Nonfiction, Fiction, Faction, or Informational

Wednesday, September 16, 2020


Am I the only one taking advantage of all the webinars online right now? Earlier in the week, I watched the Children’s Book Insider video with author Tod Olson. Olson has written a wide variety of books, but on the video he discusses two of his most popular series, "Lost" and "How to Get Rich."


"Lost" is narrative nonfiction, nonfiction that uses scenes to tell the story. The scenes are often so realistic that you feel like you are reading fiction but the characters, dialogue, setting and events are all 100% factual and carefully researched. In "Lost," the stories are about people who get lost and must fight to survive. Lost in the Amazon is about Juliane Koepcke, a 17 year-old who falls from an airplane and lands in the Amazon rainforest. Stranded and alone, she has to survive until she can find help. 


"How to Get Rich" is a series of historical fiction books that are published as found journals. The claim is that this journal, written by a real life person from the appropriate time and place, has been found and published. In How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail, Olson combines historical facts, all carefully researched, with a fictional wagon train family. The events are realistic, the voice is purely fictional.


Just as much research goes into the "How to Get Rich" titles as the "Lost" titles. But one series is nonfiction and the other fiction. Yet reviewers, interviewers and even librarians have mistaken "How to Get Rich" books for nonfiction. When the interviewer, Laura Backes, pointed this out, Olson laughed. He explained that it is fiction. 


“There is a genre right now, some editors are calling it faction,” said Backes. “It’s fiction but it’s so closely based in fact that you almost can’t tell the difference.” 


Backes and Olson discussed how much research goes into historic fiction but he insists the "How to Get Rich" series is fiction. “I’m a hard ass about everything,” said Olson. “If you are going to call a book nonfiction, everything has to be sourced.” 


Huzzah! I got so excited I almost jumped for joy, but I was on the treadmill. As a nonfiction author, the term faction makes me squirm. Strongly based on fact with fictional elements? To me (and Tod Olson) that’s fiction. 


Another similar term is informational. An informational book teaches readers, often young readers, about something factual using a fictional framework. Again, Tod and I would call that fiction. 


There is nothing wrong with faction or informational books. My all-time favorite graphic novel is Clan Apis. It tells the story of a bee hive. The bees are anthropomorphic. Among other things, they talk. With speech bubbles. I consider it fiction but I’ve seen it described as faction. 


Another great book is the picture book Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph. The story is told in first person plural (we) from the point of view of the wall. Remember what I said about talking bees? I consider this book fiction but I’ve seen it described as informational. 


If fiction and nonfiction are good enough for Tod Olson, they are good enough for me. But here’s the thing. He’s found editors and publishers who use these terms the same way he does. 


If you write a fact based book with a fiction narrator and your editor wants to call it faction? That’s between you and her, my friend. 


You just need to know the terms so you know what you’re calling your book. 

--SueBE


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 5, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 5, 2020). 

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A Fantastic Young Adult Novel: Like a Love Story

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

I would like to rave about a young adult book I recently finished reading. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian was a fantastic read, and I want to share it with you if you like young adult novels. I didn't know anything about it when I picked it up for the "split second" that the library was open in St. Louis when COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions were lifted. (Currently, libraries are not open to the public here right now.)

One summer day, my daughter and I went to the library and to the teen section. I told her I wanted to check out some young adult romances because that's the next thing I'll be working on, and she actually found Like a Love Story for me. She said, "This has to be about love--look at the title." When I saw that it was set in 1989/90, that sold it for me since that's when I graduated from high school! 

But once I started reading, I could hardly put it down. And of course, as an author, I want to figure out why that is.

Is it the three point of view characters?
Possibly! The first is Art. He is a rich, white, gay kid who is out and involved with an activist group in New York City who is protesting against pharmaceutical companies and churches for their roles in the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is also a photographer. So that's a super interesting character.

Then there's Judy--she's a slightly overweight, fashion diva who is heterosexual and wants a boyfriend. She is Art's best friend. Her uncle is a mentor to her and Art, and he is dying of AIDS. 

Finally, my favorite POV character is Reza. A senior in high school, like the other two, his mom, sister, and he are from Iran, but they landed in Canada, where his mom met a rich New Yorker and remarried. So Reza now lives in New York with his new stepfamily. Plus he's gay. But he's not out, and he is scared to death of his culture, of AIDS, of his mom's "heartbreak." 

So these three characters kept things interesting in the book, but I think what I loved about the story so much was that it was predictable in some ways, but in others--it definitely wasn't. It was just the right balance. There's a trope: love triangle, but Abdi's characters acted like real people--with all their complications and flaws. They didn't forgive super easily. They made mistakes. They had to live with the consequences of those mistakes. 

He also worked in historical facts. (Yes, the 1980s are now historical fiction!) The protests that Art went to were real. There were a lot of 80s and 90s pop culture references, and how can I forget about MADONNA?! Let's just say, she plays a huge part in this novel, and most of the references to her were pretty factual. 

The other thing is...it was just good writing. It flowed. It made me feel like I was in 1989 New York. It was smart and witty, and the kind of book when I finished, I thought: Man, I wished I would have written that.

But I couldn't write anything like Abdi's book. And that's okay. It's not my style, and it's not my story. My story has a quirky, conflicted, kind, White girl who loves her family, her boyfriend, and her friends. But I can strive to write a true character who acts like a real person like Abdi did. I can strive to write as beautifully and smart as he did. 

