November 30, 2011

Procrastination Can Be an Author's Friend

by Jonna Turner

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. No, you read that correctly. For much of my writing life those have been words I have lived by.

Lots of my days begin with good intentions. Today I’ll vacuum, dust, fertilize the plants, spend thirty minutes on the elliptical, do laundry, and then spend several hours writing. That doesn’t work for me. If writing takes last place in my day, it’s not ‘gonna’ happen. Putting off the domestic tasks until I’ve finished writing for the day works best for me. The dust will still be there; it’s not going anywhere.

A good writing day for me is to have breakfast, straighten the kitchen, check e-mail and Facebook, and then start writing. If the writing flows, the next time I look at the clock, three to four hours have passed. If it’s not a good writing day, the least little interruption, such as a red-tailed hawk flying through the pines on the back property, can stop my writing in its tracks. When this happens, I find something else to do that is connected with writing.

That something else can be research to make my writing more authentic. For Shiloh and the Cave, I spent a lot of time talking with Colorado State University students about the layout of the campus, what the main floors and dorm rooms look like, and who monitors non-residents who enter the buildings.

For Finding Alan, I sought out interesting locations in Seattle. An author friend, J.D. Hylton, told me about the historical Smith Tower. I called the docent there and learned several interesting facts about the building that I could use, sparingly of course, to add believability to the story, such as the glass blocks in the sidewalk in front of the building. Below these glass blocks are an underground city. I loved learning this and touched on it in the story. And, I used the building to house the office of the attorney in the story.

Or, if I don’t need to do more research, I work on marketing or just plain connecting with readers or friends. Friends are a writer’s most important asset. If people like and respect you and your heart, they are more likely to buy your books and pass the word along to their friends. 

So won't you join me and put of until tomorrow that which you shouldn't do today?

Jonna Turner is an award-winning author of five mystery-suspense novels, short stories, motivational radio scripts for Art Linkletter’s The ART of Positive Thinking, and feature articles for newspapers and magazines. A former Memphian, she lives on the northern edge of the Palmer Divide in Colorado with her husband, a retired FedEx pilot. 

We'd love for you to connect with Jonna online on Facebook, at her website, on Amazon and on LinkedIn.

November 29, 2011

Details, Details

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

I don’t know about you, but I avoided Black Friday like the Black Plague. That’s not to say there weren’t some great bargains out there, but each time I heard how parking at my Walmart overflowed into the funeral home next-door, or read about some knucklehead in California deterring fellow shoppers with pepper spray, I felt all the more vindicated in my decision to be hermit for a day.

Instead of circumnavigating that circus, I spent a little time browsing Christmas gift catalogs. Always on the lookout for something meaningful, I gravitate toward those merchants who carry items which express originality, creativity, lasting practicality, or at least a sick sense of humor.

In the latest “Things You Never Knew Existed” catalog, you can buy an End of the World Countdown Timer, which ticks off the days, hours and minutes until December 21, 2012. I think at 12.98 plus shipping it’s a fair price if it helps you enjoy your doom digitally.

From another catalog you can buy a giant (pretend) bottle of Liquid White-Out. It comes with batteries and apparently talks to you, telling you how badly you messed something up. From this same company you can buy a giant $65 bottle of Coca-Cola, an enormous loaf of raisin bread, and a 5-foot tall toothbrush (which I suppose one needs after drinking a $65 bottle of Coke). 

For all of their “what-do-you-do-with-this-big-thing-after-the-joke-is-over” charm, I have found the occasional oversized item to make a good decoration. From a similar catalog years ago I bought myself a 3-foot-tall Sgt Pepper record album, complete with grooves, which to this day looks really cool hanging on my office wall. (I have yet to find a turntable big enough to play it on, however.)

Seeing nothing definitively gift-worthy in the above catalogs, I turned to the internet and somehow ended up on a site teaching people how to remove an eyelash that’s gotten stuck in their eye. Call it morbid curiosity, but I dutifully read all of its advice, even though I know full well how to get an eyelash out. But what really caught my eye in this article was the mention of something called an “eyewash station.” What in the world was that?

