Monday, March 29, 2010

 

In April, It’s All About the Script

by Jill Earl

Novelists have NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Bloggers have NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. The start of April later this week brings the fourth annual Script Frenzy for the aspiring scriptwriter.

Script Frenzy is a free international writing event where participants are challenged to write 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April, experience not required. No prizes are offered, but every writer that finishes receives a winner's certificate and accompanying web icon to proclaim your achievement. Any type of script is eligible: screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comic book and graphic novel scripts, adaptations of novels, radio scripts, whatever gets you scribbling.

Like its siblings above, entrants won’t be left adrift. Start with the ‘Writer’s Resources’ page to begin your pre-Frenzy prep with how-to guides and worksheets to map out your writing. Move on to the the ‘Writing Software’ page for advice on selecting the proper one for your needs. Peruse ‘Cameos’ for articles by industry experts. To get the juices flowing, hit the Plot Machine for script ideas like this one: “After waiting in line for a Wii, a near-sighted chemist must stop the space-time continuum.”

And when the Frenzy begins, don’t forget checking out the forums to network, ask questions, offer answers, see what’s up in your specific genre, discuss the latest tools of the trade, and many other activities.

There's still time to sign up. The festivities begin 12:00:01 a.m. April 1 and end no later than 11:59:59 p.m. April 30.

Script Frenzy’s tagline asks, “30 days. 100 pages. April. Are you in?”

I sure am. Let’s see how this baby turns out.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

 

Prompts on the Brain

By Jill Earl

Here’s are a selection of prompts to try, courtesy of A Working Writer’s Daily Planner 2010.

For this first one, ‘Travel’, you begin by cutting out pictures from the travel section of a newspaper such as the New York Times. Lay them out and imagine a trip for your character. Write about what they did and saw, anything that comes to mind---and if the character has left anything behind at home. Perhaps having your character get away from it all can help you get away from that writer’s block.

Next up, ‘Mirror Image’. Think about the kind of life you’d have if you had a double, not a biological twin. What would they be like? What kind of life would they lead? Write a scene where you meet them. What if you had a third self, one you wouldn’t want? Last thing---how about all three of you going out for lunch?

Here’s the last one. Find a story that intrigues or fascinates you. Try writing yourself into it as a character. Oh, the places you could go with this one! (Thanks, Dr. Seuss!)

So if you find yourself hitting a wall in your writing, think about using prompts. Perhaps having ‘prompts on the brain’ can help keep your writing fresh.

And keep those submissions going!

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

 

‘The Ten Things That Must Happen’---in Your Writing

By Jill Earl

I’ve never been one for outlining. Even back in school, I found it more of an effort to create an outline for a particular assignment than to just write my thoughts and ideas out. I applaud those who find it useful, though.

Then, I came across the latest issue of OnceWritten.com’s Writing Sparks Newsletter, where editor Monica Poling offers up an interesting way to incorporate outlining into your own work.

Titled ‘The Ten Things That Must Happen’, she suggests starting with the ten most important events that should happen in your piece, making your outline as brief or detailed as needed. After that, she lists a number of questions to help you plot out your next steps, like what scenes to use or eliminate or what does your list show about your writing. Once you’ve figured out what to do and what direction to take, you can pick up your pen or get back to tapping on the keyboard again.

Reading through this, I realized that I’d been doing this outline informally with a couple of pieces I’ve worked on for my critique group. Now that I’ve been formally introduced to this particular method, I’ll be using it for sure in the future. The rest of the article's here.

Reached an impasse in your writing? Work through those ‘ten things that must happen’ technique and bust through that block in no time!

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

 

Milkweed Editions National Fiction Prize

Hey, WOW! readers, take a look at this competition for the fiction writers among us, which appeared in the February 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine.

Milkweed Editions, an independent, nonprofit literary publisher, will award the National Fiction Prize to the best work of fiction Milkweed accepts for publication during each calendar year by a writer not previously published by them.

They’re accepting manuscripts anywhere from 150 to 400 pages in length and the following categories are eligible: novels, short story collections, and novellas. Works previously published in book form in the U.S. are not eligible, but individual stories or novellas previously published in magazines or anthologies are.

The prize winner will receive publication by Milkweed and a $5,000 cash advance against royalties.

For complete details, surf over to Milkweed Editions site here.

And best of luck to you!

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

 

Interview with James Tipton, Summer '09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up


James’s Bio:
James Tipton lives in the tropical mountains of central Mexico where he writes short poems and short fiction. He is also Associate Editor of the monthly magazine in English, published in Mexico, El Ojo del Lago (The Eye of the Lake) and Book Review Editor for the on-line magazine, Mexico Connect. He has published more than 1,000 short stories, poems, articles and reviews in North American magazines, including Esquire, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, American Literary Review, and Field.

His book of poems, "Letters from a Stranger" (with a Foreword by Isabel Allende), won the Colorado Book Award in 1999.

His most recent collections of short poetry are published in bilingual (Spanish and English) editions: "Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village" (Lavando platos en el antiguo pueblo) and "All the Horses of Heaven" (Todos los Caballos del Paraíso). He is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico.

Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village is available through Bread and Butter Press/1150 S. Glencoe/Denver, CO 80246, $10.95 plus $3.00 shipping & handling. All the Horses of Heaven is available through http://www.themetpress.com/, $12.95 plus $4.00 shipping & handling.

He is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico.

Check out his entry, “And To Think That Only Yesterday”, then grab your favorite hot drink and come on back for our latest interview with James.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First of all, congratulations on placing again in WOW’s Flash Fiction Contest! What do you think has helped you in producing winning contest entries?

James: I think I was initially helped by reading lots of the past winners on the WOW site. I liked some of those stories and I thought, WOW!, maybe I can write stories like that as well. I like short forms of literature, whether fiction or poetry, and I have published hundreds of short poems, many of them as haiku or tanka, including two collections in 2009: “Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village”, and “All the Horses of Heaven”, both in bi-lingual editions (English and Spanish) incidentally.

WOW: Studying the entries of past winners is a great way to get a feel for what judges are looking for, not just for our competition, but for others as well. Great advice for future contestants to follow.

Speaking of entries, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “And To Think That Only Yesterday”. The imagery was so vivid and rich. What was the inspiration behind it?

James: I like vivid imagery and living here in Mexico life often seems to me to be more vivid, or perhaps I simply have more awareness of how vivid it is.Reading lots of Latin American literature, novelists like my dear friend Isabel Allende (who wrote the introduction to my book, Letters from a Stranger) and Gabriel García Marquez, opened me up to images, including unusual ones, that seemed to penetrate more deeply into reality, so that reality itself shifts, becomes something very fascinating.

WOW: Looks like you studied well. You’ve captured the country’s essence in such an appealing manner, I think.

Switching gears, you mentioned in your previous interview, that among your many publications, your tanka “All the Horses of Heaven” has been published by Modern English Tanka Press. For those who may not have heard of it, can you explain what tanka is?

James: Yes, basically a tanka is a five-line Japanese form of poetry, unrhymed, usually about aspects of love, and initially written by court ladies in Japan in the 6th or 7th century, and sent in secret to potential lovers. They (the lady and the lover) often communicated or understood their relationship through tanka poetry. Usually there are three lines that are followed by two more than often sum up or comment or expand the first three. The form is much older and in Japan is more popular (I have been told) than haiku. You might enjoy “All the Horses of Heaven” (www.themetpress.com).

WOW: I’ve read a bit about this poetic form, and found it more appealing than haiku. Thanks for the explanation and I’ll be sure to check out “All the Horses of Heaven”.

Let’s talk about your writing process. Are there specific themes that you like to explore when you write?

James: I like to explore the age-old themes: love, sex, God, death, what are we doing here in these bodies on this beautiful planet, where did we come from, where will we go? How can we live our lives more deeply?

WOW: Amazing how those themes endure, waiting for a writer to approach them from their own unique perspective, and share their findings with the world. It never gets old.

What about your writing schedule? Is there a specific one that you follow?

James: I write every day, often in the morning, rarely in the afternoon, often in the evening. When I write I like to focus on writing and really like to be totally alone, locked in my room, so to speak. When I eat, although often with others, I like to focus on food. When I make love, I like to be totally focused on the woman I am with. People have always told me I listen well, but that probably only means I focus on the person talking with me. When I walk, I like to pay attention to walking. So, I guess, attention and focus are important things to me, both in writing and in living.

WOW: I agree with you on that. I believe they’re key to the creative process, helps get that story, script, article, poem or whatever you’re writing down and hopefully, published.

