Faster than a Speeding Bullet-Character Building

Sunday, October 31, 2010

October is the month for characters. They appear in stores, restaurants, and on the streets; people become anyone they choose to be--from Snow White to Batman or from a Zombie to the President, with lots of characters in between.

Did you become a princess or Dracula? How did it feel to take on that persona? Perhaps you were Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ. Where did those red slippers take you?

Building a character takes that same kind of imagination. The role playing done while we were young can be used in our writing. You felt prettier or stronger when you dressed as your favorite character, and now your protagonist must be bigger and larger than life. She needs to be flashier, wiser, prettier or faster than all the other people in the work of fiction. Remember, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

A writer wants their characters to be memorable. A strong enough character to bring a person to tears when the hero fails or to cause shouts of joy at her accomplishments.

There’s much that goes into building or becoming a character, use these points as a starting place.  

  1. Make them want something. More than anything else, it has to be a strong enough desire to carry them all the way to the end. My last husband was so domineering. How domineering was he? So domineering that I would rather die than be under his thumb ever again.
  2. Give them special qualities. A beautiful voice can work in a lot of situations or a good sense of humor. Find uniqueness.
  3. Inner Conflict gives an insight into who the person is. Mother is ill and she always wanted me to be a Space Cadet. Should I be one for her or should I become the Brain Surgeon that I always wanted to be.  
  4. Outer Conflict is necessary. In order to be strong and to grow challenges have to be met. If there is no conflict, there is no challenge. Two weeks from today I am having a duel with John Wayne Smith, I must sharpen my pistol skills. It’s either kill or be killed.
  5. Humor is good if it’s lightly scattered. A bit of wit and a quick come back are essential parts of character building. Fast and snappy is the key to quick wit. Remember this old example. Lady Astor: “If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.” Churchill’s Reply: “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.”

Please use the comments section to share with us. What was your favorite character when you were young? What special quality do you feel needs to be included in the list of building a character?

Photo from Wikimedia commons
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Confessions of a Reference Book Junkie: Odd Books Build an Inspiring Library

Saturday, October 30, 2010

When I was a little girl my brother would tease me by saying I should read the dictionary–to be as smart as him. I would scoff and return to whatever it was I was doing. Who knew I would actually end up a reference book junkie, the compulsion for books only exceeded by my pen fetish? Charity book sales, used book stores, The 99 Cent Store, garage sales… I am compelled.

Among my more odd specimens are old medical dictionaries and legal manuals; mythology, psychology, geomythology and quantum theory; studies on the Quabalah, a library of Wiccan and Druidic knowledge and several books on Buddhism. I must say though, that my favorite references are The Old Farmers Almanac and Pocket Ref by Thomas J. Glover.

More than just places to find an answer, these pages entice a question and spur my imagination. In the Farmers Almanac I can hear people in the fields discussing the best phase of the moon for planting their next crop. I can learn how to predict the weather or find delicious tidbits of folklore and trivia. Thomas’ Pocket Ref offers a primer on knots and their uses; Morse code and Braille alphabets; a perpetual calendar; every type of conversion table you could ask for and a chili pepper hotness scale. Actually, the amount of information in the Pocket Ref is mind-boggling; it is by far the most fun I have had for five dollars.

Sure, you can find just about any information you need on the Internet, but a book can answer the questions you don’t know you have.

What’s in your bookcase? Are you an information junkie? Has an encyclopedia or other reference book ever spurred a project? What are some of your favorite reference materials? Let us know!
by Robyn Chausse
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Friday Speak Out!: Writing Copy vs. Writing for Yourself: How Not to Kill Your Creativity, Guest Post by Joy Paley

Friday, October 29, 2010

Writing Copy vs. Writing for Yourself: How Not to Kill Your Creativity

by Joy Paley

If you’re a naturally creative person, freelance writing might seem like a perfect job. It brings flexible hours and a varied work environment. And once you get good at it, you can earn enough to shorten your workday and fit in more time for your creative endeavors. Even writing copy is writing, right? It all flexes a similar part of your brain.

Try sitting down and working on a short story or plot outline for you nascent novel after typing up copy all day, and you might renounce everything I just said, however. Writing copy seems to put your brain into a certain mode, a mode of quickly synthesizing information and rearranging it that’s definitely different than thinking creatively.

When working creatively, you need a relaxed brain that's willing to move spontaneously in new directions when they call. Getting your brain from one mode to the other isn’t easy, but it’s possible. There are some things you can do to keep from simply wanting to turn on the TV and veg out after you’ve spent the day writing what other people want you to write.

One important tactic is to compartmentalize your creative life from your work life. If you keep them separated physically, you’ll be able to more easily separate them mentally. If you spend the day in your home office writing copy, go out when you’re ready to get going on your creative work. Find a café you like or try a cozy cubicle in your local library. You’ll get rid of those visual cues that tell your brain it’s time to switch into efficient work mode.
Another thing to try if you have the time is to do creative work in the morning before you begin your daily grind.

I’ve gotten good at writing copy and can do it if I’m tired, depressed, or whatever. When I’m working on my short stories, it’s different. I need a fresh brain that’s not still subconsciously editing that article I just finished. When my mind is relaxed and fully rested from sleep, it’s easier to slip into that creative flow that when it’s burned out from working all day.

Meditation is another great way to clear your brain and get rid of residual thoughts of work. It doesn’t have to be long, difficult, or complicated; simply sitting for five minutes, focusing on a candle flame, and breathing deeply will quiet down the clutter in your head. Multitasking, a great work skill, can be the death of creativity. After I’ve spent the day shuffling between fifteen tabs on my web browser and quickly skimming information, a short meditation can get me out of multitasking mode.

What’s the common theme of all my suggestions for staying creative when you’re also balancing a life of freelance writing? Identify when and how you are your creative best, and find ways to clear your brain and get it there. The flexibility of a freelance writing career can help accommodate your creative aspirations, if you put a little time and effort into nurturing them yourself.

* * *

Joy Paley is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog.
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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Take the Hint

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Try telling a story in 25 words or below. A review of Robert Swartwood's Hint Fiction

"Sleeping Beauty never minded the spindle prick. It was the wake-up call she hated."

Val Gryphin's 14-word story Insomnia implies there's more than meets the eye with the beautiful fairy tale princess. It becomes the responsibility of the reader to fill in the missing details based on the writer's hint.

What is hint fiction?

Robert Swartwood coined the term to describe a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story. The story does not need a distinct beginning, middle and end. Rather, the story should stand by itself.

Swartwood assembled 125 gems and ended with a fantastic anthology, Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. The collection, published by W.W. Norton & Company, is scheduled for a November 1 release.

In the introduction, Swartwood discusses the emergence of hint fiction. His first example, Ernest Hemingway's six-word story: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." Those short words carry a lot of emotion and information, proving less is definitely more.

