Sunday, September 14, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

I’m so annoyed that I could curse. Should I use curse words when developing dialogue when my main character and her momma fight it out? I am developing a character profile, right now. The protagonist’s name is Anjie and she has problems (baby daddy drama, trying to finish community college, paying the rent on time, and a part-time mother who doesn’t want to babysit). Anjie and her mother have a relaxed and tension-filled relationship (I’m still trying to figure that out).

The angel that sits on my shoulder says: “Good heavens, no. Using bad words shows a lack of education, you don’t have a developed vocabulary”. The horned one chimes in: “#$!?* Yeah. What’s wrong with a little spice? Plus who's gonna read that stuff if there ain’t no *&%%% going on.” BTW, I like a good swear word every now then.

To help me with this conundrum, I sought out a higher power—Writers’ Digest. I found a three question checklist that I liked:
  1. 1.      Does it work for the reader?
  2. 2.      Does it work for the character?
  3. 3.      Does it erode my integrity as a writer?

After I punched out the angel and the horned one (too many voices, too much noise), I put some meaningful thought into that checklist, especially number 2. My preliminary writings show that Anjie is still figuring out her upside-down, right-side up life. I think cussing out her momma, every now and then, reflects the strain between grown-ups; not a walking- a- tightrope- mother-daughter relationship. Hmmm. What do you think? Should I use curse words when Anjie and her mother argue?

Sunday, September 7, 2014


By Laura P. Valtorta
YABOODNICK. The dramatic reading of my stage play, Bermuda, was held on August 9, 2014 at the Parklane branch of the Richland County Public Library. Thanks to director LeaSharn Hopkins (New Life Productions) and all the actors, the afternoon was a success.
I gained new respect for the stage version of this play (there is also a screenplay) which presents the story of a whacky woman and her two daughters whom she recruits as her partners in crime. They kidnap Little Willie, the son in the family, to steal his VA disability benefits.

Listening to the actors and the audience on August 9th was a learning experience. The audience actually understood my humor. They liked the play, which I think is complete and does not require an extra climax or any additional contrived “drama.” The plot has a beginning, middle, and end. The final scene, following the classic comic style, is a wedding.

I have not always received good advice on this play. In the screenwriting class, I listened to bad advice and added some Irish gunrunners and various goofy policemen to the story. That might have over-extended the action. Still, Mr. Outlaw, one of my favorite characters (the self-righteous gun manufacturer) gets some extra lines and scenes in the screenplay.

For a while, screenwriters have been pressured to follow a Hollywood formula in order to have their stories considered by one of the big studios. Writers such as Syd Field have concocted a cookie cutter story outline, such as occurs in the movie Star Wars, which includes a young protagonist (Luke Skywalker) who faces a catastrophe and must rely on an elderly mentor (Obi Wan) to guide him to a solution. This is what we are supposed to write.

Luckily at this very moment we exist in the world of independent films. Digital freedom in the industry gives us new latitude to explore other topics. More documentaries. More female protagonists. Stranger stories. No stories. Wonderful weirdness.

We also get bad acting. Poor production quality. Cacophonous audio editing. Bad lighting. Junk.

I can wade through the junk, because digital filmmaking has released us from a cage. Independent films are different, brighter than what emerges from Hollywood. We see women running distribution companies such as Olive Tree TV and Shorts Showcase. We see a shifting of power and better art.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


By Leigh Stevenson
In the academic world, the arts are habitually lumped together in a rather generic category labeled 'Creative Endeavors.' As opposed to serious subjects like science and math, schools often consider music, art, drama, and writing as random or fill-in classes. If one of the arts is your life’s pursuit, this makes pursuing it rather difficult. Still the artists persist. I recently saw a play called The Velvet Weapon which is based on a revolution in which art, in this case a play, helped to end Soviet rule and create the Czech Republic. Pretty powerful stuff these random artistic pursuits.

Recently I had the opportunity to see and participate as acting and writing merged in the form of the dramatic reading of the play, Bermuda by SCWW Columbia ll’s Laura Valtorta. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to act in several plays written by playwrights from Shakespeare to O’Neill, Wilde, Beth Henley, and Tom Topor. Never before was the playwright present. Being a writer myself, I can’t imagine the restraint it took to watch one’s creation in the hands of other people. Laura watched with grace as others took what was in her head and translated onto paper and speak lines she wrote. I would imagine this was something akin to giving birth. It takes courage to trust a director who may or may not share your vision. Think also of the grit it took to observe actors who not only may not share your vision but who may interpret the lines you created in a in a totally different way than you intended. I think it’s no mistake that writers rarely direct their own work unless it’s on film.

Bermuda, a funny, offbeat comedy takes a humorous swipe at the abuse of governmental benefits but has no intentional revolution in mind. What Laura Valtorta has given us is a chance to laugh and perhaps see ourselves or someone we know in her characters. In Laura’s case she has managed to balance a full time career as an attorney with writing. What a lovely balance of talent, restraint and grit. What a shame it would have been if art and academics had not met.

