December 30, 2011

The Gift of FREE Marketing

by Jessica Ferguson

When I think of social media, I hear voices. I hear my mother in law saying that  just because something is packaged in bulk doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. I hear my mother’s voice asking: if Sallie Anne jumped off a cliff, would you?  My twin cousins chant that if God had meant us to fly, He’d have given us wings. I find myself nodding, “And if God had wanted us to tweet . . .”  

Last month a couple of my friends queried editors. One friend was told she had no internet presence and the editor was only interested in writers with some kind of following. The other friend received a request to submit her novel, but was told to develop a website and a blog. Two different responses but the same message: an internet presence is crucial.

But what if we don’t have anything to say? To promote? To sell?  It doesn’t matter. If we intend to write and sell books some day, we still need an online presence. Now.

A few years ago, another friend, D.B. Grady, catapulted into the social media blogosphere and popped up on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. At the time, David had one book published by a small press and an article in Boy’s Life to his credit. Yet, he zipped around (virtually) and had great fun. He met many people and made a lot of friends, including an editor with the well known magazine, The Atlantic. David was offered an opportunity to write for their online issue. Doors opened. He got a top of the line agent, and he and his editor wrote a book together. The Hidden Hands, co-authored with Marc Ambinder and published by John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, will release in 2012.  

D.B. Grady says, "Editors, agents, and other writers are very accessible on social networking sites, and chats can often turn into assignments. Some of the best connections I've made in the industry started on Twitter or LinkedIn. It's important to be professional, of course, and to let your words represent the quality of your longer prose. But it's just as important to be natural and friendly -- think cocktail party rather than job interview."

I’ve mulled over social media marketing--examined blogging, twitter and Facebook from all angles and points of view; and while it looks suspiciously like a cliff to me, and even resembles bulk packaging, I’ve pegged it as not much more than building relationships, encouraging others, and participating in conversations with an audience of our choice. If we think of it as something fun to do, we’ll be creating exactly what editors, agents, and publishers want us to create--an online presence.

No matter how intimidating or maddening social media is, the fact that it’s FREE makes it less painful.  More importantly, it might very well be the gift that keeps on giving.  And with it, we will fly! 

December 29, 2011

The Gift of a Rich Childhood

by Sarah Loudin Thomas

I had a glorious childhood. Lots of love, lots of security and homemade everything. Oh, there were hard times, but it was mostly good. Mostly wonderful. Mostly the kind of childhood that can crop up in my writing without making anyone wish I hadn't mentioned that.

My rich childhood offers a wealth of material for my writing. As a matter of fact, one of my biggest problems is too much reminiscing—; too much nostalgia. In my first novel, I had to cut out great chunks of charming stories from my past. Charming may make the reader smile for a moment, but it rarely does much to move the story forward.

Here are just a few of the things I have or would like to use in my fiction:

Dusan and Masha – Although I grew up in a very rural part of WV, we had international neighbors. Dusan was from Yugoslavia and Masha from Russia. We would hear them out in the pasture calling their cattle in one of the seven languages they spoke. Childless, they showered my brothers and me with affection and introduced us to imported chocolate. Every time I saw Dusan he open his arms wide and say in his wonderful accent, “You are even more beautiful than the last time I saw you!” And somewhere in my overwrought teenage heart, a little piece of me believed him.

Laurel Fork United Methodist Church – We attended a church our family had been going to since it was built. We were related to most everyone who came —and on a good Sunday there were maybe twenty of us. There were no children's programs, no nursery. It was just family coming together to praise God. We held Christmas programs blessed with homespun music and Decoration Sundays with field plucked daisies, roses and ferns arranged on the graves of our ancestors. We argued about whether planting by the signs was a sin and drank homemade grape juice at communion. That church wrapped my brothers and me snug in holy love.

Farming – Growing up on a farm was hard work . . . and I sometimes miss it. We weren't overscheduled with lessons and clubs. We didn't text or play video games or watch cable TV. We picked up rocks when dad plowed the garden. We slopped the hogs and gathered eggs. We put up hay every summer. We helped process our food from green beans to ground venison. We went barefoot, caught lightning bugs, swam in Laurel Fork and built hay forts. How could I not want to write about all that?

Of course, not everyone had an idyllic childhood spent on an Appalachian farm. Some had painful, difficult childhoods. No one told them they were beautiful. No one told them Bible stories or gathered flowers with them. They didn’'t grow their own food—; sometimes they didn'’t even know if there would be food.

But the beauty of the writing life is that those of us with idyllic childhoods, those of us who survived nightmares and those of us who fall somewhere in between all have fodder for our stories. Because everything can be turned to good use. No matter what you have experienced, someone else has, too. And I think the core of writing is sharing stories in ways that makes readers say, “Yes. I know about that. And it’'s good that I'’m not the only one.”

Sarah Loudin Thomas is an aspiring novelist who blogs at A native of West Virginia, she continues to make her home in the Appalachian Mountains, though a bit further south in North Carolina. Her poetry and freelance work has been published in several magazines including Appalachian Heritage and Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.

December 28, 2011

The Gift of a New Year: Have You Prepared for New Year's Eve?

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

I don’t know about you but it is time for me to prepare for New Year’s Eve.  It’s a night of mixed emotions. 

One part of me is wondering if I finished everything that I planned for 2011 and if not, to make mental notes to carry over to the New Year. I think about how fortunate I am to have such great friends.

I am anticipating with much excitement the new year and the roads waiting to be mapped out.

With time and age comes the realization that I want to spend my time productive not only in my career but also and most importantly with my family and friends and give back to my community and help others.

New Year’s Eve is also special because that is my ‘Wedding Anniversary’; this night I will wink at my sweetie and toast with champagne grateful for a blessed 2011 and lift again wishing for 2012 to be a special New Year for all of us.

I thank all of you for being part of Southern Writers' family this year and look forward to our new year together.


December 27, 2011

The Gift of Goals

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Whether we’re out with friends ringing in 2012 this Saturday night, or staying home hoping Dick Clark doesn’t catch a cold, when the ball drops at midnight we’ll be treated once again to that moment of encouragement when we know we have a fresh start. New Year’s Eve is the most universally shared demarcation point between what was and what can be.

If we even remember what our resolutions were at the beginning of 2011, there’s a pretty good chance they’re the same ones we have for the coming year. We start with the best intentions and 365-day commitments, which often manage to fizzle out long before January is through. We might even hesitate to set goals for the new year because of past experience with them. But we can change that with a little know-how.

Many of our resolutions tend to involve breaking a bad habit, which is why they are so prone to failure. Being creatures of habit, we’ve already taught ourselves to do things the opposite way. Like Pavlov’s dog, we salivate whenever we hear our bell. Suddenly requiring a new pattern of ourselves is highly irregular and something our entire being resists. 

Experts tell us that the key to success is “really wanting” to change. Of course, we do “really want” to lose those pounds, or get up early to write five pages a day. The problem is, we also “really want” that piece of Chocolate Sin Cake, or that extra sleep; sometimes even more.  How do we make our chosen want win the battle over our habitual want?

  • Reward yourself for the little victories – Each time you resist temptation or accomplish part of your big goal, celebrate! What little treat for yourself will retrain you to keep up the good work?
  • Be specific – Set goals that allow you to measure your progress. “Write a screenplay in 2012” is vague. “Write three scenes every day” is easy to track.
  • Set achievable goals – You can’t write a novel in one weekend, though you can sure do it in 52 weekends. Shoot for the moon, but remember that it takes a while to get there.
  • Creative visualization – Nothing succeeds like success, or even a good mental image of it. Create a vivid picture of where you want be, and dwell on the benefits of being there. I’ve known some people who make a scrapbook filled with success images and words specifically meaningful to them.
  • Don’t let one failure ruin everything – That first time you slip or fail to meet your daily goal, don’t decide that all is lost. Why waste your good efforts so far? You have just as much ability to start again as you did on New Year’s Day.
That last one is especially worth remembering if you have many goals you’re working on simultaneously.  Disappointing yourself in one area mustn’t become your downfall in all of them.  Always focus on your successes, not on your failures.

Some of the more popular New Year’s Resolutions, and free resources to help you achieve them, are offered by Uncle Sam at the website.

As a writer, your 2012 goals may include writing more articles or chapters, sending out more submissions, entering more contests, or all three.  Don’t be surprised if we have a special contest just for our readers this year.  In fact, we have many surprises in store for you, because inspiring you to write, network with other authors, and sell more books is our continued goal.

Zig Ziglar said it well: “A goal properly set is halfway reached”.  I wish you luck this week choosing the resolutions worthy of your talents, and invite you – paraphrasing Captain Kirk – to boldly goal where no man has gone before. 

December 26, 2011

The Gift of Hope Deferred

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

It is now the day after Christmas. The gifts we took days and weeks to find for that special person have been given. As those gifts were opened we watched the expressions on their faces hoping our efforts brought pleasure. At our home the seven grandchildren were playing with the boxes and wrapping paper instead of the toys. One of the two year old twins walked in showing me a baking potato she had found in the kitchen cabinet. If I had only known that was what she really wanted I could have saved myself a lot of time and money.  

