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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Power of the Book Blurb

I had the opportunity to catch up with a fellow writer two weeks ago. After the usual pleasantries, we got down to what we really wanted to discuss – our latest work in progress. He asked me about mine, first, and I did my best to explain the basics, giving him an overview of my main character, basic plot, setting, etc. I rambled on for a little while, painfully aware that I wasn’t describing it very well.

When I finally stopped talking, I turned the conversation to his novel. In three concise, descriptive sentences, he captured all the information I had tried – and failed – to convey.

“Wow,” I said (or something to that effect). “The book sounds great. And you described it really

He smiled and thanked me. “It’s my book blurb,” he explained. “Like the one on the back of a paperback, or in the front flap of a hardcover. I always write it before I start my books to keep myself on track. Plus, if I ever run into anyone of “publishing” importance, I’m ready for the pitch.”

How right he was.

It’s brilliant, really. I’m ashamed I never thought of it myself. A book blurb gives us the right amount of information to indicate the direction of our story, capture the main plot, and highlight the conflict our character(s) face. These are elements we should, in theory, know ahead of time. By memorizing the blurb, we can keep ourselves on track.

And he was spot-on about being ready for a pitch. Not that I consistently run into literary agents on a regular basis, (my neighborhood is surrounded by farm land) but should it ever happen and I’m not ready – well, perish the thought.

The other bonus to writing a book blurb early is that you’re practicing for a quality query letter pitch, since they are almost the same thing. Knowing all the hours I’ve spent agonizing over my query letters, starting early sounds like a good plan.

This might be difficult for some of you pantsers out there, but even those who like to “see where the writing takes them” should have some of the basics set before diving in.

Consider this a challenge. Write that book blurb. Memorize it. Then, share it with me on Twitter (@BethHararWrites) or in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.

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 and her website here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Interview with Joy Givens, Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Joy Givens is an award-winning author who mostly writes fiction for young adults and children. Joy’s debut novel, Ugly Stick, was published in 2013, followed by a short story collection titled April’s Roots. In 2016 Joy released a nonfiction guide, The New SAT Handbook, which she co-authored with Andrew Cole. Her latest print publication credit is “The Shot Shared Round the World,” a humorous short story included in the forthcoming Beach Life anthology from Cat & Mouse Press.

Joy resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her fantastic husband, their two remarkable sons, and an impossibly lovable dog. In addition to her writing, Joy is the owner and lead tutor of Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring, a company serving the greater Pittsburgh area. She also enjoys singing and listening to most genres of music, cooking for family and friends, and curling up with a good book and good coffee. Please catch up with Joy on social media!

Twitter: @JoyEilene
Instagram: @JoyEilene

Read Joy's heartfelt story about family dynamics many of us can relate to and then return to learn more about how Joy'w writing habits and some of her favorite children's/young adult authors!

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Welcome, Joy! We would love to hear the inspiration behind your story, "Million-Dollar Burrito." And thank you for making those of us with slightly dysfunctional families feel much more normal now!

Joy: Well, all stories begin with a kernel of the truth, right? :) The kernel of inspiration for this story came from a similar kind of situation within my own family. In thinking about how we process family "announcements" and relate to the people closest to us, I wanted to explore a fictional situation (fraught with more drama than my own) as a close pair of sisters might handle it. I have been blessed with many wonderful sisterly relationships (sisters, stepsisters, a sister-in-law, and close friends who often feel like sisters), and I've definitely seen those relationships emerging more in my own work lately. And whenever and however families are expanded, no matter the happy reason, there are also many angles of human drama to explore as a result! That's what I was going for with "Million-Dollar Burrito," and I hope I found the middle ground between humor and heartstrings in a relatable way.

WOW: I'd say you most certainly did. Looking at your bio, you mostly write for young adult readers, and have recently branched out into picture books. Can you give us an overview of a few of the works of fiction you've published in the past few years?

Joy: My most recently published work is "The Shot Shared Round the World," a short story selected for inclusion in the "Beach Life" anthology from Cat & Mouse Press (Nov 2017). In that story, a girl named Leigh discovers on the way to a big family vacation that a photo of her at a concert she sneaked out to attend has gone viral! Leigh and her net-savvy cousins try to keep her parents from finding out, and in the process their family finds new ways to bridge the generation gap. It was a big story to tell in a short format, but I was pleased with how it turned out. My previously published work also includes several self-pub credits: Ugly Stick, a young adult urban fantasy novel that tells the story of a mother-daughter curse; April's Roots, a short story collection that serves as a serial "prequel" to Ugly Stick; and The New SAT Handbook, a guide that I co-wrote with Andrew Cole and released in 2016. I'm currently working on several projects that all revolve around fairy tale and folktale retellings, including a YA spin on Rapunzel that incorporates a Snow White revamp (as the villain!) and picture book texts that update folktales like "The Gingerbread Man" and "Stone Soup" in contemporary, fem-STEM settings. I love taking something classic and widely recognized and turning it into something new!

WOW: The New SAT Handbook piqued my interest because I remember how much I struggled with the test and worry for my kids who will have to take it in the few years. With so many "test prep" guides out there, how did you and your co-author work to present the material in a much more user-friendly format?

Joy: That's a great question! I had been teaching and tutoring for several years when the College Board announced the "new" SAT that would be implemented in Spring 2016. Andrew Cole and I banded together to develop a sort of workbook that we could use with our own students, and the idea grew from there. We definitely came at the Handbook with the perspective of tutors who have seen what works (and doesn't) with a range of students. The first thing we considered was brevity, not only because we didn't have an army of interns to create pages of filler, but also because so much of the content in the big test prep guides is just that: filler. As a tutor, I've walked into first lessons with SAT students and seen their faces fall when they see the three-inch-thick books I've brought. In my experience, it's intimidating and ultimately counterproductive to give students a thousand bloated pages of test prep when the essentials can be condensed into a "little" book! My frame of reference for this is the classic writing guide The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, which was originally developed by Will Strunk as his "little book" on composition for his college students (one of whom was E.B. White). It's concise, clear, and easy to navigate, with even a few pops of dry wit as a bonus. We tried to follow that path with our book... though we went with an intentionally kitschy cartoon pencil and pop culture references in lieu of dry wit. The second thing we considered was readability: making sure a student could use it alone or with a tutor. We included a full topical index at the back and a grammar glossary for that purpose, as well as a brick-by-brick math content review and a slew of grammar modules. It's very much a workbook approach, which leads to the third consideration for The New SAT Handbook: applicability. We didn't want to make a "test tips and tricks" book that teaches the magic formula to the SAT. We wanted to make a book that provides content that will be valuable to high school students long after test day. Things like reading comprehension, grammar and composition, and fundamentals of math sometimes get overlooked in the rush to "beat" the test. Focusing on those valuable skills is the core of how I teach and tutor, so it was only natural to make that the core of the book as well.

WOW: I love it. I will definitely check this out for my daughter in the next few years. As the owner and lead tutor at an academic preparatory company, how do you balance a full work schedule (and motherhood!) with your writing projects?

Joy: I'm a fairly busy person, and I'd like to say that "balance" is my middle name, but it's not. It's Eilene. Which actually makes for a terrific pun, because it sounds very unbalanced! But honestly, that's often how I feel in my day-to-day: like I'm leaning too far towards one thing and falling short on something else. A common feeling among women in our current society for sure! I wish I could say that there's some magic equation I've found to balance my writing life with my day job and motherhood, but there's just NOT. There are weeks when I crank out chapters and short stories, and then there are weeks when I just can't find the time and head-space to put together even a paragraph because one of my kids has the stomach flu or I have a particularly full work schedule. I don't have a "method," though I certainly admire those who do. I just make time for writing whenever I can. I bring a notepad or my laptop with me anytime I think I might be able to get some words in. I plot out loud to myself in the car when I'm driving to work. And given the choice between writing and sleep at 11pm, I usually choose writing; I'm a born night owl. That being said, I have gotten (slightly) better in recent months about making time for decompressing as well. I worked through a lot of anxiety after becoming a mother for the first time, so I tried to be proactive about giving myself some space when our second little angel arrived in 2016. Yoga, baking, TV competition shows, gardening, and arts and crafts are all my de-stressing friends when I need a recharge.
There's no key to how I "balance" my life. I guess I've just made a measure of peace with the fact that I'm perennially unbalanced and found happiness within that.

WOW: I hear you loud and clear on that! Who are some of your favorite children's authors and what are a few books you'd recommend for middle-grade and young adult readers?

Joy: This is my favorite question! I love talking about what I'm reading, because from childhood I was a reader first and a writer second. Here are my favorite reads of 2017:

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (or anything by Firoozeh Dumas; she's incredible and hilarious and heartwarming.)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (This story was utterly original, and the conclusion's emotional pay-off brought tears to my eyes.)
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (This story made me ugly-cry after I finished it. For several hours. Seriously.)
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (He's just brilliant; I previously never gave much thought to novels in verse, and he completely converted me!)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (This book should be required reading in every high school in America. It's gripping and heartbreaking and raw and real, and you should set aside a day to read it and be changed by it.)
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters (This book is fascinating, feminist, dark but not too dark, and so enjoyable to read!)

My perennial favorite authors are Madeleine L'Engle, JK Rowling, Mark Dunn, Malcolm Gladwell, Charles Dickens, L.M. Montgomery, Lois Lowry, Gail Carson Levine, and Linda Sue Park.
I have also been fortunate to befriend a ton of talented writers through organizations and networking! Some of my top personal-friend recommendations for middle grade and YA are Stephanie Keyes, Joshua David Bellin, Wende Dikec, Laura Lee Anderson, and Dee Romito.

WOW: Looks like I have some new books to check out and recommend to my kids. Thank you again and you are an inspiration to all the women out there making it happen every day, one day at a time.

Monday, January 29, 2018

B. Lynn Goodwin Launches Her Book Blog Tour of Never Too Late

...and giveaway! 

How does a 62-year-old woman who's never been married find happiness with a two-time widower seeking his third wife on . . . Craigslist!?

Does she throw caution to the wind and relinquish her freedom, or should she take a crash course in compromises?

Author B. Lynn Goodwin tells all and more in Never Too Late. How she was attracted to Richard's clear expectations, his honesty, and his incredible openness. She'd never met anyone like him. Would she recognize love if it knocked on her heart? And could an educated woman be happy moving into a blue-collar world?

Whether you've been single forever, are trapped in an unhappy marriage, or you're simply curious, you'll find secrets to a happy marriage in Never Too Late.

Paperback: 222 Pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Koehler Books (December 20, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1633936082
ISBN-13: 978-1633936089

Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 is available for print and eBook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.


"A vivid, engaging, and heart-warming tribute to that rare and wonderful thing: a late-in-life
love."  Susan Wittig Albert, Ph.D, author of Loving Eleanor and The General's Women

"A book filled with grace and charm." - Aline Soules, author of Meditation on Woman and Evening Sun

"Very different from any love story you have ever read." - Richard J. Smith, Ph.D., author of Life After Eighty, Once Upon A Christmas, and Musings of an Old Man

"For those who think life has passed them by, take heart, and read B. Lynn Goodwin's book, Never Too Late, an unflinchingly honest, personal tale of love found after 60." - Kate Farrell, Author and co-editor of award-winning anthologies: Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the '60s & '70s and Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence

Book Giveaway Contest
To win a copy of Never Too Late, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway ends Sunday, February 4th at 11:59 PM EST. We will announce the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author

B. Lynn Goodwin is the owner of Writer Advice, She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and Talent (Eternal Press). Talent was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award and won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was a finalist for a Sarton Women’s Book Award.

Her manuscript, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 was published by Koehler Press on December 20, 2017. Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers, Hip Mama, Dramatics Magazine, Inspire Me Today, The Sun, Good, Purple and elsewhere. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network, and she is a manuscript coach at Writer Advice. She always has time to write guest blog posts and answer questions. She loves working one on one, trouble-shooting, and helping writers find what works.

She can be found online at:






---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your book Never Too Late! What inspired you to write this book about your marriage?

Lynn: My husband and I both knew our story was unique from our second date—right after breakfast when we sat in the parking lot and . . . I think the scene is in Chapter 3.  I’d given up all hope of ever getting married, and I thought there must be other women out there in the position. Then I answered this amazing ad on Craigslist (Preface and Chapter 1). Richard was different from any man I’d ever dated. He was much more open and honest. He knew what he wanted. Although I was much less certain, I loved being pursued.

WOW: Oh I love unique romances! And I can understand the love of being pursued as well. So, what are some tips you have for people who want to write a memoir about their personal experiences? 

