Friday, September 22, 2017

Still Writing After All These Years

By Loralee Lillibridge (aka Lora Lee)

I never expected to still be writing at eighty-two. As a novice writer and newlywed, a very long time ago, I thought Id sit down one weekend and write a novel. After all, I was a fast reader, so I was confident I’d be a fast writer. Oh lordy! I didnt have a clue. But I was about to learn. Yes, indeed. I just didn’t know it would take so long.

Not knowing where to start or how to submit anything, I made plenty of mistakes - goofs of massive proportion, actually - but stubbornly kept writing on my old, manual typewriter, buying carbon paper and white-out by the box full.

As the family grew, I only wrote on Tuesdays. One day a week, I thought, would be enough to write a book and still be a wife and mother and bookkeeper for our business. After all, how hard could it be? Ha! Silly me. I dreamed of writing but made excuses that kept me from finishing a manuscript. I started new stories a hundred times or more, never finishing or submitting anything. I lost faith in my ability to write. I was too busy, I said when asked. Or life was chaotic right then. But my writing friends kept encouraging me, so I finally entered a contest that led to a contract. It had taken twenty years to sell my first book because of those excuses. Yes, people, TWENTY years! I thought I’d have dozens of books on the market by then. Big surprise!

I tell you this not to discourage new writers just beginning their journey into the unpredictable world of publishing, but to encourage them to write their stories no matter how long it takes or how many mountains there are to climb. If you believe in yourself and your writing, you’ll hang in there through all the roadblocks and rejected manuscripts that clutter your closets. Life and its little/big problems will always be lurking to disrupt your days. Tears will be shed, but there will also be shouts of joy when your first book hits the shelves. Satisfaction of a goal reached, a dream becoming a reality, a job well done. A reason to be proud.

Would I do it again? You betcha! I’ve had a blast in spite of the excuses. No one has had more fun on the road to publishing than I’ve had. I’ve met a lot of awesome writers and made some special friends through writer’s groups. I’ve traveled to conferences and attended workshops. I even took a ten-week Citizen Police Academy course at age seventy-two. I’ve learned from my mistakes and have grown in my story-telling. You, too, could still be writing at eighty-two.
Writing romance and cozy mysteries with a Texas twang and a touch of humor, Loralee Lillibridge (aka Lora Lee), loves to tell stories with believable characters, small towns where everybody knows your business and quirky, but lovable, neighbors. A native Texan, Loralee has called West Michigan home since her marriage, but still misses seeing the bluebonnets in the Spring. Her love of travel took her to Ireland to celebrate her 80th birthday. As a child with a vivid imagination, her library card was a treasured possession. Although encouraged by her high school English teacher to put her imagination into stories, Loralee’s first published novel, Accidental Hero for Harlequin, didn’t debut until after marriage and raising a family. Since then, she’s had a cozy mystery published by Bell Bridge Books and three romance novels published by Tell-Tale Publishing. Her greatest love, however, will always be her family. Loralee's Social Media Links: Website:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

First Impressions

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

“You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Will Rogers

I was interviewing a recent college graduate for a job and asked him what his goal was upon entering college. He said, “My goal was to graduate with the highest GPA in my major.” I was impressed and asked how that worked out for him. He said he indeed had graduated with the highest GPA in his major so I asked him how he did it. He went on to tell me he did it with a good first impression with his professors. Each semester prior to his first class, he would read the first 5 chapters. This prepared him for the lectures, in which he could answer questions, and for the first exams. He had noted that while other students were busy with other things and playing catchup with their studies, he was setting the curve for their grades.   

The young man told me that as the semester progressed he felt his first impression had paid off. He felt many times his work was not up to par but received top grades because his professor expected him to do so. He felt there may have been times when his professor skipped over grading his work because it was expected to be the best.          

This young man had made an impression on me and I quickly realized the wisdom of this. We do take that first impression and use it as our standard. If an actor, author or musician we are introduced to really hits home with us, we begin to look for other works they have done. We search for that same impression as the first; looking for that initial pleasure we experienced to repeat it. Many times we are successful but there are times we feel they fall short. When they do fall short we will either go on to their next work or possibly leave them and search for another new experience. Either way the first impression kept you searching, listening, reading and possibly purchasing their next work.

So what is the lesson here for us? I think we should be prepared for an opportunity to make that first impression a positive one. Being prepared could simply mean being aware of the opportunity before you. Many of us are in such a hurry these days we fail to recognize opportunities. I’ve always taught my children to be where you are. Never allowing your mind to wander elsewhere but be in that moment and  place. Then ask yourself two questions. 1)”What is the reason I am here?” and 2) “What is my purpose for being here?”

