Interview with Gretchen Roberts - 2nd Place Winner in the Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, February 05, 2023

 

I’m thrilled to chat with Gretchen Roberts about her award-winning essay, “The Abandonment.” Gretchen shares the inspiration behind her piece, tips for editing, how science shapes her art, and a touching story her dear cat, Mr. Dooly.

Gretchen’s Bio: 

Gretchen Roberts is a former biomedical research scientist with a PhD in Cell Biology and Genetics from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York City. Her areas of research included cell motility, Alzheimer’s disease and, finally, the development of novel treatments for inoperable liver cancer.

Doing science is a voracious user of time, leaving one with few hours to enjoy other interests and, although Gretchen loved science, she ultimately needed a change. After spending years following one dream, it was time to follow another. Retirement from science allowed her to rediscover her other passions, one of which was painting. Art and science both involve observation as they strive to understand the world, but it was the transition from objective to subjective interpretation that captured Gretchen’s imagination.

A favorite subject for painting was her cat Mr. Dooly and, ironically, it was his death at the age of 19 that began Gretchen’s foray into writing. Writing about Mr. Dooly was both an homage to her beloved pet as well as a way to lessen the agony of loss. And thus another avenue of creativity opened as Gretchen began using writing to explore her life and the life around her.

Gretchen currently lives in Manhattan and Greenport NY with her husband and their tabby cat Eloise. 

Interview by Angela Mackintosh

WOW: Welcome, Gretchen, and congratulations on winning second place in WOW's Q1 Essay Contest! Writing about family and unhealthy relationships can be tough, and you covered so much ground in your essay, "The Abandonment." How did you pare down your piece to 1,000 words? Were there any specific methods you'd like to share?

Gretchen: I had submitted this piece once before and bought the optional critique. I’d love to say that the improvement of the essay was all my doing, but the review was paramount, with the reviewer providing a combination of encouragement and suggestions. Things needing improvement were pointed out, such as some sentences being redundant and some phrases bordering on sentimentality. When I changed the wording, I saw what the reviewer meant. The most amazing change occurred when I started cutting out whole sections of writing. When sentences that I thought were necessary were slashed, the piece started to come alive. It was amazing how fewer words conveyed so much more. One hint is to get rid of modifiers and your sentence will have more power. I think I cut about 800 words and it was all because of the reviewer. My suggestion? Cut just one phrase and reread the piece. I bet you’ll find how easy it gets when you see the improvement.

WOW: It's so true that cutting one phrase or a sentence can change an entire piece! What was your initial spark or way into the piece, and what do you hope readers will take away from this piece?

Gretchen: The subject of this essay was from a period of my life that I rarely talk about. So, what made me go “public” with it and in such a dramatic way? First, I finally realized that the shortcomings of a parent says nothing about the child. Second, I did not cause what happened to me. Often when a person describes something their parent did that was hurtful, people will respond with “What did you do to make them do that?” Someone once told me that people need to feel in control. In my situation, wouldn’t it have been nice to think I had been in control of my mother’s actions, that I was the one pulling the strings. What better way to feel in control than to believe that if you had acted differently, bad things would not have occurred. The fact is that what happened to me was not the result of anything I did and could have happened to anyone. My essay says that things occur and I was not in control of it and I refuse to keep it buried any longer. The weight is off my shoulders.

WOW: Your ending has got to be one of my favorites because it presents a realistic conclusion, and not one that's wrapped up in a nice bow, but one that provides hope. How did you decide on this ending? Was it always the same or did it change over time?

Gretchen: Actually, the ending was exactly what happened and never changed from the first time I wrote it. I remember that day in my friend’s backyard and how we ran and jumped and ran until we were exhausted. And we really did make peach ice cream which we gobbled down as we sat in the hot sun. It was a beautiful day and I can still see those two little girls laughing. There’s something especially exhilarating about pretending to be a powerful animal, unleashing all the force of which you’re capable. I think it’s important that girls have a chance to do this, getting in touch with the capable and tough aspects of their personae. Maybe it was just my Baby Boomer generation that lacked outlets and/or encouragement for this type of letting loose, but it was a magnificent feeling soaring over those hastily contrived jumps that we had set up.

WOW: I think we should still be able to pretend we're powerful animals as adults! Perhaps in our writing. Speaking of our animal companions, your bio says that after you retired from your science career it was your nineteen-year-old cat's death that prompted you to start writing. My condolences for your loss. I'm sure Mr. Dooly would be honored to know you've written about him. I also recently lost my nineteen-year-old cat, Jazzy, and I'm writing about her. Do you have any advice for those who are grieving the loss of a dear pet?

Gretchen: Mr. Dooly’s mother was a feral cat that frequented our Greenport backyard. One summer day I noticed two little kittens in our woodpile. It was unacceptable to have these two little ones outside, looking forward to nothing but a hard and probably short life in an environment for which they were not suited, so we had a local rescue group trap the kittens along with their mother. We had the mother spayed and, upon the recommendation of the rescue group, released her back outside. Sadly, she was killed by a car the next summer and I’ll always regret not trying to socialize her in order to keep her as an inside-only pet. We did end up keeping Mr. Dooly and his brother Jasper. Jasper died four years later from what his vet thought was an aortic aneurysm, but Mr. Dooly went on to live until he was 19 years and 4 months old. I slept on the couch with Mr. Dooly for what was to be our last night together. When he woke the next morning, the morning of the day he would die, he looked at me with so much love and happiness to see me. I had never seen that expression on his face before and it was his last gift to me. It was almost impossible for him to stand without help so I knew that it was time to put him to sleep. I made the call to the vet. After that, I felt nothing. Nothing. I often cried as he got older, wondering what I would do when he was gone, yet on the day he died, I was numb. I was in shock I realize now. If I had allowed myself to feel, I would not have had the strength to do what needed to be done. We went to the vet who gave Mr. Dooly a sedative and anti-anxiety agent and we waited for it to kick in. It was then that I started to feel. The tears streamed down my face as I told Mr. Dooly stories of when he was a kitten. I told him how much I loved him. I told him he was my baby. Then my vet injected an overdose of the drug that would end Mr. Dooly’s life. When he was dead, I threw my body over his as if to protect him and I yelled into his deaf ears how much I loved him. He was gone. I went home. I collected his things, his medicine, his stairs to the couch and bed and windowsill, his favorite toys. I put up a large framed photo of him on a bureau that I am looking at and, seven years later, it now brings a smile to my face, my tears having changed to feelings of gratitude that I had known him, that he had shared my life, that he had loved me.

Do not judge yourself for how long you need to grieve. You loved your pet with all your heart and the tears will come when you are able to handle the pain. And they will come. Depth of mourning has no relation to depth of love. You grieve in your own special way, just as you love in your own special way.

WOW: Oh Gretchen, your story is heart wrenching; but it's a blessing when feelings of loss change to gratitude over time. If we can stay in that space, it's a beautiful gift. Thank you for saying not to judge yourself for how long you need to grieve. Now that I'm wiping away a few tears, let me shift back to writing. How does your science background shape your art and writing?

Gretchen: They’re all about creativity. People often don’t view science as especially creative, but the ability to imagine enables the researcher to formulate questions based on what has been shown. How art and creativity are related is more obvious. Both disciplines interpret what is around us, science being objective, art being subjective. I’ve always been a visual thinker, so transitioning between science and drawing and painting wasn’t difficult. Writing just seemed a natural segue from science, since science depends on clear writing to report your findings. A scientist sitting at the bench, designing an experiment or doing an experiment, relies on fluid thinking in order to transition between words and images and analysis.

WOW: That makes sense! Anything else you'd like our readers to know?

Gretchen: When I was in school I hated writing. I dreaded when we were assigned writing a short story and would sit staring at the blank piece of paper in front of me completely devoid of thought. I never knew how to start. It was only in my adult years that I realized it doesn’t matter where you begin to write, even if you start at the end. And I can only write when the mood hits me. In that sense, writing is like art. You can’t force it. Just let it come out when you feel the need to write.

WOW: Fantastic advice! In fact, I have a project that might be solved if I start at the ending. Thank you so much for chatting with us today. Congratulations again, Gretchen, and wishing you much writing success in 2023!

Find out more about WOW's flash fiction and creative nonfiction contests here: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php
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Give Your Readers Something More

Thursday, February 02, 2023
The reading log I created.

Right before Thanksgiving, I spotted an awesome graphic on Twitter. Someone had created a log for students to use to keep track of their reading. For each book, they were to color in a book in the outline and a key was provided for the correct colors. It went something like this. 

  • Mystery: Blue 
  • Adventure: Green 
  • Historical Fiction: Yellow 
  • Realistic Fiction: Brown 
  • Science fiction and fantasy: Purple 
  • Poetry: Red 
  • Nonfiction: Orange 

It didn’t take long for the nonfiction writers to notice that although many readers enjoy nonfiction, fiction was being emphasized while nonfiction was being downplayed. Yes, I commented, but I also decided to make a better log. I bounced ideas off fellow nonfiction author Annette Whipple. Admittedly, I got sidetracked by a contract and the holidays but I finished my version of the reading chart last week.

I decided to give it away on my site. In fact, I started a new page where I am going to add a new freebie every month. You can find the log here

A lot of writers are busily monetizing their content. Why am I giving this away? Because freebies are a great way to show your readers or, in my case, the teachers, librarians, and parents who buy your books, that you appreciate them. This is especially true today when inflation is an issue and people are having to make hard choices about where they spend their money. 

And there are so many things that you can give away. 

  • I’ve heard Alessandra Torre talk about giving away book one in a series to reinvigorate interest in books 2 and 3. 
  • Not comfortable giving away book 1? Then write a short story featuring your characters or a secondary character. 
  • Have a drawing to meet virtually with a book club that chooses your book. 
  • Create printable bookmarks or, if you write for teens, the equivalent of trading cards with images of your characters, the monsters they fight in your fantasy, or the locations in which your story takes place. 
  • Create an online scavenger hunt. 
  • Give away a virtual school visit. 
  •  Create online content such as music or artwork. 
  • Screen a handful of t-shirts to give away if you are crafty. 
  • Make up a quiz regarding which character your reader is most like or in which fictional city they should live. 
  • A booklet of recipes prepared by your character or a pattern for the sweater she is knitting throughout the book. 

What you give away is going to depend a lot on who your readers are and what types of books you write. Think about it for a day or so and I’m sure you’ll come up with some great ideas. After all, you are a creator.

--SueBE

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 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 February 6, 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 February 6, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2023). 
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Interview With the Minds Behind the Sit & Write: A Writing Master Course

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

I'm excited to interview the two creators of the Sit & Write Course: Kate Brenton and Claudine Wolk. Their Sit & Write course is perfect for you if you have a book inside of you, but you don't know how or where to start. 

Kate Brenton, Ed.M., published author and inspirational teacher, will help you work through the structure and cadence of your story, refine your voice, and reach your audience. Kate has an uncanny knack of intuitively following a thread and unearthing resistance that clouds a writer’s voice. Writers will receive monthly calls (60 minutes worth) with Kate to review material, work through voice, or another writer-selected topic on the creative process.

Meanwhile, Claudine Wolk, published author and book marketing muse, will help you to identify your book’s message, audience, and hook - the building blocks to determine the viability and focus of your book idea and later marketing materials. You will receive 2 sixty-minute-one-on-one calls with Claudine to flesh out your book idea and get your questions answered on good publishing practices. Claudine will also teach on the art of pitching your book (because it is an art and practice is key!).

Wondering if it's right for you? Schedule a FREE intake call with Kate Brenton to make sure of the right fit before the class starts. 

---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: I'm so glad to have you back again to discuss your Sit & Write course. Can you tell us a bit more about it and what people can expect by joining in? 

Sit & Write: We get writers writing. The inspiration to write needs to be met with a plan to carry it out. Many writers in Sit & Write felt heard in their intentionality and seen in their mission. This clarity allowed a very tight knit group to form, while focusing efforts on creation and completion. Sit & Write is a magical mix of inspiration and form. We create a space for accountability and commitment that allows you to show up and write, without feeling alone. 

One really helpful step is that we teach writer’s how to separate their writer’s intention from their project’s intention. From there we guide them into creating a Writer’s Agenda. Now they have a self-directed plan for creating content that they can follow. It builds confidence and determination, a beautiful thing to witness. 

WOW: I love how you lay out a logical side with the creative approach. So, you start out with a phone call to find out if this course is right for someone. Why do you take that approach? 

Sit & Write: Writing is deeply personal and if we are not a resonant fit to what your needs are it’s not going to work. Writing is fun, but it is also a lot of work. You want to do that with someone you feel really comfortable with. If we feel a resonance, then it takes the process to a whole other level. I had writers say to me, “What is it about these calls that are so inspiring?” 

I like to think it was creatives who felt safe enough to be themselves and work from there. 

Talking for a few minutes on zoom call is a really easy way for you to know if this is the space for you to commit to. We work with mission-led writers. Writers who know they are being called to write (no matter if it is fiction, memoir or a cookbook). In our intake call you get to share your mission. We get to share how Sit & Write can be a good fit and away we go. What is also really cool, is even if I told writers this wasn’t the right time—everyone came off the intake call with insight and inspiration. It’s a win-win. 

WOW: That's so amazing you do that and I'm sure it gives people a confident feeling before they begin the course, knowing it's right for them! What kind of authors (or projects) are ideal for the Sit & Write course? 

Sit & Write: Anyone who is committed to their own creative process. 

WOW: Good to know! What can students expect after finishing this course? 

Sit & Write: Many of our students don’t want the class to end, even those that have completed their work. We are creating a small membership support to keep our writers going from the process of writing their first draft, to eventually getting that book seen and sold. 

WOW: Now that's a sign of a successful course! Why is it so important to have a marketing plan in place before your book is even published (or finished, for that matter)? 

Sit & Write: The pre-publication marketing plan tasks are your very first and critical steps to get your book seen and sold. The most important reason for a marketing plan well before you publish (6 months, at least) is so that you have time to send the book to book industry, long-lead, and personal colleague reviewers. If your book is selected by an industry reviewer, for example, the exposure to the book community at large is priceless. Many reviewers including magazine and newspaper reviewers, will only review a book BEFORE it is published. As well, LISTING your book before publication with online aggregators, retailers, bookstores and libraries is critical to get exposure for your book that will reap healthy sales throughout its first year and lifetime. 

WOW: That is an absolutely excellent point! What is one piece of advice you wish authors would remember when releasing their book? 

Sit & Write: Stay focused and stick to a marketing plan. It’s not the number of book marketing tasks you do, it’s the focus of book promotion where your book’s audience will be. Make sure you have completed a healthy pre-game – those pre-publication marketing plan steps described above. Also, focus your efforts and your promotion money where YOUR book buyers are to be found. Social media is great but focus any advertising or promotion on sites and publications where there are book buyers – Amazon, Bookbub, Goodreads, etc. Writers Digest, Publishers Weekly, etc. 

WOW: Great point! What are some of the outcomes you've seen take place from writers who take this course? 

Sit & Write: I’ve seen several authors take their ideas and truly run with them. For some, that means they are complete and have submitted to agents. For others, that means that very large and complicated works are over 75% written, with a finished outline, query letter, and an awareness of how to complete and market their work. It’s been tremendous to watch what clarity and support does for the creative process. 

WOW: That is an amazing outcome. I'm so excited to see that this is a round two! How was round one for the writers who took part? 

Claudine: It was truly magical to follow the writers on their journey to becoming first-time authors. It was also satisfying to see how the introduction of a few simple book marketing concepts lead to amazingly successful results. 

Kate: I loved watching writers choose what they truly wanted to write and have the confidence to stand in their own inspiration—not to lean out of themselves to write what others might want more, or what publishers may be swayed by…and their writing clarity and content soared when they made that decision. 

WOW: That is so rewarding! Why is it so important to invest in yourself as a writer? 

Claudine: Everyone knows that writing a book is not easy. Publishing and marketing a book is even more difficult than writing a book by many accounts. And yet, millions upon millions of people write, publish and market their books every year. Why do they do it if it is so difficult? They do it because their message, their story, is so important to them that they feel an irresistible urge, a calling, to get it out there. The message, the story, is part of WHO THEY ARE – their heart and soul. A writer who goes down the path of writing and publishing a book is investing in his or her self-actualization. What could be a more important investment?

WOW: Those are amazing lasting thoughts to end with! Sign up to Sit and Write Master Class before 2/4/23 and use the promo code WOW2023 for an early bird discount! Registration ends on 2/10/23. Sign up for your seat today!
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Interview With Maja Zysk, Summer 2022 Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Tuesday, January 31, 2023


I'm excited to interview Maja Zysk, one of our runners-up in our Summer 2022 Flash Fiction contest. Before reading our interview, please read her story Rockwell's Missing Portrait then come on back.

First, here's a bit about Maja:

Maja Zysk is an award-winning fiction writer and poet, with work* appearing in North American Review, Mid-American Review, The Briar Cliff Review, Reed Magazine, and elsewhere. Born in Poland, grown in the Sierra Nevada, and matured in the Valley of the Sun, she currently casts her anchor in the PNW’s Columbia River. When not waltzing with Sasquatch, she wrangles a toadstool princess, chips away at a novel, and ferments things. Maja’s first chapbook of poetry, Soil, was published in 2020 by Finishing Line Press. (*Work published under the name Maja Zmyslowski)

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Congratulations on winning runner-up in our Summer 2022 Flash Fiction contest! Your story was raw, and tragic, but very real at the same time. What inspired this idea? 

Maja: The term "latchkey kid" inspired the story. Certainly, there are children who gain independence when unsupervised and it's a positive thing, but there's an element of parental intention and choice that comes into play. There are millions of parents who don't have access to adequate childcare, and my piece was a reflection on that, as well as a commentary on the high cost of medical care, mental health, and how often we only bandage the symptoms rather than treat the root causes of such issues. 

WOW: You really reflected the raw reality of that in this story. Did you know the ending before you wrote it or did it take many revisions to get to the ending that was published? 

Maja: I'm a pantser, not much of a plotter. The ending surprised me when the words came out. It saddened me, but that was the point I was trying to make: it's not all happy endings out there. 

WOW: Absolutely. Excellent point. I love the title of your story. The Rockwell paintings seem to portray this idea of "America as it should be" but your story reflects parts of America in its raw, real form. What inspired you to choose this title and cultural reference? 

Maja: I've always been a fan of Americana, and Norman Rockwell's artwork of everyday life shows the best of times. However, the scenes depicted in my story are also everyday life. My husband titled the piece. I didn't have a title and asked him to frame the story for me, and that is what he came up with just seconds after reading it. It's a perfect title, and I don't think the story would be as strong without that exact one.

WOW: It really is the perfect title. What are you working on now that you can tell us about? 

Maja: I recently finished a full-length manuscript, a sexy nerdy rom-com focusing on mental health, weird science, and love, of course! I'm in the process of querying agents - woo! 

WOW: That's so exciting! I see you also work on poetry and even had a poetry collection published! How does your poetry writing influence your creative writing? 

Maja: Poetry is my first love. Whether free-form or structured verse, poetry is like having a bit of magic in your back pocket. You can carry a poem in memory, recite it like a mantra. Applying an economy of language and focusing on sensory impacts is a skill that I've brought over into my creative writing. Poetry lets you play with words, sounds, and images, and this only strengthens a paragraph in longer fiction. 

WOW: Great point! So, I'm curious: what surrounds you as you write? 

Maja: I romance myself. We're talking candles, flowers, cuppa. 

WOW: I love that! Makes sitting down to write like a date with your characters. Do you have a particular writing ritual you like to do that you can tell us about? 

Maja: Before I sit down to write for a long stretch, I harness some energy by putting on headphones and dancing to "Paris" by Else. Then I perform a series of yogic breaths and high-five the universe. Tap into that flow state! 

WOW: That sounds amazing! I'll have to do that myself. Congratulations again on your story and best of luck on your book!

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The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself by Marla J. Albertie: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, January 30, 2023


If you are in need of a confidence boost, you will love The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself by Marla J. Albertie. This is a perfect book for the new year! It's great to do on your own as well as with a group of colleagues, your partner, or your whole family. Read on to find out more about this amazing author and her book! You also have the chance to win a copy for yourself too.

Before we get to that, here's a bit more information about The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself:

Can you imagine all the things you like, love, and adore in one book? 

Let’s be honest. We tend to forget how amazing we really are. It is easy to see it in others, but when it comes to seeing ourselves, we tend to have bad vision.

This is why I wrote this book! All your favorites are captured at one time with space to write more. How often do we brag about ourselves, take time to think about what makes us happy, or do the things we like? If I had to guess, not as often as you would like. You deserve to brag about yourself, so why not? Not only is this a bragging book, but it is a book of ideas you can use to start your next project, business, career move, or anything your heart desires.

In this book, you will learn: 
  • How to vision board your next big career move
  • How to inspire yourself by seeing you
  • That you are worthy
This book is for everyone who wants to see themselves as the person they are. You deserve to be your own cheerleader. Grab this book today and start bragging on yourself!
 
ISBN-13 (paperback): 979-8887592923
ASIN (e-book): B0BT25JW93
Print Length: 218 Pages

Purchase a copy of the book on Amazon or get an autographed copy off the author's website. You can also add it to GoodReads.

About the Author, Marla J. Albertie

Marla J. Albertie has lived on board a United States carrier, therefore, she feels she is unstoppable. As a native of Jacksonville, Florida she loves to read, travel, and shop. Many of her travels have been on cruises as she has taken 16 thus far. Marla believes life is a journey and we all can create the life we want so why not; you only live this life once. She has a passion to see growth in peoples’ lives and wants others to pay it forward.

As an energetic visionary, she is the owner and founder of the TruthSpeaksGroup LLC, a multi-media company that creates strategies and solutions for work-life integration/harmony (WLI/H). She is also the founder of MJA Notary Services LLC., MJA Publishing LLC., and JEMA Holdings LLC., and being the founder of I/O for Teens Inc. is her greatest work yet! 

Marla’s mantra is to #TeachTrainEducate working woman who desire to understand their truth and live a life of success defined on their own terms. 
 
Marla's one word philosophy is #Learn. 

Therefore creating I/O for Teens Inc. was a no-brainer!

Marla is a certified professional career, executive, and life coach, trainer APTD (Associate Professional in Training and Development), Certified Chief Happiness Officer, Certified Positive Psychology Practitioner, Director of HR, Instructor, of Psychology, Amazon Best Selling author, and has over 25 years of business, coaching, and training experience.

Marla holds a Master of Education in Adult Education, Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management, and an Associates of Science in Financial Services. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
 
Marla loves speaking, teaching, and writing. Among the many ventures she is involved in here are just a few: The founder of the Motivational Movement K.I.M. (Keep it Moving), Truth Speaks Academy, an annual Women’s Empowerment Conference. I.M.A.G.IN.E. (I’M Awesome Growing IN Excellence), YouTube Channel featuring the talk show Creating Your Career with Marla J. Albertie which has 36 episodes, and blog TheWorkingWoman.co. She has also published two books and co-authored a third.
 
Marla is an active member of the Junior League of Jacksonville, ATD, SIOP, SHRM, Blacks in I/O, APA, ICF, IPPA, and NAHSE. She is also a Well-being and Data Literacy champion at Mayo Clinic. 

When she is not trying to save the world, Marla loves a good story and frequents the movies to eat her favorite movie snack, nachos. She loves spending time with her family and friends cruising, shopping, and reading. 

Here is where you can find her online:

Follow her as a writer on Medium
Subscribe to her blog: www.theworkingwoman.co
Take a course at Truth Speaks Academy
Subscribe to my talk show on YouTube: https://youtu.be/faUFIqU8pHs
Instagram: TruthSpeaksGroup

---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your book! Why is it so important to write down the things we love about ourselves?

Marla: This is a great question because how often do we get into a slump and forget how awesome we are? This can happen often especially as we're coming out of a pandemic. When you write something down you have something to come back to as a reminder when those slump days come. My book is a holding place for those reminders. 

WOW: That is incredibly true. You are the founder TruthSpeaksGroup, LLC and helping people create solutions to work/life harmony. How did your work with consulting and coaching others influence your "brag book"? 

Marla: I mainly work with the 9 to 5 working woman. As we may know that 9 to 5 working woman tries to accomplish it all. Whether it's being a spouse, partner, parent, employee, entrepreneur, and so much more, it doesn't matter the 9 to 5 woman has been told she has to accomplish it all. I understand what  these beautiful women deal with because I have dealt with the same struggles. Through my coaching sessions that made me realize, these women need something to remind themselves that they are freaking amazing regardless of what other people say.

WOW: Yes! Absolutely! And I love the purpose you shared on your website: "To use my drive and happiness to coach and motivate women to live an abundant life in harmony." I feel like this speaks to a common struggle among women of having to "do it all" without really feeling that harmony of an abundant life. What advice to you have for women who struggle with that? 

Marla: As a woman, it is in our nature to try to do it all. I'm not sure who wrote that rule, but it's high time to break it. No, we don't have to do it all and I help women realize that without feeling guilty. We must stop and take time to remember who we are. First, one of the things I teach in my coaching is we are first humans. We are not spouses first, we are not mothers first, we are not daughters first. We are human beings first. Then we are women, then we are partners, then we are mothers, then everything else falls in line. I think this is where women get the misconception, they forget to be human “beings,” therefore they forget to “be.” I help them realize it is OKAY to “be.” This is true harmony. 
 
WOW: I definitely struggle with just being. What lessons do you hope people walk away with after completing this book?

Marla: I hope people walk away with the permission to brag on themselves and the permission to know that bragging is not a bad thing. The word “bragging” gets a bad connotation. Bragging does not mean that you are better than anyone else, bragging simply means that you are proud of who you are, and you deserve your own respect. Respect starts when you first respect yourself. Love starts when you first love yourself. It is OKAY to brag on yourself. If someone doesn’t like it, maybe they need to brag on themselves too. 
 
"The word 'bragging' gets a bad connotation. Bragging does not mean that you are better than anyone else, bragging simply means that you are proud of who you are, and you deserve your own respect. Respect starts when you first respect yourself. Love starts when you first love yourself. It is OKAY to brag on yourself."
 

WOW: Great sentiment! What kind of coaching and consulting do you do?

Marla: I call myself the life-harmonizing strategist. I truly believe that women can harmonize all areas of their lives. There is no such thing as work-life balance. If you try to balance everything in your life there's going to be something that is always off scale. I help the 9 to 5 working woman harmonize all the important areas of her life through Positive and I/O Psychology methodologies. This in turn helps her with her confidence and self-esteem. It helps her realize the badass woman she already is. I simply dig the gold that's already in her out. As a coach we must believe in our clients; and I am willing to put in the work if they are.

WOW: That's amazing! What are you working on now that you can tell us about? 

Marla: Currently I'm wrapping up my PhD studies in I/O Psychology which is the study of human behavior in the workplace. I recently started a nonprofit (I/O for teens Inc) helping teenagers with life, career, and confidence skills they need to achieve their dreams using I/O methodologies and principles.

WOW: You are such an inspiration! Thank you so much for joining us. Best of luck on your tour!
 
The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself Blog Tour
 
----- Blog Tour Calendar

January 30th @ The Muffin
Join us over at WOW's blog The Muffin where we interview author Marla J Albertie about her book The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself. You can also win a copy of the book too!

January 31st @ Karen Brown Tyson's blog
Come by Karen's blog for her review of Marla J. Albertie's book The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 1st @ One Writer's Journey
Visit Sue's blog for a guest post by Marla J. Albertie about creating your manifesto.

February 2nd @ Barbara Barth Art and Words
Barbara shares a guest post by Marla J. Albertie on writing.

February 2nd @ The Mommies Reviews
Glenda shares her thoughts about Marla J. Albertie's inspirational book The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 3rd @ The Mommies Reviews
Visit Glenda's blog again for a guest post by Marla J. Albertie about business and entrepreneurship.

February 5th @ Barbara Barth Art and Words
Join Barbara again as she reviews The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself by Marla J. Albertie. 

February 8th @ Create Write Now
Mari shares a guest post by Marla J. Albertie about business and entrepreneurship.

February 9th @ One Writer's Journey
Visit Sue's blog again for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself by Marla J. Albertie.

February 9th @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews & Interviews
Lisa interviews author Marla J. Albertie about her book The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 10th @ Choices
Visit Madeline's blog for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 12th @ A Storybook World
Join Deirdra as she features a guest post by Marla J. Albertie about career development.

February 14th @ Lisa's Reading
Visit Lisa's blog for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 15th @ One Sister's Journey
Visit Lisa's blog for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself. You also have the chance to win a copy of the book too!

February 18th @ World of My Imagination
Join Nicole as she features Marla J. Albertie on her feature three things on a Saturday night. You'll also have the chance to win a book copy too!

February 20th @ Word Magic
Visit Fiona's blog for a guest post by Marla J. Albertie about the law of attraction.

February 22nd @ Beverley A. Baird's blog
Join Beverley for a guest post by Marla J. Albertie on writing.

February 23rd @ Knotty Needle
Visit Judy's blog to read her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 24th @ Beverley A. Baird's blog
Visit Beverley's blog again for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself by Marla J. Albertie.

February 25th @ The Faerie Review
Visit Lily's blog for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 26th @ A Storybook World
Join Deirdra for her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

February 28th @ Liberate and Lather
Join Angela as she shares her review of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself.

March 1st @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Visit Jill's blog for an interview with author Marla J. Albertie.

April 1st @ Write Advice
B. Lynn Goodwin will be interviewing author Marla J. Albertie about her book The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself. You also have the chance to win a book copy too!
 
 
***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****
 
Enter to win a copy of inspiring journaling book, The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself by Marla J. Albertie! Fill out the Rafflecopter for by February 12th for a chance to win. We will choose a winner randomly the next day and follow up by email. Good luck! 
 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Interview with Andreea Ceplinschi, First Place Winner of Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay contest

Sunday, January 29, 2023
Andreea Ceplinschi is a Romanian-American writer. She writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, with a decided focus on poetry. Her work has appeared in Passengers Journal, 86logic, Solstice Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, Hare’s Paw Literary Journal, Into the Void, Prometheus Dreaming, and elsewhere. Her work explores dysfunctional childhood family dynamics, various aspects of immigration, and trauma responses linked to abandonment issues and outsider syndrome. When not writing for herself, she acts as the poetry editor for Passengers Journal.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “You Might Be An Illegal Immigrant?”

Andreea: Thank you so much for selecting my piece and for giving space and acknowledgement in the WOW community. I’m grateful for this question, as it ties into my writing journey and the way it’s rooted in my Passengers family.

After a long break from the writing world, in 2020 I took a trauma writing workshop with Passengers Journal, more or less looking to hone my skills as a writer with little access to cost-prohibitive academic programs. It was during that workshop that the instructor, poet Aaron Wallace, who is no longer with Passengers but will forever be a notable influence in my life, said the following to me with regards to real-life moments I was processing through poetry: “Do you understand that happened to you, but it’s not ok?”

That one question made me feel so seen! I had no idea how alone I’d been feeling with some of the things that happened in my life. So I started writing about moments I couldn’t approach unless I put them in writing. That’s how this essay came about, and that’s why I initially submitted it to Passengers. It was one of the stories that weighed on me. It was the repeated dismissal of my humanity both as a partner in a casual sexual dynamic, and as an individual within a capitalized healthcare system. And even though I had shared that experience with some close friends who supported me and validated my feelings, it never felt resolved, and carrying it around made me feel alone with it. Writing it down, sharing it, and having my own personal “me too” acknowledged by strangers who suddenly feel a lot closer – that’s what helped me leave it behind, as well as find community in the sense that I’m not the only one carrying stuff like this around.

(Other notable CNF moment stemming from the understanding that putting trauma in writing makes it feel lighter is the piece “My Dead Mother’s Breasts” which got an honorable mention in your Q2 2021 contest. It was picked up just this month by The Blood Pudding and finally got published, after a few revisions.)

WOW:  I'm  glad to hear that writing about your experience provided cathartic benefits and a sense of community with your readers. Also, congratulations on the publication of your previous contest piece! How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?

Andreea: I didn’t think much about it to be honest. It was one of those stories that lived inside of me for so long, it was ready. Since childhood, I’ve developed humor and sarcasm as coping mechanisms and figured that framing a heavy topic with a bit of humor makes it easier to take in.

I started off trying to write a story about the doctor in this piece. It was going to be a short horror story, all fiction, set in dystopian future where only humans with a perfect score are allowed “maintenance and repair” in the form of healthcare. The way you achieved a perfect score was first and foremost to be part of the pure race, no immigrants, to offer proof of resources and loyalty to “the economy” and, if female, to display a willingness to breed forth within the pure race. Where things take a turn is where the narrator gets a little flustered and her accent comes out, setting off alarms in the facility and a frantic struggle to escape this doctor who suddenly turns into a rage monster and tries attacking the narrator. Pretty different than the end result! Once I started writing, the doctor character felt so real because she was real, and every line of dialogue was actually a lived experience, so it felt disrespectful to my past self to not write about the actual event. I did keep the dystopian air and sprinkled a little sarcasm on top, but the story itself was always there, just waiting to come out.

Trying to pull fiction out of my own reality showed me that the experience itself wasn’t about any singular issue, not just about a miscarriage, not just about being an illegal immigrant. It’s also about the healthcare system, capitalism, women not being believed when they’re experiencing their own bodies, and that suddenly felt more urgent and more important to communicate.

WOW:  Your experience writing this piece feels inspirational, in that we just need to start writing what calls to us, and then we may figure out the best way to tell the story as we work on it. Can you tell us about Passengers Journal, where you act as the poetry editor?

Andreea: Why, I’m so glad you asked (insert big grinning emoji).

Passengers journal has become home to me. After the writing workshop I took in 2020, I was offered a reader position for their poetry department. This opened my mind to a whole new understanding of how the literary world works. I had no idea what a “reader” was. I had no idea about a lot of things in publishing. All I knew was that Passengers saved my life (no, I’m not exaggerating for effect, but that’s a story for another essay).

After 2 years and having become poetry editor, what I can say for certain is that we’re doing our best to support voices and writing that might otherwise go unheard. I know everyone boasts supporting minorities and some might be doing it better than us, with more resources or staff with history in academia. We’re an entirely volunteer, international corps of about 80 and we give it out best.

As far as I’m concerned, Passengers has provided me with growth I would have never had the resources to achieve otherwise. Through them, I’ve had the opportunity to interview incredible artists like Prof. A.D. Carson, who presented his doctoral dissertation as a rap album called “Owning My Masters” and has since been teaching Hip Hop and the Global South at UVA, all while being an amazing artist and activist. That was my first attempt at an interview through Passengers, and the journal’s first as well. I couldn’t believe it when he said yes. What powered me through my anxiety, other than Prof. Carson’s incredible kindness with his time and thoughts, was knowing that this was an important voice to amplify, and I couldn’t waste the platform we have at Passengers, however small, by passing up the opportunity to have a conversation.

Now we’ve done many more interviews, book reviews, we even hosted a virtual conference this past summer with panels, workshops, interviews, lectures. We’ve started an ongoing open workshop program because we noticed a need for a type of peer community that typically forms in academic environments, and our mission is to build community outside of that. We’re dedicated to making art accessible, both by sharing editorial skills at little to no cost, and by taking steps to reach a wider audience, such as professionally recording every piece we publish and releasing both departmental podcast episodes discussing the work, as well as the entirety of every published issue in the form of a full-length audio episode.

I could go on for a while. I don’t know if you can tell by now, but I love my Passengers family and I will never pass up an opportunity to peacock about them!

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

Andreea: 
I didn’t think I had any cohesive idea I would want to work on. For the past couple of years I’ve been writing inconsistently, in random spurts of inspiration, sometimes poetry, sometimes flash CNF, sometimes horror fiction. Quite eclectic, I know, but I often thrive on chaos.

Lately, an idea has started to crystallize, and it’s taken me by surprise. I’ve always just wanted to be a poet and thought one day I’ll have a cohesive collection focusing on my childhood, my family history of immigration (my parents, like many post-’89 parents who lost their jobs after communism fell, left Romania to join the Western-European work force; after the age of 16, I only saw my mom 4 times in person until she passed), my own stories of immigration and this overwhelming desire to belong somewhere that never quite comes true. On the other hand, lots of people have asked me to write a memoir, and I’ve always laughed it off because I can’t imagine who would be interested in my life story.

But lately it’s becoming clear that some of my life events, presented in small bites, flash pieces, essays, they do have an audience and feel relatable to some. Maybe nobody can find my life as a whole relatable, but moments are, and sharing them is often cathartic when there’s at least one “me too” reaction to them. So I’ve been considering a collection of both poetry and personal essays. It might follow a storyline, or it might end up being utter anarchy, but I will say it feels good to finally have a seed I want to plant.

WOW: What an exciting concept--to write about your life events in small bites, in different forms. I hope you pursue that idea!  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Andreea. Before you go, can you share a favorite tip or piece of advice related to creative nonfiction writing?

Andreea:  I never thought I’d give anyone nonfiction writing advice because I’ve never focused on any particular technique, so here goes:

1. I love the poetry concept of “speaker of the poem.” I think of that every time things get deep and personal. I let my speaker feel what she needs to feel, so that I, the writer, can be ok. It creates a sense of detachment so that I can look at an event I’m writing about with more clinical eyes and see where the story makes sense and where it doesn’t, where the narrative is shaky, where the details are too much or not enough. Think of the speaker of your essay as a character rather than yourself, and be the judge of whether the story they’re telling makes sense.

2. Write about the wound when the wound is open and hurts, but edit once it starts healing. Anything I’ve ever written in a raw state is raw material. If you try to put it out into the world while it’s still raw, you’ll either overwhelm your readers or it won’t make sense. Don’t discard the raw writing, that’s the emotional core of any piece, but make sure you give it enough time to create the distinction between writer and speaker. If you can look at something you’ve written and think “I’m ok now because the speaker of this piece is not ok,” then you’re ready to edit.

3. Turn your defense mechanisms into stylistic devices. Mine are sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, and a high dose of ADHD, meaning I’m prone to oversharing, but at least I make it funny. What’s your defense mechanism? Do you dissociate and daydream? Let your speaker do that too in the most intense moment of your story, break your own tension in the very way that seems comfortable and natural to your real life.

I think this is all I have. I don’t know if it’ll help anyone, but if it helps one person, my work here is done 😀

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to ramble! And thank you for giving my essay the space and consideration, I hope it reaches the audience it needs to reach. I appreciate it.

****

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

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Friday Speak Out!: This Is How It Begins

Friday, January 27, 2023
By Donnaldson Brown

People sometimes ask if my past experience in screenwriting has influenced how I write fiction. I mumble something vague about dialogue conveying character, or something slightly less vague about finding the beat a scene needs to move the story forward. That’s all true. Recently, though, I realized that everything I’ve written – the essays and fiction that have seen the light of day, and the stories, screenplays, and abandoned play stacked on my shelves or digitized on thumb drives huddling in my desk drawer – all started with an image, that rolled into another, of characters demanding my attention. Sometimes they drop me in the middle of whatever is captivating or troubling them. Occasionally, they’ll let me in in the beginning. At some point, it becomes clear they’ve tapped me to tell their story and they’re not going away.

My husband was a painter and sculptor, and among my siblings are an architect, a designer, a photographer and a builder. In contrast, I suppose, I never considered myself visually inclined. My medium was words. Realizing that all my stories begin and evolve through very detailed visualizations of characters and the settings they inhabit, took me by surprise.

For instance, one day a teenager galloping hard across the Texas chaparral on her grey mare streamed into my consciousness. I tried to ignore her, as they kept running, sweat lathering the mare’s neck. What was she running from? Where was she headed? I couldn’t abandon them – not with that bank of clouds, dark as a bruise, moving in from the west. Suddenly, a boy, about her age, lands inside a sprawling brick ranch house. The screen door slaps shut behind him. He is drenched. And angry. Who’s this? Floundering at first, I wonder are they connected? Yes. Yes, they are. How?

And there you have it. We’re off to the races. Their story unfurled into Because I Loved You.

Stray characters don’t often approach me like this, practically waving their arms. So, when they do, I pay attention. I’ll start a journal for them, to find their words, their private thoughts, be they petty or lofty. Journaling brings out their worries and desires, which inevitably leads to other characters in their story, and to their inner monologue, which then leads to dialogue. When Leni and Cal came to me, I didn’t think I had enough words in me to write a novel. But they led the way.

I’m thankful for the characters who plant themselves before me and take root. Invariably, I fall in love with them. Giving them voice is a privilege and a duty, sometimes my reason to wake up in the morning. I listen as closely as I can, to find the best way to tell their story: what point of view to use, what tense, will there be flashbacks. Sometimes they leave breadcrumbs. Sometimes it’s just trial and error, draft after draft. I keep at it, though. Because I don’t want to let them down.

* * *

Donnaldson Brown
DONNALDSON BROWN grew up riding horses on her uncles’ ranch in East Texas and in her hometown in Connecticut. Her debut novel, BECAUSE I LOVED YOU, is due out in April 2023 with She Writes Press. She is a former screenwriter and worked for several years with Robert Redford's film development company. Her spoken word pieces have been featured in The Deep Listening Institute’s Writers in Performance and Women & Identity Festivals in New York City, and in the Made in the Berkshires Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She’s a past fellow of the Community of Writers (formerly Squaw Valley Community of Writers), Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Craigardan. Ms. Brown is a longtime resident of both Brooklyn, New York and western Massachusetts. A mother and former attorney, she is currently a facilitator and trainer with The Equus Effect, which offers somatic based experiential learning with horses for veterans, first responders and others struggling with PTSD. Find her online at donnaldsonbrown.com

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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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Know Thyself, Writers (And Would-Be Publishers)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

There are a thousand little details to take care of when one becomes a publisher, and frankly, I’m more of a Big Picture gal. But I had a fairly good idea of what I was getting myself into before I signed up for this adventure. Still, there have been moments… 

For the better part of January, there have been LOTS of moments as I’ve tackled formatting my manuscript for ebook and print. So I thought I’d share a bit about the process in general. 

There are several avenues one can pursue with formatting: there are free programs that are basic but serviceable and there are programs that come with a cost, providing a few more bells and whistles and continuity if one is planning on writing/publishing lots of books. Or one can hire a professional to format the book, either separately or included in a package deal (for example, the company that creates the book cover might also offer formatting for an added fee). 

As I read all about formatting and costs and such, I was reminded of my newly painted bedroom vs. my newly painted kitchen. 

When I realized my bedroom was long overdue for a new coat of paint, I looked around and eyed the king-sized bed, the dresser, and the chest of drawers. My back hurt just thinking about what it would take to move those heavy pieces of furniture to get to the walls. And to tape all the trim, including crown molding—egads! So I called the painter guy and it cost me more than I budgeted but it was worth it. The room looked fresh and gorgeous and I knew the professional paint job would last for years. Plus, my back thanked me profusely. 

Then there was my kitchen, where I’d had renovation work done. I looked around and eyed the wallpaper; it was time for it to go. Not only that, I wanted to remove the chair rails and paint the walls. 

This time, I decided I’d do the project myself. Because for one thing, there was very little wall space; it was easily accessible, requiring little ladder work. It would be tedious, but it really only required time and attention to detail, both of which I could manage what with a Shutdown going on. And in the end, the kitchen looked pretty gorgeous, too. 

Now back to formatting. I weighed my timeline as well as the time involved to do the project myself. I looked at quite a few different programs and read reviews about finished products and support staff. And of course, I looked at my budget. 

Ultimately, I purchased a formatting program. It was moderately priced and provided extras I wanted. And I knew I had plenty of time since I’ve pushed my deadline way out. Most of all, I was sure that, given all the tutorials, the program would be doable for a do-it-yourselfer publisher. 

I was mostly right. It hasn’t been the easiest part of the process (See “there have been LOTS of moments as I tackled formatting”) but now I have a swell program and know what to do (and what not to do) for the next book. 

So the bottom line? Know thyself! Honestly consider what you can manage, no matter what your writing project may be. Get excited about the Big Picture, but take a good look at the little details, too. And when you’re done, celebrate! In my case, with a nice, long nap…zzzzz.


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Conquering the Tech, For Now

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

 

Photo by Pexels

Tech and I don’t get along. I’m sure that’s a statement a lot of my fellow writers can get on board with. I hate installing software updates on my computer on phone, have neglected my writing blog because every time I log into it I have to relearn how to format blog posts , and can’t remember how I set up the RSS feed for my podcast a few years ago. 

I’ve known for months that I wanted (and needed) a website specifically for my podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Initially I had set up a podcast page on my writing blog, FinishedPages.com, but the formatting was glitchy and I felt like it didn’t flow very well. This past summer I reached out to an acquaintance of mine who also has a podcast and asked if he knew anyone who could help me create a new website. I think I’ve discussed here before that it didn’t work out, we weren’t on the same page on what I wanted, and while she created great photography, we had communication issues that prevented the new website design from happening. 

I researched a bit and thought I had found an affordable template I could install on WordPress. But after I purchased it, I opened the PDF of instructions and couldn’t read past the first paragraph. There was something about inserting the code into the SQL or something along those lines, and I realized I was in way over my head. I know nothing about coding and programming. I requested a refund from the company (they said they had a 14-day money back guarantee) and started exploring WordPress templates suggested by GoDaddy, who is my website host and the place I purchase my domains. I found one that I could install easily right into WordPress, and started playing around with it. 

I quickly grew frustrated. I liked the design of the homepage, but I couldn’t figure out how to get other features to work and I have so much content to migrate into the site. I assumed the site wasn’t live while I was playing around with it. Imagine my shock when I realized yesterday the site was indeed live, and it looked terrible because nothing was complete. After screaming out a few choice words and almost having a panic attack, I sat down in front of my computer yesterday and didn’t move for several hours. Once I got my hands in it, I figured out what I needed to do and how to use the plugins to give the site extra features. WordPress also has great stock photography to choose from if you need it. If you’re thinking a lot of this sounds like gibberish, I get it. But the template only cost $69, and the site is now in a workable form. While I’ll be uploading files for the next few months, I’m happy with what I have so far. The next step is to migrate all the true crime content off my old writer blog and give that a facelift, too. 

Oh well. One thing at a time. You can check out my work in progress here. 

What kind of relationship do you have with technology? Can you relate to my website woes?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. She won't be picking up freelance work designing websites anytime soon.
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INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA BALICK, RUNNER UP IN THE SUMMER 2022 FLASH FICTION CONTEST

 

Melissa’s Bio:

Melissa Balick is a deeply unconventional nanny who lives in Oakland, CA with her partner Jon and her haunted, world-weary dog Willow. She spends much of her time hiking through California redwoods or scaling rocks on the Pacific coast, peeking into tide pools and imagining life as a hermit crab. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine101 Words, and will soon appear in Hungry Shadow Press

You can find her on practically every platform, from Medium to TikTok, @melissabalick.

If you haven't read "Restaurant" yet, take a moment to explore this story and then come back to learn about Melissa and her writing.

-----interview by Sue Bradford Edwards-----

WOW: What was the inspiration for Restaurant?

Melissa: I’ve had acute climate anxiety all my life and I'm also a professional babysitter/nanny, so I think a lot about how much we hide these problems from children, who are too busy trying to figure out how to even be a person to get saddled with the weight of the problems of the world. 

I remember in particular that I babysat a little boy the day after the 2016 election when I lived in Los Angeles. Everyone I walked past that morning looked downright zombified, and I was also suffering from feelings of profound dread and panic. The boy's parents and I exchanged broken, devastated looks with each other, and then their 2.5 year old son came to the door and I transformed instantly into a person who would not, could not allow the terrible news for our world harm even one morning of this child's life. I smiled, I played, I got downright cheery. He deserved to have his fun and play and enjoy childhood. I'm sensitive to how easily children pick up on our cues and reflect them back. So "Restaurant" came from that idea, the way that parents will pretend to eat the balloon, act like there's nothing to worry about, to rescue their children from the harsh realities of what is happening on our planet. 

WOW: How did "Restaurant" change during the revision process? 

Melissa: This one didn't change very much from when I first wrote it. 

WOW: It is such a tight story. How do you tell which details deserve space in the brief word count and which have to go? 

Melissa: First of all, thank you for saying it's tight. To be honest, looking back, I would add another sentence or two. I regret not including any sensory detail of the deflated balloon, because I find them to have a particular physical presence that would have evoked childhood in a visceral way. 

In general, I tend to only like stories where, at the end, I feel like I understood the story and what it was trying to say. Most short stories that are well-received do nothing for me except make me throw the book against the wall because I did not understand the point of that story or often, even, what happened in it. But they get published and win awards so I suppose that's what other people want. Not me, though. I like a tight story. I don't want readers getting bored or confused at any point in my stories. So I write the kinds of stories I like, and hope for the best. 

The whole process of writing is pretty much a mystery to me. You never know what other people will love or hate. All I can do is write what feels right to me, what captures the spirit of what I'm trying to say. Occasionally it resonates with other people and I can't control that. I can only write what resonates with me. 

WOW: That's so true.  You can't control the reader so write what you love. What does a typical writing session look like for you? 

Melissa: I'm an erratic writer at best. If I'm inspired, I might sit down and bang out a story in a day, then revise it about 16,000 times. I find it literally impossible to make myself do anything I don't want to do and the consequences of not doing something will have to outweigh the benefit of getting it done by a lot before I'll actually do it. Even this interview request -- you can't tell me I wasn't the last one to respond and answer. 

So, when it comes to writing, if I sit down and actually do it, I just do it. I don't know where it comes from or what it looks like. I can tell you that I don't do what everyone says to do, which is to vomit it all out on the first draft and fix it later. I suffer over every sentence the first time I write it, then suffer over it another dozen times, then put it away for a couple months, pull it back out, and suffer over it at least another five times. I can't recommend this method to others, but I'm being honest, this is what I do. 

WOW: I'm glad you've found what works for you but I have to admit.  I slap the whole thing down before I fine tune it.  What can you tell our readers about your current project? 

Melissa: I don't exactly have a current project. I have a couple novels I wrote and haven't finished editing. I have a lot of ideas. I can't see myself pursuing literary writing with any seriousness. I read almost exclusively literary fiction but I hate rejection and part of me would rather crank out genre fiction for self-publishing than try to compete in literary writing and keep losing all the time. The whole question of whether or not I'll keep writing with any seriousness is very much undetermined at this time.

WOW: I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that you do continue to write as the mood strikes you!  Because I for one will be looking for more of your stories since tight stories that don't leave me guessing appeal to me as well!
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Save the Cat!® Beat Sheet Workbook Reader Review & Giveaway

Friday, January 20, 2023
Save the Cat! Beat Sheet Workbook

We are so excited to have the Save the Cat!® team back with us again to promote another amazing book. This time we're introducing Save the Cat!® Beat Sheet Workbook by Jamie Nash, based on the books by Blake Snyder. Before we share with you what WOW! readers think, here's a bit more about the book:

Break out your favorite pencil and roll up your sleeves! The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet Workbook provides key writing prompts and asks all the important questions—but you bring the story, filling out the pages that walk you step-by-step through the Save the Cat! process.

The official hands-on companion to the best-selling Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Writes for TV, this interactive workbook helps you dig deep into every aspect of your story. It’s inspiring, easy to manage, and your guide to:

• Idea and Concept Brainstorming – Unlock your idea engine with a series of exercises and prompts geared to help you find your best story idea.

• Meaningful Themes – Explore yourself, matching your story to something that speaks to your soul and represents your tastes and personality.

• Story Genre Identification – Nail down that pesky question of “What is your story?” with the Save the Cat! Story Genres.

• Create Fully Developed Characters – Give life to main characters who have wants, needs, and flaws. Surround them with a supporting cast that provides opportunities for conflict and thematic tension.

• The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet – Discover the tools and detailed exercises to give your story the structure to succeed.

Publisher: Save the Cat! Press
ISBN-10: 0984157638
ISBN-13: 9780984157631
Print length: 200 Pages

Be sure to purchase your copy of this book on the Amazon.com, Target, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org.

Now here's what WOW! readers had to say:

"Having written two novel drafts using the Save the Cat beat sheet methods, I was excited to get my hands on this workbook. The first couple of pages had me scribbling away and taking a good hard look at my own deepest darkest fears and things that make me rage. This was perfect because my current WIP is a “Whydunit” with a protagonist who is a lot like me. (Shocker!)

"The parts that suggested we doodle made me a little hesitant because I am not a doodler by nature, but I worked through them anyway and had fun using the collaging method and pasting in pictures I found from other places.

"I knew starting out my protagonist/detective had some missing pieces to her story (a female sidekick and confidant) and I wanted to dig deeper into the family dynamics that have made her the person she is today. All the exercises within the “Develop Your Characters” section helped me fill in the holes. I also began working on another “Whydunit” novel idea I have because I was so inspired. 

"If you are suffering from the dreaded writer’s block, or like me, need help fleshing out first draft, I highly recommend the Save the Cat Beat Sheet Workbook by Jamie Nash. Your hand will be cramping up (in a good way!) by the time you reach the last page."
 
— Renee Roberson

"I’m a big fan of the Save the Cat books, so I was excited to see there was a new workbook coming out that was based on those books. That being said, I was also cautiously optimistic that, perhaps, the workbook would be like others I’ve tried in the past (i.e., rote, redundant, uninspiring, etc.).

"I’m happy to report that I was genuinely inspired just from reading through the workbook. It really works to loosen you up and forces you to use your imagination without worrying about it being a 'good' or well-thought-out idea. After setting free your imagination, the book THEN helps you to hone in on themes and plot points and genres.

"It contains wonderful ideas on how to make your story and your characters more three-dimensional. Then, finally, it has you brainstorm the fifteen typical beats involved in writing a good story.

"This workbook is useful for a variety of different writing levels and can help you regardless of whether you have the mere spark of a story idea or are already halfway through writing your project.

"I’m really excited to delve into the workbook in greater detail. For now, I already have a handful of exciting new ideas for my novel!"
 
— Katherine Itacy

"If you need a burst of inspiration to be creative, this is a wonderful book to pick up. I love all the ways it helps you dig into new ideas, from dissecting your doodles to switching up movie plots. It also helps you understand the type of story you are telling and the way you are going to tell it. It's a hands-on guide that is perfect for the new and experienced writer. I definitely recommend it!"
 
— Nicole Pyles

"Admittedly, I'm a Save the Cat fan. So I was wondering what this workbook would give me. I have a specific story I want to rework and I approached the workbook with that in mind. But I'll be the first to admit that I hate having to decide where my story fits into the various types. Is there a monster? Or a mystery? Or is it a buddy story?! Help!

"I love that the workbook takes you through a series of questions. Does your story have X? If you said, YES, go here. Really? That's what it is? I don't know for a fact that I'm going to ultimately agree but it definitely made me reconsider some of my assumptions.

"And I have to say that I really loved the get to know yourself questions and the whole section on how to morph an idea into something new. If you don't have an idea you want to run with, these exercises will help.

"I know some people are loathe to write in a book because then they can't use it again. So don't. Write on a post-it stuck on the page! Then when you are done you can pull them out and start again with your next idea.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Whydunit to solve."
 
— Sue Bradford Edwards

"This workbook covers all the basics screenwriters need in order to plan their next solid story. The exercises included are both thoughtful and fun. They really encourage you to embrace your full creative power. Even though it's geared toward screenwriters, novelists who enjoy the STC method will get just as much out of this workbook."
 
— Jessica Leibe

"The Save the Cat Beat Sheet Workbook is my new favorite tool for brainstorming and story generation! I’ve read both Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel, and this workbook is the perfect companion. Where the books assume the writer has an idea already, this interactive workbook starts from scratch by examining your emotions, what gets your heart pounding, and more. It’s perfect for those new to the STC method. I’d suggest working through the idea generation exercises in this workbook first, before reading the books, because it encourages play and helps your imagination run wild.
 
"My favorite exercise was gluing a photo to the page and creating plots in different movie genres like comedy, science fiction, inspirational, and horror. I wrote several variations of my initial story idea and love them all! The Choose Your Own Adventure section was fun, and it is no surprise to me, since I mostly write creative nonfiction and memoir, that I’m an Inside Out writer.
 
"Even though I’ve completed two book-length beat sheets in the past, this workbook was still full of revelations. Jamie Nash’s Beat Sheet Workbook is a godsend for writers like me who’ve fallen into a rut of taking their writing too seriously. This was the book I needed to help me break through the blocks that have been holding me back and blast back into my creative side."
 
— Angela Mackintosh

"If you've ever struggled with starting a story or have started a story and don't know where to go next or how to get there, fear not! This clever and quirky workbook is for you!

"You can also kiss writer's block goodbye with the variety of clever exercises and engaging activities offered to get those creative juices flowing. Plus, Save the Cat's '15 beats' that are at the heart of every great story are also included. Don't worry. They're all spelled out in logical progression and well-defined. So are easy to follow, step-by-step instructions and encouragement for turning your creative legwork into a compelling and exciting story.

"This book will be a welcome addition to any seasoned or wannabe writer's bookshelf."
 
— Pages and Paws

"I have been using this book to help with my writing practice. Each day I work the exercises on one or more pages, and then I sit to work on my novel. It's been a great way to warm up before jumping in to whatever chapter I'm working on.

"Because the exercises are short, it's easy to fit them in to whatever time you have. And I find they get me thinking about things in a way I wouldn't otherwise. For instance, one exercise asked me to write down things that get me emotional, particularly things that make me cry. I was tempted to flip past this page because I don't typically think of emotional things before writing. But I stuck with it, and came up with a list of things that surprised me. And it helped when I was writing an emotional scene a few days later.

"I also like that it's easy to jump around with the exercises so I don't have to go page by page if something on one particular day is not calling out to me. I should also mention that I haven't read the books this workbook is based on, but I don't think it's necessary for anyone to get a lot out of this. So if you're looking for a way to whet your creative appetite, I highly recommend this Save The Cat! workbook."
 
— Cindy Hudson

"I loved this book! You know when you lose something, and you search for hours for it but when you stop searching for the lost thing, is time that you find it? When my writing came to a screeching halt, I loved picking up this book because it had my mind thinking differently than I would normally. It was fun to let go and think of new creative ways to bring forth new juicy ideas.

"I was in a coworking session and my accountability partner said he was going to work on his writing. He held up Save the Cat!® Beat Sheet Workbook: How Writers Turn Ideas Into Stories and mentioned using this book if he got stuck. I held up mine as well... we are now instant 'internet cousins.' What was the likely hood of that happening? I say this to support my point of its use to help push you through the dull and stagnant moments when it comes to writing. If you like workbooks, writing out your ideas, and prefer to process information in the question-and-answer format, then do not hesitate to put this book in your cart and checkout."
 
— Angela Clay
 
Save the Cat! Beat Sheet Workbook Reader Review Event and Giveaway
 
***** BOOK GIVEAWAY ***** 
 
Enter to win a copy of Save the Cat! Beat Sheet Workbook by Jamie Nash. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below by February 2 at 11:59 pm CT for a chance to win! We will choose one winner randomly the next day and follow up via email. Good luck! 

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