Interview with D.E. Gallagher - Runner-Up Summer 2010 Flash Fiction Contest
Deb Gallagher, a lifelong New Englander, resides in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Deb earned her BFA from UMass Dartmouth and a Masters of Education from Lesley University. For the last 23 years, Deb has served as an art educator. She also writes theater reviews for the Portland, Maine, newspapers, works as a theatrical designer, and directs children's curriculum-based performance pieces.
Deb is now looking for a publisher for her children's picture book, "Long Ago in a Baobab Tree", and is compiling a collection of her short stories for young teen readers.
Deb says she can't remember a time when she wasn't drawing and writing. She shares a hectic family life with her husband Jim, their children, new grandbaby, and an assortment of dogs and cats.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Deb's story, head on over to WOW! and check it out. You'll be glad you made time to take in this gem of a story.
WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Deb. Congratulations on earning runner-up honors in our summer flash fiction contest. I enjoyed taking in every word! Your flash piece could be ripped from the headlines: the Jesus grilled cheese or the Virgin Mary potato chips. How can writers successfully incorporate current events or pop culture into their pieces?
Deb: I've noticed that most people occasionally look for "signs" or something that validates their day to day struggles. Life doesn't exactly come with instructions and a road map. A trend or sudden pop phenomenon makes really great fodder for writers because these social and cultural anomalies are fueled by the basic human need to feel that we are not alone and that something somewhere is there to guide us along. It seems to be in our DNA. When a writer taps into this the result is often instant recognition on the part of the reader. I think that writers need to LISTEN and watch. I pay attention when I am out in public, sometimes to the point of shameless eavesdropping. I usually don't know where my car keys are but I can recall an amusing dialogue I overheard in a restaurant 2 weeks ago. Incorporating pop culture topics into your writing, especially in a humorous way, allows you to make intimate connections to readers who will hopefully relate to your story in a positive way.
WOW: I'll admit it: I eavesdrop. A lot. I think it's second nature as a writer and it lets us consider the tone of a conversation. In your story, perception and tone play an important part in the storytelling. Why is it important for writers to maintain consistency in stories?
Deb: A writer needs to engage you, the reader, from the very first sentence so that you are drawn into the framework of the story and stay there right to the end. The story cannot start out to be about a humorous trip to the supermarket and then suddenly evolve into a WWII narrative. Consistency is very important because it allows the story to twist and turn and build to a high point while always staying on track. This is especially true for flash fiction pieces. The reader is simply compelled to stay with the characters for the entire ride. In my story the woman in the market starts out engaging herself in a mind rant and it builds and builds like a huge overblown balloon. Something HAS to happen to stick the pin into the tension and let out the angst. This is the consistent energy of the story and I was careful to never let it get side tracked. Great works of humor have this element of gradually building the suspense until the end of the story arrives just in a nick of time and provides a funny, satisfying conclusion for the characters and the reader. O. Henry and Mark Twain were masters at this technique.
WOW: In my editing experience, I've found that many stories somehow traverse off the beaten path. It's very confusing! Deb, one of the elements of storytelling I enjoyed in your piece is the way you incorporate dialogue. Fantastic job! Would you be willing to share a secret or two about creating a successful conversation?
Deb: I was raised in a large, extremely verbal Irish American family. It was like living in a Marx Brothers movie. Everyone in my family talks over everyone else. this familial environment provided me the opportunity to hone defensive verbal skills at a very early age. It was a means of survival! Writing dialogue is my absolute favorite form of storytelling. It comes naturally. It is the most effective way for me to bring my characters to life. It is very important that the characters are totally engaged in the dialogue and react appropriately to each other. Being an artist I also love to use dashes, dots, italics, CAPS . . . . . any trick in the book to visually as well as verbally illustrate the emotional and dramatic levels of the conversation. Incidentally, my husband is also of Irish descent and our banter is often very similar to that of the characters in my story. When one of us rants, the other assumes a calm, supportive stance and deftly moves all breakable objects safely out of reach. Sometimes life imitates are. I just keep writing it all down.
WOW: (Smiles) I totally appreciate the large family dialogue scenario. In my family, there are 60 aunts, uncles, cousins all gathered around the dining room table. Conversation = impossible. After reading your bio, I noticed we share similar career paths: academia to writing. For you, was it a difficult transition? How has your education background affected your writing?
Deb: Teaching is the act of de-mystifying a certain subject so that your students can take what they have learned and apply it to their own life experience. It is all about communication. You explain, demonstrate, translate, model, capture imaginations and try to keep your audience not only awake but fascinated and curious. I don't see a huge transition here. Writing is, in a way, teaching. You present a story, walk the reader through the plot, reveal the characters and hopefully engage their curiosity so that they think about your story long after they finish reading the last sentence. In the end everyone should feel informed, entertained and a little less alone in the universe. I teach art in an elementary school and I constantly use storytelling as a means to engage students and hold their attention. I see very little difference between what happens in my classroom and what happens at my keyboard. One supports the other very nicely. It is all the same process and I find it all very enjoyable and fulfilling.
WOW: I wholeheartedly agree with you: the transition from teaching to writing wasn't difficult. You've also worked as a theatre reviewer and written curriculum-based performance pieces. What elements do you look for when you write in these areas?
Deb: I am an art educator and an illustrator as well as a writer. I am able to utilize my sense of detail and evaluate the impact of the visual combined with the verbal elements of a staged production. I need to clearly remember and communicate what I saw and how I felt when I write a review. Writing curriculum-based pieces for students is just the flip side of this process. I will write scenes that, when acted out, will communicate a lesson to the audience verbally and visually and hopefully this experience will make the information "stick" on a cognitive level. It's a fun way for the kids to learn. Again, I guess I love telling stories, being told stories, and bringing memorable characters to life so that they can be shared with an audience, be they readers or viewers.
WOW: Making a lasting impression on readers is a writer's ultimate goal. Tell us what you're currently working on.
Deb: Receiving honorable mention in the WOW! flash fiction contest has truly been a thrill for me. I feel very honored and very validated! I intend to enter more contests and keep reading the Muffin. You are such supportive, creative people. It means so much to those of us who love to write. I am teaching full time, continuing my work on a collection of short stories for young teens, searching for a publisher for my two picture books, and I have a greeting card company website called "PAWZABLES" that I am trying to get off the ground . . . in my "spare time"!
WOW: I totally relate to the "spare time" concept! (laughs) Thanks, again, Deb, for sharing your writing ideology with our readers and best wishes in future writing endeavors.
Deb: Thank you again!
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.