Dear Younger Me,

Friday, April 30, 2021

I often have the wonderful opportunity of interviewing authors, and a question I enjoy asking is: 

Do you have advice for your younger self when it comes to making decisions, believing in yourself, and/or writing? What would your current self say to the younger you?

Even if you aren't a writer, that's a great question to ask yourself regularly. I find that giving this the thought it deserves helps me as a mother and as someone who interacts with younger people socially and professionally. This could also be a writing prompt for your journal or an essay. 

Like my own small children, I smiled a lot as a toddler and elementary student. Middle school kicked my butt and I wish I had known then what I know this particular question really hits home for me. I think about the angsty teenage Crystal and just wish I could give her a hug and a cup of hot cocoa! 

While you think about your own answer to this question, here's some pearls of wisdom I enjoy passing on to the younger people in my life:

- YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES - own them and move on!

        Our mistakes don't define us and if you are constantly looking behind you, you're going to miss what's right in front of you. Don't let life pass you by because you're looking in the rearview mirror.

- PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE UNKIND - it has nothing to do with you!

        Daddy used to tell me people poked fun of me because they were jealous. I guess today, ya'all call that bullying, but remember that "hurt people, hurt people". Those unkind words have more to do with the person saying them and not much at all to do with you. You are amazing and the unkind people may not want to admit to seeing that in you...but you know it's there, so try your best to ignore the unkindness. In addition to ignoring them - tell yourself twice as many positive things to counteract them! Look into that mirror and remind yourself how fabulous you are!

- YOU'LL NEVER REGRET GIVING IT YOUR ALL - no matter what the task, do it well!

        I've been the girl cleaning the toilets and mopping the floor to earn a few bucks. I've also been the girl running the multi-million dollar company. Let me tell you, you've never seen a cleaner toilet, squeakier floors, or a more successful business. I fully believe it doesn't matter what you're doing - do it with a smile and do a complete job each time. If you're putting your name behind it, it should be a reflection of you! 

- SMILE - everyone is prettier when they're smiling!

        On the days you don't feel like smiling - fake it! I always recommend being authentic, but sometimes we need to fake a smile and here's why: when someone smiles at you, you smile back. So - what I'm saying is, you're gonna fake your smile and then collect enough genuine smiles through the day that yours becomes authentic too! For real - this works! There's always something to smile about anyway - even on our darkest days, there are birds chirping and babies being born...somewhere... so smile! (see the pic above - doesn't that smile make you smile?)

Well - my list goes on, but my coffee cup needs refilling and the sun is shining - so I'm gonna grab a to go mug and hit the trails! I wish I could tell my teenager self that eventually she would get a horse - she'd never believe it! I'm out - gonna go live the dream. So - while I'm riding horses, you go ahead and leave some comments (comments are like hugs for bloggers) 

What is your advice and who do you think it will help most? 

What is the best advice you received and who was it from?

What makes you smile?


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 a hot mess of busy-ness who has decided to shorten her bio...

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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Good News/ Bad News

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Have you ever been faced by the good news/bad news question? Like when your first-born kid walks in the door and says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” 

I always say give me the bad news first (“I flunked the Algebra test”). I like to have something positive to end the discussion/encounter on a high note ("But almost the whole class flunked it"). Granted, that’s not exactly good news anywhere except in a high school classroom, but the point is, there’s hope, right? Maybe the teacher will do a re-test. Or maybe she’ll allow half credit if the wrong questions are turned in with correct answers. Or maybe the students can drop their lowest grade. See what I mean? Options for a better outcome! 

I wasn’t always able to see the good news in a bad news writing scenario. But in time, I found a Pollyanna strategy that helped me cope in a career that has an alarmingly high rate of bad news. It’s a numbers game, after all, whether you’re ultra-successful or just starting out. Here’s an example (or three) to show you what I mean: 

A form rejection from an agent: Yep, that’s bad news. But the good news is there are plenty of agents, and perhaps with a bit more research and specific targeting, you’ll get a nibble next time. And what if you go through every single agent and still no bites? No doubt, that’s really bad news. But it’s also very possible that new agents have come along since you started your quest. Workshop your query and then try the new batch of agents. Or self-publish!

A “No, thanks!” from an article pitch where you’ve already done all the work: Oh, yeah, that’s bad news. All that work and nothing to show for it. But the good news is you’ve already done all the work! Take a look around and see if you can pitch the same article to another similar market. OR give the article a different slant and pitch to an entirely different kind of market. OR pull the article apart and pitch sections to several other markets. You may end up better off than you would’ve been with an acceptance from the first rejection! 

A book comes out and it’s identical in concept/subject to your working manuscript: Ugh, that’s bad news. It’s kinda the worst news because you know that you have a great publishable concept. Who’s going to want it now? BUT there is good news here because you have a great publishable concept

So first, the chances of your manuscript being absolutely identical are slim; keep going. Moreover, chances are also good that in the time it takes for your book to be finished and sold could be three or more years! Um…yeah, that’s not hugely good news but it’s a start. Besides, maybe you’ll give your manuscript a new twist on the subject. And the even better news is you realized that the other book was out there before you started shopping your book around. You have time to do something different! Oh my goodness, so many options! 

So don’t waste your time and energy fretting over bad news. Look for the good news, my Pollyanna writers, and get back to work!


Cathy C. Hall, whose bad news is that she hasn't quite got round to working on her latest manuscript. But the good news is, she has totally figured out all those pesky plot points whilst lying around, snoozing and reading and eating at the beach. And isn't that the best news ever?!
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Flash Fiction Contest Tips: Conclusions

Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Hello WOW Readers! I have been one of the first-tier contest judges for WOW’s quarterly flash fiction contest for over a decade, and it has been a huge pleasure to read your stories. I am writing this blog series on Flash Fiction Contest Tips to help you strengthen your flash writing and maybe even place in one of our contests! Tips are based on our scoring criteria and craft trends I’ve seen throughout the decade. 

I read a piece of flash recently that grabbed my interest from the first line. It was a magical realism piece with a strong character and an unusual voice and odd events and images, and I kept reading to see how the author would tie all these strands together. And then the story ended with the character waking up and the narrator saying, “It was all just a dream.” 

Photo by Ann H from Pexels

I’m not sure I can adequately express how disappointing it is to read a story – particularly and interesting and well-written one – only for it to end with the character waking up from a dream. Realizing the entire story was just a dream makes me think, “So what?” If all the reader knows about the character is the character’s dream without any context, then readers really don’t know anything about the character or what’s at stake for her. It’s an anecdote, not a story. 

When I wrote about opening sentences, I cautioned against starting a story with a character waking up. Now, I’m giving the same words of caution about writing a conclusion. If the entire story is a dream and then the character wakes up at the end, it shows that the writer needs to keep working and pushing a little harder to find a better way to conclude the story. 

But what is a better way to conclude? 

Melanie Faith has some great ideas in her book, In a Flash!: Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose, about concluding pieces of flash. One, a common ending type for many types of writing, is the circular ending, which includes circling back to a character, image, quote, or other symbol from the beginning of the story. This helps the reader to see the character or symbol or situation from a new perspective or see how it has changed since the beginning. 

Melanie also suggests ending flash stories at the height of the action: “Since flashes are snapshots of conflict or vignettes of place and character, you can conclude at the high point of tension.” 

Honing in on a symbol or concluding with a meaningful piece of dialogue, Melanie says, are both appropriate ways to end a piece of flash. Both options can highlight the story’s theme. 

Let’s look at WOW’s Fall 2021 Flash Fiction Contest winners’ stories for other conclusion ideas: 
  • In “Breaking Silence,” Jean Li Spence concludes with a quote from a haiku that summarized the character’s experience. 
  • Jeanninne Escallier Kato returns to a word she uses in her introduction to give the word new meaning after the events in her story “Milagro.” 
  • Teresa Boardman ends with some action, and a bit of a cliff hanger, in her story “Martian.” 

Writing a conclusion can be tricky, particularly in a first draft, but they’re so important because they’re the last impression the reader has of your story, and you want to leave a lasting impression. 

Do you have any other types of endings that you like to use? Or any that you wish writers would avoid? 

Tips brought to you by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. She is a writer for WOW! Women on Writing, Trail Sisters, and Story Terrace. She has a master's degree in Creative Writing: Prose from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and a doctorate in Adult Education from Penn State University. She is also a competitive swimmer, a trail adventurer, a dog lover, and a new mom. Tweets at @dr_greenawalt.
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Interview with Shala Alert: 2020 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Shala’s Bio: 

Shala Alert is a Jamaican living with her husband and three children in Trinidad. She has an MPhil in literatures in English and has lectured in literature at the university level. She has also taught English to high school students. Her love of literature started very early in life, and it has never let her go. With that love came the desire to write her own stories. Shala also has a keen interest in postcolonial studies, specifically as relates to the formation of black identity, and the experience of disenfranchisement experienced by many postcolonial “subjects” in a supposedly “post”-colonial world. This is a theme that necessarily informs her stories. Shala firmly believes that the study of literature, and the arts in general, is crucial in the development of well-rounded, balanced, and moral human beings. She put her career mostly on hold over the last few years to homeschool her three small children. Reading, drawing, painting and creative writing form a big part of their home-based educational environment. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Shala's award-winning story "Fishing for Fingers" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

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

Shala: I've never successfully written flash fiction before; I tend to always want to tell longer, more detailed stories. So, having to learn how to pare down a tale to its most essential parts was probably one of the most productive learning experiences I've had since I started focusing on my creative writing about a year and a half ago. I have also seen people go through many tough experiences in our own humble Jamaican context (and there are things I've experienced, too); sometimes horrible things happen, and sometimes people are heroic and sacrificial and resilient. These are stories that perhaps have never been told, and I want to try to tell the ones that only I can tell. I was excited to try to do that with "Fishing for Fingers." 

WOW: It gives my heart a little flutter to think that we each have stories that only we can tell, and what an amazing feeling it must be to find that for yourself in this story. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Shala: I learned that I have a lot of fear regarding revealing myself: my beliefs, my worries, my heart, even my righteous anger - it's a fear of being judged. I wrote this story specifically for this competition. So, before I started, I already knew that I was going to be putting my heart out there for people to see. I was more apprehensive than I expected, and the process of working through it and then letting a piece of me go was very interesting. It was also good for me. 

WOW: Oh my, yes. This is a relatable feeling for a lot of our WOW readers and writers. It’s scary to bare your heart and soul and serve it to an audience, but we’re so glad you took that risk with us! Please tell us more about postcolonial studies and how it informs your writing. 

Shala: Let me preface my answer by saying that postcolonial studies is a discipline or area of academic scholarship that concerns formerly colonized cultures and ethnicities from all corners of the globe, but as I am a Caribbean person of African descent, I will skew my answer accordingly. The institution, system and practice of colonialism/colonization caused a lot of damage to cultures around the world (this is a gross understatement, really), and there are many peoples living in diverse places - including Jamaica and the Caribbean - who have lost their connection to their own pre-slavery history, ancestors, and identity, and also their ancient stories. Many African cultures are story-centered. Human beings, in general, are story-centered. It's part of how we determine our identity. Postcolonial studies explores the human cost of colonialism (and slavery) among peoples who were colonized (including what we lost, like our ancestral stories and our sense of a coherent identity), with the intent of recovering what can be recovered, recreating what can be recreated, and creating brand new identity out of our current experiences. Our Caribbean authors, poets, playwrights, artists, musicians, etc., also try to do the same thing. They tell old and new stories of us: where we came from, what our ancestors suffered, what we have suffered, and who we are now, and from our own perspective this time. In my case, as a scholar, I have studied that human cost, and as a person I have also witnessed and experienced aspects of it, firsthand. Now, as a student of the craft of writing, I hope that I can continue to contribute to this far-reaching project of identity recovery/formation, and also help to put a human face on the scholarship and statistics of suffering and heroism. 

WOW: Thank you for this explanation and for continuing to bring these stories, voices, experiences, and identities to the forefront. What a worthy and necessary endeavor. I’m so glad you could share a piece of this with us. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Shala: I have been focusing on several writers recently. I will mention two: Olive Senior and Ursula le Guin. Olive Senior often writes about that same postcolonial distress I mentioned before, but also about Jamaica and Jamaicans, about the value and beauty and pain of everyday life, and about the choices people make and the consequences they face. The imagery she used in her poetry collection Shell is so moving and evocative. I'm trying to learn from her. Regarding Ursula le Guin, her use of the science fiction genre as a means to discuss disenfranchisement, exploitation and alienation is impressive to me. You can really confront the difficult and scary issues in speculative fiction, I think. It should be easier for readers to interact with those difficult and scary things, too. 

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

Shala: Don't stop writing, even if you don't like what you're writing. Just keep writing, and keep reading, and trust the process. Your writing will get better. 

WOW: Wonderful advice. Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses! Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. She has a master's degree in Creative Writing: Prose from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and a doctorate in Adult Education from Penn State University. She is also a competitive swimmer, a trail adventurer, a dog lover, and a new mom. Tweets @dr_greenawalt.
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SIns of Our Mothers Blog Tour and Giveaway

Monday, April 26, 2021

Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza

We are excited to be back with Nicole Souza and announce the blog tour of her dystopian fiction book Sins of Our Mothers. Join us as we interview the author, highlight upcoming spots on the blog tour, and giveaway a copy of her book. 

First, here is a little bit about Sins of Our Mothers:

It has been fifteen hundred years since the solar flare devastation of the Global Catastrophe. Due to the radioactivity in the harvesting fields, society dismisses its defective children as nothing more than flawed products of the malfunctioned seeds in the field. 

But Lyratelle, a hyper-observant musical prodigy, believes these “defects” are intelligent, particularly her own sibling, the youngest child of her impervious mother. Abandoning her dream career, Lyratelle climbs the bureaucratic ladder to run the Defect Research Center, where she can safeguard the child. 

With an underground team of women who share her uncertainties, Lyratelle unearths the Old History truth that womankind’s survival actually hinges on the existence of these defects. 

When General Sarah Love, the city’s most powerful advocate against the defects, detects Lyratelle’s sympathy toward the creatures, she threatens the life of Lyratelle’s sibling. Now Lyratelle’s desperate attempt to save this child endangers everyone she loves—her team, her family, even the existence of the defects themselves.

Sins of Our Mothers is available to purchase on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

About the Author, Nicole Souza
Nicole Souza
Nicole’s fuel is conversation. She loves hearing people’s stories and glimpsing the experiences that make them who they are. With a particular interest in women’s history and their individual stories, she has birthed a story that provides all the ingredients for a thought-provoking read. 

You can discover more about Nicole’s work on her website: You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

---  Interview by Kelly Sgroi

WOW: Sins Of Our Mothers has an interesting premise; how did you come up with the story idea? 

Nicole: In college, I made an astounding observation: nearly all my straight, married girlfriends, and those with a live-in boyfriend, were the sole providers in their relationships. This alone wasn’t all that strange. What was strange was that every single friend in this situation told me their husband or boyfriend was profoundly unhappy and had developed at least one addiction that was affecting their relationship. Though all relatively close to my age, these weren’t just friends here in the states. These were women of multiple ethnicities and cultures.

Some of the men were students. Some were college graduates, some high school graduates. All had essentially disappeared from their families, their communities, and society—a trend I began to notice extended far outside my circle of contacts. While several of these couples split or divorced, many pulled through and have progressed together. The fact that so many people precious to me—wonderful, intelligent people—intersected in this weird place all at once felt significant. I remember thinking, These women literally do everything. They could just remove the men and their lives would remain the same, but without the stress of supporting a grown man and his addictions. All women really need from men is their sperm, right? Aside from that, are men even necessary? That question birthed the first of many drafts of Sins of Our Mothers and sent me on an arduous journey where I discovered for myself that, not only are men necessary, but masculinity is infinitely more valuable than those in positions of power would have us believe.

WOW: Many great stories are birthed from an interesting question, and it's even more interesting that you discovered the value in the men you originally questioned. How did you find the revision process? 

Nicole: Writing is essentially a light pencil sketch of an idea. Revising that sketch is what makes it into a masterful painting. It’s grueling, exhausting, frustrating, but also rewarding, instructive, and fruitful. 

Authors are not good writers; we’re determined, dedicated editors. Much like a large chunk of stone before being masterfully carved, a first draft is rarely more than a massive glob of words, ideas, notes, and concepts that over time, and with a lot of agonizing patience and strenuous mental labor, is whittled into artwork in the form of storytelling. 

Revision is akin to clay sculpting; just as your project begins to take shape, you’ll add another handful of verbal clay to thicken or reshape what’s there. There’s no counting how many times an author edits a manuscript to half its size only to add back nearly the amount removed with new content, then commence construction anew, chiseling away at excess words, cliches, and lazy writing. 

Sometimes, what I considered in the beginning to be the perfect word doesn’t make the final cut. It gets chipped off like countless other words once part of the original boulder. I’ve had to learn that making the final cut doesn’t bestow value upon words. Like clay scraps, words sacrificed for the sake of the story are not wasted. When writing, I just get my ideas written down. I allow my brain to vomit, as it were, and once it’s all there, I work with revision, the true artform, to make it beautiful. 

