Friday, January 19, 2018

How I Stay in the Audience

By D.M. Pulley

My sister always asks me, “What do you mean you don’t know what will happen next in the story? How can you not know what the characters will do? You’re the writer!” Well, let me try to explain.

I do all my writing in a cushy recliner the sales person called a “snuggler,” which sits in a sunbeam in my living room, whenever there is sun in Cleveland anyway. I like to huddle under a warm blanket, grab my laptop, and kick up my feet like I’m about to watch a movie. Some writers prefer the professional atmosphere of an office, but my office is reserved for storing the kids' hand-me-downs and piling up random papers no one wants. After a decade working as an engineer hunched over a keyboard at a modular desk, I prefer comfort. Besides, writing is more like going to the movies than a job for me. Even though there’s hard work involved, most days I sit back, relax, and daydream the story.

What the heck does that mean? Well, it takes a good ten minutes of typing to forget the chair, the living room, my dog, and the feel of my hands on the keyboard. It’s the same hypnotism that makes you forget a movie exists only on a small screen as it sucks you in despite a roomful of distractions. It’s the mental shift that allows you to escape into a really good book and forget you left the oven on (or that you have kids). This state of reverie lets me tune out everything else and be inside the character I’m writing, see what he sees, and feel what he feels. It’s like having a vivid dream or nightmare and watching helplessly as your imagination runs wild. Don’t go into that room! But there you are, opening the door.

In this dream-state, the story just unfolds. Don't get me wrong. At different moments every day I have to get up off my comfy chair and storm around the set like a Hollywood director in a scarf and funny hat, clapping my hands impatiently. Something needs to happen here, people! You. Where are you going? What the heck is your motivation in this scene? Take an acting class! And can someone please get this guy a knife? Who’s on props here? No one likes it, props crash to the ground, and it takes several minutes of loud aimless typing for the actors and me to settle back down into the story.

Fortunately, most of the time my characters know what they’re doing. I set the scene, and then sit back in my snuggler and watch the show. My cast is working without a script, but we have the characters down and we know where the story is heading--well sort of. As any director will tell you, some of the best moments come when you give the actors the freedom to improvise.
Before becoming a full-time writer, D.M. Pulley worked as a Professional Engineer, rehabbing historic structures and conducting forensic investigations of building failures. Pulley’s structural survey of a vacant building in Cleveland inspired her debut novel, The Dead Key, the winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The disappearance of a family member formed the basis for her second historical mystery, The Buried Book. Pulley’s third novel, The Unclaimed Victim, delves into the dark history behind Cleveland's Torso Killer. She lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, her two children, and a dog named Hobo, and she is hard at work on her fourth book. My social networking links are below (@DMPulleyAuthor), my website is,
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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Writers, Research and TED Talks

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

The wintry weather keeping me housebound has provided an opportunity for me to delve into TED talks. I’ve found these very helpful and interesting, so, instead of hibernating, I used the snow days to catch a couple of authors sharing their advice. 

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.”

The collection of TED talks from  11 authors talking will inspire you. “These well-known writers weave beautiful words on the page … and on the stage.” Here is the link.

All you have to do is sign up for free, log in, and view the authors that interest you.  

TEDs are little video monologues. Have you ever needed to research a subject from an expert? You can probably find a TED talk on the subject. Plus, you can watch TED talks in your pj’s, by a cozy fire with a steaming cup of coffee from the comfort of your own home. 

One of my favorites is when author, Tracy Chevalier looks at paintings, she imagines the stories behind them: How did the painter meet his model? What would explain that look in her eye? Why is that man ... blushing? She shares three stories, inspired by portraits, including the one that led to her best-selling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring.  Here is link.

Have you viewed TED talks? 

What’s your favorite? 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Creature Comforts—Bringing Animals into Your Fiction

By Cathy Cruise

Love animals?
Well, who doesn’t? When I’m writing, I’m surrounded by them. My dog’s bed is squeezed beneath my desk so I can rub him with my feet. My parakeet likes to walk on my keyboard and peck at letters. And if I sit down without tossing a carrot into their cage first, my guinea pigs “wheek” at me while I’m working.
But somehow, animals never made the jump from my real life to my fiction—until I wrote my first book. Once I decided to include a dog in A Hundred Weddings, everything changed. Not only did it just make me happy to play with this little guy on the pages, it also gave me comfort, helped me dream more, and let me breathe life into my narrative. If you’re thinking of including an animal in your story, I offer you a big fist-bump. Because animals offer:
Novels are big, lonely worlds. Even if you’ve populated yours with all the people you can dream up, you’re still generally at the top of that world, making all the grand decisions. And, as they say, it’s lonely at the top. I think I conjured a little dog to curl up with in A Hundred Weddings to keep me confident while I crafted my story and lived inside it. It’s like having your pet go with you to check out that weird noise in the basement. Once you see him happily trotting downstairs and making his way through the dark, you can relax and follow, and flip on the light.
Vincent in A Hundred Weddings is based on my dog, Scamp. But Vincent is decidedly more devious. He chews, bites, steals, and runs away. And he’s delectably fun to write about. Animals let you cut loose in ways human characters can’t. And their antics can reflect the emotion of a scene, mirror or offset a character’s personality, or just break up tension with a bit of needed humor. When I got stuck writing a scene in my book, I brought the dog in. Instantly, he made everything more authentic and alive. Strangely enough, I didn’t always plan his entrance. Just like in real life, he’d wander in, leap onto someone’s lap, and knock over a lamp. Ahh. The scene was picking up already.
All the Feels
Animals pack a powerful nurturing response that invests readers in a story like little else can. Take Hedwig in the Harry Potter books—patient, watchful, reassuring. A pretty minor player overall, yet she helped Harry through some of his darkest moments. And oh, was there ever a more heartbreaking scene than her last one? Maybe in Black Beauty? Old Yeller?
Sniff. I can’t even go there.
So if you’re looking to liven up your writing, consider adding an animal to the mix. As for me, I’m hard at work on novel number two. And even though I’m only 50 pages in, two dogs have already appeared, and I sense a cat lurking in the corner. While I dig my toes a little deeper into Scamp’s coat and bang away at my keyboard, I’m getting to know these furry friends and am eager to explore this brand new world with them.
But first, a carrot for the guinea pigs.
Cathy Cruise’s first novel, A Hundred Weddings, was published in December 2016. Her fiction has appeared in journals such as American FictionBlue Mesa ReviewNew Virginia Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Awards include a New Rivers Press 2015 American Fiction prize, for which she received a Pushcart nomination; honorable mention in Glimmer Train's 2017 Very Short Fiction and 2014 Family Matters contests; and a 2001 Washington Independent Writers Award for Short Fiction. She works as an editor in Virginia where she lives with her husband and two children. She’s also co-author of the blog Write DespitePlease visit her website at

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Generating Book Success

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

There are many ways to market and sell a book which makes it easy to get sidetracked. However, authors can’t afford to spread themselves thin; if they do, they lose valuable time that must be spent writing their book. In writing, it isn’t which came first, the chicken or the egg; the writing comes first.

I want to share with you something I’ve found that is helpful to writers. Looking back at the year; as we do, list down the sales and marketing avenues you’ve used. Then, out by the side of each one note whether it was hard, time consuming or both. If you determine it was, then search for an easier and quicker way.  It may take some research but eventually you will find a few things.

Can you determine what was productive? Some people think they are only productive if they sell a lot of books, but in truth, they are productive if a lot of people throughout the year were exposed to their name, the fact they’re an author and the title of their book. You see, people can’t buy the book, if they don’t know the author’s name or the title of the book. They have to know one or the other.

Can you imagine going to Barnes and Noble and telling the clerk, “I want to buy a book, can’t remember the author, but she writes women’s contemporary books, I think her name may start with an M or a S.” You won’t be able to give them the title of the book either, so how are they going to find it?

What I am suggesting is focusing on name recognition. Why? Look at it this way. A company makes many products; each product has a name. But you will notice these companies are branding their names first, their product’s name second.

Examples: Apple, Ford, Nike. These companies are branded. Everyone in the world recognizes their names immediately. They come out with new products. People know what to expect from them. That is what you want. Name recognition.

Visit the website of these companies’ home pages and notice how they branded their name.;;
By building and branding the author’s name people will recognize and find the author’s books. 

