The Golden Ticket: Are You Buying What They’re Selling?

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Have I got a deal for you! Sign up for my class on (email lists/newsletters/Amazon ads/Facebook ads/FILL IN YOUR OWN ANSWER) and you will be on the way to financial success. Or maybe the promise that someone is making you is that their system will land your dream agent in a matter of weeks. Or that you will break into top markets in six months. Or shave months or years off the writing process. 

Maybe it's because my grandfather was a salesman, but I'm always suspicious when people start with these kinds of sales pitches. It makes me suspicious of both their motivations and their product. My grandfather would have been muttering about snake oil and empty, conflated promises. 

The reality is that writing is a lot of work. You have to research and plan. You have to draft and revise. There's waiting and rejection. 

It sounds harsh but there are no shortcuts. If you are going to be a published writer, you have a lot to learn. Learning it takes time. I can't tell you how long it will take you because this varies by person and by circumstance. It depends on how much time and energy someone they have to put into it. It depends on where they are when they start. It also depends on what the market is hungry for at the moment a project or idea is ready to submit. 

All of this means that someone can have success early in the process. There are people whose first query is accepted. They jump in and don't look back. Good for them. They are ready for the writing world as it is right this moment. 

There are also people who slog along for years. It can be uncomfortable and discouraging. 

I just saw a Tweet from a friend who is considering quitting. She'd entered several contests lately with disappointing results. She felt like a fraud. Fortunately, she is part of the Twitter writing community. Despite the negative things you may hear about Twitter, this is a rock-solid community and people stepped up with encouraging words. Don't quit! We've all been where you are! Your work is so good. 

And that's the rub. Excellent work doesn't always sell. Mediocre work sometimes sells very quickly. I can't tell you exactly why. I can't promise to shave time off your learning curve. I'm not telling you not to sign up for classes. If it is something that you want to learn, sign up. 

I love taking classes! But I sign up to learn the skill that they are teaching. I don't sign up expecting dancing dollar signs in my future. Of course, the class that I'm eying right now is on sashiko embroidery. Isn't hand work pretty hot right now? Maybe this is my key to making millions. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on April 3, 2023).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023).
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Interview with Genalea Barker, Fall 2022 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner

Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Genalea Barker is an author, freelance editor, and full-time mom. Her work has appeared in Bookends Review, Gemini Magazine, Grande Dame Literary, Watershed Review, Broad River Review, and others. She is the author of three novels, Life After, A Song I Used to Know, and Lovehurts, all forthcoming in 2023 and 2024. Genalea resides in Southern Idaho with her husband, four children, and two dogs, where she enjoys small town living, playing music with her family, and occasionally getting caught behind farm equipment on the highway. To learn more about Genalea or find purchase links for Life After, visit, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @genalea_barker.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2022 Flash Fiction competition! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “How to Deliver a Baby on the Floor of a Hotel Lobby?”

Genalea: In 2021, I participated in a six-week flash fiction course with instructor Jacqui Reiko Teruya. One of our prompts was something along the lines of, “Imagine two people doing something in a place where they don’t belong.” Inexplicably, my mind went to a couple having a baby, but in a hotel lobby. We were also challenged to write a “how-to” piece. I don’t remember if the two prompts were part of the same weekly assignment, or if I paired the two together on my own. I honestly can’t recall. I just know that somehow, my “how-to” assignment became “How to Deliver a Baby on the Floor of a Hotel Lobby.”

As I crafted this piece, my mind turned to my experiences with miscarriages and delivery trauma, and I began to understand how this couple wound up delivering a baby in a very public place. How a mother’s fear and denial could lead to such a chaotic—but beautiful—birth.
WOW:  Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

Genalea: In the beginning, writing flash was a self-imposed challenge. I tend to be an over-writer, and I wanted to push myself and improve my writing. The first flash piece I wrote, I loved, and I was hooked.

There isn’t a lot of room for frivolity in flash. Every single sentence should hold a purpose. It’s not simply about saying what you need to say in the least words possible, but finding those powerful, succinct phrases.

I still have a lot to learn about writing flash—about writing in general—but I believe my experiences with flash have furthered my skills as an author. I’m still a bit of an over-writer, but I’m also much better at recognizing when a sentence, paragraph, or even an entire chapter needs to go.

WOW:  What advice would you give to someone wanting to try writing flash fiction for the first time?

Genalea: For starters, read flash. Check out past contest winners or published pieces from lit mags specializing in flash. Discuss the pieces you read with other readers/writers. Flash is more than telling a story in 500-1000 words. That story should pack an emotional punch. Look for those tiny details—those “between the lines” nuances that allow an author to say so much with so few words.

If you have the resources to participate in a workshop or class, do it. Check for available scholarships if cost is prohibitive. The course I took was 6 weeks of reading, writing, and discussing flash with other authors. I learned so much.

Whether or not you participate in any in-depth workshops, writing flash isn’t something you should attempt alone. Get a critique partner if you don’t already have one, preferably one familiar with flash fiction.

Additionally, Kathy Fish has some great exercises available online and through her newsletter, “The Art of Flash Fiction.”

WOW: You have three novels coming out in 2023 and 2024, wow. What can you tell us about the process of completing and marketing them?

Genalea: To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about completing the original drafts of my first three novels. I wrote them in my early 20s—over a decade ago—and I did it without critique partners or beta readers. I simply wrote what I wanted to write without much consideration for whether it would be published. Fast forward to late 2020 when I finally decided to query, I chose the project I felt most passionate about and started the re-writing process.

It's taken some trial and error to understand my writing process, but as I’ve gone through all three of those novels, plus several short stories, flash fiction pieces, and essays, I’ve developed a method that essentially looks like this: Initial idea notes, basic character arcs and general plot 🠚 First draft 🠚 Another round of notes, usually several pages 🠚 Revision with minor edits 🠚 Alpha reader 🠚 Revision with more edits 🠚 Beta Reader 🠚 Revise w/more attention to detail/edits 🠚 Query.

The first project I queried was not the project to land me my first publication contract. After over 100 rejections, I shelved that project and moved on to a new one. Since then, I’ve signed all three novels, and I’m working toward completing more.

Being with a small press presents a few challenges, one of them being marketing. I’ve had to do most of it myself. Again, this comes with significant trial and error. One thing I’ve learned—that a lot of authors find discouraging—is that many stages of the process are like querying all over again. You want a better-known author to blurb your book? You send out carefully worded e-mails and wait. Some accept, some reject, some never respond. You want a blogger/bookstagrammer to review your book? Research! Find the right ones, send carefully worded e-mails, and wait. Looking for editorial reviews for your indie book but can’t afford to pay for guaranteed reviews (for context, a basic Kirkus review for an indie author costs $450)? Same process. Somewhere amongst the e-mails and rejection and acceptance and waiting, waiting, waiting, I played around with graphics and video editing software, making promotional material.

I can’t speak to the experiences of an agented author, of course. But for small press published and self-published authors, marketing is often daunting. A ton of effort for little return. All that being said, I’ve loved my experience with a small press. And when you do find that right reader, and you get a new rave review, it’s the most amazing feeling. If I had to query all over again, I’d do things differently, sure. But every moment of that roller coaster was absolutely worth it to see my book in the hands of readers who love it.

WOW:  Thank you for sharing all that, I'm sure it will be helpful to others. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Genalea: I think it was something along the lines of, “You’re never going to think it’s good enough.” As writers (and humans in general), we tend to be our own worst critics. I could read my manuscript 100 times over, making changes each time, without actually improving the story at all. There comes a stage in the process when we have to let go and let someone else be our eyes. This is something that held me back for a long time. I never wanted anyone else to read my stories, because what if they hated them? If their feedback was, “This is awful. Start over,” would I be able to handle it? Honestly, I’ve never handled rejection well, and I think a lot of people relate to that, especially people who experience legitimate anxiety. I’ve been known to lie awake for hours at night, rehashing interactions from twenty years ago, feeling a fool because of something ridiculous I said. So how would I ever be able to get over someone reading 250 pages of my heart and soul bled onto a page and hating it?

That fear held me back for years. I read and edited my manuscripts countless times over the years without making significant improvement. When I finally gave myself permission to let go and welcome reader feedback—good, bad, or otherwise—that’s when true progress happened. Should we take every bit of feedback offered? No. But at the very least, feedback forces us to examine our work with a fresh perspective. I typically approach feedback with a 70/30 outlook (meaning I’ll accept up to 70% of the feedback, but leave the rest).

We’re never going to achieve perfection, but if we welcome critique, we might get pretty close. I recently read my debut in its official, published form and found a handful of things I’d go back and change if given the chance. But I also recognized just how far that book came from its original draft, to a published book. I’m proud of that book. It’s beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful. If I’d never let go and welcomed that rejection, it never would have blossomed into the story it is now.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.
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Interview with Carol Ovenburg: Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, March 19, 2023
Carol’s Bio:
Carol Ovenburg—A visual artist. A writer. Her writing life began with timed-writing exercises a la Natalie Goldberg at a Café in Seattle with notable writers who opened her eyes to the craft of writing. It was there that she began the early stages of her memoir, Pearls. One of two essays—excerpts from her manuscript—were published in WOW-Women on Writing, 2021 and 2022. Today, Carol, and her life partner of twelve years, are living in and enjoying their new Talent, Oregon home, rebuilt after a devastating fire. She’s taken this last year in new surroundings to complete her memoir and write essays. She and her partner travel once-a-month to U.S cities for four-day Argentine tango social dancing. They read good books on flights and layovers. When home, they watch foreign films or a foreign detective series on TV. You can learn more about Carol on her website: and Carol Ovenburg on Facebook. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Carol's award-winning essay "Inside the Lines" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Carol: I think I began writing this essay in a self-guided Creative Non-Fiction online workshop on the braided and collage essay. Or it may have been in one of Chelsey Clammer’s classes on CNF. I remember wanting to write about crayons and Cinderella and used Chalk typeface for headings and numbers. I did have Chelsey’s eye on this one—I have her check over most of my writing—and, as usual, she gave me good editing advice which helped me evolve this essay. I have a tendency in my writing to add irrelevant information or not add enough. I’m getting better, though. 

WOW: It’s definitely a learning process, and that’s wonderful you’ve found a great editor that you trust. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Carol: I learned a new way of presenting information, or a story—this story—bringing me closer to the relationship I had with my mother—my need for her approval. 

WOW: You mention in your bio that you’re enjoying your new home in Oregon. How have your new surroundings contributed to your progress on your memoir?

Carol: I spent seventeen months in temporary housing working on rebuilding a new home after the devastating fire that took 2,600 homes in September of 2020. It kept me busy. And it kept me displaced and also isolated because of the pandemic. But during that time an old author and poet friend of mine, Jack Remick, offered to mentor me on my writing. I worked with him every Thursday for a couple of hours, and it changed the way I write. We moved into our new home the end of January 2022, and here I no longer felt displaced—I was home again, in a pleasing environment, the freedom to work on my memoir with the goal of finishing it by the end of the year. 

WOW: Wow, what a journey, both personally and with your writing. I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling at home again. We know from a previous interview with you that you worked with editor Chelsey Clammer on your memoir. What other resources, tips, tricks, groups, and/or processes have you used to write and revise? 

Carol: Working with Chelsey in her classes, and one-on-one, I love learning how she thinks about writing, and I’m gleaning a lot from her comments and critiques. With Jack Remick—how to make my work sing with proper word choice, efficient writing, eliminating the fluff—getting rid of words that aren’t needed. Leaving more white space on the page. I have my small writing group meeting Wednesdays on Zoom and timed-write a la Natalie Goldberg—set a timer and write without lifting our pens, without thinking, just write. I read books on writing. I keep a copy handy of On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I also read memoirs—books and essays—and listen to interviews and speakers on writing. I’ve read all of Chelsey’s books and many of Jack’s. 

WOW: I love this. You are emersed in a writing culture that has truly helped your writing shine. What’s the most recent good book(s) you read on a flight or layover during one of your travels? 

Carol: I’m in a book club and sometimes read one of those books—the latest is The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Loved this book. I recently read and read repeatedly Owl Poems by Zach Hively. And Minding the Muse, A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators by Priscilla Long, a wonderful little book packed with great writing tools. 

WOW: That’s a wonderful list. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Carol: I’m now working on an abecedarian book of poetry and lyrical prose—a memoir on my 12-year experience as an Argentine Tango dancer. AND, with Chelsey’s help, I’m beginning the submission process for publishing Pearls, a Memoir. Thanks to you, Chelsey, and to everyone at WOW! Women on Writing for your excellent critiques and for publishing my work. 

