10 Reasons This Novelist Is Smiling

Here’s the thing: I’m a not-famous, middle-aged Southern storyteller who has never made the New York Times bestseller list and who still works another job. My office is a wreck this week.photo 1 - Copy (8)

My name didn’t shoot up on the Amazon “Movers & Shakers” list when my eighth novel released, I haven’t been interviewed by NPR or CNN, and I wish that new top I bought was more slimming.

But I’m smiling.

The professional book world is full of frowns about the future of publishing, but perhaps it has taken its eye off that most wonderful of gifts: readers.

As a novelist and book columnist for the local newspaper, I experience every day a zest for books from readers of varied ages and professions and geography, ordinary folks who appreciate books, who yearn for good stories, who are generous with their time and money and encouragement. Who love to talk about books. Who feel passionately about what they like–and don’t like–to read.

Want to know what makes a good book? Ask a reader.photo 2 - Copy (9)

With the launch of “Magnolia Market,” I was reminded again that writing novels is all about you, the reader. Partaker of stories. Dissector of plots. Appreciator of words. Encourager of sometimes-anxious authors who wonder if anyone will read their new books.

Many readers celebrated the new novel with me in person (see photos for a taste of launch-party fun) and online. You give me numerous reasons to smile, and this list comes with a confession:

I love people who love books.

10 Things That Make Me Smile

1. Visiting. Being a writer, a seemingly solitary profession, brings me together with smart, funny, generous people. In a world torn apart over many issues, books unite us. People from all phases of my life pop up—from childhood friends to people I’ve only recently met.

2. Book-club cheerleaders. Several clubs were represented at the launch of “Magnolia Market,” including members of the East Texas chapter of Pulpwood Queens, who drove 50 miles for the party. Each of these clubs is filled with readers who have calmed my nerves on this writing journey.photo 4 - Copy (6)Magnolia Market Launch Party 2photo 3 - Copy (7)

3. Librarians. It’s a special honor when people who have worked around shelves of books all day take time to come by and celebrate or to recommend my books to patrons (a fancy word for “readers).

4. The realization that the joy of reading crosses all ages—from 3-year-old great-nephew Truett to Miss Mamie, well into her nineties and excited to win the “I  Books” mug door prize.

5. Early morning emails on release day from around the country saying pre-ordered e-copies arrived. Everyone’s busy as the day begins, right? And yet readers take time to say, “It’s here!” A small gesture that packs a lot of emotion.

6. The blogger who wanted me to know that her 5-star review posted on Amazon the day the book came out. Reviews shouldn’t matter, but they do. The number of Amazon and Goodreads reviews help authors. Thank you for taking time to post a paragraph.

7.Early feedback from readers who stayed up late to finish the book the day they got it–and emailed to ask about the next book in the Trumpet and Vine series. Big smile. (And will Kathleen and Avery’s father get together? Stay tuned.)Magnolia Market final cover 10.24.13

8. Presents. Yes, presents. Here I am, asking readers to give up time and money, and they bring gifts—from homemade
fudge to a smiley-face balloon and cute notepad to a “Yay! Books!” magnet. Amazing.

9. Bookstores that offer a place for readers to gather and celebrate, with a special smile for the Shreveport, Louisiana, Barnes & Noble, a friend to authors and the community.

10. The folks out there promoting reading and literacy. Volunteers from Common Ground, a nonprofit that helps improve literacy in a poor urban neighborhood, gave hours of their time to tell readers about their efforts at my launch party. In turn, readers donated educational items and B&N offered a percentage of sales for this cause.

Worried about the future of books? Not me! Readers will see us through—and for that, I smile and say thanks.

What do you think about the future of books? Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of “Magnolia Market” and my favorite small “Read” notebook from a bookstore in Denver. I’ll draw at noon CST on Oct. 1.

P.S. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, hope you’ll take a look: http://www.amazon.com/Magnolia-Market-Trumpet-Vine-Christie-ebook/dp/B00H6XM2NC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=
Magnolia Market promo banner

Meet the Pulpwood Queens: Serious book lovers who don’t take themselves too seriously

Picture a big room full of exuberant readers who talk about books with affection.

Yes, that's Pat Conroy and me waiting tables.
Yes, that’s Pat Conroy and me waiting tables.
The wonderful Kathy L. Murphy, head queen.
The wonderful Kathy L. Murphy, head queen.

Add a few feather boas and a hefty number of tiaras.

Put some of the nation’s best-known authors at the microphone.

Add a major costume party.

That’s what East Texan Kathy L. Murphy pulls together each January in what has become an epic book festival, held regionally and talked about nationally. And I’m delighted to be on the program again in 2015, this time discussing “Magnolia Market.”

Early-bird registration open

Early-bird registration for the 15th annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends’ Weekend, moving to Nacogdoches, Texas, for 2015, closes October 1, and I hope you have this on your book-loving radar. (Details below.)

I met Kathy a half-dozen years ago at a Shreveport book festival. She has since become a friend and the only person who can talk me into dressing up like a fried-green tomato or Reporter Barbie or a circus cotton-candy seller–for the love of books. After a divorce, Kathy relocated her Jefferson, Texas, Beauty and the Book Shop to a small salon in Hawkins, Texas, and is moving the annual book festival, too.

She chooses the book-club’s reading list and festival authors with care: “I look for a story that is well written, from a perspective I have not heard before, it has to be discussable… I love to help first-time, first-book authors get discovered.”

Fellow authors Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate, Carla Stewart and yours truly.
Fried-Green-Tomato fun: Fellow authors Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate, Carla Stewart and yours truly.
The festival sprang from her book club, which she founded in 2000 and fiercely shepherds, “where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule.” Girlfriends’ Weekend has drawn such authors as Fannie Flagg, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café;” Pat Conroy, “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides”; and John Berendt, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

The interaction between readers and writers at Girlfriends’ Weekend takes on the feeling of a family reunion. It begins on a Thursday evening with an author dinner, where authors wait tables and attendees receive signed books. Friday and Saturday are filled with author panels, book-signings and readers chatting about favorite books. The event wraps up with a costume-party extravaganza, the “Hair Ball.”

Kathy and her members are on a mission to promote authors, books, literacy and reading—and have “some big time fun” while they are at it. “We are changing the world for the better, one author, one book, one book club member, one chapter at a time by reading and sharing our wonderful reads.”

Are you in a book club? I’d love to hear about your club and what you’re reading. Please leave a comment.

To register: Pulpwood Queen Girlfriends Weekend book festival
January 15-18, 2015
Nacogdoches, Texas
Who can attend: Anyone over age 21. The gathering is not for women only, but usually the only men who attend are authors. “We welcome all to join our book club, regardless of race, color, religion, gender or the fact they may have had cosmetic surgery or color enhanced hair,” Kathy says. “We come to this event for a time-out from all the stress and worry of normal life; it’s our escape to book-lovers’ paradise.”
Nearly 50 authors will speak, including Bill Dedman, author of “Empty Mansions.”
Early-Bird weekend-package: $350 for non-members of Pulpwood Queens Book club; $250 for members. Discount ends October 1. For a menu of registration options, see www.beautyandthebook.com.
Pulpwood Queen Book Club lifetime membership: $25

***

Magnolia Market final cover 10.24.13Don’t forget: “Magnolia Market,” my 8th novel, releases September 23. Join us to celebrate from 5-7 p.m., September 23, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Shreveport, La. You can pre-order “Magnolia Market” at: http://www.amazon.com/Magnolia-Market-Trumpet-Vine-Christie-ebook/dp/B00H6XM2NC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

More Dog Days of Summer: An author & her four-legged “helpers”

Ane dog 2Ane's dogsFriend Ane Mulligan, who writes Southern fried fiction, is a must for a Dog Days of Summer chat on the Kitchen Couch.
Ane has a new novel and two dogs of, as she says, biblical proportions.

About the dogs

“Shadrach was our first English mastiff. He was a cute puppy, but as he grew, we got concerned about his ancestry…Shadrach is half marshmallow. When the hubs bought him a new bed, he was afraid of it and wouldn’t sit on it. So Hubs laid down on it. Shadrach sat on Hubs.” Shadrach is 8 years old and weighs 220 pounds.
“Hubs and Son decided we needed another mastiff. I said, ‘Absolutely not!’ Absolutely not’s name is Oliver Twist… He’s either slobbering or he’s in the water. We’re pretty sure he’s half porpoise.”

“Chapel Springs Revival”

Ane’s novel, “Chapel Springs Revival,” will be out September 8, and it’s a small-town, big-hearted story that Anne Chapel Springs Revivalreflects Ane’s quirky humor and wonderful voice. I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy and felt like I was visiting people I’d met before:

Everybody in the small town of Chapel Springs, Georgia, knows best friends Claire and Patsy. It’s impossible not to, what with Claire’s antics and Patsy’s self-appointed mission to keep her friend out of trouble. And trouble abounds. Chapel Springs has grown dilapidated and the tourist trade has slackened. With their livelihoods threatened, they join forces to revitalize the town. No one could have guessed the real issue needing restoration is personal.

If you are thinking of writing a book

I’ve turned to Ane for encouragement and feedback many times since setting off for Green, Louisiana, in my first novel several years ago. She’s a world-class encourager! If you’re considering writing a book: “Don’t think – do. If you’ve got the gift of storytelling, then go for it. The best tip I can give is look for each character’s problem. They all have one. Play journalist and interview them until you find it.” Ane is also president of the award-winning literary site, www.NovelRocket.com, which is full of excellent writing information.

More about Ane

Ane has worn many different hats: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama Ane mugdirector, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and, of course, her dogs. You can find her at www.anemulligan.com, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.

How’s your summer reading going? Are you wrapping up and heading into fall? Leave a comment, and I’ll draw at noon CST on August 29 for an early copy of “Magnolia Market,” my next novel, also out in September. If you want to pre-order “Magnolia Market,” it’s available at your favorite booksellers, including:http://www.amazon.com/Magnolia-Market-Trumpet-Vine-Christie/dp/0310330572

An Author Friend & Her Dog During Dog Days of Summer

The Dog Days of Summer have officially arrived (yes, they really are a thing), bringing a perfect time to read on the Kitchen Couch–and an opportunity to introduce you to one of my favorite writers, Lisa Wingate, and her adorable dog and literary sidekick, Huckleberry.IMG_6051
Lisa is a hero of mine and a great southern writer. Huck makes me smile.

A free book

Lisa is the author of more than 20 books, including “The Prayer Box,” FREE now on Kindle, Nook and iTunes (to be read on one of your iThings). She’s an all-around nice person who writes “Fiction That’s Good for the Soul.” With a deft touch, she blends feel-good, inspirational stories with real-world challenges–always with characters you’d like to chat with.

“The Prayer Box” is about what happens when Tandi Jo Reese, running from a messy, dangerous past, is charged with the task of cleaning out an old-timer’s house on Hatteras Island. Tandi’s life changes when she discovers 81 carefully decorated prayer boxes from the life of Iola Anne Poole.

To download “The Prayer Box” for free for a limited time:Prayer Box cover (2)
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Box-Lisa-Wingate-ebook/dp/B00CH7KXY2/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405455210&sr=1-1&keywords=prayer+box
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-prayer-box-lisa-wingate/1114893894?ean=9781414386881
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-prayer-box/id640268312?mt=11

Read more about Lisa at www.LisaWingate.com or take a look at her blog post with background on “The Prayer Box”– http://www.southernbelleviewdaily.com/its-a-belle-book-club-week-for-the-prayer-box/ Her next book, “The Story Keeper,” will be out in September.download movie Crimson Peak

Meet Huckleberry

And then there’s Lisa’s dog, Huckleberry, the real star of this post. He’d make me want to read her books even if she wasn’t a terrific writer. Named for Huck Finn, of course, he’s her literary companion, dogging her steps (so to speak) as she writes and providing needed chuckles when she takes a break.Lisa and Huckleberry

He’s the perfect pooch to kick off a little Dog-Day Reading in our Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club, don’t you think?

An aside on writing about dogs

While I don’t own a dog, I write dogs into my novels and get attached to them: Sugar Marie. Holly Beth. Kramer. And, of course, Mannix (the beloved 3-legged dog with a starring role in “The Glory of Green”).http://www.amazon.com/The-Glory-Green-Gone-Series/dp/1426700563/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 In my next novel, “Magnolia Market,” you’ll meet Willie and Howie.http://www.amazon.com/Magnolia-Market-Trumpet-Vine-Christie-ebook/dp/B00H6XM2NC/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid= To me, pets add another layer to how a character reacts–and they’re fun to name!

I also enjoy reading books with dogs in the plot. Romance Author Kristan Higgins comes to mind; each of her novels has a dog (or cat) with a starring role. For more on Kristan’s fun romances, see http://www.kristanhiggins.com/.

How about you? Do you like stories with pets in them? I’d love to hear from you–and to learn what you’re reading now that we’re in the middle of July. Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of one of Lisa’s books. I’ll draw at noon CST Friday, July 18. And stay tuned for more authors and their dogs (and maybe even a cat or two). IMG_5605

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A gift of unexpected book art

Little freeSomeone I don’t know gave me a wonderful gift today.
As I meandered through a favorite North Louisiana neighborhood, a steady Spring rain fell. The trees were, as Southern author Eudora Welty once wrote, “a curtain of green.”
The cares of the world, including sadness at the death of two neighbors after painful illnesses, pressed upon me.
And then … there it sat. The gift. A tiny work of art that literally spoke volumes about how we’re to make the way lighter for others.
I climbed out of my car and stood in the rain to drink in the sight. A fellow book-lover was promoting the free exchange of books. I’d read about these libraries, even seen one or two.
But this one … a work of art.
The little structure is perfect in every way, from its shelves filled with colorful covers and interesting titles to the bird painted on the rain-resistant glass door.
I pulled a spare copy of my novel “Sweet Olive” from my trunk. (What? You don’t carry spare books in your vehicle?!) I reverently placed it inside and took after much deliberation–OK, as much as you can deliberate in a downpour–a Larry McMurty novel. I have read it but think my oldest brother will enjoy it.
Sitting at the edge of a stranger’s yard, this small collection of books reminds me that we can give to the world in unexpected ways. We can help someone who needs a smile, a kind word — or a good book to read.
It is as though the homeowner is saying, “All are welcome.”
And so it is with reading.
All are welcome.
Maybe we can help someone learn to read, or find a book they’re interested in or brighten a day with a happy story.
Thank you, kind stranger, for the gift of art. The gift of books. The reminder that we all are called upon to make the world a little brighter for those around us.

Would you like to build a little free library or learn more about it? http://littlefreelibrary.org/ Have you seen one or come upon an unexpected gift from a stranger? Leave a comment!

***
A reminder: It’s almost time for our annual Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club where we chat about what we’re reading. More on that soon! And congratulations to winning readers as close as Shreveport, Louisiana, and as far away as Ohio and South Carolina. I’ve had fun giving away signed copies of “Sweet Olive,” “Hurry Less Worry Less” and a gift card to Barnes & Noble. More prizes ahead! And if you haven’t read “Sweet Olive,” fiction with Louisiana flavor, hope you’ll take a look as you plan your summer reading.http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Olive-Trumpet-Vine-Christie-ebook/dp/B00BW293BC/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400021525&sr=1-7

With love from a book launch

Judy at book signing Sept 24 2013The work of a writer is often solitary, months spent putting nouns and verbs together, inventing towns and making up people to talk to.Allegiant 2016 streaming

Then book-launch week arrives, and that sometimes lonesome life goes very public. The nervous author and the brand-new book jump into the world, ready for readers to have a look.

This experience, I confess, is both exhilarating and terrifying, filled with so much fun and a frightful case of nerves. These are the intense days when I hope extra much that a story I love will find its way into the hearts of readers.Louisiana cookies photo

Last week was launch week for “Sweet Olive,” my seventh novel, and I owe gratitude to so many of you–readers, family, friends, my publisher (Zondervan), booksellers, other writers and my terrific agent. The success of a book depends on the kindness of many, and I am richly blessed.

When I became an author, I decided that every book deserved a party–refreshments, prizes and an out-and-out celebration. I intended it as a thank you to readers, but it has become a time when readers enrich my life in ways even chatty me finds hard to describe.

The “Sweet Olive” party was held at the Shreveport Barnes & Noble Booksellers and included a book fair for Common Ground Community, a nonprofit in a North Louisiana neighborhood, an opportunity to share the joy of books with others. More than 100 guests came to greet “Sweet Olive,” and we made lots of noise as we laughed and visited. We ate  cookies shaped like Louisiana to celebrate fiction with a Louisiana flavor (see photo) and drew for prizes that included a sweet olive shrub.

To celebrate with blog visitors and other online readers, I collected an assortment of prizes, from pralines to an iron fleur d’lis to locally-made Camellia Coffee to signed copies of “Sweet Olive” and drew from your comments. Readers from all over the country won.

When I write a novel, I hole up for a while (I didn’t leave my neighborhood for nine days in August while finishing my next novel). When I read a book, I burrow up on the green couch, savoring quiet time.

But books are public as well as private. We recommend the ones we like. We collect them and show them off in bookcases in our homes. And we gather with authors to celebrate.

That fills my heart and makes me eager to sit down and start that solitary walk again. Thank you, all, for making the launch of “Sweet Olive” such a sweet time.

photo-6Have you ever been to a book-signing or to hear an author speak? What led you to do so? Are books public or private to you? Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of “Sweet Olive.” I’ll draw at noon CST on Friday, Oct. 18. If you’re interested in reading,”Sweet Olive,” here’s more info:http://judychristie.com/sweet-olive.html