Pandemic Writing

Monday, January 31, 2022


After reading Bethany Jarmful’s "Friday Speak Out" post about making sure you write even when you’re busy, I thought of my early days of freelancing. I would often have my four-year-old daughter putting together a set of railroad tracks for my toddler son in the playroom so I could interview someone for a weekly newspaper column I wrote. I never could seem to coordinate phone calls with nap times, especially when my precocious daughter decided she was done with napping at the age of two. My kids are teenagers now and for a brief window of time after the oldest got her driver’s license and began driving her brother to and from school and to sports practices, I blissfully worked at my freelance writing and editing gigs from home, catching up on true crime TV shows on my lunch breaks and squeezing in my workouts in the early afternoons. I had so much of my life back after all those years in the carpool line and my introverted self relished it. 

Then, the pandemic hit. Suddenly I felt like I had everyone underfoot all at once. My husband got sent home from his corporate job to work remotely, the kids had virtual school, and my two small dogs, who’d enjoyed such a quiet routine with me for so long, were completely baffled. My daughter accused my husband of “hogging all the bandwidth” upstairs, and we had to get a Wi-Fi extender so everyone could participate in virtual Zoom sessions without glitches. I was happy to remain in the home office downstairs while my husband worked out of the guest bedroom, but our dachshund often tried to chase him upstairs because she likes lounging on the fluffy guest bed while he works. He'd take her upstairs and then bring her back if I tried to eat a snack, because she'd start whimpering at the sound of wrapper opening. 

I felt like I couldn’t focus on work because someone was always strolling into my office in between classes or meetings and plopping into my chair in the corner. Even if I was focused on task on my computer, the visitors continued. The dogs grew annoyed with the kids constantly walking in and trying to pet them underneath my desk. “They’re sleeping!” I’d say. And I’m working, I thought.

I had a hard time focusing on my editing and podcasting work because there were always people around. After the kids went back to school and my husband back to the office, I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to settle back into my routine, grateful the piles of glasses and dishes and laundry had dwindled. Then my husband got sent back to work from home after Christmas until the most recent spike is over. One day he needed to use my office for a call and my senior dog who is starting to get memory problems was completely confused and wouldn’t go to his spot under the desk because I wasn’t in there. He wandered back out and looked at me with confused eyes. 

“I know, buddy,” I said. “One day things will return to normal, maybe.” 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at
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Finding Treasure in Your First Draft

Saturday, January 29, 2022
Many of us have heard over the course of our writing life that first drafts are meant to be terrible. Many authors, ones more successful than me, have said that is the key to getting them done. Let them be awful! And that's true. Except sometimes we get stuck so far down on the road of revision we lose sight of some things in the story that was so important before. 

Recently, I've talked about my journey to revise a story that has had a character that felt underdeveloped to me. Nothing felt right in my tweaking, and I decided to go back to earlier drafts. I wondered what happened along the way that I lost so much sight of my story and my character.

In the midst of feedback I had received a couple of years ago, I found comments that were like diamonds in the rough. Many people had said about this earlier version that they liked the characters and the pace of the story. How wonderful to read! And quite the opposite of some recent feedback I received. These previous comments actually just mentioned that my ending felt a bit abrupt and just not enough. 

Keeping this in mind, I looked over the story once again and realized that somehow in the midst of revision I had taken away some of the good aspects of the story in order to make it fit what I thought was a better version. 

The revision process can be a bit like Frankenstein making his monster. You think you are going along a good path, and then you get lost along the way. You remove the wrong thing and keep the things that should have gotten plucked out. 

So, now I go back to that earlier draft. Not quite the sucky first one, but it's likely the fourth or fifth revision I thought wasn't good enough.

If you find yourself stuck along the revision process like me, look back over those earlier versions. Maybe somewhere in there you'll find some treasure and build it back into your newer version. Maybe somehow you can make things right again.
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Friday Speak Out!: When Life Is Too Busy, Write Anyway

Friday, January 28, 2022
by Bethany Jarmul

If you’ve ever sought out counsel on how to create a consistent writing habit, you’ve probably heard these bits of advice: 1. Schedule uninterrupted time, at the same time everyday. 2. Find a quiet place, free of distractions—a place set aside only for writing. 3. Set a daily word count goal and don’t stop writing until you reach your goal.

I recognize the wisdom of this advice. But for me—a work-from-home mom with a three-month-old and a two-year-old—it sounds like a fantasy. I imagine a spacious library brimming with antique books, an ornate writing desk, Mozart playing in the background. I sit down with my quill and parchment to pen an elegant sonnet or Sherlock-Holmes-style mystery.

In reality, my small house, overflowing with rainbow-colored blocks, diapers, wipes, and every assortment of baby or toddler accessories is not a conducive environment for writing. I don’t have the luxury of a “writing room” or even a “writing corner.” I have a crumb-covered couch and a laptop that’s missing the question mark key (thanks to my curious toddler). In the pre-pandemic world, perhaps I could have found solitude and order in a local coffee shop or library. But the truth is if I don’t write at home I won’t write at all.

As for uninterrupted time, well, even the precious, planned moments when both kids should be napping or in bed for the night are not at all predictable. And most often my soundtrack is a crying baby or the repetitive jingle: “Snack? Snack. Mommy, snack please. Snack!”

But I’ve decided, I’m going to write anyway. In this season, I’m not going to write 1,000 words a day. I probably won’t finish, or even begin, a draft of a novel. But I will write essays, short stories, and poetry. I will use what little time I have to write, to read, to brainstorm.

So I’ve decided to come up with my own set of guidelines, for myself and those who have busy lives, cluttered spaces, or unpredictable interruptions:

1. When I have spare time—be it two hours or ten minutes—I will prioritize writing.


2. I will write in whatever space I have available to me, even if it is small, messy, or loud.


3.  I will utilize the small idle moments, like waiting at the doctor’s office or DMV.


4. When I am too tired to write, I will read. When I’m too tired to read, I will sleep.


      5.  I will set realistic goals and keep moving forward, even if it’s at a turtle’s pace.  

I’ve decided that no matter what life throws at me, regardless of what season I’m in, I’m still a writer. And that has made all the difference.
* * *
Bethany Jarmul is a writer and work-from-home mom. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 
Literary Mama, Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, Sky Island Journal, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose. She grew up in the hills of West Virginia and lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two kids. Connect with her on Instagram or Twitter: @bethanyjarmul.

