Friday, June 14, 2019


By Kay DiBianca

Most of us would probably agree that our world is broken and needs repair. But how can we as writers do our part?

When I decided to write a novel, I had two goals in mind: 1) to write a cozy mystery that would stand on its own as a mystery novel without consideration of religious content; and 2) to include part of my Christian worldview in the book, particularly an emphasis on the Jewish roots of my faith.

In my novel, The Watch on the Fencepost, a central chapter deals with the main character, Kathryn. She attends a Shabbat dinner hosted by the Goldmans. a kind Jewish family. Kathryn’s parents had died in a horrific automobile accident several months earlier, and she recently learned there may have been foul play involved in their deaths. The day before the Shabbat dinner, Kathryn had stumbled onto a cryptic note she thinks may be relevant to the truth behind the accident, but she doesn’t understand the meaning of the note.

During the dinner, Kathryn discovers her Jewish hosts suffered terrible loss as a result of the Holocaust, and she expresses surprise that they don’t harbor bitterness and resentment over past injustices done to their families. But the father, Harry Goldman, explains their concept of Tikkun Olam in these words: “Tikkun Olam literally means ‘repairing the world.’ It holds that by helping others, we will improve society and show honor to God. There is evil in the world, to be sure, and sometimes it has to be fought with armies and weapons. But it also has to be fought every day with acts of kindness toward our friends and even our enemies. … It’s our way of bringing light into the world to overcome the darkness.”

Harry relates goodness to light, and he reads from Genesis where we “hear” God’s first words in scripture spoken: “Let there be light.”

The result of this conversation is not just an inspiring discussion of the creation of the world and our roles as God’s children, but the conversation gives Kathryn insight into the note she found. Light has been focused on it, and she is one step closer to solving the mystery behind the accident.

I intended the Shabbat dinner chapter to be a metaphor about our relationship with God. One act of kindness or one discussion about His Word can not only illuminate a life and bring healing and repair to brokenness, but it can lead us one step closer to His ultimate truth.

How do you use your writing to enlighten a dark world?
Kay DiBianca holds an MS degree in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked in the IT departments of several major corporations, including IBM, International Paper, and FedEx. An avid runner, Kay can often be found at a nearby track, on the treadmill, or at a large park near her home. She's completed four marathons, fifteen or so half-marathons, and an unknown number of shorter races. Kay and her husband, Frank, are retired and live in Memphis, Tennessee. They are US representatives of Bridges for Peace, an international Christian organization, whose mission is to serve the people of Israel. You can connect with Kay through her website at

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Writer’s Retreat

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

There are times when we need a change of pace in order to tackle our next writing challenge. Maybe we are starting a new book or a new chapter of one we are working on. Maybe we need to edit the book we just wrote or work on some new marketing approaches. The conference we went to was helpful and gave us some great ideas to go forward, but we just don’t seem to be able to focus and come up with some fresh thoughts.

If this seems familiar to you, maybe what you need is a retreat instead of a conference. What’s the difference? A conference is designed to teach and share writing tips, to help you collaborate with others, to allow you to network, and to bring you together with the writing community. A retreat is a time to allow you to take all that you know and use it.

A retreat can last as long as you need it (or can afford for it to). You can take a weekend away from your normal writing place and get away to start the next phase of your work. When you return, hopefully, you can keep the new work going. If you can stay away longer, take a week or two retreat and try to finish or get a good start on the next phase of your project. Get several chapters written or edited…finish building or updating your website…sketch out a full outline for your next book…come up with a marketing list and an email list for the news of your book launch. Brainstorm on the retreat.

Tips for a successful writer’s retreat:

¨      Keep it within your budget. You can’t work well if you are worried about finances. If finances are tight, ask a friend if you can use their cabin. Find an inexpensive state park room overlooking a lake.
¨      Don’t bring anyone along. You need this time to think and set your own pace. If you are taking your retreat in area with friends nearby, you can make a last-minute plan with them if you need a break, but don’t promise anything.
¨      Don’t set a schedule. Work at night if you need to or wake up with the sunrise and nap when you need a break. This time is for you to brainstorm, research, or write. Work when you feel most prepared.
¨      Visit a place where you can have alone time outside if you need inspiration. Take hikes or walk by a lake. Sit on a quiet beach. Part of this retreat is for you to be refreshed so the ideas flow again.
¨      Check to see where Wi-Fi is available. You may not need it often, but it’s frustrating to not have it at all if you are planning to research something. However, be sure you keep you phone and other devices off as much as possible. Distractions won’t help you get work done.

I hope you can find time for a retreat to help you keep moving forward with your writing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Why Go to Writing Conferences?

By Paul Atreides 

I was speaking on the phone to a member of our writer’s group, and conversation rolled around to the upcoming conference. She happens to be putting the finishing touches on a follow-up to her previous Indie best-seller. She wasn’t planning on attending for a variety of reasons. Then she asked why conferences are important. “What’s the point?” she asked.

Outside of landing an agent or publishing deal, there will be an expansive array of subjects on the craft and business of writing. The experiential effects are accumulative; success stories from faculty and attendees alone can inspire.

“I’ve had a top-notch editor tell me my work is exceptional. She said, ‘you don’t need classes or workshops.’ And I ran a newspaper, too.” Her response took me aback.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’ve heard that about my novels, plays, and published non-fiction work (Thanks, Honey! Thanks, Mom!). My response to anyone heaping such praise: “Stop blowing smoke up my back end.”

Regardless of how many novels you sell, regardless of how many shows up on best seller lists, regardless of how high they rise in the Amazon ranks, there is always something to learn. Our industry changes, it’s in constant flux. If we don’t change with it, we’ll eventually find our work hitting the bottom of the slush pile. And that’s not a pretty place to be.

Honing your craft is about more than learning proper punctuation, or when to use upper case or italics from the AP Style Guide (a new edition is out, by the way). It’s about more than being able to join the Grammar Police on Facebook (we know that can be fun, but still…).

Agents and acquisition editors who attend conferences as faculty, and are there to accept pitches, know you’re serious about your craft. That’s why you’re there. To soak up every scintilla of information. To head home with your head spinning, drunk on new knowledge and eager to put it to work, your publishing track record notwithstanding.

Perfecting craft, though there is no such thing, is the ability to build a new world, or even describe the one we live in with just the right words to captivate readers. Finding the right turn of phrase that makes a character pop and remain in readers’ minds makes you, as an author, remain there as well. That helps sell the next book. And the next.

These are all the things faculty at a conference is there to teach you. No matter how long you’ve been at this writing game. The most surprising thing I ever witnessed at a conference, though it shouldn’t be, was faculty slipping into a workshop. I mean, these are the experts. These are the folks who control the whole shebang. They decide which queries get the rejection letter and who receives the multi-book deal. What in the world are they doing in someone else’s workshop?

Believe it or not, they’re honing their craft. Just like that member should. And there is no better place to do that than a writing conference. Unless, of course, you convince Stephen King, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, or the like to mentor you one on one.(And, if that happens, give me a call, would you? I’d like that inside track.)
Paul Atreides is a theatre critic and columnist for EatMoreArt!, and contributor to Desert Companion, a NevadaNPR/PBS publication.  He is the author of the series World of Deadheads, a paranormal humor series. Social Media: Facebook:

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Exploring the “What Ifs”

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Following the attack on U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor Admiral Nimitz was sent to assess the damage. Upon looking over the damaged ships, aircraft and structures his main concern was the loss of life. He was asked what were his thoughts? He said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. 

Which do you think it was?” 

Fortunately, it was Sunday, most of the men, 9 of every 10, were off duty on leave and on shore away from the ships. Otherwise our loss of some 3800 could have been closer to 38,000. He went on to say they didn’t bomb our dry dock across the harbor or otherwise the damaged ships would have needed to be towed to America to be repaired. The Japanese third mistake was every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war was stored five miles away in above ground tanks. All our fuel could have easily been destroyed by one fighter plane strafing them.      

The 75th Anniversary of D-Day was recently remembered. Loss of life was great there as well. Of the 150,000 troops involved in the invasion, casualties of the landing have been estimated at 10,000 which consist of British, Canadian and American troops. It was estimated during the planning phase of the landing that losses could reach 80%.

With those thoughts of battle the “What ifs” come to mind. Both cases direct us to how much worse it could have been. Considering the circumstance, it must be noted how fortunate we were. On the other hand, the Japanese could look at the “What ifs” with regret. What if we had attacked on another day? What if we had sent another wave of planes and hit their dry docks and fuel supplies? 

