May 29, 2015

Resurrecting the Novel in the Drawer – How I Turned a First Effort Into a Publishable Novel Ten Years Later

By J. T. Ellison

Good or bad, we all remember our first.

I’m not sure what the percentages are officially, but a very informal poll taken on Facebook gave me some figures to work with. Out of 113 authors surveyed, 60% abandoned their first effort and felt that was a Very. Good. Thing. Nearly 40% saw their first novel published (some were still in the process of writing their first.)

I was a part of the 60% until last week. My story feels somewhat typical – my first didn’t get published. On the upside, it landed an agent. I shelved it (drawered it?), jokingly called it “my 80,000 words of backstory,” and moved on. I used a few scenes from it, but for the most part, it was destined never to see the light of day.

Until Brenda Novak came calling with an opportunity—I could participate in the SWEET DREAMS Boxed Set, with an original work of no less than 100 pages. I immediately thought about my book in the drawer. Could I revise it? I have ten years of writing experience under my belt; I’ve just started writing my 17th novel. Surely I had the writing chops to whip it into shape.

But I was scared to death to read it. So scared, in fact, I enlisted the help of two of my beta readers, and had them look it over. If they didn’t think it would work, I’d write something new.

Their responses shocked me. The loved it. They loved seeing how the series really began. Yes, there were scientific errors and grammar mistakes. Yes, I’d used five or six scenes in later novels. But they didn’t care about that. They loved the story.

Story is a very powerful thing.

I remember the rejection letters on this book. Each “no” felt like the end of the world. In the back of my mind, for ten long years, those rejections have simmered. I assumed for so long CROSSED hadn’t sold because it was bad, and here were two readers I greatly respect telling me it was great!

So I read it myself. It wasn’t perfect by any means, full of rookie mistakes: overwriting, over telling, breaks in the narrative flow to give backstory, which slows the action—but overall, it was a solid base to work with. It was cool to see how far I’ve come, but also to see the sparks that got me started.

I ran into several problems during the revision process, but nothing that ten years of experience couldn’t surmount. After two weeks of solid work, I had a workable new draft, which I then put through my normal editorial revision process. And voilĂ —I’d resurrected a story I thought was long dead, and was able to give my readers what they’d been craving for two years—a new Taylor Jackson novel.

For the 60% of us who have a first effort moldering away, here are some ideas to help get it into shape.

Solicit Editorial Advice From People You Trust

My beta readers don’t hold back. Their honest input gave me the confidence I needed to move forward with the project.

Be Open to Changing the Story

What I’d written was too small, in terms of the high-concept thrillers I write now. I reworked the entire midsection to be more about the science and the challenges the FBI profilers faced a decade ago, rather than the characters getting to know each other. It made the book stronger and fit better with the series canon.

Murder Your Darlings

There were plenty of sections with writing I thought was glorious way back when. Sadly, many of the delightful phrases I’d so loved were perfect examples of first-timer-itis. I had to be ruthless.

Streamline, Streamline, Streamline

I also had far too many “ideas” in the story – the kitchen sink approach. I’d dumped in everything I’d learned during the course of my research. Integrating this knowledge into an iceberg approach (what you see in the book is just the tip of the iceberg) helped tremendously.

Reckless Abandon

Because it was my first book, I did leave in some of my less egregious rookie mistakes. I wrote an author’s note explaining my thought process on this, that I’d done some editing, but that I also wanted the integrity of the debut to stay intact. It’s about story, remember.

If you haven’t burned it on a grill, go back and look at your first novel. You never know; you might have instant contender on your hands. And even if you don’t, you’ll be able to see how much progress you’ve made over the years, which is a gift in and of itself.
J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of several critically acclaimed novels, including WHAT LIES BEHIND, WHEN SHADOWS FALL and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLSand is the co-author of the Brit in the FBI series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. THE COLD ROOM won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE was a RITA® nominee. She lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens, where she enjoys fine wine and good notebooks. Visit or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick J. T. is happy to be part of Brenda Novak’s SWEET TALK collection for raising money for diabetes research.

