November 30, 2015

Writing About the South (Especially When it’s Not Cool to Write About the South)

By Tina Bausinger

O magnet-south! O glistening perfumed South! My South! — Walt Whitman

As Southerners, we get it.

The South will always have a lot to answer for. All those years of slavery and civil injustice don’t just go away because we wish they would. We’re working on change, and the old axiom that “change is never easy” hardly seems appropriate. The kind of change that’s needed here is the kind that tears and bleeds. It’s slower than we’d like. There aren’t any good excuses.

What does that mean for Southern writers? Are we supposed to ignore this idea, this identity?  Do we let everybody else paint us, or are we allowed to pick up the brush?
The first step to resolving problems is to acknowledge them, and a good place to do that is in writing.  Who knows better the beauty and tragedy of the South than those who have come from here?
But there is a way to write about the South as a setting without reverting to stereotypes.  It has to do with balance.

If we wax too far nostalgic, we risk a fake, Gone With the Wind mentality that attempts to gloss over the sins of our past and romanticize the way things used to be. Remaining in the past is one issue the South struggles with.

However, if we lean too far to the punishment side of the compass, anything we write will come across as too preachy or politically correct.

I think we just have to remain authentic to our characters, to our history, to ourselves. Honesty and integrity in writing go a long way in appealing to readers and good storytelling.  Perfection is never the answer.
So write your characters Southern if you want to. But color them with different crayons.  Give them both flaws and assets.
Place your setting in the South, but focus on both its beauty as well as its danger.

Write about racism, sexism, or ageism if you wish—but don’t stop there.

Don’t forget the beauty of a Southern sunrise, or the smile of a stranger.

Write about the difficulty a Southern woman encounters when rising up through the ranks, but also portray the charm of a Southern gentleman.  

It’s quite a complex dance.

A perfect example of achieving this balance is Toni Morrison’s work. She doesn’t shirk from the ugly, and somehow she manages to lead you along with her lovely words until you realize your heart is ripped right out of your chest and you’re not even sure when it happens.

That’s how you write about the South.

Tina Coleman Bausinger has a Master’s degree in English and is the author of War Eagle Women, a Southern gothic novel. She’s a contributing writer in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, publishing in two of their books--Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad: 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love, and Good Times and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance, and Endorphins. She writes features, travel pieces and book reviews for IN Magazine, the Tyler Paper, and enjoys blogging at . She teaches English Composition at a local junior college. She lives in Tyler, Texas with her husband, three kids, a bully Chihuahua and a German shepherd with anxiety issues.
Contact Tina on any of her pages. Facebook: or Pinterest.

November 27, 2015

Remember the Meat Fork When Writing

By Barbara Lohr

One of the challenges writers face is how to keep readers turning the pages. The end of each chapter needs a provocative hook and for me, that's often added in the editing process. Some writers might automatically dribble enticing breadcrumbs. Not me. I have to work at those final words for each chapter. Enter the meat fork.

Since my novel Finding Southern Comfort involves a little girl with an eating problem, some pivotal scenes involve food. In her new job as nanny in Cameron Bennett's Savannah mansion, Harper Kirkpatrick attempts to cook Sunday dinner for her employer and his girlfriend, the insufferable Kimmy. But smoke sends Harper flying to her crockpot. When her charge Bella asks if Harper is going to burn the house down, Kimmy comments, "She just might, sugga." Was that enough to make readers stay with the story? Harper helped me out and picked up the meat fork.

Every chapter benefits from a compelling ending. Suspense writers know all about that. The main character of Into the Roaring Fork by Jeff Howe is hiking through the wild on a mission when he stumbles upon a horrifyingly riveting sight. "I blinked to check my eyes, which confirmed that I was wide awake and what was happening was real. Hauntingly real."

Now, what reader is going to turn off the light and go to sleep? But the POV changes in the next chapter. We keep turning pages. After all, our hero is haunted.

