Friday, September 21, 2018

Gauging the Storyline-Part One

By Shelly Frome

Because of their collective memory, no matter if they’re watching on a screen at home via Netflix or Turner Classics or at a multiplex, viewers can tell almost immediately whether the   experience is going to be worth their while.

Take The Guns of Navarone (1961) as the first of three random examples.  At the opening it seems some vague garrison in Crete is about to be overrun unless allied ships can come to the rescue. But the channel is deemed impassable because of a pair of humongous Nazi cannons. The only way around depends on the efforts of a handful of men to scale a sheer “impossible” cliff, slip into an impregnable fortress guarded by an overwhelming German force and destroy these “dreadful guns.” And who is the demolition expert and one of the stars of this enterprise? A slight, blasé` Englishman (David Niven) with absolutely no physical training who professes he can’t swim.

It goes without saying if the first building block in a screenplay is contrived, everything that follows is bound to become an escalating set of dubious cliffhangers.

In marked contrast, all you have to do is recall, say, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).  Almost immediately the camera draws you inside the realities and keeps you in suspense with no idea who will survive this ordeal no matter who appears in a leading role. And by realities we’re not referring to pure realism. We’re concerned with the logic within a consistent set of given circumstances, whether it’s Luke Skywalker’s colorful space odyssey or Sam Spade’s hardboiled black-in-white case in San Francisco.

In any event, pure realism can only take you so far. Within the first few minutes of Night and the City (1992) the camera peers in and out of a seedy section of Manhattan following a low-rent shyster lawyer (Robert De Niro) as he plies his sleazy trade, using a bartender’s phone to con prospective clients, takes a moment out for a tryst in the alley with the bartender’s wife, etc. There is no hope here for a single redeemable instant. On the other hand, in De Niro’s iconic debut in Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), his slow-witted Johnny Boy tries to navigate the Little Italy section, unable to fathom the interplay between petty crime and the tenets of the church, assuming it’s all a game. In this case, the viewer truly has something to worry about as Johnny Boy “keeps asking for it,” borrowing money he has no intention of paying back, goading his gangster creditor to the point of no return. And that, as they say, is just for openers.

Sometimes the material is as obscure as its title (Phantom Thread, 2017) and it’s difficult to find what seasoned screenwriters call “the front door.”  In this instance, it seems that a rather clumsy waitress is taken with a customer old enough to be her father (Daniel Day Lewis), accepts his invitation to dine as a middle-aged woman later joins them and looks on approvingly.  The man in question claims to be a fastidious dressmaker and a confirmed bachelor; the young lady soon  occupies a private room in the dressmaker’s house and, through a voice over, declares that she’s flattered because she always thought her shoulders were too wide.  But where are we? And what woman, young or old, could relate to this tale and find herself willing enough to go on with this charade?

Instead, how much more gratifying would it be to hear the gentle, wise voiceover  of the grownup Jean Louse “Scout” Finch (Kim Stanley) as she reminisces about her small town Alabama childhood in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)? And, through cinematic memory, releases countless girls and women at the outset from the burden of being docile, secondary creatures in favor of opting to be a spirited, honest and intrepid force in their life’s journey.  Part Two will appear on Monday, September 24, 2018.
Shelly Frome is the film columnist for Southern Writers Magazine. He is also a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, and a writer of crime novels and books on theater and film. His fiction includes Sun Dance for Andy HornLilac MoonTwilight of the Drifter and Tinseltown Riff.  Among his works of non-fiction are The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. Murder Run, his latest crime novel, was just released.  He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


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

You have your baby published—now comes marketing. But how do you go about getting your book out there to potential buyers?

I must admit that one of the biggest challenges of book publishing is this: Marketing 101. And once you publish a book, how do you market to make the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists? What about the Amazon Bestseller list? I’d once read that if you work for the New York Times and have a book out, your book is more likely to stay on the list longer and have a higher ranking than non employee books and that if you write a conservative political leaning book, you’re more likely to rank lower and drop off the list faster than those books with a more liberal political slant. But whether a conservative writer or a liberal one, how do you even make the list—does buying ad space through NYT and WSJ help? And unless you have a huge platform like fiction writer John Grisham and a fat bank account for marketing to pay $36,000 or more for a publicist if you don’t have a huge platform, how do you get your book out there?