Sometimes laughter is the best medicine and better than a revolution.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

Fahgeddaboutit if you eavesdropped on Tony Soprano’s plot to whack a rival mobster.
Ain’t nothing goin’ on now but the rent, ah; a whole lotta bills and my money’s spent, And that’s on my bad foot, whoa uh if you finger-snapped to James Brown’s “Get On The Good Foot” during the Oldies hour on the radio.

I like the way people talk. I like figuring out where a person’s from by listening to a distinct dialect and a home grown speech pattern. I received an earful when I viewed Jersey Boys and Get On Up on the silver screen. These are definitely dialogue-driven biopics. Watching Frankie and the Boys duke it out reminded me of Tony Soprano and the gang.

Back to Tony for a moment. His nasal-sounding, high pitched tone made all that killing, crying and whining in therapy sessions worth it. I found out that there are over five New York-New Jersey-Connecticut accents that are recognizable—go figure.

As for James Brown. His raspy intonations and funky inflections gracefully piloted the movie. South Carolina is nationally known for its Gullah dialect, but the Godfather of Soul put the Savannah River area—Beech Island—Low Country cadence on the map.

Here’s my two cents: Dialogue, whether, it’s in a script or song, links you to the overall project.  The scriptwriters lassoed the ebb and flow of these distinctive speaking styles to enhance the movie-going experience.

According to an industry insider, dialogue is when a writer invites a reader to listen to a conversation between his characters. Dialect is when a writer opens the window and lets you hear the uniqueness of his characters. I believe the scriptwriters for Jersey Boys and Get On Up capture that sentiment. Maybe a blend for an Oscar winning performance?

And, yes, I’m talking to you.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Muse

By Len Lawson

If you meander around any writing circles long enough, eventually you will hear the buzz word muse. What is it exactly? By its original use, the muses were the nine daughters of the Greek god Zeus. Each possessed a power of the arts of music, dance, writing, etc. Used as an action the word muse simply means to meditate on something.

However, in today's culture, a muse is considered to be some object or external source that inspires an artist of any genre. For example, a beautiful flower may be the muse to inspire a poem. Typically, the muse is a significant other hence many love songs and poems. Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison argues that the muse is ironically a figment of the imagination and that it cannot be the scapegoat for a writer's ability.

I offer my own definition of muse as I see it to this debate. One person or object should not have power over a writer determining whether he can write at a particular moment or not. If a woman is my muse, then if the woman is taken away, where will my writing ability go? Should I have to run out and find another woman to be inspired? If it is not a woman, then will another object suffice like a sunset or the moon? How can the muse simply change with the passing of the day?

The muse can best be described as an outward expression manifested from the creativity and given talent that lies within. When I see a sunset, it may cause my creative ability to be stimulated to the point where I can articulate and interpret into language what I visualize. Alternatively, a memory may spark my creativity to give a voice to the past that had not previously been allowed to speak. The muse takes on many forms, but it is based in my gift as a writer.

I challenge you not to look for landscapes or lovers for inspiration but to look within yourselves to discover someone within you that you may not have previously known. When you do discover the muse, it is like meeting a life-long friend for the first time, a friend that you will want to be with every moment because of the revelation and motivation she brings.

She does not have to be a goddess though to be appreciated. The muse can be weak or strong depending on how we nurture her. We can do this by reading and writing daily so that she can process our intake into something gorgeous that we did not expect to bring forth. If she languishes, then we will wonder where our inspiration will come from and we may seek it externally in other people or objects instead of allowing her to meet us at the point of our nurturing. I invite you to invest in your muse today so that she can yield many incredible returns for a lifetime of aesthetic fulfillment. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


By Marion Aldridge

At some point in my life, I discovered I was a better writer than I was a preacher. Writing is an extension of, if not an improvement on, what I did in my preaching days. My goal is to communicate some truth that can make life better for people who are paying attention.

Getting published has always been my goal. There are other reasons to write. Some people write to pass family stories to their children and grandchildren. I organize my thoughts when I write, which can be helpful even if those thoughts are never published.

But, make no mistake about it: I want other people to read what I write.

Writing is a gift. The ability to be published is an entirely different skill.

Here are two related strategies that will help an author move from having a good idea to being published:

1. There aren’t many markets that publish old ideas; so successful writers need a unique angle.

That means authors need to compose something that hasn’t already been written. We learned when writing our first term papers that you couldn’t write about a Big Topic such as “The Civil War.” You needed to narrow the focus: “Humor in the Letters of Civil War Soldiers” or “Comparing the Value of Confederate Money in 1864 and 1964.”

A writer needs a slant, a perspective not yet considered. South Carolina Wildlife recently accepted an article I titled, “Just Short of the Wild Side.” My premise is that I like to be alive at the conclusion of my travel adventures. So I make hour-long hikes to South Carolina waterfalls with my grandson rather than attempt to climb Mt. Everest. It’s not a complex idea, but apparently, in this era of kayaking over dangerous rapids and trekking through deserts, nobody had scripted a short article with this obvious angle.