He's in good company. Cecelia in Liane Moriarity's The Husband's Secret is sleepless after she discovers a sealed letter to be opened only after her husband's death. Awakened by his bumbling around in the attic after she's asked about her curious discovery, she promptly slits the letter open and reads, "Left to right. Sentence by sentence." But we don't. Readers have to wait. How annoying and delightfully skillful.

Withholding information piques interest. In The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins ends a scene in which Rachel wonders if a ginger-haired man is smiling or sneering at her. What great ambiguity. Also known as foreshadowing, the ambiguity raises a question we want answered. To keep your readers reading, it helps to keep them guessing.

Probably the last thing we want is have the character go to bed at the end of the chapter. Sure, we've all done it. But if your character's calling it a day, your reader might also turn out the light. Let's not put characters to bed unless they have an interesting dream sequence or something else to ponder while they're lying there.

Brevity can be as effective as the meat fork for keeping readers engaged. If your scene runs long, break it. Short chapters keep readers reading. They figure they can handle five more pages, but not fifteen.

Do you have a meat fork in your writing arsenal? Keep readers guessing and they'll keep turning pages.
Barbara Lohr writes heartwarming romance with a flair for fun and subtly sexy love scenes. In her novels, feisty women take on hunky heroes and life’s issues. Family often figures in her stories. “No woman falls in love without some family influence, either positive or negative.” Her series include Windy City Romance, which includes jaunts to Savannah and Italy, and Man from Yesterday, which launched in 2015. Dark chocolate is her favorite food group, and she makes a mean popover. When she's not writing, she loves to bike, kayak or golf. She is a member of Romance Writers of America. Barbara lives in the South for most of the year with her husband and a cat that insists he was Heathcliff in a former life. For more information on the author and her work, please see , , @BarbaraJLohr

November 26, 2015

How Do You Keep Writing When Disturbing Events Occur?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States and I'm thankful to be writing, again. 

I was writing a chase scene in my "work in progress" book when I learned of the coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris on November 13, 2015. Like 9/11, it was an ordinary day with no indication of the terror that was going to be felt throughout the world. As was the rest of the world, I was glued to my television, watching the coverage as it unfolded. I was struck by the horror of the event and deeply saddened by the senseless loss of life. I stopped writing. I prayed, checked on my husband and adult children. In my mind, I began "circling my wagons," not out of fear but as a coping mechanism. I was trying to make sure my immediate world was safe and protected for now. Clearly, a naive response since anyone's world can be changed in an instant by a previously unforeseen event. I am prayerfully thankful for their safety now. 

My friend Lauren, coped by packing up her family and animals retreating to their "get away from the city." A place on a quiet river for just the weekend. She desired to get away temporarily from the 24/7 barrage of news, filled with the terror of the events. She wanted to concentrate on the beauty of a crisp fall day on the river with her family. Lauren is thankful. 

A Memphis mom flew to Paris to be with her injured daughter in Paris after she was shot. At 23, she was living her dream in Paris. My heart goes out to her and her parents and the terror they are experiencing, but as her dad explained in an interview, "the young woman that was next to her is in a coffin." This statement is jolting in its rawness, but it is the wise perspective of this family's reality. This Memphis family temporarily in Paris is thankful.  

Much like 9/11 in the weeks and months to come, stories of the terrorists, victims, and heroes will emerge. My mind knows the world is filled with beauty, light, hope and goodness but after sudden and unforeseen events in our lives and the world, how do we get back to our "new normal?" How do we get back to writing?

For me, I returned to writing on Sunday, November 15, 2015 after seeing "The New Yorker's" cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz. It brought tears to my eyes because it touched a "chord of normalcy." If you are familiar with the children's book set in Paris, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, you will never forget the cadence of his words as he tellsMadeline's story. I've read that story a zillion times to my children when they were littler, and the world was safer. I know the rhythm and words by heart. We even made up our own Memphis version of that story filling it with personal references to our lives. This Parisian story is personal to me and my family. I am thankful for the story by Ludwig Bemelmans.  

