Interview with Paulina Nelson, 3rd Place Finalist in the Summer 2011 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Good morning, Muffin readers! You're in for a special treat today. We'll be chatting with S. Paulina Nelson from San Diego. Her story, Seeds of Change, placed third in the Summer 2011 Flash Fiction contest. Check out the story, then get to know Paulina. We're going to dish about her story, Internet use, and teaching writing.

S. Paulina Nelson's love of the English language began with her immigration to the U.S. from Poland at age 6. She minored in creative writing, with an emphasis on poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and have placed in the Dorothy Sargeant Rosenberg poetry prize. Inspired by her love of literature, Paula began writing short fiction last year. She teaches 7th grade English at Carmel Valley Middle School in San Diego, where she lives with her husband and son.

Grab that favorite morning beverage and sit a spell. You'll be glad you did. :)

WOW: Congratulations, Paulina, and welcome to The Muffin. As a teacher, I related to the plot of "Seeds of Change." One writing theory says that personal writing mirrors an author's life. Does your story resemble your immigration to the United States? If not, how did you come up with the idea for "Seeds of Change"?

Paulina: I have certainly experienced poverty and its way of stationing children at a disadvantage. In that regard, "Seeds of Change" resonates with me emotionally. To use an authorial cliche, I wrote 'what i knew,' but the main character and the exact setting were inspired by a video on educational funding shown during my credential program. It has stuck with me for 12 years, and influenced everything from the way I dress for work to how my classroom looks. The takeaway is: how do we expect kids to feel valued when everything in their environment screams that they don't matter?

WOW: A well-taken point. Students need to know they are valued. One of the interesting elements of the story is the dahlia, which symbolizes elegance and dignity. How did you weave that symbolism into the piece?

Paulina: The opening metaphor referencing weeds was already tucked in the back of my mind when I began writing this piece, and Meala aspires to be more than that. The seed she steals represents the tiny germ of beauty available to her and how desperate she is to cultivate it. Referencing the seed cycle project furthered the idea that something spectacular can emerge from almost nothing. Technically speaking, the short form doesn't allow room to mix metaphors, but in thinking about it, poems of mine that have been selected for publication all feature extended metaphors based on nature, perhaps because I believe that all living things are interrelated.

WOW: Personally, I like to see an extended metaphor woven through a story. It adds a cohesiveness that a lot of flash pieces seem to lack. I'm curious, I know you pen poetry. Is this your first contest entry and/or win?

Paulina: I have won poetry prizes, but this was my first foray into short fiction. I love it! In scene writing, I can focus on wordsmithing, and the plot arc falls neatly into place. Also, the end result is like a tightly wrapped package: one can imagine pulling the ribbon and having the piece pop open and expand into a novella (or longer). Overall, this has been a positive experience for me. I wrote four drafts in as many hours, sent the final off with zero expectations, and received such valuable feedback in return. I highly encourage others, especially those who have the tendency to speed toward the end result, to give this a try. You might find yourself enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

WOW: Agreed! Sure, it's nice to place in a contest, but the journey to that final destination offers so many lessons! I think the contest world has seriously opened up for writers since the Internet has grown in popularity. Do you think the Internet is a positive tool for authors? Why?

Paulina: Personally, I marvel at the on-hand nature of information these days. We no longer have to wonder; we just Google. While the impersonal aspect of that bothers me sometimes, for writing, the Internet is an amazing tool! Research at one's fingertips, the ability to submit pieces for publication electronically, storycrafting tutorials, query letter guidelines, online access to writer's groups, not to mention sites like WOW! that encourage writers to TRY . . . while it may isolate the writer a bit physically, it certainly eases and speeds up the business / technical side of the process, leaving more time for creative flow.

WOW: It's been an integral part of my freelancing business. I remember having to either fax or hand deliver stories to some of my former newspaper editors. Look how far we've come! Another thing I noticed is that you teach writing. I also have taught English and Journalism at the junior/senior high and college levels. It's fascinating to see how students learn and take that knowledge and make it their own. What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Paulina: The transformation. Seeing a student's face light up when we work together to take a sentence or paragraph from awkward to effective. When a child realizes the potential that resides in their writing, it's a beautiful thing, and I am lucky enough to witness this hundreds of times a year.

WOW: Isn't that such a wonderful feeling?  Still, teaching isn't always easy. As a writing instructor, what do you see as the biggest mistake student writers tend to make?

Paulina: Well, that transformation I mentioned? Unfortunately, sometimes it's a hard sell. Students today tend to think writing is a one-off and not a process of drafting and polishing. Also, I have to temper their desire to be creative all the time and help them meet the purpose of the writing first, then re-introduce their voice and style. And if I want to nitpick, passive voice runs rampant.

WOW: Grrr! Passive voice continues to be a problem for many writers. It's a hard habit to break, even when we age! You obviously keep busy with school and writing. What current projects would you like to share with our readers?

Paulina: This 'win' has given me the courage to resume working on my first novel, a piece about a runaway finding redemption. If I stay on track and do my best to honor the subject matter linguistically, it should be finished by the summer and hopefully see the light of day shortly thereafter.

WOW: Wonderful news! Good luck with your novel and reaching your deadline. And again, congratulations on sharing your thought-provoking story with us.

Interview conducted by LuAnn Schindler. She shares her work at

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Your Book Tour: Seize the Opportunity to be Memorable

Monday, January 30, 2012

Somewhere in between the fun-yet-exhaustive work of writing your book and the dreams of it being on the bestsellers list lays the land of marketing. In our dreams we tend to gloss over that part…unless it’s a fantasy of signing a stack of books at Barnes and Noble. That is definitely a fantasy that will never come true…without some marketing. This being a broad subject, today I’d like to focus on just one aspect--the blog tour, and how to make the most of it.

Your blog tour is a big opportunity to connect with a willing audience and make such an impression that they are compelled to share your book with all of their friends. Create a buzz—that is the purpose of a blog tour. Yes, you ultimately want sales to increase but for that to happen there needs to be buzz. With so many book tours out there how do you stand out? Simply saying, “here I am, please read my book” won’t spread very far. You need to engage with your audience. You are meeting a few hundred new friends and you want to develop a relationship with them so they will introduce you to all of their friends…and remember you when your next book comes out!

Write engaging posts and give warm, chatty interviews to draw in the reader:
Consider each stop on your tour as a first date—if you want there to be a second date you need to open up. Your readers want to learn about you and gain a feel for your personality. They want to read about your view points and experiences and will be looking for a common ground. Invite comments and respond back.

Have an enticing website with additional information about yourself and your book:
Create a space that invites readers to stay awhile and makes them want to return. A pleasing template, a personal blog page, behind-the-scenes information on your characters and sneak-peaks of your upcoming work will keep your audience interested.

Use your social media:
Whichever social media accounts you enjoy using, make them part of your tour. Announce your tour dates, thank your hosts, and congratulate the people who win your giveaways. Connect with the new friends you meet on your tour while you are touring to get the relationships rolling.

Offer creative and memorable giveaways:
When Kristina McMorris toured with her book Letters from Home she created a special “prize box” for one of the giveaways during her tour. In keeping with the theme of her book she purchased a storage box that looked like a travel trunk. Inside were a signed copy of her book, some “victory garden” seeds, a chocolate bar wrapped in a vintage wrapper, and a CD of music from the WWII era. This might seem extravagant but it actually paid off.

