Christmas Lists - Let's Strategize

Monday, October 31, 2016
There are just over 50 days left until Christmas. (to find out exactly how many - click here)

I'll let that sink in a bit.

I'm as irritated as anyone when it comes to stores selling Christmas items before Halloween, but a part of me understands the importance of planning ahead. We don't go huge on the gift giving, but each year there are more nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors to buy for. Some family members mentioned having an online list where they have thoughtfully suggested some items they would like, and here I am asking you what you think. Tacky or helpful? Which list or site is best? What about for those of us who are in love with books? Do you ever find yourself looking on someone's Amazon wish list or TRB pile on Goodreads? How do you as an author (if you are) get your books onto those Christmas lists?

There is so much to think about. While you're putting together your thoughts on how to respond, I'll show you what I found when I went searching for online Christmas with list registries:

Get Gifts Right. Every Time.TM
Your gift ideas go into Giftster and out comes a simpler way to give and get gifts that matter most – without the anxiety.
A free, private, web and mobile gift registry connecting family and close friends.
Set it up once, use it for a lifetime.

Checked Twice
Create a wish list containing items you love from around the web. Share with your friends and family and see their wish lists too. No more stress in finding the perfect gift so you can enjoy the occasions that matter most. It's great for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and all the moments in between.

My Christmas Wish List
Welcome to the original and best online Christmas wish list on the Internet. My Christmas Wish List lets you share your list with a designated group or groups of family members and friends. And unlike other similar sites, this site gives you the ability to view what has already been bought for someone so you won't double-buy! It works just like a wedding or baby gift registry, but with more control.

Write your Christmas list online for free the smart way in just a few minutes!
Join the 1000s of people every year who use our free Christmas List Maker to write their Christmas list online. It's quick and easy to create your ultimate gift list and make sure you get what you want this year!

Smart Gift List
Online Gifts Lists, Smarter
Get and give the perfect gift every time with Smart Gift List.
A free and easy to use online gift list for Christmas wish lists, birthdays, and any other occasion you can think of. Share your list, reserve gifts, and buy them directly on Amazon.

And the list goes on

and on

and on

Part of me says "let's just grab a gift card through church" because I can't keep track of who wants what and who is using which platform to store their lists. Part of me says "I'm going to buy something that makes me think of you instead of something off your list of demands" and part of me just wants to run away to Jamaica for the holidays and forget the entire thing.

Please leave some comments, thoughts, or advice. I definitely want to remember all the wonderful friends during the holidays, but sometimes it feels overwhelming. In the meantime, I'll grab a cup of coffee and some delicious holiday creamer and read your comments!


Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at: and
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Seeking Bloggers for The Muffin

Sunday, October 30, 2016
If you're a blogger who subscribes to The Muffin, you may be the perfect fit for this position!

Margo recently posted a poll on Facebook of what writers/readers would like to see on The Muffin. (If you get a chance, we would love your opinion!) As she writes at the top of the poll, "we have several bloggers who have been blogging for YEARS on our site, The Muffin" - and it's true! Our bloggers have shared the ups and downs of their writing careers over the years, their personal experiences in the industry, what inspires them to write, their publication successes, their rejections, and more. Our bloggers continue to engage and motivate their fellow writers, and we've gotten to know them intimately throughout the years.

We are looking for a writer who is motivated and active in the writing community. Someone who isn't afraid to share her personal experiences in the writing/publishing industry and wants to help fellow writers.

Posts are roughly 500 words, and can be about anything you'd like to write about, as long as it's helpful to writers.

Some of the topics we cover are:
  • How-tos on a variety of writerly topics (how to query, how to write a scene, how to organize your home office, etc.)
  • In the trenches stories (your experiences or other writers' experiences in the publishing industry, as a freelancer, etc.)
  • Inspirational writing advice or reading (no straight book reviews unless it's tied to a writing lesson or you are assigned a specific book to review)
  • Interviews with authors/agents/editors/publishers (these types of posts are usually assigned and pay more)
  • Author platform and book marketing advice
  • Listicles related to writing/marketing/publishing
  • Balancing life and writing, the writer's life, etc.
  • Creativity posts (writing prompts, exercises to boost creativity)
  • Event coverage (writing conferences, festivals, retreats, literary events)
  • Market profiles (how to write for a paying magazine or website)
  • & more!

How it works: If you are chosen, you will be added to a Google calendar and entered into the blog's posting rotation. You are responsible for writing, proofreading, choosing an image and scheduling your post to publish on the day that you are assigned. We publish in the early morning, typically between 12:30am and 4am PST, and that's why we call it The Muffin. The Muffin is meant to be read with your morning coffee, tea, or juice. :) At the end of the month, you'd send an invoice via PayPal for all the posts you've written during the month. Please note, we do not issue checks any longer. The Muffin currently pays $10 per post you come up with yourself, and more for special assignments like interviews ($15-$40, depending on the interviewee) or assigned book reviews ($20). All posts are roughly around 500 words, give or take, but interviews tend to run longer. Candidate would post at least twice a month.

The Muffin has roughly 36,000+ pageviews a month, over 1,000 email subscribers and a few hundred blogger followers. We promote posts heavily on our social networks (Facebook & Twitter), as well as in our email newsletters that go out to subscribers to our main site (WOW! Women On Writing, over 38,000 email subscribers).

Apply: If you'd like to join our team, focus on your writing career, and help other writers, please e-mail us at (both blog manager Marcia Peterson, and publisher Angela Mackintosh will receive the application). In your email:
  • Tell us why you'd like to write for The Muffin and where you are headed with your writing career. 
  • Please link to a few sample blog posts you've written (if you write for other blogs) or link to your own blog's URL.
  • Include your bio.
  • Provide us with a few possible headlines of posts you'd like to write. You don't have to pitch the entire post, just share a few sample titles. Get creative. Since this position requires the writer to manage her own posts, it's important to know what you're interested in writing about.

Deadline for applications is November 15, 2016. We may close it earlier if we find the right candidate(s).

We look forward to hearing from you!

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The Grueling Process of Submission (Part three): Main Characters, Adverbs, and Adjectives

Thursday, October 27, 2016
This is the final post in my series on this topic. If you missed the first two, you can find them here and here.

Before I give my final tips, I want to reiterate that agents, editors, and contest judges are looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. This is completely different from readers, who are usually willing to give your first several chapters a chance, if you hook them in with an interesting character, great writing, or a plot they can't resist. Readers want to love every book they pick up. Agents and editors can't afford to do so, and they don't have the time. So the tips I've been giving you in this series are meant to help you AVOID giving these gatekeepers reasons, besides your plot or characters, to reject your manuscript.

So let's look at your characters. We all know we don't want stereotypical characters--no cute, snotty cheerleaders and jock football players who only want one thing; we all write unique and interesting beings. (I won't say human beings because they could be animals or aliens, right?) David Kirkland, author and editor with High Hill Press, whom I've told you gave me the idea for these blog posts, said this about the characters in the beginning pages of your novel, "Ask yourself: Does it [your manuscript] open with important characters? Sometimes the opening pages [I've read in submissions] have mostly been about minor characters. That misleads the reader."

