Saturday, October 25, 2014


Character Talking

While paging through a writing book I have (Writing from Within: the Next Generation by Bernard Selling) I came across an interesting exercise – write in your childhood voice. Mr. Selling’s book is about writing personal histories and he finds that by “reliving” their childhoods his writers come across more interesting stories than when they are just an adult looking back.

But I quickly found that this exercise translates well to fiction writers as well. Anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to talk to my dog Daisy when I’m stuck while writing. She’s my walking, barking thesaurus; knows everything about my characters that drives me crazy and constantly has to answer questions like “Does that come off as funny or just weird?” 

I’ve started combining my tendency to talk aloud with Mr. Selling's advice to write from your childhood voice. When I run into a dead end (or a road with just too many possibilities) I try talking in my character's voice. No, I don’t do actual imitations but I do try to think the way my characters would and say the things they would say. You’d be surprised once you get started how quickly you “get into character”. It’s a way to work through what happens next not as a writer, but as the actual character.

I have a few tips:

  • Do this when you’re alone. You feel less self-conscious if you’re not around family and friends and you’re less likely to find yourself explaining to concerned baristas that you are not hearing voices, you’re just a writer.
  • Don’t go into it with a firm purpose like, I need to find out why X would do Y. Start with a few things you know and let it snowball from there, saying whatever pops into your head. It’s like free writing aloud.
  • Record yourself. If you’re busy listening to what you’re saying and searching for the perfect solution to your writing problem, you can’t really let go and become the character. And when you do play that tape back you’ll often be surprised with what you said. Sometimes it’s just one word. I tried this when one of my characters died and I thought another character was angry. But as that character, I mentioned being afraid. It gave me a whole new direction to consider. Was my character afraid? And of what?
Good luck with your character talking!

Jodi is a WOW Blog tour organizer, always looking for her next WOW author. Contact her at  Her blog Words by Webb is at She also blogs for her local newspaper about books at Building Bookshelves. In her free time (!) she works on her historical novel Cookie Ladies.

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Friday, October 24, 2014


Friday Speak Out!: Words

by Elizabeth Joyce

I worry about the significance of my writing. Like a nervous actor auditioning for a play, my thoughts take a negative turn as words appear on a computer screen. Is my experience enough to warrant attention? The ideas that float in my head stubbornly squeeze out two sentences. I freeze on the empty stage wondering how to get through the next few minutes.

This dangerous moment resulted from memories of being the last one picked on a team in gym class. I remember the disappointed looks as I joined the group of kids. Everyone knew I wasn’t well coordinated to throw a ball in a hoop or run to first base. The feeling of not being able to perform stayed with me until I graduated high school.

Writing helped me feel successful. In my twenties, I joined a playwriting group and found joy in creating dialogue. I’d come home after work to gather characters in a restaurant or house to talk about their troubles. Soon my plays were produced in a local theater company. No longer did I feel useless.

But one year a friend laughed at a line I wrote in one of my plays during rehearsal. The premise of the story was about a young woman mourning her recently deceased grandmother. She reminisces about a special ritual of them “Buying french fries at McDonald’s after attending Sunday Mass.” The hurt I felt from my friend stayed with me. I was also ashamed for not defending my writing. It was too late to demand an apology for her insensitivity.

It caused me to wonder about what I had to offer as a writer. Were my stories too sentimental? I wanted to be a writer who could offer insights. Lingered doubts of my own philosophy ballooned like an elephant. Instead carefree writing sessions became a battle of rewriting and deleting. The internal editor emerged and squelched my creativity.

I decided to take a break from writing. I joined an improvisation class and acted in a children’s Christmas play in order to fill the void. It didn’t work because like sports, it wasn’t where I belonged. Then I read about an adult education course on writing personal essays. I didn’t know if I had stories worthy to tell. Then I heard the same advice my mother used to tell “Write what you know.”

I read through my old journals and listened to my father’s stories of him growing up as the second oldest of nine children during the Depression. I decided to write positive stories of family, love and hope. I’m proud of what I want to write. Next time someone laughs, I’ll just have to fight back because this time I’m not backing down.

Summoning up conviction, the actor remembers her monologue and I find inspiration. We both toss aside worries to do what we love. The spotlight focuses on the facial expressions while the keyboard taps out a beginning, middle, and an end.

