Marketing Your Picture Book Once It's Published (Part 4 of Picture Book Series)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Marketing a picture book is not an easy task. There are some obstacles, like with a lot of children's books, because members of your target audience are not the ones buying the book. So you're appealing to grandparents, parents, teachers, and librarians, for example, instead of to your actual readers, like a romance author might do. Plus, picture books are more expensive to create, so even though most will be under 1000 words, your price might be higher than many novels. But! the good news is that people love picture books. They love to give books as a gift, and they love to share them with the kiddos in their lives. 

So what are some marketing strategies you can use to sell picture books? These are some that I have found TO WORK! 

1. School visits: When schools are back open in the fall, and if the policies will allow school visits again, then this is a great way to sell children's books. Parents love signed books by the author. Your best bet is to ask teachers to send home a flyer before you arrive that explains you and your books and asks parents to send in money to purchase a book. Young kids love books--they are not at the stage where they only want certain authors or characters yet, so they will love you and your book as long as you are excited about it and have a great product! 

2. Offer it as a discounted ebook, and use Kindle Unlimited if possible: Some parents and teachers want to check out a book for free or a reduced price before they buy a copy. That's understandable for new authors. Fred Olds's book series, Perky Pet Problems, has two books, 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. As the publisher, I have enrolled both in Kindle Unlimited, which is an Amazon program. These books are checked out every day. We do get some money for that (not much, but some!), and I can tell people read them because KU keeps track of page reads. Then, I've noticed that since these books have been checked out every day, there are more copies being sold than before. 

There's not enough space in this post to get into the intricacies of the Amazon algorithim, but the good news is that once you are showing some consistent sales, Amazon helps promote your book somewhat. And that also gets your book seen in front of new people--and all around the world. 

3. Holiday bazaars and festivals: Remember what I said above about people who like to give books as gifts? If you can take part in a holiday craft fair or bazaar and buying a table space is pretty cheap (my daughter's school did it for $25 one year), then selling picture books at these works well--especially if you can think of a "package" to go with your book. For example, my book Maggie Mae, Detective Exraordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies always sells well at these types of events. Jack Foster's cover is fantastic, so that draws people in, and then I created a "detective kit" for kids. It consists of an inexpensive small notebook, a fun decorated pencil, and a tiny magnifying glass. Parents can read the book to kids, and they can use the detective kit to act out (or solve a different mystery) when they are finished! I charge a few extra dollars for the "kit", and I even had some stickers that were very inexpensive that I put on the notebook that said, "This detective notebook belongs to....". 

What are some ways you've marketed a picture book? What has made you purchase one in the past? Share with us below! 

To check out the other posts in the series, you can go to this one here, which links to the others!

Margo L. Dill is a children's author and the publisher of Editor-911 Books. She lives in St. Louis, MO, with her daughter and dog. To find out more, check out .

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Interview with Holly Rae Garcia, Runner-Up in the Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Contest

Holly Rae Garcia is an author and photographer. Growing up, she remembers reading her mother’s extensive Stephen King and True Crime collection. A love for dark fiction with sad endings has stayed with her ever since. Her own books include Come Join the Murder, and The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge. Her shorter fiction has been published online and in print for various magazines and anthologies. Holly lives on the Texas Coast with her family and five large dogs. More information can be found on her website and Twitter.

----------interview with Sue Bradford Edwards ----------

WOW: Tell us about the inspiration for “Even the Jellyfish.” 

Holly: I wrote the story initially for a prompted contest hosted by the Australian Writers' Centre. The prompts were: "The first and last words had to begin with the letter J, had to include the phrase 'missed the boat', and a game had to be played. It ended up long-listing and, after a few edits, I submitted it to Women on Writing. For the story itself, I have a short-term memory issue, so memory and loss are always at the forefront of my mind. The setting is local to where I currently live, and the beach has always been a place for me to find peace and just "be." 

WOW:  The setting definitely feels real so I'm not surprised that it is one of your special places. What problems do you look for when you are rewriting? What might need to change in a story? 

Holly: I look for voice continuity between characters, any plot holes, realistic dialogue, and overall tone. I tend to go "white-room" when drafting, so edits often include adding in sights/sounds/smells/sounds/etc. I have the five senses listed on the wall beside my computer, to remind myself to include them. Under-writing that first draft is often a problem for me. 

WOW: Underwriting seems like a natural problem to have when trying to write short. Given the brief length of a flash story, every detail has to serve a purpose. How did you determine which setting details to include? Why did you make these particular choices? 

Holly: I wanted to emphasize how it felt at the beach, in the water, on that specific day. The senses play such a big role in memory, so I knew I needed to focus on those specifically. For the later scenes set in the present, I tried to only sprinkle enough that the reader knew where they were. Because the point of the story was in the past, not the hazy present. 

WOW: As someone who writes both novels and flash, what advice do you have for our readers about moving between different types of projects? 

Holly: Personally, I find it productive to work on longer and shorter works at the same time. I feel like they engage different parts of your brain, and if you're stuck on one, you can procrastinate by working on the other. 

WOW:  That sounds like a good way to move between the two. A lot of our readers have never written flash fiction. What advice would you have for someone who is contemplating her first flash story? 

Holly: I'd say to at least give it a try. You may hate it or you may love it, and find yourself writing more than ever. I do a lot of things in my life, just to see if I can. Sometimes I don't enjoy them, but sometimes I do and they stick. I tried writing, just to see if I could. I wrote a bigfoot short story for my husband (which we later turned into a novella) to see if I could. That short story sucked, but the process was addicting. I still can't do it as well as others, but that's the good thing about these personal can shift that goal line however you need to, to keep going.

WOW:  I feel like I can speak for the WOW community when I say that I'm glad you kept writing.  Thank you so much for encouraging our readers and helping them gain insight into your process.  Good luck on your current projects!

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Tips for When You Lose Writing Momentum

Monday, June 28, 2021

As the summer started to roll in, my momentum to write began to fade. It's not uncommon for me to lose interest in writing new stories in the warmer months. Yet, it can feel a little defeating too, because I had such strong motivation and pull to write these past several months. Unfortunately, I've accepted that until the rainy season returns, I'm likely not going to be at the top of my writing game.

If you tend to write by the seasons, I have a few tips for you to make the most of your changing writing motivation:

Focus on a new stage in the writing process.

Even though I've been inspired these last few months to write new stories, I haven't done any revising. So, even though I'm not inspired to create new work, I'm now motivated to revise existing work. I often feel like revising is a totally different part of my mind, so this new focus feels fresh to me, and less like discipline. 

Continue submitting.

