Sunday, March 29, 2015

When to Research and When to Revise Part 1

By Kasie Whitener

Recently, when speaking with a writer who claimed to have penned a modern military novel, I asked, “How did you research the military aspect of the novel?”

Her response: reddit, documentaries, and Call of Duty (a military-style video game).

I’m a little judgey and I think these resources are insufficient. In graduate school, I learned the different levels of research credibility. From original source data to seminal theorists, I think I can spot the right kind of research.

Then again, I’ve also been known to spend a lot of time on Wikipedia because it’s easier to navigate than the tome Byron: Life and Works I got from the library.

So knowing all of the resources available, how does one determine which research is appropriate?

Ask yourself: What do I need to know?

Historical Details

I needed to know if people smoked cigarettes in 1816 and if so, how did they ignite them? When were matches invented?

Tobacco was regional and my vampire smokers are Yanks (a concurrent term) so they can smoke. But I don’t want my work to be discredited over a small error like the existence of matches. So a quick Google search brought up sufficient information on how, when, and why matches were invented. My smokers must use taper candles.

Lord Byron limped due to a club foot and the years of bad medicine associated with attempting to cure that malady humiliated and embittered him. In my novel, he pronounces the limp whenever he’s embarrassed or annoyed. Other times, he hides it ably, indicating years of suppression.

Literary Research

A bigger portion of my research has been about the conventions of the two genres I’m combining. I’m writing about time-traveling vampires. Both time travel and vampires are fantasy genres with their own conventions. I’ve been reading as much genre-pertinent  fiction as I can.

Unfortunately, the scholarship on pop-culture genres can be rather thin. Few literary scholars apply themselves to genre identification. Yet, it’s very interesting to me that most vampire novels spend at least some time on the origin story – how one became a vampire – and the rules – how they feed, how they die.

I consider anything with Byron in it to be an attempt at literary fiction, even if that same work includes vampires. So I’ve spent time researching the criticism on Byron (turns out he made frequent reference to vampires in his poetry) and on Dracula.

I may not have thought of the Byron connection to my vampires if it hadn’t been for the embedded link to The Vampyre in the bit of Byron’s Wikipedia entry that dealt with John Polidori. Polidori’s original story, mistakenly attributed to Byron, is known as the first Western appearance of vampires in fiction. It also happened to be written during the very week my vampires hung out with Byron and Polidori in Switzerland.

And what has all of this research done for me? It helped me get ready to revise. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015


By Bonnie Stanard

Last month I, along with more than 75 other authors, participated in Book ‘Em North Carolina, a day-long book fair. Lumberton proved to be friendly and supportive of us writers, beginning with the “Meet and Greet” on Friday evening at the Village Station Restaurant. We were treated to drinks and an appealing table of hors d’oeuvres. Owner Arnold West, as well as official hosts and the Lumberton Visitors Bureau, showed up to make us feel welcome.

For the last several years Robeson Community College has provided the venue. My husband Doug and I arrived at the A.D. Lewis Auditorium entrance Saturday morning and were met by volunteers who helped us unload our car and transport books and material to our table. They provided bottled water and offered to help with the set-up.

Each writer was given half of an eight-foot table to display and market his books. I promoted my books with posters of the covers taped to the wall. Since my novels are historical fiction, I placed on the table antique cast-iron irons (for ironing) and an old-fashioned vase with artificial flowers. Next year I’m thinking about displaying an album of 19th century photos.

At 9:30 AM when the doors opened to the public, attractive tables lined the hallways displaying a range of genres including poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and children’s books. The friendly atmosphere encouraged us writers to socialize and get to know one another. Writers (with guest) were treated to an upstairs Author Lounge where we could get complimentary snacks, drinks, and lunch.

Numerous panel discussions about varying subjects related to books and publishing were held every hour at three different locations. I, along with four other writers, discussed “The History Behind the Fiction” to a turnout of about thirty persons. During the day, several panels discussed self-publishing versus traditional publishing, reflecting the changing scene in the book business. Samples of other panel topics: “Promotion: The Other Side of Writing,” Memoir Writing,” and “Behind the Romance.”

A chat I had at my table with a lady has given me more to think about regarding my antebellum novels. I haven’t thought about them as having a political aspect, but my encounter with her (and hints from others I’ve ignored) is giving me pause. The lady asked me if I was proud of my Southern heritage. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but it became clear when she said most Southerners she knew were proud of their history of rebellion and the Confederacy. That hasn’t been my experience, I replied, though the subject of slavery isn’t one that comes up often in casual conversations.

