May 31, 2017

Spit-Shine Those Throwaway Words

By Sarah Andre

I volunteer to judge a lot of writing contests and one weak craft component consistently stands out: bland verbs and adjectives. A writer will choose, for example; he sat over a myriad of words that would’ve otherwise sparked the reader’s imagination. And that’s what great writing is all about, right? Hearing a reader say, “It was like I watched the scene unfold…”

So, let’s go back to he sat. Sure he did, but be more precise: did he sprawl into the chair? Flop? Kick back? Ease into? Huddle? What works for the scene and tells you a little more about the character? A  CEO will claim a chair, a surfer-dude will slouch into it and a female thief, combing through the desk drawers might perch. See how none of the three verb examples is interchangeable with the other subjects? And how that verb choice paints a clearer picture in your head?

Other throwaway opportunities, IMO: move, got, went, took, put. He got out of the SWAT van becomes: he shouldered his way out of the van. He went south versus he headed south. She moved closer becomes she slipped closer. Did he take the cellphone out or pluck/snatch/palm it? Did she put the BP cuff on the patient’s arm or Velcro it on?

In this excerpt from Locked, Loaded and Lying, my hero is striding up a hill at midnight in a snowstorm when he witnesses a car crash through a guardrail down on the highway. Naturally, the real action is going to occur when he is at the scene, trying to open the battered door and save a life. So I could have made quick work of his return descent to the road. It’s windy, slippery and my hero is going as fast as he can. All boring words right? This is a lost opportunity to build the suspense and pace. Therefore I chose powerful verbs and adjectives, and sliced off any padded, filler words. The descent becomes sleek, action-packed and hopefully unfolds like a movie to you.

The thick forest would have made this descent treacherous on any given night, but combined with the stinging snow and thin, bobbing beam of his flashlight, his journey became one of survival. Flakes blinded him and clogged his breathing. Slashes of frigid wind whipped him until he staggered. He pushed on, slipping and sliding, and twice collided with cottonwood branches, the second one clocking him so hard it sheared off his knit cap.

Uttering an oath, he continued on, his breath now ragged. He reached the highway and half-ran, half-skated across. He halted at the guardrail’s serrated hole and swept the flashlight in an arc. A Honda Civic lay upside down on the embankment. The headlights shone with morbid stillness into the swirling river three feet away.

Play fast and loose with rules. Hijacking nouns and bend them into verbs. See if it sparks your scene. Happy writing!
Sarah Andre is a 2017 RWA RITA® finalist and writes ‘romantic suspense that keeps you up all night.’ Novels include: Locked, Loaded and Lying (2015), Tall,Dark and Damaged (2016) plus an anthology From Florida with Love (2016.) She lives in serene Southwest FL with her husband and two naughty Pomeranians. When she’s not writing, Sarah stays crushingly busy in various volunteer positions which she complains loudly about, but secretly enjoys. Her latest romantic suspense, Capturing the Queen releases in June, 2017. (She’s probably on deadline right now!) Website  Facebook  Twitter  Goodreads Amazon Author Page  BookBub Page   Kiss and Thrill blog

May 30, 2017

What Sgt. Pepper Can Teach Writers

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

It was fifty years ago this week that The Beatles released the album that made the music world's head spin. Sgt. Pepper may have "taught the band to play", but he also provided some teachable moments for writers.

A little friendly competition can be a good thing
Wordsmiths readily draw inspiration from other wordsmiths. The Beatles' Rubber Soul album (1965) motivated The Beach Boy's Brian Wilson to create their most ambitious album, Pet Sounds (1966). Then, after hearing Pet Sounds, Paul McCartney set out to create an album capable of topping that. To this day, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Pet Sounds remain the #1 and #2 albums on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

No filler
Albums traditionally contain only a couple of hit-worthy heavyweights, with less catchy songs comprising the rest of the collection. In order to produce an album that would surpass any before it, the fab four pledged to make every song a standout. During these sessions, it became typical for Paul to spend three hours of studio time capturing the perfect bass track, or for all four to run through a song till dawn trying different tempos and instruments till they found the exact sound they were looking for.

