Thursday, November 14, 2019

Never Too Late to Write a Holiday Story

By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Almost everyone has a Thanksgiving story and you don’t have to be an American to have one. A Thanksgiving story can be about what you’re thankful for in life or if you’re American—your individual Thanksgiving story where family and friends gather around the table as a November custom celebrated in so many homes across the U.S.A. And that’s the story line I’ll be addressing in this article.

With every Thanksgiving celebration, there’s usually a trip to the store for a turkey unless you raise your own. The turkey is key to the food story, the star character if you will. Then there are the sides. Those oh-so-delicious-sides.

Does Aunt Louise cart in a cake or pie to the get together? Which cousin likes to stir up some veggies? Which relative is a good cook and which relative is a terrible cook, bless her heart? Which friend volunteers to set the table but doesn’t know where the silverware goes? Which relatives always show up late—which delays the meal because they had to lasso the turkey? Which relative always sashays in with deviled eggs—wearing a fur coat (the relative, not the eggs)—because deviled eggs are the cheapest dish to bring? Which aunt doesn’t season any of her veggies and her dishes always taste bland? Which friends have a car break down on the way to dinner and someone has to go scoop them up to haul them in?

There are so many different scenarios and subplots going on when you gather a group of people together for a holiday meal. I’m sure you can come up with many scenarios and subplots on your own. If you take one story at a time and flesh out each character, then throw in lots of conflict when the characters clash—oops, come together, pretty soon you would have a novella or perhaps a novel, depending on how much drama you can drum up.

I think I’ll take my own advice and get to work on that project. It’s never too late to write a holiday story. Happy soon-to-be Thanksgiving ya’ll!         

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


By Jeffrey Blount

I was a freshman in college, working diligently at my first attempt to craft a novel.  I was having difficulty finding my voice as a writer as well as the voices of my characters.  My English professor, being quite proud of my efforts, set up a phone call for me with a friend of hers who was a published author.  I held my pen at the ready, hoping that I’d be able to write fast enough to capture all of the knowledge he would be handing over.  Nervously, I laid out my literary issues.  He responded by saying,  
One word and then nothing, in the resulting silence, he let me begin to come to grips with the message. Little did I know, this one word would be the most important piece of literary advice I would ever receive.  It was extraordinarily important to the success of my recent release The Emancipation of Evan Walls.
As a son of the South, I am familiar with many of its songs.  One particular song was the language of the people in the community in which I was raised.  I was setting the story in a small, rural town in the late 60s and early 70s.  I wanted to reflect that time in the voices of my characters.  So, I remembered my lesson. If you want to know what conversations in a bar sound like, the author told me when the phone conversation resumed, you go in, buy a beer, sit down and listen. Don’t talk to anyone.  Just listen.  And not just to the words.  Hear the joy and the pain.  Hear the comfort and the doubts.  Words are more than just sounds.  
In my case, I couldn’t go in and just listen.  Many of the voices I treasured had passed on.  Many had simply changed with the times.  So, I looked inward.  I sat and remembered situations from my childhood and soon the voices returned, and I heard them.  Many people call what I wrote dialect.  Some thought I shouldn’t use it, because in the present it might play into stereotypes of African Americans.  But according some linguists, it isn’t a dialect but a separate language.  It was my language.  My heritage and I wanted to represent it.  So, I heard my great-grandmother tell her stories and felt the emotions tied to her voice.  I heard my great aunt say, “Chile, please!” when someone made her laugh so hard she had to beg for mercy.  I wrote outwardly from those voices, creating my story from them. And I am proud to say that I listened well.  The language, or music of my youth as I like to call it, rang true to readers and added so much to the story. Author, Christina Kovac wrote, “…the dialogue is superb.”  Author Viga Boland wrote that I was a master at “…revealing characters and their motivations primarily through dialogue.”
These days, I give the gift of “listen” whenever I am asked for writing advice.  But not only do you need to listen to the world around you, you really have to hear yourself.  Writing isn’t just about crafting, it’s about the opening up of our souls and reflecting upon it.  Listening to it and then finding the courage to put that on paper.
Jeffrey Blount is the award-winning author of three novels — Almost Snow White, winner of the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, Hating Heidi Foster, winner of the 2013 Readers Favorite Book Award for young adult literature and his recent release, The Emancipation of Evan Walls. He is also an Emmy award-winning television director and a 2016 inductee to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.  During a 34-year career at NBC News, Jeffrey directed a decade of Meet The Press, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, The Chris Matthews Show and major special events. Jeffrey is an accomplished public speaker, commenting on issues of race, social justice and writing. He was a contributor for HuffPost and has been published in The Washington Post, The and other publications.  He is also an award-winning documentary scriptwriter for films and interactives that are now on display in the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.  the Newseum,  America I AM: The African American Imprint at the National Constitution Center, The Museum at Bethel Woods, at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, and others.  These projects have won Cine Golden Eagle Awards,  Muse Awards and a Thea Award. Born and raised in Smithfield, Virginia, he now lives in Washington, DC. Social Media Links: Twitter: Facebook: Instagram: Website:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Friendlier Libraries

