Friday Speak Out!: At-Home Business or At-Home Disaster?

Friday, August 31, 2018
by Karina Bartow

Working from home has gained popularity in recent years, to the relief of many parents and others with caregiving responsibilities. I have Cerebral Palsy, so my limitations would constrain me from working anywhere else. And some just love the idea of staying in their pajamas. While writing this, in fact, I ran a search on ‘at home businesses’ and found 134 million results.

Thus, I don’t aim to go through the various pros and cons of working from home like many have done before. Rather, I’m here to discuss the challenges I’ve come against and how I try—daily—to overcome them, as a writer in particular.

Anyone can guess that distraction poses a major risk to home workers. I’m spared a lot of the common ones, given I don't have a family or the duties that come with one, but I have my share of unexpected hurtles thrown at me. Though I manage my time well and rarely get sucked into the vortex of binge-watching Netflix, my inclinations to get out of the house are sometimes too powerful to subdue. I’ve never been a homebody, and I enjoy getting my iced mocha and browsing a store or two on a regular basis, even if just for an hour. In other words, I easily contract cabin fever! As I’ve progressed in my career, however, I’ve had to learn self-restraint and treat it with iced mocha from a jug and a brief look at Amazon.

A bigger difficulty when it comes to distractions is those thrust on me by others. My skills in technology and creativity have netted me plenty of odd jobs, which I’ve, in all honesty, enjoyed. Even so, the hours I spend on them take away from my writing time. When on a deadline or behind schedule, I have to postpone side projects.

Telling others to wait is a challenge because I consider myself less occupied than most people. Aside from my handicap and lack of normal responsibilities, I’m just a writer. Unless I’m finishing a novel that’s set to be released soon, every scene or blog I didn’t write today can be completed tomorrow, and how big of an impact can it have?

I didn’t discover I had this mentality until recently, when I was an overwhelmed mess. I realized the one I had to change was me. Because of inexperience, it’s easy for outsiders to see a writer as someone who has lots of free time. But we, authors, know there’s much more involved than turning on classical music, drinking a fancy beverage, and writing a bestseller.

To sum it up, I give you writers a call to action. Remember the worth of your work and the value of your time, and don’t view yourself as just a writer. Distractions in their numerous forms will always abound. Yes, writing can often yield to them, but guess what? They can yield to writing, too!

* * *
Karina Bartow is the author Husband in Hiding, available now, and Forgetting My Way Back to You, which will be released October 15, 2018 by Vinspire Publishing. To learn more, visit
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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A Marketing Exercise That is a Must for Your Critique Group

Thursday, August 30, 2018
In the past week, I've had two Editor 911 clients ask me to write marketing materials for them. I had edited the manuscripts for both of them, so I was familiar with their work. One client asked me to rewrite her Amazon book description, back cover material, and bio, so that her Amazon page popped when people found her book by doing a search on the book site. The other client lives in New York City and has an opportunity to present a minute pitch in front of a panel of writing professionals. She was having trouble narrowing her entire novel into a few words pitch that would make it stand out from everyone else's. I love doing copywriting like this, and both of these writers hired me because they were too close to their work to do it themselves.

This led me to the idea that this happens to writers all the time! It happens with query letters and synopsis, which is commonly known and discussed all over the blogosphere. But it also happens with marketing materials--website copy, book cover copy, taglines, pitches, and more. However, many writers are poor, and so they can't hire someone to write this material for them. Also, if the copywriter is not familiar with the writer's work, she might have to charge more than if she was because it would take longer to review the work first before writing the marketing material.

But my thinking cap was still on! (It's been on all day. I'm writing this post after dinner while I'm hoping my 7 year old makes it a few more minutes of entertaining herself, so I can finish my brainstorm...) Who knows our work as well as we do? Who reads our work on a regular basis and offers us feedback? Who loves us and wants us to sell books? Our critique group members! So when one of you finishes a book and is about to write website copy, construct a query letter, or pitch to an agent, why don't the critique group members take 15-20 minutes of the time you meet and write a draft of one of these? Here's how it would work.

Let's say Amelia is self-publishing her self-help book on eating healthy, even though she is a parent of five young, picky eaters. She's ready to set up her Amazon book page, but doesn't know what to put on it. Her critique group of four other writers has been working with her every step of the way. So on Wednesday night, when they meet, instead of taking time to critique something that Amelia wrote, she says:

1. Take out a blank piece of paper or start a new document on your laptop.
2. In 20 minutes, write a book description that will sell my book. (Give a time limit so that this doesn't go on forever).
3. Amelia tells them that a book description must have a headline that catches readers' attention, explains why readers should buy this book, and why Amelia is the perfect author for this book--plus what will change in readers' lives after finishing this book. Amelia has already printed out a couple of bestselling nutrition book descriptions from Amazon and passes them out as examples.
4. She sets a timer and does not just stare at her critique group members. She also tries this exercise.
5. When time is up, they each read their description aloud and give feedback on parts they liked and didn't.
6. Amelia collects all of these; and at home in the next couple of days, she writes her final book description.

As the author of the book we want to promote, we are often too close to see why it is good for readers and why readers need to buy the book. So let your critique group help you with this crucial part of the publication process when you're ready to create your marketing materials--no matter if you're self-publishing, sending out queries, or working on your own website copy.

For more marketing tips and individualized marketing plan help, consider taking Margo's class that starts September 26, Individualized Marketing for Authors and Writing Industry Professionals.   To find out more about Margo, go to her website here

Light bulb photo above by thomasbrightbill on
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Working Writing into Our Busy Lives: 5 Things that Work for Me

Wednesday, August 29, 2018
As the kids go back to school, it is a good time to review what is working for each of us in our writing lives and what isn’t. Don’t have kids going back to school? That’s okay, because this is something you should do a couple of times a year regardless. Our lives, including our writing lives, are constantly changing. We have work and family and more family and Fitbits all demanding attention. Crystal can’t be the only one finding it hard to get the writing done.  See her post here.

Here are five things that help me fit writing into my daily routine.

1. You are a Writer . . . so call yourself a writer. Sure, you may be a writer with a family and a job. Or a family and a church. Or whatever. But put writer out there for everyone to see. If you think of yourself as a wife, mom, daughter, choir member, yoga student, and scout leader who writes, writing will probably continue to come last. Put if first because, let’s face it, the kids, the husband, and the job aren’t going to be so quiet you forget them.
2. Schedule writing time. Don’t write just when you get to it. Put it in your schedule. Whether it is 15 minutes or 30 minutes, write before you do the laundry, hem someone’s uniform skirt, or make dinner. Write first.
3. Disconnect. When it is time to write, don’t answer the phone, check e-mail or go on Facebook. Got a ping that means someone just texted you? They can wait 15 or 30 minutes. Seriously. Unless you’re a surgeon and a patient is on the list for a donor kidney. If that’s the case and you can’t risk ignoring your phone, give it to someone else for 30 minutes. They can come get you if it is really important.
4. Close the door. Literally or figuratively. My home office has a door and I sometimes have to close it. When it didn’t have a door, I kept a Nerf Blaster on my desk. Step through that door and it had better be vital – fire, bleeding, lack of respiration, donor organ available. If not, I will Nerf you. No, seriously.
5. Engage. When you have had time to write, come out and engage. Tell them how happy you are that you’ve had time to write then play with the kids, talk to your husband, return that call to your Mom, whatever. Truly engage.

