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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 if 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-now 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 don'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!


Check out the latest Contests:

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

 

"What Happens Next?" Thoughts on Audience & Storytelling

Photo via Pixabay
Did you know that there is someone out there in the world writing a novel in a day? Don't believe me? Read this.

While I have a hard time fathoming the idea that he is writing at least 50,000 words a day, this brought up a few thoughts on audience and story. One aspect of this writer's task is unique. He said this, "People will come by the bookstore or visit my race website, MikeRunsBoston.com. In exchange for making a donation to cancer research and prevention, they will be able to dictate a plot change, a new location, a character name, or pretty much whatever they want." If I lived near Boston, I'd go by just to watch him for a while and see what people suggest.

Can you imagine other people dictating what happens next in your story? Funny thing is getting feedback from other people often includes that. Sometimes people will flat out suggest something else - a different character, a different plot, a different idea. At its best, these suggestions are helpful insights into what could be missing in your story. At its worst, these suggestions can turn into an irritating dialogue that usually starts, "You know what would be so much cooler?"

The article also brings about an important aspect of storytelling I often forget about - the audience. He suggests a few important questions - "Who is your primary intended reader? Where do you want to take that person – how do you want to influence your key readership? What steps do you want them to take in their own lives, or with you, as the result of having read your book?"

When you are sitting at a desk in a bookstore and in exchange for someone's donation, you will change or add to your novel at someone's whim, you are basically accepting - however wild - the demands of your audience. Imagine that. Imagine you are writing in front of an audience and asking your potential fanbase, what they think and what they want different? This makes me wonder about what I would say to my own favorite authors.

I'm still in draft form in many ways in my own writing and I'm also still in short story land (although the question - where do I want to take my reader - still is important). Yet I am beginning to realize how much my audience matters. Who am I telling my story to? What would they want to see in this world I'm creating? What would I want them to walk away feeling like?

Most of the time when I write I focus on the story more than the audience. I sort of wrongly adopt the idea "if you build it they will come", in terms of audience. (Or I guess for a writer, if you write it, they will read.) Yet, that isn't the case, is it? So, as I sit down to write next time, I will challenge myself to ask the invisible audience before me, "What happens next?"

Do you think about your audience when you write? What do you imagine your own audience would tell you?

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Friday, March 15, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: Start Small But Dream Big


by Cassandra Lee Yieng

When we lack the time to write the books we envision, we're tempted to blame our day jobs, the family members under our care or other weighty matters. With every passing year, with every outline or draft we put aside, we doubt our calling to share our stories. Other writers' accomplishments only breed jealousy. When will we realize our literary aspirations?

Too often, we rush headlong into a novel or memoir, but short-form writing, which includes blog posts, poems, flash fiction and short stories, is a better starting point for aspiring writers.

Unlike novels, shorter pieces take less time to write and submit to respectable literary journals. If they feature your work, it proves that you write well.

Another option is guest blogging for popular platforms. Because of my involvement with Huffington Post, I was chosen as a keynote speaker for a Women's Day event in 2017.

This February, I joined NaHaiWriMo for the first time and, despite the obstacles, penned a haiku daily. Not all of my poems were brilliant, but at least I now have 28 new haikus, and I can do whatever I want with them: revise, submit, compile a chapbook...

I've also been sending out flash fiction and short stories. One of the rejection slips suggested an anthology accepting work like mine, and another provided feedback on my writing. Nobody likes to fail, but with short-form fiction, the stakes are lower. You won't have invested so much time and effort or poured so much of your heart and soul into it that your identity gets wrapped up into acceptances or rejections. If you receive too many rejections, perhaps it's time to improve on your writing craft.

Don't sacrifice your grand literary aspirations, though, but keep the long game in mind. My earliest drawings were mere doodles, and now I'm a freelance graphic designer. I learned music by playing simple tunes like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, and a few years ago I composed music for films. My first computer program displayed the sentence "Hello world!" on the screen. Now I'm a data scientist.

It's the same with writing. Master the fundamentals on little things, and greatness will follow.

* * *
Cassandra Lee Yieng writes to inspire. A lover of stories, Cass excavates them from real-world data by day and from her imagination by night. Her publications include an essay on female mathematician Emmy Noether and a cybersecurity horror story, and she has blogged for Huffington Post and National Novel Writing Month. She works as a data scientist. Find Cass at leeyieng.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 14, 2019

 

3 Types of Agent Rejections




After starting the agent query process a few months ago, the responses are slowly trickling in. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was starting to see a pattern in the rejections, so I stopped submitting my query and opening pages for a bit and had them professionally edited (thanks to Margo Dill and members of my accountability group for extra eyeballs on them!). As of this writing, I’ve submitted six queries with my revised submission package with no responses yet. The “no’s” are still coming in from my previous round, further affirming my instinct that there was something missing in those pages.

