Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Olympics, Balance and Writing––What Do They Have in Common?

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

A great deal of the world watched the Olympics. The men and women who competed have above average skills and abilities. Obviously they have worked and trained to achieve these levels. Accolades should be showered on all of them.

Among the people watching the Olympics are authors of all levels including beginning writers.  I am curious as to how many stories will be written about the one disgrace instead of all the wonderful achievements attained and the people who won the medals. How much focus will be put on these men and women compared to the focus that will be put on Ryan Lochte.

The media has made a field day of that mistake; certainly it should not have been hidden, but balance is important.

When we write our stories, it is important for us to keep in mind balance and where to use it to bring the stability to the story that is needed. Balance can be defined as the power to decide an outcome by throwing one's strength, influence, support, or the like, to one side or the other. As authors that’s what we do because we wield that power in creating our characters moves, their dialogue, plots and scenes. When we allow ourselves to unbalance different areas in our story, it becomes one-sided and can cause the reader confusion. More important it can cause a tension level that makes the reader feel uncomfortable.

It is important to be able as a writer to weigh the story. To make sure different elements that are needed in the story are in the correct proportions to keep our readers involved in and coming back to read more of our work.

Gloria Kempton wrote an article, “How to Balance Action, Narrative and Dialogue in Your Novel” in which she said, “Most of the time, we want to balance our scenes using three elements of fiction: dialogue, action and narrative. This is one reason you want to put your character in a scene with other characters as often as possible. Scenes that weave together these three elements engage the reader at an emotional level much more effectively than scenes that are only dialogue, only narrative or only action.” Click to see the full article.

We can keep the balance of our story by making sure we use the right elements when they are needed. 

How do you know you have balance in your story? It will flow.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Changing Directions

By Phyllis f. McManus

I’ve been revisiting some of my first books over the past several weeks. I was anxious to see if I still approved of my style of writing or if I should decide to change and go into an entirely different direction.

I started writing in the late part of 2002 when I lost both my parents in a car accident. I had lost not only my parents, but myself as well.  After several discussions with my doctor, I decided to start writing as a form of therapy.

I took a deep breath, placed pen in hand and started writing about Momma and Daddy. I kept an old picture in front of me of my parents and me as a child. I hoped this would keep me pointed in the right direction.

I wrote with a fury, throwing my heart and soul into each page. After putting more tears on the paper than words I decided to go from nonfiction to fiction, change directions and continue with writing.  This seemed to work for me, and after a few months I had my first book called Forever Girl. It was set in the 1930’s.

I found that for some reason I liked placing my characters in these years, but research was a must for getting the exact clothing, cars and even news events correct for this time period.

After a couple of books in this time zone, I changed directions and decided to write in the time period of around 2010. By now my style of writing had actually started to change also. I found my characters becoming sassy, much more Southern and had a slight attitude. This was a sure sign that writing had become just what the doctor had ordered for me.

I have enjoyed my journey of writing and recommend it to everyone that needs a change in their life. It might be simply writing in a diary or keeping a journal of their everyday memories.

Changing directions in one’s life can be hard, but it can also be a rewarding event. After eight books, public speaking, and several articles for magazines, I am proof of this fact. Never settle for one direction in life. Take a chance and go for whatever your dreams may be. You will never know unless you try.
Phyllis f. McManus is a Southern fiction writer. She lives in North Carolina and enjoys her country way of living. Her community is small and everyone knows one another. They are always eager to be a helping hand in suggesting her plots for her next book. She draws a lot of her imagination from her neighbors and friends. Magically, they become her characters with the names being changed. She has published eight books and is currently working on two more.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fearless Writing?

By Susan Gabriel

Whenever I run my Fearless Writing for Women workshops, I usually have a waiting list. Many women who want to write are afraid that they aren't good enough, have nothing to say and that if they do write something it will be criticized. While they enjoy writing, and may even love it, the ensuing battle between love and fear can paralyze them. And, of course, this happens to men, too.