Those gifts we wished and hinted for have been opened. We have had time to look them over and enjoy all the advantages of ownership. Now we know if our desires and expectations have been met. Were these items all we had hoped for or are they disappointing? Are we too now playing with the boxes and paper or looking around for a baking potato?

Life can be like waiting on Christmas presents. Like children we wait for that day to come when we receive the gifts we desire. We live each day with hope, joy and expectations of great things to come. But unlike Christmas, where we can count the days, in life we do not know how long it will be until that thing we desire arrives. Proverbs 13:12 NIV reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  It is natural that we become heavy hearted or anxious waiting on that which we desire. But as it states here when it comes it is a tree of life. If these things we desire aren’t satisfying we may have hoped for the wrong thing or there may be more.

We must be aware when desire comes it may be the first step toward even greater things to come. This thing you desire may be the door opener that prepares you for many other great things to follow. Londa Hayden wrote in Suite T The Gift of Leadership that her pursuit of her passion to write led to a leadership role in a writers group. The realization of this thing you desire may be the foundation for what is really ahead for you.
What is your “hope deferred”? What is your desire? Better yet if it has come, what could possibly be next? Are you vigilant and open to what it may be? Talk it over with someone that knows you well and share what you discovered and where you are heading. 

December 23, 2011

The Gift of Leadership

by Londa Hayden

Londa at a BCW Meeting with Southern
Writers' Creative Director, Gary  Fearon
and Managing Editor, Doyne Phillips

I have been honored to be the founding president of Bartlett Christian Writers for the past year and a half and have enjoyed every minute of it. My passion for writing with excellence is stirred every time we meet. When I was first approached with the idea of starting a Christian writers group in my area, my first thought was I'm not qualified enough to tackle such a feat. I wasn't even a published author at that time. My insecurities kept me from following through for almost a year. Instead, I kept driving an hour away to participate in another writers group until the leader asked me again the same question, and I felt the urge within to go ahead with it.

The story of Moses came to mind. When God asked him to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moses voiced his concerns with stuttering lips. Yet, unbeknownst to Moses, God had been preparing him all his life for such a task. I took a deep breath and plotted out a plan of action to start a local writers group out of my church. To my surprise, the local newspaper editor offered to send out a reporter and write an article about our group. We only had five people show up for that first meeting including the reporter, but we still got a nice article in the paper. Fearing our number was too small to justify our meeting space, a scripture came to mind, “Despise not small beginnings.”

The next month we sponsored a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” workshop, which garnered in a few more members. We got a free website up and running shortly after that and a Facebook page. I made sure to keep the local media posted on all monthly updates and to make announcements. I contacted the local Christian radio station, posted on the special events pages of several websites, and I made a small investment for business cards, brochures, and flyers to have posted at local Christian bookstores, libraries, and churches. In August, we held a new members brunch which brought in even more members. By fall, we had ten to twelve members attending our monthly meetings. Now in our second year, we have twenty-five members profiled on our website and Facebook page.

I enjoy making friends with other Christian writers and seeing how God works in each of their lives. It is my privilege and brings me great joy to help educate and encourage them in their journey to getting their work published. I too have learned so much. Looking back, I now see where God had been preparing me to lead Christian writers for several years by stirring the passion in my heart for writing. Someone once told me, “God doesn't necessarily look for people with great ability as much as He looks for someone willing to do whatever He calls you to do.” With some prompting and a lot of encouragement, I stepped out on faith to lay the ground work and God honored my efforts. I don't get paid, but I've been blessed with more than money can buy. I love my job!

What about you? Is there a way you can use leadership skills you may not even realize you have to benefit other authors? When you give your leadership away, it will be a true gift.

December 22, 2011

The Gift of Family Heritage

by Renee Rowell 

On December 14, 2001, my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Like most young couples just starting out, they didn't have much, so their wedding was very simple. He wore a simple suit instead of a tuxedo. She wore a simple skirt and jacket instead of a wedding dress. There was no reception to speak of; just well wishes of close family and friends as they began their new life together.

The year before, my husband and I, along with his three siblings and their spouses, began talking about and planning for the celebration. We decided to give them the reception they never had. To be held at their church in the fellowship hall, I was given the task of decorating the room. There were the traditional holiday trimmings, all reflective of a golden anniversary; gold wreaths on all the windows, Christmas greenery on the tables, gold glitter candles on the guest book table. 

But, there was one display that really put into perspective what the celebration was really all about. 

My mother-in-law had amassed quite a collection of family photos over the years, and I really wanted to come up with a unique way to display them. As part of the decorating scheme, I had purchased a set of two white, spiral LED Christmas trees. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure just what to do with them…then it hit me.

