Monday, September 29, 2014

Perseverance—and More Writing!

By Terry Shames

When I finally got my first publishing contract, friends who had supported me during my long prelude to publication crowed, “Perseverance pays off—you did it!”

Although I smiled in agreement what I secretly knew is that it took a lot more than perseverance.

In the late eighties and early nineties I wrote one book after another and snagged one fabulous agent after another, each of whom would at the end of a year send my torn and tattered manuscript back saying with regret, “close, but no cigar.”

When my son started school I took time off from the rejection cycle to just be a mom. I wrote school newsletters, articles and copy for annual reports. And I wrote some fiction, but I didn’t send anything out. When he was a senior in high school, it was time to gear up again. I wrote a new book, and started looking for an agent. But in ten years, the publishing world had changed! Before, I had easily found agents. This time, even an agent eluded me. Although I got several nibbles, there were no offers of representation.

So what happened that eventually led to success? I started taking myself seriously, stopped sending out “good enough” manuscripts, and started trying to write the best novel I could--something that came from deep inside me. I studied current fiction trends, paid attention to how the publishing world was evolving, and worked on finding an agent who was right for me. Before, I had simply trusted to luck and instinct to find my way to publication. Now I realized it took a lot more.

You can learn a great deal from books about writing and publishing. But nothing is better than talking to fellow-writers. I attended workshops and writers’ conferences, and joined a critique group. I talked to other writers who had written one book after another before they got published--and I listened to what they did to finally break through.

With the current publishing climate, I had to make the decision whether I still wanted to go through a traditional publisher or strike out on my own. Was it perseverance, stubbornness, or fear that kept me going after a traditional publisher? Probably a little of each. I knew that whichever way I chose, I still had to perfect my craft, make my book as good as it could be and target my audience.

Bottom line: I learned to take myself seriously as a professional. I did the hard work of making my book the best it could be in terms of craft. I did the hard work of finding good beta readers, and finding the right agent for me. So in the end, it wasn’t just that I persevered, but that I kept learning.

And finally I found a publishing home and I thought I was home free. Not so fast! There was a new learning curve, one I’m just beginning to understand—promotion and marketing. A whole new bag of tricks.

Terry Shames is the best-selling author of A Killing at Cotton Hill and The Last Death of Jack Harbin, (Seventh Street Books). Her most recent book,  Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek releases October 7th,2014 and can be pre-ordered. Her books are set in small-town Texas and feature ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock. Terry grew up in Texas and has abiding affection for the small town where here grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. She lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two rowdy terriers. She is Vice President of Norcal Sisters in Crime and on the board of MWA Norcal. For more information, please visit her website:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Genealogy Research Writing: Using Vital Records to Re-Create Your Loved One’s Life Story

By Traci Pollard

Genealogy research for some is establishing names, dates, places and origins of distant family members by gathering information as to whom they were, where they lived, who they married, and how many children they had. While all this information is important, there is so much more to know about the family member. I realized that this was not just a person who has lived and died, but a key genetic part of who I am today. I want to know all about that person, who was he or she? Were they a kind person, with good values? Did they believe in God? Did they love their family members? Are there any genetic diseases in my family tree? Often times research records will indicate and answer all of these questions.

When I research a family member, I put so much more into my research. I am re-creating the character and life history of the person who I am researching.  Using the historical information that I gathered, I can combine it all to tell their personal story of love, trials, tribulations, personal interests, profession, socio-economic status, land ownership, family relations, religion, political status and so much more. There is so much data out there on the Internet today!

Begin your family research with you writing down your historical information that you know, proceeding on to the next generation (your parents). While gathering and writing down information, you are systematically moving up the ancestral tree one generation at a time.

It is so important if given the opportunity to sit with an older member of your family and gather information from them. I remember sitting with my grandmother and asking her many questions about her family members and upbringing. I remember taking tedious notes, not knowing much about the people she spoke so highly in love about. It was years later after she passed away, that I pulled all that information she gave me and researched her family. I met through research so many distant cousins, children of the sibling she spoke about, the problem came with the excitement of wanting to pick up the telephone to share all the information with her, and she was no longer there.

When researching, remember to take good notes, source where you find the information, and stay organized. You will find so many fascinating facts about your family, it will be very easy to wander off in your research to another trail or surname, but if you do that, you will find out that you have information scattered all over the place, making it difficult for someone else to pick up where you left off.

What a beautiful gift of knowledge you share with your loved ones, their past. We all give our children roots and wings, and family history is often such a blessing and beautiful gift to do that.

Traci Pollard is the wife of a retired military officer and mother to five children. Traci is an Author, an Elementary school teacher as well as a Women’s Ministry leader. She an Avid Genealogy Researcher, having researched back over fourteen generations on both my maternal and paternal sides. Traci enjoys writing, blogging, reading and traveling. Connect with Traci at her blog;

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To Be A Successful Writer You Must…

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

President Woodrow Wilson said, “Absolute identity with one’s cause is the first and greatest condition of success. “Being so focused on your cause, your goal, that your very identity is one with it was President Woodrow Wilson’s idea of becoming successful. Being known and identified with a purpose is something we see in others but are we identified as one with our cause. Are we so focused that we are known for no other thing but that one thing. If not maybe we need to re-evaluate our focus and move toward a place where there is no doubt what it is we deem most important.

Dale Carnegie said, “Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” Carnegie felt that these three things, enthusiasm, horse sense and persistence, would do the trick.  He did state “flaming enthusiasm” which to me would mean someone over the top with enthusiasm. The part of this quote I like most is his reference to “horse sense”. That means a lot to someone like me that is no Einstein. Academy Award Winner Billy Bob Thornton said, “Ignorance was my best quality because I never doubted myself.” I can see where ignorance would be helpful. And finally be persistent. As Winston Churchill said, 
“Never give up”.

Carnegie’s quote brings us to the next quote of man known to us all as successful and persistent. Thomas Edison said, “I failed my way to success.” We all know his story of the thousands of attempts and failures at the invention of the light bulb. And as far as Edison’s education he was not a scholar with formal education but probably had as good an education as most children of his time. I guess that’s where the horse sense comes in. Edison’s enthusiasm must surely have kept him from being discouraged during the many attempts at the light bulb because at one point he stated, “Every wrong attempt discarded is a step forward.”

So let’s get started. Henry David Thoreau said, “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to look for it.” I have known those Thoreau speaks of. Those so busy working toward their dream they failed to see their success. Usually they are notified of their success before the realization sets in. They are told of an award they earned, recognition as a champion in their field, or in our craft hopefully we are told we are on the best seller list. So let’s get busy and do not look up until the notification comes. And when it does, “Pray that success will not come any faster than you are able to endure it.” Elbert Hubbard

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Normal Writing Language

By Ramona DeFelice Long

After maneuvering through a crush of back-to-college students, I flounced into our car and announced to the man I’d married that I was done with shopping until the new semester started.

“But when those husbands go on sale, I’m coming back,” I declared. “The husband in our bedroom doesn’t have any oomph anymore. I’ll get one for the guest room, too. I’ll bet your mother would appreciate a new husband next time she comes to visit.”

I waited for him to start the car, but he didn’t.  The man I married was too busy staring at me.

Excuse me?”

It took me a moment to realize why he was so aghast. Laughing, I explained that a husband is the Southern nickname for a back pillow, the kind you prop up against in bed to read or watch television or study.

He was relieved. “Next time,” he said, “please use normal language, especially if you’re going to mention my mother.”

What, exactly, is normal language?

Every region enjoys word quirks and colloquialisms. I grew up in Louisiana, where people make groceries, fix dinner, take off the light.  When I moved to western Pennsylvania, I had to switch from y’all to you’ens.  In Delaware, I learned that YoUDee is a mascot, not some kind of cold drink.

For writers, a word can reveal a character’s cultural background. In Raney, Clyde Edgerton uses the word “dinners” in an amusing mix-up between a country bride and her sophisticated groom from Atlanta. As I did with the man I married, Raney must explain that “dinners” is not only the evening meal, but a woman’s bosom. Her husband’s befuddlement over the word highlights one obstacle for a couple who wed across a cultural divide.

Husbands meaning pillows and dinners meaning breasts can make a specific point in a specific scene. In a larger context, a word’s double meaning can be a story starter. 

Consider Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbon’s brilliant coming of age novel. Young Ellen—orphaned, unloved, misunderstood--observes a family everyone calls the Foster family. It’s clear to the reader, but not Ellen, that foster is not a proper name or a proper noun. Ellen, however, sees a lady who takes in children and gives them the kind of safe and loving home every child desires. This is the family Ellen longs for, so she makes her way to them and adopts the name Foster as her own.
Kaye Gibbons built an entire novel around a single word taken slightly out of context. 

