Archive | From the Editor

Professional Announcement

Professional Announcement from Alison Law

Hi, I’m Alison Law. If this is your first time visiting this website—WELCOME! I hope you’ll introduce yourself in the comments below or email me at alison at alisonlaw dot com. If you’ve been here before, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed that things have come to a halt.

2015 ushered in enormous changes for my family and me. Among them: my husband lost his job and started a new one. I completed my graduate degree and began working full time for a national cause marketing agency. With my priorities and interests in flux, I decided to stop posting here at SouthernSpines.com. I am extremely proud of the content posted here over the past three years and could not be more grateful to the many people who read and contributed to this blog about “Books with Backbone.”

My website at alisonlaw.com will remain a home base for my professional life and a place to entertain irresistible freelance opportunities. I am resisting my marketer’s urge to brand the blog there. Instead, I’m going to treat that space as an online journal and way for me to stay plugged into my many literary interests.

Thank you for stopping by and please stay in touch. You’ll probably have the easiest time connect with me on Twitter @alisonlaw.

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WordCamp Atlanta 2015

WordCamp Atlanta - AttendeeLate Sunday is now early Monday as I write this. Still, I’m wide awake, invigorated by all the things I learned this past weekend at WordCamp Atlanta.

After beginning, then neglecting, and finally abandoning a couple of personal blogs on Google’s Blogger platform, I started my first WordPress.com blog in 2010. I borrowed one of those WordPress books written for dummies or idiots from the library, and set up my first business blog. It wasn’t until I attended a couple of large Atlanta conferences on WordPress and joined the Atlanta WordPress Users’ Group on Meetup that I really scratched the surface of WordPress. Did you know that many popular websites, like The New Yorker website, are built on WordPress? The most recent W3Techs – World Wide Web Technology Surveys show that WordPress is the most popular content management system. Southern Spines is a self-hosted WordPress site, as is the company website for Alison Law Communications. I have helped several clients build their websites using WordPress.

If you’re interested in learning more about blogging or creating websites using WordPress, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. I haven’t decided whether to share what I’ve learned about blogging and WordPress here, on my business website or on a completely new website. I try not to commingle my bookish content on Southern Spines with my marketing and PR business, but I’m rethinking things. My goal is to empower others to create and manage their own WordPress websites. If you have any questions about WordPress, WordCamp or blogging in general, I hope you’ll leave them for me in the comments.

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Thesis-slaying and Knowing Your Story

Thesis Monster StickerI’m trying like hell to finish my master’s thesis. Distractions abound. And not just the Season 3 trailer for Orphan Black, or catching up on the Oscar-nominated films that I missed before the ceremony (J. K. Simmons completely deserved the Academy Award for his performance in Whiplash).

There are valid reasons for my not finishing graduate school this semester. Pressing concerns and dear people deserve my attention. In some ways, I feel like my brain has already migrated to a post-school island in the time-space continuum. Yesterday at 10:00 a.m. I was ready to say, “Screw it. I’ll finish in August.” And I may flip that switch tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Who knows?

But for now, I’m on the fifth floor of the Georgia State Library, summoning my brain back from the abyss. My iPhone’s turned off. I’m getting ready to block all my favorite websites. I’ve removed the email and browser applications from the dock of my MacBook so I won’t be tempted to refresh my inbox every 30 seconds. It’s time to dance with the Thesis Monster. The cute sticker is courtesy of a fellow English grad student who is keeping me sane; she even ordered us “Thesis Slayer” pencils. Our efforts are completely branded.

I’ve been researching and writing about identity–and southern identity in particular–for almost three years now. The following quote from feminist scholar Susan Stanford Friedman is the core message in my thesis, and one that I’m using to reframe my consulting business:

We help people know your stories. #alc #alisonlawcommunications #stories #bookmarketing #bookpublicity

A post shared by Alison Law (@alisonlawatl) on

“People know who they are through the stories they tell about themselves and others.” The story I choose to tell about myself right now is that I’m going to finish my thesis so that I can graduate in May and focus more on helping others share their stories. What about you–what’s your story right now?

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New Year’s Rituals: Fireworks, Black Eyed Peas and Greens

We take ourselves very seriously. Titans headgear, 3D glasses and all.

