Friday Speak Out!: The Savvy Reader

Friday, June 14, 2024
by Megan Staffel

When I first started to write fiction, I was afraid to read. I didn’t want to pick up a published author’s style. We writers are good mimics and often, I would slide into the voice from whatever novel was my current book. But a life without reading fiction would have been dreary indeed, so luckily, I learned that the bits and pieces of other writers’ work sifting into my work would ultimately be transformed through the multiple revisions that anything I write goes through.

And when I started to teach, one of the things I enjoyed most about working with MFA students was discussing a literary work in class. Together, we would deconstruct a scene to figure out what made it compelling, and I would always learn from my students’ input. When I retired, it was that shared discovery that I most missed. So, now, on my own, when I finish a novel or story, I examine it as though I were preparing it for that class. This practice has turned into a Substack newsletter called, “Page and Story.” I give a brief description of the book or story to entice my readers, and then discuss an aspect of craft that the author does particularly well, showing how it shapes the narrative.

This close examination increases my enjoyment and I believe it helps me as a writer because it widens the possibilities. When I begin to write a new piece of fiction, do I want to start with a long shot as Dominic Smith does in Return to Valletto, situating the town within its landscape as the narrator approaches, or do I want to start with a close up, a view from a character’s interior as Margot Livesey does in the opening to The Road from Belhaven when Lizzie thinks about her visions? Or do I want to begin with a story that appears in a newspaper as in Clare Chambers novel, Small Pleasures? There are endless choices and from the fiction I’ve read I have a sense of how each choice affects the reader’s experience. Paying attention to the craft of a story I’m enjoying is reading like a writer and opening myself to methods that are different from the ones that may have become my default.

In my next posting I’ll discuss Held, a novel by Anne Michaels in which the narrative is episodic and fragmented and the story is not about characters in a particular time and place, but in multiple locations at different time periods. What unifies them is the theme of love. It’s a wholly original approach to narrative and the elasticity and suppleness Michaels gives it is exciting. Held has suggested new tools to consider as I work on my next piece of fiction, but even if I borrow something, my revision process will make it my own. What I’ve learned over these many years is that reading fiction while I’m writing fiction is necessary, helpful, and enriching.

* * *

photo credit Brian Oglesbee
Megan Staffel's new novel, THE CAUSATIVE FACTOR, won the Petrichor Prize at Regal House Publishing and will be published by Regal House in October 2024. She is the author of two recent collections of short fiction, THE EXIT COACH and LESSONS IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE (Four Way Books) and two novels, THE NOTEBOOK OF LOST THINGS (Soho Press) and SHE WANTED SOMETHING ELSE ( North Point Press) and a first collection of short stories, A LENGTH OF WIRE AND OTHER STORIES (Pym-Randall Press). Her short stories have appeared in numerous journals including the New England Review, Ploughshares, The Common, and others. Her stories have been shortlisted in Best American Short Stories and nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Megan taught in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College as well as at the University of Iowa, Kansas State University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Vermont College. She lives with ceramic artist Graham Marks and has two adult children. She splits her time between Brooklyn, New York and a farm in a small town in western New York State. 

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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The Role of an Unreliable Narrator

Thursday, June 13, 2024


I have a love-hate relationship with the unreliable narrator literary device. I love that a story told from the POV from an unreliable narrator can keep you turning pages, questioning reality, or maybe, gasping in surprise at the end of a book. (This was me recently, when my mouth dropped at the conclusion of Lisa Jewell’s suspense/thriller None of This is True, followed by me shaking a fist at my Kindle). 

An unreliable narrator is a protagonist who cannot be trusted to share events and recollections pertinent to the story accurately. Edgar Allan Poe used this device in the short story The Tell-Tale Heart, where a murderous narrator tries to defend his actions. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wanted to share the dangers of placating women and not believing their health issues in The Yellow Wallpaper, where the narrator has gone mad after being forced on prolonged bed rest for what was likely postpartum depression. 

I never realized it until I did a bit more research, but there can be at least three different types of unreliable narrators. According to this article on Reedsy, a Deliberately Unreliable narrator is completely aware of their deception. Amy Dunne from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl comes to mind with this one. One that is Evasively Unreliable is a character that unconsciously alters the truth. Josie from None of This is True, could fall into this category, along with Charlie from Riley Stager’s Survive the Night. The Naively Unreliable narrator is one that is honest but lacks a traditional, “greater” understanding (think five-year-old Jack in Rebecca Donoghue’s novel, Room.) 

I’ve been trying to figure out if I have an unreliable narrator in the manuscript I completed this past year as I put together comp titles for my query letter. The book is about a podcaster trying to solve the disappearance of her sister from a summer camp years earlier. The only descriptions of the missing sister, named Addie, are given through the lens of the protagonist, her younger sister Nikki, and through Addie’s diary entries that are shared throughout the book. Addie is hiding a dangerous secret, so many of these entries are purposefully ambiguous, until the very end of the book, where she finally decides to leave a record of the facts behind. (Of course, this diary has been missing for many years and only the readers are privy to the information until the conclusion). I can’t decide if this makes her a Naively Unreliable narrator or not. 

Other books with unreliable narrators include One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and The Murder of Roger Akroyd by Agatha Christie. 

What do you think about using an unreliable narrator as a literary device? What books have you read where you thought it worked well? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer currently seeking representation for her suspense/thriller novel, “It’s a Miracle I’m Alive.” She also produces the weekly true crime podcast, “Missing in the Carolinas,” which receives more than 50,000 downloads per year. Learn more at and
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Interview with Mira Fu-En Huang, 2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Winter 2024 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, June 11, 2024


Mira Fu-En Huang is a professional musician who likes to tell stories through singing as well as writing. When she is not dashing about for concerts or working her day-job in the nonprofit sector, Mira enjoys reading, writing, café-hopping, crafting, and collecting stuffed animals. She is currently working on a young adult coming-of-age novel (which may or may not ever see the light of day), and is honored to have her first publication under WoW. To learn more about Mira’s other work, please visit

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

WOW: Welcome, Mira, and congratulations on your win! The imagery in “That Place Beyond the Sky” is beautiful and evokes so much emotion. How did you get the idea for this story? 

Mira: I had no idea what I was going to write about until I read Hannah's bio [guest judge Hannah Andrade], which said she was "interested in stories that explore the intricacies of multicultural identities." I'm Taiwanese American, and as I typically engage in writing sci-fi and fantasy, I figured this could be a good incentive to write more explicitly about my identity. So, I thought about something uniquely Asian American from my childhood, and I ended up landing on my late grandfather. I would visit his grave as a child with my extended family, and all my relatives would line up to whisper prayers in Taiwanese, a language I didn't and still don't understand. I'd helplessly tell my mother that I didn't know what to say, and she'd reply, "Just tell him you hope he's happy in that place beyond the sky." So then I thought about the sky, and wishes, and the things we lose before we realize we've lost them, and I remembered that the floating lanterns you see in "Tangled" are actually from the Chinese and Taiwanese tradition. That's about it, really. 

WOW: As a professional vocalist, how did you first discover your love for the art form? 

Mira: Sheer exposure. I arbitrarily sang in choir as my childhood extracurricular, and after years and years of doing that multiple times a week, I stopped being able to imagine a world I could live in without singing. 

WOW: You have such an amazing array of talents. Along with your day job and performance schedule, how do you determine which projects to focus your interests on at any given time? 

Mira: For me, music—and to some degree my day job—are my life partners, while writing is my on-again-off-again love affair. I love singing and I love my day job, but I'm never so passionate that I lose sleep over them. Writing is more extreme for me; sometimes I'm unable to write properly for weeks, and sometimes I'm on such a roll, I find myself jotting down scenes during gigs or writing at 3 a.m. Because of that, whenever I'm compelled to write, I let it happen, and in those moments I push through all my other obligations with the help of a little luck and a lot of practice in time management. 

WOW: I love that description of writing being an on-and-off again love affair. Can you tell us a little about the young adult novel you’re working on? 

Mira: Broadly speaking, it's a character-driven story about identity, prejudice, and what it means to be "human." It takes place in a fictional world that's post-telephones, pre-Internet, but with some soft sci-fi elements thrown in. There are six major characters—a warrior princess, a child soldier, a teen idol and her bodyguard, an assassin with a bomb in his brain, and a girl who will die in thirty days—and they all cross paths as they get sucked into various aspects of a political coup. Needless to say, chaos ensues. I'd say I'm about a third of the way through the first major draft right now. 

WOW: Sounds like a compelling plot and I'm sending you positive writing vibes! How has your study of music inspired or influenced your writing? 

Mira: I think my background in music is most obvious in the mechanics of my prose, as well as the kind of content I gravitate toward when writing. As a singer specifically, I'm hugely concerned with how my prose sounds—I often select words according to their rhythms first, and meanings second. More importantly, though, I think my musical background inspires my interest in eliciting emotion. I love building worlds and characters, and I'm an absurdly meticulous and perhaps overly complex plotter, but ultimately, I'm most interested in writing in a way that is equivalent to getting chills after listening to a song. To me, the highest compliment is when someone says my work gives them "the feels," be that from music or from writing.

WOW: Mira, thank you again for joining us today and we look forward to reading more of your work!
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Reader Review Wrap Up and Giveaway for Karen Jones Gowen's We Burned Our Boats

Monday, June 10, 2024
Today I'm excited to host a reader review event for Karen Jones Gowen's We Burned Our Boats

We Burned Our Boats by Karen Jones Gowen

About the Book:

Bruce and Karen Gowen are facing a retirement that neither one wants. Bruce can't imagine life without employment. Karen wants change, adventure, a chance to spread her wings and fly away after thirty years of raising their large family.

Their opportunity comes in a way they can both support: helping their daughter and son-in-law with a hotel project in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Never ones to do anything half way, the Gowens sell everything, including one of their businesses. What they can't sell, they give away. With their worldly possessions down to two checked bags and two carry-ons each, they fly one way to Guatemala City. Then on to Panajachel, a tourist town on scenic Lake Atitlan, in the southern highlands of Guatemala.

Here they begin their new life, a time filled with incredible experiences, tough challenges, and unexpected adventure in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. A place where the Maya culture permeates the land. A land and people that will transform anyone fortunate enough to encounter the magic of these hills in Guatemala.

Publisher: ‎ WiDo Publishing (January 18, 2024)
Language: English
Paperback: 306 pages
ISBN-10: 1947966685
ISBN-13: 978-1947966680

We Burned Our Boats  is now available to purchase in print and as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop. Add it to your GoodReads reading listing as well.

We Burned Our Boats by Karen Jones Gowen Reader Review Event

Here's what WOW! readers thought:

Sara says: When starting this book I felt like I might struggle reading it. I’m new to reading for fun and have found thrillers keep my attention. Picking up this catchy title surprised me within the first couple chapters. I found myself dreaming of being in the writer’s shoes. I envy how she was able to let go of her possessions and start over. I’m in my mid 40s and have lived in a small town all my life. I cannot even imagine a different country. This book was amazing. I felt hope, promise, fear, hurt, struggle, love, and so many more emotions. Although I do not see myself ever taking a leap as Karen did, this past week of reading gave me such amazing adventure. I didn’t like setting my timer and quitting when it went off. By the second night I wanted to read to the end. 

If you are feeling stuck in your life, pick up this book. It was so energizing. So much adventure in so little time. Family always wins. Karen, I envy how Bruce saw the light. 

Joan says: This is a realistic account of leaving everything behind and traveling to a new country upon retirement. Their experiences were not always the wonderful adventures they had anticipated. Be ready to encounter some difficult family tension. (Read the full review here:

Linda says: I really, really enjoyed the adventures of Karen and Bruce in Guatemala. I loved Karen’s “warts & all” descriptions of life as an expat in a country that is so different from their life in the USA. The dynamics between Bruce, Karen and their son in law had me in hysterics at times, but I can understand how frustrating it must have been at the time. I think my favorite part was Karen’s first jaunt on the paddle boards with said son in law - although I admire Karen’s bravery for attempting paddle boarding in the first place. My friends do it down my local river …. I’m too much of a scaredy-cat! 😊 Being an avid traveler, for real and as an “armchair traveler”, it made a refreshing change to read about a country not on the main tourist track - maybe more popular with Americans but I am from the UK. I have been close to the Guatemala border, in Mexico, so I loved remembering my time there, whilst reading the Gowan’s adventures. The descriptions are such that I could almost smell the spices through the pages….all in all, an excellent travelogue/memoir. 😊 

Katherine says: I found the title of the book was mysterious and I wanted to know more. The synopsis made the book sound like it was full of exciting experiences. I was intrigued so and happy when I got an eARC. I've never been any area of Central, or South, America. I'm passionate about Hispanic culture and fluent in Spanish. 

We Burned Our Boats is told openly and honestly. It's immediately visual and immersive, and I felt as if Brain and Karen Gowan had invited me along for the journey. I really liked them and their family members. I was happy that they decided to put their family first and go on an adventure. 

We Burned Our Boats is truly a testament to what turned out to be an unforgettable experience and to Karen, Brian and their family and the people they met along the way. It shows what can happen if you take a chance to make a change. 

We Burned Our Boats is an excellently written memoir that I will not forget. 

5 stars but it deserves more. 

Melissa says: Many people - me included – fantasize about giving up everything we know and going on a mad adventure in another place. Most of us never do so, but Brian and Karen Gowan did, and their story is chronicled in We Burned Our Boats

Part adventure-travel memoir, part personal examination, part analysis of a marriage and a life, the Gowans' story has it all: love, fear, courageous acts, and international intrigue. Okay, maybe more like being intrigued by new customs and habits. It's an easy read, and very vividly related. Karen's writing makes you feel like you're with them on their journey. 

I've never really considered relocating to Guatemala (my fantasies typically involve Fez or Marrakech), but this book made me almost – almost – consider it. 

I recommend We Burned our Boats to anyone who loves memoirs or travel, or travel-memoirs. 

Goes well with tostados and Moza dark lager. 

Stephanie says: Karen and Bruce are facing retirement and made a drastic decision to move to Guatemala to help their daughter and son-in-law open a hotel in Panajachel. They 'burned their boats' and either donated or sold everything they owned and went all in on their new plan. There was no turning back. This book chronicles that story with such detail that I could see the termites, smell the tamales and hear the foreign sounds. Rather than a lofty memoir with messages of transformation and deep learning, it's a day-to-day account of what it was like to literally begin a new life together. I was struck by their adventurous spirits, their devotion to family, their love for one another and their attitude of living life to the fullest surrounded by what matters most. 

Crystal says: I absolutely loved the inspirational book We Burned Our Boats by Karen Jones Gowen. I was looking for a book that was well written and would provide inspiration and this read checked all the boxes for me. Take a risk, live your life, and keep looking forward – this was absolutely a 5 star book that I will tell my friends and family about!

About the Author Karen Jones Gowen


Born and raised in central Illinois, Karen Jones Gowen attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She transferred to Brigham Young University, where she met her husband Bruce, and there graduated with a degree in English and American Literature.

Karen and Bruce have lived in Utah, Illinois, California and Washington, currently residing in Panajachel, Guatemala. They are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Gowen's writing. She is the author of eight books.

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

Enter to win a copy of the memoir We Burned Our Boats by Karen Jones Gowen! Fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win. The giveaway ends June 23rd at 11:59 CT. We will choose a winner the next day and announce in the widget and also follow up via email. Good luck!

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Interview with Tess Kelly: Q2 2024 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up

Sunday, June 09, 2024
Tess Kelly

Tess’s Bio:

 Tess Kelly’s work has appeared in Cleaver, HerStry, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes and Sweet Lit, among other publications. Her essay, “Woman in the Covid Bubble” was the first place winner in the Women’s National Book Association 2021 writing contest, in the category of flash prose. A former public school teacher, Tess lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

----- Interview by Angela Mackintosh

WOW: Welcome, Tess! I'm thrilled to interview you today about your beautifully written, award-winning essay, "Facade." What was your initial spark or "way in" to writing this essay?

Tess: First of all, thank you for this opportunity!

There wasn't an initial spark for the writing—it was more like smoldering embers. I spent a long time struggling to leave someone who could no longer suppress her desire to transition. I had grappled with the dilemma for years so the story had plenty of time to percolate. It was just a matter of re-reading pertinent journal entries and clarifying my thoughts in essay form. It was the second piece I'd written on the topic. The first was "Last Week," about our last week together, but I wanted to dig deeper into what it meant to be involved with someone whose attempts to be true to herself ultimately drove us apart.

WOW: Oh wow, thank you for sharing "Last Week"! I love the daily format, and it's so great to see the different ways we can write about a topic. With "Facade," I also loved your structure and pacing, and I was moved by your honesty. You've written a well-balanced, complete story arc—with rising tension and a climax—in so few words. And your theming is tight—how it starts and ends with the image of your partner's face and how it had changed, which also emphasizes your title. How long did it take to write, and how did it change over time? Did you have to cut a lot?

Tess: Over the course of a year and a half I went through about a dozen rewrites. This was a piece that didn't change much over time. The content was mostly the same, I just played around with the language. I actually added a little volume to it, instead of cutting. That's not how it always works, but it did in this case.

WOW: It's nice when that happens! So I looked up your essay, "Woman in the Covid Bubble," which won first place in the Women’s National Book Association 2021 writing contest, flash category. It really captures what life was like during Covid, and the use of second person amplifies that feeling for the reader. Well done! The structure is sharp, too. I can tell you study CNF forms. Who are some of your favorite creative nonfiction writers?

Tess: There are so many inspiring essayists to learn from! A few that I especially like are Eula Biss, Poe Ballantine, Samantha Irby, Heather Sellers, Brian Doyle, and Jamaica Kincaid.

WOW: Great essayists! I'm a fan as well. You've had your work published in a lot of wonderful literary journals. Do you have any tips or resources you can share with our writers for targeting potential publications for your CNF?

Tess: If I read an essay that resonates with me or seems to be similar to my style of writing I'll see where else the writer's work has appeared and research those publications. I use Submittable as a means to see who's looking for CNF or flash submissions. If I've never heard of a publication I'll check it out and read at least a few pieces to see if it's a good enough fit. It's a numbers game, as far as I'm concerned. I know writers who are far more accomplished than me that only get about one in ten pieces published. There's a lot of competition, especially with the better-known journals, but it's important to consistently submit in order to get accepted occasionally.

WOW: Agreed! It's very competitive out there, but we've got to keep submitting. What's your favorite piece of writing advice?

Tess: I don't know if I have an all-time favorite. I just finished reading Stephen King On Writing and one of the things I found fascinating is that he said he puts his first drafts in a drawer and lets them sit for six months before looking at the writing again. Six months! Apparently it gives King a perspective he wouldn't have otherwise and gives him the ability to more easily cut what doesn't belong. I've never waited six months after a first draft but I do sometimes put a piece aside for a few weeks. It definitely helps to give me the detachment I need as an editor.

WOW: I actually read On Writing for the first time last year, and I remember that piece of advice. Six months is a long time! So what are you working on right now?

Tess: I've been working on an essay on getting older that explores my fear of death. Fun stuff!

WOW: Ha! Sounds incredible, and I hope to read it when it publishes. Thank you, Tess, for chatting with me! Congrats again on your placement in the contest and for writing an incredible essay. It's such a pleasure to read your writing. 

Find out more about WOW's quarterly flash contests here:

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Reader Review Wrap Up and Giveaway for Elizabeth Maria Naranjo's What Was Never There

Friday, June 07, 2024
What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Today, I'm thrilled to share a reader review event for Elizabeth Maria Naranjo's short story collection, What Was Never There.  

About the book:

A mother and daughter lost in the woods must overcome their worst fears to find their way back. A father going through a divorce witnesses a seemingly impossible motorcycle accident, which forces him to question the truth of his own perceptions. A little boy with a terrible secret routinely steals away at night to meet a girl beneath a willow tree—only to discover she has a secret of her own.

What Was Never There is a collection of short stories with the common theme of memory, or rather, the way memory haunts us.

Includes Pushcart Prize nominated stories “We Never Get to Talk Anymore” and “The Dinosaur Graveyard” and the award-winning “Windows,” selected for Best Microfiction 2023.

ISBN-13: 979-8866571697
Publisher: Independent (December 2023)
Length: 276 Pages

What Was Never There is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. Add it to your Goodreads list.

What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo Reader Review Event and Giveaway

Here is what WOW! readers had to say about What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo:

Rosh says: An indie short story collection with a mix of emotional and bittersweet tales. The writing is exceptional, but the endings could have worked better for me as many fail to provide resolution. A great option for those who are more about the journey than about the destination. (Read the full review here:

Katherine says: What Was Never There got me interested just from the title. The premise is gripping. I wanted to find out more. It sounded so mysterious. The first story was just perfect to start the book off and left me feeling warm, fuzzy and satisfied. I eagerly progressed through the book and enjoyed it so much. (Read the full review here: (

Beth says: I was pleasantly surprised to find variety in the collection and especially liked the varied lengths of the stories in this collection. The author has a beautiful talent for imagery and placing her reader in the scene. (I have a willow tree in my front yard and can attest to how magical it is to step under it!) (Read the full review here:

Angela says: What a captivating short story collection! I enjoyed the variety of stories in What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo. What ties them together is a cohesive style, which comes from Elizabeth’s sparkling prose, authentic characters, and atmospheric settings. Reading one is like having lived in a dream with all its vivid surrealism. I couldn’t stop thinking about these stories and their open endings, which are very much alive and breathing. (Read the full review here:

Leslie says: These stories are filled with wonder, too. There was really nothing off the table for this author. I really enjoyed how she wrote her stories to engage the reader (ok, me!), and this is an author that I wouldn’t mind reading more from in the future. (Read the full review here:

Lily says: A beautiful collection of short stories, many of which will tug at your heart strings. Each story is unique, and often deal with difficult themes. Memory and the past that shape us are complicated things, and change people differently. Naranjo did an amazing job of drawing you into each story, and while they vary in length, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with the characters in some. The stories that revolved around the memories of children were the most memorable for me, but each story sticks with you a bit after you finish. Overall, the short stories have a literary fiction vibe, but shorter than what you’d normally associate with that genre. Definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a collection of emotional short stories. (Read the full review here:

Andrea says: As a reader, I find it difficult to resist the allure of a well written short story, so when I came across Elizabeth Maria Naranjo’s collection in her book, What Was Never There, I was thrilled. In this collection, Ms. Naranjo brings to the forefront the things we fear, the things that cause us to worry, the things that make our blood simmer with dread, and has spun them into tales woven deeply with both imagination and realism. From the first story to the last I was captivated - instantly immersed in worlds and scenarios that left me satisfied yet curious. All the while contemplating the fact that it is not the trials we face, but how we deal with them that truly matters. What Was Never There is a collection of short stories worthy of reading, and one that I will surely turn to again and again. (Read the full review here:

Anthony says: Thoughtful, imaginative, and engaging author Elizabeth Maria Naranjo’s What Was Never There is a must-read short story collection. The fast pace and compelling storytelling instantly draw the reader in, and the emotional connection they make with each story will make them eager for more of this author's moving work. (Read the full review here:

Allie says: I am so happy that it was suggested that I read and review Elizabeth Maria Naranjo's book of short stories, What Was Never There. What a delight! Elizabeth has a way of writing that is lyrical and poetic. Each story was engaging and I was drawn in by her beautiful, descriptive words. While each story was different, her style remained consistent. I have read some reviews where the reader felt that the stories did not come to a clear conclusion. I, personally, like a story that allows the reader to think and, perhaps, come to their own conclusion. It is a good story, or book, when the reader is left thinking about what happened. I look forward to reading more from Elizabeth Maria Naranjo! (Read the full review here:

About the author, Elizabeth Maria Naranjo:

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the author of The Fourth Wall, The House on Linden Way, and What Was Never There. Her stories and essays have been widely published and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Essays, and Best of the Net, and her short story, “Windows,” was selected for Best Microfiction 2023. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband and two children.

Visit her website at
Twitter/X: @emarianaranjo

What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

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

Enter to win a copy of the short story collection, What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo! Fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win. The giveaway ends June 20th at 11:59 CT. We will choose a winner the next day and announce in the widget and also follow up via email. Good luck!

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Creating a People List

Thursday, June 06, 2024
How do you keep track of all your writing related info? I have books about intriguing topics. Newspaper and magazine articles stuffed into the idea file in my file cabinet. I’m also a list keeper. Lists of plotlines. Lists of topics for essays. Lists of agents. Lists of publishers. 

There used to be business cards too. But business cards have gone the way of the Rolodex and with them, the memory of many interesting people I meet. In the past few weeks I’ve touched base – either in real life or virtually -- with so many unusual people:

  1. A race car driver
  2. A writer who accidentally wrote a blog that became a novel --- in Sweden
  3. A woman trying to open her own home bakery
  4. A kitchen and bathroom designer
  5. A fireworks technician
  6. Several marathon runners
  7. A tween who started his own business
  8. Someone who attended a Taylor Swift concert in London.
  9. A volunteer in a program introducing middle and high school students to careers in the medical field
  10. A blueberry salesperson
All have fascinating stories to tell but none fit anything I’m working with right now. In the past I would promise myself to file these people away in my memory for later. When I had time to find the ideal market or angle. The problem is that later never seems to come. I get busy with this or that and eventually that fascinating person is just a vague wisp of a memory of something I should have jumped on but didn’t. Names, places, contact information fades away.

For years I’ve been telling myself I have a terrible memory. I promise myself I will remember these fascinating people and for a time I do. Then I forget. Turns out I don’t have a bad memory.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, forgetting isn’t a failure of your brain to work properly. Instead, it’s your brain working properly, weeding out what it determines is unimportant knowledge. That’s why you remember where you store the slow cooker but not the ant traps. You and your family rely on that slow cooker for some great stew every winter. You haven’t used an ant trap since the invasion of 2014 so although you know there are ant traps somewhere in the house, sometime in the past decade your brain did some sorting and tossed ant trap location information into the not needed pile. But now you need that info! So this sorting business is a little tricky.

One day the practical part of my brain (let’s call her Ms. Brain) is in the middle of the sorting process and realizes there are no articles about blueberries, fireworks or race cars in my immediate future. Obviously, she should jettison the blueberry salesperson, marathon runners and race car driver memories. Ms. Brain is certain she’s doing a good job kicking them to the curb. The difficulty occurs months later when the Writer decides to query a magazine with an article about dangerous jobs and can’t remember the name of that race car driver or fireworks technician! The Writer is frustrated with struggling to remember while I’m certain Ms. Brain is saying, “Seriously, you have never written anything about racing. You expected me to keep the racecar driver?”

Since Ms. Brain and The Writer can't agree, I’ve started a new list. The People List. Now, when I meet interesting people I immediately add them to my People List along with any details like how we met, their contact info, what makes them an interesting person. I’ve also found it’s a great way to encourage people to keep me apprised of updates in their story. “I don’t have any articles featuring fill-in-the-blank right now. However, you’re so fascinating I’d like to add you to my Interesting People List. Please let me know if you have any new developments.”

Now, when I come across a new writing market or need an idea for a story, instead of struggling to pull back discarded memories I have my handy People List to prompt me. I may have had no direction when I met these people but with time, sometimes an article idea begins to take shape. But it’s a lot easier if I remember people’s names!

How do you remember interesting people and facts that you may one day use in your writing?

Jodi M. Webb writes from her home in the Pennsylvania mountains. She is hoping to meet lots of interesting people this summer to add to her People List. She's also a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing and a freelance writer for anyone who will have her. Get to know her @jodiwebbwrites,  Facebook and blogging at Words by Webb.

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Interview with Leslie Fiering: Winter 2024 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Place Winner

Tuesday, June 04, 2024
At the age of five, Leslie Fiering promised herself she’d live in California someday. At fifteen, she was horse crazy and wanted to live on a horse farm someday. At twenty, she got to California but didn't have a horse farm yet. Now, at the age of seventy-three, she has spent the past twenty-three years owning and happily living on a horse farm overlooking the California coast.

In the interim, she worked for a technology think tank writing about personal computing and mobile computing trends as well as their impact on work, play and business. Recent retirement has given her the luxury of spending more time on her farm as well as following her passion for writing both memoir and fiction. Her essay, “On the Road to Being” was recently published in the anthology, The Gift of a Long Life: Personal Essays on the Aging Experience (The Birren Center, March 2024).

interview by Marcia Peterson 

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Winter 2024 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to write your story, "House Specials at the Castaway Grill?” Hope it wasn’t based on your own dating experience!

Leslie: The story started as an exercise in using a hermit crab structure. Like a real life hermit crab, this type of story grows inside an existing structure, maybe a list, an itinerary or a series of social media posts. I chose the courses from a restaurant menu.

Somehow the pre-existing structure made it easy to abandon my usual top-down, plotter approach. I had fun seeing what came up from imagining the most tantalizing course options and then inventing the most outrageous situations to prevent eating any of them. The story just rolled along from there. And yes, it’s totally fiction, except for the parts that aren’t.

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

Leslie: Remember that flash fiction’s limited word count won’t let you write War and Peace. Rather than coming up with a big idea and then trying to squish it into the flash fiction format, think small. Imagine a single situation, or a single person, or a single object or place, and try to work out what led to it or where things will go from there. Let the story unfold from that premise, but don’t tell us everything you know. As you introduce people, places or important objects, use a poet’s mind to distill their essence in a few telling details, especially details that you can reuse through the story with increasing intensity.

Over time, you’ll develop a feel for how much real estate flash fiction gives you, how much you can fit in. Surprisingly, as you get more comfortable with the format, you’ll find you can fit more details, more themes, more drama into the limited word count.

Writing flash fiction is a skill you can learn. Be patient. Persist.

WOW:  Since your story had a lot of delicious food and beverage references, what’s your favorite writing snack or drink?

Leslie:  Hot tea and dark chocolate.

WOW:  What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Leslie: The most recent read was H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. While I’m an omnivorous reader, anything from 19th century novels to books on science, history and culture, to contemporary fiction and even YA novels, hard science fiction remains a life-long favorite.

Steam punk is a science fiction sub-genre that Wikipedia tells us “ incorporates retrofuturistic 
technology and aesthetics.” It’s often set in the Victoria era using existing steam-based technology to power analogs for our more modern gadgets. In other words, this style of writing brings its own 20th and 21st century assumptions back in time with it.

Published in 1898, War of the World reverses the trope by relying on contemporary Victorian political, social and technology norms. Taking place in rural England, one is struck by the limits in transportation.

People are fighting each other to acquire horses as the chief means of fleeing the alien invaders. More importantly, communication is limited.

Telephones, even household electrification, are scarce outside the major cities, leaving couriers, post service or word of mouth as the main ways to spread news. Someone living only two towns away might be totally ignorant of catastrophic events less than 20 miles down the road.

From a writer’s perspective, I was taken by the crispness and efficiency of Wells’ language. He quickly sets time and place then builds the level of uncertainty by revealing seemingly impossible and conflicting details. As readers, we learn what is happening at the same time as the characters themselves, following them to the very nadir of hopelessness and despair.

Wells’ understanding of how people in crowds and as individuals react in the face of emergency wouldn’t seem out of place today.

Overall, the work hangs suspended between the romanticism of 19th century novels and the modernism that would soon characterize early 20th century literature. Now, more than a century and a quarter after publication, it’s still a great read!

WOW:  Great recommendation and explanation! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Leslie. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Leslie:  Anne Lamott famously said that no one has to read your first draft. The most important thing is to sit down and write. Get everything out without worrying whether it’s good or bad. You can always go back and revise or even start all over. The important thing is to show up and keep writing.

Of course, that’s also the hard part.

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Queering the American Dream by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, June 03, 2024
Queering the American Dream by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber

We're excited to announce a blog tour with author  Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber's book Queering the American Dream. This book is perfect for readers interested in subverting the status quo. Join us as we interview the author about her book and give you a chance to win a copy for yourself.

But first, here's more about the book:

Beginning the day the Supreme Court ruled her marriage legal, Angela Yarber’s queer little family traversed the American landscape for two years in a camper named Freya, following in the footsteps of revolutionary women from history and myth. Amid her wanderings, this queer clergywoman grapples with the loss of faith, addiction, death, parenting, and what it means to reimagine the so-called dream promised to so many. With unapologetic grief, humor, and radical imagination, she creates a new dream, not just for herself, but for all marginalized people living in America.

Publisher: Parson's Porch
ISBN-10: 195558141X
ISBN-13: 978-1955581417
Print Length: 188 pages

Purchase a copy of the book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also add it to your list on Goodreads.

About the Author, Angela Yarber

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber is an award-winning author of eight books and a highly sought public speaker. She is the Founder of Tehom Center Publishing, an imprint publishing feminist and queer authors, with a commitment to elevate BIPOC writers. With a Ph.D. in Art and Religion and over a decade serving as a Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, five of her books were listed in QSpirit’s Top LGBTQ Religion Books. Her work has been featured in Forbes, HuffPo, Ms. Magazine, Tiny House Nation, and more.

You can find her online at:

Author website:
Tehom Center Publishing:

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Congratulations on Queering the American Dream! What led you to write this memoir?

Angela: Queering the American Dream began the day the Supreme Court ruled my marriage legal, my queer little family traversing the American landscape for two years in a camper named Freya, following in the footsteps of revolutionary women from history and myth. Amid our wanderings, I grappled with the loss of faith, addiction, death, and what it means to reimagine the so-called dream promised to so many. With unapologetic grief, humor, and radical imagination, I created a new dream, not just for myself, but for all marginalized people living in America.

Particularly since Covid, more and more people are realizing that the so-called American dream is inaccessible for far too many people. I believe we have the capacity to subvert this dream and to reimagine a world that centers the perspectives of those on the margins. I wanted to write a memoir that didn’t simply tell my story, but the stories of those revolutionary women who paved the way; in so doing, I hope that readers have access to reimagining their own dreams.

WOW: I love how you wove in stories of historical revolutionary women in your memoir. I'm curious, what was your revision process like?

Angela: I had a virtually complete manuscript when I realized that something was missing. It started as just the story of my queer little family quitting our toxic jobs, selling our home, and travelling full-time for nearly two years, but that felt too myopic. Our full-time travels weren’t the result of us alone. Rather, there were revolutionary women who inspired the travels and paved the way for us. Since my career has always involved teaching about revolutionary women from history and myth, and my art show of icons depicting many of these women accompanied us on our travels, I decided to weave their stories into each section of our travels.

That revision and incorporation actually came quite naturally because the lives, legends, and legacies of these women are so deeply ingrained in my mind and heart. Of course I’d write about Pauli Murray while in the southeast. Of course Gloria Anzaldúa would inform our time in Texas. Pele was naturally present while we explored Hawai’i Island. They were there with us all along, so writing them into the story was like writing about another part of myself. Once I wove their narratives into the manuscript, it finally felt whole.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a tremendous word of gratitude to my wife, Elizabeth, and my dear friend Karishma during the revision process. Karishma let me do a writing retreat in her ohia log cabin by Volcano National Park so I could finish my revisions, and my wife cared for both our special needs foster children while I was away writing. Without them, those revisions wouldn’t have been possible.

WOW: What an experience you had, and I'm so glad that you shared that in your writing! You have received so many positive reviews since the launch of your book. Why do you think this speaks to people so much?

Angela: Thank you. I think that people are fed up! We’ve been constantly told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps by a country that has stolen our boots. And that’s not ok.

For too long those of us dwelling at the margins—namely women, queer, and BIPOC folx—have thought that we need to work harder or ramp up our self-care routine in order to survive. And then we beat ourselves up when we still feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and underpaid. My book is a reminder that the systems are rigged against us, but that we have the capacity, together, to dismantle and reimagine them.

Plus, I think a lot of readers are keen on good “armchair travel” where we get to wonder and wander alongside the writer. It’s a mode of escape, but more than that, I hope it evokes the artistic ruminations of bell hooks who claims, “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is, it’s to imagine what’s possible.” I think Queering the American Dream speaks to people because it both tells it like it is and it imagines what’s possible.

WOW: I think so too! You are already such an incredibly successful author! What's different about this book for you?

Angela: Well, that's an incredibly generous thing to say! Queering the American Dream was my first trade publication. Six of my previous books are academic books published with four different academic publishers, and one is a coloring book. So, writing my first trade publication felt like a bit of a risk. I didn’t know if my writing could appeal to commercial audiences, but my academic writing always felt forced, as though I was trying to prove my worth. Plus, on the whole, academic books simply don’t have as large an audience as trade books, and I really wanted my book to be accessible to more people.

WOW: Interesting point! I see that you coach authors! How does doing this help you in your own journey?

Angela: I do! And I love it. Through my publishing company, Tehom Center Publishing, we not only publish authors at no cost, but we also offer equitable 1:1 and group coaching programs empowering authors in 1) book writing, 2) book marketing, and 3) authorpreneurship.

I’ve been so delighted at how much coaching other marginalized authors actually informs my own writing journey. I’d say it does so in three primary ways: vulnerability, creativity, and accountability.

Doing what I ask my authors to do helps me recognize the vulnerability required in writing, publishing, and marketing a book. When I ask them to brainstorm a list of 50 people they can invite to be on their launch team, for example, I do the same thing and I feel how vulnerable it is to make that list…and even more to send the invitation!

I consider my coaching incredibly creative, but it always blows me away when my clients share their own creativity with me. For example, I offer a long list of creative methods for writing that engage all the senses. My authors vulnerably try these methods and then share their own methods with me. I recall one of my authors telling me the best way to engage the senses while writing is to strip down naked and write in bed to truly feel the raw vulnerability required of memoir writing. Whew! What a transformative method that I never would have thought of!

Finally, the accountability of coaching writers is paramount. All my authors, clients, and monthly subscribers are part of a private Facebook Group where I post daily accountability and writing prompts. When they share their weekly word count, so do I. When they celebrate a writing win, I join them. That daily, weekly, and monthly accountability holds both client and coach accountable.

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

Angela: I’m currently working on two future projects. I feel incredibly vulnerable naming the first one, but since you’re 95% more likely to achieve a goal when you write it down and share with someone, why not up the ante and share it with everyone at WoW!? I’m hoping to transform Queering the American Dream into a screenplay and find film representation. And my dream is for the entire production team and crew to be women and nonbinary folx with at least half being BIPOC.

Part of me feels absolutely ridiculous even sharing that, but I encourage my clients and authors to dream big, so I should, too, right?

The second writing project is another travel memoir tentatively titled Traveling Free. I’m toying with the spiritual freedom and liberation pilgrimage offers, while simultaneously sharing stories of how I literally traveled for free. Throughout my 20s I flew on free standby passes thanks to having a flight attendant in the family. In my 30s, my vocation and work exchanges fueled free pilgrimages all over the world. And in my 40s I became involved in Home Exchange, swapping houses around the globe to travel with my family for free lodging (like the 2006 movie The Holiday). More than mere budget travel, I hope to examine privilege, oppression, and the spiritual freedom that comes with intentional pilgrimage.

WOW: I can't wait to see what you come out with next! Best of luck to you!

Queering the American Dream by Angela Yarber Blog Tour

--- Blog Tour Calendar

June 3rd @ The Muffin
Join us at WOW's blog The Muffin as we celebrate the launch of Dr. Angela Yarber's memoir Queering the American Dream. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book.

June 5th @ Speaking of Spirit
Visit Linda's blog for her review of Queering the American Dream. You can also win a copy of the book!

June 7th @ One Writer's Journey
Visit Sue's blog for a review of Queering the American Dream.

June 10th @ Choices
Visit Madeline's blog for a guest post by Dr. Angela Yarber about how publishing a book can transform your business and life.

June 12th @ Speaking of Spirit
Join Linda for a guest post by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber about the importance of publishing marginalized authors.

June 14th @ One Writer's Journey
Visit Sue's blog again for an interview with author Dr. Angela Yarber about her memoir.

June 15th @ Boots, Shoes, and Fashion
Visit Linda's blog for an in-depth interview with Dr. Angela Yarber. 

June 18th @ Writer Advice
Visit B. Lynn Goodwin's site for a helpful guest post from Dr. Angela Yarber on the importance of mental health care in launching a book.

June 21st @ The Faerie Review
Visit Lily's blog for a review of Queering the American Dream.

June 23rd @ A Wonderful World of Words
Visit Joy's blog for a spotlight of Queering the American Dream. You can also win a copy of the book!

June 25th @ Editor 911
Visit Margo's blog for her review of Queering the American Dream.

June 28th @ Author Anthony Avina's blog
Visit Anthony's blog for his review of  Queering the American Dream.

July 2nd @ Author Anthony Avina's blog
Join Anthony for a guest post by Dr. Angela Yarber about LGBTQIA+ Pride and publishing.

July 3rd @ Michelle Cornish' blog
Visit Michelle's blog for an interview with Dr. Angela Yarber about her memoir.

July 6th @ Coffee & Ink
You can visit Jan's blog for her review of Queering the American Dream. Plus read a guest post by Dr. Angela Yarber about disenfranchised grief, particularly as it pertains to losing someone to addiction.

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

Enter to win a copy of Queering the American Dream by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber! Fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win. The giveaway ends June 16th at 11:59 pm CT. We will choose a winner the next day and announce in the Rafflecopter widget and follow up via email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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