I couldn't agree more. I have read countless manuscripts, with and without prologues, where some character has hijacked the first several pages and then disappeared--and not because it is a murder mystery and this person was killed. If I haven't made the following point already, I will try to emphasize it well here. The two best ways to figure out how to open your novel is to 1. read books in your genre and study how other authors do it  2. get a critique group and let them focus on your beginning. Present your main character in the first pages, and be clear (usually) by the end of chapter one what the main problem is in the novel--When is the moment life changed for this character and what is the journey this problem is sending him or her on? This is where you start and whom you start with.

Finally, let's look again at the writing craft--adverbs and adjectives to be specific. I have said on here many times that one of the best books on writing you can read is On Writing by Stephen King, so I'm sorry if I sound like a broken record. You don't need my blog posts, if you have read this book. It's inspirational and instructional! Anyway, he harps on this point about adverbs (especially) and adjectives. You should use them sparingly. (Ha!) If you find yourself using a lot of adverbs and adjectives, ask yourself if you could replace these with more specific verbs, nouns, or figurative language that is not cliche.

One thing I've noticed is the overuse of color words. A writer will say something like: In her red crimson dress, Mrs. Adams glanced around the room, noticing the brown couch with its light gray sparkles, which did not match the shag green carpet. 

When I read that sentence, I'm trying to picture all those colors, which I'm not even sure matter in this case, unless Mrs. Adams is an interior decorator, and that's what this book is about. Again, read your favorite published, successful authors and see what they choose to describe and how. Yes, you will notice adjectives, color words, and adverbs--they are not evil--but how do these authors handle description and specific nouns and verbs?

Best of luck to you. I wish all your writing and publishing dreams will come true. And hopefully this little three part series helped in some way with that dream.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and published author, living in St. Louis, MO. She blogs on a regular basis about being a single mom and writing at, where you can also find a list of her children's books. She teaches novel writing for WOW!, and you can find her class here

photo above by Guudmorning! on

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Market Spotlight: Boys' Life

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

As I have a Cub Scout and den leader in my house, copies of Boys’ Life and Scouting arrive in our mailbox without fail each month. Because I love magazines of all types, and am a freelance writer, I usually flip through them to get an idea of what kinds of stories they run. Here's a market overview of Boys' Life that will hopefully help you make some new sales soon.

Target Audience:
Boys’ Life is a general interest magazine that targets boys ages 6 to 17 years of age. Specifically, the guidelines suggest writers “write for a boy you know who is 12,” with punchy, crisp, and straightforward writing.

An Overview of Content:
A look at the Boys’ Life issues over the past few months includes feature stories on how one troop in Atlanta, Ga. swam with whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium after raising enough money to pay for their training, a troop’s backpacking trip through Arizona’s painted desert, and how another troop visited the Sea Scout Base in Galveston, Tx.

Besides features, the magazine is chock full of reader-submitted jokes (my son’s personal favorite section), columns on health, science, and nature topics, cartoons, puzzles, profiles of scouts and scout leaders, short stories, and a BL Workshop with regular building project.

What You Can Submit:
Nonfiction articles. Articles run 500-1,500 words and the pay is around $1 a word. Boys’ Life editors state that a look at the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) list of 100 merit badge pamphlets is a good place to brainstorm topics. Query Managing Editor Paula Murphey.

Departments run up to 600 words and the pay is $100-$600. Each issue runs an average of seven departments that cover sports, aviation, entertainment, pets, health, science, etc. Query Associate Editor Clay Swartz.

The magazine also has monthly Readers’ Page where readers under the age of 18 can share their adventures related to scouting. This page pays $25 per submission.

Short stories are by assignment only, so Boys’ Life is not accepting queries for fiction. Also, according to the most recent guidelines, the magazine only accepts submissions through snail mail to 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079.

I encourage you to check out a few back issues if possible. I could see this also being a great market for educators who are looking to do some freelance work with the wide range of topics covered.

Good luck!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who has written hundreds of articles for parenting websites and magazines. Visit her website at

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Interview with Flash Fiction Runner Up, Allison Walters Luther

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
After living in such varied places as Southern Indiana, England, Southwest Florida, and Southern California, Allison Walters currently wakes up each day in the Seattle area. With three children ages six and under, she spends her days doing laundry, pretending not to see the crackers all over the floor, and writing stories in her head.*

When she’s not busy rescuing the children from whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into, Allison is an avid reader, NSFW cross-stitch enthusiast, and general science and pop-culture geek. With two children on the autism spectrum, she is passionate about autism advocacy, and, if given the chance, will also talk your ear off about women’s rights and English and Scottish history.

Her favorite writing genres include historical fiction, horror, and suspense/thriller. She recently finished the first draft of her first novel, Bad River, set in 1860s Dakota Territory, and is looking forward to working on the revision in the next few months. Currently, she is finishing up a couple of short story projects and, of course, NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!

You can read about her family’s journey with autism on her blog She is also a frequent retweeter at @AllisonLuther.

* Her husband would like it to be known that he folds laundry better than Allison does.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Spring 2016 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Allison: Thank you! The Spring 2016 contest was my third time entering. I first placed in the Top Ten in the Summer 2015 contest with “Swinging” and also received an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2016 contest with “Widow’s Walk”. I love the challenge of writing flash fiction, as it forces me to really consider the impact of every every word, every phrase.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your entry, "Best Wishes, Melinda Rissmann?"

Allison: After the end of a relationship, I think a lot of people have fantasies about running into their ex months or years later and you finally have a chance to get that last little bit of closure. Or is that just me? “Best Wishes, Melinda Rissmann” was an exploration of how a scene like that might play out.

WOW: Yes, I think many people imagine running into an ex, so you're not alone! As a busy mom to three young children, how do you find time to write? What works best for you?

Allison: It’s been a hard summer for getting anything done, but now that school has started, I’m hoping it’s going to be easier. I generally can find time to write at night after the kids are in bed. Twice a week, I’m able to sneak off to a coffee shop and work while my youngest son is in his therapy class. I also have a notebook next to my bed, AquaNotes in the shower, and a writing app on my phone, so I can jot down the ideas that come to me when I’m away from my laptop.

WOW: You also recently finished the first draft of your first novel. What did it take to accomplish that big goal? What did you learn along the way?

Allison: I started writing Bad River in December 2014 and I think I started over at least four or five times, once scrapping over 50K words. Yikes! I finally figured out that as much fun as writing backstory is, you need to start your story in the correct place. Also, just get the story down and worry about revising and editing later. Write now, fix later.

WOW:  Sounds like you learned a lot from the process! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Allison. Before you go, can you share your favorite writing tip or advice with our readers?

Allison: If you have to force the story, it isn’t the right story.


Our Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest is NOW OPEN!
For information and entry, visit our contest page.
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Writing Connections: You Never Know

Monday, October 24, 2016
I just released another book in the Korean educational market, and so today, I’m sharing a bit about this news.

Well, mostly, I’m answering the questions people always ask when they hear about my Korean books.

No, I don’t speak a word of Korean. I write the books in English and they’re published in English. That model seems to work best for students to learn a foreign language. (But there are an awful lot of notes in Korean! I have no idea what’s in those notes. I hope that they’re explanations of vocabulary words, cultural references, and biographical information. But they could say, “Cathy C. Hall is a poopyhead author.” If you’re ever in Korea and see my books, could you check into that for me?)

