Author Fest!

A bit more than two weeks from now, and I’ll join other authors local to my area (the Shenandoah Valley) at the Waynesboro Public Library’s author fest. Imagine–a room full of writers–of all genres. You’ve got your cozy mysteries. You’ve got your thrillers. You’ve got your literary fiction, not to mention romance, horror, and sci-fi.

Have a look at who’ll be there:

Waynboro Author Fest

I think it’ll be as much fun for us writers as it will be for you.

Waynesboro Public Library is located at 600 S. Wayne Ave., Waynesboro, Virginia. The Author fest goes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 6, 2016, and is free to the public.


You’re Invited!

panel-flyer-facebook-1-31-17How Many Writers Does it Take…

I’ll be in wonderful author company on Saturday, February 11, 2017, when six of us are featured on an author panel entitled, “Love to Write, Write to Love.” The event takes place at the Massanutten Regional Library, 174 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm. We’ll discuss our love of writing and our various paths to publication. After Q&A from the audience, we’ll be selling and signing our books.

The event is free to the public–gotta love those public libraries–and if you’re in the Harrisonburg, Virginia, area, here’s your chance to meet some great authors.

Who are These People?

I’m privileged to know everyone on the panel and have read their work–except for Taryn Kloeden, but that’s because her book won’t be published until spring.

Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of cookbooks, historical fiction, romance, and cozy mysteries. I write historical thrillers and speculative fiction. Taryn Kloeden writes dark fantasy. Margaret Locke is a romance novelist extraordinaire–she has to be to get me to read romance! Judith Lucci is an award-winning author of mysteries with a medical backdrop. Tamara Shoemaker writes incredibly visual YA fantasy–and dragons.

Stop by and See Us

This should be a great event. Writers talking about writing. Doesn’t get much better than that! Come hear what we have to say. Who knows? Something one of us says might get you started on your first novel!

10 Influential Books – For Me, That Is

Every now and then a challenge pops up on Facebook, and, even though I normally don’t fall for them, some of them do intrigue me. Recently among my book-loving friends, it was the “10 Works of Literature that Inspired Me” challenge. I made it several days before anyone tagged me, and, then, I got tagged by two different people. I didn’t mind this challenge because it made me reflect on the literary works which have inspired me.

Now, I’ll add, just about every book I’ve ever read inspires me either as an everyday, mostly normal person or as a writer (sometimes both), and if I’d kept a running list of the ten most influential, it would have been a fluid one. So the list here is what came into my head today. Challenge me again in a few months, and some of the books might change.

And I noticed people who accepted the challenge listed the ten books but never explained why any of them made their list. That would have been interesting to me–especially in cases where there was duplication with my list or a book, which when I read it made me gag. So, for my list, I’ve included a brief statement about why/how the book influenced me.

Some of you will likely turn up your noses at some of my selections and declare, “This is not literature!” There is, gasp, science fiction on my list and, horrors, popular fiction, too. 

Oh, and since I was always the one who perversely broke every chain letter/e-mail/Facebook post I’ve ever received, I won’t be tagging anyone to post his or her “10 Most Influential…” list, other than to say: Anyone who reads this should do the same, but you have to explain how or why each book influenced you. Ready, set, dare ya!

