Writing: A Chance to Vent

Thursday, June 28, 2018
I got a pleasant surprise a week ago. An email began, "Congratulations!" and after reading it, I discovered a letter I had submitted for an upcoming anthology Letters Never Meant to Be Read (vol. III) has been accepted.

This is the cover for the previous collection.
The new cover hasn't been revealed yet...
My letter is to an ex from almost forty years ago. It's scathing. The venom drips from every line.

Time and time again, I hear how much better people feel after they write about a difficult or unpleasant experience. Natalie Goldberg has said, "Writers live life twice," which means writers get to rewrite life. As they write about an experience, they can heal. They can come up with a better ending. They can be the voice for others who've had similar experiences.

This summer I've worked with teachers of writing. Many of them know they're able to teach their students how to write... and yet they don't think of themselves as writers. The class is an intense one. It's six graduate hours, it's only four weeks long, so it's every day, all day. And because we spend all that time together, we build a strong-knit community... in a short period of time. And, in a month, they start to realize how strong and skilled they are as writers.

When I shared my letter aloud with the teacher-writers, I actually shed tears. Even though those feelings had been buried for almost four decades, the pain was still there. During the course of the class we've cried many times, along with lots of laughing.

Marc Crepaux is working on another volume of Letters Never Meant to Be Read. They're looking for submissions for volume 4. Their call-out is ongoing. This could be the chance to thank someone, to mourn someone, to ream someone.

What do you need to vent? What do you need to unload? Write a letter... and live life twice. 

Sioux is a teacher, a writer, a dog rescuer, a grammy, a mother and a wife. In the summer she catches up on some of her reading. If you'd like to read more of her musings, check out her blog.

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All art is quite useless

In the preface to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, he makes a claim that all art is quite useless, and explains later that its aim is simply to create a mood. Truthfully, I'm not convinced he believed it. I know I don't. Art may not bring money or security, but the sheer act of enjoying a good book, strolling through a museum or getting caught up in a play is worth much more than the price of admission. And I don't know about you, but when I'm writing I get blissfully lost in my own universe.

Art, along with any creative process, is beneficial to our mental and physical well-being. Writing is believed to help manage pain, music therapy gives the immune system a boost, and dancing goes beyond the immediate physical improvements, reducing fatigue and aiding psychological health.

The advantages continue beyond our own bodies, as artists and writers have similar tasks and goals--to promote self-expression, and reflect on culture and society. Art can be the catalyst for a difficult discussion. Art can bring people together, cultivate passion and conflict, or offer a healing respite for a damaged soul. Art deserves a special place in our community, and I'm glad galleries, libraries, and concert halls exist to help people navigate a complex world.

One of my favorite memories comes from a visit to a contemporary gallery in Houston. Many years ago, my mother accompanied me on a business trip that included a city tour with a stop at the gallery. The canvases were huge sheets of brown craft paper that hung from the wall and flowed onto the floor. Each one featured spirals (think snail shells) of dates written numerically.

My mother and I spent a lot of time trying to decipher the codes and significance behind the numbers. We looked for patterns and made guesses about what they meant. It was the first time I remember seeing my mother beyond the role she played in my life, as a person who had her own ideas about the world and what it meant to be part of it. We had different interpretations of the same image, which also stayed with me, and now, as I teach the concept of perception in my communications classes, I share that memory as an example of the fact that no two people experience reality exactly the same way.

While some may think art is useless, I believe art shows us who we are. And it's up to us to share our worlds, and write about it in a way that connects us. To me, all art isn't useless, it's essential.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.
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The Lie I've Told Myself for Too Long

Wednesday, June 27, 2018
My lock screen on my phone, courtesy of author Rachel Hollis.

A few weeks ago I decided to pick up a book I’d been hearing a lot about called Girl, Wash Your Face by an author named Rachel Hollis. I stumbled across Hollis on social media several months ago and love hearing about her personal journey (from a rocky childhood to building a thriving lifestyle media company with only a high school degree). Her tone is always confident, brutally honest, while at the same time providing just the right amount of encouragement. Her book is set up by presenting 20 different lies she has told herself throughout the years, and how she has busted through those lies.

The book is a fun and quick read but I had to take pause when I got to the lie in Chapter 12, titled “I Need to Make Myself Smaller.” You see, Hollis is a tiny but fiery woman. She mentioned how throughout her childhood and teen years, her father would call her “Little Girl,” whenever he was trying to explain something she needed to hear about the world. Or just when he wanted her to be quiet. Despite all she tried to do to impress him, performing on stage throughout school, accomplishing a set goal, she felt the need to keep herself small, because she feared that she really wasn’t worthy of speaking confidently about herself. For years, even after she found success, she would downplay what she really did for a living, because she thought she needed to make herself “small” to keep others around her comfortable.

I had to close the book when I read that chapter because so many memories came flooding back. I’m also a small woman (five feet tall soaking wet) and all throughout high school and college, I heard the same thing. “What’s up shorty?” while being patted on top of the head. Or “Why are you SO short?” When you’ve heard that most of your life, it’s hard to find the confidence to stand up in front of a class and read a poem you’ve written or be taken seriously by an administrator you’re trying to interview for the campus newspaper. But I persevered, and kept trying. There would be times I would backslide, through. When I would start to find a measure of success, I’d remember asking classmates to drop me off blocks away from my house so they wouldn’t see where I lived. I would shrink back, telling myself that I was too “small” to think I could ever be a famous writer or make a boatload of money.

I think that is a lie that I continue to tell myself today. People still make thoughtless comments about my height, not realizing how hurtful it is. I brush it off. The other day I was trying to figure out why I had not submitted Between, the first young adult novel I ever wrote, and spent years and two SCBWI conferences polishing, to any agents. I had even gotten a great critique on the first ten pages from a published young adult author at one of the conferences! I wondered if it was because I let that voice get to me, the one that likes to tell me I don’t have a right to want to be any bigger.

So I’ve decided to work on making sure I don’t continue to tell myself that lie. I may be a small person, but that doesn’t mean I have to have small dreams. I may have come from humble beginnings, but that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of success. As Hollis says in her book, “I get to decide who I am. Every single day we’re alive, we’re choosing this life and this persona.”

I’m curious. What are some lies you tell yourself and what will you do to combat them?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. Her short story, “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women,” received an Honorable Mention in the YA Category of the 2018 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest.
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Interview with Rachelle Allen, Winter 2018 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Rachelle’s Bio:

Rachelle Allen teaches private voice, flute, and piano lessons weekly to seventy beloved students in their homes. She lives in East Rochester, New York, with her husband, Bobby, and likes writing stories that offer unexpected endings.

In 2012, she placed 50th in the Annual Writer’s Digest Competition for non-fiction, and her story, “A Second Chance For Randall,” was published in The Storyteller Magazine.

She loves that her life is comprised of all the best commodities on the planet: children, music, reading, and writing.

You are going to want to take the time to read Rachelle’s story, "Leopard," before moving on to her interview.

WOW: What was your inspiration for Leopard?

Rachelle: So, my inspiration for Leopard came one day when I was separating my laundry...into - yes, it's true- lights, darks, and leopard.

WOW: You and I both find that inspiration can come at any time.  How do you handle it when inspiration strikes in the middle of a chore or some other activity?

Rachelle: I keep a pen and small notebook nearby at all times so I don't forget ideas that pop into my head. I did that the morning of my laundry epiphany, and then let various scenarios steep in my mind throughout the day. I've loved (and worn) leopard apparel for decades now, and I've grown accustomed to the comments I receive. So my McGuffin became: What if someone who was never used to hearing positive comments about her outfits suddenly began to receive them? And that's how my story came to life.

