Category Archives: Hittin’ the books

Grad school tales

Behind the scenes of writing a book

Helper Harry

Helper Harry

I’ve been blogging about the process of writing my first book for Postscript, the blog of Church Street Coffee and Books. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled to have both my first and second books under contract, but the process isn’t as glamorous as you might think. (That tends to be true of writing in general, don’t you think?)

In my latest entry on Postscript, I offer readers a glimpse into the day-to-day process of writing a book.

There are a lot of mental and psychological gymnastics that go into the book-writing process, at least in my experience. I’ve written about those a fair bit since I began documenting the process of writing my first book. But I haven’t written as much about the nuts and bolts of writing.

Read more “Writing checklist: Research, planning and kittens” at

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Filed under Books, Hittin' the books, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

So, I did this today.

I’ve published 542 posts on this blog over the course of 10-and-a-half years (this entry will make No. 543). That’s a lot of creative output, especially for a hobby, and I’ve long wished for an aesthetically pleasing way to capture those words in print. Years ago, I kept a running Word Document with those entries, and I periodically printed and clipped them into a three-ring binder. That worked OK, but it wasn’t precisely what I was after.

Last month I learned my daydreams could be fulfilled by the Espresso Book Machine. I received a press release announcing that a local Books-A-Million would install an EBM, which allows for on-demand printing of a variety of books as well as self-publishing options. My interest was piqued, and after I told her I wanted an excuse to use the machine, the publicist for the launch party suggested I print a copy of my blog.


Today, that dream became reality. I spent about an hour at the bookstore, working with the technician to ensure that my PDFs met specifications and then watching my book being printed. It was a remarkably simple process, although I must confess I had a few advantages. One, I work in publishing, and so I was already familiar with the process of setting up a PDF. Two, my sister is a photographer and was willing to design the cover for me. (I promise you, it wouldn’t look nearly as professional if I’d taken the project into my own hands!)

I spent a week fussing over the pages, determining which entries to include and which to leave out. (Ultimately, I went for a near-completionist approach. I omitted a few password-protected entries for which I no longer recall the password and a few memes.) I decided to use the font this blog theme utilizes, and then I decided which photos to leave in and which to delete. I wrote an about-the-author blurb (awkward!) and told Cheryl what I hoped to have on the cover. And then I dumped my files onto a USB drive and took them to Books-A-Million.


The final project cost about $39–$20 for the set up and $16 for the printing, plus sales tax. I decided to make this a one-time-only run; while I was eager to hold my blog in printed form, I have no interest in distributing it to others.

And I’ve got to say, it was worth it. I giggled with delight when the book came off the press, and I’ll be working on excuses to use this device again.


Filed under Autobiography, Bits & Pieces, Hittin' the books, Journalism, Reading

The dream that you wish will come true

I’m a writer. I’ve considered myself a writer for as long as I can recall. And so, I’ve dreamed of writing a book for as long as I can remember.

That dream–probably my wildest–is being granted, and I was thrilled when my local coffee shop/bookstore asked me to write about the process for their excellent blog, Postscript. I’ll be contributing to that blog during the next eight months as I research and write, and I’ll likely continue to share as the book goes to press and author events begin. 

I hope you’ll join me on the ride.

The other week I received a thick envelope from my publisher. My signed contract was inside.


And now, I have to write a book.

Read more “The First Chapter: Walking through Publishing with Future Book Author Carla Jean Whitley.” 


Today’s subject line is from “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” because Disney songs are always appropriate.

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Filed under Autobiography, Hittin' the books, Journalism, music

Write me a letter, send it by mail, send it in care of the Birmingham jail

The Birmingham Public Library archives house a wealth of treasures. That isn’t a secret; I first realized that as home-owning friends turned to the archives for historic photos of their homes. For years, the archives’ Jim Baggett and Kelsey Scouten Bates wrote a column for Birmingham magazine–a column that I enjoyed more for its historic value than for the simple fact that I’m employed by the magazine. I love learning about Birmingham’s history, but I’ve always been a bit intimidated to go down to the archives myself.

Until now. I recently became part of the BPL’s young professional board, and our first meeting included a short glimpse of rare books and a presentation from the archives. The library is 126 years old–only 15 years younger than Birmingham itself–and the books, documents and photographs it’s amassed in that time are impressive. The YP members got a glimpse of high school yearbooks from decades ago (I need to go back and see if they’ve got my parents’ yearbooks), and my friend Javacia and I stepped up close and leaned in when viewing an autographed copy of Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Then we moved on to Baggett, who brought out a collection of scrapbooks of former residents. I think we were all enthralled by the stories of Edith Ward, a Birmingham teen who found freedom through her bicycle. She rode her “wheel” all over the city, a controversial act at the time. Preachers would argue that bikes were destroying young women’s morality because the freedom offered meant the women couldn’t be accounted for.

Baggett also showed us a warden’s docket from when Martin Luther King Jr. was booked in the Birmingham jail. Back to back, we got a glimpse of the ways individuals sought freedom–totally different stories, totally different means, totally different types of freedom. But both are part of our city’s history.

The archives contain an estimated 30 million documents and half-a-million photos. Researchers from 35 to 40 states a year turn to the Birmingham collection for research, some of which has shown up in Pulitzer-prize winning books and award-winning films.

My purposes probably won’t result in such grand acclaim, but I’ve got to return to the archives. My family has been in the Birmingham area for generations. There’s so much to learn about our history, both the city’s and my family’s. Part of the library’s role is to “extend the reach of news and information,” as we were told during this meeting. I’m grateful for every visit, which extend the reach of my own.

Today’s subject line is from “Birmingham Jail” by Darby and Talton. Read more about this and other Birmingham songs in Burgin Mathews’ “Thirty Birmingham Songs.” The fifth #bloglikecrazy topic was to write something from notes I’ve taken at an event. I jotted down these notes with the intention of writing this entry, which probably wouldn’t have actually happened without this challenge. I’ve already carried that scrap of paper around for weeks!

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Filed under #bloglikecrazy, Autobiography, Hittin' the books

My fingers wrap around your words

Tonight I broke into a little dance when I left the library.

Sadly, that’s not an entirely unusual thing; I think it’s becoming an annual tradition. The occasion? The Friends of Emmet O’Neal Library Book Sale.

Last year was my first visit to the sale, and the trip resulted in the purchase of 36 books for $7. I’ve been talking about the event ever since.

My strategy this year was to begin with the Friends Preview Party on Thursday night, then return on Sunday for last-minute bargains. With my fellow bibliophile Monica in tow, I wrote my check to become a Friends member, grabbed a book tote and faced the books.

I intended to use today only for books that were absolute must-haves. I’d already snagged a few while volunteering with the Friends group over the past month, and I knew there would be plenty of classics left on Sunday. I’m running out of shelving space in my tiny apartment, and frankly I haven’t finished reading all of last year’s purchases. (Perhaps I should tally that number!) 

$54 later, I was set for the night. There was only one book in my stack that I questioned its must-have value, but it was a $2 purchase–so why not?

  1. Downtown Birmingham Architectural and Historial Walking Tour Guide by Marjorie White, the Birmingham Historical Society
  2. The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher (includes Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets) (one of the big finds of the evening! Can’t believe I only paid $2 for this)
  3. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  4. Big Fish by Daniel Wallace (yes I’ve read it, but I didn’t own it)
  5. Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters (this is the other big find!!!)
  6. Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar (I loved these books as a child!)
  7. A Thin Difference by Frank Turner Hollon (have read two of his books, big fan, plus he’s a Bama boy)
  8. The God File by Frank Turner Hollon
  9. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (for $2. SERIOUSLY.)
  10. The New York Times Large Print Big Book of Easy Crosswords (for my grandfather!)
  11. Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet edited by Ruth Reichl
  12. Early Days in Birmingham: A Printing of the Original Papers of the Pioneers Club whose Members were Eye-Witnesses to the Events of the Founding of the City (I just thought that was too cute to pass on! I love Birmingham history.)
  13. Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg
  14. Leaving Birmingham by Paul Hemphill (one I’d been hunting for two years!)
  15. The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg
  16. Gilead by Marylynne Robinson
  17. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  18. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


Filed under Hittin' the books, Listing, Reading

You know everything I say, but not a word that I heard

This sort of day reminds me a big of graduate school. And isn’t it weird that these memories are far enough gone that I feel justified in calling them memories?

I’ve spent the day thus far idly listening to music, occasionally instant messaging friends, making coffee and reading. Later I’ll go in to work, but it feels just like the days when all I had were night classes.

My front porch now overlooks downtown Tuscaloosa instead of downtown Northport, and it’s too hot to haul my laptop outside to write. Besides, my computer isn’t as reliable now as it was this time two years ago.

Two years ago.

Where has the time gone? I’m too young to think life is speeding by, but sometimes it sure feels that way.

Two years ago I attended orientation at UA (on crutches), then began classes and met people with whom I’m still friends. I decorated my apartment with my new roommate and spent my days jotting down my thoughts, when I wasn’t in class (and let’s be honest — often when I was!).

