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 The law was quickly repealed and corrected.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: