Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I am Not the Kind of Writer Who _____

By Tova Mirvis

I was a student in a writing class, struggling to write a first novel, when my teacher wrote this on the board and instructed the class to fill in the blank.

My classmates quickly began writing but I had trouble deciding on one response. I was not the kind of writer who wrote a lot of dialogue? I was not the kind of writer who wrote action and adventure?
Eventually I settled on “I am not the kind of writer who writes about myself.”

Sure, I was drawing on my own background to create the fiction I was trying to write, but I wasn’t sharing the actual facts of my life. The novel I was working on was set in the small Orthodox Jewish community in Memphis where I was raised, part of a family that had been in the city for six generations. As a student in New York City, writing about Memphis was a way to connect to my long-standing roots as a Southern Jew. I created characters who allowed me to explore my own questions about the tension between longing for home and the need to strike out on your own; about how to be part of a close group yet remain you.

In fiction, I could explore these questions but keep myself safely out of sight. Non-fiction and memoir were too exposing. They offered no place to hide. I would never write memoir. I was sure of this.

Three novels and 15 years later, I was no longer so sure. I had a different story to tell now – this one about leaving a marriage and the religious world in which I was raised. I wanted to write a book about what it meant to try to live more authentically, to be who you really were, and to do this, I needed to write about myself directly. My next book, I realized, needed to be a memoir.

It was time to revisit that long ago declaration that I wasn’t the kind of writer who wrote about myself. I was scared when I sat down to write memoir for the first time, but eventually it became clear to me that this was the story I needed to tell, and this was the way I needed to tell it. It turned out that when long ago I said I would never write memoir, I didn’t yet know what kind of writer I was.

This, I think, is was what my teacher was after when she had us list what kind of writer we were not.  It’s common to think of ourselves as being able to write only one kind of book. It’s all too easy to box ourselves into the realm where we feel most comfortable. But sometimes the story we want to tell determines what kind of writer we are. Sometimes as writers, we need to take not just our readers by surprise but ourselves as well.
Tova Mirvis is the author of three novel Visible City (2014), The Outside World (2004,) and The Ladies Auxiliary (1999) which was a national bestseller. Her memoir, The Book of Separation will be published in September 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her essays have appeared in many publications including The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Poets & Writers and Good Housekeeping, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. A native of Memphis, TN, she now lives outside of Boston with her family.  Visit her website for more information or connect with her on social media at

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Plan an Ego Trip

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

It's ironic that authors who have no problem writing a 100,000-word manuscript on a deadline will freeze up when faced with writing their own author bio. Much like a resume, the idea of encapsulating one's life and times into a few paragraphs is the stuff of anxiety and self-consciousness.

Whether it's for your Amazon author page or the "About Me" section of your website, here are some time-tested tips to help you craft a credible characterization.

You is kind, you is smart, you is important.
Taking a cue from 2012's The Help, come into the process with a positive self-image. This is the time to own what you've accomplished and to share it with pride. If you don't, who will?

Write in third person.
Unless you're going for a friendly, folksy platform, it's common practice to write your bio as an objective third party. Not only does it lend an air of endorsement, it gives you more liberty to tout your accomplishments without guilt.

Just like your novel, grab attention with the opening line.
Instead of "John Q. Author has been writing novels since 2011", how about "After breaking both legs falling off a ladder in 2011, John Q. Author spent his recuperation time writing the first draft of his first novel." You can come up a creative first line without hurting yourself.

Tell it like it is.
What are your interests and achievements that led you to writing what you write? Do you write science fiction because you once saw a UFO?  Do you have a degree in medicine that propels your medical mysteries? Even a stint as a Walmart greeter is prime fodder if customers inspire your characters.

Don't forget to include any awards your writing has received, as well as any writers organizations you're a member of.

Note to fiction writers: If you have an interesting background, include that, even if it isn't related to writing. The fact that you spent five years living among apes may have nothing to do with your cozy mystery series, but it would make me to want to see what you've written.

Note to nonfiction writers: No need to get that personal.  In this case, the reader mainly wants to know how they'll benefit from your work. Dwell on what they'll get out of it and why you're the best one to teach it to them.

In both cases, don't stray so far from your chosen genre that you confuse readers. If they seek you out as a historical romance writer, does it serve your purpose to say you collect DC action figures?

Project the platform personality that fits you.
Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work, says there are five basic personality types for author platforms. While this breakdown is designed for bloggers, it can help you pin down your bio personality as well.

The Journalist: Someone who seeks answers and asks questions of experts. By sharing those answers they establish themselves as experts too.

The Prophet: A critic who feels things can be better, and promotes solutions. This controversial role is not without its dangers, as everyone has an opinion and those who disagree can be alienated.

The Artist: Someone who creates art, music, photography, short stories, etc and shares their work, perhaps even works-in-progress.

The Professor: Someone obsessed with details, data, and the way things work, taking complex things and breaking it down, usually with a takeaway.

The Star: Celebrities whose platforms are built on charisma or reputation. You may not think of yourself as a "star", but if people seek you out as the go-to person for your specialty, don't write yourself off too quickly.

One of these Jeff Goins categories may have spoken to you immediately; if not, you may be a combination, in which case you can morph them into an even more individualized persona.

When it comes to bios, Southern Writers has a particular fondness for the authors who appear in our own Gallery of Stars, where you'll see a bunch of bios and may find inspiration for your own.

Readers like to know who they're reading, so don't overlook this opportunity to let your little light shine. Take an ego trip, and pack your bags with confidence. You're not bragging if it's the truth.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

By Sharon Woods Hopkins

As a fiction writer I’ve always heard you should “write what you know.” If your protagonist is a rocket scientist, it’s helpful if you have some background in science. If your story revolves around a car dealership, having been a car salesman comes in mighty handy.

But what about writing about what you think you know?

I once read a novel by a best-selling author whose protagonist was on a commercial airliner, and in the thick of the excitement, referred to the area where the food is prepared as “the kitchen.” Zap. Out of the story I flew. It’s not a kitchen, it’s a galley.

Another author friend’s protagonist was an expert horsewoman, but she left her horse in the pasture with its bridle. Nope. Probably not. What she likely left on the horse was its halter. A bridle has a bit and reins and a real horse person would never leave that on a loose horse.

And then there was the author whose antagonist tried to kill his victim by leaving the new Mercedes running in the garage. The protagonist got there in the nick of time. However, unless someone disabled the catalytic converter, or it had a broken exhaust pipe out of the manifold, the car would have run out of gas before ever discharging enough carbon monoxide to give anyone a headache, much less cause a death. I know this because one time I tried hooking up my 1994 truck’s tailpipe to a hose and stuffing it down a mole hole. After running the truck for nearly an hour, the mole was not even dizzy. I learned about the catalytic converter in great detail from my mechanic son after that little stunt.

And how about those Styrofoam cups?

There is no such thing as a Styrofoam cup. This is a really common mistake that most of the world makes, but an author could possibly get a “cease and desist” order from Dow chemicals if he or she uses it in their next best seller. Dow Chemicals is very specific about what Styrofoam is, and is not, on their website.

Being vulnerable is human, and we all make mistakes. However, if you’re writing what you think you know, it’s very helpful to have sharp editors. I was astounded by seeing the aforementioned mistakes show up in the finished product. How to protect yourself? Be sure you have dependable early readers, or pay to have a good copy and developmental editor read your manuscript. Unfortunately for us writers, most publishers today have thinned out the editorial staff, leaving only proof readers. Be diligent, and make sure you know what you think you know.
Sharon Woods Hopkins is a member of the Thriller Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Southeast Missouri Writers' Guild, Heartland Writers Guild, Romance Writers of America, and the Missouri Writers' Guild. She has tried retiring, but can’t seem to succeed. After many years as a mortgage banker, she is currently a Real Estate Broker. Sharon lives on the family compound near Marble Hill, Missouri with her husband, author Bill Hopkins, next door to her son, Jeff, his wife, Wendy, two rescue Yorkies and a mole killing cat named Wilhelmena, and assorted second generation Camaros, including the 1979 Camaro named Cami who is featured in her books. Her Rhetta McCarter mystery series have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Missouri Writers Guild Show-me Best Book Award for Killerfind, in 2014. Her social media links are or on Facebook  and on Twitter as @sharonwhopkins   Killerwatt, the first book in the Rhetta McCarter Mystery series is now Free on Kindle.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Poking a Toe into Twitter

By Elizabeth Sumner Wafler

A week after holding my first baby, In Robin's Nest in my arms--delivered not by stork, but by UPS--I realized that if others were going to know that the book actually existed, I would have to engage in DIY marketing.

A month later I had invested in a WordPress domain and begun tacking away at my own website. I opened a facebook fan page. And then someone asked me if I was on twitter, in a way that sounded as though if I wasn't on twitter, I must be on crack. "Twitter is the real way to build followers," said she. I twitter searched a celebrated author. She had 100K followers. I had four.

 I spent the next six months toiling over pithy, yet 140 character tweets, in which I alternated between tooting my own (book) horn in clever ways, i.e., photographing my dog "holding" my book, and fretting over whether one person out of the 320 million twitter users might read my tweets. I dreaded even pulling up Twitter.

And then I read that for every four tweets, only one should be self-promoting. You must engage, the experts said. Writing is a lovely, yet lonely occupation, and the thought of engaging with others in the trenches was appealing. I began to spend less time composing, and more time reading, and in the process, I discovered hashtag games.

Unlike reindeer games, in which the Rudolphs may be excluded, anyone can play. There are hashtag games (sponsored by cool writers) for each day of the week, i.e., #lovelines on Mondays and #onelinewed on Wednesdays, in which you can share a favorite line from your work in progress, and even for each day of the month, i.e., #authorconfession where the sponsor posts a monthly calendar of questions.

Now this, I could do.

Answering questions like "What is your weirdest writing habit?" is fun, quick and easy. And considering queries like "What is your MC's greatest fear?" has made me think more critically about my characters, their desires and motivations--all the "whys." I am honing my craft.

I now have 1,200+ followers, a million fewer than John Grisham, a couple more than your teenager. But I actually know a number of my followers. I've developed connections with them: writers with whom I share common struggles, small victories, and great triumphs, a band of cheerleaders who share my belief that a rising tide lifts all the boats.

Don't be afraid to traverse the waters of Twitter. Poke a toe in, then plunge in--up to your waist. Like a June pool, the water warms up quickly. It can change your perspective and maybe even your career.
On the heels of a twenty-year teaching career, Elizabeth Sumner Wafler’s passion for a story told with heart led her to write her own fiction. Her first novel, In Robin’s Nest, is one of love, loss and reunion; secrecy and truth; and ultimately redemption. The author is currently seeking representation for her second manuscript, A Faculty Daughter, the coming-of-age story of a girl reared on the campus of a boys' prep school. Wafler lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her husband and Cairn terrier, Mirabelle. She can often be found at a local farmer’s market in search of the perfect tomato or bouquet of flowers, or at one of the area’s beautiful vineyards enjoying a glass of Virginia wine.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In Six Words-Part Two

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Last Thursday, I posted an interesting picture as an inspiration to write a caption in six words or less. Several readers had some great captions. Here is the link to Part One and check out all the comments. 

In watching all the news about Hurricane Irma's approach towards the United States, I was concerned about all in its path. I spotted an interesting story about the director of Ernest Hemingway's home in Key West. It is now an impressive museum filled with personal articles of Hemingway. CNN reported, "Dave Gonzales, executive director of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, confirmed to CNN that he and nine other employees were staying through the fierce winds and rain expected with Hurricane Irma, staying the legendary author’s 1851 house, with its 18-inch-thick limestone walls is “the strongest fortress in all the Florida Keys.” 

One of the main reasons they are staying is to keep the unique 55 cats (they have either six or seven toes) safe and comforted during the storm. Some of these felines are descendants of Hemingway's own six toed cat, "Snow White." Each volunteer will be attending 5 cats while riding out the storm in Hemingway's house. Yes, everyone is safe after Hurricane Irma made US landfall at the Florida Keys according to this article in the New York Post. 

I wonder if Hemingway came up with the six word stories because his cat had six toes. Just wondering. None the less his story is famous and haunting..."For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  

According to an article in The New Yorker, "Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing the six-word story “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Hoping to cash in on that story's success, Hemingway wrote some six-word sequels."  Here is the link to the article with the Hemingway's sequels.

National Public Radio has an excellent article titled, "Can You Tell Your Life Story In Exactly Six Words?" Some if the response are from the famous and the not yet famous. From "Gloria Steinem ("Life is one big editorial meeting"), to author Frank McCourt ("The miserable childhood leads to royalties".)

A six word story is an excellent prompt to spurn a writer's imagination. It's simple and almost poetic. You can check Reddit or Tumblr six word stories or numerous groups on Facebook for examples.  

This exercise is a great jump start, especially on those days you start with a blank screen or piece of paper and no ideas. 

So, ready, set, go.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


By Michael Hicks Thompson

What is the one thing— the most important thing—a professional golfer must have to win on tour?

Confidence! If you’re a pro golfer, or tennis player, even a heart surgeon, you need confidence. Not arrogance. Just confidence. A belief in your God-given abilities coupled with the teaching and practice you’ve slogged through. And the determination to be the best you can be.

For novelists, their need for confidence is no different than the professional athlete or the heart surgeon. It’s a long haul with short term goals.

Without confidence, you’re sunk. It’s the underlying cause of the dreaded yips for golfers and surgeons. Or writer’s block for authors.  

I’d just come out of a major inferiority complex dealing with another novel. Actually, it’s a novel I‘d written five years ago. A sci-fi thriller about a world without decent drinking water. It was published as a serial in a year-long magazine.

After that, I wrote the Solo murder mysteries series--The Rector, then The Actress. Lately, I’ve felt a strong urge to re-write the sci-fi thriller, originally titled, JALA, which means water in Hindi. I wasn’t happy with my writing of that story, so I picked it up again. Even changed the title to WATER, 2035.

My confidence had taken leave, along with my senses. Big time. I struggled for months with the story. Couldn’t make up my mind about anything--the protagonist, the antagonist, the POV, their relationship, nothing. I was happy with the sub-plot, but nothing else.

Then, I was the first to sign up for a weekend retreat with Brandilyn Collins in Coure d’Alene, Idaho. That day and a half got me back on track. This was her first time to invite 15 writers to her home. She’s a master teacher.

One fellow didn’t show, leaving me as the only male among 14 ladies and one instructor. If you ever have the chance to attend one of her retreats, I recommend it.

It wasn’t like she sprinkled magic dust over my writing.

After returning home, I still struggled to get behind my computer and work out the scenes, the action, the dialogue. Mrs. Collins edited the first two pages that six of us had sent in a month earlier. She handed them out on the last day, and read them. Our version. Then hers. I sunk down in my chair when my turn came.

I got over my ego fast after reading and re-reading her edits. Then, I realized how right she was. Every day, I’d start from page one and read until I needed to add or correct something. (I didn’t change much from those first two pages.) But, I finally realized I had a good story to tell. And any writer knows the first two pages are life or death for a reader. I used what Brandilyn taught and eventually got in a groove, finally able to determine my protagonist’s deepest desires. If a writer doesn’t know the protagonist’s desires then the reader certainly won’t. And your writing will fall flat on the page.

I’d fiddle with and re-write every word along the way, each morning, progressing slowly through the scenes that needed re-writing for either plot/character changes, or just pure bad writing.

By the third month, my confidence had grown, little by little. The story seemed to take shape. And I was loving it. Still am. Sixty-seven thousand words later, and I’m still in a groove.

My advice to writers stuck in a new genre? Seek the help of from an excellent instructor in a small group setting. You’ll come away a better writer. 
Born in his mother’s bed and raised on a small Mississippi farm, Michael Hicks Thompson knows a thing or two about strong Christian women, alcoholic men, and Jesus. His fictional writings intersperse his observations of human nature with theology. He’s a member of Kairos (prison ministry), been to Cuba twice on door-to-door evangelism mission trips, been a Sunday School teacher, and a member of Independent Presbyterian Church for 35 years. He and his wife of 45 years live in Memphis, TN, have three sons and four grandchildren. The little ones call him “Big Mike.”After earning his undergrad degree from Ole Miss and then a master’s in mass communication from the University of South Carolina, Michael started a one-man ad agency in Memphis. It grew to 87 employees in two cities, winning numerous national and international creative awards. Michael sold his firm in 2011 and turned his attention to full-time Christian fiction writing. His latest novel, The Actress (his sixth novel), is available in book stores and on Amazon in print, and for Kindle. Having already won four major awards, The Rector was first in the series. Both novels are murder mysteries that take place in the Mississippi Delta.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dialogue in your Writing

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

Dialogue, is having conversations. Whether it be movies on the big screen or little screen or a novel, there will be conversations, dialogue.

For writers, words are our bread and butter. Choosing our words in writing dialogue is important, it brings our characters conversations to life.

While it is true, we sometimes as writers make our sentences too long, we must remember the sentence must make sense. So, if you are going to shorten it, make sure you are not cutting the heart out of the sentence.

One thing that makes it easy in writing dialogue is when you can write the way the character would talk. If you listen when someone is talking, you will hear how you can write better.

Listening to someone talk you hear how sentences are chopped and words are garbled. You don’t normally hear people talking in formalities, however, if your character is a butler, then yes, he will be speaking with formality.

A writer friend of mine, listens to conversations; when she hears phrases that interest her she writes them in a journal. She catalogs the phrases into formal or casual and has available all sorts of phrases to use for her characters conversations.

For a writer, our dialogue needs to be interesting and attention grabbing when needed. 

Our readers need to be able to distinguish which character is talking. So, it’s important to create personalized dialogue for each character. Perhaps we should read over our dialogues, edit them, making sure the words sound like our character.