Friday, August 28, 2015

Do I Write Like a Master Spy?


By Marilyn Baron


One of my favorite authors is Daniel Silva, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The English Spy, his 18th novel and the 15th book of his Gabriel Allon series. Apparently, I’m not the only Gabriel Allon fan. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls his continuing character, Gabriel Allon, “one of the most intriguing heroes of any thriller series.” 

I recently went to an author talk and book signing for The English Spy, and met Silva for the second time. Silva says he came up with his character when he was walking down the street in Georgetown with his wife, journalist Jamie Gangel, and she said, “We’re going to have dinner with David Bull, one of the world’s finest art restorers.” He asked Bull how he could turn an Israeli assassin into an Italian art restorer. Later, Silva went to Bull’s lab. Fascinated by the restoration work going on there, the more he learned about the craft of restoration, the more he realized he could apply that to the craft of assassination. He used that knowledge to structure Gabriel’s first novel and a character was born.

I was surprised to learn that Gabriel was supposed to appear in one book only, as a second-tier character, but it didn’t work out that way. “He took over that novel and the story became his,” says Silva, adding, “He talked me into writing the second book.” It turned out that in researching the professional provenance of that character, he saw another side to Gabriel. The concept of restoration—of situation, of historical wrongs and of people—plays a major role in all of Silva’s plots.

As an author, I was curious about Silva’s writing process. Like me, Silva tries to go to all the places he writes about to bring his settings to life. He credits proper technique and his character’s unique point of view with helping him convey emotion and setting. Silva is a creature of habit. Unlike me, he writes every day, seven days a week and finds days off and holidays “personally traumatic,” when he’s on a tight deadline. He turns the temperature down, writes in the same clothes every day—grey sweatpants, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a fleece jacket. He writes in pencil on yellow legal pads and then types the novel into the computer. In general, Silva doesn’t outline his books (and neither do I). He knows enough to get started and then he “brings the book to life.” His first draft is his outline. Sometimes he knows the plot twists and turns in advance. Sometimes he doesn’t.

When I asked him to reveal the most important advice he could give an author, he said, “When you’re working on your first manuscript, you have no expectations, so enjoy the writing experience.” The first time I met him, his advice was, “Finish the book.” I took that advice to heart. In 2015, I’ve released four books and a short story, including my latest book, Landlocked, from The Wild Rose Press.     
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Marilyn Baron is a corporate communications consultant in Atlanta. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and Georgia Romance Writers (GRW), recipient of the GRW 2009 Chapter Service Award and winner or finalist in writing awards in single title, suspense romance, novel with strong romantic elements and paranormal romance. Marilyn writes in a variety of genres, including: Humorous coming-of-middle age women’s fiction (The Widows’ Gallery, Stones, Significant Others); a psychic suspense series (Sixth Sense, Homecoming Homicides and Killer Cruise); romantic suspense (her latest novel, Landlocked, is her 10th published by The Wild Rose Press); historical romantic thrillers (Under the Moon Gate and the prequel, Destiny: A Bermuda Love Story); and fantasy (Someday My Prints Will Come) for The Wild  Rose Press; and humorous paranormal short stories for TWB Press (A Choir of Angels, Follow an Angel, The Stand-In Bridegroom, Dead Mix and her latest, The Files Death Forgot). She also wrote two books with her sister Sharon (The Edger, Murder at the Outlet Mall) and a new musical about Alzheimer’s called Memory Lane. Marilyn is a member of the 2016 Roswell Reads Steering Committee and belongs to two book clubs. A native of Miami, Florida, Marilyn now lives in Roswell, Georgia, with her husband and they have two daughters and a new son-in-law. She graduated from The University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism [Public Relations sequence] and a minor in Creative Writing. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, going to movies, eating Italian food, and traveling. She often sets her stories in places she’s visited, including Bermuda, Australia and Italy, where she spent six months studying Italian and Art History in Florence during her senior year in college. Visit her Website to find out more about Marilyn’s books and stories at www.marilynbaron.com. Her latest release, Landlocked, is a romantic suspense. Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marilyn-Baron/286807714666748 Blog:  Marilyn blogs with Savvy Authors on the 22nd of every month at http://savvyauthors.com/blog/?s=Marilyn+Baron Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MarilynBaron Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4722647.Marilyn_Baron


