Tuesday, March 04, 2008

 

Fall 2007 Runner Up! Ellen Murphy



Ellen Murphy is a runner up in WOW!'s Fall 2007 Essay Contest. Her entry, Time Together, is a touching story about her changing relationship with her dad. We congratulate this high achieving sixteen-year-old from Fort Myers, Florida, and chat with her about writing and the other activities that keep her busy.


* * *


WOW: Congratulations for placing as one of the Runners Up in our Fall 2007 writing contest! How do you feel?

Ellen: I was incredibly excited. I didn't really expect to place this high in the competition since it is the first writing contest I've ever been entered in. It was really cool to be the only "kid" runner up, among a bunch of adults.

WOW: It's great to have a young writer in the winner's circle. What inspired you to enter the contest?

Ellen: My English teacher handed me the prompt and "suggested" I entered.

WOW: She had the right idea about you! When did you develop an interest in writing? Have you written other things as well?

Ellen: I honestly have not been interested in writing at all until this year. This year I feel like my writing has really improved and the pieces I've created this year are way beyond anything I've done in the past. But this is the first contest I have ever entered and had anyone besides my English teacher judge.

WOW: You definitely are doing well with your writing. What about future writing plans or goals? What would you like to do?

Ellen: A career in writing doesn't particularly interest me. I just hope I can write a killer college admission essay.

WOW: Absolutely. We wish you luck with that important project! Tell us about the trip that you took with your dad. How did it go? What were the best parts?

Ellen: The trip was amazing! We went to the beach (my favorite) and I got to get a little color in what is the dead of winter for my hometown. The game was awesome and the Bengals won which made the trip that much more exciting.

WOW: Sounds terrific. I'm sure your dad was pleased that his "surprise" turned out so well. From your bio, you seem to be a very busy young woman. First, you're quite an athlete! Can you talk about the sports you participate in, and what's involved with being on those teams? What do you enjoy about them?

Ellen: Well, I have swam since I was in the third grade and it has quite the schedule. I practiced everyday after school, and two days a week I got up at 4:30 am for before school practices. On Christmas break and over the summer practices were also twice a day, everyday. As you can see, it was quite strenuous which is why I have begun to pursue my running career. Running is great exercise and makes me feel good about myself. If I'm ever having a stressful day, I go out running which gives me an outlet to let out my frustration and gives me some time to myself to think. Despite how my mom hates it when I run at night because she thinks it's dangerous...it is my favorite time to go. It is so relaxing and peaceful. I run random races around where I live, but I'm also on my school's track team which practices after school. I like the track team because it is for my school, whereas the team I swam for was a separate club team.

WOW: Running is a wonderful stress reliever, and it's great that you've found something you enjoy. You're also a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the French club. What can you tell us about your involvement with those groups?

Ellen: In NJHS we collect canned goods around Thanksgiving and Christmas time to give to the needy. We also each adopt a less fortunate child at Christmas and fill a box full of presents, which for some is all they will receive at Christmas. We then go to the school and personally give them our gifts and spend an hour or so playing with them. It makes me feel really good knowing I have made this kid so happy. We also sponsor different events for our school and around the community.
In French club we sponsor different events for younger kids to get them excited about foreign languages.

WOW: Those are some wonderful ways to help and mentor others. I'm sure your efforts are appreciated. If there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Ellen: Write something that has meaning to you.


***


If you haven't done so already, please read Ellen's story, Time Together.

And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

 

Fall 2007 Second Place Winner! Pam Hawley



In Pam Hawley’s 2nd place winning piece, “The Pink Dachshund,” a surprise is waiting for the reader, just as the author was caught off-guard when this true story actually happened to her!

