Tuesday, November 10, 2009

 

Interview With Michelle Dwyer - WOW! Spring 2009 Fiction Contest Runner Up


Michelle Dwyer’s love for writing began in high school. She’d studied creative writing and soon after, longed to become a published author. However circumstances arose, causing her to join the military while pursuing business classes instead.

Despite receiving high accolades for her military service, she felt incomplete. When the opportunity presented itself, she finished her first romantic/crime novel and enrolled in the writing course given by the Long Ridge Writers' Group, all while completing her MBA. When she graduates from Texas A&M this fall, she will pursue her MFA in creative writing.


Through all that she has overcome, Michelle realizes that every experience, good and bad, has led her back to what she is supposed to be doing—creating stories that compel people to think.

Between graduate school and rearing two beautiful kids, this single mother writes articles as a premier writer on the Helium website under the pen name Krymzen Hall. She invites you to read her work at http://www.helium.com/users/421563/show_articles.

If you haven't read Michelle's entry, "Reflection", please check it out here, then come back for our interview with her.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First of all, congratulations to you, Michele, for placing in our Spring ’09 Fiction Contest! How does it feel?

MICHELLE: Unreal, as if something good happened to me that only happens to other people. I was in a hotel room with my children when I checked my email and then discovered I’d placed. I started screaming and dropped my laptop. My kids thought something was wrong! To me, it was as if I’d won the lottery. Then, when I calmed down, and finished calling everybody, I had to check my laptop to make sure it still worked.

WOW: What a great response and we’re glad that your laptop survived your exuberance!

Reflection” was haunting, but also had me thinking. Our reflections see so much, and are probably the closest to us. What were the circumstances that led you to write your piece?

MICHELLE: It was personal. I went through a divorce that left me with emotional scars, and ultimately, I had to look inside myself to find the strength I needed to heal. “Reflection” has elements of physical abuse, as I’m sure you know, which did not happen to me, but the components of the story and the message are the same: No matter how bad an experience, we all have the strength to overcome, if we allow ourselves to. Change is scary, no matter how good or how bad. Moving on to better things is no different than any other change—the future is uncertain. Luckily, through writing and perseverance, I’ve been able to reclaim who I am and realize that change is good.

WOW: Glad that you were able to take such a painful situation and redeem it, so that you could heal. As you’ve alluded, writing can be a great help in this. Hopefully, someone will read this and be inspired to utilize what you’ve learned for themselves through their own writing.

Speaking of which, what kind of writing inspires you?

MICHELLE: Anything. That’s the beauty of fiction. Authors are only limited to their imaginations. I enjoy reading stories that evoke my sensual side, and once I tap into that, then I can write about love, sex, and chance encounters all night. But I can also read an article in the Wall Street Journal, and before I finish, I’ve created a character, perhaps a single father, who realizes he’s been set up by his peers through a phony insider trading scheme, and now he has to find a way out before his custody trial. Stuff like that.

WOW: I’m definitely in agreement with you regarding how fiction can give the imagination a workout, while providing sources of inspiration for future projects.

Let’s talk more about your writing habits. Have you established a writing routine or schedule for yourself?

MICHELLE: Lately, I’ve been so consumed in graduate work that I haven’t been able to devote the amount of time I want to the craft. But I never go to sleep until I’ve either finished at least one story of at least 500 words, or have begun a new story, even if it’s, just a few lines. Writers write, no matter what. If I stop writing, then I’m not a writer anymore. Needless to say I have a pile of stories.

WOW: “Writers write, no matter what.” I need to make sure I have these words before me all the time, especially during those times I'm tempted to pass on writing in my journal. And having those 500 words written before turning in for the night is a good habit to establish, I think. That way, you can be sure you won’t get rusty.

Now, what would you like to have readers take away with them as they read your work?

MICHELLE: As far as the story, it depends on the moral I’m trying to convey to my readers. In general, I believe in second chances and redemption, so I hope that my readers will end up falling in love with the same character they originally started out hating. As far as what I write, I want my readers to understand that I am not afraid of pushing the envelope with some things. And I want them to say, “Wow, that has never been done before.”

WOW: I did see the theme of second chances and redemption while reading “Reflection” and I felt that the transparency and vulnerability displayed was times difficult to approach. I think it was good that you pushed the envelope in creating your piece, because I believe sometimes it’s necessary to go to an uncomfortable place to reveal the story that needs to be told.

Let's switch gears. Your bio mentioned that you’re enrolled in a Long Ridge Writers’ Group course. What are you studying and how did you come to select them?

MICHELLE: I’m taking the Breaking Into Print course. I’d been looking into writing schools and one day, I happened to be reading WOW!’s ezine and I saw the link to Long Ridge. At first, I was apprehensive because the school is selective. I had to take a writing test just see if I was good enough to enroll. That is some scary stuff, let me tell you! For a couple of months, I put off the test. Then I decided to go for it, and luckily, the school accepted me. Now I am almost done. I think enrolling in Long Ridge was one of my smartest decisions and it will help me prepare for my MFA studies.

WOW: Sounds great, congratulations on nearing completion of your studies with Long Ridge.
it's always good for writers to continue improving our craft. Classes, workshops and seminars are fabulous ways to accomplish this!

Do you have a particular genre that you prefer?

MICHELLE: Can I say this on national Internet? I like many, but erotica is one of my favorites. I think some people lump this into the category of pornography, but it is far from that. Well-written erotica is actually some of the most beautiful and thought provoking prose a person can read. I also like a good romance with sprinkles of mystery and hints of action. I’ll write a good fight scene any day. I think what drives me, however, is the lengths that people will go for the people they love. How much can one man take to reconcile with his lady? How far will a woman go to spare her best friend’s feelings? In short, things that threaten our moral codes give me plenty of material to write a compelling story, regardless of what flavor the genre.

WOW: So, it appears that your tastes tend to be multi-genre, which can help in making a writer well-rounded. And I believe your words serve as encouragement for writers who may be interested in erotica.

Moving to your personal life, you’re raising two children as a single mother, completed your first novel, are finishing up your MBA from Texas A&M, and will pursue a MFA in creative writing soon after. Just going through that list wore me out! How do you manage it all?

MICHELLE: Yeah, I’m worn out too! Honestly, I don’t know how I manage. It has taken tremendous sacrifice to get to this point. I think sheer will, organization, and sacrificing sleep allow me to achieve my goals. I can’t do this forever, but I am close to the point where I can take my life in a different direction and start enjoying the fruits of my labor, and I can do more for my kids. I love the business world; however writing will always be my passion. So I am hoping my MFA studies will feel more like fun and less like work. All you MFA’s out there can chime in here and give me some pointers, hint hint.

WOW: (chuckles) Okay, Michelle’s put a call out to the MFA’s! She’s seeking advice on how to make her MFA studies more fun. Can you help a writing sister out?

Also in your bio, you mentioned writing your first book, a romantic/crime novel. More congratulations to you! Can you share with us how your book came to be?

MICHELLE: People say all the time, “Man, I could write a book about such and such.” Then they go on about their lives never again revisiting the thought. But “could” and “will” are two different things. I knew that a lot of feelings and memories caged inside me needed to be expressed, and in 2002, Understanding the Affair was born. I told somebody close to me, “I will write a book.” And there you have it. The story contains some racial controversy and at times gets gritty; but because of personal experiences, I am in a unique position to write about what I understand, can deal with what is not always pleasant, and relish in the fact that there are brighter days ahead of the drama.

The book is NOT a biographical account of my life. But there are elements in the story that have come from my personal experiences, some that will probably end up shocking the people closest to me. Writing is hard work. It entails a lot of late nights and research. But I must say I think I’ve done a pretty good job.

WOW: I'd have to agree! Looks like you’ve pushing the envelope again with such an intriguing novel! Do you have any other projects currently in the works?

MICHELLE: I am working on a few novels. Of course I had to do a sequel to Understanding the Affair, entitled Understanding the Trial, where one of my secondary characters will take on a more leading role. My next project, Girls Turning Into Women, Again, is the brainchild of one of my friends, and is the story of a few ladies who either need to grow up, atone, or reverse the fallout from not following their dreams. It was funny. My friend called me one night VERY excited. She gave me the title and said, “Please do something with it.” So I am honoring her request.

And then, of course, I have to throw in some interracial controversy with Connecticut, my third project. Stay tuned…

WOW: Oh, we will! Can't wait! Before wrapping up, what bit of advice would you offer to our women/aspiring writers?

MICHELLE: Don’t quit. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us that create our biggest obstacles. All we can do is respect their opinions but follow our own dreams. And those rejection letters? Sister, just get some tissue, cry it out, and move on.

And always remember this: It’s okay to think with your head while following your heart. The two are NOT mutually exclusive…risky maybe, but that’s the beauty of life…

WOW: Persevere and follow your dreams. Thanks for the reminder, more wisdom to tuck away for the future!

Michelle, you're such an inspiration to me personally and I'm sure to our readers! It was quite enjoyable talking with you today. Best of luck with your studies and your writing!

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

 

Interview with Amy Perry, Runner Up in WOW!'s Spring 09 Flash Fiction Contest

Amy Perry is a graduate student for sociology and teaching assistant at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, as well as a part-time barista at a Barnes and Noble cafe, which has, if not inspired her love for coffee and reading, at least cemented it. She has previously been published in her university's two literary magazines, and won third place in the WOW! Women on Writing Summer '08 Flash Fiction Contest with her piece Ueno. When not writing, working or learning, she spends her time tending to the needs of her spoiled kitten Stark (pictured here clinging to her shoulders), and reading Marvel Comics.

Do check out Amy's entry, Much Like Flying, and then join us back here for a little one-on-one with her.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First, congratulations to you, Amy! How are you taking in being selected as a runner-up in our Spring ’09 Contest?

AMY: I am extremely honored. It sounds pessimistic, but every time I enter a contest, it's with the assumption that I'm going to lose--I hate having my hopes hinge on any one thing only to end up disappointed. I've read quite a few winning entries and several interviews, and the skill of the individuals who enter these contests is astounding. Competition is fierce; I went into it expecting nothing, but ended up surprised and thrilled.

WOW: Your entry proves that your writing skill is comparable to that of the other entrants, and we’re so glad that your entered our contest! Speaking of your entry, you chose to focus on a rather difficult subject, a girl contemplating suicide and the outcome. Was there an event or person that prompted you to write this?

AMY: No specific event, no. I hesitate to say all, but I think a good portion of those who have weathered the storms of middle school and high school have experienced suicidal ideation, with varying degrees of intensity. And yet, in spite of that, we as a society are hesitant to discuss suicide without reverting to stereotypes. I wanted the focus of the story to be a more nuanced portrayal of suicide than one typically sees in mainstream media.

It's a difficult subject to write about without seeming to trivialize it, and I'm sure some would make the argument that I am trivializing it, because what is clearly a significant event (throwing oneself in front of an oncoming train) is treated as just a hiccup in the day's plans for all those who bear witness to it. It seems preposterous, but that's what I was going for. When the girl justifies her need to leave by claiming she has a math test, and the station attendant accepts it, I want people to stop and go "wait, what?"

The girl is clearly troubled, she suffers from a profound sense of alienation, and that alienation is a result of an interplay between active neglect, passive disinterest, and well-meaning naiveté. As a society, we like answers that can fit into a newspaper headline. Who's at fault here? The mother? The teacher? The station attendant? The girl? Society? The truth is it may be all of the above or none of the above, but in our knee jerk attempt to digest the story we're apt to grab and cling onto the answer that, if it isn't the most obvious, at least makes the most sense to us as uninvolved observers. But in doing so, we tend to whitewash all other contributing factors out, and that stunts our understanding.

