Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | January 28, 2011

Writing Richmond: James River Writers Writing Show recap

The news plays in the background as I write. Our city seems far from virulent protests, but this place, like many cities, has a history of fire in the streets and violence. The contrasts of growth and war, want and affluence were discussed last night during The Writing Show’s Writing Richmond: Researching and Capturing Our City in Fiction and Nonfiction with Rebekah L. Pierce, Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, and Brooks Smith, but the panel was far from morose. Banter flew between the three panelists and moderator Kris Spisak, and the audience often erupted in laughter. In the end, the city’s plethora of resources and admirable history left the strongest impression.


Make friends.

Rebekah, author of Murder on Second Street, researched by driving the streets and visiting museums, but a wealth of fact and detail came from talking with mentors and local historians, people who knew her setting of 1929 Jackson Ward. Oral history from a 93-year-old resident provided crucial information, and he read the manuscript for accuracy. Elizabeth reiterated the need to rely on others’ expertise; Thalhimers department store gurus aided her six years of research for Finding Talhimers. Brooks shared how he called Shirley MacLaine to discuss her and her brother Warren Beatty’s childhoods in Richmond, an hour-long chat that revealed Shirley’s first out-of-body experience involved a Richmond tree.

Reach out.

“Do not be afraid to reach out to people,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “The worst that will happen is they think you’re crazy.” She, like many of us, confessed to being intimidated to call authors, but they were receptive to her inquiries, even aiding with content and structure. So how did she do it? She called them up, told them about her research, and invited them to lunch. Simple.

Verify resources.

What to do about the vast amount of content, true and suspect, on the Internet? When writing Murder on Second Street while caring for a her newborn, Rebekah used the Internet for research, but checked each fact in other sources, such as government and school websites and discussions with professional and amateur historians. Brooks suggested looking into Google Books and Google Scholar for resources. Elizabeth said aspects of her book would not have been possible without Internet research. When tracing her family’s German heritage, the Internet allowed her to pinpoint their hometown and discover a book about that town. She called the book’s author and then met her during a research visit to Germany.

Be wary of Poe.

Brooks suggested a hearty dose of skepticism for stories related to Richmond’s most notable writer. There is a legend of Poe scribbling away on a hidden floor of Pratt’s Castle, a romantic image, but Poe died in 1849; construction on Pratt’s Castle began in 1853.

Read first-person accounts.

How do you accurately write sensory details of a bygone era? Answer: turn to letters, diaries, and newspapers. Diaries and letters capture the city through one person’s eyes and give an intimate look at the day-to-day city. Elizabeth suggested newspapers, which were more pedestrian, and conversational in years past, even describing the smell of pigs in the 19th century streets.

Shake Richmond.

History is hiding in boxes of papers and paraphernalia in Richmond’s attics. Elizabeth said she often visualizes flipping Richmond over and shaking it to see what gems fall out. Since Richmond can’t look like a scene from Inception, the next best option is to ask. Locate people close to your topic and politely ask what is in their attic. You’re not asking to root around and keep what you find.

Tell a story.

“Why are there no more fiction stories about Richmond?” Brooks asked. Our city is worth discussing. “There is the obvious Richmond,” Elizabeth said. “If you go beyond that you find the real Richmond.” Look for the unknown stories and share them. Rebekah, who faced Richmond’s stigmas before moving here, hopes telling the city’s stories will make people less likely to judge it because of its past, and instead see the beauty of its future.

Know your audience.

All three authors on the panel lack publicists and large publishing houses, but they know grass-roots marketing. They sell through museums, their websites, local independent bookstores, and other city venues, and visit book clubs and give lectures. They contact local media outlets to pitch their books. Each emphasized the need to work hard and approach publishing and marketing in a calculated way. After publishing three books, Brooks says the key is to connect with people who share the passion that led you to write the book.

Love your librarian…

…and museum archivist and author and neighbor. But especially love your librarian. They might have exactly what you’re looking for or know where to find it.

Thank you to panelists Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, Brooks Smith, and Rebekah L. Pierce. The Writing Show will come back to the Children’s Museum of Richmond on February 24. All writers and readers are warmly welcomed. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Student tickets are $5. Visit James River Writers website for more information.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | January 19, 2011

Happy birthday, Mr. Poe

A big thank-you goes to the folks at Fountain Bookstore for reminding us that today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. After the deaths of both his parents, young Edgar moved in with Richmonders John and Frances Allan. It gives me a little thrill to think that “America’s Shakespeare” is one of the river city’s most famous natives. Celebrate and learn more by going to The Poe Museum.

And enjoy Christopher Walken’s reading of “The Raven” shared by Fountain.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | January 13, 2011

Something to do this weekend: MarsCon

Call me an incorrigible geek. Go ahead, many have. I don’t mind, ’cause it is true. And my latest geek-out is about MarsCon, happening this weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia. MarsCon is an annual science fiction convention that brings out authors, artists, musicians, costumers, readers, and Richmond’s own Pamela Kinney, who writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, and ghost stories. You’ve likely seen her books Haunted Richmond and Haunted Virginia on shelves all over town. Pamela also writes romance as Sapphire Phelan.

Also on the guest list are Shannon K. Butcher and New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher. Shannon writes books that have brawny men with swords on the covers (as you may know, not what I read), and Jim writes urban fantasy with a brooding Harry Dresden on the covers (yeah, read them a couple of times).

