Monday, October 14, 2019

Analyzing the Successes of the Past and Present for Creating Unique Stories of the Future: Intensive Workshop with Vicki Selvaggio

Congratulations to Carrie Schmidt and Becky Scharnhorst who each won a copy of When We Were Alone from last weeks blog. 


Two weeks ago I attended the fall SCBWI-Carolinas conference. In the next few posts I'll share some of my highlights with you.

First up was the writing intensive with Vicki Selvaggio on Friday morning.

Vicki is a knowledgable, passionate, and accessible agent with Storm Literacy Agency. She poured herself into her presentation! Here are some of the points she made:

  • She loves seeing potential in other people’s writing and encouraging writers not to give up.
  • At the same time, writers need to delve deeper to make their stories stand out from other books in the marketplace. Writers must add layers so that children [and teens] will want to pick it up.
  • If you have an idea for a series, remember your book has to be able to stand alone. A publisher will wants to see how your first book goes. Word it as “Series potential" in your query and be prepared to pitch other books. 
  • Your manuscript must appeal to the Eye—how does it look? Is there creativity in opening paragraphs. Is there adequate white space?  It's not good if something looks the same and sounds the same. Vary sentence lengths. To the Ear: How something sounds makes a difference. To the Hand: how does the manuscript make someone feel? A book must emotionally connect with the reader. 
  • A manuscript must have 3 C’s: clarity, consistency, and a cohesive feeling. 


The opening page must include a sense of frustration
and what the character wants.


  • Think of transitions like the reader is moving through a house freely. If transitions aren’t smooth, the reader will have to stop and open doors. The ending of chapter should lead into the first line of next. 


The story has ended, but the journey for your character has just begun.
What will happen next?


  • What is not said can have greater impact than what is said. The same goes for purposeful miscommunication.
  • Dialogue should move the story forward. If there’s no change after the dialogue, it isn’t doing it’s job.
  • Incorporate dialogue with subtext. Characters disagree about one thing, but really tare alking about something else.


  • In life, nothing comes easy. Without the battle, the win isn’t as gratifying. The same is true in stories. If you give your main character what s/he wants before s/he struggled for it, the story won’t be gratifying. 
  • ASK YOURSELF: Why am I writing this? Who cares? 
  • Your job is to make your reader care. 
  • Consider rejections as the fuel to success. 

Remember in the beginning of this post I mentioned that Vicki was accessible? When I told her that I wanted to pitch HALF-TRUTHS to her, she made sure to fit me into her busy schedule. She listened, asked questions, and encouraged me to submit to her. 

No doubt about it. Vicki Selvaggio is on my top 10 list of agents!

Next Up: Tips on Non-Fiction. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

When We Were Alone: A Review and a Giveaway

Every once in awhile you run across a picture book that informs readers in a beautifully, albeit sad manner. When We Were Alone by David Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett is one of those books.

The book is accessible to young readers and also speaks powerfully to adults. Featuring a story within a story, the book opens with a Nósisim (my grandchild), asking her Nókom (her grandmother) about things that are different about her. The girl notices that her grandmother wears colorful clothes "like she dresses in rainbows," that she wears her hair in a long braid, speaks in Cree, and spends time with her family.   

With every answer,  Nókom tells a short story about how when she was young she was sent to a school far from home. For example, at the school, the girls had to wear clothes that "weren't colorful at all. We all mixed together like storm clouds."  Nókom says, "They wanted us all to be like everybody else." So now, her grandmother loves to wear colorful clothes. 

When Nósisim asks why her grandmother wears her hair in a long braid, she explains that they cut all the girls hair and "Our strands of hair mixed together like blades of dead grass."

"But sometimes when we were alone, we would pick the blades from the ground. We would braid them into the short hair they had given us, and we would have long hair again."

With lovely rhythm and repetition, Nókom explains how whenever something was taken from them, she and her friends would come together "when they were alone" and find a way to remember their home, their language, and their people. 

Educators, you will find an excellent classroom resource here for K-3rd grade. This would be a great book to use on Indigenous Peoples' Day is October 14th.

David Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation) and Julie Flett  (Cree-Metis) are significant contributors to Native Nations literature and artwork. Joyce Hostetter and I are giving away this book, courtesy of Portage & Main Press, through our Native Nations issue of Talking Story to be published on October 9. Leave a comment (alone with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name. If you leave a comment through the newsletter, I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends October 14.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Write2Ignite 2019 Wrap-Up

Congratulations to Susan Rice who won Invisible Lizard in Love and Connie Saunders who won Back Roads, Country Toads from last week's blog.

The 2019 Write2Ignite conference is now history. Here are my highlights as well as photos and quotes from my friends who were first time attendees.  


Besides being the Write2Ignite blogmeister, I am also the teen track co-ordinator. In other words, I get to spend time talking with teens about their stories and hearing their imaginative ideas for stories. I led three sessions and the most interactive one was "Out of this World Science Fiction and Fantasy." I put up this slide and led a discussion about the physical world, it's history, and some potential characters.

I loved hearing the teens' responses which included that this was a world where anarchists had taken over and didn't allow the citizens  to know the history of their queen. 

Time travel was thrown in as well as a prince who thought the anarchists were the bad guys, but as it turned out, they were preventing the citizens from an even worse catastrophe. And by the way...the arms were escaping from the gritty ground. I loved their use of Muscle Words!

I was also inspired by Nancy Lohr's keynote on "Truth-FULL Writing." Her encouragement that if we are Christians our world view will be communicated in our writing will stick with me. 

  • "Draw from your own faith well." 
  • "Don't try to write like someone else." 
  • "What is your readers's felt need? Write to meet that need."
  • As in life, "You can't enjoy a good ending if you skip through all the hard parts."
  • "Write as salt and light."


I had the privilege of critiquing Jarm Del Boccio's WIP, SOLI'S SAVING GRACE. Having received many critiques myself, I enjoyed coming alongside her and pointing out some aspects of her manuscript that were terrific and some areas that needed strengthening. Like many writers, she was too easy on her characters; I encouraged her to make her antagonist more of a bad guy which would bring more conflict into the story.

Here she is with her debut middle grade novel, The Heart Changer.

”Write2Ignite was a boost to my writing journey in many ways. The sessions were informative, and appointments enlightening and productive. What an encouragement to chat with those walking alongside me on the road to publication! Even though our journeys are unique, they lead to the same destination: a manuscript that brings glory to God.” Jarm Del Boccio 


Several young adults who I haven't seen in a year, attended Write2Ignite for the first time.

Charissa Garcia (our NGU intern)
Olivia Rollins (a fantastic teen writer!)

Charissa said,  "All of the sessions were excellent, especially the key-note sessions, and I appreciated the emphasis on the fact that because we are Christians and because we are writers, therefore we are Christian writers. There isn’t something you need to add to have the magic formula in order to make your book a “Christian” book. If you have faith in Christ, that will come out in your writing." 

Olivia said,  "I loved Write2Ignite!! I learned so much in just two days. Each of the speakers was engaging and God-centered, and I loved the variety and being able to choose which one sounded the best. A few lectures in particular made me reevaluate aspects of my own writing in a way I hadn't before. Whether you're a young aspiring author, or experienced and published, the dynamic of being immersed in other writers and getting to meet them is so enriching. Overall, I think what made the longest-lasting impression on me was how encouraged I felt, to keep writing, and to glorify the Lord in my writing. And definitely to come back next year. " 😀


Recently Karen Wallace and I have become friends bonding over shared life experiences, writing, and our commitment to the Lord. She showed me her guided journal, ABC's of What Children Need From Their Parents and asked me to help edit the introduction. Each attendee received a copy which was a great addition to our conference bags!

Karen said, "In Linda Phillips' and Daniel Blackaby's workshops, word and picture prompts were effectively used to draw out creative writing from each attendee. This got me excited for what might be be drawn out of each person who interacts with the word prompts in the ABCs journal."

I was glad that my friends, Hadassah and Kelilah Murdock, came.

Tessa Emily Hall, Kelilah Murdock, Hadassah Murdock

"Writing is not my forte. Yet as I went to the sessions and spoke with some of the accomplished authors and felt my interest being kindled; I was inspired to give higher priority to learning more about the art of writing.  After a long summer of complacency, I feel motivated to dive back into my school writing projects and sharpen my skills. I am already planning to go again next year and highly recommend this workshop to anyone who has or who needs to cultivate an interest in all things paper." Hadassah Murdock

"Here are some of the many things that I enjoyed about W2I:
  • The presenters and speakers showed a genuine interest in the attendees, answering questions and taking time to talk personally about writing and story crafting with us.
  • There was a broad range of speakers (authors of many genres, editors and agents) and themes.  From the nuts and bolts of word crafting to the imaginative scope of world building, there was something useful and interesting for everyone, regardless of ability or level of involvement." Kelilah Murdock 

Unable to attend this year? Mark your calendar for 2020!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Three Just-for-Fun Picture Books: Reviews and Giveaways

Congratulations to  Keturah Lamb who won my ARC of Maybe He Just Likes You from last week's blog.