After recently publishing Nailed It! The Nail Salon Chronicles with my co-writer Natalie Banda, I tried to come up with a marketing plan that would initially consist of advertising in three consecutive issues of Southern Writers Magazine. And of course, Natalie and I chatted up the book to friends and family before the book was published, drumming up curiosity and interest. Once the book was published by

Grace Publishing in July of this year, mine and Natalie’s major push would then be to have people we knew who planned on buying our book to buy on the same day, after hearing this was a ploy to make the Amazon ratings rise. But would this work or was this rumor/hearsay?

After sending out email blasts and posting on all of our social media sites which consisted of over 10,000 contacts, Natalie and I waited for the big day—the day we’d told everyone who planned on purchasing a copy, to buy. Should Natalie and I also buy in bulk that day? Some reports say bulk buying is a way of trying to game the system. What’s to stop a rich author from buying 30,000 copies or more to launch themselves onto a bestseller list?

Part Two of “YOU ARE YOUR BEST PUBLICIST” will appear on October 19, 2018. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Editing Your Partner’s Manuscript: Harmony or Hurricane?

By Rob Sangster

Twenty minutes into his conversation with me about No Return, my new novel, the interviewer cocked an eyebrow and leaned into his microphone.

Interviewer: “Let’s get a little personal. Tell us how you met your partner, Lisa Turner?”

Rob: “At a cocktail party at a home on the bank of the Mississippi River. She was trapped by some guy trying to monopolize her attention. When I overheard her say she was a writer, I stepped up and said, ‘What a coincidence. So am I. Let’s go get a glass of wine.’ As soon as I realized what a talented writer she really was, I changed the subject, because I was just starting to write my first book.”

Interviewer: “But now that you’ve both had several books published, are you able to edit each other’s drafts without fireworks? For example, the famous writing couple Dashiell Hammit and Lillian Helman, who also met at a cocktail party, had a notoriously stormy relationship when editing.”

Rob: “No storms in our household.” Then I told him how we keep the peace.
·         Lisa is a scholar of writing, so I sent my ego on holiday and listen and learn.
·         We never use a red pen to edit. And if a critique is extensive, we retype the whole passage so suggestions don’t appear so blatant.
·         My writing strengths are very different from hers. Instead of competing, we draw on each other to make our manuscripts the best they can be.
·         We always make time for the other when some quick input is needed.
·         Each of us reads our work aloud to the other without interruption. If the listener hears a glitch, he or she raises a forefinger and the reader marks the spot and continues.
·         We are courteous in our comments. We often prefaced a criticism with, “Would you consider . . .” Lisa tries not to roll her eyes when I insert my political point of view in a scene a little too intensely, or when I overload a passage with similes or metaphors. She does sometimes whisper the sage advice of, “Kill your darlings.”
·         We brainstorm a lot. When one of us fires out ideas, the other tries to build on them instead of stifling them with criticism. Lots of “What if . . .”
·         In a new manuscript, we avoid knit-picking and focus on spotting structural problems and plot lines that will never converge.
·         Then there is the big one. If we get cross-wise during a critique, one of us will declare a “do-over.” That’s a non-debatable call for a re-set to dissipate any stress in the air.

All this works because we genuinely respect each other’s abilities, and let praise flow freely. 
Rob Sangster has been a practicing lawyer, real estate developer, an executive in federal and state governments, owned three restaurants, serves on numerous boards of non-profits, and delivers Meals on Wheels. He’s traveled in more than 100 countries on seven continents, races sailboats, and has a home on the wild coast of Nova Scotia. His first novel, Ground Truth, hit #1 on Amazon Kindle. He second, Deep Time, won the EPIC Award as best American suspense/thriller of 2017. His third, No Return, has just been released. So far, reviews on Amazon are 5.0.,

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Your Bluebird Cafe Discovery

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Malcolm Gladwell has written several books one of my favorites is TheTipping Point. It was about the small changes that brought people, products or government to a point of success or change. A recent trip to Nashville and The Bluebird Café reminded me of a tipping point.