Putting that same painstaking care into every chapter of our book (including the middle that tends to sag) will ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Mixing Fact and Fantasy into Creative Nonfiction
Some of Sgt. Pepper's most acclaimed cuts came from real-life influences: an 1843 circus poster in John Lennon's house ("Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"); a classmate of his young son ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"); a runaway in a news story ("She's Leaving Home"); a parking ticket left on Paul's car by a meter maid ("Lovely Rita"); the death of a rich acquaintance ("A Day in the Life").

Each time we write, it's a mix of reality and our imagination. If we have the eyes to see it, everything in life can be a trigger for creativity.

Variety is the spice of life
No other group in history experimented as much as The Beatles, who created many of the innovations that are now staples of the studio. From aural innovations to genre-hopping (pop, rock, psychedelic, vaudeville, classical, Indian music), they refused to settle into the comfort of familiarity. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick learned to never say no to their crazy requests, instead finding a way to make it happen.

Writers who challenge themselves to move forward into uncharted territory are the ones who break new ground.

Establish the mood with the right title
Although Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is widely considered to be the first "concept album", the only connective elements are the opening medley introducing the fictional singers and a wrap-up near the end as the "band" leaves the stage.  Otherwise it's a collection of unrelated songs, not unlike an anthology of short stories. But the distinctive title (inspired by salt and pepper packets on a plane) ties it all together as one cohesive unit. Strive to make your book title just as memorable.

A little help from a (talented) friend
Perfectionists though they were, the fab four benefited from fine tuning. Enter the objective, experienced ear of producer George Martin (regarded as the fifth Beatle). His background in classical music, jazz, comedy albums and children's records gave him the unique ability to take anything the lads could throw at him and refine it into a polished production.

Geniuses though we humbly be, we're also too close to our own writing to see what other people see. Seek the feedback of carefully-chosen first readers as well as an established editor before releasing your latest masterpiece.

First impressions are lasting
The famous cover of Sgt. Pepper was groundbreaking for several reasons. For the first time, lyrics were included. Never before had there been a pop album with a folding sleeve. The cover design was the most expensive in history, costing the equivalent of over $3000. It's the most imitated and parodied cover of all time, with the possible exception of Abbey Road.

Buyers will always judge a book (and an album) by its cover, so coming up with that key visual is not a time to skimp. The Beatles stuck to their specialty of music, and left the cover design up to the professionals. (Most of whom won't cost you $3000.)

Take it to the limit
The 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper sees the release of a remastered set that includes six discs of remixes, outtakes, rarities and videos. Modern digital wizardry has revived the original recordings to a brilliance and clarity they've never had before. Which makes it even more amazing that The Beatles accomplished what they did with the limited technology available in 1967.

Today's creative mind has never had it so good. With computers to easily capture and edit every word we write, the Internet to research any story detail, and specialized software to help us plan each aspect of our outline, what's our excuse for not creating something that people will still be celebrating fifty years from now?

May 29, 2017

Dissecting a Chicken (Soup Story)

By Tracy Crump

Chicken Soup for the Soul has been around an incredible 24 years and is considered the best-selling trade paperback series in publishing history. Its longevity is due in part to the diverse writers who contribute to its varied titles.

How could you become one of those writers? Try dissecting this chicken and see what makes it tick.


Most writers know the head—I mean opening—must hook the reader. But you can find many ways to effectively kick off a Chicken Soup story.

·       Dialogue always adds interest and catches your reader’s attention, but since characters have not been introduced yet, it can cause confusion. If you use this method, be sure it’s clear who is speaking. Few Chicken Soup stories begin with dialogue.
·       Setting can ground the reader in time and place, but it can be boring if you’re not careful. Hold to the maxim that it’s taboo to open with a weather report. Give just enough detail that readers picture the scene.
·       Shocking statements grab a reader’s attention and make him want to read on. Just be sure the statement is relevant and stay true to your story.
·       A question can draw readers in. But be sure that if you ask a question at the beginning, you answer it by the end.


The closing of a Chicken Soup story is almost as important as the opening. You must resolve any conflicts, answer any questions, and bring it to a satisfying conclusion—without belaboring the point. As my friend Marylane says, “Tie it up with a bow. Your story is your gift to the reader.”

Tie the closing to the title, the opening, or a turning point in the story to bring your tale full circle.
·       End with a lesson learned. Most Chicken Soup stories include the takeaway in the closing.
·       Conclude with a repeated line or twist on a repeated line used throughout to connect the end to the rest of the story.
·       If the story is humorous, or sometimes even if it isn’t, close with a punch line to leave the reader happy.


Finally, you need something to hold this chicken’s head and tail together. The middle or “guts” of the story must provide a conflict or struggle for the main character (which is probably you) to overcome. It draws the reader along keeping her wondering what is going to happen and how the protagonist will triumph.

Now that you’ve successfully dissected a Chicken Soup story, you can construct one of your own and send it flying (I mean submit it) to Chicken Soup for the Soul.
As co-director of Write Life Workshops, Tracy Crump conducts workshops and webinars that encourage others to “Write Better, Write Now!” Storytelling is her specialty, as evidenced by two dozen stories published in anthologies, including nineteen in Chicken Soup for the Soul. She edits The Write Life, a free e-newsletter with story callouts, that has inspired many writers to move forward with their writing. Her love of teaching also takes her to conferences where she helps writers hone their craft. Tracy’s numerous articles have appeared in national magazines such as Focus on the Family, ParentLife, Mature Living, and Light & Life. She has been a magazine columnist, written for newspapers, and published around fifty devotionals. Recently she has taken her “Stirring the Pot: Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul” workshop on the road and is loving it. Website:  FB Profile:

May 26, 2017

The Southern Way

By Jill Weatherholt

While ordering iced tea in a restaurant, when I first moved to Charlotte, North Carolina from the DC area, the server asked me if I wanted “sweet tea” or “regular.” Since I’d always enjoyed a little sugar in my tea, I went with the sweet. Yowza! They weren’t kidding. The stuff was sweet. I could feel the cavities taking root. That day, I decided in the future, I’d stick with the regular.

Something else I learned by living in the South is the true meaning of southern hospitality. While looking for a new home, everyone waved as we drove through various neighborhoods. That was something I’d never experienced.

In 2012, Southern Writer’s Magazine extended their hospitality by inviting me to guest post after I’d been selected as a top ten runner-up in their short story contest. This was big for me. Not only was this the first writing contest I’d ever entered, but it was the first time something I’d written resulted in publication.

When the contest opened again in 2013, I wrote another story. That piece also was a top ten runner-up and printed in their magazine. Then in 2014, I thought, what the heck—I’ll write another one. Unlike the other two, this story’s subject matter was close to my heart. It was real, and something our family was coming to terms with. The story won second place and my photo appeared on the cover of the magazine…something I’d never imagined happening.

In the 2012 blog post, I mentioned earlier, I’d written about my first experience with NaNoWriMo. It was a thirty-day, wild roller coaster ride that ended with a messy and horrible rough draft—the first book I’d ever written. When I shared my experience here, I never dreamed when I entered Harlequin’s Blurb2Book contest in 2015, that very book would end up published in March of this year.

The entire experience has been a whirlwind, but during it all, the folks here at Southern Writer’s Magazine have been so supportive and encouraging. They have indeed taught me the true meaning of southern hospitality, which I now know consists of graciousness and kindness. So thank you, Southern Writer’s, for being there from the start of this amazing journey.
By day, Jill Weatherholt works for the City of Charlotte. At night, and on the weekend, she writes contemporary stories about love, faith and forgiveness. Raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., she now resides in Charlotte, North  Carolina, but her heart belongs to Virginia. She holds a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and Paralegal Studies Certification from Duke 
University. She shares her life with her real-life hero and number one supporter. Their relationship grew on the golf course, and now they have one in their backyard.  Jill believes in enjoying every moment of this journey because God has everything under control. Jill loves to blog @  Her website is: Facebook

May 25, 2017

A Venue to Market Your Books on Facebook for FREE

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine 

River City is lucky to have Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, an art museum founded in 1916. It is the oldest and largest art museum in the state of Tennessee. A recent exhibition was outdoor art that uniquely used a common item in most households, painter's tape. The exhibit called "Tape Art" created art on the outside facade of the museum. 