In your bio, you mention that you’ve been working your collection of short stories. Can you share how that’s coming along?

James: My collection of short stories, tentatively titled "Three Tamales for the Señor", is almost complete. I have three or four story ideas I want to get down into words and include in the book. I hope to have it finished this year, but I have lots of other writing projects including a monthly column called “Hearts at Work” that I write for a magazine in English published in Mexico called El Ojo del Lago, and I review a book each month for Mexico Connect, and I write lots of articles about Mexico for various magazines, like International Living, and I write lots of short poems, some stories.

WOW: You’ve definitely stayed busy, James! Is there anything else you’d like to share with WOW! readers?

James: Advice? I’d say keep reading WOW! I have found it stimulating and useful. I like, for example, the January piece by Gretchen Rubin, “20 Questions.” I like going through Premium Green now and then.

WOW: Thank you for your insightful interview, James. And again, congratulations, we’ll continue to be on the look out for your work. All the best to you!

To read James’ Summer 2008 interview and contest entry, click here:

And to find out more about the poetic form known as tanka, check out the American Tanka website.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

 

The 'Luck' of a Writer

By Jill Earl

"Luck favors the prepared, darling."

These words were uttered by intrepid inventor Edna Mode to Helen Parr/Elastagirl, of Disney’s ‘The Incredibles’. Here are a few definitions of ‘luck’, according to Dictionary.com:

1) the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities.
2) good fortune; advantage or success, considered as the result of chance.
3) a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person.

There are those who believe in luck, but I’m not one of them. My problem with the concept is its implication of a chance occurrance, a randomness. There’s no concreteness about it. For me, if you want something badly enough, you got to work for it. This certainly holds true for writing. For every ‘overnight sensation’ or ‘wonder writer’ that appears on the scene, rest assured that that person spent years at the craft, and will continue to do so.

“Luck favors the prepared, darling.”

Let’s take a look at what Dictionary.com had to say about ‘prepared’:

1) properly expectant, organized, or equipped; ready.

The way I see it is that in the process of actually writing, reading, researching markets, taking classes, networking with peers, and doing other writerly things equips me with the skills I need to accept any opportunity that comes my way. I don’t see any randomness here, do you?

“Luck favors the prepared, darling.”

I love Edna, but I think she missed the mark somewhat. Luck won’t make you a writer, diligence at the craft will. That starts with butt in chair and fingers at the keyboard typing out your tale, poem or article, if you will. And with time, those opportunities will come.

And you can quote me on that, darling!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

 

Does Reading Have A Place in Your Writing Goals?

By Jill Earl

In a ‘Muffin’ post from a couple of years ago, Are You An Intentional Reader?, I wrote of being inspired to develop a reading plan from an article by author Bob Hostetler. His annual plan includes reading a wide variety of authors and genres through the ages for pleasure and to enhance his writing skills.

At the time, I hadn’t thought about how reading intentionally could help in making one a better writer. Intrigued by the notion, I set about creating my own plan.

That first year’s attempt was a washout, simply because I just threw a list together. Last year’s was much more successful, with more thought going into it. Poetry, children’s books, memoir, new fields/disciplines of interest, authors I’ve never read, books I want to re-read, and so on. I’ve included the same categories in this year’s list.

Why do I do this? Well, I’ve always gotten great pleasure out of reading. With the turn of each page, my horizons expand as I learn more about my world. In addition, studying the varied writing styles of new, well-known and favorite authors, then applying what I learn will improve my own work. One of the goals we writers shoot for in pursuing the craft.

This year’s list will focus on more intercultural/multicultural, photography, travel, filmmaking and memoir, since these are areas I specifically want to pursue in my writing. I also want to include more poetry and biography too. And there will be more children’s books, so I’ll be looking for ‘Uncle Wiggily’, my favorite bunny rabbit gentleman to return for a visit.

You can check out the link to Mr. Hostetler’s article ‘The Intentional Reader’ here.

So in between assignments, my favorite book nook awaits, because reading definitely has a place in my 2010 writing goals.

Does it have one in yours?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

 

Interview with Evelyn Addison Ray, WOW! Summer ’09 Contest Runner Up

Evelyn’s Bio:

Evelyn Addison Ray, retired from training and development and community education, has written job materials as a matter of course in all her career, but never fiction. Now, having written two short stories for WOW!, she is proud and delighted to be in the finalists and motivated to continue to write short fiction. She earned a B.A. in Journalism and English and an M.A. in Education Leadership. She and her husband, Gary Holloway, live in Foley, Alabama and are avid travelers.

If you haven’t read her entry, please check it out here, then come back and settle in for our chat with Evelyn.


Interview by Jill Earl


WOW: First of all, welcome to you, Evelyn! How does it feel to be a runner-up in our Summer ’09 contest?

Evelyn: Motivated, absolutely motivated! Of course, I was excited to think that I might have an opportunity to write, and, with humility, I am very proud.

WOW: And you should be, your story was wonderful! Please tell us what was the inspiration behind your story and its title.

Evelyn: In the Seventies, I lived in a large, two-story older home and, then, needed to be extremely thrifty. As a result, I learned to shop at yard sales and estate sales. In that neighborhood, many of the residents were elderly and many sales resulted from their having passed on or been forced to seek institutional care. I think this story started then.

WOW: It’s interesting the varied ways writers become inspired to write their stories, isn’t it? In reading yours, I appreciated its contemplative nature, especially how your character gravitated towards memorabilia such as photos, cards and letters of the estate sales she haunted. What made you take this direction in your piece, as opposed to having her attracted to other antiques?

Evelyn: I believe that for many of us, those whose mark on the world is not evident in visible works or buildings or things, our stories are told in such detritus or remnants. I have often seen boxes of photos in antique stores and at estate sales and wondered how it is possible they are no longer important to anyone. Once, I was at an estate sale and only when I read discarded letters and postcards, did I know that the estate had belonged to a former teacher at my high school. The box of cards and letters told me more about her than any of the furniture being sold.

WOW: I’ve often found myself drawn to the same items when at yard sales and the one estate sale I’ve attended---for the same reasons you’ve mentioned. Reading through this material can stretch the imagination, and serve as a good source of inspiration.

Let’s move to your writing routine. Have you established one, and if so, what’s it like?

Evelyn: Unfortunately, it is very erratic now and one of my 2010 goals is to set a routine and stick to it.

WOW: I think that’s a goal that many of your peers share with you, so you’re not alone! Now, in choosing the writing path, did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

Evelyn: Yes. I always wanted to write, but believed that my niche would be journalism, particularly news features and editorial writing.

WOW: In your bio, you formerly worked in community education and training & development. How did you make the transition from more technically-oriented writing to fiction writing?

Evelyn: I never considered fiction because I did not see myself as creative. When I retired, WOW gave me the opportunity to take a shot at fiction and get some feedback to test my perceptions of myself.

WOW: We’re glad that WOW! was able to help you explore your creative side, Evelyn, and that it paid off for you!

How about your reading preferences, do you have a favorite writer?

Evelyn: Not one, but many favorites. Among the contemporary writers, I read and re-read are Pat Conroy, Amy Tan, Rick Bragg, and P.D. James. ‘Hall of Fame’ writers for me are Ayn Rand, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Isabel Allende. and on and on. I love to listen to books on tape, as well are read the written word.

WOW: That’s quite a list there, Evelyn! I see we have similar tastes. I think being well-read contributes to making a writer more well-rounded in their work.

Your bio also mentions that you and your husband are avid travelers. What are some of the places you’ve visited and have those experiences found their way into your stories yet?

Evelyn: We are foremost now U.S. travelers, with a couple Caribbean cruises during the year. In the past, we typically vacationed in a major city such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Bar Harbor, Seattle and Key West. However, we now have begun volunteering twice a year as park hosts for state and national parks, traveling in an RV and living the immersion travel story. By volunteering, usually two to three months each place, we provide services for three days a week and travel locally the other days. We go home in between. Because my experience is limited in fiction writing to three attempts, travel experience has surfaced only briefly, primarily with regard to referencing a road and city.

WOW: You’re really well-traveled and your work as volunteer park hosts sounds fascinating! We wouldn’t be surprised if you eventually tackled travel writing and some of your experiences found their way into your work! Do you have any projects in the works and can you share some details with us?


Evelyn: Other goals are to participate in some of the writing courses offered, for example, by WOW, and to look for a local writers’ group for writing conversation and feedback when we are not travelling.

WOW: Wonderful! Glad to see that you’re planning to take advantage of WOW! course offerings and hope that you’ll find a writer’s group soon.

