Interview with Sandra Havriluk: Runner Up in the 2015 Summer Flash Fiction Contest
In addition to teaching online literature classes, Sandra Havriluk is a full time writer and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators with sales to Highlights for Children magazine. You can see her story, “The Sign of the Cat,” in Highlights’s November 2014 issue; her other pieces have not yet been published.
When Sandra went to an event organized by the Romance Writers of America, she saw the opportunities available in YA/new adult fiction and got to work. Her YA romantic suspense novel, Hide the False Heart, placed as a finalist in both the 2015 Daphne du Maurier and the Young Adult RWA Rosemary Contests. Her YA historical romance novel, Treacherous Hearts, won 1st place in the YA category of the 2014 Wisconsin Romance FAB 5 Contest. Need an example of her dedication to craft? Pop over and read “Five Words,” her entry in the Summer Flash Fiction contest.
WOW: As someone with a track record in novel writing, what inspired you to write flash fiction?
Sandra: I like doing short pieces for the same reason I like writing for Highlights for Children magazine. The magazine has bought a couple of my stories and one has made it into the magazine so far. The magazine’s quality expectations are unbelievable. I worked with the editor on one story of 750 words for 9 months back and forth.
I love writing short. It enhances your craft all the way around. Conflict, characterization, senses and setting. It’s so exhilarating if you can include all of that in flash fiction and have it be a satisfying read. In writing short stories, honing the word count and getting everything I mentioned in there is like a craft exercise. It leaks into your longer work and really shapes your writing.
WOW: There is so much that has to go into a story. When you write flash fiction, like “Five Words,” are you a plotter or a pantser?
Sandra: I’m a pantser but I’m trying to be a plotter. I’m an interesting combination.
When people say “that character came to me,” my answer is no. The story idea came to me and then I attach the character to it. I sit down and I know where the story is heading, I know the ultimate conflict. I create the character that would be in that story and then I just write.
Even when I write flash fiction, I don’t think about the word count. I just write. Most of my flash fiction starts out in the 2000 to 3000 word range and then I get it down to 1200 words and start sharpening it even more. Eventually, I get it down to 600 words and then have room to add more sensory perceptions and more emotion.
When I start writing, I don’t think about the word count. I just have to get everything out. Then I cut things that don’t work with the theme. When I write long, it’s like I served this huge meal and only one little dish is superb.
I can’t write in a restrained manner from the get go. When I was working on my MFA, one of my advisors said, “You have two things here. You have a writer’s draft and you need to get it all out. It’s what you are thinking about and feeling and where things might go.” And that’s good for me as a writer, but then I need to think as a reader. What does the reader need to see, what would make it a satisfying read? That’s the second thing.
WOW: I think that we all have a lot of honing and shaping to do when we rewrite. Since you don’t plot everything out before you write, was there anything that surprised you as you were writing this particular story?
Sandra: The story had some personal reference points for me. I was one of four, one of whom suffered with alcoholism. Because of this, I know that it is difficult when you are interacting with an addict. You want to be supportive and helpful but it is still difficult.
Dealing with an addicted family member is a struggle. I thought my story would end with the brother being successful, but when I wrote it, it didn’t turn out that way.
I felt like it needed to go the way it did for her to accept that her brother had done wonderful things for her, but she couldn’t save him. I really liked the way it ended but that’s not how it ended the first time. The first time I was trying to force it.
I don’t like stories with pat endings. I want to leave it a little open for the reader and I feel like I did that. She wants to reconcile with her husband but will it work?
WOW: As a reader, I hate endings that are too wide open, but your ending felt natural. It really worked for me. What advice would you give to a writer who has never written flash fiction before?
Sandra: First of all, you need to read successful flash fiction. You need to get the feel for how it appears on the page, how the story arc works in a shorter fashion. Dissect it. Take notes. Think of a short story without the flash fiction word limitations and how the short story evolves. All of those things have to be in flash fiction too. If you can succeed at it, great but I don’t think every writer can do it.
There are pieces out there that are just genius. Google “flash fiction contest winners.” There are a lot of literary magazines that run flash fiction contests. I’ve done that search frequently. Literary magazines are one of the most competitive areas to try to get into so if a piece wins a contest it is top notch.
WOW: It sounds like writing flash fiction is every bit as much work as writing a longer piece of fiction. What have you taken away from this that will impact your novel writing?
Sandra: Writing flash fiction just helps the craft especially if you have a chapter or scene that somehow isn’t working. I’ve been known to hone it down as if I’m crafting flash fiction. When I do this, it takes away the unnecessary parts and then I see what is left when it works. It’s like you have to get to the bones of the writing.