Thursday, January 18, 2018

Writers, Research and TED Talks

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

The wintry weather keeping me housebound has provided an opportunity for me to delve into TED talks. I’ve found these very helpful and interesting, so, instead of hibernating, I used the snow days to catch a couple of authors sharing their advice. 

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.”

The collection of TED talks from  11 authors talking will inspire you. “These well-known writers weave beautiful words on the page … and on the stage.” Here is the link.

All you have to do is sign up for free, log in, and view the authors that interest you.  

TEDs are little video monologues. Have you ever needed to research a subject from an expert? You can probably find a TED talk on the subject. Plus, you can watch TED talks in your pj’s, by a cozy fire with a steaming cup of coffee from the comfort of your own home. 

One of my favorites is when author, Tracy Chevalier looks at paintings, she imagines the stories behind them: How did the painter meet his model? What would explain that look in her eye? Why is that man ... blushing? She shares three stories, inspired by portraits, including the one that led to her best-selling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring.  Here is link.

Have you viewed TED talks? 

What’s your favorite? 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Creature Comforts—Bringing Animals into Your Fiction

By Cathy Cruise

Love animals?
Well, who doesn’t? When I’m writing, I’m surrounded by them. My dog’s bed is squeezed beneath my desk so I can rub him with my feet. My parakeet likes to walk on my keyboard and peck at letters. And if I sit down without tossing a carrot into their cage first, my guinea pigs “wheek” at me while I’m working.
But somehow, animals never made the jump from my real life to my fiction—until I wrote my first book. Once I decided to include a dog in A Hundred Weddings, everything changed. Not only did it just make me happy to play with this little guy on the pages, it also gave me comfort, helped me dream more, and let me breathe life into my narrative. If you’re thinking of including an animal in your story, I offer you a big fist-bump. Because animals offer:
Novels are big, lonely worlds. Even if you’ve populated yours with all the people you can dream up, you’re still generally at the top of that world, making all the grand decisions. And, as they say, it’s lonely at the top. I think I conjured a little dog to curl up with in A Hundred Weddings to keep me confident while I crafted my story and lived inside it. It’s like having your pet go with you to check out that weird noise in the basement. Once you see him happily trotting downstairs and making his way through the dark, you can relax and follow, and flip on the light.
Vincent in A Hundred Weddings is based on my dog, Scamp. But Vincent is decidedly more devious. He chews, bites, steals, and runs away. And he’s delectably fun to write about. Animals let you cut loose in ways human characters can’t. And their antics can reflect the emotion of a scene, mirror or offset a character’s personality, or just break up tension with a bit of needed humor. When I got stuck writing a scene in my book, I brought the dog in. Instantly, he made everything more authentic and alive. Strangely enough, I didn’t always plan his entrance. Just like in real life, he’d wander in, leap onto someone’s lap, and knock over a lamp. Ahh. The scene was picking up already.
All the Feels
Animals pack a powerful nurturing response that invests readers in a story like little else can. Take Hedwig in the Harry Potter books—patient, watchful, reassuring. A pretty minor player overall, yet she helped Harry through some of his darkest moments. And oh, was there ever a more heartbreaking scene than her last one? Maybe in Black Beauty? Old Yeller?
Sniff. I can’t even go there.
So if you’re looking to liven up your writing, consider adding an animal to the mix. As for me, I’m hard at work on novel number two. And even though I’m only 50 pages in, two dogs have already appeared, and I sense a cat lurking in the corner. While I dig my toes a little deeper into Scamp’s coat and bang away at my keyboard, I’m getting to know these furry friends and am eager to explore this brand new world with them.
But first, a carrot for the guinea pigs.
Cathy Cruise’s first novel, A Hundred Weddings, was published in December 2016. Her fiction has appeared in journals such as American FictionBlue Mesa ReviewNew Virginia Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Awards include a New Rivers Press 2015 American Fiction prize, for which she received a Pushcart nomination; honorable mention in Glimmer Train's 2017 Very Short Fiction and 2014 Family Matters contests; and a 2001 Washington Independent Writers Award for Short Fiction. She works as an editor in Virginia where she lives with her husband and two children. She’s also co-author of the blog Write DespitePlease visit her website at

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Generating Book Success

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

There are many ways to market and sell a book which makes it easy to get sidetracked. However, authors can’t afford to spread themselves thin; if they do, they lose valuable time that must be spent writing their book. In writing, it isn’t which came first, the chicken or the egg; the writing comes first.