The compilation is divided into three categories: life and death, love and hate, and this and that. What a delightful group of stories! Each contains a hidden treasure, offering a chance for the reader to contemplate the author's intent and to develop her own theory about the implications and innuendos.

Each piece's title is of as much importance as the tale. For example, Charles Gramlich's title, In A Place Of Light and Reason, creates a whimsical feeling. The text doesn't disappoint:
Sarah watched her son through the window,
as he stood in the garden and bloomed roses with his hands.
Best-selling authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, James Frey and Peter Straub, have work featured in the anthology. Their stories stand side by side to stories by new and emerging writers.
Hint Fiction offers brilliant narratives that fit into Swartwood's basic responsibilities of a story:
  • to tell a story
  • be entertaining
  • provoke thinking
  • invoke an emotional response

It's an anthology worth savoring.

Book review by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's reviews at

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Interview with Nancy DeMarco, Runner-Up in Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Nancy began writing in December 2009 as a way of “reconnecting the wires,” helping to restore memory and cognitive function following twenty years of chronic Lyme disease. Her therapy immediately became a passion, and she joined both a local writers’ group and an online work-shopping community. She also works as a clinical massage therapist, helping to rehab injuries in both horses and humans. In her spare time she hikes, raises chickens, and plays with her two horses, Lucy and Louise.

Nancy was born in California, grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts, and now lives with her husband, Jim, in southern New Hampshire. Her story, “Lime Green and Not Deep,” was recently accepted for publication by A Cup of Comfort® books, and her novel-in-progress, Finding Sara, has been selected as a finalist in the 'Strongest Start Four Competition' on the Next Big Writer website. Current projects include a number of short stories, a novel about a young woman who hears voices in her head, and daily writing practice, experimenting with a wide range of genres and voices.

Take a look at Nancy’s winning story here, then c’mon back and join us for our chat with her.

WOW: Thanks for taking time out for us today, Nancy! Congratulations on your winning entry. How are you feeling about it all?

Nancy: It feels great. Not a very literary answer, but there you have it.

WOW: (laughs) Not a problem with your answer, I love it! Let’s talk about your entry. Your piece, ‘Note’, is a great example of writing short and tight, with plenty of sensory details. I shared in your character’s myriad emotions as I was taken back to a few recitals of my own. What inspired you to come up with your story?

Nancy: I come from a very musical family, and this was inspired by my niece, Rebekah. She's a talented kid, and she works hard. But the thing that really gets me is her courage. I remember when she tried out for some big fancy chorus in Boston - the youngest applicant - and she just plain blew them away. So, that was my starting point. The rest came to me as I wrote and edited and tried to add a bit of tension and back story.

WOW: How thrilling about your niece’s accomplishment! Have to tell you, I was kind of disappointed to reach the end of your story, I really got caught up in it! Marvelous job!
Now, you’ve mentioned admiration of your niece’s courage, but you’ve displayed some yourself. Your bio states how writing has helped your healing in the aftermath of a chronic disease. Can you tell us some more about that?

Nancy: I have chronic Lyme disease. It went undiagnosed for seventeen years, and for much of that time I was not able to read and retain more than a few sentences. The pain was horrific, the fatigue debilitating. I had hallucinations, and vivid nightmares in which I died, over and over again. I heard moths fluttering in my ears, felt constant rage, and experienced lost time. I'd get in my car and end up lord knows where with no memory of driving there and no idea how to get home.

But the worst part was the loss of self. I couldn't complete a thought, and when I opened my mouth, I was never sure what might come out – ‘word salad’, I think they call it. After five years of treatment, my mind started to clear, and I began to write as a way of "hooking the wires back up." That was last December, and I've been writing ever since.

WOW: How horrible having to endure such a situation for so long, but thankfully you eventually received treatment! You haven’t even been writing for a full year yet and your progress has been amazing! I'm loving your spirit!

Turning to your writing habits, another thing you touched on in your bio is your exploration of a variety of genres and voices through daily writing practice. How has these exercises improved your skills? What genres are your favorites?

Nancy: Well, when I started, I didn't have my own voice, so I copied the style and structure of others. It turns out I'm a pretty good chameleon and this has helped me to develop multi-faceted characters - to climb into their heads and think their thoughts. That's been a useful, although occasionally disturbing, skill.

My favorite genres these days are humor, and, surprisingly, horror. I'm not excited about zombies and vampires, but I do like creepy. I enjoy putting a bit of fear and dread into my readers, while simultaneously keeping them firmly rooted in this world. Real life is scary enough - who needs monsters?

WOW: (chuckles) I have to agree with you on that, Nancy, more than a few times life’s given me a few gray hairs! I’ve heard of some writers copying the style and structure of other writers for the reasons you’ve stated. Sounds like a useful practice to adopt.

More congratulations are due for having your story, “Lime Green and Not Deep” accepted for publication by A Cup of Comfort. And your novel-in-progress, Finding Sara, is a finalist in The Next Big Writer’s Strongest Start Four Competition. Quite an honor for both! In case our readers might not be familiar with The Next Big Writer or The Strongest Start Competition, can you fill us in on them?

Nancy: The Next Big Writer is an online work-shopping community where writers can post their work and receive comments and criticism from other writers. 'The Strongest Start is a writing competition for unfinished books and novels - only the first three chapters will be judged. The contest motivates writers to produce three outstanding opening chapters that will just plain force the reader to turn the page. The rest of the novel need not be completed, but those first three chapters have to reach out and suck you in.

WOW: Great, thanks for letting us know about these writing opportunities. For more information, you can find the links to The Next Big Writer here and The Strongest Start here. Wrapping things up, what’s one last thing you’d like to leave our readers with?

Nancy: Write fearlessly! Submit bravely!

Heck - I'd only been writing a couple months when I started submitting stories. There is no shame in rejection, but there is regret in missed opportunity. My Lyme experience taught me that, as long as you can still hear your inner voice, no matter how faint, you still have the potential for rebirth. Send your words into the world. If you touch one person, you have done something worthy, and in some small way, you live on in them.

WOW: I think that we sometimes get bogged down by the rejection, we miss the opportunities. Thanks for the reminder to keep listening to our inner voice and send our words out into the world. Wise words! Nancy, it was a real delight chatting with you, thank you for an engaging time! All the best in your writing endeavors!

Nancy: Thank you for this opportunity!

Interview by Jill Earl
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Fishing for Beta Readers

Monday, October 25, 2010

I read the acknowledgements pages of books with as much as interest as the books themselves. I’m hoping to find the secret to beta readers in those few words. Authors thank their agents, their editors, their publishers, their mentors, their families(not necessarily in that order). They also thank their beta readers, the people who first read their manuscript.

