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Saturday, August 17, 2019

 

Three Types of Character Arcs: Positive, Flat and Negative

“Be sure you have a well-developed character arc.” This is one of those pieces of advice that I’ve heard so often that I no longer really thought about it. Yeah, character arc. Ordinary world, inciting incident, and so forth.

But then I saw a post by K.M. Weiland in which she discussed flat and negative arcs. When I saw this, I realized that normally I only think about a positive character arc where the character grows or changes. In its simplest form, it works like this:

1. Character is pushed to solve a problem or question a long held belief.
2. She meets a series of increasingly difficult challenges.
3. She solves the story problem, growing in the process.

I’ve got classics on the brain right now. Two classics with a positive character arc are The Hobbit, Bilbo learns hobbits aren't rooted to the Shire, and A Christmas Story, Scrooge learns to value something other than wealth.

If you want to go beyond the positive arc, you can write a flat or negative arc.  
In a flat arc, the character defends her position against the world and does not change. Again, here is a simplified version:

1. The character believes a truth that somehow goes against the world view. 
2. The enemy or society attempt to “correct” the character’s perceptions.
3. The character maintains her belief. She solves the problem, changing her world.

Flat arcs exist in all types of literature but are common in thrillers (spy vs world) and mysteries. I had to think about this for a minute but it makes sense.  In a cozy mystery, someone dies.  Either the authorities don't think it was murder or they are going after the wrong person (a world built on lies).  Thus again and again Miss Marple solved solved the murder (proved her truth). 

A negative arc leaves the character worse off than she was in the beginning. It can work in two different ways:

1. The character believes a lie.
2. Something happens that challenges this lie.
3. In the end the character may see the truth but it is horrible or the character believes an even worse lie.

OR

1. The character believes the truth.
2. Something calls this truth into question or makes it too risky.
3. The character accepts a lie as the truth.

Tragedies like Hamlet and stories where a character is disillusioned, Weiland discusses The Great Gatsby, are both negative character arcs.

Admittedly, I’m most comfortable working with a positive story arc. So of course, I am currently working with a flat arc – writing a mystery. What type of character arc are you currently writing?

If you want to read more on this topic, here are Weiland's recent posts, parts 1 and 2, on character arcs.  Search on her site because it is a topic she writes about extensively.

--SueBE

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 23rd, 2019.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

 

Creating Flawed Characters: Learning from Rebecca Roanhorse

One of the best things about being an author is that I can call reading study. "Honey, can you finish dinner. I’m learning all about creating flawed characters.” 

This was definitely the case when I was reading Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse. In part, Roanhorse accomplished this by giving some of her characters supernatural abilities, called clan powers, that can also become flaws.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the books, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts are both post-apocalyptic stories set in and around the Dinétah or Navajo homeland. Not only are resources limited, as anyone would expect in a post-apocalyptic world, monsters from the Dine cosmology now roam the land. Fortunately, people with clan powers are also a part of this new world.

Writing a hero, especially one with super abilities, is tricky. If you aren’t careful you give your character so much power that no one can defeat them. This makes it hard to build tension because your reader never doubts that the hero will prevail. Another problem is that in your quest to create the next Captain America, you mold a character who is too goody-two-shoes to tolerate.

Reader Beware: Although I’m not going to give the plot away, I am going to spoil part of the mystery of these books.

Roanhorse solves both of these problems with the aforementioned clan powers. Maggie has super speed and uncanny abilities in combat. The downside? After using her powers, she is so exhausted that she is vulnerable. There is also the temptation to solve problems with combat when negotiation might work even better.

Sometimes a character hides part of their abilities. Maggie knows that Kai was studying how to manipulate weather but it takes time to get to the bottom of his silver tongue.  He is the most persuasive person Maggie has ever met and then she realizes that his clan powers include persuasion. But she understands why he hides it. Who is going to trust someone who can magically manipulate them? 

 It is hard to remember you are human with powers like these.  Maggie in particular often isolates from others.

Other times, it isn't that the clan power has a downside.  Instead, how it works is off-putting. Ben is a top notch tracker and because of her clan powers the girl is fast and agile. After refusing to use her full powers, Ben shows Maggie how ingesting a blood sample enables her to find anyone no matter how far away the person now is. Ben herself worries what evil this drive to ingest blood might indicate.

Using Roanhorse's techniques you can make your character’s life as difficult as it can be by giving them a strength that can also be a weakness.   Make things even worse by putting this character in a situation where they don’t want to use their ability but they may have no choice.

--SueBE

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 23rd, 2019.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

 

What does it take to be a writer?

Some of us are writers, and some say we are writers because we think it's cool and want to be associated with something cool. I read that many WWII soldiers lied about being in Patton’s army although they weren’t. They wanted to be associated with his reputation, rather than reality.

There is nothing wrong with being a writer wannabe. I think it's the highest compliment a person can pay a writer (I wannabe just like you). And it's a lofty goal, so I am not here to disparage those who say they are writers but don't write. Maybe it's just be a matter of time. Maybe someone isn't quite ready, and is preparing mentally for the challenge ahead. That's actually a positive way to spend time while waiting to be a writer.

For those of you who write regularly, or are waiting to write, I want to clarify some of the steps to being a writer that you may not have considered, and weren't taught in school. Here are five strategies that may help you become a writer.

1) Define your goal, and defend your goal. Be specific about your goal, and defend your time, your ideas, your workspace, your self-image as a writer, and especially your words. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't let others critique your work, but make sure anyone who offers suggestions about your writing is someone you respect as a reader and a writer.

2) Break down the writing into manageable steps. This can mean a million different things to a million different writers. Find the one that works best for you: A few sentences a day, a few paragraphs per day, a chapter a day, or an hour a day. It's up to you to define how much writing and/or time you need to be a writer.

3) Meditate, journal, or go through therapy to determine if you think you can accomplish this goal and handle the change. Self-efficacy is the belief that you can do it. Becoming a writer is about change, and change can be scary. Are you committed to setting aside time every day to write? Are you committed to marketing? You don’t have to be a great public speaker, but are you comfortable talking to people? All of these activities call for change, and some of us are not up to the challenge.
Again, there's a cure. Take it slowly, try one change per month, or year. There's no time limit. Reduce anxiety by talking to others who have already made that change, which helps you see that it can be done, and visualize yourself doing the same.

4) We've all heard great storytellers. There are several teachers in the adjunct office at my school who keep everyone on the edge of his or her seat with story after story. And someone will inevitably say, "You should write a book."
Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I was helping someone with this problem a few years ago, and he kept looking up from the page and talking to me. He felt more comfortable speaking than he did writing.
“Don’t talk to me,” I said. “Write it down.”
This very smart and talented man had a huge block when it came to putting words on the page. And there are many other smart and talented people out there who will continue to talk and not write. If this is you, here’s one suggestion: In your iPhone, click on the utilities tab on one of the main screens, and select voice memos. The next time you are in a room full of people telling one fabulous story after another, record yourself. You can transcribe it later. This puts your words into a fixed form. From there, you can edit, or change them completely. But to be a writer, you write, at least eventually.

5) Even successful writers have doubts, but those of us who toil away under the cloak of anonymity ask ourselves, Who am I that others should listen to me? I am nobody. Yeah, and so was Emily Dickinson. But I have nothing to say. I challenge you to look at your writing differently. Don’t look at it as something sacred that must be perfect so that the moment it comes into existence a choir of angels comes down to Earth to sing its praises.

Writing is a lesson to share. If there is no discovery for the writer, there is no discovery for the reader (I don't know who said that first, but it wasn't me). And here's the secret to be a writer: All you have to do is put your curiosity on the page. What if _______ happened? Write it out to see where it goes. Learn from the discovery and then share. If you write how-to write essays like I do, then also share what you did right, and what you did wrong. For me, the wrong stuff is plentiful, and I've had the honor and privilege to share that information with others here, and I thank you for that opportunity.

What do you think it takes to be a writer?

Mary Horner is a writer who struggles with trying to write every day.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

 

Interview with Charlotte McElroy: Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Charlotte’s Bio:

"It’s never too late to pursue a dream. I am 80 years old and because of WOW I might see my dream to be a writer come true. I have been published in Best Rejected Manuscripts of 2018, Rainshadow Poetry 2016, Fifty Word Stories, and Cafe Lit.

"I was born in 1939 and raised in the Texas Panhandle. I migrated to Ventura, California after teaching in Amarillo, Texas. I retired in 1995 and moved to Sequim, Washington.

"During my forty years of service in public education I earned two master degrees in education and a doctorate in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara.

"I wrote and piloted three programs for the Ventura school system during the 70s and 80s. My last job was principal of the first middle school in Ventura county.
The new middle school, called Anacapa, went on to become an Outstanding State School in 1991 and then a National Distinguished School in 1992. We were ranked number 10 in the nation and I was chosen as one of best 100 principals in the US.

"I am grateful for my rich career. Still, in my heart, I never lost that longing to be called a writer."

Charlotte has definitely achieved the goal of becoming a writer.  Click through to read “Demons in Paradise” and then come back here to learn about her writing process. 

WOW: What was the inspiration behind “Demons in Paradise”?

Charlotte: The inspiration behind “Demons in Paradise” was an attempt to present my feelings about growing up in a strict religious small town where your worth was based on how much money your family made and the church they attended. I wrote it to ease my anger about being labeled because I was poor.

I did it with humor because when people laugh they seem to connect with you. I did a story slam first. The reaction was encouraging. The audience cheered when I finished. Friends encouraged me to write the story.

WOW: How did this story evolve during the rewrite process?

Charlotte: The story evolved because WOW gave me the courage to try. I asked for a critique and the suggestions were the inspiration I needed to have the confidence to move forward. Someone cared!

I didn’t think twice about making the changes. They sounded great. I was kind of an old car that was sputtering along on the highway and about to run about of gas. But with the feedback I was born again and ready to go.

This was the show and not tell. I’d read about it and the feedback gave me a picture of what it was. That was exactly what I needed. The detail didn’t just need to be well told. That wasn’t the point. Now when I read it out loud I can hear it after receiving that feedback on what I need to take a look for and do.

WOW: This story is rich in detail. How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?

Charlotte: I started out with too many details. I tend to be married to my words and I would overstate a point. I was vociferating on that point of double names, thinking of it as Southern but I’m not sure that’s really just from the South. I was just making too much of it.

The critique was my guide to help the story begin to flow. I experienced a feeling of freedom I had not felt before WOW proved to me it is never too late to pursue a dream. I was that little girl again who ran through the fields with her dog eager to meet the unknown.

For now flash fiction and poetry seem to work well for me.

WOW: You told me that your favorite poets include Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver. How does your flash fiction writing process differ from your poetry process? Or are they more similar than different?

Charlotte: I wrote poetry because it seemed a good way to express my thoughts in a shorter form. There are so many wonder women poets. They paint beautiful pictures with well-chosen words. Flash fiction and poetry for me are much the same. Most of my stories come from my poems.

We have a local poet, Claudia Castro Luna. When I heard her, she not only taught, you could see her up there living her words. She was working on a book, Killing Marias. It is about the Spanish women who have been killed at our borders and just forgotten. Obviously they aren’t all Marias but she also really listened about my work. You could see it in her face. I feel very lucky to get to see and talk to her.

WOW: What else are you currently writing? How do flash fiction and poetry fit into your long-term writing goals?

Charlotte: I have three binders full of stories about growing up in the Texas Panhandle. Most of the stories are short and seem to fit the flash fiction form. The first story I wrote was a poem about wheat harvest. This turned into a short story.

I also have stories about some of my students. I am now working on one I started many years ago. It is about a twelve year old boy. He, his sister and mother were held captive in his house by his father.

He had been in a Nazi prison camp during World War II. There was a TV film made in 1987 called "Escape From Sobibor." It is the story of about 300 Jews who escaped the camp. Most were hunted down and killed. He lived to tell his story.  

Just a quick note about "Escape From Sobibor". Thomas Blatt was the father. Lenny, was his son, and my student. Thomas was only 16 when he made the escape. The story of my time with Lenny and his father does not have a story book ending. I think the thread that ties my story to this story is called persecution. The persecution of the Jews has always haunted me. In no way does my perceived persecution by the Baptist compare with what happened to Thomas. As a teacher I did what I could for Lenny. It wasn't enough.

From a very young age I fought for anyone who was considered an underdog. I almost lost my job for some of the things I did. Like marching with my Hispanic students to protest busing. Persecution is a subtle and a powerful way to control people. For some reason I seemed to have recognized it at a very early age.

WOW: Your drive to lift others up is so needed in today's world. Thank you again for sharing your insights. It is so exciting that WOW could help you realize your dream to become a writer.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

 

Three Reasons Female Writers are Addicted to True Crime

This spot gives me all the creepy feels.

