Thursday, August 17, 2017

Novel Inspiration via a Job in a Haunted House in Scotland

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Have you ever wanted to write a science fiction or paranormal book? Are you an Outlander fan and want to write a time travel book in historic Scotland? How would you do the research? I've got an idea. How about a nanny job in Scotland at a reportedly haunted house for inspiration?

Scottish Borders' parents are willing to pay approximately $63,000 with 28 vacation days for a live-in nanny to their two children, five and seven years old. Their ad describes their "lovely, spacious" home. The potential nanny would need to perform routine tasks ("making breakfast, dropping off and picking up the kids, assisting with homework, etc)."

Ten years ago, when the family purchased the home, they were "told it was 'haunted,'" though they "kept [their] minds open and decided to buy the house regardless." However, according to the couple's employment ad: "5 nannies have left the role in the last year, each citing supernatural incidents as the reason, including strange noises, broken glass and furniture moving." The family says, "We haven't personally experienced any supernatural happenings, as they have been reported only while we've been out of the house, but we're happy to pay above the asking rate, and feel it's important to be as up-front as possible to find the right person."

Cue the Mission Impossible theme music..."Your mission, should you decide to accept it," is…to consider this job. You could gain unique research for writing your science fiction and or paranormal book through the nanny job in historic Scotland.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Planning Characters

By Lizzie T. Leaf

Over a year ago stuff happened that drained my passion for writing. I buried myself in other things, and pushed aside the stories whispering in my ear to the point they stopped.

I finally worked up the energy to look at some of the books I received my rights back on, which happens when publishers shut down, and discovered the need to have a number of them re-edited. 

That is when the whispers started again.

During the quiet period I had read articles on ways to write a book. A lot of them were a bit different than my original process, some a lot, but I decided to try a number of them. You know what happened? Not much. Most of them didn’t work for me. But, they did give me food for thought.

So now I’m back to my original working style with a few tweaks. I start with a story idea and building the characters. I love strong characters that carry a story, and yes, there have to be other parts to move the story along. But, if you don’t have characters that do get into situations, learn, and grow, then not much happens and some readers will have problems connecting to the story.

So here is my basic way to move forward.

After I come up with a character’s name, I start to build their profile. First, a good physical description of them is needed so I see them in my mine’s eye: height, weight, hair color and length, eye color, complexion.

Once I know what they look like it’s time to learn who they are? What do they do? Are they rich, middle class, or poor? Does trouble follow them or are they lucky. What are they like, introverted or outgoing? Are they a good person or someone who is self-centered, or enjoys evil for fun?

This is done for all my main characters, good and bad. Then I start to ask “What if?” There begins the plot for me and slowly, a story evolves. Some go quicker than others. And once the first draft is complete, then starts the fun of revisions. But, even there, I need to make sure my characters don’t do something foolish, like change their blue eyes to brown or their black hair to blond.

Once I’ve polished to the best I can, then off to the editor with fingers crossed they won’t find too many things wrong with the plot, and they connect with the characters.

The thing I learned from my experience is to glean from the information out there, but focus on what works for you. Then do it! Or, you’ll be me the past year plus…accomplishing nothing.
Lizzie T. Leaf writes spicy Fantasy/Paranormal with a bit of humor set in contemporary times. Her alter ego will release books later this year in new genres. One will focus on life in the modern world, and she is researching for a WWII Historical. When not writing and researching, she is consumed with family, cooking and traveling. You can learn more on her website: Follow her on Twitter: And her Facebook author page:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What Does Your Ear Hear?

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief for Southern Writers Magazine 

We as writers know there are rules we are to follow in writing.  But, did you know there are times you can break those rules of writing?

You can, and you aren’t being rebellious, difficult or even childish. Aren’t you glad? I know I am.
When you write thrillers, for instance, you’re concerned about getting the atmosphere of the story down on paper. What is your ear hearing? Does it hear tension, danger, and trouble?

When we are writing dialogue, there are times you just can’t follow the rules, not if you are writing the dialogue the person would be speaking.

Now, don’t get the idea I am trying to get you to stop following the rules. I believe you need to know the rules, and if you do, then you know when you are breaking them, and if it is in a place they need to be broken.

When you read a sentence on paper, your ear tells you, “right on target––or off target”.

