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Blog: Born to Write 

"Having Our Say": Part of the Fabric of American Culture

In my novel, "Miss Dreamsville," the main characters belong to a book club in a small town in Florida circa 1962. Among their book selections are "Silent Spring," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Their Eyes Were Watching God," and "The Feminine Mystique." Of course, in truth, I'm the one who got to pick the books they read,  Read More 

An Extraordinary American: Rev. Henry B. Delany, Born 155 Years Ago Today

One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, Henry B. Delany, who would become the first Black elected Bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A., was born into slavery on a plantation in St. Marys, Georgia. At the age of 7, he recalled the excitement and shock of learning the Civil War had ended. With his parents and ten older brothers and sisters, little Henry crossed the St. Marys River and settled in Fernandina Beach, Florida. All they had were the clothes they were wearing. They gathered wild plants for food and caught fish in the river. Eventually, they built a lean-to. They were able to get on their feet much more quickly than other freed slaves for one reason: The white family that had "owned" them had broken Georgia law by teaching the Delany children to read and write. In one generation, the Delanys vaulted from poverty. It was Henry, however, who would reach heights no one could imagine. Recruited by a white Episcopal priest to attend Saint Augustine's School (now College) in Raleigh, N.C., Henry impressed everyone he met. He married a fellow student, Nanny Logan Delany, and the couple raised 10 children. Among those children were a pair of sisters, absolutely inseparable, named Sarah ("Sadie") and Elizabeth ("Bessie"). After moving to Harlem, the sisters earned graduate degress from Columbia University and were ground-breaking career women in their own right. I met them in 1991 when they were 100 and 102 years old. Our book, an oral history called HAVING OUR SAY, tells their stories - as well as Henry Delany's, their beloved Papa, whose birthday they continued to celebrate each Feb. 5 until they passed away themselves.  Read More 

The Importance of Being Playful

Earlier in my life, it was very important to me to be taken seriously. After graduating college in 1982, I worked as a newspaper reporter when it was still very much a man's world, and, consequently, I was constantly proving myself. I did everything I could to avoid writing for the "Women's page" - weddings, social news, and stories about childrearing. I wanted all of the opportunities the men had, and I knew I would have to fight for them. As a result, I volunteered for more than my share of hard-hitting news stories. Ten years later I moved on to books - nonfiction books. I did this for about 17 years. I turned down projects that seemed too lightweight and tackled the tough topics. But then a funny thing happened. I did something completely different! I wrote fiction for the first time in my life. I had no idea if it was any good, and I didn't permit myself to worry about it. I wrote just for fun, and with no deadline or goal in mind. The result is my novel, "Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society." There are serious issues addressed in the novel but they are disguised by humorous situations. My little novel has opened up a new world to me. I have met many wonderful people because of it, and I am having new experiences. Last weekend, I went to Texas for the legendary Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, which is sort of a retreat for writers and readers. It is a place to let your hair down. There are now pictures of me all over the Internet (some posted by me, others by my new friends) dressed like a Silent Movie star, as Edith Wharton, as a wealthy woman going to dinner on the Titanic, and as a present-day hat model. I can't begin to tell you how much fun it was to play dress-up, something I haven't done since I was about 7 years old and did not know I missed. This hard-hitting newspaper reporter who wanted to be taken so seriously is now a novelist who understands the importance - and joy - of being playful. Thank you, Kathy L. Patrick and all of Pulpwood Queens!  Read More 

Manatees, Panthers, and Crocodiles - Oh My

Just back from South Florida, where I heard of some Northern folks (friends of friends) who had plans to go camping in the Everglades. I surely hope they knew what they were doing! My husband grew up in Collier County and sometimes camped, as a teenager, in the 'glades, and to this day he won't talk about it, knowing that I'm unnerved by gators and snakes and most everything else that bites and slithers. Even a manatee (sea cow) is scary if you encounter it by accident, at night. When my husband was growing up, and when I was a reporter in Florida in the 1980s, the Florida panther was on the edge of extinction. Now the majestic felines are making a strong comeback - strong enough that there are warnings, like deer crossing signs, for "panther crossings." A woman at one of my booksignings told me she almost hit one with her car! If that doesn't scare Yankees thinking of camping in South Florida, consider this: There are American crocodiles in some parts of far-south Florida. That's right, folks, as if alligators aren't freaky enough, that might be a crocodile (a more aggressive beast than a gator) lurking along the south shore of Marco Island. Of course, all of these critters have the right to be here! But it's a reminder that the Everglades is a place that commands respect.  Read More 

In a Time of Rapid Change, Just Keep Writing

I can't keep up with the changes in publishing. No one can, completely. By the time you formulate a question for an expert, your question is obsolete. My inbox fills daily with updates and news alerts about the publishing business. Sometimes it's mind-boggling, such as an article in a major trade magazine predicting that libraries have two to three years to figure out how to fit into the new, digital world or disappear altogether. (A world without libraries? Huh?) Just this week, Newsweek magazine, an American institution for 79 years, has given up its print edition and gone digital-only. Whether it will survive is in doubt but most industry insiders are predicting it will not. Traditional magazines and newspapers, as well as libraries, have been too slow in redefining themselves and their business model. They went through a phase that to me, at least, seemed like wishful thinking. The business of producing and selling books is fluctuating wildly, too, of course, although I've seen a more rapid embrace of the new reality among book publishers than newspapers and magazines. Of course, no one knows what will happen to independent bookstores, or even Barnes & Noble. I've reached the conclusion that staying informed is important, but it was taking up too much of my time. I'm setting aside the news about publishing and reading it one morning a week so that I'm not always dwelling on it. By stepping back from it, it's become more obvious that it's the middle-men - those who don't create content but are in the business of distributing and selling it - who are in trouble. Devices, gadgets, and platforms will come and go rapidly, but the one constant is that someone has to write the material in the first place. When my writer-friends and acquaintances fret about the chaotic times we are living through, I tell them what I've decided to do: Just keep writing.  Read More 

A Quiet, Old-Fashioned New Year's

My grandparents lived on a farm, and New Year's was just another day to them. They went to bed at 8 or 9 p.m. and got up at dawn. They simply slept through New Year's Eve. My other set of grandparents (my dad's parents) were city folk but they, too, shrugged off New Year's Eve. On New Year's Day, they had a modest brunch at home and something called a "New Year's walk," in which the extended family went for a stroll, weather permitting. And that, as they say, was that. No regrets, no pressure, and no resolutions; no sentimental reflections on the year gone by. Just a good night's sleep and a humble start to the new year. Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?  Read More 

What Is the Ideal Publication Date? It Depends on the Book

The first date chosen for publication of my novel was November 6, 2012. Then someone in sales or marketing realized that this was, in fact, Election Day, and probably no one in America (except for my parents, I suppose) would care in the least about a new novel concerning a middle-aged mom from Boston who moves with her family to a small Southern town in 1962. Someone then floated the idea of moving the "pub date" (as we call it) to the Spring 2013 list. This freaked me out completely since I had told the universe that the date was fall 2012 and I had all kinds of invitations lined up. Adding to my concern was the fact that a book about Florida published, say, in April would be coming out at the END of the season there, which would be less than ideal. Fortunately for me, my publisher listened to me. Not only that, but the pub date was actually moved up, to October 2, 2012. I was thrilled, especially when I realized the book would be out in time for me to attend fall festivals such as the Southern Festival of the Book in Nashville and the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading. It turned out to be a good choice of dates for another reason as well: If my book had been published on its original pub date, Nov. 6, it would have arrived in stores while millions of Americans were suffering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy.  Read More 

Flashback to a November Day in 1963

For the last three nights, ever since the horrible events in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, I have had vivid nightmares - very specific ones, bringing me back to the exact feelings, sights, and sounds of being a kindergarten student myself. The day I keep re-living in my dreams is November 22, 1963. I was 5 years old, blissfully fingerpainting on an easel, when our principal came to the door and in a hushed voice, told our teacher to "step into the hallway." Our always-composd and cheerful teacher returned a moment later, weeping. These were the days when people didn't explain things to children, and we were simply told to stop what we were doing, put on our jackets, and wait outside for the school bus to take us home early. In front of the school, we strained to hear what adults or older kids might be saying. Finally a boy - probably age 8 or 9 - walked past and whispered that President Kennedy had been shot. Lined up on the sidewalk, waiting to board our bus, we cried silently. The worst moment, however, was when we climbed on the bus and realized that our bus driver was sobbing uncontrollably. This was disturbing because under normal circumstances he was a mean and scary old man who seemed to detest children. I guess we figured that if HE was unglued, whatever was happening must be bad indeed. When I got to my house, my mother was crying, so I knew it was all true, and it became etched in my mind as the day I found out that the world could be a cruel place. Sadly, it is a lesson we all learn. Read More 

Kathy L. Patrick, the Queen of Reading

She wears a tiara, and she hails from Jefferson, Texas, not Manhattan or Los Angeles, but when Kathy L. Patrick sashays across the floor at Book Expo America in New York, she is a star. The top publishers in the industry treat her like a queen, which, in fact she is. She founded the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, now the largest "meeting and discussing" book club in the world with more than 550 chapters. There is no question that Kathy L. Patrick is one of the most influential figures in publishing today. When she chooses a book for her club, publishers know they should increase the print-run. Her mission in life is to promote the joy of reading, and she raises tons of money for literacy programs. At the same time, this is a woman who knows how to enjoy life. She owns and operates the only combination book store and beauty parlor in America. She is an author herself, having written THE PULPWOOD QUEEN'S TIARA-WEARING, BOOK-SHARING GUIDE TO LIFE. "If it's not fun, I'm not doing it," is one of her mantras. In January, the town of Jefferson will be over-run by authors and readers for the Pulpwood Queens annual "Girlfriend Weekend." I'm looking forward to being part of it. And I'm deeply honored that my little novel, MISS DREAMSVILLE, is the January 2013 Main Selection of Kathy L. Patrick's Pulpwood Queens Book Club. Read More 

Bookstore 'Sightings' Make an Author's Day

A store in Kona, Hawaii. A bookshop at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. A Sam's Club in Missouri. These are some of the places that friends and family have reported seeing copies of my novel, MISS DREAMSVILLE. These reports always make my day. It reminds me that - wow! - my little book is out in the world, making its way into people's hearts. Thanks to the magic of smart-phones, there's often a photograph, too. My husband is probably the most dedicated chronicler of "sightings," as he calls them, as if they are UFOs. He not only takes photos, he makes a point of noting how many copies a particular store has in stock, how the books are displayed (spine or face out, low shelf or eye level) and if anyone buys one while he's hovering nearby. I find it embarrassing and will not be seen with him when he embarks on this behavior. I have been known to leave a bookstore and go hide in the car until he returns. Still, he's not as bad as my parents. My mom, who is 87 years old, admits that she has moved copies of my books so that they are displayed in a more favorable way. And my dad, now 88, once stood in front of a Manhattan bookstore and pointed out one of my books in the window, saying to passersby, "My daughter wrote that." And, believe it or not, some people actually stopped, talked to him, and went in the store and bought the book.  Read More