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Blog: WOW! Women on Writing Blog (The Muffin)
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Jeanne Lyet Gassman
lives with her husband and son in the desert west of Phoenix, Arizona, but she dreams often of snow-covered mountains with pine-scented breezes. She believes in the power and beauty of language and loves helping other writers. When she isn’t writing, she works as a freelance editor and teaches creative writing workshops to writers’ groups and individuals in the Phoenix metro area.
She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction, but her first love is fiction. Her work has appeared recently in Switchback, Barrelhouse,
, among others. An excerpt from her unpublished novel, The Blood of A Stone, is forthcoming in Assisi: An Online Journal of Literature and Arts
. Her awards include fellowships from Ragdale and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She is currently working on a novel about a family of downwinders who were adversely affected by the radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s.
To learn about opportunities for writers, including contests, grants, and calls for submission, please visit Jeanne’s blog, Jeanne’s Writing Desk
. To get to know Jeanne and her work, please visit her website
or connect with her on Twitter
.interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2012 writing contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?Jeanne:
I follow WOW! on Facebook and am a great fan of all that you offer for women writers. When I saw the announcement for the 2012 Fall Flash Fiction Contest, I had just finished a draft of "Haboob Season" and thought that it might be a good candidate for the competition, so I revised the story and entered the contest. I'm glad I did!WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Haboob Season?" It’s a chilling story, despite all the heat.Jeanne:
The story has its origin in several truths: My husband did retire recently, and our children have just graduated from college. A close friend of mine also lost her husband last year. Although his death wasn't unexpected, she suddenly became a very young widow, which changed her lifestyle in dramatic ways. The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest summers in Phoenix on record with weeks of 100+ degree days and numerous large and small dust storms. The press began calling the big dust storms "haboobs." It's such a wonderful word, so much more evocative than "dust storm," and it made me think about what these massive storms could represent in one's personal life, how everything is so transient. Despite our best intentions, one swift change can sweep everything away, much in the same way a "haboob" sweeps through a metropolitan area, leaving devastation in its wake. The final stroke of inspiration came from a casual comment from a friend, who asked me how we coped with the dog days of summer in Phoenix. I put all of these elements--dust storms, sudden loss and change, the misery of summer in Phoenix--together, and "Haboob Season" was born.
For those of you who have never seen a haboob, I've enclosed a link to a video of one passing over Phoenix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYnuzoH5oBAWOW: Fascinating video, thanks for sharing! Since you write in several different genres, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry, how do you decide what you’re going to work on at any given time? Do you find one type of writing more challenging than the others? Jeanne:
Well, fiction is my first love. If I have no pressing deadlines from editors or publishers, I spend my time working on my novels or a work of short fiction. I've written some creative nonfiction, which bears many similarities to fiction, but the straight nonfiction I write is usually solicited work. For several years, I wrote a column on the craft and business of writing, "Jeanne's Writing Desk," for an e-newsletter called Mike's Writing Newsletter
. The column had fixed deadlines, so I had to write my nonfiction on a schedule. If someone contacts me and asks me to write a blog post or nonfiction piece, I discuss their needs and adjust my writing projects accordingly.
I'm currently finishing the edits on my first novel, The Blood of A Stone
, for a publisher. Since I have a deadline to turn in the edits, that is my top priority at the moment. Once those edits are complete, I plan to return to the work on my second novel, The Double Sun
, a more contemporary story about a family of downwinders, people who suffered adverse effects from radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada. I don't have a publisher for that book, but I do have an internal deadline/goal for the first draft. In general, I work well with deadlines, and if I don't have real ones, I like to create personal deadlines.
Poetry is definitely the most challenging genre for me. It requires not only precision of language but a strong sense of rhythm and motion. I adore good poetry and wish I were a better poet, but I would be the first to admit that writing poetry is not my strength.WOW: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?Jeanne:
I start every day by filling out my day planner. I use this time to prioritize my writing goals and organize my schedule. Then I walk the dog. Good writing takes place in the mind as much as it does on paper or the computer screen, and during our walks, I think about scenes, snippets of dialogue, resolve plot issues, etc. Once we return home, I sit down at my desk and begin work on my writing project of the day.
As I mentioned earlier, I tend to be very goal and project oriented. Rather than focus on a minimum daily word count or a minimum number of hours at the keyboard, I find I'm most productive when I concentrate on reaching specific milestones by specific dates. For example, if I'm working on my novel, I may set a goal on Monday to complete the next two chapters by Friday. This allows me to break my daily goals into smaller units, writing sections of those two chapters every day. If I'm planning to enter a writing contest or have a deadline for submitting a story to a literary magazine, I set a deadline for the first draft and a deadline for the revisions of that draft. Of course, if an editor has asked me to write a nonfiction piece, I usually have a fixed deadline and have to work toward that. I write five to six days a week for approximately 3-4 hours a day. This may not seem like a lot, but the steady effort makes it possible to accumulate a fair amount of material over time.
My daughter said I should also mention that my home office has a residential cat who contributes his editing advice. Our cat eats on the corner of my desk, sleeps in a special chair behind me, and reminds me that petting a kitty is the best solution to writer's block.WOW: We talk a lot here on the blog about walking as a great tool for writing inspiration. I like how you focus on specific milestones by specific dates too. That seems like a great strategy! You mentioned that you’re currently working on a novel. How is that project going
Actually, I'm working on two novels right now. I'm editing my first novel, The Blood of A Stone
, a historical story set in first century A.D. Palestine, and I'm finishing the first draft of my second novel, The Double Sun
, the story about a family of downwinders. Both projects are coming along nicely. I will be turning in my final edits to the publisher for the first book at the end of March and hope to be able to announce a publication date shortly thereafter. I have 4-5 chapters left to write before I have a complete draft of the second book. My goal (that word again!) for the second book is to have the first draft completed by the end of this summer.
One tool I've found particularly useful for writing novels is the story board. In fact, I have a story board for the second book, since it's still a work in process, and a revision board for the book I'm currently editing. I use a large bulletin board, but some people pin notes to a wall or even write on the wall. I've enclosed a picture of my story board for The Double Sun
to give people a visual representation of how this works. This photo was taken earlier in the process of writing the book, so I now have more scene cards than what you see here. Since The Double Sun
spans over 30 years, you will notice there are dates for each section. Beneath those dates are chapter titles. Under each chapter title I've posted an index card with a one-sentence description of each major scene in that chapter. On the right-hand side of the bulletin board I've posted photos of locations, events, and inspiring articles. This story board, or inspiration board as I like to think of it, provides me with a wonderful big-picture view of the novel-in-progress. By studying this board, I can easily see where I may need an additional scene, where there are too many similar scenes, where I need to cut the flab, etc. Interestingly enough, I've been writing the chapters in this book out of order, drafting specific chapters as they come to me rather than plodding along from the beginning to the end. The story board makes that possible.WOW: Thanks for sharing a visual of your storyboard process, and for chatting with us today, Jeanne! Before you go, do you have any advice for beginning flash fiction writers?Jeanne:
I'm flattered that you'd like my advice on writing flash, as I consider myself a novice in this genre! However, the best advice I can give is to read flash fiction--lots of it. Study why the author leaves something out, how the author uses dialogue, how description moves the story forward, etc. I like to think of flash fiction as building a doll-size version of a real house on a small patch of real estate. Just like a full-size house, you have all the necessities: bathrooms, living space, bedrooms, etc., but they're smaller and limited in scope. Every single word must count. There's no room in flash for meandering or tangents. This means that the words you select carry a lot of weight; they need to develop character, set the scene, move the plot forward, or do several of these things at the same time. It also helps to have a destination in mind. If you know where you want your story to end, you can push toward that ending. My final piece of advice is to target your markets and submit your work. You'll never get your writing published if you don't send it out.
