Writing on Winter Afternoons

Writing on Winter Afternoons

On some days, I love reading Emily Dickinson. But I have to be in a “mood” to read her. One of my favorite poems of hers is “A certain Slant of light.” Cold, empty winter afternoons remind me of this poem, and today is one such day. Enjoy:

“There’s a certain Slant of light”

Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

There’s a certain Slant of light,DSCN5922

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the Meanings, are –

 

None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the Seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

I used to read this poem to my students when I taught American Literature. I use the word “read” instead of “teach” because—like Emily said—“None may teach it.” The poem is not a story. It is a feeling, a moment, an impression that comes when the winter seeps into one’s soul when the angled rays of the sun streams though a cold pane, casting crooked rectangles on the floor.

That moment forces my thoughts to freeze, almost as if I’ve been stunned. It comes from nowhere and leaves without warning, taking something of me with it, leaving a hollow space—at least for a while.

What good can a poem like that, or a feeling like that do for a writer? It fills her with “mood,” “setting,” “feelings,” and “ideas”—not the “story” of a book but the depth of a book. I welcome those moments, the ones that steal in like a thief, take what is theirs, and leave me with literary riches.

 

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Small Towns…Speaking of Southern

Small Towns…Speaking of SouthernOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When many people think about the South, they conjure up myriad small towns in their minds. And for good reasons. Small towns showcase what is special…and different about the South. Oh, you can get a good glass of sweet tea in a bigger city, but you might have to look a little harder for it. In a small town, you can walk into any Main Street diner and order a glass of sweet tea and know it will be great. Small towns are absolutely synonymous to this thing we call “Southern.”
In a small town, hospitality is the law. You simply must invite people over for dinner, take your neighbor a meal when it’s appropriate (there is a law about this, I think), invite near strangers into your home and treat them like family, and automatically accept all party and dinner invitations. It goes on and on, but you get the picture. Play nice (like in kindergarten).
You must choose a side for college football. Trust me. Even if you don’t like college football, you must pick a side. And if you want to truly fit in, buy a t-shirt with your team’s name emblazoned across your chest. If you try to get by without a home team, you will immediately be registered as an outsider.
In a big city, you can manage to appear respectable without going to church. Not so in a small town. Everyone goes to church—everyone respectable, that is. So, if you find yourself in a small town, you’ll be involved with “dinner on the ground,” “homecoming,” “camp meetin’,” “cake walks,” “Christmas shoeboxes,” “UMW,” “RA’s,” and a number of other unfamiliar vocabulary terms. By the way, the Methodists and the Baptists are the most popularly accepted Southern churches, followed by the Presbyterians and Episcopals. I’m not sure if the others are even listed in the phone books. Don’t kill the messenger. I didn’t make up the rules; I ‘m just reportin’ the facts as they are, ma’am. 😉
The list of things that make small towns in the South uniquely Southern is a very long one, and I could go on and on, and you’d stop reading after the next paragraph or two. Suffice to say, I’ll stop here; however, I did want to inform you about some of the reasons small towns are special…and why I write about them. The people have good, kind hearts and a talent for making anything taste like home. They’ll help their neighbors and strangers alike. Small towns will take care of their own…and then the gossip ladies will talk about you later…but that is the subject of another post!

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Lumbersexuals versus Lumber Men

Lumbersexuals versus Lumber Men

This Lumbersexual almost pulls it off!

This Lumbersexual almost pulls it off!

As a writer, I’m always looking for fresh ideas, words and phrases to infuse into my stories. Recently, a friend of mine posted a few words about “lumbersexuals” on his website, and I had no idea—at first—about what he meant. So I did a little research.
I was excited about my initial research because it was all about these men, sporting a rugged exterior with beards and flannel shirts. Lumbersexuals were supposed to be the new “hip” thing. “Great,” I said. I’d always been drawn, thought I, to these sorts of rugged guys. In fact, I married one of these manly men, so—at this point—I was thinking I was “hip” before it was “hip.”
Then my research took me further into the reality of “Lumbersexuality,” and they were definitely NOT what I had thought they were. Lumbersexuals were replacing Metrosexuals. “Oh, I see,” I said. They were simply donning plaid shirts, growing beards, and looking all disheveled to create a look! A few Lumbersexuals were even taking photos with axes! That was the tip that sent me investigating further into this new idea of Lumbersexuality—the axes were new—never had been used a day in their lives!
You see, I’d been doing my own research on Lumber Men (or rather a Lumber Man). Here is where a real Lumber Man differs from a Lumbersexual.
1. A Lumber Man REALLY does work with lumber.
2. A Lumber Man smells like cedar or oak or pine…or some other actual outdoor scent—not a bottled Abercrombie perfume for men, like “Cashmere Woods.” Really? Cashmere Woods?
3. A Lumber Man has a relaxed approach to his appearance and does not have scheduled appointments at a hair salon. You’ll find this guy at a real barber shop…or worse, he’ll take the scissors to his own hair just to get it out of his eyes.
4. A Lumber Man can grow a great beard, but he sometimes sports some untrimmed scruff. Many Lumbersexuals manicure their sometimes wimpy beards to within an inch of their lives.
5. A Lumber Man wears relaxed Wrangler or Levis jeans—not tight little jeans from Express.
6. A Lumber Man layers his flannel plaid shirts, too! Only his worn, layered shirts are adorned with authentic holes, paint, and wood glue. The Lumbersexuals shirts are factory “worn,” and they pay a premium price for the extra detail.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture—I hope, because you can’t get a Lumber Man to pose for the camera, whereas, “posing” is the name of the game for Lubersexuals. I’ve attached a photo of a Lumber sexual for your reference. Notes for Lumbersexual photo: a. can often be found in an urban environment; b. often seen with a backpack as an accessory (with his Macbook Air inside); c. might possibly wear leather jewelry, thinking that this adds authenticity; d. is appearing more and more in Hollywood.
Women love to read about a real manly man in books—you know the kind—the I-can-fix-anything and still-cook-you-a-romantic-dinner kind. I’m going to continue with my research, so watch out for “Lumber Man” characters in my future books!

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Meet Guest Author Vicki Wilkerson

Have you ever been infatuated? With a place?

via Meet Guest Author Vicki Wilkerson.

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Speaking of Southern…Dialects

Speaking of Southern…Dialects

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By Vicki Wilkerson

One of the most identifiable characteristics about Southerners is dialect. I’ve noticed that many people beyond the Mason-Dixon Line, however, believe that this characteristic is pretty much generic—as evidenced by Hollywood’s bungling of the Southern brogue in numerous movies and television shows (and some even believe that Southern speech is accompanied by a slight…dulling of intellect—but that is another blog article entirely—and one which I cannot wait to address).

To most astute Southerners—and linguistic professors—the myriad dialects identify very specific geographic locations and demographic factors. I am particularly attuned to the numerous variances around the Charleston, South Carolina, area. That’s right. There is not a single accent in any given city. In the Charleston Lowcountry one can find the downtown gentry brogue, Geechee, Gullah, rural South, redneck South and—what I call—university Southern (where one’s education dumbs down one’s dialect), among others. Each of these vernaculars can be pure, or they can be—and many times are—combinations of several of these. To figure out how many different dialects can be found in one particular area, we’d have to pull out some logarithmic equations—and we just don’t want to have to do that because we’ll get a headache.

Each city or area in the South has a unique combination of dialects, speech indicators, and speech patterns that include distinctive phonological features and lexical differences. It could be an exhaustive study to categorize them all—fascinating, but nevertheless, exhausting. Authentic Southern writers are able to discern and communicate some of those nuances in their books and are able to add depth and layers to their stories by imbedding those tones, gradations and distinctions on their pages. One can only wish that Hollywood would follow suit—or at least do just a little homework.

Southern dialects developed mostly because of geographical isolation and economic practices. Think about it. Why don’t we hear the Southern dialect above the Mason-Dixon Line? Because they weren’t engaged in plantation economics. Plantations were geographically isolated—for the most part—and required slave labor to flourish. Many Southern dialects were directly influenced by the African-Americans who worked on those isolated acres. And because those workers came from different parts of Africa (and the plantation owners came from different parts of Europe), dialects across the South combined to create precise identifiers of the people who spoke in particular areas.

The more successful plantation families were able to send their sons to fine schools in England, and much of their speech was refined there, and they brought those influences back home. The amount of time spent in cities and in American schools also influenced the Southern dialect.

With the advent of television, speech is a bit different today. Even the most severe of dialects gets affected by the generic Midwestern pattern that the mainstream media values and tries to emulate. Travel, education, geographic location, and media exposure affect Southern dialects today.

No matter, however, how far one travels, how well one gets educated or how much CNN one watches, traces of Southern dialect can be detected if one listens quietly to the lilt, and rhythms, and pace of words. And if you care to, you can ascertain much about Southerners by appreciating the beauty and history bound up in their language.  

 

 

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Pregnant, Midget, Vampire Brides? Hmmm…

Pregnant, Midget, Vampire Brides? Hmmm…

 

So, what trips my trigger when it comes to romantic story lines, you ask? Really?

No. Really. Yes. Reality. For me to totally immerse myself into a story, I’ve got to find it believable, like it could actually happen. To me. I’m on board for the author to take me anywhere if it can truly happen. But if you offer me a story line about a secret baby who has amnesia (and got amnesia because she’s also a fairy who fell from the sky), well… Not so much.

Please don’t throw rocks. I know there are readers out there who like that sort of thing. Heck, I have author friends who write that sort of thing. And they have lots of readers who love to read that sort of novel. But you asked me, “…what trips my trigger…?” so I answered honestly.

Give me a “boss/employee” story, or an “opposites attract” tale, or a “friends to lovers” book, and I will give that author many hours of my time to entertain me. My time is an investment, and I want a payoff that I can believe. I love to read how ordinary people with ordinary lives can end up happy and fulfilled. I can substitute myself for the heroine and imagine that I, too, can experience a love like that.

Not so much when an author tries to feed me a line about a handsome, ripped billionaire tycoon who falls for an ugly duckling who snorts when she laughs and dribbles Coke out the side of her mouth when she drinks. The author can try—if she’s really good at storytelling, but the moment my little brain says, “Really?” I’m done. It’s that “jump the shark” moment. I mean, have you seen photos of attractive billionaire tycoons’ wives? Seriously. They are freaking gorgeous! All of them. Well, almost. At least they started out cute, and they might end up average after some road miles, but for a billionaire tycoon—who could have his pick of almost any woman out there—to fall for Cruella Deville? It could happen…but it’s probably not going to.

That brings me to my next point. Connectivity and probability. Again, I am discussing what I like, not what my neighbor likes. Connectivity and probability play a big role in what I read and in what I write. Take the whole “royalty” or “sheik” story line. I’ve never met—or have even seen in person—one of these types of people. And the probability of a prince falling for me… Well, let’s just say, it’s not going to happen. That’s why I don’t read or write a “royalty” trope. And do you know how many Navy SEALs there actually are out there? Not that many. The Navy doesn’t just train anyone who signs up, so the probability of running into one of them and him falling for little ol’ me is slim to never going to happen.

So, what are the kinds of story lines do I write, you ask? (Or maybe you didn’t ask, and I’m going to tell you anyway—if you don’t mind.) My first book in the Summerbrook Series (a series about girlfriends from a small, Southern town) is Bikers and Pearls. It’s a healthy opposites attract story, with a prissy Southern belle as a heroine and a biker hero. They both grow from learning about each other’s very different worlds. The next in the series (probably a May 2014 release) is Sweet Tea and the Enemy and has a strong enemies to lovers trope. It’s kind of a “two dogs/one bone” story. Somebody is going to lose everything, and then, how can there be love? The third in the Summerbrook series is Fireflies and Lies (coming winter 2014), a story about the heroine overcoming her emotional problems, only to find a forbidden love (and then doing what is necessary to hold on to him). The last in the series is Swamps and Soirees (coming spring 2015), which is an across the tracks story. It’s about a Southern guy with a blue blood name and a girl whose family heritage is tainted and sketchy—at best.

Yes, I acknowledge the fact that some readers like to be completely taken away by werewolves and vampires, and some want the fantasy about their uber-wealthy playboys, but I want something grounded in reality. I want to realistically place myself in the character’s shoes and believe that “happily ever after” could actually happen for her—and for me.

Really.

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Book Signings Are Fun (and a lot of hard work)!

small book signing sign

Book Signing is Fun (and a lot of hard work)!

So…what’s it like to do a book signing? In a single word—fun! Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like…going to the movies fun. It’s more like going to a picnic with all your friends fun.

At the movies, you just show up. They have all the entertainment lined up. They have the seating, the popcorn, the soft drinks—everything. At a picnic, YOU create the fun. You bring the tablecloth, the picnic basket, the wine, the food. You think of the games and entertainment. Heck…you ARE the entertainment—you bring the balls, or the horseshoes, and the Frisbees. You set it all up and then have fun with your friends. It’s a lot of work.

Book signings are like that. They are a lot of work—before you ever sign one book! Yeah, your host will probably have the desk and the chair (but I’d always ask—just to be sure). They may even order the books ahead of time. But again, you need to touch base to make sure this is true and talk about just how many fans you expect might show up. You wouldn’t want to be caught with too few books—or too many.

To make your book signing organized, think ahead about what you may need. If the book store is going to collect the money, you may not need to worry about the moola; however, many book signings today are held in libraries, specialty stores, restaurants, clubs, book fairs, etc. If a signing is held in such a venue, you will need a box or zippered bag to hold the bills, and you will need change…lots of it. Oh, and BTW, I like to bring my gorgeous niece along to collect the cash, so that I’ll have more time to talk to my readers.

 You’ll need several pens—and try them out before you begin your signing. Many authors like to use colors other than black to make their messages and signatures stand out. Personally, I prefer black. It’s just hard to mistake a signature from type.

If your book is available digitally, try ordering some rack cards to sign for e-book customers. It’s a way for them to participate in the signing, as well. For myself, I no longer buy print books if digital books are available. I’m a bibliophile, but I love reading at night from my Kindle that much! I also bring stands for my rack cards, my business cards and one for a book (to display). Your table will look better if everything isn’t resting “dead” flat on the table.

I also purchase “Local Author” stickers and “Autographed Copy” stickers. To me, they are dimensional decorations for the covers and make them pop to the customer—especially if you are leaving stock in the store for sale. It’s totally unnecessary, but I also like to have a very small, short vase with a few live flowers in it—just because that’s how I roll.

I also have a really nice sign that I display on an easel that says, “Book Signing Today!” You can put it outside the shop to draw customers. My sign has my name and a tag that says, “Authentic Southern Fiction” to let customers know what I write so they’ll know whether or not the book might be their cup of tea.

Finally, when you sign, try to keep your message as personal as possible. It’s very interesting to talk to fans, so chat them up if there’s time and try to use something you discussed in your conversation in your message to them—personalize it. Even if there’s not time to get to know your fan, you can say something like, “It was great meeting a fellow reader at “Random Shop Here,” and I wish you many smiles as you turn the pages of “Your Book Here.”

Book signings are fun in general—all the excitement and anticipation—and sometimes even the wine and cheese. But the most special part of the signing will be meeting your readers. They are extraordinary people who are committing their money and time to you. Though book signings are fun, they should also fill authors’ hearts with gratitude. Mine is bursting.

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