Interview with Trudy Swenson, Fall 2014 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up
Trudy Swenson is an editor and writer living in Roxbury, Connecticut. After 16 years as an editor specializing in leather-bound reprints of the classics, she moved on to work for a hedge fund manager, an international lighting designer, and as a grant writer. She holds a Master’s degree in writing and a Bachelor’s degree in English.
A fervent lover of words and ardent scribbler, she has kept journals most of her life to scrutinize and consider, to observe and record. Her current work-in-progress, The Uses of Pretend, is drawn from those journals, specifically the years spent raising her two children as a single mom. Her youngest son, Trevor, was born with a rare disorder, Crouzon Syndrome, affecting both form and function. You can sample part of The Uses of Pretend and other writing at Trudy’s blog, www.wordsfromthestair.blogspot.com.
Living in the woodlands of Northwest Connecticut, Trudy is an avid hiker and outdoorswoman. As a member of her town’s Conservation Commission, she writes an advice column, Dear Crabby, used to entertain and inform local property owners on conservation issues.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Trudy’s award-winning story “Casualties” and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the 2014 Fall Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write this particular story?
Trudy: Casualties tumbled out of me shortly after the beginning of the war on Iran. There was a photo on the front page of the New York Times. It was of a young widow standing in fresh grief as her husband’s casket was unloaded from a large jet. He was one of the first casualties. This was among the first images of that newly declared war. Shortly afterward those running the war decided to censor those images, ostensibly out of respect for the grieving families. I strongly disagreed with this prohibition. I felt the American public should experience and share this grief, not viewing the stark consequences of the conflict would help prolong the war and blur the reality of it.
I combined the story with some of my own family history. My mother’s brother was shot down over France in World War II when he was twenty years old.
WOW: That is a powerful and timely story premise. Thank you for sharing it with us. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?
Trudy: I enjoy playing with words: selecting them, learning new ones, using them in surprising ways, stringing them together to convey meaning, be provocative, communicate information, and spin tales. I am more adept at writing than speaking. Writing gives me the opportunity to reflect, consider my intent, and express myself.
WOW: In your bio, it says you have worked as a hedge fund manager and an international lighting designer, and these positions aren’t ones traditionally related to creative writing. Have these positions had any effects on your writing?
Trudy: A simple misreading there: I worked for (not as) a hedge fund manager and an international lighting designer, a three letter word that makes all the difference. My job position in these high-powered and intense offices can best be described as personal assistant, office manager, travel planner, financial wrangler, gofer, handmaiden, and doormat. I was a single mom working my way through grad school while supporting two children on my own. Both positions were difficult, unfulfilling, but well-paid. I learned much about the fabled, but all-too-real, disconnect of extreme wealth and the trench warfare of small offices. I gained experience moving millions of dollars around at a moment’s notice, arranging car service in countries eight time zones away, and overnighting forgotten sunglasses to cruise ships off the Alaskan coast. There are stories, many stories.
WOW: Oops, I apologize for the misreading. I hope you continue to draw on these experiences to create award-winning stories! If you could have dinner with one author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Trudy: For someone like me this is an impossible question to answer. I would be tongue-tied and star-struck by any of the many authors I admire, alive or dead. I propose a banquet. I would happily bustle around the table, supplying canapés and sluicing wine, as I eavesdropped on my favorite authors conversing with each other. David Mitchell, John Irving, Markus Zusak, Alice Munro, Anne Tyler, Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Robert Graves, John Cheever, Muriel Spark, . . .
WOW: I’d love to attend that banquet! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Trudy: I am kept awake at night by H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. It is immense and elegiac, dark, unsparing, and eloquent. I am working on a memoir and chose this book, among others, to inspire and intimidate myself. Macdonald is a master and wonderfully accessible. Her observation of the natural world is keen. Her story soars. This book is a must-read.
WOW: Wonderful. Thank you for the recommendation! Anything else you’d like to add?
Trudy: I’ll add a thank you. The encouragement and fellowship are warmly appreciated.
WOW: Thank you for your thoughtful answers. Happy writing!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor