Why I Loved "Stranger Things"

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Streaming services can be both a source of inspiration and information for writers, but also a way for us to procrastinate at our finest! This past fall, after finishing a large project, I told myself I was finally going to binge the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” since people had been talking about it for a few years and I was starting to get a case of FOMO (fear of missing out). The funny thing is, while a lot of my kids’ peers had been watching the series, neither my son nor daughter could really get into it. (Sometimes I feel like I’m the only teenager in the house, and I’m 43). My son would actually wander into the room while watching the show (usually at the scariest parts) and quickly scoot back out.

There was so much to love about the show. The first season begins with the disappearance of Will Byers, after he and his friends spend a chill evening together playing Dungeons and Dragons. An unexplained disappearance in a small town that also has its fair share of supernatural events centered around a national lab performing experiments for the United States Department of Energy? That was enough to hook me, a person who didn't miss an episode of “The X-Files” back in the day. I won’t give any spoilers, but the second and third seasons continued with the “mysterious happenings” theme. The featured actors that starred in movies that came out when I was a teenager were a big selling point (Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser, Sean Astin, Cary Elwes, to name a few). The show had different threads that appealed to both my husband and I (mystery and suspense for me, science fiction for him, and everything 1980s nostalgia for both of us). It also had cleverly woven in humorous throughout, like the clip below about one of the characters coming out as a “nerd.”

I connected with so many of the characters in the show, from the telekinetic “Eleven” with her kickass abilities to her childlike innocence, to Nancy, the teenager torn between her popular high school boyfriend and the brooding older brother of the missing boy. I also love to write about teenage characters, and I found it interesting that the creators of the show originally pitched "Stranger Things" to around 15 different cable networks, who all rejected it because of the emphasis it had on the child/teen characters in the midst of a paranormal mystery. They wanted it to either be a children’s show or a show solely focused on the police chief focusing on the paranormal events, not both. Netflix finally stepped up and bought the first season for an undisclosed amount. This gives me hope for a lot of my own work, which also centers around teenagers and paranormal events/mysteries.

Who else has watched “Stranger Things?” Did you develop the affection for it that I did? I’m excited for Season Four, which is currently in production.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who lives in North Carolina. Learn more about her at FinishedPages.com.

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Why We Share

Thursday, November 28, 2019
I recently posted an article on my personal blog titled Don't Wait concerning the importance of early testing and detection when it comes to colon cancer. I received quite a bit of public and private feedback which led to some soul searching on my part. I'm sure the answer to this question is different for each of us, but let's talk about it for a bit. Let's talk about why we share our stories, our lives, our dreams our thoughts, our views, and our opinions through our writing. What's the motivation behind all the sharing?

Whether sharing through a blog, a poetry reading, a memoir, a contest submission, etc... (and the list is quite lengthy), there are those of us who use our writing to share things with others each and every single day. We all travel different paths, live in different places, and have our own unique stories to tell. I'm hoping you'll leave a comment on this post telling me your motivation and reason for sharing, because I'm genuinely curious. I think sometimes people's perception of why we share is completely the opposite of our reality.

They think we do it to stand in the spotlight.
Here's our reality: Even as a little girl, I wanted to share my stories. Our neighborhood group put together a newspaper that we distributed for free to anyone who wanted a copy. Keep in mind this was well before computers, and each edition was hand written by a group of elementary school students. Our motivation was never to make money or become famous and I guess we didn't stop to think "no one is going to be interested in reading this, so why bother?". I think most of us share with the intention of helping others - we hope that our pain, our struggle, and our laughter is going to positively impact others.

They think we do it for the money.
In reality, most authors don't make a lot of money. Most write during their free moments and still have another job to pay the bills. We write because we cannot imagine life without writing - just like most people can't live without air, we cannot live without words.

What are some other reasons people think you share your passion for writing? Is that perception accurate? What's your real motivation?

I love being engaged in conversation about my writing and hope it will inspire others to share their stories. Everyone is a teacher and we can learn and grow through their stories and experiences. No matter what your motivation or what people may think motivates you - just keep writing and please keep sharing!


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, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, horses Darlin' and Joker, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows and riding unicorns (not at the same time), 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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Blame it on the Tryptophan

Wednesday, November 27, 2019
You know how things'll unfold on Thursday. You'll eat a mountain of food... including some turkey. You'll be sluggish all day. At some point you'll loosen your belt, unbutton your pants and lose your battle to stay awake.

Can I blame my sluggish writing habits these last few months on the tryptophan? I think not.

I need to get back into the habit of writing on a regular basis. My blog (I'm sure) feels abandoned. I've stopped submitting my manuscript because I'm holding my breath, waiting.  (A third publisher requested a full manuscript. If you read this aloud, whisper it. I don't want to jinx it.)

I've been searching for some morsel of advice to nudge me into writing again. I read an article that advised me to find a trigger that will intiate my writing. The premise is a particular song or light or action (like sitting down in a particular spot) will cause my brain to begin a behavior.... which in this case is writing.

I'm thinking of making Brandi Carlile's song "The Story" my trigger.

Another article advised (among other things) to cultivate a team. I should surround myself with people who will help me move forward as a writer.

Fortunately, I already have a couple of teams surrounding me.

I belong to a writing group. Once a month or so these writing friends and I sit down, share, and critique. If I haven't written anything all month, I'll writing something just so I don't have to come empty-handed.

I also belong to a writing accountability group... although my fellow members might beg to differ.

"Sioux? I don't recall anybody in our group by that name."

"A writer named Sioux? Hmmm. I don't recall seeing any of her progress reports in months."

"Sioux's AWOL. Fuhgeddabout her."

Surprisingly, they haven't. They haven't forgotten about me, despite my "disappearance" for the last few months.

One of the Butt-Kickers has emailed me several times, asking if I'm okay. Another writer in our accountability group emailed me yesterday to let me know about a publisher that might be interested in my manuscript. And just today one of the Butt-Kickers helped me register for an online WOW class.

So later this week, when I'm eating turkey and sweet potatoes and flash-fried spinach and giving thanks for my health and family and the two new grandkids I will be getting this next year (whoot whoot!)... I will also be giving thanks for my writing friends--friends who aren't giving up on me, even when I (temporarily) have given up on myself.

Sioux is a middle-school teacher, a dog rescuer and a teacher-consultant for the Gateway Writing Project. In her spare time she makes excuses about why she doesn't have time to write. You can check out her blog (Sioux's Page) and hopefully, it will have been updated by the time you follow the link.

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Being Thankful For What Counts

Tuesday, November 26, 2019
I don’t normally wear two fitness trackers but I was conducting an experiment.

See, my older fitness tracker had a broken strap and a syncing snafu, so I decided to buy a new one. And the new one was practically perfect in every way; the strap was fine and it synced beautifully. But had I somehow turned into a slug? Because with my older tracker, I was hitting my step count by early evening but suddenly, early evening would ease into late evening and I wouldn’t be even halfway to my goal. And after a couple of days of wearing the two trackers, it became obvious that my older tracker counted every single step—and then some—whereas the new tracker required consecutive steps at a certain level of exercise-worthiness to start counting.

