We Have A Winner

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Just a quick update.  Congratulations to Paula Petty, who won the autographed copy of Carla Buckley’s The Things That Keep Us Here.  My old friend Random.org made the selection.

Many thanks to all of you who commented.  If you’re looking for a good book club read, this book will spark many a rousing discussion.

More giveaways coming up in the near future.  Stay tuned and think pie.

So there I was last October, in a packed room with treasured colleagues, authors I love, authors I’ve admired, and newish authors with infectious enthusiasm for this crazy career of ours.  And in the front on the panels?  Some of the most powerful people in publishing. 

Novelists, Inc., an international group of multi-published authors, is the only writer’s group I belong to since the computer snafu that ate my Romance Writers of America dues payment–a fact I didn’t discover for five months of non-membership.  The fact that I hadn’t missed RWA was something of a clue.  The fact they insisted I pay a reinstatement fee was another clue I’m just not an organization kinda gal.  RWA’s a great one, but sometimes vacations are nice.

But NINC?  Between information on the eloop and NINC’s fabulous conferences, I couldn’t be without it, even temporarily.  So there I was in that crowded room expecting the same-old, same-old advice.  “Write the best book you can.”  (Umm. . . does anyone in NY really believe we’d submit schlock on purpose?)  “Write the book of your heart.”  (And if it happens to be a novel about the Little-Engine-Who-Could locked in a torrid love affair with Dracula’s daughter, I should submit this to you?)

No one was more surprised than I was, when the panels turned to epublishing, the fabulous opportunities out there for ebooks, and the way that some of my most esteemed colleagues were putting their backlist up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other places, too.  Unashamedly.  Greedily.  Joyfully.

Fast forward to February 2011.  No one can say I don’t listen.  I had all the rights back to two novels I published for Avon in the mid-nineties.  Despite the daunting task of developing covers, getting a clean, edited copy of the text, and putting the books up in three different formats so they could be read on different styles of ereaders, I decided to give this a try. 

Once More With Feeling and Twice Upon A Time were “special” to me.  A case could be made that all books are special to their authors, but there was always something about these two that set them apart.  The premise was “different,” “unusual,” but the stories were about two women examining their lives in intimate detail, figuring out who they were (!) and who they wanted to be.  They were romantic, funny, thoughtful, poignant.  Quite simply (and remember the source) I adored them both.

Sometimes the books I’ve loved when writing them have not stood the test of time.  Quite honestly I wish some of them were not only out of print, but out of existence.  I was young.  The market was different.  I was learning.  But the moment I began to re-read Once More and Twice Upon, I was hooked.  I laughed.  I got appropriately teary-eyed.  I felt for these two women.  Yes, indeed, they deserved a new life.  No, the books aren’t exactly what I write today.  But yes, they are clearly my novels.  A bit more profane.  A bit more sensual and romantic.  And yes, the premise has a fantasy twist.  But they are mine, with the same issues that continue to fascinate me.  The same kinds of characters I still want to write about.  The same belief that happy endings are possible.

In future blogs I’ll be sharing the complex process of turning novels in print into ebooks.  Covers, edits, formats, pricing, decisions.  For now, though,  let me introduce my newest babies, reborn and likely to be around for a very long time.

Although I’ve linked both to Amazon and B&N in this blog, look for copies everywhere ebooks are sold.

I’ve met some of my favorite people at booksignings and writer’s conferences.  Sometimes the meetings are accidental.  We’re paired at tables–the way I met and became friends with the fabulous Sandra Dallas.  Or we’re on a panel together–the way I met delightful Julie Compton.  In November, at the day long Buckeye Book Fair, my signing table was right beside Carla Buckley’s.  Although we were both happy to meet and greet readers, we also found time to chat.  When she told me her debut novel was about a flu pandemic, I snapped it up.  I’ll confess to loving books about a variety of people caught up in a singular catastrophic event.  I knew I had to have it.

Weeks ago I finally sat down with the book and was immediately drawn in and knew many of you would be, as well.  Carla agreed to be interviewed here so I could share her story and her book with you. 

Carla has also agreed to send an autographed copy to one lucky reader who comments here.  So ask questions or tell us why the idea intrigues you, and you’ll be entered to win.  Just click on “comment” under the title of this post.

1–Carla, will you tell us your background?  How did you start writing?  Has it been an easy road to your first published novel? 

Thanks for having me, Emilie. It’s an honor! I began writing novels seventeen years ago, after deciding to stay home to raise children. Along the way, I talked an agent into representing me, and wrote eight books in total. Not one of them was picked up by a publishing house, although I did get some very nice rejection letters. Just after we moved to Ohio in 2007, I had a nightmare about a flu pandemic. The next morning, I threw away the story I was going to write, and began The Things That Keep Us Here, based on that terrible dream. I wrote it in six months and it sold shortly afterward. 

2–As I was reading The Things That Keep Us Here–or rather devouring it–I wondered how you would classify it, other than just a great read.  It has strong women’s fiction elements, as well as thriller elements.  I thought the way you combined these was wonderful.  Since these two “genres” might be considered polar opposites, how did you set out to be true to both? 

When I decided to tackle the topic of a flu pandemic, I knew I wanted to talk about it from a very personal viewpoint–that of a mother trying her best to protect her family as the world around her crumbles. At the time, I didn’t realize it was an unusual approach. I do think that anytime you undertake to write about a disease that wipes out half the world, you’re writing a thriller. And if you are primarily concerned with one family in the midst of all that, you’re writing women’s fiction. They don’t have a name for what I write, but I’m open to suggestions! 

3–This could be a disturbing story for some readers since it deals with a virulent flu epidemic and a “normal” Midwestern family.  Yet wuss that I am, I lapped it up, because the story pulled me in so fast.  How did you set about humanizing the unthinkable?  

You might say I just plopped me and my husband in an imaginary pandemic and let us loose. My husband and I are the poster couple for “Opposites Attract.” He’s a scientist, and he’d be running into the lab, trying to save the world.  I’d be at home, keeping the doors locked and telling my kids to wash their hands. I based the husband in my story, Peter, on my own husband, and Ann does bear a striking resemblance to me. Then I gave them children, neighbors, friends, parents, siblings, and of course, I had to have a dog in there, too. 

4–Your characters must make some very difficult choices along the way.  You as an author had to make some, too, showing the very human side of everyone during a prolonged emergency quarantine.  Did you know as you wrote what would happen, or did your characters dictate what they would do?  

I did know what was going to happen before I began writing. But I left some wiggle room for characters to take over and tell me what was on their minds. It was magic when that happened. Sometimes, I’d look back on a passage and think, I wrote that? I didn’t even remember doing so. 

5–I have no science background, but I was impressed with the details you provided about flu viruses, testing and tracking.  Can you tell us a little about your research?  Do you have any background in the subject? 

As a former art and English major, I have absolutely no science background either! I had to do a lot of research to make the science in my story as accurate as possible. Besides reading dozens of books on viruses and the 1918 Great Pandemic, I interviewed veterinary researchers at The Ohio University monitoring the flu virus, and toured their labs. I spoke with pandemic planning preparedness officials (that’s a mouthful) charged with protecting the community and America’s food supply. 

6–What kind of reader will most enjoy this novel? 

I think anyone who’s searching for a suspenseful, emotional story that raises thought-provoking questions will enjoy my book. Because of the controversial choices my characters make, my book has been picked up by book clubs across the country, and Random House selected it for their Reader’s Circle program, which is their book club division. 

7–And I have to know what you’re working on next, because I’m looking forward to it. 

Thanks for asking, Emilie! My next novel, Invisible, is slated for publication in early 2012. It’s about a woman who returns home after a long absence, for her older sister’s funeral. What she discovers is a family in turmoil, an invisible threat to a town’s safety (a scientific threat that I predict will be making headlines shortly), and the answer to her own identity.

By now, maybe you’ve guessed who the  major character of Treasure Beach is going to be.  The first installment of the “novellini” went up on Tuesday, to be followed by many more.  Each Tuesday, right through July, a new part will debut.  Timewise the story fits snugly between Fortunate Harbor and Sunset Bridge,  at the very end of summer, and features the women of Happiness Key

I’m not ashamed to say Treasure Beach is in part promotion for the series.  If you haven’t read Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor yet, I hope you’ll want to after reading Treasure Beach.  Then I hope you’ll run right out and buy Sunset Bridge the moment it hits the shelves of your favorite bookstore in July. All three novels are quintessential beach books, set on Florida’s gulf coast in a small, rundown beach community.  They feature four very different women who are sure, right from the beginning, that they have nothing in common, only to discover that friendship is the greatest equalizer.

There is a “fifth” female in the community, too.  Olivia Symington, age eleven and granddaughter of Alice, appears in all the novels.  While some of the other characters come and go, Olivia is in every book.  When I began to think about stories I hadn’t had time to tell, I thought about Olivia and knew Treasure Beach should be hers.

Once upon a time, Olivia had a larger role in the series.  She even had a point of view in Happiness Key, and we saw scenes through her eyes and heard her thoughts.  But as I so often do, I overwrote.  Happiness Key was too long, even by my standards.  Before I submitted the  manuscript, I knew it had to be cut.  And while Olivia’s scenes offered depth, they did not move the story forward.  So sadly, Olivia’s point of view disappeared in my final version.

And darn, I missed it.

Olivia has suffered a number of losses in her short life, and she suffers another at the end of Fortunate Harbor.  Her best friend Lizzie moves away without a word.  And while Olivia seems to take this in stride, I remember how devastating this can be in real life.   Don’t you? At eleven, a best friend is one of the most important people in a girl’s life.  And Olivia is an intelligent, sensitive child who carries a lot of baggage.

Since Treasure Beach was written after I completed Sunset Bridge, I knew what was awaiting Olivia in the final book.  I decided that I had been given a golden opportunity.  I could provide the transition for her, let my readers experience her thoughts and feelings in more depth, and set up some of the action in Sunset Bridge.  I could, at long last, give Olivia a voice.

Of course Olivia doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  She’s loved and watched over by all the women of Happiness Key.  So, of course, each of them appears in Treasure Bridge and is heard, as well.  We even get some hints of what’s to come. And trust me, it’s never a chore to write from Wanda’s point of view or to think about her pies.

I fell back into the community of Happiness Key as if I’d never been away.  Treasure Beach was as refreshing for me as a gulf breeze.  I hope you find it just as refreshing.

Note on March 8, 2012If you’ve just discovered this post, you’ll find it provides the background for a novella I wrote for this blog entitled Treasure Beach,  which debuted here with the following post and continued for every Tuesday all the way through July.  You’ll see I announced midway down the page that I would remove Treasure Beach  from my blog at the end of 2011, but instead, I gave my readers a year and a month to enjoy it, removing it today on March 8th, 2012.  If you weren’t able to read it, stay tuned for information about other unveilings in other places and for brand new novellas at Southern Exposure in the future.  The Happiness Key quilt is still on Pat Sloan’s website, with a link to it in this post.

Welcome to the housekeeping details for the unveiling of my brand-new “novellini”, Treasure Beach.  Each future installment will have a link back here for instructions, just in case.

Treasure Beach is a sequel to my novels Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor and a “prequel” to the final novel of the trilogy, Sunset Bridge, which will be at your favorite bookstore in July 2011.  The story takes place between Fortunate Harbor and Sunset Bridge and doesn’t appear anywhere but here, on this blog.

Each Tuesday through July, I’ll publish a section, completing one chapter each month.  If you miss a week, don’t worry.  You’ll find the story logged in “Categories” (to your right) under “Treasure Beach.”  The most recent installment will always be at the top, so you’ll simply have to scroll down to find what you’ve missed.  Each will be clearly labeled by chapter and part.  Additionally each individual chapter will have the same photo to help identify it.

I’ll make a pdf available on the final Tuesday of each month with the entire chapter, for those of you who prefer a seamless read on your computer or eReader. 

Treasure Beach will remain here on my blog through the end of 2011.


But that’s only part of the fun.  To go along with the story, the fantastic Pat Sloan, quilt designer and good buddy, has designed a Happiness Key mystery quilt, to be unveiled right along with this story, a piece at a time on the first Tuesday of every month. 

You don’t have to be a quilter to join in the fun.  Watch the quilt unfold, along with those who are participating, by going to the Flickr folder, as well as Pat’s blog.  Pat is offering kits to make it easier, and the fabrics are gorgeous.  I’ll be making a quilt, too, and I can hardly wait to get to my sewing machine.  The quilt is absolutely charming, and well represents the novels.  Pat, being Pat, didn’t stop there, so she’s planned fun projects and other extras to go along with it every Tuesday and prizes each month.  

Tuesday, February 8, the fun begins, and on Friday the 11th I’ll  be blogging about why I chose this particular story among the many possibilities.  An insider’s look.  So check back then.

Thank you for reading along with us.  And thank you for quilting with us.  If you’re a newbie quilter and don’t know what to do, Pat’s solved that, as well.

Most of all kick back and enjoy. Let us entertain you.

Since I’m between projects right now, the handwriting is clearly on my study wall.  It’s time to clean off my bookshelves.  Weeks ago I took a photo of my desk and posted it here. While some may accuse me of doctoring it, the truth it, the mess was really that bad.  Papers stacked everywhere.  Magazines with articles I was sure I needed.  Keychains and paper clips, business cards from strangers I don’t remember.  

Unfortunately things did not improve right away since finishing Sunset Bridge took priority.  Immediately afterward,  the holidays asserted themselves, then a trip to Florida.  Back now and finally running out of excuses, this week I began the process of clearing my desk top.  Then it was time to tackle the bookshelves.  With this, of course, comes the obvious question.  What do I keep, and what should I give away?  And what is so out of date, so dog-eared and forlorn, that it really must go in the trash?

Books are, of course,  a completely different dilemma from clothing.  I’m guilty of keeping things in my closet that are so out of date I’d be embarrassed to donate them to charity, but clothes are, well, “things.”  Inanimate.  At most, reflections of who we are.  Books?  Books are imaginations set free, ideas to ponder, threads of human experience that bind us together.  They are also friends.  And who easily, willingly, relegates friends to library book sales or trash bins?

I set about making choices.  First I divided my library into piles.  One was for books I’d finished.  Another for books I’d intended to read and had never gotten around to.  Piles of books I’d started and books that had appeared on my shelves for no good reason.  Finally, with piles all around me, I began to cull. 

Oddly enough the easiest to give away were my book club reads.  I belong to an online group of authors who read one book a month and talk about it from a writer’s perspective.  Were it not for them, I would have missed many amazing finds.  But one after the other, I relegated those books to the book sale.  We had read them.  We had dissected them.  And for the most part, whether I liked them or not, it was clear I wouldn’t read them again.  So out they went.

I was surprised that of the books I’d read, few were “keepers”, a word readers use freely.  I pondered this, afraid I was making a mistake.  Yet wasn’t I “keeping” the ones I had loved where they mattered most?  Not on my shelves, but in my mind and heart?  I wanted to share them and give other people the pleasure I’d enjoyed.  I wanted to “keep” them in circulation.  And I wanted to “keep” an empty space on my bookshelf for the next book I would love. 

The hardest to give away were the books I hadn’t read.  Some, clearly, were books I never would.  They were in genres I don’t enjoy or by authors I had tried before without success.  Some were so outdated they no longer held promise.  Those were easy.  But what about all the others?  Certainly among those unread volumes were books so absorbing, so enlightening, that when I finished reading, my world would be a different place.  Who could toss out a book with that potential?

