Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Importance of Informative Book Reviews

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

So many books—so many hours in one lifetime to read them. There’s no way to plow through them all. And that’s the reason book reviews are so important.

I recently bought a couple of books recommended for a trip I was soon to take. Since I was going on vacation, I assumed the books were nonfiction and I would learn about the country I would soon be visiting. The book I chose to read first had the least number of pages and I could finish it quicker to move onto the weightier tome.

Once into the book, I thought, this is an interesting adventure this character is having. Three-fourths of the way through the book, call it whatever you want—getting suspicious or feeling something wasn’t ringing true—I searched Amazon for the book so I could read the reviews, not caring if I spoiled the ending. In those reviews, I found one where a reader had penned words describing the same feelings I had been feeling. Something wasn’t quite right. The reason why? The book was a novel—not nonfiction—and the writing was called wisdom literature. The author had been trying to convince me of his beliefs—his own wisdom and beliefs I didn’t share.

What exactly is wisdom literature you might ask? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition: “Wisdom literature is a genre of literature common in the ancient Near East. It consists of statements by sages and wise men that offer teachings about divinity and virtue. Although this genre uses techniques of traditional oral story-telling, it was disseminated in written form.

“The literary genre of mirrors for princes, which has a long history in Islamic and Western Renaissance literature, is a secular cognate of wisdom literature. In Classical Antiquity, the didactic poetry of Hesiod, particularly his Works and Days, was regarded as a source of knowledge similar to the wisdom literature of Egypt, Babylonia, and Israel.

“In ancient Egyptian literature, wisdom literature belonged to the sebayt (“teaching”) genre which flourished during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and became canonical during the New Kingdom. Notable works of this genre include the The Instructions of KagemniThe Maxims of Ptahhotep, The Instructions of Amenemhat, and the Loyalist Teaching. “The most famous examples of wisdom literature are found in the Bible.”     

Nothing wrong with wisdom literature, but why hadn’t the publisher and author clued in readers from the beginning by stating on the book cover that the book was wisdom literature or at least let readers know it was a novel? Couldn’t this have also been stated in a prologue instead of at the end of the book?

When I finished the book, there was an explanation at the end explaining the book was indeed—wisdom literature. But still, I felt as though I had been duped. All that time wasted when I could have been reading nonfiction and learning about the place I was to visit. Again, why hadn’t the author put that tidbit of information in the beginning of the book rather than waiting until the end after I’d wasted precious preparation time? Sigh. I should have read the book reviews beforehand. Once “tricked” like this—I highly doubt I’ll ever read another book this author has penned. The trust between author and reader was broken.

What about you? Do you read reviews before buying a book and do you like knowing you’re reading fiction or nonfiction from the beginning or do you like surprises? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Survivalist Writing?

By Dee Dee Chumley

In her book, Story Genius: How toUse Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Cron claims, “Stories feel good for the same reason food tastes good and sex feels good: because without them we couldn’t survive.”

What? We need stories in order to survive? Sounds a bit far-fetched to me. But Cron backs up this claim with impressive facts about chemical reactions and brainwaves.

Similarly, in Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller suggests people strongly respond to the elements of story—setting, plot, conflict, climax, resolution—because we experience them. Our hearts and minds embrace those elements because they are an innate part of being human. 

Plenty of evidence—scientific, experiential, spiritual—supports that humans are indeed wired for story. Story teaches and reinforces the necessary physical, emotional, and social skills for survival. Story isn’t merely important to human development; it is essential.

With the survival of the human race riding on story, our responsibility as writers is huge. But while humans are wired to connect with stories from birth, Cron contends the ability to write compelling stories isn’t “standard-issue equipment.”

So how do writers develop skills that will do justice to this critical task we’ve assumed? I can’t provide the definitive answer, but I can share experiences that have greatly aided me on my writing journey.

Writing Group - Thirteen years after I joined a writing group, it still serves as an invaluable source of education, inspiration, and encouragement. Writing groups might not be for everyone (although I can’t imagine why), but my writing pursuits would’ve ended years ago had it not been for the support of the incredible Inklings.

Writing Conferences - I initially joined my writing group as a way to socialize and casually share bits of writing. But the very first conference I attended sparked the desire to take my writing to new levels. Conferences offer a wealth of information and instruction as well as excellent opportunities for networking.

