August 31, 2017

Novel Inspiration via Following Guidelines

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for  Southern Writers Magazine

As authors, our writing ultimately has to succumb to edits. Before the edits begin, the publisher guidelines must be followed. It's a simple process that some authors  overlook which often causes their submissions to be rejected. 

Occasionally, magazines, blogs, etc. receive submissions from prospective writers who have not read through submission guidelines. As authors, it is absolutely crucial to know who you are writing for and provide a submission that meets the guidelines for publication. 

Additionally, authors need to treat their submissions as a disciplined professional when following the submission guidelines. The authors who do their homework can quickly find their pieces published. They will establish long-term relationships, which may result in becoming regular contributors.

Southern Writers Magazine's Author blog, Suite T, offers authors an opportunity to introduce themselves to our blog readers. This is a great way for an author to broaden their readership by appearing on SWM's blog, Suite T

This link takes you to the guidelines for our guest author blog posts. If you're new to the blog, you can check out the blog archives on the right hand side of this page to see the valuable topics that have been covered by other authors over the past five years. The Suite T blog topics have to do with anything on writing and the business of writing. Enjoy!

August 30, 2017

How Do I Do It?

By Elbert Alberson

I read every book one author has written.  Then I read, every book, another author wrote.  When I finished that last book, I said to myself, I CAN DO THIS.  Then I took one of Stuart Wood’s books and examined it.  I mean every detail even to the indentions, where the page numbers were––top, bottom, centered, etc.

Then I told myself again and again.  Write what I know about.  I wrote my autobiography, called COTTON TOP.  It was my best seller 4 years.

Then I wrote a HISTORICAL FICTION.  The story was about four friends and our escapades while enjoying their hobby of Scuba diving.  It was historical because it really happened, the location was real, and the characters were the author and his friends.  But to protect the innocent, the names were changed.  The fiction part was, the story, fictionalized by what could have happened, because they came so close to reality.  That story might have really happened, by associating with the wrong person, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I got to the end of the story, everybody was still alive in the story.  And there was, so much material, I wrote a sequel to that book, and stopped, at the end of a five book series. The material could have been hunting, fishing, anything that four guys might have done every weekend for four years. CAY SAL, DIAMONDS AND GOLD, OLD GOALD, FIRE ISLAND, AND ITALIAN INTRIGUE.

Let me say this.  There is a right way to write a book and a wrong way.  I just showed you one way and there are many other, right ways, to write a book.  But, there are wrong ways.  I read a book one day and liked it.  I read another of that same author’s books, and I noticed, all he had done, was change the names of the characters, the name of the towns, the type crime involved.  I picked up on it early.  As I read more, it got to where I knew exactly, what was going to happen next and I had only read a few chapters.  Don’t ever be so weak to ever do that. You would be cheating yourself, destroying your credibility and reputation.  All you have is your reputation.

Keep on writing. You have the material in your mind. Just think about it.  I was in the Air Force in Savannah, Georgia for two years.  I wrote a book called CRACKER 929, about what all I got into. Again, I changed the names of the characters, to protect the innocent. 

Then I went overseas, and flew out of Japan for a year and out of the Philippines for a year.  I really changed the names and other things, because it was a Special Ops Plane   and nobody was to know who we were, where we came from or where we were going.  That book is called RED BULL.