In my writing phase this year, I didn't do much submitting. I'm usually better about it but I also blame new busyness too. So, to make up for it, I plan to spend the next few months focusing on submitting existing stories. This leads me to my next advice:

Read where you want to publish.

I'm a short story writer, so becoming familiar again with literary magazines - new and old - is a big part of this summer writing phase. Remember, WOW has a great newsletter focusing on new literary markets, so if you can't think of new lit mags to read, make sure to subscribe and find out who is asking for submissions. That will give you some ideas for which mags to read. 

And if you are trying to get published, read the books in your genre, or the literary agents you are aiming to represent you. Pick up books published in small and large presses.

Be kind to yourself. 

Probably the worst thing to do if your writing momentum has changed is beat yourself up over it. I think the worst thing I've done during these seasons is trying and force myself to write. A lot can be said for discipline, but know yourself enough to know when it's just time to give yourself a breather. Try out new projects, update your blog, try pitching editors looking for article ideas, or journal regularly. There are ways to make the most of this momentum change without feeling like you've missed a step.

What advice do you have for someone who's lost their momentum with writing?
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Interview with Pattie Palmer-Baker, Runner Up in the WOW! Q2 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Pattie Palmer-Baker is a Portland OR artist and poet. Over the years of exhibiting her artwork—a combination of paste paper collages with her poetry in calligraphic form—she discovered that people, despite what they may believe, do like poetry; in fact, many liked the poems better than the visual art. She now concentrates on writing, both poetry and personal essays. Nominated for the Pushcart Poetry Prize, and published in many journals including, Poeming Pigeons Anthology; Voicecatcher; The Best of Voicecatcher; Ghazal Page; Voices, The Art and Science of Psychotherapy; Calyx; and Phantom Drift. First prize 2016 Timberline Review. First prize 2018 for the Del Sol Press most promising novel (MALL). Ageless Authors Anthology 2019 first, second and the Bivona prize (for the best overall entry). First prize 2020 in the Central Oregon Writers’ Guild contest. Her chapbook, The Color of Goodbye, was recently published by Kelso Books. 


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

WOW: Pattie, welcome, and congratulations! "Winter Rainbow" is such a gorgeous, illuminating piece. Could you tell us what your favorite line in the essay is and why? 

Pattie: I wonder if I made up this sight, how his red feathers erupted, how his black beak curved. This sentence captures my feeling when I saw a cardinal in real life for the first time, and in that moment, this gorgeous bird relieved the color deprivation I experienced during my first winter in an eastern state. 

WOW: Could you tell us more about how you landed on your unique style of creating collages with paste paper and how poetry plays a part? 

Pattie: All my life I have loved words, so much so that after many years of art classes including calligraphy and paste paper, I evolved a style that combined my poetry in calligraphic form with collages of paste paper – an ancient decorated paper technique wherein I paint color mixed with my artist-made paste on wet paper. Before the paint/paste dries, I use texture-making tools to form designs and images on the surface which I will cut out and use in collages inspired by poetry I have written. I write the poem around the finished assemblage in a calligraphic style based on the Carolingian alphabet from the 8th century. 

WOW: Your debut novel, “Mall”, received the Del Sol Press Prize for First Novel. Chelsea Ennen from Kirkus Review had this to say about it: “ Palmer-Baker’s talent as a poet shines through in her fiction as clear, direct prose and succinct worldbuilding.” The premise sounds fascinating—could you share a little about the plot of “Mall” with our readers? 

Pattie: Set in a sparkling alternative world, MALL is a place where almost everyone is beautiful, and everyone is employed to have enough income to experience a myriad of pleasures - drugs, gambling, theater, holographic adventures. No illness, no poverty and very little crime. A lot of sex. But what’s the catch? And what happens when Sara, a 21st century woman from our reality, accidentally finds her way into this alien yet familiar world? Nona, a MALL Mental Health Practitioner, who is assigned to treat Sara upon her arrival, goes against the MALL code to help her pass as a Mallite. Why? Because Sara is an antidote to Nona’s secret dissatisfaction. But how can anyone be unhappy in this paradise where few if any suffer? Perhaps because the strict and authoritarian MALL Code forbids close, long-lasting relationships, one of the main causes, the MALL fathers believed, of pain and suffering. At first, Sara desperately wants to get home, and, as she seeks a way out as well as answers about her new reality, she discovers some of the darker places of MALL like an orgiastic dance club, a bet-your-life gambling establishment, and weekly “reincarnation” convocations. She risks involvement with Paul, the leader of the shadowy rebel group, the Junkers, who have been creating increasingly frequent and dangerous disturbances. Not only are they fighting against Mall Management and the MALL Code, many of them seek a way ‘Outside’ – if one exists. If they do find the way ‘Outside’, who will leave? Paul who is wanted by the authorities for fomenting rebellion? Will Sara even want to leave or will she choose to stay in this pleasure-drenched world? How about Nona, whose relationship with Sara has underlined the emptiness of a life in MALL? 

WOW: You have an impressive body of creative work, from your gorgeous collages to poetry to creative nonfiction and fiction. How do you divide your time between these many projects and figure out how to give equal attention to them all? 

Pattie: Over the years of exhibiting my artwork, I discovered – to my delight and surprise – that most people, despite what they may believe, do like poetry, and in fact many liked the poetry better than the visual art, inspiring me to concentrate on writing, both poetry and personal essays. Because the artwork process is so time-consuming, I make the paste papers used in my artworks only about once a year and maybe devote several weeks to creating some collages. The rest of the time, my creative output is limited to writing, for me, an activity much more challenging than making visual art. Also, I have a fair amount of completed artworks on hand. To see examples of these pieces, please access my website: 

WOW: What is your process like in finding new markets for your writing? 

 Pattie: I use New Pages. Like many writers, I have submitted dozens and dozens of time and places (and, of course, I have experienced almost that many rejections) so that I am on many journals’ mailing lists.

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Sioux Roslawski's Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story: Author Interview and Giveaway!

Saturday, June 26, 2021
Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story by Sioux Roslawski
First things first - I am super excited to be able to give you a look into Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story. This book is by one of our own bloggers, Sioux Roslawski. Her publisher is Editor-911 Books with our very own Margo L. Dill.  

And, this is an amazing book. It tells a story that should be in our schools but isn't. For those of you who don't know about the book, here is part of the review I posted on GoodReads and Amazon:  
“Some people might hesitate to hand a book on the Tulsa Race Massacre to a young reader. But Sioux Roslawski’s book is perfect for middle grade readers because it is told through the fictional character of 12 year-old Henry Simmons.

