Gear Up for Fall

Wednesday, August 31, 2022
by Marcia Peterson

Summer distractions probably caused you to place some of your writing projects on the back burner. However, back-to-school time can offer a fresh start for writers. It’s a great opportunity to “reboot” your writing life.

If you’re unsure about how to get going again, a few strategies can help you gear up for the approaching fall months. Here are three ways to dive back in, create momentum and get excited about your writing.

Challenge Yourself

First, freelancers can build an active writing schedule with a self-created query challenge. Make a commitment to send out a certain amount of queries or submissions per week, starting now. This will get you in a writing frame of mind and, as you send more and more out, you’ll generate new assignments to work on.

To bolster your commitment to this endeavor, be sure to seek outside support. Sometimes you can participate in group query challenges that various writing sites offer. Alternatively, you can share your submission goals with fellow writers, then check in occasionally with progress reports to keep yourself on track.

Fiction writers can set up a daily word count challenge, or resolve to complete one short story per month. Like the freelancers, you can make your goals public with writing friends for accountability. At this time of year, you might also consider NaNoWriMo, which occurs every November. If you decide to participate, spend the next month or so planning your project and preparing your life for a successful novel challenge experience.

Take a class

Another way to ignite your writing life is to copy the kids and go back to school. Classes offer the ideal way to create structure in your writing world, which really helps when you’re getting back into production mode. The assignments make you focus on your writing, and working on new things gives you a boost.

Now is the best time to research your available options, in order to sign up for popular fall classes. Look through local and online class offerings for something that piques your interest—maybe a class in a new area of writing, or something related to your usual genre for renewed passion and continued improvement.

Enter Contests

Contests provide two of the most important things an off-track writer needs: a prompt (or theme) and a deadline. Winning is a great, but you can be proud of entering a quality piece regardless of the outcome. Just by crafting an entry, you’ve added something new to your body of work.

Spend some time now researching upcoming contests that may suit you. The idea is to pick at least one that you will enter very soon, and get that date on your calendar. You can take it further by making a plan to enter several contests by the end of the year. Contests are a great motivator, and lots of fun too.

* * *

Check out WOW! Women on Writing’s upcoming classes and contest deadlines. Happy fall writing!
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Interview with Karen Arnold, First Place Winner of WOW! Spring 2022 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Karen Arnold is a writer, child psychotherapist and visiting lecturer in psychoanalytic theory. She has worked in the field of child and adolescent mental health for over 35 years retiring from full time clinical work 2 years ago. She is fascinated by the many ways in which we use story, symbol and metaphor to understand and communicate our experience of internal and external worlds.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Spring 2022 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Karen: Since retiring from full time clinical work a couple of years ago, I’ve begun to do much more writing, but the real turning point was joining Writer’s HQ and taking part in their regular “ Flash Face Off” event. The feedback from this story was so encouraging, and one of the hosts let me know about WOW, which led to me entering the competition.

WOW:  Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “This Women’s Work?” It’s a quietly powerful piece, and the first and last paragraphs are especially poetic.

KarenThere are a number of different things that came together to give me the idea for the story. Its essentially set in an Island community off the coast of rural Ireland, which is a place I love very much and been visiting for several years, so the first part of the inspiration was landscape, language and place. The second aspect was an account given by a friend of a friend, of their journey back to the island they born on for a relative’s funeral. The first line came from a memory of my some of my experiences as a student nurse in laying out bodies (truly no experience is wasted for a writer!) The last paragraph really is about the elemental power of women’s work, and trying to depict the strength and wildness of that and the way it is so often minimized.

WOW: What key elements do you think make a great piece of flash fiction?

KarenOne of the things I enjoy most about writing flash fiction is the way that it can occupy a liminal space between prose and poetry. You can experiment and play joyfully with rich and expressive language, but at the same time you have to work within the constraint of providing a strong narrative arc, it has to tell a story, not just be a beautiful description.

WOW:  Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

KarenSince entering the competition, I have continued to write flash fiction and short stories, several of which have been accepted for publication in other publications and which has been incredibly encouraging! The big project on which I am currently working was actually inspired by this piece of flash fiction, and I am working on the first draft of novel that tells more of the central character’s story.

WOW:  Congratulations on your acceptances, and best of luck on your novel draft! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Karen. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

KarenI think my first tip would be that the stories are all there waiting to be told, and the key thing is not to get in our own way as writers, by being unhelpfully self critical or listening to unhelpful internal voices that tell us we are "not proper writers."

The second thing is to be brave and let your stories out into the world, whether that is through submitting them or by letting someone else hear them, stories need a listener to become all they can be, and I truly believe that thinking of ourselves as story tellers can be really liberating .


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

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Interview with Jennifer Lauren - Runner Up in the Quarter 3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with "Tennis"

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Congratulations to Jennifer Lauren and "Tennis" and to all of our contestants in the Quarter 3 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest!

Jennifer's Bio:

Jennifer is an award-winning writer and former attorney who is working on her second novel, a story of two families caught up in the Satanic panic in the 1980s. Her first novel, Everything We Did Not Do, is about the missteps one woman makes in her search for justice and the devastating consequences to another. She is currently seeking a publisher. If you are interested, please contact Emily Williamson of Williamson Literary at

Jennifer still lives in Austin with her husband, two teens, and too many pets. Even though she’s gone back to yoga a couple times a week, she is still playing tennis. She gets a little bit better all the time. Reach her at

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

WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up in the Q3 2022 Creative Nonfiction ContestThank you for writing this essay - what is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from Tennis? 

