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Sunday, September 30, 2018

 

Interview with Lynda Allison: Q3 2018 Creative Nonfiction Runner Up

Lynda's Bio:

Lynda’s uses her background in writing, drama, and teaching to create environments that inspire writers. Traveling with her husband and adult children in Panama prompted the idea for Tranquilo Retreat, a tropical writing space where she will facilitate writing workshops and retreats.

An AWA Affiliate, Lynda uses the Amherst Writers & Artists workshop method, where everyone is a writer and practiced and emerging voices receive support. She served several roles on the board for The Writers Community of Durham Region, co-founded a fundraiser writing challenge, and led a community writing circle.

Lynda’s short stories appeared in several anthologies and she’s published newspaper, magazine, and online articles and columns, children’s and adult fiction, and poetry.

Her favourite place to write is her poolside bohio in Coronado, Panama.

You’ll find her upcoming workshops/retreats at:

The Word Tour: www.facebook.com/thewordtour/
Tranquilo Retreat: www.facebook.com/tranquiloretreat/
Website: www.tranquiloretreat.com

If you haven't already done so, check out Lynda's award-winning story "You Kept Your Boots so Shiny" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Creative Nonfiction Q3 Contest!   

I'm not sure how to start other than jumping right into this interview with a tough question. Was it difficult to share this particular story? How did you feel after getting it all down on paper?

Lynda: I rallied my courage and headed fearward to write this essay, especially since my assailant was known to me, was in a position of authority, and was never prosecuted. I haven’t shared this assault with many people. Given its sensitive subject matter, I considered re-writing this essay as a short story with a fictional character. It felt safer. But the beautiful women in my critique group encouraged me to submit it as it was written. And they were right to do so.

I felt empowered after writing and submitting the essay, although I did have concerns about the reactions of people who would be reminded of, or introduced to, my past should they see it online. Finding courage to write authentically is what I ask of writing workshop participants so this essay is me living out what I ask of others.

WOW: I'm so happy to hear the process was empowering. Thank you for your honesty. What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2018 and beyond?

Lynda: While on holiday in Panama the last few years, my husband and I studied the real estate market and conducted market research in Panama. We recently purchased a home in Coronado that suited his dream to live somewhere hot and my dream to open Tranquilo Retreat.

Here, under the business name The Word Tour, I conduct writing workshops and provide a safe, tropical space to write. My workshops support writers in the writing of their memoirs or use real life to create fiction.


I am currently writing a young adult science fiction/fantasy trilogy, flash fiction, short stories and children’s books.

WOW: We can't wait to hear more from you - glad to hear you are working on something new. Was it difficult coming up with a title for your essay? What came first, the essay or the title?

Lynda: The inspiration for this essay came after reading Pat Schneider’s book, Writing Alone and With Others. Schneider uses “The Tinder-Box,” a fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson as “a metaphor for the process of making art.” In this tale, the protagonist receives a magic apron that keeps him safe from the terrifying dogs he encounters as he explores rooms in which he finds copper, silver and gold. Schneider suggests, “The act of writing is a tremendous adventure into the unknown, always fraught with danger. But the deeper you go and the longer you work at your art, the greater will be your treasure.”

While out walking along my street I saw a rubber boot upside down on a post. I pondered various scenarios about how the boot got there and why it was left. Later, in a writing session the image of the boot came to mind. I wrote a few short vignettes about various times when I could picture boot images and ultimately I wrote about a sexual assault by a man who kept his boots so shiny. My essay title came from the first line of the essay written as a freefall exercise and stayed exactly as it arrived on the page.

WOW: Thank you for your wonderful writing and thoughtful and inspiring responses. Happy writing  and congratulations again as one of the runners up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest!


Check out the latest Contests:

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

 

How to Recover from Harsh Writing Critiques

Photo via Pixabay Creative Commons
Lately, I've been pushing myself to submit my short stories to critique groups. Initially, I go into the critique process feeling confident, certain others will enjoy my writing as much as I enjoy it. However, I almost always leave humbled. Sometimes, I also end up feeling downright insulted.

This part of the writing process isn't easy. Yet, it is an incredibly important part if you are trying to grow your writing and improve your writing pieces. Unfortunately, this can also take a jab at creative confidence and self-esteem. This is why I often end up staying in the first draft level of writing. Now, I'm actively trying to change that. How can we grow as writers if we don't advance to that next stage?

Lately, I have learned a few ways that helped me recover from reading critiques of my stories. I hope these tips help you bounce back and maintain your creative spirit.

1) Find common threads.

Let's be honest. It isn't fun hearing our baby isn't perfect in the eyes of other readers and writers. While our instinct (or maybe, it's just mine) is to pull away and say to ourselves this person has no idea what they're talking about, at least consider the feedback you've received. (This is why it's important to get feedback from more than one person too.) Is there one suggestion that everyone is saying? Is everyone saying your ending was too abrupt? Or that your character didn't have enough inner dialogue? If it hurts too much to read the feedback, take a break for a few days and re-read your critiques when you've recovered. I did that and gained a fresher, far less sensitive perspective on my feedback.

2) Work on something else.

Sure, you'll have to face the critiques at some point, but if you are freshly wounded from reading that feedback, work on something else for a few days. This can help you restore your creative energy. For me, it also gives me peace in knowing not all my eggs are in the same creative basket.

3) Don't forget that you know your own work.

One great piece of advice I learned recently is that we are the best judge of our work. No one else sees the behind the scenes work of our writing pieces except us. No one else knows what we intended with that character, plot line or experience we wrote down. So take the feedback for what it's worth and understand it's simply someone's critique. It isn't something you are required by law to adhere to.

Getting my work critiqued and developing my own revision skills is part of the writing process. Unfortunately, it isn't always easy. Through this process, though, I've also learned the true benefit of great critiquing skills and hope along the way I can learn to improve my own.

How do you recover from getting your writing critiqued? What advice can you share?

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Friday, September 28, 2018

 

Friday Speak Out!: Inciting Incidents

by Susanne Brent

Everything changed when three coyotes came to the city park where I walk my dog, Darla, each morning. People who before allowed their dogs to roam freely, used leashes. One woman began carrying a stick for fear the coyotes might attack her collie. People who never spoke to me before would warn me about the coyotes lurking beneath the trees or in the bushes. Groups of pet owners gathered in small groups in the park to discuss what action could be taken to make the park safe again.

Much conflict was provoked by the arrival of the three coyotes. The coyotes were a prime example of the writing technique called inciting incident from which all other action springs. Inciting incidents may be large or small. Whichever, it brings change. Due to the coyotes, no more safe park strolls, but instead fear one of the unwelcome predators might try to gobble up a pet.

To write about a quiet park with graceful trees and birds singing would be lovely but.... boring. The coyotes made it interesting.

Not all inciting incidents are obvious. For example, I received a letter a few years ago from an attorney involving the pension of a man I once lived with in the 1970s. The man wanted to retire, but he had put me as a beneficiary on his pension. He couldn’t collect his pension without my signature releasing the funds. We hadn’t spoken in decades but, due to that signature we had both long ago forgotten, we were reconnected. And from there a story, a dramatic story better told another day, began. All from a tiny dotted line.