That is how I Wrote, 5 of my 13 books.
ELBERT ALBERSON was born in Memphis, Tennessee.  He left home at an early age joining the Air Force and traveled extensively.  During his travels, mostly in the Air Force and in the early stages of Vietnam, he experienced adventures of a life time flying  North  to  Newfoundland, South to  the Azores in Portugal and  the Far East to include Vietnam,  Japan, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Australia, Thailand, Okinawa, Burma and Singapore.  He experienced near death incidents multiple times and learned the many customs and traditions in these countries.  This has led to many stories to tell, some of his stories are fictional, of real people, real places, and real incidents His adventures continued through his associations with the sport of Scuba Diving for many years.  There are many stories of real Experiences of Adventure and Excitement.   Most story lines are fictional stories.  But Elbert is the main character in most of his books with real people and places in his books.  Because of his travels and experiences and the research required to write his stories to include real historical events and actual happenings, you will relive his experiences through his eyes.  His books include:  Cotton Top, Red Bull, Cay Sal, Diamonds and Gold,   Old Gold,   Fire Island, The Italian Incidents,   River of Intrigue   and   Memphis Intrigue 1940, Cracker 929,  Katherine,   A dangerous attraction, Chasing Second Chances. He can be found on Facebook.

August 29, 2017

Is This Good Writing Advice?

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

How many times have you heard this advice about writing? “Write what you know.”
Tom Robbins, an American novelist said, “The one thing emphasized in any creative writing course is 'write what you know,' and that automatically drives a wooden stake through the heart of imagination.” He then went on to say, “If they really understood the mysterious process of creating fiction, they would say, you can write about anything you can imagine.”

Well, today, with Google, is there anything we can’t find out about? We can put any subject in Google and research it until our heart is content. No longer are we limited to things we know or places we’ve been.

A copy writer writes advertising promotional material. In order to do their job well they have to research the company who has hired them to write the material. They also have to learn what product/products the company produces, how it’s made, what does it do, and what is it used for. By the time they finish their research they know as much about the company as the founders. Well, almost. Only then, with all this information, are they prepared and ready to write the promotional material.

It’s imperative for a writer to allow their imagination to come into their world of writing. I like to think imagination is what we turn lose and allow to soar to heights we’ve never known in reality. This is where our ideas are born, where the creative part of us forms images. With imagination, there is nothing we can’t create and bring into being.

We all have emotions we can tap into for our writing. We have experienced love, anger, hurt, loneliness, anxiety, and fear to name a few. We can dig into these emotions and pull out what we felt and write those emotions to characters we create.

If you write these feelings, your readers will feel them just as you felt them.

So is that good writing advice? To write what we know? No! Because we are unlimited in being able to learn about anything we need to know or about a place through the use of the internet.

Yes, it is good advice when you realize you’ve felt all those emotions then you can write about what you know.

Happy Writing!

August 28, 2017

Writing Poetry with Biblical Themes

By Debbie Harris

I am a passionate Christ-centered poet.  For me and my style of writing, to write a Christ-centered poem, one must not be subtle in the use of Biblical references and Biblical images.  This is important for me since my life verse is found in Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth: to the Jew fist, and also to the Greek.

When I think of Christ centered bold poets I think of George Herbert, Christiana Rossetti, T.S. Elliot, John Wesley, John Donne, and C. S. Lewis and all the other great hymn writers of the faith. Their Christocentric and Bible-centered messages are beauty filled, but clear, and bold in their purpose of exalting, Jesus Christ King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In order, to be a Christ-centered artist, we must boldly proclaim the message of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords who so gloriously lives in our souls, minds, hearts, and lives.  Such a rich treasury of spiritual wealth resides within the precious golden pages of the Bible.  Inspiration can always be found in its inerrant tapestried pages of   beauty, wisdom, correction, and love.

For a poem to be Christ centered, here are several steps;

  1. Pray that the Lord would open your heart, soul, mind, with eyes of faith to see what he would have you to see from the Holy Scriptures.  Don’t be afraid to utilize scripture references or images in your poetry.  Be a passionate student of the word.

  1. Pray that the Lord would allow you to hear what he would have you to hear from the scripture.

  1. Pray that the Lord would use and orchestrate everything in your life: circumstances, joy, pain, struggles, blessings, and the glorious answers from
the Bible to help you write a poem that would glorify our Lord and Savior.

  1. As you go out everyday, notice the beauty of the Christ given creation and utilize the images that you see with your own eyes or with eyes of faith and write a poem about this beauty-filled Christ created earth.

