Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Famous Songs Inspired by Real People

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

A couple of years ago on the blog, in a post called Songs in the Key of Life, I chronicled some famous songs whose inspiration came from real-life situations in the writers' lives.  In this post, let's look at a few hits that were inspired by real people, some as well-known as the songs themselves.  I suspect you'll know a several of these origins already, but some may surprise you.

This one goes back a ways, but 60s songster Jimmy Dean's claim to fame (long before he became a sausage king) was story songs about people, some imaginary, some drawn from life. While "Big Bad John" was fictional folklore, "P.T. 109" celebrated the heroic Navy background of President John F. Kennedy a year after he took office.

Speaking of JFK, his young daughter Caroline would not only make the cover of Life Magazine at four years old, but Neil Diamond would be so taken with the photo of her riding her pony that he'd write "Sweet Caroline" in her honor.

Don McLean was just a paperboy "the day the music died".  He was deeply affected when he saw the headline announcing the deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens.  But he kept the music going after all with one of his biggest hits, "American Pie".

While the lyrics sing of "Daniel, my brother", Elton John's "Daniel" was inspired by the story of a wounded Vietnam War veteran who came home to a hero's welcome but wanted only to go back to his normal life.  Meanwhile, his "Candle in the Wind", written in memorial to Marilyn Monroe in 1973, served double duty when he rededicated it in 1997 to Princess Diana, changing the opening line from "Goodbye, Norma Jean" to "Goodbye, England's Rose".

Some songs have more ambiguous origins, as in the case of "Dude Looks Like a Lady" by Aerosmith.  One story goes that Steven Tyler, spotting Mötley Crue's Vince Neil from behind, mistook him for a chick.  Vince himself contends that the song title came when he and Tyler visited a bar where the waiters wore women's clothes. Other rumors abound, but they all seem to have something to do with Vince Neil.

The list goes on, and I invite you to check out my latest video to see and hear a few more famous connections from the Top 40, below or at https://youtu.be/V278ljKTE3g

Inspiration for a song, a poem or a novel can be found everywhere you look.  It could even be the next person you meet.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Words in Print

By Ron Shaw

So, I hear you're a writer. How many books have your written? Wow, eleven published works! That's marvelous. How's the whole putting words into print going? It must be an incredible feeling of accomplishment to be an author. You're obviously an experienced one. What does it really feel like when your words finally make it into print?

If you're an author, you've probably heard questions such as the ones above and many more. Although I never tire of answering them, my responses have seen a dramatic change over time. For instance, the following sentence is how I now answer the last question above. Publishing a book is like the excitement you experience on your wedding day only to find after the joyous "I do" you'll be honeymooning for two weeks alone in the desert. The title of Charles Dickens novel GREAT EXPECTATIONS comes to mind here.

How do you handle the solitude that comes with writing, and then, flip the switch to warp speed as you attempt to market yourself and them? More importantly, how do you manage the disappointments that follow your greatest expectations once your book or books are out there? Is it possible to juggle the demands of your characters and stories and have a normal life? I’ve struggled as a sophomoric newborn to the often-wacky world of penning books with these questions. I fear there are more questions than books basking in the evening sun at Amazon.

Writing is an endeavor cloaked in solitude. I've had to learn this, and after a few books in print, I've come to embrace this aspect of the alluring obsession. But, with that said, the drastic change of pace that naturally comes once a book is out there and you're called into action to hawk the product is nothing short of phenomenal and frightening. Writing is innately introverted and everything else involved after the fact is obligatory extroversion and sadly, narcissistic. The whole yin yang thing here takes ample time to process.

With time and loss of sleep, the characters, stories, and writing epiphanies will begin to cooperate better. In fact, I've been amazed how quickly they simply roll over and go back to sleep when they're directed to do so. Their circadian clocks can be synchronized with yours.

I can't speak for any writer other than myself, but as for me, the selling of books remains an unadulterated mystery. I've evolved to the stage where the act of giving mine away is far more gratifying and rewarding than taking money for them. I'd never encourage others to do so.

