Tuesday, January 05, 2010

 

Interview with Amanda Pettit, Summer ‘09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Amanda Pettit is a devoted enthusiast of hot beverages, classic literature, and close friends. She divides her time between her family, her writing, and the management of Sanctuary Home For Children, which has taken her to India and back and given her an ongoing mission to improve the lives of street orphans. When she's not busy with the big stuff, she also enjoys sewing, video games, football, and shopping. Amanda lives in Texas with her husband Ray and their children Virginia and Edward.

Visit her blog at http://thislittlepig73.wordpress.com/.

Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Summer 2009 writing contest! How do you feel?

Amanda: Thanks! I feel fabulous. This is actually the first contest I've entered since I embarked in earnest on my writing adventure. Earning a spot in the top ten on my first attempt has been a wonderful morale boost, and I so enjoyed receiving the prize package in the mail.

WOW: That’s great. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Coffee Date?

Amanda: I am fascinated by family dynamics, particularly the relationships between sisters. I have two sisters myself, and there is a wealth of interesting material, both positive and negative, when I look back on our decades together. Each sister has made unique choices about parenting, marriage, career, and a million other things, and I think those differences and similarities are worth exploring. While my own sisters and I are younger than the characters in Coffee Date, we have definitely had profound differences and reconciliations. We have changed our opinions of each other over time. I like the way people—both in fiction and in real life—can have disagreements but choose to respect each other, even if it's a long process. And the setting, a coffee shop, is one I find popping up repeatedly in much of what I write, probably because I enjoy a weekly coffee date myself with a close circle of girlfriends. A coffee shop is the ideal neutral ground for relaxing, sharing, talking things out.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Amanda: I write three full days a week, while my children are at school. When I write, I need a big chunk of time in order to really get going, and I don't like interruptions. A full day (about seven hours for me) is perfect. By the end of the third day, my wrists and elbows ache, but I'm very happy and wishing there was some way to skip the housework days and the weekend to get back to the writing days again more quickly. I need a clean room, silence, something hot to drink (more on that later), my laptop, and whatever notes or books I have to refer to. I try to write something smaller, like a flash fiction piece or poetry, at least once a week, and most of the remainder of the time is spent on novel writing. I blog, too, but it's easy for me to lose half a day on blogs, both my own and reading/commenting on others, so I try not to spend my real writing time in the blog world, tempting as it is.

WOW: What projects are you working on now? Have you made any writing goals for the New Year?

Amanda: My top goal for 2010 is finding an agent to represent one of my novels. I currently have two novels written but not completely polished, so getting them both through the final stage is high on my list of writing tasks right now. The first, Scribe, is an adventure set in modern day San Antonio, ancient Egypt, and the mythical Egyptian world of the dead. My educational background is in anthropology, so I have a strong interest in other cultures, archaeology, history, and love to put those elements into a story. The second novel, The Great Uneven, is about an older woman with OCD, and I completed most of it during NaNoWriMo. It has been really fun getting those two major projects on paper and I look forward to getting them really polished—even though I'm tempted to set them aside and start on the next book.

WOW: Your books sound interesting, and we wish you the best of luck with your goals. How did Sanctuary Home For Children come about? How can people help?

Amanda: Sanctuary Home was started about three years ago when my close friends in India asked us to help them start an orphanage. At first, I absolutely thought the idea was ridiculous - who was I to take on a task like that? What did I know? I'm a Christian, and my connection with the Indian family was ultimately because of church stuff, so I prayed about it. Honestly, what I prayed was that God would show me how crazy it was, and close doors, confirming that it was impossible. I was mortified at the thought of asking people for money. My husband was a graduate student, we were broke, and even living in my parents' basement. We were definitely not the right people for the job. As you've probably guessed, though, it didn't turn out the way I wanted, and instead of an impossible task, one good thing led to another, and three years later I am somehow directing a 510(c)(3) nonprofit with a network of child sponsors in the US and over ninety former street children are being fed and educated and loved. It's been an humbling and joyful experience, from the first day I realized people did want to help, to the beautiful meeting with so many sweet little faces on my first visit to India, to the continuing support and ongoing communication with the directors in India, who amazed me by opening their home to so many in need. It's a lot of work, but completely worth it. Our website, www.sanctuaryhome.org, has information on how to help, and there is a recent article on halogentv.com about us. Thanks for asking.

WOW: On a lighter note, you mention that you’re a “devoted enthusiast of hot beverages.” Describe your top three favorites.

Amanda: My absolute favorite, or at least the hot beverage I consume in the largest quantities, is French Vanilla black tea by Bigelow, served pretty close to boiling, with a bit of milk and sugar. If I'm out and have a little money to spare, I go for a chai tea latte with soy milk from a coffee shop. Among many other wonderful hot drinks of all sorts, another standout is a traditional hot toddy. It isn't something I drink on a daily basis, best saved for the times I'm under the weather, or have a headache, or just can't seem to get warm. My favorite hot toddy recipe: 1.5 ounces of brandy, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons honey, a cinnamon stick and a few whole cloves, and the mug topped off with hot water. Of course, I always nuke it for an extra thirty seconds, because as with all hot drinks, the hotter the better.

WOW: Now I’m ready for a nice, warm drink! Those all sound delicious. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Amanda: Do it. After waiting a lot of years for the stars of circumstance to align perfectly, I finally started writing like I meant it. The wait, for me, was about twenty-five years, which I calculate based on the fact that I recorded in a journal at age eight my intention to write a book. I have never been happier than I am now, since I finally took the plunge. If you have a dream that's hanging on somewhere in the back of your mind, something that keeps resurfacing, some aspiration that keeps knocking at your door, let it in. Don't put it off any longer. Do it.


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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 Summer '09 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

 

Beth Blake, Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner!

Beth Blake is so excited to be in the top ten of another WOW! contest! She has been writing short stories for as long as she can remember. She was asked to be a part of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference when she was in school, and won the first place award for her university's literary journal contest. She has also been delighted to write the Christmas program for the past three years for her church congregation.

Beth graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a degree in marriage and family studies, child studies, and creative writing. She is from La Grande, a lovely small town in Oregon, and draws much of the material for her stories from the town and people she loves so dearly. She is the second of seven children and really enjoys spending time with her family, including her seven nieces and nephews. She LOVES to cook and makes pretty good desserts if she does say so herself! Her long-term writing goal is to not be so critical of herself and afraid of what others might think. She wants to write a book one day, but most of all simply hopes to continue to touch hearts through words.

You can read her winning story here.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Summer 2009 writing contest! How do you feel?

Beth: Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how excited I am! I couldn’t believe it! My hands were shaking for about an hour! It means so much to me. Earlier this year I experienced a slump time where I wasn’t writing much of anything. I had gone through some experiences that were a blow to my confidence, and everything I wrote seemed stupid. It took awhile to get back on the wagon and write again. When I saw my name and my picture underneath the “1st Place” sign, I was so happy. Not because I had won any prize, but because I felt like an author again. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. You know what’s interesting; since I’ve won I’ve realized that I was an author all along. That is what I’ve always been. I just forgot that for a time.

WOW: We’re so glad the win had such a wonderful effect on you! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Beth: I love to answer this type of question. I really enjoy hearing about the genesis of stories. A few years ago there was a widower in my neighborhood with three young girls. After his wife died, there was a group of young girls that came over and taught him how to do his daughters’ hair for school. I was so touched by this and it was the basis for this story. I wanted to focus on the idea of someone giving a simple service after the funeral is over and the casseroles stop coming. I also wanted the story to be about a strong friendship. I have been lucky to be a part of some very strong friendships in my life and that has meant the world to me. I poured the feelings I have as being a part of these friendships into Joy and Jenny. I wanted to end the story on a note of hope, with the suggestion that even death couldn’t end this friendship. I really liked the idea of both of them taking care of the other’s child.

WOW: You’ve also placed in the top ten in one of our previous contests. As a two-time contest winner, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Beth: Be brave! Never stop trying!

Something else I have learned about writing lately is that a writer is what I call the 3 “E’s”. A writer is an entertainer, an empathizer, and an educator. A good story entertains; it brings someone to another world for a little while. The reader can visit Oz, or sail a pirate ship from their living room. A good story also empathizes with the human condition. Characters become our friends because they relate to what we are feeling and the situations we go through. This is something that has really been driven home to me this year. As a writer, I have learned to use the pain and joy in my life and infuse it into my characters. It has made all the difference.

One of my favorite actresses, Allison Janney, tells of the process she goes through when acting out a scene of intense emotion. She had dreams of becoming an Olympic skater when a freak accident as a teenager ended that dream. She says that any time she needs to portray pain, she goes back to that moment and brings out the despair she felt. She uses that connect with her audience. An author goes through the same process.

A good story also educates. It educates us about the world around us, and about how to relate to people. It can teach us about ourselves. To me the greatest stories are the ones that teach us about our feelings, specifically how to identify them and use them. That is the best advice I can give: entertain, empathize, and educate.

WOW: You're very generous with your advice, thank you! We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Beth: Well, another thing I’ve learned over the year is that my writing, like the rest of me, can’t be forced. That having been said, my music teacher told me once that an artist must practice their art every day because the body is constantly changing and you are not the same person from day to day. I try to spend time every day doing something. I write in my journal every night and highlight areas that I think I can use in my writing. I also have a writing journal that I use to write down phrases that come to me. I am never ever without a notebook. Despite the fact that I have an awful short term memory, I really think it is important to have a pocket notebook with you to capture those little moments of inspiration when they come.

When I am working on a project, I like to have quiet or some selective music playing. Talking distracts me terribly. I have always believed that an author is also an actor and needs to “get into character.” Music is something that always helps me do this. When I need to bring out sadness I will listen to the “Somewhere in Time” soundtrack or if I want to bring out a peaceful feeling, I’ll listen to the “Anne of Green Gables” soundtrack.

WOW: Again, great tips. What projects are you working on now? Do you have any writing goals in mind for the new year?

Beth: This is my busy season! I am writing two Christmas programs this year for different church congregations. I always love doing this. I am also working on a Christmas story. A few years ago I gave a friend of mine a hand-made book of Christmas stories with the promise to add one every year. As far as the new year, I have several projects in mind. I have had a story circulating in my head about a women who plays a mother in a “Leave it to Beaver” type show who unexpectedly takes custody of the teenager who plays her daughter on the show. They learn together about what it really means to be a family. I also would love to do a story about the White House. I have always been fascinated by the President of the United States and life in the White House. It is a dream of mine to visit Washington D.C. some time. I will also of course enter WOW contests!

WOW: Beth, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and may your Washington, D.C. travel dreams come true. Finally, talk to us about those yummy desserts you make! What’s your favorite?

Beth: Oh my, a favorite…hmm, that’s a tough one. I would say my favorite to make is pie. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when a pie comes out of the oven. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me. At college, my apartment was always full of goodies around finals time. My roommates would walk into to see me reading a book while rolling out dough and say, “She’s stressed again!” They liked it when I got stressed! Most of all, I love to bake things from scratch. Mixes save time but are infinitely less fun. I love to watch yeast bubble and foam. I love to feel bread dough underneath my hands as I knead it. I am fascinating by the chemistry of baking. I love to learn why things work in a recipe. My most famous dessert is probably my caramel apple pie. Someone told me once that the reason why I haven’t found “Mr. Right” yet is because he hasn’t tasted my caramel apple pie!

Thank you again for this opportunity. I love this site and I am so proud to be a winner in your contest!

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 Summer '09 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

 

Spring '09 Contest Runner Up, Diane Hoover!

Diane Hoover was born in New York City across from Yankee Stadium, which might explain her great love for the Yankees. She grew up in the Washington DC metropolitan area, which certainly explains her great interest in politics. Diane has spent the last, almost 40 years living near the foot of Pikes Peak, which definitely has helped inspire her writing.

Diane has published several short stories and an occasional nonfiction piece, as well as placed in a number of contests. Most recently, one of her short stories placed in the Saturday Writer’s contest and was included in the Cuivre Anthology. At the age of 67, after undergoing a complete hip replacement, she decided to learn karate. She now wears a blue belt, which puts her right in the middle. Her four grandchildren think this is the coolest thing. You can read Diane's winning story, "Coffee Break," here.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Spring 2009 Flash Fiction contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Diane: The challenge of writing a story within a prescribed word limit, plus I like writing stories about women in trouble and how they solve, or hopefully solve, their problems.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story? It was suspenseful—I was on the edge of my seat reading it!

Diane: I like to put myself in the positions I put my characters. What would I do? At least what would I think I would do? Maybe it’s my Walter Mitty alter ego asserting itself.

WOW: Your main character was certainly resourceful! Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Diane: I have written several flash fiction stories, two for your WOW! contest, one received an honorable mention. And this may sound really strange, but I feel that different stories and different characters call for their own format. In "Coffee Break," I think I said all there was to be said for both my main character and her situation. On the other hand, I have a story about a runaway young girl who is called home by her mother, decides to take the opposite road and is saved by an angel. That story is much longer. My novel is generational, much longer.

WOW: According to your bio, you decided to learn karate the age of 67. What prompted that decision, and what was it like to take lessons?

Diane: I had had a total hip replacement at the end of 2005. Though I’d gotten rid of any limp afterward, I still felt pretty unstable so when the opportunity arose to take lessons that would not only help any stability and balance problems but teach me a new (for me very new) discipline I thought, hey, why not? So I did. I’ve made some great new friends in the process and now I’m learning to use weapons.

WOW: You are a force to be reckoned with, Diane! I always like to ask about a writer’s routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Diane: I am a member of a couple of critique groups and also work with a critique partner. Often I will work on someone’s manuscript and then work on mine. Sometimes though I'll just sit in front of my computer and a story unfolds under my fingers. It is the most surprising and often wonderful experience. Other writers experience the same kind of thing.

WOW: What a great phenomenon what that happens. Do you have any writing goals in mind for the rest of the year?

Diane: I have this book that I’ve been working on for years. It’s an historical novel, from which I’ve taken several stories and turned them into short stories. Some of these have placed in contests. I would love to finish this book before I die. I would hate to have my kids or spouse put on my tombstone WIP instead of RIP.

WOW: That’s a good one! Many writers can relate. Finally, is there if there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Diane: Don’t talk about writing, do it! It’s as simple as that. And stick to it. One should have a routine, I feel, to get the best results. Oh, and read a lot. I know that’s two bits of advice but I think it all goes together.

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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Monday, September 07, 2009

 

Spring '09 First Place Contest Winner, Teresa Davis!

Teresa Davis, an accounting graduate from the University of Alaska, spent numerous years as a CPA until she turned her focus back to her first love: writing. Her work has appeared in a trade newsletter and several online magazines. She has also written teaching curricula for GoTeachIt.com. She now lives and writes in Germantown, TN. This was her first contest accomplishment, and she was honored to be among the finalists.

You can read Teresa's winning story, "The Girl," here.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Teresa: Thank you! I believe entering contests is an invaluable writing tool. I especially love the WOW! Women On Writing contests because your authors tend to write the kind of stories I enjoy reading and writing. The savvy writer can experiment with new voices, story ideas, and even different genres, by entering contests. An important step is to be sure to go back and read the winning entries so you can compare and contrast you own entry to those. This is a fun way to critique your own writing because it allows you a more objective look at your story.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Teresa: When a story idea comes to mind, I usually sit down and write about it immediately, but this time was different. Someone I knew was killed in a car accident eighteen years ago. Another driver reported seeing my friend just moments before the wreck. I have often wondered what that moment must have been like. It took eighteen years, but the basic idea finally found its way into a plot.

