This is not about a song by The Byrds. It’s not about a trunk novel. Believe me, I have a good number of those, along with a trunk short story I’m thinking I ought to re-name “Humble Pie.” Several months back, I needed some money really bad because my daughter was getting married, and as it happened, one afternoon, my daddy dropped by the house with a page torn from a woman’s magazine. “Your mother sent this, gal,” he said. It was a short story contest and the prize was three grand. I was certain it was by divine appointment, as I’d been praying hard for some income. Never mind that I’ve only written two short stories in my life (I’m almost 50). I was confident I could knock out 3,500 riveting words in a couple of days and rake in the needed cash. So I wrote a short story and sent it off with absolutely no doubt I’d win. I watched my in-box like an eager vulture on the day the winner was to be notified.

I did not win. I didn’t even get second or third place. After some despondency and espresso and fried onion rings, I returned to writing my novel. A few days ago, I steeled myself and decided to read that brilliant and compelling work. “Aaargh, this is pathetic!” I screamed. I had a strong desire to fling the story into a metal can, pour gasoline over it and toss in a lit match.

I realize now that I did a lot wrong. I wrote hastily, I sent my story off without letting it rest and looking at it with fresh eyes. I didn’t edit it one little bit, and after seven novels, believe me, I know that good writing is re-writing. Thus, I’m a little chicken to dig out one of my trunk novels and confront myself just now. I figured I’d use this post to come clean with you about something else – Jesus is in my novel “Twang” which releases today.

My first published books were written for the general market, meaning they did not have to have any intentional spiritual component. In fact, seems my editors at Simon & Schuster and Penguin discouraged that kind of plot thread. Though, in hindsight I see I was incorporating the faith elements all along, in a way my current agent calls ‘organically spiritual.’

I was happy when I decided to jump the fence to the inspirational market with the release of I’ll Be Home for Christmas in 2010. I said to myself, “Now I can write the way I want!”

But after I read my new publisher’s guidelines, I had a whole new concern. I worried this market would be too restrictive. Therefore not like real life, which I am living, and like to write about. Plus, when I mentioned to my pastor that I was writing an Inspirational Romance, she laughed! “What’s that?” she asked. “When he rips her bodice off and discovers she’s got on Long Johns underneath?”

I was scared she was right. I didn’t want a pious little story, churchy and dull. I didn’t want to deny very real feelings. I wanted edgy and gritty, a book which showcases human frailties. I wanted my stories to expose souls, which we all know aren’t always pretty.

My soul wasn’t very pretty way back when I had my first ‘encounter’ with the supernatural. I was in college and it happened when the bicycle I was on collided with a car. Some of you may’ve read my mini-memoir about my accident, the accompanying head injury. That was when I met Jesus. This was a brand new, earth-shaking experience that blew the door wide open to my soul. I started asking a lot of questions. I’m sure you’ve heard people say it was their suffering that drew them closer to God, that it was while in the depths of despair they discovered God was all they needed. This was true for me. While undergoing therapy, visiting various neurologists and seeing folks sitting in wheelchairs, staring vacantly with drool running out of their mouths, I knew, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Today is the official birth of Twang, published by Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tennessee. Jesus appears in the book, but so do gritty people and themes, because happily, my new editor gave me lots of creative license and not many constraints as long as I made sure the heart of my story is full of grace and hope and healing and peace and joy and all those other good things.

What amazed me when I went to Nashville for research is that there are many so-called ‘gentleman’s clubs’ there, and then someone told me that a lot of wanna-be female singers work there to pay their rent. So I put that in, and I added a lecherous father, a beautician with a tattooed past, as well as a manager who’s hungry for blockbuster hits at the expense of his client’s emotional health. In other words, real people.

A lot of readers who got an advance copy of Twang have commented on the surprising grittiness and power of this ‘inspirational’ story. Several wrote “Bravo!” in their endorsement. I don’t know what’s brave about the story except that I did wrestle with some thought-provoking, controversial issues. I wanted to show how God can redeem the seemingly unredeemable things in a person’s life.

Today, as my story is released, I wonder, did I get it real enough? Will even non-Christians appreciate Twang? If you like spiritually daring stories and you’re not turned off when Jesus shows up, I hope you’ll consider checking out Twang.

Knock-kneed, shy, and pathetically skinny while growing up, I wasn’t a joiner. I did not play sports or bounce along with the cheerleading squad. I had a couple of mutually creative (nerdy) friends I hung out with, but my greatest joy was having time to curl up in a chair and read, or even better, to write my own stories.

Now I’m 49 and I can still be a happy hermit. For me, a day stretching out with no commitments, nothing but the stories playing out in my head while my fingers click across the keyboard is a lovely thing. I know we’re not all alike, and I acknowledge the satisfactions of a more socially enmeshed life than I cultivate, but I can go for days without hearing from another human being (outside of my immediate family) and hardly notice. I don’t fear solitude as some do. It’s a good predisposition to have as a writer.

Rarely do I join groups. I’m pretty picky when I choose to spend time with other humans. But, when Karin invited me to be a part of the Girlfriends Book Club, I didn’t have to ponder it too long. I find writers and book-lovers to be wonderful companions.

So, in celebration of this new joining, on my inaugural post here, I will open my journal and share a recent and rare day trip I took with some other book-loving girlfriends;

“March 24th, and Debbie, Terri, Margaret and me are on a literary pilgrimage to Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Debbie’s behind the wheel, snorting nasal decongestant as we barrel down Hwy 441 outside Watkinsville, oohing and aahing over azaleas and wisteria blooming on the roadsides. We’re out of Oconee County now, discussing four short stories we agreed to read; The River, A Good Man is Hard to Find, Good Country People, The Displaced Person.

“We’re talking about Flannery’s Southern Gothic style. Her grotesque and bizarre characters, the influence of her Roman Catholic faith, the way she frequently examined questions of morality and ethics. The fact that she tried to portray her characters as they might be touched by divine grace, their transformations often accomplished through pain, violence, and ludicrous behavior.”

All of a sudden, inspired by the sheer joy of being with book-loving girlfriends, I scribble a random aside, “Oh, this trip is beautiful! I feel a well-being inside me I can’t put into words! I mean, these girls don’t give a hoot that I’m writing in my journal! They’re so down-to-earth and accepting, so happy to be on our bookclub field trip, I believe any one of us could fart real loud and it wouldn’t matter. This is what I call priceless companionship!

“Okay, I just happened to look up and we’re getting close. We’re north of the Wal-Mart shopping center, midst a mecca of car dealerships, filling stations and dollar stores. Yep, there’s the ‘Andalusia’ sign, and now we’re turning, driving down a long dirt road . . .

“Feels like we’ve entered another world! This 550 acre farm which Regina O’Connor, Flannery’s mother, ran as a dairy farm. Where Flannery came when she was diagnosed with lupus, where she spent the last 13 years of her life, her most creative. She died in 1964, only 39 years old. A brief, brilliant career producing two novels, 32 short stories, and a ton of reviews and commentaries. I tell my book club I know all this because I own seven biographies about Flannery.

“We are stepping inside the 19th-century farmhouse and I see her crutches leaning near her bed. I feel Flannery’s presence!  Well, maybe it’s just that we’re both Southern storytellers who focus on spiritual matters. I’ve taken a class in eschatology, but I’m not certain what I believe about departed souls, spirits, whatever, and how they interact with the living material world. Can they enter different realms? I don’t know. But, just the act of looking at those worn, stained crutches is making me recall things I’ve read about Flannery’s struggle with lupus, how painful it was for her to walk, how she conserved her strength in order to get 2-3 hours of writing done each morning.

“’Grace changes us and grace is painful,’ Flannery wrote. I agree. Now I don’t want to exploit my own issues, for at this age, I believe everyone is wounded in some way, whether it’s from a divorce, an illness, a child who passed away too early, or other tragedies, disappointments in life. But my own brush with death, and a lingering traumatic brain injury (right front temporal lobe, you can read about on the blog page of my website) gives me a sense of urgency to tell stories that focus on the way grace touches all of us. I have no doubt I am a walking miracle. I believe divine intervention changed my life, set me on a different course.

“I write because it is my gift, and I like to write about how God redeems the seemingly unredeemable. As Flannery O’Connor said, ‘I am not afraid that the book will be controversial. I’m afraid it will not be controversial.’“


Even when the devil took control – Confederate Railroad. I love stories and I love country music because it tells stories, and if I had to pick a theme song for my stories, it would be that one. When I was in Nashville doing research for an upcoming novel, Twang, I read a quote by Conway Twitty that said, “A good country song takes a page out of someone’s life, and puts it to music.” I believe the same is true for a good novel.

Don’t ask me why I put Jesus and Mama Always Loved Me on my I-pod because neighbors probably think I’ve got a screw loose as they watch me walking along Dogwood Hill, literally sloshing through puddles of my own tears. I’m 49 (and my Daddy still calls me Gal) and I’ve always lost myself in a good story, and this particular one comes alive for me in vivid Technicolor every time I hear it. As the song begins, the protagonist may be a male teenager, but I am him. I feel what he feels – his yearnings, his lust, his pain and his subsequent remorse, then his wonder that someone could still love him despite everything. My heart knows the veracity lacing those lyrics, especially the chorus. He and I both strayed, and yet, when more than the usual feeble human love was needed, there came a surge of supranormal love – the kind you get only from Jesus and Mama.

I burst out into this world in 1962, and I grew up down South, a land of red clay where it’s not uncommon to see roadside signs reading ‘Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon.’ My folks carried me to church every time the doors were open, but I’m afraid the gospel did not take a hold. I did not follow the narrow path. I went from fun to fun, not caring about a thing in this world but Julie. I didn’t steal a car like the fellow in the song did, but boy did I walk the wide road, and it took great tragedy, several in fact, for me to hit that proverbial rock bottom. When I did, it was a transcendent love that lifted me.

I think the key to making a story come alive is being willing to rip a page from your own life, to draw upon your deepest pain without flinching. The mysterious things I’m seeking to understand when I write have nothing to do with religion or long-faced self-righteousness or sentimentality. They explore what I call ‘the irrational kind of love.’

Twang is about a country music diva who uses her pain to create songs, songs that pull meaning out of life’s chaos, that redeem the seemingly unredeemable. Lest anybody think the heroine’s pathetic parents were modeled after my saintly folks, I’ll name a country song that would make a good title for my memoir – I’m The Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised) – Johnny Paycheck.

1.Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.

When I sit down at the keyboard, I’m very much aware of the fact that bits and pieces of who I am are going to come through in every single character I create. I realize that I have a particular set of experiences and a way of looking at this world that tries to weasel in every time, and I have to consciously work at making characters who are different from me. Like any writer, I often have characters with hobbies and traits I’ve never experienced first-hand. For instance, Maggie in I’ll Be Home for Christmas is a member of the Navy WAVES and a mechanic. I did a lot of research to make that part of her real. She’s mad at God, and believe me, I’ve been mad at God, too, but not for taking my mother away. When I wrote those scenes where she’s expressing her fury at God, I did have to use my own memories to bring it to life. What’s challenging is to make characters who are very different from me in beliefs, and not to judge them harshly. As I get older, I find this much easier to do. I guess that’s the wisdom we get from our life experiences. I’m much more compassionate with other people’s and hence, with other character’s weaknesses now, realizing you have to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ to really understand them. When I do write about unsavory, immoral, or even amoral characters, I try to have the heart of the book compassionate toward, yet not condoning, their actions.

2. What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?

That would be letting myself become a Tomato Queen during the marketing phase of my first three books – The Homegrown Series. Dressing in a silly red dress, wearing a gaudy crown covered with tomatoes, and holding a scepter. I “reigned” over various Tomato Day festivals down South, rode in parades, passing out tomato seeds and smiles in the name of gardening and story-telling. I’ve also been a member of a traveling road show of four women authors called the Dixie Divas (now re-named the Dixie Darlings). We’ve made many a road-trip, dressed up in our respective costumes, making appearances at bookstores, women’s groups, and writer’s conferences.

3. When did you first discover that you were a writer?

My Mother likes to remind me that as soon as I was able to string words together, I was telling stories. In grammar school I began writing them down into crude little books fashioned from construction paper. My English teachers put encouraging notes on my report cards, and for me, a particularly nerdy child (all knees, elbows, eyeglasses, and braces) it was a way to shine; to hold my head up a tiny bit even if I was picked last for teams during P.E.. My favorite pastime was to crawl off into a private nook with a library book and immerse myself in fabulous adventures. A natural offshoot of this voracious appetite for reading and story-telling, as I grew older I began to write more and lengthier works. In 1980 I enrolled in the  University of Georgia to pursue a degree in Journalism. In my junior year I became fascinated by the power of spiritual things when I hit one of those proverbial ‘rock bottoms,’ and I knew there was no way in this natural world I would survive if not for being sustained by God’s mystical hand of mercy and huge amounts of Grace. Flannery O’Connor was right when she wrote, “Grace changes us and change is painful.” I’ve been writing about that Grace in some form or fashion ever since.

4. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.

I’m a voracious reader; magazines, novels, newspapers, brochures, the backs of cereal boxes. This may sound staged, but it’s true; I adore reading the King James version of the Bible. As far as secular stuff, I love fiction the best, gravitating toward the literary, but I’m also drawn to memoirs and biographies. I just finished Brad Gooch’s biography about Flannery O’Connor. I love things with ‘bits’ of stories; like Guideposts and Readers’ Digest.

5. What other books have you written, whether published or not?

I’ve honestly lost count. But a lot of the earlier ones, I’d just as soon they never see the light of a bookshelf. Not because of their themes, but because I was teaching myself to write and my lack of experience really shows. My published works are: Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, ‘Mater Biscuit, Those Pearly Gates, The Romance Readers’ Book Club, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Currently I’m working on a book called Twang, for Abingdon Press, which is to come out in the fall of 2011. In the drawer beside me are finished, yet unpublished manuscripts for a couple of novels; one called Judas That I Was, and one called Roots in Red Clay. I’ve got a filing cabinet full of children’s books and tween-age novels and a memoir which is really, really hard to write as I hate going back through those times that only God’s grace brought me through.

6.How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?

First thing I do when I wake up is brew the strongest cup (well, three cups if you’re counting ounces) of coffee and then I pour in a ton of cream and shuffle into the den where I keep my Bible and some devotional guides. After I’ve drunk enough to be coherent, I come to myself and pray for Wisdom first off. Then, as I get slowly more coherent, I read the day’s meditation and the verse/verses of Scripture, and then I pray until I pray. There’s a prayer I pray every day before I begin to write that goes like this: “Lord, give me a heart to tell stories about Your goodness and the language to speak it well.” I’m also a regular at various Bible studies.

7. How do you choose your characters’ names?

I made up Tyronious, the name of the gardener in I’ll Be Home for Christmas, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere! I got Loutishie, one of the main characters in the Homegrown series from an obituary. I also look back at graveyard records and family trees for unusual names, since lots of my characters are old Southerners. On Mama’s side, there was first names like Frobell, and Juette, and Drewillie. I haven’t used those yet, but the day’s coming… I collect names during the daily routine of my life, jotting them down on a scrap of paper in my purse, and now I have a folder full of them. Sometimes I have to change a character’s name during the course of a novel because it just doesn’t fit them.

8. What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

Hmmm. . . are children an accomplishment? I always heard that they’re a blessing. My three kids are beautiful people with good hearts and compassion for others and I feel like that ranks way up there with things I’m proud of. My marriage of 22 years – well, Tom probably ought to consider staying with me his greatest achievement, because I know he’s the one who’s put up with me and my crazy dream of writing through a lot of tight times. We’ve stayed together this long because when we fight, even if it’s my fault, he comes and works at patching things up. I’m a fairly stubborn person, which can be good in some instances and not so much in others. Here’s a writing accomplishment I recently heard about: I’ll Be Home for Christmas was named one of the top Publishers’ Picks in Fall 2010 fiction by CBA Retailers + Resources magazine.

9. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?

I guess I’d be a cat. Surly sometimes when I don’t want to be messed with, a bit finicky, like to nap in the sun. In fact, I was just editing an old manuscript and found this: “I’m envious of Mrs. Mittens because I want to curl up in a contented ball in the sun with my eyes at half-mast, in total bliss.” This character, a little girl, has just heard her parents fighting in the kitchen.

10.  What is your favorite food?

Right now it’s a big hot cinnamon bun dripping with cream cheese frosting, and a side of buttery grits and bacon. But sometimes it’s fried shrimp and baked potatoes and slaw, and sometimes it’s a big juicy hamburger with golden fried onion rings. Often it’s something from childhood, like Mom’s pecan pies at Thanksgiving, or the shish-kebobs my Dad made for our summertime grill-outs.

11. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?

I guess that would be my battle with LALIAPHOBIA. Laliaphobia is the fear of public speaking and I had no idea an author had to go around speaking to groups of people. I thought writers stayed in their private caves, creating stories and well, creating more. Then my first publisher sent me an email about numerous public appearances I was to do when Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes hit the book shelves. I was mortified. Paralyzed. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that ‘Public speaking is the number one fear; folks would rather be in the coffin that delivering the eulogy.’ Well, I overcame this crippling affliction with two PRA words: Practice and Prayer . I prayed, constantly, and I also took a class on public speaking, and the advice there was to do it over and over and over and over until you felt confident. There were other tips, too, and after about a hundred appearances, I’m fairly confident up on a stage with hundreds of eyeballs zooming in on me. I get paid money to entertain now. Now, that’s a true miracle.

12. What advice would you give to an author just starting out?

Get how-to books and study them (I still do that constantly). Go take classes at various writers’ conferences. Join a writers’ group for support and critique (I’m a member of ACFW). Keep a journal, because that makes a person very conscious and you’ll really treasure it as you look for fodder to write about, and later as you look back at what you were going through in your life, it makes for interesting reading. Maybe most importantly – read, read, read, read.

13. Tell us about the featured book?

The concept for I’ll Be Home for Christmas came as I got on the internet and started researching the year Bing Crosby made the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” a hit. I knew WWII was permeating everything at this time – even and especially romantic relationships. So many couples were being split up as the man went off to serve in the war, but I wanted something with a different twist, and I discovered a good bit of information about the WAVES, a branch of the U.S. Navy for women (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). I thought it would be fun to have a heroine who joined the WAVES and a man she leaves behind. Maggie doesn’t go solely for patriotic reasons: she’s mad at God because of her mother’s untimely death and she’s running from the painful memories in her small Georgia town. Meanwhile, the boy-next-door, is crushed. William loves Maggie, and when she leaves town to serve in the WAVES, he’s hurt even more as has to stay behind because of physical deformities from his battle with polio. One character in this novel that I fell in love with is Mr. Tyronious Byrd. Mr. Byrd is a black man who’s not real sure about how old he is, and who’s a caretaker on a Christmas tree farm in Georgia in 1944. Mr. Byrd has a lot of wisdom, and a lot of humility because he’s been through some valleys none of us would ever want to go through. He’s probably the least self-centered of all my characters, and he has a sense of humor about life and a gratefulness about him I cherish. When I think about the message I’d like my readers to take from I’ll Be Home for Christmas, it’s that we’ll all go through hard times down here, but God can use the suffering in our lives for good.

14. Please give us the first page of the book.

December 1943


The world might be at war, but on Margaret Culpepper’s little piece of earth, Christmas spirit filled the air.

“Looking pretty festive for war time, huh, Maggie?” William asked, navigating his father’s 1940 Lincoln Continental through the streets of downtown Athens, Georgia. “I believe everybody in Watkinsville saved up their gas ration stamps to drive into the big city for Friday night.”

“Mmhmm,” Maggie muttered, pulling her chin even farther down into her coat’s luxurious fox fur collar until most of her ears disappeared. From this safe little cave, she peered out at red ribbons wound around street lamps so that they looked like giant peppermint sticks. This gave the place a magical look and made the war overseas seem far, far away.

William fiddled with the radio dial and tuned in to Frank Sinatra singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” He began singing along in a silly, melodramatic voice. Normally a happy, optimistic guy, tonight he seemed even more upbeat than usual.

“You okay?” he asked after several stoplights, turning his I’ll be Home for Christmas

shining eyes on Maggie. “I don’t think I’ve ever known you to be this quiet for this long.”


15. How can readers find you on the Internet?

My website is and on my site is a place where people can send me an email. One of the things I truly treasure is hearing from readers who’ve been touched by my books – found hope or insight or peace or a just a good escape and a laugh. Recently I heard from a very old woman, apparently in the hospice stage of life, and she said she’s found so much joy in reading my books. That makes it all worthwhile!

This has gotta be short and sweet as the hot breath of a novel deadline is on the back of my neck, and I’m also supposed to be gathering things together for a long weekend trip out of town. At first I thought I’d do a sort of ‘Show, don’t Tell’ kind of thing, and interview various family members with the question: “How do you feel about living with a creative person?” (Notice I didn’t use the term ‘Creative Lunatic.’) This was to be a strictly journalistic approach that would prove my belief that it’s, in one word, fabulous.

But that went by the wayside when I began by asking my 13-year-old, Sam, newly out of school for the summer, and he responded quickly, “Well, they kinda make up back-stories about everyone they see.”

I brightened, because to me that sounded like fun. I take great delight in making up folks’ backstories, and also playing the so-called What If? game as I go along through my daily life. It’s a great way to come up with plot ideas. “Well, don’t you like that?” I prompted Sam as he lolled in his underwear on the sofa adjacent to my writing desk.

“Not really,” Sam sighed. “It’s gets annoying.” Then he continued with this long diatribe on why the demands and temperament of a writer-in-residence are wearying and unfair. I will not record them here, because I know all too well that words have power and I would like to forget them.

It hurt to hear this coming from my baby! The child I bore in my old age, and have nurtured lovingly till now! That’s when I realized I would no longer conduct my survey. I knew my ego could not handle asking my analytical, rational left-brained husband this same question. He’s the business-type who gets furious about erratic (let’s face it, sometimes non-existent) writing paychecks, long, odd hours of work, and a frenzy of anxious marketing after each book is launched. The one family member I figured I could count on for a gratifying answer was my 20-year-old son, Gus, the middle-child, but he was still asleep at 3:00 P.M. and my eldest, Iris, was journeying home from a rock concert and had no time for questions.

Yes, it took me a while to lick my wounds, but now I’m back.

Wouldn’t you think writers would be the most well-adjusted people there are? I mean, we can purge our mental demons by killing off evil characters in our writing, right? And on the flip side, we get to reward the good ones lavishly. Doesn’t that make for good, calm psyches? Speaking of well-adjusted, we also get to live out our fantasies in the fictional world of our novels. In my current novel, TWANG, I’m fulfilling a life-long dream as a country music diva living in Nashville, Tennessee, belting out hits from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

Another plus for having a writer/wife/mom in the family – we usually work from home, which means the house is spotless and the ground beef for supper is thawing on the kitchen counter well before noon. Right?

Also, working from home means we’re there when our kids get off the schoolbus, heaping attention onto them in their formative years. Isn’t that great?

Well, I made a pact with myself to tell the truth in today’s blog. I’m home, yes, but not really. I’m living in two, perhaps three, concurrent worlds. More often than not supper plans are made after 6 P.M. and amidst much consternation. Cobwebs dangle, dust gathers, and roaches remain in the spot where they perished days ago. When Tom or Sam or Gus or Iris calls my name, I often holler “Just a minute!” because my characters have their own agendas. You may be wondering where the third concurrent world comes from. Well, I teach a memoir-writing class (for one of those ‘other income-streams’ writers need) and when that’s happening, I’m in my students’ creative worlds as well as my own. Of course, there’s the real world, too, the one most folks live and breathe in. It’s hard for me, I admit, but there are times when I do strive to be in the moment. To live in the temporal world. I try to shut out the voices of fiction and connect. In fact, this weekend my beloved and I are leaving the boys here in Watkinsville, Georgia, and going off on an all-expenses paid trip to Nashville, Tennessee, courtesy of my writing career.

While I’m meeting my new editor, Tom will be off looking for car-shows. While I’m touring the Grand Ole Opry, he’ll be hunting pulled-pork barbecue. But together we’re going to hear a concert featuring Vince Gill and Josh Turner. Yes, I’ll have my spiral-bound notebook and my Bic pen along with me, furiously scribbling down things under headings that read; Hear, See, Smell, Taste, Touch, and trying to record bits of conversation I overhear, but still . . .

While I realize the question posed at the beginning of this blog has not exactly been answered, please know that I also realize it’s not always a picnic to live with a creative soul, and I feel absolutely blessed to be surrounded by people who have both feet securely planted in this world, and yet who support and encourage me in my crazy passion for story-telling.

In 1978 when I turned 16, I donned a lime green polyester uniform and began asking customers who walked into the local McDonalds; “Would you like fries with that?” Since that time, I’ve had a variety of positions in the food-service industry; from salad bar refresher at the Pizza Hut on Hilton Head Island, to sandwich preparer at Yogurt’s Last Stand, where I marveled over seeing my first piece of pita bread. I worked as a camp counselor for spoiled children one eye-opening summer. From there I moved to several illustrious positions in telemarketing; selling portrait packages for Olan Mills, then magazines for DialAmerica Marketing. It broke my heart when I’d get caught on the phone with some lonely old person who wanted to chat for a long time. I’ve sold cosmetics at Eckerd Drugs, advertising space in a local newspaper, done down-and-dirty garden nursery work, graded essays from grade-school to high-school for the state of Georgia, painted cheerful little pink and green floral designs (which made me nauseous after five thousand) all over picture frames for a mail order decorating company, sold lingerie at a shop called The Bare Essentials, and on and on and on.

Most of these were before I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1985 with a degree in Journalism (emphasis in Advertising). With diploma in hand, my career dreams led me to the big city of Atlanta where I shared an apartment with another recent graduate. We set out with our portfolios underneath our arms and big aspirations in our hearts. Sadly, I didn’t land that dream advertising job and had to take yet another telemarketing position to pay the bills. Eventually, I returned home to Athens, Georgia and began to sell printing for a large commercial printer. So much for that bachelor’s degree.

After marriage, then came the baby carriage. Three of them. While I was chasing children, I was designing greeting cards and selling printing for my husband’s print shop. Looking back at the string of sales jobs in my past strikes me as ridiculously funny because I’m absolutely NOT the salesperson type.

There was one constant in and among this hodge podge of positions. I have an obsession, maybe affliction is a better word, and am forever scribbling stories. Since I could string words together, I’ve been writing – on looseleaf paper, in journals, in spiral notebooks, on the backs of bank deposit slips. I can write anywhere, everywhere. While working on one novel, one short story, or one poem, I am already planning, taking notes, and collecting metaphors for the next.

Mama says I was born telling stories, and writing them is a compulsion I can no more escape than my shadow. It is a fire burning in my bones, and about ten years ago, by the grace of God in one of those situations I couldn’t have dreamed up, a publisher decided to publish one of my novels. Currently I am writing like crazy to meet an April first deadline for my sixth novel, TWANG, set to come out this fall.

I love writing, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes with this career. The paychecks are erratic, I work for the most part in virtual isolation, and I’m constantly plagued with anxiety over whether I’m doing what I ought to promote myself and my books. Why in heaven’s name do I keep on allowing myself to write novels? To stay in a business which regularly does a number on a person’s self-esteem?

I sometimes think about running away from this urge to write. Of giving it all up and going after something with security, some fellow employees. To supplement my income, I teach writer’s workshops and I have to admit, I love certain aspects of this. I love teaching and encouraging and working with aspiring writers. This makes me wonder if I ought to follow in my Daddy’s shoes and become a professor. The hours look good, the steady pay even better. There are benefits and retirement and fellow-professors to hang out with. So, I guess the job I covet besides being a writer is being a professor of creative writing.

Please visit my events page for information on upcoming writing classes I will be teaching!

Today I got a letter from a man who read my latest novel. He said, “I must tell you how much I enjoyed and related to your wonderful story.” His father owned a garage in 1944 and collected used tires to ‘fight the Japs.’ He himself was a crew chief in the Army and worked on winged aircraft. He said my portrait of WWII and that time is incredible given the fact I wasn’t even alive then, that he cried his way through touching moments in the story. I am beyond humbled, because I was a mediocre history student at best. Talk about a miracle!

I love telling stories. It is my gift and I give it back to this world with great pleasure.

To hear my parents tell it I emerged from the womb telling stories. “Julie was constantly making up little stories and irritating her brothers,” they’ll say, shaking their heads with indulgent smiles, and then, “When she was still little bitty she began to write her stories into books she stapled together.” I know this is true because my mother saved some of these volumes made of cardboard covered in slick yellow wrapping paper with titles like “Mrs. Duck’s Vacation” and “Roscoe Finds a Friend.”

I was a really nerdy child and writing was my way to shine. Collecting words and creating internal landscapes as vivid as the orange-plaid swivel chair where I liked to curl up and read was a process that brought joy to my soul. In fact, I still collect words. I’ve got journals full of phrases like “The back yard had turned into one giant puddle with pecan tree leaves like little rowboats docked at its banks,” and “I render the calves of my lips,” and single words such as “Habersham,” and “Slatternly,” and “Tyrant.” These may seem like odd treasures, but they are tucked around on little slips of paper everywhere in my life – in drawers, my purse, books, my desk – and they truly excite me.

The first part of my writer’s journey up till publication is recorded on my website at and it seems every time I endeavor to tell it again, it’s a bit different, so I’ll just let that one stand and move on to today, as a woman of 48 years with her fifth book just come out.

Like most writers I am an obsessive reader. All day long I dream of the books waiting for me, and when I crawl into bed each night I have a stack of books I spread out around me with a contented sigh. Lately it’s been: “The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver, “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass, and Pat Conroy’s “My Reading Life.” This last one combines all my obsessions into one volume (reading, reading about a writer, reading about the books that built that writer) and it has literally consumed me. I found out that Pat, too, collects words like treasures.

Here’s a quote from “My Reading Life” that grabbed me so hard I was compelled to copy it down on one of the billions of slips of paper that fill my world like pretty snowflakes: “A novelist must wrestle with all mysteries and strangeness of life itself, and anyone who does not wish to accept that grand, bone-chilling commission should write book reviews, editorials, or health-insurance policies instead. The idea of the novel should stir your blood, and you should rise to it like a lion lifting up at the smell of the impala. It should be instinctual, incurable, unanswerable, and a calling not a choice.”

A calling, not a choice. It sure feels that way sometimes, this obsession I have with words. It can make me mad because writing can be a very slow and unsteady road to income, and to have no choice but to do it seems grossly unfair. But then I wonder – do I honestly have to do it? Does attention follow desire? Or does desire simply follow attention? Because I know I give it my utmost attention and perhaps it is one of those self-propagating things like whirlwinds of leaves. I go round and round with this question, but still don’t have the answer. I do know that occasionally I have gone some fairly long stretches of time without writing – like when my three children were babies. I guess it was still there, lurking in the back of my mind, but I could put it off for the needy (loud) little creature in my arms.

However, if I am in the midst of a novel, if I’ve allowed myself that first chapter, the need to write is insatiable. Incurable. I wake up each day, and after coffee and some meditation time with a small book called The Upper Room, I literally pour every fiber of my being into my current story.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. because of an email I’d received the evening before. “Dear Julie,” it began, “Hi, my name is ——— and I have read about 75% of ”I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on Kindle and am thoroughly enjoying it. I was asked to lead our meeting on December 16th and I just thought it might be nice to know what you thought, as the author, were interesting questions for such a group (the group was composed of seven female professionals at Emory University). I am writing to ask if you have a discussion/reading group guide for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Well, I did not. I had all but forgotten the plot because once I had poured myself out, heart and soul, into “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and turned it in to the publisher, I began to focus on a new novel. But I recalled these words I’d copied from a recent blog sitting on a slip of paper on my desk; Jane Friedman saying; “If people seek to experience something meaningful, personal, and authentic, then the author’s involvement can be a key factor in developing a loyal readership that helps build the all-coveted buzz.”

Well, I didn’t sign up to try to create buzz, to be a salesperson. Didn’t know till the publication of my first novel, “Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes,” that a writer had to even do that type of thing. I thought you wrote your book and sent it out there. But lo these many years later I realize you don’t just write your story and shove it out there. If writing is indeed a gift, and I believe it is, a writer has a responsibility to her readers.

As I was writing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” what began as a simple WWII love story mutated into something that would illustrate how adversities and afflictions invade everyone’s life, how they are as certain as the daylight that follows rain, but that our adversities can make us stronger, better people, if we allow it. An elderly black gentleman named Mr. Tyronious Byrd walked onto the set of my story, and he sure told me a thing or two about how he’d turned his obstacles into opportunities. It was a very eye-opening and healing thing for me to write about him and he became my favorite character. He helped me begin to tell the story of my brain injury in a new light (you can find a bit of this on my website).

Thoughtfully I sat in my chair and composed 18 of what I hope are thought-provoking questions worthy of seven Emory professionals. Some were on the subject of war, some about a goody-two-shoes character named Helen, and several on the legitimacy of being mad at God. But a good number focused on Mr. Tyronious Byrd, a groundskeeper at a Christmas tree farm in Georgia, and his so-called ‘soul travail.’

Speaking from knowledge I gained while following Mr. Tyronious Byrd along throughout his part in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” even in our times of greatest pain, we can find a healing message to give and someone who needs to hear it. I know from experience that there is enormous power in a story well told and if I can bring comfort and joy to others, it is my privilege.


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