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WOW! Women On Writing is an e-zine that promotes the communication between women writers, authors, editors, agents, publishers and readers. Our blog (AKA: The Muffin) posts about women and writing, publishing industry news, and updates for our quarter
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26. Inside These Walls by Rebecca Coleman (Review, Interview and Giveaway)

From the moment you open Inside These Walls by Rebecca Coleman, you're transported to the world of a women’s prison and introduced to Clara Mattingly who is serving a life sentence for murder. Rebecca’s writing is superb, and Clara is instantly a likeable and sympathetic character, whom you will cheer for, even though she’s also a cold-blooded killer.

Rebecca isn’t tricking the reader into liking Clara. It’s obvious that there’s more to the story than just murder—that Clara has the proverbial skeletons in her closet. After twenty-five years behind bars, she’s choosing to forget the past and stay focused on her present, which in prison means keeping her head down and staying out of trouble.

The problem is Clara’s famous, and so other inmates love to pick on her, which often results in serious injuries. Her crime, along with her boyfriend Ricky, was made into a movie. Hollywood turned their story into an almost Charles Manson type of drama, where Ricky led Clara and his other friends into a 24-hour crime spree that resulted in several murders.

Clara lives her prison life helping her blind cellmate and working on Braille textbooks, while remembering her life as an artist and her love for ballet before the night that changed her life forever. You'll keep turning pages because of the author’s set-up, trying to discover how did this bright, young, talented girl follow her boyfriend and murder people?

Rebecca reveals the true story once an unexpected visitor appears to see Clara in prison, and her heart immediately yearns for love and freedom. At the same time, a reporter writing a book about Ricky asks Clara for information, even though she has never before granted an interview. Because of the visitor, Clara decides it’s time to reveal the truth; and as the book progresses to the end, you discover the circumstances leading up to the crime.

Themes in this book include religion—Clara is Catholic and does follow her faith in prison, including going to confession and taking communion; forgiveness; self-preservation; abuse; independence and freedom; friendship; loyalty; love; truth and more.This is the perfect book club choice, as readers will debate Clara’s crimes, her confessions, her circumstances and even the ending. On Rebecca’s website (http://www.rebeccacoleman.net), book clubs can sign up for a possible Skype or phone visit from the author.

Inside These Walls is one of those novels that will keep you up past your bedtime because you want to discover the secrets Clara has kept and what landed her in one of the worst places imaginable—prison. Here are a few words straight from Rebecca about her novel and writing career: 

WOW: What made you want to write about a woman in prison--and then in a high-profile case?

Rebecca: Once the story started taking shape, it became more interesting to make it a high-profile case because it would make sense why someone would want to interview Clara for a book. But as to why I wrote it in the first place--the only truthful answer is. . .because it's the story that showed up in my head! I never start out with a specific topic in mind--I want to write about an emotion, and then I find a story that gives a structure and a progressive arc to that emotion. With Inside These Walls, it was about the feeling of being given a second chance at something very, very important and how far a person would go not to squander that chance. And what could challenge that more than being in prison?

WOW: Thanks for explaining how the story took shape. It's always interesting to hear from successful authors how their brain works. How did you get your agent, Stephany Evans (in other words--meet at conference, slush pile, etc)?

Rebecca: I sent her a query letter by e-mail, but it was an unusually nervy move for me. Normally I'd go to an agency's website, look to see who the newest agents were, and query them, thinking they were still building their lists and would be more open to a new, untested writer. I'd gotten stacks and stacks of rejections. Then my first book, The Kingdom of Childhood, became a semifinalist in Amazon's ABNA contest, and that gave me the courage to query higher up the food chain. I have to say, Stephany is the perfect agent for me. She is conscientious and tenacious and attentive. I ended up feeling glad for all the rejection because in the end it gave me the opportunity to work with Stephany.

WOW: The advice we all hear is that finding the perfect agent should fit like finding the perfect spouse or mate. We're so happy that has happened for you. What's up next?

Rebecca: Thanks for asking! I'm working on a new story that features a character my readers have seen before--that's all I can say.

WOW: Now, that's a teaser. I can't wait to find out about that! How do you balance writing and marketing?

Rebecca: It's a serious challenge! You have to schedule the business part, so the creative aspect doesn't eat all your time. It's easiest for me to spend the first hour of a work day dealing with Twitter and e-mail, then set myself free to write for the rest of the day. It's tough because writing asks you to lock yourself in a room with your imaginary friends, and marketing requires you to go out there and take risks with real people. A lot of writers write specifically because they don't want to do that.

WOW: Very true! What's one piece of advice you would give to new writers?

Rebecca: Don't be a diva. To succeed in this business, you need to be able to take criticism, be enjoyable to work with, be flexible, and make many more friends than enemies. If you can do all that and be true to yourself as a writer, then nothing can hold you back.

WOW: Thank you for that wonderful advice. Please keep WOW! readers informed on your next book. We'd love to hear about it. 

Readers, don't forget, you can enter to win a copy of this wonderful book, Inside These Walls, by entering the Rafflecopter form below! Good luck!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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27. Goal Setting: Time to Refocus Your Work

Anyone who has been in my office knows that I’m a list maker. Post-It Notes wreath my monitor. Reading lists cover my bulletin board. My first thought is that I do this so that I can focus on my work. Once I write something down, I don’t have to put any energy into remembering it and can just write.

But when my to-do list gets too long, it saps my energy. It always starts out reasonable enough. I have my blog posts for the week, work for the courses I am teaching or taking, and my top two projects for the month.

Then I spot a market listing for a manuscript I haven’t quite finished. Add it to my list. Then I read an article that reveals the fix I need for my novel. There’s another item added. Before I realize what’s going on there’s also a group of essays and a series pitch.

When my list is too long, my productivity lags because I focus on what I’m not getting done. That’s when it’s time to refocus my list and, through it, my work. Use these five steps when you need to do the same:


  1. Review larger goals. I begin with a review of my year-long goals. Maybe you have a five year plan or a list of resolutions for 2014. Whatever form your goals take, look at what you want to accomplish. Do these goals still make sense? If not, take a few moments to revise them.
  2. Assess your to-do list. Once you have committed yourself once again to a list of larger goals, evaluate your to-do list. What items help you meet those goals? Things that don’t may need to go away.
  3. Clean off your list. You don’t have to get rid of everything that won’t lead to your larger goals. For example, I keep my church blog and post on their Facebook page, neither of which helps me complete my dream book. But there important to me so they stay on the list. When numerous items don’t relate to your goals, something must go.
  4. Put other things on hold. You also need to look at what can be accomplished in a month. Anything that can’t, needs to be removed – for now. I jot these items on the bottom corner of my dry erase board or put them on a Post-It on the back page of my calendar. They aren’t priorities, but I won’t forget them either.
  5. Refocus your work area. Once I remove items from my to-do list, all related library books, files and articles need to come off my desk. I take things back to the library and refile a wide variety of material. It’s time to streamline so you can focus on your current projects.


The world is a distracting place. Help yourself focus on what you want to work on right now, and you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish.

--SueBE

Find out more about author Sue Bradford Edwards and her newly refocused to-do list on her blog, One Writer's Journey.

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28. 4 Book Marketing Strategies That Are Guaranteed to Keep Your Online Platform Moving Forward

Your author or writer online platform is all about numbers and reach. It’s about how many people are aware of you within your niche and how many of those people think you have authority within that niche.

In other words, it’s about how many connections you have. You might equate it to a popularity contest.

Unfortunately, there are millions of contestants in the online platform arena trying, as you are, to get the golden subscriber email address and get the emails they send opened.

Because of the sheer number of marketers, people are bombarded with marketing emails on a daily basis. This in turn has caused a drop in email opt-ins and a drop in marketing email open rates.

So, what can you do to fight the odds and keep moving forward to reach your goals?

There are four strategies you can use to keep you connected to people and keep you on the visibility radar.

1. Connection frequency

You need to connect with your subscribers and target market on a regular basis.

This doesn’t mean adding to the email inbox bombardment, it means to be visible in multiple places. How many times a week are you connecting with your subscribers and your target market?

This matters.

Are you taking advantage of the different venues you can reach people? Are you being active in groups? How about social media, such as Facebook, Linkedin, GooglePlus, Twitter, and Pinterest? Are you offering valuable information on a regular basis?

Each of these connection venues is another layer of visibility and familiarity. This frequency helps establish a relationship and helps it grow.

2. Consistency

Everyone when first starting a platform is determined and motivated. You diligently keep on top of social networks, blogging, article marketing, sending out a newsletter on a regular basis, and so on. But, then, when results aren’t what was expected or don’t come quick enough, the motivation and effort slows down.

Well, being consistent is what will help you reach your goals. In fact, without being consistent you most likely will never reach your goals.

Coleman Cox says it best: "Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts."

Create a plan of action steps and stick to them. Be consistent.

3. Authority and Usefulness

According to pro-marketer Travis Greenlee, statistics show that published authors have a 300% higher credibility rating than non-published authors.

That’s quite a difference and gives the published author a big advantage in authority. If you’re not published yet, a quick remedy is to create an ebook and get it out there. With that said, your ebook needs to be a quality product.

But, having an ebook isn’t the cure-all. In addition to this, you need to deliver quality (useful) information to your target market on a regular basis.

The point here is that you need to be perceived as a person of value to your target market. Your actions and offerings need to demonstrate that you can help them with their problem, need, or want.

If you are perceived as having high authority (knowledge and experience) and value (capability and usefulness), people will want to be connected with you.

4. Visibility

Visibility and frequency go hand-in-hand. While you need to make frequent connections, you need to know where and how to make those connections. That’s where visibility comes in.

How many different formats are you using to be visible to your connections and make new connections?

There are a number of marketing formats you can use to generate visibility, including:

• Blog posting
• Using article directories
• Creating podcasts
• Creating videos
• Creating e/books, reports, etc.
• Sending out newsletters or ezines
• Offering webinars, teleseminars, or workshops
• Staying current on social networks, such as Facebook, Linkedin, GooglePlus, and Pinterest

You get the idea. Keep it fresh. Don’t use the same formats to bring information to your subscribers, readers, and visitors.

