Interview with Dawn McCaig: Spring Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Dawn McCaig is an Assistant Crown Attorney who prosecutes all manner of serious crime. She escapes the stress of her professional life by writing fiction. She lives in Nipissing District, Ontario, Canada. 

If you haven't read her story, "In Bloom," take a moment to do so and then come back to learn about how she writes.    

------interview by Sue Bradford Edwards------

WOW: “In Bloom” is such a chilling piece. What was the inspiration behind this story? 

DawnMy work as a criminal prosecutor has definitely influenced my writing. I’ve never had a case with a body buried under the front shrubs, but I do deal with chilling fact patterns, including homicides, on a regular basis. My professional life is very satisfying, but it immerses me in the worst the world has to offer, so I’m not surprised my imagination treads dark waters. 

WOW: Your work definitely seems to fuel your writing. Revision is a vital part of the writing process. How did “In Bloom” change from the first draft to the last? 

DawnThe first draft of the story had looser language; it was too « flowery. » I cut around 100 words, and when I read it now I still see 10 more I probably should have tossed. 

WOW: Because it is so short, many details don’t make it into a flash fiction story. We don’t know, for example, this history of Miranda and Nigel’s marriage. How did you decide which details to include in the story? 

DawnThe word limit made me a vicious editor; if something didn’t further the plot or theme I (hopefully) deleted it. I left most of the details of the marital disputes out to create some moral ambiguity - should Miranda have killed Nigel? Did he deserve it? From her perspective, yes to both, but we’ll never really know. 

WOW: Individual words in your story, including exhume, bone-white, and sinew, help create the dark tone. What advice do you have for our readers about using word-choice to create a mood? 

DawnI’m not sure I have a lot of advice to offer, but I do think it’s good practice to figure out the mood you want to evoke with your work, and to sit in that mindset for a few minutes before you start drafting. 

For this story, I reached for language that describes graveyards and corpses because they provoke feelings of darkness and unease. 

WOW: What are your writing plans for the future? Can you tell our readers where else they can see your work? 

DawnConfession: I love writing fiction, but I have only just started letting other people read it. This is my first published piece and I am beyond delighted. I do have a draft of a novel nearly finished, so we’ll see what becomes of it. It’s a courtroom murder mystery, of course.

WOW:  Good luck finalizing the draft of your novel!  Murder and a mystery seem to be right up your alley. 

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Interview with Betsy Armstrong, Runner Up in the WOW! Q3 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, September 26, 2021


Picture Betsy Armstrong’s career path as a winding road that began in corporate sales, led to sports marketing and non-profit executive work with a detour into motherhood, and culminated in claiming both “writer” and “intuitive eating counselor” as her current job descriptions. She holds a BS in Food Science from the University of Minnesota and an MS in Counseling from National Louis University. Betsy usually writes at the intersection of food, exercise, and psychology, but also pens stories about her kids, husband, and pets. Her writing has been recognized in personal essay contests from Writer’s Digest and WOW-Women On Writing. Betsy finished her first memoir, "The Mother of All Decisions," about how early mother loss created her ambivalence around children, but ultimately resulted in adopting two, older Russian siblings at the ripe age of 49. When Betsy isn’t writing, you can find her hanging with her family in nature, dancing with pompoms, and making a superb apple pie. Visit her website at

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

WOW: Welcome, Betsy, and congratulations again! Thank you for sharing such a personal essay with us with "A Mother's Whale Song." What was the most difficult part in writing about your journey with Svetlana? 

Betsy: The most difficult part of writing about this journey was the sheer heaviness of the subject matter and the impotence of not being able to "do" anything to find her. Pouring my feelings out by writing gave me some way to process what was happening. When I wrote the piece, I had absolutely no idea of where Svetlana was or if she was safe, so, in a way, writing this piece felt like me literally calling out to her on the page. 

WOW: "Calling out to her on the page." That's such a poignant way to put it. You recently completed a memoir. Could you share with us about what that process was like? 

Betsy: Oh boy! That's good question because it feels as if it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r! I've kept a journal since I was 15 years-old and I've always loved writing, although I never pursued it professionally. After my husband and I adopted our kids, I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, which I'm grateful for, but I missed working and needed something that was solely my own. After considering learning Spanish or re-visiting the piano lessons of my youth, I chose an Intro to Memoir class. Creative writing, especially about my adoption experiences, was very cathartic after spending almost two stressful years pursuing adoption, and when the class was over, I signed up for another one. And then another one. About a year in, I took a "Memoir in a Year" class which absolutely helped me get a (very) messy draft. I continued writing and writing, eventually ending up with almost 165,000 words (obviously, writer's block is not my problem) that was quite a mish-mash of the story. After six years of attempting to write, edit, and revise I finally hired a writing coach to help me with structure and organization because I could not get the chronology of the plot (which goes back and forth between younger me and present-day me) right, or at least understandable for a reader. Shout out to my writing coach, Nadine Kenney-Johnstone, without whom I never would have finished. She helped me plug along and held me accountable until, at last, I typed "The End." She also assisted me with my submission package which was another level of daunting. At this point, I'm looking for an agent and a publisher, as well as exploring all the different routes to publication. 

One of the things that writing a book helped me learn is how difficult it is to persevere in writing. "They" (who?) say that everyone has a book in them, but getting it down on paper, in a way that compels readers, is one of the hardest things I've ever done. As a runner, I've always prided myself on being goal-oriented and possessing endurance, but I never dreamed how this project would test me! Just like running, not every day is a "good" writing day and I haven't found any secret to making it easier, but I do know that I always feel better after I've written something. And I also know that when I finally get it published and am holding a "real" book in my hands - one that I wrote - I'm going to feel extremely proud that I did it! 

WOW: It's a big deal to complete a project of that scope, and writing a memoir is much harder than people who have never written one realize! What was the first piece you ever had published and what was it about? 

Betsy: THIS is the first piece I've had published! I've placed in some other contests, but not high enough to warrant publishing. I'm THRILLED. 

WOW: That's amazing! We're so glad to be your first publication credit--here's to many more! You wrote a blog post about pom pom dancing. It sounds so fun. Could you tell us how you discovered it and if it helps get the creative juices flowing? 

Betsy: I adore PomSquad Fitness and highly recommend it as a form of fun exercising. To be honest, I used to be a big endurance athlete - 20 marathons, a few ultramarathons, and triathlons including the Ironman - and going out to run or bike used to be my preferred activity. About five years ago, pain from my severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) forced me to stop and after moping/grieving for that part of my life, I began searching for another athletic passion. When trying a yoga class at a studio, I discovered something called "PomSquad" on their schedule and the name alone intrigued me, plus I love dancing. When I heard we danced with actual sparkly pom poms, I knew I had to try it. (Side note: I love sparkles - to the extent that "sparkle" is my license plate.) Music and movement both help creativity to flow and stops my "thinking" brain from "trying" so hard. There have been a few times I'll duck out to tap a note into my phone so I don't forget the ideas that pop up. 

