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Sunday, May 20, 2018


Congratulations to Second Place Creative Nonfiction Winner, Aimee Carlson

We welcome Aimee Carlson to The Muffin today because she won 2nd place in the Quarter 2 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with her essay titled, "Inconceivable," which is about infertility. If you haven't read her essay yet, please see this page.

Aimee was born and raised in South Florida, but she moved to Indiana thirteen years ago where she currently lives with her husband and three dogs. She loves life and strives to live every day to the fullest. Her favorite type of writing involves taking a difficult situation and helping others to find the humor in it. Forever the adventurist, her hobbies vary widely, including everything from writing to ghost hunting. She’s always willing to try something new and never says no to a good time. This leads to many embarrassing stories, which you can read more about on her blog, "The Rant Farm". She has been a featured writer in The Mamalogues and has been a contributing writer on various websites. She is currently working on a new humor piece and is in the process of writing her first novel. Visit her blog at

WOW: Congratulations on winning 2nd place in the WOW! Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest. Your essay, "Inconceivable", is about laughing at some of the absurdity that comes with infertility. What made you want to write this essay?

Aimee: Thank you! I wrote the essay to reach out to other women on the same journey who were feeling hopeless and defeated. I wanted them to know that they weren't alone.

WOW: Yes, because infertility is often such a heartbreaking and of course personal journey for each woman. How were you trying to reach out to other women through your essay? What is your universal message or theme?

Aimee: I want this to be a subject that is okay to talk about and to be open with. Infertility is a lonely and disheartening battle. Let's talk about it. Let's laugh about it. Let's support each other through it. A woman's greatest superpower is empathy and great things happen when we relate to each other and remember that we are not alone.

WOW: This is very true about so many subjects--including the recent #metoo movement. How did it feel when you found out you won 2nd place in this contest? What does that do for your belief in your writing?

Aimee: It felt amazing. The hardest thing for me to do has been to put myself out there and be vulnerable enough to let others read my writing. Knowing that others were able to relate to my story and connect is the most rewarding feeling that I could ask for. It gave me the confidence to keep writing.

WOW: We are so glad to hear that! You also have a blog, which we tell our readers about in your bio, but tell us a little more about it and what we can find on it.

Aimee: My blog is primarily humor-based. I write about everyday life and the ridiculous predicaments I tend to find myself in. You will find some serious essays on there as well about grief and healing.

WOW: It sounds like the perfect combination for many of our WOW! readers. So what project is next for you?

Aimee: I am currently working on my first novel. It is fantasy-based and stems from my love of Greek mythology. I'm excited about it and am enjoying the challenge that comes with writing something a bit different and longer than I'm used to. However, while I'm working on this project, I will continue to share my silly stories about navigating this crazy thing called life while having some fun and laughs along the way.

WOW: That sounds great, Aimee. Good luck with all your future projects! It sounds like you have the perfect attitude to get through this thing we call the writing life, too! 

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Saturday, May 19, 2018


Three Simple Steps for a Great Interview

Before you say "I don't interview people" and click onto the next article, I need to tell you this post isn't just for the person asking the questions. If you're a writer, it's safe to say you'll do an interview or two in your career. This post is just as important for the person answering the questions as it is for the one asking them.

Quick back story. I have the privilege of interviewing authors here at WOW! Some are authors who have asked me to help organize a book blog tour, others have won a flash fiction contest or essay contest, and others are assignments from my lovely boss and friend Angela. The first time I was asked to do an interview I froze. I sat at my keyboard not quite sure how I was going to pull it off. I agreed and still wasn't sure what to do. I decided the best way to tackle an interview was to treat it like a school assignment (homework first as my mama would say)! I thought about my favorite television interviews and watched a few of them with a notebook and pen in my lap. I read some interviews with my favorite authors and took notes about those as well. Based on that research, here's a helpful process regardless of which side of the interview you are on:

1) Do your homework. If you are being interviewed, find out a bit about the person, publication, or program. If you are interviewing someone, find out as much about them as possible. Style is important. IE: I have a 'coffee chat with Crystal' type of interview style and would be disappointed in an interviewee who gave me short answers with very little depth.

2) Get comfortable. When I am writing questions, I have the authors head shot, bio, and my notes in front of me at me desk, but in my mind, we are sitting in my kitchen sipping tea/coffee/lemonade with some soft music playing and the smell of cinnamon rolls wafting from the oven. I like to think those I interview also set the mood before writing their answers. This is clearly important for television interviews, but also for radio. Some authors have pulled off some great radio interviews while driving down the freeway or tending to children, but for the most part, finding a comfortable space with few distractions is important.

3) Show up. This is a no brainer for a live interview (television or radio), but when an interview is recorded and aired at a later date, or it's a print interview, showing up is optional, but it shouldn't be. Show up and comment on the interview, share it with your friends and family as well as your social media channels. If someone comments with a question, answer it. Engage the audience (whether you are asking the questions or answering them). If you don't show up, it leaves a not so sweet taste in the mouths of those reading, listening to, or watching the interview.

That's it! Three simple steps for a great interview!

Now it's your turn to answer some questions:

Who is your favorite interviewer? (television, radio, print, etc...) Why do you like this person more than others? What sets them apart?

Do you have a favorite author interview? What makes this interview a favorite?

What have you found helpful when interviewing or being interviewed? How do you prepare? What tips do you have?

Thanks as always for your time and your comments!


Crystal is a council 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 Wisconsin with her husband, five young children (Carmen 11, Andre 9, Breccan 4, Delphine 3, and baby Eudora), two dogs, 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 - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Friday, May 18, 2018


Friday Speak Out!: Nine out of Ten

by Ashley E. Sweeney

I won’t ever climb Mt. Everest.

After reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” the account of the ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition that left more than a dozen experienced climbers for dead on the world’s largest mountain, I knew for certain that I’d never climb that monolith in this lifetime.

Not that I’ve been planning an imminent trip to Nepal. But like countless others before me, Everest looms as the ultimate goal that few have attained. Goal setting is a universal pursuit; we all make resolutions and promises to ourselves and to others, some of which are fulfilled and many of which are broken.

As a young person, I made a list of 10 lifetime goals, nine of which I’ve attained to some recognizable degree: graduate college, be a VISTA volunteer, have a family, own a home, get a Masters degree, travel the world, serve as a board member, learn to quilt, publish an award-winning novel (my debut novel, Eliza Waite, is the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award winner and finalist in four other literary contests).

The last goal on that long-ago list—to climb Mt. Rainier in Washington State—is now outside the realm of possibility. Time, physical limitations, and other constraints have precluded reaching this aim.

What to do with this?

I can live with gazing upon Mt. Rainier—and that one unmet goal—from afar.

On a philosophical level, perhaps we can accept that we have not attained every goal on our youthful lists. In the end, it’s not how many goals we’ve attained, but how many we’ve attained well.

Which means I’m at nine out of 10. Back in my teaching days, that ratio equaled an A-. Not a bad report card of a life, considering. But who says life is over once you’ve conquered the list you created in your 20s? Why not start from scratch and create a new list?

In his retirement, my father, the novelist Gerald F. Sweeney, wrote a seven-book series titled The Columbiad, a loosely disguised autobiography that follows a bright young man through the 20th century. With one novel published, a second out on review, a third underway, and a fourth in the hopper, I’m on my dad’s tail to publish a slew of novels over the next 30 years.

Other new goals? Be the best grandmother in history. Live in the sun. Learn to do mosaic art. Make a difference every single day.

Give your dreams all you’ve got, and don’t give up easily. But this comes with a caveat: if the climb is too steep, or too treacherous, or costs you everything—perhaps even your life—it may be time to consider laying down your ice axe, your crampons, and your headlamp and realize that much of what you value is right where you are.

* * *
Ashley E Sweeney is the award-winning author of the novel, Eliza Waite. She is a graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. and splits her time between the Pacific Northwest and Desert Southwest. She has finished a second novel and is at work on a third. Learn more 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, May 17, 2018


The Writer Who Went Too Far

I like to think that most of us understand the importance of etiquette in the writing business world. Still, there are times, in our zeal to get published, that we push the boundaries of propriety. We use a different color for emphasis in our query (black is always the standard), or maybe we use a cleverly unique font that we think better illustrates our story (Times New Roman is always a good choice). We might even decide to write a query from the point of view of one of the characters which, though it sounds terribly creative, most often turns out terribly confusing.

I get how a writer just wants to have his or her manuscript noticed and read; in these days of super Internet, an agent or editor may receive hundreds of queries in a week. How in the world can one’s story stand out? It’s frustrating, but one must hang in there and keep one’s hold, however tenuous, on propriety or one might end up as an Object Lesson for the rest of us. Case in point: The Writer Who Went Too Far.

It was just a typical day for my agent friend. She was at home, and after a long afternoon working and running errands, she’d put on her jammies. So around five in the evening when someone knocked, thinking it was her neighbor, she threw on a sweater and opened the door. It was not her neighbor; it was a complete stranger holding an armload of books.

She immediately ascertained that this was a writer. He also stated, very helpfully, that he’d sent her a text 23 hours prior, and since he had not heard from her and was going to be in her “neighborhood” anyway, he decided to come by and drop off his self-published books to get her input.

All things considered, my agent friend took the situation pretty well. She did not call the police, or even rant and rave at him. In fact, she was more surprised than angry at the writer for his intrusive behavior, though she let him know in no uncertain terms that he should never seek out representation by going to an agent’s home. He should, instead, always read an agent’s website and follow the rules for submitting.

And she posted about the incident on social media because she wanted writers to know that sometimes you can go too far. Way too far. Interestingly, there were a few of her writer friends who felt like this overly ambitious author was just making a bold move, doing what he needed to do. There is never a bold move, said my agent friend, which includes invading someone’s privacy.

Ultimately, the Writer Who Went Too Far learned a lesson or two: if you want to be taken seriously and professionally in the writing world, respect the rules we all must follow. And don’t forget common sense; this writer was clearly in a residential, not business area, and yet never took a moment to ask if showing up on this agent’s porch was the right thing to do. Propriety, y’all, that’s all I’m saying.

Well, not all. Because when all was said and written about this episode, we learned a lesson as well, and I hope you will, too. That is, we live in a world where all kinds of personal information is easily available, so protect your privacy. The next boundary pusher may show up at your door!

Cathy C. Hall writes for children and adults. If you want to find out more, check out her website where she's mostly proper, most of the time.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Patience is a Virtue?

This is my manuscript.

So... the editor I hired has had my manuscript for a week. I even hand-delivered it (Margo was at a book signing) so I know exactly when she got it. This is what I expected * to happen:

  • On Sunday evening, after having my bulldog-clipped stack of papers for only 24 hours, I figured Margo would email me something like this: "Sioux, your story was so enthralling, I stayed up all night reading it. I could not put it down. DFS came to check on my daughter--I was hotlined--because I neglected my little girl completely--that's how compelling your manuscript was." This did not happen. However, she also didn't email me on Sunday to say it was a steaming pile of poop, that the stench was evident after only having my manuscript for a day, so I should be grateful.
  • After having my story for a week, I daydreamed that Margo would email me to say, "Sioux, this is such brilliant stuff, and incredibly, it needs absolutely no editing. It's perfect just the way you've written it. I have connections with several publishers. I am going to meet with them and insist that one of them offers you a publishing contract. Thank you so much. I feel privileged to have been able to read such brilliance." That didn't happen either. 
Lesson: Editing takes time. I've spent more than a year and a half on this story. After "giving birth" to this baby and then handing it over to someone else, I should be grateful that they're not just doing a cursory examination of my work. 

Thinking of how difficult it is to be a patient writer, I stumbled upon an article. It seems I'm not the only writer who's chewing on my fingernails while waiting for a response from an editor/a publisher/my writing critique group members--whoever is reading my stuff. I then found another article . In it, Blake Powell insists that if I don't have patience, I'd better develop it, and quickly.

My restlessness made me remember a submission I'd once sent as a prospective piece for an anthology. The editor wanted the pieces emailed. The next day, I got a response. It was a no. I forgot exactly what I said when I replied, but it was something along the lines of, "I have another piece I could submit." Another reply came back immediately.

"Please don't send anything else to us." Wow. I got the message. I'd wanted to hear soon, and I did, even though it wasn't the response I was looking for.

So... I'm wondering. How do you handle it when impatience starts creeping in? What kind of self-talk do you engage in while you're waiting

* This is what I expected in my daydream-y life... just like I expect that some day I will get Jodi Picoult's level of notoriety and money. Can't you see Don Quixote tilting at windmills, Ed Ames is singing "To Dream the Impossible Dream" and I dream?

Sioux Roslawski was not patient when she was a kid, either. She did everything like she was "killin' snakes" (which I guess comes from the fact that if someone is scared of a snake and is hacking at it with a hoe, it's done hurriedly). If you'd like to read more of Sioux's stuff, check out her blog.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Interview with Sarah Lucas: 2017 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Sarah’s Bio:

Sarah grew up in a big small city in Virginia where she enjoyed a diet of artistic culture and her dad’s Sicilian-American food. She makes a living as a French and Art History teacher at a local high school, but she thrives on her family, friends, and the food that she can make for them.

She has recently started sharing her talents for creative writing with others by enrolling in her first-ever writing class in the spring of 2017. Being published as a WOW! Contest finalist is her second national publication if you want to count the short story that she wrote at age 11. Her sixth grade teacher submitted it to Stone Soup magazine in 1984. Her writing has been somewhat dormant for 33 years. It cropped up mostly in family newsletters, Christmas cards, and on social media posts since then. She blames, however does not begrudge, her commitment to her teaching career, her amazing and very faithful husband and unruly, but passionate, children for taking her away from her prose.

She’s looking forward to finding a lot more to put down on paper from now on. If you haven’t done so already, check out Sarah’s award-winning story “The Thief” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: What was the inspiration for this story?

Sarah: To start off, I feel this overwhelming need to clarify that this is fiction and not based on my actual life. I know my family was originally very concerned when they read it.
The premise started as a joke. My husband travels a lot (so much so that we had teased that he could have a whole separate family elsewhere.) And then we invented a fake second life for him.

But then I wandered about what that would really feel like-- to feel the pressing desire for attention, or care, etc. from someone who was unavailable. I remembered that a friend of mine had once confided in me a dalliance that she had had and how it started. With all of that in mind, the story took off. It made me cry a few times putting myself into the character’s shoes.

And ultimately I wanted the story to have an atypical ending. I didn’t want Pollyanna smiles or “happily ever after the divorce.” I wanted to see real struggle in the resolution. My real life is lived more like that anyway.

WOW: I think most of us have had to explain to friends or family – no, that isn’t you or me because I’m writing fiction. Even if the inspiration comes from life, you make changes. Speaking of changes, how did this story evolve during the rewrite process?

Sarah: My first version had too many unnecessary details. I had created backstory that was amusing to me, but not important to the plot or even to the character development.

I wrote the beginning of the story first, but then put in the middle, and then stuck it back in the beginning where it belongs. My friends in my writing class suggested that my main character was a little passionless and aloof, so I made that her tragic flaw.

The cleaner, better organized story that you read now is much more intriguing than the original.

WOW: Flash fiction is so compact that something has to be left out. How did you decide what details belonged in “The Thief” and which ones did not?

Sarah: Chopping was easy at first. I had written a lot of frivolous details into the exposition that I could shamelessly hack out. But then honing it to the last draft was more difficult. I examined each sentence and had to consciously decide which words to keep.

In her very popular book, Marie Kondo explains that in order to cull out the best things to keep in your house, you have to review everything and decide if it brings you joy. In nearly the same way, I analyzed each paragraph and decided which words and details brought the story “joy.”

WOW: That’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone using Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as a writing guide. Writing is incredibly personal. What bit of yourself can the reader find in this particular story?

Sarah: The woman at the reunion is definitely me at most dress-up functions. I have awkwardly changed shape since nursing my children. It’s appealing for my husband, but dressing up with an ample chest always makes me walk a fine line between alluring and X-rated. I know I’m too self-conscious.

The arguments are real. Any marriage (especially healthy ones) will have disagreements. My husband and I are not perfect and we get on each other’s nerves often. In our first years of marriage we were ruthless about “winning” an argument and we would air our grievances exhaustively. After nearly 20 years together, we’re much more efficient at getting to the heart of the matter and a lot less concerned about “winning.” And we still have make-up sex.

WOW: What advice do you have for anyone who is returning to writing after a prolonged absence?

Sarah: Don’t put it off any longer. Stop making excuses about it. Get back into it even if you haven’t written anything in years. I let everything else (though much of it was important) get in the way of a real passion of mine. I’m not lamenting the “lost” writing years, however, because that would further bring me down. I am looking forward to exploring the palate that my life has given me since I last wrote anything down.

WOW: What a bonus for your readers that you’ve come back into the writing world. And thank you for sharing your techniques and writing wisdom with all of us. We hope to see more of your work before too long.

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Monday, May 14, 2018


When is a hamburger not a hamburger?

I found the perfect spot for a pre-Mother's Day dinner through online reviews. One said the place was small and the wait might be long, but we were able to skip a long wait and push two tables together to dine al fresco on the small sidewalk out front in what can be described as perfect weather.

What made me select this particular restaurant? The description of the featured dish. One reviewer called it "haunting," as in, the flavor will haunt you until you go back and eat there again. How could anyone ignore that recommendation? I couldn't, and was not disappointed.

The dish was the perfect mixture of sweetness and spice combined in a range of textures that could only be described as pleasurable. Crunchy noodles and tender chicken were abundant in the creamy sauce that spoke to me in the secret language of my ancestors. While I ate, my entire world consisted of the few inches between a white bowl on a black, metal table, and my face above it. But that space contained everything I needed. More than once I had to ask someone to repeat a comment or a question because I had gone missing in a bowl of soup.

The world is explained through metaphors, comparisons and similes. I love figurative language, and have been paying special attention to the way it's used to describe what we eat, where we eat it, and who is eating it. As the food movement in the U.S. continues to expand, dining out (or in) has become an art form, and foodies have developed their own jargon.

Food can be a metaphor for communion because it nourishes the body and soul as people come together to partake. Food also is a metaphor for sex, by satisfying our desires. There are many idioms related to food, and for a fun list, click the following link for examples.

Food also can play a big role when you write a character. A couple of examples from my book, Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, show how a writer can use food to make someone likable or distasteful (pun intended!).

He devoured life like he devoured a great meal, with zest and gusto.

He had a hearty appetite.

He wolfed down his food like he hadn't eaten in days, dropping globs of mashed potatoes and gravy on his shirt and tie.

I also love a good restaurant description, which helps the reader visualize the room with phrases like: several oversized tables crammed together in a too-small space, faded curtains, and a greasy, laminated menu.

Finally, I'll show you how a hamburger is more than just a hamburger in Glenn Savan's 1987 best-seller, White Palace:

They taste like sin would taste, if you could eat it--don't you think?

That's one of the greatest similes of all time. How are you using food in your writing?

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She received the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, and is suddenly hungry for White Castle hamburgers.

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