Lynn: Draft without hesitation. Spill everything out. Spare nothing. Edit later. Keep writing. If you remember details, feel free to put them in, but don’t get stuck in editing until you reach an ending. Write to tell a story—not to hurt others. Leave the revenge statements in your journal and present all your characters in a balanced way. Conflicts will be inherent if you do that. Write to share your life experience and how you grew.

WOW: That is fantastic advice! I love the advice to not get stuck in editing. Well, you obviously have the incredible ability to manage multiple writing projects and responsibilities at once. How did you find the time to write this book? What advice do you have for people who struggle with time management?


o Honor deadlines. 
o Prioritize. 
o Plan ahead so you can draft, put it away, and take another look 48 hours later.

Frankly, I also struggle with time management, especially if I am on Facebook or in e-mail. So I stay out of those two when I’m writing or concentrating on a project. I also take breaks and do dishes, move laundry, or walk the dog . . . or veg in front of a TV rerun. I go back to work as soon as the commercials come on.

WOW: I confess - Facebook is my primary distraction! How does teaching and consulting about writing help you with your own writing? 

Lynn: As I write my comments and suggestions, explaining why one choice might work better than another, I solidify why processes in my mind. When I see a student using beautiful images, I take a closer look at whether it’s vocabulary choices or juxtaposition of words that make the images pop.

As I hear about problems with writing, I offer advice and use it on myself when I get stuck.

Every time I make up an exercise for someone else’s character, I know that’s available to me too.

Best of all, when I see students improve and they appreciate my help, they also validate my work. Drives my Judgement Gremlins crazy.

WOW: Ha! I love that - "Judgement Gremlin" - I have a few of those too! So, I love the message of this book that is perfectly summarized with the title – Never Too Late. What advice would you give to people who maybe haven’t met the love of their life yet and are worried it’s going to be too late for them? 

Lynn: Well hello. It’s never too late! I look very happy in that picture on the back, but as you can see, I’m no raving beauty, and I didn’t grow more lovely as I aged. I’ll never know what it’s like to be tall and skinny or to have men ogle me as I slink by in my new bikini. But that’s not what it’s about. So let’s put physical beauty aside. Here are three questions that I ask every character in a play or story. If you’re looking for the right partner, you should ask yourself:

o What do you really want? 
o What can you do to get it?
o What is in your way? 
o BONUS QUESTION: Are you sure that’s what you want? How do you know? 

I wanted companionship. I also wanted to know I was loved and trusted. I could respond to ads, and I could have done more. In fact I did, but you have to read the book to get the whole story.  Maybe a combination of fear and pride were in the way, but if you’d asked me in 2011, I would have said it was my looks. Once again, you have to read the book to learn more.

WOW: I have to say, you are an inspiration! So, in 2016, we did a book tour for you for your fiction book Talent. Will we be seeing any new fiction featuring your main character Sandee you any time soon? 

Lynn: Maybe. She talks to me from time to time in her imperative, high school voice. (Writers will know what I mean—this is not a call to be 5150ed.) She holds a very special place in my heart and there are new characters that want to meet her and be a part of her life. So maybe.

WOW: Who do you hope reads Never Too Late and what do you want them to take away from the book?

Lynn: Dear Readers:

How I hope you’ll read my book. There’s so much in it for you.

Take away new/additional confidence.

Take away a sense of adventure.

Take away an open mind. Be willing to open yourself up to new things and new people.

Take away how-to tips—whether it’s how to ask hard questions or how to handle money, demands, and increasing intimacy.

Take away proof that there is someone for everyone. Just be aware.

Who should read it?

o Whether you’re unmarried, separated, divorced, thinking about leaving your partner, or your relationships break up every time, this book has something for you.
o Trapped in an unhappy marriage? This book is for you.
o Afraid of the truth? Read the book. 
o Curious about what love will be like in your sixties (and beyond)? Definitely read the book. 
o If you get your book club to read it, maybe I can visit by Skype. Or members can send me questions and read my answers at the meeting. 

Writing the book gave me an unexpected freedom. The truth is out there and I’m more than willing to share it.

WOW: Thank you for such a wonderful message for our readers! We can't wait to see when the reviews come in about your incredible book.

----- Blog Tour Dates

January 29th (Today) @ The Muffin
Interview and giveaway

January 30th @ Mari's #WriteON! Journaling Blog
B. Lynn Goodwin will be a guest blogger over at Mari's #WriteOn Journaling Blog talking about, "The Power of Honesty."

January 30th @ Polkadots and Plaid
Sara over at the blog Polkadots and Plaid will be sharing her insights and feedback about B. Lynn Goodwin's book.

February 1st @ Miss Harley Rose Blog
Stephanie Cummings over at her blog Miss Harley Rose will be reviewing B. Lynn Goodwin's book Never Too Late.

February 2nd @ Bring on Lemons
Crystal J. Casavant-Otto will be sharing her thoughts about B. Lynn Goodwin's book Never Too Late.

February 3rd @ World of My Imagination
Nicole Pyles will be reviewing and sharing her insights about Never Too Late over at her blog.

February 4th @ blog Margo L. Dill
B. Lynn Goodwin will be a guest blogger at Margo L. Dill's blog on the subject of never giving up! Make sure you read "You Don't Lose Until You Quit Trying."

February 5th @ Bookworm
B. Lynn Goodwin will be a guest blogger over at the Bookworm blog talking about "The Importance of Telling Your Story."

February 6th @ Happily Ever Adventures
Lena over at Happily Ever Adventures will be sharing her thoughts about B. Lynn Goodwin's book Never Too Late in her monthly book round up.

February 7th @ Making LOL
If you have love on your mind this February, make sure you catch B. Lynn Goodwin's guest post over at blogger Making LOL called, "Finding Love."

February 8th @ Mommy Daze: Say What???
B. Lynn Goodwin will be talking about, "How to Start a Story You are Afraid to Tell" over at Mommy Daze: Say What??? to inspire us all to write our own story.

February 9th @ Words from the Heart
Make sure you check out B. Lynn Goodwin's guest post about, "Compromise and Acceptance." An important lesson for us all!

February 10th @ Bookworm Blog
Anjanette over her blog Bookworm will be reviewing B. Lynn Goodwin's book Never Too Late as well as interviewing the author.

February 12th @ Madeline Sharples Blog
B. Lynn Goodwin will be visiting Madeline Sharples blog and discussing one of my favorite activities in her post, "Need a Venting Partner? Try a Journal."