So, I hear you're a writer.
I'm Ron Shaw, a southern author and radio host. I'm a retired Atlanta Police officer. Atlanta born and raised. My journey into words for print began in early October 2013 after a near death experience. My first book SEVEN FISH TREE is the result of this miraculous dream or NDE. Before winter this year, I'll have eleven or twelve works published. Every Monday evening from 8 PM to 9 PM EST I host a live International radio show that's cleverly named The Ron Shaw Show over at the ArtistFirst Radio Network. I've had guests on my shows from around the globe like authors, publsihers, musicians, entertainers, storytellers, and celebrities. Visit my show web site by clicking this link artistfirst.com/ronshaw.htm My personal web site and blog link is http://www.ronshawmedia.com Often, I can be found knocking about at Twitter @rongizmo Facebook https://www.facebook.com/authorronshaw?ref=hl or my show site at Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheRonShawShow at Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/gizmoshaw/the-ron-shaw-show-on-artistfirst-radio-network/ My Amazon author's page link is http://amzn.to/1xsKGKs I'm also at many sites like Tumblr, LinkedIn, iAuthor, BeeZeeBooks, Readers Gazette, Wise Grey Owl, Authorsdb, and more. I very much appreciate the opportunity to be associated with you. I'm very proud of my heritage...my southern roots.

Friday, February 5, 2016

There is an ‘I’ in Writing: Self-Care for the Writer

By Linda Rettstatt

Many writers, me included, can be so caught up in writing that we forget to take care of ourselves. How do we care for and nurture the writer in us? We can get bogged down with too many projects going on at once and deadlines, deadlines, deadlines to meet. Our lives become cluttered. I was thinking about this today as I gazed around my apartment at the physical clutter. It’s hard to tap into my creative side when I’m surrounded by chaos. So, what do I do? I pack up my laptop and head to a coffee shop—where I’m surrounded by other people’s chaos.

Sometimes I can tune that out, but not always. I fall into a trap of non-productivity. Creating and maintaining a pleasant writing space is only part of caring for ourselves as writers.

Writing, in itself, is a solitary venture. I can lean toward becoming a hermit if I’m not careful. Part of caring for myself is making the time and finding the ways I can connect with friends, especially with other writers. A few writer friends and I meet every Thursday night at a local Panera Bread for what we call Authors Unplugged. We eat, chat, and then each work for about an hour on something (a book, a short story, editing, etc.). During our conversations, we might brainstorm, talk about upcoming conferences, and just share what’s going on in our lives.

Another suggestion I have for those of you engaged in writing is an annual writer’s retreat. Find a comfortable, affordable place (which is easier if you have a group of four to six people) and plan your own writer’s retreat weekend. Lesson learned: Do not spend most of your to-and-from days driving. Look nearby, within a three-hour or less driving distance. It’s a great way to step back from your routine, immerse yourself in the writing world, but also take time to relax.

Give yourself a break. Seriously. No one will do that for you. Step away from the laptop (or whatever instrument you use for writing). Take a day off and play. Spend time with family and friends. Don’t become enslaved to your writing that the ‘work’ of writing takes all the joy out of the process. Remember to laugh with friends, enjoy a meal with family, and just breathe.

When it comes to the care and feeding of the ‘I’ in writer, what works for one person might not work for another. Listen to yourself. Learn the things that nurture and free your creativity and do more of those things. If you don’t take care of your writer-self, no one else will.
Linda Rettstatt is an award-winning author who discovered her passion for writing after years of working in the human services field. When she’s not writing, Linda loves travel, nature photography, and figuring out what makes people tick. Her fantasy is to win the lottery, buy an old Victorian home on the eastern shore and open a writer’s retreat. While she waits for that fantasy to materialize (i.e. that miracle to happen), she continues to live and work in NW Mississippi and to write under the constant observation of her tuxedo cat, Binky. Visit Linda’s website at www.lindarettstatt.com  Twitter:  @linda_rettstatt
Facebook:  Linda Rettstatt, Writing for Women  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Is Your Writing Stuck? Relax on a Brown Sofa

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Well, not really. I have a delightfully quirky friend named Sharon. We are kindred spirits. The other day, on Facebook, she posted this; "I've seen several trucks moving furniture, lately. In the bed of the truck, is a chocolate brown sofa with square wooden feet. I've seen this same sofa in TN, AR, and TX. My theory is that it's the same sofa. It just travels around never being unloaded."

This post struck my funny bone in a big way. After dropping my phone and breaking out into noisy laughter, for 5 minutes my mind began to concoct a witty response. However, it eluded me. Instead, all I could think about is Sharon's "traveling sofa." I told Sharon she should write a story about the sofa. Then was struck with an idea.

My current work in progress is a mystery series with an eccentric protagonist. She probably owns Sharon's brown sofa. I have not written much since the holidays on my WIP. I took a month-long creative sabbatical and was stuck as to how best to jump back into writing everyday on my WIP. I decided to use Sharon's "traveling sofa" post as a writing exercise to get the creative juices flowing. The result was two days straight of productive 20 hours of writing.

I highly recommend you find your own "traveling brown sofa." Take a browse through Facebook and find a wacky post that piques your interest. Be sure to set a timer for no more than 15 minutes because we all know that Facebook can be a black hole without a time limit.

Focus on only one Facebook post and begin to weave those words. Write for 10 minutes without stopping. Then transition and begin writing on your WIP. See how this writing exercise helps you get back on track with your WIP getting you "unstuck."

Just try it. What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

When the Inspiration Runs Out

By Andrea Merrell

I’ve heard people say, “I write because I can’t not write.” Maybe not the best way to say it, but you get the point. We write because that’s what we do. It’s who we are. It’s in our DNA. Sometimes ideas tumble so fast we can hardly keep up. Fingers fly across the keyboard as words pour out of our heart.

But what about those times when the well seems stopped up and the words don’t flow? What happens when we sit at the computer with our fingers poised—waiting for divine inspiration to strike—but nothing happens?

That’s when we dig deeper and allow our relationships and experiences to bring new vitality to our stories. Inspiration is all around us; all we have to do is be alert.

I love it when God sparks an idea in my devotional reading or when I’m absorbed in a novel by one of my favorite Southern authors. Sometimes I get ideas from a good movie or from listening to my five noisy granddaughters as they interact with each other. Some people get inspiration from nature, sunsets, and cuddly pets. If all else fails, a brisk walk is sure to clear the cobwebs and get those creative juices circulating.

Inspiration comes in many different forms and can happen when we least expect it, but allow me to offer three surefire sources: passion, knowledge, and pain.

What are you passionate about? What brings joy to your heart and tears to your eyes? What moves you with compassion? Find what drives you, and channel that passion into your writing. You’ll be amazed at the depth of your prose.

Draw from your training and expertise. Infuse your knowledge into your writing so others can benefit. Then stretch outside your comfort zone. Do some research and talk to professionals who can help you write about things that interest you.

To me, one of the most important resources is pain. Every one of us has faced and conquered difficult situations and circumstances. Our victories can bring encouragement to our readers. When I wrote Praying for the Prodigal, it came as the result of five long years of dealing with rebellious and destructive behavior from both of my children. Even though re-living many of the events was painful, tremendous healing took place as I told my story. Now, my story is bringing hope to others dealing with a prodigal. In God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted.

Your situation might be caring for an elderly parent. Maybe you’re struggling with weight loss, chronic illness, divorce, or even the death of a loved one. Turn those struggles into inspiration.

I believe our greatest words can come from our greatest pain. I also believe the more open, honest, and transparent we are with our readers, the more they can relate and the more impact our words will have on them. When our words are relevant and ring with truth, we have the ability to touch a hurting soul with encouragement and hope.
Andrea Merrell is Associate Editor for Christian Devotions Ministries and Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is also a freelance editor and has taught workshops at various writers’ conferences, including: Writers Advance Boot Camp, KCWC, and the CLASS Christian Writers’ Conference. Andrea is the author of Murder of a Manuscript and Praying for the Prodigal. She has been published in numerous anthologies and online venues. For more information, visit www.AndreaMerrell.com or www.TheWriteEditing.com.  You may also connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


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

It occurred to me last Monday, it was time to plan my schedule for the year in regards to working on my writing skills. Well, all of a sudden, it seemed overwhelming. How was I going to work that in this year with the schedule I already have. After all, there is my work, teaching a writers group, visiting and spending time with my children, siblings, and most important spending time with my husband, and the other areas, such as coffee with friends, etc.