Personal “What Ifs” are many times those of regret. We tend to dwell on our loss or perceived loss rather than how fortunate we were and our good situation we are in today because of the occurrence. Writers “What ifs” must not only be looked at from both regret and fortune but from a whole new angle. Many writers have had a great career taking an occurrence in an entirely new direction.

Stephen King comes to mind. There is scary then there is horror. King has taken the “What ifs” of scary to an entirely new level. I cannot fathom how his mind works or even begin to understand some of his stories but I do know with an estimated 87 books to his credit it is working.

King may not be your cup of tea but his methods are something to be noted. I play a game with my grandchildren we call “And Then”. One will begin a story and pass it on to the other by saying “And Then”. This could easily relate and be an exercise for “What If”.

With “What If” your options have never been greater! Fiction writers couldn’t write as successfully as they do without it.

Never let it get too far from your writing. Otherwise what if it did?     

Monday, June 10, 2019

How I Deal With Scene-Stealing Secondary Characters

By Roger Johns

In the early days of my writing journey, I was repeatedly cautioned to restrain my secondary characters because they had a tendency to upstage my principals. I tried, but soon became convinced the greater danger came from underutilized secondary characters that didn’t sufficiently challenge my main character, leaving her less realized and less interesting than she had the potential to be.

As any writer who has ever had a secondary character steal a scene can tell you, the upstaging problem can definitely be a real problem. It was just that, for me, reining in my secondary characters was the wrong approach. Working my way through the nth draft of my first book, I came to believe that if a support character was able to hog the limelight, it meant the main character was too weak.

Because I was writing what I envisioned as series fiction, having a cast of vibrant secondary characters was a must, so the upstaging problem would forever lurk in the wings. This sent me is search of a reliable solution with concrete steps that I could follow, over and over.

After a bit of trial and error, I found something that works for me and my characters. I identify, ahead of time, something specific that readers need to learn about the principal from a given scene, and I structure the secondary character’s actions to serve as a springboard or provocation for that.

For example, in my second book, River of Secrets, my main character, female Baton Rouge homicide detective Wallace Hartman, appears in several scenes with Melissa Voorhees, a small-town police chief with a big personality. Not surprisingly, Melissa often makes a bid for center stage. To keep things balanced without holding Melissa back, I made her the opposite of Wallace in ways that require Wallace to demonstrate specific traits and capabilities.

Where Wallace can be a bit prim, Melissa is earthy, so readers see Wallace react to conversations and situations that push the edges of her comfort zone. When Wallace’s logical side keeps her from seeing the whole picture, Melissa introduces an emotional dimension to the scene and Wallace shows she’s capable of stretching to incorporate both modes of understanding into her work. And, when Melissa has a moment of weakness, Wallace is strong for her. Owing to a painful episode in her past, Wallace can be reluctant to indulge her softer side. But, after Melissa proves she’s a true friend and circumstances cause her to suffer, Wallace displays her nurturing side by helping Melissa deal with some heartbreaking news.

Setting a specific goal for how the secondary characters are going to enhance the reader’s understanding of the principal, and tailoring their actions to bring this about, helps me keep the principal at the center of attention without having to dial back the secondary characters actions or personality.
ROGER JOHNS is a former corporate lawyer and retired college professor, and he is the author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books: Dark River Rising (2017) and River of Secrets (2018). He is the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year (Detective·Mystery Category), a 2018 Killer Nashville Readers’ Choice Award nominee, a finalist for the 2018 Silver Falchion Award for best police procedural, runner-up for the 2019 Frank Yerby Fiction Award, the 2019 JKS Communications Author-in-Residence, and a 2019 Georgia Author of the Year nominee (Detective·Mystery Category). His articles and interviews about writing and the writing life have appeared in Career Author, Criminal Element, Killer Nashville Articles, the Southern Literary Review, and Southern Writers Magazine. Roger belongs to the Atlanta Writers Club, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America. With several other crime fiction writers, he co-authors the Murder Books blog at www.murder-books.comRoger grew up in Louisiana and now lives in Georgia. Visit him at his website:, on Facebook:, and on Twitter: @rogerjohns10

Friday, June 7, 2019

How to Create a Hero with a Lot to Lose

By Beth White, author of A Reluctant Belle

I’ve been thinking about heroes as I develop the story spine of the third book in my Reconstruction-Era Daughtry House series. My goal as a writer is to engage my reader to the point that she loses touch with reality. I want her to root for my hero and heroine with a passion that keeps her up all night, glued to the pages of my story. As my writing process is far from linear, the way this happens is a little hard to describe. But I’m going to give it a shot.

