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