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Saturday, August 31, 2019

 

How To Spot Bad Advice and What To Do About It

by Guudmorning on Flickr.com
I run the Twitter account for WOW! and my day job, and I'm also on there for my personal account. Some of you may use it to market yourselves or follow your favorite authors or join in on discussions, using hashtags such as #writetip, #writerslife, or #writingcommunity. Twitter can be full of funny tweets, lead you to intersting and informative articles, and allow you to interact with people whom you normally wouldn't during your everyday life. But...it can also be full of a lot of misinformation and sales-y approaches, as well as (I hate to be cliche but) ... fake news.

The other day on Twitter, I saw this tweet from Emily Everett in the #writingcommunity chat:

Writing community, help me out - I sometimes get novel feedback that I shouldn't use contractions in narration, only in dialogue. I've always used them because it's a fairly close 3rd person limited, in and out of character's mind without signaling it. Thoughts?
I immediately answered her with "bad advice" and why I thought so, but this entire thread of writers also chiming in with "this is not correct and don't listen to these critiques" made me wonder how much bad advice is out there in the writing world, how many of us are listening to it--whether on social media, in unhealthy critique groups, in professionals who don't know what they're doing--and how do we stop this!

Now, if you're expecting a clear answer to this dilemma, please don't be disappointed when you get to the end of this post, and I don't have one. I'll admit tackling this problem is still something I'm mulling over. I seem to be encountering more and more writers these days who have a story similar to Emily's, where someone in the industry has told this writer an absolute (such as don't ever write a rhyming picture book) or wrong advice (describing your characters' race is unacceptable these days). So I came up with a couple tips that I've been sharing with other writers and that I'm implementing myself:

1. Listen to your gut! I can't stress this enough. Most of the time, you know if someone is giving you bad advice and/or the critique you received is just wrong for you and your work. We doubt ourselves too much in my opinion; and if your gut is telling you that this person does not know what he/she is talking about, then discuss this with other writers whom you trust. By the way, here at WOW!, we're always happy to help with this. You can leave us a personal message on Facebook or on Twitter, and we will answer your question or direct you to someone who can.

2. If it's an absolute, it's probably wrong: Now, someone reading this post will come up with an absolute that is not wrong, and that's fine--this is why I said PROBABLY because I don't want to use an absolute when giving advice. (smiles) But honestly, there are very few rules in the writing world that some author hasn't already broken--and was probably told never to do it before she broke the rule. J.K. Rowling was told that her first Harry Potter book was much too long for her audience of readers and that no young reader would ever stick with a fantasy book that long. J.K. is laughing all the way to the bank!

We'd love to hear any stories of bad advice you didn't listen to in the comments below or if you have some tips for how to decide if what someone is telling you is correct.

Margo L. Dill teaches three classes for us: Writing a Novel With a Writing Coach (9/7), Individualized Marketing For Authors...(9/11), and School Visits and Author Talks...(10/16). Check them all out on the classroom page and enroll today!  

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

 

Technical Difficulties: What to Do When Things Don’t Work Out

My apologies that this didn’t go live this morning. The problem? I failed to read the date correctly. I thought today was the 28th and not the 29th.
The good news? This segues very nicely into my topic. What to do when something doesn’t work out as planned.

Recently, Angela, Ann and I attended a webinar. Or we attempted to attend the webinar. We each paid for it and logged in. The lucky participants, such as myself, had a visual but no sound. The unlucky had neither. As we messaged the organizer, a consistent response came back. “The problem is on your end, follow our instructions.”

About a third of the way through the webinar, they finally admitted that the problem was on their end. I suspect that most everyone had figured it out at that point and it left a very bad impression. Yes, they should have tested things ahead of time. I don’t know why they didn’t but the best thing to do would have been to simply admit the problem.

Interestingly enough, the next day I was scheduled to take part in a webinar on editing your work with Joan Dempsey. Unfortunately she had to have an emergency appendectomy. She sent out an e-mail and posted on Facebook apologizing and rescheduling the event. Admittedly, I wasn’t thrilled that I was zero for two but I appreciated the fact that she let us know as soon as possible. It was the professional thing to do.

Technology is incredibly helpful but it is also incredibly fickle. There are many things that can go wrong and sometimes we are the ones who mess it up. It can be as simple as misreading the calendar (hey, all!) and thus not getting a post up on time. Or it might be forgetting to attach the manuscript to the e-mail you send your editor. I’ve done that one too.

Like Demspey, you may find that you can’t meet a deadline for medical or family reasons. Illness, emergency surgery, accidents and death in the family happen. When I realized that I couldn’t meet a deadline following my mother’s death, I e-mailed my editor and asked for another two weeks. This was for a monthly newsletter so two weeks was a much bigger deal than it would be with a book. But she understood and helped me make it work.

Build a reputation as a professional, meeting deadlines and filling contracts on a regular basis, and this kinds of problems won’t bring you down. After all, we all experience technical difficulties, like corrupted files or wonky wifi, and personal problems. We also make simple mistakes. The key is admitting to yourself that there is a problem and letting everyone impacted know as soon as possible.

Me? I’m going to see if one of the kids can teach me to read a calendar.

--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 28, 2019

 

Write Your Dreams into Existence

Morning time with my journal and my dog.

After a rough winter last year and a string of rejections (for both writing contests and to agents) that seemed to be going nowhere, I thought long and hard about the best way to shift my mindset. A few months ago, I heard a podcast episode about how to narrow the focus on your goals in order to best achieve them. I was intrigued.