Artist Michael Townsend said “We are making a really lovely artwork that tells a compelling story and includes as characters women players, culled from the museum’s permanent collection." It was totally personalized to the art housed at Brooks. 

What does this have to do with authors? Facebook has a slideshow feature. Did you know? It turns your photos into a slideshow video complete with music. Slideshow, takes your cell phone photos and turns them into a short clip. I’m sure you’ve seen this on your News Feed. All you have to do is tap “try it” and upload the pictures of your choice. Just have five or more pictures taken at the same time and hit “try it.”  On Tuesday, in 3 minutes when the “Try It” button appeared and suggested doing a Slideshow of my “Tape Art” pictures, I tried it. I was pleased to notice the pictures loaded into a professional presentation set to music. I was amazed at the results.

This experiment on Facebook started me to thinking what a fantastic tool this could be for all authors. Instead of just listing your books with links on various Facebook pages, try this option using pictures of your books, your website or maybe the first page of your book. If you are working on your first book, take some pictures of your writing space to create interest. If you're running a book contest or getting reader feedback on book cover selections, this would be a great venue to consider. Right now, it's free and should pop up on your newsfeed if you take 5 or more pictures in a row. 

Let me know if you try it and post your link in the comments so everyone can see your slideshow. The best part is that it's free to do this on Facebook. 

May 24, 2017

How I Describe My Particular Craft: Composition of Poetry

By Sara M. Robinson

For me it is a misnomer to say I write poetry. It’s not like I set out to write an essay or even a fictional prose piece. I have to cast about my thoughts in such a way that my lines and stanzas provide pauses for the reader to stop and think about what I have written. This is actually tough for me as I have always been a “gabber” with my mantra of “why say in 30 words when 300 will work. So, I say I work at” composing” poetry. This has served me to learn more about the discipline of careful selection and contemplation of what to write, and say.

As in any craft in which the artist has a strong emotional investment, practice is a key component. If I am not writing, then I use the time for reading. I allocate a block of time to write and think, at least 2 hours a day. I have a dedicated writing space, which is my domain on good days, my catacomb on dark days. But I have a great view of a big oak tree rising above our apricot tree, which stands guard over the lilacs and this view never
fails to keep me grounded. Even when I can watch an approaching storm I can sense a
transfer of energy.

Many artists start their craft or their creative passion(s) early in their lives. I was not that lucky. Poetry came late to me, after I turned 65. Many of my poetry contemporaries had at least a 40-year head-start. I’ve had a lot of catching up to do in a short time. I am only 70 now. And the flip side of this is that I want my poetry to be relevant to the younger writers, too. One way I do this is by attending conferences at colleges and spending time on campus in English departments interacting with emerging writers. Young people today are smart and savvy. I have to be as good a wordsmith as I can be to keep up with them, compete with them, and be included with them.

For active poets, newly-minted poets, and even those who simply want to read poetry, I would offer that my regular column, Poetry Matters, in Southern Writers Magazine, could be a useful tool. The major focus of the column is to present the art of writing poetry in a user-friendly manner without the intimidation of academic scrutiny. I am a community poet so I work on the accessibility of poetry to mainstream readers. After all this is where poetry started. Poetry can be and should be accessible to everyone and anyone who enjoys reading.

So, as I compose poetry, I want to be a witness to the world, whether it is nature, society, or the big area in between. Then give this witness to readers. The reader then determines if the poems give enlightenment, education, entertainment, or all three.
Sara M. Robinson, award-winning poet, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pros(e) Writers’ Workshop, and Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014) and Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, is a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.

