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Sunday, October 22, 2017

 

Meet Laura Snider, author of Witches' Quarters

Laura Snider is a writer, lawyer, and runner. Even though her career has been in the legal field, her first love is with books. She’s close to her large family and uses them for inspiration in her stories, in particular her upcoming novel Witches’ Quarters.

We chat with Laura about her forthcoming novel, Witches' Quarters, which was recently acquired by Clear Fork Publishing, how her family inspires her writing, balancing life and writing, her reading habits, and how working as a lawyer complements her work as an author.

Find out more about Laura by visiting her website: https://laurasniderstories.com/

Connect with her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/LauraSniderAuthor/

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all congratulations on your forthcoming debut novel, Witches’ Quarters! You mentioned on your website that this book is inspired by your close knit family. How does your family help your writing? Do they provide feedback on drafts?

Laura: Great question! My family is extremely supportive, but that can be a drawback when it comes to feedback because it makes them hesitant to criticize, which is necessary for the wring process.

However, I do draw inspiration from them based on our past experiences. For example, the opening scene of Witches’ Quarters involves four siblings arguing over a bag of quarters. One character (the youngest) removes a quarter from the bag and says she can’t pull out more than one. Disbelieving her, an older sibling snatches the bag and tries herself. When she too cannot extract a quarter, the next sibling tries, followed by the next child, all with the same result.

The situation and banter of the opening scene is based on something that happened with my sisters when I was young. My twin sister and I were the youngest of four, and we used to open pop cans by barely cracking the seal and sucking the pop out (we were strange kids). Well, one year our dad put leftover ice from an ice cream maker into the cooler. Naturally, the pop froze, so when I barely cracked the seal, it started spraying everywhere. My dad, to save his car’s upholstery, told me to throw it back into the cooler – which I did.

The next day, when we left Six Flags, I happened to select that same pop from the same cooler. This time I popped the top a little more and tried drinking. It tasted like salt water, which I promptly announced to the rest of my family. Disbelieving me, my twin sister had to try it too, which she did, with much the same reaction. My older two sisters did the same, as did my dad, who all said it tasted like salt water. Ultimately, my stepmother was the smart one, because she popped the top open and poured it out. It was straight salt water. All the pop had seeped out into the cooler, and the salt water replaced it.

Now that’s a long story to illustrate a small point in the book, but the relationship between the four children is largely based on the relationship I had growing up with three sisters. We fought and argued about almost everything, but when push came to shove we were always on one another’s side.

WOW: I love you used a real moment that happened to start out your book. You mentioned you were reading like an obsessed psycho hermit five or six years ago! Very cool and I can completely relate! What books were you reading about this time? Did any inspire you or help you with your book? 


Laura: I am usually reading three or so books at a time – two audio, and one physical. Right now, I’m reading John Green’s Paper Towns, and I’m listening to Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.

I wouldn’t say these books inspired me in writing Witches’ Quarters because I finished that book far before I even considered reading these three books. That said, I’m sure they have had some form of influence on my later work. Everything I read influences my writing. I learn from each book. I find things I like about certain novels and also some dislikes. I learn that trying new things can be a great thing, and sometimes not so great of a thing. Every day I learn something new, and that’s one of the wonderful things about writing.

WOW: I can relate to how you use the books you are reading to influence your writing. How did you find time to balance your career as a lawyer, writing this book, and juggling your family life?


Laura: I think the answer to this question is like anything else. If you want to do it, you find the time. It also helps that my husband is extremely supportive. Without his everyday encouragement, I’m sure I couldn’t do it all. He is at my side at all times, picking up the slack when I’m too tired, and building me up when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication from me, but I’d never be able to do it without him.

WOW: How wonderful to get that kind of support and encouragement! How does your work as a lawyer impact your writing life? How does it inspire you?

Laura: I primarily practice in the areas of Criminal Defense and Family Law. I see all types of people in all types of situations. I think the most important aspect I draw from these interactions is the understanding that the world isn’t quite as straightforward as many people would like to make it seem.

Almost all criminal defendants are suffering from mental health or substance-related issues. They aren’t bad people. Many of them have made poor choices, but they are choices borne from a set of circumstances out of their control. I try (and I’m not sure if I’m successful) to add an element of this to each of my writing projects. Nobody is all bad or all good. We are all just people, making our way through life the best we can.

WOW: I really like how you are using your career to impact your writing. So, what are you working on next?

Laura: Stephanie Hansen [literary agent and owner of Metamorphosis Literary Agency] and I are currently working on the final edits of a legal thriller, based partially on my prior experience as a Public Defender. It’s quite different from Witches’ Quarters, a YA fantasy, but I enjoyed writing the new novel (which is in name limbo for the moment) for different reasons.

Public Defenders are some of the most hardworking and intelligent lawyers out there. They often get a bad rap from everyone, including their clients, who take them for granted and often call them “Public Pretenders.” I wanted to write something for them. I wanted to write something for those who are strong enough to fight day in and day out, often with little to no sleep and far too much stress. My next novel is my effort to achieve that goal.

WOW: I can’t wait to read this next book of yours! That sounds inspiring and will provide a close look into the lives of people most of us only judge from afar.

Thank you so much for your time today and we can’t wait to hear more from you when Witches’ Quarters is released and hits bookshelves everywhere.


About Witches' Quarters:

Charlotte is a sixteen-year-old girl with more responsibilities than the average teenager. Her parents constantly argue, which leaves Charlotte to care for her three younger siblings. During one of her parents arguments, Charlotte uses a small coin tree and a bag of quarters to distract her youngest sister, June, from the fighting.