The reader who won the prize was so impressed that she recreated the entire package as a gift for her mother. Then, she turned around and bought two additional copies of the book for her sisters. She also brought the entire box to work with her to show the other ladies in the office. Kristina may have spent twenty or thirty dollars on that prize but the winner purchased a total of three additional books and shared the experience with an office full of women who undoubtedly ran to their computers to check out Kristina’s website. Then the mother shared with her friends and the sisters’s with theirs. Talk about a ripple effect!

Do you have to be that extravagant? No. Even small touches will make you memorable:
  • Include a bookmark (with your web address of course) when sending a signed copy of your book.
  • If your story is prominently set in a city, include postcards or tourist maps of the area; you can usually purchase these from the local chamber of tourism.
  • Even if you are touring with an eBook you can make a memorable impression by including a personal note to the winner. Invite them to let you know how they like the book. You might even include an additional electronic file of deleted scenes, questions for reading-groups or background info on your characters.

This is your red carpet walk so smile, shake hands, and put your best foot forward!

By Robyn Chausse
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World Book Night

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Time is ticking away! You only have three days left! Tuesday, January 31 is the last day to register to be a part of World Book Night.

What? You've never heard of World Book Night? World Book Night is a celebration of reading that was started last year in the UK and has spread to the US this year. The idea behind World Book Night is to encourage people who aren't regular readers to pick up a book and enjoy. And what better way to do that than to give them a free book! Thanks to book publishers, sellers, lenders and more World Book Night is prepared to give away ONE MILLION free books on Monday, April 23.

One million.

That is a lot of books. So they need a little help in the form of 50,000 volunteers willing to stand on street corners, in grocery stores, or anyplace in their community where they think they could find a few folks willing to take a free book. Check out the list of books being given away on World Book Night: memoirs, novels, horror, mystery, YA and tween here.

Think you can talk 20 strangers into accepting a free book? Then sign up for World Book Night and join the fun.

If you become a World Book Night volunteer, where would you give away books in your community?

Jodi Webb is a WOW Blog Tour organizer and writer. She often gives books she reviews to her family, friends, and local library. If chosen, she'd like to give away books at her local donut shop -- the place she worked before deciding she was a writer. Read about her World Book Night adventures at Words by Webb.
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What's the Best Book You've Read in One Day?

Saturday, January 28, 2012
I read. A lot. As a reviewer and writer, it's part of perfecting my craft. I once had a student ask me how many books I've read in my lifetime. (Hey, I'm not that old!) I couldn't even begin to come up with a number. But I'll make a guesstimate: I usually read between 10 and 15 books a month.

So last week, when I noticed the #1daybook hashtag on Twitter, I had to find out what all the fuss was about.

Looks like it started over at Reddit when someone posed the question: What's the best/most unusual/longest/most enthralling book you've read in a day?

It got me thinking. What's the best book I've read in a single day? What book has kidnapped me, held me for ransom, and refused to let go until I closed the back cover?

My answer: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt. She had me on page one, and by the time I finished a few hours later, I was a blabbering book reader, tugged in multiple directions by conflicting emotions. I felt such a connection with Isabelle, the photography, the sense of place.

I think about that book often, pull it from the shelf and reread snippets - a snapshot of descriptions and characters - that beg to be read once again.

It takes a special book - and writer - to create that sense of empathy with readers. And Caroline's words and story formed that bond for me.

What's the best book you've read in a single day?

by LuAnn Schindler. When she's not reading, she's writing about Nebraska at

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Friday Speak Out!: Feeling Fulfilled through Fiction, Guest Post by Brooke Williams

Friday, January 27, 2012
Feeling Fulfilled through Fiction

by Brooke Williams

I spent 12 years of my professional career in radio. I have to admit, I enjoyed aspects of it. But it was never my true passion. When my daughter was born in 2009, I left the industry to become a full time mom. Though I love my daughter with all my heart, after a year of the daily ins and outs of being a stay at home mom, I was ready to place a claim on my own life. I wanted something of my own. That’s where writing came in. I always wanted to create an at home business, but I had no idea what to do. Writing became the obvious choice because it was something I truly loved, and could actually do.

I began searching websites and was amazed to find that there are tons of writing opportunities out. Honestly, had I known about these jobs before, I would have made the transition years before my daughter even came onto the scene. For the most part, I write web content. That is not always very exciting. For example, I recently got a job assignment for 27 articles on various aspects of kitchen counters. I have written about deer hunting (a topic I do not particularly enjoy), time shares (a topic I would love to enjoy in person), and plenty of other things. I found that as my fingers flew over the keyboard each day during my daughter’s naptime, I was finally fulfilled as a professional.

Writing strange articles on topics I did not often know much about was weirdly fun. The real fun began, however, when I discovered a website that was just about to launch. This website, called, was asking writers to create the first chapter of books. After the website launched, another writer would write chapter 2, a third person chapter 3 and so on until the book was complete at 24 chapters. I had always wanted to write in a creative manner so off I went. I wrote 67 first chapters. The ideas kept me up at night.

Once the website launched, I was sure I would leave my work behind and move on to the paying jobs. Articles about internet services were waiting to be written, after all. But I found the fiction world still calling out to me. I cannot add on to any of the 67 books that I started, but I can look for other writers to help. There isn’t any pay involved, but once the books are published, each writer can say they are a published author. Their name and words will be in print. In an actual book! Plus, it’s just plain fun to see where my ideas go.

I feel like I’m a better mom because I have a creative outlet. If you want a little extra creativity in your life, feel free to contact me about writing in one of the books I’ve started. I’d love to see where you take it!

* * *
Brooke Williams is mom to a 2 1/2 year old and a freelance writer who has articles all over the internet. She wrote chapter 8 in the recently published "ShadowLake" novel, a publication of You can view some of her fiction work at or contact her for the change to write a chapter in one of her books 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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What Chekhov Knew about Sitcoms

Thursday, January 26, 2012
By Christina Hamlett

His heyday was long before the advent of film and television but I often paraphrase Anton Chekhov whenever an aspiring screenwriter suddenly throws a contrivance into the third act that had nary a passing reference in the first or second. The objective is always the same: to try to jumpstart a floundering plot with a last-ditch surprise in order to keep it from dribbling off with a whimper. What’s interesting is the correlation to TV series that – when faced with a waning (or yawning) audience – will do almost anything to stay on the air.

Is there a TV idea up your sleeve that’s just itching to be written? If so, you'd do well to first heed this quote of advice from a playwright ahead of his time: “Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day-to-day living that wears you out.”

There are three major differences between crafting a plot for the movies and coming up with a marketable premise for episodic television.

The first is that a movie is a stand-alone product that delivers an entire story in the space of 120 minutes or less. In contrast, a TV series is a succession of weekly installments that – if the ratings are good – can unfold over the course of multiple seasons. As is often quipped about M*A*S*H, for instance, the series actually lasted eight years longer than the Korean War it was depicting.

Secondly, movie characters are forced to take actions predicated on reward, revenge or escape in response to a major external conflict that has placed their lives and hearts in jeopardy. This meets the criteria of a character-driven tableau in which it’s the players themselves who push the storyline forward to resolution and, in doing so, experience emotional growth. In contrast, TV sitcoms are plot-driven wherein random acts of weirdness keep occurring that everyone predictably reacts to on the basis of their internal angst. Accordingly, they never evolve past whatever traits they projected when first introduced in the pilot episode. The exception? Finally declaring their feelings for the person we the audience have known they should be with from the very beginning.

