Graduation Lessons

Thursday, May 31, 2012
Oh, yay! One day left in May and it’s mine!

I love May. May is spring rains and jasmine trailing around the fence. It’s wild-crazy freedom and singing at the top of your lungs, “School’s out for summer!” It’s joyous, exciting, hopeful graduation days!

I love those wonderful beginnings that graduation brings. I even enjoy commencement speeches. Especially one like Neil Gaiman’s keynote address to The University of the Arts.

Now, honestly, I’m an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman. I love his novels, his picture books, his graphic comics. And when I saw him speak here one rainy evening and saw his kindness to the kids in the audience, I sort of crushed on him even more. So I would love whatever he had to say. But as it happens, you do not have to be an unabashed fan to love what he had to say. You don’t have to be a writer, either, but there are some really useful bits for us.

If you’re a freelancer, you’ll want to listen extra-carefully when he imparts his Secret Freelancer Knowledge. And you don’t want to miss what he considered his best piece of advice ever that he received from Stephen King. You’ll probably find it interesting that there are problems that come with success as well as failure.

And perhaps most interesting of all, he recommends that you make mistakes. I agree wholeheartedly—and I have the mistakes to prove it.

My first short stories were horrendous. Stunk with a capital S. But that didn’t keep me from sending them out. And then, a contest judge felt compelled to point out just how much one of my stories stunk. I learned from those mistakes—and my short stories improved.

I have a HUGE file of Chicken Soup essays that were rejected. But eventually, after lots of head banging on the desk and rewrites, I figured out what I was doing wrong. Now, my file of Chicken Soup essays that have been accepted is almost as huge as the rejection file.

The novel manuscript that I have revised over and over and over again has nearly brought me to tears (Okay, that’s a lie. I have literally cried.). But with each revision, with each critique, the corrections have made the novel stronger. And I hope, someday, to see it published. That’s when I’m going to throw my own joyous, exciting graduation celebration!

Boy, I really, really hope it’s in May.
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Steena Holmes’ on Favorite Childhood Memories

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Everybody’s Talking About . . . Favorite Childhood Memories

by Steena Holmes

Ahh, summer is almost here. There’s nothing quite like it and as a child, it is one of the most exciting times of the year.

When you think back to your childhood and summer what’s the first thought that pops into your head? I would imagine that thought left a smile on your face, didn’t it? Did you remember a place, a memory, a smell? Or something that combined all three?

For me, there are three memories that seem to collide into one. The sound of the waves as it lapped the beach, the smell of the campfire that burned almost every weekend and the excitement of being free to do whatever I wanted as long as it was outdoors.

One of my favorite memories as a child was going to the local town fair. Back then, they were huge in the rural areas. All the small towns had one. I remember being able to plan my weekends by which town had a fair. I grew to love cotton candy, become an expert at eating candied apples without getting the sweet sugar stuck in between my teeth and knew what rides to not take after eating hotdogs. I remember running through the crowds with my best friends, throwing pies at my favorite teachers and I still feel the excitement of winning the largest stuffed bear in the world.

As I think back—almost every summer that I can remember has a town fair memory attached to it, even up to now, living in a city where the ‘largest outdoor show in the world’ is hosted—the Calgary Stampede. This is probably why the fair scene in my bestselling novel Finding Emma is so important to the story. It was also one of the hardest scenes for me to write.

Now it’s your turn. When you thought back to your childhood and summer, what was your first memory?

~ Steena

Steena Holmes released her new novel, Finding Emma, in April 2012. Her essay above is a part of a very special event on The Muffin—Everybody's Talking About Favorite Childhood Memories. Visit the blogs participating in this event and leave a comment with your own thoughts or memories. Each comment earns one entry into our drawing for a signed copy of Finding Emma.

Steena is a woman who believes that 'in the end, all things succumb . . . to the passions of your heart'. Steena's life revolves around her family, friends and fiction. Add some chocolate into the mix and she's living the good life. She took those passions and made them a dream come true by pouring her heart into each of her stories.

Finding Emma has quickly become a bestseller. Proceeds from each book will be donated to The Missing Children's Society of Canada—an organization dedicated to reuniting families. Visit for more information.

To find out more info about Steena and to view a list of her published titles visit
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Everybody’s Talking About Favorite Childhood Memories

Mass-blogging day and giveaway!

It’s summertime! A season of long days and warm nights filled with games and ice cream and laughter. No other season is full of so many magical memories.

Remember when the carnival came to town? What about the ice cream truck? Sharing your Popsicle with your favorite four legged friend, sneaking out at night, playing in the sprinklers, family cook-outs, camping . . .

Today Bloggers everywhere are sharing their favorite childhood memories. Why? Because we’re celebrating Steena Holmes’ new novel Finding Emma, a novel full of childhood innocence and a mother’s devotion.

It was a warm summer day when Megan last saw her daughter Emma, that was two years ago. Unable to accept Emma is gone, unable to move forward, Megan watches as her life crumbles around her.

When Megan takes a photo of a little girl with an elderly couple at the town fair, she believes it to be her missing daughter. Willing to accept any consequence, she sets in motion a sequence of events that could destroy both family’s lives.

The blogs listed below have agreed to share their thoughts on favorite childhood memories through essays, poems, photo’s or other means of creative expression. These might be their own memories, memories of days spent with their children, memories created for other children . . . We really have no idea what’s in store for us but we can’t wait to find out!

We’re sure you will enjoy all of these fantastic blogs. Be sure to stop at each one along the way and leave a comment because each comment earns you one entry into our giveaway for a signed copy of Finding Emma. Leave your comment by Thursday, June 7th 11:59 PM PST to be entered in the contest. We will choose one random winner. Winner will be announced here in the comment section on Friday, June 8th.

Here is a list of all our participating bloggers. Following this list is Steena’s guest post about her own favorite childhood memories. We invite you to begin your journey down memory lane with Steena’s post, and then come back and work your way through our list of stops.

Participating Blogs:

A Ponderance of Things

A Tattered Past

Catch A Star As It Falls

It's All Kid's Play blog

Jamie Anne Richardson

Jennie K. Brown

Jennifer Greenleaf

Lisa M. Buske

Margo Dill’s Read These Books and Use Them

Sierra Dawn, Write On

The Birthday Wall

The Dream Hour

The Guilty Parent

Words by Webb

Words from the Heart

A big thank you to all of our blogging friends for participating in this special day! Steena thanks you as well and, following this post, she will be sharing her memories of cotton candy, candied apples, and the Calgary Stampede—important memories that shaped the setting in Finding Emma.

Get ready to smile, cry, and laugh out loud as you visit all our friends and read about their favorite childhood memories. Remember to invite your friends to join in the fun!
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What Goes in the Bio Paragraph?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
by (Flickr)
If you are a WOW! newsletter subscriber, you probably saw a recent article I wrote about the difference between cover and query letters. (If you are not on the WOW! mailing list, go to our home page and put in your e-mail address. It's free!) In cover and query letters, you usually include a bio paragraph. This is the last paragraph of the letter, where you include information like all of your publication credits and your website or blog address. But what do you do if you have NO publication credits? What if you are a brand new writer, but you have written a novel and you want to start sending it out? What if you have great ideas for articles, you have constructed a query letter to a magazine editor, but you don't have anything to put in your bio paragraph yet?

