Breaking Into Woman's World Magazine with Your Romantic Fiction

Saturday, July 31, 2010
Hey, romantic fiction writers! Wondered how to break into Woman’s World Magazine with your story? Then take five, grab some coffee, pull out your laptop and join us for our interview with Kate Willoughby, as she fills us in on how her blog, ‘Writing for Woman’s World Magazine’ can help you with that!

WOW: Hi Kate, so glad you could stop by and chat with us today. Let’s start with telling us a bit about yourself and your writing background.

Kate: I’ve been writing seriously since 1999. Most of my published work is erotic romance, but in between those novellas, I pen short romantic fiction for Woman’s World and more recently the 'Trues' (True Confession, True Romance, True Love, True Experience.) I learned a lot of my craft from Romance Writers of America, a wonderful organization for both the published and yet-to-be published.

WOW: I love the concept of your blog! How did it all come about?

Kate: I started out just writing for Woman’s World. When I discovered I had a knack for it, I thought maybe I could teach other people how to do it, so I developed an online class which has become fairly successful. Because I study the stories anyway, making the leap to blogging about them seemed like logical next step. The weekly analyses benefit me and hopefully my students and anyone else interested in selling to Woman’s World.

WOW: My interest was piqued with just one visit! I love that you provide a number of ways to help your readers prepare their submissions. In your opinion, what goes into creating the kind of romantic fiction that catches the eye of the magazine’s editors?

Kate: First and foremost, know what they are looking for, which is uplifting, put-a-smile-on-your-face romance involving “regular” people that could live next door to you. Then, because Woman’s World Magazine often gravitates toward the same plotlines over and over, present those plots to them in a fresh way, be it via sparkling characters, a setting they’ve not seen before (or at least lately), a change in POV, or even taking tried and true plotlines and combining them.

WOW: Studying any writing market is what we writers should be doing anyway, thanks for the reminder. How do you manage to keep your own storylines fresh and interesting?

Kate: Again, I read the magazine every week so I know that if they just published a story set in a flower shop, not to send them a flower shop story. I also try to look at the trends. For instance, there’s such a huge green movement going on in this country, it might be a good idea to write something within that theme.

WOW: Keeping an eye on trends, another good point. Wrapping things up, what’s the one thing you enjoy about your work?

Kate: With the economy, the oil leak in the Gulf, the war on terror, unemployment, there’s enough bad news out there to depress even the most optimistic person. So, the most rewarding part of writing for Woman’s World (and helping others to do it too) is knowing with 800 choice words, I can brighten the days of probably over a million people in one week. That I get paid for it is icing on the cake.

WOW: It sure is! Kate, thanks for telling us about Writing for Woman’s World Magazine. Readers, check out her wonderful blog for yourself here. You never know, we might see your story next!
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Friday Speak Out!: Attitude is Everything, Guest Post by Vanessa Nix Anthony

Friday, July 30, 2010
Attitude is Everything

by Vanessa Nix Anthony

My son reminds me most everyday that attitude is everything. Through his actions (his ability to recover from a bad fall with just a quick snuggle) and through his reactions to my temperament. I find that on days that I am stressed out, pushing to meet deadline, he cries out more for my attention. The more I try to quickly placate and send him on his way, the less contented he is. But the days when I successfully remain present in the moment and flexible to what the day brings the smoother things run.

Today, I sat down to work at 7am and though I took a break for lunch, I pretty much worked straight through the day. Juno had his daddy to keep him company. But at 3pm today, when I got up from my chair to use the bathroom, my nearly two-year-old son waved goodbye to my computer, clapped his hands and gave me an excited grin of anticipation. I knew that was it. Mama had to take a break and spend some time with her baby.

I sat down on the floor and he ran over grinning. He wrapped his arms around my neck and gave me a big hug and a kiss. He was grateful for my attention -- that I had heard him. We spent a good amount of time playing, putting puzzles together- giggling and chatting, just sharing time together. I got a much needed break, a good stretch on the floor and some really great time with my son. He got to know that he’s a priority and that I will stop down and take a break to be with him.

I did a lot today: research, queries, blog entries- even this piece. I also got to share in some fun and in some home-cooked meals around our kitchen table.

Were there still things looming on my to-do list at the end of the day? Sure. Would I have liked to do more research, gotten my desk drawers organized or the baby book up-to-date? Yes. A hike would have been nice, too or working on my knitting or a myriad of other things. But there are only so many hours in each day.

I could look at all that I did NOT accomplish today and be miserable. I could have been more rigid and said, "Mama needs to work right now, honey." I would have gotten more done but I wouldn't be any more satisfied with my day or my life.

My hubby and I have a kind of ritual we do. We didn't plan it or sit down and come up this—it happened quite naturally and continues on today. Before we drift off to sleep, one of us will say, "I had good day with you, hon," and the other will answer back. Soon we are listing the things that made the day so good. It falls from our lips, effortlessly. Usually, these things seem simple or plain to the untrained ear: "kept the house picked up," "got such and such a project done," "lunch or dinner was great," "the walk was nice," or "Juno did the funniest thing."

Nothing special, some would say, but I to me it's the most special. Happiness doesn't live, in the highest of highs. It's not winning a million dollars (though that would be nice) or driving a fancy car or having some inordinate amount of power. True happiness lives in the little moments—how you spot them and what you make of them. In this, each day holds the key to bliss and these little moments, strung together, bring true joy.

If you ask me if I am satisfied today or most days, I will tell you unreservedly, yes.

It was one of the best.

