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Tuesday, January 22, 2019


Interview with Valerie Burton, Runner Up in Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Valerie Burton's Bio: Around the time I was turning 30, I decided to leave my dream job in the New York publishing industry to join the Peace Corps. At the time, I was writing short stories and taking classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. After two years as a volunteer in Guatemala, I got a Master’s degree in Social Work and have worked for over 12 years investigating abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled adults.

Several years ago, my desire to be a writer resurfaced. I dedicated myself to trying to write daily, worked with a coach, and took some workshops. I’ve learned so many things through writing, including how to enjoy the process and to honor the muse. I have always been inspired by Raymond Carver’s straightforward, powerful stories. My hope for my stories is that they reflect observations of life in both humorous and poignant ways. It’s always been a dream to have one of my stories win a contest, so I am ecstatic to have been selected for the top 10!

When I am not at work or writing, I coordinate scholarships for students in Guatemala, advocate for animal rights, run, and play tennis. Please connect with me on LinkedIn.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Summer 2018 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Valerie: Thank you so much! Placing in the top ten in the Summer Flash Fiction contest is the achievement of a lifelong dream for me. Through the years I have entered various writing contests, and I actually decided to stop since it seemed like I was spending a lot of money and I wasn’t getting any results. What I loved about the WOW contest was the opportunity to receive a critique, for a very reasonable price, so at least if I didn’t place in the contest I knew I would receive some constructive feedback. I actually entered this story in the Spring contest and scored a 12. I made some revisions, incorporating feedback from the critique, and submitted it again for the Summer contest. I found the whole experience very positive and supportive, and I definitely look forward to entering again.

WOW: : Your entry, "Mister Softee," is a good reminder that we never really know what someone’s motivations are, and that kindness matters. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Valerie: I am the type of person who is easily distracted by background noise—well, beyond distracted, I find it extremely difficult to concentrate if someone is playing music or even just talking too loud. Since it is pretty much unavoidable that there will be noise in the world, I have tried to find ways to either accept it or not focus on it. I think when I wrote the first draft of Mister Softee, I was trying to convince myself that although outside noise might be annoying to me, it is not about me. The possibility that something I find to be a nuisance and a distraction could actually have a purpose I am not aware of, that I would wholly support if I were aware of it, I think is where the idea originated. There is an ice cream truck in my neighborhood that really does play Christmas music. But I have never gone out and yelled at the driver!

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

Valerie: Most days, usually early evening, I sit at my desk and write to a prompt from one of my books. Sometimes the hardest thing is to just get started. My goal is to write one page, and usually I do more. Sometimes these exercises turn into stories and I continue working on them. I discovered that writing in the third person and naming characters in my exercises helps me with writing fiction, because otherwise the exercises come out too much like a journal. I also have found that being part of a group is where some of my best writing comes out; I’m not sure why but my muse seems to like for me to be around other writers and not writing alone all the time.

WOW: Are you working on any writing projects currently? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Valerie: Ever since I discovered flash fiction, which was earlier in 2018, I have found it to be a fun challenge to try to tell entire stories with a limited amount of words. I definitely plan to continue writing short fiction. I love reading novels, and I attempted writing one a couple years ago that is about half done, so maybe one day I’ll be inspired to get back to that or start another.

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

Valerie: I would encourage other writers to take advantage of the critiques offered by WOW. I am so glad I decided to put my story through the process, because that is what helped me get over the hurdle and achieve this dream. Many great achievers in life encourage us to never, ever give up, and that is why this means so much to me. Receiving recognition for "Mister Softee" is inspiration and motivation for me to keep writing and searching for what other stories are waiting to be told.


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

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Monday, January 21, 2019


Letting a Story Go: A Break Up Story

Photo via Pixaba

Me: Sit down, it's time we talk.

[The story sits in the chair on the opposite side of the table, adjusting its pages as it takes a seat.]

Story: Sure, what's up? I think you've done some great work -

Me [putting my hand up]: Stop, this isn't easy to say...

Story [looking concerned]: What's going on? I thought....I thought we were happy together. You've been working so hard.

Me [avoiding eye contact]: I know, it's just that...our relationship isn't going anywhere. I have no more to give.

Story: But we've been together for years! So many drafts! All those scene changes! All those plots you've tried!

Me: I know and I've really loved everything you've become, except I think we need to say goodbye.

Story [tears welling up in the story's eyes]: No, don't say it. I can't accept this.

Me [crying]: It's not like we'll never see each other again. I'll be thinking of you -

Story [standing up]: Don't, please. Let me leave with some dignity left.

Me: [as the door closes and the story is gone]: Goodbye.


Despite all of our best efforts, sometimes we need to say goodbye to a story. Truly, ruthlessly goodbye. Sometimes it needs to be taken out from the drawer and tossed. Or sometimes, coldly deleted off of the computer.

I did this recently and I realized how much I needed to. I didn't want to start 2019 with this story on my shoulders. Despite my own insisting on calling it a "short story," at one point I had a draft that was over 18,000 words (that isn't a short story by the way). I would often go back to the beginning and try again to create a newer and better version. I had changed the setting endlessly. First, it was at a circus. Then a carnival. Then a corn maze. Then back to a carnival. My main character was an adult, then a teenager, and then a middle school kid then some ageless uncertain version of a human that I haven't figured out yet. Despite every attempt, whether it was 2,000 or 18,000 words, each draft had one thing in common - nothing was sticking and nothing about it felt right.

When it was time to say goodbye, I hit the delete button on the story drafts. Afterward, I wasn't emotional. I wasn't nostalgic. I knew it was time.

Now, several weeks into 2019, and my writing is already better. I feel free. Ideas are rushing forward and I'm even able to recover some old story ideas I never tried out before and have fun with them.

I don't know what it is about letting go of a story but sometimes that is the best thing we can do. For me, I thought maybe I could reshape this story that took so many different forms, but I realized what I was trying to do was make a story work that wasn't interesting to me anymore.

While the curtain has closed on that story of mine, maybe someone else will pick up the idea somewhere in the universe and they'll make it into something I couldn't. I'd like to think when we say goodbye to an unfinished story, it's because another writer wants to use the idea themselves.

When was the last time you said goodbye to a story you couldn't complete? How did you feel afterward?

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Follow her writing journey on Twitter @BeingTheWriter or visit her writing blog at The World of My Imagination.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019


What a Writer Wants... What a Writer Needs

                                           Yeah, I get my title doesn't trip off the tongue like the lyrics
                                                      of the Christina Aguilera song, but hey, what can I say?
                                                              It's that pesky extra syllable that's to blame...

Here's an idea of what filled up too much of my time lately during my holiday break--as I waited for feedback from Margo Dill, an editor extraordinaire:

6:17 a.m. Maybe my editor is up early, she finished looking over my manuscript and sent me her critique today. She's had it for 14 days. Yeah, Christmas Eve and Christmas day were two of those 14 days, but two weeks is enough time to critique 50,000 words, right?

12:30 p.m. I went out for four hours, knowing that when I got back, my critique would be in my inbox.

5:20 p.m. Margo has probably parked her daughter in front of a game system for hours and hours so she can finish reading my manuscript. Dinnertime? She can toss her kiddo a bag of chips and a 2-liter bottle of soda and say, "Bon appetit!" Isn't that a reasonable expectation?

8:16 p.m. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. It's an email from Margo. Oh. It's not about my manuscript. It's about something else. Doesn't she know that whenever I see an email from anyone whose name begins with a M, I start to squeal at such a high pitch, my family's been wearing earplugs? Why is she teasing me like this?

8:27 p.m. A friend emailed me: Margo is busy judging a WOW writing contest, and she has a client who got a book deal, so probably Margo is doing some last-minute edits for them. Why does a national contest and a book-about-to-get-printed-and-put-on-bookstore-shelves take precedence over my manuscript? Ain't I important, too? And I've been so patient...

Yes, this is an exaggeration when it comes to my expectations (although I minimized the 149 number of times I've checked--daily--my email), and I don't advocate parents feeding their child potato chips and sugary soda for dinner, with electronics as a babysitter. When it comes to writers with book deals and obligations like judging a writing contest, I'm at the bottom of the priority list--as I should be. I'm just trying to paint the picture of an impatient writer and show the craziness that's in our heads sometimes... which leads me to thinking what is the difference between what we want and what we need.

I'd love an email from my editor early in the process, something like, "Sioux, the beginning of this story is great. The more I read, the more I'm lovin' it."  The problem? One, that's not how professionals do it and two, what happens if 20 pages into the manuscript, the story tanks? I want some preliminary feedback. However, what I need is critique on the whole manuscript. After all, it is hopefully a cohesive and compelling piece, from the first word to the last line.

I'd love to have an editor who devotes all their time to my manuscript. I want them to put aside their other work, their other clients, their other obligations and focus on just me. The problem? An editor who is not well-rounded and doesn't have a life to live is not going to be a decent writer or critic (in my opinion). And an editor who doesn't have other clients means they lack experience. What I need is an editor who can juggle many different projects at once, who is in demand enough that they have to juggle several jobs simultaneously.

I'd love to get my manuscript critiqued in a few days. A week, tops. Isn't that enough time to read it and make notes of any minor changes that are needed? Yes, I want it fast. Instantly. But what I need is thorough, and thorough can't be done quickly. If my editor rushes through reading my work, they might miss some plot holes, some character mix-ups. They might gloss over the draggy parts in their hurry to get back to me.

And now, I'm off to check my email. Again. I made a little bet with myself: if I took the time and wrote this post, by the time I finished, the critique would be in my inbox...

Sioux Roslawski did hear from her editor in a timely manner and she got a big thumbs-up from Margo. In the next couple of weeks she'll make some minor revisions and then begin sending it out. Sioux got what she wanted--encouraging and constructive feedback and she got what she needed--a critique that missed none of the tiny details but at the same time, kept the bigger picture in mind.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019


Finding Your Character’s Perspective

Unless you pattern all of your characters after yourself, getting into your character’s perspective can be tricky. This is especially true if, like me, you write for children. We think we remember what it was like, but it is so easy to forget specific details.

Recently I read an awesome blog post by picture book author Tara Lazar. When she wants to see things the way her young readers see the world, she takes a seat under her dining room table. It reminds her that the world of children is a world of shoes and legs hurrying past.

Me? I tried that out and immediately hit my head. Oh, wait. Every time I toured a cave, I managed to smack my head on a formation. Every. Single. Time. Those are the perils of being a tall child and it all popped back into my memory when I smacked the bottom of the table. Maybe sitting under the dining room table really does work.

There are other ways to bring back life as a child. Limit your freedom of movement. Unless you write young adult, your characters don’t drive. And even if they live on a really good metro system, you’ll have to consider when and where they have the freedom, and money, to ride. If they don't have access to public transportation, just giving them a bike won't solve the problem. Most parents today don’t let their children take off for an hour on their bike. How are your characters going to get to and from their adventures?

Money. That’s another issue for young characters. Adults and even teens may not carry cash but most of them have debit cards or credit cards. Ready money makes most problems much easier to solve. If your character wouldn’t have access to easy money, you’ll have to come up with a new way to solve a problem. Do they go to someone else to borrow money? Maybe they can work off the debt, cleaning out someone’s garage to get the part they need for their fabulous new invention.

Whether your characters are children or adults, writing a piece set in a different time period brings another set of challenges. If you are writing something set in the 1970s, head to your local flea market or antique mall. On my last trip, I found really unique items including a bank of 1920s apartment mailboxes, a map case and an antique dental set (yuck). But I soon realized that I was in a sea of Danish modern furniture. Clean lines, low slung silhouettes, and lots of wood paired with turquoise and olive, burnt orange and maize. For the kitchen, there were stand mixers and white corning casserole dishes with the blue flowers on the side.

Getting into your character’s perspective can take a little work but there are many ways to do it. Listen to music from the appropriate time and place. Find out what foods were/are popular and if there is any way you can sample them. With so many museums and libraries putting material online the internet is awash in historic photographs. Online searches enable you to check out the world your character sees, the foods she tastes and the music she hears.

Use these details to create a realistic setting experienced by a believable character.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 18th, 2019.

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Friday, January 18, 2019


Friday Speak Out!: It’s a Bit Corny, but…

by Carole Mertz

We were invited to a potlatch party about ten days before Christmas. I considered the casserole I’d bring. But there were other things to think about before then. In our house food deliberations take the lowest rung of the ladder and hang there till the last possible minute.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 priority was my current writing course, mending some clothes for Hubby, and completing two reviews by the 31st.

The morning of the party I clutched the casserole script, (some of you’d call it a recipe) plucking it out of the drawer the way a starved raccoon might claw a morsel of food.

It read: mix this, mix that. Beat this…fold into. Problem: no actual quantities were indicated, only ratios. I gathered each tablespoon of flour needed its quarter cup of milk. Beyond that ??? I assembled the ingredients and baked them with less than an hour to spare before party time.

The final note on the script said, “Bake in 350-degree oven, I guess, for about 45 minutes or more.” (I loved that “I guess”.) I’d used organic eggs, “real” sea salt, unbleached flour, and NGM corn. Mother called it “corn pudding," I called it corn casserole.

So no one died that night or the day after the party, but I knew my casserole was a bit “off.” It seemed to need more of something, less of something else, and a LOT MORE COOKING time.

Days passed, I worked on my writing assignments. Another party on Christmas Day beckoned for my casserole. (I’d developed a burning desire to construct the thing again—well I guess one doesn’t actually construct a casserole. But I wanted to see if I could perfect it, not that I’ve ever actually perfected anything.)

Hang in with me, fellow writers. I made the casserole, this time avoiding putting frozen corn directly into the oven; I used much more milk and I baked it until the egg was done. It resembled a pudding!

Here’s the thing I learned. You know how when you paid for your kids’ piano lessons, how you thought it would be good for them because there were all these transferable skills, things your kids could apply to their other schoolwork: eye / hand coordination, concentration, persistence, the appreciation of a fine melody…

Well, (you could work this out for yourselves, Dear Writers. But OK I’ll spell it out): I thought if I didn’t get the essay right the first time, maybe I could transfer some learned casserole skills. If I could get myself to re-do it, it might come out better the second time. It might need a little more dialogue (that would be the flour), it could use more real emotion (yup, you got it, that’s the corn, genuine, not modified), it could be allowed to sit awhile before sending it out (yes, more time in the oven). And then, maybe, it could be enjoyed by myself and a few other people. OK, so keep them casseroles comin’!!!!!

* * *
Carole Mertz began writing 10 years ago and has followed WOW! Women on Writing ever since. Her essays are here and there in the literary world: at ARC, CutBank, Dreamers Creative Writing, Eclectica, MER, Quill & Parchment, South 85 Journal, Working Writer, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, WPWT, etc. She lives with her husband in Parma, Ohio, where she teaches piano to young children.
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, January 17, 2019


Goofy goals that I might actually accomplish!

I'm good at setting goals, but not always accomplishing goals. Sometimes setting goals feels like a to-do list, and my life frequently feels like one giant to-do list. Have I mentioned I don't like to-do lists?

To be fair, I set my list of writing goals for the year with my writers group, which, honestly, will help me stay on track. They are wonderful women who are supportive and kind and helpful in many ways. But, as I was reviewing my goals yesterday and trying to decide where to begin, I realized I didn't feel like doing any of them.

So, I did what I usually do, and started reading the news feed on my phone, and after that began watching true crime stories on the Justice Network. I don't know why these shows are suddenly appealing to me, but I hope it's because I'm a writer, and not a murderer.

After about an hour of not accomplishing any goals, I began looking at Craigslist because I had run out of pertinent news stories to read, and the only crime re-enactment show was one I had already seen. I went to the listing for free stuff, and found a variety of weird and interesting objects.

That list changed my life! I now have a new set of writing goals that are easy and fun, and am much more likely to complete. Feel free to use these, or come up with your own so you, too, can become a productive goal accomplisher.

Goal #1: Write a story or poem around one or more of the unique, free items found on Craigslist. Here's a few I found: Four packs of pork chops, one cargo cover for a 2004 Highlander, a manual titled The Complete Guide to Hermit Crabs, fresh and frozen breast milk, a pink, 1950's-bathroom sink, Kitty litter buckets, and a baby grand piano.

#2: Go to Goodwill and find an old object and make up a back story. Bonus points if you can (fake) attribute it to a famous writer.

#3: Find the oldest book in your public library, and use some of those character names in your next story.

#4: Kill off one (or all) of your characters whose name begins with the letter "G." (Sorry, Greg!)

#5: Research a city you've never visited, and set a poem or short story there.

#6: Find five-ten books with the word "love" in the title, and then write your own title using the word "love" once, and all (or most) of the other words from all the titles to create the greatest love story title of all time. Mine is: Eternal love story for a dog I respect in the time of cholera.

#7: Create/describe a monster who wears an article of clothing. While searching Canadian Myths and Legends, I came across the description of a native legend from the Queen Charlotte Islands named The Haida Monster, who has two tails and wears a hat.

#8: Kill a character with a kitchen utensil that is not a knife or other sharp object. Can someone be potato-masher-ed to death? Let's find out! (Maybe I should stop watching those true-crime shows.)

#9: Begin a collection of writing-related objects, like pens, books, or pictures of writers. You don't have to finish, just start. Easy!

#10: Create a family legend. Would your ancestors be captains of industry, pioneers who settled the West, or bank robbers? You can also go to a thrift store and find an old picture of someone and claim that person as your infamous relative. Hang that picture prominently in your writing space.

#11: Describe a ghost that might live in your house.

#12: Follow an author on social media.

#13: Attend an author presentation at a library, bookstore or other venue.

#14: Wear something that makes you feel like a writer. Do you have a beret, cape, or silky scarf? Wear this (or these) item(s) to a coffee shop and write, pretend to write, or just drink coffee.

#15: Find a book in your house and read one page.

#16: If you usually write with a computer, use a pen and paper, and vice versa. Bonus points if you have an old typewriter and write something on that, unless that's what you normally write with.

#17: Write in a new place. Write outside, in the car, on public transportation, in the mall, or Costco! I once wrote a short poem in the produce section of a grocery store.

There you have it, a list I can actually complete. As you create your list of 2019 goals, add some that are simple. And have fun with it, I know I will!

Mary Horner doesn't always accomplish her goals for the year, but after having some fun and then feeling guilty, will get around to them eventually!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Fear is Not an Option

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I listen to a lot of personal development podcasts as a way to try and psyche myself up while I’m exercising or driving. I’m a person who knows she needs to stretch and grow in a lot of areas in her life—from nurturing my personal relationships to cooking healthy foods to being a good spouse/parent. But deep down, I’m also a creative individual, and that can make me very insecure and introverted at times. I work in a job where sales and development fall in my department, and sometimes I shy away from putting myself out there and building relationships I know make sense for our company. I feel that sometimes we also do that in our writing lives.

I was listening to one of my podcasts and overheard this piece of advice: Do one thing that scares you every day. If it’s something you’re really afraid of, try and tackle it the first thing. Cold calling a prospective new client? Do that before you’ve had time to talk yourself out of it and then cross it off your list. If you’ve done nothing else that day, at least you challenged yourself and got over one obstacle.

For me, the thing I was most afraid of was querying agents. I don’t know why I let it intimidate me so much, but I did. I was so worried I would send off a query with a typo (believe me, it’s happened) and I thought I would become blacklisted by that agent or their agency. I worried my writing simply wasn’t good enough, and I envisioned the person on the other end of the computer shaking their head at my gall for submitting.

Guess what? Since I started querying agents a few months ago I haven’t received one snarky reply. I’ve had polite rejections, but not once has someone said “You need to learn how to write a proper query and by the way, you should probably keep your day job.” Each time I open my e-mail to compose a new query letter, and paste in my synopsis and opening chapters, I gain a little more courage. As I become more confident, I’ve begun researching other ways to get my novel in front of publishing gatekeepers, from entering writing contests for fiction writers to exploring what smaller publishing houses are accepting un-agented submissions.

This past year, I did many things that scared me in my writing. I started sharing my work with more people. I took an essay-writing class where I explored painful childhood memories. I joined a local writer’s club so I can attend meetings and network (now I actually have to force myself to go to a meeting) and I’m researching conferences. Each step I take, each fear I conquer, leads me closer and closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a published novelist.

And if I can do it, so can you.

What is the one thing you’re most afraid of in your writing? What would you like to do to get over that fear? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. She enjoys true crime and personal development podcasts, writing in the young adult and suspense/thriller genres, and is obsessed with entering writing contests, now that she’s no longer afraid of them. Check out her blog at

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Interview with Emily Messina, Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Today we are chatting with Emily Messina, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2018 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the chance to, make sure you read Emily's story 448 and then come back and read our interview with this incredible writer.

Emily Messina moved from Orange County, California to Boulder, Colorado in order to attend Naropa University Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. While writing has always been her passion, she has just begun to take it seriously. In addition to writing fiction, Emily dabbles in poetry and is working on a short book of poems. This year she has been focusing on finishing her first novel. Emily’s full time job is the Director of Development for a non-profit that focuses on ending homelessness through employment and housing. She enjoys a good glass of wine and reading her favorite poets Charles Bukowski and Anne Sexton. When she is not writing she spends her time exploring Boulder with her two children.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

Your story "448" was absolutely incredible. What was the inspiration behind your story?

One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I have the privilege of interviewing graduates of our Ready to Work program – an employment and housing program for adults experiencing homelessness. While I was interviewing a woman, who recently graduated from the program, the idea just came to me. My story 448 has nothing to do with this woman’s actual life experiences, but I was overwhelmed by her strength and determination to change her life. I wanted to write a story of a little girl who struggled and had an incredibly difficult life, but it would never break her spirit – she would survive no matter what.

That message truly was excellently portrayed in your story. I was reading your bio and it mentioned how you've just begun to take your writing seriously. What inspired you to start focusing on your writing and taking it seriously?

For the last nine years, I have been focusing on my career and giving absolutely no time to my creative writing. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job that does make such a positive impact in my community, but as I advanced in my career, I felt like something was missing. Deep inside of me, I knew I was neglecting a very important part of myself. I am a writer and in order to live a fulfilling life I have to give myself time to write.

I also believe that writing can be incredibly healing and so on my own time, I have started a writing group for trainees that are in the Ready to Work program. This has motivated me more than I ever thought it would. To be in a room with others, who may, or may not have experience writing, and are willing to take the risk and express themselves is incredibly exciting to witness. The creativity of the writing group helps to keep me focused on my writing goals and has given me an internal push to take my writing seriously.

That group sounds like it would be incredibly inspiring! So, this story gave me such an eye-opening experience. How did you get inside the head of a child growing up around Hell's Angels bikers?

While writing this story I focused less on my main character’s life circumstance and more on how she reacted and coped with what was going on around her. I did do a bit of research on the Hell’s Angels in order to make sure any references I used in my story were accurate.

Wow, that must have been very interesting research. So, I loved reading you went to Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. How did that experience help you as a writer?

My experience at Naropa really molded me as a writer. My professors pushed me out of my writing comfort zone and encouraged me to stretch beyond my limits. I also learned how much discipline it takes to be a writer. To write, you actually have to show up and do it, and over time the more you write the better you get.

I completely agree with your last sentence! I loved reading that you work for a non-profit that focuses to end homelessness through employment and housing. That is a cause close to my heart. How do your experiences at your job shape your writing?

I meet so many amazing individuals with unbelievable stories and I am constantly moved by their resolve to change their life situations. When I listen to someone tell me their story, I am inspired not by their life circumstance, but by how they were able emotionally overcome their personal struggles. I take the essence of the amazing inner strength that I encounter every day and weave it into my characters.

How inspirational that is! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and best of luck to you on your writing.

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

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Monday, January 14, 2019


When Is a Piece of Writing Finished?

Photo Creative Commons via Pixabay

I've been contemplating a question for two weeks now. You see, it feels like the second we type "the end" (either literally or symbolically) to a story, essay, poem, or some piece of writing that it's actually finished and no more needs to be done with it. Of course, that isn't the case. Rewriting needs to be done as well as editing and assessing feedback you receive from other people. And reworking the story based on that feedback. And more revising. And so on and so on.

But when you've done all the rewriting you can, and all the editing you can, how do you know when the story is done? When does feedback become simply a matter of opinion? Sure, that one person thought your names were cliche and your plot line needed tightening, but several other people raved about that piece of writing you sent around. While we're all more inclined to believe the bad news about our writing rather than the good, at some point, we must put our pencils down a declare our work done.

But how do you know when that's the case? How do you know if you're done?

After Google searching this question myself I've realized the answer isn't clear. However, I did learn about a couple of methods you can try when assessing whether you've reached "the end" or not:

1) Give that piece of writing some space.

Whether you need a week or a month or longer, put space between you and that piece of writing. Giving yourself space helps you gain a fresh perspective and see flaws you missed before. Proof of this is when we go back to works from our youth and try to re-read them (don't forget - those stories you cringe at now were prized possessions in the days of your youth).

2) Show it to someone else.

Feedback is important and is also a pretty good gauge as to whether something is done or not. I find that when feedback leans more towards the positive and people have less and less negative to say that it may be a sign the story is ready to send out. Remember, you don't have to change everything people don't like about a story. Someone may not like something about what you wrote and you know what? They may just have to live with it.

3) Send it out.

I found this piece of advice on a blog post I found online and plan on taking it to heart - send out that piece of writing. No matter what your doubts are, your best gauge at figuring out if a piece of writing is finished is to start submitting it.

It's tempting to keep our works of writing in the "in progress" stage because we'll never have to face rejection if something isn't ever done. However, unless you only want to work on that one piece of writing for the rest of your life, you eventually need to let it go and call it done. Think of the bestsellers list. If you read every book on the bestsellers list right now, would you like all of those books? Would you have nothing bad to say? Likely there would be a few you wouldn't finish or ones you didn't like or some you weren't interested in. Does that mean these authors weren't done with their book? Nope. It's simply a matter of opinion at this point. Whether we like it or not, those books are done. And maybe your piece of writing is too (even if you can't accept it).

So, how do you determine if a piece of writing is done? 

Nicole Pyles is a writer and blogger. You can follow her on her writing journey on Twitter @BeingTheWriter or visit her blog

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Sunday, January 13, 2019


A Simple Question You Must Ask Yourself

In a world where nothing seems simple because there's so much to do, when it comes to marketing a book, I think, sometimes, we make it more complicated than it is. Let's look at a few points...

1. You are a reader, not just a writer.
2. You buy books.
3. You don't have millions of dollars or millions of hours to buy or read every single book.

You are some author's audience that he or she is trying to connect with. You make choices on which books to read, to check out from the library, and to buy from a bookstore.

So ask yourself this: what makes you take a chance on a new author? 

Is it seeing a random Facebook ad with no connection to you?

Is it passing by an author booth at a book fair and the author is playing on her phone?

Is it one of your Twitter pals who is constantly tweeting, "Buy My Book?"

Hopefully the answer to those questions is no. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what has made you buy a book, start a new series,  or take a chance on a new author?

We read articles and blog posts about building a marketing plan, and it is important. I even teach a class about this, and have marketing plans myself. But you have to start somewhere, and one of the SIMPLE questions you must ask yourself is...when do I take a chance on a new author?

The answers could range from a recommendation from a friend to a chat you have with an author at a book signing to a "similar book suggestion" on Amazon. Before you put together your marketing plan, brainstorm a list of all the reasons why you've tried a new book, and then make sure those opportunities are currently on your marketing plan.

There's not any ONE method, social media account, event, or even book (most likely) that will give you thousands of readers. It's a combination of strategies, including writing a good book and continuing to write good books. But what I said at the beginning of this post is true. We do forget to include some of the "common sense" or simple things in our plans. We forget that we are consumers ourselves, and we are attracted to certain marketing ideas and not others.

Don't miss out on using yourself as an example of what works when trying to get readers to notice your book. Ask yourself the simple question: What marketing strategies (ads, campaigns, events) make me go and buy a new book?  

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and writing coach, living in St. Louis, MO, with her 8-year-old daughter. On January 23, her class, "Individualized Marketing for Authors and Writing Industry Professionals" begins for 5 weeks. In this class, students will create a marketing plan, a media kit, a sample email newsletter, and more. It's only $99 (on sale from $155). Check it out here and join the marketing fun

Question mark photo above by purpleslog on

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Saturday, January 12, 2019


Save the Cat! Writes a Novel Can Save Your Manuscript (I Promise)--A Book Review

If you're writing historical fiction, where you have a day-by-day account to rely on, you probably don't need much help. Just craft a few fictional characters and plug them into the real-life events.

Easy peasy.

However, if you're writing something that's pure fiction, like one of my current WIPs, you might lose your way. I know I have. I'm wondering where-in-the-bleep my story is going. I've got lots of ho-hum character development and not a lot of plot tension. Nothing is ramping up, character-wise, and I'm 26,000 words into the manuscript.

If I was being truly honest, there's not much plot at all in my manuscript.

Uh oh. I think I need help. Major help.

Jessica Brody's Save the Cat! Writes a Novel  is the best 64 pages on novel writing I've ever read. Seriously. (Is this book only 65 pages long, you ask? More on that later.)

A colleague in my writing accountability group (who's also one of WOW's high priestesses) suggested I read this book and review it. She made sure I got a free copy. When it arrived, I scanned the table of contents, and skimmed some of the pages. Obviously, this book was not my cup of tea. I'm a pantser. When it comes to outlining and plotting and creating boards, I'm like Teflon, baby. None of that pre-planning stuff sticks to me.

I put the book on my bookshelf, planning to read enough to fake a review... 'cause it wasn't a book that would work for moi.

Days turned to weeks. The book review was overdue. Unable to procrastinate any longer, I bit the bullet and started reading... and I couldn't stop.

I. Couldn't. Stop.

Jessica Brody has succeeded where my writing friends have failed... where my accountability group members have failed... where my editor has failed. Jessica Brody has made me into a planner. (Say hallelujah!) I'll try to share the wealth of this book in less than 1,000 words.

Before getting into the true meat of the book, Brody insists we create a story-worthy hero. To help, she shares what three things every hero needs, she discusses a novel's A story and the B story, (which was made crystal-clear when she pointed out the external story of Stephen King's Misery), she lists the universal "lessons" a hero has to learn, she provides some exercises to determine if our hero is story-worthy, and she even includes a checklist, to ensure we have a hero that can support a novel.

All that, and she does it in just the first 10 pages of what I consider the most effective and user-friendly 64 pages on manuscript-mapping.

Whew! Immediately I started thinking of my meandering-to-nowhere story. I started jotting notes about my hero in the margins of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (because I wasn't in a spot to create notes on index cards). I realized that my hero--Nathan--struggled with self-acceptance. That was going to be the lesson he'd have to learn.That thunderbolt brought to mind other plot-bits I'd have to include.

The next 54 pages blew my mind. Brody walks the reader through mapping out a novel's three acts. I've been told to do this in the past, but have resisted. And I've resisted with a smug smile on my face. This book breaks a story's map down into doable chunks (and wipes the smirk right off my face).

Doable for even a pantser like me.

For example, Act 1 needs to include

  • a powerful opening image
  • the stated theme
  • the set-up
  • a catalyst 
  • a debate
Amazingly, each of these "road-markers" are clearly explained, and popular novels are used as examples to further illuminate. While reading, I kept nodding my head. This is groundwork I have not done with my WIP. It's the stuff I should have envisioned before getting 25,000 words into a major rut.

Act 2 is broken down into these parts (I'm not including all of them):

  • The B Story
  • Midpoint
  • Bad Guys Close In
  • All is Lost
When Brody explained the midpoint, in the margin I jotted down that my hero, Nathan, needed to be on a downward spiral. Before reading this book, I'd never considering planning such a thing. (Jessica Brody, I bow down to you!)

When I inhaled the "All is Lost" section, I scribbled at the bottom of the page, "Maybe the teacher (which is me) dies? Perhaps she kills herself after being stalked/bullied, and Nathan doesn't have a clue that he could have saved Mrs. R..." The incredible power of planning hit me: when I jotted that down, other plot bits fell into place, like dominoes. 

A. Maz. Ing.

Act 3 comes in at the end (of course). One of the parts of Act 3 is the Finale, and Jessica Brody breaks that down into the "Five-Point Finale" to ensure the novel has a powerful and satisfying ending. The Five-Point Finale promises to change a writer's life, and I'd have to agree. A couple of those points are:
  • The Team Gathers
  • The High Tower Surprise
Jessica Brody calls the story map a "beat sheet" and a "beat" is a plot point. A novel includes 15 beats, and each one is explained so clearly and compellingly, even a tried-and-true pantser like me is transformed. Along the way there are examples from well-known novels, and visual representations are also included, to help remind the writer how each "beat" fits into the rest of the plot.

After those mind blowing 64 pages, there is a four-page "Transformation Test" to make sure a writer's story map has all the boxes checked. 

Things still aren't clear? Really? Included in the rest of the book are break-downs of the following novels: Sockett's The Help (one of my favorite novels), Stephen King's Misery (one of my favorite novels about writing), Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything, Kinsella's Twenties Girl, Cline's Ready Player One, and the inimitable Joe Hill and his novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Each of the 15 plot-points are laid out for the reader.

At the end, there's even a section on how to write loglines and synopses, along with ways to create a plan--index cards and cork board (that's how I'm gonna roll) or digitally (at there's an app). 

If you are floundering with your novel-writing, or if you're simply trying to get your manuscript fine-turned, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is the perfect how-to book for you. I promise.

Sioux Roslawski is an aspiring novelist who's avoided plotting/planning like some folks are scared of snakes. Sioux feels strongly that snakes are our friends (she used to have several snakes as classroom pets)... and now she feels the same about creating a story map. Plotting is now her friend (thanks to Jessica Brody)!

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Friday, January 11, 2019


Friday Speak Out!: What the Cat Taught Me about Gaining Followers

by Raven Carluk

It's been eighteen months since Benjamin the puppy joined the family. He's been a bundle of laughs, playful and happy, and desperate for everyone to love him. And I mean everyone, including the cats.

Unfortunately for him, my cat Mackey is not a fan of dogs. He couldn't believe that I had allowed this bouncy, uncontrollable fluffball into his house. Worse, I wouldn't make it leave him alone.

As I spent most of the last two years playing referee to them, I began to see parallels between my boys and my writing career. The harder Ben tried to be in the cat's face and get liked, the more Mackey hated him and rejected the puppy. The rejection only hurt Ben's feelings and made him wonder why; exactly how I felt after every post that went unanswered.

Why was my enthusiasm not rewarded by multitudes of readers? Was I not good enough? Was I doing something wrong? Perhaps if I sounded more excited in my tweets, or just kept working on the presentation, someone would like me. These unknown potential followers weren't responding, so I didn't know what I was doing wrong, and I just had to keep trying. One more antic in an attempt to win them over.

Watching the dog and cat interact, I realized I had been acting just like Benjamin. I wanted everyone to like me, and I was getting stressed out when they didn't. It was that stress that made me take such a long break from writing, hoping that an answer would just appear to me some day.

The answer didn't magically appear in plain text. I had to take that step back and watch the drama play out through my pets to understand. I couldn't be in everyone's face all the time, and I couldn't force them to like me. I could only be myself, and I would either gain new readers or I wouldn't. Followers come organically, and no amount of exuberance changes that fact. It's certainly nothing personal, nothing that I'm doing wrong.

Mackey and Benjamin have finally found their balance. The puppy stopped trying to be liked, and the cat finally accepts his companionship. Maybe even a sort of friendship.

And I have a new inner peace and understanding for myself. Not trying would do more for my career, and my sense of well-being, than spending my energy making desperate pleas for strangers to read my books. Because of my dog and cat, I know I need to spend my time simply being the best me and let what will happen happen.

* * *

Raven Corinn Carluk, author of paranormal romance and dark fantasy, resides in Vancouver WA with her family and multitude of pets. She is a multi-faceted creative, and enjoys a good story no matter the medium. Keep informed and enjoy free reads at RavenCorinnCarluk.Blogspot.Com
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, January 10, 2019


The Value of a Professional

The first of the year, I had the coordinator of a writer’s group contact me because I’m involved with SCBWI. She wanted a professional children’s writer to speak to her group but I wasn’t able to help. Pressed for time, I sent a short reply. This is the email I wish I’d sent her:

Thank you so much for reaching out to me in your search for a children’s writer who could speak to your group. You asked for someone who is a professional in the field of children’s writing, which I gathered meant you wanted a published author, preferably of trade books. I think you wanted someone who would present a workshop-style program, teach your members about what it takes to get published, and share his or her expertise. You weren’t clear but it seemed like this could be one to two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

When you didn’t offer an honorarium, I asked about a speaker’s fee. This wasn’t possible, you said, but the author could sell books.

I then asked where you were located because metro Atlanta encompasses quite a lot of territory! My thought was that perhaps a member who lives in your area might consider speaking to your group if he or she were close enough that there would be little travel.

Unfortunately, your group is in an area where we have few members, and no published professionals. So I’m afraid I can’t help you. But I can offer you a bit of advice.

Many authors enjoy speaking to writer’s groups. Writers love writers, right? But when it comes to selling books at these events, I’ve found, for children’s book authors, that writers rarely buy the author’s children’s books. I feel like it’s different for authors of adult fiction or memoir or even non-fiction, but the kiddie books? They don’t sell at events like a writer’s group meeting. (One time, I had an author bring his books to a writer’s workshop. He sold one book and one person stole a book.)

The bottom line is that many published authors (with trade publishers) just don’t want to deal with all that goes into directly selling their books. They rely on booksellers, so offering to let authors sell their books is not a plus. (For self-published or indie authors, it’s a different story. They are generally well-invested in their book and always happy for an opportunity to sell them!)

My organization offers lots of opportunities for writers to learn all about the craft and business of writing for children. There are tons of webinars available—at a very small price—that you really can’t afford not to try one! We have conferences, albeit a bit more expensive, but a bargain considering all that you get. And finally, in areas like Atlanta, we sometimes offer free writer’s workshops, presented by professionals. It might be a trek for your writer’s group to attend, but after all, it’s free for attendees.

It’s not free for the professionals. There’s their time and travel expenses (and usually food and sometimes lodging) to consider. Which is why whether it’s a webinar, a conference, or a free workshop, we always pay our professionals. We value our professional authors (or agents or editors or illustrators). We value the years they’ve dedicated to learning their craft and we appreciate their willingness to share their inside info. We know how hard they’ve worked to get where they are and we're grateful they're able to help others along the way.

I wish you the best of luck, but I also wish you’d consider asking your writer’s group to pitch in and pay for the professionals you invite to speak, even if it’s just gas and lunch. Someday, these very writers may find themselves on the other side of the podium, sharing their expertise. And I hope that by then, they will have learned the value of a professional. And perhaps, they will have learned the value of themselves as professionals and of their achievement—and that they will have received a nice speaker’s fee!

~Cathy C. Hall

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019


Goals: Making Sure Your Writing Goals Are Smart

What are my 2019 goals? What…are…my…goals?

As everyone else in our accountability group (Hi Ladies!) chatted about their goals for 2019, I noodled quietly. I hadn’t come close to meeting my 2018 goals which really disappointed me. Of course, I just glanced at my stated goal and was a little surprised. I only put one out there in front of the group.

Draft my cozy. Is it drafted? Nope. It is close? Again, nope. But I also had two unstated goals. Work on finding an agent and break into a new market. My success in these areas was also woefully non-existent.

I write every day. Work-for-hire books are my bread and butter. That means that I completed a handful of books in 2018. That’s good and I get that. But I want to make a living at this and that means not having all my financial eggs in one particular work-for-hire basket. Why did I make so little progress?

Poking around here on the blog, I came across Renee’s post, “Be S.M.A.R.T. with Your Writing.” Reading Looking at Renee’s post, I have to admit that my goals were anything but S.M.A.R.T.

Here are the elements of a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

1. Specific: Is the goal specific? Draft a novel is not a specific goal. Write 4000/month toward a final draft is specific in part because it is…
2. Measurable: Does your goal contain a measurable quantity? Finished draft is not measurable. 4000 words? Measurable.
3. Achievable: Is the goal realistic? Apparently, draft a novel in a year is not as realistic as I had assumed. For me and I assume for many of you, fiction is a lot of work.
4. Relevant: Is the goal relevant to your larger ambitions? In all truth, writing a cozy may not be entirely relevant. I am a children’s nonfiction writer. But I’ve also discovered that I have to write things that I’m not certain I can sell to remain creative. The cozy fills that need.
5. Time-bound: Do you have deadlines in place? I should have known that a year was not an acceptable deadline. If someone needs X in a week and I have a year to finish that novel, I’m working on X. I need more immediate deadlines.

In light of this, my goals for 2019 have altered somewhat in that they are SMART(ish). Why –ish? The novel is still in there folks.

In 2019, my goals are:
1. To draft 2000 words/month on the novel. Even when I’m deep in a work-for-hire project, this should be do-able.
2. Take four agent related actions a month. These can include research an agent, read interviews, request books they’ve represented, and querying.
3. Take four help-me-break-into-a-new-market actions a month. This might include researching a market, outlining, researching or drafting the project, submitting or following up.

These goals aren’t huge but they are do-able. And if I do a little more on one or more of them any given month? Hats and horns for me, ladies, hats and horns for me.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins January 14th, 2019.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Interview with Amy Culberg, Runner-Up in Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Amy Culberg received her MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been an artistic director of a chamber music group, studied comedy at Second City, taught in elementary school, taught gym, barista’d in Seattle and is currently teaching swimming to adults and children, which is one of her passions.

She belongs to a 70-year-old writer’s group in Winnetka, Illinois called the OCWW (Off Campus Writer’s Group). She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, her son and their dog, Hot-Dawg. She was previously published in Wordsmitten. Check out her blog Watch and Read where she ponders materialism. She is currently working on a series of essays called “Facebook Withdrawl” about her complicated separation from Facebook.

If you haven’t read her flash fiction story, “Mistook You,” take a moment to experience it before reading on.

Interview with Sue Bradford Edwards

WOW: What was your inspiration for this story of mistaken identity?

Amy: I was walking on the bike path and I saw someone who I believed to be someone else. I called out to her and she didn't respond. I asked again and she said she was someone else. It was the strangest moment. It seemed impossible.

Also, right after my father died, there was a man, from a group home nearby me, who looked so much like my dad – same shuffle walk, same ugly sweaters, same Russian eyebrows, same worn down loafers. I saw him all the time. I felt like it was a gift, getting to keep seeing some version of dad, like I was being provided a buffer as a transition to get accustomed to the idea. Both of those inspired me to write about mistaking people for someone else.

WOW: You reveal so little about the main character. Can you share three traits or facts that shaped the story but didn’t actually make it onto the page? How did you determine what information made it into the story and what did not?

Amy: I have written a lot of versions of this story, putting in and taking out, reimagining. I wanted the encounter to be sparse, like it could happen with anyone we passed by if we were paying attention.

I changed the relationship from husband to brother because husband made it overly complicated. I had Penny be the woman's teacher from the past, but I took that out because the relationship defined them more than the circumstances of how they knew each other. We seem to find the same people no matter where we go based on what we need.

There was another dog in the story but only one was necessary. Originally there was stuff about how the dog was a poodle type, but mangy seemed better since Penny liked to save things.

How I determined what stayed and what left was guided by staying on topic. I had a lot of deviations from the story, clever sentences that I had a hard time getting rid of but I tried to stick to the bones. I felt the way to make it more ambiguous about whether it was Penny or not was to keep it simple – hey you, nope, guilt about losing someone, seeing them again, acceptance.

WOW: Cutting what isn’t essential really can be difficult. We can be so enamored of our own words. When you write a non-linear piece like this, do you outline it before you begin writing or pants it? What are the challenges of writing a story with so many twists and turns?

Amy: I did not outline it. Sometimes, I do a later outline to make sure it's clear. I am currently working on a very non-linear short story where I have decided to title the sections with people's names.

I feel like each piece organically structures itself. I just have to listen to the story.

I always read aloud what I have written. That is how I can tell if the twists and turns make sense, because then I become the writer and the reader and I become accountable to both. The challenges come from not falling too in love with my deviations and letting go of the sentences that are clearly just there for my enjoyment. I keep these words in my head for those precious things that do not align with the piece. "Out you go," I tell them.

WOW: Each story does have a unique structure. I like your idea of reading it aloud to feel if it works. What did you learn studying for your MFA that you utilize when you write flash fiction?

Amy: That other people may read what you write, so do your best. Also, not everyone is your audience, so don't write for everyone.

WOW: What advice would you share with someone who has never written flash fiction before?

