Slow and Steady Still Wins The Race

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

It was a glorious Easter this year, and what made it extra special was the gathering of all my family at my house. Yay! 

But that called for extra special cleaning AND cooking on the Saturday before, which looked a little something like this:

Clean the downstairs where all that gathering would be (which took a couple of hours even though it’s only me and Libs here and I basically occupy the same 10 square feet every day). 

Rest for an hour. Or so.

Fix the muffins and the pasta salad (which took another hour or so ‘cause there were two kinds of muffins and I didn’t really know what I was doing, pasta salad-wise). 

Rest for an hour. Or so.

Clean the kitchen and an upstairs bathroom (‘cause there’s always some Junior Hall who can’t wait five minutes and insists on going upstairs to use the facilities). 

Put my feet up for the rest of the evening and watch TV. 

Now, there was a time I could do four consecutive hours of cleaning on a Saturday and then go out to the ballpark to watch a Junior Hall’s game and then have a cookout that evening, wash a load of clothes (because the uniform, right?), and stay up long enough to watch SNL. But those days are done, friends; that time in my life when I could go for hours like the battery bunny are over. But that doesn’t mean I’m done. I can still get ‘er done, just at my own pace. 

And it occurred to me that writing is a bit like that. Or rather, a lot like that. There are times in our lives when we can go, go, go with our writing projects. Whether it’s because we’re intrinsically motivated with a high degree of creative energy and that spurs us on, or we have more flexibility in our schedules to give more time to our writing, the bottom line is the same: we have periods of super-productivity. 

But we also have times in our lives when our productivity sags, perhaps even to none at all. We hit a writing desert when ideas are sparse and our motivation is even sparser. Or maybe it’s jobs or family or friends or health concerns that take up every hour in the day. There’s little energy left for creative endeavors, particularly when we feel like there will be little if any reward if we use our precious spare time on the arts. 

But that doesn’t mean we’re done, either. It’s not easy to toss away that compulsion to create, to bring our ideas to life in words or whatever. It might mean going in a new direction, or it might be time to take a break. But mostly, it’s just finding our own pace and accepting ourselves where we are. ‘Cause whether it’s cleaning and cooking for the people we love or pulling out a much-loved, years-old manuscript for a fresh look, we can get ‘er done on our own terms, in our own time. 

I may be a turtle these days, but I’m okay with that. Slow and steady still wins the race!

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Interview with Sally Basmajian, Runner Up in Fall 2020 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Sally Basmajian is an escapee from the corporate broadcasting world. Before fleeing the business, she was Bell Media’s Vice President and General Manager, Comedy and Drama.

She is currently finishing Draft #1 of a historical novel and sketching a number of short memoir and fiction pieces. In February 2020, she was awarded first prize in both the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories for Ontario’s Rising Spirits contest as well as third prize in WOW’s Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest. She completed her Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing at Humber College in 2019 and holds a Master of Arts in Musicology from the University of Toronto.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Fall 2020 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Sally: Thanks, and I must admit to being a serial WOW entrant. I was emboldened by winning third place in the Winter 2020 contest, and it pumped me up enough to try again. Plus, when the Boxing Day special entry fee was announced, I just couldn't resist!
 
WOW:  Where do your ideas for stories come from, including your entry, “Be Not Angry?”

Sally: Like everyone alive, I encounter story possibilities every single day. Sometimes I write about them immediately; other times, they snooze away in my subconscious for years. In the case of "Be Not Angry," I time-traveled back to my student undergraduate days, when I had to sit in the music library and transcribe medieval notation from Gregorian chants for hours on end. From that rather boring endeavor, I developed enough knowledge to create an interesting setting—all I had to do, decades later, was throw in some conflict, and the story was born.

WOW: You mention that you’re working on a novel. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far?

Sally: Oh, dear. I've been novel-avoidant lately. My poor project is languishing at about the 70,000-word mark, with another 20,000 or so to go. It's a historical fiction, based on fact, and at this point in my protagonist's real life, his existence was more than a bit on the boring side. My writing group has threatened to shun me if I place him in one more café scene—but, in real life, the guy spent an awful lot of time hanging out in restaurants. Sure, I can give the character a totally made-up hobby (fencing? stunt-riding?), but it might be too far-fetched, even for a novel. On the other hand, I can kind of picture him holding an epee, lunging at his opponent...

In other words, the novel writing journey is bumpy. Will I give up? Of course not! Turbulence is inevitable and the road is long, but I'll get there.

WOW: You will get there! What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Sally: Writing flash fiction is fun and energetic. Having a word count limit forces me to be parsimonious with my language, stripping it down to the essentials, and I enjoy the challenge of selecting the punchiest verbs and most evocative adjectives. Plus, the project is finite—it may take some time to edit, but once it's complete, I've crafted a whole world in 750 words or less. So satisfying!

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Sally! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Sally: Choose a contest where there's an option to purchase a critique. I have found the WOW critiques to be worth every penny (and, no, WOW is not paying me for this endorsement!). Before I ever won a prize, I got multiple rejections. Without feedback from a professional, I would have kept repeating the same mistakes.

It's not always easy to absorb and benefit from criticism, but without it, we operate in a vacuum. If an expert tells us where we're going wrong (as well as where we're doing something right), we know what we'll have to fix in order to be successful in the future. The key is to be open-minded and apply the judge's advice so our next story will be better.

****

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

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Cliffhanger Blog Tour and Giveaway

Monday, April 12, 2021

In 2030, viruses, spy drones, terrorism, and joblessness have eroded American optimism. People want something to believe in. As demonstrated in a Midwest high school election, politics have taken on the inflexibility and dogma of a new religion. Only true believers will survive and prosper. Or so they think. 


This book is perfect for anyone, including young adults, or someone who likes mystery/thriller/romance with a strong, conflicted heroine.

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

Cliffhanger is available to purchase at Amazon.com. You can also add this to your reading list on GoodReads.com.

About the Author 

Michael R. French is a National best-selling author and graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, world traveler to developing countries, and is a collector of first editions of twentieth-century fiction. He has published twenty-two books, including fiction, young adult fiction, biographies, and art criticism. His novel, Abingdon's, was a bestseller and a Literary Guild Alternate Selection. His young adult novel, Pursuit, was awarded the California Young Reader Medal. 

You can discover more about Michael’s work on his website: 


----- Interview by Kelly Sgroi

WOW: Cliffhanger has a timely theme, when did you come up with the story idea?