Often when I read, I like to define the inciting incidents in books. Sometimes it’s complicated, but often it’s easy to see. In the recent bestseller Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng the inciting incident occurs when single mother and artist, Mia Warren, and her teenager daughter move to Shaker Heights and shake things up. In Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the action is fueled each time a new client visits the detective hoping for help.

Look at favorite books and try to pin point the incident which ignited the action. There is usually one event, an unexpected visitor, a terrible storm, a death, a birth, which strikes the match to launch the story. We can even look at our own lives for examples.

The coyotes evoked change which created emotion at the once calm park. Some people were afraid and threw rocks at the animals. Some called animal control. People, like myself, felt conflicted. The coyotes were hungry, but I didn’t want them to eat my dog, Darla.

I am happy to report no coyotes have hurt any dogs. That I know of. But in my imagination, and possibly one day in a story, I am thinking of all sorts of dramatic possibilities incited from the coyote’s unwelcome arrival.

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Born in Chicago, I grew up reading the Chicago Sun Times that my dad brought home every night after work. The newspaper inspired me to become a journalist. I earned a journalism degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver and moved to Arizona to work on a weekly newspaper. I wrote on a freelance basis for a variety of publications including The Arizona Republic. I am hoping to complete my novel this year, and I write a blog. Find me at thatsnotmytable.wordpress.com
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, September 27, 2018

 

Focus on the tomato!

Who doesn't love a good, fruit-based, time-management technique? I know I do. When I get stuck on a plot or character problem, I use the Pomodoro Technique(R). Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, and the idea behind this technique is based on the tomato-shaped kitchen timer used by its developer, Francesco Cirillo, to maximize his study time when he was a university student.

Here's the plan. Sit down, write (or work) for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Then work for 25 more minutes, and take another 5-minute break. Within an hour, you've worked for 50 minutes, which is enough time to produce a surprising amount of words, editing, or ideas.

I first heard about the Pomodoro Technique at a faculty meeting a few years ago. I don't use it all the time, but regardless of whether I have an hour or two, or am looking at a long weekend and need to finish some writing or grading, it works surprisingly well. The idea that I can do anything for 25 minutes forces me to sit down and begin, which is usually the most difficult part of writing.

Working in short bursts also helps my productivity, and the breaks ensure I don't get burned out, fatigued, or suffer from brain overload. During the short breaks, the simple act of looking away from the screen helps, or I can use the them to fix another cup of tea, let the dog out, or throw in a load of laundry.

For instance, I wrote a book review recently, and was having trouble coming up with a way to approach the analysis. Reading other book reviews didn't help, and finally I decided to try the Pomodoro Technique. I looked at the clock and reminded myself that I can do anything for 25 minutes; I just needed to focus and remember that something is better than nothing.

By taking the pressure off, I freed my mind to explore several ideas. I finished the first draft of the review during one session, and edited it in another. The Pomodoro Technique helped me focus, which helped me begin, and helped me finish!



Mary Horner is a writer and teacher who sometimes uses the Pomodoro Technique.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

 

Banned Books Week



Ask a group of writers how they feel about banning books and you are going to get a quick answer. Book banning is bad. It is wrong. It should be forbidden! And that’s no big surprise since book banning is censorship which writers, not surprisingly, are against.

Usually.

Yes, usually.

This week is Banned Books Week. For those of you who haven’t taken part in a Banned Books Week event, it is a celebration of the Freedom to Read. It is organized by a coalition of organizations ranging from The American Library Association, The Authors Guild, and the Index on Censorship. During this week, librarians, teachers and authors work to raise awareness about the dangers of book banning as well as awareness of what types of books get banned. They range from silly books like Captain Underpants to serious fiction like To Kill a Mockingbird. You can see the video about the most banned books of 2017 here

One of the books that you’ll see there is one that I’ve written about in the past because I adored this book when I read it – Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The book tends to get banned because the young male characters are young males. They swear. They discuss sex even though they are 99% clueless. Teachers have loved the book because it is an accurate depiction of life for modern first nation people.

But there are discussions, as seen in Shelf Awareness for Readers, about removing this book from classrooms, libraries and bookstores. Long story short, harassment allegations were made against Alexie this summer. 

On one hand, some people say that we should disassociate the art from the artist. Young readers should have access to books that speak to them. They need to see characters who are different from themselves.  Banning books is bad.  Banning any books for any reason is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, people say that continuing to print, sell and buy the book is the same as making excuses for a predator and devaluing the victim. These books should not be available.  They never use the word banning, but if you aren't going to shelve, check out, or sell a book, I'm not sure what else to call it.

Personally it seems like a no win situation, the sort of thing you'd explore in a novel.

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins November 12th, 2018.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

 

Interivew With Margaret Harmon, Runner Up in the Spring 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Margaret Harmon is a modern fabulist (someone who writes fables) and humorist. Fables from The Man Who Learned to Walk In Shoes That Pinch: Contemporary Fables and The Genie Who Had Wishes of His Own: 21st-century Fables aired on National Public Radio and are taught in literature and oral interpretation classes. Ray Bradbury described her fables as “Fantastic!” In A Field Guide to North American Birders: A Parody, birders discover their own species. Over 300 of her essays, features, humor, and Op-Eds have appeared in national publications. Awards include “Best of the Best San Diego Writers” on NPR. She and her husband live in San Diego, California. Find her on her website.  

If you haven’t read her story, Brightlook!, take the time to do so before reading on. It is a powerful piece of writing.

WOW: I have to tell you, I found Brightlook! unsettling and powerful. What was your inspiration for this piece?

Margaret: Prepping to teach a Flash Fiction Writing Workshop, I wrote some pieces for fun. I’d recently learned that the brain functions for several minutes after the heart stops, and I’m always fascinated by imagining solutions for human problems.

WOW: Ah, I do that too. I’ll read something or hear something and there goes my brain, spinning a scenario. Can you share your writing process with us? How did Brightlook! change from initial idea to submitted story?

Margaret: I wake up with my new ideas—to jot immediately. I love writing rough drafts and researching. After I polish a piece, my husband reads it and gives feedback. Polish again. Then my trusted Writers’ Network colleagues critique it. I keep polishing and getting feedback until the new piece works.

“BrightLook!” grew tighter and clearer; it always wanted to be dialog. Researching the exorbitant costs for incarceration and executions intensified my interest in the story.

WOW: How did you decide what details belonged in the story? For example, why did you not tell the reader what crime Ben committed? Or which path he chose?

Margaret: Ben is the character who takes us into BrightLook! so we need to identify with him. He can’t be a serial killer selling body parts to China. Ben is yearning and scared, a fundamentally nice young person who’s in trouble. He’s polite to Dr. Thorne, so terrified of the EX Track that he tries not to touch its book. We each picture our own Ben. His brother was a petty criminal—and we see Dr. Thorne help Ben start changing his life by cutting off talk about old, failed prisons. Telling Ben that people who started life in dysfunctional families, schools, and neighborhoods can use Restart to build a new life, Dr. Thorne suggests how Ben probably got in trouble and which path he will choose.

WOW: Your biography says that you are a “fabulist” which is such an awesome way to say you write fables. Can you share with our readers what makes a piece a fable vs simply a short story?

