Courtroom Coverage: 7 Lessons to Covering the Courtroom

Thursday, October 31, 2013
In college, my favorite J-school classroom experiences took place in the field: locating solid stories and resources, learning how to cover meetings (think school board, county supervisors, town council), play-by-play sports coverage, and courtroom action.

It's been 30 years since I've covered a court case. The last time was for a basic newswriting class assignment, and if I remember correctly, I covered traffic court.

That changed last week.

The local newspaper editor and I spent last week in the courtroom covering a murder trial. It was tough, especially since where we live (in outstate Nebraska - small-town America), it's kind of like the Cheers slogan: Everybody knows your name.

Listening to testimony each day reminded me of fundamental writing lessons I mastered in Newswriting 101, as well as lessons specific for court reporting.

  • Check the case file. I've covered district court for this newspaper in the past, so I had read the majority of the case file in the court office. It is an invaluable tool that includes filed charges, amended charges, and each prior court appearance that's part of this case. Trust me, you will use the background material in your coverage. Sifting through the information in the file also provided an understanding of how this particular court office worked. 
  • Learn legalese. Criminal cases are intricate. I "know" what a felony is, but I didn't really "KNOW" the difference in classifications of felonies. A visit to my state's government website broke down what constituted differences in first degree, second degree, and manslaughter. Knowing the correct legal terminology came in handy!
  • Remember room rules. Does the court allow audio recording devices? Cameras? Cell phones? Once you are aware of the rules (they vary state to state), follow them. The rules have been established for a reason, so respect those that are in place.
  • Transcribe testimony. Audio recording devices were not allowed. I filled two notebooks with testimony. The most important lesson about taking notes: be accurate and thorough. Your job is to report the facts as presented through evidence.
  • Pay attention to details. Maybe I notice the little things because I direct high school plays or I've spent 23 years watching Law and Order, but I always look for the reaction - whether it's from the prosecution or defense, any court officer, or gallery guest. Now is when the important part comes into play: know which reaction(s) are worth reporting. Does the prosecutor walk with an air of authority? Did someone disrupt the proceedings? 
  • Ask Attorneys. Here's an opportunity to get additional background and insight into a case and the trial process. 
  • Remember the human aspect. The best summation of this point came from an attorney in the case I covered (and I'll paraphrase): At the end of the day, families are affected by a trial. As a reporter, your focus is to report accurate facts and remain an impartial teller of the evidence. 
In addition to hearing riveting testimony, last week's assignment allowed me to fine tune my craft by focusing on the key elements of the case and provided a deeper appreciation for the court and law enforcement system.

It was a lesson I'm not sure I fully appreciated while in J-school.

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.
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The Six Senses In a Nutshell by Jessica Bell (Review and Giveaway)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
The Six Senses in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Bleak to Bold Narrative by Jessica Bell is the latest writing craft book in the "Nutshell" series. We've reviewed the others, too: Show & Tell in a Nutshell and Adverbs & Cliches in a Nutshell. The latest installment in the series is another helpful book for fiction writers and covers a topic we must all think about while writing: using sensory details in our description.

Jessica begins by reminding writers why she wrote these books and how they can help writers with their craft. "But it [the Nutshell series] will help you to realize that you can, little by little, end up with a brilliant piece of work." The other thing she explains to us is the SIX senses. Many of you are probably wondering where the sixth sense comes in--especially if you've seen the movie with Bruce Willis. The six senses that Jessica includes in her book are: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and . . . instinct. Finally, she explains the best way to use the book to improve your own writing.

Each of the "transitions" (sections) of the book introduce a BLEAK passage, or one without sensory detail. Then she wants readers/writers to write their own BOLD passage, one full of sensory detail. She also warns not to use the actual sense words too much, such as smell or see--be creative when you are working sensory details into your writing. After you write your own BOLD passage, Jessica shows you one of her own.

Then she has a section after each of the BOLD passages called: "Which Senses Have Been Used and How?" During this part of each transition, she explains the sensory details in the BOLD passage to show how details can be embedded into the narrative AND how to show details instead of telling them. She encourages you to go back and revise your own BOLD passage after reading her example and explanation. The print book has note pages for you to record your thoughts.

Here's a short example from Transition 4:

Here's part of Jessica's BLEAK example: "She didn’t want to go inside. Especially since he was home. She could hear him playing computer games. The sound of cars, and his frustration, came wafting out the open window. Suddenly he switched off the game. Samantha quietly stepped inside and left her briefcase by the door hoping her son might get nosey, take a peek inside, and find her journal."

Here's MY ATTEMPT at making it BOLD: "Samantha shut her eyes and took a deep breath, before turning the knob of her front door. Her son yelled profanities at the video game he was playing--if she didn't know better, she would have thought her house had been converted into a race track. 'Damn it,' he said again, and suddenly, the electronic cars stopped their incessant whirring. One more deep breath, and Samantha tiptoed inside, leaving her briefcase with her personal journal inside near the front door. Maybe her son would actually care and snoop inside her briefcase."

Here's what Jessica shared for this part of Transition 4 in her BOLD example: "She didn’t want to go inside. She never wanted to go inside. He’d be waiting for her, ready to pounce, either with degrading comments or silence; she didn’t know which one was worse. But she’s got to stop doing this. Working late every night wouldn’t fix the relationship between them. It wouldn’t fix him. As she inserted her key, the sound of a car screeching and crashing leaped from the open living room window. He’d left the fly-wire off. Again. Something fell to the floor and thick thuds followed—a bit of bookcase abuse, perhaps. The roar of the digital explosion stopped abruptly. Perhaps he’d turned off the TV."

This is a fun writing how-to book because Jessica makes you think, write, study, learn, and improve. It's like a writing workshop in a book for under $5.00, too! All together, there are 11 transitions to work on, as well as a final page called, "Now What?", where Jessica issues you another writing prompt and encourages you to e-mail her your best one when you are finished.

If you want another example of what is in The Six Senses In a Nutshell, then go to our Facebook page, click on Notes, and read the writing prompt note about this book. If you want to win your own copy, then look below and use the Rafflecopter form to enter!

Happy writing--and use those sensory details while you do it with Jessica's help.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of The Six Senses In a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Bleak to Bold Narrative. This is one you'll want to add to your writer's reference bookshelf!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!
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Interview with Lynn Nicholas, Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I’m pleased to introduce you to Lynn Nicholas who placed in our top ten with her poignant tale Lyrics of Life. In this story, her vivid writing juxtaposes all the color of life against a time of passing.

A compulsive list maker, scribbler of thoughts, and sender of handwritten notes, Lynn is passionate about the written word. She is an insatiable reader with eclectic tastes, most admiring authors who can stop her in her tracks, compelling her to reread the last few lines over and over, in awe of a unique phrasing or an out-of-the-box perspective.

Although Lynn no longer works as a technical editor, she still enjoys reading and critiquing other writer’s work. She reviews and posts on FanStory, under the pseudonym ‘allinmyhead’, and occasionally proofreads and edits for aspiring local writers. Lynn’s own writing is inspired by life as it unfolds around her, her motto being ‘when life knocks you down, pick yourself up, and use the experience in your writing’. Some of Lynn’s stories are published on the Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction Anthology site and in the e-zine Long Story Short. She is beginning to rework her latest draft novel (NaNoWriMo ’07, ’08, ’11): an insider’s view of the ambitions, ethics, passions, and rivalries in the world of ballroom dance, laced with a strong dose of humor.

Lynn, a transplanted Canadian, lives in Tucson, Arizona with her accepting husband, two wonderful dog friends, and a black cat who keeps everyone in line. Lynn is also an amateur ballroom and country-western competitive dancer.

Placing in the WOW! Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest is a dream come true for Lynn. For once, she is at a loss for words. Please take a moment to enjoy Lyrics of Life, then come back to meet the author.

WOW: Hello Lynn, congratulations and welcome to WOW! You mentioned that you’re passionate about the written word; how did you first become interested in writing?

Lynn: From the days my parents first read to me as a child, I have loved words and stories. As soon as I learned to use a pencil, I was making up stories of my own. I just never thought anyone would ever want to read them. I’ve always used writing as a way to sort out my thoughts, to clarify things. Writing is cathartic for me.

I worked as a technical editor for over ten years and prior to that every position I held required writing on some level; it was always my favorite part of any job. It’s only been in the past few years that I have had the luxury of not having to work, and the freedom to write creatively. I started by posting on LiveJournal, then submitted a few stories for critique on FanStory, which is where I learned about WOW!

In some odd way, putting my thoughts into writing and having someone read them, sort of validates my existence. I write, therefore I am. Maybe writers are all a little crazy.

WOW: Well, many of us have days when we feel crazy…
We often talk about bringing the five senses into a scene to add a sense of place. The imagery in Lyrics of Life does more than just add a sense of place, it anchors the story. What was your experience in working with the sensory details? 

Lynn: I had just spent several hours at my mother’s bedside, watching her struggle to breathe, barely able to open her eyes. I was outside, needing to be nurtured by nature, watering my backyard plants—reviving them—absorbing the sounds and the colors, feeling the heat, watching the birds… the story just began forming in my head. It flowed more easily than anything I have ever written. There was life all around me in the garden—vivid, hot, noisy, unapologetic—and the contrast between being outside feeling it all and just being with someone who was slipping away… it was almost painful.

When I write, it’s like I see a movie in my head. The sensory details, not just of this story, all of them, are what create the story. I guess I really live in my head.

WOW: You’ve approached a sensitive and complicated subject, the assisted passing of a loved one, in a unique manner. What drew you to approach the subject in this way?

Lynn: I wrote a shorter, gentler version of Lyrics of Life the day before my mother passed away (she died on Aug. 31, 2011), the day I was watering my plants as described above. A few weeks later, another adult dancer at our studio (ballroom) died a difficult death from leukemia. She was close to my age—a wonderful dancer—and she fought hard against death. Her death– there have been too many over the past few years—sort of put me over the edge emotionally, and I rewrote the story from a darker viewpoint. Working through my inner turmoil resulted in this revised, slightly twisted version of Lyrics of Life. My writing usually isn’t that dark.

WOW: I’m sorry about the loss of your mother; I’m sure that was a terribly painful time. Thank goodness you had your writing to help pull you through emotionally! It sounds like you’ve moved on to brighter subjects now with a current novel-in-progress about the competitive world of ballroom dance. How would you compare the experience of writing a novel length work with the anthology pieces you’ve done?

Lynn: In some ways writing a shorter piece is much harder than working on a novel; it’s so time-consuming and brain-draining trying to tell a story in 750 to 1000 words. But writing the shorter pieces is a great way to sharpen one’s skills and focus. It’s also a procrastination tool to avoid the really serious work of buckling down to finish a novel.

Reworking, editing, and expanding the draft is a daunting process that boggles my mind, but my characters have voices, and they are bullying me to let them tell their story. I just know that once I set everything else aside and devote my time to finishing this novel, nothing else in my life will get done. It will become consuming. I get lost when I write and time just disappears. So much for getting dinner on the table by 6:30pm (smile).

I wrote the first draft of this most recent novel for National Novel Writing Month, November 2011. (I’ve participated three times.) It’s an insane process of writing nonstop, trying to complete a draft novel (minimum of 50K words) in one month. I am still working through formulating the core of the book. I don’t want this novel to just be a light-hearted expose; I want to create a slice-of-life story with a strong point of view about human nature and personal growth. To play with character development, I pulled one scene from the draft and worked it into a piece of flash fiction, which is published on the Rose City Sister’s FF anthology site (Mr. Machismo). I’ve had great feedback on bits and pieces of this book, so… time’s a-wasting and I need to get myself ‘in gear’.

WOW: You mentioned you admire authors who can stop you in your tracks. Who are some of your favorites and what have you learned from them?

Lynn: I have so many favorites, I can’t even begin to list them. What I have learned from writers I admire is to be unafraid to expose your feelings, to dig deep. It’s essential if you want to have a genuine voice. It’s OK to present a point of view that is a bit off center, a bit quirky. More people will relate than you realize. Don’t be afraid that the men with the white coats will come knocking on your door (smile). Be original, be real.

Writers like Nuala O’Faolain, who writes with an uncensored frankness that is almost raw. You feel as though you are reading her journal or peering into her thoughts, unnoticed. She is truthful and introspective. She is a gutsy writer. I’m hoping to be able to become a ‘gutsy writer’.

Writers like Barbara Kingsolver: Kingsolver. She always forces me to rethink and make lifestyle changes. She’s articulate and very well-informed–a deadly combination–her words translate to mental, billboard-sized flash cards that I just can’t shut out. She interprets complex ideas into understandable, rational, well-thought-out arguments in support of her point of view. She is very hard to ignore.

Then there are writers we can all relate to, like Elizabeth Berg, who makes us feel that we are not alone. She can succinctly sum up feelings that we all struggle to articulate, and she seems to do it so easily.

I love Lisa See. She paints visuals with her words and takes us into another time and culture with beautiful phrasing.

I just love statements like these, from the book ‘Swimming Naked’ by Stacy Sims. They are novel and fresh and creative.
‘Texas was the brightest place I had ever been, each day the sun came up for a new interrogation.’
‘Our family was built on secrets and whitewashed every year or so with a brand-new coat of denial’

Tim Robbins is another one who will have rethinking everything you currently think. I love that.

Again, there are just too many.

WOW: It sounds like you’re keeping good company! Please keep us posted on the release of your novel; we can’t wait to read it. Before we say goodbye, is there anything else you’d like to share?

Lynn: I just want to add a note to thank you all for your site: all the inspiring work to be read from other writers, the contests and the articles. I think the caliber of the writing on WOW! is very high and it’s been a huge goal of mine to make it into the Honorable Mentions, let alone the Top Ten. It’s challenging and rewarding to even get past the 1st round of judging.