Thank you so much for inviting me to share my thoughts on the writing life. It has been such a pleasure to work with WOW!
***The Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN!
Find out more: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php
Merry Christmas to everyone! When I found out that Carol Grannick won second place in our flash fiction contest, I was thrilled. I know Carol from my days living in Illinois because we were both members of the wonderfully supportive SCBWI Illinois chapter. Then when I was assigned to interview her, I was even more excited. If you haven't read Carol's story that won second place, then read "Secondly" here.
One other note, Carol writes a lot in the genre of children's and YA--her winning story reads very much like one perfect for teens. So, remember this when you are deciding whether or not to enter our flash fiction contest. We take all genres--we are wide open!
Carol is a writer and clinical social worker, who writes poetry, picture books, and middle grade/young adult fiction, as well as personal essays. She lives in the Chicagoland area and has been an active member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for over a decade. Several of her picture book manuscripts have won national awards, and her children’s fiction has appeared in Crickets and Highlights for Children. Her articles and essays have been published in national media as well as on WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. Her new blog, http://TodayIAmAWriter.blogspot.com, helps keep her on track, and her regular column for the Illinois-SCBWI newsletter, Prairie Wind, explores many aspects of the writer’s psychological and emotional journey.
WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Carol, and Merry Christmas! Let's start with talking about your second place contest win for your story, "Secondly." What inspired you to write this story?
Carol: I began writing from a seed of authenticity that veered quickly into fiction. The most important lesson I keep learning about my own writing is that when I can connect with a feeling that is authentic, even if that emotional experience is not "true" in the nonfiction sense, I find a powerful voice. If I can do that--and for me it's not easy--everything flows from that. The voice, the deep inside of my narrator, will help me determine the words I choose, the format, the length.
WOW: We are glad you found that "powerful voice" in this piece. So, what are the themes you are exploring in this short, but powerful, piece?
Carol: I think I wanted, unconsciously, to pose a moral dilemma for a character who feels victimized, then suddenly has the tables turned on her. During revision, I recall deciding that I would have her fail at taking the high road. Doing that left me thinking, wondering, seeing both sides. I felt it was a strong way to leave the reader thinking, also.
WOW: I think that's what makes your story stand out--we expect characters to take the "high road." Then when they don't, we are like, "WOW! I wonder what I would have done?" It gives the reader more to think about, in my opinion. We've known each other for a while through our SCBWI-IL connection. This story seems like it's targeted for young adults. Would you agree? Are there a lot of publication opportunities for short fiction for the YA market?
Carol: I do agree, Margo, absolutely. I'd say [ages] 13 to 17. I would love to see more markets for short fiction for young adults, but other than CICADA, and a number of wonderful anthologies with stories from somewhat to fairly well-known authors and illustrators, I'm not aware of potential markets.
WOW: I agree with you--as you and I discussed during this interview process--we need more YA short fiction. Hmmm. It's food for thought. (smiles) Why did you decide to enter WOW!'s contest?
Carol: I jumped at the chance to submit it to the WOW Summer Flash Fiction Contest because of the reasons above. My story had been sitting in a computer file, and the contest seemed to be a good match!
WOW: Yes, our contest is a potential market basically because if you win, you get prizes AND a publication! You are also a clinical social worker (your day job). Does this job play a part in what you choose to write for children? Or do you try to keep writing and day job separate?
Carol: I've been a clinical social worker in organizations and in private practice for decades; and other than a few short essays about people who are no longer in this world, whose names are never used, I do not use content from my therapeutic work. That sharing is confidential, and I've never breached those ethics. That said, I believe everything in life is interconnected. I neither see my therapeutic work as "separate" nor as automatic subject matter. The concerns that show in my writing are about my life concerns, whether that's ethical issues, body image issues (which has been a professional focus), the nature of facing down fears, or anything else.
WOW: You also have a regular column for the SCBWI-IL newsletter and a blog. How do you fit everything into your busy schedule?
Carol: I go out of my way to avoid negative stress. I wake and write very early in the morning; then there's non-writing work time; time to move my body; time for errands, participating in my community and politics; and more time to write and now explore illustrating my own picture books. I do well with a fairly planned schedule, which includes unscheduled time to relax with a book or my husband and/or friends. I'm not "crazy-busy," and I love time alone, as well as time with others. My blog is a simple commentary to keep me on track as I focus on my writing, and my column for the PRAIRIE WIND, the Illinois-SCBWI newsletter takes a lot of time, but it's periodic--and it helps me focus where I'm at as a writer. If I do happen to get too busy, I'll feel overwhelmed, take note of it, and remember Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. Then I just pick one thing to do.
WOW: That sounds like a wonderful way to go about it. I completely agree that having a schedule helps you to fit more into your life, but you do have to give yourself time to relax and permission to change the schedule if need be. Thank you so much for your time today, Carol. Anything else you'd like to add?
Carol: Many thanks to you, Margo, for the interview, and to WOW! Women On Writing, for the great work they do and the ongoing opportunities they provide for us!
Margo L. Dill is a children's writer, blogger, online instructor, and editor. Visit her website here.