Yes, I am a longtime member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and this organization has helped me in countless ways. But SCBWI wasn’t the connection that brought me to writing Korean children’s books. That’s a whole ‘nother story that began right here, with WOW! Women-on-Writing.

I started my writing career as a freelancer and at one time, WOW! had a market resource known as Premium Green. It was a wonderful opportunity to share resources, of course, but more than that, it was invaluable as a “place” to share the ups and downs of this crazy business of writing. Many of the writers I met in this online group are still great friends of mine, and I’ve watched them go on to win prestigious awards, expand their careers, and become engaging authors. Which brings me to Suzanne Lilly, a prolific author and teacher who contacted me one day with a writing opportunity: Darakwon, a book publisher in Seoul, Korea, was looking for English-speaking writers who also have teaching backgrounds. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

When I tell this story, writers are almost always surprised and I’m not sure why. Because you’d think writers would get it; “it” being how crazy this old world works (as long as we don’t put too many coincidences in our novels, right?). The thing is, you never know where writing—or life—will lead you. Who knows where you’ll make your next connection, or who might offer you a wonderful opportunity?

And lastly, I’m sorry, but no, Darakwon has plenty of writers. Still, you never know when a writing connection may contact you with an interesting gig. So be prepared! Study your craft, develop good writing habits, give your imagination a daily workout. You want to be ready when opportunity comes knocking.

(Oh! There’s one more thing. Don’t forget to thank the writer who held that door open for you. Thanks, Suzanne!)

~Cathy C. Hall

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Creative Nonfiction: 5 Questions about Creative Nonfiction

Sunday, October 23, 2016
Because I teach writing nonfiction for young readers, I end up answering a lot of questions about nonfiction writing. Here are the five I get most often.

What is creative nonfiction?

This term was first used by Lee Gutkind to describe narrative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction frequently uses elements associated with fiction writing. The writer builds scenes to help bring the story to life for the reader.

Did you say story?

You better believe it. Many pieces of creative nonfiction are written with a focus on story. For example, if I was going to write about Teddy Roosevelt, I could write about the story of his dinner with Booker T. Washington. Or I might focus on the story of his life as a Rough Rider. Whichever story I chose to tell, I would select only those facts that supported this story.

Isn’t that like hiding the truth?

No. Everything I would include in my nonfiction story would be true. But I would only include the information that fits my slant, the story that I’m telling. I wouldn’t write about Roosevelt’s daughter Alice although she would make a colorful character in her own right. It isn’t dishonest to leave her out. She didn’t play a part in either story. This is just a matter of focus. Especially when you write for young readers, you face a very limited word count. Reserve those words for information that is a good fit.

Okay, you’re not hiding the truth. But you called it CREATIVE nonfiction. What do you get to make up?

Nonfiction, even creative nonfiction is 100% factual. One hundred percent. That means that you have to find sources for all of the facts. When you describe the setting, you have to find sources. Your characters, the people in your story, are also factual and you have to have the sources to prove it. Absolutely everything has to be researched.

But what about the dialogue? I can make that up, can’t I? Or just say that it is what she was thinking?

No, no, no! Even dialogue has to be sourced. Listen to interviews or watch documentaries. Read or listen to speeches that the person gave. Look for published letters or diaries or even unpublished letters and diaries. In my mind, newspaper stories are second tier sources just because they aren’t as reliable. Too often reporters rush to get the story in first. But the point is that even dialogue needs to be researched.

Creative nonfiction is a fun and fascinating style of contemporary nonfiction. It isn’t anything like the nonfiction we had when I was in school. It is fast-paced. It pulls the reader in with a sense of voice and creative word play. But like all nonfiction before it, it is true and it is factual. After all, creative though it may be, it is still nonfiction.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
She also teaches our class, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session begins December 5, 2016.
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Journaling for Fiction Writers? Yay or Nay?

Saturday, October 22, 2016
I hope you're all having a great weekend! It's a busy time here in my little corner of the cornfield. We are busy preparing for the months ahead. This means moving animals, bringing in crops, winterizing equipment, and enjoying our coffee hot for a change. This is my favorite time of year. I enjoy pulling on a bulky knit sweater and grabbing a steaming cup of coffee as I head out to feed calves in the morning and I'm feeling a little more joyful about baking and spending time in my kitchen.

Another highlight this fall was reading an advanced reader copy of the now released Fractured by Cathering McKenzie. Part of the deal we made was she would provide me with an ARC and she would Skype in to our book club. I was giddy as she is one of my current favs. Our group had lots of questions for her as well as having some feedback and ideas of our own. At one point, I asked about journaling (in part because I'm an active journaler but in part because I'm having such fun helping promote Mari McCarthy's new book Journaling Power). Catherine said she doesn't feel that journaling is helpful for fiction writers.

We talked about this after we were offline and came to the consensus that journaling may not be helpful for Catherine, but there are plenty of examples of how journaling could benefit a fiction writer as well as a non fiction writer or memoir writer. For example, I myself journal and have used my journal as the basis for many a short story. Personally, when something comes to me in a dream or is ripped out of the headlines and haunts my dreams, the best way for me to find peace is through journaling and then writing. A particular piece comes to mind - the headline was something about a family who found shoe-boxes filled with baby skeletons in a woman's garage or attic. I was incredibly haunted by this new piece. So much so that even my waking hours were filled with questions and possibilities to try and answer the how and how come. I journaled a few of my thoughts and then wrote a flash fiction piece that gave me enough closure to put the story out of my mind.

So often, our dreams don't have endings. Similarly, we don't always see the ending of a story in today's headlines. We read about a child left to die in a hot car, a baby left unattended in the bathtub, etc... and of course there are trials, jurors, sentences, and an aftermath, but those don't make there way back to the news or at least not to the front page. I find myself needing closure. I need to know more than my dreams give me and more than what the headlines provide. So, I use my journal to write an ending. Once the story has an ending I find I'm able to move forward.

Sorry for the long winded explanation of why journaling works for this particular fiction writer.

Now, for the real reason of this post. I want YOU to weigh in. Does journaling work for you? Why or why not? Are you a fiction writer? Do you know of fiction writers who have strong feelings about journaling and their craft?

Leave your comments - I'm super curious where everyone falls on this topic.

Thank you in advance for your readership and your sharing!


Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at: and
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Friday Speak Out!: 7 Easy Ways to Cheer Yourself On

Friday, October 21, 2016
"Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” -Dale Carnegie

How do you stoke the flames of excitement as you pursue your writing goals? The truth is, we usually need to be our own cheerleaders, doing what we can to inspire and encourage ourselves. Here are seven simple ways to help yourself stay passionate and productive:

1. Celebrate everything. Whether you forced yourself to send out a query letter, finished a contest essay draft, or just got a decent blog post up, you can celebrate the accomplishment with some type of treat. Big achievements like finishing a book or a tough class may even deserve a party. "It's so common for us to quickly move from one project, goal, or task to the next without stopping to acknowledge what we've accomplished already," Cheryl Richardson points out in Life Makeovers. "We all need acknowledgement and reward, and the very best person to fulfill this need is you."

2. Create visual motivators. Inspire yourself by posting a meaningful writing quotation or affirmation in your work area, focusing on a different message every week or month. If you like to make collages or vision boards, do a writer-related page that you can look at from time to time. You can even make fake book covers, pretend resumes (for your eyes only), or an altered best-seller book list with your name inserted onto a real newspaper clipping. These fun techniques can move you toward making your dreams come true.

3. Tell people about your work. Why not add more supportive voices to go along with your self-cheering efforts? Notify a favorite relative, a few close friends, or some writing buddies of your latest byline or accomplishment. Definitely tell your writing group what you're up to—they'll understand. The approval you receive will stimulate good feelings about your writing life.

4. Review your portfolio. Every so often, pull out your list of writing credits and look it over. No matter how many completed works are on your list—three or three hundred—let yourself bask in the "Wow, I did that!" feeling. Reviewing what you've done reminds you of your capabilities, and makes you want to add even more items to the list.

5. Buy books and take classes. Allow yourself whatever resources keep you excited about writing. Buying a fun how-to book is an indulgence that pays dividends, prodding you to be creative and try new techniques. Taking a writing class is another way to ramp up your enthusiasm level—and it often includes a built-in support system of helpful classmates.

6. Collect positive feedback. Start gathering positive responses to your work, so that you have them available for future reading. For example, if you receive an appreciative e-mail from an editor or a writing instructor tells you that you did a good job, copy and paste the remarks into a Word document. You can even save complimentary blog comments from your readers. Whenever you take a look at the saved pages of kind words, you'll get a needed boost.

7. Write yourself a congratulatory letter. As a private journaling exercise, or even on a note card that you will actually send to yourself, write a letter of congratulations and encouragement. Focus on what you've done so far, the challenges you've faced, and the steps you’re taking to make good things happen. Since no one's probably saying these words to you now, it's up to you to go ahead and do it for yourself. Write as if you are talking to a good friend, offering motivating words that will inspire further greatness.

Marcia Peterson is the editor of WOW! Women on Writing's blog, The Muffin. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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The Grueling Process of Submission (Part Two): Backstory and Prologues

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Here is part two of my series on submitting your manuscript to editors and agents. If you missed part one about your hook, proper grammar, and to be verbs, then you can check it out here. It is based on an email I received from an editor of High Hill Press, David Kirkland, and some of the common mistakes he sees in submissions. I have seen similar mistakes in contest entries and editing jobs. Okay, enough introduction--now on to part two, which starts with backstory.

Backstory can be that annoying fly on the wall that's saying you have to deal with me somehow, so how are you going to do it? The thing about backstory is the reader only needs to know enough to understand the story at that point. If it is important that the reader knows the main character went on a hunger strike for 30 days in 1972 in order to understand the story, then you must reveal that fact, even though it happened before the story starts.

But if this same character has had five dogs in his life, all bulldogs--this backstory fact may not be important to understand the story. As the author, you  might think that is interesting and quirky about your character, but you can not bog down the action of the story with the backstory.

Backstory has to be woven in naturally. Ha! I know what you are thinking. How is that even possible? This is where reading some of your favorite books comes in  handy, especially if you own copies, and you don't mind highlighting them. Learn from your favorite authors. Every time you read backstory about a character, highlight it.

Then go back and see how the author balanced the current day story with backstory and how he revealed it--was it through dialogue? Inner thoughts? A short passage of description? What you will probably notice is that the author did not include pages upon pages of backstory, a lot of flashbacks, or dreams to reveal the information readers need to know. Those techniques are not used much, are considered cliche, and often called an info dump.

This brings me to the prologue. Do you need a prologue? Agents and editors say that they don't like prologues, and they don't read them. However, you know as well as I do, that prologues are found in published books all the time, including those in recent years. So what gives? If you  absolutely feel like you  must use a prologue, then make sure it is short and there is a point--such as the reader could not understand this book without the prologue.

Also read some information about prologues. It is all over the Internet, on writers' blogs everywhere. So take some time to read about them. Finally ask yourself and maybe your critique partners: do you absolutely think I have to have this prologue?

David said this about prologues: "Generally, it is a massive info dump, and it delays getting into the story. It is set in the past, which is inherently less interesting since whatever troubles that were immediate right then have passed since we are now in the present."

If you have too much  backstory in your first ten pages or you have included a prologue that does not do its job, then you will probably have trouble getting a yes from an agent or editor. Think about this through your entire book, but especially while writing the beginning.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and published author, living in St. Louis, MO. She blogs on a regular basis about being a single mom and writing at, where you can also find a list of her children's books. She teaches novel writing for WOW!, and you can find her class here

photo above by Guudmorning! on

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Interview with Tracy Maxwell: Spring 2016 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Tracy’s Bio:

Tracy loves all things short-form—especially her children. Her poetry, prose and screenplay work has been published and prized in anthology and competition. You’ve also probably seen, heard or even held Tracy’s words; as a Los Angeles advertising creative charged with storytelling for some of the world’s largest brands, she’s produced award-winning print, web and broadcast copy for a thousand years (a spoonful of hyperbole). As one of few native Angelenos who hates the sun, she recently moved up to rainy Seattle. Adding water really made things bloom, and she is now hard at work on Cracks, her novel about an abused girl saved by universe-hopping, and a serialized flash mashup celebrating song lyrics.

If you haven’t read it already, take the time to read Tracy’s story, “Fear of the Sentry,” and then come back here to read her interview.

WOW: What was your inspiration for “Fear of the Sentry”?

Tracy: My husband was in the military, and we've talked about the similarities between young soldiers at war and our most vulnerable population–like the main character–who get caught in volatile situations. There are many kinds of soldiers and just as many war zones. Often, the ones who most need protection take shrapnel to the heart without care or notice of those in charge. There are two groups of people with high rates of PTSD - soldiers and survivors of abuse and domestic violence. Here they are tragically complementary puzzle pieces for telling a young survivor's tale.

WOW: You’ve packed so much information into this short form, but still leave some things out. We don’t know the narrator’s name, gender or age, things the author generally includes. Why did you decide to eliminate this information?

Tracy: To tell this story the way I wanted I couldn’t write it straight. The device was obviously a factor; there’s a certain blindness that I wanted readers to feel along with the narrator. I also felt the story would have greater impact if the image of the narrator was entirely formed by the reader upon the reveal; I wanted the strongest truth to come from that immediate reader reaction. Lately I've been experimenting with leaving some key character elements unaddressed. Beta feedback has been quite fun. I love all of the different interpretations.

WOW: How did your story change from initial draft to finished form?

Tracy: This was a slightly longer story that I cut down, and I’m happy I did because it better served the piece. I feel the economy of language affords a sort of staccato rhythm as the action builds toward the overarching conflict. Other than cutting and tightening, the content remains very true to my first draft. The story has always lived as I imagined and told it.

WOW: How has your work in writing ad copy impacted your ability to write flash fiction? What skills transfer from one form to the other?

Tracy: I come from an advertising background. I am often tasked with telling the entire story of a major brand or company in a tagline of seven to ten words. Or in a single name. That’s some short form! I’ve written commercials and infomercials, and other traditionally editorial pieces with more meat, but most of my work to this point is very compact and requires an instant connection based on authenticity and hook - much like flash has to grab you right away to be successful.

