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A Story of Two Fires

    By  Jim Minick

             The novel Fire Is Your Water started out as nonfiction. Two fires struck my family in this one small area of Pennsylvania where I grew up, and though I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to make a larger book about these, especially because one fire occurred before I was born. So it took me five years of wandering in the wilderness of words to understand fiction would allow me to combine these stories if I could figure out how.

Part of that “how” came by collapsing four generations of people into two generations, and thirty years of stories condensed to three months. The larger part of the “how,” though, was discovering the connecting thread, which eventually became this: what happens to a faith healer when she loses her ability to heal? That became the driving question.

Ada Franklin, the main character in Fire Is Your Water, is based on my great-grandmother, Ida Franklin Minick, who was a faith healer or powwow doctor in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. She could remove warts, stop blood, and take out fire, like Ada in the novel. And like Ada, she entered a burning barn with a relative, who was severely burned in the process. Afterward, my great-grandmother was not the one who healed my grandmother’s hands—another person did. So that got me thinking about why and what happens if faith is lost. I’m pretty sure that did not happen with Ida, but it opened a door for me.

My first memory is sitting on my great-grandmother’s lap, but then Ida died when I was four. So I wish I had known her better, and in a way, this novel helped me imagine a little of her life, like what it was like to work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the 1950s, or to heal an epileptic, or even, to heal a bleeding cow by saying a chant through the phone. All of these are family stories I was able to weave into the novel to honor these people and this place.

I worked on this novel, off and on, for fifteen years. Attention got pulled to other projects, so in that time span, I wrote four other books, plus taught full-time. At some deeper level, I think I knew I wasn’t ready yet to write this book, so I had to learn my way in, through other genres, and then through extensive reading and studying of novels I admired, like Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.

One of the great risks I took with this book is with the character of Cicero, a raven who learns to read and talk. Most of Fire Is Your Water is in third-person point-of-view, but Cicero’s chapters are in first-bird’s POV, and as, one reviewer commented on the bird’s swearing, he is “foul-beaked.” Cicero and the idea of a talking bird came much later, maybe two-thirds of the way into the writing. I was taking a fiction workshop with Darnell Arnoult (an excellent teacher and writer), and I knew the other main character, a man named Will Burk, loved birds, so I kept playing with that idea, trying to figure out how to develop that passion of his. Then I remembered reading an essay about a person growing up with a talking crow as a pet, and that, along with encouragement to just experiment, let me walk through that door of magic realism to find Cicero there waiting to chew my ear off, literally.

And yes, many birds, especially “smarter” species like ravens and crows, can learn words. I collected several stories from fellow birders about such. One ornithology professor told of a raven tamed in grad school. The bird loved to say, “Nevermore,” and he loved to drink whiskey. When he got too tipsy, he’d just repeat, “Never, never, never….”

When Cicero heard this, he wanted to file an animal abuse report until he realized that it all happened decades ago.

I’ll end with one of Cicero’s favorite quotes, from Eubie Blake: “Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind—listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.”

Jim Minick is the author of five books, including Fire Is Your Water, a debut novel released this spring. His memoir, The Blueberry Years, won of the Best Nonfiction Book of the Year from the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. His honors include the Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian Writing, and the Fred Chappell Fellowship at University of North Carolina-Greensboro. His work has appeared in many publications including Poets & Writers, Oxford American, Shenandoah, Orion, San Francisco Chronicle, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Conversations with Wendell Berry, Appalachian Journal, and The Sun. Currently, he is Assistant Professor at Augusta University and Core Faculty in Converse College’s low-residency MFA program.

Jim and his new book will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 8th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Monday, Oct. 16. Tickets are available at http://wnba-charlotte.org/wnba/calendar/bibliofeast-tickets/ (credit card) or at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, 704-525-9239 (cash or check).

Sebastian Matthews pens ‘memoir of poems’

By Sebastian Matthews

Early in the process of writing Beginner’s Guide to a Head-on Collision, I began to see the book as “a memoir in poems.” A hybrid collection, Beginner’s Guide consists of short lyric poems, prose poems, and short prose pieces in the personal essay vein. Intertwining these three forms, I tell the story of the head-on collision that nearly killed my family, then the aftershocks of recovery we were by necessity engaged in for the next few years.

