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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

 

Interview with Heather Baver, Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Heather Baver is a writer of short fiction and poetry. In 2016 she began working as a freelance writer for a local lifestyle magazine, adding nonfiction to her repertoire.

Currently she is finishing some long standing writing projects, as well as creating new fiction. She enjoys the camaraderie and encouragement of participating in a writer’s group.

Always fascinated by history, Heather loves reenacting old-time radio with SOAP, the Spirit of the Airwaves Players.

Heather lives in Pottstown, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Now that her children are getting older, it’s time to dust off that long-shelved novel.

Before you read her interview, make sure you first read Heather's story They Aren't Listening Anymore, then come on back!

------ Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your win! What was the inspiration behind your story They Aren't Listening Anymore?
Heather: I wanted to explore the gap between who people are versus physical appearance. Radio actors created with their voice--it didn't matter what they looked like. By using their voices as a tool, they became somebody else. It's very freeing--just like writing, you can become so many characters. Kids who attended live broadcasts were often surprised to find out radio actors looked nothing like the pictures the kids created in their minds while listening at home. For my story I wanted to create a person who thrived in the world of old-time radio, but who was unfortunately limited by emerging TV technology. I am fascinated by these transition moments in history.

WOW: What a transforming time it was, too! I read that you love the camaraderie of a writing group! What advice do you have for writers who are looking for a writing group but haven't found one yet?

Heather: Over the years, I have been lucky to be in writing groups of various sizes. For writers looking to join one, try checking your local bookstores. I happened upon a notice on the bulletin board at a bookstore, and that's how I joined my first group. You could also try forming your own group, either by working with a local bookstore, or by reaching out to friends who are writers. A writing group can be an in-person meet-up to read works and offer critique, or it can be done online with friends sharing comments via email. Another time, a writer friend and I shared pieces by writing letters to each other (as in actual on paper letters)!  

Writing groups are a wonderful way to keep writing and to encourage others to create. It is so enriching to see other styles and points of view.

WOW: What great advice! Writing groups are definitely a way to stay inspired and accountable. How did writing nonfiction help you with your fiction?
Heather: My nonfiction writing assignments are all word count specific, so they can fit into the magazine's layout. These word limits have challenged me to be concise and provide detail. You don't want to waste words. Cutting words provides clarity. I try not to look at anything as too precious. Write it down, get it out, then look back and see it is serves the purpose of the piece. If it is filler, lose it to make room for detail. When you've trying to make something fit, you either find a shorter way to say it, or you cut it. Writing nonfiction also got me to look at the types of adjectives I use within a piece of writing. When revising, I make every effort to use different adjectives and find synonyms to keep it interesting.

WOW: That's an excellent way of transforming your writing! You really captured the nostalgia of what your character was experiencing and how hard it was to say goodbye. How did you get into the mind frame to write this?

Heather: Thank you! I find the past fascinating. Pieces of it surround us in old photos, books, and other objects. It's so close but we can't get back there. If time travel were possible, I would be ready to sign up. Writing enables me to test out what it might feel like to actually live there. Also, I have spent the last 15 years as an old-time radio reenactor with SOAP, the Spirit of the Airwaves Players. When SOAP performs, we try to take people back in time. We dress up in 1940s clothing and hats, and we have sound effects table with a miniature door, coconut shells (for galloping horses), etc. I drew on those experiences for this story.

WOW: Oh I love that! That sounds so fun! What are you currently working on that you can tell us a bit about?

Heather:
I am working on a nonfiction piece about genealogy and my love of sleuthing for clues about the lives and personalities of ancestors. In addition, I am finishing up a fantasy short story about a woman who time travels to visit herself as a child. In this world you can only visit your own past. You aren't supposed to make contact with yourself, but what if it already happened and you remember from your own childhood? 

I also have a longer work in progress about two older women, one of whom is a ghost hunter and buys an old farmhouse. Themes of nostalgia and time travel make frequent appearances in my writing.

WOW: I love your ideas! Congratulations again and best of luck with your writing! 

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Monday, July 15, 2019

 

Five Posts About How to Be a Better Writer




If you write or read blogs regularly, you’ll know that round-up posts are often popular with readers. Heck, I’m more likely to read something if I know I can get entertaining or educational information in short, digestible chunks. I may or may not have been known to click on posts with titles like “5 Meal Delivery Services You Should Check Out” or “The Best Five Summer Reads of this Year.” When putting together today’s post, I thought it might be fun to go back and take a look at some of the posts I’ve written over the years (I started writing for WOW! in 2012 if you can believe it.) Here are a few I’ve come up with. Enjoy!

My DIY Writing Retreat
I’m all about writing retreats, but sometimes, they are located in places I’m unable to travel to or the price of it simply does not fit in my budget. These days I’m considering checking into a hotel or a cabin for a few days to spend focused time on a project, but back in 2012 I created my own DIY retreat when my family went out of town on a camping trip. Learn how I did it here.

Build a Better Bio
For writers and editors, bios are an important part of your toolkit. But one bio cannot usually fulfill all your writing-related needs. Read this post to discover what you should put in your bio and see some real-life examples.

ADWD: Attention Writers Deficit Disorder
I’ll admit it. I have a hard time concentrating, especially when I work from home. Sure, sitting around in yoga pants and wearing a groove in the floor between my home office and the coffeepot sounds ideal, but this post shares a little bit of the insanity that comes between.

How to Fit Writing into a Busy Lifestyle
Writing is hard, no matter what we have going on in our lives, and we all have something! In this post I shared a few of the tips that help me be more productive in between writing projects and deadlines.

Four Ways Writers Can Use Instagram
Instagram is a visual medium, but there are ways to play around with and promote your work. I give a few examples straight from my Instagram feed here.

So now I would like to know . . . which of these posts was your favorite?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also enjoys writing young adult fiction and short stories. You can check out her contemporary young adult novel, Between, on Wattpad.


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Sunday, July 14, 2019

 

Interview with Jacquelyn Speir, Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Jacquelyn Speir launched her writing career while working as a technical illustrator in aerospace publications at Kennedy Space Center. She illustrates many of her stories and articles for children, some of which have won awards. Her article about aerospace blimps—‘eyes in the sky’—was published in Essential News for Kids. She also co-wrote and illustrated a booklet about the writing process for Brevard County, Florida fifth graders. While her three sons orbited around the house, her career progressed into architectural design and freelance copy writing. Some years later, she and her husband—a quality assurance engineer and sports photographer—moved to Hawaii. Throughout their 23 years there, her numerous articles on Hawaiian culture, surfing, and wildlife appeared in an online newspaper and on various websites. Her short story “Roots of Change,” about a conflicted taro grower, was published in the 2007 Writer’s Digest winners’ anthology, and her essay “Word Search,” about a stroke victim and caregiver struggling to connect to each other, was published on the AARP Hawaii website.

Jacquelyn and her husband have returned to the Space Coast, where she is seeking an agent/publisher for her first middle-grade novel, Girl vs. Goat. She is currently working on her YA novel, Swimming with Gators, a story about kids growing up as first generation “space brats” while America was trying to put a man on the moon.

Read Jacquelyn's piece here and return to learn more about her writing process and where she gets her ideas.

WOW: Welcome, Jacquelyn, and congratulations again! Writing creative nonfiction can be such an abstract process. How did you first get the idea for your winning entry, “Scars—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?”

Jacquelyn: One day I was watching the TV show, "Dancing with the Stars," and thought: What if I changed “stars” to “scars”? That would make a great title or ending to an essay or story. So, as the idea developed, I started thinking about what the scariest, saddest, and worst days of my life had been. The process took me through some tough memories. But I’ve learned over the years that we can let adversity get us down or we can use it as rocket fuel for our writing. And that’s how “learning to dance with the scars” became the last line of the essay. My “dancing” has improved a lot with practice.

WOW: Great metaphor! You have an impressive resume full of writing credits and awards. What was the first award you ever won for your writing?

Jacquelyn: In the late eighties, when I first began taking my writing seriously, I entered a contest The Space Coast Writers Guild sponsored in conjunction with their annual convention. To my surprise, I placed first in the Children’s Writing category for my picture book Life is a Lot Like Picking Berries, a metaphor for life lessons. The next year I placed first in the same category for Turtle Egg Moon, a picture book about the life journey of a sea turtle. Though I’ve won several other contests with these manuscripts, I haven’t marketed them for a while, since I’ve been busy with other projects.

WOW: What a great list of projects already in the mix. Can you tell us a little about the middle-grade novel you are seeking representation for?

