Interview with 2nd Place Flash Fiction Contest Winner, Maria Mankin
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on your second place win in our Summer 2011 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?
Maria: My mother, who’s also a writer, often sends me links to contests she’s entered that she thinks I might also have some fun with. I haven’t had the best luck in the past competing with her (I can’t even count how many contests we’ve both entered that she’s won!), but I so enjoyed reading the WOW website that I decided I would enter anyway.
She was so gracious when I called to tell her I had made it past the first and second rounds of judging, and then thrilled for me when I got second place (she lives on the east coast and saw the announcement before I did!). This is the first prize I’ve ever won for my fiction and I credit, in large part, her constant encouragement in getting to this wonderful point.
WOW: How wonderful to have family support for your writing. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Shades of Grey?"
Maria: Most of the stories I write --certainly all of my favorite ones-- have emerged out of compelling memories of place. My brain is filled with these little moments created over the course of my life, and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, one of those bubbles pops open and I can fit a story in where there was only a setting before.
Recalling the texture of a particular location is a tool that as a storyteller, I’m very dependent on. The church in my story was a real place--one that I spent many hours in as a teenager--the circumstances and the people who populated it evolved from a feeling about that place that I’ve carried with me for years.
WOW: I felt like I was there when reading your story. Great job! What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?
Maria: I had never written flash fiction before I entered this contest. I mostly write resource books professionally, and although I have always loved writing poetry, plays, and longer fiction, I never felt like I had creatively found my niche. When I learned about this genre, I realized I had always been waiting for somebody to tell me it was okay to write a very tiny story--that, in fact, brief moments of fiction could have a place in the wide world of writing! This discovery has opened up a whole new way of looking at my writing and the way I want to share my stories with others.
WOW: What an amazing first effort. You better keep going! According to your bio, you taught preschool for five years before deciding to write full-time. How did you orchestrate that change, and how would you compare your life then and now?
Maria: The biggest necessity in making such a major life change was the support of my husband. I spent my last two years of teaching wishing I could make a transition, but I was consumed by all the usual fears we have when approaching a life-altering decision, and in this economy, I especially couldn’t justify losing the security of the job I had.
I found myself getting more unhappy with every passing month--even though I loved teaching, I desperately wanted to make professional writing a reality. Every time the subject came up, my husband told me the same thing, “We’ll make it work --we will find a way to make this a reality if it’s what you choose.”
I finally talked to my mother about it, and she reminded me of all the sacrifices she and my father had made to do the things they loved, and she asked me if I thought they had raised me to put money above all else. I knew they hadn’t, that they had turned down lucrative opportunities when the chance to work on more meaningful projects arose. I thought about that for many more months before deciding I really didn’t want to look back on my life with regret. Some days it’s still difficult to believe I took this enormous, sometimes terrifying chance on myself, but having the support of my family has made all the difference.
WOW: I love the idea of a daily haiku journal, which is also mentioned in your bio. How did you get started doing that?
Maria: When I lived in LA, I was starting to get back into writing after a hiatus of several years, and it occurred to me that I should start keeping a journal again as good practice. I had kept one for about ten years as a teenager and into college, but I fell out of the habit when I graduated. Everything I had written in those journals felt sort of cheesy though, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to censor what I wrote there in case someone should ever read it.
I couldn’t bring myself to pick up that old habit again, so my roommate suggested I try writing a haiku every day for a year. He and a friend in New York had started their own haiku journals a couple of years before after reading The Haiku Year, a collaborative effort by six authors who had undertaken the same project. He lent me the book and I was hooked. I wrote my first on Saturday, August 25, 2007, and I haven’t looked back.
WOW: Can you share any favorite haikus?
Maria: I’ve written just short of 1400 haikus at this point, and it’s daunting to try to pick a favorite! Here are a few written over the last four and a half years to give you an idea of how broad my definition of haiku has become:
Oh Stranger in your Infiniti -
I saw your face reflected in the rearview mirror...
I've cried like that too, though not today
And writing and compiling
and editing and cursing
and finally it's halfway there
Our first breakfast together as husband and wife,
I eat chocolate chip pancakes dripping with syrup
and he orders eggs and potatoes, extra greasy. Now, this, this is love.
is there anywhere more beautiful
than a new england beach at sunset
in the autumn, she asks. i just smile.
One of the most important things I’ve learned keeping this kind of journal is that it’s completely fine to take the rules and toss them out. This a record of my life, and when I look back, I won’t care how many syllables each line has or whether the topic pressing on my mind that day was appropriate for the traditional style of these little poems--all that will matter is having a record of life’s small moments to reflect back on when the circumstances surrounding them have long since faded away.
WOW: What a great way to record daily life in a fun way. Thanks for sharing your haikus, and for chatting with us today, Maria! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?
Maria: I believe everyone has an genuine, natural method of storytelling. If yours is best shared through the written word (and you’re willing to follow a few contest rules!), you should give it a shot. You won’t win every time, but there’s always the chance that your story will make its way into the hands of someone who really needs it, and I think that makes the work worthwhile.
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Our Winter 2012 Flash Fiction contest is OPEN: