From My Life

4th annual Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club: Happy reading!

Summer reading
Great photo from a “Magnolia Market” reader!

Greetings from the green kitchen couch–where my summer to-be-read stack is still quite tall!

This is our 4th year for the Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club — another excuse (as though we need one!) to talk about what we’re reading. So, what’s on your bedside table? By your beach chair? On your Nook or Kindle or iPad?

I’ve had great summer writing adventures and have been reading along the way — from an excursion to Colorado (and a visit, of course to Tattered Cover) to a train ride from East Texas to Chicago.

Most recently I read “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon–an unusual choice for me because I rarely read time-travel novels. I heard about this book, the first in a series, several years ago on Twitter, bought an e-version on sale (it’s still $1.99 as I write this) and read it on the train trip to a wedding.

The premise is immensely creative, the characters larger-than-life but oddly believable, and I learned a lot about Scottish history. The book made me reflect on advancements through the centuries. I enjoyed it–although I don’t plan to read others in the series because I have so many other authors I want to sample.

If you like G-rated books, be aware that “Outlander” has some pretty intense–sex and violence–scenes. They didn’t bother me but I don’t want you to be caught off guard.

Has anyone else read it? What do you think? (Or watched the TV series?)

More book talk for summer:

** I decided not to read “Go Set a Watchman,” which I’ve written about in my upcoming book column in The Shreveport Times (runs each Thursday). Main reason: I don’t care to read an unedited manuscript, unless it’s my own. If I were a Harper Lee scholar, I’m sure I’d feel differently. Would love to hear if you’re reading it and what you think.

** Thanks to all who are awaiting “Wreath, In Summer,” the second Wreath WillisWreathInSummerFINAL-Amazon (1) novel, written and in production. A release date will be announced soon, I promise! I can’t wait to share this next installment of Wreath’s story (sneak peek at cover to the right); she has many adventures during the weeks after high-school and must make tough decisions about helping others or staying on the sidelines. Her almost-boyfriend Law is back, along with Faye, Wreath’s newly-discovered grandfather, an intriguing teen and the child in his care–and a host of not-so-nice people!

If you haven’t read “Wreath, A Girl,” Adobe Photoshop PDFfirst in the series, I hope you’ll take a look before the new book comes out. And if you’ve read, please leave a review on Amazon. Really helps!

** Thanks to all who ordered “Magnolia Market” after a Book Bub special over the weekend. It’s been fun to watch this book rise in Amazon rankings and hear from new readers discovering this second book in the Trumpet & Vine series.Magnolia Market final cover 10.24.13

Your turn! Let us hear what you’re reading this summer. Any recommendations? Leave a comment for a chance to win a Starbuck’s gift card and a fun journal! I’ll draw at noon CST July 31. And congrats to booklover MA of Shreveport, La., who won our last drawing!

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)
Barnes & Noble:

Read more about Lisa at or take a look at her blog post with background on “The Prayer Box”– Her next book, “The Story Keeper,” will be out in September.

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”). In my next novel, “Magnolia Market,” you’ll meet Willie and Howie. 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

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

Remembering Mama

imageMy mother died when I was 20.

​She left us too soon.

Yet she is as much a part of my life as though she were stirring around in the kitchen or reading her Bible on the weird red-and-black Mediterranean couch she loved.

I am who I am because of who she was.​

Born in rural Louisiana in 1924, Mama was a wise and loving parent and a kind woman who never spoke ill of others. (How I wish I had gotten more of that!) She liked to visit with neighbors in the porch swing, plant a big hanging basket of flowers each spring, sew on her brown Kenmore machine, go to the Baptist church down the street and laugh with her four sisters.

​She was a high-school educated food-services worker. She went to work on time, took shifts as assigned, appreciated her customers and respected her bosses. She made a warm home for us, even though she rarely owned property and didn’t have a checking account most of her life. The porch light and the coffee pot were always on. Whoever you were, whatever time it was, you were welcome.

​She cooked great Southern meals, and sometimes I flip through her dilapidated cookbook and read recipes written in her own hand, just to feel close to her. She was famous for her chicken-and-dumplings, among other things, and I smile when I read the brief recipe and wonder why she bothered to write it down.

​Though much time has passed since I had the joy of looking into her eyes, her lessons come to me in present tense.  She’s an example of how one person can make a difference, no matter where — or how long — she lives, how much education she has or how little money she possesses.

Mama did what the best mothers and fathers and teachers and pastors and leaders do — she made sure we four kids had a solid foundation — and encouraged us to go forth and build a life based on that. She preached the Golden Rule – and she most decidedly practiced it. She planted seeds that still sprout in children and grandchildren, great-nieces and great-nephews.

If Mama were still alive, I hope I’d be smart enough to tell her what I learned from her and why it matters in my daily life. She taught me that words and actions have impact way beyond today. Choices reverberate through the decades.