* * *
Elizabeth Joyce is an assistant children’s librarian at Ruth Keeler Library in North Salem and Brewster Public Library in Brewster NY. Her plays have been produced by the Brewster Theater Company. Elizabeth’s personal essay, “Acceptance” and her short story, “The Candle” have been published in the North Salem Review publications. She belongs to the Fairfield Writer’s Group in Connecticut. 

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Thursday, October 23, 2014


NaNoWriMo: To Succeed, Plan ahead

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Writers who accept this challenge agree to write a 50,000 word draft of a new novel during the month of November.

Fifty thousand words in a single month is a lot, but if you plan ahead you can do it. For a successful NaNoWriMo begin prewriting now. That’s right. You can’t start your draft until November, but you can prewrite so that you know more about your story. Your prewriting should include these 4 things.

Characters. A novel is all about the characters. Who are the major players in your story? What are their goals? How do these goals put them in conflict with each other? Journal, make lists, Pin appropriate images, write letters from your character to you, the writer. In short, do whatever it takes to get to know your characters. Get a feel for their voices so that when they speak, you can get their words down fast and true.

Plot. What does your character want more than anything else? What, and who, stands in her way? What will she do to reach her goal? Answer these questions to create at least a rough outline for your story. You need to know what your character wants, the inciting incident that gets the story moving, the attempts and failures to meet her goal, the darkest moment when it seems that all is lost, and the climax. Depending on how you develop a story, this might be something that you want to develop before or at the same time as the characters.

Research. What do you need to know about to make this story happen? Maybe you need pictures of your setting, some knowledge of 1930s Chicago or the ins and outs of bee keeping. Start pulling these materials together and do your reading now. Because I write so much nonfiction, I think in terms of research. As you write you will almost certainly find holes in your research but the more you know before you start writing, the better.

Setting. Where does your story happen? We think of world building as an issue for science fiction and fantasy, but any time you take your reader outside of their comfort zone, you need to world build. What are the details that make this place unique? Whether it is a trailer or an aging farm house, Laura McHugh does this in The Weight of Blood. Her setting is so real that it pulls you into the Missouri Ozarks.

Work on these things now and you will be able to sit down on November 1st and begin drafting a whole new novel.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Revision Strategies (You’ll Thank Me Later)

In just two weeks, many of you will be engaged in word wars, fighting the NaNo battle to get that novel completed by the end of November.

It will not be pretty.

You will bark at your children (and I don’t mean “bark” in a figurative way. I mean that you will literally bark at your children—and any other person who gets in your way.) But many of you will, at month’s end, stumble across the finish line, clutching a manuscript to your chest.

And that, too, will not be pretty.

But cheer up! It’s only a rough draft. You can revise it into something beautiful! And thanks to the SCBWI conference I just attended, I learned a ton of revision strategies from agent Courtney Miller-Callahan. I don’t think she’ll mind if I share a couple of the strategies with you, as she (and every agent I know) would much rather see your revised NaNo manuscript over the rough draft. So hold on to these tips and pull them out at the end of November. Or better yet, wait till January.

Strategy #1:

Give yourself a month or so before reading a finished rough draft so that you will have fresh eyes on the manuscript. You’ll see the story much clearer, given a little time away from the novel immersion experience, whether it took you thirty days or three years. And after you have read through the entire manuscript (even the parts where you banged your head on the desk while mumbling, “The butler did it? Really, Cathy? Really?”), you can move on to the actual work of revising.

Strategy #2:

One technique I’ve used in my middle grade rewrites—and found especially helpful in plotting—is this next strategy: Create Dickensian chapter titles. If you’ve read David Copperfield, for example, you know that ‘ol Charles pretty much told you exactly what to expect in each chapter. (Chapter 5: I Am Sent Away From Home, Chapter 19: I Look About Me and Make a Discovery.)

I don’t leave my detailed chapter titles in the finished manuscript, although you can. In Catherynne M. Valente’s recent novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the first chapter is “Exeunt on a Leopard, In Which a Girl Named September is Spirited Off By Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle.”

And the author delivers on that chapter title. So when you start revising, think about each chapter as a story within the whole story. Do you have conflict, action, a story arc? I put my chapter titles on small note pages. Then I can arrange the plot to make sense, maybe chuck out whole scenes. On the back of the pages, I’ll add notes about revision, and sometimes, I’ll put the last sentence of the chapter. This trick helps me see whether the reader will need to turn the page to find out what happens next.

After the race to make 50,000 words, you deserve well-paced revision time. So good luck with your not-so-pretty first draft, but better luck with your sure-to-be-lovely rewrites!

~Cathy C. Hall

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Monica Sackman, Third Place Winner, Spring 2014 Flash Fiction Contest

An epiphany; it can rise from out of the most unlikely scenarios. Eva’s epiphany comes courtesy of a lone mare in Coming Unfettered. I encourage you to read Monica’s winning entry; perhaps you will have your own epiphany! But come on back to meet this new voice in country writing, Monica Sackman.

Monica, known to family and friends as Mikey, is an educator and aspiring author. She enjoys living the country life in central Montana. Monica has been writing stories for years, often for her students and now for her adorable grandchildren. Having lived in central Washington before moving to Montana, she finds inspiration for her writing in the farming, ranching, and small town people she meets. She also enjoys learning and writing about the history of the west. Her secret “dream vacation” would be spent finding and exploring old ghost towns. When not teaching or writing, Monica likes to hang out with her husband, play with her horses and visit her grandchildren. She is developing her website,, which she considers a work in progress. She also plans on launching her own blog about living the country life. Watch for her in mid-August at

WOW: Hi Monica, congratulations on placing third in our Spring 2014 Fiction Contest! We’re so glad to have you with us today.

On your website you mention that writing is an integral part of who you are, yet it seems that bringing your stories out into the big, wide world is a new part of the journey for you. Share a little bit about this new direction in your writing life.

Monica: It is true that I have only been sharing my writing, even the fact that I like to write, for a little over a year. As a child, I loved to read. I read everything. Then I began writing little stories and poems. I even wrote a short play that my cousins and I put on at a family Christmas party. As I entered my teens, my writing became more personal and I rarely shared it with anyone. I came from a working class family and writing wasn’t considered work, so to speak. Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to go to college and major in English. I attended a college fair where one of the college recruiters told me to “go home, find a nice boy, and get married.” Even though he was a stranger, it was a huge discouragement to me. So basically, I did just that, got married, had two children, but continued to write off and on, stuffing my stories and poems into drawers, nooks, and crannies. Then two years ago, with my children grown, my new husband and I decide to take on an adventure by moving to the middle of Montana. I was feeling a little sorry for myself, missing my friends and family. I knew I needed to do something “productive.” So I took a creative writing class which required students to share their writing. It was an online class, so it did not seem so intimidating. My instructor encouraged me to join a writing group. I was scared to death. But it was a great experience. The members of the group totally understood how difficult it can be to share your writing, especially in the beginning. At this point, I had not shared my writing with my husband or any of my family. My mother was staying with me and one evening, I read her a poem I had written and then a short story about my grandmother. I started crying before I could finish the story. It was such a relief to share it. My husband and my entire family have become huge supporters. The next step for me was (and is) to start sharing outside my comfort zone by submitting to contests, magazines, etc. I did submit a short story to a magazine last fall. I wasn’t surprised by the rejection letter. In fact, I took it to my writer’s group and shared it with them. I told them I now felt like a bonafide writer.

WOW: Oh boy, so many of us can relate to that story! It’s such a shame, how we let the years pass before diving in… I’m wondering, why do you say you have a “co-dependent relationship with writing”?

Monica: As a teacher, I do a great deal of writing. Sometimes I get frustrated by the technical type of writing my job requires and the timelines that go with it. But, I am good at it so it comes pretty easy. The creative writing that I would love to have more time to do just doesn’t seem to flow as easily or it comes in spurts. Those spurts give me energy, make me eager to write more, and I hate when I have to interrupt a delicious flow of words because of other responsibilities. But I do try to use that energy to make my technical writing a little more interesting. I also try to apply it to my classroom since I have to teach writing to middle school students. When I have little creative writing time or my words and ideas seem stagnant, it becomes apparent in my classroom and my other writing.

WOW: Oh! Great description... As writers, we all strive to pen a memorable line. In Coming Unfettered I particularly liked “an old boundary marker long forgotten, yet rooted in wide open isolation” and the way it ties in to the end of the story. What was your process for writing that line and tying it to the main character?

Monica: That’s my favorite line in the story too. This story was based on an actual incident that happened to my neighbor. As she was sharing the story of the horse with me, I was looking at the old fence post and thinking how it used to mark a boundary, a line that wasn’t supposed to be crossed, yet no one remembered who put it there or why. My neighbor, a widow of about seven years, lives a pretty isolated life, as I had been doing since moving to Montana. We were both living in wide open isolation, tied to boundaries we had established long ago, forgotten, but so rooted in our psyche that we didn’t realize they were holding us back. I was definitely thinking of my neighbor when I wrote that line and myself, as well. Although I would like to think that I am beginning to let go of some of those old boundaries.

