Friday, December 8, 2017

Snags & Hooks: Keep Your Own Counsel

By Bob Strother

Have you ever looked into a clear mountain stream and watched as the water flowed quickly and evenly over a bed of smooth stones? Or seen the froth bubbling up where the same flow encounters a sharp-edged rock protruding above the surface? I find similarities between that stream and the writing and editing process.

First, let me stress how crucial I believe it is for a writer, whether an old hand or a novice, to belong to a critique group. I’ve been writing for over fifteen years, but have never taken a piece of work to my critique group that wasn’t improved through the process, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Still, there are a few factors all writers should keep in mind.

Most critique groups have members with varying skill sets, varying degrees of craft knowledge, and possibly, genre focuses quite different from your own. Even so, those members might not hesitate to offer advice—some of which might be spot on, other times not so much.

The writer needs to carefully sift through all those suggestions and, in the end, choose only those that feel relevant to the work. Taking everyone’s advice all of the time can leave you with a technically well-written piece that interests no one. All its sharp edges and, more importantly, the author’s voice will have been stripped away much like the water has removed the edges from those smooth stones in the stream bed.

Earlier this year I was awarded first prize in a literary journal’s fiction competition—money and publication. I was on Cloud 9, of course, until I received the editors’ (more than one) suggested changes. As I went through the comments, I realized one thing: If the judge who awarded me the prize saw this story in its present state, she wouldn’t have recognized it.

The editors’ notes explained how their suggestions were “just moving the story along.”
In one section where I’d written … a nice little bottle of chardonnay they’d picked up at the corner market… the comment was “what’s this have to do with the story? Cut it.” My answer was simple. It and a spate of other similar phrases are, in fact, a critical part of the author’s voice. They’re everything to the story. Fortunately, a senior editor spied the damage about the same time I did, erased the prior suggestions, and left the piece pretty much intact.

My advice to other writers is also simple. Listen to your critique group, but don’t accept any and all advice a face value. You’ll know what feels right and what doesn’t. Trust your instincts. Keep an edge in your work. Snag your readers. Hook them before they—like the water in that stream bed—rush on by.
A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, award-winning author Bob Strother has over one hundred and twenty-five stories, essays, and poems in print. His work has been published internationally and adapted for film. Previous publications include a collection, Scattered, Smothered, and Covered and a novel-in-stories, Shug’s Place. His novel Burning Time, and its sequel, A Fire To Be Kindled were released in 2015 and 2017, respectively, through moonSHINE review press. Bob’s short story “The Peanut Man” was awarded second place in the magazine’s 2015 Fiction Contest.  Bob lives with his wife, Vicki, in Greenville, South Carolina.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Writer’s Conference Main Perk

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

As Dr. Seuss said in his book Oh, The Places You'll Go!, “You have brains in your head you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” 

There have been many a blog posts written about the value of writers’ conferences and networking with fellow authors. It’s the main perk in my humble opinion. You just never know what journey you may travel from the contacts you make at a writers’ conference. 

Time travel with me to a writers’ conference where Dr. Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) and Joan Hess met. Barbara’s first book was published in 1966, The Master of Blacktower. Joan Hess, first book, Strangled Prose, was published in 1986. I’ve loved reading each and every one of their books. 

As Barbara says in her self-written biography,The craft of writing delights me. It is impossible to attain perfection; there is always something more to be learned– figuring out new techniques of plotting or characterization, struggling with recalcitrant sentences until I force them to approximate my meaning. And nothing is ever wasted. Everything one sees and hears, everything one learns, can be used.”

I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall when these two, now, power authors met. What fun! Joan Hess’s (aka Joan Hadley) first book, Strangled Prose, was published in 1986. Joan gave a recent interview to The Strand Magazine recalling her first writer’s conference: “I met Barbara at my first mystery convention in 1986. I approached her timidly and complimented her on her “steamy tent scenes” in the Amelia series. She was amused. Over the years, we often talked on the phone about politics, other writers (gossip), and publishing. She was my mentor. When I needed a new agent, she took care of that in a day. We would gather with our closest friends for house parties and our secret “Grouchercons.” 

Barbara and Joan both turned a chance meeting at a writers’ conference into a life-long friendship. Unfortunately, Barbara Mertz died on August 8, 2013 at the age of 85. When Barbara died, she left behind an outline and partial manuscript for what would be her last Amelia Peabody book, The Painted Queen. If you haven’t read her series, it’s fantastic. Now here’s the writers’ conference connection. Her longtime friend she met back in 1986, Joan Hess, completed Barbara’s work in process, to the delight of all Amelia Peabody fans. On Barbara Mertz’s birthday, September 29, 2017, Barbara’s legacy continued with the release of The Painted Queen.

Do you have goosebumps, yet? I learned this past weekend sadly, that author, Joan Hess died on Thanksgiving Day, 2017, at the age of 68. Clearly, Joan was meant to finish Barbara’s last book, a tribute to friendships and bonds you could form if you attend writers’ groups and conferences. What if Joan hadn’t asked a question of veteran author, Barbara Mertz back in 1986?

As Dr. Suess says, 
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted, but mostly they're darked. 
But mostly they're darked. 
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! 
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

How about it? Are you going to be brave? Take a chance? Be like Joan back in 1986. Take a baby step...introduce yourself to our blog readers in the comment section. In 25 words or less tell our readers about you and link to your website. I can’t wait to see y’all on the blog. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Insider Secrets on Getting Published

By Laura Childs, New York Times bestselling author

If you’ve written a book, congratulations are definitely in order. I’m sure it’s been a long, difficult journey. But now, let’s see if we can get that puppy published, shall we? First off, you’re going to need an agent, which means you have to write a whiz-bang query letter telling that agent exactly why he or she should represent you. In other words, you’ve got to write a short, intriguing synopsis and then enthusiastically explain why your book truly is the next best thing. Here’s the important takeaway – agents and editors are always on the hunt for the next best thing. Usually that means a great story with memorable characters, because a character-driven story is what’s critical these days.

Just as important, editors are looking for breakout books – books that are different, don't re-tell the same old story, and stand out in their categories. Yup, that’s the tricky part. If you’re writing genre fiction you need to know what the current trends are and what kind of books are selling well. If you’ve already been lucky enough to score an agent, quiz them on what today’s acquisition editors are searching for. And if you’ve been asked to submit your manuscript to an agent, never mistake slow response time for interest. Don’t be afraid to keep the pressure on!

Okay, now let’s talk about what goes into a successful novel. Clearly, the internal architecture of your novel needs to be flawless. I’m talking about plot, pacing, turning points, character development, dialogue, and building suspense. If you’re a little shaky on these points, take a class, read a book, or ask an author. It’s going to pay off in the long run. Also, in today's on-demand publishing climate, no matter what kind of book you’ve written, it's hugely important to establish an opening story hook immediately. These days, editors don't want pages and pages of build-up; they want you to toss your reader directly into the action. As my agent once said to me, “You're writing mysteries, so you’d better deliver a dead body right there in chapter one!”

Good luck and please always believe in yourself. Don’t ever let a naysayer tell you that you’re too young, too old, not good enough, not smart enough, or don’t have enough experience. Banish those turkeys from your writing life, because if you work hard enough, if you believe in yourself, you will get your novel published!

Laura Childs is the USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club MysteriesShe also writes the Afton Tangler thriller series under the name Gerry Schmitt. In herprevious life she was CEO of her own marketing firm, authored several screenplays, and produced a reality TV show. She is married to Dr. Bob, a professor of Chinese art history, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs. Her most recent mystery, Egg Drop Dead, hits bookstores Dec. 5. Find out more at

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Three Words Can Free Creative Power

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

Have you ever been sitting at your computer, the story is pouring out of your head; you’re writing as fast as your fingers will go, then all of a sudden the words stop. Nothing! It’s like your mind just turned off. You’re blank.

Most writers have experienced this at least once. I have, on more than one occasion and the first time it happened I panicked.  Yes, it rattled me; and I don’t rattle easy.

Eventually I got up from the computer, turned it off. Went to another room, grabbed a cup of coffee, a new mystery book, plopped down in my favorite chair and began to read. But that worm of doubt started to rear its ugly head and I wondered was it over? Was my writing over? Would I not be able to write again? What would happen to my job? I didn’t know how long this would last.

The next morning, I went to the computer, turned it on, pulled up my story, reread the last chapter I was working on and got to the part where I stopped. I tried, but the words would not come.

Rather than sit there and squirm, worry and fill up with more doubt, I got up from the computer and went for a walk.

When I got back, I remembered the exercise of choosing three words.

