Junk for Joy Part 2

Saturday, Katie and two of her high school classmates and I saddled up for the Druid Hills neighborhood yard sale extravaganza. We headed out shortly after 8 a.m. for the 9am. start time, and by shortly after 9, I’d made my first purchases of the day, the black tole tray below, and the pink tole wastebasket. It was a lovely day for junking. I also got the two framed seashell prints shown with the tole items, and at the same sale, Katie scored a $50 sofa to put in her husband’s “man cave.” One of the girls also purchased some new-in-the-box Ikea wall sconces, new white china canisters, and some other household items. My favorite item from Saturday has to be the faux crocodile train case. I think it looks like something from an old Doris Day movie. I mean, can’t you see Doris arriving in New York, wearing a chic hat, white gloves, pumps, and carrying this train case? It had a $7 pricetag, which wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I felt like paying. It was locked, and had this old-timey padlock. The thing is, my high school graduation luggage had a lock just like it. You were supposed to set the combination, and I never did. Just left it at 0-0-0. So, I spun the combination, and yessirreebob, it was set at 0-0-0. I took it to the woman running the sale and asked if she could do better on the price. She just looked at me and said, “honey, it doesn’t unlock. But if you can unlock it, you can have it for free.” Oh, really? I spun the lock and it clicked open. She laughed and told me I could have it for free. Then I told her the trick, and being a good sport, she laughed again. Don’t you just love free? The other items are some of the things I found on Friday at the “Five Gay Men with Fabulous Taste” sale, which is where the television trays, the wicker hamper and the wool plaid stadium blankets and shaving mirror came from. I spent part of the day today working on re-doing the antique New England wooden screens I brought back from Brimfield. I think they’re going to look great when I’m done. The problem is, I’ll have so much time and money invested in them, it’ll be hard to make a profit. And of course, the more I fix ’em, the more I fall in love with them. Such is the lot of the part-time antique dealer, I guess.

Junkin’ for Joy

The junk planets seem aligned just right. Yesterday, three members of the posse–including daughter Katie, saddled up to attend the 6th annual ATLANTA PET RESCUE tag sale. Jinxie and I went last year and got some major scores, so we all ponied up the $25 “advance” fee this year, and dashed inside. I scored a great painted beachy dresser–in fact, it’s painted with a shell border on the bottom, for $100. This will go in the Tybee beach house. Also got a great wooden pole lamp for $20, and some designer fabric 1/2-yard swatches for $4 apiece. While waiting to get into the sale, a guy was handing out flyers for his sale, which started today. The come-on? “Five Gay Guys with Fabulous Taste are Having a Yard Sale.” Well, how could I not check it out? Got some cool stuff, including three wool plaid stadium blankets, a wicker hamper, brass shaving mirror with bevelled mirror, awesome big white scrolly clock, and a pair of rattan TV trays on folding stands. I also checked in at another estate sale in Buckhead. I got a bag of five vintage 1950s Christmas pixies–the ones with the little fabric legs folded up, all with the original dime-store tags. I’ve got a collection of those that I put out for my vintage tacky Christmas display. Also snagged a retro red taffeta Christmas apron with white embroidery. Tragically, I was also the victim of unprovoked estate sale viciousness. I’d spotted 12 white milk-glass dessert bowls in a kitchen cupboard–marked $15 for all. I scooped them up, and went out to one of the cashiers to ask if I could make a pile of stuff I was buying. She told me to put the stuff on a chair and she’d guard them. As I was setting them down, this heinous bee-yatch (you know the type–dressed in her cool work-out clothes) rushed over and snatched up the whole pile. “Uh?” I said in my best passive-aggressive back-off bee-yatch voice. “I was buying these,” she snarled. She turned to the lady. “Remember? I asked you to move them and put them in a stack for me?” the yard-sale lady just kind of shrugged and said ok. People, this is not proper estate sale etiquette. I let it go this time, but next time around, I will smack this bee-yatch upside her botoxed-head with my sack o’ Christmas Pixies. Seriously. Tomorrow is the big Druid Hills neighborhood-wide yard sale. Druid Hills is the Atlanta neighborhood around Emory University, and it’s full of beautiful old homes. It was also the setting for DRIVING MISS DAISY. Supposedly 140 families are participating. I’m just a-quiver with excitement and anticipation. Will hopefully blog/brag tomorrow about all the treasures I score.