I placed the trees on a table in the back of the room and asked my oldest son and my niece to begin attaching all of the family photos to them using red and green ribbon looped onto ornament hangers.  After the photos were hung, we turned the tree lights on. How beautiful they were! Standing back and looking at the photos in the glow of the tree lights, one could begin to see a story unfold; a legacy of life and love that has been passed from generation to generation.

In moments like these, especially during the holidays, it's a little bit easier to be thankful for our family, even amidst some of the drama and hectic last minute preparations. But...what if we went a little deeper? What if we didn't stop at being thankful? What if we actually considered the legacy we are building? What if we understood that our words and actions toward our family are building blocks in the foundation of our legacy and a springboard for them as they live out their own legacy?

As we approach the new year, let's consider the words of Jesus, "As I have loved you, so you love another."  If you have a heritage of love, you have the opportunity to regift that love to the next generation. If you don’t, why not establish a new family tradition through the written and spoken word that becomes a living diary of love?

Renee is a 2011 Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks graduate and has been happily married to her husband, David, for 25 years.  They have two sons; their oldest is currently serving overseas in the Air Force, and their youngest graduated high school earlier this year and is working towards college. Her husband is Director of Worship and Media at their church, and in addition to serving alongside him and blogging, she is currently writing her first book. You can connect with her on Twitter or her blog.

December 21, 2011

The Gift of Poetry

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

The hustle and bustle of Christmas week is an exciting time for children. The anticipation of the jolly old man in the red suit, long white beard and toys in a big red bag is at an all-time high. It’s been building for weeks. Most of the kids are trying extra hard to be nicer than usual so they won’t be put on Santa’s naughty list. Parents are reading Twas the Night Before Christmas, the poem Clement Clarke Moore wrote in 1822 to their children. It’s a special time.
It is said this poem redefined our image of Christmas and Santa Claus because before the poem St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, wasn’t associated with sleigh or reindeers.
This poem was first published on December 23, 1823 and was an immediate success. Moore’s neighbor sent it in to a newspaper and told them the author had to remain anonymous and he did so until 1844 when he finally claimed ownership and included the work in a book of his poetry. It is now a worldwide tradition in families to read it on Christmas Eve.
This poem has delighted children and parents alike for generations. I hope authors who write good words will publish their writings giving people all over the world the opportunity to read and be thrilled. Something you write can make a difference to someone; it can touch his or her heart, introduce them to new adventures or transport them to another time and place. 
I wish for you this holiday season some time to write the next great poem or story for generations to come. Merry Christmas!

December 20, 2011

The Gift of Music

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Music lover that I am, my ears perked up last week when I overheard this question on Family Feud: “Name a song that everyone knows.”

I began a Google search through the Wikipedia of my mind. First I remembered that “Yesterday” is the most successful song of all time, recorded by over 1,600 artists. Somehow I still couldn’t imagine that being the top answer. What other songs had we all heard a million times? Could it be “Louie Louie”...”New York, New York”…the theme from “The Addams Family”?

The top TV answer turned out to be “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Well, I dispute that. If Christina Aguilera and Michael Bolton can’t remember it, what hope is there for the rest of us? Myself, I get lost somewhere in the ramparts.

With a little help from a friend, I’ve come up with an even better answer: “Happy Birthday”. You only have to remember six words (as long as you know the name of the person you’re singing to).

Right now, however, and for an entire month each year, we’re gifted to countless songs everyone really does know, not just because we’ve heard them every December since we’ve been born, but because they have been the soundtrack for all our treasured Christmas memories. The twinkle of tinsel and the smell of cinnamon candles nicely herald the season, but for me nothing does it better than the sound of Andy Williams, Nat King Cole and Burl Ives.

What makes a song a classic, they say, is when it can stand the test of time. My favorite Christmas pop song certainly has. It’s "Little Saint Nick", recorded by the Beach Boys in 1963. My favorite religious carol is "Silent Night", which I think has been around even longer. What songs are your Christmas favorites? 

At a party I attended this weekend, the highlight for all was playing a holiday version of Name That Tune. This was followed by another game in which we had to decipher cryptic versions of Christmas song titles (like “Loyal Followers Advance” = “O Come All Ye Faithful”). The joyous enthusiasm with which everyone proudly shouted out their answers as favorite songs registered made for a roomful of merry gentlemen and ladies.

For our own Southern Writers Christmas party this month, I couldn’t resist coming up with a variation of one of my favorite holiday tunes, a tongue-in-cheek commemoration of our first year as a magazine. My publishing cohorts have been adamant about me recording it and putting it online, so for those who like a little parody with their poinsettia, kindly click here to listen.

As in years past, I’ll spend Christmas Eve wrapping presents on my pool table to the tune of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday concert on TV. I’ll look up from my paperwork regularly to take in the pleasure of seeing 70 musicians celebrating the season in song, dressed in their black concert finery as befitting the importance of this night. 

And upon that highly-anticipated moment when trumpeter Scott Moore recreates the famous horse whinny at the end of “Sleigh Ride”, I will suddenly feel like I’m ready for Christmas.

May you and yours have your best Christmas ever. And God bless us, every one.

December 19, 2011

The Gift of Great Art

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

We all know the story of Thomas Edison’s multiple attempts while perfecting the light bulb. It was said that after over 9,000 attempts he remarked he knew over 9,000 ways the light bulb would not work. Shortly after that with more than 10,000 attempts his success is known far and wide. Edison went on to hold 1,093 US Patents. One can only wonder how many times he failed on each of those before success.
The term failure sends chills throughout our being. Yet without it we can never know success. If we had given up our attempts to walk as a child after our first fall where would we be? The same is true for our first attempt at riding a bike, skating or any other endeavor. Hopefully it did not take 10,000 attempts but if it did, so what. We finally succeeded.

We must learn to fail. Failing in itself says we are a success in that we have tried. Another great American invertor Charles Kettering held 186 patents. One which is near and dear to the heart of Southerners is Freon. Kettering said,It doesn’t matter if you try and try and try again, and fail. It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again. We need to teach the highly educated man that it is not a disgrace to fail and that he must analyze every failure to find its cause. He must learn how to fail intelligently, for failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.” Give yourself the gift of the Great Art of Failing. You will get great returns. 

December 16, 2011

The Gift of...Gifts

by Shannon Milholland, Social Media Director

"The pen is mightier than the sword."

Each string of prose is beauty; each strike of the keyboard  music. When you exercise your gift of writing whether you're composing a tweet, blog post or a chapter of your novel, you give with your gift. Every word represents an opportunity to enhance the life of another.

This holiday season I want us to ask ourselves what keeps us from giving our gift?


fear of rejection or failure

time constraints

Give the gift this year that is the most personal and meaningful - the gift of the pen. Write the acknowledgments for your non-fiction book and mail them to each person included. Compose a letter to your family with a paragraph detailing all the reasons you love each person. Address your gift tags with adjectives describing the recipient and let them guess on Christmas morning which present is for them based on the description.

Sometimes the best gift to give is the one you already have.

December 15, 2011

The Gift of Mystery

by Sandra Balzo

Buried in a box somewhere in my closet is an old photograph. It was taken after the gifts were opened on a long-ago Christmas morning, and I'm sitting in my father's overstuffed chair. The thing is so big – or I'm so small – that my feet can't dangle because my toes barely reach the edge of the cushion. A stuffed cocker spaniel is tucked under one of my arms, and my face is buried in my Christmas gift – a new book.

My dad was an avid photographer, but try as he might, each year my Christmas pictures were pretty much the same. My siblings' – inevitably blurry – were shot as they passed by on new bikes or roller skates. Me, I could always be found in that chair, reading. The family still-life.

Mystery novels topped my Christmas list, even then. Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple – I loved them all because I knew that, together, we would solve the crime and make the villain would pay. Order would be restored. All would be right with the world.

In fact, my favorite book of all time is a twist on mystery. It's Barbara Michaels' Ammie, Come Home, considered the best American supernatural mystery of the 20th century.

The story involves Ruth Bennett, owner of an elegantly spooky Georgetown brownstone, and her college-age niece Sara. One night Sara starts acting crazy. Or… could she be possessed?

“Dripping with atmosphere,” and downright “chilling,” Ammie is at its core, a story of the unlikely alliance – Ruth, Sara’s scruffy boyfriend Bruce, and college professor Pat MacDougal – that forms to save the girl.

As an adult, I appreciate the artistry of the writing, but when I first read Ammie, all I knew was that it took me to a place where evil was punished and good rewarded – even after death. And despite the fact that most of the characters in the book weren’t related to each other – much less to me – they felt like family.

That was important to me.

You see, Ammie, Come Home came out in 1968. My father was no longer snapping photos, he was dying of lung cancer. I was fourteen.

I was angry, because life seemed so unfair.

I was scared, because I knew my dad would die, as he did twelve days before Christmas that year.

And I was ashamed, because my awful secret fear was that my mom would die, too, and leave me alone.

In short, I was ripe for a fictional world to disappear into and, particularly, for a book like Ammie, Come Home. I needed to believe there was life after death. That family could form where there was none. And, most of all, I needed to believe that there was justice. Somewhere. Somehow.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay on Ammie, Come Home for the book Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers. When I got my author copies, I slipped one into an envelope and, on a whim, sent it off to Ms. Michaels.

You know what? She sent ME a thank you note, saying she was delighted that Ammie is still remembered so fondly. She seemed gratified – even mystified – that her work should have had such a profound effect on me.

That it had been such a gift.

As writers, we can't know what kind of day our readers are having when they crack open our books or fire up their Kindles or Nooks. They might just as easily be on a split vinyl chair in a hospital waiting room, as on a treadmill at the gym or a queue for the train.

But what we do know is what our readers want. Not just for Christmas, but anytime.

They want to be transported and entertained. They want order restored, if only fictionally.

And it's in our power to give that to them.

Lucky us.

Sandra Balzo turned to mystery writing after twenty years in corporate public relations, event management and publicity. TRIPLE SHOT, her seventh Maggy Thorsen coffeehouse mystery was just released. Sandy's second series, Main Street Murders, debuted in April with RUNNING ON EMPTY. The books, set in the popular vacation destination of North Carolina's High Country, alternate with the Maggy Thorsen mysteries.

December 14, 2011

The Gift You Get When You Give

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

There is just nothing more joyous than seeing a child’s face on Christmas morning. Their eyes are big as saucers as they look at all Santa left.
Do you remember that feeling standing in front of your Christmas tree looking at all the toys that Santa Claus brought? And oh, all the presents so brightly wrapped.
I hope this year we all remember to brighten the face of someone…perhaps a child by picking an angel on a tree or maybe you could brighten the heart of an elderly person in a nursing home who has no family.
We’ve all been told it is more blessed to give than to receive. I have never quite figured that out. You see when I give a present to someone I get such a warm and wonderful feeling seeing their face light up with joy. That is my present.

December 13, 2011

The Gift of Gab

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Like most of us, I’ll be attending a few Christmas parties this month, some because I want to, some because I’m expected to. (If you’re reading this and you happen to have invited me to a party, be assured that yours is on the “I want to” list!) 

On that subject, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I enjoyed our recent Southern Writers Christmas celebration, graciously hosted by our own Shannon Milholland, who’s as capable a cook as she is a bodacious blogger. It was an evening of quality conversation, fine dining, and nobody brought fruitcake.

As in our case, engaging in lively conversation at a party is easy when you all know each other already as friends and/or coworkers. But what about those gatherings where the only person you really know is the host? That happens fairly often because the trouble with parties can be, they keep inviting all these people you don’t know!

We writers run the gamut from verbose literary intellectuals who can regale a cocktail party full of strangers, to reserved observers who, even with close friends, are listeners rather than talkers. While we all possess a knack for the written word, it may or may not translate into glib verbosity out in the field.

Some people happen to be born schmoozers, able to rise boldly to any social situation. I’ll mention my late friend Bad Dog again because he was a master at it. He could be right at home whether at a rowdy radio remote or visiting a group of sick kids at St Jude’s. His trick – if you can call it that, because he did it with sincerity – was making other people feel important. One way to do that is by asking them questions they enjoy answering. Get someone to talk about themselves and they will never be bored.

In her book How to Work a Room, one of Susan RoAne’s excellent recommendations is to find a stranger and introduce yourself, identifying your relationship to the host and inquiring of theirs. Determining areas of common ground usually leads to free-flowing conversation. Discover mutual interests and you’re off and running.

Engaging in a dialogue with a complete stranger can even lead to writing ideas. An interesting incident told to me by a former flight attendant became the basis for a scene in a novel I was working on at the time. Another conversation with a police officer afforded the opportunity to ask specific questions related to law enforcement for another project.

So at a party full of unfamiliar faces, we can stand off to the side of the busy fray nursing a cranberry punch, or pick someone who looks like they could also use someone to talk to. We may make a new friend, or meet a character in our next story.

May you have a great time at all your holiday gatherings this season. And if you’re going to be doing any cooking, I hope you’ll visit our special Southern Writers Holiday Recipes page and help yourself to some great recipes, including those of fellow food-loving authors Sandra Balzo, Alice J. Wisler, Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate and Philip Levin. (Don’t let the word “recipes” scare you…they’re easy to make and too delish to miss!)

December 12, 2011

The Gift of a New Beginning

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

My wife’s uncle was a minor league baseball umpire before retiring to our little town. There he would umpire for the local Little League teams on occasion. He was impressive in full uniform with pads, mask and a booming voice that could fill a stadium. I think most of us enjoyed a taste of the minor leagues at our little local games.

He would begin his games with a command, “Balls in, throw down.” Practice balls from the infield and outfield would be thrown to the dugouts. The pitcher would take his last warm up pitch to the catcher. The catcher would “throw down” to second base. Players would take the field. The game was about to begin.

No matter the season the teams had experienced up to this point, it is a new game. This is a chance for continued success or redemption. This is a new beginning.

