Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Grammar Resolution

By Chris Pepple, Writer-At-Large, Southern Writers Magazine

I’m a proofreader and have been for many years. While working in Georgia as a new proofreader right out of school, I was asked to be part of a team proofing the laws passed by the Georgia legislature. I quickly realized that not all people appreciated being told there was an error in their work. My team had to tell an older state lawmaker that his law trying to protect fish actually did the opposite because of an error in where the comma was placed. He quickly told us he had been in politics for more than thirty years and knew what he was doing. He refused to listen to our advice on punctuation. When the law passed, fishermen off the coast of Georgia could catch as many fish of any size as they wanted because of the placement of the comma. The law was quickly repealed and corrected. 

Here’s what I know for sure: it’s almost impossible to catch all of your own errors. I can’t proofread my own work well. There’s probably plenty of mistakes here. I have others read through my work to catch things I miss. I also know this to be true: just because you see it in print doesn’t make it right. You have to review grammar rules frequently to make sure your writing reflects good grammar. Don’t rely on seeing something in print and taking that as a rule. Make a resolution to get to know the grammar rules well in 2019.

Here are a few tips taken from common errors I find when proofing:

  1. The comma splice error is incredibly common and often difficult for writers to spot because it “sounds” fine. EX: Tim wanted to go to the mall, he wanted to see a movie. This is not correct. Independent clauses cannot be separated by using a comma. The corrections:

Tim wanted to go to the mall, and he wanted to see a movie
Tim wanted to go to the mall; he wanted to see a movie.

Independent clauses must be joined by a semicolon or a comma with a conjunction.

  1. Last names don’t have apostrophes unless they are possessive: The Smiths are coming to the party. The Smiths are wishing everyone happy holidays. The Smith’s car was decorated for Christmas.

  1. Decades don’t have apostrophes unless they are possessive: The 1990s brought a lot of changes in the technology industry. The 1960s empowered many people to find their voices and speak against social injustices.

Happy New Year! Hope it’s a good one!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Writing Across the Color Line

By Erin Bartels, Author of We Hope for Better Things

When you really stop and think about it, writing is a strange, almost magical act. The thoughts in the writer’s mind are translated through her fingers, becoming black marks on a white ground. Sometime later—sometimes years later—a reader comes along and looks at those black marks and makes meaning from them. More than that, they actually experience something of the same thing the writer experienced while writing.


Except, what if our meaning is misunderstood? What if we didn’t do the work needed to make sure that what we thought we were saying was what we were actually saying? We live in a world that is quick to jump to conclusions and to think the worst of people. As writers, we are in the business of communicating. We want to make sure we’re not inadvertently miscommunicating, especially when we write about sensitive subjects or about characters who don’t look like us.

When I wrote my debut novel, I knew I needed to submit myself to the scrutiny of early readers who would not only give good feedback about pacing and plot, but who would check up on me. The plot of We Hope for Better Things concerns racism and race relations in the Detroit area over a fairly wide swath of American history. I had done a lot of research—an entire year’s worth—before starting to write. But as a white writer with a cast of characters that was half black, research was not enough. I needed black readers to call me on unintentional stereotypes, characterization problems, and inauthentic voices.

At various stages in the writing of that novel, I asked black friends and writers to critique my manuscript, to let me know what I’d gotten right and what, despite my research and my best intentions, I was getting wrong. These early readers not only helped me make sure that black speech and characterization were authentic, they encouraged me along the way by assuring me that the story was honest, honorable, and needed to be told. And, despite the discomfort they may have had in pointing out where I was falling short and my own discomfort in seeing where I’d gone wrong, our relationships were strengthened as we worked through the sensitive topic of race.

If you’re writing outside your immediate experience, whether race, religion, gender, nationality, or any other way we divide ourselves, I encourage you to reach out to early readers who can tell you where you’re getting it right and where you’re getting it wrong—and to listen with an open heart when they gently correct you.