WOW: It sounds like you are growing past them beautifully.

Monica, if you could see your muse, what would she look like? (I think I have a good idea, let’s see if I’m right…)

Monica: Funny, I’ve never really thought of my muse, not specifically anyway. Let’s see. She’s definitely a red-haired cowgirl riding a black mare carrying a couple of good books, paper and pencils in her saddlebags. She can open gates without getting off her horse. On hot summer days, she drinks cold beer and talks about the good old days. In the winter, she bakes cookies and cleans her rifle. She can’t decide whether bribery or intimidation inspires me most.

WOW: That is too funny! I guess the cookies and the rifle explain the bribery and intimidation tactics.

Many writers have a “dream project,” something they would love to write or a manuscript that remains in their heart—and their desk drawer; what is yours?

Monica: My dream project. Yes, I have one. It’s one of those things I haven’t really shared with anyone. I guess it is time to put it out there. I have been working on a novel, off and on, with the working title “Bakken Wife.” It’s based somewhat on my experiences but also on the stories other wives and girlfriends have shared about what life is like for them when their husbands/significant others work in the oil fields of North Dakota. It is a difficult situation for most of them. There are many misconceptions about working in the oil fields. The general consensus is that it isn’t worth it. The story focuses on one couple in particular, their strained relationship, frustrated dreams and a sense of hopelessness that causes them to wonder if living apart “for the money” is really worth it.

WOW: That sounds like a wonderful idea! Thank you for letting us in on your secret. Maybe now, with all of us behind you, you can get that one really rolling. Just remember to come back and share it with us! Congratulations again, and thank you for coming by The Muffin.

Ready to let go of old boundaries? WOW’s Fall 2014 Fiction Contest is Now Open! So revamp that old idea or brainstorm a new one—we want to read it!

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Monday, October 20, 2014


Nina Guilbeau Launches her blog tour for God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same

& giveaway contest!

God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same is the touching story about Janine Harris who never really thought about homeless people. She barely even notices them as she passes them by on her way to work in downtown Washington D.C. All Janine can focus on is the shambles of her own young life, afraid that she will never be able to get past the painful mistakes she has made. However, all of that changes on a snowy evening in December when Janine unexpectedly finds herself alone with Vera, an old, homeless woman who seems to need her help. Now Janine wants to know what could have possibly happened to Vera to leave her so broken and alone.

As Vera shares her life story with Janine, the two women form an unusual bond and begin a journey that changes both of their lives forever. Reluctantly, they each confront their own past and, in the process, discover the true meaning of sacrifice, family and love. Although to truly move forward in their lives, they must fast the most difficult challenge of all – forgiving themselves.

Paperback: 252 Pages
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Juania Books LLC (May 5, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0981804780
ISBN-13: 978-0981804781

Twitter hashtag: #GDLoveGuilbeau

God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, October 24th at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author: 

Nina Guilbeau is the Siblings Editor for BellaOnline The Voice of Women and writes weekly family articles for online magazines. Her e-book, Birth Order and Parenting, is a popular pick with students studying the Alfred Adler birth order theory.

She is a member of the Florida Writer's Association and the author of women's fiction novels Too Many Sisters and Too Many Secrets. A winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for her God Doesn't Love Us All the Same manuscript, Nina's work has been published in the short story anthologies From Our Family to Yours and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. An excerpt from upcoming novel Being Non-Famous was published in the Orlando Sentinel as a Father's Day tribute.

Find out more about Nina by connecting with her online:




-----Interview by Crystal J. Otto

WOW: This is one of my favorite questions, so let's start with what your current self would like to tell the younger version of you! What would the mature Nina (the published author) want to say to the younger Nina?

Nina: As far as being an author, I would tell myself how important is to focus on only a few specific writing and marketing goals at one time. There is so much information available for writers that what may be a great idea for some, only serves as a distraction for others. Taking my own advice wouldn’t mean I would close myself off to new and exciting ideas, but it would serve more to remind me not to cloud my vision by trying too many concepts at once.

WOW: Speaking of trying too many things at once, doesn't it seem we always have more than one project going at a time? That brings me to my next question about what we can expect to see from you next?

Nina: I have the upcoming release of book 3 in my Sisters’ Trilogy and I’m also focusing on my new role as the video book review hostess for Juania Books. I’ve loved working behind the scenes, but I’m (nervously) looking forward to being in front of the camera!

WOW: I can see how being in front of the camera would be nerve wracking. I get all worked up about having my picture taken, I can't even imagine what you'll be going through. You certainly have the confidence to do it and do it well! Congratulations on such exciting future projects! But then again, you've got experience with an audience, don't you? Tell readers a little something they may not know about you (wink wink)!

Nina: That I also sing! I’ve done many shows as a singer.

WOW: You've really accomplished a lot - WOW! What would you do differently if you had a chance?

Nina: I would start writing earlier in my life. I’ve always had lots of story ideas, but I never thought too seriously about being a writer. I’m enjoying the journey, but I’m definitely a late bloomer!

WOW: That's where I think writer's groups come in handy. Sometimes it's those friendly pushes we need to help us get out there and do it! What are your thoughts about writer's groups and book clubs Nina?

Nina: I love them both! Writing is such a solitary activity that sharing time with a good group of supportive writers is always inspiring! And I really enjoy book clubs, both as a reader and when I’m invited as a guest author. I’m always interested in hearing readers’ thoughtful character analysis of my own characters. It is really amazing to learn how my stories may have affected them and that’s especially true for my novel God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same.

WOW: I love how you embrace feedback, but isn't it scary at the same time? How do you deal with negative feedback or a negative review of your work? Or worse...rejection?

Nina: Rejection in a bad review or otherwise is always a disappointment. However, I try to take what I can from it to make me a better writer and leave the rest behind. I remind myself that while opinions are not right or wrong, they can be right or wrong for me. I know that if I look at the reviews for literary classics, critically acclaimed or commercially successful novels and even my own favorite books, I will find plenty of bad and even harsh reviews. Reading a few of those is one way to remind myself that pleasing everyone is not an option!

WOW: Don't we all wish we could please all of the people all of the time? Even the greatest authors have been dealt the difficult blows of rejection and negative feedback, but I'm sure it wasn't easy for them either. If you had to pick just one author as your favorite, who would you choose?

Nina: My favorite author is John Sandford because I love to read suspense, thriller novels. I’ve read all of his books and I always patiently await his next release. I especially like the “Prey” series because of the super flawed, but always interesting, main character Lucas Davenport.

WOW: Great choice and reasoning for authors Nina and aren't you glad some of his books were turned into movies! That leads me right into the final question, if your books were turned into movies, what music would you want played as the theme or during the opening/closing credits?

Nina: I use music a lot because it helps create a mindset for me when writing about different characters. I would definitely use the same songs that inspired me while writing in the movie versions of my books. These songs (and character connection) stand out:

Too Many Sisters – “Like We Used To Do” Anita Baker (Callie and Michael’s love song)
Too Many Secrets – “One and Only” Adele (Marlisa’s motivation)
God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same – “Watching All My Days Go By” Jon Gibson (Vera’s hopelessness)

WOW: Thank you for choosing WOW! and allowing me this opportunity to chat with you. I'm excited about your tour and appreciate the opportunity to work together!

----------Blog Tour Dates

Monday, October 20 (today!) @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!

Tuesday, October 21 @ Choices
"The Power of the Review(er)" is today's hot topic as Nina Guilbeau visits Choices during her book blog tour for God Doesn't Love Us All the Same.

Wednesday, October 22 @ All Things Audry
Nina Guilbeau makes a stop at All Things Audry to discuss "Birth Order Theory" as well as her fabulous book God Doesn't Love Us All the Same. Nina has also offered a copy of her book for a giveaway. This is a blog stop you can't afford to miss!

Thursday, October 23 @ Romance Junkies
Join Nina Guilbeau as she stops at Romance Junkies for an insightful interview about herself and her book God Doesn't Love Us All the Same.

Friday, October 24 @ Franciscan Mom
Join author Nina Guilbeau with an insightful guest post on the topic of ways to help those in need. Nina has also graciously offered a copy of her book God Doesn't Love Us All the Same for a giveaway. This is a blog stop you can't afford to miss!

Monday, October 27 @ Shelf Full of Books
Join Nina Guilbeau as she visits Shelf Full of Books with a guest post about Keeping Family Connections Strong and provides insight into her latest book God Doesn't Love Us All the Same.

Tuesday, October 28 @ The Lit Ladies
Nina Guilbeau, author of God Doesn't Love Us All the Same visits the Lit Ladies with a guest post about Creating Book Clubs. Nina has also graciously provided an ebook copy of her book for one lucky winner of a giveaway. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 29 @ CMash Reads
Popular author Nina Guilbeau shares her latest book God Doesn't Love Us All the Same and also gives readers he thoughts on Cyber Book Clubs vs. Brick and Mortar.

Thursday, October 30 @ I'd So Rather Be Reading
Join Nina Guilbeau as she visits I'd So Rather Be Reading with a guest post about books vs movies and shares information about her latest project God Doesn't Love Us All the Same.

Friday, October 31 @ Create Write Now
Join popular author Nina Guilbeau as as talks about "Working with the Homeless" to readers of Mari McCarthy's Create Write Now. Learn more about Nina and her latest book God Doesn't Love Us All the Same. Nina has graciously offered a giveaway copy for one lucky reader as well! This is a blog stop no one should miss!

Monday, November 3 @ Bring On Lemons
Crystal Otto reviews Nina Guilbeau's God Doesn't Love Us All the Same and offers readers an opportunity to win their own copy in a giveaway of this fabulous fiction story!

Tuesday, November 4 @ Words, Crazy Words
Join Nina Guilbeau as she speaks to readers of Words, Crazy Words about "Genre Confusion" and offers a copy of God Doesn't Love Us All the Same for one lucky reader to win as part of a giveaway!

Wednesday, November 5 @ Sioux’s Page
Get in on the giveaway for Nina Guilbeau's God Doesn't Love Us All the Same and hear from Nina on the topic of "Character Inspirations" as she visits with Sioux's Page readers!

Thursday, November 5 @ Writing Truth
Author of God Doesn't Love Us All the Same, Nina Guilbeau makes a stop at Writing Truth as she tells Jorja Davis more about what and who inspired her to become a writer and specifically how God Doesn't Love Us All the Same came to be!

Keep up with blog stops and giveaways in real time by following us on Twitter @WOWBlogTour.

Get Involved! If you have a website or blog and would like to host one of our touring authors or schedule a tour of your own, please email us at


Enter to win a copy of God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same by Nina Guilbeau! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget this Friday, October 24th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Sunday, October 19, 2014


A New Style Guide? 5 Reasons (of Many!) to Read It

Photo Credit | EKHumphrey
You may see Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century in the bookstore and dismiss it as just another style guide. Well, it’s not just another style guide. There are many reasons I would recommend this book to writers and editors. Here are my top five: 
  1. The Sense of Style is conversational. I’ve read many dense and dry textbooks. (Haven’t we all?) Pinker makes the study of language accessible and, oddly, fun. He writes about grammatical concepts as if he’s explaining them to a relative. His balance of contemporary versus classic writing also reinforces the user-friendliness of the book. (It’s okay if your relative mentions Oedipus occasionally to make a point about sentence structure, but rather tiresome if those are the only examples.) 
  2.  The Sense of Style is a visual book. No, it’s not a picture book; however, Pinker uses webs and diagrams and line drawings and nodes to illustrate his approach to writing well. His approach uses these “trees” to tease out how to build strong sentences. If you’ve ever had trouble with grammar, Pinker sympathizes with you, as a writer or reader. The line drawings help to illustrate not only grammar concepts but how confusing other concepts, like sentence diagramming can be. 
  3.  Pinker deflates bad advice. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and some other language books. One of the tenets of The Elements of Style—“14. Use the active voice”—most writers can recite in their sleep. Pinker writes early in his book that “Linguistic research as shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader’s attention and memory.” He is a scientist and has research to reinforce his points on strong language.
  4. Pinker embraces the fact that language has changedand willchange over time. Throughout this guide, Pinker dissects classic and contemporary writing. In doing so, he manages to bring the reader with him on the journey of the changes of our language. He inspects the sentences, twisting them in the light and bringing the spotlight to a phrase or sentence structure. 
  5. The Sense of Style has practical reference sections. How do the “purists” believe a word should be used and how is the word commonly used? Or what is the preferred usage of a word versus its problematic usage? Pinker lists some of the ones that trip up many writers and the lists are infinitely useful (and educational!). Along the way, Pinker inserts his humor. For example, in the Comment column he refers to one problematic usage as “Nails on a chalkboard.”

Is there a language book that you've enjoyed and has made you think of language a new way? If so, what book is it?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor enjoying reading outdoors in the fall weather. She has lately been spending a lot of time with pumpkins and warm drinks.

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