Somehow I made my decisions.  Two boxes of books were taken downstairs to be given away.  And my bookshelves?  Suddenly I can see all the titles.  I can reach in and pluck out a book and know it’s one I’ve kept for a reason.  By reducing my library, I’ve opened the door to a happy reading future.

In the end the gnashing of teeth, the rending of clothing, was worth it all.  Still, as I made my selections, I thought about my eReader and all the books it will hold.  No bookshelves to clear, no choices to make.  Enjoy a book?  You can keep it forever.  Dislike a book?  You can delete in seconds.  No fuss, no dust, no bother.  No boxes to cart to the book sale.  So maybe before long ”out with the old” will be obsolete, right along with hardcovers and paperbacks.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the books I own and all the secrets they’ve yet to tell me.  I’m looking forward to each and every one of those that made the final cut.

Recently I had the pleasure of driving through the neighborhood where I grew up.  Trips into the past are always bittersweet.  Show me a slide-show and I wouldn’t be able to pick out the tiny one-story house where I spent most of my childhood. Pink and gray shingles have been covered with dark wood.  The back has sprouted a two-story deck, which raises my curiosity.  For a better view of sunsets?  To spy on the neighbors?  Despite this, the house is now one of the nicest on the street, while the neighborhood itself has declined.  Emerald green St. Augustine grass has been replaced by sand, and the lush shrubbery I remember is, for the most part just a memory.  Clearly this area, like so much of Florida and the rest of the country, has fallen prey to a weak economy and climate change.

I didn’t visit one of my favorite places.  I was five when I got my first library card.  The Gulfport Public Library–the present version pictured here–was too far to walk, and my mother never learned to drive.  We went when friends or relatives invited us, but I got there whenever I could and always checked out the six books I was allowed.

Had I been given permission, I would have moved into the children’s room and later the adult section.  I would have wiled away my nights randomly choosing books from the shelves, or inserting cards into the antique stereopticon viewer and taking random trips around the world through the eyes of another century.  I remember the musty odor of the books, the precise place where the first edition Oz series was kept for all to enjoy.  Next time I’m in town, maybe I’ll visit the newest incarnation and see how familiar it seems.

I know from your many emails how important libraries are to you.  Many of you rely on libraries to read my books.  Were you forced to buy every novel you wanted, you would quickly go broke.  I understand.  When a library buys my books for their shelves, I’ve made a sale, and hopefully new readers have discovered me. 

Unfortunately libraries, like my childhood neighborhood, have also fallen on hard times.  Recently I’ve received steadily  escalating pleas to help libraries all across the country.  The most recent came from Oregon.  A library structure must be replaced, so would I send an autographed book, contribute a recipe or make a donation?  Authors are no longer just the voices on library shelves, we are now being asked to keep the doors open, too. 

Do a Google search. Type in “save local library.”   See how many hits you receive.  Libraries in LA, Chicago, New York, even England and everywhere in between are in trouble.  My own library system has cut hours and employees.  What about yours?

Authors are generous, and many of us are responding to these requests, but we all know it will take more than a few autographed novels.  So what can we do together? 

For starters, my Google search turned up a concise, helpful article from the Good Culture site.   Take a moment and zip through it.  I bet there’s something there you could do to help your own library.  Start locally.  I’ll be donating books and money to all the libraries in my life.  That makes the most sense to me since I can donate more books and pay less postage. Imagine a world without your local library.  It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?

While you’re considering how best to help, will you share with us here a memory of a library that helped turn you on to reading?  Nothing is a greater catalyst to change than good memories.  Let’s all remember together then let’s get busy.

***Just a quick note on another subject.  Some of you have asked for an email address where you can send your requests for more Shenandoah Album novels.  I’ve just been told this is the right place:  customer_ecare@harlequin.ca