November 30, 2012

Mining your Life for Inspiration

By Susan Cobb Beck

Why do you write? Do you feel a necessity, a compulsion? Maybe, but essentially, you write because it is who you are.
What better place for inspiration than your life.
Each character I create springs from a real life person I know, have known, or by chance encountered somewhere or sometime during my life. Oftentimes, I base characters on departed ancestors; I breathe life into them. Characters think, feel, and breathe through you, the Writer. The only way to do that is to become them.

Sometimes, a song will inspire a story.
Here is a sample:

Orphan Girl

Miss Gilly looked up from her pea shelling; her old wrinkled face a roadmap of her life. She gave me a searching look.
I had asked if she knew anything about sharecropping. Our class had to write an essay covering a topic in Alabama History. I remembered Grandmother saying her father was a sharecropper. It stirred my curiosity about sharecroppers as a society, what they were like etc. My grandmother had passed away, but Miss Gilly was her lifelong friend.
“Who’d you say you was?”
“I’m Susie Jackson, Miss Gilly. I’m Betsy’s granddaughter.”
“Betsy was a good woman."
“Yes, Ma’am, she was.”
"She was a good friend to me when I moved here, back in the late 40s. She taught me how to be a good farmwife. So, you wanna know about sharecropping... You look awful young to be in-trested in stuff setch as that,” she observed.
“I remember Grandmother saying that her father was a sharecropper. I thought you might know something about it too.”
“Well, Honey, I can tell you a lot about sharecropping; it’s a hard life. What is that thing?” she asked.
“It’s a recorder, Miss Gilly. You don’t mind if I record what you’re saying, do you?”
“Ain’t never had my voice recorded before, I reckon it’ll be alright. Is it ready for me to start talking?” she asked sprightly.
“Yes, Ma’am, it’s ready.” Miss Gilly bent forward, as if she thought she needed to be closer to the recorder.
“You can sit comfortably, Miss Gilly. The machine will hear you fine.”
“I’ll start off giving you a few facts about this place first, if that’s alright.”
“Yes, Ma’am, you can say whatever comes to mind.”
“Well, these days, I do tend to speak my mind. Done got to old to worry bout what folks thinks of me,” she chuckled.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way, Miss Gilly. Grandmother was like that too.” End of sample

The song, Annabelle, by Gillian Welsh inspired this story. As I began writing, it took on a life of its own. The “Voice” given Miss Gilly, her manner of speech etc. was actually that of my Aunt Bertha. 
I do not know if Orphan Girl will end as a short story or a novel; it depends on my muse. Miss Gilly continues to tell me her story. 

My name is Susan Cobb Beck and I am a Southern Writer. I live along the coast with my husband, three children, three dogs, and half a dozen cats. My blog, The Life and Times of Justplainolme
Link to song Annabelle on Youtube

November 29, 2012

Look, I’m an App, Are You?

By Desiree Holt

One of the most difficult and time consuming things for an author to do is get the name out their. Get people familiar with the brand. For a new author it’s always daunting, kind of like standing at the drawbridge with the castle looming over you. If you make a misstep, the drawbridge comes up and you’re left to swim in the moat of anonymity forever and ever. I have been there and done that.

Before there was social media there was Yahoo with all its varied groups. Which group do I join? Will I reach the right audience? Will there be enough readers to get my message! Much hand wringing ensues as you puzzled over the choices.

Then, of course, comes paid advertising. How little is too little? How much is too much? Where should I spend my dollars? Oh, wait. I only have one book out and I’ve already outspent my royalties.

The advent of social media has made this a lot easier. Travel though Facebook and find people you know “in the biz.” Like them, comment on their pages. Set up your author page and ask them to Friend you. Let me add one caveat here—don’t always be about your book or books. Readers get a feel for authors who do “drive-by posting.” We are always careful about revealing personal information (you never know who’s out there and there are serial “Likers” you need to be careful of).

For me the key is my cats. I have three of them, each totally different. Grace, my alpha cat, is the  most well-known because she weighs twenty-one pounds and I always have her on a diet. A lot of people out there have cats so they pick up on it. Grace even gets her own emails now!

Same with Twitter. Much easier to used because the size of your Tweets is limited but personalize them. And retweet others tweets.

But for me the best thing has been my App. After all, today everyone has some kind of electronic device they carry with them from phones to tablets to readers. So what better way to get my word across to people? Several companies design apps for writers. They have a template designed specifically for authors. It’s affordable for the design and a quarterly for maintenance. Believe me, it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. I now have every one of my books on my app, along with two Buy links each. Video trailers. I have my bio, my appearance schedule—book signings, conventions, etc. You can send out up to five announcements per day but I try to keep it to two. These  include new releases, blog appearances, contests, anything I want the world to know.

The App is free to buyers and is available for both Apple and Android electronics. Free! Once a week I hit all my Facebook stops and Twitter to remind people to download it if they haven’t already. And I keep reminding them that it’s Free!!! My business cards now say I’m an App with the pertinent information included. When I promo new books I always use that as either a tagline or an add on.

So if you want to really get the word out with minimal expense, I say an App’s the way to go. Definitely.

Desiree Holt’s writing is flavored with the rich experiences of her life, including a long stretch in the music business representing every kind of artist from country singer to heavy metal rock bands. For several years she also ran her own public relations agency handling any client that interested her, many of whom might recognize themselves in the pages of her stories. She is twice a finalist for an EPIC E-Book Award, a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award.

November 28, 2012

Getting the Details Right – Research

By Susie Schecter

My manuscript took over seven years to write partly because I did so much research. Research is where I obtained the original idea for my book and I continued to do research as I was writing the manuscript until it was finally published. My inspiration for this story was a remarkable spark from real life, not an autobiography or a memoir.

I spent hours at my local library and hours on the Internet to deepen the historical framework of the story. Early on, as far back as 2001, I felt a certain amount of responsibility to stay true to the facts, and true to my two main characters - John MacDonald and Elsie Wilkins. Mostly, because these two people did exist in the first half of the 20th century. By making research a top priority, I uncovered some interesting facts and details that helped me understand my characters in a whole new way. I weaved the story out of factual material because I was trying to capture the essence of a 1930s love story. I was determined to breathe life into these two people and I wanted tell the truth of my own past life hypnosis experience. In addition, integrating facts, events, details and other research findings into my work helped me to advance the plot. Sometimes I did have to take creative license and fill in the blanks of John and Elsie’s lives, but I never invented historical situations that were inaccurate.

My book was sort of a nonfiction fiction novel. The preface, afterword, documents and “behind the story” sections are nonfiction. I believe all my extensive research made the characters and the story more vivid. I tried to create a progression of events and incidents that were arranged cohesively to create a storyline that compelled the reader to feel the emotion and feel as though they were right there in the story.
Historical fiction - more than any other genre has to succeed and capture the reader on many levels. First by transporting the reader completely to another time and place through convincing and compelling historical details. Secondly, by creating characters that are complex yet appear genuine. Thirdly, to lead a reader through a tapestry of reliable facts, settings, details and events and lastly something that is true for any genre - to build a narrative that works well as a good story including the basics of a strong beginning, interesting middle and unpredictable end.

Time is a valuable resource to writers: time to work, time to write, time for a personal life, time to do research. And research seems the least important; after all, you could have someone else look up information for you. But I feel research is some of the most important aspects for creating persuasive work. The right kind of research can set your writing apart from all the rest by immersing it with accurate context, lifelike dialogue, interesting facts and memorable characters.

As I wrote, I constantly asked myself… what does the reader need at this moment of the story? What do I want the experience and result of the writing to be? What do they want? What do they feel? Then gave it to them…only hopefully better.

Susie Schecter earned a B.A. degree from California State University Dominguez Hills in Journalism and a Certificate of Hypnotherapy from the American Board of Hypnotherapy. She currently lives in a planned community in Orange County with Mike and her two dogs. She's been with Mike twelve years.

November 27, 2012

What Drives a Story Forward?

On the cover of our November/December issue, you will find best-selling author Steven James, who is a master at storytelling.  In our feature article, Steven was most gracious in sharing his experience and expertise with our readers. Steven has also written this article below, which is so full of valuable advice that we wanted to run it today in Suite T.  Susan Reichert, Editor, Southern Writers Magazine. 

What Drives a Story Forward?
by Steven James
Over the years as I’ve taught at writers conferences throughout North America and abroad, I’ve found that too many people think of stories as a series of things that happen. But stories are much more than that.
At its heart, a story is about tension, and tension is created by unfulfilled desire. So the secret to writing a story that draws readers in and keeps them turning pages is to create more and more tension, not to make more and more things happen.
So plotting stories is not a process of asking what should happen next, but what would tighten the tension.
This shift in perspective will forever change how you shape and tell the stories that you write, whatever the genre.
Romance stories are not about romance, they are about romantic tension. As soon as the actual romance happens, it is the end of the story.
Action stories are not about action, they are about resolving problems. Once the conflict is resolved, the story is over. One exciting event happening after another does not make an intriguing action story. In fact, it gets boring unless the reader can see what is at stake, unless he can understand and identify with the unfulfilled desire of the main character.
Thrillers are not stories about scary things happening, they are about the promise of pain. Suspense happens between the promise of something dreadful happening and the actual event itself. So when writing suspense, the key is to include less action and more promises.
And then, as the story rises in escalation, to keep all the promises you’ve made.
So all of this means that as you write a story you’ll both save time and write better stories if you stop asking yourself, “What should happen?” and start asking, “How can I make things worse?” It also means that stories, at their essence, are neither character-driven nor plot-driven. All stories are tension-driven.
For example, you can write a fascinating description of a character or have thirty chase scenes in your novel, but after a while readers will grow tired of hearing about what the character is thinking or eating or wearing or doing if we do not know what their unfulfilled desire is. And we will get bored of seeing car chases unless we know what the people chasing (or being chased) want.
Readers need to know what the character wants.
Readers need to know where the action is leading.
So, stop asking yourself what should happen and focus instead on tightening the tension—on making things worse. Always come back to the unmet desire of the characters and you will create the tension that you need to drive your story forward and keep your readers coming back for more.
Steven James is the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of more than thirty books including the award-winning thrillers The Rook, The Bishop and The Queen. His latest book, Placebo, introduces a new series, The Jevin Banks Experience.

Steven earned a Master's Degree in Storytelling from ETSU in 1997 and is an active member of International Thriller Writers, The Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and International Association of Crime Writers.

November 26, 2012

Writing Together-A Mother & Daughter's Tale

By Kate Dolan

I would say that writing the book Toto's Tale with my daughter Meg was a dream come true, but in fact I didn’t realize how unlikely it was until it had already happened. Timing was crucial. If we’d started when she was too young, her vocabulary skills might have been too elementary to fit with mine. If we’d waited any longer, there would have been no time for us to finish. We started at just the right time.

But that was entirely by accident.

Neither of us remembers whose idea it was to explore the story of the Wizard of Oz from Toto’s point of view. We started working on it as something to keep us busy during her brother’s basketball practices.  I brought the book and a pad of paper with us and we went through the tale page by page, deciding how Toto would see (or more importantly smell) things. We decided, for instance, that Toto would look forward to going into the cellar during storms because the smells underground were so much more interesting. I described it as a rich earthy smell. Meg said it reminded him of underwear. Her description was far more memorable!

She was probably in second or third grade when we started, and by the time we finished the edits, she had reached the end of sixth grade. Today she’s in high school and has a schedule packed with activities including Girl Scouts, 5-6 days a week of jump rope practices and performances, cello lessons, church youth group, and the ever-present homework. It’s nearly impossible to write a blog together, let alone an entire book.

Even back in days when she had so much more free time, Meg remembers not wanting to work on the book.  Our progress was casual for the first few years, and then I decided we really should finish the book. So it became work. By that point, our storyline had branched away from the plot of either the book or the movie, so we were no longer reinterpreting a tale; we were creating a new one. We’d sit down together and while I was typing in something, she would slowly start to scoot backwards out of the room, hoping to make a getaway. I’d set a time limit and coax her to stay. She is a much more creative thinker than I am and I really wanted to harness some of that free energy. But I guess wild thinkers, just like wild ponies don’t like to be harnessed!

Meg is much more visual than I am, and as time went on, she spent more time drawing pictures for the book than working on the words of the story. Many times we’d discuss what we thought should happen and I’d sketch out the action, but leave the description open for her to fill in. As she remembers, “I liked drawing more than writing, and still do. I would always draw covers for our book. Mom said I might be able to draw the real cover for our book so I got it in my head that I would, and when I found out that an illustrator had drawn the cover, I was sad.”

She had the most fun creating the creatures who worked in the witch’s castle, the “lickloes.” They have the body of a cheetah, but they are peacock blue with peacock green tiger stripes, human hands, a giraffe's neck, a lion's mane (but with the same stripes as the body), and a penguin's head.
 She’s very adamant about the colors, even though we couldn’t use them in the story because dogs don’t focus on color the way humans do. Instead of color, we tried to paint word pictures with scents. The inhabitants of the Emerald City are described in the book as green. Meg said that to Toto, they smelled like plants. I never would have thought of that myself.

Our favorite character in the story is one of the witch’s wolves. Meg says, “I named him ‘Happy’ after one of my mom’s stuffed animals that I now have. He reminds me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo, which is my favorite TV show.”  Again, neither of us can remember who created Happy, but we both love him. One of the themes of the story is miscommunication, and Meg was the one who realized that Toto would be able to understand the wolves better than he understands Dorothy and the others who speak human language.  Because he can communicate better with the wolves better than with his "pet girl," he develops a friendship with Happy, and friendship is another key theme of the story.

One of the interesting parts of the process was going through the line edits, because our editor scheduled sessions to work together online in real time. We scheduled many of these sessions for after school hours so Meg could participate. Three of us would be typing comments on separate computers all at the same time – as the editor suggested a change, we’d discuss it on screen and sometimes yelling to each other from room to room at the same time. I really appreciated the fact that the editor made the effort to include Meg in the process, and she saw the benefit. There were times when we’d debate which word to use and Meg would type in “what does that mean?” So right there we knew that option wouldn’t work.

