Interview with Jeanine Manji, 2014 Winter Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Welcome to our chat with Jeanine Manji who placed in our 2014 Winter Flash Fiction contest. Her touching short story, She Left Today, certainly hit the heartstrings of our judges. I’m happy to have her join us today and I know you’ll enjoy our talk as much as I did. If you haven’t had a chance to read her story yet, click on the link to check it out then come back and get to know this talented writer a bit better.

Jeanine’s Bio:

Jeanine Manji actively returned to writing this year after taking a ten year hiatus to pursue an alternate career in public administration and a master’s degree. Children were the audience for Jeanine’s earlier writing and her work has been accepted by publications such as Hopscotch, the Magazine for Girls, and Chickadee Magazine.

Jeanine lives in British Columbia with her husband and gregarious dog, Dexter. She writes short fiction and is currently working on her first novel.

WOW: Hi Jeanine and welcome to The Muffin. A huge congratulations on placing in our 2014 Winter Flash Fiction Contest! Please tell our readers a little bit about you and your writing.

JEANINE: Thank you. I was thrilled to learn that my story placed in your contest.

I made the decision this January to begin writing regularly again and this is the first story I have submitted to a contest in a long while.

Currently, I am working on a series of short stories as well as my first novel-length work.

WOW: What luck to place in a contest with the first story you’ve sent out in a while. It’s definitely a sign that you are on the right path. I love that you write for kids and teens. Do you still enjoy that genre or are you focusing on something else right now?

JEANINE: I particularly love picture books and the way the words and images work together to tell a story. I wrote children’s stories when my own children were small and I spent a lot of time reading to them and being exposed to that genre. Now that they are grown, my interests have turned to adult fiction.

WOW: I love writing for young people too. They appreciate it so much, don’t they? Let’s talk about your touching story, She Left Today. Where did this story come from? Tell us about the writing/editing process for getting it ‘just right’.

JEANINE: Most of my stories come from something I read or something I experience which I then couple with the question “what if?” In this case, I thought about two experiences I have had in my past: I was a homestay parent for two years to international students and I have had the experience of having to cope with my role change when my children left home.

I then wondered what it might be like for a single parent who might have difficulty adapting to this significant life change. The challenge for me was in keeping the story under 750 words. This story wanted to be longer.

WOW: Well, you can always turn that short story into a novel, right? Tell us about your writing process? Do you have a set time of day, set word count, set routine? Or do you just squeeze in that time when you can?

JEANINE: I have a three hour daily commute to and from work on the train. I try to use some of that time to write, research or plot out my work. I also keep a journal which I strive to write in daily. On the weekends I write for two to four hours.

I also set deadlines for myself such as getting a story ready for a contest or for submission. This helps me to move the work along as well.

WOW: That’s fantastic! Sounds like you get a lot of writing time in. (I shold really take some of your routine to heart. lol) Do you have any final pearls of wisdom to give to our readers?

JEANINE: I recently heard the following quote about the writing process and it sums things up quite nicely for me: “Writers write”.

WOW: Awesome pearls, thank you for sharing. Thanks so much for being here today, Jeanine. Congratulations again on your win and we wish you much success with your writing career (not that you seem to need it! ;) )

To find out more about the current WOW flash fiction contest, visit:
Read More »

Tara Meissner Launches her WOW! Blog Tour for Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis

Monday, September 29, 2014
& giveaway contest!

Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is a moving and honest psychology memoir about the things that break us and how we heal. It offers a raw view of a 33-year-old wife and mother swallowed by psychosis. The psychotic episode includes meeting Jesus Christ, dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, and narrowly escaping eternity in the underworld.

Casually called a nervous breakdown, psychosis is an entrapment outside of self where hallucinations and delusions anchor. Family, doctors, and fellow patients witnessed a nonverbal, confused, distraught shell of a woman. In the security of a psychiatric care center, the week-long psychosis broke and spit out a bipolar patient in the cushioned place of middle class medicine.

Outpatient recovery consumed the better part of a year with psychiatric treatment and spiritual contemplation. Left scarred and damaged, health returned allowing her to tentatively embrace a grace and peace earned through acceptance of bipolar disorder.

Paperback: 224 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Tara Meissner (June 23, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0990495108
ISBN-13: 978-0990495109
ASIN: B00L8G6C66

Twitter hashtag: #SFracMeissner

Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, October 3rd at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:
Tara Meissner is a former journalist and a lifelong creative writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and works part-time at her local library. Tara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Mike, and their three sons. She writes longhand in composition notebooks. Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is her first book.

Find out more about the author by connecting with her online:





-----Interview by Crystal J. Otto

WOW: Tara, let’s start with a tough question. Who has been your biggest cheerleader when it comes to your writing?

Tara: It is hard to pick just one; the easiest (and lamest) answer would be my husband who always supported the writing. Another option would be the news editor who hired me to string for the hometown paper, which is when my writing career really started 13 years ago. There are no teachers that come to mind. The writers Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, and Lee Gutkind all influenced the writing. However, I have to say it was a woman who I have grown to call a friend. Amanda Linsmeier. Remember that name. She is an amazing author, a true artist. Somehow she saw these same qualities in me and my work. Amanda never let me give up and kept reassuring me Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis was a well written story and worthy of an audience. We writers are fragile and it is a bit embarrassing how many times and how many ways I needed to hear that validation before deciding to publish. Amanda was always there with the same message — your book deserves shelf space, it is good.

WOW: I wish I could be there to see Amanda’s face when she reads that comment! She is going to be tickled pink.

You have been writing for a long time and you’ve been successful. Thirteen years later, what advice would you like to give your younger self when she was just starting out?

Tara: Think, do. Too often in my career, I think and think and think. I neglect to follow through. So the mantra I repeat to myself is "think, do." This prompts me to get on with it, take action. Basically, I need to stop over thinking and just write.

WOW: That’s great advice for all of us in various aspects of our lives! What took you from over-thinking and prompted you to publish?

Tara: I ran out of excuses to not publish. The memoir was "done" for probably two years before it was published in June 2014. I realized it created no value sitting in a desk drawer. I cannot control if others see value in the stories I have presented in Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis, and that is okay. By publishing, I gave the work an option to be received. I gave it wings. It is up to the readers to see how far it goes. (I also convinced myself that the book would help increase conversations about mental health, and the time may be right to bring that taboo subject into the mainstream in a respectful way.)

WOW: I’m glad to see you didn’t let your work sit in a drawer and I’m sure it is sparking some much needed mental health conversation.

What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?

Tara: I wish I could gain confidence sooner. I worked in journalism far too long, and then followed that with a stint in grant writing. I wish I had given myself permission to just do creative writing sooner.

WOW: I’d be interested in hearing more about how you gained that confidence. I’ll be checking your blog stops to make sure we get some advice on that out to other authors!

What is something readers may not know about you?

Tara: Readers may be surprised to know that my best subject in school was math, not English. I enjoy puzzles and am a fierce scrabble player.

WOW: Sounds like a challenge I’m up for Tara – we will have to get together and play a game or two of Scrabble sometime soon!

As some readers may or may not know, we are in a writers group together, so here’s a loaded question: what are your thoughts on writers' groups or book clubs?

Tara: The right people in a writers' group are invaluable. For me it is a balance of when to spend time talking about writing and when to spend time to writing. Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis would not have happened without my writing groups. However, overtime, the perspective of the group members became predictable. Writing groups retained their value to me as a social network of like-minded people. I think earlier, it was more a support group or learning circle. I also have a love-hate relationship with book clubs. Perhaps the best thing I have taken away from the three years I spent in a book club is that 10 people can read the same book and have completely different reactions to it. That helps me keep in perspective that not everyone is going to love my book.

WOW: That’s a great perspective and lead in to my next question. How do you deal with rejection or a negative review?

Tara: I have a thick skin. Seriously, I understand people's opinions aren't necessarily about me; it can be a matter of taste. However, when trusted writing friends hate my work, then I know the writing isn't working, and I have to take a fresh look at it. In those instances, I am grateful.

WOW: I admire that about you Tara. You are an amazing author and such a good person. When did you know you were an author?

Tara: I think everyone becomes a writer around the same time: first grade. I didn't think much of this skill, until I was a sophomore in college. It was then that I decided I would someday write books. I first started selling my writing about six months after deciding I wanted to be an author. However, I didn't consider myself an author until June, when my first book was published.

WOW: You’ve been an author in my book for thirteen years. Remember how happy I was to meet THE Tara Meissner who would write all the good articles in the newspaper? You were and still are my favorite!

Who is your favorite author?

Tara: Currently, Elizabeth Gilbert is my favorite author. I loved her memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Her historical novel The Signature of All Things is nothing less than genius! What I love about her is that she is completely real and honest. I feel like I know her. She is so completely present in her work. I admire her ability to be vulnerable and confident, which I know doesn't come naturally to anyone or her. It was a place she made herself go and we are all better for her sharing her work with us.

WOW: I’ll be asking you if the movie was as good as the book. I loved the book and can’t bring myself to watch Eat, Pray, Love because I’m afraid Hollywood will have ruined it.

If Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis were made into a movie, what song would be included?

Tara: I'm really ignorant about music. However, I'd like Tom Hanks to play my husband.

WOW: Sounds like you’ve got a little crush! He’s certainly not hard to look at.

Thank you Tara for choosing WOW! and spending this time with us. You’ve got some great guest posts lined up for your tour and I can’t wait to read more!

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

Monday, September 29 (today!) @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!

Tuesday, September 30 @ The Lit Ladies
Join Tara Meissner as she guest blogs about "What Makes Someone a Writer" as she visits the lovely Lit Ladies today! Tara has also provided a giveaway copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis for one lucky winner today!

Wednesday, October 1 @ Choices
Join Tara Meissner as she talks about "BiPolar and the Creativity Link Myth" and shares information about her memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Wednesday, October 1 @ Lisa Haselton
Join Lisa Haselton as she interviews the courageous writer Tara Meissner about Tara's memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis. Tara has graciously provided an ebook copy for one lucky giveaway winner. This is a blog stop you won't want to miss!

Thursday, October 2 @ All Things Audry
Tara Meissner visits with Audry Fryer of All Things Audry and Tara gives her thoughts on the recent death of Robin Williams. Tara has also offered an ebook copy of her Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis for one lucky winner of the giveaway! Good luck!

Friday, October 3 @ Sherrey Meyer
"Being a Mom with BiPolar" is today's subject as author and memoir writer Tara Meissner visits with Sherrey Meyer. Tara has also graciously offered a copy of her recently released Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis to one lucky winner of today's giveaway. Good luck and enjoy!

Monday, October 6 @ Franciscan Mom
Join Tara Meissner as she stops by Franciscan mom with a guest post titled "Accepting Bipolar and Finding Grace" and offers a giveaway of her honest and touching memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Tuesday, October 7 @ Create Write Now
Join Tara Meissner at Mary McCarthy's Create Write Now as Tara discusses "I Knew I Was a Writer When..." and learn more about Tara's memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Wednesday, October 8 @ Jerry Waxler
Read what fellow author and memoir writer Jerry Waxler has to say after reading Tara Meisner's recently released Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Thursday, October 9 @ Lauren Scharhag
Join Tara Meissner as a guest author on Lauren Scharhag's blog talking about "The Stigma of BiPolar" and get in on the giveaway for Tara's memoir Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Friday, October 10 @ Romance Junkies
Join Tara Meissner as she stops at Romance Junkies for an insightful interview about herself and her Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Tuesday, October 14 @ Bring on Lemons
Tara Meissner stops by to chat with WOW!'s own Crystal Otto as she shares her thoughts on "Bipolar and Living Well" and offers readers an opportunity to win a copy of her memoir through a giveaway. Don't miss your chance to hear from Tara and take home a copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

Wednesday, October 15 @ CMash Reads
Join author Tara Meisner as she discusses "Creating Time to Create" with a visit to CMash Reads. Read Tara's thoughts and find out more about her recently released memoir Stress Fracture: a Memoir of Psychosis.