Michael: Judging by voter turnout, politics at all levels turns off half the country. I wanted to write an adult/young adult novel so I could better understand people who aspire to office. “Cliffhanger” refers to both a high school election in the year 2030, and the depressed state of our economy due to overspending and policy blunders. Historically, a weakened democracy offers candidates of all stripes an opportunity to be heard. Voters are desperate for positive change, but choices are inevitably clouded. As I began to shape my story, I would tell my characters, “hey, be careful what you wish for." 

In Cliffhanger, a rural Indiana high school mirrors Washington in its passion, apathy, lies, lobbyists, hidden agendas, and out-of-control social media. In my story, the villain is a non-profit corporation promising a college education to all, taking the responsibility away from nearly-bankrupt state and federal governments. My heroine is one of those rare people who can see through the ruses and has the courage to open unmarked doors to find real answers. She gets banged around but is still standing at the end of the book. 

WOW: So many of us wished for more time at home until we went into lockdown. What does your typical day of writing look like?

Michael: I don’t have a typical day of writing. I wish I did. Things come up. What’s important for me is to have a good night’s sleep. I always write better—especially on a second or third or fourth draft—when my brain has been through what my wife calls “the car wash.” I try to write four or five hours a day, but I can’t recall a day when I didn’t write something, even if it’s a couple of sentences. Habit is important. I’ve known too many writers who decide to take a year off and they never write anything again. 

WOW: I love that term, "the car wash" because I've never heard any writers mention the importance of rest and a clear mind. How do you find the revision process, and how long does it take you to write the first draft of each novel?

Michael: The revision process is critical. It’s not unusual for me to rewrite extensively, at the risk of distorting or losing the original story I was telling. I don’t mind going off track. Sometimes the rewrite is a welcome surprise. Sometimes it’s a dead end. You have to be patient and you have to welcome failure as a learning tool. My life has been divided among raising a family with my wife, working a 9 to 5 job for almost 40 years, and manically stealing writing time at odd hours. It takes me six months to a year to create a decent first draft. The final draft often takes another year. You have to be a tad obsessed to write and publish 25 books. 

WOW: You are an inspiration. After publishing over 20 books, is the road to publication one you can drive with your eyes closed?

Michael: I never reprise my novels. They all have different characters and reflect different genres, so nothing is rote or automatic for me. Sometimes, that’s the precise formula for getting rejected by agents and publishers and even readers. The publishing game is about money more than ever, and with self-publishing the competition is staggering. Publishers prefer bankable authors who build a fan base by being consistent in something—a genre, a protagonist, a setting, something like that. Readers today like having their expectations met. My main goal is to challenge myself to write the best novel, screenplay, biography, or adaptation that I can, regardless of subject matter. My curiosity continually leads me down new paths. Coming up with fresh ideas is the most fun part of writing. Executing is back-breaking work. Hopefully, you’re always getting better. 

WOW: Exploring different genres keeps it interesting too. I like seeing authors branching out more these days and trying new things. Do you have any advice for aspiring or debut authors?

Michael: My strongest advice to aspiring writers, particularly novelists, is have a very thick skin if your primary motive is to get published. Rejection can knock the wind our of you. Second, write about what interests you and then make it even more interesting for readers. This takes role playing. When I rewrite a sentence or paragraph or chapter, I read it out loud and more than once. That somehow puts me in the state of mind of another person—a reader—other than being the writer. Sometimes the advice “best to write about what you know” works well for young writers. As you get older, you’ve experienced a lot more than you did in your twenties, and your perspective changes. The real jewels of insight seem to come out of nowhere at any time. Write them all down. You never know when you’ll hit a dry patch.

WOW: Rejections can be devastating but determination is what wins in the end. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Michael. It's been an absolute pleasure hearing all your writing tips!

 ----- Blog Tour Dates

April 12th @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning with coffee than a muffin? Join us on the WOW! blog today and celebrate the launch of Michael R. French's book Cliffhanger. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book too.

April 14th @ S. D. Reeves
Visit Stephen's blog today to read a guest post from author Michael R. French on Why I Continue to Write for 50 Years, and Why/How My Storytelling Has Evolved.

April 15th @ Clouds Girl 27 Reads Books
Join Melissa today as she spotlights the book Cliffhanger by Michael R. French.

April 16th @ A Storybook World
Visit Deirdra's blog today to see her spotlight on the book Cliffhanger by Michael R. French.

April 22nd @ The Burgeoning Bookshelf
Visit Veronica's blog today to see a guest post by author Michael R. French on Why Politics Excites Some People and Turns Off Others.

April 23rd @ Leslie L. McKee
Join Leslie today for her giveaway and spotlight of the book Cliffhanger and a guest post by author Michael R. French on The Importance of Making Mistakes and How You Learn From Them.

April 23rd @ Pages & Paws
Visit Kristine's blog today to read her review of Cliffhanger by Michael R. French.

April 27th @ Mindy McGinnis
Visit Mindy's blog today to read a guest post from the author of Cliffhanger, Michael R. French on Adapting Adult Text for Young Readers.
https://www.mindymcginnis.com/blog

May 9th @ Michelle Cornish
Visit Michelle's blog today to read her review of Cliffhanger by Michael R. French and his guest post about his Love For "No-Quit" Underdogs.

May 11th @ Of History and Kings
Visit Helen's blog today to see a guest post by author Michael R. French on Having the Curiosity and Courage to Open Unmarked Doors.

May 13th @ Deborah-Zenha Adams
Visit Deborah's blog today to see a guest post by author Michael R. French on The Evolution and Endangerment of the Written Word.

May 16th @ In Our Spare Time
Join Ellen as she reviews the book Cliffhanger by Michael R. French.

--- Podcast Features

The Fearless Storyteller
Michael will be a guest on an upcoming episode of this podcast that explores the heart and soul of stories - and the writers who create them.

Book Lover's Companion
Michael will be a guest on an upcoming episode of the Book Lover's Companion! Join him as he talks about Cliffhanger and more.

Shout Radio
Join Michael on Shout Radio with Toby on a Thursday where he talks about writing, his books, and what inspires him.

Travis Cody Show
Join the Travis Cody show where you can hear Michael talk about writing.

Self-Publishing Queen
Join Michael as he talks about the publishing process with the self-publishing queen.

The Walk Show
Join Michael on the Walk Show as he discusses rebranding yourself as a writer and tailoring your creativity.


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

Enter to win a copy of Cliffhanger by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends on April 25th at 11:59pm CT. We will announce the winner the next day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

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Flash Fiction Contest Tips: Opening Sentences

Sunday, April 11, 2021
Hello WOW Readers! I have been one of the first-tier contest judges for WOW’s quarterly flash fiction contest for over a decade, and it has been a huge pleasure to read your stories. I am writing this blog series on Flash Fiction Contest Tips to help you strengthen your flash writing and maybe even place in one of our contests! Tips are based on our scoring criteria and craft trends I’ve seen throughout the decade. 

