Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Interview with Natalie Wendt, First Place Winner

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

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

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

Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>> To find out more about WOW's quarterly contests, please visit:

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Spring 2008 First Place Winner! Amy Fuster

Amy Fuster won the hearts of our guest judges, and literary agent, Wendy Sherman, with her First Place story, The Road Twisted Twice. If you haven't done so already, read her winning story and come back and join us in an inspirational chat!

Bio: Amy Fuster lives outside metro Atlanta on nine acres with her husband of 18 years, their two sons, two dogs, and a dozen goldfish that live in her koi pond with a resident bullfrog. Her inner writer just recently emerged with a roaring battle cry for attention. Managing the home front, their numerous rental properties and the tenants who come with the territory, and pursuing her Black Belt in karate, are additional pursuits vying for her attention. She’s working on her first novel, Lottery Lost, in addition to grooming the writing beast with tools from the Long Ridge Writers Group Breaking Into Print course. Most recently, she’s been published as 3rd place winner in Newnan-Coweta Magazine’s writing contest, and a book review published in the LongRidge newsletter. Travel articles are soon to follow, as ten days recently spent in Hawaii provide a myriad of memories to motivate her muse. You can contact Amy at: fuster1up[at]Hughes[dot]net


WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Amy, and congratulations on winning first place! Your story, The Road Twisted Twice, is so beautifully written. What inspired you to write it?

Amy: Thanks that's sweet of you to say. I was blown away by the award, what an honor! The inspiration for the story was a snapshot moment in my life that I embellished heartily to fictionalize. There was a mill house, there was a woman, there was a moment; the road curved, and my life went straight. Other than that, it’s fictional.

What inspired me to write about it, though, was a conversation I had one evening with a friend. She mentioned seeing some homeless people who were living under an overpass in Atlanta. I asked her, "Have you ever wanted to just stop and ask one of them, why are you here? What happened, and why didn't you fix it?"

She said she had wondered, but wouldn't stop to ask. It reminded me of that time when I connected with the woman's eyes, driving down that twisted road. It had happened several years ago, but the missed moment stayed with me.

We just can't imagine people actually living in those conditions. But that's exactly what intrigued me so much. I wondered how she could sit there on that porch and seem so very content with so little, and why I am so discontent with so much! And again I wished I had stopped to ask. I felt like she had the answer to some life riddle, and I was just too busy at the time to get it.

WOW: The message of your story is so true...life passes at such a quick pace that we sometimes never get to stop and truly appreciate it, live it. It makes me want to stop for a moment and do something different, talk to someone, break the pattern. Can you recall a time you broke your routine and did something completely spontaneous?

Amy: LOL, sure, hitting 'send' to submit my story to you. :) Honestly, I am spontaneous. I've been known to stop a fellow grocery shopper and ask how they're planning to cook the meat they just chose. I have a fabulous recipe for ox tail soup that I got just that way. I think life's lessons are hidden in unexpected places. If you just look in the obvious spots, you'll miss half the fun.

WOW: Oooh, I had ox tail soup and it's delicious! You'll have to share your recipe with me sometime. So, do you prefer to write what you know, or write what you don't know?

Amy: That's a tough one. I prefer to write what I question. I'm really opinionated. Ask me about anything and I'll likely have a strong opinion I’m willing to share. (ie Hey, you asked. Don't complain if you don’t like the answer.) But given new information, I might change my mind. I constantly wonder why, how, and what if… So I find myself writing from my world view, and inviting questions about whether other, equally valid, points are running around out there. But to answer the question directly, I like to write from observation rather than research.

WOW: I hear that! Now here's a question I'm always curious about: was The Road Twisted Twice a story you'd previously written? If so, did you have to do a lot of editing for this contest?

Amy: I did write it before I knew about the contest. Right after that homeless overpass conversation I mentioned. I wrote it just for myself, not for an audience. (Imagine my surprise to find all of you reading it!)

I really struggle to get the words out, usually. I've said that writing, for me, is like pulling kudzu off pine trees. But with this story, the first line wrote itself, and the rest flowed easily. I did have to squeeze it down to size, but lost nothing in the effort. Exactly the opposite, I tightened the belt and it made the story's eyes bulge out.

WOW: I think the first line definitely sets the tone for the story. Your prose is gorgeous. You must be an avid reader. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Amy: Thanks for the compliment about the prose. You're making me blush.

I have always loved to read, but I don't read always. When I do, I become absorbed and I'm likely to forget to do important things, like make dinner, or pay the bills, or blink.

I don't have favorite authors, but there are powerful books that stand out. The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller, comes to mind. The Thorn Birds, by Cathleen McCullough, and Hanta Yo, by Ruth BeeBe Hill, are favorites. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker, and The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra, in the non-fiction realm. Most recently I read The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb, and found myself literally laughing out loud. That's a sure sign you’ve got my attention!

WOW: That's a great selection! Since it's November, I have to ask, are you participating in NaNo this year?

Amy: I'm so glad you asked that! Yes, this is my first time. Two friends and I agreed to keep each other pegged to the challenge. (Would you believe their names are Angie and Angela?) I'm not a disciplined writer, so in September I did a trial run, a commitment to write 1667 words per day. It turned into more of a journal experience (I've never kept a journal) than a novel project, but frankly, I could base a novel on some of those entries!

I’m treating NaNo just like an exercise program. I don't have to like it, I just have to do it. I sit down to write 1667 words (the goal) every day. Sometimes I bitch and whine throughout. But I always feel better when I'm finished. A trick that's helped is to picture an in-town jogger. They don't stop jogging just because they hit a red light, instead they jog in place. So when I hit a red light in my writing, I just keep writing, even if the words don’t make sense or move the story forward. Eventually the light turns green again, and I'm running on down the road again.

WOW: That's an excellent example! I'll have to use that. In your bio, you mentioned Long Ridge's Breaking Into Print course. Many of WOW's writers are students as well, including myself. What have you discovered about your writing since taking the course?

Amy: I've discovered that I babble and insert tons of useless words into first drafts. And I tend to write in fragments and run-ons. I've learned to condense. I think too much and write too little. It's better to write a bunch of drivel, and then cut it by half, and then plump it up, than it is to wait until I think of something brilliant to say.

(I could have used that advice here, I've taken a ridiculous amount of time to conjure these simple answers! And I should know them already, no research, nothing to create! LOL)

Seriously, the Long Ridge Course has been terrific. It's awesome to have feedback from successful writers. Nothing compares to having your author/instructor's comments written in the margins of your work. It's contributed at least as much to my confidence as to my writing.

I'd absolutely recommend Long Ridge to anyone who’s sitting on the fence. Hop on over, you won't be sorry.

WOW: I completely agree. Thank you for chatting with us today, Amy! And congratulations again! Do you have any advice to share with other flash fiction contestants?

Amy: Thanks, I appreciate all your kind words. Writers have fragile egos ya know. We need those pats on the back.

What I've learned from practicing karate is that nobody wants to be a white belt, because they feel awkward and inept. But the higher belts are quick to assure that everybody started as a white belt, and felt just as awkward and inept. You don’t achieve higher ranks without doing things that feel clumsy at first. But you advance only with practice, not just with time spent, or desire, or wishing.

Martial arts, writing, real estate, and so many other things I've tackled, have been learn-as-you-go processes. But what I've found is that you don't get better just by learning more, you get better by doing more.

So my advice…go do. Write. Submit. Smile. Every thing you produce is worthy. Know that it is.


If you haven't done so already, please read Amy's award-winning story, The Road Twisted Twice.

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, sponsored by skirt!, head over to our contest page. The deadline is approaching! November 30th.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Interview with Jane E. Johnson - 1st Place Winner!

Jane E. Johnson is All Heart

There are times when you read a story and enjoy it so much that you want to know about the person who wrote it. Sometimes that person turns out to be just as you expected, and other times that person surprises you! Jane is more than we expected and full of wonderful surprises. Getting to know her has been a gift.

Finding out the motivation behind Jane's story shows her true spirit. Listening to her 'speak' through her words is a blast! She's warm, caring, funny, and a down-to-earth person with a huge heart.

Join us as we interview Jane E. Johnson, our gracious first place winner, and find out why a fresh outlook like hers is bound to take her anywhere she wants to go.


WOW: Jane, congratulations on winning First Place in the WOW! Winter 2007 contest! That's quite an accomplishment. In fact, you found out that you won before we officially went live! Can you share with our readers how you 'caught us in the act'?

Jane: Thank-you, it was really fun to win a contest put on by such fun and encouraging people. I feel like we are all winners. And I really love all of the entries. It's a funny story about my finding out that I won. I was up late and reading some great articles on the WOW! website. I clicked on an article and when the new page opened, all of a sudden I saw my picture. You can imagine my great joy and happiness. I immediately e-mailed the WOW editors that I was sitting right there and was so excited to have won.

WOW: I remember that... we were close to midnight (Pacific Time) and were scrambling, like always, to get the issue up. Then you e-mailed us! Now that reaffirms that people ARE watching... so we better make those deadlines! ;-)

Jane, we loved your story "Funding a Memory," which is loosely based on true events. Could you tell us which parts are true and which are fiction?

Jane: There is a lot of truth to it. I am like JB, and I have two brothers with names beginning with the letter M. I also really do have 9 siblings, "steps halves and wholes". We really did go on a family vacation back in the 70s in a VW pop-top camper. My step dad is very ill. And he really did answer that he would like to go to Reno, (before the doctors determined just how ill he is). His pet name for my mother is "Reb" because he is a 'Yamn Dankee' from Philadelphia Pa and she is a Rebel from Mississippi.

The fictional part is that it was my younger sister who was actually there with me and Mom in the hospital room with Pappaw. My real brothers and my little sister would probably be in the RV with me -- not giving me a hard time about taking him on a trip -- but I needed a conflict for JB. He really did call me Jitterbug when I was young. Probably because I couldn't sit still and I talked a lot. (Imagine that!) I don't get to take him on a trip, but I believe this fictionalized account really helped him to see how much I care for him.

WOW: I believe it has. Did he get a chance to hear it?

Jane: My mother read it to him just after I told them that I won first place. She said he got a tear in his eye. He's proud of me and happy to see that I am writing again.

WOW: We're proud of you too! Believe me, there were a lot of entries. And like most contests, we recommend that writers get their entries in early, but yours came in not too long before the deadline! Do you think the adrenaline helped to write the story, or was it emotion?

Jane: Adrenaline, emotion, anger and frustration that his life couldn't last longer. As I wrote the story I already knew that it would never come true. But it was truly the desire of my heart to take my parents on a trip somewhere. I have been talking about it with them a lot over the last year and we were planning to go to Branson MO, this summer.

I wrote the story the night before the night that it was due. I was in a hotel on my way back from just bringing him home from the hospital. I cried and cried as I wrote it. But it has been shown that some of the best artistic creations come from pain. It is fun to write things out the way you wish they could be.

WOW: That's the magic of stories... and they help heal the soul. As you were caught in the moment, did you have a tough time with the word count?

Jane: I went over by about 100 words. So I tweaked and edited and cut it down to just under 500. It was a great experience. I usually have a problem with ending my stories, but the word limit really held me in tight. It was a fun exercise because it really helped me to look quickly for a punch line. I believe what I cut was mostly details about the VW pop-top camper trip. It was about 1:00 a.m. when I finished and I was exhausted emotionally and physically, but felt a therapeutic relief from writing it all out and sending it to WOW!.

WOW: I'm glad, because you did the same for us. I remember when you wrote us the night you won, your e-mail couldn't have come at a better time. It was therapy for us in the midst of a lot of stress. Feeling your enthusiasm made both Beryl and I smile, even shed a tear.

You'd told us that one of your family's wishes was to see you become a successful writer. That shows the love between you and your family. We also know that you've written a 500-page middle-grade manuscript. Can you tell our WOW! readers what it's about?

Jane: When my six children were young, I would sit outside in the hallway at bedtime and make up stories for them. The characters in the stories where always ogres, fairies, wizards and other fantastic creatures. I have three boys and three girls, and a lot of times the boys were the ogres and other beasts, while the girls were the beautiful magical fairy princesses.

About six years ago, when my oldest was 16, she asked if I would write down some of those stories. I couldn't remember very many of them. But I sat down and plotted out a story where all six of them are wizards. It grew into this amazing tale that sends them out on a quest to conquer an evil dragon by the name of Gwandoya. My problem with the manuscript is that it is written in third person omniscient. I have been told that it really should have been written in third person limited and am on hold right now as I get some opinions and critiques and decide if I need to change it to just one child's point of view. (You try to tell the other five that they don't get to ride shotgun!)

WOW: That is a hard feat. Although, recently, I was reading a book where third person limited jumped from several characters' points of view throughout the story. As long as you change paragraphs and make smooth transitions, you can do it without the reader even realizing it's happening!

So, do you have an agent to guide you through this process?

Jane: I do not have an agent, but a few years ago I did contact Sandy Ferguson Fuller. Her assistant Lynn Volkens wrote back and let me know that she would love to take a look at my manuscript. They offer a critiquing/editing service and were recommended to me by an author friend of my other Dad's. That was about 3 years ago though. I just came across their name again and am most likely going to send the manuscript to them soon.

WOW: How has the submission process been going for you?

Jane: I haven't submitted my book anywhere because I know it needs a lot of work. But I sold 4 stories to children's magazines several years ago. I love getting the mail of a writer. Even if it is a rejection. If you are not getting the mail of a writer, you are not a writer.

WOW: So true... and with a positive outlook! The life of a writer includes many sacrifices. And we know from your bio that you have six children! How did you manage being a mom, a wife, getting a Bachelors' degree, and still find time to write?

Jane: I put my writing on a back burner for the past four years while I finished my Bachelors' degree. I just achieved that goal in December and immediately started to think about writing again. I pulled out old files and found at least 20 short story manuscripts waiting patiently to be sent out. I have already updated and sent out 2 short stories to magazines, entered WOW's flash fiction contest, entered another contest for Kansas writers, SCBWI Kansas, joined a critique group, and I'm going to the Poconos (back in my home state) for a writers' conference next week.

I love children and find that the best way to raise children is to take them on adventures with you. Many of my early short stories and two that I sold to a magazine with a younger audience were based on true events that happened with my children. So the laundry may not get done, but we have a lot of fun making memories together. Sometimes it is difficult to switch gears but now that they are all in school I try to write during the day and focus on them when they get home. I don't sleep much. I often do my best writing late at night. Sleep is overrated anyway ; )

WOW: We know that one personally Jane, and we admire your drive! It's not only sleep that's overrated, but laundry too! So, now that your children are in school, what are you working on?

Jane: I have sent the first 15 pages of my book out to be critiqued at the writer's conference I am attending. I'm also working on a new middle grade novel. This one is a historical novel based in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Can you believe the 70's are historical now! I am also researching magazines again and am looking into writing short pieces for assessment tests. I am a substitute teacher and will be entering a teacher prep program in June. I have a soft place in my heart for special needs kids and will go on to get my Masters so I can teach them. But one thing I noticed is the lack of materials out there for these children. They need text written in language that is more easily understood. And tests that don't confuse them or trip them up.

WOW: I totally agree. That's such a good idea, and one that NEEDS exploration.

Jane, you are a pioneer. You have a wonderful heart, a clear vision, and drive to accomplish everything you set out to do. Winning
First Place in the WOW! Winter 2007 contest is only the start in your adventures -- we guarantee it! Overall, how has entering the WOW! contest been for you?

Jane: This has been an amazing experience all around. I have told everyone I know to enter next time and especially to get on your website and read all of the encouraging words and wonderful informative articles. My sister just called me today and told me that she did write up an entry using the next prompt. She is so excited for me and I knew that she and my other sister and my two adult daughters would have a fun time with the flash fiction idea.