With a new year on the horizon, we too will have a new beginning. Each year we wipe the slate clean and look to the future for a new and prosperous beginning. We have hope for success in the fruition of our dreams and hard work. We hope to see many great things accomplished in the New Year.

With this in mind I hope you will take some time to gather your thoughts, determine your current position and chart your future course. Determine where you are now, what you like about your current position, what you would change about your current position. From that point you must determine who makes the decision to change. Most likely it will be up to you. Then you must find a solution or plan and chart your course for the future. Whether it is daily, monthly, yearly or whenever you may need it; give yourself the gift of a new beginning!

December 9, 2011

The Gift of Great Food

by Shannon Milholland, Social Media Director

During this season of endless holiday feasts have you ever considered the fastest way to your readers hearts may be through their stomachs. Many writers have found sharing the gift of a recipe in an article or at the end of a novel adds a personal touch that calls the reader's heart.

This Christmas, we wanted to give some of our favorite recipes to you. Whether you're heading out to your company party or setting the table for your family, we hope are favorite culinary delights make your season a bit brighter this year. Check them out here.

So come gather around the table and bon appetit, y'all!

December 8, 2011

The Gift of Humor

by Jenny B. Jones

Humor makes the world go round. It is the sugar in my tea and the spice on my fajitas. It’s also why I write books— to make someone laugh, to entertain, to encourage and provide an escape.

What I love about humor is that it can sweeten almost any story or work of nonfiction, whether it’s just a brief moment or the voice of the entire piece. Let’s talk about some ways you can incorporate a few laughs, a few smile-inducing moments in your work.  

1.  Kids, Old folks, and Minor Characters
The joy of having an elderly character or a young character is that they have free reign to say and do whatever they want. Exhibit A:

Look at the success and beloved legacy of Golden Girls. Use grandma or the four year old to be the voice of reason, to be your blunt characters, and the ones who have no filter. Usually they’re just vocalizing what we polite ones are thinking anyway.

Look for other characters who can be your Steve Martin. While my protagonists always have a sense of humor (or are supposed to), the heavier comedy usually comes from my minor characters, such as a nutty best friend or a socially inept boss. (Think Michael Scott, The Office) This keeps your main character (the one you want your reader to relate to) more believable while letting other characters up the comedic stakes.

2.  Contrasts
When you have contrasts in your book, you have built-in humor. How can you twist your story, your setting, your character to provide the unexpected? One of Warren Buffett’s best friends is a woman, Sharon Osberg. The two have been bridge partners and confidants for over twenty years. I find that unexpected, endearing, and humorous. It’s not the first image that comes to mind when I think of Buffet, but man, is there a story there or what?

3.  Dialogue
Dialogue is one of the easiest and most effective sources for humor because you can use just a little or a lot. For me, dialogue is the driving force of the humor in my books, so I rely on witty conversation a lot. (Again, my use of the term witty up for judgment, but wit is the intention.) I want the comedic dialogue to be shorter; a funny piece of conversation is rarely a long one. And I want it to move quickly. In my romance Save the Date, social worker Lucy and ex-quarterback Alex are total opposites, share a mutual dislike, and find themselves in a fake engagement. If I didn’t capitalize on that to create some sparring, humor-filled conversations, then I haven’t done my job.

Dialogue can also be effective for those writing more serious tomes. Sometimes a moment is so dark or the reader has been held under for so long, a brief flash of subtle humor or irony would give them some relief.

Laughter is one of the best sounds ever created. (Right after that noise made by popping the tab on a Diet Coke.) Your readers are surrounded by a bad economy, global unrest, pressure at work, and stress at home. If you’ve been called to write a little comedy, you have the opportunity to provide your reader with moments of escape, a break from the realities of life. There’s nothing like getting reader email that says “You made me laugh on a tough day” or even a simple “You made me smile.”

Humor isn’t just a style.

It’s a gift to your reader.

Jenny B. Jones is the four-time Carol Award winning author of books for women such as Save the Date and the newly released companion YA There You’ll Find Me. None of these books have been optioned for stage, screen, or Vegas, but Jenny continues to sit patiently by the phone waiting for that lucky call from Spielberg or Donnie Osmond. Having little free time, Jenny believes in spending her spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as watching E!, binge Twittering, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture. You can find her at

December 7, 2011

The Gift of Time

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

If you have been on the receiving side of giving, you know the wonderful feeling that accompanies the gift.
During this season, we seem to be more giving of ourselves than the rest of the year. We somehow come up with presents for those we love but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we could make a special effort to help those not just less fortunate, but those who are working to become authors. 
Is there someone you met at a conference that wanted to talk to you about how you got to where you are? Maybe because of your schedule you didn’t have the time to answer their questions and spend time with them. Hopefully, if you are lucky, they gave you their name and email. If they did, could you now find the time in your schedule to reach out to them, answer their questions and even mentor them?
There is no better feeling on earth than when we help someone and do so with our time. That is really the most precious gift we have to offer. Money you can make, time you can’t; it is already set.

