Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How I Describe My Particular Craft: Composition of Poetry

By Sara M. Robinson

For me it is a misnomer to say I write poetry. It’s not like I set out to write an essay or even a fictional prose piece. I have to cast about my thoughts in such a way that my lines and stanzas provide pauses for the reader to stop and think about what I have written. This is actually tough for me as I have always been a “gabber” with my mantra of “why say in 30 words when 300 will work. So, I say I work at” composing” poetry. This has served me to learn more about the discipline of careful selection and contemplation of what to write, and say.

As in any craft in which the artist has a strong emotional investment, practice is a key component. If I am not writing, then I use the time for reading. I allocate a block of time to write and think, at least 2 hours a day. I have a dedicated writing space, which is my domain on good days, my catacomb on dark days. But I have a great view of a big oak tree rising above our apricot tree, which stands guard over the lilacs and this view never
fails to keep me grounded. Even when I can watch an approaching storm I can sense a
transfer of energy.

Many artists start their craft or their creative passion(s) early in their lives. I was not that lucky. Poetry came late to me, after I turned 65. Many of my poetry contemporaries had at least a 40-year head-start. I’ve had a lot of catching up to do in a short time. I am only 70 now. And the flip side of this is that I want my poetry to be relevant to the younger writers, too. One way I do this is by attending conferences at colleges and spending time on campus in English departments interacting with emerging writers. Young people today are smart and savvy. I have to be as good a wordsmith as I can be to keep up with them, compete with them, and be included with them.

For active poets, newly-minted poets, and even those who simply want to read poetry, I would offer that my regular column, Poetry Matters, in Southern Writers Magazine, could be a useful tool. The major focus of the column is to present the art of writing poetry in a user-friendly manner without the intimidation of academic scrutiny. I am a community poet so I work on the accessibility of poetry to mainstream readers. After all this is where poetry started. Poetry can be and should be accessible to everyone and anyone who enjoys reading.

So, as I compose poetry, I want to be a witness to the world, whether it is nature, society, or the big area in between. Then give this witness to readers. The reader then determines if the poems give enlightenment, education, entertainment, or all three.
Sara M. Robinson, award-winning poet, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pros(e) Writers’ Workshop, and Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. In addition to publication in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014) and Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), and journals: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, and Poetica, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013), and Stones for Words (2014). Her latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, released in February 2016, is a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

History Helps Create our Characters and Stories

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

Sometimes we wonder what is going to be our next novel.
You know there is a plethora of information available for us to research and create our stories and characters.
For example, being a history buff I wanted to know more about World War I; not the killing, but how the soldiers lived during this period and how we as a nation lived. I looked up the National WWI Museum and Memorial site, clicked on Win the War in the Kitchen: Boy was I surprised. Here is some of the info I found. Could you use some of the information to build your characters and stories?
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I; May 5, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover as the head of the U.S. Food Administration. I had never given the food, during this period of time, a thought.
Mr. Hoover called on Americans to voluntarily help the war effort––save food without imposing rations or regulations. He stated, “The whole foundation of democracy lies in the individual initiative of its people and their willingness to serve the interests of the nation with complete self-effacement in the time of emergency.”
As such, the nation moved to “Meatless Mondays”, “Wheatless Wednesdays” and more creativity in the kitchen using less dairy, fats and sugars. Today, we might say it was gluten-free, vegan and heart-healthy for a greater good.
Everywhere we turn today, people are talking about eating healthier foods, omitting fats and sugars from the diets; going for gluten-free and becoming vegans. In essence searching for foods that are healthy for our bodies; and 100 years before, our great-grandparents and parents did it willingly to help our men and country during the war.
Just this information above can be added to a story, either in the present or in the past. What this tells me is we can use this to write all aspects of the things that make up our character’s personality, traits, conditioning which in turn would make the character ever so much more interesting. One of your characters might be an old man, but when he was a child, he had to give up sugar, candies, cakes and pies because that sugar was needed for the men in the war. So if in your story we find him over indulging in sweets, we could understand why . . . or perhaps he doesn’t eat anything with sugar. It could go either way.
Did you know fats were the most precious thing in the war? Germany was nearer breaking for want of fats than any other one thing. “Fats” supply energy. When people grow hungry, they draw on the fat in their bodies. Without fat they weaken and waste away.
Did you know glycerin, which comes from fat, is one of the chief things that make modern explosives? Our armies used fat by shiploads.
There is interesting information available for writers to use to create characters who had quirks that were a product of the past that would add a nugget here and there to make the stories and characters we write more interesting, don’t you think?
Visit the Georgia Humanities, you will find information you can use to create wonderful, enjoyable stories and characters. Georgia Humanities is a partner of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission.