Contests - My first contest win gave legitimacy to my claim of being a writer. It also gave me motivation to continue my writing. However, a word of advice: Grow a thick skin. Many contests offer critiques. While it might not always seem like it, this is a good thing. Don’t take unfavorable criticisms personally. Instead, use them to improve.

Reading - Read books you enjoy, read books in the genre(s) in which you write, read books by authors you admire. Read purely for pleasure; read instructional books on writing. Read articles, blogs, anything you can find about writing. You get my gist, right? It might be possible, but I don’t understand how anyone who doesn’t read expects to write. Even more puzzling, why would anyone who doesn’t read want to write?

The ability to produce riveting stories might not be in our DNA, but as writers we can—no, we MUST—acquire that skill through study and practice. Human survival depends on it.
In 2008 Dee Dee Chumley retired from teaching high school English and “re-fired” to pursue her passion for writing. She has won numerous awards for her short stories, essays, and poems, including Best Juvenile Book from the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. for her YA novel Beyond the Farthest Star and finalist in Southern Writers 2017 short story competition. Last November her women’s fiction novel Some Form of Grace was published. She lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband Bill and their handsome but rather spoiled  rescue dog Jack.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Week 2 of 10 Weeks of Holiday Book Sales

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

My blog previous post, 10 Weeks of Holiday Book Sales gave us some insight to Holiday Book Sales and some ideas how you can increase your book sales during the Holidays. We are now in week two of the 10 weeks and it is apparent many authors are on the right rack to an increase in sales.

The obvious sign for us here at Southern Writers Magazine is our Southern Writers Magazine's 2018 Holiday Catalog. It’s a great place to choose those holiday gifts for family and friends. You can check it out at Over 40 authors have taken this opportunity for an increase in Holiday Book Sales. 

Our Holiday Catalogs highlights each authors book or books but the catalog is shared many times over through Southern Writers social media and the social media of each author. Your effectiveness of a single ad is multiplied many times over through authors sharing with their followers. If you missed this opportunity be sure to sign up for the Summer 2019 and Holiday 2019 Catalogs. They will be announced in the Spring and late Summer.

Watch and be aware of other authors use of the Holiday media to make additional sales. Decide which methods interest you and be prepared to jump on board. Here are different ideas and remember it’s not too late to start. We are just into week 2.     

Start Today with a Social Media Blitz – Those following you on social media are already fans, readers and followers. Start with putting them in the Holiday Spirit. Many will welcome your recognition of their favorite time of the year. This lets them know you too are on board with the Holiday Cheer. Present them with a daily contact for the next 10 weeks. Each message should be different.

Begin with the thought of Giving – Help them with their search of those needed gifts for family and friends. Remind them of how much they enjoyed your book and they would want to share that with others.

Giveaways- Begin giving away a book a day. Have them enter for the drawing with their name and email address. Then notify them and thank them for their interest and inform them if they won. When you notify them tell them, if they are not opposed, you would like to add their name to your contact list and notify them of future giveaways. You may also offer them a discount should they want to buy the book. You now have an additional contact to reach out to with each promotion.  

For the perfect example of this giveaway concept author, DiAnn Mills has a 12 Days of Thanksgiving give away which she promotes on all social media links and via her email list of website subscribers. Here is the link to enter for a free giveaway from DiAnn Mills. 
Change your approach as we near Black Friday / Cyber Monday – As we near Black Friday November 23rd and Cyber Monday November 26th we need to step up our approach. Begin various promotions to draw interest and sales.

Discounts- Expectation of discounts are a given this time of year. Some are waiting for them which tells them now is the time to buy.

BOGO- Buy one get one. One for yourself and one to give as a gift. Or you could offer buy one title get a second title free.

Cyber Monday – Now is the time to discount your eBook. Expectations dictate this with your readers/customers.

Hanukkah (Dec 2-10) - Have a promo each day of Hanukkah. A book giveaway or if you have 8 books give a different one away each day.

Christmas – Last minute gift giving is the approach going into Christmas. Sell that sense of urgency and offer a solution. After Christmas their gift cards may be used for additional book purchases. This could be a book they did not receive or discovered at gift giving time.

