Friday Speak Out!: Retreats! What Are They Good For? (Absolutely Somethin'!)

Friday, February 28, 2014
by Sioux Roslawski

In March I'm going on a writing retreat. A self-made one. Two other writing friends and I are going to cram our laptops and our bodies into my car and head to Conception, Missouri. Specifically, to Conception Abbey...the place where monks create a blissful aura over all who stay there.

No teachers. No frills. No schedule. So if that's what it doesn't have, what does this writing retreat have?

Loads of uninterrupted writing time. A lack of distractions because I don't have to sweep or mop or do dishes. I don't have to cook. I don't have to run after my dog as he hunts for poopsicles to eat in the backyard. And no internet unless I go to the abbey's library (and their hours are limited).

This is what I need now. I'm in the finishing stages of my manuscript (first draft) and am hoping to have it finished by this retreat and get some feedback prior to I can then slash and burn the unnecessary parts and build up what I need to bolster while I'm in Conception.

What I want from a retreat—at least this one—probably differs from what you would desire. However, I do think writers should dig deep to discover what they need from a retreat before signing up for one.

Can you create your own?
If your constructive writer friends can dole out great critique, perhaps you can plan a DIY retreat. Rent a cheap cabin. Beg one of the attendees to give up their basement for a night. Check out the retreat centers—they'll feed you and give you a bed, and the rest is up to the group.

Before packing your bags, agree to what is going to happen. Are there going to be scheduled critique sessions? Where is everybody—are some polishing while others need some inspiration to begin something new? And what distractions/nonwriting activities are going to happen—if any?

Big or Small?
You might benefit from a large regional or national retreat, where you'll be able to network with writers and make new connections. Or, you might be better off working with your writing guild/circle of friends and paying a locally-known writer to lead a small group. Survey what everyone is looking for and where they are. Is everyone working on memoirs and they need a gifted memoir writer to help them fine-tune their voice and create an unforgettable place? Or is everyone a novelist and they would each love to have a pitch-critique session with an editor/publisher?

Be Creative
If time and money are at a premium, think outside the box. Your local library might have a room that they'd let you use. Many art museums have education wings. You could reserve one, and when anyone needs a break from their writing, they could wander through the galleries for more inspiration.

So—don't retreat too deep into yourself and miss out on some productive experiences. Go on a retreat...and watch what happens.

* * *
Sioux Roslawski is a St. Louis third grade teacher and a freelance writer. She's been published in Sasee magazine, eight Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, as well as several Not Your Mother's Book collections. In her spare time she's working on a novel and rescues dogs.

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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Inside These Walls by Rebecca Coleman (Review, Interview and Giveaway)

Thursday, February 27, 2014
From the moment you open Inside These Walls by Rebecca Coleman, you're transported to the world of a women’s prison and introduced to Clara Mattingly who is serving a life sentence for murder. Rebecca’s writing is superb, and Clara is instantly a likeable and sympathetic character, whom you will cheer for, even though she’s also a cold-blooded killer.

Rebecca isn’t tricking the reader into liking Clara. It’s obvious that there’s more to the story than just murder—that Clara has the proverbial skeletons in her closet. After twenty-five years behind bars, she’s choosing to forget the past and stay focused on her present, which in prison means keeping her head down and staying out of trouble.

The problem is Clara’s famous, and so other inmates love to pick on her, which often results in serious injuries. Her crime, along with her boyfriend Ricky, was made into a movie. Hollywood turned their story into an almost Charles Manson type of drama, where Ricky led Clara and his other friends into a 24-hour crime spree that resulted in several murders.

Clara lives her prison life helping her blind cellmate and working on Braille textbooks, while remembering her life as an artist and her love for ballet before the night that changed her life forever. You'll keep turning pages because of the author’s set-up, trying to discover how did this bright, young, talented girl follow her boyfriend and murder people?

Rebecca reveals the true story once an unexpected visitor appears to see Clara in prison, and her heart immediately yearns for love and freedom. At the same time, a reporter writing a book about Ricky asks Clara for information, even though she has never before granted an interview. Because of the visitor, Clara decides it’s time to reveal the truth; and as the book progresses to the end, you discover the circumstances leading up to the crime.

Themes in this book include religion—Clara is Catholic and does follow her faith in prison, including going to confession and taking communion; forgiveness; self-preservation; abuse; independence and freedom; friendship; loyalty; love; truth and more.This is the perfect book club choice, as readers will debate Clara’s crimes, her confessions, her circumstances and even the ending. On Rebecca’s website (, book clubs can sign up for a possible Skype or phone visit from the author.

Inside These Walls is one of those novels that will keep you up past your bedtime because you want to discover the secrets Clara has kept and what landed her in one of the worst places imaginable—prison. Here are a few words straight from Rebecca about her novel and writing career: 

WOW: What made you want to write about a woman in prison--and then in a high-profile case?

Rebecca: Once the story started taking shape, it became more interesting to make it a high-profile case because it would make sense why someone would want to interview Clara for a book. But as to why I wrote it in the first place--the only truthful answer is. . .because it's the story that showed up in my head! I never start out with a specific topic in mind--I want to write about an emotion, and then I find a story that gives a structure and a progressive arc to that emotion. With Inside These Walls, it was about the feeling of being given a second chance at something very, very important and how far a person would go not to squander that chance. And what could challenge that more than being in prison?

WOW: Thanks for explaining how the story took shape. It's always interesting to hear from successful authors how their brain works. How did you get your agent, Stephany Evans (in other words--meet at conference, slush pile, etc)?

Rebecca: I sent her a query letter by e-mail, but it was an unusually nervy move for me. Normally I'd go to an agency's website, look to see who the newest agents were, and query them, thinking they were still building their lists and would be more open to a new, untested writer. I'd gotten stacks and stacks of rejections. Then my first book, The Kingdom of Childhood, became a semifinalist in Amazon's ABNA contest, and that gave me the courage to query higher up the food chain. I have to say, Stephany is the perfect agent for me. She is conscientious and tenacious and attentive. I ended up feeling glad for all the rejection because in the end it gave me the opportunity to work with Stephany.

WOW: The advice we all hear is that finding the perfect agent should fit like finding the perfect spouse or mate. We're so happy that has happened for you. What's up next?

Rebecca: Thanks for asking! I'm working on a new story that features a character my readers have seen before--that's all I can say.

WOW: Now, that's a teaser. I can't wait to find out about that! How do you balance writing and marketing?

Rebecca: It's a serious challenge! You have to schedule the business part, so the creative aspect doesn't eat all your time. It's easiest for me to spend the first hour of a work day dealing with Twitter and e-mail, then set myself free to write for the rest of the day. It's tough because writing asks you to lock yourself in a room with your imaginary friends, and marketing requires you to go out there and take risks with real people. A lot of writers write specifically because they don't want to do that.

WOW: Very true! What's one piece of advice you would give to new writers?

Rebecca: Don't be a diva. To succeed in this business, you need to be able to take criticism, be enjoyable to work with, be flexible, and make many more friends than enemies. If you can do all that and be true to yourself as a writer, then nothing can hold you back.

WOW: Thank you for that wonderful advice. Please keep WOW! readers informed on your next book. We'd love to hear about it. 

Readers, don't forget, you can enter to win a copy of this wonderful book, Inside These Walls, by entering the Rafflecopter form below! Good luck!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Goal Setting: Time to Refocus Your Work

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Anyone who has been in my office knows that I’m a list maker. Post-It Notes wreath my monitor. Reading lists cover my bulletin board. My first thought is that I do this so that I can focus on my work. Once I write something down, I don’t have to put any energy into remembering it and can just write.

But when my to-do list gets too long, it saps my energy. It always starts out reasonable enough. I have my blog posts for the week, work for the courses I am teaching or taking, and my top two projects for the month.

Then I spot a market listing for a manuscript I haven’t quite finished. Add it to my list. Then I read an article that reveals the fix I need for my novel. There’s another item added. Before I realize what’s going on there’s also a group of essays and a series pitch.

When my list is too long, my productivity lags because I focus on what I’m not getting done. That’s when it’s time to refocus my list and, through it, my work. Use these five steps when you need to do the same:

  1. Review larger goals. I begin with a review of my year-long goals. Maybe you have a five year plan or a list of resolutions for 2014. Whatever form your goals take, look at what you want to accomplish. Do these goals still make sense? If not, take a few moments to revise them.
  2. Assess your to-do list. Once you have committed yourself once again to a list of larger goals, evaluate your to-do list. What items help you meet those goals? Things that don’t may need to go away.
  3. Clean off your list. You don’t have to get rid of everything that won’t lead to your larger goals. For example, I keep my church blog and post on their Facebook page, neither of which helps me complete my dream book. But there important to me so they stay on the list. When numerous items don’t relate to your goals, something must go.
  4. Put other things on hold. You also need to look at what can be accomplished in a month. Anything that can’t, needs to be removed – for now. I jot these items on the bottom corner of my dry erase board or put them on a Post-It on the back page of my calendar. They aren’t priorities, but I won’t forget them either.
  5. Refocus your work area. Once I remove items from my to-do list, all related library books, files and articles need to come off my desk. I take things back to the library and refile a wide variety of material. It’s time to streamline so you can focus on your current projects.

The world is a distracting place. Help yourself focus on what you want to work on right now, and you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish.


Find out more about author Sue Bradford Edwards and her newly refocused to-do list on her blog, One Writer's Journey.
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4 Book Marketing Strategies That Are Guaranteed to Keep Your Online Platform Moving Forward

Monday, February 24, 2014
Your author or writer online platform is all about numbers and reach. It’s about how many people are aware of you within your niche and how many of those people think you have authority within that niche.

In other words, it’s about how many connections you have. You might equate it to a popularity contest.

Unfortunately, there are millions of contestants in the online platform arena trying, as you are, to get the golden subscriber email address and get the emails they send opened.

Because of the sheer number of marketers, people are bombarded with marketing emails on a daily basis. This in turn has caused a drop in email opt-ins and a drop in marketing email open rates.

So, what can you do to fight the odds and keep moving forward to reach your goals?

There are four strategies you can use to keep you connected to people and keep you on the visibility radar.

1. Connection frequency

You need to connect with your subscribers and target market on a regular basis.

This doesn’t mean adding to the email inbox bombardment, it means to be visible in multiple places. How many times a week are you connecting with your subscribers and your target market?

This matters.

Are you taking advantage of the different venues you can reach people? Are you being active in groups? How about social media, such as Facebook, Linkedin, GooglePlus, Twitter, and Pinterest? Are you offering valuable information on a regular basis?

Each of these connection venues is another layer of visibility and familiarity. This frequency helps establish a relationship and helps it grow.

2. Consistency

Everyone when first starting a platform is determined and motivated. You diligently keep on top of social networks, blogging, article marketing, sending out a newsletter on a regular basis, and so on. But, then, when results aren’t what was expected or don’t come quick enough, the motivation and effort slows down.

Well, being consistent is what will help you reach your goals. In fact, without being consistent you most likely will never reach your goals.

Coleman Cox says it best: "Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts."

Create a plan of action steps and stick to them. Be consistent.

3. Authority and Usefulness

According to pro-marketer Travis Greenlee, statistics show that published authors have a 300% higher credibility rating than non-published authors.

That’s quite a difference and gives the published author a big advantage in authority. If you’re not published yet, a quick remedy is to create an ebook and get it out there. With that said, your ebook needs to be a quality product.

But, having an ebook isn’t the cure-all. In addition to this, you need to deliver quality (useful) information to your target market on a regular basis.

The point here is that you need to be perceived as a person of value to your target market. Your actions and offerings need to demonstrate that you can help them with their problem, need, or want.

If you are perceived as having high authority (knowledge and experience) and value (capability and usefulness), people will want to be connected with you.

4. Visibility

Visibility and frequency go hand-in-hand. While you need to make frequent connections, you need to know where and how to make those connections. That’s where visibility comes in.

How many different formats are you using to be visible to your connections and make new connections?

There are a number of marketing formats you can use to generate visibility, including:

• Blog posting
• Using article directories
• Creating podcasts
• Creating videos
• Creating e/books, reports, etc.
• Sending out newsletters or ezines
• Offering webinars, teleseminars, or workshops
• Staying current on social networks, such as Facebook, Linkedin, GooglePlus, and Pinterest

You get the idea. Keep it fresh. Don’t use the same formats to bring information to your subscribers, readers, and visitors.

With email marketing wavering, you need to use all four of these strategies to keep your author-writer online platform moving forward.


Karen Cioffi  is a multi-award-winning author, ghostwriter, freelance writer, editor, and author-writer online platform marketing instructor. She founded and manages Writers on the Move (a marketing group), and presents online writing and marketing workshops and webinars.

Karen has published 12 writing and marketing eBooks, the most recent, Article Marketing: Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Search Engine Optimized Content.

*** Join Karen's class, CREATE AND BUILD YOUR AUTHOR-WRITER ONLINE PLATFORM: Website Creation to Beyond Book/Product Sales, next starting on Monday, March 3, 2014. For information and registration, visit our classroom page. ***

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The Things Writers Carry

Sunday, February 23, 2014
Recently, I read a blog post by Andrea Chilcote about being stranded in Atlanta during the monster snowstorm that struck the region. I live in Nebraska, so I'm accustomed to dealing with the fluffy - or slick - snowflakes and ice. I've been stranded by snowdrifts or spun into the ditch by a patch of dark ice enough times that I do not envy being put in that position.

Chilcote's theme, though, hit a chord, not just literally, but figuratively.

Daily, I carry my MacBook, reporter's notebook, calendar, billfold, an assortment of pens, pencils and highlighters, my digital camera, phone and some junk I obviously could make it through the day without to my desk in the newsroom. Most of these items are tools of the trade, necessary elements that help make my job easier.

Daily, I carry bits and pieces that linger in my mind, waiting for a story to come to fruition or a poem to take shape. Small scraps of interviews, a word or phrase that won't let go, an image framed by the viewfinder that haunts me: these are the things that I, as a writer, carry. These are elements that leave an editorial remark in my mind, that cannot be shared in a straight, fact-based news story, because these are my views of a particular moment.

As writers, we take our unique view and spin stories to entertain, inform, persuade. We carry those stories deep inside until it is ready to be unleashed from brain and transferred to paper.

It's a natural process, as natural as a single snowflake fluttering to the ground. I happen to prefer the blizzard.

By LuAnn Schindler

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Building Your Characters ... from You?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Creating a fictional character.
Should it be based on you?
Photo credit | EKHumphrey
I was thinking about the advice to write what you know. More often than not, I have taken that advice as: don’t write about Akron, Ohio, if you’ve never been there. For me that’s a done deal (and one of the reasons I would never make a good science fiction writer)
As I delved into my work-in-progress novel, I started wondered how this might extend to my characters’ development. Am I taking it too far if I include my own personal details for my characters'?

For example, I have a lifelong serious food allergy and I eat gluten-free foods. I started thinking about adding one or both of those elements to my protagonist’s life. For the most part, when I start writing fiction I’m not thinking about my characters’ next meals. But the idea of adding one or two of these elements feels like a natural fit.

Here are some of the reasons I’m considering it:
  • Write authentically about the experience. I don’t spend time writing fiction about living without certain foods, but it is an integral part of who I am so it is something that I definitely know.
  • Highlight one facet of the character. This wouldn’t be the character’s only unique quality, but it would help bring depth to the character. For those who don’t have food limitations, the knowledge I can impart might be a teachable moment. Isn’t it cool when you are reading fiction but actually learn about something real?
  • Pull inspiration from reality. I’ve heard many comments through the years and devised many witty retorts (sadly too long after the fact). For some of the dialogue, this would allow me to rely on some of what I’ve experienced.
  • Avoid research mistakes. My character can prepare a gourmet gluten-free meal without me thinking twice. If she decides to take up deep-sea diving, I’m out of my element and would spend time carefully researching. But may still miss the mark.
I’m leaning toward my character having those interests. Any reasons why I shouldn’t consider layering personal lifestyle elements when developing my character? What have you done in similar situations?
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. Currently she’s engrossed in reading mysteries from the early 1940s … when she should be writing!
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Friday Speak Out!: DIY Project: Build Your Own Writers’ Group, Guest Post by Carolyn Boyette Lewis

Friday, February 21, 2014
When a small town writer finds there’s no writers’ group for camaraderie and critique of her writing-in-progress, it’s time for a DIY writers’ group project.

It’s not as difficult as you may think, so shush those inner doubts. Assure yourself you have the ability to do it. Put on your Superwoman persona and go for it!

Here’s how you do it:

Find a room where you can hold an informational meeting—perhaps at the public library, a coffee shop, your church, or a classroom.

Choose a day and time you think is convenient for other writers to meet.

Write a press release announcing a meeting to form a writers’ group. Include the date, time, and place, plus your contact information, in case people have questions. E-mail the press release to all print and online newspapers in your town. Ask them to publish it in community announcements as well as list it in their calendar. If your group is a Christian writers’ group like mine, send the press release to churches in your area also.

Arrive early for the meeting so you can greet people. Come prepared to chair the meeting with a simple agenda. This is helpful whether there are four people or two dozen.

Here are some points for your agenda.

1. Purpose: Discuss the purpose of the group. Decide if it is mainly for encouragement, critique, or learning writing skills. Or perhaps it will be a combination of these.

2. Officers: Will you have formal officers or will members take turns filling roles for the meetings? If informal, plan for a monthly facilitator to chair the meeting and to send out publicity ten days before the meeting. If you have a learning segment, plan for a monthly lesson presenter.

3. Dues: As a group, decide whether you will have on-going expenses that require dues or membership fees. Some groups do. Other groups handle needs that arise by a free-will offering.

4. Food: Will you serve refreshments or not? Will individuals bring their own if they wish?

5. Regular meetings: Select a regular meeting time that works for all. (Ex. third Tuesday 6:30-8:30 p.m. or second Saturday 1:00-3:00 p.m.)

6. Meeting format: What elements will you include in meetings? Will manuscripts for review be provided ahead of time (perhaps by e-mail) or will they be handed out at the meeting? How many pages will be allowed for review—perhaps three pages per member?

Our Christian writers’ group uses this format:
     10-15 minutes to share successes, struggles, announcements, etc.
     10 minutes for devotions
     15-20 minutes for a skill-builder lesson on the craft of writing
     Remainder of time—Feedback Forum to review writing-in-progress.

Even small towns usually have enough people interested in writing to build your own writers’ group.