Pam lives, works, and loves life in Baltimore, MD. She has been addicted to the craft of writing since childhood and spends much of her free time writing short fiction, creative non-fiction, and content for her blog at http://sixweasels.vox.com. Pam earned a BA in English and a certificate in writing from the UMBC in 1994. She currently earns her living as a project lead and manager at the same university and is hoping to make her break in the world of fiction writing. She shares her home with her boyfriend and two ferrets, Vinnie and Ginny.

* * *

WOW: Pam, congratulations on winning second place in the contest! When you read the prompt, did the idea for your essay about your boss just pop into your mind? Did you have to do any brainstorming first?

Pam: Actually, when I first read the prompt, nothing that came to my mind gave me that “zing” feeling that happens when you know you’ve got a good idea. It happened about a week later, when I was talking with a friend about work issues. My mind just started backtracking to that first “real” job, and my gruff boss moonlighting as a clown. Then I remembered the prompt. Sometimes I just need to put something in the back of my mind and wait for it to click like that.

WOW: I know what you mean. A writer’s mind always seems to be working even when we aren’t aware of it. Your essay was so easy to read—almost like a story. What are some techniques you used to put elements of fiction into your nonfiction essay?

Pam: Well, the incident I wrote about happened over 10 years ago. So when I was writing, I had to sort of visualize and recreate events the way I would if I was telling a story. I can’t remember the exact conversation I had with my boss that day, so I took the gist of it and tried to create an exchange that would convey how I felt and how I thought he was feeling.

Overall, I think there are a lot of similarities in writing fiction and nonfiction, and I used them in this essay. You often have to weave people, places, and events into a story in nonfiction just as you do in fiction. You have to be descriptive and paint a picture with words. I find that when I write fiction, much of what I’m writing is inspired by people or events in real life. So flipping the coin and using fiction-writing techniques in nonfiction isn’t all that different.

WOW: So much fiction does seem to be based on real life events or people, even if authors don’t always admit it. Sometimes, favorite pets even make it into a writer’s work. What about your ferrets? Have they ever made it into your stories or essays?

Pam: Not yet. Although years ago, I hosted a Web site on ferrets at Suite 101, and I’ve been toying with the idea of a children’s book with my ferrets as the main characters. Their antics are regular features in my blog, though. I love posting photos of them and creating captions of what I think might be going through their minds at that moment.

WOW: Oh, so you have a blog? They are so fun to read and write. Why did you decide to start a blog? Does it have a specific purpose or is it just a place for you to write?

Pam: My blog is basically a journal that I choose to keep online instead of with pen and paper. I enjoy the interactivity of being part of an online community and exchanging ideas and experiences. Growing up, I kept paper journals, but I never stuck with them. I’ve been blogging in various places since 2001, so I guess the “sharing” element of writing online keeps me motivated. The other great thing about blogging, at least for me, is that I can capture bits and pieces of thoughts and ideas that might lead to essays, stories, or articles when I have time to go back and think about them. My blog is like a collection of post-it notes I can’t lose.

WOW: I love that description—“like a collection of post-it notes I can’t lose.” I never thought about it that way. Maybe all writers should have something like that. You seem to be full of ideas and really motivated. Have you set goals for yourself? Where do you see yourself in the future?

Pam: In the short-term, I hope to transition into making writing my primary source of income through gradually taking on freelance opportunities and continuing to submit my work to a variety of online and print publications. In the long-term, I’d love to complete and publish a collection of short stories and possibly a novel someday.

WOW: Wow! It seems like you have a definite direction for where you want to go with your career. That is something we all can learn from. So, you are interested in breaking into fiction with short stories and a novel? Tell us more about this.

Pam: My current project is a collection of short stories. My father owns a small local pub in the Baltimore area, and over the years, I’ve met some very interesting characters and heard some incredible life stories there. I’m the kind of person who likes to sit back and listen when someone with a few drinks in them wants to talk, so I’ve heard tales ranging from life working in the circus to finding true love at 80. I also see a lot of interesting happenings there. So, the collection will be a combination of the stories I’ve heard and snippets of various events. The stories and snippets will be fictional but based on what I’ve seen and heard over the years. A pub, especially one that is more of a local hometown place than a see-and-be-seen kind of venue, is a great place to find writing material.