Now, to be perfectly transparent, this podcast episode was pitching a product called the “Start Today Journal,” created by entrepreneur and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis. But as she explained in her podcast, this practice can be done with any old journal, and she outlined the steps that anyone can use to set their goals.

What a lot of us fail at is having too many goals at one time, which can lead to overwhelm, causing us to beat ourselves up time and again when we don’t achieve any of them. Hollis developed a practice that focuses on writing down ten goals over and over. And here’s the kicker—you write down those goals as if they have already happened.

This practice starts you out by doing an exercise where you envision what you want your life to be like in ten years, down from the kind of home you live in to what kinds of vacations you take. Then you envision what types of dreams you need to achieve in order to accomplish that type of lifestyle.

I’ve been journaling with this method for almost a month, and my goals are starting to become so ingrained in my mind that I do things to work toward them without even putting much thought into it. I start out each day by writing down five things I’m grateful for, and these vary depending on the day. Then I write down the same ten goals, in the exact same order, and at the end, I write which one I’m going to achieve first.

On these pages, I’ve written things like what my annual income is (again, as if this has already happened), how much money my podcast is generating per month, that my kids went to college debt free, etc. At the very end of the page you write down which goal you achieved first. This changed for me after the first week, when I thought realistically about what goal I have the most probability of achieving first. My podcast is still in development, for example, so it's not going to start generating income right out of the gate. So every day on that line, I write, “I’m an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer.” I have a few pieces out at contests as we speak, so I’m trying to will a contest award into existence by writing down this faith in my writing every day.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. Writing down these same goals and achievements each and every keeps them front and center of my mind. I focus on planning and writing and working each day to ensure that I accomplish what I’ve set out to create.

Do you journal about your goals and dreams? Are there any specific practices you’ve tried recently? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor whose young adult novel, Between, can be found on the digital platform, Wattpad. She’s hopeful it will garner some attention at the 2019 Watty Awards this year, and she may be writing a specific dream about this novel in her journal each day.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

 

The Power of No

Getting a rejection from an agent or a publisher is disheartening, for sure. A writer spends months or years on a project, gives birth to it, submits it... and it's rejected. And rejected. And rejected.

Definitely a bummer.

However, sometimes "no" is a good thing. A powerful thing... in a good way.



Running into a wall might make a writer fall down and give up. But, facing an obstacle might just increase a writer's resolve. It might just make a writer dig in their heels, resulting in them becoming more perseverant.

That's what a string of no's did for me recently. A bunch of generic rejections, along with a couple of agents/publishers who told me I didn't really have the right to tell my story, literally brought me to tears. (To find out why I was told it wasn't my story to tell, check out this short movie I made about the experience.)

And then I got mad. Not angry at anyone in particular. Just mad that the universe was trying to smash the love for my character into smithereens.

Which made me dig in. My determination ramped up so high, only dogs could hear the frenzied shriek.

On a interview, I saw Kris Jenner say something profound. (I know, I know. Lots of people might instantly dismiss the mother who spawned six Kardashian/Jenner kids, considering how starving the family is for media attention. I get it. But the woman knows her stuff. She's business savvy. And she knows how to succeed.)

This is what she said that struck me as brilliant:

"If somebody says no, you're talking to the wrong person."
                                                                                                          ---Kris Jenner

Each no I get means I submitted to the wrong agent. The wrong publisher. They aren't the ones who are open to my novel idea for a novel. They're not drawn to my protagonist like I am. They're not eager to have my story told.

In my research about facing rejection (I'm a glutton for punishment. Not only am I immersed in rejection, I'm also researching it.) I found this article.  As you lick your wounds and prepare to dig in, to persist, you might find it helpful.

The tough part--of course--is to find the right person. Finding the right publisher or agent for your manuscript/essay/story/poem takes a thick skin. It takes determination. And it takes a belief in your piece.

Bonnie Raitt sings, "I can't make you love me." As writers, we can't make a publisher love our work. All we can do is keep trying to find the publisher who does...




Sioux Roslawski is a novelist wannabee. One day, when she finds the right person for her manuscript, she'll no longer be mired in rejection. (In the photo to the right, the bubbling mud pots of Iceland are in the background. Currently, Sioux's stubborn perseverance is bubbling and popping.) She has a newly-launched website. It's  still in the work-in-progress stage, still new, so check it out (and be patient).






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Monday, August 26, 2019

 

Note to a Younger Me...

8/26/2015

Dear Younger Self,

I'm not sure how I've arrived here - it's 2019 and after the bus comes next Tuesday, there will be only ONE baby at home. There are ZERO babies in diapers. Yes, you heard that correctly - no diapers to change (or wash) and most days there's only ONE baby in my arms. You're in the thick of motherhood if this letter reached you as planned. I remember those days fondly, but I know your arms are tired from carrying 2 (and sometimes 3) babies at once. You are sleep deprived and touched-out most days and yet you're painting on a smile and being graceful and wonderful. You are juggling being a wife, daughter, and mommy while working, volunteering, and making sure everyone is cared for and loved. I have a few things to tell you from "the other side" of the fence:

You are (and always have been) Enough!
You didn't become a mother of 6 to be broken. This opportunity isn't meant to break you - it's an honor bestowed on you because you are strong enough to raise your tribe with grace. There are days you'll cry in the shower and think you've failed - it's okay to be sad, just don't live in that sorrow. Put your big girl panties on and forge on - you are MORE than enough for this journey!

You NEED to Rest!
Throw away all the lists. No one actually cares if there is dog hair on the rug or on someone's pants. I'll say it again - no one actually cares! Put your feet up and enjoy a cup of tea every now and again. The voice in your head telling you that you need a clean house, perfect hair, and a washed vehicle needs to be told off every once in awhile. None of those things matter in the end.