Festivities start tomorrow evening and continue through Sunday. You can buy tickets at the door, and they’re priced for the weekend or per day. Come out and support a Richmond author and geek-out with the rest of us. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go find a costume….

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays and last minute gift ideas

Happy holidays!

I hope you’re all home with family, safe and relaxed, far from the bustle of last-minute purchasing, but if you’re like me and still searching, I have an idea to get you home to eggnog sooner. Head over to one of RVA’s independent bookstores for personalized suggestions for everyone on your list. If you go to Fountain Bookstore, you’ll get attractive wrapping like the ones above. Ten minutes in the store, and we had autographed copies for folks on our lists and didn’t even have to wrap them secretly in the back bedroom to avoid prying eyes. I know Fountain and Book People are open today. Call your local indie to find out their holiday hours. And enjoy your eggnog, gingerbread cookies, book reading, and family time.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | December 14, 2010

James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel Contest Deadline

Hello, all! I’ve missed you the past week. I promise not to fall off the Earth again, and to make up for it in some small way, here is the new pup in the River City:


But he is not the BIG news. The BIG news is James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel Contest and its approaching deadline. The first-prize writer will receive $500, publication of an excerpt in Richmond magazine, a ticket to the 2011 James River Writers conference, and feedback on the manuscript. Finish polishing your manuscripts, stop stressing out about them, and put them in the mail with a postmark by tomorrow, December 15. You can find out more about it from James River Writers.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | December 1, 2010

Book People bookstore celebrates 30 years

Happy 30th birthday, Book People

Get out your birthday hats, because today is Book People’s 30th birthday. Yesterday, I stopped by Book People to talk with owner Ruth Erb and Book People’s wonderful staff about serving the community for three decades and their upcoming celebration. There was laughter and a few misty eyes as booksellers shared stories of 30 years of finding the perfect book for a customer.

Read More…

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | November 24, 2010

Short Story Week, November 22-28

Yesterday in
Genreville, Rose Fox recommended National Short Story Week.  So what if it is a British attempt to draw awareness to short stories and short story writers?  American short stories need a little love, too.  This week is a good time to settle down with a book, especially short stories that can be read between checking the turkey and stirring the gravy.  Here are a couple to keep you company on the long weekend.

This Far by Faith includes a story by Richmonder Stacy Hawkins Adams.  This anthology was a first place winner in the 2008 African American Literary Awards Show in the anthology category and an August 2008 Essence Bestseller.

You all know about Richmond Noir, at least you hear me talking about it enough.  It is noir with a Richmond focus by Richmond authors.

Belle Boggs’s Mattaponi Queen, a collection of connected short stories won the 2009 Katharine Bakeless Nason Publication Prize for Fiction.  “Deer Season,” the opening story, begins, “On the first day of deer season the high school is deserted by all the boys.”  Hunting season is an institution back home, one that comes to the forefront on Thanksgiving weekend.

Take a look at Clay McLeod Chapman’s Rest Area. It is the first collection by the creator of the acclaimed Pumpkin Pie Show.

Or read from Blackbird, the online journal of literature and arts from VCU.

And, of course, there is the old favorite, Mr. Poe.

If you’re on the way out of town and don’t have time to run by one of the local independent bookstores to pick up a copy or get more recommendations, check out some short stories online by these authors: Susann Cokal Colleen Curran, Virginia Pye, and Bill Blume.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | November 17, 2010

Event recap: Cherie Priest at Fountain Bookstore

Last night, Adam and I met the lovely Caroline from Fantastic Fangirls: Comics and Culture and squeezed into Fountain Bookstore to hear Cherie Priest read from her new steampunk novel, Dreadnought.  I never read steampunk until the folks at Fountain turned me on to it.  Now Adam and I are recommending Cherie’s books to family and buying them as Christmas presents.  And I spent far too long last night tweeting with Adam (yes, we were in the same room) and our friend Chris about the event and steampunk couture. Read More…

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | November 12, 2010

1200 Richmonders can’t all be crazy, right? NaNoWriMo & RVA

Day twelve of National Novel Writing Month: 1200 people across the Richmond region type frantically to reach today’s goal of 20,000 words.  Will they make it?  Municipal liaison Jean Anderson believes they can.  Throughout November, Jean emails encouragement and organizes write-ins across the metro area to spur people toward the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days.  Jean was kind enough to take a break from novel writing to answer a few questions about NaNoWriMo.

Why do you participate in NaNoWriMo?

I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, but the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood have over the years eaten the time I used to lose myself in writing and leisure reading. NaNoWriMo gives me a concrete and specific space in my life to indulge again. Read More…

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | November 10, 2010

Recent River City Reads

I am a fan of River City Reads, the citywide book club that brings together Richmond readers and local authors for online forums and live discussion.  (The name similarity is a coincidence, I promise.)   The earlier choices of Richmond Noir, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, and Mattaponi Queen, introduced me to talented authors with distinct voices.  Continuing that trend is The Patterns of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone.  Ms. Rathbone will read and discuss her novel at Gallery 5 on Sunday, November 21, at 4pm.  Pick up your copy from Chop Suey Books before the event and receive a 10% discount.

River City Reads The Patterns of Paper Monsters

From River City Reads

If you want to organize smaller gatherings or bring the titles to your established book club, River City Reads will provide a list of topics to spark discussion.  For more information, visit or stop by Chop Suey Books.

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