Friday, May 22, 2015

Steve Berry Writes What He Loves

By Steve Berry

How many times have you heard this piece of advice:  write what you know. On its surface, the old adage makes sense. Writing is difficult enough, why compound it by attacking a subject matter with which you are not familiar. Writing what you know also brings an ability to insert personal insights that those ‘who-don’t-know-what-you-know’ might find interesting. 

But it’s the worst advice you could ever receive.

Never, ever write what you know.

Instead, write what you love.    

If what you love and what you know is the same thing, then you’re truly blessed. But if not (which is normally the case) always write what you love. 

I was a trial lawyer for 30 years. I handled thousands of divorces, criminal defense, and civil litigations. So many cases and clients. A zillion fascinating stories. Here’s an example:  I once represented a man charged with murder. He stabbed his victim multiple times, and then cut the head and hands off to hamper identification (this was back before DNA testing). So how did they make an identification? Apparently while cutting off the hands and head, the accused forgot to notice the victim’s T-shirt. On it was written in bold letters jones family reunion. Talk about stupid. How long do you think it took to make an ID?  The whole thing was an open and shut case and the DA wanted the death penalty. But all my client cared about was whether his name had been spelled right in the paper. That’s it. For him it was all about the spotlight. Talk about a character for a novel. But the last thing in the world I wanted to do was write about him.

I love action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings. That used to be called a spy novel, now it’s an international suspense thriller.  I read anything and everything I can in this genre.  The first manuscript I ever wrote, though, was a legal thriller—that was me foolishly practicing the rule of ‘writing what you know.’ But I learned never to do it again.  I realized that I read spy novels (as they were called then) to escape the torturous world in which I lived each day. Hearing people’s problems, then trying to solve them is a lawyer’s job.  But it gets depressing. You need a way out, if only temporary. Stories with action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international settings provided that respite for me.  

So I switched genres and kept writing. 

Eventually, after 8 manuscripts, 12 years, and 85 rejections Random House bought The Amber Room.  Yes, there are lawyers in that book, but not a one of them is doing a lawyerly thing.  Instead, they’re all off on an international treasure hunt, in a fictional world I love.

There have been 13 novels since The Amber Room.  The latest is The Patriot Threat.  The books are now published in 51 countries and 40 languages, with nearly 20,000,000 copies.  Everyday I marvel at how that came about, grateful for every single reader who takes the time to enjoy them. 

And if years ago I’d kept writing what I know?

No question.

None of it would have ever happened.
Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Patriot ThreatThe Lincoln MythThe King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson KeyThe Emperor’s TombThe Paris VendettaThe Charlemagne PursuitThe Venetian BetrayalThe Alexandria LinkThe Templar LegacyThe Third SecretThe Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with 19,000,000 copies in 51 countries.  They consistently appear in the top echelon of The New York TimesUSA Today, and Indie bestseller lists. Find Steve at  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Waco, TX and Writing

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

The recent Biker Gang War in Waco, TX brings to mind the history surrounding the area both good and bad. My fondness for the area is due to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum and Baylor University. I have also enjoyed the Brazos River and Lake Waco. Any of these things would make any city proud. So why does Waco seem to be a magnet to the awful human tragedies it has experienced the last two hundred years?

The very establishment of the town was due to a treaty made with the “Waco” Wichita Native American tribe that had withstood attempts to destroy their village.

In 1896 the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad got the idea to crash two locomotives together north of Waco. This family fun event turned deadly when the boilers of both locomotives exploded simultaneously killing two and injuring six seriously.

In 1916 an African American teenager named Jesse Washington and tortured and burned to death on the town square by a mob. The mob had taken him from the courthouse where he had been convicted of murdering a white woman. Lynching continued in the area until 1968.

The Waco siege occurred in 1993 when 6 Branch Davidians and 4 ATF agents died during a shootout. After a 50 day standoff it all ended when a fire destroyed the Branch Davidians compound. Seventy-four people died in the blaze including the leader David Koresh.

On May 17th, 2015 the deadliest shootout in the city’s history took place when three rival motorcycle gangs shot it out with each other and Waco police. The shootout left 9 dead, 18 injured and 192 detained.

These tragic occurrences seemed to have been bestowed on Waco from either outsiders or those townspeople taking the law into their own hands. Actually these are events that can and have happened in many of our nations towns. Shocking as they are they are indeed fodder for some great stories. Historical fiction springs from such tragic tales. The accounts of such historical events are close to the truth but aren’t necessarily a true reflection.  

Any of these tales would make an interesting story line. Some, like the Waco Siege, have already been made into a movie. I would assume there will soon be a made for TV movie or a screenplay depicting the Biker Gang War in Waco. I’m anxious to see what character is used to tell the tale. I am also curious who will write it. 

It could be you.  


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Promoting via Facebook Paid Ad Campaigns

By Clarissa Johal

Promotion is always a hot topic amongst authors. My take on the subject is that no one, publisher or author, knows the magic formula of what makes a book successful. I’ve seen awful books sell millions of copies, and wonderful books sink into obscurity. So…what works? I’ve been writing for fifteen years and promoting “seriously” for the past five and I’m still trying to find the magic formula. This past weekend, I decided to go out on a limb and give Facebook’s Paid Ad Campaign a try.

Facebook is my favorite social media hang out.  I like to interact with people and find this platform allows the most freedom. However, I hate that Facebook filters your posts to whomever they decide. I have a modest 325 Friends whom, sadly enough, don’t see 90% of my posts. And it works both ways. This not only makes me feel like a bad Facebook friend, but isn’t conducive to getting the word out when I have a new release.  On a good day, my posts reach about 30 people. Shame on you, Facebook. You suck.

Recently, Facebook moved to a “pay for more visibility” model. For a fee, you can “boost” your post to reach a wider audience. It seems unfair, but raging against it is pointless because Facebook will do what it does. My paranormal novel VOICES went up for Pre-Order on April 17th, so I decided to “boost” my post announcement and see what came of it.  I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of this method/scope of advertising, so keep that in mind.

My post (with cover art attached):
VOICES - Sometimes the ghosts from your past...are real.  Available for Pre-Order! #‎paranormal
Cost and Duration: The minimum of $5.00 for two days—in this case, the weekend.
People Reached: 870--which is a considerable boost from 30. You can pull up a full detailed report of the campaign but once too many facts and figures are involved, my attention starts to wander. Here are the basic facts that I found helpful:

Demographics. Age and gender told me thatVOICES mostly interested women in the 35-44 age range.  

Users who actually “engaged” with the post: Out of the 870 people, 42 clicked on the link.

Books sold: Unfortunately, too early to tell. I will say that my author rank went up and VOICES hit #57 in Amazon’s Top 100 Ghost Suspense novels right next to Dean Koontz. It was fleeting but I’ll take it.  

Facebook has other options to promote your page and website and I may experiment with those in the future. The promotion quest continues…
Clarissa Johal has worked as a veterinary assistant, zoo-keeper aide and vegetarian chef. Writing has always been her passion. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing or taking photographs of gargoyles. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters and every stray animal that darkens the doorstep. One day, she expects that a wayward troll will wander into her yard, but that hasn’t happened yet. Clarissa Online: Author Website: Blog: Facebook: Twitter: Goodreads: Amazon Author Page: Pinterest:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Is There a Story Here?

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

At a party this weekend I enjoyed having a conversation with a fellow who has been a postal carrier for thirty years.  At one point in my childhood I had wanted to be a mailman, so I had a fair share of questions that he likewise seemed to enjoy answering.  But the most interesting thing he had to say wasn't related to delivering Amazon packages or avoiding getting bit by dogs.

Years ago when his daughter was very young, he would bring her to the post office on Take Your Daughter to Work Day.  She helped him sort the mail for his route in the appropriate slots, and on one occasion she drew him a picture, which he proudly hung in his cubicle.  That drawing has remained in the same place for years.

His daughter is in her late twenties now, so that picture holds special memories for him.  As you can imagine, he wasn't happy when a supervisor told him recently that he had to take it down.  "No personal items in the workspace," they said.  He knew the fact that it had been already hanging there for decades would not be enough of an argument.  Instead he replied, "Then that coffee cup on your desk and those pictures of your family need to go too."  That ended the conversation and, as I understand it, the drawing remains undisturbed.

As he related this to me, I couldn't help but consider the fact that this little episode from his life told me a great deal about the stranger I'd just met.  In a short time I discovered that 1) he is a family man, 2) he is sentimental, and 3) he can stand up for himself.  If these were traits you wanted to convey in your novel's protagonist, a scenario such as this would be far more memorable than simply describing him as a sentimental family man who isn't afraid of his boss.  We bond with a character when we observe our own humanity in him/her.

By itself, incidents like this aren't stories as much as they are anecdotes.  But stories come in all forms and fashions, and what seems like a simple premise could easily be built upon and turned into a major storyline or at least a worthy plot point.  A man getting shorted on his change at the sub shop is barely an anecdote.  But if it's the last straw in his already unstable life, it could be the basis for a crime novel.

In broadcasting, a news "story" can be little more than a headline, as in: "Pitch Perfect 2 leaves Mad Max: Fury Road in the dust. The musical's opening weekend brought in over $70 million, compared to $44 million for the sci-fi sequel."  Just the facts has its place in the truest definition of story, and we know there's more to the story if we choose to go there.

A classic newspaper credo states that even the most boring story can become fascinating with the right sidenote or quote included.  A good reporter looks for that unique angle to give the story its punch.  Sometimes interviewing the quietest witness yields the biggest revelation.

Whether we hear them from someone else, or live them in our own lives, every day we are witness to countless moments that could be the starting point for the next story or scene we write.  If we learn to be keen observers as well as creative writers, we'll never run out of ideas.

Monday, May 18, 2015


By S. D. Tooley

They say write what you know. I doubt, though, that you have met any writers who are ghosts, psychics, or shapeshifters, much less wizards or witches. These characters are very popular, even if the stories require far more suspension of disbelief than the traditional mystery. When you think about it, doesn’t every book labeled “fiction” lead you into an alternate reality the minute you open the cover? During our early years we were read bedtime stories, fairy tales that fed the imagination. Some of you enjoyed those tales and moved on. If you were like me, you didn’t move on. My delicate psyche was formed (scarred) by hours of watching Shock Theatre, Twilight Zone, and every scary movie out there. Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, aliens, ghosts, you name it and I’ve seen it.

Do you have to believe in any of this to write a believable story? Of course not. The popularity of the TV show The Walking Dead doesn’t mean everyone believes in zombies (although there are a handful of people preparing for the zombie apocalypse). What viewers believe in is survival. They want to cheer for the good guys, see how they handle adversity. Each tragedy makes them stronger.

Creating a protagonist in a cross-genre, urban fantasy, or alternate reality novel isn’t any different than creating one for a traditional mystery. He (or she) has to have chinks in his armor.  Readers relate more to a flawed character, whether that flaw is emotional or moral.  It makes your protagonist more human, even if your protagonist is hunting vampires.

Your setting can also stretch believability. Whether it’s time travel, another planet, or an underground city, how your character reacts to it determines the reader’s acceptability. Think Hunger Games, the Twilight series, even Harry Potter. Whether it’s a story about survival, love, or magic, readers become the character.  (You did notice I didn’t mention Fifty Shades of Gray. I, personally, prefer my body parts dismembered!)

Not all readers can be dragged kicking and screaming to the “dark side.” Make it real enough so they care about the characters and you will win them over.

Sandra Tooley (S. D.) is the author of 16 cross-genre mysteries. Her Sam Casey series features a former cop who can hear the dead speak, combining mystery with paranormal. Her Chase Dagger series (written as Lee Driver) features a P.I. who is assisted by a shapeshifter, combining mystery with urban fantasy/sci-fi and sometimes horror. NIGHTFALL, the seventh in her Chase Dagger series, will be released in May and is the sequel to FULL MOON-BLOODY MOON (Book 2). THE SKULL, her only book for middle school-aged readers, is a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys-type mystery. Her books are available in hard cover, trade paperback, and eBook formats. Sandy is a recent transplant to the Hilton Head, SC area from the suburbs of Chicago. She is a member of Low Country Sisters in Crime, a chapter of the National Sisters in Crime organization for mystery writers.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ideas For Your Fictional Characters

By Amy Hill Hearth 

The most frequent question I’m asked when I'm on book tour or lecturing at a university is––Where do the ideas for your fictional characters come from?

Often, the person asking the question is an aspiring writer who is struggling to create a main character who is believable and consistent.

Here is what I advise: Why not start by looking around you?

We have all encountered people in our lives that are memorable, intriguing, and flawed but likeable. Think of all the people you've known who had a "larger than life" personality - a teacher, neighbor, or maybe a member of your church when you were growing up. (One caveat: When writing about a real person, depending on a variety of circumstances, you may need permission. It’s always wise to check with an attorney.)  

Many authors of fiction discover that their best work is drawn from either real life experiences, their own or someone else's. For my novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society, I had only to look as far as my own mother-in-law, Jackie, who was the type of person wryly referred to as "a piece of work."

Jackie was a beautiful, opinionated, infuriating, and utterly charming woman. In 1962, long before I met her, she’d had a difficult time adjusting when her husband relocated the family from Boston to a small, sleepy Southern backwater in Florida. She managed to upset the status quo almost the moment they arrived.

