Knock. Knock.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


Generally by fall, my calendar is full. But this year? Not so much, and I realized that I could sign up for that weekly class at my church because…well, what else was I doing?


There was a small fee involved but because I’m not eating in restaurants these days, I find myself with a little extra cash (and very tired of my own cooking). I clicked on the “Join” button and toasted new opportunities. 


 Yep, I celebrated. Not that I was exclaiming, “Whee! We’re still in a pandemic!” It was more like, “Okay, let’s take this lime and make a Margarita out of it!” So, are you ready to join, too? Check out these opportunities that might be knocking at your door: 


 Professional Organizations


Okay, most pro writing organizations haven’t sprinkled “No Dues” fairy dust over the membership page. But in my humble opinion, too many beginning writers jump into an organization with the best of intentions, only to find themselves way too busy or overwhelmed by it all to take advantage of what’s offered. And then they complain about how they spent all that money for nothing. 


So now, maybe you have more time, or maybe you’re working to be more productive with the time and resources you have. Instead of binge-watching 97 episodes of Friends, why not binge on webinars covering those writing-related subjects you’ve been meaning to deep dive into? And many of these webinars are free or very low cost for members. Check out the big organizations like Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators or Author’s Guild or a niche organization like Sisters in Crime. They all have opportunities for the published and unpublished writer. Comb through those websites like you’re looking for…I was going to say head lice but that doesn’t really paint a pretty picture. 


The point is, if you have the opportunity now to do some intentional exploring, enjoy the discovery (Ugh.... I really shouldn’t have brought up head lice!)—and then join the organization. Grow your writing skills, learn more about the business side of your career, and develop your support network!


Or go the individualist’s route… 


Class in Session! 


The online world of writing classes is a veritable smorgasbord and you can find a class to fit any budget. ANY budget. But cost is not always the best indicator of what class is right for you. So give yourself a minute to think about how you learn best and where you are in your writing journey.


Are you locked into a tight schedule? Or are you free as a bird? Do you need structure or flexibility? Look for a class with the options to accommodate your lifestyle. Then, you’ll be more likely to keep at it and find success. 


Next, what do you need to become a better writer? For the beginner, it’s often helpful to take a class where you can just soak up the info, whereas for the writer who has a body of work, even if it’s just one project, taking a class where you can get feedback—though more costly—can get you to the next level.


Every year around this time, I have to give a shout out to the instructors and classes offered here at WOW!Women-on-Writing. I guess it’s partly because I’m in a Back-to-School frame of mind but it’s mostly because these are top notch opportunities. Classes are small and personal and your instructors are as invested as you are


On the other hand, maybe you don’t have a lot of time or much expendable income. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set up your own classes and make your own schedule. Again, search here at the website for the issue on the writing subject you need help with and just start reading. It’s all free content, yours for the taking! I can also recommend my friend, Janice Hardy, and her Fiction University. If you have a writing problem, she’s written about it and explained it—in detail. Also free. Terrific lessons, just sitting there…wait. Did you hear that? 


Pretty sure that was opportunity knocking. Isn’t it about time you did more than peek inside the door?


~Cathy C. Hall

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Size DOES Matter

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Size does make a difference. The size of a publisher matters. A smaller publisher is going to have a more personal connection to their writers. With a small publisher, the writer doesn’t become just another number. With a small publisher (I imagine), the writer and the owner/editor develop a relationship, a rapport. In the best situations, they become friends as well as colleagues and “partners” when it comes to the birth of a book.

Sometimes, however, bigger is better. Sometimes the size of words matters. “Yes” has one extra letter than “no,” and it packs a whole tractor trailer truck full of potential and promise.


I got a “yes.” It took years, but it finally came.


Recently Finally I received an email that did not begin with, “Thanks for sending me your manuscript…” because that’s the kiss of death. Every rejection email I’ve gotten so far (and I’ve gotten a bunch) began with a thank you.


This one didn’t start out with a “thank you.” No, this email began with, “I’d love to publish your book.” That short sentence, only six words long, got me out of a rut and set me off on a journey that has already changed my life.



image by Pixabay


Here are other ways size matters when it comes to writing:


  • Short sentences surrounded by longer sentences… longer sentences that stretch on for 20 or 30 (or more) words. When a two-word sentence is floating in a lake of sentences that are a normal length, it changes up the rhythm of the writing. If all the sentences are the same length, it gets boring for the reader. (I’ve worked with many students who’ve said, “My teacher said that sentences have to be at least five words long,” and I have to restrain myself from saying, “They lied.” Instead, we look at award-winning books and stories that prove I’m right and their former teachers are wrong.)


  • Short paragraphs. Short paragraphs do the same (and a little more) that short sentences do. Have you ever been faced with a page or a two-page spread that’s dense with text… each paragraph five or 10 or 12 (or more) lines long? It makes the eyes weary. It makes the brain tired. But if you slip in a super-short paragraph--a sentence that is only two or three words long--it gives the reader’s brain a little rest stop. A bit of white space (space on the page that is free of ink/text) is appreciated.


  • Thick skin is better than thin. When it comes to pizza, I’ll choose thin crust every time. However, a writer needs to develop a thick skin. They need to choose to embrace constructive criticism (“You mean not every line that flows onto my paper is golden? Seriously?”) and they need to persevere in spite of rejection after rejection after rejection. I sent out over 120 queries before I got a “yes.” Did I want to quit at many points? Definitely, but I’m so glad I didn’t.


  • Small sparks are crucial… but so are raging fires. A spark is bright and brief. My soon-to-be book began with a spark set off by Linda Chistensen, a nationally-known social justice educator and writer. That spark turned to embers… and then it became an all-consuming fire. All my hopes and passion wrapped around getting this story told… which leads us to where I began this post.


Will I chronicle this journey to publication? Of course. Knowing me, it will be peppered with funny stories and screw-ups and stumbling (not my publisher's--the screw-ups will be all mine). But since I’ve wanted to publish a book since I was 13, it’s been… well, it’s been many decades… and it’s a dream that’s finally coming true. 



Sioux, back when she was a teenager, dreamed of being a published writer... of having a book on a bookstore shelf that has her name on it. Now it looks like her dream will finally come true. If you'd like to read more of her writing, check out Sioux's Page.



 


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Interview with Chris Lytwynec: 2020 Spring Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Chris’s Bio:

Chris Lytwynec is a former software developer who works at the intersection of technology and society—whether building a database to investigate foreign money in congressional testimonies, reporting on tech regulation, or writing science fiction. She holds a BA in Psychology from University of Rochester and an MS in Journalism from Boston University. Recently relocated to Phoenix, AZ, Chris enjoys hiking, learning, and playing music. Visit her website at chrislytwynec.com.


If you haven't done so already, check out Chris's award-winning story "The Places that Aren't" and then return here for a chat with the author.


WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?


Chris: I’ve been working on a novel, so this was a bit of a relief from the ups and downs of that process. It felt great to write something complete in a short time frame! This story was also a bit of an exercise in conveying backstory in a compelling way, which is something I’ve been grappling with in my longer work. 


WOW: It’s always so interesting to hear how writing flash stories informs longer works, or vice versa. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?


Chris: Trauma is typically portrayed solely as the addition of negative experiences, but this piece looks at trauma as the denial of the neutral or positive experiences – the things that never came to be as a result of a negative experience. For me, writing this piece was partly a way to put to words this unpleasant feeling somewhere between regret and nostalgia.


WOW: How does working at the intersection of technology and society influence your writing?


Chris: I find elements of sci-fi sneaking into stories that I didn’t even plan to be science fiction. This story, for example. It started from a couple of prompts relating to dreams and home, and I ended up with a draft of a science fiction story!


WOW: I love hearing how stories take shape in such unexpected ways! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?


Chris: I like to have a non-fiction book and a novel going at once. Right now, I’m working through IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black and Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler. The former was recommended to me based on my interest in surveillance and cataloging technologies and my tendency to read WWII-era historical fiction. The latter I picked up because I wanted to read some more science fiction and I’d already read the first book in the series.


WOW: It’ll be interesting to see if those ideas coalesce into one of your next pieces. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?


Chris: Just start. It sounds simple, but it’s the hardest thing to do some days.

WOW: Yes! I agree! Thank you for sharing your story and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!



Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen with the purpose giving them a forum to discuss their own athletic careers, bodies, and lives in their own words. For more on the power of storytelling, join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


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Why. You.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

If you're loving 2020 and everything is going smoothly, this may not be the article for you. But....give it a read as sometime in your life you may just feel like you need a little pick me up and put me back together kind of chat with a friend and that's exactly what this is. For the rest of us who feel like we are stuck on a carnival ride and we just want to get off and eat some mini donuts but instead we are spinning in circles and feel like we are moments away from a little vomit scene...go grab a cup of your favorite beverage and let's talk. 

First of all. How are you really friend? Not "fine" or "doing okay" but seriously? Take a sip of whatever is in your cup (if it's 7am and it's vodka, no judgment - we are that good of friends!), take a deep breath, and spill it! Here's the tissues. Let it all out.

Now that that's out of the way, dry those tears and take another sip (or refill that cup). No matter what it is you're feeling, it's okay and you're okay - actually, you are awesome! You are navigating terrain no one has every seen before and you are doing it day after day. And now I want to know why? Really, why are you doing what you are doing?

Often times when faced with a difficult situation we break our lives down into small parts. I just need to make the coffee and pay the bills. I just need to get to work. I need groceries. Let's say you are a teacher; you're trying to navigate hand sanitizer, distance learners, masks, google meets, loom thingies, etc... but WHY? We all need to get back to our why and only YOU really know what that WHY is. In our example of teaching, it's likely you had a teacher who inspired you and you decided to be a teacher because you wanted to change lives, inspire children, and make a difference in the world. When we are struggling day to day we need to get back to our WHY. So let me ask you again - What's your WHY?

Why are you eating healthy? 

Why are you writing your memoir?

Why did you want to be a nurse, a farmer, a firefighter?

Doesn't it feel good to get back to the real reason you're making that coffee this morning? The real reason you are putting one foot in front of another. The reason you are driving to work.

Without our WHY, we are going through the motions and since we are human and not a machine with well oiled parts, we need more than just momentum to keep us on the right path. 

Let's circle back to the beginning of our chat. Now that we have discussed how you are really doing, and why you're doing what you are doing, let's talk more about YOU!

You've been working really hard to take care of everyone around you. I see you. I see you making small sacrifices, large sacrifices, and holding it all together. I know you cry in the shower and smile when anyone is around. I know you worry about what tomorrow brings. What are you going to do for YOU today? You can't keep taking care of everyone else if you aren't taking care of YOU. You know that and I know that, but there's only so many hours in the day, right? Everyone says "self care" but you're taking care of so many things already it seems like an unattainable goal. I'm not going to recommend getting a manicure or taking a bath or anything that is going to take time away from your day. 