WOW: You did a great job with the story. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Teresa: Yes, I have written other flash fiction, but this is the first of this type to be published. For as long as I can remember, I have preferred reading short stories over novels; therefore, when I began writing, I naturally gravitated toward smaller pieces such as articles, essays, poems, and short stories. I had never heard of the term flash fiction until a couple of years ago, at which time I promptly fell in love.

WOW: And now you've won first place in a flash fiction contest! According to your bio, you were a CPA for many years before focusing on your writing. How did you orchestrate that change, and how would you compare your life then and now?

Teresa: It sounds strange, doesn’t it, to go from rigid math rules—tax laws, no less—to something as free and creative as writing? I enjoyed both in college, but I already had accounting experience and felt I was better suited for that. Although I enjoyed my accounting years, the long hours left little time for anything else. In the midst of preparing tax return after tax return deep into the night, I found writing a story or two was helpful to clear my head. It didn’t take long to figure out that writing is much more fun! After the first few pieces sold, I was hooked. I eventually dissolved my tax practice and put my license in inactive status, and I’ve never been happier.

WOW: Good for you! We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Teresa: I write late at night when the world is dark and quiet. I know a lot of writers say that, but I guess it just works for some of us. There’s something about being surrounded by darkness that entices my ideas. I hide out for hours with my laptop in one of several favorite nooks in our house. Often, I become so engrossed in a project that I won’t make it to bed until three or four in the morning. I’m not sure why, but writing during daylight hours turns my voice flat. I also play the same song over and over on my iPod while I work. Hearing the same song repeatedly helps me stay grounded in the mood of a story.

WOW: It's always interesting to learn how others writers make it work. One final question, Teresa: If there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Teresa: There is not a universal formula for becoming an established writer. The only real “trick” is finding the right audience for each story, and that’s just a matter of research and persistence. Regardless of the number of rejections, keep honing your writing skills, rewrite constantly, seek out new markets, and never give up.

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

 

Winter '09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up, Cindy Haynes

Cindy Haynes has written enough stories, essays and mostly children’s tales to fill a very large wardrobe that might just open in the back to some far away time and place. She would rather be with herself and her imagination and her writing than anywhere else. Inspiration comes from friends, daydreaming out a window at the garden and from snatches of life such as walking by a limousine recently in NY City and seeing a beautiful woman in the back seat crying, while a man in a tuxedo standing outside caressed her cheek. It is easy to live the writing life when your senses take in all about you.

When not writing, Cindy runs, reads and takes wonderful trips in a 19’ RV named Van Cliburn with her husband Bill and way-too big dog Sadie.

Interviewed by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up with your story, “Windows of Change.” What inspired you to enter the contest?

Cindy: WOW is like Christmas every day. I wake up each morning, grab the coffee and head to my computer to keen the essay of the moment. I love your 750 word limit. First I just write away at my dream or experience of the moment. Then I repeatedly hit word count and smile. The fine tuning is a skill that I learned at a three week Iowa Writer's Workshop with fabulous writer/instructor Chris Offutt. He does something like cut his story into sentence strips and place them around his house. Wherever he is he takes a sentence and rearranges, eliminates, adds words until it is "tight and clean." I'm no Chris. But I love the process. I adore your contest and of course the prizes. You are my inspiration. I bow down to you WOW staff.

WOW: Thank you for the kind words about, WOW! Your editing process sounds kind of fun too. Could you tell us what encouraged the idea behind the story?

Cindy: Although I do not think I portrayed it well, my neighbor is my dearest friend and has been for 35 years. And she did lose a child.

WOW: I thought it was a lovely portrayal. It seemed like it could be based on real life events. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Cindy: Yes, I have entered each season for two years now. I was honorable mention last fall and runner up this past winter. I am with you for life! I read contemporary fiction and seem to write that best. However, I have "finished" but not at all fine tuned a young adult chapter book about low lives who are comprised of Mosquito Bite, Brussel Sprouts, Finger Nails On Chalkboard and a few others. Boy do I need help with that. Anyone out there wanna start a YA writing group? Ooops. I should look over what WOW offers. Maybe there is some workshop I can take.

WOW: We do have some great workshops available. A YA class would probably be a good addition to the list, so we'll look into that.

We’d love to know more about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing? Any favorite rituals?

Cindy: I am missing the part of the brain that "finishes things." Again, WOW is helping me to develop that part of my meager brain. So I do not have a routine where I sit for hours. Any good book will distract me. However, I do write copious emails and work at my essays and chapter book for a couple of hours each morning. I dart for the computer when a new idea comes my way. My computer is in a cubby and all around me are photos of me with greats for inspiration. My latest and most prized is me sitting next to a glowering Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler. I'm also partial to the picture of me with Mary McGarry Morris taken at a book signing about 15 years ago.

WOW: You mentioned that you take trips in a 19’ RV named Van Cliburn. Where have you been lately and how the heck did the RV get its name?

Cindy: My favorite trip in Cliburn was three years ago when we traveled to Alaska and back from March 31st to July 31st. We had particularly great weather. It was a magical trip. I put together a small book of my essays from the trip. I gave it to fellow writers and to my best fan of all, my 98-year-old mother-in-law, Marion, who inspires me by always asking for more.

My husband Bill is a classical and opera music lover. He has taken the same opera course from the same instructor no less than 15 times. The instructor does work with different composers and operas each semester. So Van Cliburn was a fit name for our little home on wheels.

WOW: Sounds fun. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Cindy: I do know by now as I approach the winter of my years, that one has to have a passion for writing to really get to it. I feel so very blessed that I have the passion. When one loves to read and write, one will never ever be bored. If you are inclined to try writing, start with this essay contest. When you enter, it will be the best ten dollars you spend all summer. You will hit send, smile and begin another adventure story. Have I said thank-you Women On Writing?

WOW: Yes, you have and thanks again, Nancy! Best of luck with your future writing endeavors.

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Join in the fun! Our Summer Flash Fiction contest is OPEN.

Check back on Tuesdays for more previous contest winner interviews.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

 

How Americans Talk

Depending on where you live, you might call your submarine sandwich a “hero” (New York City area), a “hoagie” (New Jersey and Pennsylvania), a “grinder” (New England), or a “Cuban sandwich” (Florida).

This kind of information--the words and phrases used in distinct regions of the country--will be included in a new edition of The Dictionary of American Regional English next year. The compete series of five volumes will contain abut 75,000 entries, and will eventually be put online.

When my family moved from the East Coast to the West Coast, I can remember my new friends sniggering at my use of the word “sneakers” instead of “tennis shoes”. (Were we playing tennis? No. That still doesn’t make sense to me.) Some other regional word differences I can think of are soda vs. pop, sofa vs. couch, and iced tea vs. sweet tea. Apparently, there are many more!

Fiction writers may need to know about these regional variations, in order to create characters who speak the way they really would. I just think it’s fascinating to learn about the diversity of our language. What regional expressions did you grow up with?

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

 

Interview with Gay Degani, First Place Winner of the Winter '09 Flash Fiction Contest


Gay Degani, a former community college instructor in English, lives in Southern California with her husband and ancient Labrador retriever. She's been published in two mystery anthologies, in THEMA Literary Journal and on-line at Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Tattoo Highway, and Salt River Review. “Spring Melt” was a finalist for The 2nd Annual Micro Fiction Award and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Monsoon” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2007 Fiction Open and “Wounded Moon” was short-listed for the 2008 Fish Short Story Prize.

Gay’s blog is Words in Place and she is the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction.

You can read her work online: Losing Ground at Tattoo Highway, The London Eye at Every Day Fiction, Listing Lisa at Salt River Review, and Spring Melt is a 2008 Micro Fiction Finalist and a Pushcart Nominee.

Interviewed by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Gay: Thanks for the congrats! It was most exciting to get an email from a friend with a capitalized “CONGRATULATIONS” in the subject line. I was wondering, what the heck? Then when I read why, I was jazzed! Wow! Literally WOW!

I found WOW! Women on Writing’s Flash Fiction Contest when a friend won a similar prize. I’m always on the prowl for places to submit my writing. Although there are many venues on the internet, much of my fiction seems to sift through without sticking. It seems to be too “on-the-nose” for many online lit sites and not genre enough for others, so I take advantage of every opportunity.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Gay: This story was born when a woman from a nearby town was sideswiped by a car and killed while out for a Sunday bike-ride with her husband. I didn’t know her personally, but the suddenness of her death shook me. I began to think about how it would feel to have my life completely reversed by such an event.

As I do with everything that causes that little niggle in my brain, I asked, “What if that had been my husband?” My answer was “walls.” I’d build walls around myself and never go out. That was the genesis of this piece.

WOW: I loved "Beyond the Curve," and thought you created a great opening sentence, which is important in capturing the attention of your readers. I also liked the title, with its deeper, double meaning. How much work do you put in to your opening lines and story titles? Do you spend a lot of time tweaking them?

Gay: Since I started writing online flash fiction, I’ve learned the importance of first sentences. When someone reads on a monitor, he or she can click through to so many different sites with so little effort, it becomes essential for a writer to seduce that reader immediately with vivid images using specific detail. The reader wants a picture to see right away, the wart on a character’s face, the gleam of light off a skyscraper, a mangled bicycle. With that image, he or she willingly reads on to find out what next.

As for titles, I usually have a working title that comes from my first inspiration, but often it ends up being discarded because it tells too much too soon. I need the working title to keep me focused on the juicy parts of the story, but once I’m finished, I look for something more suggestive and symbolic.

One of the things I love to do most is to try to have double meanings where ever I can, but part of the challenge is that it must be subtle. It’s hard to find the right balance between the obvious and the obscure, and when it works, I’m thinking, “YES!”

WOW: It’s always interesting to learn about a successful writer’s process, thank you. You’re also the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles. This looks like a great resource for writers. Can you tell us about the site and what visitors might expect?

Gay: I was lucky enough to find Every Day Fiction when I decided to try to publish online. I had a short piece I’d done as an exercise in Gordon Mennenga’s class at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival ( a great place to spend a week surrounded by writers). When I read “One Question” in front of the group, it was first time Gordon said to me, “Now that’s a piece of professional writing!”

I sent it off to EDF and they published that piece and eventually more of my work. They even nominated “Spring Melt” for the Pushcart Prize. There’s a list of my online stories at my blog, Words in Place.

When the editors of EDF asked if anyone would volunteer to run a blog for the e-zine, I raised my virtual hand. They gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted, and Flash Fiction Chronicles was born. The site is dedicated to the discussion of the art and craft of flash fiction, fiction in general, and the issues of writing, marketing, and publishing today. I’m always looking for submissions from writers at all levels, from beginner to professional.

WOW: I found lots of great posts there, and I think others will enjoy it too. You’re doing a great job! Aspiring authors would probably love to know about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?

Gay: Oh-oh. I wish I could say I manage to bang out hundreds of words a day, but I’m somewhat sporadic. When a story has juice for me, I think about it all the time, write notes on napkins, tell my husband “shhhhh,” and hide in my garage office because if I don’t deal with that story right away, it might lose its juiciness.

I sit down at the computer every morning. I work on either a short piece of fiction or my novel. This is always a battle for me. The novel is long range gratification and is sometimes trumped by an email announcing a contest for a 1000-word piece. This provides INSTANT (relatively) gratification. I give in. New characters, new story. What fun!!!

But what I understand and what I say to others is finishing something is crucial. Get to the end while the juice is still dripping from my mouth. You can edit later.

WOW: Good advice! What writing projects are you working on right now? Do you have goals in mind for the rest of the year?

Gay: My goal is to finish editing my mystery novel, What Came Before. This is a must-do enterprise. I love the story which centers around a woman who investigates the murder of a sister she didn’t know she had and while doing so, uncovers the reasons for her own mother’s suicide.

WOW: Sounds like a great story, and we wish you luck with the editing work. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Gay: Work hard. You have the power to learn what you need to know.
Don’t fall in love with your own words. There are more where those came from.
Write what you love to read. Write what you want to write.
Observe everything. There’s a story in every popcorn kernel on the floor.
Trust in yourself and don’t take anything too seriously. Be joyful.


* * * * * * * *


>Check back on Tuesdays for interviews with more Winter ’09 Flash Fiction winners.

>For details on WOW! Women on Writing's current contest, head on over to our contest page.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

 

Interview with Nancy A. Jackson, Runner Up in our Fall 2008 Essay Contest


Nancy started writing as soon as she could pick up a crayon, doing poetry books and a "newspaper" for the neighborhood. She was an English major at Ohio State, where she also got a law degree. She practiced law for about 25 years, then worked as executive director of a Michigan nonprofit. She also worked as the single mom of two girls, Katherine and Jenna.
Now that she's retired from 80-hour workweeks, she's writing again, and her daughters, as well as her husband, Tim, are her constant cheerleaders. She also sells out-of-print books online, and she writes articles for Internet content providers. In the past few years, she and Tim have traveled to Japan, Greece, Turkey and South America. Her cats, Bart and Charlie, wish that she would travel less and play with them more.

Visit her website at: http://www.nancyhira.com/

If you haven't read Nancy's winning essay, " The Price of a Room," you can do so here.

Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on placing in WOW's Fall 2008 Personal Essay Contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Nancy: I loved the subject. It really got me thinking about how hard it’s been for me to get a room of my own and use it in a meaningful way. I think that a lot of really talented women are done in by the pressures of the many demands on them, and the difficulty of finding time and space to write. I think of Sylvia Plath and Zelda Fitzgerald as just two examples.

WOW: You have made not one, but two, writing spaces for yourself in your home. Can you describe these spaces for us, as well as your writing routines?

Nancy: One space is in the kitchen/ dining room area, and it’s really more open, more for routine work. The lower level is a long desk with all my reference material on it—that's where I go when I need to concentrate. I tend to do my writing in the afternoon and at night. I’m really a night owl.

WOW: It's always interesting to hear about a writer's routines, thanks. From your essay, it sounds like your first husband wasn't supportive of your writing, although your current husband is very encouraging. What has this difference meant to you? How important is family support to a writer?

Nancy: Family support is crucial, and I find that it’s harder for women to come by. For one thing, when your children are young, you can’t just tell them, “I’m taking 4 hours off now to write, so talk amongst yourselves.” Also, I had to work to support my children, so I was exhausted a lot of the time while they were growing up. My first husband had to put up with the full brunt of my emotional collapse, so it was harder for him to be supportive, I think. My present husband is wonderful about my writing—but then, it’s just the two of us at home, so I’m not balancing many different roles anymore.

WOW: I love that "talk amongst yourselves" comment. If only! Are you working on any other writing projects? What are some of your writing goals for the future?

Nancy: I want to be able to earn enough money with my writing to support the work I really want to do – finishing a nonfiction book on choosing senior housing options for our elders (or ourselves). Then, of course, every writer has a great fiction idea floating around—I've got a few myself. That will come in time.

WOW: Switching gears, I notice that you've done a lot of traveling around the world. How did you decide where to go?

