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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Through a Character's Eyes

As I've been working on my WIP--a novel--I've tried to channel a 12-year-old boy. A 12-year-old black boy almost a hundred years ago. It may sound weird, but as I write, I kind of let my mind get unfocused as I imagine what a young man would say and think during the various parts of the story. In the end, if I've done a decent job, he won't sound like an old woman with breasts-that-have-turned-into-divining-rods me. Instead, he'll sound like a kid with a heap of worries and a bunch of hope.

That's Mrs. Wright--on the left. The woman on her right was her student teacher
the year I had Mrs. Wright as a teacher.

The importance of perspective made me chuckle recently.  A few weeks ago I was thrilled to hear that a letter I wrote to a former teacher (Anne Wright) is going to be published in an educational journal. The National Council of Teachers of English's journal is called Voices from the Middle.
I wanted Mrs. Wright to know how I'd honored her, so even though it had been more than forty years since I'd been her student, I tracked her down. (She's 80-something now.) I sent her a copy of what I'd submitted and several days later, we talked on the phone for almost an hour.

She said, "That was the best Christmas present I received," which warmed my heart, However, she also said, "The only part that bothered me was when  you described my hair as 'Brillo-gray.' My hair still isn't gray. If I didn't dye it, it'd be salt and pepper."

We chatted about the use of exaggeration in a story to make a point, but it was more than that. I actually thought of Mrs. Wright as old. Her hair was perfectly coiffed--every day--in a style that screamed ancient and out of touch (from my perspective). Her double knit dresses, her sensible, low heels made her an old lady in my eyes.

And what kind of character was I in those days? I was rebellious--I was the head of an underground newspaper. I was unconventional. I lived in overalls and moccasins, no matter what the season. And I was unconcerned with other people's opinions of me. I went without make up and my hair was never fussed over--I wore it parted in the middle, letting it fall as it did naturally.

This is me as a high school senior. Notice the overall straps...

When we create a character, we have to imagine how they feel and how they see the world. I saw Mrs. Wright as an old lady but in actuality, she was in her early 40's back then. I could have changed my description of her when writing my letter, but that wouldn't have been true to the narrator. That wouldn't have been true to who I was back then.

How about you? What kind of character are you now, or used to be? And if you're writing fiction, who's your favorite character?

Sioux Roslawski, before the above photo was taken, used to be Susan and Sue before she fully blossomed into the character she is today. She's currently shopping her manuscript (when she's not teaching middle-schoolers) and is keeping her fingers crossed. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's work, check out her blog.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Who Shall I Say Is Calling? Character Voice

As I draft my mystery, I’ve had an uncomfortable realization. My characters lack unique voices. While the choir director almost has his own voice, my main character and her two sidekicks sound alike. The other secondary characters blend right in without anyone sounding unique.

How unique do they need to be? You should be able to look at the dialogue from a conversation among characters and know who is speaking even when the tags have been deleted. It should be that obvious. I know this is the sort of thing I can fix in the rewrite but how to fix it has had me worried. Then my son came into my office.

“How am I supposed to know which one of them wrote this?” He had a Facebook message open on his phone. We have friends, Mom, Dad and teen daughter, who share a Facebook account. Answering a question is a lot easier when you know who you are talking to. I glanced at the message. “It’s the teen.”

The reasons that I could tell who it was gave me some ideas regarding how to rewrite my dialogue. A lot of it would be based on studying how real people sound and I could start with this family.

Mom and daughter have a tendency to go on and on. Verbally and in Messenger, their messages are long. Still I can tell at a glance which is which.

Mom is explaining every contingency. There will be no doubt what she wants and what are the possible outcomes based on each response you might make.

The daughter’s messages are just as long but not loaded down with facts like Mom’s. The teen’s messages, even the one to me, are effervescent. You are going to know exactly how she feels and what it is that she’s wildly excited about this very minute. If it is via Messenger, there will be 4 or more emoji. In a row. And none of them are the poop emoji.

Dad’s messages are brief. Five words max.

Other things that I might want to use when shaping a character’s voice include:

Education. A well-educated character is more likely to use what my dad calls ten-dollar words.

Vocation. A doctor may pepper her speech with medical terms while a soldier uses military terminology. Hobbies can influence speech in much the same way with an avid amateur geologist using rock and mineral vocabulary while a gardener refers to plants and earth.

Personality. A confident person will make firm statements. An insecure person may hedge every statement lest they cause offense.

Once I have a draft in hand, with the plot and mystery solidly in place, it will be time to fine tune the dialogue. To do this, I’ll have to take a look at each character and decide how to shape their speech. By the time I’m done, readers should be able to tell the cop from the choir director from the new girl in town.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 18th, 2019.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Interview with Rebecca Song, 2nd Place Winner in Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Rebecca was an English teacher before developing ME/CFS. She was privileged to help young teens wrestle with big questions, stretch their intellectual limbs, and find their written voice. While her illness forced her to relinquish her vocation as a teacher, being sick has also been a gift, teaching her how to live with far greater presence and loving-kindness. She’s only just dusting off her own practice as a writer, but as she’d tell her students, Rebecca believes wrapping language around our experiences is one of the greatest (if most impossible) tasks we can undertake. We are sentient tourists in a multiverse with newborn fingernails and undersea volcanoes; we have ancestors who were shamans and atoms in our bodies that were crafted among the stars. “Who am I to write?” is not for us to ask. Who are we not to write?

Please read Rebecca's eye-opening story, The Change, and then come back here to learn more about the author.

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

WOW: Rebecca, thank you for being here and welcome! I love your mantra about "who are we NOT to write?" Well said. You've shown that you are adept at writing fleshed out and compelling flash fiction. Do you also like to write longer fiction pieces or creative nonfiction? What is your favorite form and why?

Rebecca: Most of my work consists of long-form short stories. This is my first flash fiction piece, and it's also my first time sending a story "out"! I really appreciate WOW giving me an entryway into this form.

WOW: That's wonderful that you made such an impact with your first flash fiction piece! We look forward to seeing even more of your work in the future. Your bio states that you have ME/CFS. Can you explain a little more about your illness and how it has impacted your life?

Rebecca: I went from being someone who rode their bike to and from work, who was consumed by her (beloved) vocation as a high school English teacher, and who would regularly spend until the early hours of the morning writing to being someone who on bad days can barely tolerate light, sound, or movement. Clearly this changed a lot about my attitude toward life, but it also changed my writing. I have to treat myself with more compassion than ever before, and this means I'm much less of a perfectionist. It's no coincidence that I only sent my first story out after getting sick; before that, my Inner Critic would get ahold of my work, and nothing was never "good enough" to release into the world. So while I can't write as much as I used to, when I do I'm a lot less inhibited and critical of my work, which is a tremendous gift.