I just want you to make one small change. When YOU look in the mirror today (this can be at home, at work, in the rear view mirror while bucking up to chase the kiddos somewhere, etc...) I want you to smile at that beautiful reflection and say: YOU are Amazing! Say it to yourself, say it out loud, say it once a day, then twice, and keep doing it. 

There's so much noise in our world right now. YOU need to hear your own voice loud and clear. I don't know when we are getting off this carnival ride and I don't even know if there will be mini donuts when we do, but I know you have a few minutes every day to remember WHY you are here and hear loud and clear how amazing YOU are! You matter. 

Now let's hug it out and finish our beverages and get ready to tackle whatever life throws at us!

I WANT to hear from YOU!

What's your WHY? How are you taking care of YOU?

Drop a note and let us know!

Hugs,
~Crystal

and now...a little more about me...


Shown from left to right:
Delphine riding Honey
Mr. Otto holding Eudora
Crystal riding Marv.
Thank you Forward Farm, LLC 
Crystal is the office manager, 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  Miss Maggie May, and over 250 Holsteins.

And now she runs a virtual classroom for her children who are distance learners! 

You can find Crystal milking cows, riding horses, and the occasional unicorn (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 own blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade and she has never (not once) been accused of being normal!
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Interview with Nellie English: Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Runner Up

Nellie English is a Zimbabwean-Irish adrenalin junkie and writer. She was the first person to run across Zimbabwe, a 724 km run in just over two weeks, for which she raised 7,000 dollars for a mental health charity. She wrote a book about her experience: Ambessa Run. Two years later, she published 1+1=3. This is the story of her pregnancy, told from three perspectives; that of herself, her boyfriend and her unborn baby. She has published essays and poetry online, and her short story was shortlisted for the Eyelands Mag Flash Fiction Contest. Nellie has recently discovered the magnificent medium of poetry, and its power to channel raw emotion and condense thought into visual images. Life would hold no sweetness without the bitter fruits, nor would the peaceful times stand out but for times of war. Nellie is grateful for even the darkest and most painful periods in her life &endash; without them she would be the person she is today. She is working on her first collection of poetry: Vacilando.

After years of searching for adventures around the world, Nellie now lives in Barcelona with her fiancé and spritely toddler. She loves playing piano and guitar and after her own family, horses hold the most space in her heart. She works as a political journalist and astronomy blogger, and is currently studying to become a paramedic. You can read about her former rum-fueled and now baby-filled shenanigans in Barcelona at her blog or see them here. To support her writing or charity projects in Zimbabwe, please check out her Patreon.

interview by Marcia Peterson


WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Nellie: My partner prompted me! He writes poetry and often has his ear to the ground for interesting competitions. We both came across the link separately but he encouraged me to have a go.

WOW: Your essay, “Sex Education,” eloquently describes #MeToo-related issues and more. What inspired you to write this particular story?

Nellie: Strangely enough, the series by the same name! I was watching the Netflix Original series “Sex Education” and one of the episodes centres around one of the female characters being touched up on the bus. Thanks to a friend, she ends up reporting the incident to the police. I found the episode really shocking, not because of what happened or how she reacted, but because similar and much worse incidents have happened to me my whole life and I just accepted them as somehow my fault. Immediately after finishing the episode, I sat down to my computer and wrote “Sex Education.” It helped me deal with incidents in the past and acknowledge that many of the sexual experiences I had were actually not okay. Writing is always such a cathartic experience for me, and I wanted to share this essay in the hope that other readers might either learn from my mistakes or take comfort in shared hurt.

WOW: We love that show! They explored quite a few issues in season 2. Besides essay writing, you also write fiction and poetry (and are also a political journalist and astronomy blogger). How do you juggle the different types of writing that you do? Anything you can share about the process?

Nellie:  Coffee is my sidekick! Without a pretty gargantuan dose of caffeine in the morning I would be better suited to the Neanderthal section of an Archaeology museum. It can be challenging making the switch from writing about popular science, to a technology review, followed by a poem. Needs must however, I need all my jobs and I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn about new subjects each time.

I am also a “Tab Queen” and I love taking notes. Before writing anything, be it an essay on “What happens to the human body in space” or an article about Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, I read around similar topics (hence a mile of open tabs across my screen!) to immerse my mind into the new subject matter.

WOW: In your bio, you mention that you’re currently studying to become a paramedic. What prompted you to pursue that goal?

Nellie: Becoming a paramedic has been my dream for years! Three years and five months to be precise. I first became inspired to study emergency medicine after a night out. There was a fight and this man got badly punched and broke his nose. I found myself taking charge of the situation, getting him out of the club and mopping him up while we waited for the ambulance. I remember trying to keep him calm while getting gawping onlookers to move away and give him space.

It was only after the ambulance left and I was left holding my blood-soaked jacket I realized how right it felt to be taking that role in an emergency situation. Later that year I signed up for the paramedic degree at my nearest institution. Just before term started however I found out I was pregnant! So it has been put on hold while I work at being a mum and continue writing, but I am so looking forward to beginning a new career.

WOW: You seem like someone who will be a great paramedic. Good luck with your studies when you can get back to it! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Nellie. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Nellie: See every competition as an opportunity to share your creativity, whether you win or not! I am fiercely competitive and I take each loss quite personally. And I lose all the time! More often than not, my writing does not have what it takes for a particular competition. I try to get over the disappointment by seeing each entry as a victory in simply having the courage to share my writing and navigate the competitions entry process!

I suppose in the same way that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” there ‘s also “no such thing as a bad competition.” Each one is you baring your writing, and therefore your soul, to a stranger. Each time it is a small win to you!

