Tuesday, June 10, 2008

 

Interview with Sarah Brady, Runner Up in Winter Flash Fiction Contest

Sarah Brady, Runner Up in the 2007 Winter Flash Fiction contest, has loved writing from the time that she was in the sixth grade. Throughout middle and early high school, she would compose novels in installments, with her friends eagerly waiting to read the next part of the story. After a hiatus from writing of approximately ten years, broken only by the writing of, then grading of, college papers, she has recently decided to pursue her love of writing. Currently, she writes articles and stories in between being a wife, a college professor, and an actress in one-person shows. She looks forward to writing more in the future!

If you haven't read Sarah's story Worthwhile then click your way to a delightful read.

WOW: Flash fiction is difficult to write. In your writing process, do you write the story you want to tell and then cut to a word count? What is your writing process?

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.

WOW: Coming up with a title is difficult sometimes. A double meaning exists in the title, as well. Anne discovers something about her self-image. She also finds that something worthwhile is worth the price one pays. How did you decide on the title?

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.

WOW: What other fiction or non-fiction have you written?

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.

WOW: Your bio states that you took a 10-year break from writing. What lesson did you learn from taking a hiatus?

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.

WOW: You are a college prof. How difficult is it to switch gears from academic writing to fiction? What advice would you offer to students about how to sharpen their writing skills?

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!

WOW: It must be difficult to balance teaching, writing, and a family. How are you able to find a balance?

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.

WOW: You perform in one-woman shows. Will you give us an idea of what we would see if we were in the audience?

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.

WOW: What advice would you offer to writers?

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”!

WOW: Where can WOW! readers find more of your work online?

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/.

WOW: Thanks for sharing your writing life with us, Sarah.

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.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

 

Interview with Danette Haworth, Third Place Winner!

Our Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest, sponsored by W. W. Norton, was our first open prompt contest ever, and we received so many fantastic entries! The interesting part was the variety of stories, which brought on a whole new aspect for our guest judges to tackle. But, as the saying goes, "Variety is the spice of life," and Danette's story Intersection is truly remarkable. If you haven't read it already, please do check it out, and then come back and read this fascinating interview with Danette!

Danette Haworth was first published at six-years-old, when she created a comic book series starring Peter Pan. Each comic book featured a green stickboy, a red stickman, and all the hair-raising conflict a six-year-old can conjure up. These marvelous adventures usually ended with a defeated Captain Hook raising his sword, shouting, "I'll get you, Pan!" Danette's mother still has the first edition, so carefully colored and stapled all those years ago.

After earning a BA in English, Danette landed a job as a technical writer, which was a fun position because she got to play in tank simulators and explain to scientists that possessive its does not have an apostrophe. She later worked as a travel writer for a well-known automobile club, one of the best jobs she'd ever held; she read history books, interviewed people on the telephone, looked at travel brochures, and got paid for doing this!

Her middle-grade novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, is due Fall 2008 with Walker Books for Young Readers.

Visit Danette at her website, www.danettehaworth.com, or her blog, Summer Friend: www.summerfriend.blogspot.com.

***

WOW: Danette, I'm thrilled to be interviewing you today. You've always been such a supporter of WOW!, and likewise, we've been a fan of yours! You placed as an honorable mention in our last Winter '07 contest, and I was ecstatic to find out that you won Third Place in our Winter 2008 FF Contest--our biggest contest ever. How did it feel when you first found out you'd won?

Danette: I love WOW! and I'm thrilled to be here! After I got your email, I wanted to throw open my front door and yell, "I'm a winner! I won Third Place!" Instead, I emailed my husband, my sister, my agent, and I called my mom!

WOW: (laughs) Well, you truly deserve the win, and all of us adore your story, Intersection, what inspired you to write it?

Danette: When I saw the open prompt for the Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest, I knew I wanted to enter. But what to write? Every single day for a week or so, I thought about it. (A lot of my writing process is just thinking about it.)

One day, I pulled up behind a van with those happy stick figures on the back windshield. I wondered what would happen if the real-life figures weren't so happy. What if the parents got divorced? Suddenly, I got the image of this woman attacking the man stick figure with her fingernails. She scraped him off in skinny little strips, but slivers of him remained on the windshield, as if he'd never be totally out of her life.

I felt there was a story there, but I didn't know what it was. I knew if I stayed with it, I could push it through. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I realized the story wasn't about the woman with the stickers; it was about a woman who observed the woman with the stickers. I began to think of what else this woman might see at the red light and how she might interpret it.

WOW: I love that! It's always interesting to find out how a story is fleshed out, and how perspectives change. I see those white stickers on the backs of cars all the time...especially here in Southern California. Your take on the one (Dad) scratched off is so original, it just drew me into your story. Did you actually experience this yourself?

Danette: I see those stickers everywhere too! I've never seen the dad scratched off, but once I got that image, I saw that there might be more than one reason why a woman couldn't bear to have that sticker on her van.

WOW: It's a great image. And in my opinion, Intersection is the perfect combination of interior monologue, description, and character. The narrator of the story is someone we can all relate to. It seems quite natural, and yet, I know fiction requires countless revisions. Did you do a lot of tinkering with the plot or character to get the story just right?

Danette: Thank you for your compliments on Intersection! I did do a lot of tinkering with the story, but most of the work took place in my head! The stickers were a good starting point, but they weren't enough for the whole piece; the story needed a stronger core. I had to let the idea evolve, which sounds passive, but my mind was totally occupied with the story. I thought about it constantly.

After several days, I had the epiphany about the woman behind the woman with the stickers. This new woman would be the narrator, assigning roles and casting judgment on the other drivers at the intersection. Once I nailed down the central concept, I was able to write the story.

WOW: You did give it a stronger core. The ending is very subtle, understated, and profound. All these different characters and lifestyles come together as they move forward in traffic. How did you decide on the ending?

Danette: It's very fulfilling to me that the ending was meaningful to you--thank you! The first version of the story ended with the narrator wondering why the trucker hadn't looked at her legs. Though I liked that part (because she now observed herself), it didn't provide enough punch, nor did it pull everything together.

Every time I pulled up to a red light, I imagined my narrator doing the same. There is this moment at intersections in which we are held together by the red light; this moment ends with the green light. I saw that as a metaphor for our lives--we cross paths and we move forward together. When I thought about the narrator moving forward with all the people she'd observed, it just felt like the perfect ending.

WOW: Danette, you are a very gifted writer. I remember in October 2007 when you announced the sale of your middle-grade novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, and we shared it in this blog post. What's happening with it now? Please share a synopsis, and when it will be released with our readers.

Danette: Yes! I am so excited about the upcoming release of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning (Walker Books, August 2008). The manuscript has been through copyedits, proofreads, and typesetting. I've seen the advance reading copy and it looks beautiful!

Stacy Cantor, my editor at Walker Books, was absolutely amazing to work with. She connected with the story on every level, and she helped bring out the best in Violet Raines. I could not have asked for a better experience.

Violet Raines is set in the oak-covered hammocks of rural Florida. Here's a short synopsis: Eleven-year-old Violet Raines dodges lightning and outruns alligators while trying to keep the prissy new girl from stealing her best friends.

An here's the first paragraph:

When Eddie B. dared me to walk the net bridge over the Elijah Hatchett River where we'd seen an alligator and another kid got bit by a coral snake, I wasn't scared--I just didn't feel like doing it right then. So that's how come I know just what he's saying when I see him in church, flapping his elbows like someone in here is chicken. When Momma's not looking, I make my evil face at him, but he just laughs and turns the right way in his pew.

The first chapter appears on my website. Come visit! www.danettehaworth.com

WOW: Congratulations Danette! I'm very excited to read your book. So, how are you going to market your book for your big launch?

Danette: I'm new at all of this, so I'm eagerly reading up on what others do to promote their books, and I'm working with Walker's publicist to decide what kind of things would work best for me.

I have visited a couple of classrooms and I can tell you how much fun it was to talk with potential readers! I was touched by the students, who were truly interested in the life of a writer.

WOW: That's the best! I'm sure you were a great inspiration to the students. So, what is your attraction to writing middle-grade novels?

Danette: In middle-grade fiction, you can be completely honest! You can describe emotions in their true state. You don't have to make excuses for your characters' feelings. The readers are reading with open hearts--it means something to them to discover that other people (even fictional people) feel the same way.

