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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

 

Meet Cate Touryan, Second Place Winner in the Spring 2017 Flash Fiction Contest

Like many others, Cate always wanted to be a writer when she grew up—and a writer she became. Except not the kind of writer she’d envisioned. With an MA in English and a JD in law, she built a career as a technical writer, editor, university instructor, and business owner. Five years ago, she moved back to her hometown of San Luis Obispo, California, from a long stint in Sacramento, leaving her career (mostly) behind and returning to fiction.

When she’s not editing engineering reports or teaching technical writing for forensic scientists in the crime labs, she is working on short stories, creative nonfiction, and a second novel. She lives with her husband and daughter a stone’s throw from her childhood home (and her mom), and recently secured an agent for her first novel. She has found that the best way to live each day is by taking walks with her dog (and her mom) and by faith.

To connect with Cate, please find her here...

connect@catetouryan.com

Website: catetouryan.com
Facebook: facebook.com/catetouryan
Twitter: twitter.com/catetouryan


interview by Renee Roberson

WOW:  Cate, congratulations on placing in the contest and welcome! On your website you discussed how your winning entry, " A Note in the Margin," was inspired by a dear friend and neighbor of yours who suffered from progressive aphasia. Was this a difficult piece to write being so close to home?

Cate: If there’s an authentic way to write about things that aren’t close to home, I’d like to know about it! Yes, it was close to home, both because “Maggie” (Theresa) was my friend and neighbor for almost 20 years and also because she was a writer, a fellow artist. So, yes, on several levels, it was difficult, but what was far more difficult was watching a brutal disease rob a gifted, accomplished poet of her words and a remarkable woman of herself—as well as to watch a son lose his mother, a husband his wife. I intended the story as a tribute to her and to them, to the way she lived and to the way she died. And, of course, I very much wanted not just to write but to share her story—her strength, her beauty, her sorrow. A story is not as good as its number of readers, but a good story only finds completion when read. Thus, my immense gratitude to WOW for the opportunity to give the story readers.

When I learned that the story had made it through the first round, I emailed Theresa’s husband to tell him I’d written a piece dedicated to his wife and telling a fictionalized version of her story, concerned that its publication might pain him. He responded with gratitude, saying, “The story honors her and the outward humility and dignity with which she faced her illness,” which was exactly what I’d hoped.

He also asked if I’d attended the poetry reading I describe in the story. I hadn’t, but she had told me about it, about her words disappearing, slurring. She was surprisingly open with me about her diagnosis, and while I tried to remain encouraging and sympathetic, I recoiled with every detail she shared, stunned that she, a poet, writer, and a speaker, of all people, would lose her words. And as a fellow writer, I couldn't think of a worse fate. The least I could do was honor her with the very thing she’d lost.

Writing this story was my gathering and laying of flowers for a friend. But it was also more than that: it was a way to work through my own heartache. Writing often takes both the writer and the reader on a redemptive journey, and that journey, I find, compels much of my writing.

WOW: What a fitting tribute to Theresa's life, and something for her family to also cherish in her absence. Switching gears, you also work as a writing consultant and have edited many technical, business and scientific documents. How do you separate writing and editing technical documents from your creative writing endeavors? They are so vastly different!

Cate: Yes, well, one must resist the urge to wax poetic while discussing strategies to minimize business interruption risks from cable tray fires in power plants. My master’s degree is in English, with my emphasis in creative writing, so I fell into technical writing quite by accident. In some ways, technical writing is much easier than fiction writing. It’s factual, straightforward, efficient, concise, relies on common sense, plain English, and a solid understanding of grammar and style. You do need to be creative, but not in conceiving ideas, rather in presenting them most effectively to the intended audience. Creative writing, on the other hand, requires you to partner with God. I say that only somewhat facetiously, echoing Madeleine L’Engle’s sentiments in Walking on Water: “God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.”

As far as how I separate technical writing and editing from my creative writing endeavors, the answer is “very poorly.” It’s a hopeless affair. I simply do the one when deadlines loom at the engineering firm or crime lab and do the other when I can procrastinate just a bit longer. But the shifting of gears can be heard several blocks away, I assure you.

WOW: I love that. So honest! We'd also love to hear about your work designing a program teaching technical writing for forensic scientists. What did that entail?

Cate: After I earned my MA in English, I taught academic writing for the Sacramento community colleges part-time for ten years. At 35, I entered law school, graduated at 38, took and passed the California bar, and then six weeks shy of my 40th birthday had my second daughter.
Instead of practicing law or returning to the college campus, I found myself given an unexpected opportunity: teaching business writing to employees of government agencies. Living in the state capital with its hub of government agencies, I was in the right place at the right time. One of these agencies was the Sacramento County Crime Lab, which sought an instructor with education in both English and law. Voila, my career in forensic science was born! Eventually, I was asked to develop a writing course for the California Criminalistics Institute, which I’ve taught now for almost 20 years and which I’ve taken to many crime labs throughout the state. After many years teaching that course, I was invited to develop a course for the newly instated Master of Forensic Science program at the University of California, Davis, Extension. No one has been more surprised at how my career path evolved than I!

WOW:  Please tell us more about your upcoming novel, "Turning Toward Eden." Is it a young adult book?

Cate: Quite possibly! But I hope it’s more and crosses ages and genders. It’s for anyone who ever descended into adolescence and resurfaced (questionable for some perhaps), for anyone who loves a coming-of-age story or just a good story. Set in a small California beach town in 1971, it’s a little bit mystery, a little bit adventure, a little bit teenage angst, a little bit xenophobia, a lot bit redemption, and dedicated to my brother who is severely disabled and who inspired one of the characters. The tagline is “When chasing another is easier than facing yourself.”

(And the logline is “After her father walks out, a resentful 14-year-old finds herself burdened with a secret shame and trapped in a family she no longer wants. When an elusive stranger is rumored to be behind a series of disturbing events that rattle the town, she sets out to discover the stranger’s secret only to find that the enemy she chases is herself and the secret her own.”)

As exciting as the novel is (of course I’m going to say that!), the story behind the novel is worth telling for the encouragement I hope it offers other writers. I began writing the novel 20 years ago, but worked on it only sporadically over the next two decades, my time devoted to caring for my family and building my business as an editor and writing instructor—a tale familiar to many working mothers, I think. In late summer 2015, six of my high school friends gathered in my home for a weekend of reminiscing and girl fun, kayaking, shopping coastal boutiques, sitting by the firepit under the stars. Eight weeks later, one of these friends was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and three weeks later, she was gone.

As we’d sat around the firepit, she had shared so many hopes and dreams for her upcoming year, taking ballroom dancing classes, writing songs, flying to Paris in the spring with her mother. So many of us live for that day “when.” That’s what I was doing, waiting for that day when I could devote myself to writing and finish that languishing novel.

Reeling from her unexpected death, I took a page from Alice (in Wonderland) and boxed my own ears, determining that before my 60th birthday the next year, I’d complete the novel, never mind whether it was good or not—and by then I was pretty sure it wasn’t. It would be a gift to myself and a tribute to my childhood friend. My resolve got a huge boost when a couple months later an excerpt won the Grand Prize at the 2016 San Francisco Writing Contest. If I wanted to back out now, I couldn’t. Expectations were running high that I finish the story. And finish the story I did. Anything beyond that—securing an agent, finding a publisher, entertaining readers—is icing on the cake. Of course, some of us prefer icing to cake, but the truth is that doing what you set out to do is its own very sweet success. And yes, it can happen even at 60. But don’t wait for the “when.”

WOW: Thank you so much for this interview, Cate! Before you go, can you share with us what you are writing these days?

Cate: I’ve just finished a creative nonfiction piece (and thus I’m very glad to see that category added to the WOW contests), a category new to me, much like flash fiction, which I learned about only in the last two years—my head’s been buried too long in tech writing obviously. I also have a middle grade novel I’m sketching out—two, actually. As much fun as I think writing those will be, I think they might be delay tactics for another adult novel that’s been brewing for a while. Then again, until we try, I don’t think we really know what our strongest suit is. That’s one of the wonderful things about writing—discovering how best to say what it is we want to say.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

 

3 Tips From Margaret Atwood, Author of Handmaid's Tale

c Jean Malek
I was incredibly lucky to hear author Margaret Atwood speak in St. Louis last week. She received the St. Louis Literary Award; and with this honor, she also gave a speech and was interviewed on stage. Amazing! I wrote about the surreal experience on my blog here, if you want to hear about the ins and outs of how to see a famous author when you don't even have the proper ticket...but on WOW!'s blog, I thought I would tell you three things about writing that I learned from Margaret's speech.

  1. Know what underwear your character wears. I've heard a lot of writing advice over the years, but this is the first time someone has said: know the underwear. Of course, the audience chuckled about a 77-year-old successful literary author give this advice, but she was not kidding. Her point was that you need to know your character and setting inside and out. You need to research until you've figured out if your character wears tighty whities or Victoria Secret's latest or none at all. Think about it: if your character is going for an extremely important interview that will change her life, what underwear would she choose and why? If you can figure this out, then you know your character and she will come to life on the page.
  2. Are you a "messy" writer or organized? She called herself a messy writer--most people refer to this type of writer as a pantser. Margaret told a story that when she was starting out, she thought she should get more organized and plot her books. Then she wrote a novel based on this plotting, and she said it was terrible. She realized she is a messy writer, and she may not work like others--but what she does works for her. (Obviously). Now, I'm not here to tell you that she said anything earth-shattering like everyone should be a pantser vs a plotter. But what I learned from this moment is that Margaret Atwood tried something else, and it didn't work, and so she knows herself. She is secure in what works for her creatively. She is not scared to take risks; but if they don't pay off, she'll go back to what she knows and what works. This is something as artists we should all do!
  3. Don't take  yourself so seriously! Two days before appearing in St. Louis, she was at The Emmys! In case you haven't heard, her book The Handmaid's Tale was made into a series on Hulu, and it won a bunch of awards. It was apparent that she enjoyed every minute of her experiences with this episode in her life, and she shared how she even had a cameo in the pilot episode. But the funniest part was when she talked about how "they" sent someone to do her make-up, and this person also wondered if she wanted them to do her hair. She was laughing at herself and her hair, and she just radiated joy. I thought: here is woman with so many important things to say, whose books have great success, who lived every writer's dream and attended a big award's ceremony, and who laughs about her wild hair and how no one can do anything with it. At that moment, I thought: This is why she is so successful--she knows human beings. She knows women--we all have a thing about our hair. 
Cathy C. Hall, who also writes for this blog, visited my personal blog and read my account of how I actually got into the concert hall to hear Margaret speak. (It was not easy.) But Cathy's comment was: "I’m often surprised about big name authors, that one can see ’em if you just show up!" It's true. I encourage you to attend one of these talks in your area if you are able. Every single time I have, I have learned something new and valuable.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. To take her novel writing course, which starts October 6, please see the details here. To find out more about her, please see her website: http://www.margoldill.com



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Sunday, September 24, 2017

 

Interview with Author Miranda Nichols

About Miranda:

Miranda Nichols is an up and coming author in the fantasy romance genre. She's currently a student working towards her degree in creative writing. When she isn't studying or writing, you can find her curled up with a glass of wine and a steamy romance novel. Like the smell of fresh popcorn, her fantasy romances tempt you and keep you coming back for more!


Find Miranda online:
website: https://www.mirandanicholsauthor.com/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/author.mirandanichols/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mnichols_author

...............interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your upcoming book, Blood Awakening,  and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me for our readers here at WOW!

I understand you are working with Stephanie Hansen and Metamorphosis Literary Agency – how did you end up choosing this particular agent and agency? What has been a highlight of this partnership thus far?

Miranda: That’s actually kind of a funny story. Stephanie and I worked together for about a year writing for a propane industry newsletter. I had no idea she worked for a literary agency and she had no idea I had written a book. She actually found out about my novel through another coworker who had read it and she approached me about wanting to read it too. It was probably another year or so after that I signed with Metamorphosis.

I can’t say enough about how much Stephanie has helped and encouraged me through the whole process of getting published. As a student, I had some reservations about even submitting Blood Awakening to any publishers to begin with. Stephanie really encouraged me to put my work out there and at least get some feedback from industry professionals about whether or not my writing was something that anyone was looking for – or if it was even ready for publishing. I was lucky enough to get some great feedback and eventually even an offer from Torrid Books within a few months of our first submission. Stephanie’s support has been a rock for me from the beginning and will surely continue to be through the rest of my career.

WOW:    What an inspirational story - I'm so glad we started with that question. I'm sure reading about your experience is going to help some of our up and coming authors! Now tell us more!

What is your writing process? How do you make time for writing and/or do you have a particular space that inspires you?

Miranda: I hesitate to say I have a process. Writing for me has always been my hobby. It wasn’t something I ever had to make time for, more like that was how I spent my free time. When I started planning out the Immortal Sleepers series I was at a point where all of the series I was currently reading were in-between books and I was struggling to find another book to read; so I decided to try writing my own. I got the first four chapters of Blood Awakening done in five days. After that was a full year before the manuscript was finished.

I tend to write linearly. I don’t really like to jump around during story development. When I sit down to write, I can see what I’m writing playing in my head like a scene in a movie and that’s how it translates to the paper. I have a general plot outline to start, but I never really know how my characters are going to react until I put them in a situation. For that reason, the original plotline can sometimes change depending on how the characters interact with a certain conflict. Most of the time I get the dialogue down first and then fill in the rest of the scene around it. If anyone were in the room with me when I’m flushing out a scene they would probably think I was a little off my rocker as I have a tendency to read my dialogue aloud – in full character voice, of course.

I often draw inspiration from other books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen. I’m one of those people who don’t really like firm endings. I like for stories to continue on forever. So I often find myself dreaming up scenarios of what happened after the credits roll or the last page is turned. Then sometimes those continuations evolve into new stories with new characters and new settings and become an entirely new world for me to immerse myself and my readers in.

Honestly, my bathtub is the place that inspires me the most. I am a slave to comfort; and there is nothing more comfortable to me than a hot bath at the end of a long day. I can just relax and let my mind wander. There have been a great number of times I’ve overcome writer’s block in the bathtub – I highly recommend it!

WOW:    I honestly think that's the first time anyone has said bathtub - but it's a great idea for people to try (safety first friends)!

I love that you mentioned taking inspiration from books you've read. I'm a firm believer that reading is an important tool for writing. What are you currently reading and what authors have been your biggest influence?

Miranda: I primarily read other fantasy or paranormal romance series. I’m a big fan of J.R. Ward and Lara Adrian. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series and the Midnight Breed series were both big influences when I started writing Blood Awakening.
I am currently reading the Immortal Guardian’s series by Dianne Duvall. I am anxiously awaiting the release of the latest book in the series, Blade of Darkness.

WOW:    What trends are you seeing in the fantasy romance genre? What are some of the most important elements to keep in mind while writing in the fantasy romance genre?

Miranda: It’s almost impossible to find a book in the fantasy or paranormal romance genre that is
not part of a series. Even trilogies are hard to come by. Everything seems to be part of a bigger world that either tie into another series, or has yet to be expanded on. My experience as a reader in the genre is that the success of a series relies heavily on the world building. The character interaction is what draws a reader into a book, but the world building is what draws readers into a series.

When I’m looking for a series to read, I’m looking for something original – which can be hard to come by with species like vampires and werewolves having been shaped and molded so many times in so many different mediums over the years. I like the fresh take on the old classic approach. Like the vampires are actually aliens, or there’s a society of different species living alongside humans and having to cope with being the stronger species, but also the minority. In the instance of Blood Awakening, the female character is actually the one with the non-human lineage whereas the male characters are human. Usually, you see it the other way around.

Paranormal romance is in high demand right now, but there has been an uptick in fantasy romance as well. People might ask, what’s the difference? Fantasy romance, to me, focusses heavily on the fantasy element – different kinds of species, other realms, things like that. Paranormal is more set in the real world with an element of fantasy woven into real world scenarios. Readers are getting more interested in reading what I call ‘adult fairytales’. Stories that are reminiscent of the tales we grew up reading as kids, but with a romantic adult element.

WOW:    That's an interesting observation and I'm nodding in agreement about 'adult fairytales'. Fabulously stated.

How do you plan to celebrate (please list all the ways – don’t be shy!)?

Miranda: Haha! I’m sure my agent and publicist will want me to have a release party of some sort. I’m sort of an introvert so large gatherings of people are a bit outside my comfort zone. I’m also terrible with receiving praise! I always feel like I have to compliment someone back so it can sometimes get a little awkward if I don’t really know them… Personally, there will be champagne and cupcakes and possibly a mini vacation; somewhere warm since the release date is in January!

WOW:    I hope your mini vacay includes a big bathtub! Is rejection easier for you to handle than praise? How did you deal with rejection and nay-sayers? What advice would you give other authors as far as overcoming objections and rejection?

Miranda: Honestly, my biggest nay-sayer was myself. Don’t ever go online and look up ‘how to get published’; it’s a trap! 99% of the advice columns that popped up on my google search highlighted all of the ways things can go wrong. Stuff like – be prepared for rejection, don’t expect to hear back from the first five agents you query, you have to promote your own books yourself or you won’t sell any. I got so down on myself before I even tried to have anyone read my work that I almost gave up before I started!

Everyone’s experience is going to be different. You really have to figure out what your focus is – why do you want to be published? Do you just want to make money writing? If that’s the case, I wouldn’t recommend trying to be a novelist. My focus has never been about the paycheck, it’s always been about the writing. I want people to enjoy the stories I tell. Because I want that, I’m focused on making my writing the best it can possibly be. I think having a solid foundation, believing in yourself and your ability, is the first step to success in this business.

I looked at the rejections I got as building blocks. Stephanie and I worked together to use that feedback to help us find the right publisher. In the beginning we were querying young editors who were actively looking for manuscripts. But my prose was a bit more mature than what they liked to read. It wasn’t that the manuscript was bad, it just didn’t fit with that editor. You want to work with someone who appreciates your work and not just the dollar signs attached to it – especially if you’re a debut author.

The best advice I can give is to make sure you never devalue yourself or your work. If something doesn’t feel right during the editing process, stand up for yourself and your writing. That’s your right as an artist. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but I know I sleep better at night with my integrity intact.

WOW: I am sure I'm going to use that last sentence again in life. It's certainly worth repeating: "I sleep better at night with my integrity intact". That belongs on a beautiful picture hanging in your office! What lovely advice.

Thank you ever so much for your time today and we hope to be hearing more from you when Blood Awakening hits the book shelves (like maybe a blog tour - wink wink)!


About Blood Awakening:

Kaelyn never felt extraordinary, growing up in the heart of Boston for most of her young life. Her humdrum routine remained unchanged for longer than she cared to remember; until the day a beautiful stranger drifted into her bookshop and changed her life forever.

Tyrian knew the moment he saw her that she was the one. His one. The singular being within all of time and space that was made for him alone. His world was not one of niceties and pretty things; bringing her into it would be dangerous. But he would protect her. He had to. After all, it was foretold.

Worlds collide, marking the beginning of an epic battle forged between the forces of darkness and light. The fate of all rests on the Hunter’s shoulders to quell the rising tide of evil threatening to overtake everything and plunge the connected realms into eternal darkness.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

 

Planning My Blog Strategy



Some of you have probably heard me mention it before, but like many other writers, I have a website/blog that I’ve let go stagnant. When I stopped posting on the blog I had with Blogger and merged my blog with a new website design, it sort of fell by the wayside. I finally sat down and worked on a strategy for getting it revamped. At first I was intimidated (what kind of content should I focus on? Do people even care? How often should I post? How do I get organized?) but after jotting down some notes and referring to a book I read awhile back, Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz, I soon put a plan into action.

In her book, Katz makes some good points when planning out a blog strategy. First, keep content fresh. Don’t blog about what everyone else is blogging about. Also, avoid inflammatory topics, especially if you are not an expert on them. So, I’ll be avoiding politics altogether on my blog. She also discusses using reporting techniques. As a journalist, I like this idea, and I have a whole theme where I’ll be putting those techniques to good use. Other posts will follow a more book review/essay format. And round-ups of previous blog posts always make for interesting content.

So with these tips (and a few others in mind) I got out a pen and notepad. I decided to commit to posting three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to keep things easy on myself. A few months ago I threw out a question on Facebook and asked my friends/colleagues what types of blog posts they’d be interested in reading. Book reviews seem like a no-brainer, so those will go on Mondays. I am also a tiny bit of a true crime fanatic (ha!) so Wednesdays will focus on missing persons cases I’ve heard about over the years and what types of updates are out there. Friday is going to be a little more of “this and that” so I can keep things open-ended.

Next, I mapped out what posts I plan to write three days a week from Sept. 25-Oct. 30. The book review slots filled up pretty quickly. I know about plenty of missing persons cases but I had to do a little research to figure out which ones I wanted to focus on first. The last spots to fill in were the open-ended Fridays. For one I decided to do a review of a podcast I’ve been loving lately. Another slot is reserved for a fashion blog I started following out of the blue, much to my husband’s chagrin. Some others are an essay idea that stemmed from this blog, a round-up of posts, and a suspense/horror prompt.

I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to get my first month mapped out. And it was fun! I'm excited to get to work on these topics and it will be so much easier to do things in advance now that I have a plan. I usually was more of a pantser with my old blog.

I'm curious to see how many readers here have blogs—and how often you write posts for them. Do you map out your content ahead of time, have a regular posting schedule, or simply write when the mood suits you?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who blogs at FinishedPages.com. Please visit her blog on Monday, Sept. 25, so she can be held accountable for posting her first book review there that day!

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Friday, September 22, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: My Writing Life

by Nancy Hayes Kilgore

How do you structure your writing life? Do you write every day? Do you get up at 6 and write all morning? Do you have a special room, quiet and serene? People ask me these questions, assuming that because I am “a writer” and even have the nerve to teach a writing class, I must have it down – the right way to do it.

But my answer usually comes out in hems and haws and hedges. Because I don’t write every day. I don’t write at the same time or in the same place. My writing life is a series of fits and starts – days of feeling unworthy and completely inept, days of worrying about deadlines and procrastinating until the last minute, and then, a ha! days of actual writing.

I do a lot of wandering around my garden, sitting in my living room and gazing out the window, driving through the Vermont countryside, staring at a river, looking at the sky.

Sky-gazing. That seems to be one of my best writing methods. Not exactly meditation, but a kind of meditation where I am free, my mind is open like the sky, a place where clouds can drift or birds can fly and the atmosphere can nurture the non-thoughts that coalesce into words.

Needless to say, I am not a person who churns out a book a year. And I used to feel guilty about that. But my identity is not only as “a writer.” I have lived in different places, had different professions, have a variety of relationships and ways of meandering through the world. Writing is a way to bring my unique experience into view, and, whether I write every day or once a week, my writing life, undisciplined as it is, is one part of my own rhythm.

* * *
Nancy Hayes Kilgore, a writer and psychotherapist, is the winner of the Vermont Writers Prize 2016. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her first novel, SEA LEVEL, was a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year. Formerly a parish pastor, Nancy leads workshops on writing and spirituality for clergy, therapists, and writers throughout the U.S. She lives in Vermont with her husband, a painter. Her new novel, Wild Mountain, comes out October 1st from Green Writers Press. Find her online at nancykilgore.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, September 21, 2017

 

Meet that Writing Goal and Do It Your Way

A month or so ago, Renee blogged about having a writing bucket list. What an excellent idea. Did I make one? Nope. I was busy writing. I swear. 

Then Sioux blogged about having a BHAG (a big, hairy audacious goal). Sioux seems to have a really good understanding of how I operate. She asked us to state our BHAG. Make me write it out, and it is in my head. Bugging me.

Here was my response:

“Fiction with chapters. I want to write a piece of fiction that is long enough to require chapters. I want to make is submission-worthy.

“Progress? Well, see . . . I've got a two book contract for NONFICTION. So, I really have to work on that...”

My biggest problem is that I’m very skilled at using other writing goals, writing jobs, and writing related activities to put something off. I really do have a two book contract. But I could also easily spend 5 minutes of my social media time each day working on my novel. 5 minutes. If only I had a reminder.

Then, instead of writing on my novel or my nonfiction project, I read a WD blog post by Jan Ellison on getting your first novel written. She wrote out a reminder and posted it above her desk. “Get to the end of the story.” Not bad. It is a visual reminder and I’m a visual person. 

But my brain could play with this. “Nonfiction tells a story. I have a nonfiction deadline to meet. So I’m still writing.” It was almost too easy.

While I like the idea of a visual reminder, I need something more specific. I popped open a folder on my hard drive to look at some of the meme’s I’ve saved. (See, I am really good at not writing.) One of my favorites is a Loki meme telling me to write. Good, but again not specific enough.

But in 3 minutes with Photoshop, I had this reminder that is now hanging off my monitor. “Spend 5 minutes on your novel. Now.”

It is visual. Check.

It is specific. Check. Loki is gently reminding me to work on my novel.

It is attainable. Check. 5 minutes is doable even when a nonfiction deadline is on the horizon.

Reminder system in place. Check. My husband will comment on it. Guaranteed.

When you have a goal you keep putting off, find a nudge that works for you. That might mean taking advice from a friend who knows you. Or you may end up borrowing an idea from Renee, Sioux, or even from me.

But the possibility is very real that you may start with an idea from someone else and make it your own. And, if it works, isn’t that what matters?

--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 October 9th.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

 

The second time around

My daughter sounded sad yesterday when I spoke to her on the phone.

"What's wrong?"

"Aww, man," she said. "I just finished a great book, and I'm so disappointed."

"Wait, what?" I asked. "If it was a great book, why are you disappointed? Was the ending bad?

"No, she said. "I'm so disappointed I can't read it again for the first time."

To serious readers, this is a legitimate reason to be sad.

She understands that you can't read the same book twice, because your perception has been altered after you read it the first time. If nothing else, you already know what happens, and if you read it again, begin with a different mindset.

In my communications class we learn that no communication experience is repeatable. So even if the book hasn't changed, the reader has changed once he or she reads it. No one will be able to have the same experience of reading it again for the first time because it's not possible.

There is some good news, however. During a second read, you may pick up on some details and emotions that you missed earlier. A minor plot point about a grandmother dying may be emotional because of your own grandmother's illness. Or the setting that may have meant nothing to you takes on a larger role now that you are planning a trip to that area, so you pick up on cues about what to see and do there and feel a new connection.

Because perception plays such a large role in the way we experience the world, and what we respond to when it is reflected back at us, it's not surprising we can't all agree definitively on what makes a great book, and that our opinion of a book may change as our experiences change. And that's not a bad thing. Millions of books in the world mean there's something for everyone. And although it may take a while to find the next great read, when you do, it's worth the wait.

So to all my writer friends, keep working. You never know who will connect to your words on the page the first, or second, or third time they read them.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and her story Shirley and the Apricot Tree will be published this fall in Kansas City Voices. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

 

Interview with Isabella David, First Place Flash Fiction Winner


Isabella David is a writer, poet, homemaker, actor, an editor-at-large at Easy Street, and a fangirl of that fantasy state called sleep. Her first chapbook, The Voices of Women, a title that references her ambition to be a character actor, was short-listed for the Venture Award by Flipped Eye Publishing and published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. She’s also the winner of the 2014 Danahy Fiction Prize for her short story, “If the Meek Inherit the Earth, They’ll Have Sons-of-Bitches for Lawyers,” published in Tampa Review’s 50th anniversary edition. Her poetry has been recognized for merit in Atlanta Review’s 2015 International Poetry Competition and listed as a finalist in the 2015 Cape Cod Cultural Center Poetry Competition. She’s currently at work on a book of poems about love, life, whiskey, and, potentially, sleep—ah, sleep!—as well as an autobiographical novel that may or may not end up being YA, depending on how many years of autobiography end up in there. You can find more of her work at www.IsabellaDavid.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @IsabellaMDavid.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Spring Winter 2017 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Isabella: Thank you so much again! It was such a great honor. I was inspired to enter when I first encountered this contest a while back. I thought all the stories were wonderful, and I loved the idea of telling a story in only 750 words. The only flash I'd encountered up to that point had 1,000-2,000 word limits. The 750 word limit and the contest's emphasis on telling a story presented an extra challenge that kindled my creativity. Also, I find anything that helps curb my natural tendency towards loquacity to be really helpful. I have written three not terribly good (in fact pretty terrible) 90,000 word novels so far no problem! It was a learning process, though, so I don't regret the time spent on them. However, I've put them aside and haven't shown them to anyone, barring one of my closest friends, an editor and a novelist in her own right, and someone I show everything to anyway as we work together at Easy Street, and I adore her. Camille Griep. Her critiques were incisive, and, most of all, honest, which can be difficult to come by. My husband is my biggest cheerleader, but sometimes, when you know you're not getting something right, it can be useful to have someone you trust, who helps you articulate what the issues are. From Cami's feedback, I saw that I needed to work on controlling my story. The words would just get away from me. As someone who loves long, discursive texts, I was dismissive of flash and micro fiction when I first heard of the form, but I quickly fell in love when I actually began to read and then write them. I believe that's how I first found this contest. I was looking around for places to enter a flash story. It was a few years back now and mixed in with that time in my life when I had two babies in diapers, so I don't quite recall the particulars, but I was actually awarded an honorable mention in, I think it was, your fall 2014 contest for "Practice Terrible Acts of Cruelty and Senseless Acts of Loneliness"? I remembered reading all the winning entries from that fall, loving the stories and feeling inspired to keep trying to write something that could tell a big story in a tiny space. I felt that, in comparison, my entry that fall was more of a character study. However, the honorable mention also has made me want to expand that earlier story. I still think there's something there! Maybe it's not meant to be a flash or maybe it's meant to be a little longer or even shorter. Sometimes stories take time to reveal themselves to you; that's one of the big reasons I love writing them. You have to put aside your ego as much as you can and let the story tell itself to you, and that can take time. Anyway, I'm so happy and honored to have accomplished telling a story that resonated with others in as few words as possible!

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Children of a Lesser Guru?

Isabella: I can't recall where I read this Junot Díaz interview... (Oh dear, I'm seeing a baby brain theme emerging here). He was describing either being in an MFA class or teaching one, or maybe both, and how most of the students were middle class and white and only wrote stories featuring middle class and white characters and how exclusionary that felt to him. I'm very sensitive about that, because my family is so multi-cultural. My French father, much like the father in my WOW story, married several times. As a consequence of that, I have a French older half-sister, an American full sister, and two Haitian-French younger half-sisters. My step-mother's family was a similar mix of cultures-- French, Haitian, Indian. We joke we grew up in this mini U.N.. My mother is a New Yorker, but we grew up in Charlottesville, mostly, which is another story these days and the subject of another short piece I'm working on currently.

At any rate, Díaz's interview, combined what I'd already been thinking about on my own, being upset that I couldn't give my little sisters children's book with non-white protagonists-- this was a few years back but there are still shockingly few of them-- made me want to challenge myself to be non-exclusionary and to explore other kinds of experiences. I think the most diverse summers of my life were spent living in Saint Maarten where my father was running a five-star resort, and those summers have proven to be a rich source of inspiration. On a daily basis, we'd hear at least half a dozen languages being spoken: Dutch, French, Spanish, Creole, English mutilated in a million different ways (especially by our French father), and Papiemento. We'd drive with my father to work, and we'd stop to pick up hotel employees who'd emerge looking runway-ready from these shacks without running water, and we'd drive off to the resort where sometimes there'd be guests staying there like the Queen of Holland. It was the most beautiful but brutal place I've ever seen, and I think our experience there was unique from the usual kind of tourist experiences in a place like that. My worst regret is that my dad wrote a Herman Wouk-type spy novel about that hotel and gave me a draft, and I lost it! I have another story of his, thank goodness. Luckily, he emailed it to me. It's about his role in helping Chileans escape from Pinochet to the French Embassy. He writes really well but doesn't speak English that well. The result is incredible: very funny and very moving. Talk about an amazing flash story. I'd love to work on polishing that story with him. Anyway, that Díaz interview kindled my desire to explore experiences as diverse as possible but from an honest place.I have two other, longer stories I've written about the Caribbean infused with that aesthetic of the very poor and very rich living side by side, but all told from a semi-autobiographical point of view. If I'd told that story from a different point of view, I don't think I could have captured it as honestly.

WOW: What key elements do you think make a great piece of flash fiction?

Isabella: This is such a great question. I've been thinking about this a lot both as a writer and as an editor. I read submissions for Easy Street, and I've been shocked by how many heaps and heaps of great stories are out there. It's difficult to have to turn down excellent pieces, but there's only so much space. I don't really enjoy critiquing others, actually. I used to work as a high school teacher, that was my first job out of college, and the most formative aspect of that job was learning how much I enjoyed encouraging others to "follow their bliss", not to get too cheesy or anything. It was great to watch sulky kids light up about anything from imitating the Crocodile Hunter (I think he's called?) to learning they enjoyed cooking or drawing graphic novels or whatever it was. Anyway, it remains a big challenge for me to critique other's writing for that reason. However, I know how much I appreciate feedback myself, so I also try to remember that: that it's not really all that helpful to simply encourage others once they're a certain age. I think you ALWAYS encourage children. But you grow up and you want to improve your craft, not just kindle your enthusiasm, and that means you have to get to a point where you can profit from feedback. That was a struggle for me, but acting helped me take criticism much more lightly. Revising an action can help make a scene work, so why not be willing to revise words? Words seem so much more indelible, but they're not. Change one word and you can change a whole story.

Which brings me to one solid piece of advice I think I feel comfortable giving, a key element that isn't even really a structural thing: it's how many stories I also see in the slushpile that haven't been edited enough. I must have written and re-written "Children of a Lesser Guru" a thousand times. Once you've lived with a story like that, I feel like you start to see when other's haven't quite invested that same kind of time. I see a lot of submissions that have the potential to be really great but just lack a little polish. And especially when you're talking about flash, telling a story in such a small space, every single syllable has to count. Another thing I see a lot of is stories that take too long to get started. It's amazing to me how often a story or poem or essay can be improved by removing the first line or paragraph or even page. "Kill your darlings" is one of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever heard. If the word or image or sentence doesn't serve the story as a whole, jettison it, even if you're super proud of it. You can usually use it somewhere else anyway! Plus, people's attention spans, especially nowadays, are notoriously fickle. I think I read a statistic somewhere, and quoted it in another essay I wrote called "How I Fell Back in Love With Reading", that people these days have shorter attention spans than goldfish. Think of the goldfish when you're writing!

Speaking of which, it surprises me how often people toss away their initial opportunity to hook you with a title. A good title is like a firm handshake; you're inclined to be a little more welcoming of what that person has to say. I've been guilty of that myself, but it's something I really push myself to take into account. On the other hand, what do I know? As Anne Lamott points out in Bird by Bird, my favorite book on writing, there is no formula for how to write a good story. Even the greatest writers out there have to figure it out, word by word, every single time. I found that comforting, to know the experts are struggling as much as I am. With short stories, I do feel like there is a little more of a formula, but novels and flash fiction are both uniquely challenging in different ways. There are so many ways to tell a great flash story! Maybe because it's a little more like poetry? I love the all-too-brief and very sensual love stories that Leesa Cross-Smith tells or "Two in One", this Chekhov story I just read today in The Paris Review that's basically nothing more than an inner monologue but tells you novels-worth about Russia and the human condition. And then there's my all-time favorite flash, "Alma" by Junot Díaz. Each word is succulent and perfect and the story packs a punch.

WOW: As a busy mom and writer/editor/actor, how do you find time to work on projects like your book of poems and your novel? What works best for you?

Isabella: Balance is one of my biggest struggles. I had an epiphany about this issue at the beginning of this summer, and the timing of that epiphany was no coincidence. I finally enrolled my son in part-time daycare at the beginning of summer. Philadelphia isn't as crowded as New York, but he was on a waiting list for six months. It all worked out, though. He was eager and ready to go to daycare with his big sister when he started at about twenty-one months, and I wasn't even sad by then. It was so great to see him proudly carrying his little lunch box, ready to tackle the day. I was grappling with the question of balance, because I knew I was about to have a lot more time to work again for the first time in almost four years. My daughter is four and a half and has been in and out of part-time daycare from about the same age as my son. It took me forever to make this change, but I've finally figured out I owe it to myself to make priorities, which also means letting go of other things I enjoy-- watching bad TV or learning to sew or learning Italian or blogging about sustainable fashion, something that some of my friends have made into full-time pursuits! My number one priority is being an almost full-time mom, especially while my children are so little. After that, I'd like to grow as an artist. I look for ways to combine editing, acting, and writing. I thought about it recently and realized my favorite part about acting was working on short films or as a dayplayer/ character actor in feature films. I think the latter will have to be on hold for a while longer as I don't have the time to travel to New York to audition, but I can certainly work one or two weekends a year on a short. One of my theater friends is now in Houston, and I'm going to participate in a theater fundraiser for Harvey relief efforts by writing part of a script. Things like that. Short films usually film in one or two afternoons or evenings and you get cast based on your prior work, so it's not a huge commitment. I could even write a script for one! I love collaborating with other talented artists. It's brought me a lot of joy. I won't necessarily make a huge career out of that kind of work, but I realized that's not what I need from it. Something about the combination of the two, writing and acting, seems to help spark my love of the craft of storytelling in general. However, I'm also trying to be much more realistic about time constraints, so I have consciously made my main priority as an artist learning to be a better writer. Two of my favorite writers, Colette and Jean Rhys, wrote about their work on the stage, so I'm again hoping those passions can be mutually beneficial, so long as I maintain a reasonable balance. Spending time with friends is one thing I've had to sadly cut back on, but I have wonderful friendships with the other editors I work with and again that helps inspire me as a writer, so it's not as hard to juggle these different activities as it might look on the surface. With two hyper-active toddlers, it's still something I struggle with on a daily basis, so if anyone out there has any advice for me I'd appreciate it!

WOW:Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Isabella. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Isabella: That was fun! Thanks again. I enjoyed thinking about craft and process, and I hope these ideas can be helpful to someone else.

As far as writing contest tips go, Poets and Writers lists so many great contests. It's my favorite resource. If you're thinking of entering a contest, definitely check out the literary magazine or website first and get a feel for their content.

As far as more practical tips go, as I noted above, make sure your work is as polished as possible. I'm not talking about grammatical errors. Obviously, you don't want those, but also make sure, especially when you're writing flash, that all the words are necessary. Ask yourself when your story actually starts and cut out everything above that beginning line. Italo Calvino wrote my other favorite book on writing. This brief, beautiful book of essays, Six Memos for the Next Millennium. The memos are titled: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. I can't remember what the last one means, so maybe it's time to reread that book, but lightness and quickness always stuck in my head and seem particularly helpful catchwords to remember for flash. If your story is really starting one paragraph down, you've already committed the sin of slowness from the reader's point of view, doesn't matter how brilliant your first paragraph is if it's not serving the story. Also, again, give your story a title that grabs the readers attention from the get-go.

Most of all, as I learned myself from this experience, never give up! As I love to tell my daughter-- admittedly, I stole this line from a children's book, Rosie Revere, Engineer,"You can do it!"

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WE NOW HAVE TWO CONTESTS!

WOW! Women On Writing now hosts two quarterly contests: one for fiction writers and one for nonfiction writers. We’ve hosted the flash fiction contest since 2006, and over the years, writers have asked us to open up an essay contest. So we are happy to add the essay contest to our offerings. We look forward to reading your work!

Click on the links below to jump to:

Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest

Quarterly Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest


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Sunday, September 17, 2017

 

What's Your BHAG?

Not too long ago, Renee Roberson wrote a post about her bucket list of writing goals. In her reply to one of my comments, she claimed that everyone should have a BHAG--a big, hairy audacious goal.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Not surprisingly, my BHAG is the same as one of Renee's: publish a novel.


photo by pixabay
Notice I chose a scary-looking mountain--quite a formidable one--because
my BHAG is a bit scary...


I've been more successful as a writer than I previously predicted. Years ago, I figured my poems and stories would never see the light of day. Well, my poems are still only seen by my students (you're welcome!) but when it comes to my stories, I've gotten 16 of them published in different Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. I've done NaNoWriMo six different years and only crashed and burned during three of them. I wrote a horrid manuscript but it led to wonderful healing (of me). I wrote, side by side, next to my students every day for a whole month.

And now my BHAG is looming over me like a terrifying mountain.

I don't know what Renee is doing about her novel. Knowing her, she's probably not in a corner whining about what could have been and what should have been. Probably she's working on hiking up that mountain, a few steps at a time. If she's stopping at spots and camping out for a while, that's cool. Most people don't reach the peak of a BHAG through nonstop work. It helps to occasionally take a break, catch your breath and reorganize.

Right now I've spent too much time in my base tent... just gazing up at the snowy top of the mountain. I have a manuscript. The second draft is finished. Have I shared it with my students (like I promised)? No. Have I shared it with my writing critique group (like I want to)? No. The reasons behind my reluctance is something I’m still working through.

For some, their BHAG might be submitting (probably more than once) to a large market. A national magazine maybe. For others, it might be writing the difficult-to-tell memoir. For one writer I know, it’s the illustrations that are holding her back from reaching the peak of one of her goals. Lynn Obermoeller has written the text to a picture book. The pictures, along with the zentangled text, has caused her to reach an impasse. (I guess in this case it’s the way the text is displayed on the page, along with the illustrations, that has gotten her stuck.)

As writers, we have daily, weekly and monthly goals. Daily ones might include writing for at least thirty minutes every day. Weekly? Weekly goals might involve being prepared for a writing critique meeting. Submitting to a particular market that has a themed monthly call for submissions could be a goal of yours.

Those are fine goals, and when I can nail them, I’m thrilled. But when I’m just trudging along on a level surface, with those regular goals in my sights, I’m not using my full potential. To keep myself challenged and growing, my reach should exceed my grasp…

… which means I need to drag my fat rump out of my tent, sling my provisions into my pack and start climbing up that mountain of a BHAG.

What's your BHAG? And what are you doing as you hike toward achieving that goal? Or if you're making very little progress (like me) how big of a stick of dynamite do I need to light under your rear? Reluctant minds want to know...


Sioux Roslawski is a hiker of easy trails on flat ground. Recently (like right after finishing this post) she has decided to engage in more strenuous hiking. She's put on those pointy-bottomed things onto her shoes (see--she knows all the lingo), she's gotten some rope (it's around her waist--not around her neck), and she has a particular mountain peak in her sights. Sioux's evenings are spent working on drafting creative nonfiction and her days are usually taken up with teaching middle-schoolers how to write and how to appreciate great books; if you want to read more of her stuff, go to Sioux's blog.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

 

What's Something You Wrote About That You Never Thought You Would?

When I decided to pursue writing as more than just a hobby, I was set on writing fiction for kids. Short stories, poetry, novels, picture books--whatever a kid who loved fiction would read, I wanted to write. I was naive and didn't understand how the writing world worked--that nonfiction sells better, that if you want a paycheck as a writer, you might have to write something else.

One thing I did right was find a critique group of writers who did not just write for children, who wrote essays, articles, adult novels, romance, horror, and more. I began to dabble in nonfiction and short stories for adults, and guess what? I was having fun! I didn't give up my dream of writing fiction for kids, and I did publish 3 fiction books for kids and teens; but I also expanded my portfolio and wrote about some subjects and for some publishers that I never thought I would.

So as I was coming up with a blog post tonight, I thought: I wonder what some of the Muffin readers and writers have written about that they NEVER THOUGHT THEY WOULD. I'm curious what your story is, how you got there, what you thought at the beginning of your career, and how it turned out in the end--and how you feel about that.

For example, I worked as a stringer for The News-Gazette in Champaign, IL, and I had a Sunday book review column for over five years. I never dreamed in a million years that I would do either one. I wrote about a 90+ year old garage sale volunteer, a reindeer ranch and a baby reindeer who survived only because she was bottle fed by the owners, and a beaver dam that was backing up a creek in a little bitty town--but there was nothing the people could do because the beavers were protected. I wrote a villanelle about the Trail of Tears and got it published, as well as a funny romance short story for adults that won first place and $250 in a magazine contest.

And my point? I am a much better writer because of these experiences.

Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a brand or stick to a genre or build a career as a certain type of writer. All the advice you read about that is true. But I think it's also okay to have a wide variety of writing in your portfolio and grow from these pieces.

So...what have you written that you never thought you would? 

Margo L. Dill is an author, editor, writer and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. Read her blog at margoldill.com or sign up for her novel writing course in the WOW! classroom

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Friday, September 15, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: When Others Have More Faith in Your Writing Than You Do

by Sheila Good

Recently, my husband asked how my novel was progressing. I tried to brush off his questions, and then he said something that left me speechless. “You’re a good writer Sheila, but I have more faith in you than you do in yourself. Sit down and write your book.”

I was stunned. His words stung with the ring of truth. Don’t get me wrong; he’d compliment my stories, but I’d never heard him so animated in my abilities as a writer. He genuinely had faith in me, and what’s more, his belief outweighed my own.

How Did This Happen?

Doubt is an ugly thing. It can suck the energy and creativity out of your soul like a vampire draining blood.

Life has thrown me a few curves and for a time writing went to the back burner. The time away from the keyboard brought the respite my body needed, but with it came waves of uncertainty and doubt.

Doubt I was good enough? Would I ever publish my novel? I’d submitted a total of two stories this year, and both declined; my insecurities grew. Was it the story, my style? Did I make stupid mistakes? Doubt grew stronger each day I spent away from my desk, and the stories in my head grew weaker until the words were but a jumbled whisper. Then my husband looked me straight in the eye and told me I was a good writer. He believed in me, and something stirred.

What Now? It was time for a little soul searching.

1. I took an inventory of the things happening in my life.
2. What prompted this overwhelming doubt? Rejections? Was it frustration with a storyline?
3. Was I using my time wisely or escaping into the time warp of the Internet, social media.
4. Had I let my mentors drift into the past?
5. Had I stopped learning? Lost interest?
6. Afraid to write the story in my heart?
7. Was I hung up on perfection? Or tired? Did I want to move on to something else?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed, indecisive, and paralyzed. All writers at one time or another have doubted their abilities. The blank page of writer’s block happens to everyone. Writers have plastered their walls with rejection letters. I wasn’t alone, and perfection was a myth. So, I came up with a game plan.

5 Suggestions for Overcoming Doubt and Return to Writing

1. For five minutes every day set a timer and write freestyle. No editing; just write.
2. Reconnect with mentors. Feedback, even when it’s a bit bitter tasting, inspires.
3. Limit exposure to social media.
4. Stop obsessing over the perfect first chapter or opening line. Write the story. Revisions can wait.
5. Write what’s in your heart, not the story others want you to write.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway - Click to Tweet

Time to do a little bit of bleeding.

* * *
Sheila Good, a nurse turned writer, is the author of the short story collection, Maybe Next Time, Stories of Murder, Justice, and Revenge. Her work has been published in Blasting News, Angie’s Diary, Every Writer’s Resource, Every Day Fiction, WOW – The Muffin, featured on No Extra Words Podcast, Dream, Write, Thrive, and Centum Press 100 Voices Anthology, VOL. III. She resides with her husband in South Carolina where she is working on her first novel. To find out more, visit her website, Cow Pasture Chronicles.
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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, September 14, 2017

 

The Hidden Problem

I was helping my son with his math homework the other day, and one of the assignments required him to create a math scenario with a “hidden problem.”

“What’s a hidden problem?” he asked.

I’m an English teacher, and most math is way over my head, but this one I understood.

“It’s the unspoken problem. The one you have to solve before you can finish solving the main problem.”

For example: Mary bought seven t-shirts for $4.00 each. She had to pay $2.45 in sales tax, and received $3.00 back in change. How much money did she give the cashier?

The hidden problem is how much money she owed to begin with, which you must figure out before you can reach the final answer.

This got me thinking about writing. Even though I wouldn’t normally equate writing with math problems, they are similar in this regard. Your main character will face the main conflict – sure. But is that enough to make a great story?

The simple answer is no.

New writers often leave out hidden problems. Their main character faces a problem, and spends the entire book trying to solve that one issue. What new writers overlook are all the other problems that should arise as a result. It’s rare that a human being can solve a major problem in one fell swoop. They must chip away at other conflicts and hurdles before they can reach their main goal.

There are many ways to incorporate “hidden” problems in your story. Start by writing the main conflict at the top of a piece of paper. Below, brainstorm like crazy, thinking of all the possible obstacles that your protagonist might have to face to solve the main conflict. Ask your friends or family for ideas as well if you get stuck. Be as creative as possible to keep you reader guessing.

Once you have a list, you can create a timeline. This helps as a map for your story, and allows you to play with different hidden problems. Some may be obvious to the reader. Others may remain hidden at first and then present themselves later in the book. This is a great opportunity, too, to ensure that you are forwarding the plot effectively. Each hidden problem should play a crucial role in helping your protagonist face the inevitable main conflict.

It’s not often that I speak fondly of math, but whoever created complex word problems involving hidden problems may have been on to something.

Do you have any strategies for layering hidden problems in your stories? I’d love to hear them!


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 and her website here.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

 

Interview with Kim Hamilton, Author of "Accidental Lawyer"


Accidental Lawyer

Set in the brilliant and diverse city of Baltimore, Accidental Lawyer is a humorous, often irreverent portrayal of the dubious practice of personal injury law.

Jessica Snow has a crisp new law degree, a grinding ambition, and a pesky moral compass that is often at odds with her new job as an ambulance chaser. Her face and name appear on billboards and buses throughout the city, and if that isn’t enough to embarrass her mother, there’s a television commercial in the works.

Her elevated professional status has her wrangling with a local mob boss, duping a drug dealer, and confronting phony clients. With the help of her bold and brassy sidekick, Kari, Jess develops a remarkable proclivity for this ignoble profession by wrapping up difficult cases and finding new business in unexpected places.

When trumped-up murder charges are brought against her boss, she faces her biggest challenge yet—tracking down a killer. Along the way, Jess builds a new kind of family for herself, her own tribe, made up of friends, colleagues and clients, many of whom are sure to raise eyebrows at her mother’s dinner table.

Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: TouchPoint Press (September 15, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1946920150
ISBN-13: 978-1946920157

Accidental Lawyer is now available for pre-order on Amazon! 



-----------------interview with Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
WOW: Thanks Kim for being here with me and our readers today. How exciting!

I understand you are working with Stephanie Hansen and Metamorphosis Literary Agency – how did you end up choosing this particular agent and agency? What has been a highlight of this partnership thus far?

Kim: Somehow, I managed to get Stephanie’s attention, with a 140-character tweet about ACCIDENTAL LAWYER during a Twitter Pitch event. She passed my manuscript on to her associate, Jenn Haskin. Jenn and Stephanie demonstrated an immediate and genuine interest in me and my book. Their enthusiasm is beyond anything I expected. They are always accessible and work diligently behind the scenes in my behalf. It’s like having two intelligent and zealous cheerleaders at my side.


WOW:   I must agree - enthusiastic is exactly how I felt when I first laid hands on Accidental Lawyer! I absolutely love the cover of “Accidental Lawyer” – were you able to have a say in choosing the cover?

Kim: Thank you! Yes, I did have a say in the cover. In fact, I hired my own artist because I was adamant about the cover reflecting the humorous and satirical tone of the novel. It’s not meant for readers who are looking for a hardcore mystery or fancy-pants literature. It’s a fun and entertaining read, and I hope the cover conveys that.

It was also important to me that the Baltimore City skyline be prominent on the cover. The story is set in Baltimore, and in the narrative, the City becomes almost a character by itself. My goal was to reveal the eclectic nature of the City, and highlights its assets.

WOW:     You clearly based your book on some bits and pieces of real life, but what prompted you or was there a particular moment when you said to yourself “Kim, you totally need to write a book about this!”?

Kim: The book is inspired by my own experiences. I practiced personal injury law in Baltimore for ten years. It was not my chosen field but the sudden death of a family member who owned the firm propelled me into the practice. It was lucrative work, and that’s why I stayed for so long, frankly. But I would have preferred to be hunkered down in a law library doing research and writing legal memorandums.

After a while, I realized how unhappy I was in that line of work, plus I had two young daughters at home to whom I wanted to give more attention, so I left and never looked back. Once time passed, and the unhappiness of the experience faded, I was able to look back on that time and find the humor. That’s when I realized I wanted to share my experience and unique perspective through fiction. As I developed the story, I found it quite therapeutic using humor to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly about the practice of personal injury law.


WOW:    I'm certain you have thick skin as a lawyer, but how did you deal with rejection and nay-sayers as an author? What advice would you give other authors as far as overcoming objections and rejection when it comes to their writing?

Kim: This book is very personal to me, so I simply did not allow rejections or nay-sayers to give me pause or shake my confidence. I think it helps that I’m fifty-something years old and have developed a tough skin over the years. But the truth is, there’s never been a book written that didn’t face negativity somewhere along the way to publication.

For other authors, I would say, stay true to yourself and your goal. Your writing is personal, it’s uniquely yours. If you know you’ve put solid words on the pages, your audience will take note – ignore those who see otherwise.



WOW:   Great advice and I agree with what you said - that confidence comes with age sometimes too! Surrounding ourselves with great people is a help too. Speaking of which, are you a member of a writer’s group? What advice would you give for making the most out of a group, whether critiquing or networking?

Kim: Yes! We call ourselves the DreamWeavers. Our members are incredibly supportive. In addition to critiquing each other’s work, we share advice and experience on writing, querying, publishing and marketing. To those authors looking for a group, I encourage you to find writers like my DreamWeavers who will lift you up in this way. Even though we only meet once a month, just knowing I have my writing buddies to share the process with is comforting. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it need not be lonely.

WOW: Well it certainly has been a pleasure! We hope to hear more from you!

Find Kim and Accidental Lawyer Online:
iBooks: http://apple.co/2wJlfME
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2wGtHh4
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2j4D5Xa
Amazon: amzn.to/2w7qeEG
website: kimhamiltonbooks.com/
Twitter: twitter.com/khamiltonbooks
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kimhamiltonbooks/

About Author Kim Hamilton: 

I believe that humor in all its forms is a handy weapon—a defense against unhappy, worrisome, aspects of life. It can be found in even the toughest situations if we look hard enough. And if we can find the courage to laugh at ourselves, all the better—it’s wildly therapeutic. That’s why I wrote Accidental Lawyer, to look back on a difficult time and see the humor. I practiced personal injury law on the streets of Baltimore for ten years. Being an ambulance chaser didn’t suit my professional or intellectual goals and it occasionally tugged at my ethics. A good sense of humor sprinkled with sarcasm and a hint of cynicism were my survival tools. The novel is a backhanded tribute to this profession and its unshakable stigma. It’s also a heartfelt bow to the otherwise, high-principled lawyers who wade in its murky waters. I live in the Baltimore suburbs with my husband in our partially empty nest. I have two accomplished daughters who make me proud every day. I consider myself a cool mom even though I drive a minivan, listen to a.m. radio and need help with my iPhone apps. When I’m not writing, reading or being sucked into social media, I watch sit coms and cooking shows, preferably with a chilled glass of pinot grigio at the end of a productive day.





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