Here are three agent rejections I’ve started to notice in this journey.

The Short but Sweet No

This agent is polite but to the point. What they’ve read didn’t reel them in. Exact quotes can include “We are unable to offer to see more of your work” or “I didn’t connect with this material.” It is what it is, and you log in the date of that agent’s response and move on. This rejection is two sentences or less. You may need to do a little research after this one. Some agency guidelines say a rejection from one agent is a “no” from the whole agency; others say to feel free to query one of their colleagues. You can usually get a quick answer from the agency website.

The Personalized Rejection
I notice this type of rejection when it is someone I have a mutual professional connection with, etc. It may mention a thank you for thinking of them, but they didn’t find themselves drawn to the voice as much as they’d hoped, or as one agent told me, “it’s a little darker than what I’m looking for at the moment.” Dark and angsty books aren’t for everyone, and in that case I really couldn’t take that personally. Don’t discount this brand of rejections, though, and appreciate if an agent has taken the time to give you more than a few sentences of explanation. For example, one agent told me that she thought my premise was intriguing, but she didn’t get ‘that’ feeling in her gut telling her to ask for more pages. She ended the e-mail by adding that believes another agent will feel differently and to not be discouraged. In my opinion, these rejections are important to hold on to. I can pull this out of my files on a day when I feel like I can’t write my way out of a paper bag and know that another agent may be next in line to request more!

The Not this Time, But . . .
I’ve had exactly one agent response that fell into this category, but it put a smile on my face for a whole day and prompted me to put an asterisk by this agent’s name in my spreadsheet. It was from one of those “connection” e-mails, but still. She thanked me for my patience in waiting to hear back, told me that I write well but that “gut” feeing wasn’t there, but that she’d be happy to hear about any future manuscripts I might have. Wait. What? I did a jig. Especially because I’m working on another project that may be more likely to attract this agent’s attention.

So far I haven’t had any snide or condescending rejections, and for that I’m grateful. I think a lot depends on how respectful you are of an agent’s time. Did you visit their agency website and give them specifically what they asked for in the guidelines? It varies with each agent. Some are looking for a query letter and nothing else. Others want a query, one-page synopsis, and first 10 pages. Most don’t want attachments, but everything pasted into the body of an e-mail. And I’ve come across a few agents who ask you to submit via Submittable or QueryManager.

I’m hopeful my new round of queries will contain more of the #3 rejection in this post AND some requests to see more pages of the book. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and trying to maintain a positive attitude in the process.

Have you received any rejections (from agents, magazine editors, literary journals, etc.) that fell into any of the above categories? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. She is currently seeking representation for her contemporary young adult novel, Between. Learn more at FinishedPages.com.


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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

 

Deconstructing my creative process

I've noticed an increasing number of articles lately trying to define creativity and how to embrace it, with titles like Develop your creativity, Expand creativity, Create your creativity, and Creative creativity. All that creativity confused me. I wondered, what is creativity?

Defining creativity depends on who you ask. Every source I reviewed had a different set of criteria. After reading more than a dozen articles, I came up with my own three-step definition of the creative process. Creativity is the ability to 1) pay attention, 2) connect the dots and/or make analogies in order to 3) develop something new. Here's how those steps work for me:

1) Pay attention: Also referred to as mindfulness. Ideas are everywhere, so pay attention to the world around you. Notice not only the new things, but the old things you see every day. It's easy to pay attention when something changes. Let's say you drive the same route every day to work, and sometimes pull into your parking space, turn off the engine, and have no recollection of driving there. But if there had been new road construction, or a herd of sheep blocking the road, you would probably be more alert to the situation. Paying attention to the same old thing isn't easy, but try narrating your drive one morning to identify the world around you. It's all interesting once you notice.

For instance, today I went outside to my car in the parking lot after work. Quiet surrounded me until I heard a rustling sound, the wind jostling the brown leaves on a young oak tree. The rustling sounded like water running over rocks in a river.

2) Connect the dots/analogies - Creativity includes, but is not limited to, the ability to connect the dots, develop analogies or comparisons to develop something new. Here's what I began to ask myself: Are all rivers water? The Jet Stream is a river of air, perhaps. Crossing a river, river as freedom, Mark Twain examined the Mississippi River in his books, it drew him in, lives depend on the river, rivers flood, floods destroy, his brother Henry died in a steam boat explosion, but also renew. Rebirth, the Underground Railroad, streams of people heading to free states. Rebirth, baptism, new life. River of life, river of death if they got caught.

3) Develop something new, draw conclusions from these analogies or comparisons, or select an object and deconstruct it. Write about it. I heard a presentation last year regarding the Underground Railroad. That same phrase popped up when connecting some ideas that stood out to me today. The presenter described the fear of being caught. Silence meant safety, the sound of rustling could mean the end of the trip, the end of a life, if a canoe of men patrolling the river caught someone trying to escape.

While all of those images swirled around my head, I paid attention, connected the dots, and created something new.

Here's my poem about the Underground Railroad:

Blue o'clock, the darkest time of night,
Meet by the river, blind to the future
That waits on the banks with silent strangers
Who push for freedom with those who
Stand up to the past and break the current,
Risking everything to be part of history
They would rather not, but can tell
Grandchildren about, if they are lucky.

The creative process is different for everyone, but if you pay attention to your own ideas, connect the dots, you can develop something new.

Mary Horner teaches communications, freelances as a writer and editor, and tries to understand the creative process.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

 

Interview with Kristin Bartley Lenz, 2nd Place Winner in 2018 Fall Flash Fiction Contest

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker in metro-Detroit. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was the 2016 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Her fiction, essays, and articles have been published by Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, The ALAN Review, Literary Mama, and Writer’s Digest. She writes freelance for Detroit-area non-profits and social service agencies, and manages the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Michigan Chapter blog. Learn more and connect at kristinbartleylenz.com.
Read Kristin's story "Photosynthesis" and then return here to learn more about the origins of the piece!



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

WOW: Thanks for being here today, Kristin, and welcome! “Photosynthesis” is a masterful, literary story that follows the aftermath of a family tragedy. What was the inspiration behind this story? What was the writing and revising process like for you with this particular tale?

Kristin: I’m not sure about “masterful,” I still have so much to learn, but thank you! I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful teachers and mentors. "Photosynthesis" was one of those magical writing experiences where the story seems to appear out of nowhere and the words flow. I especially appreciate when that happens because writing can be a real slog sometimes!

Two summers ago, I was worn out from a busy year of promoting my debut novel, and I needed to rediscover the joy in writing. I took an online writing class with a local author/teacher, Peter Markus. "Photosynthesis" was the result of one of his weekly prompts.

I have no idea why, but Jack and the Beanstalk popped into my mind, and I rolled with it. That was the best part of the class – week after week, I got into the habit of writing freely, playing with words and exploring without judgment, without worrying about where the story was going or if it was worthy of publication.

I occasionally returned to "Photosynthesis" over the next year when I needed a break from writing my new novel. The story was weird and wild and unlike anything else I’d ever written. I don’t remember how many times I revised – probably a dozen. I cut the original story drastically to meet the word-count limit for the WOW! Flash Fiction contest, and it worked!

WOW: Your debut novel, The Art of Holding on and Letting Go, was published after you won a contest run by a small press. What has been your experience having that be your (unexpected) path to publication? Would you recommend seeking out these types of contests to other writers?

Kristin: I wrote an article about contests for Writer’s Digest because there are so many variables to consider. Unscrupulous companies run scam contests and publishing schemes, and writers need to do careful research. I felt safe entering the Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize competition because I knew their track record of publishing high quality, award-winning books.

The editing process was intense, and I learned so much from my editor, Jotham Burrello, who is also an author, a college professor, and the Director of the Yale Writer’s Workshop. The Elephant Rock team shepherded my book out into the world with great care, taking the steps needed to get reviews from trade journals and placement in libraries and bookstores. They organized my blog tour and some speaking opportunities. Small presses don’t have the money and resources of the large NY publishers, but they can offer more time and personalized attention.

WOW: There are so many different paths to publication, and this is a great example of one! Speaking of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, the novel features a female protagonist who is also a rock climber, which is a sport you also enjoy. How would you compare rock climbing to the writing process?

Kristin: I don’t think anyone has asked me that before, but there are similarities with rock climbing and writing! Climbing, like many sports or creative endeavors, involves an element of risk and putting yourself out there. Writers are vulnerable on the page, and then we send this vulnerability out into the world – that’s scary, but also empowering.

Rock climbing can be very physical and technical, but what I like best is the mental puzzle of figuring out a route, and the state of flow that you often find yourself in – breathing and moving and guided by intuition that’s been shaped by practice and persistence. Sounds like the writing process to me!

WOW: That's for sure! I love the way you describe those comparisons. You’ve also been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where you also manage your local chapter’s blog. What has your experience been like being a member of such an organization? Have you found it helpful in networking and learning more about the craft?

Kristin: I joined SCBWI fifteen years ago when I was ready to take my writing to the next level and prepare for publication. They’ve helped me grow my craft and better understand the publishing industry. The Michigan chapter has many veteran authors and illustrators who give back to the community; they remember how hard it was starting out, and there are new challenges at every stage of your journey. This career path has so many ups and downs, joys and frustrations. I’m grateful for the guidance I’ve received from my SCBWI-MI peers – both formally from conferences and workshops, but also informally as everyone shares their experiences and lends a hand. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have persisted to publication without the ongoing support of these writer friends.

WOW: What is your writing style like? Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?”

Kristin: I admire writers who can outline a story from beginning to end before they sit down to write. I’ve tried it, but I continue to be a pantser! And a very slow one. I outline later in the revision stage of a novel, but initially I need to write to discover the story and understand my characters. And it takes me a long time to make thematic connections and add layers of depth to a story. Come to think of it, for my flash fiction "Photosynthesis," I had no idea how the story was going to end. I had a sense of movement, I knew my character was being urged forward, but also pulled back. Even when I realized she was returning home, I had no idea what would happen when she got there! I revised that ending many times.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful interview questions!

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

 

Interview with Miranda Keller, Q1 2018 Creative Nonfiction Runner-Up

Miranda lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of 34 years. Her writings take the reader down so many paths of thought and feeling. She faces her own human struggles with courage and refreshing honesty.

She has enthusiastically coached her two sons and numerous students through the challenging aspects of the English language working as a teacher’s assistant. Her love of the written word is contagious. She has attended literary course work in which she excelled and is currently reworking her biography.

Read Miranda's essay here and then return her to learn more about her.

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

WOW: "What If" is an essay that packs a punch and makes us all ask "what we do if in the same situation?" What was your writing and revision process like on this piece? How did you know when it was complete?

Miranda: As I sat in my car learning from this exchange with this young woman, I was hit by my connection to her. I went home and wrote in a spiral notebook what took place that day. I entered my experience into WOW’s writing contest with critique. After reading over the editor’s thoughts, I went to work implementing her suggestions, as best I understood them. Though no critique was made on my prologue, I read it repeatedly asking myself can my reader see it; can they feel the warmth of the rays shining through those trees; can they hear the taunts of my great grandmother; do they know she’s taunting me? Have I drawn my reader in to walk upon that discarded telephone pole, out of darkness into light? I knew the piece was done when my thoughts were all sewn together, when I had created a springboard to jump into what I intend to write next. (And honestly, I never think a work can’t be tweaked just a bit more!)

WOW: What are some of your favorite types of writing (essays, short stories, poetry, etc.)?


Miranda: I’d have to say I enjoy writing narrative essays the most. The more thought provoking, the better. For every essay I create, I layer one more chapter into my book.

WOW: What is your favorite writing or literature course you've ever taken and why?

Miranda: I’ve taken English 101 and 102, but those aren’t the classes I loved, though I excelled in both (A’s). As I entered high school, my entire life was sucked into a funnel cloud, leaving nothing but the scattered dirty laundry of all my family’s dysfunction on display. There was no way, at 16, I could knit together the work required to excel in an AP high school English class. My favorite instruction I’ve ever received from a teacher came to me via my son’s High school AP English teacher. I sat beside my son as he pored over his marked up papers. I learned writing skills I never knew existed. However, this wasn’t the only way my mind was shaped into a writer. I heard a teacher I worked for tell her students to ditch every “Be” verb and replace them with stronger more effective verbs to make the writing more engaging. I gleaned from that same teacher- say what you need to say, erase unnecessary words; more is not better. I went to a required writing class for my job called Step Up To Writing. I loved it. This course really helped me with methods to organize and generate thought. This process helped me. Step up to Writing drove home the power and necessity of a topic and conclusion sentence. I would look at a student’s work, see no topic sentence, look at the kid, read out loud his points, ask him what are you talking about, and his eyes would shine as he spit out his own topic sentence. This technique also made unrelated sentences more obvious to see. It made me a better teacher and, I like to think, a better writer. Why do I write the way I do? Philip Yancey, Editor for Christianity Today. He said if you are going to tell history, make sure you make your reader live it. His instruction changed every sentence I write. Life and words of wisdom from teachers who know more than me have shaped my writing. I owe them the honor of paying attention and pouring out my words.

WOW: The Pacific Northwest sounds like a beautiful place to live! Do your everyday surroundings serve as inspiration for your creative writing?

Miranda: YES! A lot of people hate the rain, not me. I love it for its comfort and inspiration. The sound of it hitting my roof, sliding down my drainpipe wraps me in peace. The smell of summer rain splashing on hot pavement soothes me. I love birch trees singing in the wind. I love the creek dancing beneath those two retired telephone poles. The Pacific Northwest never ceases to inspire my thoughts, which translate into the words of my soul. It’s the perfect place to tell a story.

WOW: How did you hear about this contest? Do you try to build writing contest submissions into your regular writing schedule?

Miranda: A friend of mine told me about the contest. Yes, I write pretty consistently. This is the only place I’ve entered writing contests. I intend to submit more of my work.

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Saturday, March 09, 2019

 

Protect Your Precious Creativity Time

Recently, I've been thinking about how to make some changes in my life to lead me where I want to be in my career and how I want to be as a parent--or really, looking at the big picture: what I want my entire life to look like. One of the things I feel on pretty much a daily basis is OVERWHELM. I feel like there's so much to do at my day job, with my editing business, as a parent, in my house, with my friends and boyfriend, and I want to do it all--well, okay, there are a few things I don't want to do like clean the toilet, but I have to--and I constantly go around complaining about how I'm overwhelmed. My ever-growing to-do and idea lists never seem to shrink.

The one thing that I can do, and that I've done successfully two days out of five this past week, is protect my work time. If I don't want to be crazy, stressed out, tired mom, then I need to work while my daughter is at school and after-school care. Sure, this is also a great time to go out to lunch, to get grocery shopping done, to chat with friends, to take phone calls from my parents, etc etc. But I started to notice that on those days when I had scheduled some "non-work" tasks, I was usually crabby and more stressed out; I even felt bad about myself and my failure to accomplish my goals.

I would sit around in the evening and ask myself: what is wrong with me? Will I ever make progress? How come I can't finish anything? Does everybody else work this long? But if I really looked at my day and all the time I spent doing things other than working, the answer was pretty clear.

I wasn't staying focused. I'm easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. I"m not working when I should be, and this is the reason why sometimes I'm finishing projects at 4:30 am in the morning or after the deadline, not reaching my goals, and feeling stuck.

This week I said ENOUGH. I wrote a list of my priorities on a piece of white paper and used a blue Sharpie marker (man, I love those things) and stuck that list in my underwear drawer. Why there? Well, I'll look at it every day when I get new underwear out (or at least I should! I try not to have typical "work-from-home" hygiene habits, wink, wink), but the priority list's not hanging out for the world to see--I don't want anyone arguing with me about my priorities--that is private.

Now, before I say yes to something, I'm thinking: Is this a priority OR does this get in the way of  a priority? (I have only been doing this for 2 days, so I'm no expert yet.) Before I answer a message during work hours or schedule an appointment, I ask myself if it fits with this change I'm making in my life. If the answer is yes, then I do it. If the answer is no, then I'm saying no--I'm protecting my work time. I am saying yes to my priorities.

It's an absolute myth that we can do it all and do it well. Yes, we can do it all if we do it half-way and look like a stressed-out, exhausted version of ourselves.

Whatever your creativity time is--whether it's two hours in the morning, four hours at night, or all day, protect that time. And then, know when you need a break--because that's important, too. But that's another blog post for another day, or you can watch The Shining and see how all work and no play worked out for Jack Nicholson's character.

Protect your precious creativity time like a toddler protecting her favorite stuffed animal from the grubby hands of other toddlers! How do you do it?

Margo L. Dill is a single mom, writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. Her day job is as an editorial assistant for Farm Journal, and her other jobs are working her own business, Editor 911, and helping out at WOW! as much as she can! If you want to take a class with Margo, check that out here. To learn more about her, go to her website here

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Friday, March 08, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: The Submission Merry-Go-Round and How to Navigate it

by Penny Wilson

As writers, if we want to have our work published, we all go through the same thing in the attempt to get published. We write, submit, reject and repeat. At least, that’s the way that it seems.

There are almost as many WAYS to submit your writing as there are places to submit it. Everybody has their own set of rules. Let me give you a few examples: Some accept previously published pieces, others do not. Some consider a blog post as being a published piece, others do not. Some charge reading fees, others do not. Some places do not accept simultaneous submissions, while others do. Some want your submission to be blind. No name on it anywhere. Others want your name on each piece. Some places want a bio from you. These can vary wildly. Anything from a short piece, limited to 50 words or less to something longer. Some places want the bio written in the 3rd person, other do not. Then some places do not want a bio at all. Then there is the matter of font style and size. Everyone wants something different.

It’s all maddening!! Why do we do it?

Because in many instances, in order to BE published, have to have BEEN published. It’s like when you’re a 15-year-old kid, trying to get a summer job for the first time. In order to get a job, you need to have HAD experience. In order to get experience, you need to HAVE a job!

So what do you do in this mad, mad world of getting published? I know that the process can be overwhelming. Here are a few pieces of advice that will help:

*Cry yourself a river, if that makes you feel better. Yell and curse the Publishing Gods. Shake your fist and stomp your feet. Scream into your pillow, if need be.

Then:

*Take a deep breath, slow down and pause.

*Print out the submission guidelines and keep them next to you as you prepare your piece for submission. This way, you won’t overlook anything.

*FOLLOW the submission guidelines to the letter. No matter how brilliant your piece is, if you did not follow the rules, you’re out on your ear often before the piece is ever read.

*Proof your piece. For heaven’s sake, you don’t want to be rejected because of a spelling error or a simple typo, do you? Proof, proof, proof!!

When it’s all said and done, why do we put ourselves through this? Because we’re writers, that’s why. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

* * *
Penny Wilson is a freelance writer who writes in several genres. She's had a successful blog with a growing and loyal following for more than 5 years. Penny has written articles for Counseling Directory .org, Introvert Dear .com, and WOW Women on Writing. Her poetry has been published on Ariel Chart, a monthly online Journal, Spill Words Press and the Poppy Road Review. Penny is a member of the Austin Poetry Society and a member of All Poetry .com Her poetry has been featured in the publication America's Emerging Poets 2018 by Z Publishing. She is currently working on her first novel. You can find more of her writings on her blog at: https://pennywilsonwrites.com/ and follow her on Twitter @pennywilson123.
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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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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

 

That Familiar Hiss...

For years I've listened to musical CDs. In the car. At home. I thought I was happy. (Before that it was cassette tapes. And before that, 8-track tapes.)

But then my husband got me a record player several years ago. I pulled out the box of LPs that had been languishing in the basement--ruined, I thought--and put one on the turntable.

Hisss. The needle bobbed up and down as it rode the wave of the record, round and round. That sound brought back so many memories. Vinyl has something that no "digitally remastered" CD will ever have.



I think Carole King's Tapestry album was the first one I bought. "So Far Away." "I Feel the Earth Move." "You've Got a Friend." "Smackwater Jack." "Where You Lead." "Natural Woman." Those songs are so distinctive, I still remember them even though it's been 48 years since I bought the record and almost wore the 
vinyl out.

(As a 12-year-old, I had a life-sized poster of this album cover hanging in my bedroom. My dad used to joke about Carole King's toejam. To be clear, her feet looked extremely clean and well-scrubbed.)

My challenge is to make my writing distinctive. Memorable. I'm sending off a manuscript and when I get 10 rejections (2 down. 8 more to go.), I'll make some changes to my query letter, and send it to 10 more agents. In the meantime, I wonder...

Is my writing distinctive? Do I tell a compelling story?

I read an article that gave me some points to ponder. The # 4 (Show With a Spin) especially got me thinking. There's even a link to a Kurt Vonnegut article. In it, he advises to "begin as close to the end as possible" when writing a short story. That's a technique I love.

Then I happened on a piece on writing that appeared in The Guardian. In it, Margaret Atwood had some writing advice:

"You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up."

I've been backstage. I've been there when every one of the 53,000 words have been put onto paper. I've had friends read it... and none of them are romantically involved with me.

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed as I hope my manuscript is memorable (in a good way) for at least one agent. 

Tapestry was the first record I bought. How about you? What was the first record you bought?



Sioux is a middle-school teacher by day. By night, she alternates between being a couch-drooler and a freelance writer. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, head to her blog.

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