Life After Life–Jill McCorkle!

Last night I went to a reading by Jill McCorkle of her new book, Life After Life. I went because Jill is a Southern literary author on par with other women I know and love and respect (are they reading? Hope so! Brown nosing doesn’t work if the ass you’re trying to kiss is completely out of range). And I wanted to hear her speak again. I’d attended a writer’s conference in Chattanooga a few years ago where she gave the luncheon keynotes address, the theme of which seemed to be that she was a proud southern woman who liked to curse, damned all you zealously religious readers who want all southern women to represent a repressed south full of women with all their glory piled up into buns atop their grayed heads and their canckles hidden behind their flowing denim skirts. I like Jill a lot.

Her new novel is apparently about a woman training to be a hospice nurse and we get to live inside the dying minds of her patients in each chapter. I am daunted by the depressing feel to this book, but as the reading and Jill herself proved, there is a going to be a lot of humor there, too. How could I not love a book that includes an English teacher lamenting the fact that her high school students no longer have names like Bill, John, and Ted but are instead named for places and objects, Like Montpelier and Fedora?  This same English teacher wishes dearly for a student to write a tired story of her dying grandmother or a time when a grandpapppy makes them shoot a deer. Instead, she gets nothing but dwarf sex scenes and vampire romances. Dead grannies would be damned good reading after all that nonsense, we are told.

And I can I get up on my soapbox here for small, independent book stores? Carmichael’s here in Louisville hosted the event at their Frankfort Avenue location. Among the audience in attendance last night were several elderly people and they weren’t just cute (though I’m of course obliged to say they were). One bald gentleman wanted to know how she was able to include the experiences of so many elderly characters so vividly in her book. Jill described how lucky she had been growing up to know elderly people. And then the old fellow piped up and said, “You’ve got us pegged!” What a compliment! The bookstore did a wonderful job of advertising, welcoming, and serving us. They had an abundant supply of Jill’s books front and center, ready to go. And they couldn’t have been more helpful in securing a copy of an obscure Charlie Harper coloring book for my son, as well. It should also be noted that my mom, Jymemia Hamilton herself, joined me last night. And it was a wonderful mother-daughter event. My mom even laughed at the dwarf sex comment, and I’m proud of her for it.

I cannot wait to finish Life After Life. No, that’s not true. I cannot wait to be in the middle of it, because once that and David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls are over, I’ll be needing some more reading material. I’ve got lots of summer left!

Who Peed On My Yoga Mat?

Seriously. Who peed? I always try to use either the book title or a pithy comment on the book as a blog post title, but who could improve on a book title like Lela Davidson‘s Who Peed On My Yoga Mat?! This hilarious book dives head-first into the ugly world of suburban motherhood. And while Lela would be the very first to point out her problems are very first world, she doesn’t dodge the tough questions. She refreshingly admits that all grown women are still scared of the mean girls. She also offers the pleasing insight that with wisdom (read: age, like the one I am fast approaching, the big number I refuse to admit is on the cusp of the downhill slide), comes the confidence to ignore those mean girls, once and for all. She admits to not exactly loving Yoga taught by teenagers (GASP! she could totally get kicked out of the carpool for that!!!) and she also admits that suburban moms have sex (and sometimes like it). Don’t worry–it doesn’t get all Shades of Gray-Haired Cougar; she is far too classy and young for that. What I think I love most is she gave me a woman to emulate who is 1) a mom (and has survived intact as a woman) 2) knows about mom jeans and would avoid them 3) can carpool her kids to hockey and soccer and maintain her mystique 4) can dance til dawn and coquettishly relish (and reject) the advances of young men she has the smarts to see right through. This book is laugh-out-loud, lift-you-up funny. The chapter on His Holiness the Dali Lama is freaking awesome (and useful, because I, like Davidson, will get to see him at a large venue here soon and I’m trying, but will surely fail, to read anything the man has written before I see him). She’s real and she’s real funny, you all. Please read!