Overall, the whole experience was a true blessing. We got the chance to spend time working together in a variety of ways, some pure fun, and some productive. Collaborating made the story so much stronger than it would have been if either us had attempted it on our own.  Many times people will say “I really liked the line about…” and I’ll realize that was one Meg had written, even though she doesn’t remember it now.
I don’t know what God has in store for us in future, but it sure would be fun if we have another opportunity to work together again like this.
K.D. Hays and Meg Weidman are a mother-daughter team who aspire to be professional roller coaster riders and who can tell you exactly what not to put in your pockets when you ride El Toro at Six Flags. Meg is now a high school student who jumps on a precision jump rope team and loves art and reading anything not associated with schoolwork. K.D. Hays writes contemporary Christian mysteries as well as historical fiction under her own name, Kate Dolan. Although Meg resents the fact that her mother has dragged her to every historical site within a 200-mile radius, she will consent to dress in colonial garb and participate in living history demonstrations if she is allowed to be a laundry thief.
Toto’s Tale is their first book together.

Read "Living History" at
Visit my author Facebook pages at

November 23, 2012

Musing Mythology

By Tracy Barrett

My two most recent young-adult novels are retellings of stories that many readers know very well: King of Ithaka is the story told in Homer’s Odyssey, but from the point of view of Odysseus’s teenage son, Telemachos. Dark of the Moon recounts the tale of the Minotaur, the monstrous half-man, half-bull confined under the labyrinth in Crete; we learn this story through the words of 

Ariadne, the Minotaur’s sister, and Theseus, his killer.

I’m sometimes asked why I like to retell familiar stories from an unfamiliar point of view. I suppose it’s because the untold story is always the one that interests me. The bit players—sidekicks, family members, sometimes even those in more-pivotal roles, such as mentors, villains, best buddies—are usually flatter than the protagonist. This makes sense; authors have to make sure that the focus stays on the main actor. But nobody is a secondary character in her own life, right? I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of taking the clues provided by the author—knowingly or not—and fleshing out a character and a story from them.
Besides, the characters whose stories I explored in those books (Telemachos, Ariadne, and Theseus) just cry out for dramatization for teen and adult readers. For example, Telemachos was raised by a single mother after his father failed to return from war. He has to learn for himself how to be a man. How many hundreds, even thousands, of young people find themselves in that situation?

Ariadne is forced to choose between remaining true to her beloved mother while protecting her equally beloved brother, and being true to herself and to a foreigner who has introduced strange new ideas into her world. This is one variation of a choice that many teenagers face as well.
 And Theseus—he has been brought up in a macho society where he was bullied for being different. He’s surprised to learn that the small and shy Ariadne is in truth very strong, and that he himself has an unexpected tender, nurturing side.

Often, when readers encounter a story that’s too close to their own experience, they don’t see it as well as when they take a step back and see a situation similar to their own, but with enough differences that the story doesn’t collapse into a lesson. I’m convinced that this is why teens are so crazy about fantasy, science fiction, and—maybe to a lesser degree, but it’s still there—historical fiction. They can see themselves at a remove, and explore different issues without feeling like they’re taking a stand.
Tracy Barrett has written nineteen books, both fiction and nonfiction, for readers in elementary school through high school. She loves history and mysteries, which are combined in her Sherlock Files series, which has been translated into three languages. The first book in the series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, has been nominated for nine state awards. She also loves Greek myths and has written two books that retell Greek myths in new ways, King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.My web site is
My blog is
My twitter handle is @writingtracy
Dark of the Moon "deft, dark, and enthralling" (School Library Journal)

November 22, 2012

Give Thanks-Read and Review

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

When you read a book, do you leave a review for the author? I have to admit, I forget to do that. But one thing I know–these reviews are important not just for the author but also for the reader.

For the reader it is obvious, it tells them if the book is interesting, worthy of their time. Will it keep their attention and will they come to know the characters that have been created and will they feel a part of the time this book is set in. Will they be glad and feel rewarded when they finish the book?

What about that author? Our reviewing their book helps them be noticed by all the forces that reign as to whether their book moves up the ladders of success. It also has these forces recommending the book to all who see and hear or whether it just lies there and dies a slow and painfully agonizing death.

One thing I think is important and that is for us to think of all the time and effort that went into the writing of the book you are holding in your hands. All the edits and re-edits to get it ready for publishing. Then think of that author as they sent query letters to agents/publishers to see if they might be interested in publishing their book. Do you ever wonder how many times that writer and particular manuscript may have been turned down, how many rejection letters they may have received before a publisher said, “Yes, I want to publish your manuscript!”  

