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The Write Sisters

Katrina_KittleAre you looking for a fresh, impartial critique to help prepare your manuscript for submission? An opinion from someone with years of experience in the literary world? Honest feedback from an author who has been published and has an intimate knowledge of the industry?

Three Dayton, Ohio, published novelists and teachers have started a new business, The Write Sisters: Fiction Manuscript Consultants.Sharon.Short

Katrina KittleKristina McBride and Sharon Short have 50 years of experience in publishing, and have spent a collective 40 years teaching various levels of English and creative writing. Kittle has served on the faculty at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and Short, who directs the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, has judged a number of writing competitions, including the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

The three will edit most genres for the middle grade, young adult, new adult and adult audience, from short stories and novellas up to approximately 125,000 words (500 pages) in length. In addition, they also offer feedback on query letters and synopses.

Kristina.McBrideThe goal of The Write Sisters is to guide writers in honing overall aspects of voice, plotting and narrative, as well as polishing the nitty-gritty details, all while staying true to the heart of the story. They hope to fuel the passion writers have for the manuscript they are creating, and to offer a final push to enhance the piece in preparation for submission.

For more details, including pricing, visit The Write Sisters.

Step away from the Pinterest goat

Kelsey1008-266x400Last year, for Halloween I decided to make something fun for dinner — you know something off Pinterest. For those of you who are not familiar with Pinterest, it’s where you go to get craft ideas and recipes for things like meatball birds in a nest of spaghetti, broccoli poodles and hot dogs that look like little octopi. You can learn how to turn rice into the head of Hello Kitty and eggs into zoo animals. On the non-food end of things, you can learn how to tie a scarf that looks like Rapunzel’s braid or turn ordinary household items into a castle.

So I went to the store and meticulously shopped for items to make my ghoulish gourmet meal. And, oh was I excited to unveil my Yummy Mummy Meatloaf!

Then . . . “What is it?” my guest asked.

“What do you mean, what is it?” I shot back. “Tell me what you think it is.”

“A goat?” she offered. “Yes, that’s it, it’s a goat wrapped in Swiss! How clever!” She took a fork and poked at it. “But a Halloween goat . . . I don’t get it.”

“Get away from my mummy!” I yelled.

“It’s a goat,” she insisted.

She meant it. Hours of wrapping white strips of cheese around the meaty body of a mummy had somehow morphed into a goat at 375 degrees.

It’s not my first Pinterest failure. Last Thanksgiving I made Pop Tart Tiramisu. I have no idea what I was thinking. It turned out to look like a rainbow. A rainbow that threw up. My nephew took one bite and announced “Um hello? Pop Tarts? Really?”

But that was nothing compared to my attempt at hedgehog cupcakes or bunnies driving motorcycle Twinkies.

So I was much relieved to find out recently that there is actually a website for Pinterest flops. It’s called Pinterestfail.com and its tagline is “Where good intentions go to die.” It turns out hundreds of other people have attempted Ho Ho houses and 82-layer Eiffel Tower cakes with less than ideal outcomes. In reality it turns out for every “Nailed it!” there are approximately 12 “This bad boy will never see the light of days.”

What, then, keeps drawing us back to Pinterest to undertake these challenges? I can’t even figure out how Velcro works and I’ve never turned my TV on because the buttons scare me. Yet, somehow I think I can master Yummy Mummy Meatloaf and wind chimes made of forks.

So after my friend adjusted to the idea that we were eating goat for dinner, I brought out a lovely dessert tray of darling little marshmallow ghosts to top off the meal.

“Oh look,” she gushed, “These are cutest snowmen ever!”

Keep that up and after dinner we’re knitting kitty sweaters and making bird feeders out of pop bottles…

— Holly Kelsey-Henry

Holly Kelsey-Henry is the owner of DownWrite Creative in Wisconsin and makes her living as a writer — some days more profitably than others. She is a former award-winning journalist and still writes for newspapers and magazines.

In sickness and in health

Marcia Kester DoyleFor as long as I can remember, my husband has been haunted by the ghost of old injuries. Although I’ve been dubbed the Queen of Klutz, my guy has ended up in the emergency room more often than I have. An accident on the baseball field in his teens left him with the knee caps of an 80-year-old man. They creak and pop like a bowl of Rice Krispies cereal whenever he pushes himself off the couch.

It doesn’t help that this middle-aged man thinks with the brain of a 25-year-old. He never turns down a challenge on the basketball court and will gladly snap on a knee brace just to keep up with the young whippersnappers. One year when my son’s friends gathered in the front yard with their skateboards and BMX bikes to perform stunts, the hubs didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. He assured the boys that he was quite the cyclist in his youth, and that there wasn’t a ramp around that he couldn’t conquer. Sensing a challenge, the teens goaded the hubs into reliving his boyhood days one ramp at a time. He swaggered over to the bike with the confidence of Evil Knievel before hopping on and peddling full force down the street. Up he went, over the ramp, gliding through the air with the glory of youth shining in his eyes.

And then his feet slipped off the pedals and the bike landed with a resounding thud on the hard pavement. Good thing we were past the procreation stage in our lives since my husband lost his family jewels that day on the BMX bike from hell.

When my youngest daughter turned eleven, she invited a group of friends over for a slumber party. While the girls ate pizza and watched spooky movies, my husband came up with a brilliant idea that only a prepubescent teenage boy would admire. He donned a rubber monster mask and crept outside to give the girls a little scare. Just as they were settling down into their sleeping bags, the hubs popped up and pounded on the window to frighten them. The girls shrieked, glass shattered, and the “monster” became strangely quiet. That’s when I noticed the two red fountains pulsing from his wrists. My husband had inadvertently sliced both on the broken windowpane and needed immediate medical attention.

The paramedics found it hard to believe that a middle-aged man would skulk around his own backyard on a Saturday night with a mask. If they’d seen him the week before in a Velcro suit on a Velcro wall at Disney World after too many JELL-O shots, they’d understand.

Alcohol has always been the liquid courage that prompts men to do stupid things. My husband is no different. After a rousing game of beer pong with a group of college students, my overly confident husband challenged his two strapping sons to a wrestling match. Oh yes, he was once the captain of the wrestling team in high school. Thirty years ago. Which explains why he ended up face first in a nightstand drawer and woke the next morning to a deviated septum and two black eyes.

There have been countless knee injuries, sprained ankles, sore backs, torn ligaments, broken toes, fingers and black eyes since then. I can’t help but wonder if my husband’s coworkers have speculated on the nature of our marriage. Menopausal women have tempers, after all.

At this rate, I’ll need to buy stock in Advil or Aleve since arthritis is Mother Nature’s revenge on my middle-aged man.

Time to trade the BMX bike in for a motorized wheelchair.

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post, staff writer for In The Powder Room and HumorOutcasts.com and a contributing writer for What the Flicka. Her work recently captured first place in VoiceBoks Top Hilarious Parent Bloggers 2014, and her first book will be released in the spring through Blue Lobster Publishing. Marcia’s work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press, the Life Well Blogged series and was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest 2013. In 2014, she was named a Blogher Voice Of The Year.

Valuable writing advice, for free

perf6.000x9.000.inddOn Sunday, June 29 and Monday, June 30, enjoy a free Kindle giveaway of The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists by author and EBWW faculty member Suzette Martinez Standring. Publisher RRP International, Inc. opens the giveaway to all, with no passwords or conditions required.  On June 29 and 30, simply go to Amazon.com and look for the book to download a free Kindle version.

The Art of Opinion Writing features iconic columnists, such as Ellen Goodman and others who have earned the Pulitzer Prize and journalism’s highest awards. They share early career struggles, writing advice and strategies to create writing that stands out. At its heart, opinion writing is about persuasion, and any type of writing will benefit from the advice featured.  The Art of Opinion is used in college journalism courses nationally, such as Johns Hopkins University.

Suzette Martinez Standring is syndicated with GateHouse Media for her spirituality columns, and teaches writing workshops nationally.  Her humor and op-ed columns are featured on our blog, Humor Outcasts and The Huffington Post.  Her previous award-winning book is The Art of Column Writing.

A mother’s best asset

Sherri KuhnShe steps into the exam room, staring at the chart the nurse shoved into her hands and quickly trying to assess my medical history in the five steps between the door and the exam table.

