March 31, 2017

Designation and Discipline: Doing It All

By Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Have you ever seen those water works exhibits they have in most children’s science museums? It’s a pretty simple system—a single source of water flowing into a larger basin that has slots where kids insert in plastic pieces of varying sizes and shapes to block the water or redirect the flow. While they play, a calm settles on the children, their faces relaxed but determined, and they grow quiet in the intensity of their focus. If you dare to play yourself, you learn why.

Most of us lead very full lives these days, juggling roles at work, as a partner or spouse or a parent, shouldering our social obligations and community work. For those of us who write, trying to squeeze an extra role into the midst of all the others sometimes feels impossible.

I used to think about it like juggling balls or spinning plates—if I worked fast enough and clever enough, I could do it all. But then the balls fell and the plates broke because, beyond my control, some part of my schedule changed, or because I got tired running from one plate to another and gave up.

For writers, giving up isn’t really an option though. We write because we must, because we have stories in our heads and hearts that need telling, because we have characters who need to be alive.

So how do we do that good and necessary work in the midst of all the other?

We become like the kids playing at the water works. We recognize that there is a single source for what we do in a day or a week, a finite amount of energy and time. We first pay close attention to keeping that well of water full. Rest, reading, play, exercise, meditation—whatever fills you up must be a priority. Nothing can flow out of an empty well.

And then, we must realize that we don’t control the circumstances around us so much as we navigate them.

Like the child building a wall to direct the water flow, I can choose where to direct my energies. In the morning, I want my energy to flow into my writing. Doesn’t mean I won’t get interrupted by one of my kids or have to deal with a service call or a student, but if I’m thinking about myself like water, directing my energy where I want it to go, those issues I can’t control are merely momentary distractions, obstructions I can swirl past like a river runs around a rock.

Because I am fluid but focused, I move past the distraction quickly and get back to writing. And, when it’s time, I redirect my energies to other roles—parenting or teaching. When I sense that my well is getting dry, I stop to do the important work of filling it back up again.

A sense of calm empowerment settles on me like on the faces of the children at play, and the noisy clutter of a busy life falls silent in the intensity of my focus.

And then the words come.
Dana Chamblee Carpenter is the author of The Devil’s Bible, the sequel to Bohemian Gospel, a supernatural historical thriller which won the 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Award and which Publisher’s Weekly called “a deliciously creepy debut.” Edgar Award nominee and author of Bliss House and The Abandoned Heart, Laura Benedict says, “Look out, Dan Brown. Dana Chamblee Carpenter is the angels' new champion in the timeless battle between darkness and light. The Devil's Bible is not just a book, but a shining, vibrant tale for the ages—told with history and heart—that will have readers both weeping and cheering not only for brave Mouse, but for all of humanity.Carpenter’s award winning short fiction has appeared in The Arkansas Review, Jersey Devil Press, Maypop, and, most recently in the anthology, Killer Nashville Noir: Cold Blooded. She teaches at a private university in Nashville, TN where she lives with her husband and two children.

March 30, 2017

The Not So Invisible Bronte Sisters

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

The Bronte Sisters lived in a time when women had no rights and their fate rested in the hands of their fathers, male siblings or husbands. I would not have been well suited for that era. 

As a reader, I was familiar with the Brontë sisters’ famous Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights books. I never knew much about the authors past those works until I watched the PBS Masterpiece drama, To Walk Invisible. 

I viewed the movie with much anticipation. I was excited to learn more about these women. Yes, it focused on their troubled brother and showed just how at risk they were had they not been published, generating a much needed income. After all, their body of work evolved from their very real circumstances. It drove me to find out more about these sisters. 

The movie revolves around young adults Charlotte, Anne, and Emily, the surviving of five sisters. Two of the sisters succumbed at the ages of 11 and 12 to tuberculosis after living in a boarding school. There is a scene in Jane Erye where the protagonist's best friend, Helen, dies while they are in school. 