The reason you may be here is work related. Work has taken you here but your purpose here may have a much greater pull on your life. Asking yourself these two questions can make you alert to your reason and purpose. Watch for an opportunity and when it arises make that first impression a good one. Be ready with a short introduction of yourself and your work. Be interested in their work and ask questions to show your interest. Remember you are not only making a first impression but they are as well. A good first impression sets the standard. It can keep them searching for more. The benefits from a good first impression are great.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I am Not the Kind of Writer Who _____

By Tova Mirvis

I was a student in a writing class, struggling to write a first novel, when my teacher wrote this on the board and instructed the class to fill in the blank.

My classmates quickly began writing but I had trouble deciding on one response. I was not the kind of writer who wrote a lot of dialogue? I was not the kind of writer who wrote action and adventure?
Eventually I settled on “I am not the kind of writer who writes about myself.”

Sure, I was drawing on my own background to create the fiction I was trying to write, but I wasn’t sharing the actual facts of my life. The novel I was working on was set in the small Orthodox Jewish community in Memphis where I was raised, part of a family that had been in the city for six generations. As a student in New York City, writing about Memphis was a way to connect to my long-standing roots as a Southern Jew. I created characters who allowed me to explore my own questions about the tension between longing for home and the need to strike out on your own; about how to be part of a close group yet remain you.

In fiction, I could explore these questions but keep myself safely out of sight. Non-fiction and memoir were too exposing. They offered no place to hide. I would never write memoir. I was sure of this.

Three novels and 15 years later, I was no longer so sure. I had a different story to tell now – this one about leaving a marriage and the religious world in which I was raised. I wanted to write a book about what it meant to try to live more authentically, to be who you really were, and to do this, I needed to write about myself directly. My next book, I realized, needed to be a memoir.

It was time to revisit that long ago declaration that I wasn’t the kind of writer who wrote about myself. I was scared when I sat down to write memoir for the first time, but eventually it became clear to me that this was the story I needed to tell, and this was the way I needed to tell it. It turned out that when long ago I said I would never write memoir, I didn’t yet know what kind of writer I was.

This, I think, is was what my teacher was after when she had us list what kind of writer we were not.  It’s common to think of ourselves as being able to write only one kind of book. It’s all too easy to box ourselves into the realm where we feel most comfortable. But sometimes the story we want to tell determines what kind of writer we are. Sometimes as writers, we need to take not just our readers by surprise but ourselves as well.
Tova Mirvis is the author of three novel Visible City (2014), The Outside World (2004,) and The Ladies Auxiliary (1999) which was a national bestseller. Her memoir, The Book of Separation will be published in September 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her essays have appeared in many publications including The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Poets & Writers and Good Housekeeping, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. A native of Memphis, TN, she now lives outside of Boston with her family.  Visit her website for more information or connect with her on social media at

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Plan an Ego Trip

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

It's ironic that authors who have no problem writing a 100,000-word manuscript on a deadline will freeze up when faced with writing their own author bio. Much like a resumé, the idea of encapsulating one's life and times into a few paragraphs is the stuff of anxiety and self-consciousness.

Whether it's for your Amazon author page or the "About Me" section of your website, here are some time-tested tips to help you craft a credible characterization.

You is kind, you is smart, you is important.
Taking a cue from 2012's The Help, come into the process with a positive self-image. This is the time to own what you've accomplished and to share it with pride. If you don't, who will?

Write in third person.
Unless you're going for a friendly, folksy platform, it's common practice to write your bio as an objective third party. Not only does it lend an air of endorsement, it gives you more liberty to tout your accomplishments without guilt.

Just like your novel, grab attention with the opening line.
Instead of "John Q. Author has been writing novels since 2011", how about "After breaking both legs falling off a ladder in 2011, John Q. Author spent his recuperation time writing the first draft of his first novel." You can come up a creative first line without hurting yourself.

Tell it like it is.
What are your interests and achievements that led you to writing what you write? Do you write science fiction because you once saw a UFO?  Do you have a degree in medicine that propels your medical mysteries? Even a stint as a Walmart greeter is prime fodder if customers inspire your characters.

Don't forget to include any awards your writing has received, as well as any writers organizations you're a member of.

Note to fiction writers: If you have an interesting background, include that, even if it isn't related to writing. The fact that you spent five years living among apes may have nothing to do with your cozy mystery series, but it would make me to want to see what you've written.

Note to nonfiction writers: No need to get that personal.  In this case, the reader mainly wants to know how they'll benefit from your work. Dwell on what they'll get out of it and why you're the best one to teach it to them.