WOW: I'm so sorry to hear that your illness has robbed of you of a vocation you loved, but hopefully writing will help you with the healing process. "The Change" is a metaphorical and lyrical look at the metamorphosis of a young woman named Teresa. How did you first come up with this idea, and what was the writing and editing process like for it?

Rebecca: Most of my stories come from asking myself "what-if" questions. In this case, a friend was telling me about her experiences of sexism as a female software engineer, and I thought to myself, "What if she wasn't a woman...what if she wasn't a human at all but something else? How would her experience change?" and the ridiculous but fun idea of having a young woman turn into a powerful animal came from that chain of thought. I definitely overwrote on my first draft. Having the flash fiction constraint was helpful because then I could cut the weaker material and focus on what the story absolutely needed.

WOW: Flash fiction definitely limits any story to only the most important aspects! What books are on your wish list to read right now?

Rebecca: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (The NYT called this "part ghost story and part natural history lesson, part romance and part feminist parable" so it sounded like something I needed in my life) and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (A) It's Lauren Groff and B) NYT Book Review praises its "comedy, tragedy, erudition, and unmistakable glimmers of brilliance throughout," which sounds like tremendous fun to me).

WOW: Those sound fascinating--thank you to alerting us to these! If you had had one piece of advice to give to a writer just starting out (young or old) what would you say?

Rebecca: Write about characters who interest you. What keeps me writing (and writing things that surprise myself) is wanting to find out what happens to these odd fictional friends I've created.

WOW: That seems like a perfect piece of wisdom to end this interview. We wish you the best of luck with  your writing and your health.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Neill McKee's Finding Myself in Borneo; Sojourns in Sabah - book tour and giveaway

Finding Myself in Borneo is an honest and buoyant chronicle of a young Canadian man's adventures during 1968-70, while teaching secondary school as a CUSO volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo). Travel with Neill McKee on his unique journey through vibrant Asian cultures as he learns the craft of teaching, the Malay language and local customs, and gains many friends in his small community. He climbs the highest peak in Southeast Asia—Mount Kinabalu, has a love affair, and navigates Borneo's backwaters to make his first of many documentary films. McKee travels by freighter to Indonesia, where he discovers the scars of that country's recent genocide, a contrast to his hilarious motorcycle journeys in Sabah with his American Peace Corps buddy. They make a hallucinogenic discovery—North Borneo is, indeed, J. R. R. Tolkien's famed Middle-Earth of The Lord of the Rings! The enterprising duo establish the North Borneo Frodo Society, an organization Tolkien joins.
McKee's second Sabah sojourn and other return trips offer the reader the opportunity to match the early anecdotes to what in fact happened to the land and people who touched his life, and he theirs.

Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Nbfs Creations LLC (January 8, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1732945705
ISBN-13: 978-1732945708

Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah is now available to purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.  

Book Giveaway Contest!
To win a copy of the book Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah by Neill McKee, please enter via Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on February 4th at 12 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author: 
Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. McKee, who holds a B.A. Degree from the University of Calgary and a Masters in Communication from Florida State University, lived and worked internationally for 45 years and became an expert in communication for social change. He directed and produced of a number of award-winning documentary films/videos and multi-media initiatives and authored numerous articles and books on development communication. During his international career, McKee worked for Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), the International Development Ressearch Centre (IDRC), Canada, UNICEF, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Academy for Educational Development, Washington, D.C. and FHI 360, Washington, D.C. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments.

Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah is Neill's first Memoir.

Find Neill Online:





Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Thank you so much for the opportunity to read and help promote this exciting memoir!

When was Finding Myself in Borneo born and what prompted you to not only write this book but publish it and share it with the masses?

Neill: Actually, I wrote a draft of Chapter 6, Going Native, sometime in the 1990s. But as an international filmmaker, media producer, and author of more technical books and articles on communication for development, I had little time to focus on my own formative years and experiences in Sabah, Malaysia (formerly British North Borneo). It was only in 2013, after a 45-year career, beginning in Borneo, that I began to write this book. But for two years I also did research and writing on my family’s history and never settled down to full-time writing of Finding Myself in Borneo until September 2015, just after we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had many stories in my head about my sojourns in Sabah, but had not organized my thoughts. I took a graduate seminar at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in creative non-fiction, studying under Professor Daniel Thiel. This really set me in motion. From that experience, getting excellent critique from Prof. Thiel and fellow students, I felt I had great stories to tell.

WOW: Well, I certainly agree you have stories to tell! Thank goodness for a great group of supporters. Speaking of which, who has been your biggest supporter and how so?

Neill: There was no strongest supporter. I got feedback on drafts from 18 people I acknowledge in the book, including writers, friends with international experiences, my family and my spouse, Elizabeth. They all encouraged me to publish. The feedback required many revisions, at least 50 in all. I got advice on reorganization and where to add more or less detail. I also hired a literary editor, Pamela Yenser, an Albuquerque poet and writer, who provided many ideas. She asked for more detail, more dialogue, and pushed me to reflect and reveal more about myself in the stories. She often wrote new sentences which I then put into my own words. She asked for more poetic writing and I took another graduate seminar in poetry under Diane Thiel, and then revised and revised again and again. After about eight rejections from publishers and two funny offers which involved them reworking my book yet again and then keeping most of the royalties, while putting very little into marketing, I decided to set up a company and do my own publishing. I hired a great designer, Sara DeHaan, and we decided to publish through, which allows me to reach potential readers around the world.

WOW: That story is very inspirational! What advice would you give other writers who may want to follow in your footsteps?

Neill: Be prepared for a lot of work, especially if you are getting into creative writing after another main career. It is not easy to transition from more academic forms of writing but it is certainly a lot of fun. Listening to or reading other memoirs and creative nonfiction works is a great help as well.

WOW: How do you celebrate your professional successes?

Neill: I held an open house with great Malaysian cuisine cooked and arranged my Elizabeth and invited friends to come and enjoy—buy the book if they wanted to. It is too early to celebrate “success”—have to sell books first. For that I hired publicity people to help and to teach me how to push the book on social media. I am still in the process of rolling this out. At the end of 2019, I may be able to celebrate some professional success in my new career.

WOW: No doubt the best is yet to come! 2019 is definitely going to be an exciting year for you - I can feel it!

Are you part of a writing or critique group, why or why not? What advice can you give others when it comes to feedback regarding their writing?

Neill: The graduate seminars I attended at UNM were my first critique groups. Then I shared drafts with the contacts mentioned above. I never joined a separate critique group but now have two creative writers who are providing this essential function. You cannot do it alone. You can write for yourself, sure, but potential readers may not care about it. What’s the purpose in writing if you don’t communicate? My whole career has been about communicating well in various media, usually involving a lot of research, including feedback from potential audiences.

WOW: What would your current self say to your younger self when it comes to writing and life?