I’ve come to believe that those first readers are invaluable as the buffer between the author, who has read the manuscript so many times they no longer know if it’s good or drivel, and the professionals. But who are these mysterious people and where do you find them? Some authors have their families give opinions on their manuscripts. I’m not sure that would work for me. In twenty years my husband has not met a word I’ve written that he didn’t like. He’s pretty sure I slipped it into the wedding vows. “To love, honor, and support by loving everything she ever writes.” My mom, a voracious reader and former English teacher, is certain it’s part of the mom code. In my family, objectivity is not an option.

Recently I had been considering hiring a reader but I don’t really want someone to edit yet. I just want someone to read the manuscript and give me an overall feeling…what they like, what they don’t, what doesn’t fit. Then a beta reader fell into my lap. At my last writer’s group during a discussion about grammar(I know, we’re wild and crazy) a fellow member mentioned how I’d read a piece for her and corrected the grammar and she “owed me one”. She did? Why didn’t anyone tell me? As soon as the meeting was over I cornered her and started laughing about her “owing me one” before zooming in for the kill. Turns out I actually had a manuscript I wanted a few people to read before I sent it out to agents and since she owed me one maybe she’d read a few chapters? What could she say, she’d just told me in front of two dozen witnesses “if you ever need anything…”.

So I’ve snagged my first beta reader and while she peruses the first few chapters I’ve been making a list of a few other people who might be willing to read a few chapters. Some of these people are just acquaintances but that’s what I need, people who don’t feel pressured to like my writing. Most I’ve done a favor for here or there. Turns out that after you snag your first beta reader the rest are easy—you just need the right bait.

Do you have beta readers and where did you find them?

You can read more about Jodi's search for beta readers at Words by Webb. Jodi has plenty of experience with magazine writing but fiction writing is new territory for her as she polishes her historical novel The Cookie Ladies.

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Revisiting Things To Be Happy About

Sunday, October 24, 2010
I ventured out into the world today after being down-and-out with the flu. To say that I’ve been in a mental fog would be the understatement of the century. And the few times I managed to surface from the tangle of bedsheets to check out some TV, I found the news a real downer. So I decided to revisit a site I wrote about a little over a year ago, ‘Things To Be Happy About’, for a mental lift.

The site’s the creation of Barbara Ann Kipfer’s book, 14,000 Things To Be Happy About. I still appreciate the lighthearted illustrations found on the homepage and throughout the site. I started with the cloud with today’s date on it, October 24, ‘Things To Be Happy About Today’ and one of the things listed was fountain pens and fresh paper. Music to the ears of a scribe.

Step over to the ‘Farmers Market’ section and A Commonplace Book. You’ll find various categories of topics to get your grinning and ideas to get you writing. Clicking on my favorite color ‘purple’ brings up a listing of quotes, song lyrics and other things related to the regal shade. Did you know that the word purple comes from Old English (975) and earlier Latin ‘purpura’, from Greek for the name of a dye made in antiquity from the mucus secretion of the hypobranchial gland of a marine snail, the Murex brandaris, that was called Tyrian purple? Yeah, neither did I.

You can even share your own happy news via the link on the ‘Idea Bank’ page. How about sharing the acceptance from that magazine you’ve had your eye on for a while?

And there’s more to see. Stop by, why don’t you? Every writer can use a shot of happy once in a while---and maybe a writing idea or a few.
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Discovering New Authors--Exciting!

Saturday, October 23, 2010
It's hard to top yesterday's blog post. I mean, we were talking about a great cause--Breast Cancer Awareness Month--and giving away chocolate! If you missed it, check out the post and enter to win here.

So, I decided to post about a new author I just discovered--she's quite a talent and popular in the YA scene and how it made me feel to discover her when everyone else seemed to already know her. And what does that mean about me as a writer and reader?

First, I'll tell you a little about the author. Her name is Heather Brewer, and I saw her speak at a great reading festival St. Louis holds each year, THE BIG READ. Brewer is from the St. Louis area, and she drew my attention at this event because she was 1. a YA author (that's my aspiration) 2. Dressed so cool with a pink streak in her hair 3. Writes about vampires. I drug my husband over to her tent, and we sat down. Then she started talking about her series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, and these teenage fans in the audience were noticeably excited. She was a great speaker--enthusiastic and real and genuine. You could tell how much she cared about her characters, and how much those teenagers did, too. She went on to talk about the five books she had already completed in the first series (from Eighth Grade Bites to Twelfth Grade Kills) and how she is currently writing a spin-off series. I kept thinking: I am an aspiring YA novelist. I have a children's/teen's book blog, and I have never heard of this author and Vlad Tod. Where have I been? How am I so out of touch? I immediately bought book one of the series, she signed it for me, and I gushed on and on about how much I enjoyed her talk and couldn't wait to read the series.

The first book is great--it will appeal to boys and girls (tween to teen) as well as their parents. I am almost finished with it and have already checked out Ninth Grade Slays from the library. I still am having trouble getting over the fact that this author wrote five books--which they sell in major bookstores and YA bloggers write about, and I had no idea. Where's my market research? Where's my reader instinct?

So, I posed this question to our Facebook Fans: how do you feel when you discover a new author? I mean, I feel excited to have discovered Heather Brewer, but I also feel so out of touch. If she just had one book, like debut novelist Jay Asher, whom I had already read, I wouldn't feel so well. . .slow. Here's what some of our Facebook fans had to say about new authors they've found:

  • Holli Moncrieff: "I was so happy to discover Elizabeth Berg. A co-worker lent me her book "Talk Before Sleep", about Berg's experiences helping her friend die with dignity, and it was such a beautiful, heart-wrenching book. I've worked my way through all of ...her novels, and it always seems like a new one has just been released. . .Both my mother and boyfriend are now fans of hers because I passed it on. :)"
  • Sandy Campbell: "I feel as though I've unearthed treasure! I did that with Amy Blackmarr about a decade ago and read everything I can get my hands on."
  • Beth Allard: "David Brine....wondered where he had been all my his writing!"

Most of our fans said it was very exciting to discover new authors, and they went out and bought everything by that author or anxiously awaited for the next release. Believe me, I feel that way, too--I guess I'm just wondering if when anyone finds a new author that's been around awhile, if they're like, Geez! Finally, I found her or him. . .

Happy reading!
Margo L. Dill

To read more about children's books that Margo likes, check out her blog at She often provides activities and discussion points, too.
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Chocolate Giveaway: Ghirardelli LUXE MILK pink bags ~ for National Breast Cancer Foundation

Friday, October 22, 2010
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Ghirardelli LUXE MILK is inviting you to join them in their journey to raise up to $100,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).

To help promote their cause, and a cause that's near and dear to our hearts, The Muffin is giving away 3 of their specially marked pink bags to 4 winners. Each of the 4 lucky winners will receive a pink bag of each flavor (milk, almond, and hazelnut).

To enter, please leave a comment and answer this question: What's your favorite flavor of chocolate?

