Tuesday, February 09, 2010

 

Interview with James Tipton, Summer '09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up


James’s Bio:
James Tipton lives in the tropical mountains of central Mexico where he writes short poems and short fiction. He is also Associate Editor of the monthly magazine in English, published in Mexico, El Ojo del Lago (The Eye of the Lake) and Book Review Editor for the on-line magazine, Mexico Connect. He has published more than 1,000 short stories, poems, articles and reviews in North American magazines, including Esquire, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, American Literary Review, and Field.

His book of poems, "Letters from a Stranger" (with a Foreword by Isabel Allende), won the Colorado Book Award in 1999.

His most recent collections of short poetry are published in bilingual (Spanish and English) editions: "Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village" (Lavando platos en el antiguo pueblo) and "All the Horses of Heaven" (Todos los Caballos del Paraíso). He is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico.

Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village is available through Bread and Butter Press/1150 S. Glencoe/Denver, CO 80246, $10.95 plus $3.00 shipping & handling. All the Horses of Heaven is available through http://www.themetpress.com/, $12.95 plus $4.00 shipping & handling.

He is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico.

Check out his entry, “And To Think That Only Yesterday”, then grab your favorite hot drink and come on back for our latest interview with James.

Interview by Jill Earl

WOW: First of all, congratulations on placing again in WOW’s Flash Fiction Contest! What do you think has helped you in producing winning contest entries?

James: I think I was initially helped by reading lots of the past winners on the WOW site. I liked some of those stories and I thought, WOW!, maybe I can write stories like that as well. I like short forms of literature, whether fiction or poetry, and I have published hundreds of short poems, many of them as haiku or tanka, including two collections in 2009: “Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village”, and “All the Horses of Heaven”, both in bi-lingual editions (English and Spanish) incidentally.

WOW: Studying the entries of past winners is a great way to get a feel for what judges are looking for, not just for our competition, but for others as well. Great advice for future contestants to follow.

Speaking of entries, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “And To Think That Only Yesterday”. The imagery was so vivid and rich. What was the inspiration behind it?

James: I like vivid imagery and living here in Mexico life often seems to me to be more vivid, or perhaps I simply have more awareness of how vivid it is.Reading lots of Latin American literature, novelists like my dear friend Isabel Allende (who wrote the introduction to my book, Letters from a Stranger) and Gabriel García Marquez, opened me up to images, including unusual ones, that seemed to penetrate more deeply into reality, so that reality itself shifts, becomes something very fascinating.

WOW: Looks like you studied well. You’ve captured the country’s essence in such an appealing manner, I think.

Switching gears, you mentioned in your previous interview, that among your many publications, your tanka “All the Horses of Heaven” has been published by Modern English Tanka Press. For those who may not have heard of it, can you explain what tanka is?

James: Yes, basically a tanka is a five-line Japanese form of poetry, unrhymed, usually about aspects of love, and initially written by court ladies in Japan in the 6th or 7th century, and sent in secret to potential lovers. They (the lady and the lover) often communicated or understood their relationship through tanka poetry. Usually there are three lines that are followed by two more than often sum up or comment or expand the first three. The form is much older and in Japan is more popular (I have been told) than haiku. You might enjoy “All the Horses of Heaven” (www.themetpress.com).

WOW: I’ve read a bit about this poetic form, and found it more appealing than haiku. Thanks for the explanation and I’ll be sure to check out “All the Horses of Heaven”.

Let’s talk about your writing process. Are there specific themes that you like to explore when you write?

James: I like to explore the age-old themes: love, sex, God, death, what are we doing here in these bodies on this beautiful planet, where did we come from, where will we go? How can we live our lives more deeply?

WOW: Amazing how those themes endure, waiting for a writer to approach them from their own unique perspective, and share their findings with the world. It never gets old.

What about your writing schedule? Is there a specific one that you follow?

James: I write every day, often in the morning, rarely in the afternoon, often in the evening. When I write I like to focus on writing and really like to be totally alone, locked in my room, so to speak. When I eat, although often with others, I like to focus on food. When I make love, I like to be totally focused on the woman I am with. People have always told me I listen well, but that probably only means I focus on the person talking with me. When I walk, I like to pay attention to walking. So, I guess, attention and focus are important things to me, both in writing and in living.

WOW: I agree with you on that. I believe they’re key to the creative process, helps get that story, script, article, poem or whatever you’re writing down and hopefully, published.

In your bio, you mention that you’ve been working your collection of short stories. Can you share how that’s coming along?

James: My collection of short stories, tentatively titled "Three Tamales for the Señor", is almost complete. I have three or four story ideas I want to get down into words and include in the book. I hope to have it finished this year, but I have lots of other writing projects including a monthly column called “Hearts at Work” that I write for a magazine in English published in Mexico called El Ojo del Lago, and I review a book each month for Mexico Connect, and I write lots of articles about Mexico for various magazines, like International Living, and I write lots of short poems, some stories.

WOW: You’ve definitely stayed busy, James! Is there anything else you’d like to share with WOW! readers?

James: Advice? I’d say keep reading WOW! I have found it stimulating and useful. I like, for example, the January piece by Gretchen Rubin, “20 Questions.” I like going through Premium Green now and then.

WOW: Thank you for your insightful interview, James. And again, congratulations, we’ll continue to be on the look out for your work. All the best to you!

To read James’ Summer 2008 interview and contest entry, click here:

And to find out more about the poetic form known as tanka, check out the American Tanka website.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

 

Interview with Katie Noah Gibson, Winter Contest Runner-Up

Interview by Jill Earl

Katie Noah Gibson is a lover of books, travel, knitting, mellow music, dark chocolate and colorful scarves. She grew up on the plains of West Texas, where she still lives with her husband, Jeremiah, whom she married last June. Katie holds two degrees in English, has been writing since she could hold a pen, and plans every day how to get back to Oxford, England, where she spent a year earning her master's degree. Her writing has been published in Radiant magazine's print and online editions, as well as the online editions of Everyday Woman and Relevant magazines. Visit her blog at http://katieleigh.wordpress.com/.

If you haven't checked out the delightful Book By Its Cover, please take a look at it here, then c'mon back and join us for WOW!'s interview with Katie!

WOW: First of all, thanks for joining us, Katie, and congratulations on your winning entry! How does it feel?

KATIE: I am so honored to be named a winner in this contest! I love knowing that people appreciate my work.

WOW: Well, we appreciated reading your beautiful entry! Can you tell us a little about your story and what inspired you to create it?

KATIE: My story was inspired by my own mantel, which does in fact have books arranged by color. I found myself thinking that would be a fun beginning to a story, and the characters and plot evolved from there.

WOW: Great idea of looking to your own experience as inspiration for a story, and you're right, it was a fun beginning. As I read your story, all of my senses were engaged. I found myself identifying with your main character as she recalled the memories tied with her books. Such vivid and lush descriptions were a pleasure to read! How were you able to successfully accomplish this?

KATIE: Some of my main character's memories are actually mine--and I just imagined myself back in Blackwells, or Oxfam, or wandering the streets of Europe. I believe fiction should transport you to another place, and I tried to make my story do that. For me, concrete details are such fun to include--they really take the reader to wherever the character is.

WOW: I think you identified an important point when it comes to writing good fiction. In addition to transporting readers to other places, adding concrete details truly makes stories come alive.

Your story's ending was sweet and clever, I thought. How did you come up with it?

KATIE: The main character's love interest just wandered into the story--and I wanted to see where their relationship would go. I was pleased that the books played a role in his marriage proposal--and of course I knew she would say yes.

WOW: Of course! Sometimes it's more natural when you allow a character to show up and let things develop in a scene. It certainly worked in your piece.

Katie, how long have you been writing, and what excites you most about it?

KATIE: I've loved to write since I was a child. I am fascinated by the power of words to evoke memories, spin stories and literally change lives. I love that stories offer endless possibilities, and that we can shape our own lives by the words we choose to describe them.

WOW: It's amazing what we can do with words--and what they do to us in return, isn't it? Let's turn to your writing habits. Do you have a particular writing schedule that you follow?

KATIE: I try to write three pages of longhand writing every morning--as prescribed by Julia Cameron in several of her writing books. I've found that this helps me clear my head--the writing comes more easily later if I've started the day off by writing. I also post on my blog two to four times a week and I work on various projects as I have time.

WOW: Those are great habits you've established for yourself, and it shows in your work.

Now, what about your reading tastes? Have you a favorite author and/or book?

KATIE: I have several favorite books--my childhood favorite is Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I also love Madeleine L'Engle (I wrote my master's thesis on her memoirs), Eva Rice, Dodie Smith, Kathleen Norris and Joanne Harris. (I actually got to meet Joanne and have her sign my books at the 2008 Oxford Literary Festival. What a thrill that was!)

WOW: Alcott's Little Women is a favorite of mine too, along with Little Men and Jo's Boys. I also love Madeleine L'Engle and Kathleen Norris.

Your bio mentions that you have two degrees in English and that you received your master's from Oxford. Can you tell us more about that?

KATIE: I've always been a reader and a writer, so I knew I wanted to major in English in college. I had a great experience in the English department at Abilene Christian University--fantastic professors, engaging discussion, great books. I studied abroad in Oxford as a college sophomore and fell completely in love with Oxford and England--I knew I had to go back. After college I took a year off to work and save some money, then applied for a master's program in Oxford and spent a year completing my degree. It was heavenly; Oxford is, of course, a great city for books, and it's my favorite place in the whole world.

WOW: What a marvelous opportunity! Studying at Oxford is a literary dream for many, including me! Do you have any projects currently in the works?

KATIE: I'm always blogging over on my site, Cakes, Tea and Dreams (http://katieleigh.wordpress.com/). I'm also revising a novel I drafted last fall as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo - nanowrimo.org). It, too, is based on my experiences in Oxford. And I'm always writing short travel pieces and things like that.

WOW: Thanks for your blog address, we'll definitely check in for updates! To wrap things up, what final advice would you like to share with WOW! readers?

KATIE: Keep writing. The people who say "Write every day" are absolutely right. Madeleine L'Engle has a wonderful metaphor for it--"keeping the clock wound." That's so important--only if you're consistently working, consistently practicing, will you truly experience growth as a writer.

WOW: "Keeping the clock wound." That's a noteworthy quote and super advice to leave with our readers.

Katie, thank you, it was a great pleasure chatting with you today. Best of luck to you and continued success in your writing endeavors!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

 

Interview with Natalie Wendt, First Place Winner

Our Fall 2008 Essay Contest’s prompt was inspired by Jill Butler’s book, Create the Space You Deserve: An Artistic Journey to Expressing Yourself Through Your Home. Jill offered a favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “We create our dwelling and afterwards our dwellings create us.” She believes it runs both ways simultaneously. That is, as we create ourselves, we create our homes, and in the creating of our homes we have the opportunity to recreate ourselves.

Natalie Wendt took first place with her essay, "Going Forth and Coming Home." It's a fabulous essay, and today we'll share an interview with Natalie touching on her many adventures, as well as some tips about entering writing contests.

Natalie grew up in Idaho, graduated from College of Santa Fe in 2005, and traveled extensively Asia, Europe and North America. A former resident of Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, she now spends her days as a substitute teacher in Spokane’s elementary schools. Her writing has appeared in “Q View Northwest,” “The Fig Tree,” and “The Spokesman-Review.” This is the first contest she’s ever won.

Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson

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

Natalie: I’m thrilled! I’ve never won first place in anything before. It’s very exciting. I’m a regular WOW! reader and it’s wonderful to be a part of it. I’m really looking forward to the Premium Green subscription too!

WOW: That's great, and I think you'll love Premium-Green . In your essay, you talk about the lure of an uprooted life, and how nomadic life was your dream. Why do you think you felt that way? It seems so adventurous!

Natalie: I think part of that impulse came from growing up in a small, close-knit community where I didn’t fit in. I felt claustrophobic in my hometown. Everyone had known everyone else since birth. Being a nomad seemed like the opposite way of living. I’m fortunate that my family treated my wanderlust as normal. My parents always encouraged us to experience new things and learn about the world, and they didn’t complain when we went off to see the world! My younger sister is a globetrotter too. It seems natural to me.

WOW: You've really acted on that wanderlust, traveling all around the world. How did you decide where to go? Any favorite places?

Natalie: I went to India for pilgrimage and to go to Buddhist teachings. Both of my main spiritual teachers lived in India for decades, and I was able to meet many of their teachers in India, which was very special. During my three months there, I basically went wherever His Holiness the Dalai Lama was teaching, and the traditional Buddhist holy places.

Everywhere else, I went where I found a place to stay! I didn’t really have enough money to travel as long as I did, but I do have a huge extended family and a lot of friends who live abroad. I stayed with cousins, friends of cousins, second cousins I’d never met before, my best friend from third grade, a friend’s ex-boyfriend, and my own ex-girlfriend, among other people. As a result, I ended up it places I never would have thought to go, like a Welsh college town, a suburb of Frankfurt, and a genuine Tuscan villa. The only places in Europe I went out of my way to visit were romantic Italian cities: Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona. I went for the food, the art and the atmosphere, and it was everything I hoped.

My favorite places were Dharamsala, Bodh Gaya and Bangalore in India, and Rome. Dharamsala’s the Tibetan capital-in-exile, and Bodh Gaya’s where Buddha became enlightened. Bangalore is a beautiful city in southern India, and I loved it because it was the first place I stayed on my trip. And Rome’s just irresistible.

WOW: It sounds like you've had some great adventures, Natalie! Have you always been interested in writing? What other writing have you done?

Natalie: Writing has been my passion for most of my life. When I was in high school I had a ‘zine. I constantly wrote short stories, essays, and terrible poetry. I didn’t share my writing with many people though, and I went through a long phase of not showing my work to anyone.

Last summer I started submitting my work. I’m still quite new to it, but I’ve had some success. I’ve had a handful of nonfiction articles published. My first published fiction piece will be up the Homestead Review website very soon as a runner-up for a contest.

WOW: Congratulations on your fiction contest success and published articles. Currently, you're substitute teaching at the elementary school level. How's that going? Are you interested in a career in education?

Natalie: Substitute teaching makes every day an adventure. My degree is actually in Elementary Education, and I started working in a classroom when I was barely twenty years old. I was still a student back then and at times I felt way too young to be teaching anybody. Traveling and getting more diverse life experience has helped me be a better, more confident teacher. I was recently offered a classroom of my own for next school year. It’s tentative until the education budget is worked out but I’m excited about it. Spending a day with six-year-olds is a lot like going to another country. I never know what will happen and it keeps me flexible.

WOW: That's great that you'll be getting your own class. Your students will be lucky to have you as a teacher. Are you working on any other writing projects?

Natalie: Yes! I write almost every day. Currently, I’m piecing together my notes from my trip into narrative form, and working on a young adult novel set in rural Idaho. I regularly contribute to my local gay and lesbian monthly newsmag, Q View Northwest.

WOW: You sound very busy! Finally, we have to ask (you are a first place winner, after all): Do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Natalie: If you’re interested in entering, go for it. Contests give you a deadline, writing guidelines, and incentive to put out your best work. It’s like writing assignments for a class, but with prizes. Contests that give you a critique are especially great because you get feedback.

Other than that, edit. For years, I tried to write things perfectly the first time. It didn’t work, and later I would read through and cringe. I’ve found that when I dedicate more time to editing than to writing, I’m happier with the end result and I’m more likely to get published. Write, edit, edit, edit, and then put it aside. Pick it up later and edit again. And good luck!

WOW: Super advice, Natalie! Thanks and best of luck with your various endeavors.