Cartoonist Schwartz tweaked the words ever so slightly as a reflection of the November 13th events. 

"In an old house in Paris that is covered with vines, live twelve little girls whose country still shines."

The familiar rhyme that was "adjusted" and reminds me life goes on after "your world goes crazy." Getting back to a normal routine after a "scary event" is the theme throughout the Madeline  book. 

As a writer, your words can have the power to help people cope in times of crisis. I wonder if Ludwig Bemelmans, ever dreamed his words would help the world cope after such disturbing events occurred in his beloved Paris.

Author Melissa Tagg posted this facebook picture and an uplifting status post. I'm thankful for author, Melissa Tagg's letting us use her Paris mug with her Peace teabag photo for this post.

So I ask you on this Thanksgiving Day, when reflecting on thankful blessings in your life, "how do YOU keep writing when disturbing events occur?" 

November 25, 2015

On Giving an Author's Speech

By Claire Fullerton

I was recently invited to give a speech at The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, in Pacific Grove, California. An acquaintance of mine, whom I met at one of my book signings, is the museum’s Director of Public Relations. He thought the invitation would avail a great opportunity for me to talk about my two novels, one of which is a paranormal mystery set in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea. After I jumped at the invitation, I started considering the audience. It would be an erudite group, interested in local history, which implied I better show up with dates and historic facts. But these are not elements in my paranormal mystery, and neither are they essential in my literary milieu. As I pondered my predicament, something occurred to me: anyone who makes a plan to suit up and attend an author’s event is interested in writing. They are somewhere on the path between aspiration and fulfillment in their own writing career, and therefore would like to hear an author articulate their findings along the road to publication and perhaps elaborate on their writing process and attendant lifestyle. I therefore decided to make my speech less about my books and more about encouragement along the road to publication.

I freely admit I am not an organized speaker. There are those who draft an outline and hit its notes in a planned cadence, but I’ve never been the sort to do well when boxed in. I need wiggle room and natural flow. I need to feel I’m in a conversation, as opposed to giving a lecture. I want to feel I’m contributing something of value in give- and- take forum, even if I’m the only one talking. And because I grew up in Memphis, when in front of an audience, I feel the need to employ Southern hospitality. Keeping this in mind, after the museum’s director introduced me from behind a podium, I thanked him for the nice introduction, ignored the podium, and pulled up a chair in front of the audience, the better for us all to feel at home.

I shared notes on the rewarding dynamic that has built my writing career: the push and pull that began with an intuitive whisper suggesting I should write something, for no other reason than the whisper wouldn’t leave me alone and was starting to bother me, in that way unutilized potential does, until it takes up square residency and won’t go away. I outlined the steps I took on the road to the publication of my first novel, which included my own newspaper column, contributions to magazines, and multiple publications in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, followed by a complete leap of faith in the draft of my first novel. I said that in my opinion, the act of writing is not so much about ambition as it is about the need to share my impressions of the business of living; that to me, it’s a prompting worth following, for no other reason than one feels compelled. But writing is a lonely business and one has to be okay with being in it alone. Writing is also about commitment, for one has to decide every day whether to be directed by self-discipline or self-doubt. Then there is the tendency to measure oneself against other writers, which is a complete waste of time. One has to write for the sake of writing, which brought me around to my most salient point.

When I think about art for art’s sake, I think of writing. If one is comfortable doing the task for its own sake, then I believe there are mysterious, uncanny forces that guide a writer onward in increments, until the sheer act of perseverance creates a body of work. When this happens, a writer can make a choice about what to do with it, keeping in mind that few writers ever definitively arrive, that there is no there to get to, and that there are only the stepping stones along the way of what becomes their writing career. A writer’s career creates itself if one holds true and stays the course. It is alchemical magic, the result that manifests from making repeated offerings via the written word and the bravery it takes to share.