Remember you will write more books; but there is only one you.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Three Things I’ve Learned about Writing from Children’s Classics

By Cathy Gohike

1.  Create Strong Characters
You know the ones—those lovable, memorable characters from childhood books who’ve endured. You might not remember the names of their authors, but you’d recognize a clever boy like Tom Sawyer anywhere . . . or an incorrigible Huckleberry Finn, or even a man sporting a cruel streak, like Injun Joe. Saying “she’s a real Anne—Anne with an e,” is telling about a girl’s lively imagination, her loyalty, her repeated mishaps. “She’s just like Jo” leaves no doubt that we’re talking theatrical, writerly, ink-stained Jo March of Little Women. Christopher Robin, winsome to the core, runs forever on spindly legs, while simple Winnie-the-Pooh remains forever roly-poly—his paws dripping honey and his little red shirt a mite too tight. “Peter Rabbit” conjures up a bunny at once so dear and naughty we love him but shake our heads.
Children look for story friends like themselves: strong, likable people or talking animals whose foibles are their own—or ones they can imagine—and characters so clearly, endearingly drawn they’re unforgettable. 

2.  Write Sharp Dialogue
Natural and unaffected, children say what they mean and mean what they say. They don’t beat about the bush, unless, of course, they’re Tom Sawyer and they’ve got you on a string for fence painting. Crisp dialogue appropriate for their age, experience, and understanding moves the story forward. Dialect is true and rendered unapologetically. It rarely needs tags because each character’s unique speech and behaviors differentiate them.

3.  Weave an Intriguing Plot—but Keep It Simple
Plots in children’s stories are straightforward, moving steadily from beginning to end. Readers discern the good guys and bad guys by their actions, even if motivation is not immediately clear to the protagonist. There are few very complex characters or point-of-view changes in children’s classics, and few red herrings. Plot twists may surprise, but are plausible within the realm of the story.

Plots in children’s stories are known for their morals, their “takeaways,” and for their suitably happy endings—even to the most tragic tales. Books abound that espouse hard work, truth telling, kindness, and remaining true to oneself—even if the journey is convoluted.

Some children’s classics weave tales as meaningful for adults as they are for children. Allegory and metaphor—transporting for children, and recognized by adults in purely crafted stories—produce exquisite beauty . . . think C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The barnyard and its adventures, its friendships and pitfalls, is the world of Wilbur and a metaphor for life. 

We might read those books every year of our lives and come away with greater insights, greater joy. It’s why these classic tales, their characters and authors, appear in my own novels from time to time.

What higher praise than to become a book for all ages? What better lessons for writers penning books for any age?
Three-time Christy and two-time Carol and INSPY Award–winning author Cathy Gohlke writes novels steeped with inspirational lessons from history. Her stories reveal how people break the chains that bind them and triumph over adversity through faith. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren. Visit her website at and find her on Facebook at CathyGohlkeBooks.    

Friday, January 12, 2018

Writers and Road Trips

By Jennifer Hallmark

Let’s load up the car and hit the highway, full speed. And we’ll leave behind any hint of car trouble, challenging directions, and bad weather. I love a good road trip, especially when it involves meeting a writing friend, working on blog business, shopping, and coffee. Oh, and chocolate.

During the middle of August, I planned such a trip with my friend, Betty. I’d drive up from Alabama and she’d drive down from Kentucky. On the day of the journey, I woke early, breakfasted, loaded the car, and took off for Franklin, Tennessee. The sun beamed down upon my little Ford Focus, and a light breeze ruffled my hair as I stepped outside. Birds sang joyous songs. The world was good.

Does this remind you a little of a writer’s life at the very beginning? We’ve decided to pursue our dream of being the next best-selling author, making sure to retain the rights for that future “Hallmark” movie. We set up our computer or gather just the right type of pen and paper. Ideas are flowing from our mind to our fingertips.

Cue the afore mentioned birds.

Back to my road trip. It started well. But then came obstacles, distractions, wrong turns, and driving through what you thought was a road but found out it was a walkway. Oh, wait. That last part is probably just me. It seems my road trip and my writing journey are running parallel.

In other words, the birds disappeared. Can you relate to…
(1)   The unexpected. Shortly after I began my adventure, I stopped at a dollar store for a few extra supplies. It was closed for repairs. Further down the road, I pulled into a fast food place for coffee only to discover their computers were down. Really?

The writing road has its own share of computer glitches, hard-drive crashes, home repairs, unexpected company, and doctor visits.

The solution: Don’t wait until the last minute like I did for supplies and coffee. Or your almost due blog posts or book edits. Try to complete blogging, article writing, assignments, and edits ahead of time whenever possible.

(2)   Obstacles. On my trip, I ended up behind a truck with an oversized load. I didn’t want to pass it but didn’t want to follow at a reduced speed either.

Writing obstacles? What about a sudden request for an interview, the stomach flu, or a sick parent or child?