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Forge a Character


By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine


“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
Henry David Thoreau


Have you ever thought a character came to you with the greatest of ease?  Initially most of us can or will say yes. I have thought so but found that the initial thought of the character was only the beginning. The easy grasp I had on my character soon became evident I would need to dig further and develop more in order to have him fit the task ahead of him. 

Thoreau has left us good advice when it comes to finding our character. Even the character you think you have dreamed up will need to be heated in the forge and taken to the anvil to pound out  the final product. Just as a blacksmith would work with the metal, heating it up, pounding it out cooling it off and repeating all again until the piece is exactly what we are looking for, we do the same with our character.

As we see in Thoreau’s Alex Therein, the woodchopper, a character can be a friend yet have flaws. Taking a character and creating him, forging him into perfection for the story may not always make them likable but they will be more interesting. Let’s admit it, a person without flaws, imperfections or some type of personality disorder will fail to hold our attention. But someone with a peculiarity we are drawn to. We want to see what they do or say next. We must stick around and see the outcome.

The truth is it may be hard for us to add these flaws to our precious character but it is needed. Without them we have less storyline to work with. We have fewer options to take at each turn in the story. The flaws can take the character down a forbidden road, open the wrong door or start a new relationship.


Saying you must hammer and forge yourself into a character can quickly become clear to us as we work on our character. We will soon be moving from the forge to the hammer pounding away at that piece on the anvil then cooling it off in the manner needed.  After inspecting your work you will then decide to go with it as is or reforge. Odds are we will reforge many times until it is right. As Thoreau said hammer and forge is a must.             

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Juggling Act: Working Full-time and Writing


By Amy Clipston


People often ask me, “How do you work a full-time job and write books?” Since my mother raised me to have manners, I resist the urge to roll my eyes and instead sweetly reply with, “I just make it work.”

Unlike many authors, I work a full-time for a local government, in addition to writing four books per year for HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

While other authors may write for 14 hours straight on a Monday, I pop out of bed 5:10 a.m. and rush to a job located 20 miles from my home. Since my husband has battled chronic kidney disease, my family depends on the health insurance and steady pay my job provides.

Balancing two jobs has forced me to be disciplined. By working 10 hours per day, Monday through Thursday, I enjoy Fridays off. Although the workdays are long, I receive my reward at the end of the week. I use my Fridays off to write, run errands, or do something really special, such as volunteering at my sons’ schools.

Only once in my writing career have I asked for a deadline extension. My remaining books were submitted to my editor either on time or early. In order to meet my deadlines, I follow these rules:

1. Keep a Calendar
I carry an old-fashioned day planner with a list of my upcoming deadlines taped in the back. I also set my own deadlines, including when I plan to send the first draft to my agent for comments, which is normally a month before the book is due to my editor. I also build in time for proofreading and polishing.

2. Stay organized
Most authors fall into one of two categories: Pantsers (seat-of-the pants writers) or Plotters. I am most definitely a plotter. I start off with a synopsis, and after my editor approves it, I turn it into an outline arranged by chapter and scene. I use the outline as a road map to prevent the dreaded writer’s block.

3. Write whenever possible!
I fit in writing at every available moment. Some nights I write until midnight. I write on weekends while my sons are busy playing videogames. Writing isn’t without guilt, but I do something special with my family after the books are complete.

4. Ask for Help
Contrary to the rumors, I’m not Super-Woman, and I can’t do it all. I couldn’t balance this demanding schedule without my mother. She keeps our household running so I can write.

