Tuesday, March 09, 2010

 

Arlene L. Walker, 2nd Place Winner - Fall 2009 Flash Fiction Contest

Arlene’s Bio:

Arlene L. Walker is passionate about the written word. Her friends tell her even her Emails are writ full of drama. For years, she worked as a stenographer writing other people's words until one day she was forced from the workplace. She decided to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. She enrolled in the UCLA Writers Program to pursue a Certificate in Fiction. She began to enter first one short story contest, then another, and another. She was thrilled to finally garner an Honorable Mention in a publication last year, but being in the top ten of the WOW! Women On Writing Fall 2009 Flash Fiction Contest is her highest achievement to date. When she's not spending time with her family, Arlene is either reading, writing, or working on her blog about her Bucket List escapades, Adventuresalon.blogspot.com. Her favorite quote is by Ayn Rand who said, "It isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me." Next stop for Arlene is penning the Great American Novel.

If you haven’t read her winning entry, you can do so here, and then c’mon back for our interview with Arlene.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: So glad you could join us today, Arlene, and congratulations! How does it feel to be one of the top finishers in WOW! Flash Fiction Contest?

Arlene: It feels like I'm eating a bucket of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and not getting fat. It's a dream come true.

WOW: (laughs) Fabulous, that has to be one of the best responses yet! We’re glad you feel that way! If you would, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Arlene: I was born and raised in the housing projects of Los Angeles, though I now live in the suburbs. I'm married with children -- actually, they're adults now and living on their own. I am happy to say not once did I ever experience empty nest syndrome. I presently attend the UCLA Writers Program, and I'm just thrilled to be there. It's where my imagination soars.

WOW: Isn’t it great how writing does that? Let’s talk about your entry. In your story, you took a unique approach regarding your character’s experience with abortion, not a topic that’s easily approachable. Can you share how you decided to take this direction in creating your story?

Arlene: I wanted to expose the brutality of illegal abortions, and how a 15-year old pregnant virgin might deal with it. During a procedure in which she is almost fully awake, her only avenue of escape is via the movie reel of her life she plays in her head.

WOW: As I read, I could easily see your story being turned into a short film. Your story packed a heck of a wallop, elliciting a range of emotions from me. Not an easy read, but worth the effort to do so. Good work!

Arlene, your bio mentions that you went from being a stenographer to actively pursuing your writing dream, including enrolling in the UCLA Writers Program to pursue a Certificate in Fiction. Quite a switch in gears! Can you share that experience with us?

Arlene: I worked for many years in a high-volume criminal court where day in and day out, I wrote down verbatim everything that was said during the trial. As such, you're not an active participant, but a silent observer. Well, that left my mind to wander, and I'd make up backstories in my head about the various witnesses, attorneys, and the criminals they defend. That spawned a desire to use my creative side. When I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome a few years ago, I was no longer able to perform my duties, and was forced by my employer into an early retirement. I took those lemons and made lemonade, where I serve it up by the pitcher full at the UCLA Writers Program.

WOW: Seeing an opportunity to pursue your dreams and going for it. What a great example of the perseverance we writers need to develop.

Let’s talk about your writing habits. Do you have a specific routine that you follow?

Arlene: Having Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, I am limited in the time spent on the computer, so -- again -- I do most of the formulation of a story in my head. Then I write it down little by little. Flash Fiction seems to work best for me.

WOW: I’d have to agree on that. It does take practice to write short and tight for flash fiction, and your story was very successful in achieving that. Now, in addition to writing fiction, you’re also a blogger. I have to say that Adventure Salon, your blog of ‘bucket list’ activities, was a delight to read. What made you decide to blog about your adventures in travel?

Arlene: I'm delighted that you were delighted by my blog! I think everyone has a list of things they'd like to do in their wildest dreams. I'd always had a list; I just didn't know it was called a Bucket List until the movie was made. So when the writer within was fighting to get out, that was the only way I knew to channel it. Blogs are a good place to practice your writing, and the blog site is free. And if it's free. . . it's me.

WOW: With the availability of free blog sites, it's easy to get started. And I agree that blogging's a great way to expand writing skills.

Let's talk about down time. When it comes to winding down, what types of books do you turn to? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction in either your reading or writing?

Arlene: The only nonfiction I read may be a biography here and there, or books about writing. I'd already read Noah Lukeman's First Five Pages, so I was honored that he was the judge who selected my story for 2nd place. I guess my genre of choice to read is literary fiction. Though I love me some John Grisham, too. Of course, I want to be a literary writer, and I hope I am considered that.

WOW: I think you’re off to a pretty good start with that. How about current writing projects? What are you working on?

Arlene: I'm currently working on a post-Civil War saga about a former slave of the Cherokee Tribe who is caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between the Indians and a land-hungry United States. The heroine is called Sput Louie, and she hungers for her own piece of The American Dream. There's a lot of research to it, but research is one of my favorite parts of writing. That and revision. I know; I'm officially weird.

WOW: That sounds fascinating! I’m with you on researching, I enjoy it too. Have to pass on the revision aspect of writing, though. But, it’s all good that it jazzes you!

Wrapping up, what kind of advice would you like to leave for our readers?

Arlene: My father always said to me, "Know thyself first." In other words, I think he meant pay attention to you, which I didn't for a long time. One day, while cleaning out my bookcases, I discovered a gazillion how-to-write books that I'd purchased throughout the decades. Had I been paying more attention to me, I would have realized how badly I wanted this writing life, and would have embarked on this journey much sooner. As it is, I'm in Act III of my life, but I plan on having many, many encores.

