Thursday, January 31, 2008


Interviewing Your Characters

by AnnMarie Kolakowski

When planning a novel, how much planning is appropriate to go into it before you sit down and start spitting out dialogue and narration and description and rough draft? This is a question I’ve been struggling with lately. I once took a creative writing class where the professor absolutely firmly insisted that we not plan at all, that we let it be “organic.” However I’m sure many of you can attest from experience that it’s a lot easier to get where you want to go when you have a road map.

I’ve stumbled upon a couple of good ideas for effective brainstorming that I’m sure aren’t at all new—“there is nothing new under the sun”—but which I hope might help you in negotiating the need to plan and the need to keep your novel a natural, organic growing process.

Earlier this month, I began developing a character for a novel by “interviewing” him daily on paper. I called him Simon. I asked him questions about his life: things like who his favorite comic book hero was as a kid, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. I asked him about his hopes for this story, what truth he wanted to convey with it, and what he thought of some of the other characters in my developing hypothetical cast. Sometimes I couldn’t think of anything “important” to talk about with him, so I just shared whatever was going on with me. The hard day at work I had, the fears that lingered about my ability to write. Sometimes he comforted me, sometimes he laughed at me, but always he pushed me back into the writing seat and challenged me to do proper justice to his story. I became committed to him and to his story, by the simple act of keeping in daily contact with him on paper.

Now, I can’t yet verify all of the benefit of this approach. My focus actually shifted at some point to another character in the story and to his plight, and I think Simon may have to step back into a more minor role so that this character can be more central. But at least Simon is someone I feel like I know, not just a wallflower whose face I have to consult my high school yearbook for! And I’m confident Simon will continue to help me by pushing me to get this story out.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008



by Erika Dreifus

I love newspapers. As someone who was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised there and in nearby New Jersey, I often feel as though I grew up with The New York Times. I certainly remained attached enough to that paper to maintain a subscription while also subscribing to The Washington Post when I lived in DC and to the Globe for the many years I lived in the Boston area. I'll confess that I've never had occasion to read or subscribe to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), so I had no legitimate reason to add my signature to the petition you may have heard about last year, asking the AJC to maintain its stand-alone book section—and to keep it under a specific longtime editor's control.

Newspapers have been facing struggles for quite awhile now. And book sections aren't isolated in their suffering. Sure, I've had editors responsible for book coverage tell me they couldn't take a review pitch because space was too tight. But other section editors have said exactly the same thing, responding to other article queries. Sometimes my accepted work has been delayed (and delayed) before finally being published, thanks, I've been told, to those very same space constraints.

But rumors of the demise of the book review are, I think, at least somewhat exaggerated. I'm not ready to buy into the gloom and doom scenario quite yet. For one thing, I don't believe that all the new strategies newspapers are trying—like combining book coverage with opinion writing and/or other arts and culture writing—are quite so catastrophic as some people have suggested. I don't remember how many years ago the Globe created a hybrid "Ideas" section for Sundays; I think we all weathered that change pretty well. After all, some of us believe that ideas rest at the heart of the very best books; it's a natural combination.

Maybe I'm also not quite so demoralized by shrinking book review pages in certain Sunday newspapers because, frankly, I uncover a lot of good book coverage elsewhere. As a reader—and as a book reviewer—I find encouragement and inspiration in the many magazines, literary journals, Web sites, and various "niche" publications that also provide good discussion of books, authors, and writing. Beyond that, I frequently see books reviewed and authors profiled in "other" newspaper sections (think about travel-related books you've seen covered in travel sections, food-related titles in food/dining sections, and so on).

But what if you're an aspiring or veteran book reviewer who has been alarmed enough by recent cries from certain quarters of the reviewing community to believe that the end is, in fact, dangerously near?

Where can you look?

Let's take an example. Let's consider, first, one book published last spring and think about venues where you, as a reviewer, might have sought to place a piece about it outside newspaper book reviews.

In June, Random House released Connie Schultz's...and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man. Schultz, who won a 2005 Pulitzer for Commentary, is married to the junior United States Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown. The book is essentially her memoir of Brown's most recent campaign.

Now, maybe the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will no longer be able to review this book. And quite possibly Schultz's own paper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, shouldn't. So where else might you reasonably expect to find the book discussed/reviewed?

Which publications might you have queried yourself?

I'd have looked to regional magazines (in this case, those focusing on Ohio). Or Schultz's alumni magazine (she's a 1979 graduate of Kent State University). Or magazines or Web sites that focus on American politics.

I'd also have considered venues especially interested in promoting women's/feminist writing, and/or interested in issues relating to marriage and family. And given Schultz's journalistic accomplishments and prominence, let's not forget the many trade publications/sites for writers and journalists (including this one!)

Are you starting to see the possibilities?

So no matter what you're hearing, don't succumb to despair quite yet. You can still do your part to sustain serious thinking and reading and writing about books, even if you have to do it outside the Sunday newspaper book review sections. You may have to think a little more creatively, and do a little more research. But if you really want to read about books, and write about them, and expand others' literary awareness (and even get paid for the privilege), you still can.


(c) 2007 Erika Dreifus

Erika Dreifus is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine and for Chattahoochee Review; she regularly publishes reviews in both. The author of The Practicing Writer's Directory of Paying Markets for Book Reviewers Erika has also had reviews appear in venues as varied as the Boston Globe Sunday travel section, the Christian Science Monitor, Community College Week,, The Missouri Review, and Our State. See some of these reviews archived on her Practicing Writing blog:
and Erika's website:

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Fall 2007 Second Place Winner! Pam Hawley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To check out Pam’s blog, please see To see more about Pam, go to

If you haven’t done so already, please read Pam’s award-winning story, “The Pink Dachshund,” at .
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:

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Margo Dill

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Great Fiction Writers are Great Liars

“Fiction is lies. There is the Great Lie, the simple fact that the story is a story and not reportage. Fiction writers, therefore are liars—and they have to be good ones.”
~ George Scithers & Darrel Schweitzer

In celebration of The Liar’s Diary Blog Day, we've decided to take a twist on the subject, and honor all great fiction writers as “liars.” Strange, I know. But, when you think about it, what do we as fiction writers do? We take in our surroundings, alchemize them, and then distill our distorted prose onto the page. Is this wrong? No. Without exaggeration of character and plot, our stories would become a tedious read. Who wants to read straight facts? And what are straight facts anyway?

Our impressions of what we see are our filters. Our perceptions, senses, and emotions create our own unique realities that make our “real” stories fiction. Even in the truest form of journalistic reporting, we are still susceptible to passing judgment.

I always thought it was funny when my hubby would tell me that he only reads “true stories,” which include conspiracy theories, urban legends and such. “How can you consider those true? What is truth? And what does it matter anyway if the story is true?” I’d say. He’d go into long diatribes of what he considered facts, but my response would always be the same: you believe what you want to believe.

As fiction writers there are many techniques of lying we can use to flesh out our characters and distance them from ourselves. One is viewpoint. We can choose to limit the viewpoint to one character, or several. We can choose omniscient and tell the story from a godlike perspective. We can use third person and jump from one person’s thoughts to the next. We can use second person and talk to someone like we were writing a letter.

Another technique is exaggerating, or emphasizing, certain characteristics of those around us. By picking out the most interesting traits of someone we know in real life and amplifying them, we create a dynamic character that will capture our readers.

Of course, there are more subtle ways of altering the truth—name changing, physical descriptions, jobs, hobbies, etc. But even these things you need to be careful with. You never know which friend in your distant past will pop up wielding a subpoena.

I was talking to an author the other day that told me she takes events in her life, funny situations, and incorporates those moments into her characters. Like sprinkling a mixture of special seasonings on a casserole. This seems to be a very good way of “lying.” By taking bits of truth and making them your own, you are creating a fictional world with multidimensional characters that will still ring true on the page.

Remember: you are leading the reader. Your reality is their reality, without them realizing it. If you’re a good writer, they buy into your lie and are swayed by your words. This makes for compelling fiction! So, next time when you think about the word “liar,” just remember that when it comes to fiction writing, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.


What is The Liar’s Diary Blog Day?

Today, January 29th, over 300 bloggers, including bestsellers, Emmy winners, movie makers, and publishing houses have come together to talk about THE LIAR'S DIARY by Patry Francis.

Why? To give the book the attention it deserves on its release day while Patry takes the time she needs to heal from cancer.

First, you need to know something about Patry Francis.

From Susan Henderson of LitPark:

What if you worked for years as a waitress and then went home at the end of the day to your husband and four kids, and in those rare minutes of free time, you dared to dream that one day you might write a book? This is the story of my friend, Patry - a story that leaves out years of false starts, revisions, and rejection slips. It's a story that writers know intimately, though the details are different. Every one of us is well acquainted with the struggle of getting a story on paper, of honing it and believing in it enough to send it out, only to receive rejection, or worse, silence for our efforts.

Imagine, after many years, you beat the odds. You finish that book. You find that agent who sells your manuscript. Your dream is about to become a reality. But just as your book is due to be released, you discover you have an aggressive form of cancer.

Patry's story struck such a deep chord with many of us, not just because she is our friend, but because those of us who know her or read her blog have relied on her company through the ups and mostly downs of trying to write and sell a book. She is our buoy. She has shown us time and again her great gift for shedding light in the dark. Even her blog post about her cancer showed this - in her greatest time of need, she was still somehow comforting all of us and showing us glimpses of joy.


Answering the question of what is more powerful—family or friendship? this debut novel unforgettably shows how far one woman would go to protect either.

They couldn’t be more different, but they form a friendship that will alter both their fates. When Ali Mather blows into town, breaking all the rules and breaking hearts (despite the fact that she is pushing forty), she also makes a mark on an unlikely family. Almost against her will, Jeanne Cross feels drawn to this strangely vibrant woman, a fascination that begins to infect Jeanne’s “perfect” husband as well as their teenaged son.

At the heart of the friendship between Ali and Jeanne are deep-seated emotional needs, vulnerabilities they have each been recording in their diaries. Ali also senses another kind of vulnerability; she believes someone has been entering her house when she is not at home—and not with the usual intentions. What this burglar wants is nothing less than a piece of Ali’s soul.

When a murderer strikes and Jeanne’s son is arrested, we learn that the key to the crime lies in the diaries of two very different women...but only one of them is telling the truth. A chilling tour of troubled minds, The Liar’s Diary signals the launch of an immensely talented new novelist who knows just how to keep her readers guessing.

And now, here are Patry's words: "Though my novel deals with murder, betrayal, and the even more lethal crimes of the heart, the real subjects of THE LIAR'S DIARY are music, love, friendship, self-sacrifice and courage. The darkness is only there for contrast; it's only there to make us realize how bright the light can be. I'm sure that most writers whose work does not flinch from the exploration of evil feel the same."

Find out more about Patry Francis by visiting her websites:


We want to thank Susan Henderson of LitPark and Karen Dionne of Backspace for organizing this wonderful blog event. Also, we wish Patry Francis a big, heartfelt cyberhug, and send our blessings for a swift recovery.

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Monday, January 28, 2008



by Valerie Fentress

There always seems to be this continuous argument about whether or not writer's block exists. Each writer has their opinion, and each has their tricks to avoid such a phenomenon. But I must say I believe less in writers block and more in Life Block from the events surrounding me in the last few weeks.

It's not that my creative spark is running on the last piece of coal, but more that my mind is overwhelmed with the crazy stuff going on at my house. I won't go into detail, but I must say I feel like a character in one of my own stories heading toward the climax. Everything that could be going wrong is, and there doesn't seem to be a way out.

But how do we conquer these times of Life Block and step back into our writing life with more inspiration?

Part of it is taking the time to wade through the craziness of our own lives before sitting down at the PC to crank out character, plot, and word count. If we try to force out the things that are vital to our WIP without taking care of the nit picky items surrounding us, we won't be able to deliver quality work. I know for me the nasty to do list on the fridge tends to haunt me while I'm at my keyboard, and no matter how many words I want to get done in a day I fall short because my mind is on other things.

So sometimes you have to take a step back from the keyboard and deal with the odds and ends piling up around you in order to sit down with your WIP and have a clear head to pump out the best you can offer.

Is there something weighing on your mind, this Monday morning? Something that's keeping you from those amazing words you know are in your head. My suggestion is to take the time to push through those odds and ends in order to let your creative mind fly.

Happy Writing!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008


Creative Cross Training

As a BFA alumna from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, I was not the least bit surprised when they expanded their academic programs (in the early nineties) to include baccalaureate and graduate degrees in creative writing and poetry. I had always felt that my four years spent in art school had a stronger influence on my growth and success as a writer and poet than any writing workshops or self-study I had pursued long after I wandered away from my career as a visual artist and high school art teacher to become a writer. And here’s why . . .

Throughout the eighties, The School of the Art Institute was firmly entrenched in the movement toward multi-disciplinary arts. It made perfect sense─art, dance and music programs across the country were being relentlessly cut from school curriculums/budgets. Why not train students with an eye toward multi-disciplinary arts—creative diversity? It made sense, and it explains why I spent nearly an entire decade becoming “creatively challenged” in a good way.

I threw clay vessels on a potter’s wheel in the morning, ran off to a vocal class in the afternoon, and jammed at night with the folk guitarists at Chicago’s famed Old Town School of Folk Music. And then there were my ballet classes, and my pursuits as a culinary bread sculptress, all in addition to my studio art work, and art education classes.

For me, “creative cross training” defines the core of my creative energy. And I know firsthand the power and fluidity “creative cross training” can instill in other writers. Champion athletes cross train; why not writers? Leonardo Da Vinci engaged in creative cross training—talk about a hunk of creative muscle.

It’s a fact—not a myth—creative cross training strengthens and deepens the very insights we need as writers (humans) to create. And frankly, without a bit of cross training, our writing can and will lack the fresh perspective it needs to keep our words from becoming stale.

In her Creative Writes Newsletter ( Kay Marie Porterfield writes . . . we writers often find ourselves sitting glassy-eyed and motionless in front of the computer monitor or a legal pad for hours on end. When the writing isn’t flowing we sometimes struggle to fit the words in place, using the same set of skills and obtaining the same joy that comes from working cross-word puzzles.

Painting, drawing, photography, sculpting, stand-up comedy, dancing, quilting, learning to play an instrument, scrapbooking etc. it doesn’t matter where we journey in the name of “creative cross training”; it’s all good in the name of taking what can sometimes become a monotonous brain drain and using it to stretch our imaginations.

Step away from the page—away from writing from time to time—to challenge yourself creatively. You’ll be rewarded with unexpected ideas and renewed energy. Embrace your creative nature/process by allowing it to expand from time to time into new areas. Take creative risks. Take a poetry class! Glass blowing! Roam the aisles of your local hobby store! Go dig out that adult-ed brochure from your community college that you tossed into the trash. You’ll be a better writer and more creatively well-rounded for having done so—and some would say, you’ll live longer for having done so. The way I look at it, the longer I live, the more time I’ll have to write.

But, no writing for me today; once I launch this blog, I’m going to sit down and create a collage from pics torn from a stack of old magazines cluttering the corner of my bedroom. I can’t remember the last time I made a collage—and that’s exactly why I’m going to make one today!

Janet Paszkowski

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Finding Inspiration in Familiar Tales

Have you ever wondered what happened to Hansel and Gretal after they pushed the witch into the oven and returned home to their father? Was Glenda really a good witch or just an opportunist who used Dorothy to get rid of her competition? Did Alice really fall down a rabbit hole? And what’s Rumpelstelskin’s real story? Don’t know the answers? That’s because they’re waiting for you to write them!

Re-imagining/re-writing old tales is not a new idea. In fact, as a middle-school teacher, I read many of them. I often asked my students to re-create their favorite fairytales. Now as a writer, I can better appreciate the value of the exercise. It’s a great creative tool – especially for those of us who hate starting with a blank page or have a hard time creating a new character from scratch. It’s also easy to do. Based on what you know about a character, ask questions about their story, family, and personality. See if what you think you know about them holds up as you create a character profile. Who knows, you may breathe new life into an old favorite or create a new character that you can use.

For example, The Looking Glass Wars is the first book in a trilogy by Frank Beddor. The author recasts Lewis Carroll’s Alice as a young princess, Alyss Heart, who flees the high-tech, magical world of Wonderland after her parents are killed in a murderous rampage lead by Alyss’s aunt Redd. Alyss finds herself in Victorian London, and after a series of circumstances meets Lewis Carroll, who promises to write her story. She tells him her violent and heartbreaking story, but Carroll creates a whimsical, nuisance story instead. In the end, Alyss battles Redd for possession of the throne.

What impressed me most is the creative way that the author approached an old, beloved story. Frank Beddor’s Wonderland is rich and vivid, modern and fantastical. His card soldiers are high tech robots; the Cheshire Cat, a shape shifting assassin; the Queen of Hearts is the maniacal Redd, determined to behead anyone who gets in her way.

After reading this book, I decided to give re-writing a favorite story a try. You can use a character from any story, but I like to use fairytales and legends because the characters are flat and easy to manipulate.

So far, I’ve discovered that the Gingerbread man was a general in a clone army, and Rumplestelskin and his wife filed a custody suit again the royal family for breach of contract.

So the next time you need to boost your creativity, try visiting some old friends. They may provide the key to sparking your imagination.


Friday, January 25, 2008


A Great Writing Resource from a King

By Margo L. Dill (

Out of the hundreds of writing books that line library and bookstore shelves, my favorite, and the one I actually use, is Stephen King’s On Writing. And my love for his writing book does not stem from my love for his other work. I respect and admire him as an author, but frankly, his tales give me nightmares. I love his writing book because it is honest and funny and practical. Any writer of any genre can use this book to improve his or her craft!

One of the reasons I love his book is because it is an autobiography as well as writing advice on the craft. The autobiography should be inspirational to all of us who complain and hate “our day jobs.” Whenever I am whiny about not being a full-time writer, I try to think of King and his description of doing laundry for a seafood place. I won’t go into it for those of you possibly eating while reading this blog, but let’s just say, being a little tired from working with kids all day is a piece of cake compared to King’s job before he was famous.

But his writing advice is what makes me open the book again and again. It is what makes me share the book with my friends and critique group members and now, all of you. Two of his tips have stuck with me and have worked their way into most of my writing as well as the editing and revising advice I give to my Editor 911 clients (Editor 911 is what I call my small freelance editing business). The first is to use adverbs sparingly (even though I used an adverb right there.) King believes, and I agree, that some writers rely on adverbs to convey their message instead of using stronger verbs or nouns or even dialogue. He gives several convincing examples of how adverbs are really not needed. He also makes the wonderful point that when you do use an adverb every once in a while, it makes an impact on your reader and doesn’t get lost in a sea of adverbs. Of course, he states this point with several humorous examples and in a more poignant way, so check out his book to learn from the master.

The second piece of advice he gives also makes it into my writing, especially into my current ya novel. He says when he reads a description of a character in a novel, he doesn’t need to know what they are wearing. He can open up any clothes catalog to see people and their outfits. He wants to read descriptions that make a picture of the person in his mind with whatever clothes he wants to put on that person, unless the clothes are EXTREMELY important (such as the case of Monica Lewinsky’s dress.) He wants descriptions, of course, but again, I’m going to refer you to his book to find out how to do this!

I hope you will check out his book, which is also available as an audio book, so you could actually listen to it on your commute back and forth to your day job. That way, your free time can be spent putting his advice to work on your latest manuscript.

Happy Writing!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008


A Vanishing Art

by LuAnn Womach

Nearly 25 years ago, my grandmother moved from the home she had lived in for approximately 40 years and moved to a nursing facility in the same town. She was 86 years young at the time, and her mind was still as clear as the water she’d carried to her dad in the fields as a young girl. But physically, she’d started experiencing fainting spells, and my dad – an only child - decided it would be best if she had 24/7 care.

The summer following the move, my parents, sister, and myself, along with my two-month old daughter, cleaned my grandparent’s house, dividing memories and possessions among us. In some ways, we were careful to preserve the past, but in another sense, time was of the essence, and it seemed like we threw away quite a few relics.

While we were going through her “secretary”, we stumbled upon a wonderful treasure: letters that my dad had written to my grandparents. Grandma had saved every one of them. I could remember dad getting out the old Smith-Corona manual typewriter and writing a letter to them each week.

But another thing we discovered were notebooks – the old steno notebooks with the purple covers – filled with grandma’s handwriting. She never learned to type, and computers were definitely not around much during this time. She sent a letter to our house each week, too; each note handwritten. I can still see her distinctive style because I saved one of her notebooks. My mother and I have the majority of grandma’s recipe cards, each recipe kitchen-tested and grandmother approved, written on 3x5s along with helpful hints for the next time she made the dish.

Fast forward 20-some years and a similar situation presents itself. I still have the first note Scott gave me. It’s a combination of a thank you note for a sweatshirt I gave him and a grocery list for the weekend. I can’t part with it. I also can’t let go of a note I made from an email where he asked me 10 questions. I took notes and organized my thoughts on paper before replying. And there are birthday and Valentine’s cards that are too precious to part with. It’s a personal connection between the two of us, and I refuse to let it go.

Why is this important? Because handwriting – especially letter writing – is a dying art. Sure, technology offers countless advantages, but there is something about a handwritten letter, note, or card that offers a glimpse of the writer’s personality. Handwriting, itself, is a powerful tool. There’s something about the curve of a ‘c’, the tilt of a ‘t’, and the loop of a ‘y’. Handwriting is sexy, alluring, provocative. It’s a symbol of personality and penmanship. It affords a preview of what energy lurks inside each writer’s fingertips. And…it’s a national treasure that is losing ground, thanks to the convenience of the keyboard.

January 23 is National Handwriting Day, dedicated to the honor of John Hancock. (OK, so I’m a day late, but I did blog about it on my personal blog!) But I will admit, that I generally write first drafts on paper. There’s something about the feel of the pen between the fingertips and the hand grazing across the paper. Plus, since I’m a visual learner, I need to see the edits and rewrites on the page. I long to see words crossed out, arrows showing where passages should be moved, and paragraphs numbered so they can be rearranged.

Maybe handwriting is an obsessive-compulsive thing for me. I even have two pens I prefer to write with: a Papermate Flair, magenta-colored, or a Papermate Profile. They fit my hand and they are easy to manipulate.

Yes, handwriting just might be an obsessive-compulsive thing for me.

Writing by hand lets me see my thought process – or my lack of. That is something a word processing program can’t do because once your finger presses the delete button, your original thought vanishes before your eyes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


All Words Are Not Equal

By Sharon Mortz

I have always loved words and enjoyed writing that challenges my vocabulary. Words are like pieces of an intricate puzzle, and when I write, I fit them together. Since my youth, when reading, I’ve recorded or “yellowed” words with which I was unfamiliar. In junior high, we were assigned vocabulary words to be defined and used in sentences. I tried to make each sentence a little story. I could have taught a class on run-on sentences. But all words are not equal.

I still have a tendency to write long, convoluted sentences. Now, as a freelancer, I’m challenged to shorten my sentences and use simple, concise language. My current writing teachers all admonish me to reduce “big” words and cut wordy sentences.

Factoid: Racecar, kayak and level are palindromes i.e. spelled the same whether read left or right.

Writer’s Digest offered an interesting analogy that has helped me understand the necessity of concise writing and the relative importance of parts of speech: writing is like an automobile. Verbs are the engine, nouns are the passengers and adjectives and adverbs are tails fins, hood ornaments, bumper stickers and other decorative paraphernalia.

If concise is good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me.

Factoid: Dreamt is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt.”

Below are some ways to put your writing on a diet while increasing the flavor.

• Excise empty intensifiers: these are the adverbs that I now eschew like a dieter eschews sugar: extremely, very, absolutely, unusually, really, particularly. These words are acceptable in conversation but water down writing.

Factoid: Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand.

• Some adjectives are just “nice” and add nothing to the sentence. Example: The beautiful sunrise warmed the hills. In this case, beautiful adds nothing. Use the “nice” test.

Factoid: There are two words in the English language that contain all five vowels in order: abstemious and facetious.

• Sometimes adverbs can be replaced with verbs and that will energize the sentence. Example: The sun was intensely hot could be converted to the sun scorched the skin.

Factoid: Lollipop is the longest word typed with only the right hand.

• One of my big problems is “he said” plus an adverb. I usually want to add loudly, softly or some other “ly” word to the “he/she said.” If more is needed, the first lesson I learned as a writer applies: instead of telling the reader, show the reader with action. For example, “he said vehemently” could become, “he said, pounding his fist on the table.”

Though lean and mean is better writing for the novice, if I attain any writing stature, I will know how to write wordy, convoluted sentences that I prefer. I only hope I get paid by the word!

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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:


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Monday, January 21, 2008


The Health and Well-being of a Writer

So many of us as writers seem to take better care of our characters health than we do our own, for hours on end we sit and right about the perfect lives of our characters. How healthy they may be, etc.

As women having families, we also take better care of the kids and our spouses than we do ourselves. Well ladies, it is time to strike out!

It is time for each of us to get into some better shape so that we can continue to sit for hours on that chair at that computer typing the ultimate story.

There are a few exercise breaks that you can actually do at your desk to help keep you stretched and limber.

For your arms and fingers: First press your hands together as you are pressing move the fingers together side to side this will help loosen the tendons slightly so that you can go back to pounding on those keys. When you are ready to begin typing remember the “old school rule” Keep your wrists up and slightly arched only allowing your fingers to move over the keys, this will help in the prevention of carpel tunnel. If you are in the middle of a thought and aren’t typing it is all right to rest your hands on the bottom of the keyboard, but remember to raise them back up to type once again. You may notice an increase in your typing speed as well.

Rotate those shoulders forward and back, this will loosen up the shoulders, which we need if we are holding them in the same position for long periods, keep yourself as limber as possible.

You neck: It probably gets rather stiff holding it in the same position. Take a break, first, tip your head forward toward your chest, then lift it back looking towards the ceiling, then back forward and back once again. Now, don’t forget to go side to side, look to the left then look to the right.

How about those rears girls, does it feel like its falling asleep. There are a couple of quick exercises. Place your hands on the arm rests of your chair, if you have them, using your arms and your legs, push yourself up with your leg muscles hold for a moment then release, do this a few times, it will tighten yet loosen the muscles. Another good recommendation, place a small pillow near the lower portion of your back, this will help to alleviate some pressure as well. It places your lower lumbar into a better position for sitting, when doing so for long periods of time.

Another good way to loosen up the butt muscles, stand in front of the chair, then act as if you are going to sit, but, hold the pose right above the seat for a few seconds then stand back up, you may need to place your hands on the desk in front of you for support this move can be tricky, but beneficial.

Finally, ladies, once you have completed your writing for the day or for that period of time, take a little walk outside, either around the yard or around the block. Keeps the circulation going.

Last but not least, don’t forget to get plenty of rest. I know you are thinking the same thing I do “Yeah, right, like that will happen.” But, if you can squeeze in at least 8 hours of sleep, you will reap the benefits for your health.

These few tips were given to me by a dear friend who is a chiropractor. She sees many people on a regular basis that suffer from tons of sore muscles caused by sitting all the time at their computers. She stated that by taking these few measures, it will improve your health significantly.

Happy Writing Everyone!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Mississippi Writers Guild: An Inspiring Story

To coincide with our annual reader’s issue, “Watch Less, Read More,” I’d like to introduce you to a vibrant new writers guild that’s breaking ground and creating a stir in the state of Mississippi. The Mississippi Writers Guild, (, is a non-profit corporation formed in 2005, and has steadily worked towards building its membership and community involvement in arts and education.

Recently, I had a chance to talk with Anne McKee, the Executive Director of MWG and a founding board member. Anne’s enthusiasm is contagious. “We are a fun organization and in addition we are a grass-roots nonprofit where we meet the people, encourage all writers, published or not, and always, always seek out the little intimidated creative hearts who feel as if what they have to put on paper is of no consequence.”

Kudos to Anne and MWG! I love their mission, and all the fantastic events that they put on. If you are in the area, or simply would like to attend one of their conferences, please find out more by visiting their website:

Anne was kind enough to share part of a recent interview she conducted with MWG founder, Richelle Putnam. So dig in and learn more about the guild, and what benefits it has to writers everywhere.



By Anne McKee

Mississippian, Richelle Putnam, is a multi-published/award winning poet, songwriter, musician, playwright, and writer for children, but more importantly, Richelle extends her talented hands, the hands of an artist, to fellow Mississippians whom also have creative writing dreams.

It was in 2005 that Richelle felt the burden to establish a writing organization for the state of Mississippi as the result of her efforts to locate a writers support group in the state. She had attended writing conferences, workshops, and retreats sponsored by the states of Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, New York, and Georgia, but she yearned for a Mississippi group.

Thus, Mississippi Writers Guild (MWG) was born, and through the dreams of a writer who longed to join with others, and to learn and promote the craft of creative writing, the Guild has grown rapidly throughout the state.

ANNE: Has there been great excitement with Mississippi Writers Guild?

RICHELLE: It's been absolutely excitement from day one to now and the excitement never wanes. There's always something new and there's always something going on. It has been a long, tiresome journey, but it's the kind of journey, that say, a marathon runner does. You may get tired on the journey, but you're always looking at the goal, the ultimate goal, and so you just keep going. As we (the original board) got together and started coming up with our bylaws and going through all of the legal aspects, which is not fun, but is just part of it, we were all willing to take the time out of our schedules to take all of the proper steps, form a corporation, board of directors, and file for our 501c3, which is a journey in its self, because it's not easy to obtain one of those.

ANNE: How did you attract people to become part of Mississippi Writers Guild?

RICHELLE: Actually, I contacted the founder of Florida Writers Association, Glenda Ivey, and that's where I got all of the information on steps that I would need to do, and then I began searching for Mississippi writers who would be interested with partnering with me in this venture. The very first one I ever talked to was Keetha Reed. She had already seen the need for this type organization in Mississippi and she and I began to email. She found two other writers out of Jackson Mississippi who had also expressed the same desire to have a writers’ organization in Mississippi, and we began meeting in Jackson and talking about forming Mississippi Writers Guild. But as that went on, like I said, it really is a long tiresome journey and some of the people did not have the time to put forth, at that time, and two of our first members of that little group had to drop off. Then I met Anne McKee in Meridian Mississippi and she was so excited. She and I were able to meet all of the time and finally it left Keetha, Anne and I as the basic foundation people.

ANNE: Can you relive the excitement of the first event?

RICHELLE: Oh, gosh, it was exciting. It was in Nov of 2005 and we had two events planned for that day. Our first early event was at a beautiful, historic home in Meridian Mississippi, Merrehope, and we had so many people that the entire place was filled with writers anxious to come out and share their work. We had every kind of writing that you can possibly imagine and that excitement carried over to the night event of Literary Artists on Stage at The Daily Grind, a coffee shop in Meridian Mississippi. It was from Literary Artists on Stage we grabbed Ralph Gordon and Daniel Lee and from there we formed our foundation executive board for Mississippi Writers Guild.

ANNE: In order to be a member of Mississippi Writers Guild, does one need to be published?

RICHELLE: No, in fact you don't really have to consider yourself a writer. We have so many who come to Literary Artists on Stage only to listen. There are a lot of readers who appreciate the craft of writing, and without writers we would not have communication anywhere. In every area of communication there first has to be a writer.

I do believe that people can learn to write better. You can teach a person to be a creative writer and learning the craft is a very, very important aspect.

Anyone can be a member of Mississippi Writers Guild and can be a lover of reading or a respecter of writers to enjoy the journey with us, and never even have put a letter on a piece of paper.

ANNE: Is the event, Literary Artists on Stage, unique only to Mississippi Writers Guild?

RICHELLE: Literary Artists on Stage was, of course, the opening event for the Guild. It was to draw writers. What is different and unique about Literary Artists on Stage is that it's not just a Poetry Slam or it's not just a reading. All writers of every walk in life are invited to share their work. You may be a poet, or an essayist. We've had skits, and songs.

We want all writers to be able to come together for the love of their craft and not only recognize each others talents in their specific genre or category of writing, but to get excited about all categories of writing. You may not realize what you might want to pursue next. I know when I hear poetry even though that was actually not a category that I pursued as a writer, I got excited about that category, and I decided I would love to write poetry. It really urged me and prodded me to learn more about poetry, and I started journaling in poetry. I realized that learning poetry not only helped me in my rhythmic writing, but it also helped me in my writing of fiction. I think any writing enhances the other writing.

ANNE: Mississippi Writers Guild is busy with chapters throughout the state and each chapter is making their contribution to literary events. Each group is styled by the needs of their individual chapter, and the Guild comes together at certain times of the year, one of which is the annual writing conference. Could you tell the readers about the first writing conference?

RICHELLE: Our very first writers conference was at Eagle Ridge Conference Center, August 3, 4 2007 and we had an awesome slate of speakers. We had as our keynote, Joshilyn Jackson, author of, Gods in Alabama and Between Georgia and her coming book, The Girl who Stopped Swimming. She had earned many awards for her first two books, and she delivered the keynote address on Friday evening. We also had for our Saturday workshops, our all day workshops, Joshilyn Jackson, Barbara Garshman, Garshman Productions, author of Create and Sell a TV Series, was the Saturday keynote speaker. Barbara is an Emmy nominated producer of the daytime soap, Guiding Light. John Rawl from Y'all Magazine. Charles Tolbert, New York City literary agent/attorney. Rebecca Jernigan, playwright, poet and member of Mississippi and Southern Artist Roster. John Floyd has published over 500 short stories and winner of 2007 Derringer Award for mystery fiction. C. Hope Clark of Funds for Writers. I think Hope presented one of the best workshops I attended at the conference where we learned of funds available to help writers financially.

ANNE: Could you tell the readers about the 2008 writing conference?

