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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

 

Beth Blake, Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner!

Beth Blake is so excited to be in the top ten of another WOW! contest! She has been writing short stories for as long as she can remember. She was asked to be a part of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference when she was in school, and won the first place award for her university's literary journal contest. She has also been delighted to write the Christmas program for the past three years for her church congregation.

Beth graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a degree in marriage and family studies, child studies, and creative writing. She is from La Grande, a lovely small town in Oregon, and draws much of the material for her stories from the town and people she loves so dearly. She is the second of seven children and really enjoys spending time with her family, including her seven nieces and nephews. She LOVES to cook and makes pretty good desserts if she does say so herself! Her long-term writing goal is to not be so critical of herself and afraid of what others might think. She wants to write a book one day, but most of all simply hopes to continue to touch hearts through words.

You can read her winning story here.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Summer 2009 writing contest! How do you feel?

Beth: Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how excited I am! I couldn’t believe it! My hands were shaking for about an hour! It means so much to me. Earlier this year I experienced a slump time where I wasn’t writing much of anything. I had gone through some experiences that were a blow to my confidence, and everything I wrote seemed stupid. It took awhile to get back on the wagon and write again. When I saw my name and my picture underneath the “1st Place” sign, I was so happy. Not because I had won any prize, but because I felt like an author again. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. You know what’s interesting; since I’ve won I’ve realized that I was an author all along. That is what I’ve always been. I just forgot that for a time.

WOW: We’re so glad the win had such a wonderful effect on you! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Beth: I love to answer this type of question. I really enjoy hearing about the genesis of stories. A few years ago there was a widower in my neighborhood with three young girls. After his wife died, there was a group of young girls that came over and taught him how to do his daughters’ hair for school. I was so touched by this and it was the basis for this story. I wanted to focus on the idea of someone giving a simple service after the funeral is over and the casseroles stop coming. I also wanted the story to be about a strong friendship. I have been lucky to be a part of some very strong friendships in my life and that has meant the world to me. I poured the feelings I have as being a part of these friendships into Joy and Jenny. I wanted to end the story on a note of hope, with the suggestion that even death couldn’t end this friendship. I really liked the idea of both of them taking care of the other’s child.

WOW: You’ve also placed in the top ten in one of our previous contests. As a two-time contest winner, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Beth: Be brave! Never stop trying!

Something else I have learned about writing lately is that a writer is what I call the 3 “E’s”. A writer is an entertainer, an empathizer, and an educator. A good story entertains; it brings someone to another world for a little while. The reader can visit Oz, or sail a pirate ship from their living room. A good story also empathizes with the human condition. Characters become our friends because they relate to what we are feeling and the situations we go through. This is something that has really been driven home to me this year. As a writer, I have learned to use the pain and joy in my life and infuse it into my characters. It has made all the difference.

One of my favorite actresses, Allison Janney, tells of the process she goes through when acting out a scene of intense emotion. She had dreams of becoming an Olympic skater when a freak accident as a teenager ended that dream. She says that any time she needs to portray pain, she goes back to that moment and brings out the despair she felt. She uses that connect with her audience. An author goes through the same process.

A good story also educates. It educates us about the world around us, and about how to relate to people. It can teach us about ourselves. To me the greatest stories are the ones that teach us about our feelings, specifically how to identify them and use them. That is the best advice I can give: entertain, empathize, and educate.

WOW: You're very generous with your advice, thank you! 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?

Beth: Well, another thing I’ve learned over the year is that my writing, like the rest of me, can’t be forced. That having been said, my music teacher told me once that an artist must practice their art every day because the body is constantly changing and you are not the same person from day to day. I try to spend time every day doing something. I write in my journal every night and highlight areas that I think I can use in my writing. I also have a writing journal that I use to write down phrases that come to me. I am never ever without a notebook. Despite the fact that I have an awful short term memory, I really think it is important to have a pocket notebook with you to capture those little moments of inspiration when they come.

When I am working on a project, I like to have quiet or some selective music playing. Talking distracts me terribly. I have always believed that an author is also an actor and needs to “get into character.” Music is something that always helps me do this. When I need to bring out sadness I will listen to the “Somewhere in Time” soundtrack or if I want to bring out a peaceful feeling, I’ll listen to the “Anne of Green Gables” soundtrack.

WOW: Again, great tips. What projects are you working on now? Do you have any writing goals in mind for the new year?

Beth: This is my busy season! I am writing two Christmas programs this year for different church congregations. I always love doing this. I am also working on a Christmas story. A few years ago I gave a friend of mine a hand-made book of Christmas stories with the promise to add one every year. As far as the new year, I have several projects in mind. I have had a story circulating in my head about a women who plays a mother in a “Leave it to Beaver” type show who unexpectedly takes custody of the teenager who plays her daughter on the show. They learn together about what it really means to be a family. I also would love to do a story about the White House. I have always been fascinated by the President of the United States and life in the White House. It is a dream of mine to visit Washington D.C. some time. I will also of course enter WOW contests!

WOW: Beth, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and may your Washington, D.C. travel dreams come true. Finally, talk to us about those yummy desserts you make! What’s your favorite?

Beth: Oh my, a favorite…hmm, that’s a tough one. I would say my favorite to make is pie. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when a pie comes out of the oven. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me. At college, my apartment was always full of goodies around finals time. My roommates would walk into to see me reading a book while rolling out dough and say, “She’s stressed again!” They liked it when I got stressed! Most of all, I love to bake things from scratch. Mixes save time but are infinitely less fun. I love to watch yeast bubble and foam. I love to feel bread dough underneath my hands as I knead it. I am fascinating by the chemistry of baking. I love to learn why things work in a recipe. My most famous dessert is probably my caramel apple pie. Someone told me once that the reason why I haven’t found “Mr. Right” yet is because he hasn’t tasted my caramel apple pie!

Thank you again for this opportunity. I love this site and I am so proud to be a winner in your contest!

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We'll continue getting to know the Top 10 Summer '09 contest winners every week on Tuesdays. Be sure to check back for more interviews!

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2 Comments:

Blogger Cher'ley said...

Your story bought tears to my eyes and my heart. Sad and sweet.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Jayne Martin said...

Beth,

What a beautiful piece. Congratulations on your well-deserved win. Don't you ever doubt your talent again.

2:09 PM  

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