Friday, April 24, 2015

Who Are They? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Choosing Character Names

I used to be a teacher, so let’s start with a quiz. Yes, it’s a bit of shameless self promotion, but I promise it will be fun, and I’m sure you’ll earn an A+. Your task: Match the names of some of the characters from my cozy mysteries to their correct identification. Which decription FITS which name? Answers are listed at the end of this blog. No cheating!

1. Miss Rusty              a. Construction worker, well-meaning but a bit na├»ve                                 
2. Ethel and Doreen    b. Obnoxious TV news reporter who’s always butting in where he’s not wanted
3. Karen Sembler        c. 2 goats who wander off the farm and into trouble
4. Rose and Ruby        d. Bra saleswoman who’s partial to wearing mini-skirts and stillettos 
5. Evert Osgood                      e. Parrot who repeats everything it hears
6. Bee Bee                   f.  A chubby basset hound
7. Candy Poppe                       g. Carpenter who considers her tool belt a fashion accesssory
8. Jimmy Beak                        h. Best friends, 2 fiesty old ladies who take pride in driving their grown sons nuts

All done? Easy, right? If so, I did my job well—I gave my characters names that reveal something about who they are.

In genre fiction, it’s fun to use names to provide hints about a character’s gender, age, job, and personality. For instance, would Ethel and Doreen really be the names of two goats, or two teenaged girls heading to a tatoo parlor? No! Ethel and Doreen are the old ladies, of course. And does Evert Osgood sound like an obnoxious reporter or the kind-hearted construction worker? Jimmy Beaky’s the nosey (Get it?) reporter. Who’s the bra sales woman in stillettos? Karen Sembler or Candy Poppe? Do I even need to clarify that one? That leaves the animals. A basset hound named Bee Bee is possible, but doesn’t Miss Rusty say so much more? And Bee Bee for a parrot who repeats things? I like it!

Although I gave you a test, try not to test your readers. Names should help the reader keep track of who’s who. With that in mind, avoid giving characters names that sound alike (Jimmy and Timmy), and/or start with the same letter (Ethel and Edna). Avoid names that aren’t gender-specific (Francis, Gale, and Terry could be boys or girls), and avoid names that end in “S” because conjunctions and possessives get so darned awkward. (Miss Rusty is Francis’s dog, versus Miss Rusty is Frank’s dog. Neither is a great sentence, but you get the picture.)

Always be on the lookout for the perfect name. Call me odd, but I love wandering around cemeteries! I also have a book of baby names and keep a stockpile of old-fashioned (pre-cell phone era) phone books. Church directories and commencement ceremony booklets are other good sources.
Names may seem like a minor detail, but they’re important!
Answers: 1-f, 2-h, 3-g, 4-c, 5-a, 6-e, 7-d, 8-b
Cozy mystery author Cindy Blackburn spends her days sitting around in her pajamas thinking up unlikely plot twists and ironing out the quirks and kinks of lovable characters. When she’s not working on the Cue Ball Mysteries or the Cassie Baxter Mysteries, Cindy enjoys taking long walks with her cute hubby John or playing with her fat cat Betty. A native Vermonter who hates snow, Cindy divides her time between the south and the north. Most of the year you’ll find her in South Carolina, but come summer she’ll be on the porch of her lakeside shack in Vermont. Cindy’s favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory, her favorite movie is Moonstruck, and her favorite color is orange. Cindy dislikes vacuuming, traffic, and lima beans. Learn more about Cindy and her books at  Cindy can also be found on Facebook and Twitter   @cbmysteries

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hillary Clinton Returns

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

As the Reading Clerk of the Arkansas State Senate I witnessed the couple now known as the Clintons enter the Governor’s Mansion in Arkansas. At the time Hillary was Hillary Rodham. It was much later after the youngest Governor in history lost his re-election bid and became the youngest Ex-Governor in history that Hillary became Hillary Clinton.

This name change along with a new daughter brought the Clintons to a place of family in the eyes of Arkansans. Now Hillary and Bill are grandparents and Hillary is again running for office. The story is the same but different. Very similar but is it by design. The truth is if the story is successful why not continue with it similarities but with a little change here and there. 

Actually this is nothing new. It has been done in literature, movies and songs. Why not politics?
Finding that winning formula and putting your twist on it works. Singer songwriter Garth Brooks spoke of his great love for the song Mrs. Robinson. Brooks wanted his own Mrs. Robinson so he wrote That Summer which is about a young man enticed by an older woman while working on her farm one summer. Singer songwriter Paul Janeway of St Paul and The Broken Bones did the same. Janeway was asked by David Letterman about his song Call Me. Janeway said he had always liked Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789” and wanted a song with a phone number in it. So he wrote Call Me.

The same is true for literature. Themes of love, hatred, overcoming hardship and the like are repeated. The repetition is so evident today that when you go online and buy a book, CD or movie it is immediately noted. You are then offered similar items when you are told, if you bought or liked this, you would probably like this. Marketing has now recognized and is using the very thing authors, songwriters and movie makers have known for years.

The truth is some can tell the same story but better. Some can sing the same song but better. The same is true for movies. Some can make the same movie but better. Who is to say you couldn’t do the same. Think of your favorite story and how you may make it better. What could you do to bring it up to date? Using the theme but making it modern, digital and relative to today. It is possible and if it has a great theme will be done.

The question is who will do it? Or even a better question may be, “Who better than you?”  You may be the one to write the next theme concerning “Hillary Clinton Returns”.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Am I A Focused Writer, Today?

By Sharilynn Hunt

I love to discover where writers actually sit and focus on their writing. Connemara, the home of Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), the American poet, writer, and editor, is in Flat Rock, NC. I had visited this National Park many years ago, but this past year I re-visited it through the eyes of an author. Crossing a small pond, near the entrance, I looked at the tranquil water. I could picture myself sitting on a rock or in a small boat with a notepad in hand. Walking the long, steep drive to the house, I noticed the blooming wildflowers showing their perky faces as if to say, “The walk is well worth the effort.” Connemara sits high on 246 acres surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. The visual scenery made me think, how could Carl Sandburg not be a three times Pulitzer Prize winner, writing in this atmosphere?

Carl Sandburg, his wife, Lillian, and family moved from Michigan to North Carolina in 1945. His wife raised prized, champion goats, and he wanted a place to continue his writing at the age most people would retire. The large acreage seemed to be the perfect place to handle both tasks. Stepping back in time, I walked into the house with its furnishings and books. The house contained thousands of books, demonstrating his love for reading. The narrow stairs led up to his writing space, a small, attic-type room. Surprised, I saw an archaic typewriter sitting on a crate. Compared to computers and office furniture today, it seemed a humble spot for a famous writer. Yet, it was his place to focus, a place to remove himself from the world and write. Sandburg often wrote all night while his family slept, and he would sleep in the day. Another one of his writing spots was a backyard chair on a rock or on a mountain cliff, behind his house.

When alone, he allowed the creative writing juices to flow into his writings. He stated once, “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”

Leaving Connemara, I reflected on this famous writer’s lifestyle. He was focused and driven to write the words of a poem, a book or a song. Words were his life. He wrote on an old typewriter, erasing each error on a page—no delete buttons. With today’s technological interruptions through cell phones, emails, Facebook, and twitter, our minds can be diverted in seconds, losing our focus. One lost moment leads into lost minutes. 

As writers, we write in public or private places, on laptops or PCs but most importantly, we learn to focus, listen and write from our creative solitude space. When writing I now ask myself, am I focused to listen? 
Sharilynn Hunt is the founder of New Creation Realities Ministry, Inc, a prayer and teaching ministry. She is the author of Prevailing Prayer, a ten-lesson course on building effective prayer groups. She continues to write devotionals and has been published in numerous anthologies. More information is on  ShariSwettHunt on Facebook  Shari Hunt on Linkedin

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Get Lost ... in Your Writing

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine
In the March/April issue of Southern Writers, our popular feature "Magnolia Corner" asks the question:

Who do you trust to read your first draft?

The answers we received from Karen White, Cindy Woodsmall, Marji Laine, Joy Ross Davis, Randy Ingermanson, Stephanie Bennett, Bryan E. Powell, Hope Denney, E.E. Kennedy and Connie Chastain are as diverse as the genres they write in.

One thing they have in common is a degree of bravery.  It takes some fortitude to fork over your hard-fought words for their first reading.

An even more important trait they share is that of choosing those readers with care.  By making a discriminating selection, they are assured of getting constructive feedback which will be valuable for their first rewrite.

Getting to the end of a first draft is usually a mix of satisfying and scary, excitement and dread.  But your book has made it to the page from start to finish, and hopefully the rewrite can be met with the same enthusiasm.

But what if you're having trouble even getting to the end of the first draft?

The reasons are multitudinous, and here are some of the more common culprits:
  • The story stalls midway through
  • It's not as easy as you hoped
  • It's not as perfect as you envisioned
  • You gave someone a sneak peek and lost that initial spark
  • You gave someone a sneak peek and let a discouraging word sink in
  • You're self-editing and stifling your creativity

Even the most experienced authors can become their own worst enemy midway through the first draft by listening to the negative voices of self-judgment.

That's when many authors find it helpful to try to separate themselves from their writing.  Often, this is attempted by putting the project aside indefinitely (not the recommended choice, because it may never get returned to).  A more advisable method is to become the conduit, rather than the creator.

Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, is a champion of learning to listening to inspiration.  He writes:
“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
Remind me to look up "accrete".

Zen masters go on long journeys to find themselves.  In truth, they are really attempting to lose themselves.  Achieving the elevated state some call "no mind" may not sound easy to do when you're living with yourself 24/7, but in the creative arts it's well worth the effort (or better yet, just try letting go and not trying so hard).

By emptying yourself of the critical you, you make room for the inspiration and motivation that's trying to get back in.

When your creativity gets stuck, step outside yourself and stop, look and listen for what's just beyond you.  If you're lucky you'll get completely lost, and your story will bring you home.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Reluctant Writer

By Linda R. Shoaf

Whenever I hear friends exclaim their love for writing, I think I’m in the wrong crowd. Yet, am I? I’ve written throughout my career because it was part of my job responsibilities. When others plagiarized my work, I considered it as affirmation and would say, “I’m glad they liked it.”

From a career perspective, it was to my advantage to publish in recognized journals and trade magazines in my field. Many encouraged my efforts. I regarded the numerous newsletters and materials I initiated for my employer or volunteer groups as creative ventures instead of writing.
A busy work and volunteer schedule kept me from pursuing personal writing. I once overheard a professional in my field and prolific writer say, “You don’t find time to write, you make time.” Maybe that’s the problem. Other responsibilities made me reluctant to put aside time to write, so I procrastinated as I tried to finish everything else.

For those like me who consider themselves a reluctant writer, for whatever reason, here are a few pointers to change your view.

Give yourself credit. While I didn’t consider all those programs, workbooks, and other projects as writing, a writer-friend convinced me that writing is writing.

Be confident. I felt secure in the style of work I did for others, but somehow, writing for myself dampened self-confidence. Perhaps it was fear of failure. Regardless, if it wasn’t written or sent somewhere, great ideas were to naught.

Be persistent. I admire those who write and seem to get it correct the first time. A well-known editor of a professional journal once commented, “It takes most people at least seven rewrites to get articles ready to publish.” And I might add, it takes some of us more.

Be consistent. While I’m generally goal-oriented and reasonably organized, all that seems to vanish when I write. It’s difficult for me to establish a specific plan. I make notes on scraps of paper as ideas come to me.

Find the best time and place to write. That’s old news, but it has merit. Many find a quiet spot or have a favorite area to do their work. I laugh and say I often accomplish more sitting in a waiting room because I tune out everything else. At home, it’s always the ding of a washer or dryer, the ring of a cell phone or other electronic device, or hundreds of other distractions.

Keep your own style. I don’t write fiction, but I can analyze and interpret data. It finally occurred to me that it wasn’t a good use of my time to write in a manner uncomfortable to me. Each of us has a unique style.

Whatever your writing aspirations, you can overcome the label of reluctant writer. Adjust your mind-set and get started. 

Linda Ross Shoaf is a registered/licensed dietitian-nutritionist with a doctoral degree in adult education. After one year of teaching junior high school, she moved into teaching nutrition and related subjects in colleges, universities, and post-secondary schools. Following several moves with her husband and teaching in five states, they founded Cindryn Group, Ltd. in the late 1980s. Within a few years, Linda integrated her independent work in nutrition and Christian living into their company. Her motto, “To nourish body and spirit” reflects her goal to encourage people in healthy physical and spiritual living. Linda has spoken at local, regional, and national venues and leads nutrition workshops, Bible studies, and national webinars. She serves in leadership roles on community and educational boards. As a registered dietitian-nutritionists, Linda is a national peer-reviewer for many articles, books, position papers and professional materials in her field. Her publications include numerous journal, trade, and consumer articles and devotionals. You can find her blog at  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Voice in Fiction

By Peggy Webb AKA Elaine Hussey

Much ink is spilled about the basics of writing. You’ll find endless posts about characters, plot, pacing, setting, and the fine art of knowing when to use dialogue versus description.  But how often do you hear a writer talk about magic, that often indefinable element that makes a story rise above all others?

I’ve been writing for a very long time (since 1985), and I remember so clearly what friends told me when they read my first book. “Peggy, it was like sitting on your front porch swing, listening to you talk.” “I would have picked that book out as yours even if I hadn’t seen your name on the cover.” “Reading it felt like being with you; it felt like being in the middle of the story.” Heady stuff, that kind of validation. And what did
it all mean?

When I write, I lose myself in the story; I don’t think about the process. Editors describe me as an organic writer, one who lets the story flow, one who is not afraid to depart from the normal course of things and follow where the story takes me. Still, I’ve taught many writing workshops, and I’ve taught at Mississippi State University. In order to teach, I had to analyze what worked and why. I had to peel back the veil and decipher
the magic.

The easy part of teaching is laying out the basic elements of story. The hard part is explaining voice. “Is it the way the characters talk?” students ask. Yes…and no. “Is it using an omniscient narrator?” Yes…and no.

Here’s what I know about voice: it’s an attitude, powerful and unique, that shines
through the writing. It’s a way of inhabiting characters so the reader can identify each one
without the need for tags - Billie said, Mama said, Jim said.  It transforms the story and compels the reader to turn pages. Voice is a bit of magic.

If you have a copy of my novel, The Sweetest Hallelujah written as Elaine Hussey, turn to pages 14 and 15 to “hear” the voice.

Currently I’m pouring that bit of magic into two projects, another literary fiction novel written as Elaine Hussey (no details yet) and Stars to Lead Me Home, a women’s fiction novel written as Peggy Webb. Stars to Lead Me Home is slated for a June release. I love the cover, love the concept, and am very excited to bring this book to you!

It has been such a pleasure to visit with you today. To learn more about my books and also about my writing process, do visit my websites, and  You can view my mini-writing class videos on both websites and chat with me about books on my blog, . Periodically, I do wonderful giveaways which are announced on my blog and my social media pages.
USA Today bestselling author Peggy Webb is the most prolific writer the state of Mississippi has ever produced. This award-winning author has written more than 70 books, 200 magazine humor columns and two screenplays. She writes in multiple genres, including literary fiction as Elaine Hussey. Her acclaimed literary fiction novel, The Sweetest Hallelujah, garnered praise from critics who dubbed her one of the “Southern literary greats” and compared her to Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor. As Elaine, she is a member of the prestigious, invitation-only literary organization, PEN. A former adjunct instructor at Mississippi State University, Peggy lives in a turn-of-the-century cottage where she loves gardening, playing piano, singing in church choir and sipping sweet tea on her front porch with friends.  Follow the author at and as well as on FaceBook and Twitter.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Knew How to Give Back and So Can We

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

In a mystery befitting Sherlock Holmes, a 1,300-word story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been discovered tucked away in a Scottish attic. The 1904 short story is titled, "Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burgs and, by Deduction, the Brig Bazaar." The booklet was 48 pages in an effort to raise money for a bridge to be replaced after a 1902 flood washed it away in Selkirk, Scotland. The pamphlet, with stories by local authors, was called "The Book o' Brig" and was sold during a town fundraising bazaar in 1904. The "Book" sales netted approximately $633. Those funds helped the town build an iron bridge, which still stands in Scotland. 

During the bazaar, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle opened with an author lecture to encourage sales. If you want to read the discovered Sherlock Holmes story the entire text of Doyle's story is online at The Daily Record. In the story he weaves the author's "lecture engagement" in Scotland into the story. By engaging the community of readers into the story...why wouldn't they buy "The Book o' Brig?"

Clearly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in giving back to community, via this worthy cause. 

As authors, we can all participate in giving back to worthy causes. One such cause I recently discovered on FaceBook is "Authors Supporting OurTroops." Several authors I know have contributed signed book copies to this cause. Of course, there are numerous other charities you can contribute a signed book for silent auctions, library events, funding for a bridge, etc.

You never know, when you pay it forward, you may end up funding something that is still standing 111 years later.