WOW: Obviously it was a heady experience. What was the most difficult thing about writing this story?

Rachelle: The most difficult thing was making the protagonist understandable and likable despite her extreme behavior. There's a thin line between "Relatably Unbalanced" and "Just Plain Crazy," and for this story to work, our girl needed to be enjoyable on both sides of it. The minute we read that it's taken her forty-one years to get noticed by anyone in her life, we begin to melt for this poor woman. Who can't relate to feeling invisible on some scale?

Then, when the unraveling escalates, our knee-jerk reaction is to cringe and turn away, and break our connection with her. But because we feel for her, what we do, despite ourselves, is witness the hilarious horror that unfolds and listen to the tiny voice whisper in our head, "You know, this is not altogether impossible."

Because, after all, who among us doesn't have a breaking point?

WOW: We are often told that art imitates life. How do elements of your life, such as your teaching, music or students, make their way into your stories?

Rachelle: I've written an entire book about it that I've been shopping to agents for awhile now. It's entitled "Lessons in the Key of Life" and is comprised of vignettes from all my years in the creative and performing arts. Before teaching voice, flute, and piano, I choreographed shows and taught dance for twelve years.

"Lessons in the Key of Life" features actual experiences I've had as a teacher- some funny, some poignant, some inspiring and deep - and at the end of each vignette, in bold type, the universal truth, i.e. "lesson," I learned from it.

In fiction pieces I've written, I've used character traits, some admirable, some not, of mentors and students who have touched my life.

WOW: What advice do you have for our readers about balancing work and writing?

Rachelle: I've found that writing is like any other discipline: it requires DAILY practice. If I have limited time - and, with traveling to seventy students' homes each week, this is the case a lot - then I at least make time for an entry in my Fly on the Wall Journal, where I write about something I noticed or experienced that day that kept it from being ordinary.

Today, for example, I was at the check-out counter at the Dollar Store, facing a wall with lettering the size of North America that read: EVERYTHING'S A DOLLAR!!! The cashier proceeded to hold up my first item and shout to her manager, "BOB!!! HOW MUCH IS THIS?" I'm serious! I leaned in and whisper to her, "Um, I think it's a dollar," which caused her to glower at me and hiss, "Well some things are TWO for a dollar." "Ooooookay!" I responded, cowed. Bob shouted back, "IT'S A DOLLAR!"

See what I mean? There is always something to write about, so don't let yourself miss the opportunities that present themselves.

WOW: You are definitely a pro at finding slices of life worth writing down. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to encourage us all to look for stories everywhere we go. And congratulations yet again on placing in the contest.

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Breaking Up and Bouncing Back: Author Samantha Burns, The Millennial Love Expert

Monday, June 25, 2018
Everyone is in for a real treat today because we are lucky to talk with Samantha Burns. Samantha has written an amazing book for women and men who are surviving a breakup and looking for love, Breaking Up and Bouncing Back: Moving on to Create the Love Life You Deserve.   

I was very excited when the opportunity came to review this book and chat with Samantha--as many of you know, I'm divorced and a single mom, and I date, too. I love the positive vibe from this book and all the practical advice, as well as important information, Samantha provides. To give you a glimpse into her philosophy and writing style, she really took a lot of time with our questions here. So if you like what you read, please check out Breaking Up and Bouncing Back at the link above or at the end of the post. So, here we go!

WOW: Welcome, Samantha, to The Muffin! You start your book on a very personal note about your own breakup. Why did you decide to share that experience with readers?

Samantha: I wanted readers to know that they aren’t alone, that the person sharing advice has been in their shoes, and that I understand the pain that they are in. I didn’t want to just come off as an expert because of my education and research, but because I had also survived my own soul-crushing split. I also wanted to stress the point that although we each have our own unique circumstances that led to the breakup, heartbreak is a common human experience, and we typically share a similar emotional process. There’s so much isolation and loneliness that comes with a big breakup, so I thought by sharing my story people could identify, relate, and feel more connected.

WOW: And this is probably exactly what someone going through a breakup needs to feel--connections. Who will benefit from reading this book?

Samantha: This book serves a wide audience. Obviously it’s targeted at people who are going through a difficult breakup or divorce and teaches essential self-care survival skills and boundary setting that will help you cope with the obsession and depression that often accompany heartbreak, as well as explores the major underlying reasons why a relationship didn’t work out. It’s also perfect for those who are starting to date again or who have been on the market a long time and want to dig deeper into their dating dynamics and past patterns in love, so that they can ensure they are dating with intent to meet an ideal match and feel more confident in who they pick as a partner. It will help inform you how to know that you’re creating a healthy relationship, in which you feel like you are your best self, and that it’s on track for long-term success. Though my tone may appeal more to women, the content and advice applies to any gender and sexual orientation. The voice feels like your therapist and BFF combined to kick your breakup in the butt!

WOW: All of that sounds great, especially the "creating a healthy relationship" part. If someone is currently going through a breakup, what is the first thing you suggest they do (besides buy your book! ;) ?

Samantha: Give yourself permission to feel your emotions. You’re grieving the loss of the future you envisioned with someone. We don’t like to sit with uncomfortable emotions, especially the extremely painful ones that come with rejection. However, brain research shows that just the act of identifying and labeling how you’re feeling can decrease the intensity of these emotions. So rather than ignore your feelings, compartmentalize, or do harmful behaviors such as self-medicate, sleep around, or abuse food, simply carve out some time and space to ask yourself how you’re feeling. Then tend to yourself lovingly by acknowledging that there are parts of you that can stay strong, while allowing the other parts to feel whatever feelings come your way. Try to avoid judging them as good or bad and know they won’t last forever.

WOW: That is terrific advice! The book is divided into three sections: "Surviving Your Break-Up and Learning From Your Love Lessons", "Cultivating Self-Love and Creating New Purpose", and "Life Beyond Breakup". Section 2 is full of a lot of advice and tips I haven’t seen in other dating books. Can you tell us how you figured out why it is so important to create a new purpose and make sure there is plenty of self-love?

Samantha: Often times, you feel extremely lost after a big breakup. You question who you used to be, who you are now, and whether you have to return the “borrowed” parts of yourself (ex. how you’ve changed, the hobbies and interests you adopted from your ex). The reality is that you’re never going to be the same person you were before the relationship that ended. This is your opportunity to grow into something new and redefine your self-concept. By creating new purpose, you create direction and goals in your life that make you feel more grounded. When’s the last time you really got to focus on yourself and rediscover what you love, enjoy, and brings you fulfillment?

Part of our self-concept is influenced by how much love we have for ourselves. Self-love is a practice; it’s not an end state that once you love yourself that you’ll forever love yourself. I often compare it to happiness, which is fleeting, and needs to be cultivated every day. When we operate from a place of self-love, we believe we are inherently full of worth and value. The relationship we have with ourselves impacts all of our other relationships, and the state of our romantic relationship can be a mirror of how we feel about ourselves. Self-love includes actions such as consciously speaking kindly and compassionately to yourself, making sure you fuel your body with healthy foods, surrounding yourself with supportive friends and setting boundaries with toxic people, spending and saving money in line with your values, practicing gratitude, and realizing that self-love is not about perfection and requires that you appreciate yourself as enough, just as you are.

WOW: Yes, that really is so true--thank you for that detailed answer. I'm sure many readers are getting so much out of this interview that they are already on their way to buying your book! Questions about online dating are sure to come up because (take it from someone who is a divorced mom), it seems to be one of the most popular ways to meet someone these days. You cover a lot of terms associated with online dating that have surfaced the last few years, including ghosting and catfishing, but those are the negative aspects! What is a positive spin or two you discovered about online dating while writing your book?

