Monday, August 04, 2008


How To Write Flash Fiction

By Louise Dop

While the traditional short story fights to hold the attention of a fast moving world, the popularity of flash fiction is on the rise. Conforming to this restricted format can be a valuable discipline for writers and with an expanding market the potential for monetary reward is significant.

While there is no universally accepted exact word limit, generally a short story is considered to constitute flash fiction if it is less than 1,000 words; most flash fiction pieces are between 250 and 1,000 words long. Although some may disregard this form as a gimmick, there are several reasons why writers should take it seriously. Its brevity is particularly well suited to the Internet where new websites dedicated to the genre are appearing all the time. With the popularity of services that allow readers to download written material on subscription to mobile phones and hand held devices, flash fiction writers have a realistic chance of placing work. And since flash fiction has a low word count, payment rates often seem high when calculated on a per word basis. Aside from the financial benefits, writing good quality flash fiction can hone the skills of even the most accomplished writer by forcing them to consider every word.

Creating flash fiction is like concocting a rich sauce. The basic ingredients of character, action, and setting are reduced down until only the essence of the story remains. However brief, this story must have a plot with a beginning a middle and an end. Merely writing an anecdote or reflection is not sufficient. Like a short, sharp shock, good flash fiction should pack an emotional punch, leaving it with the reader long after it is finished. Despite the imposed restrictions, a cleverly written work leaves plenty of room for implication, a suggestion of a much bigger story beyond the immediate snapshot.

There are a number of basic techniques which can be applied to the process of creating successful flash fiction.

Hit the Ground Running

The basic rule of short story writing is to start with a strong opening and it certainly applies here. There is no room for preamble so your story needs to begin at the start of the action or, better still, right in the middle of it. Any back-story must be implied by the right choice of words. As he returned the warm gun to his pocket, he felt for his warrant card. This sentence immediately implies that we are dealing with a policeman who has possibly just shot somebody.

Allude to the Outside World

A neat way to get back story into your work is to root it in a world already familiar to your audience. You could use historical figures, well-known fictional characters or set your story at a famous moment in time. For example, place your lead character on H.M.S. Victory or call him Dr. Jekyll and readers will make inferences based on their own knowledge.

Focus on Your Subject

When looking for ideas, go for the small details. A murder mystery novel has room for an intricate plot with complex characters and motives. A traditional short story might concentrate on the execution of the crime or its impact on the victim’s family. For flash fiction, zoom in further still--a murderer trying to remove a bloodstain from his clothes or a relative identifying the body.

Set the Scene

Flash fiction works best when contained within a well-defined physical space. Put your characters in the supermarket isle or on top of Everest and straight away the story falls into context.

Make Them Talk

As in all fiction, characters can be defined by what they say. One approach to flash fiction is to use dialogue only. Choose your characters’ words carefully and they will tell the story for you with no need for exposition.

Do the Twist

A twist ending is by no means essential, but does work well for this type of writing. As much of the plot is inferred, it is relatively easy to mislead the reader into drawing the wrong conclusions. The surprise ending also provides the emotional impact indicative of this format. Another powerful strategy is a slightly ambiguous ending that leaves the reader thinking, but not to the extent that they feel cheated.

Rewrite Your Rewrites

The easiest way to start a very short story is to forget about word count and get it written. Only then start paring away all the superfluous words. If you are struggling to keep within word limits, have you tried some of the techniques outlined above? Finally, analyze every word carefully. Once you have deemed a word necessary, consider whether there is an even better word for the job. This editing process is fundamental and once mastered will benefit all areas of your writing.

Practice Makes Perfect

Workshops dedicated to this popular form are now appearing on the Internet. They provide opportunities to practice flash fiction in the company of other writers. Challenges are often set against the clock and critiqued by independent judges or fellow contributors.

Look to the Experts

See how the likes of John Updike, Margaret Atwood and Raymond Carver do it in Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, published by W.W. Norton. o

Or their latest, Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, published by W.W. Norton.

Louise Dop is a successful freelance writer and technical author. Her ebook, The Writer's Secret Weapon, brings together a collection of the best free online resources for writers and gives an insight into the writing life. With over 50 direct links to resources, this straightforward guide will show you the real-life tips and tricks that--armed with an Internet connection and basic computer literacy--you can try for yourself right away.

Last month to enter the WOW! Women On Writing Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. Deadline: August 31, 2008 (midnight, Pacific time)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Challenge Yourself With a Short Story Today!

Some writers dream of Oprah announcing their novel as her next book club selection. Others fantasize the day they accept the Pulitzer Prize. Few authors daydream about receiving two contributor copies after having a short story published. Yet, writing short stories can improve your writing skills and increase your marketability.

The following is a section of an article I wrote about short stories that appeared on the Tickled by Thunder website a few years ago. Here are three reasons why writing a short story might help you become a better writer.

Writing short stories gives you a sense of completion. Writers often complain, “It took me years and years to get my novel just right.” Novels are like spaghetti sauce, simmering for days; whereas short stories are like the noodles—boiling and ready in twenty minutes.

One of the benefits of writing a short story is the amount of time it takes to complete. You might sketch out a rough draft after three sessions at your computer. Then you set the story aside for a few days before revising and editing. Next, you present the story to a friend or critique group to get other opinions. You again revise and edit, add those finishing touches, and—Voila! You have a completed story. This process takes weeks instead of years.

Getting anything published is hard work. You must be dedicated to rewriting, rewriting, and more rewriting. You have to research the market, learn proper manuscript format, and write a brilliant cover letter. Getting a short story published is like playing a good game of miniature golf—it’s not as easy as it looks, but with knowledge, skill, and practice, you can do it. Getting a novel published is like playing professional golf —it’s much more difficult and fewer people do it.

Let’s look at Writer A and Writer B. Writer A has never published anything and has worked on his fantasy novel for three years. He is finished and looking for an agent. In his cover letter, he writes an exciting summary and a convincing argument of why his work is different from other fantasies. In his closing paragraph, he has nothing to write for previous publications. The agent is not impressed.

Writer B has also completed her first fantasy novel, which she entered into a contest and won first prize. She has written several short stories and had a few published. In her cover letter, she lists her previous writing successes. Remember an agent or editor needs to make money off your book. If no one has read your work or published it, why should someone take an economic risk on you?

Speaking of money, sometimes you get paid for shorter pieces. A lot of magazines pay in copies, but some do give you a check. And the best news about submitting a short story is you don’t need an agent. Editors deal directly with you.

You can use short stories to strengthen your writing skills. Maybe you need to work on writing realistic dialogue or fitting all five senses into your descriptions. Perhaps you want to use flashbacks but can’t seem to make smooth transitions. Or a friend, who critiqued your opening chapters, said your main character was typical and boring.

Try working out these problems in a short story, focusing on improving those particular weaknesses. For example, if you are having trouble with dialogue tags, write a short story where two characters discuss their daughter’s murder. Practice putting action before or after your dialogue instead of using the word “said.” To solve your typical characters problem, create a new character, listing his unique qualities, and then write a short story about him. See if this method works for you before you change your entire novel.

Write in different points of view or in first person instead of third. If you admire someone’s writing style, you could try a similar story. If you take risks, attempt various styles or voices, and focus on your weaknesses, you will grow as a writer.

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill

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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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Friday, September 14, 2007



From our friends at Zoe:



THE JUDGE: Joyce Carol Oates, the National Book Award-winner and Zoetrope contributor, will award the top prizes.

PRIZES: The first-place prize is $1,000, second-place prize is $500, and third-place prize is $250.

LITERARY AGENCIES: The winner and seven finalists will be considered for representation by the William Morris Agency, ICM, Regal Literary, the Elaine Markson Literary Agency, Inkwell Management, Sterling Lord Literistic, and the Georges Borchardt Literary Agency.

THE DEADLINE: All entries must be postmarked by October 1, 2007. The winners and finalists will be announced at the website December 1, 2007, and in the Spring 2008 issue of Zoetrope: All-Story.

LAST YEAR’S WINNER: William Preston’s “A Crisis for Mr. Lion” was published as a special online supplement to the Spring 2007 issue.


We accept all genres of literary fiction. Entries must be: unpublished; 5,000 words or less; postmarked by October 1, 2007; clearly marked "Short Fiction Contest" on both the story and the outside of the envelope; accompanied by a $15 entry fee per story (make checks payable to AZX Publications). Please include name and address on first page or cover letter only.

We welcome multiple entries ($15/story) and entries from outside the U.S.; please send entry fee in U.S. currency or money order. While we cannot return manuscripts, we will forward a list of the winning stories to all entrants who include an SASE. Entrants retain all rights to their stories. We do not require specific formatting, provided the story is legible.

Zoetrope: All-Story
Attn: Short Fiction Contest
916 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Spring 2007 Contest--1st Place Winner!

Lauri Griffin has three children, one husband, one dog, and a variable number of guppies. She works with gifted children and manages a literacy program for struggling readers. She also writes regularly on the subject of family fun at Visit her blog, Lauri’s Reflections for her thoughts on writing, creativity, motherhood, and fun websites that catch her attention. She is working on several writing projects.

WOW: Lauri, major Kudos to you for your 1st Place Win! How does it feel to take the top spot?

Lauri: Winning is fun! I like it! I'm still a little stunned. I had to look at the site a few times before I really believed it said I won.