We all know the first sentence of your story is crucial. It sets the mood and tone, often introduces the protagonist and/or setting, and might be the reader's first glimpse into the story's problem or conflict. It should at least pique the reader's interest, if not fully grab their attention. A well-written opening sentence or two hooks a reader and gives them motivation to continue reading. 

A poorly written opening can alienate readers and make them lose interest before they've started. Maybe the rest of your story is the best piece of writing ever created, but if you don't hook your readers at the start, they will never know how great it is because they won't keep reading.

A story should begin with action or something that moves us towards the story’s action or conflict. This is especially true with flash fiction when you have no words to waste. Consider your favorite stories. Or go to any lit mag and read the first sentence of any story. Tell us in the comments: how does the story start? What about it grabs your attention?

Let’s look at the first lines of the top three winners of last quarter's contest. 

Opening Sentence: “The beach was the same as she remembered, starchy and fresh.” 
Explanation: By saying “the same as she remembered,” the author gives a bit of history so the reader knows she was there before. This gets the reader to start asking why was she there before and why has she returned? 

Opening Sentence: “Clutching her milagro, the tin cross her husband made before he left for El Otro Lado, Nayeli whispers the same prayer over and over.” 
Explanation: The way she clutches this object builds tension by showing readers she’s anxious or worried about something and we want to read more to find out why. 

Opening Sentence: “They had exchanged messages for years, never able to reconnect.” 
Explanation: We don’t know who “they” are yet, but this sentence shows readers a problem/conflict, so we want to keep reading to find out who they are, why they couldn’t reconnect, and what happened because they couldn’t reconnect. 

One common opening you want to avoid is the waking up scene. A character regaining conscious after some kind of accident can work well if the character wakes up into some major action (I'm thinking about the beginning of The Walking Dead TV series when Rick wakes from a coma into the zombie apocalypse). But that's much different than waking up, brushing teeth, and having a cup of coffee before getting to the day's conflict. 

Another common opening that's best avoided is description of the weather. Sure, it can set mood and tone and show the scene, but unless the story is about a severe weather emergency, it's too boring to effectively grab a reader's interest. 

There are other cliché openings, like "once upon a time," loading/unloading a moving truck, or descriptions of setting or characters without including action. A quick Google search will give you many examples. 

I once read that the first sentence of novel should be a summary of the entire novel. I'm not sure I agree with that, and, even if I did, I don't know that it would apply to significantly shorter work like flash fiction. Nonetheless, it's something I think about each time I write an opening to a story. It helps me to better focus my opening lines, even if they're not fully summarizing the whole piece. 

Tell us more about your opening lines! I'd love to hear your best or worst lines. Or do you have an opening line that needs revised? Write it in the comments so we can give you some feedback! 

Tips brought to you by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. She has a master's degree in Creative Writing: Prose from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and a doctorate in Adult Education from Penn State University. She is also a competitive swimmer, a trail adventurer, a dog lover, and a mom. Tweets at @dr_greenawalt.
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4 Ways to Find the Energy You Need to Write

Saturday, April 10, 2021

 


It doesn’t matter who the writers are that I’m talking to. It might be my critique group. It might be my accountability group. It might even be my students. If someone is having troubles getting their writing done, they will blame it on time. And that makes a certain amount of sense. There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. We can only get so much done. 

But long before most of us run out of time, we run out of energy. Think about the language that you use when you hit that low. You say you are run down, you don’t have any . . . energy. To find the energy you need to write, try these 4 things.

Monotask 

Is that a word? I’m not sure but I like it. Focus on one thing and do it well. When we multitask, we very rarely do several things at once. Instead we bounce from one thing to another and each transition uses up some of our energy and focus. When you write, just write. Don’t try to squeeze it in while you are making dinner or doing housework. And don’t have Facebook, Twitter, or your e-mail open while you write. Focus. 

Reduce the Decisions You Have to Make 

Every task, every decision uses some of your energy. Look for decisions that you can streamline. In our house, that involves what we have for dinner. The nightly debate is exhausting. “What do you want?” “I don’t know what do you want?” To avoid this, we plan a weekly menu. We always have a few extra meals in the freezer in case no one wants homemade General Tso’s and sesame green beans, but usually we stick to the menu. It’s amazing how much more energy I have when we don’t spend that time butting heads. What’s for dinner? Look on the menu! In your household meals may not be a problem but it would be a huge help to lay out your kids’ school clothes for the week. 

Move 

I’m not telling you that you need to run a mile every day. But do get up and move. Some sources say you need to do this every 90 minutes. Others say every 30. But the point is that you need to get your blood flowing. When you do, you’ll find that you have more energy and better focus. Me? I walk around the block, get on the rower for 10 minutes, or at least run something out to the composter or recycling and spend some time goofing around in the yard. 

Write What You Love 

I love writing nonfiction largely because I love to do research. There’s a reason a friend jokingly calls me the Credible Hulk. But writing nonfiction isn’t going to energize everyone. For some people, the only choice is romance or picture books or poetry. Don’t select a project just because you think it will sell. Writing something you don’t love is going to drain away all that energy you’ve found. Write something you love and you’ll feel excited and energized. 

Not that I’m saying writing is easy. Spinning stories from thin air is a lot of work and requires a lot of energy. Find the energy and you’re much more likely to find the time. 

--SueBE

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


Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 5, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  April 5, 2021). Her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on June 7, 2021).

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Finding A Special Place/Space For Our Published Writing

Thursday, April 08, 2021
My mother had an oversized black leather handbag she carried everywhere especially as she grew older. Although she had smaller ones in different colors that could coordinate with whatever she was wearing, this one was an appendage on her arm whether she was going to the supermarket, the doctor's office, a family gathering, or special event. 

It was most likely purchased from Sears, her favorite department store, and it was spacious enough to hold everything but the kitchen sink; from candy she always had on hand for a fidgety child at the doctor's office or her grandchildren at a family gathering, to important documents she never left home without, a pack of Kleenex, one or more ink pens, lipstick, a small mirrored compact, and a copy of the first magazine my writing was ever published in. 

I thought about my mother's handbag after I read a blog post by Renee Roberson that was recently posted on WOW. It was entitled, "That First Writing Job." Many posts on WOW resonate with me, and many cause me to reminisce, as this one did. 

