Tagged Louisiana

A Southern sense of place in stories: A conversation with Kimberly Willis Holt

As a reader and writer, I’m partial to southern stories. I live in Louisiana, a state full of so many tales that an author could spend a lifetime capturing them. Each of my eight novels is set in a fictional Louisiana town. So I particularly enjoy reading the middle-grade stories of author Kimberly Willis Holt, woven from her Louisiana roots.

Kimberly Willis Holt
Kimberly Willis Holt

Kimberly, who moved frequently as a child in a Navy family, considers Central Louisiana her “emotional home.” She draws on this setting and her Louisiana family’s gift for storytelling in each of her books—including her new middle-grade novel, “Dear Hank Williams.”

I first encountered Kimberly years ago at a book festival at the site of the iconic Louisiana Hayride where musical giants such as Elvis Presley got their start—a spot that plays a key role in Kimberly’s new book, “Dear Hank Williams.” (Sitting in the green room used by such musical stars offers a thrill all its own, but that’s a blog for another day.)Book Column Dear Hank Williams

“Dear Hank Williams” is set in Central Louisiana in 1948. Tate P. Ellerbee’s teacher has given her class an assignment–to learn the art of letter-writing. (As an avid letter writer, this is yet another thing I love about this book.) Tate’s chosen pen pal: Hank Williams, a singer she heard on the Hayride.

Kimberly has written such great novels as “My Louisiana Sky,” “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town” and “The Water Seeker.” She’s a National Book Award winner and has had her books made into movies. She pulls me in to stories with her keen sense of place and the emotions she evokes.

How she approaches settings

“When I’m writing a story, I want to make the reader feel like they are in the setting. That’s achieved by many layers–not just the way a place looks, but the way the people interact with each other, what they talk and care about, too.”

Her attention to emotional impact

“My emotions are close to the surface. I think that’s why I’m able to easily add that dimension into my work. I’m not interested in reading or writing stories that don’t explore the heart.”

Choosing ideas to write about

“When you get excited about the idea, so excited that it will hurt you if you don’t write it, it’s probably time. For me, the excitement comes when I hear the voice of a character speaking to me. Then I know it’s time.”

Coming-of-age stories (which I love)

“…Almost all my ideas are coming-of-age ideas. To me a coming-of-age story is a story about a young person who has to make an adult decision. In doing so, life is never quite the same.”

For more, including public appearances and advice for writers, see http://www.kimberlywillisholt.com.

Are you drawn to books with a sense of place? What sorts of settings appeal to you? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

And congrats to blog reader M.A. who won our April drawing for a collection of Louisiana Booklovers’ items, including a signed copy of the new edition of  my YA novel, “Wreath, A Girl.” And to e-newsletter subscriber A.R. who won 10 signed copies of “Magnolia Market,” my fiction with a Louisiana flavor, for a book discussion. Have you signed up for my e-newsletter? I announce new books and contests there and will never share your e-mail address with others: http://judychristie.us9.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=381f56b0d0227bce67e22f87c&id=70b82b1335

From middle school teacher to National Book Award finalist

A couple of summers ago, my husband, pre-teen granddaughter and I had one of those near-perfect vacation evenings in Los Angeles. Sitting on a patio on a lovely night, we visited with friend John Corey Whaley, who had moved to California to follow his writing dream and was writing his second novel, “Noggin.”

A California visit with Corey Whaley
A California visit with Corey Whaley
Former Louisiana teaching colleagues lined up for the release of "Noggin"
Former Louisiana teaching colleagues lined up for the release of “Noggin.”

The book, he told us, would be about a teenage boy who volunteers to have his head cryogenically frozen and wakes up five years later attached to another teenager’s body–a story about letting go of the past and coming to terms with the way people change.

Talk about change!

Corey’s fantastic real-life story gives “Noggin” a run for its fairy-tale money.

This week “Noggin” was named a Young Adult finalist for the National Book Award.

Corey, a friend since his days as a middle-school teacher with my husband, is one of the hottest young adult novelists in the United States.

He gave up teaching English and has become a discussion topic in those same classes. He writes with an offbeat spirit and deft turn of phrase. Reviewers mention his “oddball” and “madcap” style–and his unique ability to connect with readers.

His debut novel, “Where Things Come Back,” is a Southern story about a missing teenager in Arkansas and the reappearance of a thought-to-be-extinct woodpecker, a la the Ivory-billed.

That novel, released in 2011, changed Corey’s life. It won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction and the William C. Morris Award for Debut Young Adult Fiction.

What he’s learned since writing his first book:
“I’ve learned to be more patient with myself–that sometimes I need a lot of time to develop characters and ideas and that writing a book isn’t about racing against the clock, but about making sure the story I want to tell is the one I take the time to actually put down on the page.”

Surprises in the writing life:
“I think the biggest surprise about being a full-time writer is how unbelievable other people find it–always asking ‘that’s all you do?’ But I always explain that it’s the only thing I’ve ever been very good at, so it’s the only thing I can do.

Advice to someone who wants to write a novel:
“Just write it already–if you have the right idea and the talent, the book will happen for you the way it’s supposed to. It’s true to write what you know, but also don’t be afraid to research what you don’t know for inspiration. And just know that every writer/author has to edit and change pretty much everything he/she writes, so there’s no perfect first draft–don’t beat yourself up trying to write one.”

How about you? Have you ever followed a dream? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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

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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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

A summer’s worth of reading

Blog photo September 2013The calendar says the official start of Autumn is just ahead and the unofficial end of summer is just behind. No more white shoes or seersucker and time to put the Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club away for another year.

WAAAAA!

It feels like I’m just getting started on my summer to-read list!  How about you?