Plus, I love the adventures and settings that kids are in. I love spending time in those places. Even when it's my own creation, it's still very real to me.

WOW: Are there any other genres you are considering?

Danette: I'll always have room for flash fiction! Other genres I love reading and would love to write are young adult and literary.

WOW: I can definitely see you going there! Danette, from your bio, I know you've had quite an interesting writing career! From technical writing where you played with tank simulators to travel writing where you interviewed people and studied travel brochures. Both of which sound quite fun. What are your favorite stories from these jobs that you can share with us?

Danette: The thing I loved about both careers was the other creative people I worked with. As a technical writer, I worked closely with artists, a photographer, and computer program designers. I was always impressed with their talents and the format in which they produced their creative vision.

The travel writing was an excellent job all the way around. We had eleven editors on staff and the conversations were so writerly! At lunch, we'd spin our stories, throwing out our big vocabulary words and lofty ideas. Back at the cubicles, we'd debate whether to use a or an before acronyms starting with M. (Vote an!)

WOW: (laughs) My senior editor, Annette, would love those debates! And I would love the technical discussions. Speaking of, you also have a very active blog. In fact, you are my sole inspiration for starting my periodic column on The Muffin, SEO Sundays, which I can't thank you enough for! So, I have to know, what has blogging done for your writing life?

Danette: Thank you for all the wonderful information you provide. Last year, I was new to blogging and websites, and I've learned a lot from your column.

The best thing about blogging is the funny and clever comments other people leave on my blog. I've met many people over the Internet, and I think about them sometimes during my day. When they leave a comment on my blog, I know they were thinking about me too! Visiting blogs and websites for writers makes me feel like I'm in a busy, noisy room, rubbing shoulders with my peers. I love it!

WOW: Comments are fantastic. It makes blogging worthwhile. But, have you ever been hit with writer's block?

Danette: Yes, sooner or later, I think we all get hit with it. The main thing to know about writer's block is that you can push through it. If you feel stymied, set a low, attainable, daily goal for yourself. Strive for quality, of course, but don't edit your words before you even type them. During writer's block, you must keep exercising the writing muscle--keep your writing mind active--and you will get through it.

WOW: Well put. As well as exercising your writing mind, it's important to have a writing schedule. Do you have one?

Danette: I do. I am a very disciplined writer. I report to my computer room at the same time every day; I don't answer the phone or make plans for that time.

I used to think I could just wait for inspiration, but I've found that sticking to a schedule enhances inspiration because I have an expectation to be productive.

WOW: That's super! So, how do you maintain a balance between life and writing?

Danette: I don't know! I'm disciplined about starting my daily writing, but I often have trouble turning it off. I do revisions in my head while sitting in church; when doing chores, I'm off building forts with my characters.

When I'm done with a piece and finally emerge, I feel shocked--what has happened to my house? How did it get into this condition? Isn't this the same T-shirt I was wearing seven years ago?

WOW: (laughs) I hear that! But that's what comes from being so dedicated to the craft. So, if you were to give one tip to flash fiction writers, what would it be?

Danette: Flash fiction is truly an art form. You must convey setting, voice, characterization and a story arc in five hundred words or less. You don't have time for all the wonderful undercurrents you might be able to weave into a short story. Zoom in and discover the kernel or the moment that displays all the facets of the story you want to convey.

Don't be fooled into thinking that because of its short length, you needn't spend much time on a flash. It takes great care to carve something so small.

WOW: That last sentence is a great quote! Thank you, Danette, for taking the time to chat with us today! We've truly enjoyed it. Do you have any parting words of wisdom, or possibly a quote, that you can share with your writing sisters?

Danette: This interview was a lot of fun! I'm honored to be among the writers you've featured.

As far as quotes go, I'm partial to Psalm 90:17:
And let the beauty and delightfulness and favor of the Lord our God be upon us; confirm and establish the work of our hands--yes, the work of our hands, confirm and establish it.
***

If you haven't done so already, please read Danette's award-winning story, Intersection. And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details about the current WOW! Women On Writing Spring Flash Fiction Contest, sponsored by Seal Press, please visit: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php. Last month to enter! Deadline: May 31, 2008

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