I started writing the first poems while still in the ICU. I had to do something to combat the fear, worry and fatigue that had overcome me. A month or so later, still in a wheelchair, learning to walk again, I found myself unable to write directly about the traumatic experience. I started penning these strange “Dear Virgo” poems, which were all self-loathing, sarcastic faux horoscopes narrated by an angel/devil figure floating above me and providing unwanted commentary. Later, a few months into the recovery, I began to write about the event moment to moment, trying to capture the scene as it played out. Eventually, it felt easier–and more powerful–to write about the experience in the essay form. Then I returned to a set of prose poems exploring themes of depression, trauma and PTSD.

The book is structured as a set of concentric circles. Imagine a stone thrown into a pond–the accident itself–and then imagine the circles expanding out to fill the body of water. I tried to organize the collection in such a way that the reader would experience the event and its aftermath in different ways—moment to moment, day by day, month by month, then year by year. The book ends with my family beginning to move fully into a normal, post-accident life.

My wife, Ali, and my son, Avery, are characters in this story, and within it they move through their own stages of growth. Avery was 8-years-old when the accident occurred; he walked from the car unharmed. But his parents came out two weeks later both in wheelchairs. His dad no longer could shoot hoops; his mom no longer had the energy to help with homework at night. Over time, Avery discovered a way to bring me back into his childhood world. Using our trampoline as an arena, Avery began to “train” me by playing a game we later dubbed “Butterfingers.” By throwing a ball back and forth over the trampoline’s net, father and son re-ignited an old routine of play. Within a few months, out of the wheelchair, wobbly on my feet, I was moving my aching feet, shifting my stiff body left then right, forward and back. Later, I took this training to the basketball gym and to the weight room.

I hope in writing Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision that I can share with readers the ways that one can grow and learn from such a catastrophe. When one faces such crisis, when one gets challenged at so many levels at once, something new and dynamic arises. You shed old selves and step into new ones.

The book is dedicated to all our friends, family and neighbors who helped us through the ordeal. It’s fitting, for their encompassing communities allowed us, by encouraging us, to heal.

 

Sebastian Matthews and his new book, Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision published by Red Hen Press, will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 8th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Monday, Oct. 16. Sebastian lives in Asheville and teaches writing at Warren Wilson College. Tickets are available at http://wnba-charlotte.org/wnba/calendar/bibliofeast-tickets/ (credit card) or at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, 704-525-9239 (cash or check).

 

From the Cupboard by Susan Crawford

This guest post is written by Susan Crawford, author of The Pocket Wife and The Other Widow by Morrow-Harper Collins. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Mon., Oct. 17.

susan-crawford-9780062362889_1_a0496Readers occasionally ask me where I get the ideas for my books. “Well,” I say, “there was this article in the newspaper equating homicides with mental illness,” or, “There’s so much more to PTSD than soldiers coming back from war,” or, “I thought it would be challenging to write a sympathetic ‘other woman.’” And these are reasons for writing what I write. They are, at least, the origins, the seeds. What sprouts from them though, the stories, the characters that populate the living rooms, the subways, the streets, and ultimately the pages of my books, are not as easy to explain. In a way, they’re far less rational.

They live inside my head. Like dreams or words I’ve overheard, they dance onto the page. I unlock a cupboard and the characters spill out. With a little nudge they grow and blossom. They invent themselves, become the people that will talk and love and die and kill for the next year of my life, the next three hundred pages. The voices of dead fathers whisper in their ears or turn their hearts to stone. A pinkish sky, a certain smell, a sound, can snatch them from their lives and set them down beside a beach decades before or underneath a blanket from the Andes in a winter room with dirty glass, a broken wall.

For me, the characters make the plot work. They should grab readers by the hand and spirit them away – to a party, down an icy street at midnight, to a lover’s rented room – toward a happy ending, toward redemption, hope, or straight into a wall. Whether they are sunny or demonic, honest or deceptive, they must entice the reader to be right there with them – missing phone calls, burning dinners, losing sleep – following with loyalty and expectation, waiting for motives to come to light, for actions to jar, to change events, to make a difference, to enlighten and inspire. The characters can be right or wrong, good or not so good, as long as they’re believable, as long as they can touch the reader in some way.

book-jacket-the-other-widowMaybe they’re composites, bits and pieces of people I’ve known, or seen or heard or been.  Or maybe they’re forgotten words or incidents I’ve tucked away to look at later, to sort through and analyze, to try to make sense of the world. Maybe that’s what we all are underneath, behind our flesh and tears and smiles – composites of our pasts, of those we loved, or touched, or couldn’t quite, of those we lost. Maybe we’re like antennae shifting through space, picking up frequencies, picking up stories, other places, other times, other rooms. Maybe I am really just a scribe.

I don’t write about real people. I write fiction. But I wonder sometimes if the two are all that different – if their fragments and details fall together in a certain way to make a character in fiction rather than my next-door neighbor or my friend from high school. I’ve read that there are only seven basic stories told in countless ways – the human condition, thrown down like cards to land in myriad configurations – Dorrie from The Other Widow, different from the woman in the book I’m writing now because she grew up in a different place, a different situation. Just as we are molded by circumstance and chance, by where we landed and began and where we go from there, the characters fall from their cupboards, brush themselves off, and march onto the page.

Susan grew up in Miami, Florida. She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan works for the Department of Technical and Adult Education and is a member of her local planning commission. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

More about Susan:  wwwsusancrawfordnovelist.com, Twitter: crawfordsusanh, Facebook: Susan Crawford Author

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”. 

 

The Perils of Too Much Self by Ashley Mace Havird

This guest post is written by Ashley Mace Havird, author of debut novel, Lightningstruck, by Mercer University Press. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Oct. 17.

head-shot-ashley-havirdI grew up on a South Carolina tobacco farm from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s. As the main character, eleven-year-old Etta, says in Lightningstruck: “The entire year seemed like a patchwork quilt whose pattern told the story of tobacco.” Growing tobacco was like a ballet, a symphony whose final movement reached a crescendo in the end-of-season market with its “toasty smells of cured tobacco, the taste of boiled peanuts, the singsong speed-talk of the auctioneer.” The economy of the area depended on farming, and tobacco was the cash crop. During the market days, in fact, people would joke that the entire town of Mullins, with its enormous warehouses, “smelled like money.” I took for granted, as all children do, that this world would last forever.

I left home for college and never returned for good, but I visited my family often—still do. With the demise of the domestic tobacco industry accelerating in the late 1970s and early ’80s, my father and brother, like so many other lifelong farmers, gradually gave it up. The landscape of the area, its wooden stick barns already having given way to aluminum “bulk” barns, and sophisticated machines having replaced much of the manual labor—this landscape changed even more dramatically. The vast fields of green leaf vanished, and the economies of rural communities collapsed. The landscape of my memory vanished and took its people with it.

Around fifteen years ago, I was a fiction-writer-turned-poet. But I wanted to recreate this lost world in a longer form than poems afforded. So, I jumped in with what I believed was a memoir. But in the end, my life was interesting only to me. The interest, I discovered after much fumbling, lay not so much in my personal story but in the fabric of the times, the radical changes occurring on so many levels. There was the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tobacco industry, with its hierarchy of wealthy and health-problem-denying industry leaders down to laborers who worked from “can’t see to can’t see.” There were the tensions of the Civil Rights Movement, which was finding its way even into our closed-in part of the South. The Vietnam War was ramping up. All of this occurring during a girl’s coming of age, which included painful discoveries about herself and family and society—troubles that, when purely my own, were not particularly interesting, although they could be if I could only exaggerate …These things drew me towards the novel, towards inventing. I began to see that this was the only way I could explore the larger truth I was after. Besides, my precious memoir was flat-out boring.

I had major problems to solve. What to do about self-indulgent scenes and a plot that was loose at best? The horse, which became the main source of tension in Lightningstruck, was a minor character. The story’s all-important “trouble” was vague, ill-defined.