The solution: I finally had to gather speed, hold my breath, and decide I could pass the truck in that tiny space left.
Likewise, I can cut off the phone and give myself time for the interview and if I’m sick and don’t feel like sitting at the computer, pencil out my thoughts. I can get up a little earlier or stay up later if it absolutely needs to be done. Getting past road and writing obstacles will give you a moment to relax and wide-open spaces to breathe in.

(3)   Wrong turns. On my trip, the GPS led me down a wrong road. Or maybe it was my interpretation of her instructions. Either way, I had to do a U-turn.

Sometimes in my writing journey, I make decisions I’m not sure about, like when I tried writing for literary journals. I spent time and energy with no reward except more practice writing. Which is, in itself, a reward. At least, I knew it was something I didn’t want to do.

The solution: Make the best decisions you can. If you find it was a wrong turn, chalk it up to experience and keep moving forward. On the road and on the computer…
And, uh, about running over the walkway? In my defense, it looked like a roadway between two stores. It was early and no one was out yet. I don’t think anyone saw me.
Despite all the craziness, I made it to my destination. My friend, Betty and I worked on our blog, writing, and administrative decisions. We also did a little shopping, drank coffee, and had some decadent cheesecake. Though the trip itself proved a little stressful and wild, the end was good.
Until it was time to go home, that is. But that’s another story…
Jennifer Hallmark is a writer of Southern fiction and fantasy; a combination that keeps the creative juices flowing. She’s published over 200 articles and interviews on the internet, short stories in several magazines, and been part of three book compilations. She’s recently signed a book contract with Firefly Southern Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When she's not working in the garden or keeping the grandkids, you can find her at:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Based on a True Story

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Over the Holidays I watched a movie with Tom Cruise, American Made. It was described by a critic as more of a comedy than a documentary of the War on Drugs in Central and South America. I am not a fan of Tom Cruise but after a few friends and relatives told me of the concept and the familiarity of the events by those of us living in close proximity to it  I was intrigued enough to watch.

As I watched I was taken aback by how such a little of the true story it was based on. Not much was included in the movie. I know it is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but I’m afraid having the knowledge I do of the accounts of the story left me flat. I will usually watch a movie twice before moving on but this one I could not get through the second time. This is not a Critic’s Corner but simply an observation and I hope one that is helpful to writers.

This movie was from events that took place based on the infamous Mena, Arkansas drug operation in the 1980s. Having worked in government in Arkansas at that time and familiar with several of the players, I found it more sensationalized and inaccurate than anything. But again it was based on a true story, not a true story or a documentary. But the more I thought about my disappointment the more I realized what a great opportunity for writers. Writing something “based on a true story” could mean all you need is a snippet of the truth from the true story along with the disclaimer “based on a true story” and you can run with it. So how much of the “truth” will you need?

I believe that is entirely up to you. Most stories, plays, songs and movies today are remakes of the original event or the telling of it. After all it was once said that our memories and the truth are close relatives but not identical twins. Who is to say your memory of the event isn’t more entertaining than someone else’s. If so why not tell your version, based on a true story of course. So how do we do this?

I believe we should look to what really grabs our interest, what we are familiar with and what we may know a little more about than the average person. An example of this: One of the players thought to be involved with in the Mena, Arkansas story was seated in the back booth of a Burger King. He was wrapped up in a heavy coat and scarf, hat pulled down over his eyes and eating his burger. I had known this gentleman for years. I spoke to him on a daily basis and was well aware of his current situation. I knew he was to begin his prison sentence the following Monday. He and many others were not mentioned in this movie. Doing so would not mean much or add to the sensationalized version. Those of us familiar with the situation might ask why this person was left out of the story. I used this knowledge to be critical but the average individual would not know this.

So take a bit of the true story and run with it. In the movie the recognition of Governor Bill Clinton in a phone call to the Attorney General to pardon the kingpin of the operation was the kind of connection for half the world to grasp. Not to imply this happened because if you remember this is only “based on a true story”. After all historical fiction is a genre.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Five Words Changed the way I Look at Writing

By Chris Fabry

I received an unexpected birthday gift from an acquaintance. I had lost signed copies of treasured books and my friend knew I loved Pat Conroy. She went to his house and knocked on his door. Perhaps it was because she was going through chemo and had a scarf around her head that he scribbled a signature and wrote a personal message:

“To Chris, Happy 50th Birthday. My best to you in your writing life. Go deeper. Always go deeper.”

