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Three Habits of Successful Writers - READ - WRITE - PLAY

Some say there are only two ways that writers can improve their craft--studying the work of others and practice. That means that we must read and write. Those two are a given, and most of us know there must be a balance between the two.

But there is a third method, one that is vital to improving our craft; one that can refill our empty coffers. Play. Our imagination is a vessel. Some have much larger vessels than others but eventually, without refills, they all run dry. This is partly where reading comes in. When we read books, stories, newspapers, and magazines, as mentioned above, we fill our minds with new styles and worlds, but even our vast, immense imaginative brains can only hold so much at a time. At some point, we must stop--stop reading, stop writing, stop exposing ourselves to the world outside, and reflect.  This is where play comes in. 

Studies have shown that play has a direct effect on our brains in many positive areas. It improves cognition, creates new synapses and connections, improves language skills and memory, and promotes creative problem-solving.  While it's vital that we read and write, as creative beings we must also continuously replenish our imaginations through play. 

Village Square offers - the Leisure Arena. A place where we can stop and recharge. Each month we offer entertainment in the form of games, vocabulary builders, puzzles, author spotlights, and polls. All designed to take our minds off the reading and writing cycle of depletion, and Play  







By Louise Sawyer 


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Fiction Cryptogram

by Louise E. Sawyer

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An Interview with Zurina

Brigitte Whiting

I’m Zurina and currently live in Casablanca, Morocco. I've also lived in other countries— Egypt, South Africa, Turkey, USA. This nomadic existence drew me to writing. I wanted to anchor my kids to South Africa, my home country, and help them understand our history, culture, and language. I initially wrote stories for them, with local South African names, some local words and local faces.

I work full time, which does not leave a lot of space for writing, but I think about words all the time. I have no formal education in writing. My mother never went to high school but she perfected her language through practice. There was always a book by her bed. Nothing fancy— lots of Catherine Cookson and Koontz. Why the latter? I don’t know. She was a widow and lived with two young children. She later confessed that she stopped reading Koontz because he scared the bejeez out of her. She clearly gave value to books. Perhaps that is why I love books so much. We never read together.

Tell us something about yourself. What do you bring from your background into your writing?

To me, writing was initially about telling stories to my children. I was keen to use some local slang in these stories. I wanted them to connect with their heritage. Also, we used to visit our family once a year and the local words helped orientate my kids. My stories for children are often about mothers and kids engaged in a bonding activity like drawing or singing or reading. After writing several stories I realized that I was trying to paint the connection between mothers and children – which is a strong part of my upbringing – and the concept that not all stories about Africans need to depict some form of struggle. Even in the struggle and poverty, there are familial connections that are just about being and loving and caring. In fact, the touchpoints between family members anchor your sense of being and who you are. The images on the television showing struggle and engorged bellies and flies sitting on snot-nosed kids are part of Africa, but only part. There are so many other parts that depict community, survival, love, caring, grit, and the concept that we are all part of each other. I wanted to write those stories.

As my kids grew older, I realized that they live in a bubble far from my home and history. I then thought about writing short stories about the first place I called home – an area always abuzz with people. The language – a blend of other languages – has a musicality. We laugh, even when we are in pain, even when the army is camped outside our homes, even when we cannot see a bright future. I thought I would compile these stories into a collection for my children. I then I realized that I don’t actually know how to write a story. This pained me. It fed into my feeling that I was always trying to overcome some educational deficiency from the past. South Africa and its legacy of segregation always seemed to be lurking, waiting to show me how little was actually spent in developing me as a human with voice.

Determined to learn, I did a search on the internet and found WVU. This has been my main learning platform.

What do you write? Specific genres?