Googling “eyewash station” took me to another site where I learned that OSHA requires certain factories, those which create a lot of dust or chemical particles, to provide their workers with a way to wash their eyes when needed, heavily pushing this device which, I learned, costs anywhere from $300 to the thousands. It seems like a $2 bottle of Target saline solution would do the same thing, but I’m not in government.

All of which brings me to this. Every day, you and I come across countless random details just like these, which have no immediate relevance to us. But if there’s anything remotely interesting about them, they are fodder worth storing in your creative bank.

If I was writing a story today about someone who worked in a saw mill, an eyewash station is a detail I could now include. That incidental fixture could become essential in a scene involving an accident at the plant, or at the very least provide a prop that reinforces the setting and helps the reader feel the sawdust permeating the environment.

If one of my characters was prone to a fatalistic outlook, their accepting that the world will end in 2012 is a fair motivation for giving up on all the dreams they once had.

If I was writing something about finding the perfect Christmas gift, I might mention catalogs filled with giant toothbrushes, or Walmart parking lots that overflow into funeral homes.

Hey, that could even make a decent blogpost.

November 28, 2011

Are You a Political Animal?

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

Having worked in government in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in the Bill Clinton Gubernatorial Administration I have a pretty good grasp of the everyday workings of politics. I’m not referring to the nuts and bolts of working government such as administrative duties, parliamentary procedure or committees. I am speaking of the glad handing, back slapping and ego boosting that goes on so people can get what they desire for themselves or their constituents.

I soon learned what the term friend meant. Although used frequently it apparently had a different meaning than what I had known the term to mean. In the political realm a friend was not someone you knew well and had over for chicken dinner on Sunday. A friend was someone with a common interest. Although that interest may be limited it was definitely a shared interest. There was something beneficial to each party to be known as a friend to each other. The friendship may involve only one concern but that one concern was enough. I suppose friend is a more palatable term than alliance.

Over the years I came to understand that what we on the outside call politics, and hold in such a negative light is actually relationships. These relationships may be built over many years but could dissolve at a moment’s notice. An example of this is a political associate and financial supporter of Bill Clinton’s was quick to leave Clinton’s party after Clinton’s failed re-election bid for Governor. The former Clinton supporter showed up the following January as the new republican governor’s liaison to the Arkansas Senate. Like so many of us Clinton’s former supporter felt Clinton had no political future and had moved on. No one imagined Clinton would return to win a 2nd term as Governor and eventually be elected as President.

In the writing and marketing of our works relationships are necessary. Relationships with other writers, agents and publishers should be cultivated and nurtured. We should not think of these relationships as a negative thing but a necessary thing which benefits both parties. Unlike politics our relationships should continue. There is seldom a reason to disconnect. There is seldom a reason to believe there is no future and move on.

If you have yet to begin to build such relationships please start today. If you already have such relationships nurture them and watch them grow. Who knows what a lasting relationship can bring. You don’t have to be a political animal but it may help.

November 25, 2011

Social Media: A Place for Gratitude

by Shannon Milholland, Social Media Director

"I was wr-r-r-r-r-r," the Fonz would stammer. Somehow words like wrong and sorry just didn't fit his cool persona. Decades later, I bet we could add, "Thank you" to the list of things too difficult or inconvenient for the coolest among us to utter.

Avoiding the word thanks, however, is a big mistake in social media. A grateful heart returns favors, touts another's success and remembers to say, "Th-th-th-th-th-thank you." When your online attitude becomes gratitude, you will multiply your opportunities which require a thank you.

So before you rush off to buy 10 Blue Ray Disc players or 14 Barbie dolls, join every turkey not eaten yesterday and say thanks to someone online. That move will make you even cooler than Arthur Fonzarelli.

November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Grateful Day from the Beginning

Special congratulations are in order to Amanda Stephan, winner of the "One Stop Shopping" Contest!

Happy Thanksgiving from Southern Writers Magazine!