​I remember Mama.

​I miss her still.

​And I am thankful.

How about you? What have you learned from your mother? What lessons do you want to leave your children and grandchildren? Leave a comment, and I’ll draw for a signed copy of “Wreath,” my Young Adult novel that has been short-listed for an INSPY award, at noon CST on Friday, May 17.

Hurry Less Worry Less at Christmas

9781426742101One of the joys of my life is visiting. Whether I’m chatting in the porch swing, by handwritten letter, by phone, online or on the Kitchen Couch, I love to hear what is going on in people’s lives.

And I’m sorely in need of a Christmas visit with you.  I wonder how you’re doing during these days filled with so many blessings and so much sadness.

Are your thoughts jumbled with both the trivial and the tragic? Mine are.

Do you find yourself giving thanks for all the good and weeping at the bad? I do.

Years ago when I decided to slow my life down and enjoy each day more, I was reminded that Christmas is a particularly tough time to stay calm. This year it seems even more challenging. While the season brings many happy moments, it also can cause stress and heartache.

It’s a challenge to spend less, eat less, do less during the holidays, but I also find great joy in this season. I enjoy fun times with friends and family and savor worship services where we sing familiar hymns and celebrate the birth of Christ. This year I anticipate holding two brand-new grandbabies, special Christmas gifts indeed.

As I visit with you today, I vow to rejoice, to listen, to pray, to express gratitude – and I hope you’ll do the same. No matter how busy you are at this moment, you can slow down. No matter how tough life is, you don’t walk the path alone.

On my cluttered desk, next to my long pre-Christmas to-do list, sits a slate plaque. Etched on it are these words from Isaiah 45:2: “I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight.”

 I share that as a reminder that God goes before us, in the happiest of times and the saddest. In the most frenzied days and the quietest.

Hurry less and worry less during this next week – no matter what your circumstance. Slow down and give thanks. Don’t fret about small things. Focus on What Matters Most.  Remember that you can’t do everything. Say “no” to some things to say “yes” to others. Cut activities from your to-do list.

Sit here by me on the Kitchen Couch, friend, and take a deep breath. Let’s savor this holy season – reaching out to those who hurt and rejoicing at the Good News of Christmas.

What is your Christmas prayer? Please leave a comment. After the first of the year, I’ll draw from those comments and send you a Happy New present.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2013 to each of you.

P.S. If you’re having a tough time, I hope you’ll consider attending a special “Blue Christmas” service at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, December 23, at Grace Community United Methodist Church in Shreveport, La. Perhaps you’ve had a great loss this year – a death or divorce, an illness or a financial crisis or maybe you’re just not in the “Christmas spirit.”   Attend in person or watch live via the Internet at


Might this be the right time to write your book?

I’m thrilled to announce that “Sweet Olive,” my seventh novel, will be published by Zondervan in Fall 2013. (The picture you see here may look like an ordinary notebook – but it’s a paper copy of the manuscript, submitted on October 1!)

“Sweet Olive” is fiction with a Louisiana flavor, the story of what happens when oil-and-gas troubleshooter Camille Gardner meets up with a small-town group of folk artists. This novel is the beginning of the Trumpet & Vine series.

As you may know, when I turned 50 (nearly six years ago), I promised myself I would finally write the novel I had planned to write for years. I encourage those of you who have dreamed of writing a book to sit down and write.

In a recent blog for Writer’s Digest, I discussed my No. 1 tip for becoming a multi-published author: Develop a writing habit to put words on the page – instead of only dreaming about one day writing a book. Here’s that post:

Perhaps you have a “what if” story running around in your brain. Maybe you want to write a nonfiction book about something you are passionate about.  Or, maybe you want to write a collection of letters or lessons for your children or grandchildren.

This is a great time of year to sit down and write. November is the month when novelists around the world come together to write the first draft of their novels. For more information and lots of inspiration, see:

If November doesn’t work for you, set a goal to get started before the end of this year or before your birthday – or whatever works in your life. I’ve found that if I plan to write, I’m more likely to write.

Buy a notebook or journal and jot down the topic of the book, ideas, possible titles. Or make a file on your computer. List the steps you will take to get your words on paper. It’s not always easy to find time to write, so you have to make it a priority.  But your perspective is unique and can bring something to the world that no one else can. You can do it!

What book is tucked away inside of you? Have you ever wanted to be a writer? Leave a comment, and I’ll draw for a collection of books on writing and other tools (including a giant green pen!) on Monday, Oct. 22 at noon CST.  If you’d like a free copy of writing tips, e-mail me at

P.S. Have you read “Wreath” yet? This is my sixth novel and it was a recent finalist for the ACFW Carol Awards. A very fun celebration!

So many books, so short a summer

Three months ago, we sat down on the Kitchen Couch to begin our summer of reading together – the first ever Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club.

Now, with Labor Day gone, I have to say: So many books, so short a summer.

I have had a great time talking about books with you and suggest we keep on reading together.  How about a year-round Kitchen Couch Reading Club?

A few things I learned during the summer book club:

** The next best thing to reading a book is talking about books. I’ve loved the passion with which you discuss books. It truly has felt like we were sitting around visiting.

** I’ve shifted my reading somewhat after  hearing from y’all. I’m looking at different kinds of books with new eyes. Your enthusiasm has made me dive into new authors and put a dozen more books on my to-read stack. I’ve also had a great time “recycling” books to blog readers. (I took the attached photo at a cafe in Seattle and am trying to think of a way to encourage more book sharing. Ideas?)

** When I asked about e-reading or not e-reading, you answered quickly: Both!  E-books are a way of life for many readers, but lots of folks read paper and digital.

** Many people re-read favorite books. The comments on this topic were among my reading surprises of the summer – lots of you have favorite books you read again and again. One of the books mentioned most often: “Lonesome Dove.”

** One of my favorite reads of the summer was a collection of essays by the late Nora Ephron: “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” I loved this book! I still haven’t gotten to the biography of Eudora Welty that I intended to read, but I will. Plus about 100 other books …

** I’ll add other topics to the blog and try to post more frequently. I hope to see you on the Kitchen Couch this fall! (And your “membership” certificate will be available soon!)

 What was your favorite book this summer?  What are you reading these days?

P.S. Congratulations to the reader who received a signed copy of “Downtown Green,” book 5  in The Green Series.  I’m still reading “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” but will draw a name from those who leave a comment and send it as soon as I finish.

To reread or not to reread?

My husband is reading “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry. For the fifth time.

A friend just reread “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner because it’s one of her favorites.

In a recent edition of “Entertainment Weekly,” singer/actress Jordin Sparks said she’s read “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers thirteen times – and plans to read it again.

Up until now, I’ve been adamant that there are too many great books to spend extra time on ones I’ve already read.  Perhaps that’s wrongheaded.

The notion of lingering again over a book seems relaxing and unhurried.  Instead of whizzing through a to-read stack, I could savor one I’ve already read. That adds another appealing layer  — updating my favorites list.

What draws a reader back to a book?

Noah Lukeman, in “The First Five Pages,” a book on writing, asks what it takes to convince a reader to  return to a book multiple times. He suggests that books that draw readers back are subtle. They offer new insights with each reading.

This is true with “Lonesome Dove” for my husband. He repeatedly points out great passages or mentions terrific scenes – even on this, his fifth, reading.

So, for the Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club, I’ve decided to reread “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” a Southern classic by Carson McCullers. I read this in high school and recall it as a book that opened my eyes to the power of fiction. I couldn’t resist a copy at the DeSoto Parish Library book sale last week – and now I know why. I’ll see what I think forty years after I first sampled it.

            I can’t wait to hear where you stand on this topic. Do you go back to books? If so, why?  What book have you read most often?  

P.S. Congratulations to  Kitchen Couch blog visitor Pat B., who won a signed copy of “Wreath” in our latest drawing.  “Wreath” has been named a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Awards.  Leave a comment for a chance to win my copy of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” I’ll draw as soon as I finish it!

Do you have a summertime “play” list?

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James


When I was a kid, summers were eagerly anticipated, full of weeks spent at my cousins’ house in southeast Arkansas, trips to the library and the city pool, and Vacation Bible School.

Friends and I stayed out in the yard playing Kick the Can until it was so dark we could not see each other and moms up and down the street were calling for us.  Our games were punctuated with catching fireflies.

Add more playtime to your to-do list

The Henry James quote in today’s post makes those memories flit around in my mind on this hot Louisiana day.  With summer more than half over, it’s time to revisit my summertime “play” list and make time for more fun.

I want to enjoy the early sunrise and take a long walk in the park before the day gets hot. I want to sit in the porch swing in the late evening and chat with my family. I want to lie on the Kitchen Couch and read Suzanne Woods Fisher’s new novel, “The Haven.” (That’s my latest read in the Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club.)

How about you? What’s something you loved to do during childhood summers? Can you slow down and have some fun before school starts and the busy fall schedule begins? Any good books to tell us about?

 Post a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of “Wreath,” my Young Adult novel,  just named a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award (my first time to final in any fiction contest)! And congratulations to a Georgia reader who won a signed copy of “The Guest Book” by MaryBeth Whalen and “Downtown Green,” 5th book in the Green Series, in this week’s blog drawing.

P.S. If you haven’t read my Green Series, “Gone to Green” is free today (July 24, 2012)  on Kindle, Nook and other e-reader sites.