Never fear. Here are some tips!

1.  Do you have any experience that makes you an expert in the topic? So, if your query letter is about working for zoos, and you are a zookeeper, that should go in your bio paragraph. If your query letter is for a parenting magazine about helping picky eaters and you are a nutritionist, that should go in that last paragraph. However, if you wrote a romance novel and are seeking representation, you don't want to state something like: I've been married for 20 years and every bit of it has been romantic. That's not professional.

2. Start a blog and/or a newsletter. You actually have to do this before you are getting ready to query. If you do not have any publication credits, then one of the easiest ways to establish a publication history is to create a blog or a newsletter. You don't want to throw something up there though. You want the blog to center on a topic that you plan to query about, and you want it to be well done. For example, if you want to write for the health care industry, then you may start a blog that dishes out health care tips, interviews doctors and nurses, and reviews new books on health topics. In your last paragraph in your query letter, you can state something like: "I have been blogging at for almost four years, covering children's and YA books and how to use them in the classroom or in a home school environment."

3. List a few professional things you do. One of my writing friends doesn't have any publication credits, but she organizes shop talks for her local SCBWI chapter. This shows that she is involved in the children's writing community and cares enough about her career to join the most well-known and respected organization for children's writers. You don't want to list that you are a member of your church choir--unless your query has to do with singing in the choir--but you do want to list that you were the conference chair for your local writing conference.

4. Get on Twitter and Facebook. Agents and editors are looking for people who are in to social media. If you have no publication credits, then become active on these--start a Facebook page or take part in a Twitter hashtag chat. Then in your bio paragraph, you can write: I have been on Twitter for one year and have 2,345 followers at I also have a Facebook fan page with 400 fans. This shows that you are already into marketing and networking. Publications and publishers LOVE this!

The number one thing you don't want to do in your bio paragraph is show you are unprofessional by including information that doesn't have to do with your career or the topic of your query. If you have played co-ed volleyball for 20 years and your query is about sports for the over-40 crowd, great! If your query is about slipping veggies into recipes so kids don't notice, no one cares about your volleyball hobby (well, your mother probably does).

For more tips and to learn how to query and write nonfiction articles, consider signing up for my online class through WOW! that begins on June 4.  For more information, check out the syllabus here!

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C. Hope Clark Solves Mysteries in South Carolina

Monday, May 28, 2012
For years I've been familiar with C. Hope Clark as the woman behind Funds for Writers, a wonderful online resource for writers. So when I heard that Hope was releasing her first fiction book, the mystery Lowcountry Bribe, I was like the overeager student raising my hand and shouting "Ooh, ooh! I want to interview her!" For years I'd thought of Hope as a nonficiton writer and here she was with not one, but an entire series of fiction books. The idea of writing a series has always frightened me . . . how can authors come up with enough ideas all taking place in the same world, do their characters ever bore them? Thanks to Hope for answering those questions and more about her Carolina Slade Mystery series.

WOW: Hope, you just released your first mystery Lowcountry Bribe and are busy on your next mystery in the Carolina Slade series. The idea that the same world must fascinate readers for not just one book but a series is an intimidating idea (at least for me). How did you ensure that Carolina, a newly divorced loan officer for the agricultural community, has a rich enough life that you could draw on it for several books?

HOPE: Jodi, that is the least of my problems, believe me. I worked for USDA in a job very parallel to Carolina Slade's role. I married a man who was a federal agent for USDA. We met on a bribe. Lowcountry Bribe is fiction, but the catalyst was real. In real life, I did minor investigations and my husband did major ones. We have a deep well of ideas to draw from as well as a rich setting in the rural reaches of South Carolina. I would write these stories until the day they sprinkle my ashes, because the ideas number that many. Actually, I've already written the next two books and started research on the fourth. The rural South is alive with stories, no less than urban settings, plus I believe the characters have more depth, involved in events and drama that spin differently than in the city. South Carolina abounds in history, and its residents are pretty dynamic souls. We're known for stirring a lot of controversy, to include starting a few skirmishes or two, and I intend to tap that strength, or foible, depending on how you view it. It's amazing the crime that happens in the name of the stereotypical, laid-back world of rural Americana agriculture, and I enjoy bringing it out in print.

WOW: You're already knee deep in this series! Will Carolina stay in Charleston or find herself in a new setting--perhaps Atlanta or Hilton Head visiting one of the characters introduced in Lowcountry Bribe? Or will you be developing any of the secondary characters to introduce new adventures for Carolina? Her father seems like he should be the star of one of the books!

HOPE: Don't you love her father? He's her hero. Yes, Slade (remember, only her parents call her Carolina) will actually graduate in her profession, drawn into the state capital as the authorities realize her talents are best utilized across the entire state, not just Charleston County. Frankly, I could find a lot of stories in that county, but I want people to know more about South Carolina, so I've set each book in a different region of the state. Always in the country. And yes, the secondary characters change. Each book will not only introduce someone new, but will bring a past secondary character to the forefront. For instance, we'll see more of Savannah Conroy in book two, as well as meet a gentleman that all my critiquers thus far seem to love as much as Wayne Largo. And what's NOT to love about Wayne? Of course the kids, Zack and Ivy, make appearances in each and every book, usually in a small family mystery of their own. I love book two more than Lowcountry Bribe, mainly due to the characters. I believe we see more of the good stuff while being entertained with new personalities that test Slade on many levels.

WOW: So many mysteries revolve around a murder. Yours switched it up a bit by revolving around a bribery. Will Carolina be tripping over any dead bodies or will you continue to get her involved in non-murderous mysteries?

HOPE: You'll see more than enough bodies in the next book, believe me. But the main crime that draws Slade in, once again, is not murder. Lowcountry Bribe was centered around a bribe. The next story kicks off with fraud and possible embezzlement. But as in Lowcountry Bribe, people die. It just happens. And as always, Slade seems to get in the middle of something she doesn't expect.

WOW: Can't wait! You mentioned that the idea for the original book came from being offered a bribe. Did you wonder if the people involved in that incident would recognize it in your book? Will any more of your personal experiences find there way into Slade's life?

HOPE: I worked diligently to alter the dynamics, setting and characters of the story so that people wouldn't see themselves. The bribe is a near reality, but the events that spun off from that initial chapter are not like what took place. The actual bribe wasn't nearly as exciting. The last thing I wanted to do is embarrass anyone, though, so I was very careful. However, a few USDA employees bought a handful of the books to check it out. I chuckled at hearing from them. Not sure you could say that entire cases become parallel cases in my books, though. I might take an encounter from one case in my life and insert it into an entirely different type of case in the book. I recall instances of conflict in dealing with controversial clients and weave them into other types of scenes. As any writer, I use what I know, pulling from personal emotions, conflict, reactions and successes.

WOW: A writer once told me that with books you start out with an idea then just write and write, often with the ending changing along the way--except when you write mystery. Then you have to know the ending first, that you need that ending to be able to throw in the clues and foreshadowing throughout the book. So what do you say . . . did you know the ending from word one or did you just write and see where the characters took you?

HOPE: I never know the ending, and I've read that same line of logic and disagree. However, while I come up with a story premise, a setting, and a secondary story involving Slade's personal life, I do not see the ending. As I write the books, I outline 3-5 chapters at a time, then flesh them out. Nine times out of ten, the story shifts enough to make me glad I did not outline more than those 3-5 chapters. Editing is what helps me include the foreshadowing and red herrings. But I do "what if"s like crazy on those 3-5 chapters, and it isn't until I'm writing the details do I see the best "what if" to follow. I love my endings turning into surprises. It keeps my writing exciting and fresh for me, and I think those feelings melt into the words!

WOW: What's the most fun about writing mysteries? What's the most difficult aspect?

HOPE: The most fun is editing them, to me. I abhor first drafts. Editing gives them life, depth and substance. I edit my stories many times, each time adding an additional layer of complexity, color, and humor. Editing inserts timing. Dialogue has to flow right. Hints have to fall in place without screaming "clue." One can never accomplish that the first time around, so the editing process is so much fun for me as I get to graduate from the equivalent of a pencil sketch, to the full palette of colors and textures that make a story experience genuine. The most difficult aspect is the first chapter and last chapter composition. I want that opening to grab and the ending to wrap up perfectly for the reader. Again, it's timing, particularly about keeping out back story and avoiding long-winded explanation in the opening. For the ending, it's about making sure all the loose ends are tied off nicely, coming full circle. I get furious when a book I've invested time reading, doesn't complete me with the ending.

WOW: Very few authors have told me they love editing! Like Slade, you're a very unique character! Can you give us any hints about the next Carolina Slade book?

HOPE: Assuming the editors don't alter it too much, the next book takes place in Beaufort County, SC, specifically St Helena Island. Wayne becomes more special while introducing us to a few new characters. We enjoy a lot more sass from Savvy. Slade is new in her role of Special Projects Representative, which is a fancy name for minor investigations specialist. She continues to fight the balance of when to stick her nose in and when to turn things over to Wayne, and we continue to love her for that quirky trait of hers to get involved. Tomatoes, migrants, fraud, shrimp boats, murder and deep dark water are all I'll say for now. I love this part of SC, and I hope I do it justice. Many readers of Lowcountry Bribe have begged me to finalize the sequel. The book is written. It's just a matter of the process coming together with Bell Bridge Books, a publisher I'm thoroughly in love with. But unlike some writers who tire of a series, I could live in Slade's world forever. It's just that much fun.

WOW: As a mystery lover I'd like to continue to have fun with you and your South Carolina world for many pages to come!

Readers, keep up with the latest by visiting the author's website:
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The Perfect Cover Up: Creating a Knock-Out Book Cover

Sunday, May 27, 2012
Is there a magic formula to creating a book cover—one that readers will pull off the shelf?

In the past authors paid little attention to the subject of book covers, that was the domain of the publishing house. With the increase in self-publishing, however, it helps to have at least a basic understanding of what makes a knock-out cover. Just what is it that will make one book cover stand out from the rest? What entices a reader to explore the inside of that eBook?

The text is important; a title to grab their attention and a synopsis to pull them in. But text alone won’t do it—how many times have you reached for a plain book with no pictures and only text on the cover?

WOW! discussed the text side of book covers in a previous post. Today we’ll take a look at cover images with Steena Holmes. You might know Steena as a bestselling author, but did you know she is also a cover artist? Let’s pose a few questions to her!

WOW: Hi Steena, we’re interested in learning the magic of cover art—what makes a reader pull a book off the shelf.

When we talk about the images chosen for a book cover, what are we looking for? Is it to portray the story or summon an emotional response?

Steena: For me it would be an emotional response.

WOW: Are there guidelines for what images work best? What are people drawn to—images of other people, scenic shots…?

Steena: I think this might depend on the skill of the designer and what they prefer, as well as what you want on the cover. Often you’ll see a scenic shot behind a person, etc.

WOW: So, basically we are looking for a mood.

If an author has an image, a family picture for a memoir or perhaps the author’s own illustration, can a cover artist work with that?

Steena: Absolutely ;)

WOW: I remember hearing an advertising rule about including a bit of red to draw attention. Are there any similar rules or statistics for the color templates on book covers?

Steena: That would be the same rule where if you look at design magazines--for kitchens, you used to always see red apples in a bowl somewhere in the shot. Now you see pomegranates. Or bold yellow lemons, bright green apples...I love having red in a cover--I have red balloons on my cover for Finding Emma...but I think bottom line is as long as there is a bold image, something that really pops out to a reader, that is what matters.

WOW: I love the cover for Finding Emma. Another one of my favorites is What If by Kelly Rae (Paperback), also one of your creations—the red scarf flying in the breeze stirs something inside…

At what point in the book writing process should an author begin thinking of covers?

Steena: As an author--I think about the cover from the very beginning. You always have an image in your head of what you are wanting. For sure, you need to have an idea before you contact the artist. The more information you can give them the better. Even if it’s something--sexy male with a western scene, or historical or YA in Paris... Anything will help the designer.

WOW: Can you tell us, briefly, how a cover is made?

Steena: This made me smile. I actually had to think about that. Of course there is a process. It starts with talking with the author and finding out what they like/don’t like, what their expectations are and then finding images that will work with that. A cover can take anywhere from an hour to multiple hours to create. There are so many dynamics and layers to it. Not to mention typography--the placement of the font, which can actually take longer than creating the cover image. The actual details of how to make a cover can be extensive. It’s more than just opening up Photoshop and adding an image.

WOW: As someone who used to design labels for pet products I can attest to that! Fitting the text and the images together is not always easy!

What can an author expect when working with a cover artist? What is the process?

Steena: Some designers will have a form that they need filled out. Details on the cover--the genre is an important one. You can say YA but is it YA contemporary, paranormal? Same with romance. I can put a shot of a defined chest but if it’s a sweet romance, that won’t work. It’s always best to give as much detail as possible to the designer. Then they will create a sample for you. Sometimes the idea is nailed at the very beginning or something it will take a few emails back and forth to fix certain aspects of the cover. And sometimes the author really doesn’t have an idea of what they want. Maybe once they saw the cover they asked for, they realized it really didn’t suit the book like they thought. A good designer will be flexible that way, despite having worked hours on a cover. It’s also a good idea to suggest samples of covers that you love so that the designer can both know what your expectations are and the feel of the cover. For instance, I had one author who wanted a sweet romance set in a field of flowers, but the covers she was more drawn to had bold bright colors with close up images...two very different feelings.

The best thing to do when looking for a cover designer is to look at their other work. They should have a portfolio of past covers they’ve created or samples. This will give you an idea of the type of work they can create.

WOW: It’s helpful to know the process so when we think of our book covers we can approach them with the mind of a cover artist. Thank you, Steena, for sharing with us!

Need a cover artist? Contact Steena, or view her portfolio, at The Author’s Red Room.

By Robyn Chausse
Images cropped from book covers created by Steena Holmes.

Share your thoughts on what makes a knock-out cover or ask a cover art question—we love comments!
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Friday Speak Out!: How Dogs Killed My Dating Life But Improved My Writing, Guest Post by Barbara Barth

Friday, May 25, 2012
How Dogs Killed My Dating Life But Improved My Writing

by Barbara Barth

The last date I had fled my house quickly saying he had a headache. I thought that was to be my line. I believe my seven-pound Chihuahua, with her shrill, piercing bark, was the last straw for him. It was pretty much my last date too.

I live with five dogs.

