Friday, October 30, 2009


Mary Lee Bendolph, Bars and Blocks, 2003

Quick update, as call to nominate a character in a book or real life who goes his/her own way and possibly win an ARC of LEAVING GEE'S BEND ends November 1!

Newest additions:


Anne Shirley (ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery)
Christy Huddleston (CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall)


Father James Edwin Coyle

Complete list (so far) here. Thanks, everyone, for your participation! And don't forget: for every entry I am donating $1.00 to the Gee's Bend Foundation!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Mrs. Young at Inverness Elementary School has been a dear friend and champion of my writing for a long time, so it just seems right that she should be the one to introduce the world to Ludelphia and LEAVING GEE'S BEND.

Here's some examples of what they sent me:

A drawing of "The Witches of Gee's Bend"

A drawing of "The Red Cross"

And here are some quotes:

My favorite part was "When Ludelphia was in Mrs. Cobb's barn."

Something new I learned was "never ever run away from home. Gee's Bend is a real place. every Quilt tells a story."

Something I have in common with Ludelphia is "She keeps sekrets like me. I take care of my sister. i help my mom."

If I could tell my story in a quilt, I would use this kind of cloth: "1. Velvet 2. soft 3. cotten"

Sweetness, I tell you! And tomorrow the whole class is dressing up like characters from LEAVING GEE'S BEND for "Dress Like a Book Character" Day for the Anti-Drug Campaign! Will share pictures.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Continuing with the Author ABCs...

We writers get all sorts of advice, and some of is even good. But it can also us astray.

For instance, the whole bit about action, how we've got to get in there and hook our reader, and keep things happening so they'll keep turning the pages.

Well, one of the biggest things I had to work on in revisions of LEAVING GEE'S BEND was too much action, not enough breathing space. Which is where the "tell" part of writing comes in. So my readers wouldn't be overwhelmed by all that action, so they would be able to process it and not feel like they were on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I mean a wild ride is great and all, but you've got to take time afterward to recover. Use this space to tell the reader how your character is feeling, what they're thinking, what they see, hear, touch, taste. This is every bit as important as showing.

And it brings to mind something else on my Bucket List: take a class on storytelling. The verbal art of engaging people in a story. I want to be able to do that. Meanwhile, I'll keeping listening to Kathryn Tucker Windham. Her CD "God was Just Practicing When He Made Men" is one of my all-time favorites.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Today I'm trying to take down some of the paper-piles on my dining room table.

But I keep thinking about the crazy socks my youngest son wore to school today, for "Sock it to Drugs" Day. He's the first of my kids to actually participate in such an activity. Yeah, he's cool that way.

As for me, I think I'll go put on those toe socks my sweet sister gave me a few years back. That will give the girls at Girls, Inc. something to giggle about when I go talk with them later about LEAVING GEE'S BEND. It even sorta fits the theme, as one of the things the Red Cross sent Gee's Bend the winter of 1933 was socks. Hmmm... now the wheels are turning...

I'm super-excited about the return of Friday Night Lights to cable. This is the ONLY show I really watch. Wednesday night. Riggins. Be there.

AND I just bought this for my grandmother who is turning 92. I just wish I could be there to watch her open the box and ooh and aah over it like it's the Best Thing Ever. What a sweet girl she is!

Wishing all of you a happy Monday.

Friday, October 23, 2009


So I am writing this post ahead of time, because Friday I have reserved for reading.

See, I'm taking this Newbery class through ALSC, in which we are asked to read a Newbery title from each decade. This week we are on 60s, 70s, 80s. Trouble is, I am still behind one title from last week (30s, 40s, 50s) -- THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, which I remembered loving, but didn't remember why.

Well, for those of you who also need a refresher, it's historic, about learning to live in a new world, and there's a slow romance brewing. Good stuff...

Also this week I have read (listened to) Beverly Cleary's DEAR MR. HENSHAW. All wannabe writers should read it, as it's about a wannabe writer. Lots of gems in there.

So two and a half Newberys to go before next week gets here. And oh, the stack is so tall on my nightstand! Hoping to whittle that sucker down a little.

Anybody else reading today?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Continuing with the Author ABCs... whew, getting there!

