me, though, is the way it’s used as a means to lift one’s self up above other people. Or as a quick fix when it all goes down the toilet.

We believed that our church was the only worthy church. We were basically a lower to middle class congregation, but honestly believed we were exceptional in some way. Really beautiful and really smart people, we thought. Kissed by Jesus.

Everybody else was background noise and bound for the flames of hell.

Then things fell apart. The bottom dropped out twenty years ago for me.

These days, I feel light and thankfully delivered from all that bondage. It took years and years, but I had to relearn all about the love of God, and at times I questioned whether there was a God. Religion nearly ruined me. Nearly killed me.

But since then, a lot of hypocrites have been uncovered. Many more still remain in churches that have become subtler over time and remain just as dangerous as they ever were.

I’m grateful and thankful, I don't believe in scare ‘em to death religion anymore—haven’t believed it for nearly twenty years now. I became spiritual and shunned religion. I don't shun someone who doesn't believe like I do anymore. I'm one of the few true survivors.

I like the fact that God gave me a brain to think for myself. I don’t necessarily agree with the left or the right. I’ll live and work beside anyone that’s of a kind heart, a cool head, and an open mind. I’m thankful my parents fled scared religion long before I found my way out.

Give me my grandma’s little white church in the wildwood, where we praised God and didn’t give a hoot how we looked. Where we were never interrogated when we missed church or felt like we had to out give the next fella in the pew. Give me simple faith. I’ll take emotionalism over religious hierarchy any day. I’ll take a tickle the ear sermon on the mercies of God, rather than a timeline of God’s dispensation of grace that’s about to run out. Or messages of doom and gloom and the end of the world. That stuff nearly stole my youth. No more proverbial prosperity messages shoved down viewer’s throats to pay for TV time, Please! And no, I don’t think you have to be poor to love God. But there’s a difference in giving and giving to get. Yeah, I know the scriptures … pressed down, shaken together, and running over … and I believe them … but I’ll never give again to some over extended televangelist to pay for his expensive cars, suits, satellites, and expensive hotel bills.

Or blindly give until you end up so poor you can’t pay your own bills, and the pastor uses it as a means to control you. It happens … oh yes, it happens.

Twenty years ago, I found my way out. It took almost everything from me. But the one and only thing it gave me was a treasure box full of stories. Deep, dark, religious thrillers to fill volumes. Stories of men and women finding their own way out of the darkness.

Not about snake handlers, necessarily. And not all filled with humor like Steve Martin's, “Leap of Faith.” More present day stories, more frightening, and just as twisted. The working class church congregations are where the stories are. The rich and powerful televangelists have been taking advantage and riding our asses for our last dime since the first black and white TVs rolled off the line. I don't want to see the powerful TV zealots made over into a story that glorifies them. Our stories are glory enough.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, October 10, 2005

What’s Your Glory?

"Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t anticipate a smooth ride. I wouldn’t know what that’s like anyhow.

Allow me to ask you an old question. What do you want most in life? A good marriage, happy healthy children, a peaceful home, more money, a better car, and a job you like?

I know a few of my fundamentalist friends would say—eternal security. To know they would make heaven should the Lord call them home. A guarantee. “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Heard that one? Yeah, me too … many, many times.

Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we loose something special we already had. I know a few individuals who would “amen” that overused statement. They lost their “glory” to another man, or woman, or bad decisions, or in a game of poker.

Is there a burning desire in you somewhere … for financial success, to retire perhaps, to get healthy, maybe take a trip, spend more time with your family, a desire … a wish … a hope … a dream?

Things we want … how about being taken seriously … respect. (Every time I go to Ohio.)

Have you ever looked hard at someone’s dress, suit, or pair of shoes and knew they didn’t shop in Wal-Mart? You walk right past stores like Saks and Nordstrom’s, knowing you can’t even afford to walk in.

Ever watch your husband or wife stare at a perfect body and wonder how the hell you were supposed to compete with that?

How many times have you caught yourself staring at a good-looking couple, obviously in love, and you can’t speak for the hunger in your throat? I have. Many times in years past.

Or maybe you know of a family whose bed of roses only had a few thorns, if any. Know any family like that? I do. Cushy, cushy lives. Jealous? Do we begrudge them their happiness? We shouldn’t, you know.

Did you ever drive down a street of beautiful homes and imagine living in this one or that one? How about at night, ever peek in the windows as you’re driving by; see a beautiful Christmas tree all lit up, or a winding staircase to a balcony on an upper floor with chandeliers twinkling overhead in the darkness?

Ever long to be needed, wanted?

Have you been invited to a party at a friend or co-workers beautiful home and wonder, how the hell did they get so friggen lucky?