Third, movie protagonists often have bigger-than-life jobs that the rest of us wistfully envy. They’re archaeologists, scientists, adventurers, spies, pirates, etc. While TV drama personas often embrace occupations such as detectives, doctors and lawyers, the career paths of TV sitcom characters are more mundane - waiters, office workers, teachers, servants and political lackeys. (On the plus side, however, the majority live in New York apartments that are larger than any flats inhabited by heroes on the silver screen or, for that matter, anyone who actually lives in New York.) Since there are only so many workaday scenarios that can revolve around ordinary people in ordinary settings, the chances for them to shine are limited. You can always tell a sitcom is sliding when its main players suddenly take a trip to Hawaii, Europe, or go on a cruise; it’s their day-to-day living that has driven them – and us – to the brink of boredom.

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is a professional script consultant and ghostwriter whose credits to date include 26 books (3 of which are on the craft of screenwriting), 141 plays, 5 optioned features, and hundreds of articles/interviews that appear in trade publications throughout the world. She is also the screenwriting editor of Writers Journal, and has conducted workshops on scripts and the performing arts for over 30 years.

Christina's's new online class for WOW! Women on Writing starts on Monday, February 6, 2012! Sign up now for HOW TO WRITE A TV PILOT: An Introduction to the Craft of Creating a TV Show while there's still space available. For details and enrollment, visit our classroom page.
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Change Your Life with Lori the Change Agent

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
We have a real treat for you today. Lori Anne, the Change Agent, is here to discuss her book,  Who Am I? How to Answer the Single Most Important Question You’ll Ever Ask, her audio series, and her life coaching business.

For almost ten years, Lori put her own interests and dreams aside telling herself she was doing the right thing because it paid the bills, helped provide for her kids, and was a good career. Thing is, she was miserable, stressed out, and overwhelmed – she just wasn’t admitting it to herself.

Then her 49-year-old mother suffered a brain aneurysm, and she realized how precious each day really is. Coming face-to-face with her own mortality at just twenty-seven years old pushed her to reevaluate the life and choices she'd been making. She wondered, “If I were to step out my door today and not come home, would I at least be proud of the life I’ve lived so far?” At that time, the answer was “No,” and she vowed to take one step every day until she could answer, “Yes” each night. It took years to transform her life, but it took her years before she realized she needed to transform herself first.

Lori received a degree in English and women’s studies in 1999. A constant explorer of how people think and create their lives, she trained as a life coach in 2005 and began working one-to-one with women who felt torn between the reality of their lives and the dreams they ached to create.

WOW: Hi Lori, welcome to the Muffin! We are so pleased to have you with us to share your knowledge and your work with us today. So, let's get started. You have built a business around what many of our readers need help with. To quote you when we discussed this interview: "my business itself is all centered around helping smart, savvy moms bridge the gap between their realities and the dreams they ache to create. It's about looking at ourselves, our beliefs, our habits, how we think etc., and changing from the inside out in order to achieve our dreams." What are a few ways you help moms or women in general do this?

Lori: Whether it’s a one-to-one life coaching session, my book, my audio program, my blog or Facebook page, or the even the free video coaching series I offer on my website, the core of everything I do centers around asking powerful questions that help women reconnect with their inner wisdom. You see, I believe each and every one of us already has everything we need to achieve any dream we have–but sometimes our own thinking and beliefs about ourselves or our situation gets in our way. Our emotions are the voice of our inner wisdom trying to break through. When we feel drained and exhausted, that inner wisdom is trying to tell us to slow down and take care of ourselves. When we feel lost, our inner wisdom is trying to tell us we’ve gotten off track from our personal life’s purpose. When we feel joy, our inner wisdom is letting us know that we’re on track and need to do more. It sounds simple, but so many of us have been taught to put our own feelings aside for the sake of others and keeping the peace, we no longer hear the messages or know how to interpret them when we do hear them. I help women get back in touch with their Self, so that they can build the life THEY dream about. I support them through the inevitable challenges that come up when we go through transition. I challenge their assumptions and beliefs, so that they can uncover the hidden road blocks as well as the obvious ones. We can only truly change our lives when we first change ourselves. So I help women become the person they want to BE, so that they can DO and HAVE what they dream about.

WOW: That sounds WONDERFUL, and I'm sure many of our readers are nodding along with me right now. So, tell us about your book, Who Am I? How to Answer the Single Most Important Question You’ll Ever Ask. What is the main focus of your book? Who is your audience? How can it help?

Lori: To live the life we dream about–to really feel that sense of fulfillment and purpose so many talk about–we need to learn one very fundamental thing: how to make, and stand by, decisions that honor who we really are. Unfortunately, many of us have been taught to make decisions based on what someone else thinks we “should” do, rather than what is really right for us. My book focuses on discovering who we really are, why those parts of ourselves are so important, and how to start using that self-awareness to make decisions that re-shape our lives into what we really want, instead of what we wound up with.

I wrote it particularly for women because while all of us are shaped by other’s desires for us, women are taught more explicitly to take care of everyone else first and ignore their own needs and desires. We’re taught that it’s selfish or needy to even HAVE our own desires for our lives. Yet, the opposite is true. It’s far more selfish, in my opinion, to undermine yourself to the point that your children only see you exhausted and stressed out at the end of the day, to feel like you’re not really present with them when they just want to feel loved. What kind of role model is that being for them? We want what’s best for our children, our families, and our friends; so why not find the best in ourselves and learn how to share that?

The book breaks down the process of learning who we are into simple steps, asks powerful questions through journaling and meditation exercises, and helps women create a purpose statement for their lives that’s based in what is truly right FOR THEM. What’s incredible to watch in this process is how tapping into what we’re most passionate about and bringing more of that into our lives really gives us more energy, empathy, and the ability to give even more to all those we love. It’s not selfish at all! It’s incredibly beautiful.

WOW: I feel like you are describing me exactly when you describe your readers and women's beliefs. I'm sure I'm not alone. What format is your book available in? Where can people find it?

Lori: The book is available on my website at It can be downloaded as a pdf file for immediate access or purchased as a soft cover bound book, also available through my website, as well as on

WOW: You also have a monthly audio series. Tell us about these audio programs and the special deal you are currently offering with your book.

Lori: I’m really excited about the new audio series this year! It’s called Conversations with Lori Anne, and it’s nutrition for the mind. Each month, I’m being interviewed one-to-one on various topics. Each of the topics are coming right out of a survey I did in the fall, where I asked women what their biggest challenges were to achieving their dreams. The first topic, which has just been released, is "Stopping Dream Killers & Receiving Support," in which I talk about what a dream killer is, how to recognize them, and how to stop them, so that you can receive the support you need and deserve to achieve your dreams. It was a lot of fun to record, and I’m thrilled to be able to offer it!

To introduce the series, I’ve created a limited time offer. When someone purchases my book, they can receive the audio program at over half off!

WOW: What a great deal! You call yourself a change agent. What do you mean by this? How can you help women change if they have a different picture for their lives?

Lori: If we want something we don’t already have, we have to change something about ourselves – become the person we need to be in order to have those things. For example, if someone is a workaholic but wants to spend more quality time with their family, then they have to first look at the reasons for the choices they’re currently making that made them the workaholic and begin to shift those. This can be a real challenge!

As a change agent, I help my clients identify a clear vision of where they want to be as well as develop their own inspiring WHY they want to get there. The why is the most important part. It’s the why that motivates us to keep going through the challenges, and it has to be tied to who we really are, or it won’t sustain them. There is a specific process that we all go through when we’re recreating our lives, and I help my clients navigate that process, so that they can complete the changes that they want to make. It’s easy to get lost or even give up; but with support, it becomes much easier.

If someone has a vision of her life that she wants to realize, I can help her figure out where to start, figure out how to go about the process in a way that works for who she is, and support her all the way through it. Together, we build the bridge she needs to get from where she is to where she wants to be.