So why am I talking about fitness trackers? Because I wanted, on this eve of the eve of Thanksgiving, to make a point about comparison. To wit: I was perfectly happy with my new tracker until my experiment. Once I compared the two trackers, I was disappointed and downright annoyed, and yet, the new tracker did what it was supposed to do—and more importantly, what I needed it to do.

I looked at that new tracker and shook my head, thinking of my favorite quote, the one by Theodore Roosevelt: Comparison is the thief of joy.

And I wonder, here at the end of November, how many of us are comparing ourselves to all those writers participating in NaNoWriMo and feeling disappointed and downright annoyed with ourselves because we haven’t reached that 50,000 word goal? When maybe, just looking at our own personal goals for this writing challenge, we’ve achieved exactly what we wanted, or more importantly, what we needed to get done.

Or maybe we’re looking at our writing career as the year winds down and comparing ourselves to writer friends (or members of our critique group or basically every other writer we sort of know) who’ve achieved what we consider far greater success in 2019. When, if we just objectively look at what we personally wanted to achieve for 2019, we can feel pretty impressed with what we’ve accomplished in a year.

The thing is, success is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, especially in the world of creatives. So join me this Thanksgiving and let’s be thankful for who we are. Resist the temptation to make comparisons, and focus instead on what’s been achieved, on the accomplishments made. I know I feel better and I guarantee you’ll find more joy in your writing life, and for that matter, life in general.

(And P.S. I’m just wearing one fitness tracker these days, the newer one. It’s fine the way it is, and that’s what really counts, right?)

~Cathy C. Hall wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!
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Interview with Jeanne Cavelos, Director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust

Monday, November 25, 2019
Jeanne began her professional life as an astrophysicist working at NASA. After earning her MFA in creative writing, she moved into a career in publishing, becoming a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she edited award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels and won the World Fantasy Award. Jeanne left New York to pursue her own writing career and find a more in-depth way of working with writers. She has had seven books published; her last novel was Invoking Darkness, the third volume in her bestselling trilogy The Passing of the Techno-Mages. Her writing has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Jeanne is currently working on a near-future science thriller, Fatal Spiral.

Since Jeanne loves working with developing writers, she created the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 1996, which quickly became one of the most respected programs in the world for writers of the fantastic. In 2010, she launched Odyssey Online Classes; live, intensive, interactive courses that use the techniques that have proven so effective at the workshop. Three online classes are announced each fall with an application deadline of December 7. Jeanne is also an English lecturer at Saint Anselm College, where she teaches fiction and nonfiction writing.

Connect with Jeanne and the Odyssey Writing Workshops on Odyssey’s website and blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. For more information about Odyssey, check out this YouTube video.

Make sure you read Jeanne's blog post about building structure with changes of significance then come on back!

----- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Thank you for chatting with us today! So, tell us about Odyssey Writing Workshops and why you created it.

Jeanne: Odyssey is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work. I created Odyssey in 1996. I wanted to get out of the corporate rat race of New York publishing to focus on my own writing, but I also loved working with writers and wanted to create some method for doing that in a more meaningful way than my job as senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell had allowed. When I started trying to figure out what sort of structure I could create in which I’d have useful, meaningful interactions with writers, I thought back to my experience earning my MFA in fiction writing.

I was “the weird girl who writes science fiction” in the MFA program, the only student not writing literary fiction. While the professors tried to help me, and did teach me some valuable lessons about style, they really didn’t know much about genre fiction. They couldn’t provide much insight into how genre fiction works or how my stories and novel might be improved. I ended up teaching myself most of what I know about writing, by writing, by studying the works of other writers, by reading probably a thousand writing books, and by critiquing and editing manuscripts for years and years and years.

So when I thought about what might help writers the most, I thought of a program like an MFA program, but focused entirely on fantasy, science fiction, and horror, where all the students and all the instructors write fantastic fiction and believe in its value as an art form. That’s when Odyssey began to take shape.

We started by offering our six-week, in-person workshop, which is now considered one of the top programs in the world for writers of the fantastic. In the following years, we added a one-week, in-person workshop for graduates of the six-week program, a critique service, online classes, consultations, coaching, and many free resources. While our nonprofit mission remains to help writers of the fantastic, many of our programs have helped writers of other genres as well. As Odyssey’s 25th anniversary approaches in June, it’s wonderful to think about all the writers Odyssey has helped and the great successes of graduates.

WOW: That's incredible! How is your writing workshop different from others?

Jeanne: The six-week Odyssey workshop is different in several important ways.

Many workshops focus predominantly on workshopping. Students sit in a circle and provide feedback to each other. This can be very helpful. It’s not helpful, though, to hear about the weaknesses in your writing if you aren’t also learning how to strengthen them. Odyssey provides an advanced, comprehensive curriculum that covers the elements of fiction writing in-depth, teaching you how to use tools and techniques that can make a major improvement in your writing. Class meets for over 4 ½ hours, 5 days a week, and about 3 hours of that is lecture and discussion. Students learn about their weaknesses in critique, but they also learn how to strengthen those.

Most workshops are run by writers. While I’m a writer, I spent 8 years as an editor in New York publishing, which gives me a very different approach when I work with other writers. Many of the writer/teachers I know say something like this: “Here’s how I do it, so you should do it this way too.” There’s nothing wrong with that; it can be very helpful to know how a great writer handles some challenge. But it’s also limiting. Every writer thinks differently, and the ideal writing process for each person is unique. As an editor, part of my job was to help writers find that ideal process, to offer them techniques and methods that match up with the way they think and work to yield the best result. So when I work with writers at Odyssey, in addition to lecturing and workshopping, I meet one-on-one with students to help them develop that ideal writing process.

Some six-week intensive workshops switch between different instructors. This provides different perspectives but it can leave students without clear direction. One week, the instructor might tell them their characters are weak. The next week, the instructor might say their plot is weak. The next week, the instructor might say they need to strengthen their point of view. So students don’t really know what to do. At Odyssey, we bring in a guest lecturer for about 24 hours each week, so students receive a variety of perspectives and feedback. But I’m also there for the entire six weeks, meeting with students at the beginning—after reading three of their stories--to explain their overall strengths and weaknesses, helping them to choose an area for improvement, offering ways they can improve, charting their progress with each story, and sending them home with a sense of what they’ve accomplished and what they still need to work on. That continuity has proven to be very helpful.