The day ended at 4:30 PM. Doug and I said good-bye to the people we met and started the two-hour drive back to Columbia. I’ve already applied for a table at next year’s fair to be held Saturday, February 27, 2016. This is an annual event in which any published writer can participate, assuming his application is received before the spaces are filled. Writers are required to donate a percentage of their sales, which goes to support local literacy organizations. If you’re interested in being a guest author, you can download an application at the Book ‘Em North Carolina website.

“Book ‘Em North Carolina” to  -- 
Robeson Community College” to --

Sunday, March 15, 2015

He’s Not Fuuny – Blame It on the Writers

By Kimberly Johnson
Comedian X is not humorous. I will keep the blindfold on and not divulge his name. But, you know this prince of the punch line. He was the squire of the small screen, reigning for years. He’s currently the godfather for up and coming comics. He has a pedigree: played Saturday Night Live, Caroline’s, Vegas, Carson and Letterman (you get the snapshot).

I do not connect with his jokes, bits, anecdotes, tales and yarns. I made an honest attempt, but no dice.  Maybe it is his writing staff. I believe a chuckle king or queen needs a support cast that translates the jokes from the page to the stage. Chris Rock (SNL alum, TV and movies), Joan Rivers ("The Borscht Belt," Hollywood veteran) and Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) exemplify people who have employed writing staff that can translate the funny stuff into boundless laughs. I found three comedy writers that say it boils down to writing. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
Read your stuff out loud. Sometimes the way it reads in your head sounds different when someone says it. If you stick around, if you're a good collaborator, if you're open to new ideas and you keep trying, then you'll find there's a lot of different ways you can work as a writer. You can generate original material, or you can be a staff writer, or you can write about the comedy scene — all different things you might find you're good at if you stick around long enough.” Amy Poehler, comedienne
 “A joke in its simplest form is STRAIGHT LINE – PUNCHLINE. It’s not FUNNY LINE – PUNCHLINE. So the comedy writer must be vigilant in taking the straight line, the fact, the statement and writing it down. Isolate it in its most unfunny state, then, turn it funny by finding the double-entendre play, or doing a reverse, or doing a listing technique or an analogy play or apply 7 other comedy formulas to turn it into something funny. But always start with a straight line first.”  Jerry Corley, The Stand Up Comedy Clinic “In my short time doing stand-up, I've learned that every room has its own vibe. Older crowds, younger crowds, hipper crowds, dumber crowds. You're not doing your job as a comic if you're blind to that. Although you might polish your set, you need to tailor your material to the people you're trying to get a laugh from. I'll admit that I don't really like that.” Gladstone, 6 Ways To Not Suck At Stand Up Comedy

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Zooilla and the Art of Non-Fiction Proposals

By Laura P. Valtorta

Some people live fortunate lives. I am extra fortunate, but not as fortunate as Zooilla, who has an agent, writes creative non-fiction, and teaches at the University of South Carolina. I call Zooilla “super lucky.” He makes a living writing about animals, and teaching the squirrels who attend USC.

Who does that? Who earns money writing about monkeys, opossums, and bees and gets free trips to India and Brazil thrown in? Maybe somebody who used to work as a shepherd but turned into a good writer.

Zooilla uses Immaculate Consumption restaurant as his office. When he’s in town, he cycles to IC and spends most of the day working on his computer. I assume he’s writing. If you ask him how to submit non-fiction proposals, he shrugs his shoulders. “Ask the publisher,” he says. Nothing about outlines, synopses, cover letters, or sample chapters.

If you ask him again, he turns into Zooilla – the Italian-Finnish-American guy who fights like a raccoon. Then he orders a coffee, packs up his computer, and cycles away. 

Zooilla is in Jersey now (the island in England), on sabbatical with his family. He says he cycles through windy days to the coffee shops and pubs with his laptop, writes his usual stuff about animals and then picks up his children from school. His wife is doing the real work – teaching. On the weekends, they all go walking on the beach.

Zooilla is a super lucky guy who wrote an excellent book entitled My Backyard Jungle. But don’t ask him how he got published.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


George Long's mother instilled in him her love for language. He uses that love to express his own experiences into life-enriching lessons for children and their parents to enjoy. Just a Penny for a Pocketful of Dreams is the first of four," Daddy always Says" Books. His motto is: "Our goal is to enrich the the lives of those we touch."

 For ideas you may go to to view his the gallery of book-signings.  

Protecting Your Work

By George H. Long, Jr.

“The burden of proof is on the side of right,” said Judge Bill Smith. Your work is protected by US Copyright law the moment it is conceived. Whether written down on a napkin, or documented in your computer, the law says, it is yours alone. But what if the person who witnessed your napkin creation is the one who steals your story? How would you prove it is yours?