I remembered how excited my mother was when I published my first article in a romance magazine. After reading it, she carefully rolled it and placed it in her handbag. Whenever we were out, she would take it out to show someone, sometimes perfect strangers. Although I was slightly embarrassed, when she passed it around like a basket of freshly baked buttermilk biscuits, it warmed my heart and also helped me believe more in myself as a writer and motivated me even more to reach my writing goals.

I don't remember when my mother took that magazine out of her handbag. After she died and my sister and I packed her belongings, that magazine, falling apart with yellowing pages, along with other magazines my work was in, and several other cherished items of hers were in another one of her special places, a cherry wood chest she had in her bedroom.

My mother always found a meaningful place for my published work, and even some of my old notebooks I had as a child that held remnants of my first attempts at writing. Reminiscing about that nudged me into digging into a plastic bin and a taped up box in my garage that sits next to my packed away Christmas ornaments, to find a more worthy space for the magazines and copies of anthologies my writing was in. 

As writers, we all know the importance of having a special place/space to write. But at times we forget the importance of also having a special place/space to house our published work. Sometimes we need a reminder that it was those first published pieces we could hold in our hand that gave us the confidence to submit our writing to other publications.  

Although I won't be putting a print magazine or an anthology with my writing in an oversize handbag to carry around like my mother did, I'm thinking of getting a hope chest and collaging it with writing quotes when I have the time and placing it near my desk to store them. Those bodies of work I still cherish and marvel at because it reaffirmed to me that dreams come to fruition if you keep at it and don't give up. I'm sure that was also what my mother thought, so I've vowed to no longer keep those first publications hidden away. They deserve to be in a prominent place/space in my life.    

If you haven't already I hope you too find a special place/space for your print publications, anthologies, or books. Glancing over at a book with your name on it, rereading an article or story or play you've written from years ago, can only add more to your life as a writer; more pride, more passion, more reflection about your growth, and more appreciation of this gift you have and all the great things that await you because of it.


                                                                     --Jeanine DeHoney

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

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I Went to Memphis and All I Came Back with Was a T-Shirt and Inspiration

Wednesday, April 07, 2021
Remember those t-shirts that our grandparents and parents used to buy us when they left us at home and went on an adult vacation--the slogan said something like, "My grandma went to Hawaii, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." Apparently, this "lousy t-shirt" saying is something a lot of people write about--I'll let you do your own Google search.
 
But I bring it up today because I just returned from a retreat/vacation in Memphis with my daughter...and came back with a new t-shirt--not a lousy one! We booked an extra big hotel room, brought a lot of snacks, and spent a good deal of time lounging around, reading, and relaxing while she played games on her tablet and made videos for her YouTube channel, and I wrote and edited. 

Now back to the t-shirt. One thing we actually left our hotel room for and went to was the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel, which for any of you history buffs will sound familiar. That's the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically shot and killed on April 4, 1968. This is a powerful museum built on the spot where one of the most famous leaders of the Civil Rights movement lost his life. The museum displays discussed the rights of Black Americans from the moment they were forced on slave ships to the "New World" to Dr. King being assassinated to modern-day Freedom Award winners, people fighting for human rights around the world.

After you stand practically where Dr. King was shot and read about how the Memphis sanitation strike turned out, you walk into a gift shop before you can get out the front door and over to the second building of the museum. (Museum designers know what they are doing...) I wanted to buy something here for myself and my daughter to support one of the best museums I had ever been to, but also to show my support for human rights everywhere, and my hope that some day racial tension and violence will be wiped from this earth. 

A t-shirt, with the saying to the left, caught my eye, and I knew I had to buy it.

We learned about some amazing women of color--Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, Claudette Colvin, and more. The quote is referring to them, to suffragettes, to feminists, to any woman standing up against a mysgonistic society and following her dreams.

It's referring to me. It's referring to you. It's referring to my daughter--to any of us who are using our voices--through the written word, spoken word, podcasts, audio books, telling our stories--fiction and nonfiction. We are not quieted down. We are standing up, and we are making history. 


I know that slogging to your desk some days may not feel much like making history. The dog wants to be fed. You're running low on coffee. The laundry still has be done, and your children are fighting over who's sitting in the front seat on the way to school. But even then, if you're not allowing your voice to be silenced, if you're thinking about that story or poem or memoir or self-help book you will write later, you're making history. 

I will wear my new t-shirt with pride. I will tell everyone I meet to go to Memphis and go to the National Civil Rights Museum--Graceland is awesome, but this museum should be required.

As you know from reading this blog, my publishing company, Editor-911 Books (a small, traditional publisher), is about to publish Sioux's book, Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, about the Tulsa Race Massacre. Here's the display in the museum about that event. It was on a big wall that had several "Racial Terrorism" events as horrific as that seems:



We are making history with Sioux's book, and some people may think we are not well-behaved for publishing it. But I'm so excited for children and adults to read Henry's story, and the love, sweat, tears, and hope that Sioux poured into that book. (She is donating all her proceeds to Greenwood, and as the publisher, I am also making regular donations.)

Life is so strange the way it takes us on a journey, and we often end up in a gift shop, buying a cute souvenir filled with inspiration that makes everything you're going through come full circle and just make sense for a minute.


Here's to being NOT well-behaved and having your voice heard.  

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, publisher, mom, and not well-behaved woman, living in St. Louis, MO. The photo to the left is of her and her daughter in Memphis, TN, in the beginning of April. To find out more about Margo, visit https://www.margoldill.com



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Interview with Vicki Sutherland Horton: Fall 2020 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Today I am excited to interview Vicki Sutherland Horton, one of the runner-up winners of the Fall 2020 Flash Fiction contest. Make sure you read her story The Winter the Moose Moved In and then come on back and read our interview. 

Vicki's bio:

Vicki Sutherland Horton lives in the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington. She is a retired educator, with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. Through her writing, Vicki is interested in exploring the often unrecognized contributions of women in history. Vicki is a wife and mother and finds great joy in being a grandmother. She is a long-time participant in FisherPoets, a yearly gathering in Astoria, Oregon where she performs original work about her life in a commercial fishing family. Vicki is currently working on a novel: a historical fiction set in Alaska in the late 1940s. Accompanied by her Golden Retriever, Rhododendron, the two of them explore the surrounding forests and seashore. Vicki looks forward to more travel adventures—but of course that has to wait.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your story The Winter the Moose Moved In. What inspired this story? 

Vicki: This story is deeply personal and part of a larger work. I began researching my mother’s upbringing on an Alaskan homestead in the late 40’s and 50’s. I am asking questions such as why did my grandmother do the things they said she did (family abuse, abandoning the family)? My family has taboo’s around sharing that part of life except on a superficial level. Being the kind of person I am I want to discover a deeper understanding. The protagonist Nadia is roughly based on my grandmother. The supporting stories are told to me by my mother and uncle such as the moose carcass out the back door and the hairdresser who is cabin bound because of moose in his yard. 

WOW: I love how you used fiction to explore your family history. When I read this story, it felt like such a vivid setting to me. Was it inspired by a real location? 

Vicki: Yes, it takes place in Alaska although I will have to be careful that I protect the location and inhabitants. I have visited the area and of course our family stories center on this specific location. My grandparents homesteaded there as part of a mission. Again, I don’t know much about the mission part of the story. 

WOW: I loved hearing that you visit Astoria to take part in FisherPoets! Living in the Pacific Northwest myself, I personally love that area. What is that event like and do you see many of the same poets yearly?

Vicki: FisherPoets is a time I connect with those who have spent, or spend their life fishing. Fishing is a dangerous occupation and listening to fishermen’s poems you begin to understand their deep appreciation of beauty and death. My father was a commercial fisherman who died on his fishing boat many years ago. There are many fishermen still today who I meet up with, who I maintain connection with even though I no longer fish. 

I am especially inspired by the young women who are presenting at FP these days. Their poetry and prose are raw and stunning! They are amazing women taking on all aspects of the fishing industry even serving as captains of their own boats! 

Here is the official description of FisherPoets. The FisherPoets Gathering has been featured in media both national and international from the NY Times, Smithsonian magazine, the Wall Street Journal, NBC to the BBC and others. The U.S. Library of Congress has recognized the FisherPoets Gathering as a “Local Legacy” project and the event has spawned a genre, “fisherpoetry,” that fans of occupational poetry might hear in towns like Kodiak, AK, New Bedford, MA, Port Townsend, WA and Camden, ME. 

WOW: How rewarding that experience is! What led you to enter this contest? 

Vicki: Women on Writing offer a rubric that helps me move my writing forward. I don’t enter to win but to learn. As a former educator I can attest to the usefulness and research behind this kind of learning. It really helps me. 

WOW: I love how you approach the contest - to learn! And I love that you are inspired by the unrecognized contributions of women in history. How do you research women to write about? 

Vicki: I am reading as much as I can about women who traveled west especially on the Oregon trail. I am heartbroken reading the accounts of women who had no choice but to follow behind their husbands. So many of these women didn’t want to leave life as they knew it. I think my grandmother probably had similar things to consider as these women did. She gave up her established life in Washington State to homestead in Alaska, an unknown to her. I understand the complexity and hardship she, without question, undertook to raise her young children—and this was in the fifties! My next venture is to visit the museum in Oregon celebrating the end of the Oregon Trail. 

WOW: I can't wait to see what you write next! Thank you so much for your time today!

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Sins of Our Mothers Reader Review (and Giveaway)

Monday, April 05, 2021

We are excited to announce another reader review event featuring the dystopian fiction book Sins of Our Mothers by Nicole Souza. Join us as we share reviews of this thought-provoking book and interview the author. Don't miss this giveaway where you can also win a copy of this book for yourself!

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

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

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

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

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

What WOW readers said:

"I love dystopian fiction and I love strong female characters which Sins of Our Mothers have both. Dystopian stories are generally unique anyway, but this one felt very different from anything I've read before. The world-building, the society, and the characters were captivating and unique. Definitely recommend to anyone who loves dystopian fiction and/or strong female characters. I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own."

--- Ashley Hubbard

"This book was really interesting. I loved the dystopian feel of this book. I would have loved to see more character development, but overall it was amazing. It had such a great message about family."

--- Giverny Reads

"I loved this book. I haven’t read anything quite like it before. It was absolutely captivating. There was something about Souza’s style that just drew me in. The way things are run, a society of only women where things aren’t quite as they seem...it’s absolutely brilliant. You have a strong heroine and a powerful antagonist, and at times you’re holding your breath to see what will happen to the heroine. A unique twist on the dystopian genre, this book will capture you and pull you into a unique world. I became so invested in Lyratelle and her quest that I lost track of time. Cannot recommend enough!"

--- Liliyana Shadowlyn

"Wow! What a great book. It was so difficult to put down once I started it. I love that there is a strong female character in this story. If you enjoy dystopian fiction, this book is an absolute must-read. I received a copy of this book for my honest review."

--- Ellen Christian

"I am absolutely loving this book! I can definitely recommend it for all lovers of dystopian fiction. Through the character of Lyratelle, we learn the importance of family and for fighting for what is right. There’s really nothing like a good dystopian read!"

--- Polly

"This book was definitely a page turner. Coming into it I chose not to read the blurb and decided to pick it up primarily because it was billed as dystopian fiction, but I could tell within the first few pages that I was going to love it. I really enjoyed the strong female friendships in this story as well as the bonds depicted between the men. The leadership and guidance shown to younger ones by the men was also quite inspirational. The book’s underlying message about family being the most important thing was what really resonated with me and compelled me to keep reading right up to the end."

--- Brooke Michie

"I really enjoyed this book! It's dystopian fiction and unlike anything I have read before. Once I was sucked into the story, I needed to know more about this world and what was going to happen to everyone! It was an addictive and fascinating read!"

--- Natalie Gold

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

About the Author, Nicole Souza


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

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




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

Enter to win a copy of Sins of Our Mothers by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends on April 18th at 11:59pm CT. We will announce the winner the next day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway
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WOW! Interview with Contest Runner Up Cassandra Crossing for "A Future, Bright and Free"

Saturday, April 03, 2021
Congratulations to Cassandra Crossing and A Future, Bright and Free and all the winners of our 2021 Quarter 1 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Cassandra Crossing

Cassandra’s Bio:

Cassandra immigrated to the US in hopes of a better life, yet she found heartaches and pain. She changed her name to fit in, yet even after many years, she’s viewed as a foreigner. But as in the movie, “The Cassandra Crossing,” they survived a catastrophe, she’s a survivor. She finds joy in nature and in the little things life offers.

She writes from personal experience about love, despair, loss, and hope. Her work includes short stories, creative non-fiction essays, flash fiction, plays, and poetry. She’s also working on a few novels and novellas.

Her creative nonfiction “ Naked” won 2nd place in a WOW! Women on Writing essay contest and was published online in April 2020. “Why Are You Here?” won Runner Up status and was published online in 2019, while “Sorrow” (2019), “A Future Bright and Free” (2020), “Empowered” (2020), “Paying Attention” (2020), and her flash fictions “Allure” (2017), “The Cabin” (2019), and “The Scent of White Chrysanthemums” (2019) were finalists in contests by WOW! Women on Writing. An interview was published by them on January 5th, 2020. “The Cabin” also won Honorable Mention in 2020 by WOW!

Cassandra’s creative nonfiction essay, “Things That Matter,” her fiction “Parenting Advice,” and her plays “The Chair” and “Three Tickets for the Show” had been selected as finalists in several literary competitions in recent years.

Some of her fiction, “The Scent of White Chrysanthemums” and “Parenting Advice,” creative nonfiction, “Naked,” and poetry “Perception” received Pushcart Prize nominations in 2020 by Unlimited Literature Magazine, Ariel Publishing, and Ariel’s Dream Literary Journal.

Her work has appeared in online literary journals and magazines like The Scarlet Leaf Review, The Illinois State Poetry Society, WOW! Women on Writing, and more. She’s published in Spark Literary JournalUnlimited Literature Magazine (UL-Mag)Beautiful Words by Ariel Publishing, LLC, and Ariel’s Dream Literary Journal in print and online. Her creative nonfiction essay, “Stone Flowers” is forthcoming in The Bookends Review in December 2020.

You can also find some of Cassandra’s work on her website: ccrossing888.wixsite.com/Cassandra, and support her writing on Patreon: www.patreon.com/CassandraCrossing.
Connect with her on Twitter @CassandraC888

   
If you haven't done so already, check out Cassandra's talent in writing with the touching story A Future, Bright and Free and then return here for a chat with this talented author.

 WOW: I love asking this question of successful writers - so I hope you don't mind my asking, but where do you write? What does your space look like?

Cassandra: I write anywhere and everywhere it seems. For example: at the airport, on vacation, on the plane flying, at the doctor’s office, in my car, waiting for my son at school, at the library, at the college cafeteria, in bed, in the kitchen, sitting outside on my mother’s stairs, anywhere I take my laptop, which is usually everywhere.

My favorite places in the summer and spring are my 8th-floor balcony with a view of the city’s skyline, on Evening Island at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and by the pool at our home. What makes these places the best place is the beautiful, colorful, fragrant flowers surrounding me.

My favorite place in cold weather or on late nights is my living room. Where I’m surrounded by family pictures on the walls, memories, our three sweet cats, flowers, plants, and tranquil music.

From time to time, I write at my desk on the “BigMac” in my small office area. Usually, this happens when I’m working off of some critiques I’d received from WOW or one of the writing groups I belong to, and I’m using my laptop to display the suggestions.

When I’m at home, no matter where I sit, the common denominator is that my silk-furred calico cat will snuggle up purring in my lap, by my side, or at my shoulder.


WOW: Other than your calico cat of course - who is your support - what have you found to be most supportive in your writing life as well as in life in general?

Cassandra: My faith in God has been my highest support throughout my life. Journaling about the traumas, losses, heartaches I experience helps me understand myself, the purpose of these horrible events in my life, and how to use them for good. I came to realize that if I write and share, it gives these painful experiences a voice which transmutes their pain. If by my writings, I can help others to feel less hurt, less lost, less unworthy, and less alone, my struggles will have meaning. Then I don’t regret having to go through them. When I read Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, I realized how my purpose lies in writing about these events that shaped me into the person I am today, one who has empathy and strength.

My son has been the most supportive in my writing life. He encourages me to keep going and tells me how impressed he is by my taking one little thing and making it into a rounded out story with meaning and value. He’s also the reason I kept going when I lost my daughter.

Members of the small writing group I started two years ago, the poetry group I joined a year and a half ago, the personal growth group I’m part of for nearly three years, and some of the members of a larger writing/critiquing group I attend for almost seven years have been most supportive of my writing and help me to grow as a person and a writer.


WOW:  So happy to hear you have so much support - it makes all the difference on the hard days. Now I need to ask: Is A Future, Bright and Free part of something larger you are working on? It reads like a small chapter of a larger work - if it is, when can we expect to read it? If it isn't - why not?

Cassandra: Over the years, I wanted to write a memoir about how I lost my daughter, about my abuse-filled childhood, about the struggles in my adult life, but it seemed too daunting of a task. Also, too painful. Instead of waiting to have the time and when I feel completely healed, I decided to write short essays. Focusing on one part, one kernel of the past at a time helps me to find the emotional strength to dig deep and explore the truth and hurt I’m writing about.

I’ve been working on putting these creative nonfiction essays together, along with my fiction and poetry, into collections, and I plan to have them published next year.

WOW:  Sounds like it's going to be a very exciting year for you, and your readers as well!

One last questions before we part ways for today: Do you often enter contests or is this a first? What would you like to tell other authors concerning contests and submitting their work?

Cassandra: Yes, I’ve been submitting my work to contests, literary magazines, and journals starting six years ago. At first, only sparingly, but in the last three years, I’ve increased my submissions as I gained more confidence in my writing after devouring any knowledge available about the craft.

Last year, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions since many organizations accept simultaneous submissions, but they want original, unpublished work. Also, I read Chelsey Clammer’s piece about submissions and rejections, and I wondered about my acceptance/rejection ratio.

It’s a numbers game, I’ve been told. The more you submit, the more chances you have to be accepted. A lot of the time, the deciding factor is based on the preference of the judge or editor.

I usually purchase the critique from WOW. It helps me see what I need to work on and what works already.


WOW:  Thank you ever so much for sharing your essay and your thoughts today - we look forward to reading more of your work! Congratulations again! 

  Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

Check out the latest Contests:
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It's Okay to Try Something New (Then Change Your Mind)




This past month I made an enormous mistake of getting an idea. I have to say it was actually a pretty brilliant idea, and I even made efforts into making it happen.

Then I changed my mind.

I don't know about you but I get "bright shiny object" syndrome when it comes to stuff with my blog and writing. I like to go after new ways of doing things, and that's happened to me a couple of times this year. First, I wanted to do some massive celebration of my blog's 10 year anniversary. I even started contacting some of the original contributors from when I first launched my blogs and some of the authors I featured those first few years.

Well, that fizzled out when I didn't hear from anyone. Then I began to wonder how worth my idea was to pursue.

Then I got another, and likely you heard about it. I wanted guest book reviewers on my blog because I felt like it filled a need of people wanting to review books and connect them with the authors who want reviews.

I got it all set up - like really set up, way more than I thought I'd do - and then I realized something:

What am I doing?

This year has been a doozy. WOW! has been wildly busy with tours, and then my new job has really taken off this year. I'm barely giving my brain a mental break. Then it didn't help that not a single soul on my email list expressed an interest in participating when my first newsletter went out.

