Interview with Carol Ovenburg: Q4 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Sunday, December 10, 2023
I'm thrilled to chat with Carol Ovenburg today about her moving and relatable lyric essay, "The Game of the Name," which was a runner up in WOW! Women on Writing's Q4 CNF Essay Contest. If you've ever forgotten someone's name, you'll want to read Carol's essay. In today's interview, Carol shares tips on essay revision, writing book proposals, and more!

Carol's bio:

Oil paint bleeds a painting on canvas, a poem dies on the page, essays clutter her journals in-between working on the proposal for her completed manuscript draft of her memoir. Carol began writing in 2000; her memoir in 2010; CNF essays in 2020, three of which have been published in WOW and one in Minerva Rising. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and completed postgraduate studies in Interior Design, winning top honors in both. When she’s not writing or painting, she travels to Argentine tango social dancing events, tends to occasional housekeeping, stalls on exercise routines, searches for the next best anti-aging cream.

Carol lives in Talent, Oregon with her tango-dancing life partner and sometimes with their little granddog, Griffin, the cutest little dog ever.

Carol can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn. Her website: (still a work-in-progress).


WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q4 '23 Essay Contest! I absolutely love your poetic and relatable essay, “The Game of the Name.” Your opening about not remembering your husband's name hooked me right away. Did you always know that would be your opening? And do you remember where you were when that happened?

Carol: I’ve told that story many times to friends who also blank on names, always with the same opening—at thirty-two forgetting my husband’s name while introducing him. I was at a large party with my then husband and a group of engineers and their wives when it happened. I remember being mortified. The only thing worse was if I had introduced him by a different name, say, an old boyfriend’s name.

WOW: Oh my gosh, that's hilarious; and yes, that would have been worse! You do a great job with humor in the piece, and your metaphor of a chamber in the brain that opens and closes is a perfect way to describe name recall. It's beautifully woven throughout the piece. So are the mnemonic techniques, your character descriptions, and the tango! In fact, the piece feels so well balanced, and I bet it took a while to get it that way. What was your revision process like for this essay?

Carol: Thank you, Angela, for your kind words. The idea for “Game of the Name” went down in one sitting, including the title. I knew the opening right away, so that was easy. My mnemonic device was pretty straightforward but not so interesting by itself. I had to give examples of what I go through to remember someone’s name, so, I used the three most recent name-blanking incidents. I wanted to show how well I knew these people yet still forgot their names. I never forget a face, but I never remember a name kind-of-thing. Once I completed a little research about forgetting names and had all the other essay components, I began looking at craft—sentence structure and cadence. It has to sing. Content means nothing to me unless the words make music.

Tango has become a side theme in much of my writing because so many of life’s experiences are enhanced, sometimes triggered in this dance. My partner and I traveled to fifteen three- to four-day festivals last year. This year will be the same. Thirty to forty hours of dancing at each festival. There are hundreds of people around the country who attend these dance festivals, not always the same people. Remembering names is a huge challenge. 

WOW: I can imagine that being a challenge! I also have trouble remembering names, but never forget a face. Your bio mentions completing your memoir (congratulations!) as well as working on your book proposal, which I know is challenging. Many writers have asked us about writing book proposals. Do you have any tips or advice you can share with them?

Carol: I’ve just finished editing two memoirs by two authors and problems in the writing jumped out like flashing neon. I wish editing my own work were as easy. I think if I had started the book proposal process earlier in the game I be in a better place with it. But, although daunting, it’s now showing me where my book still needs work. For example: what is my theme and what are the sub-themes and did I present my chapters as hooks or cliffhangers leading into the next chapter, or do I have too many chapters? And how about the chapter titles and the book title? And the marketing part—who are my readers? So much to wade through. But it’s a great exercise.

My best hindsight tip for writing a book proposal is write it before starting the second draft of your book. Or write your next drafts along with writing your book proposal. It will be a helpful guide to finding your theme and structure and eliminating writing that doesn’t belong. But, if you’re like me and are starting it at the end of your book, don’t rush it; enjoy the process and keep an open mind about what might need changing in the text. Oh, and make sure the proposal “shows” your voice and doesn’t deviate from the actual book. From everything I’ve read from publishing experts, the book proposal is more important than your book, so make it good. 

WOW: Those are excellent tips, and I also suggest to writers to make sure their voice sounds the same as their book. And you're right, it's so helpful to write a proposal before your second draft because it'll help tighten your theme. Thanks for those great tips!

You've placed in several WOW contests and been interviewed a few times here at WOW, so we are big fans of your work. What are you working on now?

Carol: I’m working on another essay right now that could be a hermit crab essay or maybe braided. Just playing with an idea, so I don’t want to say more just yet. I’m still plugging away at my proposal, working toward getting more editing gigs, refining my website, and making another dress for a four-day tango event. I’m also working on another memoir about tango—the working title, The Colors of Tango. It consists of essays specifically about my experiences from the beginning of my tango journey. Each essay is followed by a poem about the colors of tango. Each poem follows an abecedarian structure, but that may change.

WOW: Your tango memoir sounds wonderful! What do you like best about dancing the tango?

Carol: That’s a good question, Angela. For me Argentine tango is mostly about connection. It’s as much social as it is movement. I’m writing the book, now, because it’ll take a book to answer that question.  

WOW: Thanks so much Carol for chatting with me today. It's always a pleasure to read your work. Good luck with your new book!

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