Jacquelyn: Girl vs. Goat is a contemporary novel about how Rebel-Ann, an ornery milk goat, teaches self-centered, irresponsible Casey Solomon that the choices and sacrifices we make can deepen our love for those who love us. The story takes place on a mini-ranch on the east coast of Florida, where missile launches and summer thunderstorms are the backdrop to the rocky road of a 12-year-old coming of age.

According to her parents, if Casey can’t handle her annoying little brother—whose food allergies prompted the acquisition of a milk goat—and manage her chores, then her dream of visiting her best friend in Key West, will never become a reality. At every turn, headstrong Rebel-Ann foils Casey’s attempts to succeed.

Having raised three boys, seven goats, two rabbits, two ponies, 150 chickens, and several ducks, cats, and dogs, I can relate to Casey’s dilemma. And, Rebel-Ann, the actual goat from which the story evolved, was more of a handful than all the other animals and kids combined.

WOW: What do you like most about writing for children/teens?

Jacquelyn: I enjoy reliving the feelings and adventures of those days and being able to give kids a few clues on how to navigate this difficult, yet amazing time of life. So, through my characters, I get to feel young again.

WOW: What was your revision process like for the essay (Scars)?

Jacquelyn: It’s my usual process: I write several drafts, then leave it alone for a week or so. Afterwards, I take a fresh look, edit for overall content, check sentence length and structure, obsess over finding the best descriptive words possible, and make sure the verbs do the heavy lifting. Then I give it to my sister to review. She points out my mistakes, and, as an engineer, is good at catching inconsistencies. I incorporate her suggestions and give it another long look. If it still affects me, I know it’s the story I wanted to tell—and I “go for launch.”

WOW: Hmm, not a bad idea to have an engineer as a proofreader! I love these practical pieces of advice on your revision process. I know we'll hear more from you in the future.

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

 

What Is Your Yes List? A Weekend Writing Prompt

I just finished reading Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan, which I discovered thanks to the fact that I joined an online book club run by Jen Hatmaker. First, if you write memoir, essays, or creative nonfiction, get yourself to a bookstore or library and find this book. It's a master class in writing creative nonfiction about yourself and your family, and it's full of humor, gut-wrenching grief, universal truths, and four-letter words. Kelly is a master at telling a story and making it mean something to you, even though you don't know any of the people in the story.

But that's not why I chose to write about this book today. One of the twelve things that is hard to say, according to Kelly, is YES. In the book, she includes one chapter which is simply a list of all the things that she would always say yes to. In the online book club, many participants were creating their own yes lists, and I thought this was a great exercise.

I'm not copying Kelly's list here for an example because I want you to go out and find her book and support this great writer, but think big and small--things like your kids or grandkids, your pets, your writing time, your hobbies, your best friend, your partner, your favorite foods. What are the things in your life that you will always say yes to? Or that you SHOULD be saying yes to because we all know life will pass us by whether we're enjoying it or not.

Here are some things I will always say yes to:


  • A hug from my daughter
  • A snuggle from my puppy
  • Uninterrupted writing time
  • A glass of red wine with friends
  • Potato skins
  • Chips and Salsa
  • Uninterrupted reading time
  • A late walk on a summer night
  • A weekend fall trip
  • Someone wanting me to sign one of my books!
  • Cleaning help
  • Vegetables cooked in a yummy way at a restaurant
  • Rich n Charlie's Special Salad
  • My critique group
  • My daughter asking me a question--meaning I'll listen to her and want to discuss, but I might not be able to answer yes. 
So now you get the picture--what are some things you would always say yes to? We'd love to hear about your list, so include it in the comments below--it can be long or short--spur of the moment or well thought out. And if you've read Kelly's book or any of her books, let us know that, too. What did you think? 

What a great way to spend a Saturday: write a fun list and discuss positive stuff with other writers! 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher living in St. Louis, MO, with her 8-year-old daughter and 5.5-month-old lab mix puppy. She loves reading and writing and teaching WOW! classes. The next two are the NEW school visits class and writing a novel with a writing coach--both start at the beginning of August. You can check out all details on the class page. 

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

 

Publishing Paths

Just last week, I had a fellow author tell me that members of her local writing guild didn’t know the difference between small and vanity publishing. That surprised me, but then I realized that the world of publishing has changed a lot since I started writing. 

New types of publishing have come into being and new writers are writing.  What better reason to do a rundown of various types of publishers for our readers.

Social Media Publishing. No, this isn't a term I mentioned above but anytime you write and share your work through social media, you are taking part in social media publishing.  That's what we do on the Muffin blog.  That's also what our own Renee Roberson did when she shared her novel, Between, on Wattpad.  A popular social media presence, including success on Wattpad, can lead to a contract with an agent or a book deal with a traditional publisher.

Traditional Publishing. If you go the traditional route, you submit your work to a publisher who can accept or reject it. You do not pay to have your work produced. You get paid. Books and other media are produced by a team – you (writer and/or illustrator), editor, asst. editors, publisher, designer, copy editor, etc. Because of this, you don’t always make much money on your work but you are part of a talented team.  My books are traditionally published.

Large Publishers. Large publishers or the Big Five – Penguin Random House, MacMillan, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins. Although these publishers pay a substantial advance, they expect you to earn it back and then some. They are in it for the money which isn’t always a bad thing. After all, if they make money on your book you make money. But authors at large publishers seldom have  a say in cover design or marketing choices. It can be very difficult to get your work in front of one of these editors if you don't have an agent.

Small Presses. Small presses don’t pay advances or pay only small advances. They have smaller print runs. These two factors means less financial investment for the publisher. For the author this may mean a slightly higher royalty than with a large publisher. May be specialty publishers focusing on health issues, art or another narrow area. I have a friend who publishes with Magination. Her books remain in print year after year and continue to earn her money. Publishers of this type are very different from . . .

Vanity or Hybrid Publishers. These publishers may agree to publish an author’s book but expect payment up front to defer the cost of printing the book or developing the app. Not only does the author not get an advance, they have to pay money to see their work developed. The pluses? They will design the book, possibly help with the marketing and distribute. The risks? Being charged too much or not getting promised services. Do your research before signing with a hybrid publisher. I had a hybrid publisher accept a book to develop as an app. They folded and I still feel like I may have dodged a problem.

Indie or Self-Publishing. You the author are responsible for and control everything. You write, find and pay for an editor, designer, and illustrator. You keep all of the profits but you also shoulder the financial burdens. You are also responsible for marketing your work and getting it in front of potential buyers. One of my friends does this by speaking and doing workshops at churches and booking a booth at the Working Women’s Survival Show. She makes a tidy sum when she gets a gig.

You don't have to chose one and only one type of publisher. I publish through traditional publishers and through social media. I have friends with small press books who have also self-published. 

The key is in finding what it right for you and for this particular manuscript. To find out more about these and other publishing options, check out Jane Friedman’s chart on this topic. Interestingly enough, I found it while I was preparing this post.

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins July 22nd, 2019.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

 

Editing for active voice

Passive: Including "to be" verbs is a way to make a sentence passive.
Active: A passive sentence includes "to be" verbs.

Passive: Sentences will be stronger if writers delete "to be" verbs.
Active: Authors who delete "to be" verbs write stronger sentences.

Passive: Forms of "to be" are: are, am, was, is, have been, has, will be, being, and will have been.
Active: Forms of "to be" include: are, am, was is, have been, has, will be, being, and will have been.

Passive: The girl was yelled at by her brother.
Active: The boy yelled at his sister.

Passive: The red tablecloth makes the celery stalks that are green look pretty.
Active: The green celery looks pretty on the red tablecloth.

Passive: The vest was worn without a shirt underneath.
Active: He wore a vest without a shirt underneath.

Passive: The funnel cake was eaten by a kid.
Active: The kid ate a funnel cake.

Passive: Overusing passive voice increases the chances of writing sentences that are unclear and repetitive.
Active: Overusing passive voice increases the chances of writing unclear and repetitive sentences.

Passive: Using active voice is a way to help clarify your written message.
Active: Active voice clarifies a written message.

Passive: Passive voice may be required in some scientific, medical, and technical writing.
Active: Scientific, medical, and technical writing may require passive voice.

Syntax and sentence order


Passive: To determine word order, the rules of syntax are necessary.
Active: Syntax determines word order.

Passive: English sentences are constructed using S-V-O (subject, verb, object) word order.
Active: English sentences follow S-V-O (subject, verb, object) word order.

Passive: O-V-S construction is passive.
Active: Passive construction uses O-V-S order.

Passive: The boat was driven by me. "The boat" = object, "was" = passive verb, "me" = subject.
Active: I drove the boat. "I" = subject, "drove" = verb, "boat" = object.

Passive: Maria was hated by Suzanne for many reasons.
Active: Suzanne hated Maria for many reasons.

Passive: Reducing the use of passive voice is one way to engage readers.
Active: Engage your reader by reducing passive voice.

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/active_and_passive_voice/active_versus_passive_voice.html


Mary Horner struggles with active voice.
Active voice is a struggle for Mary Horner.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

 

Interview with Rachel Slack, Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Rachel’s Bio:

Since having her work published as a young adult, Rachel Slack has focused on honing her affinity for storytelling, alongside furthering her education and building her career. An avid adventurer, she draws inspiration from the rich and varied cultures experienced whilst on her travels. Her current work includes a collection of short stories which paint a snapshot of women’s realities from different walks of life.

Rachel lives with her husband in London, England, and writes (what she hopes is) compelling and creative copy for a leading entertainment company. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her crafting, cooking, in the company of cats, or planning her next holiday.

If you haven’t read “The Long Road,” click over and enjoy this flash story. Then come back here to learn how Rachel works.

WOW: What inspired you to write “The Long Road”?

Rachel: Women have come so far, yet still have more to overcome. Some of the statistics I found when researching women's progression from 1950 to present day shocked me, but at the same time I was motivated by those who have helped changed the world, no matter how small their role. This led me to create something that celebrated women's successes and highlighted current challenges.

I've always admired my Nanna, who served in the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service during the Second World War, so I wanted to create a tribute to her. Wrens, as they became known, ran the domestic side of naval bases, which was where she would meet my Grandad, a British submariner, and marry him after only a few weeks. This was the start of an adventure which would lead her far away from her hometown and family. She's always been a role model for me, as has my Mum, as they both took charge of their own lives, no matter what was thrown at them, and even if it didn't feel like they were in control at the time.

WOW: In “The Long Road,” you tell three separate stories that share common threads. Can you explain to our readers how you worked in the elements that weave these stories together?

Rachel: The shared experience for each of the characters is pushing the boundaries and wanting more from what would be considered the gender norm. The women that helped pave the way to where we are today met many a stumbling block on their journey. Due to this and the other themes and metaphors used, it made sense that literal shoes would carry the story.

Also, without being too materialistic, what we wear in different situations often reveals a lot about the occasion. We sometimes attach memories or emotions to particular items of clothing, so I felt it would be quite believable for a very well made pair of shoes to be passed down as they were considered lucky, even if the character of Jo was sceptical.

WOW: How did “The Long Road” change during the rewrite process?

Rachel: The middle section, where we meet Jo, changed the most. She is the furthest from my personality and the strongest voice, mainly because of her frustration. Getting the balance right was tricky as I wanted her to be strong yet still vulnerable due to her situation. There was also no personal experience or relationship that I could draw on for her, so making sure her character was realistic and properly developed took a fair few drafts.

WOW: It was well worth the work because you definitely pulled it off. What advice do you have for writers who are new to flash fiction?

Rachel: Start with an experience or feeling you're familiar with then let your imagination run wild. Use it as a springboard and launch yourself into a completely different story.

Don't try to add too much resolution either. I never said whether Beatrix lived happily ever after, Jo got her mortgage or Andrea was any good at her new job. It's more about leaving the story at a natural break and letting the reader fill in some of the blanks.

The first draft doesn't need to be anywhere close to perfect either – just start writing. I often remove and reinvent entire scenes if they're not moving the story along effectively or adding much value.

WOW: What project are you working on right now? How does it fit into your long-term writing goals?

Rachel: I'm writing a collection of short stories featuring women from all walks of life, both past and present.

Flash fiction competitions are really good at inspiring me to write regularly and I like to add criticism to my entry so I have a reliable source of feedback. Not placing in the top ten would never make me abandon a story or feel that it had been a waste of time. I'd just know that it could probably do with more time, attention and development. I also feel more relaxed about picking topics outside my comfort zone due to the limited word count, which is helping me grow as a writer.

WOW: Thank you for your encouraging words for your fellow writers and also for sharing your process with us. Hopefully some of our readers will have the courage to try to fill your shoes!

Interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards

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