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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Writing Like a View-Master

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

It's been a long time since I hung out in the toy department, but on a recent visit I was surprised to see that one of my childhood favorites was still around. Perhaps at some point you also owned a View-Master. I can still hear the voice of actor Henry Fonda hawking "the G.A.F. View-Master" on TV spots.

This plastic viewer, held up to the eyes like a pair of binoculars, let you experience genuine 3D images. Depending on which disc you inserted, you could see stereoscopic views of everything from the Grand Canyon to popular TV shows. Grimm's Fairy Tales and stories from the Disney archive were among the more popular titles.

As you manually advanced to each of the seven scenes on a disc, a tiny window displayed a few words describing what you were seeing.  Which meant that an entire story had to be told in seven scenes.

Does that tell you something?  What it suggests to me is that a good story can be broken down and told in as few as seven simple plot points.

Apparently the View-Master isn't alone in thinking this way.  Numerous writing resources spell out classic seven-point outlines.  There are variations, but here's a common breakdown:

1. The Beginning
A setup that establishes the character in his/her current circumstances.

2.  Plot Point 1
An inciting event, a catalyst that changes the status quo.

3.  Pinch Point 1
A personal challenge that requires the hero to take action.

4.  Mid-Point
At this point of no return, the hero is fully committed and proactively tries to fix things.

5.  Pinch Point 2
The hero fails. At this low point an additional crisis makes it appear that all is lost.

6.  Plot Point 2
The final confrontation with the antagonist.  Most of the time, the hero will prevail.

7. Ending
This satisfying epilogue reveals how things are in the new normal.

In an 80,000-word novel, that translates to roughly 11,400 words for each point.  But if you break your story down to its key elements, you could convey it in a one-minute summary suitable for an elevator pitch or a workable outline for whatever novel you're working on.

Granted, a picture is worth a thousand words  and the View-Master showed seven of them  but the brief text that accompanied each slide told the same story in the sparsest words possible.  When plotting your next story or pitching to an agent, think like a View-Master and you can stir your reader's imagination in vivid 3D.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Battle Against Distractions

By Jennifer Bean Bower

Several days a week I have the opportunity to work at home. On those days, I rise early as I am eager to work on an article, chapter, or pitch. Yet, at the end of most days—no matter how hard I try—my cursor sits blinking on an empty screen of white.

Where does the time go? And, more importantly, why can I not write? The answer is easy.

Home is a hard place from which to write. For it is there that distractions consume my time and steal my thoughts.  

Early on, I took my distractions in stride and would cease writing for anything. If the phone rang, I answered it. If I was invited to a three-hour lunch, I accepted. If the laundry basket was full, I emptied it. No matter the interruption, it received my full attention; writing, however, did not. After all, there would be other days to write, and if need be, I could stay up all night. But that way of thinking proved detrimental to my writing. As a result of not prioritizing my writing, I submitted a poorly composed article to a publisher I had longed to write for. Needless to say, I was not asked to write for them again. At that point, I knew something had to change. I needed a strategy if I was going to write and write well.

First, I compiled a list of distractions. Then, I came up with a plan to defeat them. But, the battle was not easy. I turned off the phone to prevent it from ringing, but someone knocked at my door. I said no to a lunch invitation, but worried that I had offended a friend or family member. I hid the laundry in a closet, but could not get the sight of unfolded clothes out of my mind. For every distraction conquered, a new one took its place. The struggle was endless.

Finally, I had an epiphany. Distractions were not the enemy. The problem was my perception of writing. When I worked full-time, outside of the home, I was not hindered by any of the distractions on my list. I went to work, completed my duties and went home. After work, and on my days off, I completed housework, talked on the phone, and enjoyed time with family and friends.

When it came to writing, however, I failed to recognize it as a job—a career. Yet, the definition of career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” I have been writing for many years and have no plans to stop. And, in regard to “opportunities for progress,” who knows what the future holds.