The Bluebird cafe is small 90 seat music club which will usually have 4 composers or singer/songwriters present their talents. It is a great way to see new or established talent and experience a step along the way in the music business. I was fortunate to be able to attend a benefit there for the Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy. In the middle of the show   one of the artists which was experiencing her first performance at the Bluebird stopped, pointed to a spot at a table in the back and said, “Garth Brooks was seated right back there when he heard The Dance for the first time. The Dance was written by Tony Arata and Brooks recorded it as the 10th and final song on his self-titled debut album. It remained at number 1 for 3 weeks. Quite a success story for both the writer and the singer. Why was this noted in the middle of her performance?
This young hopeful was saying this was possibly one of the steps, changes she must go through if she is to achieve success. It has happened for others this way. It could happen again. But she must experience this. This is also true for authors and I want to share two of my favorite examples.
·        Andy Andrew’s book The Butterfly Effect was shared with Good Morning America host Robin Roberts. Roberts showcased it on “Must-Reads”. Not long afterwards it was a #1 Bestseller.
·       Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were brilliant motivational speakers and great marketing men. Their new book Chicken Soup for the Soul had sold many copies. They wanted more. They had given away thousands of copies but they needed to get it into the hands of what they called “big mouths”. Big mouths are celebrities with access to the media. They sent books to the O. J. Simpson jury. The jury was sequestered so this was one thing they could have. The jury were seen arriving each day with the book under their arm. The media asked about it and they received national attention.

“Three simple rules in life:  If you do not go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.  If you do not step forward, you'll always be in the same place.”  

You never know when, where or how the right person will discover your work but if you know of things others have done you too can use that to get it out there in front of people. Not everyone that performs at The Bluebird Café becomes a “success”. But your odds are much greater if you do. It is a step, or one of the changes that must occur to increase your odds. 

Discover what others have done and put it into motion. Southern Writers Magazine with its input from authors is a great place to start learning.     

Monday, September 17, 2018

Looking For Authors Who “Get It”

By W. Terry Whalin

Editors and agents are blasted with submissions every day. I know because I’ve been one of them for years. Authors are frustrated receiving form rejection letters with no information or no response at all. To many authors, it is a mystery how their submission is “found” and published.     

For the last five years, I’ve been an acquisitions editor for a New York publisher who receives over 5,000 submissions a year and only publishes about 150 books. Yes there is a selection process for every author and every book. Here’s the encouraging news for authors: every day I’m actively looking for authors. Also I understand every day over 4,500 new books are published. This large number includes the self-published books which may only sell 100 copies during the lifetime of the book. This statistic helps authors understand the massive amount of new material constantly entering the marketplace. It also explains why you as an author have to be promoting and marketing your book. 

How can you get the attention of an editor or agent? I want to give five ways to show you are an author who “gets it.”
1.      Submit an excellent proposal or manuscript. Editors and agents can recognize excellent writing. The old saying is true, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” Every author needs to pour polish and storytelling into their submission. Yes it is easy to reach people via email. Before you hit send, your submission should be excellent. Use my free book proposal checklist at: It works for nonfiction and fiction.
2.      Follow proven author practices. While there is not a bestseller formula for success, there are proven author actions. Every publisher and literary agent is looking for authors with connections or a platform. Pick up my free eBook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author at:
3.      Take action every day to learn more about publishing and build your market connections. Join a writers group or organization and get involved.
4.      Understand the various types of media and do not build your platform on “rented” media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are examples). Start and maintain your own blog and email list to reach your readers.
5.      Diversify your writing business. Write and sell information products. Learn about affiliate income. Write for magazines. Don’t put all of your efforts into one type of writing. As a writer, there are many different possibilities. Get ideas from my first chapter of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams at: If I can help you, reach out to me. It’s why my personal email is in my Twitter profile.
As an author, I’ve been inside some of the top publishers and literary agencies. Every professional is actively looking for the next bestseller. The path to your success is out there. Take steps every day to show you are an author who “gets it.”
W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free EBook, Straight Talk From the Editor. His website is located at: Connect with Terry on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

Friday, September 14, 2018

So You Want To Be A Writer?

By Leslie Hachtel

Are you sure? Because you need to know at the beginning that it's a marathon. Not a sprint. You may never make the bestseller list—but, then again you might. But that can't be the reason you decide to sit down at the keyboard and pour out your heart. First, you have to ask yourself if you have a choice. 

Because a writer doesn't.

So, you make the commitment and decide, yes, this is the journey I must take. Pack your 'bags' and fasten your seat belt. It will probably be a bumpy ride. Let me tell you about my (continuing) journey.