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

I have always loved books. I remember most of the elementary classrooms had a large bookshelf with many of the classics. We were free to look through them and as far as I knew they weren’t in any order. We never worried about taking one out and putting it back out of order.

All that changed as I got older and started using the High School and College libraries. It seemed to me as I entered a library the emphasis was on the order of things. I remember being introduced to the Dewey Decimal System. My first thought was who thought of such a tool of torment. A system of decimals created by a man named Dewey had taken this wonderful place to browse for fun, adventure and wonderment and changed it to an orderly world of books with numbers.

I felt hopeless and began to rely totally on librarians and their leadership. I thought this was done for them to maintain power and authority over the orderly structure of all these books. I could see the need to maintain some form of order but what seemed to me to had been done was take people like me out of the picture and make us dependent upon the librarian.

My two main concerns dealt with my pride. Not knowing or understanding the Dewey Decimal System and admitting it by asking where to find a book. The second issue was once having the book and deciding it may be the wrong one, I had no idea where to go to put it back. With today’s friendlier libraries and librarians, I doubt I would have ever had this concern. One thing I have noticed is a YouTube presentation on the Dewey Decimal System I have watched. Simple instructions along with a chart that makes sense. 

While visiting with a school administrator she explained to me she was getting children to read by making changes. One of the changes was the children’s library in the elementary school was arranged like a bookstore you would go into, by genre. It appears to hide the intimidating system and allows more browsing like we did in elementary school. The truth is the genre method was always there but the emphasis was on the decimals.      

My granddaughter is a freshman in the largest high school in our state. It is a new plant costing near $100 Million. It has a marvelous library. I asked my granddaughter if their library was arranged by genre. She looked puzzled and answered yes as if how else would you do it. I was glad to hear that. I began to think this was more the norm. I must say her library bright and open, looks like a park with benches and oh yes food from the cafeteria is allowed. I think I would feel at ease in that library. It sounds like schools are doing what it takes to get kids to read books.     

Monday, November 11, 2019

Why The Book is Always Better, Part 2

By Dan Walsh

In last month’s column, I talked about one of my Bucket List items that seems likely to happen, probably in the 2nd half of 2019. One of my novels is being made into a feature film (The Reunion). I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with the 2 main producers of the project over the last 2 years (one of them is now an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and he’s adapted the book into a screenplay).

One of the biggest challenges he’s had was trying to keep intact all the important elements of the book (that made him want to make it into a movie in the first place), while having to cut out more than half the content, so that it can fit into a 2-hour movie. As I said last month, my novel is just over 300 pages. The script is about 105.

That got me thinking about why the overwhelming majority of people who watch a movie that started out as a book say, “The Book was SO much better.” Today, I want to talk about ANOTHER big reason people always like the books more. And this second reason goes to a big advantage novelists have over screenwriters when we set out to tell a story.

A novelist can take “the camera” to places a filmmaker can never go.

What am I talking about? I’m sure most of us have heard of the concept of “the close-up” in television and movies. That’s when the camera zooms in on the actor’s face. A director usually calls for this shot when he/she wants to convey to the audience what an actor is experiencing emotionally. Maybe it’s anxiety or fear, anger or hate, love or desire, sadness or joy. Any number of emotional reactions.

So actors have to learn how to do effective closeups, how to communicate using facial expressions alone: their eyes, eyebrows, their mouth and lips. But see, in a film, the actor’s face is as close as the camera can go.

