Archives for June 2013

Everything You Probably Never Wanted To Know


I used to blog here. Until this week, apparently. Because sometime early Monday morning, the weight of every single responsibility that I’ve sort of brushed to the side while I’ve been traveling hither and yon for book stuff pretty much crashed down on my shoulders and made me wonder OH SWEET AGNES, HOW WILL I EVER GET ALL OF THIS STUFF DONE?

So, you see, I really couldn’t blog because I was too busy assuming the fetal position and trying to block out my mental to-do list. Plus, the Bulldogs were playing in the College World Series championship, and I could’ve had a complete come-apart over that little fact alone. However, somehow I’ve managed to spend the last three days wearing the biggest blinders I could find – all the while trying to plan and supervise Meaningful Summer Activites for a certain ten year-old – and I’m just now starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a huge development, really, because at the beginning of the week all I could see was the front end of a train barreling in my direction. And, understandably, that was not my most favorite feeling.

Anyway, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been wanting to write a post that answers some of the questions that have come up several times at book signings, and now that I’m sitting at Starbucks and there’s a beautiful sunset outside and I only have one thing left on that massive MUST BE WRITTEN list, I thought that tonight would be a fine and wonderful time to address those pressing issues.

Except that they’re not really pressing.

Or even, you know, important.

But still. Upwards of four people have asked these questions, so clearly this information is going to change the course of your life forever.

All righty. Here are the questions. And all of them pertain to my book. You’ve probably figured that out already since I mentioned that people had asked these questions at book signings. But you can always count on me to over-explain!

1) Why did you change the name of your hometown to Myrtlewood?

Well, there were several reasons. I originally started writing the book with the real name of my hometown, but I found myself struggling to balance the history of the town with stories about my people. And since the book was supposed to be about my family, the history part became a bigger and bigger distraction. So one day I tried changing the name, and HEY, MAGIC, I suddenly didn’t feel like I needed to explain who set up a shop on the corner of This Street and That Street back in 1847.

Another reason I changed the name was because I didn’t want to presume to speak for my hometown. I haven’t lived there in almost twenty years, and it’s changed a lot since then. I wanted to be safe to describe certain things the way I remembered them, but I didn’t want people to get frustrated with me if that’s not how those things are anymore.

Finally, one of my Tyndale friends and I talked a lot about this, and at the end of the day, we felt like it was a good idea to put a little bit of a buffer between Google and my family. I know good and well that anyone who’s determined to figure out everybody’s full names and where they live could probably do that – but I also didn’t want to give away too much because I am confident that if a book-reading stranger turned up at Martha’s house and knocked on her door, she would ask said stranger to please come inside so she could make them a fresh pot of coffee and serve them a brownie. She just made them! They’re delicious!

2) Where’d you get the name “Myrtlewood”?

One afternoon last summer Sister and I spent about an hour on the phone trying to come up with alternate names for towns and for people. It was way more difficult than I anticipated, and it made me more certain than ever that I will never, ever write fiction because I wouldn’t be able to name all the characters. Anyway, I had tried using “Dogwood” for my hometown, but it didn’t feel right. I’d also tried using “Tulip Creek” for my grandparents’ little town, and for some reason it made me feel like I was writing a script for a soap opera.


There’s a little town called Myrtle, Mississippi that’s north of Tupelo, and every single time we pass the sign on our way to Memphis, I say something along the lines of, “That is THE BEST name for a Southern town.” So Myrtlewood is my little wink at Myrtle, Mississippi – and I just added the “wood” part from “Dogwood.”

(I “feel” like I’m “using” a “lot” of “quotation marks.”)

(“Help” me.)

After we settled on Myrtlewood, Sister said, “Well, you HAVE to change that Tulip Creek business.” She came up with Moss Rose. I thought it sounded delicate and Southern. So it was perfect.

3) How have the people in your family reacted to the book? Have they been okay with everything?

I will probably cry the whole time I type this answer. Just so you know.

If there was any part of the whole book thing that weighed heavily on me when I was writing, it was wondering how my family would respond. Naturally I was hoping that my affection for them would be evident, but you just never know what might rub somebody the wrong way – or what memory might be funny for a few people but painful for somebody else. So last summer, after I’d turned in my first draft, I gave all the chapters about Martha to Martha, all the chapters about Mama and Daddy to Mama and Daddy, etc. They were so great about every bit of it; the only change I made, I think, was to say that they don’t ALWAYS put enough peaches in the cobbler at Western Sizzlin’ – because Martha didn’t want anyone from Western Sizzlin’ to read and think that she doesn’t like their cobbler! Because she does! She just happens to like a lot of peaches!

Anyway, once I’d finished all the edits for Tyndale and the book was totally finished, I started to feel panicked that I had written something that was going to upset somebody, or maybe so-and-so didn’t see one particular part and what if they didn’t like it, or what if the edited version was too different from the original, or what if or what if or what if.

But now that the book is out and everybody has read all the chapters, here’s what I can tell you without hesitation: my family has been so great – just big, wide-open grace on all sides of the family tree. They have been unbelievably supportive and encouraging and patient and wonderful. I don’t think that I’ll ever get over it.

4) Did Martha really have a friend named Rubena?

Oh, yes ma’am. She most certainly did. I tried changing Rubena’s name, too, but as you can imagine, no other name would do. So Martha asked Rubena’s daughters if they were okay with me telling a story about their mama, and they were so sweet to say yes.

Which reminds me: look at this photographic treasure that a family friend of ours found a couple of weeks ago (thanks, Bruce!).

 photo 1025329_10201235368585905_1642089294_o_zps67def744.jpg

That’s Beth (another lifelong friend of Martha’s), Rubena, Martha, and Ann, who I’m guessing was engaged at the time. I think this picture was taken sometime in the mid- to late 80s, and it makes me so happy. Daddy actually took one of my books to Beth when I was home a few weeks ago, and since Beth can’t see very well anymore, Martha was planning to go sit with her a couple of times a week and read a chapter out loud when she visits.

(Seriously. This is too much. It makes me so emotional. I may require a sedative.)

So. Those are all the questions I can remember right now, but hopefully I’ve cleared up a few things. And if there’s anything you’ve been wanting to ask, just let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer. Because let’s be honest: we’re sitting smack-dab in the middle of the no-man’s land between baseball season and football season. What else am I gonna write about? CAMPING TIPS? I THINK NOT.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

Edited to add: the very kind folks at ParentLife are giving away five copies of my book. Here’s the link. And there’s another giveaway for three books over at 5 Minutes for Mom, so here’s the link for that one. Just FYI and in case you’re interested. :-)

I Would Have Blogged…

…but I’ve been too busy stressing out over the College World Series. The Bulldogs lost to UCLA tonight in the first game of the finals, but I’m hopeful that tomorrow night will be a different story. And if the ‘Dogs want to score 18 to 20 runs just to make a statement, that will be fine by me.

Anyway, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to string sentences together until I get all of this baseball out of my system, but I did want to share a life-changing bit of information that Sister and I learned in Starkville this past weekend. Here it is.

Slice some seedless watermelon about 1/4″ thick.

Sprinkle feta cheese and chopped mint on top of the watermelon slices.

Marvel at the magic of the unexpected flavor combinations.

Resist the urge to slap your mama.

Several people mentioned on Twitter today that a little balsamic vinaigrette is an excellent addition to this combo, so I’ll be trying that tomorrow. We had the watermelon as an appetizer in Starkville – it was cut into cute little circles with a biscuit cutter – but today I just chopped up watermelon, put it in a bowl, and treated it like a salad. DELICIOUS.

Anyway, I’m going to try to get some sleep now. It’s late, and I need to wake up early and work on my curve ball.

Oh, I kid.

Go ‘Dogs.


Well, right now I’m watching game #10 of the College World Series, and I’m fascinated that there’s a player for the University of North Carolina named Skye Bolt. FASCINATED. I’m also really excited for him because clearly he is destined for an unstoppable career in meteorology once he completes his studies in Chapel Hill. I mean, I’d watch severe weather updates with Skye Bolt all the livelong day. And Skye Bolt with tomorrow morning’s forecast? YES MA’AM. BELIEVE I WILL.

All righty. Here are a few links I’ve been wanting to pass along.