If you like young adult, I highly recommend this book. I will let you know it is not "clean." It is at least PG-13 if we are rating books. I only let you know this because I want you to read this book, but only if you enjoy this genre. 

What's a great book that you've read in a genre you write in lately? And why did you love it so much? 


By the way, I'm teaching a writing class about young adult and middle grade novels, starting on September 30. Want to join? It's called "Writing Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction: A Study and Workshop." You can sign up here.  To find out more about my writing (Margo Dill), go here: https://www.margoldill.com
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Interview with Amy Sampson-Cutler, 2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Contest


Amy Sampson-Cutler is a fiction writer who recently earned her master’s degree in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. She has been published twice in the Pitkin Review, as well as the Wellness UniverseElephant Journal, and was a Community News Writer for the Times-Herald-Record. She is the Executive Manager at Mount Peter Ski Area. She can be contacted through AmysHippieHut.com.

Read Amy's award-winning story here and then return for an interview with the author.

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

WOW: Amy, thank you for being here today! c“Clean Slate” is a great example of how importance pacing is in flash fiction, and you pulled it off beautifully. How did you first get the idea for this story exploring the complicated dynamics between sisters? Did you always know it would feature a twist at the end?


Amy: I wrote “Clean Slate” while in residency at graduate school. The sister in my story is not my own sister, but I know all too well the complicated dynamics between sisters, as I run a business with mine. The idea for this story came to me after a heated conversation with my sister about whatever drama was going on at work while I was away, and I found myself grumbling about the nature of some of the people at work. I clearly remember that I stopped mid-stride, about to leave my room and go to dinner, when I thought, “What if it’s not them? What if it’s me?” I found myself turning all negative thoughts back on myself, and I sat down and wrote this short story.


I love writing twists, and that was my intention – to make the reader think about qualities inside of themselves from the view of an outsider. 

 

WOW: In addition to being a fiction writer, you also have a background in journalism. Do you find it hard to go back and forth between the two forms? Have you ever gotten ideas for fiction based on real-life events you’ve covered?


Amy: Before I left my job at a newspaper to work full-time at my family business, I found myself writing every scenario before me in my head as a newspaper story. A traffic accident, an argument, even an old man walking his dog – everything was presented to my mind in newspaper format. Eventually, I did find it challenging to write creatively, because words became very formal and structured for me. It has been years since I left that job, and that format has finally melted away. I wouldn’t say that my story ideas have come from my time at the newspaper, but I am sure that some of the interesting folks that I have come across during my time there have and will continue to sneak into my characters.

 

WOW: I love the idea of composing every day occurrences in your head like a newspaper article! I might have to try that one out myself . . . You’ve had several pieces published in anthologies in literary journals. How do you find other markets for your work?


Amy: I am learning that being published anywhere is all about seeing the opportunity and taking it. From contests to literary journals to online magazines – there are opportunities everywhere if you know where to look for them. 

 

WOW: Very true. What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out in the flash fiction form. Any do’s or don’ts?


Amy: Writing flash fiction will tighten your writing. When I first wrote in this form, I found it difficult to fit an entire story into such a short space. Now when I write a piece of flash fiction, I find that I have extra words to use at the end. I had an advisor once tell me to look at every single word and decide if it really deserves to be in that sentence. Every. Single. Word. When writing a very short story for flash fiction, that lesson comes to mind because there is no room for extra words. If you want to learn how to trim and make every word count, write flash fiction. Writing flash fiction is also an excellent way to try out genres that you normally wouldn’t write. For example, I recently wrote my first political satire, which turned out to be so much fun. 

 

WOW: You recently received a master’s degree in creative writing. What are some of your most valuable take-aways from that program?


Amy: I decided to take the plunge into graduate school because I needed a push. I needed deadlines and to be held accountable. I learned a lot while earning my degree, but my most valuable take-away is this: Give yourself permission to do what you want in life. I learned that I do need deadlines, and I do need to be busy to be productive, but I didn’t need permission from anyone other than myself. We all choose our own destinies. In the two-year program at Goddard College, I wrote a novel which I am now in the final editing stages of. I can safely say that I would not have finished that on my own. Perhaps more important than that completion is having the clear intention to move along a certain path in life.

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How Movies Can Inspire Our Writing

Monday, September 14, 2020


Sometimes I listen to movie soundtracks when I’m writing. It’s nice to listen to something sweeping, emotional and dramatic in the background, but that doesn’t have words when I’m copy editing or working on writing an article for an upcoming deadline. One of the soundtracks I favor is the one for the film “Last of the Mohicans.” I had just moved to the North Carolina mountains as a teenager when filming was taking place for that movie, and I’ve hiked along many of the trails featured in the cinematography.

 

Because my daughter has walked in on me listening to the opening strains of “Promontory” from that soundtrack, she came to ask me if I wanted to watch the movie with her for a school assignment in American History.

 

“You have to watch that movie?” I asked her. “It’s good, but it’s pretty hard to watch.” She showed me a list and said she had to select two to watch. My eyes zeroed in on the movie title “Glory.”

 

“That one,” I said. “That’s the one you should watch first. But it’s also a tough one.”