2. Fill a niche.

Thousands of books have been written about families. Hundreds about twins. My friend Shelly Rivoli discovered her niche, and writes a successful blog as well as books on the theme, “Travel with Baby.”

My first two books were worship guides. As a young minister, I had purchased the standard worship manuals with wedding and funeral services in them. However, none gave a clue regarding why we do what we do when we gather for worship. And no one talked about the more peculiar worship occasions: Homecoming, Graduate Recognition and Labor Day weekend. Even seminary didn’t help much. I created two books that cover everything from Easter to Independence Day to ordinations to weddings and funerals. I simply added a brief four or five page explanation at the beginning of each chapter, answering such important questions as 1) What does the Bible say? 2) What are our Christian traditions? and 3) What are the practical considerations? The first volume, The Pastor’s Guidebook: A Manual for Worship, was published 30 years ago and has sold well over 25,000 copies. It’s still selling and I’m still getting checks, and it was easy to write. Not Great Literature. But it met a need. By the way, the Bible has nothing to say about Mother’s Day.

So, fellow authors, create with an eye toward publication. There are a lot of good writers, but if nobody ever reads what you have to say, you’ve fallen short of success.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


By Laura P. Valtorta

Last week I was editing the English subtitles for a new Indian screenwriter named Amit Mehra, from Mumbai. His narrative short, entitled “Ekanth,” about a prominent Indian businessman who suddenly disappears, kept me and my husband enthralled. We loved the music and the picture of middle-class life in India. I met Amit online on a website – Stage32 – for filmmakers.
If I hadn’t begun making films, there’s no way I would have met Amit or discovered that Indian households employ a lot of servants. That you have to bribe the police over there. That Indians have some hot a cappella humming-singing that makes a great movie score.

Art bridges continents as well as mindsets. Two days ago, in New York City, I met the owner of Olive Tree TV – the Roku channel that will broadcast my feature-length documentary, White Rock Boxing. Olive Tree is looking for films that illustrate “life-changing events.” They support a charity called “World Vision.” I may see the world differently than the Olive Tree people, but we both appreciate boxing and what it can do for children.

If you have a Roku box, please sign up for the Olive Tree TV channel. It’s free, and you can watch White Rock Boxing there!

For the past several weeks, I’ve been reading the full set of autobiographies by the marvelous Maya Angelou. Her writing did not come to my attention until she died recently. Maya spends a lot of pages bemoaning the relationship between dark-skinned and light-skinned people in the United States. This soon becomes tedious. But Maya and I are alike. When it comes to reading habits, ambition, natural hairstyle, and spirit, Maya and I are identical. Right around page 650, she starts funding a stage play. We have the same questions. The same problems. Her writing shows me we want the same things.

My stage play – Bermuda – will be performed by New Life Productions as a dramatic table read at the Richland County Public Library – Parklane branch - on August 9, 2014 at 3 p.m. See you there!

Through art we build bridges and discover we all share the same planet.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Flashing Back to Go Forward

By Chris Mathews

One of the most important but overused tools in the writer’s pouch is the flashback. Although flashbacks dig up the past, they should always move the storyline forward. Too often, they do not really advance the plot or the characterization.

Another challenge with using flashbacks is integrating them into the story. Too often they stick out, sidetracking the reader and giving her an instant case of ADHD. Given the challenges of this technique, I believe flashbacks can still be used to good effect.

In my short story, “Funerals in Small Southern Towns,” a beloved mother, Mary Elizabeth Jardin, has suddenly died. Driving the story are the family conflicts that take place over the three days leading up to the funeral between the Stuckeys, Mrs. Jardin’s inlaws, and the Jardin children, notably Ashby Jardin, Mary Elizabeth’s son.

Charlotte, Mary Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, is married to Roy Stuckey.  They live in a nearby town and Ashby lives three hours away.  In the opening passage of the story, I set up the difference in the backgrounds of the Stuckeys and Mrs. Jardin. Only Mary Elizabeth's social skills have enabled the two families with differing backgrounds to coexist.

Although an omniscient narrator tells the story, Ashby’s point-of-view is primary. The reader hears his inner thoughts, mostly in flashbacks.  Here is a flashback of Ashby’s that takes place during the phone call from his sister Charlotte informing him of his mother’s death.

“Ash, I have some bad news,” Charlotte began.
“Mom…didn’t make it.” Charlotte’s voice sounded unnaturally deep.
“What are you saying?”
Ashby’s relationship with his mother had not always been good … Close in age, Ashby and his younger brother Jackson fought constantly. One particularly contentious fight took place in the basement one school night when Jackson would not relinquish the telephone so Ashby could call his girlfriend. Mary Elizabeth unfortunately interceded just as Ashby had thrown a punch at Jackson. When times got tense between her and Ashby, she was not above reminding him that he had once broken his mother’s noseAll Ashby could think of at this moment was her broken nose, even though she had long since forgiven him.
“She didn’t make it out of anesthesia,” Charlotte continued, “her heart stopped.”
“Oh, my God!” Ashby let loose a torrent of sobs and wailings.

I deliberately chose to interrupt the conversation to show Ashby’s first thoughts about her death to build suspense and to provide some background about their relationship, emphasizing Ashby’s sense of guilt surrounding his mother. The flashback carries the story forward by putting Ashby’s reaction to his mother’s death on hold while it develops Ashby’s sometimes complex past relationship with his mother.  The attempt was to allow the past to enrich the story in an unobtrusive way. I believe the flashback works.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


By Jodie Cain Smith

I’m aggravated. Something isn’t right. In fact, this is all wrong.

I should be typing away at my desk, surrounded by all the objects that motivate me: Notebooks stacked four high full of ideas for future writing days, words of inspiration pinned to bulletin boards, the most brilliant phrases ever thought or spoken scribbled on scratch paper resting beneath paperweights.

But I am not at my desk in my writing space; the space I didn’t realize was sacred until today. I am on my couch, squeezed out of my office by a visit from my in-laws. The young woman traveling with my mother-in-law needed space to sleep. In my 1,500 square foot apartment with only one guest room, the only available space was my office. I thought I would be fine with her suitcase, air mattress, pillow, and blankets filling the open spaces of my writing space. I was wrong.

My space has been invaded, blighted, bruised. I want to burst through the door and promise my space that soon she will be healed. I will purge the stranger from her carpeted floor and plush armchair with matching ottoman, remove the shrapnel of shoes, tank tops, cell phone chargers, empty water bottles, and dirty socks. I will gently wipe the makeup particles from her wooden desk. But instead, I sit on my couch, do nothing to protect my writing space, and wait for the invasion to end.

My personal violation is not the young woman’s fault. The stranger in my house doesn’t know what it’s like to create, to write. She doesn’t understand the intimate relationship I have with my writing space. In her mind, the room is just an office, a place where work is done and mail is sorted and bills are paid. She doesn’t know that hidden in that space are my darkest secrets, my vulnerabilities, and my wildest fantasies. She doesn’t know that of everywhere on Earth, I am my truest self in my writing space. Risks are taken, worlds are explored, and lives are created in my writing space. And in that space, I decide if anything I create will be allowed to escape beyond the walls of my office and take the greatest risk of all – be read by someone other than me.

As any good daughter-in-law does, I opened my home and my life to people other than myself. The in-laws and anyone they bring with them is part of the “I do” package. I just never considered that they would land in my sacred space. And until now, I didn’t realize that it would bother me this deeply.

Yes, my room will return to its former glory soon. All evidence of the occupier will be removed. The room will be cleaned, and I will retreat to my space to create another world from the inner workings of my mind. If only I could create a world where screaming, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” wouldn’t result in a rift between my mother-in-law and myself that no amount of carefully thought out words could fix. If only…

Sunday, July 13, 2014


By Bonnie Stanard

Years ago when I first moved to a duplex in Uccle, Belgium, my French landlady, who spoke no English, ordered her dog around. It returned to the house or followed her or got into her car on cue. I was embarrassed that the dog understood commands I didn’t.

In the four years I lived there, my French never improved enough to understand slang or contemporary idiom. As a consequence, I wasn’t perturbed by the incomprehensible curses of a driver who thought I had taken his parking spot. Sounds are innocent until attached to meaning. Therein lies their potential for power.

Recent news reports belie the adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Donald Sterling had the misfortune of being secretly recorded saying something as hurtful as it was politically incorrect. (Whether or not the recording was an invasion of his privacy hasn’t been an issue.) His quote raged in the media for days and got him fined and banned by the NBA.

Juan Williams lost his PBS job for saying he became nervous “if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims.”

Towson University art professor Allen Zaruba was fired for saying in class that he was “a nigger on the corporate plantation." His unfortunate word choice landed him out of the job he was bemoaning, a part-time faculty member without tenure.

Colorado congressman Doug Lamborn made media headlines and apologized for saying “…I don’t even want to have to be associated with him [the President]. It’s like touching a tar baby and you get it, you’re stuck, and you’re a part of the problem…”

Simple words aren’t so simple. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is campaigning to ban the word bossy. The word purportedly is a put-down to young girls and discourages them from taking on leadership roles.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel recently discussed slut slamming. The word slut never had so much attention. As an aside, our thesaurus is decidedly sexist. It has a host of terms for a female sensualist, most of them derogatory, while the male synonyms are not only fewer in number but less disparaging (if at all disparaging).

The government is getting involved in cleaning up the English language. The terms citizen and brown bag are no longer used in official documents or discussions by Seattle city workers. They are to use the terms lunch-and-learn or sack lunch instead of brown bag. The word citizen is avoided because many people who live in Seattle are residents, not citizens.

The New York Post reported in March 2012 that the city’s Department of Education avoids references to words like dinosaur, birthday, and Halloween on city-issued tests. Dinosaur suggests evolution, possibly offensive to fundamentalists. Birthdays are not celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Halloween intimates paganism.

