Friday, August 22, 2014

Going Home Again

They say you can't go home again, and maybe you can't, but yesterday I went back to my old high school.

Father and son
A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to some eleventh graders at South Pontotoc High. So much has changed since I graduated in 1982. So much remained just as I remembered it.

The cafeteria was bigger. The nice ladies in the serving line asked my wife and I what we wanted, which was definitely a change from the way it was back then. Back in the day, we ate what they put on our tray or we didn't eat.

My wife and I, along with our home-schooled sixth-grader, Logan, arrived at 7:30 am. Our host, Mr. Martin Rodgers, greeted us at the office and escorted us to his classroom. The hallway looked like a smaller-scaled version of 1982, though I know it hadn't shrunk. It felt a bit nostalgic to be back in one of the classrooms where I'm sure I had a class at some point.
talking about writing

In all, I spoke to three English Lit classes and a psychology class. During the first class I was so nervous I'm not really sure what all I talked about. By the time the last class rolled around I was exhausted. I honestly don't see how teachers do it day in and day out.

Exhaustion and nerves aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and wouldn't trade it for anything. The students were well-behaved and polite. A few asked questions. A few said they wanted to read my books. A couple came by to shake my hand afterwards and thank me for coming. One hung back to tell me I made him want to read.

If I made one connection, said something to reach one person, then the day was not wasted.

My wife Sharon
A few days ago one of my old high school friends asked me if I ever thought I'd be going back to South Pontotoc as a speaker. No, I didn't, but I'm glad I did.

For more about me or my books, or to invite me to speak at your event, visit my website.

Friday, August 15, 2014

5 Elements of a Good Review

Norton Road
Most of us probably won't take the time to leave a review for that book we just read. It's the same as with any other product or service -- we pick up the pen (or pull out the keyboard) when we feel cheated, or think a product or service was so bad we have to vent. In the old days, it usually meant writing a letter to the company, or calling customer service and giving them an earful.

How many times have you written a letter or made a phone call to tell someone how much you liked their product? It's easier now, because there are lots of places to write reviews online. Amazon will send you an email and ask you to review products you've purchased. They make it easy. Is it any wonder their customer service is so outstanding?

But is it important? You bet your boots it is. Reviews, both good and bad, let a company (or in my case, author) know what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Businesses are very keen these days to monitor social media (especially Twitter) for mentions of their products. Sometimes it might not seem like it, but most businesses WANT to deliver a good product at a competitive price. Why? Because it makes them money.

Book reviews are critical to an author. When is the last time you purchased a book on Amazon without reading at least a sampling of reviews? And if you think your review won't matter, you are wrong. Sure, maybe a few of the top authors get so many reviews and sell so many books that they don't bother to read them anymore, but most authors, like myself, depend on them.

So how do you write an effective review?

1)  Be honest. Yes, the truth may hurt sometimes, but false praise not only misleads other potential readers, it misleads the author. That doesn't mean you should write a nasty review of a book you didn't like. No book will suit every reader. Explain why you didn't like the book. Be kind. On the flip side, if you liked a book, explain why. As much as I love reading that you liked my book, what I really want/need to know is why. What parts did you like most?

2)  Avoid spoilers.  Some reviewers get carried away and reveal too much of the story. Don't forget that most of the ones reading your review are trying to decide whether to read the book or not. A good rule of thumb is not to give away anything that surprised you, or caught you off guard. Read the author's description of the book and try not to reveal anything not in that description because it was probably left out for a reason.

3) Who are you?  Provide a brief mention of what kind of reader you are. If you typically read suspense and happen to be reviewing a fantasy book, mention it. Especially if your review tilts toward the lower star range. If you are an avid reader, or only read once in a while, say so.

4)  Mention other books you liked. If I read a review by someone who liked or disliked a book I've also read, their opinion carries more weight with me, because it shows we have similar tastes.

5)  Proofread. Okay, so you may not be a writer, but most readers are intelligent enough to write a review that is readable. It doesn't need to be formal, or perfect, but the author may want to use a portion (or all) of your review to post on Facebook or Twitter to attract other readers. I've had reviews that said wonderful things but were so full of errors that I couldn't use them (though I appreciated them every bit as much).

I would like to post a review of Norton Road that I found on Amazon this morning. It immediately brightened my day. The bold was added by me, to highlight the parts of the review that stood out to me.

I saw this book mentioned on Facebook by a trusted friend. I bought it on Amazon. I thought it was one of the best books I had ever read.the author made the people he wrote about come alive.I felt like I could relate to them even though they were so different than anyone I have ever known in my circle of family and friends. This author was in my opinion born to write. He is just that talented.I am an avid reader and always have at least one book going at all times.I am so critical of just authors who bore me with simple little stories that you know how it will advance and end after the first few chapters.Norton Road is not one of those books.I usually forget a book as soon as I finish it,but I find my self thinking about this story frequently even though it has been several months since I read it. This is so rare to find an Author with this gift.
First, the review mentions how she heard about the book. Word of mouth sells books.

Second, she said she felt like she could relate to the characters. As an author, I love hearing that because it means I achieved one of my primary goals. If you can relate to a character, you form an emotional bond.

Third, she mentioned being an avid reader. She knows something about books.

Fourth, and this part is what made me scream YES! (quietly, of course, so as not to gather strange looks) because that, to me, is the ultimate goal -- to create characters so real you'll catch yourself wondering what they are doing, as if they are real. In some small way, they are real.

And lastly, I highlighted this one because it just flat out made me feel good. We all like to feel appreciated .... that what we do matters.

For more information about me or my books, including how to purchase them, please visit my website and/or Like my Facebook page.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

10 Questions: Sharon Purdon

Sharon Purdon -- author's wife

Booneville, MS
The Ark, Booneville, MS

It's been a while since I've conducted a 10 Questions interview. When I launched this series a couple of years ago I wanted to interview interesting people from all areas of the writing world. Most of my interviews have been with other authors. This time I wanted to interview the wife of an author, and thought what better person to answer my questions than the woman lying beside me?

I'm a bit nervous, because I intend to post the interview with the answers she gives. No content editing. No please hon you can't say that.

She knows things about me no one else knows, but hey, I get to control the questions so I'm okay, right?

Let's see.

#1:  Tell us something about your background. Where you were born? What interesting places have you lived?

Biloxi, MS
Let's see ... my background would be a book in itself, but for now...... I was born in good ole Booneville, MS. Growing up, we lived ALL over the place; Booneville, Florida, Chicago, Booneville, Hattiesburg, Booneville, Memphis, Booneville, Caledonia, Alabama, Rienzi, Petal, & Booneville.  Somehow, we always ended up back in Booneville, so I guess that song: "You Can't Go Home Again", doesn't know how many times I've went back home. And then I met Carl and have lived in Randolph for thirteen plus years and guess what....We've talked about moving to Booneville.

Gulf Shores, MS
I guess the most interesting places I've lived would be Hattiesburg and Petal, Ms. Probably because of being so close to places like USM (my favorite college), Lake Shelby, and Biloxi.......I love going
to the Coast!

#2:  Are you a book person or movie person?  

I guess I'm more of a movie person. Not that I don't like to read, because I do and I do. It's just that when I start reading, I don't like to quit until I've finished and that just can't happen often. Reading a good book and having to stop before I'm finished is like getting into a good movie and having to turn it off before I've finished watching it.  *Book lovers don't be hate'n on me*

#3:  Of the three books your husband has written, which is your favorite and why? No fair to say all of them.

I love all three, but I guess my favorite would be "The Night Train". One reason would be because it was his first and I remember how excited we were when he published and we actually held that first finished book in our hands! Another reason is because I can relate to how Jayrod felt. Kids don't know how cruel they can be or the impact of their bullying. Sadly... adults can be just as cruel...

#4:  There are pros and cons to everything in life. What do you consider the biggest pro and the biggest con to being the wife of an author.

The pros to being an author's wife is watching his dream of writing come true and come to life. I've read a lot of his writings over the years and have always believed he'd be able to get his work published one day. I knew he would. I also believe they'll be made into movies some day. Another pro is seeing him stand in front of people speaking about his love for writing and watching people line up for him to autograph his novels for them. I'm very proud of my husband!
The con to being an author's wife is the time he has to spend away from doing family things and I know he needs quiet time, but it's hard to keep kids quiet, especially with hyped-up boys! Lol

#5:  Would you say your husband spends not enough time writing, too much time writing, or just about the right amount of time writing?

I'd say too much time writing until I read what he's writing and then it's like...go, go write some more!!

#6:  Tell us one thing about you that would surprise most people

I'm very, very shy.

#7:  Tell us one thing about your husband that would surprise most people.

He's NOT shy. That would even surprise him!

#8:  If you woke up in the morning insanely wealthy, what would be the very first thing you would buy?

The first thing I would buy would be new vehicles for all of my family.

#9:  Imagine yourself sitting down with an acquaintance who tells you her husband is trying to write his first novel. What advice do you give her?

Biloxi, MS
Be supportive and understanding because there will be times when you'll want to go somewhere or do something as a family and he'll want to stay home and write. Oh, and take his connections to the internet away because if he's going to be spending time away from you writing, he doesn't need to be on Twitter or Facebook. He needs to be writing! Carl! He'll need someplace quiet, because it's close
to impossible to keep kids quiet and I have to admit it's hard to keep from interrupting him.

Be patient. It'll be worth it some day!

#10:  Let's do something different. There has to be a question you were hoping I would or wouldn't ask. Ask yourself that question (please let us see the question), then answer it.

Q: I was hoping you'd ask me how much I love you!
A: I love you more than I could ever show you. More than you'll ever know.

* * *

Follow Sharon on Twitter.

For more information about me or my books, including how to purchase them, please visit my website and/or Like my Facebook page.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What's Stopping You?

School starts tomorrow in our neck of the woods. We've had a mild summer here (almost like fall at times) so there was plenty of opportunity for the young people to enjoy themselves outside (supposing they can see their gadget screens outside). Now it's time to buckle down and learn something.

Is education wasted on the youth? So many of the crucial building blocks to a quality life experience seem to be delivered during our developmental years. During the time in our lives when we still think life is a video game, that money grows on trees, and food magically appears in grocery stores and all mom has to do is go pick out what she wants.

Wearing my author hat, I've had the honor of speaking at a couple of schools. I've got another such event coming up at my old high school, which is a special honor. As I was thinking of what I might say to the kids, I caught myself wondering if it really matters what I say. Will they absorb it? Any of it? Not if they are like me when I was their age.

Wouldn't it be nice if wisdom (which is really just a culmination of life experiences) was a commodity we could package and deliver to our kids? They would consume it and suddenly understand what we mean when we tell them school is important, drugs and alcohol are bad, and money is something you work to earn and not something you deserve just because you have wants.

I think it's safe to say most of us older folks didn't listen when our parents, teachers, pastors, grandparents, aunts, and uncles gave us advice we now realize would have made such a difference in our lives had we applied it. It's good for us to remember when talking to our kids that the only way they can gain life experience is by experiencing life. It doesn't mean we stop trying. It means we try, hope they listen, and try to understand when they don't.

If you're over forty you've most likely caught yourself thinking how great it would be if you could start over, knowing what you now know. We catch ourselves seeing our kids as that chance. It breaks our hearts to see them experience the inevitable pains that come with reaching adulthood. Then, as young adults, the learning curve steepens and the consequences become so much more than scraped knees and bee stings. But would it really be better to start over knowing what you know now? Would you have as much fun? Would you have the "remember when" memories that seem funny now but not so much back then?

Imagine if you could take a break at forty and get twelve years of intense education without having to worry about keeping the lights on and food on the table. Just think how much harder you would work, and how much more prepared you would be when you reentered the workforce. Perhaps you can't ditch your job and go back to school full time, but it's never too late to increase your education. More so today than ever, there is a wealth of information literally at our fingertips. All we have to do is read. Absorb. Commit.

Our kids are going back to school. Maybe you can't start over and live your life again, but you can take the advice you give your kids and apply it to yourself. It's never too late to work harder, learn harder, play harder, and make a mad grab at your dreams.

What's stopping you?

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I've written three novels chock full of characters learning life lessons. The Night Train, Norton Road, and Blinders. For more information on me and my writing, visit my website, Like me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter. If you're brave, change that last or to an and.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writer's Block

Every writer has it from time to time. It's the polar opposite of feeling your muse and it sucks. I'm talking about writer's block. Erectile dysfunction of the brain. You know, it's when you sit there looking at a blank page and the cursor is blinking hey you! I'm waiting.

Facebook is not your friend. Twitter will distract you. The TV remote will beg you to pick it up and press the one button that can pull you into countless hours of mindless notwritingness.

Unless there happens to be a good western on. Everyone knows watching westerns is research, but be forewarned: if there's not a western on you can bet once you pop that guide onto the screen you'll find something, anything, to keep you occupied. If you're not careful you may end up watching a Cops marathon, and anyone who's never been arrested knows how addictive that can be.

I've been working on the sequel to my first novel, The Night Train, and for the last few days it's been going nowhere. I know I can do it. No doubt I'll finish, but being stuck is driving me nuts. It's like my characters are on strike.

Readers (and I mean the readers who don't also write), I'd bet the farm you have no idea how much time goes into creating that book you just read. If the author did his or her job (notice how I was gender-friendly just then?) you'll never suspect a thing. Words will flow from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page, like a delicious romp through imaginationville. You won't have to sit for hours, days, wondering what the next page has in store. And that's how it should be.

Writing is a very fulfilling endeavor, but like most things worth doing, it is labor intensive, emotionally challenging, and, ultimately, worth every minute expended.

Sometimes when I get writer's block I take a break and do something different, like ride my motorcycle or do a chore around the house (last resort stuff right there). Sometimes I write a blog post and hope it breaks the word dam.

Writers, what are some of the things you do to cure writer's block?