 

When I told her the plot, the true story of how a Civil War Union soldier named Robert Gould Shaw took the job of leading the first African-American regiment, she agreed. As we were discussing this, I remembered that I had a poem somewhere in my files that I dashed off after the first time I had viewed the movie. Sure enough, I dug out a zippered portfolio where I keep hard copies of some of my older writing.

 

We watched “Glory” last night, and my husband joined us because somehow he’d never seen the movie. Once he heard Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Andre Braugher were in it he didn’t need much convincing.

 

I’m not going to lie. We were sniffling throughout the whole movie, downright sobbing in other parts. The men in the 54th Massachussetts Volunteer Infantry only wanted to fight, and they were marching around in worn-out boots with no socks, getting called every name in the book and being paid less a week than their white counterparts. They were told if they were captured by any Confederate soldiers, they would be killed instantly. So would Col. Shaw or any of his other commanding officers. They soon learned the infantry was only supposed to be completing menial tasks and manual labor, until Col. Shaw stood up and fought for their right to . . . basically fight. The movie concludes with the battle at South Carolina’s Fort Wagner.

 

As my daughter put it, it showed a part of the Civil War that she had never learned about in school. And through our tears, I pulled out the poem that I wrote after I first watched the movie at age 18 or 19. I can honestly say I’ve never been one to enjoy watching any period films about wars. But something about the story behind “Glory” touched me so much, the side that showed which side of the war was battling for the rights of enslaved people, that the words poured out on paper:

 

Fort Wagner

 

My day has come and gone

My soul lies in the sand below

As we marched along the ocean shore,

I carried the flag as it waved

 

Triumphantly in the air

the red of it mixed with the

blood of war

And we said goodbye to those we loved

As we laid our lives down one final time

 

The words embraced us from inside

And we will remember them so long

As we fight

 

We will remember them so long

As we fight

 

(we are free at last . . .)

 

Has a movie or TV show ever inspired any of your own writing?

 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts and produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at FinishedPages.com.

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Are You Having Fun Yet?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Whenever my youngest granddaughter used to put on her leotard, tights and ballet slippers to go to dance class, pre-pandemic, after she wrapped her arms around me to say good-bye, I'd always tell her in my cheeriest voice to, "Have fun!"


I hoped that my words would catch in her core so that she wouldn't just be preoccupied or anxious about doing the most perfect pirouettes and arabesques, but instead focus on having fun. 


"Have fun!," is what I voice to most who know me, even if they're just going for a Walmart run, because isn't meandering through those aisles filling your cart with your stomach's desires, such as a decadent chocolate cake, fun? 


The capacity to "Have fun," is on my top four list of aspirations I especially want for my granddaughters. It falls somewhere between being authentic to themselves, compassionate towards others, and fearless, so that they can become fearless women. But I also want them to live their lives without taking life too seriously, to incorporate fun into as many aspects of their life as they can knowing that joy, laughter, and feeling good about what they are doing are priceless.


I must admit I've ignored my own voice and not taken my own advice to, "Have fun," when it comes to writing. Those words somersault out of my mouth and land in my lap too infrequently, as if as a writer I'm not allowed in the fun zone.


Instead of ear-piercing screams of joy, like those of children at a playground, there is the gurgling sound of doubt in my stomach because...my writing may not really be as good as I think it is, or a publisher or editor is bound to see more of my story's flaws than its intent or essence, so why bother submitting it. 


My writing journey hasn't been filled with enough moments of that exhilarating feeling of pumping my legs to go higher and higher on a playground swing so I could almost touch the sky. Instead it's been, don't go so high (get too confident) because you might fall off and scrape your knee (get a rejection). 


But thankfully, because I have been detoxing from critical self talk of lately, I have begun to break that negative cycle and heed my advice for a change. Yes, finally, I'm having fun writing. Well, maybe I was having fun writing all along but was afraid to acknowledge that. But now I do. I am having fun even with the long hours spent isolated in my room with only my characters (they can be very entertaining).  I am having fun even during the laborious rewrites I undertake to get a manuscript submission ready or to resubmit one that has been rejected. How? Because I am immersed in this creative energy that makes my insides feel so good...no great.


Having fun writing means that I, little ole me, has this superpower that helps me create stories from just a seedling. Having fun writing means I have the freedom and the platform to say whatever I need to say in whatever way I choose to until I am spent. How liberating is that!


And on those days when the stories that need to be told, are too raw or too solemn, to call it a fun time,  then it becomes a therapeutic time, a way for me, and others who need to hear my story, to heal. That fun part of writing will come again, rise like a phoenix inside of me, at the right time and in the right writing space. 


We as writers, toil each day to tell our stories and publish them. Even as we toil though we can choose to have fun while writing if we embrace it at a 360-degree angle so it can be potent and full-bodied each time we put pen to paper or press the keys of our laptop. Having fun while writing is a state of mind, a mood we shouldn't feel afraid or guilty about flaunting. It's so becoming on us. 


So are you having fun yet? 

                                                                                                        ---Jeanine


Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and blogs. Her stories are always "full" of the voices of the women who loved and nurtured her. 


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When a Loss is a Win

Thursday, September 10, 2020

 Yesterday I got the initial results of WOW’s most recent essay contest. I had not made it to the next round. Again.

That means I’m 0 for 2.


This piece that didn’t pass muster is close to my heart. It’s organized to echo the format of one of my favorite essays: Joyas Voladoras. It’s on a topic I’m passionate about: racisim. I really wanted it to snag at least a runner-up spot.