I’ve thought a lot about what he meant, particularly after his death. I filed the advice along with other tips I’ve read from writers. One of the basic questions we ask is “How do I do this?” It’s easy to focus on mechanics. Write in the morning. Have a dedicated place where all you do is write. Write every day. Turn off the TV. Show, don’t tell. You’ve read these tips and they’re helpful.

I endeavored to follow them. I looked for the perfect desk, the perfect chair, even the perfect ergonomic keyboard. I got up every morning and hammered at stories. I thought if I followed the advice and worked hard, I would succeed.

The hard truth is that there is no magic equation to writing. There is no special font that will guarantee sales. (I did find a good ergonomic keyboard.) There’s no computer program that will pull the content from your soul. The real power of writing that matters is found in going deeper.

But what does that mean? How do I “go deeper”? How do I mine the nuggets of gold in my own soul without wallowing or becoming maudlin or exploiting my own pain and becoming self-focused?
The answer to that gets closer to the bone than mechanics will take me. Being willing to risk is the first step. In a sense, what Pat was saying in those few words was a call for me to get out of the way. To tell my stories with confidence as only I can tell them. To trust the process that brings me to the page. Allow the pain and questions and struggle to propel me. To write hard and clear about what hurts, as Hemingway said.

The hardest part of this is gauging success. If I write a bestseller, have I arrived? If no one reads my stories, have I failed? What if I’m criticized? Applauded? Pat’s words both haunt and encourage. They are a constant call to avoid such equations. Instead, I ask a harder question. Has the process led me to a subterranean region of my heart? Have my words helped me discover what I really believe about myself and the world? And in the journey, have I been able to bring the reader to a different place in their own heart?

Go deeper. Always go deeper.
Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He is also heard on Love Worth Finding, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs. A 1982 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University and a native of West Virginia, Chris and his wife, Andrea, now live in Arizona and are the parents of nine children. Chris’s novels, which include Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven, and The Promise of Jesse Woods, have won three Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and a 2017 Award of Merit from Christianity Today. His eightieth published book, Under a Cloudless Sky, is a novel set in the coalfields of his home state of West Virginia. His books include movie novelizations, like the recent bestseller War Room; nonfiction; and novels for children and young adults. He coauthored the Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, as well as the Red Rock Mysteries and the Wormling series with Jerry B. Jenkins. Visit his website at Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio Tyndale Media Center-where you can download press materials like: Media Alert, interview questions, Author Q & A, author image, book cover image, etc.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Timing is Everything

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

A funny friend of mine used to love to say this joke:

"The most important thing when you're doing comedy is ... uh ... er ... timing!"

Well, it was funny when he said it.  

The inherent wisdom behind his witticism was that getting the time wrong throws things off-kilter. This isn't only true for punchlines, but for any kind of communication.  Perhaps even moreso when it's the written word.  Consider this passage:
Dan didn't know why he was waking up in a hospital bed.  One of the last things he remembered was talking to Eleanor and Bobby at the party.  He looked at his watch.  Almost 8.  He was in the mood for one more drink before he said goodnight.  A nurse then appeared at the doorway.  
If you were confused reading that, I was just as confused writing it.  Was Dan checking his watch at the party or at the hospital?  Did a nurse suddenly show up at the party?  It all becomes clear in context, but the reader isn't supposed to have to work that hard to sort it out.

Another example of off-timing is when mixing past and present tense:
Only after the plane took off did James realize his briefcase is back home on the dining room table.  In it were the wood samples that his entire presentation depends on.  It will require some clever ad-libbing to describe the different finishes he told Mr Shaw he'll have ready.
That's a pretty blatant example of terrible time-shifting.  In actual practice, opposing tenses tend to creep in much more subtly and stealthily, especially during dialogue segments.  Be on guard for "he said" and "he says" that try to share the same time frame.

Another time element that confuses many is the use of "was" versus "were" in statements such as:
"I wish I was homeward bound." (Simon & Garfunkel, 1966)
"I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner." (TV commercial, 1965)
Only one of these is correct.  Which one is it?

In matters of non-reality, such as a wish or other imagining, the verb "were" helps to clarify, removing it from the realm of possibility.  No one would say, "I were homeward bound," but a sentence that includes "I was" could be taken incompletely to suggest "I was an Oscar Meyer weiner."  So songs like "If I Were a Carpenter" were correctly titled, while "If I Was Your Woman" wasn't.