Since I’m there throughout the six weeks, I also have a better sense of student dynamics and how the atmosphere of the class is developing than someone who comes in to teach for just a week. If you’ve participated in writing workshops, you probably know that things can easily go wrong. Participants can attack each other to make themselves feel superior. They can provide lazy critiques that don’t teach them anything and don’t help the author of the piece. Participants can hold grudges over previous critiques and seek revenge in later critiques. The atmosphere can easily become toxic. To prevent this and to make the workshopping process as helpful as it should be, it’s important to establish rules at the start and to talk to any participants who aren’t providing truthful and helpful feedback. Workshopping can be a painful process, and I’m proud of the students at Odyssey who have stepped up and provided the best feedback they can to their classmates. At Odyssey you won’t be coddled, and you won’t be attacked. You’ll receive unflinchingly honest, concrete, detailed feedback. Because I’m a former editor, and because I know how much editing the works of others taught me about writing, we put a lot of stress on critiquing at Odyssey. My own critiques average over 1500 words each, with extensive line edits in addition. Other workshops don’t provide that level of feedback.

A few other differences: At Odyssey, students can work on novels if they aren’t interested in writing short stories. And we’ve got some great resources for graduates, so you aren’t left on your own at the end.

WOW: I love the one-on-one work you do! Tell us about the upcoming workshops that students can join.

Jeanne: Odyssey offers online classes each winter, so those are the next programs coming up. We only offer three courses, so we can ensure high quality. Each course is limited to 14 students. They’re held live, creating a virtual classroom experience in which students can participate in discussions, ask questions, and learn from an instructor who is responsive, in the moment, to students' concerns, confusions, and thoughts. Between meetings, students interact with each other and the instructor in a discussion group, complete demanding assignments, and give and receive in-depth feedback. Each student also has a one-on-one meeting with the instructor. Graduates of Odyssey Online regularly praise the depth and value of the content provided in the courses, the rigorous, carefully designed assignments, and the insightful, detailed critiques from instructors.

We try to focus courses on some of the biggest challenges writers face. This winter, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford is teaching The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling. If readers aren’t feeling the same emotion you are when they read your work, this course will help you bring out that emotion. This course will take you from "setting the stage"--understanding the heart of the story you are telling--to "getting it on the page"--exploring techniques that will not only show the emotions of your characters but orchestrate the overall emotional experience of readers. Then your stories can take readers on a journey that satisfies their hearts as well as their minds.

Scott H. Andrews, the World Fantasy Award-winning editor-in-chief and publisher of the fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, is teaching Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark. If you’ve gotten your writing to the point where you’re receiving encouraging personal rejections but just can’t make that sale, your stories may lack a spark. By reading the hundreds and hundreds of stories that come into his magazine, Scott has developed a theory that there are four main ways to create a spark--with a fascinating concept or thematic impact or emotional resonance or potent voice. Scott will explain how each of these types of sparks works, and students will study examples and work to add a spark to their own stories.

I’ll be teaching Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction. If there’s one problem most writers have in common, it’s plot. One of the best tools for strengthening plot is the act. Plotting in acts creates a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. This course will start by defining key units of structure--the scene, chapter, and act--and explore why we need acts. We’ll discuss the effect of acts and how acts work in short fiction and novels. We’ll learn how to plot in three acts and what makes a strong three-act plot. We’ll look at powerful methods of ending an act. We’ll explore how to create a causal chain that generates escalations and leads to a strong climax, and the critical connection between structure and character transformation. With a strong act structure, the protagonist will face challenges that will put him, and readers, through an experience they will never forget. (You can find my blog post on “Building Structure with Changes of Significance” here)

Writers of any genre of fiction are welcome to apply to the online classes, and the application deadline is December 7.

Our six-week workshop will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. Odyssey has become known as one of the most effective programs in the world for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Graduates commonly describe Odyssey as inspiring and transformative and say they learned more in their 6 weeks at Odyssey than they did in "3 years of creative writing classes" or "an entire MFA program" or "30 years of reading the 'How to Write' books."

The workshop will be held June 1 to July 10 at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Guest lecturers will include Brandon Sanderson, Yoon Ha Lee, J.G. Faherty, Barbara Ashford, Scott H. Andrews, and Sheila Williams. Scholarships are available, including the George R.R. Martin-sponsored Miskatonic Scholarship. The application deadline is April 1.
WOW: Those classes sound incredible! What can students expect from your workshops?

Jeanne: You can expect that a lot of thought has gone into every aspect of the program, that it’s been designed to be as helpful as possible, and that the instructor wants you to succeed and will be honest about the strengths and weaknesses in your work to help you make progress.
You can expect a lot of work. To make Odyssey’s programs as effective as possible, we pack in a lot of content and a lot of homework. And you can expect critiques that are more thorough and in-depth than you’ve ever received before.

You need to be ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and be willing to change your writing process and try new techniques to strengthen them.
WOW: What kind of success have students from your workshops experienced?

Fifty-nine percent of Odyssey's graduates have gone on to professional publication, and they include award winners, Amazon bestsellers, and New York Times bestsellers. Here’s some recent news from graduates. R. F. Kuang, class of 2016, won the Crawford Award and was nominated for both a Nebula Award and a World Fantasy Award for her first novel, The Poppy War, published by HarperVoyager in 2018. The novel was included on multiple "Best of 2018" lists (including the Washington Post's and Time magazine's). Linden Lewis, also from the class of 2016, sold her trilogy to Skybound/Simon & Schuster in a major auction; the first book will come out next year. Booklist Online named I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall (published by Penguin Random House), class of 2005, one of the "Top 10 First Novels for Youth," and Universal has optioned the movie rights. Ben Affleck will co-star and produce. Nightbooks, by J. A. White (class of 1996), is being produced as a movie for Netflix. And it was just announced that The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (Saga) by World Fantasy and Locus Award-winning author Theodora Goss (class of 2000) is in development as a television series on the CW. Other recent publications include Jumpship Hope (Tyche Books) by Adria Laycraft, class of 2006, which started as a flash piece written at Odyssey, and Undying (Disney-Hyperion) co-authored by New York Times bestseller Meagan Spooner, class of 2009.

WOW: That is inspiring! Thank you again for taking the time to talk with us today. 

Connect with Jeanne and the Odyssey Writing Workshops on Odyssey’s website and blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. For more information about Odyssey, check out this YouTube video.
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Interview with Kumi Nelson, Runner Up in the WOW! Q4 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Kumi was born and raised in Japan and grew up reading Akutagawa and Dazai in Japanese until she met her American husband and moved to the U.S. After quitting her “real job,” she started to write, not in Japanese but in English, and joined the local writer’s workshop where the fearless facilitator convinced her to enter her story into a contest.

Kumi currently lives in the jungle with two vicious dogs, Kabi and Sabi, and posts her stories and doodles on her blog, www.nelkumi.wordpress.com.

Read Kumi's touching essay here and then return to learn more about this talented writer.

WOW: Kumi, welcome and thank you for being here today. “Dogs and a Pig,” is a about a very painful subject—moving on from the personal loss of your husband. Was it difficult to get the first few drafts down?

Kumi: Writing "our" story is always tough. I miss "us" and get emotional. Time helps, and I was ready to write "my" story, a pledge to keep going. It somehow went from "I can't wait for today to be over" to "I can't wait for today to be over so tomorrow can start." Once I decided to write for the contest, I focused on writing a contest-worthy piece.

WOW: Your bio says you began writing in earnest after quitting your “real job.” What line of work were you in and what drew you to writing?

Kumi: My first job after graduating from high school was working in the payroll department of a large company. Since then, I have worked for airlines and in retail. I like reading and had scribbled stories in Japanese before I started to write in English. When did I realize I enjoyed writing? I don't know. I never believed I could be anything. Those who know what they're meant to do are very lucky. One day, it might happen to me. I did fancy being somebody as my childhood dream jobs fluctuated: a doctor, a teacher, a cartoonist, an orphanage director, a radio talk show host, and, of course, a writer.

WOW: What prompted you to join your local writers’ workshop and how has it helped shape your writing?

Kumi: I wanted to write better posts on my blog, and the ad of the writers' workshop for beginners caught my eye. There, the facilitator taught us the basics, and I was eventually invited to join the writers’ group. I was intimidated at first, but they have been very encouraging. Expert advice and feedback and a group of supportive people are the catalysts to better rewrites, I believe.

WOW: Yes, it certainly does! One of the things that makes this piece stand out so much is the tension you were able to embed with the wild pig. I was on the edge of my seat! Are these wild pigs a common occurrence in your life because of where you live?

Kumi: We never used to have this much problem. It must be the effect of climate change. Oink oink, nudge nudge.

WOW: I'm not going to argue with you there! Are the drawings on your blog also done by you? They are a great addition to your blog posts. What are some of your favorite creative outlets?

Kumi: I do impose my quirks on the readers (chuckle). All forms of purging inspire me — anything to tell a story.
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Find a Class You Can Use

Saturday, November 23, 2019
Signing up for Margo's class
was one of my better ideas.
I love taking classes. I average about 4 massive online open courses (MOOC) each year. I’ve studied dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, chemical astronomy, and even forensic anthropology. Perhaps the best class I’ve taken was one that required a payment.

I just finished Margo Dill’s School Visits and Author Talks for Children’s and YA Writers and Illustrators. Not only did I learn about the various types of talks and visits, I outlined a talk and developed a price structure. I even roughed out the brochure I need to use when approaching schools and libraries.

School visits are something I waffled about for years. First I couldn’t do them because of family commitments, but now? Figuring it out just felt overwhelming. Not anymore. Thanks to Margo, I have a game plan.

What do you need or want to do that you’ve been avoiding?

Maybe you want to develop your online presence and through it your platform. If that’s the case, you need to check out the WOW classes taught by Karen Cioffi, she even has a class called Build Your Author/Writer Platform. In this course, you learn why you need a web site as well as which pages are essential. There’s a section on WordPress for those of us who are interested in blogging.  

Speaking of blogging, Karen teaches Blogging Made Easy. This class is specifically on how to use your blog to build your platform. She discusses what makes a good post, popular post formats and even how to use SEO.

But what about those of us who need to learn about the writing process? Pop on over to the classes page and do a keyword search. You’ll find classes on picture book writing, novel writing, and ghost writing. There are numerous classes on writing essays and memoir. You can even take a class on middle grade and young adult novel writing. 

What did you say? You need something along the lines of writing support? I found classes on outlining, fitting writing into your busy day, and my class on research. Okay, I didn’t have to search for that one because I knew it was there.

I’m never going to quit taking MOOC classes, but I’ve also learned the value of taking a class that involves a tuition payment. Here are four reasons to consider signing up for such a class.

The class provides deadlines. For whatever reason, an external deadline gets most of us moving especially if there is a payment.

Money out of pocket creates accountability. If I’ve paid to do something, I don’t want to waste that money. I might let a free class slide or only put minimal effort into it. A class I paid for? I’d better get to work.

Questions answered add to knowledge gained. If you have a question about something, having a real, live instructor on hand is a great way to find a reliable answer. This is, of course, in addition to getting information you didn’t even know you needed.

Accomplishment equal energy. When you manage to accomplish something, especially when it is something you hadn’t managed to negotiate on your own, you come out of the class energized and ready to tackle not only what you’ve learned about but the next issue as well.

Give it some thought. What have you wanted to accomplish but failed to do? The right class may be all it takes to nudge you into making some progress.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins  January 6th, 2020. 

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Building Structure with Changes of Significance by Jeanne Cavelos

Thursday, November 21, 2019
Jeanne Cavelos

Stories often start too soon or too late. They get mired in the middle. When they finally emerge, the climax can seem forced or random. Even if they avoid all those problems, the plot often carries little emotional impact.

In my 32 years working with writers, as a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell and then as director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, it's become very clear that writers struggle most with plot and structure.

One reason for this titanic struggle is that creating a strong structure requires a writer step back from the story and see it as a reader sees it. What does the reader care about? What is the reader worried about? What does the reader hope happens? If you can't answer these questions with some certainty, it's hard to overcome those problems.

To build a strong structure, you can start with the smallest unit, a scene, and expand the story one unit at a time, stepping back periodically to assess and strengthen the overall structure that is being revealed (known as writing from the seat of your pants, or pantsing). Or you can start with the overall plan, an outline, and build units to fulfill the plan, stepping back periodically to compare the actual structure being revealed to the plan and make any necessary changes (known as plotting). In either case, that smallest unit, the scene, is key. If your scenes are weak, your structure will be weak.


A story, with few exceptions, is about change. That means your structure is the physical expression of that change. That smallest unit of structure, then, the scene, must show change. Just showing any change, though, is not enough. The scene must show change that moves the story forward in a significant way.

What does that mean, exactly? Two things:
  1. Each scene must show a change in a value of significance to the main character of that scene
  2. The change must have an impact on the rest of the story

When something important to the character changes, and that change has an impact on the rest of the story, the scene pays a critical role in the story and moves the story forward in a significant way.

Let's look more closely at those two requirements. In the first one, what exactly is meant by "a value of significance to the main character"? Well, what does your character value? The love of her husband? Trust in her friends? Her health? Her freedom? Ethical procedures at the hospital where she works? Helping others? Being recognized for her achievements?

In that case, here are some ways a scene might show a change in a value of significance to this character:
  • she catches her best friend in a lie and goes from trusting her friend to distrusting her friend
  • she discovers falsified records at the hospital and goes from believing her colleagues at the hospital are ethical to realizing some of them are unethical
  • when the head of security detains her, she goes from freedom to captivity
  • when a colleague pushes her down the stairs, she goes from health to serious injury

You can see that I am describing these changes as reversals, from one quality to its opposite. Aristotle, in fact, called the change each scene should have a reversal. That's a very useful way to think about it. Robert McKee discusses this concept further in his excellent book Story.

Values of significance are often tied to a character's goal. If a character forms a particular goal, that should mean the goal is important to her. The fact that it's important to her likely means the goal is intertwined with her core values. For example, let's say our character's goal is to clear herself from false charges of negligence at the hospital. What values might be involved? Success in her career, recognition for her achievements, competence, the ability to do what she loves (her job), the respect and love of her husband, her freedom—all these are at stake. For values of significance to change, they must be at stake. They can be gained or lost. This creates emotion in the character and hopefully emotion in the reader also.

"For values of significance to change, they must be at stake. They can be gained or lost. This creates emotion in the character and hopefully emotion in the reader also."

You might ask why values need to be involved. Can't a scene just show a change of significance? Weakening requirement #1 can lead to weak scenes, as writers try to convince themselves that any minor change is a "change of significance." I once wrote a scene in which the antagonist searched for a parking place on a busy city street so he could go execute his evil plan. At the end of the scene, he found a parking space! Ah, the change of significance! The scene was about as interesting as it sounds. If I had considered a "change in a value of significance," I would have found that there is no major value at stake in finding or not finding a parking space. So this would not fulfill the requirement or make a strong scene. That search for a parking space could instead be downgraded to a sentence at the start of the scene in which he attempts to execute his evil plan, or skipped over entirely.

More commonly, the author isn't just missing a value change; the author is missing a change of any sort. A character wakes up and thinks about his life, or walks around and thinks about his life, or two characters exchange information, but nothing much changes at all. This is a common problem in opening scenes (and in many other scenes as well). Often the author is preoccupied with establishing certain background information, setting up character relationships, or describing the world. While those are important tasks to accomplish, they should be accomplished while the plot is simultaneously moving ahead, not while the plot is stuck at a standstill. A scene in which no change in a value of significance occurs is a scene that is not moving the story ahead. It should be cut or revised so that it does create such a change.

Fulfilling requirement #1 rigorously and consistently will help to ensure that each scene shows significant change that will have an emotional impact on the character. That could make an involving scene. But for that scene to form an effective piece of the larger structure, it needs to connect to the rest. That leads us to the second requirement.

Odyssey Workshops


The second requirement reveals that the "change in a value of significance" can't be one that matters only in that individual scene. It must matter beyond that scene, having an impact on the rest of the story. For example, if our protagonist catches her friend in a minor lie and goes from trusting her friend to distrusting her, but that change has no impact on the rest of the story, the scene will feel unnecessary, an unimportant sidetrack. Indeed, that scene would not belong in the story. If, later on, the protagonist discovers that the minor lie actually reveals her friend's role in the unethical practices at the hospital, the initial change will have a big impact on the rest of the story.

The impact of a scene's change on the rest of the story isn't limited to the plot, though. Often (and I'd really like to say always), part of the impact is expressed through the character. A character who believes she can trust her best friend and then discovers she can't is no longer the same person. In future scenes, as she faces her husband, or her boss, she will wonder if her trust in them is as misguided as her trust in her friend. She'll be more wary, more emotionally reserved. And this will have further effects on the story.

"A character who believes she can trust her best friend and then discovers she can't is no longer the same person. In future scenes, as she faces her husband, or her boss, she will wonder if her trust in them is as misguided as her trust in her friend."

A scene with a strong change in a value of significance to the character is a scene that alters the character, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. And as the chain of changes develops, the character will evolve, for good or ill.

A writer struggling to revise a story that readers call "slow" or "uninteresting" may be failing to fulfill requirement #2. The writer might try to make her story more interesting by revising a scene to create a bigger change in a value of significance--she could add explosions and characters dying. But if that value change doesn't have an impact on the rest of the story, the scene doesn't belong, and readers still won't be happy.

When each scene's change has an impact on the rest of the story, then your overall structure is made up of an interconnected chain of changes. This helps you to create a unified structure, in which each piece is important and all the pieces work together.


When each scene fulfills the two requirements, your story will have significant values at stake for the character, will show major changes in which those values are gained or lost, and will thus move the story ahead in a significant way, generating emotion and having an impact on the character and the rest of the story.

That sounds like a story I'd enjoy reading.

Creating scenes in this way can also help you avoid some of the most common problems writers have with structure and plot.

  • If you start your story too soon, the opening scene (or scenes) will most likely either lack a change in a value of significance, or the value change it has will not make an impact on the rest of the story. If you start your story too late, that opening scene may well be overstuffed with multiple changes to values of significance, making it murky, with a confused mix of emotion, and the rest of the story may feel the impact of multiple value changes that occurred before the story began.
  • If you get mired in the middle, you are most likely failing to fulfill one or both requirements, so scenes don't move the story ahead in a significant way and/or don't have an impact on the rest of the story.
  • If your climaxes seem forced or random, that means they are not the culmination of all the value changes that have gone before. Events may seem to be impacted by something outside the previous scenes, or the character may behave in a way that doesn't reflect the evolution we have seen.
  • If your plot elicits little emotion, then you may be writing the equivalent of the antagonist-looking-for-a-parking-spot scene. Remember that you need to do more than just show any change in the scene. You must show a change in a value of significance to the main character of that scene.

As you write scenes that fulfill the two requirements, you'll need to step back periodically to assess the overall structure you are building and try to see it the way a reader sees it. Whether you are pantsing or plotting, you'll want to consider what impacts each value change might have on future events and on the character, and what impacts the reader expects, hopes for, and fears. As you move forward in your story, you'll also want to look back on past scenes and consider whether their value changes are the most important ones for the story and whether the particular ways you create those value changes are the best ways for the story.

At some point in your story creation process, either early (if you're a planner) or later (if you're a pantser), you'll want to consider the best shape for this chain of changes, the overall structure. That will depend on the impact you want to create through the evolution of the character and the development of the plot. "Shape" is a product of several things, but most prominently, the number of acts. An act is another unit of structure, a much larger one. Is this a twisty story? That probably means three acts. One that builds in an almost unbearable way? One act. Is it the epic story of a character's life? Most likely five acts. Understanding the nature of your story and the impact you want to have on the reader will help guide you in making those larger-scale structural decisions. But that's a discussion for another day.

In the meantime, focus on making each small unit of structure the best it can be for your story. Challenge your character by putting the things she values most at stake. Relate events in which she gains or loses those things, creating powerful emotions. And tie each scene to the rest of the story so we can feel the impact of those events resonating through the plot and the character.

That's the way to build a strong structure with changes of significance.


Jeanne's online workshop with Odyssey

Jeanne Cavelos is a bestselling author, an award-winning editor, and the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work.

She'll be teaching the Odyssey Online class Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction this winter.

Jeanne began her professional life as an astrophysicist working at NASA. After earning her MFA in creative writing, she moved into a career in publishing, becoming a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she edited award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels and won the World Fantasy Award. Jeanne left New York to pursue her own writing career and find a more in-depth way of working with writers. She has had seven books published; her last novel was Invoking Darkness, the third volume in her bestselling trilogy The Passing of the Techno-Mages. Her writing has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Jeanne is currently working on a near-future science thriller, Fatal Spiral.

Since Jeanne loves working with developing writers, she created the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 1996, which quickly became one of the most respected programs in the world for writers of the fantastic. In 2010, she launched Odyssey Online Classes; live, intensive, interactive courses that use the techniques that have proven so effective at the workshop. Three online classes are announced each fall with an application deadline of December 7. Jeanne is also an English lecturer at Saint Anselm College, where she teaches fiction and nonfiction writing.

Connect with Jeanne and the Odyssey Writing Workshops on Odyssey’s website and blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. For more information about Odyssey, check out this YouTube video.
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The Difference a Year Can Make for a Writer

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

It’s been an interesting past year.

While many writers I know are in the thick of National Novel Writing Month, I had to let it pass me by this year. One reason I did is because I don’t really have any new ideas for a book, since I have a few different manuscripts that deserve attention before I make another commitment.

As I was looking over my list of goals I gave to my writing accountability group at the beginning of this year, my heart sank a bit. One goal was to revise a YA novel that is close to my heart. I haven’t touched it since January. Another goal was to continue researching agents for my YA novel, Between. But after several rejections, including more after I revamped my submissions package and opening chapters once again, I stopped sending out queries. Instead, I uploaded the novel to Wattpad to enter their Watty Awards. The book went nowhere in the contest, as I just don’t think I’m the right demographic for the platform. Now I’m not sure if I should pull the book from Wattpad (it has almost 500 views spread among the chapters) or if I can even pitch it to agents any more. It’s a little frustrating.

Another goal I had was to enter two writing contests each quarter. Looking over my spreadsheet, I did a pretty decent job of sticking with that plan, but the stories and essays haven’t received any recognition, leaving me wondering if I should put them all on the backburner and simply attempt to write something new.

I’m trying to give myself grace. It was around this time last year that I realized I was in a full-time job that wasn’t a good fit for me and it had really dampened my spirits. I would tell myself I would learn how to be better at the job, but my efforts weren’t getting me anywhere. In early spring, out of the blue, I was presented with an opportunity to edit a magazine I have freelanced for since 2010. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The past several months have required me to ramp up in my new position, meet the writers and photographers, do a fair amount of reporting on my own articles and attend various networking events.

I guess the point of this post is to commiserate with any writers whose plans have gone awry this year. You never know what life is going to throw at you, and there are lows to go along with all of the highs. The good news is that I’m taking tiny steps towards producing my true crime podcast I’ve been talking about forever, and that wasn’t even on the list of goals I made in January.

How have your writing plans changed and evolved since the first of the year? How do you keep moving forward when you feel like you’re not making enough progress on your projects?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who lives in North Carolina. Learn more about her at FinishedPages.com.
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So Authors Are Actually Making Money Self-Publishing...

Tuesday, November 19, 2019
I just got back from 20Books to 50K, an indie publishing conference held in Las Vegas with 1000 authors interested in learning about indie publishing. Some were beginners like me (in the self-publishing world), and some are making between six and seven figures a year on their books. Yes, you read that right. There are self-published authors who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars on their books each year. Mark Dawson, the keynote speaker and co-host of The Self-Publishing Show podcast, is now a millionaire and just signed a traditional print deal and will soon have his once only self-published books as hardbacks in bookstores in the UK.

Over the next month (at least), I plan to share with you, WOW! readers, some of the most inspirational and motivational things I learned at this conference. But let me tell you another secret, most of the workshops and talks I went to were recorded and are loaded on YOU TUBE for YOU TO WATCH FOR FREE! (Go to YouTube.com and Google 20Books to 50K) Start with Mark Dawson's keynote here. It gave me chills, and I had tears in my eyes. When I came home from this conference, I felt empowered. I set a new word count goal of at least 1000 words a day on a NEW WORK. And this does not include revising, editing, or marketing. So far, I have a streak of four days and have written over 1000 words each day. I'm so excited writing this blog post for you that I know I'm all over the place and rambling. I can't help it. I am that excited.

Here are some of the takeaways from Dawson's talk:

  • He has made so much more money as an indie author than he did with a traditional publishing contract. He does the math for you in the You Tube video. It's amazing.
  • Don't compare yourself to other writers and their success. Be motivated by them. Study them and then do the same things in your career.
  • Don't take bad reviews personally (FYI: some of the funniest moments here in the video). 
  • Respect your readers' time. Answer all emails, Facebook comments, and tweets.
  • Advertising on Facebook and Amazon (or Bookbub or countless other places) is no longer a luxury. If you want to be found and read, you need to spend some dollars advertising. 
Mark Dawson is a hard worker. He has built his business from the ground up. But he still loves writing. He still writes. And he is generous with his information and wants to help other writers. He is living the life so many of us dream of, and he is willing to show you how to achieve it if you want to work hard and pay attention to how the business is changing.

What I realized the most during this conference is that the publishing business is changing. At 20Books to 50K (the story of this name and founder will come next time), I sat there thinking about my three traditionally published books and all the mistakes I've made. And then I told myself: Stop it. You did what you did because that's how things were done then. And you have good books you can be proud of.

But now the climate is changing, and like all companies (BIG COMPANIES: Pepsi, Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc) that now have social media departments and spend money on content advertising, we, as writers and businesswomen, have to change with the publishing times. I urge you to at least get educated. You can still long for an agent. You can still turn your nose up at self-published authors, but you also need to understand that these hard-working and successful authors will be your biggest competition and just may be laughing all the way to the bank while they are enjoying being a writer as their full-time jobs. 

My writing group, the Lit Ladies, at 20Books. I'm in the glasses!

Margo L. Dill
is a children's and YA author in St. Louis, MO. She is WOW!'s managing editor and teaches novel writing and middle-grade and young adult writing for WOW! You can find her upcoming classes (novel writing starts on December 6) here. 
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Promote Yourself - Toot That Horn!

Monday, November 18, 2019
Greetings from Wisconsin where one day it's snowing and the next we are wearing short sleeves (and my children no longer enjoy having their photo taken...case in point here on the left)! I want to talk about promoting your work as an author. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I've been a Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing for several years now and I'd like to share some advice about promoting your work and branding yourself. The books I have had the most success promoting have been for those authors who have set some serious ground-work. Authors who have the following:

An Author Page on Facebook
A LinkedIn Account
An Instagram Account
A Twitter Account
A Blog or Website
A Goodreads Author Account
A Goodreads listing of their Book
An Author Profile on Amazon

When an author hires WOW! for a Book Blog Tour, we do quite a bit of behind the scenes work spreading the word about their book. We ask readers to post reviews on blogs, social media, Goodreads, and anywhere they can. We want to shout from the mountain top - we want the world to know about the fabulous book we've had the pleasure of reading. In doing this, we also want to TAG the author on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc... if you aren't there, we can't tag you. This also means readers may not find you. The more places you put yourself and the more ways you promote yourself, the broader your audience will be.

It's not impossible to promote a book for an author who is not on social media, but our promotion isn't as far-reaching. I'd strongly suggest either getting yourself out there or hiring someone to do it for you - BEFORE your book is published. You have nothing to lose if you are out there months (or years) before your book is published, but if you wait until people are trying to find you and CAN'T - then there's definitely a potential for lost readers/followers/reviews.

On a related subject - you can promote yourself without saying "read my book". As a reader and reviewer, nothing is more disheartening than taking time to write a review or a blog post about a book and hearing NOTHING from the author. A brief comment is so encouraging and makes me want to write more reviews. A comment on a review is like a little thank you note - and Gramma said you can never go wrong with a thank you note. An author recently offered to send my daughter's school a copy of his book because my daughter left such a kind review. Now all the students in her school have the opportunity to read his book. He also engaged her in conversation through blog comments and she's excited about the next book in his series. It took a few minutes for them to connect and his readership has expanded greatly because of the interaction.

As Thanksgiving approaches here at our house, I want to say:

Thank you to all the authors, bloggers, readers, and reviewers who place their trust in WOW! - you are all such a joy!


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, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, horses Darlin' and Joker, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows and riding unicorns (not at the same time), 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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Interview with Rachelle Allen: Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest Third-Place Winner

Sunday, November 17, 2019
Rachelle’s Bio:

Rachelle Allen has a life filled with the two best commodities on the planet: music and children. She teaches private voice, flute, and piano lessons to seventy-four students in their homes each week and, twenty-eight years later, still loves every minute of it.

When not teaching, she indulges in the third best commodity on earth: writing. Currently, she is shopping her memoir, Lessons in the Key of Life, vignettes about the lessons she’s learned from the lessons she's taught, to agents and publishers.

On the international writing site, FanStory, Rachelle ranked fifth this year in Novel-writing and seventh for Short Stories and won Book of the Month twice and Story of the Month twice. She also placed first in twenty-five site contests between March and June. In 2012, her story, “A Second Chance With Randall,” was published in The Storyteller magazine, and she placed in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition that year, as well. In June of 2018, her story, “Leopard,” was among the top ten winners in a WOW contest.

Rachelle is living happily ever after in East Rochester, New York, with Bobby Allen, her husband of fifteen years.

If you haven't done so already, check out Rachelle's award-winning story "Knowing When It's Right" and the return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Rachelle: It really did present itself at the salon as I considered the irony of how this woman seemed to have it all, and yet, there she was with the most fundamental of questions about her life and her happiness. This piece is pretty much a transcript of that day's on-the-spot/not-a-lot-of-deep-thinking response. I do remember having prefaced it to her, though, with, "I'm imagining that none of what I'm about to say will be news to you, but it's my birthright as a Jewish Mommie to tell people things they already know."

WOW: The power of observation coupled with a creative design! What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Rachelle: What I learned about myself was that I have come SUCH a long way from my early days of relationships. I made so many mistakes—allowing myself to be constantly disrespected, pretending I didn't suspect infidelity, kowtowing to my then-husband's every whim, choosing to be unhappy rather than divorced. For all I was giving, all I was getting was old! But after I finished writing this article, I realized that those years weren't in vain because they schooled me in the BEST possible way. Thanks to all that turmoil, now I'm able to do a daily victory dance. It taught me that I could learn as much from a bad situation as I could a good one—i.e. that I could BE down, but I didn't have to stay there and that I could always choose to be better.

WOW: Thank you for sharing that with us. It sounds like writing this was a powerfully positive experience. Please tell us more about the role of music in your life. Has it inspired your writing?

Rachelle: I've been told by several editors that there is a natural rhythmic flow and cadence to my "voice," and that, I feel, is the result of my lifetime as a musician. But music, like writing, is also therapeutic for me. I never quite realized to what degree that was the case until the night I overhead my daughter, then sixteen, on the phone with her friend. We'd just returned from being out driving together, and she said, "I can always tell how well or how poorly I've ever done on any given night of driving by how long my mom has to sit and play the piano when we get home." (True. SO very true!) She added, "And if I ever hear Tchaikovsky, I know I've been ESPECIALLY bad that night." (Equally true because he requires such a vast amount of visceral 'expression,' if you will...) I went at once to my daily "Fly On The Wall" Journal, and turned that into an essay. (Isn't it great that there can be such a rewarding overlap in the creative and performing arts?)

WOW: Yes! Thank you for sharing how it overlaps in your life. And it sounds like your daughter has good observation skills, too! Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have most influenced you, and in what ways?

Rachelle: When I was growing up, I read Erma Bombeck's daily column in the newspaper. I loved the way she could take the most mundane parts of life and make them entertaining to read. I also cannot get enough of Anne Lamott and her knack for combining wisdom with a wry, almost cryptic sense of humor. And finally, Torey Hayden changed my life with her book, One Child. I have read everything she's written, as I have Ann Lamott, because both authors provide such depth and understanding of human nature through common sense. They pull at my heartstrings and make me dig way deep into myself for answers to questions I didn't even realize I had.

WOW: Lovely description of their writing and its effect on you. That makes me want to read some of their writing right now. If you could tell your younger-writing-self anything, what would it be?

Rachelle: I would tell my younger-writing-self that there are universal truths to be had every moment of the day. Always have your writer's eye and wits about you, and have a pen and pad on hand at all times. Write these gems down the moment you hear them because, otherwise, you WILL forget them. My husband is hilariously philosophical—especially at night when we're schmoozing before we fall asleep, it seems. So, I keep a notebook and pen in the nightstand on my side of the bed for his treasures. Ditto for my students during our lessons because their assessments of life are SO completely spot on. For example, this is from a six-year-old: Know what I've noticed? As people get taller, their sense of humor gets shorter. If that's not fodder for an essay, what is?!

WOW: What a great example! That is a gem! Anything else you’d like to add?

Rachelle: For the longest time, I was reticent to write essays because I felt "Who am I to be giving advice or making assessments?" But then it finally dawned on me that perhaps the reason I was put into various situations was exactly for that purpose: to share! (To my credit, I was kind enough when that epiphany hit not to add, "DUH!")

WOW: Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses and for sharing your advice and assessments with us through your writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.
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3 Ways to Sneak in Writing During the Holidays

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Whoever thought NaNoWriMo should be in the heart of the holiday season must have been out of their mind. With that said, here we are, in the heart of NaNoWriMo, and online is buzzing with discussions about Thanksgiving. Instead of researching recipes, many of us writers are frantically trying to write our way out of a plot ditch we've fallen into. While gift lists and Christmas plans are arranged, we're trying to remember where we put that outline we wrote out on a piece of notebook paper that we've now lost.

If the idea of writing in the midst of Turkey sounds awful, I have for you a few ways to sneak in some writing time in the midst of the holiday season.

1) Tell everyone you are going "shopping."

Hey, shopping takes time. I mean, it isn't just going once to the mall for an hour. It can often mean several stores, several trips, and many hours of long contemplation. At least, that can be your excuse. So while looking for scented candles to purchase for your holiday party, take an hour break at a local coffee shop and squeeze in some writing time. And if anyone asks, you no longer like to shop online.

2) Take your time wrapping presents.

One of my favorite things to do is wrap presents. However, just like shopping, it can also take a lot of time. I mean taping, cutting, wrapping the paper, and everything else takes time and consideration. Never mind having to do your own bows and ribbon! So, in the midst of wrapping paper, especially since you are likely doing this in private time, squeeze in some extra minutes working on that piece of writing.

3) Let someone else drive. 

If you tend to be the driver, make sure someone else drives during this time of year. Or take advantage of a rideshare app or opt for carpool. Why? Well, take the laptop or your notebook, and make sure you sneak in writing time while on the road!

How do you sneak in writing time during this time of year?

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Interview with Kathy Pooler, memoirist of Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope

Thursday, November 14, 2019
Interview by Dorit Sasson

A faithful partner for WOW! Blog Tours, Kathy Pooler is a retired family nurse practitioner. Her mission is to give hope to parents and caregivers struggling with an addicted child.

She blogs weekly at Memoir Writer’s Journey. She already published one moving memoir and if you haven’t done so already, check out her second soon-to-be released memoir Just the Way He Walked in our chat below about her journey parenting an addicted child.


WOW: What was the biggest takeaway from writing your memoir about parenting an alcoholic son?

Kathy: Because this was a very painful story, I had to take frequent breaks to write the most truthful memoir. It was not a story I could stick with consistently. Earlier versions started with vignettes of different moments and scenarios and I decided to share them with my son, Brian.

In this sharing I found the courage to keep going and discovered the gift of healing. As hard as it was to face those difficult memories, I was heartened by Brian’s responses to my storytelling version. His response was affirming and deeply healing.

It would take many more years for him to accept his story in published book form. He would grapple with that and I grappled with that too because I did not want to jeopardize the relationship with my son. But I also didn’t want to give up on this important story the world needed to hear.

The biggest takeaway was that I never stopped loving and believing in Brian. No matter how far down in the abyss we had gone, I clung to hope through my faith that things would be better—that he would one day, find sobriety and I would find peace of mind.

WOW: Your insights into your mother-son journey are profound and powerful. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while writing a memoir?

Kathy: I got in touch with my tenacity and learned to use it to my advantage. I was determined to survive and thrive as a mother to an addicted child. I didn’t know how. During my son’s twenty-four years of active addiction, my biggest mistake was being in a state of denial which delayed my ability to educate myself about how to rise above the disease of addiction.

Education and support groups are critical. In my writing, I’ve challenged myself to dig deeper to face the hard truths and I found the courage to face recovery.

WOW: What a gift the writing process was for you both. How did you manage to stay the course of memoir writing once you started experiencing self-doubt especially in light of the painful and difficult memories?

Kathy: As I’ve mentioned, I had many starts and stops along the way of writing this memoir. I decided to take as long as Brian and I needed to get the memoir ready for publication.

It would take many years to discover my compelling story. But for that to happen, I had to let the story evolve naturally. How does a single mother cope with seeing her son spiral downward from addiction? When I experienced self-doubt, I tried refocusing on my purpose for writing the story—to share the hope with other parents of addicted children. Being fueled by the hope, became my “WHY” for pushing through with the writing. I had also set the condition that Brian had to be totally on board with me publishing my story.

When I was in the throes of Brian’s active drinking, I felt isolated and alone. Now I know there’s a better way through community resources and support groups.

WOW: It just goes to show you how much we can accomplish when we get out of our way and rally the right support—makes a huge difference. Curious to know how your background and career in nursing helped you cope with your son's alcohol abuse and recovery.

Kathy: Interesting question as one would assume that my master’s prepared nursing background would guide me through this. But in my case, I was so overwhelmed by the circumstances of being a single parent and having an addicted son that I lost all objectivity.

Despite overwhelm, I eventually learned to reach out and take advantage of available resources. There was so much more I needed to learn so I could cope in a healthier way.

"This memoir started with writing vignettes in 1999—twenty years ago ... each revision forced me to dig deeper into the heart of the story."

WOW: Good for you for recognizing your need for support! What was the revision process like and how did it differ from your first memoir? Were you drawn to reading other memoirs on alcoholism?

Kathy: Unlike my first memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead, this memoir went through many revisions. And while this memoir was difficult to write, in many ways it was easier because it was just about me.

I did fear repercussions from my ex-husband and his wife but that never materialized. He died of cirrhosis two months after my first memoir was published in 2014. The sensitivities related to my son and his acceptance of the story delayed the writing process with the second memoir.

Brian wanted to be helpful, but he also had to face his truth to the story. Up until just four months ago, I honestly did not even know whether we’d be able to move forward with publication. We spent endless hours on the phone poring over sections he had issues with. In many cases, it was a word or description that stymied him. It was a fine line for me as I wanted to be open to his suggestions without losing the intent of the story. Together, we negotiated and even compromised. In some cases, I removed or changed the wording or a sentence. I wanted him to feel his input was valued but in the end, he proclaimed, “I see that this is your story, Mom. I’ve been so caught up with my own issues that I didn’t see it. Now I do. Go for it!”

What a relief, well-worth the long wait. (This memoir started with writing vignettes in 1999—twenty years ago.) I will add that each revision forced me to dig deeper into the heart of the story.

WOW: Twenty years is a long time to wait, wow. What advice would you offer writers who are drawn to the genre of memoir yet experience difficulties when it comes to telling their painful yet important stories?

Kathy: Probably the single most important factor in being able to plow through the pain of telling a difficult story is to be clear on your purpose for writing it—this will provide the fuel for the long journey. My “why” for writing this memoir constantly surfaced and evolved.

Here are some suggestions:
  • Self-care – a necessary essential for the long haul. This includes breaks including counseling, or even permission to work on another project in the interim.
  • Courage to expose your vulnerabilities. Authentic sharing of your vulnerabilities will align your truths with the right reader.
  • Professional development including a memoir writing class. There are many opportunities online. Join a critique group in your area or online to receive feedback on your writing.

Writing a memoir is hard work. Knowing that information upfront will help set expectations. Take the necessary time to set yourself up for success from the start.

"Authentic sharing of your vulnerabilities will align your truths with the right reader."

Find out more about Kathy by visiting her website at krpooler.com.


Dorit Sasson is an award-winning author of the memoir Accidental Soldier and the upcoming Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Finding Home. As a book marketing and writing coach specializing in nonfiction, she helps authors use SEO more effectively to get the word out about their books and build their platforms effectively. She hails from Pittsburgh. Email her at sassondorit[at]gmail[dot]com.

Dorit also teaches for WOW! Women on Writing. Check out her upcoming class, Polish Your Memoir in 5 Weeks.

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