I've found no man wants to deal with a pack of hounds when he is out for romance. I don't help the situation either. I kiss the dogs and forget about my date. But then, I haven't met a male as well behaved as the dogs I sleep with! If I did, perhaps he'd deserve to be petted too.

My dogs are my writing muses. I write on several blogs, including a commercial TV blog, and have found my audience connects with my dog stories. Drop a pooch on a page and you get a reader's attention.

The universal love of dogs by most everyone (except bad dates) is a thread most can identify with.

My first book was a memoir on the year after my husband died. Short essays filled the pages along with stories of my dogs. The two dogs in my life then are now gone, but I adopted five rescue dogs in nine months. Since my dogs creep into everything I write, I've labeled myself "Writer With Dogs".

Recently, with all the media attention to Fifty Shades of Grey and a lunch meeting with several women authors writing erotica, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and give it a whirl.

I knocked out 6500 words in two days. The sex scenes were better than my own feeble attempts as a widow. I thought I should buy a pack of cigarettes to complete the experience!

At my next writer's guild meeting I shared my story.

A few gals started to laugh. I didn't know if I should be embarrassed. Then I heard the ugly truth.

"You've included your dogs!"

Yes, I had. The dogs were not having sex, but they were on most of the pages. It was then I realized I was blessed/cursed with my reputation as a "writer with dogs." I'm glad I bought the

I'd forgotten what I had always been told. Write what you know. With sex, write how the character would handle it or risk looking foolish. My character loved dogs and naughty sex was not true to her. I correct myself, perhaps she liked naughty sex, but sharing it with the public was a definite no-no.

I'm turning the plot into a thriller screenplay and if it titillates enough, a director can fill in the sex scenes. I am off the hook. The heroine has several dogs that come to her rescue when danger lurks. Perfect!

I like to believe my writing tickles your fancy. But I learned to leave that feather in erotica to those who can handle it best!

* * *

Barbara Barth is author The Unfaithful Widow, a finalist in the 2011 USA Best Book Awards, blogger for Lifetime TV's "The Balancing Act", and contributor to Silver & Grace "Women Who Make A Difference." Antique dealer, life commentator, and dog whisperer. Visit author's web at . Remember love is just around the corner, adopt a shelter dog!


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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Dolce Amore: The Art of Loving Your Life Like an Italian by Barbara Conelli

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Italy is a country that lives and breathes love in all its forms. There's no other nation in the world that would feel the joy of life more deeply and genuinely, that would celebrate the gift of human existence more vividly and exuberantly. Italians love to live, and they love enjoying life with all their senses.

What's the magic formula? Well, let me tell you this: Life in Italy is not easier than in other parts of the world. Italians do not have less problems and more money than you. Just like you, they have family issues, nasty bosses and occasional bad hair days. The only difference is that they choose to see life through different (very Italian) eyes.

Italian life is firmly anchored in everyday rituals, habits and little pleasures that Italians rely on. No matter what happened this morning, tonight there will be aperitivo with coworkers, a delicious home-made dinner, a glass of exquisite wine, a chat and latest gossip with friends on the piazza. In the morning, the sun will rise again, the sky will be blue and you'll hit the beach to show off your sun-kissed skin and brand new bikini. Life's good, and it's getting better and better.

I often wonder why it's so much easier for us to focus on what's wrong with your life, rather than on what works right now and in what ways life has blessed you. We struggle, we strive, we plan, we organize, we control, we rush, we worry, we stress. We focus on keeping up with the Joneses and we put off happiness by telling ourselves we'll be happy when ___ (we earn a certain amount of money, sell a certain number of books, buy a bigger car and our dream house, find the perfect guy . . . Just fill in the blank.)

Slaves to our own conditions and criteria, we miss the precious moments that fill our days, the moments that we take for granted. The moments that Italians accept, embrace, acknowledge and appreciate because they know better. They understand life is nothing but a series of little, seemingly insignificant flashes that, when put together, create a magical string of love, awe, zest, delight, sweetness and gusto.

I love my life in an Italian way, and I know I've been blessed with all the riches that truly matters. People who love me; a body that walks, runs, jumps and breathes; the freedom to do whatever I want and be whoever I desire to be; friends to laugh with; pets to play with; the beauty of nature; the smell of espresso before I take the first sip; the bliss of chocolate melting in my mouth; fresh, crisp sheets; a perfectly sharpened pencil; a glass of wine when watching the sunset; the desire to learn and know more; the wisdom of the written word; the miracle of emotions; the perfection of the present moment.

I could go on and on, and the list would be endless—and I'm sure yours would be too. The eternal secret of dolce amore, the key to loving your life no matter what, is right here, within your grasp. Just take a deep breath and look around. Your life is here and now, you just need to open your eyes, see it, feel it, and love it. As a wise man said, the past is history, the future is mystery, the present is a gift. I'm sure this happy camper was Italian.

Barbara Conelli’s second book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, was released on April 23, 2012 by Flagrans Press. Her essay above is a part of a very special event on The Muffin—The Art of Loving Your Life tour. Visit the participating blogs listed below to share your thoughts and enter to win a signed copy of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore.

Barbara Conelli is an internationally published bestselling author, seasoned travel writer specializing in Italy, and Chiquenist on the mission to bring Fantastic Fearless Feminine Fun into women's lives. In her charming, delightful and humorous Chique Books filled with Italian passion, Barb invites women to explore Italy from the comfort of their home with elegance, grace and style, encouraging them to live their own Dolce Vita no matter where they are in the world.

Her latest book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore offers an intimate view into the unpredictable and extravagant city of Milan, its glamorous feminine secrets, the everyday magic of its dreamy streets, the passionate romance of its elegant hideaways, and the sweet Italian art of delightfully falling in love with your life wherever you go.

Special Tour Price: Pick up a Kindle edition of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore for just .99!
Please enjoy a preview!

Find out more about Barbara Conelli by visiting her website and her radio show,
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The Art of Loving Your Life Blanket Tour

and giveaway!

They say life is what you make it, but have you noticed that some people make it sweeter than others? What’s their secret?

We’ve asked bloggers to share with us the art of loving life; what makes their life poetic, how do they find beauty in each day, what rituals or memories sustain them through the daily grind. Why? To celebrate the release of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore by Barbara Conelli, and to celebrate life!

The blogs listed below have agreed to share their stories, essays, poems, photos, or other means of creative expression on the topic of loving life. We really have no idea what's coming; just like life, we left it open to interpretation...but we can't wait to find out!

A few things we do know are that these are all fantastic blogs and each time you visit one you can enter to win a signed copy of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore. So come travel with us on our quest to find the beauty in living and don't forget to tell your friends. We can't wait to see what’s around the corner!

The Art of Loving Your Life

Participating blogs: 

Visit these blogs and comment for a chance to win a copy of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore! Each comment earns an entry. One winner will be chosen. Winner will be announced in the comment section on June 29, 2012.

May 23 @ All Things Audry

May 24 Misadventures with Andi

May 25 @ Books, Books, the Magical Fruit

May 26 @ Jennifer Greenleaf; Maine Author

May 28 @ Words by Webb

May 31@ Cathy C. Hall

June 1 @ Kick Back Moments

June 5 @ Beads & Books

June 6 @ Words from the Heart

June 7 @ Margo Dill’s Read These Books and Use Them

June 8 @ Chynna Laird’s Lily Wolf Words

June 9 @ The World of My Imagination

June 11 @ White Elephants

June 12 @ Heather Huffman

June 13 @ The Gift Blog

June 14 @ Monique McDonell

June 15 @ Attitude Reconstruction

June 18 @ Jamie Anne Richardson

June 19 @ Jean Oram (dot com)

June 21 @ Sierra Dawn, Write On

June 22 @ A Ponderance of Things

More to come:
It’s summertime! We’re celebrating the carefree days of summer with a mass-blogging day.

Everybody is Talking about…Favorite Childhood Memories
May 30

These could be your own childhood memories or favorite memories of days spent with your children. Tell us about when the carnival came to town, your first puppy, ice cream with Grandpa, the time you really got into trouble (but it was so much fun), or even the best Christmas ever!

The Italian summer is very chique—in August you will find festivities and fun all over the country! Let’s all party Italian style!

Everybody is Talking about Italy: Italy is Chique Because...
August 1

For this mass-blogging event we have a writing prompt! Each participant’s post will begin with “To me, Italy Is Chique Because...”

It could be because the sun doesn’t set until 9 pm. Maybe for you it is because Vivaldi, da Vinci, Gelato, and your favorite pair of red shoes all come from Italy.

Need more ideas? No problem! Barbara Conelli will be touring with her book Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore from June 25 – August 24 so just follow along on Twitter @WOWBlogTour for links to fun facts and virtual tour of Italy.

Blog Tour: Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore
June 25 – August 24, 2012

Join us for a special two month tour of Italy with Barbara Conelli. We’ll be learning to speak Italian, eat Italian, and love the magical moments in life! There will be special events, contests, and prizes like you’ve never seen! A delightful party where everyone takes home a gift.

Want to join in the fun?
To participate in one of these events contact Robyn at
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Cooking Up Complications: Making Things Tough for Your Character

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don’t make things easy on your character. In fact, you should make things as difficult as possible. Most of us know this and we throw one complication after another in the path of our beloved character.

When it comes time to cook up a complication, many writers turn to their character’s flaws. Perhaps a character, let’s call her Marie, who is a compulsive shopper needs to get home for her sister’s wedding. Unfortunately, she’s maxed out her credit cards and can’t charge the air fare.

In many ways this works. You have the complications you need to create tension and, if you handle the story in the right way, your character grows by the time your reader reaches the last word. Marie scrambles around returning and selling all that she can. By the time she can afford the air fare she’s realized how little all this stuff meant and how truly grateful she is to make it back to her family.

Not bad for a feel good story but what if you want to create something with more tension? More depth? Then the complications need to go deeper. Create a moral dilemma for your character with complications based on her strengths.

This time we are working with Diane. Diane’s friends and family love her honesty because she isn’t going to hide facts or sugar coat reality when they go to her for advice. This unwillingness to lie could make some people harsh but Diane is also incredibly loyal. She truly has the best interests of her husband and friends at heart.

Now let’s consider how these positives can become negatives.

Scenario: The company Diane’s husband works for is failing. He has confided in his wife but the information can’t be made public for weeks. If it is, he will never find another job in the industry. Unfortunately, Diane’s best friend has come into an inheritance. She wants to invest the money to assure a good life for herself and her children. She is consider the failing company as her primary investment.

Diane can’t be honest and loyal to both her husband and friend at the same time. Instant moral dilemma.

Now its your turn. Look for ways to use your character’s strengths to create tension and soon she’ll face a moral dilemma that will drive the story forward and keep your readers talking long after the last word has been read.


Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.
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5 Self-Publishing Obstacles - And How to Overcome Them

Monday, May 21, 2012
5 Self-Publishing Obstacles – And How to Overcome Them

Almost everyone who has self-published has encountered a few obstacles along the way. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common self-publishing obstacles and discuss ways for you to overcome them.

1. Lack of Industry Experience or Knowledge

Far too many authors decide to self-publish with little to zero knowledge of book publishing, distribution, and sales processes. When you combine a lack of knowledge with a lack of experience, frustrating and costly mistakes are typically the result. You cannot remedy the lack of experience until you’ve actually published your first book or two. However, you can gain a lot of knowledge before you publish your first book. Read books on publishing. Learn from those who have successfully published their own work. Subscribe to publishing newsletters and blogs that educate and inform. Attend classes and seminars. Keep an open mind and always remember to confirm and verify all information and teachings. If you prepare yourself in this way, you are going to be several steps ahead of most self-publishing authors.

2. Competition

There are a LOT of self-published and traditionally published books on the market. Your book somehow has to rise above these competing books. There are several ways to make your book more competitive. (1) Make sure your book is professionally packaged. Most people will equate the quality of the book’s design with the quality of the writing inside. (2) Create an enticing annotation (book description). When people are searching online, they need to know what the book is about and feel compelled to buy it. (3) Place your book in the right distribution and sales channels so that it has increased exposure and availability. (4) Take advantage of the various social media channels to reach out to and communicate with your audience. Do whatever it takes to get people to notice you and your book. This is how you can rise above your competition.

3. Costs

It’s easy to jump on the first and (seemingly) cheapest self-publishing option that presents itself. If you choose the wrong self-publishing service, you usually end up paying more – through higher production fees and lower profit margins. Consider going directly to production sources (such as Lightning Source and Createspace) instead of a vanity press. Find your own editors and designers. By doing this, you can negotiate a fair price for services, lower your costs, quickly earn back your investment, and start making a healthy profit.

4. Stigma

Yes, there remains a trace of stigma against self-published books. I predict that within the next year or two, this stigma will have all but disappeared. This will happen because of the growing number of self-publishing authors producing quality books that rival those of the large trade publishers. Readers are finding plenty of great self-published books and recommending them to others. If you want to rid yourself of the stigma of a self-published book – commit to producing a quality book. Get it in front of readers and let them be your evangelists. Let them give you the credibility you deserve.
5. Marketing and Promotion

If you are like most authors, you probably feel that marketing and promotion is too complicated, too time consuming, and costs too much. The fact is that marketing and promotion can be as simple as using social media channels that you’re probably already using. This doesn’t have to cost you anything more than your time. Use Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other social channels that will help you reach your audience, increase awareness, build your brand, and drive sales. If you can start a conversation about something your audience is interested in, you can market and promote your book.

Next Let’s Talk About Self-Publishing Post:
How Much Does It Really Cost to Self-Publish?

Previous Post: Which Self-Publishing Path Is Right for YOU?

Post by Deana Riddle; Deana is a publisher and publishing consultant who provides authors and business professionals with the tools needed to become successful independent publishers. She also offers the Published in 90 Days Program, found in the WOW! classroom.

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Time to Spring Clean Your Writing!

Sunday, May 20, 2012
It’s that time of year again where we clean up the clutter, get rid of all the mess and dirt collected over the winter months and re-organize. I see it as the perfect opportunity to let go of the old and bring in the new, similar to what we do at the beginning of a New Year.

At the start of another year, we try making new goals for ourselves. By this time of year, we should be checking in to see whether we’re on our way to meeting those goals or if we need to change/restructure them. It’s what I call, “Spring Cleaning My Writing”, and usually involves asking myself the following questions:

What were my long and short-term goals at the beginning of the year? The place to start is checking on what your writing goals were at the start of the year. Have any of them been crossed off? How close are you to meeting each goal? Have you started on any of your long-term goals? Doing this will give you an idea of how to, or even if, to move forward with what you’ve set.

Why did I set these goals? You might have been in a different place along your writing journey at the beginning of the year, which is why you set the goals you did. But things might have changed, either in what your focuses are or in your personal life that might have moved you on a different path. Ask yourself why you set those goals and if they still pertain to what you want to do.

What is my writing focus now? The next logical question to ask yourself is what your focus is now. Is your end goal the same now that it was then? Will the goals you’ve set get you to that end goal? Whether you want to be splashed in the pages of a top-selling glossy magazine or see the novel you’re writing on the bookshelves, make sure your focus is the same. If it’s not, then you’ll need to change a few of your goals to suit your new focus.

Do any of my old goals fit into my current focus? Just like I said above, this is the time to get rid of the dust and clear out the cobwebs. With your current focus in your vision, you now have to determine if those goals are helping or hindering your progress. Take a good look at each of your goals and decide whether to keep, clean up then keep or simply chuck out a goal.

What’s going on around me right now and in the near future? This is a step I often forget to factor in when creating my goals. You need to remember the non-writing goals you have when creating your writing ones because the two don’t always coincide. For example, my kids will all be finished school by the end of June so most of my daytime writing will be gone having them all at home. Therefore, it’s wiser for me to make a bunch of smaller goals from now until the fall when my kids go back to school so I don’t get frustrated or overwhelmed. It’s better to have a few smaller goals or baby step goals leading to a larger one than to cram too much on your pile.

At this point, I re-write my goals with the mental promise to check in with my list again for my next big clean up in the fall. Doing this helps keep me on track, organized and inspired. Of course, life isn’t always predictable and can throw a monkey wrench at us even with a solid plan in place. But doing a little Spring Cleaning in our writing is a great way to keep us moving forward.

Feel free to share your own ways to ‘clean up’ your writing and writing goals.

Happy writing!
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Digging Deeper for Freelance Article Ideas

Saturday, May 19, 2012

If you are a freelance writer or interested in writing articles for magazines and e-zines, you have to have a way to come up with new article ideas. Generally, the first ideas we have are not the best because they are the first ideas EVERYBODY has with the same experiences that we do.

by boetter
For example, if you want to write an article for a senior living magazine about gardening with grandchildren, what's the first couple topics that pop into your mind? You probably think of easy plants to plant with grandchildren or what you need to garden with grandchildren. These articles have been overdone, so you have to, excuse the pun, dig deeper. When I taught elementary school writing and the 6 + 1 traits, we called these--"potato ideas." So, what are some ways to find some potato ideas, so you can send out queries and get contracts for articles?

  1.  Old-fashioned Brainstorming: To me, this is the best way to come up with a marketable freelance writing idea. You can do several different methods. In the freelance writing online class I teach for WOW!, my students make a list of ten topics they could write about from their jobs to their hobbies, from current events to historical ones. Then they pick three they are really interested in, and they start to dig deeper. They ask themselves what articles they would like to read about these topics--if they were a beginner of if they were an expert. Then they narrow that first broad topic down to an article idea. By starting with the ten broad topics and writing something down that they could write about, it seems to help these writers come up with ideas for queries and articles. Obviously the writer from the photo above uses post-it notes when he brainstorms. You can also use the word web method, where you put a topic in the middle of a circle and then you branch out with another ring of circles that narrows the topic each time. Then each one of those circles, gets another layer of circles and so on. 
  2. Use Their Themes: Many magazines have themes. These themes can help you come up with article ideas. If you notice that one of your favorite magazines, like WOW! ;), has themed-issues, then go online and find the upcoming theme list. After you know the upcoming themes, you can brainstorm a list of article ideas based on one or all of them. Make sure when you write your query letter that you mention which themed issue you are hoping your article will fit. This makes life much easier for the editor!
  3. Use the Archives: When there's a certain magazine I REALLY want to get into, I do an archive study. I go back as far as I can--either online or with free copies from the library--and make a list of all the articles in the past. I actually write them down in a notebook, and I organize them by section, theme, topic--in some way. Once I have gone through about five or six issues, I look for patterns. I try to think of topics similar to ones that have already been done, but that are different enough that the editors will want my idea. This method also shows you if the magazine does a lot of articles such as, "Top 5 Ways To Clean Your House if You're a Busy Mom" or "How to Get Your Manuscript to an Agent." 
The most important thing I think you can realize as a freelance writer is that if you are always trying to sell the first idea that pops into your mind, you are probably going to run into a lot of rejections. Take some time to dig deeper with a method that works for you.

Margo's next online freelance writing class starts Monday, June 4! Join us here. 

Post by Margo L. Dill

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Want to contribute to The Muffin?

Friday, May 18, 2012
Want to contribute to The Muffin?

Friday's are "Speak Out!" days. We allow posts from contributors for promotion. If you'd like to submit a post, please make sure that it's about women and writing.

Your post can be about: writing inspiration, balancing family life/parenting with writing, craft of writing fiction/nonfiction, how-tos, tips for author promotion/marketing/social media, book reviews, writing prompts, special opportunities (paying markets for writers), publishing industry news/gossip, and anything you think our readers will love.

Please make sure that there is take-away value to our readers. No press releases please. We're more interested in hearing from our core audience--personal essays and humorous anecdotes are encouraged as well, as long as they provide something useful to our audience--including a good laugh! ;)

How To Submit: Submit your 250 - 500 word post in the body of your email to our blog editor Marcia Peterson: Upon acceptance, we will ask for your bio, links, bio photo, and any other pics to illustrate the article. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Are Press Releases a Thing of the Past? 3 Challenges

Thursday, May 17, 2012
No. Authors still need them, but with a different spin.

Pig Goes National

In late June, 2009, a traffic accident sent an 800-pound pig on an unexpected journey toward a new life. A truck flipped on the way to a slaughterhouse and killing about 30 of the 90 pigs it was carrying. 59 pigs were easy to catch; but the 60th found its way to fame. It wandered into a residential neighborhood and took up residence in a swimming pool. When the surprised home owner found the pig, it took a couple days to sort it out. Dubbed Wilburette, no one was willing to send this roaming pig to the slaughterhouse. The story broke locally, but within two days, it was carried nationally.

Here's a little known fact: most online media picks up information from local sources or other online sources. You know how the publisher is always telling you to ask your local newspapers to write about you and your work? Turns out this is very wise advice. It even has a name now: Starter Publicity.

Local stories can be picked up anywhere from 1-10 days after the initial report or article. For every book release, major website upgrades, book signings, or other newsworthy events, you should write a press release and send to every local newspaper, community publication, radio station and TV station. Follow up 2-3 days after the press release to answer any questions and push to schedule an interview. Often a publisher will help you write or proof the press release, but just as often for local events, you’re on your own. Here's an example of a short press release by a local PBS station about an interview on a local show.

Online Delivery of Press Releases

Websites such as are designed to help you distribute your press releases online. It gives you a chance to read customers directly as they browse online news organizations; it also reaches bloggers, who could pick up an interesting news item to feature.

The most common way of measuring success of an online press release is counting how many times it is reprinted by news sites such as Google News, aggregate sites such as Topix and finally social media sites. Part of this success is links to your site, which improves your ranking in the search engines, which leads to more website visitors—an indirect benefit of a press release.

Many sites distribute press releases, with a variety of services and range of prices. To get you started, here are three such sites:,,

Here’s a handy chart of steps in creating a press release:

3 Challenges in Using a Press Release

  1. Cutting through the clutter. It’s the buzz word these days, “discoverability.” How do people find you? The press release should help, but only if the headline catches attention and pulls in readers. Work hard on these crucial elements.
  2. Targeting and distribution. How do you decide on the best category for your press release? Is this related to politics, education, or entertainment? Sometimes, it’s hard to categorize your book and you need multiple press releases, one for each audience or category. Otherwise, target the best you can and just move on.
  3. Measuring results. You know that it was seen by 1000 people from the stats provided by the distribution site. But of those 1000, how many read the whole article and how many did what you hoped? (Read or bought your book!) Unknown. When you evaluate distribution services, pay special attention to any analytics or statistics that they offer to evaluate the effectiveness of the press release.
Press releases may feel like a shot in the dark, but it’s a time tested way of getting information to the right people. And a shot that can be the start of a wider distribution than you first expected. Just ask Wilburette--she found a new home on a local farm.

Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes.
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The First Page

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This past weekend, I attended a writer’s workshop where we had a first pages critique session. That’s when an author panel hears the first 200 to 300 words of a manuscript, and then gives feedback to attendees. Basically, what these published experts ask themselves is, “Would I keep reading after this first page?”

You don’t have to write for children to learn a lot from first page critiques. And you don’t have to write a novel, either. Because the point of a first page is always the same: you have to grab your reader right from the very beginning!

Two hundred and fifty words. That’s the average number of words in that first page. Geez, that’s not much. But that’s all that you, the writer, have to grab that editor or agent or publisher before he or she moves on to the next manuscript. So how do you make every word count?

Here are the top suggestions I heard during the critiques, and the discussion that followed:

“You don’t have to explain the whole plot on the first page, but you do have to give an idea of what the story is about.”

Don’t fill up your entire first page with lovely description of your setting. You can weave that lovely description into the plot (what the story is about). Whoever or whatever is mentioned in the first page should be important to your plot (what the story is about). Resist the temptation to throw in anything that doesn’t relate to…yeah, I think you know what’s coming: What the story is about. Which brings me to the next suggestion.

“The voice or the narrator captures the reader’s attention from the get-go. If we don’t know who the protagonist is, we won’t be interested enough to keep reading.”

Your voice must be strong right from the start! Your audience needs to care about what will happen next—and more importantly, who has something at stake in the story. Read a few of the first pages of your favorite novels, or short stories, memoirs or essays so you can see how the writer manages to invest the reader in the story, right from the very beginning.

That’s what you want in your first page. After that, the rest is easy. Well, easier.
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Confessions of a Contest Judge

Monday, May 14, 2012
It begins with voice. It reaches out, pulls you in. You feel engaged, intrigued, and, yes, surprised. Regardless of whether or not you like the voice, you trust it. You will follow it anywhere. That’s the way it feels when, in a stack of writing contest entries, I begin reading a winner.

In the eighteen years I have been judging national writing contests, I can tell, from the first page, when an entry is a winner. Suddenly, I am no longer judging the story. I am experiencing it.

John Gardner describes pulling the reader into the writer’s dream. A winning contest entry does that. Some call it a hook, and you would be shocked at how few submissions have one.

Christopher Allan Poe—and yes, he is Edgar’s distant relative—won first place at the Yosemite Writers Conference for his paranormal thriller, The Portal. He describes the importance of the novel’s hook as “fishing for Jaws.”

“We have to fish for readers in the exact same ocean as everyone else,” he says. “If you expect these fish to jump willingly into your schooner, think again. We’re all going to need a bigger boat, or net, or at least better craft.”

That’s what a strong voice does. It hooks. It may be quiet, loud, even rowdy, but you can’t turn away from it.

Most successful entries have high stakes. They aren’t about broken fingernails or daffodils, unless there’s a reason the nails are broken, or there’s something planted under those flowers.

My husband Larry Hill’s literary short story, “Cocido,” about a young man returning to his family restaurant after serving in Iraq, was the winner of New York University’s Goldenberg Award for Fiction (final judge, Gail Godwin). Although I’d like to think that being married to an editor is his secret of success, Larry says you just have to grab your reader.

“You have to hit a nerve,” he says. “You look for relevancy, something that might be on readers’ minds anyway.”

An agent friend puts it this way. “Make us laugh or cry, and we’ll get you a deal. Make us do both, and we’ll get you an auction.” That’s good advice for writing contests too. Here’s something else I never realized until I started judging contests. It’s the little stuff that gets you thrown out.

The Page 142 Syndrome. Your character spends the first 141 pages thinking about his life. If your story really takes off on page 142, start it there.

Researchitis. You’re convinced you must share every smidgeon of information uncovered during research. Researchitis gives you a deadly slow pace—and it gives that contest judge a reason to move on.

Fruitcake. Do you look forward to eating that fruitcake your Aunt Madge brings over every Christmas? Didn’t think so. Is your prose so sweet and rich that it sends readers into overload? If you have large sections of exposition without dialogue, you may be in fruitcake mode.

Final confession. Most entries are submitted too soon. Short stories without a single scene or line of dialogue. Essays so self-obsessed that they must have come from the writers’ journals. You can do better. Take your time.

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 brand new class:
starts Wednesday, May 23, 2012.
Reserve your spot now by signing up here!

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Lessons and Usage of the Dark Mother in Storytelling

Sunday, May 13, 2012
Today is Mother’s Day, a day when the general focus is on the loving, nurturing, self sacrificing image of the Good Mother. In literature, this figure provides our story with a sense of balance. She might be the embodiment of wisdom or the unconditional love. We all have our favorite good mother figures; the fairy godmothers, the pure-hearted queens, the women who lead their communities into action or dispense sage advice. But it’s her darker side that you can count on to really get things moving.

The Dark Mother is the bringer of lessons. She provides a catalyst to self discovery by either directly or indirectly challenging the other characters. She assists us in distinguishing between truth and illusion.

Some examples of a dark mother archetype are:

The Absent Mother: Whether not physically present or emotionally unavailable, the absent mother teaches self-reliance by forcing other characters to find their own way.

The Self-Serving Mother: Self absorbed, bitter, selfish, and conniving, the self-serving mother teaches us about boundaries.

The Evil Mother: Violent and hateful, the evil mother plays the role of destroyer but her true lesson is rebirth. In her capable hands egos are broken and heroes emerge.

What are some other attributes/lessons of the Dark Mother?

Who is your favorite dark mother figure?

Share your thoughts with us…and have a happy Mother’s Day!

By Robyn Chausse
Image by LordAlphie
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Studying a Market

Saturday, May 12, 2012
There’s nothing easy about finding the right publisher for your work, but here are some questions to ask yourself as you look for just the right home for your manuscript.