It didn’t. To advance, it needed a score of at least 14. The pieces were scored on subject, content and technical aspects--each was worth 5 points. Mine earned only 11 points.


image by Pixabay

About 6 months ago, I entered my first WOW contest. It was also an essay that was close to my heart. This one focused on postpartum psychosis. I have two friends who have daughters that suffered from it. One killed her three children, in the span of three years. She’s been in prison for 30 years. The other friend’s daughter shot her husband, and her baby daughter. She then killed herself.


Both pieces would have shed some light on an issue that’s important to me. Getting a large audience to read them would have been wonderful.


However, this time (just like the previous time), I got a critique as part of the package. Earlier, a friend paid for the critique. When I entered recently, I paid for a critique. I mean, how often does a writer get feedback (other than from their writing group colleagues)? We might get a rejection email. We might get no response, which means a no. But rarely do we get specific constructive criticism.


Lucky for me, I got several pages of feedback. Some of it spoke to me needing to tighten my piece. Some of it tried to school me on the use of ellipses. (The audacity! Doesn’t everyone know that the ellipsis is king? It should be used as often as possible… at least once every other sentence.) But, a lot of the critique involved lines being crossed out--parts that weren’t really necessary to the piece.


And double-lucky for me: I got the same judge to critique my piece that I got last time. I know it’s random, but my earlier feed-back was so spot-on, when I paid for the feed-back this time, I had a wish: I hope Chelsey critiques mine again. Without even knowing if she’d be involved in this round of essays… (See? Ellipses are always welcome and appropriate.)


I’ve heard many of my respected writer friends froth at the mouth over workshops they’ve taken with Chelsey Clammer. I can see why. If her suggestions are any indication of her talent as a teacher and a writer… well, I can see why she’s able to inspire so many pieces into existence. (Chelsey: I know you’re rethinking the ellipsis thingy. You’re warming up to embracing pieces with 42 ellipses, right?)


Even though I failed to earn a spot as a runner-up, I’m calling myself a winner. I got an incredible start at reworking my essay. I also got something I’m planning on using in my classroom. When my students write essays this year, I’m going to put Chelsey’s crossed-out version of my essay up on my smartboard… to show my classes that sometimes we love our words, but there’s always room for improvement.


Sometimes, there’s lots of room for improvement… (Chelsey--You’re hot for ‘em now, right?)  




Sioux is a middle-school teacher by day, and a failed contest writer by night. Lately, she's found great success at falling asleep (sitting upright) on the couch, her laptop in her lap. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, head to her blog.
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Do You Do This? (And How It Can Make You a Better Writer)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020
Do you do this?

You’re plopped in front of the TV or screen of your choice, watching a favorite program—maybe it’s a series like Outlander or a paranormal investigation or a classic comedy like The Andy Griffith Show—and you see an actor or hear an historical tidbit or watch something outrageous and your mind begins to wander with all kinds of questions. And suddenly, swoosh. You pick up your cell phone to get more information.

I’ve met a lot of writers over the years and though they write anything from haiku to horror, they tend to have one trait in common: curiosity. And thanks to technology, we don’t have to sit around wondering whatever happened to the actor who played Otis, the town drunk. Or when exactly was the Jacobean era? And perhaps most importantly, has anyone ever found Bigfoot poop?

It’s all right there at our fingertips, a veritable goldmine of facts (and sometimes conjecture). But what does any of this have to do with becoming a better writer? Here are the handy steps to get you there:

Step 1: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole Pays Off

Often, when I begin a simple Internet search, I end up twenty minutes later, thinking, “Huh. That would make a good nonfiction picture book. (Or article, or short story, or even a novel.)”

But the trick to finding that idea is to explore beyond the obvious. Consider the other day when I was watching a paranormal investigation of a saloon somewhere in the Old West. There was a connection to Wild Bill Hickock and the narrative zeroed in on his infamous murder and the blood spilled at the gaming table. But an hour later, I was more shocked by what I’d found out about Hickock’s life than his death, and that led me to Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show, and on to sharpshooter, Annie Oakley and another endlessly fascinating cohort, Calamity Jane.

Now, I already had a general knowledge about all those people but I wasn’t there for general facts. I was more curious about the outlandish and the unusual, the whys and hows behind these larger-than-life characters. Sifting through the dry facts, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a sparkly nugget!

Step 2: Exploring Strange New Worlds

So there you are, a sparkly something whipping around your brain and a tingly feeling in the pit of your stomach. Oh, this is good, you’re thinking, and you can’t wait to start writing. Except you really should. Because someone else may have snatched up that gem first.

Fortunately, you’re still sitting there, cell phone in hand. A quick search will tell you if the great idea you want to write about is already out there. But to be clear, it’s not that you can’t write about a subject that’s already out there. In fact, it’s pretty darn hard to find a topic that hasn’t been written about…I mean, you found the information, so obviously, someone has written on your subject. But you have to be like the starship Enterprise, boldly going where no writer has gone before. Find that, and you’re on your way!

Step 3: And Now, We Write

Just when you were feeling a wee bit guilty about all that sitting around, that nagging voice known as your conscience is silenced and all your hours and hours of binge-watching and scrolling on your phone have been justified. You’ve mined a great idea! You’ve verified that no one else has expressed this idea in the brilliant way you’ve imagined! You will be that better writer!

