Consider Blending Genres

Tuesday, May 31, 2022


Photo by cottonbro on

“A reader lives many lives,” James Harris said. “The person who doesn’t read lives but one. But if you’re happy just doing what you’re told and reading what other people think you should read, then don’t let me stop you. I just find it sad.” - From "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires."

I finished up a book this weekend that left me eagerly heading over to Amazon and Goodreads for the book reviews, because it was such a fascinating example of storytelling. I first noticed the book, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” last summer while browsing one of my favorite independent bookstores. Both the title and cover intrigued me, but I already had another book in my hand, so I put it back. Someone in my family remembered me talking about the book so I got it as a Christmas gift. 

Any book about a book club is going to be an automatic draw for me, but a book club set in 1990s Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina where the women decide to be “rebels” and discuss only spooky books like true crime and suspense/thrillers? Count me in, especially when a mysterious man moves into the neighborhood who may or may not be a vampire. Yes, you read that right. 

At first, I thought the protagonist, Patricia, was only mistaking new resident James Harris for a vampire. She did invite him into her home and offered to let him be the only male member of their club. This book, authored by Grady Hendrix, is described as “Steel Magnolias” meets “Dracula.” I described it as “Steel Magnolias” or “Fried Green Tomatoes” meets “Fright Night,” after that move set in the 1980s. Not only are there themes of female friendship, an exploration of race relations in the south, but there is also plenty of horror thrown in. So if you’re not up to someone’s ear being bitten off or a large band of rats attacking an elderly woman, this book may not be for you. As an avid reader of true crime, I also enjoyed reading about the characters’ discussions about famous books like “The Stranger Beside Me,” and “Helter Skelter.” The author includes an annotated true-crime reading list as bonus content at the end of the book. 

But as a writer, I was fascinated by the blend of storytelling the author created. I’ve never read anything quite like this, and it made me rethink ways I could tell new stories in the future. It can be a tough sell to readers, though, based on the reviews of “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.” Some reviewers thought it was a compelling exploration of the themes, and appreciated the horror aspect. Other reviewers hated the way the male characters treated their wives and how the police didn’t care to investigate when Black children went missing or died mysteriously in the town. I believe the author set out to write a southern gothic book and succeeded with the character development and themes explored. 

Have you read an interesting work (or written one?) lately that blended different genres? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and creator of the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. She now knows that picking up "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires" on a night she had insomnia may not have been a good idea.
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What I've Learned This Year (So Far) About Writing

Monday, May 30, 2022

We're almost to the mid-way point on 2022 (can you believe it?) and I figured it's time to do a 
reflection post. This time of year is great for resetting goals and reflecting on how things have gone so far. I feel like I've taken major strides in writing so far. I've worked more with editors this year than I have in previous years and have gotten more income from my writing than in other years too. While I haven't had my fiction published, submitting continues to be part of my journey and I'm hoping to end the year with an acceptance.

So with all of this in mind, here are a few things I've learned that maybe can help you:

  • Your story isn't for everyone.
I recently started submitting a story of mine that has strong Christian elements. It's probably the first story with this in the overarching theme, and someone recently asked me, "Do you plan on submitting to Christian literary mags? Have you thought of that?" Well, to be honest, I hadn't at the time. I always have those first round of lit mags that I send to, in hopes one day, they will accept my work. Then I go down the line of researching and submitting it to the next batch.

With this in mind though, considering that kind of short story isn't for everyone, I scouted out lit mags catering to that niche audience that loves those kinds of stories. It's a reminder to me that knowing your audience is key to your writing success.

  • It's okay to take a pause.
I recently had an opportunity to accept a writing job but felt the need to take a pause. I told the person I wasn't sure if I could take on other projects at the moment. I have a bad habit of seeing a window of free time as an opportunity to pile on more work (instead of seeing it for what it is: a window of free time).

I've taken pauses in other ways too. For example, my blogs and social media are definitely on the back burner these days. As a result, I feel better. I can't say I don't pop in occasionally but my activity is more passive than active these days.

  • All editors and people who critique your work are unique.
And sometimes that uniqueness is a challenge. I find some editors like a million exclamation points when asking for clarity, some critiquers have no need to share something positive they liked, and others have a gift for being helpful without hurtful. It's all a balance. What I've tried to keep in mind is that I hope to learn something from someone's feedback and edits in some way. When I'm at the revision stage of something and asking for edits, feedback, or critiques, I'm not walking into it assuming I'm totally right. I remember it's a learning process and I want to learn (not be told I'm right).

  • Grammar software is a must.
I LOVE grammar and proofreading software. I am currently using the free version of Grammarly. I've also used the paid version and the paid version of ProWritingAid. Both are unbelievably helpful with writing. I highly recommend either one of them. They've helped me catch many of my own mistakes.

  • Keep going.
I've had several stories this year come under the revision knife again. It's always a challenge that leaves me wondering if I just need to let the story go. But I figure, why not keep trying? Keeping up with writing is a marathon. It's definitely a long-haul journey that requires stamina to keep going.

What have you learned this year so far?

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Interview with Jessica Ann Berry: 2022 Q2 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, May 29, 2022
Jessica’s Bio:
Jessica Ann Berry is 42 years old, originally from New Jersey. She is a lawyer, aspiring to be a former lawyer. Jessica volunteers at her local no-kill animal shelter, where she walks and feeds dogs, trains volunteers, performs reference checks, and happily reads to dogs who need more personal attention. An avid hiker, she is proud to have hiked Zion National Park’s Angels Landing twice. She is also a certified scuba diver, and has dived in Hawaii, Roatan, Cozumel and St. Thomas. Jessica is partial to essayists such as David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. After years of working on her own books she never finished, Jessica switched her writing focus to essays and flash pieces, and she’s really enjoyed the process of creating shorter, compelling content. Jessica is a proud member of the bookstagram community and her account handle is @Berried_In_A_Book

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

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q2 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing process evolve as you wrote? 

Jessica: I remember the day I started this essay. My mom was still in the hospital, and we had little to no information about her condition. I was frustrated and scared and depressed, so I just grabbed a legal pad and wrote out what I remembered of getting the call from my brother and making the journey to the hospital. I was on my lunch break at work, sitting in my "office" that was really a supply closet in a law office, and I couldn't have felt any lower. I threw the pad into a box when I moved offices and only found it a year ago while cleaning out my garage. Immediately upon finding the legal pad, I read what I'd written, cried my eyes out, and finished the essay on a proper computer. It was nice to revisit this traumatic moment with a decade's separation. I think that's what allowed me to inject dark humor throughout the essay. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your process with us. I’m so glad that you were able and willing to revisit that moment and that piece of writing and make meaning from it. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Jessica: I've always been an over-sharer, brutally honest about myself, even when speaking to strangers. I just say it all and I don't carry a lot of embarrassment or secrets. This essay, and especially placing as runner-up, taught me that those traits can be harnessed to create something as entertaining as it is tragic. 

WOW: You wrote in your bio that you spent years writing books you never finished, but you’ve found more enjoyment and success writing shorter, compelling content. Can you tell us more about your shift in focus to essays and flash writing? 

Jessica: As an example, I've started a fiction book called Better When I'm Deader about a lawyer, surprise, who fakes her death to hide from student loans and the mob. Unfortunately, years and years of being a lawyer have dulled my creative instincts. I never finished it and it's been 4 years. I don't know HOW to craft a fiction piece. I have no experience with the three acts, creating a character, weaving in conflict and resolution, etc. What I AM good at is writing short, to-the-point, legal briefs; although I dislike my profession, it's been wonderful for my transition into flash and essay pieces. I do want to make it a full novel one day, but I've turned Better When I'm Deader into a flash piece that I am excited to submit for the fiction contest. 

WOW: I love that you were able to create a flash piece from your unfinished novel (not an easy feat), and we’re honored that you’ll share it with us in our fiction contest! Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Jessica: David Sedaris is someone I can read all day. His work is my desert island stuff. He punctuates the mundane and even tragic aspects of real life with humor and I love everything he writes. I'm a very sarcastic person, with no filter, and a sick, self-deprecating humor, so his style is exactly the mood I go for when I write. 

WOW: If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Jessica: This one's painful for me because I live steeped in regret about this topic: Don't go to law school, keep writing and just get a job to pay the bills after college while you write. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your advice. I commend you for making the time to write now, even if you wished you’d taken steps towards it sooner. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Jessica: I am incredibly appreciative that the contest judges read my essay and really understood my purpose in reliving this tragic day. It wasn't just about one day or one trauma. "This Is Trauma" is about how we perceive things in the moment, how we react, and how we can look back with the benefit of hindsight and distance and darkly laugh at our worst days. 

WOW: Thank you for that insight into your writing and for your other thoughtful responses! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Personal Tweets @dr_greenawalt.
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Friday Speak Out!: The List-Maker

Friday, May 27, 2022
by Leslie Cox

I’m a list-maker. I make lists every day. Lists in my head and on paper. I email myself “to do” lists, grocery lists, song lists, book lists, movie lists. Lists of writing resources and essay ideas. Friends at work teased me for making lists on sticky notes and plastering them all over my computer monitor. Then someone clever came up with sticky notes to place on a computer screen, not on paper, by typing them onto the desktop, a more sustainable way to keep track.

My notepad is chock-full of lists, starting with a list of questions to ask an old friend to fill in gaps for my memoir: 1) What was Tim (my ex) like as a kid? 2) Why did his parents split up? 3) Was his brother really a product of the milkman?

Next is a list of five common elements of a successful memoir: 1) Drama, 2) Relevance, 3) Authenticity, 4) Character Arc, and 5) After-effect.

I flip the page to find a list of 18 weak adjectives not to use to avoid confusion in one’s writing. Lackluster words like: 1) happy, 2) sad, 3) cold, and 4) hot should be replaced with stronger words from a thesaurus. And avoid adverbs, e.g., 1) really, 2) very, etc.

The following page is a perpetual “to do” list of things not checked off because the above lists are more gratifying. 1) Review options for health insurance, 2) pay house taxes, 3) take car through emissions, 4) fix car so it will pass emissions, 5) take car through emissions again, 6) apply for car tags since my registration expired two months ago.

The next page is not a list, but a story my mom tells about a guy she crushed on before marrying my dad. She met Francis Hudson at the post office, and it just so happened every day when he stopped to get his mail, she was there unlocking her mailbox. They flirted a lot, but she didn’t let him kiss her, and when he asked her on a date, she declined. Seventy years later, she reveals her regret for turning him down. They wrote letters while he was in the navy, and sadly his ship went down somewhere in the Pacific during WWII. Mom said he was from a small town near Tucson, Arizona, so in the margin I’ve made a long list of possibilities: Sahuarita, Green Valley, Tombstone, San Simone, Bisbee, Sierra Vista, Bowie, Deming, Marana, Oro Valley, and Eloy. I suppose I could count this story as a first item on a new list of essay ideas.

A list of songs I heard on Spotify while cooking dinner recently brought back these memories:

1. La Grange by ZZ Top: My older brother’s best friend in high school invited me to sing in his band and later invited me for a ride in his green, fluorescent car. He pulled over and invited me to kiss him, and that’s where the story ends.

2. Highway to Heaven by AC/DC: My cousin’s ex-husband, a talented guitarist, portrayed Angus Young in an AC/DC tribute band. He was spitting image of Young giving a high-energy performance in a schoolboy uniform.

3. Black Magic Woman by Santana: My brother shared his vinyl record album “Santana Abraxis” with me when I was nine. The image of a naked black woman on the cover intrigued me. Listening closely to the lyrics, I realize instead of “You just might pick up my magic sticks” I’ve been singing “You just might be on my magic list.” You can see I value lists.

4. Old Time Rock & Roll by Bob Seger: There are too many memories to mention here only because this worn-out song has been played at every wedding reception, high school reunion, and birthday party I’ve attended since 1978. Enough said about that one.

5. Black Betty by Ram Jam. My daughter did a tap dance performance to this song. During her dance recital she sent me this text: “I forgot my pants for our next performance!” I hightailed it home to get the damn pants and by the time I returned, she had borrowed pants from her teacher and the performance was over. I still feel angst hearing that song.

Songs remind me of people, places, and feelings from my past. Music is inspiration for writing. So, writers, make some lists. Lists that make you really happy exhilarated, or very sad sorrowful. Lists that furnish ideas for an essay when you’re on a deadline and the page is blank.

* * *

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

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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Start with the Macro Edits

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Recently I took a webinar on self-editing picture book manuscripts. The presenter, editor Natascha Biebow, explained that when we edit our work we need to start with macro-edits and then move on to micro-edits 

I quickly realized that her macro-edits were what I call “big picture” edits. These are the structural things that make or break your story. Micro-edits were the minute details like word choice, spelling, and punctuation that make for smooth reading, but without the macro-edits no amount of polish will save a manuscript. 

Discussing this with my accountability group, we realized that we are all much better at micro-editing our work. Angela pointed out that many writers really need an outside reader to help them see the big picture. Without another pair of eyes, it is hard to see what works and what doesn’t on a structural level. 

One thing that can help you conduct your own macro-edits is to analyze your work based on a checklist of possible problems. For fiction, macro-edits include: 

  1. Whether or not the reader knows who the main character is by the end of chapter one for a novel or the first paragraph for a piece of flash. 
  2. Does the reader know what the character’s problem is or what is at risk if the character fails to solve this problem? 
  3. Does the story have a beginning, a middle, and an end? The beginning is where you set up the story problem. The middle is where the character attempts to solve this problem. The ending of the story wraps it all up. 
  4. Is the character sympathetic and three-dimensional? This doesn’t mean that the character needs to be likable, but they need to have one or more traits that readers can sympathize with. She may be an anti-hero, but she does her mother’s laundry every week, or she feeds the stray cats in her neighborhood. 
  5. Does your reader know what the setting is? This means that they need to know when and where it takes place. Too often stories take place in some un-named blank space. 
  6. Is each of your characters essential to the story? Maybe some of them can be combined or eliminated. You need to similarly scrutinize each chapter and scene. 

Nonfiction is going to have a slightly different set of possible macro-edits but these include: 

  1. Is there a clear introduction? This is where you let the reader know what you are writing about and why it matters. 
  2. Do you build your piece step by step? This means that material needs to be presented in the most effective order. But it also means that you include enough clear, meaningful examples to lead your reader through the argument or the steps in completing your how-to. 
  3. Is the voice consistent throughout the piece? Or does it start out stiff and then get more conversational as you warm to your topic? You also need to verify that this voice is appropriate for the audience and market. 
  4. Make sure that all necessary terms are defined. 
  5. Is each paragraph unique? It can be easy to give the same information in more than one place. Delete all repetitive sections. 
  6. Does the ending include a clear summary of all conclusions? Or is it rushed? 

Analyzing your work to make macro-edits is tough. It is too easy to see the manuscript you intended to write vs the manuscript you actually created. Going through a check list and examining one element at a time can make this task easier. What items would you include in your own macro-edit checklist?


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 June 5, 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 June 5, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins June 5, 2022). 
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About Age, Attitude, and Working

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Last weekend, I was sitting around a kitchen table, meeting with a few adults, enjoying a delightful brunch. We were joined by my friend’s eight-year-old daughter. Out of the blue, she asked, “Do you work?”

I paused for a minute, thinking—oh, lots of things about how I work, if I work, this industry I’m still engaged with in a love/hate relationship. But to keep it simple with my new friend, I said, “Yes, I do. I’m a writer.” 

“An author,” she said, her voice dropping in that way we do when awestruck. (A tone I reserve for astronauts or rock stars.) 

The conversation moved quickly to the next topic but I was stuck, pondering this little girl’s reaction to what I do. To an eight-year-old, being an author was amazing! Whereas to a woman of a certain age (ahem), being an author is kinda… 

Ordinary. And I’m a bit ashamed about that. Not that I think I should be skipping around shouting, “I’m an author! Woohoo!” all the livelong day but neither should I forget what it took to get to that achievement, and how hard so many excellent writers continue to work, hoping to accomplish publication. 

So, yes, I need to kick my jaded attitude to the curb and reclaim my enthusiasm. Darn right, I’m an author and that’s awesome

And in the same week, in a conversation with my contemporaries, something came up about laptops. Or was it streaming? The point is, it had something to do with technology and of course, we were grousing about all the new-fangled stuff out there and some were, admittedly, done with it all. They’d stick with what they knew, thank you very much. 

And sitting at my desk later, laptop open and glitching over some time-consuming upgrade, I wondered when I would be done. 

Um…to clarify, I mean how much longer would I make the effort to stay in the game. Because as we all know, time and technology wait for no one. It’s constantly changing, this business of writing, and there’s no going back to our halcyon days. 

Writing will always be writing, sure, so people (I hope!) will always be required to come up with the ideas and write the thoughts. But how we edit, how we market, how we query—just to name a few—have changed by leaps and bounds! Much of what I learned five years ago has long surpassed the “use by” date.

We often resist change, but with age, it seems like we resist even more; we decide it’s just not worth the bother. But now that I think more about it, I wonder if it’s not so much the years stacked against us but our attitude. Maybe that old nugget is true, that you’re as young (or old) as you feel. And when we start thinking old, we wave the white flag. 

Honestly, there are days when I want to snatch up the white flag, wrap myself in it, and just take a nap. But then an eight-year-old girl comes along and reminds me that authors are awesome, no matter how old they are. And that makes me smile when I go back to work, trying to figure out yet another "helpful innovation" by some young whippersnapper.

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Whose Truth is It?

Monday, May 23, 2022


Whose Truth is It?

"I have to tell the truth"

Grab your coffee or tea before you get too much further - this may be a longer than usual chat. 

Ready? Here goes - I need your help with something spinning in my brain:

Sometimes the truth is easier to define than others. I find myself pondering what is true when I sit down to critique an essay or short story, or write a book review. Of course, I have to tell the truth - but wait...what's the truth and whose truth is it? This is an internal conversation I have every time. It's so much easier when you're talking about baking or driving. The truth is, the recipe calls for 2T of sweet cream. The truth is, the speed limit is 45mph. Those are what I like to think of as simple truths. You can't argue with them. You COULD say the recipe calls for 2T of sweet cream but I use 1.5T or the speed limit is 45mph but I'm always going 50mph through there. When it comes to someone's work of art the truth is anything but simple. 

Without knowing every author on a personal level, it's hard for me to know the reason behind publishing their book. We could have this same conversation when it comes to art - but I'll save that for another day as I was reading the many comments about the Coach X Jean-Michel Basquat bag. You can look that up for yourself. But I digress...

Back to authors and books. Some authors write as something therapeutic and end up sharing it with the world with the intention to help others. Some people write to share their own stories. I could keep going all day and I must mention my current book blog tour for a book that was written by a friend of  mine at the request of a woman's grandchildren who found her old (written in Italian) love letters and wanted them published. (Check out more about that particular book and reason for writing it here: Audry Fryer's "Until Next Sunday".  Some people set out to advance their career in a particular field and others want to write the next great American novel...Anyway - I find myself not liking certain books for whatever reason(s) but when I sit down to write my review I start by reminding myself "I have to tell the truth".

That brings me to a menagerie of other questions for me, myself and I (here are just a few of the most often brought to the forefront for me):

*Is it the book I didn't like or is it something about myself that I learned by reading the book and maybe the book is lovely and it's part of me that I don't like? 

*Is the book not good, or does the topic itself scare me or not interest me?

*Is it the book or is there a character that reminds me of someone I have negative associations with?

*Is the book not good or am I not understanding why it was written or for whom?

The truth is - I struggle to love books about adoption because they hit too close to home. This doesn't mean I can't give the book 5 stars - because the book is likely well written, well intended, and it's my own trauma giving me the negative vibe and it has nothing to do with the authors truth. It's my truth that is standing in the way of my loving the book. Same thing with books about suicide. I commend authors who write about difficult topics - when I can barely bring myself to read the books much less write them. 

I try hard not to confuse MY truth with the truth of the book and the author. We all bring to the proverbial table all of our past experiences, all our biases, all our relationships, and oh so many emotions. Because of these differences, I may love a book and you may not. I can also tell you there are very few books I can honestly give a negative review for - because each of my reviews is simply my own truth. I commend anyone who has published their work, just as I commend every artist who has hung their work or the musicians who have made a sound. 

YOU should share your truth - whether it be through written or spoken word, work of art, music, etc... and as someone who reviews your truth, I will always do my best to share MY truth without taking away from yours. 

As our time together comes to an end, let me ask you:

What do you struggle with most when it comes to sharing your truth? (what's holding you back from publishing, or writing that review, or singing that solo?)

What do you ask yourself most often when writing a book review?

Do you completely disagree with my article? I want to hear that too!

Is there a book you think I need to read and review? (I definitely need to hear about these)

 Share your answers as a comment on this post!

PS - the painting at the top of this page is one of my most favorite works of art. You may see mistakes - I see something painted by myself and my teenage daughter. We often don't see eye to eye, but we decided to do this together and each worked on a certain part. This painting hangs in my kitchen as a reminder that working together can create something beautiful. This is just one example where MY truth may not align with yours - and that's just fine! 



About Today's Author:

Crystal is a foodie, farmer, and friend! She has 6 children and lots of special young people who call her "mom" even if she isn't 'their' mom! She starts each day sipping coffee and milking cows with the love of her life and occasionally ends the day with a glass of wine.  Crystal is raising kids and cattle while juggling cleaning jobs, bartending shifts, music gigs, her job as office manager and she escapes reality a few hours each week riding horses and reading books (not simultaneously)! And who knows, she may start blogging again sometime soon:

In the meantime, you can find her posting pics of food, cattle, and more on Instagram and Facebook

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Interview with Marion Karian: 2022 Q2 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Saturday, May 21, 2022
Congratulations to Marion Karian and Cabinets of Curiosity and all the winners of our 2022 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!
Marion Karian is a registered nurse who retired in 2015 from an organization she founded in 1976 to serve infants and children with special needs and their families. She spent 40 years writing grants to support this work. In retirement she writes creative non-fiction. Her current project is telling stories of her family from the more than 2,000 letters her parents exchanged during World War II. She lives with her husband of 54 years on the banks of the San Joaquin River in Fresno, California. She has been published in The Mindful Word, Saveur, and The Fresno Bee. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Marion's talent in writing with the touching story Cabinets of Curiosity and then return here for a chat with this amazing author. 

WOW!: Congratulations again on placing in the Q2 Creative Nonfiction Contest! I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cabinets of Curiosity and I'm sure everyone else will as well! What was your hope as a take-away from Cabinets of Curiosity

Marion:  The main take-away from Cabinets of Curiosity is the impact one’s curiosity about the past can have on understanding the present. I find this particularly true when I remain curious about those who have been important figures in shaping who I am and how I respond to the world. In exploring what has gone before me, I discover things about myself. Through wondering and pondering, and even raw research, my connections between past and present are deepened. My grandfather had a huge impact on my life—even though he died when I was six years old—I seek to know more about why that is. I have few direct memories of him, but through studying his scholarly writings, some old letters, and even the small leather case he carried in which he kept sermon notes, thoughts, and poetry that held special meaning for him, I am getting to know him. Studying the things he treasured and left behind quietly reveal to me the reasons I hold him in such esteem. 

WOW!: It sounds like you have certainly received the great gift of supportive people in your younger years - who is your current support? 

Marion: Without a doubt my husband of 54 years is my biggest source of support. He supported my journey through my work with children and families and the creation of what became a large organization. He cheered me on, filled in at home, and tolerated the times when I was preoccupied with the challenges of my work. When I retired and struggled to transition into a new way of living, he supported me in creating a writing life. We also sought experiences that we could participate in together. During the first five years of our retirement we went on five medical (humanitarian) missions to Armenia (each two weeks in length). We worked with the people there, sharing our respective skills with them in ways that we believed helped them and also held great meaning for each of us. Unfortunately, these missions ended with the pandemic. 

WOW!: It's so heartwarming to hear of the love and support of your amazing husband (photo of the two of you below) and congratulations on your recent 'honeymoon'! Does journaling play a role in your in your life and your writing and how about contests, is this your first contest submission? Tell us more about the area of both journaling and contests for you?

I do not journal regularly. When I retired, I began taking writing classes at our local university (Cal State Fresno) through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The positive feedback I received through these classes gave me the courage to enroll in the intensive two-week CSU Summer Arts program at Fresno State. This is where the world of writing opened to me. The guest artists who I met there inspired me, and their feedback encouraged me to keep writing. Learning with other writers with much more experience helped me gradually begin to see myself as a “writer”. From Summer Arts I learned about WOW! Women on Writing and began taking courses online. When the pandemic hit and we were locked down, I took course after course through WOW! These courses helped me fill the endless hours available to me during our long quarantine. This is where Cabinets of Curiosity had its origin. On a whim I decided to enter the contest. I had never considered entering a writing contest, but I figured that at the very least I would get feedback on my essay and that would be helpful. Sending my essay off felt a bit like sending off the many grant proposals I wrote in my pre-retirement life: filled with hope. I started a writing group with a few writers from the very first OSHER class I took at Fresno State. This group has met monthly for five years and has kept me connected with five other women who love sharing the stories of our lives through a different prompt each month. This group has been an important part of my writing life as they keep me writing. I do best when I have deadlines (a la grants!) and, with my group, every month I have one! 

WOW!: You certainly keep yourself busy Marion - so that begs me to ask what's next for you?

Marion: I have inherited nearly 2,000 letters that my parents exchanged during World War II when my father was in the Marines. They were separated from each other for most of the 40 month he served. I was born during that time, and the letters tell their story, but they also tell mine. I recently finished reading them all and placing them in chronological order in binders that stretch out nearly 8 feet in length. I am beginning to extract the stories they contain. As with Cabinets of Curiosity, delving into the past through these important relationships, I am learning about my parents and the world they lived in, and in doing that I am also discovering things about myself. 11. Advice for others? Keep writing! Keep reading! Take classes with teachers who provide direct feedback on your writing. Surround yourself with other writers of all levels. There are so many opportunities for learning. 

