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Sunday, March 31, 2019

 

Interview with Charlotte Hayden: Q1 2018 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Charlotte’s Bio:

Charlotte is from the UK and is working on a short story collection. She writes mostly about the conflicting thoughts and feelings that young women can have in the modern world. Her writing often has a stream of consciousness style and she likes to mix drama (or melodrama) with humour.

Charlotte works as an English Tutor in Cardiff, Wales.

Her stories have been published online by The Honest Ulsterman, Headstuff, Short Story Me, Fiction on the Web, Litro, Zouch, and Words with Jam.

Links to Charlotte’s stories can be found on her blog: desperwrite.weebly.com

If you haven't done so already, check out Charlotte's award-winning story "My Temporary Complex" and then return here for a chat with the author.

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

Charlotte: I think this piece came from the pressures I felt as a woman turning 30. I think these pressures (to be married, buy a house, have children etc.) have come from both society and my own insecurities, but either way, it made me think about the idea of temporary vs. permanent. Each section to my piece was taken from drafts of other very different stories I had begun, but when I realised I wanted to write a temp/perm themed piece, I could see the parallels between feeling temporary in relationships, in work and in other societal norms.

WOW: The temp/perm theme is strong and well-crafted throughout your essay. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Charlotte: I’m not sure I really learnt a lot about myself (I already knew I was insecure anyway!). But I think my writing turned out to be a bit more emotive than I had anticipated. I also found reading it back highly embarrassing, but that won’t stop me writing more.

WOW: Ah, yes, I find that when I am most embarrassed about my writing, it’s when I’ve tapped into something raw and real. On your blog, you call yourself a “desperate writer.” Why?

Charlotte: I started my blog in 2013 and that’s when I came up with the ‘desperate’ theme. My writing is often based on things I am anxious about or impatient about, and so I think ‘desperate’ sums up these feelings. I don’t think ‘desperate’ is always a negative feeling too. Sometimes being desperate shows determination and that’s what writers need.

WOW: I like that you subvert the traditional definition and reclaim it as a positive. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Charlotte: I like to read writers who are honest and who tell us what is really going on. I like to read and learn about social injustice in the U.K. and America and I also like to read about complicated romantic relationships that as humans we can usually relate to. Most recently I read Chelsea Hodson’s “Tonight I’m Someone Else” which is a collection of beautiful personal essays about love and modern life. Sylvia Plath’s writing always inspires me to write honestly too.

WOW: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Charlotte: I wrote a few poems as a teenager but that was about it. I would tell my teenage self to read and write more to cope with the boring and painful experience of being a teenager. I think if I’d read more, I would have felt less lonely and I might have found more confidence that way. Thank god being a teenager is over with.

WOW: Thanks so much for that advice and your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!

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, March 30, 2019

 

Always on the Sunny Side ?


One of the many blessings of being born in the 1970's to older parents is my love of music spans from polka to metal and everything in between. I can say I've seen Johnny Cash live and received a personal note from Bob Hope after meeting him following one of his shows. There's a particular "oldie but goodie" that's been swirling around in my gray matter for the last few weeks and if you aren't familiar with Keep on the Sunny Side by the Carter Family or you don't have time to listen to the Youtube video embedded in this video, I'll share with you some of the encouraging lyrics:

Well there's a dark and a troubled side of life
There's a bright and a sunny side too
But if you meet with the darkness and strife,
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we keep on the sunny side of life

Oh, the storm and its fury broke today,
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear
Clouds and storms will in time pass away
The sun again will shine bright and clear

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we'll keep on the sunny side of life

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moments be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Savior always,
To keep us, every one, in His care

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life

It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we'll keep on the sunny side of life
If we'll keep on the sunny side of life

Songwriters: Ada Blenkhorn / Howard Entwisle
Keep on the Sunny Side lyrics © Public Domain

The title of this post is misleading because even the most optimistic of individuals is not able to stay on the "Sunny Side" all the time. As we read about people dying, devastating weather, staggering statistics about joblessness, etc... it's only natural to feel further away from the sun and a bit closer to the darkness. Please note the question mark in today's title. Do you ever feel pressured to be the fixer? Do friends and family expect you to arrive with a smile, a plate of cookies, and a solution for all the world's problems?

If you find yourself in the role described above, in addition to a fabulous chocolate chip cookie recipe which you can find on my blog coincidentally, you'll also need a way to deal with the dark feelings you are undoubtedly hiding from the world. I wish I had the answer for everyone, but this is more of a sharing of ideas and less of a how to/self help post. I stress clean and then once everything is clean, I bake - which is great because then I have the cookies....but sometimes even the baking isn't enough. Something that's really helped me has been journaling. I don't feel comfortable burdening others with my worries, but somehow if I get them down on paper I feel unburdened and ready to toss on a smile while I deliver some cookies.

When is comes to journaling, there is no one who seems to know the ins and outs better than Mari McCarthy at CreateWriteNow and I am blessed to call her a friend. For over 20 years Mari has used the healing power of transformative journaling to improve her health, generate business success, and create the happy and healthy life she wanted to live. Mari is a world-renowned mentor and Int’l award-winning bestselling author.

Her mission in life is to help others achieve her success and reap the same rewards she did as quickly as possible. Mari accomplishes this through one on one journaling sessions, her online self-help courses and her best-selling book, Journaling Power. I've read this amazing book and had Mari on my blog - and I'm excited to announce she has a new book called: Heal Your Self: How Journaling Power Gets and Keeps You Healthy coming in the next few months! I won't get into that right now - but be sure to join our mailing list so you are one of the first to hear about her book blog tour with WOW! (and if you're interested in reading her newest book and reviewing it as part of the tour, email Nicole or myself: nicole@wow-womenonwriting.com or crystal@wow-womenonwriting.com ). Here's the questions I want us to consider for today's discussion:

How has journaling helped you find the "sun"?
What tools do you find helpful in staying upbeat?
If you don't journal - what's holding you back?

We love hearing from readers - so thank you in advance for your comments, 
suggestions, ideas, and participation!
Hugs,
~Crystal


(PS - today instead of telling you about myself - let me share with you who Mari is! - see below)



In 1998, I lost the feeling and function in the right side of my body. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) took them from me. The doctors weren’t really helping, so I began a journey to take control of my health. After doing research, I tried a writing therapy which I call ‘Journaling for the Health of It.’

It wasn’t easy for me. I had to learn to write with my left hand. But I dedicated myself to daily ACTION and began a journaling practice known as Morning Pages. I never could have anticipated how powerful and effective this process would become.


As I continued my writing practice, my MS symptoms improved. But, more important, I discovered, uncovered, and recovered my True Self and even tapped into talents I never knew I had.

Best of all, I have developed a compassionate relationship with myself and an inner serenity. I started CreateWriteNow to share my methods, expertise and passion for Therapeutic Journaling to people across the globe who want to address their challenges in life and thrive.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

 

Special Friday Speak Out: A Conversation About Being a Writer with Interfaith Activist Saadia Farqui

Saadia Farqui writes just about everything you can imagine--fiction and nonfiction for kids, teens, and adults. She has a podcast about books with another author; and she trains various audiences, including faith groups and law enforcement, on topics pertaining to Islam. She has been featured in Oprah magazine in 2017, as a woman making a difference in her community. I am so excited to speak to Saadia on this special Friday Speak Out! edition of the Muffin because she truly has a lot to say encouraging all women to bring their voices to the table.

On her website, she says: "I am a self-taught 'interfaith activist', which means I strongly believe that the path to peace in this world is to understand and accept other religions and ways of life as valid and valuable. Sometimes I write about that as well."

WOW: Welcome Saadia, we are thrilled to have you with us today on The Muffin to talk about your children's book series and other writing you do as well as your podcast! We have a lot of children's writers that turn to us for help, navigating the publishing world, and we are excited to add your "in the trenches advice" to their resources. So, let's start by you telling us about your early reader chapter book, Meet Yasmin! What's it about? Why did you write it?

Saadia: Thank you for having me on the website! Meet Yasmin! is a collection of four specific stories from the Yasmin series. It's an early reader, which means it's perfect for children in grades K-2 , and it focuses on the antics of a curious and imaginative second grade Pakistani American girl called Yasmin. I wrote it to give children of color a character they could identify with and relate to, in a world where the majority of children's books feature white main characters. I also hoped it would provide all readers a chance to see a different cultural perspective than the one they're used to.

WOW: That sounds great for all children. Books can definitely open worlds to kids beyond their own neighborhoods and schools. How lucky we are to have an author with us who is doing that for kids! So how did you get a literary agent for your book series? And did you sell her on just the one book or other books, too?

Saadia: I queried countless agents for a number of years, just like other writers. I wrote several manuscripts before this one, both children's books and adult ones. After several years of rejections and writing new manuscripts, I was able to find my agent Kari Sutherland through participating in a Twitter pitch party. I actually had an adult short story collection as well as the Yasmin series, plus a picture book at that time, and signed with Kari on the basis of all three.

WOW: I think that is the first time I've talked to anyone about securing an agent during a Twitter pitch party! (Muffin readers, take note!) What is your advice to aspiring children's book authors--either about the actual writing and/or about getting published?

Saadia: My advice is to continue to write even when you're getting rejected. I think back to the years in which I wasn't able to find an agent, and almost giving up, and am so thankful I didn't. I wrote many books that didn't sell, and rather than get frustrated, I realized that this wasn't a failure. I saw this as part of the process of improving my craft. I advise aspiring writers to do the same.

WOW: That is great advice! Besides children's book writing, you also have a podcast titled, Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide. We have just started writing a lot about podcasts on WOW!, even though they've been around for a while! When and why did you start yours? Do you use it to market yourself? How can interested readers listen to your podcast?

Saadia: My co-host Ann Braden actually approached me with the idea of a podcast when we were both waiting for our books to be released. She is a middle-grade author with a background in teaching, and she felt strongly about books being a way to reach marginalized readers. I agreed to host the podcast with her, and it's been a very well-received one! You can listen to episodes on Stitcher and iTunes, or visit Ann's website for show notes and podcast info: http://annbradenbooks.com/podcast/

WOW: I can't wait to check that out. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts when usually I would have the TV on for background noise or when I walk my dog. It's opened up a whole new world to me! You also have quite a bit of information on your website about sensitivity training and school visits that you do. I know a lot of our new children's book writers are working on lining up school visits and other workshops. How do you set these up? Is it important to have all this information on your website?

Saadia: I don't think there is any one way to set up school visits. It seems to be through word of mouth as far as my own experience goes. If you're active on social media and your book gets recognition online, teachers will be interested having you visit. I have heard of authors advertising their availability by mailing out postcards, but I'm not sure this method gets any traction. My own experience has been that teachers who follow me on Twitter share the word about my books, and then contact me via my website to inquire about my visits. That's why I think it's so important to be on social media and connecting with readers in a genuine way.

WOW: I really like that you are talking about how you use Twitter. I think so many of us get bogged down on trying to be on all social media accounts; but more and more, I've seen the suggestion that specializing in one or two that you really relate to is the way to go. It seems like Twitter really works for you! That is awesome. How can our readers follow you on social media or to receive updates on your work?

Saadia: I love Twitter and share most of my news there. You can follow me on www.twitter.com/saadiafaruqi or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/saadiafaruqi.

WOW: Saadia, thank you very much for taking the time in your busy schedule to share your books and career with us and to help other aspiring writers. Muffin readers, please check out Saadia online or her podcast. If you are a children's book writer or have kids, don't forget to check out her books, too! 

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

 

Makin' Mountains Out of Molehills

I've been flooded by rejection. My spirits are so low, they could win a limbo contest. My confidence is waning...

I'm at the point that I'm considering going the self-publishing route with my manuscript because obviously there are no agents or traditional publishers that are interested in my story. I'm on the verge of stepping back and working on another project because my manuscript is a poop sandwich in need of major revising.



Wallowing in the certainty that my manuscript will never ever become a published novel, I looked over the digital document where I'm keeping track of submissions, rejections and details I'm accumulating as I stalk research agents.

Then reality hit.

I've only gotten 4 rejections. Four. That's it. There are still 9 agents/publishers who still have my manuscript sample buried in an endless string of emails  haven't found any PC words to describe my writing are considering my submission. And I've only been submitting for a month and a half.

How could I see myself surrounded by rejection, along with having such a distorted, bleak view? Is that the nature of a writer--do we obsess over the negative and elbow the positive aside?

I decided to read some stuff on dealing with rejection and found this article.  It got my head back into the right frame of mind.

The article reminded me of several points, such as:

  • Rejection is inevitable. As a middle school teacher (my day job), I never get rejected or railed against. (Yeah, right.) As a writer, however, it can't be avoided. Even Ray Bradbury got rejected more than 800 times... And I'm whining about 4?
  • Criticism is worthy of listening to... intently. I haven't gotten any constructive criticism yet from an agent, but I did have two beta readers who helped me immeasurably. The parts of the story that don't work. The tension that's missing in spots. Those are things that--if worked on--would strengthen the manuscript. I studied the notes scrawled into the margins, and made lots of changes because of the constructive suggestions.
  • I love writing. Drafting. Revising. Submitting. It's a part of who I am. Being able to take a mediocre first draft and refine it into something fine... Well, that excites me. The NY Editors' piece said we should think of why we love writing. "Pour it all out in your ode to writing." They said if you're dealing with rejection as a writer, it will make you feel better because it will "remind you that writing is your identity, whether others accept it or not. It will shift your focus from the string of temporary rejection to the lifelong passion of sharing your writing with others." 
There's other tidbits in the article. I just wanted to remind you myself that rejection is one of the "ions" of writing, along with revision and submission. It's a part of the process. As writers we have to learn to deal with it, to embrace it. Otherwise, we'll never make any headway.

And now I'm off to stalk some agents...



Sioux Roslawski is a freelance writer in her spare time; during the day, she works with 4th-8th graders. In this post she exaggerated her despondency, although she was surprised to find it was only 4 rejections--it seemed like so many more. Someday, readers will be able to dive into her book (when it's published)  but until then, check out her blog.




Wednesday, March 27, 2019

 

What Kind of Conference Attendee Are You?

I’ve just wrapped up another writer’s conference and as usual, there were moments when I wished I could’ve hit the “Pause” button, stop everything for just enough time to help myself or others running around from one session to the next. But alas, there’s no “Pause” button; there is, however, hindsight. And so I’m offering a few tips to help you at your next conference, no matter what kind of conference attendee you are. Because, friends, I’ve seen all these kinds of attendees. Heck, I’ve been all these kinds of attendees!

The Wet-Behind-The-Ears Attendee:

This is the first-timer at the conference, and you can always recognize this newbie by the deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes. She may be just a few minutes late to the session (because she read the schedule wrong) or she’s extra early (because she doesn’t know anyone so there’s no stopping to chat along the way). She takes notes on everything! (She probably has a handy laptop, too.)

What I always want to say to this attendee is relax. All this information you’re getting is like trying to drink water from a fire hose: impossible to take it all in at one time. So look up from the notes and just listen. Connect. Take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you. At your first conference, you’re not likely to get an agent, but you might find a friend who’ll be with you on this journey for many years to come.

The Older-But-Wiser Attendee:

This isn’t the first rodeo for this attendee; she knows the ropes. She’s not only confident but maybe even a bit jaded. She might skip a session and hang out to talk with friends, and notes? Please. And when mealtimes come around, you won’t find this attendee sitting alone. She knows people everywhere and wants to hear everyone’s news.

What I always want to say to this attendee is something my mother often said to me: “You’re not half as smart as you think you are.” The attendee who’s been around for a while is a bit harder to teach because she thinks she already knows it all. And so though she hears the speakers, she may not be listening. My tip for this attendee is to open your mind when you open the door to any session; you may be surprised at what you’ll learn. (And P.S. Maybe grab a newcomer and invite her to sit at your table; introduce her to your friends. That newcomer has thousands of questions and you have thousands of answers. It’s a match made in conference heaven!)

The Attendee-on-a-Mission:

This is the attendee who has one goal and she’s not leaving until she’s achieved it. It may be to get an agent; it may be to schmooze with an editor or an art director, angling to make a personal connection. Maybe her book has just recently been released and she wants to let as many people as possible know about it. The single-mindedness of purpose with this attendee is pretty impressive, and yet…

What I always want to say to this attendee is dial it back a bit. This attendee works a room like a Hoover vacuum, rolling through everyone to get to every nook and cranny (or agent or editor or whatever). And really, it’s not a terrible thing that you’ve come to a conference for one specific reason but you might miss all kinds of lovely things as you bulldoze your way through. So go after that goal, but stop and smell the roses, too.

The Behind-The-Scenes Attendee

You’ll recognize this attendee by the harried look in her eyes. She gets to sessions late or leaves early because she always has something to do! She’s checking her phone constantly and when all is said and done, she probably has very little idea of what was said and done. Such is the life of the volunteers who work behind the scenes, bringing the conference to everyone else but themselves.

What I always want to say to this attendee is thank you! When we stop to talk to the volunteers, we’re often coming with a crisis because that’s the nature of any event. The AV isn’t working! The elevator is too slow! The meals are too mushy! So next time you’re at a conference, how about taking just a moment to compliment rather than complain. Or better yet, volunteer. (P.S. And get someone to take notes for you!)

~Cathy C. Hall (who's way too tired to say anything else!)


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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

 

Interview with Carie Juettner: Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Carie’s Bio:
Carie Juettner was born on Halloween and has been in love with ghosts, witches, and black cats ever since. Carie lives in Austin, Texas, where she teaches seventh grade English and writes strange stories about nature, the future, and things that go bump in the night.

Her poems and short stories have been published in Dreams & Nightmares, Tales to Terrify, Daily Science Fiction, and 21st Century Ghost Stories, among other places, and her novel-in-progress, The Unsettled Spirits of Willingkin Farm, won first place in the middle grade category of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Competition in 2018.

When Carie isn’t writing or grading papers, she can be found walking her dog, doing yoga, or reading a book with a cat on her lap and a cup of coffee in her hand.

Twitter: @cariejuettner
Blog: cariejuettner.com

If you haven’t read her story yet, click through to Phoenix, a story that definitely reflects her love of Halloween. Then come back as she shares her insights into the writing process.

WOW: What was your inspiration for this story about a girl finding the power to change her world?

Carie: It was a combination of things. I wrote "Phoenix" in late July, which is a dry, hot, suffocating season here in Austin. The evening chorus of cicadas in the summer has been a staple all my life. I've loved playing with their shells since I was a little kid. It used to be a game to pluck them off of tree branches or fence posts and try to stick them to a friend or sibling's shirt without them knowing it. However, it wasn't until I was an adult that I saw one of the huge insects actually in the process of emerging from its shell. I took a photo of it (see right) and have been even more fascinated with them ever since. Cicadas find their way into a lot of my writing.

I'd also been wanting to write a "subtly witchy" story. That's how my brain named it. I like to write horror, and most of my short story characters don't get happy endings. This time I wanted to write something that still had a hint of magic and mischief, but with a positive spin. I conjured up the idea of Gwen, a well-meaning but naive teenager trying to make a difference in the world by dabbling in witchcraft. Then I wrote the first line about the cicada shell, pictured a terrible dry spell, and let the story take it from there.

WOW: A huge part of writing is rewriting. How did this story change during the rewrite process? And, given the depth of detail, how did you decide which details stayed in the story and which had to go?

Carie: I've written flash fiction pieces in the past that started out as longer stories and had to be whittled down to their essence. It's a daunting but interesting task, and one that I suggest every writer try at some point. Forcing yourself to revise a 2,000-word story down to 1,000 really makes you question every word.

However, "Phoenix" didn't have that problem. I envisioned it as a flash fiction piece when I began, and at its longest it was never more than 900 words. The revision process was mostly about word choice. I wanted the language to be rich.

I didn't care as much if the whole story was explained; instead I wanted it to evoke the senses. I went back over the piece, adding more sensory details where I could and then working on the wording of those details. I wanted a lot of fire imagery, but I was also worried about overdoing it.

WOW: For our readers who may find themselves taking a longer work that has to be whittled down to create flash fiction, can you describe your process when you do that?

Carie: There are three main things I look for when trying to cut a substantial amount words from a piece: repetition, back story, and places where I over-explain instead of trusting my reader. Repetition is something I struggle with as a writer. I'll use three words or phrases to describe something when one will do. Cutting those extra descriptors tightens up the story and gives me some words back.

And back story is always better when woven in or hinted at, especially in flash fiction, so I look for places where I went into detail about something that happened before the current event and find a way to reference it in a different way, like through dialogue.

I also look for places where I spell things out for the reader that don't need to be said. If my character's actions or body language reveal her anxiety, I don't need to also tell the reader she's anxious.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Cutting words from a story you love can be painful. So my last piece of advice is to get a good critique partner. I have a writer friend who is excellent at pointing out the places where I can tighten up my story. Having a second, less emotionally-involved, set of eyes on your writing is a good thing.

WOW: What advice do you have for our readers who are new to writing flash fiction?

Carie: Start in the middle. There isn't room in flash fiction for a lot of backstory and explanation, so dive right in and give the reader just enough to keep up. Also, try to make every word count. Use active voice and avoid repetition. These are all things I have to constantly remind myself when I write.

WOW: Poems and short stories. A novel in progress and also flash fiction. Your writing is so diverse. What are your writing goals for the next year? How do they differ from your long term goals?

Carie: Diverse is a nice word for it. Maybe "scattered" or "fickle" is more apt. My long term goal is to write novels. I have one completed middle grade manuscript and another in progress. I would love to get an agent and become a traditionally-published author who spends her time writing, revising, and visiting schools to talk about books and writing. Ah! The dream!

So my big goal this year is to finish my second novel and begin querying agents again. However, from August to May, I am a middle school teacher, and that takes up a lot of time and energy. I tend to devote my writing time to shorter pieces and poems that I can finish and send out into the world with more regularity. On that note, I just finished a science fiction story called "Dream On" that I hope finds a home somewhere this year.

WOW: Thank you for sharing your story and insights into your writing process. After reading Phoenix, our readers will be looking for more of your work so good luck finding an agent as well as a home for “Dream On.”


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Monday, March 25, 2019

 

What You Need to Start Your Writing Business



I was listening to one of my motivational podcasts last week (yes, I know, should probably start all of my blog posts with a podcast-themed intro since I’m so addicted to them), but the guru had some great advice. She does business coaching to a variety of clients and in this segment, she was telling people what kinds of things they need to start their business. Because I know we’ve all been there, right?

You decide you want to be a novelist/freelance writer/copy editor/blogger, etc. So you invest in a bunch of equipment and business tools, such as a brand-spanking new computer, professional website designer, new software for invoicing etc. And before you know it, you’re more than $1,000 in the hole before you’ve even landed your first assignment.

Her point in the podcast was that you don’t need any of that. When this particular motivational speaker started out as a wedding planner, she printed out business cards and had some photos taken that featured her design aesthetic. And for that, she bartered with people she knew in the industry so they could all use the same set of photos featuring a cake, table settings, backdrops, etc. Once she landed her first few jobs, she was able to use those in her portfolio to help her land more jobs. She worked a full-time job as an event planner while working for free wedding planning on the weekends so she could learn the business. She made sure she had minimal start-up costs.

I thought back to when I first started my own writing business. I needed an e-mail account, a printer, minimal postage because I still sent out a few snail mail queries to magazine editors, a fax machine (I’m starting to date myself here) and a few how-to books on the art of query letter and freelance writing. And that was it! As my writing business grew and my kids came along, I needed money for childcare on the days I needed to conduct interviews on phone and in person.

Over the years, I’ve started to invest more in my writing. I still don’t have a graphic designer, but I pay a web hosting service so I can have a professional website, where I use existing templates to fit my needs. I also pay entry fees to enter writing contests every few months to keep myself productive. Every few years I try to attend a writing conference where I can network and partake in my own professional development. And I take online writing classes and workshops when I can fit them into my budget, and pay to have my writing professionally edited before sending out literary agent queries.

I say all this to point out that you don’t have to go into debt to pursue your dream of becoming a writer. I’m lucky now that I have a full-time job that can help supplement my writing projects, but that wasn’t always the case. I’ve hustled for plenty of years and spent minimal amounts of money while still selling articles and maintaining good relationships with a number of editors. I strongly feel that consistently turning in polished work and keeping in contact with editors is far more valuable than any software or equipment you could buy for your writing.

Where do you invest the most money in your writing? Do you agree or disagree that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to be a successful writer?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company, where there’s never any shortage of drama! Visit her website at FinishedPages.com.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

 

Interview with Evelyn Krieger, Q1 2018 Creative Nonfiction Runner Up

Evelyn Krieger is a writer and educational consultant in the Boston area. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Hippocampus, Lilith, Gemini, Family Circle, Sunlight Press, Grown & Flown, Writer’s Digest, Teachers & Writers, Learning, and other publications. Her essay, “Losing My Words”, won 2nd place in the 2018 Memoir Magazine Recovery Essay Contest. Evelyn’s debut middle-grade novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, was named a 2011 Sydney Taylor Honor Book from the Association of Jewish Libraries, and is a PJ OurWay Library selection. Evelyn has received professional grants from Wells Fargo Bank, Business Week, and Newton Public Schools. Her writing has been supported by a residency at the Vermont Studio Center for the Arts and TENT Children’s Literature Retreat. When she’s not wordsmithing, Evelyn loves dancing, listening to music, and spending time with her growing family. Visit her at EvelynKrieger.net.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our 2018 Q1 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Evelyn: Thank you. I’m honored to have made the Top Ten. I’ve been entering writing competitions since I was in my teens. Entering contests is a way to stay motivated. Having imposed deadlines keeps me sharp and forces me to revise and polish my work. I’m fortunate to have had several wins amongst the slew of rejections. I’ve been a fan of the WOW! website and blog for quite a while. I won an Honorable Mention in the WOW! 2016 Fiction contest. I like the transparency of the judging process and the support given to entrants. I had just completed writing "The Geometry of Grief" when I saw the call for the WOW! 2018 Q1 contest.

WOW: Your entry, “The Geometry of Grief” is creatively done and builds up to an elegant and powerful conclusion. What inspired you to write this essay?

Evelyn: I had been thinking a lot about the nature of grief after my sister-in-law passed away four years ago leaving behind her husband of 25 years and three children of similar ages to my own. A year after this terrible loss, my father was badly burned in a fire. For me, the shock, painful ending, lack of goodbye, and many other factors too complicated to go into, brought on a debilitating grief. Through therapy, the support of friends and family, time, and eventually writing, I began to recover and heal. I have published three other essays and a few blog posts related to loss and trauma. Writing can help contain the explosive emotions and fragmented images of grief. I like this quote from Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., “While trauma keeps us dumbfounded, the path out of it is paved with words, carefully assembled, piece by piece, until the whole story can be revealed.”

I’ve noticed how the experience of grief is both universal and individual. The nature of the grief—it’s intensity and duration—is tied to the relationship with your loved one, the circumstances of death, and your own psychology. When trying to describe what grief feels like, one is often left to metaphor. For me, grief is an ever-shifting shape with sharp edges. Now, three years later, the edges have smoothed, no longer tearing at my inside. I’ve been able to move away from the fixation the horrific ending to all the love that came before. While grief's shadow remains, I try hard to keep facing the light. That was the inspiration for the “Geometry of Grief”. I want others to know that there is a way out.

WOW: As an educational consultant and busy mom, how do you find time to write? What works best for you?

Evelyn: During the busy days of parenthood, I wrote my first YA novel on Sunday mornings at Starbucks, during my daughter’s dance lessons, during summer vacations, and whenever I found a stretch of time. You have to tweak your writing schedule year to year. The key to making this work, no matter what stage of child-rearing you are in, is having a consistent schedule. In order to write my first teacher’s nonfiction book, I had to I’d hire a babysitter. With my youngest child now off to college, I am no longer as busy as I was when all three were at home. My part-time consulting work involves academic tutoring, test prep, college coaching, and homeschool consulting. This consumes a great deal of energy. I love my work, but some days working in a bookstore looks a lot more appealing. I try to keep mornings free for writing. After putting my writing career second (or third) for so long, I’ve now switched gears. This has brought more satisfaction, productivity, and success. Here are two quotes that keep me motivated: “If not now, when?” and “A year from now, you’ll regret not having started."

WOW: Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Evelyn: I’ve always juggled several writing projects at once. I write short stories, essays, articles, memoir, novels, and a monthly blog on the creative life. I’m currently working on a middle-grade novel, Summer of the Blue Streak, set in 1968. I’m trying to stay focused on finishing the first draft, but I do have a few essays brewing which I turn to when I’m feeling stuck on the novel. I also have a “back burner” project—an adult novel--that I’m excited about. Writing that story will be my reward for finishing the children’s novel.

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

Evelyn: Yes! I was just thinking about writing a blog post on this topic. Here goes:

1. Don’t send any work that feels “iffy." Revise and polish your story/essay/poem until it shines. Then find a trusty reader to give you feedback before submitting, if possible. Still, even after entering, you may later see how to make your submission better. This happens to me a lot. In fact, I’ve already added a paragraph to my WOW winning essay.

2. Thoroughly research the contest sponsor to understand the type of writing it seeks. Look carefully at the judging criteria. Read past winning entries, if available. How does your work stack up?

3. Consider your competition. Maybe start with smaller, less well-known contests or local ones.

4. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t win or place (although I know this is hard). Be proud of your efforts. You’re growing a body of work. Keep revising your manuscripts and submitting them elsewhere. I’ve resubmitted a non-winning story (with revisions) to the same contest in a different year and won a prize.

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


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Saturday, March 23, 2019

 

Jump right in

I've written about first sentences in the past, but today I want to expand the definition of the beginning to include the first few pages of a short story, or first chapter of a book. For example, when writing a story about a girl going to a dance, how far ahead of the dance do you begin? Do you start with her looking for a dress? Or begin with the tension and nervousness of a boy asking her, or her worry that she won't get asked, or getting her nails and hair done at the salon? There is no one correct way to begin, but I want to give you a few ideas that may help strengthen the beginning so no one will be able to put down your book or story.

I've read a couple short stories lately that begin long before the action, and I've also written a few that way. In the first few paragraphs or pages, I may want to explain a lot about the character, situation, or plot, and end up spoon-feeding information. I often feel the need to explain everything, like where he or she grew up, why the situation is a problem, and some background to help the reader understand what's going on, and why.

My story, The Masterpiece, begins with a child asking his grandfather about a statue in the park. The grandfather explains who the statue represents, and why, except that I stretch out the dialog back and forth between the two for several paragraphs.

Every person who has critiqued the story says I should begin closer to the action. Is the grandpa connected to the story? Why is he even there? My thought was that it would be like the beginning of the movie The Princess Bride, where Peter Falk, as the grandfather, tells the story to a very young Fred Savage, his grandchild. But unfortunately, I can't seem to pull it off like William Goldman, the master storyteller who wrote it.

I've read other books and stories with this same issue. The back story is spelled out, as if the author isn't confident enough in the writing to let the story speak for itself. I've also fallen into the trap of trying to describe a person, or everything that's happened in my protagonist's life. Long descriptions and summaries at the beginning can bore the reader, who doesn't have context. Because we don't care about this person yet, a laundry list describing someone's clothing, cars, or dilemma doesn't provide insight. If an editor is bored, he or she won't take the time to read the entire story or chapter.

Take that backstory and weave it into the first chapter, spread it out to take readers on a journey, teasing out the information a little at a time. Put some of that good stuff at the beginning. Try using an argument: A bill collector knocks on the door after your protagonist has been out of work for several weeks. She wants to pay her bills, but she can't find a job. By creating empathy or sympathy for the character through this dialogue, we are already feeling her pain, and rooting for her. And we'll probably continue reading to see how she solves the problem.


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: The Value of a Critique Group

by Kay Butzin

For Christmas I received a T-shirt with the slogan I’m silently correcting your grammar. I haven’t had the nerve to wear it in public yet.

In my living room, I’m not silent, yelling corrections at television announcers, reporters, and interviewees who abuse the English language. However, my critique group members require a different approach from either of these. My fellow writers want constructive feedback. They want to know what is working and what isn’t.

So I admire the vivid verb and precise noun, praise an original turn of phrase as well as point out the cliché in need of one. I give the effective detail a double + but also note anything extraneous or confusing, taking care to respect individual style and the language differences among genres. A critique is not a rewrite. A grammar nut can’t help but make corrections and suggestions, but I remember that the author is the final author-ity.

Questions for evaluating plot, character, dialogue and setting:
• Does every paragraph and scene advance the plot? Do details contradict or support each other? What needs clarification? What else would I like to know?
• Could descriptions and explanations show more and tell less? Do they advance or interrupt the flow of the narrative?
• Can I believe in the characters’ motivations?
• Does the dialogue serve to make a point or illustrate character?
• Where does the story take place? When?
In offering my own work for critique, I listen to the members’ comments with an open mind and a closed mouth. Not engaged in defending my work, I hear what my readers either misunderstood or didn’t understand at all.

Rules for receiving the best critique:
• Leave your feelings at the door.
• Avoid giving too much back story. Let the writing speak for itself.
• At the end if you haven’t received it, ask for any specific feedback you need.
• Thank the members for their help.
The amount and quality of input will exceed your expectations, and you will have to make yourself stop thinking about corrections to concentrate on the next member’s presentation.

Before and After, my first place winner in the Women On Writing Q4 2018 Nonfiction Contest drew both praise and criticism when I shared it. Someone even caught an error in subject-verb agreement! I made every change the members suggested, and their input deserves a large part of the credit for the essay’s success.

Therefore, any work I submit from now on will have to pass my critique group’s inspection first.

* * *
Kay Butzin writes for pleasure more than profit and enters flash fiction and nonfiction contests to help her stay motivated and productive. Her guest post, Journaling Through Life’s Transitions, recently appeared on the CreateWriteNow.com blog. She shuns social media but will respond to email at kaybutzin@gmail.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, March 21, 2019

 

Introducing YA Author Kelly Coon and her Amazing Story of Persistence

I'm so excited to introduce you guys to Kelly Coon today! Kelly is a debut young adult author whose first fantasy novel is coming out at the end of October from Delacorte Press, titled Gravemaidens! Kelly's story of getting an agent and publication contract is truly one of hard work and perseverance; if you're feeling bummed out with a couple of rejections, then you are lucky you landed on this interview today. Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Read on to find out about Kelly, her publication journey, and what a wonderfully generous author she is.

WOW: Welcome, Kelly, we are very excited to talk to you today. We have a lot of YA writers and readers that read our blog. So, let's start with your book that is coming out in October. What is the title? Is it part of a series? Who is publishing? 

Kelly: Thank you so very much for having me, Margo! My YA fantasy is called GRAVEMAIDENS, and it’s being published on October 29, 2019, by Delacorte Press (Random House). It’s the first book of a duology centered on Kammani, a 16-year-old healer’s apprentice who has to save the dying ruler of her city, so her little sister, the lovely Nanaea, isn’t buried alive to be his bride in the afterlife.

WOW: That sounds very intense and also very cool! So, you are published by a big NYC publisher, and we also know you have a literary agent. A lot of writers are wondering: How did you do it?

Kelly: Before I got my agent, Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary, I had been rejected by agents 106 times over 9 years and 4 novels. 106 times I opened up my email inbox or tore open a letter, my heart pounding, hands sweating, and read some version of “No, your story isn’t right for us at this time.”

I’d carefully researched each one of those agents. I’d poured my heart into those first five, ten, twenty-five, fifty pages—whatever the agency required—and sent them on with my query letter, determined that this was going to be the time.

But again and again, I was wrong.

My problem wasn’t in my persistence. I was nothing if not persistent. The problem was that I did not have a growth mindset. I was banging on the door, trying to get inside the house, pounding again and again the exact same way, and getting nothing except a sore fist and a bruised ego. It wasn’t until I humbled myself and realized that perhaps I didn’t know what I was doing (maybe I should hunt for the hidden key and unlock the door!) that I made any progress at all. I was a good writer; I had my BA in creative writing and my masters in English education. But I wasn’t a good novelist. I had to open myself up to my failures, invest in educating myself about writing books, and write a story someone would want to read.

When I did that, I sent out eleven queries and got eleven full requests and two offers within a couple weeks. Kari and I clicked incredibly well over the phone; so with tears running down my face, I accepted her offer of representation. We had interest within two weeks of going out on sub to editors, and a pre-empt offer from Delacorte less than a month after we submitted. It was the most surreal, most exhilarating day of my professional life when I accepted Kelsey Horton’s offer for a two-book deal.

WOW: I love what you said about this entire process. We can all learn so much from your answer above about writing and learning and not giving up--no matter what you write. Thanks for all the details and encouragement. Your bio is super, super interesting! And I love the way you wrote it. Muffin readers, check it out here! But here's the part I think our readers will be really interested in: you have a BA in creative writing (as you mentioned earlier). How do you feel that helped you (or do you) with your publication journey?

Kelly: Having a creative writing background helped me immensely with many parts of my writing. I’m a better editor because of that degree. I understand how many rewrites go into a perfect snippet of prose or poetry. My degree taught me how to craft language to set a mood or thread a theme or make a character grow and change throughout the pages. I didn’t take any classes on novel writing since they weren’t offered in my program, but the classes I took in personal essay, poetry, short story, and business writing have helped me throughout my career as an editor, which is my day job, and a storyteller, which is my passion.

WOW: And you have three children, a husband, and a rescue pup, so how do you manage your life to balance your family life and writing time and marketing time?

Kelly: Haha! That is the question, isn’t it? (smiles) Last year, I was not great at balancing my life. Balance is actually the word I chose to focus on for 2019. I’m relentless when it comes to my job and writing, so I let my health slide last year because I just couldn’t figure out how to squeeze everything into the day. This year, I’ve set down some of my own heavy expectations and have forced myself to take a balanced perspective of my personal and professional life, so I can reduce my stress.

Balance, as I’ve found out, takes disciplined scheduling for me. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true! Doctor’s appointments, sports practices, work deadlines, writing deadlines, gym time and everything in-between gets written out and color-coded on a giant white board in my office and put into my phone’s calendar system. It’s helped me focus on what’s important!

Another one of my tricks is that I fit my work into little portions of the day when I have down time. If I’m at a baseball practice with one of my sons, I sit in the car and edit instead of just playing on my phone. If I’m on my phone, I’m scheduling marketing social media posts on Buffer or ordering groceries for my family to be picked up the next day. I look at my task list and slide it in where I can. That way, I can usually accomplish what I’ve set out to do. For the times I can’t, I’m learning to forgive myself for not being superwoman (arghhhh, so hard) and acknowledge that sometimes, I’m going to fail and it’s okay. I’ll try again the next day.

WOW: I love these tips. Ordering the groceries online while waiting somewhere and picking them up later--brilliant! So often we ask these questions of writers, and this time, we got some great specific answers--thank you! Speaking of marketing, I know many of our readers will be as enamored with you and your books as I am, so what is the best way for them to stay up-to-date with you and your news regarding your upcoming books or anything else you're working on? I personally signed up for your newsletter! So should readers do that? Follow you on social media, too?

Kelly: Thank you so much for those kind words. It’s scary being a writer on the brink of wide and very public critique, so I appreciate you saying that! If anyone wants to stay in touch, they can follow me on Twitter, Instagram , and Facebook, or sign up for my newsletter! My newsletter goes out once a month, but I update my social feeds regularly.

WOW: Awesome--thanks for the links. We love to ask our published authors: what is the best piece of advice you can give to writers who are currently struggling in any way: to get published, to find writing time, to get an agent, to sell their books?

Kelly: The best thing I ever did was find fellow writers who believe in me and can critique my work. If you can afford to do so, go to a writer’s conference and put yourself out there as someone looking to connect with critique partners. If you can’t afford a conference, then get on Twitter and follow the #writingcommunity hashtag to find a critique partner that way. My writing improved so much after I became vulnerable enough to let other people read my novels and began to critique theirs, too. Plus, when you’re struggling, you have a buddy who might understand what you’re going through.

Also, if you find yourself sitting in a puddle of gloom after reading this or after getting a rejection, I do not want you to picture me with my agent contract in hand dancing around my office or screaming with glee when I got my publishing contract because those were just two moments in the thousands I put into securing a literary agent and getting a deal.

I want you to picture me sitting at my desk, wiping tears off my blotchy face after my 106th rejection, pulling tentacles of woe from around my neck, and trying again. You do not know when the next email will be a “Yes!”

WOW: That's right--and there are so many stories like that from authors who just didn't give up whiel also improving their craft and knowledge about the business. Thank you so much for talking with us today! Readers, don't forget to check out Kelly here.







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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

 

Turning Off - and Tuning In

In a recent vlog I shared with my children, ZDoggMD shared his thoughts about anxiety and depression in children and one part in particular sticks with me. This was my takeaway:

When we were growing up, we dealt with peer pressure and bullying in school, but once we got home, it was done - we were in a safe place. With social media on their smart phones, today's generation (girls in particular) and surrounded by this pressure 24 hours a day.

I never thought about it that way - did you?

When I think about kids and smart phones, I am more concerned with photos being taken in bathrooms and locker rooms, or possibly cheating on a test or being distracted by a text from home. I didn't think about the increase in anxiety and depression which is leading to an increase in suicides.

Now this information is out there, and I feel we are obligated to do something about it. Each family has to decide what the magic age is. We also need to decide if our children need phones or smart phones - being able to reach an adult is one thing, but having complete access to social media is (or should be) a separate issue altogether. I feel the first thing we should do though is think back to the profound thought about a safe place. Do we set an example with this? Do we come home from work and step away from the bombardment of social media, emails, text messages, etc...?

I struggle with this. Do you? 

If the constant connection is causing increased anxiety and depression in our children - could it be doing the same thing to us as adults? The way I see it, there's two separate issues going on with this:

"Keeping up with the Jones's" - The example in the video refers to knowing about a party and seeing photos and fun but knowing you weren't invited. This exact scenario happens to adults. We look at the photos and comments from our circle of friends and acquaintances and it would appear they have more time for vacations, more money for new furniture, they are eating at the most posh restaurants, attending the latest concerts and sporting events, and suddenly we aren't as satisfied with our family game night, our minivan, and a quiet walk in the woods.

"Tuning Out" - If we are tuned in to our smart phone, our emails, our instagram, the snapchat, the latest youtube video, etc... we aren't tuned in to what is right in front of us. We are setting a poor example for those around us, but even more important, we are sending a loud message that all of that "stuff" is important. If we are constantly on our phones we are sending the message:

The important stuff is happening in the virtual world.

Let that sink in for a little bit. We can rationalize all we want about doing work to pay the bills, or checking in at the office, but at the end of the day, those people who matter most are seeing less an less of our eyes and our smile as we concentrate on that screen.

What can we do to be the change we wish to see in the world? What can we do to help those around us feel important?

Let's start by turning off our devices and tuning in. You don't have to spend the entire weekend holding hands and singing songs around a campfire while your emails pile up in your inbox - let's start small. Consider turning off your phone during meals. I've found it helpful to be intentional about it. When we sit down for a meal, I'll turn my phone off and throw it on the charger while announcing "you guys get my undivided attention - my phone is off until after lunchtime" and my older children roll their eyes, but deep down I like to think they appreciate the lack of distraction.

How do you turn off and tune in with your friends and family? What's worked for you? Do you turn off while you're writing so you can concentrate? Why or why not?






Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother and auntie, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children (Carmen 11, Andre 10, Breccan 5, Delphine 3, and baby Eudora who somehow turned 1 already), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary, blogging, reading, reviewing, and baking here and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

 

Interview with Joy Givens: Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Joy’s Bio:

Joy Givens mostly writes fiction for young adults and children. She is currently working on young adult fairy tale adaptations that explore classic stories through lenses of empowered female heroism. Her previously published works include the novel Ugly Stick, the short story collection April’s Roots, the nonfiction guide The New SAT Handbook (co-authored with Andrew Cole), and several pieces of award-winning short fiction, most recently published in WOW! Women on Writing and the anthologies Beach Life (2017) and Beach Fun (2018) from Cat & Mouse Press.

Joy resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her terrific husband, their two remarkable sons, and an impossibly lovable dog. In addition to her writing, Joy is the owner and lead tutor of GAP Tutoring, a company serving the greater Pittsburgh area. When not writing, tutoring, or freelance editing, she enjoys singing and listening to most genres of music, cooking for family and friends, volunteering in her church and neighborhood, and curling up with a good book and good coffee. Please catch up with Joy on social media!

Twitter: @JoyEilene
Instagram: @JoyEilene
Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoyGivensBooks
Website: www.joygivens.wordpress.com

If you haven't done so already, check out Joy's award-winning story "Smoke, Blood, Fog" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Joy: "Smoke, Blood, Fog" centers around Ro, a Red Riding Hood character who's actually a supporting character in the current novel I'm working on. I initially wrote it as an exercise to get to know Ro better. Her backstory is so dark and heavy that I needed to explore one of the most critical moments in her life. And it worked! I was able to take this created knowledge of her back to the main novel and feel like I had a much better grasp of who she is and how she's been shaped and jaded. That was really exciting for me to see the direct impact throughout my work. And then to be able to polish it up and submit it to WOW! was a wonderful opportunity!

WOW: Awesome! So useful on multiple levels. Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Joy: YES. One thing I struggle with is bringing tension and darkness into my stories. I want to take care of my characters, which would be great if they were real people... but in fiction, that makes for flat stories. My critique group encourages me to "rip the band-aid off" when I'm writing and really let the characters feel pain, both physical and emotional. This was one of the darkest things I've written, and it was probably good I wrote it as a flash. It gave me the opportunity to dive deeper without subjecting myself to writing something really depressing for weeks on end. I now keep a post-it note on the side of my computer screen that says, "Don't feel bad! They're fictional!" and that actually helps, too!

WOW: Got to love those post-it note reminders! How did you get interested in writing fairy tale adaptations?

Joy: I've always loved fairy tales (Disney-fied and otherwise), and in college I had the opportunity to take a class on the origins of fairy tales. I knew I wanted to write one, and one summer evening I got an idea: What if I told the story of the young woman who was dancing with Prince Charming *right before* Cinderella walked in? How awful would that be, right? And then I thought, what if Cinderella and her godmother were actually the villains? And then I was off to the races. So far I've "re-homed" a number of classic Western fairy tale characters in my stories: Beauty and the Beast (who are gender-reversed), Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, (evil) Snow White, and her (non-evil) Stepmother. I'm looking so forward to continuing with well-known tales and using them to create stories that celebrate all the ways girls and women can be strong... as well as all the ways men can be masculine without being toxic.

WOW: Fascinating ideas! I love those concepts. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Joy: I recently read The Poet X, the National Book Award-winning YA novel in verse by Elizabeth Acevedo, and it was jaw-dropping. Incredible. I walked around my house just hugging the book after I was done with it. I was fortunate to get to attend the Winter Conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) where Elizabeth delivered a keynote address, and I had never seen an audience *literally* jump to their feet to give an ovation, but when she finished her keynote, that was what happened! Everyone should read it! I also just read Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, an award-winning middle grade novel by Angela Dominguez, and it was the sweetest! Anyone looking for a book for an elementary reader should definitely pick it up. Next up (and long overdue on my list) is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. My husband tore through it in about two days flat, and he's waiting for me to read it so we can discuss!

WOW: Great recommendations, and Acevedo’s keynote speech sounds amazing. I would have loved to have seen that. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Joy: Be patient. I would tell my younger self to be patient and keep writing. This is such an unpredictable industry, and looking back over the past seven years or so, I am so glad my writing career has begun the way it has: through building friendships and networks of talented professionals, through learning new elements of craft, through drafts and revisions, even through many rejections. I've learned a ton since I started, and I still feel like I'm just beginning. I still need to be patient, with the industry and with myself!

WOW: Thank you for sharing that advice. Anything else you'd like to add?

Joy: I am doing a new monthly series on my blog  this year called "Adventures in Grammar." It is... me at peak-nerd. Each month I explore a little-known or frequently-misunderstood point of grammar through storytelling. My first one was about three sisters called But, Although, and However, and it explained through the course of a folktale-type story how each of those words plays a different role in English grammar. It's different and fun for me, and I hope it is for my readers as well. Thank you so much for hosting me here! I'm honored to be included on The Muffin!

WOW: You are very welcome! Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other 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, March 18, 2019

 

Taking Critique: That’s Not My Story

Fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, it doesn’t matter what you write. The best of your work always reflects your soul. That’s good and bad.

The good part is that it makes what you’ve written true with a capital T. Even if you are writing fiction, your work reflects what is real. People who can do this in young adult fiction create fans for life. Teens are all about speaking hard truths, even those that make people cringe. But that’s what makes Truth so hard to write. It can be a bit messy.

The bad part about being this connected through our writing to deeper truths is that we are also deeply connected to our writing. When people critique our writing, it can be hard to seriously consider even good suggestions. Instead we hear a screaming voice in our heads. “That’s not my story!”

Maybe it isn’t. But it could be an even better story.

This week, while icing cupcakes, an idea for a picture book popped into my head. I drafted this over-the-top caper and polished it and took it to my group. They liked it well enough but something was missing. The story felt a bit jumbled.

“Tell me about your characters,” said R. “Why are you writing about several kids instead of just one?” A friend had told me that she can find books about twins but she has two sets of triplet grandchildren. Two sets. She couldn't find any picture books with characters who are triplets.

In reality triplets tend to be a bit overwhelming. That had come through in my story but fiction often has to be better organized than reality to work well.

“Instead of having the characters bounce different ideas around, can you emphasize each child’s distinct personality?” said R.

We discussed it and I realized what she meant. One could be the Mom-ish figure, the kid who always does the reasonable, responsible thing. One is the scientist and super rational. The third? The wild child of the family.

My story had been about a caper pure and simple. This wasn’t my idea as I had conceived it, but now I had an idea for a caper with three unique protagonists who have to learn to work together. Not my story, no. An even better story.

Listening to what someone else has to say can be tricky. Sometimes their ideas take your story in a direction you hadn’t planned. Take a moment and hear what they have to say. It may not be your original story but it could be even better, one that now explores Truth with a capital T.

--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 March 18th, 2019.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

 

Interview with Rose Ann Sinay Q1 2018 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest Runner Up!


Congratulations to runner up Rose Ann Sinay and everyone who participated in our WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2018 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest!

Rose Ann's Bio:

Rose Ann Sinay collects threads of memories from family, friends and strangers to tell stories that might otherwise be forgotten or discarded. When not revising her historical novel in progress, she records the minutia as well as the special moments in which she lives.

As a freelance writer, Rose Ann’s articles, essays and fiction have been published in The Carolinas Today (and other regional publications) and The Oddville Press. She has been a contributing writer for Sasee Magazine for almost eight years.

The past year has taken Rose Ann and her husband from the beaches of North Carolina to the snow belt of the Northeast where her family has finally settled. She plans to don her hat, buy a shovel, and then weave all those loose threads together.


If you haven't done so already, check out Rose Ann's relate able and insightful story  Just Like Bogie and Bacall and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW:  Congratulations again Rose Ann and thank you for taking time to chat with us today! Let's dig right in: 

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


Rose Ann: My writing space is a bit of a guilty pleasure. I carved out an office in our home complete with the perfect antique desk, motivational pictures and a wall full of my favorite books. It’s quiet and comfortable, but I only sit there when I’m writing my book. I write my essays wherever I happen to be at the time: at my crumb covered kitchen table, in the comfy corner of my couch, or in the doctor’s office waiting for an appointment.

WOW: I keep telling my children that once they are grown, one of their large bedrooms is going to become my writing space - complete with quotes and a comfy chair. You give me hope as I sit at my own crumb covered table (seated next to a toddler). 


Who is your favorite author and why?

Rose Ann:
My favorite author—I can’t pick just one: Jose Saramago (Blindness), Jeffrey Archer (Honor Among Thieves), Margaret Atwell (who isn’t captivated by The Handmaid’s Tale?) are among my favorites. Stephen King, however, has always dazzled me with his ability to make the reader feel present in all senses with descriptions of seemingly simple moments that morph into the unexpected. In reality, it’s not at all simple to make the reader feel, taste, smell and see the abstract.

WOW: You hit the nail on the head - it can sometimes be very difficult as a reader to be drawn in (and as a writer to do the drawing). 


How has your writing been therapeutic; what advice would you give to others? 

Rose Ann:
As part of a military family, my childhood was always changing--sometimes so fast that experiences could be forgotten in the getting there. Leaving friends and family made me hyper-aware of my surroundings in an attempt to never forget. Now, a word or picture can trigger a memory that is crystal clear. When I write non-fiction I have no outline, just a stream of consciousness that needs to be sculpted into shape.

Writing is a personal skill. One size does not fit all. It’s okay to write in a quiet room with no distractions, or in a public space surrounded by the daily buzz. My advice is to find your own comfort zone and just write!

WOW: That's very sound advice!


What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2019 and beyond?

Rose Ann:
Recently, when my daughter read a piece of my non-fiction published in a women’s magazine, she called me surprised by a story I wrote about our family. It hadn’t occurred to me that some of our history had never been discussed. Writing personal essays provides a print history that my family can look back on and relate to our past. I will always record the important, as well as, the unimportant moments in our lives.

I am, also, writing a post-Civil War novel that I’ve been working on for longer than I like to admit. The characters feel like family and are continually evolving. One day they (I) will have to commit and call it a life (book).

WOW: And last but not least, as a mini-driving mama with car seats, stains, spills, and the stick of life with young children...


What might be your next vehicle? Do you think hubby will turn in his truck for something else? Why or why not?

Rose Ann:
I believe the sports car and the truck will be with us for the rest of our days! While the truck keeps us grounded in reality (hauling wood and picking up flea market finds), the Camaro reminds us of our care-free youth and all the adventures—and stories—yet to come.


WOW: Well thank you again and I must tell readers that Rose Ann told me the following about parenting and grandparenting:


...our car seats still have ice cream melted into the seams
--grandchildren, lol. It never goes away!

I have a feeling we will be hearing from Rose Ann again as her book takes on a life of it's own - stay tuned for a possible blog tour! 

Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!


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