Mazes, Minotaur and . . . Roller Coasters? How to Write Horror Based on Folklore

Thursday, June 29, 2023


I’m not a huge horror fan. I like books with atmosphere that sets your nerves on edge. I don’t even mind the jump scare. I know, I know. My college student will contradict that. My fight or flight instinct is well honed, and I will jump. But that’s to be expected with horror. I don't mind it although it annoys those around me.

What I don’t love is extensive gore. This is especially true when it is misogynistic. All the victims are women? And you’re doing what to them? Bye. I’m gone. But if the victims are evenly distributed and the monster doesn't go after just one demographic, I'm all in.  

One of the best horror novels I’ve recently read is HIDE by Kiersten White. Not only is she queen of the creeping feeling of dread, but she based the whole thing on a folktale. 

From here on out, this post is going to be a massive plot spoiler. You’ve been warned. No seriously. If this was a horror novel, there’d be one lone shoe laying on its side, maybe with a little nibble taken out of it.  This is a serious warning.  Plot Spoilers Ahead. 

I don’t know if White started with the story of the minotaur in the maze. Or maybe she wrote a draft of her novel and realized that there were similarities, and her story would be strengthened by playing them up. I have no clue. 

What I do know is that she didn’t follow the myth slavishly. The similarities include a minotaur at the center of a maze. This maze just happens to be a creepy amusement park built to channel victims to the monster. 

In the myth, there are seven victims served up at a time. In HIDE, there are fourteen. 

In the myth, the monster is defeated by one hero, Perseus. In HIDE, it takes a trio of characters to defeat the maze. They don’t defeat the monster but that’s okay. I don’t normally like open endings but this one really works. 

In addition to not following each and every point of the myth, White makes the story modern. It isn’t a single person feeding people to the monster, it is the upper crust of a small town. These people are the movers and shakers. They’ve gifted the world with high grade pharmaceuticals and tech, and if their success requires a sacrifice of the less-gifted and less-desirable members of society? Well, shouldn’t they be willing to give something of themselves for the good of all? 

Is it just me? I swear the hairs on the back of my neck just stood up. As if regular white privilege wasn’t scary enough, White has added to it. Additional contemporary touches include reality TV, influencers, plastic surgery, and religious zealotry. 

If you’ve read many Greek myths, you know that the characters are seldom very likable. Child sacrifice? No biggie. Rape, imprisonment and more. They’re all okay. Whether gods or heroes, the characters in Greek mythology are far from perfect. In fact, they sound like pretty good characters. A bit of good, a bit of bad, stir well and bake. 

What does all of this have to do with you, dear writers? This novel is a lesson on how to base your story on a traditional tale while still making it your very own story. So if you aren’t sure what to write, consider looking for inspiration among folktales, fables, and legends. 

Find one that draws you in and then redraw it in a modern setting. Or a historic setting. Or a fantasy setting. When you think that you’ve made your story unique, push it a little farther. Read the original tale again and consider the similarities with your story. 

Think about what the original tale said about the society that created it. How can you do the same? 

And when you get stuck, turn to page one of HIDE. It is definitely a lesson in how to do it right. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of 40 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 July 10, 2023).  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 July 10, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2023).
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Rediscovering a Love of Reading

Wednesday, June 28, 2023


I used to be a voracious reader. But somehow over the past few years, the number of books I’ve read dwindled. I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that I stopped visiting the library in person during the pandemic, I was working a contract job that required me to work a lot of nights and weekends, or if I simply got addicted to all the shows the streaming services offered me at the touch of a simple remote. It’s also difficult for me to read a lot while I’m working on a large creative project and in the last year, I’ve completely revised a young adult novel and began a developmental edit on a suspense thriller. 

But back to books. I have an obsession with buying them. There are stacks and stacks of books lying all over my house. I just spent less time reading. I remedied that this past year by discovering an app called Libby that my library uses, and I can “check” out books for my Kindle and Audiobooks through the app for free. Since I listen to podcasts constantly, I told myself I could also use that time to listen to audiobooks. That won’t interfere with my “creative writing” time. In the past few months alone, I’ve read or listened to at least five novels, and I’ve taken something valuable away from each one of them, such as: 

"The Last to Vanish" by Megan Miranda. This is a suspense/thriller, but I found the pacing to be slow in the beginning and had a hard time getting into it (I read other reviews that said the same thing). I pushed through and took notes on how the author dropped “clues” to the mystery throughout the way, how she used setting to create a sense of foreboding, and how she structured the novel by introducing the missing people in backwards chronological order (several people have disappeared from a mountain town over the course of several years). 

"The House in the Pines" by Ana Reyes. The first pages of this book are some of the most captivating I’ve read in a long time. I’ll admit when I first started reading this and saw the protagonist suffered from sleep issues, I was frustrated. My current protagonist also has insomnia and it’s a common trope in thrillers. But the more I read the book and figured out Maya had repressed memories, the sleep issues and addiction to anti-anxiety medication made sense. The flashback scenes are written in present tense, while present-day scenes are in past sense, and I feel this was an effective way to structure the novel without making it confusing. 

"Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella. I first read about this book in “Save the Cat Writes a Novel” by Jessica Brody because it’s considered to be an “Out of the Bottle” story that uses magic or wishful thinking to tell a story. I love this genre and had so much fun reading about a British young woman named Lara who is haunted by the fun-loving ghost of her great-aunt Sadie, who appears to her as a 1920s flapper. This book helped me study the “rules” that must be put into place to keep a novel like this consistent (why can only Lara see her aunt? How does Sadie convince people to do things they might not normally do?) 

"Hello, Sunshine" by Laura Dave. I haven’t read her most recent release that’s now a series on Apple TV (The Last Thing He Told Me), but I saw this available in audiobook through Libby and decided to check it out. It felt like a cross between a book club selection, romance, and light Hallmark movie. I was interested to read about a cooking “influencer” whose world came crashing down when her fraud was exposed since I’m writing a similar storyline in my current novel. I also enjoyed the foodie details and descriptions of Montauk, Long Island in New York. 

Most recently, I read Elin Hilderbrand’s latest summer novel “The Five Star Weekend” and finished it in two days, although there were a few things I disagreed with in the plot (no spoilers!). I’m not onto “Daisy Jones and the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid since I watched the series on Amazon Prime and loved it. I’m embracing my rediscovered love of reading and have been surprised by how much joy these books have brought me. 

I’d love to hear about any good books you’ve recently discovered!

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

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Interview with Terri Mullholland: Winter 2023 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Terri’s Bio:
Terri Mullholland (she/her) is a writer and researcher living in London, UK. Her flash fiction has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Ellipsis Zine, Litro, Mercurious, and Toasted Cheese. Her pamphlet of hybrid pieces, Weather / Patterns was published by intergraphia books in October 2022. When not writing she can be found curled up with one of her many foster cats and a good book. To learn more about Terri visit her website: or follow her on Instagram: @terri_mullholland

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

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Winter 2023 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? 

Terri: When I realised I could bring some humour into it, particularly when thinking about the unfortunate 'accidents' that befall the men and how Sally always just happens to be involved somehow. In the first draft it was quite a serious story about domestic violence, but I think difficult subjects often work better with a lighter touch. I was trying to think of how the women could signal that they needed help in a way that wouldn't be understood by the men involved. It needed to be something outside the house, which is when I thought of the roses. 

WOW: Thank you for the insight into your writing process. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Terri: Before this interview, I went back through my old notebook where I'd drafted the original story and I was surprised at how much of the overall structure was there in the first draft and how I added to it in layers as I thought through each element. The character of Sally, in particular, really developed and it was like getting to know a new friend – I ended up feeling a real warmth towards her. I learned that it is important to trust the process of a story evolving and not to try and rush it. 

WOW: Trust the process – important advice for writers of all levels and genres. How do you juggle your research writing and your creative writing? Do you find the two intersecting? 

Terri: In my research, I'm really interested in the women's forgotten stories and giving a voice to those who have slipped through the cracks in history, and I find this also influences my creative writing. I tend to write a lot of female characters and I've written several stories recently that have a close female community at the core. I try and make time every day for my creative writing, even if it is just a few sentences. If I don't write for a few days I start to feel a bit out of sorts and can't work out why! 

WOW: Yes, I’ve also found that when I have a regular writing practice, it’s so mentally and physically noticeable when that practice is broken or paused. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Terri: I've just finished Kirsty Logan's collection of short stories Things We Say in the Dark, which is a fantastic collection of feminist retellings of fairy tales. It was a great read and so inspiring. 

WOW: I’d love to check that one out. Thanks for the recommendation! If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why? 

Terri: Don't wait for the time to be right to start writing, and definitely don't wait for the Muse to descend, just sit down with paper and pen and begin. The words will come. 

WOW: Great advice. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Terri: Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions. It has been such an honour being part of the WOW! community of women writers. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your story and your inspiring responses with us. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Connect on Twitter @greenmachine459.
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Interview with Anastasiya Mamchits: Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, June 25, 2023
Anastasiya’s Bio:
Anastasiya Mamchits is a Ukrainian American living just outside of Seattle, Washington. She is currently working as a pharmacy technician but is pursuing a career in the publishing industry. She has been writing since she was a child but has just recently begun to pursue it as a career. In her spare time she loves to travel across the United States, one of her favorite places to visit is the Oregon Coast. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Anastasiya’s award-winning essay "Trouble Back Home" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Anastasiya: I wanted to write this essay in a positive note, as a way to tie my happy memories of Ukraine with the current situation that is happening there. Unfortunately, I am rather limited in my recollection of Ukraine, and I instead poured out the emotions I have suppressed for the many months of war and this essay morphed into something else entirely. I wanted to remind readers of the harsh reality Ukrainians are facing on a daily basis. 

WOW: And your essay was very successful in doing so. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Anastasiya: While writing this essay, I never once had an instance of writer's block. I learned that it is easier to pour out all of my anger and pain into this essay; it is easier to write about it, rather than talk about it. 

WOW: What prompted you to begin pursuing writing and publishing as a career? 

Anastasiya: I have a very distinct memory of myself in junior high, in English class, where we were given an assignment to write an essay about Christmas. I had my dictionary on my desk and time seemed to slow down as I started writing. I genuinely enjoy writing and I would like a career in a field I am passionate about. 

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Anastasiya: One of my favorite nonfiction authors is Gracia Burnham, who is the author of In the Presence of My Enemies. Her book is a harrowing account of her captivity in the Philippine jungle. I read this book over a decade ago and it is still one of my favorite books. I loved the way Gracia wrote this book; half of it is about being held hostage, while the other half is an autobiography. She was able to tell her full story, in a way that went back and forth from the main storyline: her kidnapping and captivity, to her upbringing and early adulthood. I would like to be able to incorporate that style in my writing as well. 

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

Anastasiya: The things you are passionate about are not random. They are your calling. 

WOW: An excellent point to remember. Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Engage on Twitter or Instagram @GreenMachine459.
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Cultivating My Roses and Buds

Saturday, June 24, 2023
One of my good friends works for a small academy in New Hampshire, teaching English to high school ninth graders. She also leads an after-school writing program. One of the exercises she uses to help her students warm up is to ask them to write to this prompt: 

Tell me about your day’s Roses, Thorns, and Buds. 

Roses, she explains to them, are the best part of each student’s day. Thorns are anything disappointing that happened to them (that day, or recently). Buds are something they’re looking forward to in the near future. 

It’s a great writing prompt, she tells me, to get the juices flowing quickly for her students. More so, I think it’s a great tool for writers to adopt in our daily lives, helping us reframe our thinking around our writing practice and reminding us to focus on the wins along the way—rather than dwelling on those sharp thorns that invariably will stick each of us. I’m looking at you, Submittable Queue, with your wet-blanket “Declined” status. 

As I reflect on my spring and early summer of Roses, Thorns, and Buds, I’m happy to report that I’ve collected a number of beautiful proverbial roses to display in my equally proverbial vase, despite the thorns that scratched me. 

Image: iStock 

My Roses, of late: 
I’ve had two CNF essays and two poems accepted for publication recently. I’m counting these wins in the Rose column for the boost of confidence each “yes” delivered to me. Following my teacher friend’s writing prompt guidance, each acceptance was indeed the best part of my day when I heard the good news. 

My Buds, of late: 
I’m also counting the above acceptances in my Bud column, since the essays and poems are not yet published and therefore are something I’m “looking forward” to adding to my website. As self-affirming as these publication acceptances are, I have two more double Roses and Buds that are taking prized center stage in my vase: 

1.) I was accepted into a month-long immersive writing residency program in … drum roll, please: Prague! 

I submitted my application and writing samples in early February and on an icy, gray New England day late in the same month I opened an email from the program director. I had been accepted! I’ll join 19 writers and poets from around the world for the whole month of July in Prague. 

This immersive writing residency is different from other international residencies I’ve attended in that we will not be living together in one or two buildings. Instead, each of us will stay in our own flats around various neighborhoods in the city. Part of what drew me to apply to this program was to experience living like a true local for a whole month: choosing my own flat, shopping at a neighborhood grocer, and finding my way to the workshop venue in “District 2” from my flat in “District 3” via Prague’s scenic tram route (or, I can take the subway or walk about 30 minutes). 

I plan to workshop a chapter or two from my memoir manuscript while there, taking advantage not only of my fellow residents’ perspectives, but having a chance to meet 1:1 with the program’s award-winning faculty, all of whom have published novels, memoirs, essay collections, and/or poetry collections. The program also requires that residents produce new work, while there. And in addition to half-day workshops, we’ll attend salon readings during some evenings, be given free time to write and explore the city, and join excursions to UNESCO World Heritage sites on weekends. 

The countdown is on to my journey to “the City of a Hundred Spires!” 

2.) My second double Rose and Bud in my vase? I applied to a year-long program called “Craft Year” and found out a few weeks ago that I’m one of only 10 accepted writers! Craft Year is going to be a year-long, mini-MFA-style program that Megan Pillow, a well-known writer in the Twitter writing community, conceived and will lead. It will run from summer 2023 to summer 2024. 

Best of all? It’s FREE. 

Meg is a talented writer— I’ve long admired her CNF essays and short stories that I started reading on Twitter a few years ago. Meg holds a Ph.D. and works with Roxane Gay on The Audacity publication. Several months ago, she put out a call on Twitter to invite writers to apply for 10 spots in her inaugural program. In her acceptance email to me, Meg told me she had received 250 applications. 

Our “cohort” includes CNF writers, poets, an actor and writer with TV and movie credits, a lawyer, a journalist, and a screenwriter. We live around the world, from the U.S., to the Netherlands, to Nigeria. I’m excited to learn from and grow alongside these talented writers in the upcoming year! 

Image: Megan Pillow 

My Thorns, of late: 
Not everything in life is wine and roses—ha! I’m ending my blog discussing my Thorns, but not because the Thorns outweigh the Roses or Buds. To the contrary! Yet, I want to leave you with a few of my disappointments to illustrate that although I have amazing opportunities on my horizon with Prague and Craft Year, I’m reminded that the writing life we’ve all chosen requires fortitude. Persistence. And the writing life will most definitely scratch us from time to time as we try to cut our Roses to put in our vases. 

I received two disappointing rejections recently. One was for a CNF essay I’d submitted to an anthology with a theme of our relationship to our bodies. I felt I had a good shot at placing my essay in the anthology, as I’ve written an entire memoir around my complicated relationship with my body—namely, a tumor that bled in my head for 40 years and caused all sorts of complications. Yet, I adapted through the years to my deficits (the uplifting message of my memoir). More than that, I survived, after 12 hours of open-head surgery. 

The anthology editor, unfortunately, did not connect with my essay. Scratches from that Thorn stung a bit. 

I also received word, just a few days ago, that a contest I’d entered back in March was moving forward with their shortlist without my memoir among them. My submission had made it to the third round, but was not chosen to advance. Another Thorn that drew a drop of blood. 

We will always—all of us—have to cultivate our Roses and Buds while wearing gloves. When we forget, we’ll at times get scratched up a bit. 

The important thing to remember is that any Rose is worth dealing with a Thorn or two.  


Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region.
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Learning About My Writing Flaws in the Writing of Others

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Recently, I was honored to be asked to read and score entries for the WOW's flash fiction contest. What an incredible learning experience it has been since I have begun to read these stories.

It's actually been a while since I've read non-published writing that has been submitted to a literary magazine or contest. About 10 years ago, I did a reading for a small lit mag for a little while (I still fondly remember a random story about a cat who is really an alien in disguise) but I haven't done it since.

And reading them now have opened up my eyes to aspects of my own writing process. I'll be honest, it's easier to see the flaws in others, whether in writing or in life. It really isn't as easy to see our own shortcomings. 

When I began to look at the scoring sheet, I wondered how my own stories would do?

One thing that jumped out at me that I noticed was a consistent problem in the stories I was reading: a lack of conflict. 

And the strange thing is, I struggle with that too.

Conflict can be hard in the story, but often it's the juice that keeps the reader going. 

When I struggled to find conflict in stories, I wanted to ask the question, "Yeah, but what is their battle to overcome?"

And I need to ask my own characters that same question. Strong character development can determine that factor. Imagine the conflict in your own life. What's your "why" for things? Has that "why" ever gotten in the way of someone else's?

Of course, there are all kinds of conflicts that can happen to your character that drive your story. It can be an internal conflict or an external force at work

If you have a hard time figuring out conflict (like me), here are a few things to consider:
  • What could get in the way of what your character wants (which begs the question, what does your character want? We all want something).
  • What would make things worse? 
  • What would complicate things right here, right now for your character? (If you can't answer that question for them, consider answering it for yourself: what would complicate things for you right here, right now?)
Not every story needs a big fighting match for there to be conflict. There are all kinds of conflicts in life. Just read the news (or hope onto Nextdoor). In part, I think this is about knowing your character. Their goals, their motivations, and their wants.

One great thing about reading story submissions like I am is that I can discover all kinds of new insights about writing. I'm so honored to read such incredible work.

How do you create conflict in a story?

Nicole Pyles is a writer and PR consultant living in Portland, Oregon. Say hi on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.
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The Maddening Allure of AI

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Opinions may vary in the general population, but among us writers here at the Muffin, I think we agree on one point: using AI makes AI more proficient. Which begs the question, “How long will it be before we can’t tell the difference between AI-generated content and human-generated content?”

Honestly, the whole idea of AI producing creative works makes me shudder, so I sure don’t want to do anything that speeds up the AI takeover. When I read a novel or hear a song, I want to know that it’s straight from the heart and mind and voice of an actual breathing person. 

But feeding the AI beast is only part of the reason I’m against using it. There’s another side to this issue which I only noticed in the last few weeks whilst trying to build a website. 

That’s right, weeks. I won’t bore you with all the details—the domain transfer, the nameservers pointing to the host, the DNS or HTMMP or whatever the acronyms bandied about in tutorials like we’re all computer tech graduates. The point is, I’ve spent way more hours than my brain is accustomed to in IT-related mode, just to get everything prepped to start on the website-building. 

Friends, the little gray cells are fried. 

That’s why, when I finally saw the “You’re ready to go!” screen, I nearly cried. It was time to build a website! And my thoughtful hosting plan offered me choices: 

Choice A: Create or Migrate a website 

Choice B (in larger, bolder letters!): EASY BUILDING WITH THE AI WEBSITE BUILDER! With the AI-powered Website Builder, you can have a fully functioning website live in minutes. Sit back, and let it do all the work for you. 

Oh, how I wanted to sit back and let AI do all the work for me! That AI devil sat on my shoulder whispering sweet nothings like, “Good for you, Cathy, you’ve done enough! You deserve a break.” Or “Do you really want to spend weeks when I can do this in mere minutes? Think of all that extra time! You can get back to writing your next book!” 

The temptation of it all! And after what I went through, I don’t judge anyone who happily pressed that Choice B. 

But I knew I’d click on Choice A and create a website. And not just because I didn’t want to help AI push me out of a job by the year 2025. And not because I’m too cheap to hire a web designer (I do like to save my money but I have no qualms about hiring people when needed). Nope, I had another reason.

Firstly, it was pride; I know I can build my own darn website. I’ve done so several times. But mostly, it was because I want to stay sharp. AI is pressing the Easy Button and though I’m not completely averse to taking Easy Street, the older I get, the less appealing that option is.

If I don’t challenge myself, whether in writing-related technology, a new car, or even experimenting with different foods, I stagnate. Tackling the new, the hard, the different, gives my brain quite the workout, and I keep growing. At least, that’s what I believe. 

So will I kick AI to the curb and build an amazing website (or a somewhat amazing website…I’m not that picky)? Or will I get sucked in by the easy allure of AI? We’ll see, y’all. I mean, the little gray cells do deserve a break. But in a week or so, watch out website. I’m coming for you!

Photo by Tara Winstead
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Interview with Kelli Short Borges, 2nd Place Winner of the WOW! 2023 Winter Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Kelli Short Borges is a writer of essays, short stories and flash fiction. A former reading specialist in the Arizona public school system, Kelli is a life-long reading enthusiast. Her work has been published at The Tahoma Literary Review, The Citron Review, MoonPark Review, The Sunlight Press, and Ghost Parachute, among other publications. Kelli is a 2022 Best of the Net and 2023 Best Microfictions nominee. She is currently working on her first novel. Read more of her work at or connect with her on Twitter @KelliBorges2

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

WOW: Hi Kelli, congratulations on your 2nd place win and welcome! Your story, “Slither,” was a runner up in the WOW! Summer 2021 flash fiction contest and you said it was inspired by a bully you encountered in high school. How did the idea for “Undertow” first come to you? 

Kelli: Hi, Renee. First, I would like to say thank you to all of the wonderful editors at WOW! who make contests like this possible. It’s such a fun way to encourage writers to share their work, and to honor and celebrate craft! The seeds for “Undertow” came to me while I was on a trip to Saint Martin with my husband. One day, we were relaxing in the sun on a gorgeous beach, and I noticed a group of young kids splashing in the surf. They were just completely uninhibited—laughing, swimming, and having a ball. As I looked around, I realized almost all of the adults on the beach were passively lounging and sunbathing. It didn’t look like anyone was watching the kids. And as a mother myself, I instantly started to worry. Where were the parents? Of course, everything was ok that day, but my mind started spinning, and the idea for a story involving a drowning was born. From there, the story sort of “told itself,” as stories often do. 

WOW: I love this, and I love when the stories come to us in such a way that they have to be told. What do you think makes a compelling piece of flash fiction? 

Kelli: A great flash piece usually captures me from the very first sentence. The voice or form is fresh and unexpected, and for me there has to be a bit of underlying tension there from the start. I want to be intrigued as the story builds, and I like the challenge of doing a bit of work, of filling in the “white space.” I love that moment at the very end of a story best, when there’s a wider realization that takes the reader by surprise, when there is resonation that’s deep and universal. I want to say “Oh…” and just sit in that moment for a bit. I’m also personally drawn to pieces with lyricism and rhythm. 

WOW: Can you tell us a bit about your current novel in progress? 

Kelli: I'm really excited about my novel in progress! It's my first, so I'm learning as I go, and at this point I’m working on a first draft. What I can tell you is this: It’s a story about contentment, and desire, and how far we humans might go to create our own reality. There are contemporary themes, such as AI. And at the very heart it touches upon elements that I find come up again and again in my writing, themes of strength and trust and letting go of things that don’t serve us. 

WOW: Sounds like a great concept! Having been successfully published in so many places, what advice would you give other writers looking for places to submit their fiction and nonfiction work? 

Kelli: There are so many ways to discover places to submit your work. You can sign up for Submittable and explore the “Discover” tab, or Duotrope, a database with thousands of literary journals listed, which has a wonderful search engine to help writers narrow down places that might be a good fit. But, for me, the most useful tool has actually been sharing tips with other writers by getting to know them through classes and workshops, and also establishing a Twitter account. There’s a huge community of writers sharing work there, and journals tweeting submission calls. In my experience it’s a really supportive and engaging environment where you can read some incredible stories, support other writers, and also get a feel for where they’re being published. If you think a particular journal might be a good fit for your own work, you can investigate that journal and submit. 

WOW: Having worked as a reading specialist for many years, what genres are you drawn to in your own book selections? 

Kelli: This is really hard to answer, because I enjoy so many genres! If I had to pick one, I would say that I absolutely love great historical fiction. Some of my favorite novels written in this genre are “The Red Tent,” by Anita Diamant, “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah, and “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” by Jaime Ford. But my favorite book of all time is actually a nonfiction work, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read it again and again through different phases of my life, and discover something new to mull over every single time. To me, Viktor’s philosophical reflections are profound, and I’ve internalized them and turned to them as a source of strength during difficult periods in my life. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend!

WOW: I've read most of Kristin Hannah's books but I'll definitely be checking out your other recommendations--thank you so much for sharing those with us! Again, we appreciate you being here today and can't wait to read more of your work.
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Interview with Jean Ransom, Runner Up in WOW's Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, June 18, 2023
I'm thrilled to chat with Jean Ransom about her award-winning essay, "Rude Awakening." You may recognize Jean's name from previous interviews here and here where she placed in WOW's creative nonfiction contests. In today's interview, we chat about writing in second person, revision, entering contests, and Jean's super cute dogs!
Jean Ransom
Jean's bio:
Jean Ransom has been writing for a living since she sold her first story to Seventeen magazine at age seventeen. Over the years, she’s written for radio stations and ad agencies, traveled internationally with a bed-and-breakfast magazine, and published numerous articles in national and regional magazines and newspapers.
The author of nine children’s picture books, Jean became interested in writing flash fiction and micro memoir after participating in workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. She’s also taken several WOW! Women on Writing classes, and has been a finalist or in the Top Ten in previous WOW contests. 
Jean divides her time between her home in St. Louis, Missouri, and a cottage in northern Michigan. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s birding, rockhounding, kayaking, or hiking.
----- Interview by Angela Mackintosh
WOW: Welcome, Jean, and congratulations on your winning creative nonfiction, “Rude Awakening.” I simply love essays written in second person! Why did you decide to write in this point of view?
Jean: I wrote this essay as a WOW class assignment after instructor Chelsey Clammer talked to my class about point of view. I remember second person being a less-common POV in essays—and more of a challenge to write. We read a couple of examples of second-person essays, but unfortunately I don't recall the titles. Chelsey encouraged us to play around with different POVs to find the one that really felt right for the story we were telling. My initial impulse was to write my essay in first person, but after a few sentences, I switched to second person almost intuitively. "Rude Awakening" is my first and only essay written in second person. Playing around with different POVs is a really great writing exercise! 
WOW: Well, you nailed the POV! It works so well with the pacing of your essay, as you walk the reader through the event and pepper in the backstory. Your beginning and ending are also brilliant—where the narrator stops peeing midstream and in the end finds relief. What was the trickiest part of writing/revising this essay?
Jean: Thank you, Angela! As I mentioned, Chelsey Clammer was the instructor for the WOW class I was taking when I wrote "Rude Awakening," and we were experimenting with using a repeated phrase in our essays. Mine was “Yes, you can stop peeing mid-stream, if you are terrified.” I wasn’t sure about that phrase at first. It seemed a little raw or coarse, not the typical way I'd start an essay. I tried to rewrite it and make it "nicer," more "polite." It was hard for me to accept that there was no other way to write this story without being raw and real. After all, I'm used to writing children's books where nothing bad happens and the endings are neatly tied up with a bow!
WOW: That’s so funny, and I’m glad you chose to be raw and real. Chelsey has a way of bringing out the bravery in writers! I'm still wondering about the dogs not barking. It's an interesting fact that stays with the reader throughout the piece. I'd love to hear more about your dogs. You have a collie and a sheltie—what are their ages, and why do you think they didn’t bark?
Jean: My husband and I were just talking about this! Our theory is that between the habit we had of using a big fan to block out sound at night and the fact that our bedroom was at the other end of the house from where the intruders broke in, no one woke up because no one heard anything. It was the middle of the night, and the only reason I woke up was because I had to pee. (I'm not going to lie, using that word in print still makes me wince a little!)
Sawyer and Sadie
Sawyer (left) and Sadie (right).
After the intruders ran out of the house and I went back to the bedroom to wake up my husband, the dogs woke up, too. When the police arrived, Mac, our Sheltie, ran to the top of the stairs and stood there barking, too scared to go downstairs. Our collie Comet followed my husband downstairs to give the officers a tail-wagging welcome. He may have barked once or twice, but it was more like a friendly "hello!"
Mac and Comet have long since gone over the Rainbow Bridge, but in the years since, we've always had at least one Sheltie or collie, or two. We lost our 12-year-old Sheltie, Nemo, four years ago, but we still have our collie Sadie, who recently turned eight. We added a second collie named Sawyer, two years ago. Sadie and I are a certified therapy team, and we visit an elementary school every week so that students can read to her. Sawyer is big, strong, and full of beans, but very sweet. He does agility, which he loves!
WOW: Aw, I’m sorry to hear about Mac, Comet, and Nemo. I picture them playing together in that magical place beyond the rainbow bridge. Thank you for sharing a photo of Sawyer and Sadie! They are beautiful, and it’s wonderful you and Sadie are a therapy team! I know you enjoy outdoor activities like birding and hiking. What are you up to right now?
Jean: I really need my "outside" time every day, whether it's walking the dogs, going birding, or just sitting on the patio in my backyard. Right now, my husband and I are getting ready to spend the summer at our cottage in Michigan, where we like to hike, kayak, and take our dogs on walks through the woods or on the beach. I also like to rock hunt and go birding, and I'm working on my "Northern Naturalist" certification at the local community college.
WOW: That sounds wonderful! Okay, one last question before I let you go and enjoy the great outdoors. I know you've been successful at placing as a finalist or in the top ten in several of WOW's contests. What are a few tips you can share with our writers for targeting and entering contests?
Jean: I really don’t enter many contests, but I came across WOW’s contests at a time when I was in a bit of a writing slump. I needed a reason to write and a deadline to meet, and contests are great for that! The wonderful feedback, encouragement, and support I received from WOW’s contests have been much-needed validation. Thank you!
As for tips for targeting and entering contests, first of all, I'd recommend that writers research any contest they're thinking of entering, including reading the fine print (especially the part about rights). Who is sponsoring the contest? Are they "legit?" There are a lot of wonderful contests out there, but there are scams, too. If you’re not sure about a contest, you can consult “Writer Beware” or “Alli,” short for "Alliance of Independent Authors,"
Look for free or low-fee contests to enter. If the price to submit is higher than the prize, you may want to pass on that contest. Do you know you can do a search for “legitimate writing contests 2023” and get plenty of qualified hits?
My biggest tip for successfully entering a contest? Follow the contest rules or guidelines to the letter! It should go without saying that you’ve checked your manuscript for grammar, spelling, and typos before you submit your entry. Are there rules about preferred typeface, formatting, etc.? Don’t risk having your submission disqualified before it’s even out of the starting gate!
One last tip! In a contest, there will always be winners, but you may not be one of them. Not the first time, maybe not even the second or the tenth or even the fiftieth time. Don’t give up—not on your story, or your writing, or yourself! If feedback is an option in a contest, you may want to take advantage of it to see if there are ways to make your story even stronger. Then get it back out there!
WOW: Fantastic advice, Jean! I also love Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware and Alli, and especially your inspirational advice: "Don’t give up—not on your story, or your writing, or yourself!" Amen. Thank you so much for chatting with me today, and I wish you much success in all your writing endeavors!
Find out more about WOW's flash fiction and creative nonfiction contests here:
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Find Your Fictional Character’s Energy Motivators: Part 3, Fire

Thursday, June 15, 2023
Find Your Fictional Character's Energy Motivators
(Image by Ben Johnson from Pixabay)
 by Deborah-Zenha Adams

Introduction: Find Your Fictional Character’s Energy Motivators

How an ancient philosophy of energy can help you create better characters
It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing, characters are the lifeblood of your story. No matter how perfectly-plotted, tightly-structured, and wildly creative your story is, readers might not stick with it if the characters are hollow, bland, or just plain unbelievable.
You get that. We all get that. Characters must be well-rounded and fully-realized, with both positive and negative qualities to make them realistic and relatable. So why do our characters still sometimes ring hollow? More importantly, what can we do to ramp up the authenticity of the players in our fiction? 
There are lots of charts and templates and lists of personality quirks that you can use to flesh out your characters, but here’s a caveat: you can’t just stick one trait onto an otherwise purely good or purely evil character and expect readers to fall for it. Flaws come in clusters, and they come from a source. If you’ve tried to develop in-depth psychological profiles of your protagonist and antagonist but they still aren’t breathing, I’ve got a quick and easy tip to offer.
Try using chakras.
What are chakras?
Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘wheel,’ and it refers to wheel-like masses of spinning energy that helps to maintain health within the body and mind. Sometimes the energy wheels will be called spinning disks or even flowers. Mind you, these aren’t physical objects, but part of the subtle energetic body. The concept of chakras is ancient, and found in a great many spiritual and philosophical systems. It’s also a lot more complex than a blog post or a workshop can convey.
But have no fear. You don’t need to understand the fine points in order to create well-rounded and unique fictional characters. In fact, we aren’t going to refer to chakras again after this introduction. Let’s just call it energy and move forward. When you’ve tried this system once or twice, you’ll find that it’s both easy and fun to use, and it adds a wealth of dimension to your writing.
How can a character’s energy status be useful to you, the writer?
You’ve surely run across a character in a book or story that just didn’t resonate. Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on the problem, but that character never won your affection. The likeliest cause is that the author failed to go beyond the surface and connect the dots in that character’s personality. 
Anyone can design a villain who is 99% stereotypical evil, and give him an affection for puppies. You know, just to make him “well-rounded.” While readers may not explore the why of it, they’ll know something’s off, something’s not working. They might even give up without finishing the story, or worse—never read that author again.
How do you fix a shallow character?
One way to find your character’s depth is by incorporating a cluster of related energetic traits. Let’s say your protagonist is anxious, nervous, or just vaguely tense about nothing in particular. Now a single instance of anxiety isn’t a symptom of anything in particular. Maybe she just drinks too much coffee. But when your character is acting from an Earth Energy imbalance, for example, there will be a cluster of related behaviors. That character’s entire lifestyle will be affected—eating habits, housing, clothes, job, car, social interactions, you name it.
In this 7-part series of posts, I’ll explain how to identify defining emotional and physical reactions to the world and how to use those clusters of energies to infuse life into your characters. We’ll begin with Earth Energy, the foundation of every character’s personality.
There are lots and lots of chakras, but I’m only using the primary seven in this series to give you an idea of how you might employ them in fiction. (If you’d like more information after reading this article, you can grab the free Chakra Basics PDF from my website:

Find Your Fictional Character’s Energy Motivators: Part 3, Fire

Using an ancient philosophy of energy can help you create better characters
This is the third part of a series of posts that exist across multiple blogs. You can find links to the other posts on my blog.
The Fire Energy is associated with willpower, ambition, motivation, self-esteem, and manifestation.
  • Confidence
  • In control of one’s life
  • Responsible and reliable
  • Self-disciplined
  • Energetic
  • Able to turn ideas into action
  • Duties and obligations are met without complaint
  • Sharp mind
A healthy Fire Energy is built on balanced Earth and Water. With Earth providing a stable and secure base, and Water providing positive self-image and flow, Fire Energy can burn with a steady flame. Characters with Fire equilibrium know what they want, know their own strengths and limitations, and have both the desire and the stick-to-it-iveness to follow through to the end.
Classic Fire Energy Characters
An excellent example of balanced Fire Energy is the sister in “The Six Swans.” Even though her brothers tried to dissuade her from helping them because of the hardships required, this strong Fire Energy character never hesitated and never gave up on her quest to save her brothers. She is the poster child for balanced Fire Energy!
Some of the symptoms of imbalance in Fire Energy might be:
  • Poor digestion
  • Eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Submissiveness
  • Poor self-discipline
  • Easily manipulated by others
  • Impulsiveness
  • Dominating, controlling behavior
  • Competitiveness
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Impatience
An imbalance of Fire Energy can be summed up by the words “I will have/get/do it at any cost!”
When your character’s Fire Energy gets wonky you’ll know it by the expression of certain personality traits and behaviors.
Because energy is constantly moving and changing, there is almost always an imbalance. As mentioned in an earlier section of this series, every energy affects the energies above it. This means that your character with an uneven Fire Energy will also exhibit symptoms of imbalance in the areas of Air, Ether, Light, and Consciousness. (These areas are addressed in Parts 4-7 of this series. You can find links to the other posts at Find Your Fictional Character’s Energy Motivators.
Classic Fire Energy Imbalanced Characters
Lady MacBeth: Talk about ambitious! Here’s a character that was laser-focused on her goal, and so far out of balance that even her mind was unbalanced.
Red’s Wolf: Fire Energy’s connection to digestion isn’t always metaphorical. The wolf in this classic tale gulped down Grandma and still wanted more! Even if his never-get-enough behavior didn’t alert us to his Fire Energy, we’d figure it out by his shrewdness—he had a quick answer for every question (“The better to see you with, my dear.”)
These are just a few characters from classic stories who likely suffered from Fire Energy imbalance. You can probably think of dozens of other characters from literature (and real life) with this same imbalance. Go ahead and leave your thoughts about them in the comments section.
Questions to ask about your character:
When you discover (or determine) that Fire Energy imbalance is present in your character, take some time to mull over the implications.
  • How does Fire energy imbalance affect your character’s behavior and outlook?
  • Does she have a clear vision of what she wants? Does she have confidence in her ability to get it in a fair and ethical way? Or is she willing to do whatever it takes in order to get her own way? 
  • Does she drive her own life? Or is she submissive, deferring to someone else’s wishes? 
  • Can she be depended upon? Or is she flighty and unreliable? 
  • How does she deal with obstacles and setbacks?
  • What caused the imbalance in the first place? Was it lifestyle, stress or trauma, a loss of connection to the authentic self? Was it caused by some outside force? 
  • What other symptoms might be present? Start with the brief list at the beginning of this post and extrapolate.
How to strengthen the Fire Energy association in your writing
You can reinforce the effect of Fire Energy by using subtle indicators of this imbalance. For example, you might
  • Use words and phrases throughout your narrative that call to mind the Fire Energy qualities: burning anger, driven, blaze, determined, hot blooded, flame, boiling point, warmth, firelight, etc. Does your character have blazing eyes or a fiery personality? Is she starved for attention or hungry for fame?
  • Use the color yellow, perhaps in clothing, furnishings, cars, flowers, or flames. What does this color mean to your character—cowardice or sunshine, jaundice or gold bars?
  • Bring in other elements associated with this energy. Is your character a firefighter? A foodie? Has she been burned, either literally or figuratively? Are things heating up for her in one or more areas of her life? Has she burned bridges?
Practice & Prompt
1. Choose any character from your work in progress. Make a list of physical, mental, and emotional traits characteristics that you’ve already assigned to that character. For example, let’s say you’ve written: responsible, self-disciplined, always gets the job done, micro-manages her staff, lives on coffee and tacos.
Taken together, these create a cluster of Fire Energy attributes. The last two lean toward an imbalance, an over-abundance of Fire. Does that work for or against your character? Is she on the verge of imbalance in other areas? Does she perceive it or ignore it or is she too driven to care?
2. Where did her imbalance originate? When and why did the imbalance fluctuate and grow stronger or weaker? What scenes relay this information to the reader?
3. Within the context of her story, how might the imbalance be mitigated?
4. What element of your theme is manifested in Fire Energy? How can you use the character’s imbalance to strengthen the theme and vice versa?
One or more of your characters will almost certainly be dealing with Fire Energy imbalance. Now that you’ve experimented with ways to use that imbalance to flesh out a character, you’ll want to move on to other characters and their imbalances. Part of the fun of this character building system is watching how the energies dance with and poke at each other.
Part IV: Air Energy will appear soon. You can find links to it and the other posts on my blog
Deborah-Zenha Adams is an award-winning author of novels, short fiction, CNF, and poetry. You’re invited to learn more about her at
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Push Yourself to Pitch

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Recently I commented to Angela Mackintosh, our fearless leader here at WOW! Women on Writing, that I had applied to work as a contributing writer for Writers Hive Media. Ang told me that she wonders how many of us send in work to the various markets listed in the monthly markets newsletter. If you’ve never read the newsletter, you can find the June 2023 issue here. It’s the issue that included the listing for Writers Hive. 

If you’re anything like me, it is easy to read through the newsletter or spot a market listing on Twitter but never get around to pitching. After all, we've all got a list of things we need to accomplish and people clamoring for our attention each and every day.

The way that I’ve solved this for myself is by creating my weekly push. Those pings that you get on your phone whenever an email comes in or a Youtuber you follow posts a new video? Those are push notifications. 

I don’t create notifications that pop up on my phone. It would be pointless. I ignore them! 

Instead, I email myself a list. It might be a list of interesting agents that I find in the Query Tracker weekly update. Other times it is the list of markets that I find in the WOW! Women on Writing Markets Newsletter. I just select the market listing, copy, and paste it into an email. 

As I copy and paste, I arrange them based on a variety of factors. Something with a tight deadline often goes at the top of the list. Even if the deadline isn’t stated but it is for seasonal material, the listing goes near the top. 

Sometimes I find only one or two markets. This time I found five. What's on my June list? Writers Hive, the New Scientist, The Victorian Writer, Oh Reader, and Wired. 

Whether it is markets or agents, once I have compiled the list I click SEND and off it goes. Ping! (That’s the push notification telling me that it has dropped into my email inbox. Don't worry, I'll ignore it.) 

Does this work better than simply leaving the newsletter in my inbox?  Yes!  Because once I’ve read a newsletter, I can ignore easily ignore it even if I know it contains several solid markets. It is much easier to find the markets that I want if that’s all that’s in the email. 

With my June list, I applied to write for Writers Hive and then clicked forward.  Then I delete that particular market from the list and send the items that remain back to the top of my inbox. Ping! 

Why does this work for me? I couldn’t begin to tell you. But what I do know is that this year I’ve gone from sending out the rare and occasional query, pitch, or submission to sending out three a month. Do I succeed every month? So far, the only month I didn’t get it done was March when I had two book deadlines. 

Whether your interest is literary journals, writer’s retreats, agents, or book publishers, you can do something similar. When you find a listing, email it to yourself. Resend the list to yourself periodically as needed to keep it near the top of your inbox. Its presence will act as a reminder. “Hey! Hey, Sue! Send in that query. Pitch that article idea. Apply for that position.” 

And, if you’ve submitted to any of the markets listed in a WOW! markets newsletter, why not let Angela know below? My own list includes Writers Hive, Writer’s Digest, and Creative Child. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of 40 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 July 10, 2023).  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 July 10, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2023).
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Interview with Jacqueline Parker: Winter 2023 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner

Tuesday, June 13, 2023
Jacqueline Parker studied at Queens University in Charlotte, NC where she currently resides with her boyfriend and dog. Her fiction often explores broken family structures and female identity, but occasionally she writes something funny. Her work has been featured in Prime Number Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Instagram/Twitter @onmytangent, and Facebook @ jacqueline.parker.142.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Winter 2023 Flash Fiction competition! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “I, Priscilla?”

Jacqueline: Thank you so much! It’s an honor to be recognized among so many great authors.

I came up with the bones for this piece while I was in the bath. I actually come up with a lot of story ideas while in or around water. For me, a bath is very meditative. It’s a space where I can relax uninterrupted, where nothing is required of me other than to just be. I also happen to have some faulty plumbing, so the idea of a “built-in hourglass” is very real to me. At that particular moment, I desperately wanted to be in a gigantic clawfoot, actual person-sized bathtub with decent plumbing.

Around that time, I was also writing a lot about identity, specifically the idea of who we are versus who we want to be or believe we could be. I think there are a multitude of facets to a person—it just takes certain circumstances or people to bring them out. Thus, Priscilla was born as the narrator’s more elegant self.

WOW: Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

Jacqueline: I’m longwinded and tend to circle around a point until I find the best way of saying it. Someone I know calls this “landing the plane.” I have a hard time with that. Flash helps me hone my skills and tell a story more efficiently. I love the challenge of choosing the strongest word and chopping word count… to me, it’s like a puzzle in which every word matters.

WOW: What advice would you give to someone wanting to try writing flash fiction for the first time?

Jacqueline: Write your story first without worrying about word count and verb choice—just get your idea down. Then knock out inessential details. (Did my reader need to know the bath bomb scent? No.) (It was cherry blossom, for the record.) Then, pull out the thesaurus and start refining word choice. The rest falls into place.

Also—read and take note of authors you like and how they develop their stories. Flash is hella quick to read, so it doesn’t take a huge commitment. Smokelong Quarterly, Flash Fiction Online, and Fractured Lit are some publications I enjoy. And read Kathy Fish’s Substack Art of Flash Fiction. It’s very useful.

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

Jacqueline: I’m always working on a variety of things at the same time. It’s amazing I can get anything done, to be honest. I have a few flash pieces in the works but I’m really trying to tackle my first novel(la). It started as a short story but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted it to be longer so here we are.

WOW: Best of luck with the novel/novella, whichever it turns out to be. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jacqueline. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

Jacqueline: I have a lot—but my biggest one lately is to get out of your own head. Stop asking permission to write about XYZ or experiment with narrative or POV. Just do it. Who the heck is the gatekeeper to writing YOUR story? When you get to the second, third, or twentieth draft, then start worrying about how those questions play into the final product. Until then, just write the damn thing.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.
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Interview with Jessica Wierzbinski, Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Sunday, June 11, 2023
Jessica Wierzbinski is a frequent contributor to Colorado Central Magazine and a sometime college English teacher living in a perfectly quirky little mountain town in central Colorado. Her upcoming projects include a collection of personal essays (including this one) about growing up in an ultra-Catholic, midwestern household well below the poverty line; a crowd-sourced collection of wisdom for young girls called Things I Wish Someone Had Told me As a Young Girl; and a compilation of stories from women hikers of the Colorado trail. If you know anyone who intends to hike any portion of said trail in the next year, or any inspiring woman who would like to contribute a tidbit of wisdom to the upcoming generation of young women, please direct them to her website: The site is currently under construction but will soon be accepting submissions for the latter two of those projects, along with links to her other publications.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “Someone Else’s Secret?”

Jessica: This is an essay that's been bubbling in the back of my mind for a long time now—thirty-some years I guess. I mean, not perpetually, of course. But off and on again across the years. It's a topic I always knew I wanted to encounter in writing someday, when I was ready. Then one morning recently I woke up with the first half of it gushing out of my brain. I had to rush to a pen and paper and just record what was there. I guess that means I was finally ready to tackle it.

In a way, I don't think my conscious mind could have come up with a way to tell this story. It had to simmer for a long time in my subconscious, or unconscious, back and forth between the two across the years no doubt. Until finally it was ready to burst out.

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

Jessica: For this one, the revision process was fairly minimal, probably because the thing had simmered so long. That morning when I woke up with it in my brain, I wrote it in a whirlwind, and I didn't know if it was any good or not. But I just let it stand for a few weeks, kind of let myself forget about it. When I went back to it weeks later, I saw several changes that needed to be made, a poor word choice here, an inaccurate mood portrayal there, that sort of thing. Typically there's a lot more revision than there was with this piece. But I find that the longer I let a subject simmer before trying to explore it in prose, the fewer revisions I need to make to it. Slow-cooking really is the best way, for me.

WOW: What is your writing process like? Please describe a typical day.

Jessica: I wish I could describe a typical day. I'll be a more prolific writer once I establish a routine, but I'm just starting out with letting myself write. For now, writing is a luxury I try hard to afford myself. I enjoy it immensely. I enjoy being able to reflect deeply on different episodes of my life, different aspects of the culture I grew up in, what they've taught me, how I've grown from them. But I also run a small business and am raising four sons, so for now those things have to take precedence. My sons are flying the coup in rapid succession now though, and my business is finally able to sustain me, so I am just starting to prioritize writing. On an ideal day, I spend my first few hours of the day—while my brain is fresh—either mulling over some topic I want to write about, or actually writing about it. That's an ideal day. On a typical day though, life happens, and I have to make space to respond to whatever comes up, on the business front or the home front. I really prioritize spending time with my kids when they're available. Right now that is my top priority. I sense a shift coming, and I am saddened and energized by that prospect in equal measures.

WOW: I think many of us can relate to a lot of that! One of your upcoming projects is a collection of personal essays. Do you have a theme for the collection? How are you going about this endeavor?

Jessica: I am working toward a couple different essay collections. The one this story comes from will focus on growing up in an uber-Catholic, Midwestern family, just barely north of the poverty line. I'm tentatively titling it "Broke as Folk and Woke as Fuck." But who knows where the process will lead me. The title and the theme may change a hundred times before it's ready for publication, and that's okay. I'm trying to stay open to the process and just see where it leads me.

How do I go about writing this collection, you ask? I don't really have a comprehensive answer for that at this point. Like I said, I'm just starting out with the actual writing process. I've been reflecting on my childhood all my life though, so it's all there, just beneath my conscious thinking. It's been stewing for years. My job now is just to let it speak. I'm excited to see what form it will take, but for now, I feel like I'm just a witness, just trying to record the insights as they pop out of the simmering stew. It's such a messy process.

WOW: Best of luck with your writing! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jessica. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice with our readers?

Jessica: Sure, I can think of a couple. For one, if you're an aspiring writer, prioritize your writing. Make space  for it. Get up early and dive right in. Do not check your phone or social media or email first! Really prioritize your writing. If writing is what you want to do, then find a way to put it first. Secondly, I would say that one should probably prioritize living before they prioritize writing. Good writing grows fat out of full living, so get out there and live first!


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

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