WOW: I bet it is. It’s also interesting that your real life is making it into your fiction writing again, like we were talking about before. I, for one, am already interested in reading your short stories inspired by the pub! It sounds like the kind of stories I love. It seems like you are already on a great writing path. What did this contest win do to help lead you toward those goals?

Pam: Most importantly, it really boosted my confidence! I read the entries of the other contest winners and runners-up and was incredibly proud to be included in such a talented group. I have done a wee bit of freelance writing and worked on various creative projects for years, but I have just lately begun seriously thinking about finding a way to earn a living doing what I love –writing. This is one of my first contest entries, and winning really helped me believe I have the ability to do that if I put my mind to it.

WOW: Those are very inspirational words, and some we can all learn from. It’s really important to do what you love and also to get a little boost along the way. We all know writing can be a hard journey. Your bio also mentions you have formal college training in English and writing. Do you feel this is helpful to you in accomplishing your goals? Were these difficult programs?

Pam: Earning my English degree was a huge help to me in becoming a better and more disciplined writer. I’m sure my writing courses were difficult, but I honestly had so much fun completing them that I really don’t remember them that way! What was truly most helpful about being in a college writing program was being surrounded by instructors and students who loved writing as much as I do, sharing ideas and techniques, and critiquing and being critiqued. I miss that, which is probably another reason I started blogging.

My college advisor, who was also a freelance journalist who supported his wife and children by writing and teaching a course here and there, used to tell us he wallpapered his home office with rejection letters. He really helped me toughen up and realize that if I wanted to make it as a writer, I’d have to accept that not everyone would like what I’d created and rejection would be part of my reality.

WOW: Yes, unfortunately for all of us, rejection is part of the writing world. I love that he wallpapered his office with the rejections. I usually throw those letters away, but I know lots of writers who save them, too. So, how do you get all this writing done when you have a full-time job?

Pam: This is probably the hardest thing for me. What works best is giving up all other responsibilities, such as cleaning house and grocery shopping. I’m kidding … kind of!

Right now, I accomplish my writing time by getting up with my boyfriend, who has to leave for work at 5:00 am, and using the wee hours of the morning to write. This gives me roughly two hours before I have to start getting ready for my own day job. I used to try writing at night, and sometimes still do, but often find that my hectic job has sucked away all my creative energy for the day. When I get home, I just want to veg out or play. Writing while still in my PJs and drinking my morning coffee, before I get too far into the day, works best for me. On the weekends, I often spend time writing or researching publishing opportunities, but I also try to give myself a break from both writing and work – time to just get outside, snuggle up with my boyfriend, watch some football, read a good book, or play with the ferrets. I figure that if all I do is work and write, I’ll run out of inspiration. So, I try to find time to just “be,” too.

WOW: Thank you so much, Pam, for taking the time to answer our questions today. You have shared with us a lot of great tips and words of wisdom. Do you have any other tips for people who want to enter future contests?

Pam: I’m new at contests myself, but I think what I’d say is to make sure you get something out of the experience whether or not you win. You can do that by crafting entries that you really enjoy writing or that help you work on a tone, type of storytelling, or style you’d like to practice. That way, you can’t lose! If you enter contests with prompts, choose one that inspires or “speaks” to you somehow, rather than trying to force an essay or fiction piece out of a prompt that leaves you feeling blah. The next prompt may be the one that awakens your personal muse.

* * *



To check out Pam’s blog, please see http://sixweasels.vox.com. To see more about Pam, go to http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/49060/pam_.html

If you haven’t done so already, please read Pam’s award-winning story, “The Pink Dachshund,” at http://wow-womenonwriting.com/17-FE1-FallContest2008.html .
And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

* * *

Margo Dill

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

 

Fall 2007 Third Place Winner! Dianne Greco



Dianne Greco's story, It Could Be Angels, won Third Place in WOW!'s Fall 2007 Essay Contest. Not bad for her first ever contest entry! Today we chat with her and find out why she entered, what it's like to score big on your first try, and what's next for this Port Jefferson, New York writer on the rise.


***

WOW: Congratulations on winning third place in WOW!'s Fall 2007 writing contest! How do you feel?

Dianne: I am surprised, excited and ecstatic!

WOW: What a great reaction! You mentioned in your bio that the WOW! contest was the first essay contest you ever got up the nerve to enter. How did you convince yourself to do it?

Dianne: In the past, I have written to authors of books that I enjoyed and have always received wonderful responses. I asked the author of the fabulous book, Around the Next Corner, Elizabeth Wrenn, how she got started and what advice she would give to an author wanna-be, and she suggested writing contests. Well, after searching on the internet, I found the WOW! website, liked the upbeat feel of it, and decided to give the essay contest a try. I figured I had to start somewhere, and WOW! seemed like a good fit. Boy, was it ever!

WOW: Thanks for the kind words about WOW! We appreciate it. Your essay about a good deed resulting in good karma was both touching and laced with humor. Has your good luck continued since the wallet incident?

Dianne: I consider myself very blessed with good things in my life. I can't say that the wallet incident changed anything, but perhaps it has helped to continue the path to good karma!

WOW: Well, that's a good path to stay on. What were some of your biggest challenges in writing your essay? What did you do to overcome them?

Dianne: I think my biggest challenge was my own fear. Fear of the unknown, failure and/or rejection. You know, normal every day stuff! But they say nothing changes unless something changes, so I bit the bullet and submitted my entry.

WOW: Common fears, indeed. What a great outcome for your bravery though, a third place win! You've also completed a novel. Can you tell us about that? What did it take to complete that big goal?

Dianne: My novel, The Hands of Grace, is about a recently widowed woman who is just starting to get her life back on track with her high powered job in NYC, her teenage son, and a new residence on Eastern Long Island, when out of the blue, she gets fired. The story tells of her rebirth into a new life at the hands of her very dear, eccentric and elderly neighbor, Grace, and she learns some tough lessons about life, love and trust along the way. This was a labor of love started years ago, dropped and picked up again many times, depending on what was going on in my "other" life.

WOW: Sounds like an interesting book! What other projects are you working on?

Dianne: I am currently finishing the sequel to The Hands of Grace, titled The Heart of Grace. I am in the editing stage right now, which, as I'm sure you know, could take forever...

WOW: Yes, that can be a long process. Good luck with the revisions. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Dianne: I work full time, so I usually write at night. It is my relaxation. I find that if I just do a stream of consciousness thing, ideas flow at random and then later on I can organize them into the story.

WOW: That's very motivating for writers who may only have time in the evenings for writing. You've accomplished a lot despite other big responsibilities. Have you found inspiration from other books or authors you could recommend?

Dianne: Oh yes! As I mentioned, Elizabeth Wrenn. I also enjoy Jan Karon (the Mitford series) Joan Medlicott (another dear who actually answered an e-mail!) There are so many wonderful authors, new and old, who give me such joy. I would have to compile a long list to include them all.

WOW: Great recommendations. Do you have any writing goals for the New Year? How's it going so far?

Dianne: My one goal is to finish the edits on The Heart of Grace, but I will take it slow to be sure I do it right. I also wouldn't mind getting my first novel published! That would be the cherry on top!

WOW: We hope that wish comes true for you, Dianne! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. One final question: If there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Dianne: Write, write and keep on writing. Ask questions of authors that have been where you are, and then (and here's the rub) LISTEN!

***

If you haven't done so already, please read Dianne's award winning story, It Could be Angels.

And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

--MP

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

 

Fall 2007 First Place Winner! Nancy Wick


Luck? Coincidence? Does it really exist? What about karma, serendipity, or missed opportunities? These were some of the questions posed by WOW! Women On Writing's first ever, essay contest. And now we have some answers!

Nancy Wick has been a writer and editor for 30 years, working in newspapers and magazines, and has won both regional and national writing awards. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Speech and Drama from the University of Missouri and is a former film and theater critic. She also earned a doctorate in communication at the University of Washington. Now that she is nearing retirement from her job as editor of the faculty/staff newspaper at the UW, she has started a small editing business, EnLightened Edits. She enjoys working on many kinds of writing, but is especially fond of character-driven novels (both genre and non-genre), psychology/self-help books, essays and memoirs.

We welcome Nancy and congratulate her for winning First Place in the Fall 2007 Essay Contest, sponsored by the Globe Pequot Press’ skirt! books. If you haven't done so already, please read Nancy's award winning story, Cookie Magic. Then come back and join us as we chat with a talented writer and a remarkable woman.

***

WOW: Congratulations on your First Place essay, Cookie Magic! Nancy, your story is truly inspiring. I want to thank you for sharing your journey as a single mother—I know it’s a tough path to tread, but your story remained upbeat and inspirational, despite what you were probably enduring. After your break-up with Bob, what made you choose Seattle, Washington as a place to move to?

NANCY:
People laugh when I say this, but I actually chose it in part for the weather. I’d been living in the Midwest, where the summers are terribly hot and humid, and I HATED that. I wanted someplace that was cool year round, but without a lot of snow. I was also looking for a more liberal place with lots of cultural outlets, such as live theater. I considered several cities, but Seattle was the one that had everything. And no, I don’t mind the rain.

WOW: Well, you're a better woman than I am! I'm a little spoiled from living in Southern California—we don't get much humidity, or much rain. But I do love Seattle, the culture there is vibrant. So, how did you first get into editing for the faculty/staff newspaper at the University of Washington?

NANCY: A friend of mine’s co-worker was the neighbor of my current boss. She told me about the job opening—at that time as assistant editor. Back in the Midwest, I’d worked for a daily newspaper, so I had the relevant experience. Working for the university allowed me to stay in journalism, but without the evening and weekend hours.

WOW: That's definitely a bonus! And now that you’re nearing retirement, you’ve started a new business, EnLightened Edits. I’m sure our readers would love to know more about what kinds of services you provide.

NANCY: I provide a variety of editing services. I can, if people want, simply read what they’ve written, correct all the spelling and grammatical errors and suggest clearer ways of saying things. I also can offer what is called developmental editing—an evaluation of a whole manuscript that points out strengths and weaknesses and makes suggestions for improvement.

WOW: In your bio you mentioned character-driven novels—do you write fiction as well?

NANCY: I’ve tried to write fiction, but unfortunately I’m not very good at it! But I read fiction constantly, and in my business I especially enjoy working on novels. It turns out you can be good at evaluating the kind of writing you’re not good at doing.

WOW: True, but it takes an avid reader. Since we’re in the midst of our January, “Reader’s Issue,” who are some of your favorite authors?

NANCY: There are so many, I hardly know where to start. I love Marge Piercy, Alice Hoffman, Anne Patchett, JoAnne Harris, Anna Quindlen, etc., etc. For mysteries I love Elizabeth George, whose work transcends the genre.

WOW: Oh, I love her! To me, your story, Cookie Magic, could work as fiction, although, it's more dynamic as an essay. From reading your story, I have to ask, are you still in touch with Brenda today? She seems like such a fabulous friend.

NANCY: No, Brenda moved to Tacoma a couple of years after I moved out (which I did because she’d gotten a job in Tacoma and was selling her house), and I lost touch with her. I’m very grateful to her for her help at that time.

WOW: And how about your son, Ian? What is he doing now, and has he had a chance to read your winning story?

NANCY: Ian is a computer guy who is working with databases. He hasn’t yet read the story, though I’ve told him about it.

WOW: Well, I'm sure he'll be proud. We had a lot of entries this season, how does it feel to win First Place?

NANCY: I’m thrilled, of course. When I read the other two winning essays, I was very impressed and thought maybe they should have won. Pam and Dianne, kudos to you. I felt as if I’d really met Pam’s boss when I read her essay, and Dianne – what an experience, to find the owner of the wallet in the manner you did!

WOW: There were some very good stories, and I enjoyed them all. It's always such a tough decision for our guest judges...and for the writers. When you first saw the prompt, did you automatically know what you were going to write about?

NANCY: There are many “coincidences” in my life that I could have chosen. I gave it some thought, and decided that this one fit the prompt the most closely—the idea of coming upon something by accident that made a real difference in your life. From there I simply sat down and wrote about the incident as I remembered it. Fortunately I’ve always kept a journal, so I was able to go back and get some details about that time.

WOW: Journaling is something I totally recommend as well, but sometimes you look back at your casual writing and notice it would take a lot to make it into a story. Did you have to do a lot of editing to tailor your essay?

NANCY: I did quite a lot of editing. I have a friend, another writer, to whom I show most of my stuff—especially stuff that I intend to submit somewhere. It was her suggestion that I start at the bank. My initial draft started with the background of how I got to Seattle. Once I changed the lead, the rest followed, which is kind of how it always is in journalism. Getting the opening right is really important. After that it was a matter of cutting to make it tighter and making sure I was using the most effective words to tell the story.

WOW: I agree, the hook is the most important, and you did it so well! You really captured the reader with the first sentence. It's no wonder you've also won regional and national awards for your writing. Please tell us more about those—you have bragging rights!

NANCY: There are two organizations that evaluate writing such as I do in my job—the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ). Both have regional and national competitions. I’ve won regional SPJ awards in various categories —best magazine article in education, for example. (I write for the alumni magazine as well as the newspaper.) I’ve also won an award in the national CASE Best Articles of the Year category. And last year, my assistant editor and I won a national CASE award for writing in an internal publication.

WOW: Congrats on those, Nancy! And from your bio, I know you were also a former film and theater critic. Many of our freelance writers would consider that a dream job. Do you still do this today? And do you have any tips for breaking into the business that our freelancers should know?

NANCY: No, I don’t do it anymore. I think anyone considering this should remember that as a critic, you get to go to everything—the stinkers as well as the great films. The newspaper I worked for only used staff writers as critics, so it was a matter of being on staff and continuing to ask for those assignments. Larger papers sometimes hire freelancers. I’d say the best approach is to find out from the paper’s entertainment editor whether they hire freelancers. If they do, attend a few movies and send in sample reviews so they can see what you can do.

WOW: I think I'll use that advice the next time I'm at the movies. So, what do you do when you have some free time?

NANCY: I read, of course. I go to movies and live theater. I used to do line and square dancing and would like to get back to that.

WOW: Do you also have a set writing schedule?

NANCY: I get up at 5 a.m. every morning so as to have time to write before going to work. My goal is to do something five days a week—even if it’s only 10 minutes worth.

WOW: That's an excellent goal to have. So, what are your goals for 2008?

NANCY: To get my website for Enlightened Edits up. It’s nearly ready, and to do more editing, which I really enjoy. I also want to keep submitting essays to publications and competitions.

WOW: Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to chat with us today! Do you have any tips for our ladies who are entering writing contests?

NANCY: Just keep entering. Don’t take a loss to mean your writing is worthless. I’ve lost more contests than I’ve won, but I keep trying because I know every judge is different and you never know who will respond to what you do.

***

If you haven't done so already, please read Nancy's award winning story, Cookie Magic. And stay tuned for Nancy Wick's award-winning story to be published on the skirt! magazine website: http://www.skirt.com

And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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