The internet is rife with warnings about politically incorrect words. Lists include Swine flu, oriental, founding fathers, black sheep, and senior citizen. There are even dictionaries to tell you which words will get you into trouble.

I can think of nothing so fragile and powerful as words. Our culture, delineated by the media and government, is exerting its control by banning the use of controversial words. Whether this is a step forward or back is a debate that is ongoing. Few people will deny that some words are demeaning. Unfortunately, when politics enters the picture, the choice of unacceptable words becomes subject to influence by strident organizations. I personally find the politically correct policemen as threatening as offensive language.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


By Mike Long

Anyone reading this is either published or hopes to be, and therefore is or will be interested in getting reviews on the completed work… or will be wishing the reviews had never been written.

Here's how it frequently goes: you finish your novel, do some sort of launch, get it on Kindle, then wait for the reviews. And wait. The first eight or so will be from family and friends plus a few authors who know how important these things are. And they are important. Not only do prospective buyers actually read them, some professional reviewers/bloggers won't even consider your work until you have ten reviews with an average four-star rating. All you need to suppress your average is your Uncle Joe (who thinks a one-star is good, and a five-star is bad), or an idiot who didn't like your subject/genre (and who knows nothing about the writing craft), or, Heaven forbid, several intelligent people who recognize your writing as awful (and don't know you well enough to fib or simply pass on the review).

Let's assume your writing is excellent. If you've gotten it past your SCWW peers, it probably is, so what's the problem? Well, Uncle Joe, of course; with him you can explain the rating system, slowly and distinctly, and hope he gets around to that retraction/correction. I still have one of those one-star ratings; he said he couldn't wait for the sequel. I haven't given him a copy. I also have a two-star zinger from a 'professional' reviewer who wrote that she couldn't finish the novel because of the violence. In my online rebuttal I pointed out that she was part of a paid service, wherein she'd read the synopsis explaining it was a WAR BOOK, and that she had then asked to review it. Her response was that she was just getting started, and that I was mean-spirited and made her cry, and deserved whatever I got.

My advice is simply never respond to a poor rating. Never. After my first free Kindle promotion, some troll blistered my first novel. Knowing he'd paid nothing for it, I responded (for all to see) "So sorry you didn't like it; give me an address and I'll refund the entire $2.99." Cute, right? WRONG. His response (for all to see): "Oh no. You can't buy a retraction. I stand by my rating."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Have Not Yet Begun to Write

By Len Lawson

I was asked recently a familiar question to authors...

So how do I go about writing a book?

Below I leave tips for aspiring writers to use for getting that first book from the brainstorming to the finalizing stage.

1) Start writing. Stop talking to everyone about wanting to write something and actually do it! It doesn't matter what you write or how it is arranged or organized. When I began my first book (a fiction novel), I thought I was writing what I considered to be the first chapters. After visiting with a professional editor, it turned out to be the fourth or fifth chapters. I would add to this tip the phrase

2) Don't think--just write. Don't worry about being Ernest Hemingway, John Grisham, or whoever your favorite author is. They have years of experience, and writing a first novel makes you a novice. Writers usually have to push these nagging questions to the back of their minds until the work is finished.
A. Is this good enough?
B. Will people like it?
C. Am I on the right track?

3) Don't read your favorite author's work while writing. While a common tip for writers is to "read everything you can", this can be a detriment to your individual style that distinguishes your work from millions on shelves everywhere. You are not trying to be the next Ernest Hemingway; you want to become the first [insert your name here]. Furthermore, your readers will appreciate your uniqueness.

4) Keep writing. Remember this statistic: 95% of people who begin the same writing journey as you this year will quit. Therefore, how do you maintain your stamina for an entire book? Well, it's a bit like staying in shape.

A. Write every day. Don't tell how many things you have to do in a day or how many distractions there are. Every writer faces those same temptations. Out of 24 hours in a day, you can carve out at least 45 minutes to one hour to focus on your craft.

B. Develop a plan for writing and stick to it. Whatever your plan turns out to be, don't deviate from it. If you happen to get off track, then get back on quickly.

C. Stay focused during your writing time. It is so easy to let the distractions/temptations (TV, social media, Internet, cell phone, etc.) creep into your writing time. Eliminate these during your writing time. This takes time to master, but remember your goals and just say no to the temptations.

D. Create the right environment when you write. What works for me is to play an instrumental track of my favorite music while I write so that my brain is locked into what is flowing on the pages. Alternatively, I prefer silence. Find the right ambiance for you to create your masterpiece. Also, don't be afraid to alter this space if necessary.

Finally, the one thing that has improved my craft more than anything is learning from my peers and improving from the critiques I have received in my SCWW writing groups. I hope these tips will help anyone ready for their writing journey to pursue it with confidence.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Q & A: What’s So Punny?