* * *

>>> Tune in every Tuesday for more contest winner interviews!

>>> To find out more about WOW's quarterly contests, please visit:
http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

 

Interview with Doris Wright, Runner-Up for Summer2008 Flash Fiction Contest

Born in the Canal Zone (which is where the resemblance to Sen. John McCain ends) to a Panamanian-Catholic mother and a Lithuanian American-Jewish father, Doris Wright has lived and traveled throughout the United States and the world: in the last two years she has enjoyed the beauty and diversity of China, Senegal, and Mali (including spending the better part of a day in wind-swept Timbuktu), and is just back from France and Spain.

Besides traveling, Doris and her husband Don, an African historian, enjoy gardening, exercise, and their family and friends. They love to learn and to write, respect the precision and beauty of language, and they are passionate about world equity and peace--as well as the occasional microbrewed beer.

Doris recalls beginning her first story on a manual typewriter at age six, and writing steadily through high school and Spring Hill College, where she majored in English. She was a teacher and a newspaper reporter/feature writer before marrying, and then writing took a back seat while she raised her three sons. In the last few years Doris has taken graduate courses in English and participated in the Algonkian Novel Workshop, the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College, and Colgate University’s summer writer’s novel workshop.

In addition to writing short stories and poetry, Doris recently has finished a draft of her first novel, “Cabbagehead.”

Today, I was given the wonderful privilege of sitting down with one of our fabulous runners-up for the 2008 Summer Flash Fiction writing contest. She is the author of As if I could forget. Please read her touching story and see for yourself why we chose Doris as one of our top 10.

Interviewed by Carrie Hulce

WOW: Doris, Congratulations, and thank you for sitting down with us today to talk about your wonderful story, As if I could forget. How does it feel to have placed in the WOW Summer 2008 Flash Fiction contest?

Doris: It feels wonderful! Though I've had good feedback in the past, this was my first contest "win." It came at a good time--it is hard not to get discouraged, as most fledgling writers must know--and added a boost to my will to keep going.

WOW: We agree, it is difficult to keep going, but we're so happy that you did and hope that you continue writing--you have a talent that should not be hidden away. Have you entered in any other writing contests recently?

Doris: Yes, I have entered other contests recently. I entered the Glimmer Train competition in the "Family Matters" contest in the fall of 2008, but was not successful.

WOW: It's great that you continue to enter into contests, and we hope that you continue to do so. You have a great writing style. What is your biggest inspiration for your stories?

Doris: I would have to say that the biggest inspiration for my stories is my own life experience, followed by the books I read and enjoy, and my take on life--that it is an experience where all things are possible and not everything can be explained. Thus, most of the things I write are a combination of mundane events with a bit of the bizarre or unexpected woven in (perhaps Anne Tyler with visitations from Franz Kafka?--in feeling, though not in quality).

WOW: Bizarre and unexpected is what keeps things fresh and original. Was your story based off of something that happened in your life?

Doris: In As If I Could Forget, the character Henry is suffering from dementia, without realizing it--his wife though has the full and painful realization and the loss of his love and companionship. Both of my parents, now deceased, had dementia, and, especially in my mother's case, I felt that I had lost my mother, long before her death.

WOW: You've woven your story so eloquently and with so much care. We are sorry about the loss of your parents. In the future, I hope that they will find a cure for this illness and help us all to understand it better. What genre do you typically write?

Doris: Mostly short stories. I also write poetry and am almost finished with revisions of a novel, "Cabbagehead."

WOW: That was going to be my next question! Please tell us about your novel.

Doris: Cabbagehead, is about Bradley, a 50 year old man, who has lived his life, careful not to be noticed or engaged; he has retreated to an uninspiring, interior life, finding his only contentment in gardening...until the day a plant, looking much like a giant cabbage, speaks to him…and everything changes. His new friend, in conversations both humorous and profound, has much to teach Bradley about life, the world, ecology, friendship and love; and sends him off on a mission to connect with his family, and, incidentally, to save the planet from global disaster. It's written in the tone I described above in question 3--my hope is that readers will find it subtly amusing and touching with characters they get to know and care about.

WOW: That sounds like a wonderful story. It almost sounds along the lines of the author Douglas Adams with his trilogy Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy--one of his books entitled, So long and thanks for all the fish. But, the description of your story, sounds so much more captivating. I hope it is a success and I personally can't wait to read it. How long have you been working on your novel?

Doris: For about four years--most of the work on it has been in the last two years.

WOW: I also noticed from your bio you've traveled quite a bit. Out of all the places you've been, where would you say is your favorite place to visit?

Doris: My first impulse was to answer Africa (though I realize that it's a continent, not a country), because of the unique, stimulating feel of it--the vivid colors, the smoky, rich smells, the unique geography, all the while experiencing the reality of desperate poverty and difficult living among people who are generally generous and happy and full of life. It seems impossible to be there without experiencing an increased concern for the others of this world and a change in your attitude about acquisition, and needs versus wants. And then there's Italy…ah, Italy!

WOW: Thank you for sharing that with us. It is amazing how different each country is, and there is so much to learn from each one. Have you ever written anything about Africa?

Doris: I have written a short story in an African setting, a piece much more lyrical and descriptive than what I usually write. On our recent trip, I began another short story set in Africa about western academics traveling by bus to a conference and beset with difficulties--it's based on an actual experience.

WOW: Traveling is such a great way to gain material for writing! I bet you have a lot of interesting stories to tell. If you could choose one valuable lesson to pass on to new writers, what would it be?

Doris: To overcome my fear of writing, I had to accept that I was not going to write the great American novel--having such high expectations freezes one into non-action--nor was I the world's worst writer (terrible! vile! horrid!), another action freezer. It's okay to be okay and enjoy yourself. I would also suggest reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and putting this Latin phrase in a prominent spot near your computer: Begun is half done.

WOW: Doris, that is wonderful. We are sure it will help inspire writers all over the globe to strive for their dreams. Thank you for spending time with us and sharing your wonderful knowledge.

If you haven't done so already, please check out Doris' story As if I could forget.

To find out more about WOW's quarterly contests, please visit: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

 

Interview with James Tipton, Runner-Up


Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt

James Tipton lives with his wife Martha and his daughter Gabriela in the tropical mountains of central Mexico in the town of Chapala, south of Guadalajara. His collection of poems, Letters from a Stranger (Conundrum Press, 1999), with a Foreword by Isabel Allende, won the Colorado Book Award. He has a particular interest in short poems and short (including flash) fiction. A collection of haiku, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, has just been published (October 2008) and a collection of tanka, five-line poems, All the Horses of Heaven will shortly be published (January 2009) by Modern English Tanka Press (http://www.modernenglishtankapress/).

Jim is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico, Three Tamales for the Señor, many of them about expatriates living south of the border, and a collection of short poems, Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village, set in Mexico and Latin America, which is finished and is being translated into Spanish to be published very soon in a bilingual edition.

He lives in a “high-estrogen” house consisting of his wife, daughter, two female dogs, a female cat, and various young mothers who make their appearance almost daily (often with their daughters) to visit his wife and daughter. All of these females serve from time to time to inspire him and to provide him with subject matter; and if nothing else they give him lots of excuses to retreat to his upstairs office to write, versus all the excuses not to write that he used to come up with when he was single.

James Tipton's latest book, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, has just been released. It is a collection of haiku and senyru, three-line poems, some about the natural world, some about the human world. William J. Higginson, author of The Haiku Handbook, says these poems are "by a man who is not afraid to be himself," who can tell "the truths of his mind without flinching or apology".

Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror can be ordered on line for $9.95 plus shipping and handling at http://www.modernenglishtankapress.com/.

James placed as a Runner Up in the WOW! Summer Flash Fiction Contest. If you haven't done so already, read his winning story, Howard and Helen Play House, and then come back for a chat!


WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest! I see that you are already an accomplished writer of short poetry. And based on your award-winning entry, I’d say you have a gift for saying a lot in only a few words. Do you find it challenging to make the transition between writing shorter and longer pieces? If so, in what ways to do you find it challenging?

James: I've always loved short poetry and short fiction. But I think about "short" poetry and "short" fiction a very "long" time. While others dash out thousands and thousands of words, I muse over what I want to say, and then I diligently work and rework what few words I finally end up with. I was influenced by reading Kenneth Rexroth's translations of short poems from the Japanese and the Chinese, mostly love poems. My own poems, as Isabel Allende points out in her Foreword to my book of poetry, Letters from a Stranger, are often about "ordinary experiences--wings, canyons, rocks, flesh--but mainly about that other extraordinary experience....love." Love (and its various facets) for me, is always immediate, experienced in the moment, and somehow this is related to why I write short love poems.

I do like working on longer pieces of fiction, though, but rarely over 8,000 words. Right now I have almost completed a collection of short stories about expatriates living in Mexico, titled Three Tamales for the Señor. And all of them, one way or another, are about love.

And speaking of Mexico, I have a collection of 100 short poems (generally three lines) about Mexico and Latin America (but also about love) that is coming out in a couple of weeks, titled Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village. (I live in Mexico, but the book will be distributed in the states by Bread & Butter Press, 1150 S. Glencoe, Denver, CO 80246.)

And still on the subject of short poems, Modern English Tanka Press, which recently published a collection of my haiku, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, will publish a collection of my tanka (a 5-line Japanese form) in February titled All the Horses of Heaven. (http://www.modernenglishtankapress.com/)

Both All the Horses of Heaven and Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village are published bi-lingually (with Spanish translations).

WOW: Congratulations on your recent and upcoming publications! We’ll have to keep an eye out for them. You’ve mentioned that many of your poems and short stories are about expatriates living south of the border. Are you an expatriate? How did you come to make the decision to live in Mexico, and how long have you been living there?

James: For decades, actually, I have wandered around Mexico and parts of Latin America. The Hispanic culture is richly textured, closer to the earth, more connected to magic, and at least in the little towns the people care a lot about each other, and children, and neighbors. The violence that has developed because of the drug business (to provide the United States with "product") is beginning to touch all of us, though--I personally know of five murders in our little village--Chapala--this past month or so.

I am married to a Mexican woman, Martha, who grew up in a little Indian village near the Pacific...dirt floors, thatched roofs...the type of childhood I think I sometimes hungered for, and we have a lovely daughter, Gabriela. I have been living here full-time for about five years. Prior to that I was a beekeeper and writer in the high desert region of western Colorado.

WOW: How did your story “Howard and Helen Play House” take root?

James: I like "heroes" and so many stories I read are about sad losers who allow circumstances to determine their lives. Helen in my story "Howard and Helen Play House" is not, finally, a loser, and like the classic hero she does not allow her situation to destroy her. The catalyst for change that wakes her up is when her husband throws an unopened can of tuna at her and splits open her forehead. I have left relationships that began as romantic ones after a significant and defining event, a variation of that can of tuna tossed so carelessly and callously at Helen. Helen discovers she is a strong woman, much stronger than Howard has ever imagined.

When she walks out, she is no longer a child "playing house" with another child, her husband Howard.

WOW: What do you believe is your greatest writing accomplishment, and what do you hope to accomplish in the future?

James: I don't think much about accomplishments past, present, or future, although awards come my way now and then. Letters from a Stranger, for example, won the Colorado Book Award.

I think a lot about words, about love, about real things that have happened to me and to others, and then I like to distill those thoughts and experiences into poetry or fiction, usually short poetry or fiction. I suppose my greatest accomplishment is that I've stuck with it for decades without much real success in the way people usually think about writers and success.

The "sound" of words is also very important to me and for years I have read aloud what I have been writing and rewriting, feeling the taste of those words...in some strange way it is almost erotic to me.

WOW: Sticking with something that you love, with or without traditional success, is definitely a great accomplishment and I commend you for being able to do that. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

James: Don't think much about being a writer. Think about writing.

Let yourself be seduced by your own heart and then see what happens to you.

Advice? Maybe there is some hidden in my poem, "One Night I Picked up in a Bar," which begins:

One night I picked up in a bar
a woman named Poetry,
and she was drunk, or I was drunk,
but at any rate I took her home
and listened to her.

If you haven't done so already, read James' award-winning story "Howard and Helen Play House".

Enter the WOW! Women On Writing Winter Flash Fiction Contest, open now. Deadline: February 28, 2009.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

 

Interview with Jill Pertler - Runner Up Spring 08 Flash Fiction Contest




Interviewed by LuAnn Schindler


Jill Pertler is an award-winning writer and photographer whose syndicated humor column, Slices of Life, brings smiles to Midwestern households each week. She was awarded an honorable mention in Writer's Digest 2008 Annual Competition in the personal essay category. She's written hundreds of articles for local, regional and national publications, and like many writers, is working on a book. She lives in northern Minnesota with her husband, four kids and assorted pets.




Feel free to visit her website and read her columns or email her: pertmn@qwest.net




Check out Jill's story, Holding On, on the WOW! website. Go on! You know you want to read it!



WOW!: Congratulations, Jill, on being named a runner up in the Spring Flash Fiction contest. Your story caught my attention. Where did you get the inspiration for your story, Holding On?

Jill: I often get my inspiration from real life. You could say I lived this one. I added details to create a fictional story, but many pieces of the story are true – I was a behavior analyst and I did work with a woman who ate things and eventually died because of it.

WOW!: That would be a tough situation to work in. You write a humor column. Was it difficult to switch gears to write such a serious story?


Jill: My column is officially called a “humor” column, but it’s really about my views on my life. Often that’s zany because I live in a busy, crazy household. But sometimes the column is touching or serious, depending on what I’ve observed that week.

I think it’s actually more of a challenge for me to try to be funny versus telling a story in a straightforward manner. Most days.

WOW!: Switching from daily observations to fiction must be challenging. This was your first attempt at fiction. What were some of the easy aspects of writing flash fiction? Difficult aspects?

Jill: In a way, I sort of write “flash” every week with my Slices of Life column. I tell a “story” in a little more than 500 words. I think short pieces can be some of the most challenging for a writer because you have to prioritize and decide what you want to say with little or no fluff. A short piece forces you to edit and then go back and edit again. It compels you to see your writing in a different way because you’ve got to cut those 14 words from somewhere. And in doing so, it improves your work and makes your abilities stronger.

As far as fiction versus nonfiction goes, I have a confession to make. I sometimes take liberties with my “non-fiction” column in order to make it more readable an interesting. I might alter facts just a little bit, or reverse the order of things. Nearly the same thing can be said for the fiction that I write. Many “true life” facts creep into my paragraphs.

Having said that, there is a different mindset between fiction and nonfiction (at least for me). Fiction gives you the freedom to make stuff up! I had to get used to that and once I did, I liked it!

I find that I have either fiction or non-fiction days. Once I get into the fiction mode, story ideas continually pop into my head. When I’m out of that mode, it can be difficult to come up with an idea for a short story.


WOW!: I can relate to having fiction or non-fiction days. You've been writing for nearly 20 years. What type of writing is your favorite and why?

Jill: I love writing my Slices of Life column. I consider it a privilege. First, it’s just fun for me to get those stories on paper. Second, I feel I am leaving a written legacy for my children – sort of like a family memoir. Third, it is rewarding and such a thrill to know that others read and enjoy my words. When they send me an email or stop me on the street to comment on a certain column, it makes my day.

I've also enjoyed experimenting with short stories – fiction. I’m still very new at it, but I hope to get to do more of it in the future.

WOW!: Good luck as you pursue fiction writing. Let's talk about your newspaper experience. What was the process like for syndicating your humor column? How many markets is it published in?

Jill: There are more than a few ways to pursue syndication. It can be a confusing and daunting labyrinth.

Right now I’m self-syndicated. That isn't as glamorous as representation by a national syndicate, but it is a start. I've been writing the Slices of Life column since 2002, but was writing monthly, not weekly. I knew that if I wanted to reach more people and bigger markets, I’d have to put out a weekly column.

In September 2007, I set a goal for myself to write a weekly column for one year. I contacted newspapers about printing it. Currently my column is distributed to 80 newspapers each week. I recently met my one-year goal, and now I feel I have the experience and skills to approach syndicates about representing me. That is my next step.

I also joined the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and entered their annual contest. I’ll do that again next year. Writing and gaining exposure through other contests, like this one, helps me get my name out there.

WOW!: Meeting a personal goal is so self-satisfying. Great job! Your weekly column must keep you busy. What's your writing routine like?

Jill: I practice two vastly different types of writing. First there is the writing that pays the bills. This might be writing for an annual report, brochure, magazine article, radio ad, etc. That writing has to get done so I have the luxury of indulging in the writing that feeds my soul. Examples of those projects are my Slices of Life column and flash fiction contest entries.

I am lucky, because I write from home full-time. By full-time I mean 4 – 6 hours per day. I am a mom of four kids and although they are now all in school, they take up a substantial amount of my time; I wouldn't have it any other way.

Often the writing that pays the bills takes precedence over the writing that feeds the soul. Life isn't always fair. I seem to do the bill-paying stuff in the morning, and the soul-feeding work in the afternoon. Usually.

I also find myself carving out an hour or two on the weekends to write – usually to polish up a column that’s due on Monday.

My writing career has grown gradually; I started very part-time when my house was filled with babies and toddlers. Now those babies are more independent and I've had more time to devote to writing. I’m finally establishing myself, and am just starting to be able to consider saying “no” to projects that aren't the soul-feeding type. I guess that means I’m on the right track.

WOW!: It seems like you've found a balance between the writing you want and need to do. It can be challenging! Have you entered or won any other writing contests? Any advice for other newbies?

Jill: I entered an essay in the 2008 Writer’s Digest annual competition and received an honorable mention, which means (I guess) that my piece was in the top 100 of 17,000 entries. They even sent a certificate. Very official!

Interestingly enough, I’d previously entered the same essay in a local contest and it did not win. I felt bad, but thought the piece had merit, so I went ahead and paid the $15 to enter it into the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition, and hey – we got a BINGO!

So my advice is to trust your gut. If you feel your words are laced with a little magic, maybe the first editor, contest director or critic will be blind to it. Tweak the piece, but don’t toss it in the trash until you, personally, decide that’s where it should go.

WOW!: That's great advice for anyone considering entering a contest. You are also a photographer. How does that creative outlet help your writing?

Jill: I think it makes me more marketable as a writer. My writing gets me photography gigs and vice versa.

My camera is also a great prop. Like a lot of writers, I can have my shy moments. The camera puts something between my subject and me. It allows me to feel freer with my conversation. When I’m taking photos, I’m working at putting my subject at ease, and therefore I’m more relaxed myself.

And, of course, the camera lens lets me see the world in a different way. It provides perspective, a new angle.

WOW!: Perspective is so important for writing and photography. What projects are you currently working on?

Jill: I’m working on a book that is a compilation of some of my columns, paired with recipes – a sort of cookbook/storybook. The premise is that so many of life’s memories are paired with food. Food and memories are intertwined, and I think there’s something special about that.

And, of course, I need to take that next step with my Slices of Life column – either to expand to more markets or to gain representation by a national syndicate.

WOW!: Jill, you are an inspiration! Congratulations, again, on being named a runner up in the WOW! contest. And thank you for sharing your views on writing.


Jill: I’d like to send a big thanks to everyone at WOW for sponsoring the quarterly contests. They are great. I also appreciate the bulk of useful information and articles on the site. It’s all inspiring and encouraging for other writers like me.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

 

Spring 2008 First Place Winner! Amy Fuster

Amy Fuster won the hearts of our guest judges, and literary agent, Wendy Sherman, with her First Place story, The Road Twisted Twice. If you haven't done so already, read her winning story and come back and join us in an inspirational chat!

Bio: Amy Fuster lives outside metro Atlanta on nine acres with her husband of 18 years, their two sons, two dogs, and a dozen goldfish that live in her koi pond with a resident bullfrog. Her inner writer just recently emerged with a roaring battle cry for attention. Managing the home front, their numerous rental properties and the tenants who come with the territory, and pursuing her Black Belt in karate, are additional pursuits vying for her attention. She’s working on her first novel, Lottery Lost, in addition to grooming the writing beast with tools from the Long Ridge Writers Group Breaking Into Print course. Most recently, she’s been published as 3rd place winner in Newnan-Coweta Magazine’s writing contest, and a book review published in the LongRidge newsletter. Travel articles are soon to follow, as ten days recently spent in Hawaii provide a myriad of memories to motivate her muse. You can contact Amy at: fuster1up[at]Hughes[dot]net

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WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Amy, and congratulations on winning first place! Your story, The Road Twisted Twice, is so beautifully written. What inspired you to write it?

Amy: Thanks that's sweet of you to say. I was blown away by the award, what an honor! The inspiration for the story was a snapshot moment in my life that I embellished heartily to fictionalize. There was a mill house, there was a woman, there was a moment; the road curved, and my life went straight. Other than that, it’s fictional.

What inspired me to write about it, though, was a conversation I had one evening with a friend. She mentioned seeing some homeless people who were living under an overpass in Atlanta. I asked her, "Have you ever wanted to just stop and ask one of them, why are you here? What happened, and why didn't you fix it?"

She said she had wondered, but wouldn't stop to ask. It reminded me of that time when I connected with the woman's eyes, driving down that twisted road. It had happened several years ago, but the missed moment stayed with me.

We just can't imagine people actually living in those conditions. But that's exactly what intrigued me so much. I wondered how she could sit there on that porch and seem so very content with so little, and why I am so discontent with so much! And again I wished I had stopped to ask. I felt like she had the answer to some life riddle, and I was just too busy at the time to get it.

WOW: The message of your story is so true...life passes at such a quick pace that we sometimes never get to stop and truly appreciate it, live it. It makes me want to stop for a moment and do something different, talk to someone, break the pattern. Can you recall a time you broke your routine and did something completely spontaneous?

Amy: LOL, sure, hitting 'send' to submit my story to you. :) Honestly, I am spontaneous. I've been known to stop a fellow grocery shopper and ask how they're planning to cook the meat they just chose. I have a fabulous recipe for ox tail soup that I got just that way. I think life's lessons are hidden in unexpected places. If you just look in the obvious spots, you'll miss half the fun.

WOW: Oooh, I had ox tail soup and it's delicious! You'll have to share your recipe with me sometime. So, do you prefer to write what you know, or write what you don't know?

Amy: That's a tough one. I prefer to write what I question. I'm really opinionated. Ask me about anything and I'll likely have a strong opinion I’m willing to share. (ie Hey, you asked. Don't complain if you don’t like the answer.) But given new information, I might change my mind. I constantly wonder why, how, and what if… So I find myself writing from my world view, and inviting questions about whether other, equally valid, points are running around out there. But to answer the question directly, I like to write from observation rather than research.

WOW: I hear that! Now here's a question I'm always curious about: was The Road Twisted Twice a story you'd previously written? If so, did you have to do a lot of editing for this contest?

Amy: I did write it before I knew about the contest. Right after that homeless overpass conversation I mentioned. I wrote it just for myself, not for an audience. (Imagine my surprise to find all of you reading it!)

I really struggle to get the words out, usually. I've said that writing, for me, is like pulling kudzu off pine trees. But with this story, the first line wrote itself, and the rest flowed easily. I did have to squeeze it down to size, but lost nothing in the effort. Exactly the opposite, I tightened the belt and it made the story's eyes bulge out.