With pen and paper, I chose three words at random, ones that just popped into my head and wrote them down.

Then sitting down at the computer, I chose one of the three words to begin my first sentence with and used the other two in one paragraph.  There was no pressure because I knew it didn’t have to make sense, the object was to use those three words in a paragraph regardless of how it turned out.
When I got to the end of the paragraph I kept writing, the words were still coming.

I was back in action. Somehow, that exercise got my creative juices flowing again.

I wound up with 2483 words before I knew it. Then I pulled up my story, reread the last chapter and was able to pick right up where I left off.

Maybe the next time your words don’t want to cooperate, try this exercise.

By the way, I went back and reread the 2483 words I wrote and with some editing, a tad of rewriting, 
I will have a short story I can send off. Who knows, this piece might just get published.

Monday, December 4, 2017

How to Write When Life Steps on Your Head

By C. Hope Clark

Through my newsletter at, I’ve motivated writers for almost 19 years. With a goal to remain positive, with a mission to show that anyone with drive, diligence, and a strong degree of hard-headedness can navigate the writing profession, I practiced what I preached through crazy deadlines, relocations, birthdays, weddings, holidays, and more. As I preached, I thought that a dedicated writer wrote through anything.

Until we had two hurricanes and both my parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within six months of each other.

Through tears, headaches, and lack of sleep, I kept telling myself to write. After all, I had deadlines. Suddenly my bottomless well found a rock-hard bottom, and not only did I struggle to write, but I wondered if I ever wanted to write again.

Practicing what I preached became more than rhetoric.

In the midst of all the chaos of family, moving, doctors, power going out, and being the strong shoulder for parents frantic they were no longer in charge, I looked back at what I taught my readers. . . to see if I’d been spot on or theoretical in my teachings.

And this is what I learned about dealing with a complicated, stressful life:
  • It’s okay to write anywhere, anytime, and any way. Forget the perfect study with the proper music background and the keyboard with the just-so touch. The goal is to put words to paper. Fix it later. I wrote 2,500 words while my father received his two-hour neurological test that diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s, with me in one chair and the laptop perched on the seat of another in the lobby.
  • Compromise is in order. I had a December deadline for the novel, but had given myself an earlier July goal which I’d been keeping nicely with a 500 word-a-day mission. Then all hell broke loose. Seven-thousand-miles-in-two-months-on-my-car kind of hell. I reprogrammed the deadline to October. Regretful since it changed advertising, Christmas, and appearance marketing plans, but I was determined to keep on keeping on.
  • It’s okay to tell people you have limitations. Normally highly active on social media, I didn’t want to just disappear and lose my fan base. So I let people know in my newsletters that I had my hands full, and why. The outpouring of condolences proved such a balm. I felt the release valve allowing me to be human.
  • On that note, it’s fine to be human. I explained the situation to my publisher. I told family that any day I wasn’t with them, I had to be at the keyboard. I kept one major appearance and cancelled others. Offers for lunch, writers groups, and many appearances were declined. Family and writing only. I boiled life down to those two basic needs.

While I’m not home free, the days I have to write are slowly increasing. I still keep a tight restraint on the commitments I accept, for fear I’ll encroach on the two basic responsibilities I have. However, this too shall pass. Right now, I’m excited to see myself coming out on the other side, and thanks to the forced down time, I’m thrilled and excited about 2018. The opportunity to make new, more extensive goals has me practically giddy.

As writers, we learn from what we experience. And those experiences make us stronger and oh so much wiser. Bring it on. I’m ready to tackle the world now. And maybe it’s time for The Best of FundsforWriters, Vol, 2, because I darn sure have a lot of material that’s been practiced as well as preached. Come on, writers. If I can weather all this, you can, too!
In 2017, C. Hope Clark still managed to publish Edisto Stranger, fourth in the Edisto Island Mysteries, and The Best of FundsforWriters, Vol. 1, a motivational how-to taken from the annals of the widely popular FFW newsletters. Her fourth Carolina Slade Mystery is set for release in Spring 2018. /

Friday, December 1, 2017

Business of Writing ~ Aww! Don't Bother Me, I'm Writing!

By Sun Chara 

I will nudge, prod, shake, rattle, and roll until you stop tapping those computer keys and I have your attention. Okay! Got it!

You want to be a successful writer?

Then you must devote! a lot of your time, to the Business of Writing.