5. Find time to rest
When I need a break, I enjoy watching movies with my mother and sons, and I relish listening to audio books in my car while I commute to and from work. The downtime helps me relax and also recharge my inspiration.

Although working two jobs isn’t ideal and sometimes it’s no fun at all, I enjoy my reward when I hold a new book in my hands.
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Amy Clipston has been writing for as long as she can remember. Her fiction writing “career” began in elementary school when she and a close friend wrote and shared silly stories. She has a degree in communications from Virginia Wesleyan College and is a member of the Authors Guild, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Romance Writers of America. She is the author of the bestselling Kauffman Amish Bakery series and Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel series with HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Amy works full-time for the City of Charlotte, NC, and lives in North Carolina with her husband, two sons, mother, and four spoiled rotten cats. Amy Clipston Social Media List: Website: amyclipston.com  Twitter: @AmyClipston  Instagram: amy_clipston


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Monty Hall Problem


by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine



To clarify things right off the bat, Monty Hall himself is not a problem.  As of this writing, the original host of Let's Make a Deal is alive and well. In fact, today is his birthday.  Happy 94th, Monty.

"The Monty Hall Problem," on the other hand, is a thing, and one that's been debated for decades. It is a brain teaser having to do with probability, one which has puzzled great mathematical minds and caused university professors to write papers on it.

As you may know, Monty's game show would include three doors, behind one of which would be an awesome prize like a brand new car or a European vacation.  Behind the other two were far lesser prizes, at least one of which would be a "zonk" like a goat or a burro.  To play the game, the contestant would choose a door, and Monty revealed what was behind one of the doors not chosen.  Then Monty would give the contestant a chance to change their mind about which of the two remaining doors they want. 

This is where the debate comes in.  With three doors, it's clear that the contestant has a 1-in-3 chance of winning the big prize.  After one door is revealed, has the contestant's odds of winning improved?  Is it still a 1-in-3 chance or has anything changed that?  I have my theory, but I'll let you mull it over first, or even go Google "The Monty Hall Problem" if you really want to melt your brain.

Writers today have a similar gamble to make.  When we invest ourselves in writing a book, we don't know what the outcome will be.  Will it get picked up?  Will it sell?  Will it end up in a yard sale?  We could further complicate the equation with additional options like, should we self-publish or go traditional?  We could create any number of mystery doors for this analogy.

What it really comes down to is this question: what would it take to make us feel like a winner?  For some, it will be the simple pleasure of having finished writing the book we always intended to write, whether it makes it to print or not. Others dream of opening that box filled with copies of their shiny new book. Take the scenario step by step all the way to being on the NY Times bestseller list and you have innumerable definitions of "winning" that would make Charlie Sheen's head spin.

At the end of Let's Make a Deal, Monty would go around the crazily-dressed audience and ask if anyone had such random objects as a wooden nickel or a bobby pin. Those who did would win some small cash amount on the spot. Not everyone who came to play ended up winning a trip to Paris, but they all had fun, and that was the name of the game.

My personal take on The Monty Hall Problem is that you do indeed start with a 1-in-3 chance of winning.  But once it's down to two doors, I contend that the probability becomes 50/50, regardless of whether you change your mind or not.  Genius columnist Marilyn vos Savant, however, disagrees vehemently, and has gone into exhaustive detail to explain why.  Since my IQ is not in the Guinness Book of World Records and hers is, I'll graciously concede.

As for the odds of achieving commercial success as a writer, no one can predict that with any accuracy.  But one thing we can all agree on is that the probability of getting zonked and winning nothing goes to 100% if we don't try. Going the full Monty means writing, even when we think the odds are against us.  If we love to write, and play the game for the sheer fun of doing what we love, we are guaranteed to be a winner.

I'm just glad I don't have to dress up in a clown costume to play.  Marilyn vos Savant already thinks I'm an idiot.











Monday, August 24, 2015

What It Takes


By Lori Stanley Roeleveld


Our workout class gasped for air after completing eight hundred abdominal crunches. Our karate instructor, Kyoshi Chick, leading the exercise, kneeled, unfazed.

“Two hundred pushups,” he announced. We groaned.

One new student protested. “Sure, two hundred pushups is easy for you!”

Kyoshi paused mid-pushup to scowl at the unsuspecting moaner. “Easy? Two hundred pushups is easy for me? Yes, you bet it’s easy but there’s a reason for that. Do you think I woke up one day and discovered I could just bang out two hundred pushups? No. I prioritize. I schedule strength training. I invest hours into cardio. I pumped out four hundred pushups before your alarm went off this morning. It only appears easy to you because you have no concept of what it takes to get here. Complain less and work more; then you may have a shot at doing what I do, too. The only difference between you and me is that I’m willing to do the necessary work.”

I gained a lifetime of education in that one exasperated outburst by an expert in his field. Kyoshi practiced karate and invested in physical conditioning for hours a day, every day. At the time, he’d achieved the rank of Kyoshi, a seventh-degree black belt. He made his art look easy while those of us just starting out made it look like clumsy, sweaty work.

Malcolm Gladwell touches on this concept in his book, Outliers, when he proposes the 10,000-hour rule. He claims the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is to practice the correct way for around 10,000 hours. Many debate Gladwell’s theory but there’s merit to it for writers.

When new writers ask me about my writing story, they shrivel with fear as I detail the long road I walked before earning my first book contract. They immediately want reassurance that not every writer takes that long and, of course, I assure them there are stories of writers who find the fast track to publication. Though, not many. They walk away comforting themselves with the thought that they’ll likely be one of those on the speedy path. I know, because I gave myself that same false comfort in years past.

Writers put in hours of study and writing practice before their work is noticed, finds a following, and becomes worthy of lasting significance. We write thousands of words that go unread. We write small pieces for unpaid markets. We write novels that remain in unopened files on our computers. We don’t quit.

Eventually, we learn that nothing is wasted. We learned and improved with each 50-word filler, each journal entry, each abandoned short story, and every rejected novel. We abandoned projects but we never abandoned the art or our own call to write. We showed up at the keyboard daily for years.
Every art has its own version of crunches and pushups. Every artist sweats, toils, and invests hard work that most will never see. The ones who do discover that excellence emerges over time. Did you write today?
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Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored an unsettling blog since 2009; a pursuit that eventually resulted in her first book, Running from a Crazy Man (and other adventures traveling with Jesus). Though she has degrees in Psychology and Biblical Studies, Lori learned the most important things from studying her Bible in life’s trenches. You’ll find her at her website www.loriroeleveld.com. If not, know she’s off somewhere slaying dragons. Not available for children’s parties. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

How to Write a Believable Southern Character


By Tina Coleman Bausinger


So many times we see Southerners portrayed as backward, drunken, laughable—generally an ignorant, uneducated person with loose morals.

I’m kind of tired of it.

Yes, your character can be Southern (some would argue at least one of them MUST be Southern), but let’s not put any more stereotypes out there for everyone. There’s plenty already. Think I’m exaggerating? It’s not just the “Beverly Hillbillies” or Forrest Gump (yes, I’m showing my age). Think Daryl from “The Walking Dead,” the entire Honey Boo Boo family, and Pennsatucky Doggett from “Orange is the New Black.” I love OITNB, but not how Pennsatucky is drawn.

Even if you haven’t seen any of these shows, you may infer that several typecasts are at play here. Many of the accents that are portrayed are badly done, the characters are meth-heads, and they are a bit slower than the other characters. Years of bad television and Southern characters portrayed by someone who’s never met a Southerner may be to blame. No matter. It’s up to us to fix this.

Here’s some examples of great southern characters penned by Southern authors who actually know what they are doing.

