Thursday, April 27, 2017

Are you a Puzzler?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine 

As writers, we are told to read, read and then read some more. Have you ever wondered if being a "puzzler" would help when the words escape you? I watched last Friday's Harry Smith interview editor, Will Shortz in celebration of 75 years of the somewhat elusive, NYTimes Crossword Puzzle. Shortz is the world's only enigmatologist, a specialty degree he created at Indiana University. As editor, Shortz goes through each and every puzzle submission to the Times. If you missed the interview, here is the video link to the story. Did you know there are puzzler contests? Did you know there are professional crossword authors?

I did a Wikipedia search and discovered Shortz "has been the puzzle master on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday since the program was started in 1987. He is the founder of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (1978), and has served as its director since that time. He founded the World Puzzle Championship in 1992 and is a director of the U.S. Puzzle Team."

Shortz is the author or editor of more than 100 books and owns over 20,000 puzzle books and magazines dating back to 1545, reportedly the world's largest private library on the subject. Shortz is a member of the National Puzzlers' League. He is currently the league historian.
I was mesmerized by the piece on puzzling. Personally, I sporadically work the crossword puzzle in our local paper, but it's not on the level of the NY Times. The Shortz piece gave me an aha moment. What if as writers, when the words won't flow, we take a break and work a crossword puzzle for 5 minutes. 
I tried it yesterday, when I hit a snag while plotting a short story. It was amazing how working a crossword puzzle for 5 minutes helped jump start my writing. If you would like, you can download a number of free crossword puzzle apps including The New York Times. You can find them by searching the App Store.

Another upside to working crossword puzzles is science says it helps keep your brain engaged and healthy. Meg Seling, wrote this fascinating article for Psychology  Today, titled "How is Doing a Crossword Puzzle Like Changing a Habit?"

Join me, make a new habit of working a crossword puzzle and give it a whirl. Be sure to let us know your experience. 

So, I ask y'all, are you a puzzler? 


Wednesday, April 26, 2017


By Dr. Richard Mabry

Some writers recognize writers’ block as an occupational hazard. Others say there’s no such thing. I don’t know whether there is or not. What I do know from my own experience is there are some times when the words just won’t come. And every writer, whether “plotter” or “pantser,” novice or experienced, has to find a way to work through that. In my case, as I write medical mysteries, I’ve discovered a few things that help me get past those hang-ups. I’ll share three of them, hoping they’ll help the writers among us who read this blog.

Turn the boys in the basement loose. If I don’t know which way a story is going, what a character is going to say or do, or in general find that I’ve written myself into a corner, I stop worrying the problem like a kitten with a ball of yarn. Instead, I go for a walk, read for a bit, or do something that takes my mind away from writing. I might even put the problem aside and sleep on it. Stephen King calls this putting “the boys in the basement” to work. And I’ve found that it helps. Matter of fact, I went to sleep one evening, having stopped writing because I didn’t know what came next. I awoke the next morning with the story fully fleshed out in my mind.

Turn to another writing project. A friend of mine says it doesn’t matter what you write—a non-fiction book, another novel, or a grocery list—just so long as you write. Turn away from whatever has caused you to stumble, but don’t turn away from writing. Close down that project, devote your time and energy to something else, but don’t let your writing muscles atrophy. When you do go back to the place where you’ve been stumped, you’ll often find that you can get right back into the flow of the story.

Consider starting over. Perhaps the reason you feel your work isn’t going anywhere is because it doesn’t have the right direction, the proper characters, or the correct underlying message. Read through what you have. Then consider rewriting the work. Don’t cut and paste—that’s cheating. Start fresh. Maybe there’s a spot where your story seems to go off the rails. Perhaps you need to start over at the beginning, despite what you’ve already invested in time and energy. I currently have four other versions of my next novel on my hard drive. It took me that many to figure out what I really wanted to say and the best way to say it. Now it seems to be moving on with no problem.

Those are some of the tricks that help me. If you’ve discovered things that help you, please pass them on. And whatever you do, don’t stop writing.
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing “medical suspense with heart.” His novels have garnered critical acclaim and been finalists for ACFW’s Carol Award, both the Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year and Reviewer’s Choice Awards, the Inspirational Readers Choice, and the Selah Award. He is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the International Thriller Writers, the Faith-Hope-Love chapter of the Romance Writers of America, the Christian Authors Network, and Novelists Inc. Richard’s latest work is his novella, Doctor’s Dilemma. You can learn more about him on his home page, his blog, and via Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


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

“Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.”  William Faulkner

I ran across the above quote not long ago and it struck me how many times I have heard, “I don’t like to read.”

Yet that person is trying to write a short story/book. I am not sure why or how they think this business is done, but if they don’t like to read, chances are they may tire and give up on writing. The two basically go hand in hand.

To me, only a reader can understand the depths a writer goes to create a new world with different characters walking around, living day to day lives in this imaginary creation.

Jeff Goins, who is an author, blogger and speaker said, “Writers need to read. A lot. Magazines. Books. Periodicals. And so on. They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.”

When we read a book, it is like being in a one-on-one relationship with the author who is showing you how they write, their style, character development, scenes, plots, and dialogue.

You will see things pop up that make an impression on you. Ask yourself, why did that make an impression? Jot it down. I agree with Jeff, write down the ideas and thoughts as they come to you and think about it when you have completed the book. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like?
Seeing how other authors write is like getting a free class in writing. Pay attention. Nothing is more motivating to me. There are even some books I read I think to myself, I could have written that.

One thing I notice as a reader, my vocabulary jumps higher, words fall out of my mouth and onto the pages faster.

When was the last time you read a book and found yourself intrigued? Learning? Story ideas popping?

As writers, we can enlarge our worlds by reading so we can aspire to greater written works.

Monday, April 24, 2017


By Lea Wait

My nineteenth book was just published. And, yes. I’ve sweated through proposals like everyone else.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

First: look up the editor or agent you’re submitting to. See what they want. (Yes: you should personalize each submittal.) Do they want a letter? A proposal? Email or snail mail? One chapter? Fifty pages?

A cover letter is not a proposal, and a proposal is not a long cover letter.

A cover letter is one page that includes 1) one or two sentences about your writing credits, 2) the genre and “elevator pitch” of the book you’re proposing, 3) other books similar to yours, and 4) how much of the book you’ve written.  

Your proposal expands on that. The first page should have your name and address (including email and telephone number) single spaced in the upper left hand corner. The number of words in your completed manuscript is in the upper right hand corner.

The word proposal should be centered about a third of the way down the page, with your book’s title beneath it. Everything should be double spaced, with 5 space indented paragraphs, two spaces between paragraphs, and one space between sentences. Most editors prefer Times New Roman 12. Don’t forget headers that list your name, the page number, and the name of your book. 
Next you write a synopsis of your book’s plot, or attach as many chapters or pages as he or she wants. (Note: Like the proposal, they should not contain any typos or spelling or grammatical errors.)
But (and here’s where many people miss the boat), your proposal should also include:

A Competitive Analysis. What other books are like yours? Who publishes them? How are they selling? If they are a series, how many books are in it? ( can help with this.) When I proposed a traditional mystery series with a background of needlepoint I analyzed the eight best-selling craft mystery series for popularity, location, and style.   

Selling Points. How is your book different (better) than those books you just mentioned?  What readers will it appeal to? I pointed out that the Maine coast is a popular location for mysteries, my characters would be men and women from their 20s to their eighties, the background would be a custom needlepoint business, and the mystery would be edgy, not cute or cozy, and would include details about historical needlework.   

Marketing Your Book. I listed magazines for needlepointers, conferences, and the two major organizations of needlepointers in the United States, with membership numbers. I also included organizations I was a member of. (Nothing to do with needlepoint, but contacts.)

Why are you the best person to write this book? What can you add that no one else can? I am branded as a Maine author. I’m a fourth-generation antique dealer and have degrees in American Civilization, so have the expertise to include historical elements in my plots.

If you’re proposing a genre book, is it (or could it be) the first of a series? If so, list the first three books in the series, with titles and brief (1-4 paragraphs) plotlines. (I did this, in addition to sending the first fifty pages of the first book in the series.)

Within a month I was offered a three-book contract, and subsequently have been offered two additional contracts for the Mainely Needlepoint series.  

The bottom line: Write the best book you can, but while you’re writing, think of how it can be marketed and sold. It will pay off in the end, when you compose a professional, convincing, proposal.  
USA Today best-selling Maine author Lea Wait’s nineteenth book (TIGHTENING THE THREADS) was just published. She writes three mystery series: The Shadows Antique Print series, the Mainely Needlepoint series, and (beginning in 2018) the Maine CafĂ© series, under the name Cornelia Kidd, as well as historical novels for middle readers. As a single woman, Lea adopted four older children from Asia. Now she writes mysteries about people trying to find love, acceptance, and a place in the world to call home. She is married to artist Bob Thomas, and loves to row, walk, and sit on the porch of her 1774 house, reading or writing. She invites you to like her “Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd” Facebook page, and friend her on Goodreads.   website: Blog: (with other Maine mystery writers)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hurry Up and Wait

By Peggy Wirgau

It might as well be my motto for 2017. Perhaps embroidered and framed, hanging over my desk. Or tattooed on my arm. And if I wait much longer, maybe chiseled into my tombstone.

For the past two years, my husband and I have been looking forward to closing on a Florida vacation home—a modest townhouse—close to the beach, but certainly not a mansion. The reason for the wait? It’s new construction, and many delays have increased the original estimated building time. One year turned into 15 months, then 18 months, then 22 months and counting. We’ve made plans and rearranged them again and again, only to be told to wait.

I’m also playing the waiting game with my first novel, written in 2012. Five years and six revisions later, I now have an agent who has partnered with me on this seemingly endless voyage to publication. She’s submitting it to prospective editors, and some say they’re considering it. And now we wait. The months sail on by, and we keep waiting, scanning the hazy horizon, anxious to land this ship somewhere.

So, what am I doing while I wait for the house to be finished and wait for someone to say YES to my book?

Keep busy. After the last novel revision, I was sure I would never again write more than a grocery list. But I’ve managed to begin research and preliminary plotting on a new novel. There must be life after that book, and having a new project underway gives me something else to contemplate in the middle of the night.

Expand. I’ve read many books during this long wait, a few in genres I don’t love. And I’m pushing myself with some difficult writing exercises. I’m learning new things and growing as a writer.

Stay in touch. Plenty of published writers once thought their wait would never end. I do my best to congratulate them, read their books, leave reviews, and ask questions. There are plenty more who are still waiting. We bond over our writing journeys. It’s good to remember I’m not the only one, and waiting, painful as it is, is part of the process.

Pray. God knows what’s happening in my life, and wants me to trust Him and his timing. Worrying is useless, and I must remind myself of this constantly. I may never know the reasons for the wait, but I pray to know how best to use this time.

Be content. A completed novel being considered by publishers is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I need to count my blessings. And the day will come when the house is done, something will happen with that book, and life will go on.

Are you in waiting mode regarding your writing or another big project? Or have you come through on the other side? I’d love to hear your best waiting tips!
Peggy Wirgau lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and loves bringing history to life for middle grade and young adult readers. Her articles have appeared in Appleseeds, Insight, Learning Through History, and most recently, Peggy contributed to the book, Why? Titanic Moments. Her yet-to-be-published novel is based on the true story of a young Titanic survivor. Her Titanic blog features in-depth stories and her followers include descendants of the ship’s victims and survivors. A graduate of Michigan State University and George Mason University, Peggy is an active member of ACFW and SCBWI, and she’s also a registered nurse. She and her husband have two adult children. Learn more about Peggy and the Titanic at

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bad Actor/Good Actor?

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Sitting in a recent business meeting I was struck by one of our very professional millennials using the term good actor. Even a baby boomer has noticed the recent terminology used to describe the players as good actor bad actor. I first noticed it used as a description of Russia involved in the Libyan turmoil as a “Bad Actor”. That wasn’t hard to put together that it was a negative term. My millennial business counterpart had presented someone as a good actor and again I could easily understand that was a positive thing.

More often than not I find myself second guessing the meaning of words and phrases hitting the airwaves and wondering who is making up this stuff. I recently had to think about the term “undocumented immigrants”? I thought and thought before it came to be this is a politically correct term. These are the same people that were at one time referred to as “illegal aliens”. Same people, different terms and even I have to admit it does sound better. “Undocumented” versus “illegal” is less harsh and more tolerable. I don’t have a problem with it as long as we all know what or who we are talking about.

I am not sure this rapid change of terminology would have worked in past years or if it would have even possible. There were times a term had to be used for years prior to being accepted by society and even longer before being placed in the dictionary. There were over 1,000 words added this year alone. As they say everything from “binge watching” which I am guilty of to “Seussian” which is suggestive of or relating to the works of Dr. Seuss. And if you think these are strange in some sort of way just try getting them past spellcheck.

As writers we may want to use these new found friends or go back to the original terms or descriptions. I say descriptions because a great number of these words are shortcuts to describing an act. No matter we all seem to have Google now so nothing can slip past us. I’m not one to “throw shade” but I do recommend we stay on top of these new arrivals.  

Otherwise we could end up expressing ourselves with a “face-palm”.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pitch to Publication: 3 Things Learned

By Leigh Ann Thomas

Heart pounding double-time and palms slightly moist, I sat across the desk from an acquisitions editor and pitched my book idea. Under her scrutiny, I feared my one-sheet and sample chapter lacked the power to grab her professional attention. My internal dialogue was off the charts: She’s going to love it. Wait, who am I kidding? She’ll hate it. Why didn’t I prepare more chapters? I’m so out of practice. Maybe I should’ve…

And then…laughter. The editor was smiling. And laughing. As she perused my sample chapter, I felt like the big brother in the old cereal commercial, “He likes it! Hey, Mikey!”

This spring, almost two years after pitching that idea, the completed manuscript will be released as a book of inspiration for mothers of the bride.

Worth the stress and hard work? Absolutely.

This has been a time of intense growth as a writer. I’ve learned to push through seasons of dryness and doubt, fear and uncertainty. I’m more appreciative of the creative teamwork required to bring a book to market.

Through it all, three things stand out as vital for an author in the publishing process:

After snagging interest for my idea, I returned home and got to work. Difficult work—without the guarantee of acceptance. Even after a contract, it was crucial to maintain excitement and vision for the project through lulls in activity—weeks and months of waiting, editing, and more waiting.

Author involvement is critical to the success of a book. Upon release of my first books (over a decade ago), I could sit back and be a spectator to the publishing process. Now, an author must be hands-on in every step from editing to marketing. There’s no room for timidity, especially in the marketing and promotion of our work. I’ve devoured crash-courses and on-the-job training in social media, virtual book launches, Thunderclap campaigns, and more. An ongoing job!

I must remain teachable—especially in the editing of my “baby.” There is a thrill in learning from mistakes and using newfound knowledge in the next project. Also, publishing houses have their own preferences and styles and we may have to let go of beloved writing habits (mine was the overuse of italics). There is always room for growth. My work strengthens as I listen and learn from the best in the business.

Passion, involvement, humility—what would you add as integral for an author in the publishing experience?
Leigh Ann Thomas is the author of three books, including Ribbons, Lace, and Moments ofGrace—Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). A columnist for, she has also written for,, and Power for Living. She is a contributing author in ten books and her work is included in two editions of Southern Writers Magazine's Best Short Stories. You can find Leigh Ann on her front porch daydreaming story plots or blogging at