Interview with Madeline Mora-Summonte: 2010 Winter Contest Runner Up
Madeline Mora-Summonte has written poetry, personal essays and book reviews, but her first love is fiction in all its forms, from flash to novels. Her work has appeared in over 20 publications, including Highlights for Children, Storyhouse, and Every Day Fiction. Her story, “The Empty Nest,” is included in W. W. Norton’s Hint Fiction anthology, available November 2010.
Madeline lives in Florida with her husband/best friend and their tortoises. The little hard-shelled muses are the inspiration for, and the real stars of, her blog, The Shellshank Redemption, where she talks about all things books, reading, and writing.
Visit her website at: http://www.madelinemora-summonte.com/
If you haven't done so already, check out Madeline's award-winning story "The People We Used to Be" and return here for a chat with the author!
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the 2010 Winter Flash Fiction Contest! How did you begin writing “The People We Used to Be” and did it conclude the way you thought it would when you began writing it?
Madeline: It started as a workshop exercise with the prompt, “a smile.” The essence of the piece was all right there, this wonderful little nugget of voice and character. But there was no real “story” in what I wrote. No plot, no movement. It needed to go somewhere, whether it was to the bench where the characters ended up sitting or to a different place in the characters’ minds than where their thoughts started. So, I fleshed it out some, added a few details, gave Louise her name, that sort of thing, but then I just let the story expand and grow naturally. I listened to where the story wanted to go, where it wanted to take me and the reader.
WOW: I always find it so fascinating to hear how a writer pieces together a story, so thanks for sharing your process! What are your favorite and least favorite parts of writing a story or being a writer?
Madeline: One of my favorite parts of being a writer is that feeling when everything falls into place - the characters, the plot, the language - and you just know it. It’s this internal hum, where every part of you buzzes with focus and intensity and…rightness. (Not that I would have any idea, but I imagine it’s what athletes call being “in the zone.”)
One of my least favorite parts is explaining to people that what I do is actually work. I’m not home watching TV all day. When I am laying on the couch, staring into space, I’m usually working. In fact, I’m working a lot of the time. My brain is constantly clicking and clacking, trying to make plot points fit like puzzle pieces and moving ideas around like furniture. The writer’s brain doesn’t usually shut off. It doesn’t know it’s 6 pm and it’s time to call it a day. (My poor husband has been woken up many a night because I needed to scribble something down before I lost it!) Writing is hard but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The rewards are amazing.
WOW: That is a perfect description of how the writer’s mind is constantly turning and knows no off switch. I also agree that the feeling of having everything in your story fall into place is definitely worth all of the hard work. If you could have dinner with one famous writer, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
Madeline: Ack! Just one? I can’t choose because there are different things I’d ask different authors. Besides, if I had dinner with a famous writer, it’d be a sure bet I’d either choke on my food or spill something on myself. Maybe instead of dinner we could meet for coffee, and I could wear something dark in case I dribbled coffee on myself…
WOW: Ha ha! That sounds like a plan! How do the books/stories you read inspire your writing?
Madeline: They inspire me to be a better writer. The “okay” books make me want to learn how to craft a stronger plot, how to pick up the pacing, etc. The “fabulous” books make me jealous - I wish I had written that! - but they also make me pay attention. What was it about the story that made me cry, smile, laugh, feel like these characters were my friends? Those are the types of books that made me want to be a writer in the first place - I want to move readers, to create that sort of reaction (the amazement, not the jealousy!) in readers the way it’s been done to me, for me, hundreds of times over.
WOW: What are the best or worst criticisms you’ve received on your writing and how did you use them to improve?
Madeline: Let’s start with the good criticisms! I’ve been told I write the perspectives of kids and old people well. (Ask me to write from the perspective of an average woman my age and forget it.) I’ve learned to listen hard - who’s telling the story? Are they telling it in first person, third person? Are they telling their story or someone else’s? Listening to the characters, instead of putting words in their mouths, is something I’m coming to understand better.
On the downside, I struggle with the technical aspects, like plotting and pacing, but I’m working on it. Also, I tend to have a heavy hand with description. One of my new mantras is: “Purple prose” is not my friend.
WOW: Thank you, Madeline, for your excellent and thoughtful answers! Best of luck with your writing!
Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt (http://www.annegreenawalt.com/)