May 28, 2015

B. B. King's Last Time on Beale Street and the Naked Man in The River

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Yesterday, B. B. King known as "Beale Street Blues Boy," made his last appearance on Beale Street in Memphis. It was a sight to behold. Prior to his limo ride down Beale, the dignitaries of Memphis had kind words to say about the blues showman. I think B.B. might have been embarrassed by all the accolades because he was an unassuming brilliant musician who was in "it" for the music. 
It was an all-day event on Beale, unlike anything I can remember in the past. It seemed fitting that a thunderstorm blew through the city during the blues concert at Handy Park on Beale. The rain seemed to set the tone for B. B.'s funeral procession. The rain stopped as mourners lined Beale Street and shouted "B. B." as the hearse passed. The black coffin-laden hearse with flashing grill lights proceeded slowly down Beale. Members of the “Beale Street Procession Band” playing, "When the Saints Go Marching In," proceeded the hearse.  Rodd Bland, son of the late blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, carried B.B.'s "Lucille," Gibson guitar and led the Dixieland jazzy-blues funeral processional.  
While B. B.'s Beale street funeral sendoff was happening a naked man decided to take a swim in the Mississippi River. This is never a good idea. This required police to be diverted to boat patrol to try and rescue the "naked man in the river." The man had actually been swept down river from the foot of Beale Street to the old bridge in record time. This man was in serious trouble but was refusing help to be dragged into the safety of a boat. This all played out while WMC Action News Chopper 5 shot video. They were flying to cover B.B.'s Beale Street processional but "the man in the river" took precedence. 
Somehow I think B. B. King would have liked the diversion. While everyone sang "The Thrill is Gone" when hearing of King's passing, I think the naked man in the frigid Mississippi River would be singing, "How Blue Can You Get."
Writers are you confused? I have a point, I promise. These two events are out of the ordinary and would make great scenes in a book. They are unique and unusual. Take heart, you don't have to live in Memphis to come across unusual stories. Each and every community has unique stories begging to be told. You may be just the person to tell them. You can certainly turn a "real" story into a fictional story and let one event spin into a book with you as the author.
After the events of yesterday, I think B. B. King sang it best in my favorite of his songs, "Let The Good Times Roll."

May 27, 2015

Your Allies in the Writing Life

By Kristy Cambron

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good."
– William Faulkner
In the modern world we live in, Mr. Faulkner’s words make sense. Focused writing time can become something of a rare commodity for writers. We often have to be as creative about the when of writing as we do the what.
As a traveling facilitator and instructional designer with a full-time career in corporate America, I spent years writing Christian fiction in the margins of life. When I became a mother of three, those middle of the night margins became almost non-existent. And when those "in front of the typewriter" moments started to vanish, I had to reset my expectations around Faulkner’s more “get it down” type of creative process.  I wasn’t willing to give up on my author dreams, so the method of writing was just going to have to mold to my corporate-soccer-mom lifestyle. It’s because of this that my iPhone became a trusted friend. It turns out that the elevator rides in downtown buildings, grocery store lines, and airport layovers that accompanied my schedule became unexpected allies in my writing career. I’d pick up my phone wherever I was and would use every spare minute to write.
The tools for on-the-go writers are as numerous as the apps are for just about anything. If you find yourself struggling with a case of writer’s block, the Brainstormer app claims to provide tactical inspiration for plot generation on the spot. The WordBook and Grammar Girl apps are robust enough to support even the most creative of writing ninjas. If the lure of social media distraction is your nemesis, Google Chrome has that figured out for you in their StayFocused extension, which can systematically block access to chosen sites when you’re up against a deadline.  Some might swear by Scrivener and Evernote– project management tools that can make the research-to-writing process virtually seamless by organizing notes, images and links for later use. (Basically, the Plotter's dream.) And for the self-professed Pantsers out there– we writers who prefer the more unscripted method of story creation– sometimes a cocktail napkin and a pen are all that’s needed to usher in some lyrical genius.
Faulkner’s is a no nonsense perspective on writing. Period. It’s not about the when or how. It’s all about the “just write” factor. Use the tools and the time you have in the right now, but don’t let a packed schedule intimidate you out of your goals.  
Ironing baskets will probably still be full and dishes may be in the sink tomorrow. You might have a business trip or project that squeezes in your schedule. But if writing is a dream, finding tools to get you there shouldn’t be daunting. Use the elevators and the grocery store lines to your advantage. Airport layovers should never disappoint again. Why? Because they’re your allies in this writing life.
Befriending them will take you far.
Kristy Cambron is a mother of three by day and an iPhone novel writer by night. Her debut historical novel, The Butterfly and the Violin (Thomas Nelson, 2014), was named to Library Journal Reviews' Best Books of 2014, Family Fiction's Top Ten Novels of 2014, and received a nomination for the RT Reviewers' Choice Awards Best Inspirational Novel of 2014 and a nomination for the 2015 INSPY Awards for Best Debut Novel. Her second novel, A Sparrow in Terezin (Thomas Nelson, April 2015), was named Library Journal Reviews' Pick of the Month (Christian Fiction) for February 2015 and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews for April 2015. Kristy is an Art/Design Manager at and holds a degree in Art History from Indiana University. She lives in Indiana with her husband and football-loving sons, where she can probably be bribed with a coconut mocha latte and a good Christian fiction read. You can connect with Kristy at: Facebook: Kristy Cambron | Twitter: @KCambronAuthor  | Instagram: kristycambron  Pinterest: KCambronAuthor | Web: |  