WOW: If any of our readers are interested in the topics you are discussing and the products you are offering, what should they do?

Lori: There are several things they can do. They can visit my website at and learn more about who I am, the products I’m currently offering, as well as the limited time offer that we talked about earlier. They can even take advantage of the free coaching video series that’s available.

I’m also on Facebook ( and love interacting with the fans there. And if they’re ready to start building their bridge and want one-to-one support, I’m happy to talk with them about coaching. They can e-mail me at Lori (at) LoriTheChangeAgent (d0t) com about receiving a complimentary thirty-minute coaching session, in which they can experience what it’s like and learn more about it.

WOW: Thank you, Lori, for sharing your business with us today. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Lori: I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to be here and share a few thoughts! My mission is to see women everywhere living their own purposeful and meaningful life. I know what’s it’s like to do everything we think we “should” and wind up feeling lost, overwhelmed, and frustrated. I’ve been there! And while there are still the day-to-day challenges, living a life that’s fulfilling is an incredible experience–one I want to give to as many people as possible!

So I hope there’s something here that makes a difference, and I would be honored to hear from the women out there–their thoughts, their challenges, their feedback, their hopes, their stories… I want each of the women to know that no matter what it might look like today, their dreams are entirely doable, realistic, and absolutely worth pursuing!

WOW: Lori, you are an inspiration, and we appreciate everything you have said here today. Muffin readers, don't be shy. If you have a question or comment for Lori, you can leave it here or check out her website or Facebook page. Remember, she gave you her e-mail address, too. OR start with her book and audio series by going to her website!

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Interview with Runner Up, Jacey Fortin

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Jacey Fortin is a writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. After a few years of work in the publishing industry—with forays into other fields like teaching, farming and waitressing—she is now a freelance journalist and editor in New York City. To learn more, please visit


WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Summer 2011 competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

The cash prizes were my main inspiration.

WOW: Well, we do offer some nice prizes! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, The Exhibit?

Jacey: I realized later that I had stolen the main idea from a story my friend once told me. It’s much altered, of course, and mixed in with a couple scenes from my own life.

WOW: Since you’ve transitioned into freelance work and moved to New York City, how are things going for you? It sounds like an exciting time in your life!

Jacey: It’s a little scary, but going pretty well. Do you know anyone who is hiring freelance journalists or copy writers?

WOW: You can always check our Freelance Job Board for opportunities! What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Jacey: Flash fiction is a challenge—all that condensing. It’s good practice for the nonfiction writing I do for work.

WOW: That's true, flash can help build strong writing skills. Thanks so much for chatting with us today Jacey! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Jacey: If you are thinking about it, you should probably just do it. You’ve got nothing to lose.

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Our Flash Fiction contest is OPEN:
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Who’s Driving Your Story? Two Qualities Your Protagonist Must Possess

Monday, January 23, 2012
by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Vampires? Zombies? Steampunk werewolves? Trying to dream up a fresh plot for a young adult novel can take you to some crazy places. Yet until you have a strong protagonist, you have only a daydream, not a story. This is as true in young adult fiction as every other genre. There are no shortcuts. Not even the most dazzling over-the-top plot can conceal an undeveloped protagonist.

Your protagonists race your plot forward, swerve around obstacles, and yes, sometimes barrel over the antagonists in their paths.

Sometimes the antagonists barrel over them.

Is your protagonist a sleek, nitrous-injected Corvette, or is he a Gremlin so meek and sickly, that even you, the author, feels the need to get out and push?

Think about some of the traits of great protagonists. Are they intelligent? Warm? Giving? Clever? Brave? Those are perfectly good traits, but if they are all you have, you’re running the risk of a perfect character. Have you ever known a perfect person or someone who pretends to be? What happens when you encounter these people in real life? Do you like them? Can you relate to them? Can you stand to spend any time in their presence? Case closed.

If you want to touch hearts and sell books, your protagonist needs only two basic traits. Think for a moment. What two traits can allow you to trust your story with this character you’ve created? These two. Your protagonist must be proactive, and she must be sympathetic.

• Memorable protagonists are proactive.

A strong protagonist protags. That doesn’t mean that he rushes out the door like a modern day Don Quixote. Something happens—a change—that forces him to take action. Perhaps a loved one is in danger. Maybe he’s motivated by money, honor, even a threat. Regardless of how reluctant your protagonist, something compels him to move forward and refuse to give up, win or lose.

• Memorable protagonists are sympathetic.

You want your reader to cheer for and relate to your protagonist. In order for that to happen, that character must be worthy of such attention. In short, your protagonist needs to be sympathetic or at least empathetic.

Sounds easy enough, right? It’s safe to say that an unfeeling tyrant who marches through the countryside searching for orphans to steal is not sympathetic. Yet, it’s rarely that simple. A protagonist who cares for nothing, who feels nothing, or who robotically floats through his life is just as unsympathetic.

Only by revealing the vulnerable parts of his character, the squishy underbelly that most people try to protect, can we allow the reader to feel for him. The protagonist must have a hole in his life, and you must reveal it.

Maybe Mary had to drop out of school to raise little sis. Unfulfilled dreams are an excellent hole. Or she could be in love with somebody who will never return her feelings, which might remind her of how her father always loved the other sister more. A hole in your life is some missing element that both drives and impedes you. You’d better believe that every person on earth has one.

What’s yours? Look around at your friends and family. What are the holes in their lives? What makes them vulnerable? Any person who claims to have it all together, to possess everything he ever wanted, is usually concealing the biggest gaping black hole that ever devoured a galaxy.

Remember, your goal is to reveal the deep emotions that we’re taught as children to hide. Shame. Longing. Envy. Guilt. Those feelings come without words or a thought process, and with the exception of sociopaths, they are universal to the human condition.

Zombies aren’t enough. Great protagonists may possess many qualities, but they must be both proactive and sympathetic. With that combination, you’ll outshine the numerous YA novels limping along on plot alone. Your proactive character will keep the reader turning pages. And that hole in your character’s life will make the reader care.


Author, teacher and public speaker Bonnie Hill worked as a newspaper editor for 22 years, a job that, along with her natural nosiness, increased her interest in contemporary culture. Her novel, Intern wascalled “a page-turner” by Publishers Weekly. Killer Body, a thriller about our weight-obsessed culture, was a Cosmopolitan magazine “pick.” She also wrote three newspaper thrillers featuring hearing-impaired reporter Geri LaRue for MIRA Books, the young adult Star Crossed series, and most recently, Ghost Island, a paranormal love story. Her publication credits include short stories, nonfiction books and articles.

Bonnie's new online class for WOW! Women on Writing starts on Wednesday, February 1, 2012! Sign up now for WRITING CHARACTER-DRIVEN FICTION while there's still space available. For details and enrollment, visit our classroom page.
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Website or Blog: Which Does a Writer Need?

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Do you need to jump in and create an author site? The first question is what kind of site to create. There are a couple major differences in a blog and an html website.

An html website is static and doesn't change unless you go in and change the coding; coding can be done with various programs, or by hand.

A blog is a content management system(CMS): a CMS is a dynamic site, which is based on a database and is generated on the fly whenever someone visits the site. You have a database with slots for elements such as a header, a footer, sidebars, widgets and page content. When someone visits your site, the php code (a programming language usually used for blogs) queries the database and asks what should I put in this slot. Then it displays the page.

What this means is that updating the site is easy. If, for example, you have 100 pages on your site and you want to add the fact that you have a new book out, you must update 100 pages. But in a CMS, you only update one slot of a database, which updates everything. Or, if you want to change themes totally, you just change the template, which updates all the pages.

