2023 Amelia Island Book Festival notes
Book Festivals are great places for readers to meet authors, and vice versa. Recently, I was delighted to participate in the annual Amelia Island Book Festival Authors’ Expo, where I met and spoke with dozens of readers and many other authors. Some, like me, live nearby, while others traveled long distances to attend. Some writer pals from Atlanta made the trip, and I was thrilled to see them.
The day began with a Writers’ Workshop given by Florida author Vic DiGenti. Later, NYT best-selling authors David Baldacci, Kate Quinn, Scott Turow, and Jeannette Walls signed copies of their books in the same venue where other participating authors did the same.
After their signings, I introduced myself to David Baldacci and Jeannette Walls. When I told Walls that her memoir The Glass Castle had inspired me to write a similar story, she was intrigued, encouraging and very supportive. As I chatted with Baldacci, I told him that I’m currently doing his Masterclass on writing mystery and suspense, which I’ve found quite helpful. He seemed gratified and was very personable and supportive also. I also shared that I’m almost finished with my next thriller.
Then, a few days ago, I finished it. My next step is to have it edited and then do any needed revisions. That could take several weeks, and then it will be ready for a publisher. The title has changed since I began writing it, and for now, it’s a secret. So, it’s named BOOK TITLE in the description below:
Inspired by true events and told from multiple points of view, “BOOK TITLE” is based on Julia McDermott’s short story published in crime stories anthology DOWN TO THE RIVER (Down & Out Books, 2019).
In the mid 1990s, Tim and Dolly Barron are transferred from Atlanta, Georgia to Huntington, Kansas, a small town with a dark secret. Forced to uproot their kids from the only home they’ve ever known, the Barrons resolve to make the best of it and to focus on the positives: a lower cost of living, good schools, and (they believe) less crime.
But after a home invasion occurs a few miles from their doorstep, the secret is out: A serial killer who targets attractive women lives in the shadows and has been eluding the police for decades. In shock, Dolly adopts some new habits: Set the home security system. Check the phone line for a dial tone when you get home. Learn self-defense and how to fire a gun. And don’t trust anyone.
Then, Dolly’s look-alike turns up dead, and the city paper publishes a note signed by the killer claiming credit. Her fears intensify as more victims, whose lives have brushed close to her own, are discovered. If Dolly is to avoid the same fate, she will have to search for the truth herself and seek out the killer before he hunts her down.
List Post: juillet 2017 (July)
- My domestic suspense novel UNDERWATER, published by Thomas & Mercer, hit Number 3 the Top Ten Amazon Bestseller List in Suspense this week! It’s still in the Top Ten, and on July 4, its sales ranking hit #786 in ALL BOOKS (over a MILLION of them) on Kindle!
- The lower the ranking, the higher the sales. So, thank you, readers! You’ve chosen a great beach read, whose newest Amazon Reviewer said I’m her new favorite author!
- On vacation last week, I read two novels in my genre, both of which kept me engaged and turning pages. They also fueled my desire to finish my next novel, which is so far untitled. More on that next month!
- “Pizza and a Movie” has been on hiatus lately, though we did see the following films: My Cousin Rachel, Wonder Woman, and Their Finest. All three earned about 3.5 stars, in my movie reviewer opinion. Being in vacation mode, I didn’t blog about them, but I did stick to salads. Our next choice? Baby Driver.
Below: My 4th of July apéro (or, apéritif) = pre-dinner drink:
Frosé (Frozen Rosé wine), garnished with blueberries! It was delicieux!
List Post: juin 2017 (June)
Not exactly a list, but…
Here’s an update:
On June 1, I hosted my neighborhood’s Book Club meeting. The book we chose to read and discuss? My latest suspense novel, DADDY’S GIRL.
We talked about my other books, too, including my creative nonfiction book ALL THE ABOVE: MY SON’S BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER. Many of my neighbors had known Jack since he was a little boy (he was 9 when we moved in), and they were touched by his story.
Book club members holding my novels UNDERWATER and DADDY’S GIRL, nonfiction ALL THE ABOVE, and of course…wine.
I was thrilled to see everyone that night. Although these are the only photos we took, there were about 18 people at the meeting. I’ve been hit or miss lately at our meetings, but I’m always interested in what we select to read. I like to read multiple genres, and luckily, the book club does, too.
We talked about my novel, and members were also very interested in my writing process, my path to publication, and what it’s like to work with an editor. Just the kinds of things I like to talk about! We drank wine, munched on appetizers, and enjoyed catching up when we weren’t talking books.
I’d love to be a guest at YOUR book club anytime, in person or via Skype. Just let me know when!
Two nights later, I attended the 53rd Annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards banquet. DADDY’S GIRL was a Nominee in the Mystery/Detective category (the best fit, since there isn’t a Thriller/Suspense category, too). There were over a dozen Nominees in the category, and though it didn’t win, I was thrilled to be there and to be nominated. It was wonderful to be among writers of many genres and watch as a Winner and a Finalist were chosen in each group.
Here I am at the banquet with my friend, author Liz Lazarus, a Nominee in the First Novel category
What else is planned for June? Basically, writing (book 5). So far, it’s unnamed, but the characters are in serious development, and the scenes are coming together. Stay tuned.
List Post, mai 2017 (May)
May is a busy month. It’s when the school year ends (in the south, anyway), and when graduations happen. Mother’s Day falls in May, Memorial Day weekend occurs, and summer vacation is just around the corner. In my family, there are several May birthdays, at least one wedding anniversary, and this year, there was an engagement announcement. It’s also Brain Tumor Awareness month.
I don’t have any author events scheduled this month, but on Saturday, June 10, I’ll join other local “Sisters in Crime” authors in a panel discussion about publishing at the Decatur Library (see my News & Events page for details).
Earlier this month, I scheduled a photo shoot with the fabulous and talented photographer, Lynn Crow. I needed a professional, updated headshot (not taken by an iPhone) to submit to mystery writers’ conference Bouchercon for its program. I’ll appear at the conference later this year in Toronto.
Lynn had me meet her at the Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta to shoot the photos. When she sent me the proofs, I thought I knew which one I should choose for the headshot. However, I liked several, and after I narrowed them down, I asked my Facebook friends to vote for their favorite.
The one above is the winner, 18-6, by my count, and it’s the one I thought I should select. Second place was the one below. I sent the winner to the Bouchercon folks, but I can always crop the “brick wall” one for a closeup headshot alternative for other occasions. I used the other photos (slideshow below) on my website, social media sites, and Amazon author page. And there are a few other (so far, unpublished) proofs I’ve saved in case I need them later.
All in all, I’m glad I had this done. I’d had a previous headshot (only) taken by a different photogragher a few years ago, but since then, I’ve lost a lot of weight. The only other time I’ve had professional photos taken was in my wedding dress when I was engaged to be married, over 35 years ago. I’ve always wished that I’d had more taken (or chosen to keep the proofs). But I had a very limited budget then, and didn’t realize how much I’d want to see those photos later on.
It’s different now that photos are much less expensive and easier to share. I’m more often the one behind the (iPhone) camera, rather than in front of it, and I’m more comfortable with words than images. But I’m happy to share these, and I hope they reflect something about me.
How 3 decisions impacted my son’s journey with cancer
“Cancer, like a cruel master, forces you to stand up and keep walking when all you want to do is stay down and hide.”
You won’t find those words in the pages of my book, ALL THE ABOVE: My Son’s Battle with Brain Cancer. Instead, you can find them in an Amazon review, written by a stranger who knew neither me nor my son, yet understood our struggle all the same.
Seven years and three days ago was my son Jack’s 19th birthday. It was a Saturday, and the first day of summer vacation after his freshman year at UGA. It was also the day he learned he had a brain tumor, and our world was forever changed.
During final exams the week before, Jack had experienced blurry vision. I thought he was just overtired, or could have been using too many allergy drops. At his request, I planned to get him an appointment with our optometrist the next week.
But that Saturday morning, his eyes were crossed and he didn’t seem to know it. I called my next door neighbor, our eye doctor and a friend, and she saw him immediately.
After examining Jack, she spoke to my husband and me in private. In a trembling voice, she told us Jack either had meningitis, extremely high blood pressure, or a brain tumor.