Husbands, dinners, Foster family.  Words can be used, abused, misused, misconstrued, misleading, or enlightening. They can do double duty, have double meanings, offer double entendres. With a slight swerve out of normal language, a word can create a scene or seed a story.

Are there words in your normal language that can be a story starter?
Ramona DeFelice Long is a native of south Louisiana and a graduate of LSU. She lives in Delaware. In 2013, she was awarded a literary fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts as an Established Artist in Literature-Creative Nonfiction. Ramona is also an independent editor. She teaches workshops on all aspects of writing, at conferences and online. She has led weekend writing retreats and monthly Free Write programs at her local public library and a variety of book group and writing workshops for young writers and readers. Ramona has collaborated with Sisters in Crime national organization to edit two anthologies of mystery and crime stories: Fish Nets and Fish Tales. She also co-edited a collection of stories from Delaware authors, Tales from the Ink Slingers, with Wilmington writer JM Reinbold, in addition to several short story anthologies for writing groups. Ramona serves as Member-at-Large for the Delaware Literary Connection. She’s also member of the Newark Arts Alliance, Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters, the Eastern Shore Writers Association, and The Written Remains Writing Guild. Her blog can be found at

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Making the Scene in Song

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

One thing country songwriters have a knack for is getting a story off the ground.  A descriptive opening line pulls the listener into the scene from the get-go and evokes the spirit of what's to come.

A close look at hits currently on the charts gives writers solid examples of how to start things off with a strong visual impact. For instance, here are the opening lines from some of the current Top 40: 

It was a perfect day for the end of May, they say a record high (Eric Church, "Cold One")

They roll the sidewalks in this town all up after the sun goes down
(Sam Hunt, "Leave the Night On")

She had a cross around her neck and a flower in her hair (Luke Bryan, "Roller Coaster")

Baby, when I look at you with them baby blues cuttin' right through me... (Big & Rich, "Look at You")

Well, I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet
(Maddie & Tae, "Girl in a Country Song")

Take it on back to where the grass was greener (Chase Bryant, "Take It On Back")

Well, take a look at what's left in that sunset, fireflies popping like the Fourth of July (Parmalee, "Close Your Eyes")

There's a postcard picture at the back of our minds
(Brothers Osborne, "Let's Go There")

Well, I won two dollars on a scratch-off ticket, so I went back to the counter and I bought two more with it (Brad Paisley, "River Bank")

Each of these set-em-ups paints a mental picture, an invitation to step out of wherever we may be and experience that sunset, that memory, that day in May.  We see the girl in bare feet, with baby blue eyes or a cross around her neck. 

Whether we're writing a song, a poem or a novel, starting with a strong, evocative opening line is the quickest way to draw the audience into our world.  We can thank the early country songwriters, whose imagery of blue moons of Kentucky and walking after midnight created a lyrical legacy that continues to work eight decades down the country road.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Envy: The Four-Letter Word in Writing

By David Congalton

There is a scene in my movie screenplay Authors Anonymous where Colette, the New Age, unpublished, Danielle Steel-wannabe, confronts fellow writer Hannah, who has already scored an agent, a book deal, a movie deal and now an invitation to meet a famous author.

“Why does all this happen to you, and only to you?” a frustrated Colette demands to know. “Isn’t there anything—some kind of cosmic creative crumb—for the rest of us to nibble on?”

Envy is the four-letter word that plagues many writers, especially many beginning writers. Yes, we want our colleagues to succeed, but only to a certain degree. We smile and applaud and cheer them on when they land an agent or sell a book, but then we go home and scream at the sky, wondering, Why not me? Few of us will fess up to the truth, but anyone who has ever put pen to paper, or clacked away on a keyboard, has experienced envy at some point.

My moment came in 2000. Catherine Ryan Hyde had sold her novel Pay It Forward to Simon & Schuster the previous year. My wife Charlotte and I had become good friends with Catherine—having known her before she ever sold her first short story. But now, we could only stand back and watch in awe as Catherine experienced this amazing career trajectory. Boom. New York publisher. Boom. Four-book deal. Boom. Movie deal. Boom. Kevin Spacey starring in the movie. Boom. Invitation to join President Clinton for a private screening.