May 23, 2017

History Helps Create our Characters and Stories

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

Sometimes we wonder what is going to be our next novel.
You know there is a plethora of information available for us to research and create our stories and characters.
For example, being a history buff I wanted to know more about World War I; not the killing, but how the soldiers lived during this period and how we as a nation lived. I looked up the National WWI Museum and Memorial site, clicked on Win the War in the Kitchen: Boy was I surprised. Here is some of the info I found. Could you use some of the information to build your characters and stories?
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I; May 5, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover as the head of the U.S. Food Administration. I had never given the food, during this period of time, a thought.
Mr. Hoover called on Americans to voluntarily help the war effort––save food without imposing rations or regulations. He stated, “The whole foundation of democracy lies in the individual initiative of its people and their willingness to serve the interests of the nation with complete self-effacement in the time of emergency.”
As such, the nation moved to “Meatless Mondays”, “Wheatless Wednesdays” and more creativity in the kitchen using less dairy, fats and sugars. Today, we might say it was gluten-free, vegan and heart-healthy for a greater good.
Everywhere we turn today, people are talking about eating healthier foods, omitting fats and sugars from the diets; going for gluten-free and becoming vegans. In essence searching for foods that are healthy for our bodies; and 100 years before, our great-grandparents and parents did it willingly to help our men and country during the war.
Just this information above can be added to a story, either in the present or in the past. What this tells me is we can use this to write all aspects of the things that make up our character’s personality, traits, conditioning which in turn would make the character ever so much more interesting. One of your characters might be an old man, but when he was a child, he had to give up sugar, candies, cakes and pies because that sugar was needed for the men in the war. So if in your story we find him over indulging in sweets, we could understand why . . . or perhaps he doesn’t eat anything with sugar. It could go either way.
Did you know fats were the most precious thing in the war? Germany was nearer breaking for want of fats than any other one thing. “Fats” supply energy. When people grow hungry, they draw on the fat in their bodies. Without fat they weaken and waste away.
Did you know glycerin, which comes from fat, is one of the chief things that make modern explosives? Our armies used fat by shiploads.
There is interesting information available for writers to use to create characters who had quirks that were a product of the past that would add a nugget here and there to make the stories and characters we write more interesting, don’t you think?
Visit the Georgia Humanities, you will find information you can use to create wonderful, enjoyable stories and characters. Georgia Humanities is a partner of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission.

  • To learn about soldiers' rations throughout the course of the war, food's effect on morale, and the sacrifices those at home made to keep the troops fed, check out War Fare: From the Homefront to the Frontlines, an online exhibition created by the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

So what quirks will you give an old character in your story?

May 22, 2017

The Nature of Writing

By Jerrye Sumrall

As writers, we can all relate to the lady in the picture. I know I certainly can! When I first began writing fiction, the process of molding characters and scenes into a story was a daunting task. No matter how many writing courses I took, or how many free-lance editors I worked with, or how many articles I read, the process continued to be frustrating and difficult. It wasn’t a lack of information about writing, but a lack of understanding and applying the information. I did not understand the true nature of writing and what it would take to be a writer.

Based on my own writing journey, I would like to share some of my conclusions about what it takes to be a writer. In addition, I would like to encourage you to read the article, 10 Keys to Becoming aSuccessful Writer: An Agent Spills Secrets by Chuck Sambuchino. 

Authors have to want to write. It has to be so important that they can’t give it up. Every author knows that feeling. It’s like part of you wants to give up but another part of you want let go. No matter how frustrating or discouraging or absolutely impossible your writing becomes, a true writer will not stop, which leads to my point; don’t ever give up. If you are going to be an author, that is not an option and that stubborn part of you is what will see you through. I have been writing for over twenty years, and I am still learning new skills and techniques every time I write. And YES, I still get frustrated.