May 26, 2015

No One is Reading Your Blog-But Wait, What If you…

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

Yes, I know, I just used the problem-solution headline; often touted as a grabber headline. This is one of the things taught in writing headlines 101.  If you will notice, in my headline though, I veered just a tad…I didn’t exactly give a solution, I implied if you read further you would probably get the information.  Right?

For the most part we all write our blog post, giving little thought to the  title, unfortunately that’s the first thing a reader sees…the title. Therefore, if you don’t grab the reader with your title, or it doesn’t have a word in there that pertains to their need, odds are they won’t read it. All that wonderful information down the drain and the time spent writing it wasted.

Does this sound familiar? It should. The same goes for the title of a book. You have to spend time on the title of a book to get the reader’s attention.

So what are you to do, spend days on end dreaming up earth shattering titles? Well, you don’t have to go that far, but you do have to spend more time on the title.

So how do you come up with a title that will draw the reader’s attention? Spend time reading your content. What is it about? What do you want the reader to get from reading this blog? What problem would your information in this blog solve for your reader? List the answers to these questions and look them over. What is the list saying the problem is? There is part of your title there. Now the list you’ve written is telling you how your content would solve the problem. So what is the hook? On my title to this post, I said, “No one is reading your blog”…that is the problem.  The hook I used was a little unconventional, but what hook could I have used to get a reader to read the post? I could have given a solution, a how-to.

Try writing a post, read it, and write down what the post says is the problem. Then if you don’t see in the post the solution, then make a list of 4 or 5 things you could do to solve that problem. You then can choose from those the second part of your title.

The how to is always good to put in the title. Readers are always looking for ways to solve problems. All you need do is present them the solution. Tell them that in your title.

Happy Writing!

May 25, 2015

I Hated This Book! Or, Coping With Negative Reviews

To be honest, I thought this one would be easier. I have thousands of reviews on Amazon alone, and a pretty good average. I should be able to dismiss the negative ones as outliers, or shrug and say, “can’t please everyone,” right? Alas, it’s not so easy. It’s like somebody telling you your baby is ugly. It still hurts. Here’s what I’ve found:

People love it or hate it for the same reasons. For example, JUST FOR NOW is a tender, funny story about family, without a lot of external drama. It is many readers’ favorite of my books. But other readers haven’t been crazy about it, for the exact same reason. Too much family, too much about the kids, not enough excitement. It’s personal taste.

 Is it helpful? It’s one thing to examine your negative reviews, or negative comments within positive reviews, for anything that is truly HELPFUL. Was the ending rushed? Do you have grammatical errors that need to be fixed? That’s helpful. That your book didn’t appeal to someone’s personal taste—not helpful.

Your mileage may vary. I’ve written 14 books, and just in my little critique circle, everyone has a different favorite! My readers share the same diversity of opinion, because everybody brings their own tastes and life experiences to a book. When I think about my own favorite authors, I don’t love all their books equally. Some of them I don’t even care for very much. I’ve never been a huge fan of “Mansfield Park,” because Fanny Price is kind of a drip, isn’t she? And she and Edmund seem set to have a mighty virtuous and boring life. And yet I’ve read it at least three times, because Jane Austen writes so well. 

It goes double for sex and violence. Think people’s opinions differ about your heroine? Get reviewers going about the sex or violence in your book! I’ve had people say, about the same book (that feel-good one above—the one with recipes in the back):

“Nothing but sweet gentle loving with not much described.” (and they weren’t happy about that!)

“A kinky sex-fest.”

