Friday, April 17, 2015

Voice in Fiction

By Peggy Webb AKA Elaine Hussey

Much ink is spilled about the basics of writing. You’ll find endless posts about characters, plot, pacing, setting, and the fine art of knowing when to use dialogue versus description.  But how often do you hear a writer talk about magic, that often indefinable element that makes a story rise above all others?

I’ve been writing for a very long time (since 1985), and I remember so clearly what friends told me when they read my first book. “Peggy, it was like sitting on your front porch swing, listening to you talk.” “I would have picked that book out as yours even if I hadn’t seen your name on the cover.” “Reading it felt like being with you; it felt like being in the middle of the story.” Heady stuff, that kind of validation. And what did
it all mean?

When I write, I lose myself in the story; I don’t think about the process. Editors describe me as an organic writer, one who lets the story flow, one who is not afraid to depart from the normal course of things and follow where the story takes me. Still, I’ve taught many writing workshops, and I’ve taught at Mississippi State University. In order to teach, I had to analyze what worked and why. I had to peel back the veil and decipher
the magic.

The easy part of teaching is laying out the basic elements of story. The hard part is explaining voice. “Is it the way the characters talk?” students ask. Yes…and no. “Is it using an omniscient narrator?” Yes…and no.

Here’s what I know about voice: it’s an attitude, powerful and unique, that shines
through the writing. It’s a way of inhabiting characters so the reader can identify each one
without the need for tags - Billie said, Mama said, Jim said.  It transforms the story and compels the reader to turn pages. Voice is a bit of magic.

If you have a copy of my novel, The Sweetest Hallelujah written as Elaine Hussey, turn to pages 14 and 15 to “hear” the voice.

Currently I’m pouring that bit of magic into two projects, another literary fiction novel written as Elaine Hussey (no details yet) and Stars to Lead Me Home, a women’s fiction novel written as Peggy Webb. Stars to Lead Me Home is slated for a June release. I love the cover, love the concept, and am very excited to bring this book to you!

It has been such a pleasure to visit with you today. To learn more about my books and also about my writing process, do visit my websites, and  You can view my mini-writing class videos on both websites and chat with me about books on my blog, . Periodically, I do wonderful giveaways which are announced on my blog and my social media pages.
USA Today bestselling author Peggy Webb is the most prolific writer the state of Mississippi has ever produced. This award-winning author has written more than 70 books, 200 magazine humor columns and two screenplays. She writes in multiple genres, including literary fiction as Elaine Hussey. Her acclaimed literary fiction novel, The Sweetest Hallelujah, garnered praise from critics who dubbed her one of the “Southern literary greats” and compared her to Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor. As Elaine, she is a member of the prestigious, invitation-only literary organization, PEN. A former adjunct instructor at Mississippi State University, Peggy lives in a turn-of-the-century cottage where she loves gardening, playing piano, singing in church choir and sipping sweet tea on her front porch with friends.  Follow the author at and as well as on FaceBook and Twitter.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Knew How to Give Back and So Can We

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

In a mystery befitting Sherlock Holmes, a 1,300-word story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been discovered tucked away in a Scottish attic. The 1904 short story is titled, "Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burgs and, by Deduction, the Brig Bazaar." The booklet was 48 pages in an effort to raise money for a bridge to be replaced after a 1902 flood washed it away in Selkirk, Scotland. The pamphlet, with stories by local authors, was called "The Book o' Brig" and was sold during a town fundraising bazaar in 1904. The "Book" sales netted approximately $633. Those funds helped the town build an iron bridge, which still stands in Scotland. 

During the bazaar, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle opened with an author lecture to encourage sales. If you want to read the discovered Sherlock Holmes story the entire text of Doyle's story is online at The Daily Record. In the story he weaves the author's "lecture engagement" in Scotland into the story. By engaging the community of readers into the story...why wouldn't they buy "The Book o' Brig?"

Clearly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in giving back to community, via this worthy cause. 

As authors, we can all participate in giving back to worthy causes. One such cause I recently discovered on FaceBook is "Authors Supporting OurTroops." Several authors I know have contributed signed book copies to this cause. Of course, there are numerous other charities you can contribute a signed book for silent auctions, library events, funding for a bridge, etc.

