Tuesday, February 02, 2010

 

Interview with Norma Bishop - Summer 09 Flash Fiction Runner Up


When in the fourth grade, Norma began her passionate journalism career with a piece about whooping cranes for her class newspaper. She has written poetry for as long as she can remember, and years later, took up nonfiction as a regular contributor to Santa Barbara's Coastal Woman magazine. But through her careers in the U.S. Navy, as an attorney specializing in non-profit law, and most recently as a museum director, she never submitted her fiction or poetry for publication. With the encouragement of receiving WOW! final status in her first contest, she appeals to other writers who hold their personal writing close to their hearts to let go. Share what you create. You never know when someone will read your work and relate to its message.
Norma's story, Bluer, shares some a positive message about taking chances. If you haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, head over to the contest page and peruse the story. You'll be glad you did!
WOW: Norma, welcome to The Muffin. Congratulations on receiving runner up honors in WOW!'s Summer Flash Fiction contest. Your story, Bluer, talks about taking risks and having faith. What led you to use the horse racing term?
Norma: I love learning new words and turns of phrase, especially when they have a story all their own. I heard the term "bluer" somewhere, and at first it conjured up a pretty predictable cast of characters, the stereotypes you'd expect to hang around a race track. But eventually, I broadened my perspective . . . the horse racing term and environment led to the realization that we all continually weigh the risks in life. Holding back because of fear, bad experiences, is true of people as well as horses.
WOW: I agree wholeheartedly! Many people hold back because they are afraid or have had a negative experience. Likewise, many are afraid to take a chance because they are afraid of change. Why did you decide to write a story that explores the possibility of a happy ending?
Norma: I'm not so much of a Pollyanna that all my stories must have a happy ending. Claire and Jim aren't married in the end, but the "happy" ending is that Claire stepped out of the claustrophobic little cell she lived in. She got on the bus without the safety net of a return ticket. Who knows? Maybe Jim had left Vegas with a stripper by the time she got there . . . maybe, Claire got a job in a casino and fell in love with a math genius who was working as a part-time dealer while he planned to scam the casino out of millions. I won't tell.
WOW: (Smiles) So, happy endings can take a few twists and turns of their own. Norma, you've written a fair share of poetry. How does that process compare to flash fiction?
Norma: For me, poetry and flash fiction, after the initial inspiration, become something of logic puzzles. Poetry should be lean, just enough meat on the bones for the metaphor to hang together. Flash fiction is a similar challenge; every word counts.
WOW: That's so true. Word count and precision can make or break a piece. Would you wind sharing your writing routine?
Norma: I wish my writing were "routine." I have a demanding career, so I try to write on weekends. I keep a notebook by the bed. And I'm fortunate . . . at home I have a lot of quiet time. The best ting any writer can do is to "kill your television." I decided the last thing I want is my head filled with other people's stories. TV steals your imagination. The other thing I do is read great writers. Right now, I'm working my way through the Man Booker Prize winners. I just finished White Tiger, a first novel by Aravind Adiga. It's an incredible read.
WOW: Writers need to make time to read. It helps writers stay sharp, and it allows writers to see and experience other styles of writing. It's a great source for ideas. I know you're career path has been an interesting journey. You've served in the Navy, been a non-profit lawyer, and now you're a museum director. Plus, you spread your nonfiction wings writing for a magazine. Do you draw on any of these experiences for your poetry or fiction endeavors?
Norma: Ideally, my life and spirit would be so integrated that "drawing on my experiences" would be like breathing . . . inhale, exhale . . . but it's a little more work than that. I've been fortunate to have traveled, met many people, and seen them facing varied challenges, sorrows, and joys. But more important is your inner journey, traveling toward your own complete soul. Writing is putting that soul down on paper, and as you do so, more and more of it is revealed to you. You can be a writer without ever leaving your hometown. Emily Dickinson is proof that the greatest inspirational well is within us.
WOW: Jim, one of the characters in Bluer, is a retired Navy man. Is he based on someone you knew in the Navy?
Norma: Jim is a composite of men I knew in the Navy . . . smart, honorable, and forthright . . . and a risk-taker, but a wise one. I think Claire will be all right, don't you?
WOW: Claire will be just fine with Jim. He has good intentions. I enjoy museums, and one of the best I've visited is the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego. There's so much history and knowledge that most people probably don't consider. At the Maritime Museum you direct, what's the most unique piece or your favorite exhibit? What lessons should visitors take away from touring the museum?
Norma: The Wisconsin Maritime Museum has so many exhibits and incredible artifacts, including the most completely restored World War II submarine in the country and a beautiful 1917 Burger yacht, Lady Isabel, formerly named Swastika - imagine the stories she can tell! But my favorite items in the museum's collections are personal diaries, letters, and photos of people who sailed ships on the Great Lakes, our inland seas, perhaps vanished on them, went to war on submarines built here in Wisconsin, or stayed at home imagining the lives of their loved ones so far away in conflict. Those are the things that touch me most.
WOW: The museum sounds incredible. I hope I'm able to visit some day. The intimate stories of those who live in a our neighborhoods intrigue me, too. Norma, what projects are you currently working on?
Norma: I'm always working on short stories or "modular chapters of an undetermined longer work or works". (How's that for saying whatever my brain cooks up!) I am working on a specific novel, constantly writing poetry. I'm enchanted by haiku and the epiphany or "ah-ha" moment each haiku contains; I've found it a great way to get my creative juices going.
WOW: Brilliant! I enjoy haiku and the challenge of creating a visual image. What advice would you offer aspiring writers? Also, for writers who have never entered a writing contest, what hints can you offer to "take a risk" and enter?
Norma: KILL YOUR TELEVISION. READ GOOD AUTHORS (and the New York Times bestseller list may not be the best way to find them). Do whatever you can to give yourself the gift of quiet. WORK OUTDOORS. . . I think plein air writing should be as common a concept as plein air painting. ENTER CONTESTS. They give you a time goal, a structure, and the promise of a reward. I can't guarantee a happy ending, but don't live your life always buying the round-trip ticket. STEP OUT . . . and HAVE FUN!
WOW: Wonderful advice! I especially like the idea of writing outside. Norma, thank you for sharing your thoughts about your stories and writing. And again, congratulations on the runner up honors in our flash fiction contest.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