So, S. We've all heard the golden rule of writing: Show, don't tell. But what does it really mean?

Well, I heard editor Cheryl Klein at MidSouth conference last month describe it this way: when you you show what's happening, or rather dramatize... you are allowing the reader to REACT to the scene rather than just taking the author's word for it.

Her explanation couldn't have come at a better time for me. Because in my revisions of ESCAPE FROM FIRE MOUNTAIN, according to Excellent Editor's notes, I was asking the reader to take my word for how they should feel instead of working to CREATE the feeling. (As my editor writes, "doesn't feel earned.")

Which means I can't tell the reader Cass and Havi are inexplicably drawn to each other. I have to show that happening, I have to create scenes in which that attraction is evident, I have to give the reader concrete evidence in dialogue or action that proves they are drawn to each other, making it not inexplicable at all, but there in black and white for the reader to see.

And it's hard. Showing is hard. Sometimes simply because it's hard to find innovative ways to express certain emotions, like a character's fear or nervousness. (Found in the margin of Excellent Editor's latest mark-ups: "stomach is doing lots of things." Which means I've got to break out the sweaty palms or somesuch. :)

But when showing works... oh man. Now THERE'S a good feeling. And yes, those are the books I am most attached to as a reader. So this week, I challenge you to show me. Not the money -- the story.

And stay tuned for next week's T post... all about why we must also TELL (drawn from my own hard-learned lesson in writing LEAVING GEE'S BEND).

Monday, October 19, 2009


Wanted to share some of the latest nominations to the "Go Your Own Way" Hall of Fame. Contest runs through November 1st, so send me your entries (email, blog comments, FB comments or tweet them @Irene_Latham)!

I'm looking for characters in books and real life who go their own way. Nominees will find a permanent home on a page of my website (currently here, but list is growing so fast, I will soon launch a very special Hall of Fame page!) Then I'll put all the names in a hat (or bowl or pumkin or dog dish), and the winner will receive an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of LEAVING GEE'S BEND!

This contest was launched through my very first Irene's Adventures in Writing newsletter, which will be an occasional (quarterly at best) publication full of contests and suggested adventures and poetry and news and great quotes and basically stuff you don't want to miss... sign up here.

Oh yeah. For every entry, I am donating $1.00 to the Gee's Bend Foundation. Total is at $24 so far. Keep those nominations coming!

Drum roll please....


Amelia Bedelia (AMELIA BEDELIA by Peggy Parish)
Trosclair (TROSCLAIR AND THE ALLIGATOR by Peter Huggins)
Aaron Cash (IN THE COMPANY OF OWLS by Peter Huggins)
Charley (TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY by John Steinbeck)
Luther T. Farrell (BUCKING THE SARGE by Christopher Paul Curtis)


Mary E. Walker (fought for women's rights during the Civil War)
James Dean (actor)
Randy Pausch (author)
Jeanne Goforth (CEO of Scrollworks)
Lily Rodman (nominated by her mother, Mary Ann Rodman)
Leah Marks (nominated by her father, Barry Marks)
John Steinbeck (author)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Today I will continue with the series of Author ABCs...

I sat on a panel of writers at a conference recently, and I was really bothered by the information being dished out. Basically there was this idea being tossed about as fact that to get published, manuscripts had to be PERFECT. More specifically, the comments made indicated that agents/editors will read to the first typo, then they'll toss the manuscript.

Okay, first of all, there is a time for perfection, and it sure isn't at the point of submission to an editor or agent. I would be willing to bet that the typo in the scenario was in a manuscript already unloved, and merely ONE reason to toss it. If that manuscript had been raw, but with goodness and potential, I suspect the editor/agent would have overlooked the typo.

As poetry editor at Birmingham Arts Journal, that's what I do. I am way more interested in content, particularly raw emotional content, than I am in spit and polish. I mean, an author can polish the life right out of a piece. I'd much rather read something raw and work with an author to improve it.

Also, in my own experience of pretty much learning on the job with this whole writing business,I can tell you with certainty that the manuscript that sold for LEAVING GEE'S BEND was a mess. A raw mess full of heart. I'm just glad my agent and editor were able to see it shining forth from a million mistakes that were often more than just typos.