There were many times along the way when I was nervous about what I was attempting to do in We Hope for Better Things; there were so many ways it could go wrong. But not anymore. Because of the frank feedback of my early readers, I’m confident about this story and excited to send it out to readers.
Erin Bartels is the author of We Hope for Better Things. A Michigan-based freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her weekly podcast, Your Face Is Crooked, drops on Monday mornings. Website:  Facebook: @ErinBartelsAuthor  Twitter: @ErinLBartels
Instagram: @erinbartelswrites.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Have You Checked The Footnotes?

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Brad Meltzer is a bestselling thriller and mystery writer, comic book author and TV show creator. As a fiction writer he has had great success. So why in his latest project did he take on non-fiction. The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington has the historic accounts of the assassination attempt on General Washington’s life during a critical time in the Revolutionary War. Just before the signing of the Declaration of Independence is when this real-life mystery unfolded.

The story goes that Washington discovered the conspirators, rounded them up and took one of the main conspirators and hung him publicly in front of 20,000 people. Meltzer stated this was the largest public execution in North-American history at that point. The question is, “How did such a story get lost to us”. He said it was due to the Signing of the Declaration of Independence and the fact that British Troops were about to invade New York. It was overlooked.   

Meltzer was interviewed recently about the book and specifically about the generally unknown event and was asked how he came across the story. Meltzer said he found it in a footnote. He then took the information to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis and asked him if this really happened? Meltzer was told it really happened. Meltzer went on to tell CBS THIS MORNING, “the best books come from footnotes”. You may want to see his entire interview and can do so at this link.  It is worth the time.

I now find myself checking footnotes for anything that may be of interest. I found some things which have encouraged me to keep looking. Our thanks should go to Brad Meltzer for the insight and, more importantly, for sharing. What have you found in footnotes?

Monday, January 21, 2019

A Voice in a Crowd

By Melody Carlson, Author of Courting Mr. Emerson

Have you ever walked into a bookstore with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stuffed with every imaginable title . . . and suddenly you wanted to give up? As a book writer, I’ve been overwhelmed like that many a time. I’ve honestly asked myself, why does the world need one more book? And why a book written by me? And yet, I’ve continued to write—for more than three decades now, publishing more than 250 books. What keeps me at it? And what makes me think I have anything new or different to offer the world of readers? I still ask myself that occasionally.

That’s when I remind myself that each writer is unique. Every writer has their own individual voice. Like a thumbprint, we’re all one-of-a-kind and not reproducible. Try as you might, you cannot convincingly duplicate the voice of a Nicolas Sparks, Barbara Kingsolver . . . Flannery O’Conner. Oh, you might imitate their style, setting, genre . . . but you’ll never fully capture their voice. Why would you even try? An attempt to emulate another writer usually results in a muddy replica that no one fully enjoys.

But I must confess that, as simple as the concept of distinct writer’s voice seems, it took time for me to fully grasp this phenomenon. Oh, I could recognize characteristic traits in the voices of other writers, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to ‘hear’ my own writing voice. Even after I’d published a number of novels, I questioned whether I even had a voice. Perhaps I was the one and only ‘voiceless’ writer. Not a title I relished.

Then one time, I wrote an anonymous letter of endorsement to a publishing associate (hoping to help a friend’s book into print). My publishing friend informed me that he knew I’d written that letter. When I questioned how he knew, he said he could clearly hear my voice. The incident made me laugh, both with relief and irony. So maybe I did have a voice after all. It helped me realize that, as a writer, it can be hard to ‘hear’ our own voices. Another good excuse for good editors, savvy critique groups and honest readers.