In both cases, don't stray so far from your chosen genre that you confuse readers. If they seek you out as a historical romance writer, does it serve your purpose to say you collect DC action figures?

Project the platform personality that fits you.
Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work, says there are five basic personality types for author platforms. While this breakdown is designed for bloggers, it can help you pin down your bio personality as well.

The Journalist: Someone who seeks answers and asks questions of experts. By sharing those answers they establish themselves as experts too.

The Prophet: A critic who feels things can be better, and promotes solutions. This controversial role is not without its dangers, as everyone has an opinion and those who disagree can be alienated.

The Artist: Someone who creates art, music, photography, short stories, etc and shares their work, perhaps even works-in-progress.

The Professor: Someone obsessed with details, data, and the way things work, taking complex things and breaking it down, usually with a takeaway.

The Star: Celebrities whose platforms are built on charisma or reputation. You may not think of yourself as a "star", but if people seek you out as the go-to person for your specialty, don't write yourself off too quickly.

One of these Jeff Goins categories may have spoken to you immediately; if not, you may be a combination, in which case you can morph them into an even more individualized persona.

When it comes to bios, Southern Writers has a particular fondness for the authors who appear in our own Gallery of Stars, where you'll see a bunch of bios and may find inspiration for your own.

Readers like to know who they're reading, so don't overlook this opportunity to let your little light shine. Take an ego trip, and pack your bags with confidence. You're not bragging if it's the truth.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

By Sharon Woods Hopkins

As a fiction writer I’ve always heard you should “write what you know.” If your protagonist is a rocket scientist, it’s helpful if you have some background in science. If your story revolves around a car dealership, having been a car salesman comes in mighty handy.

But what about writing about what you think you know?

I once read a novel by a best-selling author whose protagonist was on a commercial airliner, and in the thick of the excitement, referred to the area where the food is prepared as “the kitchen.” Zap. Out of the story I flew. It’s not a kitchen, it’s a galley.

Another author friend’s protagonist was an expert horsewoman, but she left her horse in the pasture with its bridle. Nope. Probably not. What she likely left on the horse was its halter. A bridle has a bit and reins and a real horse person would never leave that on a loose horse.

And then there was the author whose antagonist tried to kill his victim by leaving the new Mercedes running in the garage. The protagonist got there in the nick of time. However, unless someone disabled the catalytic converter, or it had a broken exhaust pipe out of the manifold, the car would have run out of gas before ever discharging enough carbon monoxide to give anyone a headache, much less cause a death. I know this because one time I tried hooking up my 1994 truck’s tailpipe to a hose and stuffing it down a mole hole. After running the truck for nearly an hour, the mole was not even dizzy. I learned about the catalytic converter in great detail from my mechanic son after that little stunt.

And how about those Styrofoam cups?

There is no such thing as a Styrofoam cup. This is a really common mistake that most of the world makes, but an author could possibly get a “cease and desist” order from Dow chemicals if he or she uses it in their next best seller. Dow Chemicals is very specific about what Styrofoam is, and is not, on their website.

Being vulnerable is human, and we all make mistakes. However, if you’re writing what you think you know, it’s very helpful to have sharp editors. I was astounded by seeing the aforementioned mistakes show up in the finished product. How to protect yourself? Be sure you have dependable early readers, or pay to have a good copy and developmental editor read your manuscript. Unfortunately for us writers, most publishers today have thinned out the editorial staff, leaving only proof readers. Be diligent, and make sure you know what you think you know.
Sharon Woods Hopkins is a member of the Thriller Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Southeast Missouri Writers' Guild, Heartland Writers Guild, Romance Writers of America, and the Missouri Writers' Guild. She has tried retiring, but can’t seem to succeed. After many years as a mortgage banker, she is currently a Real Estate Broker. Sharon lives on the family compound near Marble Hill, Missouri with her husband, author Bill Hopkins, next door to her son, Jeff, his wife, Wendy, two rescue Yorkies and a mole killing cat named Wilhelmena, and assorted second generation Camaros, including the 1979 Camaro named Cami who is featured in her books. Her Rhetta McCarter mystery series have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Missouri Writers Guild Show-me Best Book Award for Killerfind, in 2014. Her social media links are or on Facebook  and on Twitter as @sharonwhopkins   Killerwatt, the first book in the Rhetta McCarter Mystery series is now Free on Kindle.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Poking a Toe into Twitter

By Elizabeth Sumner Wafler

A week after holding my first baby, In Robin's Nest in my arms--delivered not by stork, but by UPS--I realized that if others were going to know that the book actually existed, I would have to engage in DIY marketing.

