May 31, 2016

In the Summertime

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Down here in the South, most students have just wrapped up their school year and begun their summer vacation.  Up North, many kids are still hitting the books, and will continue to well into June.  Officially, the calendar says the first day of Summer is June 20th.  But the days have been hot and summery enough lately that many Southerners consider Memorial Day Weekend the start of the sunny solstice.

"Summertime and the livin' is easy," said George and Ira Gershwin (actually, it was DuBose Heyward, the author of Porgy, the novel on which Porgy and Bess was based).  Regardless of whether your daddy's rich and your mama's good lookin', there are plenty of folks who dispute Porgy's sentiment because Summer often means juggling even more things than usual.

It's not necessarily bad stuff, just more stuff.  We tend to fill our summers with as much as we can, hoping to make up for all the months when we've worked so hard, feeling like this is the only chance we have to do the things we don't have enough time for. 

Which brings me to the question, did you make any writing resolutions back in January?  Did you pledge to write a page a day?  500 words a day?  More importantly, have you been successful?  I've pondered that very subject with a number of authors lately, and, like me, most of them were faithful to their goals for at least a week.

As honorable people, we make it a point to live up to the promises we make to others.  Commitments we make to ourselves, however, are too easy to break, since no one's around to punish us.  But don't we do just that, with feelings of disappointment in ourselves, regret, and lost opportunity?  If we had started on that novel in January and kept at it for the last 150 days, even a 500-word goal would mean 75,000 words under our belt today.

Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day.  Julia Cameron shoots for three pages, roughly 750 words.  Your own mileage will vary, as it should, and you might do well to start small.  On those days when you surprise yourself because you've written 3,000 words, you'll know you've gotten back your groove.

To those authors who manage to write two or more books a year, I'm preaching to the choir.  I don't know how you do it, but I love you for being a source of hope for the rest of us.

500 words a day is an easy task when you're having fun.  As a matter of fact, this blog post is exactly 500 words long. 

As you enthusiastically make your other plans for the summer, I encourage you to include a recommitment to (or the initiation of) your writing resolution. Remember how important writing is to you and how good it would feel to get your book written by December 31st.

Then your resolution for 2017 could be all about your next book.

May 30, 2016

Surviving the Day Job while Writing and Promoting

By Kristi Bradley

It’s not easy being a writer. It takes the three Ds…dedication, discipline and determination.

It’s also not easy transitioning a short story into a full-length length novel. If you’re like me and work a full-time job, it cuts into your writing time, so you’ve got to MAKE time. I may wake at four a.m., write until time to get ready for work, give up the lunch hour, work late into the night, and suffer chronic back ache from lugging my laptop everywhere in case I find time to write.

FREE time is now WRITING time.

Sleep? Phffft. Who needs sleep?

My first novel, Mysta, a paranormal romantic suspense, is due for release soon from Dark Oak Press. It started as, Mist, a short but tragic love story set in Celtic times. It haunted me constantly. “This isn’t finished,” my dead characters insisted. So I sat down at the keyboard, and low and behold, it wasn’t finished. My 5,000 word short slowly turned into a 90,000 word novel. Mist and her lover were reincarnated into modern times. Mysta must battle the demi-god seeking revenge for her role in its condemnation to the Underworld centuries prior. Finally I typed the words, The End…for now anyway.

But the game has changed now that I’m so close to publication.

It’s time to promote.

An introvert’s worst nightmare.

How the heck am I supposed to promote when all my extra time is spent writing?

I won’t sugar coat it. It’s not easy. You have to put yourself “Out There.” Bottom line, it comes down to organization and planning. Utilize whatever resources you can. Talk to people. Offer yourself as sacrificial book club speaker…whatever it takes. Get your name, or brand, “Out There.” Social media is at our fingertips. There is no excuse. Choose one, choose them all, but make an appearance and keep in contact. Don’t overdo the promotion either and make people sick of you. That defeats the purpose. I’m currently only using Facebook, but hope to expand soon. Whether traditionally or self-published, all authors must promote themselves. Get past the freak-out and become the organizational mutant you might normally make fun of. Put a plan in motion and stick with it.

And keep writing.


I have to promote the first book while I write the next?

