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Sunday, April 30, 2017

One of the Best YA Heroines and Why She Is

Sometimes, I get stuck on what to blog about here on The Muffin. I've been doing it for years (Yes, you think, we know), and there are so many wonderful bloggers on here that cover such interesting topics--I get stuck. So I often review my files or blog posts I've written for other sites to brainstorm some ideas and possibly repurpose an old post for this lovely blog.

While, oh let's call it, "researching" this post, I reviewed some old posts I wrote for The Lit Ladies blog. Two really stuck out, and you will be so glad that I decided to repurpose this one below about Eleanor and Park, instead of the post where I wrote about going to the Ozark Creative Writers conference in Eureka Springs with my daughter and parents in tow. See, Katie found TWO piles of dog poop in our room, AFTER we had slept there all night. What does that have to do with writing in the present? Well, this coming weekend I am going to participate in the wonderful Missouri Writers Guild conference, and my advice with that "number 2" post was to always check your hotel room! (I won't forget this weekend, or ever again.)

But instead of dog doo-doo in hotel rooms, I want to tell you about an amazing young adult book I read a couple years back--one of my all time favorites. Since I have written in the last few months about other young adult authors, Jay Asher and Andrew McCarthy, I felt it only fitting to stick with the rule of three and let you know about Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Ah-Mazing book!

If you love YA or if you write YA, here's why you need to check out this book:

First I’ll tell you Eleanor is a high school girl and Park is a high school boy. From Park’s family watching Wheel of Fortune after dinner to Eleanor thinking all she knows about kissing from the Fonz on Happy Days to the mix tapes and walkmans, the 80’s references are wonderful and took me back to my own high school years. But this is not the only reason why this book is amazing. One word. . .


She is the model for strong, unique girls who aren’t afraid to be themselves. She’s one of the best young adult heroines I have ever read about, and this list includes Katniss and Hermione. But, Eleanor is strong, smart, and beautiful in such a different way than the other two.

A little background about the novel: Eleanor is new at school because her mom let her return home after being kicked out of her house by her step-dad for an entire year. Eleanor now lives with her four brothers and sisters, her mom and the fictional-character-I-would-most-like-to-punch-in-the-face Richie the step-dad in a two-bedroom house–one room for the kids and one for the adults. They have one bathroom with NO DOOR off the kitchen. Richie is an abusive, creepy drunk, and all the kids fear him. Eleanor’s strategy is to stay out of his way when at all possible, and this includes taking a bath when she gets home from school before he’s home. Her clothes are from Good Will, and her belongings fit in a trash bag, including one small fruit box, which contains a few personal, important items, such as a walkman with no batteries. Eleanor is poor and large and awkward with bright red hair.

She also has to ride the bus to school. The kids are mean–they each have their own seat, and no one wants her to sit down with them on the first day. Finally, Park moves over and lets her sit down, not very nicely, and this starts the beginning of a beautiful friendship and love story, but not right away. Eleanor won’t look at him or talk to him. She wonders why the “weird little Asian kid” even let her sit down, but she is interested in his comic books. He notices she reads over his shoulder, and so he starts to leave the pages open a little longer to make sure she can read them all. Then without speaking, he lets her borrow some; and then finally when they talk and discuss these stories, they realize they both have a love for music, too.

Eleanor is a survivor. She survives getting kicked out of her house for a year, away from a mother who has chosen an abusive husband over her own children. Eleanor survives boredom and abuse by turning to music and comics. She survives bullying by trusting a few kind souls. She fights until it’s too dangerous to fight anymore. She knows when to flee and when to start over. She is brave. She is stubborn. She is not afraid to show her style, regardless of the stares and smirks. Even Park’s Avon-lady mom who is petite and caring in stone-washed denim mini-skirts tries to change Eleanor’s look, but Park loves her for her. And Eleanor learns to love herself and see her beauty through his eyes. She’s not perfect–she’s sarcastic, withdrawn and stubborn, but she is a strong girl.

I know you want to rush out and buy it now. I know you want to get to work on your manuscript and create a beautiful character like this. :) So I'll stop here, and let you.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and mom living in St. Louis, MO. For more information about her books, please check out her website, where she also blogs about being a single mom and writer. You can also check out her novel writing course here in the WOW! classroom. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Write your obituary

Recently we covered obituary writing in my journalism class, which, to some, sounds like the least compelling aspect of journalism. Just like all writing, though, there's an art and science to the method.

The group of students I have now is young. They probably have read very few obituaries. Do you read them? Do you love them? You can find some great ones online, but that's not the norm. Most are written in a straightforward, basic journalistic style that doesn't leave much room for creativity.

I like the fact that obituaries summarize a life so succinctly -- a few words can span numerous decades, and it's all tied up nicely and neatly into a small package that has a beginning, a middle, and an end (no pun intended). The problem, though, is that most are too compact. Many wonderful details about a person are left out, the reduction is too severe, and readers don't get an idea of who the person really was.

While researching the topic for my class, I found a TED Talk by Brad Meltzer titled "How to Write your own Obituary" (
What new information could he bring? Plenty. His video changed the way I view obituaries because I expected it to be depressing, which it wasn't. And I wasn't expecting it to be inspirational, which it was.

His message was that obituaries are not about death. They are about life, and legacies, and friends and families and strangers and communities. They are about how your life touches the lives of others. After watching the video, I gave my journalism class an assignment to write their own obituaries as if they were at the end of their lives looking back at all their accomplishments.

And, because everyone reading this is probably a famous (or soon-to-be-famous) writer, you should try this, too. I like this exercise because it addresses your philosophy of life, along with examining which goals and accomplishments are considered truly worthwhile.


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She also teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday Speak Out!: Three Steps to Choosing an Editor (and why we all need one)

by K. Alan Leitch

There's only so long, isn't there? There's only so long writers can tell ourselves that it's just an unlucky streak. When that moment comes... when 'so long' becomes 'too long'... it's time to just do it. Just pack up the draft that came screaming out of you like offspring and hire yourself an editor.

That's what I did, and it made a difference. I started writing again.

It's a difficult decision to make, I'll grant. Sending work out to be critiqued can be humbling. Once it's made, though, the hardest part is over… but choosing from the many, many editors available edges into the race as a very close second-hardest. How do you trust someone who isn't much more than a website? With some advice from Cathy Hall, right here at WOW, here are the four steps I took to face the challenge.

Step One: Decide who will be encouraging

Yes, I actually placed this as my first priority. With so much discouragement stemming naturally from the process of submission, I knew that I needed something—and something fast—to get my motivation back on track. A good editor knows as much about when to be positive as when to be critical, so try to put aside the selfishness of this priority (because there is some) and focus instead on the benefits of adding more of what you do well to your writing.

Establish some communication with the editors you are considering. Personally, I shied away from services who did not identify the exact person who would be doing my editing, because I had plenty of questions, and the answers told me volumes about their nature.

Step Two: Decide who will be honest

To some extent, this contradicts step one, and it must. These days, ‘good service’ has often come to mean ‘sparing the customer’s feelings.’ For this service, though, some feedback you won’t like is essential... otherwise, why even bother seeking advice?

A good editor with some history should be able to provide you with samples of previous work: some of the comments and advice that they have offered other clients. Check these for balance, and for whether you agree with some of the more confronting opinions. Of course, you should only peek if you know that your editor has permission from that author, but authors are famously helpful that way.

Step Three: Decide who is qualified

This one's a no-brainer, but perhaps the most difficult to achieve. "Qualified" is only partly based on a resume that your editor might provide. Have they published any books themselves? Do they have success editing your particular genre? Can you access their work online to see how they write?

If you've been a writer for long, you are bound to know other writers who have had good experiences. Cast as wide a net as you can in polling these colleagues; maybe a good editor's name will even come up twice.

With all of these factors weighed, my eventual choice was Matthew Bird. A prolific blogger, author of successful how-to-write books, and just an approachable human being, it was a fairly simple matter to answer most of the questions that I had. Is the same editor right for everyone? Absolutely not. Will the same editor suit every book I write? Unlikely... but finding an editor, like starting any relationship, will be a much more rewarding experience after steps of due diligence like these three.

Comment me up with any steps that I missed!

* * *
After a lengthy career teaching literature, K. Alan Leitch is now focusing on his own. He is the author of seven novels and dozens of short stories, and the recipient of nine awards for his fiction. Writing in genres that range from Young Adult Fantasy through Murder Mystery, Keith is trying to find, and share, the magical formula that makes it all work. You can sample his fiction, along with his blog, at Words from K. Alan. Follow him on Twitter @KAlanAuthor !

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!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What To Do When You Lose Your Writing Rhythm
Do you have a writing rhythm?

I was reading recently about how most writers have a rhythm, and how important it is to move forward and keep plugging away as you work toward your writing goals. You can tell when writers find their rhythm because they have momentum—they’ve finished a manuscript, had their work published, corresponded with editors for assignments, received checks in the mail for reprints, etc.

But what happens when you feel like you’ve lost your writing groove?

It happens to the best of us. As a mom with two active kids, I struggle with balancing their schedules, trying maintain some sort of fitness routine so the butt in chair time doesn’t become too obvious, and completing my freelance editing and writing assignments on time. Throw in things like my recent move into a new house and the writing rhythm is pretty much non-existent. I finally got around to unpacking my desk yesterday, so at least there’s that.

From the outside, it probably doesn’t look like I’ve lost my writing rhythm. None of my editors have fired me, I still have editing and writing projects to work on each day, and my bylines appear in local magazines. But I feel like a failure because I haven’t gotten back to work on any of my manuscripts or worked on any essays or short stories recently. My personal blog is stagnant. Am I just in a writing funk or being too hard on myself?

While researching this topic, I came across an article published a few years ago at Psychology Today. It discussed the writing habits of seven different authors. Some didn’t surprise me (Ernest Hemingway had a goal of 500 words per day) and others were, well, just odd (Truman Capote could only write lying down, holding glass of sherry in one hand a pencil in the other). I thought it over and realized I don’t really have any writing habits, besides drinking lots of coffee, which could be my problem. I love to sleep and don’t want to get up any earlier than my weekday 6:15 a.m. wake-up call and I don’t pencil myself any “creative writing” time on my daily calendar.

So, baby steps. The house is unpacked enough for now. My kids are old enough to help out with chores like the dishes and the laundry (we’re working on food prep next). I’ve shaved about an hour from my driving time by moving closer to my their school. I’m going to start by setting a goal of at least an hour of creative writing time five days a week. This can include revising chapters, brainstorming new book ideas, working on personal essays and short stories, etc. I’ll report back here next month and let you know how it’s going.

How is your writing rhythm? Are you happy with it, or do you see room for improvement? What goals would you like to set to keep your momentum going?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor whose work appears in regional magazines and websites. She loves a good human-interest story but still has dreams of publishing novels for children and teens. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Writing Beginnings

When I was 13, I fell in love with writing.

I think I was 15 or 16 when this
photo was taken... Notice that
forehead that's so big, I rented it
out as a walking billboard. Now
do you know why I always wear bangs?

I wasn't the kid who wrote stories filled with talking tigers when I was six or eight years old. I wasn't interested in writing because I had no clue that was even a possibility to consider. Sobbing at the end of Charlotte's Web...Inhaling Nancy Drew books I got from either the bookmobile or garage sales--I loved reading, but doing the same thing E.B White or Carolyn Keene did? It didn't even occur to me.

I had this book when
I was 10 or 11...

In 7th grade I snagged a spot on the school newspaper and immediately proved myself enough that I was named editor. I got to write features along with ensuring every piece was mistake-free and had the right number of column inches. (Sometimes, size does matter.) Making people laugh over my screw-ups made me proud.

Back then, the lines were pretty well perfect the first time around... at least semi-perfect considering it was a pimple-faced kid who was crafting them. Thankfully I had teachers who balanced the shallow stuff I was serving up with mind-blowing poetry. Paul Simon. Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young, of course). Joni Mitchell. Cat Stevens. Carole King. Charles Dickens.

Cat Stevens--around 1972... He would have
been mine except for women like Carly
Simon (who reportedly wrote "Anticipation"
about Cat Stevens)

"What!" you say? "Dicken's ain't no poet." Au contraire! The beginning of Tale of Two Cities sure sounds like poetry to me. In Mr. Miya's class and then later, in Mr. Gates' class, we studied the rhythm, the alliteration, the metaphors, the symbolism of the folk singers and various novelists.

Before you can write, you have to kneel down and worship at a bunch of altars. For me, it was Sandra Dallas. Emily Dickinson. James Agee and Walker Evans' Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

 Fast-forward to around thirty forty almost fifty years later. Now, I do write. I've fallen in love with other writers, But am I a writer?

I  wonder and I pondered that--pondered it hard--after I read Lynn's post.

Lynn Obermoeller is a true writer. She writes every day. She reflects upon her writing and her craft. She does such methodical and consistent things when it comes to writing, I'd call writing her second religion. Really.

