Interview with Elizabeth Esse Kahrs - Runner Up in Winter 2010 Flash Fiction Contest
Once Elizabeth's high school English teacher asked the class to rewrite lead sentences to a short story they had analyzed, she was hooked.
She's worked as a columnist for Parent and Kids/Boston for the past eight years. An excerpt from her novel, The Trouble in Her Mirror, appeared in the Fearless Voices section of The Huffington Post. One of her short stories, "Sylvie Has Gone to the Deli," was featured on Lit 103.3's Fiction For the Ears. Elizabeth also has works published in Amarillo Bay, The Baby Journal, The Boston Globe, Shine, and Static Movement. Want to check out more of her pieces? Check them out at RedRoom.
Elizabeth grew up in suburban New York and currently lives outside of Boston. She's now revising her second novel.
If you haven't had the chance to read Elizabeth's story, "Nothing Left Unsaid," visit WOW! and linger through its words. You'll be glad you did!
WOW: Elizabeth, congratulations on the runner up honors in the Winter 2010 Flash Fiction contest! Nothing Left Unsaid has a delightful twist of playfulness coupled with serious undertones. How can writers establish a tone/mood and use it to keep the storyline progressing?
Elizabeth: Tone has to do with the intention of a story's words - it's really the voice of the work. I think the key with getting the voice down is to be authentic in what you're trying to say, be honest and consistent - you and your characters should always tell the truth. I love what Noah Lukeman says, "Strive to write from a place of truth and love." If you have the voice down, the words will follow.
WOW: That's excellent advice. Thanks for sharing it. Another important facet of storytelling is creating memorable and identifiable characters. Mother-in-law / daughter-in-law conflict can strain a relationship. Why is it necessary to create empathy with characters?
Elizabeth: I got the idea for Nothing Left Unsaid while browsing the book section in a local store. All the books were self-help books and the titles seemed funny to me, so I decided to write a story about two characters, at odds, communicating through book titles. I decided to use a daughter and mother-in-law as characters, (not because of my own relationship with my mother-in-law. We get along great!) but because of the inherent conflicts and difficulties within that relationship.
Empathetic characters are believable characters. If you can get the reader to understand where your character is coming from, to witness and feel what they are going through, even if the experience is foreign to them, they will happily go along for the journey.
WOW: What you say about creating a believable character is spot on! (chuckles) I'm glad your story isn't based on your relationship with the inlaws. Not everyone is so lucky, if you believe the media hype!
I find it interesting that you balance fiction writing and column writing. For you, how does that writing process differ?
Elizabeth: With a column, I'm typically trying to get an idea across in 400 - 800 words, so I've learned how to be concise. Also, throughout the years I've experimented with columns that really have more of a fiction-like flavor which has been a lot of fun. The process really doesn't differ. Writing is writing. I just try to get my ideas across in the best way possible.
WOW: And that's a good goal for writers in any genre! You've been lucky to have your work published in a variety of formats. I like the Fiction for the Ears idea. How can a recording of an author's work attract new readers?
Elizabeth: I was lucky to have my short story, Sylvie Has Gone to the Deli, featured on Lit 103.3's Fiction For the Ears. The host, Alan Vogel (and his wife!) read my piece aloud on air and it's available as a podcast on their website. I think trying to get your work out there in any format is beneficial in terms of promotion. Recently, Alan let me know that Sylvie is the most downloaded work on their site. Due to FCC guidelines, people can only hear the smutty version if they go to the website. I'm thinking maybe that has something to do with it.
WOW: Promotion is just another skillset a writer needs to plot. It seems like being successful in the writing game requires a writer to be a "total package" deal.
Most writers emulate other writers. I'm wondering if you would mind sharing authors who have made an impact on you and your writing?
Elizabeth: Oh, there are so many. One of my favorite books is Ordinary Peopleby Judith Guest. Anne Tyler's Accidental Tourist is genius at creating characters and telling a story. I recently read Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You and I'm now a huge fan - extremely funny and so well written. Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us fires on all cylinders and is just magnificent. Tish Cohen's Town House is a wonderfully funny and poignant book. I love stories with clean, crisp writing that doesn't call attention to itself and characters that jump off the page.
WOW: Wonderful suggestions and examples! I imagine our readers will want to check out these novels. Good readers make good writers, so what projects are you currently working on?
Elizabeth: I'm currently revising my novel. Soon, I'll put it away again for a period of time before opening it up and having at it again. I love revision. I think it's important to embrace revision. I heart revision! Revision is the book. I've learned (and keep trying to learn) not to rush things.
WOW: Yes, revision is the book! And sometimes, it's the most difficult part of the process. Elizabeth, you've offered such wonderful advice about the writing process, would you mind sharing your thoughts about entering contests for a writer who has never considering submitting a selection?
Elizabeth: Go for it. It's scary to put your work out there - but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Rejection should be viewed as part of the process. If you really want to be a writer, you need to keep moving forward.
WOW: Thanks, Elizabeth, and again, congratulations on this honor.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler, on Facebook, or check out her website for her weekly news column.