* * *

Vanessa Nix Anthony is a freelance writer who contributes to a variety of magazines, newspapers and online media outlets nationwide. She also writes a resource blog for Portland area writers called Writer's Block. You can find her blogging at Play-On Words or playing with her son, Juno and her hubby, Todd.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Introducing Your Characters

Thursday, July 29, 2010
When I interview a subject for writing an article, I prepare by writing a list of questions. I realize that I don't always come off as the sharpest knife in the drawer when I'm in the midst of interviewing. Why? Because I sometimes make the interview subject explain a basic concept to me. In fact, earlier this week, I had someone explain something I sat through a workshop about.
When the interviewee repeated himself, he spoke in a different manner. In a conversation and not a lecture mode, he presented the information differently to me. And it was in a mode more easily conveyed to my reader than his lecture.
I may already know a fact or concept, but I can't assume that all of my readers do. My interviewees can often convey that information best.
Fiction can work in the same way.
Think about what you know about your characters and how long they have been living in your head, in your notebooks and on your computer screen. You may know so much about them that you know how they would react to an event that never even appears in your work. (Or how the characters did react to an event that was then edited out.) Your characters may be second nature to you. But don't assume that your readers know everything about your characters. And who is the best person to convey information about the character?
How do you make sure your reader can keep pace with your characters and who they are? One basic technique is to interview your characters. Ask them some of the simple questions you may already know, but maybe no else one does. Take notes about their responses. Practice writing the responses in the tone and voice of the character.
Think about how your character sounds giving a lecture versus having a conversation with a friend. What about meeting someone new at a cocktail party versus a favorite lunch place? What questions are asked? What do you want to know about that character? What words would he/she use that differ from another character?
Get back to learning the basics about your characters so you can do a good job of introducing them to your readers. Remember that we (generally) don't learn everything about a person during that first "interview." The information is teased out while a friendly connection is strengthened. But remember that you don't need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to learn more about someone. Just curious and full of questions.

Elizabeth King Humphrey (Twitter-handle @Eliz_Humphrey), is a writer and creativity coach spending way too much of her time asking questions.
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Book Review: When Ties Break by Margaret Norton

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"This is the true story of my life. It is a story of emotional and physical abuse, loss and pain, the struggle to find myself and to understand God. It is a story of survival and rebirth, and it is my hope it will be an inspiration to those who are discouraged, desperate to find their way, or whose faith in God has grown weak."
Beginning with the death of her father, Margaret Norton's memoir, When Ties Break, examines what led her brother and most of her remaining family to sever ties with her and her children.
The author recalls growing up with a preacher (her father) and a mother who was mentally ill and absent from the home during much of Margaret's childhood. Her strict upbringing keeps her sheltered and, in many instances, naive about the outside world. Through it all, she expresses love for her parents, yet she wants to escape the oppressive environment.
Thus begins Margaret's journey down a bumpy path. An abusive husband, abortion, divorce, drugs, drinking, casual sex, remarriage, sexual abuse, drug addiction, homosexuality: these are a few of the roadblocks Margaret encounters. Despite the setbacks, she bounces back from each episode with a renewed sense of self and God.
Norton compares several incidents to selections or quotes from Forrest Gump. Similar thoughts crossed my mind while reading the book. How many tragic incidents can happen to one person? And perhaps more importantly, why do bad things happen to good people? Some of those "happenings" are a result of making poor choices, but the lesson conveyed is that the struggle will make you stronger if you maintain faith.
The 260-page memoir provides quick reading, although some of the same information, especially regarding faith and the rehashing of past incidents, is repeated, perhaps too much. For this reviewer, it slowed the natural rhythm of the storytelling.
If you are searching for answers about your own life, or if you need inspiration or reason to connect with a higher power, Margaret Norton's memoir will show you that perseverance and determination make a person stronger.
Margaret's book is available through Tate Publishing and will be available on August 3rd at Amazon.
Review by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's writing at
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Candi Sary, Winter 2010 Contest Runner-Up

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Candi’s Bio:

Candi Sary has written seven novels. Five made it to the finals in competitions. Black Crow White Lie was a top six finalist in the 2009 William Faulkner William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition; Finding Grace made the short list for finals in the 2007 William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition; Love Me Madly won second place in the 2007 Dahlonega Literary Festival Novel Contest; The Sound That Red Makes and Thrown Away were finalists in the 2002 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award. Lavender Roses is her first short story, inspired by a writing exercise on Janet Fitch’s blog.

Candi graduated from UC Irvine with a BA in psychology. She lives in coastal Orange County, California with her husband, their two teenagers and three dogs. She finds spiritual connection in surfing, running, listening to music, and filming the life around her.
Visit her website at

Check out Candi's winning entry, Lavender Roses here, then c'mon back for our chat with her.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: Candi, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule today. First, congratulations on your winning entry, Lavender Roses! How does it feel to be a runner-up in our contest?

Candi: I am thrilled to be a runner-up! Thank you. This was my first short story.

WOW: You did a marvelous job with it! What prompted you to write your story?

Candi: Janet Fitch has a writing exercise on her blog called 'The Word'. She posts a word, and writers are supposed to come up with a two-page story using that word somewhere in the story. The first word she chose was ball. The phrase "I had a ball" came to mind. And I could hear my grandma saying it.

WOW: That’s a great example of how writing prompts can lead to publication! Think I'll check out Janet's blog myself for some inspiration.

Moving on to your story, telling it from the point-of-view of your five-year old narrator was a fresh idea and added some levity to an otherwise heart-rending situation. P.O.V. can have its challenges. What made you decide to do this?

Candi: I chose the five-year-old narrator because I knew her well. My grandma had Alzheimer's Disease. I was that five-year-old who found magic in the way her mind worked; the way she could look right at me and believe I was my oldest sister. As I got older I understood the tragedy of the disease, but there was a short time when my love for her wasn't burdened with understanding, and the resulting sadness. I thought it would be interesting to go back to that innocent time.

WOW: I thought it was an interesting perspective and I could be wrong, but I don't think you often hear how witnessing the devastating effects Alzheimer's has from children or teens. Good job!

Let's turn to your writing history for a moment. Can you tell us how got you started?

Candi: I started writing when my children were born. I had just graduated from UC Irvine and the transition from intense intellectual stimulation to the daily chores of motherhood was somewhat challenging. I found that writing, and escaping into the lives of interesting characters, kept my busy mind happy. Just as the kids needed to release their physical energy through play, I needed to release my mental energy through stories. I have been writing for 15 years now. I think it made me a more patient and happy mom. And I am sure it made me a more fulfilled individual.

WOW: You make a good point about writing as an excellent release and so fulfilling, especially with the busy lives we lead today.