Yep. Reorganize your schedule. Then rearrange again. And again if necessary. If you plan posts far enough ahead, it won’t take long to plug in a post, or ten, in minutes. Again, plan ahead. Cut and paste, baby. Set aside an allotted amount of time for promo work daily or weekly and then get back to writing.

If you really want to get your work “Out There,” you’ll figure out a way. With the three Ds, you can balance the day job, the writing and the promotion. It won’t be easy, but so worth the sacrifice.

Good luck!
Kristi Bradley was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, she disappeared into parts unknown after a brief marriage to a wanna-be-crime lord, lived under an alias while gaining self-defense and weapons training, only to re-emerge as a seemingly normal wife, mother of three, step-mother of one, grandmother of three, owned by three dogs and three cats, lots of threes to thwart questions about her suspicious past. She performs the duties of Vice President for Malice in Memphis Mystery/Suspense Writers Group and writes and paints her own versions of reality. You can find her short stories Murder in Midtown and Voodoo Village in the anthology Bluff City Mysteries published by Dark Oak Press. Another Bluff City anthology is in the works in which her ghost stories Rainbow Lake and A Haunting in Midtown will appear. Her short story Un-a-Were has been accepted for publication in the Carpe Noctem:  Truly, Madly, Deeply anthology to be released in 2016 by Charon Coin Press, and her first full-length novel, the paranormal romantic suspense Mysta is soon to be released by Dark Oak Press. She’d appreciate it if you would give her author page a LIKE on Facebook. She’d hate to have to hunt you down...

May 27, 2016

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!

By Cheryl St.John

In Do it Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, Mark Forster says, “I have coached quite a few PhD students over the years. They often come to me because they got stuck over writing their thesis. The first question I usually ask them is, ‘How long since you last did any work on your thesis?’ The answer is usually weeks ago, months ago or even in extreme cases years ago. I tell them the reason they are stuck is they haven’t done anything, not the other way around.”

Sometimes when we say we’re stuck, we’re just not doing anything! We got to a point where we didn’t know where to go and we stopped. We might have talked about our predicament. We have certainly thought about it. But how many steps have we actually taken to do something about it?

When you’re stalled out, you have to do something. If your car stops, you don’t just sit there and think about the problem. You don’t simply call a friend and tell him so he can sympathize with you. No, you call either a tow truck or your husband/wife to come get you–or you get out and walk. Maybe you even have to push the pile of bolts out of the middle of the road. When your story stalls, either call a tow truck and fork out for repairs or get out and walk. But do something. No matter how big, how small, or how relevant to your story, do something. Then repeat that or try something else the next day. Keep at it all the way, until you know where you’re going again—even if that’s not until the last chapter or the last page.

Sometimes getting through the difficult middle chapters takes a lot of rusty or wooden writing before anything-halfway golden takes shape. It ain’t the Mona Lisa, baby. Nobody gets better at anything without practice or without screwing up numerous times. The great news is: Crappy words on the page aren’t going to kill anyone. Imagine what the Mona Lisa looked like when old Leonardo first sketched it on the canvas. Suppose his internal critic thought, “Whoo-ee, this broad is u-gly. I’ll never make her look the way I see her in my mind?”

It’s our pride and vanity that doesn’t let us break loose and write freely.  And sometimes it’s laziness that doesn’t let us put words on paper.

So, you make up your mind not to sit in that stalled car, and you jump-start it. I’m not a big fan of exercises that don’t apply to my story or of writing many words that I’m not going to use, but everyone is different, and sometimes something out of the ordinary is what it takes.

* Write a short biography of the characters.
* Write a monologue.
* Write a scene with another character.
* Write dialogue that reveals a secret.
* Go on a date with your character and write the dialogue.
* Jump ahead and write a scene that you do know.
* Watch a movie. Note plot points and figure out why it worked for you.
* If books inspire you, read a book.

Same principles as the movie watching apply. Better yet if it’s a favorite book, and you already know the scenes and dialogue inspires you and reach your emotions. Sometimes you just need to be emotional to write. I’m not saying hormonal, God forbid, but emotional. A story is feelings. Remember what these characters make you feel. Remember the feelings you want to get across. Make notes. Jot down snips of dialogue that occur to you.

* Make a list of words while you’re at it. Grab a dictionary or a thesaurus or take notes during a movie. Make a list of interesting words you’re going to use and work them into your next scene.

Do whatever it takes to move forward. Do something!
Cheryl St.John is the author of over fifty novels, both historical and contemporary, print and indie published. Her stories have earned numerous RITA nominations, Romantic Times awards and are published in over a dozen languages. One thing all reviewers and readers agree on regarding Cheryl’s work is the degree of emotion and believability. Words like ‘heart-warming, emotional depth, touches your soul, tugs your heart, endearing characters and on my keeper shelf’ are commonly used to describe her work. In 2015 her Webinar Blockbuster Fiction was featured in the Writers Digest Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. She has a chapter in Creating Characters, Writers Digest's 2015 release. With a 4.9 star rating on amazon, Cheryl’s bestselling non-fiction book, Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict by Writers Digest Books is available in print and digital. Cheryl is an avid movie buff, and Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict reflects that by using examples from popular films to show examples of emotion and conflict. Her Social Media LINKS are: email Cheryl at:
Visit her on the web: Read her blog: From the Heart: Like her Facebook author page: She's a Pinterest junkie!

May 26, 2016

Write a Short Story and You Could Win Southern Writers Magazine's Contest

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

You've written a short story that you feel is a winner. Take a breath. Do Not Hit The Send Button until you have considered a few items. Put your story to the test before you submit. 

1. Review the contest guidelines. 

2. Make sure you have complied with ALL requirements, not doing so will disqualify your entry. 

3. Use all the edits offered by your word processing software. Make sure you run your story through spell check, grammar correct, word count, etc. to confirm your story meets the contest criteria. 

4. Proofreading and editing is a must. It sounds simplistic but if you don't your submission look sloppy and unprofessional. Your submission will not be taken seriously. 

Our magazine has offered a short story contest the past several years. The top 13 contest winners are highlighted in a special contest winners edition. Each of our Short Story Contests' winners can be found in a special edition publication. The edition is the size of our regular magazine, and these high-quality anthologies are an entertaining and diverse collection of  humor, drama, mystery, and romance. With something for everyone, they make a great gift for the readers, but more importantly, they are an insight in what has been judged a winning short story in past years. You can click this LINK to get an inside view on past contest winners. 

What have you got to lose? Get busy. Do your part and who knows, you could find yourself a winner of Southern Writers Magazine's 2016 short story contest. 

Here is the LINK to Southern Writers Magazine's 2016 contest details. 

Good luck!

May 25, 2016

Why You Should Consider Writing a Trilogy

By Tony Riches

For most writers, completing one book would seem more than enough of an achievement, so why would anyone make a commitment to writing three?  I’d just reviewed Pat Barker’s wartime Life Class Trilogy for my blog and was reading Conn Iggulden’s impressive Wars of the Roses trilogy, when the answer occurred to me.

There are real benefits of tackling any story as a trilogy, and now I’ve written one I’m convinced it’s something any novelist should consider. For me, the greatest benefit is synergy, defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary as ‘the ​combined ​power of a ​group of things when they are ​working together that is ​greater than the ​total ​power ​achieved by each ​working ​separately.’

Put simply, the scope of a trilogy offers writers a liberating sense of space and freedom, as ideas hinted at in the first book can be developed and explored over the rest. This means the complexity of relationships evolve over time, and the social, political and economic context can shift over years – or even generations, offering readers a much more ‘immersive’ experience.

There are also practical and commercial considerations. If you follow the fashion for longer books, you only have one opportunity to sell it and the promotion can only begin once it is available for pre-order. I was able to promote book one of my trilogy while writing book two (and it became a best-seller in the UK, US and Australia.)  Readers began contacting me to ask when the next book in the trilogy would be available and I soon built an international reader base for the trilogy.

Similarly, although each book works as a ‘stand-alone’, I’ve seen evidence in my sales that people reading them in the wrong order tend to buy the others. I also hadn’t realised Amazon (and other retailers) are happy to promote and market a trilogy (or any series) as a discounted single purchase, which is good value for readers and means your books are more likely to be ‘discovered’.

Finally, a trilogy offers a framework for developing wok on an ‘epic’ scale. In my case, I realised there were countless novels about the court of King Henry VIII and his six wives, yet I could find almost nothing about the early Tudors who founded the dynasty. The idea for The Tudor Trilogy was that King Henry VIII’s father could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.

The first book of the trilogy was my fourth novel, so I had a good idea about the structure. In book one, OWEN, a Welsh servant of Queen Catherine of Valois, the lonely widow of King Henry V, falls in love with her and they marry in secret. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor marries the thirteen year-old heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort, and fathers a child with her to secure her inheritance. The birth of her son, Henry, nearly kills her, and when her husband dies mysteriously, his younger brother Jasper Tudor swears to protect them.

In book two, JASPER, they flee to exile in Brittany and plan to one day return and make Henry King of England. King Richard III has taken the throne and has a powerful army of thousands – while Jasper and Henry have nothing. Even the clothes they wear are paid for by the Duke of Brittany. So how can they possibly invade England and defeat King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?

In the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, I explore how he brought peace to England by marrying Elizabeth of York, the beautiful daughter of his enemy, King Edward IV. The trilogy offers me the scope and depth to help readers understand how Henry’s second son became King Henry VIII, the tyrant who transformed the history of England forever.
Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  His latest book JASPER, Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy is available now. 

May 24, 2016

Character Emotions-How to Create

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

Adding emotions to our characters is not always easy. Or is it?

If you are a parent, you know your child can turn on an emotion at the drop of a hat. Tell a three-year-old no, and that bottom lip comes out automatically. Within a matter of minutes, the child’s sadness can morph into a full-blown temper tantrum.

Since this child has never had acting lessons, hasn’t been to college and obtained a Master’s in Creative Writing, then we must assume emotions can be created from within.

When we are writing we need to look at the emotions our characters are feeling and show those emotions. Are they supposed to be happy, sad, funny, angry, crying or laughing? How does that emotion feel? Can we show that emotion to our readers without telling them the emotion’s name? Can we get them to feel that emotion along with us?  Ah, there is the rub. So what can we do to show and not tell?

Showing anger for a writer can be difficult, but of all who seemed to have mastered writing anger in a screenplay was Oliver Stone for Al Pacino in Scarface.

Actors put themselves in the characters shoes in order to act the part. As writers, we need to put ourselves in the characters shoes. We do this by going into our memory banks and determine which emotion it is we need. Is it the angry emotion? Then we can think back, when was the last time we were angry? Why were we angry? How did that anger feel? What did our face look like, what did our eyes look like? What were our thoughts? 

Pulling the emotions that we have used in real life and writing them for our characters creates a way for our readers to feel the emotion, which draws them into our story. The reader remembers this scene because his/her emotions are attached. The scene comes alive and is believable.  

May 23, 2016

Southern Hospitality: Writers Raising Each Other Up

By Tina Ann Forkner

When I visit my sister in Tennessee, I love spending time browsing the shops in Franklin. Not only are the shops adorable with flowers spilling over on the sidewalks and air conditioning to welcome you inside, but the people make you feel as welcome as a cool glass of lemonade on a hot day. You just can’t hang out in the South without being blessed by all that Southern hospitality.

What if the writing world were the same way? What if we showered fellow authors with something that would look a lot like Southern hospitality? On the most part I think we do, but I wonder how often we who are farther along in our careers forget what it’s like to be a new writer. Of all the professions a person could choose, being a writer can be the loneliest.

I remember being that person who sat alone on the first day of her first writing conference. The first time a published writer sat at my table, I thought I might pass out. She even wanted to talk to me, which made me feel welcome and like I might really belong at that conference. I’m still grateful for that author who showered me with hospitality at her table, much the same way the folks in Nashville shower visitors with Southern hospitality.

Here are five ways that all writers can practice a little bit of Southern hospitality and raise each other up:

Offer Encouragement: Southerners always say the nicest things, even to people they don’t know. Whether you are far into your writing career or brand new, there is always somebody who could use a word of encouragement when it comes to writing. This could be as small as a kind reply to a social media status or as big as reaching out to them in an email. Face to face, it might mean sitting at a table of less experienced authors instead of with our usual groups, or asking another author how their writing is going. These things all seem small, but to another writer, they might mean the world.

Invite Someone to Your Writing Group: Southerners love to invite you over for supper. We can do the same in our writing communities. Writing Groups are complex and most of us resist shaking up that chemistry, but you never know when someone new will infuse life into the group, or what kind of writer that person will turn out to be. I wrote poetry in college, and I will never forget when a group of published Sacramento poets invited me to be part of their critique group. Being part of that group didn’t make me a famous poet, but it grew me as a writer and affects my fiction even today. Invite another writer to your group, or just offer to buy them a cup of coffee.

Don’t Step On Someone Else’s Dream: I can’t even count the ways in which I’ve witnessed other writers inadvertently stomp on someone else’s dream. In today’s publishing world, there are so many different ways to succeed as a writer and no way is wrong. Even if their publishing journey is not your glass of iced tea, listen to what the other writer has to say about it and try to say something nice about their goals. If I listened to some of the advice from naysayers in my writing life, I would’ve quit years ago. 

Promote Other Writers: People in the South are always bragging about how great Southerners are. They are just so proud! Writers need to do the same thing. We can brag about other writers and the writing world. This is something I feel very passionate about. I’m part of a group called Tall Poppy Writers and we actively support each other. We don’t only support other Tall Poppy Writers, but we support and promote writers who are not in our group. Take a look at the writers you are connected with in life and on social media. How can you lift them up?

Introduce Writers to Other Writers: Southerners don’t know a stranger, so be a friendly writer and make sure all your writing friends know each other. Sure, we writers sometimes have connections we don’t want to share with anyone, but we can look for times when introducing one contact to another would be a good idea. One of my best writing friends introduced me, via email, to my publisher. If she’d been stingy with her introductions, I might still be looking for a publisher.

These are just a few of things we as authors can do to enrich the lives of other writers and spread a little Southern hospitality. I find that the writing world is by and large very accepting of others, but it never hurts to add a little more sweetener here and there to brighten another writer’s day and give them a step up.

Happy Writing!
Tina Ann Forkner is a substitute teacher and award-winning author of multiple novels including her newest release The Real Thing. Her novel, Waking Up Joy, is a recipient of the Virginia Romance Writers HOLT Medallion Award of Merit for Romantic Elements. Tina is also a proud member of Tall Poppy Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Learn More:

May 20, 2016

When Your Story Stops You in Your Tracks

By Cynthia Ruchti

I found it comical when my husband read my latest novel—Song of Silence—in its Advanced Reader Copy form and looked up from his recliner to say, “Hey! I’m Charlie! This is me you wrote about.”

“Really? Is that what you think?” I busied myself folding laundry and keeping my facial expression neutral.

“He’s me. I’m him. I’m the guy who doesn’t have a clue and thinks running a worm farm is a great idea.”

“You inspire me, dear. Remember when you wanted to start a chive farm? Raise tilapia here in the woods?”

Comical. Until the tables turned.

The final edits came due during one of those weeks when—despite our 43 years together—our communication system broke down. Everything my husband said irritated me like lemon juice in a paper cut. Multiple paper cuts.  And the lemon juice had been microwaved on High.

We stayed out of each other’s way. And remained polite. Polite-ish. But it wasn’t our best example of marital bliss.

And I’d been tasked with looking sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word, letter-by-letter at a story about a woman who had a hard time respecting her husband, who pulled her head into her turtle shell rather than deal with her depression, her listing marriage, and her unhealthy responses to a major disappointment.

Yeah, that was fun.

It’s a standard set of questions for authors in interviews: “How much of yourself do you write into your characters? Are your novels autobiographical in any way? Which character most resembles you?”

Most authors answer with some version of “There’s a little bit of me in every book I write.”

For more than three decades, I wrote slice-of-life scenes for a daily radio broadcast. That’s a lot of slices. A lot of life. Much of it came from scenes I observed in my kitchen, family room, neighborhood, backyard…

When my kids were old enough to realize that Mom constantly collected story fodder, they’d sometimes stop in the middle of what they were doing to say, “Mom. Do NOT write about this!”

But that’s where realism is born, in the greenhouse of an author’s experiences, observations, failures, victories, and neuroses. Or strengths. Let’s say strengths.

Some say, “I write what I want to read.” It would probably be more accurate if I said, “I write what I need to read.”

On an editing day, I discovered attitude-changing counsel within the story I wrote. Will readers be stopped in their tracks by what they read? Conscious that they aren’t reading a product of imagination as much as looking at a reflection of their lives? Will they too—through story—find a new perspective for their challenges?

It happens to me with every book that bears my name on the cover.
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope through her novels, novellas, nonfiction books, articles, and devotionals, drawing from 33 years of on-air radio ministry. Ruchti has 17 books in print, and her books have received numerous awards and nominations. One of Ruchti’s greatest joys is helping other writers grow in their craft. To that end, she has served as worship and devotions staff and faculty for the Write-to-Publish conference and teaches at other writers’ conferences across the country and internationally as opportunities arise. She also serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers. To keep up with Cynthia Ruchti, visit You can also follow her on Facebook (Cynthia Ruchti), Twitter (@cynthiaruchti), and Pinterest (cynthiaruchti). Her List of Novels/Novellas: They Almost Always Come Home, A Door County Christmas (novella), When the Morning Glory Blooms, Cedar Creek Seasons (novella)All My Belongings, As Waters Gone By, An Endless Christmas (hardcover novella), Song of Silence Restoring Christmas (coming Fall 2016) and her Nonfiction: Mornings with Jesus 365-Day (devotional 2014, 2015, 2016) His Grace is Sufficient…Decaf is Not (devotional) Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices, Be Still…and Let Your Nail Polish Dry 365-Day Devotional Journal, Tattered and Mended: The Art of Healing the Wounded Soul

May 19, 2016

Harvard, NASA, the Swiss and French Know Research

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine  

A great wine is always noted by its year of production, the year the grapes were grown. Certain years tend to produce certain great wines. Usually it is a particular wine based on its location of the vineyard. With many wines a “good year” is a damp early growing season and a drought near harvest. The drought near harvest tends to stress or direct the plant away from leaf production and toward fruit production. It is a survival mode for the plant.

The vineyard owners of Switzerland near Lake Geneva and France in the Southern Rhone Valley have kept records of these production years for the last 400 plus years. They have known the “good years” since 1600. They have known that earlier seasons have produced the better wines. The early seasons were caused by the higher temperatures and drought at the end of the growing season.

Someone once said that science is man’s explanation of God’s creation. Thus we have the University of Harvard and NASA coming to explain what has occurred with the wine making in recent years. A biologist from Harvard has stated that 1980 was the tipping point for wine production, especially the Bordeaux. There have been so many great Bordeaux years in the last 20 to 30 years and it is believed it was due to temperatures. A 2.7 degree increase during the growing seasons have given the effect of a desirable growing season and early harvest, as early as 10 days in 2003. Global warming was declared to be the reason. According to their 430 years of records and research their conclusion was: “Having experienced a small portion of the warming we have created and will see in the next 50 to 80 years, and that will have radical consequences for wine regions.” 

That is a lot of research! Necessary or not it may or may not help the vineyard owners. The same can be said for writers when doing research. It can be a lot or a little. It may help or it may not. It may give you a direction or may confuse you and the reader. As a writer you may not have the patience to do such an intensive amount of research. As a writer you must decide how much research you need to get the point over to the readers and once that is satisfied enough is enough.

Most of us are fortunate to have the necessary resources close at hand. Look it over. Pick and choose what you need. Sometimes research opens doors that lead to more research which is not necessary, so go only as far as you think you need.

Some years ago a writer shared his thoughts on researching material for his books. He said he goes to the children’s section in his local library and looks for books on the topic he is interested in. He gets what he needs there and it is the basics presented in a simple to read and understand format. You may want to try this yourself and see. After all, the local library is more within our reach than Harvard and NASA.                 


May 18, 2016

The Story Behind Folly Beach Dances

By Sheree K. Nielsen

The 2015 Da Vinci Eye Award Winner, Folly Beach Dances, is a ‘healing’ coffee table book inspired by the rhythm of the sea and the changing tides, and my essay, “Beach Dances” previously published in the Folly Current newspaper.

Folly Beach Dances features photography from a favorite South Carolina beach by my husband, Russell, and me. Each photo is captioned with a dance name, whether real or made-up. It’s about balance and movement on the beach – people, dogs, birds, babies, even beach structures – moving in infinite rhythm.

Five women author friends (a songwriter, a grant writer, an English professor, a marriage therapist, and poet) have interpreted the photographs (captioned with dance names) to create poetry or short prose for the book. I merely requested the element of positivity shine through their work. The reason I asked these particular women to contribute, is that I felt a connection to their writing styles. My husband, who doesn’t claim to be a writer, penned a poem for his photograph “Angel Dance”.  Rounding out the project, a travel writer by trade, I’ve penned about nine poems.
The resulting work made me cry. Everyone’s reflections and interpretations were poignant, touching, and mesmerizing.

Some reader favorites are Circle Dog DanceCrowd Surfing, and The Fandango. You can view three pages from the book on our website at under the media page.

As a young girl, I built my first pinhole camera at age five, and became obsessed with photography. I believe pictures help recreate a story, or even form the basis for new stories. For me, photography and writing go hand-in-hand.

The journey and vision of Folly Beach Dances changed after being diagnosed with lymphoma in June of 2012.  Folly Beach Dances wasn’t just another pretty coffee table book. The project became a mission of self-care and healing – the story behind the book told on the Introduction and Prologue pages.

Not feeling the book’s vision was complete, I reached out to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I met with Debbie Kersting, the Gateway Chapter Director, at a local coffee house. We chatted about the book’s message over cappuccinos.

I explained to Debbie that sometimes when people have trials and tribulations, they forget to dance. In the book, I ask each reader to take care of themselves and remember to dance, no matter where they are, no matter their worries. Debbie wrote a beautiful Foreword for the book.

Russell and I donate 10 percent of all book sales to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The National Office of LLS allows us to use their logo on the back cover. For that, we are grateful.

I believe my purpose in life is ‘sharing’ through inspirational writing and photography. This purpose is evident in three personal projects – an Emerson-inspired essay collection, a children’s picture book about confidence and overcoming handicaps, and a second Beach Dance book about a favorite North Carolina beach. I’m just beginning the query process for these.

So whatever you do in life, look to the positive and remember to dance. You know you’ll feel better if you do.

The book is dedicated to beach lovers, dancers, dreamers, the residents of Folly Beach, and all those with ailments. And of course, Mom and Dad – my own personal Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Sheree K. Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer, poet and photographer.  Her countless credits include Missouri LifeAAA Midwest TravelerAAA Southern Traveler, and others. For two consecutive years, Sheree received First Place for Photography from the Missouri Humanities Council and the Warrior Arts Alliance – Awarded September 2014 for “Jimmie on the Pier”, and in October 2013 – “Dear Kindred Spirit”. The photos were selected for inclusion in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Volume 2 and 3. Chosen by her peers, Sheree received the First Place, People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction, Storyteller Magazine, April-June 2010. Sheree’s works are well-represented in numerous anthologies, magazines, websites, and newspapers across the nation and Caribbean. Her essays and poems interweave universal beauty inspired through travel, nature and family.  She enjoys teaching her “Every Picture Tells a Story” workshop to veterans. She credits a deep affinity for the ocean to her parents through regular vacations to the Southeast.  Dad Joe, a World War II veteran, spun tales of exotic ports of call.  Her mom Gladys, a sketch artist and master gardener, taught Sheree about art and nurturing the soil. She blogs at Sheree’s Warm Fuzzies.

May 17, 2016

Short and Sweet

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Yesterday I woke up to the sound of my house phone ringing at 5:30 a.m.  I didn't recognize the area code on the caller ID, but at that hour was too groggy to question whether it was someone ignoring the Do Not Call list, so I answered it.

The man on the line sounded too hesitant to be a telemarketer, and when he asked for me by name I confirmed that I was he.  I prepared myself for bad news about a friend or a distant family member.  However, he went on to tell me he was from Pennsylvania and had found my wallet that I'd lost on a vacation in Hershey over a decade ago.  He found it way back at that time but never turned it in, and instead spent the $500 worth of traveler's checks and cash that were in my wallet.

In recent years, this fellow became so wracked with guilt, he explained, that he replaced the money and vowed to track me down and return it with his apologies.  He offered to either mail it to me or, because he will actually be in my city next month, deliver it in person and treat me to lunch at the restaurant of my choice.  I told him I would indeed like to meet him and shake his hand for his honesty, but lunch wouldn't be necessary.

I'll stop right here because I want to confess that the majority of this story in totally made up.  You may ask where the truth ends and the fallacy begins.  Actually, it's right after "Yesterday I woke up".  No early morning phone call, no lost wallet, and anyone who knows me knows I'd never turn down a free lunch.

Forgive me for taking you on that little ride, but those 229 words were more interesting that what really happened yesterday morning, which involved little more than a bowl of Special K.  My goal was not to mislead but to illustrate that from the moment we wake up there is potential for endless stories, springboarding from the inconsequential moments that occur throughout the day right up to the time we hit the hay.

Countless authors find their inspiration from such things as the daily headlines.  From local crimes to human interest stories, the random mention of someone else's experience is prime fodder to be embellished or reimagined into a sensational story.

As an example, in the above scenario, lunch with this stranger could develop into a friendship that changes lives, or it could be part of a devious plot that turns into a horrible nightmare. Depending on the mood and the intent of the writer, the simplest story can take any fascinating direction.

I'm often reminded of a conversation I once had with author Frank Tuttle.  Although he writes both novels and short stories, he has a special fondness for the short story form because once he sits down with an idea he allows it to take him wherever it chooses to.  Capturing these tales of the unexpected off the cuff with no outline, the short stories he writes can be as surprising and entertaining to him as they are to his readers.

I encourage you to train your writer's brain to be more alert throughout each day for those overlooked moments that could be the nucleus of a great story.  And when you find one, be sure to enter it in Southern Writers' Fifth Annual Short Story contest, which is going on right now.  You'll find complete details at:

Entries are being accepted thru June 30, 2016, so you still have time to find that idea and turn it into $250 cash.  Good luck!

May 16, 2016

Writing Memoir—a Cautionary Tale

By Drema Hall Berkheimer

Writing Memoir is high on my list of Top Ten Ways to Torture Yourself. But if you are compelled, as I was, to tell your story, don’t say I didn’t warn you. My memoir, RUNNING ON RED DOG ROAD and Other Perilsof an Appalachian Childhood, was recently published by Zondervan.

It was a story I needed to tell.

Born and raised in Appalachia in the forties, I was the child of a coal miner killed in the mines, a Rosie the Riveter mother, and devout Pentecostal grandparents.
Writing about these people and this time and place was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took me six years to complete the book, and for several of those years I wrote nothing at all, blindsided by memories that struck me dumb. Although I come from stoic stock and never cried, I could not write a page without a meltdown.

It was embarrassing. But I could not stop.

I was emotionally spiritually physically wrung out and hung up to dry.

Then, as often happens, fate intervened. A friend, struggling to complete her second novel, asked if I’d join her for morning writing sessions—the misery loves company thing. We’d log on at 7:00 AM and write for two hours. It was spring, and we were to finish by the end of the year. I rolled my eyes at her over the phone, but I agreed. Every morning I’d head to my office, settle in, and begin to write. It was awkward at first, and painful too. When there were tears, and there often were, I wrote through them. I kept at it—morning after morning became week after week then month after month. By the end of the year my friend finished her novel and, despite my eye-rolling, I finished my memoir.

I grew up in a remarkable multi-generational family in East Beckley, West Virginia, with gypsies, hobos, moonshiners, faith healers, and other quirky kith and kin dropping in to play character roles in my life story. It was an idyllic life, with some sad chapters, sure, but many more happy ones. Why then, if it was so wonderful, did this writing leave me drained? It was an enigma—until I realized that all the kin I wrote about are dead, except for me. Writing as child narrator, I got to know them on a whole new level—a strangely deeper and more mature one. I had not cried at their funerals, but I cried over them now. I’d had to resurrect them, live with them, and bury them again in order to tell their stories.

And yes, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

It was also the best.
Drema Hall Berkheimer was born in a coal camp in Penman, West Virginia, the child of a coal miner who was killed in the mines, a Rosie the Riveter mother, and devout grandparents. Her tales of growing up in the company of gypsies, moonshiners, snake handlers, hobos, and faith healers, are published in numerous online and print journals. Excerpts from her memoir, RUNNING ON RED DOG ROAD and Other Perils of an AppalachianChildhood, won first place Nonfiction and First Honorable Mention Nonfiction in the 2010 West Virginia Writers competition. She is a member of West Virginia Writers, Salon Quatre, and The Writer’s Garret. Berkheimer will be on the panel with Homer Hickam at his Writer’s Workshop in Beckley WV in October. She lives in downtown Dallas with her husband and a neurotic cat. The cat takes after her. Her husband is mostly normal. Drema Hall Berkheimer’s books are Running on Red Dog Road And Other Perils of AnAppalachian Childhood. You can connect with Drema at,