Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How to Act Like a Professional Writer at Your Next Conference

By Jennifer Hallmark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Great Expectations

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 21, 2017


By Penny Warner 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fear, Passion and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

By Debra H. Goldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Novel Inspiration via a Job in a Haunted House in Scotland

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Planning Characters

By Lizzie T. Leaf

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

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

That is when the whispers started again.

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

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

So here is my basic way to move forward.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What Does Your Ear Hear?

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

We as writers know there are rules we are to follow in writing.  But, did you know there are times you can break those rules of writing?

You can, and you aren’t being rebellious, difficult or even childish. Aren’t you glad? I know I am.
When you write thrillers, for instance, you’re concerned about getting the atmosphere of the story down on paper. What is your ear hearing? Does it hear tension, danger, and trouble?

When we are writing dialogue, there are times you just can’t follow the rules, not if you are writing the dialogue the person would be speaking.

Now, don’t get the idea I am trying to get you to stop following the rules. I believe you need to know the rules, and if you do, then you know when you are breaking them, and if it is in a place they need to be broken.

When you read a sentence on paper, your ear tells you, “right on target––or off target”.

Winston S. Churchill said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” He could have also said the shorter sentences are the better ones too, however, he didn’t say that. But they are. Short words have more punch.  I think short sentences also have more punch. Try reading a long sentence with say 40-50 words in it. Does your ear get tired? Does your brain start wandering? Mine always does.

One of the things a writer needs to be is a good communicator. Every time I write something I need to turn around and read it. What does my ear hear? Does it make sense? What can I take out? What do I need to add? These are some of the questions I ask myself. What I find sometimes is a couple of sentences are not making sense or they’re rambling. Clarity is important in our writing. We don’t want people confused trying to read what we’ve written. Listening to what we are reading helps us be better writers.

In high school, one of my teachers, (won’t mention a name) was always trying to impress upon us the importance of being organized. She would say, “Only then, can your words have clarity.” She was right. We do need to be organized. It especially helps when we are talking to be organized in our thoughts so there will be clarity in what we say. I can hear her asking us, “Did you hear what you just read?”

The answer she got was, “Of course we did.” But she meant did we hear with our ears and did we understand what it said.

The other subject she stressed, repeatedly, was writing outlines. Let me say to this day, I hate writing outlines. We are talking over fifty years here, I still hate writing them. But she was right again; outlines are wonderful tools for writers. Thank you Mrs.… (No names remember?)