"Authors are not good writers; we’re determined, dedicated editors."

WOW: You paint some beautiful and accurate metaphors. Can you tell me about the themes of your story? 

Nicole: The most prominent theme in Sins of Our Mothers is human relationships. While the book deals heavily with the relationship between women and men, it also addresses relationships between women, between men, and within family structures as well. I chose this as the main theme because I hate that everything in our world is being politicized. Relationships are the most natural aspect of humanity. The first relationship a person experiences of child to mother is made possible by that of woman to man. Father to child follows, then sibling dynamics, peers, and so on. None of these relationships should be dictated, controlled, or manipulated by politicians or policy. Else, where is our humanity? 

Adoption is a theme that will grow to be more significant throughout the trilogy. Heidi’s relationship with Jo is examined in book 2 as Heidi gets to know her biological family and Jo becomes a mother figure to another character. 

Another theme is sexual attraction, discovered for the first time by Lyratelle, the protagonist, a good ways into the book. Of course, this relates back to human relationships, in which attraction plays a massive and essential role. 

Motherhood is a big theme in the book. Sisterhood and aunt to niece relations as well. 

Honesty is a small theme, examined through Emily’s character. 

One theme that comes across somewhat subtly, but is equally as important as family relations, is that of observation.

Lyratelle, the protagonist of Sins of Our Mothers, is hyper-observant. This skill allows her to see outside the political box and interpret the world as it truly is. It also leads her to align herself with Grace, another important character. Grace is a technological genius whose skills are magnified well beyond those of her peers because she’s also developed the talent of observation. 

Other themes include compassion, forgiveness, and truth. 

WOW: Those are some multi-layered themes that I'm sure you enjoyed exploring. What’s been your favourite part of the journey to becoming an author? 

Nicole: My favorite part of becoming an author has to be the surprising amount of self-examination I’ve performed along the way. It’s hard to not wonder what type of person you are yourself when developing characters for a story. I created a little program I call SPEMPARFS, an acronym for Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, Mental, Psychological, Artistic, Romantic, Financial, and Social—each word in order of how I like to get to know a character. I use SPEMPARFS as a skeleton to flesh out protagonists, antagonists, and everybody in between. 

A natural consequence of using SPEMPARFS is that I eventually turned it on myself. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time assessing my life in regard to each of these aspects of my personality and situation. 

I think the second most surprising part was realizing how little I care about my financial status. I’m an incredibly simple person. When it came time to ask myself where I was at financially, and where I’d like to get, the gap was much, much smaller than what my subconscious envisioned. In my early days as a businesswoman, I sacrificed a lot of my free time to work, thinking the monetary benefits would be worth the missed moments. 

But they weren’t. 

Nowadays, as I've settled into myself a bit more, I'm much happier trading whatever excess financial gains working overtime would afford, in order to live a freer, simpler life outside work. Material possessions have always held little to zero value for me. As long as my family is taken care of, I want the rest to be about creating worthwhile memories and enjoying my short time on earth to the fullest. I don’t know that I ever would’ve realized how satisfied I am with my simple lifestyle if I hadn’t been examining myself the way I examine my characters. 

"... SPEMPARFS, an acronym for Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, Mental, Psychological, Artistic, Romantic, Financial, and Social—each word in order of how I like to get to know a character."

WOW: What a great acronym! Are there any other topics you are inspired to write about? 

Nicole: As someone who has experienced ten years of infertility, I definitely want to write about that at some point. I imagine it’ll be something of a horror book, representative of this particular struggle. I thought a lot about it after watching the movie Relic. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know it was a book until after I’d seen the movie. Though not a story about infertility, it touched me for other reasons. I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the metaphors in it came across beautifully for me. I ended up in tears afterward, just sitting and reflecting on life for some time. 

The metaphors in my book would represent life as a childless woman, something we still don’t discuss much in our current society. And I don't see the future facilitating discussion much more as we make childless womanhood the ideal life for young girls to strive for.

Another topic of particular interest for me is the purpose of life and the notion that an intelligent God designed this mortal world to serve as an enormous test for us with the possibility of progression dependent upon how we manage our mortal experiences. I imagine such a book being dialogue heavy.

WOW: It sounds like you have the next Frankenstein inside you, waiting to be birthed. How exciting! So, what’s next for you on the writing front? 

Nicole: Sins of Our Mothers is a trilogy, so I’m working on book 2 right now. My current side project is a manga-style story called Reliquary (not related in any way to the aforementioned Relic—just an interesting coincidence). I’ve always wanted to write a manga or comic book. As a child I dreamed of being an artist and working for Disney’s animation team. I never fully developed my art skills, so this project is slow moving. I imagine it’ll still be a side project long after Sins of Our Mothers is complete. 

I have another book series I’ve been outlining for the past year that I imagine will be my “big idea” project—the one I hope to leave as my writing legacy. I already know it’s going to be a several-year investment to complete, so I’m not stressing myself out about it. 

While that story develops more, I hope to finish my mother-in-law’s biography. My husband was born and raised in the Amazon rainforest and his mother has the most incredible life story. I want the world to hear it, so I’m doing what I can to make that happen. We spent our last vacation together recording her memories and the family history she knows. It was amazing and inspiring, and I can't wait for others to get to know this extraordinary woman.

WOW: I'm sure your readers will be pleased to hear there are two more books on the way! Thank you for your time and insight into your experiences as a debut author, Nicole! I wish you all the best!

--- Blog Tour Schedule

April 26th @ WOW! Women on Writing
Join us today as we celebrate the launch of Nicole Souza's book Sins of Our Mothers. Read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy for yourself.

April 25th @ Create Write Now
Come by Mari L. McCarthy's blog today and read a guest post by author Nicole Souza about becoming the best version of yourself.

April 27th @ GivernyReads
Join GivernyReads blog today and read their review of Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza.

April 28th @ The Good Book Nook
Join Polly today to read her review of Nicole Souza's book, Sins of Our Mothers.

April 29th @ Yep Another Bookstagram
Join Kimberley-Ann on Instagram to read her review of the book, Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza.

April 30th @ Nattieg Reads
Visit Natalie's Instagram page today as she hosts a giveaway and review's the book  Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza.

May 1st @ A Storybook World
Deirdra treats us to a spotlight of Nicole Souza's book Sins of Our Mothers.

May 2nd @ In Our Spare Time
Join Ellen as she reviews Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza. You can also enter to win a copy of the book for yourself.

May 2nd @ Lindsey Russell
Visit Lindsey's blog today to read her review of Nicole Souza's book Sins of Our Mothers.

May 3rd @ Bring on Lemons
Come by and read Carmen's review of Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza.

May 6th @ Crafty Moms Share
Join Carrie as she reviews Nicole Souza's book Sins of Our Mothers.

May 7th @ Candid with Courtney
Join Courtney as she shares a guest post by Nicole Souza about why laughter is the key to freedom.

May 10th @ Pages and Paws
Join Kimber and her mom as she reviews Nicole Souza's Sins of Our Mothers.

May 12th @ Beverley A. Baird's Blog
Join us at Beverley's blog today and read her review of Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza.

May 13th @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews
Visit Lisa's blog today to read her interview with Nicole Souza, author of Sins of Our Mothers.

May 19th @ Knotty Needle
Judy shares her review of Nicole Souza's book Sins of Our Mothers.

May 19th @ Jessica Belmont's Blog
Join Jessica as she reviews Nicole Souza's book Sins of Our Mothers.

May 20th @ Choices
Visit Madeline's blog today to read a guest post from author Nicole Souza about what the ultimate success would be in a world of just women, and what a successful woman's life would look like.

May 24th @ It's Alanna Jean
Join Alanna as she shares Nicole Souza about 5 ways to live a happier life.

May 28th @ Books, Beans and Botany
Join Ashley as she reviews Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza and gives away a copy of the book for you to win.

May 29th @ Boots, Shoes, and Fashion
Join Linda as she shares an insightful interview with author Nicole Souza.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

Enter to win a copy of Sins of Our Mothers by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends on May 9th at 11:59pm CT. We will announce the winner the next day in the widget and follow up via email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Children’s Nonfiction: What Are You Writing?

Sunday, April 25, 2021
When I get a new student in my nonfiction writing class, one of the first things I ask them is what they are writing. I don’t mean it as a trick question, but there are a lot of factors that go into identifying your nonfiction project. 

What is the age of your reader? 

When you give an age range, it helps to give a range that is similar to the ones recognized by publishers. Some of the ranges I see when I read marketing listings are 2 years to 4 years, 5 years to 8 years, and 9 years to 12 years. 

Figuring out the approximate age of your reader is only the first step but it is an important one. It impacts reading level, vocabulary and what they already know about your topic and the world. 

Are you writing a book or a magazine piece or something else? 

This seems picky but a book manuscript for ages 3 to 5 is going to be a picture book. That is going to be very different from a magazine piece, and it isn’t just the length. Picture books have more illustration possibilities. Magazine pieces need to fit the tone of the magazine. Something for a web site may need to include hyperlinks to videos or sound clips. 

What is the subject of your work? 

Knowing the broad topic is only the first step. Whether you are writing about bears, dinosaurs or Ancient Egypt, you are going to have to narrow your topic. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a magazine piece or a book, you simply will not have the word count to write everything there is to know about any of these topics. 

This means that you need to know your slant. A book or a magazine piece about bears could be about returning an individual animal to the wild or the evolution of the grizzly. If you are writing about dinosaurs, you might write about an artist and how science informs their illustrations or our changing understanding of the T-Rex. The great thing about a slant is that it narrows your topic and can help you fit in around the competition. 

I am writing a picture book (ages 8 to 10) about the formation of the Onondaga Cave system and what was simultaneously occurring on the surface. I am marketing a piece of chapter book nonfiction (3rd grade reading level) about the science of vomit in human beings and animals. How does it occur, why does it occur and why it is vital to life. 

So what are you working on?


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins May 3, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  May 3, 2021). Her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on June 7, 2021).

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You're Headed In The Right Direction

Saturday, April 24, 2021
Sometimes we get into our cars knowing exactly where we should be heading to get to our destination but decide to head in an entirely different direction. Usually it's because we think another route will get us there faster or we'll avoid heavy traffic. What we often find though is that our traveling time wasn't shortened at all, and that heavy traffic was unavoidable. If we had just kept heading in the direction we'd traveled so many times before, and knew like the back of our hand, we would have gotten there exactly when we needed to or wanted to.

Often, I've changed the course of my tried and true direction, looking for a faster, shorter route as a writer. I thought there was an easier path I could cruise along on, one less bumpy and winding, with only smooth terrain, to reach my writing goals. I frequently asked myself if I really needed to immerse myself so deeply as I wrote that I lost track of time not realizing that I started in the early PM and now it was three AM in the morning. Couldn't a writer get it done in less time with less blood, sweat and yes, sometimes tears?

I asked myself did I really need to revise as much as it was suggested by the experts, or whether I had  to write so many queries to get one acceptance, or read a stack of books; fiction, nonfiction, and craft, to be a better writer. Wasn't there things I could take off of my list instead of adding to become one? Wasn't there a Shangri-La for writers, a secret place off the beaten path where with the wave of a wand, our ideas or half written novel turned into a finished manuscript that was perfect and a publisher accepted it on the spot?

