Tuesday, March 02, 2010

 

Leigha Butler, 1st Place Winner, Fall '09 Flash Fiction Contest

Leigha Butler teaches and writes in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley region. Her stories and non-fiction are inspired by the landscapes and waterways she has encountered—from the Long Island Sound to the Yellow River to the forested kids-only diving holes of her childhood. She teaches Writing and Environmental Literature as an adjunct professor at two colleges in the region. She earned her masters degree in Literature & Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno where class was often conducted on a hiking trail or over a potluck supper. In order to polish several stories and essays that sit, dusty, on her hard drive, she plans to attend Chatham University's Nature Writing MFA program in the fall. When she's not agonizing over a sentence, she's likely reading, kayaking, doing her sun salutations or catching up on the worst of reality TV (one has to be versed in the culture of her students, after all).

You can find her work at: http://www.everydayfiction.com/riding-in-circles-for-love-by-leigha-butler/ and http://gloomcupboard.com/2010/01/03/prose-113/. Or submit a story to her community-writing blog: http://talesfromthedomicile.blogspot.com/.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Leigha, congratulations on your first place win! How do you feel?

Leigha: Thanks. I feel wonderful! I was so impressed by the second and third-place stories; I’m honored that "Kayana's Secret" was chosen to be in their company.

WOW: Could you tell us a little about your story and what encouraged the idea behind “Kayana’s Secret"? I’m guessing it may have been inspired by a place from your childhood.

Leigha: When I was little, my brothers and I loved to jump off of this particular pier into the Long Island Sound. My mother trusted me to determine whether tide was high enough to make our jumps safe, the scary implication being that my brothers’ lives were in my hands. The responsibility weighed heavily, but it marked my transition into adulthood and adventure for me.

In the story, Kayana experiences a similar rite of passage, made possible by her older sister. Devil’s Hole and Neversink Crag from the story combine several of these diving pools from my childhood. I still find my way to these kinds of jumping spots every summer. There is something so intriguing about how dangerous these places are, and yet how – again and again – they draw so many curious kids.

WOW: You switch between third person and second person narrative modes in the story in a very effective manner. It’s an interesting choice—and a hard one to pull off successfully. What made you decide to approach the story this way?

Leigha: I have written and re-written this story so many times, from so many different points of view! There’s a special kind of immediacy a writer can achieve, I find, with the second person point of view. Then again, as a reader, I get annoyed with the second person sustained. In the end, my decision to mix it up was the result of lots of experimentation and lots of feedback from friends and colleagues.

WOW: It's heartening to hear how much work it took to create the winning story! Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Leigha: Yes, I have written other flash fiction. My other flash stories have been published with Every Day Fiction, Gloom Cupboard, and Mslexia Magazine. I like the form because it combines everything I love about the short story and poetry. There is only time to focus on a single event, and the language has got to be tight and deliberate. It strikes me as beautiful that so much meaning can be packed into such a short space. I hope it’s not too hokey to say that flash fiction offers an idealized way to experience the world and all its richness.

WOW: What a wonderful description of flash fiction! 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?

Leigha: I cannot seem to break the habit of writing mostly at night. Nothing beats the peace and quiet available at the midnight hours. A cup of coffee will get me going, but more and more, for my nerves' sake, I’ve been opting for tea. One writing tool that’s very important to me is my laptop. I don’t think I could really commit to writing in just my office. I like the luxury of writing at a coffee shop or, better yet, on my couch.

WOW: For those of us unfamiliar with Environmental Literature, please tell us about this genre.

Leigha: Environmental Literature is any writing – fiction or non-fiction – that places emphasis on the natural world, whether as setting, subject or character. It takes seriously the notion that we must re-imagine our relationship with the environment and with our fellow species. It acknowledges humans as part of an ecological system instead of somehow separate from it. Aldo Leopold’s collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac, is a good place for interested readers to start. Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek are also wonderful, canonical works. "Ecocriticism" is the critical lens born of literary scholars' desire to take the environment seriously as a subject of analysis.

WOW: Thanks for the brief lesson and reading recommendations. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Leigha: Thank you for the opportunity to share my work!

I’d tell aspiring women writers to permit themselves to be selfish. There’s such pressure in this culture for women to be the conduits of everyone else’s success—as supportive moms, wives, volunteers, etc. Perhaps this is why, for instance, Publishers Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2009 included not a single woman author! We’ve got to be selfish enough to pursue our dreams so that future generations of girls and women can make their mark on the literary world.

Thank you again, Marcia. I'm so grateful for the work WOW! does for women writers and readers.

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Check back on Tuesdays for more contest winner interviews!

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

 

Beth Blake, Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner!

Beth Blake is so excited to be in the top ten of another WOW! contest! She has been writing short stories for as long as she can remember. She was asked to be a part of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference when she was in school, and won the first place award for her university's literary journal contest. She has also been delighted to write the Christmas program for the past three years for her church congregation.

Beth graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a degree in marriage and family studies, child studies, and creative writing. She is from La Grande, a lovely small town in Oregon, and draws much of the material for her stories from the town and people she loves so dearly. She is the second of seven children and really enjoys spending time with her family, including her seven nieces and nephews. She LOVES to cook and makes pretty good desserts if she does say so herself! Her long-term writing goal is to not be so critical of herself and afraid of what others might think. She wants to write a book one day, but most of all simply hopes to continue to touch hearts through words.

You can read her winning story here.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Summer 2009 writing contest! How do you feel?

Beth: Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how excited I am! I couldn’t believe it! My hands were shaking for about an hour! It means so much to me. Earlier this year I experienced a slump time where I wasn’t writing much of anything. I had gone through some experiences that were a blow to my confidence, and everything I wrote seemed stupid. It took awhile to get back on the wagon and write again. When I saw my name and my picture underneath the “1st Place” sign, I was so happy. Not because I had won any prize, but because I felt like an author again. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. You know what’s interesting; since I’ve won I’ve realized that I was an author all along. That is what I’ve always been. I just forgot that for a time.

WOW: We’re so glad the win had such a wonderful effect on you! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Beth: I love to answer this type of question. I really enjoy hearing about the genesis of stories. A few years ago there was a widower in my neighborhood with three young girls. After his wife died, there was a group of young girls that came over and taught him how to do his daughters’ hair for school. I was so touched by this and it was the basis for this story. I wanted to focus on the idea of someone giving a simple service after the funeral is over and the casseroles stop coming. I also wanted the story to be about a strong friendship. I have been lucky to be a part of some very strong friendships in my life and that has meant the world to me. I poured the feelings I have as being a part of these friendships into Joy and Jenny. I wanted to end the story on a note of hope, with the suggestion that even death couldn’t end this friendship. I really liked the idea of both of them taking care of the other’s child.

WOW: You’ve also placed in the top ten in one of our previous contests. As a two-time contest winner, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Beth: Be brave! Never stop trying!

Something else I have learned about writing lately is that a writer is what I call the 3 “E’s”. A writer is an entertainer, an empathizer, and an educator. A good story entertains; it brings someone to another world for a little while. The reader can visit Oz, or sail a pirate ship from their living room. A good story also empathizes with the human condition. Characters become our friends because they relate to what we are feeling and the situations we go through. This is something that has really been driven home to me this year. As a writer, I have learned to use the pain and joy in my life and infuse it into my characters. It has made all the difference.

One of my favorite actresses, Allison Janney, tells of the process she goes through when acting out a scene of intense emotion. She had dreams of becoming an Olympic skater when a freak accident as a teenager ended that dream. She says that any time she needs to portray pain, she goes back to that moment and brings out the despair she felt. She uses that connect with her audience. An author goes through the same process.

A good story also educates. It educates us about the world around us, and about how to relate to people. It can teach us about ourselves. To me the greatest stories are the ones that teach us about our feelings, specifically how to identify them and use them. That is the best advice I can give: entertain, empathize, and educate.

WOW: You're very generous with your advice, thank 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?

Beth: Well, another thing I’ve learned over the year is that my writing, like the rest of me, can’t be forced. That having been said, my music teacher told me once that an artist must practice their art every day because the body is constantly changing and you are not the same person from day to day. I try to spend time every day doing something. I write in my journal every night and highlight areas that I think I can use in my writing. I also have a writing journal that I use to write down phrases that come to me. I am never ever without a notebook. Despite the fact that I have an awful short term memory, I really think it is important to have a pocket notebook with you to capture those little moments of inspiration when they come.

When I am working on a project, I like to have quiet or some selective music playing. Talking distracts me terribly. I have always believed that an author is also an actor and needs to “get into character.” Music is something that always helps me do this. When I need to bring out sadness I will listen to the “Somewhere in Time” soundtrack or if I want to bring out a peaceful feeling, I’ll listen to the “Anne of Green Gables” soundtrack.

WOW: Again, great tips. What projects are you working on now? Do you have any writing goals in mind for the new year?

Beth: This is my busy season! I am writing two Christmas programs this year for different church congregations. I always love doing this. I am also working on a Christmas story. A few years ago I gave a friend of mine a hand-made book of Christmas stories with the promise to add one every year. As far as the new year, I have several projects in mind. I have had a story circulating in my head about a women who plays a mother in a “Leave it to Beaver” type show who unexpectedly takes custody of the teenager who plays her daughter on the show. They learn together about what it really means to be a family. I also would love to do a story about the White House. I have always been fascinated by the President of the United States and life in the White House. It is a dream of mine to visit Washington D.C. some time. I will also of course enter WOW contests!

WOW: Beth, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and may your Washington, D.C. travel dreams come true. Finally, talk to us about those yummy desserts you make! What’s your favorite?

Beth: Oh my, a favorite…hmm, that’s a tough one. I would say my favorite to make is pie. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when a pie comes out of the oven. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me. At college, my apartment was always full of goodies around finals time. My roommates would walk into to see me reading a book while rolling out dough and say, “She’s stressed again!” They liked it when I got stressed! Most of all, I love to bake things from scratch. Mixes save time but are infinitely less fun. I love to watch yeast bubble and foam. I love to feel bread dough underneath my hands as I knead it. I am fascinating by the chemistry of baking. I love to learn why things work in a recipe. My most famous dessert is probably my caramel apple pie. Someone told me once that the reason why I haven’t found “Mr. Right” yet is because he hasn’t tasted my caramel apple pie!

Thank you again for this opportunity. I love this site and I am so proud to be a winner in your contest!

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 Summer '09 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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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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