Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thoughts on the Playwright’s Experience

The playwright, like the novelist, is a storyteller—but without the time or space a novel can offer to spin out the telling. Moreover, the playwright doesn’t have the option of using narration or description the way the novelist does. In a play, dialogue has to do most of the heavy lifting. Even stage directions can’t tell the meat of the story. The audience isn’t going to read stage directions; they’re going to hear the characters speak and watch them contend with their lives. So the playwright must be prepared to listen to voices as well as picture the world she enters.

There’s a saying I like that’s attributed to Lillian Hellman: “When the lights come up on stage, they come up on trouble. Otherwise, you don’t have a play.” That maxim has become a min-mantra for me because it keeps me focused on my characters and their story. I’m old-fashioned enough to still love the intimacy between stage and audience a theatre can create in telling a good story. For me, that challenge never loses its attraction.

Athold Fugard once told a group of my students that the real challenge of playwriting is to figure out what to tell and when to tell it. Sounds simple—until you try it. Characters often have their own ideas about timing and can take over the direction of the story. More than once I’ve had an absolutely brilliant structure all laid out until my characters started asserting themselves, elbowing their way downstage into the spotlight when I’d planned for them to wait a bit longer in the wings. But then, I never really get to know my characters until we’ve arm-wrestled through the script. They all seemed so malleable when I first met them in an image or a fragment of conversation.

August Wilson described an image that stuck in his head—a big man, muscular and strong, standing alone outside a house, holding a newborn baby in his powerful arms. Wilson kept wondering who that man was, what his story was. The man turned out to be Troy Maxon in Fences. But Wilson didn’t know it was Troy when the image first came to him. He discovered Troy and Rose and the others as he listened to them conversing in his head, telling him their story.

For the playwright who is interested in character and story, who invites audiences to mull over what they see and hear, the journey from finished script to professional production can be long and discouraging.

A fellow playwright once remarked to me, “There’s a reason they call it ‘breaking into’ the theatre world. It’s because you have to BREAK IN; the doors aren’t open very wide.” That observation, unfortunately, is easily born out by the number of professional theatres that announce on their website variations of what has become a clichĂ©: “We accept scripts only from literary agents and theatre professionals with whom we have an existing professional relationship.” An equally challenging search, by the way, is to find an agent who represents playwrights. The ranks are very thin. 

But there is good news to be had.

While traditional book resources are still valuable, such as Dramatists Sourcebook, the Internet has made finding playwriting contests and amenable theaters so much easier for us playwrights. I suggest NYC Playwrights as a great site to start off with. You can subscribe to their mailing list for free, and the site includes other helpful tabs such as one for play formatting guidelines. Subscribe and they will fire lots of opportunities right to your mailbox. The URL is .

There are a number of other sites you can also check out, such as 

~~Nedra Pezold Roberts

SWA member Nedra Pezold Roberts' play The Vanishing Point is a winner of the American Association of Community Theatres 2013 NewPlayFest and will open at Sacramento's California Stage Company in March. The play also won the 2013 Southern Playwrights Competition and will open in June at Jacksonville State University's R. Carlton Ward Theatre in Jacksonville, Alabama.   Visit Nedra's website.

Monday, January 27, 2014

ReBlogs: To Outline or Not

A question I often hear asked of novelists, at least by other writers, is whether they outline before beginning to hammer out a manuscript. Or, do they just sit down, an idea aborning in their mind, and began to craft their tale?

The majority of authors, it seems, develop some sort of outline. I say, “Some sort,” because there is no standardized style of outline. It’s basically whatever the writer feels comfortable with, whatever gets the job done.

Outline types range from perhaps a single page of scribbled notes to what sounds to me like an excruciatingly detailed delineation: a one- or two-page synopsis for each chapter. Again, there’s no style guide here, no right or wrong way of doing things. If it works for you, it’s the right way.

What works for me is to get down a couple of pages of thoughts, including major turning points, key scenes and the conclusion--or at least where I’d like to end up. In my most recent novel, Supercell, I had two alternate endings in mind and really didn’t know which would work best until I got there.