Thanks to my work as a teacher and thanks to my critique partners, I've fallen in love with the act of writing. But... I need to find a way to sustain that love.

Howboutchou? Are you a writer? What makes you a writer, and what can you do to become even more entrenched as a writer? Pondering minds (like Sioux's) want to know...

Sioux Roslawski  is a writer whose stories can be read in 15 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. When she was a teen, she thought she was a writer as she dabbled in humorous feature pieces and angst-filled poems. Now, she knows all that she doesn't know... and realizes she's working on becoming a writer. If you want to read more of Sioux's stuff, check out her blog.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meet Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Claire Fullerton, Author of "Metal Gray"

Claire Fullerton is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall Flash Fiction Contest with the very beautiful story Metal Gray. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set on the west coast of Ireland, and paranormal mystery, in two time frames, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Both books published by Vinspire Publishing. Claire’s third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern Family saga, set in Memphis, Tennessee, where Claire grew up. It will be published in June of 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire has been published in multiple magazines, including Celtic Life International, Southern Writers Magazine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her essays have appeared in five of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Currently, Claire is writing her fourth novel. She lives in Malibu, California with her husband, two German shepherds, and one black cat.

Find out more about Claire by visiting her website, her blog, Writing Notes, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @cfullerton3.

Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for today's interview. Congratulations again on your many accomplishments but most recently as a runner up in the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest! So now down to business: where did you get the idea for the character of Ella in Metal Gray? You describe her so well it seems she must be part of your personal story as well? Please tell us more.

CLAIRE: I would love to tell you about Ella, thank you for asking. Ella is a significant character in my forthcoming novel, Mourning Dove, which is a southern family saga, set in Memphis, where I grew up. The book will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction in June of 2018. The background of Ella and this book is that I entered a 3,000 word piece in The 2013, San Francisco Writer's Conferences' contest, in the narrative nonfiction category. The piece came in as the runner up, and I will tell you now that when I entered the piece, it occurred to me that should anything in the slightest happen, I'd turn the piece into a novel, which I did. To clarify the obvious, a novel, of course, is fiction, yet I knew with my nonfiction piece that there was an entire world already there to work with, as long as I changed names, created scenes and other characters that contributed to the momentum of the story. I can report that Mourning Dove is fiction, but that the character of Ella as she appears in the book as well as in the flash-fiction piece I sent to WOW! is a composite of many women who populated my life while growing up in Memphis. Ella represents the voice of brass tacks reason, wherever she appears, in that she sees all, knows all, and keeps her lips tight. Ella is in it, but not of it, which provides fabulous objectivity. What I did when I entered WOW!'s flash fiction contest was give the description of Ella, then made up the ending to fit the 750 word guidelines, which means it needed to be unique, self-contained, and brief!

WOW: So clearly, you are no stranger to Ella and no stranger to writing contests. What role do flash fiction pieces play in your writing life? Do you have advice for other authors as far as contests and flash fiction pieces are concerned?

CLAIRE: Yes, I love entering flash fiction contests, for it is a way of fine-tuning one's craft. The art of brevity should be in each writer's tool-kit, and I was thrilled when I discovered WOW!'s contest. To answer your question about advice I'd give to any author, I'd say getting in the traffic and staying in the traffic is very important. I'll give you a personal example: Vinspire Publishing honored me and basically started my career by publishing my first two books back-to-back. My third novel, Mourning Dove, will not be out until 2018, so I have a gap, with regard to staying engaged with my readership. By entering contests, and hopefully placing somewhere, it gives me the opportunity to share my work as it is published. This, along with staying engaged with social media is the life-force of an author's career. It also gives authors the opportunity to meet nice people like Crystal with WOW!

WOW: Now I'm blushing - thank you so much! It certainly is sound advice about staying in the traffic. Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors and I didn't realize he had released a new book because he had such a gap and even though I'm an avid reader, he really fell off my map. I hope other authors take your advice and stay in the traffic (not to be confused with playing in traffic...giggle).

You recently wrote "I tend to be a stream of consciousness writer, in that I write whatever it is I’m thinking."

Can you give us an example of when that wasn't such a great idea or when it served you well?

CLAIRE: I think it has always served me well, and I'll tell you why by answering this generally: I prefer writing in the first person. I think it lends immediate intimacy, and gives the reader the complete idea of who it is they're listening to. I say I am a stream of consciousness writer because writing comes to me easily. I write the story from the voice within me, and very rarely labor. I think if a writer decides who the narrator is, with whatever nuances or backstory they may have, then they can assume the narrator's voice, and write from there. Before I begin a novel, I know the story I want to tell. I know the beginning, middle and end, and let the rest create itself, though I do take notes along the way, when something comes to me that I think I should include, in order to drive the story forward by illustrating a point, or perhaps it is something wittily said that will lend flavor and help the reader better understand the narrator or other characters. Summarily, I think that, when writing, it is best to trust one's own thoughts. I'd rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.

WOW: I'm going to repeat what you just said because it's worth repeating: "I'd rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived."

This is a quote to remember fellow writers. Thank you Claire for sharing this insight and truth.

Dancing to an Irish Reel will now be available in all the South Dublin Libraries and I'm curious
what part you played in making that happen? What advice can you give to other authors as far as getting their books into more libraries (in the states or outside the states)?

CLAIRE: I give full credit to the unlimited creativity and enthusiasm of Dancing to an Irish Reel's publisher, Dawn Carrington of Vinspire Publishing. Dawn was well aware that I once lived in Ireland, and that Dancing to an Irish Reel is set on Ireland's west coast. She wrote to many Irish library's and simply introduced the book: it's blurb, its cover, and much about me as its author. She embraced this book and got it out in the world, as she educated me on exactly how to be involved in the promotional process. I have learned that the promotional process is unending, and to me, it is actually fun. The process starts out in a small arena, by aligning with the obvious social media outlets ( FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, etc.) but the thing is, once you're aligned, it gets bigger! You end up meeting other authors through social media and by watching where they are and what they do, it triggers unending possibilities. I can tell you that after two novels that have been out in the world for a while, I am still discovering new places to promote because it is essentially a domino effect. But yes, library's are a great avenue to explore, so I recommend that authors start locally, then get creative on the locations of libraries that may embrace the book, due to the book's setting or subject matter.

WOW: It's nice to meet up with others who enjoy social media networking and all the endless possibilities!

I love your position of staying out of politics on social media (I too would rather talk about what unites us instead of what divides us). Have you ever approached a friend or colleague suggesting they tone down their political posts? How can we help spread the social media mentality of "See no evil...Hear no evil...Speak no evil" like Confucius

CLAIRE: Great question. I assume you saw the Word Press blog post I delicately wrote and hesitantly posted on this subject! I was torn over whether to post the piece or not! The impetus behind this came from too many months of vitriolic posts on Facebook during America's recent presidential election. So many friends I'd been aligned with for years used Facebook as a forum to post their political views, and many of these friends are authors. I spoke to one author friend who was dismayed because one of her readers had taken her to task on something she posted concerning the election, and had declared she would unfollow her. I have pledged to never comment politically because I think it is polarizing. This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with someone who chooses to do so, it's just that many are so heated over the issues that a difference of political opinion can have unintended consequences for an author. I adore meeting readers and other authors via social media, but am clear why it is that they're my friends, and what it is that brought us together. My overarching respect for books, authors, and readers makes it easy for me to leave politics alone.

WOW: That's a good way to look at it - it's out of respect! I love that!

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Claire! Congratulations again on Metal Gray and best wishes to you all your future projects!

Our Spring Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN
For details and entry, visit our contest page.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Facebook Partying with Your Book - Let's Brainstorm!

Happy Monday from Wisconsin where it's finally warming up enough that we are thinking about lemonade and sunshine. (We however are still wearing sweatshirts with hoods or hats).

My dear friend Mari from Artotems recently invited me to partake in a Facebook book party for an author I had taken on a WOW! book blog tour a few months ago. The tour was for Ronald Chapman - as many of you will recall I spoke very highly of his books and his writing style in a blog post right here on the Muffin. For these reasons, I agreed to spend two hours of my Sunday afternoon chatting online with Ron about his work, his background, and we even got to play some Bingo and enjoy opportunities at a raffle basket and other great prizes.

The party was enjoyable but left me with lots of questions for authors who might be interested in such promotion.

** Have you ever done a Facebook book party? Did you do it yourself or did you hire a company to facilitate it for you? What is the ideal length of time for a Facebook book party? What's a fair price? What are you looking for as return on your investment?

** Have you ever participated in a Facebook book party? Was it for a single author or for many authors of a similar genre? What did you like most about the party? What would you change if you could?

I would truly love to hear from authors and readers about what I think could be an invaluable tool for authors and a lot of fun for readers.

Here are my thoughts:

Sunday afternoon from 2-4 seemed like a poor time for me. I felt like I was missing out on important time as a family. I would prefer something in the evening after my kiddos are in bed...but then again 6pm may be too late for some of my friends on the coast.

I enjoyed playing Bingo, but other parts of the party were draggy and I got a little bored (I got up and got another glass of lemonade and a cookie).

I feel I enjoyed the party more than others because I've already read and reviewed the books. This leads me to wonder if it's best to invite people quite far in advance and give them a tip that the party will be more fun if you read the book(s) first.

WOW! offers a variety of promotional opportunities and tours for authors - but as of now we don't offer any Facebook parties. Here's a list of what we currently offer: . That said, what's important to you when choosing a company to do your Facebook book party or any other promotions? What types of companies do you steer clear of?

Please leave your thoughts and ideas as comments on this post. If you'd like more information about the promotions WOW! currently offers, please do not hesitate to contact Renee, Jodi, or myself at

Have a lovely Monday and a fabulous week!


Crystal is a secretary and musician at her church, babywearing cloth diapering 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, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 10, Andre 8, Breccan 3, Delphine 2, and baby E due this fall), 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 here, and on her personal blog about turning life's lemons into lemonade!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Entering Your Story

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I don’t believe in writer’s block. There’s no doubt in my mind. It exists. But for me, true blocks are few and far between. They happen when I’m too tired or stressed.  Sometimes they happen when I’m sick.

Other times, when I can’t write, it isn’t really a block. It’s more like a corner that I’ve written myself into when I tried to force something in my story.  Or I didn’t pay attention half a page ago when something wasn’t working right. I know that I should be writing but nothing is happening so I have to figure out what I’ve done wrong and fix it.

But most often, I just haven’t gotten into my story space. My mind is stuck in the world I live in and hasn’t ventured into the world of my story, article or memoir. I’ve got that problem right now because I had to put two projects aside to work on something I was being paid to write. I’ve been away for too long and my story world is no longer as familiar as it once was. I need to figure out how to get it back. I need to find the door that will let me inside.

Sometimes the fix is as easy as reacquainting myself with the story.  I can do this by taking the time to read what I’ve written so far. I can probably use this technique with the novel because I’ve drafted a few chapters. This particular method works less well if I’m still outlining something or it isn’t very far along.

If food or music plays a big role in the story, eating that food or listening to the music can be a way back inside. In the care of my novel, I can also go online and listen to music.  Two of my characters are fiddle players. Not violin. Fiddle. I even know what their respective instruments look like.

Then there’s the voice of my characters.  It is the voice of the rural Ozarks. It is close to the voice of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. If I read his book, I hear echoes of my own characters, enough to put me back on their trail. But there are also physical locations I can visit.  If I have a weekend, I can to the lake in southern Missouri where my husband likes to fish.  The people who live in the area sound like my character and her family. 

If I only have an afternoon, I can visit the log cabin my father-in-law is restoring. It gave rise to one of the settings in my book so climbing the stairs to the attic will be like entering my character’s bedroom. I can also visit her kitchen.

Writer’s block?  Not this time.  I just need to find my way back inside my story. The door into every story is unique to that particular work. Take the time to identify what it is for your story and it will help you reenter your story world whether you’ve been away for a day, a week or even longer.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins June 12th. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Green-Eyed Author Monster

I love writing support groups. They provide advice, writing tips, and great publishing advice. I particularly enjoy reading group-member success stories; they inspire me and give me hope for my own writing career.

Some time ago, while I was reading posts on a Facebook writer’s support group, I read the post of a fellow author who joyously shared the news that a literary agent had offered her representation. Naturally, everyone who commented offered his or her heartfelt congratulations.
I started to type a similar congratulatory response, but this time, my fingers froze as a small voice in my head surfaced.

“Go ahead,” it said. “Write what you really think.”

What did I think? I was happy for her, but another, less Beth-like part of me was angry. Why? Why should this person get what I desired the most? Why should I congratulate my fellow writer when I had yet to be successful? I have already admitted, in a previous post, to sending out over 100 query letters – all of which resulted in rejection; so, to summon a positive, heartfelt response was beyond me at that moment.

Disappointed in my reaction, I left the computer and took a break to collect my thoughts. Writing is a tough profession, I reminded myself. The competition is enormous, and there are no guarantees we will succeed the way we want. This fellow writer is a success story, which should be celebrated. I had no business scorning her achievement. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the truth: I wasn’t angry with her. I was angry with myself for not achieving my goals. I felt sorry for myself – as we have all done at one point or another – and I let that self-pity override my happiness for her accomplishment.

When the selfish side of me faded, I popped back on to Facebook to give my writing-buddy the congratulations she deserved. She sent me a private message later, expressing how long she had been working towards this goal, what a hard journey it had been, and how she knew I would find an agent too, someday.

As writers, it is imperative that we form positive, encouraging communities which support one another. That is part of what Women on Writing does. It provides wisdom, encouragement, and ideas for people who love to write. By helping one another, we form a strong group of people who will continue to nurture the art of writing. Jealously might creep into the picture from time to time, but we should not let that jealously overshadow the positive aspects of a writing community.

It took this experience to remind me that a win for one writer is a win for many. While I cannot promise that I’ll never have another momentary pity-party, I can promise that I won’t let it get in the way of my support for my fellow writers. Now, I appreciate my writing groups more than ever.

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Speak Out!: Two Kinds of Advice

by Jill McCroskey Coupe

Most writers seeking feedback on their work learn to pay attention to advice that seems useful and ignore the rest. We’re individuals, after all. Each approaches writing in her own unique way.

And we know good advice when we hear it. Years ago, one of my fellow MFA students was addressing another student in our workshop. “It’s all there,” she said. “Just keep digging.”

By “it,” I’ve come to realize, she meant the solution to a problem. How the story will end, for example. Why and how a character decides to act (or is afraid to). Whether or not a new scene is needed, or a new character. How to tie everything together.

As for advice of the unhelpful sort, I have been told, on multiple occasions, to slow down. But you have no idea how slowly I write now, I always felt like saying. There are writers who can complete the first draft of a novel in a month; I am not one of them.

Was I perhaps being too defensive? Should I have at least asked these folks what they meant?

Maybe it’s better to have figured it out (I think) on my own. Slow down, they were telling me. Keep digging. Dig deeper.

I’ve learned that when I’m unsure of what to write next, it often helps to go for a walk. Lie down on my back in a dark room. Swim laps.

What’s happening here? Am I tapping into my subconscious?

Last fall I attended a one-hour Master Class taught by Jennifer Egan at Goucher College, not far from where I live in Baltimore. She spoke, eloquently, about how she worked on bringing structure to A Visit from the Goon Squad.

I was eager to attend because I’m working on a series of linked stories, with Egan’s book and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge as my models.

In her class, Jennifer Egan stressed the importance of waiting “instinctively” for a solution. She suggested that we try to free up our instincts, warning that not all instincts are the right ones. She advised letting the material stumble forward and find its own form. She compared a writer’s ideas to islands protruding from a submerged land mass. From this hidden expanse (the subconscious?), the author must extract form and order.

Her excellent advice concerning structure is also in the notes I took that afternoon. But what had me smiling on my drive home was my new mantra.

It’s all there. Slow down. Wait instinctively.

* * *
A former librarian at Johns Hopkins University, Jill McCroskey Coupe has an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. She grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Baltimore. Visit her online at or
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!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Heard Andrew McCarthy Speak At My Local Library

Andrew and me!
True story. (Doesn't my blog title sound like one of those titles from a "true story" magazine?) I live in St. Louis, and last night--actor, director, travel writer!, and now YA novelist Andrew McCarthy gave an inspiring talk about being creative. Once I got over the fact that I was in the same room with this man I loved on the silver screen since 1986 as Blaine in Pretty in Pink, who starred in my favorite comedy Weekend at Bernie's and my favorite guilty pleasure, St. Elmo's Fire, I listened to what the man had to say, and I was pleasantly surprised.

As writers, we know that we sometimes look at celebrity writers with disdain. It's true because we know what it takes to slave over a manuscript and try to get an agent and then hope for some kind of book sales if we are lucky enough to get published. Then there's this celebrity, who already has all the connections, and probably on some whim decided to write a book, and now is living our dream. Writers can be a spiteful bunch. (winks)

But guys, Andrew McCarthy is the real thing. He started with travel journals (as in notebooks he wrote in with a pen). Personal travel journals. And he liked writing about travel, so he thought: I will talk to this editor I know and see if he would be interested in my travel pieces. And Andy (as he calls himself in his talk) made it sound like the editor thought the same thing we all think: Oh here's another celebrity that wants to write.

But Andrew didn't quit and eventually this editor gave him a break; and then Andrew wrote some more travel pieces and won awards for travel writing (ie., Travel Journalist of the Year by The Society of American Travel Writers). Here are some of the well-known magazines he has written for: Atlantic Monthly, Bon Appetit, Coastal Living, and National Geographic. He also has credits in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post. He wrote a memoir on some of these travels; and during all this, he also started on a novel.

Andrew said he worked on this manuscript off and on (because he has a day job--you know, acting and directing) for about eight years, and he couldn't get the novel right. He had this theme of secrets and how they can tear a family apart. So he was writing an adult novel, where the main character was a father/husband who had a one-night affair, several years ago; but this mistake resulted in a child, who was now an 8-year-old boy and lived across town. Andrew couldn't get the novel right.

This is when I knew I had wrongly judged Andrew McCarthy, and I was about to be inspired as a writer. This evening became not just about seeing a famous person and listening to him talk (#swoon as I said in my Facebook post), but it became about listening to an author speak about his writing process and how he finally wrote the book we were holding in our hands, Just Fly Away. He decided to write it from the point of view of the teenage daughter, and he finally got it right. (After all, who knows teenage girls better than an 80's heartthrob...)

Besides this story of his struggle over the voice and point of view of the novel, he also said these three important and inspiring things (and I'm paraphrasing, FYI):

  • Americans need to travel more, and it doesn't have to be expensive. If we all traveled more, there would be less fear in the world. The world is not as scary as we sometimes think from listening to what people tell us on the news. (Did you know he WALKED across Spain?) 
  • When asked by a little girl what tips he had for being a writer, which she aspired to be, he started with: "Well, I didn't do well in school. . . I didn't like to read." Then he smiled while everyone laughed and said simply, "Writers write." Stephen King would be so proud! 
  • He actually realizes the opportunities his fame provides for him, and he is grateful for them. He has a piece of the Berlin Wall, for example, because he was there when it came down. A guard recognized him from a movie and handed him a piece of the wall. Instead of being cynical about what people want from him, he looks at it as opportunity. (This made me think: we might not have people handing us the Berlin Wall, but we all have opportunities in our lives that we need to notice and be grateful for.)
If you have a chance to see an author (whether a famous celebrity or not) at your local library, GO. This is the second one I have seen in a year (Jay Asher Thirteen Reasons Why was the other), and both times, I walked away feeling the desire to write. And for those of you who know what my last two years have been like ( divorce, going from a stay-at-home freelance mom to a full-time editorial assistant mom, beating myself up about my lack of fiction writing), then you know that this is a big thing!

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, teacher, and mom living in St. Louis, MO. For more information about her books, please check out her website, where she also blogs about being a single mom and writer. You can also check out her novel writing course here in the WOW! classroom. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

3 Ways to Use Fresh Eyes to Revise

Whee! I'm on spring break. I had nothing planned on one particular day, so I headed to the local library, laptop in hand, to work on my current WIP.

Since it's been days weeks months since I last worked on it, I decided to read it through, at least part of it, before picking up where I last left off. (It's only 26,000 words so far, about 50 pages of single-spaced typing. I envision it being a middle-grades historical fiction novel.)

Immediately I remembered I'd started it in past tense, but then midway decided to write it in present tense, since the story centers around just a few days in a young man's life. I want the reader to feel like they're experiencing the events right alongside the boy.


What started as a quick skim became a nit-picking session... and I realized that my screw-up could be a good thing... which made me think of a couple more ways I could freshen up my eyes when it comes time to revise.

1) Have an ulterior motive. Perhaps you're looking to infuse the piece with more sensory details. Maybe you want to include a particular thread--here and there--throughout the piece. Maybe, like me, you need to make sure the tense is consistent.

Going through a WIP, line by line, with another goal in mind, will allow you to revise with a fresh outlook. While I was tinkering with the tense, I saw all kinds of other things I needed to tinker with. Some phrases that didn't match the tone. Some details I forgot to include. Through careful reading, I took care of several birds with one stone. The revision that took place happened naturally and efficiently.

2) Find someone who's in the dark--preferably someone who's not in love with your writing--and have them read your manuscript.  Your head may be so full of what life was like during the middle-ages that the details are leaking out your ears. However, the typical reader is not an expert like you are. An honest reader will fill you in on parts where they got lost. (I have a 7th grade student who doesn't like to read, but has offered to read my WIP when it's finished. Hopefully he won't have three grandchildren by the time that happens.)

3) Write a book blurb. Imagine the "blurb" that would be on the back of your book. If you can't sum up your story into 150 words or so, you might need to work on your story.  (Trust me, I've been there, and if I can't even figure out what my manuscript's about, how can I think the reader will be able to figure it out?) You might even think of what artwork would be on the cover. If the blurb or the cover you envision doesn't match your story, you need to rethink your vision/manuscript.

For your current WIP, what would you include in your blurb? And do you think my "present tense" idea is a good one? 

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a freelance writer and a dog rescuer. Currently, she's interested in finding a publisher who could be bribed by a batch of the best fudge west of the Mississippi. To read more of Sioux's writing, go to her blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Interview with Anne Andersen: 2016 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Anne Andersen’s Bio:

Anne accomplished a lifelong goal when at age four she was awarded her first library card. Imagining all sorts of new worlds became an addiction. Growing up in Norway, coming to the US as a teenager and visiting a variety of places including Antarctica and Spitsbergen has added to her notebooks full of writing ideas.

Anne has written stories and studied writing all her life and has regularly attended courses including the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival. She loves learning pretty much anything and has studied a strange variety of subjects including ceramics, acting, painting, politics, science stuff, history and finally ending up as an Emergency Medicine doctor. That last one has her grumbling every time someone saves a character by removing the bullet.

Anne writes bad poetry, short stories and is working diligently on her first science fiction novel. She is a perfectionist and is afraid to call it finished, but with weekly therapy hopes to remedy that. Her great support is her writing group, who have been meeting every Tuesday for over four years. She’s amazed they’re still on speaking terms.

Take the time to read Anne’s story, Porcelain, and then join us for a chat with the author.

WOW: First of all, congratulations! Porcelain is such a nuanced, meaningful story. How did it change from idea to final submission?

Anne: First, I want to thank you for the privilege of having my story published on your website. It’s exciting to be noticed. As a novice writer good feedback is so hard to come by, and it’s a thrill to be interviewed.

The idea for this story came to me three years ago when I wrote several 1000 word stories to prove to myself I could actually finish something. Everything I’d done was never good enough to be called…finished. I’m not sure where my mind was because all the stories dealt with the theme of despair. Something most writers are familiar with, I suppose. I knew the stories were possibly good but I didn’t have the skill to write them well enough. So I let them sit and continued writing and studying writing, reading books on writing, taking courses on writing, listening to great blogs on writing and I spent time with my writing group.

Then from a group-mate I learned about the WOW! contest and pulled that story out and decided I now had skills to make it better. I needed to slim a third of the word count and looked for the absolute essential core of the story. I made it unfold in a way that showed the reader what the protagonist experienced, in her denial, until she faced reality, the moment where she accepted what she had denied and therefore let the reader see what she hadn’t been able to see. My writing group helped make sure there was clarity, and found a few corny phrases and all that. And then I tweaked words and sentences until I found the courage to say it was finished, and pressed the Enter button.

WOW: You leave so much to your reader’s imagination. How do you decide what to include (details about the floor) and what to leave out (why they were there)?

Anne: I had a wonderful teacher, Sands Hall, who actually managed to teach me what Point of View meant. It’s both an easy and very difficult concept. I still struggle with it but it helps me decide exactly what should be told, shown, to the reader. I struggle between two opposite poles when I write. I’m a control freak and know so much about my story world and characters’ wants and looks that I want the reader to see everything exactly the way I see it.
But on the other side, what really engages a reader is using their imagination, to picture it using their own experiences, for themselves. If an angry woman in pink is walking down the street one reader might picture a Chanel suit and someone else their old Aunt Martha’s shabby dress. And they feel her anger in their own personal way, maybe not the way I’m trying to unnecessarily micromanage. That’s the power of writing.

To choose what to show readers I look very closely at the protagonist and what she’s capable of feeling and seeing right in that story moment. If she’s happy she might notice the sun shining through pretty curtains. If she’s angry she only sees the piece of egg hanging off her husband’s beard and doesn’t notice the sun or the curtains.

In this story my character was in complete denial, so she focused on specks on the floor or the blowing leaf so she wouldn’t think about why they were there, until she was slowly forced to confront where she was and why she was there, and became able to see those details she’d missed. If I’d shown things to the reader when the protagonist couldn’t see them, it would have broken from the protagonist’s point of view. It wouldn’t have unfolded like a puzzle, a puzzle that the clever reader could probably guess before the character did.

WOW: Why did you choose to write a science fiction novel instead of a medical procedural?

Anne: I wish I could stick to one genre, but my interests are so varied I keep getting into problems whenever I worry about who my audience will be. So I write for someone who is pretty much interested in everything.

I get better feedback when I write about life issues, pain, death, despair, fear and all the things we deal with as real people. I know that stuff better and it flows more easily for me. I think it’s easy and sometimes cheap to use things like that to get people emotionally engaged in your writing. If I write badly about sex, or write badly about a child abused or tortured people get emotionally invested. But there is no quality. I think that’s one reason I stay away from it, it’s too easy to manipulate people’s emotion just by choosing the right subject, then writing about it irresponsibly.

So my love is science fiction, not the technical stuff but Star Wars, people like us who struggle in a more fun setting. Characters are more important to me than action. So I have a great character. She learns who she is and what is her inner strength in a very human way. She meets the wrong man, her powerful fathers disapprove, and has to choose between different complicated worlds, has to decide what is truly important to her. Love becomes important to her but so is her world. She’s not a simple mind to be blinded by one emotion, whatever that emotion might be, love, revenge, fear. She’s a bit like me, complex. I can use everything I know and love in this story. Genocide, love, medicine, technology, humor, etc. I’ve written about 100,000 words and most of it is garbage. But there is a great skeleton now. Hopefully one day, my goal is by November, I’ll manage it. I say November because by NaNoWriMo I need to do something brand new so I don’t go insane working on this book until I die.

This story concept began as a revolt against George Lucas and how there were ten guys I wanted to be like, and no women. Leia was someone’s sister, daughter, lover. She wasn’t anyone herself. Nobody made action or hero movies with a woman main character except Ridley Scott. Sigourney Weaver was the only real main character female hero. And, please don’t include Lara Croft. She was written for men to look at, not as a role model for women. Patrick O’Brian, J.R.R.Tolkien and Roger Zelazny, though I nearly worship those authors, didn’t do enough with women characters. A few female authors did a great job with women including Laurell Hamilton in her early books and Lois McMaster Bujold. I want to write about women like that, women who hold their own, women who make important decisions in their lives and affect the world and try hard, even with their crippling blind spots and flaws, to make their world(s) better.

WOW:  I have to ask since you brought it up – what is wrong with removing the bullet to save the character’s life? What other types of problems do you spot in literature because of your background as an Emergency Medicine doctor?

Anne: This is one of my pet irritations, and thinking about your question it’s tempting to give you a textbook full of explanations. But, let’s ignore all the complicated medical details and let’s simplify the problem, that’s all writers need to do. Unless they want to write a lot of medical details, which can be interesting, too. You need very little medical knowledge to write a great book where people are injured or sick. But you do have to think about reality.
Hollywood thinking is big, visual, overdramatic and conflict-y. It’s why physical fights are such a staple in fiction, especial movie fiction. So, let’s say a writer wants their character sick, hurt or in a fight. I just watched The Accountant, a movie where Matt Damon was beaten, the fight was very long, he was injured severely to all parts of his body, then towards the end he was struck very hard in the face at least five times point blank. Then he sat down, moving easily, and had an emotional conversation with his attacker. No broken bones, no swelling, all his teeth in place, perfect nose, no blood, clear thinking. Imagine yourself, really imagine yourself being hit knuckle-hard in the ribs just once. Or some huge guy repeatedly pounds an iron fist to your nose, eyes, teeth, concussion, neck pain, broken facial bones, big cuts, unconsciousness, no doubt. Then, a week in the hospital, crutches, physical therapy for six weeks. When will you even remember why you wanted to talk to the guy? You can write the exact same exciting fight then end it with the same conversation, just do it realistically. Make different choices. Maybe don’t hit his face… Think about real life.

Let’s talk about generic cowboy guns and think about bullets in a simple way. Let’s ignore the different speeds of bullets and military weapons that treat the body like a bowl of Jell-O to be fractured and do wide paths of deadly damage, let’s ignore bullets that spin elliptical paths and break apart into shrapnel pieces that move separately and let’s ignore bullets that flatten like pancakes and move wide, making huge tubular paths of soupy damage.  Let’s ignore all but the simple cowboy gun.

When someone is shot the bullet enters the skin, moves forward cutting a little path of damage and then it stops, somewhere. As a writer, all you need to think about is: What outcome do you want for your character? Do you want them to die? Immediately; head or heart shot. Slowly; gut shot, putrid leaking of intestine, infection, death, or you can damage a medium or even little blood vessel or nick a liver with its slowly seeping blood over minutes, hours or even days without a doctor’s help. What do you want the outcome to be?

By the way, most bullets are steel, not lead, they generally don’t hurt your character staying inside the body. I remember a woman shot in the chest by her boyfriend. She didn’t need surgery; she just needed a chest tube to suck the air out of her chest, where it leaked from the hole in her lung. Two days later I made rounds and she coughed up the bullet that obviously had ended up in one of her bigger breathing tubes. Otherwise she’d still have it in her chest to this day, maybe to be picked up by TSA the next time she flew to Paris.

Which brings up the next issue. You have a bullet inside a character. Your character has some sort of tiny hole in the skin and a tiny tunnel that leads right to that bullet. Why in the world would you want to make that tiny tunnel huge, cut through a lot of uninjured parts of the body, cut through normal blood vessels and make them bleed, to take out a bullet that’s sitting quietly doing no harm? It’s not going anywhere. Rarely does a surgeon remove a bullet. Why? Because they would have to cause harm, sometimes a lot of damage, to reach it. You don’t save someone by removing the bullet. You save someone, by pressure or sewing up the places that are bleeding, not by making more bleeding sites if you can avoid it.

Writers want the drama of saving the character’s life and the ticking clock of getting to that bullet. They want the hero to act decisively and bravely. So it does makes some writerly sense to do it this way. But it’s completely irrational. Writers believe it because bullets have been stressfully removed for 50 years in so many movies and books it’s become fact. Its seductive conflict, its easy and cliché. A little thought will make for a much better and unique heroic situation. Maybe your hero can say: “Don’t be silly, Franz. The bullet isn’t the problem, let’s put pressure right on that pumping artery and hope the bullet didn’t nick the nerve, because if he loses the fine motor control in his hand we’re all screwed. He’s the only one who can defuse that alien bomb. And let’s send the kids to find some water before that battery acid causes even more damage to his eyes. No… too late.”