Winston S. Churchill said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” He could have also said the shorter sentences are the better ones too, however, he didn’t say that. But they are. Short words have more punch.  I think short sentences also have more punch. Try reading a long sentence with say 40-50 words in it. Does your ear get tired? Does your brain start wandering? Mine always does.

One of the things a writer needs to be is a good communicator. Every time I write something I need to turn around and read it. What does my ear hear? Does it make sense? What can I take out? What do I need to add? These are some of the questions I ask myself. What I find sometimes is a couple of sentences are not making sense or they’re rambling. Clarity is important in our writing. We don’t want people confused trying to read what we’ve written. Listening to what we are reading helps us be better writers.

In high school, one of my teachers, (won’t mention a name) was always trying to impress upon us the importance of being organized. She would say, “Only then, can your words have clarity.” She was right. We do need to be organized. It especially helps when we are talking to be organized in our thoughts so there will be clarity in what we say. I can hear her asking us, “Did you hear what you just read?”

The answer she got was, “Of course we did.” But she meant did we hear with our ears and did we understand what it said.

The other subject she stressed, repeatedly, was writing outlines. Let me say to this day, I hate writing outlines. We are talking over fifty years here, I still hate writing them. But she was right again; outlines are wonderful tools for writers. Thank you Mrs.… (No names remember?)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reality in your Fiction

By Marina Landry

Could accuracy in futuristic settings be as important as in historical settings? The shrieks of snubfighters speeding toward the Death Star add to a moviegoer's experience, but novelists must respect immutable laws of science. Most readers know the human ear does not hear sound in a vacuum.

You have the opportunity -- and the challenge -- of engaging readers with more senses than the sight and sound of movies, creating your setting by having your characters experience it in interesting ways. Writing vividly about interactions and sensations within a setting is much more likely to engage your readers than descriptions about the setting or, worse, having one character give details to another character who already knows them.

The setting of your science fiction novel might exist only in your mind, but your fantastic creations must be plausible in the minds of your readers. If you are writing about creatures on Earth's moon, be sure these creatures can function in the actual gravity and rotation of our moon. Even if detailed explanations never wind up in your stories, answers to important questions should be clearly formed in your mind.

How can your hero's projectile-repelling skin regulate body temperature, perspiration, and respiration? Why does the entire planet in your story have the same climate, rather than extremes at the poles and equator? Why isn't your giant creature leaving a crater with each step?

As long as you are consistent and include some familiar aspects to anchor your readers, a few brief, significant details are enough to add credence to your imagined world, especially if readers wish those details could be true. Wouldn't we all like to be beamed up with a teleporter instead of sitting in traffic, or to breathe under water using gillyweed or a device that can fit in our palm?

There is nothing wrong with creating environments beyond the science we know, as long as science is not ignored. Computer tablets with touchscreens or motion sensors, devices that translate the spoken word into other languages, and self-driving vehicles once existed only in science fiction stories, though they are now available in our real world. Star Trek's communicators essentially became available to the average person in 1980's America, and flip-phones are now in our history instead of our future. Yet, the bane of futuristic writers is, if we're not mindful of science, our clever inventions are often proven either too outrageous (jets on your back that don't burn your derriere) or not outrageous enough (room-sized computers controlled by turning knobs).

Also consider the impact a futuristic invention might have on the futuristic culture you are creating. Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics do not tell us about the technological marvel of artificial intelligence, but how robots are integrated into our human ethical, legal, and cultural structures.

So, science fiction storytellers, fill your minds and pages with awesome gadgets, societies, vehicles, planets, spacecraft, biospheres, energy sources, and creatures. Show us the mischief and wonders they cause. But be prepared to do your research.

To download one of my short stories FREE you can email me at

Marina Landry has gained attention in both the romance and science fiction communities for her heart-warming, emotionally intense, character-driven stories.  Her debut novel A Star Called Home (Desert Breeze Publishing) has consistently received five out of five stars on multiple online book review sites. Marina has taught language arts and mathematics in south Louisiana for 18 years. She speaks on the craft of writing and teaches all levels of writers online. Her next SciFi Romance novel Bridges Burning will be released by Desert Breeze Publishing, February 2018. Though her education has not followed a typical path nor timeline, she has Masters Degrees in Education of the Academically Gifted, Secondary Mathematics Education, and Adult Education.  Author Website (and blog): Facebook link:

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race

By Mike Mizrahi

The Congo, Field Research, and Mary Helms

It’s pretty cool how sometimes in the moment, you wonder why something unexpected is happening, and in hindsight, you get why the tapestry was woven that way. I’m learning to accept such mysteries in my life.

