Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Incredible Neil White...

Neil White is our friend who is an incredible writer with an amazing story. His memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, came out last year and we were among the lucky few to get an early read.

In Sanctuary Neil describes his incarceration in a federal prison in the nineties. But, the prison where he finished out his sentence doubled as the the last remaining Leprosorium in the US. Yep-That's a modern day leper colony, although after bonding with the patients, many who had been there their whole lives, Neil hates the word leper (and now so do we). What Neil didn't expect was for his stay with the patients in Carville, Louisiana, to change his life forever, and not for the worst.

Here's a brief description of his book from Harper Collins:

Daddy is going to camp. That's what I told my children. A child psychologist suggested it. “Words like prison and jail conjure up dangerous images for children,” she explained. But it wasn't camp . . .

Neil White, a journalist and magazine publisher, wanted the best for those he loved—nice cars, beautiful homes, luxurious clothes. He loaned money to family and friends, gave generously to his church, and invested in his community—but his bank account couldn't keep up. Soon White began moving money from one account to another to avoid bouncing checks. His world fell apart when the FBI discovered his scheme and a judge sentenced him to serve eighteen months in a federal prison.

But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy. Hidden away for decades, this small circle of outcasts had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. It is here, in a place rich with history, where the Mississippi River briefly runs north, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, that White's strange and compelling journey begins. He finds a new best friend in Ella Bounds, an eighty-year-old African American double amputee who had contracted leprosy as a child. She and the other secret people, along with a wacky troop of inmates, help White rediscover the value of simplicity, friendship, and gratitude.

Neil's story is an amazing story of redemption in an unlikely place, and Neil's writing is beautiful and gut-wrenchingly honest. He allows the reader to grow with him--suspending prejudice, selfish motivations, and a constant need for approval as the book progresses. In his final acknowledgments, Neil thanks the federal judge who sentenced him (this was especially poignant for me since the judge is a family friend, and I can assure you, he is never "thanked" for sending someone to prison).
It is a MUST read.

Last Wednesday we heard Neil speak about four women who had influenced him in his life. He spoke with self-deprecating humor and beautiful truth about how strong his experience at the Leprosarium had made him and about how these strong women continue to shape his life and keep him focused on the best things. We are proud to call him our friend.

Thanks for this amazing book, Neil!

Katie and SF

*I cannot finish this post without telling my favorite "Neil" story . . .
He was at a big writing conference and some youngish women came up to him and said, "I'll bet you were in a fraternity."
Neil replied, "Yes. As a matter of fact, I was president of my fraternity."
The women scoffed, "Puh-leeze, what do YOU have to write about?"
Neil, "Well, I was incarcerated in the last federal Leprosarium for a year. . . ."
Silence. Then . .
"You are sooooo lucky!!"
Neil said to us when he was telling this story (we pretty much had the same reaction when he told us the subject of his book)--"Only writers would think something like going to prison is cool."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Query Contest . . . TODAY!!!!

Okay, I just read about this amazing contest that my super agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe is doing. Check out the details here and have your finger on your send button between noon and one o'clock TODAY.

She is going to read queries and give HONEST feedback. These are not queries posted publicly--you email her your query for a finished manuscript and she'll give you the low down on why it is or why it isn't for her.

This is a DON'T MISS--I'm speaking from experience. She's the greatest!!!!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Love and Blueberry Muffins...

So you saw the picture of me the other day with this fabulous new picture book called Henry in Love.

I was so moved by this book that I had to post about it.

Here's what happened. SF and I were cozied up in B & N's big club chairs with coffee and tea in hand when I glanced over at SF's big pile of picture books. As I cracked a YA and scanned the pages, she put the aforementioned book down and said, "That was good."

Being the curious little mouse that I am, I reached over and grabbed it to read myself. The lovey-doveyness appealed to my romantic side immediately and the illustrations are incredible - they are beautifully sparse with very little color and have a strange japanese quality about them. Oh! and this author, Peter McCarty, is also the illustrator.
But here's what was weird. When I finished it, I looked up and said, "That was the dumbest book I've ever read."

SF looked at me.

I tilted my head in confusion. "But I think I want to read it again."

SF tilted hers.

"It's like the stupidest story but, it has this seed of truth and the illustrations... They rock! And, if I were a kid, I'd want to read it over and over again, I think."

She nodded.

I went on, confused. "I can't figure out if it's brilliant or bizarre?"