By Kimberly Johnson
I’m always looking for a good laugh. I tried watching Last Comic Standing on NBC. I parked my remote on the Comedy Central with no results. I found my funny a couple of Sundays ago via Youtube. CBS Sunday Morning featured the 37th O. Henry Pun-Off Championships (It was a free event, 11a -3p). Reporter Lee Cowan traveled to Austin, Texas to interview entrants and the 2014 winner Alexandra Petri. (She made puns of every US president in chronological order).

In Romania I made hotel reservations. I was so tired I had to BUCHAREST.

I’ll admit it—I’m not well-versed on puns. So, I decided to go on a fact-finding mission:

Q: What is a pun?
A: Informal definition: A play on words and their meaning. Formal definition: A joke exploiting the possible meanings of a word.
Function: A pun shapes how the reader interprets the text.

The pigs were a squeal.

Q: Are there different types of puns?
A: Yes. Homophonic puns feature word pairs that sound alike but have different meanings. Homographic puns spotlight words that have the same spelling but have a different sound and connotation. Homonymic puns use words which are homophones and homographs. A compound pun uses two or more puns at a time.

Nothing makes me SYCAMORE than some guy using all those cheezy pickup lines like a DOGWOOD.

Q: Who uses a pun and why?
A: A writer can demonstrate a character’s quick wit. William Shakespeare is a famous punster.
“Winter of our discontent” was “made glorious summer by this Son [son] of York.” (Richard III)

How to be a punster?
Listen closely when your friends are talking. Find a play on words that you can use to construct your pun. Keep it in the context of the conversation.

Want more information? Try the O. Henry Pun-Off website, It features cool stuff like Noose You Can Use and Punslingers.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Observe. Create. Write. Repeat.

By Leigh Stevenson

I am often asked by non-writer friends where I get my ideas. “Do they come from real life? Do they come from your imagination? Do you take notes? Are you always looking for a story? Do you do extensive research?” The most accurate answer is all of the above. But my truest answer, if I’m honest: I try to pay attention.

In the beginning, I scribbled ideas on scraps of random bits of paper, napkin wedges and backs of receipts. More often than not, I would promptly lose them. There were also the middle-of-the-night brilliant ideas that I was sure I wouldn’t forget but inevitably did. My solution came in buying two notebooks, one that I try to keep with me at all times and another one for beside my bed. Sometimes I go back to read these notes and I can’t decipher them. But that doesn’t matter. Mostly, I do remember and it encourages me to pay attention.

I am endlessly curious about people. Most every person I encounter is fascinating in some way. Everyone has a story and I believe you can learn something from each individual. Maybe it’s a piece of wisdom or just a fragment of information. It might be the observation of a baby‘s intense concentration while trying to pick up a bug or that one cheerio on a slippery tray. It could be the way someone holds their hands while listening to criticism. Notice the gait of say a minister when compared to that of a car salesman. What do your fingers look like after sticking them in a bag of Cheetos? After washing blackberries? Observation is an essential element in the writer’s toolbox. Every observation adds texture to your memory bank. Even if you are writing non-fiction or a self-help book, observation is crucial. You have to observe how your audience is doing something incorrectly, to tell them how to do it right. Right?

Every bit of information and observation informs your writing. Tuck it away. Observe. Create. Write. Repeat. Not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Author Website Bonus Materials: Online Stalking & Tasty Treats

By Jodie Cain Smith

Fred Fields pointed out in his post “Website Tips” that a website is critical to an author’s success. However, if you want to fully capitalize on this inexpensive and, in some cases, free marketing device, gone are the days that a stagnant online business card would suffice. Today’s author websites must offer readers much more than a bio and purchase links. If you want your readers to buy more, invite them through the looking glass, or rather laptop screen, to get lost in your bonus materials. After several minutes, or even hours, your customers will emerge from the rabbit hole filled with the inner workings of your brain and, hopefully, with a lighter wallet.

So, how do you turn your author website from stagnant to engaging? Add content! In addition to a regularly updated bio (Seriously, surely something has happened in your life in the last ten years. And when was that picture taken? 1993? Nice claw bangs.), available titles, contact information including all social media links, and event/appearance schedule, get creative with bonus materials.

1. Create a Virtual Inspiration Board

Allow readers to explore your world. What music do you listen to while writing? Does it change according to the specific project? Do pictures inspire you? Do you save research from past works? Share short posts and images that include anything and everything that inspire you. Divide your inspiration according to specific titles, so the reader can click on the title of the book you wrote that he is now obsessed with and dying to learn more. Feed his obsession.

2. Create Flash Fiction

Introduce yourself through short works. If the customer likes the appetizer (a brief story of 750 words or less), she may say, “Well, that just made me hungrier. Must eat more!” Before she knows it, her literary hunger pangs have resulted in binge clicking, purchasing everything she can make her little mouse icon grab.

3. Encourage Voyeurism

Emily Giffin, one of my favorite authors, includes a “Twenty-five Things About Emily” list. I read the list and decided that we should be close friends. Of course, moving to Atlanta in order to “accidentally” meet her would be costly and could land me in jail, so I downloaded her latest release instead. Our friendship may be imaginary, but her voice is part of my life regardless. Victory!

4. Blog and Share and Blog and Share and Blog and Share

Yep, this part is never ending, but it is the easiest way to keep your website fresh. And fresh content is the best kind to share. Would you offer a friend a spoiled apple, rotting and covered in fruit flies? No. So, why would you expect your readers to come back to the table time and time again for apples so old that even moronically naive Snow White would refuse a bite? That’s just gross and mean and your readers crave something new.

What other bonus materials can you think of to include on an author website? Share your ideas below.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Join Us!

By Ginny Padgett

This blog site is the domain of Columbia II, a chapter of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. During the three years I served as president of the organization, it was my joy and privilege to foster two new and successful chapters, Columbia III and Sumter.

Recently, I have been involved with the formation of another SCWW chapter in the Beaufort area. This week I received a call from the leader of the fledgling chapter. She asked, “My prospective members wonder why we’re paying dues to SCWW if I’m doing all the work of organizing a chapter?” My answer included these points.
  • Liability insurance – This is the most important advantage for groups to become SCWW chapters. If something were to happen at a chapter meeting, SCWW insurance would cover the damage.
  • Website support and information:
  • Market yourself and your work through the SCWW website
        Member website and blog site:  blogs/
        Speakers Bureau:
  • Monthly e-newsletter
  • Exclusive opportunity to be published in SCWW’s annual anthology, the Petigru Review
  • Discounted reading fee for Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards
  • Discount on conference registration - Our conference has been ranked as one of the top ten in the country.
Most of all, we’re a network of writers, novice and established, who come together regularly on a local level to critique each other’s work and provide a means of accountability. In addition, we share information that will further us on our journey toward publication and support each other in that common endeavor.
There are 18 chapters across the state, and the Board is looking into the feasibility of forming virtual chapters for those members who reside outside SCWW areas. If you’ve wanted to find an environment to nurture your creative growth, consult the website for a chapter that best accommodates you.  Don’t see one in your locale? Email me. We’ll start one.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Making My Peace with the N-Word

By Len Lawson

As an English professor, every year I offer my students an argumentative essay based on the topic, "Should the n-word be used in today's society?" This comes from Gloria Naylor's essay, "Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean?" In the essay, the author describes how hearing the word used toward her in elementary school by a white student transformed her understanding of race in America. In the classroom, discussions on both sides of the argument among my students have been intense, visceral, and down right incendiary. Each year a student will ask, "Mr. Lawson, what is your opinion on the issue?" I always reserve my opinion to keep the sides moderate.

As a black man, I have had the n-word used around me by white people--once as Naylor did in elementary school at a cafeteria table surrounded by white students and several times in a relationship used against me to get me to retaliate (unsuccessfully). Between these two instances, I have known that the word meant nothing good for any black person, and I never used it. However, the onslaught of hip hop music in our society presented an astounding blacklash against the word's origin. Although many African Americans use it as a term of endearment, I never enjoyed hearing it because I always associated it with something negative regardless of its intention.

As a writer, I have struggled with the perception of using this word in poetry and fiction. I have come to the conclusion that in order for characters to remain authentic, in many cases the n-word cannot be taken out of the mouths of characters who would use it in reality. The integrity of the characters will be maintained and not compromised. Moreover, the fiction will resonate with readers if they are fully acquainted with what type of characters--perhaps even narrators--use the n-word in their speech.

I realize some may say that I am hereby giving people a license to use such language in their writing and even in their own speech. However, as illustrated above, no one needs my permission to use the derogatory term. Our society has already indicted some of its own precious characters for using the word. Nonetheless, regardless of its efforts, our culture cannot contain the parent that uses the n-word around his children and even teaches them to use it. Our culture cannot stop anyone else bold enough to utter the word from grabbing it with his fist and hurling it with hate at anyone who happens to be his target. We can all see this in movies as well. If we didn't care for the n-word, then why did we not see anyone boycotting such films as 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Roots, and others for its use?

In conclusion, authenticity remains a valid excuse for writers of any race to use the word. However, each individual must search his own soul before penning the n-word on paper before seeing it in print beneath a cover with his name on the front. The word itself is history, yet as a society, we simply cannot seem to keep its sensual, polarizing, forbidden fruit out of our mouths in the present. Therefore, we leave the debate to be reconciled by subsequent generations. As for me, when I see the word or even write it, all I see is hate--never love--and perhaps never peace.

Monday, May 19, 2014


By Laura P. Valtorta

I don’t suffer from writer’s block. Too many ideas. But I do suffer from format block, style block, and diarrhea of the pen.

There’s a Puccia family story that needs to be told. Everybody has that story. The bitch mother. The renegade father. Children who take risks and tear your heart in two.

Readers don’t care about my family. Why should they? And yet, these family sagas have been told for generations, and somehow they capture audiences’ attention.

Last week Marco and I saw two plays: Hamlet at Drayton Hall on the University of South Carolina campus, and Blindsided: the Wedding put on by New Life Productions at the Booker Washington Community Center. Both were delightful. Both were about families. My family. That’s why I was interested. I saw myself on stage with those actors.

