March 31, 2020

Use Each Day~Make It Count

Susan Reichert    @SouthrnWritrMag

Editor-in-Chief Southern Writers

With everyone having to stay in their homes, our attitudes are the things most of us are having to monitor.

As I told my children (who are grown) we can decide each day to use our day and make it count or we can complain and gripe. Staying in a good frame of mind is important––physically, mentally, emotionally and spirtually, for all of us.

I pray God, through His grace, will bring all of us through this better than we were when it started.

For writers we have the opportunity while this is going on to write a new story, or finish one we
have been working on.

There are many things as a writer we can do during the days we are home. I am hoping I will be able to finish some projects I have put off for a long time. It gives me a sense of accomplishment each time I get one completed.

And I get to spend more time with my family which I am grateful for thanks to Zoom. Since we don't live close we use this to visit. It is very comforting.

So many things we take for granite––like being able to run up to the grocery store and grab a four pack of toilet paper, paper towels, milk and bread. Now we only go once a week, and seeing the shelves bare is mind boggling.

During this time let us pray for one another, keep good thoughts, and make each day count in our own way.

God Bless!

March 30, 2020

Start with a Bang

By Irene Hannon, Author of Starfish Pier

I was recently asked by a fellow author for one piece of advice she could share in a writing workshop she was leading.

After fifty-seven novels and a multitude of years in the publishing game, I’ve learned a lot—so it took a bit of thinking to cull through all the tips stored in my brain and pick out just one nugget of advice. Here it is.

Start your story in the right place.

Where, you may ask, is that? Simple. It’s the moment when everything changes for one of your main characters. When the world they know has shifted, and nothing will ever be the same again.

No matter the genre, our job as writers is to convey that life-altering moment in a high-impact opening. One that grabs readers and lets them know something big is at stake. That leaves them with questions—and eager to read on to find answers.

So how does this work in practical terms?

March 27, 2020

A Novel Way to Promote Your Writing (Part 1)

Judith Nembhard   

A Passionate Fiction Writer    

Here’s a piece of writing advice: promote your book, but promote it slant (with apologies to Emily Dickinson), and the way to achieve this slanted book promotion is by doing a workshop. In our quest for tips on how to promote our books, we writers often pore over the pages of Writer’s Digest and other magazines on writing, read books such as Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and attend writing conferences. From all of these sources, we often get information that is of interest, some of it actually useful. One promotional avenue that you may not have read about, however, is a workshop. You attend workshops to learn new techniques and to brush up on old ones. Well, how about giving a workshop yourself?

March 26, 2020

A Healthier Mindset for Social Media (Part 2)

Edie Melson    @EdieMelson

Social Media Director for Southern Writers Suite T

My worth is not determined by my numbers.

For me, the blog posts that mean the most are rarely the ones that generate the highest numbers. The ones that mean the most are those that help someone, that connect the dots for an individual who’s hurting or help someone who’s frustrated finally see the light. It’s when I pen those words that I feel true satisfaction in my calling.

So how do I avoid the numbers race? I’ve come up with a few things to keep me on track.

  • I quit talking about myself on social media—completely. Instead I work hard to help someone else succeed or reach a new level. This takes my focus off me.
  • I volunteer. I offer to write an article or blog post for someone who doesn’t have the same size audience as me.
  • I issue an invitation. I ask someone who doesn’t have as much experience and/or exposure to contribute to my blog. 
  • I watch the clock. I limit my time on social media to a strict thirty minutes a day. With that, I don’t have time to obsess over my numbers.
  • I reveal something new about myself. I know this seems like the opposite of the first bullet, but it's not. I'm talking about being vulnerable, not saying come look at me. I've discovered that I make those important heart-to-heart connections when I open up and I'm vulnerable. When I revert to slick slogans and polished posts, I'm just hiding.

Even when I follow my own advice, there are times when the people I’ve invested in move on. They may stop following me on social media and/or unsubscribe from my blog. How do I deal with the disappointment that inevitably follows?

  • I remember it’s not about me. My first thought is always to wonder what I’ve done wrong. Truthfully, I can only think of a few instances when it’s really been something I did. On the few times when I’ve contacted someone to ask why they’ve moved on, I’ve learned that their focus has changed.
  • I remind myself that we all have limited time. Perhaps the person leaving is reprioritizing, and for that I’m glad. We’re all trying to do too much. I applaud anyone taking steps to get control of life.
  • Finally, I take time to pray for the person who left. I ask God to bless them and to let me know if there’s anything I need to readjust.

Social media is an important part of our toolbox as twenty-first century wordsmiths, but it’s not the focus of what we do. It’s so easy to get caught up in the race to the highest numbers and forget why we’re doing it. This media driven world we live in ebbs and flows. One second we’re on top, the next at the bottom of the pile. When we measure our worth through charts and graphs generated by numbers, we’re certain to fail. But when we look at the lives that are impacted by our words, success is guaranteed.


A Healthier Mindset for Social Media @EdieMelson @southernwritersmag

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, including the bestseller Connections: Social Media and Networking Techniques for Writers.

She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, Social Media Director of Southern Writers Magazine and board Member of the Advanced Writers and Speaker Association.

Visit Edie on and through social media.

March 25, 2020

The Story behind the Story of In Black and White (Part 2)

MaryAnn Diorio     @DrMaryAnnDiorio

To refresh your memory from Part 1 of MaryAnn Diorio's post she said, "His words struck my soul like a nuclear bomb. For the first time in my life, I was speechless. Never had I experienced prejudice on a personal level. And it stung!"

Part 2

Back then, legal options were few for rebuttal. So, I took my degrees and ended up accepting a job stuffing envelope at a local library.

And I forgave the superintendent.

I began to have a new appreciation for African-Americans and for the discrimination they had suffered. Unbeknown to me, God was preparing me to write In Black and White many years later.

Time passed. I had children, and those children grew up. Then, my older daughter announced that she and her husband were adopting a baby. A black baby! My heart leapt with joy!  Shortly thereafter, my daughter placed a beautiful African-American baby in my arms, and my heart was stolen forever!

March 24, 2020

Starting a New Series (Part 2)

Stephanie Payne Hurt    @StephanieHurt4

Romance Author

Ok, let’s get to the good part, the books themselves.

As I said, there are four books. They are The Knight of Her Heart, The Cowboy of Her Dreams, The Pirate of Her Desires, and Marina’s Story. Now, the story is based around a current day family with an intriguing ancestor that was a good witch. Her name was Marina and she lived in Boston just after the witch trials. Marina believed in true love and knew there would be three sisters coming in the late 1900’s. She left three journals behind for them to find. Each journal had a spell cast over them that would send them back to where their true love was. Seems simple, right? Well, going back in time isn’t as easy as it sounds. And writing about it, well, that presents its own problems. Each one of the sisters has a special ability that they have never discovered until they go back in time. And the tricky part is keeping up with which sister went back to which hero. Also, I must keep up with all the names that are tied to the characters. In comes the side notes on the outline.
The books in order and release dates:

                The Knight of Her Heart – Released already.

                The Cowboy of Her Dreams – to be released in late February 2020

                The Pirate of Her Desires – to be released in late June 2020

                Marina’s Story – to be released in late September 2020

I suggest reading them in order, that way you find out Marina’s story at the end. Her story will tie it all together and hopefully leave your heart beating a little faster as you look at a journal for yourself.

Let’s start from the beginning story, The Knight of Her Heart. In this one, I had to get acquainted with life in the early 1200’s. The intricacies of how women were treated and where their place was made this story interesting since the heroine is from current day and her view is different from the ladies of that period. This causes some issues between her and the hero. Not to mention how the other people in the story perceive her. It’s not just a step back in time, it’s a huge leap from 2019 to 1200.

On to book 2, The Cowboy of Her Dreams. Anyone who has read any of my books knows that I have a fascination with cowboys. Of course, I had to have one in the series. This one is set in the early to mid-1800’s. It’s a time period that I’ve researched for several of my books, but this one has an exciting twist that will leave you guessing all the way to the end. I did have a little bit of a struggle as to how the heroine would start her life in the old west. But once you read this book, you’ll get a giggle out of it, I assure you.

Book 3, The Pirate of Her Desires is quite a story. The heroine is taken by surprise by the fact that her dream man is a pirate. She’s always loved reading about pirates, but when she’s thrown into the life of a pirate, things becoming startlingly clear that she’s in way over her head, but maybe the hero can help with that. This book is based in the 1700’s when piracy is invading the seas. There’s a lot of adventure and excitement in this book. Sword fights and high sea drama fill the pages as the heroine struggles to find her place in this time. Can she tame the pirate captain?

So, you’re probably wondering why there is a 4th book if the first three take care of my fictional heroes. Well, the last book is about Marina herself. She’s the one that started the whole process and her story needs to be told. She is a kind soul with a magical power that transcends time, quite literally. And her search for the love of her life takes her on many adventures as she works on getting the process just right. Not to mention the tensions of her own time period. And considering she’s a witch in a time when witches aren’t exactly welcomed, she must be careful how she comes back and where.

Of course, the journals are special and the abilities that each sister has is unique to the individual. Each story will pull you into the time period that they go back to and give you a look at life during that time. I tried to keep things as close to real as possible, but of course, this is a work of fiction. I had to give you something fantastic to give it that punch. The characters I’ve created for this series have their own set of problems and quirks that make them different. That sets each book apart. My goal is to send the reader to another place and time, if only for a moment. Maybe you’ll grab an old journal and write in it. You never know, Marina could’ve touched it with her special brand of romance…

Stephanie picked up her first romance novel in her early teens and fell in love. She began to pen stories in notebooks in her teens and throughout her twenties. It was in 2012 when she decided to publish her work and let the world in on her version of romance. Now she has 50+ books published and many more in the works.

A busy woman, she's a accountant, children's minister, wife and mother. Her life may be busy, but when she sits down at her laptop the world slips away and she goes into another place. Sometimes it's a ranch full of horses, or back to the Civil War saving a heroine find her love, but as always, she'll find romance even in the most remote places.

All of her books are clean, wholesome romances, some even dubbed as Christian romances. Her books range from western, historical, time travel, Christian, and she might even dabble in a little paranormal from time to time.

March 23, 2020

Change the World With Your Writing~Taking Characters to Greater Depths (Part 2)

p. m. terrell     @pmterrell

Award-winning "Twist and Turn" author

In Part 1, we explored external factors that plunge the main character into a journey of transformation. In Part 2, we explore the internal force that can accomplish the transformation.

An internal force is something that the character suffers due to their own action or inaction, plunging them into a personal journey.

Inaction occurs when the character should have taken steps to avoid a potentially cataclysmic event, but their efforts either fell short or were nothing at all. An example is when the character hears that tiny voice urging them not to take that deserted road, but they ignore it and do so anyway. Of course, the road leads to danger, and they must discover an inner part of themselves to overcome the obstacles in their path, escape the danger, and arrive on the other side.

March 19, 2020

Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air

Tricia Pimental     @a_movable
Award-Winning Author

“Has your husband read this?”

I had sent Carol, the leader of my former writers’ group in Ocala, Florida, a draft of my latest book for comment. Now living in Portugal, I was still in touch with her by email.

“Sure,” I wrote back confidently. “In fact, he’s formatting it.”

March 18, 2020

The Story behind the Story of In Black and White (Part 1)

MaryAnn Diorio    @DrMaryAnnDiorio

A few months ago, I published my fourth and latest novel, titled In Black and White. It is an interracial love story between a white woman and a black man, set in 1950s America and Ghana, a period of intense racial prejudice in both countries.

Interestingly, I got the idea for this story way back in the early 90s. Although I started writing the novel at that time, I didn't get very far with it because the timing wasn't right. Somehow, I knew, on a gut level, that this story would have to wait to be written. It was a case of my not being ready psychologically, professionally, and, most of all, spiritually to write this story. It was also a case of God's timing. God had a work to do in me before this story could be born. It was neither my time, nor His.

I grew up in the 1950s, the time period during which In Black and White takes place. I lived about 30 miles from Levittown, Pennsylvania, an all-white suburban community that made national headlines because of racial discrimination against a black family that had moved into the community. (An insightful, heart-wrenching documentary titled "Crisis in Levittown" was made of this incident. For those of you who are interested in viewing it, here is the link to the film:

Prejudice was in the air back then. It was common to hear unkind talk about "colored people" who moved into neighborhoods and caused property values to plummet and crime to soar. Strangely—and thankfully--those comments did not penetrate my soul, as my best childhood friend was a black girl who lived on my street.

Growing up with a close black friend taught me much about people and about life. I learned that my friend and I were very much alike. We both experienced the emotions of life in much the same way. We both worried about tests at school. We both feared the gnarly old lady who lived in the rickety house on our street. We both had great fun visiting the ice cream shop on the corner at the top of the hill. Except for our skin color, we were two normal kids trying to understand the confusing messages about "white' and "colored" that came from some grownups in the world around us.

The years transpired. I went to college, earned my bachelor's degree, and then went on to earn a graduate degree. I also married a wonderful man to whom I have been married for 50 blessed years.

Prejudice reared its ugly head again when I applied for a teaching job in a prominent school district in a major mid-western city. When I appeared for my interview with the superintendent of the school district, he took one look at me and at my name (I am an olive-skinned Italian) and gruffly said, "Go back to your own people!" No consideration of my educational credentials, my teaching experience. Nothing.

His words struck my soul like a nuclear bomb. For the first time in my life, I was speechless. Never had I experienced prejudice on a personal level. And it stung! (Read Part 2 - March 25)

I never planned to be a writer. When I was a teenager, the thought of studying journalism crossed my mind but left quickly when I walked into my first French class. The language mesmerized me, hooked me, and consumed the next 15 years of my life as I went on to earn the PhD in French. I was all set for a career as a university professor.

But God had other plans. Shortly after I celebrated my 30th birthday, I began having this unusual desire to write. It seemed to come from nowhere. No matter how hard I try, I could not shake it. Finally, I went to the Lord and asked, “Is this desire from You? If it is, increase it. But if it isn’t, take it away because it’s becoming an obsession.”
You’ve probably guessed the answer by now. The desire increased. Even then, however, I had to be sure. So I asked God to give me a sign that He was calling me to write for Him.
He did.Through a fascinating series of events–which I won’t go into here (This is the short version, remember? :)), I ended up getting a poem of mine published in The Saturday Evening Post. Now, if you know anything about the publishing industry, for an unknown like me getting published in The Saturday Evening Post is the next closest thing to winning the Olympics when you haven’t even trained!

March 17, 2020

Starting a New Series (Part 1)

Stephanie Payne Hurt @StephanieHurt4

Romance Author


The fun of starting a new series never gets old and when you start one like ‘The Journal’, the adventure is only just starting. With ‘The Journal’ series I get to explore all three of my fictional heroes, knights, cowboys, and pirates, oh my! And you guessed it, that means a lot of different time periods.

I will warn you beforehand, writing a series has its ups and downs. Although I love writing series, it can be hard keeping all the details straight. One of the greats joys of writing a series is watching your characters bloom and their stories unfolding. Every character has a story, and in a series, you can explore them. Not like a standalone that only gives the reader insight into one set of characters. The biggest downfall to writing a series is the details. If you don’t get all of them right, believe me, the reader will know, and they’ll tell you. But in this article, I’ll give you some advice that I hope will help you sort it all out. So, let’s get started!

March 16, 2020

How to Choose a Writing Conference (Part 2)

DiAnn Mills @diannmills

"Expect An Adventure"

To refresh our memory, on March 2, I listed a few considerations in choosing a conference and why attend a writing conference.  Also how these events can benefit a writer's career. Here we will continue finding ways to benefit our careers as a writer. 

Types of Conferences

1. Face-to-Face conferences can be large or small. This involves travel, lodging, meals, and time away from home. But the interaction and meeting professionals face-to-face can mean a potential contract. Writers find critique partners and forge new relationships with those who share the same desire for learning the craft and seeking publication. One-on-one critiques are valuable for relationships and learning. The length of a conference can be from two days to nearly a week.

March 13, 2020

A Healthier Mindset for Social Media (Part 1)

Edie Melson    @EdieMelson

Social Media Director for Southern Writers Suite T

As writers, we all know the importance of building an online following. We spend time crafting valuable blog posts with SEO rich headlines. We follow others on social media, working to connect. All the while keeping a sharp eye on those numbers that define success or failure. It’s easy to get caught up in those numbers.

But the truth is, they’re people—NOT numbers!

We even begin to judge the worth of what we have to say by those numbers. Let me remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why you sweat over a keyboard, struggling to find the right word. Why you risk rejection by submitting those carefully crafted words to editors, agents and contest judges.

March 12, 2020

Change the World with Your Writing:Taking Characters to Greater Depths (Part 1)

p.m. terrell   @pmterrell

Award-winning "Twist and Turn" author

Heraclitus, the famed Greek philosopher, said that “change is the only constant in life.”

When envisioning readers, it’s important to understand that each one is undergoing change. Changes may be subtle, such as steadily growing older. Other changes may be dramatic, like a sudden personality change. Some can be seen with the naked eye, such as a spine that’s more stooped, while others are invisible because they are taking place internally.

A book that stands the test of time and becomes a classic is one in which the main character is completely transformed. This often occurs when an average individual encounters extraordinary circumstances. Those situations may be positive or negative on their surfaces, such as winning a lottery or losing a limb, respectively. However, what begins as a positive or negative often transforms the character in the opposite direction. It is that spiral that the accomplished writer should seek to portray, and the more detailed the circumstances, oddly, the more readers will identify with the character.

March 11, 2020

Looking Into Cozy Mystery Writing

Susan Reichert   @SouthrnWritrMag
Editor-in-Chief Southern Writers
Amanda Flower a bestselling and Agatha Award-winning mystery author wrote on May 18, 2018An amateur sleuth, an unsuspecting victim, a quirky supporting cast, and trail of clues and red herrings are the main ingredients of a cozy mystery”. Check out this link to the article.

In July 22, 2014 in Writers Digest guest column in The Writer’s Dig  an article titled 4 Things You Should Know About Writing a Cozy Mystery Novel said, “Virtually all cozy mysteries published today are part of a series with recurring characters . . . Creating a series that’s anchored around a hobby or craft is a great way to break in: recent popular series include the Book Collector Mysteries by Victoria Abbott, the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries by Victoria Hamilton and the Chili Cook-Off Mysteries by Kylie Logan. Click here.

March 10, 2020

Looking for Grace

Jane Tesh     @janetesh

I had the great good fortune to be born in the American South into a wonderful family whose idea of a good time was to gather on the front porch and tell jokes and stories.  Also, it’s so stupidly hot in the South that people often go nuts and decide to murder each other.  A winning combination of influences for a mystery writer.
 I grew up in the large city of Greensboro but moved to the much smaller town of Mt. Airy to take a job as an elementary school librarian. Mt. Airy is Andy Griffith’s hometown.  I live in Mayberry!  I don’t think you can get much more Southern than that. 
So of course, my two-mystery series are set in the south.  In the Madeline Maclin Mysteries, my PI is an ex-beauty queen, struggling to overcome a childhood filled with dreadful Little Miss pageants.  She’s also trying to keep her agency going while attempting to reform her con man boyfriend, Jerry Fairweather, whose shady associates always show up to complicate Madeline’s cases.

March 9, 2020

Using Traditions to Create Stories

Jennifer Wilck     @JWilck  

Love, Laughter, and Happily Ever After

For those who don’t know me, I write contemporary romance. But what makes my stories stand out is that many of them feature Jewish characters and themes. Whenever anyone hears that I write Jewish romance, the first thing they ask is if I’ve written a Hanukkah story.

Usually, my answer is no. I’ve always wanted to blend the Judaism seamlessly into my stories, in a similar way as Christianity—weddings, etc.—are blended into non-Jewish romances. So, the idea of writing a Hanukkah story never really appealed to me.

However, as the questions kept coming, I thought about it and decided to give it a try. An indie author was putting together a Hanukkah anthology and everyone—seriously, everyone—who knew me asked me if I was going to contribute. Apparently, I have a brand. J So, I did. When my story wasn’t chosen, I went to my publisher, who was more than happy to publish it. The more I worked on it—it’s a novella, the more I needed to lengthen it, edit it, etc.—the more excited about it I became.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hanukkah, it’s an eight-day holiday that celebrates the Maccabean army’s successful rebellion over Antiochus, who had banned Jewish religious practice way back in the 2nd century BCE. When the Maccabees re-consecrated the Temple of Jerusalem, there wasn’t enough oil to light the lamps, and according to Jewish legend, one small pot of oil—enough for one day—lasted for eight days, giving enough time to find more. What does all that mean?

Well, it means we light eight candles—one per night—to celebrate the miracle of the oil, and we eat lots of oily foods during the holiday, such as latkes (potato pancakes), donuts and fried Oreos. We give out presents. Some people give presents each of the eight nights. We give to charity one of the nights, and we keep our presents small.

In my novella,Waiting for a Miracle, the young daughter, Jessie, receives presents on the first and last night of Hanukkah, like I did as a child. However, her grandmother stuffs enough presents into two boxes to last the entire eight nights.If you’re looking for a short, funny and sweet read, this story is for you. And even though the holidays are over, love, laughter and happily ever after never end.

Let me know how you like it, and, tell me about your traditions!

Happy Hanukkah!

Jennifer started telling herself stories as a little girl when she couldn’t fall asleep at night. Pretty soon, her head was filled with these stories and the characters that populated them. Even as an adult, she thinks about the characters and stories at night before she falls asleep or walking the dog. Eventually, she started writing them down. Her favorite stories to write are those with smart, sassy, independent heroines; handsome, strong and slightly vulnerable heroes; and her stories always end with happily ever after.

In the real world, she’s the mother of two amazing daughters and wife of one of the smartest men she knows. She believes humor is the only way to get through the day and does not believe in sharing her chocolate. She writes contemporary romance, many of which feature Jewish characters in non-religious settings (#ownvoices). She’s published with The Wild Rose Press and all her books are available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

March 6, 2020


Dennis Peterson    @dlpeditor

Independent author, Historian, and Editor

To refresh our memory in Part I on February 21 I began telling the process of how the idea for my book Combat! was born and how it became published.

Waiting for an author does not mean idleness. I immediately got busy with another writing project that I had already started. I learned that whenever I got stuck with something on writing the Combat! project, I could shift to the secondary project and then return to Combat! when I arrived at a solution to the problem. (It pays to have several irons in the fire at once!)

Once the publisher solidified a cover design, I used that image to create my own marketing materials: a press kit (press release, author photo and bio, etc.), business cards (with the cover pictured on one side and contact and ordering information on the other), and book marks (with the cover pictured along with ordering information on one side and “About the Book” and “About the Author” on the other). Then I began distributing those materials as opportunity permitted until the publisher announced a release date, at which point I began distributing them energetically and announcing the book’s soon release on various social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, and ,my personal blog).

I found reception of the materials to be a mixed bag. Some media outlets ignored it. Others inserted a brief blurb about it. A few contacted me for more information or to request an interview. The amount those outlets printed about the book also varied, from a brief Facebook announcement of the book’s release to devotion of a half-page of newsprint to the author and the book. Such varied response is to be expected. And only time will tell how my efforts and the publisher’s marketing efforts paid off.

Combat! posits that the Christian life is a life of spiritual warfare on many different fronts simultaneously. There are times of heavy combat and times of light combat but never times of no combat! We are always in a dangerous combat zone as believers. With enemy attacks coming on all these fronts, whether sequentially or simultaneously, we must always be on our guard.

To prove this point and others in the book, I turned first to the military history of Israel as recorded in the Bible. Beginning with Abram’s campaign to rescue his nephew Lot and moving through Israel’s conflicts with the various Canaanite tribes during the conquest of the Promised Land to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, illustratring spiritual truths applicable to Christians today. In the second part of the book, I show how the various organizational aspects of the modern military—command and control, communications, logistics, intelligence, etc.—have parallels in the spiritual world as well and applies them to the individual in common life here and now.

But I am not resting on my laurels of this now-published work. I have contracted with TouchPoint for another book, Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies. For the serious writer, the ideas for projects just keep coming!

Dennis L. Peterson is an independent historian based in Taylors, SC. He focuses on American history, especially its military history, the War Between the States, the Great Depression, and World War II. His former positions include history and writing teacher; senior technical editor at the historic Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear weapons complex; and lead author of American history textbooks and curricula for a major Christian textbook publisher. He has been widely published in national and regional magazines and educational journals. His other books include Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught, and Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee. He has contracted with TouchPoint Press for his next book, Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies. You can contact the author
on his blog, ; Facebook Dennis L PetersonLinkedIn Dennis L. 
Peterson Independent Writer/Historian and Email

March 5, 2020

Simplifying Historical Research

By Amanda Cabot, author of Out of the Embers

Research. As writers, we either love it or hate it, but no matter which camp we’re in, almost all of us agree that research is essential, particularly for historical novels. Accurate research gives us the details that make a story come alive and – just as importantly – keeps us from receiving those dreaded one-star reviews that point out every anachronism.

The question is how to do enough research to add authenticity to our stories without spending more time on research than on the actual writing. I use a three-step approach to research: one step before, one during, and one after the first draft.

At this point, I’m establishing the historical framework for my book. Once I’ve chosen the location and timeframe as well as the protagonists’ professions, I head for the children’s section of the library. Why the children’s section? Unlike adult books, which can rival War and Peace for length and which include far more details than I need, children’s books focus on the basic information. That’s all I need to begin crafting a story.

This is the trickiest time and the one when I used to spend hours researching something online, going down proverbial rabbit holes, simply because there’s so much fascinating information out there. To avoid falling into that trap, I do not – repeat, do not – research while I’m writing. Instead, I keep notes of information I think I need. Notice that I said “think.” While I’m working on the first draft, I may believe I absolutely, positively must know how long it takes to ride a horse from my fictional town to Austin, but it’s entirely possible that that scene may be deleted or changed in the second draft. Why waste time researching something that may not be needed?

Once the first draft is completed, I pull out the list of questions I’ve compiled and decide whether I really need the answer to each of them. After culling the list, I begin to search. Many of the answers can be found online, but some require trips to the library. This is the time when I may need to visit the adult section. For example, when I was researching Waiting for Spring, the children’s history of Wyoming I’d consulted did not explain the reason for the collapse of the cattle industry in the 1880s, but the books for adults included the unusually heavy snow and ice that prevented the cattle from reaching food and water.

By waiting until my first draft is complete and doing the research then, I’m more focused on what information I really need. Furthermore, my consolidated list of questions, many of which are related, can be answered in far less time than if I’d tried to find the answers to each one individually.

This technique, which is a variation on the KISS (keep it simple, silly) principle, has saved me hours and hours of time. I hope it works for you too.
Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of A Stolen Heart, A Borrowed Dream, and A Tender Hope, as well as the Texas Crossroads, Texas Dreams, and Westward Winds series. Her books have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Awards, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers’ Best. She lives in Wyoming. Learn more at

March 4, 2020

Story Pillars

By Melody Carlson, Author of The Happy Camper

When I first began to craft fiction—back in BC (before computers)—I’d had no formal writer training. All I knew was that I loved creating stories and I enjoyed reading good novels. Two important components to becoming a writer as it turned out. But somehow, in those early days, I intuitively grasped that a good story must be supported by good characters. Kind of like Atlas and Hercules, although those two pillars sometimes dropped the ball. But even that made their stories more interesting.

So for me, story always began with a character. I didn’t know a thing about ‘character development’ or ‘characterization,’ but it was vital that I liked my character—and that she always had a problem. I tried to create relatable problems, piling on the kinds of challenges that made me feel compassion and empathy for them. In other words, I wanted to care about my characters. Simple enough. Especially for a brand new writer.

After a number of novels (and some sweet awards) I became aware that many authors used a literary lingo that I wasn’t fully comfortable with. A kind of author-ese. And not wanting to be an outcast, I learned the meaning of character-related words like protagonist, antagonist, archetype, narrator and so on. I learned the difference between omniscient and first-person perspectives. But to be honest, I was never really comfortable talking like that. It made me feel kind of like a phony. Like why can’t I just call an antagonist the bad guy?

Another thing I discovered in those first years (through friends, books, workshops...) was there are numerous methods for ‘creating good characters.’ Techniques that experts swear by. Some authors extensively ‘interview’ their characters before they ever sit down to write. They ask: where were you born, what is your heritage, what’s your favorite food, greatest fear, shoe size, etc.? Other authors make character notebooks with notes and photos from magazines—like a pictorial biography. Some novelists even give their characters personality tests.

So I experimented with these tools, but the results were disappointing. And I wound up with characters I didn’t even like. Not because those techniques were faulted, but because that’s not how my brain works. I like to start a story with a character that I don’t really know, to get acquainted as the story evolves. It’s an exploration not so dissimilar to developing a real friendship. Some first impressions are spot-on, some not so much. It can take time to recognize both talents and flaws. But this simple method is what keeps me writing. Because it’s fun getting to know a new character . . . to make discoveries and be surprised. And I hope that’s how my readers feel too. So I’m still convinced that characters are the pillars that support the story. But everyone builds characters differently. I recommend that you find the method that’s best for you, trust your instincts, and just have fun with it!
Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over 200 books with sales of more than 7 million, including many bestselling Christmas novellas, young adult titles, and contemporary romances. She received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including Finding Alice. She and her husband live in central Oregon. Learn more at