Besides having a voice to set us apart and make us unique, we all have our own stories to tell. Stories comprised of diverse backgrounds, unique challenges, individual experiences, not to mention our one-of-a-kind DNA. All of this contributes to making our writing truly distinctive. Just one more reason not to be concerned over the fact that there are so many writers, or that more than a million books get published around the world annually. So next time you feel overwhelmed in a big bookstore, just remember that no one has a voice quite like yours. You are in good company!
Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than seven million, including many bestselling Christmas novellas, young adult titles, and contemporary romances. She received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including Finding Alice. She and her husband live in central Oregon. Learn more at

Friday, January 18, 2019

Finding Your Writing Path Through Rejection

By Susan Neal 

Writers understand rejection. But sometimes the doors that close and those that open may be divinely ordained. Persevering through the ups and downs of this career is key to success.

The writing life surges with rejection. Part of it has to do with learning the craft. It takes a while to grasp grammar, learn plotting, or appropriately research a topic. Even choosing the right genre can be challenging.

At first, I tried young adult fiction, then Chicken Soup stories, Upper Room devotions, and a multitude of magazine articles. I received a rejection letter with everything I tried. However, I read that Stephen King nailed a spike to a wall and hung each rejection letter on the spike. That gave me hope, so I kept writing.

Year after year, I continued to hone my craft. I joined a Word Weaver writing group and attended writers’ conferences. I pitched my book ideas to publishers and agents, all to no avail. Finally, I self-published my books. My first two books sold very few copies, definitely nothing to write home about.

Nevertheless, I kept trying because I felt spiritually lead to pursue this career. One day, I got the idea to write a book to help others quit eating sugar and refined carbohydrates. I intertwined my personal story of how I lost and regained my health and my sister’s story of getting off sugar and gluten into the book. Currently, this book sells over 400 copies per month.

Suddenly, the doors of opportunity opened. Now, magazines publish my health-related articles instead of rejecting them (see January 2019 Southern Writers article “How to Sell One Thousand Books in Three Months”). Last month, a dream came true when my interview on Christian Television Network’s Bridges Show aired across the nation.

All those years of rejection ultimately led to a path where I could use my nursing background and own heartfelt experience to help others regain their health. I am finally pursuing a divine direction, but it took me years to figure it out. I wasn’t supposed to be a fiction or devotional author; I was supposed to use my background to assist others with health issues. I encountered much rejection along the way, but I continued to persevere. Have you determined the spiritual writing path that you should pursue? 
Susan U. Neal, RN, MBA, MHS, has a mission is to improve the health of the body of Christ. She has her RN and MBA degrees, as well as a master’s in health science. She published five books, the Selah award winner 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and CarbohydratesChristian Study Guide for 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and CarbohydratesHealthy Living JournalScripture Yoga a #1 Amazon best-selling yoga book, and Yoga for Beginners. She published two sets of Christian Yoga Card Decks and two Christian Yoga DVDs. To learn more visit SusanUNeal.comSusan blogs and provides healthy menus, recipes, and corresponding grocery lists on can follow Susan on:

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Write a Christmas Story during Winter Hibernation

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

The weather outside may be frightful. The news may be horrific, but for me, winter is a favorite time of year. I enjoy the season of winter hibernation. It’s the perfect time to write a Christmas story. I’ve got my fingers crossed the weekend storm system includes some fluffy white snow.

My high school friend, Debra is a retired librarian and avid reader. She recently posted on FaceBook this beautiful picture looking out into her backyard after a recent snowfall. The beautiful picture gave me the idea that we could be inspired to write a Christmas story now, while Christmas 2018 is fresh in our minds, and the weather has some of us housebound.

Four years ago I read an article titled, “Writing a Good Christmas Story: Four Things to Consider” by Scott D. Southward. This is the link with his observations. It’s kind of like a Christmas story formula. His article informs the parts of classic Christmas stories that resonate for readers' Christmas story writing plan.

Another article by Jess Zafarris titled “4 Writing Techniques to Borrow from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” explores techniques that resonated with generations of readers making “The Christmas Carol.” Here is the link so you can consider these techniques used by author, Charles Dickens:

Thanks to my friend Debra and her inspiring photo. I ask Debra about her yard, I thought her backyard was maybe joining a golf green. She told me “The space between the iron fence and the wood fence is for the horse path, and past the wood fence is a horse farm. There’s another horse farm on the other side of our neighbor.” After finding out more, my imagination is running wild like these horses on YouTube.