RICHELLE: It's going to be at The Battlefield Conference Center in Vicksburg Mississippi on August 15, 16. We already have three wonderful speakers lined up. We have Tom B. Sawyer, who was the head writer from Murder, She Wrote, and he is excited about coming to Mississippi. Cheryl Sloan Ray who is a freelance writer and specializes in magazine writing. Sue B. Walker, the Poet Laureate for Alabama, and her resume is outstanding. We already have other speakers who we are still waiting to hear from, in fact, two that could not come this year, Regina Brooks from Serendipity Literary Agency, and Jennifer Pooley from William Morrow Books both had conflicts for 2008, and have asked to be able to be speakers for our 2009 conference, so we already have two speakers for the 2009 conference. People are excited about Mississippi and the conference. I think that each year is going to get better and better.

ANNE: Please tell the readers about the 2008 MWG Spring Retreat for membership.

RICHELLE: The MWG Spring Retreat will be on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2008, April 5. Our Gulf Coast Chapter affiliate, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Philip Levin, is the President, and they are hosting our very first Spring Retreat.

I know everyone has burned in his or her memory Katrina and that Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are hoping to bring some life to the Coast, and to have our first event there after that tragic event. They (the Gulf Coast) are still rebuilding, and we are excited about being able to go there. John Floyd, who was one of our conference speakers, from Jackson Mississippi will be the facilitator for the Spring Retreat.

ANNE: If someone would want to support Mississippi Writers Guild but did not want to become a member, what are the opportunities?

RICHELLE: We have many sponsorship opportunities. We do have people who will give us a little donation after attending one of our events, like attendees at Honoring Historic Mississippi Writers. We are now approaching businesses that would like to partner with different art organizations and educational facilities.

We are in the process of getting up Friends of Mississippi Writers Guild, for those who really admire the writers because they are readers.

ANNE: What is ahead for MWG in the New Year?

RICHELLE: We are really excited about partnering with Michael Garrett who has his own web site and business called, Writing2sell. He teaches, How to be Published Workshops. We have partnered with him to do five writing workshops all over the state of Mississippi during 2008. He (Michael Garrett) does not teach how to write. It's never too early to learn all of the aspects of writing, and he teaches all over the south. (See our web site for a listing of locations, dates and times).

Plus, there are so many talented Guild members. We have Guild sponsored workshops at libraries for children. One member, Daniel Lee, does a wonderful workshop, The Science of Science Fiction, and children love it. Anne McKee and I partner together doing our Mississippi Heritage Program at Head Start Schools and public libraries. I have done writer workshops for several years now, and another member, Sarah Mutziger, a storyteller, is really awesome. Guild member, Virginia Dawkins, is published in several Cup of Comfort books and shares writing from personal experience.

ANNE: It seems as if Mississippi Writers Guild has a story to tell. Why do you think this two year old organization has been nominated for the most prestigious arts award in the state of Mississippi, The Governor's Arts Award for Excellence 2008, and how do you think it came about?

RICHELLE: It came about through the excitement. I think that not only has Mississippi Writers Guild become an organization on paper, it has become an organization as a volunteer organization. MWG is out there all of the time. We volunteer for other arts organizations and other events.

The MWG event, Honoring Historic Mississippi Writers, is not about writing, but about writers. To pull yourself away from your own projects in order to honor a historic writer and to keep them alive through that program and through research by becoming that person shows the caliber of the members of MWG who just aren't about their own work. We are a volunteer organization and we care about Mississippi and we care about our students and we care about people in Mississippi or outside of Mississippi who have a writing dream. We help them to pursue that dream.

We encourage writers to go to our MWG web site and look around to see what things they can find and what avenues they might go down. Also, there is a contact number to contact us and we get questions all of the time. We recommend that you connect with someone first, someone you trust, because so many scams would love to grab a first time writer. Unfortunately scams thrive on writers who don't know what to do.

And a final thought: if you are a new writer and if you are considering writing, don't let it be a flashing thought, because it will come back, and rather than just thinking about it, go on and take that first step. Contact us or another writing organization and get those questions answered that have been nagging you and going on and on in your mind. Don't put it off any longer. Our web site,

Anne McKee's closing remarks for WOW readers:

I thank Richelle Putnam for taking time to thoughtfully answer questions about Mississippi Writers Guild. It is my hope that in some way a writer will be inspired and encouraged to continue their quest into the magical world of a creative writer.


Anne McKee is the Executive Director of Mississippi Writers Guild and a founding board member. She is an award-winning playwright with three plays produced during the year of 2007. Anne is a humorist, public speaker, newspaper columnist, speechwriter, creative writing workshop facilitator, and has been published in several southern journals. Anne has a passion for encouraging new writers.

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Internships: Not Just For College Anymore

By Jill Earl

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations concerning my internship with WOW! Women On Writing. The two most frequent questions:

“Cool! How’d you find that?”


“Aren’t they for college?”

Not at all. Online internships can be a valuable resource in building a writer’s skills, adding experience and gathering clips for the portfolio. They’re worth a look.

Aren’t They For College?

As an English major, I hoped to participate in a writing internship or co-op during college. Since I was a full-time older student who also worked to support herself, that wasn’t an option.However, I discovered that the communications division of the Christian campus group I belonged to was looking for interns for the fall, but my application was forwarded to their media production division because they felt that that could be a better fit for me.

I was accepted, and the fall after graduation, moved to Wisconsin. As a production intern, I wrote scripts, assisted in filming video pieces, and transcribed interviews, among other tasks. Once I returned to my home state, family obligations restricted travel, so I searched for online opportunities.

As a result, I worked as a research assistant for Writer Mama author Christina Katz. And currently, I intern for WOW!, blogging monthly and assisting with the Premium-Green newsletter.

How Did You Find That?

I found my internships because I subscribe to the WOW! and Writers On the Rise (Christina Katz’s) newsletters and applied for their calls for interns. Your favorite search engine will yield numerous writing newsletters to check out and possibly register for. Look into others such as:

Newbie Writers
The Practicing Writer
Writer Gazette
Freelance Writer Online International

You may not find something right away, but performing a through search may yield the opportunity you’re looking for.

So if you’re looking for ways to develop and expand your writing skills, consider an online internship. They’re not just for college anymore.

Jill Earl

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Friday, January 18, 2008


It May Take Too Much Time

I worry about the amount of time that good writing takes, sometimes letting it stop me from writing anything at all. Will trying to put together this potential essay be a waste of time, I'll wonder? Won't crafting that marketable article or story take up too much time, I'll think. I'm not the fastest writer. Rather, I should say, at this point it often takes a lot of rewrites to get it right.

Looking through an old folder recently, I came across a heavily marked draft of some work, a piece of writing now finished, which I am proud of in its final form. I forgot how much work had gone into that project until I saw evidence of all the editing. Some writing just takes a lot of pondering and polishing, and viewing those particular pages reminded me that the effort in that case was well worth it.

Writers will freely admit they don't bang out first drafts that are ready to go out into the world as soon as the ink dries. Therefore, there is no need to expect perfect first pages. A certain amount of changes will be needed. If you need a lot of time to get a piece right, I now tell myself, then so be it. When it's done, you will have something in hand you're pleased with, even if it took some effort, perhaps more effort than it might take someone else.

Good writing takes time. It’s okay to create many drafts before there is something worthy to show. No one sees the process! No one knows about the earlier drafts! What matters is that you end up with a finished product that's good--no matter how long it took you to get there.

Plus, as Ernest Hemingway said, "It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way."


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Thursday, January 17, 2008


Women as Writers: Take What's Useful...

A few months ago, I seemed to keep running into the same theme concerning women as writers: that once women start families, the vast majority of them stop writing.

I read it in Alice Walker: A Life, where she recalls one encounter with a woman she upset with her assertion that having more than one child hampers a woman's full creativity (I'm paraphrasing). Ms. Walker, of course, only had one child. The woman who reacted was bothered by the assumption, prompting her to write a letter to the author, who in turn told the woman that she should take what is useful and ignore the rest.

On one hand, I often say that same thing: take what is useful and ignore the rest. On the other hand, it does nag at me when I continue to run into the idea that women aren't allowed their full creativity when children come on the scene. When men become fathers, no one expects them to stop writing, but for women, who most often are the primary caregivers (whether they work outside of the home or not), unless she's a bestselling author, she can be expected to put her writing on the back burner.

If you've always been a writer, this can be akin to setting your dreams on the back burner, on a low fire and watching it slowly die.

Yes, it can be more difficult to find time to write when you have children, but if writing is truly your passion, what you were called to do, then it shouldn't matter if you have one child or five or ten. We all find time for what we truly value, whether it's reading, exercising or scrapbooking.

Of course, this may hit closer to home if you're a mother, but whether you have children or not, take what's useful: you're a writer, and ignore the rest: the idea that women always have to sacrifice the best of themselves.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Baby-steps to Fiction

Over the last few years I have been dabbling more and more with writing short fiction. Generally I am most comfortable writing non-fiction, but one summer day the inspiration struck me to write a short story. Since it was nap-time for my two-year-old I took my seven-months-pregnant self downstairs to the computer to try my hand at short fiction writing again.

I’ve never been officially trained in short-story writing or any kind of fiction. I surfed the web and found a site that explained the typical components of a plot. I mulled over the definitions of the lead-in, the precipitating incident and the rising action. Climax and falling-action seemed understandable, though tricky to write. I had to look up denouement on several sites to get a clear idea of this concept.

I knew I needed to take baby-steps to learn to write short fiction. The thought of starting with the lead-in and writing the climax and denouement without a plan made me slightly short of breath. I only had about a half an hour before naptime was over, so I knew I couldn’t write for very long. With all of this information swirling around my head, I developed my own short fiction writing exercise that I could complete in about half an hour.

Here’s what I did. I told myself to write one sentence for every basic plot structure component. That meant only one sentence for the lead-in, the precipitating incident and so on. Here are the plot components I used and here is the first paragraph that I came up with (color coded of course):

Precipitating Incident
Rising Action
Falling Action

When I was a child I lived in the mountains of Colorado. One summer we went away on vacation for a few weeks and came back to find our house robbed and ransacked. As a child I couldn’t understand why some of my larger, more expensive toys were gone. My mother circulated the rumor that my brother’s friends, knowing from my brother that we were out of town, had been the perpetrators. Nothing came of those rumors, however, at least nothing concrete that brought my toys back. So I did without my toys and eventually forgot about them.

I was surprised by how things turned out. It seemed like I expressed an idea very completely and in a more satisfactory manner than my usual fiction ramblings. It also surprised me because, though had its own mini-plot, it seemed like this piece could be a small piece of a larger story.

Later that week I did the same exercise again, only this time I had two sentences per plot element. This is what I produced:

In a cold, quiet forest, a small squirrel ran up a lodge-pole pine tree, skipping from one trunk to another, gripping the bark with its claws. Below the now sky-borne squirrel, the lumbering of a brown bear on its water path broke into the quiet of the forest with snapping of twigs, the rustling of leaves and the bear’s own heavy, rumbled breathing. The bear descended the hill in front of him, following his normal route to the small silvery pond for a drink of water. But the bear stopped; no ordinary animal possessed that smell. Through the trees at the edge of the pond a man in a red and black plaid flannel shirt and jeans was squatting, filling his silver water canteen. The man turned suddenly, sensing the nearness of something; in what seemed like the same instant the bear sprinted and lunged at him. The man fumbled at his waist, trying to get something free. His gun went off, the sound reverberating through the trees, through the silence, shattering the stillness. The gun was flung from the man’s hand at the onslaught of the brown bear’s attack. The man attempted to fight the heavy bear with his fists and with swift kicks before the beast was upon him, pinning him to the forest floor. The two creatures resisted each other in a few tense moments of struggle before the man was overcome. The last sound the man remembered before fading into blackness was the bear’s lumbering breathing at his throat.

I hate writing stuff that twinges of tragedy, but this is what came to mind that day (interesting how mood can affect our writing). It was satisfying to me to being able take baby-steps to understand how my own writing style can interact with plot structure. This exercise challenged the way I thought about writing fiction but it also stimulated my creativity and excited me about the possibilities that fiction might hold for me.

Am I touting this as a way to write short stories? No, not really. For me these were exercises, ways to slowly but surely push me out of my non-fiction comfort zone into a new world of short fiction.

-Susan L. Eberling

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Nancy Wick's Essay Posted on skirt!

Congratulations again Nancy! Your story is officially live on skirt! Magazine's website. You can read Cookie Magic HERE.

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?

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:

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:

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Monday, January 14, 2008


Book Review: True Deception

By Tricia Ares

Well, now that the chaos we call the holidays is finally over. It’s time to draw a hot bath, grab a cup of tea (or your favorite martini) and relax with a good book. If you enjoy a novel as steamy as that bathroom mirror, here’s one I suggest:

Patricia Waddell’s futuristic romance True Deception will satisfy any craving for passionate adventure. Waddell weaves the destinies of a self-reliant heroine and a handsome, mystery man into a tension packed romance. Her lush descriptions will draw you into an alien world that is both exotic, yet familiar:

“Kala stood on the balcony, her hands on the railing, looking at the lake. It was past seven o’clock; the sun was dipping below the horizon, its orange rays shooting up, creating blocks of shadows over the earth—moving shadows that floated across the water like ghostly birds.”

Kala Char’ari is a resistance fighter, and a survivor, determined to save her people from the political and economic exploitation of the Conglomerate. But when the desperate band is dealt a deadly blow, a skeptical Kala must accept the help of a seductive stranger, Aedon Rawn.

Aedon Rawn is a man with his own agenda, revenge, and he’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it. After his wife and daughter are murdered by Conglomerate pirates, Aedon becomes an emotional void. Infiltrating Kala’s resistance will bring him one step closer to his goal, but there is one complication:

“Kala exuded vitality. She wasn’t afraid of life, taking the consequences along with the rewards, never looking back, always thinking of the future. She exited him in a way no other woman ever had.”

As their attraction becomes palpable it puts their mission at risk.

True Deception will have women fantasizing about Aedon’s chameleon eyes, treasuring each moment with the intelligent, yet sensitive, hero. Women will also admire the flawed strength of a woman who must step out of the shadows, challenging the powerful men who may not accept her leadership. Patricia Waddell is certainly a master of her craft, balancing action, intrigue, and sex appeal to create a fast paced novel that will draw you through each titillating turn.


Find out more about Tricia Ares by visiting her website:
Or the blog she edits:

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Saturday, January 12, 2008


I Support the Writers' Strike, But. . .

I support the writers' strike. I do. And not only because I am a writer, and I know how hard it is to make any money. I have followed the strike a bit, and after signing my own book contract for the first time recently, I realize how every penny counts. Every right that you give away to a publishing or production company counts. Let's face it, without writers, without a lot of you that are reading this blog, all the magazines, newspapers, blogs, Web sites, books, TV shows, and movies we love wouldn't exist. These works become a part of our daily lives. They enter our dreams, our dinner discussions, even our blogs. Even reality TV shows need writers. Someone has to write Survivor host Jeff Probst's brilliant questions and explanations of the competitions. Have you seen him ad lib as a guest host on Regis and Kelly?

But the reason I bring up this strike today is one of the best television shows that I have watched in a long time is in trouble. I don't watch very much TV, and I TIVO everything I want to watch to save time on commercials. Anyway, I'm not sure if it's all because of the writers' strike or if it is not getting the ratings it needs (although it really should. REALLY, please read on.) Women's Murder Club (ABC), which is based on James Patterson's book series, is an excellent show. It caught my interest one day when I was home and vegging out, watching some daytime TV. Angie Harmon, who stars in the show, was on the publicity circuit and on The View. As soon as I heard it was based on Patterson's novels, I was interested. Even if you don't want to admit it, most writers DREAM of someone calling them and saying, "Uh, yeah, we would really love to turn your book into a TV SHOW or even a MOVIE." Come on, admit it, don't you want to see your characters live on screen? Patterson is with the creative process all the way with this series, which makes it even better in my opinion.

Angie Harmon described the show as a cross between Law and Order and Sex in the City (also a book.) It is that and more. If you haven't caught an episode, go to and watch one-- in your spare time, of course. I don't want you to use my advice on this blog as an excuse for not meeting those writing goals you set on January 1. Study the characters, the dialogue, the storyline. What makes me care so much about Lindsay Boxer (Angie Harmon's character?) I don't know, but I want to figure it out, so I can put the same kind of care and skill into creating my main character for my YA novel. Patterson, my hats off to you!

I support the writers' strike. I do. But I want my show back. I don't want the writers to give in. I want them to get fair treatment. I want them to get all the residuals they deserve. I also want all the writers for Women's Murder Club back at their laptops with their coffee and telling me what is going to happen with the Kiss Me Not Killer!

Maybe I should look at this positively. I will have more time to reach my own New Year's writing goals without this series on air. I will have more time to read Patterson's novels, too. But, I'm sure many of you feel this way about your own shows. Let us know. Everyone needs the chance to vent, and here's a place to do it. Happy writing!

Margo Dill

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Thursday, January 10, 2008


Riding the Learning Curve

Last year, when I started writing, I had no idea how much work it would be. Yes, I knew I'd be doing a lot of writing and rewriting. And yes, I knew that there would be a lot of research involved. What I did not anticipate was the amount of outside reading that being a writer would require from me. I quickly realized that pleasure reading, though beneficial, was not enough to help me grow as a writer. I had to learn how to analyze a story's structure.

Analyzing the work of your favorite authors can be fun and add value to your own writing. To get started, choose several books from you target genre, preferably books that you've read before. Make sure they are well written and enjoyable reads. Considering your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, make a list of the techniques that you want to analyze.

Here are several ideas that can get you started.

  • Various ways the writer hooks the reader in at the beginning of the story, article, and/or chapter.

  • Dialogue that sounds authentic to the character but also reveals more about the character - attitude, intentions, etc.

  • Novel and interesting usage of figurative language. What works and why does it work?Transitions into and out of scenes, how to move the action along in general.

  • How the author begins/ends a chapter, article, short story.

  • How do the subplots support the story?

  • Effective or ineffective use of literary techniques, i.e. forshadowing, flashbacks, etc.

  • How does the protagonist change throughout the story?

  • What is the story's arc?

  • How the author shows, not tells emotion.

Don't be afraid to write several paragraphs, if need be, to describe how the author achieves any any of the techniques on your list. Its also a good idea to rewrite any weak sections you may notice during your reading. By keeping your notes in a journal, you'll be able to refer to them later and one day, you may be glad that you went the extra mile.

Kesha Grant


You never know where you'll find an audience

I grew up in a family of educators. My dad was my high school English teacher. I must have inherited the grammar gene from him. My mom was my Kindergarten teacher and by the time I was ready to go to college, she'd taken over as the elementary media specialist. I'm positive I inherited the love-to-read gene from her. From both, the gene that controls creativity was passed on. Several extended family members were educators also, covering a variety of disciplines. Unfortunately, none of them passed on the mathematics gene!

These people were my first audience. They would listen to me read, would listen (or at least hear) the made-up stories that I would spin. They were my encouragers, always telling me that I could do anything I set my mind to, that I should follow my dreams.

Once you grow up and go to college - or off on your own, for that matter - you tend to lose touch with that audience. Or maybe you simply don't experience the encouragement as often as you did in the past.

When I graduated from high school, my godfather handed me journal and said, "Tell your story." I wasn't sure I wanted to write private thoughts in the book; what if someone else read it? I didn't realize that I was my own audience until I started college and a composition teacher told us that even if nobody else reads your work, you read it and you are the audience.

I wrote off and on, filling five journals during a twenty-year period. No feedback except from myself. And I was OK with that.

Then, my work started getting published. It was an interesting curiosity to me when I'd open my email program and receive letters from people who had ready my work and offered kind words. Sure, some of them were from family members, but most were from strangers. A new audience to write for!!

Now, I blog daily about my opinions, my writing career, and life on the dairy farm (city girl goes country). It replaced my hardbound journal, but I sent the link to a few family members - those early encouragers - and they would comment.

But I wondered how many people read my ramblings. Was I simply writing for myself? I found a program which tracked visitor paths. Yesterday, alone, I had hits from spots all around the world: Texas, France, Nebraska, New Jersey, Brazil, Spain, New York, Thailand, Canada.
And the interesting thing about the counter: many of those visitors had previously read my blog.

A world-wide audience! Wow! I'm still in awe that someone in Spain would stumble upon my blog and read, and read, and read. But it certainly opens up the possibilities for topics.

My parents are retired now, but they still encourage and support my writing habit. My dad is my clip master. He gathers extra newspapers or magazines and cuts my clips for me. And my mom volunteers at the local library and spearheads the 'Friends of the Library' committee. Recently, she invited me to speak about freelancing and read a few selections for a "Brown Bag at the Library" lunch program. I wasn't sure what to expect, but about 15 people (the town has 800 citizens) showed up and listened, and talked about writing wishes they had.

I offered encouragement.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Improving a Story

By Sharon Mortz

I never finish a story. I may metaphorically type “The End” and even submit it to contests and magazines but it’s never really finished. I am always looking for ways to improve whatever I write. Every story is candidate for review and rewrite. I let the words simmer and go back to them days or weeks later. Time doesn’t usually improve my writing but a fresh look often reveals ways to improve a story. I can beef up the language/dialogue, add analogies (I love rich writing though all my teachers say tone down the vocabulary – that’s another blog) or cut some of the mindless drivel. Or I can change the entire course of the story.

I recently entered a story in a contest and opted for the critique they offered. The judges specified ten areas that they reviewed in judging the entries. Now I use these ten points as guideline for each story as I look to improve. The ten points are From Seven Hills Writing Contest.

1. Mechanics: Do word count and format conform to contest rules? A story can be automatically disqualified if the rules are not followed.

2. Hook: Is the reader drawn into the story from the beginning?

3. Narrator: Does the narrator (first person) come across as interesting and complex?

4. Other people/animals: Are they revealed in significant detail?

5. Technique: Is there a balance between showing and telling?

6. Language Use: Is the writing fresh and free of clichés? Does the choice of words keep the reader embedded in the story? Does the writer rely on adjectives and adverbs instead of strong nouns and verbs?

7. Dialogue and Narrative: Does the dialogue sound natural to the people and situation. (I’ve found this a challenge in play writing. I have a tendency to make everyone sound the same. Someone from the ghetto speaks differently that a Harvard graduate.) Is there a proper balance between dialogue and narrative?

8. Settling: Does the reader know where and when the story takes place? Can you see, fell, hear and smell the setting. (I have at times ignored setting.)

9. Mood/atmosphere: Does the writing capture the memory in enough detail to evoke a specific emotion in the reader?

10. Outcome: Is the significance of the memory in enough detail to evoke a specific emotion in readers?

One of my favorite outcomes is a surprise ending. I sometimes plan the surprise but an even better strategy for me is to add a surprise after the story is complete. Then it’s a surprise to me too. I brainstorm for days to come up with the most unlikely but believable surprise.

