Interview with WOW! Runner-Up Vera Constantineau
Vera Constantanieau is a runner-up in the WOW!
2009 Winter Flash Fiction Contest. If you haven't done so already, you should check out her award-winning story, "Ten the Hard Way."
I live in Copper Cliff in northern Ontario, Canada with my husband Ralph. We have one daughter, Chloe. The easiest thing in the world for me to do is to spin a yarn about the lives of my characters, but ask me about me, and I will stammer that I have been writing for fifteen years. The truth is I began writing when I was five years old; my first project was a cooking show script, spoken in gibberish which I pretended was French, as I concocted mud pies.
Currently, I write a humor column, From the Porch, published weekly in a Canadian newspaper. My work has been featured on CBC radio, Canada’s national radio broadcast, I have published features and personal essays in Canadian magazines and had short stories included in three anthologies. In the fall, my novella Diamond Day will be included in a new anthology along with several northern Ontario writers.
I read, I write, I breathe… it’s all connected.
Read Vera's prize winning story here, and then return for a conversation with the author.
Interview with Vera Constantineau:
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! 2009 Winter Flash Fiction Contest! Can you tell me more about your short story, “Ten the Hard Way”? How did you start this story, or what was your inspiration? WOW: What was the biggest challenge you faced and overcame while writing this story?
Vera: I wrote this story in an attempt to portray a woman acting purely on physical attraction, and then, have her pleasure in the resulting relationship eroded by the realities in his life, wife, children and his basic dishonesty. I wanted her to end it, as she began it, for selfish reasons.
Vera: Allowing the woman to be sexual and selfish without trying to cushion the reader with some kind of apologetic behavior on her part was very difficult. The challenge was to keep myself from caring whether the reader liked her or didn’t like her. To let the character create the response I thought this spare style worked to keep her relatively one dimensional.WOW: I see from your bio that you have variety of writing experiences. Is there any particular type of writing (fiction, non-fiction; novella, flash-fiction; etc.) that you prefer to write?
Vera: My column is creative non-fiction and for fifteen years it has been very satisfying to write, but I love fiction. With fiction I can manipulate the characters, take them to extremes, rescue them from the resulting mess, it’s all up to me – that’s power.WOW: What excites you most about writing?
Vera: The development of an idea into a full blown story is exciting. Using the characters to support the idea, throwing in just the right mix of quirks and truth, raising the tension level to capture people’s attention, and supplying a moment where I hope they will gasp either in surprise or pleasure, and sometimes if I do it right, with laughter.WOW: That’s great advice. Writers certainly do have to learn to be fearless! Thank you, Vera, and again, congratulations!
WOW: The twist in your story definitely grabbed my attention because I didn’t expect it. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Vera: Whichever type of writing you choose, read as much of that as you can. Read both the good and the bad. Learn to recognize what works and what doesn’t. Above all I think you have to be fearless, not everyone will like what you write but if you do then likely someone else will as well, stay true to your own style.
Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt
Labels: Anne Greenawalt, Runner up, Vera Constantineau, WOW Winter 2009 Contest Winner
Interview with Kimberly Zook, 3rd place winner in the Winter '09 contest
Kimberly's adventures of living alone in a hut in the middle of a Costa Rican rainforest for two years, bike riding throughout Japan, conducting research on tropical reforestation, and moving frequently as a wife of a Navy officer certainly fill her carpetbag full of experiences she draws upon in her writing. But it wasn't until she became a mother that the true adventure began. After winning 1st place in a Mom Writer's Literary Magazine writing contest, Kimberly realized one of her writing passions is literary essays on motherhood and writing. In addition to maintaining a blog on this topic, Zook Book Nook
, Kimberly is a stay-at-home mom who is working on writing her first young adult novel, children's picture books and articles, and more essays on motherhood and writing. She and her husband currently live on the east coast, where they are expecting their second daughter to be born any day!
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Kimberly's story, Elements
, head over to the winner's page.