With email marketing wavering, you need to use all four of these strategies to keep your author-writer online platform moving forward.

---

Karen Cioffi  is a multi-award-winning author, ghostwriter, freelance writer, editor, and author-writer online platform marketing instructor. She founded and manages Writers on the Move (a marketing group), and presents online writing and marketing workshops and webinars.

Karen has published 12 writing and marketing eBooks, the most recent, Article Marketing: Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Search Engine Optimized Content.

*** Join Karen's class, CREATE AND BUILD YOUR AUTHOR-WRITER ONLINE PLATFORM: Website Creation to Beyond Book/Product Sales, next starting on Monday, March 3, 2014. For information and registration, visit our classroom page. ***


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29. The Things Writers Carry

Recently, I read a blog post by Andrea Chilcote about being stranded in Atlanta during the monster snowstorm that struck the region. I live in Nebraska, so I'm accustomed to dealing with the fluffy - or slick - snowflakes and ice. I've been stranded by snowdrifts or spun into the ditch by a patch of dark ice enough times that I do not envy being put in that position.

Chilcote's theme, though, hit a chord, not just literally, but figuratively.

Daily, I carry my MacBook, reporter's notebook, calendar, billfold, an assortment of pens, pencils and highlighters, my digital camera, phone and some junk I obviously could make it through the day without to my desk in the newsroom. Most of these items are tools of the trade, necessary elements that help make my job easier.

Daily, I carry bits and pieces that linger in my mind, waiting for a story to come to fruition or a poem to take shape. Small scraps of interviews, a word or phrase that won't let go, an image framed by the viewfinder that haunts me: these are the things that I, as a writer, carry. These are elements that leave an editorial remark in my mind, that cannot be shared in a straight, fact-based news story, because these are my views of a particular moment.

As writers, we take our unique view and spin stories to entertain, inform, persuade. We carry those stories deep inside until it is ready to be unleashed from brain and transferred to paper.

It's a natural process, as natural as a single snowflake fluttering to the ground. I happen to prefer the blizzard.

By LuAnn Schindler




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30. Building Your Characters ... from You?


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Creating a fictional character.
Should it be based on you?
Photo credit | EKHumphrey
I was thinking about the advice to write what you know. More often than not, I have taken that advice as: don’t write about Akron, Ohio, if you’ve never been there. For me that’s a done deal (and one of the reasons I would never make a good science fiction writer)
.
As I delved into my work-in-progress novel, I started wondered how this might extend to my characters’ development. Am I taking it too far if I include my own personal details for my characters'?

For example, I have a lifelong serious food allergy and I eat gluten-free foods. I started thinking about adding one or both of those elements to my protagonist’s life. For the most part, when I start writing fiction I’m not thinking about my characters’ next meals. But the idea of adding one or two of these elements feels like a natural fit.

Here are some of the reasons I’m considering it:
  • Write authentically about the experience. I don’t spend time writing fiction about living without certain foods, but it is an integral part of who I am so it is something that I definitely know.
  • Highlight one facet of the character. This wouldn’t be the character’s only unique quality, but it would help bring depth to the character. For those who don’t have food limitations, the knowledge I can impart might be a teachable moment. Isn’t it cool when you are reading fiction but actually learn about something real?
  • Pull inspiration from reality. I’ve heard many comments through the years and devised many witty retorts (sadly too long after the fact). For some of the dialogue, this would allow me to rely on some of what I’ve experienced.
  • Avoid research mistakes. My character can prepare a gourmet gluten-free meal without me thinking twice. If she decides to take up deep-sea diving, I’m out of my element and would spend time carefully researching. But may still miss the mark.
I’m leaning toward my character having those interests. Any reasons why I shouldn’t consider layering personal lifestyle elements when developing my character? What have you done in similar situations?
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. Currently she’s engrossed in reading mysteries from the early 1940s … when she should be writing!

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31. Friday Speak Out!: DIY Project: Build Your Own Writers’ Group, Guest Post by Carolyn Boyette Lewis

When a small town writer finds there’s no writers’ group for camaraderie and critique of her writing-in-progress, it’s time for a DIY writers’ group project.

It’s not as difficult as you may think, so shush those inner doubts. Assure yourself you have the ability to do it. Put on your Superwoman persona and go for it!

Here’s how you do it:

Find a room where you can hold an informational meeting—perhaps at the public library, a coffee shop, your church, or a classroom.

Choose a day and time you think is convenient for other writers to meet.

Write a press release announcing a meeting to form a writers’ group. Include the date, time, and place, plus your contact information, in case people have questions. E-mail the press release to all print and online newspapers in your town. Ask them to publish it in community announcements as well as list it in their calendar. If your group is a Christian writers’ group like mine, send the press release to churches in your area also.

Arrive early for the meeting so you can greet people. Come prepared to chair the meeting with a simple agenda. This is helpful whether there are four people or two dozen.

Here are some points for your agenda.

1. Purpose: Discuss the purpose of the group. Decide if it is mainly for encouragement, critique, or learning writing skills. Or perhaps it will be a combination of these.

2. Officers: Will you have formal officers or will members take turns filling roles for the meetings? If informal, plan for a monthly facilitator to chair the meeting and to send out publicity ten days before the meeting. If you have a learning segment, plan for a monthly lesson presenter.

3. Dues: As a group, decide whether you will have on-going expenses that require dues or membership fees. Some groups do. Other groups handle needs that arise by a free-will offering.

4. Food: Will you serve refreshments or not? Will individuals bring their own if they wish?

5. Regular meetings: Select a regular meeting time that works for all. (Ex. third Tuesday 6:30-8:30 p.m. or second Saturday 1:00-3:00 p.m.)

6. Meeting format: What elements will you include in meetings? Will manuscripts for review be provided ahead of time (perhaps by e-mail) or will they be handed out at the meeting? How many pages will be allowed for review—perhaps three pages per member?

Our Christian writers’ group uses this format:
     10-15 minutes to share successes, struggles, announcements, etc.
     10 minutes for devotions
     15-20 minutes for a skill-builder lesson on the craft of writing
     Remainder of time—Feedback Forum to review writing-in-progress.

Even small towns usually have enough people interested in writing to build your own writers’ group.

So, what are you waiting for? Go do it!
.
* * *

Carolyn Boyette Lewis is a wife, mother, grandmother, and retired teacher whose love of writing bloomed in high school and continues today. She lives in a small town in southwestern New Mexico where she recently started a group for writers. Having started two groups for writers, she can confirm that most writers can accomplish this task. Currently, she is focusing on editing a book of poems she has written over the years.
Connect with Carolyn at [email protected]; https://www.facebook.com/carolyn.b.lewis.5; and Sclew's Views.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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32. Taming the Beast: From Pitch To Query To Synopsis

So you’re almost finished with your book. Perhaps you’re leaning back in your chair, thinking, “Whew. The hard’s part nearly done!”

Ha!

HahahahaHA!

Unless you’re planning on self-publishing, you’ll need to convince someone—either an agent or an editor—that your book is amazing. For that feat, you’re going to need a pitch, and a query, and probably a synopsis, too. And those thousands of words you wrote for your book will seem like child’s play compared to the beastly task ahead of you.

Why is it so hard to write a pitch or a query or a synopsis? One reason may be that we’re a bit confused. What makes a pitch different from a query? A query from a synopsis? You can research—and it’s as easy as asking, “How to write a query letter (or pitch or synopsis)?” But you can start with my quick, down and dirty tips for whipping these beasts into shape.

The Pitch

When I’m figuring out my pitch, first I figure out the essence of my story. Somebody wants something. A pitch is usually around 30 words, so you need to zip to your want, and then cut to the twist, the part of the story that makes it different.

If I were pitching Beauty and the Beast, I might write:

Beauty is prepared to sacrifice her life to save her father from a terrifying beast. (The initial want.) But this Beast doesn’t want Beauty’s life—he wants her love. (The twist to the story.)


The Query

The query has several parts, but for now, we’re concentrating on the bit about your plot to understand the difference with a pitch.

With the query, you get a couple sentences to explain your story. (Whee!) But you do not get to tell the ending! The point of your query is to generate interest, to rattle an agent’s brain so much that he or she must read the rest of your story.

So you write the set-up, follow with the conflict, and include stakes and the twist. That’s usually about three to five sentences, and that’s really all you need to reel ‘em in.

A query for Beauty and the Beast might read:

Belle’s father has plucked a rose from the Beast’s castle and now he must pay with his life. But Belle, who asked for the rose, insists on taking his place. (The set-up) The Beast surprises Belle with kindness, instead asking for her hand in marriage. Belle refuses, for she does not love him. (The conflict) But the Beast has a terrible secret, a secret that will take his life—and only Belle can save him. (The stakes, and the twist to the story.)

The Synopsis

Oh, joy! With the synopsis, we at last get lots and lots of words to tell our story, from beginning to end. But often, writers struggle with the synopsis as well.

If the synopsis is challenging for you, try this technique: take each chapter and sum it up in one sentence. When you’re done, go back and edit. Take out anything that doesn’t move the story along, and perhaps add transitions to make it all sparkly.

Whew! Now you’re ready to tame your own pitch, query and synopsis. All you have to do is finish the darn book.

~Cathy C. Hall

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33. Review of The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

An old friend of WOW, Therese Walsh, is releasing her second novel The Moon Sisters next month and you’re all invited to join the party. The Moon Sisters revolves around the complicated (aren’t they always?) relationship of two sisters. To celebrate the release we’re reviewing the book today and organizing "Everybody’s Talking about Sisterhood," a group blogging event, next month. Therese Walsh will be visiting The Muffin with a post about sisterhood on Tuesday, March 4. We’d also like to invite everyone out there to post their own thoughts, photos, poems, letters and poems about sisterhood.

If you’d like to participate, contact Jodi at [email protected] to sign up by Friday, February 28. We’ll add your blog and link to the March 4 post on The Muffin and enter you and your followers in contests to win a copy of The Moon Sisters. Don’t miss a chance to share all the touching, drive-you-crazy, silly and unforgettable things you know about being a sister, whether it be a family sister or a friendship sister.

The Moon Sisters: A Novel


Hardcover: 336 pages (also available in e-formats)

Publisher: Crown (March 4, 2014)

ISBN-10: 0307461602

ISBN-13: 978-0307461605

Summary:

After their mother's probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother's unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.
Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

Review:

As a fan of Therese Walsh’s first novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Therese’s next novel. The Moon Sisters did not disappoint. For the first 100 pages or so I enjoyed the tale of two sisters unlike anyone I have ever met. They both seem to attract odd people and odd situations like flowers attract bees. Olivia revels in the weirdness of her life while Jazz fights it, trying to force her life—and everyone in it—to be “normal.”

But somewhere around page 100 things began jumping off the page at me. The tattoed man, the suicidal writer, the old train hopper, the woman who can taste words (it’s a long story that begins with the word synesthesia)…they all reminded me of people in my life. Despite all their quirkiness these were characters that felt so familiar because, when you strip away the oddness, they were all experiencing universal emotions we all know. I never thought I would be writing that a story that involves people fiddling on rooftops, fatal arson and a father who disowns his only child is, in one way or another, about every reader's life. The Moon Sisters is a novel that will surprise you, not once, not twice, but continually and keep you thinking about the characters and their choices long after you have read the last page.

Where to Find Therese:

http://www.theresewalsh.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ThereseWalsh.author

@ThereseWalsh

Don’t forget to sign up for Everybody’s Talking about Sisterhood by contacting Jodi at [email protected] by Friday, February 28. We’ll send you information about The Moon Sisters and Therese Walsh as well as some images and fun links and quizzes you can share with your readers.

Join the conversation!

Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. Right now she's looking for blogs to promote Theresa Walsh's novel The Moon Sisters and Sue William Silverman's memoir The Pat Boone Fan Club. You can contact her at [email protected]. For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb.

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34. Meet 2013 Summer Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up, Kay Butzin

I am so pleased to have Kay Butzin with us today, who placed in our Summer 2013 Fall Flash Fiction contest for her short but gripping story, Bank Job. Interestingly, Kay entered this story in WOW's Spring 2010 contest, and the critique she had received then inspired her 2013 winning revision! So, if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, click on the story title then come back here to join my chat with Kay. She has some great advice to share.

Kay's Bio:
On Sunday evenings, after the weekend visitors return to Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, Kay Butzin takes a walk on the Rockport, Texas beach and celebrates getting to live where other people come to play. Retired from a career in human resources administration, she has served as secretary, treasurer, and president—twice—of the Rockport Writers Group.

She likes to enter flash fiction and nonfiction contests because the deadlines force her to stop revising and call her stories finished. In 2010, Kay’s “Following Orders” won first prize in a 100 Words or Fewer contest, and “The Alphabet Store” earned her an Honorable Mention in the WOW! Winter 2012 Contest. Several of her short essays have appeared online in Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative, and earlier this year she wrote a guest blog for Create Write Now titled “Morning Pages: Keeping My Word.”

In addition, Kay writes interviews and articles for her biannual alumni newsletter; and her family and friends look forward each year to the original essays and poems she sends instead of Christmas cards.

She is proud and honored to have “Bank Job” judged worthy of a Top 10 slot in the WOW! Summer 2013 Flash Fiction Contest.



WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Kay. We’re so happy to have you with us. Please share a little bit about yourself with our readers.

KAY: I am a native Michigander living since 1995 in my adopted state of Texas, in a Gulf Coast community that attracts fishermen, birders, and artists.

I have a handsome son, Scott, and lovely daughter-in-law, Anna, who enjoy organic gardening during their too-short Illinois summers. Scott recently celebrated fifteen years as an engineer with Caterpillar, Inc.

With a business degree from Michigan State, I worked in various administrative positions in both heath care and banking. I quit my last employer’s desk in 2000 and retired to my own to explore creative writing.


WOW: How wonderful that you can put more focus on your writing now. It’s certainly paying off. You seem to really enjoy writing short stories and flash fiction. Do you prefer such writing over other genres? Can you give us some insight into perfecting quality short story/flash fiction writing?

KAY: I’ve started a couple novels and a memoir or two, and they’re all packed away in various states of incompletion. I’m an obsessive reviser, which makes it difficult to get past the first few chapters of a book-length project.

My short attention span better suits me for the flash genre, both fiction and nonfiction. I love the process of discovering a precise noun or verb to replace a 3-word phrase, and working within a word limit helps me to stop tinkering and call a story or essay finished.

WOW: I can totally relate to being an obsessive reviser. It’s great that you found your writing niche. Your story, Bank Job, was one of my favorites. What I loved about it is that not only did you say a tremendous amount using very few words, it was also one of our shortest entries for the summer session. It truly blew me away. Please share with us how this story came to be.

KAY: To submit a winning 250-word story to a WOW contest has been a goal of mine for some time. When I found Bank Job in an old writing practice notebook, I knew I could make it fit within that limit.

I wrote the sloppy first draft of this story as a 20-minute POV exercise at a Rockport Writers Group meeting back in 2010. Having once worked as a teller myself, Kathy’s perspective was a natural choice. My subconscious happily offered up the surprise ending.

WOW: Often the stories that pop up like that turn out to be some of your best work! And you certainly proved that. Do you have a daily writing regimen? How do you get ready to bring those stories out?

KAY: An average of five days a week I write Morning Pages, a habit I picked up from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a good warm up for “real” writing. Even when I’m in a slump, working on nothing in particular, I’ll tell myself, “At least write your Pages!”

I have a great writing partner and writers group, whose muster my stories must pass before I submit them. I read and reread submission guidelines so my work won’t be disqualified for not following them. Once I tell myself a piece is ready to go, I leave it overnight and check for errors one last time with fresh eyes before I push Send. And I aim to submit no less than one week before the official deadline.

WOW: There are some great pointers in there for our readers. I hope they take note of them. Before I let you go, I would love for you to share any writing pearls of wisdom you might have for our readers.

KAY: I borrow inspiration from quotes. Here’s one on writer’s block by Neil Simon, which I’ve turned into an affirmation:

It’s not true that you can’t think of a single thing. You can think of hundreds of things—you just don’t like any of them. And what you like, you don’t trust.

Another is the maxim, Writing is rewriting. I write first drafts by hand; and I used to waste a lot of paper, crumpling pages in disgust, before I learned to sift through my scribbles for the nuggets.

WOW: Great pearls, Kay. Thank you so much for joining us here today and sharing some of your insight. Good luck with your future writing endeavours! We hope to see more of your work very soon.

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35. Interview and Book Giveaway with Jane Isay, Author of Secrets and Lies

Secrets, large and small, are a fact of human life. Jane Isay's book Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives explores the impact of keeping secrets and the power of truth. Secrets can damage our sense of self and our relationships. Even so, Isay has found, people survive learning the most disturbing facts that have been hidden from them. And secret keepers are relieved when they finally reveal themselves—even the things they are ashamed of—to the people they care about. Much depends, Isay writes, on the way of telling and the way of hearing.

Isay was both a secret finder and a secret keeper. After fifteen years of marriage her husband admitted he was gay, but together they decided to keep it a secret for the sake of their two sons. Building on her personal experience, sixty intimate interviews, and extensive research into the psychology of secrets, Isay shows how the pain of secrets can be lightened by full disclosure, genuine apology, and time. Sometimes the truth sunders relationships, but often it saves them.

Powered by detailed stories and Isay's compassionate analysis, Secrets and Lies reveals how universal secrets are in families. The big ones—affairs, homosexuality, parentage, suicide, abuse, hidden siblings—can be ruinous at first, but the effects need not last forever, and Isay shows us what makes the difference. With specific guidelines for those who keep secrets and those who find them out, Isay's book reveals the art of surviving a secret.

Photo courtesy of Sara Karl
About the Author:

Jane Isay is the author of two previous books, Walking on Eggshells about parents and their adult children, and Mom Still Likes You Best, about adult siblings. She lives in New York City.

Visit Jane's website at www.janeisay.com, and connect with her on twitter @janeisay, and Facebook: www.facebook.com/jane.isay.

Book Review of Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives
Review by Renee Roberson

“As human beings, we live the stories we tell ourselves. This internal narrative makes up the core of our identity. Every day, and in every circumstance, we tell and retell our story. As we encounter new information, the story adjusts just a little bit. It is altered as we move through life.” –Jane Isay, Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives

It was the story of how and why Jane Isay remained for decades in a marriage that was a façade that first hooked me into reading Secrets and Lies, but it was the numerous other stories also laid out in the book that kept me turning the pages. Just about everyone you know has a secret, whether in their own life or woven into the fabric of their family. It is such a universal topic that Psychology Today recently featured the topic of identity-warping secrets and lies on the cover of their January issue and ran an excerpt from Isay’s book.

The author interviewed more than sixty people who lived either with their own secrets or the secrets of their family members, a style that appealed to my inquisitive nature as a journalist. In Secrets and Lies, Isay seeks to explore the hopelessness we feel when we learn of a secret (Finders) and why we sometimes continue to cover up such secrets and work hard to keep them from being discovered (Keepers).

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, titled “The Book of Revelations,” tells the stories of adoptions, secret siblings, and infidelity in marriages and staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of children. The second part “The Book of Resolutions,” explores how keeping such secrets can affect a person’s entire life and offers suggestions to acceptance and ultimately, the chance for recovery.

Isay grew up with a psychologist for a mother and lived for decades with a husband who worked as a psychoanalyst, so she takes an analytic yet thoughtful approach while writing about the repercussions keeping, telling and recovering from secrets. Even though this is a work of nonfiction, Isay does a great job of telling the stories in a manner that keeps the reader interested and intrigued. Because of this, I think readers of both memoir and fiction would enjoy this book.

Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 2014)
ISBN-10: 0385534140
ISBN-13: 978-0385534147
Hashtag: #SecretsAndLies

Secrets and Lies is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book format at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Interview with Jane Isay
-----Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: We are so happy to have you here with us today, Jane! Secrets and Lies is a such fascinating read and I can't wait to find out more about where you get your ideas. You have now published three books--Walking on Eggshells, Mom Still Likes You the Best and now Secrets and Lies--and all focus on family dynamics. Can you tell us a little about how you became inspired to tackle the topics found in each of these books?

Jane: Like most authors who write about families and their problems, I chose the subjects of these three books as a way of understanding issues that plagued me in my own life.

Walking on Eggshells emerged when my sons were in their late 20s. They were making good lives for themselves, but I felt that I had moved to the periphery of their lives. And furthermore, they didn’t return my phone calls. I wanted to map out the relationships between parents and their adult children. As I did, discovered the love that our grown kids have for us, and how much they don’t want our advice!

Mom Still Likes You Best explored some of the questions that marked my complicated relationship with my older brother. I wanted to find out what makes some siblings feel like they are best friends, what drives some siblings apart, and how brothers and sisters can find each other as adults. By the way, my brother and I are very close now.

Secrets and Lies started with my need to understand what makes people keep secrets, how the revelations shake reality, and what it takes to continue a relationship ruptured by a revelation. The reality of my first marriage was the spur for this book.

WOW: You started your career in publishing by working at Yale University Press and also worked as a book editor in New York City all throughout your career. How do you think your experience as an editor helped shaped your own personal writing process and style?

Jane: When you start writing a book you have to put the editor’s head to sleep at first. Otherwise, criticism blocks creativity. But then, when something is on paper, you can reactivate the editor’s brain and evaluate the ideas and the clarity of expression. I write in one room and edit in another, and that helps me keep the two activities separate.

When I am an editor, I am smart and quick. I can evaluate writing--even my own--and see where improvements are needed. When I am a writer, I have to put up with feeling dumb, as I search for understanding, struggle with hard subjects, and reach dead ends. I find it more pleasant to edit my own work, but more satisfying to wrestle with the hard issues I write about.

WOW: I love the idea of writing in one room and editing in another! I'll have to put that practice to use in my own work and see how it goes. I'll be honest--when I first heard about Secrets and Lies, I thought it was strictly a memoir. Instead, it contains numerous stories, which are the result of interviews that you conducted with dozens of people. What made you decide to layer in all these different stories and approximately how many hours do you think you spent on the research and interviewing portion of this book?

Jane: I started the book with interviews. I was fortunate to find dozens of volunteers who agreed to share their experiences with secrets. It was only after I finished the research and the first draft that I was persuaded to tell my story in full to begin the book. I came to believe that my own struggle would give the reader confidence in my understanding of the issues people face when they encounter the world of secrets.

I spent two years doing the research for this book. It goes slowly and sporadically, but the time when I’m not actually doing the interviews is the time when the ideas and experiences I have heard about marinate in my mind and heart.

WOW: That's impressive. The two years you spent researching and interviewing for the book really paid off in the end, with the variety of stories you were able to capture and share. In Secrets and Lies you discuss the idea of the "Secret Finder" and the "Secret Keeper." Can you tell us a little more about these two ideologies?

Jane: The Finder, the person who learns the truth, faces the task of rethinking the past and reimagining the future. We live by telling ourselves the stories of our past and thinking up scenarios for the future. These stories come to a full stop when a secret is revealed. Imagine yourself in the driver’s seat when someone comes with a baseball bat and batters the windshield. Your world is shattered, and in addition to the misery of learning the facts, you have to deal with the web of lies you have been told by someone you love.

The Keeper, the person who has been hiding a shameful fact, is not such a happy person, either. The Keeper has to be on guard all the time, worrying that if an incriminating fact slips out, there will be trouble. The Keeper learns to dance around the truth, and that is no fun. The longer you keep a secret, the harder it is to come clean, because then you have to explain away the years of lies.

WOW: You personally lived as a Secret Keeper for many, many years. How would you describe the impact keeping that secret ultimately had on your and your children?

Jane: First I was a Finder, when my husband of 15 years confessed that he was homosexual. My life plan disappeared before my eyes. The decision we made to keep the secret from our sons and the world was painful for us both. I found myself increasingly sad and lonely because I couldn't share the most important fact of my life, and my husband suffered terribly from denying his true identity. We survived those nine years, and when we told our sons, they were shocked and unhappy, but over time they accepted the facts.

They grew up to be admirable husbands, fathers, and professionals. They were loving sons to their father, and they are marvelous to me.

WOW: What are some of your favorite fiction and non-fiction books that tackle the topics of family secrets?

Jane: I have been a dedicated reader of quality mysteries all my life, and this genre kept me alive in the hard years. Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys is a great novel about how a secret infects a family, and Frank Pittman’s Private Lies is my favorite work of nonfiction on the subject.

You might want to visit my website, janeisay.com for other works that have influenced my thinking.

WOW: Thanks again for such a great interview, Jane. To find a copy of Secrets and Lies, visit Amazon.com, Barnes and NobleIndieBound or visit your local bookstore. To connect with Jane online, visit her website at www.janeisay.com or follow her on Twitter at @janeisay.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****


Courtesy of Doubleday/Random House, we have ten copies of Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives to give away. Just enter the Rafflecopter form below to be entered in the drawing.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Good luck!

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36. Interview and Giveaway with Gretchen Archer, author of Double Dip

Even though she’s hard at work on the third book in her Davis Way Crime Capers mystery series, Double Strike, and promoting her second book Double Dip author Gretchen Archer found a few moments to give us some advice about writing a series. When she isn’t writing, Gretchen is a Tennessee housewife who lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son and a Yorkie named Bentley.

Double Dip


Series: A Davis Way Crime Caper
Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Henery Press; 1 edition (January 28, 2014
ISBN-10: 193838394X
ISBN-13: 978-1938383946

Summary:

It’s Davis Way’s first slot-tournament season. And it may be her last.

Things are dicey at work. A personal assistant goes missing, a little old lady goes on a suspicious winning streak, and a Bellissimo executive goes gaga for Davis. She follows a disappearing slot-tournament player trail to the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church in Beehive, Alabama, then jumps headlong into a high stakes holy scandal.

She’s on a losing streak at home, too. Her days, nights, and dinners run together, as Davis juggles a revolving door of uninvited guests, namely her rotten ex-ex-husband, Eddie Crawford. And Bradley Cole thinks three’s a crowd.

The worst? Davis doesn’t feel so hot. Maybe it’s the banana pudding, or maybe it’s a little bundle of something else.

Where to Find Gretchen:

http://gretchenarcher.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gretchen-Archer/477471242273441

@Gretchen_Archer

Interview:

-----by Jodi Webb

WOW: You've just released Double Dip, the second book in your Davis Way Crime Caper series, and are planning on a third book by the end of the year. Is it safe to say that this was conceived as a series or did you decide to turn it into one after the success of your first book Double Whammy?

Gretchen: The Davis Way Crime Capers were always meant to be a series. I’d turned in book two (Double Dip) before book one (Double Whammy) was released, then dove straight into three (Double Strike).

WOW: If a writer is planning (and hoping) that their book will eventually become a series, what do you think is one of the most important things to do when writing that first book to make expansion to a series a success?

Gretchen: Give your character somewhere to go. I started with Davis stepping off the bus—moving from a small town to the big city, an unfamiliar work environment, in a new relationship. I gave myself room for Davis to grow in every area of her life—personal, professional, private.

WOW: It's rare to read a mystery book these days that isn't part of a series. What is it about mystery books that makes them a natural for a series?

Gretchen: As story arcs go, fiction generally follows a path: we meet the characters (Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy), there’s rising action (they hate each other), there’s a climax (actually, he loves her), there’s waning action (she loves him too, and we knew she did), then a conclusion (happily ever after). Mysteries lend themselves to series because elements two, three, and four change every time, where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy can only meet and fall in love once. In a series the core characters become our friends, and we keep reading to see what happens to our friend next.

WOW: We all love revisiting characters as they jump into more adventures. But most of us will never be involved in one murder, not to mention dozens like some series characters. Do you plan to mix up Davis Way's adventures so she isn't always stumbling over dead bodies? Perhaps kidnapping or maybe an Ocean’s 11 heist of the casino's winnings?

Gretchen: Ah, the suspension of disbelief. Read on for all my secrets—right here, right now. I always want Davis to do more than stumble over dead bodies. My series will always feature a casino heist, with a dead body thrown in for flavor. In addition, Davis has been in jail and poisoned, so I write her diving headlong into the thick of it, not just a lucky or brilliant problem solver. Actually, Davis is neither lucky nor brilliant. A theme I’d like to tackle is a Bellissimo Casino Ocean’s 11-style heist during a hurricane. I’m in the middle of writing a kidnapping at this very minute, but you’ll have to read DOUBLE STRIKE to find out who and why.

WOW: As the writer of a series how will you keep it fresh, so readers never feel like they're reading the same book?

Gretchen: I hope Davis’s personal life and the ever-changing gambling world will keep readers coming back.

WOW: The main character in your Davis Way Crime Caper series is on the security team of a casino. So tell, was this a case of "write what you know"? Are you a gambler who knows all the ins and out of casinos? If not, what made you choose a casino as your series' "hook" and tell us about the research you did to get all the details correct.

Gretchen: I’ll attempt the short answer. Start the music if I go too long.

I’d never set foot in a casino until my husband took me to one for my fortieth birthday. I spent my birthday entertaining four teenagers and a baby in a stroller while he played blackjack. Happy 40th. To keep me from jumping off the roof, my husband handed me $200. He said, “Go to the casino. Have fun.” I won $8,000. By the end of the trip, I’d won $40,000. All on slot machines. Beginner’s luck? I don’t know. The crowd, their devotion, their tirelessness, their recklessness (with money), amazed me.

I did a little research. Every single American lives within a three-hour drive of a land-based casino. Total consumer spending at commercial casinos in 2012 was $37.34 billion. (American Gaming Association.) That’s a huge market to write to. Huge.