One last question, Evelyn. What advice do you have for our aspiring writers?

Evelyn: Be confident. Just write whatever comes to mind and then do the hard work of determining if it has promise. Edit, edit, edit and find someone or some source for feedback.

WOW: Such wise advice for writers of all levels and duly noted! Evelyn, it was a pleasure chatting with you today and best of luck in your writing endevours!

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

 

In the Market for Food Writing?

by Jill Earl

This year, one of the markets I’m pursuing is food writing. In the course of research, I’ve found a couple of markets that have whet my appetite, which I share below.

First up is Gastronomica, published quarterly and billing itself as ‘the journal of food and culture’. Their content encompasses the myriad ways food touches our lives, ranging from historical articles to interviews to essays. In the Fall 2009 issue, I was intrigued by Andrea Broomfield’s examination on how even the meals on the ill-fated Titanic fell along class lines. I traveled along with photographer Ahahita Avalos viewing images of ‘Al Mercado’, the Mercado Pino Suarez, the central market in Villahermosa, Mexico. And Adela (Mary) Blay-Brody shares memories of the role of hot peppers in Ghanaian cuisine and offers a rich pepper soup to top off her essay, ‘Rx. Pepper Soup’.

Articles should generally not exceed 7,000 words. See submissions details at their site online.

More creative offerings are found in Alimentum, ‘the literature of food’. Issues are released yearly in the winter and spring, and they accept fiction, nonfiction, poetry and book reviews. The Winter 2009 issue featured an enlightened interview with Alan Richman, whose work appeared in magazines including Conte Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, and is Dean of Food Journalism at The French Cullnary Institute of New York. ‘Useful Kitchen Knots’ was a hilarious piece complete with sketches that gave a new tongue-in-cheek perspective on knots. And for reviews of the latest food-oriented books, click on the ‘Goodies’ heading online.

The submission period runs from September to March and more information can be found at their site.

So if you’re in the market to pursue food writing, give these journals a closer look. They just might be the recipe needed for a new direction in your writing this year.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

 

A Review of 'A Change in Altitude' by Anita Shreve

By Jill Earl

Newlyweds Margaret and Patrick arrive in Kenya intending to stay for a year for his residency at a local hospital. As they adjust to new surroundings, so very different from their American upper-class life, Patrick easily settles into his medical duties. Life for Margaret, however, increasingly catches her off balance. Then, a tragic accident occurs and in its aftermath, Margaret's journey for closure involves an attempt to rescue her young marriage while rediscovering herself in the process.

I enjoyed A Change in Altitude, Anita Shreve’s latest release, which was my first encounter with the author’s novels. I initially found the characters a bit off-putting, particularly their hosts somewhat pompous Arthur and his icy wife Diana, but warmed up to central character Margaret quite a bit as I continued to read. I attributed my change of heart to the character’s willingness to do more than just ‘do time’ for a year on the African continent. While husband Patrick slips into routine at the hospital, Margaret begins to tentatively explore her new homeland, taking on a position as a photographer for a newspaper, as she struggles---along with fellow Kenyans---with understanding and dealing with major political changes in the country at the time.

Ms. Shreve's vivid descriptions of Margaret's world were sensory experiences that added depth to the story. I marvelled the breaktaking vista of Mt. Kenya, felt the dust of the savannah settle into the characters' clothes as they trekked through it, and was refreshed by cooling rains. When Margaret's visits to a local shanty town become more frequent, we both grow to appreciate the strength and beauty of its residents seemingly hidden in ramshacked, tin-covered shacks.

It’s been said that Ms. Shreve has a talent in revealing the intimate details of human relationships, and I’m inclined to agree. With events leading up to and beyond the accident, Margaret is forced to confront deeply hidden truths about herself, causing her to question everything and everyone she knows, including her marriage to Patrick. Travelling with Margaret on her journey was both painful and enlightening. There weren’t any easy answers to her questions or mine as I read, but then again, life doesn’t offer them either.

If you like your novels to challenge your perspective of relationships, I think it’s worth giving A Change in Altitude a look. And for more on the acclaimed author, please check out our interview with Ms. Shreve in the December 2009 newsletter.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

 

Writer's Yearbook 2010: A Review

By Jill Earl

One of the things I look forward to at year’s end is picking up a copy of Writer’s Digest’s annual Writer’s Yearbook, another aid for helping writers be the best we can be.

I like ‘The Year in Review’, a rundown of the newsmakers and trends that made headlines in the publishing world. In addition, there’s the listing of the ‘Top 101 Websites for Writers’ that appears in the Digest itself.

My favorite section in the Yearbook continues to be the ‘100 Best Book and Magazine Markets for Writers’. I can count on finding a market or two that I’ve never heard of, and this compilation is a lot less overwhelming than its much larger sibling, Writer’s Market.

Don’t forget the usual helps such as dealing with rejection letters, crafting successful queries, advice on finding the right agent and the like. It’s these resources that keeps me coming back year after year.

The latest edition of Writer’s Yearbook can be found in bookstores. You can also find back issues at the F+W Publications site at http://www.fwmagazines.com/category/writers-yearbook

The Writer’s Yearbook. Check it out and get a jump on setting yourself up for a more productive and successful new year.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

 

Making the ‘Write’ Connection on Facebook

By Jill Earl

Whether you’re a newcomer to Facebook, or know your way about the social networking site, you might be wondering if there’s an easier way to connect with writers. Take a peek at two of the resources I’ve found helpful.

First up is Creative Writing Sites on Facebook - an Index. Use it to look up authors' business pages, writing programs, writers' groups, writers' retreats and residencies, presses, magazines, workshop communities, the list goes on. According to the site, this index, which was established February 2008, is now at 840 listings.

Next is Creative Writing Blogs on Facebook - A Directory. Established December 2008 and comprised of 110 blogs so far, it’s great for locating writing-oriented blog networks and blogs.

Since both are open groups on the site, you’re free to list your own site or blog, useful for getting your name out there and networking with writing peers globally.

Keep in mind that you do have to join Facebook in order to access the directories and click through to the links, though.

Creative Writing Sites on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8539923410

Creative Writing Blogs on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=52662804736

Check them out and make the ‘write’ connection on Facebook for yourself!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

 

Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest - Got Humor?

Ever heard of the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest?

Sponsored by Winning Writers, this contest was inspired by Wergle's creator, poet David Taub, who submitted a nonsensical poem to the former poetry.com under the name Wergle Flomp. To his surprise, it was accepted, and inspired by Mr. Taub’s experience, the Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest was born.

There’s no contest fee and poets from around the world may enter. Poems must be in English, any length, only one poem per entry. Gibberish gladly accepted.

Prizes:
First Prize of $1,500 and publication on WinningWriters.com

Second Prize of $800 and publication on WinningWriters.com

Third Prize of $400 and publication on WinningWriters.com

Twelve honorable mentions will receive $75 each and publication on WinningWriters.com

Complete guidelines, along with examples can be found here: http://www.winningwriters.com/contests/wergle/we_guidelines.php
Deadline: April 1, 2010

So, make ‘em laugh, groan, fall out of their seats, wince---you get the idea. And good luck!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

 

Interview With Michelle Dwyer - WOW! Spring 2009 Fiction Contest Runner Up


Michelle Dwyer’s love for writing began in high school. She’d studied creative writing and soon after, longed to become a published author. However circumstances arose, causing her to join the military while pursuing business classes instead.

Despite receiving high accolades for her military service, she felt incomplete. When the opportunity presented itself, she finished her first romantic/crime novel and enrolled in the writing course given by the Long Ridge Writers' Group, all while completing her MBA. When she graduates from Texas A&M this fall, she will pursue her MFA in creative writing.


Through all that she has overcome, Michelle realizes that every experience, good and bad, has led her back to what she is supposed to be doing—creating stories that compel people to think.

Between graduate school and rearing two beautiful kids, this single mother writes articles as a premier writer on the Helium website under the pen name Krymzen Hall. She invites you to read her work at http://www.helium.com/users/421563/show_articles.

If you haven't read Michelle's entry, "Reflection", please check it out here, then come back for our interview with her.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First of all, congratulations to you, Michele, for placing in our Spring ’09 Fiction Contest! How does it feel?

MICHELLE: Unreal, as if something good happened to me that only happens to other people. I was in a hotel room with my children when I checked my email and then discovered I’d placed. I started screaming and dropped my laptop. My kids thought something was wrong! To me, it was as if I’d won the lottery. Then, when I calmed down, and finished calling everybody, I had to check my laptop to make sure it still worked.

WOW: What a great response and we’re glad that your laptop survived your exuberance!