I think the ad world is the perfect training ground for short fiction, especially flash. It’s funny, 750 words feels roomy to me!

WOW: What advice do you have for writers who are new to flash fiction?

Tracy: Finesse isn’t as important as finished. Just write, then go back to massage and tinker. When truly stuck, stop and do something else. Just like insomniacs shouldn’t be in bed when they can’t sleep, I firmly believe there is no use in staring at a blank screen as your blood pressure rises.

Another tip I find useful in writing flash (and most everything) is composing work inside an email draft; it’s a very low-pressure box into which you can pour your thoughts. I don’t do Word until I have to.

WOW: That’s something I’m going to have to try when I tackle NaNoWriMo. A novel isn’t a short form but I always freeze up under the pressure. You just gave me the tool I need to move forward.

To sign up for updates about Tracy’s writing, visit her web site.

Interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards.  

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A Corn Maze from a Writer's Perspective

Monday, October 17, 2016
Making our way out of the corn maze.
Yesterday afternoon I ventured out to a local corn maze with my husband and two kids. At least two people in the family do pretty well with directions, so I figured with our map and general navigational skills, we could work ourselves out of seven-acre maze in no time, including finding the 12 different mailboxes we had to retrieve clues from.

Boy, was I wrong.

Within five minutes, my son, who had been chugging a bottle of water on the way to the maze, announced he had to go to the bathroom. Of course we were nowhere near one of the Porta Jons, so we had to stop so he could head back out of the entrance and visit the restroom area. Then we started all over again. We found four of the mailboxes within 20 minutes, then lagged behind. To be honest, we got behind a small child carrying one of the eight-foot flags we were all required to carry in case of an emergency and decided to deviate from the path to avoid getting bonked on the head. That was our downfall. We got frustrated when we saw other groups jump over borders we were not meant to take shortcuts on. We found ourselves near the end of the maze and discovered we had missed mailboxes 6 and 7 in our map and had to get help from a staff member, who sadly informed us we had to go all the way back around the outside perimeter of the maze to find those mailboxes.

At that point my daughter turned to me and said, “Have you noticed all the people that came into the maze with us, except for that one family over there, are gone now?” All the while, I’m thinking to myself, “There’s a writing lesson in here somewhere, for sure.”

Here are a few I can come up with now that I’m safely home and massaging my sore leg muscles.

You can have a strategy for a writing project, but it may not always work. There have been times I’ve outlined a service article, only to discover one of my sources either can’t help me or has decided they don’t want to be quoted. If I can’t find another source in that area, I have to rework my original plan in a way that makes sense so I can complete it and get it turned in on time. I once wrote a young adult manuscript in alternating POVs, only to have an editor at a conference tell me it was “too ambitious.” I had to start that one over from scratch, and it’s still not completed.

Give yourself more time on a project than you think you’ll need. I know, this goes without saying, but rarely do I do it myself. With the maze, we had to find our way out or spend the night in a cornfield. What I thought would take us about an hour instead took us an hour and thirty-five minutes. The above-mentioned manuscript I thought could be revised in month has been sitting on my hard drive for probably three years now. I didn’t stay the course and got frustrated. I need to treat that project as if my life depends on it (sell this thing that could produce actual income and pay some bills and quit ignoring it).

Follow the rules. We had a list of rules to follow at the maze, such as don’t break the stalks of corn, don’t take shortcuts (ahem!), don’t run unless you want to shatter a kneecap on rock half hidden in the dirt, and wave your flag in the air if you have a question or need help. Similarly, clarify assignment questions with an editor so you don’t turn in something completely different than was assigned, stay within your word count, find appropriate article sources, and follow submission rules for publications and agents so you don’t end up having your query deleted.

Being a writer can be tough and leave you frustrated and second guessing yourself on a regular basis. But take it from me, if I could make it out of that maze before the sun went down, you will find success if you work hard enough.

Jeanette Charlet Photography
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is very glad her family decided not to do the corn maze at night with flashlights (that’s actually an option). Can you imagine? Visit her blog at Renee’s Pages.
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Observations From A First Time Presenter (Or What I’ll Do Better Next Time)

Sunday, October 16, 2016
This year, I vowed to challenge myself as a writer; I’d embark on the Great Challenge Writing Adventure and Growth Experience of 2016.

And so, jumping into the spirit of things, I sent in a proposal to present a session at an SCBWI conference. I patted my back; I’d “put myself out there.” When I received an email accepting my proposal, I nearly fell out of my chair.

Excuse me? Challenges are supposed to come in baby steps! I expected to send in a proposal three times at least before being accepted. This was a big, ol’ giant step, and I must tell you, I was not psychologically prepared to be a presenter this soon on the Great Challenge etc. etc. But I said yes because a. what’s a challenge if you don’t accept it? And b. the fee was pretty sweet.

I survived the session but not without a few blips. I need to do a better job. And I hope you’ll do a great job presenting at a conference, learning from my mistakes:

1. When I practiced my presentation, I went over the time allotment by 15 minutes. Huh, I thought, that’s just me, learning the material. I’ll come in on time when I’m completely familiar with everything.

Huh. I did not come in on time. I had to zip through the last ten minutes in about three minutes. You know what might have been extremely helpful? Another practice or two beforehand, setting priorities, getting my time organized. And speaking of organization…

2. I like to do giveaways. I frequently host writing workshops and I always have a giveaway or two. But I also always have a sign-in sheet that I use for the giveaway. Midway through my session, I realized I had no sign-in sheet and therefore, no way to handle the giveaway. Aaaaccck!

I did have my SCBWI business cards that I planned to give to each participant and so during an activity, I passed out the cards and participants wrote their names on the back of the cards. It worked out, but it took up more time than I’d have liked; time I didn’t have to spare. I’ll be better prepared for my next giveaway at a session.

3. And because I like plenty of good takeaway information, I packed my presentation with as much takeaway as I could. Unfortunately, all that information didn’t give much time for questions.

Questions are good; questions help us learn. And even when people have the opportunity to find a presenter and ask questions throughout the conference, they rarely do. And so I would have served the attendees better with a little less takeaway and a little more time for explanation.

And so my first presentation ended in a whirlwind but there was a lovely moment, too. As I hurriedly gathered all my stuff, a woman caught up with me, thanking me. “You gave me permission to write what I love,” she said.

Now I have the challenge for my next presentation: for every writer in the room to feel the same way.

~Cathy C. Hall

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Promote Literacy: Design a Little Free Library

Saturday, October 15, 2016
The great thing about writers is that it isn’t hard to convince us that literacy is vital to human survival. Heck some of us have books on our shelves that get right to the point of survival including How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse and The Alien Invasion Handbook. What can I say? I share my shelves with men and boys. We have books to help us in our writing and we have books for reading. We writers are voracious readers, we give books as gifts and we are constantly encouraging others to read. One way to do this is by building a Little Free Library.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this concept, Little Free Libraries are tiny free-standing structures, a lot like newspaper sales boxes. Books are left inside and would-be readers are free to look through them, pick one out and read it. Later they can return the book they finished and take another. You can build one based on your own design but you can also buy a kit here and then register it with the organization. Yes – a whole organization of book lovers!

Obviously there are some challenges to constructing a teeny, tiny library and that’s why Chronicle Books and Little Free Library are pairing up to hold a contest. The contest challenges would be designers to address some of these would-be issues. What issues? They include but are not limited to:

  • How to weatherproof the library to keep the books safe.
  • Creating a design that compliments the community the library serves.
  • Ensuring that the books are highly visible.
  • Making the books accessible to super short patrons (children) as well as tall patrons (adults). Properly storing and displaying books that have unique shapes.

Each entry is eligible for three different prizes including one chosen by the Little Free Library community and another chosen by the panel of judges. My favorite, because of the possibilities it holds, will be chosen by the Chronicle Books team and may be produced “large scale.” Oh, excitement! Imagine copies of your library all over, encouraging readers and spreading the love of books.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in doing, visit the Chronicle Books web page on the contest for more information. It includes an e-mail addy for questions. Me? As usual I have almost too many ideas to pick just one.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
She also teaches our class, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session begins December 5, 2016.

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Dealing with Rejection: Tips from Authors

Thursday, October 13, 2016
One of the many benefits of being a Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing is the opportunity to work with and interview a wide variety of authors. I have compiled a list of some of the best tips they've given us on dealing with rejection. For your reading enjoyment...drum roll please...

Betty's Child by Donald Dempsey
"Don’t be afraid to let it rip." ~ Donald Dempsey during the tour of his memoir Betty's Child

"Rejection is part of the process. I’ve been rejected a zillion times!" ~ David W. Berner during the tour of There's a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets

"I feel if my book helps just one family get through what my family has been through it will be a success. That motivation is much stronger than my fear of having my raw and painful experience out there for everyone to read." ~ Madeline Sharples during the tour of her memoir Leaving the Hall Light On

"I think they are inevitable and we need develop a tough skin and be open to ways we can improve. So much depends upon how the rejection/negative review is delivered. If it is a personal attack with no substantive constructive feedback, it needs to be ignored. If it spells out area of weakness and ways of improvement, it can be a gift." ~ Kathleen Pooler during the tour of her memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse

Toni Piccinini The Goodbye Year
"Worry, dread, and pessimism are powerless positions and they are without faith. I talk a bit about faith in the December chapter and I always get back to a sentiment that makes me feel better: "If you're gonna pray, don't worry. If you're gonna worry, don't bother praying!" ~ Toni Piccininni during the tour of The Goodbye Year

"I deal with rejection and negative reviews by first getting depressed and discouraged. But that’s an unhappy, unpleasant state, so I have to work through it and get over it. I’ll pick myself up, make cookies and then if it’s rejection, I’ll find another way—an open door instead of a closed one. For negative reviews, I remind myself at least someone read my work and felt strongly enough to write a review. If I get too down about it, I’ll go read all the negative reviews on well-known, best-selling authors I admire. That always makes me feel better. Everyone gets negative reviews, even the best books and the best writers." ~ Karen Jones Gowen during the tour of Afraid of Everything

Eric Trant Wink
"Rejection is not a sign to quit—it is a sign to grow." ~ Eric Trant during the tour of his thriller Wink

What has been your best advice? 
Who did it come from? What advice do you have for others?

Please leave a comment - we would love to hear from you!


Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at: and

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30 Books for 30 Years

Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Chet Gecko at Family Reading Festival
Recently I read an article about awe. Awe...that oversized emotion we feel when we meet something amazing, something unexplainable, something so unexpected it leaves us speechless. For the past two weeks I have been living in a state of awe. Awe introduced to me by writers.

It all started with my day job at a local newspaper. Our newspaper's coverage area is dozens of small towns. The nearest bookstore is in the next county -- 45 miles away. Shrinking school and library budgets have made author visits as rare as Yeti sightings. So each November the newspaper organizes Family Reading Festival to promote reading with our local students. Basically, we take over the shopping mall for a day of author readings, book signings, crafts and activity sheets, giveaways, even a book character come to life...anything that has to do with literacy.  Authors, schools and local children's organizations join together to make this chaotic, exciting and enriching day possible.

This year is the 30th annual Family Reading Festival and I started thinking that it would be great to do something special -- give away 30 books. With my boss's OK, I decided to try for 30 book donations. I started by mining my contact list for children's writers and publishers that I had come in contact with through WOW, my writer's group, writer's conferences, blogging and reviewing books. I worried that people wouldn't remember me, would think this small event not worth the expense of a book or just not have time.

I was wrong. Not only have the authors I contacted responded generously they have also contacted fellow writers and told them about the event. Each day at work a new package arrives for me. The 30 books for 30 years giveaway is becoming a reality.

Initially, I felt guilty that the contributing authors weren't getting enough "bang for their buck (or book)". After all, only 300+ families attend Family Reading Festival. But then I began seeing what they are truly getting as a thank you for their generosity. In addition to their book being displayed at the festival, there will be newspaper ads mentioning them, a page added to our website thanking them for their donation, emails to local schools telling them about the giveaways, posts on the newspaper's book blog as well as mentions on their social media.

Perhaps it is because we are so small that we are making such a big splash for these authors. So when you are deciding where to promote your book don't overlook smaller events. Instead of being lost in a crowd of many donations you will be remembered -- both by those planning and those attending that small event.

Authors, how do you decide where to donate books? Do you think small events are as helpful as larger events?

Jodi M. Webb is writer living in Pennsylvania who also is a WOW blog tour manager. When she isn't begging children's authors to donate books to Family Reading Festival, you can find her blogging about books at Building Bookshelves
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Meet J.L. Delozier, Runner Up in Spring 2016 Flash Fiction Contest

Dr. Jennifer (“J.L.”) Delozier submitted her first short story, handwritten in pencil on lined school paper, to Isaac Asimov’s magazine while still in junior high school. Several years later, she took a creative writing elective at Penn State University and was hooked. She received her BS and MD degrees in a compact six years, which was followed by the blur of internship, residency, and the launch of her medical career. But she never forgot her first love. When she decided to delve into longer fiction, she spent some time rediscovering her favorite physician writers. From the deductive reasoning of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the cutting edge science of Michael Crichton, she remains inspired by facts that lie on the edge of reality: bizarre medical anomalies, new genetic discoveries and so on. These are the foundation of her debut thriller, Type and Cross. Published April, 2016, it is available in print and on Kindle anywhere books are sold.

Dr. Delozier lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and four rescue cats. You can find her on Goodreads, her website or on social media: and

Read Jennifer's winning entry and then come back here to learn more about where she gets her ideas and tips for attending a writing conference!

WOW: "Justin's Room" is a chilling tale with a twist ending. How did you get the idea for this particular story?

Jennifer: All my ideas tend to arise from something I overhear and can't get out of my head. Justin's Room started when I overhead two people discussing a recently released book - I have no idea what book - which opens with a close-up view of someone sitting at a table calmly eating breakfast. As the scene develops, the reader becomes aware that this character is not in his own house and has, in fact, murdered all the occupants. I immediately thought to myself, "I need to use something like that." It's such a powerful image, I knew it would have even more impact in a shorter work, without a bunch of other concepts to dilute the punch in the gut. After all, "A novel is a war, but a short story is a landmine." That image just blows your legs off.

WOW: I love that analogy! Perfect. You mentioned you were a fan of Michael Crichton. What's your favorite novel by him and why?

Jennifer: The toughest question BY FAR. You may as well have asked me to pick my favorite pet. I can narrow it down to three. The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Jurassic Park. Why those? Hard for me to say. I thought the first was a brilliant debut. For the second, I loved the combo of sci-fi, mysticism and psychological thriller. And as for Jurassic Park, it had that magical quality, like the first Harry Potter. It took a dry scientific concept, explained it easily (cloning recovered DNA was a fresh idea then) and took it on a wild ride, all the way from "wow, gee wiz" to "holy shit, we're in trouble." I love the idea of taking real science and bending it to the extremes.

WOW: Having attended ThrillerFest this past summer, can you give our readers some tips on how to get the most out of writing conferences?

Jennifer: ThrillerFest was my first conference, so I'm hardly the one to be giving advice here. My best attempt - plan your schedule in advance. You can't attend every lecture, and many of the conference rooms fill up fast, so make sure you know where you want to go and what time you need to be there. On a lighter note, consider dressing better than I did. No ball gowns or anything, but it's nice to be prepared for possible photo ops with your heroes. I'm used to medical conferences, where I'd roll out of bed and stumble to the conference room in sweats. I learned after day one I wouldn't want to see Twitter posts of me and, say Lee Child, in which he looks like the dashing British gent he is, and I look like a frump.

WOW: You work as a federal physician. Can you tell us a bit about what sounds like a fascinating field?

Jennifer: When I first read this question, I thought it said a "feral" physician, which would have been much more interesting! I take care of Veterans at our local VA clinic, but I also participate in DEMPS - the disaster emergency medical personnel system, whereby I get deployed to federal medical shelters during large enough events ("large enough" means the President, not just the state governor, has declared a state of emergency and the local/state resources can't handle the scope of the situation). If you want to know what it's like, I'd encourage you to read my second book, Storm Shelter, which, though fiction, is loosely based on my previous deployments. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait about a year - I just turned the manuscript into my editor a few weeks ago!

WOW: We'd love to hear about your novel, TYPE AND CROSS, which was published this past spring, as well as the upcoming STORM SHELTER. Could you give us a synopsis and tell us a bit about your path to publication?

Jennifer: Here's a blurb for Type and Cross. I wanted it to appear on the cover, but alas - it didn't. I think my editor found it too cheesy!

A homemade virus with deadly global implications.
A disgruntled scientist with a coded plan.
And a nightmare-plagued, tequila-swilling psychologist-for-hire tasked with finding him before he succeeds.
Dr. Persephone Smith is gifted with enhanced empathy—the ability to get inside the heads of those criminals too twisted for other psychologists to unravel. But her success comes with a steep price. Scarred from too many descents into the dark minds of her subjects, Seph has lost her faith in God and Man. She lives only for her work—and for her sister, Grace.
When a bioterrorist triggers a pandemic, the government assigns Seph and a crack team of scientists to hunt him down and force him to divulge the cure. Dr. William Baine turns out to be easy to find but hard to hold, and Seph soon discovers he has a genetic secret of his own—a secret which holds the key to both his coded journal and the formula for the cure. His special abilities are a perfect foil to her own, and, as their psychological bond deepens, he leads her on a cat-and-mouse chase around the world, from the smoky tobacco shops of Bermuda to the underground tunnels of Geneva. There, with the pandemic threatening to exterminate most of humanity, Seph must confront her fears and use her empathetic connection to a killer to save the world, her sister and, ultimately, herself.
What’s your type? Your survival depends on it.

Storm Shelter is actually a prequel and is set ten years prior to Type and Cross, when Seph is still a green clinical psychologist taking care of patients at the Philadelphia VA. Here's an excerpt from my query: "When Seph is deployed to an abandoned air hangar turned federal medical shelter during a massive hurricane, her worst nightmares come true. One by one, as the wind howls overhead, staff and evacuees disappear into the dark recesses of the vast space. The missing return as mutilated corpses. The living, trapped in the shrieking metal structure by the storm, descend into varying levels of paranoia and even madness. Seph must become both counselor and detective to determine who, or what, is calling them prey. Is the panic and mayhem just “shelter shock,” as the head physician, Anne Parrish, insists? Or is everyone, Seph included, in danger of losing their minds—and their lives?" It has a lot more horror in it than Type and Cross did. It also has a limited, claustrophobic setting, as opposed to the global scope of Type and Cross. It's more Stephen King than Michael Crichton.

As far as my path to publication, I've floundered around like a true newbie and done everything "wrong" according to the rules, but so far, it's worked out ok! I had no social media platform to speak of until I started querying for Type and Cross. I built them as I was awaiting responses to my queries. My first mistake: I queried both agents and four or five small presses simultaneously. I later learned this is considered poor practice, but I had no idea of that at the time. I got several full requests from both agents and two of the small presses. While all the agents ultimately passed, both small presses offered me a contract. Then I had the difficult situation of choosing! I ultimately went with WiDo for many reasons, but the primary one is that they've been in existence for almost a decade, which is an eternity for a small press (since many of them fold so quickly.) They have the right of first refusal on Storm Shelter, and I'm hoping they'll like it enough to publish it.

I still desperately want an agent to be my partner on what I hope will be a long career, but my current plan is to write a third and final Persephone Smith book and then branch out with something new (I have a list of 28 undeveloped ideas) at which point I'll query again. For now, I'm taking a bit of a break and working on more short stories. I've submitted two and am awaiting responses (Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines - fingers crossed!) I also expanded Justin's Room to a longer length more appropriate for a print magazine. Wish me luck!

WOW: Best of luck, of course! You're determination and enthusiasm to the craft are a great inspiration for us all.

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Sugarland by Martha Conway -- a Blog Tour and Giveaway

Monday, October 10, 2016
Have you ever wished you could go back in time and experience another time, another place? Now's your chance! Martha Conway's latest novel Sugarland, the winner of a Reader's Favorite Book Award, will whisk you away to Chicago to rub elbows with bootleggers, jazz musicians and more than one unsavory character!

Follow in the steps of talented young pianist Eve Riser who is caught in a drive-by shooting that kills the bootlegger standing next to her, she forms an unlikely friendship with the bootlegger’s sister, Lena. Eve is looking for her missing stepsister, a popular night club singer who has been missing since the shoot-out, and Lena wants to find out who killed her brother. Together these two women navigate the back alleys and jazz clubs of the Roaring Twenties, encountering charismatic managers, handsome musicians, and a mysterious gangster called the Walnut who seems to be the key to it all.

Hardcover: 314 pages (also available as paperback and e-book)
Publisher: Noontime Books (May 7, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0991618556
ISBN-13: 978-0991618552

Sugarland is available as a print and e-book at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Sugarland, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes next Monday, October 17 at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:
Martha Conway’s debut novel 12 Bliss Street (St. Martin’s Minotaur) was nominated for an Edgar Award while Thieving Forest won an Independent Publishers Book Award, the Laramie Award, a Reader’s Choice Award and the 2014 North American Book Award in Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Quarterly, Folio, Puerto del Sol, Carolina Quarterly, and other publications.

She graduated from Vassar College and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She has reviewed fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Review of Books, and The Iowa Review. The recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship in Creative Writing, she has taught at UC Berkeley Extension and Stanford University’s Online Writers’ Studio.

Martha Conway's website:

Martha Conway's blog:



-----Interview by Jodi Webb

WOW: In my opinion, Sugarland has a little something for everyone. There's murder, more than one mystery, romance, history. What readers do you think Sugarland will appeal to?

MARTHA: So far it seems as though readers who love the Roaring Twenties and historical fiction in general have been the most ardent supporters of Sugarland. Although it is a mystery, there is no detective, and no “gather the suspects in one room to explain how the crime went down” kind of scene. I suppose it’s a sort of amateur sleuth mystery. But I think for those readers who like to immerse themselves in a specific time and place, the setting will encourage them to open the book, and the mystery will keep them turning the pages.

WOW: Sometimes it seems easier to write a novel with a very specific audience in mind: a book for mystery lovers, a book for romance lovers, etc. But Sugarland transcends the traditional categories we place novels in. Does that make finding an audience easier or more difficult?

MARTHA: I think it makes marketing more difficult, which may be just another way of saying finding an audience; however yes, I do think it is challenging. For better or for worse, I seem to do that with all my novels—take a little from this genre or that genre, depending on what I think will make the story more compelling. I like action, and I like dialogue, and I like setting, so I might borrow techniques from thrillers or historical novels or even contemporary novels, if I think they’re effective. To me, it’s all about keeping your readers interested in the story.

WOW: Reading Sugarland, your characters just jumped off the page they were so...alive. But, living in the 1920s their lives are so different from modern characters. Is there a trick to accurately portraying characters from another time? Not just details like their clothes and homes but the way they look at life. How do you get that right?

MARTHA: I spent a lot of time on research. A lot! I think I’ve been writing this novel, on and off, for over ten years (I’m afraid to count it up exactly!). I began writing it before I wrote Thieving Forest, and then I put it away for a long time, in part because I found certain aspects of it (like writing the technical side of the early jazz the characters play) very challenging. I love doing research about daily life, however. I’m looking at my own card catalogue now, and under the category “Sources” I list over forty books and articles and collections of interviews that I took notes on as I collected details to use. Interviews are especially useful in terms of understanding the way in which people understand their lives.

WOW: Sugarland is your third novel. What do you know now about writing that you wish you had known while writing your first book, 12 Bliss Street?

MARTHA: I wish I had known that one of the most important pieces of storytelling is figuring out what your character wants, and deciding early on if she is going to get it or not. To me, no matter what the genre is, and whether or not this character desire is forefront in the story, that is the basic scaffolding of any story.

WOW: Your first novel, 12 Bliss Street, was published by Minotaur Books, a branch of MacMillan. But Thieving Forest and Sugarland are with Noontime Books. Are you your own publisher? Why did you decide to go this route with your last two books? What are the advantages/disadvantages of not being with one of the big traditional publishing houses?

MARTHA: I am indeed my own publisher for Thieving Forest and Sugarland. I created the imprint Noontime Books, and had a kind of baptism of fire as I taught myself the ins and outs of book production. That was difficult, even though I have a background in publishing—over the years I’ve worked for various publishers doing various jobs including electronic typesetting, editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Marketing was a different story—I had very little experience with that.

The advantage of not being with a traditional publishing house is that you can make your own book your own way. That’s also the disadvantage, though, because you have to learn how to do that! And it costs money, of course—your own money, unless you run a successful crowdfunding campaign, which I did not attempt to do. So it’s a lot of time and a lot of money. But if you believe in your work, it’s worth it.

WOW: In addition to being a writer, you teach creative writing. As a teacher what is one mistake or bad habit that you see in writers that you'd like to warn us all about?

MARTHA: The biggest mistake new and seasoned writers make on their first drafts, in my opinion, is trying to fit too much into the first chapter. The reader needs far less information than you might think. The main thing is to get them hooked and keep them hooked. It’s actually good for readers to have questions in their mind—it keeps them reading to find out the answers.

WOW: At the time of our last interview, you were hard at work on The Floating Theatre. Would you like to tell us how Sugarland managed to skip ahead of The Floating Theatre? Do we still have The Floating Theatre to look forward or is it the WIP that just wasn't meant to be?

MARTHA: As I mentioned a little earlier, Sugarland was a novel that I kept putting away and then coming back to. After about its third or fourth draft, I put the manuscript away “for good,” thinking I had done all I could do, and I began to write Thieving Forest. Then I had a kind of breakthrough or ah-ha moment for Sugarland when I was in the middle of writing Thieving Forest, which was to drop a certain storyline I’d had running that complicated the plot (and dragged down the action). In an earlier version, Lena, the bootlegger’s sister, had had a fiancée who kind of disappeared in the Great War—he didn’t die, but he also never returned. I still have a scene where she sees him that I can send to anyone who is interested—a kind of back-of-the-curtain backstory. But overall, the sub-plot didn’t work with the general story structure. Once I got rid of that sub-plot, the story came alive.

The Floating Theatre is alive and well, though under a different title (to be determined!). It will be published by Simon and Schuster in the U.S. in 2017, and by Bonnier Zaffre in the U.K. So as you see I’m going with a traditional publisher for this one. If you or any of your readers want to get updates on that novel, email me ( and I’ll put you on my mailing list!

Thanks so much for hosting me on The Muffin, and for your interest in Sugarland!

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

Monday, October 10 (today!) @ The Muffin
Martha Conway is back with her new historical mystery Sugarland. Don't miss the launch of her new WOW blog tour with an interview and a giveaway.

Wednesday, October 12 @ Renee’s Pages
Get a pre-release peek at Martha Conway's historical mystery Sugarland with a review
on Renee's Pages.

Monday, October 17 @ Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews
Stop by today to learn more about Martha Conway and her latest novel Sugarland.

Wednesday, October 19 @ Thoughts in Progress
Martha Conway, author of the historical mystery Sugarland, shares why setting is a writer's best friend.

Friday, October 21 @ Bev Baird
Read today's review of Sugarland, a Jazz Age murder, by Martha Conway and you'll be adding another book to your TBR list.

Monday, October 24 @ Building Bookshelves
Stop by for a 5Ws interview with Martha Conway, author of the historical novel Sugarland.

Tuesday, October 25 @ Choices
Want to escape into a world of music, adventure and love? Read today's review of Martha Conway's Sugarland--it could be just what you've been searching for!

Friday, October 28 @ Mystery Thrillers & Romantic Suspense Reviews
Learn more about the professional female performers of the 1920s, two of them are the driving forces behind Martha Conway's latest novel Sugarland. Win your copy of Sugarland today!

Sunday, October 30 @ Vickie S. Miller
Today is your chance to win a copy of Sugarland, a jazz age mystery by Martha Conway.

Wednesday, November 2 @ Bring on Lemons
Want to escape to a different land? Head to Sugarland! Don't miss today's review of Martha Conway's historical mystery Sugarland.

Thursday, November 3 @ Deal Sharing Aunt
Ready to snuggle up with a great book and a cup of cocoa? Read today's review of Martha Conway’s Sugarland.

Monday, November 7 @ Celtic Lady’s Reviews
Looking for a book to add to your TBR pile? Read today's review of Sugarland.

Keep up with blog stops and giveaways in real time by following us on Twitter @WOWBlogTour.

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