They kept their success as authors a secret to protect their only brother from the truth. Their brother, Branwell, wanted to be a writer but was easily distracted by an affair with the married mother of one of his students. This led to his downward spiral into unpaid debts, alcoholism, and drug addiction. His sisters and widowed father endured. They somewhat enabled an increasingly difficult and toxic relationship with Branwell. As Emily states in the movie to her father, we agreed to write under our initials as the "Bell Brothers" so we would not hurt our brother; "It would be like rubbing salt into a wound." 

The trio never intended to reveal their true identities. The movie title, To Walk Invisible, is a quote taken from a letter penned by the Charlotte. However, an event required Charlotte and Anne to travel to London and meet with their publisher. The sisters' pseudonyms were male, but readers had their doubts. In a twist of fate, they began publishing under their actual names around the time their brother died. 

Prior to this movie, I knew very little about the Bronte family. Clearly, the Bronte Sisters' realities are woven into their works of fiction. I see shades of their widowed father and Branwell in the two books I've read. 

The Brontes lived in Haworth, Yorkshire, in the north of England. I was delighted to see the movie show the bleakness of treeless moors. Carriages covered in mud as were the horses and ladies' skirts that dragged the ground. In one scene, the grayness shows Charlotte walking into town in what appeared to be a chilly, windy and drizzling rain. The movie captured the era and settings as found in the Bronte sisters' books. 

Well done PBS Masterpiece. If you watched the movie did you find yourself wanting to re-read their books? 

March 29, 2017

Self-Image and the Writer

By MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA

Years ago, when I first began writing professionally, I stumbled on a simple secret that literally changed the course of my writing career. The secret was this: A writer will never achieve success beyond the level of his or her self-image.

Self-image—or the way you see yourself--is, perhaps, the single most important factor in a writer’s quest for success.  Self-image has everything to do with how we think. And how we think has everything to do with writing success.

I’d like to suggest seven keys to help you program your writer self-image for success, not failure:

Key #1—When negative thoughts about your writing ability assail you, refuse to entertain them.

When I was a fledgling writer, my internal conversation went something like this:

“Who do you think you are calling yourself a writer? Everything you’ve written so far has been rejected. Why don’t you give up before you make a fool of yourself? After all, it takes special talent to be a writer, and, unfortunately, you don’t have any.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right. If I really had talent, editors would be clamoring for my work. After all, rejection slips don’t lie. I’m just not cut out to be a writer. I may as well quit and do something else.”

That negative voice sounded very convincing, especially after I had just received yet another rejection slip. But when I realized I didn’t have to listen to that negative voice, I began taking the offensive against it by applying key number two.

Key #2—Replace all negative thoughts with positive ones.  Nature abhors a vacuum. As you sweep negative thoughts out of your mind, you must replace them with positive ones or the negative thoughts will return with even greater force.

So, when the negative voice challenged me, I began talking back to it. I would say, “I am a writer! Not only am I writer, but I am also a successful writer.”

An amazing thing happened: the negative voice backed off.

Key #3—You will eventually believe what you repeatedly hear.  The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10: 17). Whatever we hear often enough, we will eventually believe.  So, make sure you are hearing the right things about your writing.

Key # 4—Your mind is the original computer. What you program into your mind is what will show up in your life.  Program your mind for success.

Key #5—You create your writing future with your tongue. Your tongue is the programmer of your mind. The words you speak set the course of your writing life. So, watch your mouth!

Key #6—Visualize yourself as a successful writer. Define what writing success looks like to you. Then picture yourself achieving that success.

Key #7—Affirmation without action is dead. You can speak all the positive things you want about your writing, but if you don’t back up your words with action, nothing will happen. 

So, there you have it!  Seven keys to achieving a self-image that will result in writing success.

Now, use your keys!
Dr.MaryAnn Diorio is a widely published, award-winning author of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books.  Her latest novel, A Sicilian Farewell, is Book 2 in The Italian Chronicles trilogy. MaryAnn is also a Certified Life & Writing Coach who works with writers to help them achieve their writing dreams. You may reach her at or at This article is based on Dr. MaryAnn’s popular booklet, Self-Image and the Writer available on Amazon.


March 28, 2017

What Does Your Reader Take Away?

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

As an author, when you are writing a fiction book, do you think about what you want your reader to take away from reading your book?

I know authors want the reader to enjoy their books and buy other books they write.

But dig deeper. Don’t you want them to step into the world you’ve created, get to know your characters, one by one. Do you want them to identify with the main character? In the story, the character will be making many decisions that affect their life and the lives of others. Don’t you want your reader immersed in the story? Readers become involved and think to themselves, “Oh that’s good, at least they made the right decision in this case.” Maybe they will relate so much they will talk to your character, saying, “Why did you make that choice. Now you have messed up that relationship. I wouldn’t have done that.”

You see, when your reader goes deeper into your book, and gets to know your characters, and finds themselves relating to them, they are then invested in the book; and in you as an author.

Isaac Asimov, an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. Well known for his works of science fiction and popular science wrote about 500 books in his lifetime.  Many of his books were made into movies and TV shows like: I, Robot in 2004 with Will Smith; Nightfall in 2000 with David Carradine; Bicentennial Man in 1999 with Sam Neill and Robin Williams; and Probe, a TV series in 1988 with Parker Stevenson. Asimov said, It is the writer who might catch the imagination of young people, and plant a seed that will flower and come to fruition.”

We never know when something we write is going to plant a seed or help someone with a decision they’re struggling with.


March 27, 2017

Behind the Litter Truck: Encouragement for the Writer in Transition

By Jennifer Hallmark

Did you ever have one of those days that started off pretty good then suddenly went all wrong? Me too…

One lovely fall afternoon, I decided to visit my mom, taking a shortcut through narrow, winding, country roads to her home. The leaves had turned from green to brilliant shades of red and gold and it was a good day to be alive.

Then I drew close behind a slow-moving truck. I groaned. Ahead of me was not just any truck but a litter-spreader truck, filled to overflowing with chicken litter from a nearby chicken farm. The stench, a cross between manure, garbage, and rotten fish, pervaded my car. I couldn’t pass him on the curvy road and it would be too much trouble to turn around and go a different way.

I clutched the steering wheel and groaned. “Why me?” I spoke out loud. “This is my writing life. I’m on the right road, doing what I’m supposed to be doing (as far as I know) and I’m stuck behind a slow, smelly truck.” I crept along at 20 miles an hour. Would it ever turn to another road? Would I ever make it to my destination? How could I get out of my place of struggle, this transition?

How do we get out of this foggy, uncertain place?

Have you been there? Or like me, are you there now? You know that point where you’ve been writing awhile and your hobby/career seems to be progressing nicely. You’ve been to numerous writing conferences, made connections with other writers, and you know it’s finally time for…

The big break.
The contract.
Signing with an agent.
The bestseller.

So you sit back and wait. And wait. Days stretch into weeks and crawl into months. No emails. No phone calls. Nothing. Cue the sound of chirping crickets. Now what?

You’ve come too far to go back but not far enough to feel confident.

Like in my driving analogy, you feel stuck. So how do we respond?

As I drove I realized I could:
(1)  Hold my nose. If I didn’t breathe through my nose, the smell would lessen. And if I didn’t dwell on the negative, I could focus more on what I can do instead of what I can’t.
(2)  Don’t follow too close. I slowed down because chunks of litter were bouncing out from under the loose tarp on top. I didn’t want it on my car. Fretting and trying to make something happen by getting close wouldn’t help me. I could, however, slow down and enjoy the scenery, my journey as it was. Creativity is stifled when you worry.
(3)  Realize that at some point the truck would turn or I would. When I was about a mile from mom’s house, the truck kept going straight while I veered to the right. At last. The odor diminished and I could speed up again. A few minutes later, I arrived at my destination. If I keep plugging away at my writing, learning, always willing to change and grow, open to opportunity, and forever laying it all before God, something will change.