WOW: We sincerely thank you! We only hope that with more entries we can provide greater opportunities for writers. And Jane, when you get published, you have to grant us your first interview!

Jane: I love how you say When. I am sure with your encouragement it will be "when" and not "if". Thanks to Angela and Beryl and all of the contributors at WOW! I'm so glad I came across your website, just surfing along a couple of months ago. Wow.

Be sure to read Jane E. Johnson's first place story,
Funding a Memory.


To contact Jane E. Johnson for kudos, interview requests, PR, or MS requests on her upcoming novel, please contact: janieness@sbcglobal.net

We hope you've enjoyed this interview with Jane. She's shown us the true spirit of a winner: gracious, honest, warm, self-sacrificing, and down to earth. A woman with a story of kindness. A woman going places.

Thank you Jane
for making this a wonderful interview, and we wish you the best in all your endeavors.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007



Mandy Vicsai's story, "Strange Doin's" was a natural for First Place. She had such a unique and well-rounded take on our prompt that we weren't surprised when our Guest Judge Teresa proclaimed her 1st. In this interview, Mandy lends insight and honor to her real-life story character Al Boothby, and shares her smart advice to future contestants. This is an interview not to miss!

WOW: Mandy, how does winning First Place feel?

Mandy: I'm still pinching myself. Winning First Place feels amazing! It's almost surreal. I've read through the other entries and they're awesome! There are some very clever storylines, so I'm truly honoured to have been awarded First Place.

For me it was a timely appreciation of my writing style. I recently entered a few chapters of my first novel in a mentoring award. The feedback was less than encouraging and I had been struggling to see the point of finishing my book. It's easy to say logically that any reviewer is only human with likes and dislikes, yet negative criticism (as opposed to constructive criticism) always stings. That's one of the reasons I love your work. You appreciate writers as people as well as artists.

WOW: Thank you Mandy. That means a lot to us. As writers we've all been there, through the good and the bad; but you mentioned something that I truly believe in -- the 'art' of writing. (Yes, there is such a thing!) We believe in encouragement for our peers, because having a positive platform to meet our writing goals, as well as hard content, is what we're all about. And you, of all people, should never doubt yourself. Please finish that book! We can't wait to read it.

Your story about your California Father-in-law, Al Boothby, touched us deeply. He sounds like such an interesting man! Can you tell us some details about him that your story left out?

Mandy: Al was primarily a teacher. He had an aura about him that made you want to listen to what he had to say. He rarely had a bad word to say about anyone and looked for the good in the world. He not only believed in basic human values, he lived them and even better, he inspired others to live them. He was married to Mary for over fifty years and they had six children; one of whom I was lucky enough to meet and marry.

Al was extremely intelligent and did many things during his life. He designed airfields for the state of California, drew cartoons for The Sacramento Bee, designed houses, was a fireman and a radar instructor in the Army Air Corp and taught high school art and woodwork. In his later years, he mastered his Apple Mac and spent hours browsing on-line and emailing his family. Over 200 people attended his funeral; that in itself is an amazing accomplishment.

WOW: That is amazing... In fact, everything about Al sounds amazing. I think you've really shown him in a wonderful light. He sounds like a person I would love to know. Can you tell us what Al loved about squirrels?

Mandy: I think he loved that squirrels chose to be a part of his world. Okay, perhaps they were just after the nuts he left on the window ledge. Still, watching the little guys eat and drink the buffet he left them each day gave him a real buzz. (Except for the time that they moved into the roof!)

WOW: (laughing) I can imagine!

You know, I'm an avid fan of interesting conspiracy theories... they seem to make for good story plots. What were some of Al's favorites? And what was his political story, Strange Doin's about?

Mandy: Al had firm beliefs that there was a right way to treat people and a wrong way to treat people. His conspiracy theories related to how money can create power that in turn can generate a corruption that transcends generations. He believed that the seeds of today's fearful and divisive culture were sewn during the early 1900's. I would say more... but they're watching... always watching...

WOW: (laughs) Well put! Yes... we should move on to the next question before suspicion arises...