All you have to do now is write.


~Cathy C. Hall (Who may or may not have a brilliant idea pertaining to the DNA analysis of Bigfoot poop and the hitherto unknown scientific talents of Calamity Jane.)
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Interview with Rochelle Williams : Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Runner Up

Tuesday, September 08, 2020
Rochelle Williams
lives in southern New Mexico. Her fiction, poetry and visual art have appeared in Lunarosity, Chokecherries, Desert Exposure, Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir, Earthships: A New Mecca Poetry Collection, and Menacing Hedge. Her fiction has won a number of awards, including two Southwest Writers Workshop competitions and Recursos de Santa Fe’s Discovery Reading Series. She holds an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is working on a novel about the French early modernist painter, Pierre Bonnard.

interview by Marcia Peterson 

WOW: Congratulations your first place win in our Spring 2020 competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Rochelle: I was looking at a friend's blog. She posts writing opportunities weekly. Her name is Jeanne Gassman and we were classmates in the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I saw the WOW listing and decided to give it a shot. As I read around on the Women on Writing site, I saw that Jeanne was a first-place winner in 2012. So, thank you, Jeanne, and thank you, Women on Writing for such a providing such a great platform for women to publish and share their writing.

WOW:  Can you tell us the inspiration for your story, "That Day?" 

Rochelle: This story really began as a backstory or character sketch for a character in some writing I did on a first novel. I was musing about the impact over time of losing a child, and what Maggie might be feeling years after the accident that killed Jacob. After a long hiatus, I've recently returned to writing and unearthed this piece from my files. It felt powerful to me, so I worked to shape it into a cogent short narrative, a process I very much enjoyed.

WOW: What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Rochelle: This was my first flash fiction piece. It was challenging in such a stimulating way it made me want to work in this form a lot more. I've written short stories and worked on two novels. To convey what you want to say in so few words really concentrates everything--language, rhythm, structure--and it also mysteriously concentrates the pleasure of the writing. This was a big surprise to me.

WOW: Well done on your first flash piece! What can you tell us about the novel you’re working on, and how the process is going?

Rochelle: The novel I'm working on now is called Eye of Desire: Letters to a Dead Painter. In it, a woman art historian and conservator finds herself writing letters to Pierre Bonnard because she is so moved by his art. She uses this "conversation" with the dead painter to come to terms with a tragedy in her life and recover her own artistic journey, which she abandoned out of grief. I am about mid-way through and hope to complete a first draft in the next six months.

WOW:  Good luck with the draft! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Rochelle. Before you go, do you have any advice for beginning flash fiction writers?

Rochelle: Since I'm new to flash fiction, I don't really have any resources to recommend specifically about fiction. However, I've found Dinty Moore's Rose Metal Press A Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction really helpful in terms of understanding short forms in general.

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

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Writing and Getting Out of Your Own Way

Monday, September 07, 2020

One of my favorite things to do with writing is looking back over old material. I usually start out intending to clean things out and it ends up with me reading notebooks from years gone by. 

What always surprises me about this is when I come across writing that really isn't that bad. I mean anything I come across always needs revising and improving and more often than not, it's all half-finished. Yet, I love it when I come across something that surprises me in a good way. (I have had my share of reading cringe-worthy writing).

In fact, earlier past year (think January) I stumbled across a half completed story that I started over 5 years ago. I liked it enough to finish it. 

Often times with writing I think we're all a bit hard on ourselves. I get that way too. Yet every now and then I am reminded that sometimes being hard on myself, means I get in my own way.

About a month ago, my mom found a poem I wrote when I was about 18, right after graduating from high school. I had maybe tried revising it once or twice but I had forgotten about it completely until she found it. She encouraged me to submit it somewhere but as I looked at it, I thought, "There's so much work to do on this." So, I tabled it and figured I would get to it eventually.

On a slow weekday afternoon, I dug up this poem and thought, "Well, I may as well try to clean it up." I polished here and there, giving it more rhythm in some places, replacing a few word choices.

Then I submitted it, thinking to myself it would enter a seemingly endless cycle of revision, rejection, rinse, and repeat.

But it was accepted. 

I couldn't believe it! This little poem that didn't seem likely to find a home (in my mind, at least) was going to be published.

What I realized now is that I think as writers we are way too hard on ourselves sometimes. I am certain I have ditched projects far too soon and ignored story ideas that were hidden gems. I think it comes down to getting out of our own way sometimes.

So today, as you look on your own writing, I encourage you to write despite that lingering self-doubt. Over this past year, I've learned to write even despite that sing-songy torment says, "This isn't going anywhere you know." Look into the eyes of your self-doubt and say, "So, I'm writing anyways." Because sometimes the very thing we think we shouldn't write, or couldn't write, or would never work anyway, becomes something amazing. And you get that acceptance despite nearly getting in your own way.

Today, get out of your own way and write anyways.

P.S.

And in case, like the meme says at the top of this post, your writing plans get cancelled because of...well, anything. It's okay, get back at it tomorrow.

P.s.s.

My poem is going to be featured in an anthology being released later this year! Yay!

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Interview with C J Maust, Runner Up in the Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, September 06, 2020
C J is a wife, a mom, a grandma and great grandma to so many beautiful people. These are her most cherished attributes. Her education isn’t worth discussing unless the school of hard knocks and pop rocks is important. Many decades have taught her to not take things too seriously because they’re bound to change. She loves making people laugh because life is not always a laughing matter.

She’s had many careers from being a commercial fisherman to owning an interior design business, a restaurant and riverboat. Four years ago, her husband gave her a ukulele as a gift. She taught herself to play and has taught over four hundred seniors to play at a Senior Education Center in Houston, TX. She has dabbled in standup comedy a bit, again because she loves the sound of laughter amid otherwise trying times.

She enjoys putting her crazy thoughts on paper about life, love, loss and silly things that most people don’t write about. She says writing is her vice but don’t take what she says as Advice.

Check out C J's unique writing voice in her piece "Pandemic 101 for Dummies" and then return here for an interview with the writer.


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


WOW: Congratulations, C J! I was laughing out loud at your essay. What was your first draft of “Pandemic 101 for Dummies” like? Is there anything you had to cut out during the revision process?

C J: I had just finished reading my new issue of Reader’s Digest and at the back of the magazine is Word Power. I scratched down Pandemic, PPE, etc . but by the time I got to Corona, I decided I might as well have a little fun. During the revision process, I had to remove a bunch of swear words. They seemed to fit so well with our situation. Complete frustration had filled me, so nasty words were the obvious choice. I knew I had to clean it up so there wasn’t a “Viewer Discretion Advised” attached. When I get on a roll, I’m quite chatty so after the first draft, I eliminated about 500 words. I tend to write like I talk using too many “ really”s , “just”, and “because”. Cleaning up a story is really (see I did it again) where the fun begins.

WOW: I understand about all those extra words--I use "really" and "just" and "so" way too much myself. What are some of your favorite songs to play on your ukulele?

C J: My favorite ukulele songs are the ones I can actually play. It’s challenging for my arthritic fingers to twist them around in all those funky shapes that one has to maneuver to make the sound pleasant instead of screechy. Learning to play, then to teach over the last four years has been wonderfully challenging and fulfilling. I’m passionate about it. I like snappy songs that have unusual chords and lately I’ve enjoyed a few contemporary songs like "Shallow."

WOW: I love that you have tried your hand at stand up comedy! How difficult is it to come up with the material and test out the jokes that you will keep? What are some of your favorite “bits” that you’ve used in your routines?

C J: I’ve only done four stand-up performances in front of live audiences and I’ve been invited back each time. This is new for me and, of course, my new career is on hold because of the pandemic. I decided to take a shot at it from my experiences with my ukulele classes. They think I’m hilarious, even when I’m not trying to be funny. Most of my material comes from my everyday life like going to the cardiologist. When he asked me if obesity runs in my family, I shook my head and said, “Doc, nobody runs in my family.” When he nearly fell on the floor laughing, I thought I might be onto something. Donuts are my nemesis so there are a million good lines about donuts.

WOW: Ah, the donuts. Nothing better than those. Do you only write nonfiction or have you also worked on other forms of creative writing?

C J: Not by any stretch of the imagination am I writer. I just do it, clueless, unrestricted and unconventional. Until recently, I couldn’t have told you what an essay is. When I’ve tried to write stories out of my imagination, I find there is some thread of truth that pulls me along, some actual event that coaxes the story from my memory. I can only assume there are hidden gems of truth in most fictional writing here or there. Living as long as I have, I could write non-fiction, and call it fiction because most people wouldn’t believe half the stuff I’ve seen and done in my life.

WOW: Since the pandemic doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, are you working on any new writing projects you’d like to share with us?

C J: You had to mention Pandemic again! Nowadays, it’s translated as Lethargy in my house; a state of deep unresponsiveness and inactivity. However, WOW! has given me an inch, so like a fish on a hook, I plan to run that line out as far as it will go. I have a couple ideas swimming around in my head so I’ll continue throwing the line out there to see what I can catch.
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Why Does Everything WIth Writing Take So Much Time?

Saturday, September 05, 2020
I'm wondering: Why does everything, in the name of writing, take so much time? And why does time go so quickly except when you want it to? These are age-old questions that will have no answers, but they do have a purpose for this blog post. I've been thinking a lot lately how everything to do with writing and publishing takes hours, months, years, lifetimes. Really, if you let it bog you down, you can get frustrated and want to give up. How is this for an inspirational post? Just hold on...

I have so many projects I want to do from writing more children's books in my American Civil War Adventure series to publishing more books for authors through Editor-911 Books to revising and finishing countless (I mean countless) nonfiction and fiction manuscripts to editing for other writers to teaching writing classes. (And this is just my professional writing life; I sort of kind of have a personal life, too. Winks.) And none of these projects or tasks take a short amount of time. Almost every one of them is a long project, and the one thing I don't have a lot of is...you guessed it...time.

In Hamilton the musical, which many of you have probably seen now thanks to a pandemic and Disney+, Aaron Burr asks/sings/laments (pick your favorite), "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" My guess is because Alexander knew that writing took a lot of time, and he never felt like he had enough of it. (And back then, whew, writing by candlelight with a quill and ink? My, oh, my.)



So I've had to learn to take a deep breath and give myself pep talks. "Listen, self, every time you work on anything to do with your books or your publishing company or your editing clients, you are one step closer to living the dream life that you want to live. If you just sit around and complain that everything takes so much time or never start anything because you won't have time to finish it that day, you'll be stuck. And if there's one thing you can't stand is feeling stuck!" (Side note: My sassy self is currently pouting in the corner after this lecture.)

But isn't that the worst feeling when you are miserable in some situation and you can't figure a way to change anything? Writing gives me hope. Publishing gives me hope. Helping other writers gives me hope. And hope is what keeps me going.

Part of the problem is I listen to podcasts--they are both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is they are a free way to learn a lot about the indie publishing industry and listen to people who are successful and/or making mistakes, but learning from them, every single day. I am even coaching an author or two about the indie publishing movement right now--thanks to everything I've learned.

But the curse part is so many of these authors on the podcasts are working full time as an author or have no children or live by themselves with no pets even. So when I listen to them talk about writing 3000 to 5000 words a  day or putting out four books in a year, I have to remind myself that their life is not my life, and there are certain things in my life I would obviously not want to give up, especially being a mom to Katie. (Okay, I suppose our dog Sudsi is one of those things; and no, she's not MAKING me add this in.)

I've felt frustrated lately in spite of telling myself again and again that every step forward is a step toward my goals whether it's a teeny tiny step or a huge leap. I tell myself that I'm in this for the marathon and not the sprint. And I tell myself, "At least you are not stuck."

But I will also tell you that I still wish everything to do with writing did not take SO MUCH TIME. I know it's a common complaint for most writers and something we all deal with, but it still helps to type it out and know that someone on the other end of these words can commiserate with me. Please commiserate with me--I'm begging you.

If you're feeling like me, let me know in the comments. But also remember, just do anything, one thing, something today to move yourself forward, even if it's cleaning off a spot in your house to set your laptop to start your new novel tomorrow.

What am I going to do? Well, I'm about to publish another book for my author friend Fred Olds and write some curriculum for my American Civil War Adventure series--plus figure out how to go "wide" with indie publishing print books and finish up republishing a YA sweet romance. Goodness, no wonder I feel overwhelmed. Let's get back to that first and small step...


Margo L. Dill is an author, teacher, editor, mom, daughter, friend, dog walker and reader. She lives in St. Louis, MO, with her daughter and dog. Her class about novel writing started yesterday, but you can actually still join if you want because that would be one step toward reaching a goal you can do today. She is the author of the just released prequel for her American Civil War Adventure series titled, Anna and the Baking Championship, perfect for middle-grade readers and only 99 cents for the ebook! 
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Friday Speak Out!: Your Novel at Its Best

Friday, September 04, 2020
by Linda Stewart Henley

Julia Child wrote, “The souffle is the egg at its most magnificent.” Just like a souffle that puffs and fills its mold, a novel needs whipping into shape to rise to expectations as a finely crafted literary meal.

One of the best ways to achieve success in writing novels is to learn from other writers who have honed their craft. Literary materials include such things as appropriate word choice, rich descriptions, dramatic scenes, believable characters, an engaging storyline, realistic dialogue, mounting tension, and a satisfactory denouement. However, creating a story using all of these ingredients may result in a successful book, or it may simply fall flat.

A first draft is rarely a finished product. The writer needs to use the freshest impulses to develop the story, to move it along with vigor so that it doesn’t feel labored or contrived. When a draft is complete, the writer needs to review it with a critical eye to catch inconsistencies of plot, main characters that fail to reach an arc, and scenes that don’t move the story forward. All the right ingredients may be blended, but they usually need a deft touch to bind them together and make a good tale.

After several revisions, the writer may reach a point where she no longer sees the errors. This is when another set of eyes can be invaluable. A critic’s advantage is the ability to evaluate a work without the author’s emotional investment. New writers sometimes resist this necessary step, either out of fear of exposing the work, of rejection, or from an unwillingness to change their precious words. The often-stated adage that a writer should be willing to “kill her darlings” applies to the often painful revision process. A good editor is a friend, and it’s necessary to believe that in order to accept a harsh critique. Naturally not all changes suggested by someone else will be deemed acceptable--that’s the author’s decision. However, often a good novel can be made better, or even great, by wise use of another person’s suggestions.

Julia Child says that a souffle’s success is all about the way that the eggs are beaten and folded in. In my novel Estelle I had trouble with the beginning scene. Originally it was dramatic, well written, and intriguing, but it wasn’t about the protagonist. After I had finished my first draft a reader told me that, as much as he liked the opening scene, it didn’t provide the right setting for the storyline. Reluctantly, I cut it out. I was able to reintroduce part of that scene later, where it served a useful purpose.

Making a souffle involves the use of eggs by folding and incorporating them into the mixture without compromising either the egg whites or the elasticity of the flour. It’s a delicate process involving balance. That’s the final word in editing a novel: the various elements have to balance. It’s a judgement call, probably more art than science, and a good critique always helps.

* * * 
 photo by Mark Gardner
LINDA STEWART HENLEY is an English-born American who moved to the United States at sixteen. She is a graduate of Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans. She currently lives with her husband in Anacortes, Washington. This is her first novel. Find her online at lindastewarthenleyauthor.com and on FaceBook at facebook.com/lindastewarthenley/
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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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Mama is on a Roll!

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

My parents would say sarcastically "you're sure on a roll" when I was acting out as a teenager. I don't think they meant it in a positive way, but as a Mama of a teen daughter, that's an article I'm not quite ready to write. Maybe in a few years once we've both survived...IF we survive...

Now days, I talk about a different kind of roll as we enter a new school year. I say things like "are we ready to roll?" or "the key is rolling with the punches!" Some days I feel like I'm the frosting on a delicious cinnamon roll and other days I feel like a steam roller has rolled over the top of me. I'm fairly certain parenting during a pandemic is a delicate balance between good and evil. I'm back to writing. I've been doing a fair share of reading - although if the book doesn't grab me from the get go it's likely going to sit unfinished gathering dust. My attention span is similar to that of my toddler. We've been eating healthier and exercising more. I haven't watched a thing on television. Some days I'm up at the crack of dawn and other days I'm up just in time to make lunch. Then again, that can usually be excused since my bedtime is very inconsistent and I'll start on a project and stay up til the wee hours of the morning trying to finish.

I'm waiting for things to go back to normal, but yet I'm enjoying this time that seems to be slower. My husband is impressed with the mileage on the mini-van (yes, I grumble but I drive a mini van). Without summer sports and play dates, the van sits in the driveway for days and days instead of making multiple trips each day to run this athlete here and that musician there. Where I'm going with this is right here:

Whether you are rolling with the punches, feeling like the frosting on a cinnamon roll, or being rolled over by a steam roller - you've totally got this! As a mom and a writer, you're doing just fine. You're better than fine - YOU ARE AMAZING!

It's important for you to hear this right now. I know you're thinking about unfinished projects, wondering if you're making the right choices for yourself, your family, and your children, but  you need to know there is no wrong answer. We need to roll with the punches and see what the rest of 2020 is bringing to the table. I don't have the answers. I don't know if we will ever go back to normal. I wish I had a better handle on things with my children, my spouse, my writing, my health, and the list goes on...but I definitely can tell you we all deserve to hear this at least a dozen times a day:

YOU ARE AMAZING!

Want to hear it again?

YOU ARE AMAZING!

Even if it's mid-afternoon and you're still in your jammies with your messy bun...YOU ARE AMAZING! 

Even if there's no way you'll fit back into your office clothes...YOU ARE AMAZING!

Just keep keeping on dear heart - this can't last forever! Now get out there are share the joy - tell someone how amazing they are! Buy some flower stems and give them to strangers or drop a bouquet off for a neighbor! No one is feeling those vibes of "I've got this" right now - so we need to offer encouragement to ourselves and everyone who will listen!

And speaking of listening - I WANT to hear from YOU!

What's something nice you've done to encourage someone recently? What is a nice way someone has offered you encouragement? What is something you could implement this week that would encourage someone else?

Drop a note and let us know!

Hugs,
~Crystal

and now...a little more about me...


Shown from left to right:
Delphine riding Honey
Mr. Otto holding Eudora
Crystal riding Marv.
Thank you Forward Farm, LLC 
Crystal is the office manager, 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, pony Miss Maggie May, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows, riding horses, and the occasional unicorn (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 own blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade and she has never (not once) been accused of being normal!
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The Key to Writing When You’re too Freaked Out to Write (Gray Days, Part 2)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020


I have to admit that I tried a number of different titles for this post. At one point, it was “Gray Days, Part 2” since it continues Jeanine’s post about pushing through those gray days to write. “Freaked out” just seems so undignified and a bit melodramatic. But 2020? Undignified and melodramatic barely scratch the surface. 


Yet, there have been high points. I hope some of you are Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) members who registered for the Summer Spectacular. One of the best sessions was a conversation between Jane Yolen and her daughter and co-author Heidi Stemple. 


Someone asked Jane how she manages to write during the pandemic. How does she write when the world is falling apart? Jane is infamous for her butt-in-chair attitude to writing. If you aren’t familiar with butt-in-chair, to write you must put your butt in the chair. This is solid advice but given the joy that is 2020 a more elaborate answer was needed. 


Jane advised listeners to take the negative emotion they are feeling and use it in a story. She explained that it doesn’t have to be a story about coronavirus or violence. Instead use this emotion to create a story on another topic but use that emotion to its fullest. 


One opportunity to give this a try came a few weeks ago when my dad was in the hospital. The doctor wanted to give him a quick cognitive test so he asked Dad “Do you know who Sue is?” After a salty exchange with my father who was mad he had been woken up for this nonsense, I told the doctor there are three women named Sue on just that side of the family. “How would I have known that?” Hmm. Ask a question? Find things out? 


It was frustrating to know that Dad could have gotten a worse evaluation based on assumptions made by someone who doesn’t know us. I took that frustration and wrote “Four Freddies” a picture book about three cousins who are named after their grandad. And, yes. That’s how you spell Freddie in my family. See? All you had to do was ask. 


My second opportunity to try Jane’s technique came from Dad’s second hospital stay of the summer. Someone lost their cool which translated into days of hate-filled, threatening messages cc’ed to five different people.  


Where to go with this? First I had to unravel the tangle of negative emotion. It didn’t take long to pull out judgement, bullying, and condescension. To my surprise, the whole thing reminded me of dealing with an alcoholic relative who would get mad when you wouldn’t drink with him. It is a far cry from the original events, but the emotion gave rise to a piece of flash fiction called “Day by Day.” 


2020 is giving us all a lot to process. As writers, one of the best ways we have to process what we are dealing with is by writing. The best part? It doesn’t have to resemble our present reality in any way except the emotion.


--SueBE


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020). 

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