Interview with Flash Fiction Top Ten Contest Winner, Debbi Straight
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Top 10 in our Fall contest! You also received an honorable mention for another story entry, so good job on that too. What inspired you to enter the contest?
Debbi: Through the years, I’ve interspersed writing with the other demanding elements of my life: kids, horses, work and I guess I should mention a couple of husbands. My long-term goal is to find representation for a creative nonfiction book in the works that’s the literary love of my life. To gain street cred, I looked toward entering literary contests. There are few that have the on-line respect and feel of WOW.
WOW: Thanks for the kind words about WOW. We're glad to help with your street cred! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, The R Wurd?
Debbi: Through the years, I’ve worked with a variety of individuals and personalities. I’ve dealt mostly with anti-socials, I guess you could say the criminal-minded. When I took a job at an agency that serves people with developmental disabilities, I wasn’t sure at all if my skill set was right at first. I was immediately amazed by what I observed. Individuals with developmental issues are supposed to have all-encompassing deficits, but they seldom have problems when it comes to attaching to their peers and forming meaningful relationships with their family, friends and the staff. The particular agency I worked for, Putnam County Comprehensive Services, based in Greencastle, Indiana, has the benefit of having chosen a group of incredible staff members who are completely devoted to improving the quality of life for their clients. Anyone who joins that staff and doesn’t exhibit a caring attitude is gone in a hurry.
WOW: Your professional experience really helped create a compelling story. What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?
Debbi: Entering contests that entail writing short pieces has been extremely helpful. By the way, the responses and e-mails I’ve gotten from WOW have been more supportive than I can describe. I was a therapist for many years and every day I’d conceptualize what I’d heard from my clients and use their direct quotes as I later wrote their evaluations, their life stories. It’s kind of like developing fictional characterizations as succinctly as possible. Flash fiction writing has given me the chance to practice using imaginary scenarios in the same manner and learning the process of deleting any unnecessary wordiness.
WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?
Debbi: Each day, I try to spend a bit of time writing, even if it’s only a half hour or so. I’ve also been trying to read as much as possible and I’ve been attempting to dissect and identify what’s made a particular story awe-inspiring as I go through it, particularly those published on WOW. Having the luxury at this point to do that has been great. Because I am ‘nosy’ by nature, I enjoyed counseling and was allowed to delve into the lives’ of my clients. I generally start with the ‘what if’s,’ use a little piece of something I recall from what a client who was sitting across from me has said as we were exploring their lives and go from there. I also find inspiration from small dialogues that I’ve had with my grandsons as they’re learning about life in general. Kids often make statements that can generate huge questions.
WOW: Your methods seem really doable and inspiring. Thanks for sharing them.
In your bio you mention that you compete with your Appaloosa show horses. What do you enjoy most about that?
Debbi: Horses hold magic. Bad days evaporate when a velvety muzzle touches your cheek. Many years ago, as I was loading up to go to a major event to compete, a friend told me “Don’t give an inch.” I was taking an unseasoned horse and my ex-husband had told me I didn’t have a chance. Notice he is my ex. Anyway, that then young horse won big at that show. He died about three years ago. I found him when I got home from work one day, struggling in the dirt. As long as I kept telling him to get up, he kept trying to stand. My daughter came into the arena and told me to stop and let him go. The minute I gave him that permission, he went down and put his head in my lap and that was it. Good horses are like that. He’s buried beside our pasture. I’ve got two mares now, sisters. They’re prima donnas. Horse showing has taught me how to lose, because through the years since, I haven’t always won and it’s the same with writing. I might get a lot of rejections, but I can learn from each one.
WOW: Good analogy. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Debbi! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?
Debbi: The same friend who told me to never give an inch said that I didn’t have any kind of chance at all if I didn’t even show up. Most of the meaningfulness in writing is simply in the process and there’s a whole lot of fun in that. Writing contests give you some insight as to whether you’re off the mark or right on.
Our Spring 2012 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN
For details, visit our contest page.