Friday, July 1, 2016

Story Ideas Come from the Darn-dest Places

By Donna L.H. Smith

Art Linkletter used to say, “Kids say the darn-dest things.” A few years ago, when I decided to write a novel, I asked myself, “What on earth could I write a novel about?”

Within a very short time, a confounding idea popped into my head, only a phrase actually. “Gunfight at Hyde Park.” I knew it was something from an obscure history lesson from my hometown in Kansas, something I learned about in fifth grade. I had to Google it to re-learn the details.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that history lesson in probably fifty years. I remembered nothing about it, except that phrase. How in the world can I work in a story, to include the beginning of a series of gunfights over a ten–day period that killed and wounded more people than at the OK Corral––for the climax?

Two guys named Billy Bailey and Mike McCloskey started the whole mess. Ten days later, a young, sickly fellow by the name of James Riley was the last person to be involved. He was on McCloskey’s side. He killed someone, someone on Bailey’s side, and then disappeared from the face of the earth. Nothing was ever heard about him again.

I began to weave a story about a spoiled, immature rich girl from Missouri coming to a newly established, wild Kansas railroad town to tutor the children of Santa Fe Railroad executives. And since I love romantic triangles, she met two very different men, eventually falling for one who would get in the way of a stray bullet from the beginnings of the gunfights. Throw in a contentious town political election, and let the gunfights begin.

For most of those, I read, there were two reasons a young woman launched out on her own, and she was forced to: 1) her father died, 2) her father was a jerk, and she had to escape a horrible arranged marriage. I wanted her circumstances to be different. I’ve probably read 150 historical romances in the last three years. Therefore, her loving father “requires” her to work for a year before marriage, to teach her fiscal responsibility and hopefully, develop some maturity.

Many other story ideas come to mind. How can I possibly write them all? They come to me in all kinds of ways. I’ll be watching a movie or something on television, and I’ll think, “Hmmm. That idea might have possibilities if I change this or that.” Or “I’ve not seen anything quite like that before. I like it. How could I use or change that and still be intriguing?”

Those little light bulb moments where we think “Aha!” is something we should pay attention to. We never know whether our next idea might just make a best seller.

Where do your ideas come from? What sorts of unusual scenarios come to your mind?
Donna L.H. Smith is a Kansas prairie girl transplanted to Lancaster County, PA, writing on and off for forty years, including broadcast journalism, newspapers and magazines, marketing and public relations. She writes historical romance and love stories and serves as the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Pennsylvania State Chapter President and Area Coordinator. Her novel, Meghan’s Choice was a semi-finalist in Operation 1st Novel 2015, and placed in two categories of the 2015 Blue Ridge Advanced Novelist Retreat. She speaks at writers’ conference workshops, and leads women’s retreats. Her website is where she blogs about writing and other things. She’s also involved in Almost an Author as a monthly contributor with The Writer’s PenCase. She can be found on Facebook: and her author pageTwitter, and LinkedIN.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Rewilding and Our Love of Animals

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine    

There is no questioning Americans love of animals. Our love is expressed in so many ways. It is expressed in the love of our pets, the numerous save the animal funds, protective laws, amazing zoos and even our petting zoos are just a few of these expressions. Now there is a big push for the next great step in showing our love and that is Rewilding.

Rewilding is simply returning animals into wilderness areas. Wilderness areas that were possibly at one time a natural habitat of the species. From this we have seen bald eagles, peregrine falcons and California condors returning from near extinction. In Yellowstone National Park the return of gray wolves and red wolves; regulating deer herds in North Carolina. Grizzly bears are again on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, Mexican Jaguars in Arizona’s Sky Islands and cougars back in the Badlands and Black Hills of the Dakotas. Not to be left out are the wild salmon returning to old familiar running waters after dams are removed. But as with most conservation movements there are pros and cons.

The advocates and opponents, both experts in the field have their opinions. The advocates say working with our neighbors, both human and wild; we can restore our great natural heritage. The opponents say it will disrupt the natural evolution that has occurred where a particular predator has not been part of the natural scheme for a while and is returned. The devastation it brings has in the past caused the greatest predator of all, man, to either fight the conservation policy or kill the predator.

I saw the concern of the opponents in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Arkansas when it was overrun with beaver. They dammed up streams causing flooding of thousands of acres of farmlands. Lack of production on these flooded acres cost the farmer income and the state tax money. The answer was to bring in alligators to naturally regulate the beaver. Hunters killed the newly introduced predators for sport, out of fear or just the novelty of it. The beaver population continued to grow.