Saying NO doesn't make you weak!
If it doesn't bring you joy, don't do it. Life is too short for weak coffee and joyless "stuff" that only serves to pull you away from friends and family.

Ask for HELP and accept it!
Stop trying to be everything to everyone. If you ask for help, you'll be giving joy to your helpers while lessening your own workload. If someone doesn't want to help you, they'll say no. When someone offers to help, just say thank you instead of overthinking it. You aren't superwoman and there's no way you can volunteer at school while working and delivering meals to shut-ins....pick the one you want to do and let someone else enjoy the joy of the other tasks!

Your Body is Gorgeous...PERIOD!
Stop worrying about looking 20-something. Embrace the changes that come with age and being a mother. There is no award for fitting into your college jeans, so stop trying. You are absolutely perfect just as you are and even cover models are airbrushed!

I love you. Your kids love you (even when they say otherwise or act like they don't)! You've totally got this girl - not only that, you are rocking it!

Love Always,
The older you who will be a blubbering mess when that school bus comes next week....I'm hoping for a letter from an even older "US" to give me some guidance and love!






Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing,  Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children (Carmen 12, Andre 11, Breccan 5, Delphine 4, and baby Eudora who somehow turns 2 later this year), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

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

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

 

Interview with Ellie Golder, Runner Up in the WOW! Q3 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Ellie Golder likes to consider herself a philosopher and linguaphile, and works as a Communications Manager and Yoga instructor in Basel, Switzerland, where she moved from her hometown London. Writing has been her reflex for dissecting internal and external worlds since acquiring the skill. Years ago she considered a career as a writer and her work was published online and in print, for example in the art publication HOAX or the Chuffed Buff poetry collection Journey to Crone. Now she mostly likes to keep her scribbles for personal perusal, but occasionally she is compelled to share what moves her. Get in touch with her at ellie.golder[at]gmail[dot]com

Read Ellie's essay here and then return to learn more about how and why she writes.




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

WOW: Thanks for joining us today, Ellie, and congratulations. How long did it take you to write “Wishing Tree” from beginning to end?

Ellie: I wrote a version of wishing tree perhaps within 30 minutes. But I returned to it over months, changing certain words, using hindsight to try and make it more accurate.

WOW: You support yourself as a communications manager and yoga instructor. How do you think practicing yoga influences your writing practice?

Ellie: Yoga taught me a completely different relationship to my body. I’m now able to try to localise what certain emotions feel like in it. When I’m writing and asking myself what I’m feeling, I actually start by analysing what’s going on physically. Feelings can be everywhere, like for example remorse or heartbreak can be in the throat, the spine, in the back of the neck. That opens up a whole new descriptive avenue.

WOW: That is so intuitive and sounds very beneficial to the writing process. What advice would you offer a writer who has is struggling to write about a painful experience in their life?

Ellie: Just throw the words onto the page. Take what you need from the act--that’s your right. Then just consider what you want to do with the piece while you’re editing. Are you trying to order an experience to digest it emotionally? Are you angry and trying to vent? Are you trying to connect with others through telling the tale?

WOW: How did you decide to enter this particular contest with “Wishing Tree?”

Ellie: I couldn’t speak about the events in the essay, still can’t with anyone other than my mother or
partner. I’ve always written and it mostly feels like venting into a void... I think wanted to feel that human connection now. The WOW! Writing Competition seemed ideal because I’ve been reading the stories for so long and they had always touched me, so I was hopeful that the community would be open for what I wanted to share, too.

WOW: You definitely came to the right place. Where do you get the majority of your writing inspiration from?

Ellie: I always write but the most powerful tool of inspiration is a glass of red wine and some music. Actually, I like to say that misheard song lyrics are probably the true Rorschach test... they also make excellent first and last lines in stories.

WOW: I love that observation! Congratulations again and continued healing in your writing journey.

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

 

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague


 By Bobbie Christmas


As soon as we take writing seriously, we learn to avoid clichés. In my decades of editing book-length manuscripts for publishers and individuals, though, I see a vast difference. While the manuscripts that traditional publishers have purchased have few clichés, the books that unpublished but hopeful writers send me often are loaded with clichés. Maybe unpublished folks don’t understand that clichés go far beyond recognizable similes like the one in the title of this column: avoid (whatever) like the plague. For that reason I want to spend time addressing clichés today.

First, a cliché is anything—and I do mean anything—that you have ever seen written before. Just as many similes (quiet as a mouse, drink like a fish, run like the wind, etc.) are clichés, so too are many other things. Let’s start at the beginning. Literally.

We writers know the wisdom of starting a novel with an exciting scene filled with tension. Robust openings build excitement and make readers want to keep reading. If the scene turns out to be a dream, though, big mistake! Major cliché! Opening with a dream also makes readers feel duped, drawn into the story under false pretenses. Strong writing does not use dreams to fabricate excitement. Yes, later in a novel a dream sequence can reveal information about a character or a character’s situation or concerns, but readers should always know it’s a dream.

Another cliché opener that is the opposite of opening with an exciting dream is opening with a character waking in bed. I see it often in novice work. Not only is it overused, but it’s boring. Everyone wakes up at some time during the night or day, and waking up adds no pizazz to a story. If, however, a character finds himself waking up in a dumpster or in the hospital, that’s another story. Such an opening could be interesting indeed.