Ever walk past a BMW or a nice new car and fantasize what it would be like to walk in and pay cash?

What would be your greatest glory? Do you associate receiving glory as you amass possessions or become successful? What is the true meaning of glory? How much time do you waste reaching for it?

I look at my husband who suffered the extreme pain of being a parent – loosing a child, and his greatest glory is different now than it was in his youth, I’m sure. These days, his desires revolve around the love of his family, and finding his purpose in life. He would say his glory is my glory, I’m sure.

I drive past a cemetery and look at the name on a headstone and imagine … who they were, where did they live, how did they die, what did they do in life, were they loved, and does anyone remember them? How much glory did they have in life?

Glory, as I look at it in my fifties, is just a word. A term used in religious circles a lot. Glory is usually reserved for someone who has accomplished great feats of bravery, or risked their life for another, or invented a cure for cancer.

And don't misunderstand me, there's nothing wrong in wanting to be successful. Not a thing wrong in the achievement of wealth, or finding your pot of gold. Just put it into prospective ... Make the sacrifice and turn down the overtime this week to take your kids to a park. Love your family enough to take the weekend off (and that means from church too) and take that trip to the beach or the mountains. God would approve, I have no doubt. I've seen too many people strain and work so hard for the approval of God, finding His glory, that they lost their families in the process. Where's the glory in that?

For me … I’m with Ralph. My greatest glory is being able to pick myself up ... and start again. Every day.

The rest … if achieved, is just a blessing.

Save the glory for God. He’s the only one I know worthy of adoration.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Back From Birmingham And Hungry

A great trip to my first Southern Women's Show. Pictures will be online soon at my website

One of the executives of the Southern Women Shows sat down with Michael and I not long ago in their corporate office. It was a perfect fit, I'll promote the fact that I'll be at the Southern Women Shows with the local media. Then speak directly to my audience on the Southern Women Show SPOTLIGHT stage.

A unique concept, to sell yourself to your audience at a show like this, perhaps. At least, I don't see any other authors marketing from this end of things. It's tough. It's not an easy sell. The women are there to shop, not sit and listen ... the first day, my half hour presentation went well. I didn't trip over myself, and the audience was responsive enough. I gave them my heart ... who I was, why I write about the South, and excerpts from my book, SOUTHERN FRIED WOMEN.

You have to understand what this show is like. Held in huge convention centers in the middle of a great Southern city, there are literally hundreds of vendors with booths set up in rows between carefully laid down plush carpet over the concrete floors. Vendors who are selling everything ... hair removal, makeup, pet specialty shops, candles, insurance, massages, weight loss, jewelry, home design, kitchen aids, botox, lingerie, flatware, hairpieces, shoes, skin care ... you get the picture ... anything and everything that has to do with what women BUY.

There are three main stages, a stage for cooking demonstrations, a main stage for fashion shows and celebrities like Richard Simmons, and a SPOTLIGHT stage, for vendors who would like to spotlight their products for thirty minutes or so ... and for people like me ... who want to sell their book. There is plenty of radio and TV coverage for these shows and there is always a huge audience of thousands.

However, this audience is spread over three or four days and over the entire floor space of the convention center. So ... at the SPOTLIGHT stage (usually in the middle of the huge room), if you get 5, 10, 20 people who will sit and listen to you ... that's a good crowd. You have a microphone so you can be heard by people in nearby vendor booths, as well as your audience. There are plenty of shoppers milling around and listening too. Maybe for only a few minutes or just stopping long enough to pick up your flyer. But that's enough. That's all you need.

After the first presentation, a bookseller from Destin, Florida came up to meet me and invited me to do a book signing at her store as soon as the book was out. Her compliments on my work was encouraging! A warm and friendly woman who seemed genuine and enthusiastic, and said she could sell my book to her customers!

I also visited the independent booksellers in the Birmingham area, introducing myself and my work. One especially wonderful man, Jim Reed, of Reed Books (GREAT store) gave me a word I'll never forget. "Just remember," he said, "those you think aren't listening ... are really listening." Simple, yet true, I suppose.

Because the next day ... ta da! It was showtime! I had an audience that responded even more. And the result of that presentation gave me the confidence to tackle anything! I can do this.

But it left me hungry. Hungry and waiting for the sweet taste of getting my book into the hands of the masses.

West Palm Beach is next ... then, who knows. Hopefully, a plethora of Southern Women Shows.

Michael and I will travel wherever we have to go to find my readers.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

They Won't Leave Me Alone

Unless you're a writer, you may not understand this. But my characters act like spoiled children sometimes. I swear. Nag, nag, nag. They're in my dreams, in the shower with me, follow me to the Food Lion, and stand behind me every minute of the day.

