And the winner of the first signed copy of #HowSweettheSoundNovel is……..

20140212-073817.jpgOn Wednesday, I opened up the first of a handful of opportunities for folks to win a signed copy of How Sweet the Sound here at my blog.

And the winner is….

Heather Day Gilbert!!!!!

Congratulations to Heather, a self-described, “a Southern/Appalachian gal,” who loves to be an influencer for books she enjoys. I sure hope she enjoys my Southern tale. Be sure to stop by her amazing blog some time.

And HUGE thanks to all who commented and asked questions. Here they are, along with the answers for you.

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Q: Heather says, “I know I’ve read one of your posts about the wait to get picked up as an author. What did you do to get through that waiting time? And I’m so excited for your book, being a Southern/Appalachian gal myself.”

A: It took me approximately eight years from the time I decided to actively pursue traditional publication until now. I did a lot of things during that time, which I blogged about here. Querying agents and landing a publishing house require patience, because it can feel like all you’re doing is waiting. You get to the point where you’re even grateful for rejections, because at least you’ve heard SOMETHING. But I’d say by far the two most helpful things I did to get me through the waiting were: 1) I wrote a weekly newspaper column–for three years, and for no pay. Sometimes I spat the 500 word article out in an hour. Other times, it took me 3-4 grueling days. But it kept me writing, and kept me humble, and kept me aware of just how much work–albeit fabulous work–writing really is. The second thing I did was focus other hobbies. I believe “art feeds art,” not to mention keeps a dull writer a little more well-rounded, so painting and upcycling furniture on days when the waiting felt particularly painful were great helps to me.

Q:  Cynthia Herron asks, “I’m wondering, how much input were you allowed on the cover of How Sweet the Sound? (I love it BTW!)”

A: The cover design process is pretty fascinating to me, especially as someone who used to work as a graphic designer. First, I collected a bunch of images of currently published book covers I felt resembled the theme and feel of my story, and submitted those to the AMAZING designers at David C. Cook who took it from there. They presented me with three absolutely breathtaking–and completely different–cover options. Seriously, they were each impossibly, incredibly, out-of-this world exquisite. I asked close friends which they preferred, and talked to the design team about my thoughts about each one, and in the end, they chose the current cover from those three designs. I actually preferred a different one, but in the end, I am SOOOO glad they chose this one. I couldn’t have asked for or imagined a more beautiful visual representation of my words.

Q: Kathleen asks, “Will you consider taking up your column again?”

A: I so cherished the opportunity to write my weekly column, Life with a Twist, while it lasted! Finding the blessings and twists of hope in everyday life and finding ways to make social justice issues applicable to suburbanites was a great gift. However, creating and self-editing those seemingly brief, 500 words a week took a lot more time than it appeared. I stopped writing column to focus on my novels, and since my heart–and current workload–remain with novels, that’s where I continue to focus, too. Sometimes I do consider writing columns for a newspaper again, especially when there are down times in the editing process. And I did cut my teeth in journalism. Never say never, as they say!

Q: Alyssa Faith asks, “When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?”

A: Great question, Alyssa. I wish I had a definite answer. The more I’m asked this question, and the more I read other author’s responses to it, the more I’m convinced no one really wants to become a writer–not exactly. I think perhaps when a child first learns that a crayon or a pencil can move along the surface of something … when certain souls learn that the images, then letters, then words of the heart can be pushed out through the hand and appear as tangible color and text … that for certain people, that means of expression becomes a need. Not a decision, but a need, something like breathing for the introvert who holds emotions so tightly within that only the gentle scratchings of a pen can free them to live.

Q: Molly asks, “Where you raised in Alabama? If not why a book set in the South? I will say it’s one of my favorite settings for a book!”

A: I was not raised in Alabama, nor anywhere close to the Mason-Dixon line or I-10. I have great insecurity and anxiety about this fact, that I am a Yankee writing a story about the South. I have vacationed in the area for over two decades, but I am aware this does not count. However, Alabama (the gulf coast, in particular) was where this story had to be told. Only in the ocean air, where the moon tugs relentless against the tide, and where the heat of the day blurs the hard and the concrete could such deep pain and redemption within a story like How Sweet the Sound occur. So, I hope true Southerners will forgive me for barging in to their neck of the woods. Y’all are welcome here in Indiana any time. :)

Q: Debbie asks, “Question, where did the unique names for characters come from?”

Oh, I’m so glad you asked about names! Naming characters is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction. I spend a lot of time researching the origins of names, looking at surname lists from setting regions, and discovering the ancient meanings of names. Sometimes a name on those lists immediately catches my eye, like “Princella.” Other times, I’m surprised when I like a name, and then learn by accident the meaning precisely fits the character, like “Anniston,” named after the town where the Freedom Riders stopped (a fact I learned well after I named her). Every single character I’ve ever named in this novel, and in my second (coming 2015), have deep and rich significance. Not everyone will know this or bother to look up the meanings of those names, but it helps me define and develop the characters as I write. I also believe names empower the characters as a story–and their role in it–unfolds. This reminds me of Isaiah 62:2-3,

“…And you will be called by a new name
Which the mouth of the Lord will designate.
You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord…”

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Thanks again to everyone who commented and asked these fabulous questions.

