Thursday, August 22, 2019

STRETCHING—WRITING OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE



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


I’d always wanted to read a Ted Dekker novel. So imagine my surprise when I was on holiday and the house where I stayed had several of his tomes. There was a book series along with a single novel. I had visions of me plowing through the series before tackling the lone novel. 

Yeah, right. I had to be experiencing journey proud grand delusions. However, I immediately turned to the first chapter of the first book. 

The first book of the series was so strange, and weird, and contained so much symbolism, it took me almost all week to read it. The genre could be called Speculative Fiction. Very interesting, but not a light read. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the other two books in the series so chose to read the stand alone novel next. I plowed through it in a day—a much easier book to read, and I really enjoyed it because I didn’t have to think so hard as in—okay, what’s Ted talking about here?

But why did I enjoy the second book so much more than his other book? Perhaps because I’m not that big a fan of science fiction, mysterious worlds and such—meaning, creepy things that go bump in the night. But that first read did make me think; just what exactly is the definition of speculative fiction?

In 1941 Robert Heinlein came up with the term “speculative fiction” to collectively describe works in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. It can also include other genres like Historical Fiction, Alternate Histories, and Mysteries with some Romance thrown in. I was surprised to discover Tarzan fit into this genre. As well as The Twilight Zone and stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Edgar Allen Poe tales also fit because they were stories on the fringe. Speculative fiction can put your everyday ordinary people into out-of-this-world extraordinary circumstances. The genre can take you to far out places while you’re still sitting on the front piazza swing, swilling sweet tea, while listening to mourning doves cry.  

After a week of binging on a couple of Ted Dekker books, what did I learn from the exercise of reading the works of a new (for me) writer? I discovered that I might like to one day venture out and write a speculative fiction novel myself. Yes, really. No horror, but maybe some “on the fringe” story with a Twilight Zone verve to it—something I never dreamed I might like to do.

One thing I absolutely did learn was this: reading outside the genres I normally read stimulated my muse. And, the old adage is true that writers should read vociferously, fiction as well as nonfiction. Never know what new ideas might come forth. There might just be a speculative fiction novel in your head that’s waiting to be written.                 
          

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A MOMENT OF HISTORY, CAUGHT IN THE PAGES OF A BOOK



By Monica Bennett-Ryan


It’s not easy facing Goliath; standing as a whistleblower against corruption within Defence; the most powerful organisation in the country. From start to finish the battle my friends and I fought raged for three and a half years, with an extra year and a half delegated to the ‘mopping up’ being done in the highest levels of government.

During our battle, we had of necessity kept meticulous records, and I’d jotted down personal details that would later be woven through the pages of the book I intended to write. However, it wasn’t until after we gained an unequivocal victory that I could step back, take a long, deep breath and begin to write the story.

The writing itself was cathartic. Going over the events in minute detail helped to re-focus unbalanced emotions and re-gain a broad perspective of the whole affair; a simple, but wonderful natural healing process. Writing became the panacea for the corporate and political dysfunction which had jaded my view of our government.

I used eight months of the ‘mopping up’ time to lay out the bulk of the story, but couldn’t write the last chapter because I was living in an unfolding drama. It was a surreal feeling, writing an historical account in real time, living in the victory, but still awaiting the outcomes of high-level investigations, not knowing how the book itself would end. That’s when I decided to take a friend’s advice.

Early in my writing career, another writer told me, ‘After you write something, bury it! Put it aside for at least 12 months. Don’t think about it anymore. Don’t even look at it. Go on with something else. At the end of 12 months, pick it up and read it again. You will immediately see what a reader would see. All the mistakes, all the gaps in information and any plot holes will be glaringly obvious.”
I didn’t just bury the story for 12 months, I buried it for five years. In fact, I was happy to leave it buried and never have it see the light of day.  Now, I’m glad I buried it!

Early this year, two things happened which made me want to take a fresh look at what I’d written. First, someone asked to tell my story and telling him made me realise this was a good story and should not be buried.  Second, the issue turned up in the news again, and I suddenly knew it wasn’t quite over. Certain aspects of fact were still being overlooked by the appointed overseers; aspects they would hopefully notice and act on if they read my book.

I pulled out the manuscript, re-read it, and suddenly knew exactly how to finish it. It only took me a few weeks to write the final chapter. Then, with a little tweaking and a little editing, it was ready for publication.  A moment of history, caught in the pages of a book.
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Monica Bennett-Ryan is a Christian Author and whistle-blower. While working within one of Australia’s intelligence organisations, Monica witnessed things she shouldn’t have seen. Sworn to secrecy she and her friends could’ve been prosecuted for revealing what they knew. Nevertheless, on 16 May 2011, without a scrap of evidence to back their claims, they took what they knew to the media and watched in awe as God not only protected them from prosecution but exposed the greatest intelligence scandal in Australia’s history. It’s a remarkable story. WHAT THEY SAW takes the reader behind the scenes to travel with Monica as the story unfolds. Website www.inhisname.com.au  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011543743218 Twitter: https://twitter.com/HisPublishing




Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Expectations Under the Tuscan Sun



By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine


Frances Mayes author of Under the Tuscan Sun was asked what her expectations were upon writing her book. Having been a Professor of Creative Writing and a poet with several books of poetry to her credit this would be her first book other than poetry based on her memories of buying, renovating and living in an abandoned villa in Tuscany. She explained she expected it to sell like her books of poetry, not many.

If you have read the book or even saw the movie you are aware of the story. She brings the villa and surrounding property back to life. Again, expectations come up. As Mayes states, “It’s a story about a woman taking a risk, doing something out of her expectations.”

Written in 1996 it went to Number One on the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there for over two years. The movie was released in 2003 and was loosely based on her book. The movie revitalized the sale of her books and to this day the success of the book amazes the author.  When Mayes was asked if she had expected this in her career as an author she said, “Isn’t it great not to be able to expect it? Because if you can expect and predict it’s not as much fun.”

Expectations are something each of us live with. Some are taken for granted while others are only hoped for. Those we take for granted are terribly missed when they no longer exist. Those hoped for are either met or exceed our expectations or they fall flat. If they fall flat, we consider it as getting our hopes up too high. If they meet or exceed, we may say we knew it was going to happen. I once asked a young girl if she had ever flown in an airplane. Her answer was, “My Daddy always told me never get higher than picking corn or lower than digging potatoes.” Thinking she may have missed the point of her Daddy’s wisdom I had to laugh. But wisdom is was. Getting your hopes and expectations up too high or even not high enough can be a dream killer.

Back to Mayes statement, “If you expect and predict it’s not as much fun.” In her case her expectations of the sales of Under the Tuscan Sun would be like her other books of poetry was like digging potatoes. It in fact was like picking corn. Now we know what she means by “If you expect and predict it’s not as much fun.”  If you write with no expectations other than fulfilling your passion. You will never be disappointed.  


 


Monday, August 19, 2019

Writing an Unexpected Ending



By Joanna Davidson Politano, author of  Finding Lady Enderly


A twisting ending

“That’s not her name.” A mama looks down at her new baby and tries to wrap that special name around the person now in her arms, but it doesn’t fit. That’s how I felt when I had about two-thirds of my novel, Finding Lady Enderly, drafted and done. It wasn’t the name that bothered me though, but the core of the story—the twist. It wasn’t that story’s ending, and it had to go.

The entire story idea actually grew out of the original twist. It started with Princess Diana, and my mother’s speculation that her death was faked so she could slip away to live on some island with the man she loved. Originally, that’s what had happened to our dear Lady Enderly who the heroine fears is kidnapped or murdered. But as I wrote it, and those vague characters became flesh on the page, that ending was such a bad fit—and it sort of felt familiar, like something I may have read before.

I blame Daphne Du Maurier for my addiction to unexpected endings, and I delight in attempting it. 

Here are my secrets.
1.      I give about 70% of my manuscript to a handful of readers and have them guess at as many possible endings as they can. Then I throw them all away. I write something totally different and unexpected. I did this for my debut novel, Lady Jayne Disappears, and happily surprised many readers.
2.      For a manuscript that isn’t working, I outline the whole thing and mark where it turned trite, forced, or predictable. I throw in something wildly unexpected right there—even if I have no idea how it’ll play out. I let it ripple through the novel and see what comes of it! My second novel was rescued this way, and I had amazing, very touching scenes that included characters who were actually dead in the first draft.
3.      I turn my ending upside-down and challenge myself to make it work. Even if I don’t keep it that way, I often have lots of brilliant ideas to play with. I make the character I intended to be the villain into a victim of heart-rending proportions. I see where I’ve layered in assumptions and then prove them wrong in big ways. (Oh, you’re cancelling out this suspect and that one because they couldn’t possibly have killed your dad? Ok, that works. Except it wasn’t your dad who was murdered, but this person over here. Dad just died of natural causes.)

Most of all, my best secret is that I’m extremely flexible, receptive to wild ideas and bursts of inspiration, suggestions from friends and crazy dreams. Even if they seem far-fetched, I let them play around on the playground of my mind. I have to be honest—nothing is more effective than changing my novel’s ending as I write. If I’m surprised, the reader probably will be, too.
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Joanna Davidson Politano writes historical novels of mystery and romance, including her debut Lady Jayne Disappears. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and you can find her at www.jdpstories.com. Author website/blog: jdpstories.com - Social Media Links: www.facebook.com/joannadavidsonpolitano/  https://twitter.com/politano_joanna https://www.instagram.com/joannadavidsonpolitano/ https://www.bookbub.com/profile/joanna-davidson-politano


Friday, August 16, 2019

The Power of Words Precisely Chosen



By Rose Chandler Johnson


I confess my love affair with language and along with that my reverence for the written word. You might say, it’s part and parcel with the gift. As a writer, my challenge is to choose words—the precise words—that contribute to the creation of the fictional world of the story. Words are the writer’s modeling clay. Like brush strokes to an artist, words contribute to the overall effect, moving and enlightening the reader. As a Southern writer, my words not only convey meaning, they also convey culture, atmosphere, and a sense of place. So, to my way of thinking, the critical element of word choice can’t be overstated.

Proverbs tells us that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. I will go so far to say that a word aptly written produces those precious word pictures as well. In order to carefully construct the world of the story, the writer must choose words on purpose to craft phrases that perfectly recreate the elements of earth, sky, water, and space so precisely that readers are transported there. The writer fashions from words the heart and soul of fictional folks. He breaths into them the breath of life, and characters live on the pages and in readers’ minds.

You can’t tell me that Cathy and Heathcliff never lived. And loved. Nor that the old man in the sea never caught the marlin. I’m pretty sure I was there on the dirt with Scarlet when she vowed to never be hungry again. These characters lived for Bronte, and Hemingway, and Mitchell before they came to life for you and me. By the power of words precisely chosen.

Writers chose words to convey a particular meaning. If you’ll bear with me a moment, I’ll share an example. In a short story I wrote, I turned a phrase over and over in my mind until I shaped the meaning I wanted to convey.
Her focus was on life. Hers was a broad, general view.
Her focus was on living. She was a bit egocentric.
Her focus was on the living. This statement implies an outward focus, which was what I had in mind. One word changes the sense of the sentence. Subtle, perhaps, but part of the story elements that enlighten the reader. A writer must respect the power of the written word to accomplish his creative task.

What the reader senses from the words will strike an image on his impressionable mind and resonate in his heart. To check the story’s pulse, read it aloud. Does it come to life? If so, you have experienced the power of words precisely chosen.
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Rose Chandler Johnson is known for her heartwarming, inspirational writing. In addition to works of sweet contemporary fiction, her devotional journal, God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea: Experiencing God in the Midst of Everyday Moments won the Georgia Author of the Year Finalist Award in 2014. In her novels, Rose brings to life fascinating characters with compelling relationships embracing family, community, and faith. In distinctive southern settings, Rose creates memorable stories that will stir your heart. Readers often say her writing warms the soul as it reaffirms belief in love and wholesome goodness. Don’t be surprised if you sigh with pleasure as you savor the final pages of her stories. Rose has lived in a suburb of Augusta, GA for thirty plus years. Before retiring from Georgia’s school system, she taught English, French, and ESOL. Currently, she is an English instructor at a community college. In addition to reading and writing, Rose enjoys cooking, sewing, gardening, and spending time with her six children and her beautiful grandchildren. Connect with her on her Author page: https://amzn.to/2tVXCj2 Follow her on BookBub: bit.ly/2CezzAx  Twitter: www.twitter.com/rechanjo  Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/rosecjohnson/boards/  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rosechandlerjohnsonauthor   Devotional blog: www.writemomentswithgod.blogspot.com