In your bio, you said that you do promotional copy for a living; but from what we can see, or read anyway, you have the gift of story-telling. When did you start writing, and how did you get into copywriting?

Mandy: My mother tells me that on my first day of school, I came home in tears because I couldn't yet read and write. I was five when I started devouring books and probably even making up stories then. My earliest memory of knowing I really enjoyed writing and starting to learn it as a craft was when I was nine. I remember writing a story that my teacher just didn't 'get.' I had a scene where the main character remembered some action and I wrote it as a flashback. My teacher told me I couldn't make a story go back in time. That was my first lesson in choosing what criticisms to take on board and what to discard.

As a child I always wrote. If I had a spare five minutes I'd write a poem. I'd amaze my friends by making rhyming poems out of conversations we'd had or immortalising those heartbreak moments from high school. It was fun and writing came easy for me. Then came the real world. I actually studied science at University because I believed that if I wrote as a job it would kill my passion for it. I wasn't a very good scientist and went back to study Public Relations. From then on, every job I had involved writing of some kind.

When we moved to Melbourne two years ago, I made the decision to start copywriting. My real aim at the time was to become a full-time writer and to finish a novel that I'd started years ago. Some of the most well-known writers started out as advertising copywriters, so I thought it might be a good way to gain credibility in literary circles. I've got to say that since I started writing as a job, my passion for it has increased. And it's not simply that I'm honing my craft, it's that other people see me as a writer which in turn reinforces that point to me (particularly on days when the words aren't flowing). Working for myself also gives me the flexibility to set my own hours. I've been able to join a local writers group and am continually inspired by their stories - both real and imagined.

WOW: Writers groups fuel the fire and spark creativity, as do contests, online critiques, and forums. Do you enter many writing competitions?

Mandy: To date I haven't entered many competitions and I've had mixed success with the ones I've entered over the years. Often life seems to intrude and claim the space and energy that could be given to writing. Now I've reached a point in my life where writing is my number one professional priority. I've got a fantastic group of supportive friends and reviewers whose opinions and suggestions I highly respect. So this year, I've made a list of all the competitions I want to enter. I've tried to mix them up a bit. The word counts range from 56 words to 5,000. Entering competitions gives me a real motivation to write - especially since I always have lots to say. I find I look at the world differently when I'm looking for a storyline. I'm more observant, more curious. Competitions also provide a natural a deadline. There's nothing like the pressure of a due date to make a story reveal itself.

WOW: I agree. I think it's the structure and word count that provides a challenge that otherwise we writers wouldn't take on by ourselves. You said that you look at the world differently when you're looking for a storyline. So, can you tell us, who are your favorite authors?

Mandy: Two books that I'll never forget are ones I read in high school. "In Search of Anna" by Esben Storm and "A Candle for St Antony" by Eleanor Spence. Both are Australian stories, which is actually strange because I read more American books growing up than Australian ones. You know, I generally forget the authors of books - unless they're really well known. I'm going to have to start remembering more of them because it's a question people often seem to ask. I love books that make me laugh out loud. Though most recently I've read Tim Winton who is an acclaimed Australian author and Jodi Picoult's "The Tenth Circle". Sometimes I go to the library looking for a particular book. Most times though, I cruise down the shelves, looking for titles and spines that catch my eye or my imagination. I like the mystery of picking books that way.

WOW: I love books that make me laugh as well! It always comes as such a surprise when a book suddenly makes me laugh out loud.

In your bio you'd mentioned that you enjoyed sailing on other people's yachts! That made me laugh when I read it. Can you tell us about that?

Mandy: If you're going to sail, on OPBs (other people's boats) is the only way to go. Keeping a yacht in a seaworthy state can be quite a challenge to your finances. My husband and I are part of a crew of eight who race on a 40ft boat. We were meant to do an ocean race just after Christmas. The day before we competed in a race around Port Phillip Bay and unfortunately got crunched amid three other boats on the start line. The boat we sail on 'cracked a rib' which is an internal structural support and bent a metal plate that sits over the bow (the pointy end). We were lucky. The boat in front of us got a hole through its hull! Yep. An expensive day out. The insurance companies will be arguing over those claims for a while.