Amy: Flash fiction is like distilling the world. Let everything in and then audition everything that has shown up.

WOW: Auditioning everything gives us another opportunity to weed out what doesn’t belong in the story. What a great way to look at it. Thank you to Amy for sharing her process and journey with us. Check out her blog for more of her writing.   


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

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Monday, January 07, 2019


You Started WHAT after 60? Highpointing across America - blog tour and giveaway

Itching for a challenge when she turned 60, Jane Bertrand set out to reach the highest point of each state. Her strategic mistake was to start with the easiest ones, leaving the most strenuous for the end of this decade-long quest. She recruited over 50 family members, colleagues, and childhood friends to join her in this quest. Ostensibly a book about hiking and climbing, it captures the deep sense of friendship, further strengthened by bear sightings, lack of signage, lost GPS connectivity, muddy trails, snowfields, icy run-off, and tent loss encountered along the way.

Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Walnut Park Press (November 16, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1732847703
ISBN-13: 978-1732847705

You Started WHAT after 60? Highpointing across America is now available to purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest!
To win a copy of the book You Started WHAT after 60? Highpointing across America by Jane T. Bertrand, please enter via Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on January 14th at 12 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:
Jane T. Bertrand is a professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, where she splits her time between teaching in New Orleans and managing research on Tulane's family planning projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A Maine native, she moved to New Orleans over 40 years ago where she and her husband Bill raised their children, Katy and Jacob. Her recurrent travel to Africa in connection with international family planning work generated many of the frequent flyer miles that made this highpointing pursuit possible.

Find Jane Online:

Twitter: @JaneBertrand8




Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Jane, I have enjoyed your book immensely! Let me begin by thanking your for choosing WOW to help promote and spread the word about You Started WHAT after 60? Highpointing across America! It's always a pleasure meeting an adventurous spirit and having the opportunity for some Q& A. Let's start with what prompted you to share this story and publish it?

Jane: A decade ago when I turned 60, I decided to climb a mountain in every state but didn’t consider the idea of writing it up as a book. Halfway into this 10-year project, as I was about to start a 3-day road trip with my daughter and a friend visiting from the Netherlands, I hit on the idea of a book. Numerous people had and would be joining me, and it would fun to capture these adventures in written form. I wanted to thank each person with a physical copy of the book. Only afterwards did I realize that it might have wider appeal.

WOW: As a reader, I'm very glad you decided to share your story; it's a delightful and empowering read! Who has been your biggest supporter(s) and how so?

Jane: I’d have to name one supporter for the project of hiking the highpoints and another for writing the book.

Photo © Jane Bertrand
My colleague Dr. Julie Hernandez, who climbed four highpoints with me, was a key resource for the project for two reasons. First, she is an experienced mountaineer who as a teenager had been an alpine guide on rescue crews in France and this past summer had trekked in the Himalayas. Second, she and I work very closely together at Tulane University on several family projects in the DR Congo, and as such, Julie knows my professional life better than almost anyone. As the mountains began to escalate in difficulty, I leaned on Julie to provide coaching/company on the highpoints and/or coverage back in the office while I was away seeking summits. The section of the book on Mt Hood captures this relationship, where Julie was back in the office heading up our proposal writing efforts, while I was off in Oregon, preparing for one of the most difficult climbs I’d undertake as part of this project. We’d fit in Skype calls to discuss the proposal, as I prepared for Deep Snow Climbing School. “Julie, let’s trade places. You come out here and do Deep Snow Climbing School, I’ll come back and drink hot coffee while working on the proposal.” Julie fired back: “No playing hooky on Deep Snow Climbing School and no sending another student to take the test.”

My sister Liz Trowbridge Wild, herself the author of a children’s book published in the 1980s, agreed to review the manuscript and gradually became my invaluable editor. Initially, she limited her comments more to errors: typos, run on sentences, unclear statements. But soon she focused more critically on the substance of the book: the pace of the narrative (“Jane, get yourself up and down that mountain more quickly”), the tone of the writing (Jane, this description left me cold; put some emotion into it”), and the attitude (“Jane, that sentence makes you sound so entitled”). It was a tremendous gift to me that she threw herself into the project, clearly wanting the book to be as good as I could make it and offering her critical opinions with such honesty.

"The sections written soon after completing a highpoint flowed more easily onto the page."

WOW: Sounds like you have a lot of support. I love your sisters advice in particular. Speaking of advice, what advice would you give other writers who may want to follow in your footsteps?

Jane: If I had this to do over again, I would have begun writing the excerpts (or at least keeping a journal) at the time of each climb. Because I’d already visited 16 states before it occurred to me to write the book, I struggled to recall the detail of excursions that took place up to five years earlier. The sections written soon after completing a highpoint flowed more easily onto the page.

Although I edited every section of the book – highpoint by highpoint – multiple times, I wish I’d left more time at the end of the process to consider the space I’d given to different parts of the book. However, time ran out with a very real deadline propelling me to publication. In the final year before publication, my editor sister Liz tossed out the idea: “you should have a big party and invite all the people who accompanied you on the highpoints.” Six months before my 70th birthday, I invited the 63 people whom I’d recruited to hike/highpoint with me to a book launch in New Orleans on my 70th birthday. I then began the race against time: to get the book published a month before the party, so I could send them their copy and they could read up on the other people they would then meet at the party. The book launch gave me a non-negotiable deadline, which did wonders for finalizing the book but didn’t leave as much time as I might have hoped for that reflective review of the final manuscript.

WOW: Great advice - thanks again! Our readers are always looking for new ideas. What do you do to celebrate your professional successes? 

Jane: Whereas this book was written as a hobby, my day job is Professor at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. For academics, success is measured as a journal article published or a grant proposal accepted for funding. The “celebration” of the article tends to take the form of few emails exchanged, expressing as much relief to have it behind us as satisfaction that it’s in print. For a grant proposal accepted, we might break open a bottle of champagne, with the common refrain, “yes, but now we actually have to do the work that we promised in the proposal.”

The celebration of this book was different. Of the 63 people who accompanied me to one or more highpoints or hikes, 37 joined me for the book launch party in New Orleans. One climber sent in her regrets from the DR Congo, because the World Health Organization had called her to work on the front lines of the Ebola crisis; I considered that an excused absence. After a cocktail party hosted by a good friend/neighbor and a catered dinner for some 50 people, many of my highpointing “recruits” gave a short talk on our adventures. I took a friendly beating for my determination to achieve this goal and the numerous barriers we encountered in the process.

WOW: It takes a village, right? Sounds like you have a fabulous one! Are you part of a writing a critique group, why or why not? 

Jane: Because I wrote this book as a hobby instead of my main line of work, I did not look for this opportunity. I did have the invaluable assistance of my sister who became my editor.

Six months before I needed to have a final version published, I had the good fortune of learning that a colleague from a decade ago was also self-publishing a book (actually several books), and he was facing many of the same questions as I was: who to use as a copy editor, how to get the cover and format of the book designed, what book distribution services to use, how to promote the book on social media – which was unknown territory for both of us. Many an email flew back-and-forth between New Orleans and Albuquerque, as we tried to sort through the many questions related to self-publishing. On what was a very steep learning curve, misery loved company.

My feedback on writing style came from my sister/Editor: Liz Trowbridge Wild, who reviewed what I considered to be the near final draft. She poured hours into this task and provided invaluable feedback. We jokingly wondered if afterwards, we’d still be friends. To the contrary, it was a true “bonding experience.”

"I would have encouraged my younger self to realize earlier in life how restorative hiking is to the soul."

WOW: I'm certainly glad I asked that one - thanks for sharing so much about your process and those who helped you along the way.

What would your current self say to your younger self when it comes to writing and life?

Jane: The idea to highpointing (try to reach the highest point in every state) didn’t occur to me until age 60. And I didn’t take on the truly challenging mountains until late into my 60s. My only regret about this project was my inability to attempt the four most difficult highpoints (in Alaska, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming) that were simply beyond my physical capacity by age 69. I have no illusion that I would ever would have climbed Denali in Alaska, but a younger Jane Bertrand – with some training – might have attempted Rainier, Granite Peak, and Gannett Peak.

As to life in general, I would encourage my younger self to stay in shape and find a balance between my work/academic job/work-related international travel and time on the trails. This is especially true for someone living in Louisiana, where there is no mountain higher than 535 feet. I’d chosen employment and residence in a state didn’t provide the kind of outdoors lifestyle common in Denver, Colorado, or Seattle, Washington. Through highpointing, I was able to make up for lost time, but I would have encouraged that younger self to realize earlier in life how restorative hiking is to the soul.

Photo © Jane Bertrand

WOW: Sounds like great advice - I am always struggling with balance myself!

If You Started WHAT after 60? were turned into a movie what theme song would be appropriate?

Jane: No question, Chariots of Fire. But the audience would walk out over such a clichéd selection.

"I struggled to weigh the advantages of finding a publisher versus self-publishing, at a time that the self-publishing industry was growing exponentially."

WOW:  Oddly enough, I memorized that particular song for my 4th grade piano recital and can still play much of it by memory to this very day! What do you know now that you wished you had known before writing and publishing the book?

Jane: Perhaps there is no way to learn about the publishing business until one becomes part of the process. For three years I’d paid my monthly fee to the website Publisher’s Marketplace, never once using it for any meaningful purpose. Somehow $25/month served to demonstrate that I was committed to eventually publishing a book. When I finally identified a service that I wanted from this resource, I received back an automated message that they didn’t offer it. I discontinued my subscription and got serious about how to get this manuscript published.

I struggled to weigh the advantages of finding a publisher versus self-publishing, at a time that the self-publishing industry was growing exponentially. Even with a few good contacts in the publishing world, I failed to make any inroads. To get a publisher, one needed first to get an agent, which itself seemed a herculean task. As my timeframe shortened, I realized that self-publishing would be the best and possibly only option for me.

I’d read online articles and a book on the topic of publishing, but I was still confused. What did Kindle Exclusive mean? How does one get a book listed on Amazon? What does Ingram do? Is it important to have an ISBN number? How did social media work in promoting a book? Because of my accelerated schedule for publication, I was making decisions based on expediency, not comparative shopping. For the most part, I got lucky.

WOW: I could have written that last paragraph myself - publishing is confusing!

What’s next for you?

Photo © Jane Bertrand
Jane: The title of the book leads people to ask: what is the book You Started WHAT after 70? going to contain? This experience has taught me that that I want to continue to spend time in the great outdoors and explore new corners/new trails to the extent possible. A handful of highpointers go on to climbing the highest mountain in every continent. Others start checking off the 3600+ county highpoints as a new goal to achieve. I’ve had my fun with trying to hit an established target (the 50 highpoints in the U.S.) The next phase will be more about taking advantage of opportunities that continue to keep me physically active and get me into the great outdoors.

I don’t see another book in the offing, but I have dubbed and quantified my determination to stay active as “Eight Outstanding Outdoors Adventures Annually.” I’ll start 2019 with an annual tradition of a three-day cross-country ski trip among the Maine Huts and Trails, with three other women, one of whom was my best friend in kindergarten (now 65 years ago). In March I’ll attend a professional meeting in Katmandu, Nepal, after which I hope to tack on a week of trekking in Nepal, which will be a first for me. In August, I’ll plan to climb Katahdin, the Northern Terminus on the Appalachian Trail, as part of my Maine vacation ritual. That leaves five more; any suggestions?

"Find the person that will level with you to make the final product as good as it can be."

WOW: You most definitely are a busy lady, so I won't keep you any longer, but lastly I need to ask: What advice would you give to others regarding feedback in writing? 

Jane: Seek it out! One advantage to a four-decade career as a professor in the world of “publish or perish,” is the thick skin one develops in receiving feedback on one’s writing. We often joke “if we don’t get critical feedback from your colleagues, it means they haven’t read it.” It’s easy to become enamored with the one’s own words and to think that one’s clever wording is going to be universally understood and appreciated. Find the person that will level with you to make the final product as good as it can be.

WOW: I'm looking forward to this book tour and hearing from other readers, how about you?  Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with us today.

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

Monday, January 7th (Today) @ The Muffin
Jane T. Bertrand launches her tour of You Started WHAT After 60? Highpointing Across America with an author interview and giveaway.

Tuesday, January 8th @ Fiona Ingram
Fellow author Fiona Ingram reviews the adventures story of Jane T. Bertrand's experiences highpointing across America in You Started WHAT After 60. Readers won't be disappointed in Ingram's review or Bertrand's memoir!

Wednesday, January 9th @ Bring on Lemons w/Crystal Otto
Crystal Otto couldn't wait to get her hands on Jane T. Bertrand's story about highpointing across America! This busy farmer seldom leaves the farm and enjoyed every moment she experienced reading You Started WHAT After 60?. Find out more in her book review at Bring on Lemons today!

Thursday, January 10th @ Selling Books with Cathy Stucker
Learn more about Jane T. Bertrand as she is interviewed by Cathy Stucker at Selling Books. You won't want to miss this insightful interview about Bertrand and her memoir You Started What After 60? Highpointing Across America.

Friday, January 11th @ Breakeven Books
Don't miss a very honest book review about Jane T. Bertrand's You Started WHAT After 60? Highpointing Across America.

Monday, January 14th @ Look to the Western Sky with Margo Dill
Author, Editor, and Reviewer Margo Dill shares her thoughts after reading the inspiring memoir You Started WHAT After 60? by Jane T. Bertrand.

Wednesday, January 16th @ Author Anthony Avina
Author Anthony Avina reads and reviews You Started WHAT After 60? - by Jane T. Bertrand. Readers won't want to miss this adventurous memoir about highpointing across America.

Friday, January 18th @ BOL w/Michelle DelPonte
Michelle DelPonte offers her point of view after reading You Started WHAT After 60? by Jane T. Bertrand. Find out what this Wisconsin wife, mother, and autism advocate has to say about Bertrand's recount of her adventures!

Tuesday, January 22nd @ Book Santa Fe w/Elizabeth Hansen
Description:Young reader and reviewer Elizabeth Hansen shares her thoughts after reading about Jane T. Bertrand's adventures in You Started WHAT After 60? Highpointing Across America.

Thursday, January 24th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Description:Fellow memoirist Madeline Sharples shares her review of You Started WHAT After 60? by Jane T. Bertrand. Readers at Choices will be thrilled by Bertrand's adventures in highpointing across America!

Wednesday, January 30th @ To Write or Not to Write with Sreevarsha
Sreevarsha reviews the inspirational book You Started WHAT After 60? by Jane T. Bertrand. Don't miss the opportunity to learn more about Bertrand's adventure highpointing across America later in life.

Tuesday, February 5th @ World of My Imagination with Nicole Pyles
Description:Nicole reviews and shares her thoughts after reading the thrilling account of Jane T. Bertrand's adventures in highpointing across America in You Started WHAT After 60?. Join readers at World of My Imagination and find out more about this great read and inspirational author!


To win a copy of the book You Started WHAT after 60? by Jane T. Bertrand, please enter via Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on January 14th at 12 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

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