Archive | Adult Fiction

Southern Spines Podcast: Joshilyn Jackson, Author of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

Southern Spines: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn JacksonOn the eve of the paperback release of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, we talk to New York Times Bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson about the three powerful voices who narrate this book. Here’s a synopsis of the novel from Joshilyn’s website:

Every fifteen years, trouble comes after the Slocumb women. Now, as their youngest turns fifteen, a long-hidden grave is unearthed in the backyard. Headstrong young Mosey Slocumb is determined to find out who used their yard as a make-shift cemetery, and why. What she learns could cost her family everything.  As forty-five year old Ginny fights to protect Mosey from the truth, she’s thrown back into the arms of the long-lost–and married–love of her life. Between them is Liza, silenced by a stroke, with the answers trapped inside her. To survive Liza’s secrets and Mosey’s insistent adventures, Ginny must learn to trust the love that braids the strands of their past—and stop at nothing to defend their future.

Southern Spines: Joshilyn Jackson

Photo Credit: Troy Stains

And speaking of voices, Joshilyn has narrated all but one of her audiobooks. Her work in this field has been nominated for the Audie Award, was selected by AudioFile Magazine for their best of the year list, has made the 2012 Audible All-Star list for highest listener ranks/reviews, and garnered a Listen Up Award from Publisher’s Weekly.

Just today, Publisher’s Weekly gave a starred audio review to Joshilyn’s narration of another writer’s work, Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer.

If you want to get Joshilyn’s picks for great Southern authors and other reads on her “spectrum of Southern literature”, grab a pencil and listen up.


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The Many Layers of the Southern Storyteller: Kimberly Brock, Author of The River Witch

Southern Spines Kimberly Brock

Photo Credit: Kacie Jo Photography

If you can acquire the chicken salad recipe at Mittie’s Tea Room, you’ll have a friend for life in author Kimberly Brock. Though she considers herself a regular at this charming restaurant just off the main street in Alpharetta, Georgia, Kim has yet to convince the owners to part with the secret ingredients. For now, she orders a takeout box with the chicken salad croissant, as we talk about her first novel, The River Witch.

Released in April 2012, The River Witch is the story of 24-year-old Roslyn Byrne, who is recovering from a car accident that ended her career as a ballet dancer and stole the child growing inside her body. She leaves Atlanta for seclusion on Manny’s Island, a fictional isle off the coast of Georgia. There, the woman who has lost a child meets a child who has lost her mother; ten-year-old Damascus introduces Roslyn to alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo, and neither of their broken lives are ever the same.

The story unfolds from the alternating viewpoints of Roslyn and Damascus. Kim gave birth to the character of Damascus when she started having problems writing Roslyn’s story.

“I was writing about Roslyn and it was sad,” Kim said. “She’d lost the baby and she was this barren, lost soul. I wrote for six months and decided I didn’t like it. I didn’t like Roslyn until the last page of the book. She was the hardest to write from beginning to end, and I was afraid my readers wouldn’t like her either, that they wouldn’t stick with it.”

Kim, who was the mother of two at the time, put the manuscript away for a while when she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. The imagery of pumpkins that had inspired her to write The River Witch, revisited her one morning when she watched a CBS Sunday Morning news story about a regatta where townspeople were racing in hollowed out gourds.

Southern Spines The River Witch by Kimberly Brock“I found the joy and community that was totally different from what I’d been writing,” Kim said. She decided to put a river in the book, and from the Little Damascus River came the little girl who shared the river’s name. Kim, who does not write her books in chronological order, waded back into the story by writing one of the final scenes starring Damascus and her pumpkins.

“I write in some kind of pattern I guess,” Kim explained. “I don’t see the story chronologically until I’m done. I see it in patterns and pieces. It’s probably the worst advice I can give anybody on how to write a book.”

Kim said she has been a storyteller since at least the first grade when she kept her friends awake at slumber parties by telling them ghost stories. That evolved into her writing plays for her brother and sister to perform, and the “god-awful adolescent poetry” that is forever documented in her high school yearbook. Her first published short stories appeared in the Sweeter than Tea and Summer in Mossy Creek anthologies from Bellebooks, the same publisher of The River Witch.

Currently at work on her second novel, Kim said Southerners love to tell stories because they want others to believe they have many hidden layers. “We like to think there’s a little more to us than meets the eye,” Kim said. “Because we’re all just shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. We want you to think there’s more to us than that.”

Kim’s hoodoo must be working. This convincing storyteller had me leaving Mittie’s with my own to-go chicken salad on that day, and wondering if I could conjure the ingredients in my own kitchen.

If you’re interested in experiencing The River Witch by Kimberly Brock with other readers, The Literate Housewife is hosting a virtual read-along next week (September 24-28, 2012). You can read the first two chapters of the book here.
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Two Tuesday New Releases

We can’t wait to crack the spines on these two new releases available on Tuesday, September 18, 2012:

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke Book Cover

The Cutting Season
By Attica Locke
Hardcover Fiction
Dennis Lehane Books / HarperCollins
384 pages

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke is the first novel to arrive under the new Dennis Lehane imprint at HarperCollins. Locke talked about her second book during a #blacklitchat Twitter interview hosted by Miranda Parker and moderated by Bernadette Davis on September 16. The author was inspired to write about Belle Vie, a fictional plantation that sits between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, after attending a wedding at a real Louisiana plantation. She had a visceral reaction to being a part of a beautiful celebration set against a backdrop of such historied suffering. This eerie coexistence between past and present sounds like a great starting point for a moss-draped murder mystery.

Fierce Loyalty by Sarah Robinson Book CoverFierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities
By Sarah Robinson
Paperback Business
Hayfield Publishing

With the advent of social media, “community” has become little more than an overused buzzword. Everyone says they want to build and grow “community” (including Southern Spines!), but how do you go beyond getting people to buy your product or like your Facebook page? How do you attract and engage fiercely loyal groups of people to carry the flag for your brand, organization or cause? Author and seasoned business coach, Sarah Robinson, of Birmingham, Alabama, extracts and examines the DNA of Fierce Loyalty in this new business release. Learn more in this video interview with Jenny Schmitt of Cloudspark Strategic Communications.

Launch Day Interview with Rebecca Schmitt from FierceLoyaltyTV on Vimeo.

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Pride and Prejudice and Serial Killers: More with Amanda Kyle Williams

Southern Spines: Author Amanda Kyle Williams

Photo Credit: Robin Henson Photographs

So you read Part One of my interview with crime fiction author Amanda Kyle Williams earlier in the week, and now you’d like to have breakfast with her, too. Here’s your chance: Amanda is currently on book tour to promote Stranger in the Room. On Saturday, September 15, she’ll be at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pa. for a “Coffee & Crime” author breakfast at 10:00 a.m. The event is free, but a reservation is required. Visit Amanda’s events page to see if she’ll be in your town soon.

On to Part Two…

The main character in the Stranger books is a Chinese-American private investigator and former FBI behavioral analyst named Keye Street. Amanda knew she wanted to write a novel featuring a criminal profiler, but she had few other details and hadn’t been able to write Word One. That is until she spent one Thanksgiving with her family.

“I went to visit my brother and spent time with my Chinese niece, Anna,” Amanda recalls. “I was so charmed by this kid—how gorgeous she was and how deeply Southern and Chinese she was. She was about five then, and when she said something to me, she sounded like one of the Beverly Hillbillies.”

On the car ride back to Atlanta, Amanda started to worry about her niece, who—despite her strong Southern accent—was an Asian girl growing up in a rural part of Georgia with adoptive white parents. Aunt Amanda knew all too well what it was like to grow up in the South and feel like an outsider. Her imagination took over from there.

“One of the early lines—I think it’s on one of the first pages of The Stranger You Seek—came to mind,” Amanda says. “I pulled off the interstate and wrote that line.”

From chapter one of The Stranger You Seek, the line reads, “How I ended up here in the South, where I have the distinction of looking like what they still call a damn foreigner in most parts of Georgia and sounding like a hick everywhere else in the world, is a mystery Emily and Howard Street have never fully unraveled for me.”

Amanda says that as soon as she heard Keye Street’s voice, she knew she had a protagonist who was strong enough to carry a series of books. The model for her first serial killer, Wishbone, showed up just a few short miles down the interstate when Amanda’s car purged its transmission and left her stranded on an exit ramp with her little dog, Bella. The tow truck operator offered to drive Amanda back to Atlanta, but her intuition told her to find another ride.

“I knew I was going to end up in a freezer bag if I rode with him,” she says. “It set the tone for some really creepy scenes in the first book. It really bothered me for days.”

While some shoppers where lining up for Black Friday sales, Amanda was beginning work on Keye Street’s story. She also incorporated her creepy encounter with the tow truck driver into some first person scenes told from the Wishbone killer’s point of view.