Blogs are usually organized on a reverse chronological basis, with the newest post on top. But most also have an option for pages that aren't in the timeline, and are displayed always. In Wordpress, which I use, there are Posts, which are the timeline posts in reverse chronological order, and there are Pages, which are the permanent pages outside the timeline posts.

If you want, you can use the Pages to create a site that looks like an html site. Just ignore the posts and you've got a "website."

There are a range of CMS programs from which to choose: Blogger, Wordpress, Joomla and others. Wordpress and Blogger are free sites that will have the URL extension of the site, such as Joomla can be only be hosted on your own domain, while Wordpress has a free option, or can be hosted on your own domain, which is what I do (

All of the major CMS have a support community where you can choose theme templates that determine how the site looks, and they are fairly easy to customize if you know just a bit of html or css. If you don't, then choose one that you like and just go with it. (Here's the Wordpress free themes page, where you can search by your criteria for design.) Or, you can go to something like and hire someone at a reasonable price to create a template for you.

One thing I look for these days in a template is will it adapt for mobile viewers. The one I am currently using on the site for my new book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS,, recognizes the device you are using to display the site and shows one, two, or three columns, whichever is appropriate. For iphones, it's one column; for ipads, it's two; for computers, it's three. In other words, don't be fooled by a "pretty" template. Go for functionality, too.

Or, look at the template for my site for my children's book, Prairie Storms,, which has a template specifically made for author. It features a book at the top and has other author-specific items. Here's a screen shot of that blog, showing the featured book and the author photo.

Whichever you choose, an html site or a blog, the key thing is content. What you write about is important; layout and design and the coding behind it all should just support what you have to say.


Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes.
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Writing Errors

Saturday, January 21, 2012
Error photo by Nick J Webb | via Flickr
Writing errors happen. 

A couple years before I graduated, I met a fellow student in the grad school computer lab. It wasn't until the final months of school that someone told her how she had to format her thesis--she had nearly 700 pages she had typed using a typewriter. In order to meet the graduation requirements, she needed to re-type her entire manuscript and format it as the school required. From her panicked face, I could tell that she would probably have a few errors in her finished thesis.

It was, unfortunately, the nature of the process. Finding errors in one's writing is also the nature of the process of writing.

My master's thesis (a less-than-700-page novel) received comments from a few non-committee readers. For the most part, they were positive comments on a draft that I had re-worked fairly well. However, some of the readers pointed out that I had grammar errors here and punctuation errors there.

Embarrassingly, one glaring error occurred on the first page of my thesis. For someone who believed she had almost error-free writing, it was a humbling experience. (Excuse mode: Admittedly, as one prepares for a thesis defense, formatting enters into the equation more than ever before and sometimes, while one looks at margin spacing, errors creep into the text.)

Errors crop up--even for the most careful of writers. Some are errors of style (unnecessary capitalization) and others are grammar (split infinitive anyone?). Others may be continuity issues--Jude in chapter one is referred to as Jim in chapter six. Often a writer is consistent in the errors made (which makes it easier to edit) and, then again, the writer is widely inconsistent in the errors cropping up (a bear to edit).

So when are the errors too many errors? Lately I've been reading a few editors discuss this subject. No one has a good answer--there is no golden number or glaring error that sends up a red flag.

But for me, there are too many errors in someone's writing when the reader is pulled out of the story because the errors are jarring and makes the reader leave the story to figure out what the writer meant.

If I am finding lots of errors, I stop reading the plot and start looking for errors. In one particular published novel, there were a couple errors that were whopping. (Feet instead of inches errors. Yes, I sent an email to the publisher.) 

So, if you have a reader who can't get past the first few errors on the early pages, maybe you've found someone to edit your work. 

What errors do you notice in your writing? What errors do you notice in the writing of others?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer (who makes errors) and an editor (who tries not to err). Regardless, she's on Twitter @Eliz_Humphrey.

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Friday Speak Out!: It’s a Secret!, Guest Post by Sandy Young

Friday, January 20, 2012
It’s a Secret!

by Sandy Young

Fifty is a big number for lots of things: money found on a messy desk, the number of miles to drive to go shopping, the number of grandchildren some people in New Mexico have, the number of M&Ms I can consume at one sitting, and the number of years some folks have been married to the same person. That last one refers to my sweetheart and me!

In April, before our fiftieth anniversary (December 17), I decided to write a gift for Frank, my hero. It had to be a surprise, and I knew keeping it a secret would be difficult, to say the least. Frank thinks that every time I’m writing on my computer I’m either communicating with friends on Facebook or writing e-mails. Little did he know, as I sat about three feet away from him while we were watching TV, that I was writing a book called Married to My Hero, right under his nose! In all of those eight months, he never asked what I was doing. Not once!

Several friends edited for me, including Melanie Faith, my teacher for the WOW! course Translating a Life, to whom I submitted one chapter as the essay of the week. All authors need editors, and I had wonderful ones.

Since we have lived in only four cities/towns in fifty years, I organized the book by place: Clinton, MS; Pascagoula, MS; Pensacola, FL; and Cerrillos, NM. The book would be a history of our lives together, beginning with when we met and ending with where we live in our retirement years.

Sometime in August, I gave myself permission, though, to write only about Clinton and Pascagoula. Too much has happened in our lives for me to be able to finish and publish by December 17. I was determined to give it to him at the grand party that our daughter had planned for us. I finished my manuscript early in November, and Wendy, our daughter, finished uploading it to Blurb and inserting lots of photos and other memorabilia that we had saved through half a century by the first week in December. The book arrived on December 14 . . . ah, three days before the big event, quite an accomplishment for all of us Youngs, who are notorious for last-minute finishings.

I had my doubts as to Frank’s being surprised; however, when I presented it to him, I knew that he hadn’t a clue. He loves his gift and is reading it each night before he turns out the light. I’ll write about Pensacola and Cerrillos in 2012 and will have the luxury of asking Frank to help me remember details. Several times, I almost slipped and asked him to help me remember things while I was writing this year. That would have been disaster for my secret.

We’ve begun our next fifty years (HaHa!), and Frank is still my hero. Always has been, always will be.

* * *
Sandy Young is a retired English teacher (32 years in the classroom), whose passion is writing. She blogs at Forever Young ( Sandy and Frank, her husband of 50 years, live in Cerrillos, New Mexico.

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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100 Beautiful Words to Add to Your Personal Beautiful Word Cloud

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Like many of you out there, I'm constantly trying to find unique and different words to replace the boring old ones that I always seem to turn to. Such words add a bit of spice and intrigue to our stories and, let's be honest, they make us look (and feel) a little smarter too.

Checking out a suggestion from one of my author friends, I signed up for StumbleUpon a few months ago to help me with this ongoing quest. (For those who haven't heard of it before, it's a site that plucks websites and blogs from out of all the millions of choices on the Internet based on your personal interests, and sends them to your Inbox.) I've actually gotten some pretty cool link suggestions. Two that have been very helpful.

The first was a blog post about creating Beautiful Word Clouds, like the one in the opening picture. Basically, you choose a word (like 'whale') then brainstorm on all words that are related to the main one. It really helped me in writing a short story I had been working on. For writing books, though, I was looking for something more. And I came across something awesome the following week.

The light came from another blog post on DESHODA called, "100 of the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language" (which, for some reason, actually worked out to 103 words!) WOW! What an amazing list! Let's just say I printed it off and added it to my word folder to refer to whenever I get stuck. And I thought I'd share this list with all of you today so you can do the same.