I am one of these that believe we need continuing education each year to refresh what we know or learn new skills. Keeping our skills and minds fresh in what we do is important.  Most professions require continuing educational courses to keep their credentials.

For writers, although we normally don’t have to do this for “credentials”, we might consider doing this to make our writing better, fresher and taking our skills to the next level.

Obviously, with my work schedule with Southern Writers Magazine, I can’t find a time right now to go to the University and take one or more of their great courses, so for me the next best thing is to fit my schedule around “on-line” courses. Fortunately, some universities offer these. Now, there are free writing courses I understand on-line, however, I would certainly want to check those out before signing up and giving them my information. Not saying any are bad, just saying I will do my research.

One thing for sure this year, whichever course I choose to take, I will want to make sure of two things: There is a deadline and I have a week to complete each assignment. Without these two important factors for me, I will not be able to complete the course.

How about you, are you thinking in terms of refreshing some of your writing skills or perhaps learning new ones? If you are, please share your information on the places that offer good programs.

Have a fantastic year writing those words you have in your head!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Opening the Door to My Writing

By Shannon L. Brown

Writers have often heard that they should write what they know. I ran fast and far from that advice for years, not wanting to live in the past. I researched and credibly wrote about places I’d never seen and things I’d never experienced.

Then I discovered that writing what I know is more than telling my life story (which most of you wouldn’t want to read about). After writing hundreds of articles for small publications, I decided to embrace something from my past, knowledge gained growing up in a jewelry store. That eventually earned me a slot as the contributing editor of a jewelry trade journal and a writing award. Score one for write what you know.

My first novel, a middle grade mystery, is set in a fictitious town, but each of the two main characters have pieces of my personality in them. One of them enjoys hiking and wearing jeans, the other likes girly girl clothes, makeup and shopping. One loves chocolate, the other fruit. I’m both of these girls. I discovered that when you include pieces of yourself, the characters easily come alive. The response from readers has been positive as they try to decide which character they’re most like.

My second novel delved deeper into my past. I now live in the South, but I was born and raised in Alaska. As I began plotting the first clean romance in a series, I invented a small town just outside of Nashville. Then within twenty-four hours three people I’m close to told me I should write a book about Alaska.

But the past was the past. I wanted to live in the present and the future. I’m from an admittedly romantic place, but every place seems ordinary when it’s part of your life. After much prayer, I did set the book in Alaska, choosing an actual small town I loved as a child, one outside my home city of Anchorage. Something new happened as I wrote this book. It felt colorful and alive. Like the fun in skipping a rock on a pond, the happiness continued as the story vividly came to life. When you intimately know a location, it takes on a texture that it can’t from a casual acquaintance. And a wonderful side benefit is that I discovered that people love reading books about Alaska.

My past includes places and careers that yours does not. That doesn’t make yours any less interesting, and they may well be more interesting. Whether you’re from a small town or a big city, people enjoy reading about both. The schools you attended, the street you lived on, or currently live on, the jobs you’ve held, each can make a contribution to a solid piece of writing without having it become a memoir.

I found that opening the door to my past opened the door to my writing future. You may have doors that should be opened too.
Shannon L. Brown was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and writes books that are fun and touch your heart. You'll see parts of Shannon's life and personality scattered throughout each of them. The clean romance Falling for Alaska is the first book in the Alaska Dream Romance series. The Feather Chase is a mystery for ages 8-12 and the first book in the Crime-Solving Cousins mystery series. Shannon spent years writing articles, but now devotes most of her writing time to novels. She lives in Tennessee, with her professor husband and calico cat. You can find Shannon at Website: www.shannonlbrown.com,  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shannonlbrownauthor Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27249246-falling-for-alaska Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/shannonlbrown1/