Rewriting: Time to Let Go

Thursday, June 30, 2016
“This just isn’t working.”

I had suspected the manuscript had a problem when I decided to run it past the editor on a weekend retreat. No, I wouldn’t have minded if she had said “This is brilliant and I want to buy it,” but that wasn’t the message I received. What she told me loud and clear was that I had a hot mess on my hands. Oh, joy.

We had received her comments in an e-mail before the event. I could have taken the time to create a defense – this is why my manuscript is fine just the way it is. Instead, I reached into my folder and pulled out three chapters. “You’re right. I like this version a lot better.”

You should have seen the poor woman’s relief. Instead of each of us defending our opinions, we had a productive conversation about how to come up with a stronger title, what definitely needed to go into the manuscript, and how best to format it.

I’d spent a year on the picture book version of this manuscript but when it didn’t work I kicked it to the curb. I want to love it, but more than that I want an editor and young readers to love it too. It doesn’t really matter why I chose to do X and Y. If it doesn’t work, I need to come up with a new way to tell the story.

Not that that is an easy decision to make. “But I’ve spent so long on this version! I have to make it work.” I say this even when, with each rewrite, it gets clunkier and increasingly awkward.

What I need to do, and I eventually do, is walk away from the project for a while. Weeding the garden, I think about what inspired me to tell this particular story. I think about the audience. I contemplate what’s working in the present form. Only when I have these things in mind do I sit down again to write.

But I don’t open the old clunky file. I open a new document and start from scratch.

“What? How can you do that when you’ve spent so much time on the other version?”

Truthfully, if it isn’t working, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve spent on it. It is time to start fresh with a clear vision in mind. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve been happy with the results. That said, I generally wish that I’d gotten to this point much sooner instead of continuing to struggle with whatever hot mess I've created.


Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on August 1, 2016.
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Meet Red Empress

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Where is the heart of publishing? Let's say it all together: New York City. Of course there are other pockets: London, San Francisco, Boston as well as university spread through out the U.S. And now there's China. Yes, when I heard about the new publisher Red Empress, a full service publishing company looking for submissions from women and people of color located in China,  I thought, "Well, surely that's for books directed at a Chinese audience, written in Chinese or by Chinese authors." Wrong, wrong and wrong! I sent a few questions to Amanda Roberts, the founder of Red Empress, so we could all learn about this new publisher to add to our TBQ (to be queried) list.

WOW: What is the biggest difference between a POD, a traditional publisher and Red Empress? 

AMANDA: POD publishing at first seemed like a godsend for authors. No longer did you have to print and store hundreds of books and then try to sell them. You could sell one book and then have it printed and sent directly to the buyer. But this is actually the least efficient way to sell books.

Our model tries to combine the best of both traditional printing and POD selling. Authors do have to invest in a small print run of books, but we have very competitive rates (usually less than $2 per book for novels). We also then store and ship the books ourselves. So the author just markets her book, but when a book sells, we ship it for her. No more boxes of books overtaking your living room and trunk. Our shipping is subsidized by the Chinese government, so we can ship to most places for less cost than other people.

WOW: When you say that Red Empress is located in China what exactly does this mean? Do the owners live in China, is the publishing plant in China? 

AMANDA: Our partners and employees are actually located all over the world. Thanks to the Internet, we can always be connected. But many of us are located in China. We have a very diverse team, expats from all over the world and Chinese locals, who all work together to make Red Empress a success.

WOW:  Did your own experiences encourage you to start Red Empress? 

Amanda Roberts
AMANDA: Yes, I'm the main founder and editor and have been an author and editor for several years. I self-published and then was traditionally published, but was unhappy with the experience of traditional publishing. Also, since I am located in China, I started looking at ways to take advantage of my location, such as the low printing prices and low shipping costs. I also contacted people locally and around the world who were passionate about my project and had the skills the company needed (like an art director and a marketing director) to help bring the project to life.

WOW: Why did they choose to focus on female authors?

AMANDA: Because we are all women. And we want to give women a voice and a platform. Red Empress is run only by women. We have a few men who are translators, but even when we were looking for translators and other people to help with the company only on a freelance basis, we specifically sought out women to be part of the company.

WOW: How is author compensation determined?

AMANDA: The authors are paid royalties, but not advances. [Red Empress charges a flat commission fee of 99 cents per book sold, plus shipping costs. The rest of the revenue goes to the author.]

WOW: How can Red Empress offer so many extras for free that authors normally have to pay for such as blog tours and audiobook creation?

AMANDA: Part of that is our location; part of that is simply investment. We believe in our authors and what we do, and we put our money where our mouth is. As I mentioned, I was unhappy with my traditional publishing experience. My biggest issue was a lack of marketing by the publisher. If I was going to do all the marketing myself, why let someone else take 60-80% of sales? Right now, everyone (even the art director and marketing director) are working on royalties. So the more we sell, the more we all earn. Of course eventually we would like to pay a salary, but for now, everyone agreed this was the best way to get us off the ground. Also, as I said, the location matters. Our overhead is much lower than for other companies. Also our location puts us in contact with amazing professionals from all walks of life. Our editors, our translators, our art director, our marketing director, even our voice actor, they all met in Shenzhen. It's an amazing place to be for startups.

WOW: In the next year how many books to you hope to publish?

AMANDA: We have modest goals. We would like to start with publishing one original book a month. [The Vampire's Daughter by Leigh Anderson was released on May 17 with two more books coming soon] However we also have a translation division, not only for the books we originally publish but also for books we didn't publish. We are hoping to publish a couple dozen books in Chinese, Spanish, French, and German in the next year as well. We will have our first translated titles available in July.

WOW: So, if you have a completed fiction manuscript consider Red Empress ( They are accepting all genres but especially romance, mystery, fantasy and historical fiction. Also, short story collections, anthologies and previously published works available for reprint. New authors are welcome! 

Jodi M. Webb is writer living in Pennsylvania who also is a WOW blog tour manager. You can find her at Building Bookshelves.
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Meet Flash Fiction 2nd Place Winner, Sara Codair

Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Today we welcome Sara Codair into our Flash Fiction Winners Circle! Sara won second place in WOW’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest with her entry, The Cell, which reminds us how lives can be disastrously shadowed by the nightmares one lives through.

Sara has been writing fiction since she was in the first grade. One of her earliest works was in a journal she was required to keep for school. It was supposed to be about real things, so her teacher was not very happy to read about a boy who put on a cape, jumped off of a garage, and flew.

Now, Sara writes made up things everyday. She also teaches both college level and developmental writing at Northern Essex Community College. When she isn’t teaching or writing, she can be found outside, where she will be hiking, swimming, gardening or curled up with a good book. Her favorite genres are urban fantasy and magical realism.

She is in the process of revising a Young Adult Fantasy novel, tentatively titled Out of Focus. Her short stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from Foliate Oak, Centum Press’ 100 Voices Anthology, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories. You can find her online at

WOW: Hi Sara, congratulations and welcome to The Muffin! From the posts I read on your blog it looks like you’re busily sending out submissions; how do you stay motivated?

Sara: A friend of mine recently asked me this question. I told her that sometimes I wonder if it is motivation or addiction.

I have all these stories in my head and don’t really feel like me if I’m not writing them down. Writing is time consuming, so there have been long stretches in my life where I didn’t write creatively--mainly when I was in graduate school--because I felt like I was just doing it for entertainment. As a grad student, I didn’t have time for things like entertainment and a social life.

As I got a better grip on teaching and my career, I decided I had to make time to write. At first, it was just finishing the novel’s I had started years earlier. Then a friend, colleague and former WOW winner, Clare Thompson Ostrander, introduced me to flash fiction and a website called Mash Stories.

After writing a few really bad flashes, I realized I could finish a draft in one sitting and revise it ten times over the course of a few weeks, then try to publish it. I got shortlisted by Mash on my third attempt. It was awesome seeing my story online where it eventually got over 1,000 views.

I was hooked, constantly writing short pieces and sending them out while I took breaks between cycles of revising my novel. I’ve gotten over 100 rejections since December, but I’ve also gotten close to 10 acceptances. WOW is the first one that has paid up front. My other “paid” stories are to anthologies. One from Centum Press, will pay royalties . My goal now is to sell more stories to paying markets, and by end of the summer, start querying my YA novel to literary agents. 

I may have taken a long time to get to this point, but what keeps me going in spite of the rejections is a need to validate my writing, get people to read it, and potentially make money off of it. As an only child, I grew up getting what I wanted 99% of the time. I want to get my stories published. I need to get my stories published. Nothing is going to stop me.

WOW: That’s a great attitude…and a big “thank you” to Clare for sharing our contest with you! (Clare won third place in our Spring 2013 contest with Mercy). 

On our Friday Speak Out, you talked about having a sprinter mentality, with one attribute being short-termed focus. What tips do you have for those of us who have trouble staying focused through the revision process?

Sara: Write flash fiction? 

Just kidding!

People who can’t focus (like me) still want to write and revise longer pieces. What works for me is setting small short-term goals that allow me to attack the story one piece at a time. 

I work on a piece for a half hour in the morning, go for a run, then work on it for another half hour before I go to work. If it is summer and I have a day “off” that I plan to dedicate to writing/revising, then I break up short spurts of writing with gardening, running, and cleaning.

If we are talking long term, well, take it one step at a time so I overwhelmed by the big picture. I set tiny goals and accomplish one then move onto the next, that way, I’m not really staying focused for the long haul but on one little piece at a time. One goal might be read one chapter looking to see if my dialogue feels genuine. Am I committing an info dump through forced awkward unnatural conversations? If so, I fix it, and call it a day. The next day, see if that chapter is better, and if it is, do some language revision/editing--word choice, punctuation sentence structure etc.

Additionally, I find it easier to stay focused if I am just revising my novel and one flash. Any more than that I jump around too much and never get anything done. 

If I get a rejection, I will reread a piece, making sure there aren’t errors or any glaringly obvious content mistakes. If I decide to make drastic revisions, then I dedicate a few “days” to just work on that piece.

WOW: Fitting an entire story into a flash piece can be challenging; some writers resort to “the dialog information dump” for communicating backstory. Can you share some thoughts on how to work around the info dump?

Sara: A year ago, I was committing info dumps left and right in dialogue. Then someone told to read Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. I didn’t read the whole book because there was a lot of outdated information about manuscript format, but I did read the section on dialogue. There was one particular exercise that changed how I write. Essentially, it asked me to write my dialogue assuming the readers know everything they needed to already. The dialogue felt so much more real than it had when I was using it as means to give background. 

The readers don’t need to know everything. Think of what they really need to know [and] when. What can they figure out from the way the character moves and reacts? What do they absolutely need to be told? What can they get by without? 

Make them work for their backstory.

The Cell was originally twice as long as the version seen on WOW and it was filled with gruesome details about the bad things that happened to Lu. The reader doesn’t need to know what those specific things are. All the reader really needs to know was that she was a POW who was interrogated. Was she electrocuted? Water boarded? Raped? Starved? The reader can decide for herself. 

The same thing happened with the YA Fantasy Novel I am working on. There was one chapter where my dialogue went from being very “Real” and “Genuine” to a huge info dump about the world. I did the exercise from the first five pages, and made it much better.

Just let the story happen. Don’t try to use your dialogue. Work bits and pieces of background into the way you describe things and what your narrator things about. 

WOW: Great tips, want to share some more? What tips do you have for dealing with rejection?

Sara: Remember that writing is subjective. Everyone has a different opinion about what is good. If one editor rejects you, it doesn’t mean your piece is bad.

Start with publications that send personal rejections, or offer critiques, even if you have to pay a few dollars for them. You don’t have to do everything the editors say because often, you can’t revise and resubmit if the piece gets rejected, but it will give you a lot of insight into what that particular publication and possibly what similar ones look for. 

Keep them organized. I use both a spread sheet and the submission grinder to track what I have sent where so I don’t accidentally send one piece of the same publication twice. The dark side to this is that the numbers can be scary, but that just makes the successes sweeter. 

WOW: What is the one most important lesson you tell your students that would help our readers?

Sara: Don’t censor yourself on the first draft, but make sure you revise and revise and revise and revise before you call it done. 

WOW: That really is the best advice. Thank you, Sara.
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5 Tips for Writing Dialogue

Monday, June 27, 2016
Dialogue can make or break a novel, short story, novella or flash fiction piece. There is nothing more cringe worthy than reading stilted dialogue or conversations that are mundane and everyday. Here are 5 tips to make your dialogue work for the story and your characters.

1. Dialogue must move the story forward.

You can get rid of all the greetings (Hi, how are you?/I'm fine.) unless they are crucial to your plot. Readers assume that characters will greet each other, but they don't need to read about it. You can always do something like: After Sarah said hello, she got to the point. "Where were you last night?" All conversations need to move the story forward. There needs to be a reason why these two characters are talking to each other. Sometimes, it's because the characters have to work something out. Other times, it's because you need the reader to know certain information, and the best way to do that is in dialogue. You know your reason--just have one, and leave out the niceties. You don't need those!

2. Dialogue should reveal character traits.

Writing fiction is hard. One thing we all struggle with is how to describe our characters WITHOUT telling our readers everything about them. We've all heard "show, don't tell" a million times. Dialogue is one way to show readers about your character. For example, let's say your character has a terrible temper and is quick to anger. In a conversation with his mother, you can show how his mom makes him angry, and he spouts off awful things to her. Showing this to your reader is much more effective than telling them: he has a terrible temper. You can also do character description in conversations. For example, one of your characters says to the other: "Why did you cut your long, red, curly hair into a straight bob? What were you thinking?" 

3. Watch out for the extra words in your dialogue.

In real life, people are full of um, well, just, even, and like. But on the page, you don't need to put these unless the extra words are a character trait you're trying to reveal (see number 2 above). Some of us get into a bad habit of starting several lines of dialogue with "well" or "um". Watch out for this if it is not something you're doing on purpose. Also, in a conversation with two people, very seldom do you have to say the person's name. Every line of dialogue should not have the character's name in it. Example:

"Emily, I am not sure what I want."
"It's okay, George, I understand. It's hard to choose."
"Thanks, Emily. You're the best." 

If George and Emily are the only two in the conversation, we know they are talking to each other--we don't need the names. It sounds stilted.

4. Choose vocabulary to show dialect and accents.

You don't have to try to spell an English or U.S. Southern or Cajun accent phonetically. It can be hard for readers to decipher accents or dialect when they are "spelled out". But what you can do is sprinkle some Southern vocabulary in there, for example: "Hey y'all, I'm wonderin' what we're gonna do tonight?" You can even add a dialogue tag, such as: she said with a strong Southern accent. When you research your character, find some specific vocabulary someone from New Orleans would use as opposed to someone from L.A. or Sweden or Paris, France. Research will show vocabulary special to the place your character is from. For example: I will ring my solictor. or I will call my lawyer.

5. Use contractions.

People use contractions. The only reason why your characters should not be using contractions is it's a character trait. Maybe every once in a while, someone in your story wants to stress he did NOT , so you would use that instead of didn't. But otherwise, use contractions. Read the lines of conversation out loud. Do they sound good to the ear?  Contractions help with this.

Dialogue is extremely important to the overall fiction work. Take some time and make yours shine!

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, WOW! novel instructor, and published author of three books for kids and teens. Find out more at:

rocking chair photo above by wharman  (

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How NOT to Write a Book

Sunday, June 26, 2016

There’s plenty of advice on how to write a novel. You can create a structural outline, use notecards, chapter and scene summaries, or you can just write the darn thing and revise like a madwoman. Yes, those are all great ideas for getting the project completed, but what if you want to sit on your work-in-progress until you’re gray and never get anything published? Well, you’re in luck because I’m an expert at that. Here are a few tips on how not to write your novel:
  • Start writing a work of “fiction” based loosely on your life because you’ve been told you should write what you know.

  • Write your book in first person and then rewrite the entire thing in third person because someone in your critique group thought it would eliminate your problem of show vs. tell.

  • Follow all the suggestions from the unpublished writers in your critique group until you create a manuscript so schizophrenic that it resembles some kind of Frankenmonster.

  • Remember that you need a genre for your novel, and decide to go with the latest trend. Add zombies.

  • Realize you’ve written 250,000 words (after all, you had to write in all the new scenes with zombies!) when most novels are around 80,000 – 120,000 words, and you haven’t even decided on an ending yet.

  • Put your novel in the drawer for a very long period of time—so long that when you pull it out again you think, who wrote this?

  • Read through your novel and compare it to your favorite bestselling author’s books and put it back in the drawer because you know in your heart that you will never write prose like them.

  • Invest in a library of writing instruction books and become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of writing and publishing advice there is out there.

  • Take time off to find yourself—again—because you heard you can’t write in a vacuum and need life experience and that means time away from writing. Wait for inspiration to strike.

  • Start freelancing for websites and publications about topics that don’t really inspire you creatively, but remind yourself that at least you’re writing, right?

  • When January rolls around again decide that this is the year you will finally complete your novel.

  • Make a plan to write daily and stick to it for almost a whole month.

  • Run into an old friend you haven’t seen in years and wince when they ask you, “Did you ever publish that novel you were working on?”

  • Decide to stop calling yourself a writer because only real writers write books.

By following these steps and adding a dose of self-loathing, you can be successful at not writing your book, too! Set yourself up for a path of regret for what could’ve been.

All kidding aside, there are times when we unknowingly sabotage our writing dreams. Realizing the patterns that are holding you back from finishing your book is a step in the right direction. Sure, there are legitimate times in your life when you need to take time off from writing. You can’t force creativity, but you can cultivate good writing habits that set you up for success.


Angela Mackintosh is a writer who has decided to superglue her butt to a chair for at least a half an hour every day this summer—whether it's at her home office, a café, or even a folding chair at the beach. She doesn't know whether the superglue will actually hold, and if it does, she doesn't know how she will dislodge her butt from the chair, but figures the longer she stays in the chair the more words end up on the page. It's like B.I.C., but with more superglue.
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Top 5 Basic Domain Name Elements

Friday, June 24, 2016
by Karen Cioffi

As an online marketing instructor and ghostwriter, I get students and clients who are just starting out. Just beginning their marketing journey. And, they don’t know the very basics of an effective website or what actions to take to get started.

The very first thing to do, when you’re first thinking about creating your own website or having one created for you, is get a domain name.

The domain name is your online address. It’s where people can find you online.

For example, my content writing site is Article Writing Doctor – that’s the domain name and the website title. The URL (actual online address) is

The Key Elements of a Domain Name

1. You want your domain name to be reflective of what your site is about.

Still using my Article Writing Doctor site, the reason I chose that name is because it’s highly relevant to my site’s niche.

If your site is about cooking, you'll want a domain name that reflects that. If I had a cooking site, I might use something like Cooking with Karen. Or, maybe zoom in closer on the niche, Karen Cooks Italian or Italian Cooking with Karen.

Make it as specific and keyword effective as possible. The reason I added "with Karen" is because "Cooking" and "Italian Cooking" are very popular keywords. Chances are the domain name wouldn't be available.

2. You want it to be keyword optimized.

The keywords for my domain name are: article / article writing / writing.

3. Keep it short and clear.

Keep your domain name short and to the point. This is best for both readers, search engines, and your marketing efforts. Shorter works better.

4. Think unique.

Try to make your name unique. Make a list of 5-10 names, possibly using variations. Find one that works and that’s available to use.

5. Choose the most popular ‘ending’ if possible.

There are a number of name extensions or endings for URLs: .com / .net / .org, and so on.

You might think of the URL endings as the same as using Street / Avenue / Drive / Road, and so on. Your home address might be:

123 Smith Street
123 Smith Avenue
123 Smith Drive

Get the idea? And, the most popular domain name extension is .com.

Summing It Up

So, there you have it, five of the basic elements to creating an optimized domain name. If you’re getting ready to take the website plunge, use these tips to create a search engine and reader friendly name.


Karen Cioffi is a former accountant who is now 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.

In addition to this, Karen’s website, Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing, was named Writer’s Digest Website of the Week, June 25, 2012.

>>>Do you have a writer's website? Check out Karen's 5-day online class: CREATE YOUR WORDPRESS WEBSITE TODAY: No Code, No Technical Stuff, No Fuss .  Visit our classroom page for details and enrollment.

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Once Upon a Lie Book Review and Giveaway

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Family secrets, deception, the justice system, guardian angels, the opulent, and the confusing, enigmatic decade of the 1980s. If you’re a fan of well-drawn characters, legal thrillers, and the way society and the way parents raise their children can shape lives forever, you’ll want to check out Michael French’s latest novel, Once Upon a Lie.

Perhaps a friendship was a fantasy, but sometimes feelings that grab you by surprise. That are the least likely to happen, are the hardest to dismiss. - Alex Baten

Twelve-year-old Jaleel Robeson is on the run after the police in his tiny Texas town try to frame him for the death of his father. A world away, Alexandra “Alex” Baten is growing up amid all the material comforts a wealthy Los Angeles lawyer can provide. One day, a simple cup of lemonade unites their lives, leading to a maze of adultery and murder that shatters Alex’s youthful innocence and Jaleel’s struggle to reshape his life.

While the forces of the law try to unravel the mysterious death―or at least find a scapegoat―the two youths see the trajectories of their lives entwine, unravel, and come together again. Justice, Alex learns, can be a strange and nebulous thing, easily enmeshed in webs of loyalty and betrayal. Justice, Jaleel finds, can be a powerful―but dangerous―rock on which to build a life of honor and courage. As their stories play out over the years in cities far apart, best-selling author Michael French fills the world of Alex and Jaleel with a cast of vivid characters both supporting and threatening their efforts to build a life that “works” amid the expectancies of others and their own conflicting drives.

Once Upon a Lie is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

About the Author:
A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in English and of Northwestern University with a master’s in journalism, Michael French is the author of twenty-four books: adult and young adult fiction, art criticism, biographies, adaptations, and gender studies. A native of Los Angeles, he also is a successful businessman, an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, a world traveler to developing countries, an activist, and, with his wife, Patricia, a philanthropist raising money for programs aiding teachers in Santa Fe, N.M., public schools, which are some of the most challenged in the country.







***** Book Review of Once Upon a Lie *****

When I began reading Once Upon a Lie, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the synopsis. The story follows the lives of two main characters—Alex, daughter of a successful attorney and his socialite wife, and Jaleel, an intelligent African-American male born to two working class parents. The novel begins in present day, with the voice of an adult Alex apprehensively awaiting a meeting with her mother, and then in the next chapter, takes the reader back to a young Jaleel, and the life he lives in Peartree, Texas with his two parents before their unexpected deaths.

The novel is filled with interesting characters, such as the quirky Cornelius Appleton/Dirick, who kindly offers help to Jaleel (and the many identities he must assume) after he begins life on the run. The majority of the novel is set in the 1980s, which is one of my favorite decades, so there are references to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the life of the affluent in the Los Angeles suburbs mixed in. I found it very hard to have any sympathy for Alex’s parents, who were both entitled in different ways and seemed to have no remorse for the destruction their actions left in their wake.

As I mentioned before, Alex and Jaleel came from very different backgrounds, but were brought together in a random meeting at a lemonade stand that would have a lifelong effect on both of them. Learning how Jaleel’s brushes with the law shaped his persona and gave him a brittle, but wise, edge was one of the more intriguing parts of the book. Fans of writer and activist James Baldwin will appreciate Jaleel’s references to his work, as he becomes a writer in his own right.

Once Upon a Lie is an exploration of the secrets families keep, and the ways those secrets can tear a family apart. It’s also an examination of the country’s justice system—past and present—and how those with influence and money can manipulate that system to their advantage, while those with less means are left with only their word as a defense. These examples include the very different outcomes when both Alex’s father and Jaleel are accused of crimes. By the last half of the book I was on the edge of my seat wondering if justice would truly prevail—and in my opinion, the way the stories are wrapped up will be a great source of discussion for book clubs.

Paperback: 388 pages
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (March 15, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1938288653
ISBN-13: 978-1938288654


Enter the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win your own copy of Once Upon a Lie. The giveaway ends July 5 at 11:59pm.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want another chance to win a copy of a Once Upon a Lie? Participate in the group blogging event for the novel on July 6. Every blogger who signs up posts about the same thing: “Finding Love in Unimaginable Places,” and bloggers and their followers have the chance to be entered into a drawing to win two copies of the book. Email Renee ( to join in the fun!

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Meet Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winner, Solange Hommel!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Solange Hommel is a former elementary school teacher, newly transplanted to central Texas from northern Minnesota by way of southern California. She spends most of her time writing contemporary short stories and flash fiction, although she also has a novel of dubious quality lurking in a desk drawer thanks to NaNoWriMo 2011. She was recently crowned Write Club 2016 champion at the DFW Writers’ Conference. This is her first published story. Her husband and several four-legged roommates keep her company near Austin, TX. When not agonizing over comma placement, Solange likes to play board games or work on one of her many cross-stitch projects. She posts her thoughts online at and stalks ... erm ... admires other writers on Twitter as @SolHom.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Winter 2016 Flash Fiction competition. What inspired you to enter the contest?

Solange: I have a problem with accountability unless I have a hard deadline. To force myself to actually finish stories, I set a goal to make at least one submission each month. I’m particularly fond of writing flash fiction because I’m a naturally wordy person. Having a 750 word limit forces me to make the most of every word. The WOW! Women on Writing contest was perfect for me!

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “When You Wake Up?

Solange: My husband also enjoys writing, and sometimes we will write simultaneously on the same prompt. This story came from one of those sessions a few years ago. I believe the prompt was something about waves. My first thought was of water, of course, but I decided to focus on a different kind of wave—sound. (His version—about a beach wedding—also won a contest! It was a very productive prompt for us.)

I am a total “pantser” (as in “by the seat of my pants”) when it comes to writing. I start with a fragment of an idea and I just write down whatever comes to mind. I’m often surprised by what my characters decide to do. In "When You Wake Up," I remember writing the line about Janice limping over to the picture on the wall and wondering “WHAT? What happened to Andi? Why are you limping?” Derek’s realization mirrors my own.

WOW: Congratulations to your husband too then! We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have certain tools or habits that get you going?

Solange: There is a beautiful, carefully organized desk just for me in the office I share with my husband. I never write there. Usually I’m typing away on my laptop while perched on a barstool at the kitchen counter or curled up in a big chair with my spiral notebook and a pen.

About a year ago, I left my day job to help my husband with his company. Working from home means my writing schedule is flexible—probably too flexible! Recently, I partnered up with a writing buddy on a blog project ( so I’d have a weekly deadline to keep me focused. Otherwise, I plug away on my open stories whenever I find the time and motivation. My best writing occurs when I manage to tear myself away from the siren call of social media.

Contrary to everything I’ve ever read about becoming a good writer, I tend to be very inconsistent with my writing habits. I like to switch things up on a regular basis to keep from getting bored. There are a few things that have become writing staples, however:

  • Tazo English Breakfast tea with whole milk and a little sugar wakes up my brain. I have a collection of owl and superhero mugs I use when writing.
  • Pilot G2 0.7mm gel ink pens have a smooth flow that almost lets my hand keep up with my brain. I get the multi-color pack so I can choose the color that best fits my mood.
  • OpenOffice is my word processing software of choice. I love that it can interface with just about any software my writing groups and beta readers are using.
  • Pandora’s Classical for Work station gives me something to listen to without being distracting.

I hope that over time, I will find more bits and pieces to build into my routine. I love hearing about things that help other writers stay productive so I can try them for myself!

WOW: You mention playing board games as something you like to do. What are your three favorite ones? Are you super competitive when you play, or it just relaxing fun?

Solange: I play for fun! I don’t mind a good competitive game, but my favorites are cooperative play—Pandemic, for example—which require everyone to win or lose together. I like the teamwork aspect, but I also like how that style of game keeps everyone engaged. There’s no sitting around waiting for everyone else to finish their turns.

Family gatherings at my grandma’s house often include a card game called Liverpool Rummy. I am officially The Worst at it (and all card games), but I love the family time it represents. I laugh more during those games than any others.

I’ve also recently fallen in love with a game called Splendor, which involves collecting gems and strategically trading them for increasingly valuable developments and prestige (points!). Everyone is rushing to get the same big ticket items, but there are many paths to success. I played with my nephew and I was convinced he didn’t understand the game because he was doing things “all wrong”. He kicked my butt.

WOW: I'm not familiar with any of those games, so I'll have to look them up! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Solange. Before you go, can you share a good writing tip or advice with our readers?

Solange: It was my pleasure! I’m still in shock that someone liked my writing well enough to want to talk to me about it.

I don’t know that I am qualified to give advice about anything, especially writing. I’m still absorbing all the excellent advice out there by writers who have been doing this much longer than I have. Maybe I can share some of the things I’ve learned instead?

  • No matter how well-read and open-minded I think I’ve become, there are always new perspectives for me to understand. I try to read things by people with very different experiences from mine. (Related aside—Twitter is a great place to meet writers with unique perspectives! If you want to say “Hi”, I’m @SolHom.)
  • Deadlines and rejection letters are my friends! In the beginning, I dreaded them. Now I’ve realized they are some of the best tools for improving my writing skills and habits.
  • Writing groups don’t just provide feedback on works in progress. My writing group is the most effective form of therapy I’ve come across. (Yay, Round Rock Writers Guild!) They get me out of the house, hold me accountable, and support me in all the stages of my writing—brainstorming, rough drafts, revising, and even—or perhaps, especially—when I’m paralysed by fear and lack of confidence.


Our summer flash fiction contest is currently OPEN!
For details and entry, visit our contest page.

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Dorit Sasson Launches Her WOW! Blog Tour of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces

Monday, June 20, 2016
& book giveaway!

At age nineteen, Dorit Sasson, a dual American-Israeli citizen, was trying to make the status quo work as a college student―until she realized that if she didn’t distance herself from her neurotic, worrywart of a mother, she would become just like her.

Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces is Sasson’s story of how she dropped out of college and volunteered for the Israel Defense Forces in an effort to change her life―and how, in stepping out of her comfort zone and into a war zone, she discovered courage and faith she didn’t know she was capable of.

Paperback: 337 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: She Writes Press (June 14, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1631520350
ISBN-13: 978-1631520358

Accidental Soldier is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces  please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Monday, June 27th at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:

Dorit Sasson writes for a wide range of print and online publications, including The Huffington Post and The Writer, and speaks at conferences, libraries, and community centers. She is the author of the a featured chapter in Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time, the latest installment of that best-selling series, and. She is the host of the global radio show "Giving Voice to Your Courageous Story." She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two children.

Find Dorit Sasson Online:



Twitter: @VoicetoStory


----- Interview by Crystal J. Otto

WOW: Dorit, you really are a do everything gal. I'm absolutely amazed at your many talents. Please tell us, as a global radio show host, did you experience any stage fright and how did you personally overcome this, or how you helped someone else through this type of experience?

Dorit: When I first created Giving Voice to Your Story back in 2013 which is now Giving Voice to Your Courage podcast, I wasn't so sure how I was going to get over some of my insecurity around podcasting especially since I couldn't see any of my guests, some of whom were authors of note such as Julia Cameron of the well-known The Artist's Way and Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of the Pulitzer prize winner Anne Sexton. This shook me up immensely. I won't deny it... I had several sleepless nights.

But with each interview, I kept reminding and asking myself that this podcast is not about me - it's about serving my target audience. What do they need and want? In this case, I interview authors, entrepreneurs and basically anyone with a story of courage. This is a very relatable issue and I'm always on the hunt to make it even more relatable. I am always stretching myself to get out of my comfort zone.

This tactic has helped me connect more authentically with my guests.

WOW: Authenticity is definitely important when it comes to connecting with people in general, but especially readers of your memoir. I love how that's been at the forefront for you in many areas of your professional and personal life.

If you could chose just a small excerpt from Accidental Soldier - what excerpt would be your favorite and why?

Dorit: Wow. This is a hard one. There's many sections where I'm trying to navigate both the militaristic and cultural worlds as an American-Israeli trying to fit in.

Singing Ella Fitzgerald's version of "Summertime" on a dusty base in the middle of the Arava desert in the chapter "Giving Voice" would have to be one of my favorite scenes. As a graduate of vocal music of the FAME school in New York City, I'm finally able to give a voice to the experience of serving in uniform on a settlement where the "distance" between myself and our commanding officers is rather friendly. All throughout high school, I felt "voiceless" and unworthy. Ironically, as an IDF soldier, I learn to trust the process of finding my voice on an unknown dirty and tiny base in the middle of nowhere.

At seven o’clock in the evening two days later, I appear on a bungalow stoop facing an empty desert, wearing a dusty civilian shirt, my hands tucked into the pockets of my army work pants. The sun’s still high above me, and my “audience”—members of my garin and the Israeli-born garin—sit on the grass. Our commanding officers stand behind them.


I take a deep breath and introduce each song in Hebrew briefly.

Some of the commanding officers’ hats are pulled down to block out the glare of the sun, so there’s no way of seeing their expressions. Will there be a cringing face, or whispers of disapproval?

I decide to go with the flow: I lift my chest and open my mouth.

I have the entire “stage” to myself. I trill on the high notes without belting. My voice travels. With each note, I feel the distance between my high school self and who I am today becoming smaller. My entire body shakes with nervous excitement and anticipatory anxiety.

As I get deeper into “Summertime,” I try to avoid focusing on the garin and their expressions. This hot desert is the perfect setting for the song. I try my best to execute Ella’s flawless, melismatic style, letting thoughts of her rich voice carry me like warm honey. Each time I end a cadence, I control and deepen my voice just like she does in the recording I know so well.

As I near the end of the song, my heart beats fast.

What’s this? There’s clapping. They liked it! Even as I run to sit on the grass, avoiding people’s eyes, the clapping is still going. I squeeze in between two of the Israeli garin members on the ground. Someone reaches from behind and squeezes my hand.

The next day, Michal, Hiyah, and Miki from the Israeli garin, and even a second officer named Debbie, approach me at breakfast.

“Wow, Dorit, you sang great. We didn’t know you could sing like that.”

I smile widely. I didn’t know I could sing like that, either.

It occurs to me: I’m not just a soldier anymore. I’m someone with a voice.

My second favorite scene:

Arriving at our first real military assignment with my group near the Israel - Lebanese border would have to be another one of my favorite scenes even though it was a hard scene to write because I had to translate so much emotional and cultural content, but it shows real depth of myself as protagonist. It is a true test of how I'm able to separate from my Mom's unrealistic fears about Israel and become my own person, which is the heart of the mother-daughter story.

An officer on the bus starts speaking about the strategic location of Avivim: Our base is less than one kilometer from the Shiite village Saliha and from the Blue Line, a border between Lebanon and Israel established in 2000 for purposes of identifying the withdrawal between Lebanon and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. I have no idea what to expect in terms of what kind of job I might have once we get to Avivim, but it’s clear that it won’t be a nine to five secretarial job. I intuitively feel that my new job will entail something that keeps the base running, but I don’t quite exactly know yet what this will mean as far as my day to day life.

Knowing we are so close now to Lebanon awakens a far-distant memory: It is 1982, and I’m eleven years old, visiting my aunt and uncle at Malkiyah. I’m with my parents and it’s the height of the Lebanese–Israeli war. All along the road on either side of the border are burnt cars with dark hollow spaces like cavernous eyes. Mom is startled by the number of destroyed cars, and though she stays silent, she pulls me closer. I’m too young to understand the specifics of this ongoing war, but I sense her fear.

Although there’s no threat of a war now, as we close in on the last ten minutes of our journey, I realize I’m up against Mom’s deep-rooted—and unrealistic—fears about Israel. Fear knocks on my door like an old childhood friend. The difference, though, is that now I can see, clear as day, that I don’t want it anymore. It’s not serving me. And I know that my fear of what might happen in Israel is based on the media images of terrorism and bombings that I’ve seen over the years. Yes, those things are real, but I now know that the picture the media paints is exaggerated. Mom would fret over a bomb exploding on this base, or alongside the border, but the chances of that happening are low, and furthermore, thinking and fretting about it all the time is pointless. People who’ve grown up here simply don’t worry about what might happen. You are cautious, but you live your life. I choose to look to these people as examples, and to separate myself from Mom’s warped picture of what life is like here. The fact that I’m here, right now, submerging myself in a piece of Israeli history that I was taught to fear, is symbolic of just how much I’ve already separated from Mom in this one short year abroad, and I relish in that thought.

Each time I begin to think negative thoughts, I catch myself. She controlled me back in the States, but I can’t let her control me now.

This is it. The moment of truth and change. We’re almost at the base. This is where I need to get a handle on my fear. Somewhere in my youth, Mom planted the seed that Israel, as a country targeted by terrorists, is a place to be feared. But instead of thinking about that, I try focusing on my mission and why I’m here. This service is real. You’re safe. You’re not going to be blown up.

WOW: Thank you for those sneak peeks - what a special treat!

Tell us more about how you juggle your career along with raising your family? What advice would you give other writer mamas?

Dorit: I won't sugarcoat this juggling act - it is particularly hard as a working parent of young children. I struggled with it while writing Accidental Soldier, and I still struggle with it. But here's what I've been doing that has been helpful:

  • I seek out accountability - usually in the form of a writing class or sending out work to an editor/writing partner. I'm easily frazzled. I need structure to help me deal with the chaos. I also need to constantly improve my writing skills.
  • I enlist the support of my family. By now, they are very well seasoned to my crazy need to write.
  • I try and forgive myself on the days when it doesn't feel as if I'm making any real writing progress.
  • I make sure to schedule downtime for chilling and doing nothing to help balance the intense hours of writing, revising and solitude.
  • I timeblock writing time otherwise it won't get scheduled (and I mean, won't) and it works!
  • I connect with other likeminded authors/writers and particularly those with young children, but they are often hard to get because they're busy writing. I sometimes feel as if I'm an odd and weird one.
  • I timeblock writing and marketing/promotion. I alternate days for writing and marketing - they require different energies and they are two different "animals."

It's a constant need for balance - and because it's so challenging, it's easy to give up, but never give up on something that's so important to you as the need to write.

WOW: I absolutely needed to hear that - thanks for not sugar coating! You definitely make the balance look easy!

How did you end up pairing with She Writes Press? What advice would you give other authors interested in publishing their memoir?

Dorit: When I was in the throes of decision making, I've written extensively about this journey which you can read about here and here. Basically, She Writes Press was always my first choice from the beginning. I worked with Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes and my editor and coach closely on the manuscript from the very beginning, and it seemed like a natural fit. I had already tasted the traditional world of publishing mainly with two academic books, but it wasn't until I gave the agent world a whirl that I realized that my memoir was better off with She Writes Press.

Accidental Soldier was rejected over 100 times. (Yes, I've counted the emails.) When I realized how cold and highly subjective the agent world really was, I signed the contract with She Writes Press. That was all I needed to know. And I've never looked back on that decision since.

I would encourage prospective authors to really really make sure you've got a well-written and marketable story before you rush to publish it.

I've blogged about the importance of hiring an editor - it's so important. You only got one shot as a published author to make a good impression and word quickly spreads about bad books and poor writing.

Nowadays, there are so many publishing choices. I'm a firm proponent in having your book traditionally distributed. Distribution is so important - you want your book to be accessible in the book buying channels. You're taken much more seriously as an author, but unfortunately, many librarians and book proprietors don't know what hybrid really means, so I'm an ambassador out there also educating the masses.

WOW: Rejected over 100 times? That had to be hard; good thing for good support! Speaking of which, who has been your biggest supporter during your writing career and specifically concerning publishing your memoir?

Dorit: I would have to say Brooke Warner who saw that manuscript from a very messy and "shitty" draft as Anne Lamott has famously said, to the finish line. Brooke's astute and keen advice bolstered me during the "stormy" journey.

She also witnessed me transform and grow to a published author. Not all writers stay committed to the finish line.

WOW: Thank heavens for Brooke and her honesty as well as her stick-to-it-iveness!

How do you deal with rejection and what wisdom can you share with others?

Dorit: There's a few ways I've dealt with rejection and as a published memoir that has now been shortlisted for a literary award, rejection still stings.

Here's what softens the blow:

  1. I constantly keep pieces circulating - I think someone said once to have 13 pieces circulating at one time. I have more than that - I send out to contests, and magazines. So when I get a rejection, I immediately send that piece (or something else) somewhere else.
  2. I read testimonials and reviews on bad days to help bolster my confidence.
  3. I try and learn from the rejection.
  4. I look for new markets to submit my work.
  5. I constantly aim for writer growth.

WOW: I love your honesty not only in your book, but also in this interview and every step along the way. You are such a breath of fresh air Dorit!

Was anyone concerned with you sharing your personal story with the world? How did you overcome those objections?

Dorit: I am lucky to have a support network of family and friends though the thought does sometimes cross my mind especially when I near the date of publication. You need some serious thick skin to publish a memoir, and I don't know anyone who doesn't lose any sleep over letting their memoir fly to the world.

I won't deny that I haven't had "what if" type thoughts--about my network not liking what they've read and the nasty trolls who get a jolly from badmouthing someone's writing.

But hey, this is really my journey, my truth, courage and deep story of what I've translated and experienced serving in a foreign military that wasn't my country. It's a mother-daughter story. It's a love story. It's a story of faith. It's courage. Nobody can take this truth away from me. I've earned the title of memoirist because I've experienced those "emotional miles" enough to want to give voice to them.

Obviously, it's easier to write about a family member when that person isn't alive. In my case, my mother. And I know she would have been proud of my achievements if she was alive today. I felt safe enough to write about our relationship.

Dr. Linda Joy Myers, one of my earlier mentors said something very wise when I first started writing Accidental Soldier: protect yourself. Don't involve family members. Don't talk about your book. Don't talk up your book with anyone.

With memoir particularly, you need to feel very safe when you write. Family didn't really know of my intent to publish a memoir of my IDF experience until the manuscript was firmed up and I'd signed a contract. The next thing they saw was a picture of myself in IDF uniform on my Facebook. And so it goes.

WOW: You mention so many familiar names and people I've had the pleasure of getting to know. It's fabulous to hear that the industry has really embraced Accidental Soldier!

What's next? You're so busy - so what is brewing for Dorit Sasson later in 2016 and beyond?

Dorit: Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces was officially published on June 14 2016 and I'll be doing some speaking and touring around the book - in the Pittsburgh area and participating with the SWP tour hopefully, in New York City, Washington DC and Chicago. I'm pitching my book at the Jewish Book Conference in New York City, and these days, I'm working on my 2 minute pitch to grab the attention of programmers who might want me to speak to their groups about my book.

I'm hoping to take the book on tour ... in Israel! I'm also working on a second book - which I haven't decided if it'll be a memoir or a collection of essays.

WOW: Such an exciting time for you. You've got to be jumping with joy!

You're my idol when it comes to stepping outside of your comfort zone - what can you tell others who may be hesitant about moving forward into uncharted territory personally or professionally?

Dorit: Wow, thank you so much for the accolade!

It's always scary to jump into something new. Here's what I say, feel the fear, just do it anyway. And don't forget the important thing - detach from outcomes.

I'd much rather feel the fear than regret that I didn't take the opportunity. Regret is a hard thing to live with. Seek out support and mentors. If you're a writer, learn what the masters have done to conquer their fears, and follow the beat of your own drum.

WOW: Thank you again Dorit. You are absolutely a joy to work with and I have enjoyed every moment of preparation for what is sure to be an amazing book blog tour!

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

Monday, June 20th @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway!

Tuesday, June 21st @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Dorit Sasson authors today's guest post at Choices with Madeline Sharples. Don't miss her post titled: "Working with the inner critics when writing a memoir" and learn more about Dorit's memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces.

Wednesday, June 22nd @ Linda Appleman Shapiro
Linda Appleman Shapiro hosts Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces and the author Dorit Sasson pens today's guest post titled "The Trauma of Leaving my Mother to Service in the Israel Defense Service". Find out more about Dorit, her memoir, and her experiences. This is a blog stop you won't want to miss!

Thursday, June 23rd @ Writers Pay It Forward
Find out what MC Simon has to say after reading Dorit Sasson's memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces. This is a review you won't want to miss.

Friday, June 24th @ Sherrey Meyer
Dorit Sasson is the author of today's guest post "What Americans Can Learn from Israel and the IDF". Thank you Sherrey Meyer for hosting this post and giveaway where one lucky reader will receive their own copy of Dorit's memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces.

Monday, June 27th @ Memoir Writer’s Journey with Kathleen Pooler
Readers at Memoir Writer's Journey with Kathleen Pooler are in for a special treat with the guest post by Dorit Sasson: "How I was able to tell my mother daughter story in Accidental Soldier" and one lucky reader will receive a giveaway copy of Dorit's memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces.

Tuesday, June 28th @ All Things Audry
Dorit Sasson is the author of today's guest post at All Things Audry. Don't miss: "The process for Accidental Soldier."

Wednesday, June 29th @ Jerry Waxler
Fellow author and memoir writer Jerry Waxler reviews "Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces" by Dorit Sasson and asks some great questions of Sasson. This is an interview and review you won't want to miss!

Thursday, June 30th @ Writers Pay It Forward
Dorit Sasson pens today's guest post at Writers Pay It Forward as she talks about "Promoting Accidental Soldier in the United States and in Israel" where readers can learn more about Dorit's memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces.

Friday, July 1st @Coming Down the Mountain
Karen Jones Gowen reviews Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces.

Wednesday, July 6th @ Lisa Haselton
Lisa Haselton interviews Dorit Sasson about her memoir and offers one lucky reader their very own copy with a giveaway of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces.

Tuesday, July 12th @ Mari McCarthy's Create Write Now
Join Mari McCarthy at Create Write Now as she hosts guest blogger Dorit Sasson with the intriguing post "The Courage to Be an Israel Heroine" and find out more about Sasson's memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces. Don't miss this great guest post and book blog tour stop!

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


Enter to win a copy of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Service by Dorit Sasson! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget next Monday, June 27th!

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The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus Review and Giveaway

Sunday, June 19, 2016
When Angela Ackerman offered me copies of The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus as prizes for a WOW! drawing, I jumped at the chance to review these books. I rely on Angela and Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus when I write fiction.

I’m working on a science fiction novel and was looking forward to mining their books for setting details. I hadn’t counted on all of the information on how to most effectively use story settings.
Both of the new guides discuss how well-crafted settings are more than backdrops. They help pull readers in with conflict, resurrect past failures, and are populated by characters who can contribute even more conflict to the story. The books show how setting details can illustrate character traits and convey mood.

All of this and more can be communicated through the setting but settings can also be a pitfall. The guides discuss common problems such as rambling descriptions that go on and on as well as difficulty in communicating the passage of time.