  • To learn about soldiers' rations throughout the course of the war, food's effect on morale, and the sacrifices those at home made to keep the troops fed, check out War Fare: From the Homefront to the Frontlines, an online exhibition created by the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

So what quirks will you give an old character in your story?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Nature of Writing

By Jerrye Sumrall

As writers, we can all relate to the lady in the picture. I know I certainly can! When I first began writing fiction, the process of molding characters and scenes into a story was a daunting task. No matter how many writing courses I took, or how many free-lance editors I worked with, or how many articles I read, the process continued to be frustrating and difficult. It wasn’t a lack of information about writing, but a lack of understanding and applying the information. I did not understand the true nature of writing and what it would take to be a writer.

Based on my own writing journey, I would like to share some of my conclusions about what it takes to be a writer. In addition, I would like to encourage you to read the article, 10 Keys to Becoming aSuccessful Writer: An Agent Spills Secrets by Chuck Sambuchino. 

Authors have to want to write. It has to be so important that they can’t give it up. Every author knows that feeling. It’s like part of you wants to give up but another part of you want let go. No matter how frustrating or discouraging or absolutely impossible your writing becomes, a true writer will not stop, which leads to my point; don’t ever give up. If you are going to be an author, that is not an option and that stubborn part of you is what will see you through. I have been writing for over twenty years, and I am still learning new skills and techniques every time I write. And YES, I still get frustrated.

Authors must write from the heart. They must write about what is near and dear to them and what lies deep inside them, especially if they are writing fiction. Every one of us carries a past inside of us, and that past has shaped and molded us for good or bad into the person that we are today. An author must put that part of themselves into their writing, especially their characters. When I describe a character, I become that person, like an actor that plays a part. In that process, part of me enters into the character because I’m thinking: what would I say, what would I do, or how would I react to this or that situation.  
Authors must use their interests, abilities, and personality traits to write their story. I did not start writing until almost mid-life, but my early childhood interests, personality traits, and motivations stayed with me and became the driving force in writing mystery books for children. As a young child and all through adulthood, I was always curious and fascinated with the unknown and anything mysterious. I loved watching horror flicks on television, reading mystery books or just exploring my surroundings. Later in life, my experience as a teacher, counselor, and parent added even more background to use in my writing. When I began to write my middle-grade mystery series for children, my life experiences poured out onto the page and into the scenes and fictional characters I created. 

My books were a reflection of my past experiences and what was important to me. Those important things developed into three main themes in my books: mystery, history, and relationships. Each one of my books in, The Bayshore Mysteries, contains those three important themes. Each one of you has a past and a vast repertoire of experiences. Don’t hesitate to use those experiences to create your best work ever!
Jerrye Sumrall lives in Spanish Fort, Alabama with her husband. Formerly an elementary schoolteacher and counselor, she is now a full-time writer, homemaker, amateur photographer and office manager for she and her husband’s business. She is the author of five middle grade books: Intruders on Battleship Island, The Secret Graveyard, The Mystery of Wragg Swamp, Mystery on Mound Island, and The Ghost of Blakeley Past, all part of a mystery series called, The Bayshore Mysteries. In each one of her books, she has tried to incorporate mystery, action and adventure, local history, and enduring characters who learn lessons in friendship, courage, and self-awareness. She feels that her choice of unusual settings, her use of historical fact, her presentation of age-appropriate mystery, and her focus on lessons in self-reliance and respect for others has made The Bayshore Mysteries a unique middle grade series. *Jerrye Sumrall would love to connect with readers through any of the social media platforms listed on her website at                             

Friday, May 19, 2017

Don’t Miss One of the Best Writing Opportunities

By W. Terry Whalin

Many writers struggle to make a living—yet ignore one of the best possible ways to make money: ghostwriting. Some people only want to write their own stories. Yet there are an infinite number of stories for others you can ghostwrite. I’ve seen some writers try it once and give up. Ghostwriting is an honorable way to use your craft to write for others.