Just imagine if you will the excitement that author must have felt when they held the book once it was published. This is something they created from beginning to end.

When you stop and think of it this way, you too can appreciate what the writer has done. They have created from nothing–something. This something can give hours of entertainment to others not just now but forever.

Let us all try to remember, the next time we read a book give it a review. Let your voice be heard.

November 21, 2012

My Little Hobby - or – How Friends and Family Sometimes Viewed My Writing

When I first began to write seriously, I found myself alone and wandering in a new world. I had no writer friends and was not connected to any writing group. I just decided one day to give way to this desire that would not go away—the desire to write a book. I doubt I even believed I could accomplish such a task or produce anything readable. But I had to do it. Setting those first words down was like shaking a bottle of champagne and popping the cork. The rest just flowed.

I finished my first book in about four months. It was roughly written and not ready for prime-time reading. But once I’d finished the book, one of my friends asked what I planned to do with it. Since the few people with whom I’d shared this new venture thought of it as my new hobby, I was reluctant to have anyone read the book. But what good is a book if it isn’t read?

I printed out three copies and gave them to friends. I was stunned by the responses.  All encouraged me to seek publication. Now I was truly lost. I had no idea what to do next. Then it came to me—I needed an agent. (Remember, I was new to this whole writing and getting published thing and very naive.) I bought a copy of The Writer’s Market and sent out about twenty queries to agents. Within days, I began to receive my stamped, self-addressed envelopes back containing form letter no thank you notes.

Someone suggested I talk to an acquaintance who was recently published with a small press. Her advice was to find a critique group, do a few rewrites, and then submit to an independent e-publisher. Since she had been published and I wasn’t, I thought it wise to take her advice. When I did submit my book, I received a contract offer within a matter of weeks. I was on my way to moving from ‘writer’ to ‘author.’

But it took a while for some of my family members and friends to catch up with me and understand just what that meant. For quite a while (a few years, at least), many of them still viewed my writing as a ‘hobby’—much like knitting or coin collecting. It was frustrating. Here I was being taken seriously in the publishing arena, and those people closest to me still thought writing was a way to spend a few hours and unwind after work. My day job demanded four days a week. Writing, which I’d already acknowledged as a passion and something I could no more stop doing than I could cease to breathe, consumed the rest of my days. It was not uncommon to spend up to fourteen hours straight on a weekend in front of the laptop.

After years of struggling to be taken seriously as an author, I learned the key—take yourself seriously. Announce yourself as an author. Surround yourself with people who understand and support your efforts. Connect with other authors. Take pride (not arrogance, but honest pride) in your work.

I have twelve novels published to date and four more due for publication in the coming year. I think it’s safe to say, this is more than a hobby. Some might say it’s an obsession J. When someone recently likened my writing to a hobby, I said, “Writing a novel is like hand-knitting your family’s entire wardrobe.”

I think she got the point.

Writing, no matter how much one enjoys doing it, is hard work if you’re going to do it well. Truthfully, writing is more demanding and exacting than my day job. I’m not complaining, though. Most of my family and friends have gotten on-board now and know that my writing is not to be compared to doing paint-by-numbers for hours on end. (My father’s hobby at one time.) They respect my work and seem to realize what it demands. As with any true passion, writing gives back so much more than it takes. That, I think, is when you know it’s the one true thing you should follow.

When you find that one thing you are deeply passionate about, embrace it. Own it. And don’t let anyone discount it’s worth.


Linda Rettstatt grew up in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but has lived in the mid-south for the past thirteen years. She is the author of sixteen Women’s Fiction and Contemporary Romance novels published with four small presses. She was named Author of the Year in 2010 at Champagne Books, and her novel, Love, Sam won the 2012 EPIC eBook Award for Mainstream Fiction. She can be found on the web at and at

November 20, 2012

Writing a Few Thank You Notes

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Recently a friend and I were reminiscing about people who've made a difference in our lives over the years. As you might expect, the impromptu list included the occasional teacher, mentor, and other key figures who crossed our paths long enough to leave a lasting impression.  This led to my childhood recollection of a DJ whom my cousins and I used to call frequently to request songs on the station's Dedication Line (this was back in the days when radio stations actually took requests).

One day "Van", as he was known, invited me and my cousins to take a tour of the studio, and we jumped at the opportunity.  We were going to meet a real live radio personality at an actual radio station; how cool!  And indeed, we enjoyed a memorable half hour or so with our favorite disc jockey, getting a behind-the-scenes look at broadcasting and the music industry.  Somewhere I still have the photograph of Van I took with my Polaroid Swinger camera.  I didn't know it that day, but I would soon embark on a long and satisfying career of my own in broadcasting, and, looking back, I have to credit Van for pointing me in the right direction.