For the next four years, Amanda fought for writing time while running her successful dog walking business. She landed an agent who worked alongside her for two years to perfect the first novel and sell a three-part series to an imprint of Random House. Part of the deal was that Amanda had to give up her business to devote herself to writing on a full-time basis.

Amanda’s journey to becoming a full-time writer is even more remarkable when you consider that she dropped out of high school at age 16 because she couldn’t read or write. Tired of being told that she wasn’t trying hard enough, Amanda quit school and wandered around Colorado for a few years before legal troubles sent her back home to Atlanta. She started seeing a therapist who finally diagnosed Amanda with a learning disorder.

Amanda tells me, “The day that she [the therapist] said ‘You might be dyslexic, let’s do some tests’, it changed everything about my life. It changed how I felt about myself. It changed everything about how I felt about my chances in the world. I knew that I had a chance for the first time. That I wasn’t just on self-destruct.”

The therapist worked with Amanda to help her learn to read and write using puzzles and memory games. When she had the tools and techniques necessary to read, Amanda asked a local librarian to help her select her first book to read for pleasure. It was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

“Three months later, I was still only halfway through the book and thinking that the librarian was a total sadist,” Amanda says. “It was very hard for me. I’d sneak off to the library where people couldn’t see me using my finger to trace the lines of the book. Halfway through the book, I started to enjoy it. All this tension that she (Austen) had built around class, and the drama and romance. I got swept up in Jane Austen like most people do.”

Southern Spines: Stranger in the Room Book CoverThose elements of tension, drama and romance certainly star in Stranger in the Room. In addition to working two separate mysteries, Keye Street is still romantically pursuing Atlanta homicide detective Aaron Rauser and sleeping with a gun under her pillow after a near-death experience with a serial killer in Book One of the series. The reader also learns more about Keye Street’s family, including an adopted stray cat named White Trash and mother, Emily, who is auditioning to become the next Paula Deen. Keye Street says in the book that Southern food gets a bad rap, and her creator concurs.

“In the last decade, we’ve seen a culinary revolution in new Southern cooking,” Amanda says. “It’s a new take on old Southern recipes, and we have so many talented chefs here in Atlanta that just kick it up to another level. Chef Billy Allin takes me over the edge at Cakes & Ale.”

The names of several eateries and Atlanta establishments pepper the pages of Amanda’s books. She says mentioning the real names of places adds an air of authenticity, and gives her a way to thank the businesses that create wonderful experiences for her and the community. So it is with gratitude that Amanda and I put the bar stools back on the tables at the Georgian Terrace bar, and say goodbye to Keye Street until Book Three.

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Life Experience Is Novel Research for Amanda Kyle Williams, Author of Stranger in the Room

Southern Spines: Stranger in the Room Book CoverI know that Amanda Kyle Williams has arrived at the Georgian Terrace shortly before she enters the double doors to the hotel’s side entrance. An avid user of social media, Amanda has checked in via Facebook: “Here for an interview. Keye Street’s stomping grounds. My glasses fogged up when I got out of the car.” As we say our hellos, one of her friends replies online: “You really need to keep trying at this crazy writing thing you’re doing. I’m pretty sure it will eventually work out if you’ll just keep trying.”

The irony is not lost on Amanda, who admits to pursuing at least 20 different career paths before becoming a full-time writer in 2010. As she sits for our photographer in the lobby, I ask Amanda if she has grown accustomed to the idea that she now shows up for media interviews instead of job interviews. She adjusts her black blazer, holds a smile, and as the camera becomes silent, simply answers, “No.”

We are at the Georgian Terrace today because it is home to Keye Street, the main character in Amanda’s series of crime fiction novels. The first book in the series, The Stranger You Seek, debuted in August 2011 to critical acclaim. A year later, Amanda is nervous about the reviews for her follow-up effort, Stranger in the Room.

Keye’s creator snaps pictures of the hotel’s interior with her smartphone, making fresh mental notes about Keye’s pathways across the grey marbled floors, as we set up for our chat in the day basement bar, Proof and Provision. This is a place Keye would likely avoid since she’s a recovering alcoholic, but not to worry. I’ve stopped by the Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon to pick up a dozen assorted glazed doughnuts, a staple of Keye’s adrenaline and junk food diet. Still, Amanda grabs a bottle of Jameson’s—Keye’s former poison—off the shelf with a couple of glasses to use as props. We talk about contacting the good people at Krispy Kreme to request an Irish whiskey-glazed doughnut and dig in to learn more about odd jobs, addiction and other research that went into the character of Keye Street.

