Tuesday, December 15, 2009

 

Noah Pedrini: Second Place Winner Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest


We have a real treat on The Muffin today! I am lucky to interview Noah Pedrini who won second place in the 2009 Summer Flash Fiction contest with his story Rose. (Click on the link, scroll down until you see Noah's smiling face, and then you can read his award-winning story yourself!)

Here's a little information about Noah:

Noah Pedrini has always felt a strong affinity for the written word and wanted to be, more than anything, a writer. Taking some creative writing courses in college, it wasn't until relocating to Buenos Aires in early '09 when he began writing in earnest. Inspired by the city's strong literary history, he embarked upon the never-ending process of honing his craft, writing regularly, and joining a weekly workshop of expat writers. When not writing, he makes art out of found notes, plays fingerstyle blues guitar, and travels.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Noah. Let's get started with learning more about your award-winning story. Where did you come up with the story idea for "Rose?"

Noah: There is a shopping district in Boston called Downtown Crossing. It was right around the corner from the college I attended. Almost every time I'd walk through there, I would see a lady selling roses--the same lady--and though I never bought any of her roses, she has stayed with me ever since. There was something I found fascinating about her--her expressionless face, her hollow eyes, and the slow, even way in which she moved.

One day, not too long ago, I was on a bus in Buenos Aires, and the rose seller was in the back of my mind. I looked out the window and caught a blind couple walking down the sidewalk, something I had seen several times during the last few weeks. Somehow those two elements--the rose seller from Boston and the blind couple from Buenos Aires--bounced
around in my head until I arrived at the loose idea for the piece that became "Rose."

That is how ideas seem to come to me: ideas bounce around in my head, narrowly missing each other, until two or more have a magical accident and collide to suggest a story.

WOW: What a fascinating process. The important thing here is to let ideas have time to bounce around! What are the themes you are exploring in this flash fiction piece?

Noah: One of the themes I am interested in is alienation. The story begins by suggesting that the rose seller and the blind couple are somewhat alienated from society through the description of the other pedestrians on the street avoiding them as they pass. The rose seller feels a sense
of alienation because she works alone at a difficult job--because she is an immigrant maybe. The blind couple feels alienated too; but for them, the alienation comes from the fact that they are left unable to see the society of which they are a part.

But when the rose seller gets a sale, and it comes from the blind man, we see through the couple's ensuing dialogue that they are in fact, at least that day, rather happy. While the other pedestrians are busy and in a hurry, the couple walks slowly. Though the reason for their
physical slowness is conditional, the reader (hopefully) sees an analogy in the contrast between the two and is left with a sentiment of not hurrying through life, living enough in the moment to enjoy the simpler things such as the smell of a rose.

WOW: You did explore both those themes really well in your story, which is definitely why you won second place. All that in just a few hundred words is amazing! Your descriptions are very rich and vivid! How do you go about writing such great descriptions with such a small word count?

Noah: Thanks. I really enjoy writing description. More often than not, for me, I stare into space until I've managed to put myself close enough to whatever it is I'm trying to describe, so that eventually some part of its essence steps forward.

I think that the key to effective description, particularly with respect to a small word count, is to make it do more than just describe the setting, characters, etc. In addition, it must do things like establish the story's tone and reiterate its themes.

WOW: That's great writing advice, especially for flash fiction writers! I must repeat it. Setting "must do things like establish the story's tone and reiterate its themes." Do you enter a lot of contests? If so, why? If not, why did you decide to enter WOW!'s?

Noah: Being the solitary, often grueling activity that writing is, contests give writers (especially the new ones) the burst of confidence it takes to keep at it through all the bouts of writer's block, brutally honest critiques, and pieces that seem to go nowhere.

I submitted this piece to the WOW! contest and one other; those are the only two I've entered so far. I don't recall how I heard about it. There are a number of excellent websites that list fiction contests of all kinds, I think it may have been through one of those.

WOW: We hope this contest gave you the boost you needed to keep at it! Your bio said that you recently moved to Buenos Aires, and that's when your writing took off. What is the reason for this?

Noah: For me, traveling is one of the most exciting and effective ways to enrich my well of experience. From there my creative endeavors are fed. And once in a while, I look in to find that it has given birth to a new creative pursuit. Everyone is inspired differently; for me inspiration
comes from introducing myself to new places and people and putting myself in new situations.

More specifically, I think my return to writing upon moving to Buenos Aires was was due to two main reasons. One, being in a cheaper country afforded me the freedom to work less and have more time to be creative. Two, Buenos Aires is a city with a strong literary history that remains
strong to this day. The city hosts the largest book fair in South America, and its café culture is very conducive to writing. Borges and Cortazar are its most well-known authors, but only a few of many brilliant writers that call or have called this city home. Also, a growing number of expatriate writers have relocated here from abroad, and a number of excellent resources exist to support that community. One I wholeheartedly recommend is Writers in Buenos Aires .

Anyway, I feel very fortunate to have found myself in Argentina and for the role living here has played in reigniting my longstanding interest in writing.

WOW: It sounds like a fascinating place to be living and writing, and we are glad that it inspired you to write "Rose." What projects are you currently working on?

Noah: I am currently working on an interactive digital art project that draws on the ever-growing collection of Post-it notes I've collected from the streets. More than the things they say, I find beauty in the unique style of handwriting each contains and see a sort of anthropological value in them as discarded notes that represent bits and pieces of
people's lives. What's more, they make great writing prompts!

Of course, I am always working on writing new pieces and rewriting older ones and trying to improve at a craft that is at once dreadfully difficult and singularly fulfilling.

WOW: The Post-it note project sounds really interesting, and I bet you do learn a lot. Writers' imaginations can often run wild with the littlest bits of information, too. Good luck to you, Noah, with that project and the rest of your writing!

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill (http:// margodill.com/blog/)

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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!

***

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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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

 

Laurel Robertson: An Interview with Second Place Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest


Laurel Robertson was born in the tiny town of Presque Isle, Maine and has spent most of her life moving south towards warmer weather! Now a native of Dacula, Ga. (let's just say Atlanta), she resides in hectic tandem with her always-on-the-go six-year-old daughter, Lucie Marie. An avid photographer, reader, and fan of storytelling, Laurel has kept writing on the back burner for many years while working her two full time jobs as a Sales & Marketing Coordinator and a single mother. Recently a spark lit and took hold as she began writing her first YA novel, which she is now in the process of editing. Although telling stories has always been in her blood, this is the first contest she has entered. Laurel is excited to entertain the idea of writing as a serious quest as well as creative outlet. She looks forward to writing more short fiction and finishing the novels stacking up in her head.

WOW: Laurel, congratulations on winning second place in the Spring 2009 Flash Fiction contest with your story, "Home By the Sea." It's the kind of story that can give you chills! What was your inspiration for this short story?

Laurel: Thanks very much! It was a complete surprise and honor to be chosen second place winner. The inspiration behind this particular story came from a song actually. When a friend and I decided to enter this contest, she asked if I had any story ideas in mind. At the time I had NO clue but was hoping for divine inspiration. Later that day, I was listening to my I-tunes and a song by Genesis came on--"Home By the Sea." For some reason, my brain pulled out a useless bit of trivia from way back --that song was about a ghost. It dawned on me that I wanted to write a ghost story. I started pondering what might happen if a ghost didn’t “know” she was a ghost. I actually wrote the ending first and worked my way to the beginning. And I named it HBTS in honor of the song that inspired the thought.

WOW: It is always so interesting to hear how stories are inspired by songs, news stories, quotes--it seems like, thankfully, inspiration is all around us. How easy or difficult was it for you to tell this entire story, including great descriptions, in such a small amount of words?

Laurel: I entered this contest to find out if I could write short. I soon realized it is unbelievably difficult to pare down my word count. I love description and trying to squeeze it in such a small number of words takes a lot of consideration. I give Kudos to anyone who can write short fiction easily. But, I will add that it has improved my writing in that I have become more aware of sentence structure and phrasing. I think writing short fiction can only improve one’s overall writing skill.

WOW: I agree, and it is important to always challenge ourselves and learn as writers! Do you often explore the theme of death or loss in your writing? What other themes do you explore?

Laurel: I hadn’t thought of it that way until you just asked, but now that you mention it, my newest short story is about death as well. Maybe it’s a subconscious endeavor? My novel, however, is not about death. Although, it might have something to do with loss!

WOW: (laughs) I think that is actually the best way to approach a theme--not trying to approach it but just seeing what comes out with the story you need to write! Your bio said that you are editing a YA novel. Is this the age group you prefer to write for? What is your novel about?

Laurel: I never sat down with the intention of writing a novel for the YA genre. I wanted to write a romance; and once I started writing, it took off in a totally different direction. I was elated because I had no idea I wanted to send any kind of message with my writing. The “romance” became more about respecting one’s self while in love rather than just writing a typical romance novel. Through the research on certain subjects for my story, I realized I actually wanted to say something to kids. They are under so much more pressure than we were at that age. My hope is that I might, in some small way, make them think about how important decisions regarding love and waiting until marriage to have sex really are. Too many adults accept teenage sex as the norm now days, and I think today’s kids want someone to tell them it’s OK to respect yourself and wait. One day, I am hopeful that my six-year-old daughter will benefit from my writing on this subject.

WOW: You have definitely set out to tackle a tough issue, but it sounds like you will have an intriguing book. I love it again that you set out to write one thing, and the characters and story kind of took over. That happens to me all the time! You also mentioned that you put your writing on the back burner for a while until recently. What made you start writing again?

Laurel: Last year, my husband and I separated after 18 years. I was a bit lost and needed an “outlet” for a lot of pent-up anxieties. My writing became a conduit for the sad, angry ,and confused bits of myself turning into something therapeutic and constructive. It was a safe haven for me when I needed to escape reality. It also gave me something to do with all the extra time I had when I would wake up, every night, at 3:00 am!

WOW: Laurel, thank you for sharing such a personal story with us. I can see that it will help other women writers who may be going through a difficult situation. It is always nice to hear when people can take a trying time and turn it into something positive. What are some time management tips you have for WOW! readers since you work a full-time job and are a single mom?

Laurel: Well, any of my friends reading this will certainly laugh-out-loud at the thought of “time management” mentioned anywhere near my name. I am more of a fly-by-the-seat -0f -my-pants kind of girl. Also known as the Princess of Procrastination…but, it works for me. I do much better “under pressure” and as long as I have a deadline, I can get amazing amounts of work done. I just make lots of lists on my calendar and try to stick to them. I could use a little more sleep, but to quote my favorite singer, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

WOW: Thank you, Laurel, for sharing your writing knowledge, story, and passion with us today! Keep on writing, and we hope to read more of your work soon.

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

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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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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

 

Winter '09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up, Cindy Haynes

Cindy Haynes has written enough stories, essays and mostly children’s tales to fill a very large wardrobe that might just open in the back to some far away time and place. She would rather be with herself and her imagination and her writing than anywhere else. Inspiration comes from friends, daydreaming out a window at the garden and from snatches of life such as walking by a limousine recently in NY City and seeing a beautiful woman in the back seat crying, while a man in a tuxedo standing outside caressed her cheek. It is easy to live the writing life when your senses take in all about you.

When not writing, Cindy runs, reads and takes wonderful trips in a 19’ RV named Van Cliburn with her husband Bill and way-too big dog Sadie.

Interviewed by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up with your story, “Windows of Change.” What inspired you to enter the contest?

Cindy: WOW is like Christmas every day. I wake up each morning, grab the coffee and head to my computer to keen the essay of the moment. I love your 750 word limit. First I just write away at my dream or experience of the moment. Then I repeatedly hit word count and smile. The fine tuning is a skill that I learned at a three week Iowa Writer's Workshop with fabulous writer/instructor Chris Offutt. He does something like cut his story into sentence strips and place them around his house. Wherever he is he takes a sentence and rearranges, eliminates, adds words until it is "tight and clean." I'm no Chris. But I love the process. I adore your contest and of course the prizes. You are my inspiration. I bow down to you WOW staff.

WOW: Thank you for the kind words about, WOW! Your editing process sounds kind of fun too. Could you tell us what encouraged the idea behind the story?

Cindy: Although I do not think I portrayed it well, my neighbor is my dearest friend and has been for 35 years. And she did lose a child.

WOW: I thought it was a lovely portrayal. It seemed like it could be based on real life events. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Cindy: Yes, I have entered each season for two years now. I was honorable mention last fall and runner up this past winter. I am with you for life! I read contemporary fiction and seem to write that best. However, I have "finished" but not at all fine tuned a young adult chapter book about low lives who are comprised of Mosquito Bite, Brussel Sprouts, Finger Nails On Chalkboard and a few others. Boy do I need help with that. Anyone out there wanna start a YA writing group? Ooops. I should look over what WOW offers. Maybe there is some workshop I can take.

WOW: We do have some great workshops available. A YA class would probably be a good addition to the list, so we'll look into that.

We’d love to know more about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing? Any favorite rituals?

Cindy: I am missing the part of the brain that "finishes things." Again, WOW is helping me to develop that part of my meager brain. So I do not have a routine where I sit for hours. Any good book will distract me. However, I do write copious emails and work at my essays and chapter book for a couple of hours each morning. I dart for the computer when a new idea comes my way. My computer is in a cubby and all around me are photos of me with greats for inspiration. My latest and most prized is me sitting next to a glowering Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler. I'm also partial to the picture of me with Mary McGarry Morris taken at a book signing about 15 years ago.

WOW: You mentioned that you take trips in a 19’ RV named Van Cliburn. Where have you been lately and how the heck did the RV get its name?

Cindy: My favorite trip in Cliburn was three years ago when we traveled to Alaska and back from March 31st to July 31st. We had particularly great weather. It was a magical trip. I put together a small book of my essays from the trip. I gave it to fellow writers and to my best fan of all, my 98-year-old mother-in-law, Marion, who inspires me by always asking for more.

My husband Bill is a classical and opera music lover. He has taken the same opera course from the same instructor no less than 15 times. The instructor does work with different composers and operas each semester. So Van Cliburn was a fit name for our little home on wheels.

WOW: Sounds fun. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Cindy: I do know by now as I approach the winter of my years, that one has to have a passion for writing to really get to it. I feel so very blessed that I have the passion. When one loves to read and write, one will never ever be bored. If you are inclined to try writing, start with this essay contest. When you enter, it will be the best ten dollars you spend all summer. You will hit send, smile and begin another adventure story. Have I said thank-you Women On Writing?

WOW: Yes, you have and thanks again, Nancy! Best of luck with your future writing endeavors.

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Join in the fun! Our Summer Flash Fiction contest is OPEN.

Check back on Tuesdays for more previous contest winner interviews.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

 

Interview with Second Place Flash Fiction Winner: Theresa Mae Leitch


What a treat for The Muffin readers today--an interview with 2nd place flash fiction contest winner, Theresa Mae Leitch. Her winning story, "Mommy's Here," is the story of a new mom, trying to get her baby asleep and fight her addiction to cutting. If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, you can do so here.

Theresa's bio:
Since I was a kid, I’ve been writing stories and ripping them up before anyone could see them. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve finally got the ovaries to share my work with others. It’s amazing what a fun career, two amazing kids, a loving partner and a prescription for Prozac can do for one’s confidence. Besides, I’m finding that it’s a lot harder to rip up my stories now that they’re on a computer.

I have a weird but enjoyable job as a lawyer who runs a library and implements knowledge management initiatives at a large Canadian law firm. In between work and family, I’m polishing my first novel and trying to learn about the crazy world of publishing.


WOW: Congratulations, Theresa, on your 2nd place win. Your story of a woman who uses cutting to get through raising her baby is so realistic and heartbreaking. What made you want to write this story?

Theresa: Thank you. I'm really excited about placing second, especially since this story means a lot to me.

I find it fascinating how self-destructive acts can seem utterly logical to someone who is suffering from mental illness, and I wanted to explore that. Depression is a horrible disease, all the worse because it affects the way you think. Often, the sicker you are, the harder it is to figure out that you need help. My character needs to take care of her baby, and cutting lets her do that. So to her, it makes sense to do it. Why get help? It's all under control.

WOW: You portray that very well in your story--how relieved she is when she finally cuts and how normal it is to her. You did a fantastic job! How hard was it to put such a gripping story into so few words? You manage to tell us a whole story and let us into the character's life.

Theresa:
That's a terrific compliment, thanks. It was tough keeping the word count so low, but what a great writing exercise it turned out to be! Flash fiction really makes you pause and ask yourself if you really need that sentence or that adverb. I've seen an improvement in my longer fiction as a result.

WOW: That's great to hear that winning this contest is also helping your writing. It's like winning two prizes! From your bio, it is easy to tell that you have a great sense of humor. Does this ever slip into your writing, or is it just how you deal with the life of a writer? :)

Theresa: It's how I deal with everything! Humor is the best defense mechanism in the world. I do try to incorporate some humor into my writing here and there.

WOW: So true--humor can help us in our everyday lives, too. Your bio also mentioned that you used to rip up your stories. What made you decide to finally start letting other people read your work, including entering it into contests?

Theresa: I got an iPod. Seriously!

A couple of years back, I made a big change in my life. I left practicing law to become a knowledge management professional. It's a fantastic job; and although there are stresses and occasional bouts of overtime, I have a lot more time for myself after work and family. That got me writing again, in a way I hadn't had time for in many years.

Then I bought the iPod; and at work one day, I was listening to one of my desert island albums (Haunted by Poe). I was struck by the lyrics to a song called "Walk the Walk:"

My mother spent 10 years sitting by a window
Scared if she spoke she would die of a heart attack
She listened as her dreams silently screamed
They drowned like little dolphins caught in a fishnet

I don't want my kids to be able to say that about me.

WOW: Those are powerful lyrics, and I'm sure many people reading those are thinking the same thing that you said about your own children. Isn't it strange how an almost unrelated event--getting an iPod--can change the course of your life? Tell us a little about your novel that you are polishing.

Theresa: It's a suspense thriller. Ally Stone is a serial killer who believes that she's the reincarnation of Medusa, destined to protect women from the men who abuse them. But she's not always right about the guilt of her victims.

I've put the first draft aside for a while so I can go back to it with fresh eyes; and in the meantime, I'm outlining a YA novel about a girl in love with a soul condemned to eternally walk the earth, and her fight to free him from his condemnation.

WOW: Those both sound fantastic. I love the plot for the suspense thriller, especially that the serial killer believes she is Medusa. Very interesting! What is your writing routine like since you are juggling your writing and a career as a lawyer?

Theresa: I do a lot of prep-work away from the keyboard. I imagine the scenes I want to write about and daydream myself as the different characters. I do this all the time - on the streetcar, when I'm watching Kung Fu Panda with my sons (for the millionth time).Then, when I sit down to write, I have a really good idea of what's happening in the scene and why, which allows me to bang it out pretty fast. When things aren't too busy at work, I'll do the physical writing at night four or five times a week. Other times, I'll only get an hour or so every few weeks.

WOW: It sounds like a plan that is working for you, and we hope it continues. Thanks again for talking with us today, Theresa. We hope to read more from you soon!

interview conducted by Margo Dill, www.margodill.com, http://margodill.com/blog/,

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

 

Interview with Gay Degani, First Place Winner of the Winter '09 Flash Fiction Contest


Gay Degani, a former community college instructor in English, lives in Southern California with her husband and ancient Labrador retriever. She's been published in two mystery anthologies, in THEMA Literary Journal and on-line at Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Tattoo Highway, and Salt River Review. “Spring Melt” was a finalist for The 2nd Annual Micro Fiction Award and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Monsoon” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2007 Fiction Open and “Wounded Moon” was short-listed for the 2008 Fish Short Story Prize.

Gay’s blog is Words in Place and she is the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction.

You can read her work online: Losing Ground at Tattoo Highway, The London Eye at Every Day Fiction, Listing Lisa at Salt River Review, and Spring Melt is a 2008 Micro Fiction Finalist and a Pushcart Nominee.

Interviewed by Marcia Peterson

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

Gay: Thanks for the congrats! It was most exciting to get an email from a friend with a capitalized “CONGRATULATIONS” in the subject line. I was wondering, what the heck? Then when I read why, I was jazzed! Wow! Literally WOW!

I found WOW! Women on Writing’s Flash Fiction Contest when a friend won a similar prize. I’m always on the prowl for places to submit my writing. Although there are many venues on the internet, much of my fiction seems to sift through without sticking. It seems to be too “on-the-nose” for many online lit sites and not genre enough for others, so I take advantage of every opportunity.

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

Gay: This story was born when a woman from a nearby town was sideswiped by a car and killed while out for a Sunday bike-ride with her husband. I didn’t know her personally, but the suddenness of her death shook me. I began to think about how it would feel to have my life completely reversed by such an event.

As I do with everything that causes that little niggle in my brain, I asked, “What if that had been my husband?” My answer was “walls.” I’d build walls around myself and never go out. That was the genesis of this piece.

WOW: I loved "Beyond the Curve," and thought you created a great opening sentence, which is important in capturing the attention of your readers. I also liked the title, with its deeper, double meaning. How much work do you put in to your opening lines and story titles? Do you spend a lot of time tweaking them?

Gay: Since I started writing online flash fiction, I’ve learned the importance of first sentences. When someone reads on a monitor, he or she can click through to so many different sites with so little effort, it becomes essential for a writer to seduce that reader immediately with vivid images using specific detail. The reader wants a picture to see right away, the wart on a character’s face, the gleam of light off a skyscraper, a mangled bicycle. With that image, he or she willingly reads on to find out what next.

As for titles, I usually have a working title that comes from my first inspiration, but often it ends up being discarded because it tells too much too soon. I need the working title to keep me focused on the juicy parts of the story, but once I’m finished, I look for something more suggestive and symbolic.

One of the things I love to do most is to try to have double meanings where ever I can, but part of the challenge is that it must be subtle. It’s hard to find the right balance between the obvious and the obscure, and when it works, I’m thinking, “YES!”

WOW: It’s always interesting to learn about a successful writer’s process, thank you. You’re also the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles. This looks like a great resource for writers. Can you tell us about the site and what visitors might expect?

Gay: I was lucky enough to find Every Day Fiction when I decided to try to publish online. I had a short piece I’d done as an exercise in Gordon Mennenga’s class at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival ( a great place to spend a week surrounded by writers). When I read “One Question” in front of the group, it was first time Gordon said to me, “Now that’s a piece of professional writing!”

I sent it off to EDF and they published that piece and eventually more of my work. They even nominated “Spring Melt” for the Pushcart Prize. There’s a list of my online stories at my blog, Words in Place.

When the editors of EDF asked if anyone would volunteer to run a blog for the e-zine, I raised my virtual hand. They gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted, and Flash Fiction Chronicles was born. The site is dedicated to the discussion of the art and craft of flash fiction, fiction in general, and the issues of writing, marketing, and publishing today. I’m always looking for submissions from writers at all levels, from beginner to professional.

WOW: I found lots of great posts there, and I think others will enjoy it too. You’re doing a great job! Aspiring authors would probably love to know about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?

Gay: Oh-oh. I wish I could say I manage to bang out hundreds of words a day, but I’m somewhat sporadic. When a story has juice for me, I think about it all the time, write notes on napkins, tell my husband “shhhhh,” and hide in my garage office because if I don’t deal with that story right away, it might lose its juiciness.

