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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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

 

Interview with Abby Everett Tignor, 2nd Place Personal Essay Winner

The Muffin welcomes second place winner in the Fall 2008 personal essay contest, Abby Everett Tignor. If you haven't read Abby's winning essay, "Dust Bunnies," you can do so here.

Abby states, "My most vivid memories as a child are of the local library and the stack of books I’d haul home every month, thinking that someday I’d write that great novel. I have yet to write the first word of said novel—apparently because I’ve been too busy living my life, which has provided all kinds of great material of the non-fiction sort. This is my first major contest entry, but the editors of Women in the Outdoors Magazine did actually pay me real money for an article I wrote a few years ago. So I now call myself a published author, looking for more. When I’m not putting skewed memories to paper, I go to my day job as a death claims examiner for a large insurance company. They frown on using too much creativity, humor, or dicey language in our correspondence concerning the dearly departed, so I’m forced to find my outlet elsewhere.

I live in rural Ohio with my husband of 25 years, who provides me with yet more material. We have two pretty cool sons, an ornery little granddaughter, donkey, mule and a large and grumpy Doberman. When we’re not tending to our five acres of paradise, we’re hanging at our river cabin, which attracts characters that really deserve their own book. Besides writing, I enjoy kayaking, photography, cooking and enjoying a cold beverage with friends and family as the river flows by. Please come visit me at http://abbybythepound.typepad.com/notwrite/. "

WOW!: Welcome, Abby! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Congratulations on your 2nd place win! Was it easy or difficult for you to write to the prompt for WOW!'s Fall 2008 Contest? Why? Did you come up with an idea right away?

Abby: I find it easier to write to a prompt for a contest, which explains why this has been my only major entry so far- I just have a hard time narrowing down my ideas! I lean toward non-fiction, so this prompt was fairly easy for me and didn't take long to draft out.

WOW!: Well, we are glad this prompt inspired you and helped you narrow your ideas. We also hope that you will continue working on pieces and maybe entering contests or submitting your work because you obviously can write! In your winning essay, you do a great job of paralleling what was happening in your home to what was happening in your personal life. How did you get the idea to write about this subject?

Abby: At first, the obvious path was to point out how my decorating affected my personal life and vice versa. After thinking it through, though, I discovered that the real story here was how I had managed to un-decorate my home and myself without realizing it. My emotional/physical state at any given time pretty much paralleled what condition the house was in!

WOW!: What a great self-realization! It makes me want to look at how I've decorated or un-decorated my house at certain points and figure out why. How do you feel about writing to a certain word count? Is it easier or harder to write a short piece or long piece?

Abby: I think it's much harder to write a short piece. As a story idea comes to mind, I never think I have enough material until I start writing. Once the words start flowing, one paragraph leads to another; and before I know it, I'm way over limit. It's a great learning tool, though, as it forces me to cut out the junk and focus on the quality and necessity of each and every word.

WOW!: I think that is something all writers struggle with--writing too much. But as you pointed out, usually when we start cutting, as painful as it may be, we produce a better, tighter piece. What do you feel are the benefits of entering a contest, (besides winning!)?

Abby: Well, the winning was sweet, of course, and totally unexpected, but that's not why I entered. I had dabbled in writing some time ago, but I didn't get serious about it until recently. I read, researched the Web, prepared myself in every way....except for the actual writing part! Fear and uncertainty kept me from putting anything to paper, so I decided that a formal contest with a deadline, prompt and word count, would be a great way to dive in head-first and get over the anxiety. It worked-- I've been writing ever since and winning second place was a huge boost. Another plus is that, unlike a book proposal, there was no direct rejection involved, which I thought was important, just starting out.

WOW!: I think one reason why contests are so important is what you said above. Contests give you a deadline, sometimes a certain genre to write in, and a word-count. If you are stuck in a writing rut, at least by entering a contest, you are producing a new piece of work. And maybe you will get that little extra boost if you win! You mentioned in your bio you want to write a novel, but you haven't started yet. What are some of your writing goals for the future?

Abby: The novel has been put on hiatus for now, as I've discovered I have more fun writing non-fiction and have a daily supply of material. I'm using my blog as a practice tool and like the contest, it's forced me to continue my writing on a regular basis-- I have a small circle of friends who happen to share my sense of humor and demand new material! In the near future, I'd like to focus on gathering some related memoir pieces for a book (with knowledge bestowed upon me during inappropriate conversation and mimosas with Hollis Gillespie and her memoir students in Atlanta-great class!) and also begin piecing together a biography on my great aunt, who was an Alaskan pioneer.

WOW!: (laughs) Any class with mimosas has to be a great class, right? I think it is great that you are listening to your inner writer and following your interests right now--an Alaskan pioneer--just the subject sounds like something I would definitely want to read! Your day job as a death claims examiner for a large insurance company sounds really interesting. Do any of your work experiences make it into your manuscripts? If not, where do you get your inspiration?

Abby: Yes, investigating death claims has been quite an experience, which I'm sure will someday inspire a book or two. We deal with so much emotion, family dynamics, murder, etc., that it's hard not to be affected at the end of each day--maybe that's why I focus so much on humor. I have yet to use any of this in my writing out of respect for the families and as a privacy issue. Some day, when I do delve into fiction, I hope to incorporate some of the more intriguing and quirky aspects of my job into a book. My inspiration at the moment comes from the simple craziness of every day life-- what makes me laugh or scratch my head and wonder, and also from my childhood memories as I had a rather interesting upbringing.

WOW!: It sounds like you have a great writing career ahead of you, Abby! Congratulations again on your 2nd place win, and we look forward to hearing your name in the literary world again.

* * *
Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, http://www.margodill.com/, Read These Books and Use Them

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

 

Fall 2007 Third Place Winner! Dianne Greco



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


***

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

Dianne: I am surprised, excited and ecstatic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

--MP

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

 

Fall 2007 First Place Winner! Nancy Wick


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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOW: Do you also have a set writing schedule?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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