Samantha: I’m a huge fan of online dating. I actually met my husband online (just three months after my breakup), so I know it works! The biggest benefit of online dating is that it’s a tool for connecting with hundreds of people with whom your paths may have never crossed. So rather than get bogged down in all the negative aspects, just look at it as a tool for connection, which then requires you to take responsibility to get offline and meet in person. You have opportunities every single day to meet your next significant other; how incredible is that! Online dating is also extremely helpful if you have a small social network, you’re stuck in a daily routine, or maybe you’re a single parent without a lot of free time because it makes it so easy to start chatting with someone new that you can go out and meet in a relatively short period of time.

WOW: Great points! Then I have to ask you about Rule Number One: Never Be Anyone’s Number Two. What do you mean by this? And should this start at the very beginning of a relationship? What about single parents who also have to worry about their kiddos?

Samantha: Rule number one: never be anyone’s number two means to me that you’re setting the standard for how you want to be treated. And when you love yourself, you believe you deserve to be someone’s priority, the same way you prioritize nurturing and cultivating a relationship with them. This is tied into the bigger theme of the book that you are worthy and deserving of a loving, fulfilling, committed relationship. After a big breakup, your self-esteem may be at an all-time low, and you may find yourself putting up with poor behavior from dating prospects because you feel desperate for attention, or you don’t believe that you’re worthy of more. When we date from a place of insecurity, feeling unlovable, or not valuing ourselves, we attract people who only validate those negative feelings. It’s important to remember that you’re in control of the type of attention you’re willing to accept, and when you value yourself, you will only accept behaviors that are in line with your self-concept. You need to develop this confidence, self-love, and self-respect before you even start dating so that you can approach dating in the right mindset, believing you are a catch! If you’re dating someone who can’t make you a priority or put in equal effort, than I wouldn’t wait around hoping they will change.

If you’re a parent, being ready to date again also means you’re taking care of your own needs as an adult who craves a romantic connection, and you’re no longer just wearing your mom or dad hat. You deserve a date night out; and if that means you have to hire a babysitter, doing so does not make you selfish. It will be a balance of learning how to date again, while taking care of your child and their needs. It’s important that you disclose to potential partners that you do have children and that being there for them is hugely important to you. However, if you’re someone who on a first date says your kids are your entire world and they come before anyone else, then someone who is open and ready for a commitment may be turned off by this because you’re making it sound like there’s no room in your life for someone else. The key is to convey how much you care about your children, but that you also know you’re willing and able to take steps to invest in a romantic relationship. Dating doesn’t mean you have to put your kids on the back burner; it just means you may have some extra juggling to do. I’ve come across singles who will only date people whose custody weekends align with theirs because they don’t want to be put in a situation where they have to choose between seeing their kids and seeing their lover. Dating someone who also has kids means they will typically be more understanding and lenient around things like cancellations and rescheduling because something came up with your kids. At the end of the day though, if you want a relationship, you have to put in the effort to make it work.

WOW: This is all so true. I know from experience--and you just gave more great advice. Anything you want to add?

Samantha: For anyone who loves the book but feels they need more intensive support in getting over their ex and creating the love life they deserve, I offer a Breakup Bounce Back program, which is 12-weeks of coaching support and a private group community of women going through similar situations who will understand what you’re experiencing. You can learn more on my “How to Get Over Your Breakup” webinar. Sign up here: http://bit.ly/BreakupBounceBackWebinar

WOW: Thank you, Samantha, for talking with us today! Readers who are interested in Breaking Up and Bouncing Back, can check it out here. You can also connect with Samantha at these places around the web: 

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Sharon Gerger, A Creative Essay Winner Interview with a Very Funny Lady

Sunday, June 24, 2018
This is an interview and a winning nonfiction creative essay you won't want to miss. Sharon Gerger is hysterical. Even her bio is funny. So, you definitely want to check out her essay, "Stuck" here, and then you'll want to read on to get some great tips while chuckling and smiling along the way.

Sharon is an award-winning writer with work published in New Yorker, Glimmer Train, Harpe...okay, that’s all balderdash. She writes a lot and sometimes people publish her work and that fills her with bliss. If they happen to pay her well, good-gosh-galoshes, she gets sorta delirious.

You can find more of Sharon at sharongerger.blogspot.ca and on Twitter @sharongerger1.

WOW: Sharon, congratulations on placing as runner-up with your essay, "Stuck." It's about being stuck in an elevator with a co-worker. But really, it's about so much more. Tell us about the themes you were exploring with your essay.

Sharon: Thank you, very much. My knee-jerk reaction to your question is to holler, "Hold up there, lady, I'm not Ernest Hemmingway exploring the human condition, I'm just writing funny stories." I realize though, that is exactly what I'm doing.

My story is about two very different reactions to a situation everyone fears. Lots of people will identify with either Calm-Carol or loony me. Being stuck in an elevator removes our control, some folks, like Carol, can just sit back and let what will be, be. I'd called for help, so she knew it would all work out, and she'd eventually get out and get home. I knew they'd someday, find our rat-chewed bones in a pile in the corner of the elevator if I didn't stay on top of the rescue efforts and keep everyone in motion.

WOW: I promise I wasn't expecting you to answer like Ernest Hemmingway, but your answer was fantastic! :) Now on to your story--it has some funny parts! Any tips for putting humor in an essay? It is not easy to do well. (or humor in anything really--even your bio is funny!)

Sharon: You cannot worry about whether or not everyone will think you are funny. Everyone won't; don't let that stop you. If you think it's funny, then add it and send it out to the world for feedback. If you make even one person laugh, what a wonderful human being you are!

Lots of people will "get it", but there will be folks who don't see what's so funny. Those people are humorless statues, and you need to get away from them before the pooping pigeons arrive!

I think the trick to humor is to go gently in longer pieces, a little humor here and there stands out. In a short piece, I think you can go all-out ridiculous.

WOW: Great advice! We love the name of your blog (also hilarious!) Sharon Gerger's Tree Farts. Where did you come up with the name for this blog and what in the world does it mean (winks);?

Sharon: Tree Farts - little stories equal little farts of paper. I know, I slay me, too. I'm married and I have two adult sons. So many boys, so much fart humor. It's been a big part of my life for a long time.

WOW: Boys and potty humor! Well, my 7-year-old daughter likes it, too. (smiles) What are a couple of your writing goals and projects for the rest of 2018?

Sharon: This year I decided to have at least twelve short stories or essays out for consideration, at all times. I submit to contests or magazines or anyone who will consider paying me to write.

I am also working on getting all of my existing humor writing, both essays (creative nonfiction) and short fiction assembled into a book format. Then I will wait to be discovered, or I'll use my newly purchased Writers Digest membership to search for and hound every agent I can find who deals with old ladies who think they are a hoot.

WOW: You are a hoot! I love your goal of having twelve things out at all times. What does it mean to you and your writing career when you win a contest or get a publication?

Sharon: I've been published several times, in magazines, newspapers on the internet and recently in an actual book and it never gets any less exciting. Publication, paid or not, makes me feel valued as a writer, like I can actually do this. And if I am fortunate enough to get paid, I can use the money I earn to pay for stuff. Inexpensive, dollar store stuff, but stuff I paid for with my writing. Pretty cool.

WOW: Totally--being published never gets old. Thanks for your time!

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Transparency: How Much of Yourself Do You Put Out There?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

When my son entered high school, the principal had a talk with the students and their parents. “Be careful what you put out there,” he said. “A photo of you drinking at a party can cost you a scholarship down the road. Anything you put on social media can come back to haunt you.”

I’ve been wondering lately just how many writers worry about this. We post about attending protests and knitting hats. We share and forward and tag - #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t put these things out there. If you look at what I write, it is pretty clear where I stand in terms of politics.

I write books about race and social justice. I also write about evolution and for a prayer blog. Those things are all out there and anyone can find them pretty easily. So I do post about politics and religion both, but I don’t post every time I write a letter to my congress person or sign a petition.

There are a lot of other things I don’t post about. My personal life is personal. I may drop a bit of info here and there but there’s a lot I don’t talk about online.

Other people are much less circumspect. This morning I was reading an interview with one of my favorite writers. She told the interviewer that she and her spouse have an open marriage at least in theory. Why only in theory? Because with the progeny in tow it is really hard to have an open marriage in practice.

Can I just say eww? That may be the thing you let your closest friends know. Maybe even your Mom. Heck, I don’t know that type of relationship you and Mom have. But really? I did not need to know that. In my opinion, a little mystery between writer and reader is perfectly acceptable. In this case, it would have been preferable.

Am I old fashioned? Quite possibly. I am a historian.

What you reveal in an interview is very different from what you post on Facebook. But there are similarities. Once the information is out there, it is out there for all to see. Is this the kind of thing that can hurt future sales? It may depend on what you write. But it is something to think about when a simple search can reveal what you had for breakfast as well as details about your would-be sex life.


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 July 9th, 2018.
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The Beauty of a Blog

Thursday, June 21, 2018
It’s always a good idea to have someone proofread your website before it goes live. Yes, we’re writers and all that jazz, but you’d be surprised what might slip past when a writer is focusing on all the bells and whistles.

So the other day, I was checking links and text, making sure a writer friend’s sparkly new website had easy navigation and sure enough, the calendar functionality was wonky. If you’re an author who wants to get school visits and/or speaking gigs, the calendar functionality matters. We met a few weeks later for lunch and talked about the website (and her new book!) and she said her webmaster had finally fixed the glitchy calendar.

And that’s when I said, “You need a blog.”

“No,” she said. “I don’t have anything to blog about… I don’t think I need a blog.”

“Would you like to promote your book launch?” I asked. “And then have lots of pictures of your book launch afterwards of you with your new book? Would you like to promote some of the fun activities tied into your book? Share about school visits? Awards you might receive?”

My friend’s salad paused midway to her lips. “Yeah,” she said. “That sounds awesome. But won’t all that be on the website? The webmaster will take care of it.”

Maybe, I told her. But maybe it’ll take a month every time you want something new posted on your website. Especially if it’s a basic static website.

So we had the conversation about the beauty of a blog.

Lots of my author friends have websites once they sell the book. They usually hire someone to do the website because time is money to a writer. Which is also why authors often balk about blogging. It’s just one more thing to add to their “To Do” list.

But authors often miss the advantage of adding a blog to a website: it can be the fluid, responsive, and immediate part of your web presence. And it’s a simple and easy platform to learn.

A blog on an author’s website doesn’t need to have posts on a regular schedule; in fact, it’s probably best to leave dates off the posts. It’s more about getting information about the book (or books!) out there then introducing readers to the author. But that doesn’t mean that an author’s blog can’t shine a spotlight on personality, too. Think of the blog as the news and events related to the book(s) with a dash of author, and update accordingly.

Ultimately, the blog saves all that time and trouble of tracking down the webmaster, and all the stressing that goes along with getting the updating job done. Because with a blog, you can do it yourself and take care of your own business.

And that, my author friends, is the real beauty of a blog.

Cathy C. Hall uses her blog platform as her website because that's what works best for her now. But writing paths can veer off into all kinds of wonky places, so who knows where she'll end up next? (Pssst. She'll let you know, of course.)
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Past, Present, Future

Wednesday, June 20, 2018
I wanted to pass along one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve come across this year. It came from the book Bring Your Fiction to Life by Karen Wiesner – a book I had the pleasure of reviewing. Feel free to read the review here.

She offered a lot of great ideas, but one of them stood out to me, and it’s something I’m utilizing in my current manuscript. Wiesner asserts that your protagonist cannot simply exist in the present. You must also establish their past and their future, and this must be done in every single chapter.

It seems like such a simple idea – one that, really, no one would disagree with. But I don’t know that it’s a concept I really thought about until I read her book. I mean, it’s something I hoped I was doing. But that’s just the point. Hoping doesn’t make it happen. And when I started looking at what I’d done so far, I realized that I wasn’t achieving it with my “make things up as I go” approach.

Aware that I was, perhaps, not creating enough depth, I made a chart. (For all of you non-chart people, hear me out). In each chapter, I wrote down how I addressed my protagonist’s past, present, and future. It will come as no shock that I was inconsistent, at best.

I went back to my first fifty pages and added this dimension with new scenes and information. Sure, it took extra work. Yes, it took extra time. And no, I didn’t increase my word count. But as I completed my chart, I could see a well-rounded, multi-dimensional, relatable character emerging.

I urge you to consider if your characters have the depth they need. If you are getting feedback that your protagonist needs work, isn’t likeable, or seems superficial, creating a chart like this might be of use. We all have a past, a present, and a future, and utilizing this concept can make our protagonists even stronger.

In case you’re wondering, my chart looks like this:

[Click to enlarge.]

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.

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Interview with Elizabeth Eidlitz: 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Elizabeth’s Bio:

Elizabeth Eidlitz is a retired independent school English teacher, a writing workshop facilitator, and newspaper columnist who recently became intrigued by the demands of flash fiction. She has coedited a textbook, published a few short stories and many feature articles. She is amazed at what writers have created with only 26 alphabet letters. In her own work she tries to define both factual and emotional truths. She loves E.B. White, animals, laughter, French onion soup with lots of melted cheese, and unvarnished people. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Elizabeth’s award-winning story “Our Day” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing 3rd in the Winter Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Elizabeth: Confronting ghosts. Wondering if I really told my mother’s classmate that I was adopted—or simply wanted to—has always haunted me. Though never discussed, the unresolved moment, like much flash fiction, illuminates a landscape of conflicts.

WOW: I like that connection between unresolved moments and flash fiction. I’d never thought about it like that before. Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Elizabeth: It sharpened my understanding of a critical moment by exploring what led up to it and what followed.

WOW: In your bio it says that in your writing you try “to define both factual and emotional truths.” Can you say more about this? How do you accomplish that feat?

Elizabeth: Truth is a slippery fish. A friend’s adult daughter in therapy asked, “Mother, how old was I when you locked me out of the house in the snow?” The feeling of maternal rejection and coldness is her emotional, imagined truth. The factual truth is that since she grew up in southern California, it could not have happened. Another friend remembers her terror at age six when she was held over her aunt’s open casket at the funeral. The imagined emotional truth is factually false. Her aunt died when she was 23.

We misremember events, particularly those of our childhood, and act on our conviction of powerful emotional truths. We forget the words people use, but we remember the effect the words had us.

WOW: Great examples. They sound similar to what you previously said about wondering about the actual versus imagined exchange between you and your mother’s classmate. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Elizabeth: I was interested in the NYTimes review of Our Souls at Night, written by Ken Haruf under a death sentence. The premise is original and convincing and the back story is suspenseful as it develops.

Actually, I frequently reread Charlotte’s Web and essays by E. B. White, an inspiration, for his unique point of view, vivid descriptions, humor, and absolutely perfect last lines.

WOW: If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Elizabeth: Real writing is REWRITING. Does anyone get it right the first time? There’s a huge difference between deboning a chicken and being a skilled thoracic surgeon or running down the street and winning the Boston marathon.

Like swimmers, writers have times when they can only splash in frustration and times, when stuck, they need to tread water until they find a new direction. And then there are nourishing times when they feel they’re swimming with the current. Because “Our Day” was one of these, it partially wrote itself.

WOW: Such vivid metaphors! Thank you for sharing that advice and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.
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Trant-Parency ... Goodbye Dear Friend

Monday, June 18, 2018
I don't want to be writing this post. I've even toyed with taking a break from writing entirely. A good friend of mine passed away this week and the same day he passed, I was asked to do a book blog tour for a memoir about loss. I don't feel strong enough to take on the tour and I certainly don't feel strong enough to tell you about the man and mentor who is no longer here. And yet, here I am. I'm putting one foot in front of the other because that's exactly what he did. And now, I want to tell you a little bit about an important man named Eric Trant.

If I had to chose one word to describe Eric, the word would be TRANSPARENT (which is where the title of this post comes from). I've had the pleasure of helping Eric promote his three novels which means we've had many laughs and interviews together. We were so kindred, we went on and became connected via social media. In our interview for Steps, Eric admitted the first story he ever submitted was to Playboy. Any question I asked, he answered. He answered the tough questions about family, time management, the death of his son, future writing plans, and even shared some sound advice about co-parenting through divorce. During his tour of Risen, he said he and his wife Amanda had come out stronger after weathering the storm that was his ex-wife. He was an open book. One of his favorite quotes was:

It's only impossible 
until someone does it. 

He shared that quote with me during our very first interview with his debut novel, Wink. Neither of
us could have imagined what the future would hold. His youngest child, Finn, was still a bump in Amanda's belly as was our little Breccan. We went on to add a D and E to our alphabet family. Whether it was our children's name choices, our love of writing, or our passion for reading and promoting authors, something brought us together on a regular basis. Eric recently reminded me not to toss knives in the sink. It's a silly thing, but he would tag his wife, Amanda, and myself on social media and give us little tidbits of information. Usually a few laughs and comments would be exchanged. The one thing that was clear in each and every communication, interview, etc...was Eric's love of life and his deep love and appreciation of his wife Amanda.

My heart breaks for Amanda right now and I can tell you we plan on continuing our friendship. It must seem impossible for her to go on - but she will - because it's only impossible until someone does it. She's got two special guys up in heaven who will be there cheering her on each step of the way. And while Eric and Dastan are cheering from their clouds, the rest of us can help if we are able or moved to do so, by contributing or sharing the GoFundMe created by Amanda and Eric's neighbors.

As for me - I'm going to go back and read those great interviews and allow Eric's advice to help me move forward. I'm going to take on that memoir. I'm going to keep helping authors, making friends, and promoting good books.

Thank you Eric for sharing so much. Thank you for being transparent. Thank you for your friendship and support. Thank you for introducing me to Amanda. See you on the other side dear friend!

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Meet Essay Contest Runner Up, Marlena Bergeron

Sunday, June 17, 2018
Marlena’s Bio:

I am the worker bee, I am the house jefa.
I keep the casa clean, I am the Marry Poppins Trifecta:
The activist mom, the fun nanny, the cockney kitchen wench all in one.
Everything feels urgent. It all has to get done.
Sometimes I pay for extra help. Sometimes I work alone.
I steal time for writing, art, and nature.
I make time to phone home.
So blessed: challenges and joys plus an untethered, unmedicated imagination are EXCITING.
But what to do with it all and where to share?
WOW! Thank you, Women On Writing!!

Find out more about Marlena by following her on Twitter @mrsmmwb

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q2 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Marlena: A friend told me about your contests.

WOW: Reading your essay, “Freezing Points,” I felt as if I was there with you. What inspired you to write this particular story?

Marlena: It kind of wrote itself. I was keeping notes throughout the ordeal, it was all so surreal.

WOW: As a busy mom, how do you find time to write? What works best for you?

Marlena: I steal time from other things I should be doing. When I find a routine that works, I'll let you know.

WOW: Stealing time works! Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Marlena: I have four years of notes of how I became an accidental environmental activist after moving to a county in Georgia with lots of trees. They are clear-cutting them as we speak. It's called, "Whispering Pines." Part fact, part phantom, part expose on racism and socioeconomics in Georgia's second largest city, and part love story. I love the wildlife in our area. We are on the Fall Line, where the ocean once met the foothills. I fell in love with the trees, so I don't mind playing a fool for them. Forests and farms are trending everywhere else. We have the real deal but are watching it get steamrolled into commercial development and suburban sprawl overnight. They didn't get the memo that trees matter more than parking lots, big box stores, and chain restaurants.

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

Marlena: Write on! The exercise of stringing more than 120 characters together in an interesting and entertaining way is worth it.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.
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What Do You Do While You Wait?

Saturday, June 16, 2018
I recently saw Leslie Odom, Jr. on a news show. He's one of the stars of the blockbuster show Hamilton. At one point he was considering quitting the acting business. His father-in-law told him that he should "try" before he quit.

Odom was surprised. He figured he'd be trying all along, to no avail.

The father-in-law said, "Well, when the phone rings I think you show up and you're prepared, you do a great job, you're an affable guy. If the phone didn't ring today, what did you do for yourself? Did you read anything? Did yo write anything? Did you call anyone? Did you send an email?"

It made me think. What do I do as I wait for the James Patterson-sized check for my not-even-published-or-even-accepted-manuscript to arrive? How do I spend my time as I pine away for the next acceptance email? What am I doing while I wait to topple Jodi Picoult off her pedestal?

What in the world am I doing? The answer, sadly, is not even close to enough...

Here is the run-down on my current "big" WIPs, so you can understand what a slug I've lately been:
  • I'm polishing up a NaNoWriMo from 2016. I've written a synopsis (a short one--500-800 words in length) and have gotten feedback on it... but not the manuscript yet. In fact, nobody has seen the manuscript (except for me, of course). I've also worked on a query letter, but that's still in the closet--no one has seen it either.
I've found a couple of publishers I'm considering gracing with my submission  offering my 3rd        born to (although who'd a child from a 58 year old egg? sending a query.

What should I be doing while I'm waiting?

Well, I could hire a professional editor to look at it. This is something that I've been reluctant to do (after all, I'm a poor classroom teacher) but I found a great deal that editor Margo Dill is offering, so I'm taking the plunge.

I could work on my elevator blurb. You know, the blurb I'll rattle off when someone asks what my book is about, so I don't just stand there with my mouth simply opening and closing like a fish.

The other thing I could do is read any books that are similar to my manuscript, so if grilled, I could speak with some authority. ("My book and such-and-such book cover the same event, but my book is for middle-grades and _______ is for high school readers.")

What else do you think I should be doing?

  • I wrote a NaNoWriMo in 2017 (written alongside my students, like the one the year before) and it's still not finished. I'm worried it's too teachy-preachy and not enough story. I'm fretting over the teacher character, who was important in the early part of the book, but seems to have just vanished. I'm worried that it's boring. 
What should I be doing?

Well, duh. I should finish the first draft. When it's finished, then I can look at the story and history balance, the characters, and check to see if it seems like a compelling plot. Why make problems out of a WIP that's still very much in progress? First drafts are always poopy, after all.

What about you? What are you doing while you're waiting for your multi-million dollar advance? Let me know, and when both of our checks come in the mail, we can go on a cruise together...

Sioux is struggling with balancing small writing projects with the daunting task of completing a novel. She's a classroom teacher, a dog rescuer and grandparent, so her spare time is limited. If you'd like to read more of her writing, check out her blog.

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Friday Speak Out!: Do I Have to Confess the Hemorrhoid Thing?

Friday, June 15, 2018
by Sharon Gerger

In 1962, I was six years old, and my family moved south from a small town to a big city. I started grade two in September. The first day, I sat in class at St. Mary’s as my teacher, Miss Forte instructed us to write a story about our summer vacation.

Writing stories was my favorite part of school. I was pretty excited as I handed it in. She looked at it and looked angry. She sent me and my paper out into the hall with instructions to knock on the door of the next classroom.

I no longer remember that teacher’s name, but I do remember her cruelty. Miss Forte hollered at her to look at what I had done. She looked at my paper, then ordered me to follow her to the office whereupon she hit my tiny hands with a leather strap, five times on each hand.

I don't remember the pain, only the terror. I had never been hit before and not since.

I had no idea what I’d done to deserve this treatment. Did I curse or was it sloppy or riddled with spelling and grammar errors? I will never know. I was too ashamed to tell my parents. I’m sure that if a record was made, it has long since been destroyed.

It scared me into trying to be invisible. I did okay in school, neither well, nor poorly enough to draw attention to myself. These two teachers succeeded in making me a timid and nervous student.

I was afraid to take any chances with my writing. I focused instead on the penmanship being neat and the spelling and grammar being as perfect as I could manage. I didn’t search for better, more complex words. I didn’t risk sacrificing perfect structure to get the feeling of anxiety or anger or joy I wanted to create in a story. I wrote perfectly boring crap.

I've prayed those women suffered with hemorrhoids every day since. Actually, I don’t pray. Bobby-pin chewing nuns at the same school stole my desire to be a good Catholic girl. Back then, females had to cover their heads in a church. The nuns who guarded the door as the kids walked into the church to attend weekly Mass, stood ready with bobby pins and paper towels. I am certain they purposely chewed the smooth plastic tips off the bobby pins they used to pin paper towels to the heads of the sinful girls, who like me, often forgot to bring a hat to school. I still have scars on my scalp.

In my thirties, I took a writing class, and I discovered I still loved to write. I've had a few pieces published, won some contests and have had the time of my life doing something I love to do.

Despite Miss Forte, I am a writer.

And I know my soul is clean and shiny, with or without a paper towel hat.

* * *
Sharon Gerger is an award-winning writer with work published in New Yorker, Glimmer Train, Harpe…okay, that’s all balderdash. She writes a lot and sometimes people publish her work and that fills her with bliss. If they happen to pay her; well, good-gosh-galoshes, she gets sorta delirious. 

You can find more of Sharon at http://sharongerger.blogspot.ca/
and  https://twitter.com/sharongerger1

She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Know your audience

Thursday, June 14, 2018
By now you've probably read about the recent celebrity suicides. Their deaths were shocking. I wrote a blog post last weekend regarding the connection between suicide and creativity, and wondered why talented artists and writers end their own lives. It's an OK post, and had I published it, some of my kind and gentle friends would have offered positive comments. But I'm not going to do that.

Earlier this week when talking about those deaths with my daughter, I realized my blog post added nothing to the conversation. I didn't consider what my audience wanted, and offered no insights for them to take away.

So, I rewrote my post. I changed the focus to the importance of knowing your audience, and will share the story of how Anthony Bourdain recognized his own error of perception and stood up for a writer in 2012.

Marilyn Hagerty wrote a restaurant review that year in the Grand Forks Herald (ND) for the recently opened Olive Garden. Her tone was positive, and she gave readers insight into the restaurant and what to expect. She described the building, menu, and dining experience.

She'd been writing her EatBeat column for years, and knew what her readers wanted and expected from her. Grand Forks is a city of about 57,000 (53,000 in 2012), and the Olive Garden was news. The article went viral, and internet trolls from all over the country chimed in with snarky comments.

Anthony Bourdain said when he first read the review, he was critical, but then changed his mind when he realized that this is where many people in this country eat, and appreciated the fact that she wrote positive reviews. He called her a good citizen and a good neighbor. Hagerty commented that she was grateful that he came to her rescue when people were making fun of her column.

I love that he changed his mind, and defended her decision to write what was best for her audience. He didn't jump on the bandwagon and criticize the way she spoke to her readers when he had no real insight into what they wanted or needed from her column. But Hagerty knew, and trusted herself to write for them.

That's a lesson for all of us. Know your audience. Listen to your critics, but if criticism comes from someone outside your target audience, it may not be worth the cost of the Olive Garden soup and salad lunch special in 2012.

Thanks, Anthony Bourdain, for the reminder. RIP.

Mary Horner is a writer and teacher who has eaten many meals at Olive Garden, and remembers that people also were excited when it opened in her city.
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How to Use Facebook Groups to Market Your Book

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
One marketing strategy that may work for anyone who writes for an adult audience, especially female, is to create a Facebook group for readers. A Facebook group is different than a page, which most authors already have. I've recently seen some innovative uses of a Facebook group. You may be wondering: why do I have to keep up with a Facebook group too? Why isn't my page good enough?

It all comes down to that wonderful, old Facebook algorithm and how seldom people, who like your page, will actually see posts in their news feed, unless they choose to see your notifications first or often. Most people don't realize this or even think about it, and so you may be posting the most wonderful content ever on your page, and only about 1/4 of your fans are seeing it.

With a group, there are usually fewer members and anyone can post and discuss. You can add members to the group without their permission (although they can also remove themselves, if they don't want to be there). In the groups I'm in, when anyone posts, I get a notification from Facebook, and it also shows up in my news feed. But groups should be used with a strategy, just like any marketing on social media.

Your page is for anyone to like. Your group can be for special readers, helpers, book parties, and more. Here are two different, creative ways I have seen groups used lately to promote books.

1. Creating a "street team" for a book release: My friend, Camille Faye, who writes the Voodoo Butterfly series, created a Facebook group for her street team, which is a group designed to help her promote online the release of her second book Emergence. She called the group Social Butterflies and had various tasks for us to do throughout the week, such as post about her book on social media and make her book cover our profile photo. She gave instructions and had discussions in the group, which was a brilliant use of this Facebook tool with 112 members in her group!

2. Several authors in the mystery genre joined together to create a closed group on Facebook for mystery authors and their readers. To launch the group, they are having an online Facebook party in the group. Each author will take over the group for a while and post about their books, giveaway prizes, and have fun with fans and other writers. This is a great idea because it's authors helping out each other; and as I posted about last time, some of the readers may find new authors because they followed a favorite author on to the group. If you love reading mysteries, then ask to join this Facebook group today. 

As social media evolves, so do authors' great ideas for marketing. Some authors make it a privilege to join their Facebook group, like a fan club, where the most devoted readers can get access to the author and new releases first. There are all kinds of ways for creative authors to use Facebook groups. But remember, this really works for authors whose audience is in their late 20s to 60s because that is the highest population on Facebook, and female readers tend to join more groups and participate in parties than male readers. As I keep saying, marketing is not one-size-fits-all.

We would love to hear how you have used Facebook for your marketing.

Join my new marketing class! says Margo Dill, who wrote this blog post! Margo's marketing class will help authors in all genres figure out individualized plans and learn from working authors in the trenches marketing their books. Editors with their own businesses will also benefit from the class. Check it out here--it's being offered in July and September.

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Meet Patricia Donovan, 2nd Place Winner in the 2018 Winter Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Patricia Perry Donovan is an American journalist and author of two novels of family drama, At Wave’s End (2017) and Deliver Her (2016) published by Lake Union. She is currently at work on a third. She began writing fiction on a lark in 2011; since that time, her stories have appeared in a number of literary journals. She enjoys travel and mentoring new writers, and relies on running and yoga for balance (literally). The mother of two grown daughters, Patricia and her family spent six years in Lyon, France in the nineties, an experience she plans to mine in a future novel. Today, Patricia and her husband live at the Jersey shore with their Yorkie Diesel. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or visit patriciaperrydonovan.com.

If you haven't done so already, read Patricia's winning entry, Still Life, and then return to learn more about how she transitioned into writing fiction.

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

WOW: Welcome, Patricia! I can't wait to find out more about your background. Although you started out as a journalist, you mention you started writing fiction on a lark in 2011 (and obviously it has served you well)! What was the first fictional piece you wrote and did you submit it anywhere?

Patricia: It is so interesting for me to revisit my fiction roots. I wrote my first fictional piece for a Gotham Writer's Workshop in 2011, a short story titled “Orchard Beach.” It was inspired by the week I spent every summer with my grandmother in the Bronx. My “Nana” was a very independent and resilient woman for her time. To this day, I remember every detail of her city apartment: her freshly rinsed stockings hanging in the shower, the heavy incinerator drawer outside her door, her quirky neighbors. I reworked that story a number of times, submitting it to literary magazines and competitions. By then retitled “Little Fools,” the story was ultimately published by Bethlehem Writers Roundtable in 2015.

WOW: Great sensory details! I'm not surprised it found a home. So it sounds like you started out writing short stories and ventured into writing and publishing two novels, At Wave's End and Deliver Her and your website describes you as a "writer of hopeful family dramas." Your winning entry "Still Life" also falls into that category. How did you decide to explore these particular themes in your longer works of fiction and in "Still Life?"

Patricia: I wish I could say I “decided.” However, even though I usually have a rough idea of how the story will turn out, one of the marvels of writing fiction (that would never fly in journalism) is allowing the tale and your characters to guide you. While I love exploring family dynamics and even dysfunction in my novels, I am at heart an optimist. Experience has taught me that no matter what travesties life places in your path, or how futile things may feel, you can always, always have hope. I try to imbue my fiction with that sentiment, and leave readers feeling that even if it hasn’t happened by “The End,” things will ultimately work out for the characters in which they have invested their time.

A note on “Still Life:” I wrote this story after greatly reducing Mia’s storyline in my debut novel Deliver Her. After killing (or actually seriously injuring) this “darling,” I still felt her story deserved to be told. I always save all my deletions in a separate file. You never know when you might want to “resurrect” a character or plot point.

WOW: Saving deleted scenes in a separate file is such a great idea and I'm glad to hear it worked out so well for you! By reading your blog I see you have some fun ideas regarding promoting your novels with book clubs. What have been some of your favorites (swag, putting together discussion questions, etc.)?

Patricia: I love book clubs and have made many live and virtual visits with them...and always provide swag! I recently reconnected with a friend from grammar school who invited me to her club. We were also in Girl Scouts together for many years, so we had lots of fun reminiscing. I created a list of discussion questions for each book, but inevitably, we veer off topic. Readers always want to know about the writing process, which I am happy to discuss.

However, my favorite experience has been running my early drafts by my OWN book club. This local group has been “retired” for many years, but we are great friends and they are always happy to reconvene to become beta readers. This is at once terrifying and gratifying. They are my most ardent supporters but also keep me honest. Especially while writing my second novel At Wave's End, inspired by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, I relied on their feedback and suggestions. We all lived through that storm on the Jersey shore, and feel its aftereffects even today. And believe me, these women hold NOTHING back! (Note: Book clubs can arrange visits via my web site,patriciaperrydonovan.com.)

WOW: A very savvy move on your part--I'm sure you got some great feedback from that! So what type of books do you gravitate toward reading with pleasure and what is on your nightstand right now?

Patricia: The books I love to read fall into three categories. First, I like to check out what’s current, including Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Sean Greer’s Less (a HOOT for writers; I’ll be rereading this one), and family dramas like Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. I am also making my way through George Saunders’ Lincoln at the Bardot.

Second, I try to keep up with and review upcoming and new releases from my fellow Lake Union Publishing authors, including Loretta Nyhan’s Digging In and Barbara Claypole White’s The Promise Between Us. I have learned a lot from this talented, supportive writing community, including the value of book reviews to authors. Readers and writers, please take time to share your thoughts on a book you’ve read. This feedback is invaluable to authors and helps with rankings and those pesky analytics that drive our careers.

Last but certainly not least, I devote time to reading works in progress (WIPs) of fellow writers. I belong to several writers groups, where we critique each other’s work. I also try to mentor fledgling writers by sharing lessons I have learned. No matter the discipline, it is important to give back.

WOW: Remembering to "Give Back" is a great reminder for us all. Thank you. You lived in France for six years with your family. What were some of your favorite experiences there?

My goodness, there are so many! But my most lasting memories are of family and friends coming to visit. We lived in a small village several miles outside of Lyon, France, and while our company enjoyed touring that city and beyond, they also marveled at our daily life: the local trip to buy baguette, the wine-tasting in the supermarket, the overwhelming smell of French cheeses when they opened our refrigerator, our daughters’ ability to speak French. We loved sharing these small details with everyone because truthfully, we never tired of them ourselves.

Over six years, we were fortunate to travel to many countries with our two daughters, who were three and ten when we arrived in 1997. Highlights include strolling the Great Wall of China, riding camels in the Sahara, and dogsledding in the Arctic Circle. While our life is much calmer fourteen years after repatriating, those travels are embedded in our memories and flavor my writing. The two chefs in At Waves End are inspired in part by life in France’s culinary capital. Also, I’m at work on a new novel tentatively titled Best Interests partially based on a trip to Spain’s Costa del Sol.
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5 Things I'm Afraid to Tell You

Monday, June 11, 2018

I’ve talked about my recent obsession with podcasts lately, and now that I’ve discovered them, I seek out more and more podcasts to follow, or simply check out podcasts where influencers or celebrities I admire are being interviewed. There’s one podcaster I listen to for marketing and content curation ideas (The Goal Digger Podcast with Jenna Kutcher) and I thought it was interesting one day when she created a mini-episode called “10 Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.” I decided for this blog, I would do an abbreviated version of the same thing. One of the things I love about this online community is how understanding and welcoming the writers are, even as we share our triumphs and joy of the creative process. So without further explanation, here is my list.

1. I love to write, especially fiction, and have completed three different manuscripts, but I’ve queried less than five agents. Period. I feel like I’m great at the writing and creating part but not so much about the follow through. Part of that probably stems from low self-esteem and fear of rejection. At the ripe old age of 41 years of age, I think I’m finally ready to face those fears and start submitting.

2. My two front teeth are crooked, and I’m horribly self-conscious about it. There
are times I look at photographs of myself and cringe. My teeth seemed straighter when I was a teenager and I think they have shifted as I’ve gotten older. Braces were simply not in my family’s budget when I was growing up and I didn’t dare ask for them. I’ve considered doing Invisalign but for now we are focusing on putting both our kids through braces. I don’t want them to ever be afraid to smile because of their teeth.

3. I suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s something I’ve had to manage my whole life, and there have definitely been ups and downs. I’ve tried it all, hospitalization when I was in college, therapy, anti-depressants, etc. There’s no magic cure. It just is. I have a wonderful husband and kids who lift me up and show me an amount of unconditional love I could have never imagined, and they are what keeps me going most days. The past year has been a little hard, as I’ve become more anxious than I’ve ever been before and I have one to two nights of insomnia each month related to it. But I get up every morning, go to work, exercise regularly, and practice self-care whenever I can. I do think finding a good therapist is on my horizon because I need something to help curb the anxiety. I refuse to let it rule my life.

4. I love to sing, but I can’t read music. This is pretty much pure laziness on my part. When I was in my high school chorus, I had an instructor who told me I wouldn’t be able to continue singing beyond my sophomore year unless I took sight reading lessons from her over the summer. Because my parents worked and could not drive me to the lessons, I gave up chorus. I still continued to sing on the side, and sing pretty well by ear. I even sing in my church choir now but sometimes get embarrassed because I can’t read music. My 15-year-old daughter, who is a talented musician, said she’ll teach me how to read music this summer if I want her to.

