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Thursday, April 19, 2018


Interview with Karen Neary - Author of Death in Disguise

It is such a pleasure to sit down and chat with an author. Today, I have such an honor as Karen Neary takes time out of her busy schedule to talk about her recently released book Death in Disguise. Be sure to leave your comments and questions so you too can learn more about this talent author and her latest work!

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

WOW!:  Thank you for taking time to chat with readers here at WOW! Let's dig right in. What prompted you to write this story and share it with the world?

Karen: I’ve always enjoyed reading mysteries and trying to figure out “whodunit” before reaching the final page. One evening, I mentioned to my husband an interesting article I had read in Writers Digest regarding a memoire written by a former nanny working in Hollywood. My husband’s off-handed reply was that I should write the Death of the Hollywood Nanny. That comment spurred me to begin the journey of penning my first mystery which evolved over several drafts to become Death in Disguise. It was quite an endeavor learning how to craft the elements necessary to create a believable and entertaining story but once I achieved that I thought it was time to share the novel with the world.

WOW!:    One could assume your husband is a large influence in your career, but you know what they say about assuming?

Who has been most influential in your writing career? (and for that matter, since you are also an actor and artist—let’s just say who has been most influential in guiding you to follow your artistic dreams?)

Karen: I never planned to be a writer but rather a painter. But, while working at a spouse abuse shelter in Florida I came across the idea to write a novel about domestic abuse. I figured I’d read hundreds of books so it couldn’t be that hard to write one. So, I began writing. I can’t point to any one person who influenced my career but some writers that have influenced my writing are Taylor Caldwell, Mary Higgins Clark, Elizabeth Peters, Alexander McCall Smith, and Tracy Chevalier. Obviously, they’re not all mystery writers and have diverse styles though each possess (or possessed) a creative, and wonderfully magical way of inscribing their ideas, plots, and interpreting the world around them. Artist that have influenced my style are probably too many to mention from my all-time favorite Leonardo da Vinci to contemporary artists Cesar Santos, Erik Koeppel, Lauren Sansaricq, Alison Menke, and Jaclyn Santos. All are representational and masterful in their own style of technique and expression.

WOW!: Other writers are a big part of your life, so I'm prompted to ask: Are you a member of a writer’s group?

Karen: Yes, I am a member of a writer’s group called DreamWeavers Ink. It’s composed of a group of talented writers of various genres. Our members are extremely supportive and offer outstanding critiques that often assist in making the writing stronger and more vibrant. In addition to critiquing each other’s work, we share our experiences regarding querying, agents, publishing, and marketing ideas. I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime, a world-wide organization that offers networking, advice, support, and whose goal is to enhance the professional development of women crime writers. Additionally, I’m a member of their subgroup, the Guppies (the great unpublished—though many of us remain in the group after being published), and the local Chesapeake Chapter of SinC. Though writing is a solitary activity having connections with other writers is inspiring and energizing.

WOW!: Speaking of critiquing - How do you deal with rejection and nay-sayers? What advice would you give other authors as far as overcoming objections and rejection?

Karen: I was well aware that the world of publishing is highly competitive so I was not surprised when I received a slew of rejections. It didn’t cause me to become depressed or discouraged. I continued writing because I had a group of friends and family members who enjoyed reading my work. The thought of becoming a published author was always in the back of my mind so I continued with my search to secure a literary agent and a publishing contract. I would advise aspiring authors to enjoy the writing process and develop their craft, join a critique group, and learn about the publishing process—how to write an impressive query letter and a succinct synopsis, proper formatting, etc. My main piece of advice is don’t allow nay-sayers to distract you but to hold fast to your dream and write, write, write!

WOW!: Thank you for all your thoughts, advice, and ideas Karen. Thank you most, for your time. It's been our pleasure here at WOW!

About the Book:

Teenage girls are being murdered in Los Angeles. Four in one week. The latest victim isn’t like the others—not a runaway or prostitute—but a nanny working for a celebrity couple.
This has Sibeal “Beth” Getty, perplexed. Beth, an Irish born fashion model gifted with an uncanny sixth sense, was acquainted with the nanny and knew of her aspirations to become an actress. The veiled motive for the deaths haunt Beth and after reading the nanny’s stolen diary, she is hell-bent on unraveling the mystery surrounding the slain teens. But she doesn’t know the first thing about conducting a murder investigation, that’s her detective husband’s line. With a healthy dose of determination and her intuition in high gear, Beth forges onward. She begins to link unconnected details and stumbles into a tangled web of deception that makes clear, nothing is as it seems.
Help comes from an unexpected source when Beth’s self-centered, actress friend offers a lead and hand in solving the crime. As Beth inches closer to detecting the murderer’s true identity will she be the next victim on the killer’s list?

About the Author:

Karen Neary Smithson has been a child advocate, human rights commissioner, and an art educator. As an author of traditional and cozy mysteries she finds writing magical. In addition to writing, Karen is an award winning artist whose paintings are displayed in local galleries. An avid collector, she focuses on varied genres including ancient coins and African art. She has been known to pop up as an extra in Baltimore based movies and television programs. She lives with her husband and three show cats in historic Ellicott City, Maryland.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018


If You Want To Succeed in Writing, You’ve Got to Play Ball!

Y’all know how much I like my sports, right? And with April comes baseball, which I’ve followed since I was a little girl watching on a 20 inch, black and white TV. I even played baseball with my three brothers and the neighborhood kids in the road next to my house. Every time a car came, we’d scramble to make the play before running to the side of the road to glare at the driver who had the nerve to interrupt our game.

Good times, for sure. But I recently came across this quote from Francis T. Vincent, Commissioner of Baseball (1989-92) and I realized that baseball was more than good times for me. It was downright instructional:

“Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”

Think about it. A star hitter in the Major Leagues may bat .325. That means he only gets a hit 30% of the time; he fails 70% of the time! And what’s more, baseball keeps track of every error in every game. You might want to forget dropping the ball, making a wild throw, or missing the base, but that error is always there. Like Vincent said, the truth is in the stats forever. It sort of keeps one humble, doesn’t it?

So the moment I read that quote, I knew I’d share it with you. Because of course, baseball and writing are pretty darn similar, starting with the lingo:

When we want to sell an article or get an agent to sign us, we make a pitch.

If we want to succeed, we understand it’s a numbers game. We know that we have to throw lots of pitches out into the world for that one successful hit.

And failure is basically the norm when it comes to writing, too. Gosh, I’ve failed way more than I’ve succeeded! Any writer who’s managed to get a body of work published has racked up a ton of rejections.

Speaking of which, we hold on to those rejections. It’s our statistic of honor, proof that we’ve put ourselves out there. And when we succeed, we can look back on those rejections with a Ha! Take that, you lousy rejections! But deep down, we know: those rejections are our part of a writer’s truth. Without the rejections, there would be no success, and that’s mighty humbling.

So thank you, baseball, for getting me prepared for a writing career. It’s nice to know I haven’t wasted my time, enjoying one of my favorite sports. And it's not too late for you. Play ball, friends, and keep writing!

Cathy C. Hall will happily sit in the stands on the hottest day of the summer and cheer on her Atlanta Braves. She doesn't get much writing done once baseball season starts and wonders if there's a connection...

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Interview with Tina Tippett - 2017 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

WOW! recently announced the winners of our 2017 Fall Flash Fiction Contest and we are proud to announce Tina Tippett from Eldersburg, Maryland as one of the runners up with The Naming.

About Tina

Tina Tippett makes her living as a legal assistant in a busy law firm just outside of Baltimore. She began jotting poetry in the margins of her schoolwork in elementary school and continued to do so through her career as an English major at the University of Maryland.

A single mom, writing often took a backseat to balancing work and home-schooling her two beautiful daughters. After losing her mother in 2001, she rediscovered the cathartic quality of writing and was able to complete her first novel, Dreams of Mother, the following year. A series of life-changing events brought on a writing hiatus which lasted until 2014. That year, she reached back and self-published Dreams of Mother.

Empty-nested within the last year, she’s discovering the conflicting distress and freedom that come with the territory, and with encouragement from her fiancé, she’s spending some of that extra time reconnecting with her muses. She is enjoying re-honing her skills on flash fiction, short stories and writing lyrics with fiancé David, a bluegrass musician.

She remains very close to her two daughters, one of whom is married and pursuing a degree in early childhood education and the other who has a passion for creative writing as well. She currently resides in Eldersburg, Maryland with her fiancé and their senior citizen cat, Max.

Tina is an avid reader of what she wants to write—women’s mainstream literature. She is working on her second novel, and planning her October wedding to her best friend, David.

One of her most treasured material items is the hard copy of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True, which he autographed to her during a speaking engagement in 2014. The inscription reads, “All the best to a fellow scribe. Enjoy the journey.” Placing in the top ten in her first flash fiction contest has bolstered her confidence—she is taking Mr. Lamb’s advice.

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

WOW:  Let's dig right in and ask the toughest question first. I'm impressed with your bio, but it leaves me wondering:   How do you juggle a busy career as a legal assistant and your role as a single mom with your passion and love of writing? What advice do you give others who may struggle with time management?

Tina: I struggled for years with time management, which can subconsciously be a good excuse to give in to self-doubt, and I’ve been guilty of that. “Oh, I just don’t have time,” can be your way not to admit, “I don’t feel like it will be good anyway.” Even as a recent empty-nester, my job is so busy and high energy that I struggle to find time. But it helps to prioritize yourself – tell yourself honestly where writing comes on your list of important things in life. As women - moms, employees, spouses, friends - it’s important for women to remind themselves they don’t have to do everything. I’ve found that on my priority list, writing comes just under my family, fiancé and job. The time to write has to be carved from somewhere less important on the list, even if it seems difficult. I may sacrifice a half hour of sleep in the morning before work, or forgo a favorite tv show, or even skip dusting or scrubbing the tub one weekend. The grime and shows will still be there later. Creativity can be fleeting, and the rewards of feeding your passion are endless.

WOW!: Wait, what? We don't have to do everything? Such a common thread with mothers. Thank you for your great advice. Now that we've discussed time, let's talk about space: Where do you write? What does your space look like?

Tina: I probably have this in common with many writers – I do my best work while either driving to work or trying to fall back to sleep at about 2:00a.m. That’s when the phone “memo” or voice recorder works for notes. But when I sit down to turn those sparks from the most inopportune times into fiction, I have an old green recliner that has seen better days that I climb in, laptop in hand. If I need to pause and it’s daylight, I glance out at my bird feeders which calms my mind and often gives me focus.

WOW: Those little creatures can help put us in the right place or should I say "write place"!

What advice would you give to other writers toying with the idea of submitting their work to a writing contest?

Tina: Submitting to WOW was one of the best choices I have made as a writer, and the option of purchasing a critique is great for those struggling with confidence, as I was. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. I was invited to join a Facebook closed writers group last year, and it has a bimonthly flash challenge for which I wrote my first ever flash pieces. The admins give feedback and are always available for questions. It began a cycle that is still in motion. Placing in WOW has given me the confidence to keep writing, and I find the more I write, the more I want to write and the easier ideas and words flow. I’d suggest if you’re on the fence about submitting to a contest, edit and polish your best piece until you’re sick of reading your own writing, then jump off that fence on the side of courage. All you have to lose is a generally nominal entry fee, but there is so much to gain.

WOW: Such kind words - thank you! (and dear readers, I didn't pay Tina to say any of that!)

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

Tina: I finished my only novella in 2002, after which a series of challenging life events halted writing for many years. Now that I have fallen back in love with writing and do so almost daily, I am vigorously developing characters, plots and taking notes for my next novel I’m toying with the title Trash to Treasure, taken from the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. My goal is to have the first rough completed by year’s end. I’d also like to overcome my fear of query letters and finding an agent, and perhaps seek an agent to take my first book, Dreams of Mother, from its current self-published format to traditional, even if it required a major re-write.

WOW: I figured you were working on something - you don't seem like someone who sits idle.

I must also admit, I am tickled pink about interviewing you. I also have a signed copy of Wally Lamb’s I Know this Much is True – and I’m super jealous that you’ve met him in person. Can you share with us some of what you learned from him and listening to him speak in 2014 as well as your take a ways and how that’s helped you as a writer?

Tina: I’m sure when someone thinks about going to see an author speak, they are prepared for all the mirth and excitement of a silent auction. But Mr. Lamb was humble, warm and very funny. He lends an everyday human aspect to someone whose work I revere. And what I remember best was him describing his process, which I could actually relate to – it helped me overcome my personal doubts about my own process. Where I read so many folks talking about outlines, plot notes, etc., I am far too unstructured to try that. Apparently, so is Wally Lamb. He shared with us something that I relate completely to: he starts where he starts, just an idea, no beginning, climax, or end in mind. An image, a voice needs to be captured, and (hopefully, if you’re lucky) that character tells you what’s coming, or that plot reveals itself to you. I used to tell myself this was creative, but really, I thought I was making an excuse for myself not being well structured or organized. During the writing of We Are Water, he struggled with plot so badly that he described himself sitting in his basement playing with one of those old paddle toys with the pink ball tethered to a string. That image is still so empowering (and humorous) to me –I used to imagine the greats hammering away at a typewriter or keyboard, possessed by muses, plot points painted on a perfect timeline with their character’s names, zodiacs and psychological issues perfectly in their minds. But I learned from Wally Lamb that I might just have this one thing in common with successful and talented writers: some of them just might start with a scrap of an idea, struggle, wing it, and work hard until the craft molds it into a gift. It’s amazing to learn you might be doing something right all along, especially if it works for you.

WOW: This interview has been absolutely such a joy and thank you for sharing your Wally Lamb experience! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas and congratulations again as one of the runners up for the  WOW! Women on Writing Fall '17 Fiction Contest! 

Check out the latest Contests:

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Monday, April 16, 2018


Ellen Valladares launches her tour of Crossing the Line

...and giveaway!

Laura, who died thirty years ago, enlists the help of a tenacious high school reporter named Rebecca, who is very much alive. Rebecca, although skeptical and conflicted by her supposed encounters with a spirit, determines to learn the truth about Laura’s tragic death. As the clues unravel and their worlds collide, Rebecca finds herself at a dangerous crossroads.

Laura, now pulled back into everything she left behind when she died—her old high school and memories of her life and death—has been in training for this exact moment. And nothing means more to her than succeeding at her assignment.

It is her one chance to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to anyone else, and especially not to her new friend, Rebecca.

Paperback: 296 pages
Genre: Fiction/Young Adult Novel
Publisher: WiDO (March 2018)
ISBN-10: 1937178994
ISBN-13: 978-1937178994

Crossing the Line is available for purchase in print and as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Crossing the Line, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes Sunday, April 29th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:

Ellen Wolfson Valladares is an award-winning writer/author, workshop facilitator, community volunteer, and mother. A native Floridian, she grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. She has worked as an editor, public relations professional, and freelance writer. Her first book, a children’s novel entitled Jonathan's Journey to Mount Miapu, received several awards, including a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and the 2009 Coalition of Visionary Resources Visionary Awards Book of the Year award. She also has a meditation CD, entitled “Healing and Manifestation with the Archangels.”
Today, Valladares continues to work as a freelance writer. She also enjoys coaching high school students working on their college essays and helping other writers realize their dreams. She has been married to her husband, Manny, for 30 years and they have two sons, Gabriel and Michael, two dogs, Flash and Chili Pepper, and a crazy cat named Zelda. They live in Weston, Fla.

Find Ellen Online:


Twitter: @ValladaresEllen

FB: @EllenValladares444


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

WOW: Thank you so much for being here and thanks for choosing WOW! Women on Writing to help promote Crossing The Line.

When you first approached me, you mentioned WiDo had steered you toward WOW! - can you tell me more about how you partnered with WiDO and what that process has been like? What would you say to another author considering going this route?

Ellen: It’s really been wonderful working with WiDo Publishing. There are so many options in the publishing world today. Ten years ago, I self-published my first book, a middle grade novel, and that was a great learning process. I still had this dream of getting a publishing contract, though, so the second time around, with Crossing the Line, I set my mind on giving that my best shot. That meant first and foremost, polishing my manuscript before sending it out. I solicited feedback and rewrote it. Then I hired an independent editor and rewrote it. Got some more feedback and rewrote it. You get the picture.

That was half the battle. Then there’s researching the right publishers and agents for your work and crafting a good query letter. I will say that my membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) helped a lot with that.

The last element is the magic fairy dust because there is this intangible, indescribable piece that involves right timing, right place, right person. As a believer in the magic of the Universe, I do feel that it was no accident that I stumbled on WiDo’s website when I did. I resonated so much with their mission statement and felt my book was a perfect fit. I was at the point where I was about to give up on the publisher idea and self-publish again when WiDo expressed interest in reading the manuscript. I was so excited and the day they offered me a contract was truly a dream come true!

From there, we went into the editing process and wait for it… more rewriting. I do think that is one of the hardest things in the process – having to read your book again and again. And yet, I will tell you that my editor, Shantell Booth, was wonderful and made what could have been painful, quite painless. Having self-published before and having full control, I was a little worried about what I might be “forced” to do my story. There was none of that with WiDo, just great suggestions and guidance that improved the book. They really allowed me more freedom and creative control than I expected. I don’t think that’s the case with all publishers, so that reinforced my decision to go with WiDo.

The editing process took a bit longer than I expected, but then we got to the fun part – creating the cover. WiDo took my input and I was actually shocked that they came up with a cover I loved from the start.

What would I say to other authors wanting to take this route? This path takes persistence and patience. To increase your odds of getting a publisher, you have to put your best foot forward. Don’t send out your first draft or your second draft. Take your time, get honest feedback, professional editing if you can, and submit a well-crafted, clean manuscript. Then do your research and only send to those publishers or agents who are looking for your genre/style. And don’t forget the pixie dust. Seriously, sometimes that pixie dust is as simple as believing in yourself and not giving up.

This path takes persistence and patience.

WOW: Believing there are enough hours in the day seems to be a stumbling block for many of us. Throw a little of that pixie dust my way. But seriously...time management seems to be quite a challenge for all of us, but you're a journalist, novelist, coach, speaker, volunteer, and teacher. Oh great one, please teach us your ways? How do you balance it all and still manage to have such great hair?

Ellen: I love this question for so many reasons! First, let’s be honest. The hair does not always look like it does in the headshot. I’ve worked at home for more than 20 years and the best part is not having to worry about what you’re wearing or what your hair looks like before going to the “office.” My work attire is often shorts, t-shirt, hair pulled back, no shoes. I love it!

The other side of this question, about balance, I take very seriously, or at least I’ve learned to take more seriously over the years. First of all, I will admit that I don’t do all of those things at the same time. As a freelance journalist, you get and take assignments as they come and you can be as busy or not busy as you want. Over the last few years, as I’ve dedicated myself to writing and editing the book, I took on a little less freelance work and also did less of the volunteering and teaching.

Here’s what I really want to share. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, especially when you have young children. I just became an empty nester so that changes everything. But my best advice about balance and managing time is to be dedicated to taking care of your own mind, body, and spirit first. I realize people will say that’s not as easy as it sounds, and I get it. I only know from my personal experience that when I’ve taken time to meditate, exercise, journal, or whatever it is you like to do for yourself, I am able to more easily handle everything and everyone that pops up in my day. On the other end of that, I know when I caught up on the crazy train of life just doing, doing, doing, I end up exhausted, stressed, and sometimes even sick. Everything goes better when you make yourself and how you feel a priority.

Be dedicated to taking care of your own mind, body, and spirit first.

One last truth on this: it took years to complete each of the books I’ve written. Maybe that’s because there were other things vying for my attention at times, or maybe it was just procrastination. Or maybe I also took time to enjoy life and my boys while they were still here. It’s all good any which way. I like to compare it to my attempts at running/jogging. I may not be the fastest (I’m very slow!), but I keep going, pace myself, and still manage to make it to the finish line all the same.

WOW: Such great advice - thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into your life. Let's take that a step further: What does your writing space look like? What advice would you give others who may be needing some help with creating a creative space?

Ellen: This is another fun one. Part of me says, yikes, don’t answer this. That’s the part that doesn’t want you see my “creative mess.” Aren’t all creative people a little messy? So yes, there are some piles and messy stacks that need to be gone through, but there is also some fun, inspiring stuff, so let’s focus on that.

I do have a room in my home that is my “office” for writing. I love nature, so I made sure my desk and computer are situated so that I can look out my window and see the canal and trees in our backyard. Today lots of dragonflies are buzzing around and I saw a few ibises and a hawk who stopped for a rest in one of the trees. Zelda, our cat, also loves to come to the window and pounce on the lizards that taunt her from the other side of the glass.

Inside, I’m surrounded by my favorite things: shelves of books, artwork and writings from my kids, photos of my kids and family, stacks of journals (completed and ongoing), lots of angel figurines, crystals, angel card decks, special cards/gifts from my husband and friends, awards for my first book, and pictures and words that inspire me. A little peek into some of the current things I’ve chosen to put in front of me at the moment: the bottom portion of a card with a quote from author Paulo Coelho (one of my favorites) that reads, “Just as you are transforming your own life, may you transform the lives of those around you.”; two cut-outs from a magazine that say “Own it!” and “Dream Big”; and the Playbill from Hamilton, which I saw with my son Michael about a year ago and is a treasured memory.