  1. Each poem should have a specific message and purpose.

  1. Utilize a variety of sensory images: Tactual, taste, visual, auditory, olfactory.

  1. Start a blog; see what others think about your work.

  1. Join a writer’s guild

  1. Read the classics.

  1. Read all the poetry books in the Bible.

  1. Be a student of your craft.

  1.  Study a different type and form of poetry  monthly.

  1.  Write, write, and write.

  1.  Ask to be on blogs.

  1.  Query magazines, editors, book publishers.

Have fun learning, growing, developing your own poetic voice. Pray for opportunities and always give God the glory. For poetry is a gift given by Giver of all good gifts, Jesus Christ. May we use poetry to always honor and glorify our immeasurable, beauty-filled Savior.
Debbie Harris is a poet, counselor, performer, Bible student, and passionate follower of Jesus Christ. She is the author of two poetry books, Which Church Am I? and 365 Christ Centered Contemplative Poems: Exalting Jesus Christ Name Above All Names available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles as an e-book and as a paperback .  She has been featured on various blogs.  She is  a Life Letter Café  regular contributor and has been featured in Southern Writers Magazine several times. She is a member of Redbud Writers Guild, Author’s Guild, and a member of the American Academy of Poets.  Her passion is to further the kingdom of Jesus Christ through Christian poetry.  She is also available to perform her poetry.  Please drop by and follow her on Twitter @debbieharris1 or join her on her daily blog   I am looking forward to connecting with you on line as I exalt the name of Jesus Christ, name above all names through Christ-centered poetry.

August 25, 2017


By James C Paavola

The close of the twentieth century saw the development of Positive Psychology, a new psychological theory anchored in personal values and emphasizing a strengths-based perspective. The theory has already generated a great deal of supportive research.

Positive Psychology is a cornerstone of many personal and executive coaching plans, beginning with the identification of a person’s core values and personal strengths. One tenet in particular has merit for writers—how emotion impacts creativity. Negative emotions like anger, fear, or depression can lead to the perceived reduction of available choices. Having fewer options is especially helpful in safety related situations—triggering fight-or-flight responses—when decisions must be made quickly. Such a narrowed focus requires less time and could save one’s life. However, the same tunnel vision occurs in everyday situations when we are angry, sad, anxious, or in pain. Our choices seem limited. Two answers come quickly—Yes! No! 

On the other hand, according to the research, positive emotions like happiness or peacefulness tend to expand options and enhance creativity. One choice leads to another possibility, and creativity kicks in, generating enthusiasm. Easier said than done? Of course. If it were easy, I’d have written twice as many books by now. Maybe even a best seller.

Is it possible to stop feeling angry, sad, anxious, or discouraged? Absolutely. My favorite example occurred when I was being evaluated for an allergy, one that led to my tongue swelling. The allergist injected me with incrementally larger doses of the offending substance. I was nervous. Okay. I was scared to death. My breathing became shallow, rapid. I felt light headed.

“Stop it!” the allergist directed. “You’re just hyperventilating.”

I immediately stopped being anxious, and my breathing returned to normal. Now, when I want to break away from negative feelings, I envision a large red STOP sign. Then I choose to do something enjoyable—light exercise, meditation, listening to music (Rocky or Tchaikovsky). Whatever it takes to build a bridge to more positive feelings.

How might that work for a writer? Let’s say I just finished responding to my editor’s critique of my manuscript. And let’s say I had to make lots of revisions. How might I feel? Hint: I was not smiling when I returned my revised manuscript.

While waiting on that manuscript, I tried to start my next story—a difficult task in my discouraged and self-deprecating state. Everything was colored by negative feelings. Enthusiasm was absent. Vision tunneled. Options reduced. Creativity lacking. It became: Ready…Set…Oh, I need more chocolate.

Then, I chose to “Stop it!” I used the writing of this article as my bridge. And while riding a stationary bike, I began considering themes. By the time I finished my exercise, I had chosen a topic for my next book and sketched out the first two chapters.