Another of my favorite ways to improve a story is to add suspense. Some suggestions: 1) Describe the character making the character’s happy go lucky and then introduce his/her worst fears. One has to be subtle about introducing their worst fears or the reader will figure out what’s coming. 2) Use the setting to incite terror. Add a cold stone staircase or cobwebs. 3) If things are going well, throw in a dead body or frightening impediment to their goal.

Now for my surprise ending. My blog appears on January 9 – my birthday.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Bits & Pieces

January Issue:

I'm sure many of you are wondering, Where's the January issue? Well, we've been working diligently, and it should be up soon. Those of you that know me, probably think I'm going bald by now from pulling my hair out, LOL.

Today we were supposed to kick off our interviews with Fall 2007 Contest Winners, but, since we leave the final winners as a surprise, the first interview will be postponed until next Tuesday. Sorry ladies! I know you all have been waiting patiently to hear the results...which will be delivered very soon. Sit tight! ;-)


Letter from Amy Smith Linton: Spring 2007 Runner Up

When we interviewed Amy in August she'd told us that she was going to Greece for a sailboat race. Of course, we wondered how it went, and we were glad that she sent us this recap:

Hi Wow!

Hope you are having a great New Year.
You were kind enough to ask about my sailing last summer -- you may remember, we did an e-mail interview while I was competing at a sailing regatta. Which goes a little way to explaining my photograph.

In any case, we had a great year on the water. It's not quite an embarrassment of riches, because I am going to go right ahead and toot my horn: we won the Lightning Worlds in Athens, the Flying Scot Wife-Husband Nationals in CT, and took first place at the South American Lightning Championships on Lake Tomine in Colombia. Icing on the delicious cake: my husband and I were both short-listed for the Rolex U. S. Sailing Yachtsman/Yachtswoman of the Year.

I treasure my WOW! bag and hope to report exciting progress on the writing front sometime -- this year? Meanwhile, best wishes for another successful year of WOW!ing.

Amy Smith Linton
Runner Up
Spring 2007 Flash Fiction contest.

WOW: Congratulations Amy! That's quite an achievement. Three wins, and a finalist in the Rolex U.S. Sailing Yachtsman/Yachtswoman of the Year. Very impressive! We wish you the best of luck, and remember to take time to write about the experience. :-)


Submission Guidelines Updated:

Senior Editor, Annette Fix, has revised our submission guidelines to be a lot more comprehensive. Hopefully, this will answer any questions you may have. Check it out:


Are you near Brooklyn and want to network this weekend?

WRITE Into The New Year!
An All-Day Writing Party
Workshop for Women
Do you want to:
* Reflect on your past year and where you've been?
* Set your focus and intention for the year to come and where you want to go?
* Get inspired and excited about new beginnings & infinite possibilities?
Then this workshop is for you!!!
The beginning of a new chapter - in your writing and in your life - is always within your reach, and within you!

All-Day Writing Parties are full-day writing intensives specifically designed to provide a big juicy burst of inspiration to jumpstart your writing practice or take your existing practice to the next level! Using fun & freeing techniques, you will break through blocks in your writing and your life and celebrate and nurture yourself in the process.

Date: Saturday, January 12, 2008
Time: 12:00pm - 6:00pm
Place: A convenient Cobble Hill location, close to the F train in Brooklyn
Contact: Jennifer Garam (917) 509-7564
Registration Fee: $149

A maximum of 10 women will be accepted in this session.

What my students have to say...
About One-Day Writing Workshops

"...The writing, the laughing, the camaraderie, the closeness, the emails afterwards. One of my top ten days EVER!!"
- Sue, 56, Executive Assistant to CEO

"Things are crazy good with me. I feel such a shift since "removing obstacles." The work you do is soooooooo empowering!"
-Robyn Myhr, Holistic Health Coach

"I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your writing workshop yesterday. It was such a wonderful experience for me - so well put together and a truly warm and accepting atmosphere - and such a gorgeous group of women you attracted! You really have a beautiful spirit and energy about you and that really came through during the workshop and made for a really safe and open environment."
-Bridget, Actress

"I just want to thank you again for such a wonderful class today. It really felt great to be writing again and be around such a talented group of women. I truly appreciate the opportunity for being a part of today's class."
-Dayna, 29, Teacher


Jennifer Garam graduated summa cum laude from Boston College with a degree in English and Theatre. She has studied writing at the Northwestern University Summer Writers' Conference, Sarah Lawrence Playwriting Conference, and Ensemble Studio Theatre, and acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse and The Barrow Group. Three of Jennifer’s one-act plays have been selected for The Samuel French Festival. In addition to readings at The Lark Play Development Center, The Belt Theatre, and the Time Inc. Author Connection Reading Series, she has performed her solo material at the Drama Desk Award-Winning Barrow Group Theatre. Jennifer’s celebrity music articles have appeared in Interview magazine, and she produced the documentary film Singing Out Loud about singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw. She writes the blog "One Writeous Chick" at, and her writing can also be found on,, and As the founder of WRITEOUS CHICKS, she teaches writing workshops for women with an emphasis on personal growth, self-care, and having fun! Jennifer has been practicing yoga for 9 years, and infuses her passion for spirituality in all her teachings.


Call for Submissions:

Seeking Submissions
from U.S. Writers for 3 Proposed Books*


Women & Poetry: Tips on Writing, Publishing and Teaching
from American Women Poets

Foreword by Robin Merrill, Maine Poets Society President 2006-2007.
M.F.A. Stonecoast. With hundreds of poems published, some from her chapbook Laundry & Stories (Moon Pie Press) were featured on Garrison Keillor's "Writers' Almanac."

Afterword by the editors of Iris Magazine, an award-winning publication of 27 years celebrating and empowering young women through provocative articles, essays, and fiction pieces that are uplifting, inclusive, and literate.

Markets for women, why women write, time management, using life experience, women's magazines, critique groups, networking, blogs, unique issues women must overcome, lesbian and bisexual writing, formal education, queries and proposals, conference participation, family scheduling, feminist writing, self-publishing, teaching tips, are just a few areas women poets are interested.

Practical, concise, how-to articles with bullets/headings have proven the most helpful. Please avoid writing about "me" and concentrate on what will most help the reader.


Milestones for American Women: Our Defining Passages

Foreword by Carolyn Lesser,
Webster University, St. Louis, MO, nonfiction writing faculty; natural science children's books published by Harcourt, Alfred A. Knopf; essayist, poet, photographer, keynote speaker, artist.

Afterword by Dr. Loriene Roy, 2007-2008 President of the American Library Association. Professor, University of Texas at Austin, founder of "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything," a national reading club for Native American children.

Please consider sharing the important milestones, life changing events, transitions in your life--material that would broadly fit the "Women's Studies" genre that is highly readable, moving and relatable. There are the passages that occur to us (for example, losing a loved one, having to relocate) and then the passages we choose (such as getting a degree in mid-life, adopting a child). Please focus on those pivotal moments and why they were milestones for you.

This book celebrates our passages as women, from one moment into another, from one door to the next. Often it is after the navigation, that in reflection, we see that some of the most difficult are the ones we have learned the most and have had lasting effects as well on those around us.

Guidelines for Women and Poetry
and/or Milestones for American Women:

Word total for 1-3 articles based on your experience: 1,900 minimum; maximum 2,300. Two articles minimum preferred.

If you are submitting 2-3 articles, please break them up fairly evenly in word count to reach the 1,900-2,300 range.

Please submit all contributions at one time.

No previously published or simultaneously submitted material. Books such as this can typically take up to a year to compile. Contributors receive a complimentary copy and contributor's discount on additional copies.

Please first send topics before writing to avoid duplication, and a 65-70 word bio with your present position, location, relevant publications, career highlights for the contributor page; please use POETS or MILESTONES as the subject line to

Once your topics have been approved, deadline for e-mailing articles is February 28, 2008. Again, please use POETS or MILESTONES in the subject line to either Cynthia at; or Carol at in a Word document (.doc format only) using 12-point Times New Roman font.

Co-editor Cynthia Brackett-Vincent is publisher/editor of the esteemed Aurorean poetry journal; poetry instructor; award-winning poet; author of The 95 Poems chapbook (2005) and contributor to Educators as Writers: Publishing for Personal and Professional Development. In 2007, her poems received a citation, honorable mention and second place in the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, New England Writers and Maine Poets Society competitions. View Cynthia's background

Co-editor, Carol Smallwood has written, co-authored, and edited 18 books such as Michigan Authors, for Scarecrow, Libraries Unlimited. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in English Journal, Clackamas Literary Review, Phoebe, The Writer's Chronicle, and several others including anthologies; Who's Who in America, Who's Who of American Women. A chapbook is forthcoming from Pudding House. Her recent book


Women Writing on Family:
Writing, Publishing, and Teaching Tips by U.S. Women Writers

Foreword: Robbi Hess, Journalist, co-author, Complete Idiot's Guide to 30,000 Baby Names (Penguin Books); Editor, Byline Magazine

Afterword: Suzanne Bunkers, Professor of English, Minnesota State University, editor of Diaries of Girls and Women: a Midwestern American Sampler (University of Wisconsin Press).

This is a book not just on writing but tips for women writing about family. Possible subject areas you might address include: Markets; why women write about family; using life experience; critique groups; networking; blogs; unique issues women must overcome; formal education; queries and proposals; conference participation; family scheduling; self-publishing; teaching tips; family in creative nonfiction, poetry, short stories, novels.

Guidelines for Women Writing on Family:

Practical, concise, how-to articles with bullets/headings have proven the most helpful to readers. Please avoid writing about "me" and concentrate on what will help the reader. Word total for two or three articles based on your experience, 1,900 words minimum; maximum 2,300. One article may be 1,000 words, another 900 (or three 634 word articles) to reach the required 1,900 words. Minimum, two articles. Please submit all contributions at one time.

Deadline: January 30, 2008

No previously published or simultaneously submitted material, please.
Please submit all contributions at one time.

Contributors receive a complimentary copy and contributor's discount on additional copies. It is common for compilation of an anthology to take upwards of a year, but we will be in touch with updates on securing a publisher.

Please send your topics first before writing (to avoid possible duplication) along with brief descriptions; a 65-70 word bio with your present position, relevant publications, awards or honors. Use FAMILY for the subject line and submit to Rachael at

Co-Editor Rachael Hanel is a freelance writer and college instructor in Madison Lake, MN. The first chapter of her memoir was named runner-up for the 2006 Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction at the Bellingham Review and appears in the Spring 2007 issue. The chapter was also a semifinalist for the 2006 Gulf Coast Creative Nonfiction Award. She teaches personal essay and editing. Her website is

Co-Editor Carol Smallwood has written, co-authored, and edited 18 books such as Michigan Authors, for Scarecrow, Libraries Unlimited. Her work has appeared in English Journal, Clackamas Literary Review, Phoebe, The Writer's Chronicle, The Detroit News, several others including anthologies; she's in Who's Who of American Women. A co-edited anthology is with an agent. A recent book is

*For All Three Calls: In our experience, most publishers return rights to individual contributors variously after publication. However, because we am still seeking a publisher, we cannot speak to those rights specifically at this time. Contributors will be asked to sign a release form from the publisher and therefore will be have the opportunity to agree to the details of the contract or withdraw one's work at that time.


Recent Question on Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest:

When we receive a question a few times, I like to post it here on the blog for everyone to see. This week's question is:

Q: Can men enter?

A: Yes. Our contest is open globally, to any age, as long as the entry is written in English.

One guy wrote back something humorous, and I had to share with you:

"I suppose the name--Women On Writing--and all the pictures of women on the site discourages men, although you say the contest is open to all people on the planet who write in English. I'm glad I thought to ask if that included the male species."

LOL. WOW! loves a good sense of humor!


From Carolyn Howard-Johnson:

Columnist and Author Takes on the Nobel Prize Committee

Praised or maligned, the Nobel Prize for Literature is always news. It selects the best from the world and therefore misses much of value. Carolyn Howard-Johnson, “Back to Literature” columnist for, closes the gap (only slightly) with her an annual “Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize for Literature.”

Over the last years the Nobel committee has recognized authors for their literary expertise but there has also been a trend toward awarding the prize for, as Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Tim Rutten says, “an author’s particular relevance to the moral moment in which the world finds itself.”

Howard-Johnson’s prize therefore concentrates on books that address these same issues. For her Noble Prize (as opposed to the NOBEL prize), Howard-Johnson considers books written in English (which narrows the field of prospects considerably) because writers who write in English have been rather neglected over the years and because that is the language in which she . . . ahem, reads well enough..

Howard-Johnson’s lists have included well-known authors who explore discrimination in their writing like Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison but she tries to concentrate on authors who have not been posted to bestseller lists or won major awards. Some past winners are poet Lloyd King and LA's Leora G. Krygier, Randall Sylvis and Suzanne Lummis.

The winners for 2007 just announced in January's issue of Myshelf are: Los Angeles writer and UCLA instructor

Howard Johnson, sponsor of the Noble, is no stranger to literary prizes. Her first, This is the Place, won Sime-Gen's Reviewers’ Choice Award after it was published in 2001 and went on to win 7 other awards. A chapter from the book was a finalist in the Masters’ Literary Award and another was selected for inclusion in The Copperfield Review. Her book of creative nonfiction, Harkening, has won three awards, her Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't is an Irwin Award winner and that book and her The Frugal Editor were both named USA Book News' Best Professional Book in their years of publiciation. Her book of poetry, Tracings, was named "Top 10 Reads for 2004" by The Compulsive Reader and awarded for excellence by the Military Writers' Society of America. She is also an instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers' Program.

Learn more about Howard-Johnson at

Her "Back to Literature" column that features winners may be found at . Past columns with winners are archived.


Okay, that concludes today's bits & pieces!

Happy Writing!

Monday, January 07, 2008


The Power of Words

By Valerie Fentress

Okay, bear with me. This maybe a little deep for Monday morning, but it’s something that hit me over the holiday season. My family was watching the movie ‘The Kingdom’ with Jamie Fox and Jennifer Garner, and the scene just before the credits hit me hard. I’m not giving away any spoilers, I promise, but the last scene focuses on four words that were the driving force of the entire movie, which got me thinking. What kind of power do words have?

Now we’ve all heard the adage, the pen is mightier than the sword, but it's not so much the actual pen that is mightier, but the words the pen scribbles on paper. As ‘keepers of the written word’ as I like to say, this is a question for each of us to consider. So how do we apply this concept to our daily writing routines?

When I sit down to start a new project there’s one phrase I like to fill in before I get started. This phrase helps direct my writing throughout the entire process, almost as a motivation and encouragement all in itself. The phrase is:

I write to you _____________, that you might know________________.

Filling in the blanks help give me an audience and a purpose for my writing, because no matter how you boil it down, writing is about conveying knowledge, fiction and non-fiction. Whether you’re a big reader or not, words etched in stone, stories on parchment, journals or scrapbooks each fascinate us to some degree. It is in our very nature, as human beings, and defiantly as women, to spread knowledge. So let me ask you, what are you sharing?

I know this is a personal question and each one of you will answer it differently. But I know the desire I have for all the WIP’s in my head is for each of them to make an impact. To challenge people to look at their world differently and I know many of you feel the same way or you wouldn’t call yourself writers.

Words have the power to tear down and uplift, to challenge and encourage. Take the time to consider your impact, whether small or large. Being writers is not an easy calling, but the ripples we can make in the world is alarming.

Here’s another movie that proves this point. M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Lady in the Water’, is about a muse that is sent to the human realm to inspire an author to write a book that will be the driving force behind a great world leader in the future. And that’s the impact writer’s have. We have the power to inspire others, encourage people to think differently, and pull them from the world that surrounds them. It is an awesome power, and ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. (Sorry, I watched a lot of movies over the holidays)

So what will your impact be as a writer? How will your words encourage the people around you in 2008?

Happy Writing!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


Happy Families are Dull

Several years ago, I did a needlepoint that had a cute little dark-haired woman wearing a red polka-dotted scarf around her head. She had a bucket of sudsy water by her feet, a mop and broom in her hand and a dust cloth hanging from her jean's pocket. The embroidered words read; Dull women Keep Immaculate Houses.

I loved that little piece of stitchery because I knew I was far from being a dull woman.

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, "All happy families resemble one another, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Therefore, we can conceive, happy families are dull and unhappy families are interesting.

It's the writer's job to show the unhappy family or the unusual family. The families, who overflow with drama and conflict are the memorable ones. That's the main reason Soaps are so popular. I know as writers we don't have much time to watch Soaps, but if we're flipping through the channels and you hear an argument or a whisper you pause to listen. What's going on? Was her baby really kidnapped? Is she really possessed by the devil? Will he live through the car wreck?

Our stories should fill the reader with excitement, drama and suspense. The little clips of time that all of us as readers use to escape our own lives, to go to places we wouldn't otherwise be able to go and to meet people we wouldn't otherwise meet. We want to experience a life different from our own through the written word.

Think of the most interesting book you ever read. What stands out in your memory? The first book that came to my mind is Follow the River by James Alexander Thom. I traveled with Mary Ingles on her courageous 1,000 mile journey through WV (then VA) and home again after she had escaped from the captivity of the Shawnee Indians. Something about that true story always sticks in my mind. Mary Ingles had an exaggerated sidekick, an old Dutch woman. When James Alexander Thom put the following words in her mouth chills ran down my spine. "I'm going to eat you." I could see these two women--together--tromping over the brush and sliding down the riverbanks until after that statement. They parted company going to opposite sides of the river, but they kept each other in sight.

Perhaps Mary and the Dutch woman were actually colorful characters, but Thom bought them to life by exaggerating their actions, and enlarging their voices. Beginning with the first page, we felt Mary shivering for no reason, heard the wolves wailing and saw the children rustling in their corn-shucked beds.

As writers, we must fill our stories with strong emotions, bigger than life episodes and exaggerated feelings. In addition to strong emotions, we must add detail. The corn-shucked beds told us a lot about the setting and the time period. Thom filled the first page with vivid detail. You could smell the smoke from the fireplace and hear the tick of the clock. We have to choose our details carefully, enough to add interest and ambience, but not so much that it's overwhelming. Here's the link to an excerpt from the first page of Follow the River:

Our writing has to be immediate and to the point. As I'm writing this blog, I'm also transferring VHS tapes onto DVDs. I'm making a single tape for each 5 years; therefore, I have to cut out all the boring parts in order to get all five years onto one DVD disc. I centered in on the emotional episodes; the marriages, the births, the dedications, the parties, the vacations, the Christmas and New Year Celebrations are included, but every kiss, every diaper change and every present that is unwrapped are not included.

In real life, I savor our dull happy family but in writing, I want to write about the unhappy families that are interesting. I want to fill my stories with strong emotions, bigger than life episodes and exaggerated feelings. I want to edit out the boring parts.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Being Young Again

Being Young Again!!!

By: Carrie Hulce

Recently I started to baby-sit a little 16 month old boy. Forgetting how energetic they could be. Wow, let me tell you I didn’t think I would be able to keep up with him. My own children are now teenagers so this experience seems new to me some how.

It amazed me how much we forget, or how much we don’t think about our own childhood.

I tried to recall a memory, one from my childhood, how old was I in the memory. What was the memory about? Was it a good memory or a bad memory? Was it a memory involving family?

Well, to answer my own questions, I was 3, I was in the hospital, I had to have my tonsils taken out, and my parents had come to the hospital to visit me. I was given a brown teddy bear, one I still have actually. My father was happy; he got to carry me out of the hospital to go home.

Oh, to be young again. The cool thing is, being a writer, we can do that. We can be any age we want. We have to dig deep inside of ourselves to find that 2 year-old running around cleaning out the pots and pans cabinet, or how about being 5 and learning how to ride a bike, feeling the nervous tummy, the excitement of mommy or daddy letting go of the bike.

We as writers have so many advantages, but, there are disadvantages too, to bring this age alive, we also need to bring out the sensory words, tastes, sounds, smells, etc. We have to bring that alive for our readers, it can be a challenge, but, one that is well worth having. It is so exciting to be able to bring these young people back to life, oh to be young again, to feel the wind in your hair as you are racing down a hill on your bike, winning the touch down in a football game, slipping on some ice as you were throwing a snow ball at your best friend. The rug burn you received after rough housing on the floor with your dad. The sting that followed after you got the burn.

There is so much we can describe for our readers so they can feel young again as well, so if you are writing about a young child, dig deep inside yourself, be young again. I am sure you too will find what it was like to be 5 on a bike.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Criticism That Builds Up

As writers, we’ve all dreamt of the day when our work will be held up as a standard of the highest quality in literature, and publishers and academics will flock to us, seeking our influential opinions on every upstart new writer whose work begs to be shelved alongside our own. But I’m sure few can attest to lying awake at night thinking of the glow you’ll see in your pastor’s, coworker’s, or father-in-law’s eyes, when he tells you he’s heard you’ve done “a little writing” and would love it if you could instruct him how to make his memoir a bestseller. That is, unless the vision is accompanied by a cold sweat.

Inevitably, the Christmas dinner conversation that flirts momentarily with your plans for your next novel turns, without warning, to said friend’s or relative’s work in progress, and his hopes for your help in getting his work out there. You tell him modestly that you will offer whatever knowledge you have about the publishing biz, and that you’d be happy to look over his manuscript and give some suggestions. In return, he gives up his laptop joyfully, and you spend the next hour or so confronted with a draft that, quite honestly, looks as though it earned a B-plus in some eleventh-grader’s Term Paper Composition course.

Beloved Friend/Daughter-in-law: take heart. Sure, you could stay on your high horse, feet in the stirrups, waiting for the trumpets to hail your grand march into the halls of academia. But that day may never come, and here, right here, is an opportunity to make an impact on one person’s career. One person, who is very close to you, who is starting out much the same way you did not so long ago.

Start by reading the draft with an open but realistic mind. Okay, so this isn’t going to make the New York Times’ list next month. Sooner or later your friend or loved one will have to square himself to that fact—as will you, yourself, no doubt. There is no need to say anything right now that would make him want to give up altogether. Keep the faith that, if you once started out in second grade writing new endings to “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue,” surely given the right amount of patience and hard work your friend could achieve the same literary success you have.

When you come across problems, note them quietly to yourself without interrupting your reading to find him and ask him questions. Also, read closely so that you don’t miss anything you shouldn’t. The last thing you want to do is mention you didn’t get that his protagonist was female, when he can show you each instance of the word “she” in the fifth paragraph. Your credibility lies with his assumption that you care enough about this to give him the most thoughtful, constructive criticism you can muster. You would not want to be let down this way, so keep your comments to him limited to things you can clearly point out and suggest alternatives for.

Don’t hold his work up to some unrealistic standard. When you read it and think to yourself, “It isn’t Faulkner,” that only begs the question: “What similar follies have you been poisoning your own writing with?” Recognize that it is hardly ever fair to compare one person’s writing style with another’s.

