Authors’ Words Provide Inspiration

Most people have an office in their home. I have a library. It’s a matter of word choice, but for me, it also sends a message. One day I will publish a mystery and my book will grace the library shelves.

In the meantime, I write in my library surrounded by signed copies from some of my favorite authors, whom I have been fortunate to meet.

Books on a shelf

Books signed by favorite authors provide inspiration. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

There is Janet Evanovich, who at her book signing, spent a few moments giving me advice and suggested writing critique groups for me to seek out.

There is Adriana Trigiani, whose advice is simple and direct, “Just write!”

There is Emyl Jenkins, who provided me with fairy dust, to keep my writing inspiration alive.

Another favorite is Michael Connelly, whom I met at a mystery writers’ conference. I passed him in the foyer and said hello as if I knew him. Of course, I didn’t, I just felt like I did because I was familiar with his photograph on the back of his book jacket. It didn’t matter. He found a sitting area and spent a few minutes with me, also giving me solid advice.

David Baldacci is another favorite. He always makes time for his fans, signing books and answering questions. Like the other authors mentioned, it doesn’t matter how many times he makes the best-seller list, he still is approachable and pleased to talk about his craft.

So while I continue to write and re-write, I surround myself with the words – both on paper and in person – of other authors.  And I leave space on the shelf for what I hope will be the first of many books I publish.

What helps you write and where do you write?

Literary Awards Are a Night to Remember

One day my book will be finished and it will be archived at the Library of Virginia. Until that day, I live vicariously through my author friends (author, as in published book; not writer, as in still working on one).

Literary Awards 2011

Adriana Trigiani, Earl Hamner and Richard Thomas celebrate Hamner's Literary LIfetime Achievement Award. (photo by Cynthia Price)

The best way for me to do that is at the annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards. As in years past, Adriana Trigiani hosted the evening. Herself a gifted and prolific writer, she always provides plenty of laughter and nuggets throughout the evening. This year was no exception. She related a story about writers.

“You’re a very dangerous person,” she said of writers. “Nothing is sacred.”

She talked about eavesdropping on some women on her flight to Richmond. All of us writers, scribbled the story down thinking, “This could work in my book.”

What did they say? They were talking about attending a wedding, and one of the women, in her best Southern drawl said, “First we’re going to socialize, then we’re going to scrutinize.”

Seriously, I couldn’t write it better than that.

While I try to be professional – after all, it is a black tie evening – I couldn’t help but introduce myself to Jan Karon, whose books I devoured during a few weeks after discovering them. Her Mitford Series, Adriana said, changed lives. And as Jan told me, “I try to give you a bit of peace from today’s crazy world.”

I can’t wait to read In the Company of Others, which won the People Choice Award for Fiction this year. She said of her win,” I am shaken, thrilled and delighted.” And she shared what almost everyone in the audience thinks about libraries, “It makes my heart beat faster to be in a library.”

And the evening is about being seen. Even Adriana admits to falling prey to it, describing David Baldacci, who presented the Emyl Jenkins Sexton Fiction Award, as “eye candy.” In talking with him about it later, he just laughed and rolled his eyes. I’ve always enjoyed his books, but as an aspiring author, I appreciate the time he has always given to writers.

The award he presented is always bittersweet as I remember my dear friend Emyl Jenkins. She continues to sprinkle fairy dust on me from afar, and for that I always will be grateful.

The highlight this year for me was watching my friend Julie Campbell win the People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction for her book The Horse in Virginia.

For many in the audience, the highlight was watching Earl Hamner receive the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented by John-Boy Walton himself, Richard Thomas. As Hamner spoke, I was taken back to my childhood days, watching The Waltons with my family. At the beginning and ending of each episode, we heard Hamner speak and wrap up the episode, usually with a philosophical thought.

Thomas described each episode as “an American short story” and said of Hamner, “He wrote these wonderful words for us to say.”

