By Jerrye Sumrall

Originally submitted to Southern Writer’s Magazine



As writers, we can all relate to the lady in the picture. I know I certainly can! When I first began writing fiction, the process of molding characters and scenes into a story was a daunting task. No matter how many writing courses I took, or how many free-lance editors I worked with, or how many articles I read, the process continued to be frustrating and difficult. It wasn’t a lack of information about writing, but a lack of understanding and applying the information. I did not understand the true nature of writing and what it would take to be a writer.

Based on my own writing journey, I would like to share some of my conclusions about what it takes to be a writer. In addition, I would like to encourage you to read the article, 10 Keys to Becoming aSuccessful Writer: An Agent Spills Secrets by Chuck Sambuchino.

Authors have to want to write. It has to be so important that they can’t give it up. Every author knows that feeling. It’s like part of you wants to give up but another part of you want let go. No matter how frustrating or discouraging or absolutely impossible your writing becomes, a true writer will not stop, which leads to my point; don’t ever give up. If you are going to be an author, that is not an option and that stubborn part of you is what will see you through. I have been writing for over twenty years, and I am still learning new skills and techniques every time I write. And YES, I still get frustrated.

Authors must write from the heart. They must write about what is near and dear to them and what lies deep inside them, especially if they are writing fiction. Every one of us carries a past inside of us, and that past has shaped and molded us for good or bad into the person that we are today. An author must put that part of themselves into their writing, especially their characters. When I describe a character, I become that person, like an actor that plays a part. In that process, part of me enters into the character because I’m thinking: what would I say, what would I do, or how would I react to this or that situation.

 Authors must use their interests, abilities, and personality traits to write their story. I did not start writing until almost mid-life, but my early childhood interests, personality traits, and motivations stayed with me and became the driving force in writing mystery books for children. As a young child and all through adulthood, I was always curious and fascinated with the unknown and anything mysterious. I loved watching horror flicks on television, reading mystery books or just exploring my surroundings. Later in life, my experience as a teacher, counselor, and parent added even more background to use in my writing. When I began to write my middle-grade mystery series for children, my life experiences poured out onto the page and into the scenes and fictional characters I created.

My books were a reflection of my past experiences and what was important to me. Those important things developed into three main themes in my books: mystery, history, and relationships. Each one of my books in, The Bayshore Mysteries, contains those three important themes. Each one of you has a past and a vast repertoire of experiences. Don’t hesitate to use those experiences to create your best work ever!

*To purchase books from The Bayshore Mysteries, please visit Jerrye Sumrall’s Amazon Book Page.




How Life Experiences Influence Your Writing!

Article for Marni Graff’s Blog @
By Jerrye Sumrall


How The Bayshore Mysteries began: Although my idea of doing a children’s mystery series didn’t come to me until later in life, the framework started when I was a child. I grew up in a small southern town with lots of freedom to play and explore my surroundings. As with all childhoods, there were ups and downs, but these experiences along with a vivid imagination and fascination with the unknown served as a springboard for my writing. In my adult years, my experience as a teacher and counselor further developed the writing framework that later grew into a unique children’s series, The Bayshore Mysteries.

Why I chose to write for the middle grade audience and how I got my ideas: I decided to write for the middle-grade audience because I’ve had the most experience with that group of children, and it was the age I remember so fondly as a child. I think my ideas came naturally from my fascination with mystery, adventure and the unknown, even into adulthood. I have always been intrigued with horror flicks, mystery books, and any entertainment venue with a mysterious setting and plot. I have also been fascinated with local historical settings that could easily be transformed into a mystery plot. That is actually how all of my books began. I would pick the historical location, choose the characters, and devise a mystery plot that would fit the characters and setting.

What are the historical settings for my books: The historical settings in my books are ones that I could easily research and visit. I am fortunate to live in an area that is full of history and suspense, wrapped up in unique settings. The Eastern Shore region of Mobile Bay, an area rich in Civil War history and small town culture, serves as a springboard for my first book, Intruders on Battleship Island. The Beatrice and Monroeville, AL, setting, found in The Secret Graveyard, brings to life new mysteries and secrets from that area. Mobile, Al, with its festive Mardi Gras celebration and spooky swamp setting serves as the backdrop for The Mystery of Wragg Swamp. Mound Island located deep in the delta region of Baldwin county Al, serves as the setting for the fourth book in the series, Mystery on Mound Island. Historic Blakeley State park in Spanish Fort, Al, the site of the old town of Blakeley, Fort Blakeley, and the last Civil War battle serves as the setting for the fifth book in the series, The Ghost of Blakeley Past.

My emphasis on relationships and understanding others: For the character relationship aspect of the stories, I wanted to emphasize getting along and understanding others. In addition to the main characters that appear in each of my books, I have also included at least one new character who was either annoying, disliked, or very misunderstood. Through the course of each story, the characters all learned important lessons in friendship, courage, and determination. That idea came from my own childhood and from my experience as a teacher and counselor.

In summary: In each one of my books, I’ve tried to incorporate mystery, action and adventure, local history, and enduring characters who learn lessons in friendship, courage, and self-awareness. I feel that my choice of unusual settings, my use of historical fact, my presentation of age-appropriate mystery, and my focus on lessons in self-reliance and respect for others has made The Bayshore Mysteries a unique middle grade series.

Biography for Jerrye Sumrall: Jerrye Sumrall lives in Spanish Fort, Alabama with her husband. Formerly an elementary schoolteacher and counselor, she is now a full-time writer, homemaker, amateur photographer and office manager for she and her husband’s business. She is the author of five middle grade books: Intruders on Battleship Island, The Secret Graveyard, The Mystery of Wragg Swamp, Mystery on Mound Island, and The Ghost of Blakeley Past, all part of a mystery series called, The Bayshore Mysteries.


*For more information about Jerrye Sumrall: Please visit her websites

*All five books in The Bayshore Mysteries can be purchased in print and e-book format at


Reaching Back In Time

Reaching back in time, there’s so much to be said~for the memories that are triggered by a song, a voice, a smell or tasteeach stored within our heads

The season we call Christmas~is celebrated with family and friends in a place we lovingly call homeWhere memories were made and through them even those who are gone from our lives will in our hearts live on.

When we were young, we were always looking aheadcouldn’t wait ‘til our birthday or Christmas for the gifts we would receiveOr when we were youngcouldn’t wait until we were 18 or 21 because everything would be perfect, so we believed.

But the older folks seemed to live in the pastthey were always telling their stories of happenings long agoDon’t get me wrong, I could sit and listen to them for hours on end, but it seemed so sad, they had little to look forward to, no seeds yet to sow.

My grandparents grew up during the early 1900s, my parents were indirect products of the great depression,and I was part of the baby boomers, so we are toldEach group had to endure things not so pleasant by today’s standards, but in looking back, each could see they had had a ‘good life’~they were given the ‘important’ thingsthings not bought with gold.

When I was young I didn’t understand why the older folks treasured their memories and talked about the days of old so muchBut now that I have reached that milestone in my life, I find myself doing family history, looking for that missing piece in the family jigsaw puzzle, and reconnecting with cousins on facebook just to stay in touch.

When we were young, life was all about the future~we lived for some magical moment in time when everything would be perfect and all would have happy endings as we looked through ‘rose-colored glasses’But, now, in looking back, we realize, while dreaming of those perfect times, we are actually living our lives, and what seems like hard times now, turn out to be some of the best days of our lives. . .all too quickly passes.

So, don’t wish your life away on ‘what could have been’ or ‘if onlys’… life is what happens to us while we are busy making plans~Never take things for granted, love the people God sends into your life, if you love them, tell them so, hug them a little longer, for one day you, too,will be looking back and with no regrets, you’ll know, it was all in God’s hands!

Reaching back in time, remembering the good times and the good life~we somehow tend to over-look the unpleasant scenes and hold on to the happy timesI think that is God’s way of allowing us to see beyond the sadness and pain that comes our way and allows healing in our hearts and minds.

Christmas is a time for remembering~ a time to love and a time to share whatever we can with our loved ones and friendsLong ago, God gave His greatest gift of loveHis only son, Jesus, that we, too, could forgive and give the gift of love and through it, broken hearts could mend

**From the Inspirational writings of Suzanne Rigby, Christmas 2012


Marlene Nall Johnt is a talented and creative artist!  Her Realistic, Impressionistic and Abstract Southern art, including a series of black and white photographs, is wonderful and very affordable!

The prints below are just a few examples of the beautiful paintings she’s done. For a complete view and list of her artwork, please click on the link below that takes you to her website.

Marlene and Mandy

Pansies with Watering Can

Blue Birdbath

Marlene is not only a talented artist, but also a talented writer. Her book, A Retired Art Teacher Tells All, is one of the most well written books I have ever read. In her words, “The book is geared for all teachers and parents who work with teens, lab classrooms, and mixed ability classes. It is a humorous approach towards explaining the importance of a well planned classroom for teens.”

I would add that her book goes so much further than how to teach and control an art class. Her book delves into the human side of teaching and molding children’s lives in a way that will have a profound effect on them. As a former teacher, I can relate to everything she says.

