The Trailblazer Who Mentored Me

Thursday, March 30, 2023

 





In college, her news writing lab was the one that induced the most anxiety my sophomore year. We sat in front of our computers, a handout of a press release sitting on our desks, along with a copy of the AP Style Book. Our professor was tall, and imposing, with short brown hair and stern eyes to match, often dressed in a long denim skirt or blouse and slacks. 

She started her timer. In a very short amount of time, our task was to crank out a news brief using the limited information found in the press release. 

“No weasel words!” she would say. “And don’t use the word ‘is.’ Avoid the use of passive voice at all costs.” 

Did I mention we lost a letter grade for each AP Style mistake we made? No, well, that only added to the stress. Our armpits began sweating, to match our quickened pulses and dry mouths. We tried not to look up at the clock as we typed, read, deleted, and repeated the process all over again. You could hear classmates muttering curse words under our breath. 

I survived the class. Did well in it. And one day the professor pulled me aside and told me she thought I had the makings of a great copy editor. “Go to the campus newspaper office,” she said. “They need a copy editor for this semester. You’ll have to take an editing test.” 

She thought I, a lowly sophomore, had the chops to be the copy editor for the entire newspaper? I didn't know whether or not to be flattered or terrified. The editors I met with were kind, but I didn’t get the job. And I decided I liked the process of investigative reporting, interviewing, and writing much more than proofreading for typos and style errors. I went on to become an entertainment editor and then a news editor my senior year. I went back to that professor, who was also my advisor in the mass communication department, and took her class “19th Century Newspaper Women,” which I loved. And I learned she and her ex-husband had won a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service in 1979 for their work uncovering abuses in drug rehabilitation center Synanon in California in the Point Reyes Light

Dr. Catherine Mitchell was stern with me when she needed to be and kind when I struggled. I couldn't help but be intimidated by her--she had received her master's degree at Stanford University and I was a poor girl from the North Carolina mountains. She once asked me why my SAT scores weren’t higher. “I’m not good at math,” I told her simply. She encouraged me to apply for a scholarship for Hispanic journalists, but I told her I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because I wasn't bilingual. 

This professor supported me when I needed to seek mental health counseling during the spring of my sophomore year. She was a trailblazer in the industry, and the mentor I tell people time and again when they ask how I became a writer. I don’t know where she is now, or if she is still living, but I hope wherever she is, Dr. Catherine Mitchell knows how much she always instilled in me the values of hard work, perseverance, and courage in journalism. She made history. Maybe one day I will, too. 

Did you have any mentors who inspired you a a writer? I'd love to hear about them!

 Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and host/creator of the podcast Missing in the Carolinas.
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Creating Characters: Make 'Em Memorable

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

By far, my most favorite part of the writing process is creating characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a novel or flash fiction, I can sit all day—and often do!—coming up with dialogue, background info, and surprising-even-me details. Because good characters can make or break your story!

Consider common editorial critiques (of the not-so-good kind): 

*Voice lacks 
*Flat characters 
*Sagging plots 
*Poor marketability 

A compelling cast of characters can fix all those problems. Maybe not quite so easily with a sagging plot, but even with plot, characters can come to the rescue. Following their lead can take a writer out of the messy middle and into an enviable ending. 

So how does one go about developing these awesome characters? Most often, we write what we know. Which brings me to a conversation I had recently with a friend who’s read my mystery. 

SHE: “So do you think Brunhilda (not her real name) will recognize herself in your novel?”

ME: “Ha!” 

Not that Brunhilda isn't a very clever gal but here's the thing when it comes to my character-building: Though there may be similar characteristics to someone I know, my characters are an amalgam of many friends, acquaintances, and family members, mixed in with my own attributes. So there may be something of Brunhilda in several characters, in both males and females, in teens and seniors. For me, creating a character is a sort of stroll down the Character Buffet Line, picking first this trait, then layering with this quirk, and possibly sprinkling with this accent. 

A word of caution, though. Choosing personality characteristics willy-nilly without thought as to why you’re developing a character in a certain direction will give you cardboard folks that won’t stand up through the story. Plus, it’s a bit lazy. 

Take the Southern character, for example. Throwing in a “y’all” every once in a while does not a Southerner make. Conversely, peppering every bit of dialogue with some kind of colorful Southern expression can get awfully tiring to the reader. And real Southerners don’t talk like that. 

Strive for authenticity. That’s why you look to people you know, how they talk, how they behave. But make the character your own. You want relatability; you don’t want to be sued (Or hurt anyone’s feelings). 

Next, consider using “like” experiences to give a character depth, especially if a character’s out of your wheelhouse. 

My novel has an ensemble of Southern ladies and as I know a lot of Southern ladies, developing each character, making them unique, was a lot of fun—and personal. There’s something of me in each character, even the Preacher’s Wife. 

Now, I am far from a preacher’s wife; I do know a preacher’s wife and that was helpful up to a point. But more helpful was my own experience as the Dean’s Daughter. 

Many years ago, I moved to a small Southern town with a college where my father was the academic dean. And yep, I was a student there. Like a preacher’s wife, I lived in a fishbowl. It was a completely different experience for me and it left a lasting impression, one I drew on to write the preacher’s wife.

So take the time to create authentic, interesting, compelling characters worthy of your story. After all, readers long remember the likes of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. But all the thousands of details in between? They just might be gone with the wind!


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Interview with Susan Moffson, 2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Fall 2022 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

 


Susan Moffson has been working in the field of international development for nearly 25 years, some of that time spent living and working in Africa. For the past 12 years, she has worked for the non-governmental organization, Jhpiego, the leading partner in a consortium implementing the global health project, Momentum Country and Global Leadership. She has written several work-related blogs about the positive impact Jhpiego-led programs have had on many women and children and has realized she is a journalist at heart. Susan loves to write fiction, pulling from her time abroad, to capture the incredibly rich and varied cultures she has been fortunate to experience. 

Read Susan's winning story here and then return for an interview with the author. 

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

WOW: Congratulations, Susan, and welcome! How did you work in the field of international development inspire your story, The Healing Power of Crystals?” 

Susan: We lived in Madagascar and this story was inspired by true events there where the expatriate women would attend jewelry parties. It wasn't until after attending some of these jewelry parties that I realized from my husband's colleague that children mine some of the stones, and that the mines aren't safe. I was completely shocked and ashamed and felt for a long time that this was a story that had to be told. Of course, many people aren't aware about the unsafe mines and buy jewelry not knowing where the stones come from. Sadly, this applies to many countries and many products, not just stones. A lot has been in the news lately about the dangerous mining conditions in Democratic Republic of Congo for minerals like cobalt, used in cell phones and electric cars. 

WOW: Thank you for bringing awareness to this important topic! What is your favorite line from this story and why? 

Susan: I think the last line, "Fanja's still working in the pit, supporting herself and Mama after the mines destroyed Papa’s lungs with their fine red dust." I wanted to show how people in developing countries, as smart or savvy as they may be - like the main character, Fanja - often have so many barriers to overcoming poverty and improving their lives. I also wanted to write the typical flash surprise ending, in this case showing that Fanja's papa was sicker than was known all along and that as a result, Fanja couldn't get away from mining like she had hoped.

WOW: Could you share some of your favorite memories of your visits to the continent of Africa. 

Susan: Absolutely loved our time in Africa! We hope to go back someday and live there after our youngest is out of high school. I think our time in Uganda in many ways was the most special because we were there the longest and got the most integrated into the culture, in terms of friendships and comfort with the community and surroundings. You certainly can't beat the weather there, since it lies on the equator and the temperature generally ranges from about 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. We enjoyed bird watching from our patio and often saw Monkeys swing from trees in the trees just outside our gate! 

WOW: When did you first discover your love of storytelling? 

Susan: Really not until a training for work on how to write success stories 12 years ago in Madagascar. Our project donor, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) put it on for all their grantees and I realized how much I loved writing the stories about how the lives of beneficiaries' - usually pregnant women and newborns- were improved from the work we were doing. Eventually I branched out into flash fiction. 

WOW: It's never too late to try new things, right? What do you think the is the most important aspect to consider when working on a shorter piece of fiction such as this one? 

Susan: Finding ways to pack a lot of detail into sentences without being wordy- I've gotten so much more concise in my flash and also in my writing for work. 

WOW: Susan, thank you again for these great responses and for sharing your memories from your time in Africa. We hope to read more of your work soon!




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Interview With Christine Wolf, Host of Write to Heal Retreat

Monday, March 27, 2023

Today I had the opportunity to interview Christine Wolf, host of the Write to Heal Retreat. From May 9 - May 13, writers will congregate at the Civana Wellness Resort & Spa in Carefree, Arizona. It's a time to embrace self-care and reframe difficult memories through expressive writing.

Christine is a memoir coach and CEO of Writers' Haven LLC, a workspace for women writers. She is an award-winning freelance columnist with Tribune Media's ChicagoNow and a former opinion columnist with the Chicago Tribune. She also won a Moth StorySLAM in June of 2022.

I'm so excited to talk with her about this amazing writing retreat. Register now! Registration closes on April 7, 2023, so don't hesitate. 

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Thank you for chatting with me today about the Write to Heal Retreat! What inspired you to start this writing retreat, and what led you to hold it in Carefree, Arizona?

Christine: I've been hosting local writers' retreats near my home in Chicago for about 10 years. I'm always grateful to be in the company of other women writers, working independently while still being together, then gathering around a table at the end of the day to share insights and laughter, and even a few tears. There's nothing like connecting with writers during a retreat about our work-in-progress. I'm always so rejuvenated after the extended conversations and opportunities to exchange sincere feedback while exploring new perspectives and building new friendships. 

Unfortunately, when Covid hit, my in-person retreats ended. 

In 2021, as the pandemic world began to "reopen" I was nervously optimistic about reconnecting with the world. After such a confusing and uncertain time in history, my heart was pretty raw and tender, and I dreamed of ways to practice some serious self-care, like going somewhere sunny and getting some writing done. I'd never done anything like this for myself, so I felt guilty as hell for even considering it. Even though I was fifty-two and owned my own business and had a little bit of savings, I kept trying to justify my decision to take a trip that was "just for me." But, after a ton of research, I found a spot in Arizona that seemed almost too-good-to-be-true. It looked special—but, like, affordable-special. So, I took a huge leap of faith and booked myself a 3-day trip over Mother's Day weekend. 

It was exactly what I needed: Sunny and easy to get to, lots of beautiful, comfortable spaces in which to write. The best part: I got to pick a couple of wellness classes every day at no additional charge. So, I tried things I'd never experienced before, like sound baths, aqua therapy circuits, Yoga Nidra, intention ceremonies, and walking through a nature labyrinth. 

Overlooking the sunset during dinner one night, I noticed a table of women gathered nearby, many of them kind of leaning in, sharing a conversation that seemed... really sacred. And I thought, That's the kind of conversation I have with other writers when we're talking about our perspectives on life.

I was reminded how fortunate I am to be a writer, always observing life and documenting what I see and feel. I thought about how much I love interacting with writers — even when we're working independently, even when we're not talking about craft. With writers, it seems, I'm often my freest, most vulnerable and open self. We seem to view and reflect on the world in a unique and sacred way. And so, as I sat there, watching these women, I thought: If I, as writer, find this place magical, maybe other writers would feel the same?

The next year, I went back to Civana for another solo getaway, during which time I wrote and rested and hiked nearby. While at Civana, I worked with their staff on some initial ideas for a retreat, talking through what a program might look like. On my flight back to Chicago, I started planning the 2023 Write To Heal Retreat in earnest.

Write to Heal Retreat

WOW: What an amazing journey! What can writers expect by joining your retreat?

Christine: The 5-Day retreat goes from Tuesday, May 9 through Saturday, May 13 — plenty of time to get home for Mother's Day (or just extend your stay). 

From the start, we'll focus on the transformative impact expressive writing can make. We'll challenge ourselves to spend short periods of time (20 minutes max/day) writing about difficult memories and moving them from our heads to the page. All this happens in a warm and nurturing environment with the support of our team of writers and wellness professionals who offer their invaluable skills and compassion as we use writing to process and heal. You'll get to choose 2 wellness experiences every day from a selection of 100+ weekly options, including yoga, meditation, sound baths, aqua therapy circuits, and more. We'll have three group dinners and, to give you as much flexibility as possible, you'll receive a $300 food & beverage credit to use for any non-scheduled meal-times. There's also a world-class spa on site if you'd like to pamper yourself. Guests also receive a lovely welcome bag, including a small, personal journal, hand-crafted just for them. 

Day 1: TUESDAY
After check-in, we'll gather for a brief welcome reception. Then, everyone's welcome to do their own thing for dinner. Head out to downtown Carefree or nearby Cave Creek, or stay at Civana and join me for a meal. 

Days 2-4: WEDNESDAY/THURSDAY/FRIDAY
The heart of your Write to Heal Retreat includes...

...Workshops

Optional workshops from 10:30-11:30 and 3:30-4:30, exploring topics like the Science of Expressive Writing (and how it improves physical, emotional, and interpersonal health), Mandala Meditation, Trauma-sensitive Care, Journeys of PTSD and Post-traumatic Growth, and Building Your Resiliency Toolkit.

...Wellness
Choose 2 wellness experiences/day from a weekly schedule of more than 100+ options. 

...Nourishment
Breakfast & Lunch: On your own; use your $300 retreat food & beverage credit as you wish.
Dinner: Gather as a group for a wonderful, nutritious meal. 

Day 5: SATURDAY
Enjoy 2 final wellness experiences before heading home restored and rejuvenated.
 
WOW: That sounds like an amazing experience! Why is it so important to the creative process to get away from it all and clear your mind?

Christine: It's no secret that, as women, we regularly put others' needs before our own. So, we often tend to lose our voice and our sense of self without even realizing it...until we show up irritable, resentful, tearful, or worse. But, just imagine turning off your racing mind and letting the sun wash over you. Imagine letting yourself get lost in thought, restoring and tending to your long-lost or blocked creative connections. When you give yourself some space that's just for you—free of guilt or justification that you deserve it—you leave empowered, restored, and more ready to navigate life.

WOW: I completely agree! Why is self-care so important for handling (and reframing) difficult memories that come up during the writing process?

Christine: Every one of us experiences difficult times, albeit some more difficult than others. It takes time to process those experiences, and when we do, writing is such an excellent tool to use. Make no mistake: writing about difficult memories isn't easy, but doing it in an environment designed specifically for self-care (and with a team that gets it) can help. 

Humans can be such introspective creatures. Sometimes, we're not even aware of how much we notice, hold, and even unconsciously carry every day.  Layer in some difficult memories, and we risk burnout and breaking points, where we just hit a wall or can't hold another thing in our hearts. And, when our overburdened hearts run out of room (or energy) to deal with the rest of life (including so much GOOD and BEAUTY), that's when self-care really offers an opportunity for release and transformation.

Think about it. Memories and emotions are held in our bodies, and when they're heavy, we feel heavy, especially when we have to work to keep things inside (or secret). When we give ourselves time to write about some of the toughest stuff, we often surprise ourselves. Though we assume it'll be nothing but agony and reliving pain, what tends to happen with expressive writing is that the act of writing things out isn't as horrifying as we think it'll be, especially if we give ourselves a short burst of time (20 minutes or less) to do it. We take those awful memories and put them into words that we can look at, delete, rip up, put away, or reorder in ways that make us feel more empowered and less flooded with overwhelm. 

WOW: Those are such great insights. Getting in touch wit the emotions of those experiences is so freeing. You have such amazing successes under your belt. How has self-care and prioritizing your own healing aided in these successes?

Christine: Oh my gosh, that's so nice of you to say, and it's easy (and almost instinctive) for me to want to downplay the success and focus on all my challenges and missteps. But, self-care has really taught me how to say thank you—and to mean it. 

Yep, I've had plenty of challenges that led to my anxious, hypervigilant response to life, and self-care taught me how to acknowledge them while keeping them in perspective, and to accept my experiences (even the toughest ones) with gratitude rather than frustration or a sense of victimhood. 

For years, I never took the time to let myself really FEEL my feelings. I constantly kept myself "busy" and didn't know how to say no (to people, to work, to requests for help). My personal operating mode had one setting: REACTION. But then, when it dawned on me that my reactive stance was draining me and rooted in fear ("If I don't say yes, that person will think less of me..." "If I don't work harder, I'll lose my edge..." "If I turn down that invitation, I'll never be invited again..."), I asked myself what the alternative was, like, "Can I make decisions from a place other than fear?" 

Once I realized I could, then I wanted to know HOW. The answer began with learning to value and love myself. 

But how do we do that?

I felt grief and regret realizing that I'd spent so long prioritizing everything outside of me so that I could ignore my deepest feelings. And, I knew that a change in my behavior would surely have an impact on others. That really scared me. I worried how others would react, and that they'd see me as selfish. How ironic that, in my quest to find my own voice, I wrestled with guilt and worry about those who I might make feel uncomfortable by using it. It was a bit crazymaking...and I knew I had to break the cycle. I knew I had to make myself a priority before I could be my best, most decisive, and confident self. 

When I accepted a weeklong writing residency, it felt like a treat...like walking through an unfamiliar door that I wasn't supposed to know about. I loved the freedom and the sense of agency I had to work on my craft and spend time in the company of other writers, but I also experienced some discomfort when my loved ones struggled with my time away and my decision to take time for myself. I felt pulled...hard...between two worlds. I questioned if I'd made the right choice. I didn't realize then that it was EXACTLY what I needed to do for everyone involved.

That first time away was less about self-care and more about making myself a priority. With that experience under my belt, I looked for more opportunities to carve out time for my own interests and needs. It felt kind of like cleaning out a messy old basement. I had to start with one section and build up my tolerance to tackle more. And then, once I got rolling, the benefits of my actions became more and more obvious. This time to myself wasn't frivolity. It wasn't being selfish. My intention wasn't to run from others or abandon them (though at times, others—and even my own mind—tried to convince me I was). This was making my needs a priority and clearing space for all the GOOD in my life. 

When I took myself on that first trip to Civana in 2021, I sat in yoga classes, meditation sessions, and sound baths and let my mind wander to some memories and moments of struggle and pain. It wasn't easy, AND YET, instead of feeling upset, I felt relieved. I can't tell you how many tears I shed, filled with GRATITUDE and self-compassion for having survived those experiences. 

Rather than keeping those painful memories tucked deep inside where they seemed to have so much power and control over me, I created space to let them rise up, and when that happened, I was ready to face them and remind myself that I'm not a victim: I'm a strong, resilient, empathetic woman who can offer some valuable wisdom to others. The way I choose to share that wisdom is through writing. 
 

WOW: That's so powerful. I'm so glad you've shared that experience with us. What advice do you have for writers wondering if it's worth the cost to attend the retreat? What would writers be surprised to learn or experience from this retreat?

Christine: Until I'd created my own self-care retreat and experienced its long-term benefits, I had those very questions, too. Only when I dove into the research about the lasting benefits of self-care and all the many misperceptions about it (news flash: it's not hippy, dippy voodoo science) did I feel more comfortable parting with some money to do it. 

Before I'd ever taken a self-care retreat, I'd taken myself on walks and drawn bubble-baths and used facial masks and changed my diet and gotten new haircuts to "boost my spirits"...but I'd never figured out a way to turn off my racing mind and just rest it. I mean, what a completely bizarre and unfamiliar concept. 
I'd been caregiving and pushing down so many unpleasant memories for so long that I didn't even know there might be an alternative. By spending time in the company of others who understood the value and science of self-care (and taught me skills I could take home and start using immediately), I found that my relationships improved, my patience increased, and my ability to roll with life's challenges soared. 

Study after study tells us how important self-care is. Still, I appreciate that self-care does require investment—of effort, of time, and sometimes, of money. We can do quick, low-commitment things to perk ourselves up, or we can invest in something deeply meaningful and lasting. After too many attempts at quick-fixes, I was ready to do something that made a long-term impact, not only on my own outlook but also on my ability to interact with others.

As for the financial investment, I asked myself how much a continuing education course might cost, or a solo escape to a sunny island, or a week off of work spent lying around and reading. When I ran the numbers and figured out the cost of a plane ticket and a resort bill, I was floored to realize that, by spending 4 nights at Civana, I'd get so much more than an "escape" or a "reset" or "time to myself". In addition to relaxing and resetting my overwrought nervous system, I would also learn new ideas and approaches. I'd immerse myself in time just for me, with reminders to offer myself tenderness, kindness, and nourishment. I left that first, self-designed self-care retreat at Civana feeling on top of the world. I felt lighter yet stronger. I also felt like I'd received the biggest hug from the person I needed it from most: Myself. 

