A little magic to light up your day

Last year I attended a conference full of amazingly talented women. It was there that I met Reba Birmingham, author of Floodlight and Words on a Plate. Her gentle aura and genuine respect for our craft drew me to her, and by the end of our time in PA I considered her my friend. This year we cannot gather at a conference or celebrate Pride in a large group of connected friends and strangers, but we can celebrate those who have meaning in our lives. Today, I celebrate Reba.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us! To start, introduce yourself to us in whatever way feels most comfortable to you. 

I am a Native Californian, and live 15 miles from my birthplace. My parents were from the South, so I have always felt an affinity for the Southern culture. My wife was born in Chatanooga, and encourages my writing. “Do you have something to read to me?” She often says upon waking. We are both attorneys.

If you could live anywhere on this planet, and take everything that you love with you, where would you choose to live? 

I’m torn between Costa Rica, the Pacific Northwest and an old house with land in the Southern U.S.

Well, you know I would vote for the southern U. S., but Costa Rica is a great, too. Speaking about places to live, you have two books out in a series that deal with the mingling of our world and the fairy world, an intertwining of ordinary and magical. Tell us about Floodlight and Words on A Plate. How did you come to write them? Why a series? 

My friend Jennifer withdrew and I was trying to coax her out of isolation. I wrote the opening to Floodlight which involves a restaurant, Utopia, we all once enjoyed (She with her wife, me with mine). She sent back two words by email. “More story.” So I kept feeding that until the characters started talking to me nonstop. Eventually, it felt they were busy even when I was away. Jennifer still has an Emily Dickinson quality to her, frail and otherworldly muse.  
I have heard that readers like things in threes.

Will there be a third in the series?

Yes, “The Wolf You Feed” has been written and is going through the first round of “content” editing. This process has been slowed considerably by the pandemic. 

Great title! You write fantasy. What kind of research does this genre demand, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I Google. I read Popul Vuh, the origin story for Mayans (much like the Adam and Eve myth but theirs) for the second book, which involves a Jungle trek in Peru, the rest is pretty much what I see swirling around me in Southern California. 

Speaking of research, what are you working on now?

I can’t tell you the title, because it is so good I might trademark it! It is a new story about a woman who has a special ability. She lives in Los Angeles and it is a murder mystery. Sorry to be so cryptic but the I am 25,878 words in and can’t wait to share it in due time. 

I so want to hear more, but I get the need to share only when the work is ready to be shared! I understand you have dipped your toe into audiobook creation. How did you come to be exploring this new world?

Some people told me “I want to read your book but I just don’t read. Let me know when you have it on audio! Another said, “I want you to read to me.” Since it was impractical to go to their homes, audio book seemed the next natural step. 

Give those of us who are also considering it some pointers, please.

Choose a quality studio to do your audio book. It is a lot of work and your voice will be raw. Stay in a hotel while you do it (it may take three days) and don’t bring anyone with you. Save your voice. I was in a studio near my son and we went out after my first six hour day of reading and had barbeque and talked in a noisy restaurant. Don’t do that.

Good advice. I really dig some of your name choices for your characters, especially Panda. How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

The first two books have at least three strong stories interwoven through them. Lots going on! One of the stories is about an art exhibit at the local museum. Floodlight is the exhibit in the first book (obviously) where “International performance artist Fiona Castlebaum lights up alleys and photographs what she finds.” The second is Words on a Plate. The idea for this one, also named after an art exhibit, stuck in my mind and wouldn’t let me go. People have these awkward conversations, where they process their words and calculate the effect before speaking. The art show paired these type of slogans, comments and vows with images (pictures) that reveal the true meaning underlying them. Sometimes in, especially, a politically charged situation, I see people measuring their words and picture them on plates–but that’s just me, lol.

rebabirmingham.com

Venturing away from writing a bit, tell us, are you a morning person or a night person?

Easy. I start writing at 5:45 a.m.

If you had your own talk show, who would be your first three guests?

You and Patty Schramm and Lori Lake all in a pile would be show one. (I know I’m cheating). Assuming they would say yes, Karin Slaughter and then Juliet Blackwell.

What’s your favorite material object that you already own?

So many! My handmade cowboy boots come to mind.

Okay, one more: Where can we find you on social media?

FaceBook, Instagram, RebaBirmingham.com

Thank you so much for hanging out with me. I cannot wait to read The Wolf You Feed!

Pride Month 2020

Today marks the first day of PRIDE MONTH 2020. It is weird to have no plans to go downtown, no plans to wrap myself in a flag with my children and grandchildren, no plans to kiss my wife in front of the protestors who always gather along the parade route.