Southern Spines: Amanda Kyle Williams and Alison Law

Photo Credit: Robin Henson Photographs

“Keye is doing a lot of the jobs that I did,” Amanda says. After writing a series of spy novels for a small press in the early 90s, Amanda cobbled together a series of jobs to pay the bills. At one point she was a process server and courier, much like Keye, who follows unfaithful spouses and chases bail jumpers so that she can afford her posh condo at the Georgian Terrace.

Unlike Keye, Amanda admits that she never had a gun pointed at her. However, she was on the receiving end of the hurled coffee cup that appears in The Stranger You Seek. She also used her author’s creativity to devise imaginative ways to serve subpoenas on deadbeat dads and others on the run.

“Fruitcake at Christmas,” Amanda names one of her tools of the trade. “Merry Christmas. Here’s your subpoena. I hid them [subpoenas] in flowers and acted like I was from the florist. You don’t make a lot of friends doing this kind of work.”

She ultimately decided that being the bearer of bad news was not for her, and sought new four-legged clientele with a dog walking business. “I went from serving subpoenas where no one is glad to see you, and then went to walking dogs where the dogs are like ‘Hi!’ Everyone’s glad to see you when you’re a dog walker.”

Readers learn that Keye Street’s career as an FBI profiler ended prematurely because she struggled with alcoholism. Although Keye has been in recovery for more than three years, she vividly recalls the way the whiskey burned the back of her throat and wrestles with a near-constant desire to drink. Amanda says that she comes from a long line of people with addiction issues and herself was a functioning cocaine addict for almost 20 years. She entered a rehabilitation facility in 1995 and has been in recovery since then. Some of Amanda’s experiences in rehab made it onto the pages of her second book, Stranger in the Room.

“When I’m writing Keye, when I’m writing about how she’s craving a drink, I think about what it was like for me in those weeks getting clean,” Amanda says. “And years after that. You know the drug commercials where they put the lines on the mirror and tell you how awful drugs are? It’s so damaging for an addict. It just looks so good and you don’t hear what they’re saying.”

Southern Spines: Author Amanda Kyle Williams

Photo Credit: Robin Henson Photographs

Amanda says drugs played a large factor in her not writing a single word for a span of ten years. A fortunate side effect of her recovery was that she started thinking about writing again, and knew her next protagonist would be a criminal profiler. Before specialized criminal investigators proliferated the ten o’clock television lineup, Amanda was analyzing the contents of her friends’ garbage cans. It was homework for a class she took from Brent Turvey, an expert in the areas of criminal profiling, forensic science, victimology and crime reconstruction.

“I developed this whole fascination with criminals and how they think,” Amanda says. “One of the exercises was going through your own trash to see how at risk you are. We did risk assessments on ourselves and our friends and it really just made an impression. I started thinking I wanted to write a profiler.”

But she didn’t “meet” her profiler until a Thanksgiving visit with her family in North Georgia.  Learn more about the inspiration for Keye Street and the sinister serial killers she encounters in the next part of my interview with author Amanda Kyle Williams. I also talked to Amanda about the learning disorder that easily could have kept her from being a published author, and how the city of Atlanta and Southern cuisine craft the perfect landscape for her novels.

If you’re in the Atlanta area this Wednesday, September 12, you can see Amanda speak alongside another Southern author, Peter Farris. The Georgia Center for the Book is hosting the reading and book signing. Details here.


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Southern Spines Podcast: Claire Cook, Author of Wallflower in Bloom

Southern Spines: Author Claire CookIn the debut episode of the Southern Spines podcast, we talk to bestselling author and midlife reinvention champion, Claire Cook. We also like to think of her as a newly-adopted Southerner with a Boston accent. She recently moved to Atlanta and is appearing at the 2012 Decatur Book Festival.

Claire wrote her first novel in her minivan outside her daughter’s swim practice when she was 45. At age 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood adaptation of her second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. Claire’s recent novel, Wallflower in Bloom, is an Indie Next pick, and Publishers Weekly called it “fun and inspiring.”

Southern Spines: Wallflower in Bloom Book CoverWallflower in Bloom is the most recent novel from bestselling author Claire Cook. Click here to read an excerpt from the book, or click on the image to buy it on

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