Join me if you're snowed in this weekend and write a Christmas story. Are y’all in?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Save it All!

By Jill Weatherholt

Each year during the month of November, the buzz word is NaNoWriMo. Even if you’re not a writer, you’ll see postings on blogs, Twitter or Facebook about National Novel Writing Month. Thirty days of writing frantically to reach the goal of fifty thousand words in 30 days. Easy right?

Not really…at least it’s never been for this girl.

So why participate? For me, it’s to get the words on the page. I’m easily distracted, so popping up to clean this or pick up that is often part of my writing routine. Not so during the month of November because when I commit to something, I do it…even when some days, it feels impossible.

You might wonder why I’m talking about this when November is a distant memory and we’re focusing on a new year. It’s because my third book, to be published this year by Harlequin, was my sloppy mess of a draft written during the month of November in 2016. So that makes three participations resulting in three published books. My 2012 entry was rewritten and contracted in 2016.

Were these stories suitable for publication on November 30th? Heck no! But the characters and the plots were solid, so rewriting was the next order of business once the books were contracted.

When I first heard about NaNoWriMo in 2010 and committed myself, I never imagined in 2015 the first book I’d ever write would be published. Did I work on it for five years? No way! I could never stay with a story for that long. I simply pulled it off my hard drive and decided to revisit my characters after they’d been ignored for years.

So, my advice to writers is to never toss out your written words—even if you think it’s rubbish. All writing can be rewritten, edited, polished and hopefully one day result in a contract, but not if you trash it.

Do you like to clear the clutter?
By day, Jill Weatherholt works for the City of Charlotte. At night, and on the weekend, she writes contemporary stories about love, faith and forgiveness. Raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., she now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, but her heart belongs to Virginia. She holds a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and Paralegal Studies Certification from Duke University. She shares her life with her real-life hero and number one supporter. Their relationship grew on the golf course, and now they have one in their backyard. Jill believes in enjoying every moment of this journey because God has everything under control. Jill loves to blog @  Her website is: Twitter@JillWeatherholt Facebook:

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How to Prevent Your Book from Dying an Early Death?

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

Have you ever wondered how many books die before they ever get to the publishing circuit? Unfortunately, I don’t have a count, but I would imagine a great many. 

You see, many people start to write a book. Some can even get to 28,000 words, then life takes over, interest wanes, and it is put on the back burner, where it dries up.

Then there’s the writer who is so excited, has the perfect story line, sits down and puts a few paragraphs on paper; gets interrupted, loses train of thought. They think they will continue tomorrow but alas; other things get in the way. Another book dies where it is.

So, what happened? The writer didn’t set a goal to write nor did they make a true commitment.  Like most things we do in life, there must be a goal, so we will be committed and work towards the goal to achieve our desire.

A goal can be based on how many words to write or how much time each day.  Choose one that is comfortable. But set a goal.

I personally like to write several words per day. Example: if I set a goal to write 750 words today, and my thought process runs out of words to write I keep putting words on the paper to reach my goal. The important thing is that I reach that goal today, regardless of the last few words I am writing. Why?  I am trying to establish a habit with my writing time. (And yes. The next day I come in, read what I wrote and remove any gibberish and then continue to reach today’s goal.)

One important piece of advice, remove any distractions.  I turn my phone, TV, and anything that can make a noise off. I know some people like to play music while they write. If it helps them write, sets the mood, that’s great. For me, I must have everything turned off.

Goals are important. Les Brown said, “Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible for your life.”

Another quote I like is from Brian Tracy, “Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.”

Without goals, how do you know where you are going and when you have reached what you were striving for?

By setting your goals your book won’t die of an early death!

