Sunday, June 17, 2018

What Do Writers Have Against Sports?

By Kasie Whitener

This week I had two stories were rejected from two different journals.

In “Amy Runs,” the main character goes out for an early morning jog in a continuing effort to lose the weight she put on with her first child. The run is a renewal, a chance to recover from the frustrations she feels over what’s not going right in her life.

In the second story, “Yesterday, in Boston,”a runner is recovering from the Boston Marathon after the finish line was bombed. Though physically unharmed, the runner’s expectations of the event and the reality of the terrorist attack have her moving in a kind of post-traumatic daze.

But writers hate sports.

I’ve written stories featuring football games as settings and received comments that the game doesn’t seem to be important for the story. I’ve used sports metaphors and had them struck from final copy.

Maybe it’s because my first-ever paid writing gig was as a sports journalist and the working writers I know are all sports journalists, but I think writing about sports is cool. Better than talking about sports, playing sports, or watching sports, is writing about sports.

I once wrote a passage about a bull-riding event. The gyration of the animal, the stomping of the hooves, the arc of its thrusts, all provided the perfect back drop for the main character’s struggle with self-control.

In “The Sportswriter,” Richard Ford created one of the most complex literary characters of all time. Frank Bascombe, who reappears in “Independence Day,” and again in “The Lay of the Land,” studies athletes in the same way Ford studies language. He’s curious and purposeful about it.

Frank muses, “If sportswriting teaches you anything … it is that for your life to be worth anything, you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret.”

That Ford uses sportswriting to examine the struggles of middle age, the recognition of one’s prime and the failure to meet expectations, all fascinates me.

In my own work, it’s the physical act of exertion that pushes the characters to change. Or it’s the meaning of the accomplishment that changes the meaning of the resistance. Or it’s the event as a large-scale metaphor for the smaller personal crisis.

In “Unrequited,” my character watches her football team lose the national championship game and feels a sense of loss over a relationship that didn’t evolve. The metaphor is about desire and achievement and timing.

And yet, the trouble I’ve had getting these stories into journals makes me wonder if other writers are less enamored with sports than I am. Or maybe I’ve pinned the stakes of the stories on the sports as a kind of cheat? Let the sports do the heavy lifting and let my characters off the hook? Maybe the stories just aren’t ready yet.

I’ll bring them back into the huddle, make some adjustments, and see if I can’t score in the next round of submissions.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


By Laura P. Valtorta
 “’She has a pretty racy past, and she loves talking about it. And you know how I love airline pilots and Italians.’”

Stephen McCauley writes a lot of light satire in My Ex-Life, the novel. Stuff like, “She’d met and eventually married Henry Bell, an investment advisor David had had the pleasure of never meeting.” The approach works.

McCauley makes the most fun of parents who had “fallen into the trap of telling their kids they could do anything…going to Harvard, retiring before ever working, giving an Oscar acceptance speech, and become the next Mark Zuckerberg, except hot.”

The zingers only work because McCauley also makes fun of his main character, David, who is gay and overweight and falls for impossible “boys” who are younger than 40. Self-deprecation seems to be the secret to keeping the narrator likeable enough to make fun of everyone.

It’s curious that McCauley’s villains, especially Renata, are not especially funny. Renata is a calculating real estate broker, living in San Francisco, who takes advantage of David in a way that makes the reader want to punch her. This works only because Renata does not live a desirable life. She subsists with her husband, the loathsome Leonard, and she thinks uncircumsized men are exotic.

As I write Tall Woman Orchestra, I try to infuse it with as much satire as possible without making the reader cringe. Most of this involves Floris, the mad scientist, who has a brilliant mind and a penchant for revenge. The reader must realize that Floris, outside of her basement laboratory, is an awkward social prick who cares nothing about appearances and seeks to bend people’s will to her own. Floris is no Hedy Lamarr; she’s better.

The beauty behind Floris is that appearances mean nothing, and she knows it. If she can control the world while wearing bedroom slippers, why not do it? The greater Floris’ power, the less she needs to fuss with her hair. Lamarr failed to understand this, which is why she died a recluse.

Skillful use of satire can get across more points more quickly than any historical treatise or legal essay.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


By Bonnie Stanard

Nobody asks Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates why they do what they do. Or Hillary Clinton or Michael Bloomberg. For that matter, nobody asks James Patterson or J.K. Rowling. So is it a matter of celebrity or wealth?

However, does anybody ask teachers why they teach? Or pilots why they fly? Waiters why they serve tables? Or farmers why they farm? Okay, so you’re not earning a living wage by writing, maybe that’s it.

On the other hand, does anybody ask you why you watch television? Or collect recipes or go fishing? Or do things we consider pastimes rather than professions? Well, can we say writing is not perceived as a pastime?

Then how do you explain your writing to yourself, much less anybody else? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are writers. Here are some of my ideas about why we write.

Uncertainty as a way of life.
No morning is like another. What we think on a given day never returns. The house we live in is temporary. The weather is different every day and we perceive it differently every day. Our beliefs change. So too our likes and dislikes. Friendships come and go. And we forget, unless we write.

Exactitude is not the truth.
The bank puts a number on your monthly statement but that is no truth. We know the hour and minute of every day. We know the cost of a gallon of gas; the address of our dentist; the speed of light; the depth of the ocean, and the distance to Mars. What we know as fact is not the truth. We write in search of the truth.

Limits of language to relate reality.
Language is our inheritance. Our words are tailor-made by our predecessors who would guide us in the path they found valuable. While our language benefits us, it limits us, may even bully us into extrinsic concepts. As writers we try our best to transcend the prison of words.

Instability of morality.
What is good and what is evil is decided by people, humans. And human fallibility affects our decisions. A hundred years ago people of good conscience enslaved other people; unwanted newborns were drowned; poverty led to imprisonment. Today you find people who believe a person is “good” if they obey a country’s laws. What is orthodox is praised even if dishonest. Amid this moral perplexity, we write to discover our beliefs.

Affirm our self-consciousness.
Writers such as Wolfe or Joyce showed us that much can be said about what goes on inside our heads. We write to get to know ourselves.  

In many of these instances, we are in conflict with either ourselves, our culture, or our human condition. What we see on television or in our neighborhood inspires us with feelings such as pride, suspicion, hatred, admiration. Then it’s time to sit down at the computer and start a story or poem.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


By Olga Agafonova

If I have a muse, she kicks in at the same time caffeine is absorbed into my bloodstream. On occasion, I can be completely immersed in what I am writing and I would like to imagine I am getting closer to entering the state of flow. Flow, or “being in the zone,” is when good things happen – you are focused on what you are doing, you enjoy what they are doing and your environment is conducive to keeping you in that state.

Smart employers are helping their staff reach flow to boost productivity. Smart writers should reflect on how to achieve the state for the same reason. Flow won’t happen with multi-tasking: you should be focused on doing one thing. Flow won’t happen if you are bored because that means you are already disengaged. 

Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception and Oliver Sacks in Hallucinations experiment with psychedelics to transcend self. Of course, I am not going that far: I just want a mild kick from a legal substance to help prod the muse. What I have tried includes variations on Bulletproof coffee and coffee brewed in a Clover machine.

I did not like the Bulletrpoof recipe. Per instructions, I dutifully added fatty-acid-containing organic butter to brewed coffee, poured some patented coconut oil on top and let it swirl in a mixer. The coffee, no surprise, tasted like butter and whatever cognitive-enhancing effects it had were overshadowed by the butter. Just in case I did something wrong, I also bought ready-made butter-containing coffee at Whole Foods and still, I could only taste the butter.

The Clover machine-brewed coffee, available at Starbucks, was more promising. About thirty minutes after drinking a cup, I did feel a noticeable rise in my alertness level. I have been drinking mild coffee for years and it takes a lot to have any effect on me. The alertness did not involve jitters or nervousness – it did exactly what a good coffee beverage is supposed to do.

There is also mushroom coffee: a beverage made from medicinal mushrooms like Lion’s mane and chaga. (I have heard of chaga being used as a folk remedy for the prevention and treatment of cancer in Russia. The fact that it is catching on as a nootropic substance elsewhere in the world is interesting.) High-quality mushrooms are hard to get and there are subtle details about which parts of the mushrooms matter: the fruiting body vs. the mycelium, the spindly parts that are underground.  The drink is supposed to taste like burnt toast – not an appealing description but enthusiasts say it’s flavorful and delicious.

My plan is to continue to experiment with caffeine-containing concoctions and see what happens with the writing. I promise to report back with results.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


By Raegan Teller

It took me three years to write my first mystery novel, Murder in Madden. During that time, I worked with several wonderful writing instructors. They taught me how to make the shift from business writing to fiction, which wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Much of my previous work focused on instructing readers on how to do something, so step-by-step details were important. But writing fiction was a different animal, as I quickly discovered. I found myself having to unlearn many of my coveted business writing skills. While I knew how to construct a sentence, where to put the commas, and how to apply the grammar rules, I often stumbled, especially during my first attempts. And then, over time, word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph, I learned how to write fiction.

When I began writing the second book, which only took eight months from the first word to a first draft, I realized I had to learn something else: what not to write. I’m not referring to merely avoiding ornate language or eliminating you-need-a-thesaurus words. Fortunately, my business background had taught me to write at an appropriate comprehension level and to stay within the maximum word count. But, on those occasions when I did get overly descriptive, I followed Elmore Leonard’s 10th Rule of Writing: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My form of overwriting came from something one of my instructors called “temporal linearity.” I tended to instruct the reader on how a character got from one place to another, in a linear fashion, just as I had provided comprehensive details in business writing. Of course, fiction readers need enough information to make logical assumptions, but they don’t need to be led by the hand.

For example, if one scene ends with “Sara” telling her boyfriend she’s going to the library, you can insert a break and begin the next scene in the library. Unless it’s germane to the story, the reader doesn’t need to know how she got in the car, backed out of the driveway, and drove down the street to get to the library where she had to drive around the block three times looking for a parking space. I wasn’t quite that bad, but I did overwrite some scene transitions in my first draft.

Mostly as a reminder to myself, I developed “Raegan’s Rules to Avoid Overwriting.”

1.      Trust your readers to figure out how Sara gets to the library.
2.      Practice writing six-word stories and other forms of micro fiction where you have to tell a story within a strict word limit: writers should spend words like gold.
3.      Read your work aloud. If it sounds boring, it is.
4.      Hire a good editor—listen and learn.
5.      Keep writing and eventually you’ll overcome inexperience.
6.      Continue to overwrite, and you risk arrogance.

Perhaps all I really needed to do was re-read Leonard’s 10th Rule of Writing.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


By Sharon May

Imagine starting a story and having no clue as to where or when it takes place. You would feel as if you were floating in space. To make readers feel grounded we need a setting.

Most writers develop setting early in the work and expect the reader to be satisfied. But a skillful writer keeps the setting alive throughout the piece and lets it build organically. Silas House, in works like The Coal Tattoo, masterfully uses setting throughout his work.

It would be nice if we could establish setting in a sentence or two but the physical location and time of a story only scratch the surface. Instead, an author, to create an adequate setting, should develop what I call place, which builds the look and feel of a locale and era. Some authors use long descriptions to establish place, but details, a word or phrase here and there, can also build it piece by piece.

In my most recent short story, “The Birthday Gift,” the setting is rural Kentucky in the early 1960s. I could have said that in one sentence as I did here, but that would have been rather boring. Instead, the young narrator tells what he knows to demonstrate he is ready to start school, including his address and the president’s name. Not only does this information build place, it also reveals the narrator’s character. This helps me keep the story compact and short.

For my novel, setting is much more like a character so I provide lots of descriptions of the landscape, particularly of the mountains to capture how they sculpt where and how Appalachians live. If on a winding, narrow roadway, you can bet that the road is built along a river, and the houses or trailers, can only be found on wide spaces carved into the hillside. Small farms and towns fill bottom land between the hills. The mountains dictate this layout, and they mold the characters as well.

Patty Loveless, a Pikeville, Kentucky native, in her song, “You Will Never Leave Harlan Alive,” describes the mountains’ effect on the inhabitants as she describes the brevity of a day in a hollow, saying, “Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin’/ And the sun goes down about three in the day.” A poet friend of mine wants to leave Kentucky because he is tired of the grey winter days. That pretty much sums up why I had to escape the mountains as well. This darkness leads to the hillbilly’s attitude of hopelessness and sorrow. Of course, place helps create the mood of a story.

Place can’t be dashed off in just a paragraph or two early in a story, but should unfold as the story progresses from beginning to ending. Readers want to be enveloped by place and time, to feel, hear, taste, and smell as well as see where they are.

Sunday, May 6, 2018


By Kasie Whitener

In entrepreneurship, my other profession, business ventures evolve through iterations. A company tests an idea with customers, then adjusts it after feedback, and then issues another version for another test. The cycle is ongoing as the company iterates, builds, and prospers.

I decided this year to treat my writing life like entrepreneurship. The goals I set for 2018 were about creating iterative habits that would enable me to build my writing business.

Write every day.
Submit every week.
Revise one work per month.

These goals are about progress in small increments and about establishing habits. They have taught me things I didn’t know about myself and about establishing my dedication to this thing we call craft. This blog focuses on the second goal with a list of things I’ve learned:

Submissions mean rejections.

Better than writing in a cave, thinking my work is fantastic and polished and clever is submitting said work and getting the “no thanks” over and over. Why is that better? Because I know my work is not fantastic, it needs more polish, and cleverness is for bozos.

“Just tell the stories, Kasie,” these rejections tell me. “Don’t worry about us.”

Submissions are about finding the right amplifier.

I can share the story I wrote for my best friend Jessica with her via email. I have a few I’d like to send directly to the ex-boyfriends they’re about (but I won’t). I submit to journals and magazines because I want the stories to be amplified. Finding a place to share them means finding the right audience for them. So, I submit. And I get rejected. Because as much as I think by reading three or four pieces the journal has published that my work would fit there, the editors read everything they publish and they know better.

Rejections are about the work, not about me.

Editors who say, “No, thanks,” don’t know me. They don’t want to hurt my feelings, ruin my life, or keep me from writing another story about another ex-boyfriend. They just want to put together a collection of work that their readers will read, enjoy, and maybe even pay for. Editors who reject my work are rejecting the story. Not the storyteller.

Rejections shouldn’t be purchased.

I don’t pay for submissions anymore. Not even the really good journals like Missouri Review and Glimmer Train. I know the industry says getting my work in those journals would say something about how fantastic and polished and relevant it is. But, the free journals are more competitive. So, getting published by The Forge or The American Literary Review, or Apeiron Review would be better because they receive more submissions. Also, submitting every week at $3, $5, or $20 a week is crazy expensive.

So far, the iterations have taught me a lot about myself and this business. Learning is what iteration is all about and I’m definitely learning.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


By Sharon May

One morning my spouse, Peggy, asked me if I thought Stephen King was insane. Not your typical morning coffee question. 
Apparently, a woman in her water aerobics class had just finished It and complained about its dark ending, which led her to throw the book at the nearest wall. She and her companions concluded King had to be insane if he could create such monsters and dark endings. Peggy wanted my take on the subject since I was a writer.

King may be insane. I have no clue as to his mental state. Many authors have been, depending on the definition of insane used. But my answer was that he has a vivid imagination, which all authors rely on. That is how we create fiction.

So how do we imagine what we don’t know? According to cognitive scientists, imagination is influenced by our environment, our memories, and what we know about how the world works. You may ask yourself what world horror writers live in, but an alternative world does not make them insane or evil, any more than the science fiction writer, romance writer, or mystery writer.  

Some people may think I had a dark childhood as I often write stories of child-abuse, sexual-abuse, violence, and murders. Nothing could be further from the truth. My childhood was the envy of others. Those horrible events I write about happened to others. I was just keenly aware of the world beyond me.

I don’t consider myself evil just because I can imagine evil. Imagination allows me to roam a world the victims and assailants might have lived in so I can capture what otherwise average people, some of whom I vaguely knew, experienced.

But entering alternative worlds through imagination can lead one to forget, at least for a while, the world around us. With both writing and reading, imagination can take us away for hours on end. One loses a sense of time and place. It can be likened to an out-of-body experience. When I write, I’m unaware of everything but the story. A poet friend says he goes so far away at times that he’s surprised he comes back.

So how close to insanity is this place we go while writing? What is the difference between a psychotic break and writing fiction? Awareness. The insane are not aware that the world they have gone to is made up, not real. Think of Jack in The Shining, who thinks his several hundred page manuscript is brilliant though it is one line typed over and over.

Writers, no matter how far we drift from the real world, will eventually hear the phone ring, finally realize the pain in our backs from sitting too long, or suddenly know it’s time for lunch. We may be frustrated we have to leave our imaginary world behind for such mundane and trivial matters, but we do come back. At least, until we write again.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018


By Laura P. Valtorta

The most practical book about the mechanics of writing fiction that I’ve read is Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. It’s more along the lines of a how-to book than Stephen King’s On Writing, or Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. King and Welty give us insights into their personal lives and stories about their childhoods. Mosley’s book doesn’t really do that. Mosley’s book resembles How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King because it’s a blueprint for finishing a piece of writing.

I read Mosley’s book partly looking for a description of his life. What was it like being a Jelack (that’s a term invented by Margaret Atwood) growing up in Los Angeles? No clues. Mosley adds a tough Jewish lawyer to his Easy Rawlins series, but the character is a woman. Most of his fiction (science fiction, detective stories, and literary fiction) describes the lives of black men with anthracite skin.

Mosley’s book on writing prescribes several habits. He believes writers need to write every day. The first draft, for him, takes three months. Then he advises reading the entire first draft, and making corrections, which becomes the second draft. The reading of the first draft could take an entire week. Many re-writes follow. He shows how to avoid repetition, create good dialogue, and edit away too much detail. He suggests reading poetry. He believes that writing in a journal can distract someone from writing fiction.

I believe that Mosley should have included more in his book about building a story arc. For me, that’s the toughest part of any writing.

From This Year You Write Your Novel, I gleaned a few details about Walter Mosley, the man. He studied writing at the City College of New York in Harlem. Like me, he enjoys listening to birdsong while writing. He often has antisocial feelings that he represses in life, but not in his writing. How?

I imagine Mosley living alone in a loft in New York City. High ceilings, big bed. Within walking distance of a café. I imagine him sitting at his writing desk next to a beautiful window that looks out on trees and birds, maybe a sidewalk below.

Reading Mosley’s fiction is what brings me closer to Walter, the man. Loving that fiction also brings me closer to John Grisham and Bill Clinton, both of whom profess to be fans of Mosley.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


By Raegan Teller

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about telling stories, which is natural, I guess, considering I’m an author. Recently, I began doing some research on this topic. Perhaps I was just looking for an excuse to take a break from writing, but I learned a lot, so I’ll share some key points in this short post.

Before I begin, however, I want to tell you why I think storytelling is critical to our humanity: we are nothing without our stories. Imagine that you lived in a world where there were only facts, with no emotional attachment to them—no stories to connect these facts to the human experience. We would all be like robots, processing information without asking ourselves what it means or why it’s important.

The evolution of storytelling is fascinating. Oral storytelling was a way for early mankind to share events and to make meaning of what happened. One of the oldest surviving stories is the epic Mesopotamian poem, “Gilgamesh,” a tale about mortality. It was believed to have been written around 2100 BCE and is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. Around 1300–1000 BCE, “Gilgamesh” was carved in stone tablets and widely shared, becoming the first known written story.

Just look around you. The most successful people in their fields are great storytellers. Attorneys who weave evidence into the best, most engaging stories win trials. Business leaders, like the late Steve Jobs, use stories to get employees and customers to buy into their visions. Walt Disney created an empire from stories.

Now, we have podcasts, video, films, photography, and social media that tell the stories of our lives. In French airports, kiosks dispense short fiction to entertain travelers. The technology and methods of storytelling will continue to evolve, but one thing is certain: Storytelling will always be a part of the human experience.

Brandon Sanderson, a fantasy writer, said, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” When I read that quote, I thought of my own novels. In Murder in Madden, I invited readers to ask themselves how much personal risk they would take to learn the truth. In my second book, The Last Sale, I presented a different query: What would you do if someone you loved just disappeared? I began writing those books by asking myself: How would I answer those questions? How do my answers reflect my values and who I am as a person? And how might others react differently? In the process, I learned a lot about myself.

Good storytelling connects us and provides meaning. The next time you’re reading a story or watching a movie, consider what questions are being posed. Examine your own emotional responses. Ask yourself, “What meaning do I make of the experience and what does that say about me?”

Sunday, April 8, 2018


By Kasie Whitener

A long time ago in a leadership camp, I completed an exercise called the Lion, the Owl, and the St Bernard. After answering a series of situational questions, each leader was diagnosed as one of the three animals. Each animal has its beneficial leadership traits and also its flaws.

Recently, I had the privilege of representing our Columbia II chapter of the South Carolina Writers Association at the Chapter Leaders’ summit. To a one, the board members who introduced themselves at the summit said they were no longer actively writing; board service takes up too much time.

When it was my turn to introduce myself, I said I’d been reluctant to serve the organization because I am focused on writing and submitting. To date, I’ve submitted 17 times this year, weekly and more, to literary journals, agents, and small presses. While I was only a substitute representing our chapter for our lead who couldn’t attend, I told the group I was there to serve in whatever capacity I could for the weekend and beyond as appropriate.

One phrase that came up again and again was “What are people getting for their membership fee?”

I think that’s the wrong question. When a volunteer-run organization focuses on the transaction of membership, it diminishes the spirit of service on which it must rely for participation, leadership, and engagement.

We join the SCWA because we want partners in this part-time pursuit of writing. We want an organization that supports us and promotes us, a place to learn and grow in the craft. We join the SCWA because we are learning how to be something different, something new.

We are being changed by our experience. That is worth the price of admission.

I blog monthly for our chapter not to promote my own work, but because doing so enhances our chapter’s web presence. And because doing so reminds me to practice the art more frequently. When I haven’t written anything in days, I will come to this blog and be creative and expressive, and supported.

SCWA members should want to serve. They should want to give of themselves because in doing so they enhance our community.

I suggested to our conference chair that we look inside our organization for faculty members. Our literary journal should recruit non-submitting members as readers. We could have regional half- and one-day events that focus on craft and are instructed by chapter members. The SCWA could sponsor webinars that provide tips and tricks, writing education at all levels. These sessions could be open to members and would-be members alike. None of these ideas can happen without process definition. In that capacity, I can serve.

Servant leadership has never been my style. I’ve been a lion – all bark and charge without hesitation or fear. I’ve been an owl – analytical and thoughtful, cautious and curious. I think I’m just now coming into my St. Bernard skill set – nurturing and compromise-seeking.

I’m being changed.

We all have gifts and knowledge to share. So, let’s share. Let’s serve.

Sunday, April 1, 2018


By Mike Long

I write Western Era historical fiction.

My first book was a self-published manuscript. The next two were picked up by small presses, and the fourth Western I wrote was purchased and published by Five Star Publishing.

Since 2010, I have sold over 11,000 copies of my four novels. Publishers sell some, but they can't give you much help unless you're a New York Times best-selling author.

Many of my sales have been consignment sales from Independent Booksellers (indie stores) and historical sites with a Western, military, or historical theme. These books sell at cover price with a typical 60/40 split in my favor. E-sales are steady but small.

I've also lost hundreds of dollars to failed bookstores. At one point I was in 242 stores, but one large chain failed and now I'm down to maybe 50 retail outlets. I'll do a store book signing if invited, but I've had little success in those.

Most of my success now is at events. I attend gun shows, rodeos, church bazaars, Spring/Fall Festivals, and other genre-relevant and thematic-appropriate events. I rent an 8-foot table which costs me about $60 for a Saturday and Sunday rental. Sometimes I take my own table, tent, and chairs. I display my books on half the table space and display some interesting period guns on the other half. I encourage folks to handle the artifacts as a way of stirring conversation about the period, the genre, and eventually, the books.

I have branded paper bags for buyers to store their purchases and offer complimentary book marks as they sometimes become e-book sales. I sell my three trade paperbacks for $8 each or all three for $20. I charge more for the hardcovers. Copy volume beats price for me: the more copies people have, the more they read and eventually purchase more books in the series.

I take payment with a Square card reader for credit card sales but charge an extra 3% for those to cover the Square 2.75% charge. On a slow weekend I'll sell 15 books. On a good weekend, I’ll be 25 books lighter on the ride home.

Moreover, at events, I meet a lot of nice people. Many of those people become readers and fans.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


By Sharon May

In the poem “Theme for English B,” Langston Hughes asks “So will my page be colored that I write?” I can’t help but wonder if my writing will be gay. How much does our experience, our gender, our sexual preference, color our pages? 

Obviously, when I write lesbian characters I come to it from personal experience. I don’t know all lesbians but I have a first row seat into lesbian life. As a result, I should be able to create complex lesbian characters.

Despite that experience, I find writing lesbian characters difficult. I struggle to find Cindy’s voice; she is the young intern at the newspaper in the novel I am writing. Is it because she is too much like me that I can’t see her clearly? Or do I have too much material to choose from? Or does my memory of how young lesbians talk and act in the late 1970s escape me? I write female characters who are straight, and they are distinct in motivations, language, and conflicts. So it is something about lesbians I struggle with.

Ironically, I have always found male characters easier to write. It isn’t simply that I find them fascinating; I find women fascinating too. I can‘t say that I understand men or women any better than the other. I don’t identify with men more, though at 12, I had a lot more in common with them than I did my schoolgirl chums. I just can get into male characters quickly, and they are different from one another.

So what role does being a lesbian play in my writing? Am I supposed to write gay because I am gay? I am a lesbian, but I live in a world that is predominately straight, and extraordinarily male-centric in politics, literature, and power. So I walk in both worlds, my own private world and that of straight, male-centric society. I am the Other, just like the African American, Native American, and even the woman writer. As the Other, we usually are expected to normalize our world while capturing its flavor and uniqueness.

Preston has been called a stereotypical gay character by some straight readers as he hates sports, loves to cook, and is a mama’s boy. There are men, straight and gay, who fit this description. Am I stereotyping or capturing a reality?

I do wonder how the gay community will react to Preston as it prefers gays to be depicted as “normal,” like straight characters – if you can call them normal – concerned with daily life, work, and love, not drag shows, bars, and sexual hook ups. Not like Preston, who in the years just prior to AIDS/HIV, spends his time cruising and only looking for sex. He does settle down in the end, so maybe that will satisfy the uneasy reader.

I doubt “straight” writers wonder how their sexuality affects their depiction of their world. They probably don’t feel an obligation to the “straight” community to depict it fairly and justly.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Bonnie Stanard

In preparing for an appearance at the SC State Library, I asked myself if my novel What MissingMeans is autobiographical. Without thinking about it, my answer was “no.” The events that occur in the book didn’t happen. I didn’t base the characters on people I know. But after some consideration, the certainty of my “no” has wavered.

The novel takes place on a farm in the midlands of SC, which is where I grew up. Childhood details, such as chinaberry fights, throwing sandspurs, climbing trees, that sort of thing, parallel my youth, but they were typical of any youngster on a farm, so does that make it autobiographical?

We see the story of the Reinhart family through the eyes of 12 year-old Lily. She is not me, nor anybody I know. While working on the manuscript, I wasn’t conscious of writing about any person. But now that the book is published, two characters are familiar, though their plot lines are not. Grandma Angeline is like Grandma Eliza Shumpert. Her unmarried daughter, Aunt Theda, brings to mind Aunt Winnie. Mmmm....

One character is named “Uncle Freeman” and I had an Uncle Freeman; he died when I was three years old. I knew of him but I don’t remember him. Despite the common name, they’re not the same. And I consciously named Lily’s cousin Ina Marie as a tribute to my sister Ina Jean, who died at the age of three.

The floor plan of the house where the extended Reinhart family lives is similar to that of Grandma Eliza’s house. I added two bedrooms for Lily’s big family. Does that make the book autobiographical?

The atmosphere and tone of What Missing Means, despite my intentions, wanders into the autobiography camp. To be clear, the plot is purely fictional, but the story portrays rural life in the 1940s, a time familiar to my family, and by extension to me. Only after the fact and after thinking about it do I realize how much my past provided background for the story.


My thoughts on autobiography came from my preparations for a talk at the SC State Library, which supports local writers and publishers, especially through their Speaker @ the Center programs. Each month, an author is given the spotlight in the intimate environment of their recently remodeled conference room.

The programs are scheduled at noon, usually on Thursdays, to allow Columbia’s business community to bring a sandwich and take a literary lunch break. Parking is available in a multi-level garage located behind the Library building at 1500 Senate Street.

In today’s world where media is produced by far-flung and well-heeled concerns, it’s a challenge for underfunded artists to get a toe-hold of attention from either the press or the public. This makes the Speaker @ the Center all the more appreciated by writers like me. Thanks to Anderson Cook and the SC State Library for this service.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fostering an Addiction

By Kasie Whitener

Last week I quit a novel. Not one I’m writing, one I was reading. Ranking right up there with when I stopped calling myself a “girl,” learning I could quit a novel was a Grown-Up Moment.

I’m not sure at what age (40?) I first started quitting novels, probably right about the time I started getting thrown out of book clubs. At some point I just realized my time was too valuable to waste on the wrong-fit book.

I’m picky. I want to love the book I’m reading.

The books I love have me ignoring my family. If I’m going to create a rating system, I’ll make the highest rating “Ignore my family.”

While discussing the books I was reading with a friend, I told her how ashamed I am that my literary selections don’t keep me as engrossed as my commercial picks. For example, last year I read The Leavers which is an incredibly crafted, heartbreaking novel. But I wasn’t reading it at intersections.

When we wandered through Barnes & Noble last Saturday, I’d read almost all of the facing-front novels in the Literary Fiction shelves. But none of them had me staying up past my bedtime. I read Circling the Sun and Into the Water, The Aviator’s Wife and The Nightingale.

But I once hid in a conference room pretending to have meetings so I could read The Bronze Horseman. Last fall I packed my laptop in my checked luggage so I could read some T.M. Frazier books while traveling.

I read The Supreme Macaroni Company and Euphoria last year and they were excellent books, really. But I didn’t tell my husband to queue up “The Grand Tour” on Amazon Prime while I huddled in the corner of the couch to read them. I did that for all of Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass books.

When it comes down to it, the books that keep me engrossed are the ones I recommend. They aren’t usually deeply layered, literary works of genius. I confess I’ve never finished a David Foster Wallace anything. When I told my friend, a creative writing professor, that I was glad my Kindle hides the titles of the books that take me out of family time, driving, and TV watching, she laughed.

The ratings are: Ignore My Family, Read at Intersections, Stay Up Past Bedtime, Hide From Work, and Forget TV Exists.

“They should all be like that, shouldn’t they?” my friend asked.

Yes, all published books should be so amazingly good we can’t put them down. And they all are. For someone.

There is a reader out there who can’t get enough of the characters I’m writing and the story I’m telling. I just have to find that reader. And hope she’s also a literary agent. Or a publisher.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking notes on those things that keep me glued to the page and try to model my own work after the ones I love.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

I quit!

By Raegan Teller

Several years ago, I participated in a writing workshop with the late Jerry Cleaver, author of Immediate Fiction. At that time, I had started and stopped writing a couple of different mystery novels. I was frustrated, and his feedback, though fair and accurate, frustrated me even more. I can still hear him saying, “More conflict. You need more conflict in your story.” When I confessed to him that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to write a decent manuscript, he gave me some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever gotten: “Quit writing.”

I was stunned. There I was paying him good money to encourage me, coach me, help me write that elusive book. Yet, he told me to quit. I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or ecstatic. Mostly I was confused. When I finally got the courage to challenge his advice, he said, “Writers quit all the time, including me. But if you’re a real writer, you’ll have to start again. You cannot not write.

After letting his last comments sink in, I then became afraid. What if I quit and never wanted to write again? That would, according to Cleaver, mean I had never been a real writer anyway. Nonetheless, I did quit. I mean, I totally quit with the intention of never writing fiction again. I avoided anything related to writing and went about my life. At first, I was giddy with the lightness of not being a writer. No more worries about plots and characters—or conflict. I could enjoy reading a book without analyzing it. The freedom of not being a writer was intoxicating.

After a couple months of not writing, the impact of Cleaver’s message finally hit me: I needed to reevaluate why I was writing. As simple as that sounds, I had been focused on outlining, story structure, and all the other nuts-and-bolts of the craft. Was my goal to write the perfectly structured novel, worthy of an MFA thesis? While I wanted to write a quality novel, what I really craved was to write a novel that readers could connect with.

When I eventually returned to writing, I wrote the story I really wanted to tell. While I didn’t ignore all the workshop advice and education I had acquired over the years, this time, however, I began writing from my heart, not my head. I wrote for my readers, not for other writers.

About three years later, I published my first novel, Murder in Madden, which recently received Honorable Mention in the Writers’ Digest Self-Published Book Awards. And my second novel in the series, The Last Sale, will soon be out.

During the past year, I have enjoyed the book signings, festivals, book clubs, and other interactions with readers. I’ve never had so much fun. And each time a reader tells me about her favorite character, or someone says, “I couldn’t put it down,” I thank the writing gods that I found the courage to quit.

As a first-time blogger on this page, Raegan's bio follows.

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Raegan Teller is an award-winning mystery author in Columbia, SC, where she lives with her husband and two cats. Her debut novel, Murder in Madden, received Honorable Mention in the 2017 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Her second novel in the Enid Blackwell series is The Last Sale. Both books were inspired by real-life cold cases in her hometown. Before writing fiction, Raegan was a business writer and copy editor, executive coach, and insurance manager—among other things. While working her way through school, she even sold burial vaults at a cemetery. How apropos is that for a mystery writer!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Using Multiple Narrators

By Sharon May

When I started my novel, I didn’t know the story I wanted to tell. Was it the story of burying the bones or the story of finding the bones?  If it was the former, was the setting 1942 or 1978? Or both? If it was of finding the bones, was it the story of who buried the bones, or the story of the reporters who attempt to uncover the truth about the bones? I decided I wanted to tell the story of what happens in the lives of the characters once the bones are found. One narrator could not tell that story. So I began writing with two narrators, Lafe and Preston, two men who are as different as a Saint Bernard and a Chihuahua. I chose first person because of its immediacy and intimacy, but also because both narrators have secrets and live much of their lives alone.

At this point, I found it easy to meet the first rule of multiple narrators: the reader must be able to open the text at any place and immediately identify the narrator of that section. Narrators, like all characters, must be different in language, tone, and cadence. They must be true to themselves in what they say and how they say it.

I finished a draft with two narrators, but was not satisfied. With the help of an editor experienced with Appalachian literature, I realized two narrators told the story of the bones, but not the story of life in Appalachia so I began adding narrators.

This decision complicated the writing. Obviously, each narrator must sound different from the others. With two narrators, I could alter chapters. Now I have to determine the order of the narrators’ chapters to tell the story coherently and cohesively. There are lots of options of who speaks next. I don’t want repeated events, unless different perspectives on the events add to the readers’ understanding. Also, I have to decide who should tell what. Sometimes, only one narrator knows of an event, and the choice is logical. However, shared experiences creates choices, and it is difficult at times to know which narrator is the right one for a scene.
Now I have no idea how many narrators I will use to tell the story of small town life in Appalachia in 1978, a time of change and of what some call progress. With multiple narrators comes layers of complexity, conflict, and theme, I can’t help to think my story will be like an Apple Stack Cake, which has many layers (the thinner the better, the more the better), all separated by dried apples or applesauce. As the cake ages, the taste of apples seeps into the layers, creating one heavenly treat. A woman who makes this cake nowadays is a rare find. She, like a lot of my culture, is dying, and I would like to preserve at least some of my memories of that culture in a novel.