OH! Read this book! BUY IT NOW!! In Need of Good Wife

Kelly O’Connor McNees thrilled me with her sexy, insightful The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott . But her latest novel, In Need of a Good Wife, promises to be even better. I just love it. I’m on a historical fiction kick, anyway, and this just fits the bill so nicely. I’m only a little way into this new book (it came out yesterday!), but I’m hooked. The story is told from the multiple perspectives of a few young women struggling to maintain their single lives in post-Civil War Manhatten. The men are dead or nearly dead from the recent war. The city is overrun with widows and forlorn young ladies with a paucity of eligible bachelors. A frontier town in Nebraska called Destination is short on desirable women and a very industrious young lady in New York has decided to do some long-distance match-making. The novel feels so well researched, just like McNees’ first book. Details of daily life are woven seamlessly into the narrative–hoop skirts and snoods add to the picture without tripping me up in the story. It’s just delightful. The writing is clean and beautiful and the characters are very, very vivid. I heart this book! Please go buy yourself a copy in hardback today from your favorite indy bookstore–Logo

War Brides

Did you know people in the 1940′s had illegitimate babies?! Oh MY! (please hear the sarcasm in that. Please). But you know, growing up with respectable (nudge, nudge) grandparents, I didn’t realize this happened. Thought teen pregnancy was a new thing, invented by people who wrote scripts for 1980′s after school specials with titles like “Did You Hear What Happened to Marti?”. But no. And in this wonderful story of sisterhood, friendship, and air raids, you get to hear lots of juicy details about the great sins of our foremothers–and their great heroics as well.

War Brides tells the story of 5 young women coming into their own during the start of WWII. I love WWII stories, all those details of home life, wartime in England; it reminds me of my grandparents telling me their own stories about those times. These girls were my grandparents’ age, too, and they are marrying and birthing babies in the midst of bombings and rationing. The distinct voices teeter on the edge of stereotype at times, but oh my goodness-then Bryan gets us to deep into these women’s minds and lives that no, they are not stereotypes, they are a diverse group–an American debutante with dirty laundry, a Cockney girl escaping more than bombs, a vicar’s daughter who we hope will learn to let her hair down (from her Victory roll hairstyle!), an English debutante with her own bad rap to erase, and Jewish refugee learning about love in this middle of it all. I loved this story, right up until it’s strange ending, which I’m conflicted about. Still mulling that part over. But it is, indeed, a GoodRead.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True MemoirGood God almighty, y’all. Jenny Lawson (The Blogess), is just freaking amazingly funny. I picked this book up for that cover–who wouldn’t?! A Hamlet mouse? Alas, poor Yorick?! (which my spell-check is trying to get me to change to “Yo-Rick!” Many of Lawson’s own funniest moments are her frequent battles and existential arguments with spell-check). I don’t know quite what to say, really, except that this is a memoir by an incredibly young woman–she’s in her 30′s–shut up, now, that’s young! And it’s completely worth every uncomfortable moment. I love her disclaimers in the beginning–she tells us right away that we’ll either love her and keep reading smugly while we assume we are cooler than the many, many people who find her crass and offensive and who will stop reading until BAM! she’ll cross over into something we ourselves find a little too much–and then where does that leave us on our own coolness scale?! I want to have Jenny over for drinks–lots of drinks–because she’s cool and because she has anxiety disorder and I don’t think I could handle her sober (either of us sober). It’s a great read–very funny, very disturbing, very quick.

Summertime–and the reading is EASY!

On the IslandI’ve been reading up a storm, following my reading whim, not worrying about lists or deadlines or any of that crap. I’ve been reading The Cove by Ron Rash (LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Spooky, funny, dark!), Nightwoods by Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain author)–another big THUMBS UP (also spooky and dark, not so funny, this one) and more. Went and did Rash’s Saints At the River (didn’t LOVE it, but it gives me hope that authors grow) and The Island (Tracy Garvis-Graves–50 Shades fans take note–it’s a Blue Lagoon slash The Graduate mash-up I did not in fact hate). I’ve also revisited Toni Morrison–Home was a lovely little read–too short–I wish she’s written more. It feels fatigued. Loving her book A Mercy. Seems spooky, a little Beloved going on. It’s time to lay back and read and lap it up and just enjoy. And that’s just what I’m doing.

