Monday, April 29, 2013

All About Books and Hats

This past weekend I participated in two outreach events to promote writing (and my own book, of course).

The first event was the SML Business Expo on Friday, where the Chamber of Commerce brings local businesses together to network and attract new business. So, why was an author there? Because I never wear only one hat. My hat of the day was as the director of communications for the local arts council. We had a table and talked about what the arts council brings to the community. Since we cover performing, visual and literary arts, we had a sampling of books from Lake Writers, the literary arm of the arts council. This was merely a sample of what we have published over the last few years.

You'll see books by Susan Coyell, Sally Roseveare, Becky Mushko, Don Fink, Franz Beisser, Ginny Brock and me. It's always a pleasure to talk with people who have read these books or those who want to know where to buy them. I told everyone who asked about buying locally to go to the General Store, because I'd seen all the books on its local author shelf. If we had been allowed to sell at the expo, I probably could have sold 50 books, many of my own but lots by the other writers, too.

On Saturday, I drove up to Staunton, VA, in the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley to the SWAG Bookfair at 16 W. Beverly in the historic district. With a population of just over 24,000 people. this community supports four, count them four, bookstores. Alas, Smith Mountain Lake doesn't have that many people, but it can't really support a single bookstore.

I wore two hats on Saturday: one as the published author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and the other as the president of Virginia Writers Club. I sold books, signed them, handed out information on the writers club and may have attracted a new member for the Roanoke chapter, Valley Writers. We'll see.

Anyway, 10 writers got together to network, sell books to the public (and each other, of course) and hang out. Always nice to reconnect with other writers and meet new friends. I go to the book fairs with one goal in mind: come away with at least one new speaking engagement. I succeeded. I also came away with ideas for promoting more than one writer in a group event. More on that later.

When you see a local writer at a festival, please visit. Tell her what you like to read. She may have written just what you are looking for. Or she may know a local writer who has.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Last Sunday, April 14, I drove to the Bower Center in Bedford, VA to attend a discussion on imagery in Chinese poetry. Dr. Jeanne Larsen read from some of her favorite poems and explained the classic ways Chinese poets over the centuries look at spring. I'm more of a Japanese poetry student, but the shared traditions use powerful metaphors to talk about the transience.

Cherry blossoms, those delicate pinky-white blossoms burst into life and fall seemingly without provocation. Redbuds create a Jimi Hendrix experience along creek banks. Wild dogwood throw out ivory blooms dancing in understory in the woods. Maple and oak pollen paints everything a greenish-yellow. And trees put forth their first green leaves.

Have you ever really looked at those first leaves? They aren't the deep green of summer. They are bright, fresh and light. Japanese has a word for this color: new green. Nothing in my mind describes it better.

For a day I was filled with the glory of spring, new life, poetic images.

Dark reality intruded on two fronts. First, there was the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Lengthy reporting and speculation. Blood pools on the sidewalk. People being carried to the safety of ambulances. The same scenes on every network newscast. Two suspects. One dead. One captured alive. So many lives ruined.

Next came the news that my best friend's son had been arrested for DUI. He'd just started a new job. An arrest wasn't going to help him keep it. Turns out it wasn't DUI. It was possession of heroin. This young man had just royally screwed up his life. His court appearance is later this week. No one knows what's going to happen.

No one knows why two young men in Boston did what they did. We all want answers to "why?" Maybe we will get them. Maybe not. Why can't always have an answer. Sometimes, the only answer we get is "I don't know." My friend's son can't tell us why he was in possession of heroin. If he's convicted, he'll have a felony on his record. At 23.

And still spring continues. More flowers bloom. More pollen falls. More signs of new life. Mallards have nested again in the cove. Blue herons stand in stately watch in tree tops. Woodpeckers frolic and fight over nesting places. 

Spring brings symmetry with its return every year. So does violence when we least expect it. So do young men who make decisions that will follow them throughout their lives.

Let us reflect on the good, understand the evil and help the less fortunate. I think I'll go meditate by the water's edge for a while...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mad Max Makes Her Debut

Last night, April 16, Mad Max made her official international debut at the Westlake Library where I live at Smith Mountain Lake. Her story is told in Mad Max Unintended Consequences. Our local library is a community center for local writers. Our head librarian, Joesephine Clark, and the Friends of the Library hospitality committee, John and Shirley Yates, made more than 35 people welcome. Thanks to everyone who came out. I'm humbled by your support.

As Mad Max's interpreter, I planned to talk a bit about how she came into being, read a few sections, and answer questions. I knew most of the people in the audience, the benefit of being in two local writers groups and the state-wide writers club, as well as being director of communications for the local arts council. Never hurts to have a platform when you're ready to launch a book.

It helped to have props. This funny little stuffed animal, Puss in Boots, was a gift from my grandmother on my first birthday. Yes, I kept it. So does Max...

I did my reading and threw the floor open to the audience. One of the first questions was about how Max came to be Max. Honest, I didn't plant it. Really I didn't.

Max was never supposed to be the main character. She was supposed to be a secondary character, part of a Greek chorus, if you will. One night in the eighth or ninth draft I woke up about four in the morning. I felt hands around my throat. A voice in my head shouted, "It's my story, damn it. Tell it my way." Okay, then. Can't argue with a pissed off voice in the head.

I recast the novel to be from Max's perspective. I gave her both meanings of the word mad. She is angry when her daughter stops being a mother to her children. She is madcap when her grandchildren need to laugh and be kids. And she is conflicted about the new role she is being asked to play in the family.

Even though her son-in-law is in the picture as a father, he's never been a hands-on father. He's always traveled for his work. Max has to decide if she's going to step back into a role of child rearing or not.

We talked about the major themes in the book: 
  • What happens in a family when one parent suffers a brain injury and her personality changes?
  • What would you do if you found yourself faced with raising children after you thought you were done?
  • What steps would you take to protect your grandchildren from evil?
  • How far would you go to seek justice in what seems like an unjust legal system?

We had many more questions, but those were the tops. Of course, writers wanted to know how many words I write/edit/polish each day (about 1000 polished, from 2500 to 5000 when writing very crappy first draft), if a sequel is in the works (the second manuscript is due to my agent, Dawn Dowdle, at Blue Ridge Literary Agency in June), and who would I see playing Mad Max in a movie or on television (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Afterwards, I signed books while my dear husband and business manager, Terry Naylor, handled the money.

At last we had cake. A word about the cake. Friends from the west coast donated it, since they couldn't come. Look closely. The first word is "imlroducing" instead of "introducing." Not as bad as the flub on my friend Alan Orloff's launch cake. His read "Deadly Camping" instead of "Deadly Campaign." Oh well, at least the decorator used cursive...