You could mail yourself a certified package and enclose your intellectual property. Sign for the package, and do not open it. Be sure to tape the returned proof of delivery card to the package. You may also email the text or art to yourself. The dated email is your proof. These are good ideas, but there is nothing better than to have your work registered at the US Copyright Office. If you go to: www. you can file on line for a fee of $35.

The cost of litigation is high. Each thing you do to protect your work may save you money.  

Hooray! You’ve sold your first story and just can’t wait to sign the contract. Not so fast. You may be signing away more of your rights than you think. There are quite a few profit opportunities connected to your intellectual property and each facet may be a point of negotiation under contract law. There are e-books, toys, international sales, language translations, TV rights, movie rights, play rights and merchandise rights just to name a few.

You must be sure of what you are signing, otherwise you may sign away some of your dreams and all the profit that goes with them.

Regardless of how you go about Protecting Your Work, take heed to the words of my friend Judge Bill Smith, “The burden of proof is on the side of right,”  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Writing Memoirs

By Deborah Wright Yoho

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite's warm, reassuring voice on his nightly newscast greeted our family every night. He was the Most Trusted Man in America. In retrospect his ironclad credibility seems surprising, because Walter reported relentlessly on the agony of Vietnam, the first war to beam straight into America's living-rooms during a period when the nation's sense-making of warfare was confused and divided.  His broadcasts punctuated our evening meal five days a week, every week from the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies, except in the summer and on weekends, when Roger Mudd substituted so Walter could go sailing.

Cronkite's job as the CBS news anchor required him to announce the evening American death toll in Southeast Asia. “Today’s casualties numbered thirty-two Americans dead, seventy-one wounded and three missing in action," said Walter as we sat over our dinner, only the numbers changing with each broadcast. Of course we believed him.  No one ever questioned the truth of anything Walter Cronkite reported.

I've been thinking about this anew since Brian Williams, the evening anchor at NBC, was recently placed on unpaid leave for six months because he exaggerated about coming under fire when he flew in a Chinook helicopter a number of years ago in Iraq. Inquiring people want to know:  is Brian Williams a liar? News anchors are no longer credible just because they speak to us in our living rooms.

I write what I hope is non-fiction, putting to paper my memories of my own life. A haughty enterprise. Why should anyone believe a word I say? As I work to write an accurate account of events that happened thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, I find my memory is a very fickle tutor. Some recollections, significant and insignificant, come easily to mind, but my brain needs prodding to recall other things. So I pour over photographs, compare my memories to those of others who were there with me, and listen again to the music of the era. Ah, the music! For me, the Sixties and Seventies will always be about the music! Nothing evokes memories like music.

But I still can't be sure if every word reflects exactly what happened, especially the precise sequence of my personal story. Suppose, for an instant, that I possessed an eidetic,  lasting and reliable recall. Would my writing improve?  Become more credible, more interesting, more compelling? I think not.

A writer's offering of a personal account is fascinating to me not because it purports to be true, but because memoirs reveal how people, events, and locations conjoin to influence an individual's perspective on what is worth remembering, worth capturing in written language, worth presenting to the world in a published work. Reading a memoir, and especially writing one, creates opportunities to sift through my life to separate the wheat from the chaff.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Work of Revision

By Kasie Whitener

In October, at the SCWW Conference, I presented ten pages to a literary agent who represents the kind of work I’d done. She was not impressed with the pages, but she was impressed with the story as I described it to her. She told me to revise it twice and send it to her.
What does it mean to revise?
The easy part of writing is getting the story down. Bleed on the page. The real work is in revision. I’m not the first or only writer to say this. All really good writers know it to be true.

In my English classes I often break the word out: Re – vision. To see again.

A true revision should only resemble the original work. After revision, characters are more complex, settings are clearer, plot arcs are steeper, the stakes are higher.

Here is my tool box for revision in three parts:

First, map the story. I’m what’s called a pantser, I don’t plan the story first. I let the characters talk and write their stories as they tell them to me. It’s a magical process wherein unexpected things happen and new characters sometimes show up and hijack scenes.

But during revision, the story needs a map. What does the timeline look like? How are the chapters organized? Does something happen in every single scene?

The map can help determine if there are scenes that are superfluous. I love a good strip club scene, but if it doesn’t move the plot along, it needs to be cut.

Second, nail down the characters. All those people who wandered in have something to offer the story. Or do they? I heard a writer named David Coe refer to the character study as the ABC’s:
·         Attributes or what the character physically looks like, does he have a limp? A lazy eye? A scar?
·         Backstory or where the character has been, what he’d experienced, what made him who he is and
·         Circumstances or the current situation in which the character finds himself.

