Thursday, June 26, 2008


when good books go out of print. This is one of them.

Cindy Bonner, where are you? Writing another wonderful story, I hope!

Monday, June 23, 2008


Last month, I realized that my first book came out ten years ago. That doesn't seem possible. Thank you for supporting my work. Readers like you allow me to wake up every morning and do what I love doing most.

In celebration of this milestone, I asked my website designer, Danielle, to create a new intro. To take a look:

New Intro

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Eight years ago I hired a painter to paint our kitchen cabinets and screen porch. At the time, I was working on Keeper of the Night, but I didn't think that those small renovation jobs would cause interference. Instead of moving around the house with my manuscript, I'd work in my office. That was the plan.

The painter(I'll call him Bill) showed up on Monday with two teenage boys. Good, I thought, three people will make the job go quicker. Unfortunately that was not Bill's plan. The entire job, he never picked up a paintbrush. I learned this a couple of hours after they arrived and noticed Bill sitting at my kitchen table watching the young guys paint.

It was a spring day so I opened my office window to work. Bill must have walked past my window a dozen times that day, shaking his finger at me and remarking, "You're working too hard, girl."

The next day I discovered Bill in my office, using my phone, his work boots resting on my desk. "I'll be off in a sec," he told me.

I picked up my manuscript and got in the car. I drove out of my neighborhood and onto the highway. I drove until my aggravation with Bill dissolved. I drove to New Mexico. (No, I didn't pack a bag. We're about forty five minutes from the stateline.) When I saw the familiar golden arches, I stopped and bought a cup of coffee. To my surprise, I discovered the plastic bench and Formica table a suitable working space. I got right to it. After a few hours, I ate a quarter pounder and headed home. I passed miles and miles of ranch land, but my thoughts centered on my characters and the story.

The following morning, I left the house before Bill and his crew arrived. With my car pointed toward Pampa, a town an hour away, I returned to the world of Isabel and her family. Fifty miles later, I crossed the town limits. Pampa's Braums became my office. The next day's destination--Dumas. Soon I'd visited Hereford, Canyon, Borger, Claude. Every Panhandle town has a Braums or a Dairy Queen, serving cheap coffee and offering a corner booth.

Even after the new white cabinets and the screen porch sparkled from that last coat of paint, I got in my car and headed toward some little town. My annoyance with Bill had started it, but I'd soon fallen in love with the routine. The drives provided long stretches alone with my story. The fast food restaurants filled with strangers allowed me to write without interruptions. Keeper of the Night may have taken place on the island of Guam, but I couldn't have finished it without those Texas Panhandle towns.

I've been tempted to try that routine,again, but the idea is quickly dismissed with one trip to the local gas station. I don't want to spend my advance fueling up my tank. Now when I leave home to write, the destination is a coffee shop in my city. I still reminisce about that spring's long drives of highway and cheap strong coffee. However, I don't miss Bill at all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


This month's give-away is a signed hardback copy of Dancing in Cadillac Light. To enter the drawing, send your name and snail mail address to There will be two winners. The deadline is Friday, June 20 at noon central. Good luck!

Monday, June 16, 2008


It's always fun to see what a foreign publisher decides to put on the cover. Here are three adaptations of Dancing in Cadillac Light. Do you know what languages they represent?

***Tomorrow June Give-Away will be announced***

Saturday, June 14, 2008


"Without passion, all the skill in the world won't lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering. Combining the two is the essence of the creative life." --Twyla Tharp from her book, The Creative Habit

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


To me, this is the best part of revision--the part where you can see the finish line, but still have a ways to sprint. Characters require more development, sentences need to be stronger and the plot cries out for more scenes. Polish, polish.

When I get to this stage I feel like one of those prairie dogs in the open field near my subdivision. They pop out of their underground homes, only for nourishment and a peek at the cars passing by. And perhaps with hopes for a dropped peanut.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Today Kathi continues her discussion about the process of writing her first novel, The Underneath.

Kathy Appelt:

Perhaps the hardest thing for me was learning how to accommodate my own writing instincts. That is, writing something that was long went against my nature. As a picture book writer, a poet, and even a short story author, I was used to expecting the end to arrive somewhere between pages 1 and 10. But fortunately, I had just finished my memoir, My Father's Summers, which I had written in prose poems. Of course, I didn't have to think up the plot for that. After all, that was my life. But I was encouraged by the notion that I could write a longer story if I did it in small chunks. That's why the chapters in The Underneath are short, rarely more than a few pages. It wasn't that I was trying to be artsy or clever, it was that I was acknowledging my own penchant for writing short. Once I wander beyond page 8 or 9 I find myself at sea on the page, more like a blithering idiot in a drifting boat than a craftswoman on the sturdy shore.

At some point, probably around year two, I felt increasingly bogged down. About that time, I took an on-line class with an amazing teacher, Dennis Foley. He really helped me see the shape of my book. And that was also about the time that Tobin (M.T.)Anderson called and said, "Write what you think you can't." Between the two, the story came into much clearer focus and I was able then to move forward and come to the end.

Of course that wasn't the end. It was only the end of the first full draft (after about 10 false starts). It was the beginning of several rewrites. It was in those revision stages that I really took advantage of my writing community, including Kimberly and my retreat sisters. But I also have a close-knit group of writers here who gave the story such a careful reading. . . and reading . . . and reading. It's sort of surprising, actually, that they all still hang out with me. One friend, Diane Linn, probably read the story at least five times and I know she was sick of it by the time I finally gave her a break and told her that she had gone beyond the pale in the friendship category, and I told her she never had to read it again.

I think I have to say something about the role teaching has played here, too. Sometimes, I think, wow, I could probably get so much more writing done if I didn't have my students. But I don't think so. I'm inspired by their dedication and courage and their persistence. One of the reasons I wrote this novel was because it seemed to me that I should write a novel. If I were teaching it, I should be able to do it. If I weren't teaching, I'm not convinced that I would ever have written it. I'm indebted to my students.

The hard part now is letting the book be in the world all by itself. I kept it here on my desk for such a long time, and when I did let it out of my sight it was always in the hands of those folks who cared about it . . . and me, so it's a little scary letting it go out into the wider world. I know that some people are not going to love it or like it and some may even have strong feelings against it. I'm trying to let that be okay. Recently someone asked me about the strong sense of yearning that they experienced in the story, and my response is that youngsters have strong yearnings too, and yet as adults it's hard for us to recognize those. For a child to have a strong feeling about something scares us. It makes us feel a little bewildered and helpless. But that does not diminish the depth or ache of our children's yearnings, or our own for that matter.

We're all a little uncertain, a little shaky in the presence of deep feelings whether they're our children's or even our own.

We are all of us moved by either love or fear, and it was those twin sisters, the fairer one and the darker, that I tried to invoke in the telling of this tale. Sometimes it was hard. I wept at the cruelty of Gar Face, and cringed at the venom in Grandmother's steamy prison. I often wondered at them, at how deep their cruelty and vengeance could go. At the end, I felt compelled to be true to their anger and their resolve, in the same way that I worked to be true to the love that Ranger and Puck and Sabine had for each other too. To diminish one would be to diminish the other, and that felt unfair to both the story and my readers.

If there was one thing that mattered here, all along, it was that love won. And that wasn't only on the page, or in the hearts of trees or the purring of a cat. It was in the care that my friends took with the manuscript when they read it over and over. It was in the space that my family gave me to write. It was in the interest that my students showed when they asked about it. Love won. I think it always does.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


A few years ago my friend, Kathi Appelt and I were at her ranch, sitting on the porch swing. The conversation turned to her novel in progress. She told me some of the special moments she had planned for the story. I knew then that book would be wonderful. The funny thing is none of those moments exist in the book. That's the way writing is, isn't it? We think we're on to something and then the story takes us down another(better) path. Although those original scenes are gone, The Underneath includes many powerful moments. And after reading the story three times, I can assure you the changes were worth it.

I asked Kathi to share her process of writing this book because I believe it's such a great example of inspiration, courage and perseverance. The Underneath came out last month, but I predict the characters and the story are already finding homes in a lot of readers' hearts. It already has a special place in mine. What a treat for us to read about the journey Kathi took to achieve this great accomplishment.

Today is part one of that journey.

Kathi Appelt:

This book began as a short story. I was working on another collection of short stories to follow Kissing Tennessee. (I'm still working on that collection as a matter of fact). Anyway, one of the stories featured a boy named J.J. who lived in a house along the banks of The Little Sorrowful Creek. One day, the boy found a half-drowned kitten curled in the mud along the creek. The story was basically about the love that grew between the boy and the cat, about how they grew together. At the end of the story, the cat put himself between the boy's sister and a water moccasin, and died from the strike of the snake. The sister survived, but the cat didn't. The story was told from the boy's point of view.

It was at about this point in time that I had the great fortune of meeting with Kimberly, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Jeanette Ingold and Lola Schaefer, for what would become a regular writing retreat together. We shared our stories, and when it came my turn, the big question I had about this was "is there enough here to expand it into a novel?" Everyone seemed to think so, which was the impetus that moved me to novel frame of mind from short story frame of mind.

In some ways this story was like taffy. I kept stretching it and pulling it and stretching it and pulling it some more, and at times pushing it further and further out. I revisited the region in which it took place, east Texas, tromped around in those pine forests. When you are in that swampy forest, with such a small amount of sky, it's dark and there is a sense there that the creatures of the forest could be ancient, that the forest itself is sentient. I wanted to capture that feeling of being in an enchanted forest, not the same kind of enchantment that you might find in Europe, but something more primeval.

I also thought about and studied the Caddo Indians who had lived there for centuries, and who were driven out by the Europeans, their diseases, as well as flood and drought. I was especially smitten with their pottery. They've always been excellent artisans. The Caddo Mounds State Park in Athens, TX has a wonderful small museum that has pots that they think are over a thousand years old. While I was visiting, the ranger there showed me a pigeon bone. Not just any pigeon bone. A passenger pigeon bone. It was buried in an ash pit and the ashes had preserved it. So much has been lost, but there is also much to be found.

One woman, Jerilyn Redcorn, has made it her life's work to recreate and restore the ancient artistry of the Caddo. I had the good fortune of seeing some of her pots in Austin. One, in particular, had a snake with the head of a panther and also the wings of a hawk, etched into its side. snake, the one at the end of the book. Could she be an enchanted creature? Someone from long, long ago, even further back than the Caddo?

This figure made me consider what it might be like to have shape-shifters in my story. Now, as far as I can tell, there are no shape-shifters in Caddo legend, at least not in any of the places where I looked. So, I was careful in the story to make sure that my shape-shifters-Night Song, Hawk Man and Grandmother Moccasin-were from a more ancient crew of beings. They're not Caddo, and I would never suggest that they were. But according to most of the written records about the Caddo, including one tract by Hernando deSoto written back in the 1500's, the Caddo were known for their openness and if a family had stumbled into one of their villages, it's highly likely that they would have been welcomed. In fact, the word Texas comes from a Caddo word for "friend." Knowing this gave me a place for my magical family to live, at least for a while.

In the meantime, I had my little cat to consider. In the original short story, he had been thrown into the creek, but I did not have any back story at all. So, I started asking questions--how did the kitten get there? who threw him into the creek? what happened to the rest of his family?

When I was around ten or so, my sisters and I had a rather large German shepherd type dog. We lived with my single mom and so it was just us four girl-types, and Sam was a very protective animal, and somewhat menacing. He barked at everyone, the mailman, the milkman, even my grandmother. One day, a small calico cat wandered into Sam's domain and started eating out of his food bowl. It seemed that her days should have been numbered. Instead, Sam fell in love with that small cat, and in due course she gave birth to kittens, which Sam also adopted as his very own. So, the story of Ranger and the calico cat are taken directly from my own childhood, from my Sam and my mother cat. In fact, the first time I ever witnessed birth was the day that cat had her kittens. It was amazing.

As the story of my shape-shifters grew, along with the story of the cat/dog family, it eventually came to the point that the boy, J.J., the one who was the original narrator, was less and less important to the story. And one day my agent called and suggested that I take him and his family out of the tale. That was a hard moment. And I spent some time grieving over the loss. But she was exactly right. Taking that whole strand out of the story helped the rest of it come together. It allowed the two other strands to blossom.

***Stay Tuned for Part 2 on Friday.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


but a bit experienced.

This weekend I received an email from a reader with a publishing question that I get asked often: Should a writer pay a publisher to publish their manuscript?

Although there are certainly exceptions to every rule,(there are some success stories about self-published books, but they are rare)never pay someone to publish your book. I understand the temptation for an unpublished writer to go that route. The road to publication can be frustrating. When a writer receives many rejections, a letter from a publisher oozing with praise and offering a guarantee for success, appears to be a satisfying option.

Please think long and hard before you pull out your checkbook or apply for a loan. Some folks think that if they self-publish their book, a major publishing house will stumble upon their story and make an offer to put it on a future list. Yes, this has happened. Again, it is rare.

And please know that even though the publisher may offer an editing service and a snazzy cover, your book will still be considered self-published if you are paying one cent for its publication.

Hang in there. Work on the writing and one day someone will offer you money for the privilege of publishing your story.

Learning from other writers helped me journey down the road towards publication. Tomorrow Kathi Appelt discusses the writing process of her debut novel, The Underneath. I guarantee you will learn something.

Sunday, June 1, 2008