What You Can Learn from NaNoWriMo Winners

Sunday, November 30, 2008
National Novel Writing Month ends today, so I thought I'd share an article with some final thoughts about NaNoWriMo. How did everyone do with the challenge this year? Any success stories to discuss? :) --MP

by Rochelle Melander

...NaNoWriMo winners will finish a 50,000-word novel by midnight on November 30th. Earlier this month, I interviewed several NaNoWriMo Winners by email. Every writer can learn something from the success of these writers. Here are my favorite tips:

1. Busy is not an excuse. In fact, many of the NaNoWriMo Winners keep chaotic schedules. Winner Elizabeth McKinney from Winston-Salem wrote her novel while also writing professionally for her full-time job. Winner Nicole Gustasa from California said, “Not only did I finish National Novel Writing Month last year, but I did it while I was moving, finalizing my divorce and working a 60-hour a week job!” Never whine about being too busy to write. If you want to write, you’ll find time to write.

2. No MFA? No problem. Many of the wannabe writers I meet put off their writing careers until they can get more education or experience. Don’t wait. Educate yourself by reading and attending workshops. Get experience by writing. Winner Susan Drolet said, “When I actually finished an entire novel, I realized that you don't have to be a professional writer or have a degree in journalism to put words together to make a coherent story. I am so proud of my accomplishment!”

3. Success creates success. Every NaNoWriMo winner I talked to was proud of their 50,000-word accomplishment—and they should be. NaNoWriMo success boosted the winners’ writing confidence and spilled over into other areas as well. Winner Kristine Augustyn said, "Because I actually completed the novel I feel that I can do many more things. It has given me greater confidence and inspiration and in turn I have inspired others to try things." Kristine gained the confidence to start a new business, Badge of Intent. For me, the discipline of writing gave me the knowledge and the confidence to create and stick to an exercise program.

You don’t need to be a National Novel Writing Month winner to know what successful writers know. Take a look at your own writing successes. Perhaps you committed to and finished a journaling program. Maybe you finished a big writing project on time. Or you got that first big article published. Ask your self, “What practices led to that success?” Make a list. Do more of the same—and you will be more successful. It’s that simple.

Visit the National Novel Writing Month website for more success stories.
Kristine Augustyn’s website is Badge of Intent.

Right Now! Coach Rochelle Melander supports people in writing to transform their lives and businesses. If you’re ready to establish credibility, make more money, and market your work by writing a book, blog, or Web site, get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.rightnowcoach.com
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Encouraging Young Writers

Saturday, November 29, 2008

As writers, our job is to encourage the younger generation to also write. How can we do this? Many of us are teachers or have children of our own. I encourage my stepson to write in a journal in the summer, write stories, and of course, his own thank you notes and Christmas cards. What are some of your ideas?

I am really proud of my writing group, Saturday Writers (based in St. Peters, MO) and some of our members, who thought to hold an annual third and fourth grade writing contest and teen writing contest. Teens and elementary students can enter their stories for free, and they also attend an awards' ceremony where a published children's author gives them their awards and leads a short workshop for anyone who participated in the contest--winners or not.

A wonderful author, (who also happens to be my friend and a member of the Missouri Writers' Guild with me) Mary-Lane Kamberg, has written a book called The I Love To Write Book: Ideas & Tips for Young Writers. The description of this book is:
"A get-started guide to launch young writers on a journey to writing success . . . at home and in the classroom. An instructional and inspirational guide for young writers, ages 8-14, to help them become successful, confident, and self-motivated writers. Features practical tips, techniques, and exercises ideal for use at home and in the classroom. With many activities, worksheets, and examples for developing ideas, observing the world, writing different types of pieces (such as news articles, book reviews, thank-you letters, how-tos, and more) and best practices for writing poetry and fiction. Also covers the basics of revising work and submitting pieces for publication. While ideal for classroom use, the book focuses on writing for personal satisfaction, community impact, and publication."

Besides an author, Mary-Lane Kamberg is also a director for a summer writing camp in Kansas, so she has the experience to write a book like this. The forward is by John Riddle, who some of you may know from founding the annual "I Love To Write Day." Riddle is another author, who is helping young writers and old writers alike. :)

The moral of this story is. . . since we love the written word, let's share it with the younger generation. They might not love it as much as us or follow us in their career paths. But being able to express yourself through writing is one of the most important skills anyone can learn.

Happy Writing and Sharing!
Margo Dill
Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them blog (I do have some writing ideas to go with books on this site.)
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Never too much writing!

Friday, November 28, 2008
Happy Thanksgiving Holiday Everyone! Now that the turkey is done, everyone has been out shopping, its time to settle down and write.

Today, I got the first installment from one of my relatives for the new Family Memoir. A group of family pictures. The dates were from the 1930's and 1940's wow, how different everyone looked in them.

Now that the word is spreading about the family memoir, everyone is beginning to get very excited.

One of my uncles is even going to include some of his own recipes for this book. These recipes he prepared for one of our many big feasts. He mentioned a "whopper" of a story that he has to tell with the recipe involving all of us kids. It is exciting to think that this book could help bring our family even closer together, through all the joys that we have been able to share. And now to share them with others.

As I sit here and think of all the information that is heading my way. I wonder if I bit off more than I can chew. Is this something I can handle? Well, of course I can, I'm a writer.

We have the power to create new worlds, to tear down tall buildings with the simple stroke of a key. We can even bring romance to the weak of heart. Tears to a young mother.

To this day, it is amazing how the power of our words in stories can create such visions for readers.

As the family memoir information grows, so does the exciting challenges that come ahead.

Here is what is on the plate at the moment:

1) sorting through the pictures that will be shared in the book.
2) making sure of accurate placement for each picture.
3) organizing the stories accordingly, should they be done by age, sanity?

These are the questions to ponder at the moment.

As more rolls in the progress continues. My fingers are itching with anticipation over the next installments.

Who will be sending it? When will I receive it? Hmmm... To many questions, I think I need more turkey to fill up my plate.

Happy Writing Everyone!
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Unexpected Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 27, 2008
I had an unexpected visit from a friend tonight (actually today, if you're in a different time zone). He came down from San Francisco to visit his relatives and stopped by our pad to say hello. It was after midnight and I was in the midst of cranking out WOW!'s holiday gift guide, and still am. With so much on my plate (and unfortunately, I'm talking work, not food!), it's hard to stop for a moment and just be. I have so many commitments and people to please online that sometimes I forget about myself.

At first, I was a little irritated by the unexpected visit. My mind was wrapped up in deadlines and I knew that any socializing would be a setback. But as I switched gears, I suddenly felt relieved, and recognized what was truly important. This was my hubby's best friend in the world, and a good friend of mine too. And I missed him. I can't remember how long it's been. We slipped into conversation like it was yesterday. He showed me the latest window displays he'd created for Saks Fifth Avenue in SF. We chatted about friends, family, love, work, and everything under the sun. And it was good. As he left, I asked him, "So, considering Thanksgiving, what do you have to be thankful for?" The first thing he said was, "Health..." Then he said, "Friends and family..." And we gave him a big hug goodbye.

After he left, I thought about what I was thankful for. So many things came to mind. The first two that he mentioned were also my first choices. My health. My friends and family. I'm also thankful for the many wonderful women I've met through WOW!--interns, columnists, readers, and those I've come to know through the site as personal friends. All of you are special in every way.

I'm also thankful for simple things: having a roof over my head, my relationship with my cat, my long straight hair that never has a bad hair-day (it can't do anything else but be straight!), and the beautiful days and nights here in Southern California.

I'm thankful for being able to write something and have it heard by others. Writing is definitely a gift for all that choose to use it. Many times, we focus on the negative things in our lives and what we need to improve, but today, I'd like to hear what you appreciate--writing or otherwise.

So, what are you thankful for?
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Writing Your Way Towards A Job

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Now, I know many of you are writing as a vocation, but there are some of you perhaps who are also doing a little more writing than average, in hopes of getting called in for an interview or with a job offer. This column is for you. Many of these suggestions could also be applied towards book proposals and other “times to shine” I am sure.

Here is my list so far:

1) Proofread or hire/ask for another set of eyes. Typos can be humorous at times, but not when they make their way into a final draft landing in the hands of a hiring agent!

2) Strive for concise and clear thoughts. If you are wordy, leave extra time to edit, edit, edit!

3) Avoid jargon or clichés. It spares the HR agents having to read for the hundredth time that you are just like everyone else.

4) If you are not sure what a big word means, by all means, do not use it! It is not impressive to be incorrect! Also, even if you know what a big word means, do not try showing off and make the hiring crews dig out dictionaries, unless the job requires an extensive vocabulary and showing that you are well-read.

5) Make the fonts simple, straightforward, and consistent. You want the eyes to focus on what you have written, not on how fancy you can be.

6) The same goes for consistent and acceptable margins. It neither fools a grade school teacher nor a selecting official to have tiny margins to squeeze more on a page, or the converse, akin to what my brother did in school, wider margins and bigger fonts do not make it into a truly longer document that will dazzle the higher ups.

7) If there is a word limit, there is good reason. Conform to it and think of it as a true test of your skills!

8) Just like a good book, you want to make it a page turner not a snore fest. If you get creative or show unique skills and experience and define yourself on page 1, people will consider reading onward. If page 1 reads like everyone else’s, it is a toss-up.