Map the story then map the characters and the two maps will work together to provide motivations for each participant in every scene.

Third, re-read the scenes. I like to print a hard copy in an alternate font. That way the work doesn’t seem like mine. The printed page enables me to look at the scene with fresh eyes.

Get distance. Take time away from the work so that you can be removed from your original intentions. Distance forces the work to speak for itself.

Revision is a long slow process.

Revision is the real work of writing. In revision, we use craft and structure to elevate our ideas from mere stories to written work.

As I’ve worked through the manuscript that agent asked me to revise, I’ve found the electricity that was missing from the first iteration. Sometimes I catch myself just reading my own work. Then I remind myself, it was good before, but revision makes it great.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta

The Danes have an adjective: tilbageholdende, which means “reluctant,” or “holding  back.” This should not apply to a director promoting a film or a writer pushing a new book.
Following completion of a film – the final edit, and then uploading the file onto Vimeo – the post-production work begins. Two years of it. This part of the filmmaking adventure is almost as much fun as directing a shoot. It requires imagination, chutzpah, and hard work. This “hard work” includes traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico for a jazzy film festival; building posters, and emailing your production photos everywhere.

Ah, the life of a filmmaker! What I love about post-production is that the requirements change on a daily basis, because the filmmaking industry is in such as state of beautiful chaos. Today’s web series might be tomorrow’s television pilot. Some festivals prefer shorts over 15 minutes long, while other on-line events might prefer a two-minute short that plays well on an Iphone.

Everybody is looking for independent features.

            I recently put together a list of the necessary elements of post-production:
*           File of the entire film – for festivals and additional DVDs.
*           Promo or trailer.
*           Vimeo file of the entire movie, password-protected.
*           Vimeo file of the promo or trailer, open to everyone.
*           Copyright registration:
*           Still photos from the movie itself
*           Still photos of the director, producer, and screenwriter
*           Still production photos
*           Logline and synopses of the film, English, French, Spanish
*           Website with promo for film and bio of director/screenwriter
*           Master DVD, for copying purposes
*           Master Blu-ray disc, for copying purposes
*           Releases for the use of music and art
*           Promotion through Withoutabox, Imdb, and Film Freeway
*           Follow-up correspondence with festivals, usually by email
*           Personal meetings with distributors
*           Personal meetings at film festivals
*           Contacts at PBS and local TV stations
*           Advertising – cards, brochures, website, blogs, everywhere
*           Advertising – Facebook, twitter, Linked-in, Stage 32 (all social media                      within reach)

The last two lines on advertising are relevant for fiction and non-fiction writers. Any sort of advertising helps. I like to have premiere parties where the film’s participants can meet with fans and friends. Any day at Immaculate Consumption will see me handing out my Gatta Films postcards with instructions on the back about viewing my films on websites such as Shorts Showcase.

Shorts Showcase and other festivals such as Olive Tree have told me that my reach in social network is good. They appreciate when I go on Linked-in, Facebook, Stage 32, and Twitter.

Whenever something happens with my films, I try to tell the world.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review My Book! Please!

By Jodie Cain Smith

I know, I know, in a perfect world we the writers would write, and they, the consumers, would consume without any effort from the writers to bridge the two worlds. But this world is far from perfect. Upon the launch of my novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, I discovered the most evil of marketing tools, the Amazon Customer Review. Yes, whether five stars or one star, the customer review is evil.

It has been known to inspire evil acts. Type “sock puppet reviews” into a Google search bar and read what unethical lengths authors have gone to for an Amazon page filled with customer reviews. Desperate authors, under the cover of Internet anonymity, have created faux personas in order to get the review ball rolling. Despicable.

It has been known to cause obsessive behavior, forcing one new author to check her Amazon book page daily with fingers crossed. “Oh please, oh please! One more review!” No, she is not looking for her next illegal fix, just one more Amazon Customer Review. “Come on, man, I just need one more!” Sad.

So, why am I acknowledging this evil as necessary? What should we, as authors, do? Why would I encourage all of you to go to Amazon and begin typing immediately after reading this post?

The Amazon Customer Review is necessary because unless you are of J.K. Rowling author status, your book’s life depends on Amazon, and Amazon factors customer reviews into the algorithm they use to decide whether or not they care about your book more than the 3,000 (Forbes, 2013) others published that day. Yep, your book’s page will be highlighted by Amazon if filled with customer reviews or sent to the dark corners of the Kindle virtual warehouse if not.