As fiction writers, we can take the camera much deeper. We can bring the reader into the very mind and heart of our characters. It’s much more than simply stating a thought a character might have. Done properly, the reader will feel as if they are actually experiencing what the character feels as our story unfolds, to where the writing almost comes across like reading the pages of a character’s diary or personal journal.

Listen to how best-selling historical romance author, Tamera Alexander puts it:

The primary reason readers read is to be moved, to be changed, to live the experiences of the characters themselves. They want to turn that last page and be different for having taken that journey with those characters they’ve lived with―they’ve become―over the past 350 pages. This happens when readers connect with characters who are real…”
―Tamera Alexander,
A Novel Idea (pg 47)

As an object lesson of what I’m talking about, read the opening paragraphs to my 2nd novel, The Homecoming (and try to imagine a camera attempting to capture even a fraction of what is shared). Our main character is a husband who’s come home from WW2 to care for his son, because his wife has been killed in a car accident. He drives back to the place where they first met.

Shawn looked down at the empty seat beside him, trying to imagine Elizabeth there. He tried to remember the smell of her hair, the sound of her voice, one of her smiles. It all seemed just out of reach.

She wasn’t there. She would never be there again.

He came here, in part, thinking some time alone might help. He was tired of pretending to be fine. It was exhausting. Pretending to see scenes out the window, pretending to read a book, pretending to listen. Elizabeth preoccupied his every waking moment. Shawn had known a depth of love with her he’d never imagined possible, a love he was sure most men would never see, not in a lifetime…

…But the main reason he came back was to remember her, to reclaim moments of time, conversations they’d shared, places they’d visited. He wanted to see and feel all these things again. To do anything that helped him see and feel all these things again.

Compare these words and what they convey in just a few moments to the limitations of a camera doing a closeup shot of an actor—even a great one—trying to communicate to the audience through their facial expressions.

That’s a tall order, if you ask me. And another big reason why I believe “The Book is Always Better.” It’s not the movie’s fault, the screenwriter’s fault, or the director’s or the actor’s fault. It’s just the limitation of the medium used to tell the story.

Of course, I’m not sharing this to debunk movies or discourage people from watching them. I love a great film, and we’re hoping and praying The Reunion becomes a great one soon. But even the best of movies can’t take the camera to places a skillful novelist can go.
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 21 novels (all available on Amazon), including The Unfinished Gift, Rescuing Finley, When Night Comes and The Reunion (now being made into a feature film). Over 750,000 of his books are in print or downloaded. He's won both the Carol and Selah Awards multiple times, 4 of his novels have been finalists for RT Reviews Inspirational Novel of the Year. Reviewers often remark about Dan's rich, character-driven storylines and page-turning suspense (even with his more inspirational books). He's been writing full-time since 2010. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years, have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. They live in the Daytona Beach area, where Dan grew up. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, read his blog, or preview all his books by visiting his website at Dan’s books: If These Walls Could Talk - DAN'S NEWEST NOVEL, When Night Comes, Remembering Dresden, Unintended Consequences,  Perilous Treasure,  Rescuing Finley, Finding Riley Saving Parker and  The Deepest Waters (2nd Ed)

Friday, November 8, 2019

Why The Book is Always Better- Part 1

By Dan Walsh

If you follow me on FB or Twitter, you might already know…one of my Bucket List items is likely going to happen, likely in the 2nd half of 2019. That is, one of my novels is being made into a feature film (The Reunion). It’s been in the works for 2 years, but after chatting recently with Nick Vallelonga, the writer/director who’s adapted the book into a screenplay, some very big name actors and investors are already interested and reading the script. They’re hoping to have the casting and all the pre-production tasks completed by the end of this summer, then start shooting in the Fall.

We’ll see. I sure hope that’s how it goes from here.

In any case, I couldn’t be happier with the guy who wrote the script. You may have heard of him, Nick Vallelonga. In 2018, Nick won 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars for Best Original Screenplay for his movie, Green Book (it also won in the Best Picture category - here’s a pic of Nick holding his 2 Oscars).

Clearly, my book is in good hands. And Nick and I have become good friends. He’s kept the script as true to the book as possible, including the faith elements. Even with all that said, I’m pretty sure after the film is made (and hopefully becomes a smash hit), people who’ve read my book and also see the film will undoubtedly say, “The movie was good, but the book was better.”