What works for you? How do you STOP those negative feelings from dominating your outlook? 

What bridge works best for you? What activities or emotions stimulate your creativity?

James “Jim” Paavola is retired from his careers as a psychologist and as a personal & executive coach. In retirement, he has self-published five books in the Murder In Memphis mystery series. The release of his sixth book in that series is expected in late July 2017. Paperbacks are available at Amazon and Jim’s website . eBooks are available at the usual dot coms. Jim belongs to a mystery writers group called Malice in Memphis which has been compiling anthologies of short stories, edited by Carolyn McSparren and published by Dark Oak Press. Jim has a short story in each of the first two: Bluff City Mysteries and Ghost Stories. Two more of his short stories are included in anthologies expected to be released by Dark Oak Press within the next nine months.

August 24, 2017

Southern Writers - Suite T: Taking a New Trail

Southern Writers - Suite T: Taking a New Trail:  By  Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine I have written about  The Bourbon Trail  possibility revealing...

Taking a New Trail

 By  Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

I have written about The Bourbon Trail possibility revealing a new cult following in this country like what Urban Cowboy revealed to us years ago.

Apparently, the fascination has exploded. According to Carla Harris Carlton, author of Barrel Strength Bourbon: The Explosive Growth of America’s Whiskey, “It’s gone from being grandpa’s drink to being a sophisticated spirit,’ she says, “There’s a lot of culture and history behind it.” For USA TODAY Carlton shared with Larry Bleiberg some 10 favorite restaurants and bars specializing in the drink. These are located from New York to New Orleans and from Charleston to San Francisco. So, after you take the Bourbon Trail you can relax and enjoy the Bourbon.

Not to be outdone by Kentucky and their Bourbon, Tennessee has presented us with The Whiskey Trail. With over 30 distilleries in Tennessee they felt as a group they could do more to promote true Tennessee Whiskey and a true Tennessee Whiskey experience by providing a trail featuring these distilleries from one end of the State to the other. Packages include lodging, food and of course whiskey.  

Having taken the Freedom Trail in Boston and touring author’s homes in that area then seeing these trails my thoughts were, why not an Authors Trail? So, I did what we all do, I Googled it! 

Congratulations to Connecticut! They are having their 9th Annual Connecticut Authors Trail. In 2017, it runs from July 6th to September 17th.  From their website, it states, The Connecticut Authors Trail consists of a consortium of Eastern Connecticut Libraries who are constantly amazed at the variety of genres and diverse styles of writing among the authors who live in or are associated with the Nutmeg State.”  What a great idea for authors, libraries, and the communities.  

I know each of us have authors in our immediate area. If there isn’t a trail you can create a personal one and set out. As an example, within an hour of my home is the home of William Faulkner which wouldn’t be a bad start. I am sure with the knowledge of authors we have at our fingertips any of us could put together a similar trail as they have in Connecticut.

The purpose of the trail would be to promote and highlight current authors and inspire future authors. There would also be the additional assets of book sales, community’s benefiting commercially and of course more people reading books. All are in line with the purpose behind Southern Writers Magazine. I encourage each of you to follow the trail and please inform us of other author trails. We would love to share them with our authors and readers.

August 23, 2017

How to Act Like a Professional Writer at Your Next Conference

By Jennifer Hallmark

Is anything more beautiful than the Blue Ridge Mountains in the springtime? Warm days and cool, crisp nights nestled among towering mountains—my idea of vacation. But wait. This trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference will provide opportunities to meet other writers, learn about the craft of writing, and pitch my novel.

A writers conference can be all that, plus you’ll meet agents, publishers, and editors. The impression you make can further your career and open new doors. Or cause it to die a slow, lingering death. As I prepare to leave, I’d like to share seven tips to help you come across as a professional writer to all the people you meet at a conference.