So, how do we increase the number of reviews we receive without getting that dirty, begging-ain’t-pretty feeling? First, you realize that you want your book read and that royalties are awesome. Next, you buck up and beg in a classy way. Every copy of my book that I sell directly, I place a small card in the book encouraging the reader to review the book on Amazon. If someone comments on any of my social media platforms that he or she enjoyed the book, I thank them for their kind words and ask if they would post a short review on Amazon. I publish customer reviews from Amazon to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am currently reading Theo Rogers How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon in order to learn how to approach the Top Amazon Reviews. Yes, they are real, and they are powerful.

The most gratifying measure I take in order to boost the number of reviews on my Amazon page is reviewing other authors’ works. My goal for this year is to review two books per month on Amazon. This will increase the amount of time I spend reading in the evening rather than crushing candy on my Ipad and forces me to read critically, which will make me a better writer.  Finally, it will increase my tribe; my circle of authors who actively support each other, good writing, and the dream of becoming a slightly bigger fish is this gigantic ocean of books.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


By Bonnie Stanard

In the ongoing disputes between Amazon and NY publishing houses, whose side am I on? Amazon and Hachette, the most recent combatants, reached agreement last November, at least for the time being. Why should I support elitist publishing houses that ignore and belittle writers like me? Haven’t they had too much power for too long? On the other hand, is Amazon trying to gain total control over the industry? And since it’s been pulling punches with Hachette, can it be trusted to treat self-published writers like me fairly? 

When the internet took off, Amazon came on the scene and did what major booksellers and publishing houses didn’t have the foresight to do. It sold books on the superhighway and opened up publishing to any and every writer. In the process, it put major booksellers out of business (Books A Million, Borders). With brick-and-mortar booksellers on the decline, publishing houses such as Hachette increasingly depend on Amazon as retailer.

Half the book trade (more or less depending on different sources) is now controlled by Amazon. A 2014 survey by researcher Codex Group found that Amazon controls 67% of the e-book market*. With statistics like these, I’m getting nervous. How big is too big?

I’m thankful for Amazon and the opportunity it has afforded me to self-publish, but in these changing times, my gratitude is tempered by unease. Unlike Hachette, which has the other big four publishing houses in its corner, there's no support for me if I have a dispute with Amazon.

From what I can gather from reports, the Amazon-Hachette negotiations regarding who has authority to set the price for e-books went public when did things such as refuse pre-orders for Hachette books and slow their delivery. Amazon’s tactics, meant to pressure Hachette in the negotiations, affected sales of the publisher’s books. 

The bad publicity Amazon aroused with its underhanded tactics may have impacted the negotiations. In simple terms, Hachette gained the right to set their e-books prices, and the new arrangement is due to take effect in 2015. Amazon pushed for lower prices while Hachette sought higher prices to protect its paper sales. Buyers can expect the cost of some e-books to go up, which won’t make them happy.

Last August Amazon introduced an innovation in the distribution of e-books which takes the Netflix model and applies it to books—in other words, a book-subscription market. It’s the Kindle Unlimited plan in which customers pay $10 a month to access a library of hundreds of thousands of books that can be downloaded free. What reader won’t like this? But does it sound like a good idea for writers dependent on royalties?

Some reporters have called this a struggle between the future and the past, the West Coast and the East Coast, the masses and the elite. Whatever it is, it will impact us writers regardless of whether or not we have a voice in the current fight. And if Amazon puts major publishing houses out of business, where will writers get the clout to deal with Amazon?

Sunday, January 18, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta

Making films, especially documentaries, involves exploring the world and its surprises. I really cannot write an effective treatment or outline until filming for a couple of days. The story changes as I digest the subject matter.

On November 21, 2014, I set off with truck driver Milica Virag to experience life on the road. I brought two cameras and an open mind. The sun was shining and the temperature mild. Our first destination: Covington, Georgia. Then on to San Antonio, Texas, or so we thought. We had a load of truck parts: 30,000 pounds of trailer parts resting on the flatbed of a 47,000-pound truck.
Milica checked the security of the straps and the tire pressure. We climbed into the cabin and set off, making wide turns that hogged a lot of road space on either side of the truck.

“You see, It’s boring.” Milica was blasé. (I was charged with excitement). She lived like this most days of the year—using her tablet and laptop for directions as she talked to the broker and the destination (a car dealership) on her blue tooth phone and munched on a carton full of tangerines from Walmart.

Meanwhile, I was working two cameras. That kept my mind off safety, the cars darting ahead of us, and how someone can steer an International while peeling a tangerine, fixing her hair, and charging her computer. The truck chugged and bumped along. Down below, the angry, darting drivers looked like ants on the highway.

If we hit one of the cars, they would be smashed flat like a bug.
We arrived in Covington at noon. Milica was astonished that the car dealership could not give her compass directions, but used “turn right” and “turn left.” I admitted I was also directionally impaired.

The parking lot at the car dealership was filled with automobiles. Where were we going to park? One of the Head Bubbas waved us in. Stopping and parking in an 18-wheeler is no joke. The Head Bubbas complimented Milica for arriving exactly on time.

The Head Bubbas had called a Wrecker Driver who arrived about 20 minutes late.

For the next two hours, the Car Dealership figured out how to unload MIlica’s flatbed. First they used some chains and the Wrecker. Dramatic film footage. After about an hour, they discovered that the pieces could be lifted off more quickly with a forklift.

The white-haired Wrecker did all the work and all the figuring. Three of the Head Bubbas stood around and talked about lunch and about their diets with comments like – “you look great in that suit.” And “I need to lose twenty more.” It’s impossible, apparently, to lose weight when you attend a lot of football games and “eat like crazy.”

Two hours later the Head Bubbas said, “Goodbye, Sweetheart, drive safe,” and waved Milica toward the front of the parking lot. She turned around on a handkerchief of space and reached the entrance of the car dealership. “I’m going to stop here,” she said, “and finish the paperwork.”

So we stopped. Who was going to make her move?


Sunday, January 11, 2015


By Mike Long

A Facebook friend recently told me of an incident with a friend's husband. He was a dead ringer for Kenny Rogers, and at some event a woman rushed up to him and gushed, "You're that country singer. I love your music. You're… don't tell me... I know it… you're CHARLEY PRIDE!" The man graciously signed her napkin as Charley Pride, the great black country singer. That story called to mind the fun some of us have had at events of our own.

At my first signing, the first buyer asked me to sign one for her dad, and spoke his name. I wrote, "Otis-Best Wishes," and signed it. She said, "Aww-he don't spell it thataway. He uses a 'D' instead of a 'T' – but I'll take it." I gave her another one and have yet to find an 'Otis' to give the mistake to. ALWAYS ask them to spell their names.

At a Civil War reenactment in Aiken in 2010, two ladies came in the 'book tent' to browse. My first novel has a mounted Confederate officer on the cover, and the first lady asked if that was a picture of me. I said, "Ahh, no ma'am," so she shrugged and walked away. Her companion picked up the same book, turned to the back cover and read the blurb and my bio, then asked if the book was about my wartime experiences. When I shook my head 'no,' she left too.

The author beside me witnessed the whole thing and said, "Mike, I believe they thought you looked pretty darn good to be 170 years old."

He then told me that a week earlier, he'd been at a reenactment in Virginia and had a sign in front of the tent, announcing, "LOCAL AUTHOR. Book signing today." Two ladies stopped and studied the sign, then came in and put down their bags of kettle corn; each of them picked up one of his books, signed it, put it back down, smiled at him and left. He said he guessed they didn't get out much.

At my most recent signing (a gun show in Columbia), a fellow picked up my two novels and asked if I knew the man who wrote them. I smiled and said I did know him, and asked if he'd like to meet him, while offering my hand. He said, no, he'd met him already and he lived up around Greenville. I replied that I really did write them and that I live here. He said, "No, this was another guy. Up to Greenville." This occurred (was) with two large photos of me displayed on the table. Never did win him over. The man beside me said, "You can't fix stupid."

I told my author friend John Huffman about that latest episode, and he had to top me. Seems he was dining with his bride in a Western Sizzler when a woman charged their table and said, "Oh my goodness, you're the man who wrote them books, aren't you?" He said he in fact was, and relished the attention that was generated. The woman said she had one of the books out in her car and asked if she went and got it, would he please sign it for her? He of course agreed; she came right back with a copy of my novel, No Good Like It Is. He signed it as McKendree Long without batting an eye.

I wonder if that was up around Greenville...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Giving Words Away

By Meredith Kaiser

Maya Angelou once said that when she prayed for someone, a wonderful thing happened, not only hopefully for the person for whom she was praying, but for her as well.

That is how I feel about my writing. When people ask me, “What do you write?” I usually say essays or I may mention my scattered and incomplete novel. But what I want to say is, “I am a writer of thank you notes.”

Yes, I have written articles for work, essays, blogs, short stories, and pieces of a novel. But really, what I am stirred to write consistently are notes of gratitude, congratulations, encouragement, and sympathy. I also write what I call, “I see you” cards; as in, “I see all that you do or how you are feeling, and it matters.” I can’t explain why I need to do this.