Reflection” was haunting, but also had me thinking. Our reflections see so much, and are probably the closest to us. What were the circumstances that led you to write your piece?

MICHELLE: It was personal. I went through a divorce that left me with emotional scars, and ultimately, I had to look inside myself to find the strength I needed to heal. “Reflection” has elements of physical abuse, as I’m sure you know, which did not happen to me, but the components of the story and the message are the same: No matter how bad an experience, we all have the strength to overcome, if we allow ourselves to. Change is scary, no matter how good or how bad. Moving on to better things is no different than any other change—the future is uncertain. Luckily, through writing and perseverance, I’ve been able to reclaim who I am and realize that change is good.

WOW: Glad that you were able to take such a painful situation and redeem it, so that you could heal. As you’ve alluded, writing can be a great help in this. Hopefully, someone will read this and be inspired to utilize what you’ve learned for themselves through their own writing.

Speaking of which, what kind of writing inspires you?

MICHELLE: Anything. That’s the beauty of fiction. Authors are only limited to their imaginations. I enjoy reading stories that evoke my sensual side, and once I tap into that, then I can write about love, sex, and chance encounters all night. But I can also read an article in the Wall Street Journal, and before I finish, I’ve created a character, perhaps a single father, who realizes he’s been set up by his peers through a phony insider trading scheme, and now he has to find a way out before his custody trial. Stuff like that.

WOW: I’m definitely in agreement with you regarding how fiction can give the imagination a workout, while providing sources of inspiration for future projects.

Let’s talk more about your writing habits. Have you established a writing routine or schedule for yourself?

MICHELLE: Lately, I’ve been so consumed in graduate work that I haven’t been able to devote the amount of time I want to the craft. But I never go to sleep until I’ve either finished at least one story of at least 500 words, or have begun a new story, even if it’s, just a few lines. Writers write, no matter what. If I stop writing, then I’m not a writer anymore. Needless to say I have a pile of stories.

WOW: “Writers write, no matter what.” I need to make sure I have these words before me all the time, especially during those times I'm tempted to pass on writing in my journal. And having those 500 words written before turning in for the night is a good habit to establish, I think. That way, you can be sure you won’t get rusty.

Now, what would you like to have readers take away with them as they read your work?

MICHELLE: As far as the story, it depends on the moral I’m trying to convey to my readers. In general, I believe in second chances and redemption, so I hope that my readers will end up falling in love with the same character they originally started out hating. As far as what I write, I want my readers to understand that I am not afraid of pushing the envelope with some things. And I want them to say, “Wow, that has never been done before.”

WOW: I did see the theme of second chances and redemption while reading “Reflection” and I felt that the transparency and vulnerability displayed was times difficult to approach. I think it was good that you pushed the envelope in creating your piece, because I believe sometimes it’s necessary to go to an uncomfortable place to reveal the story that needs to be told.

Let's switch gears. Your bio mentioned that you’re enrolled in a Long Ridge Writers’ Group course. What are you studying and how did you come to select them?

MICHELLE: I’m taking the Breaking Into Print course. I’d been looking into writing schools and one day, I happened to be reading WOW!’s ezine and I saw the link to Long Ridge. At first, I was apprehensive because the school is selective. I had to take a writing test just see if I was good enough to enroll. That is some scary stuff, let me tell you! For a couple of months, I put off the test. Then I decided to go for it, and luckily, the school accepted me. Now I am almost done. I think enrolling in Long Ridge was one of my smartest decisions and it will help me prepare for my MFA studies.

WOW: Sounds great, congratulations on nearing completion of your studies with Long Ridge.
it's always good for writers to continue improving our craft. Classes, workshops and seminars are fabulous ways to accomplish this!

Do you have a particular genre that you prefer?

MICHELLE: Can I say this on national Internet? I like many, but erotica is one of my favorites. I think some people lump this into the category of pornography, but it is far from that. Well-written erotica is actually some of the most beautiful and thought provoking prose a person can read. I also like a good romance with sprinkles of mystery and hints of action. I’ll write a good fight scene any day. I think what drives me, however, is the lengths that people will go for the people they love. How much can one man take to reconcile with his lady? How far will a woman go to spare her best friend’s feelings? In short, things that threaten our moral codes give me plenty of material to write a compelling story, regardless of what flavor the genre.

WOW: So, it appears that your tastes tend to be multi-genre, which can help in making a writer well-rounded. And I believe your words serve as encouragement for writers who may be interested in erotica.

Moving to your personal life, you’re raising two children as a single mother, completed your first novel, are finishing up your MBA from Texas A&M, and will pursue a MFA in creative writing soon after. Just going through that list wore me out! How do you manage it all?

MICHELLE: Yeah, I’m worn out too! Honestly, I don’t know how I manage. It has taken tremendous sacrifice to get to this point. I think sheer will, organization, and sacrificing sleep allow me to achieve my goals. I can’t do this forever, but I am close to the point where I can take my life in a different direction and start enjoying the fruits of my labor, and I can do more for my kids. I love the business world; however writing will always be my passion. So I am hoping my MFA studies will feel more like fun and less like work. All you MFA’s out there can chime in here and give me some pointers, hint hint.

WOW: (chuckles) Okay, Michelle’s put a call out to the MFA’s! She’s seeking advice on how to make her MFA studies more fun. Can you help a writing sister out?

Also in your bio, you mentioned writing your first book, a romantic/crime novel. More congratulations to you! Can you share with us how your book came to be?

MICHELLE: People say all the time, “Man, I could write a book about such and such.” Then they go on about their lives never again revisiting the thought. But “could” and “will” are two different things. I knew that a lot of feelings and memories caged inside me needed to be expressed, and in 2002, Understanding the Affair was born. I told somebody close to me, “I will write a book.” And there you have it. The story contains some racial controversy and at times gets gritty; but because of personal experiences, I am in a unique position to write about what I understand, can deal with what is not always pleasant, and relish in the fact that there are brighter days ahead of the drama.

The book is NOT a biographical account of my life. But there are elements in the story that have come from my personal experiences, some that will probably end up shocking the people closest to me. Writing is hard work. It entails a lot of late nights and research. But I must say I think I’ve done a pretty good job.

WOW: I'd have to agree! Looks like you’ve pushing the envelope again with such an intriguing novel! Do you have any other projects currently in the works?

MICHELLE: I am working on a few novels. Of course I had to do a sequel to Understanding the Affair, entitled Understanding the Trial, where one of my secondary characters will take on a more leading role. My next project, Girls Turning Into Women, Again, is the brainchild of one of my friends, and is the story of a few ladies who either need to grow up, atone, or reverse the fallout from not following their dreams. It was funny. My friend called me one night VERY excited. She gave me the title and said, “Please do something with it.” So I am honoring her request.

And then, of course, I have to throw in some interracial controversy with Connecticut, my third project. Stay tuned…

WOW: Oh, we will! Can't wait! Before wrapping up, what bit of advice would you offer to our women/aspiring writers?

MICHELLE: Don’t quit. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us that create our biggest obstacles. All we can do is respect their opinions but follow our own dreams. And those rejection letters? Sister, just get some tissue, cry it out, and move on.

And always remember this: It’s okay to think with your head while following your heart. The two are NOT mutually exclusive…risky maybe, but that’s the beauty of life…

WOW: Persevere and follow your dreams. Thanks for the reminder, more wisdom to tuck away for the future!

Michelle, you're such an inspiration to me personally and I'm sure to our readers! It was quite enjoyable talking with you today. Best of luck with your studies and your writing!

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Friday, November 06, 2009

 

Mining My Mind for Inspiration

By Jill Earl

I was pleased that this year’s Muse Online Writers Conference offered a workshop on pet writing. I appreciated the brainstorming assignments the instructor gave, where I could dig into some of those dusty memories. And since I belong to an online critique group, I’ve got a great way to shape them into submission-ready pieces.

So what am I working on? My time at a now-defunct pet store in a local mall, where animals ranging in age from a few weeks weaned to about a year old. Pair that with on-the-job training for very green employees (except for the managers) and workdays were seldom dull for this former kennel and bird technician.

For instance, there was Harry the mynah bird, who we discovered could tell the difference between human males and females. A male would walk by and the bird would call out a cheery, “Hello! Hello!” When a female walked by, she heard, “Hel-LO!” in a definite ‘come hither, baby’ way. Nothing like being hit on by a bird!

Then there was the time when a know-it-all new employee refused to heed advice on cleaning birdcages properly. A cockatiel escaped one day and shortly after, we heard a series of screams as women in various stages of pregnancy flew out of the maternity shop next door. That day, the new guy learned the joys of netting a frantic cockatiel.

