Must Read for Writers

April 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Robin Black: Crash Course: Essays on Where Writing and Life Collide. This is a must read for writers. Beautifully written. Powerful in her ability to take the personal from her own experience and make it feel like our own.

Lessons Learned at a Book SigningEvent

March 16, 2016 § 1 Comment

I attend several book festivals and signing events each year. I love to support other writers by attending the events and purchasing what books I can afford to purchase. Usually, the experience is energizing and pleasant, but recently, I attended an event which left me frustrated, embarrassed for the writers, and determined to learn from it. With less than a dozen authors present, two really stood out: One I mentally tagged Ms. Full-of-Herself KNow-it-All. The other, well, to put it politely, I tagged : Ms. Disingenuous Faker (Women of a certain age really should know better: false lashes, layers and layers of makeup, long–very long– bleached blonde hair, and would-be-bohemian fashion.)

Okay, so because I was raised better, I will stop there. I’m sure you get the picture. And hopefully you will understand which is which when you read the following lessons I wish all writers learned:

1) Don’t brag about yourself to people who are buying books from you.
2) Don’t interrupt buyers when they are talking to you. LET THEM FINISH THE QUESTION OR STATEMENT.
3) Don’t discount the buyer’s writing and publishing experience by not asking about it. Show some interest in the other authors present and the potential buyers! That will sell more books than anything else. If someone hands you a business card, at least PRETEND to read it before you throw it on your table amid papers and such.
4) Don’t EVER assume much less state that you know all there is to know about writing because YOU DONT. None of us ever will.
5) Don’t market your book subject matter as one thing on the back cover and/or verbally, when it is entirely something else and might even prove to be distasteful to the buyer.
6) Dress and groom yourself appropriately.

7)Don’t quote a book price to a potential buyer and then charge them more for the book AFTER you have autographed it.
8) Don’t use a photo on the back of your book that is obviously you some 50 years ago.
9) Don’t write a bio that claims you graduated from a prestigious semi-ivy league university when the first page clearly shows you can’t even use commas and semicolons correctly and your verb tense and POV are all over the place. (People WILL remember you for  that disingenuousness)
10) Don’t invade a buyer’s personal space trying to push your books on said buyer. Stay behind your table unless it is necessary for you to step out.
11) Don’t forget to brush your teeth and use mouth wash before a signing event, and always use breath mints.


Buyer Beware!

January 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

A friend and I recently discussed the proliferation of ugly skin tags sprouting on our baby-boomer skin. It seems a new crop grows every day. But as we are on limited budgets, having ALL these uglies removed by the dermatologist is not financially beneficial to a comfortable retirement, and so those good ol’ home remedies beckon from magazines, books, and the internet.
I mentioned to my friend that I had just begun the vinegar treatments. For one week, I had applied vinegar twice a day to my skin tags. “Oh, but vinegar evaporates so quickly,” she said. So, that got me to worrying. Could it really work in a few seconds to remove those hated growths? Probably not….just like so many other home remedies I had tried…nice to dream about, but either barely or not at all productive. And so with my doubts growing, I decided, instead, to purchase a product GUARANTEED to eradicate every single tag. A special, natural, tree oil, unique in its healing properties. Hundreds of satisfied customers. Almost instant results. Just $26.99….uh, well, okay, cancel a couple of lunches out, and I’d be tag free. It was worth it. I tucked the bottle of vinegar into the vanity cabinet and clicked on the “Easy Order” button for the product.
A week later, my miracle tree oil arrived.
The box is recycled paper…GREAT!!!!! The harvesting of the oil does not harm the trees…SUPER!!!! The oil is all natural…FANTASTIC!!!
I opened the box, then the dark bottle, colored so as to protect the precious oil from exposure to sun and incandescent light. It smelled …well, funky, pungent, and familiar. Where had I smelled that odor before? My brain sorts information a bit more slowly these days, so when I couldn’t quite remember the source of the smell, I shrugged and grabbed a cotton ball, doused it with the miracle treatment and immediately applied to my skin-tags: on my neck, at the base of my hair line, on my shoulders, on my chest, everywhere my clothes had rubbed and made a home for the ugly little boogers.
Ummm….the odor was, well… STRONG. Surely, I thought, it will dissipate in a few minutes. I closed the bottle, stored it in the cool darkness of the cabinet and proceeded to dress for the day. There was shopping to do, a lunch date, and a visit to a friend in the hospital…..But within minutes, the smell had filled not only the bathroom, but the bedroom beyond, my closet, and the hallway. I had to get out of there for a minute.
“Phewww! What is that odor?” my smell-sensitive husband asked as I strolled through the den. He got up from the sofa and opened a window. Then the back door. (It’s 40 degrees outside today, y’all.)
“What is that smell?” he asked, sniffing like some hound dog trailing a fox. Then he began to cough. His eyes watered. He almost GAGGED.
I hurried back to the bathroom. The fumes nearly knocked me out in that small space. I opened the windows, took a huge gulp of fresh air, held it, and rushed back to the hall. But the odor followed me. Through the kitchen, out the back door, onto the screened porch, down the steps, into the yard…but it was still with me.
The odor was coming from ME. The more I moved, the stronger the odor grew. It was the great, super, fantastic, all natural remedy for skin tags I had doused on my body. It was….it was….. it was TURPENTINE!!!!
OH MY WORD! TURPENTINE. That was the name of the vaguely familiar odor I had recognized. TURPENTINE. For sure, my grandmothers had used the oil for many home treatments, but in more recent decades, the noxious ointment had been relegated to cleaning paint brushes, or so I thought.
I went back inside and retrieved the box from the recycling bin. Tree oil. $26.99 plus shipping for tree oil, which was basically just another name for turpentine. The packaging, the advertisement clearly stated the product was tree oil. But I knew what tree oil was. I knew about turpentine. Why had I not remembered it BEFORE I hit that EASY ORDER button? Turpentine? I paid that good money for a few ounces of TURPENTINE.
After another long shower, including a good hair scrubbing, I washed all the clothes I had put on after my baptism in turpentine, removed the trash bag with the saturated cotton ball to the outside trash caddy, and after much spraying of room deodorize, and the lighting of candles, the odor was more bearable. My husband closed the windows and door.
I returned to the bathroom to finish putting things in order and caught sight of the bottle of vinegar I had stored earlier…..hmmmm….. I turned my head first to the left, then to the right examining the tags on my neck. My friend’s words returned to me: “It evaporates so fast.”
Out came another cotton ball and the dousing began again. A few minutes later, a shout from the den: “Are you making a salad?”
I carefully placed the vinegar back in the cabinet, opened the bathroom windows and proceeded to wait. “It evaporates fast,” my friend said. And I could wait. Besides, I’d rather smell like a salad dressing for a few minutes, than like turpentine for even one second…oh, and a few days later, one skin tag fell off. YES!!!!!!!!
All this to remind you as writers to beware any fast, guaranteed process of writing a saleable book. There are lots of offers out there. Lots of courses. Lots of people trying to make a living by offering miracle cures for what ails your writing.
Be careful. Be aware.
You can’t return those for a full refund, as I intend to do for my miracle tree oil.