I’ve been told that these cards make people cry. Or laugh. I often cry or laugh as I write them. Before sealing the envelope, I re-read my words several times to listen to what I’ve said. Is this what I want to say? Sometimes I start over. I want each letter to stitch the meaning I intend onto the paper. Is this exactly what I would say to the person if they were in front of me? I’m sure I don’t get it right every time, maybe never. But I believe that a blank note card, filled with my own words and in my own fevered handwriting is the next best thing to eye contact and a solid hug.

Bowing to this impulse, years ago, I began keeping a supply of assorted blank note cards at home and at my office. I keep stamps in my purse at all times. I am a rapid-fire note dispenser. The moment I hear that a co-worker lost her mother or that a friend is having surgery, I can reach out to them by mail to meet them where they are. The beauty of mail is that the recipient has the privacy to receive the message and to take it in how or when she chooses.

I don’t know if that’s what most people think of when they think of a writer, but I know that reaching an audience of one via a handwritten note keeps me setting words on paper. It won’t put me on the New York Times bestseller list, but loving others by doing what I love the most pays the greatest reward, if not the bills. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Dr. Kasie Whitener is a professional educator and fiction writer. She blogs about the writing process at GenX Stories and about her life in transition at Life on Clemson Road. Her fiction has appeared in Spry Literary Journal and Enhance Literary Magazine. She is a member of SCWW Columbia and a board member for Wordsmith Studio, an online literary community.

Annual Writing Goals

By Kasie Whitener

The top resolution every year is to lose weight. It’s not a coincidence that most of us feel like we’re carrying a little extra baggage.

For writers, losing weight means something a little different. The baggage we carry around is often unrealized goals. As we move into another year, we again plan to be more productive, give more time to our writing, and make actual progress toward publication.

Rather than renewing the same resolutions and hoping for the best, try these three strategies to ensure satisfaction.

Review 2014
First, review your goals from last year and determine how well you did against them.

For example, my biggest goal was to publish a manuscript. In March, I entered my completed novel in the First Novel Prize contest, the award for which was publication. I didn’t win. Rather than see that as missing a goal, I recognized the work done getting the manuscript ready. That work represents serious effort and progress.

What goals did you have for 2014? How did you do?

Set Realizable Goals
Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it. Rely upon your knowledge of your own limitations to curb your most ambitious goals into achievable milestones. Set a goal that’s just beyond the work you’ve already done.

For example, my goal for 2015 is: Earn the interest of an agent willing to promote my work.
Earning an agent takes a modicum of work: I have written a query letter and had it critiqued and revised; I revised the first ten pages of the novel; I researched agents that represent the kind of work I’m offering and made a list of those I plan to approach.

How much have you already done toward the goal you’re setting?

Plan Check-ins
Other people are not necessarily planning to help us with our goals. For example, agents are not likely to respond immediately to the query and the work I send. Therefore, waiting for a response from one before sending another query could slow me down.

A periodic check-in can remind me how long it’s been since I sent the last query and determine if it’s time to send another to a new agent. I don’t want to get to December and find I only sent one query that was passively rejected (no response after some time is a passive rejection).

Are you moving closer to your goals?
I have a sign on my desk that says, “Is what you’re doing right now moving you closer to your goals?” The sign reminds me, every time I read it, to refocus, stop procrastinating, redirect when something’s not working, and be purposeful about the actions I take.

Begin with the end in mind and be prepared to seize the opportunity of a new year. You’ll find that even if you haven’t lost weight, you’ve managed not to gain any more in 2015.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Where Are You Finding Your Audience?

By Kimberly Johnson

Unearthing viewers for my creative compositions can be like a looking for water in the Kalahari Desert—I continue digging until I hit pay dirt. At times, I feel like using a dragnet formula — writing some topic that will appeal to all readers. I convince myself by saying stuff like “They understand my work.” or “I don’t have to explain it.” One day I pondered: Who really is my audience?

Janalyn Voigt, author of DawnSinger makes a startling confession. Maybe you have had the same one.
I confess: at first I wrote DawnSinger for its story without giving much thought to its readers. This showed in my inability to articulate who they might be. In my biased opinion, my novel’s target audience incorporated everyone. I soon discovered editors’ opinions of such a grandiose claim, especially from an emerging author. It’s not really true anyway. No book in existence appeals to all readers.