Instead, I will will stay at home, safe from the virus that threatens so many of us. For me, and by extension for my wife, there is no taking a chance. My grandkids can’t hug me. My kids can’t drop by. Everything has to be planned, masks have to be worn, distance must be kept.

I will watch through the window as protesters march in solidarity of our black and brown brothers and sisters at a time when we should instead be chanting, “Love is Love” and laughing with one another, at a time when we instead are reeling from the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer and the abhorrent treatment of Christian Cooper. The hatred in the world right now is almost unbearable, yet we must bear witness and speak out and stand up. Our future depends on it.

This month is a time to remember another time of unrest, a time of rage and fervor caused by the Stonewall riots. These riots helped catapult the LGBTQ movement to a new level. A year later, the anniversary of these riots was marked by demonstrations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Those early marches, a mix of pride and politics, drew only a few hundred people, but they led the way for the Pride Parades of today that often include hundreds of thousands of beautiful people coming together to celebrate life and love.

Remember when we had a real president? From 2009 through 2016, President Obama officially declared June as LGBT Pride month. Because of Stonewall, and because of so many other struggles and protests and pain through the years, today we can get married and legally adopt children in all 50 states.

This is what Pride Month is about. We may not be able to come together in the ways we have become accustomed to doing, but we can still let our voices be heard.

To celebrate the first day of Pride, I will take life one day at a time, send private messages, write posts on Facebook, send letters to senators, stay home when I can and wear a mask when I cannot, and reach out to those I love to offer words of strength and hope. It isn’t how I intended to spend Pride 2020, but it is our reality. I love you all, and I hope for each of you moments of joy and laughter as we fight for a more colorful tomorrow.

Peace.

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Sandman

what an honor to be reviewed on another blog site.
❤🧡💛💚💙💜

IN BUGS’ OWN WORDS

– by Tammy Bird

One word. Sandman. On the book cover. The text almost translucent, as if trying to hide in plain sight with its colour melding into the sandy beach with an ominous-looking sky looming above the troubled waters.

What is Sandman?

When I first heard about Tammy Bird‘s debut novel, “Sandman,” I was immediately curious. First, the cryptic title, which set my mind whirling trying to ascertain its meaning or symbolism. The aesthetically unsettling cover closed the deal for me. SOLD.

Then, the fact that the revealed plot from the blurb was twofold – a search-and-rescue effort post-hurricane and what was lurking in the sand dunes. I thought that was a fascinating approach to writing in the crime thriller genre in lesfic. Needless to say, I utterly enjoyed the story as a whole. I was glad to discover that there were more than met the…

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PRIDE 2019: What I didn’t know

June is pride month. This year I decided to post a PRIDE picture to Instagram each day of the month. I thought it would be a fun way to get people to think about our community. What I didn’t count on was how much I would learn about our history.

06stonewall31-articleLargeI knew this year marked 50 years since the Stonewall riots. I knew that Stonewall Inn was located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, that within two years it become the largest gay establishment in the United States, and that it catered to drag queens, transgender people, male prostitutes, and homeless male teens.

I didn’t know that the Stonewall Inn was Mafia run or that the mafia paid the Sixth Precinct of the NYPD a monthly stipend of $1,200 to keep the club running with minimal police interference.

I did know that patrons were charged just to walk in the door, because that was still the case the first time I walked into a lesbian bar in 1983.

hershee.jpgThe bar was the Hershee Bar in Norfolk, Virginia. It had just opened. I paid $2.00 to a large bouncer who would stand guard and warn us if something was amiss. Even in 1983, there was a police raid during the first night of operation. Afterward, Annette Stone, an inspiration and hero to many women, installed a warning light above the dance floor that would flash to let patrons know that police were coming. I remember quietly fleeing when it flashed.

I didn’t know that the State Liquor Authority at this time considered any establishment that served alcohol to gay customers to be “disorderly houses” or places where “unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public.” Because of this, the inn was known as a “bottle club,” meaning it didn’t need a liquor license because guest brought their own bottles.

Except they did sell liqueur.

I didn’t know that they didn’t have running water behind the bar. No. Running. Water. Glasses were not really washed. Instead, they were only rinsed in sinks of stagnant water that grew increasingly filthy as a night wore on, and this was sited as the cause of a hepatitis outbreak in 1969.

I didn’t know that Stonewall Inn, just like so many other establishments that catered to our lgbt community, had toilets that were overflowing and no fire exits.

I knew that fifty years ago it was risky to visit bars that were known to accommodate lgbt clientele. I just didn’t realize how much, and I also didn’t realize how much I have been a part of that change. I guess we don’t think about it as much when we are doing it.

Things have changed. We can marry and love and move about with less chance of harm. Thinking about the last fifty years has taught me that less chance of harm is not good enough. There are still few monuments or places where we can go to stand in our history. We must not loss site of this.

I am proud to be queer and so thankful for everyone who has fought, and everyone who continues to fight, for our civil rights.

Happy PRIDE.

Additional information:

For an interesting account of the Stonewall riots, check out the radio documentary that uses views of the participants as it examines the gay life both before and after the event.

Ripples author,Evan Williams

I love it when I find another local author. This week it is my pleasure to interview Evan Williams, a fellow North Carolinian writing from the Asheville area.

Hi Evan. I read that you entered your first writing competition in sixth grade and won second place. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and tell us how your writing has changed since the day you held that nifty winner’s plaque?

IMG_4403Hey, Tammy. The hey is a mountain thing or maybe more an identifier that the natives here use to distinguish themselves from the huge influx of folks who have moved in from parts wide and far. My own ancestors arrived here pre-Revolutionary War. They came. They saw. They liked. They stayed. To which I add that we obviously have no ambition whatsoever.

The common thread among my Williams family is farming, apples for sure. I marvel at the tenacity of settlers to these mountains faced with clearing virgin forest with nothing more than oxen or mules and hand tools. Every fifth tree at that time was an American Chestnut known to grow several feet in diameter.

I cannot even imagine.

The stubborn, independent streak required of those pioneers has transfused directly down to me.

I began school at the same building which both my parents attended and three grandparents as well. My first grade year was the last for a teacher who had taught all those family predecessors, which is a prime indicator of the closeness and heritage in my small, agricultural community.

From my enthusiastic, country kid writing, a brilliant middle-school teacher forced me to compose a collection of poems and later, a short story. Now, I attribute the miles and years as having transformed my burgeoning paradigm.

I wrote short stories and poems mostly for my own consumption until health issues more or less forced me to seriously consider the less physical career of writing.

Now, perhaps the only caveat I impose on myself is a desire to compose work which will prick readers’ hearts and even prod drowsy minds. Relevant, plausible fiction which encompasses the complexities of human behavior is my only guideline. 

That is the perfect segue into a discussion of your novel Ripples. It draws heavily on your family’s multi-generational apple-growing business and most definitely focuses on the complexities of human behavior. 

Yes. I’m at least the seventh consecutive generation of apple-growing Williamses. It may go further back, but I can’t say for certain. My mom’s family also grew apples, the two farms less than a mile apart.

Like Ben Bramley, the novel’s protagonist, I grew up next door to my grandparents. The oldest of three grandsons, we all worked long hours in what was truly a family business.

When considering the setting and circumstances for my novel, I fell back on the most familiar. The shoulder-to-shoulder work in the orchard provided the friction which comprised much of my story-line. That balance of learning to get along, bite one’s tongue, develop alliances, and even harbor secrets, is the perfect dynamic for illuminating longstanding hurts and tragedies in RIPPLES. Add in fundamentalist church doctrines, and the result is a minefield of potential catastrophe for boyhood Ben Bramley. 

The cover seems to capture the feel of the story very well. Tell us about the process for coming up with the design.

All hale Olivia M. Croom, cover designer! All hale!

Truly glad to hear that you like it, Tammy. The process made it plain to me that I am not so detached or Zen as I would like to think. Part of my overall creative process involved the use of Pinterest. Long before the manuscript was complete I began saving images to a board entitled “Cover Ideas for My Next Book.” That board grew to 2.3k images—maybe a few degrees beyond obsessive.

Southern Fried Karma (SFK Press) allowed me to submit ideas and asked questions about my desires and pet peeves, to which I submitted several options.

What followed was a round where Olivia returned multiple designs for me to appraise and then took into account my comments. She implemented the font for the cover that I had been using for years on the cover page of my manuscript. To use any other would have seemed traitorous.

I have since learned that few publishers take into account the desires of authors where cover design is concerned. For that I am grateful. 

What is the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book? 

Many authors, maybe most, are outliners. Not me, unless you consider the mishmash in my head. But halfway through the first draft of RIPPLES I realized that if I had a whiteboard the size of a barn, I could not have outlined or organized the thousands of details which I tracked mentally: What color are Granny Bramley’s eyes? What was the dog’s name? Did I already reveal this fact or simply allude to it? How old is Ben in this scene?

Thousands of little details.