I loved chatting with you about what you read during the summer, and the conversation gave me extra energy as I worked on my newest novel (more on that later). I had fun drawing names for prizes–signed books and and miscellaneous book-loving goodies.

But, darn, it went too fast.

As I think about what I read during these hot Louisiana months, it reminds me  that what I’m reading says a lot about what’s going on in my life. With part of the summer of 2013 spent writing a book, I found myself reading more nonfiction than fiction.

Why did I do that?

1)  To focus on my own story: Like most of you, a good novel draws me to another world and can put me in a different mood. I feel like I know the characters, and I begin to think about them. Thus, when writing a novel, I need to think about my own characters (confession I like them!) and don’t want to be influenced at that moment by the tales of others.

2)   To learn to write better: I pick up numerous books on writing when I’m in the midst of a manuscript. These help with craft and technical issues and inspire me to keep improving as a novelist. This summer I read lots of books on writing.

3)  Creative inspiration. I read nonfiction books to give my creative juices a boost–such as a book on Southern decorating or on nature journaling. This summer I indulged in multiple trips to the library here in North Louisiana and wandered up and down the rows, pulling out random books that caught my eye (see photo for examples).live streaming movie The Discovery 2017 online

4) Travel on my mind. I enjoy books on places I want to travel or am planning to travel. ( I surprised my husband with a trip to Glacier National Park for our 21st wedding anniversary, so read a book on Montana. A great trip!)

5) A hunger for something totally different. I checked out “Lean In,” for example, because it is a topic that interests me (women as business leaders), and it was completely different from the book I was writing. The Sandra Brown novel was a book-on-CD that I got for a road trip and didn’t finish … so I checked the book out and read the ending (exciting but not for the faint-of-heart).

How about you? What did you read this summer? What book was your favorite?

Leave a comment for an opportunity to win one of the very first copies of my new novel Sweet Olive, releasing September 24 (Zondervan/HarperCollins Christian Publishing). I’ll draw at noon CST on September 20.  http://tinyurl.com/Sweet-Olive

Keep reading, and we’ll visit on the kitchen couch–summer or no summer!
P.S. If you’re near North Louisiana, join us for the launch of Sweet Olive, 5-8 p.m., September 24 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Shreveport. We’ll have refreshments,  door prizes and a book fair to provide books for the library at  Common Ground Community, a great program in the Cedar Grove neighborhood in Shreveport.

10 Reasons To Visit A Library This Summer

imageThe first place I drove when I got my license as a teen was to the public library. The cool, quiet rows of books still enchant me — especially in summer when I think of the fun I had in the children’s reading club at my neighborhood Shreve Memorial branch in North Louisiana.

With the Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club under way, how about a field trip to a public library for a dose of pure book joy?  Stepping into a library is magical, not knowing exactly what you’ll find but knowing it will be something good.

(I ran into a friend at the library recently, and she said she’d rather go to the library than on a clothes shopping spree!)

I’ve explored a variety of libraries this summer and have a stack of books checked out, including: “Kitchen Privileges” by Mary Higgins Clark (enjoy reading about writers); a book on National Parks for vacation planning; “Nature Journaling” by Clare Leslie & Charles Roth (journaling tips); “Writing for Your Life” by Deena Metzger and “Writing Life Stories” by Bill Roorbach ( I want to write a memoir some day about growing up in Louisiana); and “Let’s Get Comfortable” by Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams and “American Farmhouses: Country Style and Design” by Leah Rosch (decorating books are my guilty pleasure).

While I am a huge fan of books stores (new and used) and own hundreds of books, I make regular trips to a medley of libraries for the sheer pleasure of the books and the hum of bookness that you just can’t beat — all free.

Ten reasons to visit a library this summer:

1. To discover new titles. Even though I keep up with book releases and bestseller lists, I always find other books I want to read. Browse any shelf, and enjoy what catches your eye.

2. To borrow books to see if you like an author’s style or themes.

3. Inspiration. You’ll see people reading everything from reference volumes to magazines, and I can’t help but be inspired by the power of the written word to speak to unique individuals.

4. To indulge special interests. For example, I love to read home decorating books and appreciate the variety at area libraries. If I find a book I particularly enjoy and want to own, I add it to my “to buy” list.live streaming film Ghost in the Shell 2017 online

5. For the host of activities, ranging from children’s story times to teen projects to adult book-club discussions and movies.

6. If you’re a creative sort, a visit to a library makes a wonderful “artist date,” to quote author Julia Cameron. You’ll often see art exhibits or innovative displays featuring a theme, such as the one of fairy houses I saw recently in Caddo Parish. Or you’ll learn about a new subject.

7. When you’re traveling, a library offers a glimpse into the culture of a different community — what books are up front, what the library looks like, who’s on hand soaking up stories.

8. To pick up audio books for car trips (I do this every time I have to drive somewhere alone) and DVDs for hot evenings and weekends.

9. Libraries are wonderful places to catch your breath, the perfect hurry less and worry less environment.

10.  Air-conditioning! For those of us who live in hot spots, the cool feel of the library is a refreshing contrast to the heat outside.

No matter what your reading tastes, consider a trip to a library — and be sure to say thanks to your librarian for putting the world of books at your fingertips.

Thanks to the many of you taking part in our Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club. Leave a comment to participate: How’s your summer reading? What was the last book you checked out?  Do you have a favorite library?

Comment for a chance to win a collection of  “I Love Reading” goodies (that I look forward to rounding up)! I’ll draw July 26 at noon CST. Congratulations to Carol H. of Florida, who won our first Kitchen Couch Summer Reading Club prize of the year, a signed copy of “Sweet Dreams” by the terrific Carla Stewart and a $25 gift card to Starbucks.