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Sunday, June 16, 2019


Meet Mark Fiore- Quarter 2 2019 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest Runner Up!

Congratulations to Mark Fiore and Legacy. and all the winners of our 2019 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Mark's Bio:

Former California native Mark Fiore now lives on the slopes of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, in southern New Mexico, where life is saner, the people are nicer, and the writing juju is excellent. So much so that after forty-plus years of near-daily journal writing, he finally got up the nerve to proclaim himself a writer and DO something with all those journals.

Mark has worked with mythologist Michael Meade and the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation in support of their work to develop mentoring relationships and forms of community healing through innovative workshops and retreats that inspire personal growth and leadership development. The non-fiction epistolary account of his efforts to live an authentic life can be found in You Are Loved, an Email Memoir, which he co-authored with writer Lisa Lucca. Before adopting his pen name, Mark was a contributing writer for The Good Men Project. Two of his essays about growing up male can be found here and here. Additional examples of Mark’s writings can be found at

He is currently writing the follow-up story to You Are Loved, sifting through forty-three journals in search of insights and observations about life, love, and God that might be of help to anyone who’s felt as confused and ungrounded in their lives as he once was. He wants everyone to know that he’s not kidding about the desert writing juju thing.

If you haven't done so already, check out Mark's beautiful essay Legacy and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations Mark! I thoroughly enjoyed your story; thank you for submitting to our Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest and congratulations on being a Runner Up! 

Thank you for writing this essay - I love the message and love! Were there any fears you had to overcome in order to submit this essay? How did you overcome those fears and/or obstacles?

Mark: My only real concern was the degree to which my story would connect with WOW’s readership. One of the guidelines for this contest was to “gear your writing toward women readers”, so a father’s story of the journal he wrote to his daughter during the first sixteen years of her life would have to first make an impression on the contest judges before fans of the website would ever see it.

I submitted the essay to the contest in the previous quarter and requested an editor’s critique. Chelsey Clammer was the editor who came back with not only crazy-smart feedback on how to make the piece better, but also some very complimentary impressions of my writing style and writer’s voice. The infusion of inspiration and encouragement I received from Chelsey bolstered my confidence tremendously, and after tweaking the essay based on her feedback I re-submitted the piece in the following quarter.

Placing in the top ten of WOW’s non-fiction essay contest mirrors back to me that, at some level, women have indeed found something in this story they can connect with. At the very least I would expect memories and/or emotions regarding their own father/daughter relationship to come up, especially for those women who had or wish they had a father who fought to preserve a loving relationship with them in spite of any obstacles, which is the core theme of my essay.

WOW: We sure have some amazing judges and I'm glad Chelsey's feedback was inspiring! What have you found to be most helpful in your writing path?

Mark: I have a very long history of journal writing, which means eighty-something percent of what I’ve written over the years has been read only by me. This is not a great trajectory to maintain for anyone looking to be a published writer. Though I much prefer the organic and more intimate experience of pen-to-paper writing, I discovered it had become something of a liability: when it came to writing with a keyboard and typing into a doc, my writing voice was stiffer, more formal, and at times so calculated that I would get disgusted with myself and abandon whatever I’d been working on. Then I’d reach for a current journal and effortlessly write pages about my stupid writing aspirations and what a hack writer I really was.

I decided the best way for me to break out of this rut, this habit, was to go much more public with my writing, which is why I started submitting 800-word essays to a local bookstore’s monthly “Story Slam” event. Those events had a contest/competition element to them: the event coordinators would toss out a one-word prompt (“Hustle”, “Snake”, “Legacy”, “Superstition”, “Covfefe”), anyone could enter, and the submissions would be blind-judged by the bookstore staff. From the dozens of submissions, only six or eight authors would be selected to read their strictly-timed five-minute piece in front of a live audience.