For today’s special blog, I wanted to share some Thanksgiving facts:

Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his men celebrated a "Thanksgiving" in 1541 while searching for gold in today’s Texas Panhandle.

Other feasts were held by French Huguenot colonists in 1564, by English colonists and Abnaki Indians in 1607, and in Jamestown, Virginia in 1610.

In October 1621, Thanksgiving dinner guests in Plimouth, (Plymouth) Mass., included approximately 90 Wampanoag American Indian men and 50 English colonists.

For the Thanksgiving menu Colonists provided wild fowl, which probably included ducks, geese, and turkey, and the Wampanoag provided venison and Indian corn. However, other dishes most likely included fish, nuts, lobster, wheat flour, clams, pumpkin, peas, carrots and squash. While cranberry sauce probably wasn’t served because sugar was very expensive, the Native Americans used cranberries in various foods and also as a medicine to treat wounds. Potatoes and sweet potatoes (not a staple food) and pumpkin pie (couldn’t make the crust) were most likely NOT served.

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested to his daughter that the wild turkey would be a more appropriate national symbol for the United States than the bald eagle.

In 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday, but even before this date, George Washington, John Adams and James Madison had all issued proclamations encouraging Americans to observe thanksgiving.

In 1876, the American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first championship game on Thanksgiving Day.

In 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt established the fourth Thursday of November as the annual day for observance.

The above statistics bear evidence that Americans have been giving thanks since the country’s inception. Throughout my lifetime, I have shared many Thanksgivings with family and friends. Some are no longer with me, but I remain grateful for the time we had together and cherish the memories of past Thanksgivings with my grandfather and grandmother and my godson. I’m thankful for my husband, my children and my grandchildren and that we’re all healthy. I’m thankful for my writer family, especially my Southern Writers family. I’m thankful for my home, my community and my state.

And I’m thankful to be an American where giving thanks has been a tradition for hundreds of years.

After your fill of turkey, cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and other delicacies of Thanksgiving, why not relax, grab pen and paper and jot down all the things you are thankful for today?

In fact, why not try doing that everyday? After all, giving thanks shouldn’t come only once a year!

November 23, 2011

My Thankful List

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

We all at one time or another say we are thankful for something or someone.  Lately I have begun to wonder if we really understand what that word means and if we do in fact mean it.
I realized that I have many opportunities every day to thank someone for helping me and to tell them just how grateful I am they took some of their time and spent it on me.
All the moments in a day when someone gives me comfort or pleasure, I need to make sure to say thank you. I need to remember not to take them for granted.
Perhaps, I should make a list, I can call it my Thankful List, and make a note of each thing and each person I am grateful for and at the end of the week begin a new list. Keeping the lists I could check at the end of every month how many times each was listed during the month. Then spending a few moments reflecting on all the things I do have in my life to be grateful for all the time, showing me just how blessed I am.
So let me say to you all right now, thank you, have a blessed Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2011

A Few Good Mentors

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

If you mention Homer’s Odyssey to today’s audience, there’s a good chance many of them will think it’s an episode of The Simpsons. But it is that Greek classic and its companion work The Iliad written in the 8th century which introduced the character who would become the namesake for all mentors to come. 

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” This is never truer than in the movies, where we’ve observed countless heroes consulting with that one person who puts them on the path to their ultimate success. This figure may be in the story only briefly, or they may be a trusted companion who gets more than a single scene in which to convey their wisdom to the hero, teach them a new skill, or give them a special item they will use at a critical point in their adventure.

In The Odyssey, Mentor at times was actually the goddess Athena.  Similarly, in The Iliad, Mentor was targeted for some earthbound time-share by the god Apollo. Following this Grecian formula, mentors throughout the literary ages have often been gifted with supernatural powers.

Wizards in particular populate great epics. Merlin, Gandalf and Dumbledore have all been magical advisors to younger wards who have a destiny to fulfill. Meanwhile, their fairer-sex counterparts, fairies, have accommodated the gentler needs of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan.

Science fiction mentors can also possess abilities beyond those of mere mortals, from The Matrix’s Morpheus to the little green Jedi master who sounds like Miss Piggy. In such a futuristic setting we readily suspend disbelief and buy their mysterious, godlike qualities.