I can highly recommend her book for anyone, whether a teacher or not. The example she set in the classroom, as well as the principals and standards she followed, were exemplary and would certainly apply to any workplace situation.

Marlene now designs beautiful shell Jewelry

Review in School Arts Magazine: Click twice on the picture to read the article

School Arts Magazine

Published by Davis and in print since 1901

 School Arts is a national magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts. It is used as a text in teachers’ colleges, and for reference in libraries of public and private schools and colleges.  SchoolArts readers comprise a group of more than 18,000 art teachers across the country.  The average time spent reading the magazine is fifty-six minutes, with as many as 19% reporting that they spent ninety minutes or more reading each issue. Finally, SchoolArts readers are dedicated: 47% have been subscribing for three to nine years, while 33% have been subscribing for ten or more years.  It is indeed an honor to have my book, A Retired Art Teacher Tells All, reviewed with such enthusiasm and high recommendation for purchase.

Retired art teacher ‘tells all’ with tips for new educators
Published: Sunday, February 06, 2011, 2:30 PM
Retired-art-teacher-book small.JPG
Marlene Nall Johnt wrote “A Retired Art Teacher Tells All” to share her classroom experience with less experienced teachers.

God love teachers. Though their work is noble, it’s rarely glamorous. Here’s a little thought experiment: It’s your first day as a high school teacher. As you go to sit down at your desk, a student whom you assumed wanted to ask a question jerks your chair out from under you, and you fall to the floor amid derisive laughter. Now, quick, while you still have a prayer of establishing control, what do you do? Lose your temper? Cry, hoping to gain sympathy? Page the principal? Escort the offender to the office yourself? If the latter, who’s in charge while you’re gone?As unbelievable as it might seem to someone unfamiliar with the rough-and-tumble of the modern American public school classroom, such scenarios are not uncommon, and dealing with them effectively determines in part which teachers survive and which do not. The seriousness of the equation may be appreciated by the fact that 48 percent of all teachers quit within their first five years. Those who remain quickly develop techniques and strategies for dealing with the constellation of challenges — large and small, disciplinary, instructional and administrative — that they face on any given day. Some of them do this by trial and error, others with the assistance of a veteran teacher or a kindly principal. But wouldn’t it be great if there were a readable guide to all these things, written by someone who had been there herself and wanted to share her accrued wisdom?

Happily, now there is. “A Retired Art Teacher Tells All: 100 Simple Tips to Help Teachers Become Efficient, Inspiring, and Happy Educators” (iUniverse, paper, $23) by Marlene Nall Johnt lays out in accessible fashion the author’s classroom savvy gained over 25 years in public schools, including 13 at Baldwin County High School in Bay Minette. Johnt’s stature in her field may be judged by a raft of awards, including Alabama Secondary Art Teacher of the Year and Faulkner State College High School Art Educator of the Year. Though her book is self-published, it is notable for its sensible organization, stylistic competence and overall ease of use.

“I am suspicious of people who have not suffered a little while learning to be a good teacher,” Johnt writes in her introduction. She certainly knows whereof she speaks, as the example cited at the beginning of this column actually happened to her at a small Louisiana school. Looking back over her education and reading, she realized that nothing she had theretofore encountered quite addressed her situation. “So many of the books I eagerly read as a young and anxious art teacher let me down,” she writes. “They intimidated me with all of their pretentious verbiage, and all seemed to deal with either processes and projects, or very heavy journal studies. As a new teacher, I wanted advice on the human contact issues.”

And indeed, though there are helpful tips on creating interesting classrooms and on assisting students with tactile art projects, it is on the “human contact” front that “A Retired Art Teacher Tells All” is most absorbing and of likely benefit to any teacher, no matter their subject. For example, under “Tip 16, Create a Discipline Plan for your Classroom,” Johnt writes: “Teacher wisdom holds that one should have no more than five classroom rules. Having more rules will only frustrate the students and keep you, the teacher, constantly looking at a longer list.” Her suggestions?

1. Be prepared for class

2. Be courteous to the teacher and your classmates

3. Protect the safety of yourself and others

4. Follow the teacher’s directions promptly

5. Follow the rules in your school’s student handbook

And what about consequences for breaches like she suffered that first day in Louisiana?

Tip 17 lists them, including verbal warnings, punish work, principal referral and parental referral. Of the latter tactic, Johnt reveals: “I have observed over the years that parents will diligently seek answers about your fairness as a disciplinarian. If a parent believes you are singling out their child, you can be sure you will face a very unhappy Mama and Papa Bear.” The amount of time teachers must devote to discipline is daunting, but Johnt makes clear that the alternative to a well-thought-out system is classroom chaos.

If you’re a teacher, newly minted or a veteran, consider this book. It’s straight-ahead, no-nonsense and powered by a passion for the craft. And God love you for what you do.

*Her books are now available at iUniverse and

Be Determined and Be Yourself

I recently watched the movie, Rudy, an awe inspiring story about a young man named Rudy Ruettiger who overcame tremendous odds to fulfill his lifelong dream. It was a dream that almost everyone said was impossible, a dream that only smart kids, talented kids or kids from upper-class families could achieve.  In spite of hearing that all his life, Rudy succeeded in attending the University of Notre Dame and being on the  university’s football team.  He was not a great player or even a good one, but his determination was great. Although he only played once, during the last few minutes of the last game of his senior year, his dream was fulfilled. It was enough for Rudy and enough to show his courage, determination and winning spirit.

I’m not a big sports fan and usually don’t watch football games or movies about football, but the movie Rudy is so much more. It is about determination and never giving up and about believing in yourself no matter what other people tell you. Rudy’s story is one that we can all relate too, a story that inspires us to be all that we can be and to pursue our dreams, no matter what the odds. It is a story that sends us new hope in accomplishing even the smallest of our dreams, at any stage of our life.  Dreams don’t have to be great and they don’t have to be the best; they only have to be important to us.

I recently visited Rudy Ruettiger’s website and saw his ten Insights for “Winning at Life”. I was able to get permission to post those insights for this article. I know you will be as inspired as I was after reading them. I have also included a link to his website which I found to be very interesting and well worth the time to check out.

Insight # 1

Be the person you want to be. “Make the decision to take action and move closer to your Dream. Create daily success habits and surround yourself with information that will empower and inspire you.”

Insight # 2

Use anger in a positive way to get results. “Anger is a normal reaction. It’s what you do with anger that makes a difference in your life … direct your anger towards a goal … use anger in a positive way to get results … from anger comes determination … comes triumph.”

Insight #3

It starts with a Dream. “Visualize your Dream and make a commitment. Having a Dream is what makes life exciting. Never underestimate the power of a Dream. It will change your life. A Dream gives you the ability to determine your future.”


Insight #4

Eliminate the confusion. “Find mentors who encourage you. The right information will eliminate confusion. Visualize exactly what you want to be … and focus on that … believe in yourself and don’t let anything stop you. Reinforce your Dream every day with positive information from tapes, books, and mentors. Each day you will get closer to your Dream. Eliminate the confusion and fears, and make it happen.”

Insight #5

The greater the struggle, the greater the victory. “Most people allow struggles and fear of failure to stop them. The key is to learn from your struggles and move on. Failures will make you stronger and give you the information you need to reach your Dream. Struggle will prepare you for success. Without struggle there is no success.”

Insight #6

Follow your passion instead of the dollar. “There’s nothing wrong with making money … but, it’s important to focus on your passion instead of the dollar. For me, decisions based on my passion brought me closer to my Dream, while decisions based only on money took me further away. If you focus on what really fulfills you, you will have success. The dollar alone does not bring happiness.”

Insight #7

Excuses will kill your Dream. “What we’re really talking about here is commitment. Until you make a commitment to your Dream, it’s not really a Dream … it’s just another fantasy full of excuses. Fantasies don’t come true because they’re not real,we’re not committed to them. When we make commitments, we eliminate excuses and they become Dreams … and Dreams are definitely real.”

Insight # 8

Prepare for your Dream. “Preparation is what comes from struggle. Knowledge comes from preparation. These are the elements that pave the road to your Dream. If we do not prepare we will not succeed. Set your goals and pursue your Dreams with all your heart. If you miss a goal, don’t quit, reset it! You just need to learn more … step by step you will win!”

Insight #9

Focus on your Dream and Never Quit. It is always too soon to quit. If you quit, you can’t succeed. By achieving your Dream you will be an inspiration to others. You will set the example and make an enormous impact on the world. Make it happen!”

Insight # 10

Always have a Dream. “Dreams give us energy to go to new levels. Dreams change lives … the power of life is in your Dreams!”

Don’t Dismay. Just Write

Book signing for Intruders on Battleship Island

Often times, writing is a spur of the moment thing. Inspiration or opportunity may come all of a sudden and if you don’t act on it, it’s gone. Perhaps it’s jotting down an idea for a new article or book, or writing in your personal diary or travel log. Maybe it’s a poem that rings in your head and longs to be put on paper, or a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. It could even be a book or novel you’ve started. Whatever or wherever, the opportunities are endless and unless you take advantage of them, they’re gone. WordPress is one of those golden opportunities to write. The site is free, easy to use, and you won’t get a rejection slip. Don’t lose any chance to write. Go ahead and just do it! You know you can.