You never know, when you pay it forward, you may end up funding something that is still standing 111 years later. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


By Sheri Wren Haymore

We entered the foyer of a favorite restaurant one busy weekend evening just as the manager burst out of the kitchen through a side door. There was sweat at his temples, sauce spilled down his chef’s jacket, and a certain wild-eyed expression on his face. Upon recognizing us, he threw a nod in our direction, exclaimed, “Livin’ the dream, Baby; livin’ the dream,” and kept right on rolling toward the dining room.

I totally got it.

And I recognized that wild-eyed expression because I’ve caught my reflection in the mirror and seen it on my own face. It’s the look you get when you’re working your buns off, and it’s still not enough. It’s a gaze of frantic desperation coupled with a sideways glance of anticipation and a blink of satisfaction.

It’s the way you look when you’re living your dream.

Just last year, with two novels recently published and a full calendar of book marketing adventures, I’m pretty sure I carried that expression everywhere I went. I was having a ball living the almost-famous life, filling the role of celebrity speaker for writing groups, writing the occasional magazine article—and all the while keeping my end of our small business running. On a regular basis, someone would approach me and ask, “When are you going to write another book? I can’t wait to read the next one!” And over and over, I’d say, “I would if I had the time.”

Actually, I was having too much fun Livin’ the Dream to get back to the dirty work of being an 
author. Finally, I took a three-day writing retreat in late August and got a great start on that next novel. And then Life happened.

You know what I mean by Life, don’t you? Grand adventures, as well as a few misadventures, right? Joyful occasions, and a string of not-so-joyous ones. Since August, I’ve waved my ninety-year-old mother off on her first motorcycle ride and buried a brother-in-law. I’ve played for hours on end with our funny little dog, and prayed for hours over a hurting loved one. I’ve stood at a graveside with parents whose child was gone too soon, and literally gotten in the floor and wept with a friend whose child had broken her heart.

Sometimes Life is just too much, and too often, it looks nothing like The Dream.
And so it was this winter that I found myself overwhelmed by the weight of other folks’ burdens and mired in trifling distractions. I felt stagnant; I had no desire to finish my third novel. I deserve to be carefree!  I’ve already proven that I can write. I don’t want to go down that vortex of late nights and preoccupied days again. Or so I told myself.

But The Dream just won’t shut up. A few days ago, I spotted a friend of a friend whom I’d only met once before. When I called her name, she spun around, pointed her finger at me, and barked, “You need to make a movie! And why aren’t you home writing another book?”
People sure can make Livin’ the Dream sound easy.

Can you relate? No matter what Livin’ the Dream looks like for you, there comes a time when, disheartened, you ask yourself, What’s the point?

My friend Melanie says that it’s essential to get at the heart of your desire. In other words, you really MUST ask, “What’s the point?” My inner dialogue today has gone something like this:
Why did you want to be an author in the first place? Because I’m good at it. And what else? Because I have stories to tell. Why does that matter? Because the world needs good stories. Anything else? Because it makes me happy. And what else? When I write, I feel Heaven’s smile.

Aahh, yes! No matter how difficult it can be, when you’re Livin’ the Dream, it’s worth it all, isn’t it? 

Today, remind yourself exactly why it is that you do what you do. Meanwhile, I’ll be rolling my sleeves up and getting down and dirty with that third novel.
Sheri Wren Haymore is the author of two novels so far, A Higher Voice and A Deeper Cut. Sheri grew up in Mt. Airy, NC, and still lives thereabouts with her husband and a pup named Cercie. Together, they've made a living running a couple of small business, and made a life doing the things they enjoy--traveling, hiking, camping, kayaking. Sheri loves music and yoga, inventing gourmet meals from random ingredients, laughing with friends, and most especially spending time with her daughter. A graduate of High Point University, she has burned more pages than most people will ever write, and is currently scribbling a third novel, which may or may not survive the flames. My social media links are (@sheriwrenauthor) 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Get Your Paper Now-While it Last

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

Remember the old movies when the boy would stand on the street and sell newspapers…yelling “Read all about it…(then give you the title of the story) Read all about it.” He always used the title to persuade the people passing by to stop and buy a paper from him. Then he would tell them something interesting and intriguing to create more interest.  Well of course, the paperboy on the corner is gone now but titles aren’t.