I really thought we were meant to be serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo two summers ago. But after six months of prepping the team, I had some heart issues, and the doc said not this time around. Not to Africa, anyway.

My brilliant wife, Karen, came up with the perfect plan to console me.

As the rest of our mission team headed for Congo, we boarded a plane for Chattanooga, Tennessee. Yep . . . the Choo-Choo city nestled between Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, along the banks of the winding Tennessee River. The “Gateway to the South,” and the location of some bloody battles in the War Between the States. Right up my alley.

As it turned out, we were supposed to spend several days in the Chattanooga Public Library with Mary Helms. I know what you’re thinking. Not your idea of a good time, right?

Well . . . Mary owns the third floor, the Local History and Genealogy Department. At least, in my mind she does. My wife’s brilliant idea, that we take this unexpected free time and do some field research for my historical novel, led us right into Mary’s den of treasures. They were shiny gems to me: books, photos, personal writings, newspaper articles, city directories . . . all about Chattanooga in 1895, the setting and year for my story. And Mary pulled these sleeping beauties out of their resting places, one at a time, to tell their stories once again, this time to an aspiring writer.

As Mary understood my storyline better, she dared to imagine how the historical elements of her beloved city–the people, the places, the culture, and actual events–might have played a part. The Internet is an amazing tool for research, and I used it for two months to put the bones of my book together into a skeleton. But Mary, and the power of her files–built through years of painstaking collection, cataloguing, and maintenance–put muscle in all the right places.

I’ve been down many rabbit holes trying to find certain tidbits of information online. If you’re a novelist or write non-fiction—whatever the genre—research can be the bane of your existence. Or, for the historical fiction writer like me, it can be an amazing adventure, a romp through time and space where make-believe characters take shape within the backdrop of real events. There are people out there who quietly do what they do, with excellence and expertise, and people like me are blessed to spend time with them. We just have to find them.

Remember Marion, the librarian, from The Music Man: the shushing spinster with horn-rimmed glasses, her hair up in a bun. Well, there’s a new-style librarian named Mary Helms. She lives in Chattanooga, and I’d guess in a library near you. She’s gracious, kind, and really good at what she does. She might even come to share your dream. Among the many treasures in that library, Mary is the most precious.

Some of those gems brought real life to the pages of my recently published novel about female cyclists and life in 1890s Chattanooga. Thanks Mary.
Mike Mizrahi has a master’s degree in public relations, advertising and applied communication from Boston University. After a career in corporate public affairs, he retired to pursue a deep passion: writing. Mizrahi and his wife, Karen, led a mission trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo four years ago and were so moved by the experience, Mizrahi wrote his first novel, which he hopes will one day be published. The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race is his debut published work. Mizrahi loves reading and writing stories about “sozo,” which means to be rescued in Greek. He and Karen are very active in their church and community and love to hike, travel and go the movies together. The Mizrahis live in Woodland Hills, California, where they raised their children who are now adults. Learn more about The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race and Mike H. Mizrahi at or on Facebook (AuthorMikeMizrahi) and Twitter (@MikeHMiz).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Friendship and Age

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Amy Silverstein was a 24 year old law student at NYU when she learned she had a weak heart. A transplant was scheduled and was successful. The event led Amy to write her first book Sick Girl. A book that is unforgettable. It is a keen and humorous observation of a life threatening challenge.  The book won a “Books for a Better Life Award” and was a finalist for the Border’s Original Voice Award.

Now some 26 years later Silverstein found once again needing a heart transplant and is now on her third heart. Due to her age and the seriousness of the situation this was a different experience than the first. She was now 50.   Her friends were now 50 and the friendship shown was intense, much more than the first transplant. She mentioned during her first transplant she had only one friend come around and did so with her date on their way to a party. This time friends that were older, wiser and experienced caretakers of their parents, spouses and children were there for her as well. 