And I can't. I still can't and yet I wish I owned it. The text was as sparse as the illustrations making it almost boring in it's simplicity. This book made me wonder what the conversations were like between the author and the editor? Was careful thought taken to choose each word, or not?

This is obviously why I have found my niche in novels. They're easier. I once heard that picture books is the hardest genre to write and I believe it. I'm gonna leave them to SF - she's better at it. (Y'all aren't gonna believe what she's working on now!)

In the end, I can't decide what I think about this book - but it definitely made an impression. And you know what?

I think I loved it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Checking out the Competition

Katie and I took a little field trip today to a giant Barnes and Noble in Memphis. We live in a town with the greatest indie book store, Square Books, where the buyers carefully choose, read and review all of their selections. It is a dreamy place. But, every so often we like to go to a big box store and see what's on their shelves. Besides, I wanted to do some picture book sleuthing, and I needed to go somewhere where I could read lots of entire picture book series.

Here we our grabbing our iced tea (Katie) and vanilla latte' (me) before we hit the shelves.

Um. I got a little sidetracked by the journals. OMG!! There are so MANY!

Katie got a little sidetracked by this cute, subtle picture book that is a tale of love and a blueberry muffin.

Okay. Research. I like to read picture books and then quickly plot them out in a sentence or two. I'll go home later and look through them. I'm hoping this will help me brainstorm and come up with some new ideas for plot twists and storylines.

Katie's flipping through Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and reading me little snippets of Laurie's dead-on teen-speak.

After spending time at B & N, Katie and I both agreed that our little indie book store is truly a treasure. We have a much better selection of quality books in good ole Oxford, and nobody gives you weird looks when you pull up a chair and sit for hours with no intention of purchasing anything. Nothing against B & N overall (I actually love the one that we go to in Birmingham during SCBWI Conferences, and I think their website is great)--but THIS one was the pits. It was in a suburb of Memphis and was so picked over, I wonder if it is about to be closed.

I did actually make a few purchases: I walked out with a new journal (actually it is for my sister-in-law to use as a guest book in her cabin) and a copy of Australian Vogue Living (the most delicious magazine on earth). Oooo . . . I haven't even had a chance to look through it yet!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Saga Continues . . .

So, we're back in Barbie land. Last week, I found my daughters' Barbies up to some strange behavior. This week, more of the same . . .

As you can see. One of our beauties has taken up with a tiny wooden man in the attic of the dollhouse. At first glance, it would appear that she is nestling a tiny baby in an endearing maternal embrace. That is NOT the case. This fellow is a full-grown adult dollhouse man nestling at Barbie's bosom. And, look at the poor naked man who has been flung over the side of the house (still sporting the same goofy grin, bless his heart).

Let's go in for a closer look, shall we?

Hmm. Just as I suspected. The little wooden man is missing a foot. Did Barbie cripple him as Kathy Bates did to James Caan in Misery so that he could never escape from her? And, WHERE is the other Barbie who was with us last week and staring at the naked man with such rapture??

I will spend some time this week searching for the other Barbie and watching this bimbo to see what other tricks she is up to . . .

Ah. If I could only write a novel with this much tension.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Never-ending Pizza Dilemma

Ordering pizza at my house is a nightmare. Is it at yours? This is what happens at our house weekly.

Husband: Let's order pizza!

Katie: Gross. (I ate it every day, every meal, throughout my entire first pregnancy and have since been able to only eat it about once a month.

Chicken Big: Only if it's thin cheese.

Katie: Okay. I'll eat thin cheese IF it's from Pizza Hut.

Chicken Big: No. I want Dominos.

Husband: Yeah, Dominos. But, I want regular crust with pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms.

Katie: So if we go to Dominos, we'll get Daddy one like that and the girls can get a thin cheese.

Chicken Little: NO. I want THICK cheese. With cheese filled crust.

Katie: Wait. (Thinking hubby can get half of his and Chicken Little can get the other like she wants) Chicken Little? Can you eat regular crust with cheese?

Chick Little: If it's stuffed. Or a P zone from Pizza Hut.

Chick Big: Ooo! Can we get cheesy bread too?

Katie: getting frazzled and freaking out. No! No, cheesy bread

Chick Big: Why? It's free?

Katie: (has no idea what to do) I want thin cheese with green peppers perhaps? Or jalapeno peppers? And it must come from Pizza Hut.

Chicken Big: Mom, if you get that, our pizza will be disgusting.

Chicken Little: I thought we were getting Dominoes?

I have literally transcribed this conversation word for word until Chicken Little freaked out and gave a tirade as to why her flavor should be allowed. Apparently she has been forced to eat pizza at every friend's house she has visited the entire winter and now wants to be able to choose what she really wants. Now I must quit typing and figure out what to order. I'll let you know.

Oh, and stay tuned for sf's Barbie saga on Monday. I've been told that a little wooden man has entered into the story . . .


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Fat Tuesday!

We celebrated pre-Fat Tuesday Sunday night at our house with this gorgeous, glittery king cake from Sucre in New Orleans. Check out their website--the macaroons are de-vine!! And, they ship.

Then we continued our celebration tonight with our annual Mardi Gras Parade/ pancake supper which was followed by a variety show. Both of my daughters performed in the show. My middle daughter tapped her way through a selection from Hairspray with a friend, and my oldest (gulp) performed a guitar SOLO--her first public performance. And, oh my, there were over 200 people there!!

I know that you are dying to see Sallie tap dance, but I am sad to report that the video will not export from my phone to my computer. Yes, you read that correctly. I am a parent who does not own a proper video camera. Please don't report me to DHS.

What I can show you is a rather crappy, sideways video of a stunning debut performance by my daughter Anne who is singing Ingrid Michelson's Take Me the Way I Am (this video totally doesn't do her justice--she sounded great!).

Happy Fat Tuesday everyone! Laissez les bon temps roulez!!

AND . . . Happy Chinese New Year! I've got dragons on my brain today . . . sketching dragons.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Changing Perspectives

Today, I shall ramble...

First of all, while SF's darlings were playing naked Barbies, mine had 9 extra girls spend the
night, dressed in black, put war paint on, and rolled the neighbors houses - only the ones in which cute boys slept, of course.

In other news, I have been playing around with my second novel this month. After trying out at least six different beginnings that were not working, I picked up my favorite magical book of all time, HARRY POTTER, and decided to try working in 3rd person, past tense like my dear friend Jo :)

Viola! *magic happened* I was having a hard time getting into my MC's head, whereas I could clearly see what was happening around her. So, this way, I can watch and report from outside the scene in order to find the story. Does that make sense? I think it's going to work better. Like the famous HP, my new story is also magical so we'll see what happens.

And finally, I took the girls to see Percy Jackson today! Verdict: AWESOME! Look at little Percy - he's a hottie, no?
I think he might be the inspiration for my next MC's love interest - and speaking of inspiration... SF and I are working on a cool series of inspirational posts profiling other artists. These will include chefs, painters, clothing designers, singers and other such artsy people and what inspires them. I can't wait to find out!

That's all for now. Have a fabulous week!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Y'all

Soooo . . . I took a chance yesterday and did the stairmaster (while watching Weeds--my reward for all my sweat), leaving my girls to entertain themselves. When I finished, the house was strangely quiet.

I walked into the playroom and discovered this:

Then, I hiked up the stairs. Where I found this:

Awwwww. Valentine's boxes. They are playing "secret valentine", which is kinda like "secret santa."

And then there was this:

Have the Barbies kidnapped this poor, hapless naked large-headed man? Are they forcing that tiny horse up a snow covered mountain, like the Grinch did to poor Max?? What IS the story here??

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Hmmm. The girls are in complete pageant garb, and they are staring at this naked man with such profound adoration. His goofy smile is clear evidence of utter, dumbfounded enjoyment.
I'll just leave them alone and wait for chapter two to reveal more of the story. Tomorrow. If that's not a reason to get back on the stairmaster, I don't know what is.

Happy Valentine's Day!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elie Wiesel

One of the benefits of living in a university town is that the university brings in some INCREDIBLE speakers. Monday night, I had the privilege of hearing Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel speak as part of the University of Mississippi Honor's College convocation.

Elie Wiesel is a survivor of the holocaust who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. His most well- known work of literature is Night which is about his experiences in Buchenwald and Aucshwitz.

The Ford Center, our amazing performing arts complex, was full and people were standing outside hoping for unclaimed tickets. This is the venue where Christopher Paul Curtis spoke a few years ago and where Ingrid Law will be speaking next month. It is where the presidential debates took place (and yes, I can now say that I have seen TWO Nobel Laureates in person, thank you very much).

Mr. Wiesel spoke about his tireless work to end government sanctioned humiliation and racism. He talked about coming through the South in the sixties and compared that visit with the South as he saw it today:
"The way this school has coped with the past and has faced its own injustice is something that makes me proud to be with you. It's a painful memory. It shouldn't have happened. But it did happen. But now, that doesn't exist here anymore."

He also pointed out that the opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference. Evil thrives where there is indifference. He lived through the Holocaust, seeing the most horrible cruelty firsthand, and has spent his life fighting tirelessly to end suffering, racism and prejudice at the hands of oppressive governments.

His message was one of hope--one of rebirth and rebuilding, but rebuilding with the knowledge of what came before.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vicious Film Festival

This past weekend was our town's annual Film Festival. I love indie films, and it is so much fun to hang around with all of the great people involved with the film festival from the organizers to the filmmakers. Unfortunately, my children do not allow us to go "whole hog" and watch every minute of the festival (you know, twelve hours straight sitting in a darkened room with sprees and popcorn--ah, woulda been bliss!). But, the kiddos need things like food and water and they have soccer practice and birthday parties. And, a babysitter for the ENTIRE weekend would just be nuts.

So, we asked some people in the know which films were ones not to miss and we watched those; plus, we took our children to some kid friendly screenings that our public library hosted in conjunction with the festival.

I think next year, we need to send our children to their grandmother's and do the WHOLE festival--hubby and I will both wear all black and stand outside the theatre smoking little cigarettes. You know, just so we can fit in.

Speaking of cigarettes . . .

The Vicious Kind was our favorite movie of the weekend. It was gritty, funny, and beautifully shot. And, the cigs in the movie made for some super cool camera shots. I'm not a smoker, but I have to say that I miss smoking in movies--watching the smoke trail up and off the screen. Remember Bogie in Casablanca?? Yum.

And, how about our buddy Bill Cochran's Super Bowl Ad? Too funny!!

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speaking of Plotting...

While SF goes to town with her extensive plotting manual, I have discovered a potentially easier aid. I read about this system on Robin's blog. It was developed (I think) by Cynthia Jaynes Omololu, the author of the brand new DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, which I am hot to read!

Cynthia's 9 step method has you create what looks like a large tic-tac-toe board. Then, she instructs you as to what to write in each of the 9 boxes, and how it should relate to the other boxes.

I am starting with this one because you don't have to have a finished manuscript. And, within minutes, it helped me focus on an area that I tend to overlook.

In other news, I am finishing the follow-up to PERFECT CHEMISTRY and loving it!!!!!! It's called RULES OF ATTRACTION. I can't put the thing down. It's keeping me in my bed - which is fine because I have a massive head cold :-( But, if you haven't read PC, go get it NOW! This new one comes out in April.

I guess that's it!

Happy plotting y'all!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'm plotting . . .

Yes. I'm plotting. Not someone's demise. Not a diabolical plan. Noooooo . . . I've been taking the last month or so to dig in to my novel--piece by piece and really work on my plot. I like shifting back and forth between working on picture book illustrations and writing, but I've had the last week to focus only on my novel while waiting for my revision notes on my picture book dummy from my super-fabulous agent (who says notes are on the way! yippee!).

Katie sent me over to the Plot Whisperer's blog and told me about the Whisperer's thirty day plotting method, specifically designed with NaNoWriMo participants in mind--i.e. it works best if you have a full draft of your novel. Scroll down to the month of December if you want to see the step by step instructions, but the Whisperer has you doing things like this:
*Figure out important scenes of your novel from your memory
*Identify themes that keep emerging
*Draw plot diagrams galore for different sections of your novel
*Divide your novel up into three very distinct sections
*And, so on . . .

Full disclosure: I didn't do these exercises in exactly thirty days--sometimes I would do two a day and sometimes I would take longer to work on some of the exercises, but WHOA. I uncovered some glaring problems and I am now much more clear about what the heck I want my book to be about. And, I thought after the seventh draft that I was actually through. Ha!!

As you can see, the process has been very tactile.

Lots of ink and pens and working with the computer off--which has kept me from being distracted by the ping of my email alert and the constant beckoning of delicious blogs like this one and this one and this one . . . um, was I saying something?

Now, go forth and plot!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Missing Glee??

Me too. But this made my morning :-) Rock on Jimmy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Katie's First Blog Interview :-)

Look at me! The fabulous Christine Fonseca interviewed me HERE. Check it out! And go follow her - she's adorable and oh so fascinating. She has a book of her own coming out in 2011!!

Our Motto

Our Motto