This story is just the corner piece to a much bigger puzzle; it contains no obvious answers, and the hows and whys are largely absent. Readers have to fill in the blanks, and in doing so, it makes them think. That was my intent, anyway.

WOW: I think you were successful, for I did find myself saying, “Wait, what?” more than a few times. I can’t recall reading a story concerning suicide portrayed in this way. I found it refreshing, actually, and didn’t feel that the subject had been trivialized. It didn’t have a neat ending and that was appreciated. As they read, I hope our readers will enjoy filling in the blanks for themselves.

What about the title for your story, how did you come to select it?

AMY: The title came to me shortly after the idea to the story did, which is unusual, because the typical short story process for me includes a teeth grinding session at the end while I try to come up with some word or phrase that embodies the piece as a whole. This time I had the title in mind as I wrote, and my writing was somewhat shaped by it. It's a powerful image to me, the distinction between jumping to end one's life and learning to fly. The difference, of course, is that we're not built to fly. And then there's that pesky thing called gravity. But just because we can't, doesn't mean we don't try.

WOW: ‘Teeth grinding session’. I think that’s a perfect description for what many writers go through when trying to create titles for works. It’s encouraging to know that others may have similar struggles in this process.

Amy, you’re not a newcomer to our flash fiction competition, you previously placed third in our Summer ’08 Contest. What do you think has helped you in producing winning contest entries?

AMY: Well I almost feel like flash fiction is a cheat for me, because it emphasizes the things I think I've got some degree of skill at (strong ideas, clear voice), while at the same time downplaying my weaknesses (story abandonment). I guess one thing that helped me was having a good feel for the kind of story you can tell with only seven hundred words. Not every idea can be adapted successfully to flash fiction, and with both this entry and the one prior, there were several unsuccessful attempts that I quickly realized just didn't have the right feel for the type of story I was trying to write.

WOW: I continue to be a great admirer of those who can write flash fiction! You need to be successful in capturing the reader’s interest by conveying strong ideas and a clear voice. Flash fiction truly is a great exercise in writing short and tight.

Your bio mentions that you love reading Marvel Comics. How fun! Which are your favorites? Have you found inspiration from any of them for your writing?

AMY: My comic book reading comes and goes in waves. As a child, I grew up on X-Men (with a father who collected Marvel Comics as a child, what hope did I have?), but I've since moved on to other series. I'll read just about any series (except Spider-Man, which comes out too often for me to keep up, and Hulk, which just can't keep my interest), but the ones I really enjoy, the ones that I consider to be reread worthy, are the ones that strike the right balance between action and characterization. Brubaker's run on Daredevil and Captain America, Bendis' Alias, and Fraction's Iron Fist are at the top of my list.

Inspiration-wise, it's hard to say. There's a big gap between your typical super hero comic and the type of story that I tend to write, but I do take note of writers that successfully make the absurd (a grown man wearing red leather adorned with devil horns) interesting and relatable. Since I do tend to write characters that fall outside the mainstream, I guess you could say I take inspiration from the way some writers handle masked men in capes.

WOW: Your father collected Marvel Comics when he was little? Guess you had to have some liking for them. I love your comment about being inspired by writers “making the absurd interesting and relatable.” There was absurdity in your piece, making it all the more intriguing.

Now, let's talk about themes. Are there specific ones you like to explore when you write?

AMY: Boundaries. Ethical boundaries, moral boundaries, gender, religion and other social boundaries. If I'm not prowling back and forth along the edge of what is taken for granted, I tend to get bored with my writing, and if I'm bored, I know there's a good chance other people will be too. I like that the process of writing makes me think.

WOW: So, as you're challenged by exploring various boundaries, you challenge your readers to come along with you for the ride. I think that’s a great way for both readers and writers to stretch and grow. I thought that you achieved a good balance in making your story so descriptive. How were you able to achieve this?

AMY: When you're writing flash fiction, you have to budget your words well. In this story I wanted to leave a strong image of the subway station, which I did by closing the story with some of the same descriptions I opened with. It gives the story a sense of continuity out of what is otherwise a very brief encounter between station attendant and girl.

Beyond that, I wanted to experiment with hyphenated descriptions. Just doubling the word (black-black and blue-blue) emphasizes it in a way that might otherwise take seven or eight words. The same with tying a color to a word (red-wet, grease-black). It's all about budgeting, and there was some degree of agonizing over which word to use, what images to keep, and which to throw out.

WOW: What a great technique you’ve utilized with hyphenated descriptions. Helps a lot with trimming word count. Maybe I’ll try that with my own writing.

Earlier you discussed achieving balance in creating a descriptive story. Speaking of balance, in your day-to-day life, you’re writing, pursuing graduate studies in sociology, you’re a teaching assistant at the University of Missouri, and you work part time at Barnes and Noble. Add to all that, hanging out with your kitten Stark. Pray tell us your secret for keeping your head together in all this.

AMY: I'm not so sure I always manage to keep my head together, to be honest. There are times (midterms, finals) when everything is coming at me all at once that I feel like tugging my hair out. But I try to keep it all in perspective, and remind myself that winter break (or summer break) lies just beyond that next hill. Stark helps me get from point A to point B, and I have a hard time believing there exists a more spoiled kitten in the world.

WOW: Breaks are beautiful things! And, it’s always good to have an assistant to help one keep her perspective, human or otherwise. (laughs)

What about current writing projects? Can you share with us what you’re working on now?