The River Witch

How could you resist a title like this? I am all ready now to read Ron Rash’s “The Cove” and dive deep into Southern Gothic. This story had me from page one, from the dedication page and the quote from Thoreau:

Though I do not believe
that a plant will spring up
where no seed has been,
I have great faith in a seed.
Convince me that you have a see there,
and I am prepared to expect wonders.

To the ghosty stories that follow, this began as a page-turner. The story switches back and forth between the voices of Roslyn, an injured ballerina who has come to the Georgia Sea Islands to recuperate and restart her life, and a third person version through the eyes of the young girl Demascus, an injured bird of a child wandering motherless on the island. The story weaves magic and love and longing together with faith and fear, roots and wings, and I love how it all comes together. A great summer read.

Soul Music

Terry Prachett, I heart you and your dirty ole soul. Just finished the sixth book in his epic Discworld series and it did not disappoint. Prachett’s books are not formulaic, but there is a familiar rhythm to the stories; here we have musician heroes navigating the newly developed world of “Music With Rocks In,” Prachett’s take on the rock n’ roll of our own world’s 1950′s. The story is also complicated by the idea that great musicians often die young, but in this case, the granddaughter of Death himself has a bit of a crush on the particular Music With Rocks In star of this book and just won’t let him meet an untimely end that would secure his spot in the immortal musicians hall of fame, a la “The Day the Music Died”. We follow the musicians through the dark side of the music world; we watch them duck the rotten fruit and then rise to a stardom that is even more dangerous to life and limb. Along the way, Prachett provides endless laugh aloud moments on each page. Witty and wonderful, just as we knew it would be.

Writing: Rx for Life By Candie Moonshower

Recently, I was rereading an old manuscript of mine—a memoir, as it happens—and in it, I had written: “Storytelling has curative powers.” I’ve always known that is true. The curative power of storytelling has helped me through the best and worst of times in my life. Storytelling is how I cope with my own issues, how I mother my children, how I teach my students—storytelling is how I live.


When I was a child and my father—a career serviceman—was frequently gone, I told myself happy stories of things we would do when he returned. When he didn’t return, because he’d been killed in action in Vietnam, I told myself happy stories of things we might do if he returned. (I never really believed he was dead—the casket was closed and I was a literal-minded eight-year-old.) After my mother (quickly) remarried, I told myself not-so-happy and often rather frightening stories of what might happen if Daddy returned and found his family had been co-opted.


The happy stories made me feel better and gave me hope. The not-so-happy stories were curative in their own way, too—they helped me process the “what ifs” of my upside-down world.


For her own reasons, my mother didn’t want to hear my stories. I began my writing career that year. I taught myself to type because writers type—I’d seen it on TV, so it had to be true. Then I began typing up my little stories, some with happily-ever-afters, and some filled with what I imagined the blood and gore of war would look like.


This was also the year I fully embraced the novel. I had—by necessity—had a short relationship with picture books. I lived in Okinawa from toddlerhood to nearly first grade, and no one ever read to me there. My mother was busy and our mama-san, Kimiko, a Chinese-Ryukan girl, spoke no English. When I returned to the United States and started school, I did not even know the English alphabet—forget reading or writing! I heard the other children talking about reading and writing, and I knew that I had to find the key to unlock that secret world. I devoured picture books but it wasn’t long before I was cognitively ready to move on. By the third grade, the fall after my father’s death, picture books no longer satisfied me. Luckily, I had a librarian who knew me in ways that my own mother didn’t know me. She began recommending books for me to read.


It didn’t take long before I wanted to write a novel, too. I wanted lots of word count to explore my characters’ feelings, and short stories just weren’t enough space for me any longer!


Writing was not an activity that was appreciated in my house. I come from a long line of musicians. My grandfather, Pop Rhinehart, had a successful orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s—my grandmother and my uncle were also in the band, which traveled around the southeast and played the pop music of the times. By the time I came along, Pop had retired from performing and taught music to all the kids in Montgomery County, including my brother and me. My brother was an apt student. He was (and still is) a talented musician, easily taught. He plays any instrument he touches and plays it well. He was my grandfather’s pride and joy. And for my mother, this was familiar ground. Me? Not so much. I did learn how to read music, but I was not a great musician, nor was I motivated to improve. When I should have been practicing the guitar, I was hiding from my mother with my books and my writing notebooks or typewriter.