Mostly me.

If you’re like me and your writing career is stalled behind a stinky truck, don’t give up hope. I’m learning patience, perseverance, and the ability to focus on my journey and not just the destination or goals I’ve set. When I slowed down, I could take in the beauty of God’s creation surrounding me. And I could follow the progression of life and even write an article from the experience.

So while waiting, I can be thankful. And try to smell the roses. Even while following a litter truck…
Jennifer Hallmark is a writer of Southern fiction and also fantasy; a combination that keeps the creative juices flowing. She’s published over 200 articles and interviews on the internet, short stories in several magazines, and been part of three book compilations: The Heart Seekers Series,Sweet Freedom A La Mode, and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. Jennifer’s website, Alabama-Inspired Fiction, and the group blog she co-founded, focus on her books, love of the South, and helping writers. She sends out a monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to at her author page. You can visit her onFacebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Jennifer and her husband, Danny, have spent their married life in Alabama and have a basset hound, Max. Their daughter Mandy is married to Tim and has given them two beautiful granddaughters, Ava, and Sadie and a handsome new grandson, Zeke. Their son, Jonathan, is married to Kristie and they’re expecting their first child. Kristie has two precious children: Cohen and Phoebe. Jennifer loves to read detective fiction from the Golden Age, watch movies like LOTR, and play with all her grandchildren. At times, she writes.When she’s not working in the garden or keeping the grandkids.

March 24, 2017

The Historical Connection

By Adriana Girolami 

Generally speaking authors write historical books, since yesterday is already in the realm of history. Little difference exists in envisioning the Appian Way during the Roman Empire or a charming little town in America's heartland during the turn of the nineteenth century.

We are all products of our environments. In most cases authors favor writing about familiar places which stimulate and appeal to their imagination the most.

I am a historical author and credit my inspirations to the haunting beauty of the old continent of Europe since I was born there. It helped me to create exciting story lines with the backdrop of splendid historical castles. Heroic knights with swords blazing and smoldering romances with beautiful damsels in distress exemplifies this period in history.

However, the characters we create with such devotion seem to breed a life of their own. At times, they strongly resemble people we are familiar with, regardless of the chronological time in history.

I was surprised to notice one of my favorite characters in the Knights Templar Trilogy, Wilfred the Valiant, had a strong resemblance to my dear late father. His speech pattern was strongly akin to phrases and words my father used when he spoke to me. I guess I didn't realize how important those words were to me at the time. I treasured and saved them throughout the years in the recesses of my mind, until they came alive in the pages of my books. I realized now how important they were, and how deeply he had affected me. He was truly my Knight in shining armor.

It would be helpful for authors to revisit places they have known throughout their lives. Areas they loved or are just familiar with lend easily to creating storylines. I am certain that endless possibilities will sprout from it.

If memories linger throughout the years, those recollections likely are dear to us. In general, our characters are a composite of people we have known, as well as they bring parts of ourselves into the equation.

Since I love to travel, many of my characters were created while I was fortunate enough to visit palaces and castles throughout Europe. I could actually see them come alive with such clarity, that it even shocked me at times. It was a riveting experience as I relished the joy of being surrounded by the majesty of history still alive in the dust of time.

However, in today's world we don't have to travel very far to be connected with special, exotic places. Through the magic of the Internet we can now visit places in the world that people in the past could only dream about.