WOW: I’d bet you’re not the first winner to double check the site. Now that reality has set in, could you tell us what inspired the idea behind “It Would Mean a Lot”? Was there anything from real life inside your story?

Lauri: I mulled the prompt over for a couple of days. I wanted a good surprise of an ending. We've had some good friends divorce so the emotion is true, but none of the circumstances in the story are from real life.

WOW: But your writing makes it real. You obviously have experience. In fact, in your bio you mention that you’re working on several writing projects. Would you care to share your favorite one (or more than one) with us and our readers?

Lauri: I've got two short stories that I'm currently submitting with ideas and starts for lots more. I'm revising two novels. One I've worked on for years. My writing friends are starting to yell at me to send it out. Deadlines are good for me. Otherwise I keep tinkering with things and getting ideas for making them better.

WOW: Yes, tinkering is wonderful for a while, and then every writer needs to determine that critical “breakaway” moment to leave their work alone. You’ve brought us to a good point for encouragement. By the way, have you found any books or authors who you deem more helpful or encouraging than others for your writing?

Lauri: Early on I couldn't have kept writing without Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She very honestly pegs so many emotions and weird mental stuff that go into writing. I remember laughing wildly the first time I read the book. My own copy is highlighted, underlined, and lent out a lot. The book I don't lend out is A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves. The book has great daily prompts for writing, but also lots of encouragement and ideas for bringing all the senses into writing. The Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass is also a favorite. He takes writers through all kinds of exercises designed to make characters multi-layered, to connect themes, and to build tension. He's very big on having tension on every page. I know my writing has grown a lot due to following the exercises in the book.

WOW: Isn’t it great to have mentors, even when they exist in books? They help us directly or indirectly with our focus and our goals. Do you have specific long-term goals?

Lauri: I have so many goals. But I also have children who tend to get in the way of getting things done. Most of the time that's okay. I consider myself a mother first. As it is they are all growing up way too fast.

WOW: They do that, don’t they? Way too fast. Time spirals out of control the older they get, and this is one great reason for writing our thoughts down, to keep track. You mention your Blog, LauriReflections, for your thoughts, creativity, motherhood and fun. Has your Blog motivated any of your writing projects or ideas?

Lauri: Blogging has helped boost my confidence level. Getting comments from people all over the world is so fun. I love knowing that my thoughts or even just cool websites I've found have helped someone, or made someone think, or prompted them to get out that journal or notebook, or just smile. It's also led to some paid non-fiction writing on parenting and education.

WOW: Congratulations for getting paid from Blogging. Payment also helps boost confidence and I bet you, in turn, boost a lot of kids’ egos. You mention in your bio that you manage a literacy program for struggling readers. How did you get involved with such a worthy cause?

Lauri: Even though my twins are quite bright and we had done everything "right" they struggled with reading. So I started to read about literacy and theories on how the brain learns and works. I was also looking for a part time job with family friendly hours. I happened to meet a woman at a class on brain theory who was leaving this position. I love helping kids learn to read. And our program’s goal is to actually make the kids love reading, not just be good readers.

WOW: A love of reading is a key to learning. I’ve been involved with classroom reading skills, and it’s so important for growth. On a side note, is your literacy program inspiring for your writing? I refer, actually, to the children in the program.

Lauri: I would like to say that it does, but if anything it hurts my writing. Not only does it take time, but also a lot of mental energy. I'm always trying to find the answer for each child. So I read up on dyslexia and different learning disabilities and theories of things. I think that teaching and working with the literacy program use up the same mental energy as writing. So instead of letting my mind daydream about a character, I'm busy wondering if a certain program or another one will work better, or I find myself thinking about books they would like.

WOW: That’s understandable. I think many parents and teachers can completely understand your position. But your devotion to the children is commendable. Speaking of devotion, do you have any final words for everyone in our devoted audience?

Lauri: Give the WOW contest a try. When I thought of a story idea for the prompt I thought it must not be original or it wouldn't have just popped into my head. And I thought for sure that anyone reading it would see the ending coming from a mile away. But people told me the ending surprised them. I'm very glad I gave it a try. It's hard to judge your own writing. I'm incredibly fortunate to have a marvelous online critique group and several local writing buddies. They inspire me with their writing and encourage me with my own. Finding people who support you and believe in you is crucial.

WOW: That’s a great perspective to leave with everyone. Thanks so much for sharing your time and yourself. We wish you the best of luck in your future writing dreams!

If you haven’t read Lauri’s winning entry yet, check it out here: Spring 2007 Contest Winners.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


WOW chats with Tracy Horan - Runner Up in the WOW! Winter Contest

WOW got a chance to chat with another of the top ten runners up. Pull up a chair and join us:-)

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten with our latest contest! What was your reaction to placing in the top ten?

Tracy: The minute I read the email telling
me I had placed in the top ten, I ran around the house yelling “Guess what? Guess what? I made the top ten in a contest!” I did a happy dance right there in the kitchen…a little shimmy with a pinch of the running man! I sang, “Oh yeah, stir the pot…I’m da bomb!” My kids were mortified and embarrassed at my shenanigans. (Which was an added bonus.)

WOW: Some writers don't enjoy the "structure" of contests with prompts and short word counts. Do you? And what inspired your contest entry, Whitewater Romance?

Tracy: I love contests because they are like school assignments. My mind starts formulating a plan the minute I read the requirements. The story prompt instructed us to come up with a tale about how we would celebrate paying off the car. The first thing that came to my mind was ‘take a vacation, of course,’ which, in turn, sparked the memory of the whitewater rafting trip from hell.

Sadly, my tale was more fact than fiction. You need to understand, I am not a girl who craves blood-curdling adventure. I am terrified of excessive speed and heights. I avoid roller coasters and drive my minivan like a granny. In retrospect, perhaps whitewater rafting was not a great vacation choice for a wuss like me! It makes for a funny story, though. Of course, they say … Comedy = Tragedy + Time. Sad, but true!

WOW: Do you find it easy to write flash fiction or do you prefer longer pieces?

Tracy: Flash fiction is my favorite type of writing. I tend to be long-winded, so flash is a challenge for me and a great tool to help me learn to cut back on excessive wordiness.
One of my college instructors is always saying, “Great story, but wayyyyyyyy too long.
Flash helps me learn to cut, cut, cut.

WOW: It's wonderful you are continuing to learn about the craft of writing. Are you enjoying your writing classes at the University of Wisconsin?

Tracy: Love it! The University of Wisconsin offers many writing classes online. It is a wonderful way to take college level courses from home. My main professor is Marshall Cook. He does a great job offering advice and criticism in constructive ways. I used to hate negative comments about my writing. I took every remark so personally! But Coach Cook showed me how an intense critique serves to improve your writing and make it better. Now I welcome all editing suggestions with an open mind.

WOW: Have you always wanted to write?

Tracy: I’ve played around with writing off and on my whole life. But, you know how it is…you get a job, get married, have kids. Pretty soon, the only thing you find yourself writing are grocery lists. Books have always been my real passion. I am a voracious reader and I devour books like Pac-Man eating those little dot thingies. I finally realized that writing a book of my own would be a dream come true.

WOW: Reading is another great way to learn what good writing is like. Who are your favorite authors?

Tracy: Lately, I have been reading Jodi Picoult—she is an amazing writer. I also love Jennifer Weiner—her humor is too delicious. Honestly, I read everything I can get my hands on. I like Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, Patterson, Grisham, Jeanette Walls, Kim Edwards. Oh, there are so many phenomenal authors out there, it is tough for me to pick a favorite!

WOW: If you could pass on one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?

Tracy: The most valuable, gratifying thing for a writer is to share their work. What is the point of writing if no one reads your brilliant, gorgeous pieces of literary genius? Be honest, we are all a bunch of insecure creative types who need constant ego strokes. I found a website called Fanstory where I can post my work for other writers to read and review. It has been the single most wonderful, encouraging experience of my writing life. Face it, our friends and family want to be kind and loving. It takes a stranger to say, “Dude, you used ‘was’ eleven times in the last three paragraphs—fix it.”

WOW: Your contest bio mentions a work in progress. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Tracy: My main project is an anthology of humorous non-fiction essays I am in the process of writing. They tell the tale of when my family and I lived on a farm in rural Indiana. My two daughters were young, my husband traveled for work a great deal of the time, and I was absolutely the world’s most inept farm wife. I like to call it a tale of “Gilligan’s Island meets Green Acres.” The name of the book is “Never Tie a Horse to a Swing Set.” That pretty much sums it up.

WOW: What a great chat. Got any last thoughts?

Tracy: I would love to publish a book or two, and I would be thrilled if my books sold a few copies, but that is not the reason I write. Writing fulfills a need within my soul. It is a balm, a salve, and a great comfort. Writing is free therapy that fills up an empty place inside of me. Even if I never publish a single word, I will always introduce myself as Tracy Horan, the Writer.

Thanks Tracy. You're an inspiration to all writers. If you haven't had the chance to read Tracy's story, stop by the Winter 2007 Flash Fiction Contest Winners Page and check it out. I know you'll enjoy it.

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Friday, April 27, 2007


Interview with Dawn Wingfield - Runner Up!

Dawn Wingfield's story Lucky stood out because she had such an original and inspiring take on the prompt. WOW! just had to find out more about Dawn, and discover the motivation behind her creative short story. Join us as we interview a wonderful writer who is quickly achieving her dreams.


WOW: Dawn, congratulations on placing in the top ten! What inspired you to write

Dawn: I guess I was reflecting on all the things in life we take for granted – the basic skills we’ve managed to grasp, our jobs, our cars, our love lives. We’re actually very lucky to have all these things. I was also thinking about how privileged I feel to have family and friends who, like Laurie Mae, don’t fit the general mold - the love and insights mentally disabled people can offer is often awesome.

WOW: That’s so true, and it’s what gives your story an endearing quality. We also appreciate how you managed to reveal so much about your two characters in such a short space. Did you do a lot of editing to manage the word count?

Dawn: I believe my first draft was about 1000 words, and I was a bit dismayed at the prospect of cutting it in half. But, as often happens, the result of doing this can be a stronger, clearer piece of writing.

WOW: Yes, it worked here. You did a fabulous job with editing, and you’ve shown that practice pays off! In your bio you mentioned that you have short stories in numerous US magazines and an anthology in the UK. Could you tell us about your overall experience with submitting your works?

Dawn: Well, it’s not as frightening as it used to be! I have developed a thicker skin and am no longer quite so gutted by rejections and take long waits in my stride. There’s nothing like the fantastic feeling of actually selling a story and getting paid!!

WOW: Thicker skin definitely helps, and so does a sale! Would you recommend any books on the craft of writing to help aspiring writers?

Dawn: I enjoyed the energy and advice in Stephen King’s On Writing. But nothing beats reading the sort of stuff you aspire to write, and belonging to a good critique group.

WOW: Well, we’d say you definitely show energy through your contest writing. What’s the best aspect about writing for contests in general?

Dawn: It’s wonderful to be placed in a competition, totally gratifying to know that your work has been read and judged and understood. Competitions can really give beginners like me something to aim for.

WOW: Isn’t it just wonderful to feel understood, especially through our writing? Has writing always been a part of your life or have you transitioned into the field through your own doing?

Dawn: I have always wanted to be a writer, but didn’t actually start writing regularly and working seriously at it until 4 years ago.

WOW: That’s often the case as we work our way through life and find the direction that suits us best. Do you have any long-term goals in mind for your writing? Any books bubbling through your mind or future works?

Dawn: My big ambition is to complete and publish a novel.

WOW: Well, you’re certainly on the right track, and we wish you luck in your endeavors! Do you have any parting words for our readers?

Dawn: Yes, keep writing and keep sending stories and articles out! Don’t give up, and continue to learn about the craft of writing, whatever point you’ve reached in your career.

WOW: That’s sound advice for any level of experience in the realm of writing. Thanks so much for your time.

If you haven't already, check out Dawn Wingfield's story, Lucky.
To read other contestants' stories, visit our Winter 2007 Flash Fiction Contest Winners Page.

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Friday, April 13, 2007


Interview with Donna Wilkins - 2nd Place Winner!

Donna Wilkins short story, Nearly Rich and Famous is one that you're not likely to forget. Who can forget a story about a talking dog? If you haven't read it yet, you'll have to check it out... it's bound to make you laugh!

Join us as we interview Donna and get to know the wonderful writer behind the story and find out what sparked her creativity.


WOW: Congratulations on winning Second Place in the Winter 2007 flash fiction contest! How does it feel to win?

Donna: Placing second in the WOW fiction contest was very exciting and encouraging. This is the first award I have ever received for my writing, so it means a great deal to me. This award, and being published on the WOW website, made it feel official; I really am a writer!

WOW: You mentioned you've only been writing for a year - that's amazing. What prompted you to start writing?

Donna: It only took me fifty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I finally began writing barely a year ago. It wasn’t any one thing that prompted me to begin a writing career; it was more an accumulation of stories and characters that kept running through my mind and I just had to let them out. I’ve always had a vivid imagination but had never felt an inclination to write when I was younger. I believe my reluctance to try writing was a result of the strict emphasis put on proper form that was taught in school. Not that proper form is a bad thing of course, but for some people, like me, creativity can be hindered because of fear of failure. I hope other aspiring writers will break out of their shells and forget about their old high school teachers or college professors standing over them with a red pen in hand and that look of disapproval. Just write!!

WOW: Oh yes, the dreaded red pen... Beryl has horror stories about that one! But your story is well-structured, and we don't believe in red pens. Did you do a lot of outlining?

Donna: I’m ashamed to admit that I have not been an outline person. Again, this is like breaking one of the ‘Golden Rules”, but usually I write short stories as the inspiration flows. And then, I do at least three rewrites. However, for a novel, I believe an outline is a must. I’m working on the first draft of my first novel and I learned the value of an outline the hard way. My first draft has serious plot problems (that I will resolve!) that would have been avoided by doing a detailed outline first.