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Kintsugi and Transforming Your Writing



By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine


I recently purchased a serving piece of my Haviland china pattern. When the package arrived, I could hear it was broken before opening the package. It is a unique limited piece, a lidded serving bowl. Instead of crying into the broken bowl, I turned to the internet. I discovered Kintsugi (golden rejoining), a 15th-century Japanese ancient art form of restoration of broken ceramic pieces. I’ve been toying with the idea of trying my hand at this technique, but do I have the ability? Kintsugi, the artistry of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. It treats repaired breakage as part of the history of an object, rather than something to hide. My philosophy is everybody starts with their first piece they repair using the Kintsugi method before they master the technique. What do I have to lose? The Haviland piece is already broken.

Last week, I received the latest seasonal Magnolia Journal issue magazine. It's the magazine started by JoAnna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame. They theme each of their magazine's issues. The fall 2019 issue 12 is about “In Pursuit of Wholeness.” Don't you just love how the cover shows "JoJo" sitting in a cozy library? They highlight throughout the magazine the power of transformation. Finding beauty in brokenness of ceramic pottery or life and resurrecting them into truly beautiful masterpieces. Kintsugi’s essence is discovering hidden beauty in the repaired cracks.

I suggest digging through your rejected work file. Pull out that rejected “broken” piece you wrote years ago or yesterday. Focus on the potential of discovering your “cracked” rejected piece. Read what you’ve written and find its hidden beauty. Fill in the cracks with what you’ve learned since you first wrote this piece. Polish it and then submit it and try again. If it’s again rejected, fill in more cracks, polish again and send again.

Like Kintsugi enjoy the imperfections or as we writers call them, the rejection process. Learn how to create a new and beautiful shiny piece that will become accepted and published. As Winston Churchill stated, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is courage to continue that counts.”





Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Everything Was Fine until Kenny Rogers Walked In—and then It Was Even Better



By Jonathan Haupt


The late Pat Conroy (1945–2016) was perpetually instructing me to write a novel. But Pat told that to everyone. In his mind, every person he met held a novel or two just waiting to be written. I always assured Pat that nothing worthy of a novel had ever happened to me. Conroy, being Conroy, told me that one day I’d lose something dear to me and what I’d be left with in unfair trade was an overwhelming compulsion to write a novel—to try to understand why. That’s a terrifying thought, I told Pat.

We were both right. Now I’m writing this Microsoft Word document that keeps trying to convince me it’s a novel, and I’m writing it exactly for the reasons Pat predicted. In this would-be novel-in-progress, I needed a particularly vital scene to open with my newly crestfallen protagonist Charlie pulled from his routine, stranded for an undetermined time in an unfamiliar place, a setting devoid of any established connections, where he would be a stranger among strangers. A prolonged layover in the Toledo Express Airport provided all the above.

In this moment, Charlie could finally break open under the emotional weight of his dilemma (no spoilers here, gang) and have a confessional conversation with a fellow stranded traveler. He could tell his story in way he never would otherwise and to someone he would be meeting for the first time, without the burdens of shared history or consequence. 

The hook of the scene was to be that Charlie, killing time in a small airport bar, meets a stranger with an uncanny (in the Freudian sense) resemblance to a character from Charlies’ own book, the book-within-a-book, leaving open the possibility that this is a moment of magical realism in which Charlie’s desperate need for a comforting presence manifests a familiar figure from his imagination. Or it’s coincidence, the random chance that an archetypal fictional character would have a real-world counterpart.