But because most novels take place in the real world, a typical mentor is a bit more down-to-earth; simply very good at what they do and more experienced than our hero.  You gotta love Doc Brown from Back to the Future, whose absent-minded professor qualities made him both funny and approachable. And who doesn’t get a kick out of The Karate Kid‘s Mr Miyagi?

Not that all mentors are looking out for our hero’s best interests. Melanie Griffith’s boss in Working Girl, Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, and Tom Cruise’s bosses in The Firm all were out for themselves rather than their younger underlings. But even in these dysfunctional pairings, the hero ends up gaining just as much by learning what not to do. Take Private Benjamin. Judy’s commanding officer was bent on seeing her fail, but as in so many Army tales, this only helped Judy find the inner strength to prevail.
Being Thanksgiving week, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the many fictional mentors who’ve given ruby slippers to lost little girls, helped jungle boys escape from singing orangutans, and taught home run honeys that there’s no crying in baseball.

These are a few of my favorite mentors. Who are yours?

November 21, 2011

The Eagle: My Bird of Choice for Thanksgiving

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

We have an ample share of literature, movies and magazines that highlight the underbelly of our society. It takes little effort to find the demonic, pornographic or profanity packed works. It is available at every turn and is promoted in every manner. I was speaking to an ACW group and explained that if not for having grandchildren who generously share their G rated movies I would think there was nothing else but R rated movies and literature out there.

There is a large selection of wonderful entertainment available to us all. My concern is it can be difficult to find if it is something other than a Disney, Pixar, Thomas Nelson or other well-funded studio or publisher that can get the word out. There are many well done presentations that cannot get funded due to either the personal taste, social agenda or marketing decisions of a few executives. The works that are produced and not promoted must get the word out by building a platform and networking. With today’s social media, networking is a viable alternative.

Winston Churchill once said, “When the eagles are silent the parrots begin to jabber.” Feeling the parrots have jabbered long enough, Southern Writers Magazine was founded to highlight good literature and the authors that bring it to us. I feel fortunate to be a part of the marketing effort. This Thanksgiving one of my many things to be thankful for is the fact there are others that feel the way we do and they too are pursuing the good and positive part of our world of literature. To each of you who have become a part of the Southern Writers Magazine Family I say Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving! May your bird of choice be the eagle as you dare to speak and write words that positively impact the world.

November 17, 2011

The Game of Writing is Won One Down at a Time!

I am one of those ladies that love football. I was one of those band geeks in high school and college so I couldn’t help but be involved. Now my oldest son plays the game. Oh and I forgot to mention I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Roll Tide). Enough said.

Football is a big part of my life; therefore when I started thinking about how I could get my writing game better, football terms came to mind. When I am writing and having other people read it (be it editors, friends, etc.), I am playing Defense. I don’t want the other side to break through my line and advance against me because of something I have written. I definitely don’t want any penalty flags thrown either or points scored. I want to protect my lead. 

Then, I thought but how did I get that lead? What got me here? That is my offense-Me actually writing! This is where my writing game is weak. I need to be playing offense a lot more. So here are some of my game plans on how I am going to try to achieve more time on offense.
           Using the clock wisely-In football, if you are ahead you want that clock to keep ticking so you get the ball off right at the last second. On the other hand, if you are behind you want to snap quickly and get 1st downs and completions that stop the clock. When writing, we need to be the same way. If we are ahead of our goals, we need to slow down and take assessments. We need to make sure it is our best work. If we are behind on deadlines and goals, then we need to break our goals down into small plays. The small yards can at up to points just as much as one big play. It makes you feel like you have accomplished more which gets you motivated.

2.      Controlling the ball and scoring-I am terrible about finding other projects I need to work on when writing. When you sit down to write and put that “ball” in your hand, you need to concentrate on getting to your goal whether it is editing, rewriting or starting a new piece. Work your game plan and do whatever it takes to get it there. Just remember the ultimate goal is the end zone (finishing your goal for that day).

3.      Protect the Quarterback-That’s you! Don’t allow those defensive players to stop you from making your play. Have a plan. If a distraction comes at you, be able to call another play. If you get sacked (if you have to stop and handle life), deal with it and then get right back on task. Don’t let anything keep you from your goal.

Sitting down to write is a discipline and just like in football you have to be trained and prepared to meet your opponents. As long as I know what keeps me from reaching my goals and make plans accordingly, then maybe at the end of the day, I will hear TOUCHDOWN SABRINA! 

Sabrina is a single mom to two boys who currently uses her English degree in her job.with RFMS in Tuscaloosa, AL. 

As a writer she has written for Lifeway's Preschool Worship Kid Style. She's known since high school she would become a writer when she was told she would one day writer the sequel to "Gone With the Wind". Too bad someone beat her to it.

During the fall, when she's not writing you'll find her cheering on her alma mater, The University of Alabama. Roll Tide!

November 16, 2011


Southern Writers One Stop Christmas Shopping Contest

Southern Writers has teamed up with three incredible authors to bring you a one-stop shopping opportunity that only costs you a few clicks and moments of your time! By following each step below you will earn at least one chance to win an incredible prize package that will include:

1) Lisa Whittle's {w}hole. 
Get past whatever holds you back – and start living a whole new story

We all have holes in our lives — those things we lament about ourselves. Those things we allow to define us in ways we don’t like. Those things that keep us from living the life God wants for us.

But what if you discovered that the holes in your life are really the things that will ultimately make you… well, whole?

Author and communicator Lisa Whittle knows this all too well. When her world was rocked to the core in a very public way, her faith and whole reason for living were challenged like never before. In that moment, Lisa was confronted by the holes in her spiritual life. And what she learned not only changed her life, but could bring great possibilities to yours.

In {w}hole, Lisa calls you to take an honest look at your holes, discover how to fill them with God’s presence, and get to a real and vibrant place of wholeness instead. In her trademark bold, compassionate, and relatable voice, Lisa takes you on a transformational journey of understanding who you really are… and what you were born to be and do.
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All her life, Epiphany Salerno has been tossed like a dandelion seed on the wind. Now, at sixteen, she must move to the low-rent side of Blue Sky Hill and work where she's not wanted: in an upscale home on The Hill.

J. Norman Alvord's daughter has hired a teenager to stay with him in the afternoons. Widowed and suffering from heart trouble, Norman wants to be left alone. But in Epie's presence, Norman discovers a mystery-- memories of another life and a woman who saved him. As he and Epie take an unexpected road trip through sleepy Southern towns, they form a life changing friendship and uncover long-held family secrets.
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A fake. A forger. That’s what Claire Laurent knows she is, which is why she can’t fathom working in the home of the richest woman in Nashville, let alone America. But when she meets Sutton Monroe––Mrs. Acklen’s far too handsome and equally as discerning personal attorney––Claire’s certain the first impression she made with him…will be her last.

When I first stepped foot across the threshold of the Belmont Mansion in Nashville, TN, and learned about Adelicia Acklen––the born-before-her-time woman who built Belmont––and her “tough as nails” personality and extraordinary life, I knew I wanted to write a story that included her, her magnificent home, and this crucial time in our nation’s history.

But when I “met” Sutton Monroe and Claire Laurent while visiting the mansion one afternoon, or more rightly, when they shoved their way into my imagination and met each other, oh…I knew I had to write their story. And I knew exactly what the setting would be too. The historic Belmont Mansion. After over two years of research and writing, A Lasting Impression is the culmination of that “chance meeting.”

A Lasting Impression is about being authentic in one’s life and relationships, and in one’s faith. It’s a love story about a nation mending after war, ­­the redemption of those wounded, and the courage of a man and woman to see themselves––and each other––for who they really are.

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Who wouldn't want to win all these great prizes? Entering is easy. Just follow the instructions below and be sure and visit on Thanksgiving Day when the randomly selected winner will be announced!

November 15, 2011

Never Can Say Goodbye

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

It’s always fascinated me how characters in movies and on TV don’t end their phone calls with any sort of “goodbye”.  They invariably say the last thing they’ve got to say and then just hang up.

In real life, hanging up the phone without a farewell would literally leave your other party hanging.  They’d think you got cut off, or spend the rest of the day wondering whether they’d said something wrong.

But in fiction, the real-world courtesy of a farewell only serves to bog down the dramatic works.  Consider the difference between these two phone conversations:

“How many bodies are there?”
It took Spangler a moment to collect the right words.
“Is one of them a redhead?”
“I was afraid of that.”
Spangler closed his phone and reached for his coat.


“How many bodies are there?”
It took Spangler a moment to collect the right words.
“Is one of them a redhead?”
“I was afraid of that.  Okay, I’m leaving right now.”
“Okay, bye.”
Spangler closed his phone and reached for his coat.

The banality of a simple closing exchange is almost comical in comparison, since there are much more important things going on for anyone to engage in niceties.  Of course, if the characters are two lovers having late-night pillow talk via phone, a dreamy “Goodnight” is more than appropriate, and easily reinforces the mood.  Hopefully there are no bodies involved.

Hanging up the phone isn’t the only device writers use to end a conversation on the strongest note.  Scenes or chapters often end on a pivotal piece of dialogue, never miring in the rest of what would be anticlimactic verbiage.

Next time you see a character answer the phone, I think you’ll be amused at how unrealistically he or she ends the call.  But in drama it’s the way things are done, and it works.  We take it at face value because the characters do too. 

And, hey, as a writer, those unnecessary words add up to less writing you have to do, and less reading they have to read!  It’s win-win all around.

Well, that’s it for today.  I hope this has been helpful.  See you next Tuesday!  Bye!

November 14, 2011

Strict-ly Business

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

The Association of American Publishers reported strong growth in year-to-year book sales in 2010. In 2010 there was $11,670,000 in sales marking a 3.6% increase versus the calendar year 2009. E-book sales continued to break records with a 164.4% gains for 2010. $11.67 Billion is an amazing amount of money for any industry especially in a time of economic challenges for most everyone. So the question might be what does that mean for each of us?

These large numbers should remind us that we are a part, whether large or small, of a major money maker in our nation. Our part may be as simple as one that purchases a book to read in our leisure time or as complicated as a writer, editor, agent or publisher. No matter our part we must remember it is a business.    

Many times we as writers get caught up in our emotions and feel what we have written is our baby. We want to nurture and coddle it but like our children we must let our work experience the world of publishing. It can be painful and emotional at times but it is a part of the business, the business that supports us and allows us the luxury of expressing ourselves in thought on printed page.

Many authors will tell you they seldom have the choice of titles. Many are great writers but aren’t the best at choosing titles. As a matter of fact each week I am anxious to see what the title for this blog turns out to be. Our editors here can be merciless. The truth is no matter the decision made by the “powers that be” I am glad to be a part of this wonderful industry. I must remember there are times it is “strictly business” and be thankful to be a part of it.

November 10, 2011

The First Cut is the Deepest

by Tamera Alexander

“If you love reading novels, don’t try to learn how to write them. It’ll take away some of the joy.” That’s what an author told me years ago, and while I’ve discovered that to be partially true, in order to learn how to write novels well you must love to read them.

In The Wizard of Oz the wizard tells Dorothy, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” But as writers, that’s precisely what we should do. Pay attention. In order to see how a novel works, we can’t merely look at the surface (read the story and enjoy it), we must dig deeper, down to the individual parts of the story that make it so enjoyable, so “unputdownable.”

One way I do that is through dissecting novels, separating them into pieces, or as Webster’s defines it, “exposing the several parts for scientific examination; to analyze and interpret minutely.”

Why should we dissect another writer’s book? Because we learn from others; we learn through imitation. As babies, we learn how to walk and talk from others. Then as we’re learning, repetition is key. We also dissect novels to improve the quality of our writing. Reading great writing only enhances your own voice. You’ve heard the phrase “iron sharpens iron.” And it’s true. The more we learn, the better writers we become.