You see, an outline for me is just a guide. I know I must get from Point A to Point B, but I don’t know how until I start writing. The characters and circumstances dictate my route. That, to me, is the fun of crafting fiction. As Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

To draw a military analogy to outlining, I view an outline as a strategic plan, the big picture. I execute the plan through a series of tactics: my writing. And like any military plan, it begins to fall apart as soon as I squeeze off the first round, that is, type the first word.

As necessary, I go back and amend the plan. I change the outline. It’s a “living document” that evolves through an iterative process. The outline guides my writing, but my writing may feed back into changing the outline. This may happen once or many times over the course of cranking out a manuscript.

Once, I did try to march off on a literary journey without an outline. Other people, I knew, had done it successfully. Why not me? Well, it turned out I have no sense of dead reckoning. After about a hundred pages (roughly 25,000 words), I found myself hopelessly lost in a jungle of blind trails, dead ends and improbable plot twists.

My only salvation was to sacrifice my baby to the slashing teeth of a black paper shredder and allow native beaters to lead me, whimpering, to safety.

I now am a dedicated outliner.

~~ H.W. "Buzz" Bernard

A retired meteorologist, Buzz has published 3 novels, the latest, Supercell, came out this fall.  He is Vice-President of SWA and manages our workshop bookstore.  This article was reblogged with permission from the author.  It appeared in Suite T, the Author's Blog of Southern Writers Magazine, January 27, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

We are giving away CASH at the 2014 SWA Writers Workshop

Do You Write Fiction?

We have 6 strictly fiction contests!  You can enter them ALL!

The Hal Bernard Memorial Award for Novel
- The first 10 pages (double-spaced)
- 1-page synopsis
- 1-paragraph "elevator pitch."
- Any genre, literary or mainstream

The Past Presidents’ Romance Award
- The first chapter and a five-page synopsis
- Romance novels only

The GT Youngblood Short Fiction Award
- Complete manuscript not over 3000 words
- Any genre, literary or mainstream

 The Microcosm Award
- Fiction of at least 100 and not more than 500 words

Romantic Flash Fiction Award 
- Romance Fiction - any subgenre except erotic permissible.
- Must be a complete story complete story in 1000 words or less.

The Bill Westhead Memorial Award
- Complete manuscript not over 3000 words
- For the best short story with a subject matter of an event occurring during the writer's childhood that shaped his/her life.

What About Nonfiction?

We have 4 contests seeking true stories!

The Very Merrie Bosom Buddy Award
- Nonfiction up to 750 words about your best friend. 
- This poignant true story must make the reader laugh and cry.

The Dr. George L. Sheppard Memorial Award  
- Nonfiction up to 750 words about a supportive sibling. 
- This poignant true story must make the reader laugh and cry.

The Award for Excellence in Inspirational Writing
- The piece may be religious or secular. 
- It should be wholesome and leave the reader with a “take away” message of encouragement, hope, comfort, fresh motivation, or renewed spiritual strength. 
- Complete manuscript not over 1500 words

The Cappy Award for Humor 
- Complete manuscript not over 1000 HILARIOUS words

Do You Write on Both Sides of the Aisle?

Yep.  We have 4 contests open to both kinds of writing!  And Poetry too!

The Angel Award for Holiday Seasonal Writing
- Short fiction, poetry or essays of 1200 words maximum about the holiday season.

The ThomasMax “You are Published” Contest
- Prize is publication and 25 copies of the book with no obligation to author.
- Manuscript may be submitted in full or only first three chapters.
- A complete synopsis (3 to 10 pages) should accompany all entries.  Approximate word count should be included with synopsis, preferably 40,00 to 90,000 words, fiction, non-fiction, or a collection of short stories.
- Other details are available at or send SASE to “You are Published,” P O Box 250054, Atlanta GA 30325

The Julie L. Cannon Award
- Writing which exemplifies the southern spirit preferably in a subtle, nuanced, and non-stereotypical manner
- 1,000 words or less
- Fiction or nonfiction, NO poetry

Lines of Worth Award 
- Each entry should be a collection of three poems, each up to thirty lines, not including the title. 
- Awards will be made to collections.

Check out all the Workshop news, 
submission guidelines & register on our website!

Monday, January 20, 2014

FREE-Lancing: When Should You Write for Free?

Should You Write for Free?

Ask that question to your writer friends and you're liable to get as many different answers as you have friends.  It is a question that those of us in this profession face often.  There are times and places where it is reasonable to give your time and talent away, but make sure you know exactly what you are giving and what you are getting in exchange.

What if it is a "really good cause"?

Whenever you're asked or just thinking of giving away your services for a charitable cause, ask yourself three questions:

1. Will you want to use the material again? - If so, check the copyright status of anything you produce.  Do you retain the rights?  Is this classified as a publication, thus using your "first rights"?  Is it a work for hire where all the rights stay with the organization? If the rights are compromised, you may not be able to sell the material again without a major rewrite and restructuring.

2. What kind of exposure will your work receive?  Yes, you're working for free, but you can still benefit from your efforts professionally.  Look at the size and the reputation of the group.  Will you be credited either with bylines or in an event program?  Who will see your work?  Working for an event or cause can put you in front of people you might not otherwise meet.  It could mean more work down the road so make sure you can exploit the experience to you advantage.

3. Do you really and truly support this cause? If so, forget the other questions and do the best job you can.

What if a website wants to publish your story but offers no pay?

Website publication is "real" whether or not the site pays you.  In writers guidelines more and more magazines specifically mention that they don't want work that has been published on "a third party or nonpersonal website."  Even if the website says you retain all your rights, other editors might not feel the same way.

But as with writing for charity, look at the exposure and your future plans for the material.  If you're offering a piece point specific to the website, then you probably can't sell it elsewhere so the publication credit will be the only thing you can get for it.  Also if this is in an area or genre you have no or little previous publishing history, and the website is a prominent fixture in this area, let the byline and exposure be your payment and your foot in the door.  However, next time keep looking for a paying market.

When shouldn't you write for free?

Writers often lament that their families and friends don't see their freelance work as a real job and try to take advantage so the number one reason you shouldn't write for free is when you're "guilted" into the job.  You love your family and you don't want to resent the intrusion but you will at least internally and that's not healthy.  Besides writing is a "real job" and you should get paid for your time and talent.  Who would expect a plumber to fix a clogged sink then not present a bill?

Don't write for free if you don't feel passionately about the job, the cause or at least some aspect of the situation.  You likely won't do a stellar job and it could reflect badly on you with the people involved.  Exposure is good, but make sure it is exposure to your best work.

Finally, don't write for free if you can't afford it.  Clippings are great.  Every writer needs bylines and resume builders, but he also needs money for his bills.  No amount of exposure or prestige is going to pay your rent or put food on the table.  

There's the old adage "You get what you paid for."  If you write your best, you should be paid the best. Right?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Round of Applause: Member News

SWA Short Fiction instruction, C.D. Mitchell’s second book, Alligator Stew, is about to be released later this month by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing and is available for pre-order. Check out the book trailer video

Patrick Hempfing had “moMENts” columns published in January issues of About Families, Suburban Parent Magazines and Irving Parent Magazine.

Erika Hoffman’s essay “We’re All Connected” will be published in the February edition of Epiphany Magazine, an e-zine.  She has two stories selected for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s edition-Multitasking Mom’s Survival Guide. One is called “BUSY!” and the other “Frenzied.”   Erika’s story “Peer Pressure” has been tentatively accepted by Living, a religious publication, and her essay “Real Time” has been accepted by Mature Years.

Edward Nagel will be conducting 5-week workshops through the Victoria Avenue Writers Group “designed to take the writer from novice to professional and published author, novelist and produced screen and stage writer.”

We invite members to share news about their successes and activities so we can all join the celebration!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The SWA Writers Workshop starts 
6 months from TODAY!

★ ☆ ★ ☆ ★

☆  Registration is open on our website!  What's more, will cost no more than last year!

☆  Meet the Faculty! - NY Agent, Writers Digest Books Editor, NY Times Best-Selling Author and more!

☆  Check out the Evaluation Categories!  You can have 3 manuscripts evaluated and consult with faculty - FREE!

☆  We have 15 Contests with CASH PRIZES - You can enter ALL of them!

★ ☆ ★ ☆ ★

I’m often ready to go at the end of a two-day conference, so I was concerned about four.  I’m addicted to my study, my desktop, and my ergonomic mouse and chair. But suddenly four days were gone, and we were headed into an awards presentation for the writing contest. Then it was over.

And I wished these people were my neighbors, so I could take them home.

SWA Workshop Faculty - 2012

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bright Idea #62: Feed The Little Gray Cells

By this point in our New Year, I am sure many of you, like me, made resolutions.  I always make a resolution to eat less, exercise more, study the scriptures more, and spend more time with those I love. Those are standard.

But this year I made another one:
In the words of Hercule Poirot – “Feed the little gray cells.”

No matter what type of prose or poetry you write, scribblers that we are must have a constant supply of stimulants for the imagination.  Needless to say, we require a steady stream of information, a reservoir of knowledge, and storehouses of whimsy.  

Perhaps you enjoy a muse that sits on your shoulder and taunts you into getting down your goal of X amount of words per writing session.  If so, you are fortunate.

In his excellent book, On Writing, Stephen King advises: 
"There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know."

Now that’s a muse that works for him, but not for me.  I draw a lot of my inspiration from characters like Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, Miss Jane Marple, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sherlock Holmes.  Do you see a pattern here?  I am a sucker for British mysteries, detective stories, and curious escapades.  I will watch or read just about anything that promises a mystery with light comedy with a satisfying resolution. 

Perhaps your inspiration comes from music, poetry, the world of nature, or by certain types of literature. Whatever you choose, the point is to discover what makes your creative juices flow.  Investigate what inspires you.  Then regularly provide nourishment to your brain cells – whether gray or not.  Once you begin this regime you will be astonished at the results.  After a walk or nap, in the shower, or perhaps even at the keyboard, ideas will begin to take root. 

Sometimes the idea will come full blown. Sometimes the idea(s) make take a bit of encouragement even prodding.  A word search may begin a chain reaction resulting in an essay or opinion piece. A newspaper clipping, a scientific discovery, or an anniversary of an historical happening could trigger a column, short story, or become fodder for a book.

Keep a notebook of your ideas and add to them.  When prompted by your writing muse, jot down thoughts, lines of poetry, scraps of fiction or non-fiction.  I promise one day you will find a place where they fit.  Just for fun, create a character and record dialogue for him/her.   Paint a familiar setting without telling where it is.  Then do the same for a setting completely out of your imagination.  Any piece of writing is never wasted.

Take for example this column.  My muse this morning woke me at 7:30 a.m.  While he enjoyed a Milk Bone© and I my coffee, we sat on the couch and watch Poirot on Netflix©.  As Hercule solved his case, I had the idea for this column.  N’est ce pas?

~~Sheila S. Hudson

Sheila's work appears in Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Patchwork Path, From the Heart, Vols. 1 & 2, plus numerous periodicals including Costumer Magazine. She established Bright Ideas to bring hope and inspiration through the written word.  Sheila has also served as president of Southeastern Writers Association.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Want a FREE Ride?

Capture the essence of Erma's writings and you could WIN $500 and a FREE registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop! The competition opened Jan 6 and closes Feb 17 at 8:00 am.

"Hook 'em with the lead. Hold 'em with laughter.
Exit with a quip they won't forget."
~~ Erma Bombeck

Personal essays of 450 words, previously unpublished, may be submitted in either the humor or human interest categories until the Feb. 17 deadline. The entry fee is $15.  The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop is April 10-12, 2014 at the University of Dayton in Dayton, OH.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

EditorialLee Speaking

2014 is coming in on a hangover, which obviously means 2013 went out with a blast. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the new year, most of them good since the past couple of years haven't been two of my best and flipping the calendar always brings renewed optimism.

In 2012, I lost my mother to cancer. Last year started with a nasty bang when the street attacked me six days into 2013 and shattered my kneecap. Over the past couple of years my back problems have gotten worse, too. I've taken injections, had nerves burned away, tried PT and alternative medical treatments but with little improvement.

One thing that carries me forward into 2014 with momentum, though, is the publishing business I started a little over nine years ago to bring IncrediBoy back into print after his original publisher went out of business. I feared that e-books would probably be the end of the small publishing house like the one I co-own. But the last quarter of this year has, at least, provided me with a respite from that worry.

When I went down with the knee injury, Susan Lindsley's project of her father's literary works also got shelved with it. She could have taken her business elsewhere, but thankfully she chose not to do that. While this book of her father's poetry and other writings won't be released to the general public, Susan's Facebook friends have gotten a taste of the talents of her late father. It's easy to see that writing is in her blood.

Speaking of Susan, her first novel, The Bottom Rail, was one of our fourth-quarter releases after winning the ThomasMax "You Are Published" Contest at the SWA 2013 Workshop. Since its release, the book has been getting a lot of attention.  One of her home-towners has called it the “Milledgeville Peyton Place.” Susan used some events she remembered hearing about in her youth, but has since discovered that some of them involved people who are today’s leaders of business and society.

 “I had no idea who these people were. A lawyer friend, who knew everything that went on in the county, would come out to the country and tell us all sorts of tall tales. So I arranged some of the events to fit into my story.”

Before-publication praise included comments from three of our SWA members. Buzz Bernard called the novel “an old South you won’t forget.” Cappy Rearick, a true Southerner herself, said that The Bottom Rail made Tobacco Road read like a Sunday school lesson. And June McCash, herself a double-award winning Author of the Year, said that The Bottom Rail takes us to the time and rural south of To Kill a Mockingbird, but told from the viewpoint of the Ewells.  Although this is her first published novel, Susan has  authored or edited seven books.

I also had the pleasure of working with Peggy Mercer, who will be teaching poetry and children's writing at our 2014 workshop in the release of her collection of poems and songs entitled Grew Up Loving Elvis. This one was an adventure. Peggy is a true professional -- not that other writers with whom I work are not -- but Peggy has been through every mill of the writing world, been ground up and re-assembled numerous times in the process, and come out stronger for it. She and I fought like cat-and-dog often during the production of the book. And that's one reason you'll find it to be a work of art if you snag a copy. 

Probably the most intense editing work I have ever done was with an author named Robin Medley-Israel as we prepared her Urban Joy for its November release. Pastor Robin is a motivational coach as well as a writer and a pastor, and she had a story to tell about her life . . . a life she was ready to end as a teenager until God spoke to her and intervened. Now she is a spokesperson for "being joy" even though her life has had its share of rain along with its sunshine. And she is willing to talk about all her difficulties quite candidly, from the indignities she suffered form an affair by her adulterous fellow-pastor husband to lecherous stepfather. Robin does more than preach, though -- she goes into the "how to" of "being joy" in spite of all the obstacles. 

And, finally, our last release of 2013 which is probably just now reaching the listings with the online sellers is a relatively short autobiography with the unlikely title of P.O. Box 1106. Author Anna Löwenadler contacted me right in the heart of my busiest time with Susan's and Robin's projects, so I didn't get the chance to look into the story until November. But once I did, I was mesmerized. This girl had such a horrible childhood, and she tells it like it truly was (while carefully avoiding names and the most sordid of details). It's a quick read, and I don't say this often, but it's a book everyone should read, if only to appreciate his or her own upbringing. 

Susan's The Bottom Rail and Peggy's Grew Up Loving Elvis will be contestants for Georgia Author of the Year in their respective categories. Also representing ThomasMax will be Martha Phillips, whose Carved was the first book we released in 2013. It's the sequel to Martha's successful Written on a Rock mystery-romance that won the ThomasMax "You Are Published" contest a few years ago.

And all of the books released to the public, I'm happy to report, have had at least moderate sales success to date. Even P.O. Box 1106 had a few e-book sales within a few days of its release.

~~ Lee Clevenger

Lee is the current President of SWA, an author and co-founder of ThomasMax Publishing in Atlanta, GA.