Sunday, March 30, 2008



Ants march across the empty
clothesline with eggs in their mouths -
they know what's coming.

Children take no notice
till the sky is grey as a turtle's back
and their mothers call from the doorways
and still they wait for the first raindrop
and later look from the window,
tracing rivulets, toes begging
for the taste of mud.

We weren't expecting this,
so the windows were left open,
the shutters thrown wide.
We stand in the center of the room,
vow never to forget
the fury of these days, the smell
of glisteing skin, the simple
wants of rain.

- Irene Latham

"Happiness only real when shared."

- Christopher McCandless

Saturday, March 29, 2008


This afternoon I will be joining a bunch of other word lovers at a poetry slam for high schoolers. This isn't any ordinary slam -- this is one presented in conjunction with The Big Read. Our library chose TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as its book, so all the performances today will somehow relate to the themes and characters set forth in that novel.

I am so excited to hear what these kids have come up with! What words will they choose? How will their words represent their experience with the novel? It's gonna be FUN! Especially for me, the scorekeeper. :)

"Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, be good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough."

- William Saroyan (another Zen calendar quote)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Have you ever seen a more beautiful sunrise? I fall in love every time I see this pic. MJ, you rock!

"Everything you do right now ripples outward and affects everyone. Your posture can shine your heart or transmit anxiety. Your breath can radiate love or muddy the room in depression. Your glance can awaken joy. Your words can inspire freedom. Your every act can open hearts and minds."

- David Deida (as quoted on a little Zen calendar)


How long has it been since you watched Disney's THE LION KING?

We pulled it out last night to watch as a family because we thought it might be good therapy for the kids, especially Eric who was very attached to his grandmother (and young enough that he missed the whole LION KING craze).

It's the love song/scene "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" that slays me. In a good way. And when I think about what I want in life, that's it: More love. Life is too short for anything else.

Not interested in movie therapy? Try this.

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


1. The best part about a funeral is seeing all those folks you never see except at funerals. To all you Lathams and Holcombs out there, thanks for being there. And wow, what a good-looking bunch of kids!

2. Jumping back in the saddle today and heading to the microform room at The Birmingham Library. (At what point did people start calling the Great Depression by that term?) I've got to nail down a couple of particulars for my THE WITCHES OF GEE'S BEND revisions.

3. What a tease spring can be. Last night temps dropped again below freezing. Those poor little buds on the azaleas are just waiting and waiting...

“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, March 23, 2008


The Quilts of Gee’s Bend
-after viewing the exhibit at the Whitney Museum

They hung like Jesus on bare walls,
far from the curve in the Alabama River
where they were born. Crowds gathered
and gawked as the quilts looked on,
silently accepting their fate
while the lives of their makers
were examined stitch by stitch.

There is no death for some things,
no story so simple that it can be told
without color or form. See
the edges where wildflowers grow?
The sides lined with bands of corduroy
marching against the grain?
The bars of crimson rising like Hallelujah!
in a church on Sunday morning?

The spirit emerges with or without
resurrection and lives in the denim
strips salvaged from worn work pants.
If you listen, you can hear them whispering
their prayers for the children
they have held and helped conceive,
the sick they have nursed
and the dead they could not save,
for nights spent chasing dreams,
days spent snapping in a breeze.

- Irene Latham

This poem was the start of my obsession with the quilters of Gee's Bend. Four novels later, I am still fascinated. And the reason I have chosen to post this particular poem today is because it was a favorite of my mother-in-law. She and I shared a love of quilts.

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”

- Claude Monet

Friday, March 21, 2008


No matter how prepared you think you are, there are some things you just can't anticipate.

My mother-in-law died yesterday after suffering from liver cancer. And even though we knew it was coming... eventually... none of us was quite prepared for it coming yesterday, or for the overwhelming feeling of the finality of death.

So now my husband joins the ranks of all the other orphans of the world, those who have lost both their parents. And we continue to grieve and ask ourselves again and again all those unanswerable questions that come up in times like this.

We also linger in gratitude for the honor and privilege it has been to know and love this particular human so long and so well. She will always be with us, here in our hearts, where it matters most.

"The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men - from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms."

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, March 20, 2008


What is it about windows? This one has a story to tell, I am just sure of it. So lonely on the outside, but what's inside could be something totally different...

Keep 'em coming, MJ!

“When the itch is inside the boot, scratching outside provides little consolation."

- Chinese proverb

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Okay. Just back from the Smoky Mountains and gotta say something about this book. It's one of those I so did not want to end! This girl (Elizabeth Gilbert) loves her words (and her pasta!), and I was just totally taken with her story. Give it a read... you won't be sorry. And keep an eye out for Felipe. Ooh, baby!

"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger [wo]men."

