A Dream Come True

As many of you know from my very first post here on Her Kentucky, I've been working on a young adult novel, BETWEEN, for about two years. I wrote it, then re-wrote it, re-wrote it, and re-wrote it again. I'm talking major, beginning-to-end rewrites, not including all the minor revisions I made on those drafts along the way.

Many times, usually about halfway through a rewrite when I realized I had written myself into a corner and couldn't find a way to make my plot work, I thought about giving up on it. 

I'm glad I didn't.

I decided pretty early in life that I was going to write books. I gave up on that dream several times as I got older. Writing was always something I enjoyed, but I quit looking at it as something I would seriously pursue. I didn't even really understand how a person got a book published, and when I started looking into it, the whole process seemed so big and terrifying that it just felt too far out of reach for a girl from a tiny town in Kentucky with no publishing connections and no idea of where to start.

One day, I'm going to sit down with my daughters and tell them that. I'm going to explain how I almost let my silly fear of the unknown keep me from doing the one thing I'd known I wanted to do since I was old enough to make up stories. Some dreams might actually be a bit out of reach. (For instance, my goal of marrying Prince Harry is probably not going to happen and might even be slightly creepy at this point. And also I married a pretty stellar fella already.) But other dreams only seem out of reach because you're told that they're impractical, or that they're the kinds of dreams only certain people get to have. 

I'm so thankful that I have the kind of family who never said, "This is ridiculous. Grow up." 

This morning, I gave my six-year-old a really long, thought-out speech about how I had wanted to be an author ever since I was a little girl and it's important to never give up on what you want in life. She looked at me very seriously and said, "Mommy, my dream is to make toys and houses for all my Little Pet Shop animals."

I nodded, hugged her, and told her to go after it.

No matter what, I want her to know she can be whatever she wants to be. Even a Littlest Pet Shop toy and house designer.

Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Recap

Thai Food Truck at the Capitol.
Last weekend, I went down to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. I wrote about the Festival for Ace Weekly magazine, describing the sense of "place" that arose time and again during the festival's programs and events. I also wanted to share a more informal "travelogue" with y'all. We had such an amazing time taking in both the festival and one of my very favorite cities. Here's my recap of Saturday’s events. You can read about Friday's adventures here. – HCW

I don’t know why, but the Central Time Zone kicks my behind every single time. Every. Single. Time. I lived in Nashville for two years, and I never got used to Prime Time television starting at 7 p.m. This day was no exception. I gotup really early for a Saturday, and yet somehow I was still running late.

Now, I've always jokingly called the strip of I-65 from Southern Kentucky past Nashville "The Cracker Barrel Corridor" because it seems you can find one at every exit. As we pass the signs for a few of those, it felt like a good excuse to avail ourselves of some biscuits and hashbrown casserole. At first, I was a little concerned that we'd miss the session on the politics of SEC football, but then I realized that we were surrounded by that very topic. From the Volunteers dog collars and baby clothes in the gift shop to the Gators fans who've driven up for their game against Vandy, the politics of the Southeastern Conference were everywhere, so we just sat back and enjoyed our carbs.

We arrived downtown, surveyed the vendor booths, and headed in to an auditorium a few minutes early for the Grit Lit panel. As we sat down, we realized that we'dcrashed another session. Turns out, we were sitting in on a Q and A session with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, who talked about how she chooses settings for her work. It was neat and unexpected. 

The panel I was really there to see was comprised of the editors and featured authors of the anthology Grit Lit: a Rough Southern Reader. It was a funny, gritty, and real presentation. I was transfixed by the stories told by Rowan County native Chris Offutt. He's from nowhere, Kentucky, just like me. He's written for some of the smartest shows on TV. He was also as funny and offbeat and fascinating as I expected. I reached for my phone to tweet about the awesomeness, and found that Southern Living staffers were in the Grit Lit audience as well. Around the same time, the panel members started talking about the articles they've written for Oxford American. People who write for the very publications I read most closely -- the ones for which I dream of writing -- were are all around me, participating in the same conversation. It was a great feeling.

After the panel discussion, my beau and I walked around the booths of some of the University Presses  exhibiting at the Festival. We talked with booksellers and lit review editors. We discussed interesting books. We got some ice cream. (Jeni's, to be precise. Salted caramel, which is okay, and whiskey-pecan, which tastes like some sort of fantastic milky Christmas punch made with Early Times.)

After we took in more booths, musicians, and authors, we headed back to the hotel for a nap and some college football. It is a Saturday in the South, after all. Between the nap and the evening's big games, we headed out for some low-key dinner. There, in a suburban chain restaurant, I found my confidence bolstered by the day's events. I'd spent the day among writers who, as is often said, started out with an idea. I began to tell my beau the story of the novel I want to write. I'd never really discussed it with anyone before, but now it's out there. It's real. It was a terrifying and liberating moment.

Back in the hotel, I fell immediately asleep. Les Miles had to coach without me. I had big dreams of first drafts and the fantastic cup of coffee I'd be drinking in the morning.

A Guide to Literary Nashville

When you hear "Nashville", you immediately think "country music", right?

Well, this week, you may also be thinking about that show that brought Mrs. Coach Taylor back to TV. I can't blame you there; I've already watched the pilot episode a couple of times myself.

When I think of Nashville, though, I immediately think of books. It's not most people's immediate reaction, I know. But, when I lived in Nashville, I was always discovering the coolest bookstores and cafés; it just always seemed like there was a great place to read or write. As I head down to the Southern Festival of Books, I thought I'd share with y'all a few of my favorites.

My hidden gem -- and I sort of hate to let anyone in on my secret -- is McKay's. McKay Used Books is a Tennessee-based superstore of used books, music, and movies. It's also one of the greatest resources I've ever found for odd, esoteric, and just plain awesome books. There are always plenty of interesting texts that clearly once belonged to professors at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, or Belmont. Over the years, I've found books on the philosophy of sports and a gender-studies reading of Sex and the City.  I've found a first edition of Pat Conroy's "The Water Is Wide" and a signed Ann Patchett. I've also tripled my Junior League Cookbook collection without investing a ton of money into it. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of McKay's.

RhinoBooks is another favorite used book store. With two locations -- one in the quiet neighborhood near David Lipscomb University and one amidst antique, treasure and junk stores -- Rhino just looks like your favorite used bookstore. The staff is always willing to talk Fitzgerald with you for hours. Oh, and the owner is a songwriter as well -- he's collaborated with Shel Silverstein and John Hiatt.

I haven't been back to Nashville since Parnassus Books opened. I hope to remedy that situation this weekend. At a time when conventional wisdom tells us that the brick and mortar bookstore is dead (Nashville boasted the best Borders I'd ever seen, as well as the delightful Davis-Kidd, now sadly both defunct), author Ann Patchett and publishing industry veteran Karen Hayes opened an independent bookstore. It was a bold move that went against the tide of conventional business wisdom. I know this becauseStephen Colbert told me so. Ms. Patchett's works are among my very, very favorites. I can't wait to see Parnassus for myself!

While not a bookstore, the Five Points Starbucks in Franklin is part of literary Nashville for me. Now, when I'm in Nashville, I almost never visit a Starbucks. Provence, a local café chain, has vastly superior coffee and pastries, most notably my beloved Dancing Goats. But, this Williamson County store is where a lovely series of books got their start.Tasha Alexander worked on the first novel in the Lady Emily series of historical fiction mysteries at the Five Points Starbucks after she'd taken her son to school.  As a writer, I love the idea that a suburban Starbucks in Central Tennessee was where an author crafted a story of intrigue among the upper class in Victorian England.

Nashville has so many amazing resources for readers and writers. I hope to take advantage of a few this weekend!

Hope Conquers - A Campaign to Help Children With Cancer

I read as an escape, as a form of entertainment and as a way to learn. I've never thought about the idea of "reading for good," but I'm happy to introduce a way to do just that. Tammy Blackwell, a Kentucky author, is with us today for a post on her campaign of kindness - Hope Conquers - which aims to help children and families of children diagnosed with cancer.  - Lydia

I have lived in Marshall County, Kentucky, the majority of my life. When you live in a county of 31,000 people, there is no way to know every single person, but after thirty-something years, you feel like you do. You certainly know every member of your graduating class well enough that you feel a profound sense of sadness when one of them has a child be diagnosed with cancer. And when a person you grew up with is forced to bury their child, your heart becomes a raw ache inside your chest.