So is fearlessness the answer? Actually, it was only after I had taught several workshops that I realized fearlessness isn't the goal. Making peace with fear is, and realizing its relationship to creativity.

Whenever we’re being creative, fear is generally nearby. Especially if we hope to put whatever we create out into the world. For example, I have been writing novels for twenty years. Two of my novels have been Amazon and Nook #1 bestsellers. One of them (The Secret Sense of Wildflower) received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and was named one of their Best Books of 2012. Yet this doesn’t stop me from questioning if I’m a good enough writer. Whenever I start a new novel. I worry (another name for fear) that my imagination will dry up, I'll have nothing to say and I will have forgotten how to write a good story. However, I keep writing year after year, and to some I may even appear fearless.  

How do I not let fear stop me? Here's the short answer: I know myself well enough to recognize the script that runs in my mind and the minds of many creative folks whenever fear is around. It consists of lines like: You’re (or I’m) not good enough. Who do you think you are? What will people think? When I hear those fearful thoughts, I acknowledge them, but I don’t let them stop me. Fear is a normal part of the creative process and is often temporary. If I get busy writing, the fear goes away. I’m suggesting that you do the same.  

The fear that keeps us from walking down dark alleys makes sense, but fear during creative endeavors isn’t helpful. Fear wants to keep us small and safe. Yet the world needs our creativity more than ever. Keep in mind, procrastination, worry and perfectionism are fear, too, and are a waste of our creative energy. So when you feel fearful, remember that you are not alone. Many other writers feel it, too. Then get busy writing.
A former marriage and family therapist, Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of Amazon #1 Bestselling novels  The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and Temple Secrets. Her other books include Lily’s Song, the sequel to The Secret Sense of Wildflower and Grace,Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.  Author website:  www.susangabriel.com. Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SusanGabrielAuthor 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

When Things Are Not As They Seem

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine 

Once a friend telling me of one of his adventures began with, “I was awakened by the sound of rain on my windshield”. You would immediately think he was in a car asleep and the rain woke him up. I could not help but wonder, where were you when you fell asleep in your car? Another question was whether or not the car was moving? Were you asleep at the wheel? All are legitimate questions which he had easily brought up with one phrase. In other words he had my attention.

He went on to tell me he looked up and discovered it wasn’t rain at all. If not rain what was it? Again he had me! What could possibly be confused with rain? He went on to say it was very high grass that was growing along the side of the road. He had fallen asleep while driving and was plowing through the grass. It was hitting the hood and windshield of his car and sounded like rain. I am now thinking there is more to this story. He had me.

My friend is not necessarily a great story teller but he had done a great job with the beginning of this on. He had me realizing early on things were not what they seemed. He did so by simply stating what seemed to be his reality. Asleep, awakened by the rain, the realization is was not rain then the realization of his plight. This could also be a great lesson on the statement, “Perception is Reality”. His reality was changing moment by moment. 

As writers we can use the “things are not what they seem” concept in many ways. Mystery writers live by this. Mystery writers create the atmosphere of things are not what they seem. We begin to look for clues in the story to determine what reality is. The mystery writer stays ahead of us and leads us toward reality.

In a story like my friends a writer could follow his lead and use his perception of reality and the corrections made along the way. I favor this method because it goes along the lines of story- telling and I love a great story. Tell it from the perception of the characters. There is opportunity to get that perception from opposing characters with opposing realities. Then you can change their perception as many times as you want until we all come to the reality of your story.

Now back to my friend’s story. The reality of it is he had partaken in a few drinks with friends, fallen asleep at the wheel, ran off the road but was able to jerk the wheel and ended up back on the road in the opposite direction without any damage to himself or his car. Upon returning to the road and coming to a stop he realized a State Trooper had been following him and was now parked in front of him nose to nose. Now that is reality and it was as it seemed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What’s the Good in Writing?

By Linda Brooks Davis

I recently read a novel that focused on the ins and outs of legal wrangling and duplicity. It held me spellbound. But I closed it wondering what good had come of reading it.

So I made a list:

1)      It provided spellbinding entertainment from first page to last. But its story, characters, and take-away deserted me in minutes. A fleeting good.
2)      It educated me in back-room plea deals, courtroom drama, and proper evidence gathering.  But will that knowledge affect a single aspect of my life? No.
3)      It illustrated effective dialogue techniques. But much of the dialogue tested my sensibility meter. The needle slammed to its upper limits and beyond. It inspired me to nothing good. I put it down praying the memory and imagery would fade.

Shortly thereafter I read a similar novel. But its story line, characters, and take-away stuck with me. They’re tucked away in a drawer of memories, in fact. What good had come of reading this novel?

I made another list:
1)      It provided spellbinding entertainment from first page to last. Will I hold onto the story line, characters, and take-away—and certain images they created? You bet. That’s good.
2)      It educated me in back-room plea deals, courtroom drama, and proper evidence gathering.
But will that knowledge affect my life? Indeed. One character in particular has become a reference point, a measuring rod, for how to stick to the straight road in the midst of so many crooked ones. That’s good.
3)      It illustrated effective dialogue techniques, but this time the dialogue tested my sensibility meter not a whit. The needle didn’t even twitch. Has its dialogue changed me even in a small way? Yep. The dialogue’s contrast of sunlight with darkness left me repelled by the dankness—the emptiness—of the first novel and reaching for sunlight on my face and fresh air in my lungs in the second. It left me striving for similar inspiration in my writing. That’s very good.

What made the difference for me? Heart. Faith. Or inspiration if you prefer.

The first novel challenged my brain cells; the second challenged my heart. The first built my knowledge; the second built my faith. The first aroused a sense of repulsion; the second inspired me to reach beyond the good to the best.

I’ll no doubt keep reading novels similar to the first, as well as the second. Why? Because I want to seep myself in the contrasts so I’ll forever run from the void created by writing that lacks heart, faith, and inspiration. And create instead a home for both heart and faith—inspiration, if you will—between the front and back covers of whatever I write.

That’s all good.
Linda Brooks Davis, first-place winner of the 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel award, 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 teaching 4-year-olds at church, 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 lindabrooksdavis.com. Porch light's always on. 
Twitter: @LBrooksDavis  Facebook: www.facebook.com/LindaBrooksDavis/ 
YouTube Book Trailer:http://bit.ly/1VZcAi5

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Brand Are You?

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Some years ago in a writing magazine, I noticed an advertisement for Kleenex®.  But they weren't hawking facial tissue.  This was a fairly official-looking admonishment to all writers advising them that Kleenex® is a registered trademark, and that whenever the word Kleenex® is used, it should be capitalized with the copyright symbol ® added to it.

Presumably this even mattered because people tend to call any brand of tissue a Kleenex®, for example, "Could you pass me a Kleenex®?"  You can already see how distracting it would be for writers to include the symbol in a novel.  Almost as distracting as the heavy-handed alternative, "Could you pass me a facial tissue?"  (People don't talk like that.)

My gut reaction was that Kleenex® should just be happy to be such a front runner that they would become the go-to word for not just their product but all others like it.  However, many products—from Ex-Lax® to Preparation H®—are equally, um, zealous about protecting their brand name.

It does have to be a little frustrating when you're Coca-Cola® and a large portion of the population refers to any kola nut-flavored carbonated drink as a "coke".  But it feels a little over the top when a catchy TV jingle like "I am stuck on Band-Aids, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" is changed to the clumsy "I am stuck on Band-Aid brand, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me". Cramming "brand" in the middle of an established slogan suddenly sounded a little desperate.

You may be old enough to remember Funny Face Drink Mix (similar to Kool-Aid, with the kid-friendly flavors Goofy Grape, Injun Orange, Freckle Face Strawberry, Chinese Cherry, Loud Mouth Lime, and Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry).  In a short time, someone decided that two of the flavors were potentially offensive, so Injun Orange became Jolly Olly Orange, and Chinese Cherry became Choo Choo Cherry.  (I'm surprised Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry wasn't picketed for being insensitive to cowboys.)

In more recent years, perhaps you noticed when the jingle "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man" became "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks."  (That one I do get, since a friend of mine's sister works at a hardware store.)

Clearly, companies go to a lot of trouble to protect their brand.  If you're a writer, you have a brand that should be just as important to you.  While it may seem foreign to think of yourself as a product, consider Hollywood stars with established images, like Brad Pitt and Melissa McCarthy.  It's hard to picture Pitt in a slapstick role, or McCarthy playing Anne Frank.  Then there are chameleons like Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, who can do both comedy and drama, but that very flexibility has become part of their brand.

The cover of a Stephen King book is distinctively Stephen King, evoking the bad vibes that lie inside.  His Maine radio station WKIT is also fit for a King, with songs like "Black Magic Woman" and other ditties that would be right at home in a soundtrack to Christine.  You know what you're gonna get when you buy a Stephen King book because of the consistency throughout his work and throughout his platform.

When readers see your name, what should come to mind?  What image will help promote your books?  Just what is it that you want to say to the world through your writing?   These are good questions to ponder as you tweak your website and before you post things on Facebook.  In defiance of the old saying, not all publicity is good publicity if it goes against the image you want to project.

As you develop your brand, follow in the attentive, consistent footsteps of proven marketing successes like Kleenex®. Becoming a brand people know and love is nothing to sneeze at.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Should I Join a Boxed Set?

By Heather Day Gilbert

Most authors I know are constantly seeking new ways of getting their books into readers' hands. One method of extending reach is to join with other authors to produce a boxed set collection.
Boxed sets might include novels or novellas that are previously published, or they might be all-new offerings published for the first time with the collection. A boxed set can be a collection by a single author, but for the purposes of this post, I'll be referring to multi-author sets.

Sets began trending a couple of years ago. Some benefits of boxed sets are:
-increased exposure to new readers (in particular, readers of other authors in the set)
-group marketing (which can be far more powerful than individual marketing)
-long-term connections made with other authors in the set
-an influx of personal author newsletter signups

But before you jump on-board a boxed set, you need to consider what will be required of you. 

Although sets vary, most sets require:
-participation from the ground-up, including input on cover art, set title/theme, release date, and marketing plans
-active participation in marketing (which includes contributing to any ads that are taken out and being involved with any online events or social media pushes)
-an determination to keep deadlines
-a willingness to share ideas and come to a consensus
-a willingness to promote the set instead of your individual book for the duration of the set

It is easy to nod your head to all the above, but when it comes down to putting these steps into practice; it can get tough, especially since sets are typically planned months in advance. Keep in mind that although other writing opportunities might arise during that time, maintaining your commitment to the set is important to its success.

The only way everyone can expect to have good royalties from the set is for each author to participate in marketing, especially since most boxed sets are priced around $0.99-$2.99 to extend their reach, and that is often split between 5-10 authors.

To avoid conflicts, many boxed set authors agree to a contract for the set. You can find a boxed set contract template here in my post on Novel Rocket.

I've been involved in two boxed sets, and I have enjoyed both of them. Yes, they required a lot of marketing, but my readership increased, as did my closeness with authors in the sets.

I would encourage you to keep boxed sets in mind as an effective marketing tool, but also be aware of the obligations that saying "yes" to a boxed set will entail.
HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winning author, is currently part of the Smoke and Mirrors romantic suspense 8-novella collection. You can find this highly rated set on Amazon for only 99 cents! 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. Heather also wrote the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. You can find Heather on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.