I want to share with you something I’ve found that is helpful to writers. Looking back at the year; as we do, list down the sales and marketing avenues you’ve used. Then, out by the side of each one note whether it was hard, time consuming or both. If you determine it was, then search for an easier and quicker way.  It may take some research but eventually you will find a few things.

Can you determine what was productive? Some people think they are only productive if they sell a lot of books, but in truth, they are productive if a lot of people throughout the year were exposed to their name, the fact they’re an author and the title of their book. You see, people can’t buy the book, if they don’t know the author’s name or the title of the book. They have to know one or the other.

Can you imagine going to Barnes and Noble and telling the clerk, “I want to buy a book, can’t remember the author, but she writes women’s contemporary books, I think her name may start with an M or a S.” You won’t be able to give them the title of the book either, so how are they going to find it?

What I am suggesting is focusing on name recognition. Why? Look at it this way. A company makes many products; each product has a name. But you will notice these companies are branding their names first, their product’s name second.

Examples: Apple, Ford, Nike. These companies are branded. Everyone in the world recognizes their names immediately. They come out with new products. People know what to expect from them. That is what you want. Name recognition.

Visit the website of these companies’ home pages and notice how they branded their name.;;
By building and branding the author’s name people will recognize and find the author’s books. 

Remember you will write more books; but there is only one you.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Three Things I’ve Learned about Writing from Children’s Classics

By Cathy Gohike

1.  Create Strong Characters
You know the ones—those lovable, memorable characters from childhood books who’ve endured. You might not remember the names of their authors, but you’d recognize a clever boy like Tom Sawyer anywhere . . . or an incorrigible Huckleberry Finn, or even a man sporting a cruel streak, like Injun Joe. Saying “she’s a real Anne—Anne with an e,” is telling about a girl’s lively imagination, her loyalty, her repeated mishaps. “She’s just like Jo” leaves no doubt that we’re talking theatrical, writerly, ink-stained Jo March of Little Women. Christopher Robin, winsome to the core, runs forever on spindly legs, while simple Winnie-the-Pooh remains forever roly-poly—his paws dripping honey and his little red shirt a mite too tight. “Peter Rabbit” conjures up a bunny at once so dear and naughty we love him but shake our heads.
Children look for story friends like themselves: strong, likable people or talking animals whose foibles are their own—or ones they can imagine—and characters so clearly, endearingly drawn they’re unforgettable. 

2.  Write Sharp Dialogue
Natural and unaffected, children say what they mean and mean what they say. They don’t beat about the bush, unless, of course, they’re Tom Sawyer and they’ve got you on a string for fence painting. Crisp dialogue appropriate for their age, experience, and understanding moves the story forward. Dialect is true and rendered unapologetically. It rarely needs tags because each character’s unique speech and behaviors differentiate them.

3.  Weave an Intriguing Plot—but Keep It Simple
Plots in children’s stories are straightforward, moving steadily from beginning to end. Readers discern the good guys and bad guys by their actions, even if motivation is not immediately clear to the protagonist. There are few very complex characters or point-of-view changes in children’s classics, and few red herrings. Plot twists may surprise, but are plausible within the realm of the story.

Plots in children’s stories are known for their morals, their “takeaways,” and for their suitably happy endings—even to the most tragic tales. Books abound that espouse hard work, truth telling, kindness, and remaining true to oneself—even if the journey is convoluted.

Some children’s classics weave tales as meaningful for adults as they are for children. Allegory and metaphor—transporting for children, and recognized by adults in purely crafted stories—produce exquisite beauty . . . think C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The barnyard and its adventures, its friendships and pitfalls, is the world of Wilbur and a metaphor for life. 

We might read those books every year of our lives and come away with greater insights, greater joy. It’s why these classic tales, their characters and authors, appear in my own novels from time to time.

What higher praise than to become a book for all ages? What better lessons for writers penning books for any age?
Three-time Christy and two-time Carol and INSPY Award–winning author Cathy Gohlke writes novels steeped with inspirational lessons from history. Her stories reveal how people break the chains that bind them and triumph over adversity through faith. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren. Visit her website at and find her on Facebook at CathyGohlkeBooks.    

Friday, January 12, 2018

Writers and Road Trips

By Jennifer Hallmark

Let’s load up the car and hit the highway, full speed. And we’ll leave behind any hint of car trouble, challenging directions, and bad weather. I love a good road trip, especially when it involves meeting a writing friend, working on blog business, shopping, and coffee. Oh, and chocolate.

During the middle of August, I planned such a trip with my friend, Betty. I’d drive up from Alabama and she’d drive down from Kentucky. On the day of the journey, I woke early, breakfasted, loaded the car, and took off for Franklin, Tennessee. The sun beamed down upon my little Ford Focus, and a light breeze ruffled my hair as I stepped outside. Birds sang joyous songs. The world was good.

Does this remind you a little of a writer’s life at the very beginning? We’ve decided to pursue our dream of being the next best-selling author, making sure to retain the rights for that future “Hallmark” movie. We set up our computer or gather just the right type of pen and paper. Ideas are flowing from our mind to our fingertips.

Cue the afore mentioned birds.

Back to my road trip. It started well. But then came obstacles, distractions, wrong turns, and driving through what you thought was a road but found out it was a walkway. Oh, wait. That last part is probably just me. It seems my road trip and my writing journey are running parallel.

In other words, the birds disappeared. Can you relate to…
(1)   The unexpected. Shortly after I began my adventure, I stopped at a dollar store for a few extra supplies. It was closed for repairs. Further down the road, I pulled into a fast food place for coffee only to discover their computers were down. Really?

The writing road has its own share of computer glitches, hard-drive crashes, home repairs, unexpected company, and doctor visits.

The solution: Don’t wait until the last minute like I did for supplies and coffee. Or your almost due blog posts or book edits. Try to complete blogging, article writing, assignments, and edits ahead of time whenever possible.

(2)   Obstacles. On my trip, I ended up behind a truck with an oversized load. I didn’t want to pass it but didn’t want to follow at a reduced speed either.

Writing obstacles? What about a sudden request for an interview, the stomach flu, or a sick parent or child?

The solution: I finally had to gather speed, hold my breath, and decide I could pass the truck in that tiny space left.
Likewise, I can cut off the phone and give myself time for the interview and if I’m sick and don’t feel like sitting at the computer, pencil out my thoughts. I can get up a little earlier or stay up later if it absolutely needs to be done. Getting past road and writing obstacles will give you a moment to relax and wide-open spaces to breathe in.

(3)   Wrong turns. On my trip, the GPS led me down a wrong road. Or maybe it was my interpretation of her instructions. Either way, I had to do a U-turn.

Sometimes in my writing journey, I make decisions I’m not sure about, like when I tried writing for literary journals. I spent time and energy with no reward except more practice writing. Which is, in itself, a reward. At least, I knew it was something I didn’t want to do.

The solution: Make the best decisions you can. If you find it was a wrong turn, chalk it up to experience and keep moving forward. On the road and on the computer…
And, uh, about running over the walkway? In my defense, it looked like a roadway between two stores. It was early and no one was out yet. I don’t think anyone saw me.
Despite all the craziness, I made it to my destination. My friend, Betty and I worked on our blog, writing, and administrative decisions. We also did a little shopping, drank coffee, and had some decadent cheesecake. Though the trip itself proved a little stressful and wild, the end was good.
Until it was time to go home, that is. But that’s another story…
Jennifer Hallmark is a writer of Southern fiction and fantasy; a combination that keeps the creative juices flowing. She’s published over 200 articles and interviews on the internet, short stories in several magazines, and been part of three book compilations. She’s recently signed a book contract with Firefly Southern Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When she's not working in the garden or keeping the grandkids, you can find her at:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Based on a True Story

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Over the Holidays I watched a movie with Tom Cruise, American Made. It was described by a critic as more of a comedy than a documentary of the War on Drugs in Central and South America. I am not a fan of Tom Cruise but after a few friends and relatives told me of the concept and the familiarity of the events by those of us living in close proximity to it  I was intrigued enough to watch.

As I watched I was taken aback by how such a little of the true story it was based on. Not much was included in the movie. I know it is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but I’m afraid having the knowledge I do of the accounts of the story left me flat. I will usually watch a movie twice before moving on but this one I could not get through the second time. This is not a Critic’s Corner but simply an observation and I hope one that is helpful to writers.

This movie was from events that took place based on the infamous Mena, Arkansas drug operation in the 1980s. Having worked in government in Arkansas at that time and familiar with several of the players, I found it more sensationalized and inaccurate than anything. But again it was based on a true story, not a true story or a documentary. But the more I thought about my disappointment the more I realized what a great opportunity for writers. Writing something “based on a true story” could mean all you need is a snippet of the truth from the true story along with the disclaimer “based on a true story” and you can run with it. So how much of the “truth” will you need?

I believe that is entirely up to you. Most stories, plays, songs and movies today are remakes of the original event or the telling of it. After all it was once said that our memories and the truth are close relatives but not identical twins. Who is to say your memory of the event isn’t more entertaining than someone else’s. If so why not tell your version, based on a true story of course. So how do we do this?

I believe we should look to what really grabs our interest, what we are familiar with and what we may know a little more about than the average person. An example of this: One of the players thought to be involved with in the Mena, Arkansas story was seated in the back booth of a Burger King. He was wrapped up in a heavy coat and scarf, hat pulled down over his eyes and eating his burger. I had known this gentleman for years. I spoke to him on a daily basis and was well aware of his current situation. I knew he was to begin his prison sentence the following Monday. He and many others were not mentioned in this movie. Doing so would not mean much or add to the sensationalized version. Those of us familiar with the situation might ask why this person was left out of the story. I used this knowledge to be critical but the average individual would not know this.

So take a bit of the true story and run with it. In the movie the recognition of Governor Bill Clinton in a phone call to the Attorney General to pardon the kingpin of the operation was the kind of connection for half the world to grasp. Not to imply this happened because if you remember this is only “based on a true story”. After all historical fiction is a genre.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Five Words Changed the way I Look at Writing

By Chris Fabry

I received an unexpected birthday gift from an acquaintance. I had lost signed copies of treasured books and my friend knew I loved Pat Conroy. She went to his house and knocked on his door. Perhaps it was because she was going through chemo and had a scarf around her head that he scribbled a signature and wrote a personal message:

“To Chris, Happy 50th Birthday. My best to you in your writing life. Go deeper. Always go deeper.”

I’ve thought a lot about what he meant, particularly after his death. I filed the advice along with other tips I’ve read from writers. One of the basic questions we ask is “How do I do this?” It’s easy to focus on mechanics. Write in the morning. Have a dedicated place where all you do is write. Write every day. Turn off the TV. Show, don’t tell. You’ve read these tips and they’re helpful.

I endeavored to follow them. I looked for the perfect desk, the perfect chair, even the perfect ergonomic keyboard. I got up every morning and hammered at stories. I thought if I followed the advice and worked hard, I would succeed.

The hard truth is that there is no magic equation to writing. There is no special font that will guarantee sales. (I did find a good ergonomic keyboard.) There’s no computer program that will pull the content from your soul. The real power of writing that matters is found in going deeper.

But what does that mean? How do I “go deeper”? How do I mine the nuggets of gold in my own soul without wallowing or becoming maudlin or exploiting my own pain and becoming self-focused?
The answer to that gets closer to the bone than mechanics will take me. Being willing to risk is the first step. In a sense, what Pat was saying in those few words was a call for me to get out of the way. To tell my stories with confidence as only I can tell them. To trust the process that brings me to the page. Allow the pain and questions and struggle to propel me. To write hard and clear about what hurts, as Hemingway said.

The hardest part of this is gauging success. If I write a bestseller, have I arrived? If no one reads my stories, have I failed? What if I’m criticized? Applauded? Pat’s words both haunt and encourage. They are a constant call to avoid such equations. Instead, I ask a harder question. Has the process led me to a subterranean region of my heart? Have my words helped me discover what I really believe about myself and the world? And in the journey, have I been able to bring the reader to a different place in their own heart?

Go deeper. Always go deeper.
Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He is also heard on Love Worth Finding, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs. A 1982 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University and a native of West Virginia, Chris and his wife, Andrea, now live in Arizona and are the parents of nine children. Chris’s novels, which include Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven, and The Promise of Jesse Woods, have won three Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and a 2017 Award of Merit from Christianity Today. His eightieth published book, Under a Cloudless Sky, is a novel set in the coalfields of his home state of West Virginia. His books include movie novelizations, like the recent bestseller War Room; nonfiction; and novels for children and young adults. He coauthored the Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, as well as the Red Rock Mysteries and the Wormling series with Jerry B. Jenkins. Visit his website at Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio Tyndale Media Center-where you can download press materials like: Media Alert, interview questions, Author Q & A, author image, book cover image, etc.