This post of Ann’s took my breath away. It also made me want to go back to Uganda RIGHT NOW. Or at the very least next week.

– I mentioned this on Twitter last week, but it is my deep and heartfelt belief that this song is going to be this fall’s college football anthem. CUE THE MONTAGE.

– Y’all know that I love my Bulldogs, and this year’s baseball team has been especially fun to watch. They have a huge College World Series game Friday at 2:00; if they win, they’ll be one of the final two teams and play in next week’s three-game National Championship series. This ESPN article really gets to the heart of the team’s personality – I got such a kick out of it.

– Speaking of the Bulldogs (HELLO, TRANSITION)…I have a book signing this Saturday at Book Mart in Starkville, Mississippi. It’s from 10am-12pm. Sister will be there with me, so that will make it extra fun. And if the Bulldogs win on Friday, I imagine that we will ring some cowbells. (Edited to add: I just saw that the book is only $9.49 at Amazon right now, which is almost 40% off of the regular price – and not much more than what it’s selling for in Sam’s. Just FYI if you enjoy a sale.)

– Don’t forget to check out the latest posts by the Compassion Bloggers in Nicaragua. Whether you’re sponsoring a child, thinking about sponsoring a child, or wondering if child sponsorship actually works, you’ll be encouraged by what you read.

– A couple of days ago I read that Stephen Colbert’s mother passed away. Today I watched a video of his beautiful tribute to her life, and I can’t stop thinking about it. You may need a tissue or nine.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

The Big Boo Cast, Episode 24

Before I do anything else, I want to make sure to mention that there’s a group of Compassion Bloggers in Nicaragua right now. And when you get a chance, be sure to read this post of Edie’s. She must have been exhausted – utterly overwhelmed – when she wrote it, but it’s a beautiful reminder of how child sponsorship through Compassion changes lives.


On to (much) more trivial matters.

Melanie and I decided this morning that we were going to record a podcast. There was no particular reason – we would never dream of creating anything resembling a plan or a schedule – but it just seemed like a good idea. You may decide otherwise after you listen to it, but hey! Two podcasts in one year! We are on a roll!

As usual, we talk about everything and nothing: what to cook for supper, the College World Series (GO BULLDOGS), the wonders of coconut oil, the NSA scandal (well, kinda), technology and banking (well, kinda), and movies / TV shows we probably had no business watching when we were children.

You can click here to listen. Or here. Or, as always, you can subscribe on iTunes if you’re feeling particularly fancy.

Please do enjoy.

Today In 30 Minutes Or Less

I am giving myself 30 minutes to write this blog post – and then THE END – because it is almost midnight and I have to drive back to Birmingham early tomorrow morning and it would probably be wise for me to get some sleep.


This morning I drove from Birmingham to Tupelo for a book signing. It took me a little longer than I was planning to get out of town, but I blame my tardiness – at least in part – on the fact that I am somewhat fascinated by one of the cashiers who works at a drugstore by our house. I ran in the drugstore to get some IceBreakers and some hair clips before I got on the road (too many details? sometimes I don’t know when information is essential or just annoying.), and I got held up in a line because the cashier was talking to the woman at the front of the line about jewelry. The cashier’s determination to find a subject to discuss with each customer makes every trip into the drugstore is a little bit of an adventure, and I am increasingly obsessed with what the topic of the day might be. Today it was her love for amethysts. Sometimes it’s a book she’s recently enjoyed or her favorite kind of lettuce. Oh, I could check out with the cashier in health and beauty aids and maybe wrap up the drugstore experience a few minutes sooner, but I choose this woman’s register EVERY SINGLE TIME because, well, I might learn something about the gross national product of Aruba or maybe even the most effective way to cook beets. It is always a lesson.

Once I finally got on the road, I made mighty good time to Tupelo and was turning into Emma Kate’s driveway before I knew it. One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned is that while my publisher set up my book signing in Birmingham, all the other book signings have been set up by family friends or college friends who decided of their own free will that they wanted to take the book signing bull by the horns, so to speak. I have not done one thing except respond to their texts that say, “I am setting up a book signing for you. You are not allowed to say ‘no.’ Here’s where it will be.” And then once we work out the logistics, I just try to show up on time. It’s a system that seems to be working pretty well since my friends are very thoughtful and organized; they’re also aware of the limitations of my personal book marketing strategy, which primarily consists of looking at Amazon a couple of times a day and then devoting untold energy to reading Mississippi State message boards about the College World Series.