We are privileged to be part of this ever-changing world. It gives us the opportunity to explore and create. It helps us to benefit from our past, and create a myriad of storylines for the future. It is an honor for all of us to replenish the endless firmament of books, with creativity and beauty. 
Adriana Girolami is an historical romance author. She was born in Rome, Italy and credits the ancient beauty of her native country for her love of history. She immigrated to the United States and attended The Art Students League in New York City. She is a professional portrait artist who loves to write and express her creativity not only with a brush, but also with the power of the written words.  Her debut novel, Mysterious Templar, is now a trilogy followed by The Crimson Amulet and on March 1, 2017 Templar's Redemption will also be published. Being also an artist she particularly enjoys painting the covers for all her books. She loves to travel with her husband and has been privileged to visit many beautiful places in the world. Since her work is sedentary, she exercises faithfully, loves to jog, plays racquetball and has a black belt in Kenpo Karate. She always looks forward to a special tomorrow and writing her next exciting novel.

March 23, 2017

Technology Crying Wolf

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

The laser light show of the Great Pyramids is instructive and beautiful. It allows a glorious presentation of one of the world’s great wonders. It is a marriage of modern technology and ancient wonder. But some years ago this great marvel set off one of the greatest technology mismatches in modern history.

After 9/11 our military started positioning itself for a possible conflict in the Middle East. The Vietnam era C141 cargo planes began the long haul from the States to the various military bases    in the Middle East with supplies and equipment.

These great mammoths were equipped with the latest technology for defense which included a flare defense against heat seeking missiles. These flares would be fired off to draw the heat seeking missiles away from the aircraft and explode harmless in midair out of the range of the aircraft.

As these great aircrafts made their way over the area of the Great Pyramids their flares began firing. It took some research to discover the false triggering of the flares but it was soon discovered the lasers in the Pyramids light show was setting off the flares. The lasers were simulating the lasers of the guidance system of a heat seeking missile thus the flares fired to defend the aircraft from the incoming missiles, in effect crying wolf. The solution was switching the defense system to manual while in the area of the Pyramids.

Today’s technology, for the most part, does what it is intended to do. But there are cases when it goes awry. One case was the recent phantom phone calls to 911. They were generated by a problem in the lines and were signaling a 911 call as a hang up coming from a particular home. The calls were not made by the people or their children. The children were grown and not living with them and the couple were in fact not even home when some of the calls were made. The police had made several trips to the home but the owners felt sure that was about to end. A glitch in the system was crying wolf. The authorities were not about to make a false run when someone may need their help elsewhere.          

Technology crying wolf has become more common than we think. Most of it sounds like fiction but it is highly possible if it is true. Either way writers can use these believable or not events to begin a great story. I say believable because you may want to verify the two stories I used as examples. See if you can confirm either or both and let me know what you find. Was this true or was I crying wolf.

March 22, 2017

Show, Don’t Tell

By Sheree K. Nielsen

Anyone can tell a story, and it might even interest the reader, but wouldn’t it be better if they conjured up visual images in their mind?

Attending Saturday Writer’s group for the first time in 2008, the board members gave a talk with handouts on The First Rule of Writing by Sandy Tritt – Show, Don’t Tell. I still implement this principle of writing today.

Born and bred in The Show Me State, the Show, Don’t Tell rule is easy to remember.

Readers love visual details. With regards to travel writing, I try to place readers in the moment by touching on all the senses. Here are a few examples of painting visual pictures while penning travel articles.

As I stroll through the Middle Caicos’ picturesque Mudjin Harbor, I notice limestone cliffs towering above. Powdery pink sand massages tender toes and heels. Rounding the curve of the island, warm summer trade winds tousle my sun-bleached hair as I reach harbor’s point.

An excerpt from my feature in AAA Midwest Traveler and AAA Southern Traveler“Southern Sophistication”, published in 2016, talks about the interior of award-winning restaurant, Circa 1886, in Charleston, South Carolina. “The romantic restaurant with arched booths and candlelit tables, beckons couples to linger over a fine-dining experience.” Even that one sentence description sets up a visual image for the restaurant ambience.

Don’t those two totally different descriptions place you in the moment?     Anything less than feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing or touching robs the reader from pure imagination in this adventure we call Life.

And finally, here’s an example taken from my ‘healing’ coffee table book of beach photographs and lyrical poetry and prose, Folly Beach Dances – The Infinite Rhythms of a South Carolina SeashoreThe photograph is titled Liquid Dancing. If I’m having a stressful day, I remember these words for writing inspiration.