I sit down at the computer every morning. I work on either a short piece of fiction or my novel. This is always a battle for me. The novel is long range gratification and is sometimes trumped by an email announcing a contest for a 1000-word piece. This provides INSTANT (relatively) gratification. I give in. New characters, new story. What fun!!!

But what I understand and what I say to others is finishing something is crucial. Get to the end while the juice is still dripping from my mouth. You can edit later.

WOW: Good advice! What writing projects are you working on right now? Do you have goals in mind for the rest of the year?

Gay: My goal is to finish editing my mystery novel, What Came Before. This is a must-do enterprise. I love the story which centers around a woman who investigates the murder of a sister she didn’t know she had and while doing so, uncovers the reasons for her own mother’s suicide.

WOW: Sounds like a great story, and we wish you luck with the editing work. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Gay: Work hard. You have the power to learn what you need to know.
Don’t fall in love with your own words. There are more where those came from.
Write what you love to read. Write what you want to write.
Observe everything. There’s a story in every popcorn kernel on the floor.
Trust in yourself and don’t take anything too seriously. Be joyful.


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>Check back on Tuesdays for interviews with more Winter ’09 Flash Fiction winners.

>For details on WOW! Women on Writing's current contest, head on over to our contest page.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

 

Interview with WOW! Runner-Up Amber Frangos Author of "Greta in the Driver's Seat"

"Here’s George Jetson…his dog Astro." Nine-year-old Amber Frangos realized SOMEONE had to write those cartoons she loved. In some form or other she has been writing ever since. Novels, screenplays, poetry, chapbooks, the instructions on shampoo bottles…wash rinse repeat--IN THAT ORDER. What kind of chaos would happen to the consumer who did not read that label? The written word is her life. She self published the book, No Child Is Safe From Internet Crime: A Guide For Parents sold in 150+ libraries, appeared on Oprah.com. She has several short stories published, Guidepost.com and All My Bad Habits I learned From Grandpa. Amber currently lives in rural Kentucky with her husband, two dogs, two cats, two goats, 8 chickens and 1 rooster (the stereotype is so true). Her credo is if it can’t be written it doesn’t exist and if it does exist, it should be fiction.

Today, we were given the privilege of sitting down with one our runners-up for the 2008 Summer Flash Fiction contest. Her story, Greta in the Driver's Seat, captured the hearts of our guest judges. If you haven't done so already, read her story and come back for a chat.

Interview by Carrie Hulce

WOW: Thank you Amber for taking the time to sit down with us today to chat about your great story. How does it feel to have placed in the Wow, Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest?

Amber: At first I could not believe it was true. I've entered so many contests with…thanks, but no thanks. Then I was elated and proud. SOMEONE out there got me. Now? I put those feelings in a place with baby's first steps, first day of kindergarten. I’m in need of my next fix. Writing is my habit, my addiction.

WOW: That's wonderful, Amber, remembering those "firsts" is so important, glad we could help. What inspired you to write Greta in the Driver's Seat?

Amber: I originally thought of a short story where the husband and wife argued the entire road trip and at the end of their journey they realized their marriage was dead, then the thought popped in my head what if the husband was dead at the beginning of the journey? How would that change the perspective?

WOW: That is definitely a way of changing your perspective on a story, many of us here at WOW, thought it was a fantastic way to go. At the end of the story, you shocked your reader. Do you like to surprise people at the end of your stories?

Amber: I love it! Perspective is my favorite plot mechanism. I truly believe that all of us are capable of the most heinous crimes (mom will commit murder to save the life of her child) and the highest levels of kindness (jaded businessman offers shelter to victims during a hurricane), but it’s perspective that creates the catalyst.

WOW: You are so right, perspective really does make the story. Without it where would we get such great story lines for not only books but for movies and plays as well. Do you get inspiration for all the animals that live with you? If so, which animal do you think gives you the most inspiration?

Amber: I never thought about it before, but on some level I think they do inspire me. My rooster Burt resembles Bruce Willis (when he had hair) and my hen Mildred is the mirror image of Susan Sarandon. Then there’s my goat Murray who channels Moses.

WOW: That is very funny. A rooster that looks like Bruce Willis. It is so great how we can see people within animals. A great way to find additional creativity. Have you ever created a story about your husband? What character was he in the story?

Amber: Not an entire story, but there are characteristics of him in my writing. The way he chews the ends of his cigarettes, his penchant to keep the kitchen clean (I’m so lucky) or the way he uses driving as an interactive sport. But, when I write male characters I keep my husband's perspective (there's that word again) in mind. Is this the type of man he would like to be? Emulates? Is threatened by?

WOW: You are a lucky woman. A man that likes to clean a kitchen, what heaven. It is great that you can find ways of incorporating him into some of your characters. Have you ever created any stories about Kentucky?

Amber: Not stories (yet-they're still brewing), but my chapbook titled, Ghosts For Jesse Jewel, will be published later this year by finishing line press. The book of poetry chronicles my neighbor in Kentucky. His daddy's farm was sold to pay his mama's nursing home bill. He now lives on less than one acre of land instead of hundreds of acres. He has to live with the new folks that surround him on what used to be his land for generations.

WOW: Congratulations on the publication, that is fantastic. It is so fabulous where we can find stories. This is so great that you have found a story in your community and have been able to build from it. You currently have informative books on sale, can you tell us about these?

Amber: When my sons were little, the Internet was new to me. They would tell me about their online friends. A huge red flag of danger assaulted my brain. This resulted in my non-fiction No Child Is Safe: from Internet Crime, A Guide For Parents.

WOW: What a great idea. It is a scary world, and there is still so much out there on the internet that we are unsure of. This vast world that we have created has a lot of places that our children shouldn't venture to. We are so happy that you found a way to help parents keep their children safe. If you could pass along some information to new writers what would it be?

Amber: Persevere. At one time I feared editors, until I was one. I would suggest that all writers should judge a contest and sit on the other side of the fence and try to "pick one winner." Once done so, they will understand that rejection is nothing personal.

WOW: That is a great bit of information to pass along. So many of us have stacks of rejection letters and many of us do dwell on them, making them personal, when really they aren't, you are so right about that. How could you inspire others to take on their dream of writing?

Amber: I would tell them to jump in feet first, expect to fail sometimes, but know that in the end the wins will outweigh the losses. BUT, you’ve got to take the risks!!! Have some fun with your writing and don’t take yourself too seriously. I used to get so defeated when I received a rejection notice (I have saved all of them and I have hundreds), but then one day I realized that I don’t write for the editor, publisher or reader (although these are important for audience and publication) instead, I write for me--that day has made all the difference.

WOW: You are so, right, I can remember feeling the losses and thinking I was never good enough to be a writer. Oh, how that has changed over the years. You are so right, jump in and hold on tight for the ride. Do you have any thing else that you would like to add?

Amber: I'd like to thank WOW for their venue and their understanding that writers need to be read. While filling in the info for this interview sheet, I put in a DVD, lit two cinnamon bun candles, I'm home alone (very unusual), sipping my green tea with fake sugar and writing. Thoughts of new stories, characters, plots and fragments of poetry circle my thoughts. I'd rather be sitting here writing than doing anything else and I can honestly say, it doesn’t get any better than this!

WOW: Amber, again Congratulations for your placement in the top 10 with the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. We look forward to reading more of your work for years to come.

If you would like to read more of Ambers, work, please check out her site and see what she has to offer. http://www.amberfrangos.com

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

 

Interview with Beth Cato: Runner-Up Summer 2008 Contest


The Muffin is happy to talk with Beth Cato today, runner-up in the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't read Beth's winning story, "Junk and Mothballs," yet, you can click here. Make sure to check it out!

Beth resides in Buckeye, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix. Her husband Jason, autistic son Nicholas, and two crazy cats keep her very busy, but she still manages to squeeze in time for writing and other activities that help preserve her sanity. Beth is originally from Hanford, California, but she lived all over the country during Jason's time in the Navy; she is quite content to have her husband out of the service and home most evenings, though her time as a military spouse has provided tremendous writing material.

Her essay "Home is Where the Kitties Are" is featured in the book The Ultimate Cat Lover. Beth's fiction has been published in The Shine Journal, and she received an honorable mention in the Ligonier Valley Writers Zombie Flash Fiction Contest. She's seeking representation for her women's sci-fi novel, The Locked Door, and is working on a new near-future superhero fantasy titled Normal. National Novel Writing Month is celebrated in her household each November, though the degree of celebration varies wildly dependent on her word count and caffeine level. Her current projects and blog are all accessible through her website: http://www.bethcato.com/.

WOW: Hi Beth! Thanks for taking time out to chat with us today. In your winning story, "JUNK AND MOTHBALLS," the reader is wondering what exactly the main character is searching for and really doesn't discover it until the twist at the end. Did you have that ending planned when you started the story? Do you often write endings with a sort-of twist?
Beth: No, that ending wasn't planned. I was searching right along with my character. My first inclination was to have her find some rare collectible worthy of the "Antiques Roadshow." I soon realized that wasn't the right approach at all. I thought back on a story from my own family – after my great-grandmother died, her sons decided to go through her belongings and throw out everything that they deemed "junk." This unfortunately included many things that were important to my grandma, such as papers and photographs. One person's junk is indeed another one's treasure. I have written several short stories with this sort of twist, though most of them fall flat and won't ever be submitted any place.
WOW: We're glad that you decided to submit this one! And I've heard many writers say you have to practice writing--that's what all the stories and novels are in our drawers--our practice. You have also written a sci-fi novel for which you are searching for representation. Are there any similarities in your writing process for a flash fiction piece and your novel, such as characterization, plot, setting, outlining, and so on?
Beth: The writing process is very different because of the time and effort involved. With flash fiction, I have the grain of an idea, and I let it develop in my head for a few days. I might write the concept on paper in my journal. When I feel ready, I type the story. With flash, if I think on the idea too long it becomes impossible to confine the story to the necessary 500 or 1,000-word limit. In that way, writing flash fiction is a lot harder than writing a novel. You have to introduce the character or characters, propel the plot, create a climax and resolve everything – tidily – in mere paragraphs. With my novels, I spend months on research, character backgrounds, and chapter summaries before I even begin the real writing. The end result still needs to be tidy, of course, but it's a lot easier to build character and suspense over 80,000-words than in 500-words.
WOW: Thanks for sharing your writing process with us for novels and flash fiction. It is interesting to see into the writing process of other writers! This piece is realistic fiction, but your novel length works seem to tend toward fantasy/sci-fi. Which do you enjoy more? Which do you find easier to write?
Beth: I definitely have a preference for stories with a touch of the extraordinary. I read and enjoy everything from fantasy to literary fiction to straightforward history books, and the subjects of my writing are just as diverse. As to which is easier? That depends.Sometimes a story flows out and seems to work with little effort on my part. The genre doesn't have much bearing on that.
WOW: It sounds like you have a lot of variety in your writing, which is probably encouraging to many writers out there. Sometimes, you will hear the advice that you have to stick to one genre, but it does seem possible to write and be successful at what captures your attention at the moment (as you have). In your bio, I read that you spent many years as a military wife,and you are also the mother of one son and 2 crazy cats. I also noticed that you've had a cat essay published. How much of your real life makes it into your writing? Why do you enjoy writing about your life?
Beth: I use tiny scraps of my life experience throughout my writing – both fiction and nonfiction – which is rather funny since I've led a very un-extraordinary life. Despite my lack of worldliness, there are still little life lessons and family stories I can utilize. My cats are an endless source of material. As my aunt once said, "Are our cats born crazy, or do we make them that way?" Crazy makes for great writing. My experience as a military wife has inspired several essays and as well as the basis for my novel The Locked Door, which involves a disillusioned Navy wife discovering the impact of her existence on multiple dimensions. I enjoy writing about subject matter that I know well, but I always take care that my characters don't become "Mary Sues" based too much on myself. The fun part is taking the familiar and twisting it into something new.
WOW: I like the question your aunt posed about cats--I think that same question could be asked about all pets, especially dogs. Several writers have a touch of themselves in their work--it's almost impossible not to. You also maintain a blog and a website. Tell us a little about what kind of material we will find on both.
Beth: My blog is updated several times a week and focuses on my journey as a writer. Sometimes I discuss the importance of goals or the thrill of an acceptance, and other times, I speak more about the distractions from my writing - such as my son. The kid has a radar that detects the second I open Word to start writing or editing. My website announces my publications and provides links if the material is online.
WOW: That's a great idea to provide links to your writing if the material is online. That is something many of us could incorporate into our websites. What is your writing routine like?
Beth: My writing routine is all about squeezing in writing at every opportunity! My best writing days are those when my son has preschool, giving me a long, uninterrupted stretch where I can write, edit, or research. However, ideas don't always wait for a convenient moment. I've thrown together many a rough draft during the forty-five minute respite provided by our Elmo's Potty Time DVD. When I'm working on a long project like NaNoWriMo or editing my novel drafts, I set word count and chapter goals on a daily basis, and I fight to get it done through fire and brimstone – though in my house, that usually means a candle sets off the smoke alarm or sopping up potty-training seepage throughout the house. For a lot of years, I put off writing because there were just too many other distractions and demands on my time. I came to realize that there was no ideal time; if I wanted to write, I had to be flexible. I'd say my routine is more about steady progress towards my daily and weekly goals than on writing during a specific time slot every day. As long as it gets done and I keep slogging through, that's what matters.
WOW: Thank you for sharing that with us. I think many writing moms and day job writers can relate to what you said and maybe use that technique, too. It is a good idea to set a daily goal and then fit writing in where you can. It has been great chatting with you today, Beth. We wish you the best of luck!
Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, http://www.margodill.com/, http://margodill.com/blog/

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 

Interview with Sarah Mian, First Place Winner of the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest!

Sarah Mian has been a writing junkie since childhood. To support her habit she has worked, among other jobs, as a film extra, waitress, substitute teacher, and currently as an exhibit custodian who ships and receives evidence in a crime lab. She has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction and The New Quarterly. Her co-written play, 'Creatures of the Moment' was produced by Metamorphic Theatre.

Sarah has written her way across Canada, living on Vancouver Island in the west, Toronto in the middle and Newfoundland in the east. She also spent nine months abroad to see how the other half lives before returning home to Nova Scotia where the waves break on all sides and everyone says 'thank you'. She lives with her boyfriend, Leo, who can't sing but is a damn fine kisser.

You can read Sarah's winning contest entry, "English as a Second Language," then come back to our interview with her below.

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WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in WOW!'s Summer 2008 writing contest! How do you feel?

Sarah: It's elating to have my work read and considered, let alone recognized as exceptional. I'm grateful I saw the contest listing and took a chance. In November, I kept checking the web site to see who had won and all of a sudden my own face appeared on the screen!

WOW: That must have been fun to see yourself there as the winner! Could you tell us a little about your story and what encouraged the idea behind "English as a Second Language?"

Sarah: Now that I am back home and stationary, I'm doing a lot of exotic travel in my head, sucking on all the juices of my past adventures or those of people I know who lived in foreign countries. I imagined this piece as a visual post card, a haiku, a love letter and a very long story all in one.

WOW: Your story is artistic and poetic, and does seem to have all of those elements. Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Sarah: Short fiction has become my medium of choice in recent years, but I am always experimenting with length and form. Writing poetry and flash fiction disciplines me to cut away the fat, which carries over into longer works. I'm learning how to paint whole scenes with just a few brush strokes and how to leave some edges in shadow. I believe this is the secret to great writing; when the story is mutable enough to allow recreation with each reader. It's like magic.

WOW: I love the image of painting whole scenes with just a few brush strokes. Aspiring authors would probably love to know more about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?

Sarah: I have to write. It's not about squeezing it in; it's as much a necessity as brushing my teeth. If I don't write for a week, I feel completely out of sync. Therefore, I have chosen a career that does not rob me of my creative energy. During my breaks at work I brainstorm on whatever I'm working on in my "real" job as a writer. The amount of time I spend writing a day depends on what demands to be freed from my mind; sometimes I unleash fifteen pages at my desk after work, sometimes just two sentences. I tend to back and forth between wholeheartedly living life and rehashing/analyzing it on paper.

WOW: You're obviously a very dedicated writer. Have you ever faced writer's block or burnout? If so, how do you deal with it?

Sarah: If anything, my problem is that I have too many ideas and have a hard time honing and ordering (or ditching!) them. The ability to recognize what isn't working is a crucial writing skill. On the first draft I let it all out, then the hard work really begins.

WOW: We can relate to that! What other projects are you working on? Anything we should look out for this year?

Sarah: I am perpetually sending out short stories to literary journals and I've recently completed a comedy screenplay. In the next three years, I expect to start a novel.

WOW: We wish you luck with all of those endeavors. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Sarah: My best two pieces of advice:

#1-When you think a piece is finally finished, put it away for at least a month. Guaranteed, when you read it back you'll see room for improvement. It's tricky to get things out of our head and make them lie down on paper in a way that others can make sense of them. You need distance in order to recognize if you've achieved clarity with every line.

#2 -Ignore the rule that you can't submit a piece to more than one publisher at once. Having one editor agree to publish your work is like capturing a unicorn; what are the odds of capturing two? I say, send your work everywhere and anywhere, and if a piece you really believe in has been rejected more than once, keep trying. 'English as a Second Language' was rejected three times in slightly different drafts before winning this contest.

WOW: Great advice, Sarah. Congratulations again on your first place win!


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Every Tuesday we're featuring an interview with a top 10 winner from the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction contest. Be sure to check back and see who's next!

There's still time to enter our current writing contest, too! The deadline for entries is February 28, 2009.

--Marcia Peterson

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

 

Interview with Gerry Cofield: Second Place Winner, Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest!


Gerry L. Cofield’s love of stories and books started on the knee of her Paw-paw, the ultimate story-teller, when she could barely talk. She has won several contests, been published in trade magazines and The Magnolia Quarterly, and writes a weekly column for the local newspaper about the animal shelter where she volunteers (www.randolphshelter.org). She has enjoyed several classes from Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Writing It Real with Sheila Bender, and currently from The Write Helper.

Gerry’s degree is in Child and Family Development and she spent 12 years working with young children and families. Two years ago she moved to Woodland, Alabama to operate the family business of manufacturing church steeples (yes, really). Her experience working in a domestic violence shelter prompted this submission to the WOW!flash fiction contest. She finds that the rural South is a constant source of interesting and unusual characters and hopes to work her way into writing a book within the next few years if she can just narrow it down to one topic.

She enjoys traveling, baking, gardening, hiking, and volunteering for the animal shelter and a charity dedicated to serving those who have experienced tragedy (www.willsway.org). She lives with Shadow the mostly-Lab, Buddy the St. Bernarder Collie, and Luckie the German Chowbrador (don’t look for these breeds on the AKC list), as well as a fuzzy cat named Samson who snores.

She is grateful to be included amongst such talented and spirited women writers and welcomes correspondence from you at glcofield[at]Hughes[dot]net!


If you haven't done so already, please read Gerry's award winning story, Questions to a Friend, then come back to our interview with this talented and gracious writer.

*****


WOW: Congratulations on winning second place in WOW!'s Spring 2008 writing contest! How do you feel?

Gerry: Thank you. I feel honored and elated.

WOW: What a wonderful reaction. The inspiration for your story came from your experience working in a domestic violence shelter. Can you tell us about that?

Gerry: I began as a volunteer at a shelter while attending college and was later hired as the children’s advocate. It was quite educational. Domestic violence is way too common and often misunderstood. I had some harrowing experiences and, in the end, became emotionally drained. Seeing how those situations affect the children was the most disturbing part.

WOW: That would be very difficult to bear. Your help and kindness was surely appreciated. Gerry, I love the unique approach you took with the story, style-wise. Every sentence in the story is a question! How did you get the idea to create a story that way?

Gerry: Well, I wish I could take credit for coming up with that idea myself, but…. In a wonderful class with Sheila Bender (www.writingitreal.com) one of the writing prompts we were given was an experimental fiction/short-short story by Bruce Holland Rogers (www.shortshortshort.com) written in this style. I liked the intensity and brevity of it.

WOW: I've taken one of Sheila's classes as well, and loved it (Note: I had a chance to interview her for WOW!'s August 2008 issue.) Since you've won some other writing competitions, you must have a secret or two. Could you share some tips for writing contest success?

Gerry: No secrets here. I just try to learn what I can from books, classes, and conferences and by reading as much as possible. The only thing I can offer is the obvious: write what touches people and do it with style in a well-polished manner. I always read previous winners’ stories and there are many truly talented writers out there.

WOW: Great advice. You've taken several writing classes. Which ones have been your favorites and why?

Gerry: I honestly haven’t taken any classes that I didn’t enjoy and learn from. Each instructor has his/her own methods. I found that it can be uncomfortable getting used to different styles and systems, but definitely worth it to “stretch” yourself and allow the creative juices to flow. Often the other participants in the class are as important as the instructor and the material.

In the class with Sheila, I worked with the best group of ladies! We really learned a lot from each other. The Gotham Writers’ Workshop Fiction classes were very helpful as well. A big benefit of online classes is exposure to others from all walks of life and geographical areas. I’m currently working with Amy Harke-Moore (www.thewritehelper.com) in my first one-on-one class. Amy provides candid feedback- suggestions, corrections, and ideas- that I feel has improved my writing.

WOW: We'd love to know about your writing routines. For example, where do you write, and how often? Do you have any favorite rituals?

Gerry: I have a little workspace in front of a window set apart by an oriental screen at my house. My materials are spread all over an old drafting table that belonged to my Paw-paw. I truly believe it improves my creativity.

I try to write each day, but life sometimes gets in the way. My writing tends to be concentrated on the weekends. I do better in the morning after massive quantities of caffeine or when winding down in the evenings. I don’t really have any set rituals besides yelling at the dogs to stop barking so I can concentrate. I really admire the moms who write--it must be a real challenge to handle all their responsibilities and still find time to devote to writing.

WOW: It's helpful to hear about your methods, and what works best for you. Have you found inspiration from other books or authors you could recommend?

Gerry: There are so many! A particularly good book for writers, in my opinion, is Peter Selgin’s By Cunning & Craft. He does an excellent job cutting to the quick of how to produce great writing without seeming preachy or condescending- plus he’s witty.

I have a habit of buying books like crazy and then taking forever to read them. I just read my first YA fiction (since becoming an adult), Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it- the characters and pace kept me reading start to finish without stopping. I’m probably behind the crowd, but I recently finished Tobias Wolff’s The Night in Question. This collection represents my favorite aspect of truly amazing short stories- the ability to provide a group of diverse and vivid tales in one book. It’s like buying a CD with many styles of music and loving each one. I’m also proud to recommend Alabama writer Ravi Howard’s novel Like Trees, Walking which is honest, tender and powerful at once.

WOW: Good recommendations, thanks. One final question, Gerry: If there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Gerry: I don’t feel very qualified to provide advice, but I can tell you what advice I’ve received that has been useful. Keep writing, keep submitting, don’t be afraid to try new things, do you’re best, and don’t give up. It seems that many of us women writers tend to doubt ourselves and I think that’s a shame. We have to support and nourish each other, and I think WOW has provided a wonderful opportunity for us to do that. I am just so excited to be a part of this network of awesome ladies!

Thank you, Marcia, for this interview. Please share my thanks with Angela & Annette, and the WOW staff. Everyone there does such a great job! And thank you to Wendy Sherman and Seal Press for this opportunity. This is such an honor and I really appreciate it.

*****

Every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. Be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

--MP

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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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