I’m no industry insider by any stretch of the imagination, which is why I needed Davis to be a novice gambler at the start of the series. We’ve learned together. I read a lot, go to casinos at least three or four times a year, and I have a great wingman, Deke Castleman, who lives and writes in Vegas, and who’s always available for questions like, “When do they empty the money out of the slot machines?” and “Where is the vault and who has access to it?” It helps that the Bellissimo Resort and Casino is fictional, allowing me to take terrible casino liberties.

WOW: On The Muffin we've often debated being a "pantser" writer vs a "planner" writer. How possible is it as a mystery writer to be a "pantser" and just follow wherever your characters lead? Doesn't there have to be some sort of plan? Do you start a book knowing exactly how it's going to go, who will be the criminal, who will be the red herring, the clues or can you just let it unfold?

Gretchen: I start with two well-planned elements: what will happen in Davis’s personal life and the casino scam to be featured. I guess that makes me a “planster”. I have a plan, but the plan could fit on a dinner napkin. I know writers who talk about their characters surprising them at every turn, and when I’ve written “pantser”, without fail, I’ve junked it. I know writers whose pre-manuscript notes run in the tens of thousands of words, but that isn’t me either. I suppose I’m on the fence, such a very uncomfortable position. As the Davis Way series grows, more and more I’m asked to provide thumbnails for future work, and I’ve been forced to be more efficient with my time, so more and more, I’m a “planner” writer.

WOW: How did you get started writing? What made you settle on mystery writing as your genre?

Gretchen: I still have my Nancy Drew collection from childhood. I’ve always loved mysteries, and mystery series specifically. Oddly enough, though, I wrote four stand-alone commercial fiction manuscripts before I started the Davis Way series. It wasn’t until I realized I might be writing what I knew, but not what I loved, that I was finally published.

Note to Gretchen's followers: Seems Gretchen's fans are eager to follow WOW on Facebook. You can find our Facebook page here.

Giveaway:

Thanks to Gretchen, one luck reader will win a copy of the first two books in the Davis Way Crime Caper series: Double Whammy and Double Dip. Just enter the Rafflecopter form below to be entered in the drawing.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. Right now she's looking for blogs to promote Theresa Walsh's novel The Moon Sisters and Sue William Silverman's memoir The Pat Boone Fan Club. You can contact her at [email protected]. For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb.

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37. Not Too Early to Think about Summer Writing Workshops

My mailbox has been filled with flyers and pamphlets for summer writing workshops!

Now is the time to consider which workshop you’d like to attend.

photo courtesy of anankkml
@ freedigitalphotos.net
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of summer writing workshops available, both in person and online.  But spots are limited at most summer conferences and workshops, so you'll want to apply as early as possible. The small class sizes allow workshop leaders to give each writer a lot of individual attention.

But the sooner you apply, the better your chances of getting in, and the better your chances of receiving a scholarship. Scholarships are awarded on the merit of your writing, on demonstrated financial need, or a combination of the two. In any case, writing workshops and conferences usually have early deadlines for these.

Check out New Pages’ website: it has the most comprehensive list of workshops and conferences I've seen. They’re organized by the state in which the conference is held.

I am encouraging ALL writers of any level to consider attending a writing workshop or conference. I have attended several, and although the format and purpose of each workshop/conference was very different, I learned so much about my writing, about the business of writing, and I networked with other writers, many of whom I’m still in touch with. But most importantly for me, I left each workshop rejuvenated, confident, and excited to be a writer.
my personal cabin at the Highlights Foundation workshop


Here is the short list of workshops/conferences I have attended within the past few years. I can vouch for the quality of these, and I am very happy to answer any questions you may have about them.


And this year I plan to apply for the Kenyon Review Novel Workshop.

Which summer writing conferences have you attended? Any you’d recommend?

P.S. Remember that there are plenty of online workshops/classes available (like WOW’s workshops!).

Written by Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor.

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38. Friday Speak Out!: The Odd Couple: Finding a Writing Partner, Guest Post by Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

My writing partner is my opposite. But I wouldn't trade her in for the world.

I didn't know I needed a writing partner when I first started writing professionally full time. I thought I needed to go it alone, learn from my own mistakes, and push myself hard. But after my first failed attempt at NaNoWriMo, and a big stack of rejections grew, I decided to try a new approach. I requested a writing mentor for my second NaNoWriMo attempt and my writing has never been better.

My writing partner takes her time before sending queries, I am the one who hits send immediately. She has changed my impulsive querying in a good way. She helps me read through the query before I send and find that last typo I've overlooked.

My writing partner doesn't believe anything. She is a doubter, but I am a believer. She makes me ask deeper questions as to why someone would want to read this article, what the real interest point is, who the real target audience is. pushes me to think queries through before sending.

My writing partner doesn't mind cutting out big sections during the editing process. I cling to my darlings. "Don't worry, you'll make more words," she says ruthlessly. So I edit and revise and in the end I'm happier with the result.

We meet once a week and report our successes and failures to each other. We bounce headline ideas and story arcs off each other. We share writing by others that we love and writing that we hate. We are becoming better writers because we support each other, but also because we don't write or think the same way. But there is one thing that we do share: a growing pile of acceptances.

* * *

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan is a writing mom on the run. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and three boys. Elizabeth is a professional writer and works with businesses and non-profits and has published three books available at her site http://www.onesweetwriter.com/store/. She volunteers with her local PTO, major road races, and advocates for gun safety. Elizabeth is a lifelong runner and amateur triathlete, a mediocre cook and devout coffee lover and blogs about trying it all at TryItandYouMay.com.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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39. Virtual Relationship Building

I’m pretty sure every business and marketing class I’ve ever taken had a little something to say about the importance of relationship building. Relationships have changed through the years, much in the same way brick and mortar businesses have. As businesses embrace social media for marketing, it is important to also embrace a new type of relationship building – Virtual Relationship Building.
Most of the people I work with (authors doing blog tours, business owners promoting products and services, local businesses advertising on social media, etc…) are people I’ve never met. I use three key elements to help make our relationship as meaningful as it would be if we were neighbors.

Put a Face with the Name. This may sound unusual, but I need to know what you look like and I want you to know what I look like. I have pictures of myself and my family on my website and I’ve taken special care to choose the right pictures. My photos tell you a little bit about me as a mother, wife, and business woman. There are pictures on my desk in my office. They are not pictures of my family and friends, they are pictures of the ladies and gentlemen I am working with. I was taught that eye contact is very important and I like to look at you when I type something … hopefully this technique makes my emails more meaningful to you as well. (When I’m typing a blog post or something to a group, I picture a conference room filled with the people from my audience).


Provide Extra Value. We all enjoy receiving more than we expect (ie: the package that offers 20% more, the Christmas Bonus at work, etc…). I like to provide this in a virtual relationship as well. Since I can’t exactly take each of you out for coffee, I have to be more creative. If you ask me to read and review your book, I’m likely going to do just that and then…I’m going to tell my friends about it, run a giveaway on my blog and buy a copy for a follower, or post the review on multiple sites instead of just the one you requested. I don’t do this expecting to receive anything in return, it’s just plain good businesses and it’s how I would want to be treated.

Make Time. If a friend calls, you wouldn’t hit ‘ignore’ on your smart phone unless you were doing something super important, would you? I’d even interrupt a mani/pedi for a friend…but might let it go to voicemail if I were at the Dr. Office. Similarly, just because an email comes through ‘after hours’ or late at night, I wouldn’t let it wait until morning. You want to let people know they are important. I could tell you you’re important, but the best way to let you know is to SHOW you. I show people they are important by answering emails promptly, being available for questions, and by setting and adhering to deadlines. Of course, I’m not perfect and things happen…and communication is key. If I can’t get it done when promised, I’ll let you know what happened and set a new goal.
Of course last but not least is communication and since that is key in every relationship (virtual or otherwise) I won’t go into it. However, I’d like to hear from you. What do you do to make your virtual relationships as extraordinary as possible? Tell us what you like and dislike about virtual relationships you’ve had in the past – comments are awesome – thanks!


Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, three young children (Carmen 6, Andre 5, Breccan 5 months), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

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40. Making a List, and Checking it Twice

I must confess, I have always been a list-maker. I make to-do lists. I make pro-con lists when trying to reach a decision. I make lists for goals, both long-term and short-term. I make numerous lists for trips: what to do, what to pack, what information to leave with the sitter, etc.

I learned early in my editing career the value of lists. Style sheets have long been a staple in copy editing (although the term now applies more frequently to web design and desktop publishing), but I also made other kinds of lists. I wrote out lists of trends I was seeing in various authors’ works. I identified frequently occurring errors, and made notes to myself about how best to address them. I also jotted down things that I should always look for, creating an “editing checklist” that I still use today. Most of it is committed to memory, but having it down on (virtual) paper helps me to avoid overlooking something simple.

But one area where I never thought about making lists was in my writing. Writing had always been more of an organic experience for me, so the idea of creating lists felt too rigid and forced, I suppose. I was list-making out the wazoo everywhere else in my life. But in my writing, it completely escaped my notice.

When I finally thought to apply list-making to my writing, more specifically to editing my own writing, I realized how much I’d been missing by not doing it sooner. I created lists for issues specific to a particular work (character lists, timelines of events, plot points, etc.), but I also started creating lists for more general issues. I’d applied my editor’s list-making skills to editing and critiquing clients’ writing, but not to my own.

It worked wonders. I was able to detect trends and habits in my own writing that had escaped my notice. I discovered that I was over-using certain filler words across the board and my penchant for adverbs often became even more pronounced during particularly intense scenes. I realized that just as lists had made me a stronger editor, they were slowly, but surely, making me a stronger writer too.

Not only did these lists help me to figure out what to look for when editing my own work, but they also started to bleed into my “writer’s” brain. I started to catch myself using filler words during the drafting stage and cutting it off at the pass. I started becoming more aware of my weaker writing tendencies, and I was able to develop better ones to replace them.

