Thursday, July 24, 2014

Finish The Story So Your Readers Want More

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Summer with more daylight has always been the time I read, more than any other season in the year. I gravitate towards young adult reading because I enjoy the reminders of countless hours spent reading with my children. 

The most recent young adult book, I picked up, was a great read until the last third of the book. It was historical and immersed the reader into the story. It contained a passion on two levels: to save the main protagonist and an exciting mission. There was human evil, a chase in harsh conditions, a couple of almost captures, and then escape. 

However, at that point it took a darker than dark turn without any thought toward contribution to the story thus far. It was only one chapter that should have been edited away. Clearly the protagonist was in peril, but this development had nothing really to do with the theme quest of the book. It seemed to be included for shock factor and unnecessary. Keep in mind the book's target readers are young adults. 

The end of the book was rushed. A new dangerous peril occurred for the protagonist and her mission. Danger was handled with the sacrifice of a character who had been on the journey from the first page of the book. The last chapter left too many loose ends unresolved. The book was left without a real ending and made this reader mad that the writer had not completed the tale. Complete the story in each book or you will lose readers, like me. 

As a writing exercise, I finished the story for my own satisfaction. It was fun and gave me a sense of a complete book. Have you done this? 

Let me know, but please do not name the book or author. At Southern Writers Magazine, we support all authors and their hard work. We never bash an author. I'm just curious, do you ever write the ending of a book differently than the author? 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


By Lynne Gentry

Readers read for a lot of reasons. Entertainment. Education. And escape. How can authors create a world readers will hate to leave?

Pay attention to the three crucial elements of building a story world:

1.               SETTING. Description of the sights, sounds, and smells of your characters’ surroundings is crucial. I write historical romance with a time travel twist. Hours of research goes into discovering the design and texture of clothing, the construction materials used in the buildings, the smells of the market, and even the seasonal changes and climate. Anything that will build the story world. I envy authors who can pop over to the coast to research their beach novel or troll through small southern towns for firsthand details. Does that mean I can’t add layers of authenticity to my settings? No. Since I can’t physically go to third-century Carthage, successful world building will require a different kind of work. I study pictures, look for travel reviews or blogs from people who’ve toured the ruins, and order every book I can find about the history or culture.  

2.               DIALOGUE. Keep the words your characters speak true to their characters but also true to their world. For example, it drives me crazy to hear Jesus speaking with a British accent. But Downton Abbey wouldn’t have near the impact if those characters were speaking with a Texas accent. In HEALER OF CARTHAGE, I created a Down’s syndrome character with a slight lisp. His purpose in the story world? Show how Romans believed imperfection was to be hidden or destroyed, which in turn creates a feeling of danger in the world I’ve created because all the characters fear their own imperfections might be discovered.

3.               NARRATIVE. These filler paragraphs, the ones readers often skim, are delicious opportunities to slow them down and drag them deeper into the world. How? Paint this world by combining sensory proofs of the setting with the emotional needs of the characters. Here’s an example narrative of a slave plotting her freedom in HEALER OF CARTHAGE:
Magdalena waded through the litter of discarded tunics, robes, and half-written scrolls scattered over thick carpets imported from Egypt. She hated how the disorder of Aspasius’s personal life repeated itself in his erratic and spendthrift governing. Doing what she could to bring his reign to an end would benefit more than just her. History would thank her one day.

The description of the bedchamber became more than filler, it became another layer of the story world when it took on the chaos the character felt. Sensory proof combined with emotional needs.

The writing tool I keep beside my computer is Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. Read it and gain the skills to build worlds a reader will never want to leave.

Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications. Her newest novel, Healer of Carthage, is the first in The Carthage Chronicles series. She is a professional acting coach, theater director, and playwright with several full-length musicals and a children’s theater curriculum to her credit. Lynne is an inspirational speaker and dramatic performer whose first love is spending time with family. Lynne can be found at her Website:  Facebook: Author Lynne Gentry Twitter: Pinterest: Youtube: Simon & Schuster:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stories Are Here, There, and Everywhere

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

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”  Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game)

I agree with Mr. Card. As a matter of fact, I was thinking the other day, about all the possible stories I walked past when I worked in downtown Nashville in the 60’s and 70’s. It was somewhat different then that it is now. There were more colorful people on the street. If only! Yes, if only I had jotted down notes about the things and the people I saw each day.

One day in particular, I was watching some men who were working on the roof of a building. They were constructing a building in downtown Nashville. The construction had gone on almost a year when one day, watching out my office window, I see a man fall off the roof. I was dumbstruck. Why did I not make a note about this happening?

I agree, wherever we look, there is a story. Only the writer sees the story– while others go on about their business not seeing.

I have learned to carry a notepad with me wherever I go, so I can capture what I see. What sticks out? What looks odd or funny? Creativity and imagination can take those things we see and conjure up different worlds of fantasy and science fiction, romance and mystery.

Jane Hyatt Yolen said, “Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leverage Our Writing Assets

By Steve Bradshaw

Writers are born—at all ages. We come from every part of the planet with our unique knowledge base, skillsets and perceptions that forever influence our view of all the universe has to offer. Although we are different in many ways, we are connected by the insatiable desire to tell a meaningful and worthwhile story—sooner or later. Although there are numerous factors that come into play, I believe a big part of our writing success is determined by how we leverage our unique assets.

Each day I pound my keyboard alone with my thoughts and dreams and objectives. I make huge withdrawals from my private-world depository and attempt to find the perfect words to create the perfect sentence to build the perfect paragraph that grows into the perfect chapter. I strive to erect the perfect plot, produce the perfect characters, forge the perfect conflicts, hatch the perfect cliffhangers, and bring into existence the perfect resolutions to give rise to the perfect novel. I gather my ideas like a man chasing a thousand butterflies with a tiny net. Most are never caught. Some flutter away for another day. Many die in my net or are horribly damaged in the process. But when I’m lucky, I find the perfect specimens that become the miracles from which my stories are born.

Leveraging one’s assets is like catching perfect butterflies. We all have them, but before we can leverage them we must know those relevant to our writing career. For example, my road to writing traversed fascinating worlds I now draw upon. I was the youngest forensic field agent in Texas history to investigate over three-thousand unexplained deaths. I also developed new medical technology with FORTUNE 500 companies advancing healthcare around the world. And I was a founder-president/CEO of a game-changing biotech company. I raised millions of dollars and developed new age medical devices. Just these life experiences alone provide an unlimited supply of butterflies relevant to my mystery/thriller writing career.

When I leverage my assets correctly, I write stories that draw upon my life experiences that will take my audience to places where I am the profound expert. With me they have a unique opportunity to go where they’ve never been, to see and feel what they would never experience. Because I personally controlled horrific death scenes and was on teams hunting real monsters, I have mountains of information to weave into the stories I create.

Because I controlled powerful boardrooms shaping business plans and futures in our modern world, I have intimate knowledge of people, technology, and business dynamics. I leverage these knowledge-assets when I create fascinating characters and define ground breaking science, and when I shine light on world changing concepts moving from theory to practice at great risk, and when opportunity for enormous success turns into a horrible catastrophe.  

Knowing our assets and using them effectively in our writing can increase the value of our stories because people listen to experts. They lose interest when we don’t know what we are talking about. We must know our fields of expertise. We must leverage the abounding assets that create unique experiences within our stories. If we do it well, we attract and build audience.  
Steve BradshawForensic Investigator, Biotechnology Entrepreneur, Author—received his BA at the University of Texas, trained at the Institute of Forensic Sciences, and investigated 3,000 unexplained deaths. His career with FORTUNE 500s, and as founder-president/CEO of an innovative biomedical company, introduced advanced medical technology improving healthcare around the world. Now, Steve draws upon his experiences in fascinating worlds of biotechnology breakthroughs and the forensic pursuit of real monsters. Steve’s debut novel BLUFF CITY BUTCHER is a 2013 Darrell Award finalist—best science fiction, mystery/thriller in MidSouth. The second book of the Bell Trilogy, THE SKIES ROARED, releases July 2013 is a Darrell Award finalist for 2014. WEBSITES & BLOG  SOCIAL NETWORK LINKS 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Unique Writing; Keeping Jack Swyteck Fresh from Book 1 (The Pardon) through Book 11 (Black Horizon)