I am also rather undisciplined with my writing time, although I seem to be the most inspired at night. That’s when I’m feeling the most creative, but then the next morning, when I’m fresher, I have to check on all that pesky technical stuff like format, sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation.

WOW: You have the same schedule as I do; I seem to be most inspired at night as well. Probably because it's nice and quiet. So as a free-flowing creative writer who doesn't outline or have a strict writing schedule, it must be hard to taper your creativity into the word count...

Donna: I found the limited word count for this story very challenging. It’s difficult to develop much of a story line with so few words. Actually the limited word count was part of what inspired me to write about a talking dog. Animals can speak volumes without saying a word. And the dog in my story was based on my daughter’s greyhound, Mickey. He dislikes dog food, and being unusually tall for his breed, if left unattended, he can easily steal food off the kitchen counter or table. I’m certain that if this animal could speak, he would give us a detailed, and probably persuasive, argument as to why he should not have to eat dog food while we get all the ‘good stuff’.

WOW: Yes, I agree. That's why your story is so funny! It had me laughing out loud. For most writers, it's not an easy task to write humor. Are there any 'craft of writing' books that have helped you write comic scenes?

Donna: For the past year I have been reading stacks of books on creative writing, but the most important one for me was a book titled ‘Write Great Fiction; Plot and Structure’ by James Scott Bell. Plot and structure was one on my weak points and this book has helped me a lot, so I highly recommend it. Writing comedy seems to come naturally to me; I’m not sure if it can be taught. I think you just have to have a ‘feel’ for it.

WOW: So, how about authors or genres, do you have any favorites?

Donna: Humor is definitely my favorite type of short story, but when it comes to novels my first love is fantasy. C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are two of my favorite authors and after them is the classiest romance writer of all time, Jane Austen. But she didn’t just write great romance, she also made important statements about the injustices of women living in her time. I believe in the statement that the pen is mightier than the sword, and the influence of authors like her have helped to change the world for the better. Young people today have many unwholesome and negative influences to deal with, and it is my hope to someday write novels that will have a positive effect on them. I think that the best literature is fun and entertaining to read while having a constructive message.

WOW: Well put, and I'm sure you'll do just that! Do you have any parting words for our readers?

Donna: I want to take this opportunity to thank Betsy Gallup for choosing my story, and a special thanks to the staff and editors of WOW. I heartily recommend entering contests for writers; it’s a great way to have contact with others in your profession, and reading the past winners’ stories is an excellent way to hone your own writing skills. Also, having a deadline to meet is good discipline, and of course the hope of scoring an award and some prize money can help to move a stubborn writer’s block. And, getting to see your story in print is awesome!

WOW: Thanks Donna! And thank you for taking the time out to answer our questions. Please keep us up to date on any exciting developments in your writing career! Be sure to drop us an e-mail when you receive your prize-pack. ;-)

Read Donna Wilkins' story and others in the Winter 2007 Flash Fiction Contest Winners Feature.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


Mandy Vicsai Writes on our Contest Prompt!

As you may know, we don't allow the First, Second, or Third Place Winners to submit to our flash fiction contest for three seasons. It keeps things fair that way and also takes the pressure off the contestant who won! But of course, we're always interested in reading your stories, so even if you did win the whole enchilada and want to submit your story to us to keep those fingers tapping, we'd be happy to publish it.

Next Sunday will be April 1st, and we're excited! Not just because it's April Fool's Day, but because that's when all our contest winners are published. And no, there will be no joking around about that! So, to warm you up and get you in the spirit of the wonderful entries you're going to be able to read soon, Mandy Vicsai gave us her permission to post her take on our Winter 2007 prompt. Of course, she cannot win anything, so this is just for fun. Enjoy!

To refresh your memory, the prompt: You have made the last payment on your car. You want to celebrate in a unique way, because...well, what would be more unique than paying off a vehicle these days? You have your credit card in hand, decide to pick one person and take off for a week. Whom do you choose and where do you go?

Independence Day

by Mandy Vicsai

I beep the horn three times. Ida Forsyth steps onto the porch.
“She’s all mine,” I tell her, running a loving hand over Betsy’s steering wheel. Betsy is a 1998 Dodge Neon. Sure she’s got over 85,000 miles on the dial, but she was priced right. And she’s my new favourite colour – silver.

“Your first car,” Ida coos.
“Exactly!” I say. “Cel-e-bra-tion time! Let’s christen this baby. Pack a bag and leave a note. We’re goin’ down the highway!” I wave my credit card.
Ida disappears inside.
“Only ten pieces of make up,” I call after her. “That’s individual pieces, not suitcases full. You don’t need to hide every wrinkle you think you have.”

Ida needs a take-it-as-it-comes, anything-goes road trip after those idiots at the grocery store told her she was too old to price cans of beans. I swear if you’re old enough to earn more than three bucks an hour you’ve priced yourself out of employment. There’s a trucker’s bar just out of town. Quite frankly we could both use a drink.

It’s my family that’s driving me nuts. Ida’s are over-protective; like she’d snap in a light breeze. Mine list isolated instances of youthful exuberance and claim they’re proof I can’t manage my own life.
“The civic fountain is not a swimming pool.”
“Fried taquitos and chocolate cake are not dinner.”
“And stop making gooey eyes at the new pastor. It’s embarrassing.”

“I’m just their live-in babysitter,” I tell Ida as we cruise. “I baby sit for other folks on our block too; seems nobody has time for their kids anymore.”
“Still, you’ve earned enough to buy a car,” she says.
“Yes, I’ve at least done that.”

I park at Trucker’s Rest. A sign reads, “No Minors.” Ida and I giggle. Inside we plonk ourselves on two bar stools.
“Bartender, we’ll have Sex on the Beach, please.”
“Mary Clare!”
I can feel the warmth of Ida’s blush and whisper, “It’s a drink.”
“I’ll need some ID,” the bartender says seriously. He examines my driver’s license then peers at me.
“Just got that last month,” I tell him.
“Congratulations,” he says.
“Bought her first car, too. Paid off and everything,” adds Ida proudly.
“Had to,” I explain. “I need my independence. Family can be very . . . confining.”
The bartender nods and sets our drinks on little white napkins. He winks playfully.
“On the house.”

“Ida,” I say thoughtfully. “Move in with me.”
“What about your daughter and her family?”
“It’s my house Ida. They’ll have to leave.”
“They think you’re still grieving.”
“I’m not,” I say. “Life’s too short. One year’s enough. Drink up. Let’s hit that road.”

We settle into Betsy’s charcoal seats. A pimply youth in a rusty pick-up honks his horn and shouts, “Come on Grandma, don’t die with your foot on the brake.”

I shake my silver curls. Young people today. I flip the whipper snapper the bird and singe his adolescent nostril hairs with the acrid stench of burning rubber.


Mandy Vicsai's Bio: Mandy divides her professional time between copywriting and creative writing. She aims to entertain, inspire and empower with her stories and is currently finishing her first novel. Mandy believes you are never too young - nor too old - to fulfil a dream. In fact, she has recently begun the journey to a long-held ambition - learning karate. Together with her husband Peter and feline friend, Pussycat, Mandy calls Melbourne Australia home.

Note: Mandy is the First Place Winner in the WOW! Women On Writing Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest. She also wrote an article for our March issue's HOW 2 Column. She continues to amaze us with her creative fiction and non-fiction writing.

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Monday, March 19, 2007


Call for Inspiring True Stories

The bestselling Cup of Comfort book series is actively seeking uplifting true stories for five new volumes. Stories must be uplifting, original, and 1000-2000 words. Preference given to narrative nonfiction stories that read like fiction. $500 grand prize; $100 ea. all other stories published, plus copy of book. No entry fee. Email submissions to; no attachments; 1 story per email; include your name and mailing address. Writer's guidelines: (click on Share Your Story).

A Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers

As Oprah Winfrey has often said, parenting is the most difficult and important job in the world. It can be even tougher for single mothers, who face all the usual parenting challenges plus a whole set of unique ones. But single motherhood also brings many untold rewards. For this anthology honoring single mothers, we seek inspiring personal stories that speak to the challenges, positive experiences, and extraordinary relationships of single mothers and their children. The majority of stories in this collection will be written from the single mother's point of view, but the book will also include some stories written by children of single mothers as well as by third parties with intimate knowledge of the single mother and her children.
Submission Deadline: 3/30/07 (Last Call!)

A Cup of Comfort for Horse Lovers

This anthology celebrating the powerful, almost magical, bond between horses and humans will feature inspiring true stories that reveal the extraordinary impact these magnificent creatures have on the people who ride, own, raise, train, race, care for, and rescue them. We want stories that portray horses as companions, helpers, messengers, healers, teachers, heroes, and inspirational forces in people's lives as well as stories about the incredible things that people do out of love for a horse or horses.
Submission Deadline: 5/15/07

A Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers

Cats are among the most fascinating, entertaining, and endearing pets on earth. For this collection, we seek the best cat stories never told -- original and compelling testaments to the deep connection between cats and the people who love them as well as heartwarming and humorous tales about truly amazing felines. Most of the stories in the book will be about domestic cats (pets), but we are also interested in stories about feral and exotic cats.
Submission Deadline: 7/01/07

A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors

It has been said that "stories are medicine" and that "one of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another is to share our stories." This volume gives the healing power of story to women (and men) who have survived breast cancer, enabling them to share their inspiring triumphs and courageous trials with others who have beat breast cancer as well as with those who are currently dealing with breast cancer. We want uplifting stories about the experiences and emotions involved in battling and surviving breast cancer. Possible story themes include but are not limited to: diagnosis, treatment, emotional impact, support systems, healing practices, coping mechanisms, effect on loved ones, effect on personal and/or professional life, life after recover, prognosis, positive post-cancer outcomes.
Submission Deadline: 8/15/07

A Cup of Comfort for Spouses & Children of People with Alzheimers

What happens when the person who raised you or the person with whom you raised your children slowly becomes a child who doesn't know you? What if that loved one changes so drastically that he or she is virtually a stranger to you? What if that person is difficult to deal with and requires substantial assistance? How will the reality of having a spouse or parent with Alzheimers affect you and your family -- emotionally, financially, physically, socially, personally, professionally? The inspiring stories in this collection will answer those questions and more -- and will show how love prevails and how lives thrive when a spouse or parent has Alzheimers.
Submission Deadline: 10/15/07

A Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women

Divorce in the 21st century should come with an instruction manual, a release valve, and a support system. This anthology will serve essentially those three purposes, in the form of comforting, insightful, and inspirational stories about surviving and thriving during and after divorce. We seek uplifting, contemporary stories on a wide range of topics of importance to divorced women -- including but not limited to: dating, children, relationship with ex, in-laws, finances, friends, solitude, personal transformation, healing, revenge, mending fences, the ex's new wife or lover, empowerment, rediscovery of self. The majority of stories will be written by women who are or have been divorced. Stories can be poignant, irreverent, humorous, witty, or wise.
Submission Deadline: 12/31/2007

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Thursday, February 01, 2007


Interview with Sarah Jane Stratford - Runner up in the WOW! Fall 2006 Flash Fiction Contest

Sarah Jane Stratford had such a unique take on our prompt, we just had to find out her motivation behind it. Join us in a discussion with this very talented writer and find out just what she's up to!

WOW: What inspired you to write, The Cat Toy?

SJ: In thinking about a lost pom-pom, I remembered a house I used to pass on my way to school that had an elaborate English garden, even though it was surrounded by hideous modern LA apartments. We called it 'The Enchanted Garden' and occasionally tried to sneak in - just to walk around, very 'Alice in Wonderland'. So I just took the mental leap over the wall and lost a pom-pom in the process.

WOW: And during that leap, you managed to create some very interesting characters: Auntie Ellen who became a nudist, and a scary cat lady who grows exotic vegetables in disturbing shapes. What visuals! Were these characters based on anyone you know?

SJ: Hee-hee! Er, well, yes, but since I'm running the risk of being barred from all family gatherings into infinity, I'd best just say they're an amalgam of people I've had run-ins with over the years.

WOW: Okay, we don't want you to get in trouble, so we'll gracefully change the subject... How did you get into writing screenplays?

SJ: I think very visually and discovered that my written dialogue is much more eloquent than anything that actually comes out of my mouth, so I became addicted to the process of spinning out the sort of conversations I'd rather like to have in real life but rarely do. It's weird, because my real passion is theatre, but I was in LA and it was very much a Roman thing.

WOW: Ah yes, when in Rome. You wrote a contest-winning screenplay entitled, "The Tale of the Torturer's Daughter," a medieval farce about torture, romance, and good hair -- what contest did you enter, and how important do you think having good hair is?

SJ: I entered several - it was a semifinalist in two others and winner in the Comedy category of the Fade In contest. Good hair is one of the pillars of life. It's a goal I strive for every day. That I often fail is of little consequence - it's still a primary force in my life.

WOW: As good hair should be! But from your pic, I can see that you DO have good hair. So, Sarah Jane, what are you working on right now?

SJ: Hoo boy. I'm busy. In addition to sundry strange stories, I'm writing a novel about vampire espionage, a comic script about stalking and reality TV, and the teensy tiny extremely amorphous beginnings of a play that may or may not involve time travel.

WOW: Sounds like you have a ton of interesting projects and plots whirling about your good hair. ;-) Writing seems to come easy for you; what did you find most challenging about entering the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest?

SJ: Getting it polished and sent in time - seriously, I sent it in a whopping 14 minutes before the deadline. What a night that was!

WOW: That's crazy! But you definitely pulled it off. Many writing websites recommend that you get your work in early, but we had quite a few that slid right under the deadline and they did very well. So, do you have any tips on prompt-writing that you'd like to share with other writers?

SJ: Try to plan your time better. It's loads of fun, but 500 words is much trickier than you'd think. No joke - you've got yourself a beast of a page and a half. You might need a whip and chair. (and we all need the fabulous leather boots)

WOW: Yes we do.

Thanks Sarah Jane for a great interview! If you haven't got a chance to read SJ's story, check it out HERE.

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