If you are a writer, the need to write can make you miserable if you aren’t working it into your day. Take stock of how you spend your time and look for a bit of wiggle room. Just don’t be surprised if what works today doesn’t work in a year. Our lives, after all, are constantly changing.


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 September 10th, 2018.
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Make procrastination work for you

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
I don't need to ask if you have ever procrastinated. Everyone has. I procrastinated writing this blog post because I couldn't seem to develop a topic with enough support. I did some cleaning, laundry, and watched a movie on Netflix. As the deadline approached, I became a little nervous and realized I had to write something. So, I did.

There are some advantages to procrastination. Have you ever completed a "Hail Mary" project in record time? That may be because procrastination can make you worried enough to release adrenalin, which helps you focus and provide the energy to work faster and complete the job. That's what's happening to me right now.

If you have a lot of time before your deadline, it will take you that amount of time. You can break the work into chunks over a few days, weeks or months. That's a good plan. But if you have a week to complete a fairly large project, then it will only take a week because you are now energized, focused, and likely to use the time wisely by ignoring social media, your family, friends, and possibly hygiene. That's what I did today. I turned off the television, ignored social media, and focused on this idea I had outlined a few months ago.

Prime the pump

I have procrastinated in the past, and will probably do it again, so I write down ideas and outlines and snippets of thoughts for this blog whenever something interesting crosses my desk, phone, or mind. By doing so, I have primed the pump. Reading over those ideas in a file I have cleverly named "blog ideas" makes it easier to find a workable topic. Like this one.

Perfection is the Enemy of Good

If you struggle with perfectionism, you may freeze at the sight of a blank page. Many writers believe their work must be made up of perfect words in the perfect order. Translating that brilliant novel in your brain on to the page is difficult. That kind of pressure leads to procrastination. For all you perfectionists, here's my advice: Before writing the Great American Novel, or short story, or poem, write the Terrible American Novel, or short story, or poem. Get it out of the way so there's no pressure. Most of us can write terribly without much effort. And there may be a few (accidentally perfect) sentences/paragraphs/chapters you can use later.

The Good Enough Theory

My husband and I came up with the Good-Enough Theory when we were in college, working full time and going to school at night. We were close to graduating, and more than ready to finish. That's when we put Good Enough into practice. We realized our papers and tests didn't have to be perfect in order for us to pass. We knew a "B" or a "C" would be good enough to earn a diploma. Think about that next time you write. It's probably good enough, and if it's not, you can edit later.

Make procrastination work for you. Let go of your perfectionism, get that adrenalin flowing, write down ideas when they occur to you, and embrace the Good Enough Theory. I know I have.

Mary Horner teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, and her story, Shirley and the apricot tree, can be found in the current issue of Kansas City Voices.
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Review of "With You Always" by Rena Olsen

Monday, August 27, 2018
Today I’m reviewing With You Always, a psychological thriller by Rena Olsen. If you haven't already, check out my interview with the author on Aug. 15 to learn more about what inspired Rena’s idea for the book!

From the author of The Girl Before comes a tense and incisive work of psychological suspense that examines how easy it is to fall into the wrong relationship...and how impossible it can be to leave.

In the wake of a painful breakup and struggling to prove herself at work, Julia feels adrift. When Bryce blows into her life, he seems like the perfect anchor. Handsome, charming, secure, and confident, Bryce brings out the best in Julia, sweeping her off her feet with attention and affection while grounding her with his certainty and faith. Together they embark on a path guided by the principles of his family and their church, each step a paving stone leading to happily ever after.

But this is no fairy tale.

Step by step, one small concession leading to another, Julia is slowly isolated from her job, her friends, and her family, until she comes to find that her dream come true is a cage. Then one day everything changes...and Julia is faced with no choice but to find a way out.

About Rena:
Rena Olsen is the author of The Girl Before, a Booklist top mystery debut of 2016. Olsen grew up moving around every few years, following her minister father from church to church, and her exposure to so many different people and environments sparked an interest in human nature. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in marriage and family therapy. A licensed therapist, she works in Des Moines, Iowa.

Find Rena online:
Twitter: @originallyrena
Instagram: @rosmiles


When I first heard the premise of this book, I knew I’d better clear my calendar for a few days because once I started, I would not be able to stop.  I was right,  finding myself getting up earlier in the mornings so I could squeeze in a chapter or two before work, and reaching for it the second I walked through the door in the evenings.

The teaser paragraph on the opening pages intrigued me even further, and continued to unfold throughout the course of the book, providing an unexpected twist I didn’t see coming at the end.

The protagonist, Julia, is a relatable character who is simply trying to move forward after a painful break-up and make strides in her professional career. From the second Julia meets the handsome and charming Bryce Covington at a chance meeting outside her office, you know he’s too good to be true. But the author takes her time peeling away at the layers that make up Bryce, from the chapters interspersed that tell of his troubled childhood to the way he is “rescued” by the pastor of his church, a man who has grown to control every aspect of Bryce’s life, including his job, his relationships, and the way in which he practices his faith. Yes, he sweeps Julia off her feet, despite the doubts and concerns of those closest to her, but the way he showers her with attention and makes her the center of his universe prevents her from seeing Bryce for who he really is—a controlling man who will eventually separate her from her job, her friends, her loving family, and the ability to do anything independently.

If you’ve ever wondered how someone can fall into a trap of a controlling, emotionally-abusive relationship, Rena Olsen does an excellent job of providing a blueprint. It doesn’t happen all at once, but step by step, and day by day. It starts off with telling someone what they can and can’t wear (because you only have their best interests at heart!) telling them who they can’t spend time with, where they can work, and in this case, what church rituals they can and can’t participate in. The character of the Reverend provides an added sinister plot line, and made me want to throw the book across the room more than a few times.

As I flipped the pages on the final chapters, I found my heart racing and mind spinning with scenarios of how the book could possibly end. That, in my opinion, is an example of great planning and writing. Kudos to Rena Olsen on a suspenseful thriller that left me with a book hangover for days after.

With You Always is now available on Amazon.

About the reviewer:
Renee Roberson is an award-winning journalist who also works a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. Her short story, “The Polaroid,” received first place in the thriller category of the 2017 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women” received an honorable mention in the 2018 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest in the Young Adult category. Learn more about Renee at

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Interview with Diane Reukauf, Runner Up in Q3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, August 26, 2018
As a mother of young children, Diane Reukauf co-authored Commonsense Breastfeeding and The Father Book: Pregnancy and Beyond. Years later, she received the Outstanding Dissertation Award at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, for The Mother’s Voice in the Progressive Era: The Reform Efforts of Kate Waller Barrett.

Her work has appeared in the print versions of Skirt! Magazine, Lamaze Parents’ Magazine, and Parenting.

As coordinator of international students a t a local community college, she developed The Writing Project to help immigrant students tell their stories. She has conducted expressive writing sessions for female college faculty and pediatric oncology nurses.

She has now returned to her own writing and is currently working on a collection of pieces about grieving. She lives with her husband in Alexandria, VA, just outside Washington, DC. She frequently leaves this place she loves to be with her adult children and grandchildren who love living out west.

Read Diane's award-winning essay "Carpet Promises" here and then return to learn all about what inspires Diane in her writing life.

Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Congratulations, Diane, and welcome! You have an impressive writing background and list of credits. I'm interested to learn more about Kate Waller Barrett--the topic of your award-winning dissertation. Can you tell us a little about why you chose her as your focus?

Diane: I discovered Kate Waller Barrett accidentally. I used to volunteer to teach a unit on childbirth and breastfeeding in Family Life classes at our local junior high. In a conversation with the teacher of that class, I learned that her great-grandmother had worked with unwed mothers at the turn of the last century and that some of her papers were in our local library. I headed to the history wing of the library and spent a few hours reading about her. I was hooked and wanted to know more.

Over a hundred years ago, this southern woman from Virginia, the mother of six and the wife of a minister, was writing and speaking boldly about controversial issues such as sex education, sexually transmitted diseases, and the double standard as it applied to marriage, divorce and prostitution. She had the ear of presidents, pastors and politicians and was in high demand as a speaker in army camps, women’s groups, and universities.

Barrett traveled around the world setting up homes for unwed mothers. Following her policies, the homes served young women for 6 to 12 months after they gave birth, providing safety and support for them while they breastfed their babies, learned some skills, and prepared to head out into the world as competent and employable mothers.

Kate Waller Barrett rejected religious and moral systems that condemned and isolated some categories of women, especially unmarried mothers and their children. She held tightly to her own convictions, but she also believed that folks on both sides of an issue could make valuable contributions to society. She focused her energies on persuading people to do just that.

I wish more people knew about this remarkable woman. Thank you, Renee, for asking the question and giving me the chance to talk about her.

WOW: You're welcome! I love learning more about amazing women throughout history. She sounds like a great person to study. Having conducted expressive writing sessions with different groups of people (including immigrants and oncology nurses), what are some of the experiences you've had watching people write down memories that can sometimes be painful to process?

Diane: I’ve been most affected by the work I did at a local community college with immigrant students, primarily refugees or asylees. They were in the process of learning to write in the English language so I typed their words as they recounted their stories of escape from danger, of separation from family, of loss and yearning. They talked about their childhoods, the rituals of their homelands, and the parents and grandparents they left behind. There were times I quietly cried as I typed. One young woman later told me that she was satisfied that I cried when she told me her story because it meant that she had managed to make me see her own sorrow.
It was a privilege to work with these students.

WOW: Your essay, "Carpet Promises," revolves around the loss of a family member. What was the writing and revising experience like as you worked through the experience while crafting such a poignant essay?

Diane: Originally this was a single paragraph in another essay, and it was a pretty lifeless paragraph, although I didn’t recognize that two years ago. Back then I believed I had accurately reported the facts as I remembered them. I thought that was all I needed to do. It’s satisfying to see that I’ve learned a few important things over the past two years. A major leap in that learning took place at IOTA, a short prose conference held over a long weekend on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada.

Towards the end of that weekend, I wrote about those carpet-installation days again. As a result of sessions with Abigail Thomas and Debra Marquart, the two faculty at IOTA that summer, this time I started writing down sensory images from the event. I was stunned by the flood of details I was able to recall. I don’t know why those details didn’t show up the first time. As I revised the piece later, I started to see entire sentences that did nothing and needed to be cut. I was trying to convey a sense of how somber and fragile and full of generosity those days felt.

WOW: Your bio says you are working on a collection of pieces about grieving. Can you share some more information about that project with us?

After my granddaughter died, I had no idea what came next. The loss felt too big, and I was afraid of what it would do to my daughter, her husband, and their two young sons. My most intense grief was attached to their pain.

In the years after Louisa’s death, I read several books written by mothers whose babies had died. The books were a life-line for me, connecting me to my own daughter’s experience. What I didn’t find anywhere, though, was the perspective of my generation, not as grandmother but as the mother of the grieving parent.

I lost a sweet granddaughter and that loss still takes my breath away, but the pieces I have been writing are primarily about being a witness to my daughter’s sorrow—a sorrow I could not relieve. It’s from that perspective that I am writing about the grief and the goodness I’ve observed over these past four years.

WOW: What advice would you give writers who are just starting to explore the world of creative nonfiction? What do you think makes for a compelling draft?

Diane: I’d suggest that aspiring writers read books about the craft of writing. The books I have in mind are not tedious how-to books; they are pleasures.

I love reading about writing, maybe especially when I’m not writing myself. It makes me feel as though the empty writing times are not wasted times. Plus, I like the feeling of being in the company of the authors. Years ago, I read and loved Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. More recently, I have learned lessons from these books:

Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth
Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir
Kate Hopper’s Use Your Words
Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing
Laura Oliver’s The Story Within, and
Robin Black’s Crash Course.

I highly recommend all these books. And there are many more out there . . . and on my book shelves! It’s also a good idea to read the kinds of pieces or books you’d like to write yourself.

I think it can be inspiring to put yourself in the company of other people who think the words matter. You can do this by attending local literary events - book signings, book readings, one-day conferences. If you’re lucky, you might find short writing courses through libraries or book stores. You can even connect with the non-fiction writing community without leaving home through regular postings from online sites like Hippocampus, Brevity and, of course, WOW.

I’m not exactly sure what makes for a compelling draft, but I can offer two pieces of advice that I use as I aim to write one.

First, don’t over-explain. Years ago as an English teacher, I took a trip with some urban junior high students. As we drove down rural roads, I pointed out cornfields and cows and windmills and silos. One of the students finally turned to me and said, “You don’t have to keep telling us what to look at.” Oh, right.

I try to remember that now when I find myself telling the reader what she should be noticing or thinking as she is reading. My early drafts always have too many words so I spend a lot of time deleting annoying sentences.

Second, I recommend reading your own writing out loud. Sometimes when I do this, I almost cringe as I hear a sentence—a clear sign I need to fix or eliminate something. Other times, I decide to skip over an entire paragraph, telling myself I already know what’s there. Usually the truth is I am skipping the paragraph because it’s flat. Boring.

Really, though, the most important thing is to start writing. You do not need to know the purpose of your writing when you begin. You don’t have to know the structure. I find this to be unsettling, but I think it’s just part of the deal. You suspect you have something to say so you start. Weeks or months later, you find yourself with pages of words, and some of what you’ve written will want to be more—will want to be a story or essay. Then the real can writing begin.

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An Empty Sandwich

Saturday, August 25, 2018
"Hey Crystal, do you know how you know you're the sandwich generation?"

"You mean the generation caring for aging parents while raising families?"

"Yup - that's the one."


"You use the same tone of voice talking to your parents and your children."

We laughed together uneasily while the thought of what she had said sank in. I had my last baby at 40 and my mother had me at 32. I'll let you do the math, but there are days when I definitely use the same tone with my mom and my toddlers. I practice patience. I've even had a phone conversation about bowel movements (or the lack thereof) while changing a diaper. The truth is, I am definitely part of the sandwich generation.

What does that have to do with writing? Well...There are a few things at the top of my list of things I cannot live without. Family, Writing, and Coffee fall in line right after God. The good news is I can drink coffee while caring for my mother and my children. The bad news is I have been struggling to find time for my writing. I'm not blaming my mother or my children (or my hungry husband) for my lack of writing. It's me. I am the one who keeps putting the needs of others before my own. I am the one who is sitting here with two pieces of bread and absolutely no bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, or mayo on my BLT. I've missed article deadlines. I've let people down.

Here's what hurts the most: I've let myself down. When I'm putting pen to paper I feel lighthearted. When I neglect my craft, I feel discombobulated (my mother's word) and it effects the other areas of my life. When I'm so busy doing what needs to be done, I am short tempered, crabby, and I'm not as patient as I'd like to be. How about you? Have you ever found yourself (for whatever reason) neglecting your writing life? How did you get back to doing what you love?

How did you fill your sandwich when it was empty?

I'm starting by getting up earlier. This sounds simple, but according to my FitBit I average 3-4 hours of sleep, but as much as I know I need sleep, I know I need to write even more. I'm going to commit to 20 minutes each and every day for writing, dreaming, and putting pen to paper. What else do you recommend? What has worked for you? What hasn't?

Thank you in advance for being my bacon, my lettuce, and my nourishment!

Love & Hugs,

Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children (Carmen 11, Andre 10, Breccan 4, Delphine 3, and baby Eudora), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Friday Speak Out!: Training Wheels

Friday, August 24, 2018
by Amie McGraham

I’m a writer, a title that often feels as unworthy as when I first started running thirty years ago. I considered myself a jogger then; real runners, I thought, win medals and trophies and prize money. For most of my adult life—spent largely in a financial career I never wanted—I believed the same about writing. Real writers publish novels and sell articles. They win contests. Thousands of fans follow them on international book tours.

But if running has taught me anything about writing, it’s this: training is everything.

To run a marathon I train gradually, building speed and distance over the span of months. I have no aspirations to win; the goal is simply to finish.

When we approach writing the same way, we deflate the all-or-nothing realm of perfectionism in which we too-often dwell. With pressure-free writing, everything we write is simply training for the next project. Weekly flash blogs are training to write tighter prose. Short fiction leads to a longer story; a novella; a book. Contest submissions train for rejection. Reading others’ writing improves our own. Slow walks and meditation train our subconscious, freeing the muse for inspiration.

At the start line of my first marathon in San Francisco so many years ago, my husband asked me this: When does a jogger become a runner? He’s a personal trainer who’s completed nearly twenty marathons. Heart pounding and nervous, I had no answer.

“When you pin the first race number on your chest,” he told me. “Put one foot in front of the other and repeat.” His words propelled me to the finish line and continue to inspire me in every race I’ve run since.

Today when I write, I put one word after another and repeat. And yet, I still struggle with the riddle: When does a writer become a real writer?

The answer is simple: When our words inspire others.

I train to run. I train to write. I train to live. And if my words inspire, then I am a real writer.

Follow the soul of a writer, runner, caregiver & beyond in my new Twitter flash writing project: 140 days of 140-character microessays

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Amie McGraham grew up on an island off the coast of Maine and is a writer, family caregiver and occasional petsitter. Her fiction has been short-listed for the Fulton Prize and the New Guard Review and she was a semi-finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. 

She received her BA in English from Arizona State University and is currently writing a trilogy book series. Her articles have appeared in Motherwell Magazine, Writer Advice, The Caregiver Space, Best Friends Animal Society and elsewhere. Her flash blog, “This Demented Life,” is frequently featured in AlzAuthors and read in more than a dozen countries.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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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I'm Not Mrs. Jesse James--But I AM Envious

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Pat Wahler's book, I am Mrs. Jesse James, is being released on August 28... and I'm a bit envious.

Oh, I'm extremely happy for Pat,  let's be clear about that. I'll be at one of her book signings to snap up a copy and I'll continue to sing her praises because of her writerly work ethic and her gift with words, but I've been working on a historical fiction project for almost two years. I've had an editor look at it, and now I'm doing some much-needed deconstruction and reconstruction...

... which made me curious. What did Pat learn along the way that might help me? Or you?

Fortunately, Pat was gracious enough to agree to answer my questions. Here is a bit of what motivated Pat Wahler and what she learned along the way as she wrote I am Mrs. Jesse James.

Why the wife of Jesse James? Why write a novel about her?

Jesse James is discussed almost as much today as he was during the time the Pinkertons chased him after the Civil War. There is an astonishing amount of information on him. I knew he had a wife but found little about her. This piqued my curiosity. What kind of woman was Zee Mimms James? The book came about when I asked myself that question. I felt she needed to be more than a footnote in Jesse's life.

Pat, that is a powerful lesson. You were curious as a writer and a researcher, which will inevitably lead to fueling the curiosity of readers. I'm curious about why historical fiction appeals to you, since you've written in different genres.

I've always had an interest in history, but often textbook-style material didn't appeal to me. I soon discovered that most historical novelists put every bit as much research into writing their book as historians put into theirs. Historical fiction brings the people and places of the past to life in an engaging way.

Yes, research can take us into exciting directions, but it isn't easy. What obstacles did you encounter as you dug into Zee's life?

Research was a challenge. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't much primary material on Zee. However, as a novelist, this provided opportunity. I read everything I could find on her, Jesse, the James family, significant events in their lives, and the turbulent times in which they lived. From that, I got a feel for how she might think and react, which helped me shape her character.

I love the idea of you stepping into Zee James' shoes and getting a feel for what her life was like. I've been struggling with organizing my manuscript. How did you plan or map out your novel?

Biographical historical fiction provides a built-in basic outline. Census data gives factual information like birth dates, marriages and children. You generally know the places your characters went and why they went there. History tells what events happened around the characters that impacted their everyday lives. The novelist has the fun of filling in the other details.

Pat Wahler

Pat, I'm glad to know that after all the revising and critique was done, you still considered it a fun endeavor. I imagine your journey was paved with some great advice or suggestions. Would you mind sharing a tidbit or two?

Don't wait to start the story! I had to do an entire rewrite on the first three chapters because my editor said beginning with Zee's childhood wasn't necessary. She was right. Too often, backstory gets in the way of connecting the reader with the character. If they don't care about the character, they'll close the book.

You've written a lot of creative nonfiction (short memoir pieces), which take short bursts of persistence. However, writing a novel isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Pat--what was your typical writing day like?

I'm freshest in the morning, but I can also say there were many times when I sat at my desk most of the day. Especially when deadlines loomed.

Is there any part of the day when I'm fresh? ;) I'll have to think on that. As I've been digging into the story I'm working on, I've encountered some surprises. What most surprised you about Jesse James' wife?

Her love and loyalty, and her willingness to provide a helping hand to others endeared her to me. I think Zee tried to do her best, despite the very difficult circumstances in which she lived.

Pat, so many writers set a project aside, and it ends up gathering dust. I'm sure most writers have at least one cobweb-covered manuscript. You persevered.  Was there ever a point where you almost put the manuscript aside--for good? If so, what made you pick it up again?

I toyed with the idea of writing about Zee more than ten years ago, and that's when I started the research process. During NaNoWriMo in 2009, I did more research and wrote in earnest. Then I discovered a romance writer had just published a novel about Zee. I figured there wasn't any point in continuing and put my book aside for a few years. But the muse nagged. I looked at the multitude of books on any single prominent historical figure and realized I could still tell my own story about Zee. I didn't read the other author's novel until I'd completed mine, and discovered we'd taken very different approaches. Never give up!

Pat, I'm so glad you didn't give up, and I'm looking forward to reading I am Mrs. Jesse James. (Pat's novel comes out on August 28.) You can pre-order it here. 

Do you feel lucky? You could be the winner of a free copy. I've preordered two copies of I am Mrs. Jesse James. Leave a comment here, and in early September, when they're delivered, I'll do it old school and draw a name from a bowl/basket/hat full of names.

Update: Joan Leotta won Pat's book. Joan, if you email me at sroslawski(a) and give me your mailing address, I will send you the book.

Sioux Roslawski has wanted to be a writer since she was 13. She's written lots of creative nonfiction but someday, she hopes to have her manuscript published. If you're wondering why Sioux always has bangs, check out that billboard-sized forehead, and if you're interested in reading more of her stuff, check out her blog.
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Write What's Difficult

Wednesday, August 22, 2018
At a meeting for all the English teachers in our county yesterday, our director said something that stuck with me. She mentioned that while kids can learn to appreciate the classics, books like Of Mice and Men aren’t the type of books that usually make a student a life-long reader. “Put the right book in the right set of hands,” she said. Find books which will resonate with students. Each kid has struggles in their life – some worse than others - but books can help get them through those tough times.

This really made me think about the kind of books I love the most. One of my favorites is about the struggle between two sisters. Another is about the elimination of individuality. And there’s an over-arching theme of the desire to belong in almost every book that holds a special place in my heart. I naturally identify with books that deal with difficult problems in my life.

And yet, I often avoid tackling these difficult issues in my books. It’s easy to understand why. These issues are so paramount in my own life that I’m hesitant to share them with the world, worried I might expose too much of myself. On top of facing my fears, I think I avoid these topics because I don’t want to relive them. Rehashing the past and the present can be painful.

Other times, my failure to write about these topics is less intentional. Sometimes, as a writer, I get so wrapped up in creating a new world, or focusing on a completely original topic, that I forget about the importance of relevant conflict. I have the tendency to read fiction that is nothing like my real life in an attempt to escape my problems . It’s the books that do touch on my psyche that impact me the most, however, so I need to remind myself to incorporate universal themes in my fantasy and paranormal works. Just because the book isn’t realistic fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be totally relevant to the modern reader.

The emotional stories are the ones which need telling. Base these topics in reality or in fantasy – either one is okay – but difficult topics matter. They got me through my own life, and they serve an important purpose. I might cry while writing them, but they have a very real place in books, and we’d be smart to do them justice.

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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On Writing: From Dependence to Interdependence

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

I don’t like to take library books out-of-town; I worry that I’ll lose them or more specifically, watch them wash away with the tide when I fall asleep. So before a trip, I will troop down into my home’s creepy catacombs, otherwise known as The Basement, and look around the bookcases for a good read. That’s how I came across Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

This how-to effect-personal-change book has been around for a while; I suspect it may have been required reading in one of Youngest Junior Hall’s college business courses. But the more I read, the more I could see application in my writer’s life.

Before Covey gets to the seven habits, he discusses the growth from dependence to independence to interdependence. Dependence begins with the “you”, as in you take care of me; independence moves on to “I”, as in I am responsible or I can take care of it. And lastly, there is the “we” of interdependence: working together, we can achieve the greatest success.

I think most writers would assume independence is the ideal paradigm for this profession, but I think interdependence might be a better goal. But first, I think a writer might need to know where they stand. So here are a few questions that came to me but you might think of others. Ask and answer honestly to see where you stand.

You May Be A Dependent Writer If…

Do I ask for help on every step in the process and wait for advice before writing anything?
Do I make every revision suggestion even when I don’t agree with the feedback?
Am I secretly relieved when a critique partner or editor just does the rewrites for me?
Do I blame friends, critique partners, or editors when a project fails?
Do I need constant validation to keep me going when I face failures?

You May Be An Independent Writer If…

Do I work because I’m driven to write but occasionally resent the demands I’ve put on myself?
Do I weigh feedback judiciously but often forge ahead because there’s no time to wait for critique?
Am I annoyed or even insulted if a writing partner or editor changes my words?
Do I recognize my part when there’s a problem in my writing?
Do I feel as if I would succeed on my own, though I appreciate my writing tribe?

You May Be An Interdependent Writer If…

Do I enjoy writing most of the time and have a clear idea of what success means to me?
Do I consider any feedback, knowing that all individuals have their strengths in critique?
Do I give credit to those who’ve helped me along the way, either publicly or privately?
Do I recognize that my success is a collaborative process, from the writing to the selling to the marketing?
Do I feel as if I wouldn’t be where I am now without the talents and skills of other people?

I’d like to think that I’m that Interdependent Writer but I know I have a little work to do before I get there. And I’m thinking that maybe one of those seven habits might help me, so it’s back to Stephen R. Covey’s book for me—which, thank goodness, I’ve managed to keep away from the waves!

(And how about you? What do you think about dependence, independence, and interdependence as it pertains to writing? Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

~Cathy C. Hall

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Don't Throw Your Laptop into the Mississippi or You're Not Crazy Because Writing is Hard

Monday, August 20, 2018
by Joe Kopp
I am lucky to know a lot of writers. The reason I started this post out with "I am lucky to know a lot of writers" is because this business we are in is freaking difficult and almost impossible. Without the support and camaraderie of other writers, I can't imagine what this writing world would look like for me. But I'm not here to gush about that, I want to share with you something that happened this past week:

After attending a summer gathering potluck dinner with some fellow children's writers, I decided I wanted to write about it on The Muffin. But it has taken me all weekend to come up with a way to write about it that doesn't make us all want to throw our laptops in the closest body of water and take up basket weaving or maybe even forensic science or bungee jumping--you know, something easier and safer than being a writer. And I'm not even going to add successful, well-paid, bestselling writer--Just. Being. A. Writer.

I've suffered creative, mental, unproductive blocks, and currently (thankfully) I'm not in one. I'm 50,000-words into a women's fiction first draft, and I'm having fun. But it turns out, after attending this dinner, I discovered I'm not the only writer who suffers from these blocks when going through personal stuff--divorce, grief, illness--and it's easy to let two, five, ten years pass between books (which by the way is not the path to a well-paid writing career).

Even if you aren't suffering through a personal tragedy and you've managed to keep writing, in your specified genre where you have a brand and some readers AND you even have a literary agent, he or she might decide that the books you're writing aren't going to help your career; and he or she may ask you to rewrite them or even worse, not accept them at all.

Or your literary agent may LOVE the book, but she can't find any editors who want it or will currently touch it because of a multitude of reasons that actually have nothing to do with the quality of your writing or your story. The editors might not want to publish your book because you aren't the right person to tell the story. You don't identify with the main character.

I listened to story upon story of wonderful, published (traditionally and self, large companies and small, agent and un-agented) authors talk about their struggles, sales, beloved projects, next moves, and how they won't ever quit because they want to write and tell their stories. No, that's not even right. They have to. They will. They. Will. Keep. Writing.

In spite of personal and professional difficulties, no one sat around that table the other night and said they were going to throw their laptop in the Mississippi River (see the above Mississippi River photo by photographer Joe Kopp!) and spend their days with rocket science instead. And I was nodding along with them.

If you're feeling discouraged in your writing journey, you should know you aren't crazy. It's not easy. For every success story you hear, for every book you've seen turned into a movie, for every author that has thirty published books, there are hundreds who are still trying to make it and who won't quit until they take their last breath. And what you don't often hear is how hard that successful author worked and how he or she is still facing rejections from agents, editors, and readers because that's just how this business works.

Now, don't get me wrong. If you want to become a professional parajumper, you should. If you're interested in spending your nights doing calculus instead of showing-not-telling in your current WIP, then you should do that. But don't give up writing because it's hard or because of rejection. We all face it. Find another writer, share your sorrows over wine or a walk, and open up your laptop to write what calls you. (Just be careful if you do this near a body of water...)

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, blogger, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO with her 7-year-old daughter and her boxer, Chester. She blogs about life and stuff on . She teaches a novel writing course for WOW!, which starts again on September 7, and a new marketing class, which starts on September 26. 

Photo at the top: St. Louis Riverfront with a barge going by. 75 second exposure by Joe Kopp. To see more of his photography, check out 
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Interview with Joanne Lozar Glenn: 3rd Place Winner in Q3 2018 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, August 19, 2018
Joanne’s Bio:

Joanne Lozar Glenn is a freelance writer and editor, teaches writing in adult education programs, and leads destination writing retreats. Her books include Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (co-author, Skyhorse Publishing, 2016); No One Path: Perspectives on Leadership from a Decade of Women in Technology Award Winners (editor-in-chief, Women in Technology, 2009); Applying Evidence-Based Laboratory Medicine: A Step-by-Step Guide (coauthor, AACC Press, 2009); 25 + 1: Communication Strategies for Business Education (co-author, NBEA, 2003); and Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace (NBEA, 2003). Her poems and memoir essays have been published in Ayris, Brevity, Beautiful Things (River Teeth), Peregrine, Under the Gum Tree, and other print and online journals. She is currently working on a book-length memoir.

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

WOW: Congratulations on winning 3rd place in the Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece, and how did it and your writing process evolve as you wrote?

Joanne: "Apologies" is the fusion of two pieces I was working on that I couldn't get to work as individual essays. Each essay had started with a prompt. (I belong to a monthly neighborhood writing-to-prompts group founded by novelist Leslie Pietrzyk.) I've lost track of how many revisions I did on each of the essays. Then, I'm not sure why, I decided to explore combining them. I had read something during that time that led me to experiment with a different cadence, so I tried that and it felt like maybe, just maybe, it could work. At the time I was teaching a class on “writing memoir that matters,” which asked students to take risks in their writing to tell a story that was perhaps uncomfortable and pushed some boundaries but that was important to them. I wrote, too, and shared an early draft of this essay with them. I believe that we shouldn't ask anything of students we wouldn't ask of ourselves, and I wanted them to know that I was willing to take the same risks I was asking them to take. I kept working at the essay after the class ended, saw the notice for the WOW! contest, and took a chance.

WOW: And we—WOW and your readers—are glad you took that chance! What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Joanne: I learned—again—to dig, to look at my own complicity even if it means telling a story I’m afraid to admit. And that it wouldn’t kill me. But I am a little nervous about how those who know me in other "more favorable" circumstances will feel about the "I" in this essay.

WOW: I admire your courage to create and publish a piece that makes you a little uncomfortable. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Joanne: So many! I love the essays in Brevity, such as Randon Billings Noble's “The Heart as a Torn Muscle"—the variety of forms and topics those essays explore are both an inspiration and a challenge. Writers Abigail Thomas, Rebecca McClanahan, Roxanne Gay, Maribeth Fischer, Terry Tempest Williams, and Dinty Moore inspire and challenge me to speak truth, and to “tell the story only you can tell in the way only you can tell it.” The voice in Dina Honour's "1001 Nights" (Hippocampus Magazine), the narrative persona in Adriana Páramo's "Let's Kill Your Grandfather Together" (WOW! Q2 CNF), and the poetry of Susan Wadd's "Once We Were Sad" (WOW! Q3 CNF) reinforce the importance of that lesson.

But I also take inspiration from fiction writers. The storytelling and craft in Leslie Pietrzyk's novel Silver Girl push me to be more disciplined, more attuned to elements such as setting and conflict, and more of a risk-taker. The lyricism and attention to detail in Susan Muaddi Durraj's short story collection A Curious Land inspire me to pay attention to every sentence, every word in every sentence, and the “intertwingling” of themes and images to create unity. The depth of Octavia Butler’s speculative fiction (Fledgling; Kindred; Bloodchild) is spurring me to explore connections between my memories and the socio-cultural context in which I lived, to see if I can write an “outward-facing” rather than “navel-gazing” memoir. (I’m not sure if I can, but I’m going to try.)

WOW: I love hearing about the number of way you challenge yourself through your writing. It’s very inspiring! Can you tell us more about the book-length memoir you’re writing?

Joanne: The memoir’s about growing up as the oldest daughter of a mother who’s chronically depressed and trying to piece light out of that darkness. Right now it’s a pile of papers and I’m doing my sixth revision (in baby steps). I want to say something smart here about revising, but the truth is that after I thought I was “done” (revision #5) I kept writing more pieces that made the original material feel “not yet good enough.” Now I’m revisiting all that content, waiting for the “click” inside me that says yes, this!

WOW: Good luck, and keep at it! If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Joanne: Get started, girl—you have a lot of lost time to make up for! Trust your instincts. Go in the door that is open. Always have something to look forward to. And if that door's not open yet, open it yourself. You can make a path where none yet exists.

WOW: Great advice from which many of us can benefit! Thank you for your wonderful writing and 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.
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Let your characters work it out!

Saturday, August 18, 2018
I recently read an article that featured elderly people advising others on living a happy life. Most pearls of wisdom dealt with how to love, while letting go of pain, trauma, and loss. Several spoke of telling and showing people how much you love them, and letting go of all the literal and figurative "stuff" in your life you can't control. Good advice for how to live, but bad advice for your characters.

If literary characters followed these ideas, then many great works of fiction would not exist. What if Dickens had "let go" of his childhood poverty? The line "Please sir, may I have another," might just be a question children ask their fathers when they want another cookie. What if the Old Man had "let go" of his drive for bringing in the great marlin, or if rom-com characters could just tell their secret crushes how they felt? What if Gatsby could have "let go" of his desire for Daisy, or Valdemort wasn't driven to destroy Harry Potter? The plot wouldn't move, that's what.

By letting go of the fixation, these stories would be over before they began. We would skip the internal and external conflict, and move right to the end. There's no hero's journey, and there's no story arc. Characters who deal with those experiences seem human and relatable. We see them solve the problems, and watch them grow as they navigate unfamiliar territory to succeed. We feel their pain. Well-adjusted people have happy lives, but well-adjusted characters without motivation to get the girl (or boy), get even, or get ahead, are boring.

Many writers describe putting their protagonists in sticky situations and then asking themselves, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" They present that worst-case scenario to see how they get out of it, which is a good strategy to draw out the conflict and tension in a story. And since we've all been in love, or dealt with problems beyond our control, we probably get some of our inspiration from life experiences. So, if you can't "let go," in your personal life, my advice is to pass it on to your characters and let them work it out!

Mary Horner earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.
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Marketing Your Work: Create a List to Sell All Your Books

Friday, I was fiddling around on Twitter. One of my favorite picture book authors, Peter H. Reynolds, had tweeted this image. It isn’t just a list of his books. It is an updated list. And it isn’t just informative. It looks good. I might be a wee bit jealous.

But I’m not so jealous that the wheels didn’t start turning. We authors do bookmarks. We make buttons. Items like those advertise one or two books, tops. But this list has 38 entries including 3 that aren’t out yet and 3 collections.

Maybe people who write for adults don’t think like this but children’s writers are trained. What can we produce that is inexpensive and can be handed out to every kid we see at a school visit? That could be anywhere from 30 to 300 kids. The answer – a book list.

Don’t ignore this idea if you don’t write for kids. Something like this could also be given out at a conference. Or posted on your website. Or tucked into copies of your book at a signing. The possibilities are endless.

But first you need the basic list. Easy peasy. Right?

The first thing that I learned is that this is harder than it looks. I know. I’m probably the only one who is surprised. Here is my attempt. I pulled this together in about 40 minutes and it looks like it. But I’m not giving up. I’m going to work on it until I get it right. I want to:

  • Find a better font. I want it to be interesting, but not distracting. And bold enough to grab attention but not too bold.
  • Fix the photo. I managed to turn a full color into something that looks like a black and white sketch which de-emphasized it, but it isn’t the look I want. I’d like a pen and ink line drawing.
  • Layout. More graphics. Make it more engaging.
  • Bold. I'm not sure why it looks so washed out, but that needs to be addressed.

A friend recently told me to just use a Word template. I’ll have to check them out but I don’t do so great with templates. I tend to get a vision. Yeah, I’m visual but not artistic. I did my version in Publisher. I’m sure Publisher has templates since it is by the same people as Word.

I definitely think it is a good idea to have an attractive list of all my books so I’ll keep working on it. I mean seriously. If a world famous picture book illustrator can do it, I’m sure I can too. I have a few ideas.


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 September 10th, 2018.
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Friday Speak Out!: Algebra for Writers

Friday, August 17, 2018
by Lee Zacharias

I knew I wanted to be a writer from second grade, when I first put my hand up for show-and-tell and made up a story. I never knew what the story would be, but there was a certain logic to my tales. The longer I could draw out the suspense the less time we had for arithmetic.

So it might seem odd that when I got to high school I fell in love with algebra. To me the beauty of algebra was its system of logic. That my son never bought this argument when I was helping with his homework is beside the point. Writing is a process of posing problems and figuring out answers. There is a kind of algebra to writing a novel.

Some problems may be mundane: how to drain a lake, how to evacuate a ship? (Research helps there.) But the most pressing problems are more profound: why is this story being told, why now, what is the resolution, what does it mean? Sometimes you have to dig deep; it may take years to discover the answer. I was more than twenty drafts into my new novel, Across the Great Lake, before I knew who the ghost was. At some point in the first I knew why my narrator was telling her story, knew her secret, knew pretty much how the story would resolve, but I did not know who the ghost was. After all, the Great Lakes have a lot of ghosts. Why shouldn't any one of those spirits visit her?

But my narrator's ghost didn't come from Midwestern lore—I stole her from a night I once spent at the Island Inn on Ocracoke, nearly 1200 miles away from the Lake Michigan railroad car ferry where Fern's ghost visits her. I was at the edge of an ocean, not a Great Lake, but something about edges puts one between one world and another. Mrs. Godfrey—whose identity is fairly well documented, I've learned since—did to me what exactly what Fern's ghost does to her, grabbed my big toe and held on. (Is it a coincidence that the same toe later developed hallux rigidus and required a surgical implant?) She made for a restless night, but I might have convinced myself I'd imagined it or had a bad dream if the desk clerk hadn't taken one look at my face when I came downstairs the next morning and said, "Would you like to change rooms?" Yes, and Mrs. Godfrey never bothered me again. Why she chooses certain rooms over others I can't say. Ghosts keep their secrets. Perhaps that's why it took me so long to discover the identity of Fern's.

But a ghost in a novel can't be just any ghost you've read about in legends or even encountered yourself, unless you figure out why. A ghost needs a purpose, and once you realize that purpose you have found X, and it is that X that immeasurably deepens the meaning.

* * *
LEE ZACHARIAS is the author of a collection of short stories, Helping Muriel Make It Through the Night; three novels, Across the Great Lake, Lessons, and At Random; and a collection of personal essays, The Only Sounds We Make. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council, North Carolina's Sir Walter Raleigh Award, Southern Humanities Review's Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award, Prairie Schooner's Glenna Luschei Award, and a Silver Medal in Creative Nonfiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards (the IPPYs). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and been recognized by The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Essay, which reprinted her essay "Buzzards" in its 2008 edition. She taught at the University Arkansas, Princeton University, and the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she is Emerita Professor of English, as well as many conferences, most recently the Wildacres Writers Workshop. Find her online at
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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Interview with Rena Olsen, Author of With You Always

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Most people who know me know how much I love thrillers and psychological suspense novels (Gillian Flynn? Paula Hawkins? Lauren Oliver? I'm there!) So when I was offered the opportunity to interview author Rena Olsen, whose latest novel With You Always was released on Aug. 7, I didn't hesitate! It was a pleasure learning all about her writing journey up to this point and the inspiration behind the novel that I couldn't put down.

As a bonus, check back on Aug. 27 for a review of the book!

About the Book:
Rena Olsen's 2016 debut novel, The Girl Before, was named a Booklist top mystery debut, a BookPage Best Mystery of 2016, and one of Wall Street Journal's Killer Thrillers of 2016. Her latest novel, With You Always, is a picture-perfect love story gone terribly wrong.

Fresh out of a painful breakup and trying to prove herself at work, Julia is overwhelmed and unsure of which direction to turn, but that all changes when she meets Bryce Covington. A charming and successful lawyer with traditional values and a strong dedication to his family and faith, Bryce becomes a guiding light for Julia to find her place in the world again.

Romantic dinners, helicopter rides, and promises of a wonderful future together quickly win Julia over, despite the concerns of her sister and her best friend. Charmed by his caring nature and touched by his dedication to his church, she believes Bryce is "the one" and is quickly swept off her feet. Julia finds herself being pulled further and further away from her old life, slowly transformed into the ideal wife Bryce and the leaders of his church want her to be. Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, and Julia begins to wonder if her perfect life is actually a cage. Then one day everything changes . . . and Julia is faced with no choice but to find a way out.

About the Author:
Rena Olsen grew up moving around every few years, following her minister father from church to church, and her exposure to so many different people and environments sparked an interest in human nature. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in marriage and family therapy. A licensed therapist, she works in Des Moines, Iowa. Learn more at

Find Rena online:

Twitter: @originallyrena


Instagram: @rosmiles

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

WOW: Welcome, Rena, and congratulations on the publication of your latest novel! We know your agent is the fabulous Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC. We'd love to hear what your process in finding her was like.

Rena: She is fabulous, isn't she? I connected with Sharon after I had completed an R&R for another agent. I was in the waiting period and decided to throw my hat in the ring for the #pitmad event on Twitter. (If you haven't heard of these events, they're great for connecting with other writers, even if there's not much agent response.) I didn't know who Sharon was when she liked my tweet, but as soon as I did my research I was convinced she was the agent for me. She offered, I accepted, and I've never looked back.

WOW: Thanks for highlighting how important being active on social media as an author can be! With You Always is a psychological thriller, as was your debut novel, The Girl Before. Are thrillers something you've always gravitated toward in your writing, and do you also enjoy reading them by other authors?

Rena: The funny thing is that I never planned to write thrillers. I always considered myself a YA author, either contemporary or sci-fi. I have always loved reading thrillers and suspenseful novels, but it had never occurred to me to write one until I started putting The Girl Before on paper. Even then, I wasn't sure what it was until it was finished. I've enjoyed delving deeper into the world of thrillers though, and discovering authors I might never have picked up without stepping into the genre.

WOW: Where did the inspiration for With You Always come from?

Rena: As with most books, I would imagine, it was a variety of sources that inspired With You Always A few years ago, my cousin Dana told me she had an idea for a story about a woman in a bathtub, and she wanted me to write it. She let me take it where I wanted from there, but it's probably one of my favorite short stories I've ever written, due in large part to the twist at the end. When it came time to write another book, this story came back to mind, and I contemplated ways to expand it into a full-length novel. I'm clearly very interested in relationships and how perceptions can be twisted especially in the context of a relationship, so I decided on a reverse fairy tale approach, where all seems perfect, but it's not happily ever after. The story grew from there.

WOW: Oh, that bathtub scene is something else, too! I won't give anything else away so I don't spoil anything by accident! When writing, are you a planner or a pantser? Do you have any favorite resources on the writing craft you can share with our readers (books, blogs, webinars, writing classes, etc.)

I used to be a total pantser. I knew how a story started and usually some elements of how it ended (although the last line of The Girl Before was one of the first I wrote and never changed throughout the editing process), but the journey to get there was always a mystery, unfolding as I wrote it. As I've matured as a writer and especially in exploring the world of thrillers, I've done more planning to bring together complicated story elements. I now refer to myself as a "pantyliner." (I think I scandalized some older women during a library event when I said that!)

WOW: The pantyliner! That's hilarious! I hope those women weren't too traumatized, ha ha! Speaking of funny, you have a story in an anthology called A Pizza My Heart. Please tell us more!

Rena: From the brilliant mind of Jolene Haley, a pizza anthology was born. It was more a fun project than anything, a group of like-minded individuals writing stories about pizza. Mine was about teenage pizza assassins. The stories are a lot of fun, and I'm proud to be part of it. Maybe someday you'll see a full-length teenage pizza assassin novel. You know, after I finish my other twenty projects floating around my brain.

WOW: Can you describe some of the highs and lows of your publishing journey up to this point (we've all been there!)

Rena: For sure, every writer could talk for hours about highs and lows. Of course, signing with Sharon and then signing my first book deal were highs. And my second book deal! I do try to celebrate every achievement, every positive publication review, every gushy email I receive. It's important to celebrate those things to contend with the lows, the bad reviews, the glacial pace at which everything in publishing moves. My lowest low probably came when my publisher decided that the second book I'd written for my contract wasn't the right follow-up for The Girl Before. I cried for a day and then emailed my agent and editor the next morning with ideas for a different book. With You Always was among those ideas. It was tough, but an opportunity for growth, and I really learned what an incredibly supportive team I have at DG&B as well as at Putnam. I've been very blessed.

WOW: Good for you for jumping back in with new ideas after disappointment and not letting it discourage you. Obviously you had a winner with With You Always! What are some marketing tactics you've used to help generate publicity and buzz for your two novels, especially in places like social media?

Rena: Giveaways are always a great way to get things moving. Thankfully I get a nice supply of ARCs and copies of my book to allow me to do some giveaways fairly regularly. I try to keep them interesting. I also give my friends and family handfuls of bookmarks to hand out to coworkers, neighbors, and strangers in the grocery store. You never know where you might find a new reader!

WOW: That's right! I know we have plenty of readers who follow this blog who will be happy to check out your work as well! Working full-time as a school therapist, how do you prioritize time for your writing?

Rena: I'll let you know when I figure that out! I actually supervise our school-based therapy team, and it is definitely a struggle at times. For example, during release week, I have three radio interviews and two big book events among a few other smaller commitments (signing stock and the like), but for my day job we have ten new therapists starting that I need to help train and get going in their positions. Thankfully my job is very flexible and very supportive of my writing habit. I also take days off when deadlines are looming, and I have started spending weekends at a hotel in the area to get me away from distractions to get solid writing time in. I am definitely not able to write every day, sometimes because of time constraints, and sometimes because I am too mentally drained. It always works out though. Eventually :)

WOW: Rena, thank you again for this interview, and for letting me review an advance copy of With You Always. I can't wait to share my review with our readers on Aug. 27!
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