WOW: I think the first line definitely sets the tone for the story. Your prose is gorgeous. You must be an avid reader. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Amy: Thanks for the compliment about the prose. You're making me blush.

I have always loved to read, but I don't read always. When I do, I become absorbed and I'm likely to forget to do important things, like make dinner, or pay the bills, or blink.

I don't have favorite authors, but there are powerful books that stand out. The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller, comes to mind. The Thorn Birds, by Cathleen McCullough, and Hanta Yo, by Ruth BeeBe Hill, are favorites. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker, and The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra, in the non-fiction realm. Most recently I read The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb, and found myself literally laughing out loud. That's a sure sign you’ve got my attention!

WOW: That's a great selection! Since it's November, I have to ask, are you participating in NaNo this year?

Amy: I'm so glad you asked that! Yes, this is my first time. Two friends and I agreed to keep each other pegged to the challenge. (Would you believe their names are Angie and Angela?) I'm not a disciplined writer, so in September I did a trial run, a commitment to write 1667 words per day. It turned into more of a journal experience (I've never kept a journal) than a novel project, but frankly, I could base a novel on some of those entries!

I’m treating NaNo just like an exercise program. I don't have to like it, I just have to do it. I sit down to write 1667 words (the goal) every day. Sometimes I bitch and whine throughout. But I always feel better when I'm finished. A trick that's helped is to picture an in-town jogger. They don't stop jogging just because they hit a red light, instead they jog in place. So when I hit a red light in my writing, I just keep writing, even if the words don’t make sense or move the story forward. Eventually the light turns green again, and I'm running on down the road again.

WOW: That's an excellent example! I'll have to use that. In your bio, you mentioned Long Ridge's Breaking Into Print course. Many of WOW's writers are students as well, including myself. What have you discovered about your writing since taking the course?

Amy: I've discovered that I babble and insert tons of useless words into first drafts. And I tend to write in fragments and run-ons. I've learned to condense. I think too much and write too little. It's better to write a bunch of drivel, and then cut it by half, and then plump it up, than it is to wait until I think of something brilliant to say.

(I could have used that advice here, I've taken a ridiculous amount of time to conjure these simple answers! And I should know them already, no research, nothing to create! LOL)

Seriously, the Long Ridge Course has been terrific. It's awesome to have feedback from successful writers. Nothing compares to having your author/instructor's comments written in the margins of your work. It's contributed at least as much to my confidence as to my writing.

I'd absolutely recommend Long Ridge to anyone who’s sitting on the fence. Hop on over, you won't be sorry.

WOW: I completely agree. Thank you for chatting with us today, Amy! And congratulations again! Do you have any advice to share with other flash fiction contestants?

Amy: Thanks, I appreciate all your kind words. Writers have fragile egos ya know. We need those pats on the back.

What I've learned from practicing karate is that nobody wants to be a white belt, because they feel awkward and inept. But the higher belts are quick to assure that everybody started as a white belt, and felt just as awkward and inept. You don’t achieve higher ranks without doing things that feel clumsy at first. But you advance only with practice, not just with time spent, or desire, or wishing.

Martial arts, writing, real estate, and so many other things I've tackled, have been learn-as-you-go processes. But what I've found is that you don't get better just by learning more, you get better by doing more.

So my advice…go do. Write. Submit. Smile. Every thing you produce is worthy. Know that it is.

***

If you haven't done so already, please read Amy's award-winning story, The Road Twisted Twice.

For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, sponsored by skirt!, head over to our contest page. The deadline is approaching! November 30th.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

 

Interview with Shannon Caster, Runner Up in the 2008 Spring Flash Fiction Contest


Interviewed by Jill Earl

Shannon Caster has been writing since she first found her mother’s manual typewriter at the age of seven. Back then, all her stories started with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Luckily, Shannon has found new openings for her stories. Her work has appeared in such publications as Highlights for Children, Ask! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and Pockets Magazine. Shannon is currently perfecting her young adult novel, which is sure to capture the perfect agent’s attention.

When Shannon is not taking care of her husband, two kids, three dogs, and calico cat, she enjoys volunteering, reading, and enjoying the sights of Portland, Oregon. To find out more about Shannon, visit her website at www.shannoncaster.com.

Click on the link to read Shannon's touching story, “Remembrance”, then come back and join us as we sit down with her for a chat.

WOW!: Congratulations on being a runner-up in our Spring ’08 Flash Fiction Contest! How are you feeling about it all?

Shannon: First of all, I want to thank everyone at WOW and Seal Press for organizing and sponsoring the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. It’s an amazing opportunity for authors to show off their talents.

The entire experience has been a thrill ride for me. When I first heard I was a finalist I about fell out of my chair. So when the news came that I was a runner up, I had to have my kids help me off the floor. It’s been a huge honor and I’m glad I took the leap and entered the contest.

WOW!: We’re glad you entered also. Not only was your story wonderful, it held such emotion! Can you tell us about the inspiration behind “Remembrance”?

Shannon: The idea for “Remembrance” first came to me after a very scary experience with my son in which he started choking and I had to give him the Heimlich. During the entire ordeal the world stopped and the only thing that mattered was hearing my son take a breath. I was fortunate to have my husband there and I kept wondering what I would have done if I’d been alone? Would I have been able to stay calm? What if my son had gone limp? That’s when I started playing around with the idea for “Remembrance.” Next thing I know the main character is on the side of a busy road, fighting to get her child out of the car seat, and nobody’s there to help her.

WOW!: No wonder your story was so powerful! I believe your piece serves as a good example of writing about what you know. I also think that it’s interesting that in your piece you show that adoptive mothers have maternal instincts. What made you take this direction in your piece?

Shannon: Both my mother and I were adopted as very young babies, so we’ve shared a lot of stories over the years. My mother used to talk about how she sometimes wondered if she had that “maternal instinct” or not. Let me be the first to tell you, I wouldn’t be here today if my mother didn’t have an extra dose of maternal instinct. As a toddler, I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic I was given at the hospital. Right after the doctor left the room, my mother grabbed me and chased the doctor down saying I didn’t look right. A few moments later I was in anaphylactic shock. I was a magnet for dangerous situations as a child and somehow I survived it all—thanks to my mom’s material instinct she worried so much about.

WOW!: Thanks for sharing that, it really adds an extra element to your piece. Let's turn to your writing preferences. Do you prefer nonfiction or fiction or a combination of both?

Shannon: I write both fiction and nonfiction. Most of my nonfiction is centered around science and history pieces for children’s magazines and educational stories for teachers. I love research, so writing nonfiction is like play time for me. When it comes to fiction, my audience is primarily young adults and adults. I find it rewarding to write fiction, but it’s harder for me because the answers aren’t black and white. I never know where my character will take me until the end.

WOW!: Isn’t it fascinating how sometimes our characters won't let us--the writer-- know what they--the character--is up to? I'm curious, you did a fantastic job with your entry, is this the first time you’ve tackled flash fiction? If so, did you find it easy or difficult?

Shannon: This was the second flash fiction piece I’ve written for an audience. I’m always writing short humorous stories for family and friends, but those pieces are much easier to write. You don’t have to worry about getting in all the essential background pieces because everyone knows Uncle Troy jumped off a rope swing and landed in a blackberry patch when he was younger. I find when I write flash fiction, I end up cutting twenty percent of what I’ve written, then have to add ten percent to make sure I didn’t miss an important connection.

WOW!: That’s great advice for those of us wanting to try flash fiction out for ourselves. How about you? What kind of writing makes you sit up and take notice?

Shannon: Writing that tugs at my emotions. If you can make me laugh out loud at the doctor’s office, wipe tears from my eyes at the library, or make me scream when someone knocks on the door, then I’m hooked. If you can do all three in one novel, then I’m buying copies for my friends and family.

WOW!: What about books? What kind catch your eye and why? Do you happen to have a favorite one and/or author?

Shannon: Looking at my bookshelves, I’d say the list of what doesn’t catch my eye is shorter. I love books—picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult fiction and nonfiction. My husband has a rule about how close my growing collection of books can get to the fireplace in my office. Maybe I should close my office door so he doesn’t have to worry so much?

My all time favorite picture book is Tuesday by David Wiesner. What’s not to love about frogs flying around a town late at night? My favorite adult author has to be Iris Johansen. I can’t get enough of her Eve Duncan forensic sculptor storylines.

WOW!: I hear you on the growing book collection situation! I’ve cut back on adding to my collection---sort of. You bio mentioned that you're currently working on a young adult novel. Can you share a bit about it?

Shannon: I’d love to! The story is about sixteen-year-old Eva Van Patterson, a fashion savvy, technology obsessed ghost, who has been waiting eighty years for her boyfriend to come home. To pass the time, Eva occasionally meddles in the affairs of those living in her home. But who can blame her? If you have access to a cell phone, why not reach out and text someone? So when fifteen-year-old Nikki, a girl who sees and hears ghosts, moves into Eva’s home, the tables quickly turn. Nikki begins prying into Eva’s past, forcing Eva to reexamine her life and death. In order for Eva to be reunited with her boyfriend, she must live out her dreams, discover the secrets surrounding her untimely and embarrassing death, and address the one fact she’s avoided the past eight decades: Is her lost love still out there waiting for her?

WOW!: Sounds like you've got another great read in store for us! Since you've got quite a bit of experience under your belt, what kind of advice would you offer aspiring women writers?

Shannon: Find your true voice. In sixth grade, I thought writing was about spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraphs. Wait, handwriting too! Whew, Mrs. Baker would be so proud I remembered the proper way to make a capital cursive G. But it wasn’t until after college when I was teaching writing to my students that I realized the heart of the story is in the voice. How we tell the story is just as important as the story itself.

WOW!: Finding and maintaining my true voice in my writing is one of the things I find myself struggling with and you’ve offered some great advice on tackling this.

I noticed in your bio that you truly have a menagerie in your home with three dogs and a cat. I love animals myself. What are your pets' names?

Shannon: Menagerie, I like that. Sounds more sophisticated than zoo. Our akita is named Yumi and our basenjis are Osiris and Zaire. The cat is Avvy, which is short for Avalanche.

WOW!: Avalanche! How in the world did you come to name your cat Avalanche?

Shannon: Avvy came by her name honestly. As a kitten she was a little white ball of fur that tumbled off everything she tried to jump on. Jump on couch, tumble down. Jump on bed, tumble off. She looked like a little snowball rolling down the hill, the one that starts an avalanche. The name seemed to fit her perfectly. Thankfully, over the last thirteen years she mastered the art of jumping. Now she teases the dogs with her acrobatic leaping feats. I had a dog named Fluffy as a kid (and one named Precious). Mom's choice, not mine. I knew then I needed cooler pet names when I grew up. :-D

WOW!: That's quite the tale, pun intended! Thank you for your interview, Shannon, it was delightful getting to know you better. We’re looking forward to seeing more of your writing in the future. Best of luck to you!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

 

Interview with Caryl Cain Brown, Runner Up

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt

Caryl Cain Brown has been writing for years--just not fiction. With BBA and MBA degrees to her credit, Caryl’s nearly thirty-year career in higher education marketing has yielded a wealth of press releases, magazine articles, newsletters, and brochure copy. Now with two grown sons, she’s begun to try her hand at new things: writing fiction, drawing, and learning major home improvement skills.

This is Caryl’s second fiction contest submission ever, but it probably won’t be her last. She lives and writes in Georgia.

Caryl is a Runner Up in the WOW! Women On Writing Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest sponsored by Seal Press. If you haven't done so already, read her winning story, Stolen Moment.

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WOW: Congratulations, Caryl! How did you feel when you learned that you’d placed as a runner-up in the WOW! Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest?

Caryl: What a thrill! I couldn’t believe it. This is only the second time I’ve entered a writing contest, so I’m really motivated to try again.

WOW: I think we’ve all heard stories about writers with shoeboxes filled with rejection slips before they finally get their first story published, so that’s very impressive that you succeeded after only your second try! Can you tell us a little bit about your award winning entry? What was your inspiration for this piece?

Caryl: The concept for this story was inspired by a real situation, although it is entirely fictional. It was also one of those stories that came to me almost fully formed; I had it down in rough draft within a half hour. Of course, then I tinkered with the words--making sure I was within the word-count and that every word was just right--for about a week afterwards. My stories don’t always come that easily. And I’m usually really slow about working through character motivations.

WOW: What made you decide to start writing fiction after having a career in higher education marketing for nearly 30 years?

Caryl: I’ve been dabbling in fiction for many years, I just never trusted myself enough to share my stories with anyone else. I’m retiring in the spring and my children are finally out on their own--it’s now or never. I have the time and the desire, so I’m putting aside my insecurities and going for it.

WOW: I can definitely relate to your hesitation for sharing your work, but I'm so glad to hear that you’re going to keep sharing it anyway. Based on your award winning entry, it seems like you have a lot to offer the writing community. From your bio I know that you’ve had a lot of experience publishing articles, press releases, brochure copy, etc. How do you think your experience with marketing-related writing has helped or hurt your creative writing?

Caryl: Being in marketing has taught me to always keep my audience in mind. I think that holds true for fiction writing as well. Also, like marketing, fiction requires clear and compelling communication to make the story believable.

WOW: Is there anything about writing fiction that you find most challenging? Is this something that you struggled with while writing this story? If so, how did you overcome it?

Caryl: Plot bunnies--random threads that entice me away from the direction I need to be going--and telling the full story in the most concise way. The 500-word limit of the WOW Flash Fiction contest is an excellent exercise because every word has to count.

WOW: The 500-word limit is a great writing challenge, and I can tell that you took every word into consideration. I was very impressed with how streamlined and precise your writing was without sacrificing character or description. Presumably, you’ll want to work on other types of stories in the future. What kind of creative writing goals do you have for yourself?

Caryl: I would love to publish a novel, either mystery or romance/relationship.

WOW: We'll look forward to reading more of your work someday! Are you working on any other writing projects right now?

Caryl: I’m working on a couple of ideas, but nothing that’s ready to show to anyone yet.

WOW: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us! We’ll be anxiously waiting to read more of your work someday when you are ready to show it.

If you haven't done so already, read Caryl's winning story, Stolen Moment.

To check out our latest writing contest sponsored by skirt! books, please visit: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

 

Interview with Donna Volkenannt, Runner Up

Congratulations Donna!


Donna Volkenannt is thrilled to be a winner in the WOW! Women On Writing and Seal Press Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. She has learned that entering writing contests and belonging to a good critique group are the best ways to polish her work, which has appeared in: A Cup of Comfort for Women, A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, Sauce, BookReporter.com, Storyteller, The Ozarks Mountaineer, Mid Rivers Review, Mysteries of the Ozarks, Echoes of the Ozarks and Cuivre River Anthology.


She is a retired management analyst, a full-time grandmother and the website editor for Saturday Writers http://www.saturdaywriters.org/. In her spare time she plugs away at a young adult novel set in historic St. Charles, Missouri. Through the grace of God--and with lots of caffeine--she hopes to complete a first draft by the end of the year.

In November, her story, “Welcome Home,” will be included in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families. She lives in Missouri with her husband and their two grandchildren, who fill her heart with joy. Contact her at dvolkenannt@charter.net.

Read Donna's winning story, Ida's Rocking Chair.


WOW: You have some great publishing credits. Congratulations. Tell us how you feel when your stories are selected to appear in these publications. How did you learn about the WOW contest and how did you feel when you found out you were a finalist? Does it feel different to win a contest verses having your work accepted for publication?


Donna: I'm always excited to learn that something I've written has been recognized for an award or accepted for publication. That feeling never grows old. I learned about the WOW website and contests at a Saturday Writers' meeting. Saturday Writers is a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild that meets near my hometown of St. Peters, MO. Margo Dill, one of Saturday Writers' founding members, brought in a handful of post cards about WOW to one of our meetings and placed them on our 'freebie table' in the back of the room. The freebie table is where members share with others submission guidelines, contest announcements, and other items of interest. Both winning a contest and having my entry published are exciting experiences. Being in the top 10 in the WOW contest is a double treat.

WOW: Isn't it great being a Grandmother? Tell us a little about your grandchildren. Do they influence any of your stories? One of your upcoming stories is going to be published in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, do you have someone in the military?

Donna:
Being a grandmother is a wonderful blessing. After my daughter Julie and son-in-law Mike were killed in a motorcycle accident almost four years ago, my grandchildren, Cari and Michael, came to live with my husband Walt and me. Raising Cari and Michael has been a joy that came from the tragedy of losing our daughter. So, Yes, Cari and Michael have a great influence on my stories--and my life.

No one in the military right now. The story in the Cup of Comfort for Military Families is about the Vietnam War experience.

WOW: We're so sorry to hear about Julie and Mike. Please accept our condolences.

WOW: The Saturday Writers website is very nice. www.saturdaywriters.org I see in addition to being an editor, you are also one of the founders. Can you tell us your primary mission on The Saturday Writers website? I was delighted to see the children's contest you are running right now.

Donna: The motto of Saturday Writers is "writers encouraging writers." In January 2002, a few of my writing friends and I got together and founded Saturday Writers as a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. We wanted a place where local writers could meet each month to support and learn from one another or listen to guest speakers--writers, editors, agents or publishers. Over the years we've had New York Times best-selling authors, Pushcart Prize winning or nominated writers, and winners of the Western Writers of America Spur Award speak to our group. At selected meetings members also read from their works in progress, which is always a wonderful time.

Saturday Writers also sponsors an annual short story contest and a poetry contest for adult writers from across the nation--and overseas. To encourage local students in three rural Missouri counties to become writers, we sponsor an annual children's writing contest for grades 3 and 4 and one for Missouri students in those same three counties in grades 7-12. We also publish the Cuivre River Anthology, which includes stories, poems, and essays from award-winning writers as well members.

WOW: Tell us a little about your YA novel.

Donna: The YA novel grew from a series of bedtime stories I used to tell Cari and Michael to help them fall asleep when they were younger. While they're now able to fall asleep without bedtime stories--although they still getting tucked in each night after prayers--it's taken me awhile to get the crux of the main story outlined and down on paper. I'm still working on it but hope to finish the first draft early next year.

WOW: Missouri is a beautiful state. My company's main terminal is in Joplin. Have you always lived in MO? How does the state influence your writings?

Donna:
Missouri is a beautiful state, and the people are genuine and welcoming. I was born in North St. Louis less than a mile from the Mississippi River and live about thirty miles from where I was raised. When my husband and I worked for the U.S. Government, I lived in several states, as well as overseas. No matter where I've lived, Missouri has always been home and a part of me. When we lived in Southern Arizona and in West Texas, I missed the four seasons--except maybe the bitter cold Missouri sometimes get in the winter. When we lived in Massachusetts and in Germany, I missed the St. Louis Cardinals and the hot summers--really!

WOW: Is Ida's Rocking Chair based on a true story? As I read your story, I cried tears of sorrow and then tears of joy. You did such a wonderful job in bringing the chair to life. Sometimes we say, "If only that chair or whatever could talk…", but you bought those emotions to life and I thank you for this wonderful, warm story. Do you have a rocker? I have a porch swing and every time I sit on it I think, what stories will this swing be able to tell.

Donna: "Ida's Rocking Chair" is a work of fiction, but the emotions in the story are real.

WOW: What do you believe the most important quality is for a management analyst? Did you use your writing and editing skills a lot during your career? Does retirement put a new slant on your writing career? Is it a second career, a hobby or a fulfillment of a dream?

Donna: As a management analyst, I guess the most important quality is to be organized and analytical. It's very much a left-brain career that involves skills such as data collection and analysis, which is different from using my right-brain creative side for fiction writing. I did a fair bit of writing and editing as a management analyst on projects I was assigned. That writing was mostly detail-oriented or related to studies and surveys; however, some of the managers I worked with knew I liked to write, so they frequently asked me to help them write awards for their employees.

Retirement has been a double blessing. I have more time to spend with my grandchildren and to write. Not to sound flip or arrogant, but writing isn't just a hobby or something I do; a writer is what I am.

WOW: How old were you when you started writing? Did you always want to write?

Donna:
I got bit by the writing bug in Most Holy Name of Jesus Grade School when my eighth grade teacher (if memory serves, her name was Sister Mary Johanna) assigned the class of 63 students to write our autobiographies. In mine I wrote about my life and my dreams. On the front cover I drew picture of a girl walking down a path with a globe in the background. The title was not very original--"My World." But I do remember the first line. It started off, "The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky . . ." Thus, began my writing career. I was one of two eighth graders selected to read my autobiography to the entire school. Afterwards, several teachers commented on what a good writer I was. In essence, what I thought was a writing assignment changed my life. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper, the yearbook, and was a reporter for a local teen magazine. After I got married, while my kids were growing up, I attended night classes in college, where I wrote term papers, but I took a couple of creative writing classes and got to stretch my writing skills there. So, I guess I've always wanted to write.

WOW: I'm sure you have a short term goal of finishing your novel, which at one time was probably your long term goal, so now do you have another long term goal? Other short term goals?

Donna: Someone once called goals "dreams with deadlines," and that's what this project has turned out to be. It's a dream I have, but the deadline keeps changing. While finishing my YA novel should be a short-term goal, because it's taking me so long to write it, the novel has taken a life of its own and become more of a long-term goal. In the near-term I hope to outline several other connected novels in a series. One immediate goal I have is to finish these interview questions (smile) and to work on a few deadlines which are due next month.

WOW: I'm smiling. We're almost done. I only have one more question. What advice or secrets can you share about winning contests and getting published in so many sources?

Donna:
Though not really secrets, here are some tips I've learned over the years:

1. Follow the rules. This probably seems obvious and unnecessary, but I've not only entered contests but have also been a contest judge. The entries that follow the rules stay in the game. Same holds true for publishing; follow the submission guidelines.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're unsure of what you're supposed to do, ask, but don't be too pesky or pushy.

3. Be genuine. Write from the heart and put yourself into your work. Let your unique writing voice shine through. When you read your story and it makes you feel some emotion--whether joy, happiness, sorrow, fear, or love--it most likely will do the same for your readers.

4. Use active voice, strong verbs, and concrete nouns, but go easy on the adjectives and adverbs.

5. Don't rely on spell check. Print out your work to check for errors and read your work out loud before submitting.

6. Join a critique group or writers' organization. If you can't find one, start your own and invite other writers to join. Members of my critique group and Saturday Writers have not only helped me improve my writing, many of them have become cherished friends. Being around other writers--not just 'networking' which I think can be impersonal, but becoming friends with other writers and getting feedback and support from them and giving feedback and support to them--has enriched my personal and writing life.

7. Share with others. It really is better to give than receive. My experience is by giving I've received much more in return.

8. Respect your words, yourself, and others.

9. The true purpose of writing is to EXpress--not IMpress. That's a piece of advice I read somewhere that stuck with me.

10. Take your writing seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. Be persistent, but have fun and be yourself!

WOW: Thank you Donna and best wishes in all your projects.




***

If you haven't done so already, please read Donna's award-winning story Ida’s Rocking Chair .


Interview by:
WOW Intern Cher'ley Grogg
http://antiquesandapparitions.blogspot.com/
http://www.freewebs.com/cherley/

To check out WOW! Women On Writing's latest contest, please visit:
http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php sponsored by skirt! books with guest judge, literary agent, Jennifer DeChiara.




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