So You Wanna Write a Book

Because I’ve had 16 (soon to be 17) novels published, people believe I’m an expert on getting published. Sadly, I’m only a semi-expert–and only on the topic of getting ME published. But I get emails, and I’m asked to teach, or lecture on the topic, and I rarely go to a cocktail party without having somebody pull me aside and whisper (I’ve got this great idea for a book…).

So I thought I’d put my thoughts on the topic in a post, and maybe kind readers will forward it to their book writing buddies, instead of asking me to read their book writing buddies’ manuscripts. And for the record–1.No. I don’t read other people’s manuscripts. Ever. I barely have time to write my own books, let alone read other people’s. I’m not an editor or an agent. My tastes are my own, and not reflective of the book publishing industry. 2. No. I’m not a book doctor. See above. 3.Yes. A person can make a living writing books. However, I have no idea whether you or your friend can make a living as an author.

So…You have an idea for a book. Is it a book? Is your idea fiction or non-fiction? That’s the first question to ask yourself. If it’s non-fiction, why would a publisher buy such a book? What makes it such a great idea? Has anybody else written on this topic? If so, can you do it better, fresher, smarter? What are your credentials for writing about this non-fiction topic? These are the questions you ask yourself, and which any editor or agent would ask you before ever considering taking a look at your idea. Do your market research. Go to the library, bookstore, internet, to find out what’s been written on the topic, and how recently. Read the competiton, so you’ll understand how your book can be different. You’ll also want to know if that book was considered a success. You can check its Amazon sales ranking, as one measure of success, or ask others who are experts in the field if the competition books did well. Don’t assume an editor or agent will do this. This is YOUR job.

If your idea is for a novel, figure out what kind of novel you want to write, or have written. Is it literary fiction?–i.e. the kind of book Oprah picks for her book club? Is it genre–meaning, is it an identifiable category like mystery, romance, thriller, sci-fi, fanstasy, action-adventure, ect. If you are writing for children, you’ll want to educate yourself about how children’s books are published and sold.

Again, market research. What kind of books do you like, and want to publish? Read those. Figure out how they are structured, who publishes them, and who writes them. Make yourself an expert on the kind of book you want to write. How long are those novels? Hint: NOBODY wants to read your 800-page romance/fantasy/thriller. Unless you happen to be the next J.K. Rowling. Educate yourself about the conventions of genres by reading books on the topic. Libraries usually have great books about writing. You can also usually join genre writer’s groups, like Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (mystery), ect., many of which have helpful publications or meetings with published authors as speakers.

Write the damned book. Give yourself a deadline. I was working fulltime as a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, and raising two young children when I wrote my first two mysteries. If you want to write badly enough, you’ll find the time. I gave up watching television on weeknights. I gave myself a year to write that first book, and when I was approaching the year deadline, I took my last two weeks of vacation to stay home and finish the book. Try to come up with a workable writing schedule. Mine was to write a chapter a week. I still give myself page and chapter quotas when I’m working on a book. Study plot and structure. Beginning, middle, end. If your mind works that way, outline your novel. Or at least try to write a synopsis of what happens. You don’t have to have an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop to figure out how modern fiction is written. You just have to figure out how story works. Story, by Robert McKee, is helpful for this–if very detailed and overly analytical. I took McKee’s Story workshop in New York years ago, hoping it would help me write a screenplay. I never did write the screenplay, but it was very helpful in thinking about structure. Get help if you need it. Join a writer’s group, either online or in your community. Start your own if one doesn’t exist. Attend a writer’s workshop, or take a writing class through an evening adult ed program. Local colleges offer these, as do organizations throughout the country. You’ll want a workshop or writing class that features published authors as teachers/lecturers. If it’s a workshop offering manuscript consultations, you’ll want one with New York editors and agents as presenters or lecturers. I attended the Antioch Writer’s Workshop nearly twenty years ago when Sue Grafton was teaching mystery writing, solely because the workshop advertised manuscript conferences with Sue Grafton. My experience was priceless. Three months later, I had my first book contract. That doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience, but it does happen.

Yes, writing is hard work. Have you ever done anything worthwhile that wasn’t hard? No whining! If the writing isn’t going well, keep going anyway. The object is to finish the damned book. You can always go back and polish and edit. But you can’t polish what you ain’t written. So push through the pain and get to the finish-line. Read Ann LaMott’s invaluable book BIRD BY BIRD. Keep it on your nightstand, or by your computer. I do.

When you have finished your book–and not before you are convinced it is the best book you could possibly write– then you are ready to try to sell it. Unless you truly are the next J.K. Rowling, or Candace Bushnell (SEX AND THE CITY), nobody in New York gives a rat’s ass about your IDEA or FRAGMENT. Yes, dears, you do have to write the WHOLE book before you sell it. Usually. Unless you’re the exception to the rule. Maybe you are, but I doubt it. Now you go back and do more market research. Who is publishing books like yours? Are they currently buying? What agents represent authors like you? Check the acknowledgement page on novels you like, lots of times they thank their agent and or editor. Check The Writer’s Market, which should be available at your local library for listings of agents and editors, but make sure you’re reading the most current market guide available.

While you’re studying Writer’s Market, make sure you understand manuscript mechanics. By this, I mean formatting, ect. Once your manuscript is clean and properly formatted, you’re ready to start submitting. Again, go back to the library to check out reference books about marketing a book to find out how to write query letters. Good luck!

The Fixer-Upper: Stick a fork in me—I’m DONE!

I am beyond thrilled and amazed to announce that I finished THE FIXER-UPPER at 4:55 p.m. EDT today. Yayayayayay! As has been my tradition upon finishing a book–and this is my 18th time–I toasted myself with some favorite treats. Usually, I wash my celebratory Reese’s down with Wink, the delightful grapefruit soda of my youth. Unfortunately, I forgot to pack the bottle of Wink I’ve been hoarding since spring, for the trip to Tybee. The Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon made a tasty substitute, but it just ain’t Wink.
Tragically, you can no longer buy Wink in Georgia, because I guess they don’t have a distributor down here. I bought my bottle of Wink back in the spring, when I was on my writing retreat at Holden Beach with the Inksters. Anyway, here’s to me! Technically, of course, I’m far from finished with THE FIXER UPPER. The manuscript you see in the photo here is not a pretty thing. It is a bloated disgusting mess at this point, full of pointless meanderings, shoddy grammar, nonexistent punctuation and worse. Fortunately, I have the honor of having an amazing editor at HarperCollins, who is even now sharpening her red pencil in preparation for whipping this beast into shape. Here’s to Carolyn! Burp. Excuse me. That’s the bourbon talking, not me. Soon Carolyn will have me slaving away over revisions, slashing thru the excess and the absurd. And then comes the fun part. We figure out zingy candy colors for the jacket. We finalize the jacket art and talk about marketing this puppy. And I get about 27 minutes off, until I start all over again on a new book. Oh the horror! Oh the sublime, blessed joy of making a living off what you love to do. Thank you, dear readers, for making it all possible.

Sneak Peek

The worst part about coming home from a buying trip is the un-loading and un-packing. The fun part is the hunt, and then the fluffing. After a 14-hour drive Friday–much of it through driving rain, Beth and I made it back to Raleigh, and then I drove another six hours to get home to Atlanta Saturday afternoon. Today I unpacked my treasures. So, here’s a sneak peek at some of the goodies. The quilt has wonderful colors and detailed quilting, but the red dyes in old fabrics frequently made the fabric weak, so the red stars have some wear. Still, the wonderful red, white and blue colors and the graphic appeal of the stars would look wonderful as a wall hanging, or even folded at the foot of a bed or in a cupboard. I fell hard for the vintage Georgia and Georgia Tech pennants, which are framed, and you can see a representative assortment of other stuff too. Not shown is the great pink and white quilt, which is being laundered with Oxy-Clean. I don’t know what’s in that stuff, but I swear, it works wonders. Two weeks ago, a friend’s son knocked over a full glass of red wine on the sisal rug in the living room. She brought over a steam cleaner to try to clean it, but it only turned the wine stains black. The next day, I gave it two applications of spray-on Oxy-clean, and voila–the stains disappeared. Also not shown is the wicker highchair, which is a work in progress. It’s Heywood-Wakefield, complete with worn label on the underside. I’m painting it Seaside Green, and then it’ll get a vintage barkcloth seat cushion. The three-panel cottage screen will also undergo a transformation, with a new paint job and some shirred fabric. I’ll try to post them when my projects are completed. As usual, I’m torn this week–between getting my Brimfield goodies priced and ready to take down to Seaside Sisters–and writing. But writing must win. Mustfinishbookmustfinishbookmustfinishbookmustfinish….

Bye-Bye Brimfield!

After three days of serious, kick-ass, hard-core junking, junk sistah Beth and I are packing up to go home. The van is full, our bank accounts near-empty, and we are, as my daughter Katie would put it, “tore up from the floor up.” But it was loads of fun. If you are a junk novice, let me just tell you that the Brimfield Antique Market is the largest antique market of its kind in the U.S. Estimates vary, but I’ve read that at least 2400 dealers from around the world set up here in these former pastures in the tiny town of Brimfield, Mass. And buyers come from around the world too, especially antique dealers, who come to re-stock their shops. I’ve bought tons of goodies for my booth at Seaside Sisters, at Tybee Island, Ga., and Beth has been buying for her business, Knick-Knack Paddywhack, in Raleigh. Fortunately, we are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in the antique world. Beth buys high-end, bona-fide antiques–much of it French or English for her customers. And me? I buy shabby chic, retro, funky junky beach house-type stuff. I love to buy original art–amateur oil paintings, water-colors or drawings. I have a weakness for forties and fifties barkcloth, and because our little shop is at the beach, I buy anything nautical. And wicker. And rattan. And McCoy pottery. And architectural salvage. So, a reader asks, what did I buy this week? Three cottagey screens which can be hinged together, with chipped white paint. A pair of fabulous barkcloth pillows in acid green with herons on them. A wicker high-chair, a pair of 1950s-era framed Georgia and Georgia Tech felt pennants, an adorable turn–of-the-century double school desk-table with cast-iron legs. Four children’s English blue willow grill plates. A pine-topped green wicker table. An old-timey bingo hopper, complete with the original bingo balls and bakelite detailing. A pair of small wooden paddles, several paintings, and some great vintage black and white beachy snapshots. For her part, Beth bought several oriental rugs, lots of blue and white English transferware, a pair of 19th century French walnut cane-bottom chairs, a gorgeous French daybed, some silver, and a slew of paintings, including a Florida Highwaymen painting which I covet in the extreme. It’s been a good, fun week. We ate at our favorite food court, New England Motel, pictured above, every day. Beth had lobster, I had pilgrim roll (turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce), and Greek food. The people-watching was great. I saw a dealer who specializes in selling Viking ships (now that’s specialized!), and another who buys full-sized robots and models of flying saucers. Lots of dealers had their dogs in their booths. I saw a huge Robert E. Lee statue. In Massachusetts, yet. Beth had a celebrity sighting–Keri Russell was buying up lots of Swedish antiques. And now? It’ time to head home and try to out-run the tropical storms and hurricanes taking aim at the South. Oh yeah. Time to go home and finish the new book before my editor comes back from vacation.