WOW: How does your work inform your own writing?

Anne: The easy answer to this is that for all of us, whatever life we lead, as writers we can look to our rich experiences as humans in a world of conflict. We have so much to draw from both literally or emotionally. I mean, experiences like the death of a coworker, slipping down rainy stairs and not being hurt, the cat throwing up on your pillow. You have to catch these moments and recognize what they are for you as a writer. One of my writing instructors, Lon Otto, taught me to make a grist list of experiences to search through as we’re writing, experiences we can remember and refer to that help drag up the needed emotions. Just one line will do the job as reminder of something important that happened to us.

If you work in public service such as social, police, medical work you often witness the more dramatic moments of life. Sometimes they offer very emotional stories, or add a layer to a story. I think if you look for it you can get those experiences anywhere. I must say that I’ve been very lucky in my experiences in general. I’ve not been afraid to stir the pot, to try new things, to make mistakes, to travel, to talk to strangers. Many experiences haven’t been pleasant but they’ve made me learn, think deep, and in my subconscious there’s a lot to muck about with.

Imagining things isn’t a problem I have. My problem is more one of being exposed. I’m an introvert and I’m afraid someone will ask me how I could write that character so well, the one who tortures or hurts people or exposes themselves to things I’d never in a million years do. Unfortunately I’m very good at going there in my head. I have a bookshelf full of works on torture, war, genocide, social misery, and disaster management. It fascinates me, and takes me writerly places.

Thanks so much for the interview. Your questions were amazingly thought-provoking.

WOW:  And thank you for your answers!  I’ve learned a thing or two about how to work with POV as well as how to pull my life into my writing.  And thank you for working so hard to bring us more great women characters.

Interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards

Monday, April 17, 2017

How Writing Skills Can Create a Good Podcast

A few months ago, I interviewed a local broadcaster who had left her job as a radio announcer and decided to channel her energy into creating a podcast about a topic she was passionate about. When I first got the assignment from my editor, I thought, “Podcasting. I still don’t know what this is really all about and I hope I don’t sound like an idiot when I start the interview.”

She set me straight right away. First, she had me open the native podcasting app on my phone and browse around until I found a few podcasts to check out later. Then we discussed her own award-winning podcast, which she developed to discuss Type 1 diabetes because she is a parent of a diabetic child and couldn’t find a podcast with the information she was looking for. It struck me that she wasn’t doing anything a blogger or reporter wouldn’t do. She uses her writing and researching skills to organize interviews with celebrities with diabetes, awareness advocates, and updates listeners on the latest innovations in technology, among other things. She has also secured some great sponsorships and writes the copy for those spots. When I got home and finished listening to a few episodes, I was impressed by the quality of the writing and the mix of information that kept me listening.

This past weekend I started listening to another podcast I had loaded on my phone while packing for our upcoming move. This one is called “Up and Vanished,” and it was created by documentary filmmaker Payne Lindsey. He decided to explore the unsolved disappearance of a Georgia beauty queen and teacher Tara Grinstead. Cold cases are right up my alley, and after the first podcast I was hooked. He layered interviews with private investigators, local residents who knew Tara, examinations of the crime scene findings in a way that actually prevented me from packing because I was so engrossed. There was also a bit of creepy background music that added to the ambience. (Spoiler: Before I started listening to the podcast, I knew that some suspects had recently been arrested in the case). There are fans of the podcast that are pretty sure the investigative work of Payne Lindsey helped crack the case open. “Up and Vanished” has been covered by national media outlets and Season 2 is in the works.

Good writing and reporting can be used in many forms. Personally my writing blog has languished and I’m trying to figure out if developing a podcast might be a way to kickstart my creative juices. Sure, the technology aspect of podcasting does intimidate me, but there are plenty of helpful articles out there on the best software to use and ways to get started.

Do you listen to any podcasts? I’d love to hear some of your favorites and why you like them. Better yet, if you have your own podcast, what kinds of content do you produce?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is now searching for the next great true crime podcast.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Conflict, Plot Lines, and The Devil Wears Prada

I teach interpersonal communication, and love the chapter on conflict because of the way it applies to plot lines. One of my favorite assignments is to have students keep a "conflict log" for a week, and then select one example and analyze it.

Most of my students have jobs in the restaurant or retail industry, and/or siblings, which account for many of the conflicts. One of my favorite stories was about the creative way in which a student resolved the scarcity of resources dilemma (same goal) with her brother regarding a bag of peas that included him driving her to the store late at night to replace it. The dialog alone made me laugh out loud. Conflict drove that story, turning it into a funny essay that should be published.

There are three common causes of interpersonal conflict: misunderstandings, different goals, and same goals. Each can propel a story.

Misunderstanding: Caused by a simple miscommunication, lack of communication, or poor listening.

After my daughter's recent wedding, I volunteered to take her friend to the airport. She was staying at my daughter's condo, and I drove there to pick her up. But, she had driven to my workplace, and called me just as I was pulling into my daughter's driveway. I barely had enough time to drive back, take her to the airport, and return to work. This misunderstanding caused tension, and the question, "Would I make it back to work on time?" is a plot device we've seen in every movie that has a bomb with a timer, and some involving a pregnant woman. (Will she make it to the hospital on time?) That tension makes us turn pages, or stay engaged.

Different goals: Many romantic comedies feature couples with different goals, and the conflict drives the story as we wonder whether or not they can work it out.

For instance, The Devil Wears Prada plot focuses on a "glamourous" job in the fashion industry, but conflict arises from the goals not shared by Anne Hathaway and her boyfriend. He is unhappy about the time she spends on the job, with little time left for their relationship. He wants her, she wants the job. Different goals.

Same goals: Two people want the same thing. Scarcity of resources.

Same movie, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt had the same goal, to be the essential assistant to Meryl Streep. In the beginning, we watch Blunt navigate the job smoothly as Anne flounders, but then the tables turn. Each resents the other while competing to get in the good graces of their boss. One job, two people. We've also seen this plot when two women compete for the same man, or vice versa.

So, the next time your plot is stagnant, consider conflict. Or, try keeping your own conflict log to see if you can spot any plot lines that might turn into a great story. And, if you take my class, you'll get credit for it!


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She also teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.