But this does not mean that you have to shoulder this task with no measuring stick to refer to. Read the draft again, and this time, select one section that speaks the strongest to you. Identify what you responded to: Did it yield an interesting character quirk? A clever scrap of dialogue? An effective plot hook? Be very generous in hunting out all the things about this passage that you really liked. Then read it to him aloud, sharing with him these elements you noticed he used well. You must admit, it feels great to hear someone read your words with interest and sincerity! And it makes you want to trust the reader who treats your work with the attention it deserves. So don’t be stingy with that gift! Read it aloud with vigor—and then, if you felt his overall draft was lacking some of these things, this is your chance to reinforce your ideas of what could work to make it better.

If done right, your criticism will not dampen his healthy optimism but will energize him to look for the necessary elements of good writing and use them more frequently. Constructive criticism isn’t a wrecking ball, and it isn’t about laying the stones yourself (or throwing them). It’s simply about pointing out which are the best building blocks to use, and helping a fellow builder see how they fit.

written by: AK


Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Darlin’ I Vant to Be Alone!

When fall turns to winter and temperatures dip, certain mammals have what many might consider the good fortune to be able to sleep through the winter–to hibernate until spring. Raccoons and skunks do it. So do woodchucks and chipmunks, hedgehogs, bats, rats and bears and even one sometimes reclusive writer in Georgia–ME!

Over the past ten years, the more serious I became about my writing, the more I began to feel like feel like Gretta Garbo, "I want to be let alone" (a line from her Oscar winning movie, Grand Hotel). Though the commonly misquoted version has more added dramatic appeal, "Darlin’ I vant to be alone."

The act/craft of writing is a solitary activity. And I openly admit, I’m more productive when I isolate myself to write–though I can’t entirely explain why.

To date, I am by no means a total recluse–more like part-time–but, I often wonder if I’d ever be capable of entirely secluding myself as a means to wholly devote myself to writing. Other writers have certainly submitted to the tug of seclusion. But, by their very nature, reclusive writers are not readily available to tell us why they are reclusive.

So I was thinking, before I might actually find myself on the increasingly reclusive path of the likes of Willa Cather and other notably secluded writers, I’d like to clarify in my mind what it is about writers that often cause them to seek isolation. Or is it the other way around? Are writers reclusive beings who turn to writing to nurture their reclusive natures?

I welcome any and all thoughts on writers wanting and/or needing to write in isolation. Or, are you a writer who doesn’t need isolation?

And what about this thought . . .

Emily Dickinson was known to be reclusive, yet she kept up voluminous correspondence with family, friends, mentors etc. Which got me to thinking about what role the World Wide Web might play in the life of a reclusive writer. Is a writer truly reclusive if they are staying connected to other people, via the Internet, blogs, and yes, even by becoming a part of an entire community of other Women on Writing?

I don’t have the answers. But, I have found a workable compromise to satisfy the reclusive tendencies my writing life seems to have generated. For the past five years, on January 2, I have begun a three month long "hibernation" period. And just like a mother bear that doesn’t really sleep very deeply during her hibernation, taking instead series of long naps in which she is still capable of nursing and nurturing her cubs, I don’t abandon my family or friends entirely; they know I’m here for them if they need me. And it is actually very surprising how accommodating they have been during the first quarter of each of the past five years–times they know I have set aside to focus intently on my writing.

Consequently, the first quarters of the past five years have been my most productive series of writing sessions–my little naps, i.e., breaks from the excesses of the daily drain of cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands etc. that allow me to preserve and focus my creative energy directly into my writing.

The key words of my compromise being breaks from the excesses, because I still cook, clean, shop, run errands etc. during my hibernation period. But the cooking is done in bulk and mainly in a crock pot. The cleaning is cut to the bare minimum to keep the house livable, and at least to the point where I don’t have to barricade my front door if one of my neighbors decides to return my serving platter left over from the neighborhood Christmas party. I also shop in bulk for food–and then only for what is absolutely essential. I also prioritize, condense, and try to delegate as many errands to my husband as I possibly can.

I am fully aware of what a luxury it is for me to be able to focus so intently for an entire quarter on my writing and writing related activities, like my involvement with WOW! But, it is a mind-set that all writers who seek and/or need isolation to help generate creative momentum can achieve, even if for only a month, a week, and even if just for an hour each day. It’s the same mind-set I have had to adopt during those less than perfect times of any given year–and more importantly my life–when I have felt there was no way that I could selfishly make my writing a priority, yet I still gave myself permission to write. If only for an hour.

I wrote while on a plane to Florida when I needed to help my mother plan my stepfather’s funeral. I wrote for an hour on the morning after my teenage son flipped his car into a dark ravine, and the paramedics had to repel down a pine tree-dotted ridge to reach him and his two best friends (Miraculously all their injuries were minor; though I can’t say the same for my nerves, which still haven’t recovered). And I locked myself in my bedroom and wrote for an hour after my teenage daughter drove my car on top of the fire hydrant at the front of our subdivision–which earned me the moniker of "Mother of Ol’ Faithful."

My point being . . . that throughout my near-perfect, quarterly writing retreats that I have been able to carve for myself over the past five years, I am very grateful for having had the luxury of being able to hibernate in my cozy cave to write, and today I am ever more grateful to be able to start my sixth such hibernation. But, even under less than near-perfect circumstances, all writers who need and crave isolation can choose to retreat to their caves to write, even if their life circumstances and responsibilities only permits them to theoretically hibernate from within their writing thoughts; those isolated thoughts will eventually translate to the page. This I know to be true of ALL writers.

May the coming year bring each of you an abundance of near-perfect parcels of time and the will to hibernate your writing thoughts onto the page to your hearts content.

Janet Paszkowski
Premium Green Group Leader & Managing Editor

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


New Year's Writing Resolutions

By Patricia Fry

It’s time, once again, to take stock of your accomplishments. Did you meet all of your goals for the year? Did you finish that book, send twenty query letters to magazines each month or start working on your memoirs? If so, congratulations! Keep up the good work. If not, you aren’t alone. Millions of people break their New Year’s resolutions and this is generally because they set their standards too high.

Perhaps you can achieve success by lowering your sights. You have a very good chance of failure if you resolve to write a best seller, double your income and earn the Pulitzer Prize by year’s end. If you’ve never put pen to paper, perhaps a more realistic goal would be to spend three hours each day writing, enroll in a writing class and subscribe to a couple of writing publications. And then be willing to step outside your comfort zone.

It’s like the woman who asked me to help her get over a serious writing slump. She hadn’t been able to write a meaningful word in months. She said that she wanted to get back to her poetry and short story writing, yet she wasn’t willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes. I suggested that she write for at least ten minutes each day in her journal. She saw no point in doing that when she really wanted to write poetry. I said, "Then write poetry for ten minutes each day." She replied, "I can’t do that. I told you I’m in a slump."

I advised her to spend those ten minutes just sitting quietly or walking in a lovely setting. I said that if she did this each day, she would soon become inspired and she would start using this time to write. She said that was impossible—she had no time during the day to be quiet and by evening, her mind raced so fast, she could not get into a relaxed state. Obviously, until this woman is ready to make some changes, she will continue to fail.

Are you going to spend the rest of your life watching others enjoy the lifestyle you desire or are you going to make this the year to claim success for yourself? Here are some typical writers’ resolutions and some plans to help you get started on an adventure toward meeting your personal and professional goals.

1. Finish that book (poem, article, story). Pick up your work-in-progress now, while the year is new and you still have that great sense of starting fresh. But don’t look at this as one humungous project because you’ll feel overwhelmed. Take baby steps. Tackle this one page, one stanza, one paragraph at a time. Break it down into phases. For a book, you might vow to write a chapter each month. For a story, start with the outline, develop the characters, research the time period and then start the writing. These tasks might be scheduled over a period of a week or, if working on it only part-time, a month or two.

2. Start a writing project that you’ve wanted to pursue. Similar to the steps in the first resolution, figure out how much time it will take, how much time you want to devote per day/week and just start. One thing is for sure, if you don’t start it, you will never finish it. Make this the year you stop procrastinating. If you have several projects and don’t know which one to work on, use the list method. List the pros and the cons of starting each project at this time. The right one will become evident in your list.

3. Try one new book promotion idea per month. If you’re an author, you already know that there’s more to selling a book than having it in Barnes and Noble. Read my book, "Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book" and John Kremer’s book featuring 1001 book promotion ideas and apply some of these ideas to your promotional repertoire this year. Arrange to sell your book through local independent bookstores and gift shops. Send press releases with order forms to libraries throughout the U.S. Record your book on tape for the blind and the busy. Do some piggyback marketing. I once procured a booth at the county fair to promote my local history book. Of course, I sold scads more than if I’d stayed home that week.

4. Approach at least one new market for your writing each month. Expand your horizons. If you typically write how-to pieces for parenting, general and health magazines, try your hand at a profile piece for a business publication, for example. Maybe you design brochures for local businesses. Increase your business and your expertise by offering to write their company newsletters. I know a writer who was earning a steady income writing PR material for a large healthcare firm. Last year, she decided to try something different and she has since sold three personal essays to a major woman’s magazine for a total sum of $4,000.

5. Write something different. As professional writers, we sometimes neglect our creative urges. We are so busy writing articles, working on clients’ books or writing company materials that we don’t get around to satisfying our own writing cravings. This year, reward yourself more. Set aside an hour a day or an entire afternoon each week to write poetry, work on your novel, or do more journaling.

6. Join a community or online writers’ group. My career accelerated when I finally left my writing cubicle and began connecting with other writers. I found the camaraderie and the support extremely nurturing and still do. I can’t even calculate the educational value. If you want to reap the benefits of networking with other writers, start looking for a local or online organization. Be a loyal participant. Bring what you can to the meetings or to the discussions and share it in exchange for all that you will glean.

7. Add a new dimension to your lifestyle. If you are a full-time writer, you’re probably at the computer day in and day out. You enjoy your work immensely, but sometimes feel on the verge of burnout. This year, establish some pleasurable time away from your office. Do more reading. Get involved in something creative such as mosaic or scrapbooking. Start playing tennis. And then pursue this activity at least a couple of times a week.

8.Volunteer more. It feels good to reach out and help someone. And there are a lot of projects writers can do within the community. Here are a few: Volunteer for the after school homework help program at your local library. Offer to mentor a journalism student or adult who is just starting a writing career. Start a writing club. Volunteer to write the fundraising material for a charity.

9. Make a gift of your writing. There are numerous ways to give through your writing. Make your own Christmas and greeting cards. Personalized cards are always appreciated. Write one of your poems in calligraphy, frame it and give it to a friend or family member. Create a book of your short stories and have it bound at Kinkos or a print-on-demand company. Write a children’s story starring the children in your life and give it to them for their birthdays. Maybe you know someone who can add charming drawings or photographs. For Christmas, I gather all of my published articles for that year, put them in binders and wrap them up for my three daughters and my parents. I know they enjoy this unique gift because one year I didn’t get around to putting the articles together for them and, boy, did I hear about it. They enjoy seeing the versatility and scope of my work and to have this ongoing keepsake.

Use some of these unique ways to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions. The result will be a happier more productive you throughout the coming year.

—Patricia Fry is a cofounder and the President of SPAWN. She is a full-time writer, author of 19 published books, and she works with other writers/authors on their projects. The above article is excerpted from her book, "The Successful Writer’s Handbook."

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