Be early. I know everything starts super early, and the days are long. You can rest when you get home. I’m studying the layout and intend to arrive early so I can become familiar with the buildings and classrooms. I don’t want to be the person interrupting the class.

Come prepared. Decide which classes you want to take. The website or the brochure gives information on what to bring. I always carry a notebook, several pens, and any handouts a teacher requires.

Show yourself to be a neat person. You don’t have to wear designer clothes and bring your hairstylist with you. Most conferences share ahead of time what manner of clothing is expected and what isn’t acceptable. Be prepared to leave the perfume or cologne at home. More and more large venues are fragrance-free. Mainly, don’t look like you just crawled out of bed. 😊

Be polite and kind to everyone—the people handing out name badges, the teachers, the cafeteria workers. You never know who is watching. I try to treat all people as I like to be treated. Remember the Golden Rule. (See Matthew 7:12)

Speak loud and clear. I struggle with this, being a soft-spoken Southerner. I need to make an effort to be clear and concise in my speech and loud enough so people won’t keep saying, “What?” Offer a strong handshake. You don’t want to come across as terrified and wimpy, even if you are.

Spend equal time listening and talking. Writing is a lonely occupation. You might be tempted to share all your dreams and aspirations with everyone you meet. You’ve finally found some like-minded people who understand you. Curb that impulse. Ask others about themselves, what their dreams and aspirations are. You might learn something and gain new friends.

Have a positive attitude. If you enter the conference with a feeling of thankfulness and gratefulness over the work and time it takes to plan the event, you won’t be looking for what isn’t working. No one wants to be around a person who is negative, always grumbling, whining, and complaining. Such an attitude is likely to repel agents, editors, and publishers. So decide on day one that you are glad to be there.

To the best of your ability, try to be early and prepared, presenting yourself as a neat person who is polite and kind to everyone. Speak up, share and then listen. Wrap yourself in a positive attitude and I promise, you’ll not only enjoy the conference more, but come across as a professional. You never know what doors might open for you.

I need to go now and start packing. See you there!
Jennifer Hallmark has published articles, short stories and been part of four book compilations, A Dozen ApologiesSweet Freedom A La ModeUnlikely Merger, and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. Jennifer’s website and the group blog she co-founded focus on her books, love of the South, and helping writers. Social media links are:

August 22, 2017

Great Expectations

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

So where were you during the 2017 eclipse? If you're like an estimated tens of millions of Americans, you went outside (or at least looked out the window) to try to catch your local version of the highly-publicized event.

After it was over, reviews were mixed, with reactions covering the gamut from "Spectacular" to "Was that it?" This range of opinions often came from folks who had observed from the very same vantage point.

As fate would have it, I was traveling through Kentucky yesterday and managed to be in the path of totality as it crossed the Bluegrass State. I pulled into a Dollar General parking lot off the interstate at the right time and joined a small group of travelers who had the same idea. One couple had come equipped with pricey black plastic eclipse goggles and a picnic lunch, enjoying their own little tailgate party. Another couple of women who just happened to be at the store paused outside just long enough to watch it get almost dark and then went inside.

Being a people watcher anyway, I was as entertained by the divergent levels of interest shown by those around me as I was the solar show going on in the sky. Some people booked their hotel rooms months in advance to ensure their place in the path of totality, while others just stopped to get a Pepsi. Apparently not everyone is blinded by science. (And hopefully nobody was.)

What makes this total eclipse a little more notable to any of us in the publicity game, is that this was the first eclipse where social media is to thank for really getting the word out. In the past, only the astronomers and devoted stargazers "saved the date" so far in advance. This time around, the buzz started very early via the Internet, and millions timed their vacations to be somewhere in the eclipse path on August 21st.

Social media is free advertising that works, but we already knew that. The real takeaway from this is that 1) the Internet buzz reached many who otherwise might not have cared and caused them to go to considerable effort in order to experience the event, and 2) the buzz began early enough that marketers, hoteliers, t-shirt manufacturers and commercial opportunists of all kinds could plan ahead and capitalize on it.

Publicity experts tell authors to start promoting their books months before they're actually available. One author we work with has been promoting her new August release since Christmas, with excellent results. To her fans, the book is a familiar friend that is nearly selling itself.

Posting progress reports on Facebook ("Just finished chapter 20!") or posting small samples online are simple ways to attract early attention. Some authors do contests, offering to name a character after the winner. Others ask readers to vote for their favorite of several proposed titles or covers. Getting fans involved makes them feel personally invested.

Generating buzz well in advance of your book's release and positioning it as an "event" is an easy but powerful strategy for attracting new readers and building their anticipation. Like a good solar eclipse, a successful book launch doesn't just happen. You planet.

August 21, 2017


By Penny Warner 


That means “Help!” in Japanese. I figured it was the one word I’d need the most when I headed for Japan on a book tour. The truth is I was a little terrified. Even though I was born in Okinawa (a small island off Japan), I was worried about visiting a country where I don’t speak the language, recognize the alphabet, or know much about the culture. How was I supposed to connect with readers?

But when my Japanese publisher suggested I come meet my “fans,” how could I refuse? This would be a once in a lifetime adventure. All I had to do was brush up on the cultural dos and don’ts so I didn’t bring to shame to myself and my family. I quickly learned about taking off my shoes when entering a home (had to get a pedicure!), bowing instead of shaking hands (I can curtsey like a princess, but bow?) using chopsticks properly (no “chopping” or “sticking” the food), bringing gifts but belittling them (Oh, this old chocolate? It’s from Wal-Mart) and avoiding getting a tattoo (it’s a sign of the Japanese mafia.)

After leaving messages for my family to call the American Embassy if I wasn’t back in ten days, off I went.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was taken care of by my wonderful editor, Yuka Hayashi. The highlight of the trip was meeting the students at bookstores and school events. The young fans treated me like a rock star (eat your heart out, Taylor Swift.) After signing hundreds of books and having my picture taken with each and every reader, I didn’t want to leave. The kids brought me cookies, cards, and crafts, and had me sign their notebooks, pencil cases, and origami creations. The bookstore made posters, set up a table in front of the store, and by the time I arrived, 80 kids had lined up, the last one waiting an hour and a half for a book and a signature. Yuka was there every minute to make sure everything went smoothly, and arranged for me to meet my translator, my illustrator, my book designer, my foreign agent, my sales reps and even the boss and the boss’s boss. The publisher made cute little notebooks for all the kids, while I passed out “top secret” code kids. The schools were just as accommodating, the students asked great questions—translated into English—and I even got to have lunch which I got to eat with the kids.

In the rare moments of free time, my editor took me to the electronic district (I got a toy drone for my ten-year-old grandson), the anime and manga shops (a Sailor Moon for the seven-year-old), the Pokémon store (the latest characters for the six-year-old,) and the Hello Kitty kiosk (yet another Hello Kitty for the five-year-old’s collection). I picked up a Mickey and Minnie dressed as a samurai and a geisha for me.

I also learned a lot while I was in Japan. I can say “hello” (konichiwa), “thank you” (arigato), and “my bad” (warukatta), but had to do a lot of gesturing when I needed to communicate important concepts like, “I’m lost,” (shake your head and throw your arms up in the air), “How much does that cost?” (Raise your eyebrows and pull out your wallet), and “More wine, please.” (Point to your empty glass then add a thumbs-up.)

It was hard to leave such a beautiful, friendly country, filled with golden temples, grand shrines, and green valleys. But I’ll always have a little bit of Japan with me, thanks to the bazillion photos we took, chronicling nearly every minute, not to mention the many memories of enthusiastic young readers will be with me always.
Penny Warner has published over 60 books for both adults and children. Her middle-grade mystery, THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB #1: SECRET OF THE SKELETON KEY, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Children’s Mystery. It features four kids who solve a mystery by cracking codes in each chapter. The second book in the series, THE CODE BUSTERS #2: THE HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE, is set on Alcatraz and won the Agatha Award for Best Children’s Mystery.  THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB #3: MYSTERY OF THE PIRATES’S TREASURE features the California Missions and the state’s lone pirate and was nominated for an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award. THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB #4: THE MUMMY’S CURSE, is set at an Egyptian Museum and offers puzzles about artifacts and mummies. THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB #5: HUNT FOR THE MISSING SPY is set at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, and THE CODE BUSTRS CLUB #6: SECRET OF THE PUZZLE BOX, set on Angel Island. You can join the Code Busters Club at In addition to her Code Buster series, her non-fiction book, THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK, was nominated for an Agatha Award.  Her first mystery featuring a deaf reporter, DEAD BODY LANGUAGE, won the Macavity Award for Best Mystery and was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony Award. She also writes the HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY series, featuring a party planner, and DEATH OF A CRABBY COOK series, featuring food trucks. She writes a column for the local newspaper on family life in the Valley, creates fund-raising murder mystery events for libraries across the country, and teaches child development at Diablo Valley College. She can be reached at or or

August 18, 2017

Fear, Passion and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

By Debra H. Goldstein

Imagine my mother “accidentally” leaving a copy of the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine on the table, as if she had been reading it, when she set up for her weekly card game.  By strategically placing it, she guaranteed her friends saw her daughter’s name on the magazine’s cover. When they pointed to it, she waved a hand and said, “Oh, that.  Debra’s had several short stories, plus a book, published this year. It’s difficult to get published in Alfred Hitchcock, but they took her on her first try.” 

What she failed to share with them is that AHMM including The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place almost didn’t happen because of my own fears.

Although I enjoyed the challenges of being a litigator, judge, community volunteer, wife, and parent, fear kept me from following my passion of writing. I often talked about my desire to tell stories, but I wrote nothing except boring briefs, opinions, and legal articles until a friend challenged me to use her condo for a weekend to find my writing voice.  The unsaid part of the offer was if you don’t find a way to express yourself on paper, don’t talk about it anymore. 

During that weekend, I wrote eighty-five pages and realized I had the beginning, middle and end of a book in my head. Fear gave way to confidence. 2012 IPPY award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, contains five of the eighty-five pages. Since then, I wrote another book, Should Have Played Poker (Five Star 2016) and had twenty-four short stories published in periodicals and anthologies, but the one in Alfred Hitchcock almost didn’t come to be.

I was afraid I couldn’t write anything good enough to meet its standards.  Thanks to reading craft books, dissecting the stories of great writers, and taking classes, I knew my technical skills were improving, but AHMM stories have heart and fire. My early tries lacked the sparks necessary to engage a reader. They had too much tell rather than show. Slowly, I learned to trust the reader to go on an imaginary journey with me instead of supplying every detail. 

Once I did that, my characters and settings became more realistic and enjoyable.  I started submitting to markets ranging from online periodicals to literary magazines to open anthology cattle calls.  Acceptances became more frequent.  If something was rejected, I edited and submitted it elsewhere. For some stories the process had to be repeated several times before it found a home (and being honest, a few will forever reside in my computer).

Even though writers I respected encouraged me to send a story to Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queen, I didn’t. I couldn’t.  I read both magazines and analyzed the different styles and voices each published, but fear paralyzed me from taking a chance. My rationalization was my stories were too simple, too comical, too one-dimensional, too crappy, but then I wrote a story with different layers and concepts entwined within it.  It was special. I knew someone would publish it, but who? There was only one way to know if AHMM or EQMM would take it. Submit it. The voice seemed more suited to AHMM, so I sent the story off aware turnaround time for acceptance or rejection might be nine months. I steeled myself to receive bad news, so you can imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance e-mail.