Yeah, I'll probably still suffer with the occasional bought of 'Writer's Block', but never again will I be stuck with trying to find a beautiful, unique word when I need one. Conclusion? Start with a Thesaurus, move to creating your own Beautiful Word Cloud then add some of these words to it.

Happy writing to you all this week!

Until next time!

  1. Ailurophile: A cat-lover.
  2. Assemblage: A gathering.
  3. Becoming: Attractive.
  4. Beleaguer: To exhaust with attacks.
  5. Brood: To think alone.
  6. Bucolic: In a lovely rural setting.
  7. Bungalow: A small, cozy cottage.
  8. Chatoyant: Like a cat’s eye.
  9. Comely: Attractive.
  10. Conflate: To blend together.
  11. Cynosure: A focal point of admiration.
  12. Dalliance: A brief love affair.
  13. Demesne: Dominion, territory.
  14. Demure: Shy and reserved.
  15. Denouement: The resolution of a mystery.
  16. Desuetude: Disuse.
  17. Desultory: Slow, sluggish.
  18. Diaphanous: Filmy.
  19. Dissemble: Deceive.
  20. Dulcet: Sweet, sugary.
  21. Ebullience: Bubbling enthusiasm.
  22. Effervescent: Bubbly.
  23. Efflorescence: Flowering, blooming.
  24. Elision: Dropping a sound or syllable in a word.
  25. Elixir: A good potion.
  26. Eloquence: Beauty and persuasion in speech.
  27. Embrocation: Rubbing on a lotion.
  28. Emollient: A softener.
  29. Ephemeral: Short-lived.
  30. Epiphany: A sudden revelation.
  31. Erstwhile: At one time, for a time.
  32. Ethereal: Gaseous, invisible but detectable.
  33. Evanescent: Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.
  34. Evocative: Suggestive.
  35. Fetching: Pretty.
  36. Felicity: Pleasantness.
  37. Forbearance: Withholding response to provocation.
  38. Fugacious: Fleeting.
  39. Furtive: Shifty, sneaky.
  40. Gambol: To skip or leap about joyfully.
  41. Glamour: Beauty.
  42. Gossamer: The finest piece of thread, a spider’s silk.
  43. Halcyon: Happy, sunny, care-free.
  44. Harbinger: Messenger with news of the future.
  45. Imbrication: Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.
  46. Imbroglio: An altercation or complicated situation.
  47. Imbue: To infuse, instill.
  48. Incipient: Beginning, in an early stage.
  49. Ineffable: Unutterable, inexpressible.
  50. Ingénue: A naïve young woman.
  51. Inglenook: A cozy nook by the hearth.
  52. Insouciance: Blithe nonchalance.
  53. Inure: To become jaded.
  54. Labyrinthine: Twisting and turning.
  55. Lagniappe: A special kind of gift.
  56. Lagoon: A small gulf or inlet.
  57. Languor: Listlessness, inactivity.
  58. Lassitude: Weariness, listlessness.
  59. Leisure: Free time.
  60. Lilt: To move musically or lively.
  61. Lissome: Slender and graceful.
  62. Lithe: Slender and flexible.
  63. Love: Deep affection.
  64. Mellifluous: Sweet sounding.
  65. Moiety: One of two equal parts.
  66. Mondegreen: A slip of the ear.
  67. Murmurous: Murmuring.
  68. Nemesis: An unconquerable archenemy.
  69. Offing: The sea between the horizon and the offshore.
  70. Onomatopoeia: A word that sounds like its meaning.
  71. Opulent: Lush, luxuriant.
  72. Palimpsest: A manuscript written over earlier ones.
  73. Panacea: A solution for all problems
  74. Panoply: A complete set.
  75. Pastiche: An art work combining materials from various sources.
  76. Penumbra: A half-shadow.
  77. Petrichor: The smell of earth after rain.
  78. Plethora: A large quantity.
  79. Propinquity: Proximity; Nearness
  80. Pyrrhic: Successful with heavy losses.
  81. Quintessential: Most essential.
  82. Ratatouille: A spicy French stew.
  83. Ravel: To knit or unknit.
  84. Redolent: Fragrant.
  85. Riparian: By the bank of a stream.
  86. Ripple: A very small wave.
  87. Scintilla: A spark or very small thing.
  88. Sempiternal: Eternal.
  89. Seraglio: Rich, luxurious oriental palace or harem.
  90. Serendipity: Finding something nice while looking for something else.
  91. Summery: Light, delicate or warm and sunny.
  92. Sumptuous: Lush, luxurious.
  93. Surreptitious: Secretive, sneaky.
  94. Susquehanna: A river in Pennsylvania.
  95. Susurrous: Whispering, hissing.
  96. Talisman: A good luck charm.
  97. Tintinnabulation: Tinkling.
  98. Umbrella: Protection from sun or rain.
  99. Untoward: Unseemly, inappropriate.
  100. Vestigial: In trace amounts.
  101. Wafture: Waving.
  102. Wherewithal: The means.
  103. Woebegone: Sorrowful, downcast.
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You Don't Sound like Yourself Today: Character and Voice

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Laura Ingalls Wilder, SueBE and SueBE's son.  Each has a distinct voice.

I laughed out loud as I read the e-mail from my sister. Someone had cloned by husband’s e-mail addy and sent her a chatty message. “I knew it wasn’t him unless he’d a personality transplant.” Her clue? Because it included chit chat, the voice was all wrong.

Mom’s, wives and women in general are Miss Marple when it comes to the voice’s of those we know. We can tell when they don’t feel well, have bad news, or are simply repeating what someone else said.

Yet when it comes to our characters, we struggle to find their voices. In part, this is because our characters tend to sound like us. To shake things up, we need to observe how different people say the same thing.

Here are three comments on a manuscript. One from me. One from my husband. One from my son. Can you tell which is which?

  1. “?”
  2. “I’m not sure what you mean here.”
  3. “You don’t have to listen, but if you want to sell this...”

  1. ? My husband. Mr. Not-Chatty. Simple and straightforward. If he’s feeling particularly effervescent that day it might be expanded to, “This doesn’t make sense.”
  2. "I’m not sure what you mean here.” That’s me. I’ve been told that I’m a somewhat aggressive person, I try not to stampede over the top of someone when I comment on their work.
  3. “You don’t have to listen, but if you want to sell this...” My son. Mr. Self-Confident. He’s especially brassy when he’s commenting on my work for kids. Since he’s my target audience, he fancies himself an expert.

There is a reason that we each sound the way that we do and it all comes down to who we are.

When you’re having troubles finding a character’s voice, think about the people you know. Is there someone who might sound like your character? What makes this person’s voice distinct? Perhaps it is her vocabulary or a pet phrase. It might have something to do with her vocation, education, birth region or favorite hobby. All of these things influence word choice.

Now consider your character. Think about the ways that your character is like this person. Maybe they are both outgoing, smart, or analytic. Now, think about how they are different. Perhaps your character was born in a different time or place. Someone with a third grade education will sound different from someone with a masters even if they are both intelligent and outgoing.

Last but not least, noodle over your character’s story. What does she want to say more than anything else? Spend about five minutes listening to her tell her tale. Then write it down.

If you've listened well, you’ll find yourself hearing your character’s voice like never before.

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Anne Muccino, Runner Up in Summer 2011 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Congratulations to Anne Muccino for her flash fiction piece, "A Preponderance of Hope," which was a runner up in the Summer 2011 contest. If you haven't checked it out yet, you can read it here.