New Years – Have you made you New Year’s resolution to read more? Gear your promotion towards that.

Happy Holidays!


Monday, November 12, 2018

When You are the One that Needs to Write the Book

By Rhonda Stoppe

You’re an author. You know how it goes. That thought starts rolling around in your head and you can’t shake the idea that someone needs to write a book about it. The more you ponder, the more you realize you are that someone!

So you sit down, roll up your sleeves, and stare at the computer screen. Where do you go from here? What’s the next step?

         Do you just start hammering out thoughts and edit them later?
         Should you systematically begin outlining the chapters?
         What books will you research to help support your message?

When I wrote my first book for Harvest House Publishers, I had already submitted to them a book proposal for Moms Raising Sons to Be Men.

In case you’re not aware, if you submit a completed manuscript to a traditional publisher—rather than a book proposal—you’ll likely get a rejection letter. Not necessarily because your work’s unacceptable, but editors are so inundated with submissions they simply don’t have the time to read entire manuscripts.

What will give you a fighting chance to be considered by an editor is a book proposal that includes:
1.        A table of contents
2.        A synopsis of each chapter’s theme
3.        A sample chapter
4.        Information about other books similar to yours
5.        Why your book needs to be published
6.        How you’ll market the book

Once my proposal was accepted by my publisher, I had a wonderful road map for writing the book as I followed along the proposal’s already well-planned table of contents and chapter themes.

Since the books I write are grounded in biblical principles to help the reader build a no regrets life, I take very seriously the opportunity the Lord has granted me to mentor multitudes through the pages of my books and articles.

So, planning and organizing my thoughts isn’t enough. I first spend a great deal of time praying for God’s wisdom, guidance and discernment as I study Scripture throughout the writing process.

Also, I never write a book without a solid team of prayer support. I am confident that doors have been opened and Truth has been taught because of this amazing support of prayer.

Finally, I read books that will help grow my perspective and support the message I want to share.  Proverbs 24:6 says, “For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.”

Learning from other authors can bring victory when writing might feel like you’re waging a war against:
         A culture that does not necessarily hold to your biblical perspective (but desperately needs to hear it)
         Responsibilities that steal away your precious writing time
         Your own thoughts of discouragement
         Temptation to quit

Temptation to quit is something I regularly battle. To date, I have published 6 books. With each one I think, this will be my last. But then a new thought starts rolling around in my mind and back to the computer I go!
Rhonda Stoppe is the No Regrets Woman. With more than 30 years of experience as a marriage mentor, pastor’s wife, author and speaker, Stoppe leads women of all ages to live lives of no regrets. Stoppe is the author of Moms Raising Sons to be Men, which mentors thousands of moms to guide sons toward a no-regrets life, If My Husband Would Change, I’d Be Happy & Other Myths Wives Believe, helping countless women build no-regrets marriages and Real-Life Romance, a collection of real-life love stories. Her latest release is The Marriage Mentor, written with her husband, Steve. Visit Rhonda Stoppe’s website for more resources on love, marriage and parenting. She is also active on YouTube (Rhonda Stoppe No Regrets Woman), Facebook (RhondaStoppeNoRegretsWoman) and on Twitter (@RhondaStoppe).

Friday, November 9, 2018

Improve Your Story by Watching Movies

By Kathryn Ramsperger

We've become a more visual culture. We authors may dream of movie rights yet using film technique is important for any story teller, because visual, auditory and sensory details hook the reader. Here are 4 ways watching a few movies can make your story sing:

1. Watch a movie with a character or plot comparable to your work-in-progress (WIP). Take notes on action, lighting and set. What do you see or hear that conveys how the main character feels? What details help you predict where the plot is heading? Notice color, shadow, and sound. Would you be affected the same way if the sensory details were different?

A great example: Watch the first episode of "The Miniaturist" on PBS. Notice its stunning use of visual effects, especially its use of color, light and shadow. Notice how protagonist Nella reacts as she holds each miniature and the ways her touch conveys emotion.

2. Now take what you learned and add sensory detail to your WIP. That's one thing the written word does best. We novelists have more room for such detail; just remember not to take up too much page space. I tend to concentrate on touch and smell. A movie can show its protagonist caressing her velvet bodice or clutching her mare's mane but can't explain how she feels or thinks about it. A movie can show broth steaming on a stove top. A novelist can describe how it smells.