Only once they have communicated the importance of setting and how to pull it off do the authors get into the specifics. Both the rural and urban books have the introductory section to prompt you on how to best use your settings. The two volumes differ in which settings they detail. The urban book features a variety of city-specific settings and modes of transportation ranging from art galleries and pawn shops to trains and taxis. The rural book offers information on quarries and mines as well as school settings and hunting cabins.

I decided to work with The Rural Setting Thesaurus so that I could focus on improving the scenes in my book where the characters’ journey through a forest. I found several pages of visual details ranging from the trees themselves to wildflowers and undergrowth. After the visual details, I read through a vast catalogue of sounds that included wind and trees, water and birds. Textures and sensations ranged from bark to burrs. These were the sections that I expected to find in each thesaurus.

There were also sections and types of details that I had not anticipated. One list included types of conflict that my characters might encounter in the forest. Possibilities ranged from getting lost in unfamiliar territory to encountering a predator. Another list detailed the types of people who might be found in the forest and who might pose a problem for my young characters. Not sure what other settings might be close by? There’s a list for that as well. The section wraps up with a sample “forest” description.

As is always the case with the guides produced by Angela and Becca, the list of details available for use in your stories is vast. This was helpful even when their vision of the setting didn’t match my own. The section on mines focuses on underground mines vs the pit mines of southern Missouri but their list of details did make me think – I can use this but not this and here is how my reality is different.

I can tell already that these books will encourage me to make the most of my settings. Want the opportunity to use these resources yourself? Angela and Becca have made an ebook copy of each setting book available for a drawing. Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

In the meantime, I have to beef up the descriptions of an abandoned orchard. Excuse me while I go make the most of my settings…


Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on August 1, 2016.

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

Fill out the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win ebook copies of The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi! The giveaway ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, June 26th. We will choose one lucky winner on Monday, announce it in the Rafflecopter form, and follow up with the winner via email. Good luck!

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An Honest Look at When Life Gets in the Way of Creativity

Thursday, June 16, 2016
This blog post is published a little later than I like when it is my WOW! blogging day, and I'm going to be honest why. I was constructing a post about "5 Tips for Writing Dialogue in Your Fiction" (or maybe even 6!), but I could not bring myself to get it finished. And I had just done a presentation on this, so it is fresh in my mind.

What's the problem?

Life is the problem. As I've discussed before on this blog, this past year, my husband and I have been going through a divorce, and this is the absolute hardest thing that has ever happened to me. If you are divorced, then at this time you are probably nodding your head. It has completely changed my writing and reading life, and I have been slowly trying to find my way back.

So as I was constructing this "helpful" post on dialogue last night and earlier today, I was thinking: maybe it would be better just to be honest with WOW! readers. When I am honest on Facebook about my life and feelings (without oversharing--of course--or being vague--which everyone hates), a lot of people respond. Why not try it on the Muffin?

How do we as creative people, as writers, get through emotional times? Some of you probably write and journal. Journal writing doesn't work for me. Yes, I write down what I am going through in messages, emails, and texts to my friends. This form of communication actually works quite well for me. It is much easier for me to have an instant message conversation with my best friends than sometimes to have an actual conversation. It's a form of writing, and I'm sure since I am a writer, this is why I find IM so helpful.

I also have plans to start a blog full of non-fiction, self-help, memoir-type posts, but finding the time and energy to do that has so far eluded me.

I am tired, fellow writers. I am full of anxiety and angst. I feel I have little direction. I thought I was out of "survival mode," and recently, tried to do some things to work toward a better future, but I'm not there. I am still in survival mode--just getting by day by day as best I can.

I can't think about finishing my middle-grade novel still. I can barely pick up a book to read. At night, I have all sorts of books on my nightstand calling out to me, and I feel like I don't even have the energy to invest in someone's wonderful story.

Don't get me wrong. I am functioning. Every day is not terrible. I have a beautiful, smart, funny 5-year-old daughter whom I love spending time with. I have amazing friends and parents. I love teaching my WOW! Women On Writing novel classes, and I LOVE helping my editing clients--so I am going to keep doing these things, while I also try with baby steps to get back to what my true passion is--writing and reading. I also like my full-time job, which has to do with proofreading, graphic design, and marketing. So yeah, the left side of my brain is doing all right. It's the right side that needs some time and TLC, I guess.

So I have no idea if anyone reading this who is also a writer, painter, illustrator, sculptor, musician, etc feels this way or has ever felt this way. But you are not alone. And if you've already been through a journey like mine and you are on the other side, I would love to hear about things that helped you.

Next time, I will try to get those 5 tips posted--I know some of you are on the edge of your seat, waiting for those.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. Find out more in the WOW! classroom or on her website. 

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The Top 3 Social Media No-Nos

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
by Karen Cioffi

At this point in time, most everyone knows the importance of using social media marketing. It’s a powerful strategy that has the ability to bring traffic to your website, boost authority, and build your business.

But, there are certain things you should watch out for. Some of these No-Nos will help you avoid harming your credibility and authority, others will help you boost your visibility.

Here are the top three social media No-Nos:

1. Not using social media as part of your marketing.

I’d be surprised if you’re not already doing this, but if not, you must be a part of social media networks in order to create and broaden your visibility and bring traffic to your website.

Join the biggies, like Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Pinterest, and so on. I also use StumbleUpon and LinkedIn. There are lots and lots of them. Find a few that work for you and start sharing on them.

Then find the one or two networks that work best for you and ‘work’ them by posting to them more and engaging with other users more.

Be sure to use social sharing buttons on your blog posts. As you publish each post, share it to your networks. And, be sure to share the posts of other users. This helps create the engagement I mentioned above.

2. Promoting too much.

If you’re primarily promoting your products or services, this is a NO-NO. People want to be informed, they want you to help them. They don’t want to be sold to.

There’s a 80/20 marketing rule: Provide your audience with 80% useable information and 20% promotional content.

In fact, there’s so much information online that I think a better rule would be the 85/15 or 90/10 rule. Make yourself the go-to person for the information your audience is looking for. Then slip in the promo for the product or service that will help ease their pain, build their business, get them healthier, make them money or other solution to their problem.

Make it about your audience.

3. Using link-bait.

Okay, first let me explain what link-baiting is: It’s the practice of creating titles and links that are used specifically to get traffic to your website.

If the content (website) you’re sending the traffic to isn’t relevant to the ‘hyped up’ title, this is a NO-NO. Or, you may be sending people to outdated content or to fluff pieces (no substance or value).

People don’t like this and it will affect your social standing and authority.

Use these tips to help boost your results.


Karen Cioffi is a former accountant who is now 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.

In addition to this, Karen’s website, Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing, was named Writer’s Digest Website of the Week, June 25, 2012.

>>>Want to get more traffic to you and your website? Check out Karen's online class, GIVE YOUR AUTHOR/WRITER BUSINESS A BOOST WITH INBOUND MARKETINGVisit our classroom page for details and enrollment.

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