Once I started putting value on my time and writing, others did too. Now, when I am officially on the clock; phone calls, visits, requests for time, and thoughts of laundry, are less frequent. If you are in a current battle with distractions, think about how you—and others—perceive your writing. Perhaps all you need is a new perspective.
Jennifer Bean Bower is a native Tar Heel and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Bower has written numerous articles and is the author of four books: North Carolina Aviatrix Viola Gentry: The Flying Cashier; Animal Adventures in North Carolina;Winston & Salem: Tales of Murder,Mystery and Mayhem; and Moravians in North Carolina. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with her husband Larry and their pet rabbit Isabelle. To learn more about Bower and her writing projects, please visit:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Past Mysteries and Present Day Conundrums – The Art and Science of Working In Dual Timeframes

By Lisa Wingate

Looking at the bestseller lists today, it’s evident that dual timeframe, or time-slip, novels are a hot trend. So, why the popularity of this genre and is it for you? I’ve written a dozen or so novels in this category so far and enjoyed reading dozens more. Here are a few of my thoughts on the time-slip genre in general.

My latest novel, Before We Were Yours takes place in two time frames––1939 and present day. As Avery, a modern-day senator’s daughter, digs into her family’s hidden ties with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and a Depression era child-brokering ring, the audience begins discovering the story of twelve-year-old Rill Foss, stolen from her family’s Mississippi River shantyboat in 1939 and placed in an orphan house with her four young siblings.

Why not just write Rill’s story as a historical novel? Interweaving Rill’s narrative and Avery’s offers the opportunity to follow Avery as she ferrets out the truth, bit-by-bit. There’s an added element of suspense. The audience can share Avery’s thrill of discovery. There’s also an added element of relevance. The audience can see how Avery’s intense need to know and her eventual discoveries might affect, alter, and even threaten her family’s future.

The biggest trick to making dual time frames work is in weaving the stories together in a way that effectively moves the plot along. Even though the novel is telling two stories, one narrator’s arc will typically control the pace and drive of the story. That could be the historical arc or the present-day. The higher the stakes for the modern-day character(s), the greater the overall tension. Either way, it’s important to show how the discovery of the historical story will change present-day lives. What lessons will be learned? What habits, self-perceptions, future plans might be changed?  What secrets might be revealed? Does the fate for the free world hang in the balance? Could relationships be destroyed? Reputations ruined? Family harmony upended?

They’re intriguing questions and very natural ones. I think most of us wonder about the rumors, tall tales and oft-repeated anecdotes in our families and communities. Stories in dual time frames are all about discovering connections and unearthing the hidden past. In solidifying the connection, it’s helpful to employ some sort of physical link between past and present—an object, a place, a photo, a written record such as a packet of letters or a journal.

It’s a challenge balancing multiple timeframes within one novel. It falls in the category of double-the-work and double-the-risk, but also double-the-fascination and double-the-reward. There’s twice as much research, but with doubling the research comes the potential for twice as many interesting details, unanswered questions, and nearly-forgotten bits of history. Those elements weave new threads into the story loom. New threads add texture and color and dimension and life.

Ultimately, that’s what we all want from our stories—that they come to life, both inside our minds and, ultimately, on the page.
Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, inspirational speaker, and bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, The Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Booklovers Reviewer’s Choice Award. The group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with six others as recipients of the National Civics Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. Booklist summed up her work by saying, “Lisa Wingate is, quite simply, a master storyteller.”Lisa was inspired to become a writer by a first-grade teacher who said she expected to see Lisa’s name in a magazine one day. Lisa also entertained childhood dreams of being an Olympic gymnast and winning the National Finals Rodeo but was stalled by a mental block against backflips on the balance beam and by parents who stubbornly refused to finance a rodeo career. She was lucky enough to marry into a big family of Southern tall tale tellers who would inspire any lover of story. Of all the things she treasures about being a writer, she enjoys connecting with people, both real and imaginary, the most. More information about her novels can be found at

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Is Filling Your Reader’s Brain?

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

Some of you closer to my age may remember the beginning reader book, Dick and Jane:Fun with Dick and Jane. It was written in a simple format for us to learn. On one page would be the words: See Dick Run; another page you would see Jane likes Dick, Dick likes Jane.  Then on a page you would have dialogue.

One I remember is Dick flying a kite. “Look,” said Dick.

“See it go. See it go up.”

Definitely not complex sentences!  But as writers, don’t we sometimes write complex sentences? 

Don’t we use too many words and choose big words to impress our readers. This makes the reader’s brain, not to mention our own, process a lot of information–plus makes us tired. Did you know some of this isn’t necessary to tell our story?

If you go back to the books they used to teach us to read you see short, concise, and to the point sentences. We were given words to picture and understand the story without overloading the sentences with words not needed.

The other day, I noticed someone used the word “And” to begin a sentence and the word “But” to do the same. As I reread those sentences I noticed they were shorter, tighter, and simpler. The flow of the story was smooth and you didn’t have to work hard to understand what they said.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a paragraph, whether in a document or a book, and had to stop and reread it. Sometimes I’ve had to reread it several times to grasp the meaning of the paragraph.  It had too many words; they had made it complex and it didn’t convey what they were trying to get across. I had to literally dissect the sentences to comprehend what they were trying to tell us. That is not an enjoyable read.

You can make your reader happy when you take their hand and lead them through your words and they understand them. Then they will want to read more of what you write. As writers maybe we should look for those two line sentences we write. Perhaps we could rewrite those shorter, tighter and maybe a little more simple.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


By Londa Hayden

I love rainy days. They allow time for me to think. Life seems to stop for a moment and a hush comes over the world, reminding me to slow down and take a breath. Good days for writing too, especially if the internet goes down. I can still type. Yes! No temptation to interrupt my flow of thought. Unplugging is a good thing. Life can get so busy with all the things in life that pull at us. Family, kids, dogs, cats, neighbors, friends, and all the obligations that come along with it make us feel we should stay plugged in or we might miss something.

I recall the days we didn’t have cell phones. How did we survive without them? I can honestly say, just fine. Okay, I don’t think I’m that old. It wasn’t all that long ago when we lived in a world without all this technology to distract us. In fact, when my husband and I moved to West Virginia, it took the telephone company over two weeks to install our phone line. I had a toddler to care for while my husband worked 12 hour shifts during a strike. How did I survive? They had these things called payphones—quarters—lots of quarters.

I have a friend who ditches everything and hides out in an old shack when she has a deadline to meet. She leaves her family and the world behind for a few days. There is electricity to power her computer, a fan, or window air conditioner if it’s hot or space heater when cold. The phone is turned off except for a designated time to reassure family she’s alright or for emergencies: rats, a bear, or other infestations. Interesting set up. Kind of like in the movie “War Room” when the main character cleans out a closet and sets it up as a prayer room. Completely clear except for a place to sit, a Bible, journal and pen. Photos of loved ones and friends are taped to the wall with handwritten prayers beside them. That room is designated for one thing only for a specific time.

My favorite place to write is at the beach. Breathing fresh sea air and listening to the ocean waves outside take me to another place and time in my mind. I’m able to concentrate and focus. Another favorite place is in the forest surrounded by trees and birds with a nearby river or creek. The sounds of nature inspire me. Some may find busy places like Starbucks, or other public spaces have more to offer. The noise doesn’t bother them. They write best in the middle of crowded malls or bus stations. Not allowing other distractions to interrupt you is the key and can be an issue for many of us. I can’t go to a Starbucks without checking my phone, Facebook, and Twitter. Not to mention those Pinterest photo pop-ups with great recipes. Oh, good dinner idea. Before I realize it, instead of writing my story, I’m writing a grocery list and suddenly my precious time gone.