“The glistening water reflects from the sun hints of golden maize and beige gray in this late morning swelters, with ripples that form parallel to the sand similar to an Escher drawing.”
Often when I’m traveling, I’ll find a seat on a park bench, or along a shoreline, and observe the sights, sounds, and smells around me. When I begin writing, the words seem to flow like musical notes on a song sheet.

Peace, love, and long walks on the beach!
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.


March 21, 2017

Collaborative Beauty

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Each time I attend a writers conference, as I had the pleasure of doing this weekend, I come away with a renewed sense of the community spirit that writers share.  It's a brotherhood and sisterhood unique in the fact that we all have something to say.  Not only do we respect each other's right to say it, but we're eager to help each other do so.

The folks who visited my table for 15-minute one-on-ones were all promising writers with diverse interests: songwriting, playwriting, creative fiction, and more.  They were each working on projects at various stages of completion.  But what they all had in common was the question, "Now what do I do?"

My first question back to them is to find out whether they have a platform for promoting their work. I'm quick to recommend Edie Melson's comprehensive but easy read, Connections: Social Media and Networking Techniques for Writers.  Lots of books offer advice on using Facebook for marketing, but few address specific promotional tactics to help writers develop an online audience, and Edie has practiced what she preaches with great success.

To those who want to know how to approach a publisher with what they've written, I then pull out my copy of W. Terry Whalin's Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success.  From coming up with an elevator pitch to putting together the whole presentation package, Terry's voice of experience as an acquisitions editor has helped countless writers learn how to get their feet in the door and their manuscripts looked at.

Occasionally, I can even answer a writer's question without the aid of a book! But in moments like these I'm reminded of how grateful I am for Terry and Edie.  I'm especially grateful that they contribute their talents to each issue of Southern Writers Magazine.

As a huge movie buff, I have an affinity for the insights of screen and stage writer Shelly Frome, who left his mark in the Big Apple before taking up roots as a Southern novelist.  Shelly's articles on screenwriting also appear in each issue.  He explores themes, scenes, character motivations and much more from an insider's perspective.  If you like to ponder the psychology of what's on the silver screen, Shelly is the man in the director's chair.

Acclaimed Virginia poet and author Sara M. Robinson is one busy gal.  In fact, she presented at another convention herself just a few weeks ago.  But she finds time to contribute her deep thoughts via "Poetry Matters" in each issue.  Her ability to analyze prose and its purpose is of TED Talk caliber.

C. Hope Clark is another regular in the mag who parlays her talents as a novelist into valuable instruction, in this case on writing dialogue.  You can catch a glimpse of Hope's enviable ear for the spoken word via an entertaining new video she and I collaborated on, called What Rhett and Scarlett Can Teach Writers About Dialogue at

What can I say about Steve Bradshaw besides that he is a scholar and a gentleman, and has seen more corpses than Vlad the Impaler? Well, that's been a necessary evil in his career as a forensic investigator, biotech entrepreneur, and now a celebrated mystery author. His articles in each issue dig into medicine and murder as only someone who has investigated over 3.000 unexplained deaths can do, so that you don't have to.

We couldn't do what we do without those talented folks, much less the 30 to 40 authors who appear in each issue and an awesome writing staff that includes Vicki H. Moss, Chris Pepple, Jessica Ferguson, Londa Hayden, Barbara Ragsdale, and Annette Cole Mastron, who also makes this very blog you're reading happen.  Put them all together with our fearless leader, Editor-in-Chief Susan Reichert, and it adds up to a collaboration much greater than the sum of its parts.

This is not so much a shameless plug for the magazine (although it is!) as much as a well-deserved plug for these authors and any others who sacrifice their own precious book-writing time to show other writers how it's done. We never take them for granted, and I hope when you meet them at a conference, you'll take a moment to thank them too.

March 20, 2017


By Cliff Yeargin

I am a storyteller. I work daily in network television and I write mysteries. The two are very different crafts. Television is more a collaborative process in the beginning while writing breeds solitude. But the two also share some very similar traits and challenges when it comes to telling a story. A story bubbles up from one person and as it flows downriver it can often get lost in the muddy waters of teamwork. In TV we have layers of producers, legal, show team executives and reporters that weigh in on each story. For a writer there are agents, editors and publishers to chime in as the story navigates the rapids.

The biggest challenge today in television storytelling is technology. When I first told a story for TV it was just me, one camera and the subject. Today we have a dizzying array of tools. Tiny cameras you can mount on a moving car or maybe a skateboard or even the head of a monkey. Add a drone in the sky and you can end up with hours of footage. Software in our editing process now makes it a snap to add almost any special effect in mere seconds. Once we spit out the final version we often stand around and pat ourselves on the back about how cool it looks. Except for one thing. One big thing. Sinking under all the muddy water of cool tools we have lost the STORY. Viewers at home aren’t as impressed as we are with our toys and all they wish to see and hear is the story. In television the best editing is editing those goes unnoticed by the viewer.

Telling a story in fiction can face challenging water as well. When you set out to write a book the first thing you think about is what story do I want to tell. You are not concerned with revisions, marketing or sales because at that moment you are just telling a story. Even that calm water can turn muddy if you spend too much time trying to turn prose into poetry when your skills don’t reach that level or imitating the style of your favorite writer instead of searching for your own voice. An overwritten fanciful sentence may delight your inner muse but no reader is likely to tell a friend about your book by saying “I just read one of the most beautifully crafted sentences.” They are however much more likely to tell them about a “great story” they just finished.

From the time of cavemen around the fire to the old man next to the pot-bellied stove at the general store, the person who demanded the most attention was the storyteller. We are the storytellers of today. Television or fiction the goal should be to steer clear of muddy waters and narrow our journey downriver to one simple thing…the story.

To paraphrase former President Bill Clinton’s laser focus on the economy…

It’s the STORY…Stupid.”
Cliff Yeargin has spent his life as a “Storyteller”, the bulk of that in a long career in Broadcast Journalism as a Writer, Producer, Photographer and Editor. Most of those years were spent covering sports, particularly Major League Baseball, where in Baltimore he was lucky enough to cover Cal Ripken Jr.’s very first and very last game…and hundreds in between. He is the author of the Award Winning Jake Eliam ChickenBone Mystery Series.The books include the introductory RABBIT SHINE and the second in the series HOOCHY KOOCHY which was named The Georgia Author of The Year Silver Medal Finalist in the Mystery Category for 2016. Today he has returned to his native Georgia and works at CNN. Follow Jake, Catfish and the rest in this Southern Fried Mystery Series.

March 17, 2017

Story: the View from the Woman’s Section

By Shelly Frome

Anyone, like myself, who has been a husband and a father certainly appreciates how gender affects perception.  And it’s not that when it comes to plot, all my mentors and influences have been predominately male. In fact, my acting coach was the renowned Uta Hagen, deep discussions on the topic of character and story took place with the celebrated Julie Harris and Estelle Parsons, the head of the creative writing program at NYU, and the chief dramaturges at the Hartford Stage and the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven were female. However, whether it was a play, movie or a novel, I was led to believe that the gold standard of storytelling was a self-generating impossible quest. This was later amplified by people like the famed literary agent Scott Meredith who told me that if I didn’t come up with at least a variation on this theme, I was never going to get anywhere in this business.

We all know the old expression that rules are meant to be broken, but it’s only lately that I’ve really begun to reconsider this more or less masculine gospel. As it happens, a friendly lady crime writer invited me to join her Internet writers group she dubs “Mystery We Write.” One thing led to another, and even though I realized I was one of the very few male authors, just out of curiosity, one day I and two other ladies decided to exchange our latest published work. And that’s when all three discovered a marked difference in gender approach. Whereas my male lead was unwittingly caught up in a collision course, their central female characters seemed to be on a more circular trajectory.