Compare how Jessie Burton's novel that preceded the film treats the same scene in which Nella meets her sister-in-law:

"The voice sails sure and swift from the darkness of the hall. Nella's skin contracts... She watches as a figure glides from the shadows, a hand outstretched--in protest or in greeting, it is hard to tell. It is a woman, straight and slim and dressed in deepest black, the cap on her head starched and pressed to white perfection." (p. 9)

What details did Burton add that are missing in the movie?

3. Next, elicit empathy. Studies show novels work better than movies because they evoke empathy. "Films let you observe everything. Books? Books let you feel everything, know everything and LIVE everything," says Meg, The Book Addicted Girl in her blog for The Guardian. Movies have actors and images. We have words to connect a character's personality and intention with our readers, place them in scene, let them "read" a character's mind.

A friend and playwright corralled me into attending an acting-for-writers class. The class proved invaluable. When I pretended to be my protagonist, I felt different. I walked differently, stood differently, and had different mannerisms. When I pretended to be a classmate's protagonist, my movements changed again.

The class increased my ability to think and feel like different characters.  "Don't judge a man til you've walked a mile in his moccasins," Sharon Creech writes in the young adult classic Walk Two Moons. I was already a sensitive, empathetic person, but my class taught me how to convey other's emotions, not just understand them. Which leads to my last suggestion....

4.  It's easy to find an online screenwriting class or community playhouse gig. My high school and college acting taught me how people as unlike me as Nella or Desdemona think, feel, and react. It helped me write sections of my novel from a male Muslim point of view.

Use your entire life to tell a story. I'm always taking notes of what people say, how they hold their bodies. I'm an eavesdropper, listening for the perfect inflection or turn of phrase when I visit a different town or country. I especially note how people behave differently than I do to similar news.  I journal a list, then use it in my writing.

One final note: Re-read and revise with your audience in mind, remembering to make your written scene every bit as clear to them (not just you) as a movie scene. Ensure your details fully ground the reader in your story. To do this well, define the space a scene inhabits.

Good luck on those movie options, but until then, these tips will ensure your novel and its characters remain with your readers.
Kathryn Ramsperger’s literary voice is rooted in the Southern tradition of storytelling, informed by her South Carolina lineage. Her debut multicultural novel The Shores Of Our Souls (TPP, 2017) received a Foreword Indies award and an America's Best Book award. A sequel is in the works, as is a work of creative nonfiction. She began her career writing for The Roanoke Times and The Gazette newspapers and later managed publications for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland. She has contributed articles to National Geographic and Kiplinger magazines as well as many online publications. She's lived in Europe and Africa and traveled throughout the Middle East. Her most recent adventure was in Iceland, and her vision is to pursue humanitarian work on every continent. Writing from a global perspective, her themes are universal yet intensely personal and authentic. A graduate of Hollins University (Roanoke, Va.), Kathryn also holds a post-graduate degree from George Washington University.Winner of the Hollins University Fiction Award, Kathryn is also a finalist in novel, novel-in-progress, short story, and poetry categories in the Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition. Her award-winning short stories have appeared in journals for several decades.  Author website:  Blog: A fuller list to my work or reviews: Connect on Social Media: Kathy on Your Tango  Kathy on Facebook  Kathy's Author FB Page  Ground One Coaching on Facebook  Kathy on Twitter  Kathy on LinkedIn Kathy on Pinterest

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Shakespeare and the Writer in Us All

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

We all use phrases everyday from the words of William Shakespeare’s works. I’ll be honest. I have NEVER sat down and read the entire works of Shakespeare. Does that shock you? Or are you in the same boat? Of course, I’ve read some plays in their entirety for classes in school. However, I’ve decided to read Shakespeare’s plays with the start of the new year. It's amazing how an author who wrote plays over 400 years ago has such timely plots.

It’s amazing the influence this author/playwright has had on other authors. At this yNet link you can read about, “Shakespeare’s legacy is without parallel: His works translated into over 100 languages and studied by half the world’s schoolchildren. As one of his contemporaries, Ben Jonson, said: "‘Shakespeare is not of an age, but for all time.’ He lives today in our language, our culture and society – and through his enduring influence on education.”