Going off-grid for a while is a good way to reset your focus. So, find a treehouse, borrow a friend’s trailer and set it up in your backyard with a do not disturb sign on the door, or rent a cabin at a state park. If you can, go on a private beach getaway. When you need a break, take a hike or a walk to clear your head and then get back to work. The peace and quiet may drive you crazy at first, but just start writing. Play your favorite music on your iPod or not. Do what works for you. Resist the urge to edit your work. Just write the story. Bring your notebook with photos related to your project, or open the photo file on your computer along with your list of characters and descriptions for quick reference. No Wi-Fi. Do not use internet, not even for research. Simply flag that spot and return to it later. This is your chance to get a first draft written, and rewrite a second or third one. Editing can wait. Just get the story written. And in the meantime, relax and enjoy the simplicity of an unplugged world.

Londa Hayden is a native Texan now living in beautiful Alabama with her husband and three sons. She studied music at East Texas Baptist University. Where Two Rivers Meet is the first historical romance in the Washington's Woods series. The idea for this novel was conceived while Hayden lived in West Virginia and began researching her personal genealogy. She discovered ancestral involvement with George Washington and his tobacco plantation during the Revolutionary War Era near Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Thus, the title Where Two Rivers Meet came about while overlooking the confluence of the Kanawha River and the Ohio River. Two more books are expected to follow. Her experience in the medical field gave her the opportunity to volunteer during the Katrina crisis, which inspired Candy Moon, the first in a children's book series. Candy Moon Choo Choo is the sequel and offers a touching tribute to veterans. Londa is the founding president for Bartlett Christian Writers and a staff writer for Southern Writers Magazine. Her memoir, Date Pray Wait offers Christian dating advice. Londa is happily married to Steve, her first and only husband, for almost three decades now. She enjoys spending time with her family. Other interests include volunteering for non-prophet organizations to help the homeless and teach Christian values to youth, theater, movies, music, crafts, the arts, exploring the outdoors and other cultures.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Art of Creating Character

By Gerry Schmitt

Of all the ingredients that go into writing a novel, I think character may be the most critical. An engaging plot and dynamic storyline are absolutely critical, too, since your main purpose is to entertain readers. But job one is to create a main character – your protagonist – that readers will either love, root for, or identify with. After all, great characters not only make us think, feel, and see things differently, they help up fall in love with the story.

If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, which is my specialty, it’s even an advantage to have a character that’s somewhat flawed, that reveals a touch of human frailty. And as your story progresses, your main character never has to evolve into a perfect human being, they just have to possess a good moral compass. You want your main character to be angry, outraged, or upset enough to take up the cause of going after the antagonist/killer and solving the mystery. Your character’s desire for final justice can be a powerful engine that drives the entire story.

When I begin writing a novel, I develop a loose outline on a large sheet of paper. I jot out notes for my first grab-my-reader-by-the-throat scene as well as a bang-up conclusion for my final chapter. And then I start adding secondary characters. I create scenes where my protagonist begins to rub elbows with various other characters, any number of which could be suspects as well as the antagonist/killer himself. These scenes also give me prime opportunities to sprinkle in clues along the way, as well as a few red herrings. When my paper outline starts to feel fairly gelled, I transfer it to my computer and tighten it up. Sometimes I even take that initial outline to around eighty pages. Then, I go back to chapter one and start writing. I judiciously put in character names and descriptions. But I never do a lot of back story on my characters. It’s always better to let their personalities be revealed by their actions. And sometimes, as you’re typing along, those pesky characters will begin to come alive and you end up with a little bit of magic on your page!
Gerry Schmitt is the author of Shadow Girl, an Afton Tangler Thriller, and Little Girl Gone, the first book in the series. Writing under her pen name Laura Childs, she is the New York Times bestselling author of more than forty mysteries that include the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbooking Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Her books have also been on the USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. Gerry is the former CEO of her own marketing firm, has won dozens of TV and radio awards, and written and produced two reality TV shows. Social Media:  Author Website Facebook laurachildsauthor