Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Interview with Emily Rinkema, Runner Up

By Cher'ley Grogg

Emily Rinkema is an English teacher living in the small town of Westford, Vermont with her husband and two dogs. While on partial sabbatical this year, she is working on her first novel and enjoying every minute of it. She has had short stories published in Seven Days and The Sun magazine, and writes whenever she can find the time.

Emily placed in the Top 10 in the WOW! Summer Flash Fiction Contest. Read her winning story, Before, and then come back for a chat with this talented writer.

WOW: Welcome, Emily! It's so cool that you're an English teacher. What grade do you teach and what's your biggest challenge as a teacher for that age group?

Emily: I teach tenth-graders mostly. I love this age group for so many reasons. They are young enough to be able to let go and have fun, and yet they are becoming young adults, so they are able to think critically and analytically. My biggest challenge is probably meeting the needs of all learners; I believe strongly in the importance of heterogeneous classes, yet this makes teaching more difficult. The key to challenging all students is to provide differentiated learning experiences, and I spend most of my non-teaching time trying to become a better teacher in this way.

WOW: I enjoy tenth-graders too, mainly because my 3 grandsons are at that age. Our schools certainly reflect the melting-pot of our society. Your students are so fortunate to have a teacher who reaches out to each of them and at the same time teaches them to work together. Writing a novel is hard work. What is your novel about?

Emily: I'm not sure yet. I'm about 150 pages into it and it keeps changing. I guess it's about the difference between truth and memory...about which is ultimately more powerful or important. And it's about a family. And chickens.

WOW: (Laughing) You got my attention when you said chickens. I love chickens. You're story Before struck home with me. My home state, West Virginia, is a big mining state and my grandfather was a coal miner. Are there a lot of mines in Vermont? Do you have a relative that works in the mines?

Emily: As far as I know, there aren't any mines in Vermont...we're more of a dairy state. I became interested in mining years ago after reading a newspaper story about a mine collapse. It has stuck with me since then.

WOW: You did such a wonderful job on her emotions; I was sure you'd experienced the tragedy first hand. I loved the comparison of Carla and Sue's lives and of the way you described Carla's reaction to the news--the shock that laid under the surface. Did your story start out in Carla's POV?

Emily: The story was originally first person, but third person seemed a more effective way of providing the distance I wanted.

WOW: Often people go into shock and continue doing their routine tasks (like spreading peanut butter), as a way to avoid facing the emergency at hand. You nailed the connection between the center of the mine and Carla's pregnancy. Did that just fall into place or did you strategically plan it that way?

Emily: From the beginning (the first draft), I knew Carla was going to be pregnant. I wanted to play with the connection between the mine and the womb, as well as Carla's feeling of entrapment. The earliest drafts were much longer and were a bit too obvious with connections--I wanted the parallels to be evident, but not hit the reader over the head with symbolism.

WOW: You handled the situation like a pro. How long have you been writing?

Emily: I've been writing stories since I was a kid, but it was only a few years ago that I actually let anyone read anything or tried to publish. In my mind, there was an implied arrogance about sending out writing--I felt that by sending my work to a magazine or journal or contest, I was saying that it was good enough to be in print. That was a tough hurdle for me; I never think anything I write is "finished," but I finally got to the point where I thought what the... Because of my teaching job, I don't find much time to write, but I take what time I can find.

WOW: It seems that as writers we push writing to the back burner way too often. Do you prefer flash fiction or long stories?

Emily: I like writing both. Flash fiction is a different kind of challenge--every
word has to count. I find that writing flash fiction makes me a better, more careful writer. I am much more aware of my use of language when I have to be precise and concise.

WOW: Thank you, Emily, for taking the time to share with our WOW readers. Since I have you sharing--how did you feel when you found out you placed as a runner up? Is this the first contest you've entered? What advice do you have for a writer who's thinking of entering a contest?

Emily: I was excited to place in this contest, and hopefully I will have more confidence moving forward. I have had a few short stories published, but this is the first contest I've entered. My advice for those thinking of entering...go for it. You've got nothing to lose!

If you haven't already done so, please read Emily's story Before.

The Winter Flash Fiction Contest is open. Deadline: February 28, 2009 (or until we reach 300 entries). Don't wait until the last minute! Visit our Contest Page for details. Happy writing!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Interview with WOW! Summer Flash Fiction Second Place Winner, Emily Howson

Emily Howson is a senior at the University of Dayton, the home of humor writer Erma Bombeck. She has been devoted to reading since she was a little girl, but she only recently began to take writing seriously. She finds her storytelling voice in her family--a combination of her grandmother’s approachable charm, her grandfather’s bluster, her mother’s gushing excitement, and her father’s bizarre sense of humor. Her work with professors Stephen Wilhoit and Joseph Pici has nurtured and pruned her abilities. She is interning as an editor with Just Business, Inc. in Dayton, OH, helping to produce performing arts publications. Right now, Emily’s life is full and crazy and wonderful, and she’s spending every moment she can with her roommates and her boyfriend of five years.

Most recently, her stories have appeared in Orpheus, University of Dayton’s literary magazine, and, and the St. Anthony Messenger. She is currently attempting to create a novel for young adults. Emily will graduate in May 2009 with degrees in English and Psychology, and she hopes to pursue a life writing, reading, and editing.

If you haven't done so already, read Emily's award-winning story, Jenny, and then come back and join us for a chat. ;)

WOW: Being the second place winner is a real honor. How did you feel when you found out that you won second place?

Emily: I was actually in a bit of shock, thinking, Me? Really? But then I got very excited and ran downstairs to tell my roommates. This was somewhat early in the morning, so I think my exuberance may have fallen on some sleeping (and therefore annoyed, though not deaf) ears.

WOW: We share a common city. I was born in Lancaster, Ohio. Often we're shaped by the places we're raised. I think of Lancaster as a smaller, less-violent city, but it's been a few years since I've spent any time there. Did Lancaster have any influence on your story? Do you feel that being from there gave you a big town or a small town feeling?

Emily: How cool that we share a city! Most people outside of Ohio (and even plenty inside of it) have never ever heard of Lancaster. Anyway, I don't think Lancaster has probably changed much. It's still pretty small, pretty safe, though it finally has a Wal-Mart which is starting to kill the small-town locally-owned cobble-stone feel to some parts of it--small places just can't compete with 24-hr Walgreens and all that. But I think growing up in Lancaster (we moved there when I was in first grade) has certainly given me a perspective that is small-town and that comes out in my stories, including Jenny. I also think working at a country club for a couple summers had a lot to do with Jenny.

WOW: I remember the cobble-stone streets. I'm amazed that you have any time for writing. I admire your energy. Which do you find most challenging: being a college student, an intern for Just Business, managing your social life or finding time to write?

Emily: Finding time to write ranks second on my list of "Most Challenging Things to Do." It's right below "Dance gracefully" (think puppet in a windstorm) and right above "Eat all my vegetables and fruits." Being a college student and working (along with my internship, I also tutor writing at UD's Write Place) and managing my social life are easier because they involve external motivations (i.e., other people). But writing is all me--I either write or I don't. Unfortunately, actually sitting down and writing usually gets tossed to the wayside. So I do a lot of daydreaming/writing-in-my-head/dreamstorming (whatever you want to call it) and scribble ideas and phrases down all over the place. If and when do find time to write, I try to turn those scribbles into stories. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

WOW: Wow, I thought I juggled a busy schedule. I think you've hit onto something about writing--even when we share what we've written, the creation has to be self-motivated. What did you base Jenny on? Did you have a murder that touched your life? Was the color red representative of her death?

Emily: I'm not sure I really based Jenny on anything in particular. I've led a life pretty untouched by tragedy. There's a lot of stuff I thankfully haven't had to learn about life and about myself. So, no murders. I wanted to use the color red for a couple of different reasons, and one of them had to with its association with blood/injury/death. But it's also a popular lingerie color, and one our society associates with sex, and sexy women. So maybe there are a lot of ways for women to die, and getting shot in a gas station robbery is just one very literal way.

WOW: You really got into the narrator's head. How hard was it to write from the male perspective?

Emily: Writing from the male perspective wasn't too hard. Whether I did so accurately or not is up for grabs. I guess men and women think differently and view the world differently, but I think the degree of difference depends on what man and what woman. The line blurs sometimes, and in some situations. For instance, if a train is seconds from plowing you in the face, man or woman, we'd probably all think the same thing. The narrating voice of "Jenny" is rather simple, but I'm not sure about the degree to which that simplicity is a result of his personality, his socio-economic background, his education level, his male sex, or his masculine gender.

WOW: Women are from Venus, (laughs). Who has most inspired you in your writing? Who is your favorite author?

Emily: Tough question. My family has certainly encouraged my writing, but as for inspiration, I have difficulty pinpointing any one person. At different stages in my life and in my writing, different writers have played a huge role. In 2nd grade or so, for instance, the authors (under the name Carolyn Keene) who wrote the Nancy Drew books were my heroes. I wanted to write books just like them for girls just like me. Then I moved on to a fantasy stage in my teens, and in that genre, Philip Pullman became my new hero and inspiration. These days I am inspired by writers with distinct, humorous, and memorable voices. I like Melissa Bank, and James Thurber, and Oscar Wilde. But every time I read something good, I get inspired. I'm a pushover, really.

WOW: I see you're working on a YA novel, why did you choose that age group? Do you feel it's harder to write short stories or novel chapters?

Emily: I chose the YA age group because I have so many good memories of stories when I was that age. I'd like to enchant younger readers in the same way that I was enchanted. In terms of the writing process, I think novel chapters can be easier, because they don't have to be perfectly complete in and of themselves. Short stories are a fascinating medium, but they challenge me to be to-the-point and use the right word instead of many words. I feel a little more freedom with novel chapters, yet at the same time; I really ought to consider novel chapters more like short stories. I'm going to go back and have to edit a lot of the chaff later on because I just let myself go!

WOW: It seems that no matter how tight we write, there's always plenty of revision that needs done. Thank you, Emily for the interview. You've made me realize no matter how busy I am I need to find time to write. I believe you'll be an inspiration to our WOW readers. Do you have a final thought for writers who'd like to enter writing contests?

Emily: Click send, even though it can be terrifying. Share your writing. The first time I allowed anyone (and I mean anyone) to read some of my writing, I was literally shaking all over. I still get nervous, though the shaking has stopped. But if your story is good, and it fits the contest, by all means - send it in! The worst that can happen? You'll lose a couple dollars and know just that much more about yourself (i.e., you were brave enough to click send!)

If you haven't already done so please read Emily's story "Jenny" at https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/25-FE1-Summer08Contest.html

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Sunday, December 09, 2007


Deck the Halls

By Cher'ley Grogg

I invited my grandchildren for a decorating party so we could share pizza and memories.

We carefully unwrapped each ornament. I always get a little misty-eyed when I hold the first ornament my husband and I shared during our marriage. My mother presented it to us on our first Christmas together. The white plastic Santa and Mrs. Clause are so happy as they dance through the holidays. Next, we examined a felt Humpty-Dumpty and a yarn poodle. Our son crafted Humpty and our daughter cut and tied the yarn until she had the perfect poodle. With great pleasure, I shared the Paintbrush Santa, which my oldest grandson had made when he was in pre-school. Other cherishable (my word) items like the glitter covered Clothespin Reindeer, the Styrofoam-cup Angel and various paper and cardboard ornaments crafted by my other grandchildren made their yearly appearance.

I could tell the kids' hearts were not into the overall scheme of decorating. The oldest three grandchildren are boys, a 16 year old, his brother at age 13, their cousin also age 13 and his sister who is age 10. The children only came to the party to please their grandparents. It started out as a chore, but to their amazement, it grew into a great-shared experience.

After placing the last ornament on the tree, we played charades, ate pizza, popped popcorn and did crafts. The party, a huge success, lasted late into the evening. You can view the photos on my webpage: https://www.freewebs.com/cherley/index.htm

The next day I looked at the remaining containers of decorations, each bearing a different label. My collections of Christmas bric-a-brac have their own large containers for storage. Included in these are my Manger collection, my Reindeer collection, my Angel collection, my Santa collection, my Snowman collection, my Poinsettia collection, my Bell collection, my Rocking-horse collection, and my Christmas Village collection. Other containers bulge with miscellaneous decorations for the windows, doors, bathrooms, porches, table and floors. There's throw blankets, pillows, table runners, shower curtains and bedspreads stuffed in big bags.

Some of the containers found a new home yesterday. I passed on my Rocking horse and Reindeer collection to my daughter and daughter-in-law. I also gave some of the odd and end decorations to charity. Today, I may, just maybe I will re-box one more collection and send it to bless another family.

One item in my Snowman collection stands out from the rest. It's a clock with a Snow-people family on the face and it plays a Christmas Carol every hour. I've listened to three different Carols as I wrote this blog and it's getting ready to sing another one. Yesterday morning, as I read my email, I listened to two songs. Last night I sat down to write, but decided I should first read a little from some of the sites I belong to and perhaps respond to a couple of posts, the Snow family sang four songs.

I got up at two am this morning in order to write a chapter in my novel. Well, first I uploaded my digital pictures and organized them a little, all 400 of them. (They still need resized.) As I uploaded the photos, I realized there are many files in My Documents that really needed their own folders and of course, once they're in folders, the folders need to be backed up.

Shh, listen, another Carol is playing.

by Cher'ley Grogg


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