These common mistakes in time and tense are easy to make, but just as easy to fix.  Developing good timing will help ensure that your writing is clear and linear and that both you and your reader have a good time.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Instruction Included, or Not (Part II)

By Idabel Allen

With twenty plus years writing under my belt – both professionally and personally, I’d learned a great deal about the business of writing and was confident in my ability to master the tasks associated with publishing and marketing my work.

Turns out what I knew about publishing and marketing was next to nothing. The publication of my novel, Rooted, that began my crash-course into the unknown: building a website, growing an email list, setting up a reader magnet, developing campaigns in MailChimp, creating ads, giveaways, and promotions.

To say it is overwhelming is an understatement. I am not a technical guru or marketing mastermind; I am a writer. And yet, instead of creating characters and dialogue and plot, much of my time is now devoted to developing systems and sales ads that are, admittedly, not as effective as they should be, but this too I am learning.

How I refrain from hurling my computer out the window, I’ll never know. But the problem isn’t the computer; it is me. Or rather, the necessity of mastering, or at least, becoming familiar with the never-ending tools and processes and procedures required of today’s writer. Because today’s writer is no longer just a writer, no matter how much we long to be.

As detailed in part one of this blog, I am not big on reading instructions or following an established path, no matter how much I intend to on the front-end. This lack of common sense on my part has cost me time and caused undue stress as I wrestle with all that is required of writers in today’s literary market.

To say I have learned my lesson is misleading. I will always jump feet first into projects without proper preparation; apparently, this is how I learn. Despite many heated battles with Wordpress, I now have a beautiful website that I designed, built, maintain on my own, which was my goal, to begin with. 

But I have learned there is help out there and to seek it sooner than later when needed. Fiverr and Reedsy, freelance marketplaces specializing in technical, editorial, marketing, and design services, have become much relied upon resources. I outsource what is beyond my ability or desire to do myself. Knowing I have experts to turn to if needed has provided a much-needed level of security and relief.

The truth is, we do not have to muddle through this brave new literary world alone. An endless supply of help and support is available to all: how-to articles, writers’ groups, conferences, forums, seminars, mentors – you name it, it’s out there.  In the end, it comes down to finding what works for you. That may take some experimentation and cause us to beat our heads against the wall.

But that’s okay; we are used to it. We’re writers after all.

So just go for it, any way you can. You’ll figure it out, instructions included, or not.
IDABEL ALLEN is the author of HeadshotsRootedand Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign to Save the Chigg and Rooted (February, 2018 release). When not burrowing in the written word, Idabel is generally up to no good with her family, dogs, and herd of antagonistic cows. Learn more about Idabel at or follow on Facebook: Twitter:

Friday, January 5, 2018

Instructions Included, or Not (Part I)

By Idabel Allen

Monopoly, Payday, Life even dominoes - as a child I rarely read instructions to any game or activity. I just winged it. Starting with Chutes and Ladders at six, I couldn’t be bothered to take five minutes to understand what I was about to undertake for the first time. There was a game before me, a task, something to do, and I jumped in feet first trusting I would figure it out as I went, or that another player knew more than I.

It’s the same now, at forty-eight. Only, I’m not playing board games, but publishing and marketing books utilizing a whole bevy of technical tools I’ve never used before: MailChimp and BookFunnel and WordPress and more. Tools that have, for the most part, clearly written instructions and training material to help you understand what you are doing and why.

The smart thing to do would be to read through this material, familiarize myself with the steps and start off with a solid base from which to build.

And yet, old habits die hard, and I am back to my old ways, uncertain of process and tool, consulting the instructions only after hitting a wall.

I like to think my aversion to instructions has less to do with laziness and more to do with impatience that goes back to childhood. Who has time to read instructions when there are dice to roll and game pieces to move about the board? Rules were often what we made them.

Playing board games by your own rules has few repercussions. Building a website, setting up email sequencing, inserting pixels, or developing ad campaigns is an entirely different matter. Each piece is critical to your overall marketing plan, which has its own architecture similar to a building. Your website is the foundation and social media accounts, ad campaigns, promotions and giveaways the floors above. Furnishing rooms are content – newsletters, blog posts, articles, interviews, and reviews.

This building is quite a complex piece of architecture. Without a blueprint for guidance, construction is a nightmare. I know because I created this nightmare for myself. Not out of laziness or ignorance, but out of a deep-seated impatience to get the job done that rode shotgun over common sense.

It’s not that I didn’t plan; I’m a planner by nature. I had a general outline in my head of what needed to happen and corresponding deadlines. I gave myself two weeks to build my website in Wordpress, a tool I’d never used. Another week to update my social media accounts.  Once these things were complete, I would start my ad campaign and go from there.