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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What You Need to Be a Writer

Thursday, January 27, 2022
The low road or the high road? 
Which leads to writing?
emondlafoto on Pixaby

Just over a month ago, a fellow writer tweeted a question. “Writers: Do you have a degree in writing? Does it help?” 

My first smart aleck thought was, “I don’t know. Is there a hole in your wall that you need to cover?” Sorry. It’s an old family joke that gets trotted out whenever someone is showing off a diploma of some kind. “You could cover a fair-sized hole in the wall with that!” 

Back to the original tweet. I’ve never really felt the need to go for an MFA but there was a group of people who told her that a writing degree was essential. These people, not surprisingly, generally had MFAs. They tweeted about how their degrees taught them about structure. They learned to be disciplined writers. They learned to do research. They emerged as part of a community. 

As I read through the responses, I wondered where were the people without writing degrees? I know we’re out there because I’m one of them. I’m not a unicorn for goodness sake. 

So I posted: “My BS in anthropology taught me to listen. My MA in history taught me to research. I learned to write by reading and writing. Volunteering at conferences drew me into a global community of writers, editors and agents.” 

Admittedly, I do know numerous writers with MFAs. But I write for young readers, and in that community other degrees are much more common. Many of my peers are former teachers and librarians. I didn’t take that path either perhaps because I didn’t consider being a writer until after I graduated.  

Then I spotted a post by Indiana Lee on diyMFA. Lee wrote about "Five Degrees to Consider in Pursuit of a Freelance Career."  What would she recommend in addition to writing? I expected to see education and library sciences so her list surprised me. Writing was #3. Before that were Finance (#1) and Web Development (#2). Following were International Relations (#4) and Graphic Design (#5). Lee’s emphasis wasn’t on degrees that you could combine with a writing degree as much as jobs you could do while also freelancing. 

And that’s the reality for many writers. They do other jobs while also writing. Many need to do that to pay their bills. Others truly enjoy the other work that they do. This work often helps fuel their writing. 

I hope that you are getting the point that there are many different paths to the writing life. Some of us know as children that we want to write. These people may or may not study writing in college. 

Interviewing WOW contest winners, I have interviewed students and teachers, doctors and athletes. Each of them has traveled a different path to publication. 

This isn’t to say that you don’t need an MFA. Maybe you do. Only you can decide which path you need to take to learn what you need to achieve your writing dreams.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on February 6, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022). 


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Best Kept Secrets

Wednesday, January 26, 2022
I do love a good secret, don’t you? And when I hear that something is a best kept secret—like a new hometown restaurant off the beaten track or a mysterious walking trail—I can’t wait to give the secret a try. But here’s the thing about best kept secrets: they don’t stay secret very long. 

You just can’t keep people from extolling the virtues of something wonderful. And before long, it’s not secret anymore; everyone’s in on it. That’s what’s happened over at Nonfiction Fest, a writing challenge that on February 1st will be starting their third year.

I expect Nonfiction Fest to draw even bigger numbers this year so yes, it may not have that cozy, isn’t-this-great-just-the-200-of-us feel anymore but (and this is a big but!) it will still be a wonderful, inspiring, and supportive community where any writer can learn a whole lot. 

And before you say, “But I don’t write non-fiction so pooh-pooh to this challenge!”, hear me out. Because whether you write fiction or nonfiction, for children or adults, picture books, novels or articles, you will learn something of value over at Nonfiction Fest. Like… 


Have you ever wondered how a writer was able to get all that terrific (and vetted!) material, perhaps even a few quotes from professionals for an article on say, dinosaurs? There are a lot of tips and tricks of the trade when it comes to getting information, and authors of nonfiction are pros at this skill. And they’re willing to share a how-to or two. For free. 

And now you’re thinking that you don’t need that skill for something simple like a poem. You’re just writing a happy little verse about a platypus, right? And I say, the more you know about a platypus, the better your concept will be. And maybe it will take an unexpected turn because you found out something surprising about platypuses (like the correct plural of the little critter). That’s the thing about research. It’s like shooting a film where tons of reel stays on the cutting room floor. But you don’t know what stays and what goes until you get into the thick of it all. 

The Art of Editing

That’s a skill, too, editing all that research. Maybe your novel’s setting is the Province of Massachusetts Bay during the years of the Salem Witch Trials. Perhaps you have reams of information about the time period and the place. And it’s awful tempting to get all that hard-earned info into your novel. Nonfiction authors can give you tips on balancing story and all that research and ultimately helping you write a rich, textured novel instead of a mystery that reads like a textbook. 

So here’s the best kept secret every writer should know: the skills to writing good nonfiction aren’t just for nonfiction authors. But don’t take my word for it. Do a little research for yourself over at Nonfiction Fest

(And P.S. I didn’t even mention that you can win prizes if you participate in this challenge and that’s pretty wonderful, too. And you know what else is wonderful? Supporting the NF authors who give so generously of their time and talent. So check out their books, leave a review, encourage your schools to invite these authors for a school visit. It’s a win-win for everyone!)

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Interview with Leontine Hartzell, Runner Up in the WOW! 2021 Summer Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Leontine Hartzell is a writer and shamanic energy healing teacher. She has been a psychic life coach and energy healer for over 30 years. A mystic and visionary, she listens to her helping spirits to bring forth inspiring wisdom through her writing, teaching, music, healing and coaching individuals and Fortune 500 executives. She is also an award winning recording artist, singing healing melodies channeled from the helping spirits. ( Leontine finds inspiration from the ancestors, the spirits of the earth, wind and the stars. She was short-listed in the Fish Publishing flash fiction contest in 2019 and published in the Vassar Literary magazine. Her WOW! short story was dictated to her by an ancestral spirit who appeared to her in a vision and insisted she stop working on a different project and write down what she was telling her. Leontine welcomes any inquiries from literary agents and publishers to help publish this powerful woman’s story. Leontine is also currently writing a memoir and a manual of advanced energetic light healing techniques. She is also completing three children’s picture books. Mother of four and grandmother to two, she lives by the sea in New England with her husband, surrounded by glorious flowerbeds and birdsong. 

Read Leontine's powerful story, "Kitchen Help," and return to learn more about Leontine's writing process.

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

WOW: Hi Leontine, and welcome! Congratulations on placing in this contest with such a compelling story. I’m fascinated by your work as an energy healer and psychic life coach and know that this can’t be an easy calling. Do you find it difficult to balance the levels of energy you must be processing 24 hours a day in this line of work? 

Leontine: I've been a full time shamanic energy teacher, healer and psychic intuitive life coach for over 25 years. I love my work, teaching people how to become excellent energy healers, coaching people to live their best lives and bringing healing to individuals and families. No day is ever the same as I work with clients of all ages with a wide variety of issues they want help with. I specialize in soul retrieval, which restores to a person parts of their own energy that they lost because of trauma. It is so exciting to see people heal and create happier lives for themselves! 
Doing this work is not for the faint of heart. It takes attention and learning to manage the healing energy and sound of Divine Light I work with and the energy of clients and students. I have spent years learning and studying with indigenous shamans and other energy healing teachers and practitioners and learning from the spirit guides that guide and empower all the healing and teaching work I do. There has been a lot to learn and I am still learning! This is a lifelong learning path, which I find fascinating and very fulfilling. 
It's all about learning how to work with energy and keeping your own vibration in the right alignment. I teach students how to do this, and keep learning new ways that help me too. For me, and for most healers and energy healing teachers, it requires life-style adjustments and spiritual and meditation practices in order to keep my vibration clear and strong so I can be the best teacher and healer I can be. 

WOW: How long have you been working on your memoir and what is the structure you’ve chosen for it? 

Leontine: I've been working on my memoir for 2 1/2 years. It's about finding love as a divorced mother who is an intuitive empath and energy healer, who has great success helping clients find love, but has more of a challenge finding love for herself. Each chapter centers on one of the fifteen boyfriends I had in the eighteen years I was single. It covers the highs and lows, missteps, magic and mishaps of romance while on a spiritual path both at home and abroad, interwoven with adventures studying with indigenous shamans. I find the humor in the hope and heartbreak until I finally find the man I marry. 

WOW: You were short-listed for the 2019 Fish Publishing flash fiction contest with your story, “Bitter Herbs.” Could you tell us more about what the piece was about? 

Leontine: "Bitter Herbs' is a short piece that was an earlier abbreviated incarnation of "Kitchen Help". Among other things, I am a trained herbalist. The characters in this story know of the many medicinal qualities of hundreds of herbs and plants that grow in the area where they live. This ancient wisdom was so precious to them, and carries a connection to their ancestors and to the power of the earth that plays an important role in their empowerment throughout the rest of the story, which I am having a great time writing. When the main character of this story started telling me about the herbs that were used to heal her, I was immediately captivated! 

WOW: You mentioned that “Kitchen Help,” came to you in a vision from an ancestral spirit. What was your revision process like following the initial version you wrote down? 

Leontine: The story that became "Kitchen Help" was told to me by a spirit that appeared to me when I was lying in bed recovering from a smash on my head. I had a terrible headache and was feeling dizzy and unable to do anything but lie down and hope to sleep. All of a sudden the spirit of a woman appeared to me, hovering over my bed. I could see and hear her, and told me to start writing down what she was telling me, which is her life story. I demured, saying I was not feeling well. She insisted. 
In order to stay true to the spirit and her story, I did minimal revisions on what I had originally written down. With every edit, iIwould ask this spirit if what I changed was alright with her. I still contact her and she is still telling me the rest of her story, which is a powerful testament to courage, love and self-empowerment. 

WOW: I'm so glad you are assisting in telling her story! You are involved in so many things, coaching, writing, music. How do you find the time to balance them all and decide which projects to focus your energy on? 

Leontine: I have lots of projects that I work on and I enjoy the challenge of continually creating and producing. I am a very creative person and am gifted with a lot of energy. One of my assistants once told me that I set out to do so much in one day that I must think I was three people. I responded that there are so many interesting and important things to do. In this world, we should not limit ourselves. 

I have a team of helping compassionate spirits that I work with and communicate with on a daily basis. They are full of wisdom and are part of the Divine energies of the universe. Sometimes they give me ideas of projects, classes, workshops, albums, retreats, writing projects to create. Other times I have ideas and always run my ideas by my spirit team. My helping spirits give me advice, instruction and guidance. It's always interesting, sometimes challenging and, I'm being serious here, an incredible grace and blessing to live the life I'm living. There is never a dull moment! 

Sometimes I work on different things each day, or for half the day, sometimes I work on certain projects for a few months and then move to another. I do best with a schedule, but it is always in flux. And that schedule always includes meditation time, dance or exercise and walking or being out in nature. I do take breaks and vacations. You have to fill the inner well with peace, nature and rest and restoration, that is a critical practice for any creative soul. I love to create and work with Divine spirit to uplift and heal people and teach others how to be excellent healers. That is the force beneath all of my creative endeavors. 

As a shamanic practitioner, I work with compassionate helping spirits, who are part of the Divine energies of the universe. My spirit team guides me and I consult with them every day, sometime all day long, for guidance and assistance on all my projects and in all my work. I live to serve Divine Love and make the world a better place. 

WOW: Thank you again for joining us today. We wish you continued success in all your endeavors and work!
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I'm Gonna Be (500 Words)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Proclaimer's song, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), gets me bouncing in the car seat every time I hear it on the car radio. I sing aloud loudly (and off-key). If you're unfortunate enough to never have heard it, I've included it at the end.

The number 500 hit me hard as I floundered for a way to get out of my rut. A friend asked me the other night, "What's going on with your new book?" I was lucky enough to get Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story published last spring, and am halfway through writing the first draft of a screenplay version, but before that--about five years ago--I started another manuscript. It began as a story about a young man (a student of mine) who was a guitarist and ends up channeling Emmett Till. When I got some criticism because my published book was not #OwnVoices, I switched the main character to a young female teen (I used to be one of those, a century or two ago) who suffered from depression (I did and do) who was a cutter (I never was).  I've got 26,000 words down, but it's been gathering dust for a few months.

                                                              image by Pixabay

So when my friend asked, "What's going on with your new book?" I channeled Edwin Starr and his song War when I replied.

"Absolutely nuthin'."

Since I'm obviously in some muddy rut, I looked up some articles about how to get out of one... how to jumpstart my writing again. There were the usual ideas like schedule a writing time every day (I can't do that; my day is always different and I have some sometimes-daily deadlines looming over me), change the viewpoint of the protagonist (did it) or give myself a reward when I make some goals (I already do that, rewarding my sluggish ways. I'll be big as a barn if I up the number of rewards). Then I hit on one that I think could work.

Commit to writing a number of words every day.

Which is where the number 500 came in. This is a goal that I think I can keep up, at least most days, because I can squeeze it in in the morning before I go to work, if I'm not already writing some quiz or worksheet at a furious pace to use that day with my students, or I could work on it before going to bed. Initially, I thought of NaNoWriMo numbers, 1,600 + words a day, but that's unrealistic (for me). 500 words is not even a front and back page. 

And then I returned to a book event I went to this past week. It was cold, but we huddled around a fire pit in a friend's backyard, discussing The Once and Future Witches. Five of us--all women--shared our opinions, our favorite lines, and then we got onto the subject of female power. One writer-reader friend asked each of us, "What witching powers were passed down to you?" When it got to me, the first thing I said was this:

"I was the middle daughter of a woman who gave up two daughters. She gave my older sister (Nancy) up for adoption, and Nancy ended up with a mother who was ashamed she had to adopt. I got parents who told me I was chosen, and made me think they looked at hundreds and hundreds of babies before they picked me. Part of my 'witching powers' was the power that comes from being incredibly wanted."

This morning, I went directly back to the idea of #OwnVoices... and I restarted my dust-covered story. Only this time, the protagonist is a teen who's grappling with their unknown biological past--along with depression. 

26,851 words in my old draft. 141 in my new draft... and as James Brown sang, "I feel good."

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a dog rescuer and a novelist. Her first and only book baby (right now) is Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, which can be ordered via Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Sioux's blot is Sioux's Page.


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Find Joy and Creativity Again With Small Steps

Saturday, January 22, 2022
I recently wrote the newsletter intro for the WOW! January markets e-newsletter, and I came up with the theme that small steps plus small goals can equal big success. Then, in my friend group, we've been texting a lot (on a group chat!) about feeling stagnant in careers and in life. Those conversations, along with my article for the newsletter and my own recent life changes, made me think of this: 

Empower yourself with small steps. Forward progress of any kind will make you feel better. 

Stagnation is the enemy of joy and creativity!

This past year, I had a job that was not going anywhere--I felt stuck. I knew I needed change, but it's hard being a single mom and living in the U.S. We need health insurance. So I applied at Starbucks, where I only need to work part time to qualify for health insurance. Plus, I can freelance. This would also give me more flexility to help my aging parents. It was a win-win-win plan. 

Then because I was in this forward motion, one of the companies I freelance for had an open position for a writer, and it's a great job. It has room for growth, a wonderful salary and benefits, and I accepted the job. I start that February 1. None of this would have happened if I wouldn't have made small steps to leave a job that was stressful. I was stuck. I got myself un-stuck, and things happened.

This is true in so many areas of our lives, but REALLY true in our writing life. I'm talking to myself here, too, because I have been stuck on a project for about a year now. It's a nonfiction book for teachers and parents, and every time I do pick it up to work on it, I think to myself: This is actually not so bad. Why are you not finishing it?

Small steps plus small goals equal big success. 

I need to listen to my own advice. 

I've decided while writing this blog post that if I can just get one section completed a week on my book, it will eventually be done. Instead of saying: "I have to work on this book every day." Or "I need to edit the whole thing and finish it now." Or "I still need 52 ideas for this to be complete." 

One section a week is manageable and forward progress. Stagnation over. 

This year, my word of the year is joy. I'm looking for joy in every area of my life. And I know it's possible with small steps. 

I wanted to let you know that I won't be blogging on The Muffin for a while. I'm taking a short break with some of my commitments because I also have a goal NOT to overwhelm myself in 2022. I like to say YES to a million things, and then complain about how exhausted and stressed out I am--all the opposite of JOY. I'm sure I'll be back either here or in the newsletter, but for now, I'm focusing on the new writing position, teaching WOW! classes, finishing my own book, and publishing Editor-911 Books. These are the career things that bring me joy--plus for a while, I'll still be making some chai tea lattes on the weekends at Starbucks. 

What small steps can you take in your life? In your writing? Or if you don't need this in your personal or professional life, how about your novel or short story characters? Are your characters stuck in your novel? What small steps can they take to get out and get moving? We'd all love to hear about that in the comments! 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, teacher, editor, and publisher, living in St. Louis, MO, with her dog and her daughter. To sign up for her next writing class on writing for the middle-grade and young-adult reader, starting on January 26, go here now. Her writing a novel with a writing coach class will be on hiatus for a couple months, but you can sign up for the April session here. Find out more about Margo at, and about Editor-911 Books at

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Friday Speak Out!: Empty Next Syndrome

Friday, January 21, 2022
by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Having spent nearly half of my life writing about the same set of characters, I have finally come to the end—the short stories about them are all written, a novel about them is soon to be published (GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, Fomite Press, January 18, 2022). There isn’t another prose piece bubbling about the Macmillan family.

My characters have “moved out,” so to speak.

It’s weird not to be writing about Sarah, Glennie, and Al, but there is really nothing more to say, and in my mind, I see them walking down a path I cannot follow, out and away, their backs to me as they leave. I imagine them going. They don’t look back.

I watch them go, though. All the way to the end of the path.

I am in the middle of empty next syndrome. I feel a little lonely but also am relishing parts of this—the extra free time, the knowing that I did my best for my characters, the chance for a quieter mind because I’m not springing up to scribble down a note or check a timeline.

What’s next? I have a strong draft of a middle grade novel filed away, and I would love to edit it again and find it a home.

I have a professionally edited picture book, ready to submit.

But nothing new. I hear no voice coming through in a line, which is where stories always start for me.

Here’s the thing about empty next syndrome: overall, I am okay with it. Goodbyes are hard. Change is hard. But I feel peaceful in this new, fallow period of my writing life. I’m putting my feet up, tilting my face back to catch the sun. I am okay with the silence.

* * *
Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in
Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, JMWW, Mud Season Review, Belmont Story Review, Hypertext Magazine, and more. Her story collection, TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her debut novel, GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, was inspired by three stories in her collection. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at
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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Back to the Books

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A peek at one of my fiction shelves.

I’ve always been an avid reader, and I know I’m in good company on this blog. Ask for a book recommendation and you’ll get it in spades! But for some reason, while a lot of people found themselves with more time to read during the pandemic, I took that extra time to read and research true crime, mostly in the form of archived newspaper articles, as I worked to launch that passion project. Once it got off the ground, I found that after my work editing and writing for magazines and producing the podcast, there was little time left to read. Or maybe my brain was tired, along with my eyes. Instead, in the evenings I would spend any spare time I had mindlessly watching TV. 

Last year I tried to get back into reading more. First, I challenged myself to begin reading more diverse books. I’m happy to report I’ve made progress on that. Each of my family members bought me a book for Christmas, and I wondered if they were gently trying to nudge me back into my beloved pasttime. Then I started thinking about all the books I’ve bought over the past few years that I haven’t read (raise your hand if you can relate). Because I’m the type of person who needs accountability, I decided to put the Goodreads app back on my phone. I had to laugh because my profile picture on there was me with my two kids when they were both maybe 5 and 7? They are teenagers now, so it was obvious I hadn’t logged on in quite a while. I signed up for the 2022 Reading Challenge and mulled over how many books I wanted to target for reading. Since I tend to read more over the summer and during holiday breaks, I tried to factor that in. When I said 40, my husband tried to pragmatically step in. “That’s like three a month! Do you think you have time to do all that with your other projects?” This is coming from someone who doesn’t like to read fiction in his spare time, so I waved him off. I typed the goal of 40, knowing I can adjust if it starts to look like I overestimated how much I could read. (By the way, I’ve already read two books this month, one was new, and the other was a re-read of a book I hadn’t picked up in a few years). 

Then I tried to think of what I had read last year so I could keep a digital record of it on Goodreads. Off the top of my head, I logged in 11 books, but I’m sure I probably read a few more than that. I then went through a few genres I enjoy reading on the app and selected several “want to read” so I have a running list of books I can either purchase or request from the library. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a virtual true crime book club with my podcast, with a combination of true crime and mystery/suspense/thrillers, so I selected some options for that. Today I signed up to be an Amazon affiliate so that when I write book reviews for my blog or send out recommendations in my e-newsletter I can potentially earn a small commission. 

Last but not least, I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing book reviews for everything I read and posting to my blog, Amazon, and Goodreads. I know how much authors rely on these reviews, and knowing I will potentially sell my own books in the future, I want to support authors whenever I can. 

Have you set any reading goals for the year? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at
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Interview with Kelli Short Borges, Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Kelli Short Borges is a writer of essays, short stories, and flash fiction. A former reading specialist in the Arizona public school system, Kelli is a life-long reading enthusiast. Although many who know her claim she’s a beaming ray of sunshine, many of Kelli’s stories tend toward the dark and disturbing. In addition to writing, Kelli enjoys hiking the Arizona foothills, photography, and traveling the world in search of adventure. Her work has been published or is forthcoming at Across the Margin, Bright Flash Literary Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Pure Slush, Drunk Monkeys, and Versification, amongst other publications. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter @KelliBorges2, or visit her website,

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Summer 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Kelli: Thank you so much. It’s such an honor to have my piece selected alongside the writing of so many talented women. I actually stumbled upon the contest while researching places to submit flash fiction. After digging a bit more, I was incredibly impressed with the WOW! community, and wanted to be a part of it all. It was the very first contest I’ve entered, and I was a bit nervous about it. In the end, of course, I took the leap. I’m so glad I did!

WOW:  Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Slither?”

Kelli: When I was a freshman in high school, I took the bus to and from school daily. There was a girl who rode with me who would taunt me with a flask full of alcohol before school some mornings. I was seen as super straight-laced by this particular person (and to be honest, I was!). She knew I wouldn't drink it, so she just delighted in making me feel as uncomfortable as possible on those bus rides. Over time she harassed me whenever she had the chance--not just on the bus, but at school or when I would ride my bike past her house. It wasn’t pleasant, but I managed to push the discomfort aside because I had a solid group of really nice friends and enough self-confidence to hold my head up and ultimately ignore her. I’m guessing most people have been similarly tormented at some point in their lives, and the seeds for “Slither” began with this commonality. For anyone who’s ever been bullied, and especially those who have felt powerless, I wanted to flip the script, have the antagonist get her comeuppance. 

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

Kelli: Although I enjoy writing all kinds of things, I’ll admit that I’m currently in an "exclusive relationship" with flash fiction. I love the brevity involved, the way a writer can say so much in such a small, compressed space. I love that moment at the end of a really good piece, when your mind is whirring, scrambling to put the pieces together, and suddenly, it’s there, that second when you hold your breath and the truth of it appears, filling the space like magic. It’s just incredibly beautiful.

WOW: Can you tell us what projects are you currently working on? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Kelli: Currently, I’m continuing to develop and hone some new flash pieces. Over the next year or two I would love to write a Novella in Flash. After that, who knows? A novel may be in my future. We’ll see!

WOW:  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Kelli. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

Kelli: My number one tip would be don’t be afraid to start. I think allowing yourself to be imperfect, to write an ugly rough draft, to just get something on the page, is incredibly important. No one has to see it but you until you’re ready, so what is there to lose? Next, practice as much as possible. Find time to write, even if it’s just 15-20 minutes at a time. All of those small moments can add up to something big! When you’re ready, share your writing with people you trust. Finally, and I think the importance of this gets overlooked sometimes, take the “business” of writing as seriously as the writing itself. In particular, I’m thinking of marketing your work, which can be absolutely exhausting and time consuming, but is incredibly important if your goal is to be published and share your craft with others.

It’s been such a privilege to share my writing with WOW!, and to be a part of an incredible community of women writers. Thank you for the opportunity!


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

Monday, January 17, 2022

In my personal and even professional life, I tend to be a little conflict-averse. You won't exactly find me running into the open arms of conflict with my heart wide open. I don't seek it, look for it, and find ways to generate it. However, when it comes to my own writing, I look for it constantly. 

As I have shared recently, I recently found a new way to revise my stories and I found a hitch in the giddy-up of the story I'm working on as a result. You see, there's not enough conflict. The problem I haven't figured out what my character really wants quite yet. I've explored areas that could reveal what her wants might possibly be, but none so far have felt right. This has left me wondering what could that want be and what could get in the way of her having it. 

In most books that talk about writing, they usually talk about a character needing a want or motivation or a goal of some kind, and then something gets in the way of that want or motivation to complicate it, thus generating some conflict. I know this, and yet, I haven't quite nailed down my character enough to find out what's her biggest want, goal, or motivation.

I love examples, and to help myself resolve them, I've thought of some conflict that has come up in my favorite movies. Here are a couple of conflict examples:

Take Office Space for example. Peter's want? Well, he doesn't like his job and he doesn't want to work there anymore. What complicates it? Well, he gets hypnotized into not caring whether he loses his job or not. That's all well and good until his friends who LIKE that job might end up losing theirs, and he ends up keeping his (and even being promoted) despite all his efforts otherwise. If you've seen the movie, you know it gets even more complicated after that. You wonder to yourself as the viewer, how will he get out of his job? How will he help his friends? And so on.

Another movie that's one of my favorites is Beauty and the Beast (I'm thinking of the Disney version). Belle's want? To get out of her small French village and have romance and adventure with someone's that isn't a total jerk. What complicates this? Well, her father gets lost in the woods, and then ends up trapped in a castle. Then she goes to find him and then becomes trapped in the castle herself. So now she isn't even stuck in a small village, she's stuck in a castle with an angry beast. You wonder: How will she get out of the castle? What will happen to her? 

The thing is about conflict is that it isn't just about what happens to the character, I'm realizing that you need to believe that it matters to the character what is happening. It isn't enough that the character is passively experiencing this moment. Like in Office Space, you know that Peter wants to get out of his job but he also wants to help out his friends. The reader has to accept that what is happening to the character has just made it worse for them. Whatever is happening is making it harder for that character to get what they want.

So, I'm not any further along than when I started this post, but maybe as I pursue different conflict scenarios for my character, I'll figure out just the right one to help fit my story. 

How do you figure out the right conflict and complications for your story?

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Idea Generation: The Rules and Regs for Collecting Ideas

Sunday, January 16, 2022

My last post was about Setting Goals in 2022, and one of the things that I wrote about was the Storystorm idea generation challenge. I have since had a question about how Storystorm works. Are the ideas fairly complete? Or are they something I will have to flesh out later? 

In all reality, I try not to set too many rules. I look for challenges like Storystorm that are fairly open to interpretation. Some of my ideas are outlines with a character, setting, story problem, and multiple attempts to solve that problem. The science fiction novel for which I am currently writing Act 3 came to me that way. I knew how the story opened. I had my setting and my story problem. I just had to get to know my characters to know how they would attack that problem. 

Other times I come up with a title. This often happens when I misread something. Since I’m dyslexic, a preview scrolling by can throw me. So can fancy fonts which may be beautiful but can also be tricky to read. I’ll do a double take and realize that it says The Apostle Paul and not The Opossum Paul. That isn’t even close to a complete idea but I still think The Opossum Paul could be a hilarious story. 

In Melanie Faith’s Graphic Novel Creation class, we are working on characters. My notion has blossomed into an idea for single panel comics. The ideas for these tend to be one line long. Since I know who the primary character is, I only need this one line of text to bring to mind a panel. 

Other times my idea revolves around a place or person. I write a lot of nonfiction so a simple note to find out about Pickle Springs or Zerubbabel is enough to start my research. 

So what do you need? Complete ideas or fragments? 

I don’t know. You’re going to have to tell me. It is all going to depend on how you work and what you are comfortable with. 

One of my writing friends admitted to me that she works with one idea at a time. She finishes a novel and then goes after her next idea, weaving together bits of this and that before she has a functioning whole. For her to declare something an idea, it has to be fairly complete. 

I have so many ideas! Way too many to pursue them all. When I don’t write them down, I catch myself running through that day’s ideas. “I need to remember that awesome abandoned church photo, the idea about the Muse, and . . . and . . . what was the guy’s name who invented—"  

It is just a lot easier if I write them down. Then I can let go and move on to what I’m supposed to be working on that day. And, if this catch and release program doesn’t work and an idea keeps popping into my head, I know it is one that I need to work on as soon as possible. 

Writing down messy bits and pieces works for me. You may need to wait until you’ve fleshed something out before you feel honest about calling it an idea. As always, the important thing is to find a method that works for you. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on February 6, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022). 
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Friday Speak Out!: How to Find the Right Writing Coach for You

Friday, January 14, 2022
by Lisa Mae DeMasi

“Do what you love” may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world. Countless superstar entrepreneurs’ TEDx talks and thought leaders’ bestselling books have quoted Maya Angelou: “pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” But that’s not always possible in practice.

I know this firsthand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job’s maddening pace and rigid hierarchy, escaping to do what I loved: writing.

The act of quitting made me subversive, and that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, content. Figured I’d have the memoir written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a bestseller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.

Four years later I found myself gazing into my monitor, not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written three hundred thousand words, revised the body of work four times. And while slurping away at my eighty-seventh cosmo, I understood what I was really missing. A mentor. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come with a tribe of like-minded potential collaborators. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.

Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. We mere mortals need mentors, too—and we can hire them. But there are thousands of writing coaches out there: some are competent, some are lousy, some are soul crushers.

How do you find your coach?

1. Go with the gut: does the coach’s work style and personality jibe with your own? Do her testimonials feel obligatory and ingenuine, or honest and objective? Does she “guarantee she’ll help you write a bestseller”—or provide thorough analysis and work with you to tighten up the manuscript? Listen to your intuition. There are many fantastic coaches with integrity and know-how—don’t get stuck with empty promises.

2. She’s part of your tribe: if you see a potential mentor’s work in a publication you love, or discover her in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal with Random House.

3. She has street cred and success: my coach had testimonials from people who had published, made writing careers, and gotten bylines with top media outlets. She was also successful in her own right—an internationally acclaimed author who’d made her living writing. I knew she could trailblaze a path.

4. She gets you, every single part of you: my coach works in the Gateless method, which fuses creative brain science, industry-savvy skills and tools, and radical nurturing to bring domain-changing work into the world In this methodology, a coach leans into your greatest strengths, the energy of the writing, and the power of your work in the world to manifest your singular genius in the form of a book. Through this method, my coach helps all of me rather than just the part of me working on my craft. This might not be your style at all! Some writers crave nurturing, others want firm deadlines. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list-building, ideal clients and great gigs—unless that’s what you want.

5. It doesn’t happen overnight: Anyone who promises the world in thirty days isn’t helping you make lasting change. It took me an eleven-year journey through the trials and tribulations of a writer’s life—finding the time to write in between putting food on the table—to get to the key of mentorship. Something magical did happen with my coach, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long-lasting for that.

Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media and literary journals, and polished my memoir to pitch literary agents. But more than that, I understand that often, those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.

What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?

* * *
Lisa is pitching “Calamity Becomes Me” to literary agents, her memoir about survival, told with insight, reflection and laugh out loud moments. She also publishes essays on the writing life and women who inspire her. Her work has been featured in Brevity Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir Magazine, Horse Network, Writer Advice, and Shark Reef. She lives near Boston, where she writes technology content for VMware, bikes, and rides horses. You can reach her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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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Thoughts About Woods and Writing

Thursday, January 13, 2022
2022 started with a bang. Or maybe it was more of a thud.

It was around three in the morning, pitch black outside, winds howling. And I know us writer types love to use that expression for colorful imagery but in this case, the winds were actually howling. Broken branches were knocking against my house and roof and now wide awake, I began to read (and pray), waiting for the worst of the storm to pass through. 

An hour or so later, I heard a thud and LOUD cracking. There is nothing quite as terrifying as that cracking sound when you live with ginormous trees all around you. But Libs was quiet, the house was intact, and I figured that a tree had fallen in the woods. 

I figured wrong. I woke up to another tree down in my yard (the thud and cracking), smashed into my fence (which I’d just repaired six months ago from the last downed tree). And I’m not going to sugar coat it, y’all. Poor Libs heard some pretty discouraging words, along with some words that decent folk shouldn’t use. The tirade ended with me yelling something to the effect of, “Enough! We’re moving!”

But as I drank my tea and gazed out my kitchen window into my yard, I began to calm down and first, realize how grateful I was that the tree had fallen into the woods and not on my house. And I looked into those woods, thinking how much I love that view every morning, in every breath-taking season. I love the trees, the river behind them, the deer that wander through them. The woods, and the wildness of my own backyard, bring joy to my life. Which, at least for today, make it worth sticking around.

My writing life came to mind, gazing out that window the next morning. Because there are times—and honestly, A LOT of times—when I hear some pretty discouraging words rumbling around in my head. When I get yet another rejection for a submission that I thought was a sure acceptance, I think maybe I’m not such a good writer after all and I should quit wasting my time and energy.

When I stand by, watching other writer friends’ accomplishments and I’m going through a terribly long dry spell, I admit that words not suitable for children tumble out of my mouth. And when I spend years coming close to selling a manuscript, only to hear, “Not for me,” again, I want to yell, “Enough! I quit!”

But then, I hear from someone—a friend or a reader here at the Muffin—telling me how much they love my writing. Or I sit down with a document in front of me, and the words sing across the page, like a glorious symphony. And I think of the words from Neil Gaiman, the quote my daughter included when she framed the covers of my first two books:

 “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” 

Tomorrow, there may be a downed tree and busted fence in my yard, but there will also be those beautiful woods, refreshing my heart and soul. There may be another rejection in my inbox, but there may also be a note from a friend, sending encouraging words. 

And my novel-length manuscripts may continue to languish in a dusty cyber file, but when I sit down at my keyboard tonight, it might be a good writing day. And I will laugh out loud, wondering how I could ever quit something that brings me so much joy. 

So, friends, may your 2022 be filled with good writing days. And may all our trees stay upright!

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Nurturing Voices

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Recently, my middle schoolers finished drafting and revising their pioneer pieces. Each of them chose a pioneer--someone who had broken barriers--and had researched, took notes, composed, crafted, edited and revised. They studied how the person had changed the world. They also examined the person's obstacles.

Several of my students discovered their person had been told they shouldn't have the dream they dreamed. For example, Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go into space. However, years ago she was also a kindergartener who said she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up.

Her kindergarten teacher said, "Mae, I'm sure you mean you want to be a nurse."

Mae grew up and became a medical doctor... and then she became an astronaut. 

Some of my students, in their conclusion, touched upon the idea that everyone has the right to have their own dream, that nobody should be able to tell other people what they will grow up to become... and yet it still happens.

                                                                  image by Pixabay

Sometimes it's parents who perhaps unwittingly squash dreams. Maybe they cannot fathom how somebody could make a living off a particular idea, so they try to steer their child in a different direction. For example, there are people who make Youtube videos--and some of them are doing quite well financially. If a kid had said, "I want to make funny little movies for the internet," ten years ago, we probably would laughed or scoffed, figuring it was no way to make a living.

But it is.

Sometimes it's writing colleagues who don't mean any harm, but do some damage nonetheless. Perhaps you normally write creative nonfiction, and then decide to write outside your box. You write a piece of horror. Or a fluffy romance piece. Or some sci-fi. And when you bring it to the group to share, there's one member who doesn't get it... who's puzzled... who cut it down a bit too roughly--which makes you second-guess yourself. Should I have even tried that? What was I thinking, doing something different? Which makes you return to your box, never to try something new again.

Nobody knows exactly what makes up a young person's dream--or an old person's dream, either. Nobody can predict the future to know exactly what will be the next fad in the publishing world. I'm sure if George R. R. Martin had said, "I'm going to write a whole series of books--each one will be big enough to be a doorstop--and it's going to be about kings and queens doing unspeakable things to each other... oh, and there's going to be dragons, too--and it's going to be for adults," people might have laughed. But now? Now Martin is laughing all the way to bank.

And nobody knows how strong a person's will is. If a child or a friend has a strong will, if they're packed to the gills with determination, they might just succeed in achieving their dreams. Instead of laughing (even inwardly), try to discover the loops and knots that make up the dream--and encourage rather than discourage...

Sioux is a middle school teacher (as she mentioned at the beginning) and savors reading her students' work. She also is a freelance writer (is the proud author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story--a historical novel published by a traditional press--Editor-911 Books) and rescues dogs. You can check out more about Sioux on her blog.

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Interview with Ainhoa Palacios, Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Today I'm excited to interview Ainhoa Palacios, runner up in our Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest. Make sure you read her story Chola and then come on back to read the interview.

First, let me tell you more about Ainhoa:

Ainhoa Palacios was born in Lima, Peru, and moved to the US at the age of six where she was raised by her mother, Abue, and sister. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in journalism but soon after remembered it was a different kind of storytelling she loved.

Since, her work has been long-listed in Fish Publishing’s Short Memoir contest, come as a finalist in Sunspot Literary Journal’s Rigel 2021 competition, and appeared in publications like Somos En Escrito.

Ainhoa currently lives in Shenzhen, China with her two dogs—a wild-eyed husky and tripod miniature pinscher.

To connect with Ainhoa, follow her on Instagram @noah_pal_.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First, congratulations on winning runner-up! I was pulled in immediately with your story. What was the inspiration behind this story? 

In recent years I have started exploring my own experience of growing up as a Latina immigrant in the US. One of the first stories I wrote surrounding this theme was titled "Gringas"—a slang term often used in Latin countries to describe an English-speaking foreign woman (usually a white woman). From that story, the word 'cholas' naturally came next. The story which pulls from my own experiences of wanting to have straight hair and refusing to wear hoop earrings is a reflection of that. I wanted to touch on that sensation of being a teenage girl, feeling the pressure to fit in, while also trying to avoid falling into certain categories. 

WOW: I think you did a beautiful job portraying that pressure and internal struggle. I thought it was fascinating how you chose 2nd person to tell this story. What made you decide to write it in this way? 

What often happens when I begin a story is I just begin without giving much thought to the point of view, but rather the feel and content. I’m just trying to get words on paper. But once I've gotten a general idea down, I'll play with changing the tense. Just trying different ways in my head to see if one works better. This particular story was written in 1st person but something wasn't quite working. I felt it was very dull. I randomly started playing with telling it in 2nd person, read it to a friend who loved it, and knew that was it! 

WOW: What a moment! It's so unique. I see that you graduated with a degree in Journalism! How did this experience prepare you for creative writing? 

My first instinct is to tell someone how journalism pushed me in the direction of creative writing by showing me the type of writing I didn’t want to do. But that’s not all true. The part of my journalism degree, the experience I loved was telling someone’s story creatively. With heart. I think in some ways, all the interviewing, has helped me to think of the kinds of details I want to include in a story. Details I had to notice myself while interviewing someone just for context if nothing else.

WOW: It probably helps you develop such strong characters too! How do you know when a story is done? 

This one is difficult, and to be honest, I am not sure it ever truly is. I have left stories for months and when I go back to reread them, I’ll almost always find something I want to change. However, for the sake of going forth, I have started to find a comfortable spot to stop. The place where I am comfortable showing the story to someone, receiving feedback, either taking that feedback or deciding not to, and then letting the story go. If it is something I am proud of, can stand behind, I’ll call it complete with, of course, the possibility of always being revisited or expanded in the future. 

WOW: I feel the same way - there's always something for me to change in a story. It's hard to call it truly complete! What are you currently working on that you can tell us a bit about? 

"Cholas" is part of a collection of shorts that have been my main focus this year. Every story is in some way connected to growing up Latina in the US and the themes surrounding it like the feeling of displacement, searching for an identity, and mending broken relationships. I hope the collection can see publication one day! 

WOW: I hope so too! Congratulations again and we look forward to seeing more from you!

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Three Technical Rules to Get Right, So Your Writing Is Not Dismissed

Monday, January 10, 2022

Very few writers enjoy reading articles and blog posts about the technical aspects of writing. It's much more fun to read the inspiring posts and Cinderella stories--or even how-tos about building better characters or writing an attention-grabbing beginning.

However, I recently finished judging some contest entries, and falling down in the technical area can actually be the difference between your piece going to the final round of judging--or not. You can have the best story idea. You can create amazing characters whom readers want for best friends. You might include sensory details and perfect dialogue. But none of that matters if you put too many ellipses, write run-on sentences, or forget to break a conversation into paragraphs. Of course, there are a ton of grammar and punctuation rules, but those three I just mentioned confuse a lot of writers. Let's talk through them.

1. My number one pet peeve is...the overuse...of...ellipses. Ellipses can be used in a quote to show that some words are missing. They can also be used to show a pause or someone trailing off on a thought. Like an exclamation point or adverb, they should be used...sparingly! (I couldn't resist.) For a flash fiction piece, this means using ellipses not at all or one time. You can use a dash or comma to show someone pausing in a line of dialogue. You can use use dialogue tags. You can use periods even. But do yourself a favor, and during revision, cut out those ellipses. 

2. The other two are not pet peeves. They are rules. Run-on sentences are often confused with the correct use of phrases, separated by commas, to show that there are a string of thoughts rushing out from the point of view character. But there's a difference between using that technique, and forgetting to punctuate sentences correctly. Mostly try to remember this: if you have two complete sentences next to each other, they need a conjunction and a comma. The other choice is to put a semicolon. Finally, you can put a period and divide those up! Examples:
  • Wrong: Eloise couldn't wait for her job interview for a dream position she tried on five outfits and she asked her loser boyfriend which one was best he didn't like any of them now, she doubted herself.
  • Correct: Eloise couldn't wait for her job interview for a dream position. She tried on five outfits, and she asked her loser boyfriend which one was best; he didn't like any of them. Now, she doublted herself.
3. I know this last and final rule I want to discuss can seem like a waste of space on the page, but remember readers, especially if you are writing for under 18, like white space. In a written conversation, every time a new character has a line of dialogue, start a new paragraph. Plus if one person says something, but the other person does an action as a result, that action needs to go in a new paragraph. Here's a correct example:

"What led you to apply for this job, Eloise?" Mrs. Smith asked.

Eloise crossed and uncrossed her legs. She cleared her throat.

Mrs. Smith smiled warmly. "Take your time, please. I know job interviews make people so nervous."

"I love children," Eloise finally croaked out. "My dream has always been to have my own preschool classroom, and this job and center are perfect for me." Her voice grew stronger, as she imagined herself in the middle of the room of four-year-old students.

Mrs. Smith glanced up and down at Eloise's resume. "You certainly have the experience we're looking for."

End scene.

It's hard to find your own mistakes. And I don't think you need to hire an editor for every single piece you write and submit somewhere (especially that aren't book-length). But I do think allowing another person to read it and even point out where things seem off is important. If you don't have anyone like this, then let the piece sit for at least a day and create a checklist of your common mistakes to look for when you edit it.

After all, you want your piece to be judged on the content and writing style--not the technical errors.

Happy writing!

Margo L. Dill is an editor, writer, and publisher of Editor-911 Books. To find out more about her, check out or Her next WOW! class, Writing Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, starts on January 26. Check it out here

Photo of pencil above by Pink Sherbert from
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