Six factors to look for when dissecting a novel:

1.      Powerful openings
Roger Ailes in You Are the Message says, “We start to make up our minds about other people within seven seconds of first meeting them.” And it’s no different with novels. An average reader gives a novelist five minutes (or less) to hook them. Gripping first sentences and scenes are a must.

Consider these examples of great first sentences that complement their genre:

Sidda is a girl again in the hot heart of Louisiana, the bayou world of Catholic saints and voodoo queens. —Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (1996)

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. —Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (2003)

Powerful first sentences and openings are a must.

2.      Distinctive Dialogue

As Anne Lamott shares in Bird by Bird, “One line of dialogue that rings true reveals character in a way that pages of description can’t.”

Authentic dialogue jumps off the page, not only in content, but in style and voice, and compels us to keep reading. Distinctive dialogue advances the story, provides insight into characters,
and isn’t weighed down with unnecessary speaker attributions.

  1. Balance of Narration
    In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says, “Recognizing an individual author’s voice is like recognizing a voice on the telephone. Many authors first find their “voice” when they learn to examine each word for its necessity, precision, and clarity.”

    Voice is seen in the narration of a novel, certainly, and we can learn from that, but within that voice, how does the author use narration? Do they start chapters with narration? Do they mix it with dialogue? Do they slip in “dreaded” backstory? Which actually, when done well, can be a great tool.

  2. Believable Story world
    “…so you build your story world––a moody, subjective bailiwick, brought to life so vividly with sensory images that each and every reader automatically finds himself transported there, no matter how limited his experience,” says Dwight Swain, in Techniques of the Selling Writer.

    How three-dimensional is the story you’re reading? Can you see everything in the setting? Is the author historically accurate? How do they use description?

  3. Compelling Characterization
    “Great characters are the key to great fiction. A high-octane plot is nothing without credible, larger-than-life, highly developed enactors to make it meaningful,” says Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel.

    Are the characters memorable? Unique? Do they grow? Do they have believable flaws and virtues, and emotions? Do secondary characters add to the story without stealing the spotlight? Are characters’ motives clear and powerful enough to create and sustain conflict?
  1. Layering
    “…the main task of fiction is to give the reader a continuing emotional experience,” says Sol Stein in How to Grow a Novel.

    How big is the story? How many layers does it have? How many different POVs? Deep POV is often what separates a ‘good book’ from a story that impacts your life forever.
Now to grab a book––and a scalpel!

Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of RekindledRevealed and Remembered, the critically acclaimed Fountain Creek Chronicles historical series with Bethany House Publishers, along withFrom a DistanceBeyond This Moment, and Within My Heart (Timber Ridge Reflections series). Her historical romances—including The Inheritance with Thomas Nelson—penned in her style with deeply drawn characters, thought-provoking plots, and poignant prose have earned her devoted readers—and multiple industry awards.

After living in Colorado for seventeen years, Tamera has returned to her Southern roots. She and her husband now make their home in Nashville with Tamera's father, Doug. They enjoy life there with Joe and Tamera's two adult children, and Jack, a precious—and precocious—silky terrier.

Connect with Tamera online at her website, blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

November 9, 2011

They're Watching

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief
I thought of something very important this morning. Today is a new day. It’s my day. I can make it a good day or I can make it a bad day.  It will all be up to me. Regardless of what happens today, my attitude towards it will mean the difference between good or bad. 
Oh, I am aware that bad things do happen. I am also aware they happen to everybody eventually.  I think the key is how we handle those things. How we work through them. The attitude we have. Did we see the opportunity in it? 

We’re not alone; people will be watching to see how we handle those times. Will we walk the walk, and talk the talk or will we do a 360-degree turn around and sink down and down to nonfunctioning, or go into a ranting and raving mode or curl up and cry ourselves into a nervous breakdown?  We have many choices. I know for me that I would prefer to bring good out bad whenever it happens. It helps me go forward. What about you?

