Interview with Laura Silver - Winter 2010 Flash Fiction 3rd Place Winner
Laura works as an administrator for the Audubon Society. Thanks to the oddities of American pronunciation, she gets to explain the difference between the Audubon, a 19th century bird artist, and the Autobahn, the no-speed-limit expressway in Europe.
A Brooklynite, Laura also volunteers for the Green-Wood cemetery. She also enjoys cooking and calligraphy.
Laura earned a degree in English from Tufts University and a Master's degree in Victorian Literature from Oxford University. While a student at Oxford, Laura rowed for Pembroke and Exeter colleges.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Laura's story, Sights of Brooklyn, head over to WOW! and savor her words.
WOW: Laura, congratulations on receiving third place in WOW!s Winter 201o Flash Fiction contest. I always enjoy reading the winning entries and learning from each author's writing style. Your story, Sights of Brooklyn, is no exception! One of the interesting ties I noted between your fiction and real life is that the story is set in Brooklyn and you live there. How important is it for a piece to capture a sense of place, especially within the word limit confines of a flash piece?
Laura: Although it's not essential to a piece, especially a flash piece, setting can add greatly to a story. An exercise I've used is to strip the characters from an important scene and write only about the setting while still trying to evoke what happened there. (Describing a kitchen were someone will be murdered should probably be different than describing the kitchen where your grandmother will bake cookies.)
That said, Brooklyn was an essential choice for this story. Marianne's apathy and benumbed conscience are very much New York City character traits: in real life, just this April, a man was stabbed at 144th Street and bled to death on the sidewalk while dozens of people walked by, ignoring him. (Check out the New York Times story.) It's absolutely bone-chilling, and it's not like this is the first time it's happened. Phil Ochs wrote a song about it back in the 60's, "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends." Only in cities.
WOW: What a heartbreaking story! For me, Sights of Brooklyn makes a strong statement about humanity. What does Marianne discover about herself when she helps the man on the street?
Laura: I'm glad you asked this. I wouldn't say Marianne exactly "helps" the man on the street. It's a toss up whether or not she wants him to still be alive, because the scene is more frightening for her if he is alive. She calls 9-1-1, but that's more to salve her unease with her own conscience than to help him per sae. It's the sickening realization of this - that she doesn't connect with him as a human being until the last moment, when she's almost sure he's dead; that she's not acting as she does because she IS a good person but rather because she knows what a good person would do in the situation - that leads to her realization that she can't leave the city. Her minuscule victory against apathy is too important and it's what's needed here in the city.
WOW: I agree that apathy divides and conquers, and unfortunately, wins all too often. Writing can take on its own persona and demands. Would you share your writing process with our readers?
Laura: I wish I had one. I prefer setting days aside to do nothing but write, but with the reality of working and the necessity of errands, I tend to write in fits and starts when I can. Then when I have more time I come back to the pieces and find that some of them are terrible, but hopefully some of them will spark something.
WOW: Writing definitely becomes a balancing act. Good writers also spend a lot of time reading. You earned a Master's in Victorian Literature. How has that area of expertise helped your writing?
Laura: I'm fond of long sentences and archaic vocabulary, which probably comes from reading lots of older novels. Victorian books are written at a much slower pace than modern books - Dickens can spend three pages describing the London smog, and back then his readers just lapped it up. I think there's something valuable about realizing that you don't HAVE to follow the modern conventions - writing doesn't have to be soap operaesque melodrama and action all the time.
WOW: Wonderful advice! I'm going to remember that tidbit and put it to use. You mentioned Dickens. What authors influence you and your writing?
Laura: For my comic prose, I always go to the British humorists: Max Beerbolm, Saki, P.G. Wodehouse, and more recently Terry Pratchett. When it comes to humor, I'm definitely an anglophile - I'll defend the superiority of the original British version of the TV show "The Office" to the American version any day.
More traditionally, I love Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy (Selectively - I can't stand Jude the Obscure) . . . and I never get tired of reading Hester Thrale or James Boswell.
Before writing this story, I'd been reading a lot of Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe detective novels) and Ann Patchett. Maybe the idea for the plot came from the murder mysteries, and I only wish I'd absorbed a tenth of Ann Patchett's style.
WOW: Great influences, plus a couple authors I haven't read. I will definitely check out their work. Obviously, your reading choices have paid off! What projects are you currently working on?
Laura: I just finished a novella version of a mystery ("Death in Pieces") which needs to be expanded, but I'm going to take a break from it and do some more flash/short fiction. I have a draft of a novel set in 18th century London, but I've put it in a drawer for six years like Horace advises in his Ars Poetica. (I'm not serious, but it has been a long time since I've looked at it.)
WOW: (smiles) I'm not sure I could stay away from one of my projects that long. It sounds like you have several major projects to keep your creative juices flowing. Hopefully, you'll continue entering contests. What advice would you offer someone who is interested in starting to write flash fiction?
Laura: Write something every day. 500 - 1000 words really isn't that much, and there's nothing more important than building the habit of writing. Talent is worthless if you don't sit down and make use of it. It can be hard to generate ideas from staring out the window, so have sources of inspiration handy. A dictionary of quotations or a book of paintings can get your mind going. If that fails, open a novel, pick a random sentence, and write a new story around it.
WOW: Fantastic advice, Laura. Thank you for sitting down with The Muffin and sharing your views about writing. And again, congratulations on your successful story!
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Follow her on Twitter @luannschindler or visit her website, http://luannschindler.com