Book Fair, and Back to Brimfield

The AJC Decatur Book Festival was big fun. Friday night, my friend Jennifer and I went to hear poet Billy Collins at Agnes Scott College. He was wonderful, funny, charming, refreshing, his poems funny and sly and subversive and silly. My favorite part was when he dropped the F-bomb. I mean, the former poet laureate of the United States, and he drops the F-Bomb at a girl’s college. You gotta love it. I got to meet him afterwards, and before-hand, got to meet one of my favorite southern writers, Bailey White. If you’ve never heard her on NPR, or read SLEEPING AT THE STARLIGHT MOTEL, or MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND, you have missed a rare and wondrous treat. She’s got a new book coming out, called NOTHING WITH STRINGS, and I, for one, can’t wait. I met Rick Bragg in the author’s green room too. That’s the great thing about a book festival. One time, I was in the green room at the Miami Book Festival, and Amy Tan came in, with her two eensy-weensy purse puppies, and then Dave Barry came in, and I just took it all in.

We had a very nice crowd for the book festival. Right after my gig at the festival Saturday, I ran home and jumped in the 10-ft. cargo van and hot-footed it up to Raleigh to pick up junk sistah Beth. Sunday morning, we lit out for Brimfield, which turned out to be a 14-hour odyssey, due to traffic jams on various turnpikes. But we are here, we have done a reconaissance around the fields, and have set our alarms for—buttcrack of dawn, or as some people call it, 4 a.m. All the antique fields are supposed to be officially closed today, but I snuck in, and the first person I ran into was Bob, who sold me my bathtub and kitchen sink at Scott’s in Atlanta. The junk world really is a small place. A few years ago, on my first junking trip to England, I ran into a dealer friend from Atlanta at the antique fair in Ardingly. Tomorrow, I junk for joy!

Hey from Ellijay

I’m back in the beautiful North Ga. mountains, trying to pound out another fifty pages. It’s hard to concentrate at home, there’s always so much going on. Boomerang Boy has left the building! He’s moved into a 150-year-old farmhouse a few miles away, and I’m sending the washer and dryer with him. Let’s see if that motivates him to do his laundry. If he ever gets it all out of my house…Katie and Mark have found a house to rent a few miles away too, so they’ll be moving out at the middle of the month–I’ll miss them, because they’re both so much help, but they are more than ready to be living under their own roof. And Tybee, my grand-dog, wants his own place too. In the meantime, last weekend was bargain bonanza time. Last Thursday, I met Jinxie and two other friends at the Ballard’s Backroom Tent Sale in Alpharetta. Holy smokes! Talk about shopping frenzy. If you’ve never seen the Ballard’s Design catalog, you should check it out. The Alpharetta backroom is their catalog outlet–lots of scratch and dent and discontinued items usually. But this was the biggie. The joint was swarming with women, scratching and clawing to get at their bargains. I somehow managed to score a 9-by-12 sisal rug for $150–regularly about $450, and a pair of way cool silver metal wall sconces for Boomerang Boy’s room at the beach. I paid $30 for the pair, I think. And then….I stood in line for nearly two hours waiting to pay. Later in the weekend, Jinxie and I hit some more estate sales. I scored a great oak dresser to put in my antique booth. And by Sunday, I’d painted it a soft sea-glass green enamel, and added glass knobs and handles. Jinx and I went back to the Ballard’s backroom outpost on Howell Mill Road because we were in the neighborhood, and I made another excellent find. Fabric remnants were on clearance, and I managed to round up enough yardage, like 27 yards in all, of white cotton duck. The biggest piece was 15 yards, and the rest of the yardage was in one and two yard remnants. But that’s okay, because I’ll use the duck to have a slipcover made for my $175 Baptist yard sale sleeper sofa for the beach, and my friend Tacky Jacky, the slipcover sorceress, assured me that will be more than enough for what we need. The cost came out to be like, $2.40 a yard! And then I struck gold again, finding a 21-yard bolt of gorgeous beach-glass blue paisley cotton fabric for about the same price. My plan is to use the blue fabric for cushions for the forties rattan armchairs I’ve been hordeing for nearly two years, plus throw pillows, and maybe some window treatments. I brought a swatch of the fabric up to the mountains with me. And I like to look at it, and visualize what my beachy living room will look like. Pathetic, huh? In the meantime, I’m churning out those pages of The Fixer-Upper. Gotta reach my quota of 50 pages, because this is a Scott’s Antique Market weekend coming up. No junking for me ’til the pages are in.