Thursday, October 16 @ One Sister's Journey (Lisa M. Buske)
Today we hear from Lisa M Buske as she reviews the mental health memoir of Tara Meissner. Lisa will also be offering a giveaway of Tara's book, Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

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 *****

Enter to win a copy of Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis by Tara Meissner! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget this Friday, October 3rd!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Read More »

High-Concepting Your Nano Novel with Agent Sally Apokedak

Sunday, September 28, 2014
If you’re taking the NaNo plunge this year—that’s the National Novel Writing Month challenge where writers pen an entire novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November—you’ll want to take literary agent, Sally Apokedak’s upcoming WOW! class. It’s called NaNo Prep: Planning the High Concept Novel and it’s the class that’s going to take your little gem of a premise and make it sparkle like a blockbuster.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: But I already have a great idea, Cathy. Bring it on!

And good for you! But chances are, your great idea is…well, not so great. I know that sounds harsh, but here’s what Sally, associate agent of the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency, shared: “The rejection I get most often from editors is, ‘Great work, but it just doesn’t seem fresh enough.’”


Listen up, you wonderful would-be published novelists! If you’re going to go to all the time and trouble to pound out 50,000 words, don’t you think those words should be worth it? Says Sally, “a high concept novel will give you the best chance of catching and keeping readers.”

So how do you take your idea and writing from stale rehash of a tired plot to a fresh and exciting high concept novel? Let’s go straight to your instructor for answers.

What exactly do agents and publishers mean when they talk about “high concept novels”?

Ask five publishing professionals what the definition is of high concept and you'll get eight different answers (because, undoubtedly, a few will hem and haw and give you more than one answer).

My answer goes like this: A high-concept novel is a novel with a premise that has three necessary components. 1) It needs to be familiar enough to make it appealing, 2) it needs to be fresh enough to make it exciting, and 3) it needs to be universally appealing (to its intended audience).

In other words Amish Vampires in Space is not a high-concept novel because while it's certainly fresh, it's not familiar enough to make it appealing to the vampire lovers, the sci-fi lovers, or the Amish fiction lovers. It's not clear who the intended audience is.

What will students be doing in the class that will get them from boring to blockbuster?

They will listen to lectures and practice their pitches.

They will get my lectures on plot and character, which will tell them the kind of action and conflict I want to see in proposals people send me. I get a lot of proposals each week and the writing is very good on many of them. But if there is not enough action or conflict, I'm going to get bored pretty quickly. They will also get my lecture on high concept. And then they will send me their synopses—a two-sentence pitch, a three-paragraph pitch, and a three-page synopsis—and I will critique these once, let them revise and critique them again.

Gosh! That’s a short class—and a short turn-around! What’s the big rush?

Well, NaNo starts November 1st so I thought it would be great to give students some good direction before it starts. But not to worry . . . if anyone wants more time with me they can have it in January. After their novels have sat for a month, and they've enjoyed Christmas, we'll have a NaNo Polish course that will go for another two weeks. So they will have the option of taking a whole month from me, with Christmas in between.

Okay, then, writers. You know what you need to do. There’s a limit of twenty students for this class, so please don’t wait! Sign up for NaNo Prep: Planning the High Concept Novel today.

What? You’re still reading? GO!

~Cathy C. Hall
Read More »

Literary Heroes

Saturday, September 27, 2014
We all have them—and if you’re like me, you have more than one. I’m talking about literary heroes. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since attending my regional SCBWI conference last weekend, where we talked a lot about all sorts of children’s books, which have really been the cornerstone of my writing career.

Lois Duncan is an author I first discovered in middle school, when I was the “new kid” hiding out in the library whenever I didn’t feel like trying to be social. I can’t remember which book I read of hers first, but I was soon hooked. I loved how she could spin a suspenseful tale without resorting to a lot of necessary blood and gore, and often wove in paranormal elements such as clairvoyance and witchcraft. I still re-read her books whenever I come across them at thrift stores and at the library, and I feel like everything I learned about writing a thriller suspense novel I first learned from her.

Here are my top three favorite Lois Duncan YA books.

Killing Mr. Griffin. 
Tagline: The plan was only to scare their English teacher . . .
This book is a great example of an ensemble piece of fiction, with several different characters falling under the spell of Mark, their charismatic leader with many of the characteristics also found in a psychopath. I could relate to the shy, studious character Susan, and how she becomes torn between helping her new “friends” kidnap their no-nonsense English teacher and realizing Mr. Griffin’s criticism of her own work is what she needs to improve herself as a writer. I think this book hit me hard because I really wasn’t expecting Mr. Griffin to die as a result of their actions. Also, the “Song for Ophelia” poem Susan writes as her final assignment for Mr. Griffin has me shedding tears on the very last page each and every time I read it.

Stranger With My Face. 
Tagline: Is Laurie going crazy, or has her nightmare become a reality?
Stranger With My Face introduced me to the concept of astral projection but also provided me with a cautionary tale of what can happen if your spirit leaves your body for an extended period of time. The character Laurie lives with her parents and younger brother and has never felt like she belonged. When her boyfriend and classmates start claiming to see her around town in places she knows she’s never been she can’t figure out what’s going on. She soon figures out she was adopted and has an identical twin sister, Lia, who is skilled in the art of astral projection. During one of her “visits” she offers to secretly teach Laurie how to project but has sinister motives for doing so. The last line of the book still gives me goose bumps.

Summer of Fear.
Tagline: What is it about lovely cousin Julia that fills Rachel with terror?
I read the paperback copy of this book so much it was dog-eared. It’s one of those novels that will have you throwing your copy down in frustration and picking it right back up again five minutes later. When Rachel’s cousin Julia comes to live with the family after the death of her parents in the Ozark mountains, everyone (except Rachel) is quickly enamored with the woman. Rachel, who hasn’t seen her cousin since they were toddlers, wonders why Julia has the body and demeanor of a much older woman and suspects her cousin is a practicing witch. You’ll root for Rachel to figure out the truth (and time is of the essence!) as first her older brother and then her own boyfriend become taken with “sweet, innocent, Julia.”

These are only three of my favorites, as Duncan has an impressive catalogue of books. She even has a great study guide for teachers on her website.

Who are some of your literary heroes and why?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who hopes to one day join the ranks of her YA literary hero, Lois Duncan. Visit her blog at Renee's Pages.
Read More »

Friday Speak Out!: Cue Tips

Friday, September 26, 2014
by Carie Juettner

Yesterday I was procrastinating on the revisions I was supposed to be working on by walking around my house looking for something else to do. You see, I'd been procrastinating for a while already, so it wasn't easy to find a distraction. The house was clean, the dog was brushed, the books were arranged on the bookcases by height and then by color and then by length of title... Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating just a tad, but it's true that sometimes my best creativity gets spent on procrastination techniques.

So, with no house to clean and no dog to brush and no pressing reason to re-rearrange my bookshelves, I turned my attention to my grocery list. Had I remembered everything I needed from the store? Was there some tantalizing snack I hadn't earned but wanted to buy anyway? Here was a revision I could handle.

As my eyes scanned the list, they fell on an item near the bottom that said, "Cue Tips." I burst out laughing.

When you're a writer, everything you write becomes a piece, a draft. There are no mere notes, no scribbles, no lists, only mini manuscripts, words to pour over, from which to decipher deeper meaning. Even our typos are trying to tell us something. I often type “write” when I mean “right.” I recently sent an email to a friend explaining that I couldn't hang out this weekend because, "I'm really busy write now." There it was. WRITE NOW. A subliminal message from my own brain.

And here was another one, staring at me between bananas and dental floss: CUE TIPS. I walked back to my office, still laughing, and sat down at my computer. I went to my blog, still chuckling, and searched for the posts I'd written a few months ago on my own personal writing tips. I re-read my advice on revising and, even more relevant, my advice on avoiding procrastination. And finally, as the giggles subsided and my chastised muse returned, I put my fingers on the keyboard and got back to work.

I apologize for the cheesiness, but yes, this is one of those stories that ends with, "The power was within you all along!" It's true. The power to write is within us, the power to revise is within us, and the power to climb over those blocks and bumps and force ourselves to stop bathing the cat or re-organizing the junk drawer and get back to work... that power is within us too.

It's just that we sometimes need a misspelled grocery list to find it.

* * *

Carie Juettner taught seventh grade English for thirteen years before quitting her job to write full time. She writes poetry and short stories, and is currently working on a novel for the middle grade audience. Her poems have been published in the Texas Poetry Calendar, di-verse-city, and Something's Brewing, among other places, and her short fiction has appeared in Dark Moon Digest, Darker Times, and Writers Weekly. She lives in Austin with her husband and pets.

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!

Read More »

Productivity and Goal Setting

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I’m either a really productive writer or I’m not. It all depends.

When I have a deadline, I can power through a project whether it is 30 crafts and activities, a week’s worth of blog posts or researching and writing a 14,000 word book in 5 weeks. That hard and fast goal moves me forward and I write hard and fast until I'm done.

I don’t even need large periods of time. Over the summer, I focus on projects I can break into smaller pieces. My son isn’t old enough to drive but he’s on the city swim team. Between trips to and from practice and various meets, I manage to work fifteen minutes here and 30 minutes there. I get a lot done flitting from one small block of time to another, switching which project I'm working on to suit how much time I have.

Now that the school year has started, my son is back in the classroom or at practice most of the day. I have plenty of time to write but for several weeks I wasn’t getting more done. In fact, my productivity had slacked off. I’d a write blog post and then a craft. After lunch, I’d write another blog post and fiddle with some research.

But it wasn’t enough. I’d write at one sitting, rewrite at another and make very little progress over all. Sure, I’d notice the lack of progress but . . . why worry? I had plenty of time to work.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been working a bit differently. Instead of doing a bit of this and a bit of that every hour, I focus on one or two larger projects a day. Monday, I write the posts up for one blog and work on marketing, getting returned manuscripts back out. Tuesday, I watch the lectures and take the quiz for a class I’m taking. During the afternoon, I start the crafts which I finish up on Wednesday before I research my next nonfiction project.

Some people may work well when they have large blocks of time and flit from project to project. Maybe one day that will work for me, but, right now, I’m staying on just one project for longer than I have in the past.

The reason isn’t magical beyond the fact that this is what is working for me now. But the next time my productivity lags, I won’t fight it. I’ll shake things up – breaking my work up in a different way, writing in a new place or, if I feel tapped out, taking the time to recharge my batteries.

As professionals, our solutions have to be as creative and varied as the work we do.


Sue teaches our class, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins in October; places in the class are open.
Read More »

Third place winner, Brenda Watterson, in WOW's Winter 2014 Flash Fiction contest

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Today we have Brenda Watterson joining us, our third place winner in the 2014 Winter Flash Fiction contest. Her winning story, Black Coffee, struck the hearts of our judges and we are so happy to have her here with us today. So, go read her amazing story, then come back and share our chat. You won’t be disappointed.

Brenda's bio:

For seventeen years, Brenda Watterson enjoyed a career in Human Resources and Sales but decided to stay home after the birth of her twins. She and her husband are blessed with four children, two that grew in her womb and two that grew in her heart. Her oldest two came into her life when they were just five- and seven-years-old, fulfilling her greatest desire to mother a child. While she entered the role with high expectations of the kind of mother she thought she would be, they carefully and lovingly shaped her into the kind of mother she actually is. And for that she is forever grateful.

With the dramatic age differences of her four children, she has experienced enough drama and material over the past five years to host her own “Toddlers and Teenagers” reality show. But now that all of the children are in school, she has coaxed her muse out of hiding and unleashed her dream to write. After completing several creative writing courses she recently began submitting her work and was thrilled to have a few things published in Pooled Ink, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and, as well as a piece she wrote about being a stepmom that was featured in the Listen to Your Mother show.

She is currently working on a fiction novel (based on a true story) about a madam for the mob who suffers a brain aneurysm that leaves her severely disabled. Thirty years later the daughter who cares for her receives a shocking phone call that begins to unravel the mysteries of her mother’s life.

Brenda lives in Algonquin, IL where she writes until the school bell rings.

~ Interview by Chynna Laird

WOW: Congratulations for placing third in our Winter Flash Fiction contest! Please tell our readers a little about yourself.

BRENDA: I am a former career woman turned SAHM. I have lived in both “working mom” and “SAHM” worlds and I know how hard each one can be. When our oldest two children were younger, I was at the height of my career. While personal accomplishments made me feel productive and capable, I traveled a lot and often felt guilty for missing school functions and volunteer opportunities. After the twins were born, I traded my business suits for yoga pants and became a full time mom. Dinner conversations with my husband went from discussing corporate policy to who pooped on the potty and I struggled with the loss of self for a while. But looking back I wouldn't change a thing from either experience. There are pros and cons to both scenarios and I think each one helped shape me into the mom I am today. What I learned overall is that motherhood is both beautiful and hard. Sometimes you're savoring it and sometimes you're surviving it.

WOW: I see we have the same challenge with creating a writing career around a big, busy family! Can you share with us some of your personal challenges in this situation and how you’ve gone about getting that writing time in around lunches, school drop-offs and all the other hat changes you have had to make?

BRENDA: Excellent question! My answer to this continues to evolve. When the little ones were home, I could only write when they were sleeping and often times I was just too tired. My husband and I agreed that I needed one evening a week ALONE to dedicate to writing. On those evenings I went to Starbucks or the library for some uninterrupted quiet time otherwise (unless I hid in the closet with my laptop) one of the children was bound to find me. It wasn't until the twins entered kindergarten that I began focusing on writing and exploring opportunities to submit my work, which has been really exciting. But time management continues to be a challenge for me. An online writing course I took, suggested designating a specific time every day for writing and to honor that as a non-negotiable time slot. This was helpful advice, otherwise my writing gets pushed to the bottom of the "to do" list after everything else is done. (And when is everything ever done?)

WOW: Let’s talk about your powerful story, Black Coffee. I won’t blow the ending for those who haven’t had the chance to read it yet (but highly recommend that you do), but I will say I don’t know many writers able to tell us so much about several characters with so few words, having us feel so much for them at the end. Will you tell us where this story came from and your process for getting it just right to send it in to us?

BRENDA: Fiction has never been my strength. I am more comfortable writing essays so this was actually a stretch for me. One of my online course assignments was to go to a public place and describe both the people and the setting. I wrote this story while in a coffee shop. After observing several customers, the ideas for their fictitious personalities and plights just seemed to flow from my fingertips.  I now find writing inspiration from paying more attention to every day people and places and it has helped fiction come a little more naturally to me.

WOW: You have worked in many different areas of the writing field. Why don’t you describe these for us, and tell us what you did/didn’t like as well as what someone interested in those areas would need to keep in mind if they wanted to be successful.

BRENDA: My background is not really writing related. In my last position I was the Director of Sales for an Event Technology company, prior to this I spent the majority of my career in Human Resources and Training. I did have the opportunity to write and facilitate training materials but for "in house" use, not for publication. In my personal journey to explore writing opportunities, I have found great leads from C. Hope Clark's "Funds for Writers" newsletter. All of my recent publication opportunities (including WOW) came from this source. I have also found that staying involved in online writing courses (Writers Digest, WOW etc.) have not only helped me grow but the deadlines have kept me focused.

WOW: One question I love asking guests is what your pearls of wisdom are. Please share some with us that guide you through your writing, and/or life in general.

BRENDA: I think actively reading is important. I read fiction for pleasure and to help sharpen my writing skills and I read Inspirational/Spiritual for self-development. I mostly enjoy writing essays because the process of reflecting on personal experiences often brings clarity, insight even resolution. And while they are not as much fun, I believe negative experiences bring about the most growth. Even our difficult relationships have hidden value. They teach us to practice patience and forgiveness and (if we can be receptive to criticism) they reveal our vulnerabilities. I think negative events in life can be purposeful too. I don’t necessarily believe that everything happens for a reason but I do believe that our experiences, and how we respond to them, shape who we are. The lesson isn’t found in the disappointment or the loss, it is found in the healing. When we learn that we are survivors.

WOW: Well put, Brenda! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today.

