Interview With Leila Murton Poole, Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

 


I'm excited to interview Leila Murton Poole, runner-up in our 2021 Flash Fiction contest. Make sure to read her story A Convenient Curse then come on back to read our interview.

First, a bit more about Leila:

Leila is a writer/director who enjoys seeking out worthy stories to bring to the page and screen. She is currently based in New Zealand but loves to travel. In fact, she traveled from the UK to New Zealand without flying; a journey which constantly inspires her work.

Her latest short film Le Miroir has just finished a successful festival run, screening all over the world, and has recently been released online. In 2021, she won the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Competition from over 1800 contestants; the first female winner in 15 years. More recently, she started writing prose and is slowly, but (un)surely, working her way up to her first novel.

Leila usually writes at night and finds that most of her stories have a certain darkness to them. She used to only write secret stories but decided to start sharing them and so this is one of her first publications. You can find out more of her secrets at www.leilamurtonpoole.com.

---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: I love how you took a fairy tale and gave it a raw, dark twist. What was the inspiration behind this story?

Leila: Thank you! The story originated from Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass where she suggests using the ‘building blocks’ of well-known stories, but arranging them in new ways. Sleeping Beauty has always been my favourite fairy tale but I remember really questioning its logic when I was a child—even beyond the magic and spells. More specifically, it’s the idea of keeping the Princess safe by imprisoning her which seems paradoxical. The darkness in the story (even the Disney version) really intrigues me, which is all the more apparent in older versions of the tale. I started thinking of alternate ways in which the main narrative could be explained in a more modern and ‘real’ world. Sleeping Beauty is almost synonymous with flower imagery and so I used flowers, specifically poppies, to inform the plot; beautiful on the outside but with the power to destroy. They also became a metaphor for how things are not always what they seem, which is the core theme of the story.

WOW: You gave such a unique perspective on how you saw this fairy tale. This was the type of story I wanted to read several times to fully absorb what I was reading. When you first started this story, did you know how it would end?

Leila: Yes! I’m not a big planner or outliner but I almost always have the ending before I start to write. I personally find it helpful to have an end point to aim towards. This doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t change but I think it makes the story feel more complete—even if it really isn’t! I usually start writing when I have the first sentence and an idea for the ending. With this specific story, it was slightly different as I also followed the sequence of events in Sleeping Beauty so I had that framework to use too. 

WOW: I try to write that same way! If I know the ending, it works out much better for me. I'm so intrigued by your journey from the UK to New Zealand! How does that continue to influence your writing process? 

Leila: Travelling by land and sea was a very immersive experience and a great way to find stories to tell. I still base characters off people that I met along the way—whether that be a physical description or a personality trait. One of the characters in my latest short film was based on a lady who sat opposite me for about thirty hours on the trans-siberian railway. Although we didn’t speak, I crafted her backstory and character in my head—a new level of people-watching! It was a great way to pass the time on long journeys. 

WOW: That must have given some memorable people-watching! How did your story transform from first draft to final draft?

Leila: As I don’t really plan, this means that I usually need to do a lot of editing! My first drafts are typically nothing like my final ones. In this story, the main decisions were around what to reveal to the reader and when, as well as how to structure the story. I knew that I wanted the story to be in chronological order yet told from her older POV, when she’s in her deep ‘sleep’. Therefore, it was mainly about crafting the introduction and how to set up the story in an interesting way. I’m also hoping to turn this into a short animated film, where this story is the voiceover, so it was a slightly different process to other prose pieces as I was really considering the visuals too.

WOW: That sounds awesome! What are you currently working on that you can tell us a bit about?

Leila: Having been involved in a number of short films and written a few short stories, I’m working my way up to longer form in both mediums. I’m concurrently writing a TV series and novel which is a dystopian drama set in a world where having children is a crime. The best way to describe it is as the opposite of The Handmaid’s Tale in terms of the premise—can you tell that I’m a big Margaret Atwood fan?

WOW: Ha, I can tell! And I don't blame you. What do you hope readers take away from reading your story?

Leila: I think the main takeaway is that there isn’t a universal truth and even age-old stories can be thought about in new ways. Stories are often spun to suit those in power so… question everything! 

WOW: Great takeaway! I can't wait to see what you come up with next. Looking forward to it!

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Friday Speak Out!: What You Need To Become a Writer: Tips From Author Anna Quindlen

Friday, July 01, 2022
by Claudine Wolk

I adore books about writing. The whole process is fascinating to me. How thrilling is it to write a book and then see it published and sold? As a reader, I am fascinated with the writing process as well. I wonder how the author came up with their idea and how they developed the skill to keep readers intrigued. Two of my favorite books by authors about the writing process is Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. When I heard that author Anna Quindlen was coming to Doylestown to my town speak and had a book out about writing, Write for Your Life, I purchased a ticket immediately.

I arrived at the Life Science’s building on my local university’s campus just as the sun was setting on an April evening. Clusters of girlfriends and a few couples hurriedly approached the entrance doors, so I knew I was in the right place. Once the audience was seated, Ms. Quindlen was promptly introduced and led to two single seats at center stage.

All About Writing and Why It Is a Lost Art

For the next few minutes, Quindlen encouraged the audience to write. “Where would we be without the diary of Ann Frank,” she mused? “How will the people who come after us know us if we no longer write and leave them something?” “Email and texts are great,” she said, “but the Letters of Albelard and Heloise they are not.” “Writing is so important, she intoned, “because it’s a lost art.”

Quindlen talked about her teachers. Said she would not be a writer without them. She spoke about how lucky she feels to be able to earn a living by writing and that she has a son who is a writer but he has another occupation to make ends meet.

She talked about her relationship with her editor. Her editor is excellent and she listens to her editor. Her editor makes her books better. Even when Quindlen writes a passage she loves, if it does not move the story forward, it is taken out!

