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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

 

Interview with Anne Andersen, Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Today we have a special interview for you. Anne Andersen is one of the runners-up in the Summer Flash Fiction contest and she snared this honor with not one but two stories. Take the time to experience Disposition and Half Way before you read this interview with a writer who subtly reveals clues about the backstory and motivation of her characters, weaving together layered stories in this short format.

Anne’s Bio:

Anne Andersen grew up in Norway with two brothers and a mother who made up stories for them every night. The most popular story was about a boy called Me Too who travelled with a little fox each day to a faraway place where they adventured as all the siblings contributed to the story. Since then imagining all sorts of new worlds became an addiction. Coming to the US as a teenager and visiting a variety of places including Antarctica and Spitsbergen has added to her notebooks full of writing ideas.

Anne writes bad poetry, short stories and is still working diligently on her first science fiction novel. She is a perfectionist and is afraid to call it finished, but with weekly therapy hopes to remedy that. Several of her poems and short stories have been accepted for publication. Her story, Porcelain, was a runner up in our Fall Flash Fiction Contest 2016.
This interview was conducted by Sue Bradford Edwards.

WOW!: What was the inspiration behind Disposition?

Anne: I had written two short stories that ended up with my mother telling me she didn’t want to read any more of my stories because they upset her too much. So, I thought I was on to something. That was at a lower point in my life and stories about people going through difficult emotional events resonated with me. I decided to write 10 stories with the theme of ‘despair’.

Disposition is the story about a soldier about to be deployed and leaving his wife and new baby. Some time ago a good friend talked about how hard it was when her husband used to deploy. Everyone knows a soldier and everyone can in one way or another relate to separation and loss.

As I contemplated despair, a strong visual image came to me of a man in uniform sitting alone on an old sofa with a newborn baby draped over his shoulder. I imagined what he might be struggling with. The story idea didn’t come in one clean lightning bolt but developed as I wrote and kept reminding myself of that original image as it became the backbone of the story.

WOW!: Disposition is such a complicated story, layer upon layer. Each time I read it something previously unnoticed leaps out at me. How do you create such a complex story in such a short format?

Anne: That is an awesome compliment. My goal is to write stories that are layered and complex underneath the basic story. I love subtext and never like reading stories where the author spoon feeds the reader so they never need to think. My goal is to have people engage and think a little. I struggle to make sure everything is there for the reader so they can figure out the layers of the story. It’s a difficult balance because some readers can get by with less and others need a lot more to understand the story. My writing group often confuses me with conflicting feedback. In the end I must trust a few of them who read like me.

Initially this story started as 1200 words and had several themes, or tiny sub-stories. These were the stories of the soldier leaving, how his wife dealt with it, what the soldier’s options were, the relationships between the three characters. These layers were obviously easier to show with more words. 

But when I cut to 750 words I didn’t want to dumb down the story. I sharply examined each point of the story to figure out exactly what the kernel of goodness was. Then I preserved that and made sure it was written clearly enough so the reader would understand. (It often doesn’t take more than a couple words to add a hint of a new layer, something of who the character is beyond the story or some hint of another motivation etc.) I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted to convey about this soldier before I could possibly make that evident to the reader. That was the hard part, I realized I was trying to make the part about the potential girlfriend too big and that distracted from the main point. But, I didn’t want to eliminate it entirely. I had to find a balance where only one story took center focus. The story was less clear at 1200 words than it is now at 750 words.

WOW!: In this story, Dave is clearly hiding something from his wife. You never specifically say what it is although you drop hints. Why don’t you reveal all?

Anne: If I had made the girlfriend layer bigger it would have taken the reader down a side path and defocused on his problem with his wife. That might be good in a longer story with more room to explore bigger issues. That doesn’t work in flash fiction. I could have chosen the girlfriend story, but I felt that might have been too cliché, and it would have increased what I considered cheap conflict. I needed to laser focus on one issue. I chose the marriage, because in real life most decent guys will try, at least initially, to focus on their marriage.

The other part of that is, I like stories where in the end you can guess what happens, where there is a tiny question you can ponder. You can wonder if things are on their way to become settled between Dave and his wife. You can also imagine this may happen again and maybe next time it won’t go quite so well. Real life is messy. Fiction reflects that.

WOW!: When writing a piece of flash fiction like Disposition, what advice do you have for readers on what information to hold back and what to push forward?

Anne: Figure out exactly what you want to say and say only that. I hint at other things. I feel that makes the characters real and complex. For example, the wife is moving out of their house, he is a doctor in the Navy, the brother is friendly with the wife, they have a baby.

In flash fiction you can only develop one idea. If you dilute the story, even accidentally give a second idea too much space, it weakens the main story.

A story is choices. No matter what you choose to push forward you need to hold the other things back, hint at them or eliminate them. You need to find a balance where one storyline shines clear, and only do as little as you can get away with even on that. People don’t need to be hit over the head to understand. If you say: She wore that red dress again. Picture what the reader imagines about THAT woman in THAT red dress. That’s only six words. And, the key word in the sentence is a very overlooked word…that.

WOW!: You certainly do a lot with small details that can easily be overlooked. Let’s discuss your second story. How did Half Way change from initial draft to this final form?

Anne: In the initial draft, I knew I wanted to present what might be going on in the life of a little understood patient. I knew what the main story would be. Often my flash stories have two or three competing ideas and all but one of those need to be eliminated.

Unfortunately in the first draft I had not made the main story clear. I knew who the patient was but didn’t know exactly what that patient was doing with his life. When the caretaker entered I had two points of view, and it diluted the patient’s personal story as seen by the reader. Subsequently I made sure everything was only from the PoV of the patient, yet written in a way that the reader could make sense of the events as they unfolded.

WOW!: I know you have a hard time declaring a piece finished. How did you know this one was ready to send in?

Anne: Both these stories would not be done if there were still too much to wonder about in the story. In a tiny story anything, even interesting points, that leads the reader away from the main focus doesn’t have room. When everything in this story leads to the same place, when the reader is focused on where the actual story leads, when the main plot is understandable from start to finish, I call it done. And, then I start fighting with grammar, tense and punctuation, not my strength.

WOW!: Although you work in health care, the nurse in Half Way is a secondary character. Given your experience as a physician I was surprised by this. Why didn’t you make her the PoV character?

Anne: This question is easy to answer. ‘Everyone’ writes from the PoV of the healthcare worker. But how many times do you read a story from the PoV of a mentally ill patient? We can all understand what the nurse thinks about this situation. I wanted the reader to ponder what it might be like to be inside the mind of someone who is incapable of seeing the world as we do. It’s what fiction does best, teaching, and exploring new places.

WOW!: You’ve certainly accomplished that exploration in this story. In Half Way, Mr. Schopenhauer could be considered an unreliable narrator. What advice do you have for writers who want to create an unreliable narrator but are uncertain where to start?

Anne: The hard part for me wasn’t getting into the mind of the patient. When a writer enters any character’s mind the writer has a responsibility to understand what that character understands, then present that as honestly as possible to the reader. Once I decided to write from the PoV of a mentally ill patient I had to understand what that patient might see and think and understand even though that is definitely not a normal or even comfortable place to be. For me, that wasn’t the hard part, once I figured out what Mr. Schopenhauer wanted from life. He wanted to be independent.

The hard part of writing about this unreliable narrator was cheating enough on the PoV that the reader would understand what was happening in the story, even though the character didn’t always understand it. As an example, the phone in her hand that he didn’t understand is an image we easily recognize and that didn’t need to be explained. When the caretaker talks about pills, we understand that the patient might not fully follow what the caretaker understands. Readers can follow a conversation the caretaker is having with someone else. The patient, our PoV character, might not even have heard what she said, so we theoretically shouldn’t have heard it either.

As readers we needed to be grounded in facts we can understand for the story to progress. The reader needs what I consider PoV cheats to follow story events. Another example, he spoke of rain, I believe she used the word shower. I could have left his idea of rain to the reader to puzzle out, but not every reader would have figured it out. That particular point could easily be communicated to the reader through the caretaker, so why intentionally obfuscate?

WOW!: In both stories, the POV character is dealing with despair. What advice do you have for readers on how to do this but end, as you have, with a note of hope?

Anne: I was, for a time, dealing with despair. At least in my fiction. But I’m eternally optimistic. There is so much bad stuff in the world, I don’t mind swimming in misery alongside my character. I love the Dark Side. I also believe that no matter how bad the situation is there can be a glimpse of beauty, something positive, something hopeful, even in the absolute worst situation. Life is full of contradictions, so is fiction. We all need to learn to look for things that makes our lives better. We can all choose to see that misty breath shimmering on cold air as you slowly freeze to death on the Larson Ice Shelf, a glimmer along the edge of your handcuffs, or how after a severe beating your leg doesn’t hurt…. My characters seem to all have that same trait.

WOW!: They definitely seem to practice Olympic level optimism. Last but not least, can you tell our readers how your novel is coming?

Anne: I wish you hadn’t asked me that question. It sparks guilt and the need to get my butt back in the chair. A friend gave me a severe talking to today, she gave me permission to do something that seemed to break writing rules I’m trying too hard to obey.

I know all my characters well, with the exception of the main character. Well, I do know her well, but she’s all over the place. I believed I had to pin her down to a defined personality. It’s been keeping me from writing. I now have permission to think of her as an unsettled, confused, inconsistent person. That’s just who she is, to begin with. I’m aiming for March. Yes, this March.

Thanks for the interview, your questions are challenging and insightful. I can’t wait to submit another story to the WOW! Contest.

WOW!: And we can’t wait to read both another flash fiction story and that novel! Thank you for taking the time to share your in-sights and inspirations with all of us.


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Monday, January 15, 2018

 

Gambling on Granola by Fiona Maria Simon: Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

In Gambling on Granola: Unexpected Gifts on the Path of Entrepreneurship, Simon shares a tale that is uplifting and inspiring but also raw and honest. This is a business memoir but also a love story―the love for her daughter, of a journey in uncharted waters, of the products and company she created, and of the continued challenge to follow her dream.

We see her growth and healing over fifteen years, as mistakes, weaknesses, and naiveté evolve into resilience, resolve, and inspiration. For Fiona, it started out as all new businesses do―with an idea. But her world quickly became more complex as she established her company, developed new product lines, forged personal relationships in a competitive environment, grew her business, and held onto her deepest values―all while raising her daughter, Natalie, as a single mom.

Praise:

"Fiona’s story is both personal and transformative. She lays bare the hopes and anxieties, challenges, betrayals and lessons learned in creating her own business. From the mountaintops of a solar observatory where she was raised, to the struggles and triumphs, her story is like a path of granola crumbs leading the reader to understand how to succeed at any enterprise."
- Jeff Kline, M.A. Ed., Chairman, Hispanic Communications Network, Washington, DC.

"Fiona Simon is an engaging storyteller and her narrative moves right along. It should inspire and motivate anyone who needs to remember the importance of persistence, belief in oneself, and vision in pursuing a goal. Her granola is good and so is her book."
- Bob McCormick, Publisher, Editor, Author

Paperback: 210 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (January 1, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1938288920
ISBN-13: 978-1938288920

Gambling on Granola is available in in print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:

To win a copy of Gambling on Granola please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes Sunday, January 21st at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner the next day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:

Fiona Maria Simon is a former journalist, travel writer, editor, and communications director of the Boulder, Colorado, Chamber of Commerce. She is passionate about developing healthy food products, writing, traveling the world, and inspiring and empowering others with her story. Lured by the adventures of entrepreneurship, she launched her own organic granola company and led it to success despite having no business background and simultaneously juggling the demands of being a single mom. Her book is a story of challenges, hardships, and triumphs, both personal and professional.

Find Fiona Online:

Website: http://www.fionamariasimon.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fionamariasimon/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FionaMSimon

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16561867.Fiona_Maria_Simon

-----Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Thank you so much for choosing WOW to help promote Gambling on Granola!

What prompted you to not only write your story but also to share it? Was there a defining moment when you said "this story deserves to be told"?

Fiona: I had been requested for many years to tell my story, and after I sold my business, I had the time and inclination to do that.

WOW: It's excellent when others realize the greatness of something even before we recognize it ourselves.  How do you balance writing and the busy-ness of day to day life? What advice can you share with other writers?

Fiona: Writing is a discipline. It takes focus and dedication. We need to remember to come up for air and recreate once and a while. Sometimes I forget to to do that!

WOW: That breathing thing is good for all of us, isn't it? Great advice!

Who has been most influential in your journey as an author? How so?

Fiona: I have been. Although I’ve written for most of my career, this is my first book, and the first sharing of myself to the world in this way. My editor, publisher, and social media marketing people have offered ongoing encouragement and necessary nudges to keep me on track.

WOW: That's an interesting way to look at things. What has been most challenging in regards to writing your story, sharing it, publishing, etc.; what advice to you give others who may want to share their story?

Fiona: The most challenging has been reliving the painful parts of my story. My advice: be authentic and truthful, both to yourself and others (= readers).

WOW: What is your favorite book and why? or Who is your favorite author may be a better question?

Fiona: My favorite book is The Education of Little Tree. It is a sweet story of a life long gone, and of the courageous Cherokees who did their best to maintain traditional ways in a changing world. I love that the story is told through a young boy growing up with his grandparents.

WOW: What advice would you give if you had an opportunity to speak to a younger version of yourself? (when it comes to writing or life?)

Fiona: Don’t let people dissuade me from following my dreams and passions. Believe in myself and stand my ground. Find my self worth and hold onto it tightly. Surround myself with people who support me.

WOW: Such great advice - follow those dreams and passions! Thank you again for being with us today and we look forward to more from you in the future! 

----------Blog Tour Dates

Monday January 15th @ WOW! Women on Writing
Interview & Giveaway
http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

Tuesday, January 16th @ Create Write Now
Fiona M. Simon is in today's author spotlight at Mari McCarthy's Create Write Now Blog - don't miss this chance to learn more about Simon and her book Gambling on Granola.
http://www.createwritenow.com/

Wednesday, January 17th @ Beverley A. Baird
Beverley A. Baird reads and reviews Fiona M. Simon's Gambling with Granola and shares her thoughts on this inspirational memoir.
https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com/

Thursday, January 18th @ CMash Loves to Read
Today's author spotlight at CMash Loves to Read is none other than Fiona M. Simon. Learn more about her memoir Gambling on Granola.
http://cmashlovestoread.com/

Friday, January 19th @ Bring on Lemons
Today  at Bring on Lemons is and author spotlight for Fiona Maria Simon - don’t miss this opportunity to learn about Fiona and find out more about her memoir Gambling on Granola.
http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 22nd @ Lisa Haselton
Lisa Haselton interviews Fiona M. Simon about her motivational memoir Gambling on Granola.
http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 23rd @ Margo Dill
Fiona M. Simon is in today's spotlight at the blog of fellow author and single mom Margo Dill. Learn more about Fiona's memoir Gambling on Granola.
http://margoldill.com/

Wednesday, January 24th  @ Grow a Creative Biz
Cheri Larson reviews Gambling on Granola by Fiona M. Simon and shares her thoughts with readers at Grow a Creative Biz. This is sure to be a great conversation - don't miss an opportunity to learn from these smart women!
http://www.growacreativebiz.com/

Thursday, January 25th @ Writers Pay it Forward
Learn more about Fiona M Simon and her memoir Gambling on Granola.
https://writerspayitforward.com/

Tuesday, January 30th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Fiona M. Simon takes the spotlight with  “Gambling on Granola” at Madeline Sharples blog Choices.
http://madelinesharples.com/

Thursday, February 1st @ Bring On Lemons
Cathy Hansen - Wisconsin mother and business owner reviews Gambling on Granola by Fiona M. Simon and shares her thoughts with readers. Don't miss this exciting blog stop!
http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/


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

Enter to win a copy of Gambling on Granola by Fiona Maria Simon! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget on Sunday, January 21st!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

 

Even Pantsers Should Ask Themselves These Questions For Fiction Manuscripts

While judging some flash fiction pieces and critiquing novel chapters for the WOW! class I teach, I found myself asking a series of questions to several different writers. These questions focused on important story elements that were missing from the piece.

This seems to happen a lot in flash fiction, especially, and maybe it's because there aren't a lot of words to work with. But winning stories tell a complete tale, and to have a whole story there, these questions have to be answered by the writer and included in the story.

Here are questions to consider, even if you are a pantser, when you're writing your flash fiction or short story:

  • What is the character's problem in the story?
  • How does she solve it?
  • How does she grow as a person from solving the problem?
  • Does she have an internal struggle she overcomes (or begins to)?
  • What is the climax of the story?
  • What is the resolution?
Obviously, in a novel, you have to have these same elements. They are usually easier to work in because you have so many more words to include than in a flash fiction or short story. But the beginning of novels are often difficult for writers, especially pantsers, because they start writing with some idea in  mind, but not an outline or carefully planned plot. If you are a pantser, you may know where you are going in your novel, but not exactly how will you get there. So it's crucial to have the answers to these questions on hand, even if you aren't outlining or summarizing each of your chapters:
  • What is your main character's MAIN problem in the novel? 
  • What is the inciting incident (the incident that starts the main problem)?
  • How will the character solve the main problem?
  • What do you envision as the climax of your novel? (Often writers can see the climax scene in their minds, and they are busy writing toward it.)
  • What is the resolution and ending?
These groups of questions are similar because fiction needs to contain certain elements to be a complete story. When writing a longer work, you can also add: What are two or three subplots my novel will also contain? In a flash fiction piece, you definitely would not have subplots. 

So what about you? Are you a pantser? If so, do you know the answers to these questions above for the fiction you are writing?  


Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. She teaches a novel course for WOW! each month, which includes 4 critiques of your work-in-progress. To check out more about her, go to http://www.margoldill.com. To check out her next class starting February 2, go to the WOW! classroom.

Pencil photo above by Pink Sherbert on Flickr.com 

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

 

Find the Right Fit Writing or Journaling

I have to admit that I’m not certain why I read the blog post about journaling. Horrified fascination maybe? I am noteworthy in my journaling failure. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve failed at journaling, I could take my husband to a full price movie.

The post that got my attention was by Jennifer Mattern. In it she wrote about keeping a bulleted journal. If you’ve never seen a bulleted journal, I’ve included a photo. Nope, that’s not mine. I’m still getting the hang of it and mine isn’t all that attractive. Give me a month to get the hang of it.

A bulleted journal is a like a series of lists. If there is anything on this earth that I’m good at, besides exaggeration and eating, it is making lists. There’s a chore list, the weekly menu, the grocery list and the “other” shopping list in the kitchen. Then there is my work related to-do list and my five-minute list (various things that I’m challenging myself to do five minutes a day) in my office. By the end of church every Sunday, my bulletin includes a list of things I need to remember to do.

In a bulleted journal, you keep track of a wide variety of tasks that you accomplish thus it is a lot like my to-do list. It can be as creative or simple as I want. Calligraphy or simple script. Stickers, stamps and photos. I can do it one way one week and then change my mind the next. Creativity and flexibility rule.

Because of this, I’m also changing up how I record things. There are lists: the books I’ve read this year; the movies I’ve watched; the handwork – knitting, crochet, etc. – that I’ve completed; and my list of story ideas. It also includes charts: my weekly to-do list; the tasks I need to accomplish to finish each book/project; my fitness efforts - yoga, walking and rowing; and the progress I’ve made excavating my office.

It doesn’t sound like much but unlike me horrible two page long to-do list, I look forward to getting this out every day. I’m having fun with it. And I’ve been at it for a week which is about four days longer than I’ve ever succeeded at keeping a journal. I’m already planning new pages and sections.

And one of them will include writing, like a regular journal. I’m going to free write things that might become essays. In the past, Angela has nudged me to write out these stories, and Anne Andersen, whose interview will go live on Tuesday, recently gave me an encouraging nudge.

I definitely think that I’ve found the journaling approach that works for me. If you find yourself struggling with your writing to the point that you no longer enjoy it, take a hard look at what you’re doing. Does your writing reflect your passions and skills?

If you are struggling to write contemporary fiction but you collect facts and love trivia, you might consider nonfiction.

If you are working in nonfiction but you love to play with dialog, maybe you should try writing a novel with multiple points of view.

The latest science innovations fascinate you? Consider science fiction.

Writing is a lot of work. Don’t make it more strenuous than it has to be. Find the type of writing that’s a good match for you. When you find something that clicks, you might just amaze yourself.

--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, 2018.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

 

Manuscripts: A Love Affair

Last year, I had a series of relationships which ended badly. I’m talking manuscript relationships. They all started out well. My characters were compelling, my ideas rich. I was eager to see how the story would develop and plunged in headfirst, giving it my all, talking about it to anyone who would listen. I was sure this was “the one.”

But after a few chapters, my enthusiasm waned. Our “romance” fizzled out. I couldn’t muster the energy to commit. The spark wasn’t there anymore. Feeling dejected and defeated, I did what any desperate writer would do: I ghostedmy manuscripts.

Several months ago, I read a “Dear Amy” – she’s a Washington Post columnist who gives advice to readers in need – about a woman who felt stuck. She’d had a series of romantic relationships, but they all ended in heartache. The woman didn’t know how to break out of this cycle. Amy advised the woman to switch her routine, to find romantic partners in brand new places, and to choose people who were the opposite of her usual type.

Amy’s answer made perfect sense to me and, the more I thought about her answer, the more I could apply it to my manuscript relationships. Maybe it was time to try something new.

An idea for a children’s picture book sat in the back of my mind. It had been there a while. Despite my lack of confidence, because I’d never attempted to write a picture book before, I took Amy’s advice, pulled the idea forward, and got started. Each word in a picture book needs love and attention, and I spent a great deal of time nurturing the overarching theme, choosing the perfect action words, and completing a sweet, beautiful little story about a small girl and her comfort object.

In one short week, I had a picture book manuscript I was proud of. It was complete, polished, and wonderful. We had a lasting relationship. In a small way, moving out of my comfort genre and trying out a new relationship helped me fall in love with writing again.

Writing and finishing the picture book was exactly what I needed to move forward with a YA fiction project. Picture books need love and attention, but so do YA novels! After finishing the picture book manuscript, I felt invigorated, and set to work on an outline for a current work in progress that I still had feelings for.

I think it might be the one.

*Teenager lingo for ending a relationship by disappearing from the other person’s life completely. No calls. No texts. Unfriended from all social media. Simply gone.




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, January 10, 2018

 

Market Interview: Re:Fiction's editor, Tal Valante

One of the best things about working at WOW is getting to know our subscribers. There are so many talented writers doing incredible things—launching businesses, books, websites, resources, and more—that I decided to periodically highlight writers in our community that you just have to know. Tal Valante is one of them. She created Re:Fiction, a website that helps fiction writers thrive. Read on to find out more about this excellent resource and paying market.

WOW: Tal, I’m thrilled to discover your publication, Re:Fiction, which is such a fantastic resource for writers.

Tal: Thanks, Angela! Coming from you, that really means a lot, and I appreciate the opportunity to reach out to WOW readers. Hello, WOW reader! :)

WOW: I see a lot of familiar names in your team of contributors who have also written for WOW or are subscribers. What inspired you to create the site?

Tal Valante
Tal: There are so many awesome writing blogs out there, delivering great writing advice. But they’re first and foremost blogs. I started Re:Fiction because I was missing something more organized, with internal structure that writers could follow. Our section structure and detailed topic list aim to provide just that.

With Re:Fiction, I wanted to give extensive answers to common writing questions, such as “What is the third-person limited point-of-view?” Sure, Wikipedia already answers that question. But Re:Fiction’s answer is more than purely academic: it combines explanations with how-to tips and actionable advice. That makes Re:Fiction an important resource, in my view.

WOW: I agree! I absolutely love the design and organization of the site.

Re:Fiction is also a paying market and publishes articles on writing fiction, from craft to publishing and marketing. What are some dos and don’ts when pitching you?

Tal: I love to see well-developed pitches that sell the idea, not the writer. I love pitches that take a certain aspect of writing and propose to cover it extensively.

Some tips for pitching:

  • Think outside the box. Look for unusual ideas that are rarely explored.
  • Show me the structure of the article you’re proposing. I prefer solid structure over a handful of random tips.
  • Be highly specific in your ideas. Think in terms of actionable advice.


WOW: As an editor, I especially like the tip on proposing the structure of the article. It makes it easier to visualize what you'd be publishing.

How much of the site's content is written by freelancers, and what are your current pay rates? Do you pay on acceptance or publication?

Tal: Freelancers are a major part of the Re:Fiction team, and I’m always on the lookout for good writers. My pay rates are currently $0.05/word. I pay on acceptance. More details can be found at https://refiction.com/write-for-us. Feel free to pitch!

WOW: I'm sure a lot of our readers will be pitching you!

You also publish reviews on craft of writing books. I love how each review has specific structure, which includes a section at the bottom called, “Should You Buy?” with a list of pros and cons. That’s so helpful! What types of reviews are you looking for? Only craft books or do you publish other types of book reviews like books on self-publishing or marketing?

Tal: I’d love to see reviews on self-publishing, trade-publishing, and marketing resources. I’m not limiting the field to books, either; I’m open to software reviews, online course reviews, and so on. If it’s an official resource for writers, I want to know all about it!

WOW: Excellent! You also host a new contest on the 1st of every month with some great prizes. Please tell our writers how the contest works.

Tal: Re:Fiction’s writing contests are just plain fun! I announce the prompt in the newsletter on the 1st of every month, and the deadline is the end of that month, so you have 30 days to write and polish your story.

If you’re not a subscriber, or if you subscribed after the 1st, don’t worry. The contest opens to everyone on the 15th of the same month, at which point you have 15 days to finish and submit your piece. Just keep an eye on this page: https://refiction.com/writing-contests/current.

Entry is free. I accept all genres, though sometimes a specific prompt might limit the field a bit.

At this point, I’m the sole judge, though that’s soon to change. I’m looking for stories that engage, that surprise, that move me to feel and think. Sounds like your works? Go ahead and enter!

WOW: Our writers love contests, so I’m sure you just inspired them to enter. :)

On your Facebook page, you have a great feature called “Writer Spotlight” where you highlight a writer and quote her about her writing journey, specifically the struggles of writing and publishing. I find it inspiring to hear how other writers are tackling these issues. It’s nice to know we’re not alone on the road to publication. How can a writer participate in this feature?

Tal: The simplest way to enter is to shoot me an email over at team[at]refiction[dot]com. In this email, please include three things:

  1. Your story, in the form of 2-3 sentences about the struggles of writing fiction these days.
  2. Your photo, preferably candid.
  3. The name you’d like to go by.

That’s it! I’ll get back to you with your scheduled post date and later let you know as soon as it goes live.

You don’t have to be a published author in order to participate, by the way. If you write, you’re a writer. It’s as simple as that. We’d love to hear your story!

WOW: Tal, besides Re:Fiction, you have a lot going on! You’re the co-owner and webmaster of Riptide Publishing, a web programmer, and an author. How do you find time to write? Do you have a writing schedule?

Tal: I actually have even more going on besides that, but I can’t quite talk about it yet. (Sorry for the tease! Not. :) )

As for finding the time to write, it’s a constant struggle. I’m a very slow writer, so I set my daily goal at 500 words, and even that is a real challenge. My current work-in-progress, a fantasy YA series, is coming along more slowly than a crippled snail swimming through wet cement. The important thing to remember, though, is that even the little numbers eventually add up—as long as you don’t quit!

WOW: 500 words a day is a great, actionable goal. I have a similar goal of writing for one hour every day this year. It does add up!

Okay, fun question: If you were trapped on a deserted island and could choose only one writing resource book, what would it be?

Tal: Oooh, tough one. I’d have to say, Story by Robert McKee. It really opened my eyes to story dynamics, and it’s available in hardcover, which is massive enough to crush scorpions if I run into any.

WOW: That’s thinking proactively! I’ve been stung by a scorpion in Mexico...and trust me, it is not fun. I’ve been meaning to check out that book, so I’m glad it’s one of your favorites.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us, Tal.

Tal: Angela, thanks so much for the interview! I had a great time answering your questions. I hope WOW readers will find value in Re:Fiction as well. See you there!

WOW: Indeed!

Find out more about Re:Fiction by visiting www.refiction.com.


***

Interview by Angela Mackintosh, publisher of WOW! Women On Writing.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

 

Interview with Tracy Maxwell, Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Runner Up


Today we are talking with Tracy Maxwell, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the chance, make sure you check out her fascinating story, "Mazes" and then come back by and read her interview below.

Tracy’s Bio:

Tracy Maxwell is a lover of all things short-form—especially her children. Her poetry and short fiction have been published and prized in anthology and competition, and she recently won Best International Script in the 2017 Tas Gothic Short Screenplay Challenge. As an Addy-winning advertising creative, Tracy’s also written commercials you’ve probably fast-forwarded through. Attempting to extend her word counts, she’s hard at work coaxing a wicked beast of a novel from her stubborn brain, while also tinkering with her first hour-long drama.

WOW: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us and congrats on your story! What was the inspiration behind, "Mazes"? Did it start with an image, a sentence, an idea, research...or?

Tracy: It stems in part from a longstanding aversion to writing romance. I don’t read the genre much, and haven’t found romantic relationships all that compelling in the fiction and content I enjoy. The idea started percolating when I remembered an interview with David Byrne of the Talking Heads I’d read years ago, where he expressed similar sentiments about love songs. His attempt to challenge himself resulted in “Naïve Melody,” one of my very favorite tracks. It’s a romantic song, yes, but it feels almost like a love song for aliens. It was that idea of ‘love songs for aliens’ – along with getting out of my comfort zone – that really sparked “Mazes.”

WOW: I love that you challenged yourself to write in a genre you aren't comfortable in. And I love how Carmen uses her mazes to communicate with the great beyond and the supernatural elements you've included in the story. Does science fiction (or elements of it) always influence your writing? If so, how?

Tracy: Though my favorite author is well known primarily in the genre, I never thought I’d write as much sci-fi as I do! The future and supernatural worlds are freeing landscapes where rules are malleable, which is always helpful and exciting. They’re also great places to plumb how and why people change along with external advances or forces. I also write quite a bit of magical realism, which is really not where I ever thought I’d be.

WOW: Being a science fiction fan myself, I completely agree about the freeing nature of the genre! And congratulations on winning the Tas Gothic Short Screenplay Challenge! Short fiction seems to be your go to writing outlet. Why do you choose short fiction to tell your stories?

Tracy: Thank you so much! I just love the short form. I come from a copywriting background. In advertising, you have to make a tremendous impact in such a tightly defined space. I’ve spent 20 years telling stories in seven words, or 60 seconds, or sometimes in just a name. I think my background affords me a useful toolkit for short fiction, though it’s still always a challenge.

WOW:  That is so true! The need to be brief in short form marketing translates well into short form fiction! So, do you have any advice for new writers wanting to write short fiction? What is the most important thing you can tell them? What mistakes should they avoid making?

Tracy: Know your beats. Those essential moments that propel your story from beginning to end are so important to understand before you start pressing keys, because you need to tell a complete story and don’t have the luxury of word count to make your way there leisurely.

WOW: Those propellers that drive the story forward are so important to know in a short story! So, you mentioned dealing with insomniac thoughts. Can you share some tips on ways to keep track of your ideas, and any tips for insomniacs (or writers simply kept awake by their stories)?

Tracy: Oh, I wish I had the magic sleep juju. No tips there, but I’d love some if you hear any! My brain is always crackling, so I often keep an email draft open on my phone while it charges on my nightstand. With a swipe and a tap I can record the idea, and before I drift off I email the draft to myself. Most of the time.

WOW: Keeping your phone handy to record the idea helps so much! And how did your story change from initial draft to finished form?

The tone changed as I stripped out the extraneous. It was not intentional, but ended up serving the story well.

WOW: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and for your fantastic story.

Make sure you find Tracy over at Twitter @SeaMomster for sporadic progress updates, random insomniac thoughts, and hashtag shenanigans.


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Monday, January 08, 2018

 

Time To Tackle What’s Holding You Back


I just spent ten minutes trying to open a new document, but not because my laptop is slow.

No, I have a better reason than that, friends. A really good excuse: I DIDN’T KNOW HOW.

Crazy, right? Not knowing how to open a document when I’ve been doing it for years. But for years, I’ve been happily plugging along on Precious the Laptop. Me and Precious, we’ve been through a lot. We know each other so well! But now Precious, much like me, is showing signs of wear and tear. As much as I hate to abandon her, the time has come. Fortunately, I have a dandy, relatively new laptop, just lying around, waiting to do something. It belonged to Mister Man.

Now before you think, oh, that’s so sad. She couldn’t bring herself to work on her poor dead husband’s laptop, I’m going to stop you. Because it has nothing to do with sentimentality and everything to do with resisting change.

I don’t want to learn all the ins and outs of this new laptop. It’s Windows 112 or something while Precious is still back there on Windows 5 and three-quarters. The new one is fast and sleek and zips along with all its keys intact, and poor Precious? She weighs a ton, putters out after thirty minutes if she’s not plugged in, and don’t even get me started on her keys.

So my mind’s made up, and everything will take me twice as long until I learn all the secrets of this new laptop. And yet, I know that by the end of the month, I’ll be wondering why I waited forever to embrace this change. It will totally be worth it!

Which brings me to you, dear writers. What have you been putting off? What change are you running from? What new (or old) writing aspect has you cringing in fear?

January—that fresh start month—is the perfect time to tackle your foe. So right this minute, before the year gets any older, I want you to shout out your weakness, your downfall, your whatever-it-is that’s keeping you from meeting your full writing potential. Don’t think too much, just shout the first thought that comes to you!

Querying agents!

Writing a synopsis!

Self-publishing!

Attending a conference!

Figuring out a new laptop!

Great! Now I want you to write it down in big letters on an 8 x 12 sheet of paper. Next, post it somewhere you can see it all the time. On the refrigerator door. Across your bathroom mirror. ON THE TV.

You are not allowed to move that sheet of paper until you’ve begun to tackle whatever is on it. I promise that once you do, you’ll feel empowered! And what’s more, the sooner you act, the closer you’ll be to overcoming whatever is holding you back.

Precious the Laptop served me well, but look out, brave new writing world. Me and Precious.2 are coming for you! 


Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer and she's on her way, figuring out the new laptop! Frankly, she's amazed at all it can do! (But she keeps it on the down low around the house. Precious the Laptop is the jealous type.) Cathy also talks about writing stuff  at her blog, so come say hello and happy 2018, y'all!

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

 

5 Ways to Find New Writing Ideas

photo credit: Kevin Johnston printing via photopin (license)

Writing ideas are funny things. Sometimes they originate from somewhere specific - a moment you witnessed, a personal life experience, a weird remark you overheard on the bus - and sometimes it's origin is vague. Sometimes an idea will saunter in from the back door and present itself as an image in your mind that won't let you ignore it. And then the dry spell happens. I've had so many instances in my life that my usual creative well was dry and I had to draw from outside sources to generate a new writing idea so I can scratch the creative itch.  But where can we get these ideas? Here's a few places I can recommend to get these brand new ideas.

1) Old newspapers.

While I don't recommend hoarding old newspapers (from my experience I find that spiders and bugs like loose paper), there are ways to find old newspapers online. It can be a vague journey, though, because sometimes a newspaper from 1982 can inspire you and sometimes it doesn't. However, there are a few gems out there that make it worth keeping. Just consider this newspaper below:



The headline above is from the "Evening Independent" from Feb 5, 1940.

I found this once and as I read the story further, it stayed with me. Now, it sits in the back of my mind waiting to be connected to a plot line. And these types of searches in old newspapers inspire me so much. So when you go to the Google Archive search area, if you aren't sure where to start, just start searching words like "mystery" or "strange" or "unexplained" and then you will begin to uncover the inspiring stories from the past.

2) Unsolved Mysteries

Despite what this suggests, I promise I'm not much of a mystery writer. However, I'm a huge fan of the show Unsolved Mysteries (originally hosted by Robert Stack!) and there is a Reddit forum, inspired by the series, and created purely for unsolved mysteries. It's a fascinating place to browse and if you are ever stumped for a story, solve a mystery being discussed in this forum and turn it into a story of your own.

3) Create a story through music.

I stumbled across this idea recently when I had a song inspire an idea and then another song I heard after seemed to connect to that very same idea (even though they were two completely different songs!). The idea here is to take a favorite song of yours and try to link it up with another song that is completely different.

For example, just take the song "Chandelier by Sia" (that I love to shamelessly sing at the top of my lungs). When you listen to the lyrics, you realize the song is about someone that wants to escape from reality. What you do is link that song up with something that is entirely different. Link it up to Brenda Lee's, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." What if these two songs featured the same character? Thinking about this can take you on a very unique journey. How can the same character relate to both songs? What can that story say?

4) Write about a minor character from another story.

Have you ever had a character you liked who basically lived as an extra in the setting of your story and you couldn't figure out how to make them a star? We all have those characters, I think. And if you are stumped for ideas, try to go back to that character and write from their perspective. Not everything in this character's life revolved around the main character of that previous story. What else can be happening within this setting or this character's life? Let that lead you to your next idea.

5) Play the "what next" game.

Whenever I'm stumped for what to write, but I do want to write, I like to imagine a person outside of wherever I'm at and imagine what this person could be doing right now. I tend to do that even when it's late at night and the whole world is asleep. So, I take this imagined person outside the city I live and land them somewhere else. Where is this somewhere else? What's happening? What's happening next? And I continue asking, "What next?" And soon, a story is born.

Hopefully as 2018 kick's off, a few of these methods to get those creative juices flowing gets you headed in a creative direction.

Nicole Pyles is a writer and blogger living in Portland, Oregon. When she isn't writing, she's reading books and watching obscure TV movies on YouTube. You can find her blog over at the World of My Imagination. 

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Saturday, January 06, 2018

 

Define your goals

Guess which one of these women I can relate to?

A) The woman who learned to speed write and complete a novel in 10 months while raising twins.

B) A single mom I worked with who told me one morning in the coffee room that because she was wearing a bra, clean clothes and shoes that matched, she considered herself the winner of the day!

The answer is B.

It's not that I've never accomplished a goal. I have. But in the long run, I have many more days like my former colleague than I do the Wonder Woman in the Example A. And that's OK. For Wonder Woman, she set a goal and accomplished it. My colleague did the same. They are both winners, but their definitions of the word "winning" vary greatly.

I'm happy for Wonder Woman, but I will never be her. Her goal won't work for me, just like my goal of finding the best burger in town probably won't work for her (this is really a goal of mine). We have different strengths and weaknesses. I couldn't have written a book in 10 months when my (twin-free) household included two small children. But I finished graduate school while pregnant with my oldest. I also know I couldn't have done it after having a baby like my friend Michelle did. We each determined our own best path.

There are many ways to fail, and trust me, I've tried a lot of them. By making our goals too difficult, we set ourselves up for failure. By comparing ourselves to others, we fail, and by letting others dictate the parameters of our success, we fail.

But there are also many ways to succeed. For me, it was listening to that inner voice that told me what I was doing right. We each get to set the bar as high or low as necessary, and define the goal. We can even change our goals when they no longer work for us.

Knowing yourself is the key, because success comes from within. For some of us, it's speed-writing a book in 10 months. And for others, it's just getting out of bed each day and heading off to work wearing a bra, clean clothes and matching shoes. So define your own success, and go for it!



Mary Horner's story Shirley and the Apricot Tree was recently published in Kansas City Voices. She has written for numerous publications and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges, and earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis.

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Friday, January 05, 2018

 

Friday Speak Out!

Hello lovely Muffin reader, we'd love to hear from you this year!  On Fridays we have guest post days, so that our community can to get to know each other. Submit a post about women and writing to our ongoing blog program.

Here are some examples of Friday Speak Out posts we've published:
Note: We welcome submissions from previous Friday Speak Out contributors.

How To Submit: Submit your 250 - 500 word post in the body of your email to our blog editor Marcia Peterson: marcia@wow-womenonwriting.com. Upon acceptance, we will ask for your bio, links, bio photo, and any other pictures to illustrate the article. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Thursday, January 04, 2018

 

Interview with Amanda Stauffer, Author of Match Made in Manhattan

Today we're chatting with Amanda Stauffer, author of the forthcoming novel, Match Made in Manhattan (Skyhorse, January 23, 2018). This interview is a blast! Read on to find out why she ultimately wrote her book as a novel instead of a memoir, the benefits of writing outside (in Paris and New York), whether she's a plotter or a pantser, what you shouldn't do when marketing your book, and what she's up to now with her second book.

About Match Made in Manhattan by Amanda Stauffer (Skyhorse, 2018)

After two intense, dead-end relationships, serial monogamist Alison finds herself confused, lonely, and drastically out of touch with the world of modern dating. Refusing to wallow, she signs up for a popular dating app and resolves to remain open-minded and optimistic as she explores the New York City singles' scene. With the click of a button, her adventures begin: On one date, she's dumped before the first kiss; on another, she dons full HAZMAT gear; she meets a tattooed folk singer turned investment banker, an undercover federal agent, and dozens of other colorful, captivating personalities.

Match Made in Manhattan is a fast-paced, contemporary story about the struggles of dating in the digital age. Replete with online profiles, witty dialogue, e-mails, and texts, and a super-supportive group of female friends, this all-too-real and relatable debut novel will have readers laughing, crying, and rooting for Alison.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (January 23, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1510728090
ISBN-13: 978-1510728097
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Humor, Contemporary

Match Made in Manhattan is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Skyhorse, and Target.

.................interview with Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Thank you so much for being here Amanda! Congratulations on Match Made in Manhattan - how exciting!

You lived in Paris and New York—two wonderful cities to draw inspiration from. You mentioned your most productive writing sessions happened in public places. Where do you like to write in public, and what is your routine once you sit down? Are there certain types of writing—like writing certain scenes or dialogue—that work better outdoors?


Amanda: I prefer to write in public primarily because I’m much more productive when I can’t access Internet or log onto Wifi. All of Match Made in Manhattan was written while I was living in Paris, and I can still remember where certain scenes were written (The Tom chapter: a creperie below my apartment. The correspondence with Older Luke from Istanbul: a bench in the Tuileries Garden.) A lot of my current WIP has been written on the roof of my building in Manhattan or in the Swedish café around the corner from me. To be honest, I’m not really picky about which scenes get written in which environments—I’ll take any free chair in a café, park, library, etc. and pick up wherever I left off. I generally only write when I have 2+ hours of uninterrupted quiet time, though between work/life/family, that’s been pretty unpredictable the last few years. So as long as my laptop is within reach, I write whenever I can, wherever I am.

WOW: Sounds absolutely dreamy (and delicious)!

You mentioned you'd been on a myriad of first dates through Match.com, which served as inspiration for your novel. Are any of the characters and situations based on life experiences? Please share one (or more)!

Amanda: Alison’s experiences are inspired by my own. I’d been dumped before the first kiss, donned full HAZMAT gear on a third date, and been set up with another date’s mom; I’d fallen—hard—for a tattooed indie-singer-turned-investment banker, and swapped far-fetched (but true) work stories with a federal agent. Four out of five of these things now happen to Alison in the book.

I tend to write what I know. That said, as a work of fiction and in order to protect people’s privacy, all the male suitors have been fictionalized. However, unlike the men, Alison’s funny, generous, and wonderfully supportive friends and family bear uncanny resemblances to their nonfictional counterparts.

WOW: And the men sigh with relief I'm sure!

Why did you decide to write the book as fiction, as opposed to memoir?

Amanda: It was actually decided for me. I queried agents on an earlier iteration of the manuscript . . . which was memoir. Six months later, my agent had received one very thoughtful revise-and-resubmit and half a dozen rejections. The resounding consensus was that I needed a bigger platform in order to sell it as memoir. So, I spent time reading a lot of possible comp titles in commercial women’s fiction, and I rewrote sections of the manuscript to include some of the traditional underpinnings of the genre: workplace scenes, interior monologue, a quasi-“black moment.” And necessarily, a lot of the men became composite characters, and all identifying details were changed.

The protagonist, however, didn’t change a whole lot, so when people ask me about Alison’s character, her decisions, her job—I often find myself inadvertently (and embarrassingly) flipping between the first and third person. I need to work on this.

WOW:  I'm sure it gets confusing given the roots of Match Made in Manhattan. I hear you're working on a second book. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Amanda: I am! I’m about halfway through a character-driven women’s fiction novel focusing on the ebbs and flows of a female friendship forged freshman year of college between two very different women: an outgoing, driven, hyper-rational New Yorker, and her ethereal, artistic, moody classmate, who hails from a broken-down log cabin in Kentucky. With chronological chapters that skip forward months and years in time, the book features a strong, chatty, and intelligent narrative voice, not dissimilar from that of Match Made in Manhattan, though it delves into more complex themes of the give-and-take of female friendship, and how alternately easy and hard it can be to forgive and forget.

WOW: You clearly are very driven, but let me ask, are you a plotter or pantser? We'd love to hear about your writing method.

Amanda: Definite plotter. I had this book outlined 5 years before I finally got around to writing it, and the “outline” was 80 pages long.

WOW: Your book is getting close to its publication date—congratulations! What are some of the ways you are marketing it, and do you have any tips for fellow authors?

Amanda: Oh goodness. This could be my next book – though I’m leery of giving any advice until we see if my efforts actually reap rewards. While I was incredibly self-conscious and shy about asking authors for advice on my agent/publisher/contract questions, by the time the marketing and PR phases rolled around, I lost all inhibition and asked every author I knew for a phone call or coffee date so I could pick their brains. While it was unanimous that there is no “secret sauce,” I did get a lot of advice on what people tried that didn’t work. For example, many authors I know found that paid ads on Facebook and certain daily deal services didn’t yield sales, ditto for self-funded book tours. Hence I never pursued those avenues. As for what I did do, I pitched constantly. I created an excel document of over 150 print and digital media sites, book bloggers, and bookstagrammers who I hoped might review my novel, then I stalked them and wrote personal(ish) e-mails pitching the book and offering a galley copy. This took a tremendous amount of time that I had been unprepared to spend. On the bright side, a good number of people wrote back requesting galleys, but my book isn’t out yet, so TBD how many will run reviews, or if those reviews will be favorable.

WOW: Amanda, it certainly has been a pleasure! We hope to hear more from you! (maybe an upcoming book blog tour? wink wink )

Find Amanda and Match Made in Manhattan online:

Website:
https://amandastauffer.wordpress.com/

Social:
https://www.instagram.com/aspark711/

https://twitter.com/ASpark7

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

 

Find a Voice That's Unique to You



Voice.

It’s something we hear about all the time. It’s why the opening pages of a story or novel are so important. If the voice of the writer isn’t right—if it doesn’t ring true—there is nothing to keep the reader engaged. Right now I’m reading a historical fiction novel I received as a Christmas gift. The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash chronicles the story of 29-year-old mill worker Ella May Wiggins, who was murdered in Bessemer City, N.C. shortly after attending a union rally in the hopes of making a better life for her and her children. The novel starts out in third person, telling a bit of Ella’s story, and then segues into a letter written by one of her daughters, who is now 75 years old in present day.

The opening chapter featuring Ella piqued my interest and tugged at my hearstrings as I read more about the plight of the mill worker during that time period—particularly a female one with four children whose husband had deserted the family. When I got to the next chapter, the one told in the voice of Ella’s daughter, Lilly, I thought to myself, “This is kind of long-winded and rambling and going all over the place.” For example:

And she was right, Edwin. You exist whether it is written down or not, and you are dead whether it’s written down or not too. If I decide not to send you this letter, that will not mean that the things I have written down never happened, that they are somehow less significant because I a the only one who has seen these words.

Then I smacked my forehead with my palm. Of course, that’s what it sounded like, because the character telling the story was an elderly woman who is trying to get all her thoughts on paper before she loses them altogether. The author had created a voice that was very authentic and completely different from the chapter before and after. As an author, that’s a very difficult thing to do.

Another one of my favorite novels, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, is told from the point of view of a teenage girl and boy who are both struggling with depression. While the girl’s voice works, it was the voice of the boy, Finch, that really drew me in. It’s clear after the first few chapters that he has bipolar disorder, but does not want the stigma of treatment or taking medication. His voice will break the reader’s heart into pieces:

Before he died, Cesare Pavese, believer in the Great Manifesto wrote, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”
I remember running down a road on my way to a nursery of flowers.
I remember her smile and her laugh when I was my best self and she looked at me like I could do no wrong and was whole. I remember how she looked at me the same way even when I wasn’t.
I remember her hand in mine and how that felt, as if something and someone belonged to me.

I have a middle-grade novel I once submitted to an editor I met at a writer’s conference. After she read the first ten pages, she gave me a kind piece of advice. The concept was interesting—the voice not so much. I had not nailed the voice of the 10-year-old girl telling the story and I knew it meant I needed to go back and work on the novel more.

So you may wonder how to nail down the right voice in your writing. From everything I’ve ever read on this topic, the two tips that stand out to me are “read everything you can get your hands on" and “write, write, write.” It can take writing drafts upon drafts of short stories and several novels before you get the voice right. This is not meant to be discouraging by any means, but it helps me understand why my middle-grade novel needed work. It’s also why I’m still revising my other novels—I know the voices aren’t quite there yet. But I’ll keep writing, and revising, because I know that’s the only way to nail the perfect voice.

Do you struggle with creating an authentic voice in your writing? I’d love to hear your tips!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also blogs at FinishedPages.com. Her short story, “The Polaroid,” recently won first place Suspense/Thriller category in the 2018 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

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