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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:

noun
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 Without taking a risk, I wonder how many authors would still be writing in notebooks with their works laying unpublished and unread?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. 
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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 www.karlajay.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AuthorKarlaJay.


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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Saturday, May 20, 2017

 

What To Do When You are Burnt Out

Writing is a solitary career--well, somewhat. The actual writing (not marketing or trying to get published) is between yourself and your writing instrument: pen and pad, fingers and keyboard, or voice and recorder. And sometimes we can get burnt out. Being burnt out is different than having writer's block. Burnt out refers to the fact that you still have ideas, but you aren't writing because you have no energy or desire to do so. I have found the cure for being "burnt out."

You must get yourself around other writers.

I'd been somewhat burnt out for a while. Part of it was just a busy life, but part of it was I had the ideas for a couple novels, parenting essays and my blog, but I wasn't making the time to write. Then I went to a writing conference. After one night, I was working on a novel I hadn't worked on since November!

Other writers make you want to write!

I know that it's not convenient or possible for every burnt out writer to go to a writing conference every time they feel this way. But besides a writing conference, here's how to find other writers--in real life. I'm not talking about a Facebook group. I'm talking about real, face-to-face contact with other writers for a period of time.

1. Go to your critique group

Sometimes, when we're burnt out, we tend to avoid our critique group because we have nothing to share. We haven't been writing, and so we are embarrassed, and we hide from the very people who want to help us become better writers. There's still tremendous value in going to your critique group and participating in critiques. It will usually inspire you to write; and at the very least, it keeps you in the game. It keeps you listening to other people's writing and discussing strengths and weaknesses.

2. Find a local writing group

In the St. Louis area, we have several chapters of national and state organizations that have regular meetings with speakers and other writers to encourage writers to continue in this sometimes lonely field. There are romance writers, St. Louis writers, children's writers, sci-fi writers, and more. Depending on how their parent organization works, some groups have inexpensive to no fees.

My point is you can attend these groups cheaply, and the rewards are invaluable. If you live in a rural area, I know it's harder. But contact a chapter nearest to you, and see what you can discover--maybe there are one or two writers that live near you and you can have your own small meetings. Remember the goal is face-to-face contact with writers in person on a regular basis.

3. Check out your library events

I've been preaching about this one a lot lately. But it is so true! Your local library will have authors in to speak. Some host writing events, especially during NaNoWriMo. They also are a good resource to discover if there are writing groups that meet there or other writers who are looking for a group.

Soon after the writing conference, my critique group was scheduled to meet. Being a single mom, I could not work it out to attend in person, so I was just going to skip it. But then I thought, doing Google Hangouts is better than nothing, so that's what I did. Even then, I was motivated and inspired to keep working on my projects. It's so true--writers need other writers--we understand each other on a different level. So if you are feeling burnt out, seek a writer you know or find a group and get re-inspired!

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and mom living in St. Louis, MO. For more information about her books, please check out her website, where she also blogs about being a single mom and writer. You can also check out her novel writing course here in the WOW! classroom. 

Photo above is my critique group a few years ago at a writing retreat.





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Friday, May 19, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Where Are My Darned Glasses?

by Barbara Studham

Our writers’ circle gathered around the table with pens and paper at hand. All eyes turned to the teacher.

Striving to get us writing, she displayed a large photograph.

“My husband is the photographer,” she proudly announced. “But this session is not about him. It is about you. Getting you writing. So, look at this photo and write down the first thing you see.”

I reached in my purse for my reading glasses. As I rifled through its contents, my heart fluttered. Where are my glasses? Darn it! I forgot to bring them! I stare hard at the photo, but it’s a blur. I see shadowy, colorful objects but little else.

Our teacher continued. “What do you see; an object, a landscape, an event?”

I try to focus. There appears to be something hanging from sticks. Is it water? Yes, I’ll write water. Oh no, here comes a second photo and I see even less. Lot’s of pink, I get that, but what is the subject?” Glancing discreetly to the floor where my purse now sits open, I pray my glasses will glint back at me.

“And how about this photo?” she asks She puts down the pink photo and raises the next. “What do you see?”

I glance around the table. All I see is the group furiously writing their answers. I stare at the new photo. There is a lot of orange, but I can’t make out the scene. I’ll write orange. After all, orange is the first thing I see, so orange it will be. For several agonizing minutes my ordeal continues. For each photo, I write a color. Purple… blue… green; darn it, how could I have forgotten my glasses?

Fifteen photos later, it is time to share. “I’m sure your answers are diverse,” the teacher says. “Who wants to share what they wrote?”

Not me. I shrink back in my chair and think. I need to appear I am not interested in sharing. I glance at the table and see my coffee. A long, slow sip will cover my disinterest, but as I reach for the cup, something from behind glints at me. It is my glasses! I must have laid them on the table when I first arrived. Darn it!

* * *
For the past twenty years, Barbara Studham has parented four grandchildren, all diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her two memoirs: Two Decades of Diapers and, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, The Teen Years, describe her challenges during their toddler years, and teens. She has also written fiction, including a six-book series titled, Under The Shanklin Sky; set in the seaside town of Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight. 

www.amazon.com/author/barbarastudham
www.barbarastudham.com
www.challengedhope.com


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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 18, 2017

 

Testing Tension: The Dot Test

I’m not a huge true crime fan but I couldn’t pass this one up. Reviews outlined events with everything needed for a fast-paced, exciting read – murder, illicit love, deceit, and the fact that the murderers are walking free among us.

Events had everything you need. The book itself? Meh. Somewhere along the way, the tension evaporated.

The earliest chapters weren’t part of the problem. Using carefully chosen details to create a scene, the author led up to the murder telling us about forbidden love and an impending separation brought about by a move to another continent. If only this one person didn’t stand in the way. A long walk, an isolated hill side and a brick took care of that particular person but when the police were called things didn’t add up. Tension grew as, in an act of betrayal, one young lover implicated the other.

Honestly, I expected my husband to hide the book so that I’d get something done, but then I turned the page. Plop.

Yep. Plop. That’s the sound of carefully constructed tension falling flat on its face. From here the author preceded to give us each main character’s family history for the ten years before the murder took place. Ten years of what this relative or that relative was doing could be exciting but in this particular instance it was not. In one chapter, all that carefully constructed tension melted away. I returned the book without finishing it.

Whether you are writing a murder mystery or piece of true crime nonfiction, you have to carefully build the tension in your story. Fail to do this and your would-be reader will go weed a flower bed or fold laundry. Believe me. I know. To help your reader avoid chores, perform the dot test on an early draft of your story. You can see an example in the graphic above.

Step 1: Take a sheet of paper and draw a horizontal line. Add a dot on the left end of the line and label it 1. This marks the level of tension in the first scene or chapter of your story.

Step 2: Now read the second scene or chapter. Does the tension remain the same? Then make a dot on the line to the right of #1. Label this dot 2. If the tension goes up, the dot should be slightly above the line. If it goes down, below the line.

From Step 3 through the end of manuscript. For each scene place another dot higher, on the same level as, or below the previous dot depending on whether the tension in your story increased, remained the same or decreased.

When you are done you will have a graph of the tension in your manuscript. If all is well, it will closely resemble a story arc graph with a consistent rise but also slight drops whenever your story changes direction.

If it doesn’t look like a story arc graph? Fix that tension! You don’t want a would-be reader to take your book back to the library unfinished.

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins June 12th. 

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

 

Naughty Words

Did you know you might be using "naughty" words in your writing?  I'm not talking about the four letter words I hear throughout the hallways of my high school. I'm talking about the words that will make your editor cringe.

When my editor sent me a list of words to reduce and their counts, my jaw hit the floor. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed these little words could be such a huge problem. Below are my biggest offenders.

1. Look

This pesky little word showed up over 300 times in my original manuscript. Phrases like “he looked surprised” or “she looked away” ran rampant. Though it hadn’t occurred to me at the time, this word is indicative to telling, not showing. Instead of using it, try to describe the character’s reaction using facial expressions or verbal reactions. Description makes for a more engaging scene.

2. Very

Luckily, I didn’t use this word quite as often as I used the word “look,” but I still had to wittle it down. The only way my editor let me keep it is if I couldn’t find any other alternative. When you think about it, it’s not needed, anyway.

3. Just

I used this word – a lot. It popped up everywhere. I used it the most in my character’s dialogue, however, so I discarded it as often as possible and only kept it in when my character needed to use it to make sense.

4. Adverbs

Not the word "adverbs" - I'm talking about all adverbs. Why say “she quickly ran” when you can use a more effective adjective like “sprinted?” Let the verbs speak for themselves. She didn’t “thoughtfully pause.” She paused. Try using terrified instead of “horribly scared.” Out of ideas? A thesaurus is a writer’s best friend.

5. Began

“Amy began to sweat.” Eh. “Sweat beads glistened on her skin.” Better.

6. Felt

Unless I used the word for something the character could literally feel, I had to get rid of it. So my main character couldn’t feel sad, but she could feel the soft fur of her cat. Get it? We often use the word feel to describe emotions but, again, it’s a showing vs telling issue. Instead of writing “she felt sad,” have your main character throw herself on the bed and sob into her purple pillow.

7. Was

The word “was” was (ha ha) my biggest transgression. I used it over 800 times. I’m not joking. For days, I poured over my manuscript, eradicating the word. Each time I took out a “was” I had to re-work the sentence to make it more effective. Trust me, once you’ve been through the trauma of eliminating the same word over 800 times, you’ll never overuse it again.


Word elimination is torture. It is also eye-opening. I keep a list handy, now, so that I can eliminate the majority of my “naughty words” ahead of time - before I submit my work to agents or publishers. Everyone is prone to using certain words. If you’re aware of your favorites, try to keep their numbers down.

Feeling brave? Try searching for some of the words above. You might be surprised how often they appear.


Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

 

Interview with Roberta Anthes: 2016 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Roberta’s Bio:

Roberta lives in Fairfax, California with her boyfriend, Wil, and his daughter, Zoe. She tutors part time at The College of Marin and is a caregiver to her mother, Dorothy. She has previously published non-fiction in The Southern California Review and fiction in The Writer’s Digest Show Us Your Shorts Collection.

Before she ran off to California with Wil, she was the Head Women’s Cross Country, Track and Field Coach at Rutgers University in New Jersey for twenty-three years. She also taught Expository Writing at Rutgers, where she earned a Ph.D. in English in 1982. An avid runner herself, she was the first woman to compete in the sport at Villanova University as an undergraduate. Her novella, My Bo and Me, was based on her experiences as a coach and athlete and placed in the Miami University Novella Contest.

She is grateful to Tom Centolella and all the writers in his creative writing class for their insights and ongoing support over the years.

Take the time to read Roberta’s story, "House Rules," and then come back to see what she has to say about writing this story and writing in general.

WOW: What was the inspiration behind “House Rules”?

Roberta: First, I’d like to thank you for recognizing my story in your wonderful contest.  I’m thrilled to have taken part and to be recognized among such fine writers.  Your staff has been so encouraging as well, and that means a lot to a novice writer.

Two things inspired the story:  the character of my former landlady when I was in my twenties and a break-up with my then-boyfriend.  In real life, my boyfriend left a stuffed animal in the vestibule with a note.  My landlady called me up right away to let me know.  But I wondered what would’ve happened if she had chosen not to call me!  I decided to write the story to find out.  I didn’t know the ending, really, until I wrote it. I just got into her head and let her talk.


WOW: How do you decide which details to include and which to leave out? For example, we learn the dog’s name but not the boyfriend’s name.

Roberta: This is a great question. I tried to stay in character, so to speak, and chose details as I thought she would’ve chosen them.  Cuddles, the dog, was integral to her life and someone she would acknowledge by name. The boyfriend was someone she wanted gone, and by not naming him she could, in a sense, deny his existence.

I should confess that this story was 1250 words when I first wrote it. I was stuck for something to write for my writing class and looked up a random prompt online.  The prompt said to dig out an old story that somehow didn’t make it. Then, without re-reading it, reduce it to its essence.  I decided to take a shot at it with this story.  When I finished, I could not believe that I had cut out approximately 750 words!  When I finally did re-read the original story, I also couldn’t believe that I once thought all those other words and details were interesting.  What was I thinking?!  In this case, less was definitely more.  I’d kept Mrs. Bradley’s character intact and was able to tell the story without the irrelevancies that had somehow charmed me in the first draft.  Perhaps the fact that the story had sat in a drawer for several years made it easier for me to give those details up.  I was less attached.


WOW:  That’s quite a reduction in total word count. Great job! But you are also an academic. What did you learn working towards your PhD in English that our readers would find helpful?

Roberta: Hmmmm . . . certainly I read lots of incredible literature and that gave me some insight into what it looked like.  Analyzing great writing made me realize how important each word is, what the rhythm of a sentence did for the flow of a work, how form and punctuation helped define meaning. It brought me in very close to what it meant to compose.

But writing about literature and actually trying to create it feel very different to me.  I’ve never viewed myself as a very creative person; academia, although quite difficult, came more easily.  I felt more comfortable (and maybe less exposed?) when reviewing someone else’s writing than when trying to put my own on a blank page. 

The other aspect of grad study that helped me, and would help anyone trying to write, is the discipline required.  Earning the PhD was an endurance exercise.  I wish I could marshal more of that focus now when trying to write fiction.


WOW: Tell us about your writing routine.  How has it changed since you retired?

Roberta: Well, I never had any routine before I retired because I was always working and had no time to write.  I think I wrote one creative piece in 23 years!  As a college track coach, I recruited in the evening and traveled on the weekends. And as a teacher I was always grading papers.  So my writing only began once I retired.  

At first, I was pretty dedicated and would write each day.  I got up each morning, went for a run, ate breakfast, and then sat down for a few hours to write. I attended Tom Centolella’s writing class at The College of Marin and loved, loved, loved going back to school and having someone else teach me.  He was and still is an inspiring teacher.  

But now, as a caregiver to my mom, I find less and less time and energy for writing. I remember reading about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s experience at Brook Farm, where a community of fabulous writers thought working the land together would enrich their writing. But real life on the farm was exhausting, and they found it very difficult to be creative after a hard day’s work.  I find that to be true now as well.  Caregiving is enriching in its own way and I wouldn’t trade it, but it leaves little room for pondering and ruminating—which I find necessary for writing. So, these days, I try to improve some old pieces like House Rules and write short pieces when I can.


WOW:  A lot of our readers are probably in the same position, trying to squeeze writing in around family responsibilities.  Like you, they might find that writing short and rewriting might be the way to go.  What final words of advice do you have for anyone who is new to writing flash fiction?

Roberta: The “flash” is important, so the prose can’t have much heaviness.  Put it all down on paper and then re-work and distill.  Put it aside for a while and then come back to it.  You’ll be a bit more ruthless once you’ve let go of those favorite phrases and details that may be weighing your prose down.  Also, read it to your friends and fellow writers.  If they don’t “get it,” believe them and review your story.  I had a lot of trouble understanding why my friends didn’t grasp my 1250 word version of House Rules.  But they were right and I’m glad they were honest.

WOW:  Thank you for your answers!  Using POV to determine what details to
include would also help strengthen my characters.  Thank you for the advice.  I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

Interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards

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Monday, May 15, 2017

 

Finding Balance

Do you struggle to find a balance in your life? Or do you feel like you're part of a busy circus just trying to stay on top of everything? Maybe it's not in your writing life...maybe it's just life in general. Mother's Day yesterday got me thinking about how unbalanced my life has become lately. I decided to get back to basics to find that stability once again.

My life didn't become unbalanced over night, so before I share some tips for getting back on track, I need to remind you (and myself) to be patient as you navigate this process.

*Look back and figure out when things became unbalanced. Were you saying yes to too many people? Did you take on too many projects? Did you make your garden too big? Did you go shopping too often and now you have a large debt to pay so you decided to work too many hours? ( the answer to this question is going to be different for each of us; take some time to reflect on the last time you felt truly balanced and peaceful then jot down a few ideas about when it was you got off track)

*Get back to your goals. If you have them written down, pull out your goals and put them somewhere easily accessible. If you don't have them written down - WRITE THEM DOWN (the bigger the better).

*Make lists. Make a few lists, one list should be the things you absolutely love doing and must do to make you feel complete (ie: spending time with your children, volunteering at the food pantry, date night with your loved one, etc...) and the other list should be the things that have become "have to" chores for you (ie: that monthly moms meeting that leaves you feeling like a failure, the board you agreed to join just because you couldn't say no, the writing project you accepted that is absolutely a bore, etc...)

*Compare your lists. The items on the I LOVE list are going to renew and inspire you, the items on the HAVE TO list are going to exhaust you and are the ones adding to your unbalanced life. Decide which things on the I LOVE list you should be doing more often, and decide which items on the HAVE TO list could be excluded easily. (You likely still have to put away laundry and scrub floors, but that once a month board meeting for the Tea Drinking Sisters of Walworth County could likely be eliminated without any angst).

*Quit. Quit doing things that suck the joy out of your life. Make your decision and stick to it. There's going to be someone who will try to talk you out of eliminating the joy sucking activities out of your life, but stick to your guns. As soon as you start doing more of what you love and less of what steals your joy you'll find your balance.

*Enjoy! Feel free to keep your lists front and center (hopefully with your goals). You can cross off items as you stop doing them. As your HAVE TO list shrinks and your I LOVE list grows you'll get back to the joy of a balanced life. For most of us reading this, that means time to read, time to write, time to daydream and be creative. Spring is a great time for this new start - ENJOY!


Hugs,
~Crystal



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 E due in fall 2017), 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.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

 

Building a writing life

Like thousands of moms across the country, I spent yesterday in a school gym -- one spruced up with banners, plants and white folding chairs but underneath all the decorations a place that is normally reserved for physical achievements. It was my daughter's college graduation and, as I struggled to pinpoint the graduation cap with a green sparkly border among a sea of caps sporting flowers, LED lights, photos and origami, one of the speakers paraphrased former President Barack Obama when reminding the graduates, "Remember you didn't build this life yourself."

That sentence resounded with me because my children -- the one sitting down on the floor in her white folding chair, the one next to me in the nosebleed section of the bleachers and the one relegated to the "overflow" gymnasium with the giant video screen showing graduation -- were the reason I became a writer. I had been writing for a lifetime but, in search of a way to be at home with my children while still contributing financially to my family, I focused on writing that actually paid.

As a thank you for the countless hours I spent playing dollhouse, baking cookies and chaperoning field trips my children provided an endless source of inspiration. I wrote about children's books, science fair and family vacations. Each childhood problem, interest and accomplishment became fair game for my writing. My writing including their embarrassing childhood stories, ones they hoped their friends wouldn't recognize because I never mentioned them by name.

As infants they snuggled on my lap as I typed one-handed. As toddlers they accompanied me to do research. As children they became accustomed to my insane hand motions that demanded silence when an editor called. As teens they spent supper time listening to me mull over writing ideas or interviews. They have been to book signings, speaking engagements, and writers conferences (only because there was a pool in the hotel). They can probably do my elevator speech better than I can -- one even got me a speaking opportunity.

It wasn't just words that built my writing life, it was my children. Who helped build your writing life?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

 

Peaks and Valleys

While watching a skateboarding video, (don't ask!) I noticed the complicated tricks and feats of balance and anti-gravitational forces that seemed to make the skateboard dudes fly. Like sailing, it looks effortless, but there's a lot of work involved as they glided back and forth through the half pipe preparing for their flips and twists.

Although the peaks are the highlights, I also paid attention to the valleys, which is where they laid solid foundations for their moments of glory. The valleys are where these young men steadied themselves, gaining speed and momentum, preparing to conquer the next feat of anti-gravitational wonder.

Watching the steady pace and repetition of the peaks and valleys made me realize that our fictional characters live most of their lives in the valleys, with peak moments that may be spectacular, but not sustainable. Many protagonists live quietly, for the most part, but at one point may be dragged into a situation that calls for heroism or bravery. And they are brave or act heroically, but it usually doesn't last.

As writers, we need to plan for those valleys and use them effectively, like the skateboarders. Maybe this is where a character regains his balance. Holding a picture of a child may help her realize what's important. This also may be accomplished through conversations that explain motivations, or literal movement as the characters navigate the terrain to get where they need to be. These are the valleys. It's what happens between the peaks as the plot unfolds.

Many novels and stories fall apart because there isn't much between the peaks. The writer didn't do his or her best to move the plot along. It's harder to write in the valley, but that's where the real work pays off. The steady flow of information allows the reader to understand the story as it moves forward.

Tonight I watched an old prison movie called Canon City, based on a true story. Part drama, part documentary, the story followed the actual events of 12 escapees from a Colorado prison in the 1940s. An unseen narrator gave some information in the form of a voice-over, while most events were played out by the actors.

The movie features some dramatic scenes of the actual escape, and of course tension builds as we wonder if they will get caught. But between the scenes of high tension, the story unfolds on a deeper level as we learn a little about the convicts' backgrounds. The interactions between the convicts and the innocent people in the houses they invaded could be considered the valleys.

Staying calm for the sake of their families, these men and women often struggled to keep conversations normal. One woman offers hot cocoa on the frigid night, and in the kitchen cabinet where she keeps it, finds a weapon. It's a simple scene. She opens a cabinet, and there it is. Another one asks how the convict likes his eggs. "Straight up," he said, like he was ordering at a diner.

In my favorite scene, a child puts a cat on the lap of an escapee, which the man holds and pets. The convict petting a kitty may not be memorable, but it's an important scene in "the valley," where there's not much action. But we see a bit of humanity in that simple gesture, which foreshadows the dramatic peak to come.

So as much fun as it may be to write about someone flying through the air in a dramatic peak, don't forget to provide a solid landing in the valley.


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, available through High Hill Press and Amazon. She also teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Being Nosy Made Me a Better Writer


by H. Lovelyn Bettison

I've always been a bit of a nosy Nancy. Even as a child eating dinner with my family in the local diner, the conversation at the booth behind us seemed a lot more interesting than what was going on at our table. Then my eavesdropping was a bit more apparent. I'd turn around in my seat to face the people whose conversation I was not so discreetly overhearing. My parents didn't seem to mind, and I was a clueless five-year-old who hadn't yet mastered the fine art of eavesdropping.

As I grew up, I learned to be stealthier, but I still couldn't help myself. Some conversations are too juicy to ignore, like the tragic breakup I overheard at a truck stop when I was in college. I sat enthralled slowly eating my French fries as the sobbing woman seated in the booth behind me begged her boyfriend for a second chance. That incident inspired one of my first attempts at writing flash fiction.

Do you ever catch a little snippet of conversation and then find yourself wondering what on earth is going on? You overhear the guy walking by you on his cell phone say, "That would be a perfect place to hide a body." Propelled by curiosity, you follow him for a few blocks trying to hear every word he says into his phone. Then you realize that if he notices what you're doing, he might be trying to hide your body next. That's never happened to me either, but wouldn't it be interesting if it did?

Friends and family find my habit of overhearing things a bit annoying, but when it came time for me to write my first novel, I realized that I wasn't nosy I was studying. Listening in on other people's conversations helped me understand the ebb and flow of natural dialogue. I paid attention to the type of words people used when they spoke to each other and how they paused in between those words. Various speech patterns and cadences were second nature to me.

If you find yourself struggling with dialogue, go out and practice your nosiness. Eavesdropping can do more than improve your written dialogue; it can inspire new plot lines. Visit your local coffee shop or the grocery store with a purpose in mind. See how many snippets of conversations you can overhear. I like to make this into a bit of an exercise.

I'll go someplace and listen to the people around me until I find a fascinating piece of conversation It could be something totally outrageous that makes me wonder, or it could be something a bit more mundane said in an unusual way. I like to use those pieces of conversations as jumping-off points for stories.

Don't be shy. Get out and start eavesdropping today. When it comes time to write your next story, you'll be glad you did.

* * *


Friday Speak Out!: Being Nosy Made Me a Better Writer
 is a writer who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She writes subtle love stories with supernatural elements. Find out more about her books on her website. lovelynbettison.com

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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 11, 2017

 

Getting Your Mojo Back

I love the word “mojo.” It’s terribly apropos for so many professionals—athletes, performers, writers. Because it does feel like magic sometimes, when you’re in the zone, when characters are vibrant and the plot hums along and the voice sings and dang. The work practically writes itself!

So when you lose your mojo, it’s the pits. Characters are flat, the plot plods, and the voice…well, you can’t find the right voice for love nor money. And you are in the pits of despair. But cheer up! I’ve found a couple of ways to get my mojo back and one might work for you. Except we’ll need to start with some more words I love:



You can’t beat Lord of the Rings for inspiration. And so let’s begin by giving ourselves permission to wander.

Sometimes, I walk; not always wandering in scenic surroundings, though there are lots of parks nearby and I highly recommend taking brisk strolls through our natural wonders. But I walk up and down my stairs, too, or on my treadmill. I’m pretty sure all my walking has pumped a lot more oxygen into my brain, and I like to think that’s pumped up my mojo. I don’t have scientific evidence to prove this mojo theory, but at the very least, it’s pumping up my heart and helping my back, so I’m sticking with the walking.

Sometimes, I’ll wander through the stuff that’s accumulated in my house. I’ll attack one of my closets or an entire room and wander as I sort out the keep and giveaway piles. Sifting through memories is not always an easy exercise, but it can be stimulating, both mentally and emotionally.

I’ve wandered into reading, but choosing books way off my usual path. And so I’ve found a new love in memoirs, and I’ve found solace for my soul in the spiritual books given to me by friends. It’s been challenging, wandering into subjects and people’s lives so different from mine. And yet, it’s been fascinating as well, going beyond my years-old boundaries.

And at long last, I wandered into writing, but not the writing I’ve always done. A singer-musician friend of mine sometimes sends me lyrics for feedback, and in a reckless moment recently I said, “We really need to work on lyrics. You can do this!” And she said, “Yes, let’s collaborate! Thursday works for me!”

So on Thursdays, now, I wander into songwriting, and gosh, it’s exciting. And then suddenly, I found myself wandering back into other writing, like picture books, and I had to sit down fast and write up those stories.

It’s magical, that feeling of needing to write. And so it turns out, I was never lost to my writing, I was only wandering. Which brings me to the final words I have for you as you struggle with your dreams and goals:





Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. She has a thing for words, especially quotes, and so she'll often use Quozio to fancy up her sayings. You can use it, too. It's free! And happy wandering!





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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

 

3 Tips From a First Pages Reading Session

On Friday night, I took part in a First Pages Read at the Missouri Writers' Guild Conference. What this means is that a moderator read aloud a brave audience member's first page of a manuscript, and my fellow panel members and I rose our hand at the moment we would stop reading (if it was a submission). On this panel sat agents, editors, and authors; and once three of us put a hand up, the moderator stopped reading and asked us why we would have rejected the manuscript.

This is a powerful conference session, even if it is not your work that is being read. You can learn from the very gatekeepers who must accept your work to be published WHY they would turn something down.

Here are 3 points that panel members said more than once about various manuscripts:

1. Watch out for back story on page one or even chapter one. Panel members agreed time and again that if at all possible, keep back story out of the beginning of your book. You need to move the story forward, and it needs to have conflict and the problem right there on page one. Save the important back story until a few pages into the book or chapter two.

2. The protagonist needs to be identifiable on page one of the manuscript. One of the stories took place on a football field. The action was well written, but there were a lot of characters named. It was hard to pinpoint which character we were going to be cheering for throughout the story; and because of that, many of us started to gloss over while reading the play by play. The point was made by one of the literary agents that the hero or heroine needs to shine on page one--they need to be in the spotlight, so we know whose story this is.  

3. Make sure to show the reader what is happening through action instead of telling the reader. Many of us make the same mistakes at the beginning of a manuscript, and one of the biggest is trying to fit too much information in the first page to make sure the reader understands what is happening. This results in a lot of "telling". When possible, you need to have action at the beginning of the story. How can you let the reader know what a great ski instructor your main character is? Show her winning an award or skiing down a mountain with students or receiving a job promotion. Think of an event or a scene where you can show what you need to begin the story and introduce readers to the protagonist and problem.

The first page of your manuscript is all you have to catch an agent's or editor's attention. But it is also all you have to catch a reader's attention. So it's worth writing and re-writing to get it right with these tips above!

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and mom living in St. Louis, MO. For more information about her books, please check out her website, where she also blogs about being a single mom and writer. You can also check out her novel writing course here in the WOW! classroom. 



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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

 

Interview with Mary Tonne Schaefer: 2016 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Mary’s Bio:

I’ve made up stories inside my head since childhood, but a 2015 “break-out of-my-comfort zone” self-challenge included the high hurdle of actually moving creative writing into real life to share with others. (My prior fiction audience was captive: my children and now my grandchildren listening to the continuing exploits of Toddly, an enviably wildly disobedient child we imagine together.) To venture outside my career area which completely comprised nonfiction writing, I found WOW! classes and began sharing, encouraged by teachers and virtual class mates.

My own early teaching was language arts in the Midwest where I grew up and studied English, journalism and school library (Iowa State University and Purdue). From then on, instructional and technical writing was my only focus. When we moved to the East coast where we now live, my Apple IIe and I telecommuted for over a dozen years, editing a monthly digest, Information Retrieval & Library Automation. Later, I created and managed research libraries/web-based training centers for four DC-area high tech companies, including an outreach that designed modules teaching classroom teachers to use social media in education. Now, I’m excited to explore further into fiction and also to corral my life experiences in a memoir form.

If you haven't done so already, check out Mary's award-winning story "Trending" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in WOW!’s Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?

Mary: Social and political topics, social media, and bullying involve important, highly visible, much-discussed and polarizing issues. I was interested in bringing them into focus through a “regular” person’s eyes, the mom, Jessica, in “Trending.” The hope was to present how “invasive” these issues are and how people use creativity and caring (and chance) to turn negatives into positives.

WOW: This was a great way to discuss some very important issues. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?

Mary: I love to write. Now that I’m taking the leap—and the time—to try to write creatively, there’s almost nothing that I don’t love about this experience. (Perhaps the negative is the household tasks undone, but I’ll think about those tomorrow.) I like the challenges, especially the efforts to make my ideas clear in the minds of others. I like the changes and expansions I have to make in my approaches and the new ways I need to try to look at things and express them.

WOW: I love to hear that you’re tackling the challenges head on—and enjoying them! Ignoring the household tasks while working on a creative project is a huge challenge, so kudos to you for being able to do it. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Mary: Like others, I’m always reading more than one book at a time. Right now I am about half way through Lauren Slater’s Lying because I’m taking the WOW! Women Writers' Book Group: Building Meaning in a Memoir online class with the amazing Chelsey Clammer.

I’m also reading two ‘books about books’ or with stories within a story because that’s a theme I’m interesting in exploring. One nearly finished is My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Bachman which centers on make believe stories a grandmother and granddaughter imagine and how these stories of love and empathy carry each through the difficulties of life (and death).

I’m also about one fourth of the way through Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan, an intriguing read on the world of digital communications and technology and its supposed antithesis, a real world, print books store offering mystical explorations you have to experience for yourself.

WOW: Excellent! A nice array of purposefully chosen literature. Please tell us more about how you broke out of your comfort zone to share your creative writing. What prompted you to do such a brave thing?

Mary: First, thank you for saying it was brave! I imagine all writers feel that their writing is a big piece of themselves and so, in sharing it, you are putting your personal creation and your creativity up for public inspection! When I was a technical writer, it was easy because my livelihood was dependent on it. Creative writing opens an exciting window to explore (and create) times and places, ideas and memories, and … !

WOW: Yes! Creative writing is like offering a little piece of your heart and soul for an audience, which is brave but can also be very rewarding. If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Mary: When I first began, my advice would have been “Just do it!” That still applies, but now I’ve learned that nothing creative (or at least in my own creativity) is diminished by being disciplined, focused and even setting my own deadlines. If I don’t do that, I don’t get things done. So, now beyond that, my advice to myself and others is “Believe in yourself … you and your ideas are worth it!”

WOW: Thank you for that insight! Anything else you’d like to add?

Mary: Thank you so much for this interview and huge thanks to WOW! for the innovative teaching and creating platform!

WOW: Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses. Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.

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