He’d had the meningitis vaccine, so I prayed it was “only” high blood pressure. But my prayer went unanswered. Hours later, after an exhaustive exam by an ophthalmologist on call, followed by an MRI at Northside Hospital, a neurosurgeon broke the news. Just behind his optic nerves, a tumor was wreaking havoc on Jack’s eyesight and damaging his retinas.
Stunned, the three of us listened as the doctor explained that Jack needed emergency surgery that night, not to remove the tumor, but to place a shunt in his brain to save his vision. Without it, he would be blind within days.
Jack signed the consent forms and a hastily written advance directive. The surgery was successful, and his vision started improving almost immediately. He came home the next day with a big bandage on and staples in his head. Over the next few weeks, as he recovered, we contacted a handful of top neurosurgeons around the country, and began figuring out what to do.
What happened over the next six months is chronicled in my book. Although it’s a true story, it isn’t merely a retelling of facts, interspersed with doctors’ notes and records. It’s about the way Jack handled his illness, and what our family did to try to help him. Written from my point of view, it describes my emotional struggle when cancer forced my teenage son to stand up and walk, as death stared him in the face.
At the beginning of his journey, Jack made three decisions, all of which would serve to help both of us over the coming months.
First: To stop asking himself, God, or anyone why he had a brain tumor. The doctor had said that no one knew why he had it. He could have been born with it. He could have developed it over time. Instead of casting blame, Jack focused all of his energy on getting better, and on doing whatever he had to do to get well.
That night – and almost every night that summer – Jack and I talked alone in his room before he went to sleep. We didn’t always talk about his illness. But we did when he wanted to, and he shared his feelings with me, and leaned on me emotionally.
But during those first few days, he kept what was going on in his life private. He didn’t want to tell his grandparents, or anyone in our large extended family yet. Dennis and I respected his wishes, and his right to drive the flow of information to family and friends – and not until he was ready to do so.
Choosing not to ask why – not to blame anyone or anything – was key to helping Jack move forward. It also influenced his decision to keep matters private at first. Shock was just beginning to wear off, and the last thing he needed were questions about the cause of his tumor – questions he couldn’t answer.
Second, Jack chose to not feel sorry for himself. He didn’t want anyone’s pity, saying it wouldn’t make him feel better, and might make him feel worse. After a few days, he told a few close friends and family members what was going on, but instead of dwelling on his situation, his strategy was to keep busy and not think about it.
As soon as he was able, he went to play basketball at the YMCA. In mid May, he began a 5-week drama camp internship that he had lined up in the spring. He volunteered at a comedy club, played golf, and went to a Braves game.
He also listened to what the doctors were telling him, about what he had to do to survive. He spoke on the phone with the neurosurgeons we reached out to, and absorbed what they said. After he made decisions about who to see and where to go – once Jack had a plan – he let more people know about his illness. But he still didn’t go public. He owned his journey and what was happening to him in the way that strengthened him, and used all his energy to fight the disease. He stayed positive and hopeful, and his courage was inspiring.
Third, Jack didn’t let others tell him how to feel. Just before his sophomore year at UGA, a radiation oncologist chastised him for being dismayed that he was going to lose his hair. Jack bristled at her words and seemed shaken. “Oh, come on,” she said to him, in front of me. “You’re a guy! You shouldn’t care if you lose your hair!”
Moments later, on our way home, he told me how much her cavalier attitude and judgment hurt. “She has no right to say if I should I care,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a guy. She has no idea how I feel, and she shouldn’t tell me how to feel.”
He was right. I was powerless to protect him from the insensitivity of others, but glad that he shared his reaction with me.
A quote at the beginning of Chapter 2 in ALL THE ABOVE sums up my own feelings that day, and almost every other day during Jack’s battle with cancer. It’s from a novel called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.
“It’s come at last,” she thought, “the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.”
Jack’s story is one of triumph. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived brain cancer. Today he is 26, living and working in New York, and has been cancer free for over 6 years. He was glad I wrote ALL THE ABOVE and excited about its publication. When I finished writing it, I added one final quote on the page before Chapter 1. It’s a quote from Jack himself:
“Just try (not all at once, just step by step), to have hope. Resiliency is a wonderful thing. Sometimes something great happens when all feels lost.”
List Post, avril 2017 (April)
It’s the last week of April, and I just realized I forgot to do a List Post this month!