Authors must write from the heart. They must write about what is near and dear to them and what lies deep inside them, especially if they are writing fiction. Every one of us carries a past inside of us, and that past has shaped and molded us for good or bad into the person that we are today. An author must put that part of themselves into their writing, especially their characters. When I describe a character, I become that person, like an actor that plays a part. In that process, part of me enters into the character because I’m thinking: what would I say, what would I do, or how would I react to this or that situation.  
Authors must use their interests, abilities, and personality traits to write their story. I did not start writing until almost mid-life, but my early childhood interests, personality traits, and motivations stayed with me and became the driving force in writing mystery books for children. As a young child and all through adulthood, I was always curious and fascinated with the unknown and anything mysterious. I loved watching horror flicks on television, reading mystery books or just exploring my surroundings. Later in life, my experience as a teacher, counselor, and parent added even more background to use in my writing. When I began to write my middle-grade mystery series for children, my life experiences poured out onto the page and into the scenes and fictional characters I created. 

My books were a reflection of my past experiences and what was important to me. Those important things developed into three main themes in my books: mystery, history, and relationships. Each one of my books in, The Bayshore Mysteries, contains those three important themes. Each one of you has a past and a vast repertoire of experiences. Don’t hesitate to use those experiences to create your best work ever!
Jerrye Sumrall lives in Spanish Fort, Alabama with her husband. Formerly an elementary schoolteacher and counselor, she is now a full-time writer, homemaker, amateur photographer and office manager for she and her husband’s business. She is the author of five middle grade books: Intruders on Battleship Island, The Secret Graveyard, The Mystery of Wragg Swamp, Mystery on Mound Island, and The Ghost of Blakeley Past, all part of a mystery series called, The Bayshore Mysteries. In each one of her books, she has tried to incorporate mystery, action and adventure, local history, and enduring characters who learn lessons in friendship, courage, and self-awareness. She feels that her choice of unusual settings, her use of historical fact, her presentation of age-appropriate mystery, and her focus on lessons in self-reliance and respect for others has made The Bayshore Mysteries a unique middle grade series. *Jerrye Sumrall would love to connect with readers through any of the social media platforms listed on her website at                             

May 19, 2017

Don’t Miss One of the Best Writing Opportunities

By W. Terry Whalin

Many writers struggle to make a living—yet ignore one of the best possible ways to make money: ghostwriting. Some people only want to write their own stories. Yet there are an infinite number of stories for others you can ghostwrite. I’ve seen some writers try it once and give up. Ghostwriting is an honorable way to use your craft to write for others.

The first step is to answer several questions: 1. Are you willing to write stories for others and in their “voice” or style? 2. Have you written these types of stories and where do you get this type of writing experience? One of the best places is in the print magazine area because the form is shorter than a book and you can get a taste of the process without the commitment of a full-length book. If the process works with the other person, then consider doing a full-length book project.

The full details about ghostwriting or collaborative writing are impossible to capture in this short article. I recommend you get a copy of GHOSTWRITING by Cecil Murphey. Cec is one of the most skilled writers in this area with over 140 published books to his credit and a number of New York Times bestselling books. Murphey has tackled this type of writing over and over.

Through a combination of his own personal experience, he takes the mystery away from this area and helps writers learn the value. He gives them a vision for how they too could earn good money but also help others birth stories which would never be written.

Murphey covers the gamut of topics in this well-written book. He defines the terms like book doctor or collaborator or ghostwriter. He goes into ethical concerns and where you find subjects and answers a critical writer question: how do you make money and what do you charge for this service.

I’ve got shelves of how-to writing books and only have one other book on this topic (written years ago). This new book is fresh and engaging. Also, Murphey has tapped his wide network of other ghostwriters for their experiences and added it to enrich his book. The key application points for the reader are distilled at the end of each chapter into a series of bullet points called a Takeaway.

As I read GHOSTWRITING cover to cover, I found myself nodding in agreement at the wisdom in this book. I’ve written more than a dozen books for other people as a collaborator and rarely a ghostwriter. I highly recommend GHOSTWRITING for anyone who wants to learn the inside story about this much-needed area of the writing world. Ghostwriting can be one of your best writing opportunities.
W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor, Whalin has written for more than 50 publications including Christianity Today and Writer’s Digest. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. His latest book is Billy Graham, A Biography of America’s GreatestEvangelist and the book website is at: His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.comTerry Blogs about the Writing Life at: Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

