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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

 

Interview with Lisa Bodenheim: 2018 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Lisa’s Bio:
Lisa Bodenheim, a native of Minnesota, always thought she'd be a romance writer. But after a 10-day study journey to Chiapas, Mexico, her first book was Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas, published by Wild Goose Publications. Over the past few years, she has studied the craft of writing through blogs, has entered several 100-word flash fiction contests (snagging a few mentions but no wins), and in 2018, attended a weekend workshop at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She is now at work on a novel, searching for plot holes and getting to know the characters more in depth. Learn more at her website www.lisabodenheim.com.

If you haven't done so already, check out Lisa's award-winning story "The Oak and the Boomerang Daughter" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Lisa: I enjoyed juxtaposing my interest (and research) about oak savannas and fire ecology—and using an oak tree point-of-view—with the reality of the millennial generation—the boomerang daughter with a huge college debt, who lives with her mama, the two of them forging a new adult relationship.

WOW: Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Lisa: I entered this story in another contest with a different agency a few years ago and saved that version. When I brought it up again to work on it for WOW, I cringed a bit at some of my grammar. For example, the story was abundantly filled with ing verbs. Patience and time, reading published stories and having critique partners is definitely helpful to get fresh eyes on my writing projects so I can tell the story better.

WOW: I love to hear that you persisted and didn’t give up on your story! Can you tell us more about the novel you’re writing? What method(s) do you use to get to know your characters in more depth?

Lisa: It’s a braided story with two protagonists—a young millennial woman whose extended family polarizes over the censor on her cousin who was attacked and an East Prussian woman caring for her teen brother and baby niece on the eve of WWII. The focus is on the effect of violence, particularly in the form of societal censors, and how silencing voices can fragment families and communities.

Through my critique partners, I’ve learned that I’m not good at getting emotional reactions of my characters on the page of my first drafts.

Somewhere in my studies on the craft of writing, I read about Motivation Reaction Units. To study MRUs, I’ve used Randy Ingermanson’s (the Snowflake Guy) blog, Advanced Fiction Writer, and KM Weiland’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors. Hopefully, using this method to burrow into my characters' heads will help me bring out more emotions and subtext.

WOW: Intriguing summary and great resources! Thank you for sharing those with us. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Lisa: Well-Read Black Girl, edited by Glory Edim, founder of the organization by the same name. I’m a white woman who grew up in a small all-white community. Yet now I work and live in communities with diverse people of color. There's so much I need to learn because I don’t know what it means to walk in the shoes of a black person. I can only guess and intellectualize and empathize. I want to depict diverse cultures in my stories without harmful stereotypes, doing my small part to envision communities of hope and laughter, joy and justice.

WOW: Not an easy task, but a very worthy goal. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Lisa: Persist. Write down your ideas. There are stories all around us.

WOW: Great advice! Anything else you’d like to add?

Lisa: Thank you for this opportunity to polish my short story and enter WOW’s contest! The ability to get feedback and reading through the winner’s lists have been great.

WOW: You are very welcome! Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

 

Writing Prompts - Forge On

Writing prompts can sometimes assist us with moving forward or overcoming writers block. A recent
piece of middle school homework came home with the following definition of a writing prompt:

"The purpose of a writing prompt is to invite students to think about, develop a perspective about and write about a topic. A writing prompt introduces and focuses the writing topic. If also provides clear information or instructions about the essay writing task."

When I am blocked with my writing or feel my writing is blocked, sometimes it's because I have so many ideas and I can't choose which one. I feel my head is spinning. Other times I have a feeling but cannot put it to words. In either scenario, using a writing prompt can help me refocus and forge on.

Writing prompts can also help when I'm working on a large project and need a short break. Using a writing prompt to put together a short flash fiction piece allows me a vacation while still working on my craft. Similarly, if I'm having a bad day and I don't want to write much in my journal, I start with a writing prompt and go from there. There's many short (never published) essays in each of my journals - they can be very therapeutic as well. (adult coloring books offer the same vacation mentality, but that's another article)

I've also heard that some large published works once began as a short writing prompt. I've never experienced this personally, but some authors suggest writing prompts may provide the inspiration for larger works.

