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Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Speak Out!: Do We Writers Need To Defend Our Time To Others

by Jeanine DeHoney

I remember being at dinner with family and friends and the conversation turning to work.

That dreaded feeling came over me of whether this time I would have to shrink like a wallflower into the background or would I have to defend my work schedule as a writer…again.

Although it wasn’t as structured now that I was freelancing fulltime, writing was still full of as many ebbs and flows as when I was teaching twenty adorable and precocious preschoolers for over twenty years. Writing, like at my former workplace, was stressful one day, exhilarating the next, made me feel like throwing in the towel one day, and made me feel so passionate about what I did the next day I thought it was a lovefest I would never retire from.

But at times others didn’t know that.

Their words:

"You’re so lucky you have all this free time to do nothing.” Or, “At least you don’t have to go to work like I do and deal with all this stress,” or “No wonder you can keep your house clean, cook a fantastic meal, spend hours at the library, attend that conference, etc., you have the time.”

And then there were those who thought there was a void in my life and lovingly suggested I fill my life with a myriad of activities because I had so much time on my hand.

Their words, words my husband always tells me not to be sensitive to or to ignore, weren’t meant to be a put down and didn’t come from a place of meanness. They just didn’t know, didn’t understand.

They didn’t know that writing, piecing together your thoughts like a jigsaw puzzle, editing, and doing more editing, is a laborious process. They didn’t know how you can never clock out like a regular nine to five job because as writers we can’t turn off our minds or creative energy like a water faucet even when we try or need to. And they didn’t quite understand how it is normal for us to see every situation intertwined with a story; be it a toddler using the Potty for the first time, buying a pair of red shoes, or protesting about gun violence or domestic violence or any type of despair in the world. We can’t let it dangle in front of us. We have to write about it.

There are never any “do nothing days” as a writer. After I finish my normal tasks, I can work for hours on end until I have a completed manuscript, one that meets my writing vision of making a reader’s heart swell with hope, faith and empowerment.

So do we writers need to defend our time to others? Not really. We know what we do. Our best retort is to just keep on writing.

* * *
Jeanine DeHoney has had her work published on several blogs, in magazines and anthologies. Among others her writing has been published in Essence, The Children's Ark, Metro Fiction, My Brown Baby, The Write Place At the Write Time, Literary Mama, Mutha Magazine, True Stories Well Told, Parent. Co., Brain Child Magazine, Jerry Jazz Magazine, Today's Caregiver Magazine, and Rigorous Literary Magazine. She is an essayist in the anthologies "Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul,” "Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from The Ones Sandwiched in Between," “Theories of HER-an experimental anthology, in the anthology, "In Celebration of Sisters," and upcoming in the Chicken Soup For The Soul Anthology, The Power Of Yes, in August of 2018.
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, March 29, 2018

Spring Cleaning, Writer Style

I’m a big believer in spring cleaning.

That is, I believe in the concept. The major scrub-till-you-drop cleaning itself, not so much. Still, I enjoy that starting-fresh-feeling that comes along with even the littlest bit of tossing, organizing, and spiffing up. So I apply my version of spring cleaning to my writing business, and when I’m done, I feel pretty good. And I bet you will, too.

The Tossing

If I don’t do anything else at the end of a long winter (and yes, I live in the South so maybe it’s just two and a half months, but it feels at least three months), I toss all the winter clothes I didn’t wear. The too-short jeans, the shoes that pinch my toes, the chartreuse coat that was a bargain but makes me look sallow. If I didn’t wear it for an entire season (so let’s say five months because yeah, fall can be brisk in the South, y’all), then it’s got to go. I also toss the much-loved clothes that have seen better days because let’s face it. One more spin in the washing machine, and I’ve got nothing but rags.

Gosh, it’s exhilarating to have all that space in closets and drawers! And you can have that kind of space in your inbox, your bookshelves, and your files. If you have an email that you haven’t even opened in four months, delete it. If your bookshelves are sagging with outdated reference books (Welcome to Windows XL anyone?), donate them. And those files crammed with clippings on arts and crafts ideas for your kidders (the last of whom just graduated college)? Shred ‘em.

The Organizing

Come spring, I like to tackle those spots that tend to get jam-packed and messy, like the linen closet or the garage or the junk drawer. In all these years, I don’t quite understand why these spots get so messy. I just know that when I see pollen, my brain says, “HOW did all this stuff get in such disarray in my garage (or linen closet or junk drawer)?”

Okay, I don’t say disarray. You can imagine what I really say. The point is, it’s stuff I need so I get to work organizing. And we writers run into this sort of disarray all the time. Which ultimately ends up costing us lots more of our precious writing time. So take an afternoon, put on some music you love, and organize those notes for your novel/memoir/non-fiction picture book. Attack your desk and don’t give up till you can actually see your desk. And those emails that you have read and are truly important but still languishing in your inbox? Organize files in your inbox—and be specific!—so that those emails can be filed and retrieved easily when you need them.

And let me just say this about the junk drawer: I don’t organize it; I don’t open it unless I want to put junk in it. I suggest you do the same.

The Spiffing Up

Now it’s time for a little spiffing up, like maybe a new coat of paint on a door or washing the dust off the baseboards or planting annuals in the flower bed. I’m sure lots of people actually do that sort of thing. But after the tossing and the organizing, I’m flat wore out. About all I can muster is the spiffing up of my writer stuff.

So I’ll get new ink cartridges for the printer so I can have color pages again. And I’ll replace all my fancy gel fine point pens because I like writing in my journal in purples, greens, and light blue. How you spiff up your writing business is up to you, as long as it makes you smile. Because the spiffing up part of spring cleaning comes last and that’s definitely something to smile about!

~ Cathy C. Hall

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Lean In... For Two Reasons

Recently I marched with 10,000 others in my city's "March For Our Lives" protest. I went with two friends--both women are notoriously kindhearted. I've seen these ladies snubbed. I've seen them slighted. When they're mistreated, they invariably try to craft reasons why the snubber/ignore-er is treating them as less-than-worthwhile people.

I'm a teacher, so this sign especially appealed to me.
A couple of weeks ago my 8th graders asked me, "Mrs. R,
when are you going to bring a gun to school?"
I replied, "To keep you safe, I'm not going to bring a gun."

I'm not like my two friends. I only have one cheek. If you slap it, I'm gone. There's no way I'm gonna turn so you can slap me again.

At the march we ran into someone my two friends had met before... and even they couldn't make excuses for how adept she was at turning the focus of every single conversation onto herself. What will Sioux think of her? they wondered.

They weren't surprised.

When another friend met up with us and asked about a recent writing retreat I'd organized, Mrs. All-About-Herself chimed in and said, "Oh, I've led many writing retreats. And I teach graduate classes at Webster University." The woman yammered some more, but I'd already tuned out. Her face was expressionless as a piece of granite. She was waiting for me to bow down in admiration, I think.

She was disappointed.

I connected this moment to my life as a writer in a couple of ways.