5. I haven’t traveled extensively, and I don’t even have a passport. Growing up, my family focused mostly on traveling to visit family back and forth between North Carolina and Texas, and that was about it. Then, when I went to college, I didn’t have a lot of extra money to travel during the holiday breaks. I went to Mexico on my honeymoon but that is about the extent of my international travel. I’ve only been to a handful of places on my United States bucket list—those include one trip to California and one trip to New York City. Now I find myself the mom of a tween and a teen and I can’t figure out how to make life slow down so we can travel more. We usually do an annual beach vacation somewhere on the East Coast, but I have major wanderlust and hope to do more in the future.

Whew! I thought when I started writing this post I would have a hard time, but it’s amazing how quickly my five things came tumbling out. This is me, pretty much in a nutshell. To some people I may look like I have it all together on the outside, but I’m like everyone else, taking it one day at a time, and using writing as a creative outlet the best way I know how.

What is one thing you’re afraid to share with people? I’d love for you to share your stories in the comments below, anonymous or not.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also blogs at FinishedPages.com. Her short story, “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women,” received an honorable mention in the 2018 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest, Young Adult Category.
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Interview with Sue Gano, Essay Contest Runner Up

Sunday, June 10, 2018
WOW! recently announced the winners of our   Essay Contest and we are proud to announce Sue Gano from Damascus, Oregon  as one of the runners up with The Rule Breaker

About Sue:

Sue Gano is a Pacific Northwest writer who enjoyed her career as a social worker but loves writing much, much more. She is a memoirist whose gritty, gutsy work has been published in Voice Catcher Journal, Six Hens Magazine and the upcoming April issue of the Pithead Chapel Journal. Sue’s writing often explores the sometimes painful parent/child relationship and how that tenuous connection shapes us as adults. She is most proud of her work with women and children, helping them towards breaking negative cycles in their own lives as well. Sue has several long term projects on her writing shelf, they include a collection of personal essays and a book about her mother who ran away from home when she was fifteen and joined the circus, eventually marrying the elephant trainer.

Sue has studied creative non-fiction at the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon. A self-proclaimed Anglophile of the highest order, she does her best thinking paddling a kayak on the peaceful Willamette River. Sue is new to Twitter. Help her get started @SueGanoWriter.

----------interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW:  Super excited to have you here today Sue - thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and chat! I enjoyed your essay as well as the opportunity to learn more about your writing.

When you aren’t communing with nature, where do you write? What does your space look like?

Sue: After being a city girl all my life I moved out to a rural area about ten years ago. My “office” currently is the dining room and when I am seated at the table, I am surrounded on two sides by big windows that look out at a variety of different trees and our deck where my potted plants lure hummingbirds and butterflies. It is very peaceful and inspiring. There is no way I could write at the library or a coffee house. I am too curious about people and their behaviors (it comes from being a social worker.) My mind starts to wander and I start wondering ‘What kind of breakfast sandwich did that man order’ or ‘Where did she get those shoes?’

WOW: Thank you for your honesty - it's sounds like your space is absolutely perfect for you!

In reading your bio, I have to say that your mother sounds absolutely fascinating; please tell us how family has played a role in inspiring and encouraging your writing as a memoirist? What advice would you give to others who might be a bit timid about memoir because of the reaction of friends and family?

Sue: If my mother were alive today and I brought up the conversation we had in the hospital room where she told me I was a delight as a baby, she would most likely brush me off, admitting or denying she had said that. If she knew that I had written an essay about it and that the essay placed in a writing contest and was published, well I’m not so sure she would be very happy about that, but I portrayed her in my essay as I saw her, not as she saw herself.

Memoir is about your truth, your memories, your experience emotionally and physically to an event. If you sit at a table with five of your family members and you all begin to talk about the time Uncle Willie lost his balance and knocked over the Christmas tree, everyone is going to have a different take on the event. Some might say he had been drinking too much egg nog, another might say he didn’t really knock the tree over, it was just slightly crooked for the rest of the night. But how did you, the writer feel about it? Did you think it was funny or scary? Did you worry that maybe Santa wouldn’t want to leave presents under a crooked Christmas tree? As a writer, it is all about you and what you took from the experience. It belongs to you.

WOW: That is a great way of putting it "I portrayed her as I saw her, not as she saw herself." I love that!

What advice would you give to other writers toying with the idea of submitting their work to a writing contest?

Sue: Move outside your comfort zone!!! It’s fun. This was the first time I entered a writing contest, and for me it felt very much like submitting your work to a literary journal or magazine. You put together that perfect piece of writing, format it as requested and hit the send button, yes the dreaded send button. You then wait and check your computer sometimes way too many times a day for a decision. Your contest essay will be judged, just as an editor judges whether or not your work fits into their publication.

A friend told me about the WOW! Nonfiction Essay contest and after reading many of the essays on the website, I instantly felt this was a great place to enter my first contest. I look forward to entering again sometime in the future.

WOW: Thank you for submitting and encouraging others.Speaking of the future, what’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2018 and beyond?

Sue: Writing goals! Arggghhhhhhh! My external and internal struggle! My main goal for 2018 is to continue to submit well-crafted personal essays with the hope that they will find their way into print.
For a long term project, I have been working on a memoir that focuses on a three year period in my adult life when I began working with a mental health therapst to address childhood trauma. The relationship that grew between myself and my therapist allowed me to dig deep within me, deal with past experiences and put them in their proper place so that I could live a rich and fulfilling life. As my therapist said during our last session together “Your past experiences will always be a part of you, but you don’t have to be defined by them any longer.” That was very freeing.

My other long term project is a book about my mother (who else?) She ran away from home in 1938 at the age of fifteen, joined a circus that had been through town and married the elephant trainer. She never contacted her family again nor did she ever tell us about this period in her life. After she died I did some research and discovered she had a huge family back in Indiana. I went back there and met Aunts, Uncles and a whole slew of cousins. They were very sweet people. Yes, my mama was a crazy lady!!!!!

WOW: We could fill another interview with questions I have about your mother and the circus, but I have a feeling we will be doing that in the future. Add me to the list of people wanting to read your upcoming book!

Was it difficult coming up with a title for your essay? How did "The Rule Breaker" come about?

Sue: Usually I have such a difficult time coming up with titles for my essays. I write furiously to get the words out, revise and edit and edit and edit and then once it is just the way I like it and I am ready to submit, I realize I don’t have a title. Lately I have started to write down on paper key words, emotions, descriptors that make up my essays. Then I play with those words, moving them around, putting them together until, almost subconsciously, I come up with the title that is the perfect fit. That is how I got the title The Rule Breaker.

Sometimes, something comes out of left field and a memory gets jarred loose from its cozy spot in my brain. That is exactly what happened with The Rule Breaker. For some unknown reason I was reminded of the conversation I had with my mother while we sat in my father’s hospital room, essentially waiting for him to die. I recalled the intimate setting; the dimly lit room closed off from the world, the sounds of my father’s labored breathing and my mother’s smacking of her lips. Mostly, I remembered the physical feeling of her sitting next to me and the awareness that the moment was unusual in my life experiences with her. It somehow gave me the courage to break the rules, ask questions about our relationship, be willing to suffer the consequences which I ultimately did.

WOW: Well Sue, it was difficult to limit this interview to just a few questions - you're a great guest! I could sit and chat with you all day. Curious though if you've given any thought to the title of your book about your mother; you'll have to keep in touch and let us know!

Thank you for your insight and inspiration and congratulations again as one of the runners up in the WOW! Women on Writing Essay Contest!

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