Neill: I guess it would have been useful to keep a better diary. I am lucky to have a good memory still, copies of letters I wrote to friends, and letters to my family which my mother returned to me before I died. I also kept my old photo albums and a file on the North Borneo Frodo Society. These records helped a lot. If I had kept a diary of some sort it would have been easier, probably. However, creative nonfiction is not a regurgitation of chronological events, so maybe it would have been harder to see the forest for the trees. The records I did have in my possession triggered so many memories, and that was the key to completing a literary memoir.

WOW: If this book were turned into a movie, what theme song would be appropriate and why?

Neill: In fact, the first movie I ever made was about our group of CUSO volunteers in Borneo Malaysia. For the theme song I chose something that was incongruous with living in Borneo but which was in all of the heads of us North American volunteers through the albums and tapes we bought and listened to at the time: “Sometimes in Winter” by Blood, Sweat & Tears. I set it to the final sequence of going up the Rajang River in Sarawak to visit a longhouse, documenting the lives of the people, and the human skulls that hung in baskets from their rafters—prizes of their head hunter ancestors.

WOW: What do you know now that you wish you had known before writing and publishing Finding Myself in Borneo ?

Neill: I now know how much work it is to write well for a broad audience, as well as the key elements of success – finding good technical help and input. It took a lot more time and resources to complete and publish this book than I had expected.

WOW: Beyond the celebrations and success that will most definitely happen this year, what's next for you?

Neill: I’ve completed the draft of a childhood and youth memoir that is about my life in the industrially polluted small town I grew up in. Each chapter is about a different mode of escape. It is written in a “tongue in cheek” way for entertainment and audience interest. The last two chapters are about my university years, my indecision about what I want to do with my life and then my departure for Borneo. I expect this book to come out later in 2019. I’ve also completed about half of the draft of a travel memoir on searching for the stories of my ancestor in Canada and the United States. It’s a major piece writing which will take the reader back through most of the wars and conflicts in North America, ending with those of the Pilgrims in New England. I plan for this one to come out in 2020 at the time of the 400th year anniversary celebration of landing of the Mayflower on New England’s coast.

WOW: I'm looking forward to this book tour and hearing from other readers, as I'm sure you are too!

Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with us today.

----------Blog Tour Dates

Monday, January 28th (Today) @ The Muffin
Neill McKee launches his tour of Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah with an interview and giveaway at the Muffin!

Tuesday, January 29th @ Selling Books
Learn more about Neill McKee as he is interviewed by Cathy Stucker at Selling Books. You won't want to miss this insightful interview about McKee and his memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah.

Wednesday, January 30th @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal Otto
Crystal Otto couldn't wait to get her hands on Neill McKee's memoir about his travels and finding himself! This busy farmer seldom leaves the farm and enjoyed every moment she experienced reading Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah. Find out more in her book review at Bring on Lemons today!

Thursday, January 31st @ Breakeven Books
Don't miss a very honest book review about Neill McKee's Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah.

Friday, February 1st @ Fiona Ingram
Fellow author Fiona Ingram reviews the adventures story of Neill McKee's journey in Sabah and his experiences h in Finding Myself in Borneo. Readers won't be disappointed in Ingram's review or McKee's memoir!

Monday, February 4th @ Author Anthony Avina
Author Anthony Avina reads and reviews Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah - by Neill McKee. Readers won't want to miss this adventurous and soul searching memoir!

Wednesday, February 6th @ The World of My Imagination
Nicole hosts a special feature with author Neill McKee about his memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah.

Friday, February 8th @ Choices with Madeline Sharples
Fellow memoirist Madeline Sharples hosts Neill McKee today as he pens today's guest post titled: Living in and learning about a very different culture”. Find out more about McKee and his memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah.

Monday, February 11th @ Bring on Lemons with Elizabeth Hansen
Young reader and reviewer Elizabeth Hansen shares her thoughts after reading about Neill McKee's memoir Finding Myself in Borneo; Sojourns in Sabah.

Wednesday, February 13th @ To Write or Not to Write with Sreevarsha
Shreevarsha reviews the insightful memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah by Neill McKee. Don't miss the opportunity to learn more about McKee's journey.

Friday, February 15th @ Bring on Lemons with Tricia Schott Baldwin
Avid reader, constant dreamer, and occasional traveler Tricia Schott Baldwin reviews Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah by Neill McKee. Tricia shares her thoughts with readers at Bring on Lemons - will this be a lemon or sweet sweet lemonade?

Saturday, February 16th @ World of My Imagination
Nicole discusses "3 Things on a Saturday" with Neill McKee. Learn more about McKee and his memoir Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah.

Tuesday, February 19th @ Jarry Waxler’s Memoir Revolution
Memoir expert and educator Jerry Waxler pens his review of Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah by Neill McKee. Readers and memoirists alike won't want to miss this insightful post and review by Waxler.

Thursday, March 7th @ Kathleen Pooler
Neill McKee finds himself penning today’s guest post “Becoming a memoir writer after retiring from another career.” at Kathleen Pooler's Memoir Writer's Journey - don't miss the opportunity to learn more about McKee and his exciting tale Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah.


To win a copy of the book Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah by Neill McKee, please enter via Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends on February 4th at 12 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A desk of one's own

Your office desk is an extension of yourself, claimed one ad for a writing desk, while another claimed theirs would increase a writer’s level of creativity. Unfortunately, the ones discussed above had price tags between $500 and 1,200, not exactly the price range for a part-time teacher and writer.

I’ve written in the past about the desks of famous writers, and have had a few great desks in my corporate life. My favorite was a big oak desk that had three drawers on each side, and enough space to spread out my work. But now I am pleased to say that after years of searching, I’ve found the right desk for my home office.

Earlier this month I wrote about all the “interesting” things you can find on Craigslist, which is where I found my desk. I had a few requirements, and this one met them all: solid wood; one slim drawer under the desktop (mine has two); and open space beneath, (like a table). It also came with two wooden office chairs that swivel and rock.

The desk is not new, and has a few flaws just like me. The finish is worn along the front edge, and discolored in one spot on the top right. My office is still not quite finished, but this office desk is the perfect extension of me, and I can feel my creativity increasing!

Mary Horner earned the writing certificate from UM-St. Louis, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Know When it's Time to Take a Step Back

I’ve heard it said before that a book is never finished—I’ve even read interviews with authors who say they are marking up their book and editing the pages even after publication and right before a book reading event in front of an audience. I do the opposite. I have a tendency to work on a project for a long time, grow frustrated with it, and put it aside. For years.

I finally decided to bite the bullet this past year, and after one final round of editing, began submitting a contemporary YA manuscript (with paranormal elements) to agents. The first few responded pretty quickly. “I’m not connecting with these opening pages enough to want to read more . . .” “It’s not so much the crafts as a gut feeling I’m not getting . . .” I knew I needed to stop sending out queries and take a step back. I thought I needed to get my opening pages and synopsis professionally critiqued so I made plans for that. And then . . .

Luckily, I stumbled upon this blog post where Sioux reviewed the book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. After listening to a fellow “pantser” talk about how the book helped her become a successful “plotter,” I ordered the book. I was planning to use this to get me out of a plotting rut I was in on my second YA novel, which I wrote several years ago during NaNoWriMo. About two chapters in, I had the biggest AHA! moment of my life. The protagonists in both of my novels lacked motivation, and if we’re to be honest, a bit of personality. They each needed something that drove them, that they were obsessed with. I halted the editing of my first novel’s opening pages and synopsis and got to work.

I spent all last weekend plotting, putting Post-It notes on the wall in my timeline, sketching out scenes, and cutting my original opening pages in favor of new ones. Now, we have a character people actually care about, and lo and behold, two new important characters showed up out of nowhere (bu trust me, they make sense!) and have breathed new and interesting life into this novel. I even had a whole scene come to me while I was stuck in the exam room in my eye doctor’s office, sans my contact lenses, blind and helpless to do anything but try to voice text the idea into the notes on my phone.

Every day I’ve struggled through my daily tasks at work so I could get home and get back to the manuscript, where I’ve written almost 2,000 new words. I hate that there are still submissions hanging in the balance with the old version of this novel, but I’m not sending any others out until these new opening pages (and the rest of the book, if we’re to be honest) and synopsis is fixed.

It’s exciting to be re-energized on a project I’ve almost given up on many times. But when you hear words like “intriguing premise” and “you do write well” from agents, it’s motivation to fix what needs to be fixed and keep going.

I’m glad I learned this important lesson before I got too far down the submissions road.

Have you ever had a moment of clarity with a writing project? How did you get through it?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. Learn more at If you need her, she’ll be revising.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Friday Speak Out!: Writing by Assignment

by Elizabeth Morabito

I'm a writer who doesn't put many words on paper. I have the usual excuses – no time, writer's block, can't focus, I suck, yadda yadda yadda. For a long time I refused to even call myself a writer. Until one day I realized I really am.

How do I know? Well, I figured something out about myself fairly recently. It only took a few decades.

I think in sentences.

Weird, I know. But my thoughts are more often than not well-crafted sentences. Compellingly complex in their simplicity. Thought provoking. Nobel Peace Prize worthy. Okay, maybe not. But these structured subjects, verbs and objects are a part of me. Part of my soul. The very essence of who I am as a human being.

Now if I could only get them out of my damn head. When I try to write, like now, I panic. The eloquence just isn't there. The words won't flow like they did when captured in my cranium. I'm getting antsy. I can't catch my breath. I want to exit out of this godforsaken document.

But this time I won't.

I understand a writer needs to practice the craft. Writing something, every day, will make it easier and I will improve over time. I get it. I. Just. Can't. Make. Myself. Do. It.

That's why I'm writing this submission for The Muffin Blog. I've decided to give myself assignments. Enough excuses. I'm a veritable task master – I adore checking things off a list. When an assignment comes my way, I sit down and crank it out. With a given subject, word count and deadline enforced upon me, I can structure the swirling cyclone of thought-words into what is required.

I'm actually published. And paid, believe it or not. Nothing of major import. Magazine articles and advertorial publications mostly. But, paid, published work nonetheless. Assignments.

My dream is to write for the pure enjoyment of it. But that is so rare, it's nearly non-existent. I have dozens of journals. No lie. They speak to me with their empty pages and implied opportunity. But mine are all blank or have pages ripped out or are the start of some great writing adventure I abruptly aborted after a few days. But I keep them all.

I wonder what my poor kids will think when they go through my things after I'm gone. Hopefully they find the magazines as well as the crazy-lady journals. Maybe I should put them in the same place.

* * *
Elizabeth Morabito grew up a voracious reader. Her love for writing stems from this lifelong passion. She hopes to someday be an author. For now, she is comfortable simply calling herself a writer as she strives to be authorship worthy. She is a single mom of three kids and five fur babies - two pit bulls and three cats. Besides reading and writing, she loves to mountain bike, search for treasures in thrift stores, and help nonprofits achieve their missions. Elizabeth is working on a website in 2019, but can be reached 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!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

What Goes on in a Writer's Head

A few weeks ago, I finally watched the movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, about Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol. If you're a writer (which you probably are if you're reading this blog ) and you haven't had a chance to watch this film yet, stop what you're doing--okay, finish reading this first--and find some way to watch it soon. Why? Well, it gives a pretty true depiction of what goes on in a writer's head when he or she is working on a novel. You will no longer feel like you're crazy or alone in the world because it turns out we are just like one of the most famous authors of all time, Charles Dickens.

The cool thing about this movie is that the characters whom Charles talks to and argues with and yells at are played by actual actors, such as Christopher Plummer who plays Scrooge. So when Charles is trying to decide how Scrooge's story will end, and Scrooge is basically taunting him, there's an actual scene between two actors on the screen. In real life, however, we all know that this debate--between the characters and us (the writers) as well as our inner critics, who hate everything we write--is going on in our heads. Okay, okay, many times, we do say things to both the characters and our inner critic out loud, and our family members roll their eyes at us, or the people around us in the coffee shop, where we write, scoot their chairs farther away from our tables.

But these conversations happen--they are part of the wonderful creative process of writing a manuscript. It happens to all of us. These characters become real people who eat with us, go to family outings with us, and definitely sleep with us, haunting us until we finish their stories. Check out this trailer below of The Man Who Invented Christmas to see what I'm talking about. Remember--Charles Dickens, real man. Ebenezer Scrooge--character in a book. (smiles)

You can see from the trailer that this movie also covers writer's block--Charles Dickens had a hit and his publisher wanted more from him, and he had no ideas. Then when he got this Christmas idea, the gatekeepers thought it was terrible--they expected it to flop! (Sounds a little familiar, huh, J. K. Rowling?)

The movie also goes into how Dickens had trouble with his relationship with his wife and blew up at staff members and sometimes forgot about his children, which reminds me of a tweet I recently saw:

Oliver Phisher @OPhisher
What advice would you give to a smart, driven aspiring author? "Teach your family to cook."

Ha! That's actually perfect advice, and it's the truth--sometimes, we are so involved in our writing, we can't be bothered to eat ourselves--how can we also feed our families? This movie covers that reality about being a writer, too.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is one of my very favorite movies about writing. I've seen many: from Finding Neverland to Misery, from Julie and Julia to The Shining to Adaptation. But this Dickens flick is the first one where I thought the screenwriters really portrayed what it's like for novelists and the people who love them.

How about you? Have you seen this movie? What's your favorite movie about being a writer and why?

Margo L. Dill talks to her characters and tries to get them to settle down before they scare her 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old boxer dog. While she stays busy with that, she also has time to edit, teach, and write. Find out more about her on her blog and check out her novel writing course, which starts on February 1st here. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Ideas Are All Around You

On Monday, Youngest Junior Hall returned a sixty-year-old mahogany bed and dresser that looked as if they’d been dragged behind the truck rather than in it. He and his friend couldn’t understand why I’d want these old pieces of furniture, or why I was so upset to see them in such terrible shape. “They’re just things, Mom,” said my son.

True. But I don’t see a too-small-bed. I see my parent’s bedroom from when I was a little girl, crawling in between them when nightmares woke me up. I see comfort.

I see my mom and dad helping me move the bedroom suit into my first apartment, on my own at last with just those two pieces of furniture and not much more. I see freedom.

I see Mister Man way back in the day, letting me sleep on the side of the bed I liked best. I see love.

I see the stories of my life, from childhood through young adulthood to motherhood and far beyond. And if you’re a writer, I’ll bet you see things as stories, too. I can promise you that the bed and dresser will end up in some story I write; maybe not as the bed and dresser but the idea those pieces represent will stay with me, showing up sooner or later.

I think January is a good time to gather ideas for the year, whether you choose to participate in something structured like Storystorm over at Tara Lazar’s blog, or spend those long hours indoors just daydreaming. I can sit at my kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea, notice my back gate swinging open, and then off I go!

Did some critter get in and what was the critter looking for? (A children’s story!) Or how can I fix the gate to keep it shut? (A how-to article!) Did my yard shift and affect the gate when we had that earthquake? (Yes, we had an earthquake and they’re more common than you think in Georgia. There’s a non-fiction hook!)

Ideas are all around! And once you get in the habit of looking at things for the story, you’ll find them. But if you need some help getting started, here’s a couple places where things generate plenty of ideas:

Read your newspaper. Not necessarily the newsy part; look for those weird things that involve research scientists, archaeologists, or historians, especially if you’re looking for non-fiction ideas.

Hang out in an antique store or flea market. It doesn’t have to be vintage to be interesting, though old stuff is my favorite when it comes to finding stories. Years ago, I bought a pin that had a name engraved on it; it made me sad to think that someone had given away this family heirloom. Just this week, that name from the pin called to me and I’m working on a new story. Don’t worry if an idea doesn’t come to you right away. Some ideas take time to develop.

Clean. I’m doing a bit of cleaning out right now, and no, not because of Kondo. I regularly clean out closets and desks and inboxes, but this time, it was the junk drawer. I threw away a lot of stuff, but it took way longer than it should have, and no, not because I was thanking every little thing; I was thinking about every little story associated with lots of little things.

So it’s not “just things,” Youngest Junior Hall. Now, y’all go out and write the stories about your things. (But you can’t use my bed and dresser idea. I call dibs on that!)

Cathy C. Hall is a children’s author and humor writer who hibernates through the winter, even in Georgia, because she can’t stand to be cold. But she did go out and close the back gate so Libs the Tiny Terror wouldn’t make a break for it. (And bonus points if you thought of this song when you read the title of this post. It's a great song, right?)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Interview with Valerie Burton, Runner Up in Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Valerie Burton's Bio: Around the time I was turning 30, I decided to leave my dream job in the New York publishing industry to join the Peace Corps. At the time, I was writing short stories and taking classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. After two years as a volunteer in Guatemala, I got a Master’s degree in Social Work and have worked for over 12 years investigating abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled adults.

Several years ago, my desire to be a writer resurfaced. I dedicated myself to trying to write daily, worked with a coach, and took some workshops. I’ve learned so many things through writing, including how to enjoy the process and to honor the muse. I have always been inspired by Raymond Carver’s straightforward, powerful stories. My hope for my stories is that they reflect observations of life in both humorous and poignant ways. It’s always been a dream to have one of my stories win a contest, so I am ecstatic to have been selected for the top 10!

When I am not at work or writing, I coordinate scholarships for students in Guatemala, advocate for animal rights, run, and play tennis. Please connect with me on LinkedIn.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Summer 2018 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Valerie: Thank you so much! Placing in the top ten in the Summer Flash Fiction contest is the achievement of a lifelong dream for me. Through the years I have entered various writing contests, and I actually decided to stop since it seemed like I was spending a lot of money and I wasn’t getting any results. What I loved about the WOW contest was the opportunity to receive a critique, for a very reasonable price, so at least if I didn’t place in the contest I knew I would receive some constructive feedback. I actually entered this story in the Spring contest and scored a 12. I made some revisions, incorporating feedback from the critique, and submitted it again for the Summer contest. I found the whole experience very positive and supportive, and I definitely look forward to entering again.

WOW: : Your entry, "Mister Softee," is a good reminder that we never really know what someone’s motivations are, and that kindness matters. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Valerie: I am the type of person who is easily distracted by background noise—well, beyond distracted, I find it extremely difficult to concentrate if someone is playing music or even just talking too loud. Since it is pretty much unavoidable that there will be noise in the world, I have tried to find ways to either accept it or not focus on it. I think when I wrote the first draft of Mister Softee, I was trying to convince myself that although outside noise might be annoying to me, it is not about me. The possibility that something I find to be a nuisance and a distraction could actually have a purpose I am not aware of, that I would wholly support if I were aware of it, I think is where the idea originated. There is an ice cream truck in my neighborhood that really does play Christmas music. But I have never gone out and yelled at the driver!

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Valerie: Most days, usually early evening, I sit at my desk and write to a prompt from one of my books. Sometimes the hardest thing is to just get started. My goal is to write one page, and usually I do more. Sometimes these exercises turn into stories and I continue working on them. I discovered that writing in the third person and naming characters in my exercises helps me with writing fiction, because otherwise the exercises come out too much like a journal. I also have found that being part of a group is where some of my best writing comes out; I’m not sure why but my muse seems to like for me to be around other writers and not writing alone all the time.

WOW: Are you working on any writing projects currently? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Valerie: Ever since I discovered flash fiction, which was earlier in 2018, I have found it to be a fun challenge to try to tell entire stories with a limited amount of words. I definitely plan to continue writing short fiction. I love reading novels, and I attempted writing one a couple years ago that is about half done, so maybe one day I’ll be inspired to get back to that or start another.

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

Valerie: I would encourage other writers to take advantage of the critiques offered by WOW. I am so glad I decided to put my story through the process, because that is what helped me get over the hurdle and achieve this dream. Many great achievers in life encourage us to never, ever give up, and that is why this means so much to me. Receiving recognition for "Mister Softee" is inspiration and motivation for me to keep writing and searching for what other stories are waiting to be told.


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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Letting a Story Go: A Break Up Story

Photo via Pixaba

Me: Sit down, it's time we talk.