Almost every day I hit the greenway in my neighborhood, earbuds in, for a two to three-mile run/walk. And 85 percent of the time, I have a true-crime podcast playing to help me pass the time. It’s probably not the best choice of entertainment for a solitary workout on a greenway, but I know I’m not alone in my podcast choices. It’s an addiction, an obsession I can’t break. I even attended a writing conference specifically geared toward crime writers at the beginning of August called MurderCon. It was fascinating.

During this conference (where the majority of attendees were women, I’m not gonna lie), we sat in classrooms unflinching as actual bloody crime scene photos played out on the screens in front of us. We heard tales of cases from former F.B.I. and ATF agents, law enforcement officers and forensic anthropologists.

I had my own therapist recently ask me why I thought I was so obsessed with true crime. I couldn’t really explain it to him, other than to say I felt like I’d dodged many unsavory characters throughout the course of my lifetime and I always wonder “what if?” After doing a little more research on this topic, here are three reasons I feel women (and female writers such as Ann Rule) are so fascinated by true crime.

It Teaches Us Situational Self-Awareness
I guess for me, the more I know, the more I can protect myself. When I hear stories of the various situations these crimes happen in, I make a mental note in my head. Each time I’m walking out on that greenway, my eyes are always shifting around me to keep my surroundings in check. I also don’t go out shopping alone at night very often, and if I do, I keep my keys in my hand and my phone in my pocket so there are no distractions.

It Gives Us an Adrenaline Rush
I’ve seen this mentioned in several articles. Hearing about these crimes and the capture of the criminals gives us a rush of adrenaline we can’t say no to. Think about how the runaway success of podcasts such as “Dirty John,” “Dr. Death,” and “Up and Vanished,” or the Investigation Discovery channel and the now re-branded crime-focused Oxygen network. We keep tuning in episode after episode, to hear the startling conclusions, and for me, this rush of adrenaline combined with endorphins from exercise makes for a combination I turn to each and every day.

It Gives Us a Glimpse of the Dark Side of Humanity We Can’t Explain
Bingo. For me, it all goes back to motive. I was listening to a podcast recently called “22 Hours: An American Nightmare,” and I couldn’t wrap my brain around what the convicted killer’s motive would be. I always want to dig deeper, to know why so-called “normal” people do these crazy things, and many writers feel the same way. Many of the short stories I write are based off actual cases and other writers do the same. Gillian Flynn, anyone? She was inspired to write the runaway hit Gone Girl after the Lacey Peterson disappearance.

I don’t think we’re all obsessed with true crime because we secretly harbor maniacal, murderous fantasies. I think the truth lies somewhere in between—we want to learn how to better protect ourselves, understand people better, and . . . of course, receive that addictive rush of adrenaline.


Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is one of the biggest true crime addicts you’ll ever meet. She wrote her thriller/suspense story, “The Polaroid,” after studying an unsolved missing persons case from the 1990s.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

 

Bea Hawkins, 2nd Place Essay Winner: Writing About Resiliency and Mental Illness

Welcome to 2nd place winner, Beatrix Hawkins. I'm very excited that I was assigned to interview her, as her winning piece in WOW!'s essay contest, "Nomadic Spell," is now her first published work, and we both live in St. Louis! She is interesting and insightful, and this is an interview to read, learn from, and enjoy. Her essay describes a time in her life as a tween when she and her mom were homeless. Her insight into her life is something that will inspire all of us--no matter what our backgrounds. So let's get started!

Here's a bit about Bea: Bea Hawkins is a legal assistant by day and closeted creative nonfiction writer by night, who has lived all over St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t editing legal documents, you can find her making sarcastic comments to her husband, buried under a heap of their snuggly children and dogs, or daydreaming in her ever-growing garden.

Her first writing gigs began in middle school where she would barter editing and writing tips in exchange for help with her much-dreaded algebra homework. Forever fascinated with the human experience and the secrets we all keep, circumstances led her to try and empathetically rationalize a charmingly dysfunctional upbringing. She has learned so much about the Universe and humanity, and that we all battle the chaos hurled our way from time-to-time. And, like any other wildflower, it isn’t until you are completely ripped apart from where you once stood firmly, that you are able to see just how strong your own self-made roots truly are. It is always the deepest and darkest parts we bury, that eventually fight their way toward sunlight. Only recently, has she felt brave enough to share these parts with you.

“Nomadic Spell” is her first published work. She is currently working on a collection of essays involving the resiliency of the human spirit and staying afloat in the beautiful, but dark, waters of mental illness and unpredictability she experienced throughout childhood... and beyond... She is also working on creating her own website (beahawkins.com). In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to her at beahawk.ink[at]gmail[dot]com.

WOW: Congratulations on winning 2nd place with your essay, "Nomadic Spell!" In this essay, you share a very personal and heartbreaking period of your tween life when you and your mother were homeless. We are touched that you shared this essay in our contest, and it is so beautifully written. Why did you choose to title it "Nomadic Spell?"

Beatrix: Thank you so much! I'm still pinching myself that I won 2nd place among such an amazing and inspiring group of writers. This has been such a fulfilling and memorable time in my life, so thank you to everyone who makes WOW! the supportive and inspiring place it is.

"Nomadic Spell" was one of the most personal and shameful stories of my life. I managed to keep this secret of ours hidden for over 20 years and felt it was time to finally free myself from the shame of it, and I now feel stronger having shared it. I read a quote that said, "The thing you are most afraid to write...Write that." This struck me, and I had to try and find a poetic way to share such a confusing and life-changing summer that I survived. I wanted to capture the innocence I still had at the beginning of that summer, while letting the reader know I had grown up more than expected by its end.

I titled it this way because I truly felt like a nomad for most of my childhood and wanted to focus on a specific period of time that could stand alone and define me as an innocent wanderer. And although I thought of "spell" as a period of time, it was also very much an enchanted time where I was able to notice peace within chaos. I felt like I had been blessed in a way to have this inexplicable calmness washed over me, which shielded me at times from so many of the shocking things that were occurring. Although we were drifters that summer, I felt very aware of seeing all the beauty in any given place, and it helped me make it through things I couldn't understand.

WOW: That is an amazing way to look at that time in your life, and it is easy to see why your writing speaks to so many readers. Your resiliency,which you just described in your answer above, really stands out in your essay. "Nomadic Spell" also has an interesting ending--with the different colored lights and language as if you are driving, which from the essay, seems like you did too much of during that time. Why did you choose this format for the end? Is this the way you first wrote it? Did this happen during revision?

Beatrix: The ending did develop through revision. I played with the form of this essay many, many times and revised it more times than I can count. I read this aloud to my husband so many times before I understood the rhythm of how I wanted the end to be. Only then could I truly hear it and feel it, and hoped that tying the elements of the streetlights with the drifting wildflower theme would leave an impact and resonate with the reader.

I had it originally written in a more chronological format, ending with the phone call to my friend, where the reader was with me from beginning to end, already knowing my feelings and all the things I couldn't say. Then I started breaking it up into parts, lumping the sections that went together and could still flow to the next section easily. It then became clear that I would still introduce our innocence in the beginning and began to end it with the darkest thoughts and emotions I had felt all summer and leave the reader, instead, just now learning all the things I couldn't say, while still understanding the importance of my friend's point of view.

My thoughts came back to the moments in the car, and I wanted to make a play on those words. I also remembered feeling powerless at that time, and thought of how traffic lights direct us where and when to go in life, causing us to slow down, go, or stop in a moment's notice. This quick, sudden direction made me think of ending the last few "paragraphs" as short, and hopefully powerful one line sentences.

I think of revising as a literal way of re-envisioning how your story unfolds. What do you want to say and what are the sentences with the most impact that can get you there? I'll ask myself this over and over until I feel it.

Writers have to be our own kindest, yet strictest, critics. We're all here, hoping to leave readers with one story, one moment...just one sentence...that leaves another soul stuck there in an emotion with you. That's what I search for when I read, and pray that I am able to give that back when I write.

WOW: I love this. So many writers almost fear that revision process--feeling like they are never finished. But this example you just gave us does two things: one, it shows us why you chose what you did and how you got to that point, and two, you knew when you were done with the essay with how it felt and sounded to you. I like that you included how you read your piece out loud. So, switching gears, your bio mentions that you are working on a collection of essays about "resiliency of the human spirit and staying afloat in the beautiful, but dark, waters of mental illness and unpredictability she experienced throughout childhood." Is "Nomadic Spell" part of this collection? How far along are you on the remaining essays? When you finish, what do you plan to do?

Beatrix: Yes, I am working on this collection, and 2019 has been a huge push for this to move away from just a dream to an actual reality! I currently have a very rough draft of ten or so essays, with "Nomadic Spell" absolutely being a part of this collection.

I've been working very hard on going back to older pieces to edit them to stand on their own as well and have had a burst of new creative energy where I've added three additional creative nonfiction pieces to the collection, as well as a few brief poems that go with many of the themes throughout the essays.

My hope is to get my first very rough draft completed by the end of year and ready to submit to an editor for help with revisions. My goal is to start submitting a completed manuscript by this time next year.

I feel that the stigma about mental illness is still strongly negative, and my hope is to take a step toward changing the perspective to be more empathetic. I hope my essays shed a compassionate light on the people who love, and are loved by, those often shamefully stamped, "Mentally Ill."

I've written myself out of hell and battled my own demons with a pen and paper. Writing has 100% saved my life at times and has always been a way for me to dissect and reconstruct my understanding of things that have occurred in my life. It's a healing and empowering experience. I hope that my essays explore looking at the worst events in life, and leaning into the poetic and deeper meanings that resiliency allows us all to see, just when we may have thought there was nothing left.

In the meantime, I've also been reading as much as I can, while seeking out communities like WOW! where I can submit other creative nonfiction flash pieces and hopefully find readers who are interested in hearing more, which has been an intimidating experience I'm trying to overcome. WOW! has given me confidence to continue down this path rather than standing at the starting point, too afraid to take that next step. I cannot thank you all enough and will definitely keep you posted!

WOW: Your collection sounds like something I would love to read. And we are so glad that you have found WOW! to be supportive and helpful on your journey. That's definitely one of our goals as an online community of creatives. No haters here! (smiles) Your bio also says that this is your first publication! How exciting is that! What did you do when you got the news that you had won 2nd place and that part of the prize was publication?

Beatrix: Yes! This has been beyond exciting and one of the happiest moments of my life! Through happy, blurry tears, I immediately sent the link to my husband...who then sent it along to every person we know. I couldn't wait to tell our daughters; and when I came home, there was lots of squealing and "Oh my God" and "I'm in shock!" statements from yours truly. Then, in typical mom-fashion, I gave many "follow-your-heart-and-tell-your-truth-and-anything-is-possible" speeches to our daughters, who kindly looked back at me with eyes that were witnessing something happy, something inspiring, something true.

With the support of my husband, I then very nervously sent the link to my friend of twenty-nine years, Winks, and let her in on the story I'd never been brave enough to share. Her support and encouragement in return was the extra icing on the cake. After happy tears and feeling like that part of my life could rest in peace, my husband and I wrapped up the night with a champagne-induced party for two in our living room. It's been a super happy and positive time in our family because I've always wanted to be a writer, to be open, and to embrace my authenticity. And, that finally felt very real for the first time, thanks to WOW!

WOW:  Oh my gosh, I absolutely love that story. I love that you were so excited and your family was, too; and you then had the courage to send your story to your friend. How amazing! I can only see things going up from here for you with your career! What is your writing routine like? We read that you write at night. Is this every night? Why night?

Beatrix: My writing routine is very much like me: good intentions sprinkled on a hot mess sundae. I went through years of putting writing on the back burner, always waiting around for all of that "extra time" I foolishly assumed writers had in spades. All of my "somedays" seemed to be further out of reach, while writing was always churning beneath the surface. I learned it would never happen until I dedicated myself to make the time and make it a priority in my life. I found it easiest and the least guilt-ridden, when I make time to do this at night. Even if it's only 15 minutes in a notebook or on my phone - it's 15 minutes of creativity, reflection, or observations personal to me within a fleeting moment, that didn't exist before. That's how I try to think of it and that I owe it to myself to keep practicing...even when I don't feel like it. I now make myself write at least 15 minutes a day...even if it's about how lame my own 15 minute daily writing rule is...

And, if some sort of inspiration strikes during the day, in the middle of the night, etc., you have to jot it down, or it will be lost forever. I can't tell you how many crumpled Post-It notes I've found stuck to an old gum wrapper, or tucked in a purse pocket - and it instantly jolts me back to the one idea, the one sentence, the one word to run with that night.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking the time to read and share something so personal to who I am, from a place of where I've been.