WOW: Two exciting projects! We can’t wait to hear more about them. Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Engage on Twitter or Instagram @GreenMachine459.
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See Me

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Last week, I heard a sermon about the Samaritan woman at the well and it profoundly affected me. And I know what you’re thinking, that I’m going to get all preachy on you. But that’s not where I’m going…um, I suppose I might get a little preachy. 

Anyway, the Good Samaritan is fairly familiar to most of us. We have a law in many states that’s based on the story (The law protects someone who renders emergency aid from incurring liability if something goes wrong). And the Samaritan woman at the well is also a story of a person giving help to someone in need (in this case, Christ). Most sermons draw on Christ’s words about living water, which of course, is pretty much the main point. But there’s another point I’d never considered… 

To begin with, Samaritans did not mix with Jews. And this particular woman, alone and getting water in the middle of the noon-day sun, indicates that she did not mix with the other women, either. She was shunned because, as Christ already knew, she’d had five husbands. Her life was one of shame, of being ostracized; she was basically not seen by other members of the community. But Christ, a Jew, saw her. He drank water from her, spoke to her. 

It was life-changing for the Samaritan woman; she listened to the words Christ had to say because He saw her

 As often happens when I’m thinking about what to write here, an idea having to do with writing will meet with a moment from my life. And as I pondered that Sunday sermon, I thought of the woman I’d met just the day before; we were volunteering together. 

Now, what are the chances I’d meet someone my age, also a widow, who was also a writer? I’d say astronomical unless one is at a writer’s conference. So naturally, she shared what she was working on and it was all very impressive. A little daunting, if I’m being honest. Then she asked what I wrote and at first, I…well, I stammered a bit but off I went, full steam ahead into what I used to work on. 

For years, my identity as a writer came from children’s publishing, and I wanted her to see me as a professional. So I spoke of my past accomplishments, my published books, my expert credentials. I mean, I’m only human, y’all. I wanted to be seen as a writer of value. 

After a time of of talking about everything but what I was actually doing now, I thought This is not me. So I told her I was writing a mystery and self-publishing and that most days it was a lot of fun and a lot to learn. But we also spoke of the single life and dogs that are terrors and wines that are sublime. 

That’s how I see me, or at least a bit closer to the truth. And my new friend saw me, I hope, as a very happy and grateful person who’s enjoying her latest writing journey. 

A simple sermon and an eye-opening look at myself helped me see the light. And I hope you see the light in you, see your value as whatever (a writer, a poet, a playwright!) or whoever you’re on the journey to become. And that when you meet another writer, you'll take a moment to see them, not as what they do but who they are

So fine, I’m being a little preachy but don’t you feel like shouting an “Amen!” along with me?

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Ways to Add Creative Writing to Your Day (Even If You're Really Busy)

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

What's your excuse reason to not write? We've all got them. And sometimes they are legit, I-don't-blame-you, fully embrace the "not-writing-ness" of your life type of reasons. And I mean that.

Other times they are what they are: excuses.

For me, it's busyness. And sometimes, I legitimately have a lot going on and have to put creative writing low on the priority list. Other use that as my reason when it's truly just an excuse. 

So for those out there having a hard time writing time because of busyness, I'm here to help. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Make it a "first thing." 
Notice I didn't say to make it THE first thing you do. But a first thing. Make writing your "first thing" after your work day ends. Or make it your first thing after you put the laundry in. Or your first thing after a workout session. 

For example, this past Saturday, I had a lot of other important firsts. I had coffee, spent time with family, and read scripture. Afterward, I brought up my laptop, skimmed my email, and I was tempted to bring up my first "laptop" thing to do.

Then, I stopped.

Instead of doing my first laptop task, which likely included some kind of promotional thing for someone, I brought up my current short story. I spent about ten minutes or so revising it. 

There, I worked on my story. Not long, of course. (The whole busyness thing is kind of real). But I made it my first thing before working on my laptop.
  • Make it easy.
I'm kind of the type that has a lot of things going on, stories included. So, it's easy for me to get so bogged down with wondering what story to work on next, that I get too overwhelmed to work on anything at all.

My goal lately has been to prioritize the revision process. So, that has taken drafting new stories off the menu of options for a while. Now, I do have other stories in the percolator but only one I have next on my list. That's the one that's been my goal to revise lately. This morning, I knew right away that I would work on it next. Doing so, made writing really easy.

So, for you, it may be something different. Maybe your important thing this year is to pitch editors. Or to outline your next novel. Or to start a new short story. Or to practice writing prompts. Make it easy to write by knowing exactly what you need to work on next.

  • Make it convenient.
Consider where you are at during your day. And I don't mean emotionally, although that could play a part. But I mean, physically. Where is your body located at different points of the day?

Wherever you are, make it easy to stop and take a writing break. Add notebooks to spaces where you do errands or put them in your car or handbag. Add an app to your phone that lets you work on your latest story or novel or poem. Or bring your laptop with you places if it's convenient enough to take. 

Overall, don't let "I don't have my laptop/notebook/writing materials with me" be an excuse.

Those are my tips! Obviously, this is still something I'm having a hard time doing, but I'm working on improving my creative habits daily.

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not hunting down the right word, she's talking to God, reviewing books on her writing blog, watching movies, hanging out with family, and daydreaming. Her work has been featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, The Voices Project, Sky Island Journal, and Arlington Literary Journal. Her poetry was also featured in the anthology, Dear Leader Tales. Read her musings at
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Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, March 13, 2023
Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French

We're excited to launch the blog tour for Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French. This book is perfect for readers who enjoy page-turning love stories set in Japan. Read on to find out the author's inspiration behind this novel in a vibrant author interview, and enter to win a copy!
But first, here's a bit more about Ghost with Two Hearts:
Approaching 30, Adrian, a talented software engineer, takes stock of his wealth and accolades - and how unhappy he is. He doesn't make friends easily, dislikes social media, and was bloodied in a divorce. He finds no common purpose in a country defined by political vitriol, distrust, and inequality. Taking a leave of absence from his company, he travels to Japan with a samurai sword that his grandfather stole from a Japanese captain in World War Two. Adrian is determined to find its rightful heir. Doing the morally correct thing, he hopes, will make him feel better about his life.
Print length: 193 pages
Genre: Fiction, Cultural Heritage Fiction, Ghost Fiction
Published January 12, 2023
ISBN-13: 979-8370416842
Ghost with Two Hearts is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. You can add it to your GoodReads reading list as well.
About the Author Michael R. French
Michael R. French graduated from Stanford University where he was an English major, focusing on creative writing, and studied under Wallace Stegner. He received a Master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He later served in the United States Army before marrying Patricia Goodkind, an educator and entrepreneur, and starting a family.
In addition to publishing over twenty titles, including award-winning young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies and self-help books, he has written or co-written a half-dozen screenplays, including Intersection, which has won awards in over twenty film festivals. He has also had a long business career in real estate, living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His passions include travel, collecting rare books, and hanging with friends and family. He describes his worst traits as impatience and saying "no" too quickly; his best are curiosity, taking risks, and learning from failure.
French’s work, which includes several best-sellers, has been warmly reviewed in the New York Times and been honored with a number of literary prizes.
Find Michael online at:
--- Interview by Crystal Otto
WOW: I absolutely enjoyed reading Ghost with Two Hearts and as you read in my review, I felt kindred to your characters and enjoyed the dialogue, but my favorite part was the feeling of traveling to Japan without ever leaving the comfort of my recliner. Tell me more about what inspired you to write this wonderful story!
Michael: In 2013, my wife and I visited Japan for the first time. We chanced upon the Art Triennale on Naoshima Islands, a ferry ride from the mainland. The contemporary work of jury-selected Japanese artists was striking, innovative, and enigmatic. I had always thought of Japan as an exporter of exceptional cars and electronics. We soon discovered a universe of high-end fashion, creative cuisine, immaculate public gardens, festivals, a low crime rate, and a deep respect for authority. It all seemed like the antithesis of the West. I felt safe and engaged here. But we also learned how Japanese discipline and single mindedness camouflaged a history of deep, violent conflict and fierce wars. My eyes were opened and my mind followed.
On a second trip, we visited ancient Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, learning about faith, mythologies and superstitions. Religion and politics combined to reveal powerful emperors, class conflict, and international ambitions. We also found evidence of deep, romantic love. I began imagining a love story between a Shinto kami (a type of ghost) and an American coder visiting Japan to escape the turmoil of the West.
Our final visit, before the Pandemic, included a day at the extensive Peace Park in Hiroshima, where the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb to help end the war in the Pacific. My father had been a medical doctor for the Marines, barely surviving hellish fighting on Okinawa and Saipan. I tried to reconcile how much the Americans and allies suffered compared to the 60,000 Hiroshima civilians who perished from the bomb. Was there some kind of moral equivalency here, or no connection whatsoever? Adding to my curiosity was my memory of my father returning from the war with a ceremonial sword taken from a dead Japanese officer. He never explained what that was all about. My own guess became the major subplot of the novel.
WOW: With how well I got to know the characters, I feel you wrote a bit of yourself into Ghost with Two Hearts. Can you share a bit more about where the characters came from and how you developed them? 
Michael: I was a curious and empathizing ten-year-old. I thought I could imagine what a teacher, friend, or even a stranger was feeling and thinking. My imagination put me in their head. I took the quirks of various people and put them in my fictional characters.
Adrian, my main character, is a compilation of typical software engineers I have known over time. Yet, like me, he’s deeply bothered by the discord generated in social media. Adrift after a divorce he never saw coming, Adrian takes a leave of absence in Japan and finds a spiritual and social world infinitely more fulfilling than anything in the States. By the end of the novel, reborn in many ways, he returns home to find an unusual salvation.
My other principal character is a Shinto ghost named Emiko. I have never known a beautiful, young Japanese woman condemned by the gods to eternal damnation. I chose not to give Emiko a weird personality. Making her as human as possible, quirks and all, makes her more believable. It’s also easy to empathize with anyone, living or dead, whose trust in others has been betrayed, and her punishment impossible to overcome. Emiko is easy to like and root for.
WOW: I wholeheartedly agree about Emiko being easy to like. You did a great job with the characters and I appreciate your writing style. Would you feel comfortable talking about journaling? Does it play any part in your writing process or in your life in general?
Michael: An ideal writing day for me is six to eleven a.m. The world is a quieter place in the morning. Sometimes I’ll make time later that day, though it’s hard to find solitude. Habit is critical to me. On even the most crazy days, I still write a sentence or two because I have a fear that slacking is habit-forming. I credit my routine for getting through five decades of writing and publishing, including some rough patches. Completing a novel always makes me feel grateful. I have a wonderfully supportive wife and two adult children.
I don’t really journal. I keep most of my important ideas in my head. I do scribble on the back of an envelope or napkin, often creating secondary characters and subplots this way. I also get plot ideas after a good night’s sleep. Years ago, before I wrote a young adult best-seller, Pursuit, the climactic scene came from a vivid, unforgettable dream. However, I’ve also had early morning or late-night epiphanies that turn out to be embarrassingly useless.
WOW: Napkins and envelopes make me think you can write anywhere, especially keeping most of your thoughts in your head, but do you have a special space? Do you write everywhere, anywhere in particular, and what comforts are absolutely necessary to inspire you?
Michael: I have large wood desk for writing but sometimes a sofa is a comfortable place, too. I also like sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop, with headphones on. Music sometimes inspires me, but what is absolutely necessary is writing in a stress-free environment, living in my imagination, and liking the characters I create, even the unsympathetic ones. I feel closer to some characters than others; they kind of become friends. When I’m copyediting or proofing a manuscript, I don’t mind a few distractions—even watching television. An editing mindset is very different from the one churning with emotion. Editing is all about objectivity. I try to pretend I'm reading someone else’s book for the first time. If I don’t like what I’m reading, I go back to the drawing board.
I can write fifteen hundred words on a good day, but that isn’t often. Finishing a solid draft usually takes a year. In college, I read a lot of novelists that are not well known today. Keeping up with current writers—and there are spectacular ones—takes time that I don’t always have. Writing has to be a solitary pursuit for me. Other than hiring a copy editor or a proofreader, I’ve never had a writing team. I need to retreat from the world to be at my best.
WOW:You really make all of this look easy Michael. It seems you have a new book every time I turn around. Is there a hard part for you, or what do you consider to be the hardest part of the writing process? 
Michael: Writing a story is a fragile enterprise from beginning to end. When someone asks “what are you working on?” I change the subject to the Dodgers or the price of gas. For me, isolation is survival. Everything starts off fine with your first chapter or two, but then doubts creep in. Making significant changes mid-book can be especially chaotic because you have to go back and rewrite parts of the beginning, which you previously thought were just great. Finally, the right ending is critical to shaping a reader’s final opinion of your novel. I never rush that part.
WOW: Fragile is such an interesting word to use. Thank you for that insight. Who has been most influential in your writing goals and dreams? How do you thank them?
Michael: My mother got me interested in biographies and history when I was in junior high. First, she would read a chapter out loud, and then I read one to her. It wasn’t just about learning vocabulary, grammar and syntax, or realizing what makes a particular story fascinating. I also came to love words. I had a bad stutter, so hearing them coming slowly off my lips, understanding their cadence and, much later, why the author chose that particular word over another, was empowering. In college, I was influenced by novels that opened my mind to new worlds, and to so many colorful writers. I had a teacher named Malcom Cowley who lived in Paris in the Twenties and was friends with Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, and Joyce. His anecdotes made them come alive for me. I wished I had thanked my mother more, and certainly teachers like Malcolm Cowley, but they couldn’t have missed seeing the wonder in my eyes.
WOW: Michael, your insight is always appreciated. As you know, I’ve read many of your books and they are all so different, so I’m a bit timid to ask, but what’s next for you? You’re always coming up with something unexpected for your readers. Give us a sneak peak?
Michael: I have lots of story ideas and take my time winnowing through them. In my twenties and thirties, I struggled to find things to write about. I culled them from the world at large because I didn’t find myself to be a terribly interesting subject. In my forties and fifties, I began taking stock of who I was and who I was becoming, which turned me inward. My own conflicts, aspirations, and resolutions put me on a wonderfully serendipity path. My last five novels are nothing like my earlier works. None of the five fall into a specific genre. In the end, I hope readers find Ghost With Two Hearts super entertaining, and new ways of looking at their world.
Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French Blog Tour

--- Blog Tour Dates
March 13th @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Join us at the WOW blog to celebrate the launch of author Michael R. French’s Ghost with Two Hearts. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book.
March 14th @ A Storybook World
Hear from Michael R. French about "What Drives an Author" as he delights readers at A Storybook World. Find out more about his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts and learn more about this talented author!
March 15th @ Madeline Sharples
"Helping or Hurting" is today's essay title at Madeline's blog as readers of Choices hear from Michael R. French about his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts.
March 17th @ Author Anthony Avina
Author Anthony Avina reviews fellow author Michael R. French's latest work Ghost with Two Hearts. Find out how this novel measures up today!
March 18th @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal Otto
Crystal Otto reviews Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R, French. Crystal has read many of French's books - find out how his latest novel measures up!
March 19th @ Fiona Ingram
Is there a "Place for Older Authors"? Find out by stopping at Fiona Ingram's blog and reading the essay by Michael R. French today! This is a great chance to learn more about this successful author and his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts!
March 23rd @ Book Santa Fe with Carmen Otto
Hear from a teenager as she reviews Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French. How many stars will she give? Will this be the novel she refers to her friends? Find out today!
March 30th @ The Mommies Reviews
Texas girl, Glenda offers her review of Michael R. French's latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts! Stop by Glenda's blog to learn more today!
April 14th @ Pages and Paws
Michael R. French shares his essay "The Tail or the Dog" for readers at Pages and Paws. Stop by to find out more about Michael and his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts.
April 20th @ Knotty Needle Creative
Judy from the Knotty Needle offers her thoughts after reading the latest novel by Michael R. French. Find out what Judy has to say about Ghost with Two Hearts today!
April 21st @ World of My Imagination
Nicole Pyles reviews Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French. Read what she shares with readers at her World of My Imagination blog.
April 28th @ Wildwood Reads
Megan offers her review of Michael R. French's Ghost with Two Hearts for readers at Wild Wood Reads; don't miss her valuable insight of Michael's latest novel!
May 2nd @ Jill Sheets
Jill sheets interviews Michael R. French. Find out more about this talented author and his latest novel Ghost with Two Hearts by stopping by Jill's blog today!
***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****
Enter to win a copy of Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French! Fill out the Rafflecopter form by March 26th at 11:59 CT for a chance to win. We will choose a winner randomly the next day and follow up via email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Interview with Katie Snyder, Ph.D. - Runner Up in the Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, March 12, 2023
I'm thrilled to chat with Katie Snyder about her award-winning essay, "What to Expect When You’re Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure." Check it out and come back and join us for a lively interview!

Katie's bio:

Katie Snyder is a retired psychologist—up for an adventure since her college days as one of the first (pioneering) female undergraduates at Yale. During 40 years in private practice she collaborated with MDs, so when she got breast cancer, understanding her medical care—and explaining it—was less of a stretch for her than it would be for most cancer patients.

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure,” her first publication, is an excerpt from What to Expect When You’re Expecting Breast Cancer, a humorous treatment information book she expects to publish.

She lives in California with her cat, golden retriever, and husband, the graphic design student who created the custom art for her dissertation in 1981. Before cancer their adventures included gorilla treks and safaris. Now Katie’s adventures include learning with her dog how to compete in agility—both of them for the first time. When she’s not running around with her dog, she’s baking up a storm and writing nonfiction picture books about safari animals for her grandchildren. (Portfolio:

She is a Lifetime Member of the American Psychological Association and an active member of the Yale Women Writers’ Group, Jericho Writers, SCBWI, and the Women’s National Book Association, which awarded her third place in the 2022 Effie Lee Morris contest (nonfiction category).

---- Interview by Angela Mackintosh

WOW: Welcome, Katie, and congratulations on your first publication! Writing about medical issues can be hard, but you wrote about having a biopsy procedure in such detail that even though I've never had one, I felt like I was witnessing it. What do you hope readers will take away from your essay, "What to Expect When You're Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure"?

Katie: First, thanks for this interview. I’m so pleased you liked my essay. I am trying to accomplish two things with this essay and all my essays: 1) for the breast cancer patient: demystify the procedure, and make it less scary by showing a patient can joke about it. 2) for the patient’s friends and family: show exactly what she is going through—and make it less scary by showing a patient can joke about it. Since 1 in 8 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer, every woman will eventually know someone who is undergoing treatment.

WOW: One element that stands out is your humor, despite the serious topic. You mentioned that this essay is an excerpt from a humorous treatment information book. Could you tell us more about your project?

Katie: During 17 months of cancer treatment, I needed to keep family and friends informed. But I didn’t want to repeat myself a dozen times a day, so I started sending out email updates with granular first-hand descriptions—as comprehensive as possible to answer any question anyone could possibly dream up. I’ve collected them into a book-length manuscript, complete with prologue. I want everyone newly diagnosed, plus anyone who loves her, to read it! (Hey, any agents out there? Editors?)

WOW: It sounds like a much needed book! How do you infuse humor into your writing?

Katie: As for infusing humor into the writing (infusion: perfect word for chemotherapy humor): I realized immediately that some of the graphic details would be hard to read. Humor softens the horror. Sometimes my funny bone was broken, and I couldn’t infuse any humor into the email until the next day. Waiting to click “Send” allowed me to get some distance from it; laughing at it made me feel better. Specifically, humor (at least my humor) requires a lack of filter. You know all those secret thoughts you’d never say out loud because…well…I don’t know why, really. Just say them out loud. They’ll be funny.

WOW: It's a great tip to share your secret thoughts, and we are so glad you did. You won third place in the 2022 Effie Lee Morris contest, nonfiction category—congratulations! I'd love to hear more about your winning piece, and if you have any tips for entering contests.

Katie: It was the first contest I entered. Their word count limit was 2,500, so I just pulled two of my emails, cemented them together, no pruning needed, and submitted the chimera. (The original Greek chimera was part lion, part goat, and part dragon.) My beta readers tell me that my voice and humor are consistent throughout, so joining them together isn’t as weird as it sounds. But I’m a newbie at all this, so what do I know?

However, I discovered WOW! via Reedsy’s contest list, so I’d say that’s a great resource. Read the list, find a likely contest in your genre, polish something you think is a good match for them, and prune to fit.

WOW: Reedsy is a great resource. Your bio mentions that you're writing nonfiction picture books about safari animals, and you've been on gorilla treks and safaris. That sounds fascinating! What was your most memorable sighting?

Katie: Ohhh I love to talk about this. There are so many it’s hard to choose one. But it’s not really a “sighting” that excites me; it’s observing animal behavior in situ. For example, I watched a mother hyena try unsuccessfully to get her very young cub to nap. I captured all her efforts in photos, and wrote a story around them for a picture book. Alas, I have been told several times that photo-illustrated picture books are not in vogue. If I want it published, I’ll have to find an agent or imprint willing to have an illustrator turn the photos into art.

Proximity makes animal encounters memorable, too: On a short walk in Botswana, I found myself just a couple of feet away from a female bushbuck. We solemnly regarded each other for several breathtaking minutes without moving, until she moseyed off. I felt like Alice through the Looking Glass when the fawn forgot to be afraid of her. (Good thing the bushbuck wasn’t a lion.) My best day, also in Botswana, involved being surrounded by elephants, with the whole herd passing so close by they could have touched me with their trunks. I could smell them, too. The old matriarch stared me right in the eye. They’re dangerous, so I held my breath until she passed safely by.

Africa is so amazing I don’t think it would be possible to take any bad photos. I have some great photos of safari animals on my website:

WOW: Those are great stories, and I encourage readers to visit your site for your gorgeous photos!

You're a member of a number of writing groups. What advice do you have for writers who are looking for a group to join?

Katie: To find a group, talk to everyone. I’m a Yale alumna, and the first thing I did once I started writing was join the Yale Women’s Writers Group. I found a beta swap partner there. Another alumna advised me to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I found a picture book beta swap partner through that. I found the Women’s National Book Association through my dog sitter. I’ll take help anywhere I can get it!

WOW: Writing groups are great for finding critique partners in your genre. What's the best writing tip, or tips, you've ever received?

Katie: 1. Cut 10% of anything you ever write.

2. Don’t try to write like someone else!

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee.”

WOW: Great advice! Thanks for joining us today, Katie, and wishing you the best of luck in all your writing projects.

Find out more about WOW's flash fiction and creative nonfiction contests here:
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Friday, March 10, 2023

by Patricia Bernstein

When I was in college, I took a creative writing course and fell on my face—figuratively speaking. My classmates had attended posh private schools, skied in Switzerland and had “coming out” parties. I had gone to a public high school and led such a sheltered suburban life that, at 18, I just didn’t have much material to work with. The teacher gave me the only “C” I ever received in college and convinced me that I couldn’t write.

It took me about ten years to overcome that traumatic pratfall. In my thirties, I finally began to write magazine articles—journalistic-type pieces--and ultimately sold some to Texas Monthly, Cosmopolitan and even the august Smithsonian. Well, OK, I thought, I can craft snapshots of current life. But I don’t have enough imagination to write fiction.

Eventually I published three non-fiction books with historical subjects. The most recent one was a finalist for an award from the Texas Institute of Letters. But I still made no attempt at fiction.

In 2014, my husband and I visited Scotland and heard an amazing story about a persecuted Catholic noblewoman who, in 1716, had mounted a complicated plot to rescue her husband from the Tower of London the night before his scheduled execution! I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I thought this woman’s story should be much better known. So I decided to try my hand at fiction after all.

I discovered two wonderful things about fiction right away—a big thing and a small thing. The small thing was NO FOOTNOTES NEEDED! What freedom not to have to obsessively support every single statement with a footnote. The much bigger thing was that in fiction, YOU CAN CHANGE ANYTHING YOU WANT! In fiction facts are malleable.

I believe the framework of the historical novel has to be true to the period. You can’t, for instance, have ancient Romans drinking coffee or tea, chowing down on mashed potatoes or smoking Longbottom Leaf in clay pipes, but you can modify events to suit your purpose, invent characters while dramatizing your version of real ones, and maybe even introduce an anachronism here and there if it doesn’t undermine the whole tale.

My novel A Noble Cunning follows the real story of my heroine’s life fairly closely, but I do think an appealing novel needs memorable villains. That is, beyond King George I. George I acted as a true villain to my heroine in real life, but in the novel, she only meets him face to face once. I thought additional villains were needed to bring the story more vividly to life.

So I invented a mad “field preacher,” a Protestant fanatic who invades my heroine’s home. I also invented a vain, self-absorbed sister with a lifelong resentment of my heroine. And finally, I had no knowledge of the real guards at the Tower of London in 1716, so I invented a villain there too, a young warder with a visceral hatred of Catholics. My heroine has to somehow circumvent all of these obstacles in her way, plus a violent snowstorm (which really happened) if she is going to save her husband’s life.

This whole exercise was the hardest work I’ve ever done, but also so much fun that I’m doing it again with another novel in the works. And I’ve learned that I wasted a lot of time letting someone else early in my life tell me who I am and what I can do.

* * *

Patricia Bernstein’s debut novel, A Noble Cunning: The Countess and the Tower, was released by History Through Fiction on March 7, 2023. Upon release, the book was a Semifinalist for a Chanticleer Award, and was one of Hasty Book List’s Most Anticipated Historical Novels of 2023. Visit Patricia at
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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Everyday Life Can Inspire the Best Plotlines

Thursday, March 09, 2023


Occasionally I get down on myself because I feel like I haven’t “lived” enough rich life experiences to warrant being a novelist. My travel is limited to the United States and Mexico, and I’ve spent many years grinding away at a job to help pay the bills and focusing on being a mom. I wouldn’t change anything now, because I do have a good life, but every now and then that little voice begins whispering in my ear that I have no business creating fictional worlds when my own is not always “exciting.” 

Then I stop to think about the topics I’ve written about. When my son was in elementary school, he developed this horrible rash that covered his entire body. The pediatrician couldn’t figure out what it was and sent us to a specialist. We worried what people would think when they saw him and if it was contagious. (It turned out to be viral and antibiotics and ointment cleared it up after a few days). But his experience made me think about what a teenage boy would feel like if the same thing happened to him. I wove that storyline into a young adult novel called “Under My Skin,” and while it has never been published, I think it has potential. My soon-to-be published young adult novel “Before Time Runs Out” takes place in a small North Carolina town and features paranormal elements. It was inspired by the death of one of my classmates.

My obsession with watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, and reading books about true crime inspired two award-winning short stories “The Polaroid” and “The Monster in the Woods.” My trip to a writing conference about crime resulted in an award for an article I wrote for this site, “We Speak for the Dead: The Creation of a Writing Conference all About Crime.”

My current WIP is about a podcaster trying to solve her sister’s disappearance. My own work as a podcaster has helped me create a narrative arc told through a variety of mediums, similar to the style of the novel “Daisy Jones and the Six.” When I think about some of my favorite writers, they focus on setting their novels in ordinary settings in places they’re familiar with—think Elin Hilderbrand and Nantucket and St. John and Jennifer Weiner and Philadelphia and Cape Cod. If you have a vivid imagination and the ability to create compelling plots and flawed characters, it doesn’t matter if you travel to Europe every year or not (although that would be nice!) 

Everyday life can inspire the best stories. How has your own life inspired fiction or creative nonfiction?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and the creator/host of the true crime podcast Missing in the Carolinas. 
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Putting Yourself Out There: What Freelance Writers Need to Know

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

By Carol Turner

Aside from being able to turn your passion into a career, there are numerous perks in the field of freelance writing. For one, the occupational outlook for writers is promising in terms of pay and job growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, writers are paid above the median annual wage of $69,510 per year. Job opportunities also continue to grow at a fast pace, part of which can be attributed to companies’ increasing demand for remote freelancers in particular.

However, these benefits can only be maximized when you know how to successfully break into this otherwise vast industry. So here’s a guide for everything you need to know about building your platform as a freelance writer and putting yourself out there.

Portfolio and branding

Create a writing website

While social media can be an easy and accessible platform to start with, it’s essential to create a website where you can showcase your work and establish yourself as a professional. When optimizing your writing website, full-time, six-figures earning freelance writer Elna Cain recommends drawing inspiration from other freelance writers. Take note of how they keep their websites information-rich yet easy to navigate, and what exactly they did to make their content stand out. Rather than merely focusing on the number of website visitors, prioritize how you can convert them into paying clients through a solid and credible portfolio.

Define your niche

There are writers who are generalists, but you’re more likely to find clients easier and get better offers when there’s a niche/industry you specialize in. Your niche can be based on your background, experience, or personal interests like travel, fashion, or fitness. Alternatively, you can look into learning more about some of the current highest-paying niches to see if you’re adept at or comfortable with writing them. According to IAB’s 2023 Marketing Outlook Survey, these are financial technology, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and healthcare.

Post content regularly

Having an optimized personal website and a niche as your competitive advantage means you can start thinking about publishing consistency. As previously discussed in a WOW post about building a platform for your writing, it helps to produce regular content to increase your following and network with other writers, too. Aside from the usual blog posts and articles, you can experiment with rapidly growing content formats like podcasts, long-form writing, and search engine optimization (SEO) writing. Creating a content calendar using tools like Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook also allows you to plan out your topics, publication dates, and post frequency ahead of time.


Send emails

Once you’ve positioned yourself for work, it’s time to find potential clients. Whether you apply via freelancer websites like Upwork or go directly to clients, it’s imperative that you learn about writing an email cover letter. This serves as your digital introduction, so keep it clear and concise when highlighting how your strengths, skills, and experience connect to the job opportunity at hand. Demonstrate your writing and editing skills by adding your own voice and style to the letter and avoiding typographical or grammatical errors. You can then link your portfolio/website and conclude with a subtle call to action to increase your chances of getting an offer.

Leverage networking opportunities

A strong network can make the difference between a good offer and a missed opportunity. You can join online writing communities on social media and career platforms like LinkedIn or attend in-person networking events to get to know fellow freelance writers personally and professionally. However, you can also leverage this new type of networking called ‘weak ties.’ While the term seems counterintuitive, it is through these casual contacts—who are likely to operate in vastly different fields from you—that you can cast a wider net for job opportunities, recommendations, and referrals.

It can be challenging to get started as a freelance writer, but WOW! Women on Writing offers a range of workshops and classes where you can learn how to build your platform and level up your professional and writing skills. By signing up for WOW!’s mailing list, you can also get access to exclusive content, events, and networking opportunities with skilled and experienced women writers.


Bio: Carol Turner is a freelance writer with a focus on corporate wellness and employee wellbeing. When she's away from her desk, she enjoys cafe hopping and being a full-time mom to three cats.
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AI: Competition for Flesh and Blood Writers?

Tuesday, March 07, 2023
Recently Nicole wrote a post about AI writing. She wanted to know if we consider it helpful or harmful.

I must admit that I’ve been ambivalent but curious about AI’s ability to produce content. I write nonfiction so I do a lot of research. When I research current events, I often find AI generated news stories. They are never labeled as AI generated, but it is easy to see these slight, illogically organized pieces with no new content for what they are. 

But since I read Nicole’s piece, I’ve been curious. And when I’m curious I tend to spot related information. I was watching a recording of an industry panel at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) New York conference. Someone asked these agents and editors if they were concerned about being tricked into publishing AI generated content. Agent Regina Brooks had an interesting, and somewhat chilling comment. 

Brooks is the founder and president of Serendipity Literary Agency. Prior to her career in literature, she was an aerospace engineer. Her advice to the writers and illustrators in the audience was to quit fiddling with AI. Don’t check it out. Don’t take it for a test run. Why? It has a lot to do with how AI works to create. 

When AI generates content, it works from a database of information. This might be information available online to everyone with a search engine. It might include information keyed in by a writer who wants a chatty paragraph about a cozy mystery set in the 1960s. AI reformats this information into . . . something. It isn’t going to be original and it may not be logical, but that’s okay because you can correct it. 

Algorithms used by AI look for patterns. If this type of information goes here, then this other type of information comes next. There are exceptions and you can make corrections. Using AI feeds its knowledge base. Depending on the system in use, so do the corrections you make. In my research, I found articles on AI writing going back to 2019 (Computerworld). That means that people have been fiddling with AI generated content for at least two years. 

Today people are using AI to write cover letters for job applications and even submitting AI generated material for publication. But Angela pointed out something vital in her comment on Nicole’s post. The magazine Clarkesworld had to close to submissions after receiving approximately 500 AI generated submissions out of 1200. 

The good news is that the editors can still tell what is AI generated. It isn’t always logical. It isn’t always creative or original. 

But this rate of usage feeds into Regina Brooks warning. When you play with AI writing, especially as a skilled writer who will fiddle with this and that to make it work better, you are feeding the machine. You are giving it data. The more data you give it, the better it gets. 

The good news is that Brooks didn’t seem to be predicting Skynet. But if you as a writer are worried about AI making it harder for your writing to find a home, don’t help it get better.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on April 3, 2023).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023).
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Interview with Jenny Lewis, Runner Up in Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay contest

Sunday, March 05, 2023
Jenny Lewis is an emerging writer with a B.A. in English & Literature from The University of Tampa and is currently querying an Upmarket Suspense manuscript. She taught high school English for 15 years before deciding to focus her efforts back on her craft and family. She is a happily married, stay-at-home mom to two fledgling adolescents and the best Labradoggo ever. When not writing or absorbed in existential crises, you can find her daydreaming of Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, reading stories that keep her from sleeping, and sweating in the Florida humidity. Her work has appeared in Erato Magazine and Karma Comes Before the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @WriteJennyWrite.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “[We] Grew a Mountain in the Desert?”

Jenny: This piece was inspired by some good ol’ female rage after an ill-advised “doomscrolling” session. I actively try to avoid this, as I struggle with anxiety and depression, but my brain told me this was a good idea—that I needed to know. I read tragic stories of how overturning Roe v. Wade almost, or did, cost women their lives, more exposés of men in power exploiting and abusing women, Op-eds of schools expelling women who report sexual assault—the list goes on ad nauseum. I sat down at my desk and furiously began to dump my brain onto the page; whether it was a way to also share bits and pieces of my story or to commiserate with the women I’d been reading about, I don’t know. Probably both. It came out with an organic ease I was not expecting. I guess the truth has a way of doing that.

WOW: How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?

Jenny: Initially, the essay began as an image of what I imagined it was like when I was born, and then as a memory. I thought of my own children; my son came into this world quiet and observant, but my daughter was early, and she came fast and loud, but oh-so-tiny. Though I remember being filled with awe, I also felt an immediate sense of fear for her. Fears beyond the first-time parent apprehensions. I saw images and moments of my own life, and began to associate or perhaps project those fears onto my daughter. What would she be faced with as she grew older? Would I be able to prepare her for the struggles she would face, simply because she is female? Would I be able to protect her from the evils of the world that would naturally see her as prey?

To be honest, I had no clue where it was going when I started it, but slowly that image turned into something else. It evolved into a letter to my childhood self. I just unloaded—rapid fire, releasing so much pent-up female rage. It wasn’t until half way through the essay that I realized even though I was telling my story, I was telling so many other women’s stories, in one way or another. That’s when I decided to change the point of view from 1st to second person.

I didn’t want to just share a sad story of my passage from girlhood to womanhood; I wanted to show that despite these events in my life, in our lives, healing can be sought—that there is light at the end of the tunnel, which is why I added the last section in revisions. Hope can be found when there seems to be none. A mountain, filled with life, truly can grow in a desert.

WOW: It's a powerful essay, and I do appreciate the last section since we all need that part too. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Jenny: I’m currently reading Isabel Cańas’s The Hacienda. I’ve always loved Gothic literature—Frankenstein is one of my favorites and has inspired my newest WIP. Since October, I’ve been on a spooky trend, starting with Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth, and then Kingfisher’s What Moves the Dead. Cańas’s language is rich and beautiful, and her imagery is transporting. I can smell the earth and sweat from the Tlachiqueros who work the Maguey fields beyond San Isidro. I can see the copal as it wafts from the haunted rooms, and I can feel the dark embrace of the angry entity as it wraps itself around Dora Beatríz. As a reader, strong imagery solidifies my participation in a story.

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

Jenny: I’m querying an Upmarket Suspense MS at the moment. It’s about a woman who suffers from past trauma and seeks freedom from her pain by exposing truths that ultimately, shake the foundations of her family and threaten her sense of reality. But, at its core, it’s a story about identity and belonging. Which, I think, is a relatable theme, especially for women. So much is expected of us —perfection even— regardless of the role we play: be the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect partner, the perfect mother. They’re impossible standards. When you add trauma to those expectations, the results are devastating. But by accepting we can’t be everything to everyone, recognizing our grief and accepting our trauma, we can find a path forward towards healing. This is no less true for the protagonist of this story.

While that is floating around in the query trenches, I’m also working on a new MS—an adult gothic, speculative fiction, likely inspired by all the reading I’ve been doing. I’m in the exciting phase where every new idea is golden and all I want to do is write.

As far as what’s next for me, I just plan to keep writing. Keep sharing my work and continuing to submit flash/short stories in between the drafting of my latest MS. An agent would be great <crosses fingers>.

WOW: Good luck with everything! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jenny. Before you go, can you share a favorite tip or piece of advice related to creative nonfiction writing?

Jenny: To be honest, this is the first CNF piece I’ve submitted. I don’t know if I have any words of wisdom, but I can say there’s something not only liberating in writing CNF, but also cathartic. It’s difficult for any writer to put their words out into the world, especially when it’s a whole truth. You’re lifting a veil, removing the slab, uncovering the truths and revealing secrets that are often easier to weave into fiction. I say, “Be brave. Submit it all”


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