After my speech, I invited questions. It was a half hour of unscripted banter, something of which an author cannot prepare. What I learned from the evening concerns the power of good intentions. If an author arrives in the spirit of helpfulness, with the intention of sharing their findings as encouragement and is willing to tell their story, then there is no need to be anxious before an audience and everything turns out better than if it had been planned.   
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, and now divides her time between Malibu and Carmel, CA with her husband and two German shepherds. She has recently completed her third novel, which is a Southern family saga set in Memphis. 

November 24, 2015

Does Your Book Have A Message?

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

Every writer has an opportunity to influence not only his/her community but also the world.

When a writer puts words to paper, those thoughts are like the “rocks” we fling out into the water that cause ripple effects. The ripples just keep enlarging.

We never know who is going to read something we’ve written. For the most part, we never know the influence the words will have.

We are impacting our culture whether we realize it or not. The quote, "The pen is mightier than the sword” is a metonymy adage (short figure of speech). English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the sentence in 1839 for his play Richelieu.

When we are writing our books, it is important to know the audience––whom do we want to read our book?

I believe if we are fortunate enough to be a writer, that we have a responsibility to be mindful of our words to make sure we target the right audience.

I think sometimes we forget how powerful words are. I know I do.

This was brought home to me recently when I received a thank you note, from someone I don’t know. She took the time to write me after reading my book, Storms in Life, and thanked me for writing it. She specifically elaborated on how it helped her and the impact it had. She continued with letting me know she was getting a copy for a close friend of hers who was going through a tough time. She said she would also be sharing it with others.

I was humbled, to be sure, yet a realism hit me that as a writer, when I put those words to paper I am responsible for them in terms of the impact they will have on someone. It was an inspirational book and I wanted people who are going through hard times to know they can get through the storms that come into their lives. That it wasn’t hopeless.

Had I written a mystery, I would have needed to be clear in my mind how my words would impact that audience who likes mysteries. Was there a message I wanted to convey? Was there something of importance I wanted them to take away from reading the book? These things help make our books memorable.

I still remember messages from books I read in the 80’s. The impact they had on my life, my situation, my thinking and me. I even remember the author’s names.

As in life, we need to be mindful of our words. Are they words that will help the reader in their situation? Are they words that will give the reader enjoyment? Will they give them a much-needed break from their lives?

When I was younger, I heard a woman tell her friend that she chose certain movies to go to because they gave her a different world for a couple of hours. That for those two hours she didn’t have to worry about her situation.

For me, I believe God placed me where I am, and gave me the words to write in that book for such a time as that person needed to read it.

Write with purpose. Don't let your words be silent.

November 23, 2015

Get Feedback, Publicity, and Pre-Orders with a Contest!

By Kimberly Rae

We authors are always looking for ways to get the word out about our books. Marketing opportunities abound for writers willing to spend money, though from what I've heard, most of them do not end up being worth the investment. Social media is free, but requires an investment of time and, like so many other possibilities, the effort can end up costing more than the end result.

So what is an author to do? Most of us are learning through trial and error as the publishing, writing and marketing world continues to change in vast ways. I've tried several that flopped, but I recently tried one that not only provided free exposure and publicity, but resulted in actual sales. Here's how it worked:

My newest novel, Shredded,  recently released, but I could not decide on a cover image. I had posted both covers on Facebook and gotten lots of opinions, some of them very strong in one direction or the other. I've done so before and the results were always strongly in favor of one, making the choice easy. For this book, the results were nearly equal. Some people's opinions were so strong, I was concerned if I chose the opposite cover, they wouldn't want to buy the book.

Fortunately for me, my concerns resulted in a profitable idea. I decided to run a cover contest. Over a 
set course of time, readers could pre-order Shredded, choosing whichever of the two covers they liked best. When the time frame was up, the cover with the most orders would be the one chosen as the final cover for Shredded.

It was interesting, when it came down to actual orders, readers were much more in favor of one cover rather than the other. So the contest not only provided pre-orders and a reason for people to share about the book, it also gave me valuable feedback on what my actual readers liked better (rather than just random people commenting on Facebook).

To do the contest, I created images on Photoshop that I used in my Mailchimp newsletter and on Facebook. One image showed the two covers and explained the contest.