I was a member of the Marshall County High School Class of 1996. There were 300 of us. Three hundred. Out of that 300 people, four of them have recently had a child diagnosed with cancer. Two of those children died from the disease.

You would think that was enough for one small town, but unfortunately life wouldn’t agree. There are currently three teenagers in Marshall County missing school as they undergo cancer treatment. Three kids who should be worrying about exams, papers, and unrequited love are now worrying about blood levels, treatment options, and whether they will ever truly get to experience life again.

Cancer is cruel; it’s wrong; and it is certainly not fair.

I recently realized I could just sit around and feel sorry for all the families around me struggling, or I could do something to help. My day job is as the Young Adult Services Coordinator for the Marshall County Public Library. Over the years, I’ve seen how books can change a teen’s perception and attitude. I’ve seen books change lives. And so, armed with that knowledge, I came up with the Hope Conquers campaign.

The Hope Conquers campaign is simple: During the month of October, I will be collecting books inscribed with messages of inspiration and encouragement signed by the author. Those books will be donated to the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the place most seriously ill kids in Marshall County go to receive care. I’ll also be donating all the profits from the Kindle edition of my novel Destiny Binds
to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides assistance to families with sick children.

I know in the grand scheme of things, Hope Conquers isn’t a lot. I’m going to give some kids some books and donate a little bit of money. So what?

Here’s the thing, though. I think it will make a difference. Actually, I know it will. I know, without a doubt, that every little bit helps. I know that if we work together, if each of us does what we can, our little bits will add up to a big something.

I encourage you to do what you can this month for kids with cancer. If you want to help the Hope Conquers campaign, you can do so by picking up a copy of Destiny Binds in the Kindle Store. (Don’t have a Kindle? No problem! Most app-enabled devices, like computers and smart phones, have a free Kindle app. And Destiny Binds is only 99¢!) Even if you don’t want to buy the book, you can help by
spreading the word about the campaign. Or by making a donation of your own to a charity that supports seriously ill children. Or by dropping a few coins into the collection boxes at McDonald’s. Please, just do something, anything, to get involved. 

Together we can make a difference in the lives of children battling cancer.

Tammy Blackwell works at the Marshall County Public Library in Kentucky and is the author of the popular YA series, the Timber Wolves Trilogy. You can visit her online at www.misstammywrites.com or follow her on Twitter (@Miss_Tammy).

Interview: Kentucky Author Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond is a Lexington author whose debut novel, Blackwood, launched in September. I had the pleasure of meeting her when I went to her launch party at Morris Book Shop, and she was nice enough to let me interview her for my very first HerKentucky post! First, here's a little info about her book: 

On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundred of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda Blackwood, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family, and Phillips Rawlings, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can't dodge is each other.

Doesn't that sound GREAT? (It is. I personally vouch for its awesome-ness, as well as that of its lovely author. I mean, it combines one of my favorite American mysteries with 1. young adult audience, 2. alchemy, and 3. KISSING. Because of course.) If you're interested in grabbing your own free, signed copy, I'm giving one away this week on my blog

And now, eight questions with Gwenda!

1. Where'd you get the idea for Blackwood? How long did it take from the time you came up with the idea to the time the book made it to the shelf?

The Lost Colony story had been rattling round in the back of my head ever since I first encountered it in elementary school. It’s a tantalizing bit of history that you breeze past in a few minutes, moving on to less mysterious topics. I’ve always loved unsolved mysteries, strange historical topics, etcetera. My husband and I were on a road trip to visit friends in Raleigh and passed a sign for Roanoke—Virginia, of course, not Roanoke Island, but something about seeing the word brought what was an almost fully-formed idea into my mind. I asked Christopher is anyone had ever done a story where there was a disappearance like the original one, but on modern day Roanoke Island. Neither of us could come up with one, and so when we got back home I started developing the idea.

And I managed about 50 pages before I stalled out, because I had no clue how I was going to link the modern mystery with the historical one. I didn’t know what solution the book would propose. I put the manuscript away and worked on other things for several years, finally returning to it a couple of years ago. This time around, I encountered a mention of John Dee, the famous (or infamous) alchemist and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, early in my research and that brought everything together.

