Interview with Fall Flash Fiction Runner Up Bernadette Yannacci
Her entry in the WOW flash fiction contest is Bernadette’s first foray into getting a fictional piece published. She is currently working on other short stories and the beginnings of a novel. Bernadette wants to extend her sincere thanks to the Women on Writing editors and judges along with guest judge Marie Lamba for considering her story among the finalists.
Read Bernadette’s winning story, The Opal, here. Then come back to learn more about this writer whose work starts with theme.
WOW: First of all, congratulations! I love the subtle hints about relationships and past events in “The Opal.” What inspired your story?
Bernadette: In flash fiction, there isn’t the room to fully flush out a character or backstory. You tell a lot by those subtleties that you put in there and that’s a lot of the fun. I started out with an image of a woman digging. I wasn’t sure if she was covering or uncovering something, but I did know that the story was about family and loss and her need to save something for herself. At the center, this was something she had to keep for herself, something that was central to her and her development as a character. In her life, it was something she didn’t want taken away from her.
WOW: How did this story change between the time you contemplated writing it and the finished product?
Bernadette: I started writing the scene of her digging. It changed because at first I didn’t know if she was covering something or uncovering something.
Initially, there were more characters. She had a brother who was a state trooper and he stumbled across her as she was digging. There was a conversation, back and forth, but there was no tension. It was just wasting words. He wasn’t working, but she needed a sense of urgency. She needed that feeling that she would have to answer to authority.
That’s where the sirens in the story came in. They lent the urgency and pushed the action forward. She’s assuming “they’re after me,” but it had nothing to do to her. It was a great tool for that frantic pace.
I had to pare the story down for the word count. I was going to flesh out the father more but there wasn’t room for it. I had to cut the story and characters to bare bones and, in terms of characters, ended up with Collete, Jackie and the dog, Ned. Fortunately Ned doesn’t have any dialogue so that helped my word count!
WOW: Can you describe your writing process?
Bernadette: I don’t have a set in stone ritual. I take a look at my day and block out the time I have to write. Sometimes it’s all morning. Sometimes it’s half an hour. It’s a matter of having the discipline to do it when I can.
If I have time but I’m not feeling like writing, I set an alarm for an hour and I make myself keep writing, keep going. I have found that even when I feel like I’m wasting my time, there’s that little nugget of something that turns up, something really good, and forcing myself to write was worthwhile. Making myself show up is the most important thing.
For flash fiction I find that being a pantser is the way to go. In a way having that word count is a challenge but it is also freeing. You get to use those hints at backstory. You can have a lot of fun with that.
But in terms of trying to get the novel that I’m writing off the ground, I need a road map. I need an outline. It helps me feel that I have more direction and I know where I’m going. I’ve had several false starts because I tried pantsing. I’m new to this so I’m still experimenting with what works for me.
WOW: How else does working on a piece of flash fiction differ from working on your novel?
Bernadette: Flash fiction is a scene, capturing a scene, more than telling a full story. For “The Opal,” I had this feeling that if I turned this into something bigger I could go this way or this way, but right now I’m just writing this scene. You can only do that type of exploration for so long in a novel because the reader is going to want some satisfaction.
I find it very frustrating as a reader if there’s a question in a novel and at the end I’m left hanging. As I writer I reflect on that. I want to write what I want to read. I want to give my reader the sense of satisfaction and of completion. I want them to think “Oh, I got it.”
Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies because you get that whole story. I like to see things from beginning to end.
WOW: What words of advice do you have for writers who are new to fiction? Who are new to flash fiction?
Bernadette: I’m just at the starting gate myself. Keep your head down and keep going. Just show up to write, because that’s what matters.
Be kind to yourself. It should be fun. You should be enjoying this. If you aren’t enjoying it, think about why you aren’t enjoying it. Are you trying to write for someone else? If you are writing for yourself, then you are going to enjoy it more. If you are trying to fit a mold, “my goal is to write the next supernatural themed best seller,” that’s harder to enjoy. Write what your heart is telling you to do.
Interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards, writer and WOW instructor.