And now I guess I’m a professional. That didn’t strike me as odd until I realized that this is the first fall in 20 years that I won’t be going to school.

I told Philip the other day that I’m a little bit jealous of him. I don’t want (or need) another degree, but I loved being a graduate student. And isn’t it weird that I spent so much effort rushing to get my bachelor’s only to love the years I spent in grad school?

I actually keep some of my grad school texts on my bedroom shelves. I kind of miss studying. (I even spent part of the morning reading a newspaper design book.) Philip has promised to keep me posted on how much work he’s doing so I can kill the urge to enroll … but I still think that if I ever get a job that offers tuition reimbursement, I’ll find a way to put it to use.

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Filed under Autobiography, Be true to your school, Hittin' the books, Journalism

Stumble in the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition

The countdown has been on all semester, but today it hits a special mark. I’m dropping to a number of days instead of months until graduation.

So, in 30 days I’ll cross the stage of Coleman Coliseum in celebration of my master’s degree. It’s true that I’ll have attained a level of education that exceeds the requirements of my field—and it’s possible that could be to my detriment at times. Indeed, you can find veterans of the profession who boast only a high school education. Though my degree has come at a high cost, I don’t regret it for a moment.

For all my excitement, I expect many of the next 30 days to pass slowly. I’ve completed my master’s project (though I’ve yet to convince anyone to purchase those 6,000 words for publication). The paperwork for my summer internship has been completed and submitted. My current internship is part time (and is nearing conclusion, itself). So as I told an inquiring friend earlier this week—yes, approaching graduation is exciting—but it’s also fairly boring.

My workaholic tendencies don’t help. I’m attempting to fill my five free days each week with writing, job hunting, f/Friends and volunteering. But truth be told, I long to return to 40 hour work weeks.

They laughed when I rushed through college in three years. “You have the rest of your life to work,” they said. “Slow down and enjoy this time.” They again cautioned me when I aimed to barrel through graduate studies (though for different reasons). “Don’t take on too much at a time or your grades will suffer.”

Turns out I was right all along—the working world suits me. Bring on the 8-5.


Filed under Autobiography, Hittin' the books, Journalism

I can’t remember life before her name

I’m adjusting to my “new life” in Birmingham rather easily. “Across town” no longer suggests a 10 minute drive; instead, such a journey could easily take half an hour and actually end in another nearby city. I take the interstate to get around, and rush hour is actually something to avoid.

Put simply, life here is different than in Tuscaloosa. As I crossed a busy street on UAB’s campus tonight, I realized my college life has reached its third phase.

Florida State was phase one. I had a fairly typical undergrad experience. FSU’s a big state school, complete with the party school ranking and big football wins. (Don’t those usually go hand in hand?) The city was a little more than your average college town because of its state capital status, but it was nothing too unusual. (Well, save for the ruckus from the 2000 presidential election. But y’know, there’s an exception to every rule.)

The next stage of my college career was the University of Alabama. I was surprised by how much this campus differed from FSU. These southern kids really threw me! (But more on that later…) Though I lived in the Tuscaloosa area for just over a year, I absorbed the atmosphere of a town that may not exist if not for its University. (Sure, it was once the state’s capital. That was a really long time ago…)

Though I’m an Alabama student for four months more, the backdrop of my academic life is now Birmingham. I realized several months ago how much I love city life. I now celebrate that life daily. It may sound strange, but I find it exhilarating to drive past the towering downtown structures. I decided today that I’d probably take up residence in Southside if I were to stay here long term.

I dropped by UAB’s campus library this evening. The battle to find a parking space was far greater than that behind Alabama’s library (whose name seems to have escaped me…). When I emerged, books in hand, I was greeted by a bustling city street. It’s just so… different. And I love it!

It’s official: no more Tuscaloosa for me. “City life” is where I’m at.

(Yeah, okay. Even if I live 20 minutes from downtown. Details!)


Filed under General, Hittin' the books

Protected: I’m going to take more, more from you, letter by letter

I promised a couple (literally) of you a transcript of my interview with Tara Leigh Cobble… so here it is! More power to you if you actually read the entire thing. It came out to just over 18 pages single spaced – almost 9,000 words long. (That’s why I referenced Dave Matthews’ “Too Much” in the subject line – could I talk any more?!) We’re password protected here because I don’t want anyone ganking my quotes for their own uses.


CJW: Alright, I’m going to record you and I’m going to sit it over here so it’s a little bit closer to you because I can make out my own mumbling better than I can other people’s.

