Interview with Brooke Carnwath, Runner Up in the WOW! Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 30, 2024


Brooke Carnwath lives in Bozeman, Montana, where she teaches writing at Montana State University. She’s the mom of two creative, big-hearted daughters and writes novels for middle-grade and young-adult readers. She, her daughter and mother-in-law published a picture book, Scout & Lucy, in 2022 by Merack Publishing. 

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

WOW: Congratulations, Brooke, and welcome! Could you take us through the process of writing your story, "Stripes," from original idea, to execution, to revision? 

Brooke: I drafted this story for an online Flash Fiction course I took with The Writers Studio; it was my first class in the genre and I was grateful to have found such a beautifully creative and fun form to ensure I write during the academic year (as I don’t otherwise have time—or stamina—to work on novels when teaching full-time). Eleanor was a version of my middle-grade novel’s protagonist in so far as she’s deeply connected to and fascinated with the sea. Most characters I create have some relationship with water—for despite living in the landlocked mountains of Montana, I dream of living by the ocean. I played with the story for a week or so and then submitted it; the writing was fun and fluid, and the quick deadline thankfully didn’t allow much overworking or overthinking. 

WOW: I love this! I also find that sometimes submitting something when it's still fresh on the page without a lot of revisions makes for the most successful pieces. One of the things that can make flash fiction so compelling is the ending. Did you know how this story was going to end when you began writing it? 

Brooke: I had no idea where Eleanor would end up; I never do—as they say, I am a “pants-er.” The compressed form of flash inherently prevents too many characters or scenes: Eleanor started at the beach and got as far as the shower before I ran out of space. Luckily, the drain and its inevitable relationship with Long Island Sound lent itself to an apt visual metaphor. 

WOW: What topics do you like to write about in your YA and middle-grade novels? 

Brooke: I’ve written one middle-grade, one YA novel and one adult novel. The MG features a 12-year-old girl, Milly, who lives with her mother in coastal Maine. An accident forces them across the country to rural Wyoming to help her grandparents on their ranch. Milly’s story is as much about her search for her long-lost father as it is about how geography and community shape identify—and how love is the strongest, most compelling force in any family dynamic. These are the themes I lean toward; as such, my adult novel likewise features a family displaced from New England to the high desert of rural Oregon. As a mother and lover of all things water, I’m endlessly interested in the tension between water and the lack thereof and how these factors influence character, values and lifestyle—and how experiences of physical (and emotional) displacement affect perspective and opportunity. The YA novel is about a young woman battling an eating disorder. As a mom, a daughter, and just a person taking in and out breaths in this crucial, conditional world, I empathize deeply with the protagonist’s journey. And I share it with the hope of replacing shame with compassion; turning the don’t-talk-about-it to let’s-talk-about-it; and animating tangible ways to work with an anxious mind. And while none of these novels are published yet, I’m hopeful they’ll attract an agent and publisher in 2024! 

WOW: These are all very important topics and themes--wishing you the best of luck in your querying and publishing journey! Can you tell us more about your picture book, “Scout and Lucy?” 

Brooke: Sure! My oldest daughter (then 8, now 12) and I wrote a picture book, "Scout & Lucy," as a pandemic project. My mother-in-law, an artist, jumped on the opportunity to contribute her creative talents and animate our sweet story about an ant falling in love with a peony. Though fictional, the story celebrates science (and more specifically, the symbiotic relationship between ants and peonies) and includes an educational glossary with scientific terms featured in the text. We published in June 2022 through a hybrid publisher, Merack Publishing. 

WOW: What is your favorite thing about teaching writing at the college level? 

Brooke: The students! Daily, I am humbled by students’ earnest excitement to learn and am grateful for the privilege of interacting with and influencing their education. I started teaching writing 17 years ago because I loved to write; I had no formal pedagogical training, but soon found my passion for all things sentences, paragraphs, rhetoric and grammar made up for my shortcomings relative to planning classroom activities and creating assignments. I’ve since loaded-up on professional trainings to support my in-class and online success. Additionally, at Montana State University, I am fortunate to have access to fantastic continuing education opportunities—and to learn by example: I am surrounded by smart, creative and dedicated colleagues. Truly, as someone who loves reading and writing and generally being around books, an English Department is a lovely place to spend time. 

WOW: I can only imagine! Brooke, it has been a pleasure. Thank you again for joining us today and sending positive writing vibes in the new year!
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What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum - Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, January 29, 2024


What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum
Welcome to the What Happens in Montana blog tour hosted by WOW! Women on Writing! This women's fiction novel by Kim McCollum is perfect for book clubs, empty nesters, and women over 30 who love a great feel-good novel about the power of female friendships. The blog tour starts today and lasts through February 25th.

About the Book

“Reminiscent of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty…a quest for trust and forgiveness amongst four women which tests the limits of the long friendships and marital bonds.” – Peter Kiesners, author of Scorpion Grass

“…a real page turner. A strong five stars!” – Diane Hawley Nagamoto, author of The Butterfly Café

“A poignant, realistic story that will tug at your emotions.” – Regina Buttner, author of Down a Bad Road and Absolution

“…well researched, wonderfully written, and historically accurate, is a testament to the power of women’s friendships across generations.” – Sara Fraser, author of Just River

A ghost’s antics, a harrowing moose chase, a hypnosis session, and smuggled booze lead to spilled secrets and betrayal, but do they also lead to murder?

At a hot springs retreat in Montana, whiskey-swigging Maude, the nearly eighty-year-old chef, longs for the glory days when the retreat hosted martini-sipping celebrities instead of long-haired hippies who refuse to wear deodorant. Brooke, feisty, adventurous, and a bit reckless, proposes a reunion at the retreat with her best friends to get away from the chaos of her life with teenagers and the emotional aftermath of her postponed wedding. One of those friends, Tracy, has devoted her life to her children and her husband despite her excruciating boredom. But a long-held secret could cost her the most important friendships in her life. Haunting the place is a ghost who, in life, dealt with tragedy by turning to prostitution which led to her murder over 100 years ago at the very place they all are staying.

What Happens in Montana explores friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness with blunt truth and witty insights. Together, these friends learn to navigate empty nests, infidelity, deception, and poltergeists. Most importantly, they learn their friendship is strong enough to get them through it all.

Publisher: Life: Black Rose Writing
ISBN-13: 1685133606
Print length: 335 pages

Purchase a copy of What Happens in Montana by visiting Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Make sure you also add What Happens in Montana to your Goodreads reading list. 

Enjoy the Following Excerpt

I glanced at the bird-like woman who sat across from him and wondered how she kissed him with that facial hair. Didn’t it smell like whatever he ate? Or scratch her face? Didn’t errant hair ever tickle her nose and make her sneeze? Maybe they had been together so long that they didn’t really kiss much anymore. Just a peck hello and goodbye. I supposed I could handle facial hair if that was my only interaction with it.

“Hello, I’m Maude, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Can I get you anything to drink besides water?”

“Water is fine for me. Dear, what would you like?”

“Oh, I’d like sparkling water. One of those flavored ones, if you have it. Not one that has calories or sugar or anything. Just the essence of lime or tangerine or whatever. Do you know what I mean?” She looked at me with big, pleading eyes. I saw such hunger in those eyes. Lord, this woman needed a huge steak and a baked potato with butter and sour cream. Then she needed a good bottle of wine to go with it and a German chocolate cake to finish it all. This woman didn’t look as though she had been properly nourished and decades. But what I saw most in her eyes was that she had not allowed herself to live. She imposed such restrictions on her life – what to eat, what to wear, what friends to have, what church to attend, what car to drive, what words to say – that she forgot what she wanted. She forgot how to live. She was just going through the motions. She might as well already be dead. 

I wanted to tell her to forget calories, forget working out at least five days a week, forget always needing to be a size zero, forget what others think, forget keeping her house perfectly in order, for surely this woman’s house was always in order, and throw all caution to the wind. Eat an entire gallon of ice cream while binge watching Grace and Frankie. Stay in your pajamas till noon and dance to Uptown Funk with the volume so loud the neighbors will call the police. Hike to the top of Boulder peak at dawn to watch the sunrise regardless of the animals you might encounter. Tell your husband to shave that nasty dead rat on his face and kiss him like you did when you were a teen teenager. Just don’t live like life will last forever.

Instead, I said, “Sure. We have lime, grapefruit, and coconut sparkling water.”

About the Author

Kim McCollum
Kim McCollum graduated from Barnard College as a Japanese major and headed to work on Wall Street. Many miserable all-nighters and the birth of her first child led her to stay home to raise her children. Eventually, she pursued her passion for writing. An excerpt from this novel appeared in The Copperfield Review Quarterly and her short stories have appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Beyond Solace, and Fiction on the Web. She lives in Bozeman, MT with her husband, Brian, and their blended menagerie of five kids, two dogs, and seven spoiled chickens. What Happens in Montana is her first novel.

Find Kim on her website:
Twitter/X: @KFMcCollum

--- Interview by Michelle Cornish

WOW: Hi Kim! Congratulations on your debut novel What Happens in Montana. Your book is praised for being "beautifully written" and akin to spending time with comforting friends. How did you approach creating such relatable and engaging characters that resonate with readers on a personal level?

Kim: Thank you! Just like in the book, I really do have a group of girlfriends who I met at a Mommy and Me playgroup in Las Vegas when my oldest child was six months old. Of course, I’ve made up their backstories, but their personalities were my inspiration. There were eight or nine of us at one time but there are three in particular I have stayed close to over the past 21 years. So, they were the inspiration for the friends in What Happens in Montana. In fact, I’ve been told that my dialog is well written, and I can only attribute that to hearing these girlfriends in my head when I’m writing. I put them in a scene and then ask, “What would so-and-so do in this situation?” and I can hear them, complete with their accents and everything. It’s fantastic. I’ve given many of my writer friends this tip and they say it works for them as well. 

I’m so grateful for the strong friendships I have from many aspects of my life. I’ve lived all over the country and even spent some time in Germany and Japan, and I have friends I’ve kept from nearly everywhere I’ve lived. They aren’t friends I talk to on the phone or see very often. They are the kinds of friends that no matter how much time goes by between conversations or visits it is as though no time has passed at all. Also, I know that if I needed them at any moment, they would be there for me. There is a confidence that comes with relationships like that. It is comforting and empowering to know you are loved even from afar. So, I am so thankful to my girlfriends for the gift of their friendship - as well as their voices in my head!

WOW: That's wonderful! The setting of a hot springs retreat in Montana is quite unique and plays a significant role in the story. Can you discuss how you chose this setting and the ways in which it influences the characters' journeys?

Kim: I am so glad you asked this question. A couple of summers ago our usual summer route to the lake was detoured and we drove past this incredible-looking building on our new route. My husband, Brian, who has lived in Montana for over thirty years and knows nearly everything about this state told me it was a hot springs retreat that used to host celebrities in its heyday in the 1920s and 30s. He also told me it’s holistic and dry now and is rumored to be haunted. Well, of course, I had to visit! I thought it would be the perfect setting for a quirky, fun, crazy girls’ reunion for my friends in my book. I booked a night alone and I have to say, I didn’t think I really believed in ghosts, but after a night at that creepy place, I think it is a distinct possibility! I’ve changed the name of the retreat in my book because my description isn’t flattering, but that is because the place is pretty run down. I really don’t know how they can stay open with just a tiny portion of the estate fixed up and the rest boarded up and crumbling. Creepy doesn’t begin to describe it!

I love the quote by Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the end of our comfort zone” and I really try to live my life by this motto. I strive to put myself in uncomfortable situations because I believe this is where real personal growth occurs. I thought that putting my girlfriends in an uncomfortable place with a ghost would inspire them to confront things they try to ignore. Being scared and uneasy forces them to interact in a way that is different than they might have in a place they are accustomed to. They deal with their unease by leaning on each other, sharing secrets, and some smuggled skinny margaritas! 

"I love the quote by Neale Donald Walsch, 'Life begins at the end of our comfort zone' and I really try to live my life by this motto. I strive to put myself in uncomfortable situations because I believe this is where real personal growth occurs."

WOW: There's nothing like a creepy place to bring friends closer! Maude is an intriguing character with a longing for the retreat's past glories. What inspired her creation, and what do you think she represents in the broader theme of nostalgia and change?

Kim: My favorite characters are quirky, isolated, and often initially unlikeable such as Ove in A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman or Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, so I was aiming for this type of character with Maude. My grandmother was a spunky, can-do type lady, so she inspired Maude as well. I remember one time she hit her pinky toe on the coffee table, and it was sticking out at a ninety-degree angle and I was horrified but she said, “You get back there!” and shoved it back into place and kept going. I was completely in awe. I also thought of Betty White quite often when considering what Maude might say or do. With Maude, I wanted to show that it is never too late to find connection. And that we can find connection in unlikely places. 

With regard to nostalgia and change, I wanted to send the message that nostalgia is wonderful because our memories make us who we are, but we do not give those up when we find new joy in life. Nostalgia and change are not mutually exclusive. Change does not lessen our connection to the past. It is inevitable and doesn’t have to be negative. Often change is positive and heightens our ability to enjoy the present and the future.

WOW: Brooke's life is marked by chaos and postponed dreams. How do you believe her character's adventurous spirit and personal challenges reflect the struggles many women face today?

Kim: Brooke’s struggles mirror my own. I was not a realtor (well, briefly, but we won’t count it among my many careers because it lasted less than a year) but I had worked on Wall Street as an investment banker right out of college. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. When you graduated from an Ivy League school in the early 90s, it was just expected that if you could get a job on Wall Street you should take it, at least among my friends and family that was the understanding. I don’t think I ever even stopped to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I just did what was expected of me. And then when I hated it, I switched to advertising which was much more fun, much less money, and just as many hours. Anyway, we don’t need to go through all my various careers, but my point is that I had many options. But when my first child was born and I started interviewing day care options, I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t put my little twelve-week-old in the arms of a stranger day after day. I understand those who have to, and I realize how lucky I am that I was able to make that choice to stay home, but moms are definitely giving something up to make the choice to stay at home, as well.  

I tried to keep one foot in the work world with volunteering, substitute teaching, part-time jobs here and there, but when my youngest entered high school, I thought, “Oh crap. What do I do with myself now?” I tried going back to school and taking various jobs, but after staying home to raise kids for nearly 20 years, I no longer had a modern skill set that anyone coveted and was willing to pay for. I would have to start all over again. But my youngest still couldn’t drive and played travelling sports, so I needed many days off to drive him to tournaments, so it didn’t seem worth it to make next to nothing and then not be able to be there for my son. I felt like I had fallen into an abyss. I was not needed (much) by my children anymore but the workplace didn’t need me either. I didn’t know how to find a new identity. I didn’t feel worth much of anything. It’s surprising how much of our self-worth is related to what we do. I had always wanted to write, but my first husband laughed at me and said no one would ever be interested in anything I had to say. Thankfully, my current husband has been my biggest cheerleader from the start. He says the opposite of what my first husband said, so the book is dedicated to him. Between my ex-husband putting me down and my feeling lost without kids or a career, my current husband really helped to help me find my self-worth once again. Some of my early readers of What Happens in Montana are hoping I’ll write a sequel because they want to see more of these characters. They especially want to see Brooke find a good guy. Who knows? Maybe I will!

WOW: Thank goodness for the supportive people in our lives! What do you hope readers will feel or learn after turning the last page of What Happens in Montana? How do you envision your story impacting their perspective on friendship and personal growth?

Kim: I’m hopeful that people will pick up the phone and call or text a friend they cherish but may not have talked to in a while. You know those friends who you really care about but you feel weird because it’s been so long since you talked to them? And you aren’t sure they would want to hear from you? They do. I’ve been in this situation so many times and never has anyone been upset that I reached out. They may not end up being a close friend because time and distance can put your life on different trajectories which make it difficult to connect, but it doesn’t hurt to reach out and say I care about you, and I remember the times we shared together. 

I also hope people will look for friendships in unexpected places. Friends come in all shapes and sizes, colors, ages, and geographic regions. Heck, I have a friend I met one night at a bar in Norway who I still check in with from time to time. One night at a bar I made a girlfriend in Norway. How cool is that? I have another friend I met at Harvard during my MFA program (I didn’t end up finishing this program, which is a whole long story for another time) who is taking my book with her to Kenya. I’m also heading out on a two-week road trip from Montana to Maine in April to do book signings with another author friend I met at a pitch conference in New York a few years back. You just never know where a friend could be. Just start a conversation.

"My process is put my butt in the chair for at least 500 words, 5 days per week, write the end early in the process, and withhold judgement until much later, preferably after I’ve written my first draft."

WOW: That is so cool! You just never know who you might meet and where you might meet them—very hopeful and encouraging. Let's switch gears a bit. Can you tell us what your writing process is like?

Kim: I am the worst at getting my butt in the chair to write! What finally worked for me was setting a goal of 500 words per day 5 days per week. Anything more than that and I just wouldn’t do it at all. Many days I ended up writing much more than that. I just had to get started. Other days, each and every word of the 500 was painful. I also forced myself to just keep pushing forward, no matter how bad I thought my writing was. I’d tell myself, “just get to the next scene.” I write the ending at the beginning of my process, so I am pushing toward something. The ending may change, as mine did, but not really all that much. I wrote two half novels before I learned this trick. I’d get to the middle and not know where to go and I’d think it was terribly boring. So, if I thought it was boring, then my readers would too, so I gave up on those. Although, much of my research for one ended up being part of the ghost’s story, so it wasn’t time wasted after all. The other interesting thing I’ve learned is to keep things I think are terrible. So many times, I’d get to the end of an excruciating writing session and think, “Well, that’s the worst writing any human has ever put on the paper, ever!” Then, the next day or so, I’d re-read it and realize, “Hey, that isn’t half bad.” Of course, the reverse is true too. Usually, when I thought I was the next Liane Moriarty or Virginia Woolfe or whomever, I’d read it a week later and realize it was hoity-toity crap. So, my process is put my butt in the chair for at least 500 words, 5 days per week, write the end early in the process, and withhold judgement until much later, preferably after I’ve written my first draft.

WOW: Great tips, thank you! Can you share what's next for you?

Kim: My second novel is in the works, but it is very slow going. I’ve heard the second novel is the toughest and I’m finding that to be true. All that talk about 500 words 5 days per week worked for the first but isn’t working for the second because I am so obsessed with marketing my first. It is really overwhelming all the marketing options out there, so I feel like I am throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks and it is time consuming. I also took quite a bit of time (probably too much) celebrating the publication of this current novel. Hopefully, I will be back in the groove soon because it is a very fun book! It is another very quirky character, named Harriet, who is a stickler for the rules in her perfectly manicured neighborhood in Bozeman, Montana. She seems incredibly rude and unlikable at the beginning, but eventually the reader realizes why she is the way she is and you can’t help but root for her. She will also realize the value of friendship by the end, but in a very different way from Maude. I believe this will be the theme of all my novels – friendship. But I suppose you never know for sure, but I love writing strong, quirky women who find their tribe.

WOW: Well, we are cheering you on! Thanks so much for such a candid interview. All the best with What Happens in Montana and your writing career!

What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum Blog Tour

--- Blog Tour Calendar

January 29th @ The Muffin
Join us as we celebrate author Kim McCollum and interview her about What Happens in Montana. You'll also have the chance to win a copy of the book for yourself.

February 1st @ The Knotty Needle
Stop by to read Judy's review of What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum.

February 2nd @ Pages & Paws
Read Kristine and Kimber's review of What Happens in Montana.

February 4th @ Shoes, Seeds & Stories
Check out Linda's review of What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum. 

February 5th @ What is That Book About?
Stop by Michelle's blog to view a spotlight of What Happens in Montana.

February 6th @ A Storybook World
Visit Deirdra's blog to read a spotlight of What Happens in Montana.

February 8th @ The Faerie Review
Join Lily for a spotlight of What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum. 

February 10th @ Reading is My Remedy
Visit Chelsie's blog to read her review of What Happens in Montana.

February 12th @ Writer Advice
Stop by Lynn's site to read a guest post from Kim McCollum about how she found her publisher. 

February 13th @ World of My Imagination
Visit Nicole's blog to read her review of What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum. 

February 17th @ Reading is My Remedy
Return to Chelsie's blog to read a guest post by Kim McCollum about weaving historical fiction with contemporary to tell a ghost story. 

February 19th @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews Blog
Join Lisa for an interview with author Kim McCollum.

February 22nd @ StoreyBook Reviews
Stop by Leslie's blog to read a review of What Happens in Montana

February 24th @ Michelle Cornish's Blog
Visit Michelle's blog to read a guest post by Kim McCollum about the writing life with kids, dogs, and chickens!

February 25th @ The Forgotten Books
Join Heather for her review of What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum. 

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

Enter to win a print copy of What Happens in Montana by Kim McCollum! Fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win. The giveaway ends February 11th at 11:59 pm CT. We will randomly draw a winner the next day via Rafflecopter and follow up via email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Ask the Book Doctor: About Agents and Publishers

Saturday, January 27, 2024

By Bobbie Christmas
Q: I just received an encouraging response from an agent I queried regarding my fiction manuscript. The agent requested a description (approximately one-page summary) and a synopsis (approximately two- to five-page-summary).
What do you think the agent is looking for in the description? Do you think it’s supposed to be just a more condensed version of the synopsis?
A: Congratulations on getting an encouraging response from an agent—a rarity!
As I understand the difference, a description describes the book and can include teasers. It talks about the book, rather than just the story in the book. It might start this way:
“What happens when a forty-seven-year-old woman finds herself divorced and destitute in Chicago? In 1962 Mary Devine, rather than become homeless, turns her abode into a house of ill repute. In 80,000 words The Escapades of Madam Devine, a quirky contemporary novel, covers Devine’s adventures, challenges, setbacks, and triumphs with a few hilarious twists.”
The description might go on to compare the book to one by John Irving or some other humorous writer.
A synopsis, on the other hand, has no teasers. It covers the entire plot from beginning to end. The synopsis never talks about the book, only about the story. It never asks questions, compares the book to other books, or teases the reader the way a description can.
Q: I’ve been submitting my manuscript to several publishers and agents. One publisher gave lots of praise for the submission but said it didn’t accept unagented manuscripts. One agent said he “saw the talent,” but said he’d had problems placing similar proposals recently. Do these niceties mean anything, or are they just letting me down gently?
A: Most agents and publishers have little time to let people down gently. While rejections used to be sent by preprinted letters, boilerplate emails, or rubber-stamped rejection notices, today most agents and publishers simply don’t respond at all if they aren’t interested. Agents and publishers have nothing to gain by taking extra time to write a nice note. A personal comment of any kind is rare, and when a comment is complimentary, frame it! You have the rarest form of rejection, and it means you are getting close.
Keep revising and submitting your work. Keep creating more. Ponder the point that similar proposals have been difficult to place. Think how you might revise your proposal or book to make it more marketable. Look at bestseller lists to see what’s selling. Keep going, and take pride in any “good” rejection.
Q: Do you have a suggestion for a book I have produced in Canada? I have sold 4,000 copies in Canada and am considering submitting it to a US publisher, but I haven’t a clue as to who publishes history books in America.
A: It’s the author’s job to perform the research. Go to bookstores or check online for books in your category and see who published it. Buy Writer’s Market (about $21 for the Kindle version) and make a list of publishers that publish history and don’t require an agent. Also use the book to look for agents who handle books on history.
Some publishers won’t take pre-published work, but because yours has a strong sales record and great reviews, if you’re willing to speak and promote it, you may be able find a publisher in America.
Send your questions to Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications. or Read Bobbie’s Zebra Communications blog at
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Being Stuck - Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Thursday, January 25, 2024

This river sure is beautiful this time of year. As many of you know, I live in Wisconsin very near the Manitowoc River. This is what the river looks like when I'm freezing and have the car set to high -  you will find me admiring her beauty. What I am NOT doing this time of year is kayaking. However, as I gaze at snow covered trees and slow moving waters, I remember a trip last May in my kayak through this very bend. I'd like to take you with me on that particular journey so we can discuss what it means to be stuck and analyze how we feel about it and how we, as writers, can use being stuck to our advantage.

I'm usually more of a casual kayaker; enjoying quiet inland lakes, bright sunshine, some fishing with my boys, and yes - even lunch and a beverage if the day allows. However, I am also up for adventure. When I was invited to go on a river excursion with a large group of people I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to learn something new. I packed up my kayak, a few adult beverages, some granola bars, sunscreen, bug spray, a first aid kit, water shoes, and a towel. I was a bit nervous knowing the miles we were covering would take over 6 hours and we would be finishing our trek very close to sundown. I think it's the mom in me that feels safer during daylight, or maybe it was the distance or time on the water that had me on edge.

This was my first river experience and I took on water and nearly tipped over while my vehicle was still in sight. I had hit a rock straight on and managed to get stuck. I'd be a liar if I told you I didn't even consider going back to the car and going home. With the tips and laughter of others in the group, I was able to get back on track. We all agreed a half hour in that I had a real knack for finding all the rocks and low spots and I was advised to get out and empty the water out of my kayak. I was riding very low in the water and I was cold. If you're wondering - I stayed cold and wet for the remainder of the 6 hour trip. I learned how to empty my kayak and had to do so several more times before we reached our destination.

Here's how the entire trip went (in my head):

"Oh dear - brace yourself Crystal - it looks like a..."

"seriously? again..."

"whew, I'm finally free of that one, I can relax a..."

"you've got to be kidding?"

"how much longer do we have to do this?"

"a little to the left and you won't..."

"for the love of all..."

This went on and on and on. When I would get to smooth waters I would try to relax, but no sooner had I taken a breath and I was navigating to avoid something or crashing into something or a combination of both. When we got to the end of the trip, there was a steep hill we had to push our kayaks up and then climb. I considered tossing my limp cold body back into my kayak and floating to wherever the river wanted to take me. It sounded easier than pushing the kayak up the hill. Obviously that would have been a poor choice, but by this time I thought the entire adventure may have been a poor choice. However, I'm in for next year (as foolish as that sounds) and I'm looking forward to it!

Now - how do we use this story when we talk about our writing? I'm sure you can see it - there are times we are excitedly holding our breath, times we feel stuck, like our book baby itself is trying to kill us, like we are taking on water, and like we may be inches from death (and I didn't even get into the bugs, sunburn, and peeing behind the trees). But... what would happen if we gave up? Well, if I hadn't emptied the water out of my kayak I would have drowned - and if you give up on your writing, your book baby won't make it either.

So... no matter how you're feeling, I'm here to tell you there are warmer days, smoother waters, and more laughter ahead. Just keep paddling, even if your arms are tired and even if your strength is fleeting. Just keep paddling.



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Interview with Kelli Short Borges: Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner

Tuesday, January 23, 2024
Kelli Short Borges writes essays, short stories, and flash fiction from her home in Phoenix, Arizona. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Flash Boulevard, Gone Lawn, The Tahoma Literary Review, The Citron Review, Cleaver, The Sunlight Press, MoonPark Review, The Penn Review, multiple anthologies, and elsewhere. Kelli is a 2024 Best of the Net and 2023 Best Microfiction nominee. Recently, she placed 2nd in WOW! Women on Writing’s Winter 2023 Flash Fiction Contest. Often, you can find her at her favorite local bookstore, where she gobbles up lemon cake and books in equal measure. She is currently working on her first novel. You can connect with Kelli on her website:

interview by Marcia Peterson

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

Kelli: Thank you so much, Marcia. First, I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone at WOW! and to literary agent Fiona Johnson for choosing my story alongside the work of some really talented women.

The seeds of “North” began when I visited Iceland with my husband a couple of years ago in the winter. I found the unique, stark beauty there breathtaking, and was inspired to write some traditional Haiku, which unexpectedly grew into a larger story about an unhealthy relationship, and a woman ultimately finding the strength and agency to walk away. It’s a theme that I seem to come back to again and again in my stories, one I’m passionate about.

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

Kelli: Writing flash fiction is really fun! If you’re interested in trying it for the first time, I recommend signing up for a class or workshop focusing on the form. There are some great teachers of flash out there, and you’ll be learning alongside other students, which can be motivating, encouraging, and rewarding.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Kelli: To be honest, I really don’t have routines (but I should, it’s something I’m working on). I write whenever and wherever I’m inspired to write. Many times, it’s first thing in the morning, before I’m even out of bed. I might have a dream with vivid imagery or the rhythm of a piece come forward and I don’t want to lose that, so I grab my phone and make notes, then it grows into a larger piece from there. I do have an office, but I rarely use it for writing. I tend to write in bed or on the sofa, where I’m more comfortable. When I haven’t been organically inspired to write for awhile I sign up for workshops, which I find to be incredibly helpful, inspiring, and motivating. If I need to have a piece ready to share with the group and there’s a time crunch it’s surprising what can emerge! It’s great to be pushed outside of my comfort zone.

WOW: You’re also currently working on your first novel. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far?

Kelli: I’m really excited to be diving into a larger project. I'm learning as I go, and at this point I’m working on a first draft. I’m still in the discovery stage, it’s really just the beginning. Several months ago, one of my mentors mentioned that I might consider exploring the development of my novel through flash. It was a brilliant suggestion, as I can discover and play with character, setting, conflict, and theme using the tool of this very short form before I commit to a traditional novel, doing much of the story mapping through flash. Who knows what form my book will ultimately take, but what I do know is this: 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, as women. I can’t wait to see where it goes!

WOW: Best of luck with the book!  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Kelli. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Kelli: I think, many times, that we second guess ourselves. It’s scary to put something we personally created out into the world, and to take a chance. But you’ll never know what can happen if you don’t try. And honestly, having the courage to try is truly a win in itself. Go for it!

* * *  
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Writing About the Topic of Stalking

Thursday, January 18, 2024


January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Today I’m participating in a social media campaign for Stalking Awareness Action using the hashtag #SparkleAgainstStalking. Last week on my podcast, "Missing in the Carolinas," I shared the story of Peggy Klinke, who was murdered by her stalker 20 years ago today. In the interview with her sister, Debbie, she said, “Peggy had a sparkling personality and would light up a room. As the stalking continued, we saw that shine fade.” While being the victim of stalking makes you want to fade into the background, it’s important to keep telling the stories of survivors. 

I’ve personally experienced stalking twice in my lifetime, once by a former boyfriend who was a few years older and another by a college classmate. I shared my story on the true crime podcast “Strictly Stalking” this past spring in Episode 169. While I was already interested in true crime long before I became a victim of stalking, I believe my experience only solidified my passion for telling other people’s stories and searching for justice and understanding wherever I can. 

In Episode 10 of my podcast I discussed the story of 17-year-old Shari Faye Smith from South Carolina, who was kidnapped when she stopped to check the mail at the end of her driveway. While she was missing, her kidnapper tormented her family by calling them on their home phone and mailing a letter that Shari had written describing her last will and testament. He continued to call the home, requesting to speak to Shari’s older sister, until he finally called with the address of where Shari could be found. Shari did not survive the ordeal, and a few weeks later, the man kidnapped a 9-year-old girl from the area who was also later found murdered. The man, who was eventually caught and arrested for both crimes, was named Larry Gene Bell. Rita Y. Shuler, who had worked as a supervisory special agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for 24 years, published a book about these two cases titled “Murder in the Midlands.” 

In Episode 35 of Missing in the Carolinas I wrote about a woman from Salisbury, North Carolina who was stalked mercilessly by an ex-boyfriend (and former police officer) until he murdered her new boyfriend and her mother in two separate acts. 

The behavior of stalking has been around for many years, and it has evolved over time. Thankfully, when I experienced it, smart phones and social media did not exist, as those mediums would have only elevated the incidents to make them even more terrifying. True crime author Leslie Rule researched and wrote about a jaw-dropping and eye-opening stalking and murder case out of Nebraska in her book “A Tangled Web.” The case involved such a complex case of cyberstalking that even the man who was at the center of the story had no idea what was happening until it was almost too late. 

When writing about true crime, including victims of stalking, it’s important to remember the victims, treat any information you share sensitively, and remember that their loved ones may read or hear anything you publish. You can learn statistics about stalking and find resources at

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and true crime podcaster. She will be teaching an introductory class on true crime writing through WOW! Women on Writing on March 14. 
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Interview With Abigail Russo, Runner Up in the Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Today I'm excited to interview Abigail Russo, runner up in the Summer 2023 WOW! Flash Fiction Contest. Before we get to our interview, make sure you check out her story, Dear One, first. Then come on back!

But first, here's a bit about Abigail Russo:

Abigail Russo is a creative writer based in Boston, Massachusetts. Her writing has been published in Quail Bell Magazine and The Times of Israel, and she is currently revising her first novel. By day she works in international development, and has worked extensively across Asia, Africa, and the United States. When she’s not writing, she can be found enjoying the mountains, reading with a large bowl of popcorn, and attempting to remove cat hair from her clothes. Connect with Abigail via her website ( or Twitter (@ARussoWrites).

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: I really enjoyed this story. Can you tell me about what inspired you to write this?

Abigail: This story came from a well of sadness when Roe v. Wade was overturned. That day, I wrote in my notebook: “What is there to say about women interacting with a broken healthcare system?” Several months later, I came back to that and wrote this story. I wanted to showcase the dark reality that instead of making strides forward, we’ve regressed with regards to reproductive healthcare access. I’m glad that by the time this story was published we were starting to see some political wins for abortion access at the state level in the United States, but it still speaks to an all-too-common reality for people needing reproductive care. 

WOW: Absolutely. And you expressed those thoughts creatively so perfectly. Do you plan out your stories before you start them?

Abigail: When writing a short story, I generally sketch a few messy sentences about the story’s premise and direction. Then I jump right in and see what happens. 

WOW: What a great approach! You have traveled extensively! Does that inspire your writing? And how?

Abigail: Absolutely. My travels have primarily inspired my writing and my writing self by making me more curious and observant. Traveling extensively has also made me relatively shameless about approaching people and asking silly questions, which gives me ideas for new story perspectives and settings. 

WOW: I love that. What are you working on now?

Abigail: I am querying my debut YA contemporary novel, which is both exciting and terrifying. I’m also working on a variety of short stories, including one about a cat owner in a terrible bind. I suppose it was only a matter of time before my cats started to directly inspire my writing (beyond their regular contributions of adding strings of nonsense letters to my Google docs).

WOW: Ha, that is so cool. You seem to write stories that seem to really call the reader to think and really experience another's walk. What calls you to write those stories?

Abigail: I hadn’t thought about it that way. Writing that's deeply immersive and highly emotional seems to come most naturally to me, perhaps because I'm drawn to creating stories around turning points in characters' lives. It helps me articulate the stakes.

WOW: I think that's a great way to create in-depth characters. What lasting thoughts do you have for writers who are uncertain about sharing their voice through their stories?

Abigail: Don't be afraid to play around! The supernatural element of Dear One is very outside my comfort zone, but I'm glad I gave it a try. I only recently started writing short stories again and was entirely sure whether I was "doing it right." Not only is there no such thing, but writing short stories has the dual benefit of being satisfying for its own sake and helping you hone your craft for longer pieces.

WOW: I completely agree! Thank you for your time and best of luck on your future writing endeavors.

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Promote Your Book at the Library

Sunday, January 14, 2024
My last office job was just around the corner from my local library. It was heaven! I would stroll down on my lunch hour and never missed a used book sale, speaker or after work event. My frequent visits taught me a few things that could help an author promoting their book.

Libraries Like to Say Yes
Chances are, if you are a free speaker, you will probably be welcomed to the library. You can propose a book reading, a talk about writing or a presentation on something related to your book. Offer several options. Maybe they’ll want multiple events! 

Help with publicity. Provide a media kit with the basics about your book as well as templates for flyers, social media posts and press releases for the local media. Make it simple for the library to promote your event.

Yes, the people who come to the library are book lovers. But are they book buyers? Increase your sales by reaching beyond the library patrons and beyond your social media community. Visit local offices, organizations, restaurants and shops near the library and with an event flyer for them to display. 

Libraries Like Fundraisers
Libraries seem to have ever increasing budgets and ever decreasing incomes. So, fundraising activities are a constant with libraries, especially small town locations.  They also introduce the library and all its services to people who aren’t regular library patrons. Library fundraising isn’t just used book sales. In the past year, my library has had a wide variety of fundraisers including Plant and Sip (plant a succulent and drink/learn about local wines), Tarot Readings, Mini Golf in the Library and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater.

Can you create an event that people will want to attend AND promotes your book? Think beyond writing workshops that limit you to budding writers – and are normally free. If you host something fun to do but related to your book, everyone wins. Attendees have fun. The library receives activity fees. You introduce your book to a new audience. 

Nonfiction books are naturals for classes if you can connect a craft, new skill or game to your books. Novels can have fun events too. Is one of your characters a baker? Bring sugar cookies and teach a class on cookie decorating. Does it happen in Arizona? Plant cacti gardens. Do your characters attend weekly yoga classes? Yoga in the stacks!

Libraries Like a Sure Thing
Creating a fundraising event for the library may seem like a lot of work but it doesn’t have to be a one-time event. At my local library many successful events are held annually. Some are held even more frequently with a seasonal twist. Plant and Sip was held for Valentine’s Day, Halloween (Potions and Plants), Mother’s Day and Summer. So come up with a winner and you could be invited for an encore performance. You can also extend your reach by having an adults-only version and a family/kid version. We’ve had events so popular they sold out in the first week, encouraging the library to add additional dates.

Libraries Like a Big Event
Worried not enough people will visit the library if your book is the only draw? Check their past events for group events. My library holds a Metaphysical Market featuring vendors with crystals, aromatherapy, candles, books and more. No group events that fit your book? Suggest one. Could you convince local authors to attend a Meet the Authors event? What about local artisans, authors and food retailers for a special event like Small Business Saturday or Christmas in July? Bring your idea and a list of possible participants to your local library. They can charge a small table fee and all the participants will benefit from a larger crowd. There’s power in numbers.

No matter what event you plan at the library don’t forget to take time to network. The people attending could be looking for a speaker for their book clubs, service organizations or social groups. An artisan I know taught a paper star class at her local library. She was hired by one of the attendees to teach a private paper star class to her employees as a holiday bonus. You never know what will happen at a library event!

Have you planned any events at your local library? 

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4 Tips from the Query Trenches

Thursday, January 11, 2024
Image by 巻(Maki) from Pixabay

In December, I started querying my nonfiction proposal “Wild Cities.” This third grade series is about wildlife in our urban and suburban areas. It leans heavily into the Anthropocene which is a reference to the changes human beings are making on the world. 

Last night after dinner I received my first email response. It only took me a moment to realize that it was a fairly long form rejection. I say, “fairly long.” It was 9 or 10 lines of text. 

Maybe it’s just me, but if there’s no feedback specific to my manuscript, you don’t have to tell me how much you anticipated reading it or how you hate sending rejections. You can say it all with “thank you, but no.” Or even “no, thank you.” 

Yes, I frequently come in under word count. Why do you ask? 

I’m still hoping to hear something positive from another agent, but I’m not waiting before I send it back out. And that’s my first tip. . . 

Query in Batches 

You can do this by sending out five queries at once. Or you can query one or two agents a day for a week. Basically, don’t send out just one. You don’t know how many queries it will take before you contact just the right agent on just the right day and get a “yes.” Some writers send queries out in large batches. One writer I know queried 75 agents at once. I prefer smaller batches because you may hear something back that will enable you to improve your manuscript. That said. . . 

Don’t Expect a Response 

I tried to Google how many queries agents receive. The numbers I found ranged from several dozen a day to several hundred a week. Specific numbers aside, not every agent will respond. They simply get too many queries, and don’t have the time. Yes, it would be nice if they did, but even those who respond to everyone will most likely send a form rejection. The crème de la crème of form rejections will include your name and manuscript title, but they are still form rejections. Instead of sending out form rejections, many agents will tell you up front that “no response means no.” 

Be Prepared to Pivot 

When you’ve sent out a number of queries and heard nothing, be prepared to pivot. How many queries do I mean by “a number?” It depends on the size of your market. I tend to reevaluate things after 10 to 20 queries. This doesn’t mean that I revise my manuscript although I may. What it means is that I take a hard look at who I am querying. I write primarily nonfiction. Many agents, and we’re talking children and young adult agents, say they want nonfiction, but they mean something more specific. Maybe they only get excited about picture book biographies. Or they may want middle grade nonfiction. If I hear nothing, I likely need to look harder at who I’m querying. 

Work on Something Else 

Finally, once you start sending out queries, get to work on something else. I am currently working on the draft of my cozy (half way!), several contracted jobs, and some drawings. When I get a bit more done on these, I’m doing one more draft of a picture book manuscript. Our own Angela Mackintosh teases me about the variety of things I work on at any given time. It is both a blessing and curse. The curse is that I sometimes struggle to get one thing done. The blessing is that when I get a rejection, I can pick up my pens and sketch something out. 

One rejection isn’t nearly enough to know how I’m doing on this round of queries. Although we hear stories about people finding representation with their first query, those are Cinderella tales. Although I wouldn’t have said no if it had worked, the reality is that querying takes time and numerous attempts. Fortunately WOW! is a great place to find the support that you need as you work your way through the process.


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.  
  • Click here to find her newsletter.
She is also the instructor for 3 WOW classes which begin again on February 5, 2024. 
She teaches:
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Interview with Dawn Miller: Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Tuesday, January 09, 2024


Dawn's Bio:

Dawn Miller is a Pushcart Prize nominee who writes fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work appears in The ForgeThe Cincinnati ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyRoom MagazineFractured Lit, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in beautiful Picton, Ontario, Canada, and is working on her debut novel. Find her at on Twitter @DawnFMiller1 on Instagram @dawnmillerwriter and on Bluesky

If you haven't read Dawn's story yet, click through here to read "How to Store Your Little Sister's Wig."  Then read this interview to learn more about her writing process. 

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

WOW: This story is an emotional roller coaster! What was your inspiration to write this piece?

Dawn: Like so many of my stories, there’s a kernel of my own experiences in the narrative. In this case, the story is quite close to my family’s history as my older sister died from a brain tumor when she was nine-years-old, and I was seven. I vividly remember the auburn wig she wore, how my mother placed it on the wig form at night and carefully combed it out. My sister’s wig was such a profound reminder of her illness, that these images are imprinted in my memory. Writing about something so deeply personal is a way for me to deal with the memories, to try to make sense of what happened, and hopefully, by sharing some of the pain, to release some of it. 

WOW:  We're so sorry to hear about your loss.  You clearly fed the emotion into this story. Revision is such a monumental part of the writing process. How did this story change during revision? How did you heighten the tension during the revision process? 

Dawn: After I submitted to the WOW! Contest, I continued to revise the story, and ended up changing it yet again. Perhaps a story is never truly “finished” and there are multiple iterations that could stem from one narrative. In early and later versions, however, I included the numbered structure and the repetition of “scratch #” partly because it was easier for me to write the story within a more rigid structure since it’s such a painful topic. 

Using “scratch #” was my attempt to lean in to how we sometimes alter memories to deal with the reality of them or attempt to make them less painful. In the story, the older sister attempts to erase the painful parts and keeps revising the narrative until her sister lives. Maybe it’s an example of “magical thinking”, something we may all do at times to deal with trauma or profound pain. 

WOW:  After reading about how you used "scratch #," I reread the story.  Knowing why you did it that way makes it that much more powerful. The choice of POV character can make or break a story. How did you select your POV character?

Dawn: Often, the eldest child in a family feels they need to be the caretaker of their younger siblings, and so I chose to filter the story through the teenage sister’s perspective. I wanted to explore how that caretaker role would impact a teen in a situation where no one, including the parents or medical professionals, is able to control the outcome. I hoped to show how the illness of a child has a profound and long-lasting impact on the entire family. In the story, there is a significant age gap between the sick sister and the teenager, which makes the older sister feel all the more responsible for her vulnerable sibling. The teen is aware of all the younger sister may lose, and that makes it all the more tragic. 

WOW: Your bio says that you write both creative nonfiction and fiction, including a novel. What advice do you have for writers who are interested in creating a wide variety of work? 

Dawn: I’ve written three novels, all yet to be published. I’m hoping to get literary agent representation soon. I’m drawn to super short micros as well as longer narratives. Some of my stories are purely from my imagination, while others I felt compelled to write about to deal with my own past. For any writer, I think you need to follow what spurs passion inside. 

Some people write only flash, some short stories, some only novels. There’s no “right” way to follow your own creativity. I think the key is to follow what you feel passionate about, what you feel propelled to create, what form you lose yourself in. Sometimes, I write flash, or a short story in between longer works as a sort of palate cleanser since novels require so much stamina and can take years to create and revise! It’s refreshing to work on a shorter piece that can be drafted in a day, and honed and polished within several days. I often have several projects in the works at the same time, and like to toggle between them. 

WOW: What question do you wish I had asked? And how would you answer it? How do you deal with rejection? 

Dawn: I’m honoured and grateful my story was selected as a WOW! finalist, but so often stories are rejected, queries to agents are passed upon, even full manuscript requests from agents are ultimately declined—often for very subjective reasons. I’m always curious how other people maintain their stick-to-itiveness attitude. However, I’ve realized, after talking to so many writers, that we all have moments of imposter syndrome, or wonder if writing is the best path. In the end, I love writing, and time telescopes when I’m in the writing zone. 

I recently traveled to Japan, and there’s a Japanese concept called ikigai, which combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” with gai, meaning “worth”. It’s similar in meaning to the French term “raison d’etre” or “reason for being”. I experience ikigai when I’m writing. Writing fills me with purpose and joy, so if I have to deal with the inevitable rejections along the way, it’s worth it in the end.

WOW: What an inspirational response!  I truly hope that this is something our readers will carry with them throughout 2024.  
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My University of the World by Neill McKee: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, January 08, 2024


My University of the World by Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee joins us together with a blog tour of his memoir My University of the World It's perfect for readers interested in travel memoirs and reading about exciting exotic careers. We'll be sharing more information about Neill's book and giving you a chance to win a copy for yourself.

But first, here's more about My University of the World:

Neill McKee takes us on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. The story starts when he becomes a “one-man film crew,” documenting the lives of Canadian CUSO volunteers working in Asia and Africa as teachers, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, agriculturalists, foresters, and a biologist. He learns the craft of filmmaking and meets and marries Elizabeth “on the hoof.” The story is enlivened throughout by their challenges and adventures together, and Elizabeth’s growing artistic talent and creations.  

Beginning in 1975, the young couple settles in Ottawa and starts a family, while Neill roams the world for Canada’s International Development Research Centre. His award-winning films depict the agency’s philosophy and search for solutions to problems in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, education, health, water and sanitation, and more. Then in 1990, McKee joins UNICEF in Bangladesh, and later in Africa, where he initiates long-lasting multimedia programs for child health, with a focus on empowering girls. In 2001, he moves to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and then to Moscow, Russia, where he oversees similar initiatives. That experience leads him to a memorable last post in Washington, D.C. as director of a large global communication project. 

Throughout the short chapters and in a brief epilogue, McKee reflects on the long-term impact of the projects he documented and of his media creations. His memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places he visited, and many images, all of which bring readers into his “University of the World.”

ISBN-10: 1732945780
ISBN-13: 978-1732945784
Print Length: 522 Pages

You can purchase a copy on Amazon or Make sure you add it to your GoodReads reading list, too.

About the Author, Neill McKee

Neill McKee
Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My University of the World: Memoir of an International Film & Media Maker is a stand-alone sequel to his first travel memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah, which has won three awards. McKee holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary and a master’s degree in Communication from Florida State University. He worked internationally for 45 years, becoming an expert in the field of communication for behavior and social change. He directed and produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos, popular multimedia initiatives, and has written numerous articles and three books in the field of development communication. During his international career, McKee was employed by Canadian University Service Overseas (now CUSO International); the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada; UNICEF in Asia and Africa; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; the Academy for Educational Development and FHI 360, Washington, D.C. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments. In 2015, he settled in New Mexico, where he uses his varied experiences, memories, and imagination in creative writing. 

Find Neill online:

Author's digital library: (These are most of the film and media projects covered in the memoir – produced by the author from 1970 to 2012.)

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on your memoir! I'm so excited to have you back with us. What inspired your memoir My University of the World?

Neill: My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker is largely a travel memoir on my career from 1970 to 2012. I felt I had to write it to complete my life story. It complements the other three memoirs I have written, starting in 2013. All four are completely stand-alone stories about my varied life and my roots: my beginnings in a small industrially-polluted Canadian town, and my searching university years (Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth), my first overseas job in Malaysia on the Island of Borneo (Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah), and tracking down the entertaining tales of my ancestors in Canada and the U.S. (Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American Search Through Four Centuries of History, to the Mayflower). My University of the World focuses on my growth as a filmmaker and multimedia producer but includes compelling stories about my long-distance engagement to an American woman I met in Japan in 1970, our humorous marriage in Africa in 1972, plus our family life in Ottawa as I roamed the world making films. My work took us to live in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia, as Elizabeth became an accomplished artist (I included some of her work in my book). I hope this memoir inspires younger people to strive to make a difference in the world, recognizing that it’s a much different world today, where distant horizons are much closer, electronically. 
WOW: I truly believe you have done just that. You have done such an incredible job compiling the details of your life and career. How did you do that with such vivid detail? 

Neill: I never kept a journal but I stored a lot of stories in my head over the years. I wrote up some of them at the time they happened and kept a file. I found many more interesting incidents in old letters to and from my fiancée/wife and my family, official trip reports (which I always tried to make entertaining, including all the humorous and frustrating happenings along the way), and I had the benefit of viewing most of the film and other media products I created or dreamed up. Of course, I checked with my wife’s memory and the memories of former colleagues, with whom I am still in touch, to make sure crucial details are correct or added details I’d forgotten. I also did online research to find out what impact the people and projects I covered or created had over the years. Surprisingly, I found quite a lot of positive results.

WOW: That's wonderful people had remembered so much as well! I am so impressed that you had the photos to share for this memoir. How did you decide which photos to share and which ones to leave out?

Neill: I had some digital photos from the year 2000 onwards, but the bulk of the images came from my earlier career—family albums, images I extracted from my 16mm films, artwork from my media projects and the books I wrote, and the many photos I took for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa, Canada from 1975 to 1988, while making about 30 films. After I completed my manuscript in the summer of 2022, I traveled to Ottawa to go through IDRC’s collection of about 40,000 35mm, color slides. I found them in drawers in a storage room and spent four days inspecting almost every one of them, matching photos to my stories. Fortunately, the slides were still in immaculate condition thanks to Kodak’s great Kodachrome emulsion. My IDRC facilitator allowed me to take all I wanted home to Albuquerque to make final choices and return them after scanning those I wanted. My trip to Ottawa was just in time for the agency was in the process of moving and they were considering throwing out this valuable historical collection! I cut out quite a few images in the final design process for there would have been too many pages. I combined many into film strips, set in the top corners of some pages. My pre-publication reviewers ask me to retain as many photos as possible, after all the book is about film and media making.

WOW: Your entire process is amazing. It's such an incredible memoir but also extensive. How do you plan and prepare for such an lengthy writing process?

Neill: I read all the trip reports and letters, extracting major themes and ideas. I had electronic files of some of my old films and media productions, and managed to find more online or in film archives. I worked in 16mm educational film format until 1988, and these films were transferred to video format in the early 1990s, when such transfers were not of great quality. But when I viewed them again, I discovered many more ideas for scenes, quotations, and dialog. I also created a digital library of my main films, media projects, and communication books and articles, for easy access and for others who may be interest:  The videos are posted on YouTube and I now have 12,400 subscribers to my YouTube channel. My memoir follows my main productions, chronologically, with a few “meanwhile at the home front” chapters and stories blended in. I left out boring office organizational details, and focused on my travel adventures, anecdotes, and descriptions of the great people who mentored me or for whom, or on whom, I made films, including Canadian volunteers, filmmakers, and developing country scientists and activists. They were the teachers in “My University of the World.” 

WOW: I hope people watch those videos! You have lived such an amazing life, filled with eye-opening travel and events. What has inspired you the most about these experiences? 

Neill: The people mentioned above inspired me, as well as the organizations I worked for—all trying to make the world a better place in different ways. I also think I had a lot of luck. Early in my career I was a “lone-wolf filmmaker,” learning camera work through feedback, and editing with the help of a wonderful intelligent woman in an Ottawa studio. But after 15 years of such work, winning a number of film awards for IDRC, I was given a fully paid sabbatical year to do an M.S. in Communication at Florida State University (FSU). There I learned about the power of using communication for lasting behavior and social change, plus the need to get it right through audience research. That led me, in 1990, to become the chief of the communication team for UNICEF in Bangladesh. This was an amazing transition for me and my family. I was inspired by all the possibilities and chances to innovate in different media, using what I had learned at FSU.

Shortly after joining, I traveled to Prague in then Czechoslovakia to attend a conference on the role of animated film in addressing development problems. There I met Bill Hanna of Hanna Barbera Productions (creator of Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, etc.) along with the inspirational Executive Director of UNICEF, James P. Grant, who challenged me to come up with an idea to work with Hanna Barbera. That’s when I dreamed up the idea of Meena, an empowered cartoon and comic book girl who cleverly fights against female discrimination in health, education, and social issues. Back in Bangladesh, I raised donor money and put together a team to do much research and create a series of entertaining educational stories that eventually became part of South Asian culture. The Meena Communication Initiative is still operating in some parts of the region after 30 years and is celebrated annually on September 24, “Meena Day.” Of all my projects, I believe this one had the greatest impact and longevity. Today, I get weekly YouTube messages from young women and men who were inspired by the Meena stories in their childhood years.   

WOW: That must be so inspiring. For those who have read your previous memoirs, what makes this one different? 

Neill: This memoir is the culmination of all my previous experiences. I was a restless mischievous child, always “on the go,” a rebellious youth who didn’t pay much attention to school, but I was changed with the help of mentors in senior high school. I was quite lost in university, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, but was influenced by two graduate students, one from Southern Rhodesia and one from Egypt. All these experiences led me to search for faraway greener fields and I ended up teaching high school in Borneo in 1968, where I “found myself,” and where I made my first film, which started me on an adventuresome international career I felt compelled to write about—My University of the World

WOW: How amazing is that! What are you working on now?

Neill: For the last year I have been reading about the history of New Mexico and the Southwest of U.S.: the first settlement by humans during the last Ice Age 15,000 to 20,000 years ago; the appearance of the Ancestral Puebloans and their great architectural creations such as Chaco Canyon, and with repeated droughts, the move by their descendants the Rio Grande Valley; the coming of the Navajo and Apache native groups between 900 and 1525 C.E. from what is now Northwest Canada and Alaska; the invasion of the Spanish in 1540 and eventual subjugation, and partial conversion of most native American tribes; the invasion by Anglos and U.S.’s Army of the West in 1846; the Civil War period and its aftermath, finally leading the statehood in 1912. I live in the 5th largest U.S. state with a small but diverse population, ethnically, where, in addition to English, Spanish and about 20 native American languages are spoken. Anglos only make up about 36 percent of the population. Hispanic and Latino are the largest group and I have met quite a few real characters with lots of stories. I am planning a book on exploring this diverse state with descriptions of the people I have met/will meet, blended with the history and descriptions of historical happenings/sites in this sunny land of mountains, deserts, forests, scrub lands, and oases like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I’m just in the formulation stage and don’t know the exact direction I will take. 

WOW: I can't wait to see what you publish next. Best of luck on your tour and the book!

My University of the World by Neill McKee Blog Tour

--- Blog Tour Calendar

January 8th @ The Muffin
Join us at The Muffin as we celebrate the launch of Neill's memoir My University of the World. Read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of his incredible memoir.

January 13th @ Michelle Cornish' blog
Visit Michelle's blog for Neill McKee's guest post about his rationale for self-publishing.

January 13th @ Hasty Book List
Visit Ashley's blog for an interview with memoirist Neill McKee.

January 15th @ World of My Imagination
Nicole shares her review of Neill McKee's memoir My University of the World.

January 18th @ Knotty Needle
Judy shares her thoughts about Neill McKee's My University of the World.

January 20th @ A Wonderful World of Books
Visit Joy's blog for her spotlight of Neill McKee's My University of the World.

January 23rd @ Sara Trimble's blog
Sara shares her thoughts about Neill McKee's memoir My University of the World

January 25th @ Pick a Good Book
Debbie shares her review of Neill McKee's My University of the World

January 27th @ Word Magic
Fiona shares a guest post by Neill McKee about his successful film and media creation.

January 30th @ Mother Daughter Book Club
Visit Cindy's blog for her review of Neill McKee's memoir My University of the World.

February 1st @ What is That Book About?
Visit Michelle's blog for her feature of My University of the World.

February 3rd @ Chit Chat With Charity
Visit Charity's blog for her review of My University of the World.

February 5th @ Choices
Visit Madeline's blog for a guest post by Neill McKee about the benefits of writing about your career and life story.

February 7th @ Sara Trimble's blog
Visit Sara's blog again for a guest post by Neill McKee about juggling a demanding creative career.

February 9th @ Free to be Me
Visit Leslie's blog for her thoughts about My University of the World by Neill McKee.

February 10th @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Visit Jill's blog for her review of My University of the World by Neill McKee.

February 11th @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Join Jill for her interview with Neill McKee about his latest memoir.

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

Enter to win a print copy of the memoir, My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film and Media Maker by Neill McKee. Fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win. The giveaway ends January 21st at 11:59 pm CT. We will draw a random winner the next day and announce in the Rafflecopter widget and also follow up via email. Good luck!

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