To learn more about my books, visit my website. To interact with me, like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Unlearn Your Limitations

A while back I tweeted two simple sentences that popped into my head while I was scrambling eggs:

Know your limitations. Then shatter them.

Yes, that could easily have been one sentence, but the eggs told me to use a period instead of a comma for dramatic effect (see my post on commas). This morning I sat down with my cup of coffee and had every intention of writing the next scene in my fourth novel (which is a sequel to my first novel), then I opened the blinds and looked out the window and recalled those two sentences.

Can you really shatter your limitations?

We all have factors that limit us. Some of us are not athletic and couldn't excel at sports no matter how hard we may try. When I was in high school I was smaller than most of the girls (yes, even the girls) in my class, so it would have been suicide for me to try out for the football team. Yes, I suppose I could have been like that kid Rudy and dedicated myself to making the team, but I didn't even like football (I didn't even like the movie they made about Rudy). Like it or not, we all have true limitations, but most of us probably never get close to bumping up against those because we also have learned limitations.

Learned limitations are constraints we place on ourselves, most likely branded on our brains when we were kids. Like sitting in the back seat of the family car when you are so young you barely remember it, and having your father tell you he is ashamed to be seen with you because you are ugly. He tells you to stay in the car. You do. You remember. Reinforce that description of you with an entire childhood of equally hateful adjectives (stupid and worthless come to mind), and you emerge into the adult world so screwed up you can barely function around people.

Learned limitations.

Sharon and I live on about thirty acres of land in the middle of nowhere. We have goats to help keep the weeds down. Goats, by nature, like to browse. They don't stand in one spot and eat until the grass is gone -- they wander, eating a little here, a little there, so you have to confine them to the area you want them to maintain.

Electric fences are fairly inexpensive and easy to erect. They are also easy to move, which we do quite often. They also only work if the goats fear them. Once they get zapped a time or two they know the fence will hurt them and they stop trying to cross. But electric fences are also prone to fallen limbs and are easily broken by other animals that wander into them (like deer and dogs). They break a lot, and since the strand is one long wire charged by a single device, any break renders the entire fence useless.

But the goats don't necessarily know that. As I type this, our fence has been unplugged for weeks, yet the goats stay happily within bounds, because they have learned the fence will zap them. At this point, the fence is a learned limitation. Easily shattered.

Shatter your learned limitations. Unlearn. Don't allow yourself to be fenced in by the actions of others.

I write novels about people dealing with their limitations, real and learned. I hope, in the process, to also entertain. To learn more about my novels, and for links to purchase (or sample) them, please visit my website at

AND for a look at a cool YouTube video my son and two of my grandsons made for me, look here, or here.

Side note: I used the picture of the wintertime fence because it's hot outside, and we rarely get snow in Mississippi, and because I love that picture and have wanted a reason to post it for a long time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

Homegrown Fiction

One of the hardest things for me to do as a writer is describe what my books are. What other books do I compare them to? What genre do they fit into?

I don't know.

As best I can tell, I write contemporary fiction, but what does that mean?

I'm not sure.

After writing The Night Train, I came up with the slogan, Vampire-Free Fiction! (the exclamation point is part of the slogan, not the sentence conveying it). I had fun with it. Even designed a display card that garnered more than a few positive comments at book signings and speaking engagements. The idea came from my belief that the market had become overly saturated with vampires and zombies. Bookshelves dripped vampires and zombies. My kids loved them.

A few weeks ago I set out to come up with a new slogan. Something equally fitting, yet something that hinted at what my books are, instead of what they are not.

Enter, Homegrown Fiction.

What do you think of when you hear that phrase? Hopefully, you think of the type of realistic, character-based novels that I write. My only hard and fast writing rule is that my stories, my characters, must be realistic. You won't find any levitating bodies, no Dukes of Hazzard car stunts, and no beyond-the-grave beings that can only be "killed" by blunt force to the brain. What you will find are characters like Jayrod Nash (The Night Train) -- a young boy who escapes his abusive father by hopping a freight train, and Pap Jones (Norton Road) -- an eccentric old man who takes on a giant (a wealthy industrialist, not an abnormally large human), and Dale Criss (Blinders) -- an ex-con who finds life on the outside to be more than he bargained for.

Yesterday my wife slipped away undetected, spread a blanket on the ground, and somehow managed to capture the essence of what my books are with her camera. When I look at the picture above, I can almost see the faces of Jayrod, Pap, Dale, and all the other characters who come to life on the pages of those three novels. If I sound a bit like a doting parent, yeah, it's almost like that.

Writing, for me, is a journey. Come with me, and let me introduce you to people you won't soon forget.

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To learn more about my writing, visit my website. To connect with me, and keep up to date on what's going on in my writing world, like me on Facebook.