Hamlet at Drayton Hall immediately felt like home. It was set in an insane asylum. One of the main characters was a horrible mother. She let her son down. She couldn’t keep her farthingale on. Not to mention her partlet and her bumroll. Hamlet went mad over this. Angry at the betrayal of his mother.

In Blindsided: the Wedding, we saw a talk show host , portrayed by my actor friend, Pat Yeary, (she was in my short film entitled Disability) who set out to trick her guests into reuniting with their mother – another nut case – who had abandoned her children when they were babies. Entertaining. Lots of audience participation and laughs.

These shows inspired me because they managed to portray family issues without losing my interest. In real life, nobody cares about Bruce’s overachieving children or Sally’s annoying grandkids. Nobody wants to hear that my children are extremely good-looking. That’s for me and Marco to discuss in private.

For entertainment value, in the outside world we want to know about the disasters. How a family can weather all the emotional bullshit and survive. Or die of poison, one after another, inside a creepy castle in Denmark.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Who is Writer’s Block aka The Block?

By Kimberly Johnson
Aaagh. I cannot break through this peat-filled bog—I’m trapped and I cannot craft an introduction for this blog. In the hopes of replenishing my creative engine, I cranked up YouTube and viewed an episode of Sherlock, the British thriller, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Maybe a change in scenery would help me. It did. Afterwards, a conundrum vexed me:  What is this fiendish fellow called Writer’s Block? I ran to my closet and found my Sherlock Holmes’ chapeau (it was a baseball cap) and ferreted out this dastardly time-stealer.

In my opinion, The Block is the 50s creature, The Blob. It’s odorless and shapeless. When it takes over your mind, you’re powerless. Blogger Charlie Jane Anders believes there is no such animal as Writer’s Block. It is just a creative slowdown with causes and solutions. Anders features them in her blog, “The 10 Different Types of Writers Block and How To Overcome Them.” I have number 8: You can’t think of the right words for what you’re trying to convey.

What does It feel like? When does this malady occur?

To me, it feels like a blank space—nothing coming in, nothing coming out. One fiction writer characterized it as annoying and scary. Another writer conjures up the monster-under-your-bed scene from childhood. As for showing up, the Block rears his head when you run out of petrol with the storyline.

How do you end It? Hmmm. Watson, that’s not so elementary.

So I went to the experts to solve this quandary.

What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’— Maya Angelou

You hear of writers having such a tough time. They say, 'I can't make it work', and I always think, 'Why not?' I don't believe in writer's block. I've only been stuck briefly but then something will interrupt my day. I'll focus on that and when I go back to my work, I'm not stuck any more.  — Elmore Leonard

I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. — Barbara Kingsolver

Sunday, May 4, 2014


By Mike Long

Author Richard Prosch and I are fortunate to have short stories in the new Western anthology from High Hill Press, namely Rough Country. Richard asked me for a brief look back on how my piece, “Choteau's Crossing,” came to be.

It all started when Brett Cogburn invited me to have a drink at the Western Writers of America Convention in Las Vegas in 2013. We talked some (drank more), and some time later he called. He said he'd read my first novel, No Good Like It Is, and that there was a scene in there that he especially liked. In it, some unlucky Texan bandits attack a lonely trading post on the Canadian River up in Indian Territory and find out there are some irritable buffalo runners inside.

Brett went on to say that he was putting together an anthology of maybe 15 stories, and that he kind of liked my style, and that if I could turn that scene into a stand-alone short story, and if it well pleased him, he might include it. He said he was "pretty daggone picky," but I was welcome to try. Now, I'd like to tell you he was just being cute and precious, maybe exaggerating a little, but that would be a Black Lie.

He was being the dark soul of understatement. I understand that some authors stood up to him and wrote whatever the hell they pleased, but I'm old and small and feeble, not to mention trying to get noticed. The result was that over the next several months Brett twisted and squeezed me like a wash rag until he got that story the way he wanted it. I'd be home, feeling “pretty daggone” good about what I'd just sent him, and the phone would ring. Here'd come this loud Oklahoma twang saying, "Hey- you got your big boy pants on?"

I put him on hold, poured myself a stiff one, and bent over. See, I didn't have a real editor for my two novels, so it was a new and sometimes painful experience for me. Thank goodness for scotch. Merely remembering it gave me a chill, so I just now went and fixed myself a delicious Rob Roy -- three kinds of liquor but it does have ice. I will never lose weight if I keep writing.

Anyhow, he encouraged me to try 'first person,' and I found I liked it. I put myself into the head of a simple sixteen-year-old poor boy from Weatherford, Texas, out on a lark with some other dumb-assed teenagers who run into reality and ensuing trouble. That wasn't too hard to imagine for a former eighteen-year-old, who was afraid of heights, went to parachute school, then Viet Nam and never advanced much mentally. Finally we came up with a story we could live with, and I was ”pretty daggone” proud. Try it and let us know what you think. 

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