Monday, January 14, 2019

To Agent or Not to Agent?

By Irene Hannon, author of Driftwood Bay

When I launched my fiction-writing career many years ago, I thought having an agent would be advantageous—not to mention prestigious. It was a sentiment shared by most authors I knew.

But my early career ended up being focused on category romance, and as I quickly learned, an agent in that situation is little more than an unnecessary expense. Category romance contracts are boilerplate and largely nonnegotiable (aside from a couple of items like author copies). So, an agent won’t be able to get you anything you can’t ask for yourself—yet they’ll still take their full fifteen percent.

When I decided to branch into longer, trade-length books, I knew I’d need to switch publishers. By then, it had become more difficult to connect with non-category publishers without an agent.

So, I got one—and he did sell my first suspense series.

However, having spent more than two decades in an executive level position at a Fortune 500 company, I was familiar with the give and take of negotiation. I had also educated myself through the years on publishing contracts. So other than making that initial connection, my agent did very little for me.

When it came time to pitch a second series, I sent him a one-page proposal, with a one-paragraph synopsis of each of the books. He passed it on to my publisher—and they bought it immediately. Virtually no work was required on his part…yet he collected his fifteen percent (and continues to collect it to this day, since the series is still selling).

At this point, I decided the agent model wasn’t working for me. I was comfortable reviewing contracts and asking for what I wanted, and I anticipated a long run with my publisher. What value was my agent adding?

Just as I was about to sever our relationship, my publisher contacted him and asked for another contract. Absolutely zero work was required on his part. But since he was still the agent of record, he got his percentage.

Needless to say, we’ve since parted ways. I now negotiate my own contracts, though I do have a literary attorney in New York who I use on occasion. But that’s a pay-as-you-go arrangement, which works far better for me.

While I realize an agent may make sense for some authors who intend to take advantage of the smorgasbord of services they offer—publisher contacts, industry information, contract negotiation, contract analysis, manuscript review, hand holding. However, all I ever used my agent for was negotiating contracts. So, I was paying for a smorgasbord I didn’t need.

For those still waiting for their first contract, a literary agent may help you get your work in front of an editor. But remember that many editors attend writing conferences, and you may be able to make a personal connection yourself. It’s an option that could be worth exploring.

Whether you decide to get an agent or not, I’ll share one piece of advice. Educate yourself on the industry and on contracts—and review every contract word for word. Because no one will ever care as much about your career as you do.
Irene Hannon is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than fifty contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. In addition to her many other honors, she is a three-time winner of the prestigious RITA Award from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romance fiction) and is also a member of that organization’s elite Hall of Fame. In 2016, she received a Career Achievement award from RT Book Reviews magazine for her entire body of work. Millions of copies of her books have been sold worldwide, and they have been translated into multiple languages. She’s active on social media, and especially loves to chat with readers on Facebook and Twitter! Social Media links:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Your Presence is Required

By Betty Thomason Owens

It’s like finding a parking spot on Black Friday. Sometimes, you have to circle the lot until someone leaves. Then, if you’re quick, you can snatch their slot before another driver takes it. Too many shoppers. Too few parking spots. Is it worth all the stress? If you find the perfect gifts for a great price—definitely.

I spend months writing and editing a book for publication. Release day comes. Will it find a spot? Are there too many books and too few spots? Is it worth all the stress? That depends.
Unlike the seasonal shopping rush, book sales never cease. Do you know that Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” has never been out of print? I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed by that. Is it possible to create such a timeless story today? I believe in the possibility.

In du Maurier’s day, the work of selling books was in someone else’s hands. Today, the author is the main seller. I don’t have a set of unique bullet-point items to help with sales, but I do have one suggestion to offer: Be present.

What does that mean? We’re all familiar with the need for a platform. If I have a sizable platform and good numbers of social media followers, a book release should be easier. Yes, that’s true. I’ve worked hard to build a network and a following. But the work didn’t cease when I reached a certain number. Now I need to stay present. I need to interact with those followers. I need to be approachable. 


One of my author heroes is a constant presence on my Facebook profile. She shares a daily journal and includes photos that engage and add warmth. She’s become a real friend to me, though I seldom see her in person. It’s her on-screen presence that creates that bond. I’m not surprised by the fact that she sells a lot of books.

I don’t have to copy her approach by creating a lookalike strategy. I’d be pretty lame. I don’t have her background and talent. So, I set out to find my own unique path—a minefield, as it turns out. I’ve tried a few things that blew up in my face or fizzled out. And I’ve returned to start several times. Gradually, a pattern emerged.

The pattern is this—stay present—engaged. Whether I create memes, post famous quotes, personal photography, or myriad other things, my presence and approachability generate friendship. In the end, friendship is key. Friends comment on my posts and share my updates. I reciprocate, share their updates, comment on their posts. Friendship begets friendship.

It’s become more about relationship than sales. This is pure gold and not only that, but I’ve scored a major goal. I’ve created a platform built of friendship, held together by mutual trust. As a living, breathing thing, this type of platform requires attention. Presence.
Betty Thomason Owens considers herself a word-weaver, writing stories that touch the heart. Besides her work on the KCWC planning committee, she also leads the Louisville Area ACFW group and is a co-founder of the multi-author Inspired Prompt blog. Married forty-four years, she’s a mother of three, and a grandmother of eight. A part-time bookkeeper at her day-job, she writes for Write Integrity Press, and has seven novels in publication. You can learn more about her Connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


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

I wake up this morning at 6 a.m. to open my shutters and discover snow is falling down like there is a heavenly outpouring of serious white fluffy business. Good. I love an earnest snow. This calls for hot chocolate. Thank goodness I have some left over mashed potatoes for breakfast.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I love potatoes. I feel about potatoes as Forrest Gump felt about shrimp: you can eat them boiled, you can eat them baked, you can eat them scalloped…you get the picture.

And those thoughts lead me to Vincent van Gogh who must have loved potatoes as well because he thought his best painting was The Potato Eaters. He wanted to depict peasants as they really were. Choosing coarse and unattractive models, he thought they would be more natural and unspoiled in his finished artwork. He said, “You see, I really have wanted to make it so that people get the idea that these folk, who are eating their potatoes by the light of their little lamp, have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor and – that they have thus honestly earned their food. I wanted it to give the idea of a wholly different way of life from ours – civilized people. So I certainly don’t want everyone just to admire it or approve of it without knowing why.”

I chuckled when I read his explanation. Evidently, van Gogh, who was from a family who were quite well-off, thought only city dwellers who did not do manual labor were civilized people, though he did seem to identify with the middle class and had a disregard for the finer things. 

Two years later, van Gogh wrote to his sister Willemina in Paris: What I think about my own work is that the painting of the peasants eating potatoes that I did in Nuenen is after all the best thing I did.” As an emerging artist, he hadn’t counted on criticism from a friend—Anthon van Rappard—shaking his confidence. He wrote back, “you…had no right to condemn my work in the way you did,” and later, “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.”

And here it is—why I must have potatoes on the brain: As a writer, I might think my potatoes are the best potatoes I’ve ever written, but like van Gogh stated to a friendly critic, “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.”

The moral to this story: No matter how many online classes writers might take or how many conferences you might attend, there’s always something new to learn in the writing world. You must always work on perfecting your writing—there’s always a varied recipe for “cooking your potatoes.” No matter your critics, keep jotting those ideas down, form the ideas into paragraphs, throw in some pepper, salt, and garlic, and keep writing those stories whether or not you choose to pen fiction or nonfiction.

To be a writer you must first till your writing garden and “honestly earn your food” before your potatoes go out to an agent or publisher. Eventually, with practice and persistence, you’ll have a palatable dish cooked up for a publisher’s table. When that day arrives, don’t forget to send out invites!