Nancy: All my life, I’ve wanted to see the Greek islands. After that, I was very intrigued by South America, particularly Brazil. I saw Budapest with my younger daughter. We had a fabulous time!

WOW: Any favorite places?

Nancy: Oddly enough, the Black Hills of South Dakota. I found them to be a very peaceful, spiritual place.

WOW: We don't always have to go far to find lovely places to visit, do we? Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Nancy! Before you go, what one bit of advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Nancy: It’s never too late to start writing. It’s one thing you can do regardless of age.

***
To find out more about WOW's quarterly contests, please visit: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

 

Top 10 Joys of Writers

Previously, I shared a list of writers' top ten fears according to a survey noted in A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. Those same writers were also asked about the joys of writing. Here is that list (with ties for some answers):

1. expressed many ways: the feeling of completeness, of being in sync with the universe, being present in the now, centered, peaceful, calm, being with myself

2. feeling that I entertained the reader, made people laugh, touched someone

3. the feeling of being creative, "in the groove," being an artist

3. telling a story, creating characters, plots

4. connecting with others

4. playing with words, using language

4. having an audience, having other people read or hear my writing

5. expressing myself, putting myself on paper, recording my thoughts

5. being with other writers

6. finding out about myself

6. producing something

7. being published

7. finishing, the feeling of having written

7. leaving a legacy, making a mark on the world

8. becoming a more discerning reader

9. finding out I'm good, that there is promise

10. the surprises, finding out what happens

I notice that many of the joys of writing have little to do with making money (although that's nice). Let the list remind you of all that writing can bring to your life. It definitely gave me a boost today.

--Marcia Peterson

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

 

Interview with Natalie Wendt, First Place Winner

Our Fall 2008 Essay Contest’s prompt was inspired by Jill Butler’s book, Create the Space You Deserve: An Artistic Journey to Expressing Yourself Through Your Home. Jill offered a favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “We create our dwelling and afterwards our dwellings create us.” She believes it runs both ways simultaneously. That is, as we create ourselves, we create our homes, and in the creating of our homes we have the opportunity to recreate ourselves.

Natalie Wendt took first place with her essay, "Going Forth and Coming Home." It's a fabulous essay, and today we'll share an interview with Natalie touching on her many adventures, as well as some tips about entering writing contests.

Natalie grew up in Idaho, graduated from College of Santa Fe in 2005, and traveled extensively Asia, Europe and North America. A former resident of Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, she now spends her days as a substitute teacher in Spokane’s elementary schools. Her writing has appeared in “Q View Northwest,” “The Fig Tree,” and “The Spokesman-Review.” This is the first contest she’s ever won.

Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in WOW!'s Fall 2008 writing contest! How do you feel?

Natalie: I’m thrilled! I’ve never won first place in anything before. It’s very exciting. I’m a regular WOW! reader and it’s wonderful to be a part of it. I’m really looking forward to the Premium Green subscription too!

WOW: That's great, and I think you'll love Premium-Green . In your essay, you talk about the lure of an uprooted life, and how nomadic life was your dream. Why do you think you felt that way? It seems so adventurous!

Natalie: I think part of that impulse came from growing up in a small, close-knit community where I didn’t fit in. I felt claustrophobic in my hometown. Everyone had known everyone else since birth. Being a nomad seemed like the opposite way of living. I’m fortunate that my family treated my wanderlust as normal. My parents always encouraged us to experience new things and learn about the world, and they didn’t complain when we went off to see the world! My younger sister is a globetrotter too. It seems natural to me.

WOW: You've really acted on that wanderlust, traveling all around the world. How did you decide where to go? Any favorite places?

Natalie: I went to India for pilgrimage and to go to Buddhist teachings. Both of my main spiritual teachers lived in India for decades, and I was able to meet many of their teachers in India, which was very special. During my three months there, I basically went wherever His Holiness the Dalai Lama was teaching, and the traditional Buddhist holy places.

Everywhere else, I went where I found a place to stay! I didn’t really have enough money to travel as long as I did, but I do have a huge extended family and a lot of friends who live abroad. I stayed with cousins, friends of cousins, second cousins I’d never met before, my best friend from third grade, a friend’s ex-boyfriend, and my own ex-girlfriend, among other people. As a result, I ended up it places I never would have thought to go, like a Welsh college town, a suburb of Frankfurt, and a genuine Tuscan villa. The only places in Europe I went out of my way to visit were romantic Italian cities: Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona. I went for the food, the art and the atmosphere, and it was everything I hoped.

My favorite places were Dharamsala, Bodh Gaya and Bangalore in India, and Rome. Dharamsala’s the Tibetan capital-in-exile, and Bodh Gaya’s where Buddha became enlightened. Bangalore is a beautiful city in southern India, and I loved it because it was the first place I stayed on my trip. And Rome’s just irresistible.

WOW: It sounds like you've had some great adventures, Natalie! Have you always been interested in writing? What other writing have you done?

Natalie: Writing has been my passion for most of my life. When I was in high school I had a ‘zine. I constantly wrote short stories, essays, and terrible poetry. I didn’t share my writing with many people though, and I went through a long phase of not showing my work to anyone.

Last summer I started submitting my work. I’m still quite new to it, but I’ve had some success. I’ve had a handful of nonfiction articles published. My first published fiction piece will be up the Homestead Review website very soon as a runner-up for a contest.

WOW: Congratulations on your fiction contest success and published articles. Currently, you're substitute teaching at the elementary school level. How's that going? Are you interested in a career in education?

Natalie: Substitute teaching makes every day an adventure. My degree is actually in Elementary Education, and I started working in a classroom when I was barely twenty years old. I was still a student back then and at times I felt way too young to be teaching anybody. Traveling and getting more diverse life experience has helped me be a better, more confident teacher. I was recently offered a classroom of my own for next school year. It’s tentative until the education budget is worked out but I’m excited about it. Spending a day with six-year-olds is a lot like going to another country. I never know what will happen and it keeps me flexible.

WOW: That's great that you'll be getting your own class. Your students will be lucky to have you as a teacher. Are you working on any other writing projects?

Natalie: Yes! I write almost every day. Currently, I’m piecing together my notes from my trip into narrative form, and working on a young adult novel set in rural Idaho. I regularly contribute to my local gay and lesbian monthly newsmag, Q View Northwest.

WOW: You sound very busy! Finally, we have to ask (you are a first place winner, after all): Do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Natalie: If you’re interested in entering, go for it. Contests give you a deadline, writing guidelines, and incentive to put out your best work. It’s like writing assignments for a class, but with prizes. Contests that give you a critique are especially great because you get feedback.

Other than that, edit. For years, I tried to write things perfectly the first time. It didn’t work, and later I would read through and cringe. I’ve found that when I dedicate more time to editing than to writing, I’m happier with the end result and I’m more likely to get published. Write, edit, edit, edit, and then put it aside. Pick it up later and edit again. And good luck!

WOW: Super advice, Natalie! Thanks and best of luck with your various endeavors.

* * *

>>> Tune in every Tuesday for more contest winner interviews!

>>> To find out more about WOW's quarterly contests, please visit:
http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

 

Top 10 Fears of Writers

In A Writer's Book of Days, Judy Reeves shares the results from a survey of writers showing their top fears about practicing the craft. Here's the list:

1. that I'm not good enough; that my writing is mediocre or bad

2. that my work is worthless, boring, drivel, not clever; that I have nothing interesting to say

3. that I won’t follow through or complete anything

4. that I'll get stuck and nothing will come out

5. that I'll never learn the craft of writing

6. that I'll appear stupid or foolish; afraid of what people will think

7. that I'll hurt someone

8. that I'm a fake, lying, not telling the truth

9. that its waste of time

A tie for 10:

10. that it’s been done or said before, better

10. that I won't get published


Chances are, you've had at least of few of these thoughts yourself at one time or another. I know I have! We're only human.