The first step is to answer several questions: 1. Are you willing to write stories for others and in their “voice” or style? 2. Have you written these types of stories and where do you get this type of writing experience? One of the best places is in the print magazine area because the form is shorter than a book and you can get a taste of the process without the commitment of a full-length book. If the process works with the other person, then consider doing a full-length book project.

The full details about ghostwriting or collaborative writing are impossible to capture in this short article. I recommend you get a copy of GHOSTWRITING by Cecil Murphey. Cec is one of the most skilled writers in this area with over 140 published books to his credit and a number of New York Times bestselling books. Murphey has tackled this type of writing over and over.

Through a combination of his own personal experience, he takes the mystery away from this area and helps writers learn the value. He gives them a vision for how they too could earn good money but also help others birth stories which would never be written.

Murphey covers the gamut of topics in this well-written book. He defines the terms like book doctor or collaborator or ghostwriter. He goes into ethical concerns and where you find subjects and answers a critical writer question: how do you make money and what do you charge for this service.

I’ve got shelves of how-to writing books and only have one other book on this topic (written years ago). This new book is fresh and engaging. Also, Murphey has tapped his wide network of other ghostwriters for their experiences and added it to enrich his book. The key application points for the reader are distilled at the end of each chapter into a series of bullet points called a Takeaway.

As I read GHOSTWRITING cover to cover, I found myself nodding in agreement at the wisdom in this book. I’ve written more than a dozen books for other people as a collaborator and rarely a ghostwriter. I highly recommend GHOSTWRITING for anyone who wants to learn the inside story about this much-needed area of the writing world. Ghostwriting can be one of your best writing opportunities.
W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor, Whalin has written for more than 50 publications including Christianity Today and Writer’s Digest. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. His latest book is Billy Graham, A Biography of America’s GreatestEvangelist and the book website is at: His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.comTerry Blogs about the Writing Life at: Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Orphans Found More Often in Written Word than the Real World

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

In need of some fresh ideas for a short story I Googled “short story ideas” and came up with 10 Short Story Ideas by Joe Bunting. It was an interesting piece with a list of 10 great ideas as well as some behind the scene facts and explanations. First I will share Joe’s ideas then look closely into the one I found most interesting. Here they are 1 through 10:

1. Tell the story of a scar, whether a physical scar or emotional one.

2. Your character discovers a dead body OR witnesses a death.

3. Your character is orphaned.

4. Your character discovers a ghost.

5. Your character’s relationship ends.

6. Your character’s deepest fear is holding his or her relationship OR career back.

7. A character living in poverty comes into an unexpected fortune.

8. A character unexpectedly bumps into his or her soul mate, literally.

9. Your character is on a journey. However, they are interrupted by a natural disaster OR an accident.

10. Your character runs into the path of a monster.

On each idea Joe Bunting goes into details and examples. The one that interested me the most was, 3.
Your character is orphaned. I suppose coming from a strong family background with no orphans in the family I was always intrigued and frightened by the thought of being an orphan. Thankfully it turns out well for many but the idea has been the story line of many tales. Bunting pointed out the following characters were all orphans: Harry Potter, Superman, Cosette from Les Miserables, Bambi, David Copperfield, Frodo Baggins, Tom Sawyer, Santiago from The Alchemist, Arya Stark, and Ram Mohammed Thomas from Slumdog Millionaire.

Bunting went on to say, “Writers love orphans, and statistically they appear in stories far more often than in the world. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable, and as such, they have the most potential for growth. It’s time for you to write a story about one. 