As writers and animal lovers we can and many of us have used this love and fascination of animals to draw our readers in. Walt Disney’s success is based on animal characters. Who doesn’t love Mickey Mouse? Disney has a huge following and it is based on our emotional connection with the animal characters. Our emotions with the characters are driven with human like relationships. We love, we laugh, we cry and we are happy for these characters.

Rewilding could be written about either for its success or its failure. Success could show the natural re-blending of the species brought about, a hoped for result. Larger Bison herds, more condors and bald eagles would be an example. An example of a failure would be the introduction of a predator and something goes terribly wrong for mankind and animal alike.

With pet ownership in the US nearing 80 million plus, there are a lot of animal loving readers out there to connect with. As writers we must decide on our approach. The approach of lovable characters, the fearful approach of predators gone terribly wrong, the hero or the villain are all good ones if our readers connect.

With some of our greatest stories being that of animals we all know there are opportunities for your animal story to be shared with the world. Use your love of animals to write that short story, novel, poem or play.                   

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Perils of the Private Eye

By K.D. Hays

Remember the hardboiled detective? The private investigator hired to save a client wrongly accused of some heinous crime was a staple of page and screen for many years. But in our casual-Fridays world, the detective who stood out for wearing a cheap suit is long gone. Characters solving crimes these days usually work in law enforcement or serve as consultants to the police.

So when I started writing cozy mysteries, why did I decide to make my sleuth Karen Maxwell a private investigator? The obvious answer would be that I didn’t know what I was doing. But I prefer to think that I did it to challenge myself.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea to use a private detective in a modern mystery.

1)      First of all, there is no such thing as a private detective. Detectives work for the police. “Private eyes” work for investigation firms, and most of their business consists of doing background checks. Clients often hire investigators to find out who’s stealing from them, but they don’t hire them to solve murders. So if the lead character is a private investigator, she’s not going to be solving murders, and most people pick up a mystery expecting to find at least one or two dead bodies lurking in the pages. But in this situation, it actually works in my favor. I tend to write with a lot of humor and it just didn’t feel right to have characters snarking at each other over breakfast cereal while people are dropping dead all over town.

2)      The second problem with using a private investigator as my fictional crime solver is that a competent investigator already has a pretty good idea “whodunit” by the time he or she goes out to a site to investigate. There may be a couple of suspects, but nowhere near the number of red herrings that are required to sustain a good mystery plot. What’s my solution to this problem? I deviate from reality here and have my investigator spend more time “undercover” than a client would realistically pay for.

3)      A third problem with using a private investigator as my fictional detective is that most investigation work these days is done on the computer. If I write a story where the heroine comes to the office and sits in front of her computer for eight hours, it’s not going to be much fun to read even if I have her associate turn the coffeemaker into a Feng Shui aquarium. My solution to this problem is two-fold. First, I skip over most of the computer stuff. Second, I would have Karen get even with her associate by doing something like covering his motivational posters with banana stickers and sardine labels. It may not advance the plot, but at least it’s a change of pace.

Of course, there are some advantages to using a private investigator. For starters, it gives her real reason to get involved in the first place. I don’t have to make my character a busybody or know-it-all—she gets involved and starts asking questions because that’s her job. And because it’s a new job and she’s not very confident about either her abilities or her status in the firm, her insecurity creates a sense of tension.

So while I would not recommend other writers use private investigators as the main character in a mystery novel, it works for my offbeat suburban soccer mom mysteries. Do you prefer to see an amateur or “professional” solving mysteries?
Kate Dolan began her writing career as a legal editor and then newspaper columnist before she decided she was finally ready to tackle fiction.  As the author of more than a dozen novels and novellas, she writes historical fiction and romance under her own name and contemporary mysteries and children's books under the name K.D. Hays. Her book Roped In now available in print and ebook! When not writing, she enjoys volunteering as a living history interpreter, coaching jump rope and riding roller coasters with her daughter.  She loves to connect with readers on Facebook and through her website,

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

All Action and No Talk

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

British audiences love American cinema.  Hollywood films have always been very successful across the pond.  Ironically, we don't seem to return the favor.  Comparatively few British films achieve major success here in the States.  One reason, experts have determined, is that American movies contain 1/3 less dialogue than British films.