Other images shared endorsements by pre-readers or reminded people how many days were left in the contest. I also included a giveaway within the contest as extra motivation.

All in all, the contest proved a great way to share about the new book and get readers excited about it. They got to order the cover they wanted, felt they had a say in choosing the cover (which they did!), and I think didn't feel as you're-trying-to-sell-me-a-book as they might have with many other marketing methods.

You might want to give it a try. Perhaps a contest will prove as useful and positive a tool for you as it did for me!


Award-winning author of 20 books, Kimberly Rae lived in Bangladesh, Kosovo, Uganda and Indonesia before Addison's disease brought her permanently back to the US. She now writes from her home at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she lives with her husband and two young children. With her trilogy on human trafficking, Rae has become a sought-after speaker and trainer on the topic. Recognizing the lack of books about slavery and trafficking that focus on those who are making a difference rather than glorifying the evil or being overly graphic or despairing, she has also since created a series on modern day slavery for teens and pre-teens (Capturing Jasmina, Buying Samir, and Seeking Mother), and is currently working on a project for adults to help train children to recognize and avoid childhood sexual abuse (I AM SAFE), a major risk factor in childhood and adult exploitation. Since Addison's disease brought her permanently back to the US, Kimberly's created a series on living joyfully despite chronic health problems. Though Rae could find deep, heavy books on chronic illness, she wanted a book that was funny and encouraging. When she could not find one, one night when she couldn't sleep from her medication, she started writing one! "I want my Sick & Tired series to give empathy, encouragement, and a little practical help," says Rae.Find out more at

November 20, 2015

My Writing Crystal

By Ashley Scheller

To be new at writing can be both exciting and intimidating. I can say with confidence my journey to becoming a new author has been long but also worthwhile.

 I penned my first rough draft of my debut novel back in high school. I would write a bit, let it sit for a month and repeated this process. When I went to college in the fall of 2005, I didn’t write anymore, I was too busy, I didn’t have the time. Then in 2013, years after graduating, I revisited my manuscript.

I think my mistake was trying to write when I didn’t have the ambition or the patience I needed.   I would have made the time to write if it had been important to me.  Saying you don’t have the time is one of the hardest excuses to break. It’s also one of the most popular excuses people use.

I believe a writing habit has to be developed.  You have to train yourself to complete the page, or to get that one sentence scribbled on paper, to meet a word count. Creating any good habit– writing, eating well or getting into an exercise routine is a process. Start small and work up.

When I started, I’d write for short periods.  Now, hours of writing pass, to the point my husband wonders if I’m ever going to stop and eat.

For me, productivity is being there for family and/or friends while completing my writing goals each day.  We each have to determine our own goals of productivity.

I do know, however, that novel isn’t going anywhere until I  sit down and get to work.

Ashley Scheller has always liked creating. Currently residing in Omaha with her family, if she isn’t sewing costumes inspired from medieval times or anime characters she is writing. Passionate about both hobbies, she loves to connect with fellow costumers and writers through social media. The Wielder Diaries: My Crystal is her first book and has planned an exciting trilogy for the title.

November 19, 2015

Creating the New Norm

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Recent news coverage, talk shows and the like have brought to my attention the phrase "the new norm”. To think on some of the things described as the new norm or new standard can be very alarming¸ frightful even depressing. To think that if our only expectations were to think this is normal could be discouraging but if used in a positive hopeful manner could be amazing.

Then I thought how a writer may use this new standard, this “new norm”, as a tool in your writing. Something seen as unthinkable or uncommon in the past is now considered common. I first thought what if we had seen this coming and used it as a theme some years ago could our readers have wrapped their minds around it. Well why not attempt that now? Why not take a look at all the norms today, change them and make that the new norm in the future. Has that ever been done?

I would have to say yes it has many times. We recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future. A great deal of time was spent on searching for things in the movie that were farfetched 30 years ago but are common place today. Dehydrated food was one. Rehydrated pizza was enjoyed by the McFly family. At that time dehydrated food was uncommon unless you were an Astronaut and NASA had you in orbit. Today you can order a year’s supply of dehydrated food for a family from your local Costco. We have yet to have anything as complex as pizza but there are many choices.

One of the many things referred to in the movie dealt with electronics. Wireless computer games, hand held computers or pads and ones obsession with all things digital. Spot on! And of course the big item is the Hover Board. Yes, even though they are few and far between, there are hover boards today. We can’t overlook the flying car, compost fuel aka bio-gas, or performance enhancers in sports. Today performance enhancers in sports tend to be drugs and not a pitchers bionic arm as in the movie. All exist though none are common place but they served their purpose in the movie.  

We must also acknowledge things they got wrong. The Cubbies will not win a World Series by 2015 especially against a Florida MLB team. Due to her unfortunate early demise Lady Diana will not be Queen Diana. We won’t have a Female President by 2015 nor do we have Pontiac dealerships. Last but definitely not least the Fax machine is not the most efficient way to communicate today.

The point to all this? As a writer you don’t have to be correct. You don’t have to use an existing standard nor a believable standard. You can create the “new norm” that fits your story, or helps your character along the way. We all have thought of things that if existed would be useful. We all have thought of things that no longer exist and the hardship without them.. We all have thought of a new order existing that was encouraging, hopeful and peaceful. These things a writer can use.

So give it some thought, there are no limits. Bring us the next Hover Board of the Future. We are waiting.                  

November 18, 2015

Polishing the Stone

By Lisa Asenato

How does one transfer thoughts, emotions and passion from their heart to the page in a publishable manner?  That is the question I hope to answer today.

I have been writing for a little over thirteen years, and one of the most important things I have learned is that the process cannot happen in a vacuum. 

When writing, we sometimes chip away at a scene word by painful word, or we hit a beautiful stride and the words are flowing and the story is magically popping onto the screen before our very eyes.  As the artist placing each noun and verb in its appropriate place, we sometimes lose our ability to critically judge our own work.

We may think it is simply not working, or we may believe it is perfection, the next NYT bestseller.   As much as I strive for the latter, I have found I am often not in a place to determine whether or not the story is working and flowing as much as I might think I can.

That is where the value of a good critique group comes in.  For me, my critique group is not a luxury but an absolute necessity.  I am fortunate enough to belong to a group of published professionals representing many mainstream genres.  This provides a sense of balance with each piece of fiction written.

Our group consists of 12 members, although all do not come every time we meet.  We are all pursuing publication, not just writing for self-fulfillment, which tends to make critiquing the manuscript easier and more cohesive.

We meet on a regular basis, twice a month.  Our leader is not only brilliant, but fantastic at keeping us on task and enforcing the rules.  We do not deviate during a critique to other topics.  The person whose work is being critiqued cannot speak.  They must only listen, and apply those changes to their manuscript as they see appropriate. Only constructive and specific comments are allowed.  We also do not bring the same chapter or scene twice.  We bring it once, have it critiqued and move on. We usually do not bring more than 2500 words unless we are trying to get something out for a contest or a deadline.  We have other rules which are strictly enforced, but rather than providing an atmosphere of inflexibility, the structure provides an excellent place to learn and think.

If you do not have a critique group in your area, perhaps you can start one yourself?  Gather some genre writers together, forge rules you believe will work best, or feel free to use our rules, and begin to meet. 

Your work will evolve, becoming smoother and cleaner. The dead weight will be eliminated, the plot and motivation will be sharpened, and the story will shine in a way you envisioned it.  You will also find yourself staying on task more during your working hours as you will want to have your 2500 words to bring to your next critique group meeting.
Lisa Asenato would be delighted to visit your bookstore, library, or function to read, speak, and/or sign copies of her newest release, “Pirate by Night”.  Lisa is from beautiful and often snowy, upstate New York, and is a lover of romance, happy endings, and her Creator.  She is published in both fiction and non-fiction and loves to encourage those who are also seeking publication. Her latest novel, “Pirate by Night.” Social Media Information: Website: Email: Facebook:  Lisa Asenato, Author of Inspirational Historical Romance

November 17, 2015

Epilogue, the Underdog

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

While watching the new James Bond movie this weekend, I was reminded of a storytelling trick that is used repeatedly, especially in action movies. After the climactic face-to-face battle between the hero and the antagonist comes to a close, the dust settles on a lingering distant shot, the music resolves, and the screen fades to black.  You know from experience that there's one more scene to come.  But the black lasts longer than you would expect . . . long enough to make you wonder if indeed it is the end and the credits are about to roll. 

When the closing scene did eventually rise up, I thought, "Ah, you got me again."  But, as always, I was glad to see it.

Whether we're kept in suspense waiting for it or not, the epilogue is reassuring in its familiarity, and a chance to give the audience time to recover from a big finish before they jump out of their seats and head to the car.  More importantly, from a storytelling standpoint, it's their chance to assess what they've just experienced and learn what it means to the characters and the world they live in.

Getting fancy, the epilogue is known in some circles as the denouement, meaning "the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot."  It's all about cause and effect. When something happens, we are inherently curious to know the result.

The epilogue is exactly where you'll see the other end of the character arc our hero's been through. With that in mind, you're doing yourself a favor if you anticipate what an ideal epilogue for your story would be, and put the means in place as you write everything that precedes.

Some authors dismiss the epilogue as being too cliché.  However, bringing a story to an abrupt ending without providing the aftermath is like taking the reader on a journey and not giving them a ride back.

So really, the big finish isn't really the finish at all.  That final confrontation is only a momentary thrill. The real takeaway is what it means once it has taken place.

As Dune author Frank Herbert said, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” Providing a closer that leaves readers with a satisfying sense of the aftermath is the secret to making ends meet.

November 16, 2015

The Myth of Writer’s Block

By Kathi Daley

People often write to me asking how I deal with certain aspects of the writing process. One of the most popular questions I’ve been asked has to do with writer’s block and how I deal with it. The reality is I don’t have to deal with writer’s block because I don’t believe in it.

Don’t get me wrong—there are days when I feel uninspired, and there’s at least one point in every book I write when I feel stuck, but if I allowed myself to give in to the luxury of being blocked I never would have been able to write 32 books in the 24 months I’ve been a writer.

So what do I do when I’m stuck? I write. There are days when I write an entire paragraph filled with “I’m so stuck, so very, very stuck”—yes, those actual words—but I’ve found that as long as I keep writing the nonsense starts to make sense and from the rubbish magic appears.

Another method I at times employ is to let the character in the book I’m writing be as stuck as I am. I then team up with the character to work out the direction of the book. When I was writing Hopscotch Homicide, I was quite a ways into the book and had no idea who the killer was or where to go with the story. I was scribbling on my notepad, making little happy faces and asking myself the obvious questions, such as who did it and why. I decided to have my character, Zoe, mimic my movement, and the text below is the end result.

(Text below is from the book; Zoe is narrating the passage late at night.)

Who killed Mrs. Brown?
I looked at the question for several minutes without anything coming to mind.
Why was Mrs. Brown at the school the day she was murdered?
I tapped my pen on the pad at least a hundred times. Then I drew a happy face, as well as a few random squiggles.
Why was Mrs. Brown making a huge pot of hamburger gravy?
This last one should be solvable. There were most likely only limited answers. The correct answer might lead to the killer. Unless some random person happened along and killed Mrs. Brown on impulse, the killer had to have known she would be at the school that day. It seemed likely the person or persons she was making the gravy for would know she planned to use the school kitchen to make the large batch, ergo, the person the gravy was intended for was the killer.
Long shot? Maybe. But at this point it was all I had to go on.
I clicked my pen open and closed. I drew a series of random shapes on my tablet. I was really, really stuck.
I looked at Charlie. He glared at me. It was obvious he thought it was time for us to be in bed. And he was right. I was getting nowhere.
“Are you ready to go back up?” I asked Charlie.
He lifted his head and wagged his tail.
“I’m really losing my edge,” I complained. “Maybe I do have too much going on and there really isn’t room left in my brain for sleuthing.”

So in answer to the question: “How do you deal with writer’s block?” I just keep on writing.
Kathi Daley lives with her husband, kids, grandkids, and Bernese mountain dogs in beautiful Lake Tahoe. When she isn’t writing, she likes to read (preferably at the beach or by the fire), cook (preferably something with chocolate or cheese), and garden (planting and planning, not weeding). She also enjoys spending time on the water when she’s not hiking, biking, or snowshoeing the miles of desolate trails surrounding her home. Kathi uses the mountain setting in which she lives, along with the animals (wild and domestic) that share her home, as inspiration for her cozy mysteries. Kathi has been a top 100 mystery writer for Amazon for over a year and she won the 2014 award for both Best Cozy Mystery Author and Best Cozy Mystery Series. She currently writes four series: Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery, Whales and Tails Mystery, Tj Jensen Paradise Lake Mysteries, and Seacliff High Teen Mystery. Stay up to date with her newsletter, The Daley Weekly. Kathi Daley Blog: publishes each Friday  Facebook at Kathi Daley Books
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November 13, 2015

The Joys of Designing a Cover for Your Novel

By Ann Mock

Have you ever finished reading a book only to return to the cover and discover that the special dress the heroine is wearing is the wrong color? Or the bearded hero is depicted as clean shaven? And bald!  Oh no!

As a reader I am always frustrated when the cover fails to reflect the story, characters, or setting of the novel I am reading. What can the author do to avoid this mistake? In some cases the author has no voice in cover design. At times the cover even exists before the manuscript is completed. In other cases, however, the author can provide input. In such instances, the author should take full advantage of the opportunity to participate in the cover’s design.

After I finished my manuscript, The Union of the North and the South, one of my greatest joys was ensuring my cover accurately reflected its story, characters and setting.  I even went so far as to place a scene in my novel that was reflected on the cover. I provided my artist with specific images—regal oak trees draped with Spanish moss, a paddle-wheeler steaming up a meandering Mississippi River, and a heroine wearing a beautiful lavender dress with her hair fixed just so. The Internet makes it simple to search widely and quickly, enabling the author to provide the artist/design team with exactly what the author envisions.          

Another helpful idea for the author is to work closely with the artist/design team. My cover designers even suggested a wraparound cover so I could show the Mississippi River with a steamboat as well as a Southern mansion behind my couple.  The artist skillfully captured the beauty of the trees, which I described on pages 26-27. “The sorrow that filled her heart over the loss of her father deepened as she took in the regal oaks stretching their long branches in the breeze around the front porch.  The Spanish moss blew gently in the wind as some of the majestic branches of the great live oaks rested on the ground below.”

One thing to remember is that details on the cover are as important as details in the manuscript. I tried, for example, to incorporate a cupola on the roof of my mansion since I had a special scene in the novel that took place there. The reader would have been upset to look at the cover and see the Southern home without a cupola.

Designing a cover that truly mirrors your story, characters, and setting is the crowning glory for any novel.  A good cover piques the interest of potential readers, helps with sales, and leaves the reader with a feeling that the author played a major role in creating the cover design.  Having a beautiful cover makes a novel complete because the cover reflects the story through the eyes of the reader.
Ann Mock’s first novel, The Union of the North and the South,received five-star recognition by Readers’ Favorite and received Honorable Mention from Readers' Favorite book award contest in the Romance/Christian category in 2015. She lives in Florida with her husband Dave and her faithful companion, Happy.  She enjoys ballroom dancing, and cruising on oceans and rivers in both Europe and the United States. Some of her favorite trips were on Mississippi steamboats that visited many of the areas mentioned in this book. The Union of the North and South is available on Amazon in print, Kindle, Nook, and iBook and as an audio-book through Amazon, and iTunes.