WOW: There's nothing like physical activity to get the creative juices flowing. I think it’s so great that you’ve chosen to work as an intuitive eating counselor. Could you explain to our readers what it is and how you help people through your workshops and classes? 

Betsy: Intuitive eating, according to the two dieticians who developed it (Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch) is a mind-body eating framework that uses ten principles to make peace with food and help create a peaceful relationship between food, mind, and body. I break it down to say it's the practice of listening to your body's signals about hunger, fullness, and satisfaction, while also deflecting all of the damaging societal messages we get about dieting, health, and body image. We are actually born intuitive eaters - think of a baby, for example. A baby cries when it's hungry; turns its head away when it's full; and isn't worrying about how it looks or if the food makes it fat. It sounds ridiculous to imagine a baby worrying about going up to the next size diaper because it had an extra bottle, right? But we women (I say women because that's primarily who I work with) do this constantly! We start learning about diet culture, become fat-phobic, and go to extremes to shrink our "normal" bodies into an impossible ideal, often yo-yo-ing between restriction and binging, and definitely making ourselves crazy over a cupcake (or two...) in the process. We attach so much shame and guilt to the (totally necessary and completely normal) act of nourishing our bodies that we've forgotten how to enjoy eating. Intuitive Eating actually takes our mental health into account too - not just the physical aspects of eating such as weight, BMI, calories, etc. I really love teaching the ten principles (Reject dieting, Honor your hunger, Make peace with food, Challenge the food police, Discover satisfaction, Feel your fullness, Cope with emotions with kindness, Respect your body, Feel the difference of movement, and honor your health with gentle nutrition) and helping people put them into practice, but a lot of what I do is help people un-learn what the billion-dollar diet industry has taught them, and to re-connect to their bodies. I could go on (as I'm sure you can tell) but I invite you (or anyone you know) to take a class with me to learn more!

WOW: As someone who has struggled with eating right my whole life, I'll definitely check it out. It's been a pleasure chatting with you today--keep us posted on your agent search!
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How I Started Writing Cozy Mini Mysteries for Woman’s World (and Published a Book)

Saturday, September 25, 2021
How I Started Writing Cozy Mini Mysteries for Woman's World (and Published a Book)
By Loretta Martin 
“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” ~ Julia Cameron 
I think of cozy mysteries, a subgenre of crime writing, as felonies for fun. A mini cozy, then, is like flash fiction—short yet completely satisfying. 
Years ago, I edited drafts for a romance author whose work appeared in Woman’s World (WW), a weekly national magazine (readership: 5.5 million). I bought issues to see the final version of her stories. Later, I bought them for the solve-it-yourself cozy mini mysteries. 

As a diversion from my own writing, I began submitting stories to WW. In February 2019, they accepted “Deadly Misstep,” followed a month later by “Mother’s Day Charm.” The 550-word limit, including the solution, helped hone my editing skills.
Five-Minute Cozy Mini Mysteries (with Solutions) by Loretta Martin
So far, eight of my mysteries have made it onto WW pages, with another due out late October. Others are in my book, Five-Minute Cozy Mini Mysteries (with Solutions): 26 Whodunits That Test Your Amateur Sleuthing Smarts. (Memo to Self: Work on “mini”-mizing titles!) 
If you’re interested in submitting your own cozy mini mystery to WW, read on.

What’s the appeal?

Like traditional mysteries, cozies turn crime into feel-good, light-hearted reading experiences. Other draws are
• occasional humor 
• relatability (characters and situations) 
• opportunity to expand minis into longer forms or a series 
• income potential (WW pays $450, which is subject to change.)

What elements characterize cozy mini mysteries?

They feature the same components found in “hardcore” whodunits: 
Plot/action: A perp/villain commits a crime against a victim. The protagonist/sleuth follows clues and dodges false leads to solve the case. Cozies differ in two ways: 
1. They might incorporate good or tender acts (secret admirer sends love notes to object of affection). 
2. Felonies often have “harmless” consequences (Aunt Betty’s heirloom gravy boat goes missing after the family Thanksgiving dinner). 
Characters: Protagonists, usually female, are everyday people (librarians, shop owners, parents) or small-town officials. They apply common sense, deductive reasoning, and good memory, sniffing out an alibi that smells like a compost pile. They don’t rely on high-tech forensics. A quirky partner, family member, or pet can add comic relief. The victim might be unpopular, deemed to deserve their fate. Number of suspects is limited to three. 
Setting: The story’s set in a Main Street community or other idealized setting where bad things rarely happen. Everybody knows and trusts one another. The timeline’s compact—24 to 48 hours. 
Clues and red herrings: Hints must be contained in the story, along with misdirects meant to throw off protagonists and readers.

Is there a formula or structure? 

An outline should include
• protagonist/detective (and sometimes a partner)
• crime/act (what happened, who did it where, when, and how; any one could be the plot thesis)
• victim(s)
• motive (the why)
• up to three suspects with alibis
• at least one clue
• red herring
• solution

What’s unacceptable?

Cozies should be family friendly. Off-limit areas:
• Graphic violence: Somebody stabbed Old Man Wingate, but blood-and-gore descriptions are no-no’s.
• Vulgar language: Profanity? F-bombs? Verboten.
• Explicit sex: Nope (tactful allusions to the act and to infidelity are permitted).
• Animal endangerment: Cousin Roy might get whacked, but nobody lays a hand on Rover or Kitty. 
Note: WW steers clear of paranormal, fantasy, and sci-fi themes.

Are cozy mysteries easy to write?

Unfortunately, I have no experience with “easy” writing. Competition’s tough, even for longtime pros. Keep the following in mind:
• Read several issues and follow submission guidelines before hitting “Send.”
• Know audience demographics.
• Dissect stories. Identify each element, noting tone and language style.
• Avoid character names starting with the same letters.
• Avoid controversy; readers are seeking entertainment and escapism.
• Keep plots plausible. A theft at an Amish nursing home’s unlikely; the Amish take care of their elders.
• Pay attention to detail. In my story “Deadly Misstep,” the perp tried to blame the victim’s death on an accident, claiming she discovered the body. (“I can still see that look on his face.”) In fact, she pushed the victim down a flight of stairs, where he landed face-down.
• Include a motive. It’s easy to cover who, what, when, where, and how but overlook why.
• Avoid convoluted plot twists.
• Provide time shifts for clarity (“later that day,” “the next morning”)
• Keep point of view and verb tense consistent. 

What are some writing pitfalls?