So I think you get my idea of a creative space. It should be a space that feels wonderful, inviting, and inspirational to you. And even though I joked about the messy creatives, cleaning up those piles and clearing out old stuff every once in a while, does wonders for getting the creativity flowing. If you ever feel stuck, clean!

If you ever feel stuck, clean!

WOW: There have been so many take-aways in this interview so far. I know our readers really appreciate how open and honest you are. Being honest with other is one thing, but how honest are you with yourself? What advice would your current self give to your younger self when it comes to writing? life? publishing?

Ellen: On writing, life, and publishing – Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun. Enjoy the process. You don’t have to be perfect. Everything always works out okay.

I want to add that I started to answer this question in reverse, and I think that’s important when it comes to the writing part, especially since I loved to write from a very early age. So, my younger self would like to tell my current self to always remember what you loved about writing, how you did it for fun, just because, and it didn’t matter what anyone thought about it.

WOW: I love how you spun that last question. Maybe it's our younger selves that have all the wisdom!

I'll have to ask that question both ways in the future. Thank you!

One last question before we head into this exciting tour of Crossing The Line. Do you belong to any book clubs or writers clubs? Why or why not?

Ellen: I have belonged to a book club for about eight years. On top of the great camaraderie and delicious food and wine, I’ve enjoyed reading books that I might have not otherwise chosen on my own to my read. They say to be a great writer you have to read a lot and being part of the book club has probably gotten me to read more and helped me explore different kinds of writing styles. It’s also interesting from a writer’s point of view to hear my friends’ reactions to different authors’ approaches. It’s certainly helped me realize that opinions on books are incredibly subjective.

As mentioned earlier, I am member of SCBWI. I’ve also been a longtime member of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA). It’s so important, especially for us lone wolf writers, to get out and mingle with other writers. I’ve learned so much and have gotten so inspired by being in the company of other aspiring writers and successful authors.

It’s so important, especially for us lone wolf writers, to get out and mingle with other writers.

WOW: Thank you again Ellen. This is an interview I hope all our readers have an opportunity to read at least once. Your Tweet Tour has been a blast and I can't wait to hear from all the reviewers in the upcoming weeks! You've been a joy to interview and work with. Thank you!

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

Monday, April 16th @ The Muffin
Join us at the Muffin for an author interview and book giveaway for the fictional young adult novel by Ellen Valladares, Crossing the Line.

Tuesday, April 17th @ World of My Imagination
Nicole Pyles reads and reviews Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares. This is a fun young adult novel that readers will be sure to delight in!

Wednesday, April 18th @ Beverley Baird
Beverley Baird reviews Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares. Readers won't want to miss this fast paced young adult novel!

Thursday, April 19th @ Memoir Writer’s Journey
Ellen Valladares pens today's guest post at Kathleen Pooler's Memoir Writer's Journey. Don't miss this great post titled "Your Writer's Purpose -- how creating your purpose/vision can keep you on target" and learn more about Valladares latest novel Crossing the Line.

Thursday, April 19th @ Write Like Crazy
Mary Jo reads Ellen Valladares Crossing the Line and shares her thoughts with readers at Write Like Crazy.

Friday, April 20th @ BookWorm
Anjanette Potter delights readers at Bookworm with her review of the YA Novel Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares.

Saturday, April 21st @ Spark the Wizard
Brandi at Spark the Wizard shares her thoughts in a review of Ellen Valladares novel Crossing the Line.

Monday, April 23rd @ Bring on Lemons with Cathy Hansen
Wisconsin entrepreneur and school teacher reviews the latest novel by Ellen Valladares. Don't miss this opportunity to find out more about the YA Novel Crossing the Line.

Tuesday, April 24th @ Finished Pages
Today, at Finished Pages, readers have an opportunity to learn more about Crossing the Line the latest novel by Ellen Valladares. Don't miss Renee's review of this YA Novel!

Thursday, April 26th @ Digging with the Worms
Eric Trant reviews the latest novel by Ellen Valladares. See what Eric thinks of Crossing the Line and find out more about this great book and accomplished author.

Thursday, April 26th @ Phy Tallic
Phy reviews the delightful YA Novel Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares.

Friday, April 27th @ Write Happy
Today at Write Happy, Catherine Brown will be interviewing Ellen Valladares about her latest novel Crossing the Line. Don't miss this opportunity to learn more about this YA Novel as well as hear some tips from the accomplished journalist and author Ellen Valladares.

Monday, April 30th @ Ellen Valladares
Crystal J. Casavant-Otto from WOW! Women on Writing reviews Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares and shares her thoughts with readers at Valladares blog.

Tuesday, May 1st @ I Just Want to Finish My…
Brittany shares her thoughts after reading Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares. Don't miss this insightful blog stop for this delightful Young Adult Novel!

Wednesday, May 2nd @ Hott Books
Don't miss today's guest post at Hott Books! Distinguished author Ellen Valladares shares her post titled: 'The Inspiration Behind Crossing the Line'. You'll want to learn more about this delightful YA Novel!

Friday, May 4th @ Frasers Fun House
Melanie at Frasers Fun House reviews Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares.

Monday, May 7th @ Word Nerd Media
Elizabeth at Word Nerd reviews the latest novel by Ellen Valladares. You won't want to miss a minute of this captivating YA Novel Crossing the Line.


Enter to win a copy of Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget on Sunday, April 29!

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Sunday, April 15, 2018


5 Ways to Get Out of Your Own Way and Start Writing

Photo Via Pixabay CC License

I remember I saw a quote once that said being a writer basically means having homework every day for the rest of your life. As much as I would like to say I can't relate and that writing is always a blast 100% of the time, sometimes it feels like that - homework. On the days writing feels like my high school physics class all over again, I have a few tips I'd like to share about how I get out of my own way and start writing. 

1) Try something different.

This worked for me this past weekend. I didn't want to stare one more minute at the short stories that had rendered me inspiration-less. Instead, inspired by a song I was listening to, I started something new. As a result, it led to 1,000 word count that day. Something I hadn't done in a long time.

If you are sick of interacting with the same characters, same stories, same plot line, try something completely different. Work on a brand new story. Can't get the juices going? Try free-writing for a while.

2) Find a writing prompt.

Writing prompts can work wonders when the creative well is dry. While I normally would never recommend venturing down the road of social media when you feel stuck in your stories, I love to look over Pinterest's writing prompts if I'm uninspired. (Check some out here!)

What I love about writing prompts is that it usually pushes you to write for a genre that you likely never thought to write about before. If you don't write fiction, there are some nonfiction prompts that will get your juices flowing as well. In fact, check out this list of prompts that the NY Times provided

3) Write to the beat of the music.

I confess, when I write to music, I tend to listen to a lot of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings soundtracks. If that sounds like you, try something different. Next time you are about to write, listen to music that your character would likely be listening to. If you are writing non-fiction, listen to music from the era (or best represents the era) that you are writing about.

One tactic that you may want to try while writing, is while you listen to music, write about the first thing that comes to your mind when the song plays. Better yet, turn on the radio to a random station. With every change of song, change the direction and tempo of your story. 

4) Build the habit.

I tend to write sporadically, but I find when trying to develop a better behavior, if I make it a habit, I am more likely to do this behavior more often. So, set yourself a schedule time to sit and write. Even if all you do is stare at the blank page. Keep going back to your dedicated writing time without fail. Even if you don't write a single word. Maybe it's your lunch break at work. Maybe it's before everyone else gets up in the morning. Maybe it's after everyone goes to bed. Maybe it's during your weekly laundry session. Dedicate a time to writing and don't break that date. Even in your most unmotivated slump, keep going back. You won't regret it.

5) Embrace the very thing that leaves you uninspired.

What is that has given you "writer's block"? What makes you feel uninspired? Is it the weight of family responsibilities? Your job? Your bills? Maybe it's a sadness or traumatic experience that has hit your life that just weighs you down. Maybe it's everything. Maybe it's nothing. I came across on article on Psychology Today that talks about getting out your own way and it struck a chord with me.

The article basically says the artist "...who sits down to work engulfed in 'stuff'' yet doesn't give these thoughts and feelings a negative connotation...this artist has truly gotten out of his or her way." 

So instead of letting the "stuff" in your life drain your creative energy, use that "stuff" to inspire you. Turn things around and write about the very thing that bogs you down. Talk about this "stuff". Write it out. List all the reasons you shouldn't write and write out the list of why those reasons are wrong. When you have no other reasons (or "stuff") left to excuse you from writing, time to sit down and write.

Happy writing everyone!

Follow Nicole Pyles and her writing journey by visiting her on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018


Talkin' About Turkey

People who visit different parts of the world and coat themselves with Teflon before they leave their home are missing out. I mean, if folks don't try different things and instead try to stay stuck in their familiar rut... well, why even bother leaving their living room Lazy-Boy?

I just got back from Turkey (half the time in Istanbul and the other half in a small town called Gomec) and I could have had McDonald's, Domino's Pizza or Burger King while I was there. Istanbul has 'em all. However, I was determined to immerse myself as much as possible.

As a writer, I try to do the same. I try to not wallow in a rut, and with some photos from my trip, hopefully I can make the connection between eating my way across Turkey and my experiences as a writer.

Be willing to dive into the unknown. For dinner one night our friend Emel ordered three different kinds of fish for us to try. All Turkish. Two plates were covered with small fish, and everything but the tail was eaten. Bones. Eyeballs. Mrs. Paul's had nothin' on these fish.

Was I thrilled? No, but I did eat them and I did keep an open mind. They really weren't as bad as I initially thought they'd be.

A bunch of years ago I tried my hand at writing a romance short story for an anthology. The first time I dived into this unfamiliar genre, I got rejected. Too much snark and not enough sweetness. A second attempt was more successful. It got published despite it being not as good (in my opinion) as the first one. I learned some of the components of romance stories. Was I thrilled as I wrote it? No, but I did write and revise and I did submit... and I got published.

Follow advice from those you trust. Last year I went to Turkey for the first time. Before I left, my teaching colleague told me, "If you get the chance, go to Aya Sofya." An old church? I figured if the opportunity came up, I'd go, but I wasn't chomping at the bit to see it. After all, I've seen lots of old churches in France.

Aya Sofya is an incredible place. It was built in 400-something AD and is huge. It's such a jaw-dropping place, I went again on this trip. Thankfully, I listened to my teaching colleage and took their advice.

As a writer, I depend on critique partners to help me during revising. Perhaps I'm too close to it, and in my delusional state, it's the next Pulitzer Prize winner. If my writing friends--gifted writers--think it needs major revising, I have to listen to them.

Savor what you love. I fell in love with this dish on my trip last year to Turkey. It consists of tomatoes, corn, onions, walnuts, some basil/parsley and a pomegranate glaze. When you have something once, and dream about it for a year, you know it's delicious.

Maybe you love epistolary writing, like my friend Lynn. If so, write a book where the story is told through letters. Perhaps you love revising. Revel in the process. If you're one of those writers who loves to sketch, use that love of drawing to plot out your story/create a character.Take what you enjoy doing, and make it work for you.

How about you? How has travel changed you? Or, how has travel impacted your writing? 

Sioux is a dog rescuer (that's why she went to Turkey, to bring back 4 golden retrievers so they could find forever homes), a middle school teacher (she only has a month or so left of school, and so much to accomplish), a wife and mom and grammy (being a grammy is so much fun) and a part-time writer. She belongs to an incredible writing critique group and a writing accountability group. If you'd like to read more of her writing. go to Sioux's blog.

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Friday, April 13, 2018


Friday Speak Out!: Staying Alive

by Carolyn Lochhead

Sometimes, I think I am dead.

It’s all Neil Gaiman’s fault.

It comes from an interview I read, in which Gaiman was asked, “How do you get your ideas?” He replied,

“Everyone has ideas. If you don’t have ideas you are dead.”

Because sometimes, I don’t. For days and sometimes months at a time, not a single notion pops into my head. It makes me feel flat. Empty. Disconnected. Quite possibly, dead.

It usually happens when I’m in a groove. Going to work, looking after the children, doing things I know, broadly speaking, how to do. Not encouraging the creative side of my brain to wake up, poke its head out and take a look around.

But last week, I had a day off work. And it was a revelation.


- Went to a modern art gallery

- Read the music section of the paper

- Wrote in a cosy basement library

- Attended a lunchtime performance of Mendhellson.

In the morning, a couple of ideas came to me, and I noted them on my phone. During the concert I thought of several more. By late afternoon, I was whipping out my phone every few minutes. In the six weeks preceding my day off, I’d come up with maybe two or three prompts for writing. On that one day, I wrote down fifteen.

Although my activities that day were enjoyable, they weren’t novel. I had been to the library, the gallery and the concert hall before. So what was different? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because I don’t want my newfound creativity to disappear.

The answer is, I stopped. I existed in the moment, not projecting my brain forward to my next task, appointment or intention. I noticed what was going on and let my mind chew it over, whether it appeared significant or not. And because my mind was less agitated, there was space for curiousity. Without an endless marching band of tasks crashing through my brain, it dared to turn its attention to minor details, to conjecture, fancy and just a little bit of nonsense.

So how to maintain this pleasing productivity? I can’t take every day off work, and I can’t - and wouldn’t want to - put the kids into nursery at the weekend. But I’m trying to build in peaceful moments. My youngest daughter is almost three: old enough to be left to her own devices for moments at a time: moments when I could notice the birds in the back garden, instead of snatching up a broom and sweeping the floor. And my husband is a perfectly competent parent, so there is no reason why me and my iPad can’t nip to our local coffee shop for an hour on a Sunday - as, indeed, I have done to write this blog.

Everyday life is not going anywhere. But if I make a few moments for myself in amongst the tasks and the duties, my mind may blossom still further. And at the very least, I will know I am not dead.

* * *
Carolyn Lochhead’s writing credits include Mothers Always Write, Mamalode and Hippocampus. She recently published her first essay collection, Three Toothbrushes And Other Essays on Motherhood, Mindfulness and Making Sense of it All. She lives in Scotland and works in mental health. Follow her @theshooglypeg and read her blog on Medium.
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, April 12, 2018


Poetry, it's complicated

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to write about the basics of poetry, but can't decide what they are! I don't feel too bad about it, though, because many writers can't agree on what makes a poem great, much less the basics. I've read positive reviews of poets I don't understand, and negative reviews of some of my favorites. Poetry is complicated. A poet's use of abstract language representing abstract ideas can make it more difficult to comprehend. And many people just don't like it.

There are more forms and formats of poetry than I can name, and more poets than I will ever read. The best ones stir emotions by compressing time and meaning into a few lines of text on a page. They work their magic through the use of form and style using imagery, alliteration, metaphors, repetition, and other literary devices. But these techniques alone can't define a piece of writing as a poem, because writers use them in other formats. Like I said, it's complicated.

So, I'm just going to tell you about one of my favorite poetry books called "Love That Dog," a novel by Newbery-Medal-Winner Sharon Creech. My daughter first introduced me to it when she read it in elementary school, and I've read it many times through the years. The 86-page narrative poem takes us on young Jack's journey of learning to write and appreciate poetry. He asks simple questions of Miss Stretchberry, his teacher, whose answers help him discover his own voice. Perhaps she can help you discover yours.

Every writer should read this book. It not only provides some basic understanding of poetry, but helps clarify and expand our ideas of what a poem (and a novel) can be. And the story is beautiful and heartbreaking, and may make you cry.

Mary Horner teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She is a certified medical writer, and earned the writing certificate from UM-St. Louis.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Where is the Tension?

I feel like I've written about tension before. But I swear to you, I searched through the Muffin's blog posts, and I can't find a specific post about this topic; so if you remember better than me, please send me an email!

I bring up making sure tension is in your novel today because I recently had a conversation with one of my WOW! novelist students about tension in her novel. She has a great voice. She has a great story idea. She even started in the right place, in my opinion, and her action is spot on. But TENSION was missing. She needed to add a time element to her novel--this main character had to get himself on his correct path to the future in a "certain amount of time" or "the worst thing in the whole world" would happen.

And that wasn't happening in the beginning of her novel...yet.

Think about some novels or movies where time/age is an element. Some that immediately come to mind: Speed, The Giver, and even Hunger Games--you can't be in the Hunger Games until you are 12, and then once you are there, your time limit is: everyone has to die before you.

Think of novels where a wedding is on the horizon--there's a deadline--all the problems in the novel have to be solved before the wedding.

Or amovie where someone is terminally ill. That's another kind of deadline that can cause great stress, tension, and page-turning in a novel.

Think about real life. We work on deadlines all the time--in our personal and professional life. So it is natural that novels also need these deadlines in them.

Do critique partners say that your novel is good but something is missing?

Do you have some kind of time element in your plot to cause more tension?

If not, think about adding one. If you do have one in your work-in-progress or have a published book with one, please tell us in the comments below. We want to learn from you!

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, May 4. To find out more information about Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach, please click here.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Interview with Savannah Thomas: Runner Up in the 2017 Fall Flash Fiction Contest

Savannah’s Bio:

Savannah Thomas is a fiction writer of novels, screenplays, and short stories. Raised in the small city of Podunk*, Oregon, she always felt different than her peers due to her mixed heritage and “tall for her age” stature.

Savannah escaped her self-diagnosed Prison of Shyness Disorder by self-medicating with daily doses of Head in the Clouds antibiotics. Her severe daydreaming soon parlayed into writing poetry and song lyrics, and slowly transitioned into stories. After learning about (and falling in love with) the many legends and myths connected to her Native American, African, Norwegian ancestry, Savannah decided that she wanted to create moving and relatable tales, particularly in the women’s fiction, science-fiction, and fantasy genres.

She was first published at the age of 15 in Anthology of Poetry for Young Americans, was accepted into the Creative Writing program at Orange County School of the Arts, sold a story to Ellegirl Magazine (about her mother’s mental illness), and is currently finishing up a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing (w/concentration on fiction) at Southern New Hampshire University. Oh yeah, and she really loves cats!

*Not actual name of city (but it should be).

If you haven’t already read Savannah’s story, “Late Bloomers,” click through and then return for this interview with the author.

WOW: What was the inspiration for “Late Bloomers”?

Savannah: The spark of an idea came to me when I was listening to “Lower your Eyelids to Die with the Sun” by M83. I’m not sure why, but music plays a big part in my writing. Whenever I want to approach something creative, I listen to music and it provokes vivid imagery in my mind.
I first imagined a man on the moon, and this story about a woman and little girl soon formed. I incorporated aspects of my complicated relationship with my mother, who raised me and my sister alone. It took time for me to come into my own, realize who I am, and I witnessed my mother go through the same journey. Essentially, in Late Bloomers, I wanted to tell the story of these two characters that feel alone, yet are slowly realizing they have each other.

WOW: In this story that you’ve crafted about strength and resilience, what do you see as the strengths of Azalea? Of Harley? Do you identify with either of these characters?

Savannah: Azalea possesses the strength of perseverance. She trudges through life’s obstacles and accepts her responsibilities, instead of just giving up or succumbing to grief. When Eric was alive, she made a commitment to him and his daughter, and though it is hard for her, she continues to keep it. She doesn’t understand Harley at first, but finally puts her own insecurities and judgments aside to accept her.

Harley is strong because she has lost someone very close to her, and uses her imagination to cope. I think I identify more with Harley. My whole life I’ve suffered from a self-diagnosed Head in the Clouds Disorder. I got through many hardships by using my imagination – whether it be through storytelling, thinking up grand scenarios of how my future would turn out, or good ol’ fashioned daydreaming. My imagination has always been an antidote to my fears, and will always be a cathartic tool for me to deal with things.

WOW: How would this story have changed if it was written from Harley’s point of view?

Savannah: If it were written from Harley’s point of view, it would likely be more fantastical – incorporating her vivid imagination throughout the whole story.

WOW: What have you learned in your studies that helped shape this story?

Savannah: I learned in my studies to write what you know. Even if it’s a fantasy story set in another world, try to tap into real emotions, draw from real relationships, integrate authentic thoughts, reactions, desires, etc. These universal truths will speak to your readers.

WOW: That’s really good advice about how to use familiar emotions to pull readers into the story. What advice do you have for our readers who have never attempted flash fiction before?

Savannah: My advice would be to just go for it. Then, revise, revise, revise, trimming the fat – so to speak – until your story is concise.

Personally, after a few drafts, I take a day or two break before I work on it again. When I go back, my mind is fresh, making it easier for me to notice any strengths or weaknesses, and to see if my intended themes are prominent. Lastly, my advice to anyone approaching flash fiction or other forms of writing . . . make sure to have fun!

WOW: Savannah, thank you for taking time from your studies to share your ideas about writing with our readers. Hopefully you’ll have more work out there for us to read in the not-too-distant future.  Until that time, dear readers, you can connect with Savannah through Instagram: @Savynannah .

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Monday, April 09, 2018


Dialogue: 5 Tips for Dazzling Dialogue

As I work through the pre-writing on my mystery and get closer to actually writing, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to fiction. Truth be told, mostly, I’m obsessing because I’m getting really worried about writing dialogue for my characters. Because of that, I’ve taken a brief class on dialogue and been doing a lot of reading. Here is a small part of what I’ve learned.

Dialogue in a story does not sound exactly like two people talking. In reality, we say things like umm and uhhh. And we backtrack. We are needlessly wordy. When you are writing, you have to smooth at least some of this out. Only James Joyce could get away with a page that is a single flow-of-conscious sentence. Do not try it. No one will thank you. I read Joyce in college. We didn’t even thank him.

Dialogue is not a ping pong match. When we write a conversation, we tend to have Person A ask a question which Person B then answers. Person A responds and then Person B comes back with something else. Change things up sometimes. Person A asks a question and Person B says something, but it isn’t a direct response. Why? Because Person B has their own agenda and dialogue is a great place to let that show.

Dialogue for each character should be unique. Even if you have ten characters in your story, I should be able to read a line of dialogue and know who said it. Each character needs a voice. To achieve this, use your copy and paste functions to place all of one character’s dialogue onto a page. Do this with each character and make sure each has their own vocabulary, sentence patterns and more.

Dialect must be spot on. If you want to give a feel for dialect you can use a key phrase such as my grandmother’s “God Bless Him.” My family just saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Not for a moment did we think it was set in Missouri because the dialogue was wrong. Yes, they had dialect coaches but they obviously weren’t from Missouri either. And don’t use “God Bless Him” unless you speak fluent Southern. It is not a blessing.

Dialogue should be read out loud. I know, I know. I already said that dialogue shouldn’t sound exactly like a person speaking. But it does need to flow and the best way to test that is to read it aloud. All of it. Better yet, get someone else to read it to you and pay attention to where they stumble or look confused.

Dialogue done well can pull a reader into the story. Dialogue done wrong can send them for the hills whether those hills are real or as fanciful as Ebbing, Missouri.


PS.  I do recommend 3 Billboards even if it wasn't set in Missouri.

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 May 7th, 2018.

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Sunday, April 08, 2018


Interview with Melody Mansfield; Essay Contest Runner Up

WOW! recently announced the winners of our very first Essay Contest and we are proud to announce Melody Mansfield from Lake Balboa, California  as one of the runners up with The Woman Who Wouldn't Die. Before we get into this awesome interview, Melody said the following to me:

I guess it needs to be said (though I’m hoping it is apparent) that 
The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is autobiographical. 
 And because breast cancer is such an 
ubiquitous disease right now, 
it has become increasing important to me to 
share my story with others and in this way, perhaps,
 convey some hope and comfort.

My story is this: I was originally diagnosed with BC in 1996, 
and subsequently (within a period of three months) saw 
both the publication of my first book and the dissolution 
of my 23 year marriage. Fourteen years later, it returned
—the cancer—
not the marriage. 
 The doctor said that once it metastasized, 
there would be no cure, but his goal was to slow it down 
as long as possible. So I have been on chemo constantly 
(specific drugs keep changing) for nearly eight years now. 
 And since the initial prognosis was 3-18 months, 
I am feeling pretty  lucky, to say the least.

So, let's take a look at Melody's bio and get down to the business of this interview. I feel pretty lucky to have this opportunity of spending time with such a remarkable woman!

About Melody:

Between the publication of Melody Mansfield’s first novel, The Life Stone of Singing Bird, by Faber and Faber in 1996 and her short story collection, A Bug Collection, by Red Hen Press in 2013, her short fiction, essays, and poetry have found homes in a number of print and online journals including Parents Magazine, Inside English, CAIS Journal, and Thought Magazine. In 2014, the opening of her sixth novel was awarded the Sue Alexander Grant, and in 2015, her short story, “Fertilizer” was anthologized for the Write Well Award. A selection of Mansfield’s fiction was recently (September 2017) chosen to be staged by professional actors in North Hollywood for The New Short Fiction Series.

Mansfield holds an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is proud to be the Director of Creative Writing at a private Los Angeles high school, where she was honored this past November with the 2017 Jewish Educator Award. She lives with her professor husband, Jerry, in a ridiculously happy little yellow house—cricket-infested and partly hidden by bright bouganvilleas and sweet-memory-sky-flowers. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her passion project: a literary fiction/YA/fantasy hybrid novel—chock full of faeries and magic and “the innermost thumpings of her own bursting heart.”

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

WOW:  Super glad you are here today Melody - 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 your personal battle with cancer.

What advice do you have for others who want to attempt an essay about something deeply personal? Is there a good way to approach the project?

Melody: I am probably the least qualified person in the world to answer this question, as I have spent the majority of my writing career avoiding (or disguising) the “deeply personal.” As I mention in the essay, I have written from the point of view of bugs and faeries—anything to avoid giving away too much of myself (which is of course ridiculous, because we are always there in everything we write, yes?) All of which is not to say that I haven’t written about what is most idiosyncratically personal to me —only that I have rarely considered publishing it. For me there is a significant difference between process (write whatever you want/feel) and product (show it to others), and the line between two is a terrifying chasm.

But the metastasis diagnosis, coupled with the miracle of my continued survival—has been a catalyst for change. As I sit here today, on this chilly January morning, my newly bald head covered in the softest sky-blue scarf I could find, I am moving toward a fuller, more compassionate understanding of the importance of sharing our experiences with one other.

One of my most positively received short stories, “Black-out,” is a very thinly veiled autobiographical piece that recounts the excruciating moment when, post-mastectomy in 1996, I finally accepted the inevitability of my divorce. That suffocatingly hot and long-ago August night is so painful for me to relive that re-reading this story feels a bit like being raped, but women have commented on how it helped them “heal.” This is remarkable to me, but speaks, I think, to our need to know that we are not alone in this world, and to the power of revealing ourselves at our most vulnerable. It has compelled me (like the protagonist at the end of my most recent project) to “look away from myself” and toward the needs of others. I have kept the secret of my metastasized breast cancer largely a secret from my students and colleagues for nearly eight years, but the fact that “The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die” was chosen to be performed publicly has been another important step in my “coming out.”

So, to answer your question—my apologies for the long digression—I think my advice to others would be to scrape out everything that needs to be aired and to write it down—every grisly little bit of it. But then consider which parts are purely venting (crucially important, but possibly only to our own understanding) and which parts might be transformed into something that can be held in someone else’s hands long enough to be prodded and mined for connections and comfort—in other words, transformed into Art that can heal. And then be brave enough to put it out there.

WOW:  That's great advice for all of us (especially the bravery part) - thank you!

You are putting the finishing touches on your passion project – when did you start dreaming up this YA/fantasy hybrid novel? What prompted you to move forward with publishing?

Melody: I should clarify first that I have not yet published (nor even sought publication for) this “passion project.” I kind of love it too much to shop it around without representation, so I am currently in the process of seeking out the right agent—someone who loves language and character as much as I do, and who is willing to take a risk on something that does not fall neatly into one clear category.

Regarding its genesis: I have written a number of novels at this point—many that I considered to be “serious and important.” But the cancer metastasis diagnosis in 2010 made me question the wisdom of continuing to carry around the weight of all those pretentious expectations. It nudged me, ironically, back toward my very earliest encounters with books—the wonder of finding new gifts on each page, the enchantment of faery forests and hidden creatures, the magical music of language and the happy discovery that words themselves could transport and transform me. In short, it propelled me toward celebrating the intrinsic joy (and healing powers) of writing itself. “Bring on the faeries!” I wrote in this essay. “Secret and small—the innermost thumpings of [my] own bursting heart. What could be more frivolous and life affirming?”

To be more specific, I dove deeply then into study of the YA market, and wrote one full “faery” novel that I felt would conform to its dictates. I even won a Sue Alexander Award for its opening. But something wasn’t right; I had infused it too much with the “market” ideals and had veered too far away from my own “innermost thumpings.” So then I listened more carefully to the words of Birdie, one of its secondary characters, and she told me that what I really wanted to write about was her story, and about how her childhood in one of the most brutal and backward areas in Scotland led her to faeries and magic and heartbreak and redemption. The novel that emerged, Between the Song and the Sigh, touched something in me that I needed to touch, and which I hope may touch others as well. (This novel has now become the prequel for the first one—which I will revise again now that I know who Birdie is. Or perhaps that first faery novel will become the second, which may lead to a third…?)

WOW:  I'm impressed with your processes and ideas; thank you for your honesty and candor. Tell us more:

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

Melody: Right now I feel unbelievably privileged to have a small room of my own (like our good friend and mentor, Ms. Woolf), complete with comfy chair, printer, bulletin board, and various writing totems. But while my children were growing up (I was working three jobs while earning my BA/MA/MFA), I wrote my first novel in my dented Toyota while waiting to pick up a child from school, or on the metal bleachers while watching a child at swim practice, or on our one-and-only old clunker computer in the living room, right next to the piano and a group of my kids’ friends singing and dancing and knocking over vases for an upcoming production of Hair.

Peace and quiet is an inexplicably wonderful luxury, but the main thing, I think, is to LOVE what you are writing. And if you don’t love it, can’t love it, and/or can’t find time to love it, then read, read, read, until you can love it again. Just keep those words and ideas still flying around in your blood and your brain, waiting for that golden morning when they can once more (hallelujah!) be released. The words will find a way, I think, sooner or later. Just don’t leave them at the curb and drive away.

WOW:  Peace and quiet? I had to look those words up because they're so foreign to me. But seriously, I have to ask about one more thing before we run out of time: 

Your work was chosen to be staged by professional actors? WOW!!! Tell us about that experience?

Melody: The experience of having my words read publicly by professionals was simultaneously exhilarating, flattering, terrifying, and revelatory—the first three for obvious reasons, but revelatory because I learned so much about what it must be like to be a screenplay writer; the plus side is the fun collaboration and camaraderie, but the down side is a loss of control, particularly of the meanings you thought you had invested in the words you’d written. For instance, although I heard the narrative voice in one of my stories as a bit lost (resistant and frightened, but mostly filled with wonder), the actor read this narrator’s words as purely angry—and this changed everything. So that was a learning experience. Still, it was an overwhelmingly emotional and perfect evening for me. Standing room only! And not just my beloved family and friends, but also so many of my wonderful colleagues, as well a lot of surreal surprises—former writing and dance students, and others whose lives had intersected with my own.

WOW: I can't even fathom your excitement over all these great accomplishments. You certainly aren't one to sit back waiting for life to happen. As someone who I would consider a mover and shaker, what’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2018 and beyond?

Melody: Thanks for asking! It may help me to articulate and list them.

My writing goals for 2018:

(1) Find the right agent for Between the Song and the Sigh

(2) Revise a novel I began some time ago about a nineteenth century female composer. The emergence of the #MeToo movement, and the re-energizing of womens’ power tells me that the time might finally be right for this novel. (I saw an article just this morning about Susanna Malkki, a female conductor who is chipping away at that particular glass ceiling and accepting invitations as guest conductor at LA and NYC Philharmonic Orchestras—Yes!)

(3) Revise the novel that led to Between the Song and the Sigh, now that I have discovered the truest tone, voice, and emotional impetus.

(4) Wave a magic faery wand over some of my more ponderously “serious” pieces to infuse them with bit more sparkle and light and more nods to the miraculous.

(5) Continue to play, play, play with words and to honor the strangeness and particularity of my own truest voice and vision

WOW: Well Melody, 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!

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Saturday, April 07, 2018


Be S.M.A.R.T with Your Writing
What I love about this community is how we all inspire each other. I read the interviews with our contest winners, and I pick up ideas on how to juggle writing with a full-time job. I check out a post from one of our bloggers, and I get an idea for a submission market I’d never thought of before.

My husband works in Corporate America in marketing, and he’s always been a big fan of those “how to succeed in business” books where he can pick up bits of advice and information in short bursts. I sometimes chuckle when I see him lounging by the pool or beach on vacation with the latest Stephen Covey in his hand, but I shouldn’t. There’s good information to be found in them if you are in the right mindset. I’m not sure if Covey is the person who actually coined the “S.M.A.R.T” acronym in regards to goal setting, but he has discussed it some of his books.

I think I mentioned it in a previous blog post, but I joined Weight Watchers online in early January to help get rid of 15 extra pounds I put on in the past few years and break some bad eating habits. While I’ve always been an active person, I was not eating in a way that supported my weight loss goals. (Hello chocolate and carbs!) What I like about the program is that you can set small, attainable goals and tangibly track every single thing that goes in your mouth. I’m happy to say that after three solid months of tracking and working toward my original goal, I have met it.

Here’s how we can use that same mindset to achieve our writing goals.

Specific. Set a specific goal. Having a goal like “I’m going to finish a novel this year!” is too vague. Believe me, I know from personal experience and multiple failures. Right now, I’m working on revising a novel, and setting mini goals each week helps me move forward (although slowly, sometimes) and focus on different areas. Each week I try to revise two chapters or experiment with telling the story from a different character’s perspective.

Measurable. A few weeks ago I wrote about Camp NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month expanded into a spring and summer month (April and July) for those of us who get too overwhelmed in November to tackle 50,000+ words. With the camp, you can set measurable goals like producing a certain number of words, blog posts, articles, and the campers in your “cabin” can help cheer you on.

Achievable. I often compare writing to that old Aesop fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Slow and steady wins the race, at least in my opinion! Achievements can be big or small. Published a blog post? Check! Finished a kick-ass opening chapter to your novel? Check! Received a check for a magazine article? Check! Set a goal that you can achieve short-term, boost your self-confidence and keep moving forward.

Realistic. When I started Weight Watchers, it wouldn’t have done me any good to set a goal of losing 15 pounds in one week or even two. If I had, I would have failed miserably and lost my motivation. I took it week by week, sometimes losing two pounds and then gaining a pound back the next week. Sticking with a realistic program helped me achieve success. Setting a goal to write and publish a novel within six months probably isn’t a realistic goal. But writing and publishing one in year or two? Bingo.

Timely. There are seasons of our lives where certain writing goals don’t work as well. When I was a mom of a toddler and infant, there was no way I could have tackled completing a novel with all the anxiety and sleep deprivation I was going through. It was easier then for me to focus on developing article queries and essays, and now that my kids are 12 and 14, I have much more to concentrate on fiction in between driving them to all their activities!

What are some S.M.A.R.T writing goals you can work on attaining, if you haven’t already? I’d love to hear how you make this method work for you!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who recently won first place in the thriller category of the 2017 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

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