The publishing industry has ventured into a new era. With the advent of digital, self/indie publishing, the writer now becomes CEO of his company; he not only creates the story, but must market and sell the book. Even authors published with a traditional publisher, unless they’re bringing in the big bucks, are pretty much left on their own with regards to marketing.

Artists, whether performers or writers often have a difficult time reconciling their art with business. This is because creating is a dominant Right Brain function, and doing business is a dominant Left Brain function.

Here lies the dilemma and solution.

Although Right Brain and Left Brain work together, one or the other will dominate depending on your activity.

Once the writer has created his story/Right Brain function, he must shift his focus to business/Left Brain function for maximum output to successfully sell his product/book.

So, what is the Business of Writing?

1. Develop a mindset that your writing is a business
venture, and you are the CEO.
2. Scouting for a good agent...the psychology of this is
cool especially when negotiating a contract. Your agent will handle the heavy duty stuff for you.
3. Technology/Social Media – be knowledgeable/masterful and
use it to promote your book, or hire someone to do this for you.
4. Launch team – build your fan base, so when you have a
book launched your team will get the word out. How to do this you may ask? Networking at conferences/events, social media, or one-by-one collect emails/contact info from authors, readers, bloggers, reviewers, media to build your marketing lists. This is gold!
5. There is so much more: Facebook page, fb groups, twitter,
Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon, metadata, keywords, keyphrases, author bio, newsletter, website, press release, book trailers, YouTube, blogs, tours, reviews, events, conferences, speaking gigs... networking is the name of the game!

Yes…but…when do I write?!

Delegate! You don’t have to do all of it, or do it all yourself. Choose 2-3 online venues that you get jazzed about and focus on those, or hire a publicist to do digital marketing for you, while you oversee the creation of your book and the promotion of your product.

Once you have your business team set, then this will free your time up to do what you love. . . create magic with your words!
Sun Chara, an Amazon top 100 bestseller, writes sexy, hip ‘n fun contemporary romance for HarperImpulse/HarperCollins. JABBIC winner, Manhattan Millionaire's Cinderella launched her writing career, spinning the 'global millionaires series'. She makes her home in southern California, and has appeared on stage/film to rave reviews in How the Other Half Loves, General Hospital, and McGee & Me. With a Masters Degree in Education, and membership in several professional organizations including: SAG/AFTRA and Romance Writers of America, she enjoys sipping designer Frappuccinos topped with whipped cream/sprinkles, and dancing on the beach...making everyday a celebration! Sun loves to hear from her readers at:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Your Name Here 3,219,813 Times

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

As a writer it is important to get your name and your work out there in the view of the public. There are many ways to do that but there is one that is free to all writers but seldom used. Since the beginning of our Southern Writers Magazine blog, Suite T we have had 3,219,813 page views and counting. You could have been a guest author blog poster, here are the guidelines.  Wouldn’t it be great to have your name and that of your works out here over 3 Million times? Well believe it or not that was possible. If you have missed this opportunity it is available for next 3 Million page views and more. It only takes and little knowledge of the blog and diligence. Here is how it works.

At the end of each blog is a bio of the author, an area that says, “If you liked this” then an area for your comments. It is noted by blue ink noting the number of existing comments such as 5 Comments. You simply click on 5 Comments and your opportunity awaits you. After reading the blog share with the author your thoughts and any questions you may have for the author. Questions can open a dialogue and if interested may continue beyond the comment section to emails, text or phone calls. It could be an opportunity to gain a mentor. But let’s remember why you are here, to get your name and your works in lights.

Each time you leave a comment, be sure to use a signature. An example would be “John Doe author of XYZ Thriller”. You do not want it too long or cumbersome but you may add any award you have earned such as “John Doe, author of XYZ Thriller and Winner of the Scare me to Death Award”. So with a comment you have announced yourself and possibly opened dialogue with other authors. There are still more opportunities here we need to look into.

As a comment is made there is sure to come a reply. Here is another opportunity. Comment on the reply and again add your signature. You showing interest in others opinions could develop a valued relationship. If you will follow the comment and reply you can introduce yourself to many interested readers and authors.

So if you had started this when Suite T began you would have over 3 Million opportunities to introduce yourself and works. But remember that is just with us. This practice should be used whenever and wherever you have an opportunity to do so. Start today and we will look for your comment and signature and of course we will reply.