Margaret: A fable is fiction that explores a life strategy by creating a character who lives by that strategy 100% so we see the consequences. If her strategy is flawed, she suffers. We call that a Cautionary Tale and thank her for warning us. If the strategy is good, the character succeeds—and we might put her on our shoulder to inspire us.

A short story’s protagonist is a unique person facing a conflict that may be hers alone. When she’s learned everything she’ll find out in this story, she’s at the Turning Point and takes action—or doesn’t. (A fable character cannot change, so she faces a Testing Point, where we see how effective her strategy is.)

Fables are psychological power tools we use to become who we want to be—personally, in relationships, and as a society. But we each reread and embrace only the fables that address the behaviors we are trying to quit or develop.

Humans have been writing fables for 3,000 years in nearly every culture because our brains are wired to Listen to a Lecture, but Live a Story. We identify with a character and experience a story through our own five senses—and remember and believe. We can learn about a culture by reading its fables. And instead of nagging a child to change a behavior, we can read her a fable about what happens to someone with that behavior.

WOW: That makes perfect sense. Now I get it. You have written a variety of work from novels to fables. What advice do you have for readers who are still trying to decide what form is a good fit for them?

Margaret: What do you read most? Who are your favorite authors? What do you do BEST—short, long, funny, inspiring, suspense, nonfiction? What do readers like from you and what do they reject—and why? Can you fix what they reject, or should you move to another form? Find honest, perceptive beta readers—and give them chocolate. Read your work aloud at open mics to see where people laugh, lean forward, or fall asleep.

Write for YOU and YOUR READERS, not the market, because the market changes so fast that by the time you master the current hot thing and get your work to agents, it will no longer be hot.
Trust yourself: I wrote poetry, humor, and novels for years—until I wrote a fable at a writers’ conference. Fables use The Whole Essence of the Protagonist (novel), each word must feel good in your mouth as well as your brain (poetry), and it must be short and tight (humor). Grow and have adventures. You’ll recognize yourself when you see you.

WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your ideas on writing with us. I don’t know about our other readers, but I find myself playing with ideas for writing a fable. I’m partial to tricksters. Thank you for everything you have shared!

Interview conducted by Sue Bradford Edwards. 

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Monday, September 24, 2018

 

The Most Important Question to Answer In Your Marketing Plan

Most authors will complain about marketing at some point in their careers because book marketing is like an impossible jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces are tiny, have images printed on both sides, and are the same color. So yeah, it's difficult. Marketing can feel never-ending because...it is. But when you manage to fit the pieces together. your reward is readers finding your books; and hopefully, some cash lining your pockets. (Don't forget: the definition of a successful author is not what type of starving artist you are. It's readers loving your books while you have enough money to support your household!) 

So the question becomes: how do I solve my marketing puzzle? As I prepare for the marketing class I'm leading for WOW!, I'm interviewing authors and marketing experts for the webinars, and I can't believe how much I'm learning in the process. The first interview is with Sarah Whitney because her day job is in the marketing department of a very successful and huge law firm, and she is one smart cookie. I asked her a lot of questions, and she shared a lot of knowledge for the class. However, the one thing I want to share with you today is one of the most important things she said.

I asked her: where should authors start with their marketing plan? I expected the good, typical answer of: know your audience and where they hang out and find their books (which you do need to know!). But the answer she gave was so spot on and exactly how an advertiser/marketer thinks. She said:

What is the problem your product (book) is solving for your audience? 

If you write self-help or nonfiction, the answer to this question is pretty easy. But if you write fiction, the answer takes a bit more thinking, a bit more time to figure out, to puzzle over. But the answer's crucial to your marketing strategy.

Let's pretend you're a romance novelist (unless you are one, then you don't have to pretend!). One problem your book solves for the reader is where to spend money and time on entertainment. Everyone wants to be entertained and have time to relax. So your romance novel provides your reader with the solution to the problem of: What do I do in my free time and/or with this extra money I have?

The second problem your book may solve is providing readers with some kind of universal lesson about love and relationships. This depends more on the themes that are in your book; but most likely, romance readers love to devour these books because they give them hope for how life can be when love is found and kept.

Whatever you write and whatever you have to market--you should be thinking like a marketing expert when devising your plan, and then target your plan toward how your book solves problems for your reader. This week, look at ads you see (watch commercials, listen to radio ads, flip through a magazine) and pay attention to how the ads are crafted. Most ads do not blatantly state: "You have THIS BIG PROBLEM and here's how my product solves it." But marketing departments create the ad, so that the product is the solution to this puzzle in the consumer's life. 

It's never too early to create your marketing plan and build your platform--even before you've published your first book. That's definitely true. But wherever you are in your publishing journey, it's also never too late to think like a marketer and create a plan that's full of successful steps, which connect readers with your books. Once you find the pieces of your marketing puzzle and fit them together, you'll see your readership grow while you continue to write great books.

Margo is teaching Individualized Marketing for Authors and Writing Industry Professionals, starting this Wednesday, September 26. There's still time to register! To find out more about Margo, check out her website: http://www.margoldill.com  .

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

 

Interview with Barbara Altamirano: Q3 2018 Creative Nonfiction Runner Up

Barbara’s Bio:

After leaving the insurance industry to become a stay-at-home mom, Barbara Altamirano discovered her love of using the written word to create art. Several years back she entered her first fiction contest on WOW and was amazed to receive an honorable mention. She was also thrilled when WOW published her essay about finding writing inspiration. A graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, she has also been published in Guideposts, Indiana Voice Journal, Pittsburgh Parent, and others, and has been a finalist in Writer’s Digest annual contest. She is hoping to publish her first book, The Mommy Clique, a work of women’s fiction, and she is currently working on several young adult novels. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children where she finds writing inspiration in all sorts of places, even household chores like sorting socks.

If you haven't already done so, check out Barbara's award-winning story "Imperfectly Matched Socks" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Creative Nonfiction Q3 Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Barbara: As I was matching my husband’s socks, my mind started to wander—no doubt because it’s such a boring activity. I started thinking about the connection between pairing off socks and finding romantic partners for humans. After finishing with the socks, I typed up the ideas. (In fact, I might have taken a break from the sorting to jot down some notes.) After editing it, I sent it to a couple places without finding a home for it. Then I decided to try WOW and last quarter the essay received an honorable mention. I had also purchased the critique, and Chelsey Clammer gave me great feedback which was very supportive in terms of saying what she liked about it, but also clearly explained how I could make it better. Basically, the ending needed some work to better show what insight I had gained from the sock sorting. (Insight from socks. Who knew?)

WOW: I love that you turned an everyday “boring” activity into a story, into art. You never know when inspiration might strike! What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Barbara: A reaction of one of the first readers of this essay was, “Socks? Why are you writing about socks?” This was also my husband’s reaction. But even though I knew the topic was kind of quirky, I thought it had potential. So, I learned to trust my gut feelings and keep trying. Writing is subjective so just because one person (or two) doesn’t get your work, it doesn’t mean no one will. The essay also reaffirmed the idea that romantic pairings can work even if not perfect, as in the case of my husband and me.

WOW: I’m glad trusting your gut feelings and your persistence was rewarded with success! Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Barbara: Some of my favorite nonfiction authors are Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jeanette Walls and Cheryl Strayed. What inspires me most about these writers is their honesty, and the beautiful way they tell their often difficult or challenging true life stories. Although not really known for nonfiction, I am also inspired by Sue Monk Kidd especially because she didn’t begin her writing career until later in her life.

WOW: Can you tell us more about the books you’re writing—The Mommy Clique and the young adult novels?

Barbara: I would describe The Mommy Clique as Big Little Lies meets Mean Girls. After reading Queen Bees and Wannabes, the nonfiction book that Mean Girls is based on, I decided to explore what would happen if there were a group of mothers acting out the roles that were found to exist in real life teenage girls. The story is told through multiple viewpoints from the queen bee, sidekick, banker, wannabe, and the target, with the women jockeying for position and power within the clique.

The first young adult novel I wrote was a project for a writing class. That book is about a shy, insecure girl who daydreams to escape her so-so reality and her daydreams become increasingly hard to control. I wrote a sequel to this while shopping the first novel but when I didn’t find an agent, I focused on other projects. One of these is a YA novel about a girl who has taken a purity vow. I also have a futuristic YA novel involving two opposing groups—the egotists and the evolutionists, with the main difference being that the evolutionists have a more advanced spiritual consciousness. But, although the setting is futuristic, the novel deals with many of the same issues as my other novels like fitting in, popularity, and, of course, romance.

WOW: What great descriptions and story premises. Thank you for sharing those with us! If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

Barbara: I would tell her to keep trying, and to not take rejection so personally but try to learn and grow from it. Sometimes obstacles exist just to test our perseverance, so we need to have faith and not lose hope.

WOW: Thank you for your wonderful writing and thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

 

Interview with Melissa Grunow, Author of "I Don't Belong Here: Essays"

You may recognize the name Melissa Grunow. She recently taught the "Ashes, Ashes: Writing Personal Narratives About Childhood"course through WOW! and has served as a judge in our quarterly creative nonfiction contest. She joins us today to discuss her latest release, I Don't Belong Here: Essays.

Grunow is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals and online, so we took advantage of this opportunity to learn all about her background and writing process. She came through beautifully with helpful tips on writing, publishing and submitting creative nonfiction pieces, the writing and publishing process behind both of her books, and a list of her favorite memoirs. A notepad and pen to take notes may come in handy for this interview!

About Melissa Grunow:
Melissa Grunow is the author of I Don't Belong Here: Essays (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018) and Realizing River City: A Memoir (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers' Favorite International Book Contest, and Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.

Synopsis: 
What does it mean to belong? In a place? With a person? To a family? Where do our senses of security and survival lie? I Don't Belong Here ruthlessly investigates alienation during moments of transit and dislocation and their impact on women’s identity. These twenty essays—ranging from conventional to lyrical to experimental in form and structure—delve into the root causes of personal uncertainty and the aftershock effects of being a woman in an unsafe world. Provocative, authentic, intimate, and uncompromising, Melissa Grunow casts light on the unspeakable: sexuality, death, mental illness, trauma, estrangement, and disillusionment with precision and fortitude.

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Melissa, welcome! Thank you for agreeing to chat with us today about your new book. I Don't Belong Here is a collection of essays that explore the feelings of alienation and how they impact women's lives. I'm curious as to what came first--the idea for the collection or the individual essays themselves?

Melissa: After the publication of my memoir Realizing River City in 2016, I knew my next project would be an essay collection. I had drafted a few essays while writing and promoting the memoir, but I had set them aside because I wasn’t focused on a new project yet. I had chosen the title for I Don’t Belong Here early on in the project because it was exactly how I was feeling about each essay I wrote. What I mean is, I was starting to realize how my writing felt like an immersion in the distant persona. I spend so much time among others inside my head, observing what is happening around me, and pushing the spotlight onto others, rather than living as if I am in the starring role of my own life. So, to answer your question more directly, the idea came first and the majority of the essays in the collection followed.

WOW: Writing creative nonfiction is a very personal and revealing process, and I read in an interview that you are a private person who hesitates to talk about yourself and accomplishments to others. How do you work through this aspect of your personality when writing essays and memoir?

Melissa: I break a rule when I’m writing: I don’t think about audience. If I did, I would never be able to really dig into the darkest depths of what it is that I’m writing about. I just tell myself that I need to write to explore a topic or an issue and that it will probably never get published anyway, so I can be as gritty and honest as necessary without repercussion. Once I have the essay written, I know that the next step is revision and publication, but at that point I can’t compromise the authenticity of the piece by “toning it down,” as it were.

It is true that I don’t like to talk about myself. When I’m having a conversation with someone, I feel far more comfortable asking the questions than answering them. Part of that is my observation persona as I mentioned earlier and part of that is my training as a journalist. When I’m writing, though, nobody is asking questions, nobody is digging into the details except for me. I have total authority over the content and direction of the essay as a conversation with the reader than I ever would have in a conversation with another person, face-to-face.

WOW: Your memoir, Realizing River City, was published in 2016 by Tumbleweed Books. Can you tell us a little about the book and how you decided to ultimately organize it?

Melissa: Realizing River City opens with me floating in a tube down the Rio Grande River in Truth or Consequence, New Mexico, on the last day of a two-week writing residency. I hit a rapid at the bend in the river and am thrown from the tube and trapped underneath it. Alone on the river, I nearly drown but fight to save my life, and I do. The book then flashes back to nearly ten years earlier and navigates a series of failed relationships. The narrative mimics the ebbs and flows of a river in its structure as it explores desire, loss, and ultimately survival. “River City” isn’t a place in the book; it’s a shape-shifting metaphor, so the book is organized into three sections: wading, tributaries, and surfacing. It’s not entirely chronological because it’s less about this happened, then this happened, then this happened, and more about who do I make sense of it all?

Realizing River City went through many structural changes during the writing and revising process because there were so many events happening at the same time that it was difficult to explore them in-depth without getting side-tracked. Using rivers as an organizational structure enabled me to give the book shape and cohesion in a way that a chronological narrative could not.

WOW: Thank you so much for that explanation. It makes sense when you describe it that way. It wasn't until the past few years that I realized the difference between a biography and a memoir, and creative non-fiction opens so many more exploratory opportunities, in my opinion. Writing nonfiction, particularly creative nonfiction, is an art form all its own. How did you first discover your love for it?

Melissa: I took a class in college called The Writer’s Craft. It was taught by the prolific author Robert Root who is a creative nonfiction author. We studied memoir and creative nonfiction essays and then wrote our own. It was the first time that I was given permission to write about my life and find my voice as a writer. While I was taking that class, I was also working as a journalist and writing a lot of feature stories where I was interviewing other people about their own lives. By listening to others, I learned to listen to myself and pen my own truth. It was both terrifying and liberating, as creative nonfiction should be.

WOW: You are also a live storyteller. Can you tell us a little about what this entails and some of the events you've participated in?

In general, live storytelling requires that you get on stage and tell a story extemporaneously within a given time frame. My first experience with live storytelling happened in Detroit when I completed in the Moth StorySlam. I came in second place at that event, and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve competed a few more times, coming in second place again and always in the top five (of ten) competitors. It’s exciting and fun and gives me a chance to test out my stories in front of an audience, which writing simply does not allow.

I participated in the 2016 Metro Detroit Listen to Your Mother show, which I had to audition for and rehearse with other cast members. That was such an incredible experience because we performed at Saint Andrew’s Hall downtown, where Eminem used to compete in rap battles in the basement. I’ve done a handful of events since then, such as open mics and grassroots shows, but Listen to Your Mother was definitely my flagship experience.

WOW: That sounds exciting! And a great way to strengthen your writing. What are some of your favorite memoirs that you've read and studied over the years?

Melissa: Oh there are so many! I’ll keep it at my top fifteen favorite memoirs and essay collections, just so this list doesn’t go on and on forever:

Circadian by Chelsey Clammer (Red Hen Press)
By the Forces of Gravity by Rebecca Fish Ewan (Books by Hippocampus)
Darkroom by Jill Christman (University of Georgia Press)
The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum (Picador)
Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from the Nervous System by Sonya Huber (University of Nebraska Press)
Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Vintage Books)
The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf Press)
Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz (Future Tense Books)
Between Panic and Desire by Dinty W. Moore (University of Nebraska Press)
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos (Bloomsbury)
My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta (Red Hen Press)
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorn Books)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Scribner)
Lying by Lauren Slater (Penguin Books)
Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman (University of Georgia Press)

There are so many more, of course, but this is the list of books that I return to again and again when I want to look at craft and be spellbound by amazing writing.

WOW: Thank you for that list! How can you not be intrigued by those titles? Most of us know how tricky the path to publication can be, and it can be even more so publishing memoir if you aren't a celebrity or someone who already has a huge following. What was the publishing experience like for you with I Don't Belong Here and Realizing River City?

Melissa: For both books, I knew I wanted to work with an independent press, so the process began by researching indie publishers that I could query directly. The mistake I made with Realizing River City is that I started submitting it long before it was ready. I submitted it to a round of publishers, got rejected, revised it, submitted it to another round, got rejected, and revised it.

I knew after that second round that I wanted some professional feedback, so I hired Chelsey Clammer to edit it for me. She gave me so much useful feedback, and I’m forever grateful to her for how she helped me with the manuscript.

I submitted it a third and final time, and I got three contract offers at once. That allowed me to review the terms and conditions of each and choose the publisher that I felt the most comfortable working with. In all, Realizing River City was submitted 34 times. Of those 34, 26 rejected it, I withdrew it from 5, and 3 offered a publishing contract. After it was published by Tumbleweed Books, it went on to win four national and international awards and was a finalist for a fifth.

The process for I Don’t Belong Here was much smoother. I finished the book, revised it until I couldn’t find anything else to change, and then hired Janel Mills to edit it for me. I made final edits and submitted it to 15 indie presses. It was rejected by one and accepted by New Meridian Arts. I had to withdraw it from consideration from the rest.

WOW: Your work has also appeared in a number of literary journals, but some writers are confused as to how to break into that market, especially with creative nonfiction. Do you have any tips for researching and submitting to journals?

Melissa: Submitting work and being selected by a literary journal is a lot like online dating; you just need to find the right match for your work.

Before you submit, make sure your prose is flawless. Some literary journal editors will work with you on minor edits, but most want submissions to be publication-ready.

If you’re writing creative nonfiction, only submit to journals that publish it. There are plenty of journals that will publish creative nonfiction but maybe only one or two pieces per issue because their preference is for fiction or poetry. Don’t submit to those until you’ve built up some publication credits because they are clearly very particular about what they choose.

When it comes to researching literary journals, there are a number of avenues you can use. I subscribe to Duotrope, which allows me to track my submissions and research various publication options. Entropy online also maintains a monthly blog of publication opportunities. If there are writers you admire, go to their websites and see which literary journals have published their work. Make a list and post it somewhere near your writing desk.

Read the journals. Subscribe to them. See what they are publishing. Does their aesthetic match yours?

When you’re reading to submit, read the submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Submission guidelines are there for a reason, and literary journal editors don’t take kindly to writers who go rogue and don’t follow the directions.

If you’re rejected, move on. Don’t respond to the editor and argue your case. Allow the experience to humble you. If an editor asks to see more work in the future, give it six months and send her something new.

All in all, be tenacious. Keep submitting. Don’t get discouraged. Your work will never get published if you don’t submit, so send it out!

WOW: What's next for you? Is there a dream writing project that you've been thinking about pursuing if you had the time?

Melissa: My focus right now is promoting I Don’t Belong Here, which is quite time-consuming. Scheduling readings, doing interviews, posting announcements on social media, keeping my website updated, all of that takes many hours every week, and I am so appreciative of everyone who has reached out and given me the opportunity to talk about the book and share it with their community.

I’m switching gears for my next writing project. I’m working on a collection of short stories, about half of which have been written. They’re more in the speculative fiction genre: surreal, reality-bending, and maybe even a little weird. I hope to have the draft finished by the end of the year and the manuscript submission-ready by summer 2019. We’ll see what happens, though. When it comes to writing, for me, the work comes along when it’s ready. I very rarely have any control over it.

WOW: Thank you again, Melissa and good luck with the promotion for I Don't Belong Here. We look forward to checking out your next project in the future!


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Friday, September 21, 2018

 

Friday Speak Out!: The Knitting Together of Creative Passions

by Barbara Stark-Nemon

Abbie Rose Stone, the main character in my forthcoming novel, Hard Cider, is a serious knitter. She knits to express her creativity. She knits to spend contemplative time sorting out her life. She knits in the companionship of other women who share her interest. Two different knit shops provide prominent settings in the book. What starts as a minor plot element in Hard Cider, ends up becoming more important throughout the novel. Knitting and writing have a creative connect for me.

Full disclosure— my personal creative time is spent not only in the written word, but also in various fiber arts- knitting, sewing, quilting, and embroidery. And so I imbue my characters with interest in these arts. In Hard Cider, the kinship among women who love to knit leads Abbie to connect with another character long before she understands the shocking reality that will connect them forever. Feeling that kinship to other fiber artists lends an important authenticity to this part of the story and a counterpoint to other plot threads.

And then there is the metaphor of the knitting… the stitching together. To me, the relatedness of fashioning a garment bears a strong creative resemblance to the writing process. It is most helpful to have a sense of where the project is going. Choosing a pattern, finding yarn and colors that work with the desired end product have their objective correlative in choosing a genre, a story structure, finding the right narrative voice, and developing characters. In both knitting and writing projects, there will be unanticipated changes as the piece emerges, discouraging mistakes, “ripping out,” and occasional wishes to abandon the project altogether. There are constant choices as to how perfect the project has to be, and worries as to how it will be received by the desired recipients. Most of all, each of these arts pulls something elemental, something important from inside me as a creative person and allows me to share the results with others— to give something of myself that I have made. The thrill is similar.

I consider myself first and foremost a writer when it comes to my own definition of “what I do.” But I deeply value my creative experience as a fiber artist. When I come across fiber art themes or even just a character who knits in a novel, I’m immediately drawn closer to that character or plot thread. I will never forget the sinister knitting scene at the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. It still makes me shudder to imagine the stitches marking each guillotine execution. More akin to my own experience, in Kate Jacobs’ Friday Night Knitting Club, and Debbie Macomber’s The Shop on Blossom Street, the authors demonstrate the richness of women supporting each other through their gathering to create with their hands, regardless of the chaos going on elsewhere in their lives. I look forward to providing that little extra enjoyment to readers of Hard Cider.

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BARBARA STARK-NEMON is the author of the award-winning first novel, Even in Darkness. She lives, writes, cycles, swims, does fiber art, and gardens in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan. After earning her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan, Barbara enjoyed a teaching and clinical career working with deaf children. Barbara writes novels, short stories, and essays. Visit her online http://www.barbarastarknemon.com/.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, September 20, 2018

 

Say Yes to Joy... and a Give-Away



Let's face it. Writing is hard work. Actually, I tell my students that writing crap is easy. Writing well is brutally hard.

With all the revising and critique and rejection, we have to carve out some fun during the process. I was reminded of the importance of letting go and saying "yes" to joy on my recent trip to Tulsa.

The trip was supposed to be filled with research, and it was. However, the museums and cultural centers were closed in the evenings. What wasn't closed on Thursday night was one of those paint and sip places. You know, the kind of spot where a room full of non-artists all work with the same model painting... while they drink wine.

My friend and I didn't want to go back to our hotel room and do nothing, and it was too early for dinner, so she and I decided to become artists for a couple of hours.

Me, I was driving, so I only drank water and still my painting ended up a hot mess. (I've cropped my picture so you can't see too many of the clouds that look exactly like floating blue turds. I am not exaggerating.)

For me, most of the joy of writing is the unpredictability of it. I'll give you some examples of joy that I've experienced while working on my WIP:

  • It's historical fiction. It focuses on a massacre. In the very beginning of my work, I had on rose-colored glasses. The family would do what they needed to do in order to survive. The community would be decimated, but the family would live on... in another city.
          But then a writing colleague asked, "Do they all make it?" It wasn't even something I
          considered. That simple question changed the whole direction of the story.
  • I had my ending decided a long time ago. The family was going to camp out in a park for a couple of weeks (which is what a lot of people did after this tragedy), and then relocate to another city. However, as I dug a bit deeper, I found a better interim place that will shelter the family--one that will add more complexity to the story.
          But I had to be open to the various options... and I had to be willing to scrap my ending so I
          could reconstruct a new one.
  • And just yesterday, another surprise. For more than a year, I've known what happened that made the family leave their home. It made sense. Sort of.
          However, as I learned more about my characters and the plot changed, I found an impetus that
          made better sense... and it gave me the chance to add more tension to my story. 

To grow with the characters... to experience the story as the characters dictate the story's direction... From my perspective, that is fun.

How about you? What has recently surprised you while writing? What do you consider the biggest source of joy as a writer?

The give-away? Oh, I almost forgot. Since Margo Dill recently edited my WIP's most recent draft, and since it's her fault it's becoming a new and improved version, I'm going to give away a copy of her YA novel, Caught Between Two Curses. Leave a comment, and two weeks after this post (9/20), I'll draw a name.





Sioux Roslawski considers the exhilaration of writing addicting. Currently, she's working on a manuscript and keeping her fingers crossed that when it's finished and polished up, there will be at least one publisher interested in it. If you'd like to read more of her musings, head to her blog.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

 

Opening Yourself to New Ideas

I had the amazing opportunity to spend the last four days in beautiful Napa Valley, California with seven of my college girlfriends. Wine. Laughter. Sunshine. More wine. The weekend was everything I could have asked for.

But what I haven’t mentioned yet are the stories. Yes, we’ve known one another for twenty-two years, but that doesn’t mean we’ve kept in touch the way we should. And this weekend gave us the opportunity to share copious stories. Some were funny. Some were sad. Some were poignant and some unbelievable. Some stories will stay in Napa because they can never come home.

At one point, however, my friend Ann suggested that I write a book about us. Not about us, exactly. But about the situation – seven friends who come together for a Napa weekend after twenty-something years of friendship and what they learn about themselves and each other.

Initially, I said no. I write young adult fiction – paranormal, fantasy, non-reality-based fiction. Still, the more I thought about it, the more the idea began to take shape. Maybe I COULD write a book about this. Maybe it’s the thing that’s been waiting in the back of my head, screaming to get out. The ideas are there – as soon as she mentioned it, they flowed. There’s certainly the emotion behind it. Maybe much of it will still be fiction, but isn’t most fiction based in reality anyway?

The idea of writing the unfamiliar is scary. We know what we’re good at, so it’s easy to stay in the same rut. Here’s the thing though - maybe we’d be great a writing something else. Maybe it’s time to branch out. Maybe it’s time to open ourselves to new ideas.

I know this weekend was incredibly inspiring. I learned about fashion, incredibly helpful apps, limo buses called True Elegance, and what it means to keep friendships for long periods of time. It also inspired me to write outside my comfort zone. And that is something that will stay with me forever.

So I challenge you to do the same. I feel more energized to write than I have in a long time. It’s all about having the right idea, and who cares if it’s what we’re comfortable with or not?



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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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

 

Interview with Jamie Destouet: 2018 Spring Flash Fiction Contest 3rd Place Winner

Jamie’s Bio:
Jamie Destouet is a writer/editor for a publishing company and a graduate of the University of Houston Downtown. Her writing allows her to create worlds and characters that embody her passions, fears and ambitions. This is her first submission to a writing competition. A native Houstonian, she lives with her sister and her own personal Dragon (though those without imagination just see a black cat). She aspires to be a novelist, but for now lives a simple life working on writing projects whenever time allows. Perpetually a lover of exceptional stories, she indulges in all things Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Christopher and Johnathan Nolan, Sherlock Holmes, Japanese graphic novels and story-driven video games. She was recently brought on to co-write a murder-mystery adventure game due for release in 2019.


If you haven’t done so already, check out Jamie’s award-winning story “A Little Request” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing 3rd in the Spring Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? What excited you most about writing this story?

Jamie: I had no idea where it was headed. When I'm creating, I sometimes find myself as part observer. The story plays out in my head like a movie and I'm the only person in the theater on premiere night. These characters have minds of their own and I'm furiously attempting to keep up as my ideas take over. I was both excited and terrified to see the outcome of my creation, to follow the story to its conclusion. I don't always enjoy the finale, but I always accept it as truth, as honest.

WOW: I love that, too, when the characters come to life and act in ways I never imagined. Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Jamie: It wasn't so much a learning experience as a confirmation. I'm angry and terrified for the future. For too long, I have felt helpless as the world evolves into immense ugliness. I was born and raised leaning and watching progress in the world; and over the last couple of years, I've been forced to watch huge achievements undone and still more unraveling with every passing day. I used to think that my rights were safe, that 2018 would never look again like 1918 or 1818. It's a warning—that apathy will see progress buried in the ground.

WOW: That’s a terrifying realization, though it’s useful that you can call attention to this through your writing. Can you tell us more about what it’s like to co-write a murder-mystery adventure game?

Jamie: It's my first time writing for this platform and the process is amazingly complex. We decided, early on, that we wanted the game to feature true consequences for each action; in essence, every choice you make alters how people perceive you, your own sense of guilt or pride, who stays by your side and who abandons you. The character development continues to fluctuate and each scene must be individually tackled to reflect all the events that occurred before. It's copious hours of discussion, writing, editing, more discussion editing and writing ad infinitum...and my desire to work on a story-focused game realized.

WOW: That does sound like a very complex but also very rewarding process! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Jamie: I just finished reading a Korean Web comic (legally translated into English) called Dark Heaven by JUN. It's an absolutely fabulous story that follows the relationship of Simon and Connor. They dream of thriving together in their band, but their plans get turned upside down. A cult called WAF, a hate group with its tendrils in both the police and government, terrorizes immigrants, minorities, homosexuals, and anyone who is "different." It's gorgeously drawn and tackles many dark themes, including homophobia, mental illness, drug use, murder, suicide, self-harm, PTSD, domestic violence, rape, and more. Yet, through it all, there is love, humor, happiness, family, and friendship. It's brilliantly written and an incredibly inspiring read.

WOW: That does sound dark yet thrilling and important. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Jamie: Don't expect it to happen. I remember walking into a bookstore when I'd decided, very young, that I wanted to be a writer. I walked up and down all the aisles with my parents, looking up at the towering shelves and displays and seeing all the thousands of books that literally surrounded me. I imagined that if there were so many different books and authors that perhaps it might be easy to join them, to have my name on posters and banners, as well. Alas, I was young and my dreams just that. I continue to write and work very hard at my passion, but I would warn my younger self about managing expectations in an industry where so many seek recognition.

WOW: Thank you for sharing that advice! Anything else you’d like to add?

Jamie: I'd like to thank everyone at Women on Writing for putting together this contest and to all who gave their valuable time reading, critiquing, and judging. It's a real honor to have others take their valuable time to consider my writing. I'd also like to congratulate the 1st and 2nd place winners. After reading both their entries, I am truly honored to have placed among them. Writing truly means the world to me; it's my best way of communicating with people as it gives me the confidence that speaking usually does not. I'm thrilled I took this opportunity and I encourage everyone reading this to do the same.

WOW: Thank you for your wonderful writing and thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

 

Mary Maurice launches her book blog tour of The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe

...and giveaway! 

Susan Jordan awakens at her Santa Fe apartment, cloudy and disoriented. Her clothing is unfamiliar. Where has she been? Her nose crinkles as she smells his scent. Jack's back! Rubber filled legs brace against the stone cold tile floor as she reaches for the pile of mail haplessly setting on the table. Dozens of letters! Jack Monroe never stops. Susan wishes he would just leave, take his advice and go back to Detroit. He's gaining too much control! He's taking over!

Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher:  Silver Leaf Books LLC (September 10, 2018)
Genre: Mystery
ISBN-10: 1609752376
ISBN-13: 978-1609752378
ASIN: B07FMX9HLH

The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe is available for purchase in print and as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.    

Book Giveaway Contest!

To win a copy of The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe by Mary Maurice, please enter using Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on September 23rd  at 12AM EST. We will announce the winner the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:  

When I was a child growing up in the Detroit area, I thought I wanted to be a painter, and then as a teenager the idea of being a musician intrigued me, then as a young adult, I realized that I’m a writer.

After attending Western Michigan University for two party filled years, I decided to leave academia and explore the real world to learn what life is truly about. For fifteen years I’ve traveled the country working in restaurants, writing and doing readings wherever I was welcome.

While living in Minneapolis during my twenties, I was fortunate enough to be tutored by Dr. Jonis Agee, who was at the time head of the creative writing department at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul. Her lessons were imprinted in me for all of these years, and have influenced my writing ever since.

My adventures landed me in San Diego, Chicago, San Francisco, and Oregon, finally leading me to the Land of Enchantment where I’ve resided since 1994. Living in Santa Fe, and the beauty and isolation that surrounds me, has inspire my creative muse in ways that no other place has. While still working in the hospitality industry, my passion for the craft of writing has never been stronger. And I know with each sentence I write, and every paragraph I compose, my ultimate goal is to find the perfect word.

Keep on bookin!

Connect with Mary online:

Website: www.marymaurice.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMauriceAuthor


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

WOW: Mary, Thank you so much for choosing WOW again to help promote yet another great book! Let's dig right in (and for those readers who missed our first interview and tour, they can find it here).  When did you start writing and who inspired you?

Mary: I started writing in the ninth grade, and am inspired by the craft of writing, and knowing that people enjoy my books. Plus, I feel like I'm helping to keep the art of writing alive.

WOW: Those are admirable reasons - thank you. You've had quite a few successes along your writing journey, so do tell: how do you celebrate your successes?

Mary: I celebrate my success by continuing to write and create novels.

WOW: We can't wait to watch The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe climb the charts! Early reviewers are saying fabulous things and we know you'll have plenty of success with this one!

What advice to you have for other writers when it comes to publishing, dealing with rejections, etc.?

Mary: Perseverance, hard work, and a little bit of luck, for me is the key to success. But the most important aspect is passion. If you don't have passion for the craft, then what's the point of writing?

WOW: You're right on about passion - you might as well be passionate about whatever it is you are doing.

What is one thing you'd like readers to take away after reading The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe ?

Mary: I'd like for people to understand the tormented mind of a suicidal person. To realize that they aren't just having a bad day, or that they're depressed because of their life, but that it stems from a deeper problem, ones that usually stay hidden until it's too late. Suicide is so taboo in our society that no one really wants to talk about it, even though it's becoming quite common. We need to be educated about the problem, and then maybe we'll understand and be able to help.

WOW: Thank you for your bravery in tackling this difficult and complicated subject. What's next for you?

Mary: My next novel is, The Dreams of Stellar Martin. A story about a woman who's hiking in the mountains, falls and can't recall who or where she is, and uses her dream journal to remember herself.

WOW: Sounds like a fascinating read! Thank you for spending time chatting with us today! 

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

Monday September 17th @ WOW! Women on Writing
Interview & Giveaway!
http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

Tuesday, September 18th @ World of My Imagination
Nicole reviews The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe for readers at World of My Imagination. Don't miss this chance to learn more about Mary Maurice's latest work!
https://theworldofmyimagination.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 19th @ Beverley A. Baird
Beverley A. Baird reads and reviews Mary Maurice's latest work, The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe and shares her thoughts on this page turning novel!
https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com/

Thursday, September 20th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Mary Maurice writes an intriguing guest post at Choices today. Don’t miss this post and opportunity to learn about The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe
http://madelinesharples.com/

Thursday, September 20th @ Lisa Haselton Reviews and Interviews
Lisa Haselton interviews Mary Maurice about Maurice's latest novel The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe.
http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/

Friday, September 21st @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal Otto
Crystal reviews The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe as readers of Bring on Lemons learn more about this latest page turner by Mary Maurice!
http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

Monday, September 24th @ Cathy Stucker's Selling Books
Don't miss today's interview with Mary Maurice and learn more about her latest book The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe.
https://www.sellingbooks.com/

Tuesday, September 25th @ Words from the Heart with Rev. Linda Neas
Linda reviews The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe for readers at Words from the Heart!
https://contemplativeed.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 26th @ Bring on Lemons with Michelle DelPonte
Wisconsin mother Michelle DelPonte reviews The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe for readers at Bring on Lemons - will this be a lemon or some tasty lemonade?
http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 27th @ A Day in the Life of Mom
Ashley Bass reviews Mary Maurice's latest page turner, The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe. Don't miss her insight and thoughts on this exciting new book!
https://adayinthelifeofmom.com/

Monday, October 1st @ Strength 4 Spouses
Stop by Wendi Huskin’s blog Strength 4 Spouses where she shares her thoughts about Mary Maurice's The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe.
www.strength4spouses.blog

Tuesday, October 2nd @ Coffee with Lacey
Lacey reads and reviews the unusual and intriguing new novel by Mary Maurice - you won't want to miss her thoughts about The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe.
https://coffeewithlacey.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, October 10th @Kathleen Pooler's Memoir Writer's Journey
Mary Maurice is today's author in the spotlight at Memoir Writer's Journey. Don't miss this opportunity to hear from Maurice and learn more about her latest work - The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe.
https://krpooler.com/

Friday, October 12th @ Author Anthony Avina
Fellow author Anthony Avina reviews The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe by Mary Maurice!
http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com


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

Enter to win a copy of The Suicide Letters of Jack Monroe by Mary Maurice! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Giveaway contest closes Sunday, September 23rd, at 12am. We will choose a winner the same day. Good luck!

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

 

Cheryl Fines, Essay Runner-Up Winner, Discusses Depression and Critique Groups

Congratulations to Cheryl Fines, who was a runner-up in our 3rd Quarter Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with her essay, "The River," which you can read here, and focuses on the theme of depression.

Cheryl is a high school English teacher in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. She feels fortunate to share her love of writing and reading with her students. It is tremendously satisfying to foster in them a love of literature, or to encourage a young person to find their voice through creative writing.

She also takes part in a biweekly writer’s circle at her local public library. She appreciates the support and camaraderie of this group and would encourage other writers to find similar groups. Writing is a rewarding pastime that she will likely never give up. The trick (which she has yet to entirely solve) is in finding a balance between work, family, and other pursuits like writing. One of these years! Cheryl and her partner of 21 years have two amazing daughters. Aside from writing, she spends time with other creative pursuits, as well, such as spinning, dyeing, knitting, felting: all things wool!

WOW: Congrats, Cheryl, on your essay contest top 10 win! Your essay is haunting, realistic, important, and beautiful. The topic of depression has been on the news more than ever with the recent celebrity suicides. What made you compare your struggle with depression to a river?

Cheryl: Thank you. There was an image in my mind, from my childhood, that just kept resurfacing. It was of the river we used to swim in as kids: the current, the undertow. Right before the footings of the bridge, which was in spitting distance of the swimming area (how things have changed!), there was this legendary undertow. I marvelled, as a child, at how the river ran steadily, the movement of the water – except for this area of the undertow. There, the water seemed peaceful, still (except for that giveaway dimple) – it seemed to be the most serene part of the river; but if you went there, it would take hold of you and pull you under. When I had the experience that prompted this piece of writing, that image came to me. I knew that on the surface, things appeared fine. There were no “reasons” for me to feel like dying; work was good, family was great, I was living in a house I love, I had good friends. But regardless of those things that would indicate to anyone that life was good, underneath it all, I could barely force myself to stay. The two thoughts collided at some point, and this metaphor was born.

Aside from that, the power that water wields has always intrigued me: so essential to life, yet also so threatening and devastating at times. People drown, get washed downstream, or out to sea. Floods, tidal waves, undertows, rip tides, predators in the water – there are all kinds of ways in which water can be treacherous. It’s a fascinating force of nature.

WOW: Thank you for sharing with us so honestly. I think you described perfectly why people have such a hard time understanding depression. On the outside, everything seems fine; but that's not how it really is. The river metaphor fit that perfectly! Do you find it hard to have such personal feelings shared with a public audience in your writing?

Cheryl: Fine question! Yes. Absolutely. I wrote the piece for my own benefit to start, and thought I could not share it. It was an intensely personal experience, and sharing it widely like this left me feeling far too exposed. However, I kind of pushed myself into it, because I am always an advocate of destigmatizing mental health issues; yet, I wasn’t willing to go out on that limb myself? Hypocrisy 101. So, yes, it was difficult to share, but I think that many people will have to share many more stories to make progress on the destigmatizing front. A necessary evil, if you will.

There are many ways that people can actively work toward destigmatizing mental health issues. Using appropriate language (e.g., instead of “committing suicide,” one might say that someone has “died by suicide” or “ended her life.” I read an obit recently that referred to the cause of death as “losing a long battle with depression,” just as we do with other serious illnesses), speaking truthfully about our experiences, allowing others to share theirs. We have a long way to go, before mental health is treated like, and spoken about like, physical health; but in my lifetime, I’ve observed a lot of progress. I think we’re improving in a measurable way, year by year.

WOW: I totally agree, and I know I'm as guilty as the next at the language I use. But now because of this interview, I will pay more attention to how I talk about suicide, depression, and mental health in general. I suffer from anxiety, and I'm pretty open about it; but still, even typing that, I'm thinking: who will judge me? So, how does writing about your depression help you?

Cheryl: Life is a constant journey toward deeper understanding – of oneself, of others, of the world, of how people, things, and situations interact – and I personally find it cathartic to move beyond just thinking things through, to committing those thoughts to paper. Just as some people find it immensely helpful to talk through their problems, I find it beneficial to work things out on paper.

WOW: I'm sure many writers agree with you! Your bio states that you have a great critique group. I find mine invaluable. But how did you know you had a good one? What are some of the characteristics other writers should look for?

Cheryl: I am part of a writers’ circle at the local public library. I discovered it via a local published writer, posting about it on social media. I’m grateful for the group for a number of reasons. Of course, I enjoy getting feedback from others about my own writing – it’s interesting and helpful to see how others interpret your work, what they like, and what they feel needs improvement. But I also enjoy reading the other writers’ work – we all have such different styles of writing, which I find highly engaging. The librarian who runs the group has a lovely way about her – she’s very knowledgeable, which is helpful; but also, she models respectful ways of giving feedback, so that the writers never feel deflated from receiving feedback. I really appreciate that this group is available to me.

WOW: That's fantastic, and I agree--so important. Critique should be a partnership between letting the author know what's working and what needs to be revised, so the reader can have the best experience with the text. What's next for your writing career?

Cheryl: I have a couple of large projects on the go. Both are young adult novels; one dystopic, set in our world, but after a devastating ecological catastrophe, and the other is general fiction, focusing on a couple, whose story unfolds in a series of flashbacks.

Meanwhile, I think I am going to run a poetry group at my school in the fall. (I’m a secondary school English teacher.) I appreciate any opportunity to share my love of writing with others, and I think this might be a great chance to do just that. So I guess I see a lot of poetry writing in my future!

WOW: Good luck with all your projects! I'm sure high school students will enjoy having the chance to express themselves in a safe environment. Thank you for your time and congratulations again on winning and writing this crucial essay.

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