10 Works of Literature That Inspired Me (in no particular order)

  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This was the first book, other than a comic book or storybooks, ever given me as a child, when I was around six, I believe. I still have it, though my PITA little brother managed to tear the front cover off this hardback. How did it influence me? It sparked my life-long love of books and reading, and writing too, since I did nothing but write stories about horses for years afterward.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. When I read this book in the 1980’s it validated my feminism, which I only acknowledged privately to people I could trust not to “out” me. It made me less afraid of the “f-word” (feminism; I’ve never been afraid of the other) and made me proud to be a feminist. The fact that it’s even more relevant now is a testament to Atwood’s genius. I want to be her when I grow up to be a writer.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This book made me a sucker for happy endings, in fiction and in life. Even in my own writing, which is sometimes dark and bleak, I consciously, or unconsciously, find a way to work a happy resolution in because this book showed me it can happen. On a personal level, I’m still waiting.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This book showed me what a happy family living with adversity looked like and that there were, indeed, happy families. That was quite the eye-opener to me given my combative and tumultuous immediate and extended families. Plus, there was the whole woman-writer thing going on there; I felt Jo and I were really the sisters.
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This book blew away all my preconceived notions of what a novel/novel-in-stories should be. It enthralled me and pissed me off and made me both question and challenge myself as a writer. To absorb this novel you have to shed your skin of mediocrity and just let it pummel you.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Though I thought his later works were just plain creepy and some of his earlier works bordered on fascism, this book was incredible–well-written and timely. This book made me–finally!–question the origins of my own religion and put me on the non-theist path, for which I am forever grateful. Do you grok me?
  • The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Another sci-fi icon on the list, this was the first, novel-length science fiction book I read. Before it, I picked up sci-fi from comic books, tv shows, and B-movies. I bought the battered paperback at a library sale for a nickel, and when I brought it home my mother swore the depiction of aliens on the cover would give me nightmares. She was wrong; it made me think.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Because it blew my freakin’ mind!
  • On Writing by Stephen King. I’m one of those writers who like Stephen King’s writing because I see past the grimness and gore and revel in how he turns a phrase. This was the best instructional book on writing (pun intended) I’ve ever read, and it made me give up -ly adverbs, with reluctance.
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. Don’t bother to see the movie (though it was decent); read the book. Wells never met my parents, I’m reasonably certain, but she coincidentally explained their complex and enervating relationship in a way I could ultimately forgive them.

Of course, I’ve been thinking as I’ve written this, and I offer this addendum: anything by Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou… Oh, hell, just ask me again in a few months, like I said, and the list will be different.

Tag–you’re it.

#VaBook – Gone but Not Forgotten

Virginia Festival of the Book is aptly named, but after this, my third year of attendance, I think it more apt to title it “Virginia Festival of the Book–and Writers and Readers.” Though considerably less populated than the 12,000-person AWP Conference just two weeks before, the enthusiasm about books and their authors was just as intense. In truth, you don’t get many “readers” at AWP, but #VaBook (its Twitter hashtag) is the rare opportunity for writers and readers to mingle. In some cases, you’re a writer for one panel’s presentation then a reader for another. It’s a great showcase for writers across the country who have or whose books have Virginia roots.

My festival started on Wednesday evening with “The Ties That Bind: Family in Fiction.” Authors Wendy Shang, Lydia Netzer, Camisha Jones, Mollie Cox Bryant, and Cliff Garstang combined a discussion of this year’s The Big Read book, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, with their own works. I read that book before it was a best-seller on the recommendation of a co-worker, who is Asian and said it was as if Tan had written the friend’s biography. I found it a fascinating glimpse into a culture I knew little about, but the sometimes bizarre behavior of mothers was something I completely understood. The authors on the panel compared and contrasted how Tan used family to their use of family in their own works.

Thursday’s only session for me was “Fiction: The Art and Craft of Short Stories,” which I wanted to attend because I keep trying to convince myself there’s a future for short stories (why I’ve published three volumes of them). The panel members–Robert Day, Cliff Garstang, E. J. Levy, and Kurt Rheinheimer–are convinced the short story is undergoing a revival. Their various definitions of a short story were compelling:

“A short story is a piece of geography that spawns a character.” (Rheinheimer)

“A short story is a bomb going off.” (Levy)

“A short story focuses on a moment in time with a zoom lens.” (Garstang)

“A short story is a piece of prose fiction that has something wrong with it.” (Day)

The latter was intended to show that even short stories are never finished in the sense of revision and rewriting. The panel went on to discuss the writers who influenced them, the how and why of linked short stories, first person versus third person, and if an MFA helps your progression as a writer.

