Friday, February 16, 2018


By Marni Graff             

Every writer looks for ways to keep readers flipping pages in their work. An original story line and wonderful prose, coupled with compelling characters and a setting that functions almost as a secondary character will be a goal for writers in any genre.

One other useful device is chapter endings that compel the reader to continue flipping pages, called cliffhangers. I’m a crime writer, where cliffhangers are the norm in my mysteries, but they can be used for any genre. Simply put, a cliffhanger is a suspenseful situation that occurs at the end of a chapter or scene and helps compel the reader to turn to the next page.

There are three main ways to implement a cliffhanger:
-          An intriguing question: which comes about through a character or an event. (Who could have killed the bride?)
-          Through dialogue: where something is revealed in conversation. (“I’m pregnant.”)
-          Using description: make the exposition short but worthy! (She turned the body and screamed when she realized it was someone she knew.)

And there is a multitude of ways to accomplish this.

Someone: takes an action; reacts to something; arrives; leaves. OR

Something: Happens on its own; in response to a characters’ action; or fails to happen; changes; fails to change.

Cliffhangers can also be a reinforcing statement that echoes the scene’s tension, or sums up the situation.  It can paint a dire picture of the situation that lies ahead.

So you see there are many ways to utilize cliffhangers. Tune in on Monday to see specific ways you can keep readers interest.
Marni Graff is the Award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries, and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. The Nora Tierney English Mysteries feature American Nora living in England. THE BLUE VIRGIN received First Prize in the Mystery and Mayhem Award for Best British Cozy from Chanticleer Review and is set in Oxford. THE GREEN REMAINS takes Nora to the Lake District and murder follows and won the same award for Best British Cozy. THE SCARLET WENCH , shortlisted for the same award, finds Nora involved in finding the murderer from a visiting theatre troupe living amongst her and her son at the lodge where she’s staying. A copy of SW is in the archives of the estate of Noel Coward, as all of the chapter epigrams are lines from his farce, “Blithe Spirit” which figures in the action. The fourth, THE GOLDEN HOUR, debut, July 2017, and finds Nora visiting Brighton, Cornwall, her beloved Oxford, with key action in Bath. The entire series has also been narrated for Audible books by British actress Nano Nagle.The first Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery, Death Unscripted, is based on Graff’s real-life work as a medical consultant for a New York movie studio. Trudy has that job, too, but in her case, murder follows. This is the book P. D. James insisted Graff write and is dedicated to her. This book was named a finalist for the IAN Awards and is shortlisted as Best Mystery from Chanticleer Media. In progress is Book 2 in that series, DEATH OF AN HEIRESS. Graff is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press, an author’s cooperative based out of Baltimore, MD, and writes this crime review blog, Auntie M Writes. Also known as Auntie M, MK and Marnette, Marni grew up in Floral Park, NY. She currently resides in rural North Carolina, and lives on the Pungo River, part of the coast’s Intracoastal Waterway. Graff is the author of screenplays, stories, essays and poetry, in addition to the two mystery series. Her creative nonfiction was most recently seen in Southern Women’s Review,  Fine Line Anthology and, and Shelf Pleasures. Her poem about Amelia Earhart in an anthology of poems dedicated to the pilot that is on display in Earhart’s hometown museum. Marni Graff @GraffMarni

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Musical Poetry Reflects Life’s Tapestry

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine 

Last week on Facebook, songwriter Carole King posted, “47 years ago today...Tapestry [her breakout album] was released on February 10, 1971.” WoW! I know and love all of her songs/poetry by heart. I felt “The Earth Move.” This collection of musical poems reflected the women’s movement of the early 70’s when only a small percentage of women entering college actually graduated. Those are the poetic songs of my youth that have stayed forever in the “Tapestry” of my soul. 

Another momentous event occurred last week, 54 years ago, before my own musical youth kicked in,  THE BEATLES ON THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW aired on FEBRUARY 9, 1964. Of course, I’ve seen the historic American debut presentation of the iconic band. Their appearance influenced America then, and in the generations that followed. Who doesn’t know a Beatles tune when they hear it? Music is entwined with a poetry of words and cords. At this link, you can watch their debut appearance 

Relive or view for the first time "She Loves You", "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand", with the best image quality to date and in stereo sound.”