In weak writing I also see words that have been used together so often that they are cliché. Here are a few:

1. Bored stiff
2. Bird’s-eye view
3. Crystal clear
4. Few and far between

The list of words used together too often could extend into the hundreds, so let me move on to redundancies, because many clichés are also redundant. Examine the following:

1. She cried (or shook) uncontrollably. [Few of us can cry or shake controllably. Delete the adverb.]

2. He shrugged his shoulders. [What body part other than shoulders can we shrug? Delete “his shoulders.”]

3. She just stood (or sat) there and watched. [If someone doesn’t move, we don’t need the extra verbiage. Consider this recast: She just watched. Or She didn’t move.]

4. Thought to himself. [We can’t think to anyone else but ourselves. Delete “to himself” or “to herself,” as the case may be.]

5. She gently caressed the baby’s back. [Caresses are always gentle, so “gently” is redundant. Recast this way: She caressed the baby’s back.]

As you may note, most adverbs are redundant, which is one reason why strong writers avoid them. I tell writers to allow themselves to use adverbs in the first draft, though, because in the next draft those adverbs will often indicate adjacent verbs that need to be stronger. Once you strengthen the verb, you can delete the adverb. Examples include the following:

1. He ran quickly toward the door. Recast: He raced toward the door.

2. Suddenly she heard a loud noise. Recast: A loud noise startled her.

I could go on all day about clichés and redundancies, but “I could go on all day” is a cliché too, so I’ll end here. If you feel the urge, send me your favorite clichés to hate. I may use them as future examples.

Have a nice day. Whoops! Cliché!

***

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie[at]zebraeditor.com or BZebra[at]aol.com.

Read Bobbie’s Zebra Communications blog at https://www.zebraeditor.com/blog/.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: Integrating Native Americans in Historical Fiction

by Pam Webber
Victoria Last Walker Ferguson

Stories involving Native Americans are compelling to read. After all, they are the original Americans. The rest of us are simply descendants of diverse settlers. Native American tribes are also diverse. Not only in where they live but how they live and what they believe. Writing about their unique cultures is often dependent on historical interpretations. That is unless you happen to find the real thing.

The Real Thing

While doing research for my latest novel, Moon Water, I met a special Native American, Victoria Last Walker Ferguson. Vicky is a member of the Monacan tribe, which is native to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia. She is the Monacan Life Interpreter at the Monacan Village in Natural Bridge.

Vicky’s job is to help visitors understand Monocan life as it existed 300 years ago. She lives as they did, wears their clothes, and follows their day to day routines. She practices their ancient rituals and follows their traditions. Vicky's interactions with the natural world are amazing. She intuitively knows what animal life will surround her and when and where they’ll make an appearance She moves through the woods harvesting edible and medicinal plants with ease. And when sitting to rest, her hands are busy weaving baskets and rope.

Vicky doesn’t live on the Earth. She lives in it.

Vicky is also an exceptional oral historian. Her insight into the state-sponsored discrimination that devastated the Monacans in the early 1900s is powerful. The tribe worked diligently to reverse the racial integrity laws of that period. In 2018, they finally received federal recognition as Native Americans, which ensured their rightful place in US history.

Writing About Native Americans

Thanks to Vicky, I was able to create realistic Monacan characters for Moon Water. One character is Nibi, a Monacan medicine woman who has ability to see the unseen and know the unknown. Not surprising, much of Nibi is modeled after Vicky. That’s not to say Vicky has these surreal abilities, but she certainly sees life and nature with a clarity most of us do not possess.

When writing about a culture other than your own it’s not hard to find facts, figures, and descriptions in a library or online. However, if you want to understand the culture enough to create believable characters, take the time to find someone who carries the DNA. Someone who lives the life. Your search will be worth it.

* * *
Pam Webber’s debut Southern historical novel The Wiregrass became a bestseller. Her second novel, Moon Water, releases this month. Visit Pam at www.pamwebber.com.
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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 22, 2019

 

Children's Author Shannon Stocker: A fighter. A survivor. A PUBLISHED Picture Book Author.

We are so happy to welcome children's author Shannon Stocker to the Muffin today. This is an interview you will not want to miss. Not only did Shannon receive a traditional publishing contract for her picture book, Can U Save the Day?, but she also has secured an agent, survived a life-threatening illness, and is working on a memoir. So, let's just get right to it...




WOW: Hi, Shannon, welcome to the Muffin. We are so honored to be interviewing you, when you are usually writing or interviewing someone for us! And you have such exciting news--your first picture book: Can U Save the Day? came out on August 15. Tell us about this super cute book!

Shannon: Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited about CAN U SAVE THE DAY for so many reasons. Obviously, I’m over the moon about having a debut picture book; but I’m also thrilled because when I first started writing seriously, so many people told me not to rhyme before they ever read my work. It was beaten into my head that it was too hard; nobody would buy it; nobody would rep it. I’m very proud that I stayed true to my rhyming vision, and I’m grateful to my editor, Sarah Rockett, for believing in me, too. In this story, B bullies the vowels because they’re part of a smaller group. As a result, one by one, the vowels leave the farm—and the dialogue in the story. Stammering animals and tongue-tied consonants quickly find themselves in a sticky situation that can only be saved by U.

WOW: Good for you for sticking to your vision and believing in yourself! How empowering. And the story sounds super cute. How did you get this idea? Did this book go through a lot of revision or pretty much come out with just a few tweaks here or there?

Shannon: This was only the second picture book I wrote, so it has evolved quite a bit since the first draft. The concept of a story in which vowels leave the farm (and the sounds made by farm animals in the process) came to me in those seconds before drifting off to sleep. I wrote several “stanzas” late one night in October 2015. I put “stanzas” in quotes because my meter was horrible in that first draft, and each stanza seemed to be however many lines it wanted to be. By January 2016, however, I had a draft that I liked. The problem was that I also had a story with no inciting incident and very little tension. Regardless, I got a bite from an editor who wanted me to take the animals off the farm and remove vowels from all road signs (as well as the animal sounds), but it got cut in editorial. I continued to revise the story with the help of new critique partners I’d met through SCBWI and 12x12 along the way; and in early 2017, I paid for a critique from Sarah Rockett of Sleeping Bear Press. Sarah suggested that I bring the animals back to the farm but remove the vowels from ALL dialogue in the book as each one left. She also suggested I amp up the tension. I embraced the challenge; and after revising my story a total of more than fifty times since that first draft, I’m so excited that it’s actually going to be in kids’ hands!

WOW: That story about your revision shows your perseverance, and how exciting that you are seeing all your hard work pay off! You also have a literary agent! How did you secure your agent and why did you decide to go this traditional route?


Shannon: I signed with my first agent in early 2016, but that relationship wasn’t meant to be. She’s a good person, I think, but she wasn’t an honest agent. After we split, my self-esteem really took a hit, and I was very confused about the whole industry. I managed to sell CAN U SAVE THE DAY on my own, but for the next year+ I didn’t query many agents…maybe two or three the whole year.

My confidence was boosted, though, when my first story was accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul, and then Chicken Soup editor Amy Newman contacted me directly and asked to interview me for their Friendship Friday podcast. Shortly thereafter, she asked me to write two more stories for Chicken Soup, and then I won a nonfiction essay contest with WOW! (yay!). Those events together were so pivotal for me; I began to believe in myself again. This past January when I attended the Miami SCBWI conference to meet some of my closest critique partners in person, the importance of the #OwnVoices movement rang clear through several sessions. I asked myself, “What can you, Shannon, write about that no one else could?” I’m a coma survivor with a chronic condition called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a medical school graduate, and a musician. The answer struck like lightning, and I began researching a deaf musician for a nonfiction picture book biography.

In March, a story poured out of me that was taken to acquisitions at a publishing house the same day that I queried the editor. That afternoon, a different manuscript was sent to acquisitions at another house. By this time, I knew I wanted a fair shake with the larger houses; I knew I had limited-to-no experience with contract negotiations (and no interest in learning), and I knew it was time to try again. I queried thirteen of my top agents/agencies, and six or seven responded with interest. That whole week felt surreal to me. I signed with Allison Remcheck of Stimola because I loved her kind vibe, and her clients adored her (and raved about both her communication and her honesty). One client even told me, “Don’t be fooled by her soft-spoken demeanor. She may be gentle with us, but she’s aggressive in negotiations!” She oozed genuine enthusiasm for my writing and offered to rep everything I write—even my memoir. She is really a fantastic match for me. I’m very fortunate.

WOW: WOW! First of all, the story of your survival is amazing, and we will definitely want to be kept informed about your memoir. Your story is very inspirational, and I'm sure giving many writers reading this interview hope and inspiration. Congratulations on all your success so far. On your website, you are very open about the medical condition you mentioned above that almost killed you. We'll let readers go read your inspiring story here and look at photos of your super cute family. What I'm wondering is: how did you make that very hard decision to quit your full-time job once you were well and had children, and dedicate your career to writing full-time?

Shannon: Awww…thanks for the comments about my super cute family! I think they’re pretty awesome. Quitting my full-time job really was a tough decision in many ways. I was raised to believe I should support myself. I got a B.S. in learning disabilities from Northwestern, then got a M.S. in anatomical sciences and neurobiology, and then went to medical school. I did not, however, pursue medicine as some childhood dream (you’ll have to read my memoir to learn more about that). In any event, seven years of sickness and a coma left my husband and I in a tremendous amount of debt, alleviated only by having a two-income household. I was fortunate to be hired by a company that did financing for physician-owned facilities, where I worked for about twelve years. I was very torn between wanting to stay and help continue to grow this company that I’d sunk so much of myself into and wanting to stop the chaos in my life. For years, both my husband and I traveled weekly with our jobs. But the toll was far greater once we had two toddlers and were forced to constantly juggle nannies. We were both exhausted. So when our oldest was ready to enter kindergarten, we moved back to Kentucky in 2013 to be closer to family. We needed help.

For years, I’d been a poet and a songwriter, but I fell in love with picture books when I became a mother. Around 2010, I started daydreaming about one day writing a picture book. I kept some crazy hours, though, so my time for creative outlets was minimal. After we moved to Kentucky, someone once told me, “You’d never be happy if you weren’t working. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself.” I lacked confidence and feared he was right, so I stuck with the job longer than I probably should have. But I couldn’t shake the desire to stay home with my kids. And I couldn’t shake the pull to write.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I had a heart-to-heart. Both of us continuing to travel was no longer an option. The traveling, the chaos, the long hours—they took a toll on both our family and my health. His job had more security, and I had other dreams. So we agreed, and I quit. I almost suffocated in self-doubt that first week, but slowly, I organized a plan of attack. I joined SCBWI. I made a last-minute decision to attend Midsouth. I started working on a website. I found critique partners. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. So I guess I did know what to do with myself after all.

WOW: Yes, I would say you did know. Thank you for sharing all those details with us about how you made the decision to quit your full-time job and why. So how is that going? Do you freelance a lot? What is your daily schedule like?

Shannon: I freelance a bit, here and there. I still submit to Chicken Soup. I do some occasional work for a real estate buddy of mine. I write guest blogs (or freelance blogs), and I have a critique business (see my website!). But motherhood, my memoir, my picture books, marketing, and now (hopefully) school visits keep me pretty busy. I also have a middle grade churning in my mind, which I hope to start the minute I finish my memoir (hopefully this year). I started my own blog series called #InHERview, highlighting three pivotal moments in the lives of female authors; and I’m also a judge for Rate Your Story, an administrator for the debut picture book group #PictureBookBuzz, co-chair for Louisville’s SCBWI group, a member of 12x12, a founder of #ReVISIONweek, and very active in four different critique groups. My daily schedule turns to whatever is nipping at my heels that day.

WOW: Holy cow. I would say you have a full plate and might even be working more than you were when you had a traditional job. All of that sounds very exciting! What's next for you in the picture book world? Are you working on something now? Have anything with your agent?

Shannon: Yes, yes, yes! I was finally able to do a “soft” announcement last week (the full announcement will come once we have an illustrator on board, which I hope will be soon!). The nonfiction picture book biography that I wrote in March sold to Dial (Penguin/Random House). It’s called LISTEN, about Evelyn Glennie. She’s the first person to ever make a full-time career as a solo percussionist; she’s won two grammy awards; she’s been knighted by the Queen, and she’s deaf. Truly one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met—I just adore her. Allison is submitting two more manuscripts to my editor at Dial now, and I have another book in acquisitions that I hope to hear about next month! And, of course, I’m constantly writing new material. I’m also looking forward to revising existing stories during #ReVISIONweek in September.

WOW: Awesome. I love the idea for Listen, and Evelyn sounds like another inspiring woman wyo overcame obstacles, just like you. Thank you so much for your time, Shannon. One last question: what is one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring children's writers?

Shannon: If I could only give one piece of advice, it would be this: do the work you need to get involved in a good critique group. I found mine through SCBWI, 12x12, and some online classes. I would not be the writer I am today without my CPs. They tell me (gently) when I’ve written something that doesn’t work; they lavish praise when I’ve written something that does; they pout/cry/scream with me when I get rejections; they celebrate with me when I succeed and so much more. I am a better writer because I critique their work, but I’m also a better writer because they push me to be the best version of me.

This industry is so tough, so filled with rejection and, worse yet, silence. We all question ourselves. I love that old Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” It’s so simple, but so hard…and so true. It’s not easy to dust yourself off after that hundredth fall. But critique partners help SO MUCH. Sometimes the dust can be pretty heavy. No need to brush it all off alone.

WOW: I totally, totally agree, and that is great advice. I am also lucky to have a great critique group, and they are so inspiring! Readers, make sure you go check out Shannon's first picture book, published by Sleeping Bear Press, here, and then hop over to her website and check out how to stay in touch with her here.


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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

 

3 Ways to Refresh Your Creativity


Break out the pumpkin everything, fall is almost upon us. When September rolls around, I feel like I'm hitting the refresh button and starting new again. In fact, September feels like the start of the year to me (way more than January does). So as we stare down the barrel of a new fall season, it's time to hit refresh.

But how can we hit refresh on our creativity?

Here's how a few ideas:

1) Cut out the distractions.

Okay, let's all be honest. Each and every one of us has a distraction. Social Media. Mobile Gaming. Streaming new TV shows. And I don't know about you, but sometimes that distraction can turn into something really time-consuming (and energy-consuming). So, take a self-assessment. Is there something you can cut out of your day and devote to some writing time? Social media can easily draw me in (meanwhile I tell myself - I'm building engagement! It's great for my platform!). Yet, honestly, I can cut down.

2) Try out a new creative endeavor.

I am a believer in the idea that one creative pursuit inspires another. Maybe it's been a while since you tried something new for yourself creatively, but I highly encourage it. It doesn't need to be expensive or all that elaborate. Consider buying a coloring book and crayons. Try baking. Go to a garage sale and find something you could upcycle. Doodle. Explore the other parts your creative self. You might be surprised.

3) Reassess your goals.

Our pursuits as writers change throughout the year. Maybe we wanted to submit that novel but got caught up in other writing projects. Maybe we ended up starting a new job and we need to completely revamp our daily writing habit. A lot of life can happen in a year. So, reassess your goals as September rolls around. What do you want to do differently?

Any tips you can share on how you can reset your creativity? 

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

 

Interview with Lynn Powers: Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Lynn works in New York City as a Location Manager for Film & Television production, most recently on The Good Fight (CBS), The Good Wife (CBS), Paterno (HBO) and Fringe (Fox).

She holds a Creative Writing degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, where she wrote for the school newspaper and was a DJ at the radio station. Her first job was as a reporter for the Gaithersburg Gazette. It was there she honed her writing skills and advanced her appreciation for strong verbs, short sentences.

“Shared Calendars” is her debut flash fiction, developed in a Women On Writing flash class with Gila Green. Lynn is currently writing and submitting a variety of short stories and flash fiction for publication.

She writes in Brooklyn, NY, where she lives with her husband and adorable Cockapoo. Together, they share travel adventures, scuba diving, sailing, and paddle boarding.

Before you read her interview, be sure to read her story Shared Calendars then come on back! 

----- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, I absolutely loved your story Shared Calendars. It is like the siren call of everyone who has ever felt stuck in an office job and that desire to live a different life. What was the inspiration behind this story?

Lynn: I got a call out of the blue from a former colleague, and he said, “Why does my calendar say I have a G-Y-N appointment on January 8th?”  And knee surgery on the 15th?” To my shock and horror, I realized I’d carelessly put my personal appointments on a work-related shared calendar!

Fortunately, my colleague is also a friend with a sense of humor, so we had a good laugh about it. Then it occurred to me how dangerous this technology could be for someone hiding a secret, like, maybe–having an affair! Juicy!

At the time I was enrolled in a WOW! Flash class with Gila Green, and she had prompted us to use an allusion to deepen our work. The song “Let It Go” came to mind, as it had been sung to me in trapeze class, and the pieces clicked together. Thank you Gila!

That’s not to say it was an easy process. I wrote multiple drafts. A flashback within a flash story proved to be quite challenging.

WOW: I love how you used a real life snafu at work to transform your story! You had such strong character development in this piece. And I had to smile at the line in particular, "Other times I had to stifle my maternal instinct and not ask her probing questions, like, how can you live without health insurance?" How did you capture such a strong character in so short of a piece?

Lynn: I took trapeze class for about two years and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The instructor in “Shared Calendars” is based on a fellow student who had been a professional aerialist until she had a work accident and suffered a spinal injury. She recovered enough to participate as a student, but could no longer perform at a professional level.

I work in an industry with strong union representation and health insurance. When this student told me that many circus performers aren’t in a union, it made me wonder how those daredevils procure health insurance. The topic made me question how much physical risk I’d be willing to take for the sake of performance art. In my 20s, sure, I’d try just about anything without a safety net, but midlife with cranky joints and retirement savings hijacking my thoughts, I’m not so carefree anymore.

But back to your character development question: the real person I based it on is also very funny and beautiful, and I may have had a small girl crush on her. My real-life husband would understand! My fictional husband got to her first!

WOW: Ha ha, and it always results in powerful characterization when we base our characters off someone we know, admire or love! So, I can't help but notice you are adventurous - between your scuba diving, sailing, and paddle boarding. I can't help but ask - have you ever taken a trapeze course like your character? If so, what was it like?

Lynn: I will be forever grateful that I went to trapeze school. I was that student who, at first, could not jump off the platform or let go of the bar – what a thrill it was when I did! As much as I loved the class and the people I met, I reached a plateau on the learning curve where I needed to go at least 2-3 times a week to advance and be physically strong enough to grow.

In my late-40s my body was changing and the pain of muscle recovery became too much, so I gave it up. However, I would encourage anyone interested to go out and try it (after researching the instructors, of course. Some resort outfits might have questionable safety standards!)

WOW: Good to know! You have such an incredible career! (Do you mind me saying how much I love The Good Wife?) How did your career prepare you for writing? 

Lynn: I’ve had the great privilege to work for Robert and Michelle King (creators and showrunners of The Good Wife, Brain Dead, and The Good Fight) for nearly eleven years. I admire their courage to take big risks with structure and format, breaking the boundaries of typical episodic TV formulas. Sometimes an idea fails, but they keep at it, and when it’s good, it’s very, very good.

The role of a Location Manager is to collaborate with the Production Designer (to find the right look for a location), the Producer (to work within a budget and provide logistics for the shooting crew), and Writers and Directors (to advance the story through a character’s physical space). Being in an environment where the drive is to tell the best story possible through a combination of image and dialogue is very stimulating.

I also get to read multiple drafts of a script, and, while I’m not in the writers’ room, I witness the process of strengthening a story through re-writes.

WOW: That must help your writing so much to see the rewriting process! What advice do you have for writers nervous about taking the risk and putting themselves out there?

Lynn: Take a class in something that terrifies you, like bungee jumping or public speaking. After you concur it, take that image to your desk and say to the blinking cursor or waiting pen, “You don’t scare me anymore!”

My two favorite quotes on this subject:

“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” - John Wayne.

“When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condom-less sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time. ” – Lady Gaga

That Lady Gaga quote is priceless - and inspiring! Congratulations again and best of luck with your writing! 

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Monday, August 19, 2019

 

Writing in the Beginning (The First Born Child)

Youngest Junior Hall was hanging about for a few days recently and as is often the case with this third child, I was reminded of how different I was as a mother, between my firstborn and the lastborn. And then my mind wandered to writing—because technically, I was supposed to be working—and bam! I could see obvious parallels between writing and parenting.

Writing in the Beginning (The First Born Child)

It’s always easy to spot the first-time parent. She’s the one obsessively disinfecting the pacifier; he’s reading the most up-to-date parenting books and highlighting entire pages. In short, the first-time parent is a super attentive sponge. It’s exhausting.

The just-starting-out writer is much the same. She’s the one at the writing conference who is actually taking notes (and highlighting them later). He has a ton of books on writing topics, and he’s probably read at least half of ‘em. The beginning writer is often super-focused on learning as much of the craft as possible. It will wear one out, watching this Writer-gizer Bunny tackling everything!

Oh! And their first writing success? It’s a celebration for the ages! SO many pictures of that first acceptance (no pay, but it still counts). Time to post cupcakes and sparklers, toasting with champagne…exactly like those parents who post every milestone in that first baby’s life (and P.S. maybe the cord dropping off is not a milestone we all need to see). It’s a whole new world for everyone—and whether parent or writer—the excitement rolls along like a tsunami.

And then another baby (or two) comes along and for the writer, days turn into weeks, months to years…

Writing After Ten Years (The Third Born Child)

I don’t know about other parents, but by the time Youngest Junior Hall came along I didn’t have time to be super attentive—or even sort of attentive. And it’s a documented fact (or more accurately un-documented fact) that his baby book consists of about eight pictures. Nobody bothered reading any of the latest baby info out there because by then, we’d pretty much seen it all. And what we hadn’t seen, we figured it’d all work out eventually. (Well, except for the double inguinal hernia…that I had not seen before and called the pediatrician). The point is, by the third born child, a parent gets a bit jaded. And by a bit, I mean a lot.

It’s the same for the writer who’s been at it for ten or more years. We’re not excited by the no-pay acceptances anymore; we want big, fat, paychecks—and those are a bit harder to come by. And by a bit, I mean a lot. Not that we won’t toot those horns when we have a success, but it has to be a HUGE success—like a three-book contract! And we might still go to conferences, but to see friends or teach, not so much to learn something new. Because the truth is, we’ve seen or heard most of it before, and if it’s terribly new and complicated, we’re not sure we’re up to figuring it out, anyway. Bottom line, we get jaded, too.

But it’s all part of the process, whether parents or writers, and every step along the way is important. The first heady days as a writer are just as necessary as the early exhilarating days as a new parent; those memorable waves of joy and triumph carry us through the long haul of ups and downs to come.

So for those of you just starting out, congratulations! You’ll write circles around me, I’m sure, and you’ll know all sorts of new stuff, and you'll push boundaries and make the writing world a better place. You keep us all inspired, even if you are kinda obnoxious.

And for those who’ve been at it for a long while, congratulations! You’ve stuck to it, you’ve weathered the highs and lows, and you handle it all with a certain amount of equanimity. You’re inspiring, too, but honestly, you’re also kinda obnoxious. (Or maybe that’s just me?)

Whatever. All I really want to say is let’s go celebrate with sparklers and cupcakes! We deserve it!



And just for the record, Youngest Junior Hall (sorta) turned out all right.


~Cathy C. Hall



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Sunday, August 18, 2019

 

Interview with Jessica Pace: Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Third Place Winner

Jessica’s Bio

Although Jessica was born in Japan, she was raised all over the United States. Adopted into a military family, she saw different places and experienced life in California, Texas, Alaska, and Montana. When she was in grade school, Jessica thought she would become a neurologist, because she was fascinated by the human brain. Many years later, she graduated from Western Washington University with an English degree. At that point, she thought she might become a graduate student and publish a collection of poetry. As life would have it, five years later she began her graduate studies at Hamline University where she earned her MFA with a creative nonfiction emphasis.

When she’s not busy slinging denim and sizing dress shirts at her retain job as a back-of-house merchandising specialist, she tutors students online. She does her best to give feedback and provide personalized writing lessons to a variety of writers. This is the first time her nonfiction writing has been selected for publication.

If you haven't done so already, check out Jessica's award-winning essay "Banana Bread" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Jessica: I began writing the original piece during a graduate workshop focused on the personal essay. The hermit crab essay sounded exciting, so I thought I might try my own version. I knew I wanted to explore issues such as race and cultural identity through an unusual form, so I settled on a series of "recipes" centered on foods that are either yellow or brown on the outside, but white on the inside. This was the concept that brought the collection together, so each recipe (angel food cake, coconut macaroons, and banana bread) explored a personal experience. The only recipe I knew by heart was the banana bread, so I had to research the others. It was fun, but I also began to crave the foods I was writing about! The final version I submitted to WOW was originally a version submitted to a different contest. It required 750 words or less, so I chopped everything up and decided to go with the concept of the banana, because it was my original inspiration.

WOW: Nicely executed “hermit crab” structure! Thanks for describing your process. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Jessica: I learned that one small seedling of an idea can sprout into a giant tree with many branches. That must sound corny, but by writing the hermit crab essay, I began to see endless possibilities. I find that idea exciting and daunting at the same time because there are so many potential hermit crab essays out there. I would love to write a few more and encourage everyone to try their own hermit crab essay. You may be surprised where you end up!

WOW: Thanks for the encouragement to try something new! In your bio it says that at one point you wanted to publish a collection of poetry. Do you continue to write poetry? If so, in what ways, if any, does it affect your prose writing?

Jessica: I don't write as much poetry as I used to, but I still enjoy it to some extent. When I was an undergrad, I had one quarter in which I maxed out at twenty credits. Three of my four courses were poetry classes and two of the poetry classes were back-to-back with the same professor, so I quickly exhausted myself. I'd like to think poetry taught me a sort of economy of words. I often struggled to meet page requirements in school, such as an assignment that required a ten-page essay. I would write a first or second draft and struggle to the very end to make seven pages stretch. However, I suppose this isn't limited to prose. In high school, I wrote a one-page poem as a creative response and my teacher made me stretch it to three, so perhaps I've always been too concise for school assignments.

WOW: I have always found length requirements in academic settings challenging, too, though I suppose it can help to put the piece in a new perspective. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Jessica: Oh gosh, there are so many, but I'll discuss two I'm currently reading. The essay "Somebody to Love" by Joni Tevis inspires me to write more essays and to dig even deeper into my past. This essay inspires me not only as a writer, but as a reader. I admire the structure of her essay as well as her writing style, but I can also appreciate and connect to the personal story she is conveying to me as a reader. This connection is something I strive to achieve in my own writing. I'm also reading Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya. I find that some of Furiya's experiences echo my own, especially concerning childhood. Her writing has also made me consider more of my own childhood as potential fodder for my writing.

WOW: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Jessica: If I could say anything, I'd tell my undergraduate self to take more creative nonfiction classes! I remember a professor told my class that creative nonfiction would be the next big thing, but at the time I only decided to take creative nonfiction classes because they satisfied the other portion of my English requirement. At the time, it seemed as though creative nonfiction was picking up pace, but I was too focused on my poetry classes to give it much thought. By the time I graduated, I felt creative nonfiction was fun and offered more chances to say what I needed to say, but by then it was too late to go back. Thank goodness I took a chance later and wrote some creative nonfiction pieces the second time I applied to graduate school!

WOW: Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!

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

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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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