November 8, 2011


by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Over the 15 years I’ve been online, I think I’ve done a pretty fair job keeping up with the acronyms of internet jargon. Way back when, I was the first on my block to know “LOL”.  (Just for the record, I have yet to use “ROFL”, because I never actually do roll on the floor laughing in real life and am all about truth in advertising.  I will, however, admit to typing the occasional courtesy “LOL”, suggesting that I’m laughing out loud when I’m really just Politely Acknowledging a Pun. But responding with “PAP” would sound disrespectful, so I stick with the old standby, LOL.)

I felt a little less hip to net lingo a couple of weeks ago when one of my clients emailed me to ask if I was available to help him record voice tracks of his children for an audio project. He ended his brief email with “LMK”. That was a new one on me. I almost wrote back, “Loud Mouthed Kids?” but I had the good sense to Google it first. 

Of course, acronyms have been in use long before the worldwide web. We’ll get it there ASAP. I need a little R&R. Elvis knew how to TCB.

And in business, the list of corporations better known by their acronym is endless. IBM, AT&T, NHL, UPS, NBC, AAA … each makes their full real name seem laborious by contrast, plus you can imagine what the companies save on signage.

All of which brings me to this: what if everyone’s first name was actually an acronym?

I’d like to share with you a mindbending little word game my friend Bad Dog and I often played while warming up for a brainstorming session (also known as lunch). It was creative fun with lots of laughs. A good name for this game is “Ack”, for acronym.

You simply take the first name of any person you know anything about – from a family member to a celebrity – and come up with what their name could be an acronym for.  


MARK (as in Twain) = Missouri Author Regaling Kids

CONAN (O’Brien) = Comedian Ordinarily Noticed At Night

HANNIBAL (Lector) = Hungry Antagonist Nibbling Neighbors In Beans And Liquor

Obviously, the longer the name, the trickier it can get. But the real challenge is coming up with something fitting, having some measure of accuracy. That’s really the only rule; anything else goes.

As well as being an entertaining diversion, “Ack” enhances writing skills by forcing you to find the perfect words within a very specific, limited framework. I myself have found that it develops a readier ability to conjure up useful phrases at other, more important times. 

Additionally, if you use the names of people you know, you’ll be surprised how soon you discover what you really think of somebody. You hone in pretty quickly on those revealing key words. So you get a little free psychology at the same time.

I invite you to try this little word game, and truly hope you’ll enjoy it. LMK.

November 7, 2011

Green Means Go

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

What if you never left home until you felt certain all the traffic lights between your home and your destination were green? Don’t laugh! We do that every day in one way or another. Yes, we put things off while waiting on perfection to occur. There are two problems with this. One is perfection in one person’s eyes is not perfection in another’s. The second follows which is, and my apologies to my 9th Grade English Teacher Mrs. Thurman, “ain’t no such thing as man-made perfection.”

One of the most common areas in which we look for green lights in writing is editing as we go. Instead of writing our blog, short story, or novel we edit it. We look for errors in grammar, sentence structure, plots, character building and the like as we write. Instead of completing our train of thought and then edit, we constantly interrupt it with the thoughts of perfection. I have seen some write as if their piece was to be used as an example of the perfectly written work for generations of writers to follow. Again pardon me Mrs. Thurman, but “chances are it ain’t gonna’ happen.”

The same is true for marketing. What appears to be the perfect marketing plan for one author may not work at all for another. That plan that appears to be perfect was most likely successful after many yellow lights and red lights got in the way. It seems to be perfection now that we are hitting more and more green lights as we go but we still have the occasional yellow and red.    

Preparing the perfect marketing plan is a great idea but you must put it into action to see if it works. If it doesn’t work we must be able to recognize the fact it doesn’t and adapt accordingly. Slow down at the yellows, stop at the reds and continue on with the greens. By the way the reds can be tricky. Abide by the laws and watch for the cameras. There is a reason you need to come to a stop so do so and think about your next move.
What keeps you from leaving home? What are the green lights, perfection, you are waiting on? Identify them for what they are (excuses, procrastination, nerves) and pull out of the driveway. Before you know it you will be cruising along and thinking everything is green.