Hamner told the audience, “Virginia has given me fine gifts,” including “the wellspring of everything I have written.”

Until next year’s Library of Virginia event, good night John-Boy.

PR for Books Is a New Horse Race

When it comes to publishing a book, it’s a new horse race.

That according to Leeanne Ladin, who recently co-authored “Secretariat’s Meadow: The Land, The Family, The Legend,” which she wrote with Kate Chenery Tweedy, whose mother owned champion racehorse Secretariat.

“Publishers want a marketing plan before they want a manuscript,” she said during a recent talk.

Many authors aren’t sure where to get started.

The key is to think about every platform and find a way to make your book visible. Her list includes:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Online profiles on Amazon
  • Book talks

 For example, VPW author Julie Campbell often changes her Facebook profile to that of her book, “The Horse in Virginia.” One of the last conversations I had with Emyl Jenkins was about how much time she was investing in publicizing her books, including developing a blog. She lamented to me, “When does an author have time to actually write?”

Another author friend isn’t current with all of the social media platforms and has asked for guidance.

I’m happy to help, but I can only do so much because of how much time is required. For independent publicists, it’s an ideal niche, says Patsy Arnett, who is president of Richmond-based Arnett & Associates, an international speakers bureau.

She noted that authors are writers. “They aren’t thinking about being marketers. It really is a burden on the authors.”

What are you doing to get your book publicity?

Emyl Jenkins Stole Our Hearts With Style

[Note: Emyl Jenkins Sexton passed away earlier today. She was a friend, mentor and longtime VPW member.]

Dear Emyl,

I’m writing…. I know you would be proud. I’m thinking happy thoughts, too, although it’s not easy. We missed you at the VPW conference Friday. I’ll miss you at this week’s library event. But I’m taking your words to heart, and so I wanted to share my happy thoughts with you.

The first time I met you was  at a VPW meeting so many years ago. You were speaking to us even though you had a temperature. We chatted and from then on you were giving me advice and encouraging me about my writing and finishing my book.

There’s a photo on my writing desk of Adriana Trigiani, you and me taken at one of her book signings. Such happy times.

I remember the 2007 NFPW conference held in Richmond, Va. You dear lady hosted the board at your lovely home and made everyone fall in love with the Southern delicacy of ham biscuits. I may not eat ham, but those biscuits… oh my.

I have happy thoughts of other evenings at your home, joking with you and your husband Bob about which car I drove. And that’s all I’ll say on that subject!

I remember attending the Library of Virginia Literary Awards this past October as you presented the award for fiction. It’s always a fun evening and it was more special with you presenting.

I am thinking happy thoughts remembering my first James River Writers conference. You were introducing a panel on mystery writers and spent a few minutes talking about the panelists. And then you said that in the audience was another mystery writer — me! Oh, how my heart sang to think that one day I would be a published mystery writer. I will make you proud, I promise.

And just last month Jann Malone, you and I enjoyed a Thai lunch catching up, sharing stories, solving the problems of the South. I’m glad I didn’t know then that it would be the last time I saw you.

So Emyl, we all have our memories and we all miss you. I will think happy thoughts but you will forgive me if there are a few tears, too. And to you I raise a glass of writer’s courage.

Jenkins Says Richmond Setting for Next Mystery

Sterling Glass  is appearing in her third novel by mystery writer Emyl Jenkins. But where the book will end up is anyone’s guess, especially Emyl’s.

“The fun thing about the writing is meeting the people that Sterling introduces me to,” Emyl says. “I don’t know where the book is going.”

Emyl shared plans for her next book, which will be set in Richmond while enjoying a leisurely lunch at a well-known Richmond restaurant. “I love Richmond,” she says. “I look forward to sharing the beauty, the uniqueness, the quirkiness of the city.”

She says that people are all the same – whether they live in San Francisco, Boston, Miami or Richmond. “Often it’s the environment, the geography, the heritage of a place that makes a person have individual traits,” Emyl says.