Then reality set in and I discovered how much lack of preparation cost in time, effort and stress. I lost more time tracking down issues with my email account, system performance, and countless other technical issues.

Turns out the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, has never been truer.  Read Part 2 on 1-8-18.
IDABEL ALLEN is the author of HeadshotsRootedand Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign to Save the Chigg and Rooted (February, 2018 release). When not burrowing in the written word, Idabel is generally up to no good with her family, dogs, and herd of antagonistic cows. Learn more about Idabel at or follow on Facebook: Twitter:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Alphabet Ends With Y

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I learned last week, a favorite author, Sue Grafton had died December 28, 2017. I had come to know her as a business friend, in recent years, but was an avid reader of her books since A is for Alibi. She was generous, kind, and encouraging to me and other authors around the globe. Her loyal friends and fans were stunned and saddened. 

Sue is known best for her alphabet mystery book series, with her memorable protagonist, Private Investigator, Kinsey Millhone. As her fans know, Kinsey lives and works in 1970’s California. It was an era before cell phones and computers, where leg work meant actually doing physical investigation, not surfing the Internet for answers. On August 22, 2013, I wrote a blog post that highlighted planning your series protagonist titled, Think Ahead as your Character Develops. In this blog I referred to Sue Grafton’s purposeful plans for her series protagonist, Kinsey. 

The Sue Grafton I knew was generous in sharing pieces of her life. Her last sharing with her friends and fans appeared on December 19, 2017 she shared this story on FacebookI have an amazing story to tell and I’m not sure where to begin. I think I’ll lay out events in the order they occurred, the most recent first. Just before Thanksgiving, I received a note on Facebook Messenger from a woman named Jenny G. No last name here in case she wants to remain the anonymous heroine of this tale. In her message she said she thought she had something that had belonged to my family. Of course, I wrote back as soon as I read her note. She told me that as a hobby she buys items from antique stores that she uses to furnish her own house and various rental properties. She must have an eye for value because she’d recently purchased a sturdy-looking travel trunk. When she opened it, she found five christening dresses, Chinese needlework, and several pieces of artwork from China. The name Letty Taylor Grafton surfaced and that’s why Jenny decided to track me down. I’m not sure how she figured out that Letty Taylor Grafton and I were related, but it speaks to her good sleuthing skills and her determination. 
A Little Back Story-
Some of you may be aware that both sets of my grandparents were Presbyterian missionaries in China in the early days of the century. I believe my grandfather Grafton made the trip with his new wife, Letty, sometime in 1904 and my grandfather Harnsberger traveled to China in 1913 or so, accompanied by his wife, Lanie Gillespie and their daughter, Vivian, who was my mother. None of them could read or write Chinese, but learned to speak the language as they immersed themselves in the culture. Letty Taylor and my grandfather Grafton had three sons; Tom, Arthur, and my father Cornelius, whose nickname was Chip. I’m reasonably certain all three boys went through christening ceremonies decked out in these beautiful and delicate gowns. For reasons unknown, Letty developed an allergy to wheat, suffering a condition called sprue, which is also known as celiac disease. This chronic immune disorder results in anemia, gastrointestinal issues, and malabsorption of food. She died in China in February of 1925. Three months later, my grandfather Grafton married a woman named Mary Woods, thus scandalizing the Taylor family. By happenstance, several years earlier, my grandfather Harnsberger married Mary’s cousin, Agnes, after Lanie Gillespie’s death in 1917 of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. I was told that Lanie had been pregnant with twins, and died while my grandfather was making a three month circuit on horseback, preaching in the provinces. This, I’ve never had confirmed so it might just be family lore. He didn’t learn of her passing until he returned. My mother was nine years old. In my phone conversation with Jenny G., she told me she’d spotted an inventory list in the top of the trunk and it included mention of several quilts, which were nowhere in evidence. She whipped right back over to the antique store and asked what had become of them. Since the store doesn’t deal in textiles, the quilts had been tossed aside with the intention of throwing them out. Jenny rescued the lot of them and put them back in the trunk. The five quilts are in amazing condition. Though hand-sewn, they bear no hint as to the date they were made or the person or persons who did the intricate work. All women, I don’t doubt. There is also an appliqu├ęd topper in need of finishing. If there’s anyone out there in Facebook land who knows a quilter, I’d love to hear from you. I have no idea if Letty and her sisters made the quilts and sent them along to China with her or if Letty and other missionary women did the piece work and the quilting while in China. I know there were a number of other families at the same station: Dr. and Mrs. Grier, Dr. and Mrs. McFadyen, the Browns, the Armstrongs and the Sydenstrikers, among them. As for the christening dresses, I have to assume they were worn by Letty’s three boys and other children during the formal church services and then tucked away for safe keeping. The artwork is clearly of Chinese origin; some on fragile paper and some on beautifully embroidered cloth. The trunk was purchased from a company called Taylor Trunk here in Louisville and I’m guessing my grandparents bought it to transport clothing and personal articles from Louisville to Hsuchonfu, which is where my two uncles and my father were born. The Taylor Trunk Company is still a presence in town; owned and managed by the same family for five generations so it’s likely that one of the Taylors made the sale. The trunk is in good condition. One of the leather handles has torn loose, but the locks and other hardware are fully functional. The address of the company is affixed to the front of the trunk on a metal plaque, with a note saying, ‘just across from the post office.’ Amusing to imagine Louisville as so small a town that customers would be given the location in terms of another downtown landmark. Here are the questions that arise: how did this travel trunk from Hsuchonfu, China, end up in Charlotte, North Carolina one hundred years later? More importantly, where has it been all this time? If Letty Taylor Grafton packed the trunk some time before her death in 1925, we have to be talking about a ten decade gap, during which the trunk and its contents were unaccounted for, but remained miraculously intact. There may be a few items missing, but the quilts and christening dresses have been accounted for along with the miscellaneous Chinese art.
There is one clue; a green hanging file folder that contains my grandfather Grafton’s obituary. He died Vicksburg Mississippi in 1963 at the age of 85. There is in that same file a 1943 newspaper article and photograph of my father, my mother, my sister, and me looking on at his first published novel, THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE and a second clipping that touts his third published novel. Clearly, these were included at a later date when the trunk had already made its way to the United States. I’m currently leaning toward the theory that someone in the family took possession of the trunk at some point after Letty’s death. It’s possible her personal effects were sent back to Louisville and remained in the care of her sisters, who might well have passed the trunk down to the next generation as time went on. The notion doesn’t explain the geographical leap from Louisville Kentucky to the antique store in Charlotte, North Carolina, but circumstances might have dictated its destination. My point here is that I’m grateful to the many people through whose hands this trunk has passed. Granted, for anyone not connected to the Taylor family, the keepsakes would have no sentimental value, but it seems all the more remarkable to me strangers didn’t scavenge the items, taking what appealed and dumping the rest. The trunk and its contents are now in my keeping and I intend to be a good steward, nurturing this small bundle of history that has come so far. If anyone out there holds a piece of the puzzle, I’d love to know the details.