Where do you find the best writing prompts? How have writing prompts helped you in your craft? What ideas and suggestions do you have for others?

We love to hear from you!

Hugs,
~Crystal

Crystal  lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children (Carmen 12, Andre 10, Breccan 5, Delphine 4, and baby Eudora who somehow turned 1 not long ago), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

 

Writing Nonfiction: 5 Tips to Help Readers Enter Your Nonfiction World

Each time I turn in a nonfiction project, I think I’ve nailed it. Certainly after 20 books, I should have tiny clue. But still I find myself working through the rewrite using my editor’s comments to clarify and smooth the way for my reader. Helping them enter the nonfiction world I’ve chosen to recreate is always tricky.

Here are 5 tips to help make the task a bit easier:

1. Set the Hook. Whether I am writing about The Ancient Maya or The Evolution of Reptiles, I have to hook my reader and hook them fast. The young adults who read my books have way too many demands on their time to read 30 pages before they decide if they are willing to keep reading. I have to hook them and hook them fast which I often do with the help of a creative nonfiction scene. The Ancient Maya opens with a game on a ball court and The Evolution of Reptiles with the discovery of a vital fossil.
2. Bring The Reader Up to Speed. Once I’ve hooked my reader, I need to bring them up to speed. What information do they need to understand the topic? The creative nonfiction scene may be my hook but I have to follow this with the details readers need to comprehend the topic. In The Ancient Maya I wrote about their rise from farming villages to city states. In The Evolution of Reptiles I wrote about evolution, what exactly a reptile is and taxonomic classifications. But I still have to be certain that I gradually dole the information out…
3. Bite by Bite. Too much information too fast will overwhelm my readers. If I do that, they’ll give up on the book and move on to something less confusing. To prevent this, I need to give them new information a bit at a time. This is true whether the information takes the form of dates, names, or terms.
4. Acknowledge Your Expertise. To introduce information bite by bite, I have to understand just how much of this is familiar to me but new to my reader. Not surprisingly, when my editor sends me a list of potential topics, I generally pick things that interest me. I’ve been interested in ancient people and all kinds of animals since before I could read. This means that things that I consider common knowledge probably aren’t. Last but not least, I need to look for ways to make connections when I . . .
5. Wrap It Up. This is one of the hardest parts of the job for me. I have to reiterate for my reader why the topic is important. This can be tough when it is a topic that fascinated me. After all, just say Inca, Aztec or Maya and you have my attention. My readers? Some of them probably share my fascination, but most will need a reason to care. Recent research shows that Mayan civilization may have collapsed due to climate change.

Writing nonfiction means making a variety of real places and times accessible to your reader. These tips will help you make your nonfiction world real, easy to enter, and meaningful to your reader.

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins May 20th, 2019.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

 

Once in a Blue Moon Writing Comes Easily


It's rare, but on occasion, I will write something that clicks in such a way, I'll wonder why I'm not able to recreate the experience every time I write. This happened to me recently thanks to a writing prompt and I can probably count on one hand the number of times this has happened to me.

The other time that I can remember I was on the bus going home from work and a poem came to me. It came from such an honest and raw place that when I was done, it felt so complete and finished. I knew deep down little would need to be changed in the editing process. Unfortunately, that poem lives in a cell phone that I accidentally dunked in water and is no longer accessible. I still think about that poem though.

Why is it that our acts of writing feel beautifully easy in some moments and back-breaking work other times? Am I the only one that feels that contrast? Sometimes I feel like the dazzling experience of writing with ease happens as a result of one simple thing - practice. It comes from the discipline of sitting down to write when it's unbelievably painful. It comes through returning to the revising process even when you've come to hate the sight of that piece of writing. It comes through submitting your writing despite the self-doubt ringing in your ear. These intentional acts of discipline produce those moments where everything clicks and writing is as easy as riding a bike.

The next time writing is painful, keep at it. Because every so often, you'll have an experience where you no longer bleed at the keyboard but soar.


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Friday, April 19, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: Overcoming New Notebook Anxiety

by Diane DeMasi Johnson

I crack open a new special notebook. It’s large and its pages are smooth. It’s beautiful, it inspires me to write, but I can’t write just any notion, wayward thought, filler fluff, or other banality.

I can write only deep, meaningful, magnificent, literary stories, memories, and life-altering insights. And I must not make one mistake or use anything but my best penmanship.

Could I ever fill a notebook of this size with only glorious writing and impactful thoughts? How long would that take: A year, two years, or a lifetime? What if I couldn’t even fill it in a lifetime?

So I slip the notebook on a shelf reserved for all the beautiful journals that bring me joy and I stare at them, waiting for inspiration so powerful that it’s worthy to grace the pages.

Instead of overwhelming inspiration, I get a hefty dose of guilt. I spent good money; I shouldn’t let it go to waste. And failure – clearly I have no thoughts worthy enough for these pages and I don’t have enough talent to bubble up a conviction that will be remembered forever.

I pull out the cheap composition notebooks bought during back-to-school sales. I scrawl all the mundane tasks running through my brain: Eat breakfast, shower, oh good-grief – clean the shower. I write about nothing. Truly, nothing: I have nothing to say, but I need to finish this page, what thoughts do I have? Nothing. I have nothing, nada, zilch, zip, zero. I am nothing.

And then I reach for the beautiful notebook, in the perfect size, with the perfect leather cover, and the smooth, fountain pen-friendly pages and I scratch, scribble, and scrawl about nothing. I feel better. I feel joy. I feel like a writer whose nothing is worth something. My scribbles and scrawls unburden my soul and release the seeds that produce articles, essays, blogs, short stories and more. And that unburdening is worth gracing the finest of all notebook pages.

* * *
Diane DeMasi Johnson challenges herself by trying her hand at any and all writing styles from web content to business catalog copy, from short stories to novels, from essays to informative articles, and more. She's been published in Sacramento Parent, S.I. Parent, North State Parent, AllYou Magazine, Shape, PIF Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul Dreams and Premonitions, and more. 
You can find her at https://DianeDeMasi.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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Thursday, April 18, 2019

 

Podcasts Are Saving My Life Right Now

art by Wesley Fryer (Flickr.com)
The title of this post may seem a little extreme for some of you, unless you're a big fan of Jen Hatmaker's podcast, For the Love, like I am. She asks every guest on her weekly podcast at the end of the interview: "What is saving your life right now?" (Answers can range from serious, such as therapy, to silly, such as coffee or Netflix binging.) This question is from a Barbara Brown Taylor book, a memoir titled Leaving Church

So when I was thinking about this post, this question and answer popped up in my mind: "Podcasting is saving my life right now." And then I dug deeper to ask myself: why?

Working from home, sometimes doing menial tasks for my day job, and driving in the car, sometimes long distances, are the perfect reasons to listen to podcasts--along with walking, mowing the grass, and cleaning the bathroom. With my iPhone, podcast app, and earphones, it's so easy to have a funny podcast episode or information-packed episode entertaining me in seconds. I can't seem to listen to music and feel entertained in the same way, and watching TV while trying to do these tasks is just distracting and/or impossible. So podcasts save me from the absolute boredom that some of these tasks bring. It is the perfect solution. Plus, I'm learning so much from listening to them!

Besides the Jen Hatmaker podcast (which you should definitely check out the season that is titled, "For the Love of Books" if you don't check out every single episode, just like her number one fan--me--does), I also love Writing Excuses. This is a podcast with authors Dan Wells (horror/sci-fi), Brandon Sanderson (fantasy/sci-fi), Mary Robinette Kowal (fantasy/sci-fi/historical), and web cartoonist Howard Tayler. Their tagline is: "Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart." 

You can tell just from that tagline--there's humor involved. These guys and this gal are in the author trenches and want to help all writers--beginners to advanced--navigate every part of a writing career from the actual crafting of fiction (characters, plotting, tension) to marketing and building a platform. I recently found this wonderful program, so I've only listened to a handful. But I've enjoyed them and take notes when at home (not driving or mowing the lawn). My marketing class students will be so thrilled to hear that I'm adding listening to this podcast to my syllabus. (BTW, you don't need a smartphone to listen to a podcast. You can go straight to the website, where all smart podcasters have their episodes downloadable from the web.)

The other "writing" program I'm currently listening to is the Smarty Pants Book Marketing Podcast. This features Chris Syme (faith-based writer and award-winning marketer) whose mission is to help authors sell more books with less marketing. (Insert the heart-eyes emoji here!) She co-hosts this podcast with her daughter (SO COOL!) R. L. Syme (Becca) who is an indie author of cozy mysteries and historical romance, and who runs "Write Better Faster" .  The episode I started was the one titled: "Should You Start a Podcast?" and I think the advice was great. Chris's sincerity really comes through. I can't wait to check out some of their other episodes.

And why did that particular episode catch my attention, dear Muffin readers? Well, because I am 95 percent sure that I'm stepping into the podcast world with WOW!'s and Angela's support. We aren't sure how it's going to look or who all will be involved (all the staff members are currently pretending like I have lost my mind and asking who can take on one more thing?), but I'm serious about this. SO serious that I have read Sheena Yap Chan's article on podcasts in WOW!'s issue 90 a few times now and wound up buying this book the other day:



I'm so excited about this! Ideas are flowing. Podcasts makes me want to read more, write more, and find new authors and topics to explore. They are definitely saving my creative life at the very least, if not my actual life, giving me something to focus on during the mundane everyday tasks that we all have to accomplish. So while you wait for me to figure out what the podcast's going to look like, check out those podcasts above or let us know one you really like in the comments below.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, children's author, editor, teacher, and writing coach in St. Louis, MO. She is soon hoping to add "podcast host" to her resume. For the time being, you can check out her writing and books at MargoLDill.com or her editing business at Editor-911.com. She also teaches a monthly novel writing course for WOW!, which you can check out here. The next one starts on May 3!


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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

 

What is poetry?

The answer to that question is similar to the answer Louis Armstrong gave when asked to define jazz. “Baby, if you got to ask the question, you’re never going to know the answer.”

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, poetry is defined as literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.

Here's my definition of poetry in the form of a poem:

Time condensed
Through a memory filter,
Removing excess words
And thoughts that cloud
Emotion, leaving us with truth,
Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

A few more questions about poetry


Does poetry need to rhyme?

No.

Does poetry follow rules?

Some poems follow rules of meter and rhyme, but others do not.

Is one better than the other?

Yes, but no one knows which.

Who is the best poet ever?

Let's just say there are many fine poets, and maybe the best poet has not yet emerged in the timeline of "ever." Those worth reading, however, include Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, and Anne Sexton.

Alright, then, how about the best poem?

I am conflicted when it comes to naming the best poem. One of my favorites isn't a poem at all, it's a short story titled Black Box by Pulitzer-Prize-Winning novelist Jennifer Egan. The story was sent out one tweet at a time at one-minute intervals from The New Yorker's Twitter account. Read it here: (some language and scenes unsuitable for children.)

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/06/04/black-box-2

To me, the story looks like a poem. Egan described it as a "Series of terse mental dispatches from a female spy of the future, working undercover by the Mediterranean Sea." Although Twitter may not be used for many stories or novels, she called the format "the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters."

And finally, when my favorite local poet Matthew Freeman was asked about the difference between good poetry and great poetry, he responded, "Despair."

So, what is a poetry? Just like jazz and pornography, I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor.

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