We will randomly choose 4 winners to receive 3 bags each. Must enter by Thursday 10/28/2010 11:59 PM PST.

More about the cause: By purchasing a specifically marked pink bar or bag of LUXE MILK, you will not only get your chocolate fix, but you will also be helping a wonderful organization. Each specially marked product contains a unique prize code and for each code entered at, LUXE MILK will donate $1 (up to $50,000) to the NBCF. As an added bonus, when you enter your code at the site, you will be automatically entered to win instant prizes, including Cole Haan gift cards.

If you would like to win 3 pink bags of Ghirardelli LUXE Milk Chocolate and enter the codes on the Luxe Milk site to support the National Breast Cancer Foundation, just leave a comment below and tell us what your favorite chocolate flavor is.

We'll randomly pick 4 winners after the contest closes and announce the results in our comments section on Friday 10/29/2010. So leave a comment, and check back to see if you won!
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Going for the Degree...or Not

Thursday, October 21, 2010
Back in the dark ages when I was planning my wedding and moving to a new town, I mentioned to my then-fiance that I had always wanted to get my master's of fine arts in creative writing. Admittedly, I wanted to be a writer and an MFA seemed the requisite ticket I needed to get there. I applied and was thrilled to get in to the relatively new program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
During my time in the program, I met some legendary writers and compiled a lot of advice. I finished a draft of my novel. My sense of creativity was heightened.
In 2003, I received my diploma and was thrilled.
But wait, where were all the agents beating down my door? What happened to the flashing neon lights to be installed over my house that would blink (or subtly twinkle): WRITER.
Of course, none of that happened. Studying for my MFA gave me time to write. Mind you, as a newlywed and then new mother, I filled my time with life, as well. I made time to attend readings and workshops. I read books and poems and studied and spoke with people I never would have met, had it not been for the MFA program.
A lot of writing sites seem to be parsing whether the MFA is necessary or not. When I entered in 2000, I am not sure I was completely convinced that it was necessary to get an MFA. But I felt I needed one.
Spending 3 years studying and getting an opportunity to teach writing allowed me to feel more confident as a writer. For me, my process is not over. (Will it ever be?) My "dream-blood-sweat-and-tears" book is still not published. But I believe I'm still closer than if I hadn't taken the plunge. I believe that I learned more about my own process than if I had sat alone at my computer for those years: without an MFA, I might have read all the greatest novels in the world and never actually stuck my big toe into the water to finish my novel and start a second one.(Looming deadlines and grades helped!)
Since the MFA, I've let life get in the way of readings and studying, but reading all the buzz about MFA programs lately, I understood that I had been missing my IRL (in real life) community of writers.
I'm excitedly launching a few ventures offline that get me talking with writers and enjoying the amazing energy I get from those conversations.
So, whether you are deciding to take the plunge for an MFA or not, at the very least, search for a group within your community you can be with that will buoy you, your writing and your writing spirit. In the end, degree or no degree, a supportive community is something that every writer needs.

Elizabeth King Humphrey writes, coaches, and reads from her home in Wilmington, NC.
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Interview with Karen Simmonds, a Double Winner in the Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Karen always knew she wanted to write. Once, at a slumber party, she trapped a group of 11-year-old girls in a dark room and read her scary stories to them. She knew she had a captive audience!
Now, she operates a non-denominational wedding chapel and banquet hall with her oldest daughter. (Karen says all three of her daughters are magnificent!)
Although she hasn't had any run-ins with a bridezilla...yet, Karen imagines when she does, she'll end up writing about it.
This is Karen's first published flash fiction story. More sit patiently in a desk drawer, awaiting their turn in the publishing world.
If you haven't had a chance to read Karen's piece, Fly Girl, head over to WOW! and check it out. Then, grab a cuppa your favorite beverage and settle in with Karen as she talks all things writing with The Muffin.
WOW: Karen, congratulations on your double victory in WOW!'s Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest. Not only did you nab Runner-Up honors for Fly Girl, you also earned an Honorable Mention for another of your stories, The Costume Party. That's simply awesome! Based on your experience, what advice would you offer to writers who are considering entering a writing contest?
Karen: Take that step! I kept my writing under wraps for years. It can be tough to know when something is ready, but sometimes you just have to let go and not work a piece to death. Sending your story out into the world can be very exciting. Keep challenging yourself, learn as you go, but don't hide it away.
WOW: Sage advice! I want to talk about the concept for Fly Girl. While reading it, I had such an "I've-been-there" feeling. Why do you believe everyday situations make such a connection with readers?
Karen: I think readers can identify with the character and her situation because we've all had disillusionment with regard to work, relationships, and life in general. It's nice to be reminded that we're not alone. I tried to offset the negativity by showing her feelings of protectiveness toward the young woman. We'd all like to think we can retain our empathy even when we're having difficulties.
WOW: I agree. Having empathy in the midst of tragedy or even a minor problem proves to be difficult at times. What caught my attention are the humorous undertones in Fly Girl. How do you balance humor within a piece?
Karen: I do try to let the humor in. Life's certainly not fair, but the idea of karmic justice can be a way to resolve some of that. I definitely attempted to explore that in this story. I don't think about it much when I'm writing, but it's always interesting how the humor sort of gets in there anyway. I just let it come into the piece naturally. My writing used to be too much work, not enough fun. Now I try to be more playful. It's such a relief!
WOW: (laughs) I completely relate! There's no use fighting what's meant to be! I imagine running your own business has brought about laughs (and maybe a few tears at times). Have you taken bits and pieces of people you've worked with and have those tidbits shown up in a story?
Karen: Our business is still fairly new, but i"m sure I will end up doing exactly that. I try to observe and to listen to random bits of exchange. It's the odd things that pique my interest, the things I don't expect. And I think it's great that writers can go almost anywhere to do this. People are infinitely interesting. The minute we think we have nothing to learn from them, we're done.
WOW: So true! Watching, listening and learning are the most important tools a writer can utilize! And speaking of putting those tools to use, what projects are you currently on your plate?
Karen: I've been working on a book of stories that are interrelated, concerning a neighborhood and the people in it, for quite some time. It's funny how the busyness of life keeps getting in the way. I've also been gathering information on a 50-year-old boating accident and the people involved, so that I can write their story. As I get older, history fascinates me more and more!
WOW: Oh, that captures my interest! I'd like to read that story when it's complete. Karen, congratulations, again, for both honors you received in our latest Flash Fiction contest, and thank you for taking time to chat with our readers.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. To read more of LuAnn's work, visit her website
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Sherri Cook Woosley, editor of's The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010, launches her blog tour!

Monday, October 18, 2010
& Book Giveaway Comments Contest!