Submission editors frown on poor grammar, misspellings, and incorrect usage. Take a hack saw to
• bloated verbiage and redundancies
• adverb overuse
• too many prepositional phrases
• excessive passive voice
• abrupt shifts in verb tense and narrator voice
• misplaced modifiers (“danglers”)
As for self-editing, tread carefully. Spellcheck and editing software aside, after multiple drafts the brain tends to see what should be there but isn’t, and miss what’s not there but should be. A fresh set of objective eyes minimizes such risks.
When your story’s polished and ready, email it as an attachment to Fiction[at]WomansWorldMag[dot]com with “Mystery Submission” as subject. Expect turnaround time of two to six months.
Happy writing!
Loretta Martin

In addition to Woman’s World, Loretta’s fiction has appeared in Every Writer, Short Fiction Break, and Oyster River Pages. Her lifestyle articles and advertorials have been published in regional press. “The Birthmark” received honorable mention in WOW’s Spring 2021 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven’t already, check out her book on Amazon. Visit her website at
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Everything (Including Writing) Is Better With a Pumpkin Spice Latte

Thursday, September 23, 2021

1. First find a table socially distanced from other cafe guests and get out your laptop.

Do you ever wonder if when you pull out your laptop at your favorite coffee shop, the baristas think, Oh wow! I wonder what she's writing?  Or is it more like, How long is she going to be sitting there? I hope she knows we close early tonight.  It doesn't really matter as long as you go on to step two.

2. Get in line to order something to drink and/or eat. 

Before the pandemic, I loved to go to any coffee shop to write and edit. There's something about the smell of the coffee and pastries, the busy-ness of the place, and the chatter of the customers and workers that energizes and inspires me. It's weird because when I work from home, I want to have almost complete silence--I don't like the TV on. I rarely listen to music, and I have to shut myself away in a room with a door closed if anyone is having a conversation in the house. 

But in the coffee shop, I thrive. And they are opening again--not just outside--but inside too, and people are starting to sit inside again. The noise and chatter is still not the same as pre-pandemic, but neither are we.

What really seals the deal and makes me productive at a coffee shop is a scone and an ice tea or in the fall... a pumpkin spice latte.

3. Order the pumpkin spice latte with almond milk.

When I did the Whole 30 eating program, I realized that dairy and I should not be friends. Mostly, my dairy reaction comes when I drink a lot of milk, so I'm lucky that I don't have to be totally dairy-free. 

But this means, I have to order my pumpkin spice latte with almond milk. 

"Well," says the coffee shop barista, "Do you want the whip cream on top?"

"Of course," I say and even nod my head yes. I mean doesn't whip cream make the words pour out of me faster and better? Yes, it does. At least that's what I tell myself. 

4. Sip the pumpkin spice latte while you type away on your latest WIP. 

The first sip of the pumpkin spice latte goes through my body almost like a jolt of electricity. It wakes up my senses: the smell of fall when I bring the cup to my lips and the tingling on my tongue from the hot, sweet drink. There's always a smile on my face when I whisper, "Oh, that is so good." 

I'm not sure if the words typed on my laptop really are better with the pumpkin spice latte. I've never compared what I wrote at home to what I wrote at the coffee shop, but I bet if I did, I would see a remarkable difference that everything is better with a pumpkin spice latte.

5. Smile at the other cafe guests and at the barista who is staring you down at closing time.

Maybe writing at a coffee shop helps me remember that I'm not alone. Writing is such a solitary task, but we are writing for other people--we are writing for our readers--so at that point, our words become a connection to other human beings. I like to have that connection while I'm writing though--I don't really love being solitary most days. 

For me (and for a lot of us), the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic was rough. I started looking for that connection I need while I write and the cafe noise at my parents' house since I couldn't go to coffee shops for a very long time. 

My writing has suffered during the pandemic, but I don't want it to, so I have a new plan to get productive with my words, which I'll share here soon. And maybe, just maybe, it has to do with a pumpkin spice latte.

6. Save your words, pack up your laptop, and be on your way. 

Before I leave, I smile at the barista and try to remember to put something in the tip jar or buy a treat for home, especially if I sat there a while. After all, they helped me create this section of my work-in-progress, so they need some kind of compensation, right? I drain the very last drizzle of pumpkin spice syrup I can, clean up my crumbs from the pumpkin scone, and put my laptop away, feeling satisfied at my productivity and thankful that we can once again sit in coffee shops with our masks on, at least for now. 

As I drive home, I'm already planning my next coffee shop adventure, and soon. you know, everything will be better with a peppermint cafe mocha--inculding my WIP.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, teacher, editor, and publisher, living in St. Louis, MO. Consider taking her next Writing for Middle Grade and Young Adult Readers class that starts on Wednesday, October 6, which is on sale this fall for $50 off! And of course, you can drink a pumpkin spice latte anytime you want during the class.  

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Three Things You May Not Know About Being a Freelance Editor

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

As my day job, I work as a freelance magazine editor for a regional lifestyle magazine. When I chat with my non-writer friends about the responsibilities of the job, they are usually surprised to learn that I do more than write articles, compile calendar events, and edit the other articles writers turn in. For any writers out there who are considering applying or accepting jobs in this realm, I thought I’d share a few tidbits about the other aspects of this type of writing/editing job. 

Website and magazine editors do more than edit. For our monthly publication, I brainstorm most of the editorial content for the magazine. I’m in charge of creating monthly “themes,” and developing and assigning articles for almost all the departments each month. I accept pitches from other writers, but most of the original ideas start with me. (Note: This is a little different because our magazine strictly uses contract employees. I’ve worked at other magazines that have associate editors and staff writers who can help with the content creation and editing). I also work with freelance photographers and coordinate assignments to run alongside articles and covers each month. The editor also collects invoices from writers and make sure they are paid each month for their assignments. 

Problem solving skills are essential. What are some examples of problems I’ve had to solve? I’ve had photographers and writers accept assignments and then let me know less than a week before they were due that they could not complete an assignment. This leaves me with the task of filling a copy hole in the magazine and arranging for alternative photography or provided/stock images. I’ve had interview subjects or PR firms want to preview their articles before they go to print (we don’t allow that unless it’s a paid advertising piece). I’ve had photographers take an assignment and then turn in one photo, when we needed at least three. Just this past month a writer completed an interview for an upcoming event, and then it was cancelled because of rising COVID cases in our area. 

Finding a way to make content evergreen is a must. By this I mean every year, there will be back-to-school stories, national holidays, recurring special advertising themes, columnists who need to find ways to keep their ideas fresh. Once you work somewhere for more than a year, it will be important to encourage your creative team to think outside the box when coming up with these types of evergreen stories. 

I could write much more on the topic, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever worked as an editor and had a similar experience? Or, have you had an editor help nurture your freelance writing career? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and freelance magazine editor who also hosts and produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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Interview with Adele Evershed: Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Adele’s Bio:
Adele Evershed is a teacher. She was born in Wales and has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore before settling in Connecticut. She started her writing journey by producing scripts for a British ex-pat theatre group’s annual Panto. She was encouraged to continue when she was a semi-finalist in the London Independent Story Prize competition. Previous publishing credits include Every Day Fiction, Ab Terra Flash Fiction Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, Prose Online, High Shelf, bee house Journal, Shot Glass Journal, Tofu Ink Arts Press, The Fib Review, Sad Girls Club, and Green Ink Poetry. Visit her website at

If you haven't done so already, check out Adele's award-winning story "The Wisdom of Bird Song" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

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

Adele: I heard a news report on the BBC about how girls older than twelve had been banned from singing by the Director of Education in Kabul in Afghanistan. Girls had been posting about the ban on social media with the hashtag #IAmMySong. This is where I got the first line and the story grew from there. One of the things I like about writing flash fiction is finding a word that has many meanings so it can do a lot of heavy lifting in a story with a limited word count. In “Wisdom of Bird Song,” it was “blade.” I loved the juxtaposition of the softness of grass and violence. It seemed perfect for how a woman might assert herself and weaving this idea into the story was one of the exciting things for me in writing this story. I wrote this at the beginning of 2021 and after an outcry the government dropped the ban. However, in light of what is happening in Afghanistan, now my story seems sadly more pertinent to what might happen now the Taliban has taken the country. 

