Friday, December 19, 2014


Friday Speak Out!: The Internal Editor Is Not The Enemy

by Kathleen Basi

The internal editor gets a bad rap, and not without reason. Writing requires a strong heart to withstand everything from tough critiques to the slush pile and the inevitable rejection letter. We certainly don’t need our own minds adding to the negative energy.

And yet I often think we’re too hard on the internal editor. After all, that mental whisper is the first one to tell us when the words flying from our fingers are filled with whining, posturing, or clichés—not to mention when we’re just plain barking up the wrong tree. Most of us have seen plenty of things that could have used the TLC of a good internal editor. A well-trained IE, and a measured, thoughtful relationship with it, can save an author a lot of wasted time.

I’m a slow, methodical writer. I believe in letting things simmer--setting them aside when something doesn’t feel right, turning it over in my mind, talking things through out loud while I drive, do dishes, or fold laundry.

In other words, entering into conversation with the internal editor, who often turns out to be pretty smart.

Here are three things my IE has taught me:
1. The Brick Wall. If I get stuck on a sentence or a paragraph for longer than 10 minutes, there’s something fundamentally wrong with it. Usually it’s not supposed to be there at all, but occasionally I’m trying to force a metaphor and I just need to say it straight, or find a different one altogether.

2. The Don’t Rush It. When NaNoWriMo is leering in the web browser, it’s easy to give in to the pressure to write down anything, no matter how bad it is, just to get to a word count. But stopping to take a deep breath and problem solve at the front end can save a lot of time later, fixing things that shouldn’t have been there in the first place (refer to #1).

3. The “Don’t Just Tell Me It’s Bad, Tell Me Why.” The more I read and the more I study the craft of writing, the more I realize if the IE is nagging, it’s because I already know what the problem is. I just have to stop and think it through. Refer to #2.
So when my internal editor starts whispering generalized discouragement in my ear, I take a deep breath and turn my back on it. But when it points to something in my writing, I stop and listen. And I’m always glad I did.

* * *
Kathleen Basi writes an award-winning column for Liguorian magazine as well as regular magazine features. She has published a trio of short nonfiction books for families, and her fiction and essay credits include The Storyteller, Apeiron Review, Chicken Soup for the Soul and NPR's All Things Considered. Her manuscript, THE WINE WIDOW, won third place in the WFWA's inaugural Rising Star contest in 2014. She can be found at

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, December 18, 2014


The Newsroom and Old Media Values

All good things must come to an end.

That’s what I thought when I watched the series finale of HBO’s “The Newsroom” Sunday evening. I stumbled upon the hour-long drama in 2012, and immediately, I was hooked. Part of the reason could’ve been the subject matter: the inner workings of a cable news network. After college, I was offered the chance to work in a local TV newsroom, but I turned it down. Why? Motherhood waited patiently around the corner. I was expecting twins and the uncertainty of whether two-hour feedings, diaper changes and eventual terrible-twos tantrums, doubled, would mesh with a career-focused mom frightened me.  

With “The Newsroom,” I could vicariously live out my expectations of covering national breaking news, travel to a foreign country to cover a hot story or power lunch with media elite, all while reclining in the comfort of home.

Another part of the reason why the show intrigued me was the cast of characters, including the news anchor “who grew up in a little town outside Lincoln.” Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, introduced an idealistic but cynical journalist who was determined to improve journalism and storytelling and dedicated to tell the truth, not some politicized or editorialized version based on the reporter’s beliefs about what makes humanity and this nation tick.

Of course, there were the others: Mackenzie, the executive producer who loved Will; Sloane and Don, whose no-nonsense attitudes and quirky banter provided comic relief; Maggie and Jim, who struggled through personal tragedies and missteps to tell important stories and Charlie, the news division president who was determined to keep the principles of old media alive.

Each of them had a tragic flaw, so for the English teacher that still lives in my brain, I found it delicious fun to dissect their characters, trying to understand their motivation, digging deep into their psyches to see how a constant influx of action and deadlines and dilemmas created tension that mirrored reality.

But I believe the main reason the show resonates with me is the push and pull between old and new media and how the landscape of reporting has changed since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle. It seems that in the rush to be first, some news outlets have lost their vision. Is it more important to break a story, when details may not be crystal clear, or do news outlets have a responsibility to tell the truth, the verified truth and nothing but the accurate truth? Are viewers and readers so hungry for sensationalism and positive spins on even the most heinous situations that they fail to realize news, in its naked glory, isn’t always attractive?

“The Newsroom” offered a view of old media, of getting back to old media values. That’s why it hit home with me - the need to return to truth telling, now matter how gritty or pretty. It’s easy to wield a pen (or keyboard) and spin a yarn. It can be difficult to spell out truth, if consumers don’t want to accept it.

Sunday evenings, for me, won’t be the same.

by LuAnn Schindler

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Spotting Plot Problems: Write Your Dreaded Synopsis

If you are anything like me, you put off writing your synopsis until the last possible minute. After all, a synopsis is pure hell to get right and you don’t need it until you’re ready to submit. At least that’s what I used to think before I realized what a useful tool a synopsis is for spotting various problems in your book.

When you write your synopsis, you include your main character, what she wants, and why whatever it is that she wants is a big deal. You write about who or what stands in her way and what she does to get around this road block. You address theme and setting. You do all of this in a way that shows how it all fits together unless, of course, it doesn’t.

Because a synopsis distills your book to its essence, sometimes it is easier to spot potential problems in the synopsis than in the book as a whole. The glorious best friend that rules chapters four through six and is oh so funny but somehow doesn’t fit into the synopsis might not really have a role to play in the story beyond lightening the mood. The hero you describe as a loner but never spends even five minutes alone isn’t going to convince anyone that that is his true nature even if that’s what is essential to the climax. Tension that doesn’t escalate, goals that are reached without any trials or tribulations, and a setting that is too vanilla to put into words all become obvious as you try to craft a synopsis.

The synopsis can help you spot these things so that you can fix them and the sooner you can fix problems with your book, the better. That said, I’m not going to try writing my synopsis before my first draft. I’m a bit of a pantser; although I create a sketchy outline before I write the emphasis is on sketchy. I need that first draft to firm things up and get a feel for my characters and my setting.

Writing the synopsis after my first draft will help me identify the weak spots and holes in my story. Once I’ve spotted them, I can set about fixing them in my rewrite. After that, the synopsis of my final story should be a snap. Right?


Sue Bradford Edwards teaches our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next section starts on January 5th.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014


3 Super-Powerful Content Marketing Tips to Make You Likeable and Valuable to Your Community

by Karen Cioffi

The expression “A picture is worth a thousand words” is an absolute truth.

But in marketing, words and actions are also powerful.

They convey who you are and what you’re about. And, words and actions can make you likeable and a valuable resource to your community.

How and why should this matter to you, the writer and author?

The answer: People buy from people they like. If they don’t like you or think you don’t know what you’re talking about, they WON’T buy from you.

This is where content (inbound) marketing come in. It’s the process of getting website visitors and getting your audience to know and value you.

Content marketing includes:

• Blogging
• Articles
• Website content
• eBooks
• Newsletters
• Workshops
• Videos
• And, so on

So, here are the three powerful strategies you should be using every day to boost your likability and make you the ‘go to’ person in your community:

1. Be Professional

This is probably the number one tip. While being professional doesn’t mean you need to be stuffy or standoffish, it does mean you need to write and act professional, at least in regard to your content marketing.

Keep your website clean and professional. Let the visitor know you have respect for your skills / products and your audience.

And, instead of saying, “No problem,” or “It’s okay,” actually say, “You’re Welcome.”

Don’t use profanity or any other form of vulgarity online. Keep it clean. Respect your audience.

2. Communicate

Let your community know what’s going on. If you’ll be offline for any period of time, if you have a new book or service in the works (or launching), if you have news, keep them informed.

You can and should also include bits of personal information along the way. Let them know you’re a real person. Just be careful not to divulge too much.

While your online community is a treasure, you don’t personally know the character of each and every one of the people who make up that community. Always err on the side of caution.

3. Be Helpful

Ask your readers and costumers/clients (your community) how you can help them.

You may offer an excerpt from your most recent book. You might ask for feedback on your books, letting them know that you value their opinions.

You will also want to know what your community thinks, what they need, want, and desire. Then, especially if you’re in the nonfiction realm, you can go about filling those needs, wants, and desires through books or ebooks.

And, offer helpful information on a regular basis through your blog. Write about the genre you write in or the service you offer.

Use these three tips every day in your marketing to help build a loyal community.


Karen Cioffi is a former accountant who is now a multi-award-winning author, ghostwriter, freelance writer, editor, and author-writer online platform marketing instructor. She founded and manages Writers on the Move (a marketing group), and presents online writing and marketing workshops and webinars.

Karen has published 12 writing and marketing eBooks, the most recent, Article Marketing: Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Search Engine Optimized Content.

In addition to this, Karen’s website, Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing, was named Writer’s Digest Website of the Week, June 25, 2012.

Join Karen Cioffi's upcoming online class, Get Traffic to Your Website with InboundMarketing! Click here for details and enrollment.

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Monday, December 15, 2014


A Little Christmas Banter and Recipes to Impress Your Holiday Guests

I love Christmas. Christmas and Easter are easily my busiest seasons as a church organist and mother, but I still truly love each and every cookie, carol, and smile from friends and passersby. Christmas is in less than two weeks and I haven’t bought or wrapped any gifts, our tree isn’t up yet, and there are no decorations in the yard. It is nonetheless Christmas. We spent the weekend baking and though our house doesn’t look like Christmas, it feels and smells like a special time of year. We helped decorate the tree at church and we’ve gone to see several local light shows. We may not get around to all of the holiday “to do” items on the list, but we will sing carols and enjoy cookies. Just so you think I haven’t totally forgotten, we keep the manger out year round, so there will be a nativity scene and plenty of chatter about the Christ Child.

I was preparing some special Christmas music this evening and realized it was time to post my article for the Muffin. I wasn’t sure if readers would be interested in a book review for a holiday book, some holiday recipes, or a quick reminder of why it’s okay to say no to some things during the busy holiday season. I asked my social media friends to vote and those who know me best have asked me to share some quick and easy holiday recipes. As I write this, my peanut butter balls are chilling in the fridge, the truffles are done and in the freezer, and there are eight different types of cookies packaged on the kitchen table. It certainly seems appropriate to stop practicing that pesky Sonatine Op.20-1 First Movement and share some treasured recipes with you, my treasured friends. After all, no one is really going to know if I get all those F sharps right on the last page of the Sonatine anyway, right? And two of our three children are sleeping, so I may as well give the little guy some toy tractors and pop him on the floor of my office!

Here is my gift to you for this Christmas. There won’t be any cards, and I’m pretty sure some of you will get a hand knit scarf and a plate of cookies. As for the tree … maybe that will happen …

Banana Bread Recipe
1 ½ Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons vanilla
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
6 Tablespoons brown sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
6 Tablespoons butter
½ Cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup ripe bananas (about 2)
¾ cup chocolate chips (I prefer semi sweet)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Whisk together thoroughly: flour, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
In a large bowl, beat on high speed until light in color and texture (2-3minutes): butter and white sugar
Beat in the flour mixture until blended, then gradually add eggs, and bananas.
Add chocolate chips last and do not over-stir
Scrape batter into a pan and spread evenly
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (50-60 minutes)

Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes before removing from pan – then let cool completely on the rack.

Peanut Butter Ball Recipe
2 Cups Crushed Graham Cracker
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
2 Cups Peanut Butter (you choose crunchy or creamy…but I’ll always choose creamy)
½ Cup Melted Butter (salted or unsalted doesn’t matter for this recipe)
1 or 2 squares of Baker’s Sweetened Chocolate
Note: we ran out of sweetened chocolate and used unsweetened and then added semi-sweet chocolate chips and a bit of heavy cream instead.

Mix graham crackers, powdered sugar, peanut butter, and melted butter. Mix until well combined and sticky. Place peanut butter mixture in the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes while you enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine.
Remove from refrigerator and roll into balls (we place the balls onto a wax paper covered cookie sheet to cut down on the mess).
Refrigerate balls for an hour or so while you do something else. This is usually when we start unwrapping chocolate kisses for our other cookie recipe. Feel free to enjoy another cup of coffee or glass of wine!
Before removing balls from the refrigerator, begin melting the chocolate. I’ve never had much luck melting it on the stove, so I recommend using your microwave and a glass bowl. This part is completely up to you.
Remove balls from fridge and roll them in the chocolate.
Please chocolate covered balls back on the wax paper covered cookie sheet or a tray.
Refrigerate until ready to serve or gift.

Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, three young children (Carmen 7, Andre 6, Breccan 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 200 Holsteins. The Otto family is expecting an addition with Delphine Elizabeth Otto due February 2015!

You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: and keep up with her WOW! tours and blog posts at:

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Sunday, December 14, 2014


Three Books for Every Writer

In the season of gift-giving, I've seen a lot of lists for writer gifts. Here are three books that would help ANY writer--no matter what she writes:

Punctuation..? by User Design is a simple book to use--it has 21 punctuation marks, including some that aren't that well known, which is one great thing about this book. Everyone knows periods, commas, and quotation marks. But do you know where to place curly/braces (a type of brackets) or how to use guillemets properly? Each mark also has explanations for different uses as well as examples that are easy to read. There are illustrations for each mark, too. These are simple black and white, cartoon-style drawings, which are somewhat humorous and usually a play on either the examples or the punctuation mark.

This would be a great book for a high school or college student or a writer who needs to brush up on their punctuation. You will not get bogged down with explanation or unneeded remarks on style. When you are trying to figure out if you need to use a comma or not, then turn to the comma page, read the explanation, and go on with writing.

Good idea for a stocking stuffer this holiday!

 Novelist, editor, and workshop leader Jessica Bell had a great idea--create writing exercises to help writers improve their craft in the areas all of us need help with: show vs tell, avoiding adverbs and cliches, and the best one of all--using sensory details in our writing (I need this reminder all the time!).

Bell's books are organized with exercises for you to do. Then she provides some examples to compare your writing or to give you some ideas if you are struggling. These are not books where Bell attempts to tell you how to write or what you should do in your own work. She gives you some tips in these areas that can kill a manuscript and then lists some exercises and great examples to build YOUR OWN WRITING AND YOUR OWN VOICE.

If you are on a budget and can't afford fancy writing classes or conferences, you will get a lot out of Writing in a Nutshell, which has her three previous editions of the Nutshell books inside plus some new content. I use this book to teach novel writing to adults all the time!

If you read NO other writing book ever, except On Writing by Stephen King, then you will be okay. This is the VERY best writing book I've ever read. I still use his advice today, and I am still inspired by the beginning of his book, when King shares how he was a drug abuser and struggling writer AND after he had commercial success but was hit by a car.

But the second half of the book is when King really shines, when he shares his writing knowledge with us all. I don't like his fiction--I'm scared of it. But I recommend this book to every writer I know. You won't be sorry if you read it or give it as a gift!

So happy holidays to you! What writing book would you recommend? 

Margo L. Dill teaches WOW! Women On Writing novel writing and children's writing classes. Check out her upcoming classes in 2015 in the WOW! classroom. Check out her books and bio at

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Saturday, December 13, 2014


Creating an Anthology

Although I love greeting cards and the idea of sending a literary hug to someone you love, the prices ($3 a card!) have put the brakes on my greeting card purchases in recent years. So when fellow writer Barbara Barth sent me an announcement about her new e-book A Cup of Christmas with the tagline "Instead of a Christmas card send a Christmas e-book. It costs less!" I knew I had to check it out. I had so much fun with this book. I'm a sucker for sappy Christmas movies and watch them endlessly and there were a few tearjerker stories in A Cup of Christmas but it was a great mix. I laughed, I cried, I got hungry(there are recipes), I was even creeped out a bit by some paranormal elements thrown into the mix. All in all it was a fun book/Christmas card (it even has Christmas card-like illustrations to accompany each story) and I know just who on my Christmas list will receive one. Here's a bit from the editor Barbara Barth about the mania of creating an anthology:

Barbara, you've written a memoir and a romance-suspense. How did you take a turn at editing an anthology? Did you just wake up one day looking for a new challenge and say, "Hey, why don't I edit an anthology?" Was it a protest against incredibly expensive greeting cards, after all, in your intro you did write "Give an e-book for less than the cost of a greeting card? Or are you just a sucker for Christmas?
You have me laughing with this first question. Yes, I did wake up one day and say, I think I’d like to pull together an anthology. I’ve never been a planner; I just get an idea and run with it. Once I decide on a project, it gets all my energy. I saw the cover image on a website and it clicked. A Cup of Christmas was created in six weeks. Originally, I expected ten or fifteen authors to participate, but the final e-book has 30 writers (and me, making it 31) with everything from holiday stories, memoirs, poems, and a few tasty recipes.

I loved the idea of sending a book for Christmas. Amazon makes it so easy too. They have a ‘gift button’ that lets you buy an e-book and send it, along with a personal greeting. Our slogan became ‘Why send a card when you can send an e-book!’ Catchy, fun, and practical. It is a gift that keeps on giving too. All proceeds go to First Book, a children’s literacy charity.

The e-book is visually festive. The bright red cover, the titles of each piece in red script, and a small graphic for each story. My sister (PD King Designworked magic with her design. The book is published through my company Gilbert Street Press.

A Cup of Christmas was my way of reaching out to others. I remember how much fun I had as an antique dealer, decorating my shop (and the occasional show) for Christmas. I loved connecting with customers during the holidays especially. I miss that interaction since I no longer am in business. The anthology put me in touch with so many different writers, it was a celebration of the season, and a way for me to connect to folks I might otherwise not meet.
Tell us about the process of creating an anthology, since I'm sure we all have a topic nearest and dearest to our hearts that we would like to see featured in an anthology. How did you pick your topic?
It was a given it would be a Christmas anthology the minute I saw the cover image. We were also just heading into the holiday season and I wanted a project to share immediately. Christmas is close to most everyone’s heart and I figured it was an easy topic for folks to write about in the short time-frame I gave them. I had my work cut out for me, but the authors stopped what they were doing to participate in a project that pulled together in less time than it takes many to plan a Christmas party. It was an awesome experience and a learning one for me.

How did you find your writers and, not just writers, but writers that were willing to write without compensation? And why didn't you ask me?
I contacted authors through Facebook. Some I know personally and others are just Facebook friends through the writers groups there, or through friends liking friends. Sort of the six degrees of separation theory. I posted a ‘call for writers’ on my timeline, then sent Facebook private messages to many authors I hoped would participate. In addition to my own writing, I love to promote others with my various book blogs, and I think that helped give credence to the project.

Several of the authors recommended students from their workshops, who would be wonderful additions to the anthology. The thing I love best about A Cup of Christmas is the range of writers. The contributions are from award winning authors, traditionally published authors, self-published, and those never published before. Many are southern writers, but we have authors across the country, from England and Australia. Each brings their special talent.

I planned for the e-book to be free (I did not want to collect money and distribute it, and I didn’t want any of the writers to think I was making money off the project and their work.). In exchange, each author would have a short bio and live links to their website, blog, and/or Amazon Author Page at the end of their piece.  It was a fun way to share during the Christmas season with a bit of PR for everyone involved. After that plan was in place, and halfway through the project, an author e-mailed me advising Amazon’s minimum price for an e-book was 99 cents. That took us in a new direction, and one that was kismet for everyone, bringing a charity on board, and one that all the authors agreed was a perfect selection, First Book.

Shame on me for not asking you, Jodi. Next time you will receive a personal invitation! And there will be a ‘next time’!
Was it difficult choosing who would be included? Did you have to edit some people out because of size constrictions?
The guidelines for the anthology were simple; the contents of the book had to be in the spirit of Christmas, no sex, no violence, something that anyone could read and enjoy. It could be a story (word length up to the author, but preferably less than 6000 words – so short or long), memoir, poetry, and, since I know a few chefs who are authors, some holiday recipes. Everyone who contacted me was included. I had a wonderful author come in the last 48 hours before the e-book design was completed. Time, not space, was the final decision maker. I was very fortunate that everyone involved had something lovely to share. 

Were you nervous about being the editor? Is this your first experience editing?
I was so nervous about being an editor, I was going to put assembled by next to my name, hoping to avoid the editor title all together. I don’t trust my own writing, punctuation, etc., and I felt very insecure about ‘editing’ other authors, especially those with credentials so far ahead of mine. As I read each piece, I decided I had to put on my editor’s hat, and get to it. I contacted most of the writers if I had questions. I realized two things: if there were glaring problems, I would look bad and the author would look bad. Being an editor is a huge responsibility and I knew everyone trusted me to produce a professional product. I was fortunate to have input from a few authors who helped with my editing questions, and actually looked at some of the pieces with me. You also have to remember, that no one had any real time to fluff their work, because the project came together so quickly.  I am proud of the finished book and now brag I am the editor. Don’t hurt me if you see something wrong!
Tell us a little about how First Book became involved in this project.
As I mentioned earlier, the anthology started out to be a free Kindle download. Then I found out we couldn’t list it for free (although I could do a free promo through KDP Select). We needed to bring a charity on board, because this was never about money for us. I had read about First Book some months back and suggested them to the group. It seemed a perfect match – writers helping to bring books to children. I contacted First Book directly, their Washington DC office, to tell them about the project, and to be sure I could link back to them in our anthology and in all our marketing. First Book has distributed more than 120 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. All proceeds from the sale of our anthology go to First Book, but even better, we are spreading the word about First Book through our group and individual marketing and encouraging readers to donate directly.
What was the most rewarding and difficult thing about creating an anthology?
The most difficult thing about this project was the fact I jumped in without a plan other than to get it done. It was a huge learning process for me. Next time I will have better instructions for the authors in how to format their work so there is a consistency in what I get. Double space, single space, story embedded with illustrations, two spaces between sentences, etc. I received stories in every format imaginable – and that was my fault. It just created extra work for me, but it taught me so much! Then the snafu with pricing, I did not research that before I started. While I had to make adjustments along the way, it was a remarkable process, and taught me by trial and error what to do next time.

I am very proud of our marketing efforts too. The anthology launched for free, and now is for sale at $1.99, with all proceeds to First Book. I had a great time with graphics for Facebook, my own timeline, and our A Cup of Christmas Authors Facebook page

Two authors, Tori Bailey and Doug Dahlgren, created YouTube videos for the anthology. Kerry Alan Denney spent most of the first day tweeting and reposting on every site imaginable. The team effort was awesome. Our launch landed us as number 3 in the top 100 free anthology e-books on Kindle.

I love working with other authors. Writing for me is more connecting with people, sharing experiences, making new friends, doing something meaningful. A Cup of Christmas is full of the spirit of giving and it doesn’t get any better than that in my book!

What's up next? Another anthology?
Most likely, there will be an annual Christmas anthology. This was so much fun we would like the tradition to continue. As for me, I am almost finished with my dog memoir. I hope to have it available by early spring. The hounds are impatient to see their stories in print.

Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb and a new one Building Bookshelves (no hammers required).

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