To find out more about the current WOW flash fiction contest, visit:

Read More »

Shine! No Dimming Necessary

Monday, September 22, 2014
We've got our shades on - SO YOU CAN SHINE!
Monday articles are stressful to write. I enjoy Monday posts with a touch of humor and a smudge of inspiration. I found myself in my yard pondering what to write. My youngest was playing in his sandbox as I jotting down ideas in my notebook. We live on a busy farm; it is common for people to come and go. On this particular morning a gentleman I know rather well stopped to chat on his way to the barn. As we exchanged pleasantries he asked me to explain a yard decoration I hadn’t thought about since spring when I purchased it. The decoration in question is a decorative flag. It reads: Shine! No Dimming Necessary. He understood the words but wondered what about it had compelled me to purchase and display it.

We had a fabulous conversation about my goal as a wife, mother, and friend. The timing of this conversation seemed serendipitous and I feel moved to share my thoughts with you dear readers and friends. Here is my explanation:

Shine! No Dimming Necessary

I don’t ever want my husband, my children, or my friends to feel they need to play down ANYTHING in order to make our relationship work. There was a time in my life when I felt everything was a competition. If you had published your book before I had, I might choose to ignore your phone calls and skip your book launch. That was then…and those were some dark days when I was too miserable to be happy in my own skin much less be happy for someone else (awful qualities to have in a friend by the way).

Times are different now and I’m not sure if it’s age, wisdom, patience, or what the cause is exactly. What I do know is this: If you are happy, I am happy. It’s just that simple! Come over, grab a cup of coffee. Gush about how much you love your new job, how fabulous your new highlights look, the awesome guy you met at the gym, or your latest weight loss victory. I can’t wait to share in your excitement as I watch you shine! You aren’t rubbing anything in my face. In fact, when I go out in the sunshine, my cheeks get this nice rosy glow and the vitamin D kicks in giving me more energy. Similarly, you can come here anytime and shine. You’re doing me a favor. As I watch you shine, I get caught up in the excitement and my cheeks get rosy and I am energized right along with you. There is absolutely no dimming necessary around this place. Don’t you dare play down your excitement and your accomplishments! I love you and I want you to shine as bright as possible! Leave a comment and share a recent thought or accomplishment so we can all see you shine! There is no dimming necessary here at WOW!

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 7, Andre 6, Breccan 1 year tomorrow), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: She is shown here with her children and her mother hanging out in a tree in her yard. Photo credit to Olivia Brey of Oh! Photography.
Read More »

5 Questions to Ask Your E-Book Designer

Sunday, September 21, 2014

In addition to writing, for many years, I have also enjoyed design work. In the past year, I have started adding a sprinkling of e-book and print book design clients. Although the Internet is full of great information about how to design your self-published e-book, you may want to consider having your e-book professionally designed. While many questions can crop up, below is a partial list—five questions—I've found useful for my clients to consider when hiring for interior book design:

After the work is completed, may I have the design files?
Fortunately, I haven’t run across the a client wanting to have the design files to redesign a book I’ve provided. However, I’m working with a client who is having trouble retrieving design files for his first book, which needs to be uploaded again with significant changes. For whatever reason, the designer of the first book is not responding to the requests for the file. So, even if you don’t have the programs necessary to work with the files, you may want to have access to them for future use.

Do I need to do any formatting of my Word document to help bring down the cost?
Before I take any job, I provide a proposal after looking at the files. One project involved the removal of a hard return at the end of each line. I certainly charged more for that project than to someone who gives me a clean document without such formatting issues. If you are not sure how to clean up the file, when you are contracting with an editor, ask the editor if this is part of the cost of editing. Most editors I’ve met wouldn’t let a manuscript leave their possession unless it’s cleaned up and nicely formatted.

How many revisions are included in the price?
I provide my clients with two basic revisions. Anything extra, I generally charge an hourly rate, with a minimum charge. Take the revisions seriously. If you decide you would like to move a page from one place to another or you don’t like the line break on page 537 and you’ve already used your two revisions, you may need to live with that decision. Or plan to pay more money. I had one client who demanded additional revisions after we had output the final version. It was costly for her and time consuming for me.

Will you help me upload and market my e-book?
If you are not tech savvy and need help uploading the e-book, do not assume the designer will do this for you. Unless I arrange during the contract stage, I generally will not handle the uploading. Others may. Other contractors may provide marketing packaged in their offerings. If I’m going to help someone market an e-book, I provide an additional proposal that covers those costs. It’s also a good break point in the process for determining if I want to continue working with the author…and vice versa.

What happens if there are technical problems with the file I’m uploading? Will you fix those issues for free? Or are those considered under the number of revisions?
You’ve used up your two rounds of revisions, but when you go to upload there’s an issue with the file. Has the designer abandoned you? In my experience, if there is a technical issue, I’m going to help troubleshoot the problem and it is not considered part of the two rounds of revisions. But, make sure you ask your designer to help spell it out.

Have you hired someone to complete your book or e-book? What questions did you ask your designer? What are some of the self-publishing experiences you had when designing your book?

Elizabeth King Humphrey lives in North Carolina. Besides e-book designing, Elizabeth has been working to relaunch her blog...and to not pull out her hair in the process.

Read More »

Why You Should Attend a Writer's Conference

Saturday, September 20, 2014

© Ursula Graham | Dreamstime Stock Photos

After the discouraging experience I had during my critique at my regional Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators conference last year, I was a little nervous about signing up again. But after returning from my first day at the conference this year, I'm very glad I did. Here are a few reasons I recommend you attend a writer's conference, no matter how big or small:

1. You meet new people who share similar writing styles and genres. For an introvert like me, this is big. Luckily I had friends at the conference last year and this year who kept me from sitting in the back of the room and introduced me to other writers with similar interests. This can lead to new critique partners, which helps kick your butt in gear when it comes to producing pages and actually submitting your work.

2. You might have an epiphany (or two) about your project. This year I signed up for an industry intensive about using conceptual metaphors and similes in fiction writing. I knew this was something that could really beef up my YA manuscript, and boy, was I right. After four hours, I had pages and pages of notes and was able to go into my manuscript during the actual workshop and play around with the imagery on the pages. I already feel like my writing is stronger because of the extra time and money I invested in the intensive. The other epiphany I had was during a breakout session on writing humor. When I first walked in, I thought, "this isn't going to do me any good because I'm not really funny." My YA is very dark and gritty and my middle-grade novel has some funny scenes in it, but they are few and far between. After listening to examples of how to add in humor to middle-grade and YA books, it hit me. The missing element to my middle-grade novel, the reason why it didn't resonate with the few agents I sent it out to, is because I wasn't taking advantage of opportunities to exaggerate the humorous situations in the story. Again, I started scribbling notes and came out of the session with the enthusiasm necessary to pick up those pages again and make the main character much stronger.

3. You might finally get validation that you actually know what you're doing. As I mentioned earlier, I took the opening pages of my YA last year and stumbled out of the session feeling like a gal only pretending to be a writer. Despite that, I did change the POV of my story from multiple characters to one, as was suggested in my critique. This year, I paid for two critiques and got very positive feedback, along with constructive criticism. But the way everything was presented to me made complete sense, gave me hope that my project is marketable, and has me revved up to begin revisions Monday. If I had given up after one negative experience, I would still be stuck.

Attending writing conferences is tough. They can be expensive and take you way out of your comfort zone. But you can start small by attending local, more affordable writing workshops (like I did) and move on to the bigger events. I promise you will come out of it with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Photo by Jeanette Charlet Photography
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is already thinking of how she can squeeze in a 50,000-word book during National Novel Writing Month along with the revisions on her other two still unpublished books. She also blogs at Renee's Pages.
Read More »

Want to Guest Post for Us?

Friday, September 19, 2014
Fridays are "Speak Out!" days on the blog, and we love to hear from our readers. 

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

Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
Read More »

Interview with D.A. Russell, Author of Lifting the Curtain: the Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education

Thursday, September 18, 2014
School is a whole different experience these days. Some of the changes are good—no more paddle behind the principal’s desk—but some changes may not be so good. Today we’re talking to Don Russell, author of Lifting the Curtain: the disgrace we call urban high school education.

About Don Russell:

D.A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools used as an example in Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent.

Russell has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in his view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world.


Interview by Robyn Chausse

WOW: Don, I’ve heard that school is a different world now. I thought it would be good for all of us to get a glimpse “behind the curtain” into a child’s everyday experience.

One line I’ve heard from you really struck me: “Parents would not recognize school, compared to what they saw twenty years ago; in fact, it’s changed dramatically in the past five to ten years.” Why is it so different?

Don: That’s a great question to start with. The hardest challenge I found, while trying to get people to see what’s really hurting our children’s education, is that it’s very hard to believe that the system is in that much trouble. Almost none of these conditions existed to any extent back in the 90s.

Dramatic changes have occurred, both inside and outside the school over the last 10 years that strongly influenced the educational environment our children face. The external societal factors are a topic for another time, but look back just 10 years ago, and Columbine was thought to be a once-in-a-century horror. Bullying laws, peanut and latex allergies, and a host of societal issues had just started to be part of our consciousness. Yet every one of these, despite being “outside” the school building, impacted our children’s school life. As a father and teacher, one of the saddest things I see is his children who never seem to have the time to be children anymore.

Inside the schools everything changed. We have lockdown drills; children wear IDs and are under close supervision and security. Standardized testing dominates the curricula; many of the elective courses we parents enjoyed no longer exist because the time periods are used to prepare children to pass the state test. We have a host of assemblies on bullying, allergies, sex education, LGBT issues, etc., plus all the things that take teachers out of the class for half days, standardized tests, developing common core curricula, restraint training, etc…--all great things in and of themselves, but all now combining to take weeks out of the available classroom time. In both the survey and hundreds of interviews I did with teachers over a three-year period, teachers felt that nearly half the children’s classroom time now is spent in non-teaching duties mandated by career DOE (Department of Education) bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, pressure to pass and graduate all students is so intense that the education in every urban high school has been dumbed down to ensure the school is not put under state sanctions. The bulk of the curricula is centered only on what is expected to be seen on the state standardized tests. More than half the children in a standard urban high school education class are on IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), and almost every IEP written in the last two years includes the motivation-destroying accommodation of unlimited retakes for any failed test, and the motivation-sapping accommodation that the student “... gets an A for doing 50% of the work expected of the rest of the class.”

Children are so much smarter than the educational system allows. They get it. Long before they get to high school they figure out the game. The system doesn’t expect them to do well, and will pass them regardless of effort. It’s no surprise that the average urban high school student today averages less homework in an entire week than his parents did in one night--a total of 1.5 hours. Our system actively undermines motivation and effort.

WOW: Wow, that’s a lot of information in one answer! What impact, if any, have all these policies had on our children’s arts and cultural studies?

Don: You’ve hit upon yet another unintended consequence that shortchanges our children. In almost every school I researched, the children had one or two classes each term dedicated to helping pass standardized testing--often one for both English and for Math. Many schools are starting to look at adding more such “test preparation” classes for bio, chemistry, and history as those topics become part of standardized testing.

So do the math--who loses when 2-3 of a day’s classes are tied up with remedial training? A typical school has just 5-6 classes per day. If two (and soon to be more than two) are for additional Math and English training to help with passing standardized tests, where is there room for electives anymore? Where is there a space for creative writing? For law? For small business issues? For psychology? For that matter, where is there a slot for band, art, home economics, study hall, or carpentry?

WOW: What about touching? Thankfully the paddles are gone, but you mentioned in your book that the rules for teachers are so strict now that teachers can not comfort a child or break up a fight. Can you enlighten us on this?