How much do we learn if we're not open to others? Writers eavesdrop. They observe. They ask questions. We pick up so many quirks and details when we pay attention to others. Spending more time being quiet and listening, and less time talking about ourselves will help us create characters, along with learning about the world that surrounds us.

 How can we live a truly writerly life if we're always tooting our own horn?
I belong to a writing critique group with some well-known local writers. They've won contests and been published in hundreds of places and have done speaking gigs about writing. And boy, can these women make words sing.

Never do I hear them talk endlessly about themselves. When they hear of a call for submissions, they share it. When they get something published, they mention it (for sure) but they also usually mention the revising help they got from the group. When one of us talks about an experience, the rest of us are leaning in, listening closely... and then we're asking follow-up questions.

Am I saying priceless pearls would have dropped out of my mouth if that woman asked me about my writing retreats? Definitely not. But perhaps if we'd genuinely conversed, both of us would have learned something.

So when someone else is talking, lean in and listen... even if they're strangers sitting at a nearby restaurant table. (However, if you do that, be sneaky and unobtrusive about it. I once eavesdropped on a group at a winery. When one of them noticed me, she screamed, "That woman is writing down everything we say," and then I had to run to a faraway table. Quickly.)

Lean in... and learn.

Sioux Roslawski is a mom and grammy who believes that arms are for hugging... they're not something that should be available in assault versions for ordinary citizens. She's a teacher who believes is arming educators with more books, more pencils and smaller class sizes... not with pistols. Sioux's also a dog rescuer, and if you'd like to read more of her stuff, head to her blog.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Meet Kat LeMay, Fall 2017 Flash Fiction 2nd Place Winner

Kat LeMay is a lifelong storyteller and aspiring novelist, who receives great pleasure in finding exactly the right word to express an emotion. After working in Human Resources for over twenty years, she recently reduced her work schedule to free up time to practice her writing craft. She completed and is now editing her first novel, and has started her second, a historical romance/thriller set in the Gilded Age. When not taking walkabouts around the neighborhood and writing in her tattered notebook, Kat enjoys reading cozy mysteries and researching her family genealogy (a great source of story ideas!) She splits her time between DC and New Mexico with her husband and lovingly-spoiled rescue dog.

A member of RWA and WFWA, follow her on Twitter @Kat_LeMay

Read Kat's clever story "The Question Mark" here and then return to learn more about the writer.

Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: I see that you've been researching your family genealogy and that it's been a great source of inspiration for story ideas. What tips would you give our readers who are interested in researching family history and do you have any interesting discoveries you can share with us?

Kat: My grandmother told outlandish stories about our family, so I began researching our genealogy to learn more. I started with an online genealogy program, supplemented with some creative googling, and soon discovered an entire subculture. I quickly learned our family did not escape the French Revolution to come to America (per Grandma) but instead were early immigrants to French Canada. In fact, many of our maternal ancestors were “Filles à Marier” or “Filles du Roi”, young women of marriageable age who came to colonial Quebec to marry strangers. There are definitely a few good stories among these women for future novels; plus, I often look across my entire tree to get ideas for character names.

WOW: Sounds like a great plan! You are a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Women's Fiction Writers of America. What do you think are the benefits to joining such associations and have you attended any recent conferences with them?

Kat: Beta readers!!! WFWA is a great, supportive group of writers and provided a great channel for finding beta-readers for my developing novel. And I probably learned just as much acting as a beta-reader for others. I recently joined the RWA and hope to go to a future conference; I find their magazine is an excellent tool for better understand the industry.

WOW: You are in the process of editing your first novel. What is your editing process like and how do you balance that with completing your second work in progress?

Kat: For editing, I prefer to print pages and read/edit them in a moderately-busy coffee shop. If I find it hard to keep my focus or struggle over certain sentences, I know I have a problem to address since I want my book to be an easy, tense read. I wish I had the answer about balance – essentially, I write my second novel when I’m tired of editing and just want to experience unbridled creativity.

WOW: I also prefer to print the pages but get too distracted in coffee shops because of all the fun people watching. How did you find the WOW! Flash Fiction Contest and do you find writing short stories more difficult than writing longer-length fiction?

Kat: I learned about the WOW! Flash Fiction Contest on Twitter, I think perhaps another writer. Early on, I took a class at a local writing center and learned the importance of Twitter in the writing/publishing industry. If I’m in the right mood, the story seems to come – whether short or long. And likewise, I can struggle with both. What I love about flash fiction (and even with daily hashtag writer games on Twitter) is that I’m forced to use only the words I most need. It’s a great, real-time editing exercise.

WOW: Although you've recently cut back your day job hours to find more time to write, how did you balance your writing projects before doing that?

The best thing I did take a couple of online writing classes for credit. Because I wanted to get my “money’s worth” on the tuition, I made sure to build structure into my weekly schedule to complete assignments outside work hours. I was very good about using my lunch hours to do the readings and then a couple of nights a week to complete assignments. I also kept (and still keep) a separate laptop for writing, so I can truly signoff from work. And my “writing” laptop is a very basic PC with minimal memory and apps – I can’t download distractions even if I want to!

WOW: That is very useful advice. I also love the idea of having a writing laptop with no distractions allowed. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today and best of luck in your future writing endeavors, Kat!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sebastian Slovin Launches His Book Blog Tour for Ashes in the Ocean

...and giveaway! 

A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Vernon Slovin was a legend. He was one of the best swimmers in his home country of South Africa, and for a time in the world. He prided himself on being the best. The best in sports, business, and life. He had it all, a big home, athletic prestige, fancy clothes and cars, and a beautiful wife and family. Everything was going his way until it all came tumbling down. He lost everything, including his own life. In the wake of his suicide he left his wife and two young children.

In this riveting memoir, Vernon’s son, Sebastian Slovin chronicles his experience of living in the shadow of a suicide, and his journey out of the darkness and into the light. Slovin shares his quest to uncover why his father took his own life. A pilgrimage that led him around the world and eventually back to himself.

Ashes in the Ocean is a powerful story about facing one’s fears and choosing a different path.

Paperback: 222 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Nature Unplugged (March 2018)
ISBN-10: 978-0-692-05119-1
ISBN-13: 978-0692051191

Ashes in the Ocean: A Son's Story of Living Through and Learning From His Father's Suicide is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Book Giveaway Contest

To win a copy of Ashes in the Ocean, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway ends Sunday, April 1, 2018 at 11:59PM EST. We will announce the winner the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author

Since he can remember, nature has been a central part of Sebastian’s life. He was fortunate to grow up in the beach community of La Jolla, California, and spent his childhood mixing it up in the ocean. As a young boy, he lost his father to suicide, which would later deeply inspire his path in life. As a young adult, he had the opportunity to travel extensively and experience many of the world’s great surf spots as a professional bodyboarder. Through his travel, Sebastian developed a deep love and appreciation for our natural world, and at the same time was drawn to the practice of yoga.

His love for yoga led him to study at Prana Yoga Center in La Jolla, California, and his passion for nature eventually led him to pursue a BA in Environment and Natural Resource Conservation at San Diego State University. He also holds an MA in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego.

He lives with his wife Sonya in Encinitas, California. He and Sonya have a business called Nature Unplugged, which focuses on cultivating wellness through healthier relationships with technology and a deeper connection to nature. When he is not writing or working on Nature Unplugged, Sebastian enjoys swimming, bodysurfing, surfing, and stand-up paddling (pretty much all things) in the wild Pacific Ocean.

Find Sebastian Online:





---- Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: First of all, thank you for sharing your story and for choosing WOW!  I am absolutely amazed by your bravery and touched by your honesty.

How did you overcome your fears of how others might perceive the story of your father's suicide? What advice would you give others who consider sharing sensitive stories?

Sebastian: This was a slow process for me. I spent a long time (from age 6 - 17) hardly sharing anything about my father let alone his suicide. During that window, there were a few times when I did share about my father’s suicide and I was met with judgement (and the stigma around suicide and mental health). Those experiences reinforced my belief that there was something wrong with me/my family and aided in my running away/suppressing thoughts and feelings around my father’s suicide.

Sebastian and his dad at Windansea Beach.
La Jolla, California. Circa 1988
I had a breakthrough when I was 17 years old (and in a whirlwind of denial and shame around my father's suicide). I was visiting family friends in Perth, Australia and during that trip I had a life changing conversation with a one of my father's closest friends, John David. It happened that John David's father also died by suicide when he was a boy. A fact that I was unaware of prior to this trip. During our conversation, he shared with me some of the experiences and lessons which he had learned over the years from his father's suicide. When John David shared his experience with me it completely changed my life. For the first time in my life (since my father died) I felt like I wasn't alone.

That conversation was enough to give me the courage and inspire me to stop running away from my father’s suicide. Beyond that, it encouraged me to step into it and learn from it.

As for advice when sharing sensitive stories, (especially when in the early and more raw stages) it’s important to seek out people (friends, family, support groups, therapists) who can provide a safe space to share. Beyond that, I believe it’s important to remember that you’re likely not alone in dealing with what you’re dealing with and that these things are better out than in.

WOW: You read my mind about support and I love how you say "provide a safe space to share" - that's so important. What role has your family played in publishing Ashes in the Ocean? Who has been your greatest support and how so?

Sebastian: My family has been supportive during this process. My immediate family and extended family abroad (in South Africa and Australia) have inspired me and served as resources in making sense of this story and providing information about my dad during earlier phases of his life when I wasn’t around. I have also been fortunate to have an incredible network of family friends here in California and abroad who have helped and supported me throughout.

Out of everyone, I’d say that my mom has been my greatest support. She’s helped me with putting the pieces of the story together. And, throughout this process I drew inspiration from the strength and courage she showed in supporting my sister and I in the years after my father died. Her courage helped keep me going when things got tough in the writing process.

WOW: I'm glad you found the support you needed, and I'm sure the process was therapeutic for your mother as well. When you first began writing, what were you hoping to gain by sharing your story of loss? How has this changed as the project progressed?

Sebastian: When I first started on this book my hope was that I’d be able to help at least one person who was in a similar situation as I was when I lost my dad. As the project progressed and is now coming to a close this intention remains true.

Beyond that, this has turned out to be incredibly helpful for me and my processing which has been an unexpected side effect of the journey. The process of writing in itself has unveiled so many insights (both personally and relating the the story) that I don’t think I would have come to otherwise.

WOW: You're not in this journey alone, that's for sure. There are many families touched by suicide even if it is an attempted suicide. This is a big question and one that touches so many. What resources do you recommend to those families trying to navigate their own feelings?

 Early yoga days with John Maher. La Jolla, Ca. Circa 1990
Sebastian: This is a big and difficult question. I think the answer depends on the particular situation and dynamics of the family.

There are a great deal of resources out there for individuals dealing with depression and suicidal ideation, as well as for friends and family members to help in support. This is not my area of expertise but would point people seeking more information to the American Association of Suicidology:

As for other general recommendations to families trying to navigate their own feelings, I would encourage families to speak as openly and directly as possible about topics like suicide and mental illness. Based on my personal experience, and in speaking with many survivors about this, it is all too common for conversations (and feelings) around topics like suicide, depression, and mental illness to be avoided and suppressed. While avoidance makes things easier and more comfortable in the short term, it’s not a solution and will make things far more difficult and complicated down the line.

I would encourage individuals to feel and acknowledge what emotions are coming up for them around these topics. I would also highly recommend working with a counselor, therapist, other mental health professional, support group, to help facilitate this process of cultivating greater awareness of ourselves and others.

WOW: Thank you for tackling the tough questions and providing such great ideas. I appreciate your honesty.

What's next for you personally? Professionally?

Sebastian: My next steps are to continue to get out and speak about suicide and what it means to be a survivor. I’m deeply passionate about using this book and speaking as a vehicle for helping others have the conversations that need to be had about suicide and mental illness. I see this is a way to do the work of breaking down the stigma and shame around these topics.

Additionally, my partner, Sonya, and I have a business called Nature Unplugged where we offer coaching, workshops, and retreats focused on cultivating wellness through healthier relationships with technology and a deeper connection to nature. I’m excited to continue to grow and develop what we do. I see Ashes in the Ocean as the “why” behind my passion and inspiration with Nature Unplugged.

On more of a personal note, I’m looking forward to doing some traveling this spring, some related to the book release and some not. I’m also eager to continue to enjoy the beauty around my home in Encinitas, California with lots of surfing, hiking, and adventuring with Sonya.

WOW: Sounds like many adventures await you, but before we go today, what advice do you have for survivors?

Sebastian: Surviving the suicide of a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person can deal with. I have tremendous empathy for survivors. And, in the aftermath of a suicide I believe it is particularly easy for survivors to take on a lot of shame and blame and to play the role of the victim. I know this all too well. I spent a very long time running away from my father’s suicide, living in shame and playing the victim.

My advice for survivors would be to turn and face it. To feel it and deal with it. This would look different to different people. To turn and face it could be talking to friends and family, finding a support group or therapist, it could be writing about it, singing about it, sitting with it, in other words bringing intentional awareness to it and processing it in some way.

Beyond that I would encourage survivors to use this loss and situation as something we can learn from and grow stronger in spite of.

WOW: Speaking of learning and growing, what advice would you give to your 6 year old self if it were possible to get together for ice cream and a chat?

Sebastian: Wonderful question and this idea is what inspired me to write Ashes in the Ocean. I’d love to hand my six year old self a copy of the book but I don’t think my reading skills were that stellar back then. I think the challenging thing would be to put it in language a six year old would understand.

First, I would give him a big hug and then I would say:

Sebastian, there are some things I want to share with you (I’ll fast forward through my explanation of how I was able to travel back in time for this ice cream chat). Dad’s death was terribly sad. I want you to know that it’s okay to be sad and cry. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to feel everything that’s coming up for you. This whole thing isn’t your fault, it’s not your sister’s fault and it’s not your mom’s fault. While dad’s death is very sad and this is a big loss, you’re going to be okay. You are strong to begin with and while it may not seem like it, this is going to make you stronger. Most importantly always remember that you’re not alone.

WOW: I could chat with you all day, but I promise this is the last question - you've been so lovely with this process and I must ask: If Ashes in the Ocean were made into a movie, what song would you choose to compliment the movie and why?

Sebastian: Great question. I’d like to choose two songs for this. The first one is a song by Radiohead called How To Disappear Completely. To me this song embodies the earlier part of my journey and my book which was characterized by a lot of loneliness and isolation, and a general sense of wanting “to disappear completely.” To me it’s a deeply sad song but a beautiful one. Here’s a link to a live version:

The next song is more aligned with coming out from the shadow of my dad’s suicide to a lighter place. It’s a song by the Pixies called Where is My Mind? I can’t say exactly why I chose this one. It’s not necessarily the lyrics or anything in particular. It just has the right feel and tone. It reminds me of the water and ocean and of letting go. It’s also used in the end of one of my favorite movies, Fight Club and reminds me of starting fresh with a new perspective:

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

Monday, March 26th @ The Muffin
Join us at the Muffin for an author interview and book giveaway for the inspirational memoir by Sebastian Slovin, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Tuesday, March 27th @ Book Santa Fe with Dawn Farnsworth
Join readers at Book Santa Fe as they hear from Dawn Farnsworth while she reviews Sebastian Slovin’s touching memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Wednesday, March 28th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Fellow suicide survivor Madeline Sharples reviews Sebastian Slovin’s memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Thursday, March 29th @ Bring on Lemons with Alison Taylor
Wisconsin educator and mother, Alison Taylor reviews Sebastian Slovin’s moving memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Friday, March 30th @ Our Side of Suicide
Sebastian Slovin pens today’s guest post “The Stigma of Suicide” at Our Side of Suicide. Stop by and learn more about Slovin’s personal and touching memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Monday, April 2nd @ Jerry Waxler
Jerry Waxler, fellow memoirist, reviews Sebastian Slovin’s deeply touching memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Monday, April 2nd @ Memoir Writer’s Journey with Kathleen Pooler
Kathleen Pooler shares her thoughts with readers at Memoir Writer’s Journey as she reviews Sebastian Slovin’s moving and inspiring memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Tuesday, April 3rd @ Bella Donnas Books with Dawn Thomas
Dawn Thomas reviews Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide for readers at Bella Donnas Books.

Wednesday, April 4th @ Bring on Lemons with Michelle DelPonte
Wisconsin mother and autism advocate Michelle DelPonte was eager to read Sebastian Slovin’s touching and inspirational memoir. Stop at Bring on Lemons as Michelle shares her thoughts after reading Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Thursday, April 5th @ World of My Imagination with Nicole Pyles
Nicole Pyles reviews Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide and shares her thoughts with readers at World of My Imagination. Learn more about this touching memoir and it’s author Sebastian Slovin.

Friday, April 6th @To Write or Not to Write
Sreevarsha Sreejith reviews Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide. Don't miss this opportunity to hear from Sreevarsha and visit To Write or Not to Write.

Friday, April 6th @ Bring On Lemons with Crystal Casavant-Otto
Crystal J. Casavant-Otto reviews Sebastian Slovin’s memoir Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Monday, April 9th @ Finished Pages with Renee Roberson
Fellow author Renee Roberson reviews Sebastian Slovin’s memoior Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Tuesday, April 10th @ Book Reviews by Deb with Deborah Blanchard
Deb shares her thoughts with her readers after reading Sebastian Slovin’s memoir Ashes in the Ocean; A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Wednesday, April 11th @ Write Happy with Catherine Brown
Catherine Brown reviews Sebastian Slovin's touching and empowering memoir for readers at Write Happy. Don't miss this opportunity learn more about Ashes in the Ocean: A son's story of living through and learning from his father's suicide.

Thursday, April 12th @ Ingenious Opinion
Varnika Jain reviews Sebastian Slovin's Memoir Ashes in the Ocean for readers at Ingenious Opinion. Don't miss this blog stop!

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

Enter to win a copy of Ashes in the Ocean by Sebastian Slovin! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget on Monday, April 2nd!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Interview with Jackie Pick: Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up (Q1 2017)

Jackie’s Bio:

Jackie Pick is a former teacher who only recently embraced her true calling as a word monkey. She is a contributing author to both Multiples Illuminated anthologies, as well as Here in the Middle and So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Her essays have been in the literary magazines The Sun and Selfish, as well as various online sites including Mamalode, The Herstories Project, and Scary Mommy. She is also co-writer and executive producer of the upcoming short film Fixed Up and a proud member of the 2017 Chicago cast of Listen To Your Mother. A graduate of the University of Chicago and Northwestern, Jackie lives in the Chicago area with her husband and her three children. You can follow Jackie on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where she mostly just apologizes for not updating her blog.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Jackie's award-winning story “The Involuntary Starts” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! Creative Nonfiction Contest! You write about several gun-related moments within this essay, but was there a particular moment that prompted you to write this piece, or what inspired you to write it?

Jackie: It began with my distress over the noise from local skeet shooting. I knew that my upset, even when viewed through a lens of other experiences with guns, wasn’t quite enough for a good essay. It took a while, but other layers eventually appeared: an article about a veteran distressed by loud noises like fireworks, a mass shooting, a conversation with someone who had a concern about something in their community but was hesitant to express it for fear of some form of blowback.

When expressed in their various formats and platforms, all of these concerns were surprisingly often met with either “That’s a shame, but that’s how it is” or “What’s the big deal?”

Those responses were my springboards: What do we shut out, what do we confront, what can we live with? Who gets to be heard and what matters on macro and micro levels?

WOW: The layering is quite effective at addressing these questions. What was your writing process like for this essay? (How did you start? How did you revise? How did you know you were finished? Etc.)

Jackie: I rewrote the entire piece eight times.

Like most of my work, it began as a dreadful first draft where I kitchen-sinked every feeling, response, and tangential experience. After that purge, I looked for connections, taking out parts that were unrelated or self-serving rather than serving the piece. I tried to figure out what questions I’m really trying to address.

After the fourth draft, I re-outlined it, boiled it down, saw where it needed history or detail, as well as where it needed a good exorcism.

I knew it was time to submit when I was just fiddling around with the same two words – deleting and retyping ad nauseam. I’m of the camp that believes that writing is never finished, it is only surrendered.

WOW: I am of that camp, too. It is amazing to me how much work can go into just a few words, but how necessary that work usually is. What did you learn about yourself or your writing through this essay?

Jackie: I learned what I’m scared of, both in terms of the essay topic and in terms of response.

I re-learned our very language is violent.

I learned I write about power imbalances where I feel acted upon by grander forces. This lends itself more to humor, but not always.

I learned to be patient with a piece. This one unfolded over 18 months.

WOW: I'm glad we got to benefit from your persistance and patience! Does your work as a performer inform your writing, or vice versa?

Jackie: Years ago, I enrolled in improv classes to become a comedy writer (don’t ask me why I didn’t take the comedy writing classes they offered – no one has ever accused me of doing things the easy way).