Having spent the formative years of my childhood in South Carolina and my young adulthood in Florida, I had no difficulty picturing Jackie’s unfortunate (and at times hilarious) missteps, when told about them years later.  Before she passed away in 2004, she told me some of these stories. A few of them I learned from my husband (her son). My favorite - which I used as a launching point for my novel - was how in real life she started a late night radio show, which she called “Miss Dreamsville,” and scandalized the town (although by today's standards it was G-rated).

Of course, there are many fictional events and characters in my novel as well. I invented the idea that Jackie started a book club; as far as I know, she never did. The book club was necessary, however, because it gave me a sphere in which to have Jackie interact with others in the community.

As much as I love all of my characters, Jackie-the-real-person gave me a great place to start. It was she who sparked my imagination and led me to tell a much larger story.

Sometimes, inspiration is closer at hand than one might think.
Amy Hill Hearth is a New York Times Bestselling Author and an American Library Association “Notable Book" Winner. Born in New England, she spent her childhood in Columbia, South Carolina. After graduating with a B.A. in Writing/English from the University of Tampa, Amy was a newspaper reporter in Florida and New York. In 1993, she published her first book, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, an oral history of two centenarian sisters which was a New York Times Bestseller for 113 weeks, as well as a Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller. In 1995, Having Our Say was adapted for the Broadway stage and, in 1999, for an award-winning film in which Amy was portrayed by the actress Amy Madigan. Amy went on to write six more nonfiction books. In 2012, Simon & Schuster's Atria imprint published her first novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. The novel was the Simon & Schuster Book Club pick for October 2012, a Reader's Digest "Select Edition" choice for May 2013, and the January 2013 selection for Kathy L. Murphy’s 600-chapter Pulpwood Queens Book Club. Amy’s sequel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, will be published this fall. Amy’s social media links: Website: Blog: Facebook:  Twitter: @MissDreamsville

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Your Book and Release Date Timing

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

The Pyramid sat empty for over 10 years on the banks of the muddy Mississippi River. It defines the Memphis, TN skyline.  It is 321 feet (about 32 stories) tall and has base sides of 591 feet.

Bass Pro Shops has redeveloped the iconic empty Pyramid into their largest corporate venue. It will be tourist and retail-sport destination. They are banking on the "must-see" opportunity with impressive views from high atop the sides of the Pyramid. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris said, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking and opportunity." Sounds like a writer talking about their work in progress. It's why we write.

How did Bass Pro Shops decide to take on this venture? In short, a really big Mississippi River catfish. A 2005 fishing trip on the Mississippi River near The Pyramid played a defining role.  Johnny Morris told fishing buddies Memphian, Bill Dance, fishing TV show host and angler, and now deceased Jack Emmitt, Bass Pro's first fishing manager, that he would build a store inside The Pyramid if they caught a 30-pound catfish. "Sure enough, with about one hour to go, (Emmitt) got a bite and caught this catfish (now on display) in the shadow of The Pyramid, and I said, 'It's a deal -- we're gonna do it,'" Morris said. As a writer can you relate? What prompted you to write your defining book?

Writers can learn a lot from the management team of Bass Pro, when it comes to timing. Book release dates are just like opening of Bass Pro at The Pyramid in Memphis, TN on April 29, 2015. Originally the store was to open in the fall of 2013 but Bass Pro knew the opening needed to have everything working correctly because they would have one shot at impressing visitors to keep them coming back and spreading the word about the venue. Over 20,000 people attended the Bass Pro Shop opening. Writers work to edit their books to perfection in order to keep readers happy. If readers are happy, they will share with their family and friends garnering new readers for a writer.

Bass Pro Shops timed their grand opening within one day of the month long celebration known as "Memphis in May." Essentially this year the Bass Pro mega store  and hotel opening unofficially kicked off Memphis in May International Festival. There is the Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, just to name a few events. It also helps the Grizzlies Basketball Team is in the midst of playoffs. Visitors abound in Memphis during the month, due to the various once a year events. Was Bass Pro's timing intentionally? You bet your Memphis BBQ ribs, it was.

As a writer, when do you think your book would have a chance of gaining the best reception? Winter, when people are snow bound? Valentine, Easter or Mothers Day? Beach or vacation time? Holidays, for gift opportunities?

Writers need to consider the type of book they are writing. Then, think of Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid. What was your "catfish" that helped you create your book? Pay attention to timing your book release to move your book into the most readers' hands.