Entering the contests works for me on many levels: gives me a writing goal and a deadline, the satisfaction of having what I wrote actually read by someone (pure writer’s ego here), and the quality and depth of the critiques are an excellent learning tool. Each time I enter a WOW! contest, I’m putting myself out there (which can be hard for me—out of my comfort zone, which is where we grow, but it’s often painful). Once I get over the disappointment of not placing, I buckle down and learn from the critique. I tighten, rethink, re-evaluate, and improve my work. I very much appreciate the critiques. So, Thank You.

WOW: Thank you for sharing that. We love hearing that we’ve made a difference in our reader’s lives and encouraged writers along their path.

Interview by Robyn Chausse
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Skeleton's Key by Stacy Green (Release Details and Book Review)

Monday, October 28, 2013
Stacy Green releases SKELETON'S KEY! 

Her Delta Crossroads Series, set in fictional Roselea, Mississippi, expertly weaves drama and suspense with a fitting dose of dry humor. TIN GOD (Delta Crossroads #1) was runner up for The Kindle Book Review's 2013 Mystery/Thriller and an Amazon summer bestseller.

 (Delta Crossroads #2), is a worthy follow up, delivering fast-paced suspense and the twisted ending Green is known for.

Stacy Green
A lover of mystery and suspense, Green's gritty thrillers deliver just the right amount of romance and intrigue.

Married to her college sweetheart, she's proud to be a lifelong Midwesterner. Contact her via her website to be notified of new releases or to just to chat about books!
Twitter: @StacyGreen26

Book Review: Skeleton’s Key by Stacy Green

By Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
Earlier this year I stumbled across a book with a most beautiful cover. The cover of Stacy Green’s Tin God drew me to the book and her writing was absolutely captivating. Green has a talent for making characters come to life but also describes places and buildings with such depth and detail they come to life for the reader. I wanted to know more about Green and definitely wanted to read more of her books. I added myself to her mailing list and offered to become an early reader for future works. Green is now working toward the release of Skeleton’s Key and I am tickled pink to say that I was one of the first to read it. Because I had been so captivated with Tin God I knew I would either love or hate Skeleton’s Key. Green did not disappoint and I can honestly say I love Skeleton’s Key as much as I loved Tin God. You can read Skeleton’s Key as a standalone story or read Tin God first (both books are part of Green’s Delta Crossroads Series).

Skeleton’s Key takes place in the lovely Roselea, Mississippi. This thriller is rich with history and the way Green describes the area and the architecture the reader easily feels as if they have stood on the lovely marble floors of the historic Ironwood Plantation and gazed up the staircase. Green does not bore the reader with details simply to fill the page; the details and descriptions she offers bring the story to life and enhance the reading experience.

The handsome and chivalrous Cage Foster is introduced early on in Skeleton’s Key as he braves the stench and cobwebs of the plantation’s cellar. What he would find will shock you and keep you at the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. As with any thriller, there is just enough sexual attraction and tension to keep things interesting (after all, we all have a romantic side, right?).

Green is a master of the craft when it comes to writing suspense thrillers. The plots move quickly, the characters are unpredictable, and readers will find themselves laughing one moment and tense with anticipation the very next. Skeleton’s Key will be available October 28th 2013 and I recommend adding it to your TBR (to be read) pile – you won’t be disappointed!

 Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, three young children (Carmen 6, Andre 5, Breccan 4 weeks), three dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging at:
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Helping - Offering and Accepting Help

Sunday, October 27, 2013
Recently, we launched the WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour for Sara Connell’s amazing surrogacy story Bringing in Finn. It seems fitting that my next blog post following that surrogacy story has something to do with babies…right? Some of you may know that 4 weeks ago I gave birth to a nine pound bouncing baby boy named Breccan. He is not my first child, and God willing he will not be my last. However, this postpartum recovery has been the most physically and emotionally challenging. Challenging because I'm trying to juggling the demands of parenting older children, an infant, and it's harvest time on the farm. (If only cloning myself was an option) Thank goodness, I have an amazing network of friends and family who have been most helpful during the last few weeks. This brings me to the topic of today’s post: HELPING.

Why do we accept help from some people and not from others? Is it the person offering or is it the way they offer? In my experience, it’s the type of offerings. Let me explain with a few examples that were offered the first week I was home and trying desperately to maintain my sanity.

My mom would text me saying “do you need any help today?” and I would quickly respond that everything is fine. My friend Cindi sent me an email asking “if I drop by with a crockpot full of meat, potatoes, and veggies, would you have a use for it?” and I accepted. My uncle called asking “I’m stopping out to pick tomatoes in your garden, can I bring you bread or butter from the grocery store in town?” and I asked him to bring out a loaf of bread and a few rolls of toilet paper. Had I lied to my mother? Why wouldn’t I accept her offer but graciously accepted the help of others?

My mom had not let me know what she was willing to help with and I was raised not to take advantage of the kindness of others. I couldn’t very well respond to her offer by asking if she would scrub floors, throw a meal together, do my grocery shopping, and hold the baby long enough for me to take a shower and shave my legs. If the offer was specific I would have a much better idea of what type of help was acceptable and then wouldn't feel like I was imposing or asking too much.

The lesson I think I’m taking away from this is I will be specific when I offer help to friends and family. I will ask what someone needs from the grocery store, will make lasagna and ask what time I can stop over with it, and I will ask if I can take older children to the park or a movie for the afternoon.

Well…enough of this for now – time to feed my little price and throw a load of diapers in the washing machine.

Now it’s your turn: What type of help do you accept? If you don’t accept help, why not? What was the nicest thing someone did for you in your time of need?

Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, three young children (Carmen 6, Andre 5, Breccan 4 weeks), three dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging at:
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Self-Publishing for a Writers' Conference

Saturday, October 26, 2013
From a blank screen to a sales tool,
writers can market themselves from
within a writers' group.
Photo credit | Elizabeth Humphrey
I'm a presenter at an upcoming November conference and have started preparing. But some writers I know are going to the same conference and they've been preparing for even longer than I have!

There's this great idea that I've been on the periphery of (unfortunately, I can't claim it as my own good idea!) that you might get some mileage out of with your writers' group.

A group of women in a writers group have been polishing their prose and poetry, and passing their writing among themselves. Then they pooled their money to create a professional-looking, printed book compilation.

Because they started early enough, the group has had time to proof the PDF files and request a printed proof to check for any problems. (And have enough time to fix any problems.)

During the development stage, the ladies assigned each member of the group different duties--one collected author photos, one handled the cover designer, another was in charge of the technical specifications, and one person took care of reporting back to the book designer (in this case, me!).

Out of the dozens of self-publishing places on the Internet, the group contacted CreateSpace for printing and getting the ISBN numbers.

With the group's forward thinking, each one will have a professional sample to show an interested agent and none had to learn the technology or take on the cost solo. This way, each one can--confidently--present a professional book that shows dedication to her writing craft.

What have you done with a group that has helped market your writing?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is an editor and writer living in Wilmington, NC. She dabbles in a lot of different things, including cooking and book design.
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Friday Speak Out!: Work In Progress, Guest Post by Susanne Holly Brent

Friday, October 25, 2013
“So what’s your novel about?” is a question which I have come to dread. It may be asked by a relative, a coworker, a friend, or another writer, and I’ve still not found an adequate response, or at least provided a description that sounds like I’m writing a best seller.

I always get the sense when people ask me that question they are waiting for me to immediately share with them an amazing story, with a plot, and characters, like they’ve never heard before. I wish I had dollar for every time people have said to me, “Why don’t you write a book to make you as rich as that woman, you know the one, the woman who wrote those Harry Potter books. Isn’t she a billionaire?”

Yes. She’s rich. No. I’m not. If I did have that dollar for each time I’ve been encouraged to write like another writer, I would have enough money to go to a writer’s conference in some inspiring location and at least be with people who knew the name of J.K. Rowling.

Truth is…I’m still writing my book, and unable to give that three minute pitch I’ve read is necessary to snag an agent, or please the well-meaning folks who ask.

Still, I’ve made the mistake of struggling to explain my book. I still cringe remembering sitting in a hotel restaurant trying to describe my novel to two dear friends. We were eating breakfast when the dreaded question was posed. I took a deep breath and said, “My book’s about a woman whose best friend dies in a car accident, has a romance with a fomer lover, and there’s stuff about paintings of gypsies done by a woman in a Nazi concentration camp.”

My two friends stared at me with pained expressions and did the worse thing possible. They said nothing. Not even a “sounds interesting.”

I stuffed scrambled eggs and toast into my mouth, and we changed the subject. I try not to mind read, but all I could think was the two of them silently saying to themselves, “She’ll never get it published.”

And that’s the problem with sharing your novel before it’s completed. I myself haven’t figured the entire story yet. It’s like trying to explain what your child will look and act like before he or she is born. I know my novel will have words just as a baby will have a head, but other than that my novel is still in the creation process, not yet birthed, though the labor is taking way more than nine months. And I may never get rich like you know who.

So here’s what I do now. I say, “Thanks for asking. I’m still in the writing phase, and not ready to share all the juicy details yet. But as soon as I am, you will be the first to know.”

This response still doesn’t satisfy everyone, and it’s not perfect, but like my writing, it’s a work in progress.

* * *
I spend my time either at my desk writing when the sun is shining, which it does a lot where I live in Phoenix, Arizona, or working as a waitress, when the moon is smiling in the desert sky. I blog about my dual existence at

Twenty some years ago, (has it been that long!) I earned a journalism degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver, and moved to Arizona to work as a small town newspaper reporter. When the eight to five reporting routine became to restrictive for my free spirit, (or some may say lack of discipline) I left the newspaper and have since worked as a freelance writer.

I’m currently writing/revising a novel about….well, you’ll just have to wait.


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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Online Marketing - 10 Safety Tips to Protect Your Email Account

Thursday, October 24, 2013
by Karen Cioffi

Have you gotten emails from accounts that have been hacked? Has your email account been hacked?

Hacking is everywhere and in everything.

Today, a lot of business is conducted via email, so it’s essential to do your best to prevent hackers from getting a hold of your account. Or, make it as difficult as possible for them to figure your password out. Below are 10 steps you can take to help avoid this.

10 Safety Tips for Your Email Account

1. Change your password/s regularly. Hackers are clever and use sophisticated programs to figure out your password. Given enough time, they’ll probably get yours.

2. Don’t reuse your passwords. Each time you change your password make the new password unique. This goes for all your accounts and passwords. And, no two accounts should have the same password. Creating unique passwords can become a chore, so if you need, there are free password generating tools available. You can try one that PC Tools offers:

3. Make sure you have security questions in place and make sure the answers aren’t obvious. If your question is “Who’s faster than a speeding bullet?” Chances are at least one hacker will guess Superman. Or if your question is “Who is Bugs Bunny’s nemesis?” Someone is bound to guess Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam.

4. Make your password at least 10 characters and mix them up – use capital and lower case letters with numbers and symbols. It’s also a good idea to avoid sequences, such as 12345, abcde, 222555222. Make it difficult to hack.

5. Always sign out of your email account when you’re done. Yahoo and Gmail, and most likely all other email providers, allow you to stay logged into your account even after you’re done and left the site. While this is convenient in that you don’t have to log in the next time you want to check your email, it’s not a safe thing to do, so log out when you’re done.

6. See if your email service provider offers a login activity feature. Yahoo and Gmail do. This tool provides recent login activity which allows you to see who has logged into your account. If it’s not you or someone who has login privileges then you need to take immediate action. You need to create a new password.

7. Take care with your mobile device also. It’s a good idea to use a password on your device and it’s also a good idea to lock it.

8. Bulletproof your computer with antivirus software. Okay, this may not make it bullet proof, but it will sure help.

9. Don’t open suspicious emails, especially ones that request personal information or ask you to change a password.

10. Keep your passwords safe.

While these ten tips will help you keep your email account safe, you should use them (the ones applicable) on all your accounts, including your websites. The more difficult you make it for hackers the safer you’ll be.


Karen Cioffi's class, CREATE AND BUILD YOUR AUTHOR-WRITER ONLINE PLATFORM: Website Creation to Beyond Book/Product Sales, starts on Monday, November 4, 2013.

Visit our classroom page for more information!
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What 80s Movies Have Taught Me About Writing

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
say anything
The other night, I was ready to turn in when one of my all-time favorite movies, Say Anything, came on television. Even though I’ve seen this movie so many times I can quote it word for word, it struck me how Lloyd Dobler’s famous speech at Diane Court’s dinner table reminds me of my own attitude sometimes, especially when it comes to my writing career:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that. 

The speech resonated with me because I often feel that way about my writing. Sometimes, I just want to write. I want to stay in my “happy place.” I don’t want to think about how I’m going to sell my writing, market my writing, or market myself and build my platform. I don’t want to think about how hard the querying and submission process is going to be. Nope, sometimes I just don’t want to do that.
In fact, the more I think about it, there are lessons that translate to the lives of writers in many of my favorite 1980s movies. Here are a few I’ve come up with:

Some Kind of Wonderful – “I’d rather be with someone for the wrong reasons than alone for the right.” Remember this gem from the character Amanda Jones? I can think of many ways we as writers can relate to it. Sometimes writers get involved with not-so-supportive critique groups because they’d rather be sharing their work with anyone instead of writing in a vacuum. I’ve also heard of writers getting involved with literary agents and book publishers that weren’t exactly the right fit because they’d rather be represented/published than not. It’s one of the reasons I’m so nervous about beginning the book submission process myself.

Pretty in Pink –  I can relate to many of the themes of this movie, but when I think of writing analogies, I think of Duckie. Sweet Duckie. The lesson here is that you don’t always get the girl. Or the agent. Or the book deal. Or the writing assignment. But as crushed as Duckie must have been to watch Andie walk away with Blaine at the prom, he handled it with grace, and that’s something we should all strive to do in our professional lives, as we continue to grow that ever-so-important thick skin.

Stand By Me – Twelve-year-old Gordie is the writer of the group, but criticism from his emotionally-distant father causes him to struggle and doubt his abilities. I love the scene where he sits in the woods with his best friend Chris Chambers, who tells him, “It’s like God gave you something, man, all those stories you can make up. And He said, ‘This is what we got for ya, kid. Try not to lose it.’ Kids lose everything unless there’s someone there to look out for them.” I think most of us have struggled with naysayers in our writing lives, those who don’t exactly understand what we do or why we do it. Often we are our own worst critics. We just need to remember why writing is special for us and continue to pursue our passions, no matter what other people might think.

Can you think of any lessons for writers from your own favorite movies?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also blogs at Renee's Pages.
Photo above by RugglesMade via Flickr
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Interview with Suzie Lockhart, Runner Up in the Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Good morning, Muffin readers! Sweet treat today: an interview with Suzie Lockhart, a runner-up in the Spring 2013 Flash Fiction contest. Head over to WOW! and read Suzie’s story, The Dead Boy and the Lavender Suit, and return here to find out more about this amazing author and her story.

Convinced she was destined to be an artist, Suzie Lockhart attended The Art Institute of Pittsburgh after graduating high school, but the gnawing urge to write always remained with her. Years passed and after working as a caricature artist, jewelry designer, retail manager, and an Assistant Director of Admissions back at A.I.P., Suzie finally realized her seventh grade English teacher had been right all along.

She originally wanted to write romance novels, but after discovering the innate ability to tell chilling tales of the macabre, Suzie embraced her inner-creepiness.

When her son Bruce realized he had the same passion for storytelling, they teamed up. Two years of working together have produced twenty short stories and a nearly complete YA novel. Their scary stories can be found in a variety of horror publications, including Dark Moon Digest, Sirens Call, and Horrified Press.

In fall of 2012, ‘Team Lockhart’, as Suzie and her son have been pegged by one of their publishers, delved into editing. After building a reputation as hard workers, they were asked by that same U.K. publisher to edit an entire anthology. Reading through all of the entries for Nightmare Stalkers & Dream Walkers has been an interesting journey to the other side of the writing industry.

Suzie resides in Western Pennsylvania with her husband and their four children.

WOW: Suzie, congratulations for your writing success and for having your flash piece, The Dead Boy and the Lavender Suit, receive runner-up in the Spring flash fiction contest! Like most readers, I’m interested in story development and how an idea sparked, so I’ll get to the basics of the question: how did this story come to fruition?

Suzie: This tale originated from a story my mom told me about an experience she had after her cousin died. I did some research to try and embrace the time period, as this would've happened over 75yrs ago. After his death, the young boy's mother did, indeed, give my mother his lavender suit. When she tried it on at home, she heard something 'go bump in the night'.

WOW: That was a touching gesture, and it’s a bit eerie, too. I'm a big fan of symbolism and the implications on a story. Now I’m wondering, what's the significance of lavender?

Suzie: The significance of the color...Mom was never able to wear anything purple from that day forth. Always a great supporter of my writing endeavors, I wanted to honor her by utilizing her experience.

WOW: It’s a great tribute to your mother. Isn’t it great when family members are supportive of our writing ventures! My parents,both former teachers, have always talked about writing a book with me, so I'm interested in the writing relationship you have with your son. What are some of the challenges and joys of working/writing with a family member?

Suzie: It's funny, because my dad and I always talked about the two of us writing a book together, and now I'm actually doing that with one of my sons. I can't imagine anything better. We usually compliment the other's thoughts when we bounce around ideas, and rarely have a dispute. Rarely (smiles).

WOW: (chuckling) I have a feeling my writing relationship with my parents would be similar. And naturally, I would be in charge. (grins) I’m curious about which authors inspire you. Would you mind sharing some of your favorites?

Suzie: J.K. Rowlings and Michael Grant. I am always reading; there are many authors I admire.

WOW: I read a lot, too. So many writers spark my imagination! What projects are you working on now? There is never enough time, right?

Suzie: That’s a loaded question for a writer, eh? (Deep breath) Here goes: Rewriting our 1st YA novel as we start a YA novella, editing volume one of an anthology for Horrified Press, entitled ‘Nightmare Stalkers & Dream Walkers’, and that same publisher will soon be releasing a collection of our short stories. Because the horror genre was not initially what we wanted to write, until we discovered it was where we best fit in, and because of the amazing journey we have been on, we decided to call the book ‘Adventures in Horrorland’.

WOW: Sounds intriguing! I’ll make sure to check it out. Thank you for sharing time with our readers today, and once again, congratulations Suzie.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler
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Sara Connell, author of Bringing in Finn: An Extraordinary Surrogacy Story, launches her blog tour

Monday, October 21, 2013
& giveaway contest!

Bringing in Finn is an incredibly moving story of surrogacy and how it created a bond like no other between a mother and daughter.

In February 2011, 61-year-old Kristine Casey delivered the greatest gift of all to her daughter, Sara Connell: Sara’s son, Finnean. At that moment, Kristine—the gestational carrier of Sara and her husband Bill’s child—became the oldest woman ever to give birth in Chicago. Bringing in Finn: An Extraordinary Surrogacy Story tells this modern family’s remarkable surrogacy story.

After trying to conceive naturally without success, Sara and her husband Bill dedicated years to a variety of fertility treatments—but after Sara lost a third pregnancy (including the loss of twins at twenty-two weeks), they started to give up their hope. When Kristine offered to be their surrogate, they were shocked; but Kristine was clear that helping Sara become a mother felt like a calling, something she felt inspired to do.

In this achingly honest memoir, Connell recounts the tragedy and heartbreak of losing pregnancies; the process of opening her heart and mind to the idea of her sixty-one-year-old mother carrying her child for her; and the profound bond that blossomed between mother and daughter as a result of their unique experience together.

Moving, inspiring, and ultimately triumphant, Bringing in Finn is an extraordinary tale of despair, hope, forgiveness, and redemption—and the discovery that when it comes to unconditional love, there are no limits to what can be achieved.

Paperback: 336 Pages
Publisher: Seal Press (October 8, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1580055419
ISBN-13: 978-1580055413
Twitter hashtag: #BIFinn

Bringing in Finn is available as a print and e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and your local independent bookstore.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Bringing in Finn, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, October 25th at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:

Sara Connell is an author, speaker, and life coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, NPR, The View, FOX News and Katie Couric. Sara's writing has been featured in: The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, Psychobabble, Evolving Your Spirit, and Mindful Metropolis magazines. Her first book, Bringing in Finn: an Extraordinary Surrogacy Story (Sept 4, 2012 Seal Press), was nominated for Book of the Year 2012 by Elle magazine.

Sara’s Website:
Sara’s Blog:
Sara on Facebook:
Sara’s Twitter:

-----Interview by Crystal J. Otto

WOW: Sara, I have friends who have struggled with miscarriage and conception, and I myself have had two miscarriages, and yet I cannot imagine the emotions you and Bill went through when your mother made the offer to be a surrogate. Was she the first to offer? Can you tell us more about this obviously emotional time for your family?

Sara: My mother came up with the idea to offer to be our surrogate on her own—after hearing about a post-menopausal woman who’d given birth. Bill nor I (nor my mother before that time) had heard of such a (bizzare) thing—a grandmother gestational carrier or surrogate! She presented the offer in a letter. The letter came at what felt like one of the darkest times in our journey—we had been trying to have a child for five years, I’d given birth to stillborn twins, and I’d been through a miscarriage. I had started to lose faith in my body and had begun to despair about whether we would ever have children.

When I read my mother’s letter I felt as if a door had been opened where there was no door. I felt awe, surprise, shock, gratitude, amazement, and most awesomely for the first time in long time, HOPE.

WOW: I’m a baby name junkie and always ask where the name came from and when you chose it, etc. Finnean is an awesome name; can you tell us when you chose the name and for what reasons?

Sara: I love names too. The name Finnean came to me when we were about six weeks pregnant. My husband liked Fletcher and we contemplated Jasper right up until the day Finn was born. I kept an open mind, but my heart felt Finnean all the way. It is a Celtic name (I am half Irish and my husband is Scottish by ancestry, so the name fit in terms of our roots). One website we found cited that Finnean means “mythical warrior poet” and we both loved that description. Once we held him in the swaddle blanket the night he was born, my husband was the one who said he was clearly a Finnean, and so we officially confirmed his name.

WOW: Bringing in Jasper just doesn’t have the same ring to it—Finnean is definitely a great baby name and works fabulously with your book!

The character in your new book is a healer and I’m wondering if you could give us a sneak peek into that character and what direction you plan to take with the book?

Sara: My new book is a novel, so it’s quite a switch from memoir and personal essay, which I’d been writing for 5 years. In the new book, the main character, a holistic therapist, discovers that she is descendent from a line of French witches (a secret society of women who worshiped the Goddess Isis). In following their trail, she finds her own feminine power and ultimately is able to grow up and along the way enrich a good but in ways immature marriage.

I’ve described the book as: The The Da Vinci Code meets The Red Tent.

WOW: That certainly is an interesting description and it made me raise an eyebrow, in a good way!

Tell us about your life abroad. What drew you to travel and then what drew you to coming back?

Sara: My husband Bill and I lived abroad in England for about four years right after we got married. We’d both studied abroad in the UK during college and I was excited to go back. I loved every minute of my time in England. I had left a career I didn’t enjoy (advertising) and spent the first year in England writing. I began training in holistic medicine and life coaching. England is a mecca for the healing arts and I had the opportunity to train with doctors, therapists, and healers from India, Africa, Europe, and the UK.

We were considering living there permanently, but it was the desire to be close to our families and longtime friends as we began to start a family that brought us back to the States.

WOW: Writing abroad – that sounds like such a dream come true, but it makes sense why you came home.

When did you decide that your fertility struggle should be written down and when did you decide to pursue publishing of Bringing in Finn?

Sara: At least a year before we started our fertility odyssey, I said (in passing) to a colleague that I had a feeling the next book I was going write would be on pregnancy or motherhood. I vaguely remembered having said it out loud, but became so focused on the experience we were having—the 7 years of trying to have a child—that I did not think about it again until we were pregnant—when my mother was carrying Finn. Somewhere around the third or fourth month, I told my mother and Bill that I felt inspired to write about our experience and asked how they would they feel about that.

They were both on board and encouraged the idea. Out of fear that something might go wrong, I didn’t write anything until Finn was born. I started writing the week after we brought him home and completed the book in one year.

WOW: I love the support you show and have been shown by your family; you are all truly remarkable!

You are honest about your one time strained relationship with your mother; what did you learn from that relationship that you’d like to share with others who might be fearing that type of relationship as their children age or those in a similar situation?

Sara: I think the mother/daughter relationship is possibly our most primal, and it can be the most complex. On Amazon’s bestseller list right now there are several of mother-daughter memoirs. I wanted to convey in my book how relationships can heal; how transformation is possible. I know it will not be the case for everyone, but if both people are willing to move through their hurts and the places where their needs did not get met, the rewards of can be miraculous. We may have to do some (self) work to find it or let go of what we think it should look like (sometimes it many come through people other than a biological mother, but I believe the love is there. I think Mother Love is one of the most powerful, fierce forces on our planet.

WOW: Mother Love—ahhh yes…I tell my children “I love you more than you can imagine” which is so true. I don’t think I understood unconditional love until I became a mother.

At what age do you plan to tell Finn about his amazing birth story and have you thought about how you are going to explain everything to him?

Sara: We’ll probably get some expert advice on the timing, but we intend to share the way Finn was born with him as part of the natural “where do baby’s come from” conversation. We view the way he came into the world as a something amazing that we celebrate, and paradoxically, it’s also just that: simply the way he arrived. As unique as it was, our hope is that his birth is just an interesting story point at the beginning of his life and from there, he knows his life is his to create and mold from wherever his personality and dreams take him.

WOW: A VERY interesting story point for sure!

Sara, can you talk to readers about time management and how you seem to do it ALL so well? I’m impressed that a new mom has time to juggle a coaching and speaking career, parenting, writing, and being a loving wife. What’s the key for you?

Sara: New parenthood is certainly not a restful time! Even with what I knew from my counseling and coaching training with mothers, the magnitude of caring for a life—a child—involves such a radical shift in so many things, especially self-care, working life, and logistics.

I have felt such ecstasy in becoming a mother to Finn, undoubtedly intensified by the seven-year longing that led up to his birth. In the beginning I just napped and wrote in sync with his schedule. Writing the book in one year was intense. I would send pages to my agent or editor, both of whom had newborns within eight weeks of Finn’s birth, at four in the morning after a feeding. As Finn grew, I adjusted my schedule over and over.

What I really want is to spend as much time with him as possible and still work. I have the privilege of loving what I do, and being able to make my own schedule. These days I pack most of my work hours into two days a week, and work while Finn naps.

On the relationship front, my husband and I try to have a date at least once a week, but sometimes that just involves downloading a movie, cooking a nice dinner, and carving out some time for the two of us to connect while Finn is asleep. Date nights—in or out—seem like a trivial thing, but I can feel the difference when we do them versus when we do not. Having the strong connection really helps when we come upon challenging parenting or marital moments.

WOW: As the mother of a newborn I can definitely say ‘challenging’ is a great way to describe things. I thought I was prepared, but I’m not sure you can ever be prepared for lack of sleep…

What words of advice or pearls of wisdom do you have for couples that are struggling with fertility issues?

Sara: My hope is that every single person who wants a child gets to have one. What made the biggest positive impact for me was:

• Honoring (and speaking) what I really felt and wanted. After five rounds of IVF, my husband wanted to keep going but I had lost faith in my body and also felt something in my heart calling me to explore other options. We didn’t have an answer but we kept the dialogue open. It was during that time that my mother made the offer to be a surrogate.

• Also, self-care was so important. I identified fairly early on in our process some things that really eviscerated me: going to a baby shower if I felt particularly raw; Facebook photos of cute babies. I felt guilty for not engaging more, but I also knew I felt demoralized and incredibly low when I did. So I looked for things that lifted me a little and gave me some sense of support. I did trauma therapy, went to yoga, took really long, sometimes angry, walks in nature, screamed in my car. Giving myself space to let out my feelings and heal was paramount. I did not enjoy the feelings but I knew releasing them would help me heal. Once I did, talking to a loving friend or doing something social would feel good, or at least better.

• Hope, or faith, or an open mind—whatever one might want to call it. The fertility process can bring up despair; it is understandable that people could start to shut down. I hated the uncontrollable nature of the process—the uncertainty of if/how we could have a child. But I knew I wanted to more than any other dream of my heart.

I heard this Winston Churchill quote that gave me comfort: “when you’re going through hell, keep going.”

The fact that a quote about hell was comforting says much.

WOW: Love that quote! I didn’t realize that was a Churchill quote, I knew it was a country song, and now you’ve got it stuck in my head!

Is there anything else that you would like to share with WOW! readers?

Sara: That I wish everyone the best. That I wish for everyone the fulfillment of the greatest dreams of their heart. My experience is that sometimes our dreams evolve, or even change. Sometimes we let go of one dream to make room for something new. Either way. To quote Winston Churchill again to: “Never, Never, Never Give Up.”

WOW: Thank you so much for allowing us to be part of your story, journey, and blog tour. It has been such a pleasure Sara!

----------Blog Tour Dates

Monday, October 21 (today!) @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!

Tuesday, October 22 @ The New Book Review
Sara Connell takes the author spotlight at The New Book Review today as she introduces readers to her touching surrogacy story titled: Bringing in Finn.

Wednesday, October 23 @ Steph the Bookworm
Unforgettable giveaway for an unforgettable surrogacy story Bringing in Finn and find out what Steph has to say in her review!

Thursday, October 24 @ CMash Reads
Sara Connell tells all in her guest post "Finn's Extraordinary Birth Story" and offers a giveaway for her moving story Bringing in Finn.

Monday, October 28 @ Mom~E~Centric
Sarah Connell shares her "Fertility Journey Through IVF and Surrogacy" with readers at Mom~E~Centric, offers a giveaway of her book Bringing in Finn, and engages readers with her touching tale of love and family.

Tuesday, October 29 @ Mom Loves 2 Read
Sara Connell and her touching surrogacy story Bringing in Finn visits Mom Loves 2 Read for a review and giveaway; don't miss today's WOW! blog tour stop!

Wednesday, October 30 @ Book Worm
Sara Connell visits Book Worm Anjanette Potter and shares a guest post about "Unique Mother Daughter Relationships" and offers a giveaway of her touching surrogacy story Bringing in Finn.

Monday, November 4 @ All Things Audry
Sara Connell is the guest blogger at All Things Audry today as she shares her thoughts about "Family Bonds in Difficult Times" and offers a giveaway of her touching surrogacy story Bringing in Finn.

Tuesday, November 5 @ Selling Books
Don't miss today's author interview with Sara Connell and find out more about her moving surrogacy story of a mother's love Bringing in Finn!

Thursday, November 7 @ The Book Bag
Sara Connell introduces her touching surrogacy story. Bringing in Finn to the readers at the Book Bag and also offers a guest post "Voices" and a giveaway of this fabulously received memoir!

Monday, November 11 @ White Elephants
Chynna reviews Sara Connell’s touching surrogacy story Bringing in Finn and offers a giveaway for readers to get their hands on their own copy of this fabulous memoir!

Friday, November 15 @ Memoir Writer’s Journey
Sara Connell, author of the touching memoir Bringing in Finn shares her thoughts on "How to Cope with Grief, Loss, and Miscarriage" as she visits Memoir Writer's Journey and offers readers an opportunity to win their own copy of this highly recommended story.

Tuesday, November 19 @ Found Between the Covers
Join Sherrey Meyer of Found Between the Covers as she interviews Sara Connell author of the amazing surrogacy story of love and family: Bringing in Finn. This is also your opportunity to participate in a giveaway to win your own copy and find out more about Finn!

Thursday, November 21 @ Choices
Sara Connell visits Choices and shares a bit about "Sara's Coaching and Writing Life" and offers a giveaway of her surrogacy story Bringing in Finn.

To view all our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar. Keep up with blog stops and giveaways in real time by following us on Twitter @WOWBlogTour.

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

Book Giveaway Contest: Enter to win a copy of Bringing in Finn: An Extraordinary Surrogacy Story by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget THIS Friday, October 25th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!
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A Writer's Quirk: Getting a New Computer

Sunday, October 20, 2013
by Wonderlane
I got a new computer. Before you read on, I want you to know that I am not whining. I'm very fortunate to be able to go to the store and buy (ummm, charge with good credit) a new computer because my old laptop was going kaput! (It was basically possessed.) However, I continued to use that possessed computer for 10 more days before I even opened the box of this new one and turned it on.

My husband thought I was nuts. "Open your new computer yet today?" He would ask when he got home from work.

Yesterday, he was home and said, "Why are you using your old computer if your new one is out of the box?"

No, he's not a writer. I hope that before I explain myself most of you are nodding along with me and completely understand why--It. Was. So. Hard.

I write everything on my laptop. I tried to write a dream I had by hand the other night, and my handwriting is so bad, I can't even read it. All my files, photos, saved URLs, novels, presentations, and more are on that old computer. Yes, I have an external hard drive. Yes, I turn it on and back-up my files. Yes, I even figured out this morning how to transfer them to my new computer--with ease.

But still. . .

My new computer has a different keyboard. My fingers hit the keys differently. My wrists are actually turned in a different way. It's harder to find stuff on this computer right now--can you say NEW Microsoft Word program and WINDOWS 8?

I don't want to take the time away from my work and creativity to learn all this new stuff. Okay, so I am whining.

Look, I knew it was bad yesterday when my 3-year-old daughter said to me, "I can make your new computer work."

I said, "Don't touch it."

She went over there with some toy she had, waved it around, and she said, "All you do is say the magic words: Hocus Pocus."  This morning, she got on her pretend phone and said, "Hello? My mom needs help."

Today, I made an effort to get enough stuff going on this new laptop that I could type this blog post, which I am doing now. And I guess it's going okay--although you might think--what is this drivel she's writing?

Writers are quirky. We have writing rituals. (Read this article about Writing Rituals here on WOW!). I guess I have a bond or weird connection or something with my old laptop, and I'm sure eventually I will feel the same way about this one. But for now, I'm in a bit of a shock/mourning/grieving period. Maybe I'll wear black to the park with my daughter today. . .

Okay, let me hear it--how are you quirky?

Margo L. Dill is teaching Writing for Children: How to Get Started and Take Hold of Your Career , starting on October 23, and Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach on November 1. For more information, go to the WOW! Classroom and click on the title of the class or e-mail Margo at margo (at) .
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What To Write Next…

Saturday, October 19, 2013
What to write next isn’t something I generally need to consider. I simply look at my calendar and see which deadline is fast approaching. Sometimes the deadlines are for work my editors have requested.  Other times they are theme deadlines or from calls for manuscripts. 
But there are times, like right now, when I have very few deadlines.  Then I have to think – which project should get my attention right now?  Here are some of the things that I consider.
  1. What is ready to go?  If a manuscript comes back home (translation: gets rejected) when I am in the middle of a big project, I often let it sit.  At times like these, I gather these projects up and update the cover or query letters.  Soon I have two or three pieces out the door.
  2. How much energy do I have?  If I am coming off a huge deadline, I might pick something smaller to work on this time around such as a single activity for a new market or a calendar activity for Thriving Family.  The pay is minimal but so is the word count.  This is something I can have out tomorrow and if I make the sale it creates an opening at a new publisher.
  3. Is it seasonal or otherwise timely?  Some submissions have to go out at a certain time of year.  If that is now, this item is going to be at the top of my list.  After all, if I put it off for too long, I will have missed my chance.  I need to get it out while the timing is still right.
  4. Is this for a market that is often closed?  Some agents and publishers aren’t always open to submissions.  If I have something for one or the other and the door is open, I need to act on it right away.  The same holds for a new agent or a new publisher.  I want to get my work in their hands before they are overwhelmed.
  5. Is this idea demanding attention?  There are those ideas that are bouncing up and down, hollering “Me, me!  Pick me!” It takes enthusiasm and energy to carry any writing project from idea to submission-ready and if something is calling out to me, now is a great time to work on it.

What criteria do you use when the time comes to pick out a new project?

Sue Bradford Edwards blogs about her writing at One Writer's Journey
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Friday Speak Out!: A Just Ask Attitude, Guest Post by Nicole Meier

Friday, October 18, 2013
A couple of years ago, I went on a business retreat with my husband and his company. The employees were encouraged to bring their spouses and attend workshops on everything from team building to organization. While the weekend was packed with information, there’s one piece of advice that stayed with me: "just ask."

I was given this tidbit from an unlikely character--a short, peroxided number with heavy make-up and over-the-top animation. She bounced around the conference room shouting out life lessons in a voice that was a dead ringer for Bette Midler’s. I didn’t want to like this woman, but the more she spoke, the more I couldn’t resist her charm. She embraced life with a vengeance and, by the end of the hour, her passion felt contagious.

She shared one life philosophy, that it’s always okay to ask for what you want. After all, she had said, what’s the worst that could happen? She gave a few examples like asking to be put into first class on an oversold airplane or to meet a celebrity at an event. She said if we put our needs out there, we’d be surprised at people’s willingness to help. And you know what? She was right.

Since that time, I’ve put this idea into practice and have been blown away by the results. Of course, I don’t ask for outrageous things, like to take over for the Queen of England. However, when it comes to my profession, my writing life, I use it.

When I first started writing, I was stuck and needed an editor. I wanted a good recommendation and wasn’t sure how to get that. Having just returned from a rather large writer’s conference, the name of an accomplished author, who spoke at the event, came to mind. With a "just ask" attitude, I emailed the author. Wouldn’t you know she responded right away and not only gave me some tips, but also offered the name and contact information of her personal editor? I was so grateful, and slightly stunned at the same time.

Since then, I’ve had countless positive experiences from reaching out to the writer community. A few months ago, I wanted to interview an author whom I’d read about in Oprah Magazine. I sent an email, but expected she’d be too important to talk to a small time writer’s blog. Not only did she willingly agree to be interviewed, but also subsequently offered to help with my novel manuscript out of the goodness of her heart. I’d never met this person, and she was clearly far more busy than I, but because I asked for help, she agreed and then some.

Maybe it’s because we’re women and our instinct is to aid those in need, maybe it’s because we’re writers and know what a lonely road our vocation can be. Whatever the reason, I believe if we reach out, someone is bound to reach back. It sounds risky, but boy, is it worth it!

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Nicole Meier writes a women’s travel blog, Have Tote Will Travel, that features trip ideas, inspirational travel stories and destination reads ( She also writes the blog for a pacific northwest literary organization, The Nature of Words ( Nicole loves to travel, cook, read and spend time with her husband and three children in Oregon.

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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Surviving a Bad Manuscript Critique

Thursday, October 17, 2013
Cathy-on-a-Stick  with sister survivor, Scarlett
I attended a conference recently and it was a pretty swell event, if you don’t count the last fifteen minutes.

I signed on for a professional manuscript critique, and when it was over, I staggered from my seat feeling like Georgia after Sherman marched through it. In fact, I wondered if the critiquer had used Sherman’s slash-and-burn methods (metaphorically) in the hopes that I would use Sherman’s methods (literally) so that no one would ever have to read what I had wrought.

That’s the way it goes with manuscript critiques. Sometimes, they’re very good; other times, they’re just plain rotten. And that can be for the very same manuscript. But I’ve learned how to survive the bad evaluation and go on my merry writing way. And you can, too.

Give Yourself Time

You will want to scream and yell and rip your pages to shreds. Or you will want to bury every shameful word you’ve ever written in a deep, dark hole. Perhaps you will want to bury the critiquer in a deep, dark hole. But what you must do instead is give yourself some time so that the raw emotion swirling in your soul can recede.

I know it’s tempting to wallow in misery, or worse, rant and rave, especially to friends and fellow writers. But resist the urge to vent loudly (particularly if you are within shouting distance of other professionals) and save the tears for the bathroom stall. Find a quiet spot and collect yourself so that you can move on.

Good, Old Perspective

It’s tough when you receive tough criticism. It’s tougher, really, than a curt “not for me” rejection. Because with a critique (which you paid for!), you are forced to sit through the excruciating exercise of someone telling you exactly why your work stinks. What you need is a little perspective.

Here’s what I do. I give myself a pep talk. I think of a time I’ve been challenged and how I survived, and I start to feel a bit empowered. And then I count all the wonderful blessings of my life, and I start to feel grateful. It’s not long before good, old perspective kicks in. The world will keep spinning, friends and family will still love me, and I’ve still got a pretty nice roof over my head—even if my manuscript is the pits. I’m ready to move on to the truth.

Facing the Truth

In the midst of curling into a fetal ball, you may not be ready for the truth of your evaluation. But after time, and a healthy dose of perspective, you can take a look at the notes thoughtfully provided by your critiquer. You can relive that less-than-delightful one-on-one experience and maybe even recall some of what was said.

First, look for the positives. I guarantee you that there will be a note or two of praise in your critique. Second, cling to those words as you peruse the pages and perhaps you’ll have the courage to accept the flaws of your work. You can fix flaws.

Or you can chuck that manuscript and start on something new. Or you can even ignore the entire evaluation. But don’t let one bad critique defeat you. Get back to work and write. After all, tomorrow is another day.

~Cathy C. Hall
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