Despite my being a truly terrible improviser, some of the class work informs my writing, particularly in characterization and yes, and-ing my first drafts and seeing where it takes me.

I perform my pieces aloud to identify areas that are weak, mawkish, or lacking in rhythm. When performing, I relish words and phrases that I can sink my teeth into, and I write with that in mind. If it's fun to say aloud, it's fun to read (and vice versa). When it sounds right and complete, as well as is satisfying to read aloud, I generally submit or publish.

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Jackie: Sarah Manguso and Beth Ann Fennelly, both of whom I’ve only recently discovered, inspire me to play, stretch, and go a little wild.

Maya Angelou, Gore Vidal, Nora Ephron, Michael Ian Black, Steve Martin, and Jon Stewart for the sheer joy I get from reading their work, the way they play with language and observation, and how their pieces build and weave and layer upon themselves. Each is piercing, witty, intelligent, and often arch.

Anne Lamott and Liz Gilbert are my mothers of encouragement. They can be unabashedly poetic in their work, and their self-analysis and love of the process, wicked though it may be, is unbounded.

Erma Bombeck because her essays are written gingerbread.

WOW: Those are lovely descriptions of those writers. Thanks for the recommendations! Anything else you’d like to add?

Jackie: Thank you for this opportunity – it’s been a pleasure being part of this process and working with WOW!

WOW: It has been our pleasure. Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ask the question

Although I recently finished writing a new short story, I am stuck on a plot issue with my novel. As I searched for a solution, one piece of advice resonated: Ask the question you want answered as you fall asleep. The idea is to let your subconscious do the work for you. So that's what I did, and here's how it's been working for the past three nights.

Day One: I ran through the basic plot of my novel in my head, with particular attention paid to Chapter 3, where I get stuck. My first chapter is in the present, and my protagonist overhears something negative about himself. That anger takes him to a flashback that is Chapter 2.

In Chapter 3 I can't decide if he goes back to his job, or school, but I didn't really ask a question as I fell asleep. I dreamed about shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond, and carrying telephone books to the cashier. The next dream included a steak house where a man wearing lavender pants was waiting for his food. No help at all. Tomorrow, I won't forget to ask a question.

Day Two: I fell asleep asking questions about how to proceed with Chapter 3, and woke to voices and sounds like those you make with your mouth to imitate popping a champagne cork. OK, not insane, but the Bluetooth speaker on my husband's night stand was on, and he said as he left for work it may have made that popping sound as he was going out of range with his phone. The voices sounded like Alexa, and I've heard she's been laughing at random times, but this wasn't a laugh. It completely took me out of my deep sleep, and I couldn't remember any dreams. Or maybe that was a dream. However, I made a decision to cut a chapter later in the book, so that was creative, and a good idea because it doesn't add anything to the story.

Day Three: I asked myself specific questions about plot moving from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. I developed some ideas about how to make a smooth transition, and fell asleep quickly. In this dream, I was with a friend in a hotel running from a man with a gun. Very frustrating. But then we spotted a window. At first there was someone guarding it, and we had to retreat. A tent appeared, and I was able to hide under it until the guy left, and we escaped.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, because I've had these types of dreams in the past, and was never able to escape. And second, I can't say that solving the problem in my dream is the same as solving my plot issue, but now it seems possible, and I feel confident I can work my way through the plot after being stuck for so long.

Did the problem-solving come from asking questions and letting my subconscious do the work as I fell asleep? I don't know, but concentrating on any problem may lead to a solution. Either way, I'm not giving up. Maybe tonight my subconscious will come through, and you'll see my finished novel next year. Or maybe I'll write a new chapter about my protagonist who escapes from a man with a gun.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Speak Out!: When Your Plot is Hijacked by Your Characters and What to Do About It

by Amy Willoughby-Burle

Do you ever have this happen: You’re in the zone, you’re writing is on fire, you’re typing so fast your mind can’t keep up with your fingers, and then BAM—one of your characters says or does something you didn’t see coming?

(Insert that SCREECH sound from movie trailers when the unexpected happens.)

“What was that?” You ask the offending character even as you’re deleting the unexpected line.

Who’s writing this book anyway, you think, slightly worried that it might not be you anymore. So, you take a breath and then dive back in. Your fingers rev up, the words are flowing, your laptop is nearly smoking with the effort, and SCREECH said character grabs the reigns again, and BOOM your story just took a turn that you can no longer pretend isn’t happening.

“Now what?” You ask, fully aware that there is no going back.

Your story has taken on a life of its own.

I had a character do that once and it gave me chills. He and his wife were fighting about an issue in their marriage that had driven them apart and I have to admit, I was writing him as the stereotypical unfeeling, unemotional, unavailable man and she was letting him have it for all those things and then he says, “Don’t you do that. Don’t you dare make me out to be a monster.”


He was talking to me and I knew it.

On a different novel, I had an entire subplot that I realized just wasn’t true to the story anymore. The more I tried to make it work, the more the characters fought against me—refusing to say and do what I needed them to. When I finally accepted reality and took that piece of the plot out, I copied and pasted it into another file, so that I’d see how much work I had done forcing that storyline. Friends, it was 75 pages worth of forcing my agenda on that story.

“So, now what?” You ask.

Well you and your novel are now in couple therapy.

You listen to what the characters have to say about themselves and the story you orchestrated for them. They probably know what they’re talking about. It might send you back to the plotting board. That’s ok. It might make you hunt up some good old-school character creating exercises to get to know them better. That’s probably a good idea.

But don’t worry, the upside here is that you’ve entered the sweet spot of writing. This is where the magic happens, but you’ve got to be willing to be flexible. You and your novel have to work this thing through together. Giving up is not an option just because things aren’t going to way you planned. You and your novel will be stronger in the end. Keep writing. Your story is worth it.

* * *
Amy Willoughby-Burle is the author of The Lemonade Year and Out Across the Nowhere. She lives in Asheville, NC with her husband and four children. She teaches Language Arts and Creative Writing at Elevate Life and Art, an enrichment program for children grades Pre-K-12. She invites you to connect with her online at and
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, March 22, 2018

An Introduction to an Exciting New Anthology: My Body, My Words

My Body, My Words is an anthology that brings a chorus of strong voices to the fight of learning to love your body and yourself! The list of writers contributing to this book includes Beverly Donofrio (Riding in Cars with Boys), Martha Frankel (Hats and Eyeglasses), Abigail Thomas (What Comes Next and How to Like It), and many more. My Body, My Words will offer readers and educators the unique experience of finding all of these voices in one place.

We are lucky to speak with the editors today, Loren Kleinman and Amye Archer. Loren's non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Ploughshares, ROAR, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Seventeen Magazine, USA Today, Redbook, Woman’s Day, BUST, and more. Amye's memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, was named runner-up for the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award and was released in April, 2016, by Big Table Publishing Company. She is a regular contributor to Feminine Collective and is the creator of The Fat Girl Blog.

WOW: We are so excited to get a chance to chat with you on The Muffin today! And we are so excited about your new anthology, My Body, My Words, (MBMW) too! So let’s start off with this: What will readers gain from the stories and poems in this book? 

Loren and Amye: We expected weight to be the most prominent (topic), so we were very surprised when it wasn't. We received many weight submissions, but we received an overwhelming amount of essays on aging, illness, mental health, and more. I think we were surprised by the spectrum of pain and pride people feel for their bodies. We’ve said this before, but when you struggle most of your life with weight, your perception of body image is focused solely on fat vs. not fat. This book opened our eyes to the shared burden of being human.

WOW: What an amazing experience for you and for readers! Why are the themes you explore--chronic illness, depression, age, weight, sexual identity, and more—so important to address in today’s society?

Amye: The #metoo movement happened while we were still building this book. It challenged our thinking in that we wondered if it should be an anthology exclusively reserved for women. In the end, however, we wanted to include voices from other genders since we really wanted this to be a collection of humanity. Excluding anyone would have been a mistake in the current climate-when we need to respect everyone's agency.

Loren: To expand on what Amye has said, I think how men and women accept their bodies starts from the top. Our models, including the American media, politicians, and businessmen and women, promote excessive lifestyles filled with violence, power, and over the top sexuality. Like Amye said, this extreme living has affected our bodies in ways that we are aware of and ways we are not.

For instance, research is continuing to prove the effects of social media on our body image and self worth. In a 2016 Time article called "How Social Media Is a Toxic Mirror" by Rachel Simmons, the study, "Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior" is referenced. Simmons notes: “Visual platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat deliver the tools that allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others. The most vulnerable users, researchers say, are the ones who spend most of their time posting, commenting on and comparing themselves to photos.” The study she references revealed “female college students who did this on Facebook were more likely to link their self-worth to their looks.”

I realize that sexual abuse has been evident for years, but I think now more than ever, the narrative, as a result of social media use, is that any person can be reduced to "like." People are disposable, and they’re for our viewing pleasure. Rather than be treated as human beings with thoughts, feelings, goals, bodies, we are either clickable or not; we are either sexy or not. I think the #MeToo narrative is challenging this notion, and bringing back personhood, personal stories; and by doing this, the consequence is that we return to a more stable, balanced place of remembrance, which is a return to our humanity. MBMW is that return to humanity, to the body we call home, and its beautiful fragility.

WOW: Everything you are saying is so true. It would be great if we could grow as a society and learn to see past how someone looks. How did you go about collecting and choosing the pieces for this anthology?

Loren and Amye: We both write a lot about our relationships with and to our bodies. We had read a few times together and discovered that we really had a literary kinship. We knew we wanted to work together, so it seemed natural to focus on the body since that is something we are both so passionate about.

We started with a simple idea: if you could talk to your body (and if your body could hear you), what would you say? From there, the idea just grew and grew.

WOW: We are sure that you love each and every selection because as editors, you have worked with these writers and chosen them for your beautiful book. But can you each highlight one or two titles that really hit home for you and tell us why?

Loren and Amye: We feel incredibly honored to be allowed entry into so many writers’ lives. Among the many vulnerable and authentic pieces, we loved Kathleen McKitty Harris’s piece, "A Timeline of Human Female Development". Kathleen actually came to us by way of Martha Frankel, and we fell in love with her essay on first read.

We also loved Ryan Sallans’ "Long Trek," which highlighted the mind-body connection through his transition. Sallans is an American LGBT rights advocate and out trans man. Sallans began his transition in 2005.

Wynn Chapman’s "The Fat Filly" and Jennifer Morgan’s "Fifty to Eight Pounds of Shame": both stories deal with shame--whether self-inflicted or embedded from those around them. These writers, like the other writers in the collection, are sharing the raw parts of themselves with readers.

Some other amazing moments include working with Abigail Thomas and Beverly Donofrio. We both read Abigail Thomas's Safekeeping when we were students, and it changed the way we thought about being a woman. Then, we had the pleasure working with Beverly Donofrio who wrote Riding in Cars with Boys, another book that changed our lives.

WOW: Thank you for sharing those highlights with us! What has the reader response been like for My Body, My Words?

Loren and Amye: So far we’ve received so many beautiful emails and feedback via social media about how the book really showcased a variety of body image conversations, such as eating disorders, amputation, illness, pregnancy, etc. Readers have been enjoying the breadth of offerings this book shares.

WOW: If someone is interested in learning more about the book and then purchasing it also, what is the next step?

Loren and Amye: My Body, My Words is available on Amazon. (Download the Kindle at here . Buy the hardback book at: this link. UK versions available here:

For more about our books, to sign up for the newsletter, or invitations to speak, run workshops, visit us at or email us at info (at)

WOW: Great! I'm sure many of our readers are already clicking over there to check this all out. Any parting words?

Loren and Amye: If you read the book, we’d love it if you sent us feedback, notes, stories, left reviews on Amazon, and spread the love. Please feel free to email us at info(at)

Follow us on Twitter at @MyBodyMyWords

WOW: Again, thank you for your time today, and readers, remember to check out this anthology at the links above! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

9 Tips for Writing Nonfiction that Sings

Writing and selling nonfiction is an excellent way to gather by-lines. I’ve had numerous editors tell me they receive more fiction than nonfiction even when they use less of it. To see your work published send them nonfiction that sings.

Pick a topic that interests you. Whether you want to write essays, articles or how-tos, don’t write to a trend that doesn’t intrigue you. Instead, chose topics that interest you. You’re going to need the enthusiasm to see you through research, writing, and multiple rewrites.

Do your research. The book I turned in today had 191 items in the bibliography. Some projects have required even more. To write nonfiction rich in detail, you are going to have to be willing to take the time to do the research.

Avoid the info dump. Once you’ve done your research, you’re going to want to include it all. Even essential details can weigh a piece down if you dump in too much info at once. Instead, feed the facts to your reader a little at a time.

Play. One way to make your work sing is to make it fun to read. This can mean making it poetic or funny. Sometimes it means including charming or amazing detail. Titles that rat-a-tat-tat. Dialogue that dances. This isn’t appropriate in all writing but when you can? Have fun.

Tension. Want to keep your reader on the edge of her seat? Use word choice, foreshadowing, cliffhangers, and carefully chosen details to create tension. But you have to keep it honest. Don’t create false tension by making things out to be dire when they aren’t.

Satisfying Ending. A song that just ends makes you wonder what happened. The same is true of nonfiction. How-to create a satisfying ending depends on what you are writing. You might want to make readers want to take action. Or you might want them to be glad they took the time to read your work.

Cut the excess. When you are done, cut every unneeded word. One friend cuts 30% of everything she writes. In a piece of this length, I’ll cut at least a word per line. In the book I just finished, I cut 1600 out of 16,800 words. Cutting is easier on a print copy.

Read it aloud. When you are done, read your work aloud. This is a great way to spot repetition and phrases that bring you to a stop or trip you up. Cut and smooth until it melts in your mouth like butter.

Know when to quit. Sometimes you try all of these things and the piece falls flat. It doesn’t sing. It’s just there. Maybe you just need to think it through, or you need time to process the experience the writing is based on. Or the idea may simply not be a good one.

Even when you choose your topic carefully, some things just won’t come together. And that’s okay. Part of making your work sing is knowing when to put something aside.


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 May 7th, 2018.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Meet Flash Fiction Contest Winner, Jeaninne Escallier Kato

Jeaninne’s Bio: As well as her writing history, Jeaninne is proud of her educational accomplishments. To support herself through college for a Bachelor of Science in Educational Psychology, three teaching credentials, and a Masters degree in Special Education, Jeaninne worked as a waitress, traffic school instructor, aerobics instructor, radio talk show disc jockey and acted in community theater. She is especially proud of receiving Teacher of the Year for California Continuation High School Association (1996-97); and, three separate awards for Teacher Who Makes a Difference (1989, 1992 and 2011). Jeaninne wrote and received grants for hiring a counselor for her Special Education Students (1991-92); and, she funded a Latino college scholarship program she created called “Lincoln Hermanos Mentors.” She raised enough college funds for 50 Latino college-bound young men (2005-2014) who mentored at-risk Latino elementary boys. Writing gives Jeaninne an outlet for her passions where she hopes to continue affecting others.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Fall 2017 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Jeaninne: My inspiration for entering the Women On Writing 2017 Fall Fiction contest was the way the online site is presented. I so appreciate the positive way women are celebrated here. The pictures, the stories, and the easy way to navigate this page proved my initial feeling that all the women who enter have important stories to tell. In this climate of “Me Too” infiltrating our society, I am proud to be among the women who have their work displayed. Women have many ways to share their personal stories and their worth. Writing, for me, is the best way to send the message of equality and inclusion.

WOW: Thank you for your kind words about WOW. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "A Desert Rose?"  Your previous contest entry that won an Honorable Mention was about the Holocaust, and this story is about border control/immigration.

Jeaninne: I wrote “A Desert Rose” as a love letter to all the brave people who try to find a better way for their families. My roots in the Mexican culture go deep. I grew up in the Southern California town of La Habra, which is now mostly Hispanic. The first-generation Mexicans with whom I grew up are among the most loyal and lasting of all my childhood friendships. I taught in a bilingual school for the last 13 years of my teaching career; and, I met many Mexican families who were torn apart by our broken immigration system. When I learned Spanish in my later years, I spent every summer in Mexico to use it with native speakers. What I found in Mexico was more important than learning a second language: I found other parts of me that I have been missing all my life. I know now my ancestors go back to Mexican roots, and I feel at home when I am there because the people live close to God and the earth, taking nothing for granted. It is possible to be in love with two countries: Mexico is my soul; America holds my freedom to become all that I can be.

WOW: What key elements do you think make a great piece of flash fiction?

Jeaninne: Interestingly enough, I just stumbled into flash fiction within the past couple of years. I have written and published many essays and longer short stories, as well as my children’s book “Manuel’s Murals.” However, flash fiction is like condensing a week-long, ideal vacation into one glorious day, never to be forgotten. For me, great flash fiction consists of memorable characters who experience a drastic change or ‘ah-ha’ moment within a limited amount of words. A good short-short story must have a beginning, middle and end; and, it must move the reader emotionally in some way. I never want my readers to forget my little stories because I want them to see our world a little differently after they have read them.

WOW: You have many educational and professional accomplishments including Teacher of the Year and several Teacher Who Makes a Difference awards, and you’ve created and raised funds for several important programs. What messages do you hope to impart to your students, and to others in the community?

Jeaninne: I always say, “I could die tomorrow knowing I have made a difference.” I say that because of my educational accomplishments and the effect they’ve had on hundreds and hundreds of my students. Whenever, I run into an ex-student, or communicate with him or her on social media, each student has something in particular they took from my classes and my teaching style that they have never forgotten. I guess I am proud of giving my students, and my community, the indelible truth that knowledge and hard work will give you a happy and meaningful life. I grew up poor; therefore, I worked even harder to attain the life I dreamed of in my youth. I have never let one student fail in any class because I went to the mat with each one of them to pass by the sweat of his or her hard work. When I didn’t give up, neither did they.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jeaninne. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Jeaninne: I love this question about tips for others who wish to enter a writing contest. What has inspired me to enter contests is all the hard work I have learned through writing classes, conferences, writing groups and writing retreats. I have spent years honing my craft with others in order to see my work more objectively. I wouldn’t even think of entering unless I have put in the time and sweat to become a better writer. One needs more than parents, friends and neighbors to read and critique one’s work. One needs to be torn apart at the seams by successful writers, publishers and editors, so that the journey to sew oneself back up is liberating and true. And lastly, I wouldn’t enjoy the process of writing so much if I weren’t a reader. I read as much as I write because words give me so much joy, and I need to see them presented in a myriad of ways. I was reading way before I took up writing. Good books give me my imaginative wings on which to write my own stories. Thank you, again, for this wonderful opportunity to share my heartfelt gifts with others. I am honored to be among all of you.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Camp Out with Your Writing (with Camp NaNoWriMo)

Most of us have heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Many of us have participated it in some form or another (me included). In fact, the novel I’m editing right now was born from the 2014 NaNoWriMo. Over the past few weeks, I’ve started noticing posts about Camp NaNoWriMo in my Instagram feed and decided to check it out. What I found is a pretty cool way to get motivated on your writing projects in a faux “rustic” setting.

What it Is:
Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s retreat where writers are welcome to tackle whatever project they choose: short stories, scripts, novels, poetry, etc. Instead of November (which is always a pretty crazy time in everyone’s lives!), camp takes place in April and July. Word count goals can range from 30 to 1 million. To add to the fun, you can even choose to be part of a cabin, which is a virtual writing group where 20 or so writers can “bunk” together to create a cozy little community. Once you sign up for camp and create your profile, you can be sorted into a random cabin or specify that you want to be placed in one that features camps in your own age group, genre, or with similar word count goals. Or, you can invite a group of your writing buddies to “bunk” with you in your cabin and create your own tribe.

How it Works:
During each camp session, Camp NaNoWriMo has lined up a variety of authors ready to encourage campers and offer words of wisdom and support through scheduled Tweet chats. There is also a calendar chock full of virtual write-ins and chances to flex your creative muscles with non-writing projects.

The goal is to make the journey seem as much like a fun summer camp as possible. I read one blogger’s story about how he used the camp one year to write 70,000 words of his novel and another time he committed to writing 20+ blog posts with an average of 750 words each. You can customize your goal to whatever your main focus is at the time.

Sometimes being held accountable for your goals is the little push you need to get a project completed. NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo provide you with like-minded writers and other experts who are there to support you, cheer you on, and help you complete a writing goal you can be proud of. Plus, there’s also a fun camp store where you can pick up some pretty cool swag! (That alone is enough to tempt me to participate this year—who doesn’t love swag?)

The website also keeps an archive of useful advice, such as articles on research, making expositions exciting, etc. from previous camp counselors under their “Writing Resources” page.

To learn more, visit for more information.

Are you itching to attend a virtual summer camp this year? What project would you focus on?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor whose short story, "The Polaroid," won the Suspense/Thriller category of the 2017 Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards. If she participates in this year's Camp NaNoWriMo, she'll focus on a new novel idea or work on a series of true crime posts for her blog. Visit her website at

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Interview with Vickie Fernandez, Creative Non-Fiction Essay Runner-Up Winner

Today, we have an interview with Vickie Fernandez, runner-up winner in the Quarter 1 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest, with her essay, "The Other Half of the Sky." If you haven't read it yet, read it here.

Vickie Fernandez is a writer, storyteller and comedian. After a short hiatus from creating word things to fall in love, make a human thing and learn how to excavate her souls tales sober, she’s hitting the keys once again. Her stories are often raw and painful to pen but delicious to read and there are plenty of woeful tales to sink into. Vickie cut her story weaving teeth in Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen. Her stories have appeared in various literary journals including Akashic Books, Carnival Literary Magazine Vol. 3, Penduline Press, and The Rumpus.

Vickie is also proud to have contributed stories to the Two-Countries: US Daughters & Sons of Immigrant Parents Anthology as well as The People’s Apocalypse.

She’s currently working tirelessly on a new batch of stories (and cookies) while balancing raising a toddler, being a wife, and tiptoeing back to her writer self, one word at a time. For more about Vickie or to support her creative journey, visit her at: Patreon: or Casual Cry Days: .

WOW: Vickie, congratulations on your essay placing as a runner-up. Your essay deals with a mother's illness, which is obviously very personal to you. How was it to write this piece?

Vickie: Thank you so much, Margo. I'm so unbelievably flattered that I made the top 10.

Words have always symbolized freedom from anguish to me. I've spent my entire life finding beautiful ways to say terrible things.

I've been writing and re-writing that story my entire life. My mom was only 28 when she was diagnosed with cancer and she died when she was 30. At the time, I wasn't really aware of the permanence of death because I was a kid and I was preoccupied with the things 10-year-olds are preoccupied with. I was however, grateful that she had stopped suffering and I honestly thought that life would magically go back to the way that it was before she got sick. But obviously I it never did.

My mother's illness and death signified a huge turning point in my life and it was a catalyst to a great deal of trauma that came after.

I started drinking when I was 11 years old, and I basically numbed myself to all of the things that had occurred in my life up until I got sober three years ago. I think that my ability to look at the truth of my childhood and everything that came after and being able to put it into words that others can relate to and enjoy is one of the things that pushes me to expel them. While at the same time seeing beauty in a seemingly painful past.

Though I wish I'd had my mom around, I wouldn't be the person or the writer that I am had it not been for all those tragedies.

WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey with us. That takes a lot of courage. We are so glad you decided to enter the contest. Do you write a lot of essays? Why or why not?

Vickie:  I really enjoy writing essays and short stories. Though I am not opposed to longer works, I like how you can distill powerful moments into short pieces. Doing storytelling and stand-up comedy for a few years helped to make my writing succinct. 

Stand-up helped my writing particularly because you have very little time to a evoke certain feelings from an audience. Now, I go back and I look at my old essays through that lens and am able to slaughter a lot of darlings! I have to say, it feels really good to trim the fat off of a piece and give it a sort of punch of poignancy.

WOW: Oh my gosh, that is so true! Your bio states that you are recently getting back into the writing habit. How is that going?

Vickie: Well, it's going. It's really difficult to write with a toddler in toe. But I do what I can and I don't beat myself up for what I don't do. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty about what I wasn't writing and it stopped being fun. I am a writer, it is who I am. Sometimes I do it a lot sometimes I don't do it at all and that's just how I have to look at it. Becoming a mom has changed my perspective on how I look at everything. I  do what I can and I'm grateful for anything that I manage produce. 

WOW: You have the best attitude when it comes to writing with kids. Do what you can and don't beat yourself up! What are some challenges you have overcome as a writer?

Vickie: I would have to say time, energy, and too many ideas. I'm not a procrastinator so much as I am an over-thinker. I have a lot of stories, and I get overwhelmed by the urgency to get them out.

I feel as though my life is compartmentalized into various chapters, and I just have to pick one of those chapters and write about it. I'm working on patience with myself as a person, a mom and as a writer. So, I go bird by bird, one day at a time, word by word? Haahaa 

WOW: That's great! What is your current project? What's next for you?

Vickie: At the moment, I'm working on some short stories. My focus is memoir and creative nonfiction. I just want to put my work out into the world in anyway possible. Maybe someone will read something that I wrote and feel that jolt of connection to my words that I feel when I read the work of my favorite authors. That would awesome! 

WOW: That would be awesome! Thank you again for your time spent talking with us. Best of luck to you! 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

American Ninja Writer

Have you ever heard of  American Ninja Warrior? My son is obsessed with it. If you haven’t seen the show, incredibly buff people without an ounce of body fat compete in a difficult obstacle course that the Terminator himself wouldn’t be able to finish. After watching it night after night, I’ve come to realize that the lessons I’ve learned by watching people who aren't ashamed to publicly wear a bathing suit can also be applied to writing.

Lesson #1: Get in Shape
I’m not talking about bulking up; I’m talking about practicing. Keep in mind, those ninjas didn’t get their muscles from thinking about it and neither will we. If we want to get in the best writing shape possible, we need to practice, practice, practice. We also need to vary our writing workouts. Not every day can be “leg” day. This means that sometimes we should focus on developing our characters. The next may be a day to look specifically at our word choice. And don’t forget to flex those fingers when creating new worlds!

Lesson #2: Gather Your Entourage
If you’ve watched American Ninja Warrior enough, you’ll know that you need to bring along your cheering squad. The same applies to writers. No great writer is complete without their entourage. These are the people who read your terrible first drafts and give you advice. They encourage you when you’re too tired to continue. They cheer the loudest when you’re competing (or querying). They convince others of your literary merit. Gather them closely and bring them on the journey.

Lesson #3: A Small Mistake Can Be Your Downfall
If one toe hits the water below the obstacle course, a ninja warrior is out. The smallest mistake means the end of the competition. As writers, we, too, need to pay attention to details to keep us in the game. This means proofreading, followed by multiple rounds of grueling edits. It’s not enough to slide by. You must be meticulous. Those who rush can slip and fall. Those who are careful and calculating succeed.

Lesson #4: There’s Always Next Season
One of my favorite parts of American Ninja Warrior is the back stories of the competitors. Many of them have struggled through numerous hardships to get to the competition, and I find myself rooting for them. It’s always disappointing to see them fall when they’ve tried so hard. But, inevitably, they come back the next season to try again. They didn’t accept failure the first time, and neither should we. If you think about it, just because we don’t reach our goal the first time doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means we’ve taken another step towards the final goal. Maybe you couldn’t bring yourself to finish a book. Maybe you couldn’t land an agent. Maybe you were published, but it wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped. That’s okay. Pull yourself together and try for next season.

As writers, we may not be lifting fifty-pound weights, completing a parkour run, or dashing up curved walls, but we can certainly follow similar lessons to reach our goals. So, get out there. Sprint towards your finish line.

Be the next American Ninja Writer.

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.