She talked about the movies that have been made from her books, meeting Meryl Streep and how surreal it was to be on a set that looked exactly like she had imagined it as she wrote about it. She shared that she feels that the movie versions of her books were true to her books and that she was pleased that the movies share the same title.

She also commiserated that as a NY Times, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, her columns were sometimes criticized for not being true while at the same time her fiction novels are often suspected as being true. The audience chuckled at that revelation.

Aspiring Writer Audience Members Ask Questions of Quindlen

A question-and-answer session was introduced by the host and the audience warmed up after the first brave soul raised her hand.

An aspiring writer asked how to make her writing less “weird? “Weird is good,” Quindlen said. “Weird sells.”

Questions of Quindlen’s writing process followed. She was asked: How do you write - in outline form? Where do you write - a separate room and separate house? Do you need complete peace and quiet?

One audience member pleaded for advice. “I have written a whole bunch of stuff and I don’t know how to put it into story format?” Quindlen suggested to get it all down first and trust that a story flow will emerge.

Another audience member asked how she could make a living from writing. “Don’t count on it,” chuckled Quindlen.

Another asked about her memoir research and shared, “Each of my family members gave me a different version of the same story, which one should I pick?” “The beauty of being the writer is that you get to pick the version of the story that works for you,” Quindlen soothed. “All versions are true.”

One audience member seemed in actual pain as she asked her question. She lamented that she felt she could not write unless she was away from her kids and husband alone in a cabin for hours at a time. Only then did she feel that she would be able to write. Quindlen was gentle with her and explained that she didn’t have the issue of young kids these days but the demands of motherhood were an issue for her years ago. Quindlen’s solution was to write when her kids went to school from 9:00 am when she dropped them off to 1:00 when she picked them up. To this day, she told us, those are her writing hours.

What You Need To Become a Writer


Finally, and for the second time that evening, Quindlen uttered a word that I believe is the key to becoming a writer.

Confidence

Maria Von Rapp famously sang about confidence in The Sound of Music, “I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that spring will come again, because which you see I have confidence in me!” You must have confidence to be a writer. You must have confidence that what you write is good enough to be written down, read by someone else, and out there in the world.

Anna Quindlen admitted to the audience that she musters confidence every time she sits down to write.

As she revealed this last admission, I felt the shoulders of the aspiring writers in the audience start to relax. As we gathered our things at the end of the presentation, my fellow audience members confessed that they were inspired to start writing. I was too.

* * *
Claudine Wolk is an author, podcast host, and radio host. Follow her substack newsletter Get Your Book Seen and Sold or visit ClaudineWolk.com. Claudine lives with her husband, Joe, in Bucks County, PA and is working on her next book.
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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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Retro Writing

Thursday, June 30, 2022

At a "Stranger Things" experience in NYC.

Years ago, I attended a children’s writing conference where an agent begged the audience to please not write about the time we grew up in. While I could see what she meant by the advice, I also got a good response later that year when I sent the opening pages of a middle grade novel to an editor I’d met at the same conference. In the words of the editor, my story about a girl who traveled back in time to the 1980s to meet the childhood version of her favorite teacher “had an intriguing premise,” but I hadn’t quite nailed the voice of the protagonist yet. 

I’ve begun noticing a trend of bringing back pop culture from 10, 20, even 30 years ago, especially in books, movies, and TV shows. Last summer I read a suspense/thriller novel by an author named Riley Sager called “Survive the Night.” Part of the reason I decided to purchase the novel was because it took place in 1991 and featured a protagonist looking for a ride share home from college. There were no cell phones, George H.W. Bush was president, and Nirvana ruled the airwaves. As a reader who spent my high school and college years in the 1990s, the setting and time period appealed to me. 

I remember going to the movie theater in the summer of 1993 to see the original “Jurassic Park” and being horrified watching Michael Crichton’s science-fiction novel come to life on the screen. Four movies later, “Jurassic World Dominion (featuring many of the same actors that graced the original) had the second-biggest opening weekend of the year just behind “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” My husband was beyond excited to finally get to see “Top Gun: Maverick,” as he can recite every line from the original, and we both agreed the filmmakers really cashed in on the nostalgia of the film by using so much of the music we loved from the first soundtrack and well, I won’t spoil anything else if you’re still planning on seeing it. 

After the last few years we’ve had, I can understand the joy of seeing things from my childhood and teen years come back around again. I got hooked on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” more for the nostalgic angle than the science-fiction plot lines. I love seeing the clothing the characters will be wearing and which pop culture items will be lurking in the background of each scene (kudos to Kate Bush and the revitalization of her 1985 song, “Running Up That Hill) from the current season. 

Nostalgia is the reason why classic car collectors spend years looking for a specific car they have fond memories tied to. It’s why the “Forrest Gump” and its original motion picture soundtrack became so popular in 1994. Indulging in nostalgia connects our emotions to memories. It brings us together collectively. It helps sharpen our minds. It gives our lives new meaning. 

I think I might be ready to polish off that time traveling young girl from a 1980s summer camp story. Maybe with a little work, it could be the escapism some kids are looking for. 

Have you written anything from a time period you grew up in? What was the response like? What are some of your favorite time periods for books and movies to be set in? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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When Is It Time to Let Go Of a Story

Wednesday, June 29, 2022


The past few months have led me down the road of revisions again. It's not too uncommon for me to continue revising, even after I've begun to submit. Somehow, it eases the sting of rejection to know I'm in an ongoing state of improvement. In fact, I've recently re-revised two short stories of mine and they have been sent out to the world with renewed hope of acceptance. 

At the moment, I'm looking at another short story of mine this hot afternoon in June and recognize that vague feeling that it's "missing something." I read it freshly, only to realize that around page three, I was beginning to skim it. 

It's one of the few short stories I've written that feels purely fiction without any realm of weirdness in it. I was inspired to write it when I was let go of my day job a few years ago. Then I combined that moment with another time I had wished I could have given someone a pair of shoes who had none on their feet. I've often imagined it being published and me, finally, being able to describe the origins of its inspiration. 

Instead, it's been rejected many times (although once was a more positive rejection). I've grown tired of looking at my own stories before but even in those moments, at the bare minimum, I'm intrigued by something in it despite my familiarity. 

This time was different. 

I recalled someone's feedback to me once that the real story didn't start until after my character left the office once she lost her job. At the time, I dismissed it. Instead, I tightened up the story in other parts, certain the core of the story began when my character walked into work, realizing they were laying people off.  

Now, I wonder if that feedback had been right all along. 

As much as I hate to admit it, this may be one of those stories that get the back burner treatment. It's the first time I've recognized that about this story, actually. In fact, I didn't even recognize it until I started writing this blog post. Ever since attempting to polish this piece, I have begun to realize there may be aspects of this story that I need to take out, like the first half. Or I need to leave it behind completely. 

I won't regret writing it, though. I think it was more therapeutic to write it than I realized at first. It likely was part of me processing losing a job I had been at six years. It also maybe even eased guilt that I didn't help a man who didn't have footwear (even though at the time I really didn't have anything to give, but still...) 

What will happen now to it? I'm not sure. I'm not saying there's nothing there, but I need to find what is missing to move forward. Or maybe accept that it served a purpose beyond publication.

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 Best Colleges. Read her musings at WorldofMyImagination.com.

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Interview with Kathryn A. Brackett, runner-up of the Winter 2022 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, June 28, 2022


Kathryn’s Bio:  Kathryn A. Brackett is a native of South Carolina and holds a MFA in Fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout her writing career she’s developed her craft at prestigious programs like Sewanee Writers’ Conference while earning numerous accolades in literary competitions, some judged by notable writers like Sara Gruen. Brackett’s writing has also appeared in print and online literary journals, to name a few, Emrys Journal, Waccamaw,  Mythium: The Journal of Contemporary Literature, and most recently, a horror/love story about Friday the 13th in Tales from the Moonlit Path. Her work has been anthologized in Short Story America, and in the early stages of her career, C. Michael Curtis, senior editor of The Atlantic, chose one of her pieces for inclusion in Expecting Goodness & Other Stories, which was runner-up in the Independent Publisher IPPY Awards in 2009 for the top collection of short fiction in North America. Her story was later adapted to screen in the Expecting Goodness Short Film Festival and won for Best Film. Brackett continues to write when she’s not teaching English. She is currently working on a novel. You can find her at www.kathrynbrackett.com.

If you haven't read Kathryn's story, "Letting Go," do that and then come back to learn about Kathryn's writing. 

-----interview with Sue Bradford Edwards-----

WOW: What was the inspiration for “Letting Go”? 

Kathryn: Back in the fall of 2021 a mysterious visitor began coming to my backdoor. The doorbell rang the first time at an hour of the night when I wasn’t expecting company. When I didn’t see anyone out the window, I assumed it was my neighbor and instantly felt unnerved when I discovered it wasn’t after a quick phone call. When it happened a week later, also at night with no one standing at the door in the quick time I reached it, I started imagining various scenarios: the doorbell was dying, or someone was playing tricks on me; either way, I didn’t like it. The next event occurred on a rain-soaked afternoon. It took less than 10 seconds for me to get to the door, and just as I peeped out the curtain, I saw a thin, straggly-looking white man with wet hair bolting off the steps while talking to someone I couldn’t see. He scurried through the backyard and disappeared behind the high-walled fence that borders my property. The barrier belongs to the city, meant to cover vast overgrown brush that humans are not supposed to trudge through, especially during a downpour. But there he was, shirtless and scaling a steep, slippery hill in clogs with blue jeans rolled up to his calves, screaming obscenities in a self-consumed conversation that I fearfully took in from my silent perch on top of an old tree stump as I peeked over the fence. I called the police immediately, and they eventually identified him, keeping an eye on his whereabouts for weeks, though they were unsure why he’d chosen my backdoor since I live in a crowded neighborhood. Later on my neighbor boarded up the small opening in his yard where the man had undoubtedly squeezed through to get to mine. As an added precaution, my boyfriend installed security cameras outside my house, often speaking to me through the devices while I sat on the porch. Sometimes the startling crackle broke through silence and made me scream, evoking laughter in our conversations; other times his tender hello simply reminded me of his nearby presence.

One day while sitting at my computer struggling to think of a story for an upcoming WOW competition, that drenched stranger came to mind, along with James’ spirit latched to my psyche. Every fiction writer understands that characters are “real” in our minds. Each creation brings a voice with it, each voice, a life, so I sensed James’ frustration and adoration for his wife immediately. He wouldn’t tell me his name at first, or his real struggle, but I knew he watched her through a security camera at the backdoor where men slipped in and out at all hours of the night. I slowly became entwined in his grief, desiring a sense of safety for him I knew could only be achieved once she took down the camera. She had to let go of him first before he could embrace his true reality. I struggled with the gut-wrenching ending for two months, but I always felt from the very beginning that it would be sad. No matter how gloomy, scary, or muddled my characters’ lives are, I owe it to them to listen to their stories, so writing James’ narrative was not only therapeutic during a foreboding situation in my life, but it was also my way of watching over him. That process brought me the most peace.

WOW: Flash fiction is so tight.  How did you decide which details deserved space in your story and which details had to go?

Kathryn:
I never thought I’d be able to write flash fiction because I’m a prose writer who has no trouble exceeding a 5000 or 6000 word count in a short story, but lately I’ve wanted to embrace a new writing challenge, to step outside my comfort zone and see what I can produce. “Letting Go” barely made the 750 word limit, and believe me, it was hard to trim down! I admire writers who can relate stories in a short amount of time, especially poets whose succinct nature of storytelling has the power to draw people to their knees in profound gratitude. When I considered the bare bones of “Letting Go,” I knew there needed to be a solid motivation for the protagonist, some desire to thrust James forward in spite of his challenges. Initially he was so tacked to his anger over these miscellaneous men at his house that the tone of the story was quite crass. At times I felt like I was trapped in a room with a very surly man who refused to disengage from the only emotion he was hell-bent on displaying. I knew the story had more dimension than that though, so I kept prying details out of him while cutting away facts that didn’t feed the narrative its essential elements. 

Eventually I discovered the story was about love, not rage, and slowly I began to sink into his loss over a wife that had moved on with another man while he was still stuck in grief as elusive as his death. Loss is a theme that I explore in most of my work, as well as finding ways to move through pain that paralyzes hope, but James’ situation was tricky because I had to weave in subtle hints of his demise throughout the narrative without sacrificing his epiphany at learning he was dead. Providing descriptions like “a purse large enough to hold a tombstone” and “surviving on heartache instead of a pulse” were integral moments I hoped would read smoothly on the page yet snowball into a powerful punch as readers rounded the corner to the final two paragraphs. Writers like Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, and Shirley Jackson have constructed stories that have blown my mind. I’ve dissected their work over the years, focusing on the skillful way they implant the smallest details to illuminate the element of surprise. Scenes burst off the page exactly when they should. God knows I’m still learning how to do this well, but it was very exciting and fulfilling to find that creative balance in “Letting Go.”  
 
WOW: As a teacher, what do you think is the most important lesson for new writers to learn about writing flash?

Kathryn:
Writing flash fiction requires making purposeful choices with imagery, dialogue, setting, whatever it may be, because each sentence needs to help the character achieve his or her goal. You must be willing to let go of languid thoughts that provide little action and find more concise, powerful ways to express ideas. Sometimes that means combining description in a way that feels very blunt yet concrete, or using a strong verb to elevate a moment. Even one line of dialogue can carry enough momentum to progress a scene into the next, if it’s the right choice of words. I always tell my students to never be afraid to write and rewrite a thousand times if something isn’t working. 

Earlier in my writing career, I used to be so afraid of gutting entire paragraphs, but now I know it’s necessary for growth. “Letting Go” went through multiple drafts over the course of several months, and I had to step away from it a few times since James wasn’t always easy to get along with; remember we were locked in a proverbial room together, sometimes I just wanted to slap him. But it’s important to walk away from a story for a bit when you and the characters aren’t in tune. Having that physical and mental space will help you appreciate the blooming field of creativity that often comes while you’re focused on something else. Sometimes all a story needs is more soil, more time to breathe. When you give it exactly what it needs, it will nourish you too.
 
WOW: What advice do you have for readers who are considering entering the WOW! flash fiction competition or another writing competition?

Kathryn:
I used to have this grandiose idea that every piece of writing in a bookstore was instantly published upon its first draft. My naivety quickly dwindled when I started getting writing rejections at a very young age. I no longer keep count of the no’s when I enter contests or submit to literary journals; I expect them, even appreciate them at times, since it forces me to reexamine my work in a closer way before resubmitting it somewhere else. At one point in my life, I used to put rejection letters on my refrigerator, but now I occasionally pin them to my corkboard in my office, reading them on the worst of writing days, which pushes me to keep doing what I’ve been called to do. Writing is so subjective, but it’s comforting to know what one person dislikes may very well fill up someone else’s grey sky with happiness that leads to a solid acceptance of your work. 

I’m reminded of something that Will Smith once said. Though I know he isn’t highly regarded right now, his walk of faith to persevere in his career is renowned. He spoke of this one time, and I’m paraphrasing, obviously, about how failing is necessary for any goal you’re working towards. If you don’t fail, you don’t grow, and if you don’t grow, you don’t succeed. Fail, and fail often. His resolute declaration stays in the back of my mind, especially when self-doubt tries to imprison me, as it does for every writer. 

You’ll tell yourself all kinds of reasons why you should stop writing, and the naysayers in your life will try to convince you to take a different path. After your umpteenth rejection, you might be compelled to take their advice, but you must honor that anointed feeling within you, the one reminding you to press onward to the finish line. There are no accidents when it comes to storytelling. Narrative voices that wake you up in the middle of the night, or force you to pull over to the side of the road to jot down a thought or two or twenty, are always speaking for a reason. The ones that glue you to your computer chair for two days without food or sleep are so bound to your soul that ignoring them would surely be a disserve to you both. You mustn’t give up on them, or yourself.
 
WOW: As someone who is working on a novel in addition to writing flash, what skills do you think can be carried from one type of writing to another?

Kathryn:
I can recall countless stories over the years that have changed my life. I remember the ones that have brought me to tears or terrified me in keeping the lamp on all night. It’s a gift, I think, how someone’s imagination can make you rethink the entire world around you. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment because students are still actively reading Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Brontë. They want to feel goosebumps when that tell-tale heart is beating nearby. They want to get swept up in Heathcliff’s romantic madness over a woman he doesn’t know how to stop loving, and quite frankly, we hope never does. Those endearing and enduring themes can be explored in short or long narratives, so long as there’s something magical to experience in them. It’s all about telling a good story.

As a writer, you must open your heart to the narrative that works for you. You must listen to your characters’ struggle even when you’re afraid of the outcome. Be patient with them, and with yourself, since it’s easy to get discouraged on a journey that could take years to complete, even if you’re writing flash fiction. I have to laugh at this, and it may sound strange to anyone who isn’t a writer, but my characters often tell me when they’re ready to let go of my hand, not the other way around. I can’t explain it; it’s just a feeling in my core, like the person is saying, “Thank you for staying by my side, but I’m okay to walk on my own now.” It doesn’t matter if that connection takes place over a few paragraphs or hundreds of pages, because my job as a writer is to see them through, and if their story offers even the slightest bit of hope, or change to someone else’s life, then I’m happy to stand back and watch that character I love walk away. It’s the greatest of gifts, a blessing I wouldn’t trade for anything.

WOW:  And we are so grateful that you've decided to share your gifts with the WOW community!
 

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The Art of Color-Coding a Manuscript

Monday, June 27, 2022
Back in May, I shared how I used an outline and beats and book-mapping in my latest manuscript. All of those methods were in the beginning to the middle to the end-of-writing/revising and though it may seem like a LOT, the writing process with this novel has been the smoothest yet. 

BUT I promised you a last quirky tip that I opted to use this time once I was at the stick-a-fork-in-it, this-book-is-done stage. So here it is: COLOR-CODING! 

Oh my word, I love color-coding. Not just with manuscripts; I’ve used color-coding for all sorts of organizing! But I don’t have time to go down that rainbow rabbit hole. Today we’re here to see how color-coding your manuscript can be helpful and why you might want to try it for your next project.

First, the process. I heard about this technique from author and publisher, Darcy Pattison. She recommended shrinking the manuscript and using different colors to highlight parts of the work-in-progress. That way, with the pages laid out in front of you, one can see with a quick glance the strengths and weaknesses (or whatever particulars one is looking to fix). 

I didn’t shrink my manuscript; I spent about $25 to get it printed, mostly because I didn’t want to squint for hours. Next, I ordered amazing gel highlighters in about 20 different colors. These are typically referred to as “Bible Highlighters” as they work well in highlighting and allowing easy print readability (and they don’t bleed through). And then, I worked out what I needed to look for and the color key.


For the first 25 to 50 pages of the cozy mystery, I wanted to hone in on characters. This is an ensemble group and I wanted to see—through the use of color (gray, dark yellow, neon yellow, purple)—that there was a good balance. I also wanted to make sure I saw pink and green. Er, theme and setting.

I tried to be more intentional (though not too heavy-handed) with my theme (pink). I needed the theme to dip in and out, like a big toe in the pool. And setting (green) is a bit of an Achilles' heel with me. I prefer getting right to story and dialogue with the result that the richness of setting, which can also help with tone and story, gets left behind. So I had a simple goal there: I needed to make sure I saw green in each chapter, and a plush green in the set-up of the story. 

There are two distinct mystery arcs in this novel but since I’ve used a day-by-day titles for chapters, the arcs weave in and out. Each arc had its own color (the gel highlighters ran out!) but again, I wanted to “see” the story, in this case, for pacing and tension. 

 As I highlighted the printed manuscript, I was not editing. (Okay, I circled three or four words that
weren’t working.) The colors, as Pattison had suggested all those years ago, helped me to “see” the novel in parts and in its entirety and I was very satisfied with the end result. You might want to use the color-coding at an earlier stage (first draft, for example) before doing massive edits (I used the book map for major editing). I’ll happily admit that I used color-coding at the very end because I kinda wanted to celebrate and see the novel in all its artsy glory. 

That, and the fact that I wanted a bit of fun while I waited for my beta readers and editor to weigh in. There may be more writing work ahead for this cozy mystery but I’ll always have my color-coding.

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Eeny Meany . . . What to Work On Now?

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Recently I returned from a road trip to my home state. I don’t know if it was the eight straight days without working or the time spent among my story telling cousins, but I came home with ideas galore. This led me to an interesting problem. 

I’m working on three, big projects (a mystery, a middle grade science fiction novel, and an early grade nonfiction series). They won’t be done any time soon. Two of my new ideas are especially persistent and emerged almost fully formed. I had to decide what to work on first. 

I asked myself these questions: 

1. How does each idea fit into my long-term goals? Thanks to Renee, "Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Gig," we all know to evaluate an idea or a job according to how it fits with our goals. My two pushiest ideas won’t further my three big projects, but they could help me find an agent. Of course, each of my three big projects would also do this. For me, this question was a draw. 

2. What project is most likely to sell? The joys of being a freelance writer include trying to determine which idea is right for the market right now. Middle grade novels are in demand as is series nonfiction. In fact, a publisher has a call out which my series idea fits to a T. My two new ideas are both picture books which are especially difficult to sell if you aren’t an illustrator. That’s a point for working on the series idea and the middle grade novel. 

3. Which project am I most enthusiastic about? This is a trick question for me and for a lot of other writers, because the answer is almost always, “The new project!” After all, the new project is shiny and new and perfect. If I was close to finishing one of the others my answer might be different, but the point goes to the two new ideas. 

4. What answer will help me accomplish something? Hmm. This sounds like the kind of question my mother would have asked me. Staying on track and getting something done means that the point for this question should go to whichever of the three big projects is nearest completion, the nonfiction series idea. 

5. Do you need an easy win? While no writing project is really an easy win, sometimes you need to go with the project you can finish in the least amount of time. That is why a lot of writers work on something long and something short, rotating between the two. Me? I’ve been working on both the series and the new ideas. 

How you prioritize each of these questions will depend on where you are in your writing journey and what you are working on. The answer that is right for you today, may not be the right answer a month from now. Still, asking yourself questions like these can help you make up your mind before you sit down to write.

 --SueBE

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 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 July 10, 2022).  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 July 10, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2022). 
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Friday Speak Out!: A Debut Novelist’s Foray into the World of Sensitivity Readers

Friday, June 24, 2022
by Adele Holmes

In 2019, while pitching my first novel which involved discrimination during the Jim Crow era, I was asked if I’d had a sensitivity read. In all honesty I’d never heard of the term, but its implication was fairly easy to pick up, so I brightly replied, “Yes.”

I’m white. Two of my beta-readers were Black. They both heartily approved of my manuscript. That’s the same as a sensitivity read, right? As it turns out, the answer is a definitive, “No.”

Luckily the agent did not offer a contract, and I went home to delve more deeply into the subject of sensitivity readers. A web search for articles from within the writing community revealed a deep divide—imagine that, in America, a deep divide over otherness. Not only was there disagreement on when and where, or even if, a sensitivity read was necessary, but there gaped a huge hole where the definition should have stood.

Those inclined to recommend such a manuscript review argued that no one outside a certain criteria (race differences, cultural differences, gender-identity differences, any you-name-it differences) could appropriately speak to the situation without oversight from someone inside the criteria.

Those against sensitivity reads bemoaned censorship of the author’s right to write about whatever they chose, without muzzling for the sake of political correctness.

I found little indifference on the subject, no shrugging of the shoulders with a quiet, “Meh.”

In the years since, likely due to the spotlight of the #OwnVoices movement, most writers have a working concept of what a sensitivity read is. The dictionaries, wikipedia included, have not yet applied a strict definition. Many publishers now require a sensitivity read for any manuscript that has the possibility for cultural inappropriateness. And still the debate rages with very little middle ground.

Back in 2019, a hard look at the facts of my situation led me to realize that my beta-readers were my friends, and as such, they might be biased in my favor. I chose to contract a professional sensitivity reader, and I’m glad I did. She found little to correct, a fact that bolstered my confidence in the cultural appropriateness of my novel. What she did correct was incredibly instructive to me. While I had no instances of the “white savior” role popping up, there were a few examples of white privilege that I had overlooked to call out.

I make no pretense of calming the waters; this tempest will likely never subside. But the honest sensitivity review I received made my book better—and made me a better person. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
* * *

Adele Holmes graduated from UAMS medical school in 1993, and from residency at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 1996. She practiced general pediatrics in central Arkansas for over twenty years. While she loved every moment of it, a serious travel bug, a need to put the voice of her soul onto paper, and a call to give back to the community led her to an early retirement in 2017. Her debut novel Winter’s Reckoning, a southern gothic set in the Southern Appalachians of 1917, will be published by She Writes Press on August 9, 2022. She continues to write, travel, and serve in her community. Visit her website at www.adeleholmes.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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3 Writing Prompts

Wednesday, June 22, 2022
I was skimming one of the writing books from my shelf, Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, and came across some timed writing ideas. It always feels good to have a few more writing prompts to choose from when you need one! Here are three interesting ideas from the book that you may want to try.

1. Poetry line

“Take a poem from a book of poetry [or anywhere], and pick one line.

Write that line down. Now, build a scene around it. Freewrite for fifteen minutes, using that line as a prompt.”

(You could also use the line as a prompt for a journal entry, an essay or your own poem.)

2. Crisis

“Do you have a list in your notebook headed ‘Crisis’? If not, make that list now,” DeMarco-Barrett writes. “Crisis you survived. That winter you learned your brother had stolen all of your mother’s money. Hearing the diagnosis—autism—for your firstborn. When you learned the reason the credit cards were maxed out was because your husband had been…”

Pick one and write about it in as much detail as you can. Begin in the middle of things. Don’t resort to summary; don’t tell us what happened—show us.”

Another option she offers is to do this with fictional characters. 

3. Location Variety

“Try altering your routine to see what happens. Every day for a week spend 15 minutes writing in a different location. Write at a desk, on the couch, on the bathroom floor, at the park, at a restaurant, or on a bus. Write sitting on a chair, standing up, lying down. Write and bright light, low light, blue light. Experiment. See what works for you. In the meantime, you will have collected pages. And that is a very good thing.”

Let's get writing! 

--Marcia Peterson

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Interview with Chiu Yin Wong Hempel: WOW 2022 Winter Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Chiu Yin’s Bio:
Chiu Yin has held senior management positions at Pearson Education and The Economist Group. She is the author of an award-winning trilogy of illustrated books on the architecture, founders and landscape of Tuxedo Park, a historical community in the Hudson Valley, New York. The flash fiction Shanghai Tango is extracted from her debut novel about the struggle for love and survival of the fifteen-year-old, illegitimate daughter of a powerful general and a former prostitute. The story takes place in war-torn Shanghai in 1948, on the eve of the Communists’ final victory in the bloody civil war against the Kuomintang, forcing the latter to retreat to the island of Taiwan and setting the stage for the geopolitical tensions today. The narrative draws upon extensive historical research as well as stories Chiu Yin’s grandmother told her about China during the war years. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Chiu Yin's award-winning story "Shanghai Tango" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Winter 2022 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? 

Chiu Yin: The challenge of visualizing a brutal, life-changing moment. 

WOW: What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Chiu Yin: I have a wonderful family who will praise and support me regardless of what I do. I discovered that I need to be my own harshest judge. Being perpetually dissatisfied with my work is a powerful motivator. 

WOW: Your bio says that this story is an excerpt from your debut novel, which draws on extensive historical research and stories from your grandmother. That sounds fascinating! Could you tell us more about your writing process and you how incorporate research and narrative? 

Chiu Yin: Before I began writing the novel, I read a ton of books on Japan’s war against China and the civil war between the Communists and Kuomintang afterwards. This gave me the historical context. I had visited Shanghai on a number of occasions in the 1990s. But what made that distant time of 1948 come alive in my mind were my grandmother’s vivid stories of atrocities, suffering and bravery she witnessed firsthand during the war years, and the videos and photos available online of Shanghai in the 30s and 40s. I was thus able to transport myself to that city in that time and I put my characters in that milieu and tried my best to describe in words what they – and we – saw, heard, touched and smelled as the drama of their lives unfolded. 

WOW: It’s always fascinating to hear how writers approach their projects, so thank you for sharing that insight into your research and writing processes. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Chiu Yin: I read mostly non-fiction. There is so much to learn about the past and the world around us. But when I read fiction, I choose writers who are masters with the craft of words: Amy Hempel, who luckily for me is my sister-in-law and inspiration, Julian Barnes, Evelyn Waugh… I also look for page-turning tales (Lee Child who is a superb thriller writer, for instance) and I love historical fiction. 

WOW: If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why? 

Chiu Yin: I had many false starts in writing the story… so, my advice to my younger self would be to plot the arc of the story and the psychological/emotional profiles of the key characters before attempting the first word. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing that advice, and thank you for you other 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. Connect with Anne on Twitter @dr_greenawalt.
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Growing Something... and Holding Onto It

Monday, June 20, 2022

In a freak of scheduling, you're getting two servings of Sioux in a row. I figured I would continue my post from Saturday about creating a channel-platform-thingy with a couple of production friends. We'll be targeting women over 30. (We're still in the talking stage. We've only just begun. If you're ancient like me, those words might make you think of the Carpenters. Check out the end, where I've taken liberties with the first four lines of the song, and enjoy the link to the smooth croonings of Karen and Richard Carpenter.)


If you missed the past post--just two days ago--here it is, so you can catch up avoid hearing Sioux blather on. Again.


                                                          image by gerait via Pixabay


I've learned a few things since Saturday. Some tidbits I learned from what others told me. Some I learned from what others have done in the past--and I've never forgotten them. And some info I got from research.


Someone with tech skills filled us in: we're contemplating launching our own channel via an OTT platform. For those who don't know--like me, prior to Saturday--OTT stands for "over the top." The channels offered via a platform are above and beyond (over the top) when it comes to companies that usually offer content. Listeners/viewers can subscribe to these channels just like people can pay for HBO and Showtime. (If I'm getting this wrong, don't hesitate to comment. I work with middle-schoolers. I get told I'm off base all. The. Time.) 


This is a small fire that's been fanned in the hearts of a few of us. We know the general direction we want it to go in. Forks in the road will appear, we know. But we're definitely not interested in handing our steering wheel over to someone who has a strong personality so they can start using a new roadmap and take over... which I've seen before.


In the past, I've seen one person step in--after a project has evolved past its embryonic state--and immediately start talking about our program. Our project. Our class. They expected the creators to simply fall into place and include them in what (just a moment earlier) was someone else's our.  However, the dreamers kept true to their mission, listened to the schemer's ideas, and gently reminded them that they could help, yes. They could participate, of course. They could certainly contribute... but it was not their baby.


Hold onto what you know is true. And keep a firm grip on it. By the time it's grown large enough that it fills more than your hands, when it's evolved to the point where you're embracing it--your arms stretching as far as they can--it'll be able to stand on its own. Then you'll happy you didn't tear off pieces, fragmenting your dream.


I've been doing some research, and learned another acronym besides OTT. This one is CTA--call to action. We will need to tell the audience to check out the ____ video. To subscribe to our channel. To come back next Tuesday when a podcast about ___ drops.  Otherwise, our viewers and listeners will switch over to a different channel, leaving us behind in the dust. The CTA is a gentle nudge.


A watermark is important. Our logo--a small version--should be in a corner of whatever we do. Each time someone watches a video on our channel, they'll see our logo. That helps with brand awareness.


Apparently there are clever ways to suck a viewer deeper into content. Inserting a link at the end of one video--a link leading to another video--means they won't be a one-and-done viewer. Similar results will come from creating a "playlist." Just like a musical playlist means the listener will (hopefully) stick around for multiple songs, having a string of videos auto play, one into another, means they'll watch several videos... and perhaps get hooked. (Each time I sit down to watch something on Netflix, I plan on watching just one episode. But when the message comes on that the next episode will come on in a matter of seconds... I end up watching an entire season while lying on the couch. Netflix is so clever.)


How about you? What clever tips/hacks can you share with the blogosphere? 

 

We've only just begun

to work

White space and techno-stuff

Pulling out hair and we're on our way... 


                                               In case you're under 60 and have no idea who
                                               the Carpenters were--Karen had an incredible
                                               voice, her brother Richard was a master at
                                        arranging... and Karen died way too young from anorexia.


Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school teacher, a freelance writer, the author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, and a dog rescuer. You may check out more of her writing via her blog.

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Dream Big

Saturday, June 18, 2022

 What if? What if I had said yes to that opportunity? What if I had been willing to take that risk? Those questions plague most of us. Right now, I'm at a fork. Like the song by the Clash, should I stay or should I go? Should I stay, mired in my routine... or should I go off in a new direction with a couple of friends?


                                                     image by Noel_Bauza, via Pixabay


Currently, I have a fragmented life. My writing has left me stuck on the side of the road, in a ditch. My teaching has shifted to working with graduate students, like it does every summer. My college teaching is easy, and reenergizes me, so it's in no way problematic. There's things in my personal life that need smoothing over. Here's where the stay or go part comes in...


A couple of friends have an idea of taking a simple, once-a-year storytelling event, and expanding upon it. They're talking about something (a platform? a website? something that can be subscribed to, for sure) that would be a leap for all three of us. However, my mind is already whirling.


On this platform/website, we could have podcasts. Vodcasts. Themed sets of storytelling sessions. Mini workshops. The possibilities are endless. I have a dear friend who lost her daughter, son-in-law and baby granddaughter in a horrific way, due to postpartum psychosis. I could chat with her in a vodcast, and shed some light on that form of mental illness. I'm adopted. My half-sister is adopted. I know people who are birth parents. I have a friend who adopted two handsome young boys. A vodcast/podcast (or two... or three) could focus on different adoption perspectives. Also, I'd love the chance to share some of the great writing ideas other people have gifted to me. My brain is getting dizzy... but sometimes, dizzy is good.


Yes, it would require extra work. And yes, it would require all three of us to dive into waters of unknown depth. There's so many things we'd have to learn. We'd stumble. But what if this endeavor evolves into something magical? What if? What if I say no... and years later, I wonder? And regret.


I have a writing friend, Renee Roberson. She is obsessed with true crime stories. She frothed at the mouth and pinched herself, thinking it was too good to be true when she got to go to MurderCon, a writing conference that focused on crime. (Her favorite workshop session was "Buried Bodies." That sounds like the perfect class to attend right before bedtime ;) Renee has a lulling, hypnotic voice, writing talent oozing out of her ears, and she had a dream.


What if she started her own podcast? Would she have an audience? She had no experience doing podcasts. Would she fall flat on her face?


Thankfully, Renee took the leap. Her podcast, Missing in the Carolinas, is incredible. Her love of true crime, combined with her writing talent and her wonderful voice, converged in a phenomenal way.


I am not thinking that if Renee can do it, so can I, because my knowledge of technology is 157% less than hers. (Yes, I know a little about math, and that is not an incorrect percentage.) However, I look at the leap she made, the courage she had... and perhaps I can jump into something new--as long as I can hold hands with a couple of other newbies.


How about you? Did you have the chance to dream big? If so, how did it end up?


About-to-make-the-move Sioux wants to know.




Sioux Roslawski is middle school teacher, a National Writing Project teacher-consultant, a freelance writer, and the uber proud author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story. In her spare time, she rescues dogs for Love a Golden. You can see more of Sioux by checking out her blog.




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Friday Speak Out!: Presentation, Giveaways and Gimmicks

Friday, June 17, 2022
by Janet Shawgo 

An inviting table presentation can make or break your sales, trust me on this. If it isn’t eye catching or appealing readers will pass you by.

I find it important to keep things neat and tidy, even if you have a lot going on, your books need to remain center stage.

If you have banners place them up on tables so that they will draw immediate attention. Display any awards you have received, I have mine on a canvas making it easy to transport and safe from damage.

Costumes can be a great conversation item whether you wear or display them. I have two that I wear at signings, book club meetings and festivals. You will be surprised at the reactions you receive and it can increase your sales.

Most authors have freebies, pens, candy, and bookmarkers. I have my business cards attached to a small gift bag containing either herbal tea, small nail file or handwipes. These are less than ten cents each, because I buy in bulk. You should make choices depending on your budget.

In my city I attend a festival every year and to increase traffic to the table have included a giveaway. For any book you buy a ticket goes into a box for the prize. In 2021 I gave away a Harry Potter backpack and throw. I discovered a great deal for my budget and it was well received.

This two day festival was an investment of $200.00. I cleared over $1200.00 and sold out of my books in three different genres. I discovered returning to the same festivals faithful readers seek me out for new releases. I made numerous contacts with book clubs and was interviewed for a local magazine because of the costume I wore.

Though these ideas are helpful you need to engage every person even if it’s just to say hello. Unless you are Stephen King, James Patterson or Robert Dugoni, your books will not sell themselves.

I have met readers who said they had too many books at home to read and couldn’t buy another, but after a short conversation they bought two.

It is possible for you to sell ice in the Artic.

* * *
Janet began writing in 2009 while still working as a travel nurse. She retired in 2019 to her home in Galveston Texas.

She has published five full novels, three novellas, and has been published in three anthologies for poetry, flash fiction and short stories.

Janet has multiple awards for her works and was a runner-up in the WOW winter contest for her story The Holiday Slayer.

www.jkshawgo.com  / Instagram author_janetshawgo / 
Twitter @jkshawgo_author

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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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Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Gig

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Photo by Alexander Mills on Pexels.com

A few weeks ago, I got an intriguing message from LinkedIn. A recruiter was looking to fill an editor role for a large personal finance company in my area. Although I have my hands full with my day job at a regional magazine, I took a moment and scanned the responsibilities. It looked pretty straightforward and aligned with my skill set, although a bit more “corporate” than I’m used to. But I’ll admit the contract pay ($46 per hour) attracted me. 

I hopped on a quick call with the recruiter that morning to talk specifics. Then I discovered a few things that made me pause. The company was looking for 40 hours a week, starting almost immediately, and two days a week would require driving to their corporate headquarters. That’s a 45-minute drive from me on a beltline I absolutely hate driving on because of the traffic and number of daily accidents. Still, I agreed to do a second screening interview the next week. 

Then I hung up the phone and wondered what I was doing. Haven’t I been saying all along that my day job requires so much writing so that I can’t focus on buildng my podcast and finishing revisions on a thriller novel I wrote last fall during NaNoWriMo? When I got a formal application in the e-mail from the recruiting agency I had to make a choice. I talked to my husband about it. He said he knew that while the money was attractive, it wouldn’t be something I enjoyed doing, especially with the hairy commute. Plus, the recruiter had told me that the contract ended at the end of August, and by then the company might be ready to make the position permanent. And they wanted me to start this month, when I have a week’s vacation planned at the end of the month (I had to plan that carefully, too, in between my magazine deadlines). 

I e-mailed the recruiter that I had changed my mind and didn’t want to move onto the next interview. This did spark an additional discussion with my husband, who asked why I have not asked my current boss for an increase in pay since I started there three years ago. “Yes, you are contract,” he said. “But the cost of living has gone up, including gas prices and food. You deserve to see an increase in pay.” I realized he had a point. 

Sometimes it can be tempting as a freelancer to go after every high-paying gig you see, but then you realize why you chose this profession and make a list of the reasons you like working contract jobs. I think the lesson learned here is to try and choose the work that has a good trade-off, and know what your worth is. 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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