Over time, I discovered that I like literary fiction. I’d like to say that I write literary fiction, but that seems too bold. I try to write literary fiction. I also like to write flash. I enjoy writing about the essence of one moment. It’s not always a story, but it’s something that moves me and the only way I can process the feeling is through words (or at least trying to find the words). More recently, I also started writing essays – thoughts and observations that strike me as I travel to different places. I constantly try to make sense of the world by referring to my reference—my original home. I’m comparing, contrasting, analyzing human behavior. I am drawn to understanding why we do what we do. My essays could be called creative nonfiction. As my writing skills improve, I cannot help but describe what I see around me, what I’m feeling, how it impacts. I’ve also written “poetry.” I put that in quotation marks because I know little about the craft of writing poetry, though I do enjoy poetry (so very, very much). There is a poetry book on my desk—at home and at work—in my bedroom and our living room. I know I can find a description for any emotion and thought in the words of Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo, Pablo Neruda, Rumi. I do wish I knew how to write poetry so that I can finish the many “poems” saved on my computer.

As I learn more about writing craft, one of my goals is to edit/revise/rewrite my old stories and get them ready for publication into that compilation of stories/essays for my children.

What classes are you taking at WVU, and how have they helped your writing?

I’ve been a member of WVU for about a decade, but I was not active all those years. Life interrupts—work, moving from country to country, raising children, divorce, losing my mother. Large parts of those years are drowned under the depths of work and raising my kids without a support network because we are far from family. Even in the lean periods I am constantly thinking about writing or reading. When we move, I ship hundreds of books to our new location. After I joined WVU, I tentatively signed up for classes, but often did not have the time or confidence to finish them. More recently, especially, the past 5 years, I spent more time trying to learn.

I am a member of the 29 Rue de Fleurus group. This is my anchor. This is where I experiment. This is where I share all the ups and downs, successes and failures. I do not doubt that I would have given up on writing if I was not part of this group. They help me through everything, including building my writing confidence. I am a lifetime member of WVU because of this group.

Have you published anything?

I tend to write for myself. Perhaps to prove that I can write. But I have had some small success publishing short pieces: a couple of pieces included in Write Yourself out of a Corner by Alice LaPlante; “Promises” in 50-Word Stories; “The Hunt” in Bunbury Issue 18; and “Kirstenbosch” in Akashic Books.

What would you tell anyone who has aspirations to publish something?

Writing is about doing it. I’ve spent so much time thinking about it, beating myself up about it, giving up on it, being annoyed with myself about it. However, in the end, just like anything we do, it only gets done when we actually do it. In terms of process, I think it’s true that the first hurdle is to get the words on the paper. More recently I tell myself, get any words on the paper – write a bad first draft of something. The real writing takes place after the first draft is on the paper. Thinking about writing in this way frees me to jot down anything. It doesn’t really matter if it’s good or bad or if there’s a story or not. Getting the initial words on the page creates space in my mind for other things. It’s like letting the air out of a pressure cooker.

The other thing I’ve learned is that I have to do me. There are so many talented writers in the world and I used to lament the fact that their writing highlights how much I do not know. I used to think that I had to write like them. I’ve tried. It does not work. My stories flow when I write like me, in my voice and my word order. When I stay true to me and my voice, I feel my writing and that is enough—in fact, that is more than enough. Surprisingly, when I do that, I tend to get positive feedback on my writing.

I’ve learned a lot of craft at WVU. A LOT. I arrived without the tools for analyzing writing (I read, but was not a good reader) or the ability to harness key craft concepts into my own writing. WVU has everything we need to succeed. The key ingredient to that success is ME or YOU. We have to show up and try and keep trying.

Is there something you'd like to see offered at WVU?

I sometimes wish there was a place where we could submit finished work for in-line edits.

What is the biggest surprise you've experienced at WVU?

I thought I would learn about craft. The most surprising part is that WVU helped build my writing confidence. Even more surprising, I’ve made friends. Really! I could not have imagined this. It’s a gift and I am really very grateful.

A writer's tip or two you'd like to share.

Writing is not easy. Showing up is the key. That is the hardest part. Sometimes we shy away from a topic because we do not want to excavate parts of our lives or the human condition that pain us. I think that is where the gold lies and we are doing ourselves a disservice when we do not put in the work to get that onto the paper. Of course, I write this so easily, but am guilty of avoidance on a daily basis.