9) Find a way to journal, vent, or otherwise grumble to get it out of your system. I opt for long emails to friends as catharsis. I tell them that when the job happens, they will receive a gift or two, or lots! It helps getting the negativity out so that you are focused and confident when writing resumes, cover letters, and email requests for more information.

10) Don’t forget to follow up and also to thank. Think of it as a short writing exercise that could very well make somebody’s day, and maybe, a few days down the road, make yours too.

With that said, I open up the comment section. Any suggestions?
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Interview with Jill Pertler - Runner Up Spring 08 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interviewed by LuAnn Schindler

Jill Pertler is an award-winning writer and photographer whose syndicated humor column, Slices of Life, brings smiles to Midwestern households each week. She was awarded an honorable mention in Writer's Digest 2008 Annual Competition in the personal essay category. She's written hundreds of articles for local, regional and national publications, and like many writers, is working on a book. She lives in northern Minnesota with her husband, four kids and assorted pets.

Feel free to visit her website and read her columns or email her: pertmn@qwest.net

Check out Jill's story, Holding On, on the WOW! website. Go on! You know you want to read it!

WOW!: Congratulations, Jill, on being named a runner up in the Spring Flash Fiction contest. Your story caught my attention. Where did you get the inspiration for your story, Holding On?

Jill: I often get my inspiration from real life. You could say I lived this one. I added details to create a fictional story, but many pieces of the story are true – I was a behavior analyst and I did work with a woman who ate things and eventually died because of it.

WOW!: That would be a tough situation to work in. You write a humor column. Was it difficult to switch gears to write such a serious story?

Jill: My column is officially called a “humor” column, but it’s really about my views on my life. Often that’s zany because I live in a busy, crazy household. But sometimes the column is touching or serious, depending on what I’ve observed that week.

I think it’s actually more of a challenge for me to try to be funny versus telling a story in a straightforward manner. Most days.

WOW!: Switching from daily observations to fiction must be challenging. This was your first attempt at fiction. What were some of the easy aspects of writing flash fiction? Difficult aspects?

Jill: In a way, I sort of write “flash” every week with my Slices of Life column. I tell a “story” in a little more than 500 words. I think short pieces can be some of the most challenging for a writer because you have to prioritize and decide what you want to say with little or no fluff. A short piece forces you to edit and then go back and edit again. It compels you to see your writing in a different way because you’ve got to cut those 14 words from somewhere. And in doing so, it improves your work and makes your abilities stronger.

As far as fiction versus nonfiction goes, I have a confession to make. I sometimes take liberties with my “non-fiction” column in order to make it more readable an interesting. I might alter facts just a little bit, or reverse the order of things. Nearly the same thing can be said for the fiction that I write. Many “true life” facts creep into my paragraphs.

Having said that, there is a different mindset between fiction and nonfiction (at least for me). Fiction gives you the freedom to make stuff up! I had to get used to that and once I did, I liked it!

I find that I have either fiction or non-fiction days. Once I get into the fiction mode, story ideas continually pop into my head. When I’m out of that mode, it can be difficult to come up with an idea for a short story.

WOW!: I can relate to having fiction or non-fiction days. You've been writing for nearly 20 years. What type of writing is your favorite and why?

Jill: I love writing my Slices of Life column. I consider it a privilege. First, it’s just fun for me to get those stories on paper. Second, I feel I am leaving a written legacy for my children – sort of like a family memoir. Third, it is rewarding and such a thrill to know that others read and enjoy my words. When they send me an email or stop me on the street to comment on a certain column, it makes my day.

I've also enjoyed experimenting with short stories – fiction. I’m still very new at it, but I hope to get to do more of it in the future.

WOW!: Good luck as you pursue fiction writing. Let's talk about your newspaper experience. What was the process like for syndicating your humor column? How many markets is it published in?

Jill: There are more than a few ways to pursue syndication. It can be a confusing and daunting labyrinth.

Right now I’m self-syndicated. That isn't as glamorous as representation by a national syndicate, but it is a start. I've been writing the Slices of Life column since 2002, but was writing monthly, not weekly. I knew that if I wanted to reach more people and bigger markets, I’d have to put out a weekly column.

In September 2007, I set a goal for myself to write a weekly column for one year. I contacted newspapers about printing it. Currently my column is distributed to 80 newspapers each week. I recently met my one-year goal, and now I feel I have the experience and skills to approach syndicates about representing me. That is my next step.

I also joined the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and entered their annual contest. I’ll do that again next year. Writing and gaining exposure through other contests, like this one, helps me get my name out there.

WOW!: Meeting a personal goal is so self-satisfying. Great job! Your weekly column must keep you busy. What's your writing routine like?

Jill: I practice two vastly different types of writing. First there is the writing that pays the bills. This might be writing for an annual report, brochure, magazine article, radio ad, etc. That writing has to get done so I have the luxury of indulging in the writing that feeds my soul. Examples of those projects are my Slices of Life column and flash fiction contest entries.

I am lucky, because I write from home full-time. By full-time I mean 4 – 6 hours per day. I am a mom of four kids and although they are now all in school, they take up a substantial amount of my time; I wouldn't have it any other way.

Often the writing that pays the bills takes precedence over the writing that feeds the soul. Life isn't always fair. I seem to do the bill-paying stuff in the morning, and the soul-feeding work in the afternoon. Usually.

I also find myself carving out an hour or two on the weekends to write – usually to polish up a column that’s due on Monday.

My writing career has grown gradually; I started very part-time when my house was filled with babies and toddlers. Now those babies are more independent and I've had more time to devote to writing. I’m finally establishing myself, and am just starting to be able to consider saying “no” to projects that aren't the soul-feeding type. I guess that means I’m on the right track.

WOW!: It seems like you've found a balance between the writing you want and need to do. It can be challenging! Have you entered or won any other writing contests? Any advice for other newbies?

Jill: I entered an essay in the 2008 Writer’s Digest annual competition and received an honorable mention, which means (I guess) that my piece was in the top 100 of 17,000 entries. They even sent a certificate. Very official!

Interestingly enough, I’d previously entered the same essay in a local contest and it did not win. I felt bad, but thought the piece had merit, so I went ahead and paid the $15 to enter it into the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition, and hey – we got a BINGO!

So my advice is to trust your gut. If you feel your words are laced with a little magic, maybe the first editor, contest director or critic will be blind to it. Tweak the piece, but don’t toss it in the trash until you, personally, decide that’s where it should go.

WOW!: That's great advice for anyone considering entering a contest. You are also a photographer. How does that creative outlet help your writing?

Jill: I think it makes me more marketable as a writer. My writing gets me photography gigs and vice versa.

My camera is also a great prop. Like a lot of writers, I can have my shy moments. The camera puts something between my subject and me. It allows me to feel freer with my conversation. When I’m taking photos, I’m working at putting my subject at ease, and therefore I’m more relaxed myself.

And, of course, the camera lens lets me see the world in a different way. It provides perspective, a new angle.

WOW!: Perspective is so important for writing and photography. What projects are you currently working on?

Jill: I’m working on a book that is a compilation of some of my columns, paired with recipes – a sort of cookbook/storybook. The premise is that so many of life’s memories are paired with food. Food and memories are intertwined, and I think there’s something special about that.

And, of course, I need to take that next step with my Slices of Life column – either to expand to more markets or to gain representation by a national syndicate.

WOW!: Jill, you are an inspiration! Congratulations, again, on being named a runner up in the WOW! contest. And thank you for sharing your views on writing.

Jill: I’d like to send a big thanks to everyone at WOW for sponsoring the quarterly contests. They are great. I also appreciate the bulk of useful information and articles on the site. It’s all inspiring and encouraging for other writers like me.
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The Return of the Baltimore Writers Conference

Monday, November 24, 2008
By Jill Earl

What a difference a year makes. Exactly a year ago, my first post for ‘The Muffin’ was 'Notes from the Baltimore Writers Conference', my first experience at the annual event. This time around, I attended with a writing buddy, and had some writing experience under my belt. What would the day hold for me?

The conference opened with keynote speaker Larry Doyle, a former writer and producer for ‘The Simpsons’ for four years. Titled ‘How I Became A Salesman’, Mr. Doyle’s droll humor wove its way through his talk. For instance, his reason for becoming a writer was to avoid his father’s line of work of door-to-door sales. His choice of writing as a vocation didn't go over well. His observation: “Being a movie writer is 90% finding writing jobs---so you can say I’m a salesman in Hollywood. Dad would be proud.”

His first novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper , a homage to 80's teen comedies, is now available and will be released as a film next year, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Hayden Panettierre of the T.V. show ‘Heroes’. He fielded many questions from the eager audience, and at the end, left us with this last comment, “Most Hollywood writers are very well written, which is amazing considering the quality of work coming from there.” He’s currently not working on his next novel.

In my first session, ‘Taking The Freelance Plunge’, freelancers Cathy Alter and Geoff Brown tag-teamed to walk attendees through the process. Both made the move to freelancing for the freedom of creating their own schedules and doing work they wanted to do, missing the reliable biweekly check initially. Mr. Brown remarked, “Having a spouse with a paying job is important. Very important.” They continued with advice on effectively researching markets, starting with smaller magazines to build your portfolio, and looking into setting up your own blog. Their last bit of advice: “Read everything. Read, read, read!”

In the ‘Literary Journals & Magazines’ session with Gettysburg Review assistant editor Mark Drew and Gargoyle Magazine editor/publisher Richard Peabody, attendees learned to tailor their pieces to what lit mag editors are looking for. Among the sore points for both: inconsistent characters, long drawn-out plots, and not reading the magazine to get a feel for it. “We’re looking for any reason to reject your work.” To better your chances for acceptance, Mr. Drew suggested, “Know your characters so well that you take editors by surprise and hook them, and they’ll want to accept your work.”

“Wherever you are, use that opportunity to further your writing experience.” That statement opened the ‘Travel Writing’ session, led by L. Peat O’Neil, author of Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story. We jumped into defining the elements of a travel piece--title, lead/lede, the ‘where are we?’, ‘why are we there?’, theme, and ‘how’--adding facts, character development, and backstory to make an interesting piece. As a brainstorming exercise, Ms. O’Neil had us recall a travel experience, remembering specific details using our senses, then write down some ideas that could be the beginnings of our own travel pieces.

We moved on to areas to break into travel writing, such as small presses and journals, choosing your target market and carefully reading it to discover their style. Once established, she emphasized the need to be gutsy in marketing and selling yourself; developing contacts with editors and other writers; and suggested focusing on a region/area instead of a variety of places. Her takeaway at the end of the session: “Read widely of what was written by travel writers decades, even centuries past, get a fresh perspective on the genre.”

My last session, ‘Screenwriting’, led by screenplay consultant David Warfield, was mostly a Q&A time. He suggested that beginners look into screenwriting competitions as a resource to get the proverbial foot in the door, but making sure to do the necessary research because of the many scammers out there. Mr. Warfield added that learning how to craft good query letters is an important skill to develop, since few in the business accept unsolicited scripts. At the end, attendees received a handout with helpful resources.

Throughout the conference, I met fellow writers, made great connections, ate really good food and didn't buy out the bookstore---a first! We hit the wine and cheese gathering for last-minute networking and snacks for the road, then left.

With conference season officially over, the work of sorting through this last round of handouts and notes, and applying what was learned begins. Bring it on!
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Clearing Your To-Do List...and Your Mind

Sunday, November 23, 2008
by LuAnn Schindler

If you are like me, you keep a mental list of everything you need to accomplish. As each day passes, you cross off those items you've taken care of and then the cycle begins again as you add more to-dos. Some of the items on the list are short-term solutions; others might include long-term goals.

I keep my to-do-list on my computer (thanks Vista and Google applications). It's one of the first things I look at in the morning, and I review it every evening before I shut down (literally AND figuratively). The list keeps me on track toward the bigger goals I've established for myself.

Why do I have an easier time developing new ideas? I think it is because I DO write down my to-do list. When you simply think about a potential list of events, articles, and deadlines, your mind draws energy to keep the list fresh. Writing down the bones of the day frees up space in my natural hard drive - my brain.

The same premise works when you consider long-term projects. I use the same technique when I'm preparing for interviews. I write pertinent questions, which allows me to spiderweb my thoughts into even more questions.

I also journal every day. When my fateful day comes, my children will have volumes to read. I hope they enjoy it. But one of the qualities of journaling that I truly enjoy is that once a thought has gone from brain to pen to paper and I've had the opportunity to vent or share joy, the thoughts usually are wiped away. Creative thought continues to develop.

And that is what writing is all about - creating new venues of thought that challenge your creativity. Clearing those thoughts - the to-do list, the grocery list, the character sketch, the new line of a poem you've been working on for days - and putting those words on paper open the path for new ideas, new characters, new stories.

That's the heart of writing.

And I can cross this blog post off my "to-do" list and open the neural pathway to creativity.
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Tip for Screenplay Writers (and NaNoWriMo Writers Too)

Saturday, November 22, 2008
"I've been doing something that I thought I'd invented myself and then I discovered in a conversation with Jim Cameron and then I read in an interview with George Lucas where he talked about the trick that Francis Ford Coppola taught him and it turns out everybody's doing the same thing. We never read what we write. I know that sounds preposterous but the point is you don’t edit while you’re writing. We don’t even dare look at what we're writing until it looks like there's around a hundred pages. It sounds nuts but when you have a hundred pages and then you finally look at them, you have the aesthetic distance to edit yourself."

-Steven Souza, screenwriter
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Websites That Don't Pay Writers

Friday, November 21, 2008
In researching markets for Premium-Green, I always come across an alarming amount of markets that solicit writers, but don't pay. Some of them include nice notes like "we hope to pay writers someday!" while others take the opposite route and say, "we offer great exposure," or even, "we don't charge to read your submissions."

I'm sorry, but come on! If you have an ezine and are asking for writers, don't you think you should pay them something? You don't have to go all out and spend $1,000 an issue like WOW! does, but there should be some compensation other than "exposure." Why start an ezine then?

Another thing, when a site says they hope to pay writers "someday" do you really think they're going to start doing that? Why should they if they're getting submissions already without having to pay?

It's too bad. I run across a lot of really interesting markets that have great content, or are attractive sites, but I can't include them because they are non-paying. I wish writers would stop feeding the beast of non-paying markets. Most of the ones that say they offer "exposure" don't even have great traffic. So why do freelancers keep submitting to them? Just curious...
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Writing Decisions

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One of my writing friends recently asked an interesting question: "Should I stay focused on my novel or work on some short stories to get my name out there when there's really not enough time in the day for even one of these?"

This is an interesting question, and one I struggle with all the time. I am under the opinion that you should do both--work on your large, long-term writing projects AND your short-term money makers or publishing credit projects. What do you think?

I do find that I spend MUCH MORE time working on my short-term writing assignments because 1. I can get them finished, and that gives me a feeling of accomplishment. 2. They give me some income NOW as opposed to royalties three years down the road. 3. I enjoy being published and helping people through my writing.

These reasons above are valid and important and help me on my career path, but my ultimate goal is to have several children's books published, go to schools and talk about writing, and maybe even lead some writing workshops/camps for kids and adults. So, I have to work on my long-term projects, too, or these goals will never be accomplished.

What about you ladies? How do you feel about this issue? How do you organize your time between long-term and short-term projects? Or some people say between creative writing and business writing? I suggested to my friend to write short stories during the week and a novel on the weekends, but I don't think this would work for me.

The ultimate solution would be to have 30 hours in the day or to only need one or two hours of sleep a night to function. But those are two things I'm not in charge of. . .:)

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill
Read These Books and Use Them (blog)

photo by eleaf http://www.flickr.com/
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A Family Memoir

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Okay everyone don't pass out, I know it has been quite some time since I have posted anything.

I want to thank everyone for your patience. Starting a new business well, it is literally a full time job when it comes to getting things set up, building your clientele and much more. A very different world. That of course is another tale.

Recently, my parents came to visit me here in the wonderful Hill Country. We talked about fun times that we spent in my grandparents home. One fact that always came up, most of the time, when visiting my grandparents,we spent in the kitchen. This brought me to a great idea, to write a family memoir.

Given the recent popularity of memoirs I thought it would be great if everyone in a family could be involved. Each telling of a memorable time that we spent with my grandparents.

So, this brought up the idea of sharing this new concept with my wonderful friends and family at WOW! Because well, I love you all so much and maybe your family would like to do something like this as well.

I also thought it would be great to share all the steps along the way to writing this book and how I go about gathering up all the information that will go into it.

Well, step one took place this morning, I sat down and wrote a note to my father asking him for some "historical" information on my grandparents. The in-site to the beginning of their lives together.
* How they met.
* Where they met.
* Where they were married.
* How long they lived in their hometown located in Kansas.

This of course will be part of the opening point of our book.

Next I asked my father to help me get the word out to the rest of the family, asking for stories they would like to share, recipes or anything they find interesting or fun for our family book.

On my own, I am already looking up historical information on the town that they did call home, Plainville. I am also beginning some initial thoughts about recipes I liked growing up, favorite moments of my own that I shared in my grandparents home.

Now of course comes a waiting point. I have to see what kind of information comes about. Given my new excitement about this concept, I feel like I am in a hurry to get started on the initial writing and organizing of this book.

The organization of this type of book will be very important. It will need to be easy to read, organized in a way so that anyone can simply flip to the section they are looking for to look up a particular recipe. I have already planned to include the following sections: drinks, appetizers, salads, sauces and dressings, casseroles, meats, desserts. Some of the sections will be broken down a little further to make it even more efficient. For drinks, kid friendly, hot, cold, adult friendly.

Now thinking about this concept there is so much more that can be done with it, different ideas that can be used. How about crafting for those of you who are crafty bugs, you could include fun times with relatives what was created for example maybe a family quilt or how about a special family album since scrap-booking is such a popular craft time.

I think I am now scaring myself with this idea.

So now I leave this to each of you, do you have a memorable family time or place where everyone gathered? Bringing the past into the future for our children and grandchildren can be quite fun and one heck of an adventure. You could think of it as a form of time travel.

Some great reference books to fall back on when you decide to write memoir are the following:

Old Friend from Faraway written by Natalie Goldberg
The Essential Writer's Notebook written by Natalie Goldberg
How to write Memoir written by William Zinnser
Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir written by: Lisa Dale Norton

Believe me their are tons of great guides on Memoir out there, please feel free to share them. It would be great to hear about some of them.

One final thought, so many memoirs are written on the aspect of tragedy that it would be great to see more happy reflections to be found on the market of writing.

I hope that along the way, I can help to inspire each of you in some little way to find the book of your dreams to write.

Happy Writing!
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Spring 2008 First Place Winner! Amy Fuster

Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Amy Fuster won the hearts of our guest judges, and literary agent, Wendy Sherman, with her First Place story, The Road Twisted Twice. If you haven't done so already, read her winning story and come back and join us in an inspirational chat!

Bio: Amy Fuster lives outside metro Atlanta on nine acres with her husband of 18 years, their two sons, two dogs, and a dozen goldfish that live in her koi pond with a resident bullfrog. Her inner writer just recently emerged with a roaring battle cry for attention. Managing the home front, their numerous rental properties and the tenants who come with the territory, and pursuing her Black Belt in karate, are additional pursuits vying for her attention. She’s working on her first novel, Lottery Lost, in addition to grooming the writing beast with tools from the Long Ridge Writers Group Breaking Into Print course. Most recently, she’s been published as 3rd place winner in Newnan-Coweta Magazine’s writing contest, and a book review published in the LongRidge newsletter. Travel articles are soon to follow, as ten days recently spent in Hawaii provide a myriad of memories to motivate her muse. You can contact Amy at: fuster1up[at]Hughes[dot]net


WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Amy, and congratulations on winning first place! Your story, The Road Twisted Twice, is so beautifully written. What inspired you to write it?

Amy: Thanks that's sweet of you to say. I was blown away by the award, what an honor! The inspiration for the story was a snapshot moment in my life that I embellished heartily to fictionalize. There was a mill house, there was a woman, there was a moment; the road curved, and my life went straight. Other than that, it’s fictional.

What inspired me to write about it, though, was a conversation I had one evening with a friend. She mentioned seeing some homeless people who were living under an overpass in Atlanta. I asked her, "Have you ever wanted to just stop and ask one of them, why are you here? What happened, and why didn't you fix it?"

She said she had wondered, but wouldn't stop to ask. It reminded me of that time when I connected with the woman's eyes, driving down that twisted road. It had happened several years ago, but the missed moment stayed with me.

We just can't imagine people actually living in those conditions. But that's exactly what intrigued me so much. I wondered how she could sit there on that porch and seem so very content with so little, and why I am so discontent with so much! And again I wished I had stopped to ask. I felt like she had the answer to some life riddle, and I was just too busy at the time to get it.

WOW: The message of your story is so true...life passes at such a quick pace that we sometimes never get to stop and truly appreciate it, live it. It makes me want to stop for a moment and do something different, talk to someone, break the pattern. Can you recall a time you broke your routine and did something completely spontaneous?

Amy: LOL, sure, hitting 'send' to submit my story to you. :) Honestly, I am spontaneous. I've been known to stop a fellow grocery shopper and ask how they're planning to cook the meat they just chose. I have a fabulous recipe for ox tail soup that I got just that way. I think life's lessons are hidden in unexpected places. If you just look in the obvious spots, you'll miss half the fun.

WOW: Oooh, I had ox tail soup and it's delicious! You'll have to share your recipe with me sometime. So, do you prefer to write what you know, or write what you don't know?

Amy: That's a tough one. I prefer to write what I question. I'm really opinionated. Ask me about anything and I'll likely have a strong opinion I’m willing to share. (ie Hey, you asked. Don't complain if you don’t like the answer.) But given new information, I might change my mind. I constantly wonder why, how, and what if… So I find myself writing from my world view, and inviting questions about whether other, equally valid, points are running around out there. But to answer the question directly, I like to write from observation rather than research.

WOW: I hear that! Now here's a question I'm always curious about: was The Road Twisted Twice a story you'd previously written? If so, did you have to do a lot of editing for this contest?

Amy: I did write it before I knew about the contest. Right after that homeless overpass conversation I mentioned. I wrote it just for myself, not for an audience. (Imagine my surprise to find all of you reading it!)

I really struggle to get the words out, usually. I've said that writing, for me, is like pulling kudzu off pine trees. But with this story, the first line wrote itself, and the rest flowed easily. I did have to squeeze it down to size, but lost nothing in the effort. Exactly the opposite, I tightened the belt and it made the story's eyes bulge out.

WOW: I think the first line definitely sets the tone for the story. Your prose is gorgeous. You must be an avid reader. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Amy: Thanks for the compliment about the prose. You're making me blush.

I have always loved to read, but I don't read always. When I do, I become absorbed and I'm likely to forget to do important things, like make dinner, or pay the bills, or blink.

I don't have favorite authors, but there are powerful books that stand out. The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller, comes to mind. The Thorn Birds, by Cathleen McCullough, and Hanta Yo, by Ruth BeeBe Hill, are favorites. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker, and The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra, in the non-fiction realm. Most recently I read The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb, and found myself literally laughing out loud. That's a sure sign you’ve got my attention!

WOW: That's a great selection! Since it's November, I have to ask, are you participating in NaNo this year?

Amy: I'm so glad you asked that! Yes, this is my first time. Two friends and I agreed to keep each other pegged to the challenge. (Would you believe their names are Angie and Angela?) I'm not a disciplined writer, so in September I did a trial run, a commitment to write 1667 words per day. It turned into more of a journal experience (I've never kept a journal) than a novel project, but frankly, I could base a novel on some of those entries!

I’m treating NaNo just like an exercise program. I don't have to like it, I just have to do it. I sit down to write 1667 words (the goal) every day. Sometimes I bitch and whine throughout. But I always feel better when I'm finished. A trick that's helped is to picture an in-town jogger. They don't stop jogging just because they hit a red light, instead they jog in place. So when I hit a red light in my writing, I just keep writing, even if the words don’t make sense or move the story forward. Eventually the light turns green again, and I'm running on down the road again.

WOW: That's an excellent example! I'll have to use that. In your bio, you mentioned Long Ridge's Breaking Into Print course. Many of WOW's writers are students as well, including myself. What have you discovered about your writing since taking the course?

Amy: I've discovered that I babble and insert tons of useless words into first drafts. And I tend to write in fragments and run-ons. I've learned to condense. I think too much and write too little. It's better to write a bunch of drivel, and then cut it by half, and then plump it up, than it is to wait until I think of something brilliant to say.

(I could have used that advice here, I've taken a ridiculous amount of time to conjure these simple answers! And I should know them already, no research, nothing to create! LOL)

Seriously, the Long Ridge Course has been terrific. It's awesome to have feedback from successful writers. Nothing compares to having your author/instructor's comments written in the margins of your work. It's contributed at least as much to my confidence as to my writing.

I'd absolutely recommend Long Ridge to anyone who’s sitting on the fence. Hop on over, you won't be sorry.

WOW: I completely agree. Thank you for chatting with us today, Amy! And congratulations again! Do you have any advice to share with other flash fiction contestants?

Amy: Thanks, I appreciate all your kind words. Writers have fragile egos ya know. We need those pats on the back.

What I've learned from practicing karate is that nobody wants to be a white belt, because they feel awkward and inept. But the higher belts are quick to assure that everybody started as a white belt, and felt just as awkward and inept. You don’t achieve higher ranks without doing things that feel clumsy at first. But you advance only with practice, not just with time spent, or desire, or wishing.

Martial arts, writing, real estate, and so many other things I've tackled, have been learn-as-you-go processes. But what I've found is that you don't get better just by learning more, you get better by doing more.

So my advice…go do. Write. Submit. Smile. Every thing you produce is worthy. Know that it is.


If you haven't done so already, please read Amy's award-winning story, The Road Twisted Twice.

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, sponsored by skirt!, head over to our contest page. The deadline is approaching! November 30th.
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The Role of Writing To Educate

Monday, November 17, 2008
I recently presented workshops to middle school students, and have to admit, while doing the hands-on activities were fun and a success and what I put the most time into, the greatest level of pride came from the packet of worksheets I wrote on my own for the students. To me, the girls might have thought the sessions were cool and digging in sand (it was on archaeology) was fun, but if they even take a few minutes at home to read the packets, I think they'll find more morsels of knowledge there for their amusement. I felt the worksheets were creative, well-researched and documented, and also, were completely age-appropriate in tone, word choice, and fun factor.

Having said that, however, putting the workshop together made me realize the role writing plays in education, and how, education could benefit from it. Rather, how education can benefit from more of writing, especially when the assignments themselves are made more real-world applicable such as drafting a worksheet for at the office or a workshop, a memo, something other than what did you do for your summer vacation. Writing these packets for workshops is far more pragmatic in my opinion, and opens the door for some really creative work from the students. This thereby creates a benefit from the perspective of the educator who would otherwise be left knowing more about what makes their budding writers tick than where they went on vacation.

In closing, I suppose I have identified one of the goals I believe writing should have in education. The first is to push for more creativity in what is becoming in some regards, a hackneyed and uninspiring world, where time and again, few students go beyond the base level of exploration or go on with an argument other than what was presented in class. There are others, but this post is just a preliminary to see what other ideas or "wish lists" you all have for grade school and/or college education in writing. If you are a teacher/professor, what do you emphasize, and for those who do not teach but contemplate it, do you have any workshop ideas or contest suggestions that could help promulgate more proactive writing education?
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Inked-In: A Place for Writers

Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Jill Earl

After lurking about for a while, I made the decision. I’m joining Inked-In.

Not to be mistaken with Linked-In, the social networking site geared more towards professionals, Inked-In is tailored for writers, musicians and other artists, and is the social network of The Burry Man Writers Center, out of the British Isles.

You can expect many of the same features of other social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the rest. With The Burry Man’s focus on providing resources for over a decade, established and emerging writers definitely have a place on Inked-In.

As I surfed my way through the site recently, I found someone looking for a poet to write liner notes for their CD. There was a encouraging post for writers dealing with ever-present rejection letters. Event notices came from cities around the U.S.

Of course, you can’t forget the numerous groups to join, such as ‘NaNoWriMo Participants’, ‘Indie Ink’, ‘I Write Because I Have To’ and ‘Fumbling Towards Discipline’, to name only a few.

Hmm, might have to give that last one a serious look.

Inked-In’s reach is wide-reaching. One my last visit, I noticed another new member from the Baltimore, Maryland area--Dundalk, to be precise. Only a short distance from me.

And in the end, it’s about community. An important--and necessary--aspect of the often-solitary life of a writer.

Go check it for yourself. There might be a place for you too.

Inked-In: http://inkedin.ning.com/
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Sending Holiday Cards

Friday, November 14, 2008
Earlier this week, I crossed off one holiday task from my to-do list: ordering the holiday cards. Since we do an annual photo card of our daughters, I first had to figure out their outfits, take pictures of them on a cold morning, then choose and order a card design. I'm tired already and in a few weeks when the cards arrive, I'll have to handwrite a short personal greeting on each, address all the envelopes and send them! You probably know the drill.

Why keep doing it then? Friends and family seem to enjoy receiving pictures of the girls, for one. My bigger motivation is that I plan to put together a small album for the girls with copies of each year's card—a "sisters through the years" kind of thing. They are best friends, and it will make a nice gift someday.

As writers, we can also use our skills to keep in touch with people during this time of year. Some do an annual letter with family news, and of course a personal letter is always welcome. In Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, Elaine St. James provides another suggestion: Have your family come up with a name or two or half a dozen of the people who have positively influenced your life, then send them a card or a note letting them know how much you appreciate their contribution.

St. James offers a few more ideas on the subject of Christmas cards. She can be tough, advising readers to just stop sending cards, or to cut down the list of who you send cards to. But if you don't want to quit entirely, here are some other possibilities from her book:

* Collect interesting and colorful postcards from your travels throughout the year, then send them off during the holidays with a personal message and an interesting anecdote from your trip.

* Respond to incoming holidays cards as they come in, so that you’re completing a little bit at a time. Each day, send a reply card to one person with a brief personal message.

* Respond to the cards you receive—but not at Christmas. Starting in the new year, each week at your leisure send a couple of hand-written personal notes in response to the holiday greetings you've received.

Do you send holiday cards every year? Feel free to share any tips you may have.

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Children's Market: Jumping Jack Press Pop-Up Books

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I mentioned this market in our August issue of Premium-Green (where we give first calls), but I thought I'd share it with you all since it's a great one!

Ever since I was a kid, I've been a big fan of pop-up books. They are always so visual, and a great interactive way to introduce children to reading. They weren't always for children though. According to Wikipedia, the audience for early movable books were adults. It is believed that the first use of movable mechanics appeared in a manuscript for an astrological book in 1306. The Catalan mystic and poet Ramon Llull used a revolving disc to illustrate his theories. Throughout centuries they have been used for such diverse purposes as teaching anatomy, making astronomical predictions, creating secret code, and telling fortunes. It was not until the eighteenth century that the techniques used in pop-ups were applied to books designed for entertainment, particularly for children. And kids love 'em!

In researching markets for Premium-Green, I wrote the creative director, Monika Brandrup, at Up With Paper and asked for their submission guidelines for their greeting card line. I was disappointed to find they didn't accept freelance writers for their cards, but she told me that their new book division, Jumping Jack Press, was always looking for story ideas for their pop-up book line.

Monika said, "We are always on the lookout for great story ideas. We pay a flat fee for writing our books that averages around $1,200 for an 8-page book. If anyone is interested in submitting concepts and ideas, they may email them directly to me."

So there you have it! Check out Jumping Jack Press: www.jumpingjackpress.com to get an idea of the books they publish before you query. They are absolutely gorgeous! Then send an email to Monika Brandrup: monikab[at]upwithpaper[dot]com.
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When Writing For Children. . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
You have to throw out the adult in you. You do. I just heard one of the greatest children's writers of all time say that to me on an audio book yesterday. Madeleine L'Engle reads A Wrinkle In Time herself on the audio book I recently got from my public library. WOW! What a treat.

The even bigger treat is the message she sends to the children before they start listening to the book. She lets them know that A Wrinkle In Time was almost not published. It was extremely different than the other books she had published before, and adults were not ready for the subject matter in A Wrinkle In Time. But as she slyly tells us--children were ready! She would TYPE on her TYPEWRITER (this still amazes me today how these fantastic novels were written on a typewriter--can you imagine?) the story in the afternoon, and she would read it to her three children at night to make sure it wasn't too scary or too above-their-heads or whatever adults were worried about. Her children's responses reassured her, and so she kept typing. And thank goodness for her courage--now the world has this beautiful book, and she won a Newberry Award! The world lost this great writer in 2007, and I'm glad she set the way for children's authors to be courageous.

I see adults getting in the way of children's literature all the time. I've mentioned it before on here with controversy over books like Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky or the "f" word appearing in the wonderful Tithe series by Holly Black or even with instances in my critique group and the current YA novel I am working on. Adults need to let children and teens read books they are ready for. Children's authors need to write books children and teens are ready for. When people are discussing whether or not a book is "appropriate" to be on the shelf, I feel that this is another form of book-banning. Like movies and TV shows, this decision needs to be up to the individual parents and teachers, whether or not their children or their class are ready for a book.

Bad things happen in life--take Bridge to Terabithia or new author, Jay Asher's, book Thirteen Reasons Why--both of these books deal with the death of a young person. As much as we want to stop this horrible thing from ever happening again, it will, and thank goodness there are authors, who are courageous enough to put books on the shelf that children and teens can read when they are dealing with problems.

On my blog, I post about all sorts of books--those a teacher could teach in her classroom without some parents getting upset and those that a teacher or parent should encourage their children or teens to read and discuss with them. On my blog, I try NOT to say--"this book has the 'f' word, so watch out"--because I don't want to be one of those adults who gets in the way of kids and their books. I do mention if a book might be better for independent reading and if it has a tough subject matter because I do think some children deal with issues by facing them, and others need to be led more gently. (Again, parents and teachers--you know your kids!)

But I want to make Madeline L'Engle proud. The world is ready for all types of children's and teens' books. Us adults, who write for kids and raise kids and teach kids, have to be in touch and get out of their way.

Happy Writing!
Margo L. Dill
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Interview with Shannon Caster, Runner Up in the 2008 Spring Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interviewed by Jill Earl

Shannon Caster has been writing since she first found her mother’s manual typewriter at the age of seven. Back then, all her stories started with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Luckily, Shannon has found new openings for her stories. Her work has appeared in such publications as Highlights for Children, Ask! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and Pockets Magazine. Shannon is currently perfecting her young adult novel, which is sure to capture the perfect agent’s attention.

When Shannon is not taking care of her husband, two kids, three dogs, and calico cat, she enjoys volunteering, reading, and enjoying the sights of Portland, Oregon. To find out more about Shannon, visit her website at www.shannoncaster.com.

Click on the link to read Shannon's touching story, “Remembrance”, then come back and join us as we sit down with her for a chat.

WOW!: Congratulations on being a runner-up in our Spring ’08 Flash Fiction Contest! How are you feeling about it all?

Shannon: First of all, I want to thank everyone at WOW and Seal Press for organizing and sponsoring the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. It’s an amazing opportunity for authors to show off their talents.

The entire experience has been a thrill ride for me. When I first heard I was a finalist I about fell out of my chair. So when the news came that I was a runner up, I had to have my kids help me off the floor. It’s been a huge honor and I’m glad I took the leap and entered the contest.

WOW!: We’re glad you entered also. Not only was your story wonderful, it held such emotion! Can you tell us about the inspiration behind “Remembrance”?

Shannon: The idea for “Remembrance” first came to me after a very scary experience with my son in which he started choking and I had to give him the Heimlich. During the entire ordeal the world stopped and the only thing that mattered was hearing my son take a breath. I was fortunate to have my husband there and I kept wondering what I would have done if I’d been alone? Would I have been able to stay calm? What if my son had gone limp? That’s when I started playing around with the idea for “Remembrance.” Next thing I know the main character is on the side of a busy road, fighting to get her child out of the car seat, and nobody’s there to help her.

WOW!: No wonder your story was so powerful! I believe your piece serves as a good example of writing about what you know. I also think that it’s interesting that in your piece you show that adoptive mothers have maternal instincts. What made you take this direction in your piece?

Shannon: Both my mother and I were adopted as very young babies, so we’ve shared a lot of stories over the years. My mother used to talk about how she sometimes wondered if she had that “maternal instinct” or not. Let me be the first to tell you, I wouldn’t be here today if my mother didn’t have an extra dose of maternal instinct. As a toddler, I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic I was given at the hospital. Right after the doctor left the room, my mother grabbed me and chased the doctor down saying I didn’t look right. A few moments later I was in anaphylactic shock. I was a magnet for dangerous situations as a child and somehow I survived it all—thanks to my mom’s material instinct she worried so much about.

WOW!: Thanks for sharing that, it really adds an extra element to your piece. Let's turn to your writing preferences. Do you prefer nonfiction or fiction or a combination of both?

Shannon: I write both fiction and nonfiction. Most of my nonfiction is centered around science and history pieces for children’s magazines and educational stories for teachers. I love research, so writing nonfiction is like play time for me. When it comes to fiction, my audience is primarily young adults and adults. I find it rewarding to write fiction, but it’s harder for me because the answers aren’t black and white. I never know where my character will take me until the end.

WOW!: Isn’t it fascinating how sometimes our characters won't let us--the writer-- know what they--the character--is up to? I'm curious, you did a fantastic job with your entry, is this the first time you’ve tackled flash fiction? If so, did you find it easy or difficult?

Shannon: This was the second flash fiction piece I’ve written for an audience. I’m always writing short humorous stories for family and friends, but those pieces are much easier to write. You don’t have to worry about getting in all the essential background pieces because everyone knows Uncle Troy jumped off a rope swing and landed in a blackberry patch when he was younger. I find when I write flash fiction, I end up cutting twenty percent of what I’ve written, then have to add ten percent to make sure I didn’t miss an important connection.

WOW!: That’s great advice for those of us wanting to try flash fiction out for ourselves. How about you? What kind of writing makes you sit up and take notice?

Shannon: Writing that tugs at my emotions. If you can make me laugh out loud at the doctor’s office, wipe tears from my eyes at the library, or make me scream when someone knocks on the door, then I’m hooked. If you can do all three in one novel, then I’m buying copies for my friends and family.

WOW!: What about books? What kind catch your eye and why? Do you happen to have a favorite one and/or author?

Shannon: Looking at my bookshelves, I’d say the list of what doesn’t catch my eye is shorter. I love books—picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult fiction and nonfiction. My husband has a rule about how close my growing collection of books can get to the fireplace in my office. Maybe I should close my office door so he doesn’t have to worry so much?

My all time favorite picture book is Tuesday by David Wiesner. What’s not to love about frogs flying around a town late at night? My favorite adult author has to be Iris Johansen. I can’t get enough of her Eve Duncan forensic sculptor storylines.

WOW!: I hear you on the growing book collection situation! I’ve cut back on adding to my collection---sort of. You bio mentioned that you're currently working on a young adult novel. Can you share a bit about it?

Shannon: I’d love to! The story is about sixteen-year-old Eva Van Patterson, a fashion savvy, technology obsessed ghost, who has been waiting eighty years for her boyfriend to come home. To pass the time, Eva occasionally meddles in the affairs of those living in her home. But who can blame her? If you have access to a cell phone, why not reach out and text someone? So when fifteen-year-old Nikki, a girl who sees and hears ghosts, moves into Eva’s home, the tables quickly turn. Nikki begins prying into Eva’s past, forcing Eva to reexamine her life and death. In order for Eva to be reunited with her boyfriend, she must live out her dreams, discover the secrets surrounding her untimely and embarrassing death, and address the one fact she’s avoided the past eight decades: Is her lost love still out there waiting for her?

WOW!: Sounds like you've got another great read in store for us! Since you've got quite a bit of experience under your belt, what kind of advice would you offer aspiring women writers?

Shannon: Find your true voice. In sixth grade, I thought writing was about spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraphs. Wait, handwriting too! Whew, Mrs. Baker would be so proud I remembered the proper way to make a capital cursive G. But it wasn’t until after college when I was teaching writing to my students that I realized the heart of the story is in the voice. How we tell the story is just as important as the story itself.

WOW!: Finding and maintaining my true voice in my writing is one of the things I find myself struggling with and you’ve offered some great advice on tackling this.

I noticed in your bio that you truly have a menagerie in your home with three dogs and a cat. I love animals myself. What are your pets' names?

Shannon: Menagerie, I like that. Sounds more sophisticated than zoo. Our akita is named Yumi and our basenjis are Osiris and Zaire. The cat is Avvy, which is short for Avalanche.

WOW!: Avalanche! How in the world did you come to name your cat Avalanche?

Shannon: Avvy came by her name honestly. As a kitten she was a little white ball of fur that tumbled off everything she tried to jump on. Jump on couch, tumble down. Jump on bed, tumble off. She looked like a little snowball rolling down the hill, the one that starts an avalanche. The name seemed to fit her perfectly. Thankfully, over the last thirteen years she mastered the art of jumping. Now she teases the dogs with her acrobatic leaping feats. I had a dog named Fluffy as a kid (and one named Precious). Mom's choice, not mine. I knew then I needed cooler pet names when I grew up. :-D

WOW!: That's quite the tale, pun intended! Thank you for your interview, Shannon, it was delightful getting to know you better. We’re looking forward to seeing more of your writing in the future. Best of luck to you!
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"LinkIn" To Opportunity!

Sunday, November 09, 2008
I have seen posts in the past on this blog about social networking sites and various tools writers may use online to promote their books, etc., but it appears there has only been surface mentioning of LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/), and I'm sorry, but that has to stop...now!

LinkedIn is a global community engaged in everything from job searching to information and opportunity sharing. Might I add, a place where people look for freelancers or ideas on how to enter the writing field!

Indeed, are you there? If not, it's never too late to join. On LinkedIn, there are groups for writers of all persuasions and even groups to give back, whether as serving as a source for a reporter or to offer mentoring advice on places to try for a newbie.

LinkedIn's actually catering to our type with amazon.com features whereas you can mention all the books you are reading, and I'm sure virtual versions of book club groups will start up with time.

Additionally, LinkedIn has a great Q&A section where members can ask questions and receive feedback, and I personally find this not just useful and practical, but a place to fine-tune my technical writing skills, answering troubleshooting questions as well as philosophical ones.

In closing, while not affiliated at all with the masterminds of Linkedin, as a user, I can only offer the following suggestion to you all. Don't continue overlooking Linkedin, because it's a source of not only amusement and self-promotion of your work and resume, but a great avenue for networking and talking (and maybe, commiserating) with other writers, not just in the U.S., but all over the world! If you join, you'll find you're not alone as many of the WOW community are making their presence known.

Good luck and by all means, comment away on what pros and cons LinkedIn offers writers and readers alike!
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Persona That Pops

Saturday, November 08, 2008
By Jill Earl

Not sure if your voice is the right one for that piece you’re pulling together? Try swapping your persona with one different from your own to add some interest in your writing.

What’s persona, you may ask? For the purpose of the class, persona was defined as a character assumed by an author of a literary work, or the voice a narrator adopts to tell a story.

In an essay writing workshop I recently took, part one of the given exercise was to write about our first kiss. With pens scratching on pads, we got down to raiding our memories. When time was up, groans and giggles filled the room as we shared our stories.

A bag was passed around for part two of the exercise: rewrite our piece in the persona each person selected for themselves. Some of the choices were martyr, grouch, misanthrope, philosopher and pundit. Again giggles and groans were heard as we attempted to ‘speak’ in these new voices, then figure out which persona was which.

I ended up with ‘martyr’ and did more spluttering than speaking in this voice. Since the class received copies of the ‘persona in a bag’ list, I can continue to learn how to use this literary device in my writing.

Think up some personas of your own to work with. How about grouch, liar, tattletale, know-it-all? The list can be endless. The more personas you use, the stronger your character development. And the stronger your writing.

Try the above exercise for yourself.

And get your persona popping.
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Visualizing the Drama

Friday, November 07, 2008
by LuAnn Schindler

A local high school asked me to direct their one-act competition play this year. I haven't directed a play in over two years, and since I have so much spare time (I do?) I said yes. Actually, I knew what play I wanted to direct; I thought the characters would be challenging for the students and I knew how I wanted to stage the production.

As a director, your job is to interpret the playwright's words and place that visualization on the stage. You see each character in a unique light and as you share your vision with an actor, you hope that they crawl into that character's skin and become that person on stage. You plot the lighting changes, sound effects and blocking choices to match the picture you've created in your mind.

It is the same when you write. You visualize the characters, see them in a unique light and bring them to life on the page. You establish a sense of place through staging. And, you plot the lighting changes, the sound effects, and blocking choices when you determine who is in a certain scene, where it takes place, and what dialogue is spoken.

Readers do the same thing, too. When I read Michael Crichton's Timeline, I could see certain actors cast in the movie. I could visualize the castle and the clothing from the Renaissance. I knew Nicolas Cage should be in the movie (obviously I wasn't in charge of casting)! Visualizing the drama, whether a novel or a play, creates a bond with the readers.

And it's an important bond that begins in your mind, travels along the page through the plot twists and turns, and ends with the reader.
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Getting Ideas by Focusing on Form

Thursday, November 06, 2008
Perusing a copy of Jack Heffron's The Writer's Idea Book, I came across a few exercises to share.

In one section, he discusses using form to generate ideas. As an example, Heffron tells about a M.F.A. poetry workshop assignment where he had to find a poem he liked, and then write his own poem using exactly the same meter. He said that by concentrating on getting the meter right, which was not an easy task, he lost his self-consciousness and came up with better poems than he thought he could come up with.

Here are a few of his prompts that are designed to help you get writing ideas by focusing on form rather than on subject:

Prompt: Find an essay or story or poem that you like. Outline it, noting turns in plot or shift in topic or approach. Write a piece of your own using the outline, simply changing the topic.

Prompt: Write a story based on a myth or a fairy tale, setting it in contemporary times. For example, you might retell the Hansel and Gretel story using two children you know. If this works for you, pick another myth and try again.

Prompt: Retell a myth or fairy tale, changing what happens or exploring character more deeply then the original. For a model, read John Gardner's Grendel.

Check out the book for more form-related prompts, and lots of other great writing activities.


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What are you doing to promote your book?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I'm sure many of you have seen this before, but it's always good for a chuckle. So grab some popcorn and enjoy the flick! And remember: don't let this happen to you!

Moral of the story: start promoting your book now.
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Interview with Caryl Cain Brown, Runner Up

Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt

Caryl Cain Brown has been writing for years--just not fiction. With BBA and MBA degrees to her credit, Caryl’s nearly thirty-year career in higher education marketing has yielded a wealth of press releases, magazine articles, newsletters, and brochure copy. Now with two grown sons, she’s begun to try her hand at new things: writing fiction, drawing, and learning major home improvement skills.

This is Caryl’s second fiction contest submission ever, but it probably won’t be her last. She lives and writes in Georgia.

Caryl is a Runner Up in the WOW! Women On Writing Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest sponsored by Seal Press. If you haven't done so already, read her winning story, Stolen Moment.


WOW: Congratulations, Caryl! How did you feel when you learned that you’d placed as a runner-up in the WOW! Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest?

Caryl: What a thrill! I couldn’t believe it. This is only the second time I’ve entered a writing contest, so I’m really motivated to try again.

WOW: I think we’ve all heard stories about writers with shoeboxes filled with rejection slips before they finally get their first story published, so that’s very impressive that you succeeded after only your second try! Can you tell us a little bit about your award winning entry? What was your inspiration for this piece?

Caryl: The concept for this story was inspired by a real situation, although it is entirely fictional. It was also one of those stories that came to me almost fully formed; I had it down in rough draft within a half hour. Of course, then I tinkered with the words--making sure I was within the word-count and that every word was just right--for about a week afterwards. My stories don’t always come that easily. And I’m usually really slow about working through character motivations.

WOW: What made you decide to start writing fiction after having a career in higher education marketing for nearly 30 years?

Caryl: I’ve been dabbling in fiction for many years, I just never trusted myself enough to share my stories with anyone else. I’m retiring in the spring and my children are finally out on their own--it’s now or never. I have the time and the desire, so I’m putting aside my insecurities and going for it.

WOW: I can definitely relate to your hesitation for sharing your work, but I'm so glad to hear that you’re going to keep sharing it anyway. Based on your award winning entry, it seems like you have a lot to offer the writing community. From your bio I know that you’ve had a lot of experience publishing articles, press releases, brochure copy, etc. How do you think your experience with marketing-related writing has helped or hurt your creative writing?

Caryl: Being in marketing has taught me to always keep my audience in mind. I think that holds true for fiction writing as well. Also, like marketing, fiction requires clear and compelling communication to make the story believable.

WOW: Is there anything about writing fiction that you find most challenging? Is this something that you struggled with while writing this story? If so, how did you overcome it?

Caryl: Plot bunnies--random threads that entice me away from the direction I need to be going--and telling the full story in the most concise way. The 500-word limit of the WOW Flash Fiction contest is an excellent exercise because every word has to count.

WOW: The 500-word limit is a great writing challenge, and I can tell that you took every word into consideration. I was very impressed with how streamlined and precise your writing was without sacrificing character or description. Presumably, you’ll want to work on other types of stories in the future. What kind of creative writing goals do you have for yourself?

Caryl: I would love to publish a novel, either mystery or romance/relationship.

WOW: We'll look forward to reading more of your work someday! Are you working on any other writing projects right now?

Caryl: I’m working on a couple of ideas, but nothing that’s ready to show to anyone yet.

WOW: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us! We’ll be anxiously waiting to read more of your work someday when you are ready to show it.

If you haven't done so already, read Caryl's winning story, Stolen Moment.

To check out our latest writing contest sponsored by skirt! books, please visit: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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Agent's Advice Mended

Monday, November 03, 2008
My writing friend, Donna (who was interviewed by The Muffin here) , has a new blog called, Donna's Book Pub. One of her first posts got me thinking, and I thought I would discuss it with all of you today. She posted this about a recent workshop she attended through the Saturday Writers group.

"Krista Goering is a lawyer and an agent, located in Kansas. Krista was the keynote speaker for the morning session. During her presentation, she said to send manuscripts to six editors; if a ms doesn't sell after six editors have seen it, it probably isn't going to work."

Now, I have to say that I can see the logic here. But if this were true and writers followed this rule, then I think we would have NO Harry Potter. I have heard that she sent it to seven or eight places before she got a yes. I actually heard another story from a children's author who said she actually submitted her manuscript over 20 times and received 20 rejections. Then, she started sending it back to the same companies as before, but she sent it to different editors, and she got a YES (it was a rhyming picture book, too).

So, I am going to mend what Krista Goering said. Now, I am not an agent, but I've met a lot of authors and writers and had a lot of experience with rejections myself.

I think if a manuscript has been rejected SIX times, then you should not give up on it. What you should do is REVISE it a bit. Join a critique group, or ask a friend you trust to read it over and give you some advice. Look at your cover letter. Read the current market in your genre. Then once you've worked on it a bit, send it back out. Don't give up if you believe in your work!

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill
Read These Books and Use Them blog
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The Muffin Got a Makeover!

Sunday, November 02, 2008
I've been putting it off for a while, but I finally treated her to a spa day. The Muffin officially has a new outfit--a gorgeous three-piece ensemble, otherwise known as a three-column template. It was not an easy task! This old girl is still in FTP Blogger Beta, so I had to create the template from scratch--no easy push-button publishing here. It caused me an html headache, but it was worth it.

I had a lot of help from a fantastic site: Pam Blackstone's Random Bytes. If you are still using Blogger Beta, you should definitely check out this post on building a three-column blogger template. Of course, it's from 2006! I think we're probably the only ones still using the old system. I love having it connected to the WOW! site though, and hope that someday Blogger will figure out a better way. Until then, we just have too many published posts to risk switching.

Here's what The Muffin looked like yesterday:

And here's what she looks like today: (Well, obviously, you are viewing it.)

I haven't viewed it on all browsers--I only use Firefox and Safari on a Mac--so your feedback is truly appreciated. Does it look good on your browser? Is anything broken?

I'm still tweaking things here and there, and I'd love to know what you think.
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Linda Wisniewski Launches her Blog Tour for Off Kilter + Book Giveaway!

Saturday, November 01, 2008
WOW! is proud to be launching Linda C. Wisniewski's whirlwind blog tour across the web. Linda's memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage (Pearlsong Press, 2008), has been called “A courageous insightful book,” and “unflinchingly honest.” Join in on the conversation as we chat with Linda in this insightful interview!

We're also holding a comments contest! Comment on this post and be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Off Kilter.

So, pull up your comfiest chair, grab a cup of coffee, enjoy the learning experience as we chat with Linda--a truly talented and inspirational author, and share your thoughts!

WOW: Welcome to WOW!, Linda, we're thrilled to be launching your blog tour for your memoir, Off Kilter (Pearlsong Press, 2008).

One of my favorite books growing up as a child was
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. It was also my first introduction to scoliosis. If it weren't for that book, I probably would never have known about it. Have you read this book?

Linda: Yes, long ago. It came out after I was a child, though. (I’m 62 this week!)

WOW: Happy birthday, Linda! What a great time to launch your book tour! So, why did you choose scoliosis as a metaphor for your memoir?

Linda: One of my writing teachers introduced me to the idea of using a metaphor to represent my life. This one was staring me in the face--or pinching me in the side! When I wrote about it, it became obvious. All the twisting and adjusting to be comfortable with back pain--just like life: one adjustment after another!

WOW: I hear that. I had a car accident many years ago that caused two herniated disks in my neck/spine, so I definitely know about back pain. But how did you come up with the idea to link scoliosis with your mother and your Polish background?

Linda: When I went through my writing, looking for a common theme to use in my memoir, I found three big ones: scoliosis, my relationship with my mother, and my Polish heritage. In all three cases, I felt out of balance and wanted to re-adjust my life. Instead of writing three books, I decided to hang all three themes on my 'off kilter' body image.

WOW: That's a wonderful metaphor, and it's great to have a theme. I've interviewed many famous writers who've had an extremely hard time pinpointing the main theme of their book.

Another thing that's hard for a writer is pleasing family members, especially when you’re writing about them! What has your family said about your book?

Linda: Well, I stopped trying to please my family long ago, and that's an important part of my story. We're not close, and I've lived far away from 'home' for forty years. I changed some names, and waited until my parents died. A couple of people were upset by what I wrote about my childhood but I had to be true to myself, and write my story as I saw it.

WOW: Good for you! Now, I know that memoirs tend to be subjective. How much of your book is true?

Linda: All of the incidents and people are real. I did take some creative license with things like colors of clothes, weather, and dialogue when I couldn't remember it exactly. I was always true to what the person sounded like or looked like, and the 'emotional truth' of my story. That said, of course it's subjective. I selected only the segments that illustrated my point: my life was 'off kilter.'

WOW: I love the fact that you kept it real, but why did you choose to write a memoir, instead of labeling it as fiction? (As many authors do.)

Linda: My mother suffered through sixty years of verbal and emotional abuse, and it affected me and my sister very deeply. One reason I wrote a memoir is so others can see that emotional abuse is as damaging as physical blows. The other reason is to show that we can overcome a damaging childhood and find happiness.

WOW: And I thank you for that, Linda--so true. Let's switch to the business of authoring. One thing that's hard for an author is choosing the right publisher. What made you choose Pearlsong Press?

Linda: My publisher's name comes from the image of a beautiful pearl. Sand or grit irritates the oyster, and so it produces opalescent nacre ('mother of pearl') to surround the sand. The oyster's self-healing transforms suffering into a thing of beauty. It perfectly describes my story! Plus, I liked Peggy Elam, the owner, from the start. She is a psychologist and journalist, and worked closely with me on the book design and marketing, and still answers my many questions. Also, she created a Yahoo marketing group for all her authors to share tips. It's been very helpful to me.

WOW: Oh, I just love your cover. So what has your experience been like working with Pearlsong so far? And would you recommend them to other authors?

Linda: Pearlsong is a very small and selective publisher, but if you have a story that fits with their mission--celebrating diversity of body image and size--I think you’ll be happy with their very personal, creative approach.

WOW: They sound like a great fit. Linda, from reading your excerpt, I'm in awe of your prose. You are in touch with all the senses, and bring readers along for a beautiful ride. Are there any particular activities, or places, that inspire your writing?

Linda: My yoga practice and meditation help me get in touch with my body, my breath and my place in the world. And walking every day gives me new ideas and answers to writing problems. My iPod often stays in my pocket when I walk on writing days--I don't want to be distracted in case the Muse speaks!

WOW: (Laughs) I love that! And I LOVE iPods. So how long did it take you to write Off Kilter? Did you have a set writing routine?

Linda: When I decided to pull my essays and memoir pieces together around one metaphor, and write new pieces to link them, I took about three years from start to finish. I wrote almost every day, for an hour or two, in mid-morning or late afternoon.

WOW: That's a good model. Do you do any other type of writing? If so, what is your favorite?

Linda: I've written some fiction, personal essays and poetry, but memoir is my love. There's so much we can learn by returning to the past and finding its meaning, it's like a treasure hunt!

I'm now working on a novel, only because I want to write about an ancestor from the 18th century and don’t have many facts about her. I'm having fun right now creating her character.

WOW: That's great about your new novel. Congrats! And I know you teach memoir writing. What advice do you have for a person just starting to write their memoir?

Linda: Don't edit or censor yourself. Just get the story on the page, and revise it later. Write what is important to you, write the story that wants to get written no matter what, the one that has emotional resonance for you.

WOW: That's great advice. Now, I know you've been on the promotion highway for Off Kilter. What are some of the things you've learned along your journey that you can share with other authors?

Linda: Listen when people come up to you at a signing. If you just talk about your book, you miss what your readers are really interested in. Here's the big secret: it's themselves! All of us want to read stories that remind us of our own struggles and triumphs. If you can connect with someone who has the courage to come up and talk to you, a stranger, you'll gain a new reader, and maybe a friend.

WOW: Excellent advice! Thank you so much Linda for taking time to chat with us today, and we'll be following you on this fantastic tour! I can’t wait to read your yoga tips on the other blogs, and all the other wonderful topics you'll be talking about. So, do you have any parting words of wisdom you can share with our women writers?

Linda: Writing a deeply personal book like Off Kilter wouldn't have been possible without the encouragement and support of other women writers, and two wonderful organizations: the International Women's Writing Guild (www.iwwg.org) and Story Circle Network (www.storycircle.org.) Check out the resources and tips on their websites, and support other women writers as well. And, of course, keep reading wow-womenonwriting.com!

WOW: Awwww, thanks Linda! You've been such an inspirational interviewee. :)

Ladies, come and join us on Linda C. Wisniewski's fabulous blog tour! And remember to comment to enter to win a signed copy of Linda's memoir, Off Kilter.


About Off Kilter:

Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage
By Linda C. Wisniewski

ISBN: 978-1-59719-012-1

Even before she was diagnosed with scoliosis at thirteen, Linda Wisniewski felt off kilter. Born to a cruel father and a long-suffering mother in the insulated Polish Catholic community of upstate New York, she learned martyrdom as a way of life. Off Kilter shows her learning to stretch her Self as well as her spine as she comes to terms with her mentally deteriorating, widowed mother and her culture. Only by accepting her physical deformity, her emotionally unavailable mother, and her Polish American heritage does she finally find balance and a life that fits. Susan Wittig Albert calls Off Kilter a "splendid first memoir about the difficult business of finding balance in our lives. Funny, honest, deeply moving, Off Kilter reminds us just how hard it is to adjust to the physical pain, the emotional loss, and even the surprising beauty of being fully who we are."

Find out more about Linda by visiting her website: www.lindawis.com

Blog Tour Dates: Come and Join the Fun!

NOVEMBER 1, 2008 Saturday
Linda will be chatting with WOW! Women On Writing at The Muffin. Stop by and share your comments! By commenting, you enter a drawing to win a signed copy of Off Kilter! Stop by and say hello.

NOVEMBER 3, 2008 Monday
Linda visits Allie Boniface's blog, Allie's Musings, to talk about the business of writing. Allie's interviews are always a lot of fun, as well as informative.

NOVEMBER 4, 2008 Tuesday
Linda stops by Beth Morrissey's blog, Hell Or High Water, to chat about the best thing about libraries. Both Beth and Linda are former librarians! At WOW!, we adore libarians. Don't you just have the urge to give them a big hug? There should be a "Hug a Librarian Day!"

NOVEMBER 6, 2008 Thursday
Linda visits Anne-Marie Nichol's blog, This Mama Cooks! On a Diet, to chat about how yoga helps with writing and work. I'm feeling relaxed and inspired already!

NOVEMBER 10, 2008 Monday
Read all about Linda's book, Off Kilter, today at Carolyn Howard-Johnson's fabulous blog, The New Book Review. Don't you just love book reviews? Before I buy a book, I can't resist finding out what others think. Find out the skinny here!

NOVEMBER 11, 2008 Tuesday
Linda stops by Andi Lit to chat about yoga, writing in the midst of distractions, and women's spirituality. I can't wait to read this one!

NOVEMBER 12, 2008 Wednesday
Linda will be stopping by Jen Singer's popular blog, Momma Said, for an interview and book giveaway contest! You have two weeks to enter The Housewife Awards, but don't wait until the last minute! The contest starts November 12 and runs through November 24. Winners are announced by November 26.

NOVEMBER 13, 2008 Thursday
If you're a fan of Debbie Ridpath Ohi's popular cartoons on writing (and I know you are!), you have to check out her blog, Inky Girl. Linda stops by to chat with Debbie about the craft of writing, or whatever is on her mind. Debbie's interviews are the best! Come and join the fun.

NOVEMBER 17, 2008 Monday
Linda will be visiting Joanne DeMaio's inspiring blog, Whole Latte Life, to share her insights on how to stay focused on writing all the distractions of modern life. I can't wait to read this one--I definitely need the advice!

NOVEMBER 18, 2008 Tuesday
Linda visits Carolyn Howard-Johnson's award winning blog, Sharing With Writers and Readers, to share her tips on memoir writing! If you've never visited Carolyn's blog, it's a must-read for authors, and a Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers.

NOVEMBER 19, 2008 Wednesday
Linda stops by Lauri Griffin's blog, Lauri's Reflections, to talk chat about writing and many other inspirational topics. Come join them in a lively conversation!

NOVEMBER 20, 2008 Thursday
Linda stops by Maddie Jame's blog, Life, Unedited, for a candid interview! Come and join the chat!

NOVEMBER 24, 2008 Monday
Readers delight! Linda stops by Musings of a Bookish Kitty and chats with readers today about their favorite subject: reading. Linda shares her reading habits and more!

NOVEMBER 25, 2008 Tuesday
Do you believe in happily-ever-after? Or do you want to? Then stop by Allyn Evans' blog, Happily Ever After, Today, and get ready to be inspired! Linda tells a wonderful story about a family camping trip that helped overcome life's obstacles. This is not to miss!

Get involved!

We hope you are as excited about the tour as we are! Mark your calendar, save these dates, and join us for this truly unique and fascinating author blog tour.

If you have a blog or website and would like to participate in Linda Wisniewski's tour for Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage, or schedule a tour of your own, please email angela[at]wow-womenonwriting.com

**Please feel free to copy any portion of this post.
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