 

Interview with Elizabeth Barton - 2009 Summer Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Elizabeth's Bio: Elizabeth Barton has been writing stories for just about as long as she can remember. After attaining degrees in psychology and nutritional sciences, she began work as a medical writer and editor. She participated in the Writer’s Loft workshop in Chicago for more than four years and has recently begun seriously pursuing a career in fiction writing. Elizabeth has dozens of short stories in varying degrees of completion and is polishing a draft of her first novel. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Ian, and two cats, Roxie and Gordon. When she is not writing, Elizabeth is an avid reader and enjoys travel, theater, and wine. She also loves to dabble in, but never master, various pursuits including drama, sewing, painting, ceramics, and stained glass work. She believes that every experience can be an inspiration. She recently won third place in WOW’s spring flash fiction contest for her story, The Wedding March.



If you haven't done so already, you should definitely check out Elizabeth's prize-winning story "Not Tonight." When you've finished reading, return here for a chat with the author.



WOW!: Congratulations on placing in the 2009 Summer Flash Fiction Contest! You have managed to pack so much emotion into your piece of flash fiction. Do you believe it’s easier or more difficult to create such vivid feelings under the constraint of a small word count?

Elizabeth: Honestly, neither. I think that one can create vivid feelings in a sentence or two. Of course, it's harder to create a character with depth and tell a complete story when you have word count restraints. On the other hand, it's hard to maintain the intensity you often get with flash fiction when writing longer pieces.