We're back to picture books today and I have some fun ones for you to try to win for a child, grandchild, or student in your class. Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press, I seem to have an endless supply to review and pass along!


Experiment #256  by Marty Kelley, is a cleverly written and illustrated STEAM-focused book for the youngest reader. The funny story of how Ian builds a jet pack for his dog, Wilbur, and all the things that go wrong is told through the illustrations, making this a book that pre-readers can figure out from the pictures. Minimal text is written in the form of Ian's notes about the experiment.

On the first few pages Ian builds the jet pack but wonders why he has leftover parts. 

Leftover parts were definitely the brakes.
Adding the turbo blaster was probably a mistake.
Lisa is not happy. 

Outside, Ian and Wilbur run into more trouble.

Garden fence need some repairs.
Wilbur got tangled up in the undies that Mrs. Marino was hanging on the line.
Mrs. Marino is not happy. 
In the end Ian designs Experiment #257, a Snack Blaster that blasts out dog treats. Wilbur is hugely happy...but their neighbor, Mrs. Marino is not. You'll have to get the book to see why!

By the way, the Front Matter is very clever. Kelley has small vignettes showing twelve of Ian's previous experiments...and disasters. 


Back Roads, Country Toads is not the first book by author Devin Scillian and illustrator Tim Bowers. I was drawn into this book by the first lines, "On a warm spring morning, Hank and Buckaroo were sitting in their favorite drainpipe near Cooper's General Store. They were licking up the last few sips of a bottle of strawberry soda and they were as happy as two country toads could be."  

The adventure starts when Hank and Buckaroo overhear two men talking about fly fishing. They assume that the men are going fishing for flies...what else could it mean?

When they get to the fishing spot, Emmitt, a friendly raccoon, overhears their delight:

"It's going to be a fly cafeteria!" yelped Buckaroo.
"Oh yeah, said Hank. "A down-home,
big-time fly barbecue!
After Bukaroo almost gets hooked by a fake fly, the toads are disappointed to discover that fishermen use fake flies for lures. But Hank turns the tables by using Emmitt's stolen fish as a lure for a fly dinner. 

"Yahoo!" yelled Buckaroo. Their tongues
darted through the air, snapping up fly after fly,
and the two toads reeled them in by the dozens.

In the end, "... two very plump, very happy country toads waddled back to town for a strawberry soda and an afternoon nap." 

"Toadally" sounds good, doesn't it?


Invisible Lizard in Love follows chameleon Napoleon's first book, Invisible Lizard  in which he sorrows over not having any friends (after all--he's a chameleon, so who sees him?). In this second book, written by Kurt Cyrus and illustrated by Andy Atkins, Napoleon's new-found friends desert him when they find love. He's alone again!

Napoleon sulks and then scratches his initial inside a heart on a tree. When the branch snaps, 

Moss and bark rained from the sky.
Fern grounds fluttered by.
A warty lumpstool fell onto
the far end of the branch.
Napoleon held on.

Napoleon realizes that the only thing which is keeping the limb balanced is the "big warty lumpstool" who turns out to be a girl chameleon aptly named (who else?) -- Josephine.  

The two chameleons slowly move towards one another, afraid to disturb the balance of the precarious limb.

They kept on creeping. 

Until they meet in the middle of the branch. 

Like a chameleon itself, science and friendship lessons are hidden within the story and illustrations. 

One of the challenges of writing a good picture book is that the adult reader and the child are both entertained. These three picture books soundly meet that challenge. 


Leave me a comment if you would like to win Back Roads, Country Toads or Invisible Lizard in Love. (I'm saving Experiment #256 for my grandkids). Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog and which book you are interested in. Giveaway ends September 26 and is limited to the continental United States. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Maybe He Just Likes You- A Review and ARC Giveaway

After watching Colby Sharp's YouTube  recommendation of Barbara Dee's newest book, Maybe He Just Likes You (Simon and Schuster), I knew I wanted to read it. 

