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 Is Not a Book Review Site

In the past few weeks, as I’ve socialized this new online project, people have asked me: “Why Southern Spines?”

Sharing a bit of my story

No matter what I’ve done in my life, I keep coming back to stories. I want to hear and share people’s stories, and the way I’ve done that has evolved over the years.

I’m this strange hybrid of former journalist /marketing and social media practitioner /avid reader /writer. A perpetual learner, I recently added grad student to the mix. It’s been 20 years since my last English class, so I’ve spent the past month trying to adapt to the New World of academia and research; email and the Internet were still new concepts as I was left college with my undergraduate degree.

Like so many, I’ve shared the dream of being a published author. I write every day in my professional life, but sitting your ass down in a chair and forcing your fingers to move the keys in any discernible direction is miraculous. That’s why writers are my rock stars. Beyond books, poems and songs rock my world, so you’ll find poets and songwriters on Southern Spines as well.

The need for online communities

We all know that the publishing industry is in a tremendous state of flux. When Borders closed, we bemoaned the demise of the brick and mortar bookstore, while downloading the latest ebook to our Kindle. Ebooks now outsell hard copies, so all signs point to readers seeking book lover communities online. Not that these communities replace the neighborhood independent bookstore or your book group that meets in a different friend’s home every six weeks. Or even my first love, the local branch of the public library. Truth be told, I haunt the virtual and physical doorsteps of all these places.

Writers can’t do it alone

I’ve worked as an independent publicist and consultant for a few authors. Even traditionally published authors have limited marketing resources at their publishing houses, unless they’re James Patterson or J. K. Rowling. So a lot of the work of developing a website and social media presence falls on the writer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the writer knows their work and their readers better than anyone else; however, it is a labor-intensive and often expensive process that robs them of the time they need to write.

What is Southern writing?

One day I was monitoring an author’s Twitter feed, when I saw a comment [paraphrasing here] “I don’t usually like Southern fiction, but this author’s work is the exception.” I thought to myself “What does that mean?” As a Southerner, my first reaction was to bristle at the notion that Southern writing was in any way less than writing in other geographies. But then I began to wonder “What is Southern writing?” I think some people believe it began and ended with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Flannery O’Connor would spin in her grave if she knew that. Part of the website’s mission then is to help explore classic and contemporary Southern voices, and better define Southern writing.

Why this isn’t a book review website

Southern Spines does not publish book reviews. Book reviewers, by my definition, are often MFAs or journalists who have been trained to read and analyze books and the craft of writing. Book reviewers serve an important role in the publishing industry. I am not objective. I have an agenda: to help writers, poets and songwriters connect with their audiences. I want to help overworked publicists do their jobs, and as long as we can agree to certain standards of quality, I’m not ashamed to say we’re all on the same team. We won’t accept payment from publishers to feature their authors, but if we read and like their work, you’re going to read about it here.

We want to hear from you

What does Southern writing mean to you? What are your favorite books, poems or songs about the South? Who are your favorite authors, poets or songwriters? We want to hear about them. This is your online community now, so I’m going to shut up and invite you to start talking.

Thanks for being 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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The YA Fairytale Continues: Q&A with Jackson Pearce, Author of Fathomless

Southern Spines Interviews YA Author Jackson PearceJackson Pearce is a busy woman. At the top of this month, she’s turning in her latest manuscript and launching her latest YA novel from her Fairytale Reimaginings Series, Fathomless. You can also find her on the Local Prose stage at this year’s Decatur Book Festival. So I was more than grateful that Jackson took the time to answer five questions for Southern Spines YA readers.

SS: What draws you to the YA genre of writing?

JP: I really have no idea, to be honest. I love, love, love writing YA, but I love it the same way I love the color blue and Fruit Rollups–I just do. The coming of age experience is so timeless, amazing, beautiful and ugly…I think part of my love, at least, is how rewarding I find tapping in to that.

SS: At what point did you decide to go beyond Sisters Red and incorporate the Reynolds family members into other Fairytale Reimaginings? Or did you map it out as a series all along?

JP: I didn’t map out the series, but I had loose ideas as to where the different books would go. The Reynolds family was always meant to be the connection between the stories, though I didn’t necessarily know which brother/sister would play what part.

SS: What impact has growing up in the Southeastern U.S. had on your writing?

JP: I adore the South; it’s where my family has been for ages and ages. I feel like the South often gets a bad rap– we’re seen as uneducated, uncultured, and unsophisticated. That’s not the case at all. Truth is, the South has a rich, complex cultural heritage full of summers and superstitions and larger than life characters. It’s difficult, sometimes, being proud to be Southern– I suspect it’s a little like being proud to be German after World War II; there’s so much to be ashamed of lumped on top of the good. But…I am proud of that good. I love where I live, I love where I’m from, and I love how it’s shaped who I am.

Southern Spines: Fathomless Book CoverSS: Fathomless is a reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. How does this fairytale set the backdrop for us to meet Silas and Samuel’s sister, Celia?

JP: Silas and Samuel have three sisters, triplets– Celia, Anne, and Jane. Anne can know the future, Jane can know the present (and thus read minds), and Celia can know the past. When Celia meets Lo, a girl who lives underwater and can’t remember her own past, Celia’s power is useful for the first time in her life.

SS: You are an active video blogger (whose work was recently shown on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart!) and host a live online show on Tuesday nights. What is your purpose? Is this just a form of creative expression, an extension of your work, an opportunity to connect with your audience, or a remedy for boredom?

JP: I vlog and do liveshows just for fun, honestly. It’s a form of expression outside of my books, it’s a way to interact with fans, and yep, sometimes it’s just from boredom. I sometimes use videos and shows as a platform to discuss controversial topics, and sometimes use them to discuss cutting mangoes. Just depends on the day!

If you’re in the Atlanta area, Jackson’s release party for Fathomless takes place Saturday, September 8th at the Barnes & Noble in Alpharetta, Ga. You can learn more about the party and other Jackson happenings at her website,

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Silence Won’t Change the World: Poet Dustin Brookshire Speaks Out

Southern Spines: To the One Who Raped Me by Dustin BrookshireWhen asked, Dustin Brookshire describes himself as an activist, poet, and Dolly Parton fanatic enjoying his life in Atlanta, Georgia. But there’s another piece to his life, one that’s a little harder to come to terms with. When Dustin was 23, he was raped by a former boyfriend.

Now 29, Brookshire’s debut chapbook To The One Who Raped Me has just been released by Sibling Rivalry Press, with one dollar of each purchase donated to the Dekalb Rape Crisis Center. Dustin sat down to talk about the book, healing, and poetry worth reading.

SS: You’ve just released a chapbook, To The One Who Raped Me. Can you talk about using writing to heal after trauma?

DB: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”  Zora Neale Hurston said it best in her in 1942 autography Dust Tracks on a Road.  Writing about the rape, in a way, forced me to talk about the rape. I was able to talk about it in the context of the poem instead of the context of what had happened to me. Poetry helped transition me into a comfort zone where I could talk about the rape with other people.

SS: This is really challenging material, as male rape is such a taboo in our culture. Can you share a little bit about your experience, and whether, through writing on these themes, you hear from other men with their own stories of being assaulted?

DB:  Victims of rape need to understand that they control the boundaries of conversation in regards to the topic of their rape. With that being said, I will say this: I invited an ex boyfriend into my apartment to have a conversation about our recent breakup. He ignored the word no. I’ve been haunted by the memory ever since.

I have heard from numerous victims of sexual assault, and all but two who’ve reached out to me were male. This is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I hate to hear that anyone has been raped, but I think it is a good thing to speak out about it. I don’t mean that every rape victim has to go on a stage and tell an audience that they were raped. However, I think healing comes from communication, which can be with one other person. That one person can be your best friend or therapist — it just needs to be someone you trust. Some of these men who have reached out to me have confided they have never told anyone that they had been raped, and that makes me very emotional. It gives me hope that they are on a healing path. It also hurts to hear these stories, but I’ll always listen. Someone has to listen because people need to feel like they can talk. Silence won’t change the world.

SS: The book weaves pop culture representations of sexual violence into the broader theme. Tell us a little about how film and television impacted your exploration of your experience as a rape survivor.

DB: The Hills Have Eyes came out in March 2006. I was raped in March 2006. I tried my damnest to live my life like nothing happened after the rape, and since I’ve loved the horror genre since I was a kid I went to see The Hills Have Eyes. I didn’t know there was a rape scene in the movie, but even if I had known I would have seen the movie anyway because I wouldn’t have admitted to myself that it to have an impact on me. In the minutes before the movie’s rape scene, I kept thinking to myself, Please don’t rape her. Hit her. Beat her. Anything but rape. Then the scene takes place. I thought I was going to vomit. My stomach cramped. I was sweating. It would be much later that I would realize that rape scenes in movies are triggers for me. They take me back to my own experience — even if it isn’t replaying in my head my body remembers and reacts. I learned to stay away from movies that would cause this stress.

There is also a flip side to this.  For me, watching a show like Law & Order: SVU provides a certain level of comfort. There’s comfort in seeing the bad guy being caught for his crimes.

SS: How did your partnership with Dekalb Rape Crisis Center come about?

DB: I wanted to do something good through poetry, and since the chapbook was being published, I thought it would be great to offer some financial goodness. I checked with my publisher, Bryan Borland of Sibling Rivalry Press, to see if he would object to donating $1 from each chapbook sold through his website to a charity of my choice, and I made it clear it would be a rape crisis center. I was ready with an argument in case Bryan said no, but he jumped at the chance. He was genuinely thrilled to help do some good. Then I called up executive director Phyllis Miller of the Dekalb Rape Crisis Center. I gave her the details about my forthcoming chapbook, and I asked her to read it and let me know if she would have any problems being associated with me and my chapbook. Phyllis was delighted, and even spoke at the launch celebration. The Dekalb Rape Crisis Center is lucky to have her.

SS: Who are you reading right now?

DB:  I’m reading Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise:  New & Selected Poems. Today, I went back to a poem I found online a few months ago titled “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” by Mohja Kahf. I read the poem this morning twice before I could go on with my day.  I guess my body was craving the honesty and beauty contained in this poem.

SS: What living poet should a Southern Spines reader check out and why?

DB:  Southern Spines readers should check out Beth Gylys. A poetry lover must have her Bodies That Hum. She is fierce. She is talented. She is an all around lovely person to know, and it is an honor for me to call her my mentor and friend.  Beth is also known on the literary streets as the villanelle queen. True story! I once heard a very distinguished poet call her that.

Thanks Dustin, and congratulations on the launch! To learn more about Dustin and stay up to date on his writing and events, visit

Below is “Law & Order: SVU,” from Dustin’s chapbook To The One Who Raped Me.


I do not watch for open endings.


I watch to see the rapist slammed

against the interrogation room wall,

to stand before the judge

and receive a hefty sentence.


I envision what isn’t:

The rapist victimized in prison.

His breakdown.  A suicide attempt.

A life without redemption.


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Big Apple Girl Writes Southern Debs and Ballgowns: An Interview with Jen Calonita, Author of Belles

Why would I interview a New Yorker who writes about Hollywood for a website about the South? Because Jen Calonita is just like the rest of us: daydreaming about life in a coastal North Carolina town where boys named Dawson or Pacey are just a canoe ride away. Dawson’s Creek reverie aside, Jen’s latest series of books takes place in the fictional Southern beach town of Emerald Cove.

Jen was a former Senior Entertainment Editor for Teen People, where she interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Zac Efron. It was her work in the entertainment world that inspired her first series of YA books, Secrets of My Hollywood Life, about a teen starlet who grows weary of the fame game, but loves being an actress. Jen has also published two standalone novels: Sleepaway Girls and Reality Check.

Southern Spines: Belles by Jen CalonitaThat brings us to Jen’s series of books set in the South. Belles came out last year and is available in paperback this month. The next book in the series, Winter White, arrives on book shelves in October. Our Southern Spines readers have a chance to win both books. Contest details follow this interview with Jen.

SS: How important was it for the setting to be like another character in your book?

JC: SO important! I like to say that the town of Emerald Cove is like one of the main characters in this story because Izzie’s life changes so much when she comes in contact with this town. I spent a lot of time researching coastal towns in the South and also visiting small towns along the coast (from Sag Harbor on Long Island to Stone Harbor in New Jersey) to get a feel for what I wanted both Emerald Cove and Harborside to look like. I loved the idea of towns on the water with picturesque streets with small boutique shops, great restaurants and bakeries that the girls could hang out in. I wanted you to feel like everything the girls needed was right there waiting for them. I would absolutely love to live somewhere like Emerald Cove–if I could afford it!

SS: I’d love to live somewhere like Emerald Cove too; it sounds so relaxing and comfy. Okay, next question: Why did the South serve as the perfect backdrop or landscape for your writing?

JC: I have always had a fantasy of living down South and still talk about moving somewhere like North Carolina. Maybe I’ve romanticized that notion a bit through my research, but I just love how my friends who live there, or who have gone to school there, talk about the strong values, ties to family, and the excellent weather. I would not mind having a longer season at the beach!

SS: Very true. The South and its traditions will put a spell on you! On that note: What Southern themes were beneficial to your writing; were there any that proved difficult?

JC: Particularly in Winter White, which follows Mira and Izzie as they go through cotillion, I had a hard time figuring out exactly when one does cotillion or goes to a debutante ball. It seems like it differs depending on town and state! I spoke to many former debs, and read a lot about the cotillion and debutante process, and everyone had a different answer for me. Some did cotillion in eighth grade and became a debutante at sixteen. Others did cotillion in sixth grade and became a debutante in college! I always worry about being true in my writing, but what I took away from every interview was how much was involved in making your cotillion and debut. It’s not just about the white dress (although Mira sometimes wishes it was). There is etiquette classes involved and dance lessons and a way of life that Izzie must make peace with. I think both she and Mira learn a lot about themselves through the process. I finally decided that I could have a little fun with the tradition and allow the girls to do cotillion sophomore year–and my favorite part about their cotillion is the secret society of former debs who put them through a few paces before the girls can make their debuts!

SS: Secret societies and cotillion; how fascinating! You are being romanced by the South. Have any Southern writers or books set in the South inspired you as a writer?

JC: Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides was one of my favorite books for the longest time. I also loved Beach Music. The way Conroy introduces a setting and a place–you just want to drink it in. I think that was the first time I really fell for the South–even though that book has so many hard issues and themes! My aunt turned me on to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, which was great. I also loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Such strong themes of friendship and loyalty and respect. I could not put that book down!

SS: And now a little about you: Did you grow up in a rural area, or a larger city? How, if at all, did this influence your writing of the South?

Southern Spines: Author Jen Calonita

Photo Credit: Rick Delucia

JC: I am a New Yorker, born and raised. I have always lived in the suburbs of Long Island, but worked for ten years in Manhattan. I always thought there was no place better than home until I went to college in Boston, Massachusetts and loved the New England lifestyle too. That’s when I realized that maybe I could live somewhere else in this lifetime and the more research I’ve done on the South, the more I think the South could be it!

SS: Just for fun: What’s your favorite comfort food?

JC: Oh, there are so many things! I love shepherd’s pie on a cold day. I’ve never said no to mashed potatoes or chicken noodle soup. Don’t even get me started on desserts. I’m not a huge pie person, but key lime is my personal favorite.

SS: More fun! Which artist, or genre of music, is your favorite?

JC: My iPod is filled with so many different artists from Flo Rida to Michael Buble! I always like Taylor Swift though and her new single, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” is brilliant!

SS: And lastly, do you have any last words on the world of Belles for your readers?

JC: For those who have read Belles, I think you will get a real kick out of this next chapter in Mira and Izzie’s lives together. Watching Mira, who is the perfect Southern belle, and Izzie, who is the anti-Belle, both go through cotillion is so much fun. I love all the fun dares the girls have to do to get ready for their cotillion experience, especially the one involving Lady Gaga!

Learn more about Jen Calonita and her YA books at her author website:

The Belles Contest: Jen and her publisher have generously offered to send the first two books in the Belles series to one lucky Southern Spines reader! Leave a comment below to enter the contest once. Tweet about this blog post (and leave a second comment below showing us your tweet), and you’ll get another chance to win. One winner will be selected at random. Good luck!
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