As my friend and I were remembering these key figures in our lives, it dawned on me that these people will never know how important they were to someone else's life unless we tell them.  Sadly, most of my mentors have passed away, but I vowed that day to track Van down, to let him know that his kindness so many years ago to a trio of star-struck kids made a huge difference in at least one of their lives.

Through the magic of the internet, I discovered that he has since become a lawyer in New England.  Last week I sent him an email to tell him what I've just told you, and to say thanks.  That same day he sent back a very nice letter, including this line: "! remember your visit to the studios, and thinking that all three of you were a little bit weird, but very nice."   (Van apparently has us confused with three other people.)  In any event, it made for a fulfilling, full-circle exchange that I was glad I chose to initiate.

Nowadays I'm just as grateful for the many authors and other publishing friends who share their experience and insights with us and our readers.  They graciously invite us in for a behind-the-scenes look at their world, and countless writers benefit from their wisdom.

I'm also grateful for my fellow SW staffers, whose enthusiasm and talent make every day a fun and creative adventure. From the writers to the proofreaders, our den mother, Susan Reichert, somehow keeps us all in line and occasionally provides coffee.

Finally, thank YOU for reading the magazine, following the blog, listening to the radio show, participating in our author venues, and especially for the positive feedback you continue to give us.  We're committed to giving you what you like, and because you tell us what that is, we're better equipped to give you something we hope you'll be grateful for too.

Maybe you'll get a chance this week to tell someone how important they've been to you and your writing.  Wherever you'll be on Thursday, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2012

When Writing the Stories of Your Life, Don’t Let Anyone Else Hold the Pen or the Eraser…

By Taryn Raye

A writer’s life is often solitary. When asking for help from other authors or critique partners, we find ourselves victims of overwhelming self-doubt that what we’ve written isn’t good enough. Sometimes what we’ve written isn’t, but it could be with some polishing. It doesn’t mean you should allow someone else to take your pen- rewriting, changing things or erasing what you’ve written as though they can fix you as a writer by correcting what they feel are your shortcomings.

I’ve learned as a writer to keep the pen, and the eraser, in my hands. It can be tempting, after particularly critical suggestions, to chuck it all and take the word of your fellow writer instead of trusting your own gut, but that’s when you have to remember this is YOUR story and their suggestions are simply that, mere suggestions.

I once had someone tell me how I “wrote” was wrong. It wasn’t a critique for poor grammar, typos or even a plot hole, so it clearly wasn’t constructive, let alone good advice. What do you say when someone blatantly tells you how you write is wrong?

Well, I took it to heart. For months, I wallowed in self-pity, crying myself to sleep and waffling with whether my journey as a writer was still worth traveling. I didn’t discuss it with other authors I knew and trusted, but I should have. My biggest fear was “What if she’s right?” How could I face my fellow authors if she were? Instead, I took this one piece of “non-advice” from a stranger and let it mangle my view of myself as a writer in private.
This was before I learned to take other opinions with a grain of salt. Grammatical advice and editorial suggestions are great bits to help you learn how to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, but be careful of those whose expertise fall anywhere on the scale between amateur or novice.
It was later that I read another author’s blog who’s advice I trust, pointing out in a random blog how to know if you’re receiving bad writing advice—if someone is telling you or implying that there’s one set way of writing then you are receiving bad writing advice. There are no rules when it comes to 

HOW you write or WHAT you write.

Certainly you need to abide by the rules of grammar and punctuation, don’t do too much head hopping in the same scene, format correctly whether you’re submitting to an agent, publisher or if you’re intending to self-pub- make sure your formats are clean and neat and well-polished. In the end, is there a right or wrong way to write?
No. Write the stories of your heart and good advice will ring true in your gut. Write the stories of your life and don’t let anyone else hold the pen, or the eraser. Wield these tools with confidence and you can’t go wrong.

   Taryn Raye is a romantic at heart, my love of storytelling began in childhood with the typical fairytales and my membership at age 10 to the Just for Girls Book Club. I grew up on classics and contemporary tales.
   Born and raised in a small town in Central Kentucky, I now reside in the southern part of the state with my husband, stepson, daughter and my mischief-making cat named Miscellaneous, aka Mizzy.

November 15, 2012

One Indie Author’s Experience

By Samantha Combs

When I started my writing journey, I had no idea it would be a journey at all.  I simply had a fun idea for a book and a weariness of vampires.  Of course, my brilliant idea was to write a story about witches.  I realize, now anyway, that my idea of how it would all go down was patently ridiculous.  Behind my rose-colored leopard-print shades, I envisioned the path of my anticipated success.  I typed the last line in my story, sat back pleased, and began to mentally write a list of all the bright and shinys I would purchase with my sure-to-be-massive advance.  I chose a lucky few agents to send it to and fought the urge to roll my hands together greedily waiting for the frantic bidding war.

Which did not happen.  While I did get two bites from one agent and one publisher (Harlequin), they did not follow my script. They did not rush to their phones barely able to contain themselves being so close to my brilliance.  That was simply not in the blueprint.  I didn’t know what to do.  So, I did what I always do when I don’t know the answer to something; I turned to the internet.  And found the plethora of information so confusing.

Advice ran the gamut.  Send queries to as many agents as you can.  Send your query to only a select few.  Mention what you are doing on your blog.  My blog?  I didn’t even have a blog.  At that point, I didn’t have a blog, a Facebook page, thought tweeting was a bird thing, and that Tumblr was for US athletes.  I was completely clueless.  But nothing if not driven.  So, I started blogging, opened a Twitter account, and subscribed to as many writer-run blogs as I could.  And I learned.
With all my newfound knowledge, I decided to try a new approach.  I began to research the publishers themselves.  Having submitted my manuscript to Harlequin unagented, and having them respond, I felt buoyed and confident.  I scrubbed and polished the query and resubbed to a fistful of handpicked houses.  I chose ones whose websites spoke to me, sometimes for great reasons, sometimes for stupid ones.  One I chose for their super pretty font, swear to God.  All in all, I counted almost fifty rejections.  Then I got The Email.

It came on a particularly busy day at work.  I read it, started pounding down a carpeted hallway, stopped, then read it again. They wanted it.  They liked it.  They offered me a contract to publish it.  The first time that happened ranked up there with my wedding and the births of my children, subtitled: Epic Things In My Life.  An epublisher, Astraea Press would publish Spellbound digitally at first and in print later.  I went through a whirlwind of firsts: my first edits (brutal), my first cover (breathtaking), the first time I ever saw my name in print (exhilarating).  And I began to believe in myself.  One day, when a friend was introducing me for the first time, she said, “And this is my friend Samantha.  She’s an author.”  I almost passed out.

Cut to two years later.  I am a happily published author of seven books.  I write ,, Middle Grade horror and adult horror short story collections for two different houses, Astraea Press and Musa Publishing. I have even tried my hand at the self-publishing thing.  Each book makes me prouder than the one previous.  I am on facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.  I have a ridiculous internet footprint.  I attend conferences and writer gatherings as often as a married, working mother who also writes can.  I blog often.  Best of all, while I write stories I would want to read; I have listened and learned along the way to many, many much smarter and accomplished authors. 
I have learned to self-edit.  I have subsequently learned that I suck at editing and am blessed that others do not.  I have learned to succinctly describe my vision to an artist so they understand what I see in my head for my book cover concept.  I have learned social media has a place in my writer world, but to not rely on it.  I market myself wherever I am, but only when appropriate.  I now know pimping myself mercilessly on Twitter actually angers people.  I have discovered that the most interesting thing about me to my readers is not just about my books.  It’s about where I have traveled, what I think of current events, and even when I last got cut off on the road.  My readers (I still can’t say fans without blushing) want to know about me as a person, not as an author only.  My heartbeat is more interesting to them than the click of my mouse.  They want to know about my life as much as the lives of my characters.

I expect to publish for a long time.  I expect to have an agent someday.  I expect that as long as I breathe air, writing will rank up there in my personal Top Ten, and way up at the top, too.  And I expect to listen and learn about my craft every day.  As a writer, an author, or both, that is your responsibility.  Writing is fun; publishing is a business.  Be serious about it and absorb everything.  Go to conferences, friend authors you admire (I am always amazed at how thrilled they are to hear from a fan) and make it your business to hone and perfect your craft.  And the best advice I ever got?  Write a good book. 
Samantha Combs writes from Southern California and has seven published books, the Global Ebook Award-winning debut title: SPELLBOUND, currently in print and in production with, and GHOSTLY, both YA paranormals, SPELLBOUND's sequel, EVERSPELL, a middle grade horror called THE DETENTION DEMON, and two adult horror collections, TEETH AND TALONS and WAY PAST MIDNIGHT. WATERDANCER, a new YA fantasy, released in September of 2012. I enjoy writing YA paranormal romance and supernatural fantasy, but I also dabble in the horror and sci-fi genres as well, and writing for the Middle Grade audience. I have plans for many more books in the future.CONNECT WITH Samantha!

November 14, 2012

Forward Movement and Stephen King

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Have you ever felt like you were moving forward but your brain kept telling you that was impossible? It happened to me today at the self-service car wash. I pulled in until my front tires crossed over the track to signal the car wash to start. I put the car in park, looked forward through my filthy dirty windshield, and saw the machine with huge rotating brushes coming toward my car. The swishing brushes that landed on the hood moved forward up and over the car, making me think I'm in a Stephen King novel. The impression is the car is moving to meet the machine. My brain told me this was not the case. I had to close my eyes; the feeling of forward movement was just an illusion and not the reality of my parked vehicle.

Writing can be like my parked car. You work for days, weeks, months, or years on a story, novel, or project thinking you are moving forward. Then you go to the next phase of the writer's job, editing your work. You survive the edit process and proceed towards submission. Then begins the actual test of a writer's courage, the inevitable feared rejection letter.

One of the books I'm reading is Stephen King's, "On Writing". Fifty pages into the book, I find it is a fascinating memoir and insight into his childhood and those life experiences that shaped his writing. Just a warning, he does throw in the occasional curse word but so far, his story is intriguing and compels me to finish his book. Being sick as a child, he missed a year of school at age six. This was before every house had TV, computer, gaming system, or electronic babysitter; as a result, he was reading everything he could get his hands on. Reading "a ton of comic books, progressing to Tom Swift and Dave Dawson". Jack London had a huge influence on him during his year of being housebound.

His first original thought submitted story, "Happy Stamps" came to him after he watched his mother lick the S & H green stamps into the coupon book. A collection of these stamp-filled books could be traded for items in a catalog. He submitted "Happy Stamps" to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Young Stephen King waited and waited for a response. A letter came, what all writers at some point receive, a rejection letter. He wrote across the letter the title of his submission (brilliant idea) and then nailed it under the eaves of his bedroom ceiling.

Picture this! Early 1960's attic sparse bedroom of impressionable little Stephen King his first rejection letter hanging on a nail in his bedroom. He sees it when he wakes and goes to bed. A constant reminder of his attempt to be a published writer. At this tender age, he earned his badge of courage as a writer. He continued to hone his writing skills and move forward to become a rarity in the book business. He established a viable book genre: horror, becoming a bestselling author and authority on the subject.

So for every rejection letter, know it is really a badge of courage. Do like Stephen King write your title on the rejection, find your "eave" and nail it up. In rejection know it's part of the writing process. Write On! 

November 13, 2012

Method or Madness?

By Jenny Socks

This writing, it is not something I take lightly. It is words fused, within me, which I steadily chisel away from my bones and heft to alphabet letters. Most times, it is a journey to get these letters to paper (or computer screen) because it does not always make sense in the beginning. Patience has taught me to let it flow and trust in the practice for it will all come together in the ending.

As a method writer, I do not know there is a method to my madness; unless, of course, the method is the madness. The majority of my ability lies in snatching a slippery emotion from the air and tacking it down in words. This tacking is done in drivels and, sometimes, by the truckload. Some days I am able to catch the bouncing ball of thoughts and some days it simply bounces away.

Whiskey In The River was written by me in this very manner. Slow spurts, stops and starts riddled the story in the beginning. Culling the past can be trying, at best. When one yarns truths from the past, I have learned it is best to wear gloves as you tug on that tenuous rope that ties and binds the memories. Capturing thoughts from one's mind is a challenge, although the most difficult test is effectively writing an emotion. An emotion is not something you can physically see or touch, as one could see and touch a tree. Emotion is invisible to the eye and elusive to the hand, yet, it is the most powerful of senses. Cradling that emotion and translating it to words is my biggest feat. Essentially, it is what I do and what I strive to do. I mold emotions, as if they were clay, into models that can be understood by others. If I can make you feel what I feel, I have done my job.

The book began as a letter to my son. Originally, it was only to be a letter. But, with each passing day, the letter began taking on the life of a story. The narrative non-fiction story morphed and molded into the novel it is today. I clung to this writing every day as I pecked out the words bleeding out our past. On the barest level, it is a story about a life stitched in the tragedy of death. After the deaths of my brother, husband and father hard lessons had to be learned by me. No choice was determined to be the way of it as these lessons galvanized my soul. It is my legacy and I am handing my baton of lessons to my son through this writing of Whiskey In The River.

Jenny Socks is but a simple storyteller. Born as a Yankee in Rhode Island and raised as a Rebel in the south, she is the youngest of five children. Her life as a respiratory therapist, a bookie's wife and a devoted mother, all contribute to the yarn she weaves for readers.Today, Jenny lives in a one-caution-light town west of Tallahassee, Florida. A little jerk-water with molasses slow days set the scene as the days are unwrapped in the company of her son, Chad. Laughter provided courtesy of the animal farm of Festus Hagen the doberman, Gucci Man the pit bull, Beauregard Bocephus Bodacious Bodine (Beau to his friends) the feral cat, Cocoa and Yoshi, the ferrets, Lucky the taeko gecko and hundreds of tropical fish. She now leads a quietly profound and simple country life full of grace.