So, what are you waiting for? Go do it!
* * *
Carolyn Boyette Lewis is a wife, mother, grandmother, and retired teacher whose love of writing bloomed in high school and continues today. She lives in a small town in southwestern New Mexico where she recently started a group for writers. Having started two groups for writers, she can confirm that most writers can accomplish this task. Currently, she is focusing on editing a book of poems she has written over the years.
Connect with Carolyn at;; and Sclew's Views.


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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Taming the Beast: From Pitch To Query To Synopsis

Thursday, February 20, 2014
So you’re almost finished with your book. Perhaps you’re leaning back in your chair, thinking, “Whew. The hard’s part nearly done!”



Unless you’re planning on self-publishing, you’ll need to convince someone—either an agent or an editor—that your book is amazing. For that feat, you’re going to need a pitch, and a query, and probably a synopsis, too. And those thousands of words you wrote for your book will seem like child’s play compared to the beastly task ahead of you.

Why is it so hard to write a pitch or a query or a synopsis? One reason may be that we’re a bit confused. What makes a pitch different from a query? A query from a synopsis? You can research—and it’s as easy as asking, “How to write a query letter (or pitch or synopsis)?” But you can start with my quick, down and dirty tips for whipping these beasts into shape.

The Pitch

When I’m figuring out my pitch, first I figure out the essence of my story. Somebody wants something. A pitch is usually around 30 words, so you need to zip to your want, and then cut to the twist, the part of the story that makes it different.

If I were pitching Beauty and the Beast, I might write:

Beauty is prepared to sacrifice her life to save her father from a terrifying beast. (The initial want.) But this Beast doesn’t want Beauty’s life—he wants her love. (The twist to the story.)

The Query

The query has several parts, but for now, we’re concentrating on the bit about your plot to understand the difference with a pitch.

With the query, you get a couple sentences to explain your story. (Whee!) But you do not get to tell the ending! The point of your query is to generate interest, to rattle an agent’s brain so much that he or she must read the rest of your story.

So you write the set-up, follow with the conflict, and include stakes and the twist. That’s usually about three to five sentences, and that’s really all you need to reel ‘em in.

A query for Beauty and the Beast might read:

Belle’s father has plucked a rose from the Beast’s castle and now he must pay with his life. But Belle, who asked for the rose, insists on taking his place. (The set-up) The Beast surprises Belle with kindness, instead asking for her hand in marriage. Belle refuses, for she does not love him. (The conflict) But the Beast has a terrible secret, a secret that will take his life—and only Belle can save him. (The stakes, and the twist to the story.)

The Synopsis

Oh, joy! With the synopsis, we at last get lots and lots of words to tell our story, from beginning to end. But often, writers struggle with the synopsis as well.

If the synopsis is challenging for you, try this technique: take each chapter and sum it up in one sentence. When you’re done, go back and edit. Take out anything that doesn’t move the story along, and perhaps add transitions to make it all sparkly.

Whew! Now you’re ready to tame your own pitch, query and synopsis. All you have to do is finish the darn book.

~Cathy C. Hall
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Review of The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
An old friend of WOW, Therese Walsh, is releasing her second novel The Moon Sisters next month and you’re all invited to join the party. The Moon Sisters revolves around the complicated (aren’t they always?) relationship of two sisters. To celebrate the release we’re reviewing the book today and organizing "Everybody’s Talking about Sisterhood," a group blogging event, next month. Therese Walsh will be visiting The Muffin with a post about sisterhood on Tuesday, March 4. We’d also like to invite everyone out there to post their own thoughts, photos, poems, letters and poems about sisterhood.

If you’d like to participate, contact Jodi at to sign up by Friday, February 28. We’ll add your blog and link to the March 4 post on The Muffin and enter you and your followers in contests to win a copy of The Moon Sisters. Don’t miss a chance to share all the touching, drive-you-crazy, silly and unforgettable things you know about being a sister, whether it be a family sister or a friendship sister.

The Moon Sisters: A Novel

Hardcover: 336 pages (also available in e-formats)

Publisher: Crown (March 4, 2014)

ISBN-10: 0307461602

ISBN-13: 978-0307461605


After their mother's probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother's unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.
Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.


As a fan of Therese Walsh’s first novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Therese’s next novel. The Moon Sisters did not disappoint. For the first 100 pages or so I enjoyed the tale of two sisters unlike anyone I have ever met. They both seem to attract odd people and odd situations like flowers attract bees. Olivia revels in the weirdness of her life while Jazz fights it, trying to force her life—and everyone in it—to be “normal.”

But somewhere around page 100 things began jumping off the page at me. The tattoed man, the suicidal writer, the old train hopper, the woman who can taste words (it’s a long story that begins with the word synesthesia)…they all reminded me of people in my life. Despite all their quirkiness these were characters that felt so familiar because, when you strip away the oddness, they were all experiencing universal emotions we all know. I never thought I would be writing that a story that involves people fiddling on rooftops, fatal arson and a father who disowns his only child is, in one way or another, about every reader's life. The Moon Sisters is a novel that will surprise you, not once, not twice, but continually and keep you thinking about the characters and their choices long after you have read the last page.

Where to Find Therese:


Don’t forget to sign up for Everybody’s Talking about Sisterhood by contacting Jodi at by Friday, February 28. We’ll send you information about The Moon Sisters and Therese Walsh as well as some images and fun links and quizzes you can share with your readers.

Join the conversation!

Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. Right now she's looking for blogs to promote Theresa Walsh's novel The Moon Sisters and Sue William Silverman's memoir The Pat Boone Fan Club. You can contact her at For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb.
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Meet 2013 Summer Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up, Kay Butzin

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I am so pleased to have Kay Butzin with us today, who placed in our Summer 2013 Fall Flash Fiction contest for her short but gripping story, Bank Job. Interestingly, Kay entered this story in WOW's Spring 2010 contest, and the critique she had received then inspired her 2013 winning revision! So, if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, click on the story title then come back here to join my chat with Kay. She has some great advice to share.

Kay's Bio:
On Sunday evenings, after the weekend visitors return to Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, Kay Butzin takes a walk on the Rockport, Texas beach and celebrates getting to live where other people come to play. Retired from a career in human resources administration, she has served as secretary, treasurer, and president—twice—of the Rockport Writers Group.

She likes to enter flash fiction and nonfiction contests because the deadlines force her to stop revising and call her stories finished. In 2010, Kay’s “Following Orders” won first prize in a 100 Words or Fewer contest, and “The Alphabet Store” earned her an Honorable Mention in the WOW! Winter 2012 Contest. Several of her short essays have appeared online in Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative, and earlier this year she wrote a guest blog for Create Write Now titled “Morning Pages: Keeping My Word.”

In addition, Kay writes interviews and articles for her biannual alumni newsletter; and her family and friends look forward each year to the original essays and poems she sends instead of Christmas cards.

She is proud and honored to have “Bank Job” judged worthy of a Top 10 slot in the WOW! Summer 2013 Flash Fiction Contest.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Kay. We’re so happy to have you with us. Please share a little bit about yourself with our readers.

KAY: I am a native Michigander living since 1995 in my adopted state of Texas, in a Gulf Coast community that attracts fishermen, birders, and artists.

I have a handsome son, Scott, and lovely daughter-in-law, Anna, who enjoy organic gardening during their too-short Illinois summers. Scott recently celebrated fifteen years as an engineer with Caterpillar, Inc.

With a business degree from Michigan State, I worked in various administrative positions in both heath care and banking. I quit my last employer’s desk in 2000 and retired to my own to explore creative writing.

WOW: How wonderful that you can put more focus on your writing now. It’s certainly paying off. You seem to really enjoy writing short stories and flash fiction. Do you prefer such writing over other genres? Can you give us some insight into perfecting quality short story/flash fiction writing?

KAY: I’ve started a couple novels and a memoir or two, and they’re all packed away in various states of incompletion. I’m an obsessive reviser, which makes it difficult to get past the first few chapters of a book-length project.

My short attention span better suits me for the flash genre, both fiction and nonfiction. I love the process of discovering a precise noun or verb to replace a 3-word phrase, and working within a word limit helps me to stop tinkering and call a story or essay finished.

WOW: I can totally relate to being an obsessive reviser. It’s great that you found your writing niche. Your story, Bank Job, was one of my favorites. What I loved about it is that not only did you say a tremendous amount using very few words, it was also one of our shortest entries for the summer session. It truly blew me away. Please share with us how this story came to be.

KAY: To submit a winning 250-word story to a WOW contest has been a goal of mine for some time. When I found Bank Job in an old writing practice notebook, I knew I could make it fit within that limit.

I wrote the sloppy first draft of this story as a 20-minute POV exercise at a Rockport Writers Group meeting back in 2010. Having once worked as a teller myself, Kathy’s perspective was a natural choice. My subconscious happily offered up the surprise ending.

WOW: Often the stories that pop up like that turn out to be some of your best work! And you certainly proved that. Do you have a daily writing regimen? How do you get ready to bring those stories out?

KAY: An average of five days a week I write Morning Pages, a habit I picked up from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a good warm up for “real” writing. Even when I’m in a slump, working on nothing in particular, I’ll tell myself, “At least write your Pages!”

I have a great writing partner and writers group, whose muster my stories must pass before I submit them. I read and reread submission guidelines so my work won’t be disqualified for not following them. Once I tell myself a piece is ready to go, I leave it overnight and check for errors one last time with fresh eyes before I push Send. And I aim to submit no less than one week before the official deadline.

WOW: There are some great pointers in there for our readers. I hope they take note of them. Before I let you go, I would love for you to share any writing pearls of wisdom you might have for our readers.

KAY: I borrow inspiration from quotes. Here’s one on writer’s block by Neil Simon, which I’ve turned into an affirmation:

It’s not true that you can’t think of a single thing. You can think of hundreds of things—you just don’t like any of them. And what you like, you don’t trust.

Another is the maxim, Writing is rewriting. I write first drafts by hand; and I used to waste a lot of paper, crumpling pages in disgust, before I learned to sift through my scribbles for the nuggets.

WOW: Great pearls, Kay. Thank you so much for joining us here today and sharing some of your insight. Good luck with your future writing endeavours! We hope to see more of your work very soon.
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Interview and Book Giveaway with Jane Isay, Author of Secrets and Lies

Monday, February 17, 2014
Secrets, large and small, are a fact of human life. Jane Isay's book Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives explores the impact of keeping secrets and the power of truth. Secrets can damage our sense of self and our relationships. Even so, Isay has found, people survive learning the most disturbing facts that have been hidden from them. And secret keepers are relieved when they finally reveal themselves—even the things they are ashamed of—to the people they care about. Much depends, Isay writes, on the way of telling and the way of hearing.

Isay was both a secret finder and a secret keeper. After fifteen years of marriage her husband admitted he was gay, but together they decided to keep it a secret for the sake of their two sons. Building on her personal experience, sixty intimate interviews, and extensive research into the psychology of secrets, Isay shows how the pain of secrets can be lightened by full disclosure, genuine apology, and time. Sometimes the truth sunders relationships, but often it saves them.

Powered by detailed stories and Isay's compassionate analysis, Secrets and Lies reveals how universal secrets are in families. The big ones—affairs, homosexuality, parentage, suicide, abuse, hidden siblings—can be ruinous at first, but the effects need not last forever, and Isay shows us what makes the difference. With specific guidelines for those who keep secrets and those who find them out, Isay's book reveals the art of surviving a secret.

Photo courtesy of Sara Karl
About the Author:

Jane Isay is the author of two previous books, Walking on Eggshells about parents and their adult children, and Mom Still Likes You Best, about adult siblings. She lives in New York City.

Visit Jane's website at, and connect with her on twitter @janeisay, and Facebook:

Book Review of Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives
Review by Renee Roberson

“As human beings, we live the stories we tell ourselves. This internal narrative makes up the core of our identity. Every day, and in every circumstance, we tell and retell our story. As we encounter new information, the story adjusts just a little bit. It is altered as we move through life.” –Jane Isay, Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives

It was the story of how and why Jane Isay remained for decades in a marriage that was a façade that first hooked me into reading Secrets and Lies, but it was the numerous other stories also laid out in the book that kept me turning the pages. Just about everyone you know has a secret, whether in their own life or woven into the fabric of their family. It is such a universal topic that Psychology Today recently featured the topic of identity-warping secrets and lies on the cover of their January issue and ran an excerpt from Isay’s book.

The author interviewed more than sixty people who lived either with their own secrets or the secrets of their family members, a style that appealed to my inquisitive nature as a journalist. In Secrets and Lies, Isay seeks to explore the hopelessness we feel when we learn of a secret (Finders) and why we sometimes continue to cover up such secrets and work hard to keep them from being discovered (Keepers).

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, titled “The Book of Revelations,” tells the stories of adoptions, secret siblings, and infidelity in marriages and staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of children. The second part “The Book of Resolutions,” explores how keeping such secrets can affect a person’s entire life and offers suggestions to acceptance and ultimately, the chance for recovery.

Isay grew up with a psychologist for a mother and lived for decades with a husband who worked as a psychoanalyst, so she takes an analytic yet thoughtful approach while writing about the repercussions keeping, telling and recovering from secrets. Even though this is a work of nonfiction, Isay does a great job of telling the stories in a manner that keeps the reader interested and intrigued. Because of this, I think readers of both memoir and fiction would enjoy this book.

Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 2014)
ISBN-10: 0385534140
ISBN-13: 978-0385534147
Hashtag: #SecretsAndLies

Secrets and Lies is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book format at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Interview with Jane Isay
-----Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: We are so happy to have you here with us today, Jane! Secrets and Lies is a such fascinating read and I can't wait to find out more about where you get your ideas. You have now published three books--Walking on Eggshells, Mom Still Likes You the Best and now Secrets and Lies--and all focus on family dynamics. Can you tell us a little about how you became inspired to tackle the topics found in each of these books?

Jane: Like most authors who write about families and their problems, I chose the subjects of these three books as a way of understanding issues that plagued me in my own life.