Meet Debbi Straight:
Although my real passion (obsession) has long been with writing, my professional life led me in a far different direction. I worked in the field of mental health for twenty years. I’ve held positions as the Psychiatric Social Service Director at the Indiana Boys School prior to its closing and as a director at an agency that serves the developmentally disabled. But still, a therapist’s duties entail exploring the inner workings of the mind and then making sense of and recording the most intimate thoughts of others in a meaningful way. I hold a Master’s Degree in Psychology and completed work toward my doctorate. Other joys in my life include my husband, two daughters, two grandsons and competing with my Appaloosa show horses. My two Great Pyrenees dogs are my soulful guardians. Ongoing writing projects include several short pieces (one, of course, for your next contest) and a creative non-fiction, book-length piece set in post-Civil War Indiana.interview by Marcia Peterson WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Top 10 in our Fall contest! You also received an honorable mention for another story entry, so good job on that too. What inspired you to enter the contest?Debbi:
Through the years, I’ve interspersed writing with the other demanding elements of my life: kids, horses, work and I guess I should mention a couple of husbands. My long-term goal is to find representation for a creative nonfiction book in the works that’s the literary love of my life. To gain street cred, I looked toward entering literary contests. There are few that have the on-line respect and feel of WOW.WOW: Thanks for the kind words about WOW. We're glad to help with your street cred! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, The R Wurd?Debbi:
Through the years, I’ve worked with a variety of individuals and personalities. I’ve dealt mostly with anti-socials, I guess you could say the criminal-minded. When I took a job at an agency that serves people with developmental disabilities, I wasn’t sure at all if my skill set was right at first. I was immediately amazed by what I observed. Individuals with developmental issues are supposed to have all-encompassing deficits, but they seldom have problems when it comes to attaching to their peers and forming meaningful relationships with their family, friends and the staff. The particular agency I worked for, Putnam County Comprehensive Services, based in Greencastle, Indiana, has the benefit of having chosen a group of incredible staff members who are completely devoted to improving the quality of life for their clients. Anyone who joins that staff and doesn’t exhibit a caring attitude is gone in a hurry. WOW: Your professional experience really helped create a compelling story. What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?Debbi:
Entering contests that entail writing short pieces has been extremely helpful. By the way, the responses and e-mails I’ve gotten from WOW have been more supportive than I can describe. I was a therapist for many years and every d
Tearra Rhodes began her interest in creative writing in elementary school, but did not consider it more than a minor hobby until she got her first taste of affirmation after winning a local one act playwriting contest her sophomore year of high school. Having graduated from Canisius College with a minor in English (major Communication Studies), she is working towards making creative writing more than just a hobby. She lives in Buffalo, NY, where she has boxes and boxes of unfinished short stories and plays. Her next project will be pulling out one of those boxes and dusting off a potential masterpiece.
If you have not yet read Tearra’s story, I Began Baking a Cake, please enjoy it now— it’s murder with a sweet little twist!
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! Fall 2011 Flash Fiction Contest! What prompted you to enter?
Tearra: I entered a flash fiction contest with another website and I had ‘flash fiction fever’ and was on the lookout for another contest for which to write a story.
WOW: LOL. As they say…feed a fever! What was the inspiration behind I Began Baking a Cake?
Tearra: I watch a lot of police procedurals and murder mysteries and the killer is usually someone the detectives or amateur sleuths already interviewed/talked to. My question was why didn’t the killer ever just flee? Regardless, if it was self defense, an accident or premeditated, why didn’t they just run? I started with the line, “You shouldn’t have come, Boyd. I know why you did, but you shouldn’t have.” I really loved my unnamed character saying this to her adversary, knowing that he was there to hurt her and knowing what she was going to do to protect herself.
WOW: I enjoyed the opening as well because of all the questions it raised in my mind. But a great opening sentence is only part of the recipe for a satisfying story and flash fiction in particular can be tricky to work with, what was your process?
Tearra: I wrote a complete short story exploring the above mentioned idea and then I pared it down to the bare bones. The familiar term ‘less is more’ came heavily into effect. There was more mystery.
WOW: You say you have “boxes of unfinished stories and plays.” I think all writers have a stash like this—I know I do! What is it, do you think, that has kept you from finishing them?
Tearra: I have so many story and play ideas. When I write one down, I get a completely different idea for something else; hard to focus on just one. Plus, I’m a huge procrastinator.
WOW: I can relate on both accounts!
There are different skills required for writing plays as opposed to short stories—tell us a little about working with both forms.
Tearra: When I start writing a play, I write out all the dialogue, just character’s talking to each other. When I’m finished I add action sequences accordingly. When writing a short story I do the exact opposite. I write out the action first and add dialogue later. I like to play around with the point of view in which the story is told and the tense. I’ve found that first person present tense adds more flavor and urgency to a piece.
WOW: Great points! So, what is your next project?
Tearra: I want to complete a novel in the near future, so I’ve dusted off a story idea that’
Congratulations to Anna Venishnick Shomsky for being a runner-up in the Winter 2012 Flash Fiction contest for her winning story, :The Seminar." If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, go here.
Anna is a freelance writer currently living in Seattle, Washington. She holds an MATESOL (Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and has taught ESL in China, Germany, Boston, and Pittsburgh. While living in Pittsburgh, Anna wrote informational and promotional materials for a local art institution called Pittsburgh Filmmakers, as well as articles about art for the children’s section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
. She is currently staying at home with her infant daughter.WOW: Congratulations, Anna, on being a runner up! What gave you the idea for "The Seminar"?Anna:
The story is compiled from events that happened while I was working at a public school. During my new teacher training, I was forced to sit through a seminar in which the rhyming method of behavior management was touted. I knew that it was inappropriate for me because I have a downbeat personality. It would also be inappropriate for the students I would be teaching, who were older than ten, jaded, and exposed to far better metered verse on the radio. Not long after the training, I had a small group of students who did what the students in the story do: flailed and yelled to get attention, flirted sadly, and worked with a minimum of effort. It was amusing to me that the advice I was given for how to deal with challenging students was so removed from the reality I inhabited.WOW: Do you write a lot of flash fiction? Why or why not?
I don't write much flash fiction because I am too wordy.WOW: What do you find challenging about writing flash fiction?Anna:
I find telling a story in under a thousand words to be challenging. I am accustomed to rambling on, adding clarifying information that is not entirely necessary, using descriptive sentences that contain an abundance of adjective clauses, and generally using too many words to state an idea that could be said well with fewer.WOW: You are currently staying home with your daughter. How do you balance your writing time with being a mommy?Anna
: I take time to write while my daughter is napping. I try to write for half an hour three times a week.WOW: Do your ESL teaching experiences often make it into your writing? Why or why not?Anna:
The teaching experiences that make it into my writing are usually the conflict between administration and teachers, the disparity between expectations and reality, and the residual emotional negativity from my time teaching middle school. I don't write much about my experiences with students, mainly because those have become mundane to me, and I have learned how to deal with the majority of classroom situations I find myself in. I write about things that are emotionally salient and ideas that nag at me. After a day of teaching, the actual time spent in the classroom and the interactions with stud
lives north of Seattle with her husband and dog, both of whom are ridiculously adorable. When she isn’t writing, she loves to explore the mossy woods and wind-swept coast of the Pacific Northwest, which provide moody inspiration for all her stories. She also enjoys bouts of inappropriate laughter, and hates wind chimes because they remind her of horror movies.
She holds a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and also completed the Writing for Children program at the University of Washington. She also owns a branding and graphic design firm
Ms. Silverman placed as a finalist in the 2012 PNWA annual literary awards for her short story, “The Black Dog of Porto Negro.” She is currently working on her first YA novel, a hilarious feminist twist on the zombie genre. Chat with her on Twitter @GG_Silverman interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Summer 2012 writing contest! What inspired you to enter the contest
Thank you! I’ve been putting serious effort into launching my writing career over the last few years. I’m building up a body of work, and wanted to test the water for my stories, to get some validation and ultimately publish. WOW! has a great reputation with incredible guest judges every season, so your contest seemed like the right opportunity to do all of that. Having my story published on your site has given me fantastic credibility as a writer. WOW: Thanks for the kind words about WOW! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, The House of Butterflies? GG:
It was inspired by a life-changing conversation with a friend. I was at a critical point with the last draft of my novel, where I had major fears about expressing darker ideas, and she asked how my writing was going. I said I was afraid that when my book was finished and I came out of my shell as a writer, that I’d be seen as a frightening spider instead of a beautiful butterfly, and the world would revile my work. That’s when she told me it was okay to be a spider, that the world needs spiders. So, I’ve embraced my spiderness, meaning, I’m being true to myself as a writer and have accepted my position as someone who explores darker themes. The House of Butterflies has become a sort of personal manifesto. It’s my first published work, and I’m taking it as a sign that I’m becoming who I’m meant to become. WOW: What a wonderful development for you. I love that you’re embracing your spiderness. Have you always enjoyed the genre, and how did you learn to write great flash fiction? GG:
I discovered flash fiction two years ago. It started as a way to keep writing when I need to take small breaks from my novel. I believe it’s important to write as much as you can, because you get better and faster with practice and time.