Don: The fear of litigation, and even worse the “inappropriate touching label” (more on that in a minute) is so powerful that teachers now must, by mandate, avoid any form of touching at all. We cannot comfort a sobbing child with an arm around his/her shoulder, we cannot stop a fight if it means we make any physical contact before blood is actually flowing, and we can never return a hug from a child.

The over-reacting mandates force teachers to appear as uncaring and aloof. I wonder if any parent realizes how bad that looks to a child who is hurting and sees a teacher appear not even interested. I wonder what parents would think, while rightly and strongly guarding their children, if a teacher is told to stand aside and let a fight continue, and never step in “…until there are signs of serious injuries.”

That approach is mandated--the topic an annual ½ day out-of-class refresher course in “restraint training” for all teachers; the whole focus is on avoiding lawsuits for “inappropriate touching” rather than focus on the well-being of our children. One of the most callous and heartless things I have ever heard came from the speaker in one of those meetings, “…for your own protection, if there is no blood showing, wait,” and “…a child never is a danger to themselves by punching a wall or throwing a chair across the room.” And in addition to lawsuits, a label of “inappropriate touching” is a stigma that will instantly destroy an innocent teacher’s reputation forever.

When I surveyed hundreds of students, it was ironic that “teachers” were both the best thing about school, and the worst. When I followed up with dozens in post-survey interviews, the “best” teachers turned out to be the ones seen as caring and passionate about the kids--despite the system. We need to change this part of the system with “limited liability protection” for teachers who “touch” a child only in the context of stopping fights, or comforting a distressed child. It is one of the strongest recommendations in my book--not to protect the teachers, but to let the teachers protect and care for the children.

WOW: Thank you so much for joining us today, Don, and for sharing so much information!

What Do You Think? Have schools changed for the worse? Should there be equal time for The Arts? Are there enough rules or too many? We want to hear you…so please leave your comments.

Don’t Miss It: Margo Dill’s Review of Lifting the Curtain and Book Giveaway Here!

Visit Don Russell’s blog and FaceBook page to join in discussions, view illustrations from his book, and enter even more giveaways!
Read More »

Dear Readers...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Normally, I use my blog posts to give a little writing advice or introduce you to someone who can give you some writing advice. But today the tables are turned. I'm the one who needs a little advice and since Dear Abby doesn't field writing questions I'm relying on you, readers. Please tell me what you think.

Dear Readers,

I haven't worked on my WIP in one month and one day. It's not writer's block, exactly. In fact, I have
so many things I want to add to it but I'm not sure if I should. But let me start at the most fictional characters, mine are composites. A little bit me, a little bit of people I've met and a little bit of my imagination. Physical characteristics from one person, the speaking style of another, the quirks of another. As I mined my teenage daughter's friendships for many of the characters for this YA novel, I would tell her jokingly who was "going in my book".

Then, a month ago my daughter's best friend died. He was a young man just beginning to create his adult life when a stranger who shouldn't have been behind the wheel of an automobile took that all away from him. Many of his characteristics had found their way into one of my main characters.

I am torn. Part of me feels compelled to finish this novel, as if it will "capture" him, even if my daughter is the only one who reads this manuscript. But another part of me feels like a vulture writing a character based on him. If his family somehow recognizes him will it be painful for them? What about my daughter? How would his loved ones (and I) feel if someday I made money from a book containing a character based on him?

I don't know what to do so I am doing nothing. I haven't written anything in a month but every night I write and rewrite scenes in my head. Would it be better for everyone if I just abandon this WIP? Should I write it without the end plan of publication? Or should I pursue publication? What would you do?

Jodi is a WOW Blog tour organizer, always looking for her next WOW author. Contact her at Her blog Words by Webb is at

Read More »

When Competition Gets Ugly

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
I suppose some folks can watch a football game and knit or fold laundry or write a blog post. But I’m not the kind of fan who can cheer for my team and do something else. When I’m watching football, I’m all in. Screaming, yelling, dancing—well, let’s just say that I’m invested in the outcome of the game.

I call it “competitive.” (The mister calls it “annoying.”)

Competition can be a good thing. It pushes me to work harder, to keep trying, to always give the best that I can give. As a writer, I love the competition of a good literary contest. I love to win prize money and I love the validation from my peers. Every time I make a pitch to a market, every short story I send out in the world, every agent who gets a query, it’s all competition. I want to win acceptance. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But there’s another kind of competition in the writing world, the kind that can go wrong in a snap, the sort we don’t often talk about: the not-so-friendly competition among our writing peers.

Maybe it’s our writing group. Or maybe it’s the writing friends we’ve made from attending the same conferences, or a bunch of writers that have come together to form a group blog. Heck, it might be a passel of writers we’ve never actually met. And honestly, we might not even realize that we’ve slipped into competing with them. Until the day when a writer in one of our groups has achieved success and we think, “Are you kidding me? Her?” Because what we’re really thinking is, “But I’m the better writer. It should’ve been me.”

Uh-oh. Competition is fixin’ to bring out something ugly in us.

Because once that competitive mindset kicks into full gear, it’s not long before we get…well, fanatical, obsessively dwelling on another person’s writing journey, constantly comparing achievements, allowing someone else’s business to become our business. Ultimately, we can waste a whole lot of hours and energy and brain cells that could’ve been used much more productively. And as grammatically incorrect as the expression is, it comes down to this: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So if you’ve found yourself sliding down that slippery slope, call a time out. The end game is about what you want to achieve; it’s about working hard and believing in yourself. It’s about sticking to your game plan and not worrying about anyone else’s game.

Give a cheer for your friends when they have success, and then get back to your journey. Make competition work for your writing, and before you know it, you’ll be screaming, yelling, and doing the happy dance for your own success!

(But don’t blame me if you’re also a tad annoying.)

~ Cathy C. Hall

Read More »
Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top