Why do I say that? Because that’s what everyone always says about a book-turned-into-a-movie. “The Book was better.” A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a charter school to a middle-school group of honor students. It was a creative writing class, and all the kids said they wanted to be writers when they grew up.

Knowing most writers are avid readers, I asked how many of them liked to read novels. Every hand went up. I said, “Name some books you’ve read that were turned into movies.” Everyone began calling out popular movie names, lots of examples were shared. Then I asked, “Keep your hand up if you liked any of the movies better than the books?”

Every hand went down.

I asked it another way, “Did any of you like any of the movies better than any of the books? Raise your hand.” No one did. So, then we talked about why this is so. That’s what I want to talk about with you, this month and next month. Why the book is almost always better than the movie.

See, having worked fairly closely with Nick (and several other movie creative types) in the last few years, I’ve learned a little bit about that world and some of the unique storytelling challenges they face.  The first one I want to address goes directly to the reason the book is always better.

Turns out, most movie scripts are only between 100-120 pages long. The rule of thumb is, 1 page of script per minute of film (so, a 2-hour movie script would only be around 120 pages long). You can see the challenge right away. Most full-length novels average 300 pages, or more. The Reunion is just a few pages shy of 300.

Talking with Nick, that was his biggest challenge adapting it into a screenplay. Nick absolutely loved the book, as is. As novels go, he thought it was perfect and wouldn’t change a thing. But, there’s the rub. Even as a 2-hour movie, he had to cut out almost 2/3 of the book to get the story to fit the time constraint.

Of course, you can shave a few pages because you don’t have to describe very much in the script. One pan of the camera, and you set the scene. But that only takes out a little (especially in my books, I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to descriptive paragraphs).

But see, this kind of challenge happens every time a novel is made into a movie. Can you imagine completing your full-length novel then having an editor hand it back to you saying, “Okay, we like it, but we need you to delete 200 pages, but still keep the best parts of the story intact.”

There are other reasons why I believe people always like the book better (we’ll talk about some next time). But this one alone has given me a new depth of sympathy and appreciation for screenwriters who try and tackle such a seemingly insurmountable storytelling challenge as this.
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 21 novels (all available on Amazon), including The Unfinished Gift, Rescuing Finley, When Night Comes and The Reunion (now being made into a feature film). Over 750,000 of his books are in print or downloaded. He's won both the Carol and Selah Awards multiple times, 4 of his novels have been finalists for RT Reviews Inspirational Novel of the Year. Reviewers often remark about Dan's rich, character-driven storylines and page-turning suspense (even with his more inspirational books). He's been writing full-time since 2010. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years, have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. They live in the Daytona Beach area, where Dan grew up. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, read his blog, or preview all his books by visiting his website at Dan’s books: If These Walls Could Talk - DAN'S NEWEST NOVEL, When Night Comes, Remembering Dresden, Unintended Consequences,  Perilous Treasure,  Rescuing Finley, Finding Riley Saving Parker and  The Deepest Waters (2nd Ed)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Bluff City Law-Changes Many Worlds

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Halloween morning arrived with a drastic shift in temperatures. Memphis had record highs at the beginning October, peaking at a hot 98 and ended the month with a wind chill of 30 and snow flurries. Talk about a drastic change.

As I was running errands with the heater on full blast in my warmest sweatshirt, I happened upon the film set of Bluff City Law and was encouraged. Fingers crossed that filming continues for this well-written and perfectly-executed show and that a Season Two happens. My fingers are crossed. As you may recall my last blog post was titled “Save NBC’s Bluff City Law LikeCharlotte Did Wilbur.” 

I hope you will watch to see how to craft screenwriting with multiple plot lines. The show, "Bluff City Law", can be seen Monday nights at 9:00 p.m., CST, on NBC. It has been shooting in Memphis, and we would love for it to have a second season. It’s been economically and spiritually giving to Memphis and its citizens. Memphis salaries, hotels, restaurants, and local businesses have received a boost of more than $10 million, a huge boost for our economy. However, more important than economics, the cast and crew are genuinely kind folks who have embraced our city and found a place in our hearts.