That paperboy knew the title had to grab attention if he was going to earn a living. It had to be bold enough to stop them in their tracks and want to have that paper to see just what did happen. We are the same way. The title has to grab us to make us want to read further…whether it is the newspaper, blog post or a magazine. It’s the title. You have a 10 to 30 second window to entice people to want to read what is there. So make sure your headline /title seizes the reader’s attention.

Remember human nature will pick something up and read it if it pertains to the following:

1.     Unexpected death…someone well known; someone living in the community or a child.
2.     A Wrong going on in the community that has been uncovered or righted.
3.     Warning about something bad coming or going to happen.
4.     Telling them they must take action to claim something good for themselves or their family or business.
5.     That they only have a brief time to make something happen.
6.     An urgent matter that will pertain to them or their community.
These are only six ideas to use to grab a reader’s attention. I am sure you can think of more…so don’t forget to share them with us.

Monday, April 13, 2015


By H. W. “Buzz” Bernard

A question I often hear asked of novelists, at least by other writers, is whether they outline before beginning to hammer out a manuscript.  Or, do they just sit down, an idea aborning in their mind, and began to craft their tale?

The majority of authors, it seems, develop some sort of outline.  I say “some sort,” because there is no standardized style of outline.  It’s basically whatever the writer feels comfortable with, whatever gets the job done.

Outline types range from perhaps a single page of scribbled notes to what sounds to me like an excruciatingly detailed delineation: a one- or two-page synopsis for each chapter.  Again, there’s no style guide here, no right or wrong way of doing things.  If it works for you, it’s the the right way.

What works for me is to get down a couple of pages of thoughts, including major turning points, key scenes and the conclusion--or at least where I’d like to end up.  In my most recent novel, Supercell, I had two alternate endings in mind and really didn’t know which would work best until I got there.

You see, an outline for me is just a guide.  I know I must get from Point A to Point B, but I don’t know how until I start writing.  The characters and circumstances dictate my route.  That, to me, is the fun of crafting fiction.  As Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

To draw a military analogy to outlining, I view an outline as a strategic plan, the big picture.  I execute the plan through a series of tactics: my writing.  And like any military plan, it begins to fall apart as soon as soon as I squeeze off the first round, that is, type the first word. 

As necessary, I go back and amend the plan.  I change the outline.  It’s a “living document” that evolves through an iterative process.  The outline guides my writing, but my writing may feed back into changing the outline.  This may happen once or many times over the course of cranking out a manuscript.

Once, I did try to march off on a literary journey without an outline.  Other people, I knew, had done it successfully.  Why not me?  Well, it turned out I have no sense of dead reckoning.  After about a hundred pages (roughly 25,000 words), I found myself hopelessly lost in a jungle of blind trails, dead ends and improbable plot twists. 

My only salvation was to sacrifice my baby to the slashing teeth of a black paper shredder and allow native beaters to lead me, whimpering, to safety.

I now am a dedicated outliner.
H. W. “Buzz” Bernard is a writer, retired Weather Channel meteorologist and USAF veteran.  His debut novel, Eyewall,which one reviewer called a “perfect summer read,” was released in May 2011 and went on to become a number-one best seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Plague, also reached Kindle best-seller status, and was selected as a finalist in the 2014 EPIC eBook Awards suspense/thriller category. Supercell, a fast-moving drama set against tornado chasing on the Great Plains, came out in November 2013. Buzz worked at The Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia, as a senior meteorologist for 13 years. He served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades with therank of colonel and receivedThe Legion of Merit. His “airborne” experiences include a mission with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, air drops over the Arctic Ocean and Turkey, and a stint as a weather officer aboard a Tactical Air Command airborne command post (C-135).In the past, he’s provided field support to forest fire fighting operations in the Pacific Northwest, spent a summer working on Alaska’s arctic slope, chased tornadoes on the Great Plains, and served two tours in Vietnam.  Various  jobs,  have taken him to Germany, Saudi Arabia and Panama. A native Oregonian graduate of University of Washington in Seattle with a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science. Buzz currently is vice president of the Southeastern Writers Association.  He’s a member of International Thriller Writers, the Atlanta Writers Club and Willamette Writers.He and his wife Christina live in Roswell, Georgia, along with their fuzzy and sometimes overactive Shih-Tzu, Stormy. Stormy’s namesake appears in Supercell. His latest book, Blizzard, available now.

Friday, April 10, 2015

How to Turn Your Ancestors into Fiction

By Lori Crane

I’ve studied my family genealogy for decades, but honestly, I never thought much beyond their birth and death dates and how many children they had.

In 2012, I examined a great grandmother who was born in 1828 Mississippi. She married in ‘46 and they had five children. That would have been my usual stopping point, but when I looked at the family group, something struck me about the death dates. Her husband died in the war in ‘62. Her son and both parents died within a few months. The more I looked, the more I found. She lost seventeen family members that year. Besides the obvious Civil War, what caused all of those deaths? And how does anyone survive losing that many family members? That story became my book, “Okatibbee Creek.” 

But the story didn’t end there. One of the orphans in the family was shipped from relative to relative and somehow ended up in Texas. She became the heroine of “An Orphan’s Heart.” How did these women learn to rise above the despair that surrounded them? I focused on their grandmother who survived the War of 1812. Not only was the country at war, but the Creek Indians were in the middle of their own civil war—right in her backyard. That story became “Elly Hays.”

My current focus is on another branch of my tree—the Culpeppers. In the 1600s, they lived in stately English manors and served the Monarchy. How did they transition from wealthy aristocrats to the modest people I knew in my youth in Mississippi? I found their immigration to America wasn’t merely a wish to go to the New World. England’s 17th century was ripe with political and religious turmoil, and the Royalist Culpeppers found themselves in the middle of the English Civil War. When the King was captured and beheaded, the Culpeppers had no choice but to escape—more than likely with only the clothes on their backs. This story became “I, John Culpepper.” (Release date is today, April 10, 2015)

To tell the story of your ancestor, you must first look at the immediate family as a group. Their birth/death dates will shed more light on the family than census records. Now research the local happenings. If a drought hit that summer, they probably suffered greatly, yet a new invention perhaps made their lives easier. Now research the social aspects. What religion was prevalent? Who was King or President? Was there war, alcohol, canned biscuits? My Culpeppers came to America to escape probable beheading. One can only understand their actions by understanding the politics of the time. Add all aspects of family, community, and social life together and you will have the foundation for a great novel.
Lori Crane is an award-winning author of Southern historical fiction and the occasional thriller. She has enjoyed a place among her peers in the Top 100 historical fiction authors on Amazon, climbing to #23. She is a native Mississippi belle currently residing in greater Nashville. Lori’s books are available at Amazon.  Lori's website:   Lori’s blog:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Saying More with Less

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine     

I recently spoke with a friend that is a writer and managing editor of a magazine. The conversation soon turned to current day styles of writing including shorter, more condensed versions like blogs. My friend writes articles and blogs for the magazine. She finds that material is plentiful, which is a blessing, but you can get it all on the page. After three hours of a great interview she must condense some things to 500 words. Articles must be reduced to 1200 words.  It can be a chore. How do you do this?

In our writing classes we challenge each other to write nonstop for 5 minutes. With a topic in mind we set the timer and begin. At the end of the 5 minutes we look over our work, count the words and challenge ourselves to reduce our word count by half. As impossible as it appears to be, you will be surprised how easy it is to do.

We are a wordy bunch, especially in the South. We can say something with 100 words when 30 would do. We speak with flowery detail on each subject. It is beautiful and comforting to me because I am from the South but it isn’t needed for the rapid fire, interest holding, quick read crowds of today. It is great for a lingering novel to read at leisure but that’s another style altogether. Today we want to know the topic, the message and the punch line but we want it in 500-1200 words or less.

Writing like this is not only a style but an art. It is a great way to enter the world of writing. As a matter of fact I have recommended to writers to start a blog. Keep it within 300 to 500 words and fill it with interesting topics, phrases and bottom lines. Perfecting this, which I am trying to do, can make you think and become more aware of what can be said with less.

I challenge you to do the same exercise we do in writing class. Give yourself 5 minutes of breakneck speed writing. Don’t think just write. Once you have finished go back and count your words then reduce the word count by half.  You will amaze yourself at how easy it is to do and how much better it reads.

Give it a try and let me know of your success.