In the end, while I realize that list-making isn’t for everyone, I know that it’s helped me to become a better and more self-aware writer.

So, if I were to make a list of advice for fellow writers and self-editors, at the top of that list would definitely be to start making more lists.

***

Denise Long holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in English from the University of Illinois. She has been teaching college-level English courses since 2006, including literature courses and writing courses, ranging from English Composition to Professional and Technical Writing. She has been editing, in some capacity, since 1998, and she has edited many works of fiction and non-fiction and numerous academic articles, dissertations, and theses. Her scholarly work in American literature has been presented and published regionally in the Midwest, and her short fiction has been published in a handful of print and online publications.

Join her brand new class, Tips and Tools for Self-Editing. For  information and enrollment, click here.  Sign up now to reserve your spot!

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41. Virginia Winters, Runner up in our Summer 2013 Flash Fiction contest

Deadly deeds dance in this winner’s mind! Meet Virginia Winters, author of the Dangerous Journeys series and Summer 2013 contest runner up. Please take a moment to enjoy her tale of twisted love, Sunrise, and then come back to learn more about this delightful writer.

Virginia Winters is a writer living in Lindsay, Ontario. Now retired, she practiced Pediatrics for thirty-four years. She lives with her husband, retired internist, George, their standard poodle, Charlie and cat, Fred.
In 1998 she began writing her first novel, Murderous Roots, which was published in 2008 by Cambridge Books of Cambridge, Maryland. She is very grateful to Arline Chase for taking a chance on her.

Along the way, she wrote some short stories that found success first in local writing contests and later in other venues, such as Sentinel Literary Quarterly in London, England.

Her second novel, The Facepainter Murders, was published in 2010 and her third, No Motive for Murder, in 2012, both by Cambridge Books. Together, they comprise her Dangerous Journeys series with genealogist (and retired pediatrician) Anne McPhail. Other Anne adventures are posted on her Wattpad site.

Virginia loves to travel and the locales, such as Bermuda, show up as settings in her novels. Other interests are genealogy, gardening, photography and learning Italian (for those vacations).

Currently, she has one just finished in first draft and has just begun a fourth novel in her Dangerous Journeys series, called, at the moment The Spanish Connection.

She is excited to have placed in the top 10 in the WOW! Flash Fiction Contest, and grateful for the opportunity to talk about her work.

http://www.virginiawinters.ca
http://www.wattpad.com/mystories
http://ginny200.com
http://www.amazon.com/Virginia-Winters/e/B003TKTM2U
http://www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/shop/slq/ 


WOW: Hi Virginia, welcome to The Muffin!
Well, you got me! While visiting your websites I got side tracked reading Murderous Roots. I’m ready for the next book in the series now!

Virginia: Thanks so much. I hope you enjoy book 2, The Facepainter Murders. I'm working on book 4, which takes Anne to Spain.

WOW: Three published books and one in the works…Many people think that contests are only for novices. Tell us why you enter contests when you are already a published novelist?

Virginia: In most instances, contests aren't for novices at all, unless a particular contest is for unpublished authors. The ones I enter, such as yours, have a high standard and I enjoy the competition. Sometimes a contest will give feedback, useful in the revision process for a story that hasn't won or placed.

I was first published when I won a contest sponsored by a small press in North Bay, Ontario. I can't imagine being more thrilled than I was the day the email came. It encouraged me to write on as does every contest I win.

I have entered your contest in the past but this is the first time I have placed in the top ten. I was excited to place, not for the monetary prize but for the opportunity to be interviewed and to have my work appear on your site. Thank you very much for designing the contest, and your site, to offer so much value to women authors.

WOW: You’re welcome! We love helping other writers reach their goals; thank you for allowing us to be part of your journey.
Writing Sunrise must have been quite a bit different than working on your novels. What challenges you, or what do you enjoy, about flash fiction?

Virginia: The challenge in flash fiction is create a world in a few precise words and develop the story and the characters within: a polar opposite to the novel. I enjoy the clarity of a flash fiction piece both reading one and writing one. I write a flash piece in a burst of creativity, often finishing the first draft in a few minutes. Then comes the revision, searching for the correct word or image, but the bones exist from the first few moments. All much freer than the novel-writing process.

WOW: We often talk about pacing and keeping our reader’s attention; what advice can you offer for keeping tension alive in a murder mystery?

Virginia: Always leave a scene or a chapter with a question for the reader. What is going to happen to the protagonist? If I'm using a third person point-of-view, I shift to another character in a different location, leaving the reader to worry for a short while about the outcome. Never be kind to the reader or the character. Both have to be uncomfortable at the end of a chapter, encouraging the reader to turn the page. Recently a reader called me to say the latest Dangerous Journey novel, No Motive for Murder, had kept her up most of the night. That's what I want to accomplish.

WOW: Good advice!
For many of us, finishing that first manuscript is an exercise in personal growth; what did you learn about yourself while writing your first novel?

Virginia: One day I picked up a novel by a writer I had enjoyed, only to be so disappointed I thought I could do just as well. But I couldn't of course. I wrote the first book in long-hand, in one of those cloth-covered journals people gave young women in the eighties, with no thought to proper formatting of the dialogue or knowledge of the overall structure of a novel. I gave the manuscript to a friend who taught at a local community college. He said the book was unreadable. So the first lesson was humility. It is no easy thing to write a book.

The second lesson was persistence. I rewrote and revised and then a journalist of my acquaintance, after reading it, told me I needed to learn to compose on the computer. He also had some kind words about the book itself.

The third lesson was that rejection hurts and the committed writer should use it to make the writing better.

It came down to this: I was a writer, but I had more to learn.

WOW: And you kept at it! Ten years plugging away on your first novel; how did you keep your interest in that first story alive?

Virginia: I'm stubborn and goal-oriented and don't like to fail. It was a slow process. I didn't know how to write although I had a story I wanted to tell. Studying the craft and using what I learned to revise the book helped keep my interest high. I also wrote some short stories about Anne that I posted on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/home). Giving Anne a life beyond the book helped keep my interest high.

WOW: I’m glad you stayed with it; I’ve enjoyed reading your stories.
Thank you for visiting with us today and for sharing your writerly insights. We hope to see more flash fiction entries from you in our future contests.

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42. Taking Stock of A Writing Career

WINTER! (Lone Elk County Park, MO)*
I recently had a mid-writer crisis. (Kind of like a mid-life crisis). I was invited to speak at an event with some rather well-known and popular St. Louis children's authors at the beautiful public library in downtown St. Louis in the dead of winter. The night we were supposed to speak and sign books to our adoring fans, the schools were closed and the temps were under 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, there were more authors than audience members, but for me, that turned out to be a positive thing.

We changed the format and sat around in a circle, discussing our careers, our current projects, our brand, our agents--wait, wait, no agent for me, no current book under contract--I don't have a brand either. And as I sat there listening and discussing, a question kept plaguing me: Margo, what are you doing? What are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING????

I took stock of how I spend the very limited time that I have to work each day (since I must also sleep and raise my family), and I soon realized (before I even got my mittens on and my scarf around my neck that night) that I needed to reassess my goals, how I spend my work time, and what I wanted from my career. On the drive home from the library, I did just that. It turns out that when writers who live in your same city and are at events with you,fulfilling their career goals, and you are not--it's very motivating. (Okay, a little depressing at first, but soon enough, motivation kicks in.)

So, now I have to make some changes. I have to write some difficult e-mails to quit some jobs and turn down some opportunities that just don't fit with what I want--which is to be a full-time children's author, writing instructor, and editor--with an emphasis on the author part. I want an agent. I want books under contract. I want readers to impatiently wait for another one of my books to come out.

I have to re-do my blog and website. I have to find new ways to engage readers and promote myself while also sharing the wonderful work of fellow authors that I love.

It's a few weeks after that career-changing night, and I still have that passion to get my career going stirring in my belly. I have typed up my goals, shared them with my writing group, and posted them on the refrigerator. I have made notes in my calendar about when each one has to be finished.

I'm excited about what's ahead, and I know with a refocus and new purpose, my career is going to go places. But it's still hard to look back and miss some of those activities/jobs that no longer fit with what I want out of my writing career.

How about you? Have you ever had to make decisions like these? Share with us! 

*Photo above by Joe Kopp; find out more at Joe Kopp Art: http://www.joekoppart.com

Margo Dill is excited to announce her second novel, a young adult light paranormal,Caught Between Two Curses, will be out in March 2014 from Rocking Horse Publishing. She teaches writing classes for WOW! in children's and YA novels and short fiction, and novel writing in general for all ages of readers. To find out more, go to http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/WOWclasses.html

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43. Character: Using Their Fears to Torment Them

I know you’ve read it before – today, editors and agents want character driven stories. With that in mind, we spend hours and hours creating inviting, engaging, three dimensional characters.

With all that time spent together in mind, is it any wonder than that we tend to fall a little bit in love? Once that happens we tend to go easy on our characters instead of tormenting them which is what we have to do to make things interesting.

Fortunately, Elizabeth Wein is willing to torment her characters with great abandon in Code Name Verity.

WARNING: FROM THIS POINT ON, THIS POST IS ONE ENORMOUS SPOILER.

At the center of Wein’s story are two girls – Maddie and Julie. Maddie is a British pilot whose grandfather is a shopkeeper. Julie is an upper class, a wireless operator, educated in Switzerland. Without the war, they wouldn’t have met and become best friends, but it also the war that tears them apart.

The setting, war ravaged Britain, is enough to make their lives difficult, but it isn’t enough for Wein. She takes what the girls most dread and uses it against them. to make their lives worse.
Early in their friendship, they discuss their fear of having to kill someone. Although neither of is a soldier, the roles they play aid soldiers in getting to battle.

Now you have a war time setting and two characters working with the military who openly fear taking a human life. Things have gotten worse for these two characters, but, for Wein, not bad enough.
During an air raid, the girls run past an antiaircraft gun. The soldiers manning it lay dead or dying. To defend the field, the girls must shoot men out of the sky.

Wein set this up masterfully. She could have had them afraid of spiders or storms, but she picked something she could work deeply into the story. At this point, you shouldn’t be surprised that Wein makes things even worse.

When the girls’ plane crash lands in occupied France, Julie is captured and tortured. Maggie works with the French Underground to rescue Julie and other captives slated for use in medical experiments. Not only does the rescue fail, but Julie demands the only rescue in sight. She calls out for Maddie to shoot her.

Maddie can let her friend be tortured or she can pull the trigger. How is that for taking things from bad to worse?

Take a look at your own story. What does your character fear? Do you use these things to make her life unbearable? If you don’t, you may be missing the opportunity to write a story with stakes that pull the reader in and refuse to let go.

--SueBE

Author Sue Bradford Edwards has been writing from home since her son was a new born. Yes, that means when he was a toddler, too. She blogs at One Writer's Journey.

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44. Using the Calendar to Generate Ideas

I love calendars. Ok, it's more of an 'I like' calendars thing. When those little middle-of-the-mall calendar places pop up in mid-October, it's one of my favorite stops. As I peruse the various calendar options - The Writer's Calendar, Book Lover's Calendar, LOLCat Calendar - all the while, my husband is questioning what I am doing.

"Research, dear," I say. "Research."

You'd be amazed at the wealth of information you find. I've been known to purchase one or two - oh, who am I kidding - more like eight or nine calendars to mine for story ideas. These yearly date books are filled with possiblities for newspaper or magazine articles, poems, and short stories.

Today, for instance, is John Grisham's birthday. I discovered that gem of wisdom in the Ulitmate Literary Calendar. Can I spin it into an article? A blog post? A book review?

Or consider this (also from the Ultimate Literary Calendar): On February 3, Arkansas passes a motion to pray for the soul of noted sinner H.L. Mencken in 1931. What about an article about strange laws or a short story based on the situation that led up to the passge of said law.

I'm a foodie so I use a food facts calendar to find possible ideas. Today is National Molasses Bar Day. What about a short fob about the benefits of using molasses in place of sugar? Today kicks of Great American Pizza Bake. Think of all the pizza-related possibilities! I put together a photo essay of pizza places in the area for the local newspaper I edit.

Ideas are everywhere and a calendar is just one more tool to use to generate ideas.

And tomorrow is . . .

by LuAnn Schindler

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45. Friday Speak Out!: Writing With Family - All of Them, Guest Post by C. Hope Clark

Blogs and forums abound with discussions from mommy writers about how to address the urchins that run around interfering with our journeys toward bestseller-dom. Of course we love the brats. No questioning that at all. Like kittens, they’re cute and can’t help themselves. We write around them, knowing one day they’ll grow up and allow us more time to create.

But what do you do when they are in their twenties and still in the way? And what about parents? Sisters, uncles and cousins? Once you publish a book or two, invariably your predecessors, successors, as well as those on the odd bent branches of the family tree, get in your way. And they are not as forgivable as kittens.

When I released Lowcountry Bribe, the first in my Carolina Slade Mystery Series, family and friends devoured the book, pointing out which character was which relation, enjoying the inside joke they thought they knew. (Except for my mother, who ordered me never to write about her.) My son asked why I made him a girl. The assumption was I had to be the protagonist and my husband the romantic interest. They pointed out “errors” in the story, telling me my children were never kidnapped, so why put that in the book? I developed a list of one-liners in response to these reactions, the main one being, “It’s fiction, people. That means pretend.” They’d roll their eyes as if they knew better.

When Tidewater Murder came out a year later, they quizzically scratched their heads. “Who is this?” they’d ask. “When did this happen?” Only one new character went into that book with a slight resemblance to a dear friend, a friend who’d challenged me to include him. The story was the purest fiction I’d ever written. “What?” they asked. “What fun is that?” “You sure this isn’t (FILL IN BLANK) from Mississippi?”

The public, and therefore our relatives, think every tale of fiction is rooted in reality, and some instances probably are. We use our experiences as catalysts. But we avoid the use of clones, resumes, and biographies taken from our family tree for obvious reasons . . . hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and the potential for misrepresentation. But what is it about family fearing they are, yet wanting to be, subjects in a book?

Maybe it’s that desire for the proverbial 15-minutes of fame. Maybe it’s a way of feeling honored by being blood-kin to a famous author (tongue-in-cheek there). Maybe they can’t let loose of reality to spin fable, and don’t understand those who do.

Palmetto Poison is Slade’s third story, and this time she is full-bore investigating the most complex case of her life. Enter her boyfriend, his ex-wife (also an agent), his sister, Slade’s sister, kids, and a complete family feuding cornucopia of families she investigates for murder, drugs, and political favors.

My family won’t know what hit them.

* * *
C. Hope Clark is editor of FundsforWriters.com, reaching 45,000 readers each Friday with her online newsletters. The website has been chosen by Writer's Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 13 years. But Hope's personal bucket list included publishing mystery fiction. She's the author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, with the third, Palmetto Poison, just released through Bell Bridge Books. Available wherever books are sold. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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46. Hitting the Page with a Hybrid Process


A mosaic of my daily notebook and notes
for my current WIP. I'm using a mixed
approach to get the novel going.
Photo credit | EKHumphrey

In my school days, I nearly always used sentence outlines when writing academic papers. Last year, after reading Karen Wiesner’s books, I started outlining my fiction. But then I ended up spending much of last year writing nonfiction. I’m still not terribly adept at outlining my fiction, so I am using a hybrid method for my current work-in-progress.

Because I’m producing pages for a writers’ group, I’m spending time writing freely—without an outline—to let my characters reveal themselves to me. I’m using the basics of fiction—POV or dialogue, for example—and writing small snippets (mini-scenes almost) in each of those areas to find my characters’ voices.

I’m taking this approach because when I went to start an outline sketch of my protagonist, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted her to be doing or her backstory. Wiesner mentions keeping my creativity “brewing” in the background—I agree. For this novel, I needed to spend more time with my characters percolating before pulling them into an outline. (Perhaps because it is my first fiction project since mid-2013?)

With this current project, I didn’t know what I wanted my protagonist to look like. I knew that many of her activities would be familiar to me because they are the ones I want to establish some specific conflicts within the novel. But she wasn’t coming alive and fully formed to me through the outlining process. Sure, I pinpointed some of her characteristics, but she needed to reveal herself and her fictional friends to me. I don’t know about you, but more often than not, that happens to me when I step back and let my writing take over. Or when I’m stuck.

Now that I’m a couple chapters in, I’m pulling myself out of the narrative to flesh out more of the characters’ stories and characteristics. I’m utilizing Wiesner’s book, but I’m also relying on my own internal compass.

I used an outline for the gluten-free book to keep focused on the areas I needed to cover. The basic outline helped me to thread the needles I laid out for myself. Also, checking off sections as I wrote them and working on a publisher’s deadline helped direct and motivate me. By creating the small snippets, I’m able to borrow those and slot them into the narrative, my outline...and my novel. If they fit, great. If not, I may massage the snippet into place.

Working in this hybrid fashion, I realize how my approach provides me with a feeling of some control and goals as well as letting my creativity and spontaneity loose.

My groaning bookshelves let me know that I’m not unique in figuring out how to plot a course through a novel. But this is a method that, for right now, feels organic and productive to me.

What have you learned that has helped you chart your course through completing a piece of writing? What have you learned—and then tweaked to suit a particular project? What’s working for you right now?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She’s getting back to writing after four days of school closures due to freakish ice masquerading as snow.

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47. And They Called It Manuscript Love

I’m working on a new manuscript—a picture book—and when I wrote the story, all 400 words of it, I was beside myself. Dang, I thought, isn’t this story just about the cutest picture book ever? I mean, I absolutely fell in love with this brand-spanking new manuscript, and I could not wait to show it off!

Which is pretty much exactly how I felt when my brand-spanking new puppy arrived. I saw those tiny little paws and the precious little whiskers and the adorable wagging tail, and I was totally smitten. I failed to notice a couple other things. Like the tiny little claws on the paws and the exceedingly sharp teeth beneath the precious whiskers and the not so adorable accidents from the wagging tail vicinity.

I suspect that the astute writer will see where I’m going here. To wit, as cute as my picture book story was, I might have overlooked a couple things in my first moments of manuscript love.

Did I have a conflict? Was my main character walking on to stage first? Had I established the tone from the beginning? Did I have a great hook?

And I was just warming up. I also needed to consider word choice, word count, themes and titles. Research of other picture books, similar titles, and similar concepts, too. Oh! And the color-coded system that identifies all sorts of elements! I hadn’t even broken out the first highlighter.

You see, whether I literally check off my Things To Do list or mentally check the list as I proofread, there is a process I put my work through before submitting. It’s all about sending out my best work. But this picture book—oh, it was different! I loved this picture book—it was such a cute story—and I was in a hurry to get this story going!

As I cleaned up my puppy’s latest accident, I realized that it would be a while before she was trained well enough to go out in the world, visiting friends and family. I needed more time to instill a little doggie discipline so that people would love her just as much as I do.

That, ironically, was the moment when I knew that as much as I loved my latest picture book story, it needed work before I sent it out into the world. And I wondered how many times writers fall in love with a story and rush to get a manuscript out before it’s ready. And then feel miserable when no one else (like our critique group or an agent or editor) loves the story like we do.

So I’ll rein in this love affair with my picture book and get out those highlighters. And the next time you’re tempted to dash off your words, take a moment to ask if the work is really ready. After all, love is patient, whether applied to writing—or puppies.

~Cathy C. Hall

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48. Try Something New


Want to try a new type of writing but find yourself sticking to your old familiar genres? Get out of your writing rut by trying a writing contest! Having that deadline looming (not to mention the promise of a possible prize) can give you the extra boost of encouragement to try something new. Here a few contests that may help you try something new:

Inspiration Travel Writing Contest

Deadline: Feb. 14
Awards: $1000, $500, $250
Entry Fee: $0
Details: Write about a place that inspires you to spend your time wisely with no regrets. Up to 5 entries of 500 -800 words and one photo.

Three Cheers and a Tiger Mystery Writing Contest

Deadline: March 24
http://forums.toasted-cheese.com/viewforum.php?f=4
Awards: Publication at Toasted Cheese Journal for three winner
Entry Fee: $0
Details: This is a weekend contest where the topic and word range are announced March 21 at 5 p.m. at the Just the Place for a Snark forum

How I Met Your Father

Deadline: March 31
Entry Fee: $0
Details: 750 to 1500 words. If you don’t have children, you can use How My Mother Met My Father

Zero Bone Poetry Prize Contest

Deadline: February 28
Entry Fee: $0
Details: 3 poems of up to 40 lines each





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49. The Importance of Constructive Criticism

Revisions will always have their ups and downs.

Have you ever picked up a book and been completely hooked by the first page, even the first paragraph? Here are a few examples of first pages that have hooked me in the past few months:

“The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust . . . I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.” From Paper Towns by John Green

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something so lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. I’d know her head anywhere.” From Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read numerous articles and blog posts about great openings. You may have even listened to authors, editors and agents talk about it in workshops and conferences. I know I’ve talked about it here before. With that being said, I still think we sometimes get so wrapped up in our own writing (the plot, the character development, etc.) that we forget the importance of a great opening. Especially if, like me, you’re still trying to find your place in the world of writing fiction.

This past week, I sent out a few queries for my middle-grade novel. When I saw a response pop up in my inbox from one of the agents an hour later, I inwardly groaned to myself, thinking, “here we go.” But I was pleasantly surprised with what the intern who read my opening pages had to say when explaining why they had decided to pass on my submission. She wrote “It seems like you start the manuscript too far before the actual story (i.e., where things get interesting) starts.” Considering an editor at another publishing house also told me that “This is a fascinating premise . . . but in the end I’m afraid I’m just not drawn to [the main character’s] voice enough to take on this project,” I had an important epiphany.

First of all, I am thrilled that two industry professionals actually took the time to read my submission and tell me why it didn’t grab them. I realized that it is time for me to stop sending out queries and go back to my story. My opening pages aren’t hooking anyone, but I know there are parts later in the book that will. It’s time to figure out how to move the action from the middle of the book way forward and stop spinning my wheels.

I’d love to hear your experiences with opening pages of your writing projects. How do you make sure you wow your readers with the opening page? Have you ever realized you were burying the best part of your story in the second half of your book or article?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also blogs at Renee's Pages.

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50. Review & Interview with Jennifer Snow - Author of The Trouble with Mistletoe

Book Review: The Trouble with Mistletoe
By Jennifer Snow

What’s not to love about a reunion and the possibility of a little romance?  Luke and Victoria were engaged twelve years earlier and they find themselves reunited during the most romantic time of the year. Jennifer Snow delivers a charming and heart-warming story you’ll enjoy over the holidays or any time! The Trouble with Mistletoe is set in a charming small town and this really added to the allure for me (yes…I’m a small town girl). The push and pull style attraction will speak to anyone who has felt themselves falling and tried to talk their heart out of the inevitable. Victoria and Luke are stubborn and it’s entertaining to add that dynamic to the rekindled romance. Thank goodness friends and family are there to push the relationship in the right direction!

The Trouble with Mistletoe is the first book of Snow’s I’ve read. I was certainly not disappointed. The characters are well written. The soul searching theme about deciding what really matters has the makings of a Hallmark Holiday Movie. This is a heartwarming story full of detail. Snow has a knack for ensuring just the right amount of details in her writing. I didn’t find myself thinking ‘so what if the wallpaper is faded’ and similarly I wasn’t asking ‘I wonder what that looks like’. Snow does a fabulous job giving the right specifics leaving precisely enough to each reader’s imagination.

This is a quick read. Snow writes in such a way you don’t want to put down The Trouble with Mistletoe. Putting it down is something like going for popcorn in the middle of a movie instead of before it starts. You don’t want to miss anything and can’t wait to find out what happens next. If you happen to be traveling during the holidays and are looking for an entertaining and heartwarming read The Trouble with Mistletoe should definitely be in your carry-on bag or purse. In fact, this might be just what you need even in the heat of summer, to bring back those mistletoe memories! Whenever you pick up The Trouble with Mistletoe I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Print Length: 177 Pages
Publisher: Harlequin Heartwarming (November 1, 2013)
ASIN: B00D4MWFM2

The Trouble with Mistletoe is available as a print and e-book at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Harlequin.com.

Book Description:
You can't say no to a mistletoe kiss, no matter who's under it!

Since leaving Brookhollow and her fiancé, Luke Dawson, twelve years earlier, Victoria Mason hasn't looked back. She's traded the small-town dream of marriage, kids and family Christmas dinners for late nights working at a high-powered acquisitions firm, lunches at trendy New York restaurants and jet-set vacations on the slopes.

So her latest work assignment, to acquire Brookhollow's sporting-goods store, poses a challenge for Victoria, in more ways than one. Because it's almost Christmas, and she's got other holiday plans. And the owner is reluctant to sell. And the owner is Luke. She needs to wrap up the deal before she gets caught up in her old life and her old love…or becomes trapped under the mistletoe. Again.

Interview:
-----Interview by Crystal J. Otto

WOW:  Jennifer, what draws you to writing a holiday themed book and what tips would you give other authors who might be considering this type of project?


Jennifer: Holiday themed romances have always been my favorite books to read. There's something magical and romantic about the holiday season that makes it a perfect setting for these love stories. The holidays are usually also about going home, reminiscing about the past, connecting with family and friends, or fighting the loneliness that can accompany the season therefore it lends itself to some very interesting plot lines as well. I also enjoy writing them because they usually have a set timeline-starting usually around Thanksgiving or later and ending on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day or sometimes New Years and they also provide a standard backdrop setting behind the story.  One tip I would give authors considering this type of project is to try to write a story that could have happened at any time of the year and use the element of the holiday season as an added sense of urgency in your plot. I find that my books continue to sell throughout the year because of this.

WOW:  I love that tip about adding the element of the season to an already solid storyline. Thank you for sharing that!
Now, if I might ask – when did you start writing and why?

Jennifer: I started writing at age four, after my mom taught me to read and write. I always had a pencil or pen in my hand for as long as I could remember. Growing up, my room was always a mess of clothes everywhere as I preferred to use my dresser as a place to store my journals and notebooks-the important stuff:) My mom is a fantastic writer, so I guess my love of writing comes from her. Despite graduating from university with a degree in Linguistics and Psychology, I never really aspired to be anything but a writer. I think to be successful in this industry; you really can't have a Plan B option. Don't get me wrong, I've always worked a day job until very recently, because we all have to pay the bills, but for me, writing has never taken a back seat to any other career choice. I read a quote somewhere once that said something to the effect that-if you don't have to be a writer-don't. But if you try to do other things, and you keep coming back to writing, then you are a writer.

WOW:  I’m a little jealous when you say writing has never taken a back seat; this is certainly something many of us struggle with.

When I wrote my review I couldn’t help but think “this would SO be a great Hallmark Holiday Movie!”, so I have to ask if any of your books have been turned into movies. If they haven’t already, which one do you feel would be the best one to see on the big screen and who would play the leading man?

Jennifer: Not yet, but I can always dream:) My husband says that my shorter holiday novellas would be perfect for that show--Love Bites lol. But, I would love for the Hallmark channel to turn The Trouble with Mistletoe into one of their televised holiday movies--that to me would be the ultimate sign of success.  Ah, the leading man-Luke Dawson...Writing him, I had an image of Josh Holloway in mind (not the long haired, tortured Sawyer character from Lost, but a clean cut, clean shaven, happy Josh Holloway) because Luke was playful and teasing, yet sexy and strong. Of course if it ever does happen and Josh Holloway agrees to play the lead, I will cast myself in the role of Victoria Mason. :)

WOW:  I won’t ask how your husband feels about your casting choices – after all, a girl can dream, right?

What’s in the works for you for 2014 and beyond Jennifer?

Jennifer: 2014 is a fantastic, busy year for me. I have three Brookhollow Series books set to be released from Heartwarming in Feb (today actually-yay!), Sept and Nov and I am currently working on another three book series set in Hollywood that I am hoping to start pitching to publishers this Fall. And the final two books of the Brookhollow series, which are already under contract with Heartwarming will release in 2015. My hope is to always have at least one holiday release a year, as they continue to be my favorite to write. And I am open to whatever else may come my way!

WOW:  I don’t know where you find the time – but I sure appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by here on the Muffin to chat. Now before you run off to release that series, let’s hear what advice you can share with other authors as far as getting their stories published and marketing their books!

Jennifer: Just keep trying! Take each rejection letter and use the advice to make your work stronger, more polished...I started submitting to publishers when I was sixteen years old and thought I knew everything about writing lol. Turns out, I knew very little, but I was determined to make it happen, so I pushed on reading every reference book I could get my hands on and just not accepting 'no' as a final answer to my dream. My mom always said growing up that 'if you want something bad enough, you'll get it' and it's true. I wholeheartedly believe that determination, hard work and perserverance will win over talent and skill everytime. Of course if you have all of those things you're headed to the New York Times Bestseller list for sure lol:) And don't be too quick to give up on a manuscript--it only takes one awesome agent (like Stephany Evans) or a fabulous editor (like Victoria Curran) to believe in you and your work and promising things will start to happen.

As far as marketing your work--honestly I've tried it all--swag, street team, blog hops, decals on my truck, participating in author events locally and at conferences, the use of social media and the help of a virtual assistant and really it's hard to determine what works, so all I can suggest is to try it all and do whatever feels most natural for you. In the end, I think a good book is the best marketing tool.

Thanks again for hosting me on your wonderful site!

WOW:  Jennifer, Thank YOU! This has been such a pleasure and I can't wait to start reading your newest release(s)!


Where to find Jennifer Snow:
Web Pages:
www.jennifersnowbooks.com


Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, three young children (Carmen 6, Andre 5, Breccan 4 months), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

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