We're thrilled to bring you a different kind of blog tour today for CoffeeHouseFiction.Com's The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010. The tour features five authors and two editors of the anthology who share wonderful writing advice, anthology tips, contest tips and more throughout the length of the tour. Today we're interviewing Sherri Cook Woosley, editor of the fabulous anthology and creator of Coffee House Fiction's writing contest. If you've ever been curious about the inner-workings of a writing contest, read on.

Sherri Cook Woosley earned her M.A. in English Language and Literature from University of Maryland, College Park. She taught high school English before accepting grants to teach classes in academic writing and world mythology at University of Maryland. Academically, Sherri has published "Mythological and Archetypal Images in The Peach Thief" and presented an excerpt from her Master's research, "Women in the Shadow" at a Rutgers Conference entitled Disciplinary Boundaries. Her fiction has been published by Mount Zion Fiction Review and her story "The Man with the Patchwork Soul" is included in the Maryland Writers' Association anthology New Lines from the Old State.

Find out more about Sherri and her editing services by visiting www.CoffeeHouseFiction.Com and Mud House Publishing's Facebook Page.

The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010

Rachael Scandarion (Author), Candace Leigh Coulombe (Author), Dennis Finocchiaro (Author), Sally Whitney (Author), Carla Brownlee (Author), Sheila Romano (Author), Sherri Cook Woosley (Editor), May Kuroiwa (Editor)

For six years CoffeeHouseFiction.Com has sponsored The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest, a contest open to all genres, with the only requirement that the writing be disarming and original. Now, for the second time, the best authors have been hand-picked from the 2010 contest to realize the Coffee House Fiction 2010 Anthology. This year's winning stories take us on a literary journey from a mind-bending revenge fantasy at a Nazi concentration camp to a miasmic journey through the minds of coffee shop denizens.

Paperback: 69 pages
Publisher: Mud House Publishing (August 2010)
ISBN: 098283800X

You can purchase a copy of the anthology through Amazon or by e-mailing fiction[at]coffeehousefiction[dot]com.

Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010 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, Sherri! Tell us why you created the Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest and how it got such an unusual (and long) name.

Sherri: I was ready to start something new--I'd just finished my Master's degree from University of Maryland, eloped to Florence, Italy, had a little girl and moved to a renovated rowhouse in Federal Hill, Baltimore.

I've run the contest for six years. The original brainstorming session included this image of a cranky, feisty old lady sitting in a coffee shop reading this huge pile of contest entries. Then we gave her an umbrella, a British accent, and a ridiculous name. We're an independent, small contest and we have the luxury of not taking ourselves too seriously.

After we got the contest running, I added a critique service, then I began accepting editing year-round, and finally, two years ago, I started Mud House Publishing.

WOW: As the organizer of a writing contest, you've become our instant contest expert! Is there a way to distinguish legitimate contests from those a bit more shady and unreliable?

Sherri: Great question. Ways I've promoted transparency at

  • Is there a record of previous winners? I've posted the winners of each year along with either the complete story or an excerpt of the winning story. This shows that we're a functioning contest as well as gives concrete examples of what kind of writing we value.
  • Who are the judges? Agents, editors, teachers, authors...someone with credentials. My judges are either authors or teachers or both. I've also had exceptional guest judges--UVA professor Andrew Stauffer, Ambitious Enterprises Owner Ally Peltier, and this year we had award-winning author Patricia Valdata.
  • Do you get a response to the contact info? Send an e-mail with a question just to get a reply.
  • If there is a resulting anthology, do they publish everything or just the vetted pieces? Last year we had five stories that we judged to be published in The Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology. This year we published The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010 which as six excellent stories and is available on Amazon. The rest of the entries were in various draft stages.
  • Finally, if a contest seems questionable, use your favorite search engine for five minutes and see what other writers have posted about it, either favorably or claiming the contest is a scam.

Entry fees are generally used to compensate the winners and promote the contest. Sometimes the judges will get a small stipend. I'd say most contest fees should be between $10 and $25. If it costs more than that, you need to find out what exactly you are getting. Some contests charge a higher entry fee and then give you an annual subscription to the literary journal.

I submitted a chapter to a women's fiction contest that included a critique by an agent. She ripped the chapter apart and told me bluntly what was good (the writing) and what was bad (characterization) and whether she would have requested more pages. It was the best experience. I loved this option so much that I added it to Coffee House Fiction's list of services.

Authors need objective feedback. Unless you are very lucky, your spouse, parents, friends, colleagues are not writer or trained to give helpful critiques. They say they like it because they like you. Critique groups can be good, but there's the question of whether you should trust another unpublished or small-time author. Editing services can be very expensive. Critiques are the middle ground. I charged $25 for a critique of an entry. The critique form--filled out by one of the judges--was posted on the site so authors knew exactly what information would be given. After we added this service, I had a lot of thank you e-mails. Honest feedback makes for better writers.

Critiques were such a success that I began accepting editing jobs. My background as a teacher helps me explain to writers what works and doesn't work in fiction. And, I love it. I'm at a stage where my writing progresses very slowly, but I can take professional pride in seeing others succeeding at their aspirations.

WOW: How can contests help us become better writers? Why shouldn't we just submit directly to short fiction markets?

Sherri: Give a contest a chance. It can mean a little bit of cash in your pocket if you win, and more importantly you get a publishing credit for your query letter. It's also a way to show your friends and family that you've been recognized by the writing community. If you don't win, you still own the rights to your story because it's unpublished. But frankly, SOMEBODY has to win! In direct markets the editors don't HAVE to publish anyone. They can go to an already established writer and say, "Will you please write a little something for our Fall issue? Then we'll see what space is left to fill up with unknowns."

My contest was never intended to be a huge money-maker. Some years I did okay, and some years I lost money, but overall I wanted to help other writers. I wanted to know what happens behind the scenes and then share it with other curious authors. One thing I do that I wish other contests would: I post the numerical scores for each entry online. In my contest each story is read by at least two judges who assign a numerical score - 1 to 5 - and then the judges hash out a short list to take to the guest judge. Authors can use their anonymous log number to check what scores they earned. The author is able to see how an objective reader graded his or her work.

WOW: Are there any mistakes or unfortunate choices that you see over and over again in entries that make you want to put a warning in the FAQ section in bright red?

Sherri: Here are some suggestions:

When you are getting close to the word limit, don't panic and kill your character. Seriously. Please incorporate an ending that fits.

Another idea: read the winning stories of a contest or a literary journal. I heard some editors at a writing conference griping about aspiring authors who wouldn't invest money in subscribing to a literary publication or contest anthology. I realized it was true. You can support writing markets while concomitantly learning the standards. There are free sites online if you don't want to make a purchase, but put in the work like writing is a job.

WOW: What type of writing do you do?

Sherri: I tend to write literary fiction. Not a very practical choice considering the genre is fiercely competitive with a limited market, but that's what I do.

I also have a dark, loony sense of humor that comes across in my writing. I have a story trying to find a home right now based on an experience a couple of years ago in which my Chinese au pair wanted to illegally immigrate. We had a glorious low-speed chase with her running away--pulling her giant suitcase on wheels, shackled with various other worldly possessions, wearing a sweater in 90 degree heat, and casting herself out into the middle of Harford County--with me chasing her down the street with a pair of twins in a double stroller.

WOW: (Laughs) I'd love to read that! So, what do you do when you aren't judging writing contests? Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?

Sherri: Primarily I'm a mom. I have an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old, and twin 2.5-year-olds. However, I understand the world through stories. It's how I'm programmed and how I was trained. So, I accept fiction editing through and I read anything in my path especially cereal boxes, newspaper headlines, and short story collections.

WOW: You should check out Talismans, a short story collection by a returning author Sybil Baker, that'll be on a WOW Blog Tour in December. I know you're taking a hiatus from the contest this year for personal reasons. Do you think it'll be back next year?

Sherri: I've enjoyed running The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest. I've been at it for six years. I am at least ready for a break, and I'm not sure whether this contest will be back next year or not. For me, it depends which way the winds of my hectic existence blow. Either way, I post updates on the Mud House Publishing page on Facebook. There will always be fiction contests to pursue and win. Just read my hints and make sure it's legit!

WOW: Thank you so much, Sherri, for sharing your fantastic advice with us today! I know our short fiction writers appreciate the contest tips, and we'll keep an eye on your Facebook page and CoffeeHouseFiction.Com to see which way the winds blow. ;)

Want to join Coffee House Fiction's 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!

October 18, 2010 Monday
Sherri Cook Woosley will be chatting with WOW! Women On Writing at The Muffin. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Coffee House Fiction's 2010 Anthology!

October 19, 2010 Tuesday
Can you begin a writer's life after age 50? That's what Sheila Romano, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, will be discussing today. Not to miss!

October 25, 2010 Monday
As part of the Coffee House Fiction tour, Candace Coulumbe, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, will be posting "The Truth That Allows You To Lie: Using Historical Facts To Enrich Your Fiction" at Meryl's Notes. Meryl will also be giving away a copy of Candace's book Second Grace!

October 27, 2010 Wednesday
Sally Whitney stops by Writers Inspired to share what to do after you finish your first draft--perfect for those contemplating NaNoWriMo this November. She's also giving away a copy of The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010!

October 28, 2010 Thursday
Need some inspiration? Dennis Finocchiaro, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, will be posting about "Finding Inspiration."

November 1, 2010 Monday
Cathy C. Hall interviews May Kuroiwa, an editor of CoffeeHouseFiction's The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010 and founder of the Maryland Writers Association's critique groups. Stop by today and ask May a question!

November 2, 2010 Tuesday
As part of the Coffee House Fiction tour, Rachael Scandarion, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, stops by Write for a Reader to tell us how books have affected her life. She will also be giving away a copy of her latest book!

November 5, 2010 Friday
Sherri Cook Woosley, editor and judge for The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest stops by Day by Day Writer to share her advice on winning writing contests. She'll also be giving away a copy of the Coffee House Fiction Anthology 2009, a compilation of the 2009 short story winners.

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 a Coffee House Fiction author 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 The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010! And check back in a couple of days in the comments section to see if you won!
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The Unwilling Grammarian: An Interview with Karlyn Thayer

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You read the winning story and think, “My story was better than that! I should have at least made it into the top five.” This is a sad yet common scenario. Your story might actually have been the best in terms of characterization and dramatic arc, but how are your technical skills?

If you continually find yourself fumbling over verb tense and dialog it is time to brush up on your grammar. What’s that? That isn’t your idea of a good time? Then you haven’t met WOW!’s coolest grammarian!

Karlyn Thayer is a published fiction author with a penchant towards romance. An instructor of story-writing and grammar for over twenty years, Karlyn is now offering a class called The Unwilling Grammarian through WOW! Courses and Classes. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Karlyn:

Hi Karlyn, thank you for taking the time for this interview with WOW!

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a writer.

Karlyn: My writing journey began when I discovered reading fiction, in the third grade. The first book I read was Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson, and it opened my eyes and mind to a new world—the shining and exquisite world of the imagination! Then I made the mental jump from reading to writing. I thought, How cool to get paid for sharing thoughts and ideas!

I think it is great that you had that thought so early on! When did that dream finally came to fruition?

Karlyn: I didn’t really get serious about writing until I was in my forties. For years I worked as a graphic artist and a typesetter. I dabbled with writing and got nowhere. Then my husband gave me a gift subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and I started to read all the articles and apply them to my work. Soon I signed up for a writing class.

That's when my learning curve jumped sky high! With guidance, I grew as a writer. None of us can be totally objective about our own work. That's why classes like the ones WOW! offers are so valuable for beginning and experienced writers. Good teachers show us our strengths and weaknesses.

That is so true! Writing, as a skill and a profession, improves greatly when one has a mentor or instructor.

Karlyn, in addition to your writing you've been teaching for over 20 years. Your students write rave reviews about their experience under your instruction. Who shaped your method of teaching?

Karlyn: My first writing teacher, Judith Toral Davis, became my gold standard for teaching. After my first course of study with her, I signed on for a second round. She died from cancer before the second round could be completed, and I've yet to find an instructor as good as she was. She encouraged in a way that brought out my best work and I sold my first story while studying with her. Naturally, I've patterned my teaching based on her methods.

The Unwilling Grammarian is a title I can relate to. As soon as someone starts talking about dangling modifiers and participle phrases my brain feels like a whirligig. I know I’m not alone in this; why do adult Americans have such trouble with grammar?

Karlyn: How many jobs actually require correct grammar? Very few! Why pay attention to something that's not important in your day-to-day life? We learn what we need to learn.

I’ve noticed what might be a trend towards writing casually—as one might speak. This seems most prevalent on the Internet. In what ways do you feel the Internet has influenced our grammar skills?

Karlyn: I think the Internet simply reflects the language of the people. The influence comes from everyday conversation, from movies, and from television. Our national and local news anchors affect our grammar. We tend to write what we hear. As speech becomes more casual, writing follows.

Because we cannot become good writers from watching television, we need to read. I'd encourage young writers to learn by reading examples of our finest fiction. Books I recommend include Sophie's Choice by William Styron, The World According to Garp by John Irving, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, and What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. These are all edge-of-your-seat can't-put-them-down-type books, and writers can learn a lot by reading them. This is one of those wonderful win/win situations: you learn and are entertained at the same time!

I think it’s safe to say that here at WOW! we absolutely agree that writer’s need to read-- and we love book recommendations! Thanks for the list.

The topic of grammar tends to be dry, but it doesn’t have to be. We all grew up reciting the rhyme “i before e accept after c.” Can you give us an example of a common grammatical error and a way to remember the rule we should follow?