Nothing to do, of course, but to begin the slaughter: I had to kill many darlings, nearly all of them, and create brand new ones. Without new characters, such as the eccentric civil rights activist, Miss Cass, and the young archaeologist, Dr. Raintree, the book would have been stuck like an insect in amber. I shifted the story into third person to further detach my Self from Etta, and I allowed Etta’s problems to become far more exciting than mine ever were. I was able to keep my central characters, unlocking them from their chains to actual people, and I “grew” the horse, Troy, until he haunted me and became for Etta the major antagonist he had to be.

The tearing down, rethinking, and rebuilding, added years to the novel’s progress. It was only the curiosity and passion I had for the world I was bringing back, the love for my characters, and my own stubbornness that made the final draft—once again in first person—possible. Would I have been able to complete the book if I hadn’t put myself through all these contortions? I have no idea. I’d certainly have saved myself grief and time if I’d identified the genre to begin with.

Still, there is no question but that the autobiographical elements enrich Lightningstruck. Beyond the story of Etta’s coming of age by way of a treasure-hunt with a lightning-scarred horse, the book is an elegy to a past world, an homage to people I knew and loved. It is a sort of archaeological exploration of what it means to dig for truth, beneath tobacco fields and down through layers into the past—a truth that, when found, is as much mine, and I hope the reader’s truth, as it is Etta’s.

Ashley Mace Havird grew up on a tobacco farm in South Carolina. She has published three collections of poems, including THE GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES (2014), which won the 2013 X. J. Kennedy Prize. Her poems and stories have appeared in many journals, including Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Lightningstruck, winner of the 2015 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction, is her first novel.

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”. 

 

It’s your party! 5 Tips for a Great Book Event

Burkhalter 1Here’s the awesome part! It’s time to tell everyone about your book. Hopefully, you’ve already launched your website or blog and built relationships via social media. So, the buzz has begun. Now, you can begin planning your book signing event or events. Your first step is securing your location/s. Then, begin planning for each event.

Follow these five tips for a great book event:

  1. Once you secure your location, work with the bookstore or other retailer. Speak to the person handling the event for the store and find out what she or he will do to promote the event. Most bookstores look to their authors to bring in traffic for the event so coordinate your own efforts with those of the bookstore.
  1. Then, create buzz for your book(s) with press releases that dovetail with social media including Facebook, Twitter posts and LinkedIn as well as email marketing via a newsletter or Call-to-Action marketing piece letting the media and your fans know about the event. You might offer a sample chapter and author information to your local newspaper, magazine and radio station and ask for an interview before your book signing. Your community papers and local radio stations are the best media sources for getting the word out.Burkhalter 5
  1. Develop collateral materials and giveaways including postcards, posters and bookmarks. Send postcards to friends and family with a handwritten note before the event and keep them handy on your table. Several posters displayed in the store as well as one at your table are great point-of-display items that will create interest. Also, ask nearby retailers if they’ll display your information, too. Contact special interest groups like the local Chamber, arts society, your book community, or any other group relating to your book’s topic.
  1. Practice your presentation and/or reading. This helps you be more comfortable in front of a crowd especially when you’re not following a structured speech. Many authors are more relaxed when they speak less formally but it’s always a good idea to have at least an outline of what you’d like to talk about. And, if you’re doing a reading, make sure that you practice reading the excerpt aloud on your own. Most authors talk for about 20 to 30 minutes and then open up for questions from the audience. Have a few of your own handy to get the conversation started.Burkhalter 4
  2. Have a friend on hand to help. When your table gets mobbed by readers as you hope it will, a friend can hand out bookmarks and giveaways, replenish your books, ask customers to join the email list, make announcements, and take pictures of the event. You’ll want to post these on social media as soon as the event is over with a short write-up about the event. Also, send it out to the same media contacts who may run a photo or two with a caption.

There are so many great ways to promote yourself and make the most of the event.  Have fun and do as much as you can to make it successful.  You can always add special touches like food, wine and a designer cake to make the event a celebration.  After all, it’s your party!