Were it not for the little binoculars icon on the Microsoft Word page which allows me to search an entire document by specific words and terms, I would have been sunk or perhaps institutionalized. 

What would you like readers to know about your book that might not be apparent with the reading of it alone? 

RipplesTattRIPPLES is deeply personal to me. So much so that I got the cover art tattooed onto my right forearm—my first and only ink.

That is so cool!

It has taken me fifty-nine years of life experience to be able write this book. No shortcuts and no self-censorship. Everything, and I mean everything I have has gone into my writing and I hope that resonates with the reading. 

Do you have any writing quirks that you can share with us? 

I take a poetic approach to the prose which I write—counting the number of syllables per sentence, any repeating vowel and consonant sounds of words in proximity to one another, and a great deal of reading aloud to discover anything halting or otherwise awkward.

Having drawn a reader into suspending reality, I won’t abide any poor word choice, shotty phrase, overused word, or lack of smooth continuity to derail their dream state. For that reason I also work hard at transitions between sentence end and new sentence resumption, in addition to paragraph transitions, and I heed sentence and paragraph lengths to keep from lulling the reader into a monotonous pattern.

I read the book. It certainly isn’t going to lull anyone into a monotonous pattern. Can you give us a rough timeline of how the book came together?

May, 2013, I began the MFA Creative Writing program at Queens University of Charlotte.  I began RIPPLES and had a rough manuscript completed by graduation to fulfill my graduate thesis requirement.

Continuing to refine it after graduation, I submitted it to SFK Press’ novel contest in 2017 and heard that though I would not win, they considered it a “keeper.”

What followed from SFK was an editorial letter from a professional book developer. Her insights and suggestions instigated six months’ worth of major re-writing and reformatting, yielding a sizable chunk of new scenes and plot turns.

After submitting the new and improved manuscript, it and I underwent another six months involving three rounds of revisions and two proofreads. The brief period between the final proofread of the eBook version and the release date of April 9th should have come as a relief but the high anticipation made it difficult to patiently endure.

After the writing of a novel, the hard part really begins. What is the best marketing tip you have received?

Take a broad-spectrum approach to marketing, utilizing a long-term view.

Are you working on anything now that you would like to share with your readers? 

My next novel is underway. Collecting information and notating ideas began about a year ago.

RIPPLES’ fictional county in Western North Carolina is the setting, though not much will be mentioned of the small Abundance community. Instead, the focus will be on Groverton, the county seat. The new novel needs a larger populous.

The arrival of an anonymous stranger with a “blasphemous” message threatens the stability of the indigenous religious infrastructure and by virtue, the entire city’s status quo.

Multiple points of view will arise in the story-line as attention shifts to the local individuals and small groups which dare to entertain the siren call. 

Share a favorite photo with us and tell us why it is your favorite.

RipplesThis photo captures the crux of my life and features my latest major accomplishment. The apple trees in bloom in the foreground are those of a large farming family with whom I share both generational history and a property line. Above and beyond those trees lies my family’s property with my home, my son’s home, and our equipment shed roofs in the center. My childhood home, still occupied by my mother, is also pictured along with that of my brother. The Blue Ridge Mountains form a perfect frame of fortifying strength while promising opportunity for endless, outdoor adventure. This is the land that my grandfather taught me to appreciate and ultimately love and every time I view it from the vantage point where this photograph was taken, my heart soars. 

Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about? 

With a few behind me, I am at work scheduling more. September 11th, 2:30 pm, I will be at the Community Room in the Historic Henderson County Courthouse for a reading and discussion with the Courthouse Book Club.  

I love meeting with book clubs. That may be one of my favorite things to do.

Where can readers purchase your books? 

Several independent bookstores have RIPPLES on their shelves. A quick check on INDIEBOUND.org can verify locations, or readers can order directly from their favorite bookstore by following this link.

If you prefer Amazon, it is here, also.

Bookstores or individuals interested in ordering in bulk can do so directly through SFK Press’ website. Bookstores which schedule events with SFK authors will receive an additional discount plus promotional materials and advertising from SFK.

Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you? 

If folks can’t find me on social media, then they aren’t really looking. I’m everywhere and available to interact, especially with readers, other authors, or aspiring authors. After five years of solitary confinement composing my novel, I’m more than ready to discuss it with the reading world.

My media connections include a webpage and a Goodreads Author page. There are also the usual culprits: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Perfect. That’s about all the time we have for today.  

Okay. One more, just for fun. What book is currently on your bedside table?

Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (Personalized and autographed by one of the editors, Meredith McCarroll)

My thanks, Tammy, for offering me this opportunity to talk about my biggest project to date.

Write on!

Evan

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