WOW!: Yes, I agree. Despite the word count restraints of this contest, I think you have done a fantastic job of creating a complete story with meaningful characters. In your bio you say that every experience can be an inspiration, and I completely agree. Can you describe or give an example of how some of your other artistic endeavors have inspired your writing?

Elizabeth: I can't think of any specific instances where my other artistic endeavors have directly inspired me in my writing. It certainly could happen, though. For now, I find that it those endeavors allow me to create in a different way. I don't have to think about ceramics or painting in the same way I have to think about writing, so my mind can sort of relax.

WOW!: As an avid reader, I'm sure you’re in the middle of reading at least one (if not two or three) books right now. Are you reading anything interesting? Which writer or story has most influenced your writing?

Elizabeth: Right now, I'm reading Timeline by Michael Crichton, which has an interesting mix of science and history; plus, I've always been a sucker for a time travel story. My all-time favorite book is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Although I enjoy both Crichton and Vonnegut, I wouldn't say my writing really resembles either of them. It's hard to pin down one particular author or story that's influenced me most, but I'd list Michael Chabon, Nick Hornby, David Sedaris, and A. Manette Ansay among my influences.

WOW!: I know, it’s difficult to pin down just a few influential writers because inspiring or helpful attributes can be found in so many pieces of writing. In your interview after winning 3rd place in the WOW! Spring 2009 Flash Fiction Contest, you spoke about working on revisions to your novel. How is your novel progressing? Have you had any breakthroughs or run into any roadblocks?

Elizabeth: No, there haven't been any breakthroughs or roadblocks. I'm making steady progress, but it's always slower than I would like!

WOW!: Yes, I know what you mean! When I'm excited about a writing project, it always seems to progress slower than I’d like. What do you enjoy most about writing?

Elizabeth: I just love seeing what happens when I start writing. There's stuff I never knew I had in me that ends up on the page. Also, when I start a story, I rarely know where it's going to go. Just like with reading, I like writing to see how the story ends.

WOW!: Thank you, Elizabeth, for your time, your insightful answers, and your impressive piece of flash fiction. We wish you the best of luck with your writing in the future!


Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

 

Tricia Bowering: Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Congratulations to Tricia Bowering! She is a runner up in the 2009 Summer Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't read her short story, "Remembrance," yet, then you can check it out here.

Here's a little about Tricia:

Tricia Bowering was born and raised British Columbia, where she eventually studied psychology at the University of Victoria. She now makes her home in Vancouver, where she keeps busy with work and spending time with her family. She recalls writing short stories as early as grade two and all throughout high school, but years of study and work slowly pushed writing aside. Finally, she has returned to writing as a serious pursuit and has enjoyed reconnecting with her creative voice. She looks forward to writing more short fiction and entering lots of contests in the future.

By the way, Tricia's been here before. She also placed as a runner up in the 2009 Winter Flash Fiction contest!

WOW: Congratulations, Tricia, on your second win in WOW!'s flash fiction contests. What made you enter another one of your stories in this contest?

Tricia: It is such an honor to be recognized by the WOW! team for this contest! I truly enjoy the process of writing, and very short fiction is a challenging yet rewarding, medium. Once the story is done, it’s always fun to have your work out there for others to read, and placing in the contest is a bonus. I also appreciate the critique option that’s offered, as it’s always valuable. I took the last suggestions to heart and experimented with a new writing process for this contest.

WOW: Thanks for sharing information about the critique service that is offered with the contest. Many writers have probably wondered if it's worth the extra fee; and obviously, you are benefiting from it! How is this winning story similar to or different from your other story, "When My Grandmother Made Perogies?"

Tricia: The stories ended up having very different styles. In my previous entry, "When My Grandmother Made Perogies," I started with a memory from my distant childhood and developed that idea, so that imagery took center stage. The description of the event (the sights, smells, and feel of making perogies), became a central feature; and the interaction between granddaughter and grandmother was almost secondary. With "Remembrance," I started with a pivotal event: a public health nurse’s visit to an elderly client in the community, suffering from dementia. I tried to use description effectively once again to evoke setting and character; but this time, I focused more intensely on the interactions between the nurse and her elderly client. I also tried to develop a coherent plot with beginning, middle, and end.