WOW: Your father sounds like a wise man. Good thing for us that you paid attention! Arlene, thanks so much for sharing a bit of yourself with us today. All the best in your writing, and we’ll be looking forward to those encores!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

 

Interview with Abby Everett Tignor, 2nd Place Personal Essay Winner

The Muffin welcomes second place winner in the Fall 2008 personal essay contest, Abby Everett Tignor. If you haven't read Abby's winning essay, "Dust Bunnies," you can do so here.

Abby states, "My most vivid memories as a child are of the local library and the stack of books I’d haul home every month, thinking that someday I’d write that great novel. I have yet to write the first word of said novel—apparently because I’ve been too busy living my life, which has provided all kinds of great material of the non-fiction sort. This is my first major contest entry, but the editors of Women in the Outdoors Magazine did actually pay me real money for an article I wrote a few years ago. So I now call myself a published author, looking for more. When I’m not putting skewed memories to paper, I go to my day job as a death claims examiner for a large insurance company. They frown on using too much creativity, humor, or dicey language in our correspondence concerning the dearly departed, so I’m forced to find my outlet elsewhere.

I live in rural Ohio with my husband of 25 years, who provides me with yet more material. We have two pretty cool sons, an ornery little granddaughter, donkey, mule and a large and grumpy Doberman. When we’re not tending to our five acres of paradise, we’re hanging at our river cabin, which attracts characters that really deserve their own book. Besides writing, I enjoy kayaking, photography, cooking and enjoying a cold beverage with friends and family as the river flows by. Please come visit me at http://abbybythepound.typepad.com/notwrite/. "

WOW!: Welcome, Abby! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Congratulations on your 2nd place win! Was it easy or difficult for you to write to the prompt for WOW!'s Fall 2008 Contest? Why? Did you come up with an idea right away?

Abby: I find it easier to write to a prompt for a contest, which explains why this has been my only major entry so far- I just have a hard time narrowing down my ideas! I lean toward non-fiction, so this prompt was fairly easy for me and didn't take long to draft out.

WOW!: Well, we are glad this prompt inspired you and helped you narrow your ideas. We also hope that you will continue working on pieces and maybe entering contests or submitting your work because you obviously can write! In your winning essay, you do a great job of paralleling what was happening in your home to what was happening in your personal life. How did you get the idea to write about this subject?

Abby: At first, the obvious path was to point out how my decorating affected my personal life and vice versa. After thinking it through, though, I discovered that the real story here was how I had managed to un-decorate my home and myself without realizing it. My emotional/physical state at any given time pretty much paralleled what condition the house was in!

WOW!: What a great self-realization! It makes me want to look at how I've decorated or un-decorated my house at certain points and figure out why. How do you feel about writing to a certain word count? Is it easier or harder to write a short piece or long piece?

Abby: I think it's much harder to write a short piece. As a story idea comes to mind, I never think I have enough material until I start writing. Once the words start flowing, one paragraph leads to another; and before I know it, I'm way over limit. It's a great learning tool, though, as it forces me to cut out the junk and focus on the quality and necessity of each and every word.

WOW!: I think that is something all writers struggle with--writing too much. But as you pointed out, usually when we start cutting, as painful as it may be, we produce a better, tighter piece. What do you feel are the benefits of entering a contest, (besides winning!)?

Abby: Well, the winning was sweet, of course, and totally unexpected, but that's not why I entered. I had dabbled in writing some time ago, but I didn't get serious about it until recently. I read, researched the Web, prepared myself in every way....except for the actual writing part! Fear and uncertainty kept me from putting anything to paper, so I decided that a formal contest with a deadline, prompt and word count, would be a great way to dive in head-first and get over the anxiety. It worked-- I've been writing ever since and winning second place was a huge boost. Another plus is that, unlike a book proposal, there was no direct rejection involved, which I thought was important, just starting out.

WOW!: I think one reason why contests are so important is what you said above. Contests give you a deadline, sometimes a certain genre to write in, and a word-count. If you are stuck in a writing rut, at least by entering a contest, you are producing a new piece of work. And maybe you will get that little extra boost if you win! You mentioned in your bio you want to write a novel, but you haven't started yet. What are some of your writing goals for the future?

Abby: The novel has been put on hiatus for now, as I've discovered I have more fun writing non-fiction and have a daily supply of material. I'm using my blog as a practice tool and like the contest, it's forced me to continue my writing on a regular basis-- I have a small circle of friends who happen to share my sense of humor and demand new material! In the near future, I'd like to focus on gathering some related memoir pieces for a book (with knowledge bestowed upon me during inappropriate conversation and mimosas with Hollis Gillespie and her memoir students in Atlanta-great class!) and also begin piecing together a biography on my great aunt, who was an Alaskan pioneer.

WOW!: (laughs) Any class with mimosas has to be a great class, right? I think it is great that you are listening to your inner writer and following your interests right now--an Alaskan pioneer--just the subject sounds like something I would definitely want to read! Your day job as a death claims examiner for a large insurance company sounds really interesting. Do any of your work experiences make it into your manuscripts? If not, where do you get your inspiration?

Abby: Yes, investigating death claims has been quite an experience, which I'm sure will someday inspire a book or two. We deal with so much emotion, family dynamics, murder, etc., that it's hard not to be affected at the end of each day--maybe that's why I focus so much on humor. I have yet to use any of this in my writing out of respect for the families and as a privacy issue. Some day, when I do delve into fiction, I hope to incorporate some of the more intriguing and quirky aspects of my job into a book. My inspiration at the moment comes from the simple craziness of every day life-- what makes me laugh or scratch my head and wonder, and also from my childhood memories as I had a rather interesting upbringing.

WOW!: It sounds like you have a great writing career ahead of you, Abby! Congratulations again on your 2nd place win, and we look forward to hearing your name in the literary world again.

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Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, http://www.margodill.com/, Read These Books and Use Them

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