By James Grippando

My favorite part of any book signing is the Q&A with the audience, and at a recent event for “BLACK HORIZON”) (HarperCollins March 2004), one of my readers asked a very thoughtful question.  Black Horizon is my 21st novel over all, and the eleventh (whew!) in the series featuring Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck.  “With eleven books in the series,” she asked, “how do you keep Jack Swyteck fresh?”

That’s a complicated question and a challenge for any writer who creates a series.  You have to ask yourself up front:  Will my serial character be ageless and in his late thirties forever, like James Bond, or will he evolve over time?   The second option provides more opportunities to keep your character fresh over the life of the series.  Never being one to shy away from the easier (I didn’t say “easy”) route, I did exactly that with Jack Swyteck. 

The best advice I can give any writer of a series is to have a quick handle that describes your character.  If your intention is for the character to grow from book to book, that quick handle should reflect some important change in the character’s life that marks the development of your lead.   Often that defining character is in relation to some other character that is important in the life of your lead.  For example, compare my “handle” for Jack Swyteck from Book 1, “The Pardon,” to Book 11, “Black Horizon”): Swyteck No. 1 (The Pardon): “Jack Swyteck is a young, Miami criminal defense lawyer who defends death row inmates, and his father is the law and order governor of Florida who signs their death warrants.”

The “handle” not only defines Jack, but it sets forth a key conflict in Jack’s life.  You can bet there are some “father-son” issues that need to be resolved.  Compare that to Book 11:
Swyteck No. 11 (Black Horizon):   Jack is seasoned Miami attorney who doesn’t trust the government.  His new wife Andie Henning is a rising star in the FBI who works undercover.  Newlyweds from different worlds; it must be karma.  Or insanity.  

These quick descriptions tell you a lot about Jack and the series.   He’s come a long way, but he still has room to grow.  Will he and Andie survive?  Will they have children?  Will Jack’s issues with his father carry over to his fatherhood?  What kind of a mother will an FBI undercover agent make? 
All these (and more) are “fresh” issues.  I’m glad I didn’t make Jack 37 forever.

James Grippando is a New York Times bestselling author whose novels are enjoyed worldwide in more than 25 languages. As a lawyer, Grippando wrote numerous scholarly articles. A near arrest in a case of mistaken identity sparked an idea for a novel about a man accused of a murder that he may not have committed. His latest thriller, “Black Horizon,” is his twenty-first novel over all, and the eleventh in the acclaimed series featuring Miami attorney Jack Swyteck.  Most of his novels are set in Florida. Since 2004 he has served as "Counsel" in Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP. Visit his website at

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Publishing Here’s the Deal

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Bryan had made his way through life playing baseball. He started in Little League, then High School and on to college playing and loving the game all the way. He majored in Sports Management while in college and then got his dream job working for the St Louis AAA team the Memphis Redbirds.

Bryan shared with me how quickly he realized this wasn’t for him. His love for the game was giving way to the realization this was work, a job and not the hobby or the game he loved so well. The Red Birds organization was a business. Although their business was baseball it was strictly business that dealt with profits, deadlines and expectations that needed to be met. It wasn’t what Bryan had bargained for so he left the organization. 

Steve Bradshaw is a member of our writers group. Bradshaw shared how he had written Bluff City Butcher and submitted it to a publisher. It was given a good review but he was asked to get rid of the first three chapters. He refused. Later on he was approached by another publisher who liked his book and asked if he would consider a trilogy. He jumped at the chance and signed the deal for the trilogy. After signing they began work on the book and asked him to get rid of the first three chapters. No problem. He said if they pay you enough money you will do it.

In her autobiography Paula Deen tells how she started as a writer on her own. No agent no publisher, just self-published and paid a fortune for her first print. The cookbooks were stacked on a table at the entrance of her restaurant and were sold to the customers that came and enjoyed her wonderful meals. One of those customers was friends with an agent and suggested she look into publishing Paula Deen’s, The Lady and Sons cookbooks.

The agent made the deal with Deen and then the work began. Deen suddenly became aware of the freedom one has as a self-published author. She was self-edited and of course all her recipes had been written with her usual pinch and dash measurements. None of this would do. Editing was torture for her and her measurements would have to be changed to teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. She said she practically had to rewrite the book.

So what’s the deal? The deal is publishing is a business. It isn’t a non-profit but a capitalistic profit making business. Many authors are so immersed in creativity, which is what we most enjoy, we fail to realize in order to have our book published we must be willing to compromise. We may need to meet their requirements of the genre, the readers, the company and the market.

Like Bryan, you may be met with the realization this is not what you bargained for. I understand and there is always self- publishing. But honestly even there you will want some good advice. Be prepared to draw a line or compromise. Neither is easy, especially when you want your work out there in front of people, and ultimately that is what we all want.         

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Writing About a Family to Be Proud Of

By Terri Wangard

A batch of forgotten letters was found in my grandmother’s house. Written in 1947 and 1948, they came from distant cousins in Germany. My grandparents and other relatives had been sending them care packages. My great-great-grandfather immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1870s, as did two brothers. A fourth brother remained in Germany, and these letters came from his grandchildren.

When I revived a dream to write in 2008, I decided the family in the letters would be the perfect subject around which to craft a story. Research revealed life in Nazi Germany as increasingly grim before the war even started. The letters provide a fascinating glimpse of life in war torn Germany, but nothing about the war years. How had the family coped? I turned to the internet and searched on the family’s factory name. I found it all right, in a list of German companies that used slave labor. I wanted my family to be the good guys, but that hope grew shaky.

Contact had ceased in 1948 after the German currency reform, and with their silence in the letters, many questions couldn’t be answered. Why had they refrained from any mention of their thoughts and activities during Hitler’s regime? Desire to forget? Shame of the vanquished? Concern the American family wouldn’t help if they knew the truth?

Circumstances of their postwar life offer a few facts. The family consisted of a brother, his wife, and three young children, and a sister and her husband, and their “old gray mother,” who turned 66 in 1947. Another brother languished as a prisoner of war in Russia, not returning home until 1949, I learned from the German department for the notification of next of kin. The sister and her bridegroom had lived in Canada for five years, returning to Germany in 1937 because she was homesick. They were bombed out of their homes and lived in their former offices, temporarily fixed up as a residence. Before the war, they employed about one hundred men, but in 1947, had fewer than forty-five, with no coal, electricity, or raw materials to work with.

My imagination took over. The family, not the newlyweds, came to Wisconsin. Because a critiquer scorned someone returning to Hitler’s Germany due to homesickness, I gave them a more compelling reason when I rewrote the story. The grandfather had died and the father had to return to take over the factory, much to the daughters’ dismay, who loved their new life in America.

They did not support Hitler. Because their factory had to produce armaments and meet quotas imposed on them, they had no choice in accepting Eastern European forced laborers, Russian POWs, and Italian military internees.

The older daughter (my main character) took pride in committing acts of passive resistance. Now a war widow, she hid a downed American airman, an act punishable by execution. When they were betrayed, a dangerous escape from Germany ensued.

Maybe the family did support Hitler. Many did before realizing his true colors. My version probably doesn’t come close to the truth, especially concerning the daughter. The real daughter was twelve years old in 1947. No matter. This is fiction, and this is a family I can be proud of.

Terri Wangard has a World War II series awaiting a publisher. Book 1, the subject of my blog, is the 2013 Writers on the Storm winner (ACFW Texas chapter), Book 2 is a 2012 Genesis finalist, and Book 3 is the 2013 First Impression winner. She writes historical fiction but is clearly a thrill-seeker who as her bio picture shows is bridge climbing in Australia. Terri lives in Wisconsin. You can connect with Terri on her blog.