Sunday, November 23, 2014

Managing the Rejection: Knowing When NOT to Say When

By Len Lawson

I submitted a poetry manuscript to a highly coveted university press. Six months later I received its response: a rejection. However, within that six months, I was not clutching my cheeks in front of my computer every day waiting for an email from the publisher. I wrote more poems and perfected my craft, so I resubmitted to them an updated manuscript in a reply email . We'll meet back in another six months to see how this turns out...

Rejection will always be a part of the writer's existence. Unfortunately, it is like a continual pain in the body that has to be managed effectively. Otherwise, the body, or in this case the writer, will double over in agony with every hurt.

Here are some tips to counter the sting of rejection from publishers and editors:

1. Don't take it personally. Rejection from a publisher or editor is NOT an indictment on a writer's character or personality. I try to place myself in the shoes of these individuals. Publishers and editors receive hundreds to thousands of manuscripts annually on a continual basis. Their challenge is to choose works that either fit their style or that they feel represents their entity the best. It's almost like a lottery where one or a few manuscripts are chosen from many selections that actually have merit. The ratios are really pathetic when we stop to think about it. They do their best to select their own opinion of merit. In other words, it's not us; it's them.

2. Resubmit. Most publishers/editors will allow us to submit a new manuscript within a reasonable amount of time. I recall recently when I submitted a poem to an online journal, and the editor rejected it. I quickly replied to their rejection with more poems I had written during their selection period. Ultimately, the editor chose two of the new poems I submitted. Unless there is a limit on submissions for a single writer, continue to seek what the publisher/editor is looking for by resubmitting. I tend to use a "three-strikes rule" when resubmitting. After the third rejection, I may get the picture that my stuff is not what they want (...or I may not...).

3. Keep writing and submitting during the selection period. Do not, as the saying goes, place all the eggs in one basket. Most publishers/editors will allow writers to have simultaneous submissions, which means that writers can still submit one work to many presses at the same time. However, if the work is accepted, then the other presses should be notified (it's like reverse rejection!).One publisher/editor is not, as they say, the only game in town. We should not simply await our fate in the publisher's/editor's  hands. We are the writers. We have the talent. We should not be afraid to share our work with multiple sources. We are worth it!

This writer's/poet's life is the way of rejection which is why most people quit in a short period of time. The key is to NEVER GIVE UP. In search for publication,  we become more like explorers or hunters in search of the editors and publishers that "get" our work. When we find them, it's like that great archaeological discovery or like striking oil or gold. Then, after we do, the best writers become addicted to it and search for more: more publications, more audiences,  more readers, more hearts and minds that surge with our words. Let's go exploring,  friends! The spoils are ours for the taking!

Sunday, November 16, 2014


By Mike Long 

So, after my last blog on my love of writers’ conferences, I should offer an update for some balance. Mary and I recently returned from three days in Eureka Springs, AR, participating in the Ozark Creative Writers Conference. It did not go exactly as planned.

There were four primary reasons we attended, aside from the facts that we'd never been to northwestern Arkansas and it was Fall in the Ozarks; good reasons by themselves, and those good reasons saved the trip for us.

The things we were really looking forward to were: 
(A) the release of my third novel, Higher Ground, by High Hill Press (conference host)
(B) meeting screenwriter/author Robert Knott and maybe pushing my books at him 
(C) seeing Tiffany Schofield, Acquisitions Editor, Five Star/ Cengage, who was bringing contracts to publish my two novels as hardcover large-print editions for the library market
(D) having Gary Goldstein (Kensington Press) give my fourth novel a "NY look"

None of those things happened.

The day prior to the conference, Louella Turner of High Hill Press emailed that Higher Ground wasn't ready for print; she assured me that it would be out by 30 November and therefore available for contest consideration by year end. I didn't nail her down on which year exactly.

Robert Knott, Tiffany Schofield, and Gary Goldstein were no-shows. Seems the Fall is a great time for funerals. Delta, World's Largest Non-Scheduled Airline, added to the fun.

Nevertheless, we had a great time. The region and town were quaint and colorful, and the weather was perfect, except for the persistent rain. Many friends from the Western Writers of America were there and that fellowship suppressed any disappointment. I'd grabbed the last suite at the conference center, so lots of folks found their way to our unit after each night's Happy Hour/Dinner. Talk about fellowship. Most left by two AM, and all left before Mary left me. Award-winning authors Dale Jackson, Brett Cogburn, and Johnny D. Boggs were there and helped me with the liquor.

Our featured speaker was Jeff Guinn and he was delightful. Author of much nonfiction, he has best-sellers on Charles Manson, Wyatt Earp, and Bonnie and Clyde; we are reading them now.

In short, we made lemonade out of castor oil, or maybe vice versa. We still like conferences but have slightly reduced our expectations.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


 By Fred Fields

To my mind, there are two types of writers, those who write for their own pleasure, and those who want to be read and to sell books.

This blog post is for the latter group.

When we were in school, our teachers had to read whatever we wrote. God bless them. That was probably true suffering, considering many of the essays they were forced to grade.

Nobody has to read what we write today. In fact, for us to be successful, our readers must find us, be spurred to interest, and be inspired to buy. That's right, they must be induced to pay for the privilege of reading what we have written.

For us to motivate a reader's investment, we should consider what people would like to read. What kind of fiction is selling? In whose biography might they be interested? What would they like to learn?

More than that, we must encourage the potential reader to believe that he or she will enjoy what we have written. This can be difficult. A book written by Stephen King offers some idea of its quality. A book written by Regina Farina, not so much. Nobody ever heard of Ms. Farina nor have they read any of her output.

My suggestions for getting people to buy your books:
          A. Pick a subject or a genre of interest to a large segment of the population
          B. Title your epic with an attention grabbing-name
         C. Write with a style that is easy to enjoy with good dialog, real movement of the                story, and clever, intelligent, even funny stories and observations
          D. Learn how to market your efforts to be found by the largest possible segment                 of the population.

Most important of all, know the specific audience you are targeting.

It's fine to write for your own enjoyment, but not necessarily profitable.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014 SCWW Conference: What a Treat!

By Jodie Cain Smith
It was that time of year again, that magical season when one hundred or so writers gather with a select faculty to geek out about the craft of writing for two and half straight days at Myrtle Beach.  And the 2014 South Carolina Writers’ Workshop did not disappoint.

But first, bring on the usual conference trappings. 

I am now properly carb-loaded for a marathon thanks to the mass catering proteins with all the flavor and texture of wet cardboard. Too bad I don’t run.  Or eat fish off of a buffet. 

The hotel had its annoyances, put in place to remind us that Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”  My room phone was possessed by the devil and rang throughout night one until I ripped it from the wall.  O.K., so maybe I merely unplugged it, but I did so with gusto after learning the importance of tension in my Friday session. 

And of course, the class hijackers were in full swing, ready and waiting to commandeer a session.  Yes, I know he knows everything there is to know about computers and the Internet and blogging and she re-reads Edgar Allen Poe’s complete works before bed each night, but for the love of Pete, I paid to hear the actual expert speak!

Now, for the good stuff, the classes! 

My fears of being bored, maddened, and humiliated were unfounded.  Although the class topics were familiar, the information was not. 

Scott Lax’s character development offered insight into the mind of a successful author and his process.  The marketing class, Promoting Yourself:  It’s a DIY World taught by the delightful Barabara Claypole-White, offered fresh ideas and practical, realistic solutions.  In The 12 Dos & Don’ts of Crime Writing Ann Collette taught me to keep it real, keep it simple, and keep it moving.  I wish I had met Joan Edwards, instructor of How to Add Pizzazz to Your Blog, two years ago when I first started my blog.  I want to wrap her in a bear hug for the information she relayed to me regarding controlling spam, finding free photos, and creating usable content.  But I won’t grab her while yelling, “Thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She seemed rather shy, and I wouldn’t want to discourage her from teaching strangers again.  Finally, the last panel, Discover the Depth in Your Writing, led by Aurelia Sands provoked more deep thought with questions such as “Does my character like mayonnaise?” and the suggestion to take a personality test as my character in order to understand her better. 

Clearly, I had a lot to learn and much more work to do, but by noon on Sunday, I felt energized and up to the challenge.  That energy, that desire to conquer the world, is the best takeaway from a conference like this.  After all the networking and note taking, the exchange of ideas and business cards, I now feel I have a huge community of writers and industry professionals pulling for me, hoping for my success.  And that is the cherry on my conference sundae.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

Last Saturday afternoon I closed the last chapter on William Broad’s defiant Dancing With Myself. This dude was The Man. For those who listened to the FM dial in the ‘80s know I am talking about Billy Idol. Idol’s rock god status is cemented with iconic tunes such as “Rebel Yell,” “White Wedding” and “Eyes Without A Face.” I watched him on MTV. I danced with myself. I recommend checking out his autobiography today.

I see Idol as a free-will poet, someone who used unpretentious literary devices to express the English punk scene angst of the ‘70s. Poems layer on imagery, word association and musicality to get the point across.

His rock-hard spiky blond locks, scowling sneer and tight leather pants lured me to the TV screen. Yet, it was his poet-like elegance that got me to memorize his edgy chants. To the haters, here’s why he’s a rock and roll bard: He uses repetition and imagery.

Exhibit A: Eyes Without A Face (I still don’t know what this means.)
Les yeux sans visage eyes without a face Les yeux sans visage eyes without a face Les yeux sans visage eyes without a face Got no human grace your eyes without a face.

He uses POV to tell the story. In this 1983 song, Idol narrates.

Exhibit B: White Wedding (In the book, Idol says this is about a shotgun wedding for his sister.)
Hey little sister what have you doneHey little sister who's the only oneHey little sister who's your supermanHey little sister who's the one you want
Hey little sister shotgun

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oaxaca Film Festival – Day One

By Laura P. Valtorta

Oaxaca, Mexico, October 8, 2014. There are hundreds of film festivals open to Americans these days. The Oaxaca Film Festival, in the mountains of central Mexico, is one of the best. I came here because my feature-length screenplay, Bermuda, was accepted. I arrived in town two days late. Today, alone, I was given the opportunity to pitch my screenplay four times, once in front of an audience (filmed pitch) and three times before studio executives who actually have money to make films. That, for me, makes this a successful festival. The last producer asked for additional material. All four pitch sessions allowed me time to practice telling my story.

Everyone I spoke to today was interested to hear that the stage play version of this story was produced and directed this August in Columbia, SC by LeaSharn Hopkins, of New Life Productions. This is very much a South Carolina story, as well as a Mexican one.

The Oaxaca Film Festival is now in its fifth year. It strikes a fine balance between English speakers and Spanish speakers. Every session I’ve attended has accommodated both languages. Unfortunately I don’t speak any Spanish, but every presenter at the festival speaks good English. They also recognize that my name is Italian. They are good fellow Latins.

The atmosphere here is international Last night I saw two excellent independent films: a feature set in Mexico City (lLos Banistas), and a short filmed in Quebec. 

I noticed that the Oaxacan attitude is laid back. When Oaxacans speak English, they use a ton of good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon swear words.

Filmmakers can enter the Oaxaca Film Festival using Film Freeway.

The day ended with a peaceful demonstration in the city center regarding those students who were apparently killed by police near Oaxaca. Many people marched. The police were there with machine guns. We were locked out of the festival for 20 minutes until the demonstration passed.

Afterwards, I noticed that the police tore down posters of the dead students that the marchers had pasted on the walls along the sidewalks.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


By Bonnie Stanard

Just when I thought I had some idea of point of view (POV), I read a story that has me scratching my head. I can hear groans coming from Columbia II writers. Oh no, here she goes again. Bonnie’s obsessed. Hasn’t enough been written about POV already?

Yes, but I have a footnote, and I’ll try to get to it.

For clarity’s sake, we writers stick to one POV for any given scene (or chapter or novel). Take a look at the excerpts below taken from a short story I read recently. What is the POV?
He felt no floor under his feet
He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair.
He’s coming down the stairs now, he thought.

The information here is filtered through one person (in this case a boy). My first reaction is that it’s third limited POV, for we know what the boy is thinking and feeling. We’re given his interior monologues. However, if third limited POV, we should be limited to whatever he sees, hears, or knows.

Intermixed with the above sentences are others like these:
[had the boy been] Older he might have remarked this and wondered….
But he did not think this now.
[an expression of] amazed disbelief which the boy could not have known was…
he did not know it was midnight…

Isn’t this omniscient? This is where I’m scratching my head. The story is being told from the boy’s point of view, so why is the omniscient narrator sticking his nose into the story to tell us things the boy can’t or doesn’t know? Has this author mixed third limited with omniscient POV within a given text?

You might expect the writing to be unclear if not pedestrian, but it’s not. And in the hands of an author of less ability than William Faulkner, it might well have been. The way I read this is that it’s omniscient in spite of the interior monologue. It’s not actually the boy telling the story. It’s the god-like narrator, who knows the boy’s thoughts and quotes them as the plot progresses. This departs from our conventional understanding of POV. Only a professional like Faulkner can make something like this work. These excerpts are taken from his short story “Barn Burning,” and you can find the complete text at the website below.*

There’s a quote which goes something like this—Know the rules so you can break them. Of those creative writers who take chances (i.e., break the rules), some are rewarded by critics with labels such as “innovative” or “original.” Failing that, some are labeled as “confusing” or “slipshod.” Some day, I hope I’ll know enough about writing that I’ll be able to mess with the rules in a way that isn’t an embarrassing exhibition of ignorance.

* (a note: this publication has dropped the italics that appear in other published copies of this story.)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Conferences For Writers

By Mike Long 

I joined Western Writers of America (WWA) in 2010, shortly after publishing No Good Like It Is through Createspace. Mary and I attended our first WWA conference that year in Knoxville.

I did more talking than listening, but I did meet a fellow and told him I was working on a sequel. He took my first book and later asked if his sister's company, Goldminds Publishing, could publish the sequel. We came up with a contract and Dog Soldier Moon was produced in late 2010. As part of the deal I received 2000 copies at a very low price; Goldminds wanted 3000 copies for their use. The combined run gave us both a nice savings in cost from the offshore printer. Goldminds also did a second run of my first novel at the same price. Sales of those novels have now exceeded 4000 each.

In 2011 and 2012, we attended WWA conferences in Bismarck, ND and Albuquerque, NM. We vacationed a lot, and I networked a little. In 2013, the conference was in Las Vegas, NM, and I finally knew enough folks to really network. I met Mike Harris who owns La Frontera Publishing, as well as Brett Cogburn (Rooster's great-grandson), who won the SPUR Award that year for Best First Novel. Both were looking for short stories for upcoming anthologies. Mike Harris has now published my story, “The Resurrection,” in this year's anthology Broken Promises.

Brett wanted a story for an anthology he was working on with Louella Turner, co-owner of High Hill Press. “Choteau's Crossing” was the result, and Lou Turner published it this year in Rough Country. Brett also introduced me to Lou and got her to look at the third book in my trilogy, Higher Ground.

This year's conference was in Sacramento, CA, and “Choteau's Crossing” took second place in the SPUR Awards. Lou Turner and Brett asked for more short stories; I've submitted three more so far. Lou also announced that she'll release Higher Ground in October at the Ozarks Creative Writers (OCW) conference, Eureka Springs, AR. Brett asked for another Western novel (unrelated to the trilogy) to show to a NY publisher at OCW. It's a first-person POV, working title, Brodie. I submitted it last week. We'll see how that goes.

Brett also introduced me to Tiffany Schofield of Five Star Press in Sacramento. She looked at my trilogy and has agreed to publish it in hard-cover large-print versions for library sales. I'll receive an advance of $750 for each novel, plus 10% of sales.

The 2015 conference will be in Lubbock TX; I will be focused on screenwriting. Conferences? Mikey likes 'em.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Revision: Catching the Vision Again

By Len Lawson

I have this process I go through whenever I write a new poem or a new chapter of a novel. After I gain inspiration from a phrase, scene, or topic that catches my attention, I furiously write down each line or scene. When this gorgeous episode of creativity and imagination is over, then the euphoria sets in. I feel like I have written the greatest piece of writing known to man. That's where the trouble starts.

Immediately, I want to shotgun the piece to every publisher or journal I can think of. I have learned to resist those urges because they usually lead to rejection letters. The lesson here is that a writer is only as good as he allows his revision process to be. Once the euphoria wears off, then the real flaws and opportunities for improvement in the piece can be detected.

Here are some proofreading and revising tips that have helped my work become accepted or have brought me more satisfaction in my writing.

1. Allow the piece to "breathe." Just walk away. Put down the pen, pencil, or computer and step away from the page. Do not even look at it again until the haze of euphoria wears off. The high from the creative process can be delightful, but it is not the end of the process. It is only the beginning. Don't make any rash decisions here. Just let the work breathe for a few hours or days. Then, come back to it (easier said than done, I know).

2. Allow the creative process to continue. In the same way we can get inspired to write something we think is great, we can also be inspired after the draft has been written. Sometimes the best lines or scenes come in the revising phase. We do ourselves a disservice when we think our first draft is our best draft. We can still experience those moments of brilliance during the revision.

3. Allow another set of eyes to view the piece. There is no more sobering feeling to a writer than allowing another writer or editor to read our work. This will shift the euphoria into hysteria. However, it is good for us. We must let someone who is not emotionally attached to the work tell us what readers, publishers, and other editors will see. The best place to get an honest, objective critique is from a writers group like SCWW. I cannot express how much my writing has improved by putting my work into the hands of passionate writers.

Everything we write should go through a revision. Our favorite novels, essays, and poems went through this process. In fact, this very blog went through a revision process. As writers, we should not feel that our work is any different. We should embrace the revision. In it, we can see truths and errors we have missed. We can also catch a new or updated vision of our work. Revision allows us to catch the vision again.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Appreciated in My Own Time

By Jodie Cain Smith

Sylvia Plath, Margaret Mitchell, J.D. Salinger, Emily Bronte, and Jodie Cain Smith? Lord, I pray not!

I know, I know. I needn’t worry that I will ever be compared to the likes of the literary greats listed above, but for once in my life, I can honestly say, “I don’t want to be among the best.” At least not among BuzzFeed’s list of the greatest literary one hit wonders. Most of the authors on the list lived a tragic life with an untimely end of which I have no interest in imitating. And most weren’t appreciated at all until after that untimely end. What’s the point of that?

Sure, I would love to have the intellect or raw talent to craft the next great masterpiece, but I am far too self aware to spend too much time on that fantasy. I’m also sane, as sane as a fiction writer can be and still make up stories. I do not wish to live as a hermit, alone with my thoughts, until my solitary confinement whittles away my fragile mind allowing for genius to bloom on the page. It sure seems like losing your mind is a prerequisite to creating a read-in-every-high-school-across-America classic. And I like being able to function in society.

If I were being honest, I would gladly walk away from a heaping pile of literary brilliance for one helping of “loved in my own time.” Yes, I said it. I want to be read now. I want countless novels with my name on them enjoyed poolside and on commuter trains. I want to be read in airport lounges and debated at suburban book clubs over cheap chardonnay. I want to answer inane questions from Today Show reporters, but then fade back into the crowd outside Rockefeller Center, never to be recognized on the street.

Simply put, I want to pay my rent doing what I love: creating and telling stories. When I told my first original story, back in 2003, I did not tell it in order to create higher art or for glory or to win a Pulitzer. I told the story, one of a young bride facing separation from her husband due to war, because I needed my message to be heard right then. I had to tell my corner of the world, and anyone else who would listen, my story. And I was desperate for someone to value my story-telling ability with a check. The check didn’t need to be fat. It just had to have my name on it.

You may scoff at such simple and seemingly petty dreams, but there they are, what I really want out of my writing: to tell my stories, to be paid for my abilities, and for my messages, whatever they may be, to be discussed. I want to tell all of my stories, not just one. Yes, I want to be appreciated right here, right now, long before I am dead.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 31, 2014


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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, yes, I’m talking to you.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Muse

By Len Lawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014


By Marion Aldridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Fill a niche.

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

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

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014


By Laura P. Valtorta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Flashing Back to Go Forward

By Chris Mathews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014


By Jodie Cain Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014


By Bonnie Stanard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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