Since I never had a writer to emulate, it never occurred to me that writing was a viable career option. If someone had told me, “Candie, someday you’ll write for a living,” I would have laughed. I knew I would work—my mother started working in 1966, on the day I started first grade. But the only two things I ever wanted to do—writing and teaching—were dismissed by my mother. “You’ll never make any money at that!” she would say. For her, an occupation was only as worthy as its money-making potential.


While I never really considered “Writer” as a career option, I did secretly yearn for the experience of having someone read a book of mine and proclaim it worthy. Throughout elementary school, there were a number of books I read over and over—The Moffats, Waiting for Marcy, the Trixie Belden mysteries—and sometimes I would reach the end of a book and turn immediately to the beginning and start all over. I longed to write the same kind of book, a book a child would read and read again.


Fast forward twenty years from sixth grade to my early thirties. Through the kindness of a close friend, I had the opportunity to get my first byline in a business magazine. I began writing (and getting paid) as a freelancer about the same time I went back to school and began writing academic papers in earnest. The feedback was good and good for me—it was validating to hear the positive comments (and the checks were a nice plus). But I still never considered myself a “writer.” I never called myself that.


That all changed when I discovered the Internet. (Not discovered it as in the Al Gore sense, but in the dial-up and jump onto the Information Highway sense!) I found the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). I began corresponding with real authors and soon I met actual writers and authors—real people with real books out there and those, like me, who were writing and learning.


Around the same time, my mother called one day to tell me that I needed to come and get the letters she’d saved for me.


“What letters?” I asked.


“The letters I saved for you—the letters your father wrote to me.”


This was a surprise. My mother is not sentimental, and other than a framed photo of my father that I had kept in my room, I don’t remember my mother saving anything of my father’s.

Someone had broken into her basement storage locker, opened her boxes and rifled through her things. The perp had stolen my father’s medals—and the flag that covered my father’s casket. The letters were all there, but they’d been opened and tossed about. I collected them into five packing boxes and took them home.


It took a long while for me to be able to read any of the letters through from start to finish without bawling my eyes out. To hear my father’s words in my mind after so many years was exhilarating—and painful. After a few weeks, I was able to put my grief aside (not fully, but to a certain degree) and read the letters with a more clinical eye. The letters encompassed their marriage—fifteen years—and all the trials and tribulations of the military life.


I discovered a lot about my father that I’d never known. The most important discovery was one that lit that side of my world that had been dark for so long—my father was a writer, a wonderful writer! He had written long, lovely, detailed letters to my mother about the places he was stationed at, the people he encountered, and the people he had left behind—my mother, my brother and me.


This was a legacy that was a long time coming but one that I embraced immediately. My father had been a writer—and I am a writer—and writing is something I share with him. From that moment on, I quit denying that I’m a writer. I started telling people, when they asked what I do, “I am a writer. I write.” And I gave myself permission to leap into writing full time.


In 2003, I received a grant to attend the SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles. I submitted for critique the first few pages of a middle grade novel I was working on about a modern-day girl named Zoey who travels back in time to the winter of 1811 and finds herself in the midst of the New Madrid Earthquakes. Mary Wade—a lovely librarian and children’s author from Texas—critiqued the manuscript and told me she was submitting it for an award—the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was thrilled to hear it. How validating! Even more validating was when I won the award! I thought I’d get a certificate. I didn’t. Instead, SCBWI sent out a press release to editors at the major publishing houses in New York City. Within days, I’d heard from over 20 editors who wanted to see the full manuscript.


There was no full manuscript. There were 40 pages. But opportunity was knocking, and I was prepared, so I told all of them I’d send the manuscript out as soon as I gave it another looksee. Then I finished writing the book. I was ready. I’d been preparing myself for this moment for a long time. After a few weeks, I submitted the full manuscript to 25 editors. I was rejected many times, but an editor at Random House made an offer. The book, The Legend of Zoey, was acquired in April 2004 and debuted in June 2006.