Friday was a full day for me, beginning with “Fiction: Forbidden Attraction.” Authors Maryanne O’Hara, Erika Robuck, Margaret Wrinkle, and Bill Roorbach discussed how they used captivation in each of their novels or were captivated themselves by the subjects they wrote about. In Robuck’s case, a photo of a young, Cuban girl on a dock where Hemingway hauled in his fishing catch prompted her to write Hemingway’s Girl. For Wrinkle, it was literal captivation–a novel about the taboo topic of slave breeding in the ante-bellum south. A wonderful discussion and great insights.

Next was “Fiction: Parallel Stories,” featuring authors whose novels involved two different but related timelines. I particularly wanted to attend this panel because a novel I have in rough draft involves stories in the present and in the World War II era. Dana Sachs, Tara Conklin, and Sarah McCoy discussed what compelled them to construct their works this way and the joy–and pitfalls–of research.

“Fiction: Journeys” was a panel on novels featuring road trips or metaphorical journeys by Sharon Short, Sheri Reynolds, Kathleen McCleary, and Kimberly Brock. They discussed the apparently insignificant germs of thought that inspired them, and the chemistry among these authors during discussion was fascinating and hilarious.

Unfortunately, I had to miss two other panels on Friday (“Science Fiction and Fantasy,” featuring the phenom Hugh Howey of Wool fame, and “Crime Wave: Friday Night Thrillers”) because I needed to go home and pack for an unexpected trip to Northern Virginia for a funeral. That also meant Saturday’s panels and the Book Fair I missed as well, but friendship supersedes all.

I was back Sunday in time for the only panel on which I was actually a participant–“The Magic of Words,” which was the launch event for the Blue Ridge Writers 2013 Anthology. My story, “Mourning,” appears in the anthology. Rita Mae Brown was the keynote speaker, and she gave an amazing off-the-cuff, quarter-hour dissertation on language. Fascinating. Then came the time for readings. I was fourth on the schedule, so enough time to work up a good set of nerves. Fortunately, Brown had been amusing as well instructive, so when I got a laugh out of her at the first comedic point in my reading, I relaxed. After the event, Brown came up to me and said, “Please tell me you’ll continue to write.” Yeah, floated a few inches above the ground all the way home.

I came away with a lot of good information and way too many books. Add them to the stack I brought home from AWP, and I’ll still be reading them by the end of the year. But that’s a good thing.

I can’t wait for #VaBook14! And who knows, maybe there’s a panel out there with my name on it!

My Day Two–VA Festival of the Book

There are few things that will get me out of bed before 0700 on a Saturday morning, but a book fair will do it. My Day Two at the Virginia Festival of the Book was going to start at the Book Fair at 0900. I hit the road a little before 0800, stopped to get my favorite road breakfast from Starbucks, and then I was on my way to C’ville.

The atrium of the Omni Hotel was a sea of books and authors. Cliche, I know, but it was. What was very heartening to see were the number of African-American authors showcasing their work. Virginia hasn’t quite “gotten there” yet, but we have come a long way. I decided to stop by the James River Writers table. That’s the organization sponsoring the contest one of my novels is in. I just wanted to say thanks for the encouraging e-mail I got from JRW–yes, I’m sure all the finalists got an encouraging e-mail, but it was especially encouraging to me. I introduced myself, and the person there blurted, “Oh, your book is in the contest! Congratulations! We’re so excited you stopped by!” Yes, I’m sure they said that to every finalist who stopped by, but it was nice they remembered me. They were so boisterous, in fact, people stopped and took notice, and the JRW folks pointed to me and said, “She’s one of our novelists!” Nothing like a little ego boost to start the day!