1.      "Scout" Jean Louise Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s smart, plucky, inquisitive…and she’s not racist.
2.      Sookie Stackhouse from Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. She does have an accent, but since Charlaine is from Arkansas, it’s authentic. Sookie is also intelligent and brave—plus she can read minds. That would be a handy gift to have.
3.       "M'Lynn" Eatenton from Steel Magnolias. She’s educated (a therapist) and is a solid role model for her entire family.
4.      Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes. She’s gentle, caring and learns to stick up for herself and get what she wants. You also can’t go wrong with a good friendship story, ever.
5.      Any Southern woman Jessica Lange portrays. Some great examples include Jessica as Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and Meg Magrath in “Crimes of the Heart.” 

Am I saying our Southerners can’t be flawed? Absolutely not. All characters must have flaws or else they are flat, boring unrelatable people. I would just like to see some different flaws portrayed. Also, consult your local Southerner for dialect lessons if needed.
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Tina Coleman Bausinger has a Master’s degree in English and is the author of War Eagle Women, a Southern gothic novel. She’s a contributing writer in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, publishing in two of their books--Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad: 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love, and Good Times and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance, and Endorphins. She writes features, travel pieces and book reviews for IN Magazine, the Tyler Paper, Freelancewriting.com and enjoys blogging at tinabausinger.com . She teaches English Composition at a local junior college. She lives in Tyler, Texas with her husband, three kids, a bully Chihuahua and a German shepherd with anxiety issues.
Contact Tina on any of her pages.



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thinking of Elvis While Writing About The Delta


By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Last week was Elvis celebration week in Memphis. It was a ten day event, attended by generations of Elvis fans from around the world. The last event is a candlelight vigil held at Graceland, Elvis's home. It always reminds me that a man who came from poverty roots in The Delta continues to impact the world 38 years after his death. 
An amazing photographer, Chris Barwick, inspired today's blog post. Thanks, Chris. This picture of an old sharecropper's shack in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, just south of Tunica made me crave the need for a road trip south to soak in some settings for my current work in progress. Elvis was born in Tupelo to sharecropper parents. 
The land of The Delta can be a hard land where blood, sweat and tears of generations, past and present, have been in constant odds with the elements of nature. It's ironic that the very floods from the Mississippi River over this land gives it renewal by leaving behind silt that enriches its soil and its people. 
I hopped in the car and drive south out of Memphis on Highway 61 one hot summer day in August. Blue suede flip flops on my feet and Marc Cohn's song, "Walking in Memphis," playing, set the tone of the trip. Once I hit the TN/MS state line, The Delta begins to emerge an icon for the South, good, bad and ugly. The Delta has produced amazing talent, perhaps from the hardship and rebirth of the land. The Delta Blues are world famous as is Elvis who came to be known as The King of Rock and Roll. 

Of course, since I'm a writer who lives in the South I feel an affinity to those Southern writers' past and present that have written about the region known as The Delta. Their words speak to my soul. Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, William Faulkner and those other Delta writers drive my desire to further capture the struggles of the modern day Delta. 

I continue my drive, soaking in settings to use in my book. When I stop to take in the abandon sharecropper shacks, commercialization of some of the areas down Highway 61, I record what I see with my camera and record my research on my iPhone app. I detour off Highway 61 and turn down a farm road so I can soak in the view of “King Cotton” growing in the field, and as I turn my car around, a farmer in an ancient pickup truck stops to ask if I need help, and we chat about his crop. He is very happy with his crop and says this year he might actually make up for the years before. I shared I was a writer, working on a book and needed to see a cotton field up close and personal. He asked if I wanted to inspect his crop. He showed me the cotton, and we talked about how cotton is graded. He broke off a stalk and ask me if I wanted it. I said I'd love to have it as my talisman. This interchange provided in-depth research for my book and reiterated the Southern hospitality found in The Delta. 

My day spent driving in the Mississippi Delta was invaluable research you can't get from searching on the Internet. Sometimes you just need to put on your blue suede flip flops, head to your "Delta" and soak up the setting of your book. Be sure to bring back a talisman to put by your writing area.