Here, for instance, is an example from the distaff side of the fence. In the background, every now and then there are radio bulletins intimating that somewhere in this homey neighborhood in Cincinnati, a serial killer targeting women is on the loose. In the foreground, a housewife is concerned about her marriage and the little trials and tribulations of her two young children. Her husband, an insurance salesman, has become ill-tempered of late, taken to drink, and flies off the handle when the subject of finances, his imbibing and keeping late hours, plus  their little boy’s possible ADD is brought up. In turn, the wife wishes she had someone to talk all this over with and is also contemplating taking a part time secretarial job at the church to help make ends meet. The author, who apparently is very kind and understanding, devotes a chapter or two to the husband’s woes and longings, and a few equally understanding chapters to other characters the wife encounters. And at least one of the opening chapters to one of the wife’s confidants, a retired police officer, who also had a drinking problem, was a prisoner of war and has seen it all. He spends this episode assessing the past and his present circumstances and finally catches the latest bulletin about the Westwood Strangler but doesn’t respond.  

In short, like the crime novels of P.D. James, a sense of unease is more or less percolating. 
Ruminating and thoughts of mending fences and relationships, healing and making things whole again are integral, even by the husband whose sudden outbursts are followed by retreats to a bar.
This doesn’t mean there won’t come a time after the first quarter of the book that characters won’t be pressed into service. But it’s a far cry from the advice of todays’ agents, editors and publishers who claim that if they aren’t “hooked” in the first three pages, they will automatically stop reading.
Evidently there’s another market out there for women readers who want to take their time and get to know everyone and the given circumstances first. Perhaps an initial disturbance propelling a worrisome, proliferating thrust and parry isn’t the only way to go. Perhaps writers don’t have to continually ask themselves “Why here, why now, and so what?”

Perhaps there’s a whole lot to be said for a more feminine point of view.    

Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of crime novels and books on theater and film. He is also the film columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and a features writer for Gannett Media. His fiction includes Sun Dance for Andy Horn, Lilac Moon, Twilight of the Drifter, Tinseltown Riff and Murder Run.  His transatlantic mystery Murder Crosses the Pond will be released this fall. Among his works of non-fiction are The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

March 16, 2017

Shoe Trees and Writing

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I'm not talking about the shapers you put in your shoes to help them retain their shape. I'm talking about actual trees that have shoes on their branches. Have you ever seen one up close and personal? It is eerily interesting and will spark your creative side. 

On a recent trip to Alabama, I spotted hundreds of pairs of shoes hanging from a single tree on busy Highway 72 near Cherokee, AL and the Natchez Trace Parkway. It's winter, so with bare branches, the shoes were easy to spot hanging like weird ornaments on this one tree. The tree appeared to be growing literally out of rocks. A quick check on my iPhone app of "Roadside America" gave all the details. 

The app said there are many other shoe trees found across America. Who knew? There is even a map of the various locations of these trees. No one seems to know why this tree is in this north Alabama location. My husband was interested in the "shoe lawn" created as the laces of the shoes rot and fall to the ground.

I found this YouTube from The He actually found a back road and left his own shoes on the tree. He makes statements about the journeys he's made in these shoes. The experiences he has had and the people he met while wearing these shoes. Unusual, and something that can spark reminders of the journeys we have as authors. 

Another shoe tree sits along the Chattahoochee River in GA.  Locals and tourists go “tubing" on the river. The tree evolved as a monument of sorts of the footwear lost while folks used the river. There have been several deaths on the river reportedly the shoe soles on the tree represent the lost souls from the river incidents. 

This is just one of those unusual but real Americana quirks you may want to incorporate in your writing to make it believeable. I hope you enjoy my pictures of the North AL shoe tree. 

Have you seen the Cherokee, Alabama shoe tree or another one?