Wishing all of you the same good fortune!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


So I joined Birmingham Quilters Guild last month, and one of the first projects for new members is to create a quilted nametag.

You should see some of the amazing nametags these quilters wear... yes, it's a wee bit intimidating. But I'm not afraid to make mistakes, and I really like getting things done, so.... I attended part of a workshop (led by the gracious and delightful Elsie) in which I proceeded to make MANY mistakes and yes, did get my own quilted nametag almost done.

Then my mom came into town. And we looked over my project and discussed all the ways I could make it better. (Have I mentioned my mom is an AMAZING seamstress?) And I decided to start over.

Here's how it went the second time around:

Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Any time ANYONE is celebrating poetry, I am totally on board. So, yay for poetry! Yay for National Poetry Day in Britain! And it's perfect timing too. Because this weekend will be chock-full of poetry and poets and all things wonderful and delicious.

First up: Birmingham Arts Journal reading/release party tonight. It is always so much fun to meet the contributors after I have fallen in love with their words. I always come away thinking, wow, the world is an amazing place.

Friday: The First Annual Gulf Coast Poetry Tour. I'm joining in the fun on the last leg of the tour, at Art Walk in Mobile. Many thanks to Rob Gray who is awesome. If you know him, I don't have to explain.

Also tomorrow: a workshop with Lorna Dee Cervantes. I am SO EXCITED to learn from Lorna. And I've been in a bit of a poetry slump since completing the historical women's series. I need some new juice, and I bet Lorna is just the gal to bring it.

Then, on Saturday, I'll be talking about WRITING WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW with the Pensters at Fairhope Public Library. Which reminds me. Need to work on speech.

Wishing everyone beautiful words today.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


In the past week, it has been my good fortune to read two more books written by Tenners:

FORGET-HER-NOTS by Amy Brecount White is all about the magic of flowers with a healthy dose of love and poetry thrown in for good measure. I loved learning the language of flowers and wanted to BE Laurel at the very end of the book.

THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY is just what you'd expect from the ever-amazing Kay Cassidy. It's all about girl power and the secret lives of cheerleaders. Readers will love Jess in this super-fun read!

Next up: 1930 Newbery-Award winning HITTY Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field and Dorothy P. Lathrop for the class I am taking from ALSC on the past, present and future of the Newbery Award. I've learned so much in just a few days!

Monday, October 5, 2009


Wow, raining here. A lot. Makes me wish I was under a tin roof somewhere tucked away in the woods. More on that later.

Continuing with the Author ABCs...

When you're writing, every story starts with a question: "WHAT IF?" What if I lived in 1932 Gee's Bend? What if I was blind in one eye? What if my mother got sick and there wasn't a doctor? What if I was only ten years old and was barefooted and had never been out of Gee's Bend?

Then it's just a matter of asking "WHAT NEXT?" over and over and over again, until you've created a story that makes the reader so eager to know the answer to the question that s/he keeps turning the pages.

When you're revising, it's all about questions too. Or at least it has been in my experience, with one Extremely Excellent Editor. She doesn't rush in and try to fix things for me, she asks questions so that I can find a way to fix it myself. Questions like "WHY?" and "WHAT FOR?" and "REALLY?" (That last one always makes me smile.)

Also, did you know "questions are not an effective storytelling device"? Yeah. I've had to cut a gazillion questions in my current wip. (Apparently I really like asking myself questions and think characters should too.)

The whole publishing process is full of questions, many of which don't have answers. It's definitely a hurry up and wait kind of business. Infuriating at times, but great too, for those of us who can appreciate a little mystery in life.

And let's not forget the pitch, the very first and probably most common question asked of writers: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?" or "WHAT'S YOUR BOOK ABOUT?" Yeah. Tougher than it sounds.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


After five long years, the quilts of Gee's Bend will be back in Alabama, at Berman World Museum, starting TOMORROW!! Check 'em out!

Also, as part of Banned Books week, Andrea Cremer, author of forthcoming NIGHTSHADE, posted something by yours truly on her blog today. Scroll back, because I love smart, thoughtful, history-loving Andrea's posts. Can't wait for the start of The Witches' War Saga!