We had killer hamsters too. They delighted in leaving---umm---souvenirs of their victims in their tank for us staffers to deal with. I leave the rest to your imagination.

Many more memories lie in wait for me to excavate and take note of, and my draft folder’s filling up with ideas ready to be worked on.

So when you’re at a loss for what to write, try a little mining expedition. You’ll soon be unearthing your own writing treasures.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

 

Interview with Amy Perry, Runner Up in WOW!'s Spring 09 Flash Fiction Contest

Amy Perry is a graduate student for sociology and teaching assistant at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, as well as a part-time barista at a Barnes and Noble cafe, which has, if not inspired her love for coffee and reading, at least cemented it. She has previously been published in her university's two literary magazines, and won third place in the WOW! Women on Writing Summer '08 Flash Fiction Contest with her piece Ueno. When not writing, working or learning, she spends her time tending to the needs of her spoiled kitten Stark (pictured here clinging to her shoulders), and reading Marvel Comics.

Do check out Amy's entry, Much Like Flying, and then join us back here for a little one-on-one with her.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First, congratulations to you, Amy! How are you taking in being selected as a runner-up in our Spring ’09 Contest?

AMY: I am extremely honored. It sounds pessimistic, but every time I enter a contest, it's with the assumption that I'm going to lose--I hate having my hopes hinge on any one thing only to end up disappointed. I've read quite a few winning entries and several interviews, and the skill of the individuals who enter these contests is astounding. Competition is fierce; I went into it expecting nothing, but ended up surprised and thrilled.

WOW: Your entry proves that your writing skill is comparable to that of the other entrants, and we’re so glad that your entered our contest! Speaking of your entry, you chose to focus on a rather difficult subject, a girl contemplating suicide and the outcome. Was there an event or person that prompted you to write this?

AMY: No specific event, no. I hesitate to say all, but I think a good portion of those who have weathered the storms of middle school and high school have experienced suicidal ideation, with varying degrees of intensity. And yet, in spite of that, we as a society are hesitant to discuss suicide without reverting to stereotypes. I wanted the focus of the story to be a more nuanced portrayal of suicide than one typically sees in mainstream media.

It's a difficult subject to write about without seeming to trivialize it, and I'm sure some would make the argument that I am trivializing it, because what is clearly a significant event (throwing oneself in front of an oncoming train) is treated as just a hiccup in the day's plans for all those who bear witness to it. It seems preposterous, but that's what I was going for. When the girl justifies her need to leave by claiming she has a math test, and the station attendant accepts it, I want people to stop and go "wait, what?"

The girl is clearly troubled, she suffers from a profound sense of alienation, and that alienation is a result of an interplay between active neglect, passive disinterest, and well-meaning naiveté. As a society, we like answers that can fit into a newspaper headline. Who's at fault here? The mother? The teacher? The station attendant? The girl? Society? The truth is it may be all of the above or none of the above, but in our knee jerk attempt to digest the story we're apt to grab and cling onto the answer that, if it isn't the most obvious, at least makes the most sense to us as uninvolved observers. But in doing so, we tend to whitewash all other contributing factors out, and that stunts our understanding.

This story is just the corner piece to a much bigger puzzle; it contains no obvious answers, and the hows and whys are largely absent. Readers have to fill in the blanks, and in doing so, it makes them think. That was my intent, anyway.

WOW: I think you were successful, for I did find myself saying, “Wait, what?” more than a few times. I can’t recall reading a story concerning suicide portrayed in this way. I found it refreshing, actually, and didn’t feel that the subject had been trivialized. It didn’t have a neat ending and that was appreciated. As they read, I hope our readers will enjoy filling in the blanks for themselves.

What about the title for your story, how did you come to select it?

AMY: The title came to me shortly after the idea to the story did, which is unusual, because the typical short story process for me includes a teeth grinding session at the end while I try to come up with some word or phrase that embodies the piece as a whole. This time I had the title in mind as I wrote, and my writing was somewhat shaped by it. It's a powerful image to me, the distinction between jumping to end one's life and learning to fly. The difference, of course, is that we're not built to fly. And then there's that pesky thing called gravity. But just because we can't, doesn't mean we don't try.

WOW: ‘Teeth grinding session’. I think that’s a perfect description for what many writers go through when trying to create titles for works. It’s encouraging to know that others may have similar struggles in this process.

Amy, you’re not a newcomer to our flash fiction competition, you previously placed third in our Summer ’08 Contest. What do you think has helped you in producing winning contest entries?

AMY: Well I almost feel like flash fiction is a cheat for me, because it emphasizes the things I think I've got some degree of skill at (strong ideas, clear voice), while at the same time downplaying my weaknesses (story abandonment). I guess one thing that helped me was having a good feel for the kind of story you can tell with only seven hundred words. Not every idea can be adapted successfully to flash fiction, and with both this entry and the one prior, there were several unsuccessful attempts that I quickly realized just didn't have the right feel for the type of story I was trying to write.

WOW: I continue to be a great admirer of those who can write flash fiction! You need to be successful in capturing the reader’s interest by conveying strong ideas and a clear voice. Flash fiction truly is a great exercise in writing short and tight.

Your bio mentions that you love reading Marvel Comics. How fun! Which are your favorites? Have you found inspiration from any of them for your writing?

AMY: My comic book reading comes and goes in waves. As a child, I grew up on X-Men (with a father who collected Marvel Comics as a child, what hope did I have?), but I've since moved on to other series. I'll read just about any series (except Spider-Man, which comes out too often for me to keep up, and Hulk, which just can't keep my interest), but the ones I really enjoy, the ones that I consider to be reread worthy, are the ones that strike the right balance between action and characterization. Brubaker's run on Daredevil and Captain America, Bendis' Alias, and Fraction's Iron Fist are at the top of my list.

Inspiration-wise, it's hard to say. There's a big gap between your typical super hero comic and the type of story that I tend to write, but I do take note of writers that successfully make the absurd (a grown man wearing red leather adorned with devil horns) interesting and relatable. Since I do tend to write characters that fall outside the mainstream, I guess you could say I take inspiration from the way some writers handle masked men in capes.

WOW: Your father collected Marvel Comics when he was little? Guess you had to have some liking for them. I love your comment about being inspired by writers “making the absurd interesting and relatable.” There was absurdity in your piece, making it all the more intriguing.

Now, let's talk about themes. Are there specific ones you like to explore when you write?

AMY: Boundaries. Ethical boundaries, moral boundaries, gender, religion and other social boundaries. If I'm not prowling back and forth along the edge of what is taken for granted, I tend to get bored with my writing, and if I'm bored, I know there's a good chance other people will be too. I like that the process of writing makes me think.

WOW: So, as you're challenged by exploring various boundaries, you challenge your readers to come along with you for the ride. I think that’s a great way for both readers and writers to stretch and grow. I thought that you achieved a good balance in making your story so descriptive. How were you able to achieve this?

AMY: When you're writing flash fiction, you have to budget your words well. In this story I wanted to leave a strong image of the subway station, which I did by closing the story with some of the same descriptions I opened with. It gives the story a sense of continuity out of what is otherwise a very brief encounter between station attendant and girl.

Beyond that, I wanted to experiment with hyphenated descriptions. Just doubling the word (black-black and blue-blue) emphasizes it in a way that might otherwise take seven or eight words. The same with tying a color to a word (red-wet, grease-black). It's all about budgeting, and there was some degree of agonizing over which word to use, what images to keep, and which to throw out.

WOW: What a great technique you’ve utilized with hyphenated descriptions. Helps a lot with trimming word count. Maybe I’ll try that with my own writing.

Earlier you discussed achieving balance in creating a descriptive story. Speaking of balance, in your day-to-day life, you’re writing, pursuing graduate studies in sociology, you’re a teaching assistant at the University of Missouri, and you work part time at Barnes and Noble. Add to all that, hanging out with your kitten Stark. Pray tell us your secret for keeping your head together in all this.

AMY: I'm not so sure I always manage to keep my head together, to be honest. There are times (midterms, finals) when everything is coming at me all at once that I feel like tugging my hair out. But I try to keep it all in perspective, and remind myself that winter break (or summer break) lies just beyond that next hill. Stark helps me get from point A to point B, and I have a hard time believing there exists a more spoiled kitten in the world.

WOW: Breaks are beautiful things! And, it’s always good to have an assistant to help one keep her perspective, human or otherwise. (laughs)

What about current writing projects? Can you share with us what you’re working on now?


AMY: What, you mean besides schoolwork? Although I don't have any concrete projects to date, I am working on steadily increasing my portfolio of short stories, and I have a few ideas for novels kicking around in my head, but mostly I'm trying to keep ahead of my schoolwork so that it doesn't all pile up on me come November (if I succeed in doing so, it will be the first time since I set foot in college).

WOW: Here’s hoping you’ll stay ahead of your schoolwork, while building up that portfolio. You’ve offered some great advice for our readers. Is there anything else you’d like to pass along?

AMY: Never be afraid to improve. By that, I mean take constructive criticism for what it is--a chance to get better. Writing is intensely personal, and having someone tear apart a story that means something to you is a lot harder than having someone edit your English paper, but you have to put some distance between yourself and it in order to get better. Unless you wrote it for yourself, the ultimate goal is for other people to read it, right? Their opinions matter.

But at the same time, remember: you're the writer, you know what works best. If someone proposes a change to your story that you think would just absolutely ruin it (or at least lessen its intended effect), then don't listen to them. Get a second opinion. Remember that no one is the be all, end all authority of writing, there are as many opinions on writing as there are writers.
And adopt a cat. At the end of the day, it's nice to come home to a friendly face, even if that friendly face tries to steal your sushi.

WOW: Glad you pointed out how helpful it is to get a second opinion when it comes to constructive criticism because of varied opinions on writing. I’ve had to learn that myself, along with growing a thicker skin. As you said earlier, this process helps writers improve their craft.

One last question. Is your kitten named after Tony Stark, Iron Man from Marvel Comics? If so, would that make her “Iron Kitten”?


AMY: Yes, my kitten Stark is named after Tony Stark (Iron Man). I enjoyed the Iron Man movie much more than The Dark Knight, which was touted as the super hero film of the year, the decade, or all time, depending on who you asked. But I've never been a DC girl. When I adopted a new kitten last year, I was stumped when it came to a name, but somehow Stark just seemed right, despite that kitten being female. And yes, the way she flings herself at the dog, who's in a completely different weight class, you'd definitely think she was "Iron Kitty".

WOW: I admit to being a former DC Comics girl who saw The Dark Knight and really liked it. Still want to see Iron Man too!

Amy, it was such a pleasure chatting with you today. Best wishes to you in both your academic and writing career and to “Iron Kitty” too. Looking forward to see more of your work in the future and good luck!

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

 

The 2009 Muse Online Writers Conference

By Jill Earl

I’m finally coming down from my annual Muse high. This year, from October 12th to October 18th, I attended the Muse Online Writers Conference, an annual event packed with more than enough activities to satisfy any writer. The first Muse Conference came on the scene back in 2006, when co-founders Lea Schizas and Carolyn Howard Johnson saw an opportunity to create a conference where writers from around the world could attend, without the limits of money or distance. And best of all, everything is FREE!

I first started attending the Muse three years ago, and have seen it grow better each year. I’m consistently amazed at the quality of the conference, how Lea manages to line up an excellent roster of presenters, putting together a vast array of workshops and chats, pretty much accomplishing everything by herself. Her dedication is awe-inspiring.

I continue to register for the Muse each year because it’s a great way to experiment with various forms of writing. Right now, I’m focusing primarily with nonfiction, so I signed up for workshops in pet writing, personal essays and writing for trade magazines. The beauty of this conference, however, is that you don’t have to limit yourself only to the sessions you’ve signed up for. Because everything’s online, you’re free to pop into any workshop or chat that piques your interest, whether that’s children’s writing, writing press releases, setting up your website or preparing your headshot.

A new addition to this year’s conference was pitch sessions with various publishers. Special workshops and chats were offered beforehand, so attendees could prepare their pitches and be ready to meet with presenters during the conference. Great opportunity for writers to acquire and improve pitching skills, and perhaps get an offer from a favorite publisher.

If attending the Muse Writers Conference sounds like a plan for next year, check out WOW!’s review of the event with Lea Schizas, which appeared in our September 2007 issue here: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/13-review.html

Also, keep an eye out for registration notices for the 2010 Conference, which should appear sometime next month.

The Muse Online Writers Conference. Consider adding it to your conference list next year, you’ll be glad you did!

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Friday, October 16, 2009

 

Call for Submissions: The Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010

Hey to all romance writers out there! Short Story Radio, a website based in the U.K. that promotes both the short story genre and short story writers through recordings of short stories via their website and podcast are announcing a new contest.

Called The Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010, romantic fiction writers have the opportunity to have their winning entry recorded for broadcast and receive a cash prize.

To enter, send only the synopsis and and the first part of your story, up to 2,500 words by December 17, 2009. The entry fee is £6 (about $9.79 USD) per story. Only short-listed entrants will be asked to send the second part of the story.

The winning story will be recorded and broadcast by a professional actor as a high-quality production with incidental music, and appear in two episodes on the Short Story Radio website and podcast.

The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150 (about $235 USD) and the title of winner of the Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010.

Interested? Take yourself over to the Short Story Radio site here:
http://www.shortstoryradio.com/short_story_competitions.htm

And, best of luck!

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

 

Learning A New Language, Part Deux

By Jill Earl

Earlier this month, WOW! teamster LuAnn’s post, ‘Learning a New Language’ offered reasons for writers to think about foreign language study, such as making one more marketable in pursuing work. Imagine my surprise to learn that today, September 26th, has been designated as The European Day of Languages (EDL) by the Council of Europe.

According to The Council’s website, the day was designated back in 2001 “to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity.” They add that it’s “ a time to celebrate the 6,000+ languages spoken around the world, promote language learning and have some multilingual fun!”

One way to celebrate this observance is by looking into free online foreign language courses. This can be an inexpensive way to find out what language will be the right fit for you. These courses are generally self-paced, therefore you won’t have to deal with deadlines to submit work (unless you impose your own), but you’ll need to motivate yourself to stay on task. If this sounds like something you'd like to try, I've included a few sites below for your perusal.

Many of MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) listings are from past foreign language classes, but there are readings, PDF’s of lecture notes, assignments and exams available in both undergraduate and graduate divisions. Choose from language, literature, and cultural studies.

Internet Polygot includes a tutorial slideshow for learning with pictures, various games to test newly-acquired skills and an option to create your own language lessons.

The BBC’s Languages site has extensive offerings for the language learner. You can choose both audio and video courses in many languages, such as 12-week beginners courses and foreign language TV with downloadable transcripts of programs.

Should you want to join in today’s festivities, find out more at the European Day of Languages website: www.coe.int/EDL

MIT OpenCourseWare
http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Foreign-Languages-and-Literatures/index.htm

Internet Polygot
http://www.internetpolyglot.com/

BBC’s Languages
http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/

Looks like there's going to be some language learning in my future. Thanks, LuAnn!

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

 

Improve Your Home Office Week

By Jill Earl

I found out on AwarenessDates.com that September 8-12, has been designated ‘Improve Your Home Office Week’. I just happen to be in the middle of a major purge of my palace right now so I can get my own home office set up, so the timing couldn’t be more---uh, timely.

Having an organized place to work on one’s assignments and projects makes for a more effective writer. Excavating through mounds of paperwork wastes time and energy. The last thing you need is for a part of your project to turn up missing because you can’t find anything in the piles.
Especially if there’s a deadline looming. Clear desk, clear mind.

So this reformed packrat is kicking the clutter to the curb and perusing magazines and sites for ideas to improve her future home office. I already have a nice computer cabinet ready to be assembled, perfect for my laptop. Back issues of writing magazines and journals have found their way to new files. I’m eager to see the results of this ‘room of my own’.

Although I didn’t find more about this observance, I did come across an amusing post by Tara Landry on the InsideMyFax.com blog. Included are tips to help your own workspace along.

Well, that’s what the upcoming week looks like for me.

Care to share any home office improvement tips you may have?

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

 

Writing Is A Cop-Out

by Jill Earl

It’s said that Monica Dickens, writer and great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens once declared, “Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasyland, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.”

A rather interesting view on a negative term. I recall once of those ‘selfish’ incidents in high school, where I majored in art and English. In one particular class, I was so bored as I stared out of a window, I pulled out my sketch book and began drawing.

My teacher’s exclamations roused me as she reached for my pad. After the encounter, I slumped in my seat, apprehensive about the after-school meeting. Peeping into the classroom, I found her engrossed in the drawing I created: a pair of daydreaming teenaged aliens staring out the window of their classroom.

Her comment? “You definitely don’t see the same things we see when you look out the window, do you!” My sketch book was returned and I escaped with a warning, along with a promise to keep her updated on the exploits of my teen aliens.

I admit to extended stays in the fantasyland Ms. Dickens mentioned earlier. I’ve delighted in directing the ‘products of my head’ as I’ve created radio drama scripts, articles, the (very) occasional poem, short stories, and the like.

Visits to this enchanted place will continue as I grow in my craft. I guess I could be considered a cop-out, and I think I’m okay with that.

What about you? Do you think writing is a cop-out? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

 

Interview with Katie Noah Gibson, Winter Contest Runner-Up

Interview by Jill Earl

Katie Noah Gibson is a lover of books, travel, knitting, mellow music, dark chocolate and colorful scarves. She grew up on the plains of West Texas, where she still lives with her husband, Jeremiah, whom she married last June. Katie holds two degrees in English, has been writing since she could hold a pen, and plans every day how to get back to Oxford, England, where she spent a year earning her master's degree. Her writing has been published in Radiant magazine's print and online editions, as well as the online editions of Everyday Woman and Relevant magazines. Visit her blog at http://katieleigh.wordpress.com/.

If you haven't checked out the delightful Book By Its Cover, please take a look at it here, then c'mon back and join us for WOW!'s interview with Katie!

WOW: First of all, thanks for joining us, Katie, and congratulations on your winning entry! How does it feel?

KATIE: I am so honored to be named a winner in this contest! I love knowing that people appreciate my work.

WOW: Well, we appreciated reading your beautiful entry! Can you tell us a little about your story and what inspired you to create it?

KATIE: My story was inspired by my own mantel, which does in fact have books arranged by color. I found myself thinking that would be a fun beginning to a story, and the characters and plot evolved from there.

WOW: Great idea of looking to your own experience as inspiration for a story, and you're right, it was a fun beginning. As I read your story, all of my senses were engaged. I found myself identifying with your main character as she recalled the memories tied with her books. Such vivid and lush descriptions were a pleasure to read! How were you able to successfully accomplish this?

KATIE: Some of my main character's memories are actually mine--and I just imagined myself back in Blackwells, or Oxfam, or wandering the streets of Europe. I believe fiction should transport you to another place, and I tried to make my story do that. For me, concrete details are such fun to include--they really take the reader to wherever the character is.

WOW: I think you identified an important point when it comes to writing good fiction. In addition to transporting readers to other places, adding concrete details truly makes stories come alive.

Your story's ending was sweet and clever, I thought. How did you come up with it?

KATIE: The main character's love interest just wandered into the story--and I wanted to see where their relationship would go. I was pleased that the books played a role in his marriage proposal--and of course I knew she would say yes.

WOW: Of course! Sometimes it's more natural when you allow a character to show up and let things develop in a scene. It certainly worked in your piece.

Katie, how long have you been writing, and what excites you most about it?

KATIE: I've loved to write since I was a child. I am fascinated by the power of words to evoke memories, spin stories and literally change lives. I love that stories offer endless possibilities, and that we can shape our own lives by the words we choose to describe them.

WOW: It's amazing what we can do with words--and what they do to us in return, isn't it? Let's turn to your writing habits. Do you have a particular writing schedule that you follow?

KATIE: I try to write three pages of longhand writing every morning--as prescribed by Julia Cameron in several of her writing books. I've found that this helps me clear my head--the writing comes more easily later if I've started the day off by writing. I also post on my blog two to four times a week and I work on various projects as I have time.

WOW: Those are great habits you've established for yourself, and it shows in your work.

Now, what about your reading tastes? Have you a favorite author and/or book?

KATIE: I have several favorite books--my childhood favorite is Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I also love Madeleine L'Engle (I wrote my master's thesis on her memoirs), Eva Rice, Dodie Smith, Kathleen Norris and Joanne Harris. (I actually got to meet Joanne and have her sign my books at the 2008 Oxford Literary Festival. What a thrill that was!)

WOW: Alcott's Little Women is a favorite of mine too, along with Little Men and Jo's Boys. I also love Madeleine L'Engle and Kathleen Norris.

Your bio mentions that you have two degrees in English and that you received your master's from Oxford. Can you tell us more about that?

KATIE: I've always been a reader and a writer, so I knew I wanted to major in English in college. I had a great experience in the English department at Abilene Christian University--fantastic professors, engaging discussion, great books. I studied abroad in Oxford as a college sophomore and fell completely in love with Oxford and England--I knew I had to go back. After college I took a year off to work and save some money, then applied for a master's program in Oxford and spent a year completing my degree. It was heavenly; Oxford is, of course, a great city for books, and it's my favorite place in the whole world.

WOW: What a marvelous opportunity! Studying at Oxford is a literary dream for many, including me! Do you have any projects currently in the works?

KATIE: I'm always blogging over on my site, Cakes, Tea and Dreams (http://katieleigh.wordpress.com/). I'm also revising a novel I drafted last fall as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo - nanowrimo.org). It, too, is based on my experiences in Oxford. And I'm always writing short travel pieces and things like that.

WOW: Thanks for your blog address, we'll definitely check in for updates! To wrap things up, what final advice would you like to share with WOW! readers?

KATIE: Keep writing. The people who say "Write every day" are absolutely right. Madeleine L'Engle has a wonderful metaphor for it--"keeping the clock wound." That's so important--only if you're consistently working, consistently practicing, will you truly experience growth as a writer.

WOW: "Keeping the clock wound." That's a noteworthy quote and super advice to leave with our readers.

Katie, thank you, it was a great pleasure chatting with you today. Best of luck to you and continued success in your writing endeavors!

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

 

The Duty of Observation

By Jill Earl

I’m reading Lavinia Spalding’s ‘Writing Away,’ a wonderful entry into the world of travel journaling. Scattered throughout the book’s pages are random quotes about writing taken from well-known to barely-known artists and travelers. Here’s what poet Mary Oliver had to say about one aspect of writing, observation:

“I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.”

I agree with Ms. Oliver. Along with other artists, I believe that writers serve as society’s messengers. We take what we’ve acquired from our surroundings and present it to the world through our words.

For this process to take place, however, close attention to your surroundings is called for. Keep a notepad and pen or your PDA handy the next time you’re out. Glance at the mechanic servicing your car as he peers under the hood. Scan the crowd gathered for the campus protest meeting. Watch others in line as the barista whips up your half-caff, hazelnut creation. Peep at the couple comparing apples and oranges at the farmer’s market. Grin at your dog being spellbound by a butterfly just out of reach. Note anything. And everything.

The reward? Writing with the power to elicit laughter or sadness, or raising awareness of a cause or situation. Engaging words capturing your audience’s attention.

Observation. As a writer, it’s your duty to sharpen this skill so your writing grows stronger.

What writer wouldn’t want that?

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

 

Are You Doing Your Homework?

By Jill Earl

"Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life."

Check out this quote from producer, writer, and director Lawrence Kasdan. I have to admit that I didn’t really think too hard about his words until a couple of days ago.

Then I had a 'lightbulb moment'. I never viewed my writing as homework before.

That poem you’ve been writing, the one where you’re stymied by the stanzas? Homework.

What about the final touches on the white paper you’ve put together for a client? Or the family research you conducted for your memoir? You got it, homework.

Even those moments of writing you squeeze into your daily schedule can be considered homework.

Bet you thought homework was left behind once you graduated and the degree was in hand, didn't you? I certainly did! But, think about it. A writer isn’t doing ‘busy work’ once they pick up the pen or start typing on the keyboard. If they’re serious, they’re working at their craft and building their career.

Right now, I’m working on an 750-word article suitable for submission for a peer critique session I’ll be in at an upcoming conference. The topic’s been chosen, the research done, and I’ve been busy putting it together.

The thing is, just about everything you do to improve your writing can be considered homework. And that’s one of the goals you’re shooting for, right?

So, are you doing your homework?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

 

Throw Off The Bowlines

By Jill Earl

Periodically, I turn to my growing list of quotes when I need a laugh or for inspiration. This quote, attributed to Mark Twain, led me to take a deeper look at what I get out of writing.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off your bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I’m not in the safe harbor as much. The trade winds beckon and grow stronger. And I'm okay with that.

This year’s explorations include learning more about scriptwriting and photography. I dream of possibilities as I continue to devour various books on the subjects. Then, I throw off the bowlines and discover.

Earlier in the year, I entered a 30-second radio commercial challenge that was sponsored by a writing forum in Britain, and had 24 hours to submit my entry. While I didn’t win, I was tied for their ‘Highly Commendable’ designation, with only half a point separating me and another person. This will come in handy as I gain more experience in crafting scripts.