Anne lives in the Kansas City area with her two sons—Daniel and Jack. She is currently pursuing her BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing while drafting her second novel. Anne is a member of several writing groups and is the writing group coordinator for The Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri,

WOW: Congratulations, Anne, on being a runner-up. What gave you the idea for "A Preponderance of Hope"?

Anne: The piece was born out of an exercise from the 3AM Epiphany book by Brian Kiteley, which involved taking two unrelated photographs or paintings and weaving a story between the two, one of which was a barn collapsing and the other a picture of Henri Matisse, which I didn't realize until I had chosen it. Both came from a book of LIFE magazine photos. I simply crafted a story from my imagination with the help of these photos.

WOW: What a great exercise that really paid off! Tell us a little about your writing process for flash fiction. Do you tend to write it quickly, revise, and then you are done? Or are you a tweaker, where you are constantly playing with the words by deleting and adding and so on?

Anne: I do tend to write it quickly, but polish it with a number of drafts before I get it to where I want it.

WOW: Where did you come up with the title for your piece? Do you feel the title is important in flash fiction?

Anne: The piece I wrote was about hope, so that fits the description, preponderance meaning weight--the weight of hope. I liked that. Titles can be important--I know I am drawn to books or short stories (even flash fiction) when the title is intriguing or unusual. But I think the body of the flash fiction is the most important--especially a compelling first sentence.

WOW: In your bio, it says you are pursuing a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Do you feel this degree is making you a better writer? If so, how?

Anne: I feel that once I get into the heart of the core creative writing classes it will further me as a writer, yes. But I think any time spent writing is an exercise in perfecting your craft. I belong to several groups--writing exercise group, free writing group, and a couple critique groups. Each time I am held to deadlines and put pen to paper I am improving my writing.

WOW: That is so true! You are also the writing group coordinator for The Writers Place in Kansas City, MO. Tell us a little more about The Writers Place, and what your position entails.

Anne: It's The Writers Place, based in the Westport district of Kansas City, Missouri, which serves as a literary community center, library, and gathering place for writers and readers since 1992. They provide support, resources, guidance and inspiration for those in the KC area who care about the written word as art. I am responsible for forming writing groups from pools of writers who contact The Writers Place looking for connections.

WOW: It sounds like a great place to meet other writers and network! Why do you think it is important to belong to a writing group?

Anne: I think it's invaluable as a tool for improving your writing. Many writers tell me they don't have the time to write or can't seem to make time to devote to their craft. When you are part of a group, you have deadlines and obligations to have your writing prepared, so in that way it keeps you churning out those manuscripts and keeps you writing.

WOW:I completely agree with you. My writing group definitely keeps me writing and working on my novel.  Thank you, Anne, for sharing your writing life with us today. Best of luck to you in the future!

Anne: Thank you!

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill
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Pesi Dinnerstein, author of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys, launches her blog tour

Monday, January 16, 2012
& Book Giveaway Contest!

“With a shoehorn in my pocket, I travel through life—always trying to slide in one more object, one more experience, one extra moment…” ~ Pesi Dinnerstein

A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys is one of those books that serendipitously, and by complete coincidence, came into my life at just the right time. This memoir tells of the journey embarked on Pesi’s fiftieth birthday—the day she realized her entire life was comprised of clutter. Ironically, I am somewhere around that age myself and have been struggling with my own piles of clutter. Not just the mess from a busy weekend—I’m talking about piles of papers and stacks of boxes filled with “treasures” waiting for just the right project or just the right shelf.

Like any good clutterer, or procrastinator, the book was a welcome diversion. I laughed out loud, wept, and sat at my desk nodding like a bobble-head. I had found a kindred soul and through her words I gained a glimpse into my own heart.

A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys is the story of the author’s complicated relationship with the physical world—a strange entanglement in which she is repeatedly drawn to the abundance that creates clutter in her life and then overwhelmed by the chaos that inevitably grows out of it.

Determined to create a simple and orderly life, Pesi tries to free herself of the excess baggage she carries with her—only to discover that simplicity is not so simple and what constitutes clutter is not always perfectly clear. Insightful, unsettling, and wildly funny, Pesi’s memoir explores the day-to-day challenges and deeper meaning of a cluttered life. But what begins as an exploration into the world of clutter ends as a tale of healing and spiritual growth—and an ode to friendship.

Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Seal Press
ISBN-13: 978-1580053105

Twitter Hashtag: #ClutteredLife

About the Author:

Pesi Dinnerstein (a.k.a. Paulette Plonchak) has written selections for the best-selling series Small Miracles, by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, and has contributed to several textbooks and an anthology of short stories.

Dinnerstein recently retired as a full-time faculty member of the City University of New York, where she taught language skills for close to thirty years. She has been an aspiring author and self-acknowledged clutterer for many years, and has spent the better part of her life trying to get organized and out from under. Despite heroic efforts, she has not yet succeeded; but she continues to push onward, and hopes that her journey will inspire others to keep trying as well.

Book Giveaway Contest: If you would like to win a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys, please leave a comment at the end of this post to be entered in the random drawing. The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, January 19 at 11:59 pm PST. For an extra entry, link to this post on Twitter with the hashtag #ClutteredLife, then come back and leave us a link to your tweet. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post on the following day Friday, January 20. Good luck!

For more information visit: or

-----Interview by Robyn Chausse

WOW: There has been a lot of talk lately about hoarders. They seem to be all over the media—especially on the graphic reality shows. What is the difference between hoarding and cluttering—and where do you fit in?

Pesi: Hoarding is a lot more serious than cluttering. It’s actually a psychiatric condition that’s now regarded as a form of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). The shows we see on television these days usually portray extreme cases of pathological hoarding.

Most of us who struggle with the “stuff” in our lives are basic, garden-variety clutterers, not hoarders. Our time and our space are simply filled with too much, and it begins to feel unmanageable. I would definitely put myself in this category. And while I may have more serious issues with clutter than most, thankfully, I’m still far from the level of hoarding.

WOW: At what point in your clutter-busting project did you realize you had a book in the making?

Pesi: It first began to dawn on me when I tried to clean out the area of my house that I called “the last room.” I called it that because I believed it was my final obstacle to an orderly life. In one form or another, some version of this room had existed in every home I'd ever lived in; and, now, it was back to haunt me once again. (I describe the scene in gory detail in Chapter Two of the book.)

It was the place in which I stored everything I owned that defied classification. Whatever didn't fit neatly into one category or another landed in this holding area, where it generally remained untouched until I moved to another home and created the room all over again. It had become a living testament to my chronic procrastination and inability to let go; but now that I was in the throes of clutter-busting, I believed I was finally ready to remove all that excess baggage from my life.

However, once I got started, I found myself unable to part with anything. I was suddenly overcome with a wave of love for all these objects and a personal identification with their plight. They couldn’t be easily reduced to a label that gave them permanent residence in this drawer or folder or on that shelf; and, so, they were forced to remain in this no-man’s land. Not unlike my own state of affairs.

I soon found myself reuniting with these lost parts of myself; and my anger toward them and what they represented began to change to a feeling of love and compassion. At that moment, I realized that my relationship with the clutter in my life was far more complicated than I had ever imagined—and something I wanted to explore in greater depth. With that, I knew there was a book in me waiting to be written.

The actual book—with all the delays and distractions one would expect from someone writing about a cluttered life—took over a decade to complete. At first, I conceived of it as a loosely woven collection of essays on the subject, but as time went on and I realized how much the issue had come to dominate and define my life, it evolved into a memoir.

WOW: In your book, you mention that the memoir started out as a book about your relationship to clutter, then it became more about your search for a deeper spiritual connection, and in the end it seems to be about the friendships you hold with an amazing group of women. Tell us more about your experience of this transition.