A couple of them are satisfied with they way they've been written. But a few of them, drive me nuts. They want to be sweeter, or nastier, or scarier, or prettier. They want me to up the ante. One in particular screams a lot. "Raise the stakes!" They whisper in my ear horrible statements like, "kill him off," or "get rid of that gal, she's not important." And Lord, sometimes they ask me to "kill my babies." (Actually, that's a writer's term for sometimes giving up things you've written that you love, in order to make the story better.) From time-to-time, they get me out of bed in the middle of the night! Can you believe that!

They remind me of their goals, their dreams. They sometimes even change their names, absolutely refusing to be called what I've been calling them for months or years even. Pisses me off. They stand over my shoulder, watching me type, and say "um, excuse me ... excuse me, Pam ... but that's not what happened." They argue with one another and sometimes I just have to kick them out of the room for a while.

Occasionally, though, a sweet timid charachter, one that never makes demands, calls me "Sugah" and "Sweetie," she'll just sit and tell me things about her childhood. One guy, a loathsome character flirts with me, he's disgustingly brazen. A particular woman character I hear from, usually not until after the midnight hours, offers to show me secrets about herself she's never told anyone. I usually cave, and we'll sit until morning, rewriting the whole first three chapters, just the way she demands it to be written. I'm a sucker for those characters.

They float in and out of my daily life. Show up at the oddest moments. In the car, on a plane, on the tredmill. But really, I ain't complaining. Necessarily. Because if they ever stopped visiting me, I'd miss them. Some of them, and you can believe this or not, have been around since I was a little girl. My imagination houses them all. And now they're very happy I'm finally putting them on the page, making them come alive. In somebody's heart and mind, besides my own.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Three Days To Birmingham

The Southern Women's Show in Birmingham is three days away. Our list of things to do to get ready for this show is way long. But we're excited to get on the road ... this is a big event in my career ... and our plans are to visit two or three independent book stores while in the area, introduce myself and my book - hopefully, get an invitation to come back for a signing when the book is out.

I'm not sure I'm doing this whole marketing blitz the way we're "supposed" to. I look at the "lists" by the professionals and it seems we're blazing our own marketing trail. I never followed many rules in my lifetime anyway. My mama could "amen" that statement. I wrote my own rules ... which now that I think about it, got me into a lot of trouble. So why am I not following proper marketing etiquette now?

Who knows. I suppose this old barn has seen so many coats of paint, I'm not sure what color I'm supposed to be. I guess I don't know how to follow - I'm always leading the pack. But right now, at this moment in time - it's working. So, who's to say that finally, my time has come. After all these years. Thing is, nobody has ever taken an interest to help, unless I had to pay them. Not that I haven't paid for advice, mind you. Michael and I have paid a lot of money out in writing conferences, dues, subscriptions, classes, trips to New York, etc. But mentoring seems to be a thing of the past. I never had one. I think that's why I've structured my web site to record my journey. Maybe some writer somewhere can learn from me for free.

So -- Michael and I ... we do what we feel is right and best. If we make a mistake, sure as hell won't be the first we've made in our lives. We just back up, turn around, and take a different turn in the marketing road.

'Cept I can think of a couple times when "doing my own thing" worked.

Like when I said, "this church is a cult - I'm taking my kids and we're out of this place." It caused quite a ruckus. Cost me a marriage and nearly my life. But it was the right thing to do. Years later, over 200 people woke up and found themselves in the same cult. They walked down that blazed trail and out of those "church" doors forever. As for me, I never looked back, never regretted it. Not once.

What's all this got to do with Birmingham?

Everything. It takes more courage to write your own rules, than to speak in front of hundreds of people. You get knocked down enough in life, it's easy to do the little things, like present your writing to the masses. I never had the privileged life. But, who cares now. It's made me who I am, and that's not so bad.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

September Is Updated!

Go to my web site and read September updates!

What month! As I reached back into the month, I couldn't believe all that has happened to me. Holy cow!


Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I Don’t Want To Be A Brain Surgeon

To me, the hardest jobs in the world are … coal miners, deep sea divers, living on a submarine, painting high bridges, skyscraper builders and window washers, prison guards, firefighters, policemen, garbage men, working with the mentally challenged, roofers, emergency room nurses, street pavers, brain surgeons, and farmers.

The physical stamina required for these positions is near god-like. The courage, I can’t even find the words needed to describe the courage that must be found to get up every day and face these jobs.

And yet, for one to accept these positions, they have to love it to a certain extent.

It doesn’t take much physical stamina to sit at a desk and type all day. And I love what I do. Love it. Love it. Love it.

I don’t want to be a brain surgeon, or even a coal miner.

I just want to write great literature.

But, I have to get up … every day … and find my courage.

Blessings to you and yours.