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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

 

Interview with Danette Haworth, Third Place Winner!

Our Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest, sponsored by W. W. Norton, was our first open prompt contest ever, and we received so many fantastic entries! The interesting part was the variety of stories, which brought on a whole new aspect for our guest judges to tackle. But, as the saying goes, "Variety is the spice of life," and Danette's story Intersection is truly remarkable. If you haven't read it already, please do check it out, and then come back and read this fascinating interview with Danette!

Danette Haworth was first published at six-years-old, when she created a comic book series starring Peter Pan. Each comic book featured a green stickboy, a red stickman, and all the hair-raising conflict a six-year-old can conjure up. These marvelous adventures usually ended with a defeated Captain Hook raising his sword, shouting, "I'll get you, Pan!" Danette's mother still has the first edition, so carefully colored and stapled all those years ago.

After earning a BA in English, Danette landed a job as a technical writer, which was a fun position because she got to play in tank simulators and explain to scientists that possessive its does not have an apostrophe. She later worked as a travel writer for a well-known automobile club, one of the best jobs she'd ever held; she read history books, interviewed people on the telephone, looked at travel brochures, and got paid for doing this!

Her middle-grade novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, is due Fall 2008 with Walker Books for Young Readers.

Visit Danette at her website, www.danettehaworth.com, or her blog, Summer Friend: www.summerfriend.blogspot.com.

***

WOW: Danette, I'm thrilled to be interviewing you today. You've always been such a supporter of WOW!, and likewise, we've been a fan of yours! You placed as an honorable mention in our last Winter '07 contest, and I was ecstatic to find out that you won Third Place in our Winter 2008 FF Contest--our biggest contest ever. How did it feel when you first found out you'd won?

Danette: I love WOW! and I'm thrilled to be here! After I got your email, I wanted to throw open my front door and yell, "I'm a winner! I won Third Place!" Instead, I emailed my husband, my sister, my agent, and I called my mom!

WOW: (laughs) Well, you truly deserve the win, and all of us adore your story, Intersection, what inspired you to write it?

Danette: When I saw the open prompt for the Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest, I knew I wanted to enter. But what to write? Every single day for a week or so, I thought about it. (A lot of my writing process is just thinking about it.)

One day, I pulled up behind a van with those happy stick figures on the back windshield. I wondered what would happen if the real-life figures weren't so happy. What if the parents got divorced? Suddenly, I got the image of this woman attacking the man stick figure with her fingernails. She scraped him off in skinny little strips, but slivers of him remained on the windshield, as if he'd never be totally out of her life.

I felt there was a story there, but I didn't know what it was. I knew if I stayed with it, I could push it through. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I realized the story wasn't about the woman with the stickers; it was about a woman who observed the woman with the stickers. I began to think of what else this woman might see at the red light and how she might interpret it.

WOW: I love that! It's always interesting to find out how a story is fleshed out, and how perspectives change. I see those white stickers on the backs of cars all the time...especially here in Southern California. Your take on the one (Dad) scratched off is so original, it just drew me into your story. Did you actually experience this yourself?

Danette: I see those stickers everywhere too! I've never seen the dad scratched off, but once I got that image, I saw that there might be more than one reason why a woman couldn't bear to have that sticker on her van.

WOW: It's a great image. And in my opinion, Intersection is the perfect combination of interior monologue, description, and character. The narrator of the story is someone we can all relate to. It seems quite natural, and yet, I know fiction requires countless revisions. Did you do a lot of tinkering with the plot or character to get the story just right?

Danette: Thank you for your compliments on Intersection! I did do a lot of tinkering with the story, but most of the work took place in my head! The stickers were a good starting point, but they weren't enough for the whole piece; the story needed a stronger core. I had to let the idea evolve, which sounds passive, but my mind was totally occupied with the story. I thought about it constantly.

After several days, I had the epiphany about the woman behind the woman with the stickers. This new woman would be the narrator, assigning roles and casting judgment on the other drivers at the intersection. Once I nailed down the central concept, I was able to write the story.

WOW: You did give it a stronger core. The ending is very subtle, understated, and profound. All these different characters and lifestyles come together as they move forward in traffic. How did you decide on the ending?

Danette: It's very fulfilling to me that the ending was meaningful to you--thank you! The first version of the story ended with the narrator wondering why the trucker hadn't looked at her legs. Though I liked that part (because she now observed herself), it didn't provide enough punch, nor did it pull everything together.

Every time I pulled up to a red light, I imagined my narrator doing the same. There is this moment at intersections in which we are held together by the red light; this moment ends with the green light. I saw that as a metaphor for our lives--we cross paths and we move forward together. When I thought about the narrator moving forward with all the people she'd observed, it just felt like the perfect ending.

WOW: Danette, you are a very gifted writer. I remember in October 2007 when you announced the sale of your middle-grade novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, and we shared it in this blog post. What's happening with it now? Please share a synopsis, and when it will be released with our readers.

Danette: Yes! I am so excited about the upcoming release of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning (Walker Books, August 2008). The manuscript has been through copyedits, proofreads, and typesetting. I've seen the advance reading copy and it looks beautiful!

Stacy Cantor, my editor at Walker Books, was absolutely amazing to work with. She connected with the story on every level, and she helped bring out the best in Violet Raines. I could not have asked for a better experience.

Violet Raines is set in the oak-covered hammocks of rural Florida. Here's a short synopsis: Eleven-year-old Violet Raines dodges lightning and outruns alligators while trying to keep the prissy new girl from stealing her best friends.

An here's the first paragraph:

When Eddie B. dared me to walk the net bridge over the Elijah Hatchett River where we'd seen an alligator and another kid got bit by a coral snake, I wasn't scared--I just didn't feel like doing it right then. So that's how come I know just what he's saying when I see him in church, flapping his elbows like someone in here is chicken. When Momma's not looking, I make my evil face at him, but he just laughs and turns the right way in his pew.

The first chapter appears on my website. Come visit! www.danettehaworth.com

WOW: Congratulations Danette! I'm very excited to read your book. So, how are you going to market your book for your big launch?

Danette: I'm new at all of this, so I'm eagerly reading up on what others do to promote their books, and I'm working with Walker's publicist to decide what kind of things would work best for me.

I have visited a couple of classrooms and I can tell you how much fun it was to talk with potential readers! I was touched by the students, who were truly interested in the life of a writer.

WOW: That's the best! I'm sure you were a great inspiration to the students. So, what is your attraction to writing middle-grade novels?

Danette: In middle-grade fiction, you can be completely honest! You can describe emotions in their true state. You don't have to make excuses for your characters' feelings. The readers are reading with open hearts--it means something to them to discover that other people (even fictional people) feel the same way.

Plus, I love the adventures and settings that kids are in. I love spending time in those places. Even when it's my own creation, it's still very real to me.

WOW: Are there any other genres you are considering?

Danette: I'll always have room for flash fiction! Other genres I love reading and would love to write are young adult and literary.

WOW: I can definitely see you going there! Danette, from your bio, I know you've had quite an interesting writing career! From technical writing where you played with tank simulators to travel writing where you interviewed people and studied travel brochures. Both of which sound quite fun. What are your favorite stories from these jobs that you can share with us?

Danette: The thing I loved about both careers was the other creative people I worked with. As a technical writer, I worked closely with artists, a photographer, and computer program designers. I was always impressed with their talents and the format in which they produced their creative vision.

The travel writing was an excellent job all the way around. We had eleven editors on staff and the conversations were so writerly! At lunch, we'd spin our stories, throwing out our big vocabulary words and lofty ideas. Back at the cubicles, we'd debate whether to use a or an before acronyms starting with M. (Vote an!)

WOW: (laughs) My senior editor, Annette, would love those debates! And I would love the technical discussions. Speaking of, you also have a very active blog. In fact, you are my sole inspiration for starting my periodic column on The Muffin, SEO Sundays, which I can't thank you enough for! So, I have to know, what has blogging done for your writing life?

Danette: Thank you for all the wonderful information you provide. Last year, I was new to blogging and websites, and I've learned a lot from your column.

The best thing about blogging is the funny and clever comments other people leave on my blog. I've met many people over the Internet, and I think about them sometimes during my day. When they leave a comment on my blog, I know they were thinking about me too! Visiting blogs and websites for writers makes me feel like I'm in a busy, noisy room, rubbing shoulders with my peers. I love it!

WOW: Comments are fantastic. It makes blogging worthwhile. But, have you ever been hit with writer's block?

Danette: Yes, sooner or later, I think we all get hit with it. The main thing to know about writer's block is that you can push through it. If you feel stymied, set a low, attainable, daily goal for yourself. Strive for quality, of course, but don't edit your words before you even type them. During writer's block, you must keep exercising the writing muscle--keep your writing mind active--and you will get through it.

WOW: Well put. As well as exercising your writing mind, it's important to have a writing schedule. Do you have one?

Danette: I do. I am a very disciplined writer. I report to my computer room at the same time every day; I don't answer the phone or make plans for that time.

I used to think I could just wait for inspiration, but I've found that sticking to a schedule enhances inspiration because I have an expectation to be productive.

WOW: That's super! So, how do you maintain a balance between life and writing?

Danette: I don't know! I'm disciplined about starting my daily writing, but I often have trouble turning it off. I do revisions in my head while sitting in church; when doing chores, I'm off building forts with my characters.

When I'm done with a piece and finally emerge, I feel shocked--what has happened to my house? How did it get into this condition? Isn't this the same T-shirt I was wearing seven years ago?

WOW: (laughs) I hear that! But that's what comes from being so dedicated to the craft. So, if you were to give one tip to flash fiction writers, what would it be?

Danette: Flash fiction is truly an art form. You must convey setting, voice, characterization and a story arc in five hundred words or less. You don't have time for all the wonderful undercurrents you might be able to weave into a short story. Zoom in and discover the kernel or the moment that displays all the facets of the story you want to convey.

Don't be fooled into thinking that because of its short length, you needn't spend much time on a flash. It takes great care to carve something so small.

WOW: That last sentence is a great quote! Thank you, Danette, for taking the time to chat with us today! We've truly enjoyed it. Do you have any parting words of wisdom, or possibly a quote, that you can share with your writing sisters?

Danette: This interview was a lot of fun! I'm honored to be among the writers you've featured.

As far as quotes go, I'm partial to Psalm 90:17:
And let the beauty and delightfulness and favor of the Lord our God be upon us; confirm and establish the work of our hands--yes, the work of our hands, confirm and establish it.
***

If you haven't done so already, please read Danette's award-winning story, Intersection. And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!

For more details about the current WOW! Women On Writing Spring Flash Fiction Contest, sponsored by Seal Press, please visit: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php. Last month to enter! Deadline: May 31, 2008

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2 Comments:

Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Great interview. I enjoyed it. Loved getting a look into how Danette's writing mind works.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Danette Haworth said...

Thank you, Charles!

6:37 AM  

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