Respectfully Submitted,

Sue Grafton
December 18, 2017”

She shared this experience just just 9 days before her death. It's like a little written nugget for her many friends and fans. Like so many readers of her post commented, we had hopes she would weave the story of “The Traveling Trunk,” into a Christmas tale as only Sue Grafton could do. I loved that she signed the post as her protagonist, Kinsey signed her PI written reports to clients when closing a case. You can see her pictures of the trunk and it’s contents on her Facebook page

Several years ago, Sue wrote the book, Kinsey and Me. A reader who rated Sue’s book on Goodreads said, “Kinsey and Me: Stories is a rare treat for a mystery fan and for students of the writer's craft. The Kinsey short stories show exactly why Grafton has such a loyal following. They are fun and well crafted with surprisingly complexity for their given space. The ...and Me stories - more vignettes, really - are what push this collection into something special. They are raw and heartbreaking and beautiful; I applaud Grafton's courage and willingness to share them. To the fan, though, they are also a trove of unexpected insights into the character and world of Kinsey Millhone. It really is unusual to get to see so clearly how a fiction series is informed by the interior landscape of an author.”

Her daughter, Jamie turned to social media to share the family’s thoughts following her Mom’s death, “Hello Dear Readers.  This is Sue's daughter, Jamie.  I am sorry to tell you all that Sue passed away last night after a two year battle with cancer. She was surrounded by family, including her devoted and adoring husband Steve. Although we knew this was coming, it was unexpected and fast. She had been fine up until just a few days ago, and then things moved quickly. Sue always said that she would continue writing as long as she had the juice. Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

Thank you, Sue Grafton for many enjoyable hours of reading and your friendship. You will be missed and for me, too “the alphabet now ends at Y.”