Jennifer: I’m in my mid-forties, which is coming up on the age in which society thinks you should politely disappear into a cottage with books, tea, and far too many cats, emerging only to give friendly advice and homemade cookies to teenagers and twenty-somethings when they’re dealing with angst. The older we get, the less relevant we are. Someone should write a novel about the invisible older woman, but it may be too short – it's possible no one would notice she was gone.

All of my essays feel a bit self-centered to me, even if I hope my themes speak to women on a universal level. But in this essay, I am not the hero. The older ladies are – these tough as nails women who still have perfect hair and a killer swing, and who seem to know all the secrets of survival. I’m lucky to know them. Anyone would be lucky to know them. I hope society’s tendency to look right through them is starting to change.

WOW: I'm glad you have decided to fight against societies wish for us 40 somethings! You're a support for the rest of us - so let me ask, who is your support - what have you found to be most supportive in your writing life as well as in life in general?  

Jennifer: I do not deserve my husband, who encouraged me to quit my job and focus on writing. He seems genuinely happy to overlook the dirty house, grab takeout when I’m caught up in a project, and celebrate the small victories. Most importantly, he treats my writing like an actual job, even if right now it pays negative money. And he listens to me talk about imaginary people without calling a shrink.

Someday I will let him read my books. Maybe.
WOW: That's adorable - you're a lucky woman and he's a lucky man! What advice would you give to others (specifically female authors) when it comes to self care?

Jennifer: As women, we tend to see our time as someone else’s property. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to see your time as your property first, and everyone else’s claim as a distant second. If you have a partner, expect him or her to take care of themselves. As your children age, expect them to take care of themselves in age-appropriate ways. Then, let them do what they can in whatever unpredictable, messy ways they are able. Just expect them to clean up their messes.

Of course, not everyone is blessed with a partner or productive children. If you’re in that sweet spot with babies at home, if you’re a single mother, a military spouse, caring for a sick spouse or aging parents or whatever reason you simply have no ability to find time, just know it gets better. Lean on your friends when you can. Get enough sleep. Breathe. And if you have extra time, silence your “shoulds” and do whatever makes you happy. Even if that’s just a nap.
WOW: It definitely gets better - like fine wine - right? What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for what's left of Summer 2022 and beyond?

Jennifer: I’m working on a legal thriller, Play Me Backwards, based on the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, when hundreds of daycares across the country were shut down based on little more than collective hysteria. My goal is to finish Play Me Backwards by December. In addition, I’m trying to write and pitch essays, enter contests, and generally treat writing like a real job.

The first page of Play Me Backwards was just honored by the Gutsy Great Novelist Page One Prize. Awards like that, and recognition from Women On Writing, are amazingly motivating when you feel like giving up and getting a day job. Check out my first page here:

WOW: Congratulations again Jennifer and thanks so much for taking time to visit with me today! I have a feeling our readers will be hearing more from you - so I'm going to tell them to remember your name! (wink wink) Thanks again! 

Interviewed by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto who is busy raising kids and cattle amongst other odd jobs - follow her in instagram 
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You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover...

 ... Or can you? Perhaps more importantly, do you?

I've seen this book for years as I spent way too many hours time in bookstores. Never even took it off the shelf to read the inside flap or the back... all because the cover (in my opinion) looks too sweet. I don't do things that smack of saccharine. So, this book never appealed to me.

This summer, a good friend (Tracy, who has impeccable taste in books) was giving away some books, along with other teacher friends. This book was in the heap. I picked it up, and Tracy said, "That was mine. I had an extra copy."

"It's good?" I asked.

Tracy said, "I had the biggest cry I've ever had when I read it." That did it. The gauntlet had been thrown down. Tracy sometimes is on the over-emotional side. Would it impact me the same way? * (I adore dark stories. Depressing tales. Sunk-ever-after in a black abyss.)

Right away, it was obvious the story and the cover (for me) didn't sync. As I immersed myself in the story, I tried to think of a cover that would fit. The problem (again, for me): the story was shrugging off every cover idea I had.

Now that there's a Netflix movie, the book with a new cover is available.

The new cover... not any better. From the couple on the front, it looks like a sweet teen romance. It's not.

In writing this post, I reflected on my own book's cover, along with reading some articles. One article had just a few suggestions, but they were good ones. Make the cover bold, and keep in mind the audience. Young adults who enjoy depressing stories... I am not sure either of the above covers would make them buy the book.

When working on my book's cover, I didn't know what I wanted. I did know what I didn't want. I didn't want a busy cover, with lots of scenes or elements all over the cover.  I wanted something bold. Thankfully, a friend of mine (Jessica Esfahani--a high school art teacher) created the perfect cover (in my opinion). My editor (Margo Dill) added the finishing touches on the front cover, and did a kick-butt back cover.

I really enjoyed this article. It included suggestions from a number of authors, and had some great advice. One was this: the writer needs to write down what the point of the story is, and keep that note in front of them as they consider covers. Another: a cover should not make the potential reader think... It should make them feel something.

Do I recommend Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places? Most definitely, if you want a well-crafted and well-plotted story about a serious subject that will make your mascara run (if you wear it). Do I recommend my book, Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story? Of course (and I've got great Amazon and Goodread reviews to back up my opinion).

Will I still judge books by their covers? Probably, but perhaps I'll be more willing to crack open a book with a sweet cover the next time I see one...

* Did All the Bright Places make me ugly-cry? It did indeed. The biggest cry I had ever had over a book. Not when I predicted it would (because the reader can predict one of two things will probably happen at the end) but during an unexpected journey at the end. When I finished the novel, I sent a text to my friend Tracy--cursing and thanking her. 

Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school ELA teacher, the proud author of the historical fiction novel Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, and dog rescuer. You can find more about her by checking out her blog.

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Inside the World of Rejection

Friday, August 26, 2022
By Dawn Carrington

Rejection is a word all writers know. It’s rare to have that first novel or first article accepted, especially if you’re a brand-new writer. More than likely, you’ll receive a “sorry, this isn’t for us” response that will feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach. If you want to stay in this business, though, you’re going to have to learn how to take it without taking to your bed for days on end or sending a scathing email in response to the editor who didn’t see why your tome should be bought immediately.

Handling rejection can be tricky, especially if you’re still trying to get that first novel published. Maybe you’ve sent it to dozens of publishers or literary agents, and you’re getting the same response. You can’t understand how these industry experts don’t want your masterpiece. It can help to consider the reasons behind the experts’ decisions as they are vast and varied.

1. Editors/literary agents receive hundreds upon hundreds of submissions a year, if not more. There is only so much room on their publishing roster. Unfortunately, that means sometimes they have to turn away a book or more rather than hold manuscripts in limbo, waiting for a spot to open to open up on their publishing schedule. As an aside, most publishing contracts have a length of time specified when your book must be published. No publisher wants to miss that deadline.

2. Your book might be similar to something they’ve recently published or contracted. They certainly don’t want to publish two books about a mermaid who falls in love with a human…at least not within the same year or two.

3. Your synopsis might not have outlined the book well enough, and they see gaping holes in the plot. They know it would take editors a lot of time and energy to get the book ready for publication. They just don’t have that type of time.

4. Your book is a direct knock-off from highly successful novels on the market. If you’ve submitted a book about Harriet Potts which is set in a wizarding world or Edwina Callen, a vampire from a family of that only drinks animal blood and falls in love with a introverted human named Bill Swanson, it’s pretty obvious you may be trying to capitalize on someone else’s success.

None of this is to say that these are the reasons your book has been rejected. They are just considerations that take you inside the mind of the editor or literary agent and will, hopefully, give you some insight into their world.

A rejection isn’t the end of your writing career nor will it break you if you don’t let it. Instead, use it as a means to motivate you to continue your journey toward success. With each rejection, your will to persevere should grow stronger because your ultimate goal is to be published. Always keep the end result in mind.


Dawn Rachel Carrington has been the editor-in-chief of Vinspire Publishing, a publisher of family friendly books, since 2004. A published author of over fifty titles ranging from romantic suspense to historical romance, she has also been a civil litigation paralegal for over thirty years.

Currently, a freelance editor/writer residing in historical Charleston, South Carolina, Rachel has written over 500 non-fiction articles, short stories and essays. Her work can be found in Absolute Write, The New York Times, Short-Edition, The Writer's Journal, Writing for Dollars, Writer's Magazine, Writer's Weekly, Funds for Writers, and more.

When she’s not writing, she loves to read young adult novels and romantic suspense. She also designs book covers, is an avid shopper, a HUGE Star Trek fan, a traveler, and an antique store addict.

Visit her website at

--Her upcoming WOW! class, DISSECTING REJECTION—Understanding Why Your Book Keeps Getting Rejected and Knowing When It’s Ready for Publication starts on Monday, September 12, 2022.  Reserve your your spot here!
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Book Giveaway: Human Heartbeat Detected by Chelsey Clammer

Thursday, August 25, 2022
You're in for a treat! We're giving away a signed copy of Chelsey Clammer's newest essay collection, Human Heartbeat Detected (Red Hen Press, August 30, 2022), and a bookmark, knitted by Chelsey! To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post.

Human Heartbeat Detected is a collection of essays that explores how we are wonderfully and terrifyingly human. Hitting on themes such as trauma, emotional abuse, marriage, mental illness, and grief, these essays delve into how humans are simultaneously beautiful and terrible to one another. Though regardless of how we might make each other shatter, our hearts continue beating—even when we might not want them to—and we wade through the wreckage of our lives to find ways to survive. With exquisite language and captivating storytelling, the essays in Human Heartbeat Detected face what it means to be human. 

Publisher: Red Hen Press (August 30, 2022)
Paperback: 248 pages
ISBN-10: 1636280552
ISBN-13: 978-1636280554

Human Heartbeat Detected is available for purchase at Red Hen Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and

About the Author:

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015) and Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017), which was the winner of the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award. Her work has appeared in The Normal School, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, Hobart, Essay Daily, and The Water~Stone Review, among more than one hundred other publications. She is an online creative writing instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. Her third essay collection, Human Heartbeat Detected, looks at the ways in which we are "human" to one another. Chelsey is currently working on a new collection about the empowering women in her life. Visit her website at

What Readers are Saying:

“Chelsey Clammer’s Human Heartbeat Detected pulses with energy, peril, sexuality, and fearless compassion. These innovative essays, many of them in flash form, push at the boundaries of conventional prose, while at the same time pushing toward revelation and understanding.” 
—Dinty W. Moore, author of To Hell With It 

“The women in these essays, including Clammer herself, are 'just taking it blow-by-blow, bracing . . . for the impact,' struggling against assault or abuse or mental illness or a court system that doesn’t believe them, a healthcare system they can’t afford, or silences they don’t understand. Human Heartbeat Detected introduces us to women on l(edges) who scramble back, or don’t. Clammer, who describes herself as a 'terribly impulsive woman,' once again showcases how the essay, as a genre, follows its own impulses. 'We’re all full of surprises,' Clammer writes. So is this bold collection.” 
—Jill Talbot, author of The Way We Weren’t: A Memoir

“In her third collection, Clammer’s command of—and true delight in—the lyric essay is on full and marvelous display. Human Heartbeat Detected is an exquisite and almost improbable marriage of opposites, in both content and form. Brash, bawdy, and tender by turns, these essays linger in the shadow where love and hatred overlap, pinpoint the instant when the past bleeds into present tense, articulate with awful beauty how the body chafes against the mind. Shelve this somewhere between Purpura and Baudelaire; these essays exist at the precise juncture of the sublime and the profane.”
—Marya Hornbacher, author of Madness

“It’s rare to read a book as daring and alive as Human Heartbeat Detected. Chelsey Clammer isn’t afraid to take us to the darkest places, but it’s always in service of ongoingness, a deep belief in love and what it exacts of us. How do we live in the wake of catastrophe? Every sentence here strobes with the light of that question.”
—Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door

“In Human Heartbeat Detected, Chelsey Clammer’s innovative and gripping essay collection, trauma lives side by side with possibility. Lives are fractured, yes—by assault, abuse, self-harm, mental illness, suicidal acts—but, as the narrator reminds us, ‘fractured is better than shattered.’ Like trauma, which ‘isn’t a linear experience’ but rather ‘loops,’ Clammer’s essays bend and twirl and spiral and twist, transforming pain into art.”
—Rebecca McClanahan, author of In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays

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

Enter to win a signed copy of Human Heartbeat Detected by Chelsey Clammer and a knitted bookmark! Fill out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends September 7th at 11:59 CT. We will announce the winner the next day in the widget and follow up by email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Do You Really Need An Editor?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Yes. Yes, you do. 

But my editor would probably prefer an actual post here. And I’m pretty sure I can hear some of you muttering, “Well, Miss Bossypants, you don’t always need an editor.” 

Y’all, I’ve received texts that could have benefited from editing. But for the purpose of today’s topic, I’ll keep the focus on novel-length manuscripts (fiction or non-fiction). So on to the actual blog post (and your arguments). 


That’s wonderful! Unfortunately, it does not say that your work is ready for publication. Even if your critique group is made up of all published writers (Gosh, that’s an enviable critique group!) or even if your beta readers also happen to be editors (Wow, that’s the jackpot of beta readers!). As professional as your people may be, they’re not working professionally for you. No doubt, a great critique group and/or beta readers can help you get your manuscript close to ready. But it’s not their job to line edit or developmentally edit. 


Yep, editors are paid to do that job. But one has to sell the book first—and that sale is based on the manuscript submitted. 

Take Manuscript A, with its unique concept and a query/pitch that grabs an agent. But oh, dear, the manuscript is rife with grammar errors and sloppy syntax. That’s a hard no most of the time.

Manuscript B, on the other hand, is a grammarian’s delight and the concept is interesting. The agent (or the agent’s reader) is enjoying the story in the first 25 pages (which have been workshopped to bits!), but around page 45 or so, things start to fall apart. Confusion and chaos creep in and not in a good way. What a shame, thinks the agent, who might send a personal note along with the rejection. 

You simply can’t count your edits before the sale. 


Yes, editing can take a chunk out of a writer’s budget. Which, let’s face it, may be pretty meager when a writer is starting out. So what’s a struggling writer to do? A few ideas… 

 Are you in a professional writer’s organization? Use their resources; ask other writers for recommendations. 

Check out writing how-to websites, like here at WOW. And look for courses/editors that fit your book’s genre. 

Explore options like Fiverr. The range in fees for editing can vary widely so be careful choosing based strictly on price. Check reviews and/or finished products. 

Reach out to your accomplished friends. You know that writer, the one in your critique group who writes beautifully and has an eye for commas? She may jump at the opportunity for editing experience. You may be able to negotiate an introductory fee, but even if your friend offers to edit for free, insist on payment. It keeps the relationship professional (and allows you to count the editing as an expense for taxes). 


 And I understand. I know how easy it is to look at a ledger sheet with all the publishing costs involved and then think that editing is surely one cost that can be cut. You’re a professional writer, for heaven’s sake! You’ve got this part, right?

Well…if you’re publishing books from your own backlist, books that were professionally edited and published before, then fine, you can skip editing. But if it’s the beginning of the venture, and especially if you’re DIYing the process, hire an editor. Your initial product should be the best it can be to snag readers! And then keep readers by keeping your professional editing edge. 

 Of course, there will always be those writers who waltz in to a conference and sell their half-finished manuscript. Or the writer with a highly polished gem of a manuscript that gets snatched up in the first query. But most of us can’t count on being one of those Unicorn Authors. We’ll need to earn it the hard way (and that means getting an editor).

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Facing Burnout Head On

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


I read an article on Huffington Post the other day about the current climate of people “quietly quitting” their jobs. The article profiled a young engineer who realized she had chosen the wrong profession in her first job out of college. She knew she wanted to make a transition, so she opted out of the certifications required to advance within her company, continued her daily tasks, but began saving enough money so she could make a transition when she needed to leave.

It occurred to me that I’ve been “quietly quitting” a contract editing gig I’ve had for almost a year now. When I first took the job at a lifestyle magazine, I was familiar with the other staff and had written for the publication for many years. I was excited about the opportunity to help them shape the stories and editorial direction of the magazine. But after juggling freelance writers, photographers, invoices, and coming up with most of the story ideas myself with no back up, and helping them start an additional publication during the pandemic, I’ve gained almost 15 pounds, lost a lot of sleep, and had to get the magazine through a summer production while having Covid. I began quietly figuring out how I could transition out of the job. It made me sad, because at my three-year anniversary an acquaintance sent me a LinkedIn message telling me how much he enjoyed the direction I’d helped take the magazine in. He had no idea how much I’d been struggling, and I was too ashamed to tell him. 

The woman in the HuffPo article said that in her case, “quietly quitting” didn’t mean she quit doing her job. In fact, she didn’t want to burden her co-workers, so she continued with her assigned responsibilities. But she stopped taking continuing education, and spoke up more in meetings where she felt like projects needed more team members. I’ve done the same thing. I’ve juggled communication between sales staff, placated belligerent writers, written more articles when freelancers took their summer vacations, but told the publisher I felt overwhelmed and needed back-up so I could quit working so many nights and holiday weekends. I complained several times and laid issues out in e-mails point by point. But when I resigned yesterday, he told me he wished I told him how much I was struggling and he would have gotten me help. 

One of the appeals of working as a freelance writer and editor is being able to work on a variety of projects. I felt like I could never get caught up with my editing gig. There was always another issue to plan, more photography to assign, and more writers to find. For a job without paid time off or benefits, it didn't provide enough balance. My current gig began to bleed into my time for researching and recording my podcast, and I was too tired at the end of the day to open the document with my novel I need to edit. It was time to leave. I wish I could say I'm relieved, but I'm still under the stress of trying to help find a replacement for the role, although I've suggested it be hired out as a job share so one editor isn't overburdened. Sometime in the next few weeks I'm sure the relief will set in. 

Have you ever suffered burnout with a job? Was your employer receptive to your suggestions for improvement or did you ultimately end up leaving?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast Missing in the Carolinas. 
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Turns Out, Story Ideas are Everywhere

Monday, August 22, 2022

In all honesty, I didn't mean to start noticing story ideas so much lately. I've been in kind of a slump the last few weeks. Freelance work has gotten quiet. The summer heat hovers around the mid to upper 90s pretty consistently. Work is really busy. Rumors of student loans starting up again are in the air Plus, this week I've also been dealing with a sinus infection. 

So, being in a creative mindset feels unlikely to me.

Until I began noticing things.

It started out with some of my email newsletters. In one newsletter I received, Atlas Obscura talked about a family living in a library. In another, they talked about whether silence is to blame for "prairie madness."

Huh, I thought, sending it to my digital folder of story ideas. I lingered over the idea of writing a character who lived in a library or potentially writing about silence or a certain noise that makes someone go mad.

Well, nothing has come of either idea yet but since then ideas have begun to populate for me.
I read another article about businesses starting a sign war with each other that went viral. It reminded me of a short story of mine set in a grocery store in the middle of a heatwave and made a note to myself to use this same setting later on for a possible sign war-themed story.

Meanwhile, in the midst of lingering hot days and sweltering evenings in the humid upper 80s (sadly, yes, I'm in Oregon and our summers lately suck), I've been "traveling" around the world with Google Earth and imagining who would live in areas that are not even close to being a "tourist" spot. What would this person's life be? What brought them there? Are they stuck or happy?

And the ideas haven't stopped.

Yesterday I saw a strange "never have I ever" list of things none of us likely will have ever done and shared it on Facebook realizing all of these points listed could be great plot lines for a bizarre story. 

This morning I saw a black and white photo of a woman riding a white horse, dressed quite nicely but looking really awkward as if she was in some sort of circus performance or children's program she didn't want to be involved in. Except there she was, involved, and trying to smile her way through it. And I saved it.

The thing is I have been in a long dry spell when it comes to new ideas, and haven't really bothered myself to be bothered by it. Instead, I plug along with what I have written (and there's plenty of that) and just accept I am where I need to be with my writing. 

However, lately, all these ideas are coming to me. It's so strange. 

So, I have come to realize that story ideas are really everywhere. I think it all starts with the question we all know and love: what if? And more than that, look beyond the initial surface level of things. We read the news but do we look at it? Do we pay attention to the word choice? Do we see a headline that just doesn't read like the writer meant it to? Do we see a photo that doesn't make sense? 

I think the biggest part of generating story ideas is taking everything out of context. Splinter things apart like a puzzle you are undoing and take the pieces you think seem interesting. Grab those first lines and quotes and random word choices. Save those photos that seem weird and articles that are a little hard to believe.

Because really, story ideas are everywhere. We just have to start paying attention.

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Interview with Sara Hartley, Runner Up in the WOW! Q3 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, August 21, 2022


Sara Hartley lives and writes in Northern Michigan. She is constantly inspired by the young artists she encounters in her daily work at Interlochen Center for the Arts and is active as a local theater artist and musician in her community. Sara is pursuing her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts and working on her first essay collection. 

Read Sara's essay here and then return to learn more about the author and her 

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

WOW: Hi Sara, congratulations on placing with this essay, and welcome! How did you first get the idea for “Oven Spring?” 

Sara: I was doing a writing exercise to focus on sensory details and, having been a baker in the very early mornings year ago, I remembered being aware of my senses in a very different way. When the world is quiet, small sounds seem amplified. When you haven't had breakfast yet and you're barely awake, every delicious smell that reaches your nose wakes you up a little bit more and a little bit more. I wanted to capture all of that, probably because I'm really not a morning person at all but I believe there is real magic in those wee hours. 

WOW: Even your description of the writing exercise had amazing sensory details in it. Fabulous! What is your favorite line from this piece and why? 

Sara: "For only a few minutes yeast eat and reproduce in a frenzy, giving up their last breaths in microscopic bubbles, caught in a Pompeii flash, entombing their songs, their flavors." Pompeii has always been absolutely fascinating in that it completely froze a civilization in time. When yeasts are in "oven spring" they are going crazy reproducing in optimal conditions. They're having the time of their lives and you can watch the bread rise with all of that activity and at some point it just stops. All of those glorious holes in the bread are a preserved civilization that was at its zenith and then died and solidified. I love this analogy just because of all the wonder and mystery and all of the last breaths that are contained in a loaf of bread. I guess it's kind of morbid but makes bread, which has already achieved religious transcendence, a more universal and secular sacrament for me. 

WOW: You mention in your bio that you are working on your first essay collection. What are some of your favorite themes to explore and write about in creative nonfiction? 

Sara: I like to use humor as my gateway in most of my writing. I guess Oven Spring isn't really a great example, but I like to link unexpected things to the heart and hope that it will resonate with others. When I was a kid, for instance, I used to think I was an alien or that I would be contacted at some point by aliens. It's amazing how just talking about that connects for a lot of people who say "oh my gosh, me too!" I want to write the kinds of essays that make readers feel like they have a best friend who knows them or shares memories with them in a delicious and secret way. 

WOW: I love that. How do you divide your time between creative endeavors such as writing, music, and theatre? What does an average day look like for you? 

Sara: I'm practicing saying "no" more these days but I'm really lucky to have incredible opportunities finding me all the time. I am always balancing work and writing and rehearsals. There is really no "average" day. Maybe once or twice a month I have a day with nothing scheduled and I circle it with a fancy purple pen and write "DON'T SCHEDULE ANYTHING." Sometimes I hold to that. Sometimes I don't. Everything I do creatively informs everything else, so saying "no" sometimes feels like making choices in the multiverse. The me who says "yes" is almost always richer for it, so those can be tough choices. 

WOW: It's so hard to put boundaries in place with ourselves when there are so many creative endeavors we want to explore! What advice would you give a writer who is just starting out in exploring the genre of creative nonfiction? 

Sara: Don't hold yourself back. People get very hung up on genre. If you are writing and there is a supervisor with a clipboard in the back of your mind making sure you're on the straight and narrow, fire them! All of the best writers in history were doing subversive things with form and voice and commentary. Just be yourself and tell your story. So many times I get myself tied into knots trying to be too clever or careful or whatever. I'm not a huge John Mayer fan but my earworm in those moments is just "Say (what you need to say)."

WOW: Sara, this has been a pleasure. We look forward to reading more of your work in the future!
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Book Banning and Our Government

Thursday, August 18, 2022

I didn’t expect to be writing another post on book banning this soon, but fellow blogger Renee Roberson mentioned a book that parents at a charter school had attempted to ban. As I looked into that case, I realized banning has moved into the courtroom and even state legislatures. 

The case Renee mentioned involves the award winning novel in verse The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. John and Robin Coble filed a North Caroline suit demanding public schools not be allowed to teach books that provide “an alternate path to liberation and meaning in life.” They felt the book challenged their Christian belief system. Fortunately, the court ruled against them stating that it is in the school’s interest to introduce students to challenging ideas. The couple had complained to their son’s teacher, who then supplied an alternate book, but the Cobles still took the matter to court. Find links to stories about this here.  

In Virginia, a resident filed a petition asking the court to find two books “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors.” The books are Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, told in graphic novel form, and the fantasy novel A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The judge agreed the books were most likely obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors. The authors and publishers had to file legal documents defending the books. If the judge rules against them, minors attending Virginia Beach Public Schools or going to Barnes and Noble would need parental permission to get these books. Due to the wording of the original law, every school district, library, or book seller throughout the state that carries these books could be required to comply or face penalties. Read more about this case here

But wait, there’s more. Law makers are also getting in on the book banning action. 

Business Insider reported in February that no less than 9 state legislatures were debating bills to restrict students access to media. In Oklahoma, the bill would ban all books that teach about gender or gender identity. It would also allow parents to file a request for removal. If the book is not removed in 30 days, the school can be fined $10,000/day. 

The Iowa bill prohibits the use of obscene material or “hard-core pornography.” Offenders would face jail time and fines. The South Dakota bill prohibits material that promotes any divisive concept. Granted, not all bills are this extreme. A bill in Georgia provides pathways for parents to report material to the district for review and if they don’t like the response details that they move on to the school board. You can read this article here.  

Not every bill is extreme, but there are bills that call for fines for school districts and jail time for teachers. Is every book right for every reader? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean that one couple should be able to criminalize allowing minors access to a certain book. Again, be aware of what is going on in your community and your state.  You may be surprised to find a connection.  The publisher of Gender Queer was based in my metropolitan area.


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 September 4, 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 September 4, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 4, 2022). 
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If You're Going To Do It, Do It Right!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022


If You're Going To Do It, Do It Right!

My dad would tell me all the time "If you're going to do it, do it right!" He also shared other pearls of wisdom about doing it right the first time, believing in myself, and so on. I share these ideals with my children quite often and could give a million examples of how it's important to do things right. I'm sure you can think of your own examples as well. For example, a book that is expertly written and edited but the cover was thrown together and isn't at all eye catching. A story that starts out strong but the end is rushed and feels incomplete, etc...

You're thinking of a scenario, right? Now doesn't it make you wonder why? Why did someone get just so far and leave out _______________, or in the case of my children - why did they wash the outside of the tractor window but no the inside? It wouldn't have taken much more time or effort to do it right. What stopped them? With my children, I can have those conversations and we can work together to do better next time or to rectify the situation. 

In the case of an author or a book, I don't always have the opportunity to have those conversations. Sometimes we can only guess as to why someone did something without doing it right. I believe every interaction is an opportunity for learning. What can we learn from another author who we feel could have done better? What can we learn from an author who does everything right?

Doing it right goes hand in hand with attention to detail. Attention to detail is often heightened/improved with help from others. For example, the tractor window in the picture above - I took this picture because the sunset was glorious, but I shared the photo with the daughter who washed the windows (on only one side). She hadn't really thought about washing the inside because in reality the outside gets so much dirtier. Sharing my perspective helped her see how she could improve to do it right the next time. 

In the case of our own writing - being part of a critique group or at least asking for the help of another author can help bring us similar insight. The other author isn't quite so close to the project and can see those details we might overlook. They can offer us their suggestions on cover artwork or dialogue. They can show us where maybe we rushed through the final few scenes and how that left them feeling. It's always valuable to look at our work through the eyes of another. They're going to catch those details and help us make sure we are doing it right. 

Another time, I'll write an article about accepting that feedback - because that can also be a daunting task from time to time - but for today... let's concentrate on doing things right. As my daddy would say:

"If You're Going To Do It, Do It Right!"

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

*    What is something you've done recently you wish you had done better? 

            -Can you go back and right that wrong?

*    What's a favorite quote you heard as a child that you carry with you into your writing career?

            -Why is this quote important to you? 

 Share your answers as a comment on this post!



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, paddle boarding, kayaking, and/or reading books (not all 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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Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, August 15, 2022
I'm excited to announce the launch of Helena P. Schrader's blog tour of Moral Fibre. Continue on to read more about this exciting historical fiction novel, read an interview with the author, and win a copy of the book. This book is perfect for people who are interested in an authentic portrayal of life in wartime Britain combined with high-tension action and moving romance.

First, a bit about Moral Fibre:

Riding the icy, moonlit sky—
They took the war to Hitler.
Their chances of survival were less than fifty percent.
Their average age was 21.
This is the story of just one bomber pilot, his crew, and the woman he loved.
It is intended as a tribute to them all.

Flying Officer Kit Moran has earned his pilot’s wings, but the greatest challenges still lie ahead: crewing up and returning to operations. Things aren’t made easier by the fact that while still a flight engineer, he was posted LMF (Lacking in Moral Fibre) for refusing to fly after a raid on Berlin that killed his best friend and skipper. Nor does it help that he is in love with his dead friend’s fiancé, but she is not yet ready to become romantically involved again.

Publisher: Cross Sea Press
ISBN-10: 1735313993
ISBN-13: 978-1735313993
Print Length: 436 pages

Purchase a copy of Moral Fibre on Amazon,, and Barnes and Noble. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

About the Author, Helena P. Schrader

Helena P. Schrader is an established aviation author and expert on the Second World War. She earned a PhD in History (cum Laude) from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking dissertation on a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler. Her non-fiction publications include Sisters in Arms: The Women who Flew in WWII, The Blockade Breakers: The Berlin Airlift, and Codename Valkyrie: General Friederich Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler. In addition, Helena has published eighteen historical novels and won numerous literary awards. Her novel on the Battle of Britain, Where Eagles Never Flew won the Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction and a Maincrest Media Award for Historical Fiction. RAF Battle of Britain ace Wing Commander Bob Doe called it "the best book" he had ever seen about the battle. Traitors for the Sake of Humanity is a finalist for the Foreword INDIES awards. Grounded Eagles and Moral Fibre have both garnered excellent reviews from acclaimed review sites such as Kirkus, Blue Ink, Foreword Clarion, Feathered Quill, and Chantileer Books.

You can follow her author web    site for updates and her aviation history blog.

--- Interview by Nicole

WOW: You have such an incredible and interesting background. How do you pull from your own past experiences and knowledge to write such realistic historical fiction?

Helena: It is undoubtedly true that I draw upon knowledge I have gained from life, particularly about human nature and behaviour, when writing my novels. On the one hand, anyone who has lived a few decades accumulates a great deal of experience with human beings that can be exploited when writing. On the other hand, living overseas and working as a diplomat brought me in contact with different cultures and customs and also gave me deeper insight into the workings of political and economic systems because I was tasked with analysing the later and had exceptional access to information.

For example, while I was in Ethiopia there were a number of ethnically motivated attacks on factories.  It was my job to visit the factories and interview the owners, staff, and leaders in the nearby communities. It rapidly became evident that far from being exploitive and dangerous, these factories were providing employment and in some cases model working conditions for the very ethnic group that was now smashing things up. In short, a small group of radicals were destroying the livelihood and economic future of the majority in the name of “liberating” them. That theme of self-serving political radicalism undermining economic development has become a recurring theme in my novels. Without that first-hand experience talking to the victims, I doubt I would be able to bring the issue across so vividly. 

WOW: That first-hand experience is so valuable! You have written an impressive 18 novels! What advice do you have for people interested in writing historical fiction?

Helena: The most important thing to remember — speaking as someone who has published both non-fiction history books and historical fiction — is that research for historical fiction is much more demanding and comprehensive than for non-fiction. In non-fiction it is enough to get “the facts” right, lined up correctly, and then write in an engaging style.  Significantly, non-fiction can be written in modern language using the author’s voice.

By contrast, when writing historical fiction, the “facts” are not enough. Facts don’t tell you how people felt, why they did the things they did, what they believed in, hoped for and feared. Let me give you an example. I wrote a successful non-fiction book about women pilots in WWII. I researched and wrote detail about the recruitment, training, employment conditions, and achievements of these women pilots. And that was it. A novel about the same subject, on the other hand, would need to make the women come to life by talking about the political issues that might agitate or divide them. It would have to take into account and depict the social conditions that confronted them and created tensions between them. It would have to describe contemporary fashion (i.e. what they were wearing off duty), what music was popular at the time, the foods the women were likely to eat and the kind of entertainment they would have enjoyed. Challengingly, the characters would also need to use the language — jargon and expressions, and syntax — of the period. In other words, a novel needs to be more than accurate. It needs to feel authentic as well.

WOW: I love how you describe that contrast. What was your process to develop characters?

Helena: Well, to be honest, I don’t so much develop my characters as work with them as they gradually reveal themselves to me. I’ve found the best thing to do is to take a stab at describing them and what they are doing/thinking/feeling etc. and wait for a reaction. If I’ve misunderstood something, the character will usually tell me off (often in the middle of the night) and I’ll go back and rework the scene based on what they revealed to me. (FYI: I have never seen nor a character with my senses, rather I have flashes of understanding communicated directly as thought.) I rewrite a scene until the character is satisfied with it. As a rule, the deeper I am into a novel, the easier it is for me to understand the character and so the easier it is to anticipate their reactions to events (the plot) and also to describe them and their actions/thoughts/feelings via the written word. 

WOW: I think that is the best type of characterization method! How did this novel change from first draft to final draft?

Helena: This is an excellent example of the above phenomenon. Initially the hero of Moral Fibre, Kit Moran, contacted me and insisted that I write his story. He was very convincing. I interrupted the project I was then working on, undertook a massive amount of research to be able to put his story into context, and wrote a novella depicting, mostly through flashbacks, the events that resulted in him being thrown off his squadron for “lacking moral fibre” (i.e. for cowardice). No sooner was the novella published, however, than Kit pointed out that the novella was only the “teaser;” the real story was what came afterwards. Again, all other projects were put on hold as I set about writing Moral Fibre. By then I knew Kit well and writing his story was not difficult, but, you see, the period of his life that I was writing about in Moral Fibre was when he fell in love with Georgina. 

Georgina, however, was a modest and shy girl, who initially felt the book ought to be all about Kit, so she didn’t communicate with me directly. I only knew her through Kit’s eyes. The first draft was, therefore, almost entirely seen from Kit’s perspective. Yet it was really just half the story. I needed more from Georgina. As I started on the second of six re-writes (I always write about seven drafts), Georgina finally started to communicate with me, and I began to both understand her better and see the world through her eyes. The book expanded by 40% as it grew to encompass both storylines, Kit’s and Georgina’s. It is a much stronger novel as a result. 

WOW: What do you hope readers take away from reading your story?

Helena: My motto as a novelist is: “Understanding ourselves by understanding the past.” The point is that my novels are always as much about today as they are about the past. While Kit and Georgina are depicted living in specific historical circumstances, the challenges they face and the choices they have to make are ones we could confront in different forms and guises today. This book is not so much a “war story” or a “love story” (although it is both) as a book about the many faces of courage and grief — and about the price of survival. I hope the novel will remind each of us to recognize the debts we owe to others — most especially to the dead.

WOW: I hope so too! What are you currently working on that you can tell us about?

Helena: I’ve returned to the project that I postponed twice in order to tell Kit’s story. It is the first of what I believe will be three novels set against the backdrop of the Berlin Airlift. This was when the Russians abruptly cut off all food, electricity, medicine and other necessities to the two million people living in the western sectors of Berlin. The Russians expected an easy victory, with the Berliners embracing Communism to end the blockade while the Western Powers withdrew from Berlin in disgrace. Instead, the Western powers launched a massive airlift, while the Berliners defiantly demonstrated their willingness to endure powdered food, bitter cold, sporadic electricity and other forms of hardship rather than accept a Communist take-over. The Airlift turned into a Western triumph, the first clear victory of the Cold War, but that outcome was neither inevitable nor obvious at the start. The intrigues and tensions between former allies and the development of trust between former enemies are the perfect ingredients for many great historical novels. I hope mine will awake interest for this remarkable historical drama.

WOW: That sounds incredible and I can't wait to see it come out! Best of luck with your book and thank you for your time today!

--- Blog Tour Calendar

August 15th @ The Muffin
Join us as we celebrate the launch of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader. Read more about this fascinating historical fiction novel and learn more about the author. You can also enter to win a copy of the book too!

August 17th @ Deborah Adams' Blog
Deborah Adams features Helena P. Schrader's guest post about dissecting a novel.

 August 19th @ Life According to Jamie
Join Jamie as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

August 21st @ What Is That Book About?
Join Michelle as she features Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader. 

August 22nd @ Mindy McGinnis' Blog
Join Mindy as she features a guest post by Helena P. Schrader about how editors are not optional.

August 23rd @ Lisa Haselton's Book Reviews and Interviews
Don't miss an interview with author Helena P. Schrader about her book Moral Fibre.

August 24th @ A Writer of History
Read Helena P. Schrader's guest post about the challenges of designing book covers for historical fiction.

August 25th @ Bring on Lemons
Join Crystal as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

August 26th @ Bookshelf Journeys
Read Terri's review of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

August 27th @ Mercedes Rochelle's Blog
Read Helena P. Schrader's guest post featuring her book Moral Fibre.

August 30th @ World of My Imagination
Join Nicole as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

September 1st @ The Faerie Review
Check out a spotlight of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

September 2nd @ Author Anthony Avina
Anthony reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

September 5th @ Choices
Join Madeline as she features a guest post by Helena P. Schrader about the author and the seven drafts.

September 10th @ A Storybook World
Join Deirdre as she features Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

September 12th @ Word Magic
Fiona shares a guest post by author Helena P. Schrader about the lack of moral fibre.

September 17th @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Visit Jill's blog today where she interviews author Helena P. Schrader.

September 18th @ Wildwood Reads
Join Megan as she reviews Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader.

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

Enter to win a copy of Moral Fibre by Helena P. Schrader by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends August 28th at 11:59 CT. We will announce the winner the next day in the widget and follow up by email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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