A month later I had invested in a WordPress domain and begun tacking away at my own website. I opened a facebook fan page. And then someone asked me if I was on twitter, in a way that sounded as though if I wasn't on twitter, I must be on crack. "Twitter is the real way to build followers," said she. I twitter searched a celebrated author. She had 100K followers. I had four.

 I spent the next six months toiling over pithy, yet 140 character tweets, in which I alternated between tooting my own (book) horn in clever ways, i.e., photographing my dog "holding" my book, and fretting over whether one person out of the 320 million twitter users might read my tweets. I dreaded even pulling up Twitter.

And then I read that for every four tweets, only one should be self-promoting. You must engage, the experts said. Writing is a lovely, yet lonely occupation, and the thought of engaging with others in the trenches was appealing. I began to spend less time composing, and more time reading, and in the process, I discovered hashtag games.

Unlike reindeer games, in which the Rudolphs may be excluded, anyone can play. There are hashtag games (sponsored by cool writers) for each day of the week, i.e., #lovelines on Mondays and #onelinewed on Wednesdays, in which you can share a favorite line from your work in progress, and even for each day of the month, i.e., #authorconfession where the sponsor posts a monthly calendar of questions.

Now this, I could do.

Answering questions like "What is your weirdest writing habit?" is fun, quick and easy. And considering queries like "What is your MC's greatest fear?" has made me think more critically about my characters, their desires and motivations--all the "whys." I am honing my craft.

I now have 1,200+ followers, a million fewer than John Grisham, a couple more than your teenager. But I actually know a number of my followers. I've developed connections with them: writers with whom I share common struggles, small victories, and great triumphs, a band of cheerleaders who share my belief that a rising tide lifts all the boats.

Don't be afraid to traverse the waters of Twitter. Poke a toe in, then plunge in--up to your waist. Like a June pool, the water warms up quickly. It can change your perspective and maybe even your career.
On the heels of a twenty-year teaching career, Elizabeth Sumner Wafler’s passion for a story told with heart led her to write her own fiction. Her first novel, In Robin’s Nest, is one of love, loss and reunion; secrecy and truth; and ultimately redemption. The author is currently seeking representation for her second manuscript, A Faculty Daughter, the coming-of-age story of a girl reared on the campus of a boys' prep school. Wafler lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her husband and Cairn terrier, Mirabelle. She can often be found at a local farmer’s market in search of the perfect tomato or bouquet of flowers, or at one of the area’s beautiful vineyards enjoying a glass of Virginia wine.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In Six Words-Part Two

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Last Thursday, I posted an interesting picture as an inspiration to write a caption in six words or less. Several readers had some great captions. Here is the link to Part One and check out all the comments. 

In watching all the news about Hurricane Irma's approach towards the United States, I was concerned about all in its path. I spotted an interesting story about the director of Ernest Hemingway's home in Key West. It is now an impressive museum filled with personal articles of Hemingway. CNN reported, "Dave Gonzales, executive director of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, confirmed to CNN that he and nine other employees were staying through the fierce winds and rain expected with Hurricane Irma, staying the legendary author’s 1851 house, with its 18-inch-thick limestone walls is “the strongest fortress in all the Florida Keys.” 

One of the main reasons they are staying is to keep the unique 55 cats (they have either six or seven toes) safe and comforted during the storm. Some of these felines are descendants of Hemingway's own six toed cat, "Snow White." Each volunteer will be attending 5 cats while riding out the storm in Hemingway's house. Yes, everyone is safe after Hurricane Irma made US landfall at the Florida Keys according to this article in the New York Post. 

I wonder if Hemingway came up with the six word stories because his cat had six toes. Just wondering. None the less his story is famous and haunting..."For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  

According to an article in The New Yorker, "Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing the six-word story “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Hoping to cash in on that story's success, Hemingway wrote some six-word sequels."  Here is the link to the article with the Hemingway's sequels.

National Public Radio has an excellent article titled, "Can You Tell Your Life Story In Exactly Six Words?" Some if the response are from the famous and the not yet famous. From "Gloria Steinem ("Life is one big editorial meeting"), to author Frank McCourt ("The miserable childhood leads to royalties".)

A six word story is an excellent prompt to spurn a writer's imagination. It's simple and almost poetic. You can check Reddit or Tumblr six word stories or numerous groups on Facebook for examples.  

This exercise is a great jump start, especially on those days you start with a blank screen or piece of paper and no ideas. 

So, ready, set, go.