Some of her friends worry that they will end up in her books, but no need to fear. “I’m not writing about friends,” Emyl says. I’m writing about people from all over the country.”

No publication date has been set.

Writer’s Dinner Table Crowded with Characters

Mystery writer Emyl Jenkins won’t have much time in February for writing as she’ll be busy giving talks on the topic throughout Virginia, Alabama and Georgia.

“I need to clear the decks and just write,” she said.

Emyl, who has written Stealing with Style and The Big Steal, says her characters are so much fun, “It’s like having dinner with so many people.”

If she’s not writing or giving talks, then she’s busy managing her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Both allow her to secure speaking engagements and interact directly with her fans, but at a price. “When are we supposed to write?” she muses. “There’s just so much to keep up with.”

She’s also begun a blog for her publisher.

And what about reading and reflecting, which Emyl says also are important for the writer. She says that she can tell some writers don’t have time to do that. “I’m finding in some books that characters are wooden or shallow and that plots are thin or pushed,” she says. 

Publishers are pushing writers to churn out a book every 12 to 18 months. Writers also don’t have time to sit back and reflect, “to think about what their characters want to say,” Emyl says.

Despite the challenges, Emyl is hard at work on her next Sterling Glass novel. No publication date has been set but her dinner table has been crowded with all her characters.

 “I’m fortunate,” she says. “My publisher [Algonquin Books] gives me the time I need.”

Library of Virginia Announces Winners

Adriana Trigiani hosted last night’s 12th annual Literary Awards at the Library of Virginia. As always she was engaging and humorous, connecting everyone. It’s always great fun to see her. She’s  a wonderful author who gives back so much to the book world. By the end of the evening, everyone would be conversing via Facebook. And only she could get by with calling Roger Mudd “eye candy.”

He was the winner of the People’s Choice Award in nonfiction for his “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News.” The fiction winner was Martin Clark’s “The Legal Limit.”

The gala event was great fun and many Virginia Press Women members attended, including Nancy Beasley, who was a nominee in 2006 for “Izzy’s Fire.” I hope to see Julie Campbell, who is writing a book about the horse in Virginia as a future nominee. Her book is slated to publish this spring.

VPW member Emyl Jenkins, whose latest book is “The Big Steal,” presented the fiction award to Domnica Radulescu for “Train to Trieste,” which tells the story of a young woman’s quest for freedom and shelter in Soviet-dominated Russia during the late 1970s.” Domnica is a professor at Washington & Lee, where Julie also works. The world of authors is small.

Other winners included Annette Gordon-Reed who won the nonfiction prize for “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.” Lisa Russ Spaar won the poetry prize for “Satin Cash.” The Weinstein Poetry Prize went to Eleanor Ross Taylor and Charles Wright. The Whitney and Scott Cardozo Award for Children’s Literature was awarded to Doreen Rappaport for “Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln.”

Other VPW members attending included Mary Martin, George and Frances Crutchfield, Sharon Baldacci

Literary Awards

Julie Campbell, Cynthia Price, Adriana Trigiani, Nancy Beasley attend the Library of Virginia Literary Awards.

 and Jann Malone, who also served as a judge.

The Literary Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to John Grisham. He writes a novel a year and all of them have become international best sellers. There are currently more than 235 million of his books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 29 languages. His first book, however, he sold from the trunk of his car going to libraries statewide.

Libraries were an underlying theme throughout the evening. Most everyone shared their experiences of when they received their first library card. Grisham, whose family moved frequently, considered a town small time if you were only allowed to check out two books at a time. A good library would allow five.

Books, of course, were the focus, but what of their future? Grisham asked what would happen if the Kindle gained in popularity. Would holding a book, cracking it open and turning the pages go the way of the Internet? It was a weighty question and one that no one in this crowd truly wanted to contemplate.

After all, is there anything greater than opening the cover of a new book eagerly anticipating the discoveries within the pages? It’s magical and that’s what makes the Library of Virginia’s Literary Awards magical.