She looks up, squints at my forehead a wee bit too long, and then fixes her gaze just a bit lower.

“Your friends must be envious of your skin!” she proclaims, making me question either her eyesight or her medical credentials.

Possibly both.

Apparently she missed the reason for my appointment that clearly states “25-year acne sufferer” and “what the hell can I use for these wrinkles” as reasons for my dermatologist visit today.

“Um, NO,” I say, maybe a little bit too quickly. “My skin is nothing to brag about,” I add, instantly wishing I were sitting in the dental chair instead.

With nitrous oxide.

“Your neck!” she exclaims, “The skin on your neck is smooth and firm, beautiful,” she says, with a glint in her eyes that almost makes me believe her. If she wasn’t young enough to be my daughter.

Maybe she had wine with lunch.

At this point, I am forced to ponder my neck… a part of my body I have never considered as a separate entity, I guess. The biggest job my neck has is holding my head up and supporting a necklace now and then. And even then I have been known on many occasions to simply rest my head on my desk after a particularly strenuous bout of editing. So even my neck can be lazy.

My neck? Never a point of conversation until now.

My babies have nuzzled my neck after midnight feedings, when the lure of sleep called to me from the bedroom but motherhood won and I stayed just a few moments longer on the couch to drink in their sweet, milky scent. My neck has comforted a little girl with a broken arm, a boy who lost his grandfather, kids mourning the loss of their first family dog and a dear friend who lost her husband too early and too tragically. My neck snuggled my mother when she lost her husband too many years too soon and cradled my husband when he lost not one but both of his beloved grandfathers.

I have craned my neck ever so slightly to see if a teenager’s car has pulled up in the driveway yet… at half past 11. My neck has betrayed me with osteoarthritis and sent me to physical therapy on more than one occasion.

My neck? It may not be much to brag about, or a part of my body that my much-younger friends will envy. But this neck — my neck — has proven to be an incredibly valuable part of my anatomy that I simply take for granted most days.

“Yes,” I stammer. “My neck is amazing,” I finally say.

And I smile a little bit bigger…

In spite of the huge zit on my chin.

— Sherri Kuhn

Sherri Kuhn is a freelance writer, copy editor, blogger, grammar junkie and social media addict. She loves playing with words, editing and writing articles about everything from nail polish to parenting topics. On her blog Old Tweener she writes from the heart — with an occasional side of sarcasm and humor. With a son in college and a daughter in high school, she always has something to write about. Her writing has been featured at Huffington Post, SheKnows, AllParenting, Moonfrye, Mamalode and BlogHer.  She was chosen as a cast member for the 2012 Listen to Your Mother show in San Francisco. Sherri lives in Northern California with her family and crazy yellow lab.

Facing the tough questions

Kathy RadiganIn my 15 years of being a mom, I’ve had my share of tough questions.

The ones that induce the reddest blushes have to do with sex.

What is sex? Do you and daddy have sex? When do you ever find the time to have sex?  These are the tip of the iceberg in a long line of questions from my three kids that I’ve fielded over the years. Usually while we are all at the dinner table and my mouth is full of tea or pasta.

I will never, ever, forget the time our eldest child needed the complete, don’t-hold-anything-back, tell-me-right-now explanation of sex.

We had already dealt with the basics of where babies came from. I always answered every question that was brought to me.  But every time we would get to the nitty gritty part, Tom would change the subject.

This day was different. He wanted the truth, the whole truth. Nothing else would suffice.

Of course this was also on a day that my dad was over. I will spare you the details of our conversation, but let’s just say that six years later, I still haven’t completely recovered from having to explain ejaculation to my son IN FRONT of my father.

I give my dad extra points for remaining very calm and then patting me on the back for a job well done.

Some of the toughest questions I have had to answer have been about our beautiful 12-year-old daughter. Lizzy is beloved by her two brothers, but her brain disorder that still has no name stumps some of the top medical professionals in the world. How do I answer questions about what her future will be when I don’t know?

Being a mom means being prepared for anything. I get that. I am also fairly proud of my ability to appear calm and unfazed even when I’m laughing or dying inside.

But I have to admit that I was caught off guard last year when my then 8-year-old son, Peter, asked me if he really had to go to heaven one day, and if he did, could our whole family go at the same time.

“Can I at least go with Grandpa Warren?”

My beloved Aunt Fran, who died less than a year ago, was in the last stages of her illness. Peter loved Fran and he was really struggling with what it meant that she was dying.

What is heaven? Where is heaven? Can we all go at the same time?

Peter asked these questions as I was serving dinner.

I did my best to reassure him and let him know I believed heaven was a beautiful, peaceful place where we would be with God and all our loved ones that went before us. I stressed the fact that I felt it was a place where there was no pain or sadness.

I let him know that I loved the idea that we would all be together and that even if we didn’t all go at the same time, I believed we would ultimately be reunited with one another.

His face relaxed and he smiled as he asked for a hug.

I was relieved to know that my hugs still held their magical power.

It occurred to me that day that I am the filter that my children see the world through. Whether they are sad, scared, happy or not feeling well, I am the one they come to.

They adore their father. They love their grandparents, but I have been their constant from the day they each took their first breaths.

I am home.

All at once, I felt grateful, humbled and a little scared to be that important to not one, but three of the sweetest people on earth.

Motherhood is a strange job. The hours are crazy, the working conditions are not always optimal, and the people we work for can sometimes seem very demanding. I don’t always feel up to the job. Yet, on that day I was once again reminded that it is not so much what I do that means the most to my children. It is that I am there to do it. I may not be my ideal of the perfect mother, but I am theirs.

— Kathy Radigan

Kathy Radigan is a writer, blogger, social media addict, mom to three, wife to one and owner of a possessed appliance. She posts a weekly essay each Sunday on her blog,  My dishwasher’s possessed! and has had her writing featured in What to Expect, BlogHer, Mamapedia, and other publications. She is a contributing author to Sunshine After the Storm: a survival guide for the grieving mother and The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Freelance your way to poverty

Con ChapmanThere is a charity in Boston that helps the homeless by publishing a newspaper for which they write articles. The thinking is that if a panhandler has a newspaper to sell, as opposed to merely asking for a handout, people will be more likely to give him or her money and he’ll evade anti-solicitation laws. As a happy byproduct, the theory goes, the downtrodden acquire valuable skills by cranking out content for the good sports who fork over cold, hard cash.

What a great idea; help people out of poverty by turning them into freelance writers. While we’re at it, why don’t we take away their deposit cans and bottles?

As someone who first sold a freelance article for $100 35 years ago (adjusted for inflation: $3.26), and worked the better part of a summer on it, all I can say is if you want to lift people out of poverty, freelance writing is as good a tool as any.  If by “any” you mean maypole dancing.

As a freelance writer, you deserve to be treated like a professional, although with pay-for-print articles being as low as it is, you may feel like you’re preserving your amateur status for some future Freelance Olympic Games.

I sold 32 freelance articles in 2013. At the everyday low prices that prevail in the marketplace for unsolicited non-fiction, my take-home pay averaged 20 cents a word. Not bad, you think. You’ve got plenty of words — you’re the Wal-Mart of words! The problem is, no one wants to buy the Big Gulp size; everyone wants to buy the little, teensy 430-word piece.

And then there’s the phenomenon of reverse literary panhandling. One editor to whom I sent the taboo-breaking article “How to Tell Your Teenaged Son From a Dead Rodent” told me how much he enjoyed it and that he wanted to run it in his suburban weekly. “Of course, I have no budget for freelance articles,” he added with a fraternal tone, as if an experienced writer like me would know that one doesn’t actually get paid for this sort of thing.

Mais oui, mon ami!” I replied with a blasé devil-may-care attitude, like Maurice Chevalier. “Why should you pay me for something that will mean so much to your readers, when it is but a trifle to me!”

The purchasers of freelance writing have a well-deserved reputation for responding as slowly as possible, thereby increasing your pleasure in much the same manner that the Pointer Sisters longed for a slow hand. I was surprised in 2007 by the jackrabbit response of a publishing company to an over-the-transom Hail Mary I sent them. “Thank you for your submission,” their friendly, personalized form letter read. “You should hear back from us in approximately six months.” I set my snooze alarm for January of 2008, and waited for the big check to arrive, Ed McMahon-style, at my front door.

