Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Ever-Evolving Writing Outline

By Rodney Page

I’ve previously written about my routine for outlining a novel. Like writing itself, the process is ever-evolving.

To review my previous exploits…for my first novel I prepared an extensive outline but quickly learned the plot and characters took on lives of their own. Other than the general flow of the plot, the hours spent outlining proved a waste of time. In fact, I found myself constrained by the outline; the pesky characters just weren’t doing what they were supposed to.

Never one for moderation, other than a few scribblings in my trusty notebook, I charged into the second novel outline-less, allowing the muse to have her way with me. The result: a lot of time correcting inconsistent plot lines. And there were the erratically-behaving characters. My goodness! How can the protagonist be a passive and humble guy in one scene and a rip-roaring Type A personality in the next?

So…two published novels and a half-dozen completed and in-progress manuscripts later, where am I on this whole outlining thing? Following is a brief summary describing my current protocol.

Plot – In the aforementioned trusty notebook, I sketch out the umbrella plot, the book’s overarching structure. Next come the sub-plots that will showcase the characters, create the ‘red herrings’ and bring life to the locales.

Characters – With the plot in mind, I develop detailed character profiles…physical appearance, personality quirks, strengths/weaknesses, education, where they’re from, marital status, etc. Creating the character’s persona makes him/her come alive. I know them. I know what they look like and how they think. Therefore, what they say and do from one scene to the next is consistent with who they are.

Place – I am familiar with many locations about which I write, but for those I’m not, Google Maps and Wikipedia are life-savers. I’m a stickler for plausibility and strive to insure the reader senses my familiarity with a locale…be it North Carolina’s Outer Banks (vacation there; know it well) or Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains (obviously, never been there).

Scenes – Finally, I abandon my messy notebook and utilize an Excel spreadsheet. For each scene I create four columns: 1) the scenes’ sequence, i.e., 1-X; 2) the scene’s locale; 3) the characters in the scene; 4) a brief description of the scene; what I want it to accomplish. Of course, the spreadsheet is an ongoing work-in-progress…scenes are deleted/added; the sequence changes; the scenes’ objectives evolve; characters are added/deleted. Everything needed to manage the project is captured on one or two pages.

Some may note a passing similarity of my spreadsheet to several popular authoring software programs. After a brief flirtation with one of those programs, I prefer my simpler, homemade version. There you have it, my current approach to outlining. Check in next year, and I’m sure it will have changed again.
A Georgia native, Rodney Page’s business career included a variety of senior management positions and consulting engagements in companies and industries ranging from startups to Fortune 50 firms. A graduate of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, in 2005 Rodney authored Leading Your Business to the Next Level…the Six Core Disciplines of Sustained Profitable Growth, a hands-on guide for companies navigating the perils and pitfalls of a high growth environment. An avid student of history and political junky, Rodney combined those interests with his lifelong desire to write a novel. His first, Powers Not Delegated, was published in 2012. Rodney’s second novel, The Xerces Factor,launched in April. He meshes his knowledge of history and current events to pen a relevant and plausible tale of intrigue inside the Beltway. His short story, Granny Mae’s Journey appeared in Crimson Cloak Publishing’s Steps in Time anthology this spring. Rodney lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His passions include hiking, photography, history, reading, and, of course, University of Georgia football. Rodney’s social media links are:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Another Side of Southern Writers, Part Two

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

In my last blog post I shifted gears slightly to introduce you to books written by some of the staff writers and contributors at Southern Writers Magazine. Their interviews and instructional articles appear in each issue, but many are also authors in their own right, and I'm gratified that so many of you have enjoyed getting to know their works.  Today, I'm proud to brag on the rest of our respectable regulars:

Vicki H. Moss
Like many of our staffers, Vicki has been a vital part of the mag from the very first issue, sharing expertise and writing up awesome author interviews with a strong and witty voice. Her passionate personality permeates her many other projects including blogging, poetry, speaking, and teaching writing classes, and her book How to Write for Kids Magazines While Working on a Debut Novel is a smart guide to making extra cash in a fun market.

You'll want to keep an eye out for her soon-to-be-released Writing with Voice. It's already getting rave advance reviews from no less than bestsellers Lee Smith and Emily Sue Harvey. I'm jealous because I haven't gotten my copy yet.  You can visit Vicki at
Julie Cantrell
Literate and lovable, Julie Cantrell is truly a champion for the cause of communication. A speech-language pathologist and literacy advocate, her debut novel Into the Free was an international bestseller and received two Christy awards. She and Lisa Wingate team up for The Writer's Jar, a popular feature in each issue of Southern Writers, where they engage in lively conversation with Southern authors.

Julie's latest novel, When Mountains Move, is a Carol Award winner and, like its predecessor, has been recognized as a top read of the year by USA TODAY. Her eagerly anticipated third novel, The Feathered Bone, will be out this November.
Lisa Wingate
Lisa is a former journalist, inspirational speaker, and the author of over twenty novels. Her national bestseller Tending Roses is now in its 19th printing. Lisa graced our very first issue with our first Last Word back in July 2011, and has been a favored friend of the mag ever since.  Her feature The Writer's Jar with Julie Cantrell became a Southern Writers staple in July 2014.

Lisa's current series, Carolina Heirlooms, continues in September with her next release, The Sea Keeper's Daughters, available for pre-order now.
Shelly Frome
After an illustrious career as a professional actor, film critic, and a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, Shelly is now a full-fledged Southerner and shares his vast insider's knowledge of the theater via his current series on screenwriting. Anyone who finds the psychology of story fascinating appreciates his astute insights, which is why I own pretty much everything he's written on the subject. 

The author of several nonfiction books including Playwriting, The Art and Craft of Screenwriting, and The Actors Studio, Shelly is also an acclaimed mystery writer whose latest novel, Tinseltown Riff, has all the cinematic flavor of a good Hollywood whodunit. His latest crime novel, Murder Run, will be released in a couple of weeks.
Edie Melson
If you've taken social media seriously in the last few years, you've come across Edie Melson, a leading voice in the blogosphere. She is co-director and faculty member of numerous writers conferences, and her writing website The Write Conversation is a resource referred to regularly by both beginning bloggers and experienced world wide webbers. As our Social Media Director, Edie cuts through all the noise and spells out the means to having a successful author platform.

Her book on social media and networking techniques, Connections, is a must read for anyone who wonders "How much time must I spend on Facebook and Twitter when there's this book I'm trying to write?"  Hardly a week goes by that I don't recommend Connections to someone who ends up thanking me later. Simply put, Edie makes it easy.
C. Hope Clark
One of the most common things authors tells us they struggle with is writing dialogue. But C. Hope Clark has tongues wagging thanks to her frequent articles on just that subject. The founder of, Hope reaches over 40.000 readers each week with advice on markets, grants, contests and much more, and her book The Shy Writer Reborn: An Introverted Writer's Wake-Up Call, has ignited many an author's ability to promote themselves with confidence.

Hope is the author of the Carolina Slade mysteries Lowcountry Bribe, Tidewater Murder and Palmetto Poison. Her newest series, The Edisto Island Mysteries, begins with Murder on Edisto. For lovers of Southern intrigue, nothing is finer than to be in Carolina with Hope.
Steve Bradshaw
Steve is one of the newer contributors to the magazine, but someone who's been around the (writer's) block. A forensic investigator, biomedical founder-president/CEO, entrepreneur, radio talk show host, Steve was the youngest field agent for the Medical Examiner's Office in Texas history, investigating 3,000 unexplained deaths and 300 homicides. There is no dearth of death in Steve's background, which uniquely qualifies him to instruct on the mechanics of mayhem in Southern Writers.

His personal experience with the grisly and gruesome also lends chilling authenticity to his Bell Trilogy of mysteries, which include Bluff City Butcher, The Skies Roared, and Blood Lions.

In my previous post I was also proud to feature Susan Reichert, Chris Pepple, Jessica Ferguson, Londa Hayden, W. Terry Whalin, and Sara M. Robinson, but the Southern Writers family hardly stops there. We consider the 900+ authors who've graced our pages our extended family, not to mention every subscriber to the magazine and every visitor who comes here to read Suite T. Thanks to one and all for your role in making the writer's community an amazing place to be.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Taking Time to Write

By Debra Coleman Jeter

There’s a lovely poem about prayer by Grace Naessens you’ve probably heard.

It begins: “I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day,
I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray.”

It ends: “I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day. I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.”

I love this poem! What Ms. Naessens writes is so true of prayer. I have found that for me, it’s also true of writing. Before starting The Ticket, I had been writing off and on for years. My writing came in spurts. Sometimes I’d go for long stretches without writing a thing, except for the stuff required by my job. At other times, I might start a short story and write obsessively for a few days until it was finished. It wasn’t that I believed I had to be inspired to write; it was just a pattern I inadvertently fell into. I observed one truth about myself: I was generally happier in my personal life and more productive in my academic career when I was doing some outside writing.

When I started TheTicket, I resolved to break my habit of writing either nothing or too much at once, rather like a person who crash diets and then binges on her favorite sweets. This time I was going to write steadily week-in and week-out until I had a decent draft.

To aid in this process, I used Robert J. Ray’s book on writing, The Weekend Novelist, to provide a structure. Ray describes a fifty-two week program designed to produce a finished novel writing only on weekends. Although I did not limit myself to weekend writing, using Ray’s book gave me a structure and kept me moving forward when I might otherwise have stalled.

For me, the first sentence of the day is almost always the one that comes hardest. The more I tell myself I need to get on with it, the harder it is to make my pen move (yes, I write the old-fashioned way using pen and paper). I didn’t discover any magic tricks here, but what I avoided was giving up for the day. Instead I would tell myself that I could always trash the pages later if they stunk, as I often suspected they would. Then I’d force myself to start moving my pen. As a part-time writer with another job, I didn’t feel I had the luxury of waiting until later in the day. Usually, after the rough start, the words would start to flow. But not always. Some days I’d have to grind out every word. Later, though, I discovered surprises in both directions. When I would reread what I had written, the stuff I wrote when I felt inspired sometimes turned out to be lousy; and some of the most painfully written pages turned out to be pretty good.

Never give up!
A Vanderbilt University professor, Debra Coleman Jeter has published fiction and nonfiction in popular magazines, including Working Woman, New Woman, Self, Home Life, Savvy, Christian Woman, and American Baby. Her story, “Recovery,” won first prize in a Christian Woman short story competition, and her nonfiction book “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor was a finalist in the 2007 USA Book News Awards. She is a co-writer of the screenplay for Jess + Moss, a feature film which premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, screened at nearly forty film festivals around the world, and captured several international awards. She lives in Clarksville, Tennessee, with her husband.Website and Blog: Pinterest: Facebook:  Twitter:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Everyone Should Write Their Memoir

By Victor Rook

It was only seven years ago when I began writing books. I was forty-five years old and my mother had just passed away. I started with a simple, four-page story called, "My Mother, My Sister, and Their Dogs." It detailed, jokingly, how every time I'd come to visit, they'd spend two minutes with me and the rest of the visit mollycoddling their dogs. "Do you have to go out?" "Make that funny sound. A-woo-woo-woo. A woo-woo-woo." I wrote it with no intention of writing a full book.

Then little moments in my life crept into mind: the day my mother took us to Tastee Freez three times, how I fixated on the Swivel Sweeper box in CVS one afternoon, and all the jobs I'd had in my life. I turned each of those moments into little short stories. Some as short as two book pages. Most, no more than four. After two years, I had fifty-one anecdotes, and so I put them all together in my first book, Musings of a Dysfunctional Life.

Like many writers who take to the task to share their experiences in life, I just needed to get it all out. It was therapeutic. And I wanted all my trials and tribulations written down before they slipped from my head. I knew that someday I'd want to look back at them. Recently I pulled that book out and reread a few. It was amazing. And I'm so glad I did it. And my friends, family, and strangers have connected with it as well.

There seems to be this belief that you must be famous or have accomplished something grand in the public eye to write a memoir. I remember that after I finished Musings, I told a local bartender about it. She said, "You've written a memoir because you've done what?" I was taken aback and hurt by her lack of enthusiasm, but I understood where she was coming from. Who am I to write about my life and myself? Well, I'm here to tell you that you should do it because your life experiences are important. They're important because you may have triumphed over pain or overcome obstacles that will help others. For me it was an alcoholic father, being lonely, gay, and dealing with a lot of not so nice people in my life. Plus you can also make people laugh. You don't have to be famous to do that. In fact, I've read several autobiographies from public figures. Outside of their claims to fame, many have led boring, uneventful lives.

So start simple. Think of a moment in your life: first bicycle, first bully, first kiss, etc. And write down the memory as if you were telling a friend. Detail how you felt at the time. It doesn't have to be long. You'll know you're done when you've exhausted all you can say about it. Then, move on to another memory. Let it flow from your head to paper. This is not the time to hold back. People like sincerity. Write one a week and you'll have a book to share in a year. How cool is that?

Oh, and that bartender–I'm on my fourth book and she's still serving beers seven years later. So, yes, I have accomplished something.

Victor Rook is a degreed Mechanical Engineer turned film producer and author. You may have seen my nature documentary "Beyond the Garden Gate" on PBS. It won two Telly Awards. Since then I have produced several documentaries and written several books. All are available on Amazon. My first book is "Musings of a Dysfunctional Life." It's a memoir that includes fifty-one short anecdotes and musings on virtually all subjects: love, sex, ghosts, religion, shopping, aging, name it. My second novel is "In Search of Good Times." It's about a troubled man who believes that the fictional sitcom families from "All in the Family" and "Good Times" are real, and sets off on a road trip to find them. Lots of '70s nostalgia and interesting characters. My most recent book is a collection of satirical horror stories entitled "People Who Need To Die." The year is 2021 and the World Order Alliance allows "selective" homicides to remove thirty percent of the population. Bad Drivers, Distracted Cell Phone Users, Spammers, Internet Trolls, Horrible Bosses, Black Friday Shoppers and more are some of the targets. Victor’s website is here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Suite T, Free Tea and Harper Lee

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Southern Writers Magazine's blog, Suite T is a play on the words “sweet tea,” the unofficial beverage of the south. In fact, today you can get free sweet tea at McAlister's Deli, found in many southern cities and states. It's free tea day. Yippee!

If I knew Harper Lee, I'd go pick her up and take her to get a free tea and lunch. It would be fun to sit out on a shaded patio, under a rotating ceiling fan, and chat with her for a couple of hours. Most would want to talk about the hullabaloo about her last published book, Go Set a Watchman. My daughter is currently reading it, so I'm waiting my turn.

My interview questions for the award-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, would not have much to do about her books, but rather the ever evolving book industry and her long friendship with childhood friend, Truman Capote.

For someone born in 1926, Harper Lee has seen a lot of change the world and in the book industry. It would be so interesting to get her insight on just how the process has changed. Also knowing her recent release was originally rejected by an editor around 1959 and it was suggested to change the view point of the protagonist to that of the child, Scout gives one pause. This revision is what made To Kill a Mockingbird the award winner it is.

As an author, I want to know how Ms. Lee dealt with the initial rejection. Did she experience writers block? Does she still write? If not, why did she stop? Did her overnight success with To Kill a Mockingbird, make her hesitant to submit another book for publication? What do you think of the book industry today?

I challenge you to use this as a writing exercise. Pick an author and pretend you are sipping free tea with them and play interviewer. Write out your questions. Then, check the Internet and see if the author has answered these questions before. With the questions and answers, you should have enough information for a short article on your favorite author.

While I sip my free McAlister's Deli tea, I will research a favorite author, Harper Lee, and then write a short article. It's a three-part writing exercise that will expand and stretch my writing.

What author would you chose to sip free tea with while conducting an interview? 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Real Life vs. Fiction

By Kaye George

I’ve heard people say that a critic or publisher told them a scene they wrote was unrealistic. They insisted that this is exactly how it happened in real life! It’s hard to understand how something real can be unrealistic, isn’t it?

It’s true, though. Real life is NOT realistic, not for fiction. Why is this?

Mark Twain had this to say, “It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Georgia O’Keeffe also weighed in on the subject: “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

To understand why this is, think of the fiction you like best. Why do you read it? Do you read for escapism? To learn about other lives, times, and places? To be thrilled? Scared?

I’ll bet a lot of people pick that first one. If you are reading fiction, you have chosen not to read the news or to read nonfiction. The latter give you reality. The former gives you a window on reality, views on reality, but it’s not portraying actual events (unless you’re reading historical fiction that uses them).

I got an awakening after I’d been trying to write fiction for ten years. I was creating likeable characters, good plots, and using techniques that I’d learned from great teachers. However, I got hundreds of rejection slips. When I got fed up with that, I decided to write something fun, over the top, silly. Ridiculous. Outrageous. Something that would amuse me.

To my astonishment, I hit upon the formula for success. Here’s what I learned: Write characters that are bigger than life, more vivid, more interesting. More bizarre, even. Write scenes that are outrageous and exaggerated.

That was my first book that found a publisher and it was also nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. People liked it!

When I thought about it, it made sense. A character who jumps off the page is more interesting than one who lies there waiting for you to read about her. I went on to write two more books about Imogene Duckworthy and her mishaps and I have readers asking for the next one. Music to my ears!

In my other writing, I haven’t continued the same tone as in that series, but I do keep in mind that my writing must be vivid, must have more impact than a non-fiction report of what happened, no matter how devious the plot. I want to write characters that my readers will remember and situations that will either scare them, amuse them, or make them turn the page quickly.

By the way, I got my agent by sending her a copy of the first Imogene Duckworthy mystery, Choke. She liked my voice! I guess I got something right.

I hope some of this helps you!

Kaye George, national-bestselling and multiple-award-winning author, writes several mystery series: Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway (Barking Rain Press), People of the Wind (Untreed Reads), and, as Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat (Berkley Prime Crime cozies). The third, Fat Cat Takes the Cake, will appear March 2016. The second Cressa Carraway novel, Requiem in Red, will appear in early 2016. The second People of the Wind, Death on the Trek, comes out in June 2016. Her short stories appear in anthologies, magazines, and her own collection, A Patchwork of Stories. The next one, “Heartbreak at Graceland,” will come out in Memphis Noir in November. She reviews for Suspense Magazine. She lives in Knoxville, TN. Her Social Media links are: Webpages: and
Blogs: Solo:, and
Group blogs: and

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jurassic World to an Author

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

I’ve read a number of views on the Internet about this movie. Some liked this one better than the first, Jurassic Park; some liked the first one better. Every writer wants to write a great book that sells like hotcakes and then do it again with a sequel/series.

However, many times, a sequel doesn’t make it. It leaves us the reader or the moviegoer flat.
When a writer carries the story forward into another book or movie they sometimes miss the important part that the creation should be good enough to stand alone to be a hit with their readers and moviegoers.

Steve Bradshaw, author of Bluff City Butcher, book one of his Bell Trilogy, created a great thriller with memorable characters and a terrific storyline. The kind you don’t want to let go. The other two books, The Skies Roared and Blood Lions were equally as thrilling and you didn’t want to put those down either. I didn’t want to give up the characters when I finished the last book.
All three were what I consider a good stand-alone even though main characters and story lines were carried forward.

So which one of the movies did I like best? The fourth one, just released, Jurassic World. What about you?

Anytime a story is carried forward into another book, it would be smart to make sure that book is as exciting as the first…in fact, perhaps we should strive for that book to be a little better than the first.

What do you think? What is the hardest part for a writer when they are writing a series?