We take ourselves very seriously. Titans headgear, 3D glasses and all.

Lest you worry, after reading yesterday’s blog post, that this new year has been only about sadness and seriousness around here, I offer photographic evidence to the contrary. This is a photo taken of Zach and me just before midnight at our friend’s outdoor party. Zach is wearing a fluffy hat fashioned after T-Rac, the mascot of the Tennessee Titans, and we’re both sporting 3D glasses. Our friends are “those neighbors”–the ones who shoot off illegal fireworks at midnight, terrorizing your nervous pets and spoiling your early bedtime. The fireworks package contained several pairs of 3D glasses that enhanced the light show.

Black Eyed PeasI am devout in my belief that all self-respecting southerners and their brethren should fortify themselves with black eyed peas, cooked greens (turnips, collards, mustards, kale, etc.) and cornbread on January 1st. This Christian Science Monitor article offers a succinct explanation of the New Year’s Day tradition of eating black eyed peas to invite good luck and greens to attract more money into your life in the coming year. The article references Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, the James Beard Award-winning cookbook by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart.

I phoned my grandmother–whom I refer to as “Nanny”–to brag that I was cooking my first batch of black eyed peas after soaking a bag of the dried legumes overnight. Nanny, who is semi-retired from cooking except for preparing hot meals for her dog or special occasions, informed me that she only soaks and cooks pinto and Great Northern beans these days. Cranking open a can of Luck’s black eyed peas tastes good enough to her. Still, I was determined to follow the more rustic path.

This recipe from the Food Network served as a starting place for my black eyed peas. Instead of using bacon, hog jowl or fatback, I chopped up about six ounces of leftover smoked pork shoulder. I used water and low-sodium chicken broth instead of stock as my liquids, so I upped the amount of dry seasonings called for in the recipe. Mashing up the beans with the back of my wooden spoon helped thicken the liquid and give the beans a creamy consistency. I was pleased with the end result. We enjoyed a dinner of black eyed peas, rice, greens, cornbread and other homemade dishes that is sure to usher in only good things this New Year.

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Greeting 2015, Noting Some Rites of Passage

On January 1st, my husband Zach and I joined many of you in introspection about the past year as we plotted the twelve months ahead of us. Here are a few of my thoughts:

Sting on bubble mailer

Sting shadowed me almost every day for 17+ years, even if it meant curling up on a bubble mailer in the floor of my office.

Writing About Grief and Loss

2014 was not my favorite year. I am still experiencing the fresh loss of my beloved cat, Sting. I adopted Sting from a shelter when he was the one-pound runt of his litter. At the time, I was a heartbroken 22-year-old, still raw from the end of a long-term relationship. I can’t count the number of tears I shed into the soft coat of that sweet gray cat in the almost 18 years that we had together, but I do know that Sting healed me. His memory and our friendship heals me now. I will write more about Sting later, likely with the help of my friend Jessica Handler’s book Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss. I asked Jessica once, “When should people read and use your book–when they’re in the throes of mourning, or after time has passed?” Jessica advised that it was good to put some distance between you and your loss before entering “the crucible.” So many people struggle with loss around the holidays and at year’s end. If you are trying to find a creative way to deal with loss or transitions, I hope you’ll find Jessica’s book. I believe everyone has an opportunity to transform grief and other life lessons into beauty. Not to mention that Braving the Fire is a damn fine book on the craft of writing from one of the most gifted writers I know.

Matriculating

Since August 2012, I have been a part-time graduate student and full-time publicist and marketing consultant. While I have enjoyed my return to school, straddling both worlds has been challenging. I’ve excelled in a few things, and failed at even more. I haven’t been able to devote as much time to my family, friends and taking care of myself because school and work have been my priorities. Last spring Zach and I decided I should lighten my work commitments in order to finish school in 2014. That meant powering through summer school classes and only accepting a few new projects and clients through the fall. Despite my best efforts, I could not fulfill all my graduation requirements last year. I wrapped up the bulk of my coursework in December, but still have one class and a thesis left. Initially, I was disappointed and embarrassed that I wasn’t going to graduate in December. As I sit here clutching the strong threads of my sanity, I know I made the right decision. I have a wonderful peer who has agreed to be my fellow thesis slayer this year, and with a lot of hard work ahead of us, we’ll both graduate with our master’s degrees in English in May.

Alison Law Communications LogoTaking Care of Business

I am working to revive and grow my business, Alison Law Communications, in 2015. I started my own business seven years ago because I wanted to serve clients in different industries and tackle a wider variety of projects. Since 2011, I’ve been really focused on helping authors connect to their readers and communities through publicity, marketing and social media. I’ve learned so much from the relationships I’ve developed with traditionally published authors, in-house book publicists and marketing managers, editors, book festival organizers, university and small press publishers, and prospective self-published writers. I can’t wait to put what I’ve learned to work for my clients and friends.

Southern Spines Books with Backbone BannerIs It a Blog, a Website or Something Else?

So what does all of this mean for Southern Spines? People have asked me before: “What is Southern Spines–is it a book blog, a website or something else?” First of all, there’s really no difference between a blog and a website, in my opinion. Even huge corporate websites are operating on the WordPress platform, the website tool I recommend to my clients. The term “blog” just seems a little more personal in nature than the word “website.” I do not recommend starting a book blog, website or any other major project the month before you start graduate school. That’s what I did when I began Southern Spines in 2012. My goal at the time was to build an online publication or magazine. I had wonderful contributors, interview subjects and artists who took a chance on me and contributed their time and talents–for little or no pay–in order to produce quality content about southern writers, songwriters and poets. I just didn’t have the extra juice beyond school, work and personal commitments to make that happen. If you really want to see an example of someone who has done this well, check out Deep South Magazine. Editor Erin Bass continues to amaze me with all the quality content she and her team create at her site and across the various Deep South social media platforms.

I have considered abandoning Southern Spines a few different times when I grew frustrated with my inability to produce fresh content. I’m so behind on reading and sharing books; I published my last post here in early October. Inevitably though, I’ll receive an email or message from someone saying that she bought a book that I recommended here and stayed up all night reading it. Really, that’s enough for me to continue contributing here. The other reason is that I love this creative outlet and the community I have built through the site and social media. Yes, I will continue to promote books here from authors who are also my friends and/or clients. That’s a blogger’s prerogative. If I don’t enjoy a book, you won’t read about it here because I don’t post negative reviews. (I’ll save the why for another post.) I also will continue to share personal posts like this one because I am a human being who wants to connect with you from the other side of your computer or smartphone screen. Sometimes the best way to accomplish connection is by writing about the hard stuff that we all face, even if it makes you feel like a narcissistic drama queen or an overexposed failure.

This introspection makes me grateful for the lessons of last year and hopeful for the future. Cheers to a fantastic new year for all of us.

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Sharing the Blogger Love: My Path to Entrepreneurship Guest Post and Ivory Owls List

bloggerlovesouthernspinesFellow blogger and booklover Ashley LaMar invited me to contribute a guest post to her blog, Forever Ashley. She is featuring women in the workplace articles, so I wrote a little ditty about my curvy and sometimes careening path to entrepreneurship. Ashley asked each of us to finish this sentence at the end of our guest post: “If I could leave you with only one piece of advice it would be…” You’ll have to click here and read the guest post to find out my advice!

Also this week…the beautiful and talented Rhiannon Johnson spent 6+ hours creating the ultimate list of book bloggers and book review websites. You should definitely view her 115 Book Bloggers You Should Be Following. I’m thrilled to see Southern Spines in such good company.

Please drop by these blogs, comment and share the blogger love.

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Reader’s Block and The Ten Books Challenge

Southern Spines Summer ReadingThe summer came and went rather quickly, as most summers are wont to do. After powering through two back-to-back classes in May through July, I had a few weeks in August to rest and recuperate before the beginning of the fall semester.

90% of my productivity disappeared during the three weeks that were my summer break from school. After a solid seven months of reading and writing for school, work and Southern Spines, I experienced what others have dubbed reader’s block. I just could not read more than a few pages a night before going to bed. I couldn’t finish a book, and it had nothing to do with the quality of the books on my nightstand. I had hit a wall and couldn’t bring myself to crack a spine or write about books.

The fall semester is now underway, which has forcefully jolted me back into binge-reading, but I am still having problems with the writing. Writer’s block (aka fear) has really laid into me in the past couple of weeks, which is doubly terrifying when you have to write for a living. A good friend who is also a full-time writer advised me to abstain from all television and only read books for pleasure (with the exception of my required reading for school) as a cure for the writer’s block. “Oh, and don’t play Candy Crush either,” she added. FYI: I have never indulged in Candy Crush, but I did realize that I’ve been playing Sudoku on my iPad rather obsessively. It’s one way that I’ve been numbing out.

So why in the hell am I here? As a way of thwarting the beast. This is one easy exercise that I borrowed from Facebook, where another writer friend challenged me to name ten books that have left an indelible impression on me. I knew if I spent too much time thinking about this challenge, I wouldn’t do it, so I just cranked out the following favorites with a little explanation for each. Here’s to wading back in! Have you ever experienced reader’s block? Writer’s block? What cures have worked for you?

Ten Memorable Books

Ten Memorable Books

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I desperately wanted, like most readers, to be as brave as Atticus and to spend a lost summer tracking Boo Radley with my older brother and best friend.
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. My high school librarian, Mary Brown, told me I would love this book and I did. I’ve been obsessed with true crime and nonfiction novels ever since. I considered writing my thesis on Capote, but music took me in a different direction.
  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I needed one of Tan’s tear-gobbling turtles when I openly wept while reading this book on the subway.
  4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I saw the cartoon movie first, but have enjoyed subsequent page-turning escapes into Narnia.
  5. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. This was one of those instances of finding the book I absolutely needed to pull me through a difficult time. Plus, Wally Lamb is one of the kindest authors I’ve ever met.
  6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I still hear my third grade teacher, Mary Walker, reading this book aloud to our class.
  7. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. It’s hard to pick only one of her novels, but images from this mystery still percolate in my brain. Plus, I love Thalia.
  8. The World According to Garp by John Irving. This was my introduction to John Irving. I read a good portion of the book one night when a crazy doctor insisted that I submit to a sleep study; there was very little sleep to study.
  9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I read this over the course of a month or two, during a time when I had severe reader’s block. Only reading a few pages a night forced me to savor the stories. I recently re-read this book for a class, which revealed so many new layers.
  10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Often I’ll pick this book up off the shelf and read the first couple of pages. Have you ever caught yourself not breathing while reading an involved scene in a book? This one will stop your breath.
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Guest Post for Traveling with T, In Which I Resolve to Be Imperfect

Alison Law Guest Post - New Year's Resolutions on Travelin with TTamara Welch (@rockstar1023 on Twitter) quickly became one of my favorite online friends when we started chatting and tweeting with each other through the She Reads Blog Network. This Mississippi native is the perfect combination of southern charm and sass, with a 14 karat heart. After a few misfires when it comes to meeting in real life (IRL), but I’m hoping that 2014 is our year.

Needless to say, I’m not Tamara’s only admirer. She’s lined up some terrific people to provide a month’s worth of blog posts on New Year’s resolutions. I’m flattered that she asked me to contribute my post on New Year’s resolutions that’s live today on the Traveling with T blog. I hope you’ll click on over there and leave a comment or two.

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A Southerner in The Emerald City

The Emerald City….no, not that Emerald City. I’m referring to Seattle, WA. I just returned from a trip to the Pacific NW which culminated in Seattle. This was my second visit to the city by the (Puget) Sound, but it won’t be my last. I’ve fallen head over ruby heels. Here are some recommendations and photos (after the post) from my trip:

  • Visit the Space Needle first thing in the morning. Not only were the tickets $2-3 cheaper, but the lines were non-existent. On a sunny day, you’ll get a 360-degree view of the city and be outta there in no time. It’s one of those things you have to do at least once in your lifetime.
  • Ride the ferry. A friend and former Seattle resident recommended catching one of the ferries that runs throughout the day from Seattle to another one of its islands at night. We left Seattle before sunset en route to Bainbridge Island, had dinner at the Harbor Public House and high-tailed it back to the terminal to catch the ferry back to a dazzling cityscape. It was a windy, chilly 35-minute trip each way, so bring a sweater and enjoy.
  • Walk through Pike Place Market. I went there each of the three days we were in Seattle. Yes, it’s always crowded with tourists snapping photos of the fishmongers throwing their wares, but it’s popular for a reason. Beautiful fresh produce, meats and fish abound (they’re not cheap, but we enjoyed some of the biggest and juiciest pears I’ve ever tasted from one of the stands). Gorgeous fresh flowers that would cost $50 and up in Atlanta were bundled in paper bouquets at $10 a bundle. I didn’t buy flowers since we were only staying at a hotel for three days. I did enjoy fresh baked goods from the Three Girls Bakery in the market. Chocolate drops and lavender-fringed sugar cookies were favorites.
  • Enjoy some of Seattle’s excellent fresh seafood. The locals recommend Ivar’s, one of the oldest seafood establishments. My husband is not a fan of the swimmy stuff, but he reserved an outdoor dinner spot for us at Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grill on Alki Beach. I’ve heard this place had a killer brunch. I used the Yelp iPhone app a lot on our trip. Yelp led me to Pike Place Chowder at at the Pike Place Market. If you check in with Yelp, you can get three cups of their award-winning chowders or bisques with sourdough bread for $8. The line out the door at lunchtime moved really quickly, and the New England clam chowder has been voted some of the best in the country.

We also took a duck boat tour of Seattle, but it was really overpriced and cheesy. I don’t recommend it. My husband, ever the football fanatic, toured CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks NFL team, without me. He and other tourists were disappointed when a soccer tournament kept them off the field.

Traffic in Seattle is a nightmare and parking is gouging. No wonder 1 in 3 Seattle residents owns and relies on a bicycle for transportation. We had a rental car because we drove up to Seattle from Portland, OR, which is about three hours south of Seattle. We ended up taking the rental car back early because it was such a pain to park; it cost us more to park the car for one day than to rent it. Plus, Seattle has really great public transportation. Take the light rail from the airport. Ride the monorail between the Space Needle and downtown malls and department stores. We skipped the bus and hoofed it everywhere else.

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The Five Apps I Use on a Daily Basis

As part of the 2013 WordCount Blogathon challenge, I have an assigned/suggested topic for today’s (11th hour) blog post. I want to share the five apps that I use on a daily basis.

A little backstory…

A couple of years ago, I bought the first generation iPad. This purchase was the first step into an eventual and total PC to Mac conversion. In addition to my iPad, I cannot live without my iPhone 4S and my MacBook Pro. As a matter of fact, I left my power cord at a client’s office and had to use a PC yesterday. It…………was………..so…………slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

The main requirement for my technology is that it keeps me untethered, yet connected, without demanding a lot of maintenance. If I want or need to work in Tennessee or Tunisia, I have that freedom. The Apple products give me the platform, and the following apps build on that infrastructure.
iCloud1. iCloud synchronizes my contacts, calendar and photos. If I add a contact on my iPhone, within minutes–sometimes literally within seconds–that contact is also available on my iPad and my MacBook. That’s the beauty of the iOS–no duplication of efforts and a backup in the cloud in case any of my devices disappear or die on me.
Evernote
2. I was using Evernote long before I made the switch to Apple products. This is my go-to research tool. I love clipping and organizing articles and URLs with the web clipper app for Safari. There’s even a desktop version and iPhone and iPad apps. Again, no matter what device I’m using, I can access Evernote.

Google Maps for iPhone3. Google Maps for iPhone has replaced the standalone GPS that I bought four years ago. Google Maps is much more reliable than the default iPhone map application.

Instagram4. I deleted my Instagram account when they announced new terms of service. However, Instagram backed down a bit from their proposed changes and starting building in some cool functionality. I like that I can automatically share my photos with my Facebook, Twitter or other social network accounts that I select. I’m still playing with this one.

Hootsuite5. I cannot live without Hootsuite. I use it mainly for Twitter because I monitor multiple accounts and follow different columns of information (Hootsuite calls these “streams”). I’ve done a lot of work organizing followers with Twitter lists and Hootsuite allows you to convert those lists into streams. You can do the same with search terms or hashtags (#s). I wish Hootsuite was as useful for Facebook and LinkedIn. I like that I can post to those accounts from Hootsuite, but I’ve not found it useful for monitoring other accounts. Oh, and I almost left out my favorite tool: the scheduler. I can create a number of 140-character messages, then schedule them to go out at specific dates and times. This goes a long way to automating the social media process, at least when you’re in broadcast mode.

Those are my five favorite apps. What are yours?

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