I hope to cast bowlines later this year as I fit in my first photography class, either at a local college or online school. I bought my first digital camera and have been getting acquainted with it at every opportunity, including using it while on a recent work-related trip to Miami. I can see some of those images being used as inspiration for fiction stories, or accompanizng articles.

I don’t want to look back twenty years and see myself in the same harbor, disappointment mounting as the trade winds sweep by. I plan to keep on exploring, dreaming and discovering writing. I signed up for this adventure and I’m sure not backing out now.

How about you? Have you thrown off the bowlines?

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

 

Interview with Julie C. Eger, Winter 2009 Contest Runner Up

Julie Eger is from the heart of Wisconsin. She has been accused of playing well with others. She is aware that a story unfolds every second; unfortunately she can’t type that fast. Her work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including Green Prints Magazine, ARGIA, Free Verse, Hummingbird, Other Voices, Bar Code, and Write Away! She is a three time winner of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association (WRWA) Jade Ring Contest.

When Julie isn’t busy with her regular job as a massage therapist she acts as coordinator for The Original Voice, a local venue she founded to help highlight some of Wisconsin’s most hidden talent including seasoned and unseasoned poets, writers, musicians, and artists through feature presentations and open mike events.

Julie lives with her wood-splitting/fisherman/plumber husband, a chocolate lab named Aggie, and a black Golden Doodle named Estr. She has two grown sons and two beautiful grandchildren. She didn’t start to take writing seriously until 2004 when she became a member of a local writing group, claiming she had finally found her ‘tribe.’ Much of her writing stems from group assignments but she would love a side job where she gets paid for her writing. It’s true she’s a dreamer, and even though she often gets lost in the words, she always finds her way home.

You can learn more about Julie by visiting www.julieceger.com or http://theoriginalvoice.blogspot.com.


Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First of all, Julie, congratulations on being selected as a runner-up in our Winter ’09 Flash Fiction Contest! How do you feel?

JULIE: Hi Jill, thank you and it’s so nice to talk with you and to be a runner-up in this contest! It feels amazing to have placed within the top ten and I’m still a little shocked to learn I made it this far.

WOW: Your entry was amazing! Mama’s Wish Comes True is so powerful! It wasn’t an easy read for me, yet I couldn’t tear myself away from the harrowing story and intense imagery. How were you able to come up with the idea behind your piece?

JULIE: This piece stems from my World History class back in 1975. There were images that stayed with me, and the story was born out of that. I was curious if the piece would be too dark for this contest. I get comments from the members of my writing group that I’m too dark with my writing. Sometimes I think I have to get the dark stuff out before I can write something lighter, but I’ve been working on some humorous pieces. I wrote a piece titled Bowling Green about a woman who wrecked her husband’s favorite bowling ball when she bowled over a bunch of little green aliens who kept wrecking her petunias. The writing I did for that was very different from this entry, but I want to learn to write about all kinds of things.

WOW: ‘Bowling Green’ sounds like a hilarious read, and I love the play on words with the title. Do you have a writing routine that you follow?

JULIE: My writing routines change with the seasons. In winter, I can roll out of bed writing at 4:00 AM. Then I’ll go through a phase where time is impossible to find so I set a timer and write whatever I can in 15 minutes. I amaze myself at how much I can accomplish in short spurts. Now, it’s summer and I’m all over the board. One thing I’ve learned about myself it’s that I’m consistently inconsistent. I think it’s a multi-tasking thing. The more I have going on, the better I write. When I’m doing something like vacuuming, or driving to the store, that’s when the best ideas come. I have a voice recorder I carry to capture ideas. Once I have the idea, anything goes! It’s my most effective way of writing.

WOW: I admire anyone who can write at 4 A.M, but regardless of the time, you've got to write. Those short spurts you mentioned really do add up. And tools such as voice recorders are very helpful in retaining ideas as they come; my PDA goes everywhere with me for that very reason.

Your bio mentions that you didn’t start to take writing seriously until 2004. How did that period of time become a turning point for you?

JULIE: My kids were grown and gone. I had extra time on my hands and one day I sat down to write a brief history of my family, and then stopped at 396 pages, about 6 months later. That experience surprised me in how caught up I was with the idea of writing. I loved playing with words, rearranging them, thinking of interesting ways to phrase things. There was a writer hiding inside, and that experience brought it to the forefront for me.

WOW: The process of exploring your family history and discovering the writer inside you is inspiring. And ‘Playing with words, thinking of interesting ways to phrase things,’ appears to sum up the essence of writing.

In addition to writing, you have a regular job as a massage therapist, and you founded and coordinate a local venue called The Original Voice, which showcases writers, musicians, poets and artists in Wisconsin. How do you manage to balance them all?

JULIE: Being self-employed and at the mercy of my client’s schedules, I have no set schedule. It’s like working without a net, and when you do that, you’ve got to find a way to achieve balance in your life or things can start to fall apart. I think the key in that regard is that I’m doing things I love. I love my work as a therapist. I love writing and all that is involved in that arena. And showcasing some of the hidden talent in our rural area is very rewarding. Some of the artists have never performed in front of an audience and it is amazing to see how they shine when they get a chance.

WOW: You truly are blessed to be working at what you love! Speaking of The Original Voice, can you tell us how you became involved?

JULIE: A few years ago I took a few writing classes, and after one class they held an open mic to showcase our work. I’d never experienced an open mic before. While I was sitting in the audience, I kept thinking, “We need something like this where I live. We have people who have stories to tell.” That’s how it began. It also helped that I had my own microphone, amp, and speaker from when I belonged to an all girl band called ‘The Reflections.’ I think I’ve always had a secret desire to be heard, since my voice is so quiet and I thought maybe other people might have the same problem, the same desire. The microphone unleashes something inside. Everyone has a story and it’s important for those stories to be told. Hearing them in the author’s own voice is very powerful.

WOW: How fortunate that The Original Voice has you as an advocate for writers and other artists in your hometown. If you weren’t willing to help your peers get their voices heard through their writing, some would never be known.

Besides runner-up in WOW!’s Flash Fiction Contest, you are also a three-time winner of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association Jade Ring Contest. How have you found success in entering contests?

JULIE: When I first started writing I wanted to know if, how, and where my writing might fit so I decided to enter a contest. It was scary to send out my first entry, and I was surprised when it took second in state. I kept sending things in. Some of my work didn’t place, but some of it did, and some entries took first. I was using the contests to help me define what kind of writing suited me. I viewed the judges as though they would be editors considering a piece for publication. Having that background gave me enough courage to send an entry to WOW! I don’t have much training behind me, and it was a gauge I could use to see where I fit and if people liked what I was writing. Through this, I began to see the strength in my essays, poems, and short stories.

WOW: Using contests to discover what writing best fits you---I think that’s a great idea. You get to experiment with various forms, while sharpening your skills. It also helps that you didn’t get discouraged when one of your entries didn’t place, but kept the momentum going by entering other contests.

So, Julie, can you share what you’re currently working on?

JULIE: I’m having fun writing simple how-to articles for eHow (thanks to a link from WOW! - see Julie Eger or Jukota at http://www.ehow.com/) but I think the most serious writing I’m doing is a collection of short stories. Even though I wrote a novel (which – by the way - is still available for just the right publisher whenever they’re ready!) and though I’m extremely fond of poetry, I think I’m more of a short story writer. For a long time, I kept thinking I had to write a novel, because that’s what people would want to read, but I’ve found I really like short stories, and if the stories are good enough, people will want to read them.

WOW: You definitely have plenty on your plate, but that’s a good thing! What’s one piece of advice you’d like to offer aspiring writers?

JULIE: The one piece of advice I would give is that there is more than one way to become a better writer:

1. WRITE. A blank page will leave you with nothing to send out. Some of my best work has come from just jotting down what was on my mind in the morning when I woke up. If I hadn’t caught it on the page, it would be gone forever. It’s a tool to work from.

2. RESEARCH. Know something about the publication where you plan to send your work. Do you THINK it will be a good fit or do you KNOW if it will be a good fit? Always follow the publisher’s guidelines.

3. SUBMIT YOUR WORK. Buy a stamp and an envelope. Hit ‘send’ on your computer. Use rejections as a tool to help you become a better writer. Use work you’ve had accepted as a tool to help you become a better writer. Write what you love, let it set for three days, read it out loud, make corrections, and then send it out.

WOW: Write. Research. Submit your work. Classic advice for writers.

Julie, thank you so much for taking time out to chat today with WOW! Best of luck and we’ll see you on the writing front!

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