Saturday, December 19, 2009

Perfect Holiday Message

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love? If not, do yourself a favor and rush right out to buy it. It makes a fabulous gift for any strong woman you know!

Elizabeth Gilbert, the wonderful author of that inspiring book, says this:


We are the strivingest people who have everlived. We are ambitious, time-starved, competitive, distracted. We move at full velocity, yet constantly fear we are not doing enough. Though we live longer than any humans before us, our lives feel shorter, restless, breathless...

Dear ones, EASE UP. Pump the brakes. Take a step back. Seriously. Take two steps back. Turn off all your electronics and surrender over all your aspirations and do absolutely nothing for a spell. I know, I know – we all need to save the world. But trust me: The world will still need saving tomorrow. In the meantime, you’re going to have a stroke soon (or cause a stroke in somebody else) if you don’t calm the hell down.

So go take a walk. Or don’t. Consider actually exhaling. Find a body of water and float. Hit a tennis ball against a wall. Tell your colleagues that you’re off meditating (people take meditation seriously, so you’ll be absolved from guilt) and then actually, secretly, nap. My radical suggestion? Cease participation, if only for one day this year – if only to make sure that we don’t lose forever the rare and vanishing human talent of appreciating ease.

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Her new book
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage will be
published in January, 2010.

Early Christmas Gift!

I LOVE receiving emails from readers. Love it. I respond to every single letter and I keep them all for those dark days when I sit at the desk and wonder why I'm doing this. Every writer has those days—the days where anything else seems easier than writing, where I think about all the people I know who aren't trying to write and how happy they seem… Well, the letter below was one of those messages than absolutely makes up for those days! And it was a reminder to me how lucky I am. I thank every reader who's written to me, and I'm eternally grateful to every bookseller, from the independents to the "Large Chain Bookstores," who has the passion of this letter writer below:

Dear Ms. Kittle,

I am writing to inform you that I have challenged myself to hand-sell copies of your book TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE. This is my 9th holiday season as a bookseller at a Large Chain Bookstore, although (and I don’t confess this lightly) my mother purchased your book on a whim from Sam’s Club last spring. She gave it to me to read even though I usually hate to take book recommendations from her because she rubs it in if I like them. Despite my reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed your novel, which was refreshing because I hadn’t gotten excited about a book in months.

I loved the characters in TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, how they felt like they were really immersed their day-to-day lives. I was about five chapters in, I recall, when I slapped the book shut and exclaimed “Holy crap! This is the third person!” I would have sworn you were writing in first. It felt that close, that immediate. I’m a writer myself, and I struggle making a third person voice feel vivid and real. Kudos on that, and on the way you seamlessly slip in and out of the various heads of your cast. THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS is genius in this way, too.

I’ve been working at the Large Chain Bookstore (LCB) for my health insurance and 401K while I manage my own small local publishing company, substitute teach (I read that you’re a middle school teacher—I spent the day with 8th graders last Wednesday and am still recovering), and work to polish my own novel to submit to agents. I’ve been at the LCB since my freshman year of college, and I get bored, burned-out, and otherwise alienated very often in that particular realm of my life.

Thus my hand-selling challenge. Since April, I’ve kept TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE as my staff recommendation on and off, and I sold 25 copies without batting an eyelash. But in my past three shifts, I have been actively recommending your book at every opportunity, and I’ve sold 8 copies just like that (insert finger snap).

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. I believe my current number is 45 copies. The thing is, your book sells itself. I sneak it onto our Noteworthy Fiction table just for my shift, and when I see people browsing the table, I go over and slide the book in front of them. “If you’re looking for a good book, this is my pick of the year,” I tell them. Then I walk away. Ten minutes later, when I check stock, we’ve sold another one. There is something about that back-cover copy that draws people in. I just have to get it in their hands.

I hope you believe me when I say that I am not a crazy stalker (although there’s nothing like a stalker or two to boost a person’s self-esteem, I’d guess). I was just thinking that, praise the Lord, when I ever manage to to get one of my books out into the world, I’d probably be amused to know that someone was forcing my novel down the throats of the unsuspecting population of a medium sized midwestern city. Plus, I’d like you to know that I keep your book (the copy that I never gave back to my mom) on my short-shelf, the books I go back to most often. You are currently snuggled between Marisa de los Santos, Amy Tan, Charlotte Bronte, Henry David
Thoreau, and the Dalai Lama.

If I am successful in selling a significant quantity of your book, you will hear from me soon. If not, I’ll bury myself once again in anonymity. In the meantime, have a happy holiday season!

See how this is an early Christmas present? I'm honored to be on her shelves "snuggled between" so many writers I greatly admire.

Oh, and an addendum: She has already gotten back to me after selling seven copies of Two Truths and a Lie in four hours one shift! Her new goal is to hit 55 copies sold by Christmas. Music to my ears. And anyone who has worked in retail—especially at this time of year—will relate to her claim that, "I get so BORED at work, and this seems more productive than memorizing sonnets like I did last winter to keep my head from caving in."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Queen of Christmas Trees

Do you all know about Book Club Girl? It's a fabulous website/blog that anyone who loves books should follow. I was honored recently to guest-blog for Book Club Girl's "Holiday Open House," joining such wonderful authors as Adriana Trigiani, Susan McBride and Jacqueline Sheehan in sharing their favorite holiday memories, gifts, or traditions. The series will continue throughout December, so check it out in case one of your favorite authors appears.