By this point, I know the heroine’s backstory well, because she’s been a secondary character in the first two books. Her place in the family is established, her basic character set. Aurora Daughtry is the cherished baby sister, raised by doting grandparents to possess a confident belief in her self-worth.

All that must be knocked askew in the course of “her” book. Because this is a romance, I place her opposite a hero worthy of her love and admiration—a man who will grow towards her and redeem her in the act of redeeming himself. In rides steely-eyed Federal Marshall Zane Sabiere: former Pony Express rider, Union Provost Guard, paroled prisoner of war.

He must be tarnished, forcing Aurora to accept and love imperfection—so I create a backstory involving physical deformity and emotional damage. I discover a historic steamboat explosion that took place on the Mississippi River right after the Civil War, and put Zane Sabiere in the middle of it. He loses an eye and gains a limp, rocking his self-worth. He’s dead set on proving his value as an investigator by bringing to justice the saboteur whose villainy caused sixteen hundred horrific deaths in the greatest maritime disaster in American history.

When young, innocent, clear-eyed Aurora Daughtry becomes embroiled in his quest, Zane will either plunge into cynicism, revenge, and self-destruction—or come out on the other side, not perfect, but spiritually and emotionally whole and ready to take on the greatest challenge for mankind—establishing and protecting a family of his own. And Aurora will grow into the strong, nurturing woman she’s seen modeled in her grandmother, mother, and sisters.

Writing fiction is more than “telling a story.” It’s telling a story featuring men and women who battle their own demons, as well as external challenges, in a manner that is both truthful and extraordinary.
I hang out on my website, (which includes my blog and a contact button), on Facebook, on Instagram at@authorbethwhite and on twitter at @bethsquill. Readers who sign up for my newsletter will receive a free electronic copy of my novella “Miracle on Beale Street!”

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Are Emojis the 21st Century Version of Hieroglyphics?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

As Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine, I’ve got to admit that words fascinate me. Not just the combination, but the tone and voice of whatever you are trying to convey to a reader. 

A summer show, Blood and Treasure recently aired on CBS, and the pilot was about the secret tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony before it spun into another direction. Very Indiana Jones like. So, of course, I was hooked. The second show they had to break a code of symbols tied to an ancient language. It occurred to me that throughout time the written word via symbols has evolved into and come full circle to the emojis and acronyms for words found in our written texts of today. Anybody with me on this?

My curiosity led me to google the topic. I ran across a free course from OpenLearn 
on the subject. The course description states, “A brief history of communication: hieroglyphics to emojis, is an introduction to the history of writing and the key role it plays in human communication. Nowadays, it is difficult to think of language as existing without writing, but in the long history of humankind’s ability to use language it is only relatively recently that writing emerged. The course also looks as the vital relationship between technology and writing, and how the development of new technologies alter the way we communicate.” Doesn’t that sound interesting?

The course content includes these subjects, “1 Language and everyday technologies• 2 A brief history of writing• 3 Communicating in symbols and pictures• 3.1 Textspeak and language change• 3.2 Picture-based writing• 4 The birth of writing• 4.1 Broadening the reach of language• 4.2 Different types of meaning-making• 4.3 From alphabet to emojis• 5 The universality of body language• 6 Emojis as a supplement to written language. • 7 Designing emojis.”

According to the website the “Learning outcomes-After studying this course, you should be able to: • understand how different writing systems have developed over time • understand how technology influences what we can do with language, and the form that language takes.”

I was easily able to download this course for free onto my Kindle to read at my leisure. I feel there may be a number of free courses of interest at this source helpful to writers at all levels. 

I’m hoping this course will answer my question, Are Emojis the 21st Century Version of Hieroglyphics? 

Has anyone else tried free courses from OpenLearn at The Open University?