Silverstein made this observation, We were grown daughters all, some mothers of high school or college kids, a few of us seasoned career women. We had become our middle-aged selves. Our wisest, steadiest, most powerful selves yet. And we discovered a new best in ourselves together because I was dying, really dying this time, and we weren’t twenty-five anymore. This time her friends came from across the country and stayed with her at length as she was waiting for the transplant and surgery. This experience led to Silverstein’s current best seller My Glory is I Had Such FriendsSilverstein has been on many talk shows and interviewed about her health challenges as well as her book. She is now an attorney, author and speaker. You may want to visit her website.
Over the years I have noticed how friendships change. It seems to me the more friends we lose the closer those remaining become. The petty things of youth, the competiveness, the jealousy and the pains from all these have faded or completely gone away. What seems to be noticed more than anything is we all are older and age has various physical effects on each of us. I remember encountering a friend I had not seen in some 40 years. I observed him as he approached. I noticed his broken gate, his silver hair, additional pounds and a face recognized only by his eyes. I was taken back when he reached out, shook my hand and said I really looked old. Later I found he had been stricken with seizures and had fallen many times. I wondered if that had also had an effect on his judgment.  

Some of us have experienced near death health issues and understand what Amy Silverstein has faced. It seems to have a way of showing us things for what they really are. We can appreciate what is important. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive such a gift without the threatening ailments? Maybe if we think on these things it will happen. And if it does we should write about them. Thankfully Amy Silverstein did just that and we are better for it.      


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tools of the (Marketing) Trade

By Susan Cushman

When I realized that I would have three books releasing within a six-month period in 2017, I put on my multiple-book-marketing hat and went to work. I didn’t plan for it to happen this way, but since I was working with three (and now four—more on that later) separate presses, the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Without an agent or publicist, I worked with each publisher individually.

My first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, (a memoir) released early in February. It was followed a month later by an anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. Since these were such different books, I found venues and audiences to fit each, and between March and June I had eighteen events at bookstores and other venues in six states, eleven for Tangles and Plaques and seven for A Second Blooming. Marketing the memoir involved communicating with Alzheimer’s caregivers’ support groups in several cities, and many of those folks showed up at readings and became an important part of the discussion. One group invited me to their meeting, where several of them purchased both books!

For A Second Blooming, I traveled to seven bookstores in five states to join contributors at readings in their hometowns. On a couple of occasions I was able to sell both books—when I was invited to speak on my “late life career” as an author at a women’s conference at a community college, and even at a bookstore that hosted me for one book but loved the other and promoted both in one night. The turnout at these events has averaged around twenty-five to thirty folks, but one event had close to eighty.

One way I used these first two books to complement one another was by creating marketing materials that featured both of them. Bookmarks and business cards show book covers and author blurbs for both books, and now for my novel, Cherry Bomb. I created fliers for each venue, sent them to the bookstores or event hosts, and posted them on Facebook and Twitter. Afterwards, I blogged about each event and again posted photos on social media. It’s been a busy but fun spring!

With the release of Cherry Bomb this summer, I moved forward with another marketing push, starting with the launch on August 8 in my hometown, Jackson, Mississippi, at Lemuria Bookstore, and followed quickly with my appearance as moderator of one panel and speaker on a second panel at the Mississippi Book Festival on August 19. More events are scheduled for the coming months and into 2018, when my fourth book will be published. Another anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing is coming in spring of 2018 from the University Press of Mississippi. Featuring essays by twenty-six southern authors—thirteen women and thirteen men—I’m sure some fun book tours will be in the works. Stay tuned!
Susan Cushman was Co-Director of the 2013 and 2010 Creative Nonfiction Conferences (Oxford, Mississippi). She was also the Director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop. Her memoir, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s is about the decade she spent long-distance caregiving for her mother, who died from Alzheimer’s in May of 2016. Cushman is editor of a collection of essays by 20 women authors, A Second Blooming:Becoming the Women We Are Meant To Be, (Mercer University Press, March 2017). Her novel, Cherry Bomb, will be published in July 2017 by Dogwood Press of Brandon, Mississippi. She is editing another anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, to be released in 2018 by University Press of Mississippi. Cushman also has ten published essays in various journals and magazines and four anthologies. Susan’s web site is (which also contains her blog, Pen and Palette). Follow Susan on Facebook and Twitter. Her Amazon author page is here. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Susan has lived in Memphis since 1988.