Both panels I picked that day were moderated by a writer friend of mine, also from Staunton, Cliff Garstang. (Cliff’s award-winning book of linked short stories is In an Uncharted Country.) Cliff is a voracious reader and lover of the written word, and he brought his enthusiasm for his art to both panels. The first, Death: Another Time, Another Place, focused on murder mysteries and featured John Connolly (Nocturnes, Bad Men), Alan Orloff (Diamonds for the Dead), Deanna Raybourn (Dark Road to Darjeeling), and Paul Robertson (Dark in the City of Light).

Connolly, being an Irishman with the gift of gab (aren’t we all?), was a great opening “act” for the panel, and he discussed how an Irishman writing about Ireland had been done before. So he came to America to be an Irishman writing about Maine. I had read one of his books some years back, so I picked up Nocturnes, a collection of short stories with a supernatural bent.

Orloff draws on his Jewish background for his featured book and familiar places–to me–in the Washington, DC metro area for his mystery. He has recently started a mystery series featuring a stand-up comedian. He also described his writing process–a substantial outline that he fills in. Quite the engineering approach, but he is an engineer.

Raybourn’s featured book was the latest in her Lady Julia Grey series that take place in Victorian England. A former teacher with degrees in history and English (like me), she picked the Victorian Era she said because she wanted all that proper repression “with the evil peeking out from behind the curtain.” Her humor and characters reminded me of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, so I decided to try Dark Road to Darjeeling.

Robertson’s book, Dark in the City of Light, is about the Franco-Prussian War, but what I enjoyed about his talk was that he does the same thing I do–take real characters and a true story and weave a mystery about them. Whereas he focuses on the 19th Century, I’m in the 20th, but it’s the same concept. So, I added Dark in the City of Light to my bookshelf.

All the authors were so willing to chat afterwards that I found it rather refreshing. Connolly and I chatted about my Irish grandmother, then Raybourne and I talked about the challenges of teaching when you know you weren’t really cut out for it. The good day just kept on going.

The afternoon panel moderated by Cliff was Historical Fiction. As I’ve said, I guess what I write is historical fiction, just focused more on current events than far in the past. I had a question already framed about the importance of research, but Cliff was way ahead and posed it to the panel. Paul Robertson was a repeat from the morning, joined by Brenda Rickman Vantrease (The Heretic’s Wife), Lenore Hart (The Raven’s Bride), and George Minkoff (The Leaves of Fate.)

Vantrease’s featured book was her third with the concept of freedom of thought and religion. She took a real person associated with Sir Thomas More and made that person’s wife (whose name is lost to history) the protagonist. She also showed More in an accurate light. Many people choose to ignore that he burned  at the stake a lot of people he considered heretics.

Minkoff has spent years working on a trilogy which takes place in England and America around the time of the Jamestown Colony. John Smith, Powhatan, and Pocahontas are key characters, but accurately portrayed. Minkoff has also studied the language of the time and has his characters speak like true Elizabethans. It was obvious the tremendous amount of research he’s conducted to produce this trilogy, but he emphasized the point that you research to put yourself in the time and place, you read book after book for that knowledge, but you don’t just regurgitate what you’ve read. The research gives you the voice.

Hart, named for the Lenore in Poe’s “The Raven,” decided not to ignore that connection she had with Poe, but she didn’t want to write historical fiction with Poe as the main character. “Done to death,” she said. She opted instead to write about Poe from the point of view of his dead wife–the lamented Lenore and Annabel Lee of his poetry. She read from the first chapter of The Raven’s Bride, a scene where Mrs. Poe goes to hospital to see her “Eddie,” and it takes her a few minutes to realize she’s a ghost. I’d already purchased Robertson’s book, so I added Hart’s to my collection.

It was a great two days of books and writers. I love being around writers, especially those who’ve enjoyed initial success. They are so accepting of fans and other aspiring writers, so much so that for next year I can see myself on the other side of the table, maybe signing my book. Yep, I can’t wait ’til the next Virginia Festival of the Book.