Years ago, I was in Los Angeles and I wrote a treatment for a TV show. I thought it was pretty good. I showed it to some of my friends (some who were actually in the industry). They suggested I should submit it to a very well-known (at the time) producer. A few weeks later, I got back a letter from said producer saying I had no talent and should actually get a real job. Ten months later, my idea was a TV show produced by said producer with, of course, her name on the credits. After the anger passed, I realized I was good enough to steal from. And so I took that as a sign, so to speak. After that, I was hired to write an episode of a TV show (my credit this time) and had a screenplay optioned. But, I wanted to write novels. And more specifically, romance novels.

It's hard to work all day and come home and muster the energy to sit down and put words 'on paper'. But I persevered. I was a writer. I had to write.

I wrote my first novel and sent it to a million publishers and another million agents. Nothing. So, I wrote a second novel. At the time I had a critique partner who had a mean streak. She told me, basically, the book sucked. So, I curled up into a fetal position until my husband said "Don't quit". Because I would certainly fail if I gave up. If I kept going, I might have a chance at actually being published.

And sure enough, after submitting novel number two to a million publishers and another million agents, I got The E-Mail. Followed by The Contract.

After that, I wrote more books and signed more contracts. And along the way, I decided to self-publish, too. And so, to date, I have published eleven books, (both traditionally and self-published) and a series bundle (The Dance Series). And I just signed a contract to be part of an anthology. Oh, and last week I made the Amazon bestsellers list in romantic suspense for Once Upon a Tablecloth.

The moral of this story: writing, as with any creative endeavor, has its ups and downs, days when you want to just stop and days when you can't get the words down fast enough. Days when the muse goes out for coffee. But you can't not write. Not if you're a writer. It's too much a part of who you are.

So, let me leave you with the two words that keep me going on the bad days:

Don't Quit.

As if you could.

Now get back to writing.
Leslie Hachtel was born in Hamilton, Ohio and has lived all over the United States. She started writing years ago when she simply decided to sit down at a typewriter and she was transported to another world. She realized then a writer writes because there is no other choice. Her genres include historical, contemporary, romantic suspense and historical/paranormal since she loves them all. Leslie lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her fabulously supportive husband, Bob. And of course, with Jakita, the terrier. Found out more at:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Writing with 9/11 and Hurricane Florence on Your Mind

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I saw these statistics on Facebook the other day, and they struck me. “As a reminder, 17 years ago, this past Tuesday, 246 people caught morning flights. 2,606 people prepared for work. 343 firefighters prepared for their morning shift. 60 police officers prepared for morning patrol. 8 paramedics prepared for the morning shift of saving lives. None of them saw past 10:00 AM on Sept 11, 2001.” In one single moment life was never the same for those souls and the world. Something I can never forget when 9-11 rolls around each year. I will never forget.

My friend Nancy is a high school school teacher. She posted on Facebook this post. “In my class today,(9-11-18) my “Do Now” was simply, list 10 facts about 9/11. This is what I got from one student:

1. got up
2. I took a shower
3. I brushed my teeth
4. I got dressed
5. I got on the bus
6. I ate breakfast again at school
7. I went to my first period class
8. I took a test
9. I came to 6th period
10. I’m now in Ms. Stephenson’s class.
Earth to students. I simply told the child I was sorry for not being more specific. I told him I needed the facts from 09/11/2001. He complied. I re-graded his paper.”

I commented to Nancy about her post. “But you know he has a point. The victims of 9/11 did the first 4 things maybe did #5 & 6 and #7 went to work. They had no idea what was going to happen nor did the world. It’s sobering to consider how for the victims 9-11-01, was just another day. Be grateful for each day we have on this little blue planet.”

This year in Minnesota at a 9/11 memorial tribute an eagle landed atop the memorial. It brought a tear to my eye. Amazing. Here’s a link if you missed the video. 

Humans are a resilient species. We may be knocked down by events that occur out of our control. However, we can control how we react and strive to create a normalcy in your routine. If you stop writing after an event, set a time to write every day and just start. Like the student’s list above make a list to get you back into a routine.

Currently, the United States is facing a direct hit from Hurricane Florence. This event stands to negatively affect millions of people. Some of these people in the storm’s path are authors whose books we all read. While fearing the worst, we pray for the best. I do know from the years following 9/11, we humans will return to a new normalcy after this hurricane. 

May God be with those in the Hurricane’s path. While we will never forget any horrific event that occurs in our lives, getting back into a routine can help us move forward.

When your routine stops because of things out of your control, how do you get your routine back?