Creating Spooky Content

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Photo by James Sutton/Pexels

 

I was excited but a little intimidated to see that my post today was scheduled for Halloween. Then I thought to myself, “Who am I kidding?” Writing about spooky things is something I believe I was born to do. You’re looking at a gal who has tickets this weekend to attend a haunted doll hunt at a historic plantation in town. In fact, I’ve just spent the last week heavily immersed in books and newspaper articles about legends and hauntings in North and South Carolina all in the name of research for my podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. In the end, I had to surrender the script at 11 plus pages and tell myself there will be other ways to repurpose some of the tales I uncovered. Here are a few things I learned when putting together the perfect script to make the hair on the back of listeners necks stand on end . . . 

I’ve had a quite a few experiences myself that lend themselves to writing about the paranormal. From the apartment I lived in that was a former VA hospital, to the photograph in a picture frame that seemed to be telling me something, to the room in a farmhouse I never felt comfortable in at one of the many houses I lived in as a teenager. I also spent my formative years in a city that is well-known for being a haven for spirits . . . Asheville, North Carolina. 

Moving cemeteries is not just something that happens in the movies like “Poltergeist”-- it has happened on high school and college campuses more than once. I even found a news article today with a new incident, and I’m guessing there are some restless spirits wandering about those places. 

There seems to be a ghostly hitchhiker story in every state. How many times have you heard the story of a person picking up a dazed and confused young woman on the side of the road who disappears as soon as you pull up to the house she directed you to? I uncovered one in the Carolinas for the episode, but there are many others out there. 

You may not always be able to use all your research on one project, but that doesn’t mean you should set it aside. I know we’ve discussed this before in blog posts, but there was one story I found, the case of Lavinia and John Fisher in Charleston, S.C., that didn’t seem to fit into the rest of the podcast content, but I spent so much time digging into its origins I wanted to use it somewhere. Voila! I regularly post true crime stories on my personal blog so I typed it up and shared it with my readers this week. 

I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating Halloween, whether its enjoying your favorite candy or watching your favorite horror movie. And if you’re looking for a few extra haunted tales, check out Episode 16 of Missing in the Carolinas

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who enjoys giving readers a little extra fright every now and then. Visit her website at FinishedPages.com.
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The Year Isn't Over Yet

Thursday, October 29, 2020

When I looked ahead at my posting date today, I wondered what I would say. I didn't have words of wisdom from writing lessons learned these past few weeks. In all honesty, I just haven't been writing that much. At least, not creatively. 

To inspire myself, I looked over a few posts that I wrote last year and came across this gem of a piece that talked about celebrating small successes.  This time last year I was getting rejection letters that seemed really positive. In my blog post, I encouraged people to keep submitting and to celebrate any successes along the way. 

After reading this post, I wondered which story I might have been talking about, and realized something pretty amazing - 

The very story that had been rejected last year had been accepted by a literary magazine a couple of months ago

Isn't that something? 

Despite my lack of motivation to write, I have been trying to submit a few stories. I keep getting rejection letters, which is hard because I believe in the stories I'm trying to get published. However, reading this post from last year reminded me that it's worth it to keep trying. It's worth it to keep submitting. You just never know when that story will receive the acceptance it deserves. 

And lately, as this whirlwind of a year draws to a close, I encourage you to keep trying. Keep writing. Keep submitting. And don't forget - this year isn't over yet! You may just get a plot twist in your life that you have desperately needed. 

Hope is never totally lost, and as long as you have a breath in your chest, it's important to keep moving forward. Writing one word in front of another. So, if you are struggling to find something to feel hopeful about, I'm sure you aren't alone. Everyone is struggling these days. I just encourage you to not feel too defeated for too long. Because you just never know what might be around the corner.

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When Is it Smart To Give Your Work Away For Free?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Have you ever given your writing work away for free? This is sometimes a controversial topic for writers. But I do it, I have done it, and I believe in "free stuff"  as a marketing tool. I do think you have to be smart about when and how you give your work away. 


But before we talk specifically about writing, think about how often you've gone to a store because it was giving away something free. Have you bought one brand over another because of its "buy one get one free" deal? I mean, maybe I'm alone here, but pre-pandemic, I LOVED free sample day at the grocery store, especially when the free samples were wine! Free is not a marketing tactic that's only for books and writing, but sometimes, I think creatives take special offense to this tactic. 


And I totally understand why. Many of us sacrifice a lot to get the words on a page--we get up at 4:00 am while our kids are still sleeping. We stay up until midnight after our partners go to bed. We use our vacation time to work on our writing. We pay money to take classes, go to conferences, and get editing and writing advice. 


But still, I believe in using the "free" marketing strategy during these four situations:


1. If you are unknown: If you're unknown and competing with famous and well-liked authors, it doesn't matter if your book is better or your essay is the next award-winner. If readers don't know you or know they even need to find you, then they won't. I've said on The Muffin before that you have to look at yourself as a consumer, too. What are your buying habits? Do you search out the most unknown but well-reviewed piece of literature, or do you buy what your book club is reading and what's featured in the Scholastic Book order? If you're unknown and you plan to write more than one book (so this is a career), then don't be scared to give your book away for free sometimes to create buzz and interest.


2. If you need reviews: You need them. It's just a fact of being an author. If you're a book author, you need reviews, and I'm here to tell you that if you're not famous with a bestseller, getting reviews is very difficult. Readers are busy. Readers are now dealing with a global pandemic. Readers want to help you, but they don't understand (really) how much their review will help you. And it doesn't have to be five star (although that's great!). It has to be honest and give a little detail about the book to show they have read it. I recently gave away ecopies of both Finding My Place (middle-grade historical fiction) and Read-Aloud Stories with Fred Vol 1 (from my publishing company, Editor-911 Books). We are now getting new reviews (and an added bonus--readers have started checking out Fred's book in the Kindle Unlimited program--I am THRILLED!). Reviews are social proof. (PSA: If you read a book and you love it, go give the author a review on Amazon or Goodreads!)


3. If you have a book series: If you have a series of books (three or more), one popular marketing strategy is making the first book perma-free (always free) to entice readers to give it a try, get hooked, and then buy the rest of the books in your series. Again, think of yourself as a consumer--if you find an author whom you like, do you buy more of his/her books? 


4. If you need credits for a bio: If you don't have a book out yet, maybe you didn't even make it this far in the post, but you need to be willing to give away work for free too, especially if you are JUST STARTING OUT! I know that "selling" your story to a magazine for copies or putting your work on a website for impressions and views and likes aren't the ideal situations, but if these platforms give you some of your first writing credits and samples, then don't be afraid to do this. You know, a lot of professions, such as teaching, require UNPAID internships. You need experience and you do the work, and it is part of your degree or what you put on your resume. These first writing credits--think of them as an internship--you need something to put in that bio paragraph when you're querying agents to show them that you're not a one-book wonder, that you're in this for the long haul and willing to do your homework!


5. If you need names for a mailing list: Whether or not you are a book author or planning to be, many writers have enewsletters, and to get people to join, they giveaway a reading magnet, usually an ecopy of something. The cost? An email address! Then hopefully, you've gained a long-time subscriber and fan of your work. This is the last time I will say this, I promise (because this is almost over), but haven't you signed up for a newsletter to get a free story or a coupon or a helpful worksheet or template? I have. Very few people are dying for more email in their inbox, but they're dying for a great short story or to keep in touch with their favorite essayist...


Don't be afraid to give your work away for free. Just be smart about it. See what other writers and authors are doing who write the same material that you do. And if some tactic doesn't work, it's not the end of the world. You didn't make "the biggest mistake." Just take a deep breath, and try someting else. 


Margo L. Dill is an author, publisher, editor, teacher, and writing coach living in St. Louis, MO, with her daughter and dog. She is currently giving away a free book for her publishing company--it's true (practice what you preach)--to get your FREE ecopy of The Dog and the Flea: A Tale of Two Opposites by Fred Olds from Editor-911 Kids (picture book)--go here today (October 28) and tomorrow
(October 29). To sign up for Margo's next novel writing coaching class that starts on November 6, look here. 













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Interview with Sally Keeble: 2020 Spring Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Sally’s Bio:

Sally’s new to fiction-writing, using the medium to explore the social issues that originally drove her into a career in politics.

A former Member of Parliament in the UK, and before that a journalist, she’s had non-fiction published previously. But she finds writing fiction much more challenging and rewarding.

“Batman and Crunchy Nuts” is one of a series of pieces she’s written on people’s experiences during the Covid19 lockdown in the UK. She’s just finished her first novel called Ocracoke set in London and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Sally’s an avid reader of literature from around the world, and spends her spare time travelling, and with her family.

If you haven't done so already, check out Sally's award-winning story "Batman and Crunchy Nuts" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Sally: The spark for the story came from a Zoom community meeting where someone complained about homeless people camping in the local woods. When I got down to writing it, what was most exciting was the way different experiences of the coronavirus lockdown came together: parents juggling childcare, home-schooling and food shortages, children caught between warring adults, rough-sleepers with nowhere to go. It’s been intriguing to hear people’s different responses to the story. I saw it as a story about two people, but some see it as a story about three people, some don’t see it as being about COVID-19 at all. 

WOW: Isn’t it such a rewarding experience to hear different responses to your story, to know that people are reading it, thinking about it, and taking away different perspectives that resonate with them? That’s one of my favorite parts of storytelling. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Sally: The main thing I learned was that, after a lot of false starts and disappointments, I can actually write fiction. So, thank you to Women on Writing for giving me that hope. It’s been a huge boost to be a runner up in this competition.  Flash fiction is really good for teaching you to pay attention to detail which is especially useful as I tend to write too quickly.

WOW: How has fiction writing helped you to explore social issues in ways other forms of writing have not? 

Sally: My background is in politics and political writing. Fiction has made me be a lot less dogmatic and directional, and enabled me to look at social issues in the round. As a fiction writer, you create the characters and the context. What comes next can be unpredictable. Homelessness is one of the issues I care and campaign about most passionately. “Batman and Crunchy Nuts” doesn’t reach any of the usual neat conclusions, but probably says more about homelessness than any number of political pieces. 

WOW: I agree. Sharing an issue as a story is very effective. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Sally: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, which I wanted to read for its exploration of diversity and experimental style. It turned out to be one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read.  

WOW: Good to know! That’s been on my to-read list for a while. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?  

Sally: Just do it. I put off fiction writing for far too long. The second piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to remember that writing is a craft that you have to learn and practice, luckily with the support of the writing community.  

WOW: Thank you for sharing your story and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!


Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen with the purpose giving them a forum to discuss their own athletic careers, bodies, and lives in their own words. For more on the power of storytelling, join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


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Must Have: Yoga Pose (Interview and Giveaway)

Monday, October 26, 2020
Yoga Pose

2020 has been a challenge for us all both physically and mentally. Prioritizing health has never been more important, and today we are so excited to talk with the founder of Yoga Pose. It's the largest free digital library of yoga poses, searchable by symptoms. (P.S. You can even use search terms such as depression, stress, anxiety, and more!) The website lists all the poses to soothe that related symptom and each pose includes an easy-to-follow Yoga pose video and medical information. 

If you want to find out more information, visit YogaPose.com

Cindy Rogers, Yoga Pose Founder


Today, I am so excited to interview the founder of YogaPose.com, Cindy Rogers. She has an incredible journey overcoming some physical and mental health issues using yoga. She is an absolute inspiration! Plus, we are giving away a month of yoga and one item from their store to one lucky reader. 

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your yoga journey. 

Cindy: My name is Cindy Rogers and I am the co-founder of Yoga Pose, along with my son, Cobb. Yoga is part of my toolbox for everyday life. I found yoga after a lifetime of addiction and mental health struggles, what began as rehabilitation for an injury turned into a daily ritual that helps me reflect and settle. I meditate, I practice yoga, I spend a lot of time outside, walking and hiking. This form of self-therapy has helped me overcome so many of the mental health struggles that had played such a huge part of my life. 

WOW: I think that's so amazing! How did you come to find yoga? 

Cindy: I always had an affinity for fitness. But, for body building and heavy weights. Everything was always about doing more. It was for how I wanted to look, not how I wanted to feel. I discovered yoga while recovering from an injury that left me almost paralyzed and unable to walk. I started to practice yoga as a form of rehabilitation which led to so much more. I found that, outside of the physical benefits of my practice (I can walk again!), my mind—for the first time in my life—is at ease. The combination of yoga and meditation has soothed so many of the things that once disturbed me, including addiction and anxiety. Now, I continue to practice everyday, purely for the mental benefits. I really strongly believe that if yoga can help me overcome a lifetime of illness and demons, that yoga should be accessible and made available for anyone who is in need of help.

"I discovered yoga while recovering from an injury that left me almost paralyzed and unable to walk. I started to practice yoga as a form of rehabilitation which led to so much more."

WOW: You are such an inspiration. So, I was shocked to read that you were left paralyzed and unable to walk after a horse-related injury! It seems like you've had a complete turn around! Can you tell me about that recovery process and how yoga came into play?

Cindy: Yes, I actually was bucked off of a horse at our farm in Georgia. The fall caused major pain until eventually I just couldn’t manage. I was taking pain medication consistently and that didn’t help my addiction. I was traveling, when I just couldn’t walk. I lost all mobility and was in so much pain. I had to fly home and undergo major, life altering surgery. There was no certainty that I would be able to walk again. After the surgery, yoga became part of my recovery story. I started to understand how the movements impacted each part of my body. I incorporated meditation in the process. The recovery was grueling, but it unlocked mental capabilities and a calmness that I now use every day, even though I am entirely recovered. 

WOW: It's absolutely unbelievable what yoga uncovered for you!  You mention on your website that yoga helped you with your mental health. Why do you think that is? 

Cindy: Yoga is, in itself, a form of therapy. The awareness of your body and mind, working together is proven to lower stress and help with anxiety. I think it was a combination of the ancient practice of yoga, and the daily ritual that came with yoga. For the first time in a long time, I had a steady routine and prioritized a healthy form of self care. This is part of my own personal “tool box” that I return to whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed. I never go without it. 

"Yoga is, in itself, a form of therapy. The awareness of your body and mind, working together is proven to lower stress and help with anxiety."

WOW: How inspiring! 2020 has been some kind of year and has had a huge impact on all of us, physically and mentally. What advice do you have for people who want to do more to take care of their mental health?

Cindy: My most important recommendation is to prioritize self care. Establish a routine where you set aside everything that is not positive. Reflect internally and take a dedicated amount of time to just be. For me, this looks like early mornings, I light a few candles, meditate and practice yoga. Then I go about my day knowing that I am whole and I have done my “work.” I cannot emphasize enough how important this is for everyone. 

WOW: That ritual sounds so calming. So, how does Yoga Pose work? And who is it for? 

Cindy: Yoga Pose is a free online resource that makes yoga entirely accessible so that people can add the practice to their own personal toolbox, to help them through whatever they are dealing with. We publish daily content that is very health focused, concentrating on how yoga can help various mental and physical illnesses or conditions. We also have this comprehensive library of yoga poses that you can search by illness or symptom. We explain the benefits of each pose, conditions it helps, a tutorial and video how-to, all medically researched. We’ve just launched classes too, so you can tune in to one of our certified yoga instructors and take a class specific to you. It’s so important for us that yoga is accessible for everyone. This includes all different races, skill levels, body types. Our site consciously represents all different types of people, we want to make yoga welcoming to all.

WOW: I took a look at the site myself and I LOVE how clear it is and how it walks you through every pose. So, ff someone is new to yoga, how should they get started on Yoga Pose? 

Cindy: Well, first of all, visit our site, YogaPose.com, and absorb some of the content! Sign up for our newsletter on the site and you’ll receive updates and new articles. Start practicing yoga by taking one of our classes. Then, use our pose profiles for reference if you are struggling with any of the individual moves. If you’re feeling a certain ache or managing with a certain illness, search it on our site and find yoga poses that will actually help you! 

WOW: The search feature is absolutely my favorite part! For the person who is unsure if yoga is right for them, what would you say?

Cindy: Just start! Yoga brings an arsenal of benefits - from mental health to physical fitness and social support! Yoga creates a community that can lift you up, so if you are reaching for a simple solution, I encourage you to just start yoga!

WOW: Thank you so much for talking with us today! 


***** GIVEAWAY *****

Enter to win a month of yoga from YogaPose.com and one item from their store. Giveaway ends November 8th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the winner on the Rafflecopter widget the next day. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Are We There Yet?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

It's the cry of many children all across the land when they're on a family road trip, "Are we there yet?" As a child I remember all too well asking that question over and over when I was traveling with my parent's and sister in our blue station wagon to go visit relatives out of state. It was the same when traveling with my children when they were younger, and also my grandchildren. That chanting question, "Are we there yet?" permeated our road trips until we reached our destination.


Still, as many times as my husband and I were asked by our then young children, and later on our grandchildren, "Are we there yet?"...one fact remained the same. We got to the end point of our journey when we got there. We got there after frequent rest stop visits to the bathroom, too many stops at fast food restaurants because no one wanted to eat the sandwiches that were packed, minor squabbles between siblings, and a wrong turn every now and then. We even got there even after stopping at little known historic landmarks that only the adults were interested in seeing and taking photos with someone always sticking out their tongue or grumbling under their breath. We got there...in one piece...as a family...and in the end, as we reminisce even now about those road trips many years later, we are thankful and content for the bonding, the fun, and the lessons that happened along the scenic route. 


I was reminded of this on a recent road trip with my husband. I couldn't wait to reach our destination. I had to quiet the voice inside of me that was itching to ask the adult version of the question, "Are we there yet?"...you know, "Isn't this route longer than the other one we took before?" or "Is the GPS a bit off today?" instead of savoring the scenery along the way, the sereneness of the open country roads and beautiful fall foliage that looked  like a painting in a art museum. I had to take several deep breaths to remind myself to relax and enjoy the ride.


Once I did, it prompted me to think about writing and how as writers we often worry so much about our destination we don't enjoy the process of getting there or appreciate our progress, no matter how small, as much as we should. 


"Are we there yet?" we question, concerning ourselves, sometimes obsessively, with the long winding road in front of us instead of focusing on the goals we reached that are behind us. We gloss over the meaningful stories we've already written and trouble ourselves with thoughts about how we will get to the next tier as a writer. We forget to immerse ourselves in the good feeling that comes from knowing we're creative beings that work diligently to tell our stories. We forget to stand back and see the worth of all we have done and who we have impacted. We forget to enjoy the scenic route during our journey. 


Savoring the scenic route as writers doesn't make us stagnant. We know what the future holds for us as writers during this road trip. It does mean though, that we savor our profound writing moments without constantly fretting about what's next on the writing agenda. It means, for example, that we get excited about completing that first draft of our novel and not stressed because we're already worried about revising the second draft. It means, that even if we didn't place at all in a writing contest, at least we dusted off a manuscript, reworked it, and had enough courage to submit it. It means we relax and enjoy  the scenery (the creative process, finding our true voice and point of view, creating memorable protagonists our readers can identify with, researching the archives, learning the ins and outs of marketing, etc.)


It means that we can embrace the lessons and admire the work of other prolific writers without comparing our style of writing or body of work to them, thinking we haven't quite made it. The measure of our success should be in knowing that we write about what compels us or to make sense of this world, and that we give our all to pull our readers into our stories, hoping to teach them, make them laugh, or cry, and muffle out the emotional clatter in their own life. That is no easy feat and is a part of the writing life we should celebrate more often. So relax and enjoy the ride. 


I implore you to think fondly about your scenic route on the way to your writing destination. You will get there when you get there as I used to tell my children during our road trips when they were younger. Sooner rather than later. In one piece...slow and steady... as a writer. Through your day to day tasks...when you sit down at your computer or with your laptop...you will finish that novel and get it submission ready...you will find the right literary agent to represent you...you will have that book launch...you will accomplish all of the writing goals you wrote in those notebooks years ago or on your vision board next to your desk. 


So relax. Ease up on yourself and where you think you should be in your career so you can enjoy the ride. You will get to your destination...in one piece...as a writer...content... knowing you put in the mileage and learned so many lessons along the way.

                                                                                         ---Jeanine

Jeanine DeHoney has had her writing published in several anthologies, magazines and blogs. She enjoys taking road trips with her husband and has gotten good at not asking, "Are we there yet?" 

                                                                                                             

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A Writing Class You Should Say "Yes" To

Saturday, October 24, 2020

I’m finishing up a six-week WOW class (“Face Your Fears”) with Chelsey Clammer. This is not my MO. I’m cheap. (I buy my clothes from thrift stores.) I’m broke. (I’m a teacher. Do I need to say more?) I’m busy. (In my spare time I’m working on putting the finishing touches on a manuscript that’s getting published. I have a publisher! Have I mentioned that in the last 7 seconds?) Shell out money for a class? A class that involves reading every week and responding every week and writing every week? Fuhgedddabotit. 


                                                                        image by Pixabay
                                           When you write about your fears, you write with depth.


 Until Angela Mackintosh said, “I love working with Chelsey. My favorite workshop she teaches is ‘Face Your Fears: Women Writers Anonymous’ - and there's one starting on Monday, Sept 14th!” and then I immediately paid my class fee and put my name on the class list. 


Now I’m going to sing a duet with Angela Mackintosh. Chelsey Clammer is the bomb (as my students used to say). Here’s why I recommend you sign up for any class taught by Chelsey Clammer… and one reason why you might hestitate: 


Chelsey has two lasers for eyes. Her suggestions zero in on the heart of your piece. She guides readers into figuring out what is the real point. You might think that’s easy to do, but when you’re writing about subjects filled with emotion and family dysfunction--sometimes the point is buried deep down. 


The work is not work. I thought reading multiple pieces chosen by an instructor would be a chore. You know, like reading something out of a textbook. During the first week, we were given three essays to read, in preparation for our writing. They were inspiring. Thought-provoking. That level was maintained throughout the course of the class. Clammer knows good “stuff” when she sees it (and you know what I really wanted to say when I wrote “stuff”). 


Chelsey opens up to and looks out for her writers. She made it clear that if we got judgmental with our comments, she’d put a stop to it. Before it even happened, because she’d pre-approve posts. She gave us her phone number. She offered to chat us up via email or Facebook. Like most of us, I’ve been in writing groups where the members were heavy-handed/clueless/heartless. It’s impossible for that to happen with Clammer at the helm. 


And since I’m being completely honest, I must include one reason why you might want to say a vehement “no” to taking one of Chelsey Clammer’s clases: I like to include at least 42 ellipses in every short story or essay. They add so much to a piece when you can pepper every sentence or two with ‘em. She disagrees. Clammer thinks they should be used sparingly (the horror!) and only for certain reasons (grammar-schlammer), which means she’s wrong. I won’t hold it against her too much. Some day, she’ll see the light.


If you'd like to read something written by Chelsey Clammer, check out her essay, "A Striking Resemblance."  I guarantee it will blow you away.

 

To sum up my advice: if you can ignore her horribly off-kilter ideas about ellipses, keep an eye out for the next class Chelsey Clammer teaches. You’ll dive deeply into your writing. You’ll become a more reflective reader and writer. And the work you do--the reading, the writing and the critiquing--will be tasks of joy.



Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school teacher and a freelance writer. She thoroughly enjoyed doing the heavy lifting that was involved in writing for Chelsey Clammer's class. Sioux's historical novel (for middle grades) will debut in spring of 2021... and she is beyond thrilled.




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First Person Present: Yay! Or Nay?

Thursday, October 22, 2020

I’m a big fan of mysteries, and I especially love mysteries with an historical bent where I can learn a little something something. One of my favorite periods is Victorian England so I was beside myself when a creepy mystery with a female protagonist popped up in my search. Until I started reading it.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first; I just knew that it seemed a tedious read. I even re-read the first page, trying to figure out why I was so uncomfortable. And then I realized it was all about the first. That is, it was written in first person (which I love) present tense (which apparently I don’t love so much). 

In general, when we write in first person, our go-to tense is past. Those of us of a certain age probably don’t even think about it; first person past is what comes naturally. Honestly, I’d have to really think about first person present to write in it. Here, let me give you an example: 

First Person, Past: 

It was a dark and stormy night and the rain and wind battered the casement windows at Hall Manor.

“Darling,” said my paramour, the Count of Chocula, “come sit beside me and let the fire warm you.” 

He knew that I would continue to search the grounds; I was obsessed. 


First Person, Present (in which I spent fifteen minutes, rewriting this simple passage): 

It’s a dark and stormy night and the rain and wind batters the casement windows at Hall Manor. I stand near the window, searching the grounds. 

“Darling,” says my paramour, the Count of Chocula, “come sit beside me and let the fire warm you.” 

“I cannot,” I say, turning to him only for a moment. “You know of my obsession.” 


 Now, I understand that first person present is all about immediacy, and it may be true that it ramps up that element, especially in a suspense novel or mystery. But holy moley, the constant “says”—because there’s typically a lot of dialogue in this choice—were so annoying. In first person past, we use said, but you’ve probably heard a million times that a reader doesn’t notice “said.” It’s only when it’s a different verb, like “yelled” or “remonstrated,” that we pause. And “says” made me pause over and over again.

Which brings me back to the point about the tedious read, with me stopping and going, feeling like something about the words was just not quite right. 

I continued to read this particular novel, in spite of the style choice, because all the information surrounding the plot was fascinating! But despite my love of the Victorian time period, I don’t think I’ll be reading more in this series; it was just too much of a slog for me. This, despite the fact that it was a very well-written first person present novel. 

Which brings me to the next point, that if you’re going to write in first person present, there is absolutely no room for mistakes. One must be ever vigilant to stay in the present tense! And, too, finding ways to get around tiring the reader. But I wondered, after I’d finally finished the book, is this just me being out of touch with what’s a cool and hip writing choice of the masses? So I did a little research. 

Turns out, it kinda is me being an old fuddy duddy. It’s not uncommon to find YA written in first person present because that appeals to the YA demographic. I guess teens used to texting and tweeting and such basically live in the immediacy of first person present. And it’s not just a choice for YA authors but also authors writing thrillers and—like the novel I read—mysteries and suspense with an eye to attracting both the Millennials and Gen X audience. 

So fine. I guess I’ll stay in my nice and comfortable first person past tense, maybe take up writing for the Boomers. But I am curious about you, dear writers. What do you think about first person present? Do you love it? Or avoid it? Inquiring writers want to know!

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Failing Forward

Tuesday, October 20, 2020



Several years ago I was given a promotion and a raise and a few weeks later fired. I still don't understand it and I'm told it's just what happens and it's big business. It took me a long time to come to grips with being fired - I felt like a failure. Here's what I have learned:

"Failing Forward isn't Failing at All"

When I originally lost my job, my husband was relieved. He could see things much more clearly than I could. I felt many things, but relief wasn't one of them. I was embarrassed, angry, disappointed, confused, and the list goes on. Luckily, I had a great support system of positive friends and business associates and I started by looking at my strengths in order to determine a direction to take my life. 

Once I determined what I was good at, I looked at what brought me joy. I slowly began to realize I hadn't been using my talents or experiencing much joy in the day to day workings of my corporate job. I moved forward with a much clearer vision of what I wanted to do and what I didn't want to do. You could take this and relate it to dating or any area of your life really and most definitely your writing life. Figure out what didn't work, what did work, what sparked the most joy, and keep moving forward.

At some point, you'll be able to look back at that old job, old manuscript, old fling, old apartment, old friendship, etc... and realize though you might have failed, you've definitely moved in a forward direction and therefore it wasn't really much of a failure at all. 


Tell us about a time in your life you failed forward! Why are you happy it happened? How long did it take for you to see it as a forward move? We can't wait to hear from you!

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  Miss Maggie May, a bunny named Penelope who is absolutely the most amazing companion, and over 250 Holsteins.

And now she runs a virtual classroom for her children who are distance learners! 

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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Interview with Kelley Hicken, Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Kelley Hicken is passionate about sharing engaging and uplifting stories with a hint of the supernatural. She is the author of Under the Foster Freak Tree, a middle-grade novella inspired by her own experience as a foster mom. Kelley resides in Idaho with her husband and their two children. Learn about her latest projects at www.kelleyhicken.com.



Read Kelley's story, "I Decided to Jump Off a Bridge," and then return here to learn more about this talented author and illustrator. 






----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Congratulations, Kelly, and welcome! "I Decided to Jump Off a Bridge" is such a poignant tale full of "what ifs?" What was the process of creating it like—did any of the characters change or transform as you worked through the revision process?

Kelley: I came up with the idea for this story and wrote a two-sentence prompt that sat in my "flash fiction ideas" file for several years collecting digital dust. Every once in a while, I will grab a random idea out of the folder and complete it. I believe it took less than two hours from start to finish, and I didn't vary from my original idea of who the characters should be. The story was easy to write because I am passionate about the fact that every life has value and purpose. It came from a place of love, which makes all the difference in whether or not my writing "works."

WOW: I love it when a story flows so easily out of a writer and the message behind this one. You are also the author of a middle-grade novella inspired by your experience as a foster mother. What are some books from your childhood that helped guide you through those pre-teen and teen years?

Kelley: This question makes me laugh because the books that meant the most to me as a teen were the books I hesitated to read because I considered them "old lady" stories. My grandma recommended The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, and it was a life-altering experience, pulling me out of teenage entitlement and forcing me to question women's rights and my value as a girl. A family friend gifted me a stack of books one summer, including Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Both of these books fostered sincere gratitude for the freedom and security I had previously taken for granted.
Then, there was Eric by Doris Lund, a book that you only have to read once to feel it's power for the rest of your life. It's a story of a boy with Leukemia as told by his mother. I remember falling in love with Eric, hoping against all hope that he would overcome the disease, and then feeling devastated when he didn't. I hated the book because it hurt my heart in ways I'd never experienced before. Nine years later, I met my future husband, who is a cancer survivor. The scenes from Eric flooded back to me as if I'd just read it. For the first time, I fully recognized the power books have to develop empathy and human connection. It's why I choose to write, even if it is a painful effort at times.

WOW: It sounds like the book "Eric" made its way into your life for a reason! Based on what I've seen on your blog, in addition to being a writer, you are also a talented illustrator. What are some ways you prioritize which projects you are working on and when?

Kelley: My formula for prioritization is quite simple. When I make time for creative endeavors, I ask myself two questions: 
1. Are my kids awake? 
2. Am I stressed out? 
If the answer to either of those questions is yes, I will opt for illustration. Drawing is a stress relief for me, and if interruptions happen, it's not difficult to pick up where I left off. On the other hand, writing takes a significant amount of focus, and I often feel the very emotions I am writing. When I have just plotted the untimely death of a beloved character, and my kids walk in to see me bawling, it doesn't feel like the best mothering moment.

WOW: I can understand that. I'm glad drawing can provide you with such a stress relief in the times you need it. Having written a novella and award-winning flash fiction, which form do you prefer the most and why?

Kelley: In my heart, I want to say I prefer to write novels. I love nothing more than to delve into a fantasy world and create meaning and emotion where there was none before. In practicality, flash fiction is my favorite because it's so much easier to finish a project. I also love the challenge of making someone laugh or cry with the fewest words possible.
 
WOW: What are you working on now?
Kelley: Besides endless illustration classes? I am currently working on a fantasy novel about a selfish quarry prisoner on the verge of losing her job as the royal tomb engraver. When she develops a dangerous and illegal gift of visions and foresees the unborn prince's murder, she must decide to either hide her gift or risk her own life to save him. 

I am always writing flash fiction pieces, too. I love this contest because I always receive valuable advice from the critiques. Thanks again for a great experience. I feel honored to see my work among such talented writers. 


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3 Reasons Character Motivation Matters

Sunday, October 18, 2020


Recently I read a Tweet from an agent. “Make your character’s motivations come through loud and clear in your query.” It seems that too many authors query, stating the character’s goal, but not the motivations behind the goal. 


Without motivations being stated loud and clear in the query, the answer was consistently “good luck placing this elsewhere.” Why is motivation such a big deal? 


Motivation Makes the Goal Matter 


Think about a book that pulled you in and wouldn’t let you go. Character goals vary from attempting to win the Triwizard Cup to trying to win a beauty pageant. Without motivation, you hear a character’s goals and think what is that and who cares? Motivation is what makes a goal meaningful. 


In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry has been set up and has no choice but to compete. Failure could mean death to himself or his friends. Finding out who set him up alone is a powerful motivation. Add a struggle to survive and his goal is even more compelling. 


In Dumplin, Willodeen may be chubby but she’s comfortable with who she is until she starts dating a handsome private school boy. She can’t believe he loves her for who she is and her self-esteem plummets. She decides the best way to bolster her flagging confidence is to enter the pageant. 


Life or death. A girl struggling to rediscover her self-esteem. Motivations like these make readers care. 


Motivation Provides a Bridge to Believability 


Motivation is also what makes your characters believable. Me? I’ve never battled for to be a Triwizard winner and getting me on stage would take a miracle. These just aren’t goals I can identify with. But struggle? Most of us have battled, even if it wasn’t life-or-death, to meet a particular goal so we understand struggle. And at some point in our lives, we’ve lost faith in ourselves and our own abilities. We get wanting to find self-worth. I get that. I get wanting to believe in yourself. 


Your reader’s life may be completely different from your character’s life and that can make it hard to build reader interest. Fortunately, the right motivation can provide the bridge your reader needs to enter your character’s world. You do this by utilizing motivations and emotions with which your reader is familiar. 


Motivations Make Your Character Complex 


Last but not least, motivations are another way to create a complex character. All you have to do is set up conflicting goals. How do you do this? Give your character a goal that is in conflict with a core value. A character who values law and order has to break the rules to achieve their goal. A character who values her independence above all else has to work with others to achieve her goal. A character who values might has to turn to cunning. 


Motivations are essential when attempting to create believable characters, accessible stories and complex worlds that readers are eager to explore.  


And? Don’t forget to express these motivations clearly in your query letter. 


--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 November 2, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 2, 2020). 

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Meet Nikki Blake - runner up in the WOW! Quarter 3 2020 Essay Contest with a moving story titled "Ghost Hunting in Diablo Valley"

Saturday, October 17, 2020
Congratulations to Nikki Blake and Ghost Hunting in Diablo Valley and all the winners of our 2020 Quarter 3 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Nikki's Bio:

Nikki Blake enjoys writing all sizes and genres of fiction and creative nonfiction from her home in the SF bay area, CA. She shares her office with a gray tabby named Tedz, and a flatulent dog named Pluto. She has been an avid reader and writer since childhood. Her favorite part of writing is creating characters and then tagging along on their adventures. Nikki has written and illustrated a children’s book, is currently working on a YA novel, and hopes to publish some of the short stories she has written. When she is not writing, she enjoys drawing, painting, gardening and artisan bread baking.

If you haven't done so already, check out Nikki's moving story Ghost Hunting in Diablo Valley and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations Nikki! Thank you for writing this essay - I'm sure readers will enjoy Ghost Hunting in Diablo Valley. Let's get right down to the nitty gritty. What role has journaling and/or writer's groups played in your writing life?
  
NIKKI:  I have spent most of my life writing in stops and starts, never really finishing projects. It was not until I discovered an online writing group about a year and half ago that I was able to receive the support and feedback I needed to actually finish projects and submit them for publication. Since then I've written over 20 short stories, and started a YA novel. I would never have gotten anywhere without my writing group! 

WOW: That's great incentive for others to join a group. Do you often enter contests or is this a first? What would you like to tell other authors concerning contests and submitting their work?

NIKKI: I do enter contests often as I enjoy writing to prompts and deadlines. At first, I was discouraged when I would not place (or win). I thought this meant that I was just not a very good writer, but then I realized that I was still able to create a story or an essay that I would not have created otherwise, and that writing is a process. I could then revise, polish, and submit my work somewhere else, which is exactly what I did for this essay. 

WOW: We sure are thankful you entered our contest and you hit the nail on the head - writing most certainly is a process. I think it's important for people to hear that.

 Do you have other published pieces (long or short) or books?

NIKKI: This is the very first thing I have ever had published! So exciting! 

WOW:  I'm glad we could be one of your firsts and thank you for writing this essay - what is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from Ghost Hunting in Diablo Valley

NIKKI:  I think we all have past versions of ourselves that can sometimes hold us back from believing in ourselves. I re-wrote this essay a few times, and I struggled with the last sentence and how to end it. What was I really getting out of this talk I was having with my past selves? I finally settled on the word "try" because really, that is all any us of can do. I made a promise to myself that even if I never got anywhere with my writing, it would not be for lack of trying. 

WOW: What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2020 and beyond? 

NIKKI:  I plan to continue to write short stories and essays, to send more items out for publication and to finish a rough draft of my YA novel that I started this year. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your time, talent, and insights! We sure look forward to reading more from you!!!

Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

Check out the latest Contests:
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Creating When You Can't Focus


I don't know what to blame lately. COVID? The election? My ever changing, ever elusive writing goals? Whatever the reason is, I can't seem to focus too well lately. At least, not on creative stuff. So, what's a writer to do? Today, I thought I'd put together a few suggestions on what to do if you have a hard time focusing on your creative project lately.


1) Make bite-sized goals or tasks.

If you are trying to get yourself back on track with writing, set mini tasks for yourself. Things like: do a 20 minute writing session three times a week, outline a particular project, or write at least 100 words at the end of your work day. Whatever your desire is, whether it's to finish a book or complete a short story or memoir, set mini goals. For me, my personal mini goal is to get out my spiral bound notebook and finish a story I had started. I'm convinced handwriting it will help me.

2) Cut back on social media.

Isn't social media irresistable? In the worst way possible, social media can rope me into a spiral downward these days. It's also really hard to let go once I start. So, I've committed to limit my social media intake. If you can, at least remove the apps from your phone. I think that helps me the best. It's good to stay informed, reach out to your community, and boost your audience platform, but there comes a point when it's doing more harm than good.

3) Write out your distractions.

Sometimes if I can't get out of my own mindset, journaling the stuff distracting me is so helpful. Sometimes getting it out of my head is like a reset button. So, if you are distracted or unable to focus on something creative, write about what IS occupying your mind. You'll relieve stress and get some words in for the day.

With any luck, these ideas will help you. In all honesty, it's quite possible will all just need to ride the wave of 2020 and just do what we can, however we can. But maybe we can get ourselves back on track. 




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What Happens When Your Child Is Old Enough to Read Your Book?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

I'm not going to lie--when my daughter (soon to be 10) said she wanted to take my middle-grade historical fiction novel, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, to read for her independent reading selection at school, I was, well, terrified. You know how writers joke that our parents are always telling us how wonderful our writing is and how we shouldn't use them as a judge for how our writing will be perceived by the rest of the world? The opposite is true for our children. They can be very harsh critics. When my daughter doesn't like something, she's not quiet about it.


So the first message I received from her (through a shared Google doc we use to communicate while she's at virtual school) was (spoiler alert): "Why did you make Ma die? I am so mad at you!"


And I thought, Hey, she really is reading this book of mine, and she is at least invested enought that she cares about the characters.I told her (and all my Facebook friends) that Ma had to die for the story to work, but my daughter still wasn't buying it. 


Then she was quiet about the book for a couple weeks, and I thought, Well, she lost interest. It happens. She's used to the excitement of Harry Potter and Dork Diaries. But then yesterday, she started messaging me again: "Does Albert like Anna? Is there a book two? You better get busy writing book two next! I'll proofread."


All right, all right, I will confess to you, my writing friends, that these messages from my daughter did make me tear up. I mean, I think my writing life is now complete--even if I have no more success.


My daughter likes my book!


My daughter said that she would like to dress up as Anna (my main character) for Halloween and also Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. She can be both. (Is there even trick or treating during a pandemic?)


Take that, J.K Rowling. 


My daughter then went on to tell me that no one has made a YouTube video about my book--she was sorry to say. Oh, trust me, I was laughing--it's so funny that she would even think to go on YouTube and look for Finding My Place, thinking that surely someone would have made a YouTube video about it. She knows there are a lot of fan fic videos about the Harry Potter series, so why not Finding My Place? When I told her I had 25 reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars, she was amazed. 


This week, I suppose, my daughter discovered that I really am a writer, and other people (although not a ton) really do read my books. And wow, other kids might like them. 


(I told her to tell all her friends.) 



And I'm now getting started on a third book in the series (Anna and the Baking Championship is a prequel that I put out this summer) which my daughter has already decided there should be a dance in the middle of the book, even if they are still at war, because then Albert can ask Anna to dance. 


I hope that if you have children, you get to experience this feeling some day. I swear that 2020 has been a year full of a lot of bad stuff, but this--this week was amazing. 


Happy writing! 


Margo L. Dill is a writer and editor, living in St. Louis, MO, with her 10-year-old daughter and 1.5-year-old dog. She also teaches classes for WOW! Women On Writing, including a monthly novel writing course which offers critique. Check it out here. You can find out more about Margo and her books on her website. 

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