“Henry wants nothing more than to make it through the end of the school year and play baseball. But he finds himself saddled with taking care of his sister at home in Greenwood, Oklahoma. Greenwood is adjacent to Tulsa, a black community beside the segregated city. Henry knows that when he goes into Tulsa with his parents, it is a different world—a world where he must be not just polite but subservient, a world where he must keep his eyes on the ground while simultaneously avoiding physical contact with anyone who is white.

“Then an acquaintance, 19 year-old Dick Rowland is accused of assaulting a white female elevator operator. When the sheriff refuses to hand Dick over to a white crowd, Henry hopes the worst of the trouble is over but it is only beginning.”

Sioux joined us to share her insights into creating this book.  

About the author:

Sioux Roslawski is a St. Louis middle school teacher, a freelance writer, and a teacher consultant for the Gateway Writing Project, a part of the National Writing Project. Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story is her debut novel. All of the author's proceeds from Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story will be donated to benefit the residents of Greenwood. 

For more information, visit her website:

(Interview by Sue Bradford Edwards.)

WOW: When a writer creates a book, it is important for them to find a story that has never been told. How did you learn about this episode in history? 

Sioux: I went to a teachers' conference about 10 years ago. Linda Christensen, an author and nationally-known public speaker on social justice issues, led a whole banquet hall of educators through an activity about the Tulsa Race Massacre. Nobody in the hall had ever heard of the tragedy. It was life-changing. 

WOW: You teach young readers who are the same age as those in the book. What about your teaching experience convinced you that this story needed to be told for this age group? 

Sioux: Children who are in the fourth grade are not too young to hear the truth, to be exposed to the "bigger picture" of the historical landscape. They're not too young to have their eyes opened to social justice lessons. Also, there were no novels published on this topic for middle-grade readers. I thought it was time there was. 

WOW: It's one thing to publish books on topics like this; but it's another to see that they make their way into the classroom. Why is it important for Black students to find books like this in the curriculum?

Sioux: For one, too many history lessons are told from the white man's perspective. Too often, the white culture is the one that's in the right. The Tulsa Race Massacre is a true story that is not told in history books and where the white men were the villains. Black students need to have their history validated and have it told truthfully. Also, as a white teacher, I need my students to see that I will unflinchingly share stories where Blacks were mistreated, abused, massacred and lynched... and where whites were the ones mistreating, abusing, massacring and lynching. 

WOW: What about their white counterparts? Why should they read Henry’s Story

Sioux: Change will never come unless we're willing to have difficult conversations. It's not acceptable to allow white students to continue learning a "white-washed" version of history, a history where they were the main explorers, the main innovators, the main pioneers—where they were the "good guys" who came charging in on a white horse and saved the people of color. All children should be learning the unvarnished truth, so perhaps the playing field will be evened out a bit. 

WOW: That is such an empowering way to look at it. Now, let’s bring this back to you. Why was this an important story for you personally to tell? What did you bring to it that no one else could bring? 

Sioux: Initially, I was only writing the story because the story wasn't being told. After writing a horrible first draft, I started a second draft from scratch, and Henry emerged as the storyteller, not me. It was as if I were only the scribe, not the author. I guess the thing I brought was a willingness to listen and let go—to listen intently to Henry's story, and let go of my desire to create the plot.

WOW: Listen and let go. That's definitely an important lesson for all of us as we seek to create stories that will touch readers.  Thank you so much for joining us to discuss your book. Now, on to an opportunity for our readers to win a copy.


Enter the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win a copy of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story by Sioux Roslawski. Giveaway ends July 9th at 11:59pm CT. Winner will be announced the next day in the Rafflecopter form and we will follow up via email.

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Linda Appleman Shapiro Releases the AudioBook Version of "She's Not Herself" - Narrated in Her Own Voice! (and Giveaway)

Friday, June 25, 2021

by Linda Appleman Shapiro is now available in audio form!

This memoir/audiobook shows how one family member’s chronic illness—depression or otherwise—affects the entire family. Shapiro, a first generation American, shares in detail the reverberations of war, separation, immigration, and family secrets which are as relevant (if not more so) today as when Shapiro was growing up in the 1940s-50s. Hearing her narrate her own life’s journey brings the listener into her home and heart, showing how trauma is experienced and then how it can be processed, moving through and beyond it without forgetting and with forgiving, ultimately leaving the listener with hope.

Linda has been interviewed by Cyrus Webb about her memoir and will soon be discussing her audiobook with him as well! 

Praise for the print book/ebook version of She's Not Herself
“An honest and compelling story by a brave and gifted writer.” – Wally Lamb, NY Times best-selling author of She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True and many other novels. Winner of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Kenneth Johnson Award for the anti-stigmatization of mental illness. 

“A story that applies to us all – truthful, carefully crafted, and created with a clear-eyed affection.” – Watts, M.D., poet, writer, musician, NPR commentator 

“We identify with the author’s sense of alienation from the first chapter and agonize with her longing for a normal life. SHE’S NOT HERSELF is a revelatory account of someone who grew up with a mentally ill parent and grew up to become an effective, loving mother and a successful professional healer.” – US Review of Books, Barbara Bamburger Scott 

“I loved going through the journey of Linda’s life with her throughout the memoir not just because of how easy it was to follow along, but how vivid her memories were. She has such a way with words and storytelling. She hooked me from the very first sentence and let me go reluctantly at the end.” – Mcwood Publishing – Honest Literary Reviews, S.Davis 

“. . . a well-crafted and fluid narrative. Good description and dialogue, and enough detail to suffice, but not overburden . . . maintains reader interest throughout. Will certainly resonate with those affected by a family member’s mental illness. However, it also speaks to a wider readership because, at the heart of the story resides the resilience of the human spirit.” – San Fransisco Book Review, Diana Irvine 

“A riveting tale wrapped in elegant prose . . . full of hope and perseverance.” – Peggy Sanders, retired journalist, award winning author 

You can find the audio version of She's Not Herself on Audible. Print and e-book copies are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and

About the Author Linda Appleman Shapiro - in her own words: 
The daughter of Russian – Jewish immigrant parents, I was born and raised in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York and attended Brooklyn’s public schools until I left home to attend college. 

On the surface, my life appeared like that of the other children in our neighborhood. Families were all poor, fathers worked, and mothers stayed at home, taking care of their children, cooking, cleaning, and doing all household chores. 

