Story is everything. Not just in films, television, advertising and publishing: the stories we write for ourselves, about our own lives, can hold us back or move us forward. Many of us aren’t even aware we have a backstory with an over-arching theme, a plot, and an underlying motivation that guide our everyday choices and lead to our successes or ‘failures’. But these are the self-written tales that lurk beneath our subconscious, or in the background of our conscious minds, making faces at us and whispering snarky comments that keep us from fulfilling our dreams and goals.

Unfortunately, it’s often the usual suspects who write the premise: parents or teachers who criticized our early creative efforts, or well-meaning folks in the fields of writing, editing, publishing, or marketing who doom our work before it has a chance to live. The problem is that we take these negative comments or experiences and weave them into something much bigger than they deserve. Instead of shrugging off the experiences as isolated events that may or may not have any connection to the reality of our talent, we give them Power.

Full confession: I teach writing. I help other writers overcome writer’s block all the time but last year, for a 6 month period, I experienced a weird kind of block. Based on one comment, not even about my writing, but rather about a marketing decision, I was riddled with doubt. Instead of moving forward and seeking an agent or publisher, I re-wrote the same twenty five pages from a novel manuscript of 350 pages, over and over and…I could not move on.  Over lunch with a friend, a writer herself, I confessed my literary perseveration. She looked at me with a mixture of shock and pity, grabbed her cell phone, Googled a well-respected publishing consultant and forced me, then and there, to schedule an appointment.

In preparation for the call, the consultant had researched my background and short story collection, Ladies in Low Places, which I had tossed into the ring as an indie-experiment to see what kind of feedback it would get. Ten minutes into the conversation, I began to let go of My Bad Backstory as the consultant assured me that, based on an extremely positive Kirkus review, two national indie- awards for women’s fiction and the book being featured in The Pulpwood Queens/Largest Book Club in the World, I am well-positioned ‘to go get that agent or traditional publisher for your debut novel.” Six months of self-doubt and in only ten minutes my subconscious story’s plot, characters, theme and underlying motivations had all been shot through.

Not that we didn’t commiserate on how difficult it is to get published these days. But, never mind. For right now, hallelujah, I’m doing the final tweak, writing the query letter, and am researching agents. And those twenty-five pages are finished and just fine, thank you.

The Big Question is: do you have a Story holding you back? Or did you ever break through and write a New Story for yourself? What Story are you writing for 2018?  I would love to hear from you.

And if you’re interested in moving on to the next stage, I’ll be teaching a few workshops in Early Spring before I start traveling again. Check in:

Do Writers Need to Run Away? Do You Really Need a Writer’s Retreat?


2017 Schedule for National and (New) International Writing Workshops coming soon!


Or: How Good Are You at Traveling ALONE?

You may be wondering how the two questions are related. But, how good are you at traveling alone?  As in: solo. By yourself. No one else.  Because, getting away to write is one thing. Actually accomplishing the act of writing, while traveling with someone else, is another.

Many writers believe they’ll carve out time while their spouse/lover/friend/teenage child goes off on their own. But, if you’ve tried this (and I would love to hear your comments) you may have found that something (ahem) always got in the way of sitting down and Facing the Page.

I believe that we writers don’t just need to escape the everyday demands of life,  we need to let our brains, our spirits, ourselves, breathe in strange places and new faces; without having someone else interpret it for us.  When we travel alone, we live life at a heightened level. Our senses are awakened. We’re naturally more open when we travel solo. We can use this openness to access a deeper part of who we are. (And, yes, we’re much more likely to find the time to sit down and write for a few hours between meeting all those new faces and seeing those interesting places.)

What about writing retreats? They’re wonderful. As long as we have unstructured, alone time every day. Because when there’s no one around to worry about what we’re up to (smile) we give ourselves the freedom to be who we want to be. And to write what we want to write.

If traveling alone seems daunting, I urge you to go to my Author page: and “Like It” because then you’ll stay with me. I have taken it as my mission in life to inspire other women to travel by themselves. Scroll down through the “Adventuress” posts and you’ll find information about traveling solo. And, I promise, if you hang in there with me, over the next few months, I will empower you to take that first solo journey.

Was I ever afraid of solo and adventure travel? You bet. But, over the years, I re-trained myself. In the last year I solo-traveled for a month in Ireland. Spent 60 days on a freezing mountain top alone. NYC: solo! And hiked the Olympic Mountains… alone.  Stay with me as I share tips like ”How To Pack for 30 Days in a Tiny Backpack and Still Look Stylish”.  Here’s that link again: See you on the Trail!

If the Act of Writing Scares You


If your own writing scares you, you are not alone. I should know. I’m a scared writer magnet. I attract beginning, and sometimes seasoned, writers from all over the United States, Canada and Europe who have stared at the monstrous entity of their writing talent and fallen to the ground in fear. When the monster shows no mercy – in fact, begins to chase them – they run. They throw themselves off metaphorical cliffs, into raging seas of self-doubt until, finally, they grab onto the first bit of floating debris. If, in the act of saving themselves, they latch onto the website for the Lowcountry Writers Retreat, they may just wash ashore in Folly Beach Carolina

When I first started teaching “beginning” adult writers, I thought such behavior might signify a lack of talent. Now, I know better. In fact, I think in many cases, fear of not being good enough may signify a true writing talent.

I met one of my scared writers this morning. She had agonized for months about coming to work on her manuscript, only sending the first pages the night before her arrival. I read them before going to meet with her and was awed by the powerful voice I found in her work.

Sometimes, when I meet these Scared Writers for the first time, I want to yell, ‘How can you ignore this gift? Don’t you know you’re a writer and writers have to write?’ But, of course, I don’t because I might scare them back toward the ocean, swimming away from their talent, from themselves.

It’s a delicate process, that of bringing forth the writer. But, even after all those years of denial, it usually only takes about thirty minutes. The light goes on and they Get It. Then, the icing: they get real feedback on flow, syntax, tense changes. Real writers lap this up, recognizing the compliment that honest criticism bestows.

When they go home, the hard work will begin. Like the rest of us, they’ll have to sit in a chair and stare at the screen – as the old saying goes – until their forehead bleeds. But they leave, happy to start the process. And well they should: another drowning victim saved by their own determination.

Mentoring these Scared Writers is an honor and a responsibility. I have tried a few times in my life to stop teaching, thinking it may interfere with my own writing. But, each time I’ve tried, the raging sea coughs up another person who needs a safe place to land, maybe even a full blown resuscitation. I’m fine with it: someone has to be waiting at the shore. It’s not so much a choice as an assignment. And I’m constantly humbled by the talent of these emerging scribes. So, whatever beacon my little literary lighthouse is sending out into the world, I hope to shine on.

More information or to register

Love, Writing & Other Big Ideas: Interview with NY Times Best-Selling Author Patti Callahan Henry

New York Times Best-Selling Author, Patti Callahan Henry, has just published her 10th book, The Idea of Love. She recently stopped in Charleston, SC at Blue Bicycle Books where All Things Southern and Literary caught up with her.

The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

MAH (Mary Ann Henry): Your path to becoming a successful writer: was it your plan all along? A thunderbolt from the blue? A slow dawning?

PCH: (Patti Callahan Henry): I had three children in 5 years. One day, I remember asking my oldest child – my daughter, who was five years old at the time – ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ She answered: “I want to write books.” I thought, ‘Wait! That’s my dream!’ It was the moment I realized I had to make my own dream happen.

MAH: And there you were: a busy young mother. How did you do it?

PCH: I didn’t try to work it in here or there. I wrote every day from 4:30 am to 6:30 am because it was the only time I had to myself. I made time for writing. I didn’t try to make it fit my life. I made my life fit my writing.

MAH: That’s wonderful to hear but it couldn’t have been easy. Do you feel that you were given a helping hand when you were first starting out as a novice novelist?

PCH: Oh YES! I would not and could not do what I do without the mentoring, help, friendship support of other writers.

MAH: You’re undeniably successful. Can you take our readers back to the moment when you knew you were going to “make it”?

PCH: Ah, I never feel as if I’ve “made it”. Ever. It’s a far away goal, like the horizon, that I see. The closer I get, the hazier it gets. But I can tell you how it felt when my agent called me with the first book deal from Penguin. I was in car pool line and had to pull over to cry a little bit (with joy).

MAH: Do you have a secret hideaway where you do your daily writing?

PCH: I do most of my writing at home in the attic. I have a small office there and it is full of all my favorite things. But if I can escape to write, which isn’t often, I go to Bluffton, SC where I feel like my mind settles and my heart quiets.

MAH: The wonderful writer Annie Dillard talks about the sacredness of the writing space. How have you made your space your own?

Patti Callahan Henry. Source:

Patti Callahan Henry. Source:

PCH: I have filled this space with small trinkets and “holy” things that are mine alone, or remind me of something inspirational or special. There are feathers and rocks; books and photos; quotes and scraps of paper. I have shells and paintings and stationery. All my favorite books are in this space as well as boxes and files of ideas and research for my own books. 

MAH: I’m guessing the days of having to steal time to write before the crack of dawn are over. How many hours a day spent in writing? Any certain time of day?

PCH: I don’t have a set number of hours that I write because I do so many different kinds. If I am in the heart of a new novel, I try to write for three or four hours in the morning, but when I am editing or writing an essay or interview, I spend less time than that. I do try and do all my creative writing in the morning. By the afternoon, I am spent and it’s homework time with the kids. 

MAH: Your characters are multi-layered and complex. Do you have any specific methods or writing tips as far as getting to the heart of who they are and what they want?

PCH: I wish I had a specific method so that I could repeat it with each book, but I don’t! I get to know them the same way I get to know someone in real life: I put them in situations and see how they act. I ask questions. I get to know their background and where they came from. I ask “What do you want?” and “Why?”. What scares them? Makes them happy? What music do they listen to and what do they wear? These answers come in the writing — I don’t sketch them out beforehand (although that might make my writing quicker).

MAH: How important is the geographical region of the South in your stories?  Just a back-drop? Or something more?

PCH: Oh, the setting in my stories is an integral part of the story. I want the setting to be such a part of the story that the story couldn’t take place anywhere else. The setting feeds and informs the story, it unfolds and tells us the story in its quiet presence. 

MAH: Would you say that you have a theme that runs through all of your writing? If so, what is it, in your words?

PCH: I don’t know if I have a theme — if I do, it’s hard for me to see. Like trying to see the back of your own head. But if pressed, I would say that “truth” is a theme. Most of my characters have hit a wall in their lives, a place where the ground has dropped out and they must find what is true and right for their lives.

MAH: Any advice for talented writers who are struggling to get published?

PCH: I don’t think I have anything new to say because it’s a universal struggle. Anyone in a creative endeavor must always be open to learning more, reading more, writing more. Always be open to new ideas. Research. Be open and inquisitive. Write. Write. Write. The words will find a way. On a practical level — make sure you go out there and meet people in the writing world: publishers, agents, other writers. Network and listen. Network and ask. Don’t give up. 

MAH: Actually, that’s great advice. Finally, you get the last word. Your favorite word or words?  

PCH: One word comes up: synchronicity. I love that word.


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Who’s Your Muse? Finding Yours in 2015

Blue Muse









I think the concept of The Muse is misunderstood. Even the Romans and Greeks disagreed on the names of the daughters of the gods and goddesses meant to inspire creative expression. But maybe it only matters that we each find our own source of inspiration, no matter how unlikely. And maybe sometimes, our Muse may not be instantly recognizable.

My muse, if that’s what she is, came to me in a cardboard box from New Mexico, sent from an astrologer friend who had a vision that I should be the owner of a particular painting. When it – she – arrived a few weeks later, the larger than life-sized visage of a woman wearing tribal dress and braids, encased in an ornate, gold frame, seemed out of place in my tiny, concrete block beach cottage. Where, as it happened, I was also feeling out of place.

Perplexed, I moved the painting from room to room and even though I felt that somehow the painting had something to teach me, I placed it in an outside studio where I saw it on the rare occasions when I wrote.

The truth was: the subject’s expression made me nervous. Was she looking down on the world? On me? And why the hot pink dress, the bright, red lipstick on a too-sensual mouth and the purple hair-tie? I saw some scribbling in the corner. With a magnifying glass I could make out the title, New Beginnings. But the artist’s name was/is indecipherable. Was this tarted-up version of the super-sexy Holy Woman meant to be an improvement over centuries of native dress? A sort of What Not To Wear mentality on the reservation?

Finally, I took her to an artist friend and asked if it was against any kind of artistic code to change someone else’s art. She mumbled something about “Hell no” and “Pepto-bismal pink”. After a make-over, or make-under, the subject emerged, a more subdued version of herself, outlined in a rustic wooden frame.

A few weeks later, I moved to a new house. Once again, I carried the painting from room to room. This time, however, I knew exactly where she belonged: on the wall, right above my desk. Ms. New Beginnings seemed  more at ease in my new home and so did  I. Blue, the cat who runs the place, immediately adopted her. The two of them seemed to be in cahoots, both wearing the same enigmatic expression which seemed to say: “We’ve shown up. Now, it’s the least you could do to sit down and start writing.” How could I say no? (see photo)

In the end, I wonder if our muses are simply energetic forces with something to teach us. Tarted-up or toned-down, the point may be that we must find our place of balance – even if it requires change – in order to be our best creative selves. I hope it’s not too late to say: Happy Year of New Beginnings to you. Be sure and stay with me in 2015 as I bring, to your screen/door the wondrous interviews/ramblings from some of the best contemporary, southern writers. And, please write back: I’d love to hear about your own muse/s.   – Mary Ann 


Drop me a line on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

Best-Selling Author Katie Crouch Explores the Dark Side

katie crouch one imageI am mad. But I am not mad with snow. I am mad the way young girls are mad. With an offering. An offering. –  Anne Sexton  (quote from the first page of Abroad, by Katie Crouch)

MAH: With the recent release of Abroad, you now have three works of adult fiction, including Girls in Trucks and Men And Dogs, plus two young adult books. Would you say there are one or more themes that run through the body of work you’ve created

KC: I’d say I write about the torrential, dangerous nature of female adolescence and young womanhood.

MAH: That’s pretty powerful! And only part of what makes your writing so compelling. With Abroad, you take a story from the headlines and put your own inimitable spin on it, creating young female characters who are so believable, it’s chilling. Abroad has been described as a “a page-turning parable of modern girlhood, full of longing and reckless behavior.”  How was writing that any different than any of your other books? Or was it?

KC: It was very different, as I started from real people in a real place. I realized later that I researched too much – I wasted a lot of time. But once the book got going it was the same cadence and rules as the other fiction I’ve written..

MAH: Do you have a method when starting a new book?  Does your approach to organizing the story ever change?

KC: Every book is different. Usually a situation comes to me. Father lost in boat. Murder at a summer camp. Then I start listening to my characters and go from there.

MAH: It sounds like you start with plot, but only marginally. After that, which jumps out at you more: character or plot?

KC: Character. One they start talking, I’m on my way.

MAH:  One book at a time? Or more?

KC: I always just work on one book at a time, but I’m usually writing several essays as well.

MAH: You’ve written about the South in previous books. And you grew up in Charleston, SC. Do you think something mysterious separates Southern writing (other than geographical demarcations) from other parts of the U.S.?

KC: I can’t speak for all southern women, but I think a lot of us have a very distinct sense that we are FROM somewhere special. I don’t live in the South now, but I will always be southern. I recently wrote an article for Garden and Gun about this and I’ll quote: “.. always, in times of confusion, I’ve been able to crawl back to who I am: a Southerner. Rock-solid from-ness. I drive slowly and wave at people. I curl my hair before swimming. I believe manners are more important than money. When I meet another Southerner in this strange land, we lean slightly toward each other, like lost magnets.”

MAH: There’s a saying ‘We teach what we need to know’.  Do you believe that we write what we need to know? What lessons have you reinforced in your own life with your writing?

KC: Yes, I think that’s well put. We do write what we need to know. All of my books and essays start with a question that I need to answer for myself. That’s the driving force of my writing.

MAH: Our guest writers get the last word here. If you had to pick three favorite, unrelated words, what would they be?

KC:    Phoebe.  Sylvan.  Picket.

Don’t miss the next issue: be sure to sign up for my updates in the colum to the right for Author Interviews (emerging and famous); news about Southern Fiction; and writing tips!

Interview With: Mary Alice Monroe, NY Times Best-selling Author

Blog Mary Alice Monroe   photoMAH (Mary Ann):  A very warm welcome to you.  Shall we jump right in with some writer-ly tips? How do story ideas come to you?  An image? A sound? A sentence? A person’s face? A plot detail?

MAM (Mary Alice): I always begin with a source of inspiration that comes from nature. The story comes from my research, volunteering, and meeting the people involved in that story world. I am an intuitive writer and an image, sound, experience can all inspire a scene or a plot twist!

MAH: You are a wonderful and also a prolific writer. We all watch and wonder: how do you do it?

MAM: Writing is not only my career, it is my passion. When I do my research, such as working with dolphins, it is a thrill for me.

MAH: Do your deadlines influence your family and friends’ schedules? Sometimes? Rarely? Never?

MAM: Naturally, my schedule influences my friends and family’s schedules. A lot. When the children were young, I turned off the computer when they returned from school to get snacks, arrange after school activities, and just chat about their day.  But when I was in the office there was a sign on my door with words given to me by Nora Roberts…”Is it blood or fire? If not, go away!”  My children knew that when the door was closed I was not to be bothered.

MAH: Maybe every writer needs such a sign, regardless of the age of the people who might be interrupting.

MAM: Today the children are off on their own and Markus and I are quite companionable as we get through things such as meals and laundry. We are both hard workers and respect each other’s schedules.  When I ‘m under a tight deadline, as I am now, I don’t visit family, answer the phone, or go out to lunch. I pretty much “go underground.”

MAH:   Well, then, we’re doubly honored that you came up for air to visit with us.  I have to ask: do you ever want to take a break?

MAM: Yes, I do want to take a break!  I dream of having more time between deadlines.  But the demand from readers is very strong now. So at least for a while, I’ll keep pushing to give them a book a year.

MAH: Other than your passion for protecting the environment, would you say there are one or more other themes that run through the body of work you’ve created? If so, can you elaborate?

MAM: The theme that runs through all my books is connection.  Connection –physical and non-physical –with other humans, and connection with nature are necessary for our well-being.  Without it, we are depressed, lonely, and fail to thrive.

MAH:  Do you stick to writing one book at a time? Or more?

MAM:  I only write one novel at a time.  The deadlines don’t allow for more.  That said, I can work on a children’s book at the same time as a novel when the animal is the same.

MAH: Only if the animal is part of the plot is in your current work in progress?  That is seriously focused writing.

MAM: For example, while writing The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy I’ve been creating my children’s book about a dolphin.

MAH:  I love the series. i must say that I’m partial to your rich descriptions of the southern coastal settings. What do you think differentiates Southern writing (other than geographical demarcations) from other parts of the U. S?

MAM: Southern writing is regional: it includes dialect, settings, and cultural traditions from that region. However the themes and story conflicts are universal. My challenge is to write regional fiction without falling into the trap of nostalgia.  There are important issues facing the south that I believe should be raised in the stories to make them contemporary, believable, and relevant to today’s readers.

MAH: Great answer. And I’m sure one of the reasons your readers are demanding more and more of your books. There’s a saying ‘We teach what we need to know’.  Do you believe that we write what we need to know? If so, what lessons have you reinforced in your own life through the writing process?

MAM: I’ve learned to get outdoors! To feel the ocean’s waves against my skin, to get my fingers into the soil, to walk in a cool mountain shade, to be quiet and observe.  Doing this increases my sensitivity and awareness of the power of nature and that makes me happier and recharges my batteries.

MAH: Speaking of re-charging batteries, if you were allowed to step into another career for a short time, to see what it’s like, what would you dream of doing?

MAM: I’d love to sing opera.  Or sell wedding dresses.  Possibly be a boat captain.  Maybe train dolphins?

MAH:   it would be interesting to see in what new directions those careers would take your next books.  But, a subject switch: we always want to know what our favorite writers are reading.  What’s on your night stand?

MAM:  A lamp, a glass of water, my phone, a TV remote, and Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.

MAH:  Your favorite (among other writers) book this year?

MAM: Patti Callahan Henry’s The Stories We Tell and Neil Gaimon’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

MAH:  Thank you for visiting with us. But, around here, the guest author gets the last word or words. If you had to pick three favorite – and they can be unrelated – words, what would they be?

MAM:  Serendipity.  Synchronicity.   Serenity.

Mary Alice Monroe’s latest book is Summer Wind, Book 2 of The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy which also includes The Summer Girls (Book 1). The Summer’s End will be available in 2015 For more information: go to:

STAY TUNED FOR OUR NEXT POST:  INTERVIEW WITH BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, KATIE CROUCH, whose Girls in Trucks brilliantly portrayed the cruel impact of postcollege New York life on a Southern girl. Her Latest book, Abroad, tears a story from international headlines and transforms it into a page-turning parable of modern young womanhood,



Pants-less in Public: A Brave New World for Writers

mary ann profile  LILP pic 300dpiThere’s more than a bit of grumbling these days about writers being intimidated by the marketing process. They’re tired of hearing  about how writers have to sell themselves. To have a platform. To embrace social media for writers.  To throw away all privacy, not to mention modesty, to flaunt whatever they’ve got to the masses, making sure transparency is part of their brand. (Did I get enough buzz words in there?)

If you’re a writer who would rather fall down a flight of stairs than “put yourself out there”, you are not alone. Author John Green said, ‘Writing is… a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story, but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.’ A recent article on education and careers noted that writing is one of the top six professions for introverts. Remember the good old days when a writer like J. D. Salinger could become a recluse and, in doing so, up his cachet as a writer? Well, as we’ve been told over and over, those days are gone for good.

It was the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Edna St. Vincent Millay who said that  ‘a writer who publishes a book willfully appears in public with his pants down’ – referring to the level of vulnerability writers must experience to allow the public to read what they’ve written. In today’s hyper-marketing environment, this has never been truer.

With the publication of my first book – and the launching of this site – I am stepping into that brave, new, pants-less world. But I am not going alone. Because I have found a source of unexpected support for even the most reclusive writer: other writers. You see, there really is a band-of-brothers-and-sisters-mentality among those of us who wield the pen and the keyboard. And you’ll meet them here. Great writers. Famous writers. Emerging writers. All of whom will share their lives, their books and their writerly advice. Our first two ‘Meet the Writer’ interviews are with Mary Alice Monroe and Katie Crouch, two power-house Southern writers whose work is consistently on the New York Times Best-Seller List. So stay with us. And do not fear. For even though you may drop your (metaphorical) pants as you expose your writing and yourselves to the world, we’ll make sure your laundry is clean.  NEXT INSTALLMENT FEATURES AN INTERVIEW WITH NY TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OF SOUTHERN FICTION, MARY ALICE MONROE  STAY TUNED!