WOW: That’s one of the wonderful joys of art, I think, is that new or evolved meaning it can take on when in a different context or in light of new events. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Adele: I keep a notebook where I jot things to use in possible stories; one of the words was mudlarks. I can’t remember where I heard this but I liked the contrast of mud with a bird associated with daybreak. My first draft of this story was set in an imaginary place, and originally the birds were mudlarks and the stone was blood red. After I had decided the story took place in the Hindu Kush, I had to research the animals and fish you might find there. One of the hardest things for me is to take the advice to “kill your darlings.” I really wanted to keep mudlarks but changed the birds to purple sunbirds and from then the story flowed. So, I suppose I learned not to get too invested in a word or image and I know I will use mudlarks when it’s right for the story. 

WOW: I’ve spoken with several writers who say they never “kill” their darlings; they put them in a notebook and revisit them later. It’ll be interesting to see where those mudlarks turn up! How did you get involved with writing scripts for an ex-pat theatre group? And how did you transition from that to other types of writing? 

Adele: I am originally from Wales but have been lucky to live in Hong Kong and Singapore because of my husband’s job. The last move we made was to a small town in Connecticut, commuting distance to New York. Darien has a thriving British ex-pat group that had been putting on an annual amateur Pantomime for about twenty years. Panto is a particularly British form of entertainment, usually based on a fairytale, with songs, slapstick gags and jokes. The group would buy the scripts from Britain but would have to supplement them with local references. My daughter loved drama and wanted to join and this is how I became involved. At first, because I am a teacher, I was helping with the children in the cast but then the woman who was playing the fairy couldn’t continue and I was asked to stand in. I had never acted and before the first performance I was physically sick but I’d had so much fun in rehearsals and it was such a great way to meet people that I signed up to be involved the following year. At first, I just added some quips to the script but after four years I had a go at writing the entire script and have just continued from there. Our last production was Cinderella in February 2019, a month before the world hanged completely. We are hoping we will be able to put a show on next year and I’ve started jotting down jokes just in case. 

 I started writing poetry when my oldest daughter went to college. I have four children but only one daughter. My boys and their father love soccer and so, in our house, weekends are filled with watching or playing. When my daughter was at home we would go into New York to museums or Broadway but, left on my own, I had hours to fill, so I picked up a pen and wrote a very bad poem about Wales. Since then, I have done various workshops online, discovered flash fiction and started submitting to journals and anthologies. I’m lucky that my job as a preschool teacher gives me time to write. Recently I did a number of summer flash fiction writing workshops through a local library and this has led me to join a writer’s group. I could never have imagined when I was writing corny rhyming couplets that poems and stories, I had written would end up in publications available worldwide. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your writing origin story with us! It’s so wonderful to hear how the role of writing has changed for you over time. What are you reading right now and why did you choose to read it? 

Adele: I have just come back from a vacation at Hilton Head SC and took two books with me. Who Is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews: I was drawn to it because it is about a low-level assistant in a publishing house. My daughter, Megan, once had a similar role when she first left college. Florence Darrow, the protagonist, dreams of being a famous author and hopes working in a publishing house will be the first step to getting her work published. Alexandra Andrews has compared it to The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and it definitely has overtones, especially when Florence finds herself traveling to Morocco and circumstances let her reinvent herself. I found it very entertaining and it is no surprise it has been picked up by Hollywood. 

The second book my daughter recommended: The Promise by Damon Galgut is set in South Africa. It follows the Swart family, white family descendants of Voortrekker settlers, trying to hold onto their farm through the tumultuous changes the country goes through from the mid-eighties to the present day. It isn’t a typical beach read but it’s full of dark humor with a narrator that weaves in and out of different scenes, switching points of view and sometimes addressing the reader directly. It is a clever book that has been long-listed for The Booker Prize. 

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

Adele: When I was very young, I wanted to be a writer or work in my town’s library. It has taken me a long time to get around to writing and I’ll never work in a library now, but as I’ve aged, I have become more fearless. I am willing to submit work and not take rejection so personally. My younger self would definitely have been too timid and lacking in self-belief to have sent out that first story, so if I told her anything, it would be to persevere, take a risk and to have faith in her own judgment. Sometimes it really is them not you. 

WOW: Lovely advice! Anything else you’d like to add? 

Adele: To any woman wondering if she should submit a story, just do it. I almost didn’t send in The "Wisdom of Bird Song." I had been long-listed once before in a WOW contest and was bitterly disappointed not to get any further and not get published. But I reworked that story, submitted it to another contest and was selected as a semi-finalist. So, submit and use any rejections as an impetus to rework and resubmit. One last thing, I think having someone who encourages you is also important. Writing is so subjective and you need to believe in yourself but also find someone whose opinion you trust and who is willing to give you constructive criticism. That way you can balance any bland rejection with some positive feedback. 

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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Odyssey of Love Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, September 20, 2021

We're back again with another blog tour! Today I'm excited to introduce you to
Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding by author Linda Jämsén. 

Join us as we share more about this profound memoir, interview the author, and give away a copy of the book to one lucky reader.

First, a little bit about the book Odyssey of Love:

When Linda doesn’t receive the marriage proposal she had long been expecting from her boyfriend on her 41st birthday, she reluctantly visits a psychic, Angelica, who predicts that Linda will soon leave him for a romantic and music-filled Odyssey in Europe. There, a “Russian icon” will lead to her future husband, a “tall man with glasses.” 

Skeptical at first, but eager to explore her Eastern European roots and reignite her passion for music, Linda moves to Hungary, the land of her idol, composer-pianist Franz Liszt. In Budapest, she reinvents herself as an English teacher and joins a chorus. Soon, she’s performing at the Liszt Academy of Music and Tel Aviv’s Opera House.

With Angelica’s vision in mind, Linda vows to “settle down, not settle for,” but is tempted by romantic close calls: Gabi is gorgeous but too immature; David in Amsterdam fits Angelica’s description to a T, but his British reserve needs some defrosting. Liszt look-alike Ádám has it all, including a wife.

With her teaching and singing gigs ending, Linda flies to Finland for one last trip before moving back to Boston. But is her Odyssey truly over, or is it just beginning?

Publisher: Tulipan Press (May 2021)
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: ‎ 194860499X
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1948604994
Genre: Memoir

Purchase a copy of this book on, Barnes and Noble, and Make sure to add it to your GoodReads list.