In retrospect, what is the worst that could have happened? A rejection. That wouldn’t have stopped me from improving the story and submitting it elsewhere. My writing has a long way to go, but I’ve learned that overcoming the obstacle of fear is perhaps the greatest gift I can give myself --- and it gave my mother something to brag about.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star - 2016) and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. She also writes short stories and non-fiction. Debra serves on numerous boards, including Sisters in Crime (national) and the Guppy Chapter, and is an MWA member. Her Social Media links:           @DebraHGoldstein

August 17, 2017

Novel Inspiration via a Job in a Haunted House in Scotland

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Have you ever wanted to write a science fiction or paranormal book? Are you an Outlander fan and want to write a time travel book in historic Scotland? How would you do the research? I've got an idea. How about a nanny job in Scotland at a reportedly haunted house for inspiration?

Scottish Borders' parents are willing to pay approximately $63,000 with 28 vacation days for a live-in nanny to their two children, five and seven years old. Their ad describes their "lovely, spacious" home. The potential nanny would need to perform routine tasks ("making breakfast, dropping off and picking up the kids, assisting with homework, etc)."

Ten years ago, when the family purchased the home, they were "told it was 'haunted,'" though they "kept [their] minds open and decided to buy the house regardless." However, according to the couple's employment ad: "5 nannies have left the role in the last year, each citing supernatural incidents as the reason, including strange noises, broken glass and furniture moving." The family says, "We haven't personally experienced any supernatural happenings, as they have been reported only while we've been out of the house, but we're happy to pay above the asking rate, and feel it's important to be as up-front as possible to find the right person."

Cue the Mission Impossible theme music..."Your mission, should you decide to accept it," is…to consider this job. You could gain unique research for writing your science fiction and or paranormal book through the nanny job in historic Scotland.

August 16, 2017

Planning Characters

By Lizzie T. Leaf

Over a year ago stuff happened that drained my passion for writing. I buried myself in other things, and pushed aside the stories whispering in my ear to the point they stopped.

I finally worked up the energy to look at some of the books I received my rights back on, which happens when publishers shut down, and discovered the need to have a number of them re-edited. 

That is when the whispers started again.

During the quiet period I had read articles on ways to write a book. A lot of them were a bit different than my original process, some a lot, but I decided to try a number of them. You know what happened? Not much. Most of them didn’t work for me. But, they did give me food for thought.

So now I’m back to my original working style with a few tweaks. I start with a story idea and building the characters. I love strong characters that carry a story, and yes, there have to be other parts to move the story along. But, if you don’t have characters that do get into situations, learn, and grow, then not much happens and some readers will have problems connecting to the story.

So here is my basic way to move forward.

After I come up with a character’s name, I start to build their profile. First, a good physical description of them is needed so I see them in my mine’s eye: height, weight, hair color and length, eye color, complexion.

Once I know what they look like it’s time to learn who they are? What do they do? Are they rich, middle class, or poor? Does trouble follow them or are they lucky. What are they like, introverted or outgoing? Are they a good person or someone who is self-centered, or enjoys evil for fun?

This is done for all my main characters, good and bad. Then I start to ask “What if?” There begins the plot for me and slowly, a story evolves. Some go quicker than others. And once the first draft is complete, then starts the fun of revisions. But, even there, I need to make sure my characters don’t do something foolish, like change their blue eyes to brown or their black hair to blond.

Once I’ve polished to the best I can, then off to the editor with fingers crossed they won’t find too many things wrong with the plot, and they connect with the characters.

The thing I learned from my experience is to glean from the information out there, but focus on what works for you. Then do it! Or, you’ll be me the past year plus…accomplishing nothing.
Lizzie T. Leaf writes spicy Fantasy/Paranormal with a bit of humor set in contemporary times. Her alter ego will release books later this year in new genres. One will focus on life in the modern world, and she is researching for a WWII Historical. When not writing and researching, she is consumed with family, cooking and traveling. You can learn more on her website: Follow her on Twitter: And her Facebook author page: