Friday, December 9, 2016

Development of a Historical Book Cover

By Heather Day Gilbert

Ask any historical indie author, and you'll soon find that putting together a convincing historical cover (without paying for an individual model shoot) can be difficult. Stock art photos are very limited in terms of finding characters that a) represent your characters accurately, and b) are costumed authentically to the time period you're writing about.

For my first Viking historical novel, God's Daughter, my talented brother Jon was my cover artist. We found a stock art photo of a Viking woman, authentically dressed, who looked very similar to my main character, Gudrid. We altered her eye color, lightened her hair, toned down her makeup as much as possible, manipulated the background, and basically built a cover around that stock photo. The only problem is that many other Viking-era authors (mostly romance authors) used the same stock photo, so my cover was not as unique as I had hoped it would be (although it does stand out, both in Christian book circles and on the Amazon Norse bestseller list, where it's remained for three years).

For my second-in-series novel, Forest Child, I had a strong idea of how I wanted the cover character to look. Freydis is a deadly Viking warrior, and I hoped to show her facing the reader directly, a challenging look in her eyes.

My brother Jon and I set about finding a stock photo we could work with, this time hoping to add costuming and background to make the model look different. I found a photo that drew me in, and here's Jon's initial mockup of it:

Obviously, this wasn't the finished product (we would fix the leaves on her head, add more clothing, etc.), but I did love this girl's dead-on glare and her blue eyes and freckles. However, when I showed this one to a couple of author friends, they felt it looked more like a fantasy cover than a historical cover. Also, this girl seemed too young. She wasn't quite right.

We moved on to stock art woman number two—a woman with wild red hair like Freydis. I liked her serious, yet wistful vibe:
Jon took this photo and designed an amazing arrow for her, then integrated a photo of his wife's hand so she could hold said arrow. He added the cloak, toned down the makeup and added freckles and more hair, as well as a leafy forest background. I felt we were getting really close...

But something still wasn't quite right about her. She looked a bit too vulnerable and soft for my heroine.

THEN I found this stock art photo when I was trolling around, looking for just the right redhead:

Now, this woman HAD something—a glare, a haughty look, a challenge in her blue eyes. I loved how she was facing the reader, completely fearless.
But my brother was busy and didn't have time to work on all the elements we'd need to alter to go in this totally new direction. So I contacted my mystery cover designer, Jenny at Seedlings Design. Jenny felt she could integrate all the changes I needed. We proceeded to tone down the makeup, add freckles, make her hair redder, add a cloak and arrows, add curling hair tendrils, and tweak an amazing leaf-strewn background...

When the final changes were integrated, I KNEW I was looking right at the Viking warrior-woman I'd pictured for years in my head:

I'm a firm believer that with my cover art, I'll know it when I see it, and I knew this was the right cover for Forest Child because it was unique and represented my main character so perfectly.

Hope you've enjoyed this behind-the-curtains peek at the development of cover art for a Viking historical cover! I'd love input from other indie authors (especially historical) as to your cover design process!

HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, generational story-telling runs in her blood. Heather is a graduate of Bob Jones University, and she and her husband are raising their children in the same home in which Heather grew up. Heather is represented by Rebeca Seitz and Jonathan Clements of SON Studios in FL. Heather's Viking historical novel, God's Daughter, is an Amazon Norse Bestseller. She is also the author of the bestselling A Murder in the Mountains mystery series and the Hemlock Creek Suspense series. Heather also authored the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. Find out more at

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Road Trip can Embellish Your Writing

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Recently I took a quick trip further south into Mississippi and Alabama. It took me from metro Memphis, to suburb, to southern hamlets and to rural southern venues. 

I saw a restaurant newly renamed "Harry's Tacos" the sign looked like a child had used crayons to write in crooked poorly spaced primitive looking letters. 

Another resturant on the highway was named "Slugburger Cafe." However we did note it had a booming breakfast business judging by all the vehicles in the parking lot. If you are interested in reading about Slugburgers here is the "history." Spoiler alert they are not named for the slug critter but rather the slang for a nickle. 

I passed a distracted driver who I thought was texting but wasn't as I discovered. I observed the driver was using no hands to drive while he placed chewing tobacco in his mouth. He then used his teeth to pull the string to close the tobacco bag. He did all this going 65 miles an hour. The angels were with him because his driving was terrible as he drifted from lane to lane. 

You could tell it was hunting season. Leaves had turned to brilliant fall colors and then fallen.  Pickups were pulled off the highway at various angles near trees areas. It was common place to see groups of men in full camouflage walking with guns into these woods. Since I was traveling I didn't observe them returning to their trucks with their daily limit. These are folks that carry on the hunting traditions learned from past generations. These hunter's freezers will be full of meat they will eat and share with neighbors. 

As writers these glimpses into Southern Americana can give you fuel to write a short story. You could use any one of these observations to add depth to a scene or create interesting dialogue. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Face of Success

By Anita Stafford

When I became a writer, I was sure I knew how success would look if it should appear before me. Success, for me, would be acquiring an enthusiastic agent and a well-known publisher. Success would be a full schedule of book signings.

I envisioned the face of success as beautiful. She was all dazzle and glitter, and she wore high-heeled shoes. Her energy was boundless. Her charm was mesmerizing.

Over time, as I became a more seasoned writer, I began to question my initial view of success. As one agent after another read and rejected my work, my thinking began to shift. It was just an idea, but perhaps one could be a success without an agent or a well-known publisher. Perhaps one could be a success without any dazzle and glitter.

I made the decision to focus less on my book manuscripts and to try sending out some of my shorter works. When I began to receive acceptance letters, my bruised ego started to heal. My confidence bloomed when the same publications used my work multiple times.

Success did not look at all like I expected. Success had a plain face. She did not demand attention. She wore work shoes and was no stranger to long hours and sweat. Her strength sometimes increased, other times waned, but she moved with diligence. I had met success face to face.

The following are some of the ways I now measure success:

Receiving an acceptance letter
Seeing my name on the byline in a publication
Receiving a thank-you note from an editor
Being told that my writing is enjoyable or meaningful
Hearing my family or friends say they are proud of me

Writing has been both a frustrating and a satisfying avocation choice for me. Unlike other jobs, in writing there are no promotions based on years of service or automatic pay increases. A writer may wait months to hear nothing from an agent. The ladder of success in writing can be a steep climb. A writer must decide for himself what constitutes success in his work, but one thing I know, the face of success can only be seen when you’re doing what you love.

Anita Stafford grew up on a dairy farm in northern Arkansas. She learned to cook at a young age and now enjoys sharing recipes on her blog, Sugar Spice and Spilled Milk. She is a twenty-two year veteran of public education and is also a Licensed Professional Counselor. Website Twitter @staffordanita FB Instagram Recipe blog

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Nugget for Writers

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

Debra Holt, author of Claiming the Maverick’s Heart, said in her guest post on SWM's Suite T, November 25th, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was one tried and true method, one foolproof blueprint for all new writers to follow in order to have instant success with your writing career?”

I agree with Debra that would truly be wonderful. Just think how much easier it would be for new writers as well as for experienced writers. But alas, we can’t be cookie cutter writers.

Yet, there is a way for every writer to become a good writer––yes…that true and tried method of practice, practice, practice. But, there is also a type of blue-print you may not know about.

Whether you are a new writer or one who has been writing for years, it is important we continue educating ourselves on writing techniques. One of the easiest ways is to read books on writing. There are hundreds on the market on the different techniques such as dialogue, plot, scenes, settings, story lines, character development, and the list goes on.

Another smart way to learn is to see how successful writers do it. One writer may be an outliner, one may be a panster. One decides on a theme, another creates a character and let’s their character lead the story.

Each person has their way of learning. In other words, some of us like to watch someone do it, while others want to follow directions. It is important to find what works best for you. Once you do, then, like any profession, continue educating yourself.

What some writers forget is that it is important to see how other authors do it. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel. Example: If Suzie Q, a successful published author says in an interview she did or does something to make her writing better…then should you not try that technique? If it works for her, it may work for you. Reading what someone else does gives your creative brain information that can work for you.

When I talk with authors about their writing techniques they are always open to sharing how they write, what works for them even what doesn’t work. The good and the bad they’ve experienced. Through listening to them, I have learned each one of these authors are serious about their writing and spend the time and effort and yes money to become better at their craft. Could this be a blue-print?

Who knows, one little nugget of information on how one author was successful could catapult your next book into the fast lane to success. Worth a try!

Monday, December 5, 2016

How to Write an Emotional Scene that Will Make Both Readers Cry

By Michelle Sutton

I've been working on the writing craft for over twelve years now and I've learned a lot of things about creating character emotions that readers will feel as they read a book. One secret is realistic dialog. Have the character say something then provide an inner dialog that takes the reader even deeper into the character's thoughts and emotions.

You want your reader to forget they are reading a book. You want them to feel like they are the character and going through the same situation. If you tell the reader how to feel, though, you ruin the experience for them.

Very early on, I read a book called, "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein. It was recommended by an editor friend and it changed the way I wrote. Stein talked about the writer creating an envelope and letting the reader fill it while reading the novel. Between that book and Orson Scott Card's book on creating character emotion, I started to finally grasp the concepts that revamped my writing style completely. 
Following the advice from these two books helped me reduce the "telling" problem that new authors often fall into when they first learn to write.

I then developed the technique of getting my reader into the character's head so the reader is inside the person looking out rather than being outside the character's head and watching them from a detached point of view. That's when the fun part of writing begins. There are so many ways to evoke emotion in a reader. The secret is to vary the way you describe things.

Describing visceral feelings will create emotional responses in the reader.  Scenes describing the tension in a character's muscles, the furrowing of their brow, clenching their fists, blinking back tears, and swallowing that painful tightness in the throat are ways to cause the reader to experience emotion.

Writing that a character cried causes them not to cry per Orson Scott Card. I try to remember that when I create an emotional scene. That said, I just sobbed through a scene from a book I wrote back in 2009. If I can feel the emotion, then hopefully my readers will, too. That's what every author wants…to create a powerful emotional experience for the reader.

Emotional responses to novels are what cause word of mouth sales and it is the best form of marketing. Everyone wants to feel something when they read a story or what's the point? The key is to get them to care about the characters and to experience life inside the character's head.

Thanks for reading my blog post.
Michelle Sutton is the author of over twenty inspirational novels, and an avid blogger and book reviewer. She resides in Arizona. Her social media links are MichelleSutton on twitter, MichelleSuttonAuthor and AuthorMichelleSutton on Facebook, and my book review blog is

Friday, December 2, 2016

Work’s a Gift

By Linda Brooks Davis

Everyone worked at my home, a South Texas farm near the Mexican border.

My playmates were children of Mexican laborers. Language never hindered playing la casa, making mud pies, or rocking los bebés. Frijoles and tamales served from stewpots over open fires tasted delicioso in either language. I learned outside their homes a broom works great on hardened soil.

Daddy paid workers on Saturdays, some by the hour, others by production. Lining up, they extended their hands, and he laid cash across their open palms. They checked figures scribbled on paper scraps, trusting el patrón to correct discrepancies. Humble, grateful people, they showed respect.

Daddy verified immigration paperwork for those whom he housed. Others lived in the shadows, arriving around sunup and disappearing before sundown when a car or truck would rattle alongside the field. The shadow worker would slip inside, and the vehicle would clatter toward the horizon.

Occasionally, however, an alarm shouted in Spanish would sound across the field. Dropping his cotton sack, a worker would dash toward the trailer in the turn row. He and a compadre would leap over the sides and dig a hole in the freshly picked cotton like hounds burrowing under a house. The first crawled in, and the other covered him up.

The immigration officer making his rounds would walk into the field and occasionally stomp around inside the trailer, searching for man-sized lumps. I never witnessed the discovery of a shadow worker, but I heard about them. Worst of all, I heard about tragedies. With very little oxygen between tightly packed fluffs of cotton, a man could suffocate and occasionally would. I wondered what would lead a man to take such chances and how my law-abiding, God-loving father justified his complicity. So I asked.

“Desperation, sugar. All they want is work. I can’t turn them away. Work’s a gift.”

Since when is work a gift? I wondered. Years later I understood. The strength to work was God’s gift. The opportunity to work was Daddy’s. And the fruit of a man’s labor was the gift he sent home each week.

At Christmas we enjoyed preparing bushel baskets of meats, fruits and vegetables, candy and nuts, and toys for each family. I wondered about those who stayed around only for a day. Would their children find fruits, nuts, or even a piece of candy on Christmas morning?

Answers evaded me then, but as a writer in my eighth decade of life, I count the strength for each day of writing to be a gift, as is less pain in my arthritic hands and back … a unique turn of a phrase … and an invitation to write a blog.

Protecting our safety isn’t what it was in 1956, but work’s still a gift. Come to think of it, an idea for a novel—one set in the southern tip of Texas, a story about a loving, destitute man who wants only to provide for his family—is work, but it’s a gift.

Linda Brooks Davis, winner of 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel and 2016 ACFW Carol Award, Debut Category, has lived in multiple states and outside the U.S, but she speaks Texan. Born and reared in Raymondville, a small farming town in the southernmost tip of Texas, Linda holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees. She devoted forty years to the education of students with special needs before settling down to her lifelong dream: writing. Set in 1905 pre-statehood Oklahoma, THE CALLING OF ELLA MCFARLAND, an inspirational historical with a strong romantic thread, debuted on December 1, 2015.When not writing, Linda enjoys Bible study, reading, and researching genealogy. She and her husband dote on six grandchildren, three of whom arrived in 2005--in triplicate form. In her first published article, "The Choice", which appeared in 2011 in LIVE, a publication of Gospel Publishing House, she chronicled her daughter's agonizing at-risk triplet pregnancy and the heart-wrenching choice her medical team placed before her.Linda likes to brag on her daughter and son, both veterinarians who like one another well enough to practice together. In Texas that's called learnin' to get along.You may visit Linda at Porch light's always on.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

1 Leads to 2 Then 2 Billion

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

I enjoy a McDonald’s bacon egg and cheese biscuit about 2 to 3 times a year. It has to be a special occasion such as having the grandkids over but even then the breakfast trip to McDonald’s makes the occasion even more exciting.

Now I’m not McDonald’s biggest customer with only 2 to 3 purchases a year. McDonald’s CEO recently announced the company was going to serve only cage free eggs. He went on the say that would be over 2 Billion eggs a year. I realize my 2 or 3 aren’t much compared to 2 Billion but they do all add up.

The same is true for writers. We start with a word or two and before we know it they add up to a paragraph, page, chapter, short story or book. I am a fan of the short story. One of my favorites was a 2009 John Grisham book of short stories call Ford County. Grisham took some of his better shorts, put them together and they added up to one great book.    

In some cases writers take their individual stories and compile them in an anthology. Chicken Soup for the Soul is an example of this. Another example would be our local writers group of some 26 or more writers annually compiling their own anthology. It is a great way to gather the efforts of several writers and produce a very interesting collaboration. Everyone can be a part of the work without carrying the full weight of the production.

Over the years I have known of pastors putting their sermons together to form a book. Imagine preaching one sermon each week then bring them together for a book. In another case a psychologist has a nationwide practice complete with newsletter, blog and interactive sites. She has taken her blogs combined them by topic and created many topic related eBooks.

Since the founding of Southern Writers Magazine I and others have written blogs for our blog site Suite T. To show you how 1 leads to 2 then 2 Billion here is an example. I do not have 2 Billion blog entries but I do have, as of this post, 149. 1 post every 2 weeks has led to 149. Other staff members have more or less but each of us have enough material to put into a book or eBook. It didn’t come over night or within a break neck period of deadline meeting writing, but it did come, it all added up.

Now it is your turn. What have you done with your writing over the years? Have you logged numerous short stories or blogs? Maybe you should consider gathering them together for a book or eBook. What you have done over the years has added up to something you may have yet to realize. 1 can lead to 2 then, if not to 2 Billion, to a book. Look into it, you may be happily surprised.