As was the custom in the 1940s and 50s, I played outside in the street, seldom visiting friends inside their apartments. I naturally assumed that our family’s “norm” was the norm. Having learned early never to ask questions, I remained in the dark about the larger truth that enveloped our family’s life. I knew only that my mother was often “sick,” but I did not know that all mothers didn’t receive “shock treatments” or that my mother suffered from mental illness. 
I loved my mother very much and I was aware of the fact that whenever she became ill I had no way to prevent the days and nights from being colored by – what she called – “the black clouds” – that descended. At such times, my father told me, “Your mama, she’s not herself.” Yet, if she wasn’t herself, then who was she . . . and how were such words ever to help me to understand what I witnessed or what I heard? Instead, I experienced the anxiety and hyper-vigilance that often take root when secrecy and shame surround a family in which any one of its members suffers from a chronic illness. 

Throughout the years of my childhood and early teens speaking about illnesses of any kind was simply not done. Cancer, if even mentioned, was referred to as “the Big C,” and mental illness was never discussed with my mother or with our family members. That made us all victims of an ominous unknown. 

There was no Oprah or Dr. Phil to educate us. My family didn’t own a television until I was twelve. But, as with all children and adults who are traumatized, my father, brother and I found ways to survive the dark times. For me, denial was a defense I used successfully until the child in me began to identify with the woman, my mother. 

I began writing SHE’S NOT HERSELF, a memoir, to tell my story without my psychotherapist’s voice driving the narrative. I wanted it to read as any good novel: bringing the reader into my family’s apartment, allowing you to see our rooms and furnishings, hear our conversations, walk the streets of our neighborhood and, perhaps most importantly, to witness my mother’s many “breakdowns” and to see how each of us coped and didn’t cope in the face of her agony. 

I hope you will agree with reviewers who believe that I have not written a ‘woe is me’ story. Rather, I am sharing my life from the perspective of someone who has worked hard to find ways to move through and beyond trauma. My goal in taking secrets out of my family’s closet is to allow you to feel free to identify with me and not feel alone. I will be most gratified if my story helps you find the courage to move forward toward your own places of healing. 

As you seek help that is now available to one in every four people who suffers from a mental “dis-ease” in today’s all too chaotic world, you will experience how it is possible to interrupt family dysfunction by merging life’s sweetness with its sorrow, reconciling its meaning with its mystery. 

Married to actor and audiobook narrator GEORGE GUIDALL, my husband and I live in Westchester County, New York. We have two adult daughters and two grandchildren. 

Connect with Linda online:

Behavioral psychotherapist, oral historian, lecturer, and author, Shapiro earned her B.A. in literature from Bennington College, a Master’s degree in Human Development/Counseling from the Bank Street College of Education, and a Master Certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming from the New York Institute of N.L.P. She has further certifications in Ericksonian Hypnosis and Substance Abuse/Addictions Counseling.


Enter the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win a copy of She's Not Herself by Linda Appleman Shapiro on Audible! Giveaway ends July 9th at 11:59pm CT. Winner will be announced in the Rafflecopter form and we will follow up by email. Good luck!

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101 Arabian Tales by Randolph W. Hobler - Author Interview and Giveaway

Thursday, June 24, 2021
“Randy Hobler has written the best memoir of a Peace Corps experience that I have ever read. His amazingly detailed book instantly grips the reader by putting Libya in its properly rich and unique historical perspective. Everyone should read this book, to enjoy its humor as well as its insights."
—Niels Marquardt 
Former Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Madagascar and the Union of the Comoros Peace Corps Volunteer—Zaire and Rwanda

101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya

101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya is substantially set apart from the over-1,000 published Peace Corps memoirs because they are individual memoirs and this is a unique collective memoir, garnered from in-depth interviews with 101 fellow Libyan Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. A herculean effort. 

The story’s spine is Hobler’s own narrative, anchored to and deftly embroidered with hundreds of other anecdotes. Rather than a narrow individual view, this collective sharing provides many rich hues and shades of experiences—hilarious, heartbreaking, insightful, poignant, as well as educational and inspiring. These volunteers were spread out over 900 miles resulting in an omniscient kaleidoscope of experiences, many of which fall under the category of “you can’t make this up!” 

It’s an amazingly detailed chronicle of anecdotes, historical perspectives, fun, adventure and hardship. Hobler’s breezy whimsical style is accessible and entertaining, capped off with 220 compelling photographs. 

Genre: Memoir
Print length: 479 pages
ISBN: 979-8698162193

101 Arabian Tales by Randolph Hobler is available for purchase as an ebook and in print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and

About the Author

RANDOLPH HOBLER is, in no particular order, a perspicacious marketer, a fastidious author, a voracious reader, a tenacious researcher, a conscientious thinker, a curious observer, an industrious composer, a gregarious world traveler, a punctilious musician, and a prodigious anthemologist. 

He served in the Peace Corps in Libya from 1968—1969 in the Berber village of Al Gala, in the Nefusa Mountains 85 miles south of Tripoli. Besides his daily diary and a sometimes journal, he interviewed 101 of his fellow Libyan Peace Corps volunteers in depth for this book—creating a unique collective memoir amongst the 1,000 + books on the Peace Corps. 

A graduate of Andover and Princeton University, Hobler has spent 42 years in national and international advertising, marketing and consulting. He is fluent in French and conversational in Spanish and Arabic.

Visit his website at:

Connect with him on social media:

 -- Interview by Crystal Otto 

WOW: Thank you very much for asking WOW! To help you promote 101 Arabian Tales. This is a great collection of stories and I’ve truly enjoyed each one! Let’s get down to it. First, I have to ask how this entire project came about? Did you start keeping a journal and decide "these stories are worth sharing" or when did the spark become a fire? 

Randy: I’m afraid there is no short answer to this question. Over many decades there were rivulets that turned into streams that turned into rivers and hence to the ocean. I wrote a diary for 31 years and along the way I wrote a journal sporadically. I just had so many ideas in my head; I had to write them all down. I had no plan decades ago to write a book about the Peace Corps. 

First, I had to have a platform of competence to even consider writing a book. I had my first article published in 1977. To pump up my motivation, I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The title is misleading, but the book talked about objectives. He wrote, “If you tell yourself and put it in writing what your objective is, your subconscious will deliver that objective for you.” In my case, that meant saying, “I will write an article about Beaumarchais enabling the American Revolution that will be of a level of excellence that will satisfy discriminating editors.” So, in fact, this kept propelling me to reach for that excellence all along. 

The second thing Hill said was to set a deadline. That seemed obvious, but it was a great motivator. And finally, he said, “Put a dollar amount on the objective and keep repeating it to yourself. Again, your consciousness and your subconsciousness will focus your energies on it.” He said that you will be striving for the actual value of what you are aiming for. So, I said repeatedly to myself, “I am going to sell this article for $500.” So, after a number of rejections, I got an acceptance letter from American Legion Magazine for exactly $500. 

I went on over the years (while still working full-time and with a family) to sell 15 articles on a variety of topics, write films, essays, a script, a musical, and more. And all along reading literally 100 books on writing, 100 articles on writing. Taking notes. Speaking the notes into a tape recorder and listening to them in the car while commuting. Going to seminars. Attending classes. Applying the learning to the articles. Then came the spark, the convergence of multiple coincidences into the catalyst for the book: 

The crucible of the coincidences began in late 2016. First, a colleague of mine wrote a book about his experiences in Libya. Even though he was a journalism major, I guess they left out the part about paragraphs. He had not a single paragraph in the book! It was all wall-to-wall prose! Also, he had mistakes of various kinds. Errors. Anyway, this was a spark where I said, “Hey, I can write a better book than this and I have better stories.” 

During this exact same time frame, I decided to start reading Herodotus. Why? 48 years before, my grandfather had asked me if there was anything I wanted when he passed away. I told him I would like his 40-volume Great Books collection. These handsome books sat on my bookshelves for 48 years. I passed them every day. Over the years, I felt more and more guilty that not only had I never read any of these books so essential to a well-rounded education, I also felt guilty that I had asked my grandfather for them and had never read them. 

So, in December of 2016, I picked out the first volume and started reading Herodotus. I noticed that Libya was mentioned, and the Libyans, a number of times in the book. Then, I noticed he said that Libya was surrounded on all four sides by water. I thought that impossible. Were there some ancient rivers or lakes around Libya that no longer exist? I looked up the reference on Google Images. There, lo and behold was a map of Libya, but the map revealed that what he meant by Libya was all of Africa. Being of a curious bent of mind, I looked for the origin of the word “Africa” itself. Turns out the “-ica” is a place suffix, like “Attica” or “Bellerica.” And the “Afra”? That comes from “Ifra” or “Yifra,” which is the Libyan town “Yifran,” which is literally two miles from where my village in Libya was! 

Also in December of 2016, my sister, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, read an article in the obscure Santa Barbara Sentinel, about an Air Force brat. I read it. It was by a guy named Jeff Wing. He was a teenager exactly at the same time as I was in Libya and wrote a funny self-deprecating story about himself and baseball. 

Then, also in December of 2016, after 48 years of radio silence and after 48 years of repeated assurances that the Peace Corps would provide me with the name of a school or community group to whom I could give a presentation on my Peace Corps service, they suddenly suggested I respond to a request from Fairleigh Dickinson University. So, I went out there and gave a well-received talk. Two days after this, having decided to start exploring this idea of a book, I invited a colleague from Libya whom I had not seen in 48 years, Angus Todd, to dinner to interview him about his experiences in Libya. 

We chose a restaurant owned by an Algerian who spoke Berber (the native language of my village in Libya), French (what I majored in) and Arabic (what we learned in Peace Corps Training.) At the end of the dinner, I said, “Oh, Angus, where did you go to college?” And he said, “Fairleigh Dickinson.” 

So, this is a very long-winded way of showing a convergence of many factors at once that propelled this book. 

WOW: Sometimes we just can’t leave out any of the process. I’m glad you walked us through all the important pieces of the puzzle that brought us here today! That said, what advice do you have for other writers? 

Randy: I cannot emphasize this enough and it is so hard—given human nature—to do this, but you must be open—intellectually and emotionally—to accept criticism. Criticism from any quarter. Good criticism, bad criticism. You can later sort through what was good and what was bad. But unless you put your ego aside and listen, you will never learn. And if you don’t learn, you won’t get better. 

No one is saying this is easy. It’s helpful to have a mentor. To have an educational institution that drills humility into you. To read motivational books and take them seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve provided constructive criticism to people, and they dismiss it out of hand, they don’t take any of the advice, then their project fails and they don’t even understand that the reason it failed was they didn’t listen. One example of overcoming this resistance is at Princeton University, where they repeatedly drilled into us, for example, the notion that if you don’t know the answer to something, ask. Do not worry about appearing stupid. Ask. Asking questions is, in fact, a sign of intelligence, not stupidity. 

WOW: Amen to that! I love it when people ask questions. It worries me when you give someone an instruction and they have no questions, so I’ll be sharing this tidbit with my kiddos, too (wink wink). 

Not everything goes as planned and even roses have thorns. So I have to ask you, how do you deal with rejection in your writing life? 

Randy: The bigger issue is to consider and absorb and believe in and practice one of Winston Churchill’s great quotes. In Commons once, he was asked what the secret of his success was. He said, “Never, ever ever ever ever quit!” Here is this guy who wrote tons of books yet knew how powerful it would be to just condense it all down to one sentence. 

So, of course, it always stings when there’s rejection. Not just personally, but when people reject your work with no support whatsoever. Or reject it for specious reasons. So, my second coping mechanism is to invoke the alcoholic’s creed that about what you can and cannot control and for those things outside your power, just move on. 

The final way I treat rejection is to remind myself of mathematics. This is thanks to many years doing sales of various kinds. It is just mathematics that you are only going to sell 5% of original leads. Them’s just the facts. So, you armor yourself from the get-go that 95% of the time you’ll be rejected. 

WOW: That’s some solid advice. I always remember that Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers; so there’s that too! Speaking of other authors (I know Dr. Seuss is a favorite at our house), who is your favorite author and why? 

Randy: There are so many wonderful writers I love, across an eclectic spectrum. But for some reason there is one book, by one author, that I’ve read multiple times. I’ve never read any book except this one more than once, much less multiple times. And I’m not even an adherent to the views of this writer. But the power and eloquence of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand has mesmerized me. 

WOW: I’ll have to check it out. The thought of a mesmerizing book is very appealing during the summer when I’m reading so much – thank you! Speaking of appealing, what appealed to you and/or drew you to the Peace Corps initially and what made you stay? 

Randy: Again, no one thing. Most notably, the inspiration and eloquence of John F. Kennedy (whom I saw in person, two feet away in Palm Beach on January 1, 1961, when he was president elect…so handsome, tanned, elegant! His “Ask not…” inaugural speech and his rallying cry about serving other nations was compelling. 

So, I wanted to serve for two years, immediately after college, knowing that if I waited longer, I would be totally tied up in work and family and would never have a chance do serve again. I love travel. I love foreign languages. Foreign culture, art, customs, food, you name it. I was totally teed up for this. 

Staying was not an issue, actually being immersed in a foreign culture totally reinforced being there.

WOW: You have such a great outlook and excellent insight. Do you have any advice for someone considering joining the Peace Corps today? How can we best support the volunteers and the organization of today? 

Randy: Yeah, first do a What Color is Your Parachute-like analysis of yourself in terms of if your temperament and outlook, etc. fit the bill. Then carefully think through all your options. Keep in mind that 90% of the time for anyone who’s been in the Peace Corps (and I’ve interviewed 101 people about their experiences, and have read 51 books on the Peace Corps, including 44 memoirs) it has changed their lives, both in a career sense and in the perspectives and wisdom gained. 

WOW: We all look at things differently (which is why the Peace Corps appeals to some and not to others I guess), but what would you like readers to gain as a "take away" after reading 101 Arabian Tales?

Randy: Since the tale is a unique immersive dive into a culture melded through the eyes of 102 Peace Corps volunteers located all over this huge country, mixed with key historical insights, the reader walks away with a deep, lasting, vicarious appreciation of a place they had hitherto known little. 

WOW: I know each reader will have their own favorite tale! Do you have a favorite story in the book? What makes this particular tale stand out for you? 

Randy: Yes. And it’s a story that doesn’t take place all at once, like in two minutes. It takes place over multiple months, and as a writer, it’s always hard in terms of structure to be patient enough and disciplined enough to fit each subset of the story in the right place at the right time, and finally complete it at the end. The criterion that makes it stand out for me, is it’s the only one of hundreds of stories where I cry about its poignancy. 

That afternoon, between classes at Um El Jersan, a grizzled old man named Ahmed approached me. He said he had fought with honor in World War II in 1943 for the Field Marshal Montgomery’s 8th Army in Libya against the Germans. (Since then I’ve learned that the British recruited five battalions of Libyan men, called “The Libyan Arab Force,” to help battle the Germans. They were instrumental in defeating the Axis powers in Libya.) Delving into his wallet, he pulled out an old, browned, folded piece of paper, worn through at the creases. As he delicately opened it up, he told me the British Army had promised him he’d be awarded three medals for his heroism in battle, and here we were 25 years later with no medals. The document, in English, was on official British Army stationery and included Ahmed’s full name and confirmed the award of the medals.

“Can you help me?” he asked.

The challenge was immediately obvious. Over two decades had passed. What were the chances they still had this obscure Libyan’s records? With no access to phones or telegraph, the only option was mail. I had no idea where to even send a letter of inquiry. And mail in this third world country was slow and unreliable. I couldn’t, therefore, send along his official letter for fear of losing it. And Xerox machines were in relatively short supply in this village.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

My first step was to write a letter address only to “British Army, London, England.” This was all I could figure out. Two months later, I got a letter back directing me to another office. At least this time, it was more specific. A month after that, I was directed to a third office. Then, about another month later, to a fourth office in Scotland.

Then (again from the book):

January 25, 1969 dawned cold and sunny. I went to the post office where a small box awaited me, postmarked from Scotland. Could it be? Upon opening it, I was at first astonished, then deeply gratified to see, nesting in the box, Ahmed’s three long-deserved World War II medals. I rushed over to Um El Jersan, tracked Ahmed down and offered him the box. He was overwhelmed, tears moisting his eyes, thanking me profusely. He wanted to put the medals on his holie and asked me to help. I managed to pin all three on, in the upper left chest section where I figured medals should go.

He marched about the village, chest puffed with pride, explaining to his friends that the stories he’d told them for decades about the medals were now fulfilled. The word swept through the village like wildfire and soon everyone was clapping and cheering as he continued his tour, especially the ragamuffins circling him like small planets. I felt touched by history. The whole village felt touched by history.

What makes the tale stand out? There’s the magic, the miracle of actually getting these medals 25 years later. There’s the reaction of the old man. There’s the joyous reaction of the entire village. There this sense of connecting the gigantic episode of WWII down to this tiny village. There was this humble feeling of being a witness to history. And the deep feeling of gratitude that I could help someone who had been hoping against hope that he would be redeemed, year after year. 

WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with our WOW! Readers and the world with 101 Arabian Tales. This has been such an eye-opening experience! You are a joy to interview and a talented storyteller. Thank you, Randy! 

 ***** 101 Arabian Tales Giveaway ***** 

 Enter for your chance to a copy of 101 Arabian Tales. Enter using Rafflecopter below. Giveaway ends on July 4th. We will announce the winner the next day on the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

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Confessions of a (Non-Professional) Book Reviewer

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

So you’ve got a book! 

You can’t believe your eyes but there it is in your sweaty hands! And whether you’ve gone the indie route, a trade publisher, or somewhere in between, you’re already dreaming about book reviews. More to the point, you’re wondering how to get ‘em. 

So I thought I’d share an insider look at the non-professional book reviewer: your friends, family, and more importantly, your writer friends. Maybe if you know why I do book reviews, you can use that info to get your book reviews! 

Because You Asked 

By far, I write book reviews because the author has asked me. But to be clear, I’m referring to a personal ask, though not necessarily from close, personal friends. 

As a writer who’s involved in several writing organizations and networks, I know a lot of published writers. But surprisingly, very few of them will ask me to write a book review. The majority of newly published authors will blast their news out on social media and ask politely for those who read their book to leave a review. And that’s certainly a time-saving technique but it rarely pushes me from “Congrats!” to the actual writing of a book review. I truly am thrilled for writer friends who get published, but by the time I’ve scrolled through all the updates on social media, I’ve already moved on to whatever’s next on my To Do List. 

BUT if a published friend sends me an email or connects with me at an event or heck, bumps into me at the grocery store and tells me all about the latest published book and offers to send me an ARC or a PDF and asks me personally would I please consider writing a review? Chances are excellent that I’ll write that review if the author friend follows through and sends the book in some form.

Because I’ve Bought Your Book

Again, I have lots of friends who get books published. I can’t afford to buy every friend’s book but those writer friends whom I’ve walked a long journey with, shared umpteen lunches, or even those I’ve never met in person but have a strong connection with, I’m going to buy their book. Perhaps especially if they’ve been pubbed by a smaller publisher or self-pubbed. And as I know how important book reviews are, I’m going to review the book. 

On a side note, close friends will often want to give me their book. I can’t speak for all, but I’d rather they save their give-away books for other opportunities. And I don’t mind one bit if I get a nudge about a book review from these good friends. This goes back to the personal ask; follow through is imperative! 

Because I’ve Won a Book

I’ll participate in a book giveaway if there’s a connection with the author and I want to read the book (and as a bonus, win a signed copy). But these are generally not personal friends; they’re often writers I met somewhere along the way, at a writer’s retreat or other event. In fact, I don’t participate in close friends’ book giveaways because I want that book to go out in the world. But if I do win a book and the author signs it and sends it, the least I can do is write a book review. Every time. 

Because I’m Participating In a Book Tour 

I participate in book tours because I want to read the book; I usually don’t know the author from Adam. And since authors on book tours are there to generate buzz about their books, they’re not trying to make friends. But you know what? I often find these authors to be super friendly, hard-working people, and though it’s not required to post a book review, I always do. Because I’d want someone to do the same for me if I did a book tour. Which brings me to my final confession… 

I’ve recently written a couple book reviews for friends; one because she asked, and the other, because I bought the book. And both sent me lovely thank you notes when they saw the reviews posted. I appreciate a thank you note even though I don’t respond to them. But if I did, I’d write just three words back: Pay it forward.

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Interview with Annabelle Guihan Larsen: Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Annabelle’s Bio: 

Annabelle Guihan Larsen is a recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, and a Whiting Foundation Writers Aid Award. Her short stories include, “San Man” nominated for a Pushcart Prize, 2nd place winner in New Rivers Press, American Fiction Vol 15, The Best Unpublished Stories by New and Emerging Writers. And “Urban Guerrillas” finalist for the Third Coast Magazine Jaimy Gordon Prize in Fiction Judged by: Antonya Nelson. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University School of the Arts and is currently at work on a novel. Visit her website at 

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

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? 

Annabelle: I took characters from my novel and placed them in situations outside of the text. Writing “Messages” gave me the opportunity to listen again to what memories my characters might have shared or were touched by in some way, and then having those thoughts and feelings come alive through different settings and circumstances. 

WOW: What a great idea to both add depth to your novel characters and create a stunning piece of flash! What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Annabelle: I love finding ways to incorporate my research into my work, so this piece was satisfying in that respect. While crafting this narrative, my interest in the lyric dance between fact and fiction became apparent. 

WOW: Can you tell us more about the novel you’re writing? 

Annabelle: Yes, thank you for asking! My novel, Urban Guerrillas, takes place, for the most part, in the early 1970s and involves two adolescent sisters dealing with their parents’ divorce and the aftermath. The girls are uprooted by their mother from a semi-comfortable life in suburban Illinois to radical Berkeley, California, where they sink into poverty and become obsessed with the Patty Hearst kidnapping. 

WOW: That sounds like something I’d love to read – I spent a summer in Berkeley and loved it and its fascinating history. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

 Annabelle: I’m reading Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and Other Worlds: Peasants, Pilgrims, Spirits, Saints by Teffi. I came across Shuggie Bain because of my interest in reading about characters who are struggling through life without a safety net. The novel is seen through the eyes of a young protagonist who is the primary caregiver of his alcoholic mother. And Other Worlds is a collection of short stories told through a reimagining of folklore or wonder tales, so this was of interest because of its otherworldly nature, which I also try to touch upon a bit in my novel as a way for my young protagonist to cope with the various traumatic events in her life. 

WOW: I love your descriptions of those books and it's helpful to hear about the way you connect to them as a writer. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why? 

Annabelle: Keep a journal of details, everything you observe. Have a question for everything. Write it down. You might be able to use it later in a story. 

WOW: Anything else you’d like to add? 

Annabelle: Find a group of talented, supportive artists you can meet with regularly who encourage you and love your work. 

WOW: Thank you so much for your great advice and 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. Tweets @dr_greenawalt.
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Your Next Level Life Reader Review Event And Giveaway

Monday, June 21, 2021

Today, I am excited to announce the launch of a special reader review event with author Karen Arrington. Today, our readers are sharing their insights into her book Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America.

You'll have the chance to find more about this book―which won an NAACP Image Award in 2020―and more about the author, Karen Arrington, herself.

Join us as we celebrate this book and this inspiring author.

First, here's more about the book:

If you’re a Black woman in business and feeling stuck or trapped by other people’s expectations of what you can achieve, it’s time to stop playing small and start redefining what success means for you. It’s time to get that upgrade. 

Channel your black girl magic. Karen Arrington―author of Your Next Level Life, founder of the Miss Black USA Pageant, creator of the Next Level Women’s Summit, and mentor to thousands of confident, successful young black women―is your guide to getting to your next level life. Build a legacy of black excellence. 

How big do you want to live? With the seven simple rules in Your Next Level Life, you’ll learn how to bring your career, income, and lifestyle to that next level. Don’t settle for a life of invisibility and mediocrity. Set ambitious goals, reach for bigger opportunities, and know that you are brave enough to get what you deserve. 

Give the gift of confidence. Looking for inspirational gifts for aspiring black women in business? Your Next Level Life is unlike other self-help books for women. It’s a guide to opportunity that recognizes and celebrates the true magic of ambitious black women. 

Adopt the 7 rules of power, confidence, and opportunity and you can find success: 
  • Create all the money you need
  • Position yourself like a star 
  • Connect with other powerful women 

Purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Be sure to also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

What WOW readers had to say:

"So, while the author intended this book for Black women, I feel the book will really help anyone who struggles with self-confidence and self-doubt. She shares so many inspiring stories that will encourage you to keep working for your goals.

It can be so easy to become discouraged and to settle with what you have. But, this book really encouraged me to step out on faith and take a few risks to make my dreams happen. And, it outlines 7 steps that you need to take to make this happen.

Plus, these steps are practical and easy to implement. They aren’t something you’ll put off for months intending to get to someday.

If you need the motivation to take the steps necessary to be successful, Your Next Level Life by Karen Arrington is a must-read."

- Ellen Christian

"I enjoyed this book. Not only does the author offer lots of advice and inspiration, but she also offers actionable tips. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a positive message on how to move forward." 

- Karen Brown Tyson

"This is definitely not the kind of book I usually read. And usually, I don't even give a moment's attention to ideas like "dream-big" and "write-your-dream-down" and "your-dream-is-your-birthright." 

However, some wonderful things have happened to me lately. One of my dreams came true (I got a book published that I'd worked on for five years) so now I DO believe in taking a risk and thinking outside the box and believing in a dream. Karen Arrington is Black. She's a successful businesswoman and philanthropist, and her book was written with Black women in mind... but her advice works for every woman. Really, it would work for every person. 

Arrington shares big "rules" to follow, like "Expand Your Horizons" and "Identify Your Superpowers" to small gems. A tiny tidbit I appreciated was this one: make chores like researching scholarships (or agents/publishers, in my case) fun and inspiring. I've never made my surroundings pleasant when doing grunt work like this. A candle? Music? Having a friend over? Making a few changes would have made chores like this more appealing, and obviously. Arrington has what it takes to make her cause more appealing... to make her business propositions appealing. So give this book a read if you have dreams you've not reached yet..."

- Sioux Roslawski

"I am such a fan of Karen Arrington after reading her book, Your Next Level Life; 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity For Black Women In America. Your Next Level Life has given me the advice and tools needed to shift my mindset and change my life after a year that has been testing for us all, and one in which for myself, was difficult to focus on my dreams and goals to position myself to live that next level life. 

Ms. Arrington has written an informative and inspirational guide for Black women to follow in this very much appreciated quick read. She lists seven empowering rules to elevate to your next level in a straightforward and friendly tone which makes it easy to visualize that purposeful and abundant life you desire, and to manifest it. I also love the fact that Ms. Arrington has a list of resources and pages with prompts at the end of her book. Your Next Level Life is definitely a book that should be in every woman's library, or on a coffee table, and gifted to a friend or relative. It is a must-read that won't disappoint."

- Jeanine DeHoney

"Your Next Level Life is a short read that contains everything you need to finally make the right steps to grow, rise, and take your life to the next level. Karen Arrington encourages and guides all black women of all ages to upgrade every aspect of their lives by following seven simple rules. If you need to build your self-confidence and improve your self-esteem, read this fantastic, sweet book. It will empower you to reach your full potential.

This book is easy to love because it contains a positive message. It makes you feel powerful and in control of your destiny."

- Emma Megan

About the Author, Karen Arrington

Karen Arrington is an award-winning author, women’s empowerment expert + global philanthropist + winner of an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. 

Karen’s coaching, mentoring + philanthropic work spans over 100,000 hours of service — including her position as a Goodwill Ambassador to Sierra Leone, her work as the co-founder of the first Diabetes Awareness Day in West Africa, and her role as the founder of The Miss Black USA Pageant.

She won a 2020 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for her book, Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence and Opportunity for Black Women In America. She has also been honored by The Lifetime Network, Jones New York + other major media outlets for her tireless advocacy for women’s health, success + empowerment -- including a Red Dress Award from Woman’s Day Magazine for her efforts in the fight against heart disease, the #1 killer of women. 

Over the past 20 years, Karen has helped over 1,000 women step into powerful careers in media, business, medicine + law — transcending hardship, abuse + financial limitations, and transforming their lives + communities. Today, Karen offers private coaching + global service retreats around the world for ambitious women who want to live their best lives -- only better.

Find out more about Karen by visiting her website, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

***** GIVEAWAY *****
Enter for your chance to win a copy of Your Next Level Life by Karen Arrington. Giveaway ends July 4th at 11:59 PM EST. Winner announced on the Rafflecopter below. 

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Interview with Barbara Olsen: 2021 Q2 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, June 20, 2021
Barbara’s Bio:
Predominately a visual artist, Barbara Olsen has been creating art for several years, exhibiting her work in numerous shows and publications. Unapologetically a lifelong list maker, journal nerd, and travel diarist, she also has an innate interest in the written word. In the last couple of years, she’s dipped her toes into the world of writing poetry and prose through enrollment in local classes. Within these circles of talented, passionate writers, she’s found a supportive community. Her vision is to ascribe, through imagery and words, personal, but at the same time universal, stories borne from observation and transformation. When not writing or painting, Barbara can be found in her backyard watching the birds, looking for monarchs, and imploring her plants to grow. Her essay, A Fish Out of Water, is dedicated to all fellow humans who have ever felt they don’t belong. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Barbara's award-winning story "A Fish Out of Water" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q2 2021 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Barbara: In a writing class I was taking, we were encouraged to create an essay juxtaposing two seemingly disparate ideas. For some time, I had been mulling over interactions I had experienced that spoke to a sense of alienation, a feeling probably not uncommon for those living outside their home country. I knew I wanted to write about this issue. This assignment gave me the impetus to start. So, I had the subject but needed the counterpoint. Because I love idioms, I searched for one that would align with that concept. Hence, “A Fish Out of Water” was born. From there, I needed to do some research to determine if any fish really could survive outside of water or its breeding ground. Discovering the world of snakeheads, I found my perfect foil (fish)! From there, interspersing facts about snakeheads with the recollections of conversations or situations where I felt like a fish out of water myself, the essay found its pacing. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your process. I love to hear how pieces of writing prompts, personal experience, and research intersect to form a completed piece of writing. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Barbara: Probably it’s best to keep my mouth shut. Seriously though, two things stand out for me. First, the writing process has been a replacement for therapy since I can’t afford the real thing. When I write my thoughts down on paper about any given situation, I’m halfway to understanding and processing the problem and further down the road to becoming a better-balanced, saner person. Two, in reliving these situations (about this essay in particular) and thinking deeply about their ripple effects, I’ve come to see just how close we all hold onto our deep-rooted, visceral beliefs. Once questioned, our first response is to lash out in fear, anger, or distrust. This reaction is problematic as it shuts down any chance for a healthy exchange of ideas. 

WOW: It is amazing how much you can reveal about yourself to yourself through writing. It can definitely be an effective type of therapy! Can you tell us more about your visual artwork? Does it ever inspire your writing or vice versa? 

Barbara: I’ve been painting predominately with watercolors for several years, with a recent foray into mixed media. I have incorporated words into some more recent collage pieces and enjoy the visual interplay between the two expressions. I also love seeking out and thinking about idioms, figures of speech, song, and book titles, and I will often use these when naming my paintings. View my artwork at The language of art inspires me as well. Words like chiaroscuro, pentimento, and sfumato, alizarin and quinacridone, each have their rich etymology. Snippets of language learned through years of creating visual art will often seep over and infuse my prose and poetry. 

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Barbara: I am inspired each week by a coterie of fellow writers in my local writing classes. Humbled, amazed, and moved by how they weave together words, I am left speechless at their abilities. The strong voices of Joan Didion, Ellen Goodman, and Nora Ephron also inspire me. Their insights into the female journey, and their prowess at taking us along for the ride, never fail to elucidate, educate, and entertain. In another life, I’d like to think I could be reborn with the intellectual rigor, the unfaltering energy, and the sublime clarity seen in the essays by Siri Hustvedt. Her ability to bridge the worlds of any number of disciplines, notably art and neuroscience, is truly remarkable. Another work I found to be a wellspring of great inspiration was Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic. Her ideas on the creative process, fear, and writing resonated deeply with my own: “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them…” 

WOW: That’s a great list of inspiring writers. Big Magic is one that has stuck with me, too. If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Barbara: Don’t belabor putting your words out there for others to read. It’s a huge time sink. You already know what inspires, resonates, and enrages you. Write about that. Don’t push. When it’s time, you’ll sit down and start. And read a lot. 

WOW: Anything else you’d like to add? 

Barbara: Thank you to everyone at Women on Writing for the fantastic platform you’ve provided for women writers to get their work out there and seen by another set of eyes in a supportive and non-threatening environment. 

WOW: You are very welcome! Thank you 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. Tweets @dr_greenawalt.
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