With practice and experience, some of these concerns lessen, I've found. For the other fears, do what you can to convince yourself of the opposite truths. Just keep writing! You can't let any of these worries stop you from doing what you love.

--Marcia Peterson

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Friday, February 27, 2009

 

Using Google Alerts

Want an easy way to keep tabs on your published articles? Would you like to receive the latest information on a topic or person that you're writing about, delivered right to your e-mail inbox? Just create some Google Alerts—a service offered to people who have Google accounts. (To get a Google account, go to their home page and sign up.).

You choose the search terms for your alerts, then you receive automatic e-mails when there are new Google results. The different types of alerts include news (the latest news articles about your topic), web (the latest web pages that contain your search terms), blogs (posts that contain your search terms), comprehensive (the latest results from multiple sources), video (the latest videos with your search terms), and groups (posts from your Google groups). It's up to you whether you'd like daily, weekly, or "as it happens" alerts.

I've been experimenting with the program, just to see how it works. I set up a weekly alert using my city's name, to get local news and find out about blog discussions. I also set up a daily alert for my name, as well as the titles of several articles I've written that appear online. From this test, I've learned that it's a good idea to put full names and titles (any search with multiple key words) in quotes, to get the most accurate results.

Though I haven't tried it yet, there's also an advanced search function, which can help narrow your results even further. For example, you can include information to find web pages that have "all these words" or "this exact wording or phrase" or "one or more of these words"...but don't show pages that have "any of these unwanted words." You can also set up a search within a certain site or domain.

Have you been using Google alerts? Feel free to chime in!

--Marcia Peterson

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

 

Interview with Gayle Carline, Runner Up in the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest!

Gayle Carline was a software engineer for over 20 years, until she finally chewed her way out the cubicle and became a freelance writer. She quickly became a regular contributor to California Riding Magazine, and in 2005, began writing a weekly humor column, What a Day, for her local newspaper, the Placentia News-Times.

Although she came late to the writing party, Gayle is making up for lost time. Her humor essays have been recognized in contests held by both Humor Press and the Watermark Writer’s Conference, and she wrote a screenplay for the 48-Hour Film Project, an international competition. Her debut novel, Freezer Burn, will soon be published by Echelon Press.

Gayle lives with her husband, Dale, their teenage son, Marcus, and a small zoo that includes two horses. In her spare time, she likes to laugh with friends over a glass of wine. You can visit her at http://www.gaylecarline.com/.

WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Summer 2008 Flash Fiction contest! How do you feel?

Gayle: As writers, we do our best and think it's good, but sometimes we wonder if we're biased, so it always feels great to be validated. Thanks so much for the recognition.

WOW: It's well deserved! Could you tell us a little about your story and what encouraged the idea behind "Quarter Life?"


Gayle: "Quarter Life" actually came from an online writer's group I belong to, the Orange County Writer's Meetup. We had a member for awhile, Victory Crayne, who would provide first or last sentences and let us take it from there. I had recently been to Vegas with a girlfriend, so an opening line about a guy turning his collar up to the cold suddenly made me picture a down-on-his-luck gambling addict on the streets of Vegas. It's a departure from my usual writing, which tends toward humor.

WOW: It's always interesting to hear about a story's background. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Gayle: I'm actually pretty popular at 250 words or less (LOL). I've attended several Southern California Writer's Conferences (www.writersconference.com) and entered their flash fiction contest each time. Of 5 entries, I've won twice and been runner-up once. I usually look at the prompt and go, "nah, I can't think of anything." Then I think of something. When writing fiction, I like my stories dry with a twist.

My favorite type of writing is the humor essay. James Thurber, Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, and Gordon Kirkland are my heroes. When I'm not writing fiction, I write a weekly humor column for the Placentia News-Times. It's about my home and family life. I would describe it as non-fiction, although my husband says he has his doubts. I never lie—but I do exaggerate.

WOW: So you're good at flash fiction, non-fiction, and you've also written a book. Your first novel, Freezer Burn, is coming out soon. You must be very excited! What did it take to complete that big goal?

Gayle: It took two SoCal Writer's Conferences, a trip to Paso Robles, my girlfriend, Robin, and a wicked bartender.

I got the first idea at my first conference, for a guy who hires a PI to find an ice cube tray in his freezer. In the meantime, Robin and I had been joking about a new PI for our times: Peri Menopause. She solves every crime by eating chocolate, weeping and bitch-slapping people until they confess. I combined the two ideas and asked myself, what else could Peri find in a freezer? The rest of the plot came to me as I slept while my hubby and I drove to Paso Robles for a horse show. I started writing the plot, then when we went on vacation that summer, I asked Mark the bartender if he could think of a cool signature drink for my heroine—something she saved her pennies for. He came up with a dirty martini, the perfect drink for a gal who used to clean houses for a living. Finally, at the San Diego SCWC, I met Karen Syed of Echelon Press (www.echelonpress.com). She read 20 pages of the novel and said, "Give me the rest if it's ready."

I had no idea if it was ready, but I gave it one more good scrubbing and sent it in. She loved it.

And yes, I'm very excited! Every time I see my cover art, my tail starts wagging!

WOW: It sounds like a great read! We will definitely keep a lookout for Freezer Burn. Aspiring authors would probably love to know more about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?

Gayle: I wouldn't recommend my routine to anyone - it's fairly chaotic, although I'm organized about it. I start with a spreadsheet that gives me the clues, who finds them, and some info like day, location, etc. Time tends to leap around in my stories, so I need to keep track of which day it is, even if I don't specifically mention it. Then I write a little in the morning, in between loads of laundry, and anything I have to do for my teenager (I volunteer at his school). Then I run errands and usually go to the ranch and ride my horse. After I fix dinner in the evening, I open my document and write more.


And, as unproductive and wacky as all that sounds, I still managed to write Freezer Burn (about 70,000 words) in three months.

WOW: That's very inspirational, thanks—especially for us momwriters! According to your bio, you were a software engineer for over 20 years before becoming a freelance writer. How did you orchestrate that change, and how would you compare your life then and now?


Gayle: There were a few things happening at that time. One is that, as much as I enjoyed the technical aspects of my job, I was the lead on a proposal that kept dragging out and keeping me from the work I liked. The desire to write more pulled at me as I grew unhappier with my job. The second event was that I had bred my mare; she was due to foal in April and I really wanted to spend a lot of time imprinting with the baby. The last "thing" was just the fact that I was getting home late every night and not spending a lot of time with my 12-year old. I wanted to be in the room when he had something to say. I talked it over with my husband, that my ideal life would be writing, tending to my horses, and spending time with my family.

I'm married to a generous (if laconic) man. He said yes.

There's not much about my engineering life I would like to return to - except the salary!

WOW: How great that you've created a satisfying life built around family, writing, and your beloved horses. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Gayle: Words of wisdom? Wait - let me stop laughing... it took me nearly fifty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

If you're a writer, write. Don't sit and whine about how you want to if only you could think of something to write about, or don't have time, or blah-blah-blah. Write a journal. Look up some writing prompts. Find a picture in a magazine and make up a story about it. Even if it's 20 words a day, it's 20 more words than you had yesterday.

And whether you're a writer or not, find your own bliss, then spread it around.

How's that?


WOW: Just perfect! Thanks, Gayle. Be sure to let us know when your novel comes out, so we can spread the word.

*****




Every Tuesday we're featuring an interview with a top 10 winner from the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction contest. Visit next week to see who's next!

Also, check out WOW! Women On Writing's current contest. The deadline for entries is February 28, 2009.

--Marcia Peterson

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 

Interview with Sarah Mian, First Place Winner of the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest!

Sarah Mian has been a writing junkie since childhood. To support her habit she has worked, among other jobs, as a film extra, waitress, substitute teacher, and currently as an exhibit custodian who ships and receives evidence in a crime lab. She has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction and The New Quarterly. Her co-written play, 'Creatures of the Moment' was produced by Metamorphic Theatre.

Sarah has written her way across Canada, living on Vancouver Island in the west, Toronto in the middle and Newfoundland in the east. She also spent nine months abroad to see how the other half lives before returning home to Nova Scotia where the waves break on all sides and everyone says 'thank you'. She lives with her boyfriend, Leo, who can't sing but is a damn fine kisser.

You can read Sarah's winning contest entry, "English as a Second Language," then come back to our interview with her below.

***

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in WOW!'s Summer 2008 writing contest! How do you feel?

Sarah: It's elating to have my work read and considered, let alone recognized as exceptional. I'm grateful I saw the contest listing and took a chance. In November, I kept checking the web site to see who had won and all of a sudden my own face appeared on the screen!

WOW: That must have been fun to see yourself there as the winner! Could you tell us a little about your story and what encouraged the idea behind "English as a Second Language?"

Sarah: Now that I am back home and stationary, I'm doing a lot of exotic travel in my head, sucking on all the juices of my past adventures or those of people I know who lived in foreign countries. I imagined this piece as a visual post card, a haiku, a love letter and a very long story all in one.

WOW: Your story is artistic and poetic, and does seem to have all of those elements. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Sarah: Short fiction has become my medium of choice in recent years, but I am always experimenting with length and form. Writing poetry and flash fiction disciplines me to cut away the fat, which carries over into longer works. I'm learning how to paint whole scenes with just a few brush strokes and how to leave some edges in shadow. I believe this is the secret to great writing; when the story is mutable enough to allow recreation with each reader. It's like magic.

WOW: I love the image of painting whole scenes with just a few brush strokes. Aspiring authors would probably love to know more about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?

Sarah: I have to write. It's not about squeezing it in; it's as much a necessity as brushing my teeth. If I don't write for a week, I feel completely out of sync. Therefore, I have chosen a career that does not rob me of my creative energy. During my breaks at work I brainstorm on whatever I'm working on in my "real" job as a writer. The amount of time I spend writing a day depends on what demands to be freed from my mind; sometimes I unleash fifteen pages at my desk after work, sometimes just two sentences. I tend to back and forth between wholeheartedly living life and rehashing/analyzing it on paper.

WOW: You're obviously a very dedicated writer. Have you ever faced writer's block or burnout? If so, how do you deal with it?

Sarah: If anything, my problem is that I have too many ideas and have a hard time honing and ordering (or ditching!) them. The ability to recognize what isn't working is a crucial writing skill. On the first draft I let it all out, then the hard work really begins.

WOW: We can relate to that! What other projects are you working on? Anything we should look out for this year?

Sarah: I am perpetually sending out short stories to literary journals and I've recently completed a comedy screenplay. In the next three years, I expect to start a novel.

WOW: We wish you luck with all of those endeavors. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Sarah: My best two pieces of advice:

#1-When you think a piece is finally finished, put it away for at least a month. Guaranteed, when you read it back you'll see room for improvement. It's tricky to get things out of our head and make them lie down on paper in a way that others can make sense of them. You need distance in order to recognize if you've achieved clarity with every line.

#2 -Ignore the rule that you can't submit a piece to more than one publisher at once. Having one editor agree to publish your work is like capturing a unicorn; what are the odds of capturing two? I say, send your work everywhere and anywhere, and if a piece you really believe in has been rejected more than once, keep trying. 'English as a Second Language' was rejected three times in slightly different drafts before winning this contest.

WOW: Great advice, Sarah. Congratulations again on your first place win!


***

Every Tuesday we're featuring an interview with a top 10 winner from the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction contest. Be sure to check back and see who's next!

There's still time to enter our current writing contest, too! The deadline for entries is February 28, 2009.

--Marcia Peterson

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Monday, January 05, 2009

 

Someday is today

"I think in terms of the day's resolutions, not the year's."
-Henry Moore


Perhaps you've made some New Year's resolutions—big goals like writing a book, losing 20 pounds, or finally getting organized. So how do these goals come to pass? By daily attention.

The choices we make each day are what add up to a year-end result. Think: What could you give up in the next 12 hours to fit in some writing? How could you eat lighter just for this day? What if you set a timer for 15 minutes and cleaned up one space?

When you realize that your days are the building blocks of a year's dream, you won’t let them slip by. Doing something now, even a small change or a baby step, will add up. Over the course of twelve months—almost imperceptibly—real progress will be made.

What could you resolve to do today?

--MP

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

 

Tiny Chunks of Time

At this time of year, your calendar is probably booked with extra chores. So where does that leave your writing life?

Don't worry! You can keep it alive and kicking by using the nooks and crannies of your day. "Even tiny chunks of time, reclaimed, can add up to the hours necessary to write," says David Fryxell, author of How to Write Fast (While Writing Well).

Here are a few inspiring examples from his book:

*The French Chancellor D'Aguesseau, it's said, once noticed that his wife was habitually ten minutes late coming down to dinner. He decided to make use of those ten minutes (3,650 minutes a year, or more than sixty hours). We he waited for dinner, D'Aguesseau wrote a three-volume book, which became a bestseller when it was published in 1668.

*Anthony Trollope spent most of his life working as a postal clerk, but he would get up at five o'clock each morning and write 3,000 words in the three hours before beginning with the mail. If Trollope finished penning a novel before it was time to go to work—and he finished nearly fifty books this way—he'd simply begin another.

*More recently, the British crime novelist Michael Gilbert managed to craft twenty-three books during his daily fifty-minute commute to his "real job" as a solicitor.


Your situation may be different from the men in these examples, but I'll bet you can find a way to adjust one of the scenarios to fit your life. Grabbing small parts of your day, whether ten minutes or an hour, can be enough time to make good things happen with your writing.

--Marcia Peterson

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Monday, December 08, 2008

 

Monday Motivator: Bird by Bird

Looking through some of my writing books, I picked up an old favorite: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Many of you are familiar with this national bestseller, which is filled with helpful, funny and sometimes provocative advice. Here are just a few of the sections I highlighted in my copy:


"A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up."

***

"Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can't—and, in fact, you're not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing."

***

"Take the attitude that what you are thinking and feeling is valuable stuff, and then be naïve enough to get it all down on paper."

***

"In the beginning, when you're first starting out, there are a million reasons not to write, to give up. That is why it is of extreme importance to make a commitment to finishing sections and stories, to driving through to the finish. The discouraging voices will hound you—'This is all piffle,' they will say, and they may be right. What you are doing may just be practice. But this is how you are going to get better, and there is no pointing practicing if you don't finish."

***

"Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more."


--MP

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

 

What You Can Learn from NaNoWriMo Winners

National Novel Writing Month ends today, so I thought I'd share an article with some final thoughts about NaNoWriMo. How did everyone do with the challenge this year? Any success stories to discuss? :) --MP

by Rochelle Melander

...NaNoWriMo winners will finish a 50,000-word novel by midnight on November 30th. Earlier this month, I interviewed several NaNoWriMo Winners by email. Every writer can learn something from the success of these writers. Here are my favorite tips:

1. Busy is not an excuse. In fact, many of the NaNoWriMo Winners keep chaotic schedules. Winner Elizabeth McKinney from Winston-Salem wrote her novel while also writing professionally for her full-time job. Winner Nicole Gustasa from California said, “Not only did I finish National Novel Writing Month last year, but I did it while I was moving, finalizing my divorce and working a 60-hour a week job!” Never whine about being too busy to write. If you want to write, you’ll find time to write.

2. No MFA? No problem. Many of the wannabe writers I meet put off their writing careers until they can get more education or experience. Don’t wait. Educate yourself by reading and attending workshops. Get experience by writing. Winner Susan Drolet said, “When I actually finished an entire novel, I realized that you don't have to be a professional writer or have a degree in journalism to put words together to make a coherent story. I am so proud of my accomplishment!”

3. Success creates success. Every NaNoWriMo winner I talked to was proud of their 50,000-word accomplishment—and they should be. NaNoWriMo success boosted the winners’ writing confidence and spilled over into other areas as well. Winner Kristine Augustyn said, "Because I actually completed the novel I feel that I can do many more things. It has given me greater confidence and inspiration and in turn I have inspired others to try things." Kristine gained the confidence to start a new business, Badge of Intent. For me, the discipline of writing gave me the knowledge and the confidence to create and stick to an exercise program.

You don’t need to be a National Novel Writing Month winner to know what successful writers know. Take a look at your own writing successes. Perhaps you committed to and finished a journaling program. Maybe you finished a big writing project on time. Or you got that first big article published. Ask your self, “What practices led to that success?” Make a list. Do more of the same—and you will be more successful. It’s that simple.

Resources:
Visit the National Novel Writing Month website for more success stories.
Kristine Augustyn’s website is Badge of Intent.

Right Now! Coach Rochelle Melander supports people in writing to transform their lives and businesses. If you’re ready to establish credibility, make more money, and market your work by writing a book, blog, or Web site, get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.rightnowcoach.com

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

 

Tip for Screenplay Writers (and NaNoWriMo Writers Too)

"I've been doing something that I thought I'd invented myself and then I discovered in a conversation with Jim Cameron and then I read in an interview with George Lucas where he talked about the trick that Francis Ford Coppola taught him and it turns out everybody's doing the same thing. We never read what we write. I know that sounds preposterous but the point is you don’t edit while you’re writing. We don’t even dare look at what we're writing until it looks like there's around a hundred pages. It sounds nuts but when you have a hundred pages and then you finally look at them, you have the aesthetic distance to edit yourself."

-Steven Souza, screenwriter

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Friday, November 14, 2008

 

Sending Holiday Cards

Earlier this week, I crossed off one holiday task from my to-do list: ordering the holiday cards. Since we do an annual photo card of our daughters, I first had to figure out their outfits, take pictures of them on a cold morning, then choose and order a card design. I'm tired already and in a few weeks when the cards arrive, I'll have to handwrite a short personal greeting on each, address all the envelopes and send them! You probably know the drill.

Why keep doing it then? Friends and family seem to enjoy receiving pictures of the girls, for one. My bigger motivation is that I plan to put together a small album for the girls with copies of each year's card—a "sisters through the years" kind of thing. They are best friends, and it will make a nice gift someday.

As writers, we can also use our skills to keep in touch with people during this time of year. Some do an annual letter with family news, and of course a personal letter is always welcome. In Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, Elaine St. James provides another suggestion: Have your family come up with a name or two or half a dozen of the people who have positively influenced your life, then send them a card or a note letting them know how much you appreciate their contribution.

St. James offers a few more ideas on the subject of Christmas cards. She can be tough, advising readers to just stop sending cards, or to cut down the list of who you send cards to. But if you don't want to quit entirely, here are some other possibilities from her book:

* Collect interesting and colorful postcards from your travels throughout the year, then send them off during the holidays with a personal message and an interesting anecdote from your trip.

* Respond to incoming holidays cards as they come in, so that you’re completing a little bit at a time. Each day, send a reply card to one person with a brief personal message.

* Respond to the cards you receive—but not at Christmas. Starting in the new year, each week at your leisure send a couple of hand-written personal notes in response to the holiday greetings you've received.

Do you send holiday cards every year? Feel free to share any tips you may have.

--MP

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

 

Getting Ideas by Focusing on Form

Perusing a copy of Jack Heffron's The Writer's Idea Book, I came across a few exercises to share.

In one section, he discusses using form to generate ideas. As an example, Heffron tells about a M.F.A. poetry workshop assignment where he had to find a poem he liked, and then write his own poem using exactly the same meter. He said that by concentrating on getting the meter right, which was not an easy task, he lost his self-consciousness and came up with better poems than he thought he could come up with.

Here are a few of his prompts that are designed to help you get writing ideas by focusing on form rather than on subject:

Prompt: Find an essay or story or poem that you like. Outline it, noting turns in plot or shift in topic or approach. Write a piece of your own using the outline, simply changing the topic.

Prompt: Write a story based on a myth or a fairy tale, setting it in contemporary times. For example, you might retell the Hansel and Gretel story using two children you know. If this works for you, pick another myth and try again.

Prompt: Retell a myth or fairy tale, changing what happens or exploring character more deeply then the original. For a model, read John Gardner's Grendel.

Check out the book for more form-related prompts, and lots of other great writing activities.

--MP

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

 

Ten Tips for Choosing a Good Domain Name

If you're thinking of setting up a web site or blog, here are some tips to help you pick a good web address. -MP

Ten Tips for Choosing a Good Domain Name

by Tim North

What makes a good domain name? Well, it's a subjective issue, of
course, but here are ten tips to point you in the right
direction.

1. Good domain names are easily memorable and easily typed.
Generally this means keeping them short.

2. Hyphens should be avoided if possible. When I chose
BetterWritingSkills as a domain name, I deliberately didn't
include hyphens. I agree that it would have made it easier to
read (Better-Writing-Skills.com), but the problem is that it
is more difficult to *say*.

If someone asked me for my web address and I said
"better hyphen writing hyphen skills dot com" I certainly
wouldn't expect them to remember it.

The bottom line with hyphens is that most domains don't
include them. So, when you tell someone your domain, they'll
probably try typing it without any hyphens.

3. Use a plural form if this seems more natural. If you're
selling toy trains, I'd go with "toytrains.com" instead of
"toytrain.com".

4. Domain name search programs can help you to choose variations
on a name. One such program is "Mozzle Std 2.30" which you
can download for free from this address:

http://www.simtel.net/pub/pd/54228.html

Programs like this are a great help when you're trying to
think of a new domain name. (Mozzle's "Advanced Search"
feature is particularly useful.)

5. If you're marketing your products and services primarily to
users in a single country (other than the US) then seriously
consider using that country's top-level domain.

For example, if you're retailing products primarily to New
Zealanders then choose to end your domain with ".nz". In
Australia, use ".au" etc. This will help to identify your
site as a local one.

On the other hand, if you're marketing your products or
services globally (or if you're in the US), use ".com" as
your top-level domain.

6. Don't use words that are tough to spell. Similarly, don't use
words that are spelled differently in some countries. For
example, "ColorChart.com" may confuse those of us in the
Antipodes who would probably expect "ColourChart.com".

7. Ensure that there will be no trademark or other legal
problems with the domain name you choose.

8. Brand names (e.g. BarnesAndNoble.com) may be preferable to
generic names such as "books.com". For many years, it was
assumed that generic names were hugely valuable. (Indeed
during the late 90s, some generic domain names were selling
for millions of dollars.)

These days, many analysts argue that a domain name that
features your brand name is more important. For example, if
you've invested time and effort building up your brand name
(Toyota, for example) you'd be better of using Toyota as your
domain name, rather than something generic like "GreatCars".

9. Avoid domain names that are too similar to existing ones. Not
only do you want avoid legal issues (tip 7), but you want
your brand to be distinct from that of your competitors.

10. Remember, you don't *own* your domain name. You're merely
renting it for a specified period. Don't let your domain name
expire, or your competitors may snatch it out from under you.

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You'll find many more helpful tips like these in Tim North's
much applauded range of e-books. More information is available
on his web site, and all books come with a money-back guarantee.

http://www.BetterWritingSkills.com

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