TLC: Good point. Would you like me to sit closer to it or rub it against my face?

CJW: Well you could if it made you feel better but I think we’ll be okay. (laughs) Okay, I’ll try to go somewhat quickly so we don’t take up too much time. First of all, background info. I don’t want to dwell too heavily on that because I read the different things, the articles you have linked to on your Web site, so, but I haven’t read them in the past week, which I probably should’ve done. So, is your family musical?

TLC: Yes. My dad used to play the banjo professionally, and everyone sings and plays instruments and things like that. No one does it for a living, but they’re all very musically inclined.

CJW: Okay, so you grew up in that kind of atmosphere, then. Did you have lessons or did you just…?

TLC: I took – I was in choir, which kind of serves as voice lessons, but not really. I took a few guitar lessons. The guitar teacher was really into smoking weed (laughs) so I quit after not very long. So that sort of helped me get my starter’s chops. Then mostly just self-taught, hanging out with musicians a lot. I sort of put myself in places like Guitar Center, in the guitar corner where the guy who’s the guitar tech is walking around showing everybody things. Sort of, “Teach me something!” Sort of impromptu lessons I guess.

CJW: Probably a little bit cheaper, too! (laughing) What are other interest that you have?

TLC: (laughs) I’m like, should I be honest?

CJW: You should be honest.

TLC: I like hunting. I like the outdoors, camping, politics, voting… I also like… I really like the 2:28 and hunting. (laughs) And shoes. I like shoes a lot (laughs). And Conan O’Brien – I love Conan O’Brien! If there’s one thing I try to do every day, it’s watch Conan O’Brien for a few minutes.

CJW: That’s funny. How many pairs of shoes do you have?

TLC: Maaaaaybe fifty. Not as many as I would like to, but maybe fifty. Two closets’ worth of shoes, plus a rack on the inside of my closet.

CJW: What’s your favorite pair of shoes?

TLC: I got these new black stilettos with the really pointy, pointy toes. They’re so cool. You can wear them with a skirt or with Capri pants or with jeans – all kinds – they’re so, just so diverse. You can put them with anything.

CJW: Are they comfortable? (laughs)

TLC: No, not at all! They’re really, really uncomfortable. But I love them! They’re super girly. I almost wore them today, but it was too cold outside.

CJW: Well, I brought flip flops and these (gestures at chunky heels) with me, so…

TLC: Those are the best choice for today. They cover the most foot flesh.

CJW: And these are old, beat up shoes – I’ve had them for almost five years.

TLC: I was noticing them earlier and I like them.

CJW: Well, thank you! I like them too, they’re from Sears.

TLC: I like the ankle strap. Sears has some good shoes.

CJW: They do, you just have to pay attention.

TLC: There’s a great store here in Nashville called Off Broadway.

CJW: (in a sing song voice) Note to self…

TLC: It’s not actually off Broadway, unfortunately. But if you ask anyone where the roundabout is – the roundabout with the naked music statue – that’s where Off Broadway is. Great shoes there.

CJW: Now I don’t have very much room in my closet for shoes so I try to keep it to a minimum. I could probably use some of Alisa’s closet space. Her closet’s huge.

TLC: You could store things under your bed.

CJW: Well, I already have stuff under my bed. (giggles)

TLC: Oh, well, never mind.

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Filed under Hittin' the books, Journalism, music

We were just wasting time/ let the hours roll by

I’ll admit I was running a bit late this morning. I rolled over at 7:36 to hit snooze for the fifth time – and realized that it was the fifth time, and I’d better get out of bed already. I spent less time than usual on my hair and make up, and was in the car by the time that I should’ve been in class.

I parked my car in a one hour space at 8:22. With a review in one hand, I shuffled off to class, reading all the way. (Multi-tasking is my specialty.)

I finally strolled into class around 8:28. I figured it was better to be late than not to show at all.


Two of my classmates were talking at one of the computers. Otherwise, the room was empty.

“Um… what am I doing here?” I asked, confused.

“He told us about his retirement, to sell ads and write stories and then left,” they explained.

I looked at the clock. “Yes, it was only five minutes,” one of them said.

“Well, at least I’m out of bed and can be productive for the rest of the day…” I said, attempting to look on the “bright side.”

The dark side exists, of course. I’ve spent $1200 on this class and learned next to nothing. (I know some might argue about putting a price on education. But the university does just that, and it comes out of my checking account twice a year.) This is a subject that I truly wanted to learn about, and I’m disappointed that I’ve been cheated out of that experience.

But y’know… at least it puts me three hours closer to graduation.


Filed under General, Hittin' the books, Journalism