Monday, July 28, 2014

Writing Inspired Ideas

By Brenda Novak  

The one question I am asked far more than any other is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

When I first started writing, I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to convey, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place.

After five years spent researching the Victorian time period and teaching myself the craft of storytelling, I managed to sell that book to HarperCollins. The publisher even let me keep my precious title from which all else had sprung. But with OF NOBLE BIRTH finally finished and sold, I soon realized that was NOT the only book I would ever need to write if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I had to write another story, and another, and another. That meant I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over—until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned to me the week before, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.

Some days, I still fear I’ll run out of ideas. After I wrote my last suspense trilogy (INSIDE, IN SECONDS & IN CLOSE), my work came to a grinding halt. “What should I do next?” I asked myself. And there was no answer! I thought my imagination had failed me after thirty-something novels. But it just wanted to go in a different direction. Once I realized that I was craving a return to my contemporary romance roots, a juicy drama started to take shape in my mind about a group of friends (both male and female) who have grown up together and currently live in a small gold country town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills (like those not far from where I live). I could easily conjure up the setting and the type of people my characters would need to be to remain fast friends for so long.

With that, I was able to write brief story outlines. One book after another began to take shape until I had a yet-to-be-written inventory of twelve books, beginning with a digital prequel called WHEN WE TOUCH, which kicks things off with a bang. (Actually, it all starts with a wedding—but not the wedding everyone’s been expecting. What would be the fun in writing about that?) Since then, I’ve written seven of those twelve books. The latest, COME HOME TO ME, is available.

So…where do you get your ideas?
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak writes contemporary romance as well as historical romance and romantic suspense. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May at To date, she’s raised over $2 million to help her son and others like him and is currently gearing up for the fundraiser's ten-year anniversary. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life. Website: Facebook:  Twitter: @Brenda_Novak


Friday, July 25, 2014

A Crime Writer’s Adventure

By Stephen Puleston

The first chapter has to grab the reader’s attention. There’s no escaping this fact and the author can’t give the reader any opportunity to close the book. And keeping the readers interested is another key task for the author. I worked with an editor on one of my books who advised me to avoid the ‘25% slump’ – a point at approximately a quarter of the way through the book where the momentum and pace sags enough for the reader to close the book. Now I aim to introduce a twist or turn at this point or something that keeps the reader hooked.

The more I write the more I plot. This is usually a full plot narrative with the main event, character arcs and twist and turns included. As I write crime fiction I generally write a murder schedule too that sets out the motives, suspects and red herrings for all the deaths. But plotting is one thing and allowing the characters to take the story in various directions is quite another so quite often I’ll change the direction or remove/add a character. I keep my chapters reasonably short and I aim for a ‘cliffhanger’ at the end. It may be a cliché but I want to keep my readers turning the pages of my novel.

Edit, then edit again and again. Once the first complete draft is written I then start editing. This means printing off a scene schedule [old fashioned I know] which has all the chapters and scenes listed with summaries of the content of each scene. This gives me the ability to take an overview of the whole book and see what chapters and scenes can be deleted. 

A writer’s favourite command on the keyboard is the delete key. I have a folder called deleted scenes but although it’s quite full I have never gone back to it. If you’ve written one good scene then you can write more that are even better.
Some basics.  I always avoid using adverbs and keep adjectives to a minimum and if I find myself tempted to use speak attribution other than ‘she/he said’ I always rewrite. The dialogue should always carry the meaning – anything else is lazy writing.

Don’t be afraid of deleting – I often catch myself thinking that I’ve written a great scene. But then I think what purpose does it serve? If it doesn’t move the plot forward or tell us something about the character then delete it.

Stephen Puleston published the first novel in a series featuring Inspector Drake based in North Wales and also the first in a series with Inspector John Marco based in Cardiff. The first Drake mystery is called BRASS IN POCKET (currently free on Amazon) and the second WORSE THAN DEAD available now. Stephen’s second detective is Inspector Marco who comes from an Italian/Welsh background and he lives in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. The first Inspector Marco novel SPEECHLESS has been published on Amazon and the second and third in the series will be published in 2014. Brought up on the Isle of Anglesey, off the North Wales coast and Stephen went to school in Holyhead. After a degree in Theology from London University I decided to train as a lawyer and returned to work in the practice run by my father on Anglesey. For many years I worked as a lawyer in a small practice representing clients in the criminal courts and doing divorce work all of which has given me valuable raw material for my novels. He still live and work in North Wales where the Inspector Drake novels are set. Before turning to crime fiction I had written three other unpublished novels and you can read about my writing and about Wales, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, on my website - You can contact him on twitter @stephenpuleston or @inspector_marco  Facebook


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Finish The Story So Your Readers Want More

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Summer with more daylight has always been the time I read, more than any other season in the year. I gravitate towards young adult reading because I enjoy the reminders of countless hours spent reading with my children. 

The most recent young adult book, I picked up, was a great read until the last third of the book. It was historical and immersed the reader into the story. It contained a passion on two levels: to save the main protagonist and an exciting mission. There was human evil, a chase in harsh conditions, a couple of almost captures, and then escape. 

However, at that point it took a darker than dark turn without any thought toward contribution to the story thus far. It was only one chapter that should have been edited away. Clearly the protagonist was in peril, but this development had nothing really to do with the theme quest of the book. It seemed to be included for shock factor and unnecessary. Keep in mind the book's target readers are young adults. 

The end of the book was rushed. A new dangerous peril occurred for the protagonist and her mission. Danger was handled with the sacrifice of a character who had been on the journey from the first page of the book. The last chapter left too many loose ends unresolved. The book was left without a real ending and made this reader mad that the writer had not completed the tale. Complete the story in each book or you will lose readers, like me. 

As a writing exercise, I finished the story for my own satisfaction. It was fun and gave me a sense of a complete book. Have you done this? 

Let me know, but please do not name the book or author. At Southern Writers Magazine, we support all authors and their hard work. We never bash an author. I'm just curious, do you ever write the ending of a book differently than the author? 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


By Lynne Gentry

Readers read for a lot of reasons. Entertainment. Education. And escape. How can authors create a world readers will hate to leave?

Pay attention to the three crucial elements of building a story world:

1.               SETTING. Description of the sights, sounds, and smells of your characters’ surroundings is crucial. I write historical romance with a time travel twist. Hours of research goes into discovering the design and texture of clothing, the construction materials used in the buildings, the smells of the market, and even the seasonal changes and climate. Anything that will build the story world. I envy authors who can pop over to the coast to research their beach novel or troll through small southern towns for firsthand details. Does that mean I can’t add layers of authenticity to my settings? No. Since I can’t physically go to third-century Carthage, successful world building will require a different kind of work. I study pictures, look for travel reviews or blogs from people who’ve toured the ruins, and order every book I can find about the history or culture.  

2.               DIALOGUE. Keep the words your characters speak true to their characters but also true to their world. For example, it drives me crazy to hear Jesus speaking with a British accent. But Downton Abbey wouldn’t have near the impact if those characters were speaking with a Texas accent. In HEALER OF CARTHAGE, I created a Down’s syndrome character with a slight lisp. His purpose in the story world? Show how Romans believed imperfection was to be hidden or destroyed, which in turn creates a feeling of danger in the world I’ve created because all the characters fear their own imperfections might be discovered.

3.               NARRATIVE. These filler paragraphs, the ones readers often skim, are delicious opportunities to slow them down and drag them deeper into the world. How? Paint this world by combining sensory proofs of the setting with the emotional needs of the characters. Here’s an example narrative of a slave plotting her freedom in HEALER OF CARTHAGE:
Magdalena waded through the litter of discarded tunics, robes, and half-written scrolls scattered over thick carpets imported from Egypt. She hated how the disorder of Aspasius’s personal life repeated itself in his erratic and spendthrift governing. Doing what she could to bring his reign to an end would benefit more than just her. History would thank her one day.

The description of the bedchamber became more than filler, it became another layer of the story world when it took on the chaos the character felt. Sensory proof combined with emotional needs.

The writing tool I keep beside my computer is Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. Read it and gain the skills to build worlds a reader will never want to leave.

Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications. Her newest novel, Healer of Carthage, is the first in The Carthage Chronicles series. She is a professional acting coach, theater director, and playwright with several full-length musicals and a children’s theater curriculum to her credit. Lynne is an inspirational speaker and dramatic performer whose first love is spending time with family. Lynne can be found at her Website:  Facebook: Author Lynne Gentry Twitter: Pinterest: Youtube: Simon & Schuster:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stories Are Here, There, and Everywhere

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

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”  Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game)

I agree with Mr. Card. As a matter of fact, I was thinking the other day, about all the possible stories I walked past when I worked in downtown Nashville in the 60’s and 70’s. It was somewhat different then that it is now. There were more colorful people on the street. If only! Yes, if only I had jotted down notes about the things and the people I saw each day.

One day in particular, I was watching some men who were working on the roof of a building. They were constructing a building in downtown Nashville. The construction had gone on almost a year when one day, watching out my office window, I see a man fall off the roof. I was dumbstruck. Why did I not make a note about this happening?

I agree, wherever we look, there is a story. Only the writer sees the story– while others go on about their business not seeing.

I have learned to carry a notepad with me wherever I go, so I can capture what I see. What sticks out? What looks odd or funny? Creativity and imagination can take those things we see and conjure up different worlds of fantasy and science fiction, romance and mystery.

Jane Hyatt Yolen said, “Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leverage Our Writing Assets

By Steve Bradshaw

Writers are born—at all ages. We come from every part of the planet with our unique knowledge base, skillsets and perceptions that forever influence our view of all the universe has to offer. Although we are different in many ways, we are connected by the insatiable desire to tell a meaningful and worthwhile story—sooner or later. Although there are numerous factors that come into play, I believe a big part of our writing success is determined by how we leverage our unique assets.

Each day I pound my keyboard alone with my thoughts and dreams and objectives. I make huge withdrawals from my private-world depository and attempt to find the perfect words to create the perfect sentence to build the perfect paragraph that grows into the perfect chapter. I strive to erect the perfect plot, produce the perfect characters, forge the perfect conflicts, hatch the perfect cliffhangers, and bring into existence the perfect resolutions to give rise to the perfect novel. I gather my ideas like a man chasing a thousand butterflies with a tiny net. Most are never caught. Some flutter away for another day. Many die in my net or are horribly damaged in the process. But when I’m lucky, I find the perfect specimens that become the miracles from which my stories are born.

Leveraging one’s assets is like catching perfect butterflies. We all have them, but before we can leverage them we must know those relevant to our writing career. For example, my road to writing traversed fascinating worlds I now draw upon. I was the youngest forensic field agent in Texas history to investigate over three-thousand unexplained deaths. I also developed new medical technology with FORTUNE 500 companies advancing healthcare around the world. And I was a founder-president/CEO of a game-changing biotech company. I raised millions of dollars and developed new age medical devices. Just these life experiences alone provide an unlimited supply of butterflies relevant to my mystery/thriller writing career.

When I leverage my assets correctly, I write stories that draw upon my life experiences that will take my audience to places where I am the profound expert. With me they have a unique opportunity to go where they’ve never been, to see and feel what they would never experience. Because I personally controlled horrific death scenes and was on teams hunting real monsters, I have mountains of information to weave into the stories I create.

Because I controlled powerful boardrooms shaping business plans and futures in our modern world, I have intimate knowledge of people, technology, and business dynamics. I leverage these knowledge-assets when I create fascinating characters and define ground breaking science, and when I shine light on world changing concepts moving from theory to practice at great risk, and when opportunity for enormous success turns into a horrible catastrophe.  

Knowing our assets and using them effectively in our writing can increase the value of our stories because people listen to experts. They lose interest when we don’t know what we are talking about. We must know our fields of expertise. We must leverage the abounding assets that create unique experiences within our stories. If we do it well, we attract and build audience.  
Steve BradshawForensic Investigator, Biotechnology Entrepreneur, Author—received his BA at the University of Texas, trained at the Institute of Forensic Sciences, and investigated 3,000 unexplained deaths. His career with FORTUNE 500s, and as founder-president/CEO of an innovative biomedical company, introduced advanced medical technology improving healthcare around the world. Now, Steve draws upon his experiences in fascinating worlds of biotechnology breakthroughs and the forensic pursuit of real monsters. Steve’s debut novel BLUFF CITY BUTCHER is a 2013 Darrell Award finalist—best science fiction, mystery/thriller in MidSouth. The second book of the Bell Trilogy, THE SKIES ROARED, releases July 2013 is a Darrell Award finalist for 2014. WEBSITES & BLOG  SOCIAL NETWORK LINKS 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Unique Writing; Keeping Jack Swyteck Fresh from Book 1 (The Pardon) through Book 11 (Black Horizon)

By James Grippando

My favorite part of any book signing is the Q&A with the audience, and at a recent event for “BLACK HORIZON”) (HarperCollins March 2004), one of my readers asked a very thoughtful question.  Black Horizon is my 21st novel over all, and the eleventh (whew!) in the series featuring Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck.  “With eleven books in the series,” she asked, “how do you keep Jack Swyteck fresh?”

That’s a complicated question and a challenge for any writer who creates a series.  You have to ask yourself up front:  Will my serial character be ageless and in his late thirties forever, like James Bond, or will he evolve over time?   The second option provides more opportunities to keep your character fresh over the life of the series.  Never being one to shy away from the easier (I didn’t say “easy”) route, I did exactly that with Jack Swyteck. 

The best advice I can give any writer of a series is to have a quick handle that describes your character.  If your intention is for the character to grow from book to book, that quick handle should reflect some important change in the character’s life that marks the development of your lead.   Often that defining character is in relation to some other character that is important in the life of your lead.  For example, compare my “handle” for Jack Swyteck from Book 1, “The Pardon,” to Book 11, “Black Horizon”): Swyteck No. 1 (The Pardon): “Jack Swyteck is a young, Miami criminal defense lawyer who defends death row inmates, and his father is the law and order governor of Florida who signs their death warrants.”

The “handle” not only defines Jack, but it sets forth a key conflict in Jack’s life.  You can bet there are some “father-son” issues that need to be resolved.  Compare that to Book 11:
Swyteck No. 11 (Black Horizon):   Jack is seasoned Miami attorney who doesn’t trust the government.  His new wife Andie Henning is a rising star in the FBI who works undercover.  Newlyweds from different worlds; it must be karma.  Or insanity.  

These quick descriptions tell you a lot about Jack and the series.   He’s come a long way, but he still has room to grow.  Will he and Andie survive?  Will they have children?  Will Jack’s issues with his father carry over to his fatherhood?  What kind of a mother will an FBI undercover agent make? 
All these (and more) are “fresh” issues.  I’m glad I didn’t make Jack 37 forever.

James Grippando is a New York Times bestselling author whose novels are enjoyed worldwide in more than 25 languages. As a lawyer, Grippando wrote numerous scholarly articles. A near arrest in a case of mistaken identity sparked an idea for a novel about a man accused of a murder that he may not have committed. His latest thriller, “Black Horizon,” is his twenty-first novel over all, and the eleventh in the acclaimed series featuring Miami attorney Jack Swyteck.  Most of his novels are set in Florida. Since 2004 he has served as "Counsel" in Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP. Visit his website at