[The story sits in the chair on the opposite side of the table, adjusting its pages as it takes a seat.]

Story: Sure, what's up? I think you've done some great work -

Me [putting my hand up]: Stop, this isn't easy to say...

Story [looking concerned]: What's going on? I thought....I thought we were happy together. You've been working so hard.

Me [avoiding eye contact]: I know, it's just that...our relationship isn't going anywhere. I have no more to give.

Story: But we've been together for years! So many drafts! All those scene changes! All those plots you've tried!

Me: I know and I've really loved everything you've become, except I think we need to say goodbye.

Story [tears welling up in the story's eyes]: No, don't say it. I can't accept this.

Me [crying]: It's not like we'll never see each other again. I'll be thinking of you -

Story [standing up]: Don't, please. Let me leave with some dignity left.

Me: [as the door closes and the story is gone]: Goodbye.


Despite all of our best efforts, sometimes we need to say goodbye to a story. Truly, ruthlessly goodbye. Sometimes it needs to be taken out from the drawer and tossed. Or sometimes, coldly deleted off of the computer.

I did this recently and I realized how much I needed to. I didn't want to start 2019 with this story on my shoulders. Despite my own insisting on calling it a "short story," at one point I had a draft that was over 18,000 words (that isn't a short story by the way). I would often go back to the beginning and try again to create a newer and better version. I had changed the setting endlessly. First, it was at a circus. Then a carnival. Then a corn maze. Then back to a carnival. My main character was an adult, then a teenager, and then a middle school kid then some ageless uncertain version of a human that I haven't figured out yet. Despite every attempt, whether it was 2,000 or 18,000 words, each draft had one thing in common - nothing was sticking and nothing about it felt right.

When it was time to say goodbye, I hit the delete button on the story drafts. Afterward, I wasn't emotional. I wasn't nostalgic. I knew it was time.

Now, several weeks into 2019, and my writing is already better. I feel free. Ideas are rushing forward and I'm even able to recover some old story ideas I never tried out before and have fun with them.

I don't know what it is about letting go of a story but sometimes that is the best thing we can do. For me, I thought maybe I could reshape this story that took so many different forms, but I realized what I was trying to do was make a story work that wasn't interesting to me anymore.

While the curtain has closed on that story of mine, maybe someone else will pick up the idea somewhere in the universe and they'll make it into something I couldn't. I'd like to think when we say goodbye to an unfinished story, it's because another writer wants to use the idea themselves.

When was the last time you said goodbye to a story you couldn't complete? How did you feel afterward?

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Follow her writing journey on Twitter @BeingTheWriter or visit her writing blog at The World of My Imagination.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What a Writer Wants... What a Writer Needs

                                           Yeah, I get my title doesn't trip off the tongue like the lyrics
                                                      of the Christina Aguilera song, but hey, what can I say?
                                                              It's that pesky extra syllable that's to blame...

Here's an idea of what filled up too much of my time lately during my holiday break--as I waited for feedback from Margo Dill, an editor extraordinaire:

6:17 a.m. Maybe my editor is up early, she finished looking over my manuscript and sent me her critique today. She's had it for 14 days. Yeah, Christmas Eve and Christmas day were two of those 14 days, but two weeks is enough time to critique 50,000 words, right?

12:30 p.m. I went out for four hours, knowing that when I got back, my critique would be in my inbox.

5:20 p.m. Margo has probably parked her daughter in front of a game system for hours and hours so she can finish reading my manuscript. Dinnertime? She can toss her kiddo a bag of chips and a 2-liter bottle of soda and say, "Bon appetit!" Isn't that a reasonable expectation?

8:16 p.m. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. It's an email from Margo. Oh. It's not about my manuscript. It's about something else. Doesn't she know that whenever I see an email from anyone whose name begins with a M, I start to squeal at such a high pitch, my family's been wearing earplugs? Why is she teasing me like this?

8:27 p.m. A friend emailed me: Margo is busy judging a WOW writing contest, and she has a client who got a book deal, so probably Margo is doing some last-minute edits for them. Why does a national contest and a book-about-to-get-printed-and-put-on-bookstore-shelves take precedence over my manuscript? Ain't I important, too? And I've been so patient...

Yes, this is an exaggeration when it comes to my expectations (although I minimized the 149 number of times I've checked--daily--my email), and I don't advocate parents feeding their child potato chips and sugary soda for dinner, with electronics as a babysitter. When it comes to writers with book deals and obligations like judging a writing contest, I'm at the bottom of the priority list--as I should be. I'm just trying to paint the picture of an impatient writer and show the craziness that's in our heads sometimes... which leads me to thinking what is the difference between what we want and what we need.

I'd love an email from my editor early in the process, something like, "Sioux, the beginning of this story is great. The more I read, the more I'm lovin' it."  The problem? One, that's not how professionals do it and two, what happens if 20 pages into the manuscript, the story tanks? I want some preliminary feedback. However, what I need is critique on the whole manuscript. After all, it is hopefully a cohesive and compelling piece, from the first word to the last line.

I'd love to have an editor who devotes all their time to my manuscript. I want them to put aside their other work, their other clients, their other obligations and focus on just me. The problem? An editor who is not well-rounded and doesn't have a life to live is not going to be a decent writer or critic (in my opinion). And an editor who doesn't have other clients means they lack experience. What I need is an editor who can juggle many different projects at once, who is in demand enough that they have to juggle several jobs simultaneously.

I'd love to get my manuscript critiqued in a few days. A week, tops. Isn't that enough time to read it and make notes of any minor changes that are needed? Yes, I want it fast. Instantly. But what I need is thorough, and thorough can't be done quickly. If my editor rushes through reading my work, they might miss some plot holes, some character mix-ups. They might gloss over the draggy parts in their hurry to get back to me.

And now, I'm off to check my email. Again. I made a little bet with myself: if I took the time and wrote this post, by the time I finished, the critique would be in my inbox...

Sioux Roslawski did hear from her editor in a timely manner and she got a big thumbs-up from Margo. In the next couple of weeks she'll make some minor revisions and then begin sending it out. Sioux got what she wanted--encouraging and constructive feedback and she got what she needed--a critique that missed none of the tiny details but at the same time, kept the bigger picture in mind.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Finding Your Character’s Perspective

Unless you pattern all of your characters after yourself, getting into your character’s perspective can be tricky. This is especially true if, like me, you write for children. We think we remember what it was like, but it is so easy to forget specific details.

Recently I read an awesome blog post by picture book author Tara Lazar. When she wants to see things the way her young readers see the world, she takes a seat under her dining room table. It reminds her that the world of children is a world of shoes and legs hurrying past.

Me? I tried that out and immediately hit my head. Oh, wait. Every time I toured a cave, I managed to smack my head on a formation. Every. Single. Time. Those are the perils of being a tall child and it all popped back into my memory when I smacked the bottom of the table. Maybe sitting under the dining room table really does work.

There are other ways to bring back life as a child. Limit your freedom of movement. Unless you write young adult, your characters don’t drive. And even if they live on a really good metro system, you’ll have to consider when and where they have the freedom, and money, to ride. If they don't have access to public transportation, just giving them a bike won't solve the problem. Most parents today don’t let their children take off for an hour on their bike. How are your characters going to get to and from their adventures?

Money. That’s another issue for young characters. Adults and even teens may not carry cash but most of them have debit cards or credit cards. Ready money makes most problems much easier to solve. If your character wouldn’t have access to easy money, you’ll have to come up with a new way to solve a problem. Do they go to someone else to borrow money? Maybe they can work off the debt, cleaning out someone’s garage to get the part they need for their fabulous new invention.

Whether your characters are children or adults, writing a piece set in a different time period brings another set of challenges. If you are writing something set in the 1970s, head to your local flea market or antique mall. On my last trip, I found really unique items including a bank of 1920s apartment mailboxes, a map case and an antique dental set (yuck). But I soon realized that I was in a sea of Danish modern furniture. Clean lines, low slung silhouettes, and lots of wood paired with turquoise and olive, burnt orange and maize. For the kitchen, there were stand mixers and white corning casserole dishes with the blue flowers on the side.

Getting into your character’s perspective can take a little work but there are many ways to do it. Listen to music from the appropriate time and place. Find out what foods were/are popular and if there is any way you can sample them. With so many museums and libraries putting material online the internet is awash in historic photographs. Online searches enable you to check out the world your character sees, the foods she tastes and the music she hears.

Use these details to create a realistic setting experienced by a believable character.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 18th, 2019.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Speak Out!: It’s a Bit Corny, but…

by Carole Mertz

We were invited to a potlatch party about ten days before Christmas. I considered the casserole I’d bring. But there were other things to think about before then. In our house food deliberations take the lowest rung of the ladder and hang there till the last possible minute.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 priority was my current writing course, mending some clothes for Hubby, and completing two reviews by the 31st.

The morning of the party I clutched the casserole script, (some of you’d call it a recipe) plucking it out of the drawer the way a starved raccoon might claw a morsel of food.

It read: mix this, mix that. Beat this…fold into. Problem: no actual quantities were indicated, only ratios. I gathered each tablespoon of flour needed its quarter cup of milk. Beyond that ??? I assembled the ingredients and baked them with less than an hour to spare before party time.

The final note on the script said, “Bake in 350-degree oven, I guess, for about 45 minutes or more.” (I loved that “I guess”.) I’d used organic eggs, “real” sea salt, unbleached flour, and NGM corn. Mother called it “corn pudding," I called it corn casserole.

So no one died that night or the day after the party, but I knew my casserole was a bit “off.” It seemed to need more of something, less of something else, and a LOT MORE COOKING time.

Days passed, I worked on my writing assignments. Another party on Christmas Day beckoned for my casserole. (I’d developed a burning desire to construct the thing again—well I guess one doesn’t actually construct a casserole. But I wanted to see if I could perfect it, not that I’ve ever actually perfected anything.)

Hang in with me, fellow writers. I made the casserole, this time avoiding putting frozen corn directly into the oven; I used much more milk and I baked it until the egg was done. It resembled a pudding!

Here’s the thing I learned. You know how when you paid for your kids’ piano lessons, how you thought it would be good for them because there were all these transferable skills, things your kids could apply to their other schoolwork: eye / hand coordination, concentration, persistence, the appreciation of a fine melody…

Well, (you could work this out for yourselves, Dear Writers. But OK I’ll spell it out): I thought if I didn’t get the essay right the first time, maybe I could transfer some learned casserole skills. If I could get myself to re-do it, it might come out better the second time. It might need a little more dialogue (that would be the flour), it could use more real emotion (yup, you got it, that’s the corn, genuine, not modified), it could be allowed to sit awhile before sending it out (yes, more time in the oven). And then, maybe, it could be enjoyed by myself and a few other people. OK, so keep them casseroles comin’!!!!!

* * *
Carole Mertz began writing 10 years ago and has followed WOW! Women on Writing ever since. Her essays are here and there in the literary world: at ARC, CutBank, Dreamers Creative Writing, Eclectica, MER, Quill & Parchment, South 85 Journal, Working Writer, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, WPWT, etc. She lives with her husband in Parma, Ohio, where she teaches piano to young children.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Goofy goals that I might actually accomplish!

I'm good at setting goals, but not always accomplishing goals. Sometimes setting goals feels like a to-do list, and my life frequently feels like one giant to-do list. Have I mentioned I don't like to-do lists?

To be fair, I set my list of writing goals for the year with my writers group, which, honestly, will help me stay on track. They are wonderful women who are supportive and kind and helpful in many ways. But, as I was reviewing my goals yesterday and trying to decide where to begin, I realized I didn't feel like doing any of them.

So, I did what I usually do, and started reading the news feed on my phone, and after that began watching true crime stories on the Justice Network. I don't know why these shows are suddenly appealing to me, but I hope it's because I'm a writer, and not a murderer.

After about an hour of not accomplishing any goals, I began looking at Craigslist because I had run out of pertinent news stories to read, and the only crime re-enactment show was one I had already seen. I went to the listing for free stuff, and found a variety of weird and interesting objects.

That list changed my life! I now have a new set of writing goals that are easy and fun, and am much more likely to complete. Feel free to use these, or come up with your own so you, too, can become a productive goal accomplisher.

Goal #1: Write a story or poem around one or more of the unique, free items found on Craigslist. Here's a few I found: Four packs of pork chops, one cargo cover for a 2004 Highlander, a manual titled The Complete Guide to Hermit Crabs, fresh and frozen breast milk, a pink, 1950's-bathroom sink, Kitty litter buckets, and a baby grand piano.

#2: Go to Goodwill and find an old object and make up a back story. Bonus points if you can (fake) attribute it to a famous writer.

#3: Find the oldest book in your public library, and use some of those character names in your next story.

#4: Kill off one (or all) of your characters whose name begins with the letter "G." (Sorry, Greg!)

#5: Research a city you've never visited, and set a poem or short story there.

#6: Find five-ten books with the word "love" in the title, and then write your own title using the word "love" once, and all (or most) of the other words from all the titles to create the greatest love story title of all time. Mine is: Eternal love story for a dog I respect in the time of cholera.

#7: Create/describe a monster who wears an article of clothing. While searching Canadian Myths and Legends, I came across the description of a native legend from the Queen Charlotte Islands named The Haida Monster, who has two tails and wears a hat.

#8: Kill a character with a kitchen utensil that is not a knife or other sharp object. Can someone be potato-masher-ed to death? Let's find out! (Maybe I should stop watching those true-crime shows.)

#9: Begin a collection of writing-related objects, like pens, books, or pictures of writers. You don't have to finish, just start. Easy!

#10: Create a family legend. Would your ancestors be captains of industry, pioneers who settled the West, or bank robbers? You can also go to a thrift store and find an old picture of someone and claim that person as your infamous relative. Hang that picture prominently in your writing space.

#11: Describe a ghost that might live in your house.

#12: Follow an author on social media.

#13: Attend an author presentation at a library, bookstore or other venue.

#14: Wear something that makes you feel like a writer. Do you have a beret, cape, or silky scarf? Wear this (or these) item(s) to a coffee shop and write, pretend to write, or just drink coffee.

#15: Find a book in your house and read one page.

#16: If you usually write with a computer, use a pen and paper, and vice versa. Bonus points if you have an old typewriter and write something on that, unless that's what you normally write with.

#17: Write in a new place. Write outside, in the car, on public transportation, in the mall, or Costco! I once wrote a short poem in the produce section of a grocery store.

There you have it, a list I can actually complete. As you create your list of 2019 goals, add some that are simple. And have fun with it, I know I will!

Mary Horner doesn't always accomplish her goals for the year, but after having some fun and then feeling guilty, will get around to them eventually!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Fear is Not an Option

Created with

I listen to a lot of personal development podcasts as a way to try and psyche myself up while I’m exercising or driving. I’m a person who knows she needs to stretch and grow in a lot of areas in her life—from nurturing my personal relationships to cooking healthy foods to being a good spouse/parent. But deep down, I’m also a creative individual, and that can make me very insecure and introverted at times. I work in a job where sales and development fall in my department, and sometimes I shy away from putting myself out there and building relationships I know make sense for our company. I feel that sometimes we also do that in our writing lives.

I was listening to one of my podcasts and overheard this piece of advice: Do one thing that scares you every day. If it’s something you’re really afraid of, try and tackle it the first thing. Cold calling a prospective new client? Do that before you’ve had time to talk yourself out of it and then cross it off your list. If you’ve done nothing else that day, at least you challenged yourself and got over one obstacle.

For me, the thing I was most afraid of was querying agents. I don’t know why I let it intimidate me so much, but I did. I was so worried I would send off a query with a typo (believe me, it’s happened) and I thought I would become blacklisted by that agent or their agency. I worried my writing simply wasn’t good enough, and I envisioned the person on the other end of the computer shaking their head at my gall for submitting.

Guess what? Since I started querying agents a few months ago I haven’t received one snarky reply. I’ve had polite rejections, but not once has someone said “You need to learn how to write a proper query and by the way, you should probably keep your day job.” Each time I open my e-mail to compose a new query letter, and paste in my synopsis and opening chapters, I gain a little more courage. As I become more confident, I’ve begun researching other ways to get my novel in front of publishing gatekeepers, from entering writing contests for fiction writers to exploring what smaller publishing houses are accepting un-agented submissions.

This past year, I did many things that scared me in my writing. I started sharing my work with more people. I took an essay-writing class where I explored painful childhood memories. I joined a local writer’s club so I can attend meetings and network (now I actually have to force myself to go to a meeting) and I’m researching conferences. Each step I take, each fear I conquer, leads me closer and closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a published novelist.

And if I can do it, so can you.

What is the one thing you’re most afraid of in your writing? What would you like to do to get over that fear? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. She enjoys true crime and personal development podcasts, writing in the young adult and suspense/thriller genres, and is obsessed with entering writing contests, now that she’s no longer afraid of them. Check out her blog at

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Interview with Emily Messina, Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Today we are chatting with Emily Messina, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2018 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the chance to, make sure you read Emily's story 448 and then come back and read our interview with this incredible writer.

Emily Messina moved from Orange County, California to Boulder, Colorado in order to attend Naropa University Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. While writing has always been her passion, she has just begun to take it seriously. In addition to writing fiction, Emily dabbles in poetry and is working on a short book of poems. This year she has been focusing on finishing her first novel. Emily’s full time job is the Director of Development for a non-profit that focuses on ending homelessness through employment and housing. She enjoys a good glass of wine and reading her favorite poets Charles Bukowski and Anne Sexton. When she is not writing she spends her time exploring Boulder with her two children.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

Your story "448" was absolutely incredible. What was the inspiration behind your story?

One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I have the privilege of interviewing graduates of our Ready to Work program – an employment and housing program for adults experiencing homelessness. While I was interviewing a woman, who recently graduated from the program, the idea just came to me. My story 448 has nothing to do with this woman’s actual life experiences, but I was overwhelmed by her strength and determination to change her life. I wanted to write a story of a little girl who struggled and had an incredibly difficult life, but it would never break her spirit – she would survive no matter what.

That message truly was excellently portrayed in your story. I was reading your bio and it mentioned how you've just begun to take your writing seriously. What inspired you to start focusing on your writing and taking it seriously?

For the last nine years, I have been focusing on my career and giving absolutely no time to my creative writing. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job that does make such a positive impact in my community, but as I advanced in my career, I felt like something was missing. Deep inside of me, I knew I was neglecting a very important part of myself. I am a writer and in order to live a fulfilling life I have to give myself time to write.

I also believe that writing can be incredibly healing and so on my own time, I have started a writing group for trainees that are in the Ready to Work program. This has motivated me more than I ever thought it would. To be in a room with others, who may, or may not have experience writing, and are willing to take the risk and express themselves is incredibly exciting to witness. The creativity of the writing group helps to keep me focused on my writing goals and has given me an internal push to take my writing seriously.

That group sounds like it would be incredibly inspiring! So, this story gave me such an eye-opening experience. How did you get inside the head of a child growing up around Hell's Angels bikers?

While writing this story I focused less on my main character’s life circumstance and more on how she reacted and coped with what was going on around her. I did do a bit of research on the Hell’s Angels in order to make sure any references I used in my story were accurate.

Wow, that must have been very interesting research. So, I loved reading you went to Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. How did that experience help you as a writer?

My experience at Naropa really molded me as a writer. My professors pushed me out of my writing comfort zone and encouraged me to stretch beyond my limits. I also learned how much discipline it takes to be a writer. To write, you actually have to show up and do it, and over time the more you write the better you get.

I completely agree with your last sentence! I loved reading that you work for a non-profit that focuses to end homelessness through employment and housing. That is a cause close to my heart. How do your experiences at your job shape your writing?

I meet so many amazing individuals with unbelievable stories and I am constantly moved by their resolve to change their life situations. When I listen to someone tell me their story, I am inspired not by their life circumstance, but by how they were able emotionally overcome their personal struggles. I take the essence of the amazing inner strength that I encounter every day and weave it into my characters.

How inspirational that is! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and best of luck to you on your writing.

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