Bottom line (so to speak), there is a huge variation in steam levels in romance, and violence in thrillers and mystery (and literary fiction, for that matter).  When your books are just getting known, people are finding out if they like the way you write. You’re finding your audience. And that ain’t everybody.

The acid test. I realized, after wrestling with the “ping-pong ball” effect, where I’d think: “It’s good!” “No, wait, it’s bad!” “No, it’s good!” after every review, that the REAL question was, “Did I write the book I wanted to write?” And in all 14 cases, I answered, “Yes, I did.” That is all I can do. And it’s all that matters. On to Book 15.
Rosalind James, a publishing industry veteran and former marketing executive, is a contemporary romance and romantic suspense novelist published both independently and through Montlake Romance. Her first book, JUST THIS ONCE (Escape to New Zealand) is a 2015 Audie finalist for Best Romance Audiobook, and her latest, JUST IN TIME, has just debuted as part of Brenda Novak’s SWEET TALK collection for diabetes research. Rosalind started writing down one of the stories in her head on a whim three years ago while living in Auckland, New Zealand. Within six weeks, she had finished the book, thrown a lifetime of caution to the winds, and quit her day job. She attributes her surprising early success to the fact that "lots of people would like to escape to New Zealand! I know I did!" Website:
Facebook: Twitter: @rosalindjames5

May 22, 2015

Steve Berry Writes What He Loves

By Steve Berry

How many times have you heard this piece of advice:  write what you know. On its surface, the old adage makes sense. Writing is difficult enough, why compound it by attacking a subject matter with which you are not familiar. Writing what you know also brings an ability to insert personal insights that those ‘who-don’t-know-what-you-know’ might find interesting. 

But it’s the worst advice you could ever receive.

Never, ever write what you know.

Instead, write what you love.    

If what you love and what you know is the same thing, then you’re truly blessed. But if not (which is normally the case) always write what you love. 

I was a trial lawyer for 30 years. I handled thousands of divorces, criminal defense, and civil litigations. So many cases and clients. A zillion fascinating stories. Here’s an example:  I once represented a man charged with murder. He stabbed his victim multiple times, and then cut the head and hands off to hamper identification (this was back before DNA testing). So how did they make an identification? Apparently while cutting off the hands and head, the accused forgot to notice the victim’s T-shirt. On it was written in bold letters jones family reunion. Talk about stupid. How long do you think it took to make an ID?  The whole thing was an open and shut case and the DA wanted the death penalty. But all my client cared about was whether his name had been spelled right in the paper. That’s it. For him it was all about the spotlight. Talk about a character for a novel. But the last thing in the world I wanted to do was write about him.

I love action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings. That used to be called a spy novel, now it’s an international suspense thriller.  I read anything and everything I can in this genre.  The first manuscript I ever wrote, though, was a legal thriller—that was me foolishly practicing the rule of ‘writing what you know.’ But I learned never to do it again.  I realized that I read spy novels (as they were called then) to escape the torturous world in which I lived each day. Hearing people’s problems, then trying to solve them is a lawyer’s job.  But it gets depressing. You need a way out, if only temporary. Stories with action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings provided that respite for me.  

So I switched genres and kept writing. 

Eventually, after 8 manuscripts, 12 years, and 85 rejections Random House bought The Amber Room.  Yes, there are lawyers in that book, but not a one of them is doing a lawyerly thing.  Instead, they’re all off on an international treasure hunt, in a fictional world I love.

There have been 13 novels since The Amber Room.  The latest is The Patriot Threat.  The books are now published in 51 countries and 40 languages, with nearly 20,000,000 copies.  Everyday I marvel at how that came about, grateful for every single reader who takes the time to enjoy them. 

And if years ago I’d kept writing what I know?

No question.

None of it would have ever happened.
Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Patriot ThreatThe Lincoln MythThe King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson KeyThe Emperor’s TombThe Paris VendettaThe Charlemagne PursuitThe Venetian BetrayalThe Alexandria LinkThe Templar LegacyThe Third SecretThe Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with 19,000,000 copies in 51 countries.  They consistently appear in the top echelon of The New York TimesUSA Today, and Indie bestseller lists. Find Steve at  

May 21, 2015

Waco, TX and Writing

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

The recent Biker Gang War in Waco, TX brings to mind the history surrounding the area both good and bad. My fondness for the area is due to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum and Baylor University. I have also enjoyed the Brazos River and Lake Waco. Any of these things would make any city proud. So why does Waco seem to be a magnet to the awful human tragedies it has experienced the last two hundred years?

The very establishment of the town was due to a treaty made with the “Waco” Wichita Native American tribe that had withstood attempts to destroy their village.

In 1896 the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad got the idea to crash two locomotives together north of Waco. This family fun event turned deadly when the boilers of both locomotives exploded simultaneously killing two and injuring six seriously.

In 1916 an African American teenager named Jesse Washington and tortured and burned to death on the town square by a mob. The mob had taken him from the courthouse where he had been convicted of murdering a white woman. Lynching continued in the area until 1968.

The Waco siege occurred in 1993 when 6 Branch Davidians and 4 ATF agents died during a shootout. After a 50 day standoff it all ended when a fire destroyed the Branch Davidians compound. Seventy-four people died in the blaze including the leader David Koresh.

On May 17th, 2015 the deadliest shootout in the city’s history took place when three rival motorcycle gangs shot it out with each other and Waco police. The shootout left 9 dead, 18 injured and 192 detained.

These tragic occurrences seemed to have been bestowed on Waco from either outsiders or those townspeople taking the law into their own hands. Actually these are events that can and have happened in many of our nations towns. Shocking as they are they are indeed fodder for some great stories. Historical fiction springs from such tragic tales. The accounts of such historical events are close to the truth but aren’t necessarily a true reflection.  

Any of these tales would make an interesting story line. Some, like the Waco Siege, have already been made into a movie. I would assume there will soon be a made for TV movie or a screenplay depicting the Biker Gang War in Waco. I’m anxious to see what character is used to tell the tale. I am also curious who will write it. 

It could be you.  


May 20, 2015

Promoting via Facebook Paid Ad Campaigns

By Clarissa Johal

Promotion is always a hot topic amongst authors. My take on the subject is that no one, publisher or author, knows the magic formula of what makes a book successful. I’ve seen awful books sell millions of copies, and wonderful books sink into obscurity. So…what works? I’ve been writing for fifteen years and promoting “seriously” for the past five and I’m still trying to find the magic formula. This past weekend, I decided to go out on a limb and give Facebook’s Paid Ad Campaign a try.

Facebook is my favorite social media hang out.  I like to interact with people and find this platform allows the most freedom. However, I hate that Facebook filters your posts to whomever they decide. I have a modest 325 Friends whom, sadly enough, don’t see 90% of my posts. And it works both ways. This not only makes me feel like a bad Facebook friend, but isn’t conducive to getting the word out when I have a new release.  On a good day, my posts reach about 30 people. Shame on you, Facebook. You suck.

Recently, Facebook moved to a “pay for more visibility” model. For a fee, you can “boost” your post to reach a wider audience. It seems unfair, but raging against it is pointless because Facebook will do what it does. My paranormal novel VOICES went up for Pre-Order on April 17th, so I decided to “boost” my post announcement and see what came of it.  I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of this method/scope of advertising, so keep that in mind.

My post (with cover art attached):
VOICES - Sometimes the ghosts from your past...are real.  Available for Pre-Order! #‎paranormal
Cost and Duration: The minimum of $5.00 for two days—in this case, the weekend.
People Reached: 870--which is a considerable boost from 30. You can pull up a full detailed report of the campaign but once too many facts and figures are involved, my attention starts to wander. Here are the basic facts that I found helpful:

Demographics. Age and gender told me thatVOICES mostly interested women in the 35-44 age range.  

Users who actually “engaged” with the post: Out of the 870 people, 42 clicked on the link.

Books sold: Unfortunately, too early to tell. I will say that my author rank went up and VOICES hit #57 in Amazon’s Top 100 Ghost Suspense novels right next to Dean Koontz. It was fleeting but I’ll take it.  

Facebook has other options to promote your page and website and I may experiment with those in the future. The promotion quest continues…
Clarissa Johal has worked as a veterinary assistant, zoo-keeper aide and vegetarian chef. Writing has always been her passion. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing or taking photographs of gargoyles. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters and every stray animal that darkens the doorstep. One day, she expects that a wayward troll will wander into her yard, but that hasn’t happened yet. Clarissa Online: Author Website: Blog: Facebook: Twitter: Goodreads: Amazon Author Page: Pinterest:

May 19, 2015

Is There a Story Here?

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

At a party this weekend I enjoyed having a conversation with a fellow who has been a postal carrier for thirty years.  At one point in my childhood I had wanted to be a mailman, so I had a fair share of questions that he likewise seemed to enjoy answering.  But the most interesting thing he had to say wasn't related to delivering Amazon packages or avoiding getting bit by dogs.

Years ago when his daughter was very young, he would bring her to the post office on Take Your Daughter to Work Day.  She helped him sort the mail for his route in the appropriate slots, and on one occasion she drew him a picture, which he proudly hung in his cubicle.  That drawing has remained in the same place for years.

His daughter is in her late twenties now, so that picture holds special memories for him.  As you can imagine, he wasn't happy when a supervisor told him recently that he had to take it down.  "No personal items in the workspace," they said.  He knew the fact that it had been already hanging there for decades would not be enough of an argument.  Instead he replied, "Then that coffee cup on your desk and those pictures of your family need to go too."  That ended the conversation and, as I understand it, the drawing remains undisturbed.

As he related this to me, I couldn't help but consider the fact that this little episode from his life told me a great deal about the stranger I'd just met.  In a short time I discovered that 1) he is a family man, 2) he is sentimental, and 3) he can stand up for himself.  If these were traits you wanted to convey in your novel's protagonist, a scenario such as this would be far more memorable than simply describing him as a sentimental family man who isn't afraid of his boss.  We bond with a character when we observe our own humanity in him/her.

By itself, incidents like this aren't stories as much as they are anecdotes.  But stories come in all forms and fashions, and what seems like a simple premise could easily be built upon and turned into a major storyline or at least a worthy plot point.  A man getting shorted on his change at the sub shop is barely an anecdote.  But if it's the last straw in his already unstable life, it could be the basis for a crime novel.

In broadcasting, a news "story" can be little more than a headline, as in: "Pitch Perfect 2 leaves Mad Max: Fury Road in the dust. The musical's opening weekend brought in over $70 million, compared to $44 million for the sci-fi sequel."  Just the facts has its place in the truest definition of story, and we know there's more to the story if we choose to go there.

A classic newspaper credo states that even the most boring story can become fascinating with the right sidenote or quote included.  A good reporter looks for that unique angle to give the story its punch.  Sometimes interviewing the quietest witness yields the biggest revelation.

Whether we hear them from someone else, or live them in our own lives, every day we are witness to countless moments that could be the starting point for the next story or scene we write.  If we learn to be keen observers as well as creative writers, we'll never run out of ideas.

May 18, 2015


By S. D. Tooley

They say write what you know. I doubt, though, that you have met any writers who are ghosts, psychics, or shapeshifters, much less wizards or witches. These characters are very popular, even if the stories require far more suspension of disbelief than the traditional mystery. When you think about it, doesn’t every book labeled “fiction” lead you into an alternate reality the minute you open the cover? During our early years we were read bedtime stories, fairy tales that fed the imagination. Some of you enjoyed those tales and moved on. If you were like me, you didn’t move on. My delicate psyche was formed (scarred) by hours of watching Shock Theatre, Twilight Zone, and every scary movie out there. Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, aliens, ghosts, you name it and I’ve seen it.

Do you have to believe in any of this to write a believable story? Of course not. The popularity of the TV show The Walking Dead doesn’t mean everyone believes in zombies (although there are a handful of people preparing for the zombie apocalypse). What viewers believe in is survival. They want to cheer for the good guys, see how they handle adversity. Each tragedy makes them stronger.

Creating a protagonist in a cross-genre, urban fantasy, or alternate reality novel isn’t any different than creating one for a traditional mystery. He (or she) has to have chinks in his armor.  Readers relate more to a flawed character, whether that flaw is emotional or moral.  It makes your protagonist more human, even if your protagonist is hunting vampires.

Your setting can also stretch believability. Whether it’s time travel, another planet, or an underground city, how your character reacts to it determines the reader’s acceptability. Think Hunger Games, the Twilight series, even Harry Potter. Whether it’s a story about survival, love, or magic, readers become the character.  (You did notice I didn’t mention Fifty Shades of Gray. I, personally, prefer my body parts dismembered!)

Not all readers can be dragged kicking and screaming to the “dark side.” Make it real enough so they care about the characters and you will win them over.