December 6, 2011

Tools of the Tirade: The Gift of a Timeout

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

If he could hear today’s talk radio, I think Ernest Hemingway would be rolling in his grave. As the one who said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen,” he would not be one to applaud the discourtesy often shown by the callers and, very often, by the hosts themselves.

Yet I must admit I listen to talk radio on a regular basis, becausebeing a bit of an editorial-page junkieI’m intrigued by what’s on people’s minds. Even when I disagree with the views expressed, I respect those who feel strongly enough to vocalize their opinion and I’m grateful for the advent of talk radio so I can eavesdrop from the comfort of my car.

It only becomes frustrating when neither side listens to the other and the dialogue devolves into a total failure to communicate. What could have been a meeting of the minds ends with insults, and neither side comes out looking good.

And yet I keep listening, as do millions of others. Why? Because conflict is interesting.

Daytime TV knows this very well, and capitalizes on the audience’s appetite for arguments. You’ll find no deficiency of disharmony on courtroom shows, nor shortness of shouting matches on tabloid TV. Reality shows in general can’t stop themselves from creating fake complications as the cameras roll on what we’re supposed to believe is real life, because real life apparently isn’t all that riveting.

I personally am not a fan of any of these TV shows because of all the manufactured drama, which I find very manipulative and annoying. Somehow an authentic disagreement between people on the radio is more compelling to me than watching a Real Atlanta Housewife fight with her daughter because a bracelet was borrowed without asking.

Somewhere between the spontaneity of talk radio and the manipulation of reality TV is the very weird hybrid of the internet known as the comment section of news articles. While some people’s responses to every subject under the sun can be genuinely thought-provoking, a distressing number represent the most inane, grammatically-challenged drivel around. The anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in some people, who seemingly live to agitate. Reading their mini-tirades makes one wonder where all their aggression comes from. Perhaps they watched too much reality TV.

But, as we’ve established, conflict is interesting, so we read it, watch it, listen to it and try to inject the right amount into the stories we write. 

Much like the ebb and flow of a good plot, however, it can’t all be nonstop conflict. We need to take a timeout. That’s when a little cooperation is a welcome relief, and it can even accomplish some good. One of the most inspiring examples of positive collaboration is chronicled by Doyne Phillips in the current holiday issue of Southern Writers Magazine. Doyne’s inspiring feature on Charitable Writing tells how a writers’ group in West Tennessee published their first book of short stories and has been donating the proceeds to the Literacy Council. In CCWriters Shorts, the stories themselves are presented according to their Flesch-Kincaid readability score, another nod to the very people the Council helps learn to read.

When you come right down to it, we can eavesdrop on the lives of others or we can make a difference in people’s lives. During this holiday season, let’s consider the impact good writing can have, and how we might use our gift in ways that benefit others. If nothing immediately comes to mind, don’t worry; an idea will eventually present itself. We just have to listen for it.

December 5, 2011

The Gift of Counting the Cost

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

With Black Friday behind us, I was thinking about some of the reasons I do not participate. I weighed the cost of rising early after a great Thanksgiving Day feast, fighting the crowds and chancing the item will not be sold out when I got there, against the savings on the item. The savings never seemed to win out.

I was not willing to pay the cost. This is something we as writers have in front of us as well. Are we willing to pay the cost to have a successful book? I guess the first question would be what is the cost.

Let’s look at the cost of an all-time bestseller. In 1978 Dr. M. Scott Peck wrote The Road Less Traveled. He saw his dream begin with a $5,000 advance. Simon and Schuster published 5,000 copies for $7,500. In order to complete his dream of a best seller he began the lecture circuit and a series of interviews which turned out to be over 1,000 interviews the first year. He also personally sought out reviews in key publications. For the next twelve years he continued at the pace of at least one interview per day. The results were 6 years later in 1984 he had a New York Times Best-Seller which remained on the list for 540 weeks. It sold over 10 million copies. Would The Road Less Traveled have sold as well without the author’s hard work? We may never know but I would think not.

Things have changed since 1978. The most notable developments being social media, eBooks and all things digital. What hasn’t changed is the hard work necessary to get the results. We think nothing of movie stars hawking their wares on talk shows and at film festivals. Writers must do the same. Steven King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”  Once you have written that great American novel, be ready to really get to work. 

This holiday season, why not give yourself a gift - the gift of counting the cost? It will be worth every minute of your time and once you hit that best-seller list you will realize you'll be glad you did.