Karlyn: When writing dialogue, many people have trouble remembering correct placement of periods and commas. Commas and periods should be INSIDE quotation marks, ALWAYS. Think of commas and periods as sheep and goats that need protection. If they're running loose, they get into trouble (maybe eaten by wolves). Quotation marks are the dogs that guard and protect them, so they must stay INSIDE the guarded area. Example: "Stay here," Bob said. The comma is safe INSIDE the quotation mark.

That’s a fun way to remember dialog punctuation; do you have a similar trick for remembering the difference between “effect” and “affect”?

Karlyn: "Affect" begins with the letter "a," as does "action." An affect is an action, a verb. In the meantime, "effect" sits on its butt with no action at all! One effect of poor writing is lack of strong, active verbs. You can affect your work in a positive way by adding those verbs. Notice that no action occurs with "effect."

I’m posting that one above my desk (smile). What do you hope students take with them from your class?

Karlyn: Correct grammar really is important. You wouldn't show up for a fancy dinner dressed in torn jeans and a dirty tee-shirt (at least I hope you wouldn't!) Similarly, you should submit your work in "nice clothes." I see work submitted all the time dressed in torn jeans and a dirty tee-shirt. Editors and agents won't bother to read that kind of work. Take the time to learn to write correctly!

Thank you, Karlyn; it’s been a pleasure talking with you.

The Unwilling Grammarian begins October 20th, 2010 and runs for 4 weeks. There is still time to sign up! Just go to our Classes and Workshops page. Hurry though; the class is limited to 10 students.

Interview by Robyn Chausse
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Friday Speak Out!: The Writing World, Guest Post by Eliana Osborn

Friday, October 15, 2010
The Writing World

by Eliana Osborn

When my son was just two years old, my husband and I left the wee lad and flew 10,000 miles to Kenya. A visit to the in-laws never sounded so good.

One day, driving to Lake Nakuru to see rhinoceros galore, we stopped at a little roadside stall selling souvenirs and the ubiquitous Coca Cola. The wind was blowing a bit up at the higher elevation, nearly 9,000 feet. I stood at the edge of the road and just stared, overlooking the Great Rift Valley.

It sounds so cliché to talk about moments of clarity where the world becomes silent and it all comes together. I hesitate to even try to write about what I felt. I looked across this vast desert where human life began. I didn’t feel the insignificance you sense when looking at the heavens. I didn’t feel the shame I would feel later seeing plastic bags strewn across wildlife preserves. I didn’t want to share the scene with my husband or even take a picture.

I felt connected to humanity, alive and complete. It was spectacular. And fleeting. The others sauntered over to chat and show me the carved line of elephants they had haggled for, giving the expanse before me a cursory glance.

At its best, writing for me is like looking over the Great Rift Valley. I see my influences—every book I’ve read, every line of poetry I’ve repeated under my breath. I do not feel threatened by the greatness of others, instead empowered by language. I become a part of a grand literary tradition, however miniscule a part. There is silence all around despite the hustle and bustle of daily life. The beat of existence, of humanity itself, comes through.

So often writing is not transcendent. There are days of writing and deleting because it is all garbage. There is the functional text that gets a job done and nothing more. But often enough, there is a spark even in the right sentence of an article lede that speaks to the core of everything. Hope, love, beauty, truth. The basics of all cultures, all literature, all stories ever told. The things that tie my earliest hominid ancestors to my purse sized laptop. A few words, simply put together, quietly right.

* * *
Eliana Osborn lives in Yuma, Arizona with her husband and two young sons. She has been published in Budget Travel, Conceive, Raising Arizona Kids, and others. She teaches English at Arizona Western College and spends all her time planning trips.

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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Who Should Tell the Story: POV Strategies for Successful Storytelling

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In Alan Haehnel's play Nora's Lost, Nora (the protagonist) suffers from Alzheimer's and wanders away from a nursing home. Her story is told by point-of-view characters, including a younger version of herself (pink and black scarf) and a younger version of her daughter (pink chiffon).

I'm not sure why Haehnel chose to use these point-of-view characters to share Nora's journey, but it works and creates a dramatic effect.

Think about your favorite stories. What's the POV? My favorite is The Great Gatsby, where a young and naive Nick moves into a cottage on Gatsby's property. We learn about the intense love affair between Nick's cousin Daisy and Jay Gatsby through Nick's eyes. And after Jay is killed by a crazed, jealous husband, we learn the deeper truths from Nick.

As storytellers, we choose through whose eyes readers view action and reaction. And, we decide if the protagonist or a point-of-view character earns the privilege of telling all. Can the protagonist be a POV character? Absolutely!

If you're in the planning stages, several exercises can help you determine who should be the storyteller. I have two tried and true methods that work.
  1. Fracture it. One of my favorite classroom activities to try differing POV's is to fracture or retell a fairy tale (any story will work) by telling the it from a different character's viewpoint. A great example is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. In this version, Alexander T. Wolf explains what really happened when he met up with each of the piglets.
  2. Send a letter. Assume the persona of a standout character from a memorable story and write a letter to a different character in the same book. What's changed? What would you say to that character if given the chance to ask? How does the character feel about the action that took place in the storyline? Any secrets worth sharing? You may be amazed at the insight!

Limiting the involvement of a POV character can cause a few problems in a manuscript. Most importantly, it prevents the reader from seeing a lot of the action as it occurs. Instead, readers learn about what's happened to the main character ONLY after the narrator discovers the truth.

But the benefits of keeping the two separate can aid storytelling. Storylines can continue, which is important if a tragedy befalls the main character. And, a POV character can reflect on what's happening, offering observations that the main character may have never shared or realized.

At the end of Nora's Lost, all POV characters swirl around the old woman as she struggles for her life, memories colliding with reality, strong will clashing with fragility. It's poignant and leaves an impression on the audience.

POV is a powerful storytelling technique that can make or break a piece of work. Who is telling your story?

Photo of O'N'eill St Mary's Drama Department production taken by LuAnn Schindler (who also directed the award-winning play)

by LuAnn Schindler. LuAnn also writes a column for WOW!s Premium Green and freelances for regional publications. Her work is available on her website,

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Be Ready for Your Writing Career

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Last week, I was lucky enough to land a freelancing job thanks to timing and being ready. I saw the call for writers, and I already had my resume and basic cover letter ready to go. I took ten minutes to look them over, tweak them for the job, and send them in. Some people might say I landed the job because I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I don't completely agree. I landed the job because of that reason but also because I was ready.

If you are a writer--freelancer, novelist, children's picture book writer--you need to be ready to take advantage of opportunities you see IMMEDIATELY. If you don't, someone else will. And the ready writer is the one that is going to land the job, get the book contract, or receive assignments from the editor. What can you do to BE READY?

Keep an updated resume and basic cover letter on your computer, so when you see a call for writers that interests you--all you have to do is take a few minutes to send them in. AS SOON AS you see an ad for writers, answer it. If you wait a couple days until you get around to updating your resume or editing your cover letter, you have probably lost the opportunity--unless the ad states an application deadline or is REALLY specialized, such as a certain type of science writing.

If you are a novelist ready to turn in a manuscript, create a folder on your computer just for the submission process. You should have a file of the first 50 pages, a file of the first 3 chapters, a query letter, and a synopsis. Different agents and editors will require various pieces for the submission process. If you have all these files ready, all you have to do is open them, copy, and paste them into the body of an e-mail; attach the files to an e-mail; or print them out to send them in snail mail. When you see a new lit agent on the scene or a publishing house that is opening their doors to unsolicited submissions for one month, you'll be ready to take advantage of these opportunities and won't have to spend time getting your submission together.

In the few years since I've been regularly submitting my creative work and depending on a freelance income, I've learned that being ready and being able to take immediate advantage of a call for writers or manuscripts is extremely important. In the writing business, talent and persistence are important. But, so is being ready. Are you ready? What will it take you to get there?

post by Margo L. Dill. To read more of Margo's work, check out her blog:

photo by kevindooley
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Tara Cowie--Runner Up Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Here's Tara Cowie, one of the runners-up for the Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest. If you haven't read her winning story, Confirmation, you can check it out here.

Tara lives and works in New York City. She received her BA in English from Colgate University and her MFA in fiction from New York University. Tara is passionate about words and writing and is currently at work on her first novel. In addition to writing, she enjoys riding her horse, reading, traveling, and exploring the world.

WOW: Hi Tara, welcome to The Muffin, and congratulations on your win. Where did you get the idea for Confirmation?

Tara: I was wandering around the city one day and noticed a particularly beautiful church on Broadway. I sat on the steps for a while and just watched the people come in and out of the heavy wooden doors. The comfort offered by this massive edifice intrigued me, particularly the comfort that seemed possible regardless of religious affiliation. The night wore on, and I delighted in the dichotomy the dark created--the peaceful space inside and the hustling city street just steps away.

WOW: What a great image to spark a story idea! Why did you choose Confirmation as the title?

I wanted to relate the religious setting to the change taking place within the girl. While a traditional religious confirmation involves taking full communion with the church, I wanted to show that the girl was beginning to take full communion of herself. It is a moment of maturation and understanding of her body and her self.

WOW: The amazing thing is you did all that in a few words, too! What are the themes you are exploring in your flash fiction piece?

Tara: I wanted to explore the burgeoning sexuality of the young girl and the dual nature of this sexuality--how it at once empowers and victimizes her.

WOW: You received your MFA from New York University. How do you feel this degree prepares you as a writer?

Most importantly, my graduate study at NYU convinced me that I must write and imbued my task with a bit more urgency. The school celebrated the beauty of stories and encouraged me to reach for that beauty within my own writing. The school also prepared me in practical ways, and the workshops served as a perfect testing ground while finding my particular voice within my stories.

WOW: WOW! What an awesome educational experience. I know many writers search for a community such as you described, and it's so wonderful you had that while pursuing a degree. Can you tell us about the novel you are currently working on? What genre is it?

I am currently working on a fictional novel exploring the relationship between art and the artist.

WOW: Good luck with your project. What are your career goals as a writer?

I would like to be fully devoted to my writing, wherever it takes me.

WOW: It sounds like you are well on your way. One last question--why do you think it's a good idea for writers to enter contests?

Contests offer a great forum for expanding a reader base. They work as inspiration and often a means towards productivity.

WOW: Congratulations again, Tara, and thank you for sharing a bit of your writing life with us today.

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill;
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Mind-Mapping for the Brainstorm-Challenged

Monday, October 11, 2010
Did some online surfing and came across an interesting site called, which is a free web application. With the tagline, ‘brainstorming made easy’, (pronounced ‘bubble’) can help to make the process much smoother. There’s nothing to install or download and it’s just as easy as brainstorming on paper.

To get an idea of what the application offers, click on ‘Features’ under the Examples listed on the homepage to find a map to walk you through each mapping step. There are also maps of team members and of future plans for the application, all produced by the site’s creators.

Let’s say you’ve a bunch of ideas for your next writing project and want to see how to order them. Or perhaps you’re attempting to plot out your novella or travel article. You might be in the process of crafting characters and feel it’s necessary to construct a family tree for him or her. Click the ‘Start Brainstorming’ button and a bubble appears. A help box with easy-to-follow instructions appear in the lower right of the screen and you can begin your brainstorming session. allows you to share your work with other users, along with embedding your map into your website or blog.

I’ve started using this tool myself as I have more than a few ancient notebooks with the notes of various characters’ family trees scribbled between the pages.

The next time you need a bit of help in figuring out the next steps for your work-in-progress, give a go. It may become a favorite resource in your writer’s tool kit.
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5 Ways to (Re-)Capture Creativity

Sunday, October 10, 2010
Last week, the kids had a day off from school because the weather was so bad. Lots of rain within five days and we were all climbing the walls. Often I focus on what I can do to keep the kids occupied and doing something creative.
While the raindrops fell, I started thinking about many of the activities writers can do to help re-kindle some creativity. While I have a lot of ideas of things to do to tap into one's creativity, here are five ideas I had while cooped up inside:
1. Venture outdoors. While weather might be a factor on some days, getting outside for a walk, a run or a session on the rocking chair can help shift your mood. Especially as we head into the colder months, make time to get outdoors. Taking a fresh breath can re-adjust and revive stale thoughts. Exploring a new-to-you park can open a different wavelength, as well.
2. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write without an agenda. Seems obvious to suggest to a writer to take out a blank sheet of paper, but not having an agenda or a daily word count at stake can free your thinking and get those words on the page. So, take a blank sheet and just let go. You'll be surprised what you uncover once you start.
3. Turn off the TV. Sure, we all need a little time to relax. If you find that your day is getting over scheduled by your program guide or your Tivo, take a little time away from the screen. While I sometimes get inspired by some of the programs I watch, I know that when I spend too much time watching TV, it can sap me of some of my creativity.
4. Open your closet and be silly. Don't we all have that one item (or two) that is just a little sillier than we normally would dress? (Or am I the only one?) Dress yourself up or down and revel in your silliness. Often we spend our days dressing for success, take a little "you time" dressing for silliness. It is freeing and will connect you with some creativity you had tucked away behind your holiday sweaters.
5. Call a friend. Each time I feel drained and feeling dull, I call the friend (or three). You know these friends...the ones who can make you laugh until you cry. These are the friends who make you feel energized after you spend 5 minutes just talking (without an agenda). Take 10 minutes and feel the energy.
Hope these suggestions help you re-connect with your creative self.
When Elizabeth King Humphrey is not digging in the back of her closet for a feather boa, she's a writer and creativity coach.
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