Here’s my confession: I’ve done that. Here’s my resolution: I produce an audience profile. The profile is not extensive; it is an outline of a few concepts (gender, locale, age). From there, I spend time on creating another outline that details aforementioned concepts, plus scouring the Internet on ways to market to my audience. I also read feedback from prior news articles, blogs and feature stories. Overall, I think keeping in touch with my existing audience in various formats will help me truly discover my intended one.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Launch Parties: DIY Success Part 2

By Jodie Cain Smith

All the critical elements of a successful launch party must be addressed before a single dime was spent:
 1.      Budget. How much can you spend? How many books would you need to sell to break even? (Breaking even is possible if you spend carefully and market effectively.)
       2.      Venue. I chose an art gallery in Mobile and a theater in Columbia. Both places felt hip and welcoming with space for guests to mingle. The gallery location also provided random street traffic, which increased sales. (I have supportive communities in two different states and needed to create buzz in both. I encourage you to do a launch event in every area you have adequate support. The goal is to begin a successful grassroots campaign, which requires a lot of pounding the pavement. You only have two feet. Encourage your inner circle to become your street herd.) 
3.      Publicity. Facebook and email are free. Create a digital invitation using Photoshop and give your publisher (or keep for yourself) a list of print and online media for press releases. Approach reporters to write a feature story about you. The bottom line is you must sell yourself, not just your book. There is no room for hesitation or modesty. 
 4.      Help. Enlist friends and family early in the planning process. My volunteers spread the word, decorated, plated food, sold books, took photos, and cleaned up so that I could greet guests and sign books without appearing harried. The events would have failed without them.
5.      Refreshments. Finger foods eliminate the need for cutlery. A la Carte catering rather than full service keep costs down. One venue allowed me to provide wine for guests, so I cleaned out my wine storage of red and jumped at my parents’ offer of several bottles of white. The other venue, in exchange for the venue fee being waved, offered a cash bar.
6.      Decor. I chose a “Depression Era Chic” look using discount burlap, paper magnolias, and mason jars, highlighting the book’s setting. Photos from the book were blown up and framed. Large posters of the cover were mounted on foam board for tabletops and entryways. Look to your research from your book for more décor ideas, but don’t go overboard. Let the book cover be the star of the show.
7.      Itinerary. Greeting each guest is important. Mingle with guests and thank each one for attending the party. Reading from the book often kills the mood at launch parties. Instead, at forty-five minutes in, I gave a short speech expressing my gratitude and touched on the inspiration for and process that led to writing and publishing my first novel. Then, it’s to sign! Ask for correct spellings. Make it personal. Smile for selfies. Keep the line moving.
8.      Follow up. I cannot stress enough the importance of follow up. Send hand written thank you notes to those customers who bought several copies of your book. Post a thank you on your social media platforms for your guests. Place a “Please Review” card in every book you sell, asking readers to post a review on Amazon after reading. Keep your guests engaged long after the party with website and social media updates.

Are you planning a launch party soon? Post a question below or look me up online at

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Launch Parties: DIY Success Part 1

By Jodie Cain Smith 
Three months ago I attended Kim Boykin’s book launch party for Palmetto Moon, her second with Berkley Books out of Manhattan. (Berkley Books falls under Penguin. That’s big time.) From the crab cakes and shrimp and grits to the signature cocktail to the elegant decor, the party was perfect. Standing in the midst of excited readers all waiting for their moment with the author, I wondered, “What of this can my small press with a small budget achieve?”

Launch Principle #1: Launch parties create buzz.

Then I spoke with Kim’s husband. “This was all Kim,” he said and gestured toward the lavish spread. “She did it all herself.”

I deflated. I knew I wanted a launch party for The Woods at Barlow Bend. And I wanted it to be special. I needed to get people talking about my book the way that crowd was excited for the newly released Kim Boykin, but what of that party could I achieve on little to no budget? If Kim Boykin with her Manhattan publisher was on her own, I began to panic over what my small press publisher could possibly afford.

Launch Principal #2: Be prepared to do it yourself!

Before going it alone, I asked Aurelia Sands of Deer Hawk Publications, my publisher, what she could do for the launch parties. She responded with press releases for both, marketing materials, and cookies and sweet tea for the one she would be able to attend. I leapt at her offer.

Now that I knew what my publisher could provide, I had to get organized. Launch parties, like any event that lacks thoughtful planning, can spiral out of control until you wind up flat broke in a burning building with no guests and crates of unsold books waiting to become kindling. I had to stretch my pennies, negotiate like a Wall Street tycoon, and exploit every possible benefactor in my life. I begged, borrowed, and stopped just short of stealing in the three months leading up to the launch of The Woods at Barlow Bend. And I don’t regret a thing.

Launch Principle #3: Success is in the details.

For my list of critical elements that every launch party must have, come back next Sunday. You’ll be glad you did!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Updated Bio


Janie lives with her husband and daughter in Columbia, South Carolina, where she has enjoyed the camaraderie and critiques of the South Carolina Writer's Workshop since 2006. Her writing has appeared in The Petigru Review and South Carolina Architecture.