WOW!: Congratulations, Kimberly! Elements offers a unique analogy by comparing chemical elements to a relationship. How did you decide to combine the use of chemical elements in your story?
Kimberly: As a writer, I find the use of symbols in writing challenging yet thought-provoking. I knew the characters and plot of this story before the idea of chemical elements popped into my head. As I thought about each character and what their personality represented, the idea of using chemical elements as symbols for each character came to mind since the narrator is a chemist. I think symbols add to the imagery of a story, and chemical elements paints a unique type of picture for each character.
WOW: It certainly does! What is the symbolism of mercury, magnesium, and manganese? What's the relationship between the three elements?
Kimberly: Science uses order and organization to facilitate our ability to communicate. In my story, I used these three chemical elements to help organize the story around "M" chemical elements that are commonly known. Each chemical element has properties that also describe the characters' personalities: Raul's smooth way of sliding into the narrator's life is like quicksilver (the liquid state of mercury), but he also adds a dangerous volatile state to the relationship; Raul's mother is portrayed as brittle and hard, which is characteristic of manganese; and magnesium seemed like the perfect element to represent a child who is light yet strong since it is an element found in a supernova star as well as the human body.
WOW: Fascinating! It's interesting how people certainly can resemble the characteristics of a chemical element. You've had the opportunity to live abroad. How did your experience living in Costa Rica play into this story's formation?
Kimberly: While living in the rainforest I began to understand the essential elemental basis of life and how it connects us to everything found in nature. From chemical elements to DNA to the complexity of a body struggling to survive, we're all related with all forms of life. This understanding is incorporated into my writing in many ways, and became the backbone of how I formed this story. In addition, I dated a man from Nicaragua for some time and learned a lot from this experience about the challenges of a relationship built from different cultural backgrounds. His family made me feel like an outsider, which eventually affected our relationship. But I wanted to also express the innocent existence of love and compassion found at the core of a relationship, so I chose to use a child to bring that out in the story.
WOW: That's so true! Children definitely bring out love and compassion in a relationship. You have a new addition to your family. How do you balance family time with writing?
Kimberly: I like this question, because I just gave birth to my second daughter! As a stay-at-home mom I've learned that setting priorities is the key to balancing family time with writing. It's important to me that my children and husband come first, but I personally need time to write to stay healthy and happy mentally, physically, and spiritually. With a toddler and newborn now in my life, I knew my time for writing would become even more limited, so I made a few small goals for myself: (1) write every day if even for only 5 minutes, (2) use my blog as a writing journal, and (3) take a writing course online. Although I do have manuscripts that I'm working on as well, these three goals are ones I keep up with daily because they are manageable and still allow me the quality and quantity of time I want to have with my family. The online course is structured and an investment, so I knew this commitment would not be one I would break and required a set time each week to write. It starts this week, so I'm excited to begin the course!
WOW: Sounds like you have established a great routine! That's an important step for all writers. You write a lot of literary essays. What do you see as the primary difference between the literary essay and the short story forms?
Kimberly: Good question! When I approach writing a literary essay I think about a particular concept on a philosophical level. I then spin out from the philosophical idea to tangible experiences, objects, and images that relate to the theme or concept. The seed of a short story starts out differently for me. I first imagine a character or an event and expand outward from there, developing a plot, a setting, a climax, and an ending that all tie in with the initial character or event that first came to mind.
WOW: Thanks for sharing how you structure a short story. Not only do you write essays, but you recently ventured into the blogosphere.What goals have you established for your blog? What demographic are you hoping to connect with? And finally, what type of information should readers expect?
Kimberly: The theme of my blog is "Crafting motherhood and writing together in the same pen stroke." In July 2007 I became a mom for the first time, and by April 2008 I realized I wanted to share my ideas and experiences as a writer and mother with others. The central goal of Zook Book Nook is to think outside the box about the relationship between writing and parenting. I take my daily experiences as a mother and think about how they relate to writing. In so doing, I hope this approach to blogging makes me a better writer and mother. I've found two types of audiences for my blog: some readers are mothers who blog about being a mom and some readers are writers who blog about being a writer. I like having the two different groups of readers, because we all learn from each other. When readers come to my blog I hope the daily blog entries I write will leave them with something new to think about in terms of being a parent as well as a writer.
WOW: Great idea! Good luck with that project! I'm sure many parents who are also writers will relate! You are a contest veteran. Any advice to writers who have never entered a contest?
Kimberly: I have been fortunate to have two contest writing pieces awarded, but I'm far from being very experienced as a contestant and winner. The only advice I feel I can give is about the approach to take with contests since I'm still in the early stage of entering various writing contests. When it comes to contests, I find myself unusually excited about writing a piece to enter, because I feel like all of the writers are using their creative minds to pool together different ideas or twists on writing prompts or topics. I ask myself what can I offer that is unique and will give the readers a new idea of how to approach the writing prompt or topic. If there is no writing prompt, then I think about the hosting organization's mission or focus and how my story my add to their mission yet give off a sparkle of its own. This approach makes me feel like I am writing with the other contestants instead of in competition with since I hope my piece of writing will give them something new to think about when it comes to writing. Well, I guess that's a lot of advice from someone who said I shouldn't give much!
WOW: LOL! You offer a lot of practical ideas for anyone interesting in entering writing contests. Any future projects you'd like to share with readers? What are you working on now?
Kimberly: My favorite project is a Young Adult novel I've been writing that incorporates my experiences of living in the rainforest. The focus of the novel is about a young man of mixed cultural backgrounds and the challenges he faces as he tries to find his place in this world. I hope this book will reach teens who struggle with connecting to different cultural groups and nature.
WOW: Your YA novel sounds quite interesting. Finding a place to fit in can be extremely difficult. Thanks for talking about your story and your writing experiences.
Kimberly: Thank you! I've enjoyed answering these questions, and I appreciate the opportunities WOW! has given me!
Labels: Kimberly Zook, LuAnn Schindler, WOW Winter 2009 Contest Winner
Interview with Gay Degani, First Place Winner of the Winter '09 Flash Fiction Contest
, a former community college instructor in English, lives in Southern California with her husband and ancient Labrador retriever. She's been published in two mystery anthologies, in THEMA Literary Journal
and on-line at Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Tattoo Highway
, and Salt River Review.
“Spring Melt” was a finalist for The 2nd Annual Micro Fiction Award and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Monsoon” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s
2007 Fiction Open and “Wounded Moon” was short-listed for the 2008 Fish Short Story Prize.
Gay’s blog is Words in Place
and she is the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles
for Every Day Fiction.
You can read her work online: Losing Ground at Tattoo Highway
, The London Eye
at Every Day Fiction, Listing Lisa
at Salt River Review, and Spring Melt
is a 2008 Micro Fiction Finalist and a Pushcart Nominee.Interviewed by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on your first place win! What inspired you to enter the contest? Gay:
Thanks for the congrats! It was most exciting to get an email from a friend with a capitalized “CONGRATULATIONS” in the subject line. I was wondering, what the heck? Then when I read why, I was jazzed! Wow! Literally WOW!
I found WOW! Women on Writing’s
Flash Fiction Contest when a friend won a similar prize. I’m always on the prowl for places to submit my writing. Although there are many venues on the internet, much of my fiction seems to sift through without sticking. It seems to be too “on-the-nose” for many online lit sites and not genre enough for others, so I take advantage of every opportunity.WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?
This story was born when a woman from a nearby town was sideswiped by a car and killed while out for a Sunday bike-ride with her husband. I didn’t know her personally, but the suddenness of her death shook me. I began to think about how it would feel to have my life completely reversed by such an event.
As I do with everything that causes that little niggle in my brain, I asked, “What if that had been my
husband?” My answer was “walls.” I’d build walls around myself and never go out. That was the genesis of this piece.WOW: I loved "Beyond the Curve," and thought you created a great opening sentence, which is important in capturing the attention of your readers. I also liked the title, with its deeper, double meaning. How much work do you put in to your opening lines and story titles? Do you spend a lot of time tweaking them?Gay:
Since I started writing online flash fiction, I’ve learned the importance of first sentences. When someone reads on a monitor, he or she can click through to so many different sites with so little effort, it becomes essential for a writer to seduce that reader immediately with vivid images using specific detail. The reader wants a picture to see right away, the wart on a character’s face, the gleam of light off a skyscraper, a mangled bicycle. With that image, he or she willingly reads on to find out what next.
As for titles, I usually have a working title that comes from my first inspiration, but often it ends up being discarded because it tells too much too soon. I need the working title to keep me focused on the juicy parts of the story, but once I’m finished, I look for something more suggestive and symbolic.
One of the things I love to do most is to try to have double meanings where ever I can, but part of the challenge is that it must be subtle. It’s hard to find the right balance between the obvious and the obscure, and when it works, I’m thinking, “YES!”WOW: It’s always interesting to learn about a successful writer’s process, thank you. You’re also the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles. This looks like a great resource for writers. Can you tell us about the site and what visitors might expect?Gay:
I was lucky enough to find Every Day Fiction
when I decided to try to publish online. I had a short piece I’d done as an exercise in Gordon Mennenga’s class at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival ( a great place to spend a week surrounded by writers). When I read “One Question” in front of the group, it was first time Gordon said to me, “Now that’s
a piece of professional writing!”
I sent it off to EDF and they published that piece and eventually more of my work. They even nominated “Spring Melt” for the Pushcart Prize. There’s a list of my online stories at my blog, Words in Place
When the editors of EDF asked if anyone would volunteer to run a blog for the e-zine, I raised my virtual hand. They gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted, and Flash Fiction Chronicles
was born. The site is dedicated to the discussion of the art and craft of flash fiction, fiction in general, and the issues of writing, marketing, and publishing today. I’m always looking for submissions from writers at all levels, from beginner to professional.WOW: I found lots of great posts there, and I think others will enjoy it too. You’re doing a great job! Aspiring authors would probably love to know about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?Gay:
Oh-oh. I wish I could say I manage to bang out hundreds of words a day, but I’m somewhat sporadic. When a story has juice for me, I think about it all the time, write notes on napkins, tell my husband “shhhhh,” and hide in my garage office because if I don’t deal with that story right away, it might lose its juiciness.
I sit down at the computer every morning. I work on either a short piece of fiction or my novel. This is always a battle for me. The novel is long range gratification and is sometimes trumped by an email announcing a contest for a 1000-word piece. This provides INSTANT (relatively) gratification. I give in. New characters, new story. What fun!!!
But what I understand and what I say to others is finishing something is crucial. Get to the end while the juice is still dripping from my mouth. You can edit later.WOW: Good advice! What writing projects are you working on right now? Do you have goals in mind for the rest of the year?
My goal is to finish editing my mystery novel, What Came Before
. This is a must-do enterprise. I love the story which centers around a woman who investigates the murder of a sister she didn’t know she had and while doing so, uncovers the reasons for her own mother’s suicide.WOW: Sounds like a great story, and we wish you luck with the editing work. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?Gay:
Work hard. You have the power to learn what you need to know.
Don’t fall in love with your own words. There are more where those came from.
Write what you love to read. Write what you want to write.
Observe everything. There’s a story in every popcorn kernel on the floor.
Trust in yourself and don’t take anything too seriously. Be joyful.
* * * * * * * *>Check back on Tuesdays for interviews with more Winter ’09 Flash Fiction winners. >For details on WOW! Women on Writing's current contest, head on over to our contest page.
Labels: flash fiction contest winner, Gay Degani, Marcia Peterson, WOW flash fiction contest, WOW Winter 2009 Contest Winner