You can see my guest-blog here with Jennifer Hart's intro or read the content below. Many people have asked for a photo and I'll try to add one soon!


My mother is the Queen of Christmas Tree Decorations. Seriously, her tree strikes people dumb. When guests see it for the first time, I can count on approximately ten minutes of awe and examination before any other conversation continues. The seven foot, artificial tree itself is no big deal—what's extraordinary is the 1,027 ornaments adorning it.

And, yes, that's an exact figure, not an estimate. That number was accurate when the ornaments were boxed up and stuck back in the closet on January 6th, 2009.

The quantity alone is enough to make your eyes widen—the ornaments literally cover every available inch of the tree, going four and five deep all the way to the trunk. Getting all 1,027 of those ornaments on the tree is a three day process that leaves my parents' living room looking like a cardboard box and tissue-paper bomb exploded (and which my dad, a bit of a Scrooge, endures with much grumbling). But it's the quality that really grabs you. There are no generic round bulbs here, no color scheme, no trendy theme. No, every ornament is individual, some unusual (how many people have spiders and garlic cloves hanging on their trees?)—many of them handmade—and all tell a story. Her tree is a veritable scrapbook of memories.

See, my mom started a great tradition when my sister and I were babies. Every Christmas, she bought us a new tree ornament. She always tried for the ornament to commemorate something important or memorable from that year in our life. From as early as I can remember, she told us that when we moved away and had our own homes, we could take our ornaments with us, so our Christmas trees would be personal and meaningful. When Monica and I were old enough to have a clue, we started buying our mother an ornament each year as well so that we wouldn't wipe out her tree when we moved away.

The memory is far more important that the appearance when selecting an ornament. It matters not one iota to my mother if the ornament doesn't look “traditionally” Christmas-y, as long as there is a good story. Among the decorations on her tree are a blue hot-air balloon (commemorating the year we sent her up in one for her 50th birthday), a pink elephant (for the year my niece and father created an elaborate story about Zamboni, an invisible elephant who lived in our basement), and a gingerbread house (for the year she and I attempted to make one ourselves...only to have it turn into a gingerbread “ghetto” whose roof kept collapsing).

My own tree displays such oddities as a hoof-pick painted red for the year I bought my first horse, a pair of eyeglasses for the year I had Lasik surgery, a small set of paddles for the year I almost drowned in a rafting accident on the Gauley River, and a little log cabin for the year I won a residency at the Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers. There are ornaments to represent every pet I've ever had, as well as ornaments representing some of the fictional animal characters in my books. These all hang along with the ugly pink plastic angel with white Barbie doll hair that I begged her to buy for me when I was five.

When my creative mother can't find the item she's looking for, she'll make it herself—my favorite being one she gave me the year of my divorce. To commemorate my new home and its every wall that I painted in bright colors, she crafted a miniature paint bucket and brush with the label: “New Beginnings Paint.”

A longtime Girl Scout leader and preschool teacher, my mother has been given hundreds of ornaments from former students and Scouts. She keeps a notebook in which she draws a small picture of the ornament and a description of who gave it to her, what year it was given, and any special significance it has. Her tree is a testament to how many lives she has touched.

I'm so grateful for the tradition she's begun. It's funny how the actual gifts will blur together and be forgotten, but I can always remember the ornament I received the previous Christmas. I look forward to unpacking my ornaments each year and the memories that come with them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Clinton County Reads!

Talk about an early Christmas gift! I just learned that The Kindness of Strangers was selected as the Clinton County Reads pick for 2010. There will be some events and readings connected with it in March and April. To add to the ego boost, other books on the short list that Kindness beat out were Toni Morrison's Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Wow. Wow. I can't stop grinning.

Read the Wilmington News Journal story announcing the win.

Monday, December 7, 2009

He's Baaaack

As I expected, Huckle Buckle made an appearance on opening night of The Hallelujah Girls. (please see three previous posts, November entries “Huckle Buckle: the Beginning,” “Huckle Buckle Goes to School,” and “Huckle Buckle Backstage.”

Some backstory on Hallelujah Girls is necessary to fully appreciate Heather’s handiwork this time. My character, Sugar Lee, holds a nasty, 30-year grudge against her high school sweetheart, Bobby Dwayne, who she believes (incorrectly) has wronged her. Through a series of unfortunate events, Sugar Lee is forced to hire Bobby Dwayne to do construction work in her day spa. In one scene, Bobby Dwayne drops a gasket, bends over to pick it up, then accuses Sugar Lee of “checking him out.” When she denies it, he says, “Yes, you were. You were sizing up the merchandise and admiring the view.” The “view” is made all the sweeter by Bobby Dwayne’s habit of wearing shorts, even in December. He claims “My entire body can be cold as ice, but my legs are always hot.”

So...opening night, I arrive to pre-set my props, and there is Huckle Buckle sitting in the salon chair. He is wearing SHORTS, a tool belt, and work boots, just like Bobby Dwayne. He even has a beard, just like Bobby Dwayne. And he has a note pinned to his chest, which reads: “Go ahead. Size up the merchandise and admire the view. Who’s your Bobby Dwayne now?”

I think Michael Boyd, the actor playing Bobby Dwayne, was even more disturbed than I was. I’ve included a photo of the “real” Bobby Dwayne as well as Huckle’s creepy imposter disguise. I need to figure out the next move in this ongoing game of Huckle placement...