***I can recommend two great writing programs: Margie Lawson and James Patterson. Both available on line. Both worth the time and investment. AND they don’t smell bad.
Happy writing!

Arms Stretched Wide

December 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

Arms Stretched Wide
I have a small clay figure on my study window sill, a gift from a dear friend. The figure stands tall, head held high,arms stretched wide, open to the world. Three blue birds perch on her shoulders. My friend said it reminded her of me. I laughed on the outside, but wept on the inside. No, that’s not me. This girl, this woman, most often crosses her arms across her body, and while my head might not be down, it is rarely tilted up toward the sky. More likely, my gaze is focused straight ahead, on the very next two steps that are necessary. Necessary and safe.
I was reminded of this when I read a post this morning by a former student. Some years ago, he lost a younger brother. My student wrote he hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on those memories. He pushed them deep, deep inside. He didn’t talk about his brother. He didn’t say his brother’s name. The best plan, he decided, was to “act” as if everything was okay. And so he walked carefully, wrapped up in his sorrow, afraid that one misstep on his part might bring about more pain. “I remember feeling so scared I would lose even more, that I lived life like I was walking on eggshells,” he wrote.
Yeah, I know that way of living. But with time and work and lots of prayer, most often our arms can unfold, our heads rise, and the pain eases. The thing is, though, that until we stretch our arms wide and open ourselves fully, we are not really living. We, like my student, are acting as if everything is okay.
And so often, we approach our writing in exactly the same way. We feel the need to write. We want to write. But it’s hard. It hurts. So we keep some part of us protected, wrapped within our core, locked up, pushed back. And that is not really writing. To be real, to really write, we must be able to lift our heads and spread wide our arms. We must be willing to dredge up those memories, call them by name, admit everything was and is not always okay. We must be brave enough to crush those eggshells.
And if we do this, one day, perhaps, those blue birds will light on our shoulders.
(I am proud of you, Caleb.)

Coming Spring 2016: His Mother! Women Write About Their Mothers-in-Law with Humor, Frustration, and Love

September 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

To be released Spring 2016: Anthology of essays, poems, and letters by women from across all boundaries of age, race, and culture. Compiled and edited by Sandy Richardson. Stay tuned for more info!

Check out the September issue of Wake Magazine at Great new poetry by Noa Daniels, Joanna Crowell, Sandy Richardson, and many others, plus awesome articles on spirituality and the arts. If you’d like to contribute your writing to wake,please email Thanks.

September 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

great read!

October 31, 2014 § 1 Comment

Check out The Handyman trailer below. This is a great read, set in our beloved Charleston, SC. And the main character is more “hunk” than “redneck” (at least I think….the kind of man women love and men like!) Get it today~!~~~~~ I can’t wait to read the sequel.
“The Handyman” Book Trailer

“The Handyman” — a new murder mystery by Christopher Watson — Meet the redneck who speaks for the dead. — A year…

Before A/C

July 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

I grew up in the days before everyone in the South had air conditioning, but until this summer, I don’t remember ever being so weighted down by the South Carolina heat. “Maybe it’s age,” my husband said, but I will not grace that comment with a reply—not today or six months from now. (:\
I have decided that South Carolinians must be at least 40% aquatic because we almost literally swim through days like today when the temperature is 95 degrees and relative humidity hovers around 97% with no breeze to stir even a blade of grass. How else could we breathe? Maybe we have developed some invisible gills to assist us. Or maybe our lungs have evolved to tolerate the high levels of moisture. Who knows?
At any rate, today I had to be outside for a while, and I was miserable. Charlie, my cat, is almost totally blind, but he still loves to go outside and make his daily rounds. We usually start the day at sunrise with a walk when the air is cool and the sun’s rays slant through the oaks and pines. Both of us enjoy the time. He meditates on the shifting light and shadows as the sun rises and feels absolutely independent and in charge of himself (important for a cat!), and I make my daily fifteen laps=one mile from the mailbox to the end of the street. Charlie supervises and counts from his chosen spot on the cul-de-sac.
But in the afternoons, our time outside is not quite so enjoyable. He loves to roll in a patch of sand and soak up the heat, while I wait impatiently in the shade of a tree, or sometimes if he doesn’t wander too far, I can sit on the porch. Today was a porch day. I paced and sighed and prayed he would get his “fill for the day,” and we could hurry back to the a/c inside. But Charlie lingered, climbing the lattice in search of lizards, mounting the bird bath for a quick lap of water. And while he attended to his curiosity, I suddenly thought back to my childhood summer afternoons. Surely it was as hot and humid then, as now. But we often passed them hours on end on my grandmother’s open porch. When the air grew thick and heavy distant thunder rumbled raising our hopes for an early evening shower, my grandmother guided me to the front porch where we took seats in a rocker or the porch swing. Then she’d hand me a large metal bowl and a brown grocery sack of field peas or butter beans. A small table held a pitcher of lemonade or sweet tea and usually cookies or brownies or slices of pound cake. We endured many sultry afternoons, rocking, swinging, and shelling while sharing local gossip or old family stories. Yet I don’t remember every breaking a sweat or wanting to strip down to my undies in attempt to get cool. I just remember the stories and the time we spent together. And of course, later, there was always a delicious supper to eat (fresh from the garden) while we listened to the rain making music on the roof.

It Takes Two: Gift and Craft

July 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

It Takes Two: Gift and Craft

As a writer, one of the most difficult situations to witness is another young writer who deliberately murders his talent by refusing to do what is necessary to develop craft. It is a form of suicide, for no matter how beautiful the words, the turn of expression, no matter how gut-wrenching the emotion of the work, without craft, the message weakens and dies before it becomes what it is meant to be.

I have a young writer friend like that. He is very talented, one of the more gifted I have had the pleasure of reading. He loves to read. He loves to write. But he does not like the discipline of craft. He and I have circled this particular issue for years now.

Tonight, he demands to know how I can declare his writing beautiful, how I can say I am moved by it if he does not indeed know craft. In my mind, it is simple. I used this analogy: The first few times you had sex with someone was filled with fire and passion, with freedom and newness, and probably satisfying for you, but I wonder about the partner. As you grew older and learned the pleasure in delay, in focused touch, learned about your lover’s body, developed the knowledge to satisfy both yourself and your lover, the sex grew better, right????

We may have beautiful, sexy bodies, pretty words, a great kiss, an available bed, but we only become true lovers when we learn how to use the beauty, the enticement, the fire, the passion to achieve satisfaction for both people. And I believe that is true of loving and of writing.

I may have powerful, emotional subjects to write about. I may have breathtaking words, phrases, images to use. But, just as with sex, when in the middle of foreplay or the act itself, if I linger too long on one part of the body, or if I don’t vary the tension and intensity of my touch, or the rhythm gets skewed too slow or too fast or just plain monotonous….or perhaps I even stop to answer the phone or go to the bathroom, well, then, I can pretty much forget getting my partner to a satisfying ending. He/She will be back at start and most likely at stall. “We have to start all over again.” His/Her attention will not be so easy to regain. He/She will be waiting for me to get lazy or self-focused and disappoint–AGAIN. My lover will not be satisfied.

If the writer weaves and wroughts a wondrous world and the reader is lost in the sensation and feel of that world and then BAM! the writer interrupts to tell the reader what to think, or feel, or the lover says to his love, “Hold everything, I have to go to the bathroom!” well, damn. The moment is lost. So is the lover. And so is the reader.

On Work and Why We do It

June 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of my son’s friends is a pastor who counsels a lot of young people and has a great blog. I found his post yesterday particularly  relevant for writers, so I’m passing it on below. 

What My Dad, the Spurs and The Wire Taught Me About Work

My dad was a farmer who probably should never have been a farmer. I don’t mean that he wasn’t good at it. He was. Really good. I mean how he got into it. His dad was a farmer, and his dad’s dad was a farmer. So when he came back home, with a masters degree in History in hand, he farmed. 

Sometimes he would take me with him. He’d sneak into my bedroom early, before the sun was up, and with hushed voice tell me to put on some old clothes. We’d climb into his GMC pick up, khaki colored, front window slightly cracked from that time a sudden bump on a dirt road sent my head crashing into it, and we’d head to the farm. 

Mom would sometimes protest, but this was men’s work. Men’s work that thankfully involved stopping at a convenience store along the way to pick up a honey bun and coffee. We didn’t drink it black. People who drink their coffee black feel like they’re trying to prove something. We took it with copious amounts of cream and sugar. This was playing hooky from school at its finest. 

I can remember him asking me several times on those sacred trips, “What do you think you want to do when you grow up?” My only category was a farmer, so that’s what I said. And he would always say back, “It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a farmer, or a doctor, or a ditch digger, as long as you love what you do.” Those words still ring in my ears. Looking back I’m not sure if they were a promise offered from contentment, or a warning offered from frustration. My dad was the best farmer who probably should never have been a farmer that I ever knew. Because whether he loved it or not, he put himself into the work. 

Which brings me to the Spurs, who, now that I think about it, are kind of like the farmers of basketball. Slow. Old. Boring. Plodding. Unselfish. All of these are words that are regularly used about them. Flashy. Impatient. Selfish. Young. These are words that are almost never used about them. They are a throwback team, but not even to the NBA of Jordan, Magic and Bird. More to the NBA of Havlicek, Cousy and Russell. A precious basketball relic playing in our midst. 

The thing about the Spurs that feels so strange is that they are men who put their work before their personalities. In an age where “Which [Insert TV Show] Character Are You?’ quizzes clog up our Facebook feeds, it’s almost impossible to imagine a “Which Spur Are You?” quiz. Mainly because we know so little about them, their private lives, their personalities. 

It’s not that they don’t have personalities. It’s that it seems they genuinely believe that the work comes first. You show up and do your job. Day in and day out, night in and night out. Discipline. Self-control. Work ethic. Selflessness. Humility. These things matter. Because the best way not to be a flash in the pan is to be a slow cooker instead. To know yourself deeply without feeling like you have to share yourself widely. I bet the Spurs’ Twitter feeds are incredibly boring, if they even have them at all. 

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows, The Wire. It comes from a conversation between Lt. Daniels and a young officer, Carver. Daniels is warning him about the pitfalls of trying to climb to the top. And in a moment of prophetic wisdom, Daniels says to him, “Comes a day you’re going to have to decide whether it’s about you, or about the work.” 

If it’s about you, then the work ultimately becomes life or death, make or break, sink or swim, home run or strike out, and I just ran out of extremes, but you get the point. It becomes a way of telling myself, my family, the world, that I am somebody. Work becomes something I need to justify my existence instead of a joyful, if at times frustrating, part of my existence. 

If it’s about the work, then you become a small part of something much bigger. You put the time in, you work hard, you spend yourself. But it’s not for yourself. It’s for others. It’s for the work itself, because you love it, and you hate it, but you’re committed to it. Not in order to stop time for everyone to notice you, but to keep time, to stay in rhythm with it, joining countless others in this line of work that has a past and a future, both happily without you. 

When the work is about you, it makes rest impossible. You NEED the work, need to prove yourself through it, find yourself in it. 

When it’s about the work, you can rest. It’s an integral part of your life, but it’s not your life. You can take it up and put it down. You can be yourself in it because you have a self, a life, apart from it. 

This is the most freeing thing I could ever tell a twenty something who sits down to coffee with me and wants advice about which direction they should go. 

First, that their work, whether it’s farming, doctoring or ditch digging, deeply matters to God and therefore to the world. It’s work we need. It’s work that’s good. It’s work that matters. 

But the second is the harder one. It’s not about you, it’s about the work. It’s not an accessory to show off at parties, a desperate attempt to justify your own blood and bones. 

It’s a calling, a holy invitation to put your head down and plug away in obscurity for the love of the work itself, in all it’s glory and frustration. 

Do something you love, that you’re good at. Absolutely. 

But don’t make it about you. Make it about the work.