AMY: What, you mean besides schoolwork? Although I don't have any concrete projects to date, I am working on steadily increasing my portfolio of short stories, and I have a few ideas for novels kicking around in my head, but mostly I'm trying to keep ahead of my schoolwork so that it doesn't all pile up on me come November (if I succeed in doing so, it will be the first time since I set foot in college).

WOW: Here’s hoping you’ll stay ahead of your schoolwork, while building up that portfolio. You’ve offered some great advice for our readers. Is there anything else you’d like to pass along?

AMY: Never be afraid to improve. By that, I mean take constructive criticism for what it is--a chance to get better. Writing is intensely personal, and having someone tear apart a story that means something to you is a lot harder than having someone edit your English paper, but you have to put some distance between yourself and it in order to get better. Unless you wrote it for yourself, the ultimate goal is for other people to read it, right? Their opinions matter.

But at the same time, remember: you're the writer, you know what works best. If someone proposes a change to your story that you think would just absolutely ruin it (or at least lessen its intended effect), then don't listen to them. Get a second opinion. Remember that no one is the be all, end all authority of writing, there are as many opinions on writing as there are writers.
And adopt a cat. At the end of the day, it's nice to come home to a friendly face, even if that friendly face tries to steal your sushi.

WOW: Glad you pointed out how helpful it is to get a second opinion when it comes to constructive criticism because of varied opinions on writing. I’ve had to learn that myself, along with growing a thicker skin. As you said earlier, this process helps writers improve their craft.

One last question. Is your kitten named after Tony Stark, Iron Man from Marvel Comics? If so, would that make her “Iron Kitten”?


AMY: Yes, my kitten Stark is named after Tony Stark (Iron Man). I enjoyed the Iron Man movie much more than The Dark Knight, which was touted as the super hero film of the year, the decade, or all time, depending on who you asked. But I've never been a DC girl. When I adopted a new kitten last year, I was stumped when it came to a name, but somehow Stark just seemed right, despite that kitten being female. And yes, the way she flings herself at the dog, who's in a completely different weight class, you'd definitely think she was "Iron Kitty".

WOW: I admit to being a former DC Comics girl who saw The Dark Knight and really liked it. Still want to see Iron Man too!

Amy, it was such a pleasure chatting with you today. Best wishes to you in both your academic and writing career and to “Iron Kitty” too. Looking forward to see more of your work in the future and good luck!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

 

Interview with Doris E. Wright, Runner Up in WOW!s Spring 09 Flash Fiction Contest

Congratulations to Doris E. Wright of Homer, New York. Her flash fiction piece, You Can See, earned runner up honors in the Spring 2009 Flash Fiction Contest.
In addition to short stories and poetry, Doris completed her first novel about a the offbeat relationship between a middle-aged man and his philosophical bedding plant. Now, Doris ponders if agents that specialize in quirky, philosophical, comical, literary-satirical character studies actually exist.

A workshop veteran, Doris has participated in a poetry workshop at Colgate Writers' Conference and previously attended the Colgate Conference's novel-intensive workshop, a fiction workshop at The New York State Summer Writers' Institute at Skidmore College, and the Algonkian novel workshop.

Doris has a varied background: she's been a teacher and a newspaper reporter and feature writer. Now, she concentrates on traveling around the world. In the last three years, she and her husband Don, an African historian, have traveled in China, France, Spain, The Gambia, and Mali.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read her story, saunter on over and read it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!

WOW: Congratulations, Doris, on receiving runner up honors for your story. I'm super impressed with the quality workshops you've participated in. How have these opportunities helped your writing skills?
Doris: While each has had its value, the workshops I attended at Colgate University were especially helpful. This summer I took the poetry workshop and, though I’ve written poetry since high school and studied it in college, I found there was a lot to learn, especially in terms of form. The craft talks and readings were wonderful; inspiring. But for me, the most valuable thing about workshops is being immersed in the writing world for a week or two. Even at meals or on a walk across campus, you are talking and thinking about writing all the time. So you start to take yourself seriously and really think of yourself as a writer (which means, you better get busy).

WOW: I like the idea of being immersed in the writing world and learning to take the craft seriously. What advice would you offer a writer contemplating attending her first conference?
Doris: Don’t be afraid. Most everyone is open and accepting. Approach people, even the established writers, and ask questions about their work and writing experience. Take advantage of every opportunity, don’t miss a talk or a reading; and read your work to others if you have a chance. It can be exhausting, but it will be over soon and you don’t want to miss anything.

WOW: A conferences sounds like workable fun! Imagine how much a writer can learn while participating! You previously worked as a news reporter. How does your background as a feature writer shape your fiction?
Doris: I suppose any writing, in the sense that it’s practice, contributes to your ability. You are constrained by time and style requirements, which is a useful writing exercise. And, when you work for a newspaper you encounter interesting situations and unusual people who can stimulate your imagination.

WOW: Imagination and unusual people and situations really do help stimulate the writing mind. Your story has an unusual situation and even the title lends itself to various interpretations. Plus, the title contains a touch of irony. How important is the title for flash fiction?
Doris: I think finding the right title is fun—I love words, and plays on words. The title in flash fiction is important: it gives you the opportunity to tell the reader something you couldn’t say because of your word limit and point them in a certain direction.

WOW: That's a great point to make. Flash fiction can be limiting, but quality stories create a strong story arc and are filled with details and symbolism. You Can See contains a lot of symbolism about seeing and sight. What's your method for incorporating so much symbolism into the prescribed word limit?
Doris: I have no method. To be honest, it wasn’t deliberate. Perhaps I injected symbolism reflexively or intuitively? I suppose writing poetry might bring that element to my writing. I’m not sure.

WOW: Perhaps you did! It's so fascinating to see how a story and all its details take shape. Let's talk about how the writing process works for you. When do you write? How do you develop ideas?
Doris: I don’t have the discipline I should and tend to let things distract me. I’m better off writing in the morning, before other things snatch me up. At one point I ordered myself to sit down and write for at least an hour most days of the week. I got a lot done that way because once you start you tend to keep going. It’s the starting that’s hard. As far as developing ideas, they mostly just come to me. I tend to see things ironically—like, what would it be like if I was out driving and suddenly there was a rhinoceros crossing the road—and that’s why my writing could be considered dark or quirky.

WOW: I agree that it is all to easy to get distracted. Eventually, I get back on track and stick to my schedule. It helps when deadlines must be met and the project list continues to grow. What current projects are you working on?
Doris: Although my novel is finished, I’m still tweaking it and seeking an agent. I have several longer, short stories that I want to polish, poems that need work, and ideas for other short stories. There’s a memoir in my future, I think.

WOW: Doris, you've traveled to so many interesting spots, I hope your memoir includes stories about your travels. Good luck with your projects! Contests can help a writer fine-tune her craft. You've had success in previous WOW! contests. What elements do you feel are necessary to make a solid flash piece?
Doris: Certainly you must convey an idea or event that is, in one way or another, complete in itself. But, I think, it needs to have emotional weight to it—something that makes the reader think or moves the reader, and makes them reflect back on it. With that emotional component, you expand your word limit, involving the reader and their own experience.
WOW: Great advice, especially for writers contemplating entering a flash contest. Congratulations again, Doris, and I hope to read more of your work.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler
Follow luann on Twitter @luannschindler

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

 

Madeline Mora-Summonte: Spring 2009 Contest Runner Up

Congratulations to Madeline Mora-Summonte for placing in the Spring 2009 Flash Fiction contest with her story, "Poster Child."

Here's a little information about Madeline:

She has written poetry, personal essays, and book reviews; but her first love is fiction in all its forms--from flash to novels. Her work has appeared in over twenty publications, including Highlights for Children, Storyhouse, and Every Day Fiction. Her story, “The Empty Nest,” will be included in W. W. Norton's upcoming Hint Fiction Anthology. She attends mystery author Blaize Clement's weekly writing workshop where the talent and creativity of the group continues to amaze her. Madeline is currently busy writing and revising her women's fiction manuscript. She lives with her husband/best friend in Florida. You can visit her website at www.MadelineMora-Summonte.com.

WOW: Congratulations, Madeline, on being a runner up in the flash fiction contest. What was your inspiration for "Poster Child?"

Madeline: I’d glance at the “Missing” posters on my way into those big box discount stores, but I’d never really see them, you know? I think for many of us they do start to seem like wallpaper like the woman in the story whose own child is safe and sound and playing beneath them. One day, I just stopped and looked at them, really looked at them. Then I just kept asking myself questions: “Who else is stopping and looking?” “Why?” “What if?” And that’s when Megan appeared.

WOW: Great points. It is interesting how your story came out of something that we see every day, but only when you really stopped to think about it. Your description is amazing in "Poster Child," from the coin-operated kiddie rides to the actual description of the old MISSING posters. Was it difficult to describe everything you needed to with such few words available?

Madeline: Thank you! It’s a constant balancing act. Too much description overloads the story, and the plot and characters get lost; but too little makes the story seem set in limbo. It’s tricky, finding just the right detail and then the right amount of it. I wanted people to know that store, to have been in that store, without me naming it or describing it brick by brick. I hope I accomplished that.

WOW: You definitely did describe well for me and obviously the judges, too! Why do you enter contests? Would you suggest entering contests to most fiction writers?

Madeline: I tend to enter mostly flash fiction contests because they give me a nice, tight word count; a deadline; and sometimes, a theme. When I’m working on a novel, I’m in this murky place that seems to have no discernible framework or an end in sight. Flash fiction generally, and contests in particular, give me a structure to work within and a finish line I can see.

I think contests are a great way to stretch that writing muscle, but you also have to be aware of the scams out there. Make sure the contest is legit. Read the fine print about rights, etc. before entering.

WOW: I agree with you that contests are a great way to maybe try something new without investing a ton of time in it. It is nice to focus on more than one project at a time. I think that helps writers' block! You attend Blaize Clement's weekly writing workshop. Can you tell us a little about this? Is it like a critique group, mini-conference, writing/brainstorming time?

Madeline: I am extremely lucky to be a part of this workshop. It’s like a haven for creativity and expression. We are a diverse group: different ages, different backgrounds, different goals. But one of the things we have in common is this desire to create and to play with words and to tell stories.

Blaize, who is the author of the Dixie Hemingway mystery series (St. Martin’s Press), has created this safe place for all of that to happen. We usually do timed writing--Blaize gives a word or a phrase, anything from “a room” to “an omen”--and we write for about five minutes. Then we take turns reading aloud what we wrote. NO critiquing allowed! We can only mention something that strikes us--a great line or a vivid turn of phrase or an interesting character. If nothing strikes us, then we just move on to the next reader.

Blaize also talks about craft, and she gives us some insight into the world of publishing. We all sometimes talk about great or not-so-great books we’ve read or movies or TV shows. But it always starts and ends with the writing.

WOW: That group sounds awesome and like a lot of fun. Your description might encourage others to start a group like it in their communities! Congratulations on your publication success. What are some goals you have for yourself and your writing career?

Madeline: Thank you! Well, one of my goals is to break into the top three of a WOW! Flash Fiction Contest! Don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled to previously make Honorable Mention twice and now the Top Ten twice, but to rank higher has become a personal challenge of sorts. Although, maybe I should change my goal to be the person who makes it into the Top Ten the most times!

My writing goals are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. I want to keep writing stories and hopefully one day, novels, that move people the way I’ve been moved by the many wonderful books I’ve read, and will continue to read, in my lifetime.

