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Thursday, March 15, 2018


Writing Retreats: A Time to Fill (With Writing)

        Well, router problems plagued me. Finally, I am able to post.

        I recently was at a writing retreat. Two days to do nothing but write... It was heavenly. It was a productive experience for several reasons:

  • We started fresh. I've been to some retreats that begin on Friday evening, and by that time, I'm toast. Nothing much gets accomplished. I'm battling falling asleep while eating the dinner or engaging in the conversation.
          This retreat began on Saturday morning, when everyone was alert and refreshed.

  • It was unstructured. I know, I know, there are some people who would like little "workshops" or sessions at various times during the day when they go on a retreat. I, however, was looking forward to long spans of time to do nothing but writing and revising and pondering.
          So, we formed groups of 3, and each threesome chose a couple of times during the weekend to
          get together and respond to each other's writing. Other than that, our time was our own.

  • There were goodie bags for everyone. In the bags were chocolate and packets of fig bars and protein bars. Along with the edibles was a note that explained each of the choices. For example, there was a handful of Hershey Nuggets in the bag, and the note said, "Sometimes all  we need is a nugget of an idea to get our writing started." For the fig bar, it said, "There are times that you just have to forge ahead with your writing, not giving  a flying fig what your inner critic thinks."
          Chocolate is always good...

  • A wide variety of projects were being worked on, which was inspiring. One teacher at the retreat (they were all teachers) was working on writing some new songs. She even brought her guitar and sang some John Prine and Alison Krauss, along with some of her own compositions. Being serenaded while I wrote was delightful. 
          Other teachers were working on novels, short stories, poetry--there was even a teacher working
          on a synopsis and query letter (me). The synopsis is still a hot mess.The query letter? It's still in
          its embryonic stage...

          How about you? What do you like to see when you go to a writing retreat?

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a wife, a mother, a grammy, a writer and a dog rescuer. In her spare time she knits, reads, and watches sad movies. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, check out her blog.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Top Tips for Writer's Conference Attendees

Top Tip #3: Dress comfortably. Even if you're a presenter.

So I’ve just returned from my writer’s conference and I thought I’d share a few tips before I forget everything. And I’m starting with the biggest tip of all: volunteer.

You know what? I don’t think that sounded emphatic enough so I’m going to say it again: VOLUNTEER!! (I added the extra exclamation point because it’s that important.)

Volunteer because you will meet lots of people, and for a newbie at a conference, that’s the best and easiest way to make new connections.

If you’re working with food service, you can bond with the crew as you figure out where the cups and/or napkins are hidden. Maybe you’ll end up timing critiques; you can comfort the people waiting to get their critiques and commiserate with the ones who’ve just received their critiques. If you volunteer to drive a faculty member to the airport, you’ll make a great impression with your helpfulness. Plus, you can get all kinds of insider information from agents or editors as long as you don’t drive off the road while chatting. (You will be remembered if you drive off the road, but maybe not in the way you’d imagined.) And if you’re helping with registration, you’ll get to meet every person that attends the conference, and I’ll bet you’ll meet someone who coincidentally lives right down the road from you and become life-long writing partners!

Or maybe not. The point is, volunteering gets you inside the conference instead of sitting on the sidelines of the conference. So if there’s a box to check off with “Volunteer” on it, sign up! I promise you’ll be glad you accepted the opportunity.

The next tip is how savvy writers beat the system. Attend the conference with your critique group members or a couple of writing friends. Get together ahead of time and discuss the presentations or workshops and what will best serve your groups’ and/or personal needs. And then spread out and cover that conference like kudzu!

While one of you attends the plotting workshop, the other takes notes in the character workshop. Someone goes to hear the editor talk about publishing trends and someone else goes to the agent who’s talking about the perfect pitch. I know it sounds not quite above board, but as long as you keep the information among the members who attended the conference, it’s fair and square. If you blast all the information from the conference out on the web, however, you have crossed a line. That’s not fair to the presenter who will be giving that same presentation in a few months at another conference, and it’s not fair to all the attendees who paid to get that information.

All of these tips will guarantee that you’ll get the most out of your conference experience. They worked for me and these tips will work for you, too! Now, if I could just remember where I put my notes…

~ (A very tired) Cathy C. Hall 

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Write where you are

I've been reading about famous writers and their writing spaces, which are as varied as the writing styles themselves. John Cheever put on a suit and rode the elevator down to the basement storage area of his apartment building, where he took off the suit and wrote in his boxer shorts. Virginia Woolf said every woman should have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up,and Marcel Proust wrote in bed. Charles Dickens would rearrange furniture to make the space conducive to writing, and Thomas Mann had a large desk covered with objects, reducing the actual writing area.

I'm always looking for a good place to write. I don't know what makes it good, but I know it when I see it. A few weeks ago, I found a new coffee shop inside a creative community space/art gallery in a former strip-mall bar that features a long wooden table near the front windows, and I love it.

I recently visited Lindenwood University's (St. Charles, MO) new library with its soaring wall of windows. Contemporary furniture and seating in an open space with high ceilings invite everyone to sit, read, or write. A small coffee shop is tucked to the side, and the stacks include rows and rows of tall book shelves with chairs and desks scattered throughout. I love it.

I wanted to compare the new space to the old, and see how it had changed since my days as a grad student. I spent a lot of time in Butler Library, built in 1929, with its dark, castle-like lobby and old, soft sofas and massive fireplace. I loved it.

Butler Library had carrels not much larger than a small closet in the (even darker) basement. Students could close the sliding doors to shut out the world. I remember looking out the window onto a street with beautiful old houses on the other side, but I'm not sure if that's accurate (it's been a while). Windows or not, I loved it.

Regardless of where you write, and whether or not you like background noise or complete silence while staring at a blank wall or taking in a spectacular view, it's really not about the space. Just write where you are. I'm writing this with my feet on the coffee table in my family room with the computer resting on my lap. It's not the coolest space, but I'm writing, and I love it.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She completed the Writing Certificate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and is a certified medical writer.

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Monday, March 12, 2018


Interview with Nicole Blades, author of Have You Met Nora?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Nicole Blades about her writing and her latest book Have You Met Nora? and it is my distinct privilege to share this interview with WOW! readers today. Stop back in a few weeks for my 5 star review of Have You Met Nora?

About the Book:

She’s blossomed from a wealthy surgeon’s beautiful daughter to elegant socialite to being the top fashion stylist in the country. And Nora Mackenzie is only days away from marrying into one of New York’s richest, most powerful families. But her fairy tale rise is rooted in an incredible deception—one scandal away from turning her perfect world to ashes . . .

What no one knows is that Nora is the biracial daughter of a Caribbean woman and a long-gone white father. Adopted—and abused—by her mother’s employer, then sent to an exclusive boarding school to buy her silence, Nora found that “passing” as a white woman could give her everything she never had.

Now, an ex-classmate who Nora betrayed many years ago has returned to her life to even the score. Her machinations are turning Nora’s privilege into one gilded trap after another. Running out of choices, Nora must decide how far she will go to protect a lie or give up and finally face the truth.

About the Author:

Nicole Blades is a novelist, speaker, and journalist. She started at Essence magazine, later co-founded the online magazine SheNetworks, and worked as an editor at ESPN and Women’s Health.

Nicole's work has appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping,,, and BuzzFeed. Her latest book, HAVE YOU MET NORA?, is out now, along with her previous novels THE THUNDER BENEATH US, and EARTH’S WATERS. Listen to her weekly podcast, Hey, Sis!, about women finding their focus and place in business, art, culture, and life. And find out more at:

Finding Nicole Online:





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

WOW: Nicole, thank you so much for chatting with me today. You have such attention to detail in your writing. I can't wait to hear more about you and your writing process. Let's get to it:

Where do you write? What does your space look like?

Nicole: This is a great question, because I'm always into where folks write and what their writing space looks like. Uh, a.k.a. I'm nosy! I typically write at my desk in my home office. It's this really cool, rustic, thick wood desk. It's by a window that allows the warmth of the sun to spill over on me. Something about natural light helps my overall writing mood. And I live in New England, so you definitely need whatever sun and warmth you can get during the long winter months. The office is pretty bright, full of lots of natural light. Also important to me and my general mood. The window looks out to this large, gorgeous, leafy tree that birds seem to really enjoy. I keep promising to research what kind of tree it is, because it's served me so well for the last four years. (Maybe that detail will make it into a future story!)

The desk is relatively clean. I don't work well with clutter. I have a notebook and a book or two stacked off to the side along with a plastic glass with pens—my fancy fountain pen I bought in Italy has its own separate stand—as well as a folder with notes and magazine pages I've torn out with pictures and articles for research, and my Blue Yeti microphone for my podcast. Oh, and there's also a photo of Idris Elba in a suit smiling right at me with this message I formatted on it ("I Forgive You").

Sometimes I would need a change of scenery or just to be around other people to observe and eavesdrop (yep.) on their random interactions. That's when I head to a café or coffeeshop to work. But I always look for a window seat where I can set up the "satellite office." A window is a must. And it needs to look out at something. Brick walls or gross, leaking air conditioning units do not count as something.

WOW: I agree, clutter is going to be the death of me (you can imagine with a family of 7...)

In Have You Met Nora?, I love Nora’s tenacity. In what ways are you and Nora similar? Tell us more about how this character and how the book came about?

Nicole: Nora is definitely tenacious. Because of certain spoiler-y circumstances and choices made by her and for her, she has created this ideal version of herself and living a life that she feels she deserves. And now she is faced with the question: How far are you willing to go to protect it?

In terms of my similarities with Nora, there are some basic things that we have in common: born and raised in Montrealer; Caribbean roots; attended an all-girls Catholic high school (though hers was a boarding school in Vermont, mine was not); and we're both strong-willed. But that's about it... thankfully! Her life is filled with much more drama and crazy twists and turns than mine will ever be, and I'm completely fine with that.

The idea for the story came where all my other ideas do: real life. I’ve always been deeply interested in identity, more specifically, how someone organizes their entire spirit around being something—a chef, an activist, a mother, a writer, a survivor. In so many instances, claiming that title involves a significant moment when it becomes undeniably clear how essential it (cooking, parenthood, writing, fighting injustice, etc.) is to who you are at your core and how you want the world to view you. For so many people that big moment involves stepping out of a comfort zone and putting faith in that identity, ready to defend it to anyone who questions or doubts it. It's that level of commitment to an identity and selfhood that intrigues me.

For this story, I wanted to go even deeper with this concept of identity and add race into the discussion. In Nora's case, this meant examining how someone could construct an identity rooted in a lie. And then, how far would they go to protect that identity, deception be damned! It's like fake it 'til you make Level 100.

WOW: Level 100 for sure! No one is ever quite who they seem to be.

What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2018 and beyond?

Nicole: Next for me is, I’m working on a new novel. I don’t like to let the steam of the pot while I’m cooking up something, so I’ll just say that it’s about a scientist, struggling to move through her broken life, who stumbles into investigating a mysterious illness that’s killing off the nation’s youth.

My writing goals for 2018 are the same as they always are every year: Keep writing. I take writing seriously; it's my vocation. And when I’m actively writing, I’m very focused on it. It's be said many times this past year, but it's so true: now more than ever, our stories--women's stories, Black stories, people of color and those historically pushed to the margins of the main narrative--are important and need to be told. It may sound a little corny, but I feel so honored to be part of this immense, important tradition of storytelling, and I want to keep at it for as long as I have a voice and something to say.

WOW: Like anything, we just have to keep going. Thank you for sharing your talent for storytelling.

Who has been most influential in your writing career and how so?

Nicole: There are two people whom I always thank for ignited my love of storytelling and writing. The first is my father, who is a fantastic, natural storyteller. The way he would have someone on the edge of their seat waiting to hear what happened next--all because of how he painted this picture with words--was thrilling and fascinating to me. The other person is my third grade teacher, Mr. Harry Polka. He was a big supporter of creative writing and seeing what these young minds dreamed up. He encouraged us to write down our stories and to do it everyday. And he showed such interest in what we were writing, too. It really set me up to believe that what I had to say was interesting and even important. I’ll always be grateful to him for that. And I keep saying that I will track the man down one day to thank him in person or at least by a handwritten note. I will, I will, I must!

WOW: Thank you again for sharing with our readers. I hope we will work together in the future on a book blog tour, but in the meantime just keep on telling those stories!

Dear Readers - pick up your copy today and be sure to stop back in a few weeks for more on Have You Met Nora?


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Sunday, March 11, 2018


Interview with Top Ten Essay Contest Winner, Cheryl Fines

Cheryl Fines teaches English at a secondary school on the Canadian prairies. She loves exploring the many genres of literature—both through reading and writing—with her students. Few things are more satisfying for her than seeing that spark of passion for literature ignite, or witnessing a student find her voice through writing. When she’s not teaching, Cheryl channels her energy into her writing. Most often, she writes fiction, in a wide range of formats, but she also dabbles in nonfiction. Cheryl is especially drawn to human rights and social justice issues; this particular piece of writing emerged organically, in response to the outpouring of #metoo personal stories, and the subsequent torrent of reactions.

Cheryl lives in a small Manitoba city with her partner and their two children. She values spending time with her family and friends. Cheryl’s other pursuits include fibre arts—spinning, knitting, felting, dyeing—all things wool! Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our 2017 essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Cheryl: Thank you. It was a matter of timing, really. Right when I was mentally sorting out the #MeToo movement – how it affected me, how it would affect my daughters, how people were reacting – I saw the reminder that the essay competition was drawing to a close. I knew I would not be writing in a formal essay format; however, I thought that your rules were flexible enough to permit my unorthodox form. And that was that! I knew that writing about #MeToo would be a useful exercise for me; the contest entry was a little added bonus.

WOW: Your essay, “#MeToo” covered a hot topic, and you really did justice to the subject. I related to your descriptions of the issues, and the feelings that surround the dredging up of these tucked away memories. Did the piece come together quickly or was it a challenge?

Cheryl: As far as words on paper, it came together quickly. However, I’d been mulling it over a great deal, before I sat down to write. It has an intentional air of urgency and is a little helter-skelter, because I didn’t want to lose that tone of aggravation, anger, regret … of calling everyone out on their/our role in this mess. It was meant to sound ranty and challenging and messy. It was meant to leave the reader uncomfortable in his/her own knowledge and experiences.

What I think is important to say here is that these experiences of mine (the tip of the iceberg, and certainly not covering the most egregious offenses) are not worth talking about by virtue of their being horrible, isolated occurrences. Instead, they are laid out for all to see because they’re so very common. Sexual abuse and assault are such a routine part of our lives as girls and women – but the relative silence about it have made us all complicit in its cover-up. Whether or not it’s making things unpleasant for some, #MeToo is long overdue, and I believe that, as a society, we could not move toward gender equality without this longstanding disgrace being exposed and called out, leaving a clear path on which to move forward.

#MeToo has left me pondering the discomfort that had to have happened for every major social change movement. Forcing people to consider and reconsider their beliefs, practices, and desires is a necessary component of any social movement. I’ve heard from so many women – typically older women – that it’s unfair for the few to be dragged through the muck when it was just the way it was. I understand that idea, but of course, I do not agree. In any situation where a group of people could do something wrong because of their privilege (be it male, white, WASP, etc), it has come down to the individual’s moral integrity. Wrongdoing simply because you can, or because it’s always been this way, is a wielding of power that is not excusable.

We’ve seen men in all sorts of power positions get called out recently – men in the entertainment industry, politics, religious figures, doctors - men with power, who chose to use it in a way they knew was wrong. Period. End of story. Just because the casting couch was a longstanding tradition in show biz does not make it acceptable. Nor does it make it inevitable. Choices were made. No doubt they were not anticipating being called out, but it’s a risk anyone takes when they choose to keep wrongdoings under wraps. I think it is worth noting that there were no shortage of men with access to the same privilege, who opted not to abuse it, but to act in an honorable way.

As #MeToo proceeded, it galled me to hear the voices of men rise up with the message, “I had no idea.” When virtually everyone (victims included) is mixed up in the same giant scheme, naturally, there is a certain embarrassment in exposure. But to claim ignorance is so much worse than simply recognizing the truth and building from there. It is, indeed, to continue to (try to) use one’s position of power for personal benefit.

I am struck by the vastness of conspiracy. For decades, probably centuries, women’s silence enabled those men to carry on with impunity. This silence was deeply embedded in us – personally, I think it’s all tied in with the (overwhelmingly female) concepts of politeness, compliance, modesty, and the like – carefully moulded characteristics of a “good girl” or “good wife” etc – all of which feeds directly in to the problem again. We’re all accountable. My little writing piece provided me with an outlet to express some of my thoughts on the matter, but also, allowed me to stand up and be counted.

WOW: Again, you've eloquently spoken about the movement and the surrounding issues. Thank you! With a teaching job and parenting responsibilities, how do you make time to write? What works for you?

Cheryl: Million dollar question! I don’t write nearly as much as I should (or want to). I have joined a supportive group of writers at my local library, and enjoy reading their work and offering feedback, just as much as I appreciate theirs in return. That keeps my toe in the water.

Beyond that, my writing is hit and miss. Sometimes I get on a roll, and carve out time to write regularly, and unfortunately, often, it takes a back seat to more pressing needs. It’s a juggling act, but I’m usually dropping the ball. If you have strategies, I’d love to hear them!

WOW: Well, I'm gathering strategies too! Past winner interviewees have shared some of their ways, and readers can please comment below. Besides writing, you mention fibre arts as an interest. Can you tell us about that? What sorts of projects are you working on?

Cheryl: Oh, sure. I am a self-proclaimed woolaholic. I have always knit and crocheted, but over time, added on dyeing (roving and wool yarn), needlefelting, wet felting, fulling, and now also spinning. I’m about to try my hand at weaving. I plan to process a fleece this summer – the only thing I don’t really anticipate doing is shearing - I’ll leave that to someone else! As for what projects I’m working on – a few shawls lately, sometimes socks or mitts – I’m more fond of smaller projects than big ones. I like the sense of accomplishment. (Hey – maybe that’s why I also like flash fiction!)

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

Cheryl: I’ve entered the WOW Flash Fiction contest many times. I love the challenge in telling a complete story in such a restricted number of words. And now, I’ve also entered the nonfiction contest once. I would urge anyone who enjoys writing to enter your contests – they’re inexpensive to enter, and what a great community of writers! Plus, if you struggle (as I do) with making time to write, there’s nothing like a looming deadline!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018


5 Tips for Naming Your Characters

Does anyone else have a hard time naming their characters? I think the reason I have a hard time with it is that I want the name to find me rather than me finding the name. Often times until the name of a character finds me, I'll give my character pretty ordinary names or even a single letter to refer them by.

There has to be a better way instead of waiting for the "eureka" moment! I read an article with Writer's Digest recently that described what authors do to name their characters and many do the very thing that I do - I wait for the name to hit me.

However there are a few tips to go by that have jumped out at me:

1) Read newspapers for the era you are writing for.

There are a few different ways to find newspapers online. First, is through Google News. I'm a huge fan and it's helped me with figuring out several ideas.

Depending where your character origins from or when they were born, you can use these newspapers to narrow down common names used at the time. Also it's helpful to figure out surnames for your character.

If you need some help with searching through their archives, I recommend taking a look at their help section. This can help you look things up by region or date.

Also Chronicling America is another great tool to use. They have an extensive collection you can search through.

2) Give the name a story.

Maybe the characters named their daughter Layla after the Eric Clapton song. Maybe the father loves mustangs and that is why they named their daughter Shelby. Maybe there are a generation of men in the family named Noah.

Sometimes a name has a story connected to the parents and why they named their child. Think about your own name. Why did your parents name you your name? This information can not only help you name your character, but also become part of their history, past and maybe even how they see themselves and relate to their parents.

3) Consider your characters age.

If your character was born in 1986, and happens to be 31 or 32 this year, did you know that Michael and Jessica were the top popular male and female names that year? Name popularity by year is another way of figuring out appropriate names for your characters. Visit the Social Security Administration's page for unique details on year by year popular names.

4) Have someone name the character for you.

Don't want to think too much about this? Use this for a helpful website: The Character Name Generator. visit this link and type in the region, sex, and decade the character was born in and they will give you a name and even a personality type.

5) For fantasy or non-Earth science fiction names, name something people can read and say.

If your characters do not live on Earth or at least this version of it, make sure that your reader can still read and say these names. A comparable example comes from the Lord of the Rings series. Think of a few names from the book - Aragorn, Frodo Baggins, and Legolas. Any Wheel of Time series fans? Think of those names - Rand al'Thor, Egwene al'Vere, and Mat Cauthon. So while I haven't yet met an Aragorn or Rand al'Thor in this present day and age, these names are easy to read and say.

So while you are writing that next great novel, short story or flash fiction, I hope these tips help you with naming your characters and bringing life to them again.

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Friday, March 09, 2018


Friday Speak Out!: Why I Write

by Melanie Olsen

One morning last week I sat in the car with my high schooler and waited for the school bus. The stop is at the bottom of our street, he could easily walk, but it gives us a few minutes to sit and talk. When the bus pulled up I reached over and grabbed his hand, and I held on just a little longer than usual.

“Mom, the bus is here.”

“I know. I love you, have a good day.”

Please. Please know how much I love you. Please be strong. Please be safe.

I came back to the house, poured a cup of coffee, and sat down at my computer. I have work to do, bills to pay, but instead, I write.

I write to face the fear. To share it. To know that I am not alone.

I write because when I kiss the cheek of my pre-teen as I tuck her in at night, I close my eyes and still feel the soft round cheek of a toddler, and I say a prayer for the strong young lady she is becoming. These words are for her, so she hears my hopes and fears, and for me too, to always keep these moments close.

It’s what we do, those of us who are blessed, and sometimes haunted, by the words that hang in our mind until we cut them loose onto a page. For so many years I was too self-conscious to share my thoughts and stories. If the words were funny I felt silly, if they were sad, I felt vulnerable. But how does anything great ever happen if we never feel silly or vulnerable?

I write to never forget the feel of a soft flannel shirt against my face when I hugged my Dad.

We write to hold onto the memories, to never let go of the best times, and to never forget the hard times, because those times make up our stories too.

I write to cherish the feel of the sun on my back and dirt on my hands when I sit and plant flowers with my Mom, to look back on words of wisdom, and the certainty of knowing just where I came from.

All these pieces make our stories, and all these stories make us who we are. May we be blessed enough that when we share our words we create a laugh, a tear, or a thought to ponder. And may the only thing left forgotten be the self-consciousness that almost kept us from writing.

* * *
Melanie Olsen is a *mostly* humor writer. She is happiest when she’s with her family, writing, or travelling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, son, daughter, dog, guinea pig, and bearded dragon; There’s never a shortage of comedy material and she can be can be followed at or on Facebook
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, March 08, 2018


Fixing Problems With Third-Person Limited POV

When it's my turn on The Muffin to blog, sometimes, I like to share recent conversations I've had with my novel writing students because I think we can all learn from them. In this most recent one, I think I learned just as much as my student. Here's what happened.

My student is writing an excellent novel with four points of view. In each section, she is writing in third-person limited, so the narration is supposed to be coming from the point of view character of that section. I noticed in this student's chapter last week that this point of view character was sounding more like an omniscient narrator. When I was reading, I felt like I was reading the novel's events like someone was telling me the story while sitting on a cloud and looking down on the earth. In actuality, the events in this section were very upsetting for the POV character. But I couldn't feel it. The writer was too involved in trying to get the plot down correctly, and she lost the voice and the character's feelings in the story during this section.

This happens to us/writers/me all the time. I mean, come on, writing a novel is not easy! And this student of mine has a very complex, interesting, and unique story. Plus, she is writing in four different points of view! So it's no wonder that some of her narration is a little off.

I told her that she needed to really pretend that she was that POV character and put herself in those events and write what this character would see if he was actually there. That's the key. Instead of worrying about making sure the plot is correct or you filled in the backstory or you remembered to have the character open the car door before he started driving the car, you have to get the events down through that point of view character's eyes and even more importantly, his or her heart! What is her body experiencing while these events are unfolding?

It's usually easier to write with emotion with first person. I don't notice this omniscient/loss of voice problem as much with first person narration as I do with third-person limited. So another thing writers can do if they are having this issue is write a section in first person, in the voice of the POV character just to get the events down and the emotions on the page, and then write the section in third-person limited for the novel.

If you are writing a novel in third person or using multiple viewpoints, are there some challenges you've come across that we can all learn from?

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, editor, children's author, and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO. Her next novel writing class starts on Friday, April 6. To find out more information about Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach, please click here

photo by Robert Meeks on

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Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Creativity: Remember to Have Fun

Whether you write part time after your day job or writing is your day job, remember that creating something new should be fun. I’m reminded of that on a regular basis when I log into Twitter. One of the creators types I follow there is Debbie Ridpath Ohi. She is both an illustrator and an author as you can see in Where Are My Books.

Debbie tweets on a regular basis about the importance of merging fun and creativity. And she’s discovered a much more fun way to do this than simply typing a tweet. Check out the fun doodles she creates and posts in these two galleries - Found Objects and Broken Crayons. Debbie’s sense of fun and her commitment to play come through in these pieces and in her other illustrations as well.

Not an illustrator? That’s okay. This year I’m keeping a bulleted journal. I’m not going to claim that this journal holds pages and pages of hand written text. Mostly they are bulleted lists along with various found objects. It may not be your standard journal, but I am still journaling. I started in January so that’s at least 6 weeks longer than I’ve ever managed to journal before.

In my bulleted journal, I’ve experimented with pages and layouts. Some are purely utilitarian. I record what I need to on these pages but . . . really? They’re just blah. I don’t feel particularly inspired.

While I’m not an illustrator, I do like color and I like to play with fonts. So I’ve been doing that on my weekly to do list. Yes, these pages take a lot longer to set up but it is well worth the effort because I really do feel more creative.

Last but not least, it is also a lot of fun to be around other creative people. That was the inspiration behind Wool Gathering, my husband’s name for craft night at our house. I let friends know the date and time and everyone brings a dish to share and something they are working on.

One woman scrapbooks and alters books. We have several knitters who also crochet. There are people who bead, quilt and also paint. And, if you don’t feel like working on your current work-in-progress, coloring is always an option. Everyone left the first gathering discussing what they planned to bring to the next. Not only was it fun but the scrap-booker gave me a photo to work into a story.

Don’t let your creative time become all work. Engage in play. Get together with other creators. Laugh.

Wool Gathering. Word Crafting. The Spinning of Tales. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Just remember to play.


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 March 12th, 2018.

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Monday, March 05, 2018


Stumbling Blocks
I had hoped to offer some wonderful words of writing wisdom in this blog post, but I’m afraid I don’t have much. After starting out the week with high hopes, I floundered, and floundered again.

First, I presented a lofty goal to my accountability group, and as of this writing, I haven’t met it. Then, after telling myself I was going to quit worrying about some issues my oldest child is facing, I didn’t quit worrying. I worried, and worried, and cried, and lost yet another night’s sleep, after which I had to wake up bright and early the next morning and go to work. I also repeatedly and obsessively checked my e-mail because I knew I would be hearing back from the results of a writing competition I entered a few months ago. After finding unexpected success in a recent fiction-writing contest, I had high hopes. Perhaps they were unrealistic hopes, and I spent too much time worrying about whether or not I had done well. I’ve also fallen behind on my personal writing blog and can’t even bring myself to start planning out the next few weeks’ content.

I channeled anxiety and nervous energy in an unhealthy way. Instead of sitting down at my computer and trying to write through it, I turned away from the words that usually bring me comfort. I let the self-doubt creep in, and I let those negative voices in my head nestle their way deep into my psyche. I let them win. Because of that, I wasn’t surprised when I received my standard “thank you for entering the competition, but . . .” e-mail.

It took me a few days, but I’m tunneling my way out of it. I reminded myself that fiction judging is subjective. That’s why some agents will take on a project in a heartbeat while another may say “Meh. Not really for me.” I’ve had several different freelance assignments come to me in the past few weeks, too, so there are still editors who want to work with me. I took myself to see my theatre company’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and I let the tears flow throughout the second act.

Tomorrow is another day, though. I will wake up tomorrow, pour myself a strong cup of coffee, and remind myself how far I have come. The writing journey is full of ups and downs, and my own is no different.

Have you had any stumbling blocks in your writing path lately? How did you deal with them?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also blogs at Her short story, “The Polaroid,” placed first in the Suspense/Thriller category of the 2017 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

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Sunday, March 04, 2018


Interview with Martha Mattingly Payne, Essay Contest Runner Up

WOW! recently announced the winners of our very first Essay Contest and we are proud to announce Martha Mattingly Payne from Atlanta, Georgia as one of the runners up with Marmalade. 

About Martha:

One of six children and a mother of four, Martha Mattingly Payne learned early to write on the sly while juggling the demands of the everyday. Holding degrees in English from UNC-Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt, she’s taught English Lit, edited a city magazine, served as team mom times twelve and room mother times nine, washed 12,010 socks and prepared twice that many meals. A graduate of the Sewanee Writers Conference and the Paris Writers’ Workshop, Payne is currently at work on her second novel, Apple Doll, a multi-generational family story set in Atlanta and north Georgia. She continues to shop her first novel, A Girl of Summer (second runner-up in the 2012 Dana Awards), which tells the story of a young seamstress and the failing Gulf Coast baseball team that raised her. Payne’s poetry and short fiction have been published in Snake Nation Review, the Alabama Literary Review and the Scratch Anthology.

After she lost her mother in 2014, Payne began writing about family and clutter, and the dusty cornersMy Mother’s Attic. A lifetime baseball fan, she is also a former columnist for the Atlanta Braves’ magazine, Chop Talk, and the author of Put Him In Coach!, a humorous Little League memoir that earned a Mom’s Choice Silver Award in 2008.
where the two intersect, in her blog,

Having launched her last teenager to college last fall, Payne now lives with her husband in Atlanta, where she keeps the nest feathered for her children’s occasional return.

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

WOW:  Super glad you are here today Martha - thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and chat! I enjoyed your essay as well as the opportunity to learn more about Marmalade and your writing career.

The details used in this story drew me right in and helped me feel close to the narrator – even her conflicted feelings about the entire experience and conversation. Did it take a long time to decide on the subject matter and setting for this essay? What advice would you give to another author considering a similar submission?

MARTHA: Thanks--I'm so glad you connected with this story and its narrator. It's tough sometimes, when I write these highly personal essays, to know whether readers who don't know me or my family will relate.

I wrote this piece in its original form for my blog, My Mother's Attic (, under the title "Generation Sandwich." I had the experience it's based on at a local grocery store--which incidentally occupies the same physical space where my mother shopped when I was a child. This occurred to me the other day and I thought, why didn't I include an old A & P anecdote in "Marmalade"? It would have made a nice parallel experience. Ah well, opportunity missed. At any rate, it had been over a year since my mother died when my daughter and I stopped into this grocery and we encountered this familiar checkout woman. I'd begun (or so I thought) to move out of that heavy state of grief when you sort of exist within your memories and feel haunted by anxieties about the person you've lost. Then, boom, this woman began to press me, in what at the time felt like a rather intrusive and judgmental way. For days, I couldn't get it out of my head. I fixated on the event and on my own shortcomings where my mother's care was concerned. I recognized then that grief was still right there near the surface, ready to bubble up at any old time. The guilt and the second-guessing rattled around in my brain--had I acted selfishly? Should I have hovered over my mother's every move? Wasn't I only trying to abide by her wishes and give her what little independence she had left? How would I want my own daughter to treat me if/when that time comes?

As with most of my strongest writing, by the time I actually sat down to put this piece together, it sort of bubbled up itself, spilled out naturally, not unlike the feelings of grief I'd been suppressing. I'd been keeping it cooped up in my head for so long and resisting doing the actual work, that the bones of the essay took shape right away. That's nice, when you finally overcome fear or laziness or whatever holds you back and just let loose. I think as far as other writers of this type of memoir-type piece are concerned, I'd recommend exploring your most vulnerable places, places that hurt, and trying to create from there. It's challenging but also very satisfying in the long run.

WOW: Speaking of sitting down and putting things together - could you share with us what your space looks like? Where do you sit down and write? 

MARTHA: Honestly, this is something I struggle with. I've been writing earnestly for over twenty years yet I still don't have a proper space. Even now that my children are older and I have more time and empty rooms in the house, I have trouble settling in to write at home. I get easily distracted and antsy with all the silence, so almost every day I set aside a couple of hours to go to the library or a coffee shop. Something about the anonymous bustle frees me up. So my space is easy to conjure--it looks like the Starbucks or Caribou Coffee on the next corner. A writing friend of mine once said, "Oh, you must be searching for the next line." Not sure if that's it or not, but I like the sound of it. It's kind of romantic. It's what I tell myself now.

WOW:  Personal space? I think I remember what that is!

Being a busy mom myself, I admire your ability to multi-task and I’m wondering if having five siblings helped prepare you for being a mom to four? How so?

MARTHA: Yes, and no. Sorry, if that sounds like a cop out. I grew up the youngest of six and certainly coping with the chaos and energy and maybe most of all, the bumping together of egos and emotions helped prepare me for raising my four children. Come to think of it, maybe that's part of why I've always been able to write more effectively with a little bit of noise and activity around me. On the other hand, I'm the youngest by a lot. My closest brother is nearly eight years my elder. As a pre-teen and teenager at least, I became accustomed to having my own space and plenty of time to myself. So there was still a learning curve in those days when my children were little and crowding in on me all the time. Now I miss that! And I do think my somewhat unique upbringing--being part of a big family and an only child at once--made me both an eager participant and a detached observer, someone who is always stepping back to assess and analyze, which I think any artist must do to be any good.

WOW: You're not the first person to touch on missing those little voices crowding in on you; that's a great reminder to enjoy this time! What advice would you give to other mothers trying to make time for writing and family?

MARTHA: Wedge it in somehow! When my children were young, I never felt like I was getting any writing done. Looking back now, I realize that I was. It was just slow and steady, line by line. I've always loved Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. (Every writer should read it!) She talks about attacking a big project a little at a time, about writing each day only as much as you "can see through a one-inch picture frame." At some point, I convinced myself that even writing for thirty or forty-five minutes while my youngest napped and the others were at school counted as something. I also have to give my husband some credit. We used to complain to each other that we were so overwhelmed with just surviving the day-to-day when our children were small that we felt we were drowning and had no time to do what we loved. Then one day he shared something he'd heard from a colleague that was both deceptively simple and sort of brilliant--change your priorities! Do what you love first and let the other stuff wait! Id like to pass that on ... In my case, it meant all but the essential chores often went undone and some of the volunteering went un-volunteered for. I stopped wasting time trying to be the perfect cook or the ace interior designer or gardener, things I knew in my heart I wasn't cut out for anyway. I started writing first and deep-cleaning and volunteering later (maybe). I imagine some of my fellow parents whispered about me behind my back for not pitching in and having a cluttered house with dated furniture and worn carpet. But I ended up with a laptop full of words. Not as many published words as I would like, but words, and thanks to them, hope.

WOW:  That's very sound advice - thank you!

You are a lifetime baseball fan and former columnist for the Atlanta Braves – what do you credit with this passion for baseball, and how has this passion, somewhat unusual for a female writer, informed your work?

MARTHA: That's easy. As a child, I loved to move and compete--basketball, tennis, dance, and I was a gymnast in high school. I had a father and four brothers who were all either athletes or dedicated spectators. The Braves organization moved to Atlanta, my home town, when I was six. I listened to games on the radio with my father and fell in love with both the game and the lilt of the announcers' voices. My father and I went to games together sometimes, too. Something about baseball's slow easy rhythms appealed to me. I think it's a natural sport for writers to enjoy and write about. Because it's slow-moving, there's time to notice what goes on OTHER than the game--the players goofing off between plays, dugout intrigue between innings, pre-game wedding ceremonies and post-game fireworks ... It can be a rich community spectacle.

There's this too: When I was first married, my husband was a medical resident. He worked late and on weekends a lot, but thanks to televised baseball, I always had company--a game to watch, a team to follow, nearly every night from March through October. My children fell in love with the game, too, sort of naturally. My sons became strong players and that was when I got an eensy bit too passionate, not only about the game but about their Little League adventures ... er, success. When my oldest was twelve, I decided to write my way out of my obsession and ended up with a memoir, Put Him In, Coach! (, which is as much a humorous parenting memoir as anything else. My first novel, A Girl of Summer (now titled Seamstress for the Team), grew out my passion for the game and out of my love for Florida's Gulf Coast, where it's set. The novel tells the story of a young motherless woman who was half-raised by her local minor league baseball team. She becomes the team's laundress and seamstress and finds plenty of adventure, even some she hasn't bargained for. But the novel also explores the changes, both commercial and ecological, that booming tourism brings to the once quaint coastal town where the team plays.

I guess this is proof of the old controversial adage that we should write what we know. That confused me when I was younger because I felt like my life was so normal, too vanilla to interest anyone. But I knew baseball and whether I liked it or not, it kept popping up in my work, and still does.

WOW: Well Martha, it sure was hard to limit this interview to just a few questions. I could sit and chat with you all day. Thank you for your insight and inspiration and congratulations again as one of the runners up for the very first WOW! Women on Writing Essay Contest!

Check out the latest Contests:

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Saturday, March 03, 2018


Nothin' But Eyebrows

        My name is Sioux and I'm an eyebrowaholic.

        I've discovered--recently--that I'm stuck in a rut when it comes to how I show. Of course, that's a mantra that all writers mutter: Show don't tell. I try my best. I do. I attempt to paint a picture through gestures and facial expressions, to convey to the reader what emotions my characters are feeling.

      However, when digitally conversing with the writers in my accountability group, I realized that I often fall back on eyebrows. I discovered that I frequently rely on eyebrows--and only eyebrows--to express emotions.

He turned towards her, his eyebrows raised in anticipation.

Her eyebrows lowered, and pushed down on her eyelids. Really?

One of Mama's eyebrows arched. I was scared of what she was gonna do next.

         I did a search in my current WIP and found 9 eyebrow bits. At one point I jotted them down on a piece of scrap paper, intending to include them in this post but then I misplaced the paper, so I'm hoping the above bits of "showing" are not as lame as what I really wrote. Otherwise, the only thing I'm showing is what a horrid writer I am.

        Then Sue Bradford Edwards saved the day. She suggested a book. I immediately ordered it, and it was delivered this week.

        This book is amazing. It lists around 80 emotions, and includes a wide variety of physical signals. For example, if a character is surprised, you don't have to fall back on both eyebrows raising up. You can have your character's mouth fall open. Their hand can fly to their chest. They can gasp.

         This weekend I'm leading a writing retreat. I'm going to work on a query letter and a synopsis, which is more than enough to keep me busy. However, when I need to take a brief break from those two tasks (since I'm terrified of the s-word... Synopsis is a dirty word), I'm going to look for ways to show what my characters are going through... without eyebrows.

         When it comes to writing, what is one of your favorite reference books? Sioux wants to know.  (And whisper it. My husband thinks I have too many books already.)

Sioux is working on polishing up a middle-grades historical novel; her progress is being nudged along in a major way by her writing accountability group. In her spare time (spare time? What is that?), she spends time with her family, and she rescues golden retrievers for Love a Golden Rescue. If you'd like to read more of her writing, you can check out her blog.

Friday, March 02, 2018


Friday Speak Out!: Four Ways Authors Can Get the Most from QueryTracker

by K. Alan Leitch

While I'm sure that everyone knows about, a great tool for seeking out and querying agents, you may or may not have lived with it as intimately as I have recently. Working to promote my novel while an online feature is still current, QueryTracker and I have eaten together, listened to music together, and even once cuddled when I fell asleep in its glow. You can't have intimacy like that without learning a website’s strengths and its quirks. Here is what I have learned.

Tip 1: Always check the agent's website.

It's tempting to just query straight from the information in QueryTracker, but visiting their link is essential. It might seem obvious that you should check their submission guidelines, but be on the lookout also for:
• Other agents who may suit your query better, but who may not list on QueryTracker.;
• Personal preferences from your agent's bio that you use to word your letter; and,
• Whether or not your agent still really wants to represent your genre. They often change     their minds after listing.
Tip 2: Enable reminders.

I wish I'd learned this one much earlier. Beside each agent's name is a little "bell" symbol, like the one pictured. Once you learn how long they take to respond, and whether the agency allows you to re-query other agents after that, you can set a reminder to "ring" after the eight- or twelve- or sixteen-week mark. That will tell you when it's time to get your revised query off to another agent.

Tip 3: Check the comments first.

Near the bell, some agents have a yellow "word balloon" that you can click. This means that other authors have left comments about them: whether they are nice or nasty, quick or quicksand, but most importantly whether they tend to give feedback. For an author, even a few words of feedback from agents is a Holy Grail when querying, so if you can query them first, their comments might help you to improve your letter—maybe even your book—for later.

Tip 4: Filter the agent by both genre and subgenre.

Pictured here is a drop-list of genres that will filter your lists to only the agents who represent that genre. What I didn't realize immediately is that I can copy the agent's name into the "search" box, then change the genre to my subgenre. For example, I might:
1. Put "Jane Smith" in the search, so only her name will be on the list.
2. Change the genre from "Young Adult" to "Mystery."
3. If Jane Smith's name still appears, then she is likely to represent Young Adult Mysteries.
There is a more "premium" paid membership from QueryTracker, so if you are not as chintzy as I am, some of these tricks might get easier. What I've learned from my special relationship with QueryTracker, though, is that even the basic edition can earn our praise. Really, it's something of a godsend.

* * *
Author of YA, Mysteries and Funny Thrillers, K. Alan Leitch sees words everywhere. His novel awards include Textnovel, Serena McDonald Kennedy, The Write Launch and Book Pipeline. Through short fiction, he's loved soap operas with Writer Advice; lived loudly in Gathering Storm Magazine; written in seven different voices for Women on Writing; and protected other worlds in Stringybark Stories. His novella is set to be published this June, and his YA Mystery, Too Much Information, is a semi-finalist in the Book Pipeline Competition for media development. See more scribblings on his blog, Words from K. Alan. 'Gram, Tweet or Tumble him @KAlanAuthor. 
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, March 01, 2018


Inspiration and Asking Permission

Two weeks ago, I went on a cruise. My husband and I traveled with another couple with whom we are good friends to celebrate a milestone year. We “cruised” into forty and had a fabulous time.

Image result for cruise
While getting a cocktail (yes, one of many) at one of the bars before dinner, my husband struck up a conversation with another couple. He’s a people person. He can talk to anyone and be instant friends with them. Not surprisingly, the couple took a liking to him and started telling him the story of how they met. It was a wonderful story – perfect book material – and they gave their hearty consent when I asked if I could use it in one of my novels.

I’ve spoken before about the importance of using your observations as inspiration, but what I haven’t discussed are the problems that can arise as a result.

As writers, we love a good story, and if that story falls into our lap, all the better. But what if that story belongs to someone else? Do we have to ask permission?

In my mind, the answer is yes. There is a big difference between watching a scene unfold from a distance and describing the scene in some book years down the road when you don’t know names, background information, or specifics. However, if you get a specific story from a person, I feel we have a moral obligation as writers to ask if we can fictionalize their story.

Can you imagine finding “your” story in someone’s novel without the writer asking if they could share it with the world? Your story isn’t copyrighted, but it still belongs to you, and the result could be a feeling of violation instead of excitement.

If someone shares their story and you fall in love with it, just ask. The worst they can say is no. More likely, they’ll look forward to reading about themselves years down the road, and it’ll be a win-win for both of you.

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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