July 31, 2019

Why I Write and What I Write

By Madeline Sharples

At this point in my life by all rights I should be retired. I’ve just turned seventy-nine, and no where does it say I need to keep sitting at my computer every day and write. But I do sit there – usually from ten in the morning until about two in the afternoon. Sometimes I’ll even go back for more later in the day.

I got into this habit in the early 2000s when I started writing my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. That expanded to writing poetry, essays for my blog and other people’s websites, and journaling.

By the time my memoir was published in 2011, I was already working on my historical novel, Papa’s Shoes, which has just been released. And that’s not the end of it. I still write poetry – I write at least one poem a week except in November and April when I write a poem a day to meet the Writer’s Digest poetry editor’s challenge. I journal every day, and I’m currently working on a new memoir.

Way back in 2010 during my frustration about not finding a publisher for my memoir (it took me two years and sixty-eight queries to finally sign a contract), I decided to take a UCLA Extension Writing Workshop called How to Write Your First Novel. At that point I had an idea – which turned into Papa’s Shoes – but I had no idea how to write a novel. That workshop was a great help in getting me started.

Although I didn’t have the same frustration in finding a publisher for Papa’s Shoes, I decided that once I completed it and started to send out queries to small presses, it was time to start another writing project. I wasn’t sure I had another book in me, but once I created an outline and began to write, I realized I might even have two. The subject I picked was aging – a universal theme I know about very well. As of now, I have finished the first draft, though I feel I need to add a few more chapters. It’s not quite long enough to qualify as a full-length memoir.

Back to the question of why don’t I just retire and not even pursue these writing projects.
Maybe I do it out of habit or because I’m aging and have to prove I still have enough faculties to keep going. Even more of a reason is that writing helps keep me from wallowing in the grief I have felt and still feel since the suicide death of my son in September 1999. I’ve said many times that his loss turned into a gift – a writing gift – and I’m not ready to throw that gift away yet.
Madeline Sharples worked for most of her professional life as a technical writer and editor, grant writer, and proposal manager, she fell in love with poetry and creative writing in grade school. She pursued her writing interests in high school while studying journalism and writing for the high school newspaper, and she studied journalism in college. However, she only began to fulfill her dream to be a professional writer later in life. Madeline's memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the harrowing but ultimately uplifting tale about her son Paul's diagnosis with bipolar disorder, through his suicide at her home, to the present day. It details how Madeline, her husband, and younger son weathered every family's worst nightmare. Madeline co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) a book about women in nontraditional professions and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (2010). She wrote the poems for The Emerging Goddess photography book (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines. Her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, Naturally Savvy, Aging Bodies, PsychAlive, Story Circle Network’s HerStories and One Woman’s Day blogs, and the Memoir Network blog. I have appeared on panels at writers’ conferences and have spoken about and read my work at book clubs, book stores, libraries, churches, writing groups, and on the radio. She post about writing on my website Choices and host authors on my website who are marketing their books through the WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tours. Madeline is now a full-time writer and is working on her next book, a novel, based in the 1920s. She and Bob, her husband of 40+ years, live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles. Her website and social media links: My website/blog  My Facebook page1 My Facebook page2 My Facebook timeline  My Twitter page  My Pinterest page  Independent Author Network LinkedIn  Goodreads  Amazon  You Tube  Google+

July 30, 2019

Get Out of the Mainstream!

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

What does it take to succeed? People look for this secret. The funny thing is, it’s not hiding.

In short, success is achieving what we work for.

We each define what success is for ourselves. For me it might be getting an interview with a hard to reach International Best Seller. To a Pro Football owner, it is winning the Super Bowl. Each of us defines what our success looks like.

For a writer, success is when they finish writing their book. When an agent/publisher accepts the book, that is success for the writer. When the book releases, again, that is success.

But how does the author become successful in selling their book?


There are thousands of authors telling about their books on Social Medias, websites and other venues. Why would your books be noticed more than the other author’s books?

I’m not saying don’t use the venues to market, talk about, promote your book…you should. The more places you have your name the more buzz you create.

Some people may disagree with my assessment, but I feel the author is the “brand”. The book is the product.

Books release, authors market for several months, then move on to marketing the next book. Titles are always changing. But your name doesn’t. That is why I call your name a brand.  If I read a book from an author and liked it, then I will remember their name and check to see when they have another book releasing.

By getting out of the mainstream and bringing attention to your name too, you have a better advantage of being successful as an author.

July 29, 2019

Writing Minor Characters

By Nancy Roe

If you missed my checklist on Writing Major Characters check the archives on Friday to view. 

Writing Minor characters may make a difference in the plot, but readers aren’t supposed to get emotionally involved with them, either negatively or positively. Readers don’t expect them to keep showing up in the story. A rule of thumb is that a minor character does one or two things in a story and then disappears.

Twelve Tips on Minor Characters:
  1. Each minor character must serve a purpose, otherwise cut them. Without purpose, a minor character will only slow down your story.
2.            Minor characters should make an impression when they enter a scene, just not a big splash.
3.            Appearances of minor characters should be brief and infrequent. Although that doesn’t mean they can’t shine whenever they are in the spotlight. Give them a quirk or defining characteristic that makes them easily identifiable.
4.            Use minor characters to propel your plot forward.
5.            Minor characters can help advance the protagonist’s storyline forward, reveal information, and give additional insight about major characters, including back-story.
6.            Minor characters can act as a sounding board, and knowingly or unknowingly assist your protagonist in achieving his or her goal.
7.            Utilize minor characters to further reveal the atmosphere and era of your setting.
8.            Minor characters can bring a different perspective to your story.
9.            Minor characters can prevent or encourage your protagonist from running away from a problem.
10.        Minor characters’ behaviors, attitudes and idiosyncrasies, will help to set the tone of a scene.
11.        Minor characters are unlikely to be used as a viewpoint character.
12.        Minor characters don’t have their own subplots.

How to Test Your Minor Characters:
Imagine that you delete your minor character from your story. Does your story still work? If so, the minor character isn’t necessary.
When Nancy Roe was twelve, she wrote an autobiography for a sixth grade English assignment. In the last chapter, Nancy wrote that she wanted to be an author. When she turned fifty, her dreams came true! And she hasn't stopped writing since.Nancy also blogs at You'll find articles on organizing tips, recipes, craft ideas, computer tips, grammar tips, and unusual holidays. Even her dog, Shadow, writes an article--there has to be humor, and he's a funny guy!  Nancy is a Midwest farm girl at heart and currently lives in Tennessee with her husband and four-legged child. Follow Nancy on her various social media links: Website:

July 26, 2019

Writing Major Characters

By Nancy Roe

Major characters include the people we care about. We love them or hate them. Fear them or hope they succeed. They show up again and again in the story. The story, to one degree or another, is about them and readers expect to find out what happens to them by the end. Their desires and actions drive the story forward and carry it through all its twists and turns.

Twelve Tips on Major Characters:
1.            Major characters have to be interesting and believable enough for people to want to read about what they do.
2.            Major characters need to be characterized. Because they really matter to the story, you can devote as much time to them as required.
3.            Decide on dominant traits and major actions of your major characters first. This helps shape the plot of your story.
4.            The major character should change significantly.
5.            To avoid confusion, have all the major character’s names start with a different letter. Also, try to vary lengths and sound patterns. (not: Bob, Tom, Pete, Jeff)
6.            Keep one name per character. (not: Bob, Bobby, Buddy all for the same person)
7.            What is the character’s internal motivation and what does he or she really want?
8.            What peculiar traits (appearance, personality, behavior, mannerisms, speech) might you highlight to make the character seem fuller?
9.            Focus on the emotional conflicts of your major characters or when the character is put in any type of conflict, otherwise the reader won’t care.
10.        Start your book in a way that gives the story the right tone and introduce the main character. (Any opening scene that doesn’t introduce the main character is a prologue.)
11.        If you’re having problems with your major character, picture yourself talking to him or her. Why are you so annoying? Why don’t you do something?
12.        Stories are mainly about people and what they do. Major characters are the ones who must satisfy the following three questions the readers are constantly, unconsciously, asking.
a.       So what? Why does the reader care what’s going on in the story? Why is this important?
b.      Oh yeah? Would anybody really do that? Wasn’t that too convenient? How dumb does the author think the reader is?
c.       Huh? What’s happening? Does that make any sense? Where are they?

On Monday I will be blogging on Writing Minor Characters.
When Nancy Roe was twelve, she wrote an autobiography for a sixth grade English assignment. In the last chapter, Nancy wrote that she wanted to be an author. When she turned fifty, her dreams came true! And she hasn't stopped writing since.Nancy also blogs at You'll find articles on organizing tips, recipes, craft ideas, computer tips, grammar tips, and unusual holidays. Even her dog, Shadow, writes an article--there has to be humor, and he's a funny guy!  Nancy is a Midwest farm girl at heart and currently lives in Tennessee with her husband and four-legged child. Follow Nancy on her various social media links: Website:

July 25, 2019

Titles: Short or Catchy?

By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

In May’s blogs posts I referenced the children’s writer Madeleine L’Engle. To my knowledge, she’s never written a book on writing, but in her adult nonfiction books, she wrote about writing when she stayed at Crosswicks—her family property where loved ones gathered in summers.

So keeping in the same vein, I’ll share her thoughts on book titles with you before sharing mine. “The title of a book is as important as one’s right and proper signature on a check. A book may have a Library of Congress number, as a check may have that cybernetic salad, but a book, like Emily Bronte, like you, like me, must have its own name. Some books get born with names: The Arm of the Starfish. The Young Unicorns. We had to search for the proper name for A Wrinkle in Time, and it was my mother who came up with it, during a night of insomnia. I went into her room with a cup of coffee in the morning, and she said, ‘I think I have a title for your book, and it’s right out of the text: A Wrinkle in Time.’” Madeleine goes on to say that many titles had been thrown out there. All vetoed before her mother mentioned A Wrinkle in Time.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had insomniac mothers who could come up with great book titles?

If you don’t have a creative mother who gets by on little sleep, here are a few tips on coming up with a good title, whether it be for an article or a book: Less words are best words for titles. Think Vanquished. Hamlet. Macbeth. Dracula. Night. Persuasion. Holes. Rebecca. Emma. Twilight. Heidi. Eclipse. Matilda. It. Ivanhoe. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3).

When a short title isn’t on the table, make the title catchy. I love Ally Carter’s titles from her young adult spy novels: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You. Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. Only the Good Spy Young. Out of Sight, Out of Time.  

And it’s always a good idea to check out Amazon’s book list to see how many books have the same title as your potential bestseller. There can be several books with the same title—no one has a copyright on titles—but, if there are a slew of books with the same title already out there, you might want to change yours up a little so it stands out from the pack. Good luck!


July 24, 2019

Reviews…the good, the bad, and the ugly

By JoDee Neathery

Book reports and book reviews are often considered in the same light, but there is a major difference in the two. The “report” is generally a simple summary of the story and a “review” is a form of literary criticism in which a book is merely described or analyzed based on content, style, or merit.

An author’s best friend is someone who takes the time to read their book and offer an opinion on the work on Amazon and/or Goodreads. The review should be based on the reader’s opinion with all that is necessary is yes, I liked it and why, or no, I didn’t like it and why. When you have devoted enormous energy in writing a book that you can be proud of, it’s disheartening to read that someone’s opinion was short of enthusiastic. We must remember the reader’s opinion is not a commentary on you, the author, but it’s difficult sometimes not to take it personally. I was told early on in this process to never comment on any posted review…it opens a natural justification dialogue that you cannot win no matter what you say. Especially if it is a critical review, you will be viewed as a whiner sucking on sour grapes.

Authors are keenly aware that less than 10% of those who read their book will review it, but we also know customer reviews drive sales. Often the most critical reviews reveal more than the glowing ones. I received a one-star review recently and honestly appreciated the comment, “It was not my cup of tea. I prefer a faster-paced novel with minimal descriptive phases.” That’s a legitimate statement that should not offend even the most sensitive souls. Where we as authors draw a line in the sand is when a critical review is of the condition of the book with disregard to the reader’s assessment of it other than the cover was creased. This is when it is very tempting to fire back a response…but taking a deep breath is recommended instead. Another faux pas is a bend-over-backwards love of the book with a one-star rating…obviously something went awry in the understanding of I loved it (five-stars) and I hated it (one-star.)

In my capacity as chairperson of our community book club (92 strong on the email list) we research a good number of books before selecting them for our group. We look at the reviews both positive and critical as often threads highlight the same issues giving us a clearer idea of the merits of the book according to the overall reader’s opinions. A recent example of this was our May selection, one with over two-thousand reviews but 6% were scathing as though the other 94% had read a different book.

What we can garner from the mysterious world of reviews as readers and writers alike is to respect a person’s right to an opinion, offer ours in honesty, and take all with a grain of salt.  
JoDee Neathery, born in Southern California, moved with her family at age five to her Dad’s home state of Texas, residing in Midland. After graduating from high school her eyes were on attending a small liberal arts college in Louisiana, majoring in dance with aspirations of a Broadway career. Her daddy, whom she adored, set her pipe-dream aside suggesting that unless she wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, a better option for her would be to find a job. Thus, her jazz hands were relegated to typing and shorthand with her professional career beginning in the banking industry, moving into public relations executive recruiting until the explosion of the Internet changed the way employers searched for employees. After her husband retired, they relocated to the Cedar Creek Lake area where she handled publicity for the Pinnacle Women’s Club and became chairperson of their book club. “Without the encouragement, prodding, and cheerleading of these members who believed in me before I did, my novel would still be a flight of fancy.” Literary novel, Life in a Box, debuted, July 2017. JoDee and husband Mickey live in close proximity to their only daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons, a bird dog, two cats, a donkey, and a few head of cattle. She continues to chair, write minutes and reviews for her book club, enjoys a by-line in a local newspaper, and loves to share her journey to all that will listen. Social Media links: Twitter: authorihope  Instagram: neatheryjodee   LinkedIn: JoDee Neathery

July 23, 2019

The Moon Shot and Woodstock

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Last week there was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Man on the Moon on July 20th, 1969. The Moon Shot is one of those vivid memories I have. Although I was 17 years old, just out of high school and headed for college, I remember where I was and who I was with watching it on TV.

A buddy of mine had gone with me to our place on the lake for a day of water-skiing. Although the carefree teenagers we were, we had a great interest in space travel and especially man on the moon. Enough so we knew the exact time to head to the shore and catch the landing live on TV. It truly was a life changing event for us and the world.

I also remember that less than 30 days later August 15-18, 1969 was another world changing event. That was the Woodstock Music Festival. Although Rock and Roll had been around since the 50’s, it had not been brought to the attention of America and the world like Woodstock did. After Woodstock Rock and Roll Stars became world renowned figures and a subculture was no longer a subculture. It soon became a most lucrative business.

What we saw that summer was the youth of our country was capable of a peaceful gathering of over 400,000 at Woodstock. I say 400,000 but some 5 million have claimed to have been at Woodstock. Maybe in their minds they were.

The other event, the Moon Shot, was carried out by not only young minds but brilliant minds. Gerry Griffin, Flight Director of Apollo 11, noted the youthful group in Mission Control in Houston. Griffin said, “The average age of those in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 flight to the moon was 27 years.” 

The two groups had basically one thing in common. They were part of the Baby Boomers generation. Beyond that common ground, individual goals seemed to be opposites. The two cultures did come together that summer and was noted brilliantly in the movie “A Walk on the Moon” with Viggo Mortensen, who has graced the cover of Southern Writers Magazine as a poet, and Diane Lane. A love story took a summer vacationing couple in upstate New York from gathering to watch the Moon Landing to attending the nearby Woodstock Music Festival.

Bringing people together with a background of two life changing events is a great concept. This is a common theme with historical romance and other historical fiction. As a child reading historical fiction really made history interesting to me. I would encourage writers to pay close attention to current events being aware it may be something to use in their writing.

In a February 2013 Suite T Blog post titled, "Story Plots from Carrier and the Sistine Chapel." I wrote of using the event of refurbishing the Sistine Chapel by Carrier as a story line. One thing I mentioned was writing about what the Carrier, United Technologies, engineers found in the 10-foot-thick walls of the chapel. Déjà vu! Last week thousands of bones were found in a hidden chamber in the Vatican. So now that is part of real history you may want to use that to solve a murder, uncover a conspiracy or a disappearance. Keep you mind and eyes open to current events. You may find the background story you are looking for.   


July 22, 2019

A Writer of History

By Rebecca Rosenberg

Have you noticed symbols in fiction books you read? Do you like them?

I love what they do in a story! Especially if they are well integrated into the story and change in meaning along the way.

Here are a few examples from my new novel GOLD DIGGER, the Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor, and a few from other authors. I hope the examples will make you think of other examples.  PEACOCKS! In the beginning of the story, Baby Doe has a peacock fan, a symbol of her beauty and pride. She has never seen a peacock and has always wanted to, so it also stands for her unfulfilled dreams and wishes. Mid-story, she quotes that the eyes of a peacock feather can see the future, which is unknown and uncertain for her. She tells the Silver King, Horace Tabor, she would love to see a real peacock. After they are married, he brings her a hundred; a symbol of his extravagant love for her. The Tabor’s neighbors complain about the peacocks and when they lose their fortune, Baby Doe must sell all the beautiful birds.

SILVER DOLLARS! Horace Tabor gives silver dollars away to everyone he meets as a symbol of his open-handed generosity, which gets out of hand. At his funeral, everyone gives Baby Doe silver dollars as a tribute to him.

In GOLD DIGGER, Baby Doe Tabor is deathly afraid of the Chinese miner foreman, Chin Lin Sou, since she’s never seen Chinese people before. Chin scares people with his towering height of 6 feet, 6 inches, incongruous blue eyes and few words. Imagine her fear when she must work side-by-side with Chin in the gold mine! However, when she is in trouble, Chin transforms himself to a Pixiu and protects her through many dangerous situations.

PIXIU! A Pixiu is a mythological Chinese creature who protects its human master. Pixiu have the frightening head of a horned dragon and the fierce body of a lion, with clawed feet and feathered wings which fly between Heaven and Earth. Pixiu crave the smell of gold and silver and like to bring their masters precious ore in their mouth. Pixiu is said to have feathered wings with which can fly between heaven and earth.

In THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON (2019 Gold Medal winner of world’s largest book competition, the IPPY’s) is about the love triangle between Houdini, Jack London his wife, Charmian. Symbols have a lot of meaning. Jack London dictates his stories to his wife, Charmian, who types up his work on her trusty Remington typewriter. They spend every morning together, with him telling her stories, then in the afternoons she edits and embellishes them. Charmian always serves Jack, and he likes it that way. Later, when Charmian starts writing her own books, she gets him a new-fangled ediphone to record his stories for a secretary to type up later. Through these symbols, we understand that the London’s relationship is changing, and Charmian is standing up for herself. Jack throws the ediphone at a palm tree and breaks it, unhappy with the change.

FOOD! In THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON, Charmain has a sensual relationship with food, which symbolizes her unrequited love/lust for her husband, Jack London, and her taste for the exotic and unusual, which is both Houdini and Jack. Charmian loves Dungeness crabs, oysters, raw bonita fish…and in Hawaii, she eats friend masala and in New York, gooey Gogosi pastries and cheese and mushroom strudel.

SUFFRAGETTE DOLL. Perhaps my favorite symbol is Bess Houdini who carries a suffragette doll in her carpet bag. The doll is a symbol of the children she longs to have, and the times where women have not yet earned the right to vote. Former showgirl Bess Houdini is the least likely person for educated Charmian London to befriend, and yet what the doll symbolizes is meaningful for both. Bess gives Charmian the doll when she leaves for Hawaii, symbolizing their shared desires.

I asked my author friends for examples of symbols and their meanings from their novels.

From author Martha Conway: “In my novel THIEVING FOREST, Susanna Quiner follows her five older sisters after they've been abducted from their Ohio cabin in 1806. She takes with her a turkey hen bone, which her father, now dead, found in a field after a herd of buffalo ran through it, and he gave it to Susannah. It is Susanna's symbol of luck, and of family, and of change. (It was the last buffalo they ever saw.) Later, after she loses the bone, she receives a necklace of turkey hen bones from a Chippewa chief as a symbol of good will.”

From author Ann Howard Creel: “In my upcoming novel, MERCY ROAD, the main character wears a baby locket given to her by her father as a symbol of his love.  After she loses everything in a fire except what she was wearing at the time, including the locket, she also sees it as a symbol of survival.  Later in the novel she passes it on to someone headed to the front in hopes that he survives.  In THE UNCERTAIN SEASON, a wealthy socialite gives a homeless waif a blue satin evening gown as a gift, so it begins as a symbol of well wishes.  But the dress ends up causing harm to the girl, therefore it transforms into a symbol of misguided charity and the gap between the social classes.”

So, what symbols have you noticed in the novels?
California native Rebecca Rosenberglives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where she and her husband founded the largest lavender product company in America. A long-time student of Jack London's work and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian, Rosenberg is a graduate of the Stanford Writing Certificate Program. Her books include: GOLD DIGGER, the Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor, The Secret Life of Mrs. London, Lavender Fields of America, and the Champagne Widows series (2020). Please follow for upcoming book news: