Thursday, July 31, 2008


Yesterday I received my first copy of Piper Reed The Great Gypsy from my editor. My publisher recently awarded Christy with her own imprint so this is my first official book under Christy Ottaviano Books from Henry Holt and Company. An editor receiving her own imprint is a very big deal. Christy has certainly earned this honor. I'm proud that she's been my editor for so many books over the last decade. Congratulations, again, Christy!

Isn't it funny how inspiration can hit anywhere? Yesterday, on the way home from writing at a coffee shop, some guy passed me on the road in a rage. I don't think I was speeding fast enough for him. It made me think of one of my characters in the historical that sticks out his tongue at another. (Gee, I wonder what made me remember that? And no, I did not.)I realized I needed to resolve the relationship between those two. Their relationship is minor in the story, but it seemed unfinished. A moment later I knew how it would happen. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So...thank you rage driver!

Since I forgot to announce the July Giveaway,(and because it is still officially July) I've decided to give away a signed copy of Part of Me to the August Giveaway entries. Don't worry, you'll still remain in the running for those giveaways, too. In case you missed the info about that, it's not too late to enter. The details are below.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


My fingernails are wearing royal blue today. The bookstore Shannon works at is doing a midnight release party for Breaking Dawn. Shannon was assigned the role of the main character. She read Twilight and knew the dress was supposed to be blue. The only problem was that she didn't have a blue evening dress. However she did have a pink prom dress.

"Let's dye it," I suggested.

"You can do that?" Shannon was amazed.

Finally I'm able to give my wise daughter some helpful household hint. I'm a child of the sixties and seventies when tie-dye was the rage.(The original tie-dye)Five dollars and ten blue fingernails later, Shannon became the owner of a blue dress. I'll try to post pics of the big night later this week although they'll be taken long before the festivities. Midnight is after my bedtime!

Friday, July 25, 2008


Did you know August is the official Piper Reed month? That's because we're celebrating a lot of exciting things that are happening with the series.

Here's the list:

1. Piper Reed Navy Brat came out in paperback this week

2. Piper Reed the Great Gypsy releases on August 19

3. There will be at least six Piper Reed books

4. Each week in August there will be a Piper giveaway

5. Educators will be eligible for the drawing of a classroom set of Piper Reed Navy Brat

6. The Jambalaya Blog will be filled with more news about Piper and Kimberly's writing life

By sending your name and snail mail address to you'll be eligible for all the August giveaways(except the end of August drawing for the classroom. That's open for educators only.)

If you are an educator and would like enter the drawing for the classroom set of Piper Reed Navy Brat, send your name and school address to

Keep checking back here for give-away announcements. Good luck!


Where do you write? They wanted to know. It was the end of my presentation at the Author Author event when I received the question. I completely understood why they asked because I'm curious about where other writers do their work. The short story writer, Richard Bausch, writes at his kitchen table with his children nearby. At least that's what I read years ago. I wonder if that's why his parent/child relationships always ring with truth and humor. Christopher Myers told me his father Walter Dean Myers writes first drafts on train rides from the east coast to the west.

Many times I'm driving when a first line comes to me, but I wouldn't say that I "write" in the car. When I'm traveling, I get a lot of work accomplished at airports and on planes. Recently my friend, Charlotte, and I started writing together early one morning a week at the college where she works. Or at least we talk about writing.

Most of my writing gets done in three places: a chair in the corner of my bedroom, a coffee shop(I write in several) or bed. Which is why I love the photo above of Walker Percy. (Photo from The Writer's Desk by Jill Krementz)The subject of writers and where they write is fascinating and probably the reason I bought this book last week--A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel. By the way, where do you write?

Thursday, July 24, 2008


A few weeks ago I went through my files to gather drafts and letters for a donation to the de Grummond Collection. I'm sending the collection my work from Part of Me, Skinny Brown Dog, Waiting for Gregory. They are boxed up and ready to go. A few years ago, my friend, Kathi Appelt donated all her drafts, letters, and journals she'd kept over the twenty plus years she's been writing. She said, "It felt so good to get all of that out of my office."

I wish I could do a clean sweep of all my papers, but I'm having a difficult time parting with any of it. A few years ago Kathy MacKay from Brigham Young wrote her thesis on some of my work. To research, she made the trip to my home in Texas. I allowed her access to my papers and to a journal I'd kept while writing When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Kathy did an excellent job and was sensitive to information I didn't want exposed.

But after that experience, my journal writing changed. I became self conscious about my entries, making efforts to choose the right word, improving my penmanship and worse, I edited my feelings. That defeated the purpose of journaling.

Then I made a decision. My drafts and letters might be donated, but the journals would remain with me. This sounds so dramatic(please imagine violin music playing Amazing Grace in the background), but I made my daughter promise that after I die, she wouldn't hand over the journals to anyone. If she liked, she could even have a bonfire. That simple decision helped me return to journaling for the purpose for which it was attended--providing a safe place to record my thoughts and feelings about how the work is going.

This doesn't mean I don't want to read other writers' journals though. Several years ago, I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden along side his Journal of a Novel. I love this book of letters Steinbeck wrote to his editor as he struggled with his story. Most readers would probably grow impatient with Steinbeck's constant stating that "this book must be good." But I loved his obsession with trying to get it right. I related to his moments of self-doubt. What writer wouldn't?

His journal offers me hope and comfort, knowing that though writers write alone, our desire to write a great book is universal. Thank you, Mr. Steinbeck, for sharing your personal insights. But if you don't mind, I'll be keeping mine hidden except for my eyes only.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today the paperback edition of Piper Reed Navy Brat becomes available. Get off the bus!

Monday, July 21, 2008


I've just returned from the Author Author! event in Shreveport, Louisiana. It was a first year event put on by dedicated volunteers. I enjoyed meeting all the nice people that attended. It was held at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium on Elvis Presley Avenue. The Louisiana Hayride used to broadcast from there and they say the building is haunted by the ghosts of some of the performers. Which explains why I thought I saw a glimpse of Elvis and Hank Williams.

My mom went with me and, as usual, I put her to work. Thanks Mom! It was nice to see my good friend, Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick, Jacques Couvillon, Margaret McManis, Judy Pace Christie, and more.

I had the great privilege of being assigned to host Debby Macy. Debby is a librarian at Herndon School in Caddo Parish. She made sure I had the technology for my presentation. And talk about going beyond the call of duty--Debby made drapes for the windows so the audience could see my presentation without the glare of light interfering. That's us standing in front of them in the picture above.

The other picture, from left to right: Tracy Carnes, Brenda Willis(my mom), Kathy Patrick and me.

All in all, a good day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


"If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be doing it for fun. My work is my hobby."

Anna Maria Horner, Fabric Designer

from her profile in Mary Englebreit's HOME COMPANION

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The other day I was going through some of my papers I'll be donating to the de Grummond Collection in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. My stories go through so many revisions that I forget about some of the changes along the way. One change I'd forgotten about was that Rose, the main character in Part of Me, was originally named Pie.

I'd met a teacher years ago that told me her daughter's nickname was Pie. I asked how her daughter earned that name. She said, "We called her that because she looked just like a pumpkin pie."

Her daughter identified so much with the name that later she made it her legal name. A name like Pie makes me think of a care-free spirit who loves to laugh. What a perfect name for the performer that she became.

I knew I'd use it in a future book. Until the other day, I'd forgotten that Pie was the original name for the main character in Part of Me. But as I wrote, I felt in conflict about my choice. Pie just didn't fit her. She was serious and a worrier. She became Rose. And when she did, she started to become a more developed character. Other traits about her emerged. I would never have discovered those had I not changed her name. And as an extra bonus, Pie was the perfect fit for her fun-loving younger sister.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the board with my character's names hanging in my office. Those names also appear in my notebook. By the time the story is finished some of the names will have changed. A name has to fit. Getting the name right helps me create the character. Above I show the page I found that reminded me of this point. (To enlarge, please click on the image.)

What's in a name? Sometimes everything you need to discover a character.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Earlier this week I mentioned that every time I write a book it is as if I'm learning to write again. Thank goodness for rituals. There is comfort in returning to a process that has worked in the past. Writing a book is not a science, but a long time ago I created a rewriting plan that worked for me.

I was so overwhelmed with the thought of revising the messy rough draft of my first book. Then I realized I didn't have to accomplish it all in one draft. I could approach revising like a woodcarver who whittles, whittles, whittles until the piece is done. His woodcarving didn't start out beautiful. It began as a chunk of wood. Once I realized I could make my story better draft by draft, I was on the road to mastering revision.

Each draft is dedicated to a different element--structure, characters, strong verbs, sensory details, setting. Except for the second draft, I don't go in any particular order. The second draft is always about structure, and it's the draft I dread. When I'm concentrating on characters, I follow one character's journey through the story. Many times I discover places where I should add a scene with that character or a scene where they should be present.

When I visit schools I emphasize rewriting with the students and show them this process. But today I shared it with you, not just for you, but for me too. I needed to be reminded that a good story happens bit by bit, one draft at a time.

If you want to know more of my writing tips, please visit my Writing Tips page on this website.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


A dry-eraser board hangs in my office. Every time I start a book, I write the names of my characters on the board. Just catching a glimpse of one of those names pulls me back into the story.

In the middle of the board there is a date. It's the date I plan to send in the manuscript. The theory is that if I see that date it will keep me focused and on target. What's the current date on the board? March 23, 2007. I know. I'm late. That's not the first date that was on that board for this book. I don't remember that date.

The manuscript was sent to my editor, Christy, in September. It was sent back in January for a revision, but I never bothered to put an updated deadline on the board. I'm envious of writers who meet their deadlines. Finding my way through a novel takes time.

I'm often asked, does it get easier? No, it doesn't. Each time I start a novel I feel as if I'm learning to write a story all over again. Bumpy prose, awkward plotting, weak characterization--it's all there. I've never felt comfortable referring to myself as an author. When I'm deep in the trenches, wordsmith seems more fitting.

I'm nearing the finish line of this stage with the book, but it won't be ready tomorrow, the last date I gave Christy. That means I will begin my writing day by doing two things--sending another update to her and changing the date on the board.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


July 18 & 19 I'll be in Shreveport, Louisiana, participating in:


Shreveport's Celebration of the Written Word

Hosted by: Friends of the Municipal Auditorium

For more information visit their website:

Author! Author!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008