WOW: And sometimes that is exactly the hug we need! I love how there is something for everyone on this retreat! How did you plan this in a way that everyone has something to gain from the experience? What do you hope writers walk away with by joining you on this retreat? 

Christine: I planned this retreat from many different perspectives—as a busy mom, as a solopreneur, as a trauma survivor, as a writer, and as someone who's been asked to carry the emotional weight of others. Each of those sides of me needs attention and tending and nurturing, so I found a place and designed a workshop that offers a multi-dimensional approach to healing. Sometimes I need physical activity...or community...or solace...or a beautiful place in which to write...or a healthy meal that I don't have to prepare...or a new way of looking at my life. This special retreat offers opportunities to address all those kinds of needs and more. Most of all, I hope writers leave this retreat feeling restored and also empowered to navigate their dynamic lives with actionable tools and increased confidence and peace in their hearts. 

WOW: Thank you so much for your time, Christine! 
 

Remember, register now for the Write to Heal Retreat. It closes on April 7, 2023, so don't hesitate. 
 
 
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Interview with LaToya Thompson, Runner Up in the WOW! Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, March 26, 2023

 


LaToya Thompson is desert born, Rust Belt bred, and southern fed. As a writer and editor, she helps aspiring authors annihilate procrastination, fear, and excuses by motivating them to tell their story with authenticity and agency. For LaToya storytelling is joy, truth, and community. Whether it is through the stage or the page, her love of stories spans into every area of her life. When LaToya is not reading books, editing books, or talking about books, she is sampling local coffee shops and hanging out with the coolest kid ever. Connect with LaToya on Instagram and Twitter. You can also read her blog Off the Shelf.


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

WOW: Congratulations, LaToya, and welcome to the blog! Your essay is thought provoking and powerful. The first thing that caught my eye about your essay was the title and the way it instantly hooks the reader. How did you decide on this as a way to introduce what must have been a tough piece to write.

LaToya: I decided on the title after I finished the first draft. The two constant things about that 24-hour period were the pink lemonade and the concrete. The pink lemonade is characterized by a mix of sweet and sour. It reflected the situation I was in. The concrete became the foreshadowing of how I was going to approach my then-husband and the felony charge I was facing. I felt I had to embody the traits of concrete if I was going to survive.

WOW: What is your favorite line from “Pink Lemonade with Concrete Backwash” and why? 

LaToya: It is a tie: "By morning, the concrete slab I paced would know more about me than anyone" and "My words did not stretch above a whisper. But unlike in my home, they dared to exist." Both of these statements embody the isolation, loneliness, and shrinking that I carried. No one knew what I was living with and trying to survive in. It was suffering in silence. Yet, I knew I still had a voice, but the abuse and the shame were gagging me. At the time, I didn't know what was happening to me was abuse because it was psychological. I knew abuse to be physical, bruises and black eyes and broken bones. My story didn't fit the narrative I was told and that was harmful. 

WOW: Thank you for pointing out that words can cause harm just as much as physical attacks. Your work as a writing coach who helps writers find their authentic voices. What do you love most about coaching others? 

LaToya: I love to hear their stories! At my core, I am still a journalist. I enjoy asking questions and pulling the pieces of their story together. The delight for me is watching my clients realize that all those words in their heads actually are telling a story that they and others need to hear. 

WOW: So often writers don't realize how many stories they really hold inside! What advice would you give a writer who is struggling to share their personal stories on the page? 

LaToya: When I have worked with clients that are struggling to share their personal stories it could be for a couple of reasons. The writer could be masking or self-protecting. This can be intentional or unintentional and it may mean the writer is feeling anxiety about how others could think and perceive them. Another reason a writer may struggle to share is that it is not time to share that story. And there could be several reasons as to why now is not the time. For either of these reasons, I would suggest to the writer to consider themselves. What feelings are coming up when they try to share the story? What do they need or want to give them support or comfort? There should be no pressure to push a story out. 

WOW: I love this style of coaching. We'd love to hear about the other writers whose words have inspired you. What books would you recommend by them? 

LaToya: Some of my favorite authors are Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Lucille Clifton. Honestly, I would recommend every book by them! I do encourage others to read Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

WOW: All great suggestions, and I've been wanting to check out Octavia Butler myself. Thank you again for joining us today!
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The Golden Ticket: Are You Buying What They’re Selling?

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Have I got a deal for you! Sign up for my class on (email lists/newsletters/Amazon ads/Facebook ads/FILL IN YOUR OWN ANSWER) and you will be on the way to financial success. Or maybe the promise that someone is making you is that their system will land your dream agent in a matter of weeks. Or that you will break into top markets in six months. Or shave months or years off the writing process. 

Maybe it's because my grandfather was a salesman, but I'm always suspicious when people start with these kinds of sales pitches. It makes me suspicious of both their motivations and their product. My grandfather would have been muttering about snake oil and empty, conflated promises. 

The reality is that writing is a lot of work. You have to research and plan. You have to draft and revise. There's waiting and rejection. 

It sounds harsh but there are no shortcuts. If you are going to be a published writer, you have a lot to learn. Learning it takes time. I can't tell you how long it will take you because this varies by person and by circumstance. It depends on how much time and energy someone they have to put into it. It depends on where they are when they start. It also depends on what the market is hungry for at the moment a project or idea is ready to submit. 

All of this means that someone can have success early in the process. There are people whose first query is accepted. They jump in and don't look back. Good for them. They are ready for the writing world as it is right this moment. 

There are also people who slog along for years. It can be uncomfortable and discouraging. 

I just saw a Tweet from a friend who is considering quitting. She'd entered several contests lately with disappointing results. She felt like a fraud. Fortunately, she is part of the Twitter writing community. Despite the negative things you may hear about Twitter, this is a rock-solid community and people stepped up with encouraging words. Don't quit! We've all been where you are! Your work is so good. 

And that's the rub. Excellent work doesn't always sell. Mediocre work sometimes sells very quickly. I can't tell you exactly why. I can't promise to shave time off your learning curve. I'm not telling you not to sign up for classes. If it is something that you want to learn, sign up. 

I love taking classes! But I sign up to learn the skill that they are teaching. I don't sign up expecting dancing dollar signs in my future. Of course, the class that I'm eying right now is on sashiko embroidery. Isn't hand work pretty hot right now? Maybe this is my key to making millions. 

--SueBE


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on April 3, 2023).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023).
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Interview with Genalea Barker, Fall 2022 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner

Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Genalea Barker is an author, freelance editor, and full-time mom. Her work has appeared in Bookends Review, Gemini Magazine, Grande Dame Literary, Watershed Review, Broad River Review, and others. She is the author of three novels, Life After, A Song I Used to Know, and Lovehurts, all forthcoming in 2023 and 2024. Genalea resides in Southern Idaho with her husband, four children, and two dogs, where she enjoys small town living, playing music with her family, and occasionally getting caught behind farm equipment on the highway. To learn more about Genalea or find purchase links for Life After, visit genalea.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @genalea_barker.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2022 Flash Fiction competition! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “How to Deliver a Baby on the Floor of a Hotel Lobby?”

Genalea: In 2021, I participated in a six-week flash fiction course with instructor Jacqui Reiko Teruya. One of our prompts was something along the lines of, “Imagine two people doing something in a place where they don’t belong.” Inexplicably, my mind went to a couple having a baby, but in a hotel lobby. We were also challenged to write a “how-to” piece. I don’t remember if the two prompts were part of the same weekly assignment, or if I paired the two together on my own. I honestly can’t recall. I just know that somehow, my “how-to” assignment became “How to Deliver a Baby on the Floor of a Hotel Lobby.”

As I crafted this piece, my mind turned to my experiences with miscarriages and delivery trauma, and I began to understand how this couple wound up delivering a baby in a very public place. How a mother’s fear and denial could lead to such a chaotic—but beautiful—birth.
 
WOW:  Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

Genalea: In the beginning, writing flash was a self-imposed challenge. I tend to be an over-writer, and I wanted to push myself and improve my writing. The first flash piece I wrote, I loved, and I was hooked.

There isn’t a lot of room for frivolity in flash. Every single sentence should hold a purpose. It’s not simply about saying what you need to say in the least words possible, but finding those powerful, succinct phrases.

I still have a lot to learn about writing flash—about writing in general—but I believe my experiences with flash have furthered my skills as an author. I’m still a bit of an over-writer, but I’m also much better at recognizing when a sentence, paragraph, or even an entire chapter needs to go.

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

Genalea: For starters, read flash. Check out past contest winners or published pieces from lit mags specializing in flash. Discuss the pieces you read with other readers/writers. Flash is more than telling a story in 500-1000 words. That story should pack an emotional punch. Look for those tiny details—those “between the lines” nuances that allow an author to say so much with so few words.

If you have the resources to participate in a workshop or class, do it. Check for available scholarships if cost is prohibitive. The course I took was 6 weeks of reading, writing, and discussing flash with other authors. I learned so much.

Whether or not you participate in any in-depth workshops, writing flash isn’t something you should attempt alone. Get a critique partner if you don’t already have one, preferably one familiar with flash fiction.

Additionally, Kathy Fish has some great exercises available online and through her newsletter, “The Art of Flash Fiction.”

WOW: You have three novels coming out in 2023 and 2024, wow. What can you tell us about the process of completing and marketing them?

Genalea: To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about completing the original drafts of my first three novels. I wrote them in my early 20s—over a decade ago—and I did it without critique partners or beta readers. I simply wrote what I wanted to write without much consideration for whether it would be published. Fast forward to late 2020 when I finally decided to query, I chose the project I felt most passionate about and started the re-writing process.

It's taken some trial and error to understand my writing process, but as I’ve gone through all three of those novels, plus several short stories, flash fiction pieces, and essays, I’ve developed a method that essentially looks like this: Initial idea notes, basic character arcs and general plot ๐Ÿ š First draft ๐Ÿ š Another round of notes, usually several pages ๐Ÿ š Revision with minor edits ๐Ÿ š Alpha reader ๐Ÿ š Revision with more edits ๐Ÿ š Beta Reader ๐Ÿ š Revise w/more attention to detail/edits ๐Ÿ š Query.

The first project I queried was not the project to land me my first publication contract. After over 100 rejections, I shelved that project and moved on to a new one. Since then, I’ve signed all three novels, and I’m working toward completing more.

Being with a small press presents a few challenges, one of them being marketing. I’ve had to do most of it myself. Again, this comes with significant trial and error. One thing I’ve learned—that a lot of authors find discouraging—is that many stages of the process are like querying all over again. You want a better-known author to blurb your book? You send out carefully worded e-mails and wait. Some accept, some reject, some never respond. You want a blogger/bookstagrammer to review your book? Research! Find the right ones, send carefully worded e-mails, and wait. Looking for editorial reviews for your indie book but can’t afford to pay for guaranteed reviews (for context, a basic Kirkus review for an indie author costs $450)? Same process. Somewhere amongst the e-mails and rejection and acceptance and waiting, waiting, waiting, I played around with graphics and video editing software, making promotional material.

I can’t speak to the experiences of an agented author, of course. But for small press published and self-published authors, marketing is often daunting. A ton of effort for little return. All that being said, I’ve loved my experience with a small press. And when you do find that right reader, and you get a new rave review, it’s the most amazing feeling. If I had to query all over again, I’d do things differently, sure. But every moment of that roller coaster was absolutely worth it to see my book in the hands of readers who love it.

WOW:  Thank you for sharing all that, I'm sure it will be helpful to others. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Genalea: I think it was something along the lines of, “You’re never going to think it’s good enough.” As writers (and humans in general), we tend to be our own worst critics. I could read my manuscript 100 times over, making changes each time, without actually improving the story at all. There comes a stage in the process when we have to let go and let someone else be our eyes. This is something that held me back for a long time. I never wanted anyone else to read my stories, because what if they hated them? If their feedback was, “This is awful. Start over,” would I be able to handle it? Honestly, I’ve never handled rejection well, and I think a lot of people relate to that, especially people who experience legitimate anxiety. I’ve been known to lie awake for hours at night, rehashing interactions from twenty years ago, feeling a fool because of something ridiculous I said. So how would I ever be able to get over someone reading 250 pages of my heart and soul bled onto a page and hating it?

That fear held me back for years. I read and edited my manuscripts countless times over the years without making significant improvement. When I finally gave myself permission to let go and welcome reader feedback—good, bad, or otherwise—that’s when true progress happened. Should we take every bit of feedback offered? No. But at the very least, feedback forces us to examine our work with a fresh perspective. I typically approach feedback with a 70/30 outlook (meaning I’ll accept up to 70% of the feedback, but leave the rest).

We’re never going to achieve perfection, but if we welcome critique, we might get pretty close. I recently read my debut in its official, published form and found a handful of things I’d go back and change if given the chance. But I also recognized just how far that book came from its original draft, to a published book. I’m proud of that book. It’s beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful. If I’d never let go and welcomed that rejection, it never would have blossomed into the story it is now.

****

For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.
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Interview with Carol Ovenburg: Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, March 19, 2023
Carol’s Bio:
Carol Ovenburg—A visual artist. A writer. Her writing life began with timed-writing exercises a la Natalie Goldberg at a Cafรฉ in Seattle with notable writers who opened her eyes to the craft of writing. It was there that she began the early stages of her memoir, Pearls. One of two essays—excerpts from her manuscript—were published in WOW-Women on Writing, 2021 and 2022. Today, Carol, and her life partner of twelve years, are living in and enjoying their new Talent, Oregon home, rebuilt after a devastating fire. She’s taken this last year in new surroundings to complete her memoir and write essays. She and her partner travel once-a-month to U.S cities for four-day Argentine tango social dancing. They read good books on flights and layovers. When home, they watch foreign films or a foreign detective series on TV. You can learn more about Carol on her website: www.carolovenburg.com and Carol Ovenburg on Facebook. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Carol's award-winning essay "Inside the Lines" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Carol: I think I began writing this essay in a self-guided Creative Non-Fiction online workshop on the braided and collage essay. Or it may have been in one of Chelsey Clammer’s classes on CNF. I remember wanting to write about crayons and Cinderella and used Chalk typeface for headings and numbers. I did have Chelsey’s eye on this one—I have her check over most of my writing—and, as usual, she gave me good editing advice which helped me evolve this essay. I have a tendency in my writing to add irrelevant information or not add enough. I’m getting better, though. 

WOW: It’s definitely a learning process, and that’s wonderful you’ve found a great editor that you trust. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Carol: I learned a new way of presenting information, or a story—this story—bringing me closer to the relationship I had with my mother—my need for her approval. 

WOW: You mention in your bio that you’re enjoying your new home in Oregon. How have your new surroundings contributed to your progress on your memoir?

Carol: I spent seventeen months in temporary housing working on rebuilding a new home after the devastating fire that took 2,600 homes in September of 2020. It kept me busy. And it kept me displaced and also isolated because of the pandemic. But during that time an old author and poet friend of mine, Jack Remick, offered to mentor me on my writing. I worked with him every Thursday for a couple of hours, and it changed the way I write. We moved into our new home the end of January 2022, and here I no longer felt displaced—I was home again, in a pleasing environment, the freedom to work on my memoir with the goal of finishing it by the end of the year. 

WOW: Wow, what a journey, both personally and with your writing. I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling at home again. We know from a previous interview with you that you worked with editor Chelsey Clammer on your memoir. What other resources, tips, tricks, groups, and/or processes have you used to write and revise? 

Carol: Working with Chelsey in her classes, and one-on-one, I love learning how she thinks about writing, and I’m gleaning a lot from her comments and critiques. With Jack Remick—how to make my work sing with proper word choice, efficient writing, eliminating the fluff—getting rid of words that aren’t needed. Leaving more white space on the page. I have my small writing group meeting Wednesdays on Zoom and timed-write a la Natalie Goldberg—set a timer and write without lifting our pens, without thinking, just write. I read books on writing. I keep a copy handy of On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I also read memoirs—books and essays—and listen to interviews and speakers on writing. I’ve read all of Chelsey’s books and many of Jack’s. 

WOW: I love this. You are emersed in a writing culture that has truly helped your writing shine. What’s the most recent good book(s) you read on a flight or layover during one of your travels? 

Carol: I’m in a book club and sometimes read one of those books—the latest is The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Loved this book. I recently read and read repeatedly Owl Poems by Zach Hively. And Minding the Muse, A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators by Priscilla Long, a wonderful little book packed with great writing tools. 

WOW: That’s a wonderful list. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Carol: I’m now working on an abecedarian book of poetry and lyrical prose—a memoir on my 12-year experience as an Argentine Tango dancer. AND, with Chelsey’s help, I’m beginning the submission process for publishing Pearls, a Memoir. Thanks to you, Chelsey, and to everyone at WOW! Women on Writing for your excellent critiques and for publishing my work. 

WOW: Two exciting projects! We can’t wait to hear more about them. Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 


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

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Last week, I heard a sermon about the Samaritan woman at the well and it profoundly affected me. And I know what you’re thinking, that I’m going to get all preachy on you. But that’s not where I’m going…um, I suppose I might get a little preachy. 

Anyway, the Good Samaritan is fairly familiar to most of us. We have a law in many states that’s based on the story (The law protects someone who renders emergency aid from incurring liability if something goes wrong). And the Samaritan woman at the well is also a story of a person giving help to someone in need (in this case, Christ). Most sermons draw on Christ’s words about living water, which of course, is pretty much the main point. But there’s another point I’d never considered… 

To begin with, Samaritans did not mix with Jews. And this particular woman, alone and getting water in the middle of the noon-day sun, indicates that she did not mix with the other women, either. She was shunned because, as Christ already knew, she’d had five husbands. Her life was one of shame, of being ostracized; she was basically not seen by other members of the community. But Christ, a Jew, saw her. He drank water from her, spoke to her. 

It was life-changing for the Samaritan woman; she listened to the words Christ had to say because He saw her

 As often happens when I’m thinking about what to write here, an idea having to do with writing will meet with a moment from my life. And as I pondered that Sunday sermon, I thought of the woman I’d met just the day before; we were volunteering together. 

Now, what are the chances I’d meet someone my age, also a widow, who was also a writer? I’d say astronomical unless one is at a writer’s conference. So naturally, she shared what she was working on and it was all very impressive. A little daunting, if I’m being honest. Then she asked what I wrote and at first, I…well, I stammered a bit but off I went, full steam ahead into what I used to work on. 

For years, my identity as a writer came from children’s publishing, and I wanted her to see me as a professional. So I spoke of my past accomplishments, my published books, my expert credentials. I mean, I’m only human, y’all. I wanted to be seen as a writer of value. 

After a time of of talking about everything but what I was actually doing now, I thought This is not me. So I told her I was writing a mystery and self-publishing and that most days it was a lot of fun and a lot to learn. But we also spoke of the single life and dogs that are terrors and wines that are sublime. 

That’s how I see me, or at least a bit closer to the truth. And my new friend saw me, I hope, as a very happy and grateful person who’s enjoying her latest writing journey. 

A simple sermon and an eye-opening look at myself helped me see the light. And I hope you see the light in you, see your value as whatever (a writer, a poet, a playwright!) or whoever you’re on the journey to become. And that when you meet another writer, you'll take a moment to see them, not as what they do but who they are

So fine, I’m being a little preachy but don’t you feel like shouting an “Amen!” along with me?

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Ways to Add Creative Writing to Your Day (Even If You're Really Busy)

Tuesday, March 14, 2023



What's your excuse reason to not write? We've all got them. And sometimes they are legit, I-don't-blame-you, fully embrace the "not-writing-ness" of your life type of reasons. And I mean that.

Other times they are what they are: excuses.

For me, it's busyness. And sometimes, I legitimately have a lot going on and have to put creative writing low on the priority list. Other times....eh......I use that as my reason when it's truly just an excuse. 

So for those out there having a hard time writing time because of busyness, I'm here to help. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Make it a "first thing." 
Notice I didn't say to make it THE first thing you do. But a first thing. Make writing your "first thing" after your work day ends. Or make it your first thing after you put the laundry in. Or your first thing after a workout session. 

For example, this past Saturday, I had a lot of other important firsts. I had coffee, spent time with family, and read scripture. Afterward, I brought up my laptop, skimmed my email, and I was tempted to bring up my first "laptop" thing to do.

Then, I stopped.

Instead of doing my first laptop task, which likely included some kind of promotional thing for someone, I brought up my current short story. I spent about ten minutes or so revising it. 

There, I worked on my story. Not long, of course. (The whole busyness thing is kind of real). But I made it my first thing before working on my laptop.
  • Make it easy.
I'm kind of the type that has a lot of things going on, stories included. So, it's easy for me to get so bogged down with wondering what story to work on next, that I get too overwhelmed to work on anything at all.

My goal lately has been to prioritize the revision process. So, that has taken drafting new stories off the menu of options for a while. Now, I do have other stories in the percolator but only one I have next on my list. That's the one that's been my goal to revise lately. This morning, I knew right away that I would work on it next. Doing so, made writing really easy.

So, for you, it may be something different. Maybe your important thing this year is to pitch editors. Or to outline your next novel. Or to start a new short story. Or to practice writing prompts. Make it easy to write by knowing exactly what you need to work on next.

  • Make it convenient.
Consider where you are at during your day. And I don't mean emotionally, although that could play a part. But I mean, physically. Where is your body located at different points of the day?

Wherever you are, make it easy to stop and take a writing break. Add notebooks to spaces where you do errands or put them in your car or handbag. Add an app to your phone that lets you work on your latest story or novel or poem. Or bring your laptop with you places if it's convenient enough to take. 

Overall, don't let "I don't have my laptop/notebook/writing materials with me" be an excuse.

Those are my tips! Obviously, this is still something I'm having a hard time doing, but I'm working on improving my creative habits daily.

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not hunting down the right word, she's talking to God, reviewing books on her writing blog, watching movies, hanging out with family, and daydreaming. Her work has been featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, The Voices Project, Sky Island Journal, and Arlington Literary Journal. Her poetry was also featured in the anthology, Dear Leader Tales. Read her musings at WorldofMyImagination.com.
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Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French: Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, March 13, 2023
Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French

We're excited to launch the blog tour for Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French. This book is perfect for readers who enjoy page-turning love stories set in Japan. Read on to find out the author's inspiration behind this novel in a vibrant author interview, and enter to win a copy!
 
But first, here's a bit more about Ghost with Two Hearts:
 
Approaching 30, Adrian, a talented software engineer, takes stock of his wealth and accolades - and how unhappy he is. He doesn't make friends easily, dislikes social media, and was bloodied in a divorce. He finds no common purpose in a country defined by political vitriol, distrust, and inequality. Taking a leave of absence from his company, he travels to Japan with a samurai sword that his grandfather stole from a Japanese captain in World War Two. Adrian is determined to find its rightful heir. Doing the morally correct thing, he hopes, will make him feel better about his life.
 
Print length: 193 pages
Genre: Fiction, Cultural Heritage Fiction, Ghost Fiction
Published January 12, 2023
ISBN-13: 979-8370416842
 
Ghost with Two Hearts is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. You can add it to your GoodReads reading list as well.
 
About the Author Michael R. French
 
Michael R. French graduated from Stanford University where he was an English major, focusing on creative writing, and studied under Wallace Stegner. He received a Master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He later served in the United States Army before marrying Patricia Goodkind, an educator and entrepreneur, and starting a family.
 
In addition to publishing over twenty titles, including award-winning young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies and self-help books, he has written or co-written a half-dozen screenplays, including Intersection, which has won awards in over twenty film festivals. He has also had a long business career in real estate, living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His passions include travel, collecting rare books, and hanging with friends and family. He describes his worst traits as impatience and saying "no" too quickly; his best are curiosity, taking risks, and learning from failure.
 
French’s work, which includes several best-sellers, has been warmly reviewed in the New York Times and been honored with a number of literary prizes.
 
Find Michael online at:
 
 
--- Interview by Crystal Otto
 
WOW: I absolutely enjoyed reading Ghost with Two Hearts and as you read in my review, I felt kindred to your characters and enjoyed the dialogue, but my favorite part was the feeling of traveling to Japan without ever leaving the comfort of my recliner. Tell me more about what inspired you to write this wonderful story!
 
Michael: In 2013, my wife and I visited Japan for the first time. We chanced upon the Art Triennale on Naoshima Islands, a ferry ride from the mainland. The contemporary work of jury-selected Japanese artists was striking, innovative, and enigmatic. I had always thought of Japan as an exporter of exceptional cars and electronics. We soon discovered a universe of high-end fashion, creative cuisine, immaculate public gardens, festivals, a low crime rate, and a deep respect for authority. It all seemed like the antithesis of the West. I felt safe and engaged here. But we also learned how Japanese discipline and single mindedness camouflaged a history of deep, violent conflict and fierce wars. My eyes were opened and my mind followed.
 
On a second trip, we visited ancient Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, learning about faith, mythologies and superstitions. Religion and politics combined to reveal powerful emperors, class conflict, and international ambitions. We also found evidence of deep, romantic love. I began imagining a love story between a Shinto kami (a type of ghost) and an American coder visiting Japan to escape the turmoil of the West.
 
Our final visit, before the Pandemic, included a day at the extensive Peace Park in Hiroshima, where the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb to help end the war in the Pacific. My father had been a medical doctor for the Marines, barely surviving hellish fighting on Okinawa and Saipan. I tried to reconcile how much the Americans and allies suffered compared to the 60,000 Hiroshima civilians who perished from the bomb. Was there some kind of moral equivalency here, or no connection whatsoever? Adding to my curiosity was my memory of my father returning from the war with a ceremonial sword taken from a dead Japanese officer. He never explained what that was all about. My own guess became the major subplot of the novel.
 
WOW: With how well I got to know the characters, I feel you wrote a bit of yourself into Ghost with Two Hearts. Can you share a bit more about where the characters came from and how you developed them? 
 
Michael: I was a curious and empathizing ten-year-old. I thought I could imagine what a teacher, friend, or even a stranger was feeling and thinking. My imagination put me in their head. I took the quirks of various people and put them in my fictional characters.
 
Adrian, my main character, is a compilation of typical software engineers I have known over time. Yet, like me, he’s deeply bothered by the discord generated in social media. Adrift after a divorce he never saw coming, Adrian takes a leave of absence in Japan and finds a spiritual and social world infinitely more fulfilling than anything in the States. By the end of the novel, reborn in many ways, he returns home to find an unusual salvation.
 
My other principal character is a Shinto ghost named Emiko. I have never known a beautiful, young Japanese woman condemned by the gods to eternal damnation. I chose not to give Emiko a weird personality. Making her as human as possible, quirks and all, makes her more believable. It’s also easy to empathize with anyone, living or dead, whose trust in others has been betrayed, and her punishment impossible to overcome. Emiko is easy to like and root for.
 
WOW: I wholeheartedly agree about Emiko being easy to like. You did a great job with the characters and I appreciate your writing style. Would you feel comfortable talking about journaling? Does it play any part in your writing process or in your life in general?
 
Michael: An ideal writing day for me is six to eleven a.m. The world is a quieter place in the morning. Sometimes I’ll make time later that day, though it’s hard to find solitude. Habit is critical to me. On even the most crazy days, I still write a sentence or two because I have a fear that slacking is habit-forming. I credit my routine for getting through five decades of writing and publishing, including some rough patches. Completing a novel always makes me feel grateful. I have a wonderfully supportive wife and two adult children.
 
I don’t really journal. I keep most of my important ideas in my head. I do scribble on the back of an envelope or napkin, often creating secondary characters and subplots this way. I also get plot ideas after a good night’s sleep. Years ago, before I wrote a young adult best-seller, Pursuit, the climactic scene came from a vivid, unforgettable dream. However, I’ve also had early morning or late-night epiphanies that turn out to be embarrassingly useless.
 
WOW: Napkins and envelopes make me think you can write anywhere, especially keeping most of your thoughts in your head, but do you have a special space? Do you write everywhere, anywhere in particular, and what comforts are absolutely necessary to inspire you?
 
Michael: I have large wood desk for writing but sometimes a sofa is a comfortable place, too. I also like sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop, with headphones on. Music sometimes inspires me, but what is absolutely necessary is writing in a stress-free environment, living in my imagination, and liking the characters I create, even the unsympathetic ones. I feel closer to some characters than others; they kind of become friends. When I’m copyediting or proofing a manuscript, I don’t mind a few distractions—even watching television. An editing mindset is very different from the one churning with emotion. Editing is all about objectivity. I try to pretend I'm reading someone else’s book for the first time. If I don’t like what I’m reading, I go back to the drawing board.
 
I can write fifteen hundred words on a good day, but that isn’t often. Finishing a solid draft usually takes a year. In college, I read a lot of novelists that are not well known today. Keeping up with current writers—and there are spectacular ones—takes time that I don’t always have. Writing has to be a solitary pursuit for me. Other than hiring a copy editor or a proofreader, I’ve never had a writing team. I need to retreat from the world to be at my best.
 
WOW:You really make all of this look easy Michael. It seems you have a new book every time I turn around. Is there a hard part for you, or what do you consider to be the hardest part of the writing process? 
 
Michael: Writing a story is a fragile enterprise from beginning to end. When someone asks “what are you working on?” I change the subject to the Dodgers or the price of gas. For me, isolation is survival. Everything starts off fine with your first chapter or two, but then doubts creep in. Making significant changes mid-book can be especially chaotic because you have to go back and rewrite parts of the beginning, which you previously thought were just great. Finally, the right ending is critical to shaping a reader’s final opinion of your novel. I never rush that part.
 
WOW: Fragile is such an interesting word to use. Thank you for that insight. Who has been most influential in your writing goals and dreams? How do you thank them?
 
Michael: My mother got me interested in biographies and history when I was in junior high. First, she would read a chapter out loud, and then I read one to her. It wasn’t just about learning vocabulary, grammar and syntax, or realizing what makes a particular story fascinating. I also came to love words. I had a bad stutter, so hearing them coming slowly off my lips, understanding their cadence and, much later, why the author chose that particular word over another, was empowering. In college, I was influenced by novels that opened my mind to new worlds, and to so many colorful writers. I had a teacher named Malcom Cowley who lived in Paris in the Twenties and was friends with Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, and Joyce. His anecdotes made them come alive for me. I wished I had thanked my mother more, and certainly teachers like Malcolm Cowley, but they couldn’t have missed seeing the wonder in my eyes.
 
WOW: Michael, your insight is always appreciated. As you know, I’ve read many of your books and they are all so different, so I’m a bit timid to ask, but what’s next for you? You’re always coming up with something unexpected for your readers. Give us a sneak peak?
 
Michael: I have lots of story ideas and take my time winnowing through them. In my twenties and thirties, I struggled to find things to write about. I culled them from the world at large because I didn’t find myself to be a terribly interesting subject. In my forties and fifties, I began taking stock of who I was and who I was becoming, which turned me inward. My own conflicts, aspirations, and resolutions put me on a wonderfully serendipity path. My last five novels are nothing like my earlier works. None of the five fall into a specific genre. In the end, I hope readers find Ghost With Two Hearts super entertaining, and new ways of looking at their world.
 
Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French Blog Tour

--- Blog Tour Dates
 
March 13th @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Join us at the WOW blog to celebrate the launch of author Michael R. French’s Ghost with Two Hearts. You can read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book.
 
March 14th @ A Storybook World
Hear from Michael R. French about "What Drives an Author" as he delights readers at A Storybook World. Find out more about his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts and learn more about this talented author!
 
March 15th @ Madeline Sharples
"Helping or Hurting" is today's essay title at Madeline's blog as readers of Choices hear from Michael R. French about his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts.
 
March 17th @ Author Anthony Avina
Author Anthony Avina reviews fellow author Michael R. French's latest work Ghost with Two Hearts. Find out how this novel measures up today!
 
March 18th @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal Otto
Crystal Otto reviews Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R, French. Crystal has read many of French's books - find out how his latest novel measures up!
 
March 19th @ Fiona Ingram
Is there a "Place for Older Authors"? Find out by stopping at Fiona Ingram's blog and reading the essay by Michael R. French today! This is a great chance to learn more about this successful author and his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts!
 
March 23rd @ Book Santa Fe with Carmen Otto
Hear from a teenager as she reviews Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French. How many stars will she give? Will this be the novel she refers to her friends? Find out today!
 
March 30th @ The Mommies Reviews
Texas girl, Glenda offers her review of Michael R. French's latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts! Stop by Glenda's blog to learn more today!
 
April 14th @ Pages and Paws
Michael R. French shares his essay "The Tail or the Dog" for readers at Pages and Paws. Stop by to find out more about Michael and his latest novel, Ghost with Two Hearts.
 
April 20th @ Knotty Needle Creative
Judy from the Knotty Needle offers her thoughts after reading the latest novel by Michael R. French. Find out what Judy has to say about Ghost with Two Hearts today!
 
April 21st @ World of My Imagination
Nicole Pyles reviews Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French. Read what she shares with readers at her World of My Imagination blog.
 
April 28th @ Wildwood Reads
Megan offers her review of Michael R. French's Ghost with Two Hearts for readers at Wild Wood Reads; don't miss her valuable insight of Michael's latest novel!
 
May 2nd @ Jill Sheets
Jill sheets interviews Michael R. French. Find out more about this talented author and his latest novel Ghost with Two Hearts by stopping by Jill's blog today!
 
 
***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****
 
Enter to win a copy of Ghost with Two Hearts by Michael R. French! Fill out the Rafflecopter form by March 26th at 11:59 CT for a chance to win. We will choose a winner randomly the next day and follow up via email. Good luck!

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