Case in point, last week on The Memphis and Shelby County Film and Movie Commission Facebook page, I saw this heart warming story. “Alexis Bezilla, a patient at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, brought a very special few hours to the set of NBC’s “Bluff City Law” in Memphis when she made an unannounced visit to the set last month! Although not expecting her, the cast and crew spontaneously made time for her- taking time from their 14 hour day. Series star Jimmy Smits spent ALL his breaks with her. Director of Photography Mike Spragg asked for the spelling of her name- then surprised her with a slate personalized with her name. He even went to his colleagues and collected autographs for her. Director of Lighting Greg Argarin even brought a young woman to meet her who had survived serious cancer- in order to give Alexis and her Mother, April Bezilla, hope. Justin Sulham, a grip from Nashville who had competed as the world’s strongest man, carried Alexis-wheelchair and all- from place to place on the set. Alexis went to Heaven Monday night. The visit to the set of “ Bluff City Law” was to be her last outing. Thank you, cast and crew of “ Bluff City Law” for making Alexis’ last day away from the hospital one so special, so memorable- so fun! . Memphis and Tennessee have been so incredibly fortunate to have you here. May each and every one of you be a part of Season Two! 🙏 #bluffcitylaw” Fingers crossed! 

A detailed article in the Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, recounts additional information and pictures of this touching example set by the cast and crew of Bluff City Law. Thank you BCL for the example of kindness and giving.

We all possess the ability to give and show kindness in our world. It is, after all, the month of giving. Show a little kindness to authors you have read over the year. Take the time to give a positive review and show kindness and give encouragement to a fellow author. We all mean to give a positive review. Now is the time to give back to fellow authors.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Reason to Write

By Ken Billett

I love to write. I’ve always loved to write, and writing has always been one of those things that comes naturally to me. It’s my true creative outlet. I used to play guitar, and I still enjoy growing plants. Sometimes, when I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll tinker around the house. But writing is the one thing that gets me excited. I love putting words together to make sentences and placing those sentences together to make a story, a blog post, an online review, or an email. I write great emails.

Writing, like any craft, takes practice with lots of trial and error. Six years ago, my writing was rusty, very rusty. The better part of my working life was spent on business communications, employee handbooks and newsletters, teacher lesson plans, and, as I mentioned earlier, all those emails. My creative instincts remained within the boundaries of business needs and educational expectations.

Once I retired, however, the shackles were released, and I began to write for me. I started small: online travel posts and restaurant reviews, a couple of columns for a now-defunct local sports magazine, and, like many people, I blogged. I even resurrected my novel, or, as I call it, my white whale. It’s been a labor of love – and hate – for nearly ten years.

I joined local writers’ groups, enrolled in online courses, listened to podcasts, and attended a couple of writing conferences. Even as I continued to hone my craft, I grew increasingly frustrated with the results. My short stories were routinely rejected, and I went unpublished for several years.

Something was missing from my writing. I lacked an identity – what writers and publishers call voice. In addition, I sought a purpose for what I wrote.

Blogging helped me find my voice. Maintaining a personal blog gave me a reason to write and sharing my story gave my writing a purpose.

I have metastatic melanoma: a stage IV cancer. I started my blog shortly after my diagnosis in July 2013. I wanted my extended family and close friends to not only keep up with my prognosis but to better understand what I was going through. Early on, my posts were simple status reports along with an occasional rant. I was also erratic about updating my blog. I’d go for months – even a whole year – without a new post.

When my fiction writing stalled, blogging became my creative outlet. By writing about my cancer journey and sharing it with others, I discovered both my voice and a purpose.

Beginning last spring, I shared my journey with several national melanoma and skin cancer organizations. By publicizing my story, I wanted others with melanoma to know there is hope. This summer, I became a contributor to, and Coolibar Sun Protective Clothing published my journey in their Skin Diaries blog.

Along with my advocacy work, I’m now a freelance writer for a couple of local publications, and one of my short stories will soon appear in a mystery anthology.

It took me several years to find my voice as an author.

More importantly, a purpose for my writing.
A retired school teacher and former corporate benefits manager, Ken Billett is an active advocate for melanoma research and skin cancer prevention. He volunteers with several national melanoma organizations and chronicles his journey with an online blog. Ken and his wife, Vicki, have called Memphis, Tennessee home for more than thirty years. Ken also volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame in downtown Memphis, and, when not tending to his flowers, he and Vicki travel extensively. Blog: