Friday, November 27, 2015

Remember the Meat Fork When Writing

By Barbara Lohr

One of the challenges writers face is how to keep readers turning the pages. The end of each chapter needs a provocative hook and for me, that's often added in the editing process. Some writers might automatically dribble enticing breadcrumbs. Not me. I have to work at those final words for each chapter. Enter the meat fork.

Since my novel Finding Southern Comfort involves a little girl with an eating problem, some pivotal scenes involve food. In her new job as nanny in Cameron Bennett's Savannah mansion, Harper Kirkpatrick attempts to cook Sunday dinner for her employer and his girlfriend, the insufferable Kimmy. But smoke sends Harper flying to her crockpot. When her charge Bella asks if Harper is going to burn the house down, Kimmy comments, "She just might, sugga." Was that enough to make readers stay with the story? Harper helped me out and picked up the meat fork.

Every chapter benefits from a compelling ending. Suspense writers know all about that. The main character of Into the Roaring Fork by Jeff Howe is hiking through the wild on a mission when he stumbles upon a horrifyingly riveting sight. "I blinked to check my eyes, which confirmed that I was wide awake and what was happening was real. Hauntingly real."

Now, what reader is going to turn off the light and go to sleep? But the POV changes in the next chapter. We keep turning pages. After all, our hero is haunted.

He's in good company. Cecelia in Liane Moriarity's The Husband's Secret is sleepless after she discovers a sealed letter to be opened only after her husband's death. Awakened by his bumbling around in the attic after she's asked about her curious discovery, she promptly slits the letter open and reads, "Left to right. Sentence by sentence." But we don't. Readers have to wait. How annoying and delightfully skillful.

Withholding information piques interest. In The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins ends a scene in which Rachel wonders if a ginger-haired man is smiling or sneering at her. What great ambiguity. Also known as foreshadowing, the ambiguity raises a question we want answered. To keep your readers reading, it helps to keep them guessing.

Probably the last thing we want is have the character go to bed at the end of the chapter. Sure, we've all done it. But if your character's calling it a day, your reader might also turn out the light. Let's not put characters to bed unless they have an interesting dream sequence or something else to ponder while they're lying there.

Brevity can be as effective as the meat fork for keeping readers engaged. If your scene runs long, break it. Short chapters keep readers reading. They figure they can handle five more pages, but not fifteen.

Do you have a meat fork in your writing arsenal? Keep readers guessing and they'll keep turning pages.
Barbara Lohr writes heartwarming romance with a flair for fun and subtly sexy love scenes. In her novels, feisty women take on hunky heroes and life’s issues. Family often figures in her stories. “No woman falls in love without some family influence, either positive or negative.” Her series include Windy City Romance, which includes jaunts to Savannah and Italy, and Man from Yesterday, which launched in 2015. Dark chocolate is her favorite food group, and she makes a mean popover. When she's not writing, she loves to bike, kayak or golf. She is a member of Romance Writers of America. Barbara lives in the South for most of the year with her husband and a cat that insists he was Heathcliff in a former life. For more information on the author and her work, please see , , @BarbaraJLohr

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How Do You Keep Writing When Disturbing Events Occur?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States and I'm thankful to be writing, again. 

I was writing a chase scene in my "work in progress" book when I learned of the coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris on November 13, 2015. Like 9/11, it was an ordinary day with no indication of the terror that was going to be felt throughout the world. As was the rest of the world, I was glued to my television, watching the coverage as it unfolded. I was struck by the horror of the event and deeply saddened by the senseless loss of life. I stopped writing. I prayed, checked on my husband and adult children. In my mind, I began "circling my wagons," not out of fear but as a coping mechanism. I was trying to make sure my immediate world was safe and protected for now. Clearly, a naive response since anyone's world can be changed in an instant by a previously unforeseen event. I am prayerfully thankful for their safety now. 

My friend Lauren, coped by packing up her family and animals retreating to their "get away from the city." A place on a quiet river for just the weekend. She desired to get away temporarily from the 24/7 barrage of news, filled with the terror of the events. She wanted to concentrate on the beauty of a crisp fall day on the river with her family. Lauren is thankful. 

A Memphis mom flew to Paris to be with her injured daughter in Paris after she was shot. At 23, she was living her dream in Paris. My heart goes out to her and her parents and the terror they are experiencing, but as her dad explained in an interview, "the young woman that was next to her is in a coffin." This statement is jolting in its rawness, but it is the wise perspective of this family's reality. This Memphis family temporarily in Paris is thankful.  

Much like 9/11 in the weeks and months to come, stories of the terrorists, victims, and heroes will emerge. My mind knows the world is filled with beauty, light, hope and goodness but after sudden and unforeseen events in our lives and the world, how do we get back to our "new normal?" How do we get back to writing?

For me, I returned to writing on Sunday, November 15, 2015 after seeing "The New Yorker's" cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz. It brought tears to my eyes because it touched a "chord of normalcy." If you are familiar with the children's book set in Paris, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, you will never forget the cadence of his words as he tellsMadeline's story. I've read that story a zillion times to my children when they were littler, and the world was safer. I know the rhythm and words by heart. We even made up our own Memphis version of that story filling it with personal references to our lives. This Parisian story is personal to me and my family. I am thankful for the story by Ludwig Bemelmans.  

Cartoonist Schwartz tweaked the words ever so slightly as a reflection of the November 13th events. 

"In an old house in Paris that is covered with vines, live twelve little girls whose country still shines."

The familiar rhyme that was "adjusted" and reminds me life goes on after "your world goes crazy." Getting back to a normal routine after a "scary event" is the theme throughout the Madeline  book. 

As a writer, your words can have the power to help people cope in times of crisis. I wonder if Ludwig Bemelmans, ever dreamed his words would help the world cope after such disturbing events occurred in his beloved Paris.

Author Melissa Tagg posted this facebook picture and an uplifting status post. I'm thankful for author, Melissa Tagg's letting us use her Paris mug with her Peace teabag photo for this post.

So I ask you on this Thanksgiving Day, when reflecting on thankful blessings in your life, "how do YOU keep writing when disturbing events occur?" 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Giving an Author's Speech

By Claire Fullerton

I was recently invited to give a speech at The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, in Pacific Grove, California. An acquaintance of mine, whom I met at one of my book signings, is the museum’s Director of Public Relations. He thought the invitation would avail a great opportunity for me to talk about my two novels, one of which is a paranormal mystery set in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea. After I jumped at the invitation, I started considering the audience. It would be an erudite group, interested in local history, which implied I better show up with dates and historic facts. But these are not elements in my paranormal mystery, and neither are they essential in my literary milieu. As I pondered my predicament, something occurred to me: anyone who makes a plan to suit up and attend an author’s event is interested in writing. They are somewhere on the path between aspiration and fulfillment in their own writing career, and therefore would like to hear an author articulate their findings along the road to publication and perhaps elaborate on their writing process and attendant lifestyle. I therefore decided to make my speech less about my books and more about encouragement along the road to publication.

I freely admit I am not an organized speaker. There are those who draft an outline and hit its notes in a planned cadence, but I’ve never been the sort to do well when boxed in. I need wiggle room and natural flow. I need to feel I’m in a conversation, as opposed to giving a lecture. I want to feel I’m contributing something of value in give- and- take forum, even if I’m the only one talking. And because I grew up in Memphis, when in front of an audience, I feel the need to employ Southern hospitality. Keeping this in mind, after the museum’s director introduced me from behind a podium, I thanked him for the nice introduction, ignored the podium, and pulled up a chair in front of the audience, the better for us all to feel at home.

I shared notes on the rewarding dynamic that has built my writing career: the push and pull that began with an intuitive whisper suggesting I should write something, for no other reason than the whisper wouldn’t leave me alone and was starting to bother me, in that way unutilized potential does, until it takes up square residency and won’t go away. I outlined the steps I took on the road to the publication of my first novel, which included my own newspaper column, contributions to magazines, and multiple publications in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, followed by a complete leap of faith in the draft of my first novel. I said that in my opinion, the act of writing is not so much about ambition as it is about the need to share my impressions of the business of living; that to me, it’s a prompting worth following, for no other reason than one feels compelled. But writing is a lonely business and one has to be okay with being in it alone. Writing is also about commitment, for one has to decide every day whether to be directed by self-discipline or self-doubt. Then there is the tendency to measure oneself against other writers, which is a complete waste of time. One has to write for the sake of writing, which brought me around to my most salient point.

When I think about art for art’s sake, I think of writing. If one is comfortable doing the task for its own sake, then I believe there are mysterious, uncanny forces that guide a writer onward in increments, until the sheer act of perseverance creates a body of work. When this happens, a writer can make a choice about what to do with it, keeping in mind that few writers ever definitively arrive, that there is no there to get to, and that there are only the stepping stones along the way of what becomes their writing career. A writer’s career creates itself if one holds true and stays the course. It is alchemical magic, the result that manifests from making repeated offerings via the written word and the bravery it takes to share.

After my speech, I invited questions. It was a half hour of unscripted banter, something of which an author cannot prepare. What I learned from the evening concerns the power of good intentions. If an author arrives in the spirit of helpfulness, with the intention of sharing their findings as encouragement and is willing to tell their story, then there is no need to be anxious before an audience and everything turns out better than if it had been planned.   
Claire Fullerton is the author of “Dancing to an Irish Reel” (Literary Fiction) and “A Portal in Time,” (Paranormal Mystery), both from Vinspire Publishing.  She is an award winning essayist, a contributor to magazines, a five time contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, and a former newspaper columnist. Claire grew up in Memphis, and now divides her time between Malibu and Carmel, CA with her husband and two German shepherds. She has recently completed her third novel, which is a Southern family saga set in Memphis. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Does Your Book Have A Message?

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

Every writer has an opportunity to influence not only his/her community but also the world.

When a writer puts words to paper, those thoughts are like the “rocks” we fling out into the water that cause ripple effects. The ripples just keep enlarging.

We never know who is going to read something we’ve written. For the most part, we never know the influence the words will have.

We are impacting our culture whether we realize it or not. The quote, "The pen is mightier than the sword” is a metonymy adage (short figure of speech). English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the sentence in 1839 for his play Richelieu.

When we are writing our books, it is important to know the audience––whom do we want to read our book?

I believe if we are fortunate enough to be a writer, that we have a responsibility to be mindful of our words to make sure we target the right audience.

I think sometimes we forget how powerful words are. I know I do.

This was brought home to me recently when I received a thank you note, from someone I don’t know. She took the time to write me after reading my book, Storms in Life, and thanked me for writing it. She specifically elaborated on how it helped her and the impact it had. She continued with letting me know she was getting a copy for a close friend of hers who was going through a tough time. She said she would also be sharing it with others.

I was humbled, to be sure, yet a realism hit me that as a writer, when I put those words to paper I am responsible for them in terms of the impact they will have on someone. It was an inspirational book and I wanted people who are going through hard times to know they can get through the storms that come into their lives. That it wasn’t hopeless.

Had I written a mystery, I would have needed to be clear in my mind how my words would impact that audience who likes mysteries. Was there a message I wanted to convey? Was there something of importance I wanted them to take away from reading the book? These things help make our books memorable.

I still remember messages from books I read in the 80’s. The impact they had on my life, my situation, my thinking and me. I even remember the author’s names.

As in life, we need to be mindful of our words. Are they words that will help the reader in their situation? Are they words that will give the reader enjoyment? Will they give them a much-needed break from their lives?

When I was younger, I heard a woman tell her friend that she chose certain movies to go to because they gave her a different world for a couple of hours. That for those two hours she didn’t have to worry about her situation.

For me, I believe God placed me where I am, and gave me the words to write in that book for such a time as that person needed to read it.

Write with purpose. Don't let your words be silent.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Get Feedback, Publicity, and Pre-Orders with a Contest!

By Kimberly Rae

We authors are always looking for ways to get the word out about our books. Marketing opportunities abound for writers willing to spend money, though from what I've heard, most of them do not end up being worth the investment. Social media is free, but requires an investment of time and, like so many other possibilities, the effort can end up costing more than the end result.

So what is an author to do? Most of us are learning through trial and error as the publishing, writing and marketing world continues to change in vast ways. I've tried several that flopped, but I recently tried one that not only provided free exposure and publicity, but resulted in actual sales. Here's how it worked:

My newest novel, Shredded,  recently released, but I could not decide on a cover image. I had posted both covers on Facebook and gotten lots of opinions, some of them very strong in one direction or the other. I've done so before and the results were always strongly in favor of one, making the choice easy. For this book, the results were nearly equal. Some people's opinions were so strong, I was concerned if I chose the opposite cover, they wouldn't want to buy the book.

Fortunately for me, my concerns resulted in a profitable idea. I decided to run a cover contest. Over a 
set course of time, readers could pre-order Shredded, choosing whichever of the two covers they liked best. When the time frame was up, the cover with the most orders would be the one chosen as the final cover for Shredded.

It was interesting, when it came down to actual orders, readers were much more in favor of one cover rather than the other. So the contest not only provided pre-orders and a reason for people to share about the book, it also gave me valuable feedback on what my actual readers liked better (rather than just random people commenting on Facebook).

To do the contest, I created images on Photoshop that I used in my Mailchimp newsletter and on Facebook. One image showed the two covers and explained the contest.

Other images shared endorsements by pre-readers or reminded people how many days were left in the contest. I also included a giveaway within the contest as extra motivation.

All in all, the contest proved a great way to share about the new book and get readers excited about it. They got to order the cover they wanted, felt they had a say in choosing the cover (which they did!), and I think didn't feel as you're-trying-to-sell-me-a-book as they might have with many other marketing methods.

You might want to give it a try. Perhaps a contest will prove as useful and positive a tool for you as it did for me!


Award-winning author of 20 books, Kimberly Rae lived in Bangladesh, Kosovo, Uganda and Indonesia before Addison's disease brought her permanently back to the US. She now writes from her home at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she lives with her husband and two young children. With her trilogy on human trafficking, Rae has become a sought-after speaker and trainer on the topic. Recognizing the lack of books about slavery and trafficking that focus on those who are making a difference rather than glorifying the evil or being overly graphic or despairing, she has also since created a series on modern day slavery for teens and pre-teens (Capturing Jasmina, Buying Samir, and Seeking Mother), and is currently working on a project for adults to help train children to recognize and avoid childhood sexual abuse (I AM SAFE), a major risk factor in childhood and adult exploitation. Since Addison's disease brought her permanently back to the US, Kimberly's created a series on living joyfully despite chronic health problems. Though Rae could find deep, heavy books on chronic illness, she wanted a book that was funny and encouraging. When she could not find one, one night when she couldn't sleep from her medication, she started writing one! "I want my Sick & Tired series to give empathy, encouragement, and a little practical help," says Rae.Find out more at

Friday, November 20, 2015

My Writing Crystal

By Ashley Scheller

To be new at writing can be both exciting and intimidating. I can say with confidence my journey to becoming a new author has been long but also worthwhile.

 I penned my first rough draft of my debut novel back in high school. I would write a bit, let it sit for a month and repeated this process. When I went to college in the fall of 2005, I didn’t write anymore, I was too busy, I didn’t have the time. Then in 2013, years after graduating, I revisited my manuscript.

I think my mistake was trying to write when I didn’t have the ambition or the patience I needed.   I would have made the time to write if it had been important to me.  Saying you don’t have the time is one of the hardest excuses to break. It’s also one of the most popular excuses people use.

I believe a writing habit has to be developed.  You have to train yourself to complete the page, or to get that one sentence scribbled on paper, to meet a word count. Creating any good habit– writing, eating well or getting into an exercise routine is a process. Start small and work up.

When I started, I’d write for short periods.  Now, hours of writing pass, to the point my husband wonders if I’m ever going to stop and eat.

For me, productivity is being there for family and/or friends while completing my writing goals each day.  We each have to determine our own goals of productivity.

I do know, however, that novel isn’t going anywhere until I  sit down and get to work.

Ashley Scheller has always liked creating. Currently residing in Omaha with her family, if she isn’t sewing costumes inspired from medieval times or anime characters she is writing. Passionate about both hobbies, she loves to connect with fellow costumers and writers through social media. The Wielder Diaries: My Crystal is her first book and has planned an exciting trilogy for the title.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Creating the New Norm

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Recent news coverage, talk shows and the like have brought to my attention the phrase "the new norm”. To think on some of the things described as the new norm or new standard can be very alarming¸ frightful even depressing. To think that if our only expectations were to think this is normal could be discouraging but if used in a positive hopeful manner could be amazing.

Then I thought how a writer may use this new standard, this “new norm”, as a tool in your writing. Something seen as unthinkable or uncommon in the past is now considered common. I first thought what if we had seen this coming and used it as a theme some years ago could our readers have wrapped their minds around it. Well why not attempt that now? Why not take a look at all the norms today, change them and make that the new norm in the future. Has that ever been done?

I would have to say yes it has many times. We recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future. A great deal of time was spent on searching for things in the movie that were farfetched 30 years ago but are common place today. Dehydrated food was one. Rehydrated pizza was enjoyed by the McFly family. At that time dehydrated food was uncommon unless you were an Astronaut and NASA had you in orbit. Today you can order a year’s supply of dehydrated food for a family from your local Costco. We have yet to have anything as complex as pizza but there are many choices.

One of the many things referred to in the movie dealt with electronics. Wireless computer games, hand held computers or pads and ones obsession with all things digital. Spot on! And of course the big item is the Hover Board. Yes, even though they are few and far between, there are hover boards today. We can’t overlook the flying car, compost fuel aka bio-gas, or performance enhancers in sports. Today performance enhancers in sports tend to be drugs and not a pitchers bionic arm as in the movie. All exist though none are common place but they served their purpose in the movie.  

We must also acknowledge things they got wrong. The Cubbies will not win a World Series by 2015 especially against a Florida MLB team. Due to her unfortunate early demise Lady Diana will not be Queen Diana. We won’t have a Female President by 2015 nor do we have Pontiac dealerships. Last but definitely not least the Fax machine is not the most efficient way to communicate today.

The point to all this? As a writer you don’t have to be correct. You don’t have to use an existing standard nor a believable standard. You can create the “new norm” that fits your story, or helps your character along the way. We all have thought of things that if existed would be useful. We all have thought of things that no longer exist and the hardship without them.. We all have thought of a new order existing that was encouraging, hopeful and peaceful. These things a writer can use.

So give it some thought, there are no limits. Bring us the next Hover Board of the Future. We are waiting.