Monday, November 24, 2014

Why a Book’s Setting Counts as a Character

By Laura Childs

I think every author worth his/her salt constantly strives to create that all-important “sense of place.”  You want your readers to vividly picture your novel’s setting as seen through your eyes.  You want every word to be so filled with imagery that they drink in each scene – tasting the salt on the breeze, smelling the perfumed jasmine in the early evening dusk, and detecting that ominous crunch of footsteps on gravel behind them.  You want your readers’ hearts to pitty-pat a little faster and think to themselves, “Who’s that following me?  What’s happening here?”

When I set my Scrapbooking Mysteries in New Orleans, I hit the jackpot. Seriously, nowhere else in this country is there a spookier, decrepit, elegant, and highly atmospheric city all rolled into one.  Setting a mystery in New Orleans means you can borrow lonesome-sounding tugboat whistles from the Mississippi River or allow faint notes of jazz to bump along on the breeze.  You can impart the grandeur and old world elegance of the Garden District, the raucousness of the French Quarter, and the danger and solitude of nearby bayous.

But there’s so much more to work with. 

I particularly love the infamous aboveground cemeteries in New Orleans.  First of all, they’re bizarre.  I mean, you can’t even bury a body in New Orleans.  If you do, the water table will send it right back to you.  So there’s a nasty concept to play with.  The cemeteries are also a strange amalgam of stately marble crypts, tumbled-down tombstones, oven crypts (you don’t even want to know), and ancient statues whose faces have long since been eroded by hurricanes, rain, and relentless heat.  Yes, a cemetery in New Orleans is always the perfect setting for a somber funeral, a dangerous tiptoe-through-the-tombstones chase, or even a nighttime ghost sighting.

I particularly love the contrast between the French Quarter and the Garden District.  The French Quarter is where the city of New Orleans dug in hard and put down roots.  There are ancient warehouses that have been turned into lofts and apartments, narrow alleys, tiny shops, four-star restaurants, haughty hotels, a genuine cathedral, and cobwebs of wrought iron draped everywhere.  Some of the old brick buildings began life as absinthe bars, houses of ill repute, and voodoo shops.  Interesting enough, some of them are still absinthe bars, houses of ill repute, and voodoo shops.  There’s honest-to-gosh history here and it’s all there for the taking.  And here’s a tidbit that always makes me smile: some of the French Quarter’s interior courtyards are utterly breathtaking with their pattering fountains, marble statues, and riots of flowers, but they’re never seen by anyone except a small handful of privacy-minded residents. 

Even though the Garden District consists of big homes and big money, it is equally private and closed.  When I attended the Rex Ball during Mardi Gras, I came to realize that the real Mardi Gras takes place in these magnificent mansions.  All that hoo-haw down in the French Quarter?  The beads, balconies, drinking, and music you see on TV?  That’s for the benefit of the tourists and the cameras.  No self-respecting member of the Rex, Comus, or Bacchus krewe would ever throw open the doors to their float den, or invite the public in to their elegant parties. 

But there is a way you can partake of these magical, hushed settings.  An author who’s been there can put down the words, take your hand, and gently pull you in for a good long peek.  Are you interested?  Then come along, let’s both enjoy the spectacle of the debutantes, dine on oysters Rockefeller and crab etouffee, and step inside the drop-dead gorgeous mansions and drink twenty-four year-old Bourbon in Baccarat crystal.  Let’s crash this fine eccentric city known as the Big Easy.
Laura Childs is the author of the Scrapbook Mysteries set in New Orleans, LA, the Tea Shop Mysteries set in Charleston, SC, and the Cackleberry Club Mysteries.  Her books have been continually named to the New York Times Bestseller List and have been featured selections in the Literary Guild’s Mystery Book Club.  She is a former Cleo Award-winning advertising writer and CEO of Mission Critical Marketing. She is currently co-executive producer of two reality television shows. Her website is Laura Childs’ newest Scrapbooking Mystery, Gossamer Ghost released in October by Penguin Random House.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Author’s Best Friend

By Jim Proctor

Social media is probably the most important tool available to the indie author for building a following, or building a brand. The important thing to remember when participating is that you are as much a part of your brand as your books are.

I’ve witnessed authors (and bloggers, too) treat their followers badly on social media, and I have observed the resulting backlash. In the midst of the turmoil, I’ve seen authors make things better, and I’ve seen them make things worse—much worse. You’re human. If you screw up, apologize. Make it right.

Since creating my first social media accounts to promote my brand, I’ve looked for advice on how to manage those accounts. People have recommended everything from posting things about yourself to show your followers that you are a real person, to keeping it purely professional, strictly talking about your books and writings. In the end, you have to decide how much of your real self you are willing to reveal to your followers.

From my personal experience, and from my observations of others, I can say that it pays to be nice to your followers. Always. Confrontation and negativism are neither attractive, nor endearing. Remember what social media is—a platform to interact with people. It’s not a television commercial or a billboard. It’s interactive. Don’t just post about your books. Find the topics that elicit positive responses, and then engage your followers. Be respectful, be helpful, and be responsive.

If you’re having a bad day, maybe it’s a good idea to stay off social media. Or, at least, limit your activities to posting neutral items and letting your followers interact among themselves. Don’t let your bad day influence the way you treat your fans.

When is it acceptable to be negative on social media? That’s a hard call. I try very hard never to do that. Some authors cultivate an image of being a “bad ass,” and put that attitude on display. If that’s who you are, and it’s what your followers expect, then carry on. Be yourself (or the image you have created of yourself).

On one popular social media site, when users were asked what they like most from authors, one of the most common responses was interaction. They want to engage. When they reply to an author’s post, they want their reply to be acknowledged. They want a response. It takes time and effort. Marketing always does, and that’s what brand building is—the foundation of marketing, and eventual success.

One last thing I have learned about social media—pictures of my dog are always more popular than anything else I post. Get a dog.

Jim Proctor has been an engineer and laboratory scientist for more than 34 years, working at a major university, a national measurements laboratory, and in private industry. After decades of writing and contributing to scientific papers, he began writing his first work of fiction around 2007. Using his scientific background, he brought realism to a science fiction tale of mystery and suspense. A fantasy novel followed, set on a planet where the balance of nature was anything but natural. He has written numerous short stories, and is currently working on a new science fiction novel. His books are Made in The Stars and  The Last Steward. When not writing (or reading), he is working for a living while thinking about writing. He can be found at 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing With All The Senses

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

High above the city of Lisbon rest the ancient site of St George Castle. St George is a beautiful and impressive fortress that stands watch over the Tagus River and the valley behind. To reach the fortress one must travel through the narrow streets of Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood that lies between the castle and the water. You must work your way to the top to experience the beautiful view of the city, the river and the Ponte 25th of April Bridge.

I had the pleasure of enjoying these views during lunch at the castle. It was indeed breath taking. The river, where all the great explorers launched to discover the trade routes to the east, looks more like a bay. The Ponte 25th of April Bridge has such a close resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge it is referred to as Lisbon’s Golden Gate. The designs are indeed similar. And most breathtaking of all is the city itself with its many houses with red roofs. It is a beautiful and historic sight indeed.

The sights are available on many websites and all photos are excellent representations of the sites. I took many photos while I was there but none were planned nor as well done as what I have enjoyed on these sights. But there is one thing I have that cannot be shared in a photo and that is the physical experience of traveling there. The true feel of the city must be experienced firsthand.

We arrived on June 11th which is the day after Portugal Day. This is the day in which all citizens and Portuguese Immigrants around the world celebrate their nationality. This is the day of the death of their nation’s great poet Luis de Camoes. Camoes wrote what is considered the greatest work of Portuguese History and the great feats of the Portuguese Empire. The celebration was the day before but the after party effects were in the streets.

Apparently the Portuguese have cookouts on their National Holiday like the Americans do on our National Holiday. But unlike the Americans, that cook burgers and hot dogs, the Portuguese cook sardines on the grill. Tasty I’m sure but the smell the following day engulfed the neighborhood. Smelly as it was it was not a deterrent to our travels.

The Alfama neighborhood was a beautiful area. Unlike the downtown area of Lisbon with its international flavor, it had the feel and appearance of the traditional old world Lisbon. The people were friendly and open and ready with a nod or wave. We happened upon a wedding and lingered to watch the excitement and joy of the family. A beautiful bride and a large gathering was a joy to see.
Once you reached the top you could feel the summer breeze and hear the sounds of the city rising up. I could feel it was a moment to remember and I have done so many times since. As beautiful as the sights are, I think it took all the senses to establish that moment in my mind.

Having been fortunate to travel and share my experiences I have noticed that showing pictures of your travels tends to have the same effect of seeing the old slide show of our neighbor’s summer vacation. Many of us have suffered through those. I now realize although we see the great photos and see their excitement we have not experienced being there. It takes the combination of all the senses to get the full effect.

The same is true for us as writers. We need to write with all the senses. We must not only paint the picture but we need to allow our readers to smell the roses, feel the breeze, hear the sounds and enjoy the celebration. I am not saying we must spend page after page describing in great detail each and every scene but make the reader aware of their surroundings in the story. If we do this we can establish a moment in their mind. Hopefully it will be a moment they will remember time and time again.        

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


By Ali Brandon

I’m one of those writers that we call “pantsers”…I write by the seat of my pants without a whole lot of prep. We pantsers run on instinct and flashes of brilliance, and we cross our fingers and hope it all works out. And usually it does, though not without a lot of sweat toward the end trying to wrap up all the loose ends.

This is as opposed to the “planner” types. You know who you are! You folks outline and write bios on your characters and pretty well have your story locked in before you begin. But, pantser or planner, sometimes we all have problems when it comes to establishing logical motivation for our characters. So what to do when this happens?

My best advice is to go back to the basics…and I’m talking WAY back. When you’re stumped for a motive, maybe when you’ve tangled yourself up in too complicated a background for your characters, why not go classical, even Biblical? Tap into The Seven Deadly Sins for the very fundamental motivations for humans since the beginning.

So, here you go. These sins obviously will apply to your villains…though, in moderation, they also serve as the necessary flaw in an otherwise likable hero or heroine:

·        WRATH – More commonly known as anger, Wrath is always a great motive. My killers all seem to be driven at least partially by rage of some sort, whether it is anger at the world for some perceived injustice, or anger at a particular person who they feel has done them wrong. As we all know—in real life, as well as in fiction—wrath can lead to murder, whether spontaneous or premeditated.
·        Greed – A staple of caper novels, Greed is usually--but not always--a motivation for theft. Greed, however, does not always have to be about money. Maybe your antagonist wants to control all the land in town, and your protagonist must try to stop his takeover. Or maybe said villain wants your hero’s great job, beautiful family, and overall successful life, and tries to destroy him or her to gain this.
·        Sloth --This sin is a bit harder to incorporate, but it’s still a useful one. Sloth can translate to a character’s deliberate inaction, which can result in something bad happening to a good person, setting the story line into motion.
·        Pride -- This sin can be a flaw, but it also can be a positive. In my BLACK CAT BOOKSHOP MYSTERIES, my protagonist, Darla Pettistone, has pride in her store and her employees, and this spurs many of her actions, including searching out murderers. But a villain overcome by Pride may stoop to all sorts of crimes, including murder, in order to keep his proud fa├žade intact.
·        Lust -- We all know about Lust! It can lead to many other bad things: cheating on spouses, sex crimes, even murder. I write cozy mysteries, so I haven’t tapped into this sin yet…but I might.
·        Envy -- When I envy you, I want what you have…but if I can’t have it, I don’t want you to have it, either. Envy is a sneaky little sin. It can appear as nothing worse than a bit of pettiness but, nurtured, it can lead to other, more serious sins…again, even murder.
·        Gluttony -- A 1st cousin to greed, and not only related simply to food. Gluttony is indulging in too much of anything. I may be rich, but I want to be richer! And sometimes the accumulation of wealth requires removing certain people from the picture.

And there you are. Now, next time you’re stumped for a motive for your bad guy or gal, simply reach for one of the Seven!
Ali Brandon is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Book 4 in the series, LITERALLY MURDER, will be on the shelf September 30. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, Ali penned the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award. Additionally, she is the author of five critically reviewed historical romances, which will soon be re-released as eBooks. A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Cat Writers Association. Visit her, and be sure to “like” Hamlet on .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Establishing Lyric

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Frequent establishing shot from TV's Seinfeld
At the beginning of any story, the first thing the audience wants to know is what's going on.  Those first few sentences have a duty to satisfy that curiosity by identifying some sense of who, what, when and where. In a song or poem, where much has to be conveyed in even fewer words, it's especially appreciated when the scene is set up front.

Just like the establishing shot in a movie, a good opening lyric gives the listener an instant understanding of the current state of affairs so that they feel caught up on whatever they need to know to jump right in with us.

Consider the opening lines of these hit songs from various genres.  In each of the following examples, they provide an establishing setup, if not a backstory, for what will be the closing line of the song:

"Yesterday" (The Beatles)
     First line: Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
     Last line: Oh, I believe in yesterday.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (from The Wizard of Oz)
     First line: Somewhere over the rainbow,way up high
     Last line: Why, oh why can't I?

"All By Myself" (Eric Carmen)
     First line: When I was young, I never needed anyone
     Last line: Don't wanna live all by myself anymore.

"Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" (Otis Redding)
     First line: Sittin' in the mornin' sun, I'll be sittin' till the evening's done
     Last line: Sittin' on the dock of the bay, wastin' time.

"Heartbreak Hotel" (Elvis Presley)
     First line: Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell
     Last line: I get so lonely, I could die.

"Sunshine of Your Love" (Cream)
     First line: It's getting near dawn
     Last line: I've been waiting so long to be where I'm going, in the sunshine of your love.

"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (Glen Campbell)
     First line: By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising
     Last line: She just didn't know I would really go.
"New York New York" (Frank Sinatra)
     First line: Start spreading the news, I'm leavin' today
     Last line: It's up to you, New York, New York.

Full circle is very satisfying, and a correspondence between the opening and closing lines offers that sense of fulfillment. But even more important is providing the listener with that helpful briefing up front. Giving them an easy invitation to follow along and not waste time sorting out what the song is about is music to their ears.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Consistency and Creativity: 5 Ways to Find Consistency and Maintain It

By R. H. Ramsey 

So often, we hear and read about consistency, one of the most popular phrases of all, is consistency is key.

I struggle with consistency. At one point, I worked out twice a day, watched what I ate, and kept a food journal. This went on for years, and I was able to do this, because I was in a place, emotionally, where I could conceptualize the goal and stick to it – I knew that I could stick to it. 

Now, I am ashamed to say, I have not worked out consistently in years. It has been sporadic, and it is nothing that I am proud of. I try not to make excuses, but I do have cluster headaches almost every day of the week, which seem to wipe me out and leave me with nothing but fatigue to my name.

When I feel that I am unable, or do not have the energy to commit, I procrastinate. I disappear. This applies to friendships, exercise, my eating habits, and school. The only exception is writing, as ideas come like floods, and if I don't have the time to work on the story, I know that I can at least jot down notes. Even this, my note taking process, I realize, is not what I would call consistent; it is more like organized chaos.

So, what do we do when energy is low, time is limited, life is demanding, and the things we once enjoyed are no longer, well, enjoyable?

Here it comes, that word thrown around so often it's nearly taunting, consistency. But I am not talking wake up at 5am, work out at 5:30am, eat breakfast before 7am, walk your dog at 8am consistency. I am talking about consistency on an emotional level.

Before I explain, take a look at this snippet from an excellent article I read on

“People are driven to be consistent in all areas of life — in their words, deeds, attitudes, opinions, beliefs, values, habits, and promises. Once a person makes a decision, takes a stand, or performs an action, he or she strives to make all future behavior match this past behavior.
Dieters stick with diet programs they've paid for, even long after it's clear they don't work. College students become fanatically loyal to campus societies after they've gone through difficult and embarrassing hazing. Donors find it difficult to refuse appeals once they've donated to a cause. Consumers stick with brands they've bought before, even if they're more expensive.”

More often than not, the simplest of things inspire me, just like you. And in reading this, even though the author had a lot more to say on the topic of consistency, I was reminded of the pressure we put on ourselves and one another to conquer things that get us nowhere. I thought of our constant need to control and conquer time. Only time cannot be conquered, and sometimes, there is much more to consistency, than control.

Here are some of my ideas, some of the things that work for me, as I work toward paying more attention to my needs and priorities – and marrying the two.

1.    Be conscious of the things you are telling yourself about this new venture. If you are telling yourself, it is going to be hard, it is never going to work, it is just to please someone else, or that it is stupid, work on your self-talk. Before you begin this new routine of meditating, exercising, writing, taking more pictures, practicing an instrument, training your voice, or painting – whatever it may be – try visualizing the results. I write about visualization, often, because for me, it is equivalent to writing a list or an outline. Visualization is also a great way to confirm, connect, and build anticipation. We need anticipation and high-to-reasonable expectations of ourselves.

2.    Choose your time wisely. When starting out with new projects and goals, think about starting small. Many nights, I can write from the time my children to bed, until between 2 and 5am – five - eight hours straight. Yet making the decision to hop on the elliptical for an hour may bore me after 15 minutes, and I will find myself turned off altogether for weeks to come. What about, keeping your needs in mind, not slacking, making excuses, or treating the goal as if it is not a priority. Just keep yourself, your personality, your needs, in mind. Putting pressure on yourself, I believe, is a sure fire way to make what could be a journey that brings amazing results, into a chore. And many times, no one wants to be forced to do a chore.

3.    If you know that you are trying something you do not enjoy, or something that is challenging, or deep down, you feel that it is taking up too much of your free time, find ways to incorporate it in increments. Think of creative ways to ease yourself into it. Maybe in the beginning, you implement it “in doses” throughout your day. Devote fifteen minutes upon rising. Give fifteen minutes to the new routine during your favorite television show or while sitting outdoors in your solitude. Try diving in, again, while listening to fifteen minutes of your favorite songs. Then, what about another fifteen minutes while substituting something that could wait/is a bit less of priority, to work on your goal. You've got yourself an hour. Not bad, right? I think an hour is wonderful!

4.    Distract yourself: “You don’t need to rely on your id for everyday decision-making, like whether to order the chicken or the fish. But if you want to pick like a pro, distract yourself for two minutes before you deliver a verdict. The most effective distractions are completely different from the original problem, says J. David Creswell, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. His favorite trick to tune out: turn up your favorite music.” ~I am a firm believer in distracting myself. When exercising, I distract myself with music. While editing and re-writing, I make time to distract myself and enjoy writing short stories. If I am having a bad day, and I catch myself before the mood spreads to “If I don't go to bed, soon, I am going to scream!” I distract myself with things that keep me centered. I think it's the same with new goals. As funny as it may sound, don't focus so hard on the hard part.

5.    Distract yourself with the outcome; distract with yourself from the voices that tell you you're going to quit – just like last time. Because guess what! If you do take a break, you've simply realized that now is not the time, and if you keep these rules in mind, you will come back and blow those voices away. For goodness sake! Stop being so hard on yourself. Everything happens for a reason. Everything happens when it should. You got this!

R. H. Ramsey has completed several novels, four novels near completion and five short stories.  She has three self-published books: Just Beneath the Surface IUndone, and Into the Atmosphere, with many more to come. Just Beneath the Surface 2: Landon's story will be published at the end of 2014. Her books have been acquired by an indie publisher. Just Beneath the Surface 2: Landon's Story is her current work in progress.With a passion for people, helping and learning, she hopes to continue in her quest of learning from and inspiring others. Connect with RH Ramsey: and and

Friday, November 14, 2014

LISTEN UP- A Story To Tell


You have heard the expression:  “We all have a story to tell.”   Sometimes we convey a story from our life experiences, but largely, we gain our knowledge from research; our imagination; and if we are very lucky, tales passed down to us from others.  No matter the source of our inspiration, it is that ah ha! moment that gives a writer that secret smile and the anticipatory thrill of starting a new project.

But…it seems to me that Southern writers have a unique advantage over writers from different locales, in that, Southerners love to tell stories.  We sit in rocking chairs on the veranda with a perfectly brewed glass of sweet tea and listen to tales passed down from generation to generation from our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins  Grandma says, “Remember the time…?”  Daddy says, “When we were youngens…” and the story begins and told with a flare and, undoubtedly, a smattering of embellishment thrown in for affect.  No matter what age we are at the time of the telling, listen up, because what you are hearing may be the catalyst for the next great American novel.

 I remember vividly my ah ha moment—that second when the seed was planted for The Disappointment Room.  I was sitting at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, my oldest son, a toddler, on her knee.  In her sweet Lowcountry drawl, she looked over at me and said, “Dah-lin’, I want to tell you a stow-ree.”  My father-in-law’s family owned a working cotton and indigo plantation before the Civil War and from tales passed down to me and my children from antebellum days, and one in particular, about a disappointment room in the plantation house, a novel was born.

We never know when we will hear something that sparks our creative mind and gives us the fodder for our work, so listen up; pay attention to the stories, and keep your pen handy.

In addition to the handy pen, here are a few suggestions for preparation of your Pulitzer Prize winning work:
1.      Keep an open mind and think outside the box.  You can find a story in a paper bag if you have a ripe imagination.
2.     Keep a journal or a daily idea log.  We are all so busy with our lives that we don’t always have time to jot down ideas, so at the end of the day, write down what inspired you.
3.     Tuck a small notebook or a hand-held recorder in your purse or pocket for those times when you do have time to note something that you saw or heard that you can add to your work in progress or a new premise.
4.     Talk to your family and friends about their lives and ancestor’s lives.  It’s amazing what you can learn from the stow-rees.
DEE PHELPS is an alumnus of The University of Pittsburgh and Wharton School of Nursing. Dee was inspired to write THE DISAPPOINTMENT ROOM as a result of fascinating and sometimes harrowing stories passed down from her ancestors who once owned a Lowcountry cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina. She is the author of the children’s book THE FLOWER IN THE THICKETS written under the pen name, Marcella Miller. She has written numerous international travel articles for national magazines. A surgical nurse for over twenty-five years, Dee lives in Beaufort. South Carolina. She won the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel at Killer Nashville in August 2014. Her website is at