Since then, I’ve published a second book, a biography titled Vivian Vande Velde: Author of Fantasy Fiction, and I’ve written a dozen more manuscripts. Life intervened a few years ago, with my mother’s long and debilitating illness and a full-time (and fulfilling) position as an English professor, but I recently got back in the writing saddle and I’m about to hit the trail.


The Legend of Zoey is a book I’m proud of—besides the Sue Alexander Award, it is a Volunteer State Book Award nominee. Most importantly, it is a book that kids (and adults) have responded to positively.


A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a young person who had just finished reading The Legend of Zoey. She had written to tell me that she loved the book so much that she had finished it and immediately turned back to page one and started reading it again.


I cried. What a wonderful story she had told me. A validating and curative story. And this kind of story is the reason I will keep writing, no matter the vagaries of fate or the economy or the publishing climate. Writing isn’t something I do. Writer is something I am—published or not. I write because I can’t not write. I must tell the stories that are in my head and my heart. The stories keep me sane and happy. The stories cure me.




Candie Moonshower is currently at work writing, revising and querying several middle grade, young adult and adult manuscripts. She has extensive experience leading conference workshops for adults interested in writing or children’s literature. She teaches college English and works regularly as a freelance writer, publishing in regional and national magazines. For more information, visit Contact Candie Moonshower via e-mail at or


School Library Journal wrote about THE LEGEND OF ZOEY:

“Set in two time periods, Moonshower’s novel is a riveting look at actual earthquakes in New Madrid, MO, in 1811-12 and a compelling drama. The narrative alternates between Prudence and Zoey, using a journal/diary format to relate the story. . . . Some clever details are mixed in with the conclusion to give readers a feeling that the whole time-travel incident really happened. Moonshower captures the perfect blend of fact and fantasy, past and present, adventure and characterization to make this a compelling first novel. It’s is a must-purchase for libraries in the Tennessee and Missouri regions. Other libraries should also consider it worthwhile.”


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Sacre Bleu

Chris, we love your f&ckD-UP-ED-NESS. That’s why we read you. Your vampire trilogy, your Lust Lizard, your alien Whales, that’s why we love you. This latest venture into historical fiction just doesn’t ring as true to you. While this book is most definitely f&ckD-up, it lacks your creative genius–it is too hampered by fact. I feel like you wrote this book sotally tober, and I am disappointed in you for that.

This book is roughly about the color blue, the sacred blue used to paint the Virgin’s robes in religious works from the middle ages onward. The term “sacre bleu” refers to the heavens, to the sacred, and is therefore also a curse word. Moore follows Vincent Van Gogh’s last mad, suicidal moments and asks the question, “What kind of man commits suicide by shooting himself in the chest and then walking over a mile to a doctor’s house to seek medical treatment?” Suspicious? Moore was, and thus this book. Moore follows Toulouse-Lautrec as he waddles/limps all over Pigalle, spending his youth in brothels and his mid-days with a baker/painter friend who aspires to artistic endeavors of which his family disapproves. The two together stumble upon the secret to the color ultramarine, the sacre bleu, and the disturbing trend of many of their artist friends succumbing to the madness of syphilis. The two phenomena are related. That’s very Moore for you.

Toulouse-Lautrec is already a Moore character, by all popular accounts: a drunk, a debaucher, a lover of women and wine and weirdness. But the other characters are so boring because Moore is trying so hard to use real people and the research he’s done to write the book. He does a lovely muse character, Bleu herself, and her twisted master, The Colorman. But the other real people muddy the water. The pacing is slow; I found myself wandering over to coming attractions.

The book is beautifully printed; Moore has been so successful he was able to convince his publisher to go to the expense of printing the text in a deep purple instead of black and there are color reproductions of much of the art discussed in the book. I really appreciate those features. But I wish Moore had been a little less pedantic and a little more…inebriated? while composing this one. Still, I give it 4 stars because there are laugh-out-loud moments only Moore could give. And that’s worth quite a bit, at any rate.