About the Author, Linda Jämsén

Linda Jämsén is an American ex-pat writer-musician living in Finland. She grew up in New York, holding a book in one hand while exploring the piano keyboard with the other. Mesmerized by her mother’s playing of the Romantic repertoire, she soon studied piano with her and later graduated with a B.A. in Music from Bard College. Linda is also an avid choral singer and has performed in Hungary, Finland, the UK, and Israel. 

During her years in Boston, Linda raised funds for a variety of philanthropic causes and completed the graduate management course at Radcliffe Seminars/Harvard. However, longing to return to her musical roots, in 2001 she moved to Budapest, land of her musical idol, Franz Liszt. There, she volunteered for the Music Academy in his name and received a CELTA certificate from International House, where she then taught English as a foreign language. Her musical, romantic, and travel adventures abroad inspired her to write Odyssey of Love: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding, her literary debut.

Linda lives on an island in Helsinki with her husband, the “tall man with glasses” from the memoir, and their treasured Russian icon. A sequel, Triptych, is in the works.

To follow the author, visit her website at Make sure you also follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First off, congratulations on your memoir, Odyssey of Love. I love the journey you take within this book - both the inward one and the outward one to find love. What kicked off these travels for you? 

Linda: At age 41, I found myself at a crossroads with a partner who couldn’t commit after 7 years. I’d been expecting him to propose, but I soon realized that 10 or 15 years might not be enough time for him, either. Feeling I’d hit rock bottom, when a friend suggested visiting a spiritual intuitive, Angelica, I reluctantly agreed. It was during this psychic session that my eyes were opened to other possibilities. When Angelica predicted I would embark on a music and romance-filled Odyssey abroad, I was skeptical, but also intrigued. I started thinking of how for years I’d put my musical interests on the back burner. Maybe it was time to reconnect with my passion for music and also search for the “tall man with glasses,” who Angelica envisioned as my future husband. In addition, I was curious to explore the lands of my Easter European roots. Because of my love for the music of Hungarian composer-pianist Franz Liszt, I chose Budapest as my base in Europe. 

WOW: What a fascinating experience! So, why did you decide to self-publish versus traditional publishing? 

Linda: I had first tried the traditional route by attending a handful of writers’ conferences in the US and here in Europe. While the feedback on the initial pages of Odyssey was mostly positive, the agents I met me told me that memoir was a very difficult sell and that my book would stand a better chance of publication if I rewrote it as fiction. Because of the very personal journey I’d experienced abroad, that didn’t seem sincere. I couldn’t image writing about myself as a fictional character. 

Another obstacle was that I was told my memoir was too similar to Eat, Pray, Love. What’s wrong with that? I wondered. That book was and still is an international bestseller. The agents added, “It’s “already been done,” which seemed odd. Did Elizabeth Gilbert’s overseas adventures preclude others from writing about theirs? No two writers’ experiences are alike. Just because I set my memoir mostly in Budapest shouldn’t stop other writers from shying away if their stories are set in that same city. 

After these discouraging conversations with agents, I began to seriously consider self-publishing and enrolled in a bunch of online webinars about the process. That alternative also seemed quite daunting, so in the end, I hired a company to help and that was a big incentive to move forward. 

Another important issue to consider is artistic control. I was able to weigh in on most of the major decisions along the way, such as book cover and interior layout. I wrote the book cover blurb and back matter myself and edited both the ebook and paperback versions multiple times. Nothing was edited out from the story against my will, as might have happened with a traditional publishing house. I’m glad I was part of the overall process, even if it created more work for me. 

WOW: The feedback you received from agents shows me that there is so much to consider when pursuing traditional versus self-publishing. For those who read your book who are afraid of starting an adventure (and maybe something is holding them back) what advice would you give them? 

Linda: What I did, which was helpful, was envision myself in the future had I stayed in my former relationship. Would I have to continue to compromise (yes!) and give up my personal goals (yes!). How did that make me feel? (very frustrated!) I knew that if I didn’t leave my relationship, I would eventually become bitter that I’d deferred to another’s plans, or lack thereof. At that time, I was only 41—and I say “only” because I was so invigorated by my Odyssey and had more energy than ever during that time. I felt fully alive, curious about the world, and open to possibility. (Didn’t Emily Dickinson encourage us to, “Dwell in possibility?”) 

While I didn’t feel particularly held back, I was concerned about finances, which is why I lined up a training course to become an English language teacher. I flew to Budapest knowing I had three-months of classes ahead of me and then could begin teaching. It was reassuring to have this lined up. Since I didn’t have any local contacts when I arrived, I instantly made new friends—and found a potential love interest, I might add! 

This doesn’t mean you should leave your home and move abroad or make drastic changes. For some, particularly those with young children, it’s not possible. However, whatever your situation, remember to “settle down, not settle for” with regard to whatever it is you are looking for—whether a permanent love relationship, a fulfilling job, an artistic project. This phrase was my mantra in the book. I would repeat it when I found myself in a seemingly alluring situation but ultimately realized I would be settling again. 

"Whatever your situation, remember to 'settle down, not settle for' with regard to whatever it is you are looking for—whether a permanent love relationship, a fulfilling job, an artistic project."

WOW: You did so much self-reflection and planning! That inspires me. I loved what you wrote recently on your blog about your hesitation to call yourself a writer. Have you gotten to the point now where you could introduce yourself as a writer? 

Linda: Yes! I’m happy to say I now call myself a writer. For years, I didn’t feel I could utter those words without having published first. But my mindset changed while attending a writers’ conference in Stockholm, where I met others who were equally hesitant or shy, yet they were already promoting themselves as a “writer” or “author” on their websites and business cards. During the sessions, I also learned the importance of doing this and the value of setting up a website or landing page to begin promoting your work months before publication. 

WOW: Congratulations on finally calling yourself a writer! How did COVID impact your writing (and/or publishing plans)? 

Linda: Covid had a big impact on my publishing plans and led me quickly down the self-publishing track. Just before Covid hit Helsinki, where I live, I had been actively singing and performing in several choruses. One had recently toured in Hungary, where I had lived and sung as well. However, soon after returning, all the local rehearsals and concerts were canceled. This opened up a lot of my free time that had been focused on learning musical scores and practicing. Instead, I watched webinars and spent time studying the self-publishing process and enrolled in an online one-month marketing course for authors, which was very helpful. I wound up hiring the company that organized it. 

Since I live in Finland, and it’s time-consuming and expensive to attend book fairs and other promotional events, the pandemic made it possible to stay put and publish and promote from home. I also had a virtual launch event via zoom that allowed many more friends and family members attend than if I’d organized a celebration in Helsinki. 

WOW: Glad you could participate in virtual events! What's next for you? 

Linda: At the moment, I’m continuing to promote Odyssey and plan to participate in the Helsinki Book Fair this fall IF it isn’t canceled due to the rise in Covid cases. I’m participating in my first book club meeting at the American Women’s Club here next month, which is exciting. I’d love to do more. I have already written a rough draft of the sequel, Triptych, which needs to be expanded on, rewritten in sections, and then professionally edited. I don’t have any specific publication date. I have also written fairy tales and a Christmas picture book, but those are future projects that entail a lot more research as well as finding the right illustrator. So, I’m sticking to memoir for the moment.

WOW: I can't wait to see what you come up with next. Good luck with your book and the tour!

-- Blog Tour Schedule

September 20th @ The Muffin
We kick off the blog tour over at WOW! Women on Writing's blog, The Muffin, where we interview the author and give away a copy of this amazing memoir.

September 21st @ One Writer's Journey
Join Sue as she features author Linda Jämsén's guest post about how to organize and host a kick-ass virtual book launch event at little cost.

September 22nd @ Create Write Now
Join Mari as she publishes author Linda Jämsén's guest post about what inspired her to start journaling.

September 23rd @ One Writer's Journey
Visit Sue's blog again where she reviews Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

September 24th @ The Faerie Review
Join Lily when she features Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

September 26th @ Michelle Cornish' Blog
Join Michelle as she shares her review of Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

September 28th @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews
Join Lisa as she interviews author Linda Jämsén about her experiences and writing her memoir Odyssey of Love.

September 30th @ Choices
Come by Madeline's blog today and you can read a fascinating guest post by the author about how a visit to a psychic ended up changing her life.

October 1st @ Michelle Cornish' Blog
Visit Michelle's blog again and you can read a guest post by the author about self-publishing versus traditional publishing and why she chose the former.

October 3rd @ Word Magic
Join Fiona as she features Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love and gives away a copy of the book to one lucky reader.

October 5th @ A Storybook World
Stop by Deirdra's blog and read a feature of Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love. A memoir you don't want to miss if you are looking for love!

October 6th @ Beverley A. Baird's Blog
Visit Beverley's blog and read a guest post by the author about publishing as a debut author in mid-life. Don't miss this inspiring post!

October 8th @ Beverley A. Baird's Blog
Come by Beverley's blog again and you can read her thoughts about Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

October 11th @ What is That Book About
Visit Michelle's blog and read Linda Jämsén's guest post about taking chances in mid-life and finding adventures and true love.

October 12th @ Alanna Jean
Alanna features Linda Jämsén's guest post about top European travel destinations.

October 14th @ Knotty Needle
Visit Judy's blog today and read her review of Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

October 15th @ The Forgotten Books
Join Heather as she reviews Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love on her Instagram page.

October 18th @ Memoir Writer's Journey
Visit Kathleen's website as she reviews Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

October 20th @ Words from the Heart
Visit Linda's blog where she reviews Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

October 24th @ Leslie's Voice
Join Leslie on her blog today and read her review of Linda Jämsén's memoir Odyssey of Love.

--- Podcast Tour

Stories of Inspiring Joy
Don't miss Linda on the podcast Stories of Inspiring Joy where she shares her inspirational story of travel, love, and writing.

Barefooting with Sierra
Take a trip with Linda over at the podcast Barefooting with Sierra. 

Just Write 
It's time to just write with Linda Jämsén and podcaster Travis Cody! Learn more about Linda and her experiences being an expat, and all about her new memoir Odyssey of Love.

Joy Found Here
Experience joy and inspiration with author Linda Jämsén as a guest on the inspirational podcast Joy Found Here.

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

Enter to win a copy of Odyssey of Love by Linda Jämsén by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends October 3rd at 11:59pm CT. We will announce the winner the next day in the Rafflecopter widget and follow up via email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Interview with Sophia Joan: Q3 2021 CNF Essay Contest Third Place Winner

Sunday, September 19, 2021
Sophia’s Bio:
Soph lives and works as a teacher in the mountains, where she writes at dawn and dusk. She gravitates towards nonlinear and genre-bending writing styles to help make sense of the messy, grey world around her. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found reading too many books at once and making mint tea. Her favorite life lessons often come from queer cartoons. Her recent work can be found in Anti-Heroin Chic, Entropy Magazine, and Phoebe Journal. To follow more of her writing journey, check out her brand new twitter account @sophiajoan2

If you haven't done so already, check out Sophia's award-winning story "(Some of) what he gave you:" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Q3 2021 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Sophia: I started writing my essay during my junior year of college in 2016 as a way to process an emotionally abusive relationship I had just left. The beginning drafts were really messy because my emotional state was pretty messy. At first, I only had six things listed. Then I ended up with over 50. Most of the writing process included dumping every thought, emotion, and memory that came to me about the relationship, categorizing the items into different sections, and then editing out the items I didn’t care about as much. After my junior year of college, I walked away from the essay for a few years. I wanted to give it some distance because I couldn’t stop obsessing over each individual line. The essay was a lifeline of healing for me, and I needed the space for it to become just a piece of writing instead. In that place, I could edit it for style and cadence and rhythm only, and that is when I saw it elevate to where it is now. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing this. It sounds like it was quite an experiential learning process. What else did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Sophia: As I mentioned, the essay became a way to make sense of this really toxic relationship I had lost myself in right at the start of college. I had all these physical items I wasn’t ready to get rid of, but I didn’t want to look at every day. The memories that played on a loop in my head were a mix of the best moments, the ones where I knew I was in love and felt it to my core, and then the others that left me sobbing, the manipulation and abusive language. I didn’t know how to make sense of all the different emotions and how some of the memories and physical items were at odds with each other. It was like I was learning how to detangle myself from this person I had spent at that point, my entire adult life wrapped up in. The writing of my essay was a huge part of that detangling. It helped me make sense of all the different ghosts I was left with at the end. It helped me come to terms with the messy grey aspect of the ending because I wasn’t just left with these negative things and all this anger; I also had real love and positive moments I had to come to terms with. I couldn’t understand at the time how someone so awful could give me a mix of good and bad. The writing helped me make sense of that. 

I also learned a lot about my editing process. When I started, I was obsessed with the essay. I spent day after day hyper-focused on the same lines and sections. I didn’t give myself any space from it. I thought when I finished the essay, I would be healed from all the toxicity. A professor at the time told me, three drafts in, that I needed to walk away from it, so the essay had the chance to become just a piece of writing instead of my form of therapy. She kept telling me, “This essay is only your beginning and you will go further than it once you let it go.” Of course, I didn’t listen right away because I didn’t believe her. But after about a year of obsessing over it, I did walk away. I kept it in my writing folder and moved onto new essays. By the time I returned to it two years later, that relationship didn’t mean much to me anymore. I could analyze the work for the words and how they sounded together, rather than just how each section felt like a piece of my pain. Those final edits brought the essay to where it is now, and I learned how important it is to give a piece of writing, especially one attached to so much emotion, the space and time to become just a piece of writing. 

WOW: What a wonderful, useful lesson to learn, both in writing and in life. I love the fragmented style of your essay. How did you become interested in nonlinear and genre-bending writing styles? 

Sophia: My love of nonlinear writing definitely emerged during college. It started kind of by accident. I felt like I had all these grey moments in life I couldn’t process in a linear way. So, when I wrote about them, they weren’t coming out in a linear way. Professors and other writing students started suggesting nonlinear essays and books, and I was hooked. Life doesn’t always happen in a linear fashion and genre-bending writing helps me make sense of and process the messy, grey areas of life. 