WOW: And that's not easy in under 750 words! In this season's story, "Remembrance," you explore the theme of dementia in the elderly. Why did you write a flash fiction story on such a complicated and heartbreaking issue?

Tricia: Indeed, this theme resonates with me; both in my career and personal life, I’ve known individuals who have dementia. This illness forces us to confront our feelings around loss, and it is not easy. I hoped to show that there is so much value in a person’s life (as Anita can see as she tours around the house and sees clues of a life well-lived) and not to forget that when confronted with a person who may need help in the face of this devastating illness. I was also taken with the way that Anita had to confront her fears and sadness over her own mother’s illness, leading to a real sense of connection between Mrs. Simpson and Anita. Their roles as nurse and patient were briefly reversed when Mrs. Simpson comforted her.

WOW: It's easy to see, even from your description here, why this was a winning story. It's a well-crafted story with a well-developed theme. When you sit down to write a flash fiction piece, what is your process?

Tricia: I’m not sure I have one process. Occasionally, the writing flows naturally from a scene in my mind, or a memory; and I sit and write the whole story in one sitting. Other times, like with "Remembrance," I take my time, lingering over each sentence. Often, the hardest part is to get the first draft onto paper; but after that the editing process can be fun--shaping the story into what may turn out to be something quite different than I first imagined.

WOW: I agree 100% that editing and revising your work can be fun. I am always saying to myself, "Just get it on paper. You can do it. It doesn't have to be good." (Smiles) Flash fiction writing usually takes a lot of revision and a lot of word-cutting. (Sometimes, it's harder to write a short piece than a long piece!) What is your revision process like? How do you decide what to cut?

Tricia: As I mentioned, I find self-editing a fun, but challenging, process. In the first draft, I let all my ideas flow freely without much thought to the final product, and that’s a crucial part of my creative process. However, when it comes time to edit, brutal honesty must prevail. For the second draft, I concentrate on story essentials: plot, character, setting, and how description and dialogue help those elements come together. Once I have the story that I want, I pick through the draft several times for unnecessary words, such as those pesky adverbs. Any sentence or description that doesn’t directly serve the story is cut. Flash fiction is good discipline! I usually agonize over the last two or three words for a couple of days before I finally send my submission.

WOW: Let's repeat that quote for all to read again: "Flash fiction is good discipline!" I love how you mention those pesky adverbs and how you agonize over two or three words. It shows in your writing that you're carefully choosing your language and sculpting your work. Have you made any 2010 writing goals or resolutions that you could share with us today?

Tricia: Absolutely. I took a writing course last fall; and now I’ve become a part of a writing critique group. It’s a great development because making a commitment to submit writing for the group every month keeps me motivated. I may take another course later in the year (perhaps on self-editing!), and I’d like to enter another WOW! contest. Thanks again for giving emerging writers this opportunity.

WOW: You're welcome, Tricia, and good luck with your goals. We wish you much success in 2010.

Interview by Margo L. Dill
http://margodill.com/blog/
http://www.twitter.com/Margo_L_Dill

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

 

Interview with Amanda Pettit, Summer ‘09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Amanda Pettit is a devoted enthusiast of hot beverages, classic literature, and close friends. She divides her time between her family, her writing, and the management of Sanctuary Home For Children, which has taken her to India and back and given her an ongoing mission to improve the lives of street orphans. When she's not busy with the big stuff, she also enjoys sewing, video games, football, and shopping. Amanda lives in Texas with her husband Ray and their children Virginia and Edward.

Visit her blog at http://thislittlepig73.wordpress.com/.

Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Summer 2009 writing contest! How do you feel?

Amanda: Thanks! I feel fabulous. This is actually the first contest I've entered since I embarked in earnest on my writing adventure. Earning a spot in the top ten on my first attempt has been a wonderful morale boost, and I so enjoyed receiving the prize package in the mail.

WOW: That’s great. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Coffee Date?

Amanda: I am fascinated by family dynamics, particularly the relationships between sisters. I have two sisters myself, and there is a wealth of interesting material, both positive and negative, when I look back on our decades together. Each sister has made unique choices about parenting, marriage, career, and a million other things, and I think those differences and similarities are worth exploring. While my own sisters and I are younger than the characters in Coffee Date, we have definitely had profound differences and reconciliations. We have changed our opinions of each other over time. I like the way people—both in fiction and in real life—can have disagreements but choose to respect each other, even if it's a long process. And the setting, a coffee shop, is one I find popping up repeatedly in much of what I write, probably because I enjoy a weekly coffee date myself with a close circle of girlfriends. A coffee shop is the ideal neutral ground for relaxing, sharing, talking things out.

WOW: 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?

Amanda: I write three full days a week, while my children are at school. When I write, I need a big chunk of time in order to really get going, and I don't like interruptions. A full day (about seven hours for me) is perfect. By the end of the third day, my wrists and elbows ache, but I'm very happy and wishing there was some way to skip the housework days and the weekend to get back to the writing days again more quickly. I need a clean room, silence, something hot to drink (more on that later), my laptop, and whatever notes or books I have to refer to. I try to write something smaller, like a flash fiction piece or poetry, at least once a week, and most of the remainder of the time is spent on novel writing. I blog, too, but it's easy for me to lose half a day on blogs, both my own and reading/commenting on others, so I try not to spend my real writing time in the blog world, tempting as it is.

WOW: What projects are you working on now? Have you made any writing goals for the New Year?

Amanda: My top goal for 2010 is finding an agent to represent one of my novels. I currently have two novels written but not completely polished, so getting them both through the final stage is high on my list of writing tasks right now. The first, Scribe, is an adventure set in modern day San Antonio, ancient Egypt, and the mythical Egyptian world of the dead. My educational background is in anthropology, so I have a strong interest in other cultures, archaeology, history, and love to put those elements into a story. The second novel, The Great Uneven, is about an older woman with OCD, and I completed most of it during NaNoWriMo. It has been really fun getting those two major projects on paper and I look forward to getting them really polished—even though I'm tempted to set them aside and start on the next book.

WOW: Your books sound interesting, and we wish you the best of luck with your goals. How did Sanctuary Home For Children come about? How can people help?

Amanda: Sanctuary Home was started about three years ago when my close friends in India asked us to help them start an orphanage. At first, I absolutely thought the idea was ridiculous - who was I to take on a task like that? What did I know? I'm a Christian, and my connection with the Indian family was ultimately because of church stuff, so I prayed about it. Honestly, what I prayed was that God would show me how crazy it was, and close doors, confirming that it was impossible. I was mortified at the thought of asking people for money. My husband was a graduate student, we were broke, and even living in my parents' basement. We were definitely not the right people for the job. As you've probably guessed, though, it didn't turn out the way I wanted, and instead of an impossible task, one good thing led to another, and three years later I am somehow directing a 510(c)(3) nonprofit with a network of child sponsors in the US and over ninety former street children are being fed and educated and loved. It's been an humbling and joyful experience, from the first day I realized people did want to help, to the beautiful meeting with so many sweet little faces on my first visit to India, to the continuing support and ongoing communication with the directors in India, who amazed me by opening their home to so many in need. It's a lot of work, but completely worth it. Our website, www.sanctuaryhome.org, has information on how to help, and there is a recent article on halogentv.com about us. Thanks for asking.

WOW: On a lighter note, you mention that you’re a “devoted enthusiast of hot beverages.” Describe your top three favorites.

Amanda: My absolute favorite, or at least the hot beverage I consume in the largest quantities, is French Vanilla black tea by Bigelow, served pretty close to boiling, with a bit of milk and sugar. If I'm out and have a little money to spare, I go for a chai tea latte with soy milk from a coffee shop. Among many other wonderful hot drinks of all sorts, another standout is a traditional hot toddy. It isn't something I drink on a daily basis, best saved for the times I'm under the weather, or have a headache, or just can't seem to get warm. My favorite hot toddy recipe: 1.5 ounces of brandy, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons honey, a cinnamon stick and a few whole cloves, and the mug topped off with hot water. Of course, I always nuke it for an extra thirty seconds, because as with all hot drinks, the hotter the better.

WOW: Now I’m ready for a nice, warm drink! Those all sound delicious. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Amanda: Do it. After waiting a lot of years for the stars of circumstance to align perfectly, I finally started writing like I meant it. The wait, for me, was about twenty-five years, which I calculate based on the fact that I recorded in a journal at age eight my intention to write a book. I have never been happier than I am now, since I finally took the plunge. If you have a dream that's hanging on somewhere in the back of your mind, something that keeps resurfacing, some aspiration that keeps knocking at your door, let it in. Don't put it off any longer. Do it.


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

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

 

Interview with Lori Lyn Greenstone - Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Lori's Bio:

Lori is a graduate student in Literature and Writing Cultural Studies at California State University, San Marcos where she teaches composition while finishing her thesis on motherhood memoir and ekphrasis—vivid description depicting a visual work of art. She is married to one of America’s Hottest Husband’s (Redbook, July ’07), a fire captain. They have six kids (what woman in her right mind has six kids?), ages 27-2, and are celebrating their 30th anniversary in November. Lori writes and paints from her studio overlooking their sustainable blueberry farm in Fallbrook. Her artwork has won several awards and been published in Strokes of Genius: The Best of Drawing by Northlight. Her autotheoretical essay “Ekphrastically Writing of Creative Mothering,” will be published in Mothers Creating/Writing Lives: Motherhood Memoirs, forthcoming in 2010.



If you haven't done so already, you should definitely take a look at Lori's award winning story, "Removing the Mask." When you've finished reading, return here for a chat with the writer.



WOW!: Congratulations on placing in the Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest! I read in your bio that you’re completing your thesis on motherhood memoir and ekphrasis. I am fascinated by that idea. Could you tell us a little more about it?


Lori: Ekphrasis (ek=out+phrasis=speak) denotes art that speaks out, often poetically. A visual work of art gives rise to a verbal work. For example Homer's "The Shield of Achilles" in the Iliad, or Shelley's "On the Medusa by Leonardo Da Vinci." As a mother-artist who really wants to write, I found ekphrasis as a way to use the art I've created over the past 15-20 years, much of it responding to mothering, using my children as models-- often our oldest daughter who trained with the Joffrey Ballet at 17. I always wanted to write, but I got caught up in art b/c it was successful and it provided a visual map to return to between the many interruptions of mothering.


WOW!: That is such an interesting idea, and a great way to combine writing and other art forms. How has your work on your thesis inspired “Removing the Mask”?


Lori: The mask, created about 15 years ago, is one of many pieces of art in my studio and home. Art has its own story to tell, something I realized recently when I returned to get a Master's degree in writing as a way to force myself back to my desk. The paintings and sculptures speak stories I didn't know were there until I started listening, writing. In this way, I'm rediscovering myself and a whole new world in my own art.


WOW!: I love the idea of art and sculptures speaking their own stories. And it's great that you are able to rediscover yourself through your art. Art and writing can be so fulfilling and rewarding, but they come with their challenges, too. As a writer, what is your biggest challenge and how do you overcome it?


Lori: Constant interruptions, including the internal ones of a manic mind. I collage the interruptions into my work, allowing them to add to and subtract from the story, memoir, or essay I'm writing. My thesis is a fictocritical response to the work of other mother-writer-artists- Fanny Howe who was my mentor at UCSD in the late 80's, and Bernadette Mayer, a beat poet who wrote an epic prose poem "Midwinter Day" on December 22, 1978, Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. This book is the epitome of alternative motherhood memoir. She was a mother of two small children at the time she wrote it. These writers provide incredible inspiration.


WOW!: With six children, a husband, a blueberry farm, teaching and thesis writing it sounds like you’re a busy woman! What are some of your tricks to find time and space to create art?


Lori: As women and writers, we find creative spaces where our minds and bodies dwell and thrive, spaces that drive creativity. Ekphrasis- the space between seeing and saying, between painting and writing is a liminal space, a threshold where confusion presages creativity, bringing order out of chaos. By grace, I am surrounded by a great group of supportive people, but being a mother is confusing. Writing and art help me sort through the tangles, and I am blessed with a partner who encourages me and gives me space. In turn, I have more to give back to the partnership, motherhood, and writing. If there is a trick, it might be knowing what to give up and when. We are going to sell the farm, go travel, find some simple place to live where the ground is covered in pine needles and sometimes, snow; a place where we can write and ski and be together--follow our dreams.


WOW!: That sounds like a great plan! Are there other writing or art projects you hope to create in the future?


Lori: I'm writing a novel told from the perspective of the prostitute to whom Vincent Van Gogh gave his ear. I also have a surrealist novel that takes place along the Alcan Highway with a character who may only exist within a painting- I'm not sure yet- she hasn't told me. I'm writing a piece for a conference in March at UCBerkeley, Our Bodies, Our Shelves - "Ekphrasis as Exploration of the Feminist Maternal Body." I have a memoir "You Are Here: Dots on the Map of a Manic Motherhood." I have more short stories. All are driven by art in some way.


WOW!: You definitely have your artistic plate full for the future! Good luck! What is the best advice you have ever received about your writing or art?


Lori: Carpe Diem- Just do it. Sit your behind down and don't get up until you've written a certain amount of words or pages or minutes, even if it is only 15. I sit on a balance ball so I can bounce energy back to my cerebral cortex when it falls low. The ball allows me to exercise- swiveling the hips, raising the pelvic floor--while I write, important issues for women as we age. I turned 50 on Nov.1. The affirmation from WOW was a nice gift. Thank you.


WOW!: You're welcome, Lori! You earned it! Congratulations with all of your accomplishments and we hope to see and read more of your art in the future!


Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

 

Interview with Rebecca Gomez Farrell - 3rd place winner in the Summer '09 Flash Fiction Contest


Rebecca Gomez Farrell, a Californian with a bad case of wanderlust, moved to the East Coast following college, thinking to improve her writing by gaining more life experiences. Now, she writes, edits and blogs from her home in Durham, North Carolina. Rebecca is amazed she placed in a writing contest.


Using the pseudonym, The Gourmez, Rebecca reviews restaurants, cocktails, and wines. She also blogs about her lifelong passion, General Hospital, for Eye on Soaps. When these writing gigs aren't consuming her time, Rebecca modern short fiction and creative nonfiction. Currently, she's in the midst of a fantasy novel.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Rebecca's flash piece, Last Complaint, you'll find it on the WOW! contest page. Go on, click over there.
WOW: Rebecca, congratulations on winning third place in the Spring '09 Flash Fiction contest. Last Complaint is intriguing! How did you develop the idea?
Rebecca: Last Complaint has been rolling around in my head since a creative writing course in college. We had an assignment to do a character sketch and I thought up this woman who'd spent her whole life complaining. She was the sort of person that any customer service worker (I worked in a move theater at the time) would be loathe to encounter. I think writing a piece where I could kill off someone like her was cathartic. Over time, she evolved into a character with a few more layers to ground her as a human and not merely a caricature so that the reader wouldn't be as happy to see her meet her end.
WOW: She reminds me of a few people I've encountered. What draws me to the piece is the ripple of tension that runs through it. It's unnerving! Why is conflict important to a story?
Rebecca: Most readers, at the end of the day, want a story. They want something that catches their interest, rises to a climax, and then resolves with a certain level of satisfaction. Conflict of any sort makes this possible. Creating tension within your story is a way to hook people in without needing to supply that much background information or establishing a strong connection with a character, something that is hard to do in short pieces like these. The reader knows something is going to happen but they don't know what or when so they keep reading to find out.
WOW: That's so true. Creating a hook that keeps readers invested is the goal. Your creation of the main character is brilliant. She's self-centered, lonely, demanding, and vulnerable. That's a powerful combination. What does her attitude say about the state of humanity?
Rebecca: Since she spent her life not taking other people's feelings into consideration, she essentially removed herself from humanity and they no longer wish to consider her feelings, either. Through rejecting the simple human connection that comes from things as basic as treating the people around you with respect, she has essentially lost the right to that same treatment herself. Not that I want people to read about a murder and cheer on her death, per se, but I do like that it's a bit of a comeuppance for her and the way she's lived her life.
WOW: Excellent lesson that everyone should remember: treat other's the way you want to be treated. Let's switch gears and talk about your writing career. As The Gourmez, you blog about restaurants and drinks. Some people would consider that a dream job! What are some of the ups and downs of food writing and reviewing?
Rebecca: I started The Gourmez primarily as a way to get myself in the habit of writing regularly, even if it wasn't about fiction, which is my passion. It has done wonders for me in that sense. As a blogger develops a readership, you feel responsibility to keep up your writing for them, not just for yourself any longer. So that definitely has strengthened my writing. However, realizing that what you write, no matter how subjective reviews are, can actually affect someone else's business can be both a negative and a positive thing to learn. Also, it's not the most fun to try and slyly take pictures in an establishment and meals while dining out! But I definitely have gained a strong attachment to my local community, fellow foodies, and so many fascinating people through a shared love of great food, great wine, and great cocktails, for which I am very grateful. That overrules any negative experiences I've had from my writing as The Gourmez.
WOW: A sense of community is so important for writers. That's great that you've built rapport with others through your experience. Another passion you have is for the daytime soap, General Hospital. You blog for Eye on Soaps. What makes daytime drama so fascinating?
Rebecca: Soap operas are all about the payoff for longtime viewing. I've been watching General Hospital since I was five years old and being able to see how characters and story lines develop over decades is fascinating. One character might be cheating on her husband now, but as I've watched her grow up, I don't just chalk it up to a despicable act - I can see how she's doing it because I remember when her father abandoned her when she was only a child and how every boyfriend she's had since has either died or left her. I think being able to see things play out on such a grand scale can give loyal viewers the ability to see how history affects every character's actions, which is something that has definitely made its way into my own writing and I think it's the better for it.
WOW: Great point! History affects each character's actions. I understand you're working on a fantasy novel. Would you mind sharing a bit about your upcoming novel?
Rebecca: My novel is an epic fantasy that deals with what happens when a society allows ignoble qualities to multiply without restraint. The "good" people of my imagined world have allowed those who do not wish to live by society's rules to create their own country rather than deal with how to live together any longer. Fifty years later, the corruption, abuse, and other manners of vile behavior is spilling back over the borders and into their own idyllic world. As it's fantasy, of course, this also involves the generation of creatures that suck out a human's life matter, leaving only a shell behind and a prophecy that foretells the only person who has the power to bring about their destruction since they are invisible to the naked eye. There's horror, there's love, and there are spirits of the dead that advise humanity but few who recognize them for what they are. Did I mention writing fantasy is fun?
WOW: Oh, it definitely sounds like fun! Rebecca, what advice would you offer to your fellow writers?
Rebecca: Write, write, write. Even if you've only got 30 minutes before you roll into bed, try to make a habit of doing a little writing every day. Since I write across many different genres, I find that it's helpful to switch between them if my brain isn't mentally able to handle a particular piece that day.
WOW: Wonderful advice, Rebecca. Again, congratulations on writing a piece with amazing depth and for winning 3rd place in the contest.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler

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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!

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

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