May 18, 2017

Orphans Found More Often in Written Word than the Real World

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

In need of some fresh ideas for a short story I Googled “short story ideas” and came up with 10 Short Story Ideas by Joe Bunting. It was an interesting piece with a list of 10 great ideas as well as some behind the scene facts and explanations. First I will share Joe’s ideas then look closely into the one I found most interesting. Here they are 1 through 10:

1. Tell the story of a scar, whether a physical scar or emotional one.

2. Your character discovers a dead body OR witnesses a death.

3. Your character is orphaned.

4. Your character discovers a ghost.

5. Your character’s relationship ends.

6. Your character’s deepest fear is holding his or her relationship OR career back.

7. A character living in poverty comes into an unexpected fortune.

8. A character unexpectedly bumps into his or her soul mate, literally.

9. Your character is on a journey. However, they are interrupted by a natural disaster OR an accident.

10. Your character runs into the path of a monster.

On each idea Joe Bunting goes into details and examples. The one that interested me the most was, 3.
Your character is orphaned. I suppose coming from a strong family background with no orphans in the family I was always intrigued and frightened by the thought of being an orphan. Thankfully it turns out well for many but the idea has been the story line of many tales. Bunting pointed out the following characters were all orphans: Harry Potter, Superman, Cosette from Les Miserables, Bambi, David Copperfield, Frodo Baggins, Tom Sawyer, Santiago from The Alchemist, Arya Stark, and Ram Mohammed Thomas from Slumdog Millionaire.

Bunting went on to say, “Writers love orphans, and statistically they appear in stories far more often than in the world. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable, and as such, they have the most potential for growth. It’s time for you to write a story about one. 

Each of Bunting’s ideas is interesting and he adds a great deal of insight with each. I hope you will search out his article and spend time with it. It will be worth your while.


May 17, 2017

Writing While Life Goes On

By Barbara Ragsdale, Contributing Writer for Southern Writers Magazine

I read. I write. I see visions. I teach exercise. I’m retired. Which of those five statements is a myth?  Right. Retirement. It doesn’t exist and those of us who wait to do things until that time arrives waste a lot of creative energy.

I have retired more than once; did it in stages. Left the full-time job to work part-time. Skipped around from one employment to another, reducing the hours required until I finally chucked it all—then went back to teaching group exercise, land and water.

During the down-time of part-time jobs, I enrolled in on-line writing classes. Found some reasonably priced and instructor led rather than peer led. Well worth the money. Group comments were helpful; instructor’s comments encouraging. Later, I enrolled in a peer led class with syllabus and writing assignments prepared by an instructor. 

One thoughtful assignment was to imagine and write about a blade of grass. I could. I did—kind of. I knew the idea was to think deeply about that blade of grass, to mentally touch and feel the product of nature. I just couldn’t, not after I peered out the window at my yard, barren under the trees and brown from another product of nature.

Living in the South, one learns that growing a lush green lawn is an arduous, expensive project.  There are the periods of drought followed by a deluge of rain. There are the hot summer days when the temps crawl toward the 100s and the dew dries up before the first cup of morning coffee. I did think of the struggle that blade of grass endured in my yard every day.

I imagined the blade bent over from the owner’s size 13 shoes trudging a path to retrieve the morning paper.  It would take all day to get the kinks out. 

Suddenly, the blade hears thumping and marching. It’s the ants, in their never-ending column, up, down, back and forth. All day long. “Can’t you give a guy some peace?” he yells. The blade just wants a little moment of quiet so that he can grow. 

The earth around him starts to vibrate. “Not again,” he fumes. The kids are playing ball. He slips and slides sideways to avoid them. No such luck as they trample him, followed by the family pet who does what all family pets do.

In the quiet of the late afternoon, the blade thinks he’s survived to live another day, until he hears a motor. The final insult; the owner on a lawn mower trimming the new growth. The blade smiles and thinks, “That’s okay.  I’ll grow a couple of inches tonight.”

I did think about the blade of grass as I tamped down the mole hills and surveyed the brown grass left after the army worms marched through the Bermuda like Sherman to the sea. Couldn’t get all warm and fuzzy though, but I did learn that most anything can be a character in a story. Just have a vision.