Newsletters Aren’t So Bad

So I’ve been thinking for years about starting a newsletter, and it always seemed like one more thing on the to-do list. A lot of times, it feels like writing–novels, not newsletters– and family take up nearly every hour in the day. But I just launched my first newsletter, and, surprise! It was kinda fun.

It’s a mix of stories, family recipes, weird details about my dogs, and news about upcoming books.

Here’s a sample…and if you’d like to sign up and read more, just click here . I’ll only send them out once every two months. 🙂



From top left: Me, my great uncle, my grandmother, and my great aunt.


I find that a lot of times when I’m talking about stories, I wind up circling back to family. I certainly made that circle in my first novel, The Well and the Mine, which was set in Carbon Hill, Alabama, in 1931—the time and place of my grandmother’s childhood. The fictional house where the Moore family lives is a copy of the house where my grandmother and her siblings grew up…and where I spent plenty of holidays. I threaded family stories throughout that book, and the textures of the Moores’ lives came partly from my relatives’ memories.

It was a Southern book, through and through. There were black-eyed peas and church revivals and Jim Crow. But I was still sort of stunned when, at event after event, people kept referring to me as a “Southern writer.” I’d never thought of myself that way. I didn’t care for it, honestly. Not because I don’t like Southern novels, but because the label felt limiting. Writers are always told to write what they know, and, true, I had written—in a way—what I knew. But are people who live in California expected to write only about California? Are people in the Northeast expected to only write about the Northeast? I wanted to write about all sorts of places and people, and I didn’t like the idea of geographical boundaries on my characters or settings.

So now—fifteen years after that first novel? Well, I still wince at the Southern writer tag. (I don’t love labels in general.) I’ve written novels set all over the place, so I’d say I’m a writer from the South, not necessarily a Southern writer.

And yet.

Write what you know.

Here’s the thing—no one can escape writing what they know. No matter what characters rise up out of me—an archaeologist in New Mexico or a teenager with a gun or an artist who lived a thousand years ago—and no matter what worlds those characters live in, the questions and possibilities that fascinate me come from what I’ve seen and who I’ve known. When it comes down to it, I know the house my great-grandfather built, where the yard was still littered with chunks of coal. I know how my grandmother always tore her napkin and her gum in half, so she wouldn’t waste any. I know a whole lot of talk about heaven and hell. I know the people who’ve come before me and the places that made them. They are always there, in one form or another.

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