****

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

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Take it Easy on Yourself

Saturday, September 19, 2020
A glimpse of the wildfire smoke from earlier last week.

I wish I had advice for you. I wish I had the key that would unlock the ability to write despite every storm going on around you (or within you). Yet, this past week has been a doozy and I thought, "Why offer advice that I can't even follow?" 

In case you haven't seen the news, Oregon underwent a wildfire that has burnt about one million acres. Communities just an easy drive or bus ride away from me received warnings of possible evacuation. People all over the NextDoor app who live near me asked whether our own city would be evacuated (I live in a suburb of Portland). 

Luckily, that immediate threat of possible evacuation has passed, but lately, we have dealt with hazardous air here. As I sit typing out this blog post, it's now at "very unhealthy" levels, and I hope by the time this post goes live, we're somewhat close to normal air. In the meantime, the windows remain tightly shut. 

 And this year has had a number of these moments for so many people. In fact, maybe this year is one of many for you. Maybe your threat isn't external, but entirely internal. 

The thing is I can't say that I am able to shelve these experiences and write anyways. I'm lucky I can even focus enough to read. 

This is when advice like self-care comes in. Yes, it's an absolutely 100% overly used word. Sometimes we don't even realize we are NOT taking care of ourselves. It's not until we lose our temper, cry at an inopportune time, or have zero energy for something we usually can do with ease that we realize that we haven't been treating ourselves with care. 

So, in times of incredible stress, whether it's a fire burning your community, or an illness, or anything else that railroads your life, make sure you are kind to yourself. Give yourself some breathing room. Give yourself care, but make sure it's the right kind of care. 

As a writer, I'm naturally drawn to things that are creative, especially when I eliminate the things that can suck in my time in a negative way (such as too much social media or, embarrassingly enough, mobile gaming). Lately, I have limited social media and removed Lily's Garden (if you have to ask what that is, you're better off not knowing), and let myself be drawn to things that are of better substance. 

I ended up getting drawn back into blogging. I write for two of my blogs lately, one post was for LadyUnemployed and the other post was for World of My Imagination (I actually bought the domain recently!). Sometimes when I put on the blogging hat, I tend to take on the informative side that's a bit more concerned about results than just writing. But for these posts, I donned the creative side that uses blogging as an outlet, and just...talked. 

And you know what? It felt good. It felt like I was more myself than when I attempted to pretend I was some expert. 

 So, today, if you find yourself in a spot where you battling fires in your life, first and foremost, take care of yourself. Give yourself a moment of quiet, even if it's a few moments in the bathroom (hey, we've all done that). Breath. Center yourself. 

 Next, let your creativity flow. Let it rise up in unexpected places, even if it's for your blog. I'm a huge believer in the fact that one creative outlet helps another. Consider bugging a friend to do a writing challenge or respond to a writing prompt with you. Get out the coloring books and crayons. It's totally possible to feed your creative outlet without feeling the burden of success (even if it's the idea of success; that alone can weigh heavy). 

Basically, like Jeanine DeHoney said recently in her post, have fun. And you know? Sometimes I forget to do that. 

So, if you are facing something really difficult, remember that your creative side can still help you get through the rough days. Ditch the idea that it needs to be perfect or even seen by anyone else. Most of all, take it easy on yourself. 

Happy writing! Nicole Pyles is a Blog Tour Manager and freelance writer. Check her unemployment blog, LadyUnemployed.com for informative and inspiring posts, and WorldofMyImagination.com for her thoughts on writing and books. Say hi on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.

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Nonfiction, Fiction, Faction, or Informational

Wednesday, September 16, 2020


Am I the only one taking advantage of all the webinars online right now? Earlier in the week, I watched the Children’s Book Insider video with author Tod Olson. Olson has written a wide variety of books, but on the video he discusses two of his most popular series, "Lost" and "How to Get Rich."


"Lost" is narrative nonfiction, nonfiction that uses scenes to tell the story. The scenes are often so realistic that you feel like you are reading fiction but the characters, dialogue, setting and events are all 100% factual and carefully researched. In "Lost," the stories are about people who get lost and must fight to survive. Lost in the Amazon is about Juliane Koepcke, a 17 year-old who falls from an airplane and lands in the Amazon rainforest. Stranded and alone, she has to survive until she can find help. 


"How to Get Rich" is a series of historical fiction books that are published as found journals. The claim is that this journal, written by a real life person from the appropriate time and place, has been found and published. In How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail, Olson combines historical facts, all carefully researched, with a fictional wagon train family. The events are realistic, the voice is purely fictional.


Just as much research goes into the "How to Get Rich" titles as the "Lost" titles. But one series is nonfiction and the other fiction. Yet reviewers, interviewers and even librarians have mistaken "How to Get Rich" books for nonfiction. When the interviewer, Laura Backes, pointed this out, Olson laughed. He explained that it is fiction. 


“There is a genre right now, some editors are calling it faction,” said Backes. “It’s fiction but it’s so closely based in fact that you almost can’t tell the difference.” 


Backes and Olson discussed how much research goes into historic fiction but he insists the "How to Get Rich" series is fiction. “I’m a hard ass about everything,” said Olson. “If you are going to call a book nonfiction, everything has to be sourced.” 


Huzzah! I got so excited I almost jumped for joy, but I was on the treadmill. As a nonfiction author, the term faction makes me squirm. Strongly based on fact with fictional elements? To me (and Tod Olson) that’s fiction. 


Another similar term is informational. An informational book teaches readers, often young readers, about something factual using a fictional framework. Again, Tod and I would call that fiction. 


There is nothing wrong with faction or informational books. My all-time favorite graphic novel is Clan Apis. It tells the story of a bee hive. The bees are anthropomorphic. Among other things, they talk. With speech bubbles. I consider it fiction but I’ve seen it described as faction. 


Another great book is the picture book Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph. The story is told in first person plural (we) from the point of view of the wall. Remember what I said about talking bees? I consider this book fiction but I’ve seen it described as informational. 


If fiction and nonfiction are good enough for Tod Olson, they are good enough for me. But here’s the thing. He’s found editors and publishers who use these terms the same way he does. 


If you write a fact based book with a fiction narrator and your editor wants to call it faction? That’s between you and her, my friend. 


You just need to know the terms so you know what you’re calling your book. 

--SueBE


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 5, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 5, 2020). 

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A Fantastic Young Adult Novel: Like a Love Story

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

I would like to rave about a young adult book I recently finished reading. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian was a fantastic read, and I want to share it with you if you like young adult novels. I didn't know anything about it when I picked it up for the "split second" that the library was open in St. Louis when COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions were lifted. (Currently, libraries are not open to the public here right now.)

One summer day, my daughter and I went to the library and to the teen section. I told her I wanted to check out some young adult romances because that's the next thing I'll be working on, and she actually found Like a Love Story for me. She said, "This has to be about love--look at the title." When I saw that it was set in 1989/90, that sold it for me since that's when I graduated from high school! 

But once I started reading, I could hardly put it down. And of course, as an author, I want to figure out why that is.

Is it the three point of view characters?
Possibly! The first is Art. He is a rich, white, gay kid who is out and involved with an activist group in New York City who is protesting against pharmaceutical companies and churches for their roles in the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is also a photographer. So that's a super interesting character.

Then there's Judy--she's a slightly overweight, fashion diva who is heterosexual and wants a boyfriend. She is Art's best friend. Her uncle is a mentor to her and Art, and he is dying of AIDS. 

Finally, my favorite POV character is Reza. A senior in high school, like the other two, his mom, sister, and he are from Iran, but they landed in Canada, where his mom met a rich New Yorker and remarried. So Reza now lives in New York with his new stepfamily. Plus he's gay. But he's not out, and he is scared to death of his culture, of AIDS, of his mom's "heartbreak." 

So these three characters kept things interesting in the book, but I think what I loved about the story so much was that it was predictable in some ways, but in others--it definitely wasn't. It was just the right balance. There's a trope: love triangle, but Abdi's characters acted like real people--with all their complications and flaws. They didn't forgive super easily. They made mistakes. They had to live with the consequences of those mistakes. 

He also worked in historical facts. (Yes, the 1980s are now historical fiction!) The protests that Art went to were real. There were a lot of 80s and 90s pop culture references, and how can I forget about MADONNA?! Let's just say, she plays a huge part in this novel, and most of the references to her were pretty factual. 

The other thing is...it was just good writing. It flowed. It made me feel like I was in 1989 New York. It was smart and witty, and the kind of book when I finished, I thought: Man, I wished I would have written that.

But I couldn't write anything like Abdi's book. And that's okay. It's not my style, and it's not my story. My story has a quirky, conflicted, kind, White girl who loves her family, her boyfriend, and her friends. But I can strive to write a true character who acts like a real person like Abdi did. I can strive to write as beautifully and smart as he did. 

If you like young adult, I highly recommend this book. I will let you know it is not "clean." It is at least PG-13 if we are rating books. I only let you know this because I want you to read this book, but only if you enjoy this genre. 

What's a great book that you've read in a genre you write in lately? And why did you love it so much? 


By the way, I'm teaching a writing class about young adult and middle grade novels, starting on September 30. Want to join? It's called "Writing Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction: A Study and Workshop." You can sign up here.  To find out more about my writing (Margo Dill), go here: https://www.margoldill.com
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Interview with Amy Sampson-Cutler, 2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Contest


Amy Sampson-Cutler is a fiction writer who recently earned her master’s degree in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. She has been published twice in the Pitkin Review, as well as the Wellness UniverseElephant Journal, and was a Community News Writer for the Times-Herald-Record. She is the Executive Manager at Mount Peter Ski Area. She can be contacted through AmysHippieHut.com.

Read Amy's award-winning story here and then return for an interview with the author.

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

WOW: Amy, thank you for being here today! c“Clean Slate” is a great example of how importance pacing is in flash fiction, and you pulled it off beautifully. How did you first get the idea for this story exploring the complicated dynamics between sisters? Did you always know it would feature a twist at the end?


Amy: I wrote “Clean Slate” while in residency at graduate school. The sister in my story is not my own sister, but I know all too well the complicated dynamics between sisters, as I run a business with mine. The idea for this story came to me after a heated conversation with my sister about whatever drama was going on at work while I was away, and I found myself grumbling about the nature of some of the people at work. I clearly remember that I stopped mid-stride, about to leave my room and go to dinner, when I thought, “What if it’s not them? What if it’s me?” I found myself turning all negative thoughts back on myself, and I sat down and wrote this short story.


I love writing twists, and that was my intention – to make the reader think about qualities inside of themselves from the view of an outsider. 

 

WOW: In addition to being a fiction writer, you also have a background in journalism. Do you find it hard to go back and forth between the two forms? Have you ever gotten ideas for fiction based on real-life events you’ve covered?