Shakespeare Uncovered is a PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) series that "combines history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts to tell the stories behind some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. The personal passion of hosts Hugh Bonneville, Christopher Plummer, Morgan Freeman, David Harewood, Kim Cattrall and Joseph Fiennes helps relay the stories behind some of William Shakespeare's greatest plays. Each episode combines interviews with actors, directors, and scholars, as well as visits to important locations, clips from film and television adaptations and excerpts from plays staged at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. Works referenced in the series include "Hamlet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "King Lear," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Othello," "Antony and Cleopatra" and "Romeo and Juliet." The First episode date was June 19, 2012.” It's a fascinating series, I'll warn you now, it's addictive. 

I found this series late. The first episode I saw was "Measure for Measure,” which offers a timely look at sexual morality, hypocrisy and harassment. Season 3, Episode number 3 with an air date of October 19, 2018. Shakespeare’s character, Isabel, may have been based on an aunt of Shakespeare, who was a nun. The episode goes to the various locations in England, such as Anne Hathaway’s home and The Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays were first viewed. “At a time when the #MeToo Movement and stories of sexual harassment and abuse by those in power dominate headlines, you might be surprised to discover that Shakespeare addressed this very issue 400 years ago in his play ‘Measure for Measure.’ In these two videos from Shakespeare Uncovered, learn about this ‘problem play’ and how Shakespeare’s Isabelle faces similar challenges as victims today in terms of consent and credibility, for ‘Who will believe thee, Isabelle?’ Support materials engage students with contemporary connections through discussion questions and a background essay tying the #MeToo Movement to the world of Shakespeare. Shakespeare Uncovered combines history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. To learn more and view full episodes, visit the Shakespeare Uncovered website and collection page.’”

Who will believe thee, Isabel?

How about you, have you read all of Shakespeare’s plays? Want to join me in reading Shakespeare in 2019?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When Do We Write What We Know or See?

By Sara M. Robinson

The other day I was asked if I was creating verse about current events, especially since I live in Charlottesville. I replied that I really wasn’t. And I thought later, what not? It seems that historically poets who witnessed horrific events were generally compelled to create passionate verse responses. I find that is difficult for me. It is not that I am not moved by catastrophe or living history or social issues. It is mostly about my comfort level. For most of us pastoral poetry is really what makes us live in the moment. By this I mean writing passionate lines about nature with its living creatures.

I’m currently working, for example, on a poem about an injured Canada goose I found this morning on my usual walk. It tried so hard to fly, flapping spastic wings, and falling over backward. It was clear that is was injured in some way. I was moved by its instinct to keep trying and I wondered how that would work as a metaphor about keeping up courage in the face of disaster. That led me to think about the fires of California and the ash remains of homes where folks lived, read, ate their dinners, and just lived their lives.
These fire-broken devastated homes remained as skeletons of a past. Like the goose, their existences were forever changed. I knew that houses could be rebuilt, but I knew that goose would never fly again, and likely would not make it through the night.

How is it that when we write about what we see and feel that it is so subjective? Critics of the confessional poets used to admonish them for revealing so much about their personal illnesses and weaknesses. These poets did create some of the most impressive and important poetry of the modern centuries. Their illnesses became metaphors for life among others and it was, I believe, their way of bringing illness to the forefront, rather than hidden in the shadows. One big gift a poet can bring is the unwrapping of the present that is within yourself to reveal the core of humanity within everyone.

So, in current events, we see everyday states of affairs that are ever changing and will always do so. Sometimes the changes are rapid; sometimes they are slow. But all of these are part of the human experience and for many poets writing about components of the experience is a personal goal. When poets share some of this with the rest of us, we again have been given a gift. To see things, like a mortally wounded goose, and feel empathy as well as sadness, inspires me to write something about living along side the pain of nature;  promising the world that I might be magical somehow, with words, to make that pain a little less.

I guess, then, I do write something about current events after all. Like I wrote in one of my earlier published poems, “sometimes the large is often seen in the small.”

Keep writing!
Sara M. Robinson, award-winning poet, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017); journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, was a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.