WOW: (laughs) Madeline, I love your writing goals and the fact that you are going to keep entering WOW!'s flash fiction contest. Think of how many interviews you could accumulate! (smiles) Seriously, we are glad you took the time with us today to share your thoughts on writing. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, http://margodill.com/blog/




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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

 

Spring '09 Contest Runner Up, Diane Hoover!

Diane Hoover was born in New York City across from Yankee Stadium, which might explain her great love for the Yankees. She grew up in the Washington DC metropolitan area, which certainly explains her great interest in politics. Diane has spent the last, almost 40 years living near the foot of Pikes Peak, which definitely has helped inspire her writing.

Diane has published several short stories and an occasional nonfiction piece, as well as placed in a number of contests. Most recently, one of her short stories placed in the Saturday Writer’s contest and was included in the Cuivre Anthology. At the age of 67, after undergoing a complete hip replacement, she decided to learn karate. She now wears a blue belt, which puts her right in the middle. Her four grandchildren think this is the coolest thing. You can read Diane's winning story, "Coffee Break," here.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Spring 2009 Flash Fiction contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Diane: The challenge of writing a story within a prescribed word limit, plus I like writing stories about women in trouble and how they solve, or hopefully solve, their problems.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story? It was suspenseful—I was on the edge of my seat reading it!

Diane: I like to put myself in the positions I put my characters. What would I do? At least what would I think I would do? Maybe it’s my Walter Mitty alter ego asserting itself.

WOW: Your main character was certainly resourceful! Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Diane: I have written several flash fiction stories, two for your WOW! contest, one received an honorable mention. And this may sound really strange, but I feel that different stories and different characters call for their own format. In "Coffee Break," I think I said all there was to be said for both my main character and her situation. On the other hand, I have a story about a runaway young girl who is called home by her mother, decides to take the opposite road and is saved by an angel. That story is much longer. My novel is generational, much longer.

WOW: According to your bio, you decided to learn karate the age of 67. What prompted that decision, and what was it like to take lessons?

Diane: I had had a total hip replacement at the end of 2005. Though I’d gotten rid of any limp afterward, I still felt pretty unstable so when the opportunity arose to take lessons that would not only help any stability and balance problems but teach me a new (for me very new) discipline I thought, hey, why not? So I did. I’ve made some great new friends in the process and now I’m learning to use weapons.

WOW: You are a force to be reckoned with, Diane! I always like to ask about a writer’s routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Diane: I am a member of a couple of critique groups and also work with a critique partner. Often I will work on someone’s manuscript and then work on mine. Sometimes though I'll just sit in front of my computer and a story unfolds under my fingers. It is the most surprising and often wonderful experience. Other writers experience the same kind of thing.

WOW: What a great phenomenon what that happens. Do you have any writing goals in mind for the rest of the year?

Diane: I have this book that I’ve been working on for years. It’s an historical novel, from which I’ve taken several stories and turned them into short stories. Some of these have placed in contests. I would love to finish this book before I die. I would hate to have my kids or spouse put on my tombstone WIP instead of RIP.

WOW: That’s a good one! Many writers can relate. Finally, is there if there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Diane: Don’t talk about writing, do it! It’s as simple as that. And stick to it. One should have a routine, I feel, to get the best results. Oh, and read a lot. I know that’s two bits of advice but I think it all goes together.

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

 

Interview with Nicole Waskie - 2009 Spring Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Nicole Waskie has been writing in one form or another since the age of two, when she would dictate her poetic masterpieces to her mother whilst she languished in the bathtub. Such gems as "Mascara Face" (Nicole's first epic poem about the trials and tribulations of makeup removal) have since evolved into a deep-seated desire to express herself through the written word and an obsession with flash fiction (which may or may not have something to do with her jam-packed schedule and short attention span) though she aspires to write a novel in due time. Nicole currently works as an elementary school library media specialist and cheerleading coach, and furiously pens sentences on receipts and napkins whenever inspiration strikes.

Her e-mail is nnwaskie[at]gmail[dot]com, and she would love to hear from you!

If you haven't done so already, check out Nicole's story "The Last First" and then return here for a conversation with the author!

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! Spring Flash Fiction Contest! How did you begin writing your award winning story, "The Last First?"

Nicole: I wrote "The Last First" on a whim. I was sitting on my living room floor, and a memory of renting paddle boats at a local park popped into my head. It was so vivid that I felt compelled to re-create the scene in words, and "The Last First" evolved from there.

WOW: You've done well recreating the scene. Your imagery is great! Do you find it difficult or liberating to write within the word limit restrictions of flash fiction?

Nicole: I love flash fiction. It's one of my favorite ways to write! I find that expressing a complete story in a limited amount of space forces you to carefully choose your words and details in a way that longer fiction doesn't demand. So, while it's difficult in that sense, I think it's liberating to be able to express a story in such a rapid, concise way, because you don’t have the opportunity to get bogged down in the exposition of the story.

WOW: Which books/authors do you read for inspiration, and how do they inspire you?

Nicole: I read all the time, and I read anything I can get my hands on. I'm a school librarian, so I read a lot of children's books, and draw much inspiration from children's fiction. Kate DiCamillo is a master of storytelling, and Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was quite possibly some of the best books I have ever read--I am so inspired by how children's authors handle adult themes using understandable language without becoming patronizing. As far as "adult" books and authors, I am completely obsessed with Alice Sebold, Sue Monk Kidd, and Sylvia Plath. I recently finished John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, which was dark and delightful. I could go on and on and on…but I won't! I find inspiration in any author that can make the mundane seem epic, especially those that write about the complexities and consequences of the minute choices life presents us, and the doubts that exist in all our souls.

WOW: I like what you say about children's authors writing complex ideas using understandable language. That can be extremely difficult to do and I also find it inspiring when an author does that well. What is your strategy for finding or making time to write with a busy schedule?

Nicole: I'm horrible about writing. I don't have a set schedule, and I should. I write whenever I feel the urge to write. I'm lucky to have a supportive fiancée who understands when I need to disappear with my laptop for an hour or two, but more frequently, I'm scribbling on napkins and scraps of paper, a sentence here, a sentence there. Consequently, my list of finished work is very, very short.

WOW: I've always loved that image of authors being so compelled to write that they scribble away on napkins and paper scraps. It will take some time to pull all of the sentences together, but we'll look forward to reading more of your work when that happens! What’s the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Nicole: The best advice I ever received was to just keep writing. I often get discouraged with myself for not following through on stories I start. I was complaining the other day about how I never finish what I start, and my fiancée told me, basically, "Then FINISH!" If you love writing, write. It's as simple as that.

WOW: I often ask authors that question, even though "keep writing" is usually the answer. I always find it helpful to hear those words. Are you currently working on any new writing projects or stories?

Nicole: See above! I'm always half-writing something. I've been banging around a few ideas for longer stories, but they've yet to come to fruition. I also review books for School Library Journal, so I'm consistently writing reviews each month.

WOW: Thank you, Nicole! Good luck and keep writing!

Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

 

Interview with Ann Imig, Runner-Up in the Spring 2009 Flash Fiction Contest

A stay-at-home humorist, Ann began writing to distract her ovaries from insisting on a third child. Ann has made no progress at earning continuing education credits to retain her social work license, but has had her writing featured on Humorpress.com, MaternalSpark.com, and FunnyNotSlutty.com. Ann looks forward to the launch of UnhingedMagazine.com, featuring her essay "The Saddies." Ann blogs regularly at annsrants.com, but never when she is supposedly watching her preschool-age boys.


If you have not done so already, take a look at Ann's winning story "Date Night" then return here for a chat with the author!

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Spring 2009 WOW! Flash Fiction Contest! How did you begin writing your award winning story, Date Night?

Ann: A terrible date with my husband reminded me of the humor in juxtaposition. It's supposed to be a date, but it ends up as WWIII with a waitperson trying to serve you dinner as both parties re-load and dress their wounds.

WOW: I loved this story because it seemed like such a real and honest situation. Do you find it difficult or liberating to write within the word limit restrictions of flash fiction?

Ann: I found it liberating. As a new writer, I feel more comfortable with digestible chunks. It forces me to be concise--even though you'll notice a few too many adverbs lingering in my piece. At least I didn't say unnecessarily lingering in my piece.

WOW: Ha! I'm sure we can overlook an adverb or two. Which books/authors do you read for inspiration, and how do they inspire you?

Ann: Right now I'm reading Judge by Dwight Allen. He writes literature, and it inspires me by its sheer craftsmanship.

I draw most of my inspiration from comedians. I listen to comics when I jog--so don't be surprised if you see me loping around the neighborhood laughing hysterically.

WOW: (Laughs) What a great idea to listen to comedy while you jog! How do you make or find time to write with two pre-school aged children at home?

Ann: HA! I write mostly at night after my kids are asleep, or the three mornings a week that both my kids are in school at the same time.

I used to try to multi-task--writing while the kids seemed occupied with TV or play. When TwoPointFive started pressing the hibernate button every time I was on my computer, I realized I needed to set some boundaries.

WOW: What's the most useful piece of writing advice you've ever received?

Ann:
My dear friend Erin advised me to keep writing and submitting, so as not to dwell on one specific contest or submission. Best advice EVER. I keep a spreadsheet of what I've sent out, but continually put myself out there so I can't obsess over one piece. I prefer obsessing about multiple pieces at one time I guess.

WOW: To keep writing and submitting is great advice. The more you submit, the better your chances of getting published. Are you currently working on any new writing projects or stories?

Ann:
Every time I have an idea, I throw it in a word doc. It always surprises me which ones end up as essays, or longer pieces, and which ones never even turn into blog posts (for annsrants.com).

This past week I started two or three blog posts, and worked on a project I hope will be a book someday. This weekend I'm editing an essay I already submitted for an anthology, in order to enter it into another contest. Next week I plan to spend some time working on a short story I started recently.

WOW: Sounds like you're staying busy in the writing world. Good luck and we look forward to hopefully reading more of your writing in the future!

Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

 

Interview with Elizabeth Barton - 3rd Place Winner in the Spring '09 Flash Fiction Contest


According to Elizabeth Barton, she's been penning stories for just about as long as she can remember. After earning degrees in psychology and nutritional sciences, Elizabeth worked as a medical writer and editor. She participated in the Writer's Loft program in Chicago for over four years and recently ventured into fiction writing. An avid writer, Elizabeth has multiple manuscripts in varying degrees in completion, and now, she is putting the polishing touches on her first novel.

Elizabeth lives in Chicago with her husband, Ian, and two cats, Roxie and Gordon. When she isn't writing, Elizabeth enjoys reading, theater, and wine. Elizabeth likes other artistic pursuits, including painting, drama, painting, and stained glass work. She believes every experience can be an inspiration.

Elizabeth's story, "The Wedding March", is located on WOW! 's Spring Contest Page. If you haven't had the opportunity to read her work yet, head over to WOW! Women on Writing. Her story will resonate with anyone who has experienced pre-wedding jitters.

WOW: Welcome, Elizabeth, and congratulations on winning third place in the Spring 2009 contest! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with WOW! readers today. "The Wedding March" examines the nervous jitters a bride experiences prior to her wedding. What was the inspiration for your story?

Elizabeth: It actually began with a writing prompt: "Terrified, she opened the door..." I knew I didn't want to write a horror story, so I began to think of what other kinds of things people find scary. The idea of getting married to someone you're really not sure about is pretty scary to me, but I know it happens.

WOW: I agree with you! It happens quite often. I like how you incorporate wedding traditions and terminology. To you, how important is the use of detail ?

Elizabeth: I think details are important, especially in flash fiction. Since the story is so short, you don't get to know the character(s) as well as you might in a longer piece. Every detail can help bring the reader into the story, and when you are specific in your phrasing, you create something uniquely your own.

WOW: And creating something unique is an important element of a story, and especially true of flash fiction. Your bio states you have a stash of short stories. Do you also write a lot of flash fiction? What genre do you prefer?

Elizabeth: I do write a lot of both flash fiction and short stories. It's hard to say which I prefer, but I have been writing more flash fiction recently. Although flash fiction doesn't allow one to delve as deeply into characters and conflicts as longer pieces do, it offers its own challenges. When you're writing such a short piece, it really makes you think more carefully about every single word you put on the page.

WOW: Word choice really makes a difference in flash fiction. Flash fiction writers learn to be precise. Precision is also a key element of medical writing, which you spent time doing. Plus, your background is in Psychology and Nutrition. Do you incorporate any of those non-fiction ideas into your fiction?

Elizabeth: Every story incorporates psychology. Even if psychology is not actually mentioned in the story per se, a character's thoughts and actions reveal his or her psychology. I can't say that I've incorporated nutrition or medicine/medical writing into my fiction thus far, but perhaps I will some day.

WOW: Great! Critique groups and workshops are a benefit to a writer. You participated in the Writer's Loft Workshop in Chicago. Share your experience and what you learned.

Elizabeth: It was a great experience. I learned, not only from someone who had been writing and teaching for decades, but also from other aspiring writers as we critiqued each other's work. It really helped me grow as a writer. I learned that you can write about almost anything and make it interesting as long as you have conflict (whether internal or external) and characters to identify with. The leader of the workshop (Jerry Cleaver) always said, "If your characters are having a good time, your reader probably isn't." I think that's great advice, and I always like to keep that in mind while a write.

WOW: Wonderful advice for all writers to consider. Thanks for sharing! What additional advice would you offer writers who are contemplating entering a contest?

Elizabeth: The worst thing that could happen is you don't win, and no one wins every contest she enters. You really have nothing to lose except a (usually nominal) entry fee, and you might just surprise yourself, so do it!

WOW: So true! Surprises are always welcome! And, like you said, there's nothing to lose. What current projects are you working on?

Elizabeth: I'm almost always working on at least a couple of short/flash fiction pieces. However, my main focus lately has been revising my novel (working title: Thick and Thin). It tells the story of two young sisters who endure a tumultuous childhood touched by abuse, alcoholism, and suicide, as they discover whether the bonds of sisterhood can survive and help carry them through it all.

WOW: It sounds like a powerful story! Thank you again, Elizabeth, for talking about writing and your story with WOW! readers.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler
Twitter - @luannschindler

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Monday, September 07, 2009

 

Spring '09 First Place Contest Winner, Teresa Davis!

Teresa Davis, an accounting graduate from the University of Alaska, spent numerous years as a CPA until she turned her focus back to her first love: writing. Her work has appeared in a trade newsletter and several online magazines. She has also written teaching curricula for GoTeachIt.com. She now lives and writes in Germantown, TN. This was her first contest accomplishment, and she was honored to be among the finalists.

You can read Teresa's winning story, "The Girl," here.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Teresa: Thank you! I believe entering contests is an invaluable writing tool. I especially love the WOW! Women On Writing contests because your authors tend to write the kind of stories I enjoy reading and writing. The savvy writer can experiment with new voices, story ideas, and even different genres, by entering contests. An important step is to be sure to go back and read the winning entries so you can compare and contrast you own entry to those. This is a fun way to critique your own writing because it allows you a more objective look at your story.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Teresa: When a story idea comes to mind, I usually sit down and write about it immediately, but this time was different. Someone I knew was killed in a car accident eighteen years ago. Another driver reported seeing my friend just moments before the wreck. I have often wondered what that moment must have been like. It took eighteen years, but the basic idea finally found its way into a plot.

WOW: You did a great job with the story. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Teresa: Yes, I have written other flash fiction, but this is the first of this type to be published. For as long as I can remember, I have preferred reading short stories over novels; therefore, when I began writing, I naturally gravitated toward smaller pieces such as articles, essays, poems, and short stories. I had never heard of the term flash fiction until a couple of years ago, at which time I promptly fell in love.

WOW: And now you've won first place in a flash fiction contest! According to your bio, you were a CPA for many years before focusing on your writing. How did you orchestrate that change, and how would you compare your life then and now?

Teresa: It sounds strange, doesn’t it, to go from rigid math rules—tax laws, no less—to something as free and creative as writing? I enjoyed both in college, but I already had accounting experience and felt I was better suited for that. Although I enjoyed my accounting years, the long hours left little time for anything else. In the midst of preparing tax return after tax return deep into the night, I found writing a story or two was helpful to clear my head. It didn’t take long to figure out that writing is much more fun! After the first few pieces sold, I was hooked. I eventually dissolved my tax practice and put my license in inactive status, and I’ve never been happier.

WOW: Good for you! 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?

Teresa: I write late at night when the world is dark and quiet. I know a lot of writers say that, but I guess it just works for some of us. There’s something about being surrounded by darkness that entices my ideas. I hide out for hours with my laptop in one of several favorite nooks in our house. Often, I become so engrossed in a project that I won’t make it to bed until three or four in the morning. I’m not sure why, but writing during daylight hours turns my voice flat. I also play the same song over and over on my iPod while I work. Hearing the same song repeatedly helps me stay grounded in the mood of a story.

WOW: It's always interesting to learn how others writers make it work. One final question, Teresa: If there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Teresa: There is not a universal formula for becoming an established writer. The only real “trick” is finding the right audience for each story, and that’s just a matter of research and persistence. Regardless of the number of rejections, keep honing your writing skills, rewrite constantly, seek out new markets, and never give up.

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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