It's interviews like this that make our world go around. Not only did we enjoy reading JeanMarie's short story, but we loved learning about the fantastic woman behind the story. It seems that no matter what JeanMarie writes, her voice is fresh, unique, and full of truth -- a rare quality that we can all be inspired from. WOW: The ending of your story sure packed a punch! We were surprised and didn't see that coming. That's always great when reading a short story. What inspired you to write, Pom and Circumstance?JeanMarie:
Well, I'm a lazy writer. I need to be prodded a bit. I have a writing buddy and we take turns coming up with story prompts but sometimes an outside source is the way to go. While surfing craigslist I saw an ad about the contest and went to the site. I was immediately inspired by the prompt, in particular the part about no return address label on the box, because to me it just fairly screamed "revenge!" Also it would give me a chance to go dark!WOW: And it did get real dark there at the end, which came as a surprise! How much editing did you do to get your word-count down?JeanMarie:
Well, the story pretty much came to me whole, and I was fairly close to the word limit. Years and years of writing the company newsletter taught me to write-tight. However, I had two beta-readers tell me they didn't or couldn't believe a husband would leave his wife over cheerleading. That was where most of my editing time went. With only 500 words I can't change the mind of a reader who won't go along for the ride, but I can sway the one on the fence! I felt it worked out well because addressing that issue gave me a stronger finish.WOW: That's interesting that you say that, because that was one of the points that hit us while we were reading it (about the husband leaving her because of cheerleading), but by the time we got to the end, we thought, Whoa... what a knockout!
In your bio you mentioned that you're an unemployed technical writer. How long did you work in that field?JeanMarie:
I worked for a company in Colorado for 10 years as a technical writer. Then in 2005 I relocated to North Carolina and I worked a few short-term writing contract jobs.WOW: Can you tell us what types of projects you worked on, and how you found the experience?JeanMarie:
Working long term for one company gave me opportunities to do some different things, including training, and some fun special projects. However, the bulk of the work was newsletters, reports, minutes, work instructions a.k.a.standard operating procedures (SOPs), reports, and, YAWN, SOPs. The bulk of my contract experience involved editing SOPs. WOW: You're making my head hurt! It seems like a lot of tedious work. So, how has the new career search been going for you?JeanMarie:
Well, I'm still looking for a career, but I did find a job! I realized that when I relocated across the country, I changed everything about my life except my career. I really don't know what I want to do but I'm done with technical writing - at least for a little while. I just started mid-January as an Administrative Assistant. It's not my dream job but I'm going to hang out for a while and see where I want to go from here.
WOW: Well, we wish you the best of luck, and hope that you continue writing fiction. Speaking of that, you have any new fiction projects in the works?JeanMarie:
Technically.... No. But I am mulling over a story about a cardboard box that crosses the country multiple times as it is given away from one moving customer to another.
WOW: That's an interesting concept... I could see that being a great film as well. (Special Note: JeanMarie's copyright pending!) So, do you have any other writing goals for the new year?JeanMarie:
I want to enter another WOW contest! Actually, I tend to write more non-fiction and poetry than fiction and I have some ideas brewing in those directions. WOW: We'd love it if you entered another contest! Or perhaps, you may consider submitting a non-fiction article to us? But whatever you decide to do, we encourage you 100%!
So overall, how has entering the WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest been for you?JeanMarie:
Wonderful! It was just the antidote to a year filled with rejection (employment) and endless resume rewrites. Also, as soon as I saw the results of the contest posted online, I sent out an email announcement to my friends who were appropriately impressed! WOW: As they should be JeanMarie. We admire your spirit, and the way you stuck to your guns about your piece. Writing groups and writing partners are wonderful (and we do advocate them in all ways), but it's always up to the writer to decide which advice to take and which to, ahem, recycle. Thanks for being yourself and bringing us into your life. We hope that you check in with us from time-to-time and let us know how your writing career is going.
If you haven't done so already, you can read JeanMarie's short story, Pom and Circumstance HERE
Labels: Fall 2006, Flash Fiction Contest, JeanMarie Olivieri, technical writing, WOW Women On Writing
It's always interesting to hear where a story comes from. We think that motivation and the person behind the story is as interesting as the story itself. In this interview, we got a chance to ask Deb about her motivation and her writing goals. WOW: Deb, we loved your story; especially the letter and the touching portrayal of the grieving widow. Can you tell us what inspired you to write Game Over?Deb:
People and circumstances change as they experience life. A high school romance that never developed for some reason could, if circumstances were favorable, be successfully pursued years later, in this age of the internet and classmates.com
. This particular prompt worked well with this premise.WOW: What kind of freelance writing do you like to do?Deb:
Because I'm an extremely curious person, I'm open to all sorts of freelance work (other than copywriting). Uncovering information, or discovering persons' motivations, are equally fascinating to me. I'm also interested in sustainable living and recently created a column titled PLANET HABIT. It's in a Q&A format and explains, persuades, and motivates those who may be new to this sort of green mindset.WOW: Your column sounds great! I'm always interested in sustainable and green living. In your bio, you also said that this was the first short story that you had published. How does it feel to have your writing recognized?Deb:
I felt happy, satisfied and validated! Less than six months ago I decided I wasn't any good at fiction, but this particular prompt enticed me. I just had to try. Making the top 10 was especially sweet.WOW: And well-deserved, I must say. Have you entered any other writing competitions?Deb:
I've only been learning to write for about two years, so I haven't entered too many contests yet. In two different Byline magazine contests, I placed 3rd in the short feature, and 2nd in a poetry contest. It is a goal of mine to enter at least one contest per month. I'm especially interested in flash fiction right now. This form is excellent training in making every word work as effectively and concisely as possible, which is beneficial in all sorts of writing.WOW: That is an interesting point and one that writers continually have to deal with. What were some of the other challenges you experience when entering the WOW! flash fiction contest?Deb:
The biggest challenge to me is to make it different. The expected can be boring, but neither do I like freakish, edgy stuff, nor negative, depressing stuff. Life is scary and sad enough; I don't want to contribute to it. I want my readers to feel better afterwards -- not disturbed. I think "making it new" and different is harder to achieve in a positive setting, than in a negative one. And, admittedly, there seems to be more markets for edgy writing. Still, I think my efforts are worthwhile.WOW: Yes, I believe there is a place for all sorts of writing, and as you can see from the entries, they are quite different. Keep doing what you're doing because it works. Do you have any advice for writers who may be unsure about entering writing contests?Deb:
Regarding entering contests? Just do it. Contests force sincere writers to do their best work. Constantly striving to improve writing skills is worthwhile whether we win or not. Contests are a deterrent against lazy writing habits. For new writers like myself, I recommend entering small, free or low-fee contests. Going up against writer's with MFA's in the bigger contests is a real killjoy and self-defeating. Trust that you'll get there some day. Give yourself time to grow; be patient, you're an apprentice. Enter contests where you could realistically succeed. Try to enter one or two each month, and try a variety of genres and word lengths until you know your strengths. You may be surprised if you keep your mind open.WOW: Deb, I think that's good advice that we all can learn from. So tell us, what's next in your writing career?Deb:
I've set some realistic goals for myself this year: be published in webzines, and in regional publications (I live in the Northwest USA, Washington specifically); learn to write travel and nature articles; get my website up and running; take an online fiction writing course; join a writer's group; and attend my first writer's conference. I will also send a thank you note to my college professor who encouraged me to take a year off from school to learn writing by doing writing.WOW: Sounds like you've got your plate full! But as you said, they are realistic goals and we are here to help you achieve them, in any way we can. I think your college professor was right on. Tell him thanks from us as well!
If you haven't already read Deb Kincaid's short story Game Over you can read it here: Fall Contest Winners
Labels: DB Kincaid, Deb Kincaid, Fall 2006, Flash Fiction Contest, WOW Women On Writing, writing contest
Mandy Vicsai's story, "Strange Doin's" was a natural for First Place. She had such a unique and well-rounded take on our prompt that we weren't surprised when our Guest Judge Teresa proclaimed her 1st. In this interview, Mandy lends insight and honor to her real-life story character Al Boothby, and shares her smart advice to future contestants. This is an interview not to miss!WOW: Mandy, how does winning First Place feel?Mandy:
I'm still pinching myself. Winning First Place feels amazing! It's almost surreal. I've read through the other entries and they're awesome! There are some very clever storylines, so I'm truly honoured to have been awarded First Place.
For me it was a timely appreciation of my writing style. I recently entered a few chapters of my first novel in a mentoring award. The feedback was less than encouraging and I had been struggling to see the point of finishing my book. It's easy to say logically that any reviewer is only human with likes and dislikes, yet negative criticism (as opposed to constructive criticism) always stings. That's one of the reasons I love your work. You appreciate writers as people as well as artists.WOW: Thank you Mandy. That means a lot to us. As writers we've all been there, through the good and the bad; but you mentioned something that I truly believe in -- the 'art' of writing. (Yes, there is such a thing!) We believe in encouragement for our peers, because having a positive platform to meet our writing goals, as well as hard content, is what we're all about. And you, of all people, should never doubt yourself. Please finish that book! We can't wait to read it.Your story about your California Father-in-law, Al Boothby, touched us deeply. He sounds like such an interesting man! Can you tell us some details about him that your story left out?Mandy:
Al was primarily a teacher. He had an aura about him that made you want to listen to what he had to say. He rarely had a bad word to say about anyone and looked for the good in the world. He not only believed in basic human values, he lived them and even better, he inspired others to live them. He was married to Mary for over fifty years and they had six children; one of whom I was lucky enough to meet and marry.
Al was extremely intelligent and did many things during his life. He designed airfields for the state of California, drew cartoons for The Sacramento Bee
, designed houses, was a fireman and a radar instructor in the Army Air Corp and taught high school art and woodwork. In his later years, he mastered his Apple Mac and spent hours browsing on-line and emailing his family. Over 200 people attended his funeral; that in itself is an amazing accomplishment.WOW: That is amazing... In fact, everything about Al sounds amazing. I think you've really shown him in a wonderful light. He sounds like a person I would love to know. Can you tell us what Al loved about squirrels?Mandy:
I think he loved that squirrels chose to be a part of his world. Okay, perhaps they were just after the nuts he left on the window ledge. Still, watching the little guys eat and drink the buffet he left them each day gave him a real buzz. (Except for the time that they moved into the roof!)WOW: (laughing) I can imagine! You know, I'm an avid fan of interesting conspiracy theories... they seem to make for good story plots. What were some of Al's favorites? And what was his political story, Strange Doin's about? Mandy:
Al had firm beliefs that there was a right way to treat people and a wrong way to treat people. His conspiracy theories related to how money can create power that in turn can generate a corruption that transcends generations. He believed that the seeds of today's fearful and divisive culture were sewn during the early 1900's. I would say more... but they're watching... always watching...WOW: (laughs) Well put! Yes... we should move on to the next question before suspicion arises...
In your bio, you said that you do promotional copy for a living; but from what we can see, or read anyway, you have the gift of story-telling. When did you start writing, and how did you get into copywriting?Mandy:
My mother tells me that on my first day of school, I came home in tears because I couldn't yet read and write. I was five when I started devouring books and probably even making up stories then. My earliest memory of knowing I really enjoyed writing and starting to learn it as a craft was when I was nine. I remember writing a story that my teacher just didn't 'get.' I had a scene where the main character remembered some action and I wrote it as a flashback. My teacher told me I couldn't make a story go back in time. That was my first lesson in choosing what criticisms to take on board and what to discard.
As a child I always wrote. If I had a spare five minutes I'd write a poem. I'd amaze my friends by making rhyming poems out of conversations we'd had or immortalising those heartbreak moments from high school. It was fun and writing came easy for me. Then came the real world. I actually studied science at University because I believed that if I wrote as a job it would kill my passion for it. I wasn't a very good scientist and went back to study Public Relations. From then on, every job I had involved writing of some kind.
When we moved to Melbourne two years ago, I made the decision to start copywriting. My real aim at the time was to become a full-time writer and to finish a novel that I'd started years ago. Some of the most well-known writers started out as advertising copywriters, so I thought it might be a good way to gain credibility in literary circles. I've got to say that since I started writing as a job, my passion for it has increased. And it's not simply that I'm honing my craft, it's that other people see me as a writer which in turn reinforces that point to me (particularly on days when the words aren't flowing). Working for myself also gives me the flexibility to set my own hours. I've been able to join a local writers group and am continually inspired by their stories - both real and imagined.WOW: Writers groups fuel the fire and spark creativity, as do contests, online critiques, and forums. Do you enter many writing competitions?Mandy:
To date I haven't entered many competitions and I've had mixed success with the ones I've entered over the years. Often life seems to intrude and claim the space and energy that could be given to writing. Now I've reached a point in my life where writing is my number one professional priority. I've got a fantastic group of supportive friends and reviewers whose opinions and suggestions I highly respect. So this year, I've made a list of all the competitions I want to enter. I've tried to mix them up a bit. The word counts range from 56 words to 5,000. Entering competitions gives me a real motivation to write - especially since I always have lots to say. I find I look at the world differently when I'm looking for a storyline. I'm more observant, more curious. Competitions also provide a natural a deadline. There's nothing like the pressure of a due date to make a story reveal itself.WOW: I agree. I think it's the structure and word count that provides a challenge that otherwise we writers wouldn't take on by ourselves. You said that you look at the world differently when you're looking for a storyline. So, can you tell us, who are your favorite authors?Mandy:
Two books that I'll never forget are ones I read in high school. "In Search of Anna"
by Esben Storm and "A Candle for St Antony"
by Eleanor Spence. Both are Australian stories, which is actually strange because I read more American books growing up than Australian ones. You know, I generally forget the authors of books - unless they're really well known. I'm going to have to start remembering more of them because it's a question people often seem to ask. I love books that make me laugh out loud. Though most recently I've read Tim Winton who is an acclaimed Australian author and Jodi Picoult's "The Tenth Circle"
. Sometimes I go to the library looking for a particular book. Most times though, I cruise down the shelves, looking for titles and spines that catch my eye or my imagination. I like the mystery of picking books that way.WOW: I love books that make me laugh as well! It always comes as such a surprise when a book suddenly makes me laugh out loud.
In your bio you'd mentioned that you enjoyed sailing on other people's yachts! That made me laugh when I read it. Can you tell us about that?Mandy:
If you're going to sail, on OPBs (other people's boats) is the only way to go. Keeping a yacht in a seaworthy state can be quite a challenge to your finances. My husband and I are part of a crew of eight who race on a 40ft boat. We were meant to do an ocean race just after Christmas. The day before we competed in a race around Port Phillip Bay and unfortunately got crunched amid three other boats on the start line. The boat we sail on 'cracked a rib' which is an internal structural support and bent a metal plate that sits over the bow (the pointy end). We were lucky. The boat in front of us got a hole through its hull! Yep. An expensive day out. The insurance companies will be arguing over those claims for a while.
Sailing is a great social sport. In fact, my husband and I met at a sailing school in Sydney where we were both learning how to sail. If you're going to sail, Sydney's one of the best places in the world - you can sail every day! And if you do it on someone else's boat, it's free! Melbourne is at the edge of Port Phillip Bay and around our part there are three yacht clubs in close proximity and in summer, races every weekend. In the summer months we also have daylight saving which means it doesn't get dark until later - meaning you can race on Wednesday and Thursday evenings too!WOW: (laughs) OPB's... I'll have to hit you up if I'm ever in Australia!
Mandy, this has been so much fun, and you are such a delight! Can you tell us how the whole experience of the WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest has been for you?Mandy:
You know, this story was a challenge for me to write. I couldn't decide whether you'd accept a story where the pom pom was from a beanie and not a cheerleading pom pom. In Australia, we have many, many sports and only one code of football (we have four different types of football) has cheerleading squads. Once I'd gotten over the whole beanie / cheerleader dilemma, I really enjoyed the challenge of creating a story. I love short, short stories. I write my first draft and it's usually twice the allowable limit. Then comes the fun part of paring back every non-essential word. So thank you for having a challenging length.
I also love the way you communicate with your writers. You really appreciate the time and effort that everyone puts into their entries. It's a pleasure to read your emails and your website.WOW: Thank you. Both Beryl and I have been there, so we know what a challenge it is from the opposite end. Often contestants are left out of the loop, so we try to maintain good contact. Although, we have to say, we are definitely not perfect! Most of the time things take longer than expected, and there's so much more organization going on than anticipated... but we try our best. We appreciate each one of you and sincerely enjoy chatting with you all.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to enter a contest?Mandy:
Go for it! Okay, that's too simplistic because there's more to it than that. Here's my advice:
First of all, unlike a computer manual, you really do need to read the competition rules. Read them and follow them. You don't want to go to all the effort of writing a fantastic story only to be disqualified on a technicality.
Word counts are included as part of the writing challenge so make sure you keep within them. If you've got too many words, read through your story and continually ask yourself, "Does this add anything to the story?", "Do I need this for my story to make sense?" If the answer to either question is "No", save your draft as it is, take out the words you've decided are unnecessary and then save your work as a new draft. That way if you want to go back to something you've deleted, it will be waiting for you.
Write from your heart and write about something you know or something that is meaningful to you. Readers relate to stories and people that speak their language so you really don't need big words. Rather than write a term paper, simply tell your story.
Aim to write and rewrite your story until you're completely happy with it. That may mean two drafts, it may mean twenty. Honour your talent by listening to the inner voice that tells you when a word is not quite right or when a phrase or paragraph needs to be rewritten.
Ask someone you trust to read your work. Choose your reviewers carefully. You want someone who will be tactfully honest. That means, they'll tell you what they think without being discouraging. Remember, it's your story, you don't have to make the changes they suggest. Still, if you trust them, think over their ideas before discarding them. Sometimes the things we hate hearing the most are the very comments we need to hear.
I read somewhere that if you enjoy writing your story, readers will enjoy reading it. So have some fun. This is your opportunity to re-invent yourself - or anyone else for that matter.
Know that your writing career and talent, don't hinge on whether or not you win any individual contest or award. Just because one judge preferred someone else's writing style or story over yours does not make you a bad writer. Think of all the books you've read, or started to read, that you haven't enjoyed. Those writers were published. You can be too!
Celebrate! Celebrate the fact that you've written a story. Celebrate the fact that you've entered a competition. Celebrate any feedback that makes you a better writer. And definitely celebrate when you win! WOW: Well put!
If you haven't read Mandy's entry yet, check it out here: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/5-fallcontestwinners.php
Thank you Mandy for a fabulous interview! WOW! readers: Coming soon -- Mandy shares her secrets about How To cut a contest entry down to size! Learn how to meet that word count without giving up your story. STAY TUNED
Labels: Fall 2006, First Place, Flash Fiction Contest, Mandy vicsai, Winner, WOW Women On Writing, writing competition, writing contest
Diana Ewing's story, "The Gift of the Mac Guy," delighted us all and warmed our hearts. And since it was the perfect story for the holiday season, we had to ask Diana her inspiration behind it. Here's what she had to say:WOW: What inspired you to write this story?Diana:
I thought and thought about how to use your pom-pom theme, dismissing every idea I came up with. Finally, because the holidays were approaching, I happened to think about the old O. Henry story, "The Gift of the Magi." And, voila, my story was born!WOW: That's great Diana! Taking an old story and tailoring it to fit the prompt. I had no idea where it came from, but it was absolutely wonderful. Can you tell our readers what you're working on right now?Diana:
Besides my regular freelance P.R. and copywriting work, I'm working on my nonfiction humor book proposal, refining my first three chapters and writing a synopsis toward the late January writers' conference in San Diego.WOW: That's great to see you're staying busy writing and attending events. Do you enter many writing contests?Diana:
This is the first fiction writing contest I've ever entered.WOW: Well, congratulations! And how was the experience of entering the WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest been for you?Diana:
I was attracted to your fun and clever prompt and found the rules and guidelines for entering the contest to be very clear and easy to follow. Plus, the prize package is amazing! I would suggest to all short fiction contests that they provide a prompt because it puts all the stories on a more equal footing.WOW: Well said. In fact, that's the whole idea behind the prompt! It does level the playing field for all writers. We've seen first hand that it's not the experience of the writer that counts here, it's the way the story is told, and the way it is written. And you can see from the diverse entries that experimental writing is encouraged!
Diana, thanks for answering our questions, and we look forward to your article in our February Issue's Freelancer's Corner.
If you haven't read Diana's entry yet, check it out here: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/5-fallcontestwinners.php
Labels: Diana Ewing, Diana J. Ewing, Fall 2006, Flash Fiction Contest, Second Place, Winner, WOW Women On Writing, writing contest
Melissa Herman's story, "In the Name of Love," won 3rd place in our Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest. And if you read the story, you can see that Melissa had such a unique take on our prompt that we had to ask her about the inspiration behind it. Here's what Melissa had to say:WOW:
Melissa, what inspired you to write, In the Name of Love
I am a horror writer so most of my fiction tends toward the darker side of human nature. It was a challenge to turn such an innocent object- a cheerleader's pom pom- into something less than pure. I knew I needed a strong woman who could handle this bizarre situation. I was really quite excited and proud of the finished product.
As you should be. Your piece was riveting! It seems like you've done this before... have you entered many writing competitions?MH:
I have entered several writing contests over the past couple of years. I've entered the Writer's Digest competitions- both the short story and the new genre contest. I also research the Web looking for contests that focus on the horror genre like the Bards and Sages contest. There are several sites that I use which is how I found out about WOW as well.WOW:
That's great. We love the support from our sister sites. They all help us to get the best possible entrants for our contest, such as yourself. Which reminds me... you have quite an impressive resume, from your work with NPR, MSNBC, and The Chicago Tribune
. Can you tell our readers what kind of work you did for them?MH:
I submitted an essay, "One Day in February," to the National Endowment for the Arts project Operation Homecoming. Though my piece was not published in their anthology, my piece was used frequently to promote the project. I read a portion of it on NPR and it was published on their Web site. The Chicago Tribune
and MSNBC also published it. This summer I went to LA to participate in a documentary about the project as well.WOW:
Congratulations! That's quite an accomplishment, as is winning our contest. Can you tell us how the experience of entering WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction has been for you?MH:
I enjoyed being part of this contest. The prompt was fun and writing flash fiction was a great challenge. Being a quarterly contest, the wait is negligible and you ladies kept us well-informed of the process. Not to mention, WOW is a great opportunity for women to have their work recognized by their peers. It's a great community! WOW:
Thanks Melissa for the kudos, and we wish you the best of luck in your writing career. Hopefully, we will have you back soon to freelance for WOW!
If you haven't read Melissa's entry yet, check it out here: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/5-fallcontestwinners.php
Labels: Fall 2006, Flash Fiction Contest, Melissa Herman, WOW Women On Writing, writing contest
UPDATE: Our guest judge for the Fall 2006 Contest will be a tad late on the judging. So, if you were frantically checking your e-mail today in hopes of notification... don't worry! You are still in the running!
We sincerely apologize for the delay. We will inform contestants no later than next Wednesday, December 20th.
Since fall was our first contest, we are still learning about what works and what doesn't. We learned that selling the contest e-book in our store was very confusing for most entrants, even ourselves. We also learned that downloading the e-book was a little more complicated than we thought it would be. And don't get me started on our auto-responders sending out the wrong links! Yikes!
This time around, we're making things easier. We added a 'buy now' button to the contest, so when you're ready to enter, it's there. We're also going to have the e-book instructions free for download this next time around (we'll be posting that in January). This will let you review the rules & regs leisurely and be able to understand all the terms before you enter... (duh!) All we will require when you submit your entry for confirmation is to include your receipt #. This will verify your entry.
If you have any suggestions, let's hear 'em! Rant and rave. Let us know what we can do to make things easier for all of us and we'll do our best to make it happen.
Cross your fingers, and stay tuned. Believe me, we're just as excited to know as you are!
Labels: Contest, Fall 2006, Flash Fiction Contest, Update