Now, your bio states that you’ve written seven novels and had five of them make it to the finals in various competitions. What an amazing accomplishment! Do you have any tips to share for entering writing contests?

Candi: Writing contests are a great way to build your resume. Agents and publishers seem to be much more open to requesting manuscripts when you can "show" rather than "tell" them that the novel is well-written. So the "show, don't tell" advice for fiction seems to apply to the business of writing as well.

WOW: That's a good point and you're a great example to follow. How about current projects? Do you have any in the works?

Candi: I am currently working on my eighth novel while I submit my previous novel, Black Crow White Lie. It was recently a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Publishers Weekly gave it a positive review and that has helped generate interest. Here is a link to an excerpt of the novel and the PW review on Amazon here.

WOW: Thanks for the link, I’m sure our readers would like to check it out. And more congratulations to you! Any last bit of advice you’d like to leave our readers with?

Candi: I'll leave them with the Winston Churchill quote I have up on my refrigerator: "Never never never give up."

WOW: Excellent quote! Thanks, Candi, it was wonderful speaking with you! Best of luck with your writing!
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Gayle Trent/Amanda Lee, author of The Quick and the Thread, launches her blog tour!

Monday, July 26, 2010
& Book Giveaway Comments Contest!

Amanda Lee is the lady next to you in the grocery line or car pool. She has twins: one boy and one girl; she's a baseball fan, she likes to decorate cakes, she rocks at Guitar Hero... Oh, and she likes to think about murder. But it's okay! She only writes about murder...a lot!

Amanda Lee is the pseudonym Gayle Trent is using for her new cozy mystery series featuring a heroine who owns an embroidery shop (The Quick and the Thread: An Embroidery Mystery). Gayle is also the author of the Daphne Martin cake decorating series that includes Murder Takes the Cake and Dead Pan.

Find out more about Gayle by visiting her websites:

The Quick and the Thread: An Embroidery Mystery
By Amanda Lee

The first in a new mystery series that will have readers stitching--and itching--for more...

Marcy Singer has big plans: a move to the breathtaking Oregon coast, opening an embroidery shop called The Seven Year Stitch, and a fun grand opening stitch-in. What she doesn't plan on is the shop's old owner showing up--DEAD--in her shop. Some people think Marcy killed him. Some people think she's the next victim. All Marcy knows is someone has to uncover the murderer before she's forced to flip the sign on her shop door to CLOSED permanently. And it looks like that someone might be Marcy. She'll have to find the killer before someone puts a final stitch in her.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Signet (August 2010)
ISBN: 0451230965

The Quick and the Thread is available at, Barnes & Noble, and both chain and independent bookstores nation wide.

Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of Amanda Lee's novel, The Quick and the Thread: An Embroidery Mystery, to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end. We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment.

Interview by Jodi Webb

WOW: Welcome, Gayle/Amanda! We're thrilled to be launching your blog tour today! This is your second blog tour with us, and the first time you were with a different publisher. What brought about you going from Grace Abraham Publishing to Bell Bridge Books to Penguin?

Grace Abraham Publishing was formed so I could publish my own books and discover new talent at the same time. While I did find some talented writers, the administrative duties of running a publishing company prevented me from doing much writing. When I closed the publishing company, I basically had to start over from scratch. The good thing, though, was that I'd had experience and success with marketing (Woman's Day had allowed Grace Abraham Publishing to participate in a WD giveaway in October of 2005). The marketing experience gave me an additional edge when approaching agents and publishers.

WOW: Wow, I didn't know that Grace was your own publishing company! That must have been an amazing experience, but I can understand how time consuming it must have been. Now that you're at Penguin do you feel like you have to prove yourself all over again? If so, what steps have you taken to make The Quick and the Thread a big splash?

In a way. With a larger publisher, the numbers are really important. Another cozy mystery writer once told me that if a series doesn't perform well, the publisher will drop it and that's true even if they've bought more than one book in the series.

I began researching markets for The Quick and The Thread (TQTT) even as I was writing it. When I received galleys, I called Nordic Needle in North Dakota and asked them if I could send them one. I'd received their catalog and knew they carried some fiction. They accepted the galley and have already placed an order with Penguin's special market department to have the book in their store, catalogs and distribution network. I also ran a contest in June offering a $50 Amazon gift card giveaway for those who preordered the book. I hoped it would generate some pre-release buzz.

WOW: I didn't know that about publishers dropping a complete series. Scary! So what happens when you move from one publishing house to another, especially when you have an established series like the Daphne Martin cake decorating mystery series? Are you working for two publishers, writing one series for each house?

The Daphne Martin series has been bought by Simon & Schuster (it was originally with Bell Bridge). S&S is releasing a revised version of Murder Takes the Cake in January, and that will be followed by the next book in the series, Killer Sweet Tooth. Bell Bridge will still be permitted to sell the e-book version (with the revised text) of Murder Takes the Cake and book two in the series titled Dead Pan. The embroidery series is with Penguin and is being written under the pseudonym Amanda Lee (at the publisher's request).

WOW: My head is spinning trying to keep it all straight! Tell us about your alter-ego Amanda Lee. You're still writing as Gayle Trent, correct?

I'm still writing as Gayle Trent. The publisher (Penguin) requested I use Amanda Lee for The Quick and the Thread and the other books in the embroidery mystery series. This is because the embroidery series is owned by the publisher, and the pen name allows another writer to come in and take over the series if necessary.

WOW: We wouldn't want anyone but you writing the Seven-Year Stitch mystery series! Tell us about writing under two names. Is it just the names that change or is there a more significant change? Does your writing style change?

I think mainly it's just a different name. I'm not sure the writing style changed; but I will say that writing for different editors affects your style. For example, when I first started writing the embroidery mystery series, I had to beef up my descriptions.

WOW: That's interesting. It never occurred to me that an editor's style would also affect their writer's style. Tell us more about leading a "double life." Do many mystery authors have double lives for different mystery series? Do they hide their pen names or are they open about being two people?

My agent made sure I'd be able to allow people to know that Gayle Trent is Amanda Lee. It was important to me that I'd be able to maximize my marketing efforts to benefit both series. The only other time I've ever had a pen name was when I was writing for Grace Abraham Publishing and writing two very different types of books (the comedic Between a Clutch and a Hard Place and the more serious The Perfect Woman). I know that Jayne Ann Krentz writes under several pen names. Nora Roberts uses that name and J.D. Robb.

WOW: What's up next? Do you have an idea for another series (or two) percolating? Will you keep knocking people off or do you want to try another genre?

I'll stick with the cozy mysteries, at least for now. I really enjoy this genre. I plan to continue working on both the Daphne Martin and Marcy Singer series for as long as they'll have me! :)

WOW: I can't wait! You're one of my favorite writers. :) Thanks so much, Gayle/Amanda, for chatting with us today!

Want to join Gayle Trent/Amanda Lee on her blog tour? Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE.

Blog Tour Dates: Come and join the fun!

July 26, 2010 Monday
Gayle Trent will be chatting with WOW! Women On Writing at The Muffin. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Amanda Lee's book!

July 27, 2010 Tuesday
What type of person has two names? Spies, people in witness protection, movie stars...and writers. Amanda Lee tells us what it's like to go through life with two personas--one writing mysteries about a cake decorator and the other writing mysteries about an embroiderer.

July 28, 2010 Wednesday
In her interview today, Amanda Lee (a.k.a. Gayle Trent) tells us that murder isn't the only thing she has to research for her cozy mysteries. For The Quick and the Thread, the first book in her new embroidery series, the unlikely subject was whales!

July 29, 2010 Thursday
Amanda Lee is stopping by Mom-e-Centric to tell us about how murder and embroidery make a wonderful mix. She'll also be giving away a copy of The Quick and the Thread!

July 30, 2010 Friday
Stop by today for an interview with Amanda Lee by fellow mystery writer Christine Verstraete. These two will be sharing some great mystery writing tips!

August 1, 2010 Sunday
Blue hair, the early bird special, embroidery. Three things grandmas like. Or are they? Amanda Lee tells us about what a fun hobby embroidery can be for all ages and about her young embroiderer who also solves murders in The Quick and the Thread.

August 3, 2010 Tuesday
Tahiti, the Antarctic, can you use exotic locales in your writing when your most exciting destination has been...Canada? Amanda Lee gives tips on researching unfamiliar locations today on Writers Inspired. She's also giving away a copy of her latest cozy murder mystery The Quick and the Thread. Setting: the Oregon coast.

August 6, 2010 Friday
Stop by to learn more about Amanda Lee, author of the new cozy mystery series The Quick and the Thread, in a fabulous WordHustler interview!

August 10, 2010 Tuesday
Amanda Lee tells us her deep dark secrets: How a Baseball Mom Learned How to Murder. She's also giving away a copy of the first book in her new cozy mystery series, The Quick and the Thread!

August 11, 2010 Wednesday
On today's "What Not to Do" Wednesday, Amanda Lee, a.k.a. Gayle Trent, will be giving you the insider's scoop on living two lives--by writing under a pen name. She'll also be interviewed by Cathy C. Hall and is giving away a copy of her latest book, The Quick and the Thread!

August 13, 2010 Friday
Jodi reviews The Quick and the Thread at Words by Webb today! She also asks Amanda the 5 Ws: who, what, why, where, and when.

August 17, 2010 Tuesday
LuAnn Morgan is reviewing The Quick and the Thread, the first book in Amanda Lee's new embroidery mystery series.

August 20, 2010 Friday
We're winding up Amanda Lee's tour with a review of her cozy mystery The Quick and the Thread by Swapna Krishna who loves, loves, loves mysteries. Stop by and find out what she has to say about the first book in the new Seven-Year Stitch series!

To view all of our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar HERE.

Get involved!

If you have a blog or website and would like to host Amanda Lee (a.k.a. Gayle Trent) or schedule a tour of your own, please email Angela and Jodi at:

And be sure to comment on this post to enter in a drawing for a copy of Amanda Lee's novel The Quick and the Thread: An Embroidery Mystery! And check back in a couple of days in the comments section to see if you won!
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Finding Your Writer's Voice: Tips from Alison Dubois

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Familiar yet elusive, like a dream we can’t quite remember or that shadow we catch from the corner of our eye. For many of us, this would describe our writer’s voice. The more we try to grasp it, the more difficult it is to hear. Ask any group of writers for a definition of Voice and you will probably have just as many answers. It is as if the definition must be felt, not explained; as if finding the answer is a rite of passage. Alison Dubois is ready to guide us through this passage with her course entitled Finding Your Writer’s Voice which begins August 2nd.

Freelancer, ghostwriter and award winning poet, Alison’s writing career spans over 30 years. It includes six books, an Associate’s in Journalism, a Bachelor’s in Literature and a Master’s in Creative Writing. She is with us today to shed some light on this mysterious Voice.

Hi Alison, you’ve had such an eclectic writing career; I can’t think of anyone more qualified to discuss the writer’s voice.

Some say our voice just naturally is who we are, something that develops over time. Why should we focus on developing it?

Alison: To a point what you just said is true, our voice is who we are, or at least a part of who we are. But it is important to understand that defining our voice is every bit as critical in our development as a writer as honing your writing skills are to becoming a successful writer. In some ways it’s even more important because one’s “voice” is what sets one apart from everyone else.

It is what makes each of us unique and memorable as writers. And this uniqueness often translates into salability which is tantamount to one’s commercial success. Think about how one author’s book will sell millions and another author’s book will be left unread. What makes us keep turning the page in one and close the book in the other?

It is more than just good writing. And what is good writing anyway? It is that ability to transform words into such a way as to connect to its intended audience. Good writing elevates us. A good voice however, mesmerizes us.

Or think about it this way, a person who has a “raw” talent for singing…ask them the same question why should they “develop” it? Because natural (or raw talent) ability in and of itself is rarely enough to make one successful. But when we develop our gifts and learn how to apply the skills we learn along the way, that’s when we are most successful.

True, stodgy books are rarely curled up with (smile). But before we can develop our voice we first need to define it. One of the ways you help students do this is by giving them a “series of mini writing lessons designed to elicit strong emotions”. This is intriguing...

