Guest Blog: Crossing the Bridge by Bill DeYoung

ImageFor many years, I had a recurring dream about driving across a ribbon-thin road that stretched across the open ocean. On either side, I remember, there was nothing, no buildings, no billboards, no trees, nothing. Just a drop-off into cold, silver-blue water. In the dream, I had a sense of purpose in continuing forward, as if stopping even for a second would be disastrous. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know where I was going.


Periodically, inexplicably, the oceanic highway would rise up, sloping higher and higher over the water, until I was almost driving in the clouds. Still, I continued.

It was always frightening. Tellingly, I never saw another car. This was a journey that I took alone.

Looking back, I wonder if this dream, which I’d had since I was in my 20s, was the spark that ignited my passion for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans 15 miles of Lower Tampa Bay. Over open water.

I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, and the Skyway was something you saw, and experienced, all the time. I don’t recall thinking too much about it one way or the other, except that at its highest point, 150 feet over the bay, it was scary. As a kid, as a teen, as an adult, I always got a little queasy when I reached the top and looked out across the bay.

On the morning of May 9, 1980, a 606-foot freighter coming into Tampa Bay was caught in a violent squall that materialized virtually out of nowhere, and sent it crashing into one of the Skyway’s high support piers. Nearly 1,300 feet of roadway collapsed, and seven vehicles, including a Greyhound bus, fell from the highest point. Thirty five people died.

It was, and is, the worst ship/bridge disaster in American history, and one of the blackest days Florida’s ever experienced. I remembered it only too well.

Now, I’ve been a professional writer and editor for more than three decades, and by and large, I am an entertainment journalist. I write a lot about music and musicians, and I suppose I always assumed that were I to “do” a book, it would be on that subject.

At the end of 2008, for reasons I can’t quite remember, I was thinking about the Skyway collapse. Online, I read every commemorative anniversary story, and with each successive piece, I noticed that some of the “facts” changed. The passage of time was blurring history.

This drove me crazy. What really happened? Stunned by the misinformation that had become “legend,” I began to dig deeper. Soon I got pretty familiar with the principal characters, especially John Lerro, the harbor pilot who’d been in command of the ship.
In Lerro, I found a protagonist right out of a Shakespearean tragedy. Here was a man who was simply doing his job, and over the course of two minutes – for that was all it took – his life, his world, everything he knew, came crashing down.

Of course, I never forgot those 35 poor souls whose lives were lost. But I found myself coming back, again and again, to John Lerro. Even after all these years, the perception remained that he was somehow a villain, a drunk, a loser. At the very least, a lousy pilot.

He was, I discovered, none of those things.

It took nearly three years to research and write Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down. “What makes you think you can do this?” I kept asking myself. “You’re an entertainment writer. This is serious stuff.”

And now, without getting too precious about it, I feel as if I’ve contributed something to Florida history. I’ve written a pretty good nonfiction narrative, and hopefully encouraged people to reconsider one man’s lost reputation.

Where did it come from? I’ve learned not to question the Muse. But I’ll tell you this: I don’t have that dream anymore.


Bill DeYoung is the author of Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down. He lives in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife Amy, three cats, and a room full of Beatles records. He has been a journalist for 35 years and was Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Gainesville Sun for two decades. He is currently working at Connect Savannah as A & E Editor and Senior Writer. He is well known for his music and entertainment journalism, and his essays have been included on more than 100 CDs.

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Guest Blog: Selling Every Word by Mark Wayne Adams


Mark Wayne Adams

As an award-winning author, illustrator, and publisher, I speak to thousands of people annually. Public speaking and selling books go hand-in-hand in my success. You may ask, “How could public speaking increase an author’s book sales?”

Writers’ words generate money in many ways. Public speaking is a great platform to sell the author’s story. Below is a brief example I will use during my Selling Every Word: Business of Public Speaking session at the 2014 Florida Heritage Book Festival in September.

My publishing goal was to create a quality product that I was proud to sell. I used a professional editor, illustrations, and printer to create a profitable book. Why wasn’t I selling hundreds of books every month with this great product?
I promoted my book using trusted traditional methods: word-of-mouth, social media, and retail stores. I learned word-of-mouth advertising travels only as far as I spread it. Elementary readers don’t use social media. And major retail exposure was a book spine facing outward on a store shelf.

Where could I reach a high volume of readers in one location? The answer was public speaking. Reluctantly, I accepted a teacher’s request to be a guest author/illustrator in an elementary school. Two hundred fifty students expected me to entertain them for forty-five minutes. My first and last unsuccessful reading was to a group of high school peers. This elementary event would be an epic fail.

With my back to the audience, I planned to wow them with my drawing skill. Wrong! Excited students roared behind me. Teachers hushed them with no success. I faced the crowd. The room fell silent. I turned and proceeded to draw. The students roared. I turned facing them again. The auditorium became silent once more. These students wanted my words. So, I nervously spoke.
I shared a childhood story about an uninspiring friend. The students felt every word. Next, I discussed my favorite book. The students nodded and laughed along with me. The presentation ended in applause. My epic fail was more than I had expected. A crowd of inspired students and teachers surrounded me. Some wanted to become an illustrator or author. Others wanted to purchase my presentation sketches, books, and autograph. Something in my spoken words sold everything I had.

As a public speaker, I was selling inspiration. An uninspiring friend and my favorite book evoked similar feelings within the audience. Students saw me as a peer. Teachers saw me as a mentor.

Public speaking became successful in four ways:

1. I connected with my target consumers.

2. Schools paid me to present.

3. Teachers referred me to other schools.

4. Ten percent of attendees purchased products. One day’s book sales equaled a month’s work using traditional techniques.

Publishers evoke emotion in consumers through author bios, author book signings, and author appearances. Authors in turn can use public speaking as a platform to sell every word.

Mark Wayne Adams was born in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. He graduated college with a BFA in Drawing from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. He then moved to Central Florida and has called Florida home for over twenty years. His work experience includes Walt Disney World Company, SeaWorld Orlando, Art Director for GSI Architectural Sign Company, and store manager for Sprint Print, Inc. Mark is now CEO of Mark Wayne Adams, Inc., and serves as President Elect for the Florida Authors & Publishers Association.

Mark has illustrated over thirty children’s books in six years winning numerous children’s book awards. An unexpected reward in his publishing journey has been public speaking. Whether at professional organizations or elementary schools, Mark offers valuable insight, inspiring presentations, and a voice that reaches audiences across the United States.

Mark Wayne Adams can be reached at or via email at Follow him on Twitter: @markwayneadams

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Guest Blog: The Bones of Mysteries and Thrillers

Elizabeth Sims

Elizabeth Sims

The Bones of Mysteries and Thrillers

by Elizabeth Sims

One of the most popular presentations I give is “How to Write a Dynamite Mystery or Thriller that SELLS.” I initially wrote it as a webinar for Writer’s Digest, then I adapted it for in-person presentations and workshops, and then I included some of the material in You’ve Got a Book in You. I’ll be giving the presentation at the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine in September.

Today’s post is to give you one of the nuggets of that presentation.

When I started out writing fiction seriously, I made a point to read stuff on how to write great fiction or at least fiction that doesn’t suck, like writing magazines and interviews of famous authors. And I remember having anxiety about whether my stories were mysteries or thrillers. Why? Because so many writing authorities, including editors and agents, were shouting that you have to write one or the other, and the forms are very different, and you must follow the correct form, or your manuscript will be shoved into the feed box of the monsters that live in the tunnels below Manhattan, because editors and agents require precise categorization of the novels they traffic in, and they have like zero patience.Tunnel monster

[I risked my neck to capture this image of a Manhattan tunnel monster during a recent trip to New York City, so I could prove to you they exist. As you can see, one hand is a catcher’s mitt, the other a Garden Weasel. Terrifying.]

The thing was, every authority’s definition of mystery and thriller was different! The formulas seemed complicated, dogmatic, and hopelessly impossible to follow exactly. Anyway, what kind of writer would want to?

It took me a long time to figure out the single basic difference between the two forms:

A mystery is a puzzle.

A thriller is a pursuit.

You just went, “Yeah!”, right? Because somehow you knew that already, and it totally fits.

To be sure, most mysteries and thrillers contain some puzzling stuff, plus some getting-chased-by-the-bad-guys stuff. But it’s usually more of one than the other, and so there’s your category.

Currently, it seems agents and editors (not to mention readers) aren’t as hung up on dueling definitions, but they still like to categorize books for the sake of promo and marketing, which is important.

But most important of all is a good story.

Join me in St. Augustine, OK?

Elizabeth Sims is the author of seven successful novels, including the Rita Farmer Mysteries (St. Martin’s Minotaur) and the Lambda Award-winning Lillian Byrd Novels (Alyson Books). Booklist calls her crime fiction “as smart as it is compelling,” and Crimespree magazine praises her “strong voice and wonderful characters.” Elizabeth writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine, where she is a Contributing Editor. Her latest book is You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams (Writer’s Digest Books). A popular instructor at workshops and conferences across the country, Elizabeth has helped thousands of fledgling writers find their wings. She holds degrees in English from Michigan State University and Wayne State University, where she won the Tompkins Award for Graduate Fiction. She belongs to several literary societies as well as American Mensa.

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