While researching this blog post, I ran across an article in Rolling Stone Magazine that gave an interesting connection between Carole King and The Beatles.
She wrote songs for The Beatles in 1963 before she broke out on her own with her hit album, “Tapestry.” Who knew?

The book, A Natural Woman: A Memoir by Douglas McGrath tells the story of the early life and career of Carole King. A musical play titled, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is currently on Broadway for those who want to follow her rise to stardom. 

Last week I learned of an opportunity perfect for songwriters and writers with the gift of prose. Honestly, I was attracted to this opportunity because of the wacky name. It’s theWergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (no fee)
"Now in its 17th year, this contest seeks today's best humor poems. No fee to enter. Submit published or unpublished work. $2,250 in prizes. Submit by April 1, 2018. Prizes: First Prize: $1,000, Second Prize: $250, Honorable Mentions: 10 awards of $100 each and Top 12 entries published online. There is no fee to enter. Judge: Jendi Reiter, assisted by Lauren Singer. Length limit: 250 lines. No restrictions on age or country. Please click the Submittable button below for full details. The results of our 17th annual contest will be announced on August 15, 2018.”

Many famous singers and authors started out once with a poem turned song or book. In the words of Carole King, “You’ve Got to Get Up Every Morning...” and write to be a writer. Take a chance, enter a contest. Taking chances is a common thread in our life “Tapestry.” What do you have to lose? 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


By Dr. Richard Mabry

Publishing a book is now within reach of anyone with a computer and Internet connection. It takes some doing, but it’s possible. Because of that, some authors—especially those who, for one reason or another, have been unable to break through and catch the eye of an acquisition editor—have decided to publish their book without going through a traditional publisher. They have “gone indie.” Those who’ve had books released by publishers but also go indie are referred to as “hybrid” authors. Of the millions of books available on Amazon, many are now independently published. Is it possible? Yes. 

Is it easy? Not so much.

If you’re considering doing this, let me make a few suggestions, based on my own experience. The first is the same one I was given when I first started writing, and remains important for writers at all levels. Just because you’ve finished your story, you’re not done yet. I still recall the feeling of accomplishment I experienced when I completed my first novel. I had been given a contract, so why revise anything? Eleven published novels later, I can tell you that the individual who can write a book without revisions, both their work and that of an editor, is rare indeed. An editor can take a marginal book and make it good, and the right editor can take a good book and help make it great. Don’t ever neglect the value of an editor.

Traditionally published work may involve an acquisition editor, an independent editor who looks at the story arc, plus a copy-editor to catch misspellings and errors. The indie author must do all this himself, hire this done, or risk mistakes being pointed out by readers after publication. And they happen.

Then there’s the cover. The publisher generally takes care of this, but the author has to participate by giving the artist the basics of the story and characters. The writer then may or may not have input into the final product. For the indie author, it’s a matter of finding a cover designer and doing the same thing, but in this case the decision on the cover choice is up to the author. I’ve been fortunate enough to choose a good cover designer from the start, but that’s not always the case. You may not think the cover design is important, but it is.

Finally, the indie author can’t simply put the book out there and forget it. It’s necessary to market it. In this age of social media, there are a number of outlets for this activity, but let me remind you that the best advertising (in my opinion) is still word-of-mouth. This means distributing copies of your work to those who will read it, give an honest review, and then tell their friends.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, publishing is now within the reach of the average author. But it’s not a free trip to success.  

There’s work involved.
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, author of “medical suspense with heart.” His novels have been a semifinalist for International Thriller Writers’ debut novel, finalists for the ACFW Carol Award, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Romantic Times’ Reader’s Choice and Reviewer’s Choice Awards, and winner of the Selah Award. Surgeon’s Choice is his most recent novella. You can find more details at his web page and blog. He also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Your Loyal Reader Base

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

Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit, said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

I was reading this statement and thought about authors, their books, and their readers.

Do you wonder what your readers tell others about your books?

We’ve been preached to on how important it is––branding. By now, don’t we know pretty much all there is to know?

No! We don’t. The reason is we package our branding but we have no control over how the reader perceives it because it filters through their minds.

The most important thing about branding is creating name recognition.

Why this is done is simple, we want a loyal reader base who wants to read our books we write and expectantly wait for the next one.

So how does successful branding come about? By understanding your readers––what they want to read. Look at your books, what are they about? What is the core? Then ask yourself what kind of reader wants to read this type of book? What would the needs of readers who want to read this type of book be? The more layers you can peel back the deeper you will see what your book offers, which will help you in your writing, promoting and selling your books.

I read somewhere that branding is an expression of who we are and what we offer.
Our reader has to identify with us then they become a loyal fan and reader.

I think Bernard Kelvin Clive, Ghana’s foremost authority on Personal Branding, says it best, “Author branding is the process of positioning an author as the center of attraction and influence, to be the preferred choice in a given theme, style, category, niche or genre”.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Get Your Writing Groove Back

By Linda Westphal

Writing reminds me of an LP vinyl record. When you’re in the groove, the words flow and the rhythm feels right. These are the moments writers crave, and one of the reasons why so many do not give up on the craft.

But the writing process is not all bliss (otherwise everyone would do it). It’s full of starts-and-stops that range from getting stuck on a scene to getting stuck between books.

Don’t worry. There’s a cure for that. Over the years I’ve tried all the remedies below and they work. Try one or two the next time you get stuck and you’ll be back in the writing groove before you know it.

Fast cure
Often the fastest cure is to step away from your writing desk for a few hours. (I know, it’s hard. You’re there to write.) Take a walk. Go to the grocery store. Cook a meal. Any activity that doesn’t take much thought will do, as long as it allows your mind to let go and clear itself. Creative people often say, “I get my best ideas in the shower.” It’s the same concept. You have to step away long enough for your mind to reboot. Once it does, the solution you’re looking for will flash in your mind’s eye.

Cures that take more time
·         Get in the car and drive to another city for a day trip.
·         Spend your morning or afternoon in a coffee shop that’s new to you, preferably in a neighborhood you rarely visit (only if writing in a coffee shop breaks your routine).
·         Take the morning off and visit a museum, then treat yourself to a nice lunch.
·         Spend a few hours in a used bookstore.
·         Visit a small country town if you live in a large city or a large city if you live in a small town.
·         Sit comfortably in nature with your eyes closed. Visualize the character you’re writing about. Pay attention to the specifics. How is the character interacting with others? What sensations do you take away from this experience?
·         Jot down elements that seem oddly paired, like squirrels and caramel apples, book clubs and charities, seashells and photocopy machines. This exercise will help you think beyond the ordinary.
·         Spend time reading a genre other than the one you write. How is the writing different than your genre? What writing techniques are popular? What’s special about the bestsellers? When you venture outside your everyday walls, you are exposing yourself to new ideas.
Linda Westphal writes feel-good stories like The Hermit Bookstore and The Medium,a short story that takes place in Savannah’s Historic District. She has written professionally since 1990 and now spends most of her time writing stories. Linda lives in Northern California with her family and enjoys travel, tea, food, sunny days, friendly people, small towns, and a good story. She also enjoys connecting with authors. Visit her website and social media pages. Her social media links: Website:  Amazon Author Page: Goodreads:  Facebook:  Twitter:  Google+:

Friday, February 9, 2018

How I used Visual Texts in Creating Historical Fiction

By Susanna Lancaster

As I wrote and revised my first book, The Growing Rock, my desire to make the story accurate to its time period—the 1930s—was challenging. I found that having little narrative distance between my readers and characters helped greatly, as did including cross-generational themes and conflicts. Another tool came along so naturally that I didn’t realize at first how much it helped establish the book’s historical setting and draw millennials into a story that's set in the Depression.

Teaching both high-school and college students has shown me how crucial it is for writing to grab the reader's attention. In a world that's becoming more digital, these age groups are especially prone to social media websites and other distractions, and YA writers have to be extra creative. I've witnessed in my classrooms how many students pay attention to visual texts and are quick to pick up on how a piece of writing physically looks. We spend class time discussing words that are italicized, words in bold, long paragraphs, sentence variety, photos, charts, etc.—clues in the text itself.

I used visual texts in The Growing Rock in several different ways. The first example is in the Prologue when we see Caroline's story of The Growing Rock typed on a 1930's Remington typewriter. Immediately, readers know the story isn’t set during the present. The typos and the language itself indicate that the author lacks spell-check.

The second is in the letters that the characters exchange with one another. Because we live in a world with email and text messaging, many teens have never had to write handwritten letters, and so having my characters communicate in this way was helpful in depicting this past era. It also provides brief outlets where we hear the story from someone else’s viewpoint. 

The third way I incorporated visual text is in the title of the book itself. In looking at the cursive font on the book cover, the reader sees an old-fashioned cursive font. On looking closer, he or she may notice tiny arrows and that there are a couple of minuscule numbers beside the letters. Near the end of the book, Caroline and Peter teach Phoebe how to read and write. 

The Growing Rock story is what's helped both girls during hard times and given them hope. When the book ends, we see how Caroline no longer needs the story—it has served its purpose to her and helped her during this time of coming-of-age. But Phoebe, on the other hand, is still too young to understand things and still needs the story. It remains a favorite she will beg Caroline to retell. Just as Caroline looked up to Blanche, Phoebe very much so looks up to Caroline, and she would be likely to try to impress her older sister by writing her own story about the Rock. The small markings beside the title are similar to those in a calligraphy workbook, hinting that Phoebe wrote it, while creating a visual of something that is becoming a lost art and is no longer taught in many present-day schools.

The use of visual texts throughout the book raises readers’ curiosity, and I’m frequently
asked about the book title. The visual texts provide not only some conversation starters, but they offer a physical glimpse, though brief, of a past generation.
Susanna Lancaster is the author of the historical fiction YA novel, The Growing Rock. Her work has also appeared in Balloons Lit. Journal, Memphis Health + Fitness, Hieroglyph, The Perpetual You, and the Dear English Major website. She teaches English at Southwest Tennessee Community College and lives in Memphis, TN with her husband Kyle and pet yorkie Boston. She is always on the lookout for something good to read.  Website:  Facebook:   Instagram: Susanna_Lancaster_Author

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Book You May Not Realize You Have Written

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Some of the better books I have read were compositions of essays, short stories, sermons or journal entries. Some were combinations of different topics and some were books based on a theme. All were a collection of individual efforts from varying periods of time. They were well thought out. Existing material was quickly brought together making it easy to do. But how was it done?

One of the most notable of these, the books put together by Pastors. Many were sermons brought over a period of time based on a series on a specific topic such as wisdom, marriage or faith. The congregation showed interest and the sermons were placed in book form. These tend to be very successful. The beauty of this is the Pastor was going about his day to day process of working on his sermons. He also was producing the necessary material for the book which would come later. Many times these individual efforts occur without any thought to a book but is suddenly realized and put together.

Many writers have this same opportunity. Some writers lecture and may want to put their lectures together. This could mean various topics that assist other writers in their craft and promoting their books. I have always liked the idea of those that are successful helping others. I have written about this in this blog and noted the Sin of the Desert or sending the elevator back down for others. You may want to check it out. 

Many writers are active bloggers. If you have written enough blogs, say 10,000 words, you may want to consider putting them together in a book. It can be print or eBook. You could group topics together or have varying topics. The possibilities are endless. This could further your craft, visibility and possibly your income.

So have you written a book but have yet to realize it? If so think on putting it together. If you haven’t written enough for one why not think on these lines as you regularly post your blogs or prepare you lectures. Visualize bringing them together in a collection. If you think this way you can decide if you want a series of blogs or lectures on a certain topic or various topics.

The staff of Southern Writers Magazine will soon be presenting an eBook of their blogs. I hope you will take a look at it when we announce it. Better yet I hope you enjoy it and find it of value to your writing career.