Think of any British movie (or TV series, for that matter).  Conversation is basically nonstop.  Sometimes the only pause is for an establishing shot, and then they're right back at it again. Even an action flick like James Bond will have more dialogue than most, which makes sense since exposition is what espionage is all about.

They say the reason for this dates back to the 1930s, when movies were still young.  Once the silent film era ended and talkies were possible, British cinema went for intellectual, heady dramas, while America's post-war influx of non-English-speaking immigrants caused filmmakers to rely less on the spoken word and more on the action.  Musicals were extremely popular, and Gene Kelly's long dance numbers caught on with people of any language.

I'm reminded of a CD a friend recommended years ago and gave me for my birthday, an album by a foreign soprano who sang many of the selections in Italian.  Since the only Italian I know involves pasta dishes, the music and the performances had to work extra hard to get my attention, which they did.  I remember marveling at how effectively emotions were conveyed despite my lacking any understanding of the message.

The orchestration, of course, did much of the heavy lifting.  If, by the same token, you were to listen to a spoken radio broadcast in a foreign language you don't know, chances are there would be a total failure to communicate.

2012's Best Picture Oscar winner,  The Artist, is a silent film relying largely on what the audience sees rather than hears (or, in this case, reads). Pixar's Wall-E (2008) is an even stronger example of delivering an entire story without the use of words.

There's a legendary scene in the classic On the Waterfront where Marlon Brando's brother threatens him in the back of a cab, pointing a gun at him.  The disappointment on Brando's face and the gentle way he moves the gun away conveys more pathos than any diatribe a writer could have put in his mouth at that moment.

By now you may be reminded of the old adage "Show, don't tell", and indeed, all of the above makes a decent argument for that philosophy.  I bring it up not necessarily to promote writing less dialogue, but to encourage greater appreciation for the power of imagery, whether on the screen or in a novel.

We are, after all, visual people.  The quote "Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear" is attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Edgar Allen Poe to Benjamin Franklin.  I myself heard it through the grapevine from Marvin Gaye.   I don't know how true that statement is, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Monday, June 27, 2016


By Dr. Richard Mabry

Tommy Duncan was the vocalist with the Bob Wills Band (and if you never heard of the King of Western Swing, I feel sorry for you). Tommy wrote and recorded a song titled, “Time Changes Everything.” As I prepared for the release of my tenth novel of medical suspense, Medical Judgment, I thought back to my first novel and realized that in this case, as in the romance Tommy Duncan sang about, time indeed does change everything.

When my first novel, Code Blue released just six short years ago, I arranged a “launch party” at a bookstore in the area. I even had a cake with CODE BLUE on top in blue frosting. I invited all my friends (and some people I barely knew). And when it was time to start, although I expected maybe a hundred people to be there, in actuality the area set aside for my talk contained perhaps a fifth that many persons. When I talked with management afterward, they told me that a New York Times best-selling author had been there to speak just a month earlier, and drew an even smaller crowd than mine.

After that experience, I soon stopped doing launch parties. Now I see some of my colleagues celebrating the release of their books in different ways, while others choose to stick with getting the word out via social media. For a while, it was popular to recruit a group of “influencers,” who would post reviews and tell others about the book. Now I see that groups called “street teams” are being formed. Some authors even have closed Facebook groups to which these special individuals are named. Truly, “time changes everything.”

My tenth book, Medical Judgment, released this month. I didn’t schedule a launch party. I did recruit about a dozen influencers, giving them a suggested list of things they can do to help. I set up a number of blog appearances (each one associated with giving a free copy of the book to a randomly selected commenter). I’m not sure what I’ll do to get the word out for my next novel after this one. After all, as Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changing.”

Yes, time changes everything. But the one thing in book publication that remains unchanged is the knowledge that the best tool for getting folks to read your books and come back for more is to write the best novel you can. That’s an immutable truth, and time hasn’t changed it.
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing “medical suspense with heart.” His previous novels have garnered critical acclaim and been recognized by programs including the ACFW’s Carol Award, the Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year, the Inspirational Readers Choice, and the Selah Award. He is a proud member of the ACFW, the International Thriller Writers, and the FHL chapter of the RWA. Medical Judgment is his tenth published novel. He can be found on most aspects of social media: website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook, to name just a few.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What is the point?

By Lucy Thompson

I see this repeatedly when I’m critiquing…

One or two fairly well-rounded characters wander into a scene, discuss something of mediocre importance, and then boom have something major happen to them, and then wander out of the scene.