WOW: You are so welcome, Bea. By the way, I wanted to mention that I wrote an entire women's fiction novel in little increments like that, almost every day, and it really does work--for any of you reading this that wonder how small increments can build books, they can. Thank you, Bea, for letting us into your world! Best of luck to you with your writing!

Margo L. Dill is the managing editor for WOW! Women On Writing, where she also teaches classes. You can find out more about her own writing on her website, Look to the Western Sky. 

Inspired by Bea's story? Enter your own creative nonfiction essay in our next contest. Details here. 

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Friday, August 09, 2019

 

What Do You Consider Iconic?

Recently, Woodstock turned 50.

Recently, I turned 60. And I was at Woodstock. 

Okay, apparently there are thousands of people who claim they were there...  but they weren't really. I certainly wasn't. I was too young, and yet when I fell in love with music, it was CSN&Y. It was Janis Joplin. It was Joni Mitchell. 

(When I was old enough, I saw Joni Mitchell in concert. I basked in an expanse of grass while Richie Haven strummed and begged for "Freedom"" over and over. [He was Woodstock's opening act.] I played a couple of CS&N albums until the ridges almost wore out.) I listened to a Janis Joplin 8-track tape over and over.

I watched a story about Woodstock's 50th birthday, fascinated. It began with an couple of senior citizens who were there. It ended with the iconic photograph that featured them.



The silver-haired woman. The pot-bellied man. They're now Grammy and Poppi, but fifty years ago, they were the couple embracing under the blanket.

That iconic picture made me think of what iconic books have seared through my soul--just like that one scene from a New York farm blazed its way across the world.

I was pleased that some of my favorite books are on the list of iconic books--novels like:
  • The Color Purple
  • 1984
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Tale of Two Cities
  • The Little Prince
  • Ender's Game
Writers are usually readers. Or at least good writers are usually readers. Like a sponge, someone who works on their writing craft soaks up strategies and images and word choice from other authors.

I'd like to think that all the wonderful books I've read help color my writing. At least I hope so. 

Books are iconic because they move masses of people... to tears, usually, or at least to another way of thinking. They arc across more than one generation. Children or adults read them, and then they give them to their children.

I'm working on a couple of manuscript. Do I think it will become thought of as "iconic" once it's published?

No. I just like to think that all the piles of wonderful books I've read help make me into a better writer. Book by book.

What books do you consider iconic? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sioux is a freelance writer and novelist wannabe, along with being a middle school teacher and a dog rescuer. She's currently working on launching a website, but it's not quite up and going yet. (Getting her classroom ready got into the way. School begins--with students--in two days!) Until the website goes live, check out Sioux on her blog.
 

Friday Speak Out!: Dr. Scribelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Being Pretentious and Love Short Fiction

by Savannah Cordova

I studied English in college, as I imagine many of us did. And one thing that I had drummed into me as an English student — not even by teachers so much as my fellow English majors — was the longer the work, the better. David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami: these were the beacons of great contemporary literature, according to my classmates.

As for short fiction, the opposite was true. Yes, we occasionally studied well-known short stories in introductory classes. But the underlying implication was that we should only care about these particular stories because their authors had also made more “significant” contributions to the canon — i.e. full-length books.

Post-college, I spent about a year trying to write a novel, thinking it was the lone path to true writing prestige and the respect of the literati. What I didn’t realize was that attempting longform fiction with barely any shortform experience was like diving into the deep end of a pool without having had a single swim lesson. And the more I thrashed, the further I sank.

Desperately seeking a more manageable medium, I eventually stumbled upon Reedsy’s weekly short story contest. Contestants could choose from a selection of five prompts, and only had to write 1,000 words minimum. I figured I may as well give it a shot and, after selecting a prompt, began to work.

The result was a piece of creative writing better than any other fiction I’d ever attempted, including (and especially) my failed book. As it turned out, I didn’t need the pretension and pressure of trying to write the Great American Novel; what I needed was a little structure, tempered by flexibility and freedom, to write something quick and fun. Invigorated, I submitted that piece, and shed my old prejudices to become an enthusiastic advocate of the short story. Over the next few months, I won a handful of contests, became a finalist in others, and — most importantly — regained my confidence and genuine love of writing.

Another upshot of becoming a short story writer was that I managed to get a job with Reedsy, the host of the first contest I’d entered (and eventually won). Of course, this wasn’t based on my contest entry alone, but it was pretty cool to be recognized for my experience and actually apply it to my work. Within the first month I joined, I not only wrote a comprehensive guide to how to write a short story, but also helped judge the very contest I’d previously entered!

Since then, my portfolio has grown in ways I never imagined, both in terms of my own stories and helping other writers manifest their own. And while I haven’t ruled out writing a novel someday, I’m certain that I could never do it without having pursued this very different — but just as rewarding — path first. So suck it, literati; these days, I’m all about that short story life.

* * *
Savannah Cordova is a short story enthusiast and writer with Reedsy, a publishing platform that connects authors with editors, designers, and marketers. She's also written for Thought Catalog and Litreactor and has been published in the Own Canyon Press anthology, No Bars and a Dead Battery. She writes fiction when she can, but you'll more often find her reading whatever she finds in the local secondhand bookshop.
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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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Thursday, August 08, 2019

 

The Layers and Shapes of Disquiet (International Literary Program)



by Christy O’Callaghan

For me, the 2019 Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal was about three words: layers, shape, and Sophia. If I’d taken the two weeks on my own to go to Lisbon, I would have enjoyed the city, especially the restaurants that let you sit for hours until you beg to pay your bill, the mosaic paths, tiled walls, Fado music, funky bathrooms, and the variety of tiny chairs to fit inside small shops and spaces. However, on my own, I wouldn’t have experienced the amazing workshops, the other attendees, or had the chance to meet local writers.


I took the non-fiction track with writer David Leavitt. We met in the basement of Livraria Ferin, the second oldest bookstore in Lisbon dating back to 1840. Our group always ran long as we shared, supported, and challenged each other. Each day we workshopped two of the attendee's pieces up to thirty pages in length. Our workshop covered accuracy, formatting, storytelling, language, voice, where a writer wanted their piece to go, and sometimes whether the writer wanted it to be non-fiction or fiction. Unlike fiction, non-fiction often includes discussing a writer's life to understand a piece and the direction if can take, so our workshop allowed for that natural discussion. After the workshop, participants often ate lunch together to talk. I haven’t attended many workshops, so I asked, “How does this compare?” Everyone said it was the best they’d ever attended, including some people with MFAs.


The primary workshops met Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings; on Tuesday and Thursday, we could take a secondary workshop. I selected Visual Storytelling taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice. She taught us storytelling through photographs using layers, focus, light/shadow, the rule of thirds, color pallet, and feel, when to zoom in and when to step back. All aspects of writing but captured through a camera. She told us that as we worked our story would present itself. I find writing is the same way. You start in one direction and end up someplace different.


For me, the common themes that emerged were layering and shape. They appeared not only in my workshops, but on literary tours, in talks about Fernando Pessoa (the author of The Book of Disquiet), the history, and the structure of the Lisbon itself. Viewed from the waterfront, buildings rise like steps from the lower section that the locals call new because an earthquake, a tsunami, and fires destroyed it all in one day in 1755, and climb up to the older and higher sections of this small capital city.

Shape was another major theme. David Leavitt told us we don’t have to kill our darlings, as is often advised. Instead, he said to ask, “Does it ruin the shape of the piece?” I sat in on the Poetry Editing workshop with John Hennessy, the poetry editor of The Common Magazine, and he discussed the shape of a poem and how the white space can evoke a feeling, room to breathe, and yet another layer. This is true for prose as well.

Adding layers and shape to the Disquiet experience were not only the writers leading the workshops and the fellow attendees but the Portuguese writers who held readings and discussions. As an American, it can be difficult to grasp the impact of a true dictatorship. Two years before I was born the forty-eight-year dictatorship ended. My lifespan is the difference between freedom and oppression. For places as old as Lisbon, a three-thousand-year-old city named by a God, forty-four years is a blink of an eye. It’s still fresh in their minds. Three of the female Portuguese writers helped me better understand this layer.

I met Teolinda Gersão as I stood outside the bookshop where she was presenting. “Welcome to the city that is always under construction,” she said to me. Her words rang through my head as she shared the history of Lisbon and told us about her book, The City of Ulysses, which I’m reading right now. She said today as people, “We want to find home,” and that “The world feels rootless.” I believe she’s right about that. I also agree with her that “History lies a lot,” because the victor writes it, but “myth doesn’t.”

Another woman I had the opportunity to see was Dulce Maria Cardoso. Her family moved to Angola when she was an infant and returned after the Angolan War of Independence in 1975. She went from a more modern country to one discovering itself and attempting to modernize. Americanize as she referred to it. She discussed what it was like as a young woman to move backward in time as she returned to a country she wasn’t familiar with and watched it attempt to catch up. Soon I’ll be reading her book, The Return.


The third woman who I will carry in my heart forever was Sophia de Mello Breyer Andresen. Her name appeared on the door to my hostel room, on the tote bags given upon arrival, and on my travels around the city. She is to Lisbon what Edna St Vincent Millay is to Camden, ME. We attended a reading of her poems at the adorable bookstore Menina e Moça on the famed Pink Street. Since she passed away in 2004, her translator Richard Zenith and her daughter, who owns the bookstore, Cristina Ovídio performed bilingual readings of Sophia’s work set to music. Her grandson even read a poem he’d written. When they finished, they passed around slips of edible paper with the following poem:


The Day
Spend the day with yourself
Let nothing distract you
A poem emerges so young and so old
You can’t know how long it has lived in you


After we read it a few times, we ate the paper to take the poem inside ourselves and make it a part of us.

Anyone can Google a country, read a history book, or familiarize themselves with a location, but to experience the words and hearts of the people who live there is different. To learn about history so removed from my own and to see a country healing itself through creative endeavors helped me to understand it on a deeper level. To have had this opportunity through Disquiet added shape and layers for me as a human and as a writer in a way I could never have done on my own.

To learn more about the Disquiet International Literary Program, visit www.disquietinternational.org. There are a variety of scholarships, fellowships, and a contest. The contest includes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry which are processed through Submittable. 2019 was their tenth year of the program, and they had over fourteen hundred applicants to the contest. I wasn’t the contest winner, but she was in my workshop, and I learned a great deal from her. However, I was honored to receive a scholarship to attend.

Along with the contest and scholarships, there are Luso-American Fellowships for four North American writers of Luso descent. Disquiet has made an effort to increase the awareness around Luso-American voices and launched their first book Behind the Stars, More Stars, which is an anthology of Luso-American alumni of the Disquiet program. Disquiet has a residency following the two weeks in Lisbon. I had a chance to attend the residency in Sao Miguel in 2018, and it was a true pleasure.

***




Christy O’Callaghan lives in Upstate, New York. She works with incarcerated adults seeking employment. Her favorite pastimes include hiking, gardening, swimming, and collecting sea glass—anything outside in the fresh air. You can learn more about her, her blog about being an over 40 newbie writer, and her work at www.christyflutterby.com.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

 

Writing Shorts

So I should start by saying I don’t mean writing—the verb—shorts. Like penning micro-fiction or 300-word- web content or book review blurbs. I’ve had fun writing shorts but what I mean today is writing—the adjective—shorts.

I also don't mean the shorts I wear when I'm writing. Though one must be cute and comfortable if one hopes to get any work done.

Ugh. Let's just move on and I think you'll get exactly what I mean:

Mention, the Media Monitoring Tool

I don’t have time to constantly check my name and see what comes up but I like to stay on top of where Cathy C. Hall may be out there in the wide web world. So I rely on a media monitoring tool called Mention that alerts me. So when that Mention email appeared in my inbox, I could see that Cathy C. Hall was in the newsletter promoting the latest issue of WOW!

Huh, I said to myself, seeing the issue was all about self-publishing. It just so happens that I’ve jumped into self-publishing in a big way in the last year, but I sure didn’t remember writing anything about that topic for this issue. So I read a-l-l-l-l of editor Margo Dill’s info-packed newsletter—and couldn’t wait to read the articles—and then I ended up at the mention of The Muffin and saw my name and a post. Nothing to do with self-publishing, but Mention had done its job.

Most of the time, I don’t need to check Mention’s alerts. I get the information of where my name appears and I remember writing that post or making that comment. But every once in a while, I do need to check because there are times when bloggers or writers will take a post and run it on their blog or platform—without asking first. And though they give me the credit, they should always ask. Which leads me to the next topic I needed to mention…

Release Forms

It also happens that my self-published, now-author friend has decided she’ll put out another book. Which means I’ll need to edit the manuscript and do the publishing work for her on KDP. And so just last week, she called to talk about her plan of interviewing lots of people to get their input re: the subject of the book.

Great! We worked on her interview questions and I strongly suggested she email these people with the questions and also send a permission/release form that allows her to use any or all of their responses in her book. But my friend balked at that form. These are church people, she said. There won’t be any problems, she said.

I’m sure she’s right. But I’m a firm believer in taking the safe route now to circumvent the sorry route later. And again, I didn’t have time to track down twenty or thirty people to make sure they were okay with every response (or part of a response) we used in the finished book.

In the traditional publishing world, permissions and/or using copyrighted material are handled for the author (even though often, the author has procured those permissions). But in the self-publishing world, the author is responsible for everything—and that includes securing permission for any work that’s not the author’s work.

Fortunately, there are plenty of free and downloadable forms available. Some are very simple—and exactly what we needed for our project—and others cover more complex situations. But in the end, the permission form serves the same purpose: to protect the author from any possible legal problems.

So that’s it for the writing shorts for this time around. Maybe next time I’ll get to writing—and I mean the verb here—shorts. (Now if only I had some kind of tool that reminded me about great ideas I have!)

~Cathy C. Hall

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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

 

Interview with Isabella Kestermann: Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place

Isabella’s Bio:

Isabella Kestermann is a recent graduate from Emerson College with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She is currently working at Free the Bid as a website auditor. Isabella is a nerd who enjoys creepy, bizarre stories that don’t scare her but leave her with lots of questions. Maybe that’s why her stories are so strange. In her free time, Isabella likes to paint, make doll furniture, and read manga. She is currently working on two short stories, one about vampires and the other about skin whitening cream.

She lives in Los Angeles with her cat Serendipity and her two very awesome parents. You can read more of her work at www.isabellakestermann.com or follow her on Instagram @isabella_asura.

If you haven't done so already, check out Isabella's award-winning story "Who Is BROWN GIRL?" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Isabella: I first came up with Who is BROWN GIRL? during my senior year in college. I wanted to write about a girl that looked like me but I was struggling. Every time I tried to develop a character, I felt like she was a stereotype or a copy of some other black girl I had seen before. Then late one night I realized that I should just write about how hard it is to tell a story about a brown girl compared a white boy. From there I pulled stereotypes and tropes from movies and books I read as a child. I had a lot of fun doing this but it also made me realize how ingrained these stereotypes are.

WOW: What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Isabella: I learned a lot about my brain in writing this and how the books I read as a child forced/trained me to expect certain kinds of stories (White male-centric stories) while veering away from others. I struggled so much with writing a story about a brown girl, (and still do) because I never saw myself or girls like me in the books I read. It’s weird but it’s actually hard to create something when you have been thought-policed to not even imagine it.

WOW: Yes! And there are so many people who are excluded from literature and media in general, so it’s wonderful that you’ve taken this step to write about someone/something new. Can you tell us more about the short stories you’re writing and what inspired you to start them?

Isabella: I have two other short stories I'm currently working on. One is a vampire story about a human teenage boy living with his family after they were turned into vampires. It’s based on a dream I had a few years back, so I don't have any grand thesis or inspiration behind it; I just enjoy vampire stories. My other story is a sci-fi story about a bi-racial girl pretending to be a robot and her experience with a cream product that permanently alters her skin tone. I wrote the first portion of it for my Afrofuturism class in college, based off of Octavia Butler’s story Parable of the Sower, a character from Invisible Man and few other materials, so now I’m just trying to finish it.

WOW: Good luck with your writing process! I love dream-inspired stories, and the story about the other story about a bi-racial girl pretending to be a robot sounds especially intriguing. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Isabella: I am slowly making my way through The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. I've always been a lover of Sci-fi and Fantasy but a lot of it is so euro-centric so I'm trying to broaden my horizons.

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

Isabella: I would tell my younger self to stop worrying about what other people think and stop writing what I thought other people would like. I wasted a lot of time in college writing work that I thought my teacher would like or give me a good grade. Because of that, I have a lot of stories that I never want to look at ever again, which is a shame.

WOW: That is a difficult habit to break, but definitely great advice. Anything else you’d like to add?

Isabella: Just want to say thank you to my mom for being my emotional support/editor/No. 1 supporter in the making of this story and really with life in general.

WOW: Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

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

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Monday, August 05, 2019

 

Should I Only Accept Speaking Engagements That Pay?

by Pictures of Money on Flickr.com
Warning: Controversial post ahead...proceed with care.

I'm getting ready to teach WOW!'s new school visits and author talks class (starts tomorrow--you can still sign up!), and there's one point that always comes up when talking to writers about doing speaking engagements.

Should I require payment? (or Should I NOT do the author visit if I don't get paid?)

Some children's writers, especially, will answer that question: should I require payment? with a resounding yes. There is no doubt--they say: if you don't get paid, don't do it. These writers argue that if we do author visits without pay, then we are setting the bar low, and it's harder for them to get paid (of course--because they aren't budging). I see their logic, and I wish it were that simple. But is there anything in life that is this black and white? No.

I've done school visits and author talks without any fee. I've done some for a small payment. And I've done some for a large stipend. Yes, my time is valuable, and yes, I enjoy getting paid to speak. But--I look at each opportunity I am presented carefully before I say yes or no based on payment. Here are some of the questions I ask myself if the payment from the organiziation or school is low or non-existent:

1. Do I know the person who is asking me to speak? (Is it a friend or family member?)
2. Will I have an opporunity to sell books--will teachers or parents be there?
3. How much time and travel is expected?
4. What is my career goal at this time?
5. Do I already have a presentation I can use--where I won't have to spend hours preparing?
6. Did I ask if there are any grants or PTO money, etc that could be used?
7. Can I claim my regular fee as waived and then as a donation?

Most of these points above are self-explanatory, and so I won't go into grand detail about each one. But if you have a specific question about why I ask myself one of those questions, put it in the comments, and I'll be sure to follow-up.

So let me give you an example of a speaking event I did for no fee. My old school where I taught fifth grade had a reading night. They had already invited me to their school to do an author assembly during the day, where I was paid a nice stipend and sold books. This reading night was a separate event. My friend asked me to help out at it and said I could sell my books to parents--they would even have the teacher who was introducing me encourage parents to come up and purchase an authographed copy when I finished speaking. So, I said yes.

I knew the person who was asking me to speak (and they had paid me quite generously for a previous talk). I had the opportunity to sell books. It was not far from my house, and I just had to give a general talk about being an author. My career goal at the time was to get in front of as many kids and parents as I could and let them know about me and my books. Saying yes to that was a no-brainer.

It's not always that easy. And it is an individual decision--this is one time where you have to listen to your gut and do what you think is right. Don't be bullied either way--into requring a fee or not. Because I've heard the flip side from community members and non-authors/non-school types: "These authors expect to get paid to speak? I speak to women's groups, Sunday school classes, etc all the time for free."

Do what is right for your career and your family after you've given every speaking engagement you're offered careful consideration. It's up to you to choose what works for you.

Margo L. Dill is always happy to help authors decide what is right for them. You can email her at margo (at) wow-womenonwriting.com to ask a simple question. This topic is just one of the various things covered in the upcoming author talk class, which you can register for here. And if you need a longer discussion, she offers writing coaching which you can purchase on her website here.

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Sunday, August 04, 2019

 

Interview with Jennifer Lewis, First Place Winner of 2019 Q3 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Jennifer Dove Lewis lives in Tucson, AZ with her best friend and greatest supporter, Ryan, two of their children, Auburn and Colton, and their amazingly lazy dog, Sophy. Her oldest son, Jakob, is living the dream as a sophomore at West Virginia University. Go Mountaineers!

Jennifer has her Master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University, but has spent most of her adult life working in the military, and in the Intel and defense industries, as a security specialist. Her secret love and passion has always been writing, most of which she sneaks in during the wee hours of the morning, quick lunch breaks, and late at night when the world is finally quiet.

Armed with plenty of tea and cookies, Jennifer can bust out a hundred words with the best of them, before becoming distracted by some mundane life task. She is a pro at building Pinterest boards, baking highly caloric foods, attending book (wine) club, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She also has a fairly impressive brown thumb and enjoys growing and killing vegetables in the harsh Arizona desert. Her first novel, A Year in Exile, is in the works and is expected to be complete by Fall 2019!

You can follow Jennifer on her writing, baking, and plant-killing journey at her brand new Instagram @jenydoves.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Jennifer: Thank you! I was so excited to get the news! This essay was, of course, very personal to me and it was important for me to get it right. I have never entered a nonfiction essay contest before, so when I saw this one announced I was hesitant. I knew I had this story inside me, though, and thought I'd write it out and see how I felt about it. I never dreamed I would win, so it felt like an anonymous way to tell my story. Turns out I was wrong on that part! I received some amazing feedback on my initial entry and critique, submitted again, and now here we are. Such an incredible experience. I can't stress enough how encouraged I have felt throughout this process. The WOW! team has been nothing short of amazing.

WOW: Love to hear about your positive experience! What inspired you to write your story, “In the Trenches?”

Jennifer: Honestly, I'm not sure why I chose this particular memory. I have a teenage daughter, and I think the older she gets, the more I think about the plight of women and the many, many stories I've heard through the years. Stories not exactly like mine, but eerily similar in the details. What I want more than anything is for my daughter to not become a statistic. I want this for all of our daughters. This is a part of my life that's far behind me. I know the experience of that seven year relationship shaped me, but I'm in such a different place in my life now, it's often hard to believe it happened. But it did. And it's still happening today to women all over the world. I look back at that young girl and I feel immense pain and sympathy for her. I am so sorry she went through that. It was a very hellish and unnecessary life. But I no longer see that as me. I see it as all the young girls today, starting their lives, beginning their journey through relationships, and I want more than anything for this to just stop. Perhaps sharing my story is a way to express that. My hope would be for you to never receive another story like mine. My deepest hope is that my daughter's journey is far different from mine. The peace I felt in that ditch was real, because getting away is getting away, even if just for a moment. I never want my daughter to have to get away from her life.

WOW: Such a powerful essay, and I was rooting for your younger self. Thank you for sharing your experience.  You’re also working on a novel that you expect to complete this year. What has your novel writing journey been like?

Jennifer: Yes! I'm currently writing 'A Year in Exile'. This novel took me by surprise. I was working on another one, which is complete and in editing phase, when a passing comment by a coworker caught my attention and I couldn't get it out of my head. I went with it and my other novel has been left in the edit pile for now.

This writing journey has been a long one. I was first 'published' in a poetry book when I was in the fourth grade, so I guess my love of writing goes way back! As far as novel writing, I'm years into the process. Life has a way of throwing you in different directions, but I've found you keep coming back to your passions. I think the difficult part for most people is finding the time to write. For me, years passed and I kept telling myself I would make time to write. Resolution after resolution. Every year, I was determined to make it happen. This year, I finally did it. The time was there all along, I just didn't see it. Now my focus is on completing this novel, heading back to finish editing the other one, and continuing on with one of the many other story ideas I have plotted out in my mind and in my notebook. And of course, completing my next short story. Hoping to get that one in to WOW! for the contest ending this month!

WOW: Like many writers, you mention reading as a favorite activity. Any recent favorites you can recommend? What’s next on your reading list?

Jennifer: I am currently reading and loving The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren! She has such a wonderful writing style, witty dialogue, and it's the perfect summer story. I'm also re-reading Casting Off by Nicole R. Dickson. This is one of my all time favs because of the beautiful setting, which is a tiny island off the coast of Ireland, and the warm bond between its inhabitants. Another favorite is My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares. Truly captivating read! And finally, as always, I'm listening to Book 7 of the Harry Potter series in my car. I have a long commute, and Jim Dale is simply the best narrator! I listen to this series a little more than I care to admit here.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jennifer. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Jennifer: My best advice would be to just write. It's so easy to think we have no time, yet we spend so many mindless hours on our phones, watching shows on Netflix, cleaning the house. Honestly, wouldn't it be better to write? That dust just comes back; spend time on more permanent endeavors!

The easiest way for me to get words on paper is to ensure I'm always organized and have my next chapter planned. The chapters twist and bend and change completely by the time I type them out, but if I leave myself a good starting point for next time, I'm able to start writing immediately, and even fifteen minutes is enough to make some progress. My suggestion is to find at least 30 minutes a day to write. Early morning, on your lunch break, while the baby naps, late at night, while sitting in traffic. That last one might be a bit dangerous, so maybe skip that one. The time is there, though, so take advantage of it! If you can set a goal to write 1,000 words a day, that will be 7,000 by the end of the week, and 24,000 by end of month. In just a few months, you can have a first draft!

The world needs more books, let's do this!!

****

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



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