Also, I like to write flash fiction when I travel. It’s fun to dash off a story on a flight and have a sense of completion. Though the polishing aspect can be maddening, sometimes requiring up to eleven or twelve drafts. Writing a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, in a very limited word count, while creating an evocative atmosphere with beautiful description, is quite challenging. But I love it. I really believe that flash fiction makes you a better writer.
It’s also a great way to honor readers who are busy and want a satisfying story they can read quickly. With the increasing popularity of e-readers, I think flash fiction is here to stay. WOW: It's always interesting to learn about other people's writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?GG:
For starters, I take a long walk every day, and I’m fortunate to live near incredible trails. My favorite walk is through a burnt-out swamp punctuated by dead, spiky trees. A bald eagle is usually perched overhead, and the sky can be really moody. The quiet atmosphere is meditative, and ideas often come to me there. Sometimes they come in the voice of a character. I might record a thought or a scrap of dialogue on my phone with a voice recorder app. If it resonates with me after my walk is done, then it’s something I’m really excited about, and I try to express it in writing.
I’m also a self-employed graphic designer, and keep a flexible work schedule so I can write or edit a few hours each day, usually in the afternoon. But unexpected things do happen, so I’ve learned to seize odd bits of time to write productively in short bursts whenever I can. I usually write first drafts long-hand (if it’s my novel, a chapter at a time) then transcribe and edit on the computer. When I write long-hand, I can do it anywhere, but when I’m on the computer, I prefer the ergonomic set-up of my office. When I’m writing, I have a strict No Internet rule. No Facebook or Twitter. I allow myself only fifteen minutes at the beginning of the day, but I’ll spend more time during lunch or when I’m done for the day, because I believe it’s important to start cultivating an audience and connecting with people.
Once every few months, as a special treat, my husband and I take short road trips to the coast to get away from the distractions of everyday life. We hole up in a cabin and soak up the scenery for inspiration, while getting lots of writing done. WOW: Walking always yields lots of ideas for me too. What's one bit of advice you would give to aspiring writers?GG:
Discipline and perseverance are everything. Practice writing until you realize that you can’t not write, that you would feel sick if a few days went by and you haven’t written. By then, you’ll develop the momentum and stamina you need to do great work. WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, G.G.! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?GG:
Rejection is a blessing. It’s an opportunity for you to go back, take another pass at your work, and make it sing.
And, don't rush to submit. Taking an extra day to let a piece breathe, so you can review it with fresh eyes, can make a world of difference.
The Winter 2013 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN
For details, visit: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php
Kelly Stone Gamble
holds a BA in History and Business Administration, a MA in Humanities with a Literature emphasis and is currently working toward a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Alive Magazine, Family Fun, Family Digest, Family Digest Baby, Gay Today, Ladybug
and Chicken Soup for the Soul
. Her fiction has won awards from Writers Weekly
, Writers Courtyard and the Ground Zero Literary Project. She has just completed the first draft of Ragtown
, a historical fiction novel set during the building of the Hoover Dam. Kelly resides in Henderson, Nevada with her husband and two sons.
To learn more about Kelly, or just to say hello, visit her at http://www.kellystonegamble.blogspot.com/
or on facebook.Interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Fall 2010 writing competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?Kelly:
One of the other students in my MFA program received an honorable mention in the Summer 2010 contest. After reading the stories and the information about the contest, it sounded like fun! WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, December?Kelly:
I have a friend who is writing about her experiences in Baghdad as a Master Sergeant in the US Army and I have been deeply moved by her stories. I have never been in the Armed Forces and after reading one of her essays, I began to imagine what role I might have played had my life taken a different path. I love historical fiction, enjoy writing surprise endings and I am a Nurse, so I put it all together and came up with December
. WOW: It's a terrific story with a twist! Since you’re currently working toward a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, maybe you could share a bit about that experience, and why you chose to pursue that path.Kelly:
I hope to one day teach, and feel the MFA is an important step toward that goal. I work with an amazing group of accomplished writers-our faculty. The value of their input and critique of my work has far exceeded the cost of the education. Additionally, the SNHU program offers a real sense of community. I have made friendships that will last forever. We are a diverse group with a common interest in writing. My family is very supportive of my work, but they don’t always understand how I can spend days stressing over one sentence or one word. My friends do get that. They have become family. WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?Kelly:
I like to write in the middle of the night and have adjusted my sleep patterns to allow for a lot of night writing time. I sometimes turn on music that is speci
Molly Van Norman
lives in Rochester, MN with her husband and Small Munsterlander, Afton. She just celebrated her 25th anniversary working in a clinical laboratory at the Mayo Clinic. Last fall she became an “empty nester” when the older of her two sons left to go to school at the University of Utah. Her youngest son joined the Marines last summer and is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
Although she has written several children’s Christmas programs and many clinical laboratory procedures, this is her first submitted piece of fiction. She is currently working on two novels, both are women’s fiction, and hopes to complete them now that she has found some extra time.
Molly would like to dedicate “The Burr Oak”
to her aunt who passed away in February. It was the Burr Oak at her aunt’s cabin and the experience of moving this aunt into an assisted living complex that inspired the story.interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Winter 2011 writing competition! What inspired you to enter the contest, especially since this is your first piece of submitted fiction? Molly:
I had my story roughed out when I found your web site. I hadn't even heard of flash fiction, but I was so impressed by the stories that were posted from previous contests, that I thought I would like to give it a try. It was hard to click the send button, especially since I’m pretty inexperienced as a writer, but what impressed me about this contest was that you could purchase a critique on your submission. The feedback was excellent and I will use the advice to make this story and future ones even stronger. WOW: How great that you went ahead and gave it a shot! Describe how you’re working on two novels at the same time. Anything you can share about the process? Molly:
The first novel is something that I've been working on forever. This is the "I have this story in my head" route that a lot of us fledgling writers take. I started by hashing out several chapters, clueless to what I was doing. Then, frustrated, I put the story aside for awhile, only to come back to it, rewrite and hash out some more. Finally I was brave enough to take a writer's workshop and since it was the only thing I'd ever really written, I submitted a chapter to the group. I received some positive comments and some great critique and decided to try to take this writing thing more seriously.
Last fall, a member of my writing group convinced me to try Nan-No-Wri-Mo. Naively, I decided to start a whole new story. My personal challenge was to try to write straight through without going back and perfecting every paragraph. I didn't succeed, but I spent the time developing my characters and working on my plot.