Sandra Tooley (S. D.) is the author of 16 cross-genre mysteries. Her Sam Casey series features a former cop who can hear the dead speak, combining mystery with paranormal. Her Chase Dagger series (written as Lee Driver) features a P.I. who is assisted by a shapeshifter, combining mystery with urban fantasy/sci-fi and sometimes horror. NIGHTFALL, the seventh in her Chase Dagger series, will be released in May and is the sequel to FULL MOON-BLOODY MOON (Book 2). THE SKULL, her only book for middle school-aged readers, is a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys-type mystery. Her books are available in hard cover, trade paperback, and eBook formats. Sandy is a recent transplant to the Hilton Head, SC area from the suburbs of Chicago. She is a member of Low Country Sisters in Crime, a chapter of the National Sisters in Crime organization for mystery writers.

May 15, 2015

Ideas For Your Fictional Characters

By Amy Hill Hearth 

The most frequent question I’m asked when I'm on book tour or lecturing at a university is––Where do the ideas for your fictional characters come from?

Often, the person asking the question is an aspiring writer who is struggling to create a main character who is believable and consistent.

Here is what I advise: Why not start by looking around you?

We have all encountered people in our lives that are memorable, intriguing, and flawed but likeable. Think of all the people you've known who had a "larger than life" personality - a teacher, neighbor, or maybe a member of your church when you were growing up. (One caveat: When writing about a real person, depending on a variety of circumstances, you may need permission. It’s always wise to check with an attorney.)  

Many authors of fiction discover that their best work is drawn from either real life experiences, their own or someone else's. For my novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society, I had only to look as far as my own mother-in-law, Jackie, who was the type of person wryly referred to as "a piece of work."

Jackie was a beautiful, opinionated, infuriating, and utterly charming woman. In 1962, long before I met her, she’d had a difficult time adjusting when her husband relocated the family from Boston to a small, sleepy Southern backwater in Florida. She managed to upset the status quo almost the moment they arrived.

Having spent the formative years of my childhood in South Carolina and my young adulthood in Florida, I had no difficulty picturing Jackie’s unfortunate (and at times hilarious) missteps, when told about them years later.  Before she passed away in 2004, she told me some of these stories. A few of them I learned from my husband (her son). My favorite - which I used as a launching point for my novel - was how in real life she started a late night radio show, which she called “Miss Dreamsville,” and scandalized the town (although by today's standards it was G-rated).

Of course, there are many fictional events and characters in my novel as well. I invented the idea that Jackie started a book club; as far as I know, she never did. The book club was necessary, however, because it gave me a sphere in which to have Jackie interact with others in the community.

As much as I love all of my characters, Jackie-the-real-person gave me a great place to start. It was she who sparked my imagination and led me to tell a much larger story.

Sometimes, inspiration is closer at hand than one might think.
Amy Hill Hearth is a New York Times Bestselling Author and an American Library Association “Notable Book" Winner. Born in New England, she spent her childhood in Columbia, South Carolina. After graduating with a B.A. in Writing/English from the University of Tampa, Amy was a newspaper reporter in Florida and New York. In 1993, she published her first book, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, an oral history of two centenarian sisters which was a New York Times Bestseller for 113 weeks, as well as a Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller. In 1995, Having Our Say was adapted for the Broadway stage and, in 1999, for an award-winning film in which Amy was portrayed by the actress Amy Madigan. Amy went on to write six more nonfiction books. In 2012, Simon & Schuster's Atria imprint published her first novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. The novel was the Simon & Schuster Book Club pick for October 2012, a Reader's Digest "Select Edition" choice for May 2013, and the January 2013 selection for Kathy L. Murphy’s 600-chapter Pulpwood Queens Book Club. Amy’s sequel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, will be published this fall. Amy’s social media links: Website: Blog: Facebook:  Twitter: @MissDreamsville

May 14, 2015

Your Book and Release Date Timing

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

The Pyramid sat empty for over 10 years on the banks of the muddy Mississippi River. It defines the Memphis, TN skyline.  It is 321 feet (about 32 stories) tall and has base sides of 591 feet.

Bass Pro Shops has redeveloped the iconic empty Pyramid into their largest corporate venue. It will be tourist and retail-sport destination. They are banking on the "must-see" opportunity with impressive views from high atop the sides of the Pyramid. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris said, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking and opportunity." Sounds like a writer talking about their work in progress. It's why we write.

How did Bass Pro Shops decide to take on this venture? In short, a really big Mississippi River catfish. A 2005 fishing trip on the Mississippi River near The Pyramid played a defining role.  Johnny Morris told fishing buddies Memphian, Bill Dance, fishing TV show host and angler, and now deceased Jack Emmitt, Bass Pro's first fishing manager, that he would build a store inside The Pyramid if they caught a 30-pound catfish. "Sure enough, with about one hour to go, (Emmitt) got a bite and caught this catfish (now on display) in the shadow of The Pyramid, and I said, 'It's a deal -- we're gonna do it,'" Morris said. As a writer can you relate? What prompted you to write your defining book?

Writers can learn a lot from the management team of Bass Pro, when it comes to timing. Book release dates are just like opening of Bass Pro at The Pyramid in Memphis, TN on April 29, 2015. Originally the store was to open in the fall of 2013 but Bass Pro knew the opening needed to have everything working correctly because they would have one shot at impressing visitors to keep them coming back and spreading the word about the venue. Over 20,000 people attended the Bass Pro Shop opening. Writers work to edit their books to perfection in order to keep readers happy. If readers are happy, they will share with their family and friends garnering new readers for a writer.

Bass Pro Shops timed their grand opening within one day of the month long celebration known as "Memphis in May." Essentially this year the Bass Pro mega store  and hotel opening unofficially kicked off Memphis in May International Festival. There is the Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, just to name a few events. It also helps the Grizzlies Basketball Team is in the midst of playoffs. Visitors abound in Memphis during the month, due to the various once a year events. Was Bass Pro's timing intentionally? You bet your Memphis BBQ ribs, it was.

As a writer, when do you think your book would have a chance of gaining the best reception? Winter, when people are snow bound? Valentine, Easter or Mothers Day? Beach or vacation time? Holidays, for gift opportunities?

Writers need to consider the type of book they are writing. Then, think of Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid. What was your "catfish" that helped you create your book? Pay attention to timing your book release to move your book into the most readers' hands. 

May 13, 2015

Surprises at a Book Signing

By Claire Fullerton

I had an unusual experience last week with a book-signing event I set up in the Northern California town where I spend part of the year. Although I am not well known in the town, I am friendly with the owner of the town’s singular bookstore, where I was scheduled for an author’s appearance heralding my second novel’s release. There are not many media outlets in this charming, tourist town, yet there is one newspaper with wide distribution that locals and tourists consider the main source of information. I wrote the paper three weeks in advance, sending my book’s description, three reviews, my bio, my book cover, and the time and date of my event.
Two days before the event, I opened the local paper and discovered there had been no mention of my pending appearance, and although I was surprised, I kept my cool. Rather than commenting on fate one way or another, I took matters into my own hands. Reaching into my satchel of promotional material, I took out the postcards I had printed with my book cover on front and description on back. In the space beneath my book’s description, I wrote, “Author book signing” with the time and place.
“I’ll be back in a little while,” I said to my husband, then I took to the streets. I passed out my postcards at the library, post office, hair salon, and went to every shop whose proprietor knows me, trusting that my enthusiasm would prove magnetic.  

On the day of the event, I displayed copies of my book beside the bookmarks I planned to give away. I stationed myself by the store’s ajar, Dutch door, and relied on Saturday foot traffic. “Welcome to “The Pilgrim’s Way,” I smiled as each patron entered, “I’m today’s guest author and my latest novel is literary fiction, set on the western coast of Ireland and entitled, “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” 
I counted on the fact that people will stop for anybody smiling and making eye contact. I also factored in that many who enter a bookstore do so without a concrete agenda; they simply want to look around because they like to read.

Four of the fourteen people who bought my book came as a result of the postcards I distributed the two days before, the rest were idle shoppers with whom I spontaneously engaged. My author appearance went so well that the owner of the bookstore offered me a job after telling me the average sale during an event was three. The lesson I learned is that an author’s belief in and enthusiasm for their book is contagious that engagement with readers is imperative, and if things go seemingly awry, an author can work creatively and achieve wonderful results.
Claire Fullerton is the author of “Dancing to an Irish Reel” (Literary Fiction) and “A Portal in Time,” (Paranormal Mystery), both from Vinspire Publishing.  She is an award winning essayist, a contributor to magazines, a five time contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, and a former newspaper columnist. Claire grew up in Memphis, TN and now lives in Malibu, CA with her husband, two German shepherds and one black cat. Currently, she is writing her third novel.