Time passed. Buildings rose and fell outside my office window. The Tampa Bay Rays went to the World Series, an African-American president was elected, the Arizona Cardinals played in the Super Bowl. We were surely in the end times predicted in the Book of Revelations, but I had to wait another year to get my official rejection letter. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I didn’t send them a live report from Pearl Harbor.

And then there are the unintended consequences of training the currently unemployed to become freelancers. My going rate for a 500-word article is $100. My “hit” rate for print articles last year wasn’t bad, around 95 percent, which was Larry Bird’s career-high free throw shooting average, so I’m in good company there. Online it was about the same, but the prices were a fraction — around 10 percent — of what newspapers pay. No wonder they’re going out of business.

So additional writing supply from panhandlers means prices will go down even further, leading to uncomfortable negotiations like this:

ME: So unless we rescind the Hungarian Toy Tariff right now, we face the collapse of the domestic Play-Doh market.

EDITOR: Um-hmm. What kind of fee were you looking for?

ME: Well, my usual.

EDITOR: I don’t know. There’s a guy sleeping in the vestibule who’ll do a three-part series on how the Pope controls his bladder — for a 50-ounce jug of Thunderbird wine!

ME: (Pause) Okay, I’ll do it for the 750 milliliter bottle.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). He is the author of 30 plays, 10 of which are published. His articles and humor have appeared in national magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, The Boston Globe Magazine and Salon.com, and he’s a frequent contributor to The Boston Herald.

Mom can text, sort of

Kelsey1008-266x400I have only myself to blame.

I honestly thought it was a good idea to introduce my mother to stuff like Facebook and text messaging. She’s a smart woman and besides, that way I could always find her when I needed her.

So several years ago we forced her to get a cell phone and then two years ago we gave her a laptop for Christmas. In all fairness to me, that was my sister-in-law’s idea.

The first time my mother’s cell phone actually rang she was with my nephews. “What’s that noise?” she asked. “Granny, it’s your cell phone,” my nephew informed her. “What do I do now?” she inquired. “Answer it,” my nephew instructed. “How?” came her reply. It was then we suspected this might have been a mistake.

Eventually, she learned to text. Sort of. Now I get cryptic messages like “Where u?” and “Cll me.” One time she asked me several questions in a row (again, sort of) and I finally answered her, to which she replied, “No text and drive.”

She also hasn’t quite figured out yet the difference between Facebook messaging and Facebook posting. Now everyone knows what’s for lunch on Sunday and that the bread she made for me is ready for pick up.

My mother can sew, change oil, and given the right staff, achieve world peace. But copy and paste is beyond her. I tried to walk her through it once on the phone. I told her to click on the document. “What document?” she asked. “The one you want to copy,” I instructed. “And then hit control A.”

Do you know what she said? “Why?” I restrained myself from saying “Because I told you so!” Eventually we agreed that copy and paste wasn’t really that important and I would do it myself when I came over to get the bread.

And then, just the other day, she lost her email icon, address book, saved messages – the whole shebang. Gone. She explained that the “whole thing” locked up on her and she started “poking buttons.” Did she remember the exact last button she poked? Well yes, she guessed it was “unpin.”

Remember the days when they used to tell you to go ahead and poke buttons, that you couldn’t possibly do any harm? Turns out those days are over. I left mom with the promise that I would get my sister-in-law, who is much smarter than I (or so I thought until she suggested we buy mom a laptop), to fix it for her. Twenty minutes later I got a text that read “Email me k.” I assume mom had stubbornly resumed poking buttons and wanted to know if she was making progress. This is, you understand, the same woman who had a colonoscopy at 8 a.m. and by 2 p.m. that same day had canned two dozen jars of apple butter. I know she is capable.

But none of our electronic challenges can compare to the time she opened an email that she admitted she thought was suspicious and in turn got a virus. That little incident earned me a phone call to Dell in Indonesia during which I said the F word in front of my mother for the first time and the customer service agent asked repeatedly “You plug in?”

Yes, I plug in. But I think it’s time to unplug mom.

— Holly Kelsey-Henry

Holly Kelsey-Henry is the owner of DownWrite Creative in Wisconsin and makes her living as a writer — some days more profitably than others. She is a former award-winning journalist and still writes for newspapers and magazines.

Reflections of Erma