Ask These Questions as You Study the Catalog:

  • How many (romances/mysteries/biographies/fill in your category) do they publish each season? A market listing can include a wide variety of categories, ranging from adventure to fantasy in fiction and from reference to social issues in nonfiction. Although the publishers market listing may show interest in a wide variety of books, study their catalog to see what they have actually been buying. If you have written a biography and they only produce one a year, this doesn’t mean you should scratch this publisher off your list but they probably shouldn’t be your first choice.
  • How would you describe this publisher’s taste in books? When I was looking for romance publishers to interview for an article, I noted that some publishers filled their lists with trendy titles teaming with vampires, werewolves and other paranormals. Other publishers wanted only contemporary. Still others featured covers filled with brocade bodices. A publisher who actively avoids trendy titles may be interested in your romance that another editor passed on because all of the characters were human.
  • Is the book part of a series or do they publish only stand alone titles? If they go for series, this is a publisher who knows that their readers want to spend time with specific characters through multiple story lines. Conversely, a publisher who only puts out stand alone’s won’t be the best match for your series.
  • Did the titles in this publisher’s catalog first appear overseas? Some publishers fill their lists with books that were initially published in another country. You may have to examine the books themselves to puzzle this one out. Look for a translator and check for multiple copyright dates, including some for country specific rights. A publisher who seems like a perfect match, but fills their list with books published first in Australia or Germany probably isn’t your best choice.
  • Last but not least, who are this publisher’s authors? If you find numerous authors with only one or two books with this publisher, you have a much better chance of making a sale than if all of the authors have a long list of titles with this house. Also check to see if the authors are celebrities, professionals writing books in their field, debut authors, or award winning authors. Only you know which category you fall into.

Collect this kind of information and maximize your chances of getting a YES on your submission.


Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.
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Friday Speak Out!: Why I Enjoy Writing, Guest Post by Muddy Kinzer

Friday, May 11, 2012
Why I Enjoy Writing

by Muddy Kinzer

There is a piece of me that is inherently creative. It is not bossy or demanding, like the part of me that insists I exercise whether I want to or not. I don’t have to force it with a sharply pointed stick to motivate it, like the part of me responsible for laundry and clean bathrooms. This part of me is just there, sitting in the middle of the floor of my mind like a giggling toddler that I can’t wait to pick up and play with.

Over the years, my creative outlets have taken different forms. I have a collection of patterned paper, inks, rubber stamps, and multi-colored markers that thrill me whenever I look at them. As a volunteer art teacher, I have spent many a happy hour elbow-deep in chalk pastels, paint, charcoal, and watercolors.

I love them all!

Well, not the set-up, of course. It takes time to pull out all the supplies and even more time to clean up afterwards. Washing out brushes, scrubbing off glue from my kitchen table, mopping up drops of colored paint from the floor... My creative ventures are fulfilling, but they are also events.

But writing—aahhh, writing! Only a computer or a piece of paper and a pencil and I’m good to go.

Writing slides neatly into the small blocks of time that make up my day, and I can do it at home on my computer or anywhere else with my notebook and mechanical pencil. I love writing longhand, in cursive with no abbreviations, forming each rounded letter if the ideas are coming in leisurely, or cutting off the ends of words when I have trouble keeping up. I can write sitting in a chair with my feet on the ground or lying on my stomach on the floor with my feet crossed in the air.

In a pinch, I don’t even need those basic supplies to write. I can ponder, create, tweak, and rewrite all in my head while I do my daily exercise, when I’m driving someone to somewhere, or at night in the period of time between turning out the light and drifting off to sleep. I just have to make sure I remember it long enough to record it.

Writing gives me the freedom to correct mistakes. In life, I can set myself into a tailspin when I say the wrong thing. But in writing, I can erase the offending line or use it as a springboard for further conflict and/or growth. When my characters have an argument and I think of the perfect retort three days later, I can go back and add it in. Life is uncertain: I may have happy endings or I may not. With my characters, I can give them any kind of ending I want.

Whether I’m buzzing with creativity or too tired to get off the couch, whether I’ve had a bad day I need to escape from or a great day I’d like to extend, writing is always there waiting for me.

* * *
After years entrenched in the baby/toddler stages of life, Muddy Kinzer is now realizing there is life after kids! She writes, plays with art, and is still indispensable to her 3 sons because she has a car. When she’s not enjoying the health benefits of good quality dark chocolate, she writes on her blog Muddying the Waters at

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

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Writing a Marketable Children's Short Story

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The children's magazine market is not dead--it's just changing like everything else in publishing. There are more e-zines for children, like Guardian Angel Kids and Knowonder; and even traditional magazines, like Highlights for Children, have a web presence. But one thing that is NOT different is the fact that these editors still need quality and entertaining stories for children that fit their word count, themes, and general overall magazine purpose.

Writing a fiction short story under 1,000 words for a magazine IS NOT THE SAME as writing a picture book. Picture books have the illustrations to help tell the story--as a matter of fact, the text and illustrations should both do about 50 percent of the work in a picture book. However, in a magazine story, the illustrations are there more for decoration and to draw a child to the story--the text has to do most of the work. So, before you write anything, you need to know what you are writing--a fiction short story or a picture book.

Another thing to consider is the types of stories that are in children's magazines. These are generally upbeat with a small, subtle lesson. If you want to write a story about child abuse or runaway children, a short story for a children's magazine is not your venue. And magazine editors get TOO MANY stories about divorce or dealing with a dying parent, grandparent, or pet. Yes, children go through these issues all the time, but writers write about these subjects all the time, too; so stay away from these if you want to write a marketable children's story.

Okay, so I've been writing a lot of DON'Ts so far in this post, so what should you do if you want to write for a children's magazine? (By the way, it is a great way to start out your children's writing career, OR if you have a book published, it's a great way to let children know about you as an author and get a whole NEW audience.) Here are a few tips:

  • Read the submission guidelines carefully. (Consider checking them out online AND in The Writer's Market.) Editors will often give tips on what they are looking for or NOT looking for and how to break into the magazine. You also need to pay attention to theme lists and word count. 
  • Read past copies of the magazines you are submitting to and/or check out their online archives. Libraries will often have past copies, or you can get a sample copy for a small fee. Once you read some stories in a particular magazine, you will see the style and tone of their fiction. Never, never blindly submit a fiction story to a publication. 
  • You have a small amount of words in most cases. Don't put too many characters or subplots in your story. You generally have two or three child characters and one major problem to solve in a short fiction story. Adults should be absent or in the background.
  • I've said this before on The Muffin, and I will say it again. The main character needs to be able to solve his or her OWN problem. If he or she can't, then the story will not work.
  • Magazines are always in need of humor and stories for boys. Also, many children's magazines like re-tellings of old fables and stories from other cultures.
I've provided a lot of tips here; and if you follow them all, will you produce a marketable children's story? Hopefully! But I can't tell you how many  I have in the files of my computer that will probably never see the pages of a magazine--and  I know the rules. However, my writing would not be where it is today if I would not have written each and every one of those stories. And who knows? Maybe one day, some of them will work their way into the hands of kids. Write the stories in your heart, but keep the publishing rules in mind while you do! 

If you are interested in writing fiction for children's magazines, my online writing for children's magazine class starts on May 24. It's a great introduction to the magazine/e-zine world, and we also talk about writing for parenting and teaching magazines. After all, who buys the books you are writing for children? If you are interested, you can sign up at Writing for Children online class.  The class currently has a $25 discount for spring!

Thanks and happy writing,
Margo L. Dill

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