Walking on Eggshells emerged when my sons were in their late 20s. They were making good lives for themselves, but I felt that I had moved to the periphery of their lives. And furthermore, they didn’t return my phone calls. I wanted to map out the relationships between parents and their adult children. As I did, discovered the love that our grown kids have for us, and how much they don’t want our advice!

Mom Still Likes You Best explored some of the questions that marked my complicated relationship with my older brother. I wanted to find out what makes some siblings feel like they are best friends, what drives some siblings apart, and how brothers and sisters can find each other as adults. By the way, my brother and I are very close now.

Secrets and Lies started with my need to understand what makes people keep secrets, how the revelations shake reality, and what it takes to continue a relationship ruptured by a revelation. The reality of my first marriage was the spur for this book.

WOW: You started your career in publishing by working at Yale University Press and also worked as a book editor in New York City all throughout your career. How do you think your experience as an editor helped shaped your own personal writing process and style?

Jane: When you start writing a book you have to put the editor’s head to sleep at first. Otherwise, criticism blocks creativity. But then, when something is on paper, you can reactivate the editor’s brain and evaluate the ideas and the clarity of expression. I write in one room and edit in another, and that helps me keep the two activities separate.

When I am an editor, I am smart and quick. I can evaluate writing--even my own--and see where improvements are needed. When I am a writer, I have to put up with feeling dumb, as I search for understanding, struggle with hard subjects, and reach dead ends. I find it more pleasant to edit my own work, but more satisfying to wrestle with the hard issues I write about.

WOW: I love the idea of writing in one room and editing in another! I'll have to put that practice to use in my own work and see how it goes. I'll be honest--when I first heard about Secrets and Lies, I thought it was strictly a memoir. Instead, it contains numerous stories, which are the result of interviews that you conducted with dozens of people. What made you decide to layer in all these different stories and approximately how many hours do you think you spent on the research and interviewing portion of this book?

Jane: I started the book with interviews. I was fortunate to find dozens of volunteers who agreed to share their experiences with secrets. It was only after I finished the research and the first draft that I was persuaded to tell my story in full to begin the book. I came to believe that my own struggle would give the reader confidence in my understanding of the issues people face when they encounter the world of secrets.

I spent two years doing the research for this book. It goes slowly and sporadically, but the time when I’m not actually doing the interviews is the time when the ideas and experiences I have heard about marinate in my mind and heart.

WOW: That's impressive. The two years you spent researching and interviewing for the book really paid off in the end, with the variety of stories you were able to capture and share. In Secrets and Lies you discuss the idea of the "Secret Finder" and the "Secret Keeper." Can you tell us a little more about these two ideologies?

Jane: The Finder, the person who learns the truth, faces the task of rethinking the past and reimagining the future. We live by telling ourselves the stories of our past and thinking up scenarios for the future. These stories come to a full stop when a secret is revealed. Imagine yourself in the driver’s seat when someone comes with a baseball bat and batters the windshield. Your world is shattered, and in addition to the misery of learning the facts, you have to deal with the web of lies you have been told by someone you love.

The Keeper, the person who has been hiding a shameful fact, is not such a happy person, either. The Keeper has to be on guard all the time, worrying that if an incriminating fact slips out, there will be trouble. The Keeper learns to dance around the truth, and that is no fun. The longer you keep a secret, the harder it is to come clean, because then you have to explain away the years of lies.

WOW: You personally lived as a Secret Keeper for many, many years. How would you describe the impact keeping that secret ultimately had on your and your children?

Jane: First I was a Finder, when my husband of 15 years confessed that he was homosexual. My life plan disappeared before my eyes. The decision we made to keep the secret from our sons and the world was painful for us both. I found myself increasingly sad and lonely because I couldn't share the most important fact of my life, and my husband suffered terribly from denying his true identity. We survived those nine years, and when we told our sons, they were shocked and unhappy, but over time they accepted the facts.

They grew up to be admirable husbands, fathers, and professionals. They were loving sons to their father, and they are marvelous to me.

WOW: What are some of your favorite fiction and non-fiction books that tackle the topics of family secrets?

Jane: I have been a dedicated reader of quality mysteries all my life, and this genre kept me alive in the hard years. Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys is a great novel about how a secret infects a family, and Frank Pittman’s Private Lies is my favorite work of nonfiction on the subject.

You might want to visit my website, for other works that have influenced my thinking.

WOW: Thanks again for such a great interview, Jane. To find a copy of Secrets and Lies, visit, Barnes and NobleIndieBound or visit your local bookstore. To connect with Jane online, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @janeisay.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

Courtesy of Doubleday/Random House, we have ten copies of Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives to give away. Just enter the Rafflecopter form below to be entered in the drawing.

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