It is natural to be demoralized about writing from time to time (or most of the time). During those periods, I encourage myself to take classes. I try to keep some connection to writing.

Mostly, I tell myself to get something on the page. Anything. One word. When I manage to do this, I always feel like I succeeded, even if no real product results from what I’ve written. It helps to declutter my mind, making space for other ideas and thoughts.

Also, we tend to get different types of feedback from our classmates. Some can be very generous, which is amazing. I learn a lot from those classmates and am grateful for their generosity of time, spirit and care. I feel they’re invested in my learning and think they are modelling a core concept of WVU—we learn from each other.

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An Interview with Lolla Bryant

by Joyce Hertzoff

First, a basic question, what does a facilitator do? How much do they bring to the class?

As facilitators, we basically set up and manage the classroom for the duration of the course. For literature classes, we research the author and their work to provide thorough information for those taking the course. After setting up the classroom and providing the necessary information, facilitators answer any questions the students may have, keep track of who does and doesn’t post their assignments, manage feedback required for course participation, and provide progress reports and reminders for students to complete classwork. We do this for the duration of the courses, which range from 1 to 16 weeks. It is because of our detailed involvement that I believe facilitators bring a tremendous amount to the class.

When did you start facilitating classes at WVU? Do you only facilitate MFA classes? Give us an estimate of the number of classes you’ve facilitated. Do you prefer to facilitate Literature or Core classes?

I completed the facilitator’s course in November 2018 and facilitated about 3 MFA classes shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, circumstances forced me to step away from WVU within a few months of that time until 2021. Since then, I have facilitated about six classes. I try to volunteer when I see the need but usually someone beats me to it (you know how wonderful our facilitators are). I facilitate all types of classes. MFA, Literature, and Core courses; whatever the need is.I can’t say I prefer a particular type. Although, I can say that facilitating Literature courses is a good way to ensure I get them completed.

What have you learned from facilitating? Would you recommend that others take the training class and facilitate classes?

Facilitating has taught me the value of experience. In the beginning, I was afraid to facilitate classes because I didn’t want to make some sort of mistake and have my classmates pay the price. I know, I know. I overprocessed that way too much. But for a short time, I let that fear deter me from volunteering as much. But I am so glad I didn’t let that stop me because the experience I’ve gained cannot be valued. I am more confident, not just in the WVU classroom, but in my professional life as well. I’ve also learned that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. For that reason and the fact that there are few of us and many students, I recommend others take the training and begin facilitating classes. There is plenty of need for more.

How much time do you generally spend on each class, including preparation time and research? What kinds of things do you search for to add to the class?

That depends on the type of class and the length of it. I would estimate that for a 2-week class, I spend about 2 hours setting things up, answering questions, and monitoring feedback. For a 6 – 8-week class, that time increases (because of the additional weeks) to about 5 hours because those usually have more students attending which increases the feedback and questions, as well as more time researching or ensuring archived materials are up to date. I research things such as magazine articles about an author/subject, interviews by an author, and video clips available that may explain or enlighten students about a subject or author. A lot of information is archived but as I mentioned before, I have to research and be sure that information is still up to date before posting it in the classroom. We’ve all clicked on a provided link and found it no longer available. It is my responsibility to try to minimize that as much as possible.

How do you keep track of which students complete their assignments AND give sufficient feedback? What do you expect the feedback to include?

To keep track of students and assignments, I first make a list of who has posted their assignments. Then I go through and provide feedback for each assignment while noting which students have posted feedback for that post on my list of posted assignments. I also always check to see if the feedback word count required for the class is met. For an essay, I expect feedback to include the student’s thoughts and ideas concerning the topics and significance of their classmate’s post. It should be an exchange. I encourage them to ask questions of each other. For a short story or first draft, there is a list of suggestions I provide to assist with how to leave feedback. I expect a respectful evaluation of what they just read. What did they think of the technique used? Did the point-of-view impact the telling of the story? Is there a theme that stands out? Basically, things pertaining to the story’s structure.

What’s the hardest part about facilitating?

That would be the diplomacy of it all. I ask for respect for each other, the authors, and their work. There is a fine line between directness and rudeness (real or perceived). I do my best to ensure no one feels singled out or talked down to by minimizing posting individual directions or needs for modifications for a particular student in the classroom unless necessary. I send a personal message at least twice before doing that. Depending on what the issue is, I may reach out to their advisor to have a word with them. I’ve found this helps a lot with running a smooth classroom.

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Joyce Hertzoff: Book 1 of the More Than Just Survival series. ‎ Independently published, (July 15, 2023).
“Forty passengers and crew stranded in the middle of Missouri after a train wreck due to the collapse of a trestle over a deep ravine.  With communication and electricity lost, how will they survive?”

Glenda Walker-Hobbs: .  Published by Local Gems, independently published (September 24, 2022).

Glenda Walker-Hobbs: . Published by Local Gems Independently published (September 24, 2022).

Glenda Walker-Hobbs: . Published by Local Gems Independently published (Dec 18 2022).

Luann Lewis: .  Publisher Extasy Books Inc: (March 27, 2023).
“The two men look so much alike that Percy can’t seem to keep her emotions straight. Will these heavenly feelings cast her straight into hell?”

Luann Lewis: Twisting Time Book 1 of 3.  Publisher Extasy Books Inc (November 22, 2021),
“During the Cold War, ruthless and cynical British operative David Morse is sent to northern Alaska, where he meets Miri Smith who is supposedly researching arctic water systems. He plies his tricks on Miri and what he finds out could change his life—or ruin it.”

Luann Lewis:  (Twisting Time) Book 2 of 3.  Publisher, Extasy Books Inc (April 4, 2022)
“When David Morse stepped two hundred years into the future to be with the woman he loved, Miri Ableton, he entered utopia. So why didn’t it feel like utopia?”

Luann Lewis: . Publisher ‎Extasy Books Inc (October 11, 2022) After finding a new life in Sana Mundi, David Morse must travel further into the future to obtain a cure for his newborn son. On that expedition, he makes a horrifying discovery…

Gevera Bert Piedmont: Toad in the Hole. Published in Wicked Sick: An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers, (May 3, 2023).

Gevera Bert Piedmont: Formless: A Mickey Crow Paranormal Adventure; Featuring the Bonus Short Story "Xoggotli Shoggoth Speaks":  Mickey Crow and the Contrary Crowcast Book 2.   Publisher ‎Transformations by Obsidian Butterfly LLC (May 30, 2022)
“One-armed Mickey Crow, reluctant socialite Pris, and mad scientist Mo, along with AI raven Ek, are undercover at Fright Island Theme Park. Seems that the park's advanced augmented reality system is making people sick. Some are injured. Someone even died…

Frank Richards: Short story, "Soldier of a Lesser War." Publication in Voices de la Luna, (May 2023 issue). This is a story about a soldier who considers himself fortunate in not being sent to Vietnam, only to have the person who replaces him at work die accidentally. I think every story should have an epiphany. This one has the realization that wherever we are, fate can step in at any time.

Lina Sophia Rossi: "Fall Leaves under the Blue Moon of All Hallows Eve." Independently published (February 18, 2022) poetry chapbook. 

Sarveswari Saikrishnahas (Sarves) : Short story, "Tolls We Hear," published (August 2023) issue of The Bombay Literary Magazine. Anil Menon, Editor-in-Chief at the magazine, said, “Her story attempts to do what literature, at its noblest, attempts to do: build a bridge of understanding, if not empathy, with those who do make us feel at home.”

Arefa Tehsin: . Published by HarperCollins India (2023)
“It is Makar Sankranti,1950, when sixteen-year-old Sanaz’s body is discovered in her father Dada Bhai’s house in Bohrawadi, Udaipur…. As the shadows grow long, it becomes clear that something sinister walks the halls of this grand old house. What unfolds is a genre-bending tale of suspense, intrigue and something so much darker.”  


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