Alison: Yes. The point of these exercises is to help the students tap into their emotions while working on their specific assignment. By using a forum (in this case students are asked to describe themselves) that is intimate and personal, the students (ideally) will be very involved with their writing and hopefully their answers will reflect that.

Would you say, then, that our voice is hidden or guarded?

Alison: I wouldn't say it's hidden, more like a shy person's personality doesn't always reveal who or how they truly are, so sometimes they have to do things to help them grow and blossom. The same theory applies here with one's writer’s voice, sometimes you have to work on it and do things to help you realize your full potential.

Alison, you’ve worked as a ghostwriter; how does this knowledge of voice help a writer in that field?

Alison: It helps a writer to be able to step in for someone not sure of their writing voice, much like a substitute teacher will help a teacher in their absence. But interestingly enough being able to ghost a body of work requires a particular skill set, in that, often you (as the ghost) have to be able to “ignore” your own voice so that you can help the author’s personality (voice) to shine through in the work.

It sounds like an important part of the ghostwriter’s toolkit.

You urge your students to find their marketing niche, markets receptive to the student’s type of writing. Talk to us a little about this.

Alison: Most students who take the class already have an idea of what type of writing they want to do. For example, one student wanted to write travel pieces so I guided her towards travel magazines that I thought would be a good fit for her style of writing.

But many writers want to write in several arenas; a little NF, some short fiction, etc... What are some tricks or tips to holding our voice while branching into multiple areas?

Alison: That's a good question. And sometimes it does get a little tricky, especially if your genre is nonfiction but you are doing technical writing. Some forms of writing are going to allow you to express yourself more, some less. But even if your particular project or work doesn't allow you to be creative, utilize your writer’s voice as you'd like, you can still keep your voice by taking the time to write in your voice when you can.

It's like a gymnast that doesn't get to train or does some type of work that doesn't allow them to maintain their physical flexibility, the gymnast then makes time on their own schedule to keep them flexible, on track, in shape Writers need to do this too.

Don't let any one tell you or persuade you not to write under the premise (and lie) that you can "always write". You cannot always write. But if you set time aside for your writing, it will happen. Writing is the kind of career that the more dedicated you are to your craft, the better your writing will be and reflect your devotion. Likewise the stronger your voice will also be.

Alison, are there any other little tricks or tips you can share here...common mistakes, pearls of wisdom, etc...?

Alison: A couple of things, read a lot, write a lot. But always write your own work. That's critical. Sometimes a neophyte tries to imitate their favorite writer and thereby loses sight of their own voice. If there is one particular author you like, ask yourself why. But be yourself. Sometimes those we admire most in a profession help us to mold ourselves professionally and there's nothing wrong with that as long as we use our work and are true to ourselves. Sometimes finding one's voice is a long journey but getting there makes it all worth it.

What would you like your students to come away with?

Alison: Confidence and clarity, confident they know their own writer’s voice and are clear on how to utilize it. It’s the fundamentals of learning who we are as writers, of being comfortable in that knowledge and then using it as a tool to successes in our life.

Well said. Thank you, Alison.

Finding Your Writer’s Voice begins August 2nd, 2010 and runs for 6 weeks. Limited to 10 students. Please visit our classroom page for information and enrollment.

Interview by Robyn Chausse
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The WOW Story—Where Should a Writer Start?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The WOW story, novel, blog or article takes preparation in the form of research, investigation and on-hands knowledge. Writing is hard work but writing that very special bit of prose is excruciating. The writer needs to draw deep within and string words together perfectly in order to come up with the WOW story.

An excerpt from Donald Maass' book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL tells us: "A truly big book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply felt themes, vivid setting and much more."  Big equals popularity and success.  

Where should a writer start?

1.     Answer the question why does this story, novel, blog or article need written. 
·        To persuade
·        To inform
·        To explain
·        To entertain
·        To Share

2.     Answer the question what style to use.
·        Witty
·        Bold
·        Serious
·        Warm
·        Business
·        Combination of one or more

3.     Answer the question where will this be read or in what context.
·        Online
·        Snuggled in bed
·        Book Club
·        In a doctor's office

4.     Answer the question who will read the material.
·        Man, woman or child
·        Age bracket
·        Specific target group
·        Public

5.     Answer the question when will this story, novel, blog or article go public.
·        Right away
·        Time sensitive
·        Relative forever

6.     Answer the question how to add interest, fun, joy or deep emotion.  Try these exercises:

Describe a room so messy that the occupant has disappeared into the mess. What’s cluttering the room in detail and tell about the room’s owner and how he or she got into this predicament. Tell what happens to the room’s occupant over time. Does he or she ever get out?

Chose a color, go for a walk and then write about everything you see on the walk that is that color, or everything that reminds you of that color. This is a great early morning exercise for the body and mind.

When writing the WOW story start with the above questions and then add more layers. 

It is said, "Write what you love." I say, "Write what you love to research." Research is a key element in writing. Even if the subject is familiar, research will reveal different aspects or facets to add to the prose.  

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel
Cher'ley Grogg, quote, "Write what you love to research."
Exercises adapted from Edu Guide
Girl Reading Photo by Anna Theodora
Frog Photo by Doug 8888 *
Yellow Toadstool photo by Cher'ley Grogg

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Friday Speak Out!: Writing Is Hazardous to My Health, Guest Post by Claudia Mundell

Friday, July 23, 2010
Writing Is Hazardous to My Health

by Claudia Mundell

Do you ever think too much about writing? Do you ever forget what you’re doing, become lost in your imaginary world? Are you ever driving, overlook where you are going, and forget YOU are the one at the wheel? Is thinking in scenes while driving as dangerous as texting while driving?

I have to be cautious to not work on a story right before dashing to the grocery store. If I am not careful, I am pinching rutabagas while pondering the right word to describe a passionate embrace and moaning in vicarious pleasure while other shoppers look on. Or I might plan some murderous deed while clutching the steering wheel in a death grip and not realize the bumper up ahead is just that--a mere bumper and not a target to annihilate.

I remember that May Sarton often left poems on her desk unfinished for months while seeking the exact word. Sometimes I wiggle sentences and juggle words knowing a poem has some ragged edges yet. I realize the work needs to be honed a bit, sharpened like a kitchen knife that won’t slice a tomato clean and precise. So I mull over words, sticking in and taking out, trying to find the optimum one. It is like having a ring of keys in your hand and knowing one will fit the lock if you can just find it.

Women are multi-taskers and jugglers, always having several balls in the air. So I often try doing household tasks between running trips to the computer. Put a load of laundry in, write a line; brown chops, write a love scene; dash off two paragraphs and remake the bed with clean linens. It usually works well but can lead to disaster. I was writing one day when sounds of gunfire echoed through the house. I thought, “Oh, the dastardly criminals are loose again.” But wait a minute, there are no guns in my story! Bam, another pop and I sniffed a sulfur smell. Eggs!

I went to the kitchen to find a pan of eggs had boiled dry of any water and were in the process of exploding all over my kitchen. Yes, I had set a timer, but its gentle ding was lost somewhere in the 1800’s as a pioneer woman tried to parley with a Comanche for the safety of her daughter.

A cell phone can be put in my purse; a computer can be put in sleep mode. But my mind, what there is left of it, is hard to turn off. It races on all the time. So if the police scanner broadcasts a hit and run accident, it might be me tooling down the street thinking the fender I just hit was a log in river while I was padding for Lewis and Clark. Then again, I have been known to step off the curb in front of traffic while my head was in the clouds. Writing can be hazardous to my heath!

Claudia McKinney Mundell is mother of two sons and grandmother to Mason. She lives with her recently retired husband in Carthage, Missouri. Claudia finds it so satisfying to work hard on a piece and bring it to a creative completion. Once she starts writing a story, it is hard to leave it and come back to the real world for ordinary things like cooking and cleaning. Other hobbies are knitting, reading, collecting Blue Willow dishes, and drinking good tea.

Visit her blog at:


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Writing Through Life's Storms

Thursday, July 22, 2010
This past week in East Central Illinois, we've had a bunch of thunderstorms. One minute it's sunny; the next, tornado sirens are going off, and lightning is shooting across the sky. Although these thunderstorms are usually easy for me to write through (unless the power goes off and I forgot to charge the battery on my laptop), it's life's storms that can make it tough to get any writing accomplished.

I have a few storms going on in my life right now--and I wouldn't say they are all the "bad" thunderstorm type. But they are at least strong wind storms--stirring up my usual routine and filling my mind with clutter. My husband found out last week that he will be transferred, and we have to report to our new city (St. Louis) by the end of September. Yes, that's fast when you have to sell a house. On top of that, I'm expecting a baby in December--which is another blessing, but of course, limits me on doing things like moving refrigerators. :) We are in the process of thinking about buying a new car because my husband's is about to die--any day--he said he thinks it is literally "falling apart." The list could go on and on, but I won't bore you with it. The point is: there's a lot going on, and it would be easy for me to move writing to the back burner.

But I'm not going to do that.

One is for financial reasons. With the three things I've mentioned above, we obviously are going to need as much income as we can get. But that's not the main reason.

It's because I am a writer. And writers write. It's what we do. It's what we have to do--no matter what is going on in the world--whether it's snowing or company is coming or babies are being born. I thought about how my husband isn't going to stop doing his job as we prepare to move. He's still going to the airport five days a week to control traffic. So, I shouldn't stop writing just because we have a few storms going on in our lives.

Will it be easy? No--some days, I may have to get up before the sun to get any writing in. Other days, I may have to write with a notebook and pen. But the important thing is that I don't stop writing. I plunge ahead through the wind and rain and emerge on the other side--still a writer.

post by Margo L. Dill,
photo by Not So Nice Duck
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Writing for Screen and Stage: Tips from Christina Hamlett

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Most playwrights go wrong on the fifth word. When you start a play and you type 'Act one, scene one,' your writing is every bit as good as Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill or anyone. It's that fifth word where amateurs start to go wrong. -Meredith Willson

For every tale there is to tell, there is a way to tell it. Some stories make their emotional impact visually; seeing the cloud at Hiroshima vs. reading a description for example. Others wrap us in their arms and invite us to experience a character’s journey more intimately. Like any artist, you must know the limits of your medium and work within them. That is not to say you are limited though, it just means there are times when choosing a different medium brings a story to life.

Christina Hamlett has explored every way there is to tell a story. Author of 26 books, both novels and instructional material, 132 plays and 5 optioned feature films, Christina is also a professional ghostwriter and screenwriting editor for Writer’s Journal. She writes for PLAYS: The Magazine for Young People and contributes scintillating lesson plans for School Video News, a website targeted to K-12 video arts educators across the country. Whew!

Christina loves what she does and enjoys assisting other writers along their own storytelling journeys. She is currently offering two courses through WOW! Workshops and Classes: Introduction into Screenwriting and Introduction into Playwriting. Classes begin Monday, August 2, 2010 and are limited to 10 students each. I had the privilege of chatting with Christina just this past weekend…

Christina, you’ve worked as an actress, director, script consultant, and the list goes on. What drives your passion?

Christina: Well, I’ve always found that having to pay bills is a pretty strong incentive. But seriously, I grew up around the performing arts and have always loved the energy and imagination that goes into creating something that’s going to last beyond a lifetime.

You grew up around the performing arts? Were other family members involved in writing or acting or was it just the area where you were raised that sparked your interests?

Christina: Robyn--I was an only child in a wealthy family and, accordingly, much of my upbringing involved going to plays, concerts and galleries. My decision to go into acting was actually frowned on by my parents as frivolous and, further, they couldn't understand how anyone could possibly make a living as a writer. Their negativity, however, has been more than made up for by the fact I'm blessed to have a wonderful husband who is not only in the political arena but who also once appeared on the stage himself as an opera singer. He's the first to read all of my scripts when they roll out of the printer and is always involved in the brainstorming of new works as well. Because we both have a keen sense of audience and can do multiple accents (you should hear us mimic the cast of Blackadder), I'm pretty sure our neighbors think that at least 17 different people are living with us when we're reading my latest scripts aloud.

How fun!

Your journey as a storyteller has taken you in many different directions. I read that at one point you even started your own theater company. Can you tell us a little about that?

Christina: The Hamlett Players was a touring theater company I started as an offshoot of the acting and audition classes I was teaching in 1978. Getting your first part in a play is not unlike trying to get your first credit card; no one wants to give you one unless someone else has already proven that you're a good risk. When two of my students went off to an audition at a local community theater in Northern California and were not even allowed to read because they had no prior acting credits, I decided that I believed in my teaching/directing abilities enough to take a chance on them myself. In our first year, we did excerpts from popular plays (including Shakespeare!) and then I decided to start penning original one-acts for the company. By doing 3-4 one-acts per production, it afforded more acting opportunities for my students (of all ages) than if we'd been doing a full length show where there were only 2 or 3 lead roles. (One of my best friends, the late Richard Arlen Crane, was an incredible costume designer and so there were no limits in terms of time periods we could depict.) It was also the most fantastic forum for a playwright because I considered everything a work-in-progress and gleaned valuable feedback from the members of the cast as well as the audiences for whom we performed.

It sounds like it was a wonderful and unique opportunity all the way around.

You’ve had a rich and diverse journey as a writer, experience which no doubt enters into your teaching. This is good news for us because you are offering two separate classes through WOW! Workshops and Classes: Introduction into Screenwriting and Introduction into Playwriting. Talk to us a bit about the difference in the audience or target market for movies vs. plays.

Christina: In my opinion, playwriting is a much more challenging medium because you’re writing for an audience that’s typically smarter than those who go to the movies or watch television. Although theatrical scripts share a lot in common with screenplays in terms of three-act structure and duration, a play invites more sophisticated levels of abstraction and suspension of belief on the part of an audience than that which is required to watch a film. In workshops I’ve done on the subject, there seems to be a mystique about playwrights insofar as how we can transcend time and space within what most people perceive are the limiting parameters of a wooden stage. Therein, of course, is where the real magic lies!

Let’s say, for instance, you’ve written a storyline that includes a flashback to a street corner conversation in 1930’s Berlin. In a screenplay, you’d accomplish this through a dissolve, a match cut, a wipe or a dream sequence. You would have to not only replicate the architecture of 1930’s Berlin for the set but incorporate period vehicles, signage and costumes for dozens of non-speaking extras whose only purpose is to supply ambiance. In a theatrical script, however, you only need to incorporate period music or sound effects, costume the 2-3 players engaged in dialogue, and shine a spotlight on them while the rest of the stage is in darkness.

Theater also has the advantage of identifying time shifts (“three days later”) and location transitions (“Sophie’s apartment in the Bronx”) in the context of a printed program. To that end, a full production could transpire on a completely bare stage; if the audience has been prepped that it’s a forest, a ballroom, or another planet, they’ll readily accept this premise and allow their imaginations to fill in the missing details.

Playwriting further encourages more intimacy and immediacy with an audience than that which can be achieved in a Surround Sound Movie Theater with bigger-than-life faces projected on a giant screen. Whereas film calls for a lot of physical/visual action to keep it moving, a play revolves around dialogue and relationships that unfold in “real” time as opposed to “reel” time and are witnessed vicariously through an invisible fourth wall that--in smaller venues--is only a short distance from the front row. In addition, a movie audience only sees what the camera allows it to through the device of a single lens. A theatrical set, in contrast, is generally visible to the viewers all at once. This, then, takes a skilled playwright and an accomplished director to nudge the viewers’ focus via lighting and movement toward whatever they should be paying attention to at any given time.

So, the writer actually lends a different treatment to the story depending on which way it is going to be told. Is it safe to say, then, that writing for film or stage exercises a different set of skills than writing a novel?

Christina: The core consideration here is that films are driven by action, plays are driven by dialogue, and novels are driven by imagination. Accordingly, a screenwriter needs to be able to craft a visually compelling story that could be followed with the sound off, a playwright has to have a great ear for spoken conversations that could be understood without any accompanying visuals; and a novelist must be able to paint a world so rich in detail that a reader will be vicariously transported.

That said, one of the things that this trio does have in common is that their content is usually character-driven versus plot-driven. This means that the players undergo internal changes (character arcs) over the course of the story rather than simply responding to external events. An example of the latter would be the recurring characters in sitcoms; rather than evolving, they simply react each week to a different crisis but in a manner that’s both predictable and consistent with what we already know about their personalities.

It should next be kept in mind that a movie or play is written to be watched in its entirety and, therefore, can’t afford to dawdle around over the course of two hours by embedding excessive back story and superfluous subplots. Books, in contrast, are served up in modules (chapters) that allow stopping points to absorb--or even revisit--all of the information divulged. If you want your readers to vigorously keep turning those pages, you need to embrace the art of cliffhangers.

Last but definitely not least are the skill sets necessary to write good dialogue. This is one of the most difficult things for newcomers to the stage or screen to master because they try too hard to emulate the pace and superfluous nature of real-life conversations. In addition, they frequently use dialogue to provide back-story and explain things to the audience that the characters themselves presumably already know. In contrast, dialogue in a book that’s not meant to be read out loud tends to use bigger words, tongue-twisters, longer sentences and more formality. As I tell my students, what may look just fine in print can sound doofy if it’s coming from the mouths of live actors. Example: “I just saw something on Uranus.”

LOL. Yes, dialog can be tricky. If we were to write dialog the way we actually talk it would be completely boring not to mention difficult to follow.

Since a film is driven by action and a play by dialog, is the process of forming and writing a character different for film vs. stage?

Christina: In film, a character’s actions speak louder than his or her words; in theater, it’s the opposite. In both cases, however, a writer needs to create compelling roles that actors will want to play and that audiences will be able to relate to. When you look at the roles that garner awards for performers, they are most often those in which extraordinary individuals must function in an ordinary environment or ordinary individuals are thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

We really do need to approach the story differently depending on how we decide to tell it, whether on stage or screen.

Will the skills learned in these two courses strengthen a student’s writing in other areas?

Christina: Absolutely because it will help them to think visually in constructing scenes, minimize superfluous elements that slog the pace of the story, and hone their skills for writing dialogue.

What new insights do you feel your students will have regarding their work at the completion of your class?

Christina: For either venue, my students always come away with an appreciation of just how much work goes into crafting a story for actors to perform. They often tell me, in fact, that they now look at movies and plays in a completely different way based on the secrets they’ve learned. I’m also pleased that I’ve been able to make agent, editor and publisher introductions for students whose finished projects demonstrate fresh and exciting promise for today’s market.

That’s terrific! Those introductions are priceless.

Christina, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you.

Please visit our classroom page to enroll in either Introduction into Screenwriting or Introduction into Playwriting. Classes begin August 2nd and run for 6 weeks. Class size is limited.

Bio: Former actress/theater director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, ghostwriter, instructor and professional script consultant whose credits to date include 26 books, 132 plays, 5 optioned feature films and hundreds of articles and interviews that appear in trade publications throughout the world. Website:
Interview by Robyn Chausse
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Interview with Elizabeth Esse Kahrs - Runner Up in Winter 2010 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Once Elizabeth's high school English teacher asked the class to rewrite lead sentences to a short story they had analyzed, she was hooked.
She's worked as a columnist for Parent and Kids/Boston for the past eight years. An excerpt from her novel, The Trouble in Her Mirror, appeared in the Fearless Voices section of The Huffington Post. One of her short stories, "Sylvie Has Gone to the Deli," was featured on Lit 103.3's Fiction For the Ears. Elizabeth also has works published in Amarillo Bay, The Baby Journal, The Boston Globe, Shine, and Static Movement. Want to check out more of her pieces? Check them out at RedRoom.
Elizabeth grew up in suburban New York and currently lives outside of Boston. She's now revising her second novel.
If you haven't had the chance to read Elizabeth's story, "Nothing Left Unsaid," visit WOW! and linger through its words. You'll be glad you did!
WOW: Elizabeth, congratulations on the runner up honors in the Winter 2010 Flash Fiction contest! Nothing Left Unsaid has a delightful twist of playfulness coupled with serious undertones. How can writers establish a tone/mood and use it to keep the storyline progressing?
Elizabeth: Tone has to do with the intention of a story's words - it's really the voice of the work. I think the key with getting the voice down is to be authentic in what you're trying to say, be honest and consistent - you and your characters should always tell the truth. I love what Noah Lukeman says, "Strive to write from a place of truth and love." If you have the voice down, the words will follow.
WOW: That's excellent advice. Thanks for sharing it. Another important facet of storytelling is creating memorable and identifiable characters. Mother-in-law / daughter-in-law conflict can strain a relationship. Why is it necessary to create empathy with characters?
Elizabeth: I got the idea for Nothing Left Unsaid while browsing the book section in a local store. All the books were self-help books and the titles seemed funny to me, so I decided to write a story about two characters, at odds, communicating through book titles. I decided to use a daughter and mother-in-law as characters, (not because of my own relationship with my mother-in-law. We get along great!) but because of the inherent conflicts and difficulties within that relationship.
Empathetic characters are believable characters. If you can get the reader to understand where your character is coming from, to witness and feel what they are going through, even if the experience is foreign to them, they will happily go along for the journey.
WOW: What you say about creating a believable character is spot on! (chuckles) I'm glad your story isn't based on your relationship with the inlaws. Not everyone is so lucky, if you believe the media hype!
I find it interesting that you balance fiction writing and column writing. For you, how does that writing process differ?
Elizabeth: With a column, I'm typically trying to get an idea across in 400 - 800 words, so I've learned how to be concise. Also, throughout the years I've experimented with columns that really have more of a fiction-like flavor which has been a lot of fun. The process really doesn't differ. Writing is writing. I just try to get my ideas across in the best way possible.
WOW: And that's a good goal for writers in any genre! You've been lucky to have your work published in a variety of formats. I like the Fiction for the Ears idea. How can a recording of an author's work attract new readers?
Elizabeth: I was lucky to have my short story, Sylvie Has Gone to the Deli, featured on Lit 103.3's Fiction For the Ears. The host, Alan Vogel (and his wife!) read my piece aloud on air and it's available as a podcast on their website. I think trying to get your work out there in any format is beneficial in terms of promotion. Recently, Alan let me know that Sylvie is the most downloaded work on their site. Due to FCC guidelines, people can only hear the smutty version if they go to the website. I'm thinking maybe that has something to do with it.
WOW: Promotion is just another skillset a writer needs to plot. It seems like being successful in the writing game requires a writer to be a "total package" deal.
Most writers emulate other writers. I'm wondering if you would mind sharing authors who have made an impact on you and your writing?
Elizabeth: Oh, there are so many. One of my favorite books is Ordinary Peopleby Judith Guest. Anne Tyler's Accidental Tourist is genius at creating characters and telling a story. I recently read Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You and I'm now a huge fan - extremely funny and so well written. Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us fires on all cylinders and is just magnificent. Tish Cohen's Town House is a wonderfully funny and poignant book. I love stories with clean, crisp writing that doesn't call attention to itself and characters that jump off the page.
WOW: Wonderful suggestions and examples! I imagine our readers will want to check out these novels. Good readers make good writers, so what projects are you currently working on?
Elizabeth: I'm currently revising my novel. Soon, I'll put it away again for a period of time before opening it up and having at it again. I love revision. I think it's important to embrace revision. I heart revision! Revision is the book. I've learned (and keep trying to learn) not to rush things.
WOW: Yes, revision is the book! And sometimes, it's the most difficult part of the process. Elizabeth, you've offered such wonderful advice about the writing process, would you mind sharing your thoughts about entering contests for a writer who has never considering submitting a selection?
Elizabeth: Go for it. It's scary to put your work out there - but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Rejection should be viewed as part of the process. If you really want to be a writer, you need to keep moving forward.
WOW: Thanks, Elizabeth, and again, congratulations on this honor.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler, on Facebook, or check out her website for her weekly news column.
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