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Thursday, December 12, 2019


How a Little Film That Could Inspired Me

Let’s play a little game. What if I told you that one of the biggest movie hits from the late 1980s started out as a low-budget production (filmed for $5 million and grossed at least $214 million)? Or that the only company that would develop the script had only produced adult films? What about the fact that although this film centered around dancing, the soundtrack was not finalized until the final weeks of shooting, and the final dance scene almost had to be choreographed without the proper music?

If you guessed the movie “Dirty Dancing,” then you guessed right. However, I thought I was an expert on this film until I watched the Netflix docuseries called “The Movies that Made Us,” and they featured the movie in one of the episodes. While the production of the docuseries is a little cheesy (think the occasional animated graphics and interesting editing of the interviews) I learned a lot about this classic. This is truly one of those films that almost didn’t get made. The story was near and dear to screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein’s heart because she grew up going to a resort in the Catskills with her family each summer like the character of Frances “Baby” Houseman. She eventually teamed up with female producer Linda Gottlieb, who had an in at MGM. However, the powers to be at MGM kept changing, and the project eventually got put in limbo, and then released. Vestron Pictures purchased it, but up until that point the company had only been producing adult films. Yep, “Dirty Dancing” was their first feature-length film. (Cue the jokes here.)

The obstacles to making this movie go on and on. Slashed production budget, location issues, two romantic leads that didn’t really care for each other and fought a lot (did you know Sarah Jessica Parker and Billy Zane almost played Baby and Johnny?), a music supervisor that had to be fired, Patrick Swayze busting his knee on that scene where he jumped up in the air on a log, etc. And then one movie executive who was brought in to view the final cut advised the entire team to “burn the negative” and collect the insurance.

As I watched the show, I couldn’t help shake my head. How many times have we as writers worked to create a project that we loved with all our heart and souls but no one else could get? How many agent rejections have we received because the story wasn’t “on trend?” The screenwriter, producer and director (and the people at Vestron Pictures) were determined to see this project through, even if it was a miserable failure. And guess what, it wasn’t. Learning all this history behind the movie made me laugh, cry and nod my head in agreement. It lit a fire under me to dig out those old projects that are sitting on my hard-drive, or in stacks of typed-pages on my bookshelves. Because, darn it, if this little movie could become the blockbuster that it did, I can create something special, too.

And so can you.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who is ready to start shopping her contemporary young adult novel around again. Learn more about her at FinishedPages.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019


‘Tis the Season! Gifts for Writers

It’s still early enough in this season of gift-giving to choose something extra special for the writer in your life. And by the writer in your life, I mean you. You can check out all the fun articles and blog posts about gifts for the other writers you know. This post’s for you.

So these are the gifts I put under my tree this year.

Um. Okay, I opened ‘em all early and I’m fine with that. I hope you’ll find something here—or a gift sparked by something here—that you want to open early.

The Body

Just last month, I talked about the two fitness trackers I have. The thing is, I need a reliable fitness tracker because…well, I’m a writer; on any given day, I will sit in my chair and work for three to four hours at a time. And I know what you’re thinking, that a fitness tracker only tracks the exercise. It doesn’t do the exercise for you.

True. But that annoying alarm that reminds me to get up and move or urges me to make my step goal is just enough to force me out of the chair after an hour. And my work will wait for a ten minute speed walk around my house.

So fine, I haven’t become a marathon runner or lost any weight. But that lower back pain that comes from sitting too long is not the constant it once was in my life. And I sleep better at night. Those are gifts worth every penny that I spend on a fitness tracker, even if I have to buy more than one (though a moderately priced one will do the same job as an expensive one).

The Mind

There was a time when I could think up something and remember it a whole hour later. And I wish I could remember when that was. But suffice it to say that these days, I have a lot on my mind and I don’t have time to rack my brain, searching for lost ideas.

So I rely on notes. And for most of my notes, I don’t buy a fancy notepad when I have a ton of scrap paper around here which I recycle into note-sized squares. Note-sized scraps of paper are all over my house. (Which I see when I speed walk by.)

However, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, I do some of my best thinking-up-of-ideas in the shower. And you would think a writer could remember her great ideas for at least 15 minutes but you would be underestimating all the other thoughts that come into a writer’s head whilst showering. And that is why the waterproof note is the best gift ever.

A dear friend and writer herself gave me a waterproof notepad a few years back and I was very miserly using it. Was this idea really notepad-worthy? Can I just write down one word for each point and still remember enough? I stretched out that notepad for quite some time but alas, the day came when I had to buy another. Somehow, I don’t think this one will last quite as long because…well, turns out one word hints are not enough. But that’s okay. An idea is a terrible thing to waste.

The Soul

Only you can determine the gift that will soothe or support your writer’s soul. For me, it’s spending time with my writer friends who understand the love-hate relationship we have with this wonderful and challenging profession we’ve chosen.

It might be a long lunch with local writer friends, or a long phone chat with a far-away friend, or signing up for a writer’s conference or retreat because honestly, I’m worth every penny of that gift, too.

So go to the conference. Call a friend. Treat yourself to a writer’s tool that you’ve been dreaming about all year. Because ‘tis the season for giving, and this year, dear writer, it’s your turn for a holly jolly holiday!

~Cathy C. Ho-Ho-Hall

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Meet Shermie Rayne, 2nd Place Winner in WOW's Summer 2019 Flash Fiction Contest

Shermie Rayne writes a gamut of fiction, and sometimes even happenstance poetry. Several of her stories have found publication homes here and there. In addition to excelling as a barely-functioning mom in suburbia, Rayne runs a local writing group for women. She resides in Virginia with her husband, three teenagers, an orange tabby, several tanks of fish, and a very mischievous pup.

Connect with her on Twitter @shermierayne. Visit her website at

Read her winning entry here and return to learn more about what inspires Shermie's writing.

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

WOW: As a mother of two children who has spent a lot of time standing watch over my family (sometimes to a fault!), I could really resonate with your story. How did the idea for “Crooked Door Lullaby” first come to you?

Shermie: I lost several close relatives over the course of a few months, a couple of years back. Death itself has always been an unknown that I struggle to understand and accept. Yet, I’ve witnessed strong individuals, like my grandma, handle death with unbelievable grace. “Crooked Door Lullaby” came out of my need to comprehend both loss and the ability to go on afterward.

WOW: It is indeed a story of unwavering strength and grace. Does your past life as a pediatric nurse ever weave its way into your writing?

Shermie: Perhaps. It definitely has influenced how I mother. (Some would say I’m a bit overprotective.) I think all life experiences are filtered into writing, consciously or not.

WOW: You belong to a writing group for women that you help facilitate. How helpful has this group been to you in this stage of your life and writing?

Shermie: Yes, so, I started the group in January of 2014. At the time, my youngest was still in preschool and the older kids in after-school activities. I created what I needed, which was a supportive environment that met mid-morning. Our group is so important; it keeps me accountable to my writing. The group has evolved so much over the years. We now have monthly critique sessions as well, so I know I’ve got to put something together to submit. Deadlines are important! And having an understanding support group is immeasurable.

WOW: When you’re not taking care of your family and writing, what are some of your favorite pastimes?

Shermie: I (of course) love reading—and especially listening to audiobooks. We have a newish pup, so I’ve been walking and hiking more often and exploring nature . . . which means taking a lot more pictures—another passion.

WOW: You enjoy writing a variety of things. How do you toggle back and forth between different projects? Inquiring minds would like to know more about your writing process.

Shermie: Part of my group’s weekly meeting includes prompt-based writing. Someone pulls a writing prompt out and sets a timer, and we freewrite. I’ve started many stories during this time, as well as scenes for current projects. I get bored easily, so having several projects going at once allows me to work on something else when I get stuck. I do write flash, short story, and novel length fiction. It seems short story is the most difficult form of the three; I’m often reworking my short stories and never satisfied.

I wish I could say I have a solid writing schedule/process currently. Life seems to have gotten busier while the kids have grown older, so I’m squeezing in writing when and where I can. The last couple of months, I’ve been focused on editing (again, after a hiatus) a project that, I feel, is very important. Not my normal genre, it’s upper middle-grade and explores bullying/suicide through the eyes of a seventh grader. I hope to be querying agents soon.

WOW: We wish you the best of luck with your revision process and querying and we look forward to reading more of your powerful work. 

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Monday, December 09, 2019


Inspirational Characters

I keep starting short stories because so many people inspire me! I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I still make it a habit to write a little something every day. My children think it's a little creepy, but I want to share a few ideas that may help inspire you when it comes to your writing. The key is that you write - long or short - just write it down!

This may inspire something longer for you even, or maybe you'll be moved to write something short and enter a flash fiction contest! Either way - Write On dear friend!

Here are just a few ideas where you might find inspiration for your next character:

Buying Groceries
Have you ever been at the grocery store and just soaked in the people around you? It's really warm outside and yet there's a woman wearing a coat and stocking cap. You don't have to approach her to be inspired - write your own story about why that coat and hat are important enough for her to wear them each time she leaves the house. What about the woman checking you out or the young boy bagging groceries? Is there something about them that catches your eye? Could they become your muse?

Pumping Gas
Have you ever seen a car with a lot of bumper stickers? One door a different color than the others? A car full of teenagers with mo-hawks or unusual hair? You don't have to stop and chat with them to find out what they are all about, but you can certainly write your own story about them.

Eating Dinner
Have you ever watched a group of people dining together and wondered what they have in common? Are they family? friends? business associates? What brought them together? Why are they here? What will they be talking about? Why did the one man get up so abruptly and leave quickly? Who will be paying the bill and why? Are they a group of classmates brought together by the untimely death of a friend? Maybe they are three men all in love with the same woman and they're trying to decide what to do since she is recently widowed from another member of their close knit group of friends. You can come up with a great story just based on the one small thing that drew your attention to them in the first place.

Chatting with Friends
Have you ever heard a story from a friend and your mind went down the proverbial rabbit hole? I have an acquaintance who was sharing an old family story of how this middle age couple was shot to death in their home by their daughter's boyfriend, all because they thought he was too old for her. The daughter wasn't involved at all, but when she told the boy they couldn't date, he acted irrationally. I had so many questions which of course couldn't be answered all those involved had long since passed as the story took place decades ago. I began envisioning the scenario leading up to the murders and then considering how the young girl would move on and the guilt she would face the rest of her life. This made for a great short story. I'm sure your friends have shared similar tales with you? Get those stories out of your head and down on paper!

Driving to Work
Have you ever noticed an abandoned house on your way to work? Someone holding a "will work for food" sign? A run-down house in an otherwise well kept neighborhood? Any of those things can become a character in your story. Maybe there was a lovely family living in that tiny house and due to illness they had to move and ...    you get to write the rest of the story! Let your imagination go wild!

These are just a few ideas that may help inspire your next character. Where have you found inspiration in the past? Do any of these ideas sound completely absurd to you? Leave a comment as we'd love to hear from you! (and if you think I'm completely absurd, you can leave that as a comment too - I've heard it from my children before...and yes, I've left the grocery store without buying items on my list because instead of checking off my groceries, I started jotting down story ideas...but who wants to be normal anyway?)


Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, horses Darlin' and Joker, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows, driving tractors, and riding unicorns (not at the same time), taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Sunday, December 08, 2019


Interview with Mary Ann Rojas: Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Mary Ann Rojas is a Navy veteran and has been a Licensed Vocational Nurse for thirty-four years. She has been writing in some form or another far longer; penning poetry and short stories whose inspirations are random thoughts. Rather than pursue her Registered Nursing degree she decided to major in English and wished to teach high school students. However, after careful consideration she ultimately felt her education provided a firm foundation for her writing career.

By day she is a nurse at a middle school and at night she makes pictures with words. She is busy querying her book The Key and is currently working on USS Bios, a tale of a retrofitted Navy ship laden with world changing research after it’s commandeered during the night. Several of her short stories are in the hands of editors who she hopes, desire just what she’s created. Ultimate solace for Mary Ann is tent camping with her husband and three dogs in Kings Canyon National Park, a mere ninety-minutes from her Central Valley California city of Visalia.

Her essay, “Arsonist Pleads Guilty-Exhibits Zero Remorse” revealed a facet of medicine in which she had no experience. Mary Ann placed 3rd in American Gem Literary Festival’s 2017/18 Short Story Contest with “Have a Heart.”

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Mary Ann: I'd entered WOW contests before and this one piqued my interest because I had a story to tell and needed another woman/women to feel what I felt during a most horrible time. Fiction is easy for me to write. Non-fiction not so much, except for this time.

WOW: Your entry, "Arsonist Pleads Guilty--Exhibits Zero Remorse" is a moving, though harrowing read. I imagine it was difficult to write, though perhaps necessary for you to put to words?

Mary Ann: My "Arsonist Pleads Guilty-Exhibits Zero Remorse" was actually what I would say to the arsonist face to face if given the opportunity. I wanted to tell her like the prosecutors do on TV court shows. I wanted to pace in front of the jury and stop at the defendant and look her in the eyes and without wavering, tell her all she had done I wouldn't cry either. I would be strong. I wanted my words to ooze with anger and bitterness though those things eat away at us and must not linger, to our peril. I was grieving for the loss of my son, not in death but a loss of his independence and the young man he used to be and the journey toward healing he would painfully endure. A mother's heart breaks in a zillion pieces when her children are in pain. It matters not the age of our children either. It was very difficult to write yet supremely cathartic. I could see him in those words and the tears flowed without restraint.

WOW: It's a powerful essay, and I'm sorry for what your son and you have gone through. With your job as a middle school nurse, how do you make time to write? What works best for you?

Mary Ann: I always bring a pad of paper to work with me and jot down ideas that come to me, otherwise they slip away into oblivion. I write primarily in the evening. It is my priority and I love every moment of it.

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

Mary Ann: I am working on several projects right now. I have written a book that is currently out to a few literary agents (queries and chapters), The Key. I wait, as writers do after submitting. I've got another book in the works as well, USS Bios. I also love flash fiction and find the challenge exhilarating to write a story in as few words as possible! I have several short stories completed and am working on submitting them as well. I write thrillers and come up with crazy macabre ideas!

WOW: Best of luck with those projects! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Mary Ann. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Mary Ann: My advice? We all have stories. If we want to invite others into the worlds we create, we must be diligent, consistent, tenacious and excited in the creation of those worlds. Someone will love your words but you have to put them down first.


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

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Saturday, December 07, 2019



Recently I went on a writing retreat. My goal for that weekend was to get some progress made on my most recent WIP (a YA novel, merging present-day with Emmett Till's life. I figured I'd get thousands of words down.

And then I realized. I'd done the same thing with an earlier draft. I typed and typed and typed... and the plot went nowhere. I reviewed the book Save the Cat Writes a Novel  for WOW, and I was amazed at how much sense it made to organize and outline a manuscript. I promised myself I would not be a pantser this time. This go-around, I would not write by the seat of my pants.

So that's what I did at the retreat. I started from the beginning, outlining scenes (not writing them) and incredible things happened.

  • I learned about my main character's enemies. I saw what horrible things happened to her in the hallway and the cafeteria--just from roughing out some scenes.
  • I discovered my main character (Emma) is a cutter. That was not part of the original plan. But as I learned more about Emma, this part of her life was just revealed to me.
  • I realized that organization is not a four-letter word. Doing the "pre-writing" first--getting the story outlined--makes sense and will (probably) make it easier when I get to the drafting stage, because my writing has some direction now. Who knew that would happen?
Did I get any words down that weekend? Not many. I outlined about half of the story, then knew I had to do some deep thinking, so I started drafting the first scene. I still haven't gone back and finished the outline, but neither have I charged ahead with writing an aimless story-that-has-story.

If you're unfamiliar with the book and its concept, check out this article. It might give you an idea whether or not you'd like it.

Sioux is a middle school teacher, a dog rescuer and a freelance writer. In her spare, she reads and knits (like Madame DeFarge). If you'd like to read more of her meanderings, check out her blog.

Friday, December 06, 2019


Friday Speak Out!: Three Questions I Asked Myself While Writing My Second Memoir

by Kathleen Pooler

A memoir is a “slice of life” story that has universal appeal. Although it is about you, its main purpose should help readers connect with their own stories. A memoir does not just tell the story about what happened, but what you did with what happened and how you changed as a result.

When I wrote my first memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, I had started out with the intention of sharing the story of mothering my alcoholic son. It was only through the revising aided by the support of a developmental editor that I realized I had two stories to tell. I could not write about my alcoholic son until I wrote my own story of healing from two emotionally abusive relationships. This book would take five years to write as I had to face my own vulnerabilities and flaws. But through the writing, I gained insight into myself and was able to forgive those who had hurt me as well as myself.

When I started writing Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope, the original memoir I wanted to write, I leveraged the lessons of writing the first memoir and dug into my message even deeper. I knew I would be exposing my son in the second memoir, and so I had to navigate the sensitivities of both our stories. I couldn’t tell my story without exposing my son’s undesirable behavior related to his alcohol abuse. I involved him in every step of the process and hoped he would own his part of the story. It wasn’t until a few months before the publication of Just the Way He Walked that he made the conscious decision to fully endorse publication. I had made a conscious decision not to publish this memoir unless my son was on board which culminated in a twenty year writing journey.

Writing this story sensitized me to my role enabling alcoholic behavior and I wanted to share the lessons learned with others who also struggled with an addicted child. But in order to make progress, I had to ask questions so I could release myself of the guilt and shame I carried as a young mother acting out of love and in good faith, albeit ignorance about the nature of the disease of alcohol addiction. Breaking the silence has been a very freeing and healing experience for both my son and me.

The three main questions I had to ask myself before writing these memoirs:

1. What is my purpose for writing my stories?

With both stories, I was driven to share the importance of maintaining hope in dire situations. For example, If I could stay hopeful while getting out of an emotionally abusive marriage, then I could model to my reader that hope.

2. What did I learn and what will be the reader’s takeaway?

Answering these questions required the courage and persistence to share my own vulnerabilities and flaws. Writing my truth in the most authentic way helped present myself and my son as a living, breathing human others could relate to.

I hope the reader will glean the message that it is possible to leave an abusive situation and for the addicted child to find recovery, an overall message of hope.

3. What really happened?

In my first memoir, a young woman acted out of naivete to make poor relationship decisions but was able to pull from her own strength within and find her voice. In my second memoir, a young mother was able to see her role in her son’s addiction and through alcohol education, Alanon and her faith was able to recognize and let go of her role of enabling alcoholic behavior. She learned that when love is not enough, hope steps in.

In both cases, I’d discover the message of hope. No matter how far down into the abyss you may go, there’s always hope for a better life.

How would you answer these three questions about your life story?

* * *
Kathleen Pooler, the creator of A Memoir Writer's Journey, uses hope, faith, and writing to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments Just the Way He Walked (April 2019) is Pooler’s second memoir of overcoming alcoholic enabling symptoms. Her debut memoir addresses one woman's life lessons from family abuse towards her journey of empowerment. To contact Kathleen Pooler or learn more about her books, visit her website 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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