Pesi: I had always suspected that my spiritual journey was being obstructed by my lifelong battle with clutter, but I never realized the extent of it until I started to write the book. As I delved more and more deeply into my issues with the physical world, the focus suddenly began to shift to the spiritual dimension. Instead of wanting to explore my relationship with clutter, I found myself wanting to explore the relationship with God that my clutter seemed to be standing in the way of. In the end, I did a bit of both; but the spiritual piece really became the heart of the book for me.

The biggest surprise, however, was the role that my friendships played. Writing about the very special women who guided me on my path—the Holy Sisters, as I call them in the book—I came to understand just how important their willingness to accompany me on this journey turned out to be.

Living with chronic mess creates shame, and shame can be very isolating. The first step in healing for me was to allow my friends in to see the mess that was lurking beneath my seemingly normal exterior. As a result, not only did my Holy Sisters help me find my way through the clutter, but they also helped me reach a deeper level of trust and intimacy in my relationship with them. And, in the end, that was really what mattered most.

WOW: You’ve written textbooks, anthologies, and now your memoir A Cluttered Life. What was your experience writing your memoir compared to that of your previous works?

Pesi: None of my previous writing prepared me in any way for the very naked experience of writing a memoir. I had always felt safe in the written word, exploring an interesting topic or searching for just the right turn of phrase. I was able to maintain the comfortable illusion of being in control while I enjoyed the creative process. But when I began to write my own story, I suddenly felt vulnerable and alone. It called for a new level of honesty, and I found that level intimidating and very scary much of the time. I still do, but I try to reach for it anyway.

WOW: Can you share some tips on the publishing experience—how to choose a publisher or pitfalls to look out for?

Pesi: I think most writers these days don’t choose publishers; we’re just hoping that someone halfway decent will choose us. My agent, Jane Dystel, was really wonderful; and she did a great job of getting my book proposal into the right hands. I was very lucky that the first publisher who was interested turned out to be Seal Press. They’re a division of Perseus Books that handles books by women and for women, and everyone there (all women, of course) was a delight to work with. But, to tell you the truth, I would have gladly gone with anyone who wanted to go with me.

The biggest pitfall, I think, is our own sense of hopelessness and despair. After dozens of rejections, it’s hard not to become disillusioned, but I tried to think of it as a love affair: You wait and wait and wait for the right person to come along. Sometimes you give up and settle for less than what you really want, and sometimes you hold out for just the right one. But while you’re waiting, there’s always this exciting possibility that the person you’re looking for is just around the corner looking for you. That’s how I tried to think of my future publisher—and, sure enough, they did finally turn up one day and fulfill most of my fantasies.

WOW: In a very short time you’ve gone from being a university instructor with no cell phone to being a published author with a FaceBook page and listings at SheWrites, A Room of Her Own, GoodReads, etc. How have you adjusted to this new lifestyle?

Pesi: Not very well, I’m afraid. I’m still a pen-and-paper girl at heart. I may have a website and be on FaceBook—but that’s only because my publisher put me there. The truth is I never look at my page or anyone else’s. And whatever readers’ and writers’ groups I’ve joined online have received minimal communication from me. Personally, I find the whole thing overwhelming. Maybe I’ll get more plugged in one of these days—or maybe not. For now, I’m just grateful that I can respond to your emails without having to call the Apple Hotline for help every day.

WOW: You aren’t alone—there are many of us struggling to adjust to all the technology now involved in the writing profession.

Women, and writers, can learn so much from each other. Having crossed over that fifty-year threshold, what words of wisdom would you like to pass on?

Pesi: Never give up on your dreams. I’ve always been a late bloomer, and most of the miracles in my life have taken place just before the closing bell rang. I believe that every day presents us with new opportunities to grow and recreate ourselves—and to bring more light and kindness into the world. I wake up every morning grateful for another chance to accomplish what I didn’t get around to doing in the first half of my life.

WOW: Beautifully said, thank you. So, what’s next?

Pesi: Something exciting, I’m sure—and I can’t wait till it reveals itself. But, in the meantime, I have a pile of papers to look over and a stack of dirty laundry to be washed...

-----Blog Tour Dates

Tuesday, January 17 @ Capability Mom
Do you like to peek into people’s closets to find out more about them? Join Pesi Dinnerstein for a peek into hers!

Wednesday, January 18 @ Chaos in the Country
All you want is a simple life so why is it so complicated? Come commiserate with Pesi! Also, Nichole shares her review of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys.

Monday, January 23 @ Donna’s Book Pub
Find out how an unsettling dream led Pesi Dinnerstein to write her first book.

Tuesday, January 24 @ Meryl’s Notes Blog
Join Pesi Dinnerstein for a talk on adding more “verbs” to the chapters of life. She’ll be giving away a print copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys.

Wednesday, January 25 @ Words from the Heart
What happens when you take down those boundaries? Pesi talks about “Living without Clutter: No Place to Hide.”

Thursday, January 26 @ Thoughts in Progress
Author Pesi Dinnerstein shares her musings on “If I Could Live My Life the Way I Drive My Car.” One lucky visitor will win a print copy of her memoir A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys.

Monday, January 30 @ Crazy for Books
In her memoir, A Cluttered Life; Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys, Pesi talks about feeling she didn’t have time to deal with her clutter because she was busy looking for answers—only to find out that the answers she had been seeking were there in the clutter! Join the author for a talk about her journey and a chance to win a copy of this funny, heartfelt memoir.

Tuesday, January 31 @ Mother Daughter Book Club
Pesi talks about the boundary issues hiding in the clutter. Book Review & Giveaway!

Wednesday, February 1 @ National Association of Memoir Writers
Come join us at the National Association of Memoir Writers where Pesi will share the experience of writing and publishing her memoir. Linda Joy Meyers is hosting an interview today and someone will win a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys!

Thursday, February 2 @ CMash Loves to Read
Come laugh with Pesi as she discovers where she’s been hiding! might leave with a copy of her book.

Friday, February 3 @ Books, Books, The Magical Fruit
Pesi discusses creating reality through illusion during her visit at Books, Books, the Magical Fruit.

Monday, February 6 @ Mom~E~Centric
Join memoirist and author Pesi Dinnerstein as she talks about “Shame, Isolation, and a Good Cup of Coffee.”

Tuesday, February 8 @ Women’s Memoirs
She gave her inner demons a pen and a piece of paper and it changed her life. Come listen to her tale and enter to win a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys. Come back Friday for an interview!

Thursday, February 9 @ Empty Nest
Come over to the Empty Nest! Pesi reflects on the struggle to remove the clutter from her life and her writing and Momma Loft shares her review of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys. One lucky reader will win a copy of Pesi’s memoir!

Friday, February 10 @ Women’s Memoirs
Want to market your memoir? Join the ladies at Women’s Memoirs for an interview with Pesi Dinnerstein about her experience marketing A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys.

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

Get Involved!
If you have a blog or website and would like to host one of our touring authors or schedule a tour of your own, please email Robyn or Jodi at

Book Giveaway Contest:

Enter to win a print copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys by Pesi Dinnerstein! Here's how you enter:

1. For your first entry, just leave a comment on this post! Leave a comment or ask Pesi a question to be entered in the random drawing.

2. For an extra entry, link to this post on Twitter with the hashtag #ClutteredLife then come back and leave us a link to your tweet.

The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, January 19 at 11:59 PM PST. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day--Friday, January 20, and if we have the winner's email address from the comments section, we will also notify the winner via email.

Good luck!
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