If only that was true. That would be what every writer's sweetest dreams were made of. But I also know that is neither what I, and in all probability you, needed during our writing journey. We had to be diligent, committed, and put in the laborious work, knowing we were headed to where we needed and wanted to be, if we just kept heading in the right direction without veering off.   

Even though getting to our destination has taken some of us longer than we wished or ever imagined as writers, if we had taken a shorter route, we would have missed key lessons along the way. This lengthy trip was mapped out for us from the very beginning. It helped us find and strengthen our voices. It cemented our passion for writing, and it fortified a resolve in us to never give up on our dreams or ourselves.  

It may not have felt like this long ride was worth it when we were dealing with all of those least favorite aspects of writing coupled with life, but it was. Look how far you've come already and what you've accomplished; manuscripts published, books published, confidence in your writing ability that surpasses most people's understanding, and a growing fanbase who are excited about being a part of your journey. 

So today I want to remind you that you are headed in the right direction. It doesn't mean you can't change course during those times you're feeling unmotivated and need a creativity boost or to try something new. No, it just means to keep faith in your front and rear view mirrors and keep going. You are no longer at a crossroad. You're more than halfway to your destination, and that is because you didn't look for an easier, less challenging, shorter route. 


Jeanine DeHoney has had her writing published in several magazines, anthologies, and online. 

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Picture Book Writer Series: The Hard Work Lecture

Thursday, April 22, 2021

No matter how old people are or their feelings about reading, they have fond memories of picture books. These memories can range from reading with parents or grandparents at night books like, The Monster at the End of This Book or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs or just about any Golden Book. Memories, of row after row of hardback picture books with white tags on the spine in a school library or even a public one, are also front and center in readers' minds. Maybe some of these picture books were the first ones that you learned to read as a child, and now you are sharing your favorites with your kids--Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. 

Gosh, picture books are just fun, right?

I'm a picture book writer with two published books, Maggie Mae: Detective Extraordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies and That's the Way It Always Happened. My publishing company has also published two picture books in the Perky Pet Problems picture book series by Fred Olds: The Dog and the Flea: A Tale of Two Opposites and The Cat, the Mouse, and the Neighbor's Dog:A Tale of Problem Solving. I've read countless manuscripts and advised multiple picture book writers, and so I feel like I'm pretty well-versed in the genre, and I'm here to say...

1. They aren't as easy as they look.
2. Pay as much attention or more to these manuscripts as you would a novel while writing and revising them.

This is part one of a four-part series on picture book writing for The Muffin. (Part two will be on Dos and Don'ts, part three will focus on illustrations, and part four will be about marketing.) Today's post is a lecture. It is--I'm sorry. Experts tell us not to be preachy, and I started writing this post thinking that I wouldn't be. But then I felt myself taking a step up onto my soapbox and fully planting myself on it, holding a megaphone to shout out: "If you have such fond memories of picture books from when you were young, and if your kids do too, then your readers deserve picture books that can give them those same kind of fond memories!" 

Let's start with three main tips:

1. Know what kind of picture book you're writing. If you're writing a concept book, like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, then own it--put those concepts in the manuscript for your preschool audience and make the story fun and creative because there's not a concept that hasn't been covered. Fred's The Dog and the Flea is a concept book with a story--the concept is opposites, and the back-of-the book activities explain what opposites are and why dog and flea are in a book about opposites. Plus, there's a matching activity that kids can do with their parents to reinforce the concept of opposites. Commit to your concept, and be original. 

2. If you're writing a rhyming book, read it out loud--as many times as you can, into a tape recorder, to your partner, or kids. You know that it's not just about the rhyming words at the end of the lines--we aren't writing a grade school poem for our parents. The text has to have rhythm. It's one of the reasons why I publish Fred's rhyming books. He has a natural talent for rhyming and the rhythm. The book is like a song--we could probably put music to The Cat, the Mouse, and the Neighbor's Dog. 

3. Give those kids in the book a problem. Just like middle grade and young adult readers need to see themselves in the starring roles of the books they read and facing and solving challenges, so do our youngest readers. In That's the Way It Always Happened, my main character, Lucy, has trouble listening, and she has to figure out a way to listen to her teacher before the end of the week, or she might mess up the big cheer they're doing for Red Ribbon Week. If you aren't writing a concept book or a non-fiction book for kids, then you need a problem in your story--even if you're writing in rhyme. Stories need conflict! 

I meet a lot of picture book writers. Some hire me to help them improve their manuscripts. Most of the drafts I read are lovely, fun, interesting ideas for young readers. But making these drafts into publishable books takes work. (Don't worry the lecture is almost over!) Research the market. Read picture books like the ones you want to write. Study rhyme and rhythm with experts, like Dr. Seuss or Tedd Arnold. Make sure the story is solid with story elements, such as problems/solutions, rising and falling action, and character growth and motivation. Then remember, illustrations help tell the story--that's why you can get by with so few words, but those words have to be spectacular.

You can be the next Eric Carle, Patricia Polacco, Mo Willems, or my author pal, Fred Olds, publishing his first children's books at 91! You can be a great children's writer. But it will take work, just like being a novelist does. Stay tuned for part two on dos and don'ts, coming up next time I blog in a couple weeks! 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and publisher, living in St. Louis, MO. Check out more about her at If you are interested in hiring her as a picture book editor, check out her writers' services here. She's picture to the left in a crown--it's probably gone to her head, and that's why she started lecturing...
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The Importance of a Writing Habit (And How to Find Yours)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Without realizing it, I fell into a writing habit the past couple of months. It all started when I changed my weekend morning routine. Rather than turning on the coffee and skimming the news on my phone, I take out a notebook and write for a while. 

You see, this is remarkable to me because I've never been the type to embrace the idea of a writing habit. I've never thought it was for me. It reeked of the type of responsibility reserved for laundry, taxes, and Monday mornings. However, once I began to embrace this habit, I've started to write more. Not only that, my stories are better too. So, I wanted to share a bit of advice on how to find your writing habit.

1) A writing habit doesn't mean you have to write every day.

I sometimes think a lot of us fear that unless we are writing every day, we aren't making progress. As much as I like the idea of writing every day, I just don't have the mental space for it. Now, I guess you can say I do some form of writing semi-daily because I do journal on a regular basis. However, in terms of actual creative writing, that's reserved for the weekends. My mental space is less crowded, and my time is less rushed.

2) Do what works for you and your writing.

So, for me, I usually write on Saturday and Sunday mornings. For you, maybe you have a window Thursday afternoons that are relatively free and clear. Maybe you can't sleep Sunday nights, and you stay up later than usual. Maybe you have a 15-minute break at work that you can finally start taking. Whatever it is, find what works for you. Even if it isn't very long, start embracing this window of your day as a time for your writing.

3) Go to your writing time, even if you aren't sure you have anything to say.

Last weekend, I stopped at a scene in my story thinking I really didn't have much happening, and that I needed more of a direction for my character. She didn't have much of a life surrounding her that made the ongoing problem more complicated. I thought maybe I'd have to table my idea and revisit it later, which would be fine. It's definitely happened before. This weekend, I returned to my story during my writing time and realized there was more to my character than I thought. Now, she lives near downtown, works in a clothing boutique with a boss that swears in French, and likes the barbecue sandwiches from the deli down the street. She enjoys reading British vogue that she most recently purchased wearing sweatpants and her ex-boyfriend's old t-shirt that he forgot to take with him when he moved out. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is a character. I'll be honest, this is probably the most vivid character I've developed in a while. And I have a gut feeling it's all due to that writing time I've reserved for myself.

4) Stick with it.

I don't know about you but I tend to let even the best of writing habits go by the wayside sometimes. So, this final piece of advice is for me as much as you. As you embrace your new habit and figure out what is working for you, make sure to stick with it. Things in life can happen that derail newfound habits, but if (or when) it does happen, make sure you return to what works. 

Do you have a writing habit? How did you discover what works for you? 

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Review of Cliffhanger: Jump Before You Get Pushed by Michael R. French

Review of Cliffhanger: Jump Before You Get Pushed by Michael R. French 

This Young Adult story centre’s around a high school student body president election, but it’s about much more than high school, it’s for young adult readers and beyond! 

Touching on corruption and truths, this page-turner of a novel will have you on the edge of your seat, enthralled to read on and find out who wins the election and who wins at life. 

Brit is a play-it-safe Brainiac who never gets in trouble. She joins the election team for Matthew, (an old crush and seasoned leader) content to put her own leadership dreams to rest. But when she is blamed for hacking into Matthew’s campaign team server, things change. 

Offended by the severe accusations, Brit surprises herself by deciding to run against Matthew. 

In an effort to expose Team Matthew's lies, Brit finds that there are other reasons she needed to step up, she just hadn’t realised her potential yet. 

The story unfolds in the future where society hasn’t changed all that much but current events are in the past and that’s cool. Michael uses language that is engaging and interesting without being too basic for adults to enjoy and too graphic for young teens to handle. The action level increases with every chapter and with every change in the multiple POV’s; and just when you think it’s all over, the finale will make you gasp! 

Dotted with loads of wonderful references to literature, poetry, history, and current events, this book has it all. School corruption and life lessons are in abundance, keeping you on the edge of your comfort zone ready to jump before you get pushed! 

My Favourite Quotes: 

“Number one, develop a skin as thick as a hippo’s. Number two, know the opposition better than it knows you. Rule three, don’t beat yourself up when your campaign comes off the rails. Setbacks are how you learn.” 

“It confirmed that three or four determined friends could best any army of professionals.”

Print Length: 276 Pages 
Genre: Political Thriller
ISBN-10: 1732511756
ISBN-13: 978-1732511750
Publisher: Moot Point Productions

Cliffhanger is available to purchase at You can also add this to your reading list on


Review written by Kelly Sgroi
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Interview with Victoria Lorrekovich-Miller , Runner Up in the WOW! 2020 Fall Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


Victoria is super excited to see her first children’s picture book, If a Mantis Finds a Fly in the Sky, published and available for purchase.  This book was inspired by her real-life pet Praying Mantis, Jade, who just passed away. Who knew one could get attached to an insect! If you have, or know of, kids aged 3-8 who are big fans of bugs and Seussian rhymes, this book is for them! Victoria is an APA style-certified editor and the founder of, which helps high schoolers craft their college application essays and graduate students polish and publish their theses and dissertations. Her published pieces have appeared in print and online in The Bark, Dog and Kennel, Animal Wellness Magazine,, Diablo Magazine, Thought Catalog, WOW! Women on Writing; her stories for kids can be seen in Cricket Magazine and Dream in Color, etc. Prior to the pandemic, Victoria worked as a wine educator on the weekends at her favorite winery: McKahn Family Cellars. She is currently working on a novel about a female-centric winery. She lives with her incredibly fun and supportive husband, Martin, and they are parents to four talented children: Ari, Justin, Logan, & Kaitlin, who are all making the world a kinder and more interesting place to live. Message her on Twitter: @Vic_Lorrekovich. Or visit her at:

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

WOW: Welcome, Victoria, and congratulations again! I've always been intrigued by Sylvia Plath, her life and her work. How did the idea to intermingle Sylvia’s last moments with a modern-day twist first come to you with your story, Sylvia and Me in 1963

Victoria: My husband and I support the “Little Free Libraries” movement and have recently installed one in front of our house. Every day I love to see what has been taken from—as well as deposited into—our little library. One day, I happily discovered a copy of Sylvia Plath’s 2nd book of poetry: Ariel (which was published after her death). I plucked it out and immediately began reading it. I’d read some of its contents years before but had forgotten much of it. I was so happy to rediscover it during the Covid-19 pandemic. It got me thinking…what if …Sylvia Plath had been born during a different era when mental illness wasn’t as stigmatized as it was during her life span? And what if she had been born during a time when women’s rights were just human rights? The story took off from there. 

WOW: Your children’s book, If a Mantis Finds a Fly in the Sky, came out at the end of February and is based on the real-life relationship you had with your praying mantis. I’m sorry to hear of Jade’s passing! How did you first come to be a praying mantis owner and what lessons did you learn from her? 

Victoria: My husband has always raised praying mantises for "green" pest control because they eat aphids, beetles, crickets, termites, as well as spiders (which were biting our kids). Then we began raising exotic mantises as pets—mostly as starter pets for our kids. They have included Giant African Mantises, which is what Jade was, Ghost mantises, Orchid mantises—which are gorgeous, Devil Flower Mantises, African Twig Mantises, and others. Our kids loved watching the mantises hatch and evolve into little carnivorous assassins. Eventually our kids outgrew their “insect phases,” but my husband and I just got more into it! Jade was a Giant African Mantis who lived for an entire year. I was transfixed by her and was also thankful that she was only four inches long. She was this intrepid insect that was one part patience and one part daredevilry! When she died, I couldn’t believe how sad I was—crazy! I knew she would need to have a story to memorialize her. As I was doing research for the “10 fun facts about praying mantises” at the end of my story, I learned that the late RBG (who I was—and still am—obsessed with) has a praying mantis named after her: llomantis ginsburgae. Apparently only male genitalia had been used for insect species classification until researchers Sydney Brannoch and Gavin Svenson were able to correct a mistake. They found that two genera that had been lumped together were actually separate species, based on the female characteristics as well as other traits. This certainly underscores the need for entomologists to equally consider both sexes of praying mantises. I knew female praying mantises were bad asses but I had no idea that my favorite feminist icon had one named after her! Jade not only inspired my curiosity but enabled me to connect two of my passions: praying mantises and iconic fighters for women’s rights! 

WOW: Oh, I love that story and did not know RBG has a praying mantis named after her. How fascinating! As an editor who helps high school students with their college essays, what are some common issues you see arise in their first drafts? 

Victoria: I’m an APA style-certified editor and the founder of, which helps high schoolers craft their college application essays and graduate students polish and publish their theses and dissertations. The biggest issue that I see with nearly all of my high school students is that they ignore the “story” aspect in their essays. They basically turn their resumes into prose and, as a result, their initial essays are forgettable. Essays and Personal Statements are where the admissions counselors get to see the personalities that exist beyond the grades, test scores and AP classes. In an essay, a student can highlight emotional depth, strength through compassion, perseverance, humor, etc. by showing versus telling. I had one student who had to write an essay about his community. He lived in an urban environment and walked to and from school every day. After several drafts, he wrote about his neighborhood from the perspective of his tennis shoes. It was moving, illuminating and humorous—and one I’m sure the admissions counselor remembered long after reading it. (BTW, he got into UC Berkeley). [As an aside, I always say this to young people who think that the right major and the right college will determine their later successes: “Your path will twist and turn in ways you can’t possibly fathom from where you are at this point in your life. Nearly ¾ of college graduates actually end up working in fields that are not related to their majors. Work hard but also be flexible, adaptable and open to new experiences."] 

WOW: That's great and solid advice. Now, we definitely want to hear more about your work-in-progress about a female-centric winery! What genre would you say it is and can you give us a brief overview? 

Victoria: I would say that my novel would fall under the literary, feminist, romantic, humorous chick-lit genre. The world of wine is a fascinating place in which to be (and where I work on some weekends) but if you look too closely, you’ll find that it’s dominated by men (at least when looking at the actual winemakers), so I started thinking about characters: Athena, a badass winemaker and her best friend, Ivy, who’s an amazing artist with a degree in business, and together they realize their college dream and open a winery together. After Ivy loses her husband to an auto accident, she buys a vineyard with the life insurance money. Ivy, who is straight, and Athena who is lesbian, create a family together. They are not romantic partners, but are soul mates in many ways. They live in separate houses but on the same property. Life is good, aside from the challenges that go along with raising Aaron, Ivy’s 14-year-old son, who is obsessed with horror stories and ignoring school rules. A visiting professor enters the scene and sees Aaron through a different lens and recognizes his brilliance. This professor also falls for Ivy and Ivy for him (facilitated by Athena’s orchestration). Given that Eli lives on the East Coast, Athena thinks he’ll be only the fling her best friend needs, but it goes way beyond a fling. How do these four people redefine what it means to be a family and make room for one another? 

WOW: You have an impressive variety of writing clips, published pieces and awards. Can you give us a glimpse of what your daily writing schedule is like? 

Victoria: I have carved out a section of our master bedroom as my office—it’s the only place in the house that is quiet. (Once one of my sons moves out, I will turn his bedroom into my writing lair. Shhh). My husband has made a sign for our bedroom door that says: “Mom is working. Do not disturb unless the house is on fire.” I usually work on my creative nonfiction projects, short stories, and/or novels in the mornings and then spend the afternoons working with students. After dinner, if everyone seems to be doing their own thing, I go back to writing for myself. This is a Monday through Friday schedule. The weekends are reserved for family fun like paddle boarding, hiking, hanging out with friends, antique shopping, wine-tasting, and going to art shows or music concerts. There’s also usually a couple of times a month when I’m working as a wine educator in a Livermore Valley Winery. Of course, the pandemic has forced us to stream movies and concerts and hang out with friends via Zoom, but we keep reminding ourselves that this is only temporary.

WOW: Victoria, thank you again for a fascinating interview. You've made this interview very fun and introspective and we look forward to reading that novel once it's published!
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