I wondered if this energy was worth it? 

I asked myself...is this really where I want to put my mind during my off time?

I realized the answer is no.

If you are anything like me, and you tend to want to try out new projects, and see how far they get - kudos to you! I encourage you to keep trying because you just never know.

However, there's a lot to be said about knowing when you've hit your limit and taken on too much. I remember years ago when I was really active on my writing blog, I hosted a weekly writing prompt, and for the longest time, I loved it. Until that began to add to my stress at work and further drained me. So, I had to back out, even though I felt really bad for a while. Even missed it. Yet, I was glad I set those limits. 

So now, I've realized it again, but luckily I didn't get too deep into this.

Of course, I'll still be reviewing books on my blog, and featuring authors as much as I can, but I'll be giving myself enough room to back away and ease up when I need to. And that is something I hope I don't forget the next time another bright shiny idea comes along.

Nicole is a writer, blogger, bookworm, and blog tour manager who obviously bites off more than she can chew sometimes. Say hi to her on Twitter by visiting @BeingTheWriter, or follower her writing blog, WorldofMyImagination.com, where she promises not to get sidetracked by time-consuming ideas that go nowhere.
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The Fat Lady's Singing

Thursday, April 01, 2021

There's the saying that everybody knows: It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings. Well, this fat lady is singing... but it ain't over. It ain't done.


My book is finished. It's published. It's available for pre-order (on Amazon). And yet there are still changes being made.


This is the cover of my book. The art
was created by Jessica Esfahani, a truly gifted artist. She imposed
newspaper headlines from 1921 onto the silhouette, and
hand-drew the ruins of Greenwood. It was a brilliant design, in my opinion.

Since I'm not Stephen King or James Patterson or Jodi Picoult, my books are POD (print on demand). There's not a warehouse full of cases of my books (which is what my husband thinks) just waiting to be snapped up by the millions. (My husband thinks that is going to happen, too. I just laugh and laugh and laugh.) If nobody buys my book, it'll never be printed. If only three books are ordered, only three books are printed.


I received a gift from Amazon a couple of weeks ago: a padded envelope with an ARC (advanced reader copy) of my book. It wasn't supposed to be here until the next day, so I mistakenly thought it was just a book I'd ordered for my classroom. It wasn't. It was my baby.


The rationale of getting an ARC is to catch the mistakes before it goes out to the rest of the world. Here are some of the things we've found as my publisher and I are going over the book with a critical eye:


  • missing or misplaced commas
  • commas that should be semi-colons (according to my publisher) and semi-colons that should be commas (according to me)--I think sometimes Margo lets me win, just to be kind...
  • a spot where I had the breeze blowing over someone's back, even though they were lying on the floor on their back. Yikes! (In defense, I think I originally had them lying on their stomach, and then switched it... or at least switched part of it)
  • a bit about the glow-in-the-dark numbers on an alarm clock... 100 years ago... in a not-wealthy family
  • a sentence where "but" was needed instead of "and"
  • a comma and a period after a Mrs. (hmm... that's a different way of punctuating an abbreviation)

I've spent five years working on this project. It's been examined many times and yet I still found almost three page's worth of mistakes. So that's one way that it ain't over.



Another way it ain't over yet: promotion. If you're J.K. Rowling or one of the aforementioned authors, you could write a book and then lounge on your couch and eat bon bons--if you wanted to. If you didn't want to do any author events, you wouldn't have to, because your book would still sell thousands and thousands of copies.


That's not the case once you finish a book and it's your first (and you're not a celebrity). Calling up radio personalities, book store owners, emailing fellow writers, trying to promote your book--it's all up to the author. If I only want my book to sell to my friends and family members who feel obligated to buy it (because I told them they were obligated), only 7 copies will sell... and then it will languish in book hell. It's a book, it's been published, for sure, but it will be forgotten in an instant. 


The final way it ain't over (or at least the last reason I'm going to discuss in this post): keeping the momentum going. It's tempting to plop my rear end down, satisfied I've told a story that's been burning inside of me for over ten years. My dream of getting a book published with my name on the spine? It's come true.


But what about my other projects that are in the works? A picture book with a troubled publishing past. A YA contemporary story that's barely begun. What about those?


I have to stay in the writing groove. I have to keep working on new projects. I have to keep crafting manuscripts...


... because as writers, we have to face the facts: it's never done.


Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school educator, a teacher-consultant for the Gateway Writing Project and a freelance writer. Her novel, Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, debuts on April 14.







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That First Writing Job

Wednesday, March 31, 2021


 

There’s a hierarchy when it comes to landing that first job. Remember your first job as a teenager? Mine was slinging popcorn and sodas at a movie theater and working as a junior employee at a department store in the mall.

It’s never too late to earn money with your writing talent. I’m 44 years old and have never published a novel, but I’ve written a few that I hope to put out in the world one day. In the meantime, I’ve been working for more than 20 years writing marketing copy and newspaper, magazine and online articles. In my day job as a magazine editor, I nurture plenty of writers who may have never written articles before for regional publications, but a lot of them have backgrounds in public relations, marketing, education, etc. I don’t care if they’ve never been paid for their work before—if they can present me with a solid pitch that will fit in our magazine and show me they are not afraid to schedule an interview with the subject, I will give them a chance and a paid assignment. 

When I first started out as a freelance writer I was intimidated. I was leaving the protection of a stable salary where I could get through the day writing press releases for clients and magazine articles for a university alumni magazine that was one of our clients. I read several books on the art of copywriting and freelancing and was afraid my introverted self would never be able to follow through to nab those paid assignments. Fortunately, I proved myself wrong. These days, there are so many more places seeking writers, both seasoned and new. If you’re not subscribed to the WOW! Markets newsletter that goes out once per month, hop on over and subscribe now on our home page. Every month I read it and find at least five places I want to submit, from contests to literary journals to magazines looking for pitches. 

One of the other interesting things I’ve noticed is that over the past few years, I’ve developed relationships with several people who retired from their careers but are still looking for creative fulfillment and supplemental income. I now have a writer who retired from running her own marketing firm but loves interviewing people and writing articles in addition to her volunteer responsibilities. I offered a retired education professor the chance to write his own monthly history column and he’s loving the heck out of it. One other writer had a marketing and public relations agency for many years with his wife, and when they retired, they started up a gorgeous travel blog. He now writes a regional column and uses his contacts in healthcare to write monthly health and wellness articles for our publication catering to residents 55 and older. And I know who to go to for travel article ideas.

Whether you’re 16 or 65, if you want to write and get paid for it, you can do it. There are more and more opportunities to channel your passion for writing into a career you can be proud of if you know where to look.

Let’s have some fun. If you’ve been paid for your writing, what was your first paid gig? If you are new to starting out, what is your dream publication or project? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at her website, FinishedPages.com.
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Interview with Gwen Gardner: Fall 2020 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Monday, March 29, 2021

Gwen Gardner
writes clean, cozy, lighthearted mysteries with a strong ghostly element. Since ghosts feature prominently in her books, she has a secret desire to meet one face to face—but will run screaming for the hills if she ever does. 

Her lifelong love of books and reading transitioned naturally into a love of writing, where adventure can be found around every corner—or down a dark, twisting alley. She thinks there is nothing better than a good mystery (being an excellent armchair detective herself), unless it’s throwing a ghost or two into the mix to “liven” things up. Don’t worry, though. Ghosts may be tricky to keep in line, but it turns out they’re darn good sleuths. 

Gwen’s short story, A Stitch in Crime, won 1st place and feature spot in the 2018 Insecure Writer’s Support Group anthology, and she published her cozy mystery novella, A Scandal in Boohemia, in 2019, among others. Find out more about her writing journey at GwenGardner.com (and watch for ghost-crossings!) or follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Gwen holds a BA degree in English Literature from San Diego State University, and is a member of Sisters in Crime, an organization for women crime writers. 

Please take a moment to click through and read Gwen's story, "The Elephant in the Tomb."  Then come back to learn about her writing process and inspiration. 


------interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards

WOW:  Your story grabbed me and didn’t let me go, but I have a fondness for cozies and ghost stories. What was your inspiration for the Elephant in the Tomb?

Gwen: My stories always start with character. For me, character is the hallmark of a cozy mystery, filled with quirky, lovable—and sometimes grumpy—characters to draw the reader in. 

When building Brother Bart’s world, I placed the setting in the Monks Meditation Garden. Brother Bart is a Benedictine monk in charge of taking care of the cathedral grounds. His character is a playful, creative “ghostly” monk who loves making topiary creatures from the hedges he is charged with maintaining. To that setting, I added the tomb of the unknown monk. When I thought of Brother Bart poking his head through a hedge like a disembodied big game trophy (the elephant), and the tomb with no name, I had both the title and the premise of the story. 

WOW:  It sounds like you started with a lot of the important elements of the story. How did the piece evolve through the rewrite process? 

Gwen: I didn’t make the cut on submitting this story the first time to the WOW contest, but I had signed up for the WOW critique and received some really helpful advice. Mostly unanswered questions about the stakes and the why of it, but also too many instances of telling instead of showing. The person who critiqued my story even said that it felt like it belonged to a longer piece, and she was so right! Brother Bart was always meant to be part of a larger story. 

When this contest came up, I pulled out the abandoned novel and edited the first chapter (which was all I had written haha!) to fit the contest parameters. Once I edited the “telling” parts, tightened up these loose strings, and narrowed my focus, I had an improved story to submit. 

And indeed, the next time I submitted it to WoW, I made it into the top ten finalists. I couldn’t be more thrilled! 

WOW: Both mysteries and flash stories rely heavily on pacing and not revealing too much too soon. What advice do you have for readers who are crafting their first mystery? Their first piece of flash fiction? 

Gwen: With flash fiction, the trick is to narrow your focus by limiting the number of locations, characters, and length of time. In Elephant in the Tomb, the story takes place in one location—the Monk’s Meditation Garden—and in the span of one misty morning. The story has only two “active” characters. 

I am an outliner. In writing a full-length mystery novel, I first create the clues and red herrings (after creating characters and setting), then work the story/plot around them. Each chapter needs to move the plot forward, and I try to end each chapter with something that makes the reader want to burrow under the covers with a flashlight and keep reading. 

Then on the second draft, you must “kill all your darlings.” The saying is usually attributed to Stephen King, but actually coined by William Faulkner. What this means is that you must get rid of any words or ideas that don’t add anything to the story (even though you personally love those words and ideas). It’s hard! But cutting them out, as well as getting rid of weak verbs, adverbs, prepositions, and overuse of pronouns will help the pacing of your story. 

There are software programs, I use ProWriting Aid, that help with self-editing and it is eye-opening the things you will learn. Of course, short stories, and especially flash fiction, are less forgiving than full length novels so I found myself spending hours and hours (and hours and hours) editing and revising and getting rid of “all my darlings” to meet the 750 word count criteria. 

Then put the work away for a couple of weeks. When you return to it, it is with fresh eyes. 

WOW:  As a mystery lover, I have to ask.  Who are your favorite mystery authors and why? 

Gwen: I love the classic British mystery writers such as Sir Author Conan Doyle, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, and M.C. Beaton. I also love Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Jacqueline Winspear, and Ann Cleeves. 

If you are familiar with these authors, then you’ve noticed that I am a complete anglophile and gravitate toward British authors. I am an American writing as a Brit, as well, as most of my writing/settings take place in fictional towns and villages of England. I find the history, architecture, and settings evocative, which lends itself to my brand of “haunted” stories perfectly. If you’ve read my bio, you know that I love my ghosties! From afar. 

WOW:  M.C. Beaton and Ann Cleaves are definitely among my favorites.  What are you working on now? Maybe a new series? 

Gwen: I have several series that I’m working on including my Indigo Eady Paranormal Cozy Mysteries. Book I, A Scandal in Boohemia, came out a couple of years ago. I’m now working on the second book in the series called, Something Borrowed, Something Booed. My sleuth is a ghost whisperer and her ghostly sidekick, Franny Bishop, is a former Victorian madam of some repute. Franny is a lovable but interfering old ghost who insists that Indigo needs a man before she becomes an old maid—at twenty-eight. 

My Brother Bart series is in process, currently untitled. Elephant in the Tomb is the prequel to the series. Really, what could be more fun than a sweet, beguiling, ghostly Benedictine monk as a sidekick amateur sleuth to his great, great, great nephew? 

But they’re not all ghost stories. I’m working on a “Brozy” mystery called Without Redoubt, a somewhat new, up-and-coming genre that is a “broader” version of the traditional cozy mystery and appeals to a broader audience. The protagonist is a wounded former RAF Navy pilot, and his sidekick is a gentle, whiskey-drinking giant of a monk and their little old, retired schoolteacher-turned-cabbie who can drink the two of them under the table. A humorous brozy, but like a traditional cozy, no overt violence, or sexual situations.

WOW: Brozy?  That's a new one for me.  Off to check it out and find you online.  Thank you for taking time out of your writing schedule to answer our questions.  
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