- John F. Kennedy

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Mrs. Noah

Once the doors were nailed shut
and the rain was pounding the roof
how she must have wept for the children
she watched the water swallow.
How she must have held her own to her breast,
their stink and the animals’ stink
reassuring and warm. How she must
have blamed Noah for her plight,
hating him for believing in a god
that would make her Mother of All
and he their keeper. When the dove
came with its tiny branch, how Mrs. Noah
must have ached to snatch it from its mouth,
to take something
for all that had been taken from her.

- Irene Latham

WHAT CAME BEFORE (2007, Negative Capability Press)

Even though I didn't know it at the time, this poem was the start of my historical women project. And this is cool: friend and fellow writer Teresa was so intriqued by Mrs. Noah after reading this poem that she went on to write a 100,000 word novel about her!

"You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

- Jack London

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Just thinking today about The Sweet Life. Seriously, how sweet it is!

As of 3:00 pm this afternoon, school is out and it is officially Spring Break here in Shelby County, Alabama. And with temperatures in the mid-70s and blue skies and Bradford pear trees just beginning to bloom, it's time to put on the flipflops and pack a picnic and be very glad to be alive.

I want to thank Alabama Media Professionals for being such a fun group to talk to today. You guys were a great audience, and I enjoyed the time we shared. Also, I want to give a shout-out to two writer service-oriented blogs: Author Visits By State hosted by picture-book author Kim Norman and Funds for Writers blog hosted by C. Hope Clark. Both these gals are not only fabulous writers but also writers helping other writers! I love that unselfish writer spirit. I want to be just like them.

We've got some grand adventures planned for the school break, so my writing life will not involve time at the computer. Can't stop those gears cranking in my head, though! When I do get back to the computer my fingers will be tripping all over themselves trying to keep up with my brain.

In the meantime, wishing everyone blue skies and sunshine!

"The buds swell imperceptibly without hurry or confusion, as if the short spring day were an eternity."

- Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


This is the bridge to Port St. Joe, Florida, one of my most favorite places on the planet. It's situated on the Gulf Coast between Panama City and Appalachicola, near Cape San Blas, where the sand dunes are mountainous and snow white. It's truly truly one of the most gorgeous places. But that's not why I love it so much.

I love it so much because it's where my grandparents have lived for over sixty years. No matter how many times my own family relocated, we always came home to Port St. Joe, to the house Granddaddy built with his own two hands, to the kitchen where Grandma made sour cream cake and chocolate pies and hoe cakes in an old iron skillet, to the weedless garden, the toilet that wouldn't flush, the furniture still covered in plastic.

Thanks, MJ, for thinking to take this pic.

“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn."

- David Russell

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


You know what's cool? This award I got from one of my favorite writer-mamas Alison. Visit her and you'll see why they call her "queen of the cliffhanger." Thanks, Alison, for shining your light. And thanks to all you readers out there who read this blog! I send this award out to all of you. Because your presence here brings me great joy. And if you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that my word for 2008 is JOY.

Okay, so what have I learned from my fellow writers and readers? So many things! You guys are great. And because several of you have asked, and one of my goals in life is to say "yes" as much as possible, I will introduce a new series I've decided to call SHOWCASE SUNDAY. Sunday posts will feature excerpts from my own books, both published and unpublished. I'll start with my book of poems WHAT CAME BEFORE.

Let me know what you think! (By the way, Karen, the first one I dedicate to you. :)

"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight."

~ Phyllis Diller

Monday, March 10, 2008


So you've got a first draft. Congratulations! Feels good, doesn't it? What an accomplishment it is just getting from the title to "the end."

Go ahead, take a moment to pat yourself on the back and/or raise a glass of wine. Feel very very pleased with yourself. Then ask youself this question: What now? Because, as Sol Stein says in his book STEIN ON WRITING, "the biggest difference between a writer and a would-be writer is their attitude toward rewriting."

If you're gonna make it in this writing business, you've gotta be willing to revise. And Stein offers a great way to do it: triage. Basically it involves addressing the most serious issues in your manuscript first.

Don't start at page one, start with the place you know in your gut is not up to speed with the rest of the book. Keep doing this until you have repaired the major arteries then go back for the small stuff. Stein says this will keep you from growing cold on your own manuscript.

And he's right: right now I am in the tent performing a sex-change operation. My main character is a girl, and traditional wisdom say surely her best friend is also a girl. So I wrote the whole first draft that way. But then I got to thinking more about this girl, about who she is and what she wants. The way I've written her, she would not have a girl best friend. It's got to be a boy.

The quick-fix, of course, is the character's name. Check. Next there's all those sneaky little pronouns. Check. But most important? the mannerisms.

I wonder what surgery I'll be performing next??

“If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I'd type a little faster.”

- Isaac Asimov

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Have you heard about the recent legislation in California requiring parents to be certified teachers in order to homeschool their children? As if one needs a degree to be an adequate teacher. As if one cannot educate oneself or one's children without a little piece of paper (or two or three).

This really bugs me. As a mom who has homeschooled her kids in the past and learned a thing or two about all the ways public education fails children, this really really bugs me. I applaud parents who choose to invest that much time and attention in their children. Studies of standardized test scores support the argument that these parents most often do a very good job. Why take away that freedom?

Next thing you know someone is going to be telling me I can't write books because I don't have a formal degree in writing. As if!

"If I had my life to live over again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner."

- Tallulah Bankhead

Friday, March 7, 2008


For the second year in a row I have been asked to judge a writing contest as part of Etowah County's Big Read program. Last year students were asked to write a short story in the same vein as Daniel Wallace's BIG FISH. This year students were asked to write an essay addressing the theme of "gifts" in Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

I am no stranger to judging contests. What's interesting is how many entries must be rejected right of the bat for not following the guidelines set forth. This go around I had to set aside some really wonderful essays because they didn't address the specific subject matter of "gifts." The guidelines were written for a reason, folks!

People always ask how one arrives at a winner, so I'll tell you. The best work is well-organized, well-thought out, and original in some way. The winning essay in this contest had me from the title. And the author followed through on what was promised by thos first four words. Something else I liked about this particular entry was how the author used quotes from the book to support his ideas. None of the other entrants did this.

How wonderful to meet a young up-and-coming word-lover!

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and you see it through, no matter what."


Thursday, March 6, 2008


Okay, so this is not a photograph in keeping with what I usually post on Thousand Word Thursday. But I have great news, and I gotta share!

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from Alabama State Poetry Society announcing that WHAT CAME BEFORE has been selected as 2007 BOOK OF THE YEAR!! How cool is that?? I am so thrilled and honored!

"Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is."

-Mark Twain

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


This writer business can be really tough sometimes. Let me tell you what I mean.

A few months ago I received from an editor (we'll call him Editor X) a letter that really irked me. I have submitted poems to Editor X before, and he has asked for revisions. The first time I thought, wow, cool! He likes my work enough to give me feedback! I was seriously thrilled. Of course I made the revisions.

Well. A few months later he rejected the revisions, but asked for even more revisions! Not being one to give up without a fight, I revised accordingly. Do you think Editor X accepted my poem for publication?

Big fat NO!

All that time! All that effort! Not to mention the stamps.

Time passed and I sort of forgot about it. (But not really.) When I got the latest issue of Editor X's journal, I pored over it, nearly memorizing some of the poems. I realized I still really really really wanted to be in that journal. And I thought, maybe now I'll get lucky, because haven't I established a relationship with Editor X now? Won't he eventually have to publish me, just because we've had so much correspondence?

I crossed my fingers and sent him all new poems.

Guess what? Editor X promptly replied with a request for revisions. Again! I crumpled his letter into a ball and sent it flying across the room. I decided nope, not this time, I am not revising. Which turned out to be the right thing, because what do you know, those very same poems got picked up as they were by other journals.

But still, I kept thinking about Editor X and his journal. How I wanted so much to have a poem appear in those pages. Still.

I couldn't help it, I sent the man a new batch of poems. Which brings us to the letter from a few months back. Editor X admonished me for not sending in revisions! He said he thought I was a poet he could work with, and was I opposed to revisions? Uh, hello, did I not revise TWICE only for you to reject in the end?? I shoved the letter back in the envelope and vowed no matter what, I wouldn't submit to Editor X ever again. Never ever ever.

Then today I ran across the envelope and had to open up and re-read that letter. And you know what? All of a sudden his suggestions make perfect sense to me. So I've made the changes and first thing in the morning I am popping that envelope in the mail. Maybe, just maybe, this is the envelope that wins Editor X's heart.

"Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern
resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind."

-- Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, March 3, 2008


The shelves at Barnes & Noble are bulging with books on writing, and many of them are useful, depending on where you are in your writing life. Then there are those special few books on writing that are useful no matter where you are in your writing life. From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler is one of those books for me.

If you are not familiar with Robert Olen Butler, check out his Pulitzer prize winning collection of short stories A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. Those stories are full of sensual detail that plug right into your emotions and make you feel. And isn't that what it's all about? Feeling?

What Butler urges writers to do is let their unconscious speak. Think about what you, in your heart of hearts, want more than anything. Forget about the market and what you think you should write. Write from where you dream.

Me, I dream of this little cabin in the woods. And what happens inside.

"Yearning is always part of fictional character. In fact, one way to understand plot is that it represents the dynamics of desire. It's the dynamics of desire that is at the heart of narrative and plot."

- Robert Olen Butler

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Meet Vulcan, Birmingham's very own Roman god. My sister and I paid him a visit Saturday night, and on the elevator up we could see the city outside and our reflections inside... it got me thinking about forging and melding and how some people in our lives are truly truly inside us, in our very cells, along with the city and night and sky and the lights and everything in the world we can't even see.

Lynn is one of those people for me.

We laughed like little girls when we went out on the observation deck and saw the sprawl of Birmingham, a place each of us has lived and loved, a place that has shaped us in all kinds of ways. Then one of us got dizzy and decided we should go down. :)

“Nothing splendid was ever created in cold blood. Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart.”

- Arnold H. Glasgow