Thursday, December 17, 2009

OCAF Signing & Singing a Great Success!

Last night I got to wear a Santa hat onstage, along with authors Terry Kay, Gail Karwoski, Julie Cannon, Grady Thrasher and Philip Lee Williams. We took the stage to do an ensemble reading of "The Night Before Christmas" as part of the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation Christmas event, Signing and Singing: A Holiday Treat in Watkinsville. From the photos you can see we were quite a festive, literary group as we took turns reading the lines from the famous poem that first brought St. Nick to life, as we know him today. We were planning to discuss how Clement C. Moore, the author credited with this holiday poem, might have plagiarized the work of another author, which is unlike any of the other poems he wrote during his lifetime (they were all rotten, according to critics). But time prevented us from launching into this discussion. Whoever the author of "The Night Before Christmas was," I'm so glad this classic poem survives.

We enjoyed music by two talented choirs, Decatens Acapella Choir of Oconee County Middle School (sorry I didn't get a picture on this one) and a chorale from the Westminster Christian Academy's lower school. Authors gave away books from their own libraries, plus we donated copies of our own books for the book basket giveaway. Delicious refreshments were provided by OCAF. And yes, we signed many books, with all proceeds going to OCAF.

I can't say enough about OCAF and the dedicated volunteers who put this event together. I also thank Terry Kay and the other authors for including me. As the "new kid on the block" author, it felt wonderful to stand on the stage among this literary company. I can't think of a better way to celebrate this holiday season.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Reading Stack: A Treasure of Novels and Two Special Books of Poetry

"What are you going to do during the holidays?" That's a question I hear often this time of year. My rather ambitious plans are to read some of the wonderful-looking books on my "to read" bookshelves. Notice I said "bookshelves" with an s. I've lost count of the novels and other books there, many written by my author friends.

Here's a small sampling of what I intend to read soon and write about here on Winterville Writer. They're in no particular order and I'm looking forward to them all.

Elegies for the Water: Poems by Philip Lee Williams. Phil was my very first editor (as an adult) back when I wrote columns for The Athens Observer, a popular alternative weekly newspaper published in my hometown of Athens, and I count him as a dear friend and writing mentor. Phil has published 14 books over the years, including his first, The Heart of a Distant Forest, and A Distant Flame, which won the prestigious Michael Shaara Award. Phil began his writing career by writing poetry. Believe it or not, this is his first published book of poetry and I'm looking forward to curling up on the futon by the fire in our den and taking it all in (I've sampled it already and I know I'm in for a treat!) I'll also be reading his new novel, The Campfire Boys, soon. Published not long after his book of poetry, this book is the story of Civil War camp entertainers told via fiction. Watch this blog for my reviews of both of these recent Philip Lee Williams' books.

So, what else is on Donny Bailey Seagraves' reading shelves? There's The Cracker Queen by my Cracker Queen friend, Lauretta Hannon. This bestselling book is already out in an audio edition, though as Lauretta shared with us at her recent book signing at the Athens Barnes and Noble, the reader is not from the South!

Also on my shelf is a slender volume of poetry, The History of Nursing, by my friend and fellow author, Anne Webster, who happens to be the younger sister of noted author and poet, Rosemary Daniell. I've sampled several of Anne's poems from this book which was nominated for a National Book Award and can hardly wait to finish the rest and tell you about them in a review. Anne worked for many years as a registered nurse in the Atlanta area. She gives readers an inside look into nursing plus shares much more. Stay tuned for the full review.

Another book I'm looking forward to reading is The Confederate General Rides North by Decatur author, Amanda Gable. An interesting thing about Amanda's book is that she also has an eleven-year old main character, as I do in my debut middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods. But Amanda's book, which is her debut, was published as an adult novel. I'm looking forward to reading her story and sharing my review with you here.

Bitter Tide by my friend and fellow writer Ann Stamos (Judy Iakovou) is very near the top of my reading stack and I'm eager to get into it. It tells a story of Ellis Island and emigrants who came to the United States through that place. I'm a big fan of Judy's previous mystery novels with co-author and husband Takis, so I know I'll enjoy this latest publication.

Since I write books for children and young adults, of course there are middle grade and young adult novels in my reading stack. One is Road to Tater Hill by my fellow Delacorte Press author, Edith M. Hemingway. Edie tells a story of death and loss in a North Carolina family in her novel debut. I'll be reading it soon and sharing more about it with you on this blog.

Two other childrens' books that are rising to the top of my reading stack are Susan Rosson Spain's The Deep Cut and Fran Cannon Slayton's When The Whistle Blows. Susan's book is set during the Civil War and is based on a family story. Fran's book, also based on her own family, is about a town, a train and a boy named Jimmy Cannon.

These books will be gifts to me this holiday season as I happily read through many pages in front of the fire. I hope you also find time to read.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My First Holiday Season as a Published Author Rather Than a Bookseller

I've been a published writer for more than 20 years, and since the late 1980s, I've written fiction for children and adults, including five or six children's middle grade novels, a fat, strange novel for adults, and the world's most horrible romance novel. In 1998, I decided to add "online used and out-of-print bookseller" to my resume and called this new business, "Junebug Books," after a nickname from my childhood. So in addition to writing books, for a long time, I sold the used books of others online, beginning in the days before this was common.

Holiday season 2009 marks my first as a published author with my own book for sale in bookstores and at websites including, where I was one of their first third-party booksellers. Now I get to see my own brand new novel, Gone From These Woods, listed on right next to used and even new copies from third-party booksellers who are constantly engaged in price-dropping wars.

So how do I feel about this as an author?

Of course I don't like it. Like my publisher, Random House, I want buyers to purchase new copies of my book from at their discounted price. That should be good enough, right?

Let's go back a moment, to third-party book selling on Amazon before our used, rare and out-of-print copies were moved to positions right beside the new from the publisher copies. Back in those days, in the late 1990s, our books were in "z-shops" and were only visible to buyers if they knew the web address of our Amazon z-shop or they searched for an out-of-print copy using the Amazon home page search box. And in the beginning, we actually had a tab on Amazon's home page that said, "z-shops." This led buyers to our books. In addition to z-shops, many of us sold our OP books directly to Amazon. They mailed us actual checks.

Then we got Marketplace and our books were moved to the pages where new from publisher books were sold and the rest is history. Booksellers, many with almost no knowledge of the book selling business, multiplied. Prices dropped. And the book business as I knew it was gone forever, forcing many small time booksellers out of business and reducing revenues for the ones who were left. Through this all, I continued to write with the goal of selling my own books someday, instead of the books of others.

Now, back to the present, holiday season 2009. I now can go to the website and see my new book, Gone From These Woods, listed for sale at a discounted by Amazon price (a definite thrill for a first time published author, I must say). And on the same page, there are numerous new and used copies at a much lower price that drops (due to their use of automatic pricing software) constantly.

I never would have chosen to have my used book listings on the same pages as new books on Amazon. When I was a bookseller there, I wondered, along with all the other booksellers, how anyone could make any money from a book priced at $1.99 or $.01? There is a "shipping allowance" given to booksellers for each book sale to help offset the cost of postage to ship orders. However, Amazon also charges each seller a commission, which is a percentage of the selling price.

Why do they keep dropping the book prices? Well, as my husband has pointed out to me many times, that's capitalism. But as an author who sees her own book price dropping on Amazon, I say it's another word that I won't type into a G rated blog. I'm in favor of booksellers and authors making a living (and I admit that I also buy these cheaper books sometimes). But selling recently-published books for $1.99 or $.01 isn't the way. What do you think?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Reading, Visiting and Fashion Kind of Day

So what does reading have to do with fashion? Those two subjects don't usually go together, unless, of course, you're reading about fashion, which I wasn't.

First, I'll tell you about the reading. I started my day very early, for a non-morning person, by driving to Barrow Elementary School in Athens to participate in their Guest Readers event. The parking lot was almost full when I got there just before 8 AM. On my way in, I watched three extremely tall athletic-looking young men emerge from their vehicle wearing University of Georgia sweatshirts. They looked like basketball players and this was confirmed later by Andy Plemmons, media specialist at Barrow School, who organized Guest Readers Day.

These tall guys were just the beginning of the big crowd of community leaders and local celebrities and parents and grandparents who gathered in the media center to look over the tables covered with books waiting to be read to kids in grades one through five. Cardee Kilpatrick, former District 10 Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem of Athens during the time I was a councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem of Winterville, and I enjoyed a brief visit as we posed for a group picture before heading off to the classrooms, escorted by student guides, to read.

I brought my own book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, to read to Ms. Slongo's fifth grade class. It's one of my all-time favorite holiday stories and the kids seemed to enjoy it, too. After reading them the first chapter, I asked if they had questions, and boy did they! This class had read my book, Gone From These Woods, together a few weeks ago, and their faces were familiar to me from my recent authors' visit. I enjoyed chatting with them about reading, writing, lots of bad cousins and a few good ones, and, of course the Herdmans from the Christmas Pageant book. I left them my copy of the book, so they could finish reading it together in class. Once you've heard chapter one of Barbara Robinson's classic and hilarious story, how can you not read on?

So what does fashion have to do with all of this? Nothing, of course. But do read on.

Back in Winterville, I stopped by our favorite gathering place, the Winterville Post Office, a hub of local news and sometimes gossip, to pick up my mail. The mayor was there, chatting with Bobby Cook, a member of the Commercial Bank's board of directors, a contractor, and former car dealer. Jim Mercer, the mayor, was attired in his usual plaid shirt jacket and casual pants. So, no this wasn't the fashion part of my day (sorry Jim). And then I headed over to Watkinsville, fifteen miles down the road, to deliver a signed copy of Gone From These Woods for the authors' basket raffle at their holiday market event this coming Saturday and Sunday (let's hope it doesn't snow too much this weekend). Things looked festive in the OCAF building, but no, that's not the fashion part of this blog post.

Fashion came at lunchtime when I attended the Athens YWCO Holiday Fashion Show & Luncheon at the Ann Florence Center. My high school classmate, Kitty Meyran, is the director of the YWCO. Our table included classmates Jan Lanier, Donna Griffeth, Eleanor Mason and Eleanor's daughter-in-law. We were treated to a real fashion show, emceed by Sonia Steffes of Sonia Says. Beautiful models, Amy Malone, Brenda Blanton, Crysty Odom, June Turnell, Kiz Adams, Mary Mills, Matt Dixon, Patsy Grimes, Rubelene Norris, Tammy Gilland, Tracie Hedges and Winona Evans entertained us with dazzling holiday outfits and accessories. At one point in the show, Sonia surveyed the room to see which tables featured ladies who had "accessorized." Okay, our table wasn't mentioned. Maybe we need to work on that.

On the way out I enjoyed talking to Lola Finn, a retired principal and former member of one of the writers groups I belong to. I also got to catch up with Pat Brittian, another retired principal (from Winterville School) and Cissy Alexander, a member of the Athens High School Class of '68.

I think this was the first time I've ever combined reading with fashion in one day. The fashion luncheon was a fundraiser for the YWCO and Guest Readers Day at Barrow Elementary raised my spirits considerably when I saw the interest and excitement about reading and writing and bad cousins and the Herdmans in Ms. Slongo's fifth graders. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday in December. Now it's time to get back to writing . . . but maybe first, I'll accessorize.