So now I have two works in progress. I find when I've reached a dead end on one, it's good to put it aside for awhile and work on the other one, and then I can come back to each with a fresh perspective. WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going ?
0 Comments on Interview with Molly Van Norman, Runner Up in Our Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest! as of 1/1/1900
Congratulations to Trudy Gomez! Trudy, under the nom de plume Serena Helriot, is a runner-up in the WOW! Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest. This is Trudy’s second time entering a WOW! Flash Fiction Contest; she received an honorable mention in the Fall 2009 contest with "Like Father Like Son." I encourage you to read this year’s poignant entry Pink Lipsticked Lips, and then return for an interview with Trudy.
My name is Trudy Gomez (my pen name is Serena Helriot). I live in Glendora, California. I’m married and have three grown children. I am a resourceful person, often called to direct the flight patterns of geese heading south for the winter while dousing the flames of a forest fire with my tongue. I have had many interesting and life-affirming experiences. I played the bass at Woodstock with Santana and tuned Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. I discovered how to tickle the sun awake and how to land on the moon without a lunar module, although I made the instrumental discovery to allow one to do so. I discovered plutonium was radioactive but I forgot to tell anyone. I was the inspiration for the atomic bomb. I have spoken to the Beatles on more than one occasion and was the one who suggested they rethink the title, “A Hard Night’s Day.” Okay, seriously, I’ve been writing for years in journals and enjoy writing poetry and short stories. I love chocolate. I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo last year and completed a first draft, very exciting. I am a voracious reader. This is the second piece of writing I’ve sent out anywhere (the first being WOW! Fall 2009 contest on a dare). I love how the wind and sun feel on my skin. I find the medium of flash fiction to be particularly challenging and enjoy uncovering the zen-like realization within the larger story of life in order to make it work. I also like how it forces me to cut out the extraneous.
WOW: Congratulations Trudy! I love your imaginative bio. In addition to writing, do you have other creative outlets?
Trudy: I have a pretty rich inner life, which I enjoy exploring in journals and in meditation. I also enjoy putting together "collections" of my poetry in books with my own abstraction drawings or designs.
WOW: When did you first begin writing?
Trudy: I came to writing late, in my thirties. I've always been a voracious reader and I had teachers tell me I had talent and should consider writing but I guess I wasn't ready since I didn't take it to heart. Then, although I don't remember the circumstances or the catalyst, a story (actually it was more of a voice) just showed up so I wrote it down, practically like dictation. I've been hooked ever since.
WOW: You write both poetry and fiction; tell us a little about your relationship with each form.
: Poetry for me is a complete mystery and seems out of my reach, sort of like a guy you want to date but you're too intimidated to approach directly. Poetry just shows up or it doesn't but I definitely feel it's out of my control in a sense. Fiction and I understand each other better. It doesn't necessarily come easy but it feels more like a partnership. But I have this horribly mean critic ins
has been a journalist and freelance magazine writer for many years, but she was inspired to start writing fiction when she lived for four years in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Her short stories have been in The Battered Suitcase, Ink-Filled Page and Tongues of the Ocean, and her novel, Fish-Eye Lens, is due from Belle Isle Books this fall. She now divides her time between Richmond, Va., and North Caicos Island. Her weekly blog and information about the novel and stories can be found at www.jodyrathgeb.com
.interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Spring 2011 competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?Jody:
Whenever I finish a story, either flash or longer, I begin looking for a proper “home” for it. The character’s dilemma in “Slave Hands
,” plus its flash form, seemed to make it a match for WOW.WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story? Jody:
All of my stories deal in some way with the islands and their people, and one issue that’s been rattling around in my head is the ambivalent relationship today’s islanders have with their history of slavery. I wanted to show that people can in some way “own” the past, even if they were slaves. Joseph, who is on the verge of adult thinking, seemed a fitting character for that.WOW: It's an excellent story. After living for four years in the Turks and Caicos Islands, you now divide your time between Richmond, Virginia and North Caicos Island. What led to this living arrangement, and can you describe the Caicos Islands for those of us who haven’t been there?Jody:
Quite frankly, it’s because my husband flunked retirement! We were doing a two-phase move to the islands, with me as the advance guard … but after Tom arrived he decided that he missed his work. When his former boss indicated that he would like to see Tom return, I knew that’s what he wanted to do. Living apart no longer made sense, so I came back to the U.S. But we still have a home on North Caicos, and I spend chunks of time there several times a year.
The Turks and Caicos Islands have spent the last 15 or so years emerging as a tourist destination, but the results have been ragged. Some islands, especially
Providenciales, are deep into the “tropical paradise” marketing game, but other places such as North Caicos are quieter, less developed and more connected to cultural traditions and the old ways. Think of the Bahamas in the 1950s. This makes it an interesting place, poised between the past and future.WOW: It sounds like a fascinating place to live. Your novel, Fish-Eye Lens, is coming out this fall. You must be very excited! What has your novel writing journey been like?Jody:
Holly Bauer-Ping grew up in Berwick, Maine, and currently works as a lawyer in Chicago. She lives with her boyfriend and three beloved cats. This is her very first writing contest entry
.interview by Marcia Peterson WOW: Congratulations on your second place win in our Spring 2011 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest, especially since this is your very first contest entry? Holly:
A friend had won a writing competition that I never would have thought of entering, and I wanted to see if I could do it too. I thought that having a deadline and other constraints, like a word limit, would be really motivating, and it was. I already had a rough draft of “Leave
,” and when I came across the WOW! Flash Fiction competition, it seemed like a good fit.WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story? Holly:
I spent time in Montreal a few years ago, and I was inspired by the subtle difference in culture. I thought Montreal would create a good backdrop for a character like Winnie, who carries a series of conflicted relationships around with her and wishes she could start over. Louise is an amalgam of several people I met there, who are refreshing to be around because they are so relaxed and joyful in life.WOW: I really liked the description of Louise in the story. Have you always enjoyed the genre, and how did you learn to write great flash fiction?Holly:
I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed the genre; in fact, I didn’t know it existed until a few years ago when friends introduced me to it—they were printing flash fiction on postcards you could subscribe to. I like the genre for the same reasons I like poetry—it has to be precise and condensed. And honestly, I write so erratically that the short format works with my limitations. I wish I had the time and attention span to commit to writing a sprawling novel, and I still hold out hope I’ll have the courage to commit to a project like that one day. WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Does it involve cafes, like your character, Winnie? Any favorite tools or habits that get you going?Holly:
Caffeine is definitely key! I have always kept a hand-written journal, but it's rare for me to write in public. And the habit comes and goes—sometimes I write almost daily for months, and then months pass when I don’t write at all. Sometimes I’ll think of a phrase I want to use for a story, or a character’s name, and I’ll write it down on the back of receipts or post-it notes, which end up in weird random places in my apartment. But on those occasions when I actually sit down to write something that has a middle, beginning, and end, I use a computer. WOW: Sounds like you've found a way to make it work in your busy life.
