Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Leigha Butler, 1st Place Winner, Fall '09 Flash Fiction Contest

Leigha Butler teaches and writes in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley region. Her stories and non-fiction are inspired by the landscapes and waterways she has encountered—from the Long Island Sound to the Yellow River to the forested kids-only diving holes of her childhood. She teaches Writing and Environmental Literature as an adjunct professor at two colleges in the region. She earned her masters degree in Literature & Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno where class was often conducted on a hiking trail or over a potluck supper. In order to polish several stories and essays that sit, dusty, on her hard drive, she plans to attend Chatham University's Nature Writing MFA program in the fall. When she's not agonizing over a sentence, she's likely reading, kayaking, doing her sun salutations or catching up on the worst of reality TV (one has to be versed in the culture of her students, after all).

You can find her work at: https://www.everydayfiction.com/riding-in-circles-for-love-by-leigha-butler/ and https://gloomcupboard.com/2010/01/03/prose-113/. Or submit a story to her community-writing blog: https://talesfromthedomicile.blogspot.com/.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Leigha, congratulations on your first place win! How do you feel?

Leigha: Thanks. I feel wonderful! I was so impressed by the second and third-place stories; I’m honored that "Kayana's Secret" was chosen to be in their company.

WOW: Could you tell us a little about your story and what encouraged the idea behind “Kayana’s Secret"? I’m guessing it may have been inspired by a place from your childhood.

Leigha: When I was little, my brothers and I loved to jump off of this particular pier into the Long Island Sound. My mother trusted me to determine whether tide was high enough to make our jumps safe, the scary implication being that my brothers’ lives were in my hands. The responsibility weighed heavily, but it marked my transition into adulthood and adventure for me.

In the story, Kayana experiences a similar rite of passage, made possible by her older sister. Devil’s Hole and Neversink Crag from the story combine several of these diving pools from my childhood. I still find my way to these kinds of jumping spots every summer. There is something so intriguing about how dangerous these places are, and yet how – again and again – they draw so many curious kids.

WOW: You switch between third person and second person narrative modes in the story in a very effective manner. It’s an interesting choice—and a hard one to pull off successfully. What made you decide to approach the story this way?

Leigha: I have written and re-written this story so many times, from so many different points of view! There’s a special kind of immediacy a writer can achieve, I find, with the second person point of view. Then again, as a reader, I get annoyed with the second person sustained. In the end, my decision to mix it up was the result of lots of experimentation and lots of feedback from friends and colleagues.

WOW: It's heartening to hear how much work it took to create the winning story! Have you written other flash fiction? What type of writing do you most prefer?

Leigha: Yes, I have written other flash fiction. My other flash stories have been published with Every Day Fiction, Gloom Cupboard, and Mslexia Magazine. I like the form because it combines everything I love about the short story and poetry. There is only time to focus on a single event, and the language has got to be tight and deliberate. It strikes me as beautiful that so much meaning can be packed into such a short space. I hope it’s not too hokey to say that flash fiction offers an idealized way to experience the world and all its richness.

WOW: What a wonderful description of flash fiction! 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?

Leigha: I cannot seem to break the habit of writing mostly at night. Nothing beats the peace and quiet available at the midnight hours. A cup of coffee will get me going, but more and more, for my nerves' sake, I’ve been opting for tea. One writing tool that’s very important to me is my laptop. I don’t think I could really commit to writing in just my office. I like the luxury of writing at a coffee shop or, better yet, on my couch.

WOW: For those of us unfamiliar with Environmental Literature, please tell us about this genre.

Leigha: Environmental Literature is any writing – fiction or non-fiction – that places emphasis on the natural world, whether as setting, subject or character. It takes seriously the notion that we must re-imagine our relationship with the environment and with our fellow species. It acknowledges humans as part of an ecological system instead of somehow separate from it. Aldo Leopold’s collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac, is a good place for interested readers to start. Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek are also wonderful, canonical works. "Ecocriticism" is the critical lens born of literary scholars' desire to take the environment seriously as a subject of analysis.

WOW: Thanks for the brief lesson and reading recommendations. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Leigha: Thank you for the opportunity to share my work!

I’d tell aspiring women writers to permit themselves to be selfish. There’s such pressure in this culture for women to be the conduits of everyone else’s success—as supportive moms, wives, volunteers, etc. Perhaps this is why, for instance, Publishers Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2009 included not a single woman author! We’ve got to be selfish enough to pursue our dreams so that future generations of girls and women can make their mark on the literary world.

Thank you again, Marcia. I'm so grateful for the work WOW! does for women writers and readers.


Check back on Tuesdays for more contest winner interviews!

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