All that to say: Emma Kate planned the book signing in Tupelo. And while she would never tell me this, I know that she worked like crazy to pull the whole thing together. I am so grateful for that because listen – it was so fun. My friend Bubba was at EK’s house when I pulled in the driveway (he lives in Memphis, so seeing him thrilled me to no end), and once we got to the signing, I got to see Bubba’s mama and sister, along with EK’s mama and two of her dearest friends, and just hearing all of them talk to each other brought me so much joy. At one point I actually heard someone refer to Melanie’s book as “the Sparkly Green Earrings,” and it made me so happy. Plus, I loved getting to visit with some of EK’s friends I haven’t seen in awhile, meeting a few new people, and basically just soaking up the sounds of one of my favorite Mississippi towns. I could’ve stayed there all day.

EK planned a little sweet/salty get-together after the book signing, and we spent about 45 minutes just talking and alternating cheese straws with M&Ms while we wound down from our time at the bookstore. About 6:45, though, we started loading up the car to head back to EK’s because we didn’t want to miss a second of the Bulldogs’ College World Series game, and somehow, in the process of putting everything in the car and making sure we weren’t leaving anything behind, I ended up driving EK’s SUV.

The fact that I was driving a vehicle that was relatively unfamiliar to me is a critical plot point in our story.


We started the trek to EK’s house, and as we were talking and trying to figure out what we wanted for supper, I realized that the green light in front of me had just turned yellow, so I hit the brakes – brakes that responded very differently than the brakes on my car – and since I hit the brakes a little bit harder than what was necessary, a very valuable box fell off the backseat and into the floorboard.

I would like to warn you that what you’re about to see is not for the faint of heart. Consider yourself warned.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 12.15.10 AM

That right there is some cupcake heartache, my friends.

And you should know that we got so tickled. SO. TICKLED. Fortunately most of the cupcakes were resting on other cupcakes or on part of the box, so once we got back to EK’s house and really surveyed the damage, we realized that, for the most part, they might not be much to look at, but they were still totally edible. So all’s well that ends well.

Plus, you know, THIS.

photo via AP

There is no way to adequately convey to you just how loudly we yelled during our game. But we yelled, and we high-fived, and we clapped, and there may have even been some rally caps at the bottom of the 7th when we were feeling a little nervous. But the ‘Dogs prevailed – 5-4 over Indiana. Which means the Bulldogs are now one win away from playing for a National Championship. And I can’t talk about it anymore because quite honestly I can’t even wrap my brain around it.

But it was the best day. And night.

Hope yours was, too.

Weekend Update

Well, a couple of hours ago Martha called to tell me that she was thrilled! perfectly thrilled! when she heard that my book was ranked #3 on Facebook. She was so thrilled!

Listen. I did not have the heart to tell her that 1) the book hasn’t been #3 in any rankings whatsoever and 2) Facebook doesn’t actually have a bestseller list. So instead I just thanked her for being so excited. Because, well, she has been so supportive and enthusiastic about everything that correcting her wasn’t even remotely worth it. It’s like when my mama talks about how I have “a blog on Google.” GOOD ENOUGH.

Anyway, I am here mainly to relay three bits-o-information. These things are certain to change your life forever. Except that they won’t. But perhaps they will serve as a light diversion.

– My friend Anne is hosting a book giveaway over at her blog.

– My friend Robin is also hosting a giveaway over at her blog.

– I have a book signing here in Birmingham tomorrow (Saturday, June 15th). It’s at the Brookwood Village Books A Million, and it starts at 3pm. They didn’t set an ending time, but my guess is that we’ll get to the end of the book signing line at approximately 3:08. I’ll stick around longer than that, though, just in case there are some weary Father’s Day shoppers who might like to sit down for a few minutes and visit.

That’s it for now. Hope y’all have a great weekend – and Go ‘Dogs!