Interview with Mary Krakow, WOW! Summer 2010 Contest Runner-Up
Mary Krakow enjoys the sound, shape, and rhythm of words. She finds putting them on paper to paint a picture or tell a story tremendously satisfying. She writes fiction, essays, poetry, and letters to the editor. She teaches full-day Kindergarten in Metolius, Oregon and is a member of Central Oregon Writers Guild. Published credits include The Oregon Science Teacher and Teaching Tolerance. This is her first published fiction.
Take a look at Mary's winning entry, Impact!, then come back and settle in for our conversation with her.
WOW: Welcome, Mary! Thanks for taking time to with us today and many congratulations on placing in our contest! Please tell us how did your story come to be.
Mary: Thank you. The WOW! flash fiction contest was a real boost to my confidence and has given me the guts to pitch stories and search for an agent. As for my story, my 80+ year old mother was in a fender bender this past summer. Impact is the fictionalized story of the two car crashes she has experienced in her life.
WOW: You know, as I read your piece, I appreciated how well you incorporated flashback into the present day setting. Great example of how using real-life experiences connects readers to the work.
Let’s shift gears and talk about your writing background a bit. Did writing find you or did you find it?
Mary: I was always the kid at school who never had enough time to write. The teacher would say, "It's time to stop" when I had just gotten to the meat of my story. So I would say writing found me. In my early writing, I never had time to wrap up the ending of a story, so that is something I have worked really hard at. So in a way I found writing too.
WOW: (chuckles) Yeah, I was one of those frustrated kids too, glad to know I wasn’t the only one! After reading your piece, I’d say you’ve aced learning how to wrap up a story properly!
Now, you have a full-time job of teaching kindergarteners, in addition to writing freelance. How do you balance the two and has some of those experiences found their way into your work?
Mary: Funny you should ask. This year's New Year resolution is to find more balance in my life. Typically, during the school year I am consumed by all that goes into teaching: lesson planning, material preparation, grading, meetings, trainings, reteaching, encouraging students, teaching parents how to be partners in their child's education etc. Since Jan 1, I have tried to spend more time reading and writing.
The Oregon Teacher Association magazine had a short blurb in their January issue asking for story ideas. So of course I suggested a story on our wonderful Adult ESL evening class held every Tuesday during the school year. To be honest, I had never attended the class but had heard fantastic things about it and had seen improved behavior and engagement from my kindergarten students who had parents attending the Adult ESL class. To my great surprise and dread, the editor emailed me asking if I would like to freelance a 1700-word feature for the statewide publication! This was based on the mention that I am a member of Central Oregon Writer's Guild. I accepted and submitted my article yesterday. It was a positive learning experience for me.
WOW: What a thrill, congratulations on your article’s acceptance! Speaking of which, can you share about your involvement with Central Oregon Writers Guild?
Mary: I have been a member of Central Oregon Writers Guild ever since my dental hygienist invited me to a meeting seven years ago. I have been a "worker bee" on the events committee and this year was assigned the chairmanship (chairpersonship?) of our 4th Grade Book writing contest. Our monthly Guild meetings always feature a speaker and often focus on the craft of writing. I also belong to a critique group that meets twice a month.
WOW: Your experiences are good examples of how membership in a local writing organization helps writers develop and enhance skills, and provides networking opportunities, among other things. Not to mention being a resource for writing gigs, as you’ve discovered.
Moving on, you’ve said in your bio, you write fiction, essays and poetry. Do you have a preference for one over the other? How do you think writing in each of these genres helped shape you into the writer that you are now?
Mary: I like all three. Fiction is fun because it's so open. You can write long or short, serious or funny and everything in between. I write rhyming poetry and I like the constraints that offers. The lines have to rhyme, you have to pay attention to the rhythm of the words, and it's pretty obvious when you come to the end. But, I suppose essays are my favorite. I am very opinionated and essays allow me to try to persuade you to my way of thinking! Each genre adds something. Fiction is creative and forces me to put the reader in the moment, poetry is descriptive and lyrical, and essays really allow me to focus on an articulated point of view. I think writers use elements from each genre unconsciously.
WOW: I have to agree on that. At times I do see some of those elements you’ve mentioned slipping into my own writing.
What about projects? Do you happen to have any in the works?
Mary: I finished a middle grade novel several years ago. Placing in the WOW! Summer Flash Fiction Contest has given me the courage to start my agent search. Wish me luck! My current project is a Young Adult novel with the working title COMMUNICATION CAMP. It takes place in the foothills west of Silicon Valley where I grew up. I'm having a lot of fun mentally revisiting the land of my youth.
WOW: It’s sounds like you’re having fun, and isn’t writing supposed to be fun anyway? Before we finish, is there any advice you’d like to leave our readers with?
Mary: A critique group is the best investment of time you will ever make. You start to hear their voices as you write--write in an active voice, not passive. Get rid of all those 'thats'. Break that long sentence into two for more impact. A second and third and fourth set of eyes will help you polish your best work.
WOW: I so agree, thank you for those wise words! Again, Mary, it was a pleasure meeting you. Best of luck to you, especially in your agent search, and we look forward to seeing more of your work!
Interview by Jill Earl