To Charlotte’s surprise, the Quarters are bewitched, and she and her siblings are transported to an alternate world called Tonganoxia, and the exact scene on the back of the commemorative quarter that June placed into the coin tree. There the four siblings come in contact with the natives, who are intelligent talking animals, and learn that the natives are at war with a group of Witches, who came from another realm, in much the same way as the children did.

Charlotte and her siblings must make a decision. Whose side are they on? The witches or the animals? That decision will change their lives and their relationships with one another forever.

Find out more about Witches' Quarters at Laura's website: https://laurasniderstories.com/published-work/witches-quarters-2/

***

-- About Nicole Pyles

Nicole is a writer, blogger, and bookworm living in Portland, Oregon. She loves writing stories about people in unusual circumstances and hopes one day WOW! Women on Writing will be interviewing her about a book she wrote.

Visit her blog, World of My Imagination, http://theworldofmyimagination.blogspot.com, for book reviews, writing prompts, and anything else in between.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

 

Book Review: Bring Your Fiction to Life by Karen S. Wiesner (and Giveaway!)

There is no shortage of “how-to” books for aspiring authors. I should know. I’ve spent hours in Barnes and Noble scouring the shelves, looking for the one book which will not only inspire, but will also unlock the creativity lurking inside me. The one book to which will help me become a successful author. I’ve read my fair share, and while most provided a tidbit or two, none really lit a fire under my . . . derriere.

Therefore, when I picked up Bring Your Fiction to Life by Karen Wiesner, I will admit I was a bit skeptical. After all, I’d been writing several years. I’m an English teacher. Surely she would not have some magic formula to fix my writing problems.

Boy, oh boy, was I wrong.

Let’s start with the basics. Her book focuses on aspects every novel needs: characters, plot, and setting. She breaks her book into chapters accordingly, but takes these three elements one step further. She asks her reader to consider the three-dimensional aspects of each category.

Let’s take characters, for instance. It’s not enough to create their likes and dislikes, their hair and eye color. An author needs to consider the present, past, and future self of their characters. These same elements transfer into the plot and the setting. When you look at your work as a living being – so to speak – you add layers. Just as our lives have a past, a present, and a future, so does the “life” of your book.

The result? With Wiesner’s instruction, you’ll have a multi-dimensional book with three-dimensional characters, a solid narrative structure, and rich settings which keep the reader engaged.

My favorite part of Wiesner’s book – besides the clear explanations and the logic behind using three-dimensionality in writing, are her templates. She models how to use the templates – both with published novels and with her own work – helping her reader understand both their function and the benefits of using them. There are four worksheets in Appendix A (for characters, scenes, back-cover blurbs, and development), along with cohesion checklists, scene-by-scene outlines, and goal worksheets. Later, in Appendix B, she provides exercises, where her readers can breakdown passages for practice. Not only is Wiesner explaining the process, but she offers practice to teach mastery. As a teacher, I appreciate the scaffolding.

She provides sound advice for those in the throes of writing. “Don’t neglect your future dimensions when you sketch physical descriptions,” she writes. She stresses the importance of giving each dimension equal time and attention. Later, she suggests using a publishing service to print a hard copy of your final draft, which serves as the “perfect advanced reading copy” to use as a “final read-through.” Throughout, she suggests distancing oneself from your manuscript at key moments, offering a timeline for those who hope to make writing their career.

Wiesner also offers advice for novice, intermediate, and master writers. One can tell that she understands the basic processes of authorship, and she strives to meet her readers at their level.

In the interest of full disclosure, I started writing a new novel just before I picked up Wiesner’s book. By the time I finished reading Bring Your Fiction to Life, I stopped writing and started planning, using the worksheets and charts I’d acquired from her book. She helped me see the importance – and the positive benefits – of creating three-dimensional writing. So much so, in fact, that I feel I cannot move forward without first creating a quality outline with multi-dimensional characters, plot, and setting.

“Everything that happens at the beginning of the book must be linked to something that happens later on,” she writes, and those words continue to resonate with me, as has much of her book.

This is a must-read for beginning and experienced writers.



Review by Bethany Masone Harar

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.





*****BOOK GIVEAWAY*****

Enter to win an autographed copy of Bring Your Fiction to Life by Karen S. Wiesner! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below by 11:59 PM EST, October 27th. We will choose a winner the next day. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Friday, October 20, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Writing and Distractions

by Penny Wilson

I never thought about how many distractions I let get in the way when I am having a “writing day,” until I actually paid attention. This is what my day was like a few weeks ago when I decided I was going to “buckle down and get some writing done.”

I slept until 7am. I'm anxious to get up and start my day. I'm going spend my day at the keyboard and be productive. This is what I've promised myself.

I get up and make a cup of coffee and linger while I watch a bit of the morning news.

I look at my phone and check my emails.

I had better take Rocket for a walk. If I wait much longer, it will be too hot to walk him.

The morning news distracts me and I stand, frozen, staring at the TV. I snap out of it and turn the TV off.

Rocket and I are hot and sweaty by the time we get back to the house. By now it's after 9am. I'm hungry. I haven't eaten yet so I go to the kitchen. I have some toast and finish another cup of coffee.
I need to start a load of laundry. I go to the bedroom to get the laundry basket.

Finally, I sit down at the keyboard. Coffee? No too late and too warm for coffee. I need something cold to drink. I'm back up and head for the kitchen.

Iced tea in hand, I look at the clock above my desk. It's 10:30am! Where has the morning gone?

I sit down at the desk and fire up my laptop.

So for the next, God-knows-how-long, I check my email, look at my Twitter feed, look at WordPress.

"Oops, I need to get that load of laundry into the dryer. Hmmmm, I should probably strip the bed today and change the sheets. ...sigh. Yes, I really should."

I finally open up Scrivener. I look up at the clock and it's 11:30am!

"Maybe I should think about lunch before I really get down to work here."

Where did the morning go?! I haven't typed a word yet and the entire morning is gone!

I sit down at my desk, with a bowl of soup next to me. Finally, I start to pluck away at the keyboard. Its past noon.

After a couple of hours or so of work, I look down at my meager word count and frown.

“I need to fold that load of laundry and I still need to put fresh sheets on the bed. I haven't posted anything in a couple of days; maybe I should work on a post for my blog."

On Monday, my friends will ask what I did over the weekend. "Oh, I spent my weekend at the keyboard."

Maybe I need to rethink the investment of the Time Share on that deserted island. I would have fewer distractions!

* * *
I'm a  freelance writer that writes in several genres. I've had a successful blog with a growing and loyal following for more than 5 years. I've written articles for Counseling Directory .org and Introvert, Dear .com. I'm currently working on my first novel. You can find more of my writings on my blog at: https://pennywilsonwrites.com/ and follow me on Twitter @pennywilson123.
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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, October 19, 2017

 

The Mundane Doesn't Belong in Your Story

Our lives are filled with wonderful events, lively conversations, and meaningful relationships. But every day, we also encounter the mundane. In real life, there's routine. There's "hello" and there's  "good-bye". There are conversations with strangers that don't mean anything to our lives. Sometimes, these mundane occurrences show up in our manuscripts.

If you're writing a draft (especially a first draft) of a novel, short story, or memoir, you most likely have some mundane-ness in there. But in fiction (or your memoir), there's no room for mundane events, words, or conversations. If you include these, your pacing will be slow, and your reader may put the book down somewhere in the muddy middle.

Think about a well-crafted novel you've read or even a movie or TV show, where you think the writing is fantastic. Everything that happens in that story has a purpose. The main character does not have a random encounter with a man in the grocery store while picking out fresh produce unless something about that scene is important to the character's overall story and growth.

Where to Look for the Mundane in Your Writing:
  • Dialogue: If you're anything like me, your dialogue is full of lines and words that don't move your story forward. Even if you're a natural at writing dialogue, yours might still be full of greetings, everyday questions like: how are you, "inside jokes" between characters that are clever but don't move the story forward, or a conversation your characters have had more than once.
  • Life routine, especially getting ready and going to bed: When writing, we often take a while to get to the story we need to tell, and that's okay. I believe that it's better to delete 25 percent of what you wrote the day before than to have nothing on the page to delete. But we often start stories and chapters in the wrong place, and this is where everyday, boring life can slip in. We don't need to hear about a character's daily routine of waking up and getting ready for work. Readers understand that your character did not go to bed in chapter 2 and show up at the gala at the beginning of chapter 3, without nothing happening to her all day long. We don't need to read about her getting ready unless something happens that is purposeful, that adds to her overall story and character growth. If, for example, she is OCD, and it literally takes her twelve hours to get ready for the gala and readers need to see this to understand the character--then these events would NOT be mundane. 
  • Transitions: Transitions are places where your characters are going somewhere, like a family gathering, or getting ready to do something, like participate in a protest. Usually there's some needed preparation in the novel, but we also include how the character got to his car or the bus, drove to the event and had a conversation with his family or a stranger, and walked up to the event. Look at these sections carefully. Do you need them? Or will your novel work better if you put one transition statement like: After rushing through traffic and jamming out to the Rolling Stones, Freeda finally made it to the protest, now more than ready to stand for what was right. She grabbed her sign...
When revising your draft, look at every scene you wrote carefully. You need details to set the scene. You need dialogue to reveal your characters. But, you also need to look objectively at what details and dialogue you chose and make sure they're not slowing down your novel. Sometimes, this is hard for us to see in our own writing. So, remember, a good critique group or content editor can help you with this task and get rid of the mundane.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can read more about her on her blog at http://www.margoldill.com. Consider taking her next WOW! novel writing course, which begins on November 3. More details here. If you would like to find out about Margo's personal writing coach or editing services, please see http://www.editor-911.com.

Edit photo above on Flickr.com by Matt Hampel. 

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

 

The Stories Behind the Authors

Geeking out over our swag at the John Green book tour in Charlotte, N.C.

This seems like a busy time of year for authors! I follow a lot of them on social media, and have seen more posts about book release tours than usual. Sioux also wrote about one a few days ago. I got to attend a special event with one of my literary heroes, young adult novelist, John Green, last week. Of course, because I have a 14-year-old daughter who also loves to read, I positioned it to my friends that I was taking her to the event, and not vice versa. Pretty sure she’ll keep my little secret. In Sioux’s post discussing Sherman Alexie’s new memoir, she asked the question, “What have you read that resulted in you embracing the author’s vulnerability?”

To be honest, while I’ve enjoyed reading John Green books like The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, I didn’t consider the man behind the pages. I know he has a family he adores, he loves his younger brother, Hank (the two co-host a YouTube series and podcast and are also traveling many of these tour dates together), he’s a self-proclaimed nerd and proud of it, and is passionate about giving back to causes he believes in and fighting against social injustice. But until the release of his latest book, Turtles All the Way Down, I had no idea he has also fought a lifelong battle with obsessive compulsive disorder.

The main character in his latest novel, Asa, has what Green calls “instrusive thoughts.” Thoughts like, “Excessive abdominal noise is an uncommon, but not an unprecedented, presenting symptom of infection with the bacteria Clostridium difficile, which can be fatal. I pulled out my phone and searched “human microbiome” to reread Wikipedia’s introduction to the trillions of microorganisms currently inside me.”

As Green greeted the packed auditorium where we attended the event, he shared with the audience about how he’s had these types of intrusive thoughts from childhood. He also prefaced it by saying that he had a wonderful childhood with a family who was nothing but loving and supportive, but he couldn’t escape those thoughts and the anxiety they caused no matter how hard he tried.

As I listened to him speak, and then read a selection from the book in a shaking voice, I couldn’t help but fight back tears. This was a man, an author, who has loomed so larger than life my mind, who always seems so confident in his videos online, sharing his deepest vulnerability with the audience. I could hear my daughter, who also has been known to have some of these types of thoughts, as well as sensory challenges, sniffle beside me. This is a child who has told me there are times she “just can’t get her brain to turn off” when she’s trying to go to sleep and for a few years became obsessed with researching the differences between poison oak and poison ivy because she was terrified of getting it.

Green also shared his worry that he would never be able to write another book again after the success of The Fault in Our Stars (I believe it has been almost six years since that book was published) so watching him stand in front of such a crowd (a crowd that I could tell made him more anxious than he wanted to admit) helped nudge the voice in my head that tells me I won’t be able to get past my own challenges and produce a great piece of work.

It was a great night with a powerful message. Yes, many creative people are considered “crazy.” No, that’s not really an acceptable stigma. There should be no stigma. We’re all human, and if we need to take medication or go to therapy to keep us on a level playing field, so be it. It’s not something we should have to be ashamed of.

And it will make for some damn good writing when the time comes.

What story do you have that propels you to keep moving forward?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also blogs at www.finishedpages.com.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

 

Interview with Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up, Alison Thompson

Alison Thompson lives and writes on the south coast of NSW Australia. She writes poetry and short stories and her work has appeared been published in several Australian literary journals. Alison is a founding member of the Kitchen Table Poets (which you can find on Facebook). Her poetry chapbook, Slow Skipping is published by PressPress (2008).

She won the Verandah Literary Prize in 2010 for her story, “My Baby Moonbird” and was shortlisted for a story in the 2016 Wildcare Tasmania Nature Writing prize. She is currently working on her first full-length story collection and is developing another story into a novella.

Author Website: alisonthompsonpoetry.wordpress.com

PressPress (chapbook publisher): www.presspress.com.au

interview by Marcia Peterson

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

Alison: I'd seen the competition in the past and read other shortlisted and winning stories and really like the diversity and excellence of the writing.

Also its great how you take the time to showcase the authors - its nice to see and hear a bit about inspiration behind the stories. Plus of course great to see the promotion of stories about women and the female experience.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Her Daughters’ Fire?

Alison: This story is a little unusual for me as its from a perspective and culture very far from my own--and I'm conscious of not wishing to appropriate that. It arose after I saw a news grab many years ago showing a women who had had a similar experience-it was a very brief news piece but something about her distress and the sheer horror of it remained with me--really as something I didn't want to be reminded of as it felt very painful, especially as I was a young mother at the time. I didn't imagine ever writing it as a story but several days into a writing retreat I woke up early with the voice of the mother in my head and wrote the story in one sitting, a process that reduced me to tears. I've revised it of course but it is essentially as I feel it was told to me.

WOW:  It's a powerful story, you did a great job with it. I felt like I was there. What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Alison: I also write poetry and like the paring down process required in poetry and flash fiction--the distillation that occurs. Trying to get to bare essentials. Its especially a challenge in flash fiction to keep the narrative arc satisfying with such brevity.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Alison: Well, I drink a lot of tea and coffee! Best time is mornings and if possible, I like the whole house to myself as I prefer to write at the kitchen table. That doesn't always work out of course so I make do. Also I try to get away for occasional writing retreats--I find being out of my usual routines very helpful.

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

Alison: I think firstly, know who you're sending it to and what kind of writing they like. If it's a contest or magazine see what they've chosen before. And check out the judges as well.

Also, if you're able to its worth getting your work edited or critiqued, or at least looked over by someone whose opinion you trust BEFORE sending it out. And pay attention to formatting requirements of individual competitions and typos!

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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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Monday, October 16, 2017

 

Five Minutes a Day: Roughing Out Your Novel


About a month ago, Sioux challenged us to state a BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal. Mine is writing a piece of fiction long enough to require chapters. The problem is that I’m writing two nonfiction books and, thus, the fiction keeps falling by the wayside.


A friend of mine drafted her first novel writing fifteen minutes a day on her lunch break. But that just didn’t feel do-able. To put it simply, I’m a full time writer who doesn’t have a single full time work day. I’m hoping that will change soon, but it is going to require some help from outside. So right now I’m learning to work around it.

Fifteen minutes a day is impossible but five minutes a day is do-able. But is it enough? Can you really rough out a novel in five minutes a day? I wasn’t sure but it wouldn’t hurt to try. For the last month, I’ve written five minutes a day on my novel. Most days I don’t get to it until bed time but I pop in here and do those five minutes.

But is it enough?

A month ago, I had two chapters or 1000 words. Today, having worked five minutes a day for a month, I have 6,400 words.

They won’t all make it into the final draft. One chapter wandered off in an odd-ball direction. You know how it goes. The whole chapter, you’re type-type-typing, but something feels off. I realized I had no clue how to get from the end of this chapter to the end of the book. I’d written myself into a corner.

That’s when I looked at my outline. It’s a lot like looking at the map after you get lost. I had definitely taken a wrong turn. And that’s okay. A rough draft is rough. Brilliant statement, yes?

The point is that I managed to keep writing even during the week that I drafted 12,000 words on one of my nonfiction projects. Fifteen minutes a day? Impossible, but five worked.

Part of what makes it work is acknowledging that this draft is truly rough. I don’t go back. I just keep moving forward. And that’s okay. When I write later today, I’ll just ignore chapter 10a and start at the beginning of chapter 10b. I’m not deleting the messed up chapter because I actually need part of it. I’ll just keeping moving forward and sort things out in the rewrite.

NaNoWriMo is coming up. It’s a great idea if it works for you, but not everyone can draft that many words in a month.

But five minutes a day? You can do that. And in a month you’ll have about 5,000 words. Keep it up and your word count will reach even higher.

5 minutes. You can do it.

--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 January 8th, 2017.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

 

Things I Learned From Sherman Alexie and His New Memoir




          Sherman Alexie has a new book out. His memoir You Don't Have to Say You Love Me has him dealing with the death of his mother... along with all their struggles when she was still alive.

           He's written poetry, novels and short stories. He's the author of a picture book. Alexie's won a bunch of awards. He's famous for his storytelling. So when he came to St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, it was a big deal.

           What did I get from his talk (and from his memoir so far)? I've learned a lot, but here are a few tidbits I can share right now:
  •  "Being vulnerable causes vulnerability."  
           Alexie spoke of the importance of emotional honesty. He went on to say, "If you as an artist are unwilling to be this vulnerable... Why are you doing it?" (Why are you writing?)

          The most powerful pieces I've read in my writing critique are the ones which open up wounds. When a story lays bare the writer's sorrow, their fear, their stumbles... well, those are the stories that I can connect with. Those are the stories that help me navigate the mess of my life...
       
          Earlier this summer Alexie cancelled most of his speaking engagements. He wrote a raw, moving letter to his fans. In his letter, he was vulnerable and honest.
  • Balancing humor and sorrow is an art. 
         I don't think I've ever read a well-crafted memoir that covers dark territory that doesn't have moments of levity interspersed in the story. Mary Karr. Rick Bragg. Augusten Burroughs. All master memoir writers, and with occasional lighter moments, they all keep their readers from slitting their wrists.

        When he spoke in St. Louis, Sherman Alexie had a full house in the palm of his hands. At one point he admitted, "I get hate mail from vegans. That's not scary." (He also told us about an encounter he had with a Prius-driving road-rager that was funny.)

         In his memoir (beginning on page 67) he wrote a story about a time he evacuated his bowels... in a monumental way. It happened at the funeral home where his mother was lying in her casket... and it's hilarious.

         Even though the memoir is full of sorrow, remorse, regret and loss, it also has spots where the reader laughs or at least smiles. It's rolling hills, rather than a roller coaster ride or a drive straight off a cliff.
  • Don't be afraid to mix up the genres.
        Alexie is gifted when it comes to prose as well as poetry. There are chunks of stories alternating with poetry chunks.

         Certainly that must have worked for him. Taking a break from writing in paragraphs to figure out line breaks and use of white space... well, that can be energizing for an author. Readers appreciate that as well. Changing up the rhythm in a piece makes it more interesting to read. We read poetry differently than we do prose.

         If you want to see a bit more of Alexie, here is a video where he shares what libraries did for him, and this is an interview (when he was a bit younger) where he answered 10 questions.

        How about it? What have you read that resulted in you embracing the author's vulnerability? Have you read something recently that has a great mixture of funny and sad? Or, do you have a favorite book that is multi-genre?

          Please share.



Sioux is a teacher, a writer, a mother, a grandmother and a dog rescuer. She reads voraciously, writes sporadically and dreams of someday having a book of hers on a bookstore shelf. If you'd like to read more of her meanderings, check out her blog.






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Saturday, October 14, 2017

 

Do nature walks improve creativity?

We've all heard stories about inspiration and creativity coming from natural surroundings. Einstein, Dickens, Jobs, Darwin and many other geniuses walked to improve creativity, and it worked. But my question is, where the heck did they walk? Because to be honest, when I take my dog, Nana, for a 30-minute walk, my creativity/writing does not improve.

Normally I think during my walks, but when I would get home, couldn't recall anything I thought about. That's when I decided to try to capture the thoughts that crossed my mind, so I had to pay attention, and this is what happened on the first few seconds as I jogged/walked up the hill from my driveway. My mind raced past all the deep thoughts about the meaning of life to "What color I should paint my kitchen cabinets, some sort of gray, I think, but dark? Will it be too dark?"

Obviously, that's not working, or helping my writing. Focus, Mary.

After I got up the hill, I spent the next four minutes trying to figure out who was that one guy in that one movie. Turns out, I don't remember. And then I saw a squirrel walk across someone's porch. Nothing.

I also told myself that maybe I'll have better luck when I get to the "nature" section of my walk. It worked for Thoreau, right? I hurried along to the place where the walking trail parallels some wooded common ground, and the pedestrian bridge crosses the creek. Lots of nature there.

As I turned right on the trail, I stopped as my dog sniffed an invisible clue to the universe. At that moment I saw a red and white striped umbrella sticking up from a glass patio table on the back deck of a neighbor. And that's when it it hit me, the question we all want to know (insert angel chorus here): "Where did stripes come from?"

Ok, not the greatest scientific question, but it's a start. And the original answer comes from nature, which also is the original idea behind the interconnectedness of all things, because I was now on the trail right next to NATURE! This is obviously working. And if you are interested in stripes, I did look it up and there are some interesting facts, especially if you consider symbolism: think criminals, prostitutes and court jesters, which I may be able to use later. Here's a link:

http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fabrics-fibers/striped-cloth

I knew then I was on my way. After calming down about stripes, it happened again (angel choir encore). A squirrel ran across an empty retaining pond. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I couldn't help but notice the difference between the way the squirrel walked across the porch earlier, and how the body and tail of this squirrel formed these little arcs or waves as it sprinted.

I think I may have something here, so I looked up squirrel tail waves when I got home and got a lot of hits about waves and physics, which included algebraic equations. I also found information about how squirrels "wave" with their tails, usually a warning sign that they are annoyed. And most of the other wave stuff was about water. Nothing about the kind of squirrel arc/waves I was talking about.

So while Einstein has his theory of relativity, I now have the theory of squirrel arcs/waves. I can't explain it mathematically, or relate it to anything that matters, like proving life on Mars, or that time exists, but I might be able to use this in my writing.

So, thank you, future Nobel Prize committee for recognizing my discovery of squirrel arcs/waves, and the use of stripes as symbolism in literature. I couldn't have done it without paying attention during my walks.


Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. Her story "Shirley and the Apricot Tree" is being published this month by Kansas City Voices.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Writing at 4 a.m. Will Change Your Life

by Amber Roshay

My husband squeezes my hand. I slowly start to awaken. We slip out of bed, past our sleeping nine-month-old daughter, into the living room. It’s 4 am. The coffee, on a timer, percolates, filling the room with a warm vanilla flavor.

I splash some almond milk in a cup and the contents of a packet of stevia. We wait for the coffee to be ready. We haven’t spoken.

Once the coffee is ready, we clutch our mugs and head over to our computers. I turn on my laptop. “What are you going to write about today?” asks my husband.

As a mother of two under two finding time to write is hard; long gone are the lazy mornings staring at the computer screen, in between episodes of Game of Thrones. When you have diaper changes, nap coordination, and general exhaustion to combat, you don’t have time to procrastinate. Each second counts. So, when I found out I was pregnant again, I thought my writing days were over. But, I was wrong.

My husband gave me the answer. After our second child was born, he decided to get up at 4 a.m. to study. He was changing careers and needed the extra time to read. To get enough sleep to rise by 4 am, he needed to go to bed early. One day I got up with him.

Some days I’m completely uninspired and have nothing to say; other days I feel anxious because I know how limited my time is and the kids will be awake by 6 am. But, regardless of how I feel, I write. For two hours every day, I spend time on my craft.

I’ve never had consistent writing schedule before. I’ve always been one of those writers who live off of inspiration. But I don’t have time to be inspired. At 6 am my kids will wiggle awake and make their demands known. I found that if I start my day, doing something completely for me, I’m better able to enjoy my time with them.

The best part is that since I’ve kept to a writing schedule, I’ve reconnected with my husband. For two hours, we are together, without our children, doing what we love. Not to mention, there are fewer distractions, since no-one else is up at that time, and you have to be quiet in order to not to wake the kids.

So, you might think it’s crazy to get up at 4 a.m. for anything, but if you try it, I think you’ll start to see how much writing you really can get done.

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Amber Roshay is a freelance writer, instructor, and proud mom. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches English as a Second Language at the University of California San Diego. Her work has been featured in Parent.co and forthcoming in The Write Life and You and Me Magazine. She’s the co-founder of Pen and Parent, the place for people who write while parenting. When she’s not writing or mothering, hopefully, she’s sleeping 
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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, October 12, 2017

 

Review and Giveaway: Circadian by Chelsey Clammer

Review by Angela Mackintosh

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Chelsey Clammer’s work. She’s a columnist and writing instructor at WOW, and you better believe I checked out her credentials and work thoroughly before she came aboard. I read her essays and her first book, BodyHome, and fell in love with her prose and her brain. She’s been through a lot and isn’t afraid to share her experiences with the world. I admire her fearless, vulnerable, self-reflective, brilliant writing. She’s also very funny, and manages to give the reader a break and a laugh while she plunges into dark subjects. So when I heard Circadian was publishing in October—and it feels like I heard about it forever ago (Don’t you just love the snail-like pace of traditional publishing?)—I preordered a couple copies. One of those copies, I’m giving away to a lucky reader! Just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. But first, I’d like to share my impressions of Circadian.

I don’t think I’ve ever read an essay collection that affected me this deeply and emotionally. Winner of the 2015 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Award, Circadian is a masterfully written collection of 12 lyric essays that are poetic, bold in subject matter, and razor sharp in wit and language. Chelsey uses different frames and structures to analyze her relationship with her father, his alcoholism, and ultimately, his suicide, which is still up for debate, but I think a 0.46 blood-alcohol level qualifies as suicide (which is 5.75 times the legal limit of 0.08). In “Outline for Change,” she uses numerology, geometry, and biology to logistically solve the problem of understanding an alcoholic father. I would say the crux of this essay collection, to me, anyway, is about finding acceptance with his suicide and their relationship. As a writer and a survivor of a family member who committed suicide, I strive for this kind of depth in my writing, and it brought me to tears a few times.

Writers will delight and completely relate to her essay, “I Could Title This Wavering,” where she shares her lack of self-confidence as a writer and examines the absurdities of the English language—wound and wound (as in: injury to the body vs. past tense of winding a clock), wind and wind (as in: wind a clock vs. moving air)—and shares one of her favorite things to do: verb a noun (as in: “No one ever told me you can’t verb a noun, that you can’t Chelsey a sentence.”) But this essay in all its literary debate and linguistic myths really has a secret message: it’s about a time when Chelsey fainted at the post office because of her eating disorder. And that’s what makes these essays a genius work of art—the form, twist, and introspection of her words, without making it all about her, and broadening the context. I’ve taken her classes before, and I think she calls this approach a sideswipe—where you explore ideas in a different way to see what more they have to say, rather than head on.

All twelve of the essays are standouts, and I don’t want to reveal all of them, so I’ll pick a couple more. “Mother Tongue” is an essay every woman writer will fall in love with; it analyzes women’s oppression through the lexicon—names like “Lazy Susan” and “wife beater” and “Debbie Downer,” and phrases like “Throws like a girl” and “Cries like a bitch,” and lexicon points! Which is a game that Chelsey and her friend made up where they get points for coming up with a new word that is as witty as it is perfect for the situation it describes. Example: “Hippies living in Texas? Those dreadnecks!” (Lexicon point!) It’s hilarious. This essay is the perfect example of taking a serious issue and having fun while getting to the root of the problem.

“Then She Flew Away” is personally one of my favorite essays of all time because it’s about a girl Chelsey befriends while working in a transitional residency for homeless youth with drug addiction and mental health issues. The teen, Sophie, was suicidal, and one night she got drunk and climbed up a building to commit suicide, changed her mind, but ended up falling off the building. Chelsey struggles to understand what happened to Sophie by recounting their time together—including one trip where Chelsey took her and three other youth to the mountains for a writing retreat—and analyzing Sophie’s journal. This essay and others in the collection provide different perspectives and an honest look at suicide and mental illness that I really appreciated.

I will pick only one more because I want you to have some surprises when you read this! In “Trigger Happy,” Chelsey interviews a fellow survivor of sexual violence, Lacy Johnson, and author of The Other Side, about whether books, college texts, and other material should include trigger warnings. “Who should be responsible for warning you of your uncertainties?” It’s something that writers need to think about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across an Amazon review where the reviewer says something like, “I really wish the author would’ve put a trigger warning on this,” or “If you have issues with _________, beware, this is a trigger warning!” Can you really put a trigger warning on the world? The most revealing part is where Chelsey starts out with “Funny story” and that story is anything but funny. She tells the story of how she was sexually assaulted, and how that moment changed her life for the next six years (or more). Ultimately, the message is, “Push harder to think critically about your discomfort.”

And thinking critically about her discomfort by writing about difficult subjects with heart is what Chelsey does successfully in these masterful, innovative, and truly moving essays. Highly recommended, Circadian gets five stars and then some from me.




About the author:

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and Circadian, which was the winner of the 2015 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award. Her work has appeared in The Normal School, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, Hobart, Essay Daily, and The Water~Stone Review, among more than one hundred other publications. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown, a reader for Creative Nonfiction magazine, and an online creative writing instructor and columnist for WOW! Women On Writing. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her website at www.chelseyclammer.com.


*****BOOK GIVEAWAY*****

Enter to win a copy of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian by Chelsey Clammer by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. We will choose a lucky winner a week from now, next Thursday, October 19th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

 

Maximizing Writer Connections!

I know it doesn’t seem fair, that after all you’ve been through, getting that book published, you still have a mountain of marketing left to do. There’s all the social media marketing, and gosh, I sure hope you’ve jumped on that newsletter to reach all those new readers you’ve made. Not to mention putting your actual author’s body out there, doing book signings, working the conferences, making school visits. It’s downright overwhelming! But there are ways to maximize all the hard work you’ve put in: use your connections!

Take the professional connections you have, that membership in a national and/or international organization that can help you in ways that go far beyond writing advice.

Let’s say that you have scheduled a bookstore signing. Your audience will likely be genre readers (and possibly the parents or grandparents of readers). But what if you reach out, through your organization, to those members who might be in the same area as your book-signing? Those writer connections might attend your book-signing, yes, but consider offering something especially for them. A short, compelling and free writers’ workshop could bring in a whole other audience, and the bookstore will get more customers. It’s a win-win!

It doesn’t cost anything to ask about offering a workshop for writers along with a book-signing appearance. (You might need to offer the event the evening before or after the book-signing; be flexible!) And don’t forget to use your professional connections to help spread the word about your events to their friends.

Now, what about that conference you’re attending? You can use your newsletter to let your personal connections know that you’ll be there, and let those readers know you’d love to meet ‘em! Perhaps you can plan a get-together the night before the conference or during a break in conference activities; you never know where a new connection you’ve made might lead.

But you can also maximize new connections at the conference. Are there authors who might be interested in a group signing? A bookstore is often more willing to handle a signing for a group of writers rather than just one. So reach out to your panel of authors and see where your marketing ideas can take you!

Just remember that the Golden Rule applies to your career connections, too: Do for others what you’d want others to do for you. Maximize your connections, and be a great connection for your writer friends as well!



Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. She's a member of SCBWI and treasures the connections she's made in the kidlit world. But she also treasures all the reader connections she's made here at WOW! You can't imagine the difference you've made in her life--thank you! (She's also pretty thankful for all those connections who stop by to see her here!)





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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

 

Interview with Julie Carrick Dalton, Runner Up (twice!) in the Spring 2017 Flash Fiction Contest

Julie Carrick Dalton grew up in Maryland and on a military base in Germany. She and her husband lived in five states and DC before they discovered they were always meant to be New Englanders. Go Sox! She’s never moving again.

As a journalist, Julie has published more than a thousand articles in The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, Baby Talk Magazine, and other publications. She is a graduate of Boston’s GrubStreet Novel Incubator, a year-long, MFA-level novel intensive. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Harvard University Extension School and has published short stories in the Charles River Review and The MacGuffin. LitSnap, a website dedicated to flash fiction, hosts a video production of her flash fiction. She is a member of the Women’s National Book Association, GrubStreet, Sisters in Crime New England, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

Julie recently completed her first novel—an upmarket suspense—and is searching for an agent. Her manuscript has won five literary awards, taken one second place, made two short lists, and one long list. She contributes regularly to DeadDarlings and GrubStreet’s writer’s blogs.

Mom to four kids and two dogs, Julie owns and operates a 100-acre organic farm in rural New Hampshire. She enjoys kayaking, skiing, traveling, cooking vegetarian food, and digging in the dirt.

Julie is in a unique position – she is runner up with two very different stories. If you haven’t read them yet, take a moment to read “On Slickrock” and “Baptized in Blood.”

Interview by Sue Bradford Edwards

WOW: Congratulations on placing among the runners up with not one but two stories. What an accomplishment! “On Slickrock” has so many elements – the relationship between mother and son, her role as a student, the conflict with the rancher, and the foreshadowing. How can you tell when you are trying to work too much into a piece of flash fiction and need to let something go?

Julie: My intention was to establish a belief system my character is absolutely committed to. She wants to protect the desert’s cryptobiotic soil. In relatively few words, I had to convince the reader she adheres to this code of ethics in absolute terms. The belief system needed to be three dimensional and tied to all of her relationships, her studies, and her job. Then, when the reader is invested in her code of ethics, I force my character to betray that deeply held value. But it had to be for a reason the reader was prepared to accept. I eliminated any detail that did not build up her commitment—or break it down. To be honest, I worried I had too many moving parts in this story, but I think—at least I hope—they hold together the end.

WOW: In “On Slickrock,” the rancher’s words to Tara foreshadow later events. Many writers find foreshadowing difficult, revealing too much, thus giving away what happens later in the story. What advice do you have for writers who are trying to master foreshadowing?

Julie: Foreshadowing is tough. It can feel heavy handed. I rewrote the rancher’s line and Tara’s response a dozen times to tone down his warming so it didn’t jump out and beat the reader over the head. There isn’t a magic formula to foreshadowing. It’s always a good idea to have someone else read it and gauge their response. Was it too obvious? Did it ruin the ending? Did it seem out of place? Or, was it too subtle? Did it go unnoticed?

WOW: What was your inspiration for “Baptized in Blood”? How is the story you submitted different from the story you initially wrote?

Julie: In 1992 I visited Manche Masemola’s gravesite in a rural area in South Africa. I’ve been haunted by her story ever since. The idea of being so devoted to a religion—whether Christianity or a tribal religion or any religion—that a person would risk their life or kill their own child, was incomprehensible to me. The fact that both of the women so passionately believed they were right, left me wondering if I would ever feel that passionate about anything, or if I would want to. In my first draft, my narrator expressed opinions. During revision, I tried to remove any sense of judgment from the story so the reader would hear the story the way I first heard it.

WOW: So much information is left out of “Baptized in Blood.” The reader doesn’t know who the narrator is or what this person’s relationship is to the priest. When writing flash fiction, how do you decide what information to include and what to leave out?

Julie: In "Baptized in Blood," I want the reader to feel like the narrator could be anyone, so I stripped out all background information and personal details from my original draft. The only thing I wanted the reader to detect from the narrator is the sense of longing and disquiet. I hope a reader might insert their own insecurities and longings. I want the reader to consider that both women (Manche and her mother) acted out of passionate faith. One of them became a saint because of her faith. The other was labeled a murderer. I was intrigued by this idea of absolute right and absolute wrong, and who gets to decide which is which. It’s the opposite of what I attempted in “On Slickrock,” where I wanted the reader to understand exactly what my main character believes.

WOW: You have a strong background in nonfiction – reporting on various topics, writing articles. How do the skills acquired in this type of writing feed into writing flash fiction?

Julie: News articles must be tight, compact, and terse. Every word counts. The details a journalist chooses need to do more than one job. A description can answer one of the W questions, but it can also add color, convey emotion, or represent something bigger. A shoe that washes up on shore after a raft of refugees sinks represents much more than just a shoe. 

I mostly write fiction now. I just recently completed my first novel manuscript. In the revision process I learned that even in long-form fiction, every single word matters. I started writing flash fiction as a way to exercise restraint in my writing. Running sprints can help you train for a marathon.

WOW: To find out more about Julie and her writing, you can follow her @juliecardalt or juliecarrickdalton.wordpress.com.


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