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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

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Blogger Cher'ley said...

I think Emily is such an inspiration. She has so many irons in the fire and still manages to keep the fires blazing.

6:29 AM  

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