February 14th @ Beverly A. Baird's Blog
Blogger Beverly A. Baird will be reading and reviewing B. Lynn Goodwin's book Never Too Late and sharing her thoughts with us.

February 14th @ Bookends Review
Come by and check out the review of Never Too Late at Bookends Review.

February 15th @ Mommy Daze: Say What???
Ashley Bass over at Mommy Daze: Say What??? will be sharing her thoughts about Never Too Late.

February 16th @ Words From the Heart
Rev. Linda Neas will be reading and reviewing Never Too Late and be sure to check out her insights on this amazing book.

February 17th @ Memoir Writer's Journey
Make sure to come by the blog Memoir Writer's Journey and read about Lynn's insight in her post, "The Authentic Writer." Also, blogger Kathleen Pooler will be reviewing Never Too Late as well.

February 19th @ Strength4Spouses
Visit the blog Strength4Spouses to catch Lynn's post called, "Craigslist Dating."

February 20th @ Bring on Lemons
Nancy Cramer, yoga lover and retired schoolteacher, will be sharing her thoughts about Never Too Late on the blog, Bring on Lemons.

February 22nd @ Food Diary of a City Girl
Make sure to catch Cecilia over at Food Diary of a City Girl and her thoughts about the book Never Too Late.

February 23rd @ Strength4Spouses
Make sure you come by the Strength4Spouses blog to catch their insights into Lynn's book Never Too Late.

February 24th @ Becoming Zen Again
Shell LeBlanc will be telling us about what she thought about the book Never Too Late.


Enter to win a copy of Never Too Late by B. Lynn Goodwin! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget on Sunday, February 4th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Justice Through Writing

       On CBS Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, there was a story about an elderly couple. If you'd like to see the video, here's the link.

      Sixty years ago, Reverend Gilbert Caldwell and his young bride Grace planned on staying in the Poconos for their honeymoon. They'd made reservations. Unfortunately, when they arrived, the staff would not honor their reservation, since the Caldwells were African American. The couple was told that if they were allowed to check in, the other guests would not be very happy.

       Recently, the Caldwells spoke to a class of students (5th graders, I think) and were sharing what life was like during the Civil Rights era. They told the story about their honeymoon. The kids were outraged.

       The children wrote letters, worked on their persuasive skills and were successful. Six decades after they said "I do," Gilbert and Grace got to have a free second honeymoon in the Poconos--this time in the resort that earlier had turned them away.

        Writing can bring about justice in many ways.

  • Self-healing--I recently met with a fellow teacher. Her father was an alcoholic. He died when his daughter was still young. She said she'd like to write a memoir but since she's still in her 20s, she felt like it was too soon.
          I told her she does have a story to tell--now. I reminded her that others could be healed if they read 
          about how she coped and how she survived.

          Finding forgiveness... Surely that's justice.
  • Legal Justice Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was a boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder. While in prison, he wrote an autobiography, which was so inspiring, Bob Dylan wrote a song about him ("Hurricane"). Denzel Washington starred in a movie about Carter's time in prison. People protested, articles were written. Eventually, Rubin Carter was freed.
  • Knowledge--Thankfully the Holocaust is over. Fortunately, the days of the Civil Rights era is no longer. No longer are there separate drinking fountains and Jim Crow laws... which means that children today know nothing of those worlds and those injustices.
          Books like The Diary of Anne Frank (by Anne Frank) and Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges 
          uncover a world that's foreign to students today. Hopefully, armed with knowledge, the mistakes of 
          the past won't be repeated. Even more hopefully, the mistakes we're currently making will be

          I've spoken to many people who come to book signings and say to one of my writing colleagues or myself things like, "Your story really moved me. It reminded me of my own life," and then they tell about one of their childhood or adult experiences. Every time, they're told, "Write down your story. My story resonated with you? Your story could make a difference with someone else."

         And I'm saying it again. What's stopping you? It's never too early to get your story down.

        Begin telling it now...  

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a freelance writer, a mother and grandmother along with being a dog rescuer. In the Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America, she has a story about Ferguson. It tells what the real Ferguson was like before and after Michael Brown was killed. If you'd like to read more of her work, you can check out her blog.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Importance of Being Current

There is something about time that I will never understand. I mean, one day you’ve finally conquered that whole writing 2018 on your checks, and the next day, you’re rinsing sand out of the car from your summer vacation.

Time passes so quickly and we have such complicated lives, despite having the technology that’s supposed to make our lives easier. It’s challenging to keep up and so very often, time catches us napping.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, last week, I happened to read my bio on a professional writing site (The SCBWI site, if you must know) and I was surprised and yep, a little red-faced. I hadn’t updated my bio in the last couple of years.

Now, SCBWI is an important part of my professional life. I write for children; I attempt to get work related to my children’s writing. And yet, I had neglected to take care of my business. And so this is one of my old “What Not To Do” lessons. Take heed, grasshopper, and do as I say, not as I do.

Many of us belong to professional writing organizations, and this affords us an excellent marketing opportunity. If you have on online bio on a professional site, think a moment. When was the last time you updated? If you can’t remember, then it’s time to review and make that online bio shine. Because even though you don’t remember to check your online presence, that bio is out there and someone—perhaps lots of someones—check out that bio every day. That’s one of your virtual business cards, but you could be losing business because of your neglect. Who wants to hire someone who hasn’t done anything in seven years?

Of course, you’ve probably done plenty in the last seven years. You’ve probably been so busy, you haven’t had time to update. But that person reading your bio doesn’t know that. So update, grasshopper. Give those people who are going to spend their money on you—the editors and publishers and readers—a stellar and current look at you!

And everything I just said about your bio, I can also say about your website and/or blog. Plus, I can promise you that people do visit blogs and websites; I constantly visit author websites. Sometimes, I want to know what else an author is writing; other times, I’m curious about a kidlit author’s marketing. Either way, I pay close attention to the details. Like whether a blog has had a post in the last year or so. I check the calendar to see where an author may be appearing. I always read the “News and Events” section. Being current indicates a level of professionalism that I appreciate. Others will, too.

And before you say that you’re a freelancer, not an author, the same still holds true. It’s even more important as a freelancer to keep your credits up-to-date. Your business face needs to be professional, error-free, and yes, current.

So update your online self in whatever digital spots you hang out, and get going now, grasshopper! Because I can’t explain why, but I know this for a fact. The next time you take a look around, you’re going to be sitting on Aunt Mamie’s couch with turkey and gravy stains on your shirt.

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer who spends a great deal of time catching up! But that's only because she's busy writing and reading and all that other important stuff she's supposed to be doing as the consummate professional that she is. And yes, binge-watching on Netflix is important writing research. See how current she is at her blog! (Hint: Very current, thank you very much.)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Don't judge

Have you ever had an idea for a story or book that you didn't explore, only to find out that someone else had the same idea? And published it? And made a lot of money? You may have kicked yourself for letting go of a perfectly fine idea because you couldn't see past your own perception of whether or not it was worthwhile.

Many years ago, someone hung a sign in our office stating that ideas are in the air, and you just have to reach out and grab them. So how do you grab these ideas? Most likely, writers catch thoughts and ideas with their pens, pencils, and computers.

If ideas are in the air, pay attention. You can do this by developing a habit of sitting quietly, letting those thoughts flow, and following them. Something your neighbor said about her service dog may pop into your head while watching a news story about robotic dogs, which may help you connect the dots and develop a story about robotic service dogs that may or may not rise up against humans.

The key is to be quiet and listen. By listening to my thoughts and recording them, I've developed character traits for a protagonist while watching someone do the dishes, generated an article idea from a product label, and found solutions to plot problems by reminiscing about a ferry ride across Lake Michigan.

A writer's job is not to judge. Don't fall into the trap of dismissing your ideas that may be viable, valuable, and worthy of further exploration. Write them down, type them up, or record them. Just don't let them go.

Mary Horner's story Shirley and the Apricot Tree was recently published in Kansas City Voices. She has written for numerous publications and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges, and earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review - Match Made in Manhattan by Amanda Stauffer

Are you looking for a book that will make you laugh? Something well written and entertaining? Look no further than Match Made in Manhattan by Amanda Stauffer.

If you didn't catch my earlier interview with Amanda you should check that out too. She's an honest and witty author you will instantly adore!

Now let's get down to the real reason you're here. I'm absolutely giving Match Made in Manhattan 5 stars and here's why:

Match Made in Manhattan

I absolutely enjoyed this book. As I was dating (after my practice marriage as I like to call it), I often thought about writing a book. Dating can be extremely entertaining albeit simultaneously daunting. And my dating took place before internet dating really took hold. I feel like internet dating may even be more entertaining. This made Match Made in Manhattan even more of a must read for me. I wanted a feel for what today's dating environment is like. It seemed so much more logical to just read Amanda's book instead of divorcing my husband ...

The main character in Stauffer's book is Alison who is confused and lonely after several dead-end relationships. Regardless of when someone has dated, they'll relate with Alison and how she is feeling. You don't have to understand digital dating to grasp the concept of dating frustration. Alison is easy to relate to and the character is well written. I found myself laughing on one page and then crying on the next. Match Made in Manhattan was an enjoyable read and a very quick read. The dialogue is believable and I appreciated how Alison's different dates were written as separate chapters.

I'm happy that the witty and wise Alison got her happy ending and I appreciate the opportunity to join her on her adventure. Such an enjoyable read!

And here's the official details you'll want so you can grab your own copy today!

Match Made in Manhattan:

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (January 23, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1510728090
ISBN-13: 978-1510728097

Match Made in Manhattan is now available  on Amazon! , Barnes & Noble, Skyhorse, and Target.


Amanda Stauffer is a graduate of Yale and Columbia Universities who works as an architectural conservator, restoring historic landmarks across the country. When she grew frustrated with New York City’s dating scene, Amanda headed to Her experiences provided her with a lifetime of warm and fuzzy memories, a few friends, and an abundance of material if she ever decided to write a book or pursue a career in comedy.

Amanda is a fan of Italian neorealist cinema, mojitos, and—well, you can just read her protagonist’s Match profile on page 20 of this book, because Alison lifted heavily from Amanda’s own profile. An erstwhile expat who has lived in Bangalore, Sicily, and Paris, Amanda currently lives in Manhattan, where she is busy writing her second book.

Find Amanda and Match Made in Manhattan online:



About today's reviewer:

Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, 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 Wisconsin with her husband, five young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 4, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora, two dogs, 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 at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Most Important Thing a Writer Needs

I'm making a pretty bold statement with my blog post title, but in all my years as a writer, teaching writers, and having friends as writers, I truly believe the most important thing a writer needs is...


It's so obvious to me this morning that before I wrote this post, I decided to do a quick search of the Muffin to see if I had ever dedicated a post to it before. (Another thing about writers--we easily forget what we write!) I hadn't dedicated an entire blog post to it! What sparked this idea of perseverance was a couple of things that happened over the past couple of weeks.

One of my critique group members was recently talking about how she's just not sure she has what it takes emotionally to make it as a writer. She is trying to add to the family funds with her career, and what she is finding out is that it's extremely difficult. And...she has had success! She is a published writer! She is also a mom and a wife, and doesn't love the isolation of the writing career. These feelings are really weighing on her, and it's not that she doesn't have talent or that she doesn't work hard. She works hard every day of her life. It's the perseverance thing--she's not sure if persevering through this rocky road is worth it to her emotionally. I'm sure many of us can relate.

Then I edited an upcoming article for WOW! (which you all will love). It's a very inspirational piece about freelancing and trying to get article ideas accepted by editors. It's not easy! The author wrote a sidebar about one idea she had that took two years and eight to ten queries before it landed in the perfect spot. If she hadn't persevered, the idea would have never seen readers. But here's something else she had: belief.

So is that the second most important thing you need as a writer? Belief?

Needing perseverance and belief is not to say that you don't need talent; but even then, you can improve your talent. Perseverance and belief help you do both--if you want to keep going and you want to get better, you will seek out classes and conferences, critique groups and writing books, and you will improve your craft. I see my novel writing students persevere every month, and those who take the class for a couple months improve their writing even in that short time.

I've had my struggles with perseverance, which I have not been quiet about; but without it, I would not be writing this post to you today. I would have given up a year ago or maybe earlier, when the words weren't coming easy and when time and emotions were not on my side. But I didn't want to give up. I wanted to believe that some day, if I just kept active and wrote a little, I would be on the other side. And here we are.

What do you think is the most important thing a writer needs?

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. She teaches a novel course for WOW! each month, which includes 4 critiques of your work-in-progress. To check out more about her, go to To check out her next class starting February 2, go to the WOW! classroom.

Perseverance photo above by Evil Paul on

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Story Ideas: The Complete Package or the Fragment

January is StoryStorm month during which author Tara Lazar challenges other writers to come up with an idea a day. Because of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we generate ideas and what each writer considers an idea.

Some writers claim to have very few writing ideas. After talking to one or two people who have made this statement, I realized that what they consider a writing idea is a fairly complete package. They know who their main character is, what they want, what stands in the way, as well as when and where the story is set. My definition is much more flexible and fluid.

Sometimes I know who the character is but only in a fairly broad sense. He might be a boy who is a ninja but only in his sleep. She could be a girl who is so easily startled that everything makes her jump. I write a lot of nonfiction so I might read about a historic figure such as Thomas Henry Huxley and decide that I liked to share this person with young readers. Or I might get curious about an animal like the cicada.

Other times I only know the character’s motivation. Last week my son’s engineering professor detailed the problems facing the world today. Then he challenged his students. “It is your job to learn enough to find solutions. You need to decide, do you want tomorrow to look like Mad Max or Star Trek.” I don’t know yet who my character is, but I find myself imagining a character who would be motivated by this statement. What would it be like to believe it was all on you to use science to determine the future of the planet?

Other times I’ll see a title that immediately brings a story idea to mind. This week, I saw a listing for a book called No Immediate Danger. I have no clue what the original book was about but now I’m noodling over a nonfiction book about the many real dangers people ignore while panicking over something much less significant.

Another title I recently saw was How Can We Harness a Hurricane? That inspired a fictional idea about a society that has used up all fossil fuels and has to harness energy from global disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions.

None of these ideas are complete enough for me to sit down and start writing, but that’s okay. I keep a list of my ideas. This year they are in my bulleted journal. When I’m stuck in the middle of a project and need to ignore it for a while, I page through my journal or scroll through an old list. Because there are so many things written down, something invariably catches my attention. I have the germ of a project to play with and maybe something will come out of it.

Complete package or scattered fragment. Depending on how you define idea, in a month you may have 5 or you may have 45. Either way, jot them down. That way you’ll have something to develop when it is time to start your next project.


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 March 12th, 2018.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Heavy Link - Perfectionism and Procrastination

One of our amazing contributors. Renee Roberson, recently wrote a great article about our creative health. Take a moment to check out her article here:

The timing couldn't be more fabulous (as far as I'm concerned) because I was working on something on my end regarding the link between procrastination and perfectionism. There is definitely a link and it's a very heavy one - if you don't believe me, just go to Dr. Google and type in the words: perfectionism and procrastination. WOW! I like it when I'm not the only one who notices things and there is definitely a correlation here.

I was raised on some very sturdy old-fashioned values. The early bird catches the worm. Why put off until tomorrow what you can get done today. Do it right the first time and you won't have to do it again. These are great, right? Maybe not so great...

Here I am, waiting until tomorrow to submit my manuscript because if I go over it once more I can find one more mistake. Waiting to sit down and write until the house is spotless, every bit of dust has been eliminated, and every sock has found it's mate. Typing each sentence over and over again until it shines brighter than the sun (and then deleting it again because I want it to resonate with each and every reader with no possibility for a negative review). My expectations and goals are completely unrealistic. So I wait.

Then, as the deadline approaches I realize I have to get something down on paper. My heart beat quickens, my neck aches, and I chastise myself relentlessly for not following all those golden rules emblazoned on my brain since childhood. I question everything about myself because I think only lazy people wait until the last minute. But alas - I sat down recently with some very smart women and many of us have the same procrastination problem. I feel a bit better about it knowing it's linked to my perfectionism and not my lack of ambition or knowledge.

Where do we go from here? Well, I for one am going to turn to the expert advice from Renee's article: Taking Inventory of Your Creative Health and I'm going to try to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier and then I'm going to cut myself some slack. I'm going to stop expecting perfection from myself when I'm very understanding of the flaws of others. I'm going to stop overthinking each and every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter. I'm going to start enjoying writing more and stop feeling the heavy link around my neck - the heavy link of perfectionism gone wrong.

What have you done to help avoid these pitfalls of writing?
What is holding you back?
What advice can you give others who fall into this perfectionist trap?

Thank you for your thoughts!


Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, 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 Wisconsin with her husband, five young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 4, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora, two dogs, 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 at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Taking Inventory of Your Creative Health

This is the time of year when we all start to take inventory of our goals, health, personal relationships, etc. But as I was skimming author Christina Katz’s “The Writer’s Workbook” (which is broken out into tasks/reflections for each season of the year) I stumbled across a section on creative health that I found interesting in the “Winter” section.

I’ll admit I’ve neglected my own creative health for a while now. I started a new job in the fall and spent the first few months trying to get acclimated to my new surroundings, adjust to a new schedule, make sure my kids got shuttled to and from their various activities, wrap up a few freelance obligations, keep a somewhat regular posting schedule on my writing blog, and so on and so on. But when I look back on it, I’ve done a pretty poor job of taking care of my creative health. According to Katz, creative health involves eating healthy food, fostering relationships with friends and loved ones, drinking plenty of water, getting outside, taking care of your personal health and getting enough sleep among other things. Here’s how I’m faring:

1. Eating Healthy Food and Drinking Water. I definitely wasn’t doing enough of this. In the wintertime I tend to overload on sugar and carbs, well, pretty much comfort food in general. I started having a lot of acid reflux and had a wake up call when I stepped on the scale at the beginning of this month. I started the Weight Watchers online program (something I’ve never done before) and have been cooking up a storm, drastically cutting back my caffeine, refined sugar and carbs and eating more fresh fruit and vegetables than I’ve eaten in months. I’m also swigging water like there’s no tomorrow. The reflux has almost disappeared and I’m down almost four pounds in my first week and a half.

2. Relationships with Friends and Loved Ones. I’ve floundered miserably here. I can’t think of the last time I had coffee or a meal with a friend or even my husband alone. This is something I must make more time to do because hibernating in my house only gets me in more of a funk. Online relationships and texting do not equal the same thing as laughing with someone in person.

3. Getting Outside. I do pretty well with this, although we got snow today and I didn’t want to step foot outside. Brrr! When the sun is out I try to make it a priority to get outside for a 2-mile run or walk at least two or three times a week. Loading my phone up with a few podcasts I enjoy gets me motivated, and I’m lucky my work schedule gets me home by 4 p.m. on most days so I can soak in the sun.

4. Taking Care of My Personal Health. As you can probably tell by my #1, I let this slide, too. I put off all my annual “female” wellness appointments last year and am taking steps to get them all on the calendar for January so I can make a fresh start.

5. One More to Grow On. While I’ve been a homebody for most of the months, I need to get out more and watch movies, browse used bookstores, journal, listen to music, take some day trips, and more things I enjoy doing. Taking time for these types of things are just as important as our physical health, so it’s time to take action.

How is your creative health? Are there areas where you could use some self-care? How are you taking proactive steps in the New Year to focus on it?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also blogs at Her short story, “The Polaroid,” recently won first place Suspense/Thriller category in the 2018 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Want Ads

At the end of 2017 I tallied up my many fabricated writing successes for the year. I wined a little (not a typo) as I bragged a bit. In case you missed the post, here it is.

How could I get more done, writing-wise? The comments that meandered in were pure gold. Encouragement. Commiseration. And even some genuine suggestions.

J. Glenn gave me an idea that might even work for fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants Sioux. Here is what Glenn wrote:

 I've organized an accountability group. We set a yearly goal (we connect via email), then each week (on Monday) we check in with our progress (each week we set a mini-goal that will help us get to the yearly goal). Speaking for myself, the accountability group helps me accomplish more than I would have without it. (The other members have said this, too, about themselves.) The added bonus is the support we get while we are each pursuing our individual goals and dealing with the obstacles (including fatigue/procrastination) that life seems to serve up.

After I was wowed by that comment, I read Cathy C. Hall's. One question she asked was

      What does Sioux want to accomplish?

That's easy. I want my manuscript published. I want kids all over the country to know what happened in the U.S. in 1921. I want to see my book on bookstore shelves.

Since I know what I want to happen in 2018 (or soon after), I'm going to look for some help.

Normally, I'd beg my writing critique group members to do this, but this time, I wanted to give them a break open it up not just to them but to anyone who wants to work on a long-range goal in weekly increments... and to writers who like using tasers (because sometimes my procrastinating ways get out-of-control and I'm definitely motivated by surges of high voltage).  Before you trip over yourself applying, here are some things you need to consider:

  • This accountability group will begin in February. Everyone who joins will--in a year--achieve more than they would if they had not joined. The power is in making goals and encouragement public, along with consistency. If you'd like to take part, send me an email to 
  • I'm not a full-time writer, so my little goals will likely be baby step goals. Reading my piece over to make sure I didn't get the sisters mixed up. Making sure the timeline isn't completely whackadoodle. Inserting a thread into the story. Perhaps your goals will be so-small-they're-barely-discernible steps as well...
  • Most likely, there will be times (maybe most weeks) when I'll have to admit, "I couldn't accomplish my goal for this week." I'm a plodder. A stumbler. Things happen, but not always as timely as I'd like. This will happen to all of us at some point or another (I imagine).
So, if you'd like to apply for this torture nonpaying and thankless job, send me an email.  Resumes and letters of recommendation can be sent later. Already, I have a roomful of hopeful applicants list of writers I'm going to hone in on (Angela... Linda... Lynn--You're on my list). After all, how many years can you put off accomplishing something you truly want to accomplish?

        What do you want to accomplish?
                              Take that first step. Join us.

Sioux Roslawski is a full-time middle school teacher, along with rescuing dogs for Love a Golden Rescue. She has a NaNoWriMo from 2016 that she's itching to do something with... and after that, her unfinished 2017 might be the next manuscript in the chute. If you're curious about Sioux's writing, check out her blog.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Interview with Anne Andersen, Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Today we have a special interview for you. Anne Andersen is one of the runners-up in the Summer Flash Fiction contest and she snared this honor with not one but two stories. Take the time to experience Disposition and Half Way before you read this interview with a writer who subtly reveals clues about the backstory and motivation of her characters, weaving together layered stories in this short format.

Anne’s Bio:

Anne Andersen grew up in Norway with two brothers and a mother who made up stories for them every night. The most popular story was about a boy called Me Too who travelled with a little fox each day to a faraway place where they adventured as all the siblings contributed to the story. Since then imagining all sorts of new worlds became an addiction. 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 writes bad poetry, short stories and is still 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. Several of her poems and short stories have been accepted for publication. Her story, Porcelain, was a runner up in our Fall Flash Fiction Contest 2016.
This interview was conducted by Sue Bradford Edwards.

WOW!: What was the inspiration behind Disposition?

Anne: I had written two short stories that ended up with my mother telling me she didn’t want to read any more of my stories because they upset her too much. So, I thought I was on to something. That was at a lower point in my life and stories about people going through difficult emotional events resonated with me. I decided to write 10 stories with the theme of ‘despair’.

Disposition is the story about a soldier about to be deployed and leaving his wife and new baby. Some time ago a good friend talked about how hard it was when her husband used to deploy. Everyone knows a soldier and everyone can in one way or another relate to separation and loss.

As I contemplated despair, a strong visual image came to me of a man in uniform sitting alone on an old sofa with a newborn baby draped over his shoulder. I imagined what he might be struggling with. The story idea didn’t come in one clean lightning bolt but developed as I wrote and kept reminding myself of that original image as it became the backbone of the story.

WOW!: Disposition is such a complicated story, layer upon layer. Each time I read it something previously unnoticed leaps out at me. How do you create such a complex story in such a short format?

Anne: That is an awesome compliment. My goal is to write stories that are layered and complex underneath the basic story. I love subtext and never like reading stories where the author spoon feeds the reader so they never need to think. My goal is to have people engage and think a little. I struggle to make sure everything is there for the reader so they can figure out the layers of the story. It’s a difficult balance because some readers can get by with less and others need a lot more to understand the story. My writing group often confuses me with conflicting feedback. In the end I must trust a few of them who read like me.

Initially this story started as 1200 words and had several themes, or tiny sub-stories. These were the stories of the soldier leaving, how his wife dealt with it, what the soldier’s options were, the relationships between the three characters. These layers were obviously easier to show with more words. 

But when I cut to 750 words I didn’t want to dumb down the story. I sharply examined each point of the story to figure out exactly what the kernel of goodness was. Then I preserved that and made sure it was written clearly enough so the reader would understand. (It often doesn’t take more than a couple words to add a hint of a new layer, something of who the character is beyond the story or some hint of another motivation etc.) I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted to convey about this soldier before I could possibly make that evident to the reader. That was the hard part, I realized I was trying to make the part about the potential girlfriend too big and that distracted from the main point. But, I didn’t want to eliminate it entirely. I had to find a balance where only one story took center focus. The story was less clear at 1200 words than it is now at 750 words.

WOW!: In this story, Dave is clearly hiding something from his wife. You never specifically say what it is although you drop hints. Why don’t you reveal all?

Anne: If I had made the girlfriend layer bigger it would have taken the reader down a side path and defocused on his problem with his wife. That might be good in a longer story with more room to explore bigger issues. That doesn’t work in flash fiction. I could have chosen the girlfriend story, but I felt that might have been too cliché, and it would have increased what I considered cheap conflict. I needed to laser focus on one issue. I chose the marriage, because in real life most decent guys will try, at least initially, to focus on their marriage.

The other part of that is, I like stories where in the end you can guess what happens, where there is a tiny question you can ponder. You can wonder if things are on their way to become settled between Dave and his wife. You can also imagine this may happen again and maybe next time it won’t go quite so well. Real life is messy. Fiction reflects that.

WOW!: When writing a piece of flash fiction like Disposition, what advice do you have for readers on what information to hold back and what to push forward?

Anne: Figure out exactly what you want to say and say only that. I hint at other things. I feel that makes the characters real and complex. For example, the wife is moving out of their house, he is a doctor in the Navy, the brother is friendly with the wife, they have a baby.

In flash fiction you can only develop one idea. If you dilute the story, even accidentally give a second idea too much space, it weakens the main story.

A story is choices. No matter what you choose to push forward you need to hold the other things back, hint at them or eliminate them. You need to find a balance where one storyline shines clear, and only do as little as you can get away with even on that. People don’t need to be hit over the head to understand. If you say: She wore that red dress again. Picture what the reader imagines about THAT woman in THAT red dress. That’s only six words. And, the key word in the sentence is a very overlooked word…that.

WOW!: You certainly do a lot with small details that can easily be overlooked. Let’s discuss your second story. How did Half Way change from initial draft to this final form?

Anne: In the initial draft, I knew I wanted to present what might be going on in the life of a little understood patient. I knew what the main story would be. Often my flash stories have two or three competing ideas and all but one of those need to be eliminated.

Unfortunately in the first draft I had not made the main story clear. I knew who the patient was but didn’t know exactly what that patient was doing with his life. When the caretaker entered I had two points of view, and it diluted the patient’s personal story as seen by the reader. Subsequently I made sure everything was only from the PoV of the patient, yet written in a way that the reader could make sense of the events as they unfolded.

WOW!: I know you have a hard time declaring a piece finished. How did you know this one was ready to send in?

Anne: Both these stories would not be done if there were still too much to wonder about in the story. In a tiny story anything, even interesting points, that leads the reader away from the main focus doesn’t have room. When everything in this story leads to the same place, when the reader is focused on where the actual story leads, when the main plot is understandable from start to finish, I call it done. And, then I start fighting with grammar, tense and punctuation, not my strength.

WOW!: Although you work in health care, the nurse in Half Way is a secondary character. Given your experience as a physician I was surprised by this. Why didn’t you make her the PoV character?

Anne: This question is easy to answer. ‘Everyone’ writes from the PoV of the healthcare worker. But how many times do you read a story from the PoV of a mentally ill patient? We can all understand what the nurse thinks about this situation. I wanted the reader to ponder what it might be like to be inside the mind of someone who is incapable of seeing the world as we do. It’s what fiction does best, teaching, and exploring new places.

WOW!: You’ve certainly accomplished that exploration in this story. In Half Way, Mr. Schopenhauer could be considered an unreliable narrator. What advice do you have for writers who want to create an unreliable narrator but are uncertain where to start?

Anne: The hard part for me wasn’t getting into the mind of the patient. When a writer enters any character’s mind the writer has a responsibility to understand what that character understands, then present that as honestly as possible to the reader. Once I decided to write from the PoV of a mentally ill patient I had to understand what that patient might see and think and understand even though that is definitely not a normal or even comfortable place to be. For me, that wasn’t the hard part, once I figured out what Mr. Schopenhauer wanted from life. He wanted to be independent.

The hard part of writing about this unreliable narrator was cheating enough on the PoV that the reader would understand what was happening in the story, even though the character didn’t always understand it. As an example, the phone in her hand that he didn’t understand is an image we easily recognize and that didn’t need to be explained. When the caretaker talks about pills, we understand that the patient might not fully follow what the caretaker understands. Readers can follow a conversation the caretaker is having with someone else. The patient, our PoV character, might not even have heard what she said, so we theoretically shouldn’t have heard it either.

As readers we needed to be grounded in facts we can understand for the story to progress. The reader needs what I consider PoV cheats to follow story events. Another example, he spoke of rain, I believe she used the word shower. I could have left his idea of rain to the reader to puzzle out, but not every reader would have figured it out. That particular point could easily be communicated to the reader through the caretaker, so why intentionally obfuscate?

WOW!: In both stories, the POV character is dealing with despair. What advice do you have for readers on how to do this but end, as you have, with a note of hope?

Anne: I was, for a time, dealing with despair. At least in my fiction. But I’m eternally optimistic. There is so much bad stuff in the world, I don’t mind swimming in misery alongside my character. I love the Dark Side. I also believe that no matter how bad the situation is there can be a glimpse of beauty, something positive, something hopeful, even in the absolute worst situation. Life is full of contradictions, so is fiction. We all need to learn to look for things that makes our lives better. We can all choose to see that misty breath shimmering on cold air as you slowly freeze to death on the Larson Ice Shelf, a glimmer along the edge of your handcuffs, or how after a severe beating your leg doesn’t hurt…. My characters seem to all have that same trait.

WOW!: They definitely seem to practice Olympic level optimism. Last but not least, can you tell our readers how your novel is coming?

Anne: I wish you hadn’t asked me that question. It sparks guilt and the need to get my butt back in the chair. A friend gave me a severe talking to today, she gave me permission to do something that seemed to break writing rules I’m trying too hard to obey.

I know all my characters well, with the exception of the main character. Well, I do know her well, but she’s all over the place. I believed I had to pin her down to a defined personality. It’s been keeping me from writing. I now have permission to think of her as an unsettled, confused, inconsistent person. That’s just who she is, to begin with. I’m aiming for March. Yes, this March.

Thanks for the interview, your questions are challenging and insightful. I can’t wait to submit another story to the WOW! Contest.

WOW!: And we can’t wait to read both another flash fiction story and that novel! Thank you for taking the time to share your in-sights and inspirations with all of us.