It's a small, small world! I'm so happy to introduce you to Denise R. Graham, whom I had the pleasure to interview since she won first place in the Summer 2011 Flash Fiction Contest. She lives a mere forty-five minutes from me; but even stranger yet, she is in the same critique group that I used to be in about six years ago. I am thrilled to introduce you to her. If you haven't checked out her winning piece, "Better Late," you can do so here
Denise is the author of two young reader fantasy novels: Eye of Fortune and Curse of the Lost Grove (Mirrorstone, 2004 and 2005). Her stories have appeared in such publications as A Cup of Comfort for Writers, a number of Magic the Gathering® anthologies, and Woman’s World. She lurks in her supervillain secret lair deep in the heart of darkest mid-America with her co-supervillain, the inimitable Ron Morris, and their henchkittens, Kafka and The Morrigan. Her passions range from reading to 80s alternative music to all things Caribbean and beyond. She’s a grateful Scribes Tribe groupie. Her current projects include a YA novel rewrite, a screenplay rewrite, and more flash fiction.
WOW: Congratulations, Denise, on your first place win. How exciting! What was it like to get the news that you had won first place with your story, "Better Late"?
Denise: Thank you! I rarely enter contests, and I thought my lack of experience might work against me. So finding out my story took first place was a fantastic surprise.
WOW: Where did you get the idea for the story?
Denise: I read about an appeal of a murder conviction. I wondered about the victim's family and friends. How they might feel, what they might do, how the emotional scars might change them. The story grew from that.
WOW: It's always so interesting to discover where writers get their ideas for stories. Is it difficult for you to write an entire story in 750 words or less? Do you tend to write more than enough--and have to CUT, CUT, CUT? Or do you have the opposite problem--never enough detail or enough words? In other words, what are your strategies for a flash fiction piece?
Denise: I generally don't try to fit a story into any specific size or format. I just write, and then I see how the work can be improved, whether that means expanding or
is the co-author of the young adult urban fantasy, The Apocalypse Gene
(Parker Publishing, Inc. 2011), on which she collaborated with her husband, Carlyle Clark. Their current co-project is a collection of speculative fiction stories set in the town of Redemption, Arkansas in the 1930s. Suki has two novels in progress and is a published poet. She owns a medical transcription company and works as a ghost-blogger for a Chicago celebrity. Suki is most proud of her beautiful daughter, Bree, who will soon complete her nursing training. Her passions include people-watching and chocolate.
Learn more about Suki’s co-written debut novel at: http://www.TheApocalypseGene.com
The Apocalypse Gene Fan Page: http://www.Facebook.com/TheApocalypseGene
Visit Suki’s blog: http://storymavens.wordpress.com/
Follow Suki on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Suki_Michelleinterview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2011 writing contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?Suki:
Thank you so much for the congratulations. The win was quite a thrill!
I wrote this piece as an exercise to see if I could express the feelings of a highly creative but lonely child. While the facts of the story mostly fictional, the atmosphere and emotional elements are real. Also, I had previously earned an Honorable Mention in an earlier WOW! Flash Fiction Contest, and I wanted to try again after another year of learning the craft. I was happy with the piece after at least a zillion edits (mostly deletes). WOW: We're so glad that you decided to try again! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "No One Told Me Stories?
I was trying to pinpoint the driving force behind my desire to be a writer. It began with a love of stories. My father was indeed a surgeon with an eidetic memory, though he behaved much better than the father in the story. My mother was very engaging, unlike the fictional mother. I was always encouraged to read and had many books. My grandmother often told me stories about her life in Russia during the pogroms and her experiences as an immigrant landing on Ellis Island as a young girl. Those stories were probably the first to both terrify inspire me.WOW: What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do? Suki:
Flash fiction poses a specific challenge. Every word must earn the right to live on the page. If you write some scintillating prose, the best ever, but it doesn’t contribute powerfully to the piece, DELETE! If it’s fluff, DELETE! If it’s repetitive or dull, DELETE! What remains must have voice, a message, subtext, imagery, texture, rhythm--all the elements of solid writing, but economical and concentrated. Flash fiction is closest to poetry in that regard--the fewest words for the most i
Congratulations to Laura McCarthy, who won second place in the Fall 2011 Flash Fiction Contest for her short story, "The Encounter." Laura, who holds a PhD in mass communication, has been a radio announcer, a college professor, and a weekly newspaper columnist, as well as an editor and publisher. In 2000, she opened a storefront writers’ center in upstate New York; the core group of novelists still meets weekly. More recently, she has been a sometime blogger (http://stardustbed.blogspot.com) and has just completed her first book (http://www.silkpurse.net).
She lives in Miami, Florida.
WOW: Welcome, Laura, where did you get the idea for "The Encounter"?
Laura: I recently returned to Miami after fifteen years in other parts of the country. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and lovers, but a lot can change in fifteen years. It’s often painful confronting our fantasies.
WOW: I think that's something many readers can identify with. Why did you chose the first line that you did? Was the beginning difficult to write?
Laura: Actually, the beginning was there as soon as I thought of the story. Driving across country gives your imagination a lot of time for writing scenarios. And I must confess I had read an excellent memoir written in the second person a month or two earlier. I’m sure that planted a seed.
WOW: Why do you write flash fiction?
Laura: This was my second flash fiction story. The format is a natural for me because I’m much better at editing than at writing. I find the honing and polishing process extremely gratifying. I’m planning to go through my extensive collection of unfinished short stories, to see which of them might be candidates for flash-izing.
1 Comments on Laura McCarthy, 2nd Place, Fall 2011 Flash Fiction Contest Winner, last added: 3/6/2012
A crazy character design for a cigar chomping, tough guy greaser cupid! Got a little John Kricfalusi to it, but it needs more. Way more!
This is my very first post on this wonderful site, and I'm absolutely thrilled and honored. So I thought I'd present y'all with an early Valentine.
Come by and visit when you get a chance.
Corinne Mahoney, a native of Massachusetts, lives in North Carolina with her husband and three children. She received her BA in English from the University of Notre Dame and a Master’s in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Knowledge Services Manager for a non-profit organization in the field of global health. She believes that writing can be transformative and would like to one day establish a non-profit fiction writing program for at-risk adolescent girls. Corinne was an avid writer throughout childhood and college, but found that life is full of excuses to set aside one’s dream. Her children and their beautiful, whacky imaginations have inspired her to put pen to paper again. Plus she says, “I expect my kids to pursue their dreams, so I better get going on my own.” Flash fiction is the genre of necessity for this full time working mother with three children 3 years old and younger, but a novel will come someday. Other neglected favorites include: traveling, hiking, and exploring local parks and restaurants.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Winter 2010 writing contest! How do you feel?
Elated and honored. It’s an excellent motivator to keep writing, and it’s a privilege to see my work featured among such strong talent.WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Attempted Interview with Randall Clark Rural Community Oral History Project/Eastern State University Interview Declined?
The phrase “we don’t talk about dead babies” wormed its way into my consciousness. When it didn’t go away, I knew there was a story to tell. I sat down, wrote that line and the rest came out. I was surprised by the trajectory the story took. I love, as a writer, when it feels as if the character is writing the story, as if you’re just along for the ride. Of course, the character never does a great job of editing, so I’ll take full credit there. That said, the story does touch on themes that I love to write about: grief, religiosity, parenthood, resilience, and the unspoken.WOW: It's a powerful story. Good thing you followed up on that phrase! Have you always enjoyed the genre, and how did you learn to write great flash fiction?
I love flash fiction. Even before I knew it was a genre, I found my short stories getting shorter and shorter. I prefer concise, intense writing, and I love to cut stories down to their core. Flash fiction leaves a lot up to the reader, and I like trusting the reader to fill in the details and context.
Cutting a piece down to a required word count is a great way to hone your editing skills. This story was originally around 950 words. I did a ruthless edit, but felt I could only get it down to 770. I almost didn't enter it. Those last 20 words were painful; I felt like I was taking a scalpel to the piece. In the end, though, it was a better story because of it.WOW: Your painful editing process led to a winning story, so again, congratulations.
Congratulations to Lauren Leatherman, who won second place in WOW!'s Winter 2010 Flash Fiction contest with her story, "Summer Before Junior High."
Lauren is a writer living in Jersey City, NJ. Originally from Syracuse, NY, she received her MFA in fiction from New York University and is the author of the chapbook How To Lose It (Hamilton College, 2005). Most recently, one of her short stories was shortlisted for the Best New American Voices series. In addition to writing, Lauren is an avid runner and yoga enthusiast who regularly publishes articles about running, nutrition, and holistic health and wellness. She currently works in marketing and is at work on a memoir. You can also check her out on the Jersey City Running Examiner.
WOW: Lauren, thank you for joining us on The Muffin today. Let's talk about your winning piece. Where did you get the idea for "Summer Before Junior High?"
Lauren: There are two girls in my family--I'm the oldest. Anyone who is an older sister to a sister knows that an inherent competition exists between even the most loving sisters. In the case of my story, I wanted to convey the idea that sisters--often for unspecified reasons--will compete with one another or be critical of one another. The narrator of "Summer Before Junior High" feels the need to differentiate herself from her younger sister at this crucial point in her life. She's about to enter junior high--a pivotal time for girls, as they're beginning their transformation from child to young adult. The fact the narrator has experienced a kiss with an older boy means, to her, that she's breaking free from the confines of childhood. She's proud of this fact and critical of her sister for still being a kid, still being interested in boondoggle and "childish" trappings. She wants to distinguish herself from her sister as much as possible; yet, she's still inextricably tied to her, not just by blood but the deeper bond that sisters share. It's a complicated relationship, filled with love and misgivings, but most relationships between sisters are complicated.
WOW: You captured all of that so well and in so few words! Great job! You wrote this story in present tense, and it makes the reader feel like she is there with your two characters. Do you often write in present tense? Why or why not?
Lauren: I do write in present tense fairly often. I guess that's just the way my mind works. I really like the immediacy of present tense; like you said, it makes the reader feel as though she's part of the story, experiencing what the characters experience in real-time.
I do, however, thinks there is value to writing in past tense, too. In present tense, you sometimes feel as though you have to explain in minute detail exactly what your character is doing at every single moment in the text. This works well for short stories but can get kind of tedious with longer works.
Kelly Thompson has been writing non-fiction for over 20 years, working as a reporter, news editor, commercial copywriter, and in government publications. She recently decided to try her hand at fiction; this is her first writing contest and she is honored to have made it to the Top 10. Whether reading or writing, she looks for a story with sharp characters, smart dialogue, and a good twist. Her fiction has appeared in River Life, and is currently looking for other publications to grace. Her recent writing projects include a nearly completed screenplay and a novel that is patiently awaiting edits. In her non-writing hours, she stays busy doing a weekly radio show, reading, camping, shooting pool, and spending time with family and friends.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Winter 2010 Flash Fiction Contest! How do you feel?
Kelly: Thank you! I'm thrilled and honored to have been chosen as a runner-up, and I'm very appreciative of the positive response to my story. After reading the other Top 10 stories, I definitely feel that I'm in good writing company. The experience has helped to reaffirm my commitment to my writing. Thank you, WOW, for making these opportunities possible.
WOW: You’re welcome, and we love your reaction! You mentioned in your bio that the WOW! contest was the first writing contest you’ve ever entered. What made you decide to do it?
Kelly: Although I've been writing non-fiction for a long time, I'm fairly new to fiction writing, especially flash fiction. I have a group of family and friends that read my work and they've been very supportive and encouraging but sometimes because they want me to succeed, they're not the most objective of critics. I felt it was important to get my writing out to a broader audience, and see how I fared against other writers. I read some of the winning entries from past WOW contests and I was impressed with the variety of the submissions, as well as the diverse experiences of the writers. I liked that the Winter 2010 Flash Fiction Contest was an open prompt so I could write virtually anything. After years of assignment work, it was a nice change to tell a story I wanted to tell, instead of being told what to write about. I was surprised and excited to make it to the Top 100 and blown away to make the Top 10 my first time out. Entering the contest was definitely a good move!
WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Meet Me at Dorsky’s?
Kelly: I was intrigued by the thought that sometimes the hardest people to talk to about what's going on in your life are the people you're closest to, and the way you talk to them can determine how they react to the news. Add to that the complexity of family relationships and the desire for acceptance, and you've pretty much got the gist behind "Dorsky's". When I write, I strive to create strong characters who really have something to say and are direct in how they say it. And I personally enjoy stories that have a good twist, whether it's a subtle one that you can sort of see coming or one that springs up when you don't expect it. In "Meet Me at Dorsky's",
Congratulations to Caleb Collier for placing 2nd in the 2010 Spring Flash Fiction contest. You can read his winning story, "Bedtime Story," here.
Caleb grew up in Pound, VA, in a hollow of the Appalachian Mountains. He is a storyteller at heart and puts words to his solitude from time to time. He works for a non-profit organization called Give Us Names, which seeks to use storytelling as a means to combat social injustice. Right now, he can be found in Columbia, working on a documentary about the tragedy of displacement.
WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Caleb, and congratulations on your win! Where did you get the idea for "Bedtime Story?"
Caleb: I remember glancing at a picture in the newspaper of a woman I never knew. Somehow, I got this strange feeling that all this woman would ever be to me is a person made out of paper. So that, combined with that creative spark of loneliness that pushes you to dream up a lover where none exists, led me to pen the words, "There once lived a girl who was made out of paper." The piece took shape from there.
WOW: That's a great line! What are the themes you are exploring in your flash fiction piece?
Caleb: Well, there is the theme of identity. The paper metaphor serves as a way for this girl to see the "stuff" she is made of, to know who she is, and how she is put together. It is also written through the lens of exaggerated perfection. It seems to be the voice of someone completely enraptured with this woman, describing her every feature in poetic detail. I think loneliness is a thread through the story. For all we know, this girl is the only one of the Paper People. There seems to be a great deal of solitude in her life. And, of course, you have the theme of death. It seems to be a place that most stories end.
WOW: Your imagery is fantastic. How difficult was it to get the description and story into such a small amount of words?
Caleb: Imagery is often about what is left unsaid. Give the reader just enough color and let them to finish the painting.
WOW: So true. How long have you been writing and what are your favorite types of pieces to write?
Caleb: I have been writing since before I could read. It's always been the way I interpret the world around me. I have tried to tackle just about every type of written word--from screenplays to poetry, novels, letters, journal articles, short stories, and a master's thesis. I even dabbled in haikus for a summer. I get different things out of each project. I like the intimacy you can put into a letter, the dialogue in a script, the character development in novels, and well, the poetry in poetry. But I think short stories are what I enjoy most. I can tell the story I want to tell and be done with it.
WOW: What is a current project you are working on?
Caleb: Well, I have this novel I've been toying around with for the last year. It is written as a sort of faux-me
Mary Elizabeth Summer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer who spends her days writing training materials for various companies and her nights racing pell-mell across the keyboard after her rampaging imagination. She writes novel-length stories with occasional forays into shorter fiction, and she writes for young adults, except for when she doesn't. She has a BA in creative writing (she BSes everything else), and she haunts bookstores for fun. Her current writing project is a young adult novel about a girl on the grift. Non-writing interests include volunteering at a horse-therapy program for autistic children and learning the fine art of parenting from her newborn daughter.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Spring 2010 competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?
Mary Elizabeth: Thank you! I was very honored to be chosen from among such talented writers. Actually, I was inspired to enter the contest when I read that I could receive a critique of my entry. I didn't expect to actually place in the contest. I was happily surprised when I did, but also happy to get a professional opinion about the story.
WOW: Glad your expectations were exceeded! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Of Crepes and Constancy?"
Mary Elizabeth: It's kind of a funny story. My writing group decided to try a variation of the exquisite corpse exercise in which each of us put two sentences into a hat and then draw two sentences out. One sentence was to be used as the first sentence of a story, and the second sentence was meant to be the last sentence of the story. The first sentence I drew was "How many times can you burn a crepe before it really does mean something?" In my original version of the story, I managed to end it with the second sentence, but in the revision process, I had to cut it, because it didn't quite work. As for the substance of the piece, at the time I wrote it, I was noticing a pattern in the relationships of people around me--a certain sort of insincerity that led to mind games and dissatisfaction. I had actually meant it to be a comical story, but it didn't turn out that way. Funny how characters sometimes take a story and run in completely the opposite direction with it.
WOW: For writers who may be interested in what you do for a living, could you describe what it’s like writing training materials for various companies?
Mary Elizabeth: It can be challenging at times. I have to take a bunch of information about something I know absolutely nothing about and shape it in a way that makes sense to someone else who knows nothing about it so that they learn. It involves a lot of adult learning theory and subject matter experts and ridiculous budget constraints and unrealistic turn-around times and blah blah blah corporate blah. It is a pretty sweet job, though. I essentially get to write for a living, which is the golden apple, right?
WOW: It sounds like a demanding but interesting job. How do you switch gears to write fiction at
Karen Simmonds has always tried to shoehorn writing into a busy schedule which currently includes homeschooling the youngest of her three daughters, running a wedding business with the eldest, and preparing to be a grandmother (in three weeks time!) All of this provides endless fodder and, as a result, thoughts of what she will write about next are rare. The great thing about writing is that you can usually do it until a ripe old age, which she plans to do. Karen has been involved with a writers’ group for nearly thirteen years. She has found that having deadlines, even self-imposed ones, helps keep forward momentum. She is also happy to have found a place like WOW!
that fosters that final step in the process for every writer: sending out your work. She is glad to have had the opportunity to participate.
Find out more about Karen by visiting her website: http://www.westminsterhallandchapel.com/
. interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on placing in the Top 10 with two stories, an amazing accomplishment! What inspired you to enter the contest?Karen:
Thanks so much! A friend of mine in my writer's group, more fearless than I, told me about the contest and that I should enter. In addition, I was annoyed with myself for hardly ever sending out my work, always thinking it could be better, etc. So what if it can be better--how much better? I have seen stories that are overworked and that flowed better on the second draft than the fourth or fifth. Sometimes the inner critic needs to be bound and gagged.WOW: Both of your entries were fantastic. Can you tell us what encouraged the ideas behind your stories, 1974 and Vessel? Karen:
"Vessel" was inspired by my twenty-seven yr. old pregnant daughter. Seeing her with her hand on her belly, the devotion already there, made me wonder what kind of person could perpetrate fraud on unsuspecting couples and fail to form such an attachment themselves. It occurred to me that there could be something more going on there, something altruistic. It was an interesting character study, to be sure. Human motivation is such an amazing thing.
"1974" was reminiscent of my childhood years. I was more like the tom-boy character but had a little of the social awkwardness as well. I really wanted to explore those fleeting friendships we all had when we were young and had trouble truly defining. How and why do they start and, even more inexplicably, how and why do they end? It's such a joyful time of life, but also painful and confusing. Whoever says being a kid is easy may have forgotten a few things along the way.WOW: Have you always enjoyed the genre, and how did you learn to write great flash fiction?Karen:
I've always been drawn to the challenge of making the most of my words. Flash Fiction is defini
Cynthia Tracy Larsen
lives in southern Vermont with her husband and three daughters. She pretends to run the office for their landscaping company but is often caught writing. She graduated from the University of Maine at Machias with a degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Her historical novel, LOT’S DAUGHTERS, is currently on submission. She is trying her hand at short stories while she waits for the next novel to knock her over the head and carry her away.
This story began as a workshop piece for Roxanna Robinson’s class at the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference in the spring of 2010. A Cup of Coffee
is Cynthia’s first publication.interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2010 writing contest! How do you feel? Cynthia:
Thanks for asking, Marcia! I was really excited that my story was chosen. And surprised. This is my first publication, so it feels especially valuable to me. I was on vacation with my family when I found out, and quickly ordered up a round of mimosas to toast my achievement. But before we put down our glasses, my sister won $1000.00 in bingo and stole my moment! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Of course, she was forced to buy drinks for the rest of the trip, so I feel like I got even.WOW: I'm no stranger to those Brady Bunch references! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, A Cup of Coffee? Cynthia:
Most of my stories start with visuals. I pictured a woman, sitting in a diner, waiting for a man. I was interested in the idea that life-altering decisions can be made so quickly. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.WOW: You did a great job--it was very moving. What was the editing process like for the story, which began as a workshop piece for a class?Cynthia: A Cup of Coffee
started as a one-page character sketch for Roxanna Robinson’s workshop at the Wesleyan Writers Conference. Originally I had a bit of Ray’s back-story in it, which I think crowded the story. So I took that part out, which enabled me to flesh Caroline out a bit more. Even though the story didn’t change much, there was a lot of tweaking. That’s the challenge of flash, trying to squeeze out all of the extra air.WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines, especially since you have three children. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going? Cynthia:
My writing habits change as my life changes. When my kids were little, I went through a period of time where I got up every day at 5 am to write. And I am not a morning person. Mainly I have become a hoarder of time. I don’t say ‘free time,’ because when you have three kids and two part-time jobs those two words do not co-exist. When my youngest daughter started pre-school, instead of usin