Each of Bunting’s ideas is interesting and he adds a great deal of insight with each. I hope you will search out his article and spend time with it. It will be worth your while.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Writing While Life Goes On

By Barbara Ragsdale, Contributing Writer for Southern Writers Magazine

I read. I write. I see visions. I teach exercise. I’m retired. Which of those five statements is a myth?  Right. Retirement. It doesn’t exist and those of us who wait to do things until that time arrives waste a lot of creative energy.

I have retired more than once; did it in stages. Left the full-time job to work part-time. Skipped around from one employment to another, reducing the hours required until I finally chucked it all—then went back to teaching group exercise, land and water.

During the down-time of part-time jobs, I enrolled in on-line writing classes. Found some reasonably priced and instructor led rather than peer led. Well worth the money. Group comments were helpful; instructor’s comments encouraging. Later, I enrolled in a peer led class with syllabus and writing assignments prepared by an instructor. 

One thoughtful assignment was to imagine and write about a blade of grass. I could. I did—kind of. I knew the idea was to think deeply about that blade of grass, to mentally touch and feel the product of nature. I just couldn’t, not after I peered out the window at my yard, barren under the trees and brown from another product of nature.

Living in the South, one learns that growing a lush green lawn is an arduous, expensive project.  There are the periods of drought followed by a deluge of rain. There are the hot summer days when the temps crawl toward the 100s and the dew dries up before the first cup of morning coffee. I did think of the struggle that blade of grass endured in my yard every day.

I imagined the blade bent over from the owner’s size 13 shoes trudging a path to retrieve the morning paper.  It would take all day to get the kinks out. 

Suddenly, the blade hears thumping and marching. It’s the ants, in their never-ending column, up, down, back and forth. All day long. “Can’t you give a guy some peace?” he yells. The blade just wants a little moment of quiet so that he can grow. 

The earth around him starts to vibrate. “Not again,” he fumes. The kids are playing ball. He slips and slides sideways to avoid them. No such luck as they trample him, followed by the family pet who does what all family pets do.

In the quiet of the late afternoon, the blade thinks he’s survived to live another day, until he hears a motor. The final insult; the owner on a lawn mower trimming the new growth. The blade smiles and thinks, “That’s okay.  I’ll grow a couple of inches tonight.”

I did think about the blade of grass as I tamped down the mole hills and surveyed the brown grass left after the army worms marched through the Bermuda like Sherman to the sea. Couldn’t get all warm and fuzzy though, but I did learn that most anything can be a character in a story. Just have a vision.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Unfinished Business

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Having recently attended the funeral of a former professor, a writer friend was exhibiting a more philosophical side of himself than I usually get to see.  His contemplations led us to the question:

If you knew you had only a year to live, how would you spend it?

I think most of us would share some of the same answers.  We'd make sure our affairs were in order. We'd express our love and thanks to the people who've meant something to us.  We may travel to some place we've always wanted to go.

I'd like to take that question a step further and ask:

What would you regret not finishing?

Since you're a writer, you may be thinking of a particular book.  Perhaps it's one you're working on right now.  But most likely, you have an idea that's been nagging you for years.  It won't let you forget it, even though you keep it at arm's length for a number of reasons.

What is it about this book that causes you to keep it on the back burner?  It is too challenging, too honest, too likely to invoke criticism?  Fair enough.  But if it keeps haunting you, pay attention to that.  It could just be that it's the most important book you're meant to write.

Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, and Mark Twain are just a few of the famous writers who had unfinished novels at the time of their death. Most of these books were published without endings.  More recently, Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) left behind a string of synopses for future tales in his Millenium series, possibly to be written by his successor.

In his classic A Year to Live, Stephen Levine spells out the importance of valuing the nudges of inspiration we are given.  Honoring them, embracing life more mindfully, and forging ahead fearlessly, we will be less prone to feel like our time has come too soon. Levine writes:

"Last words are as spontaneous as the life that produces them. If we speak now with care and consideration, if we use our words now to express our heart, that is the voice that will speak for us as our awareness gathers to depart."

What words do you want to leave behind?  How will the world remember you as a writer, as a person?  With the limited time we have to leave our mark, let's strive to do it with the truest voice we have to offer.