Sailing is a great social sport. In fact, my husband and I met at a sailing school in Sydney where we were both learning how to sail. If you're going to sail, Sydney's one of the best places in the world - you can sail every day! And if you do it on someone else's boat, it's free! Melbourne is at the edge of Port Phillip Bay and around our part there are three yacht clubs in close proximity and in summer, races every weekend. In the summer months we also have daylight saving which means it doesn't get dark until later - meaning you can race on Wednesday and Thursday evenings too!

WOW: (laughs) OPB's... I'll have to hit you up if I'm ever in Australia!

Mandy, this has been so much fun, and you are such a delight! Can you tell us how the whole experience of the WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest has been for you?

Mandy: You know, this story was a challenge for me to write. I couldn't decide whether you'd accept a story where the pom pom was from a beanie and not a cheerleading pom pom. In Australia, we have many, many sports and only one code of football (we have four different types of football) has cheerleading squads. Once I'd gotten over the whole beanie / cheerleader dilemma, I really enjoyed the challenge of creating a story. I love short, short stories. I write my first draft and it's usually twice the allowable limit. Then comes the fun part of paring back every non-essential word. So thank you for having a challenging length.

I also love the way you communicate with your writers. You really appreciate the time and effort that everyone puts into their entries. It's a pleasure to read your emails and your website.

WOW: Thank you. Both Beryl and I have been there, so we know what a challenge it is from the opposite end. Often contestants are left out of the loop, so we try to maintain good contact. Although, we have to say, we are definitely not perfect! Most of the time things take longer than expected, and there's so much more organization going on than anticipated... but we try our best. We appreciate each one of you and sincerely enjoy chatting with you all.

Do you have any advice for writers who want to enter a contest?

Mandy: Go for it! Okay, that's too simplistic because there's more to it than that. Here's my advice:

First of all, unlike a computer manual, you really do need to read the competition rules. Read them and follow them. You don't want to go to all the effort of writing a fantastic story only to be disqualified on a technicality.

Word counts are included as part of the writing challenge so make sure you keep within them. If you've got too many words, read through your story and continually ask yourself, "Does this add anything to the story?", "Do I need this for my story to make sense?" If the answer to either question is "No", save your draft as it is, take out the words you've decided are unnecessary and then save your work as a new draft. That way if you want to go back to something you've deleted, it will be waiting for you.

Write from your heart and write about something you know or something that is meaningful to you. Readers relate to stories and people that speak their language so you really don't need big words. Rather than write a term paper, simply tell your story.

Aim to write and rewrite your story until you're completely happy with it. That may mean two drafts, it may mean twenty. Honour your talent by listening to the inner voice that tells you when a word is not quite right or when a phrase or paragraph needs to be rewritten.

Ask someone you trust to read your work. Choose your reviewers carefully. You want someone who will be tactfully honest. That means, they'll tell you what they think without being discouraging. Remember, it's your story, you don't have to make the changes they suggest. Still, if you trust them, think over their ideas before discarding them. Sometimes the things we hate hearing the most are the very comments we need to hear.

I read somewhere that if you enjoy writing your story, readers will enjoy reading it. So have some fun. This is your opportunity to re-invent yourself - or anyone else for that matter.

Know that your writing career and talent, don't hinge on whether or not you win any individual contest or award. Just because one judge preferred someone else's writing style or story over yours does not make you a bad writer. Think of all the books you've read, or started to read, that you haven't enjoyed. Those writers were published. You can be too!

Celebrate! Celebrate the fact that you've written a story. Celebrate the fact that you've entered a competition. Celebrate any feedback that makes you a better writer. And definitely celebrate when you win!

WOW: Well put!

If you haven't read Mandy's entry yet, check it out here: https://wow-womenonwriting.com/5-fallcontestwinners.php

Thank you Mandy for a fabulous interview!

WOW! readers: Coming soon -- Mandy shares her secrets about How To cut a contest entry down to size! Learn how to meet that word count without giving up your story. STAY TUNED

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