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

Sophia: Maggie Nelson inspired me the most. My ex who I was trying to move past was obsessed with the color blue, and it became a bonding point for the two of us. We would argue about what the color blue represented and who embodied the color the most. It was silly, but we were also 18 at the time. I remember presenting the first draft of this essay to a writing workshop and someone I barely knew approached me afterwards and told me I had to read Bluets by Maggie Nelson. 

When I bought my copy, I ended up spending all weekend reading and rereading it. My original copy still is full of all my sticky notes and annotations from that weekend. I love the rest of her work as well, but there was something about Bluets that I just needed at that time, particularly because of how the color blue had played a role in my past relationship. I loved how she weaved three different narratives together in such a seamless way. She wrote the list exactly how I was trying to write mine. Reading her book made my essay stronger. 

Jo Ann Beard’s essay “Fourth State of Matter” also revolutionized my understanding of essay writing. I still remember how it felt to read it for the first time, and the way the ending rocked me. Her essay is such a great example of the power behind writing. I thought I was reading one story and when she made the shift into what the essay was really about, I was blown away. I don’t want to give too many details because it is a reading journey everyone should experience for themselves. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. 

WOW: Great! Thanks for the recommendation of Jo Ann Beard’s essay. I’m a big fan of Maggie Nelson’s writing, too, because it makes me think differently about style and genre. If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Sophia: Just keep writing and putting yourself out there. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything I wrote perfect. Because of that, I felt too afraid to submit to publications. I didn’t want something “imperfect” out in the world with my name on it. Now, I understand that each piece of writing is just a step on my journey. They each represent where I was at that time in my life. I am producing a lot of writing now because I took the pressure of perfectionism off my shoulders, and it has been very freeing. 

WOW: Wonderful advice! I love to hear about the writing process as a journey, and so glad to hear your writing is productive right now. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Sophia: I am just grateful WOW exists and presents a space for female writers to come together and celebrate our work. Thank you so much for welcoming me into the WOW publication!! 

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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Friday Speak Out!: Prompted

Friday, September 17, 2021
by Linda Petrucelli

Now, I am not usually the kind of person who likes to have someone tell me what to do. But in the case of generating words on a page, I often need a nudge to defeat that amorphous feeling of having nothing to say.

A terrific writing prompt, I believe, acts like a pressure cooker. It should create some heat. Make you sweat—just enough and not too much. Literary limits (word, subject, or craft restrictions) can supercharge a piece of writing. By holding you back a little, an impactful prompt revs your engine that much more.

My innate resistance to not doing what people tell me to do, though, is simply no match for those kind of diabolical, subversive even, writing prompts Chelsey Clammer dishes.

I admit it. My creative mind is hopelessly hooked on Chelsey’s writing prompts. I’m sure I’m not alone, considering the many writers her WOW! online classes attract.

Here’s the reason why I save her writing exercises in a specially marked doc stashed on my desktop: Almost all of my published CNF pieces, this year and last, originated from one of Chelsey’s ingenious writing prompts.

Her creative exercises have a way of turning my pen into a guided missile. Like the time I wrote to her prompt—Pretend you are giving instructions at the time of your birth and I launched into a flash memoir of my bellybutton. Soon to appear in print! Or this one—Write about a time of intense anxiety as a Countdown. That suggestion exploded into an essay about my ten minutes of terror and won runner-up in a CNF contest.

Often, Chelsey’s prompts are interactive with her teaching lectures and are designed to highlight a craft technique like use of language, point of view, or tense. In my endless search for fresh ways to tell a story, I appreciate how her prompts often instigate non-linear, non-sequential approaches to a narrative. This amazing prompt—Look up five facts and write about something happening in your life has actually affected my writing process. I’ve used it multiple times and am now prone to include facts and research as a way of telling my personal story.

If I were writing this essay for one of Chelsey’s WOW! writing classes, I could very likely receive a prompt directing me to conduct some etymological research. For the curious reader, the word “prompt” comes from the ancient Latin promptus, meaning to incite to action, to bring forth. In the 1670s, “prompt” began to be used in a theatrical sense—coaching a speaker with her lines. In her role as prompt provocateur, Chelsey Clammer has helped me get past the stage fright and remember what it is I have to say. I am grateful.

What kind of writing prompts work for you?

What role do prompts play in your writing practice?

* * *
Linda Petrucelli is a writer obsessed with short form fiction and CNF. Her latest essays appear in Sky Island Journal, Pollux, and Barren Magazine. Her flash memoir, “Omphilomancy,” is found in Permafrost 43.1. She is also runner up in the Santa Clara Review 2021 Flash Non-fiction Contest. Linda lives on the Big Island of Hawaii where she writes and shares a lanai with one husband and ten cats. For more about Linda, browse:
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Have a Little Faith (and Trust)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Recently another writing friend put a wannabe novelist (WN) in touch with me. It's not that I'm an expert in writing, by any means. This individual was looking for writing feedback, and I'm part of a couple of critique groups.

We met at a local coffeehouse. WN wanted to meet me before sharing her writing. I get it. The writers in my feedback groups are supportive and encouraging. However, I've visited a couple of groups which had a few problematic members. Writing something and sharing it--especially something like a novel--is scary. You don't want to just hand over your baby to a complete stranger.

Also, what if the person you're handing over your manuscript to is a complete idiot? You don't want to have to listen to a dolt bash your work.

                                                                   image by Pixabay

This is what I thought would happen: WN and I would chat over some tea/coffee, and if she felt comfortable, she'd hand over the first few chapters of her novel. We'd talked about three chapters being a good sample. What she wanted to know: was her writing crap?

One problem: this was a romance novel. I don't read romances. However, I told WN, "If you can get me interested in your manuscript, you've got something." Of course, a good story is a good story. It doesn't matter if it's dystopian or sci-fi or a cozy mystery or historical fiction. If it's written well and the characters and plot are well crafted, it sucks you in, no matter the genre.

On the counter she had set a three-ring binder. Hmmm. I've seen manuscripts clipped together or carried around in a big manila folder, but never in a binder. When she indicated that she felt comfortable letting me read the chapters, I said, "So, you're going to let me take this binder home?"

"No, I want you read it here."

Say whaaat?

So, for the next couple of hours I sat in an overstuffed leather chair and read... and read... and read. They were long chapters. I made some notes on a pad of paper I'd dug out of my purse. Later, I found out what WN was doing while I was reading.

"I texted my husband and told him, 'I think she's fallen asleep. She hasn't turned a page in a while.'" Apparently she was watching me... like a hawk. I get that too. When I gave my two beta readers my manuscript, I bit my nails (literally and figuratively) worried that my writing was so horrific, they were using the pages for toilet paper.

The good news: the characters and how they're going to possibly connect later in the book intrigued me. WN is a clever wordsmith. Her lines are crafted with care. Her phrasing kept me turning the pages, excited for more.

WN and I are now writing buddies. We've emailed each other several times in the week since we first met. I'm using an electric cattle prod  a taser gentle nudging to get WN to set a goal. She has 80% of the manuscript finished, and as we all know, blank pages can't be revised and an unfinished manuscript can't be published.

I guess my point in writing this post is this: even though it might be difficult, have faith in your reader. (This WN had enough faith in her reader to connect the dots. She didn't spell everything out, nor did she beat things to death.) Have faith in your writing friends. If you're lucky, they'll all give you brilliant advice. If you're not quite so fortunate, disregard the comments and criticism from the one or two dolts in the group.

Have a little faith... and a little trust.

Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school teacher, a freelance writer and the author of the historical novel Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, check out her blog at



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The Baby and the Bathwater

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I’ve been reading quite a few headlines lately about celebrity parents and their lack of hygiene when it comes to their kids (and themselves). And of course, it’s none of my business if these folks want to walk around till they (and their young’uns) smell to high heaven. But every time I see these articles, I think of the same expression. 

Technically, I see this image in my head, of a baby being thrown out with the bathwater. Because if you go around for who knows how long, skipping baths, you’re going to have some pretty dirty bathwater. At least, that’s where the expression came from, back in the day, when people bathed on the not-so-regular. 

Honestly, I cringe thinking of that bathwater and the poor little babies who came last to the water party. It’s a vivid expression, and some of us still use it today to mean getting rid of something bad (the bathwater) along with something good (the baby). 

I say “some of us” because the older I get, the more I notice that colorful expressions and classic, time-honored idioms aren’t used so much. Even in the South where expressions are a way of life, I find kids using hashtags and acronyms like favorite sayings. About once a week, I have to look up all these weird initials. 

Or worse, I get a crazy look from the teenaged server when I say something like, “in for a penny, in for a pound!” when I order fried catfish and hushpuppies. 

Is this where we’re heading, the demise of expressions like that? Will we all go around saying, “YOLO!” or “FOBO” or “#love.” Maybe we’ll skip words all together and just make the heart gesture instead.


The struggle is real, y’all, for writers like me. In my everyday life (that’s IRL for you young folk), I use expressions constantly. And right now, I’m writing a cozy mystery with characters similar in age to me and so naturally, expressions I love are sprinkled liberally within: 

“You look like something the cat dragged in.” 

“He was as drunk as Cooter Brown.” 

Everyone knew she had more money than sense. 

 I feel like these are pretty common sayings, but then I begin to wonder. Will readers know what the heck I'm talking about? Should I add more context clues, just in case? Is this idiom way too regional?

It’s very tiring, second guessing oneself on nearly every page, especially when it comes to the kind of writing that I purely love. Which is to say, regional dialogue and colorful expressions. 

Ultimately, I begin to feel old and curmudgeonly, shaking my fist at the Millennials and younger who could care less about my favorite expressions. And they don’t want to hear my favorite stories as to how the expressions originated, either (though apparently we’ve exaggerated through the years).

But then I pull myself up by my bootstraps and put nose to the grindstone. Because if this manuscript sells, it’ll be to an audience of women readers just like me. So I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; I’ll keep my outdated yet colorful and regional expressions in, thank you very much. (Unless an editor puts the screws to me.)

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Interview with Karen Ingram, Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Today I'm excited to interview Karen Ingram, one of the runner-ups for the Spring 2021 Flash Fiction writing contest. Be sure to read her story IED first, and then come on back to read our interview.

First, more about Karen:

Karen Sarita Ingram is half Kentuckian, half German, and proudly 100% Army Brat. Her first published story, “The Suicide Artist,” was featured in Touchstone Literary Magazine’s Spring 2012 issue and won the Best Undergraduate Writing Award at Kansas State University’s English Department the same year. When she’s not demanding to speak to your manager, Karen enjoys science fiction and video games. Against her better judgment, she currently resides in Topeka, Kansas.

---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on winning runner-up! What inspired you to write this story?

Karen: I began writing flash fiction in an attempt to break my writer's block. I would go to free photo websites, like Unsplash or Pexels, find a random picture, and write a story about it. I managed to write about 100 or so before my writer's block came back. IED started out as Untitled #30, inspired by a photo by Kevar Whilby, which you can see here.

If the photo is not what you expected, great. I'll get to that in Question #5. 

The photo reminded me of those perfect moments in life, where you try hard to memorize every detail. I tried to imagine the relationship between the woman in the photo and the narrator, and why they would need a good moment like that to hang on to. That's when I knew the narrator was a soldier. 

WOW: I love that photos inspire you because I'm the same way! How do your experiences as an army brat influence your writing? 

Karen: I don't usually write about Army Brat life, or about soldiers, but IED definitely pushed me in that direction. I used to hang out with my dad at a local brewery, and he would inevitably end up sitting at a table with a bunch of old veterans, swapping war stories. I never ask a soldier questions about war, but when they feel compelled to speak about it, I listen. It's the least I can do for them. I've heard a lot of very dark stories, but I don't share them. I want to make that clear. IED is not based on a true story, but the smells are. I think the old cliché that your life flashes before your eyes when you die is probably not accurate, based on most of the stories I've heard from people who have had near-death experiences, but it's a nice idea. A hopeful idea. So I painted a perfect moment for my narrator to hold on to and let it carry them through the horrific experience that was really happening to them. 

WOW: You definitely captured that final moment of a wonderful memory carrying someone through a terrible moment (even if it is a cliche!). What is your rewriting and revising technique after you've written the first draft? 

Karen: I tend to finish rough drafts quickly in a spurt of inspiration, then just sit on them for a long time. If the idea is any good, I know it will keep pestering me until I return to revise it. Untitled #30 was like that. The rough draft sat around for about two years before I ever looked at it again. But during those two years, it kept lurking in the corner of my mind, muttering. When I saw the Spring 2021 WOW! Contest was an open prompt, Untitled #30 insisted "NOW IS THE TIME." So, I had another look at it... and I hated it. I ended up rewriting the entire thing from scratch. But that seemed to satisfy whatever muse or beast haunts my imaginings, because it finally shut up when I hit "submit."

WOW: How amazing you rewrote it from scratch! What surrounds you when you write? 

Karen: Coffee. 

WOW: Ha, me too! What do you hope readers take away from reading your story? 

Karen: If you ask ten people what a painting or a song means, you get ten different answers. Writing is a form of art, so it's just as open to interpretation as any other art form. I think writers tend to forget that sometimes. It's bewildering to me when an author I like gets irritated because somebody saw sadness in the blue curtains and they're all, "That's not what it means!" I decided a long time ago that I'd have zero expectations about what readers take away from my stories. That's why I was intentionally vague about the narrator's gender and race in IED. I know what I had in mind, and I left a breadcrumb or two to give them a clue, but I'm totally cool if the reader ignores that and cuts their own path through the woods. I know they enjoyed themselves if they tell me where story took them.

WOW: Writing is absolutely an art and you captured it wonderfully! Thank you so much for your time and I can't wait to see what you come up with next. 
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