I’ve been a little busy writing…and appearing at bookstores, festivals and markets, signing copies of my books. Back in late March, I went to Asheville, NC for a few days, and to Savannah the next weekend. The first weekend of April, I went to Texas with my husband to visit family. Here’s a rundown of this month, through the end of it, this Sunday:
- My appearance at Tall Tales Books had to be rescheduled from March 26 to April 8. It was lots of fun mingling with readers in a great bookstore!
- Alas, I had to cancel as a Regional Writer for the Dahlonega Literary Festival last month. I hope to be back next year, though.
- On April 9, I headed to Wilbur & Rudy’s Farmtable and Market in Milton, GA for a book signing.
- Then on April 15, I appeared as a panelist with authors Gelia Dolcimascolo, Nancy Stephan and James Huskins at the Atlanta Writers Club meeting in Dunwoody, GA. Our panel was the 3rd speaker slot beginning at 3pm. Lots of interesting questions and discussion!
- On April 22, I was one of several authors signing books at “Lemonade Days” in Dunwoody, a festival held at an area park. It was a gorgeous day and we met lots of cool readers. We appeared again the next day but had to close up shop early because of heavy rain.
- And on Sunday April 30 (rain or shine), I’ll sign books at an Author Signing at the Donaldson-Bannister House in Dunwoody! Please stop by.
That’s me on the left, with two other authors and a reader who grabbed copies of our books at Lemonade Days!
Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: Get Out
Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:
It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outside on the patio. I had the V-8 salad (tomatoes + other fresh ingredients but no lettuce).
If you know anything about this film, you know it’s basically Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets horror film. I’m not a big fan of the latter, but the former is one of my all time favorite movies. I thought that film’s story was wonderful, and the acting was super.
Not so much with this movie. My husband liked it better than I did (and he is more okay with horror movies), and though I admit it was cleverly done, I don’t think it’s destined to be a classic. There was one scene in particular that truly horrified me, and – spoiler – it had to do with brain surgery. If you’ve read my third book, ALL THE ABOVE: MY SON’S BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER (or even if you haven’t yet) you’ll know why.
So, I came out of the theatre a bit shaken. But I guess that was the idea.
List Post, mars (March) 2017
I have 2 events coming up later this month on the same weekend:
- I’ll appear at the 2017 Dahlonega Literary Festival on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Come see me between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm at the Dahlonega Baptist Church (234 Hawkins St, Dahlonega GA 30533). I’ll have copies of all four of my books available to sign. Bring your book club members and enjoy this wonderful event!
- The following day, Sunday March 26 at 2:30, I’ll appear at Tall Tales Books for a discussion and book signing. This bookstore is conveniently located in Toco Hills at 2105 La Vista Road in Atlanta. You’re invited to attend!
Until then, I’ll be working on my (so far, untitled) next novel (“Book 5” for now). And on Monday evening, March 20, I’ll be the guest of the Atlanta Women’s Book Club at their meeting to discuss DADDY’S GIRL.
Merci mille fois to my friend Hamid, the owner of Café Vendôome on Roswell Road for hosting me last Saturday, March 4 for the afternoon, to sign copies of my books. Thanks to all who attended – it was wonderful to see you all and to chat about books!
Wine with Wendy on Wednesday, Feb 2017
Happy Mardi Gras!
Earlier this month, Wendy and I met for lunch, and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. I’ve lost count of the number of posts I’ve done about our déjeuners, so I’m going to start identifying them by date.
This time, we didn’t go to a French restaurant. Instead, we chose Seasons 52 for the lighter fare. We passed on dessert, but we had a glass of wine.
And this time, we didn’t discuss our artistic endeavors (much). Instead, we talked about practical things like our households (not our kids, though) and health (basically, exercise and dieting).
Kind of appropriate, when you’re at Seasons 52.
I hope we can fit in a lunch this month. Spring break is coming, and Wendy’s 5 children have different spring breaks. I have a lot on my calendar in March, too: book signings, book club appearances, travels, and a literary festival. My next appearance is this Saturday afternoon* at a French café called Café Vendôme. They have wonderful bread, patisseries and a great lunch menu. Hope to see you there!
Above: Seasons 52 flatbread and dessert choices. Below: Café Vendôme macarons, etc.
* Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 2:00 to 4:30