The movie version of Pay It Forward came to town and we sat behind Catherine at the local premiere as she basked in the effusive audience praise and media spotlight. We were driving home afterwards when the truth came bubbling out. “You know what? I’m envious of Catherine. Look at all her success,” I confessed to my wife.

Charlotte didn’t hesitate to put me in my place. “Catherine does the work. She’s earned her success. You haven’t done the work.”

I felt stupid for having said what I did. Charlotte was right. Sure, I had some good ideas and a lot of dreams, but I lacked the work ethic that Catherine embraced daily. I hadn’t done the work.

But five years later, those feelings about Catherine became the basis for my screenplay Authors Anonymous,a comedy depicting the implosion of a writers’ critique group when the members become envious of Hannah after she becomes an overnight literary success.

It took nine years from page to screen, an odyssey worthy of Homer, but I finally achieved success as a writer by buckling down and doing the work. There are no shortcuts to success.

Envy has no place on the creative journey. Catherine has gone on to publish 19 novels; she’s an amazing writer. I couldn’t be happier for her.  Why? Because the serious, mature writer is one who is genuinely excited for the success of others—we understand that when writers like Catherine succeed, we all succeed.
David Congalton is a screenwriter living in San Luis Obispo, Ca. Authors Anonymous, starring Kaley Cuoco, Chris Klein, Dennis Farina, and Teri Polo, is currently available on DVD. A second screenplaySeven Sisters is scheduled to begin production later in 2014. Congalton was the director of the Central Coast Writers Conference for 12 years. There is a Facebook page for the movie:
His web site is.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cozying Up to Murder

By Leslie Budewitz

When I say I write cozy mysteries, some readers light up. “My favorite kind,” they say. Others squint and tilt their heads, asking, “What’s that?”

You all know the traditional mystery—think Agatha Christie, whose mysteries feature a Belgian detective, a sharp-eyed spinster, and a dashing couple of spy-catchers. One modern incarnation is the cozy. It’s the comfort food of the mystery world, the mac & cheese. And who doesn’t love that now and again? (Or carbonara if you’re Italian, like my protagonist’s mother.) No graphic sex or violence; lots of graphic food.

Okay, so they don’t all involve food. Some involve knitting. Or librarians or booksellers, psychics or museum directors. Or the owners of haunted houses and hotels.

But no FBI agents or bomb squads—at least, not as protagonists, unless he or she is retired and running a fudge shop. (In Sheila Connolly’s Museum Mysteries, her protagonist dates an FBI agent named James Morrison. Cozy writers love to play with names.)

The setting is typically a small town—my Jewel Bay, Montana, Janet Bolin’s Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania, or Barbara Ross’s Busman’s Harbor, Maine. (Bodies of water are not required, but they do set a certain tone.) A cozy can also be set in an urban neighborhood or community: the capital environs in Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef Mysteries, Greenwich Village in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries, or the museum world Sheila Connolly’s characters inhabit.

Regardless of the rural or urban setting, the murder is a shock that disturbs the natural order. An amateur sleuth—typically female—is drawn in by the personal nature of the crime, and uses her skills and connections to solve it.

Not everyone likes the term. Carolyn Hart, a goddess in the mystery world (and a past president of Sisters in Crime, which calls former leaders goddesses), asks, “How cozy is it to die in agony from poison, knowing your killer is among your intimates, but dying without knowledge of the culprit?” Not cozy at all—downright terrifying—but in my opinion, the term is cheekily ironic for exactly that reason.

There is an official investigation, of course, run by law enforcement. But our amateur sleuth hears and sees things the police can’t. She knows the community—she and her shop, cafĂ©, or gallery are often at its center. As a result, she may be convinced that the police are focused on the wrong person—maybe her, or someone she’s close to. She may fear they will act too quickly or fail to take seriously the clues she uncovers. They may find her helpful—or try to stop her from interfering.

Ultimately, in the cozy, both professional and amateur detectives are essential, because they serve different functions. The professionals’ job is to restore external order, through the legal system. They can’t succeed without her, despite their initial reluctance. By giving her help, she demonstrates the triumph of the individual over evil. Her involvement in righting a wrong restores balance to the community. She restores social order.

That’s what a cozy is about: community. How it’s formed, how it’s damaged, how it’s restored.

And of course, how it eats.
Leslie Budewitz is the national best-selling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, was published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Assault and Pepper, her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015. Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks &Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books), making her the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. For more tales of life in the wilds of northwest Montana, and bonus recipes, visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter. Website:   
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