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Monday, October 31, 2022

How to Avoid Writer's Burn Out This Season


In an age where the push for side hustle turned into a no-hustle movement, which then morphed into this necessity to take on more work to make ends meet despite what "movement" is happening, it seems impossible to balance things.

As a writer, I struggle with saying no to projects and freelance opportunities. However, I know I need to remember: everyone has a stress limit. The last thing you want to experience is burnout. 

So, as we embark on another NaNoWriMo, and a push to meet our yearly goals by the end of the year, alongside the financial stress that comes with the holiday season, I thought I'd share a few ways for you to avoid burnout:

  • Put off accepting new projects.
As someone who finds it very hard to accept new projects, try and say no anyways. For example, a few weeks ago, someone wanted me to contribute a chapter to a writing advice book on marketing. As tempting as it was to contribute, I had to say no. The biggest reason? It wasn't a paying opportunity. 

If it doesn't feel right to say no to something, take a look at what's on your plate. Does anything you are working on have a deadline that will end soon? If so, tell whoever offered you the opportunity you don't want to decline if you can check in with them at a later time when things are quieter. I did that recently and got a positive response. It's not saying no, but it's not saying yes right now. That helped my stress levels a lot.

  • Push out deadlines.
If at all possible, delay your deadlines. This isn't always possible without putting a job at risk, but where deadlines are flexible, ask for them. Especially if you are already nearing your overwhelmed point.

I've done this recently for a writing job since the editor had mentioned I can let her know if my deadline needs an extension. And I'm glad I did.

  • Take regular mental breaks.
The best thing you do for your stress levels is to take regular breaks. No one can work nonstop without a break, so don't expect that of yourself. Whether you discipline yourself to end your workday at a certain time, play a mobile game for a few minutes between projects, read a book you love, journal, listen to music, or whatever it is, let your mind play for a while. 

  • Break things up into manageable chunks.
This is one of the ways I'm able to successfully handle doing a lot of tours at once alongside doing other writing jobs (and balancing a full-time day job). I break things up into easy-to-manage chunks. Those are small tasks, easy for me to conquer in one sitting. Do that for your projects too. 

  • Ask for help.
It's not always easy to speak up when you need help, but it's important. Let those around you know when you are feeling really stressed. If someone can't help you with your workload (or you don't have the budget to hire for help), get help with other aspects of your life like grocery shopping, laundry, etc. 

It's surprisingly easy to lose sight of your stress limit and hit burnout. So, make sure you know your own signs of feeling overwhelmed too. For me, it's hitting a wall of not being able to focus on work alongside feeling really emotional.  For you, it may be another sign. Stay in touch with yourself and don't be afraid to limit what you are able to take on.

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not hunting down the right word, she's talking to God, reviewing books on her writing blog, watching movies, hanging out with family, and daydreaming. Her work has been featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, The Voices Project, and Sky Island Journal. Read her musings at WorldofMyImagination.com.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Interview with Liz Ramirez - Second Place Winner of the Q4 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

I'm thrilled to chat with Liz Ramirez about her award-winning essay, "first lesson." Liz shares the inspiration behind her piece, craft choices and POV, her literary influences, and so much more.  

Liz Ramirez recently completed an M.A. in English at Texas A&M University, where she now works full-time as a project manager in Technology Services. Her poem “et tu,” published in Volume IV of OyeDrum Magazine, was nominated for the 2021 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. “first lesson” is taken from her master’s capstone project, “Latinish: Mixed Identity in Three Essays,” where she writes about family, racial hybridity, and liminality in Mexican identity. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @trapezoidette.

Interview by Angela Miyuki Mackintosh

WOW: Welcome, Liz! Congratulations on winning second place in the Q4 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest. I love your essay, "first lesson" and all of our judges thought it was well written and powerful. What inspired you to write this piece?

Liz: Thank you, and thanks to everyone at WoW for this opportunity. I'd been searching for a way to articulate this experience of the first time that I felt that social judgment of racialization for a really long time, and once I learned what the flash form was, and the way it’s supposed to zoom in and amplify a single moment, it fit perfectly. More than almost any other moment in my life, that memory most clearly demanded a specific form in writing. It began with this central metaphor in my head, that ended up in one of the last sentences of the piece, this image of a judge on the bench who passes down these social evaluations in that split-second moment of imposed gaze. Something I learned in grad school through Stephanie Fetta’s work on racialization is that what transpires in those glances that “other” and isolate you is actually shame, and the gaze is the primary vehicle of that shame.

WOW: Your ending has got to be my favorite part, and I can totally see that metaphor. I never thought of "othering" as shame, but Fetta is so right! Wow, I'm going to have to drill that down in my own work. I love that you wrote the piece in second person. Was this how you wrote it initially or did the POV change in later drafts? Why was second person necessary to this piece?

Liz: I did write it in second person initially; I do a lot of writing like that, and I think that it was necessary for me in “first lesson” because this piece represents a kind of talking back through the years to myself and remembering that self who knew what it was like to feel free of this social judgment. As I got older, I felt more and more constrained by those instant on-sight evaluations that place you in those categories that impose marginalization, and I wanted to make those more visible through my writing, because so often I think we let them go without saying.

WOW: It takes courage to not let it go and shine a light on it, and I love that you wrote it to your younger self. I also found the use of "you" put the reader in the narrator's shoes, feeling the weight of her marginalization as well. Your bio says "first lesson" is part of your master’s capstone project, which explores mixed identity in three essays. What did you learn about yourself or your writing process from crafting these essays?

Liz: Well, the first thing I learned is how very difficult it is to write in a pandemic! During lockdown in 2020, I was spending a lot of time alone in my apartment, attending grad school remotely, zoning out in Zoom meetings, and procrastinating my assignments. With all that free time, I ended up opening Ancestry.com, and fell down a rabbit hole with everything I found (and didn’t find) there. My mother is white, and my searches for her family turned up thousands of records going back generations, some dating back to the 1600s. By contrast, my search for my father’s family, immigrants from Mexico, hit a dead end with my paternal grandfather Sotero; I couldn’t even find where he was buried, because I don’t know what year he died. I was so struck by that contrast, and confronted for the first time with what it actually means identity-wise to be half-white, mixed. Whiteness always seemed to be metaphorically empty and neutral, giving the illusion of subtracting from ethnicity rather than adding anything of its own; I could never imagine myself as connected to or descending from my white ancestors. The experience of actually finding out who they were, what their names were, what their handwriting looked like, where they lived–it really hammered home that I really am just as much a product of my mother’s heritage as my father’s, and got me thinking about the nature of hybridity and my own racial identity. This was the place of reflection from which that series of essays sprang.

WOW: That contrast is stark, and I can relate being a hapa, mixed. That absence of your father's heritage and the realization of claiming your mother's heritage as your own is a great subject for your series. I'd love to read it sometime! You also write poetry, and your poem, "et tu," was published in OyeDrum Magazine, which they nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net - congratulations! I always admire writers who craft both poetry and prose. Currently, who are your biggest influences or favorite authors in poetry and creative nonfiction?

In the Dream House
Liz:
 The biggest writing influence in my adult life by far has been Carmen María Machado and her memoir In the Dream House. I read this for the first time in grad school in 2019 and absolutely fell in love with it for its lyricality, inventive form, and second-person perspective, where the author writes back to her past self to talk through the end of a painful relationship. More than anything else, though, it was how she wrote about something that was incredibly difficult to write about, to the extent that it felt almost unspeakable when it happened to me: the way that the fact of abuse or mistreatment from a person who is marginalized in the same way as you feels like a betrayal, and like a confirmation of everything bad the mainstream establishment says about your group. This was heavily on my mind when I wrote “et tu,” which is about the same thing: how admitting the way I was treated in my first same-sex relationship when I was nineteen felt like it would affirm every bad thing my mother and my friends have ever believed about LGBTQ people. I let that keep me silent about it for years.

WOW: Machado's In the Dream House is one of my favorites as well! That line about your mother and friends in your poem is unforgettable, and your ending with the turtle is such a brilliant metaphor to close the piece with. What are you working on right now?

Liz: Right now, in addition to fiddling around with some flashes I wrote in a workshop by the wonderful Kathy Fish, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo in a few days (this will be my first time participating since I was a teenager), and trying to put together a writing sample for MFA application season this fall. And I’m still editing the series of essays “first lesson” came from, in the hopes that some of the short vignettes will soon be ready to send out.

WOW: Small literary world! WOW just interviewed Kathy Fish, and she's an amazing flash teacher. I'm also participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and I can't wait. It's so much fun. What's your favorite piece of writing advice or a tip you'd like to share with our readers/writers? 

Liz: Don’t underestimate writing, journaling, and talking to yourself as tools for healing and self-integration. Write in the second person. Journal in the second person. Write your to-do list like it’s for a child you take care of and love dearly. Reread your old journals, and write letters to the person you were then; write letters and save them for your future self. I did this when I was fourteen, and a couple of years ago when I turned twenty-four, I got to open the letter I’d saved for myself ten years prior. It was a sweet, poignant reminder of the idealist that I was at fourteen, and a vital connecting thread to just how strongly I already knew who I was and what I wanted back then; I just wanted to write and for people to read it, and I’ve made it further than I ever actually imagined I would.

WOW: Aw, I feel that way when I read my old diaries. Your writing has touched all of our hearts, Liz! You've definitely made it, and thank you for those fantastic tips. They're some of the most creative we've gotten! I simply love writing in second person, and wish you much success in your writing career. We can't wait to see what you write next. I'll be cheering you on during NaNo!

*

Angela Miyuki Mackintosh is a writer and editor at WOW! Women on Writing. Like Liz, she also loves to write in second person. Her essay about a childhood friendship, sobriety and grief, written in second person, "Happy Sobriety Birthday" was published by Eastern Iowa Review. Her most recent CNF piece written in second person, "Waiting for the End," a hybrid collage written during the height of the pandemic, published in Permafrost Magazine, September 2022. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Friday Speak Out!: How Janet Evanovich’s Book Helped Me Try Writing in a New Genre

By Dawn Colclasure

Self-publishing is not new for me. I have self-published poetry books and children’s books since 2012. My experience with self-publishing took an interesting turn this year, when I self-pubbed horror!

An independent publisher who showed interest in publishing my collection of YA horror stories ended up turning it down. “Too dark,” they said.

However, one issue about these stories stood out: The teen characters committing murder. My publisher was worried the stories would have too much influence over teen readers, encouraging them to seek bloodthirsty revenge on bullies and abusers. It was such a pressing issue that they wouldn’t be so worried about my releasing these stories into the world should I do something a little bit different with the book: Offer a teaser for a novel I haven’t yet written at the end!

They shared with me their idea. Why not write a series about an amateur sleuth who attempts to help these girls who have committed their crimes? After all, they would eventually end up getting caught, wouldn’t they?

When I responded to their proposed idea, I had a bit of a surprise: “It's funny you should mention that. I actually had a story idea tickling my brain the last couple of days but I couldn't figure out how to make it work.” Their suggestion made it work. All of the pieces fell into place.

Now all I needed was a title!

First, however, they wanted a chapter.

This gave me pause. What they were asking me to write was a genre I had never written in for novels! I did write one P.I. short story, but I was not familiar enough with the genre to write a novel.

Then I remembered a book I’d read earlier this year called How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof. In this book, Janet Evanovich shares how she went from writing romance to mysteries: She spent a year studying the genre before taking the leap into writing her popular Stephanie Plum novels.

Perhaps this is what I should do as well, in order to write the series my publisher has proposed. I will spend a year studying and learning how to write the amateur sleuth genre. For now, I had to start with a first chapter.

I spent the evening writing that first chapter and the next day polishing it before I sent it to my publisher. They liked it and now it looks like I have to write the rest of the book!

That first book will get written and submitted eventually. For now, I have the first chapter of it for readers to enjoy – right at the end of my YA horror story collection that I just self-published!

I have one chapter of that novel written and I do plan to write the rest of it. But first I need to spend a year studying the genre!

* * *

When she’s not writing pet-focused Dawn Colclasure is a writer who lives in Oregon with her husband and children. She is the author and co-author of over two dozen books, among them 365 Tips for Writers: Inspiration, Writing Prompts and Beat the Block Tips to Turbo Charge Your Creativity. She is also a content writer, freelance writer, book reviewer and ghostwriter. She is also a self-publisher. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. She publishes the SPARREW Newsletter each month. Her websites are at https://dawnsbooks.com/ and https://www.dmcwriter.com/. She’s on Twitter @dawncolclasure.
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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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Thursday, October 27, 2022

Interview With Odyssey Writing Workshops Instructor, Scott H. Andrews


If you are contemplating taking a writing class in 2023, you may want to consider Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers. Starting in January 4 of next year, this four-week course instructor Scott H. Andrews will delve into different techniques to convey character emotions realistically and powerfully on the page. He'll share strategies for developing situations and stories with strong potential for emotional resonance, and offer methods to execute those approaches to make your readers actually feel those emotions.

About the Instructor, Scott H. Andrews

Scott H. Andrews lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, twelve guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He writes, teaches college chemistry, and is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the nine-time Hugo Award finalist and World Fantasy Award-winning online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Scott is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop; his literary short fiction has won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & Time, Crossed Genres, and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales.

Scott has taught writing at the Odyssey Workshop, Writefest, and online for Odyssey Online Classes, Clarion West, and Cat Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. He has lectured on short fiction, secondary-world fantasy, editing, magazine publishing, audio podcasting, and beer on dozens of convention panels at multiple Worldcons, World Fantasy conventions, and regional conventions in the Northeast and Midwest. He is an eight-time finalist and 2019 winner of the World Fantasy Award, and he celebrates International Stout Day at least once a year.

Today we're talking with him about this course and his experience as an instructor. Don't hesitate to enroll now! You have until November 21 to apply.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Thank you Scott for taking the time to chat with us today! The class you are teaching with Odyssey is about characters' emotions and making them real for readers. Why is this so important to focus on as a writer?

Scott: Making character emotions real for readers is for me the single most important thing that fiction needs to do, because character emotion is what makes readers care.  

Readers read for lots of different reasons--intellectual engagement, like to learn something or to solve a puzzle; escapism or wish fulfillment; suspense or thrill--and different types of stories engage in those ways and give a satisfying read.  But what makes readers really care about a story, and invest themselves so deeply that they'll read a book over and over or read every book an author publishes, is character and being emotionally engaged by it.  There's a reason why Stephen King's horror novels and George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy are read by millions more readers than most horror or epic fantasy--their characters make the reader feel.

WOW: Absolutely! If we don't connect with the characters, we won't connect with the story at all. What pitfalls do you usually see writers stumble over when displaying character emotions?

Scott: Two common pitfalls I see when a story isn't evoking emotion from the characters are the prose being too sparse or opaque about the emotion and the prose presenting the emotion but not making the reader feel it.  I often see writers trying to be subtle or seeming afraid that being clear will read like dumbing it down, but in my experience, readers need a lot more indication and clarity about emotion than most writers think they do.  In the Emotional Truth class, I tell writers to add in more than you think you need, because that's actually how much the reader needs.  Err on the side of too much rather than too little.  And I see prose that displays emotion, being clear about what emotion is intended, but which doesn't complete the process and make the reader feel the emotion along with the character.  The reader needs not only to understand what the emotion is but also to feel it themself.  

WOW: Yes! I completely agree - the reader must also feel that emotion. Somehow the advice, "show, don't tell," seems significant with emotions. How do you capture showing a feeling rather than telling it in writing?

Scott: "Show Don't Tell" for me is bad advice. :)  Especially about portraying character emotion.  Perhaps because many writers seem to take Show Don't Tell to extremes or to use it all the time rather than only when it's the best approach.  I see lots of writing that attempts to portray character emotion from a purely external perspective, which reads to me like watching the character from afar or like the prose is trying to depict a movie.  It gives description and actions and dialog but no internals, as though aiming to Show and never Tell, but that approach ends up reading distant and cold because it's not accessing the character's internals, which is the place where emotions originate and live.  The great advantage prose fiction has over TV and movies is that the narrative can go inside a character's head, in many different ways.  Showing, and being visual and external, is a tool like any other--it has its uses but it's not the best approach for everything, and it has big drawbacks when applied to portraying and evoking character emotion.

WOW: So true! Probably the most over-used advice in the writing world actually. Why do you love teaching with Odyssey Writing Workshop?

Scott: The Odyssey Writing Workshop, and the Odyssey Online Classes, always draw applicants that are interested in approaches to writing and driven to break down or redesign their approaches in order to improve their writing.  My class is intense, with unusual material and exercises that push writers to dig down to a new level in their writing.  I love teaching students who are so engaged in this narrow topic and so excited to put work into it.

WOW: That's awesome! What do students gain from courses like yours and others?

Scott: Single-topic advanced classes like Emotional Truth and the other Odyssey Online Classes go into deeper detail on that topic than a general class or workshop can, and they pare away other elements of writing so that students can focus on learning and writing that specific topic.  In Emotional Truth, we do writing exercises and new writing, so that students can put the ideas and techniques into practice, and the students critique each other's work, so they can learn from reading how other students are applying the same techniques.  It's a different type of writing class, but for writers who have experience but are looking to level-up their writing to a professional level, it can be exactly what their writing needs.

WOW: That is so true! Sometimes it's the specific stuff that needs the most help. What do you hope students will leave your class with?

Scott: I hope students leave the Emotional Truth class with a series of tools and mindset approaches they can use for portraying character emotion, in different situations--like tools for different types of point-of-view or stories with different tone or voice--and with an understanding that portraying character emotion is a unique challenge in fiction writing, different from elements like dialog or description.  Learning how to command it can require reinventing your process and your mindset, and the class lays out ways for writers to do that.

WOW: How powerful that is! Why is it so valuable for writers to take courses in a specific area that they may be struggling with in their writing?

Scott: General workshops or critique groups, in my twenty years of experience with them, can help writers develop in general and can be great help with individual stories, but I think that leveling-up in a specific area of writing requires specific study and work on that skill.  Portraying character emotion is such a crucial skill in fiction writing, to make readers care and keep reading, that to me it's an ideal topic for a narrow-focus class that goes deep into its topic.

WOW: It really is. How do you know, as a writer, if your character's emotions are falling flat?

Scott: Some tip-offs in my experience are that beta readers find a story solid but it's not leaping off the page for them.  The characters are interesting, but they're not captivating.  The story feels like just a story; readers read it and enjoy it fine, but it doesn't stick with them; they don't wonder what happened to the character after that story or wish they could read more or find themself still thinking about the story days later.  Other tip-offs can be a scene that is clearly intended to have emotional resonance, like a funeral or a declaration of love, but it reads flat; the prose seems merely words on a page, and the characters seem like they aren't feeling anything or like the things they're feeling are plain and dull.  Often, writers can't see that for themselves, in their own work, because rendering emotion is such a complex thing to pull off and it's difficult to read your own words the way a reader does.  Another tip-off can be if your writing is getting lots of high-level rejections, like if your stories are being passed up by first readers to the editors of a magazine, but it isn't selling.  In my experience, that can mean that the writer's work is solid or fine but isn't leaping off the page and making readers care.

WOW: What amazing insight. What advice do you have for writers uncertain if it's worth investing in themselves through a class?

Scott: Honestly, if you're not certain an intensive class is right for you or for your writing where it is now, then it might not be.  It's a big commitment, not just in money but time and work.  But if you think an intensive class with a narrow focus that will go deeper than any generalist class is what your writing needs, and you're ready to put in the time and work, a class like Emotional Truth can revolutionize your writing. 
 
WOW: Thank you so much for talking with us today! 

Remember, don't hesitate to enroll in the Emotional Truth course now. Or check out some of the other online courses coming up this January with Odyssey Writing Workshop.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

How a Social Media Challenge Has Helped Me with Novel Revisions

 

November is National Novel Writing Month, and I usually like to plan a project since I’m a writer who needs accountability. I saw a graphic created by NaNoWriMo on Instagram with a challenge for the month of October and decided to participate. Each day during October writers are given a prompt and encouraged to share a photo inspired by the prompt, along with the hashtag #instawrimo2022. While there have been some days I had no idea what the prompt meant or what I should share by way of a graphic, I came to the realization that the challenge has helped me as I’m working on revisions for my young novel adult novel that will tentatively be released early next year. 

One of the prompts had us share a writing playlist. This made me remember I had created one specific to the novel several years back, so I dug it out and created a graphic with five of the songs. This put me in the right frame of mind when looking at the opening chapters, and I knew I had to do something to slow down the story in the beginning. The prompt asking us to share our story’s villain made me realize my villain is not a person, but rather, the concept of time. 

Another prompt had us write a dream blurb for our book, and this helped me come up with a tight logline. Yesterday’s prompt asked us “what’s in your main character’s pocket?” My main character is a young man who is a senior in high school, so what else would he have in his pocket but a phone? But wait . . . I first began writing this novel more than 10 years ago, well before the explosion of social media as it stands today. I knew then that there was a void throughout the book in terms of social media use. I scribbled down notes on how to weave in social media reactions to the inciting incident of the novel. 

Besides sharing cute photos of our “writing pets and plants” and favorite writing quotes, I believe these prompts are helping me make connections and additions to my novel I wouldn’t have considered before. For example, I recently watched a very harrowing documentary about a celebrity who has been accused of sexually abusing several children. The accusations have divided the public on whether or not the celebrity is guilty, mostly because the victims did not admit the abuse until they were grown adults. It took me several days to process what I had learned, but then it hit me as I was working on this Instagram challenge. My main character is a victim of sexual abuse, and the documentary I watched laid out the grooming process of an abuser step by step. Now I’m considering adding in a fictitious documentary into my story, because it can be something the main characters watch and learn from (and discuss on social media, divided opinions and all). It also ties in the grooming process with the shame victims often feel. 

There are only a few days left of this social media challenge, and I’m happy with the way it’s helped me brainstorm, navigate revisions, and prep for November. Happy Writing! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Interview with Deborah Ritchie 2022 Spring Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Deborah’s Bio:

Deborah Ritchie is the co-author of Judas Kisses: A True Story of Betrayal and Survival, the best-selling memoir of burns survivor, Donna Carson, first published by Hardie Grant Books in 2007. Deborah also writes short fiction and poetry; her work has been published in various magazines and journals. Deborah holds an MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Wollongong. She lives in Australia, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Follow her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/deborahritchieauthor/ 

If you haven’t read “The Peacekeeper,” please take the time to do so and then pop back here for Deborah’s interview. 

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

WOW: There is so much turmoil in “Peacekeeper.” What was your inspiration for this story? 

Deborah: My inspiration for “Peacekeeper” was the death of my mother. Like the peacekeeper in my story, she was a woman who found it difficult to be assertive, largely because of her upbringing, the society in which she grew up and the domineering men she chose as partners. Unable to fill her own space in life, her main power lay in a quiet stubbornness. She held a lot of unexpressed anger. Mum died alone in dreadful circumstances. People who know the full, complex story tell me there’s nothing I could have done. But I will feel guilty for the rest of my life. She was a beautiful human being. 

WOW: How sad! But how brave of you to write about it and discuss it. How did this story evolve from start to finish? 

Deborah: “Peacekeeper” was originally written as part of an assignment for my MA. It was the first micro-story in a set of four linked stories which all take place on a particular Valentine’s Day. Each story is from a different point of view. In the final piece, daughter Diana saves her mother. Make of that what you will! Unlike most of my creative writing, “Peacekeeper” evolved easily. I think I’d carried the image of Mum’s dying in my head for so long, a solid first draft rolled out quickly on the page. I’d often wondered what her final thoughts had been. I’d heard years ago that when someone is passing, their life flashes before them in reverse. This gave me the overarching structure. 

WOW: This piece is so full of vivid imagery. It makes sense that a vivid image was part of its beginning. Despite the brief word count available in flash fiction, there is so much detail in this piece. How did you decide which details to include and which to leave out? 

Deborah: Mum had been born into wealth but ended up in squalor, and it seemed her lifelong script of ‘peace at any price’ had been largely to blame. This theme provided the breadcrumb trail for the story and also the title. (I think this is an example of an imposed limitation being of great help.) I imagined a series of key relationships and a series of key incidents connected to the theme. Although the scaffolding for “Peacemaker” is based on a real incident, many of the details are products of my imagination. This is where the writer must take over in order to stretch and fictionalise the work. Trying to stick to the truth is often a cage. As usual, walking, swimming and daydreaming freed my mind. Possible details arose unbidden. Which to choose? A writer just knows, I think. 

WOW: In addition to short fiction, you also write poetry. How does your poetry influence your other writing? 

Deborah: Poetic techniques are wonderful tools for my prose writing. For example, fresh metaphors and similes allow a reader to see the familiar in a new way. But poetry also trains the ear to the musicality of language. Words can chime together through alliteration, assonance and rhyme. Sentences can be serpentine or jumpy or lush or spare, depending on the choice and arrangement of the words within. 

WOW: What advice do you have for our readers who may never have tried writing flash? 

Deborah: Read plenty of quality flash fiction. The WOW! Women on Writing website is a great place to start. 

Write about one thing that lends itself to being compressed. 

Burn out a first draft without censoring yourself, then remove any unnecessary words. You’ll be surprised how many words are dispensable. 

Use strong verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs. 

Read and reread each draft aloud. Edit awkward-sounding prose. 

It’s common advice but worth repeating: Write from your scars, not your wounds. Well…most of the time anyway! 

WOW: Thank you for trusting us enough to share the truth behind this story. I know I speak for our community when I say that I would love to read the four stories together!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster
I'm excited to announce the blog tour launch for Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster. Join us as we share more about this novel, interview the author, and give away a copy of the book to one lucky reader. This book is perfect for teens who dealing with bullying (or an adult who formerly dealt with bullying), parents of teens dealing with bullying, and young women rethinking their own story.

First, here's a bit about the book:

In the 1960s, a relentless school bully makes Catherine’s life a living hell. She retreats inward, relying on a rich fantasy life—swinging through the jungle wrapped in Tarzan’s protective arms—and fervent prayers to a God she does not trust. She fasts until she feels faint, she ties a rough rope around her waist as penance, hoping God will see her worthy of His help.

As the second of eight children, Catherine is Mommy’s little helper, and like Mommy, Catherine is overwhelmed. The bullying and the adult responsibilities together foment her anger. She starts smacking her siblings, and becomes her younger sister’s nemesis. Spooked by who she is becoming, Catherine vows to escape for real, before she hurts someone—or herself.

Catherine finds salvation in a high school exchange program: new town, new school, new family, new persona. A passport celebrity. In New Zealand, nobody knows her history or her fears. Except for her Kiwi “mum,” who sees through Catherine’s façade and pulls her out from her inner safe-house. Exposed, her sense of self implodes. Catherine must finally rethink who she is.

Publisher: WiDo Publishing (July 2022)
ISBN-10: 1947966618
ISBN-13: 978-1947966611
ASIN: ‎B0B6GFLXWC
Print length: 278 pages

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

About the Author, Catherine Forster

Catherine Forster honed her powers of observation early on, and later applied them to artistic endeavors. Although it didn’t happen overnight, she discovered that seeing and hearing a bit more than the average person can be beneficial. As an artist, her work has exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States and abroad. Her experimental films have won accolades and awards in more than thirty international film festivals, from Sao Paulo to Berlin, Los Angeles to Rome, London to Romania. Through her work, she explores the dynamics of girlhood, notions of identity, and the role technology plays in our relationship with nature.

In her capacity as an independent curator, she founded LiveBox, an eight-year project that introduced new media arts to communities at a time when few new what media arts was. For the past four years she has been a member of the curatorial team for the Experiments In Cinema Film Festival held annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a Masters of Business from the London Business School, and a fellowship in writing from the Vermont Studio Center. She is also included in the Brooklyn Art Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

You can follow her on her website as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your memoir Chasing Tarzan. How did your memoir change from first draft to final draft? 

Catherine: My first draft was a 700-page memory dump. I thought it was a book, but my first beta reader informed me it was at least five: a coming of age story, a parenting book, a travel book, an exposé on relationships, and a cookbook! Through her kindhearted counsel I discovered that the first draft was actually research. I started over. The second draft was three-hundred pages and radically stripped down, at least I thought it was. After another round of beta readers, I wrote draft three and sent it to a professional editor. Her response was devastating, “It’s not a memoir, or even a book; it’s three books: coming of age, parenting, and relationship book.” Apparently, I’d only removed two of the five books. 

When my daughter was born, I vowed she would not suffer at the hands of bullies––I would prevent it––but the bullying prevailed despite my efforts. During her twelfth year, we spent three weeks on safari in Africa. Africa awakened memories of my childhood confident and protector, Tarzan, and the bully who made my life unbearable. The manuscript shifted between Africa and my childhood memories and struggles with relationships caused by bullying. I thought draft three was a book on the long-term effects of bullying, but the editor found it to be a motley collection of experiences; well written, with a strong voice, but still not a book. 

Feeling I’d embarked on a foolish journey, I put the book away, but it would not leave me alone. I re-read all the notes from beta readers and the editor, and began again. One comment by a reader stuck with me, “Why not take one storyline and dive deep, tell all of it. Don’t try and merge stories, just take one theme. When you’re done, then decide if linking the piece with another storyline is needed or if it stands alone.” I followed her advice. I chose the coming of age story, for the sole reason that reader after reader said they missed the child and the teenaged girl when she wasn’t the focus of the story. And I dove deeper than I ever thought possible, exposing incidents I’d long ago banished, tucked away in an impenetrable vault in my head. Only five chapters survived from the previous draft, but I’d found Chasing Tarzan. A further three drafts would follow, each sharpening but not altering the story. 

WOW: That's profound how this story evolved and how much of yourself you put into capturing the right story. I can relate to how you developed a rich fantasy life to escape reality around you. How did that influence your pursuit of creative arts? 

Catherine: Creative pursuits were natural to me from the first day I was given a crayon and told not to color outside the lines. I continued to color outside the lines, but only in my head. Growing up , I was drawn to the beauty I saw in objects, prompting me to experiment with: painting, stained glass, knitting, crocheting, macramé, beadwork, printmaking, you name it I tried it. I made stuff, however, the most creative enterprise took place in my head. My inner world was quixotic, a place where there were no boundaries, no rules, no it’s-done-like-this. 

Despite a rich demonstration of artistic interests––our home was flush with my art projects––my parents did not support a career in the arts. Art was viewed as a hobby. My first degree was in Microbiology. After seven years working in hospital labs, I earned an MBA at the London Business School. This would lead to a fulfilling period in business, one replete with travel, but I wondered whether I had something to offer in the arts. I left and entered art school, earning a Masters in Fine Arts. This is the career I was always meant to have, yet there is a synergy with my earlier endeavors. I used a lens at the beginning and still do, exchanging a microscope for a camera. Moreover, every undertaking has been about solving puzzles, discovering what lies beneath the surface. My writing, my visual art projects, and my films are all a search for answers, discover the facets of cause and effect. 


"One comment by a reader stuck with me, 'Why not take one storyline and dive deep, tell all of it. Don’t try and merge stories, just take one theme. When you’re done, then decide if linking the piece with another storyline is needed or if it stands alone.' I followed her advice."



WOW: I'm so glad you found your way to back to the arts! This memoir of yours is truly a story about overcoming obstacles. What do you hope readers take away from reading it? 

Catherine: In the beginning, I wrote the book so that my daughter would not feel alone in her struggle with bullying. I wanted her to know what she was experiencing was abuse, treatment she did not deserve. My writing group helped me recognize the universal themes of the book. Through them, I decided to write for a broader audience. 

Like many children, perhaps you too, I was told that bullying was a fact of life, part of growing up, that one would be stronger for it. Studies show this is not the case. Individuals who were the target of severe bullying (whether physical or verbal) are more likely to struggle with their relationships, suffer from depression, addiction, and suicide during adulthood. Moreover, the abuse doesn’t stop when the tormentor stops. In the process of writing Chasing Tarzan, I learned that I became my own bully. Once I moved to another school and left my bully behind, his shadow followed me. He had trained me well. The sound of his voice echoed even in his absence. 

I did not want this for my daughter, or anyone’s child. I know through personal experience and recent studies agree, that the abuse need not define an individual if they know they are loved and are undeserving of the abuse. It is my hope that young readers will know that there are positive options available to them, and that they do not have to resort to self-medication or other dire actions. 

As I wrote Chasing Tarzan, I discovered that despite being left to my own defenses, I was not entirely alone. A champion can ebb the long-term effects of bullying. Someone who believes in you, stands up for you, validates you’re worthy of love––deserving of nothing less––can make all the difference. My adult readers have given me hope that the book will create advocates I call angels. Several readers who are teachers have requested this book for their school, and their school counselors. The book resonates with mothers raising children, and with women rethinking their own childhood story. I am humbled by the discoveries they’ve shared with me. 

WOW: I am so glad that this has reached so many others and helped them. What was your writing process like when working on your memoir? 

Catherine: I am an early morning writer. I start at 6AM, sometimes earlier, before the world intrudes. I begin by reading. I like to start my writing sessions with good sentences and vibrant words in my head. So as not to be overly influenced by one writers voice, I read at least three books and am conscious in doing so, studying choices the author is making. Next, I read my own work, starting with the previous chapter. This usually requires a bit of editing, which further immerses me in my own characters and their universe. 

I do not write in a coffee shop or public space. I need absolute silence. No music. No overheard talking. I can stand a leaf blower outside, but not for long. I have a room in my house that is quiet, the surroundings calm––no clutter. I write in a guest bedroom not my studio, that’s for art making. As I read, I sit in a comfortable chair and use a lap desk to write on my MacBook. 

I write until it’s 11:30 or noon, have lunch, then go for a walk. It is in nature that I resolve writing issues, or arrest fresh ideas. I return to the book, but only briefly, jotting down ideas or fixing perplexing problems. I have learned that this is not the time to write, my brain has had it by then. For me, it’s time to reflect. I’ll take notes on my iPhone, but nothing else. Not until I’m back in my writing chair the following morning.


"A champion can ebb the long-term effects of bullying. Someone who believes in you, stands up for you, validates you’re worthy of love––deserving of nothing less––can make all the difference."


WOW: I am a bit similar to you in that noise can distract me! What are you working on now that you can tell us about? 

Catherine: I’m writing a work of fiction, Sorry Cakes for Supper. The story alternates between the main character Judyth’s week with her granddaughter and to flashbacks of Judyth’s childhood, beginning in 1914 and ending in 1920 when she meets her future husband Ed. The journey takes her from a joyful child to a reticent adult, yet it is the course of one week spent with her granddaughter that is most life-changing. 

Approaching her fiftieth birthday, time is playing tricks on Judyth’s mind. Most days, she suppresses the memories of a secret daughter and the death of a subsequent child she had with her Ed. She is content with the life she has created, where emotions are kept at arm’s length, until her son shows up on her doorstep and deposits his six-year old daughter. The child has stopped talking for no apparent reason. Her distress and ghost-like presence shatter Judyth’s carefully crafted world. 

Writing fiction is a new world to me. I am on my fourth draft, and have weathered bewildering and hard-hitting critiques from my editor. Thanks to writing Chasing Tarzan, I am accustomed to tough criticism. I am learning the nuts and bolts of fiction from the ground up. It’s exasperating and exhilarating. Writing is rewriting!

WOW: It absolutely is! Thank you so much for talking with us today. I can't wait to read your next book too.

Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster WOW Blog Tour


---- Blog Tour Calendar

October 24th @ The Muffin
Join us as we celebrate the launch of Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster. We'll be interviewing the author, sharing information about the book, and hosting a giveaway. 

October 25th @ Pages and Paws
Join the Pages and Paws blog and read the review of Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

October 25th @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews & Interviews
Join Lisa as she interviews author Catherine Forster about her book Chasing Tarzan.

October 26th @ Author Anthony Avina's Blog
Visit Anthony's page and read his review of Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

October 27th @ Chapter Break
Join Julie as she shares a guest post by Catherine Forster about the role of imagination when children suffer torment.

October 30th @ Rockin Book Reviews
Join Lu Ann as she reviews Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

November 2nd @ The Mommies Review
Join Glenda as she reviews Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster and hosts a giveaway on her blog.

November 3rd @ Sioux's Page
Visit Sioux's blog as she reads and reviews Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

November 4th @ The Faerie Review
Join Lily as she reviews Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

November 5th @ Jill Sheets Blog
Jill interviews Catherine Forster about her memoir Chasing Tarzan.

November 7th @ Clueless Gent
Join Michael as he reviews Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

November 10th @ Word Magic
Come by Fiona's blog and read a guest post about the mother-daughter relationship in all its complexities.

November 12th @ Just Katherine
Katherine shares her thoughts about Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.

November 13th @ Writer Advice
Catherine Forster shares a guest post about how her idea for her memoir came to be and how she turned it into a novel.

November 15th @ Choices
Madeline shares a guest post by Catherine Forster about the long-term effects of bullying.

November 17th @ All the Ups and Downs
Join Heather as she features a guest post by Catherine Forster about the role of adults and how they can be the potential savior for the wounded child.

November 19th @ Boots, Shoes and Fashion
Join Linda as she interviews author Catherine Forster about her book Chasing Tarzan.

November 19th @ Life According to Jamie
Jamie shares her thoughts about Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster.


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

Enter to win a copy of Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends November 6th at 11:59pm CT. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget the next day and follow up via email. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Interview with Courtney Harler, First Place Winner of Q4 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Courtney Harler is a freelance writer, editor, and educator based in Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds an MFA from University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (2017) and an MA from Eastern Washington University (2013). Courtney is currently editor-in-chief of CRAFT, and has read and written for The Masters Review, Funicular Magazine, Reflex Fiction, and Chicago Literati in recent years. She also cohosts the literary podcast PWN's Debut Review, as well as instructs and edits for Project Write Now. For her creative work, Courtney has been honored by fellowships from Writing By Writers, Community of Writers, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and Nevada Arts Council. Courtney’s work has been published in multiple genres in literary magazines around the world. Links to her publications and other related awards can be found at https://harlerliterary.llc. Find Courtney on Instagram @CourtneyHarler or on Twitter @CourtneyHarler1.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q4 2022 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “Be Still My Mother?”

Courtney: Well, first of all, my mother, who was a wonderfully wild woman. She was certainly unpredictable, both in delightful and harmful ways. She passed, as I make mention in the epistolary essay itself, on her birthday in 2010. I have felt compelled to write about her since, given we had unresolved issues between us. I first wrote this essay as a fictional short story, and though it garnered some attention in that form, the piece never placed in a contest or otherwise published. When I first workshopped the story, my mentor, Christian Kiefer, asked me why I wouldn't just submit the fiction as fact, since it remained largely true. I had my reasons then, which mostly involved not wanting to be held accountable to "truth" (much like my mother), but when my mother's birth/deathday came and went again this year, twelve years after the fact, I felt more able to face the facts, so to speak, of our troubled relationship. However, secondarily, I also felt the need to address the personal conviction that my remembered version of events couldn't definitively be called "truth," but only in as much as I could express such on the page. Even in this nonfiction piece, I wanted to allow room for different, or even competing, perspectives, especially from my siblings. My mother, I'm sure, would demand her say, if she were still able to respond in ways that could be voiced.

WOW: How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?

Courtney: I think I may have preempted this question a bit in my first answer, but honestly, this flash essay has been many years in the making. The short story, on which this essay is based, I believe I wrote in late 2015 or early 2016. I do remember sitting at my kitchen table, which is where I usually worked when my children were younger and I was still married, to sweat through that first flush of the first draft. The "story" felt very risky to me then, and I wasn't sure I'd be brave enough to bring it to my MFA workshop. I did, however, and it had unintended consequences. A classmate said at the start of the discussion, "This is a story about abuse," then ran from the room in tears. At that time, the idea of "abuse" had yet to occur to me. I sat flabbergasted, wondering what had just happened, as my instructor led the workshop back onto its path. I expanded the story after that workshop, tried to integrate the father figure more as a foil to the wily mother. I also tried to be braver about the work, sending it out to lit mags with support from my mentors. The story was shortlisted, but again, never published. I appreciated these nods toward the work, but grew frustrated that the story really couldn't find legs on its own merit. From the beginning, I knew one major issue was the story's accusatory tone, which does carry over somewhat into the epistolary essay. The "you" as a separate character from the "I" (and not as just an emanation of the narrator), as well as the pure confessional nature, also carried over when I decided to both factualize and condense the short story into a flash essay. I left out the more salacious details, focused on what made us both imperfectly human: the curdled tea, the kitchen scenes, and the objective correlatives that aligned us as fellow humans, as once mother and daughter and not simply adversaries--our poetry books, our shared jewelry, our unwashed dishes. Both the story and the essay poured forth from me, but the autofiction resisted truly fruitful revision until I distilled the storyline into fact. Or again, as near as I can come to "truth," which I think is indeed malleable, or at least open to interpretation, to paraphrase my mother.

WOW: I’m intrigued by your literary podcast PWN's Debut Review that you cohost, which is devoted to debut art and its creators. How did that come about, and do you have any favorite episodes you could recommend?

Courtney: I've been conducting email interviews for online lit mags and blogs for some years, first for Chicago Literati (sadly, now defunct) and then The Masters Review. I really enjoyed corresponding with authors, especially debut novelists, about their creative writing processes and publishing experiences. The interviews not only enriched my understanding of the craft, but also helped me feel more connected to the literary community after my graduation from my program at University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (formerly Sierra Nevada College). Sometime in 2019, I think, my good friend and fellow MFA graduate Ray Brunt invited me to get involved with his local writing studio, Project Write Now. I started teaching virtual writing classes for them, but all the while, I had this idea for a literary podcast in my head. Fall of 2020 got really weird for me--I left my longtime position at the local community college and sent myself on a writing/riding retreat at T.H.E. Ranch in Skull Valley, Arizona. During that retreat, when I cleared some headspace, I called Ray and pitched him the podcast. He, in turn, pitched the idea to PWN's Executive Director, Jennifer Chauhan. We assembled a team and spent a year in development. We launched about a year ago, and now we're in our fourth season. I've learned so much from all our wonderful guests, I don't think I could pick favorites, so I'll just mention the latest, our launch of Season Four with Chen Chen. Chen is a fantastic poet, and great fun to chat with about craft and culture. I hope your readers will take a listen. Up next, we'll have Courtney Maum, who's also flipping amazing.

WOW: As a writer, editor-in-chief of a literary magazine and more, you must be very busy. Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Courtney: I am very busy, and I won't lie, finding dedicated time to devote to my work-in-progress is a struggle. In addition to my duties as editor in chief of CRAFT and cohost of PWN's Debut Review, I operate my writing coaching business, Harler Literary LLC. I'm also a coparent of a very active, very musical highschooler. While I'm tending to my many other responsibilities, I often forget to tend to myself. Recently, however, I have been the recipient of two grants from the Nevada Arts Council, allowing me to better prioritize my own creative projects. For the first grant, I completed revisions on a linked collection, which is now on submission with university and independent publishers. For the second grant, I'm currently redesigning my master's thesis, which will include "Be Still My Mother." I'm envisioning a hybrid collection of flash fiction, flash creative nonfiction, and short stories. Maybe even a prose poem or three. I am inspired to take this tack by Jennifer Battisti, another Vegas writer, who recently published a gorgeous hybrid collection called Off Boulder Highway. I once heard Jennifer read at The Writer's Block, my favorite local indie bookstore, and I've admired her work, and her approach to the work, since.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Courtney. Before you go, can you share a favorite tip or piece of advice related to creative nonfiction writing?

Courtney: My very first instinct is to say that I am "new" to creative nonfiction writing, as I have, in the past, mostly produced and published fiction, but in truth, the bulk of my previous work has primarily been autofiction. I still love the implied or inherent freedom from "truth" in fiction, even autofiction, but I'm finding, lately, that same sense of liberty on the page with nonfiction and poetry too. My best advice: Just write; don't worry about genre, or more specifically, the limitations "genre" attempts to place upon creativity. And if you can't write today, read. Read everything, and study what you read. I need this advice too--I sometimes read too quickly, and the words wash over me but pass from me too quickly. I can't help but think of my mother again, who left this world too soon. I memorialize her each day with my words.

****

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

Saturday, October 22, 2022

About Plurals and Possessives

 
by Bobbie Christmas
 
 
Q: Is The Chicago Manual of Style the standard for editing nonfiction book manuscripts? What do you say about the comments below made by two editors I’ve used?
 
Original line of text from the manuscript:
 
In the late 80’s, I was living in Dallas, Texas running a company that I had founded.
 
Here’s the ensuing discussion over it:
 
Editor 2: 80s (no apostrophe because there is no possession—and you might want to use 1980s to make it even clearer)
 
Editor 1: This is a question of style. Each publisher will have its own style. This is one style.
 
A: Chicago Style is preferred by most book publishers, so it is safest to use it for any book-length manuscript, whether fiction or nonfiction. Let me address one point at a time.
 
Editor number two was correct: In the late 80s, without the apostrophe, is acceptable and complies with Chicago style. Without the apostrophe 80s is plural and refers to many years. With an apostrophe it would be possessive, meaning something that belonged to the 1980s. The editor is also correct that for clarity it’s better to write the full number: In the late 1980s.
 
If the author wanted to say something that belonged to that era, it would be written with an apostrophe: “One 1980’s spokesperson said…”
 
The state should be set off by two commas, one before and one after, another issue of grammar. I’m surprised neither editor addressed that point. Correct: “In the late 1980s, I was living in Dallas, Texas, running a company… 
 
You touched on a point that disturbs me whenever I see it. I spot the term “writer’s conference” all the time, and that form means that writers own the conference. The correct form should be “writers conference,” which means it is a conference for writers; it is not owned by writers. You’ll notice that my own ezine is called The Writers Network News for exactly that reason. It is for writers. It is not owned by writers, although you could say it is owned by one writer—me.
 
Overall my point is editor number one was incorrect; the issues were not a matter of style, but of grammar, and grammar remains the same in any style.
 
Q: Which is correct?
 
His patience and soft-spoken sense of humor helps students make sense of the sometimes confusing world wide web.
 
Or
 
His patience and soft-spoken sense of humor help students make sense of the sometimes confusing world wide web.
 
The latter, right? I don’t teach grammar, but the latter sounds correct.
 
A: The latter is correct, because of the plural subject (patience and humor). Strip the sentence of the extraneous words and use just the two abstract nouns as the subject, and it’s easier to see that it is plural: “Patience and humor help students …”
 
I spotted other issues, though. The sometimes confusing world wide web should be written this way: The sometimes-confusing worldwide web. Worldwide should be one word, and because both sometimes and confusing refer to one thing, the web, the term should be hyphenated.
 
Q: Explain to me this: it’s, its, and its’.
 
A: I always have to stop and think about it too, because it goes against convention. We think of words that end with an apostrophe followed by an “s” as being possessive, but in this one case, the possessive does not have an apostrophe. I’ll explain in detail.
 
“It’s” (with the apostrophe) is the contraction for “it is.” Example: It’s okay if John comes along. (We know “it’s” is a contraction, because the sentence can be written this way: It is okay if John comes along.) 
 
Its (without the apostrophe) indicates the possessive. Example: The seminar had its own schedule. 
 
Its’ is not a valid word.
 
The “its” words often get confused because they break the rules of possessive apostrophes. If you confuse these two words, you are not alone. Here’s a helpful hint: Every time you use it’s or its, ask yourself, “Am I saying IT IS?” If so, only then do you use the apostrophe (it’s).
 
***
 
Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas, author of Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing and owner of Zebra Communications will answer your questions too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com or BZebra@aol.com. Read Bobbie’s blog at https://www.zebraeditor.com/blog/.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Phrases to Use as Writing Prompts (from an Unlikely Source)

If you’re looking for a writing prompt to spark some new output, here’s an exercise to try. Inspired by doing newspaper blackout poetry, which I wrote about here, it involves isolating words and phrases from a newspaper or magazine article. You can then use them to trigger some writing.

Recently, I was doing this with the sports section of our paper (there seem to be good phrases there). I circled “Not really, Kyle” because that’s my husband’s name, so it made me chuckle. The article was referring to Kyle Shanahan, the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, in case you were wondering.

Here are some of the sentence fragments I circled from a few issues. Any of these could be used as a writing spark:

Nagging questions                         This season

Unless, of course                           A good chance

What to expect                              Most striking aspect

At least one                                   Appeared

Played a key role                          Has morphed into

The possibility                              Probably too early

Right now                                     Last week

But there remain                           The right mentality

Anything could happen                Going to develop

A decent idea                                But it’s fair to wonder about           

Combined with                             One of them just happened to be

Always have                                 Still time

Find a way                                    Most of the concern is about                       

Best of today’s                              Surprised  

What appears to be a                    It’s not a sure thing that

An encouraging sign                    Sadness because

On a regular basis                        Always going to appreciate that

Not unlike                                    It’s shortcomings were spotlighted

Peek back a layer                         Reason for optimism


So what do you do with this list? You could pick one randomly, or one that seems to be calling out to you.

You could pick one but turn it into a full sentence of some sort, then use that as your prompt.

You could combine two of the fragments (or three) to make a prompt.

From there, you could do a timed freewrite, start an essay or a flash fiction piece, or create a poem. Maybe something will come of this effort, or maybe it will just be fun. You will get your creativity going, and that’s always a good thing.

-Marcia Peterson

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

No Regrets

Last week, after hours and HOURS of researching everything book cover-related, I sunk into my comfy chair, ostensibly watching a baking show. I told myself that I needed to let my research simmer a while before making a choice. But really, I was stalling. 

I seemed to be at a point of paralysis that I thought centered on costs involved. 

Just FYI, there are an awful lot of book cover designers out there, whether they’re freelancers or hired on for a company. And the fee for book designing encompasses an extensive range, from the thousands to dirt cheap (less than fifty dollars). So I had narrowed down my choices (also in quite a range) but I just couldn’t decide. 


And then I remembered Cried a River

A month after 9-11, I wrote a song. And when I say I wrote a song, I mean I had the music in the humming stage and the lyrics written down. See, I don’t write music. Heck, I can barely read notes despite singing in choirs most of my life. So all I could do was record myself on a cassette singing the song I called Cried a River. 

A few days later, I called a singer/musician friend of mine. I wanted to share the song with her, and honestly, that’s about as far ahead as I was thinking. So she listened and immediately said, “Cathy, you need to record this!” She knew people in the business; she’d help out in the recording session (and write out the music) and she was sure she could get her friends to work at the “friend discount” (deeply cut-rate). I’d need to pay a professional singer whose voice matched the song style, she said, but she’d do the back-up vocals and it would be totally worth the time and expense. 

My head was spinning at the end of that day. It was a chunk of money, a crazy idea, a lot more work. But when I told Mister Man about it that night, he jumped on it. “Let me pay for it!” he insisted. “It’ll be your birthday present.” And before you could say, “Who do I write the check to?” I had a recorded song. 

I also still had friends from my days in radio and I called a few of them. They were polite but still, the song never played anywhere. It sits on a shelf with all my music, the quintessential bittersweet memento. 

So why would I suddenly think of Cried a River over twenty years later when trying to decide on a book cover designer? Because all those years ago, I chased a creative endeavor, one that was way beyond my personal skill levels, and I just full out went for it. 

I never worried about spending the money. Well, technically, it was Mister Man’s money but it was an out-of-the-budget expense for our household and that was a pretty big deal. 

I never wondered about getting my song into the market, or who would hear it. 

But mostly, in all these years since, I’ve never regretted going for it. I’ve never once said, “I wish I hadn’t put all that time and energy into writing and producing that song.” I’ve never thought—not for one second—that getting my song produced was a wasted effort. 

Sitting in my chair, I remembered what Cried a River meant to me and always would. My friend had been right; it was totally worth it. So it wasn’t about money with my book cover after all. It was about full out going for it in my latest creative endeavor, one which has absolutely pushed me beyond my skill levels. 

And you know what? I immediately made my designer choice. A chunk of money, sure, but I’ve got no regrets.