2. I've always been fascinated with The Lost Colony, and I love that you found a way to tell a story that feels like it COULD have happened. Did using such a well-known American mystery make things easier or harder for you? How much pressure did you feel to stick to the facts?

This is an excellent question. I definitely wanted to know enough that I knew where the leaps were being made; I wanted there to be a sense of history infusing the book, and to incorporate some little-known facts. So I did do a great deal of research and reading. This being such a well-known subject made it very easy to find vastly different approaches to the history, and being a tourist destination made doing research on modern Roanoke Island easier as well. But I also was aware that by proposing a supernatural solution—by bringing fantasy into the mix—I’d be departing from reality, obviously. So that was freeing. Many of the leaps I make in the book involve the fantasy elements. And there’s a long and grand tradition of people riffing on the Roanoke Island story, using history but also speculating. The most famous example is the long-running The Lost Colony production, which made it perfect to include in the book.

3. I love Miranda and Phillips (and of course, Sidekick), Blackwood's main characters. Do you have a favorite character in the book?

So hard. I love all three of them, too. Sidekick is based on our sadly departed golden retriever George the Dog, so I have a completely sentimental attachment there. But I think Miranda ended up being my favorite to write, because it took me a while to get under her skin and figure out what she was about. And it was fun writing a character who’s into lots of nerdy things.

4. If you had to pick a theme song for Blackwood, what would it be?

Probably “Devil’s Playground” by Gram Rabbit, for reasons that will be obvious to those who read the book.

5. Tell me about your favorite writing spot. Do you have a certain routine to help you get in the mood for writing?

The closest thing I have to a routine to get me in the mood is lunchtime walks, where I listen to the playlist for whatever I’m working on. Other than that, I do most of my writing early in the morning, during lunch, or occasionally in the evenings in the back yard. The back yard is actually my favorite place to write—especially when I’m stuck, since there’s no wireless—but I don’t do it nearly often enough.

6. What's been the most rewarding part of your writing career so far?

I would definitely have to say getting to know so many wonderful book people. This includes other authors, writers of other types (bloggers, reviewers, reporters), and readers. Both YA and science fiction/fantasy have such active and enthusiastic communities. It feels very tight knit and supportive. Meeting so many wonderful new readers and booksellers and librarians (and other authors) has been the most fun part of having a book come out.

7. What's it like being an author in Lexington? 

Lexington is a secret literary hotbed, I think. We are tremendously lucky to have such a vibrant scene. There are many wonderful writers of diverse styles around here, and lots of readers to boot. I believe that Kentuckians truly value storytelling and support it, in a way that’s unusual. And just look at our thriving bookstore scene! In a time when many places are losing their independent stores, we have the venerable Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the new and just as exciting Morris Book Shop, not to mention an even newer entry The Wild Fig (owned by fab author Crystal Wilkinson), plus a Barnes and Noble, and a host of good used bookstores. Our libraries are fabulous, and the Carnegie Center is an excellent hub of literary activity. I have been completely overwhelmed by the level of support for Blackwood locally. I pause to blow kisses at Morris and Joseph-Beth and the Carnegie Center, in particular.

8. What's next for you? I know Blackwood was a standalone title. Can you tell me about the book you have coming out next year?

Happily! The Woken Gods is a bigger book than Blackwood in many ways, and should be out in July of next year. Here’s the set-up: Ten years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke, all around the world. Now, in a transformed Washington, D.C., that has become the meeting ground for a no-longer-secret society and a council made up of the seven tricksters who are the gods’ main emissaries to humanity, a 17-year-old girl must find a mysterious missing relic and navigate intrigue involving dangerous gods to save her father. I have been known to describe it as Raiders of the Lost Ark meets American Gods, but with more teenagers.

Thanks so much for the interview!

Gwenda Bond's debut novel, Blackwood, was released in September as a launch title for the new young adult imprint Strange Chemistry. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, and guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online. She grew up in Eastern Kentucky--Jackson County, to be precise--and did her undergraduate work at Eastern Kentucky University. She also holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in writing for children and young adults. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe (an Adair County native), and their trio of pets adopted from local rescue organizations.

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