I’ve got the scene sorted, I’ve placed Charlie at the Toledo Express Airport bar, and I’m writing along at a good clip. But when Charlie turns to greet his new neighbor at the counter, it’s not the character I envisioned. She has apparently missed her casting call for this scene. Instead, seated next to Charlie is Kenny Rogers. The Kenny Rogers. The actual Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.” “The Coward of the County.” “You Decorated My Life.” “Love Will Turn You Around.” Some 120 hit singles over the span of a phenomenal country music career. That guy.

But here’s the peculiarity—as if it’s not peculiar enough as it is. I’m not a fan. I don’t generally think about Kenny Rogers. Or rather, I didn’t—until the storied Pulpwood Queens Book Club made “How the West Was Won” the theme of their annual Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas, this past January, and threw in a country western artist costume component. In the guise of “Kenny Roget’s Thesaurus,” I attended the gathering in support of Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, an anthology I’ve been honored to co-edit with novelist Nicole Seitz featuring remembrances by 67 of our fellow writers who had also been mentored, befriended, and championed by Pat.

In anticipation of Girlfriend Weekend, I revisited the soundtrack of my childhood and the country artists who had been played most often in our house—Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, and yes, Kenny Rogers. Looking back on it as an adult, Mr. Rogers’ oeuvre now seemed curiously complicated and contradictory. For every “She Believed in Me” there was a “Lucille,” for every “Through the Years” there was a “Daytime Friends (and Nighttime Lovers).” But what struck me even more was just what an impressive body of work his duets had been, most notably with Dottie West and Dollie Parton, but also Lynda Carter, Sheena Easton, Kim Carnes, and others.

In that context, let’s get back to our distraught Charlie in the bar in Toledo. (Ah, yes, the “bar in Toledo, across from the depot” …or in this case, across from the food court Subway.) Kenny Rogers dropped in, unexpectedly but perfectly, in this moment because his experiences as a duet singer, and particularly his transformative role as a kind of platonic soulmate to the late Dottie West, had imbued him with the wisdom Charlie most needed in this scene. And the absolute oddity of being seated next to a happily retired Kenny Rogers in an adorably small airport bar where no one recognizes him opened the welcome possibility of writing their conversation as a heartfelt homage to “The Gambler.” Kenny doesn’t “break even” in the end but Charlie does leave with some Rogers-esque advice, the “ace that I could keep,” which in turn charts the course to the novel’s much-improved conclusion.

When that weird spontaneity of your writerly imagination seems to summon characters or settings or plot twists that you didn’t know you needed, or even in opposition to your intentions, trust it. The novel knows best, even when you’re not yet certain it is a novel. Show a little faith in the serendipity of the real and fictional characters who walk into your life in these opportune moments and turn you around. It’s a kind of magic, and that’s what they’re supposed to do. “There’s a wonder to it yet,” as Ron Rash wrote in his masterful story “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out.” And there’s a purpose as well. 

Pat Conroy once called to tell me about two wonderful ladies he had met earlier in the day by unexpected happenstance. We were twenty minutes into our conversation about these dynamic newly arrived women in Pat’s life when it finally dawned on me that he had made them up, that these were characters who had appeared to him anew in that day’s writing on his unfinished novel “The Storms of Aquarius.” I wish I could have called Pat to tell him about Charlie meeting Kenny Rogers in Toledo, but I can’t. So, I’m telling y’all instead. 
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Jonathan Haupt is the executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center, the founding director of the annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival, and the former director of the University of South Carolina Press where he created the Story River Books southern fiction imprint with the late Pat Conroy. With novelist and artist Nicole Seitz, he is co-editor of the anthology Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, which was honored with the Silver Medal for Best Regional Nonfiction in the Southeast by the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Haupt’s articles, book reviews, and author interviews have appeared in the Charleston Post & Courier, Beaufort Lowcountry Weekly, Beaufort Lifestyle magazine, Pink magazine, Shrimp, Collards & Gritsmagazine, Fall Lines literary journal, and the Conroy Center’s Porch Talk blog. He serves as an associate producer and consultant to the SCETV author interview program By the River, on the board of directors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors and the Friends of South Carolina Libraries, on the American Writers Museum affiliates steering committee, and on the South Carolina Humanities advisory committee. He’s currently writing a Microsoft Word document that just might be a novel.