What is the point? What is the point of that scene? Why is character A there? What is his/her motivation? His goal? What is the conflict that flows naturally from the differences between that goal and motivation?

A question I commonly ask is:

What is the point of this scene?

All scenes have a reason for being there. All characters have a reason for stepping into the scene.

From Randy Ingermanson’s book, How to write a novel using the Snowflake method I learned that a scene is either Proactive orReactive.
(Go buy that book. Seriously. It’s so helpful and easy to understand!)

1. Goal
      2. Conflict
     3. Setback
     1. Reaction
      2. Dilemma
     3. Decision


We’ve got our characters, now what do they want? What is the goal of this scene? What does your character wantto happen at the opening of that chapter or scene? Should start out with at least a hint of what that goal is.

Conflict…What conflict happens to upset that goal? I mentioned motivation earlier. All characters—and people—are motivated by something. It could be freedom like in Braveheart, it could be survival like in Gone With the Wind. What motivation is driving your character to achieve that goal? In other words, why did they step into that scene? How does this escalate? How does this complicate the story? How does the lead to the third part of a proactive scene?

…What is the setback to that goal? At the end of the scene did the character achieve their original goal; did they not achieve their goal, or change their goal? If there’s no change you might need to rethink your scene and possibly rewrite it.

Moving along to REACTIVE SCENES. Reactive scenes follow on/happen after a reactive scene.

Your character first has a reaction to the setback that happened in the previous proactive scene.

Out of that reaction he/she/it then faces a dilemma. Tip: ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen?

Then out of that dilemma, the character makes a decision.

That decision then funnels into the next scene (which would be a proactive scene seeing as the character has a fresh new goal). Rinse and repeat.

I hope this helps. It’s a common issue I see with beginner manuscripts. There is so much promise hidden under layers of aimless chapters.

So, go dig your story out. Give it some purpose, a.k.a a point! And make it shine
Lucy Thompson is a stay-at-home mum to five precocious children by day and a snoop by night, stalking interesting characters through historical settings, and writing about their exploits. She enjoys meeting new people from all over the world and learning about the craft of writing. When she can be separated from her laptop, she is a professional time waster on Facebook, a slave to the towering stack of books on her bedside table, and a bottler, preserving fruit the old fashioned way so she can swap recipes and tips with her characters. Her home is in central Queensland, Australia where she does not ride a kangaroo to the shops, mainly because her children won't fit. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, she is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and Romance Writers of America. Her Blog:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Writing for Royalty

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Okay, I admit it. I'm fascinated by Royals, especially the British. Yes, I was a Diana-watcher, wishing for the fairytale. I love Kate Middleton, a commoner who by all accounts is navigating the tricky Royal protocols and duties with grace, while apparently having fun. I follow the blog "What Kate Wore" because it's fun and I get to see an inside look into Royal events not often seen in the states. Don't get me wrong,  I'm proud to be an American but don't you find the Royals intriguing?

The longest-reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, recently celebrated her 90th birthday with multiple parties fit for a Queen. Her actual birthdate was April 21, 1926, but her official birthday was recently celebrated this month with a picnic on London's Mall with 10,000 guests.  There were many formal celebrations. According to the website set up for the event, it is a "celebration of The Queen’s life, her love of horses, her dedication to the Commonwealth and international affairs and her deep involvement with the Navy, Army and ­­­­Air Force." The Queen looked stunning in her bright green hat and matching outfit during her birthday parade and celebration. 

If you're a Royal watcher you might enjoy the website information that gives a detailed biography on Her Majesty (HM). A yearly view of the Queen's evolution can be seen through various pictures taken over her lifetime in this 90 second video from "The Telegraph." 

My all time favorite tribute to The Queen came from A. A. Milne's children's book creation Winnie the Pooh. Both were born in 1926. The Queen's birthday story was inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard characters and written by Jane Riordan.  The sweet short story titled Winnie-the-Pooh and the Royal Birthday, follows Winnie the Pooh as he interacts with HM's great-grandson, Prince George as they navigate famous sites in London and celebrate The Queen's birthday. You can download the story for free. 

I love the fact that The Queen as the young Princess Elizabeth was a fan of the Pooh children's stories. Now, after living 90 years, her birthday is being celebrated by Pooh bear and her great-grandson, Prince George. Talk about a full circle moment for Her Majesty. Oh the things she has seen in her 64 years of service as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 

If you were to write a short story to be read by The Queen for her birthday celebration what would you write about?