As I mentioned to Ms. Dee when I connected with her on Facebook, it's a book that I both love and hate. I love it because it is written so well. I hate it because it deals so honestly with a topic-- sexual harassment--that no 7th grader should have to think about or deal with.  


Barbara Dee doesn't waste time. Right off the bat, the protagonist, Mila, receives unwelcome attention from Callum. He and his three friends (all basketball players) join a circle of friendship Mila and her friends created to celebrate their friend Omi's birthday. After singing "Happy Birthday" Callum continues to hug Mila. 
I wriggled my shoulders, but Callum's hand was squeezing. And I am not leaving.
Now I could feel my armpits getting damp. (p. 7)
From that uncomfortable encounter onward, Callum and his friends continue to harass Mila. Zara dismisses the incidents as the boys just being friendly and/or Mila being a baby or flirting with them. Omi fails to support Mila. Her fourth friend, Max, sees the bullying and recommends she talk to the assistant principal. But since he is also the basketball coach, Mila is reluctant to bring him into the picture. 

At the same time that Mila is experiencing increased unwanted attention and physical contact from the boys, her divorced mother loses her job and the family experiences financial stress. Mila can't confide in her mother and feels alone. Her one source of comfort--playing her trumpet--doesn't give her the normal "blue sky feeling" since Callum is in the school band and things seem to happen during practice. 

As the book progresses, Mila gets to know Samira, a Black star clarinetest, who observes the unwanted attention Mila is receiving. Here is an interchange between the two girls, beginning with Samira:
"If it was me, I wouldn't allow it."  
"You think I allowed it?" 
"I'm just saying, you don't  have to put up with stuff like that, Mila. It's just really wrong, you know?" (p. 56)
Although Mila is validated that the boys' attention is inappropriate, she misunderstands Samira's comment and is left feeling as if all this is her fault.

Mila's mother begins working out a local gym that also has classes for kids. Mila ends up in a karate class where Samira clearly knows how to handle herself. Mila thinks,
How do you get like that? 
knowing what to do, in what order. 
Not thinking. Or not-thinking. 
Not ignoring. And not running away. 
Could I ever do any of that? 
Could one of those girls ever be me? 
As hard as I tried, it was impossible to 
imagine.  (p. 105)
As Mila begins to see that she is a victim of the boys' bullying, she starts reacting--but not always in appropriate ways. Not until she disrupts the band concert and has a heart-to-heart talk with her band teacher, is Mila given words to understand her experience of sexual harassment. Becoming more adept at karate class gives her newfound confidence. In turn, this is translated into stronger thoughts about herself and more forthright communication with others.

I highly recommend Maybe He Just Likes You for both girls and boys; it would be a useful conversation starter in any classroom or family. 


I wrote to Ms. Dee in our Facebook interchange, "I'm over 60. Wish there had been a book like this when I was that age. It would have helped."

She replied, "Totally agree. We never discussed these things and they never got solved."


I am giving away my ARC to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by September 19 if you want to enter the giveaway. Giveaway limited to continental United States. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

I Finished My Book, Now What? Some ABC's of Being Between Books

Congratulations to Theresa Milstein who won Tomorrow's Bread from last week's blog.


One of the television shows my husband and I enjoy is ChoppedBesides watching the incredible creations the cooks come up with out of their mystery baskets, I like the final second when the cooks' time is up. They throw up their hands and step away from the plates. There is nothing more they can do.

That's how I felt last week when I typed "The End" on HALF-TRUTHS, tweaked it a few more times, and pressed SEND.

After over eleven years, my young adult historical novel was on its way to an agent. 


I step back, but I'm not about to throw my hands up in the air.

Instead, here's a peak at what will keep me busy--and keep me from checking my email every minute of the day as I wait for an answer. 

A is for agents. I'll continue to work on my list of agents who I'll query next. I have a folder in my email box in which I've been saving agents I've read about who are interested in YA historical novels; most of them from Kathy Temean's excellent blog, Writing and Illustrating. (If you are serious about writing or illustrating for children or teens, you need to follow this blog.) I'll study each agent's wish list and if I think they're a good fit, I'll move their name and agency information to my list on Query Tracker. For $25.00/a year you get the premium membership with many benefits. 

B is for brochure. Mine is out of date and it'll probably take hours for me to come up with a new design template. Not my favorite thing to do. 

Old brochure.

C is for clean up my computer. I keep running out of room on my hard drive! Time to move photos and files. 

A little old-school, I know. But I still like them!

D is for dentist. Overdue.  

E is for EQUAL.  

Joyce Hostetter sent me the manuscript for her last book in the Baker Mountain Series several months ago. She has given me a tremendous amount of feedback and input into HALF-TRUTHS. Time to return the favor. 

F is for the Federlin files.

One of Henry Federlin's genealogy lists.

I inherited many things from my father, Henry Federlin, including his desire to document his life. I have two folders full of papers that he saved which I promised to copy for my brother and sister.  

I is for Instagram. 
Apparently Instagram (not Facebook!) is the way to connect with teen readers. I have an account, but have only a smidgen of knowledge how to use it. 

L is for lunch with friends.

 (my friends are less furry but I couldn't resist this!)

M is for Marguerite Higgins.

While researching HALF-TRUTHS, I came across Marguerite Higgins, a journalist who covered WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. She becomes Kate's heroine and perhaps, my subject for a non-fiction picture book biography. 

M is also for Dr. Marie Maynard Daly.

I also discovered Dr. Marie Daly, who becomes Lillian's heroine. I think she would make an excellent subject for a non-fiction picture book biography. 

S is for Scrivener 3.  

See comment on Instagram above about learning something new. Except that I've begun my next book in both Scrivener 2 and 3. First off: figure out how to import one to the other.

T is for Talking Story.  Our fall issue is on Native Americans and First Nations. 

T is also for THREADS. The working title for my sequel to HALF-TRUTHS.  
Charlotte textile industry roots
Image courtesy Bank of America.

The textile mills are as much a part of Charlotte, NC's history as the Jim Crow laws. The story will take place in 1954, involve the textile mills, and revolve around Frank, Kate Dinsmore's younger brother, and Isaac, Lillian Harris's older brother who has just returned from his service in Korea. 

W is for Write2Ignite. Our annual conference is less than two weeks away and I need to finish getting ready. I'm giving three talks for teens and am excited to encourage these burgeoning authors. There's still time to register!


How about you? What do you put off doing until you've completed a project? 

Which item on my "to do" list will I tackle first? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Author Interview with Anna Jean Mayhew- Part II

As promised on last week's blog, A.J.Mayhew, author of Tomorrow's Bread answers more questions on the art of writing fiction, being a White author writing from a Black POV, and dealing with doubt.

Secondary Characters

CAROL How did you pick Eben and Persy as your secondary characters?

A.J. It may sound weird, but I feel like they picked me. I knew right off that Loraylee would be my primary narrator. Initially I wrote her narration in third person past tense, but that wasn't "active" enough…when I changed it to first person present tense, she leapt off the page. I began to think about other people who lived in Brooklyn; I wanted a community leader for my second narrator, and Eben worked well for that. He was perhaps the easiest to write, although I was surprised by his doubts; I had assumed that as a minister he would have a deep and abiding faith, but throughout the novel he voices great uncertainties.

Persy was the most difficult of the three narrators, maybe because she was the most like me. The address I chose for her home with her husband Blair is less than a mile from where I grew up; she was a young wife only a few years before I had the same role, same neighborhood, same schools, etc. I had to find a way to let her be her unique self, so I wrote a lot of back story that never made it into the book, pages and pages about her parents, her brother, about her husband's parents (his realtor father, his meddlesome housewife mother); I found that by creating a life story for her that was vastly different from mine, I became free to write her narration.

One reason I chose to have Persy and her husband Blair live on Sugar Creek is that I wanted something to connect them with Brooklyn besides politics. Thus the creek became sort of a character in the novel, roaming as it does from north Charlotte through south Charlotte and on to the Catawba river. It's mentioned in the opening line of the novel and in the last line. I didn't plan that, but when it happened I realized how important Sugar Creek, aka Little Sugar, meant to the story and to me (I grew up only a couple of blocks from the creek, and it was always there in my life).
1942 image of houses near Little Sugar Creek.
Photo courtesy of Beaumert Whitton Papers,
UNC Charlotte Atkins Library

History + Fiction = A Great Story!

CAROL You mentioned in your acknowledgments that Cliff Staton "relieved you of the burden of sticking to the facts.” As a hopeful historical novelist, I’m curious about this. Obviously, there is a ton of truth in this book. How did you decide what to fictionalize? I’m curious about the church and the cemetery. Were they real? Any “real” people? 

A.J. I found a story about a “lost” graveyard behind Myers Park Country Club in a wealthy area of Charlotte; human remains were discovered when foundations were dug for a new development in the mid-1980s, where an AME Zion church once stood. That led me to read about old graveyards—particularly those where slaves were buried—and to look into what would happen if a cemetery got in the way of urban renewal. I imagined a graveyard behind St. Timothy’s, and for the purposes of the drama such a burial ground would create, I chose to fictionalize, to disregard the fact that there was no cemetery in Brooklyn.

As for being relieved of the burden of sticking to the facts, my friend Cliff Staton was referring to an author statement about writing fiction, and having the right—as novelists—to "make stuff up." Cliff and I had a long conversation at the kitchen table back when I was agonizing about whether I would get all the facts right. He helped me see that my story was driven by the characters—fictional people—and that if I got the historical facts right (e.g., when the bulldozers rolled), I could have fun making up the rest. And I did!

Commemorating the Brooklyn community.
Placard hanging in Second Ward High gymnasium. 

Writing as a White Author

CAROL Have you had any negative response from the Black community for writing two of the viewpoints from a Black person’s POV? 

AJ I have had two reviews thus far from men who grew up in Brooklyn, and await a third from a woman who lived there. The first two were stunning in their approval and praise. A big weight was lifted when I got those comments!

Thus far the only criticism of being white and writing black has been in one of the Amazon reviews, wherein someone named Petunia said: "I'm just not really sure that the author does a good job of representing POC [people of color] and often wonder if someone who is white should be writing from that perspective."

I am sick and tired of the whole issue of what's being called "cultural appropriation." As a white person perceptive about such things (how could I write what I write without being aware of and respectful of race issues?), I was at first quite defensive when considering whether I had appropriated. But any such issue can be taken to extremes. If Tolstoy and Flaubert had been told they could not write from the POV of a woman, we wouldn't have Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. If Puccini had been told he could not "appropriate" Japanese mores, we would not have Madama Butterfly. Likewise, there's Carmen, set in Southern Spain and written by Georges Bizet, French and male, about a gypsy woman falling in love.

And what about Uncle Tom's Cabin by the white author Harriet Beecher Stowe? 

The most stunning recent example is The Vain Conversation, an amazing novel with a young white protagonist—the son of a sharecropper—who witnesses the murder of four blacks from his town and whose life is forever changed. The author, Anthony Grooms, is a professor of English and black. I wonder what Petunia et al would have to say to him.

Writers must pay homage to the truth while creating fictional settings and characters, and must write with sensitivity no matter the setting or plot. I am first and foremost a Southern writer; as such, if I didn't include blacks in my stories, I would certainly be accused of the sin of omission.

To paraphrase the inimitable Toni Morrison, I don't appropriate, I imagine. 

Sugar Creek cleaned up and now enjoyed by many
in Freedom Park. 9/1/19

Taking your Time and Writerly Doubts

CAROL I love the fact that it took you 18 years to write and publish The Dry Grass of August. I’m well over 10 years into Half-Truths (I don’t really want to know how long it’s been) but given this is my first novel, I had a lot to learn. Here’s the question: How did you maintain your momentum while writing? Any doubts along the way that nagged at you? (I’m revealing my hand with that question.)

AJ I don't trust any writer (any artist of any medium) who never has doubts. I certainly did, many, and the only thing that dispelled them or took away their strength was to go right back to the computer (the manuscript, the drawing board). I have a quote pasted to the top of my monitor: "Trust the process. Let go of the results." That has served me well over the years. And as for maintaining my momentum, I've been in a writing group for 32 years; knowing that I would have to read to the group from my work in progress helped me tremendously. We meet on Thursday mornings, and I've said that my first novel should have had a subtitle: The Dry Grass of August: A Novel Written on Wednesday Evenings.

CAROL What's next?

AJ As I said in my "interview" in the back matter of TB, when asked, "Are you working on a third novel?" I answered, "Yes. No. Maybe." I've pulled out some short stories I wrote many years ago, so maybe a collection of them. Maybe a third novel…I do have an idea I'm pursuing, based on a book I wrote 25 years ago. But as I approach 80, the idea of writing another book makes me weary. Don't quote me!

Thank you, A.J., for taking the time to answer all my questions. If you live in the Charlotte area, A.J. will be one of the guests at the Women's National Book Association annual Bibliofeast on October 21. If you win her book, you can get her autograph!

By the way, ten discussion questions at the end make this book a perfect book club selection. 


Leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. Winner's name will be drawn on September 5. For additional chances, share this on social media and let me know what you did. 

This description of urban renewal is posted on
Second Ward High's refurbished gymnasium.
The high school was torn down in 1969.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Author Interview with Anna Jean Mayhew: Part I

As a fan of historical fiction, I love it when a book seems so real that it could have happened just like the author described it. That's how I felt when I read Tomorrow's Bread which I reviewed last week. (If you haven't already read my review, please do that first. This interview will make more sense if you do.) Some of my questions about what was real and what was fictionalized were answered in the Author's Note, but not all. As you'll see in this interview, A.J. Mayhew drew from facts and her imagination. There is no better way to write a book. 


CAROL Your books bring to life Charlotte’s history. Can you give us a few words about how growing up in Charlotte shaped your books? 

A. J. In 2008 I returned to my hometown of Charlotte for a high school reunion, and for some reason decided to drive through the heart of the city rather than taking my usual route on the perimeter. It was then that I saw how much open land remained where Brooklyn used to be. I couldn't help wondering why, 40 years later, the city hadn't built on the land they appropriated in 1968. That curiosity led to the writing of Tomorrow's Bread.

CAROL How did your first book, The Dry Grass of August influence Tomorrow’s Bread ? Was this your idea or did your publisher request another book? 

A. J. I got a two-book deal when my agent sold Dry Grass to Kensington Publishing, in 2009; at that time I was given a year to write the second book. But I don't write fast, never have, and I didn't finish Tomorrow's Bread until the winter of 2017. The only real influence of the first novel on the second was that I'd done a lot of research for Dry Grass about black/white history in North Carolina; that came in handy as I started the second novel.

CAROL Where did you get the titles of your novels?

A. J. Both my titles came from poems. The Dry Grass of August is a phrase from Robert Penn Warren's poem, "Star-Fall," and Tomorrow's Bread is from "Democracy" by Langston Hughes. I wish I could write poetry, but I absolutely cannot, have tried. I read it quite a bit, though, and have a deep appreciation for the art form.

CAROL You seem to gravitate towards historical fiction. Please comment on your process of research. Any sticky points? Recommendations for other historical fiction novelists?

A.J. When I began to write Dry Grass it never occurred to me that I was writing historical fiction; I had a story to tell. The fact that it was set in the 1950s and would require a lot of research was of no concern, at least not until I began to have to check facts, to determine whether my memories were accurate. The internet is both a boon and a pit of misinformation. I learned quickly not to trust what I found online unless the source was valid (and sometimes it wasn't easy or even possible to track down an original source). Journals I'd kept over the years (some of them going back to my twenties and thirties) were helpful. Encyclopedia yearbooks were a boon when I discovered them. Old magazines helped me get into the mindset of someone living in the early fifties, especially my female characters. I saw how publications like Good Housekeeping, Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, etc., geared their advertising toward the stay-at-home mom. Magazines aimed at people of color were harder to find, but when I began to write Tomorrow's Bread, I found Ebony and Jet to be of incredible value.

There's a thing I do that might be useful to other writers: When I'm perusing magazines of the period of my story (the 50s for Dry Grass and the 60s for Bread), I find photos of my characters and create a scrap book; for Dry Grass it was a physical book; for Bread it was digital, on my computer. For example, here's a photo of Uncle Ray, sitting on the front porch of 1105 Brown Street, with the old rocking chair behind him.

And here's my doctored photo of 1105 Brown Street, with the magnolia tree dominating the front yard:

And the duplex they find:

CAROL That's what I use Pinterest for!



Next week, A.J. returns with more thoughts about writing historical fiction, writing as a white author, and what she's working on next. I'm giving away my copy of Tomorrow's Bread and the contest ends on September 5. Each time you leave a comment I'll add another entry in your name. Make sure you leave your email address if I don't have it!

Analyzing the Successes of the Past and Present for Creating Unique Stories of the Future: Intensive Workshop with Vicki Selvaggio

Congratulations to Carrie Schmidt and Becky Scharnhorst who each won a copy of When We Were Alone from last weeks blog.  ******** Two ...