And again, CONGRATULATIONS to HEATHER DAY GILBERT for winning the very first signed copy of How Sweet the Sound!

Character preview: Meet Anniston Harlan

Though the polar vortex threatens to bring down glaciers anew upon my already ice-age-flattened state, the excitement surrounding the release of my debut novel is warming up! If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my newsletter (on the right hand navigation bar of this page) to catch the latest news and information as the March 1 release date approaches. In the meantime, over the next few weeks, I want to introduce you to a few of the key characters in the novel.

As such, meet Anniston Harlan, the leading protagonist in How Sweet the Sound.

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“I thought I’d lived through everything by the time I was thirteen.”

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So says Anniston in the very first sentence of How Sweet the Sound. Thirteen years old and precocious, through her eyes we watch as crime and tragedy plays out in her family. We watch as she tries to make sense of folks who believe what other people think of them is more important than standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We watch as she finds out how mean the world can be, and that often–too often–that meanness comes from family.

Thirteen.

She thought she’d lived through everything.

And she had, if you count hurricanes and tornadoes, riding the big yellow bus to school, playing in creeks, watching the growth and harvest, the budding and the fall of acres of pecans, and the steadfast love of a father.

She’s spunky and fearless, compliant and shy. She’s sheltered, but she’s a dreamer. She’s wise beyond her years, but young enough to hold on to hope.

This is Anniston, the girl I’ve played with, talked with, laughed with and wept with for the last few years as this story has formed.

She’s lived through everything but freedom…

 And I can’t wait for you to meet her.

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“Like a pecan farmer knows in his bones when his crops are destined for a storm, I always knew something was off-kilter about my family, even before the shootings. Life around here was like a hiccuping movie reel at school, one of those the teacher tries every which way to fiddle with, turning the projector knob back and forth to try to bring focus, glimpses of clarity skipping by, crooked frames never quite settling in.”

~Anniston

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Question for you:

If you’re a fan of coming-of-age and/or Southern fiction, who is your favorite protagonist?

Why? 

Book review: When Mockingbirds Sing, by Billy Coffey

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I’ve never met Billy Coffey in real life. I’ve only had the privilege of knowing him through his writing, which leaves me–as with most anyone who takes the time to read his novels–blessed by the way he wrestles with faith and life through his pen. He’s a storyteller for the ages, who combines enough magic with reality to leave you wondering … and wonder is a hard thing to come by these days.

When Mockingbirds Sing is his third novel, and I dare say his bravest, to date. I’ll start with a synopsis, and end with my thoughts on this special novel. I would’ve offered a give-a-way, but thankfully for me (and sorry for you), he signed the copy he sent me. With my name.

Besides, you’ll want to buy one of your own!

Synopsis

In When Mockingbirds Sing, Leah is a child from away, isolated from her peers because of her stutter. But then she begins painting scenes that are epic in scope, brilliant in detail, and suffused with rich, prophetic imagery. When the event foreshadowed in the first painting dramatically comes true, the town of Mattingly takes notice.

Leah attributes her ability to foretell the future to an invisible friend she calls the Rainbow Man. Some of the townsfolk are enchanted with her. Others fear her. But there is one thing they all agree on—there is no such thing as the Rainbow Man.

Her father, the town psychologist, is falling apart over his inability to heal his daughter or fix his marriage. And the town minister is unraveled by the notion a mere child with no formal training may be hearing from God more clearly than he does.

While the town bickers over what to do with this strange child, the content of Leah’s paintings grows darker. Still, Leah insists that the Rainbow Man’s heart is pure. But then a dramatic and tragic turn of events leaves the town reeling and places everyone’s lives in danger. Now the people of Mattingly face a single choice:

Will they cling to what they know … or embrace the things Leah believes in that cannot be seen?

Review

I’d heard Billy talk about When Mockingbirds Sing, watched the trailer, and still, I had no idea what I was in for when I got into this magical book. The protagonist, Leah, had enough of a combination of innocence and gumption to make me smitten with her within a few pages. The other, wide-range of characters are quite well-developed, interacting with her and the unexpected plot twists in believable ways–which is quite an artistic accomplishment, considering the suspension of disbelief Coffey is asking of his readers.

When Mockingbirds Sing is a book about the possibility of the prophetic in a skeptical world; about the possibility of hope from the overlooked and hopeless; about the possibility of miracles in the midst of mind-numbing realism. Written with deft and thoughtfulness, Billy warms the heart once again, by extracting the extraordinary from the simplest of towns and times. And though the reader might be left with more questions about faith than answers, therein lies the gift of this rare and beautiful read.

Trailer

About the Author

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Billy Coffey‘s critically acclaimed books combine rural Southern charm with a vision far beyond the ordinary. He is a regular contributor to several publications, where he writes about faith and life. Billy lives with his wife and two children in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Visit him at www.billycoffey.com.