Strangely, the pandemic has opened many doors through Zoom and the abundance of other media that connect teachers, writers, and people who share common interest and are willing to provide feedback. 

WOW!: Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me today - you are such an inspiration! I look forward to hearing from you again in the future! 

Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

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Friday Speak Out!: Poetry in the Pandemic Awakened My Love for Lyricism

Friday, May 20, 2022
by Ann Kathryn Kelly

One of the reasons I took up writing poetry in the pandemic is because I’m not a baker.

The sour dough starter trend that swept a world on lockdown two years ago—a world desperate for distraction from a 24x7 virus news cycle driven by ever-changing theories, rising death tolls, and naked fear—was a trend I knew was not for me. Up to that point in my life, I’d demonstrated expertise only in frozen pizza preparation. Well, my scrambled eggs aren’t bad, either. The secret to a zesty scramble? Pepper jack cheese slices, that I tear into pieces and drop into the egg mixture as it cooks. Yum.

But, baking bread? No thank you.

So, while several friends donned aprons and jumped into the bread trend with both feet—and both hands—I turned back to my writing to distract me from the news. I’d been writing creative nonfiction (CNF) essays for three years when the pandemic arrived, and was maybe 50,000-words into a draft of my memoir manuscript. I enjoy narrative writing as I plumb the depths, look for braiding opportunities, connect how my understanding of the world and my place in it needs to uncover a universality that will draw readers in. I like seeing what emerges from the quiet moments. I know this much about myself, at least in this point of my writing journey. I have no urge to try fiction. (Yet.)

I might have said the same thing about poetry but then the pandemic crept in, a silent mist that blanketed our world overnight. We couldn’t see it, it wasn’t something concrete we could feel, like a blast of heat or a cold front. We couldn’t smell it or taste it or touch it, but it shook us to our core and challenged our sensibilities. The pandemic made many of us reassess what drives us. What brings us joy.

Some looked for answers in sour dough loaves. Others took up knitting or container gardening or podcast listening or language-learning on tape. Many left jobs in droves. I turned to poetry. Though fiction held no appeal for me, poetry felt like something I needed at that point in time. A balm.

I’d never tried it, formally, and signed up for a six-week online class. I pushed aside intimidation in my first week as I dove into a poetry primer on meter and enjambment. I learned the difference between haiku and haibun, wrote my first sonnet and my first villanelle, and discovered a new love: the prose poem. What I enjoy most about prose poetry is that it feels like a first cousin to CNF. It abandons the need for conventional poetry hallmarks like lineation, meter, and enjambment. Prose poems read more like the narratives I was already writing—just in hyper-short form. Usually, one paragraph, and packed with poetic punch.

I came away from my six-week class with three prose poems, two sonnets, a villanelle, and a haibun under my belt. I continued writing and editing new work after the class ended, and submitted a few of my poems to literary journals. I was thrilled when several were published, including both sonnets I’d written in class.

The biggest confidence boost came when one of my prose poems appeared in Welter’s Fall 2021 issue. In their congratulatory acceptance, the poetry editor told me my piece was one of only 20 poems they selected from more than 1,000 submissions!

My greatest discovery? In the year that passed since that online class, I’ve seen how poetry has elevated my narrative writing through sound and imagery. Poetry changed how I write my essays. I also went through my memoir draft and rewrote passages with an eye for poetic possibilities.

I admire how poems must quickly establish a connection between writer and reader because of the form’s economy of words. I may have the luxury of writing 3,000 or 4,000 words to explore my points in a CNF essay, but with poetry it’s the challenge of capturing experiences and feelings in full arc through spare but layered language that I love and want to continue practicing.

Poetry awakened in me a love for lyricism, along with a set of reminders—more sound, stronger and more unique visuals, fewer words!—that I’m using to strengthen my narrative writing.

My venture into poetry was a wonderful development that emerged from seeking new creative outlets in a strange time of quiet, worldwide. It may not taste as good as a warm loaf right out of the oven, but it feeds the soul, nonetheless.

Tell me, what are your favorite writing “tools” that challenge or elevate your work? Did you embrace something in the pandemic that fed your creative pursuits?

* * *

Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, a columnist with WOW! Women on Writing, and she works in the technology sector. Ann leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her writing has appeared in a number of literary journals.

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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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Over the years, I’ve interviewed writing contest winners, including creative nonfiction essay writers. When asked to share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice, they came through with some inspirational ideas. Here’s what some of the WOW contest winners had had to say:

  • “Another friend of mine, who is training as a coach (and who is also brilliant), nudged me out of my writing slump last winter by helping me remember my own rhythms (i.e., working first thing in the morning, even just doing a quick prompt) and pushing me to set up the routines that supported those rhythms. She gave the example of a ballet dancer she had heard on a podcast who said, essentially, I didn't make a habit of going to the gym to train at 6am, I made a habit of hailing a cab at 6am. So, we started small: laying out my notebooks, pens, the accoutrements for tea the night before. So that the next morning, when I am easily impressionable, I am directed optimally. It reduces the likelihood of an Internet rabbit hole and that sense of a "lost day" considerably. I think this applies regardless of the rhythm/routine: create the conditions that support it--set the running shoes by the door, the notebook and pen on a table cleared of all the other life clutter. Go.” - Hilary Fair, runner up

  • Several years ago, I was in a writing class in a neighboring town. A woman read an essay about her family that was more like a historical document (lots of names, dates and geographic information) than a story. When she got done reading, she paused and began to tell us this very funny incident that had happened to one of her family members. We all laughed and shouted "THAT'S the story you should tell.   I am always trying to get to THAT story!” - Kristi Scorcio, runner up

  • “I was just talking to a writer friend this week about the importance of keeping the joy! Publication is great, competitions are wonderful, but ultimately the joy in the process of writing is the most valuable thing we all have as writers. My piece of advice would be to hold on to the fun parts with both hands and squeeze for all they're worth!” - Ellen Brickley, runner up

  • My favorite writing tip is to read your essay or story aloud when you complete each draft. I always hear things I didn't see when reading, such as clunky phrases, plain old typos and, on a positive note, poetic language. My new version of Word has a Read Aloud function. I use that occasionally but find that my own voice reveals things that the robotic voice doesn't.” - Marcy Dilworth, runner up 

  • Everybody says this but it is so true, and I didn’t start doing it religiously until recently. Carry a notebook wherever you go, whether the dentist, hardware store, even the flea market (especially the flea market!), and use it to jot down descriptions, observations, overheard conversations, etc, that you can mine for details in your writing later on. It is so important to record these moments as soon as they happen because those delicious little tidbits of life can so easily get swallowed up by the business of life. And for me, it’s almost impossible to conjure them up again unless I stop what I’m doing and make a note at the moment. The other day, I saw a woman at a gas station in a Subaru with one of those car wraps advertising a zombie hunting business! That’s going to end up somewhere one day, I promise you.” - Ashley Memory, first place winner

Did you find something you could use? Do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice to share? Comment below!

--Marcia Peterson
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Leveling Up

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Photo by Mikael Blomkvist

I had one of those moments a few weeks ago when I became paralyzed by choices. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing, but it did force me into some decision making. I had a potential sponsor for my podcast reach out to me, but they asked for listener demographics, which I did not have. I took a webinar on “finding a sponsor for your podcast” about a year ago and had a wealth of information at my fingertips but still I’d chosen not to do anything. 

The e-mail from the sponsor’s marketing agency spurred me into action. I put together a quick survey and included a call to action in the podcast script I was working on. I shared the survey link with my e-mail subscribers and social media followers. I had already had a call with a website and branding consultant about creating a new website for the podcast, and I got her proposal back. 

Then I had to make some decisions. I thought the new website quote and photography session for new images sounded reasonable. I got excited thinking about listeners finally having a fun place to go to interact with the podcast. But then I got discouraged. I have a full-time editing job, do the podcast in my spare time, and have been trying to revise a suspense/thriller novel I wrote last fall. Something had to give. 

I talked with my husband about it, since he’s worked in marketing and experience design for years. He asked me what I thought was most important. 

“The website,” I said. “If I do this right, it has the potential to attract more listeners and potential sponsors. Plus, I can add a true crime blog right into the platform and people will stay longer when they go to it. Once I finish writing the suspense novel, I can add a tab for it right on the website, because it ties in with the genre.” I knew I could also add an easy way to capture e-mails on the site, something I’ve been struggling with. 

“Then I think you know what you need to do,” he said. “You have to keep the day job to pay the bills right now. Focus on creating the website, and once that is completed and launched, you can get back to the novel revisions.” 

At first, I felt discouraged, because I have a lot of ideas on how to improve the novel, but if I’m ever going to monetize my podcast that I’ve worked so hard on for two years, and put all the content I’ve created to good use, the website has to go up first. I think a lot of us get to the point where it’s time to “level up” on a project or piece of writing, and it can be scary. It might be signing up for a writing course or conference, hiring a professional editor, or taking a research trip. It scares me to invest the money into the website, but I believe in the designer’s work and a colleague I admire connected us. I’ve seen samples of her work in action. I know what a good website can do for a podcast, especially one in the growing niche of true crime. 

I’d love to hear examples of how you’ve invested in your own writing!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, "Missing in the Carolinas." 
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Trying a New Approach With Writing

Monday, May 16, 2022

I can't say this year has been my best work with writing, but I've been consistently submitting, revising, and typing up stories as much as possible. One short story of mine that's been a touch-and-go process for a while now found some momentum that surprised me. 

First, some background. I am not much of an outlining writer. In part, what has helped this, is the fact that I write short stories. But even then, if I ever attempted a novel again, I wonder if I'd feel differently. Whenever I have outlined, it totally drains my momentum to write a story.

However, with the particular I mentioned above, let's call this my "trip to Mars" story, I know the ending already. I wrote a section that is basically the final scene I have in mind. I mentioned it to a writing friend of mine and she told me how she couldn't write like that, that she was a chronological writer. 

I realized that I'm completely fine writing out of order. In fact, knowing the endpoint of this story has actually helped me continue writing it. I don't understand how knowing an ending helps me when outlining doesn't. You'd figure that one would be as helpful as the other. But to me, there's a difference.

So, as you try to get yourself back on track, pay attention to what works for you. Maybe you write your endings first, like me. Or maybe you really do better with an outline. 

Sometimes you really don't know what has helped you unless you write it out or talk about it. So, if you have a writing buddy, talk about what's helping you continue forward. Pay attention to what helps them and compare and contrast. You might be surprised by what you learn.

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Interview with Mary Jumbelic, Runner Up in the WOW! Q2 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, May 15, 2022


Mary Jumbelic is an author from Central New York, and former chief medical examiner of Onondaga County. Performing thousands of autopsies in her career, she elaborates a strong voice for the deceased. She explores through creative non-fiction the imprint the dead have made on her humanity. Published with Rutgers University Press, Vine Leaves, Jelly Bucket, Grapple Alley, and Unleash among others, her pieces have also ranked in the top ten in national writing contests and one has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She teaches at the Downtown Writer’s Center in Syracuse and is assistant editor at Stone Canoe. Her blog, Final Words, is available at Follow her on Instagram @MaryJumbelic. 

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

Read Mary's essay here and then return to learn more about the author. 

WOW: “The Trailer” is a heartbreaking essay, with so many vivid and sensory details and descriptions of the setting. Were there any parts of the piece that had to be left on the cutting room floor during the revision process? 

Mary: When I originally wrote “The Trailer”, I was barely present in the story. Instead, I shone the spotlight on the boy’s pain and death. Ultimately, I realized the significance of my pain in reading his final note and had to reveal myself as a more defined character. 

WOW: You are a retired medical examiner. When did you first begin to explore creative writing—was it during your career or something you focused on more after retirement? 

Mary: I have always loved writing and journaling throughout my life: before, during and after my career as a medical examiner. In retirement, I found the time to take writing classes, join with other writers in groups, attend conferences, and hone my creative nonfiction work. 

WOW: Could you tell us more about the themes you explore in your memoir? Did you begin with the process with an outline?

Mary: My memoir explores the juxtaposition of my life––death on a daily basis balanced with my own need for survival. Themes of acceptance of loss, appreciation of life, and facing the ghosts of all my cases feature strongly in my manuscript. I created a body of work that began to flesh itself out into a collection and then formed a chronologic arc of my life that organically began with the death of my father and ended with the current pandemic. The outline was born from this, and I wrote fresh stories for transition points. 

WOW: I have no doubt your memoir is a riveting piece of work! You’ve won many impressive awards for your writing. What do you think is the key to creating an award-winning that will get noticed by contest judges? 

Mary: The key to getting noticed is to write what you know and assiduously hone your writing. I adhere to Stephen King’s advice “If you want to be a writer…read a lot and write a lot.” My stories arise from my passion for forensic pathology and storytelling. Writing is hard. Some of my pieces have gone through twenty drafts. In the early days, I workshopped essays. It is helpful to learn what other writers and readers think of your work. Also, read your pieces out loud; hearing it reveals errors the eyes miss. 

WOW: As a writing instructor, what types of courses do you teach and what do you enjoy most about helping others with their writing? 

Mary: I have taught memoir, but my specialty is teaching forensics for mystery and crime writers. That combines my two loves. It is thrilling to watch writers develop their skills through exercises, homework, and critique. I learn from the students as well––new perspectives and styles.

WOW: That is a great specialty to focus on in teaching. Thank you so much for being here today and we look forward to reading more of your work.
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About Tight Writing

Saturday, May 14, 2022
(Illustration by storyset -
By Bobbie Christmas
Q: I keep on hearing “write tight, write tight,” from fellow writers and others. I’m not so sure what they’re trying to say to me. The whole darned issue is driving me a little crazy. How can I ever know what’s loose and what’s tight writing?
A: Creative writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, reads best and sells better when it gets to the point without wasted words. If I were to tighten your question, I might recast it this way: 
I keep hearing “write tight.” I’m not sure what people mean. The issue drives me crazy. What is tight writing? 
The recast says the same thing as the original, but it’s tighter.
Writers who grew up reading classics filled with flowery prose may think they must write the same way if they want to be successful. Many writers “back in the day,” however, were paid by the word. Elaborate descriptions added to the word count and paid the author more. Most classics are considered literary or scholarly, but their style won’t work for today’s readers. Contemporary style calls for clean, tight writing. Fiction readers want a story with an active plot, dialogue that’s related to the plot, and action. They don’t want to read long descriptions of people, places, and things. Nonfiction readers want information and examples, but they don’t need repetition or digression.
Tight writing is devoid of unnecessary words and repetition. It relies on active voice (the boy threw the ball), rather than passive voice (the ball was thrown by the boy). It spurns gerunds and participles (“ing” words) whenever possible.
I’ll give a typical paragraph in a memoir as an example and then show my tighter version after my edits. 
Well, I remember seeing a very large package on the front doorstep of my house one morning. I started to shriek, “It’s here! My very own books are arriving.” I could hardly breathe when I was rushing to the front door so I could get the box, bringing it inside.
When I saw a large package on the doorstep one morning I shrieked, “My books are here!” I rushed to the front door and brought the box inside.
As you can see, the tighter version deleted superfluous words and replaced weak verbs with strong ones. 
In memoirs, especially, I see “I remember” far too often. Of course the author remembers; otherwise he or she couldn’t be writing about it.
In fiction and nonfiction manuscripts I edit, I see dozens of words that can be deleted without affecting the final result. While the following piece of dialogue is grammatical, what would you delete to make it more realistic and tighter? “Well, John, I know your eldest daughter, Denise, is about to graduate from high school, so what do you intend to do to celebrate with her?”
Here's what I recommend: “Denise is about to graduate. What are your plans to celebrate with her?” In real life John knows that Denise is his daughter, that she’s his eldest, and that she’s graduating from high school, not college. All those things can be deleted. In addition, when two people are the only ones speaking, they rarely call each other by name unless they’re angry with each other.
I edit manuscripts and can tighten a manuscript for a price. It’s time consuming, though, so it’s not cheap. Instead I recommend my book Write In Style. The book explores and explains many words and phrases that writers can find and refine in their own manuscripts.
Tight writing is strong writing; however writers should initially write without thinking about writing tight. Get the story down first. In the next drafts delete superfluous words and replace weak verbs with strong ones. You’ll be amazed at the results.
Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, author of Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications. She will answer your questions too. Send them to or Read Bobbie’s blog at
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Six Ways to Beat Sagging Middle Syndrome and Fix Your Story

Friday, May 13, 2022
By Madeline Dyer

Is the middle of your story sagging? Do you think this is the weakest part? Are you really stuck on what to write here? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, chances are you need to dig a little deeper into your novel’s structure to make it more engaging, entertaining, and crucial to the story.

In a three-act structure, the central act is usually the longest act and it connects arguably the most exciting parts of the novel—the opening/hook and the climax/end—and so this is often the trickiest part to write. You don’t want it to be boring, but you also don’t want to reveal everything in the middle, because that’ll affect your ending. Similarly, you don’t want to rush toward the ending, as that’ll affect pacing. As such, the central act is both a place that connects the first and third acts and the place where you develop your story further, while keeping readers engaged.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this!

Use Plot Points

It’s easy to create forward momentum in the opening, when you’re introducing your reader to the exciting premise of your story, but you also need to make sure to maintain this momentum going forward. An easy way to do this is to end the opening of the story (act one) on a plot point. A plot point is a point of no return. Something (usually bad) happens to the protagonist as they begin to try and achieve their goal, making their goal even harder to obtain while also meaning they definitely can’t go back to living like they were. The protagonist then has no choice but to move forward, in a different direction, to face this new problem which they must solve in order to continue their journey to obtain their goal. (Note: this is different to the inciting incident, which will happen earlier in act one; the inciting incident will usually cause the protagonist to realize what their goal is.)

Switch up the Setting

You can also maintain forward momentum by introducing a new setting which brings its own challenges. If your protagonist is comfortable and familiar in their surroundings in act one, then shake this up in act two. Act two is where we see our main character being tested. Make things as hard as possible for them!

Picture the Movie Trailer

Act two should be exciting! Think of your story as a film and work out which snippets of exciting scenes would be used in a movie trailer—most of these will be the scenes you want in act two, as these will keep readers engaged while developing the plot.

Introduce a Love Story

You can also use the middle part of the story to focus on your character’s love life (the subplot of ‘the love story’ often really gets going in this central act), and you can show readers the challenges that come with this love story—especially in the wider context of the protagonist achieving their goal. Is the lover a distraction? How does their presence affect the protagonist’s interactions with the antagonist? And has the love interest got their own agenda?

Develop your Protagonist and Antagonist

While we get to know secondary characters more in the middle section, we also need to get to know the two most important characters further here as well: the protagonist and antagonist. Readers need to learn more about these characters, and we need to see interactions between them. Think about how the power struggle between the protagonist and antagonist develops as the central act progresses, and consider whether each will use the other’s darkest secrets, mistakes, flaws, and fears against them.

Twists and Turns

You’re also going to want to have some twists thrown into this central section, too. This will really help with reader engagement and increase the pacing and tension. Sure, save your big twists for the ending, but whet your reader’s appetite by giving them a couple smaller, unexpected twists in the middle, as well. This shows that you really know what you’re doing and will also promise a satisfying ending with an even bigger twist.

Most successful novels use many, if not all, of these techniques in order to keep the reader interested and to prevent their novels from suffering from Sagging Middle Syndrome.


Madeline Dyer lives on a farm in the southwest of England, where she hangs out with her Shetland ponies and writes dark and twisty young adult books.

Madeline has a strong love for anything dystopian or ghostly, and she can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her books include the Untamed series, the Dangerous Ones series, and Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation.

Untamed won the 2017 SIBA award for Best Dystopian Novel and has been a #1 bestseller in its Amazon category in five countries. Madeline’s second novel Fragmented was also a runner-up for Best Young Adult novel at the 2017 SIBAs. Her memoir, Captive and her ace romance novel, My Heart to Find (written as Elin Annalise) have both been nominated for 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards from TCK publishing, for Best Memoir and Best Romance respectively.

She is represented by Erin Clyburn at Howland Literary. Madeline is also a staff editor at Bolide Books, a publisher based in Scotland, specializing in speculative fiction. Visit her website at

--Madeline is also a WOW! Women on Writing instructor. Check out her upcoming classes, NARRATIVE STRUCTURES and HOW TO WRITE A YA DYSTOPIAN NOVEL. More information about our classes can be found on our classroom page.


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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Outlines, Beats, and Book Maps!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Writers are a quirky bunch, aren’t they? We all have our own way of making the magic, whether writing a novel, or a short story, or even an article. 

Some of us swear by outlines, some of us use a sticky note or index card system, and some of us sort it all with some form of a book map. I’ve used each of the above methods when writing novels, but sometimes, I mash them up and use ALL the sparkly stuff. Like this time around, when I pulled out all my techniques to use at different stages of the work. Here’s a walk-through of my latest novel and maybe you’ll find something that will help you at whatever stage you’re in: 

You may have heard about J. K. Rowling and her famous outlining for the Harry Potter books. I’ve used a (much less detailed) chapter outline in the beginning stage for a novel but this time around, I didn’t have the story quite nailed down; I had an idea. So I started with LOTS of notes about the concept and the characters and a general outline began to evolve. In my head, that is.

So next, I pulled out my Save the Cat Writes a Novel because I wanted to take everything in my head (and in my notes) and put it into beats. I wasn’t trying to create a chapter outline, but that’s more or less what happened, a sort of beats/outline. So in my sparkly notebook, I had all my characters, lots of ideas, and the beats worked out up to about the mid-novel point. And I actually would check my beat notes before I started writing each day. Yay me! 

Now, I know you’re wondering about that “about to mid-novel point” bit. See, I hadn’t quite worked out every little plot point in the several arcs but I knew where/how I wanted each arc to end (that was info in my notes). So with less structure in the middle, I was able to “jump off” into some very interesting "fun 'n games" threads. Or maybe I just got tired of beat notes and felt like I could wing it. Either way, it worked! 

Finally finished, I needed whole-novel editing and I made a book map template. I wanted to make sure that each chapter had an arc and carried the plot(s) forward; I needed to make sure that the characters (an ensemble group) had a mostly equal share in the spotlight. And I needed page numbers for quickly going back to make corrections or additions in plotting (or spelling of names or hair color changes or dogs’ comings and goings). I am not going to lie, y’all, this book map has been worth every minute of the work. My novel may not be as complicated as Rowling’s series, but with a couple mysteries and romance or two, one can get caught up in the weeds. The book map pulled me out of the weeds and into the clear every time. Whew! 

I’m almost to the end of editing/mapping and I have one more step. But that’s a quirky tip for next time, y’all, so stay tuned! And if you have a quirky step in your novel-writing, share! I mean, where do you think I came up with my steps?

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Interview With Alex Otto, Fall 2021 Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Alexandra's Bio: 

Alexandra Otto writes stories and short screenplays. She just completed her first novel, a middle grade fantasy. When Alex isn’t writing or teaching, she is outsmarting the largest bears in the world in Southcentral Alaska. She is represented by Rena Rossner. 

You can connect with her on Twitter @alexottowrites and don't forget to read her story, “The Dreamkeeper” and then come back here for her interview. "The Dreamkeeper" originally appeared in Enchanted Conversations: A Fairy Tale Magazine.  

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

WOW: The Dreamkeeper pulled me in and hasn’t left my mind since I read it. What was the inspiration behind this story? 

Alexandra: When one of my children was just a month old, she had a sudden high fever and had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. They found the cause and treated her, though we had to spend a few days there. I am fortunate that my child recovered fully. To write this story, I tapped into the memory of my fear that she would slip away. I suppose losing a child is every parent's worst fear. 

WOW:  Most definitely! This story is so rich with detail. How did you decide what deserved a place within your limited word count and what had to be left out? 

Alexandra: I think for flash fiction, it's really important to not overwhelm the reader with exposition. In "The Dreamkeeper" my protagonist said she had heard about Dreamkeepers from her grandmother, but she wasn't sure if they were real. That's all. There was not enough word count to give a history of who they were, how they appeared in the world, where they came from, etc. The reader had to take at face value that this was a myth which turned out to be real. I think it works because the reader is encountering the Dreamkeeper for the first time at the same moment that the main character is. 

It's also important to be precise with details; I didn't have a lot of time to describe the baby's nursery, so I chose one or two details to focus on, like a rattle made with jackrabbit fur, to give one specific image and a little insight into the rural background of the characters. 

WOW: Your bio lists your location as Kodiak, Alaska. How does this location feed into your stories? 

Alexandra: I always get inspired by the beauty of Alaska and the amazing people who live here. My middle grade novel is set in a fictional town in Alaska, but it's very closely based on my hometown of Kodiak. 

WOW: You have also written a middle grade fantasy novel. Can you tell us a bit about it? 

Alexandra: I am a Ukrainian-American writer. I grew up in an immigrant family and English is my second language. My story is based on Ukrainian folklore I heard about from my grandparents. My book is The Stolen Story Society. When eleven year old twins Anna and Roman discover that their grandmother's folktales have been stolen, they must go on a quest with the folktale witch Baba Yaga to retrieve them from a land of stolen stories. My novel is currently on submission by my agent. 

WOW:  That sounds fascinating.  I hope you will soon have good news for us. How do you move between a long project like a novel and shorter work like flash fiction? What advice do you have for readers who may be wondering if they should focus on only one type of writing or try multiple things? 

Alexandra: I took a writing workshop with a well known screenwriter at the Sundance Institute, who said she always works on multiple projects at once. I was relieved to hear her say that, because that is my process also. I find that when I lose steam for one project, I switch gears and work on another. Often while I'm working on the second project, ideas are simmering on the back burner for the first project, and inspiration will strike because the pressure of facing a blank page is removed.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my story! Keep reading and writing; we all have a rich world of stories to tap into and share with the world.

WOW:  And thank you, Alexandra. We appreciate the time you spent sharing your writing process with all of us.  
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