Those monthly story slam events impacted my writing for the better in two ways: First, it forced me to make friends with my laptop and begin seeing it as helpful tool for composing stories, not just an annoying slab of soulless, plastic push-buttons. I bookmarked and opened tabs for a thesaurus, a dictionary, and punctuation rules; I incorporated my musician sensibilities into these writing sessions, using my computer as an instrument that supported me in finding the right mood or the proper tone for my compositions, taking more care with my word choice, working and re-working a sentence or a paragraph until I nailed exactly what I wanted to say.

Second, writing for those story slams jump-started the much more enjoyable habit of reading my work out loud. This not only helped to confirm whether or not I’d found the right words, but, like walking through a mine field, I’d occasionally stumble upon an honest emotion I hadn’t detected on the page -- just below the surface of a sentence, in the middle of some paragraph -- and blow myself up with tears. It bewildered me. It also made me a regular at the story slam events: over the next twelve months I was chosen to read eleven of my stories, several of which I could not read aloud without (BOOM!) having to pause and collect myself.

WOW: That last paragraph - absolutely beautiful! Your talent shows through - even in this interview! Your writing is very moving.

Where do you write? What does your space look like?

WOW: At the far end of a tiled hallway I turned a guest bedroom – a ten-by-twenty rectangle - into an earthy, cozy den: my writing room. Most of the hardwood floor is covered with a thick area rug in rusty browns and olive greens; similar colors apply to an overstuffed chair and matching ottoman placed diagonally in one corner of the room, next to a small antique table topped with a banker’s lamp -- my reading spot. To one side of this vignette is a 12-string guitar on a stand; to the other side is a 6-string. Both guitars are kept tuned and ready to play, which I tend to do in those moments when I’m stuck or frustrated with my writing but want to keep the creativity in the room.

Backed against one long wall is a comfortable Mission style futon couch which can double as a queen size bed. To either side of the couch is an antique lamp. Displayed on the wall above the couch are four framed dream collages from recent years, all of which have a section devoted to writing goals.

Directly across from the couch and facing the opposite wall is a spacious Mission style desk where I do my writing. Above the desk, also framed and at eye level, is the current year’s dream collage, where I can look up from a given writing project and read a reminder to myself that “the world does not need another mediocre book”.

My laptop is tethered to a large desktop monitor tucked into the upper left corner of the desk, as well as an excellent five-speaker system. No, not for gaming videos: when I’m writing on my laptop the monitor is off, but the speakers are playing the sound of a light, drippy rain. When I’m putting pen to paper for journal writing I’ll switch on the monitor and have it display an eight-hour HD video of a remote, lush forest stream with waterfalls. Also on the desk are: a dimmable, height-adjustable lamp, a stack of five journals titled according to subject matter (music, God, relationships, etc.), a couple of yellow legal pads, and a square, wooden pencil holder, stuffed with a six-month supply of 1.4B Paper Mate Profile pens. When writing at my desk I get plenty of natural light and high-desert air from the large windows to my immediate left.

Pre-dawn is my favorite writing time, which means it’s dark outside, which is why the four lamps in the room are fitted with amber-tinted Edison bulbs. In the two or three hours before sunrise, with its solid oak Mission furniture and earth-tone fabrics, my writing den positively glows with warmth and comfort when bathed in this light. And if it should be raining or snowing while I’m writing in those early morning hours, wild horses couldn’t drag me out of that room.

WOW: I'd ask you for a photograph of your space to add to this article, but you describe it so well I'm sure readers have the perfect picture in their minds! (another testament to your writing skills)

You already mentioned how journaling is part of your life, but tell us more: what role has journaling and/or writer's groups played in your writing life?

Mark: I’ve been journaling almost daily for more than half my life, though I have no idea where that compulsion came from. My first journal – six-by-eight inches, thick leather, unlined pages, cover embossed with the image of an oak tree -- was a Christmas gift from a girlfriend. Six days later I wrote in it for the first time: a twenty-nine word sentence reporting that the girlfriend wanted me to move out. The next entry comes three days after that – January 3rd -- describing how happy the two of us are to snow ski and party with friends in a mountain condo. The last entry is dated October 1st of that same year, by which time the girlfriend is gone, my father has passed away, and I’ve taken his final piece of advice to quit the restaurant business and be a drummer, not a chef.

Journals, from that point on, became the most effective therapist imaginable: a safe, reliable, non-judgmental container where I can speak my entire mind and download my each and every thought, belief, or emotion, without being interrupted. As when in the presence of a good listener, this allows me to unravel the messy knot of feelings I’m sitting on at any given time and find my own words that, on a good day, bring clarity, comprehension, and understanding.

All of this to say that journaling has been my practice of getting to know myself and my way through a fatherless life by instinctively and organically writing about it. It’s fair to say, then, that the writer I’m currently showing up as has come from that. The “Legacy” essay certainly did.

As for writer’s groups, I’ve participated in a few and have enjoyed some more than others. I’ve noticed, though, that beginner-level writers seem more interested in validation that critique, as do good writers who lack confidence in their work. There’s no mistaking the difference between a beginner writer with healthy self-confidence, and a more experienced writer trying to hide their insecurities behind a projection of false or forced self-confidence: you can see it in their eyes, their faces, and their body language when it comes time for that twenty minutes of group attention to be focused on them and whatever piece or project they’re wanting feedback on. Trying desperately not to hurt another writer’s feelings by parsing words of criticism makes perfect sense, however, if your impulse is to blurt out what a piece of shit you think their writing is, and I for one have been fortunate enough to have never belonged to a writer’s group willing to be THAT honest.

But these days I prefer to write and submit when I want honest, real-world feedback as to how my own writing is coming along.

WOW: Thank you for such a great insight!

What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for the remainder of 2019 and beyond?

Mark: In 2012 I co-wrote an epistolary memoir with Lisa Lucca – WOW’s 1st Place winner of their 2018-Q1 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest – which, through a nine-year email exchange, tells the true story of how, with Lisa’s support, I got through a dysfunctional marriage and found my way back to a much more authentic life. You Are Loved . . . an email memoir (available on Amazon) is full of the kind of writing I did in my journals: off-the-cuff, first-draft, honest communication about love, parenting, and life purpose, which I sent to the one person I trusted most, have known for more than half my life, and now live with in southern New Mexico.

There’s quite a love story embedded in that narrative, and my writing goals for 2019 include my intention to finish writing it. It’s under way, and all that remains is to keep coming back to my cozy den in the pre-dawn hours, flip on the rain sounds, and write my ass off. Lucky for me that I have forty-something journals to sift through should there be a need to recall the details of how I came to live the excellent, deeply rewarding life I’m currently living.

WOW: Thank you so much Mark - I've really enjoyed our time together and look forward to hearing more from you in the future! Congratulations again!

Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

Check out the latest Contests:

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Saturday, June 15, 2019


The Father I Might Kill

Okay, be patient. I'll get to the post title in just a moment. I promise.

Tomorrow is Father's Day. I lost my father many years ago, but my heart is full of memories. He was a wonderful dad. He sang songs like Marezy Doats ("Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. A kid'll eat ivy too--wouldn't you?") the Marines' Hymn, and Handel's Messiah. He was an engineer, and pored over assembly instruction for hours--I'm not exaggerating. At the dinner table, he took forever buttering a roll or biscuit--every single square centimeter of the cut surface had to be slowly smeared with margarine. (Meanwhile, our rolls were getting cold.)

Most importantly, he and my mom chose me. Biologically, they couldn't have kids, so they took a risk and adopted me... and I'm forever grateful.

My dad makes me think of memorable fathers in literature. Fathers like Harper Lee's Atticus Finch.

How about Jack Torrance--the father in Stephen King's The Shining? I'd love Atticus as my father but Jack? No thanks.

And my third most memorable father: Don Vito Corleone from Mario Puzo's The Godfather. I definitely wouldn't want him as my dad, but even more, I wouldn't want him as my enemy.

And thinking of Father's Day makes me think of the father in my WIP--James Henry Simmons.

James Simmons lived almost 100 years ago. He was created of ink and imagination three years ago. A mechanic. A strong man. A man who knew when to keep his fist clenched at his side instead of using it to punch someone.

When I first began writing this manuscript, I was sailing along. My family of five--two parents and three children--appeared in the early chapters. By the final chapter they'd be there too, right?

Or would they? Would any or all of them survive the tragedy that hit their community? Would they emerge permanently scarred--either physically or emotionally? These are decisions I have to make.

Well, to be completely honest, I made those decisions a long time ago but am I going to tell you if I killed off the father? The mother? The whole family? Um... no. You'll have to buy the book (when I'm lucky enough to snag a publisher).

If you're fortunate enough to still have your father or grandfather with you--and the two of you have a warm relationship--celebrate. If your father is gone and you have fond memories--take a moment tomorrow to page through a scrap book, look at some framed photographs... and remember.

Happy Father's Day!

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a freelance writer and a dog rescuer... along with being a wife, mother and grandmother. Currently, she's working on earning the title of "Queen of Rejection Letters" as she sends off her manuscript at a feverish pace. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, check out Sioux's Page.

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Info Dumping a Problem In Your Fiction? Consider a Doubting Thomas

I didn't have a good photo for this article,
and I'm from St. Louis, so...
I recently had a conversation with a novel writer about how to get needed backstory across to her readers without it being an info dump. My suggestion was to make one of her characters a "Doubting Thomas." Now those two sentences are full of jargon that you may not know, so let me define these terms first, and then explain what happened:

Backstory: The information that happened before the story started AND that the reader needs to know in order to understand the story.

Info dump: A section of a novel where the author puts all the backstory in one place, and it is not naturally worked into the story. It can be in narrative, but it is often worked in through a character telling another the needed backstory through dialogue.

Doubting Thomas character: A character who doesn't believe some facts that everyone else believes or knows to be true. This character can often be argumentative or questioning or even naive--someone whom other characters have to naturally explain things to so that the prose doesn't sound "fake" or "info dumpy" when information is revealed.

In my student's novel, a family is going through a huge crisis, and the grandmother is explaining why one of the characters is so sick. Through her explanation, she reveals her entire philsophy of life and her belief system, which is important to the plot and characterization. Readers need to know what she believes and how she has lived her entire life with these beliefs. But, in the novel, the grandmother starts explaining these fundamental beliefs to her other family members, whom she lives with. Not only do they live with her, but they are a very closeknit family. It wasn't believeable that Grandmother would need to explain this to everyone, and the dialogue came out stilted.

All the author needed to fix this was to make the grandson a Doubting Thomas. If the grandson said something like: "Grandma, come on. This can't be true." Then readers could easily believe that Grandma would explain things to her grandson and maybe even sternly. Grandma may even explain the background to her grandson of why she believes what she does and how it is been true in her life. In other words, a Doubting Thomas grandson would make Grandma stating her beliefs natural and understandable--and better fiction.

Of course, this is not the only way to work in backstory or needed information in fiction works. But if you have readers who have given you feeback or critique that there is an info dump or parts of your novel feel too much like an encyclopedia or stitled, consider making one of the characters a Doubting Thomas and easily fix this issue.

Have you ever tried this method in your writing?

By the way: I'm writing this as the Blues just won the Stanley Cup for the first time ever! Let's Go Blues! Play Gloria! See photo above...

If you want to take the WOW! Writing a Novel With a Writing Coach class this summer that Margo teaches, go here to sign up (Classes start either July 5 or August 2). She is offering Muffin readers a special deal with the class--for the price of $130, you can choose to a) do the traditional class of 4 sections of 4500 words or less of a novel or book-length work in one month b) deal #1 which is turning in a section every two weeks--for writers who can't make the weekly deadline c) deal #2--five sections in one month for the price of four--for writers who have a chunk of a novel already done and need some help and feedback. Sign up, and Margo will email with you to decide what works best for you! To find out more about Margo, go to her Editor 911 site here

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Revision: A Whole 'Nother Story

Once upon a time, I had a tagline on my website that read, “Cathy C. Hall…Writing and Re-Writing. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.” I changed it up when I used the fishing template but I didn’t change what I do. I still write and re-write, and depending on what I’m writing, I can still end up with a whole ‘nother story from where I started. Such is the drill when it comes to revision.

Recently, I completed the final—well, final for now—revision on my latest middle grade novel. And for me, the final revision is my chart; it helps me to check continuity but it also allows me to see instantly what elements need a quick fix. Invariably, I will think I am done before this final revision, that I’ll just do a run-through in a jiffy, but I am always surprised to find glaring omissions or holes or even name changes, for crying out loud. That’s the beauty of the grid with its sparse details. There is nowhere for the errors to hide!

So here are the elements to give you some idea of what’s important in writing (or re-writing, as it were) a MG novel for me. Maybe you’ll find something to help you in your next novel revision:

CHAPTER: I always give my chapters a title and this is where I double-check to make sure the title fits and also gives a little tease as to what’s coming. Because I write humorous MG, my chapter titles often have a funny twist. But it’s not until after I read the chapter and fill out the rest of the grid for that chapter that I will go back and make changes here. I also will note whether there’s action or talking; I’m looking for balance here and though I hate to take out my funny dialogue, I do get a little carried away at times and have to cut. Ugh.

SETTING: I include the setting to make sure that I haven’t made sudden switches in locale, or mixed up settings. Yep, that happens, but the grid allows me to see this instantly and make the fix. It also shows me the flow of the story and so helps with the continuity.

CHARACTERS: This is also a way for me to double check continuity, make sure there’s balance for everyone involved in the story. Also, it’s very helpful to see when a minor character’s name has changed (several times). Ugh again.

PLOT: In this particular novel, there are three storylines. By giving each plot a color, I can see if I’ve weaved the three together. It’s only in the first few chapters that the main mystery develops and soon enough, the second emotional story comes in, and almost as quickly, the last bit of mystery and romance (which is actually the main plot of the next book) is introduced. If I’ve done my job right, I don’t have a lot of revision here but the color coding helps me to see at a glance where the manuscript needs work. I don’t have to have all three plots in each chapter, but again, I’m striving for balance and pacing.

CHAPTER HOOK: This is an element that’s important for me, and I think, for MG readers. I want to make sure that the last paragraph and/or sentence of the chapter is compelling enough that the reader doesn’t want to close the book till the very end. I also want to ensure that the transition from chapter to chapter works so here is where I do a lot of revision. Almost every chapter ending has been tweaked, and often the beginning of the next chapter will have to be tweaked as well.

I know some writers who will use Excel sheets for this sort of grid, and they’ll have more elements (or fewer). It’s whatever works best for you and what you want from your revision. For me, filling in the grid by hand works better, lets me thoughtfully see the whole picture. When all is done, I don’t have a whole ‘nother story, but I do have a better story. And here’s hoping that an editor feels the same way!

(P.S. Have any revision tips? Questions? Want to argue for what you think is more important? I’m all ears. Or eyes. Or whatever. UGH.)

~Cathy C. Hall

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Dear Writer: How to Stay in Touch with Your Character

A while ago, Renee Roberson asked me how I keep track of the many projects I have going. What system do I use? In all truth, I just make a leap of faith and go for it, believing that each story will still be there when I come back to it.

That said, it isn’t always an easy thing to do when I haven’t visited a particular story for a week or more. With a longer absence, I sometimes have problems re-entering my character’s point of view and the larger story. When this happens, I invite my character to write me a letter.

If you know me, you may be wondering who is writing this blog post. Sounds a bit corny for me, doesn’t it? And yet this technique almost always works. Through it, I have discovered:

What my character really wants. We all know that we need to reveal our character’s motivations and deepest desires. What is it your character wants? Yet, in a story that just isn’t quite working, these wants and desires are often cookie cutter and superficial. “My character likes long walks on the beach and dreams of world peace.” But when I give my character a chance to speak to me through a personal letter, I discover that she’s worried about being a failure and letting her best friend down. Wait a minute – I didn’t even know her friend had a vested interest in the project. But that’s because I hadn’t dug deeply enough into . . .

What’s going on behind the scenes. I’m a linear thinker. A leads to B which leads to C and so on. Yes, I know that X, Y and Z are in there somewhere. But my linear mind sometimes shrugs off these extras even when it is exactly these layers of detail that make a story, especially something novel length, feel three dimensional and real. My poor linear brain needs the occasional reminder that these details matter.

My character’s own unique voice. It is much easier to discover and reenter my character’s voice when I invite her to write me a letter. These are, after all, her words and ideas. She is presenting what is important to her. The things that matter to me are much less important, but as my character speaks, pet phrases, her own personal word choice and syntax emerge.

If you are having problems re-entering your story after a lengthy absence, you’ve written yourself into a corner or your character feels flat and one-dimensional, invite her to share her thoughts about the story with you. Granted, she may have some harsh words if you’ve left her in a tough spot for a long period of time. But what she has to say will give you new insights and ideas for carrying your story forward.


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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Sunday, June 09, 2019


Meet Angela Dawson, Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction Runner-Up

Angela Dawson lives in Bristol with her husband and their three unschooled children. A teen. A tween. And a six-year-old with an extra chromosome. She’s a self-taught writer with a gentle, honest, sensitive voice. She writes true things about small moments that move, awaken or inspire. Her personal essays have appeared in Mamalode, Mothers Always Write, The Green Parent, Breastfeeding Today and The Manifest-Station. She has a short piece in the forthcoming Sensorially Challenged Volume 2.

Readers can find her online at Angela’s Flashes or on Instagram @angelasflashes.

Check out Angela's introspective piece here and then return for an interview with the writer.

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

WOW: Congratulations, Angela, and welcome! I enjoyed reading your essay "A Recipe for Change" and it gave me a lot to think about. Your specialty seems to be in writing creative nonfiction. What is it about this form of writing that appeals to you?

Angela: I discovered I was writing creative nonfiction after the fact. I'd started a blog when my youngest was two months and a day old. My intent was to be open, honest, clear and hopeful in my posts, as if I'd bumped into a friend in the park and we were catching up. What I liked, from the outset, was painting a picture with words. Bringing small moments to life in a vivid and visceral way. I liked the challenge of shaping a story. Of choosing the elements which best expressed the essence or feeling I was trying to convey. I'm an untrained writer, so it was only after reading Lee Gutkind's book You Can't Make This Stuff Up. I realised there was a name for what I was doing. Creative nonfiction allows you to elevate the ordinary. There's immense freedom and flexibility in how you structure and voice the story. But it matters that you tell a true thing.

WOW: That is the most succinct description of creative nonfiction I've ever heard! I may have to check out that book--thank you for sharing that resource with us. “A Recipe for Change” is a beautifully-woven piece about the changes women’s bodies go through as they age. How did you get the idea to intersperse the recipe for bone broth within the narrative?

Angela: I really don't know what inspired me to marry stock making with menopausal symptoms. I was panic writing essays for a mentor I had at the time. Way behind on my words, I free wrote about what I'd noticed in my body in recent years. When the words stopped flowing, I went to the kitchen to make stock. Alchemy came to mind and got me thinking about the process of change. Once the food scraps and water were in the pan, I wrote down everything I'd just done and somehow it melded together.

WOW: Can you tell us about the upcoming piece that will be published in Sensorially Challenged Vol. 2?

Angela: It's 175 words of sensory dense writing. During a difficult family time last summer I spent a day in the scorching sun, weeding an overgrown patch at the back of the garden. The tall nettles and creeping bindweed seemed to represent my tangled mind. The mindless task of bending, snipping and pulling gave me something physical to do with my excess mental energy. Clearing the space. Uprooting what was no longer wanted. Tending, as a metaphor for my inner state.

WOW: You’ve been published in numerous literary journals and e-zines. What advice would you give writers hoping to submit essays in similar places?

Angela: It goes without saying that your essay should be the best it can be before you begin to find a home for it. How does it sound to you? Are there words you stumble over when you read it aloud? Or parts that feel flat? Fix them. Familiarise yourself with the flavour of each site you wish to submit to. Dig in. Read a bunch of pieces that catch your eye. Is your essay a good fit in terms of style, tone and subject matter? Read the submissions guidelines. Follow them! Format your essay in their preferred way. Add a brief cover note—speak from the heart and leave it at that. Double check everything and you're good to go.

WOW: Great advice, Angela. As a busy mom to three, how do you set time aside for writing?

Angela: I'm a feast and famine kind of writer who always has a pen and a Leuchtturm1917 notebook to hand. I don't have set times carved out, but when something needs expression or exploration I write whenever and wherever I can. I've written at 1.30am with my wide-awake youngest rolling ping pong balls across the floor. I've written at 6am whilst everybody but the birds slept. I've written whilst the kettle boiled. Stopped in the street to note an idea down. Written on buses and trains. Writing may happen in the margins of my life, but it still happens. I've booked a one to one with Mari L. McCarthy as part of my Runner Up prize (thank you WOW!) and later this year I'm going on a Monday to Saturday Arvon life writing retreat. I can't wait!

WOW: Mari is amazing--you will learn a lot from her. And we hope you had a blast on your writing retreat! Keep up the great work.

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Saturday, June 08, 2019


The Soundtrack of My Writing Life

My daughter turns 16 next week. I can’t believe I have a child old enough to drive. As I was helping to put together a music playlist for her dance party that will take place tonight, I started thinking about what kind of a soundtrack I could create for my writing life. After all, I did make the move to freelance writing after she was born and I didn’t want to go back to a full-time job right away.

After two nights of listening to music and pondering, here’s what I could come up with.

The Teen Angst Years-From Debbie Gibson to Depeche Mode
Those were some confusing times. I idolized pop singer Debbie Gibson and was tickled that she and I shared the same birthday. After moving from Texas to North Carolina the summer before seventh grade, I didn’t know a soul. I spent that summer belting out every song on Gibson’s “Out of the Blue” album and studying her song lyrics in the liner notes of my cassette tapes (Remember those?) Then I filled notebooks full of peach and purple-colored paper with song lyrics about my oh-so-complicated love life (read, non-existent love life) at the age of 12. Later on in high school, I advanced a little bit and wrote dark and depressing poems that wound up in our school’s literary journal, and artists like Depeche Mode (“Enjoy the Silence,” anyone?) began weaving their way into my cassette player as I pondered the world around me.

The College Years-Tori Amos
Life got a bit more confusing in college. I didn’t do a great job of balancing my studies while working two jobs, fell in love with all the wrong people, and didn’t really know what self care was. The majority of my writing during this time period was limited to research papers and a book of poetry I wrote for the final project in my humanities class my junior year. This included a poem about Sylvia Plath and her untimely death, if that gives you any idea of where my head was at the time. Indie princess Tori Amos became my idol, as I marveled at how easily she poured her emotions into her lyrics and music, even when it made everyone around her uncomfortable.

Life in the Suburbs-Ben Folds
Like I mentioned above, it wasn’t until I was firmly entrenched in suburbia with two small children that I began writing again in earnest. In between writing parenting articles and restaurant reviews for local publications, I penned short stories about frustrated moms who weren’t sure how they would ever find time for themselves again. I began listening to music by people like Ben Folds (“Rockin’ the Suburbs” is still my favorite and my teens now request that one in the car, curse words and all) and started realizing what those singers were talking about in songs like “1985” by Bowling for Soup and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne.

Mother of Teenagers-Nostalgia Sets In
Now I’m in my 40s, writing books and stories for teenagers because I still want to read them myself and thinking about how different my own teen years were as I watch them and their friends. I watch in horror as every movie I loved in high school is remade with newer and hipper actors and music. It makes me want to sit on my couch with a glass of wine and watch the original version of “Footloose” and listen to music by Rick Springfield, Bonnie Tyler, The Cure, and The Pixies.

I don’t know what I would have done without music to get me through my life and accompany me in my writing career. What music do you have a fondness before as you look back in your past?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. Visit her website at

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