Interview with Sarah Brady, Runner Up in Winter Flash Fiction Contest
Sarah: Hmmm...the short answer is, sort of. I wrote the story, then took away from some parts of it and added to others until “Worthwhile” told the story I wanted to tell. Depending on what I’m writing and the word count I’m shooting for, I may wind up working either way.
My overall writing process begins when I find out the requirements for a submission or a contest; then I brainstorm and do pre-writing in my head; and then I write and revise. I like to have a few days between the “write” and “revise” steps, but sometimes it’s just a few minutes!
WOW: Readers only get a brief glimpse into Anne's background, yet it provides essential information regarding her character's frugal nature. How do you determine how much "back story" is necessary to propel the piece forward?
Sarah: I think that the amount of “back story” needed will vary from story to story, but there should be one commonality (especially with flash fiction): only (or primarily) the essential details should be included. For example, in “Worthwhile,” we really don’t know much about Anne except that her eyes are her best feature, that she’s engaged, that she’s educated, and that she’s cost-conscious for justifiable reasons. That way, the reader knows everything necessary to get the point across but is able to visualize Anne according to his or her imagination.
WOW: There's a bond between the theme and title of Worthwhile: how material possessions validate our self-worth AND the longing for acceptance. Most people can relate to both. How important is building a common bond with the reader or should they be able to draw their own conclusions in regards to theme?
Sarah: As a writer and as a woman, I definitely believe in trying to build a common bond with a reader. I’ll never forget learning both in English and theatre classes about the best literature being universal—not necessarily in time or place, but in theme. When I write, I try to be as universal as possible, even though I know that I’m writing from my own experience, demographics, and worldview. Toward that end, I think that all of us, whether we admit it or not, can relate to the idea of wanting to be both valuable and valued. While I don’t want to be overly didactic in this sort of fiction and I do want the reader to be able draw his or her own nuances of theme from the writing, I endeavor to make sure my intended theme is strongly present. This piece was meant to encourage and inspire—to say in a round-about way that all of us are worthwhile, no matter where we come from. I do hope that message gets across.
Sarah: You know, that’s a great question, especially since I just looked back in my saved documents and saw that I’d originally saved the beginnings of this story under a different title! I do think that coming up with a title can be nearly as difficult as writing the story, and I can always use a little help. After I’d finished writing this piece, I read it to my husband. We were sitting in our living room, and I started brainstorming about a title. When I hit on “Worthwhile,” we both agreed that it really fit the story because of the depth of the meaning. So I made the decision, and here we are.
Sarah: Published or unpublished? ;) As far as published works go, I’ve written some devotional articles that have been published on the Internet, as well as an essay that has been accepted but not yet distributed. And, of course, “Worthwhile.” Unpublished works—well, they’re very much in the works. Your next question refers to the fact that I didn’t write for a very long time. That being said, I’m just now really getting into the world of writing; in fact, the WOW! 2008 Flash Fiction Contest was the first writing contest I’ve entered since high school, and the first fiction contest I’ve ever entered. So I’m trying my hand at a variety of things. I’ve just finished and submitted an essay for consideration, and I’m currently working on a short story. I’ve started a children’s book, and I’m preparing to write a historical article. We’ll see what works.
Sarah: I learned a lot about myself, especially my strengths and weaknesses. I’m the sort of person that can know in my heart that I can do something but then be easily dissuaded by doubts and fears. In order to do the things I really want to do, I almost need to shout to myself, “Yes, you can do this!” I also had to realize that recognizing by strengths and abilities isn’t being conceited; instead, it’s endeavoring to do what I’m most suited to do in life. These ideas have prepared me for sticking my pinky toe into the ocean of writing. Pretty soon, I hope to be able to wade.
Sarah: I teach public speaking, debate, oral interpretation (basically one-person acting), and a research and writing class. It can be tough to move directly from more academic writing to fiction, but it can also be freeing. Academic writing tends to be very confined, whereas fiction can take you anywhere. I like to be able to do both in order to use all of my brain.
My advice to students would be to read authors who write excellently in different genres and styles. That way, you’re learning as you’re reading. I had a teacher that used to say, “Good writers are good readers.” I’ve definitely found this statement to be true. Also, don’t forget the writing process—especial the parts that come before and after writing. People will notice if you don’t!
Sarah: As much as I’d like to say it’s easy, that would not be a true statement! I’m often re-evaluating and readjusting my schedule in order to make sure all of my responsibilities, and the needs of those around me, are met. I’m blessed to have a husband who’s supportive of both my teaching and writing, and knowing my overall and daily priorities help me a lot. For example, I know that my family comes first. I’m not willing to sacrifice my relationships with my husband and the rest of my family for my work, but that doesn’t mean that I neglect my teaching and writing. There has to be give and take. On a practical, day-to-day level, list-making has become my close companion. If a task is on the list for a given day, it’s much more likely to get done. So I’m starting to put “look for/apply for writing jobs” and “write _______” on my list (filling in the blank with whatever article, story, or longer work I’m planning to work on that day.) That helps me to make sure that going out to dinner, doing laundry, grading papers, and writing an article all get done.
Sarah: What you see will vary from show to show. As the name implies, a one-woman show is a theatrical work in which only one woman performs. From that commonality comes a lot of variety. You may see a show where a performer portrays just one person, as in Julie Harris’s performance of Emily Dickinson. You may have a show where an actor takes a work of literature and portrays all characters, including the narrator, by use of blocking, body movement, and vocal changes. Or you may be able to watch a show where the actor portrays several different characters telling their stories in order to get a certain theme across.
There’s a lot of variety with one-person shows when it comes to genre, set, costuming, acting, and more. For example, I performed in a show about Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis’s wife, that used full costuming and a set that looked indicative of the period and included everything from a teacup to books to a working lamp. I have also performed in a show of the book of Ruth (from the Bible) that used only two black boxes, costuming that could be suggestive of a variety of characters, and a scarf that became a shawl, a blanket, a baby, and more. This week, I’m starting to do research for another show that will be about female resistance against the Nazis in World War II. This show would be about three women who resisted in very different ways; thus, the performance would require distinct acting spaces and different costuming.
Sarah: Don’t give up! Keep doing what you love to do. Make time for your writing—and for yourself. If you don’t take time to learn new things, you won’t be able to put much into your writing. And find at least one online writing community to be a part of. Just being able to read the comments of other writers will help you so much!
Also, I read a great post on Deb Ng’s blog a couple of days ago. She basically told those of us who are new writers (and I definitely fall into this group!) that the only reason we’re not getting jobs is that we’re not applying for them. So we need to get out there and apply, apply, apply. Don’t take no for an answer—because, eventually, each “no” can become a “yes”!
Sarah: As far as websites, I just—and by “just,” I mean “today”—started a blog where I’m planning to showcase my writing and shows. It’s still very much under construction, but links to articles should be coming soon. The website is http://paperandvoice.wordpress.com/.
Sarah: Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I appreciate WOW! so much and am honored to have been one of the runners up in the 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. You guys are awesome.
Get in on the fun! The Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN. Guest Judge, literary agent, Elise Capron.