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Saturday, May 27, 2017


Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone

I'm so glad you're here reading this. There are plenty of people who took one look at the title of this post and decided it wasn't for them. Understandably so when you look at the definition of a comfort zone:

a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

Pretty sure if we are honest with ourselves, given the chance to stay in a safe and stress free situation or wander into something potentially stressful and unsafe, we would choose that comfort zone. And yet...when reflecting on our lives, our writing, our careers, etc... the most amazing victories are those that began with that unsafe feeling. Moving out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable, but it is also where change and growth takes place.

I recently interviewed an author friend who admitted she disliked reading and writing flash fiction. She decided to take a chance and enter the WOW! Flash Fiction contest and she placed. She had that uneasy feeling in the beginning, but in hindsight the stepping out of her comfort zone helped her realize some talents and it has propelled her forward with her writing career. Without taking a risk, I wonder how many authors would still be writing in notebooks with their works laying unpublished and unread? Isn't that a very sad thought?

So, you're not a writer. Maybe you're a reader. Plenty of readers will tell you they surprised themselves by agreeing to read something out of their comfort zone. They tried something new and learned something about themselves in the process. I never really liked memoirs, until I fell in love with Judy Mandel's "Replacement Child" which I read as part of a WOW! Women on Writing Book Blog Tour. After that, I opened myself to memoir as a genre and have come to love memoirs by oh so many authors (including Donald Dempsey, Linda Appleman Shapiro, and Madeline Sharples). I've found that by learning about others, I learn something about myself as well. What a special gift. I wouldn't have received such a gift had I stayed in my comfort zone.

And what if you aren't a writer or a reader? How can stepping out of your comfort zone be a positive experience for you? Could you sign up for a wine and canvas event near you instead of staying home saying "I'm not artistic"? Could you stop at a different coffee shop and strike up a conversation with someone new instead of chatting with the barista you've come to know and love? Getting out of that comfort zone allows us to meet new people, try new things, and learn a little something new about ourselves.

A little bit of stress is good for our bodies, so next time you're faced with a choice regarding personal comfort, take the road less traveled and see where it leads. Hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Now, as you know, we love hearing from you. So the questions are:

When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? 
Was it a positive experience? 
Tell us about the situation and what you learned from it?

Crystal is a secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 10, Andre 8, Breccan 3, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora due this fall), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade! 

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Friday, May 26, 2017


Friday Speak Out!: How to Publish Travel and Outdoor Guides

by Kathy Schrenk

Writing travel and outdoor guides can be a rewarding experience — emotionally and monetarily. If you have passion for a particular place or activity, sharing that with others makes your work seem like play. And it can yield small but steady pay in the form of royalty checks.

Find your Niche

The world doesn’t need another guide to the top tourist sights in Chicago or to the best hikes in Yosemite National Park. But smaller niches in your geographic area might be waiting to be filled. When I moved to St. Louis with my three young kids, I was pleasantly surprised by how many beautiful hikes lay just outside my new hometown. Then I realized that no one had published a book about hikes for kids in the region.

Find a Publisher

There are book series that cater to hobbyists and adventurers of all types: travelers who have dogs, travelers who have kids, travelers with disabilities, mushroom hunters, kayakers, rock climbers, the list goes on. If you are passionate about something or have a special perspective you want to share with the world, search the Internet for guides that cater to your niche.

I had used the “Best Hikes with Kids” guide for the San Francisco Bay Area when I lived there. I found that there were a dozen regional guides like that one in the series, so I sent the publisher a proposal for a St. Louis version. It was accepted, and before long I received my first advance check.

If you don’t find an existing series that your book idea fits neatly into, check the Travel section at your local bookstore and make a list of publishers to query that published similar books. Check with your state parks department, travel club, or local chapter of a national club or society that focuses on your niche; they often publish how-to guides.

Follow Instructions

Once you’ve identified a publisher, get a copy of at least one of the books from the publisher that’s similar to yours. Familiarize yourself with the style. Then carefully read the proposal guidelines on the publishers website—then read it again to make sure you don’t miss anything! Keep the guidelines at your side, along with the sample book you want to emulate, and write with passion. Be professional in your emails and phone calls with the publisher.

Be Confident—But Be Humble, Too

You’re the expert. By the time you get around to sending a publisher your proposal, you should know that you are the best person to write this book. You’ve found thousands of tasty mushrooms in the woods around your city, or you’ve explored half the kayaking routes nearby and you’re ready to paddle the rest and share your knowledge with the world. But don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. In the course of writing my hiking guide, I’ve consulted geologists, wildflower experts, historians and countless park rangers to fill in my gaps in knowledge about the region.

Most important, have fun with your research and your writing. Your enthusiasm for your subject will come out in the finished product.

* * *
Kathy Schrenk writes fiction and non-fiction from her home in the St. Louis area. She hikes with her three kids (ages 11, 9 and 4) and husband as often as she can. Her first book, “Best Hikes With Kids St. Louis,” will be published by Mountaineers Books in Spring, 2018. She hopes to publish some fiction shortly thereafter. 
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, May 25, 2017


The Third Place

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
— Winston Churchill

Earlier this evening I sent an email to an editor about the ending of my story slated for fall publication in Kansas City Voices (yay!). She had suggested developing an ending that ties together the beginning, which is a great idea, but I'm having trouble coming up with a way to do that. Without thinking, I told her I would go to Starbucks for a change of scenery and work there to get the creative juices flowing. After I wrote that, I wondered if it's really true, do I have better ideas when I write in a different place?

Last night I was watching the 80s/90s television show Cheers, starring Ted Danson. Cheers was the name of a local hangout/bar for several lovable, eclectic characters, which is epitomized in the theme song "Where Everybody Knows Your Name." Sociologists would call Cheers a third place. First is your home, second is your workplace, and the third place is where you gather voluntarily to socialize while enjoying the atmosphere.

A third place can be where people hang out and eat or drink coffee (cafe) or alcohol (bar). A barber shop or hair salon also might be considered a third place, depending on the customers. Although some argue that a third place is not a place you would work, for creative folks like writers, I am going to include it.

Earlier this week I met fellow writer and friend Sheree Nielsen, publisher of Folly Beach Dances, at a local cafe. When I walked in, there were several people working alone on laptops, and others engaged in conversation while eating or drinking. A third place.

I asked Sheree where she liked to write, and she said she likes the Starbucks by her house. I also frequently grade papers or write at one close to mine. I like one table in particular because it is out in the open and I can hear others talking, which offers a background noise that I find comforting and familiar. In St. Louis we have The St. Louis Bread Company (known as Panera in many other cities) which also could be considered a third place because it provides a welcoming and relaxing environment for visiting or writing. I also work there on a regular basis.

What is it about a public place that makes us feel more creative? Is it the hip baristas, or the comfortable chairs and delicious coffee? I have never thought about analyzing my work to discover themes, ideas, or creativity while working in a cafe, but I'm going to start. But first, tell me, where do you write when you aren't at home? What's your favorite third place?

Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Two Little Words Used Incorrectly

Okay, y’all, I’m not going to beat around the writing bush, I’m just going to say it: I’m tired of seeing the same writing errors in almost everything I read. Errors that I didn’t see even just a few years ago.

I have a couple of theories as to why I keep seeing these errors, but this isn’t really about the why. Instead, let’s just tackle one of these problems today and perhaps in our own little way, we can fix the writing world.

So, on to the pesky proper use of “affect” and “effect.” They sound alike, don’t they? Especially if you happen to be Southern like me. But they are not alike. And nothing makes me cringe more than when I see these two words used incorrectly. (When I hear these words, I automatically hear the correct one, thus giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt. The poor writer who uses these words incorrectly is not so lucky.)

Now, here’s what I find interesting. The spell check function will point out when one of these words is used incorrectly. Yes, it’s right there, underlined in red; all one has to do is correct it. And yet, still it remains, in all its glaring inglorious wrongness in blog posts, essays, even newspapers.

Clearly, people are ignoring spell check and deciding that they know the proper use of these words better than a computer program. Of course, there are plenty of times when a computer cannot be trusted; this is not one of them.

But for those of you who still need convincing (and help), let’s review quickly—and simply—about “effect” and “affect.”

The word “affect” is usually used as a verb, and “effect” is usually used as a noun.

“Affect” means to bring about a change, and “effect” is the result of a change.

“Oh,” exclaimed Cathy, “I was terribly moved by that play! But the effect of sitting for three and a half hours and enjoying adult beverages has affected my ability to stand.”

See? It’s just verbs and nouns, people. And yes, fine, it can be more complicated than that, so if you want an entire lesson then go see what Grammarly has to say about it here. But really, nine and a half out of ten times, it’s just remembering that the verb is “affect’ and the noun is “effect.”

And before you say, “For cryin’ out loud, Cathy, it’s not that big of a deal,” I’m going to stop you. If you are a brain surgeon or an astronaut or a fashion model, then you can possibly get away with using these two words incorrectly. But if you are a professional writer, then editors and other professionals in the writing industry have certain expectations. Namely, that you know the difference between “affect” and “effect.”

So, fix it, little grasshopper, and err no more.

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. She's not really fanatical when it comes to words, but if you use "their" for "they're" then chances are good that she'll scream.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Meet Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Karla M. Jay, Author of "The Thaw"

Karla M. Jay is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall Flash Fiction Contest with the very touching story The Thaw. Karla M. Jay introduced us to her protagonist Marleigh Benning in her debut novel, Speaking in Tungs, May 2015. Speak of the Devil, published May 2016, is the sequel to Speaking in Tungs. Raised in Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania, Karla M. Jay has worked as a speech pathologist since 1982. When she is not home in Utah gardening or writing, she is traveling, trying to see as many countries as possible—in particular, those with good coffee, ancient history, and great beaches. Find her at or on Facebook at

Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for today's interview. Congratulations again on your many accomplishments but most recently as a runner up in the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest! The Thaw seems like a very personal look into a very real life. Do you care to share where the story or idea came from and/or which parts of it mirror your own reality?

KARLA: When I was in high school, in Northern, Pa., a friend and I found a frozen waterfall on her parents' property. We were able to squeeze inside, staying dry with the water rushing around us, which was a very cool (pun intended) experience. That stuck with me all these years. I turned it into a story I felt many families could relate to; the disintegration of sibling relationships as life shapes them into adulthood.

WOW: As an only child this is sort of new to me, but as a soon to be mother of 5, I'm hoping my children will have relationships into adulthood. Thank you for giving me an interesting look into such relationships.

What role do flash fiction pieces play in your writing life? Do you have advice for other authors as far as contests and flash fiction pieces are concerned?

KARLA: I took this contest on as a challenge since I always think in novel-length stories. It's HARD to tell a story under 750 words but now I know I can. I highly encourage all novelists to write short stories and flash fiction pieces and to enter contests. It's a win/win experience. You stretch your writing talents and possibly win something!

WOW: 750 words sounds simple until you start writing, doesn't it? That's how I first found WOW! too - these contests are fun, but they aren't as easy as one might think!

Many authors struggle with time management. That does not seem the case for you as you are working on your 4th novel. What is the key to your success and what advice would you pass onto others who may find time management and writing to be a challenge?

KARLA: I treat my writing like a second job. I work full-time and I have a life like everyone else, so I have to be selfish with the time I schedule for writing. It's mostly on the weekends but I squeeze in an hour or two some mornings. I also have learned, and this only took fifteen years, to write the first draft without going back to fuss or edit everything I wrote the day before. Believe me—it moves a lot faster that way. My biggest challenge is when the weather turns nice and then I have to fight the urge to be outside.

WOW: Speaking of the outside...and warmer weather, you are passionate about gardening as well as writing; do you find they tie in well with each other? Do many of your writing ideas come while gardening? What advice would you give to other writers who haven't yet found that perfect place for inspiration?

KARLA: I do love gardening and it is THE siren call that lures me away from writing. So, I use it to plot and play with new ideas for the next part of the book I'm working on. My love for dirt and nature come through in my stories, I think. Gardening is not for everyone, but I find that walking alone, sitting in a park or wandering through a bookstore also work.

WOW:  Speaking in Tungs was not the first book you wrote - what ever happened to that first book
Grasshopper Soup?

KARLA: Oh, my. I spent ten years writing and rewriting Grasshopper Soup. Lesson learned. Stop pitching after a year and move on! I love that story, especially since I interviewed men who had survived the Bataan Death March as I was writing it. I need to rewrite the manuscript since my writing has grown up all these years later, but I will get it out!

WOW: Sounds like exciting things are in store for you in the future as well! I have a feeling WOW! readers will be hearing from you again (maybe even this fall...wink wink). Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Karla! Congratulations again on The Thaw and best wishes to you all your future projects!

Our Spring Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN
For details and entry, visit our contest page.

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Monday, May 22, 2017


Our Duty as Writers

We have a duty as writers. If we're writing nonfiction, we have to write it true. If we're writing historical fiction, we have to make it ring true--the way people dressed, the way they spoke, the trains of thought popular in that era, and so on. If we're writing fiction? Well, if it doesn't ring true or if it leaves the readers unconnected to the characters... well, heaven help us.

My WIP focuses on Tulsa, Oklahoma...

Case in point: I loved Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Loved it. Or more accurately, loved 95% of it. Rode that roller coaster of a novel all the way to the end. And then it was like the ride came to a screeching halt--before the ride had ended--and then somebody threw a bucket of cold water on me.

I believed in all the twists and turns until the very end. There was no way a husband would do that in real life.

At least that's my opinion.

Three years ago, I got hooked on season one of the show American Crime. Each year, most of the same actors are part of the ensemble cast, but they play different characters and it's a completely different storyline.

This season, the episodes focuses around migrant workers. Human trafficking. Teenage prostitution. It's one of the most moving and sorrowful things I've ever seen... every week.

Richard Cabral is positively chilling. He played a fairly "normal" guy last season, and portrayed a criminal in the first year. This year, he plays a "procurer" of migrant workers. Curious about him as an actor because of his electrifying presence on the screen, I discovered Cabral spent 27 months in prison. The tattoos that cover his neck look like the real thing. Great writing + life experiences to draw upon = acting that rings true, I imagine.

As a writer, I watch this character with especially-alert eyes. His facial expressions usually show nothing. He looks calm and is speaking in a soft voice... and then an instant later, he's beating and kicking a farm worker until the worker's almost dead. And yet from his body language, the audience knows he's powerless and had no choice but to dole out this violence.

Benito Martinez, who plays the father of a migrant worker, expresses a bottomless sorrow with just a glance or a slight movement of his mouth. I watch him too. How would I paint such subtle changes using ink and paper? I wonder...

Currently, I'm pouring my heart and soul into a historical fiction piece. Slang. Typical dinners. Clothing. What the neighborhoods looked like. The gum that was popular back then. I want to get it as accurate as possible, along with portraying the historical event my story focuses on, because when (not if) it gets published, I hope that:
  • readers connect with my characters
  • readers feel like they're transported to the year 1921
  • readers are in an uproar over what happened
  • the book sells like crazy (of course I had to put that one in)
How about you? Have you dabbled in writing historical pieces? What's your advice to a writer who's trying to get everything to ring true? Did you like the ending of Gone Girl? And if you're an American Crime fan, what is your favorite season/character?

Sioux Roslawski is a wife, a mother of two, a grammy to one talented granddaughter, a middle school teacher, a National Writing Project teacher consultant, a Listen to Your Mother performer, a freelance writer and a dog rescuer for Love a Golden Rescue. If you'd like to read more about/from her, go to Sioux's Page, her blog. 

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Sunday, May 21, 2017


Mine Your Relationships for Writing Material

I have a great book full of writing tips and techniques by author Christina Katz called The Writer’s Workout. It organizes the 366 tips into small, manageable chunks of information the reader can digest throughout the year—and I like that it is broken up into seasons as well. When flipping through the spring season the other day, I came across this tip: “Mine Your Relationships.” The tip points out if we are running out of ideas of things to write about, we should look at our relationships with parents, our children, our neighbors, our hometown, etc.

At first I started to bypass the section. My problem isn’t that I run out of ideas to write about—I usually run out of the time to work on them first. But then I paused, thinking about a YA manuscript I’m working on and how the main character is good, but still not full developed. Something is still missing that makes her relatable. I want her to be more than just the usual “angsty” teen that is portrayed in these type of stories.

I thought back to a big blow-up at my house the other night. I have two kids—one of them a daughter who is about to turn 14—so there have been plenty of those lately! I had already been feeling badly about my daughter, who in no way, shape, or form is interested in the usual make-up, clothes, pop music, and gossiping about boys that most girls her age discuss and obsess over. I know as a mother that shouldn’t concern me, and I should let her continue to enjoy computer coding, watching anime, wearing athletic clothes, playing the violin and other musical instruments she enjoys playing, but I also sometimes wish her interests were more mainstream so she would have more friends. All my nagging finally came to a head when she expressed to me that she feared I didn’t like her the way she was, and that I wished she was different. She doesn’t want to be different—she is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t care if she goes to big parties. She has a few close friends, and she is happier being with them than large groups. I felt like a terrible mom. Just because she isn’t into the things I was at her age doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

In my manuscript, the protagonist has a nagging mother, and I turned the nagging mother into a personal trainer, mostly to add a humorous piece. Isn’t that every teen’s worst nightmare—to have a mom who decided to get fit after a divorce and then turns the exercise into a career? The mom nags the protagonist constantly, even though she’s not out of shape. But she tries to control her diet and drag her out to jog, and the nagging amps up when the protagonist lands on the Homecoming Court at her school. After this experience in my own life, I definitely see some changes I can make in the manuscript. I need to make the daughter have some off-the-wall hobbies that clash with the mother’s sensibilities even more. I can also have the daughter finally bond with the mom after the main event (no spoilers!) happens, but it would be neat if she found a type exercise she liked that the mom hadn’t thought of but also helped her in the story in some way.

My daughter has been begging me to let her read this manuscript (heck, even one of our dogs is in it, with her name changed, of course!) so I have a feeling she can also add some valuable insight into the character development.

I know for some of us, mining our relationships for writing material can be tricky territory. Have you ever done it? Do you have any tips for how to make the most out of real-life stories creatively?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who hopes her loved ones appreciate this whole "mining relationships for material" business one day when she sells a novel.

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