Amy: Before I left my job at a newspaper to work full-time at my family business, I found myself writing every scenario before me in my head as a newspaper story. A traffic accident, an argument, even an old man walking his dog – everything was presented to my mind in newspaper format. Eventually, I did find it challenging to write creatively, because words became very formal and structured for me. It has been years since I left that job, and that format has finally melted away. I wouldn’t say that my story ideas have come from my time at the newspaper, but I am sure that some of the interesting folks that I have come across during my time there have and will continue to sneak into my characters.

 

WOW: I love the idea of composing every day occurrences in your head like a newspaper article! I might have to try that one out myself . . . You’ve had several pieces published in anthologies in literary journals. How do you find other markets for your work?


Amy: I am learning that being published anywhere is all about seeing the opportunity and taking it. From contests to literary journals to online magazines – there are opportunities everywhere if you know where to look for them. 

 

WOW: Very true. What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out in the flash fiction form. Any do’s or don’ts?


Amy: Writing flash fiction will tighten your writing. When I first wrote in this form, I found it difficult to fit an entire story into such a short space. Now when I write a piece of flash fiction, I find that I have extra words to use at the end. I had an advisor once tell me to look at every single word and decide if it really deserves to be in that sentence. Every. Single. Word. When writing a very short story for flash fiction, that lesson comes to mind because there is no room for extra words. If you want to learn how to trim and make every word count, write flash fiction. Writing flash fiction is also an excellent way to try out genres that you normally wouldn’t write. For example, I recently wrote my first political satire, which turned out to be so much fun. 

 

WOW: You recently received a master’s degree in creative writing. What are some of your most valuable take-aways from that program?


Amy: I decided to take the plunge into graduate school because I needed a push. I needed deadlines and to be held accountable. I learned a lot while earning my degree, but my most valuable take-away is this: Give yourself permission to do what you want in life. I learned that I do need deadlines, and I do need to be busy to be productive, but I didn’t need permission from anyone other than myself. We all choose our own destinies. In the two-year program at Goddard College, I wrote a novel which I am now in the final editing stages of. I can safely say that I would not have finished that on my own. Perhaps more important than that completion is having the clear intention to move along a certain path in life.

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How Movies Can Inspire Our Writing

Monday, September 14, 2020


Sometimes I listen to movie soundtracks when I’m writing. It’s nice to listen to something sweeping, emotional and dramatic in the background, but that doesn’t have words when I’m copy editing or working on writing an article for an upcoming deadline. One of the soundtracks I favor is the one for the film “Last of the Mohicans.” I had just moved to the North Carolina mountains as a teenager when filming was taking place for that movie, and I’ve hiked along many of the trails featured in the cinematography.

 

Because my daughter has walked in on me listening to the opening strains of “Promontory” from that soundtrack, she came to ask me if I wanted to watch the movie with her for a school assignment in American History.

 

“You have to watch that movie?” I asked her. “It’s good, but it’s pretty hard to watch.” She showed me a list and said she had to select two to watch. My eyes zeroed in on the movie title “Glory.”

 

“That one,” I said. “That’s the one you should watch first. But it’s also a tough one.”

 

When I told her the plot, the true story of how a Civil War Union soldier named Robert Gould Shaw took the job of leading the first African-American regiment, she agreed. As we were discussing this, I remembered that I had a poem somewhere in my files that I dashed off after the first time I had viewed the movie. Sure enough, I dug out a zippered portfolio where I keep hard copies of some of my older writing.

 

We watched “Glory” last night, and my husband joined us because somehow he’d never seen the movie. Once he heard Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Andre Braugher were in it he didn’t need much convincing.

 

I’m not going to lie. We were sniffling throughout the whole movie, downright sobbing in other parts. The men in the 54th Massachussetts Volunteer Infantry only wanted to fight, and they were marching around in worn-out boots with no socks, getting called every name in the book and being paid less a week than their white counterparts. They were told if they were captured by any Confederate soldiers, they would be killed instantly. So would Col. Shaw or any of his other commanding officers. They soon learned the infantry was only supposed to be completing menial tasks and manual labor, until Col. Shaw stood up and fought for their right to . . . basically fight. The movie concludes with the battle at South Carolina’s Fort Wagner.

 

As my daughter put it, it showed a part of the Civil War that she had never learned about in school. And through our tears, I pulled out the poem that I wrote after I first watched the movie at age 18 or 19. I can honestly say I’ve never been one to enjoy watching any period films about wars. But something about the story behind “Glory” touched me so much, the side that showed which side of the war was battling for the rights of enslaved people, that the words poured out on paper:

 

Fort Wagner

 

My day has come and gone

My soul lies in the sand below

As we marched along the ocean shore,

I carried the flag as it waved

 

Triumphantly in the air

the red of it mixed with the

blood of war

And we said goodbye to those we loved

As we laid our lives down one final time

 

The words embraced us from inside

And we will remember them so long

As we fight

 

We will remember them so long

As we fight

 

(we are free at last . . .)

 

Has a movie or TV show ever inspired any of your own writing?

 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts and produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at FinishedPages.com.

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Are You Having Fun Yet?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Whenever my youngest granddaughter used to put on her leotard, tights and ballet slippers to go to dance class, pre-pandemic, after she wrapped her arms around me to say good-bye, I'd always tell her in my cheeriest voice to, "Have fun!"


I hoped that my words would catch in her core so that she wouldn't just be preoccupied or anxious about doing the most perfect pirouettes and arabesques, but instead focus on having fun. 


"Have fun!," is what I voice to most who know me, even if they're just going for a Walmart run, because isn't meandering through those aisles filling your cart with your stomach's desires, such as a decadent chocolate cake, fun? 


The capacity to "Have fun," is on my top four list of aspirations I especially want for my granddaughters. It falls somewhere between being authentic to themselves, compassionate towards others, and fearless, so that they can become fearless women. But I also want them to live their lives without taking life too seriously, to incorporate fun into as many aspects of their life as they can knowing that joy, laughter, and feeling good about what they are doing are priceless.


I must admit I've ignored my own voice and not taken my own advice to, "Have fun," when it comes to writing. Those words somersault out of my mouth and land in my lap too infrequently, as if as a writer I'm not allowed in the fun zone.


Instead of ear-piercing screams of joy, like those of children at a playground, there is the gurgling sound of doubt in my stomach because...my writing may not really be as good as I think it is, or a publisher or editor is bound to see more of my story's flaws than its intent or essence, so why bother submitting it. 


My writing journey hasn't been filled with enough moments of that exhilarating feeling of pumping my legs to go higher and higher on a playground swing so I could almost touch the sky. Instead it's been, don't go so high (get too confident) because you might fall off and scrape your knee (get a rejection). 


But thankfully, because I have been detoxing from critical self talk of lately, I have begun to break that negative cycle and heed my advice for a change. Yes, finally, I'm having fun writing. Well, maybe I was having fun writing all along but was afraid to acknowledge that. But now I do. I am having fun even with the long hours spent isolated in my room with only my characters (they can be very entertaining).  I am having fun even during the laborious rewrites I undertake to get a manuscript submission ready or to resubmit one that has been rejected. How? Because I am immersed in this creative energy that makes my insides feel so good...no great.


Having fun writing means that I, little ole me, has this superpower that helps me create stories from just a seedling. Having fun writing means I have the freedom and the platform to say whatever I need to say in whatever way I choose to until I am spent. How liberating is that!


And on those days when the stories that need to be told, are too raw or too solemn, to call it a fun time,  then it becomes a therapeutic time, a way for me, and others who need to hear my story, to heal. That fun part of writing will come again, rise like a phoenix inside of me, at the right time and in the right writing space. 


We as writers, toil each day to tell our stories and publish them. Even as we toil though we can choose to have fun while writing if we embrace it at a 360-degree angle so it can be potent and full-bodied each time we put pen to paper or press the keys of our laptop. Having fun while writing is a state of mind, a mood we shouldn't feel afraid or guilty about flaunting. It's so becoming on us. 


So are you having fun yet? 

                                                                                                        ---Jeanine


Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and blogs. Her stories are always "full" of the voices of the women who loved and nurtured her. 


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When a Loss is a Win

Thursday, September 10, 2020

 Yesterday I got the initial results of WOW’s most recent essay contest. I had not made it to the next round. Again.

That means I’m 0 for 2.


This piece that didn’t pass muster is close to my heart. It’s organized to echo the format of one of my favorite essays: Joyas Voladoras. It’s on a topic I’m passionate about: racisim. I really wanted it to snag at least a runner-up spot.


It didn’t. To advance, it needed a score of at least 14. The pieces were scored on subject, content and technical aspects--each was worth 5 points. Mine earned only 11 points.


image by Pixabay

About 6 months ago, I entered my first WOW contest. It was also an essay that was close to my heart. This one focused on postpartum psychosis. I have two friends who have daughters that suffered from it. One killed her three children, in the span of three years. She’s been in prison for 30 years. The other friend’s daughter shot her husband, and her baby daughter. She then killed herself.


Both pieces would have shed some light on an issue that’s important to me. Getting a large audience to read them would have been wonderful.


However, this time (just like the previous time), I got a critique as part of the package. Earlier, a friend paid for the critique. When I entered recently, I paid for a critique. I mean, how often does a writer get feedback (other than from their writing group colleagues)? We might get a rejection email. We might get no response, which means a no. But rarely do we get specific constructive criticism.


Lucky for me, I got several pages of feedback. Some of it spoke to me needing to tighten my piece. Some of it tried to school me on the use of ellipses. (The audacity! Doesn’t everyone know that the ellipsis is king? It should be used as often as possible… at least once every other sentence.) But, a lot of the critique involved lines being crossed out--parts that weren’t really necessary to the piece.


And double-lucky for me: I got the same judge to critique my piece that I got last time. I know it’s random, but my earlier feed-back was so spot-on, when I paid for the feed-back this time, I had a wish: I hope Chelsey critiques mine again. Without even knowing if she’d be involved in this round of essays… (See? Ellipses are always welcome and appropriate.)


I’ve heard many of my respected writer friends froth at the mouth over workshops they’ve taken with Chelsey Clammer. I can see why. If her suggestions are any indication of her talent as a teacher and a writer… well, I can see why she’s able to inspire so many pieces into existence. (Chelsey: I know you’re rethinking the ellipsis thingy. You’re warming up to embracing pieces with 42 ellipses, right?)


Even though I failed to earn a spot as a runner-up, I’m calling myself a winner. I got an incredible start at reworking my essay. I also got something I’m planning on using in my classroom. When my students write essays this year, I’m going to put Chelsey’s crossed-out version of my essay up on my smartboard… to show my classes that sometimes we love our words, but there’s always room for improvement.


Sometimes, there’s lots of room for improvement… (Chelsey--You’re hot for ‘em now, right?)  




Sioux is a middle-school teacher by day, and a failed contest writer by night. Lately, she's found great success at falling asleep (sitting upright) on the couch, her laptop in her lap. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, head to her blog.
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Do You Do This? (And How It Can Make You a Better Writer)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020
Do you do this?

You’re plopped in front of the TV or screen of your choice, watching a favorite program—maybe it’s a series like Outlander or a paranormal investigation or a classic comedy like The Andy Griffith Show—and you see an actor or hear an historical tidbit or watch something outrageous and your mind begins to wander with all kinds of questions. And suddenly, swoosh. You pick up your cell phone to get more information.

I’ve met a lot of writers over the years and though they write anything from haiku to horror, they tend to have one trait in common: curiosity. And thanks to technology, we don’t have to sit around wondering whatever happened to the actor who played Otis, the town drunk. Or when exactly was the Jacobean era? And perhaps most importantly, has anyone ever found Bigfoot poop?

It’s all right there at our fingertips, a veritable goldmine of facts (and sometimes conjecture). But what does any of this have to do with becoming a better writer? Here are the handy steps to get you there:

Step 1: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole Pays Off

Often, when I begin a simple Internet search, I end up twenty minutes later, thinking, “Huh. That would make a good nonfiction picture book. (Or article, or short story, or even a novel.)”

But the trick to finding that idea is to explore beyond the obvious. Consider the other day when I was watching a paranormal investigation of a saloon somewhere in the Old West. There was a connection to Wild Bill Hickock and the narrative zeroed in on his infamous murder and the blood spilled at the gaming table. But an hour later, I was more shocked by what I’d found out about Hickock’s life than his death, and that led me to Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show, and on to sharpshooter, Annie Oakley and another endlessly fascinating cohort, Calamity Jane.

Now, I already had a general knowledge about all those people but I wasn’t there for general facts. I was more curious about the outlandish and the unusual, the whys and hows behind these larger-than-life characters. Sifting through the dry facts, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a sparkly nugget!

Step 2: Exploring Strange New Worlds

So there you are, a sparkly something whipping around your brain and a tingly feeling in the pit of your stomach. Oh, this is good, you’re thinking, and you can’t wait to start writing. Except you really should. Because someone else may have snatched up that gem first.

Fortunately, you’re still sitting there, cell phone in hand. A quick search will tell you if the great idea you want to write about is already out there. But to be clear, it’s not that you can’t write about a subject that’s already out there. In fact, it’s pretty darn hard to find a topic that hasn’t been written about…I mean, you found the information, so obviously, someone has written on your subject. But you have to be like the starship Enterprise, boldly going where no writer has gone before. Find that, and you’re on your way!

Step 3: And Now, We Write

Just when you were feeling a wee bit guilty about all that sitting around, that nagging voice known as your conscience is silenced and all your hours and hours of binge-watching and scrolling on your phone have been justified. You’ve mined a great idea! You’ve verified that no one else has expressed this idea in the brilliant way you’ve imagined! You will be that better writer!

All you have to do now is write.


~Cathy C. Hall (Who may or may not have a brilliant idea pertaining to the DNA analysis of Bigfoot poop and the hitherto unknown scientific talents of Calamity Jane.)
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Interview with Rochelle Williams : Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Runner Up

Tuesday, September 08, 2020
Rochelle Williams
lives in southern New Mexico. Her fiction, poetry and visual art have appeared in Lunarosity, Chokecherries, Desert Exposure, Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir, Earthships: A New Mecca Poetry Collection, and Menacing Hedge. Her fiction has won a number of awards, including two Southwest Writers Workshop competitions and Recursos de Santa Fe’s Discovery Reading Series. She holds an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is working on a novel about the French early modernist painter, Pierre Bonnard.

interview by Marcia Peterson 

WOW: Congratulations your first place win in our Spring 2020 competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Rochelle: I was looking at a friend's blog. She posts writing opportunities weekly. Her name is Jeanne Gassman and we were classmates in the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I saw the WOW listing and decided to give it a shot. As I read around on the Women on Writing site, I saw that Jeanne was a first-place winner in 2012. So, thank you, Jeanne, and thank you, Women on Writing for such a providing such a great platform for women to publish and share their writing.

WOW:  Can you tell us the inspiration for your story, "That Day?" 

Rochelle: This story really began as a backstory or character sketch for a character in some writing I did on a first novel. I was musing about the impact over time of losing a child, and what Maggie might be feeling years after the accident that killed Jacob. After a long hiatus, I've recently returned to writing and unearthed this piece from my files. It felt powerful to me, so I worked to shape it into a cogent short narrative, a process I very much enjoyed.

WOW: What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Rochelle: This was my first flash fiction piece. It was challenging in such a stimulating way it made me want to work in this form a lot more. I've written short stories and worked on two novels. To convey what you want to say in so few words really concentrates everything--language, rhythm, structure--and it also mysteriously concentrates the pleasure of the writing. This was a big surprise to me.

WOW: Well done on your first flash piece! What can you tell us about the novel you’re working on, and how the process is going?

Rochelle: The novel I'm working on now is called Eye of Desire: Letters to a Dead Painter. In it, a woman art historian and conservator finds herself writing letters to Pierre Bonnard because she is so moved by his art. She uses this "conversation" with the dead painter to come to terms with a tragedy in her life and recover her own artistic journey, which she abandoned out of grief. I am about mid-way through and hope to complete a first draft in the next six months.

WOW:  Good luck with the draft! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Rochelle. Before you go, do you have any advice for beginning flash fiction writers?

Rochelle: Since I'm new to flash fiction, I don't really have any resources to recommend specifically about fiction. However, I've found Dinty Moore's Rose Metal Press A Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction really helpful in terms of understanding short forms in general.

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

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