Interview with K.W. Oxnard, Runner Up in the Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest
K. W. Oxnard’s fiction has appeared in many literary journals such as Story, 34th Parallel, TatlinsTower.com, GlobalGraff.Mag and Reed, and she is a regular op-ed columnist for the Savannah Morning News. A twelve-time recipient of fellowships to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she has also been a finalist in the following contests: the 2015 Southwest Review’s David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction; the 2014 River Styx Schlafly Beer Micro-Brew Micro-Fiction contest; and the 2002 Sarabande Books Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. She was also was a semifinalist for the 2015 Lascaux Review Prize in Flash Fiction and the 2002 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize in the Novel.
Her writing has also appeared in several anthologies, including the essay “Babyquest” in DESIRE: Women Write About Wanting from Seal Press; a short story, “Latitudes,” in NOT WHAT I EXPECTED: The Unpredictable Road from Womanhood to Motherhood from Paycock Press; and the op-ed “Livin’ Like Larry” in TEXTING: Clear Communications for Various Contexts from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
A graduate of New York University’s MFA Program in Fiction Writing, Oxnard has taught writing at NYU, Harvard Extension School, Radcliffe Seminars, University of Southern Maine and Armstrong State University. In 2004 she moved back to her hometown, Savannah, Georgia—land of Flannery O’Connor, Johnny Mercer and her ancestors, full of ghosts both benevolent and literary—where she lives and writes surrounded by Spanish moss and memories.
You can learn more about K. W. Oxnard on her Facebook author page. And you can find her latest publication, a personal essay entitled “My Life in Scars,” in 34th Parallel Magazine.
She writes under the pen name K. W. Oxnard, but her friends know her as Katherine. Read her winning entry, “The Fox Coat,” here and then come back to learn more about her take on writing.
WOW: First of all, congratulations! This piece was so different from most of what I’ve seen among the flash fiction entries. What was your inspiration for “The Fox Coat?”
Katherine: I've been writing fiction for nearly 27 years now, and each story, essay, novel or op-ed seems to spring from a surprising new place. "The Fox Coat" emerged during a class I took here in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia, taught by a good friend of mine, who invited us to try a genre we'd never attempted before. I love westerns, so I thought, "Why not?" I wanted to explore the classic saloon showdown, but with a twist.
Side note about the class: though I hold an MFA in creative writing from New York University and have been publishing short fiction for over two decades, I decided to take my friend's course because I felt my work could use some fresh insights and inspiration. So even if you think you know everything--even if you've published multiple books and have won awards--I highly encourage you to take more courses, try new approaches in your writing. It can be revelatory.
WOW: How did the piece change from idea to finished story?
Katherine: The story came to me pretty much full-blown, which is my usual process. Seems I write a lot in my head before I ever type a word.
But in flash fiction, compression is the name of the game. So while in earlier drafts I wrote more about Lulabell, more about the saloon, more about Miss Ada, all of that had to go to get it under 500 words.
WOW: I’m impressed by anyone who can do this. Flash fiction is so short. How do you decide which details to include and what to leave out?
Katherine: I wish revision and cutting did not feel like a severe haircut in winter--like exposing one's face and scalp to penetrating winds and icy rain--but it always does. Try as I may, I never get to my word count goal in one pass.
As I said above, drafting comes easily to me. I spew words the way a used car salesman offers up air fresheners and spare tires. But to hone a piece until it feels truly polished, I have to tinker, walk away for a few hours, tinker more, walk away for a few days, tinker more, walk away for as much as a month.
WOW: Most of us want to finish now, but you’re telling us that shortening the process doesn’t always work. You write both short fiction and short nonfiction. How does writing flash fiction compare to writing essays and op-ed pieces?
Katherine: Flash fiction is a snapshot of a character, a moment in his or her life illuminated as if by lightning or a flashlight. I love the genre for that reason. You get in, you get out, and you almost experience a kind of whiplash because the emotional impact happens so quickly. I like being forced to compress a story. It's a delicious challenge.
Op-eds have a similar intensity to me, though of course their goal is not to reveal character but to persuade--though I'm not sure I have ever changed any minds with my opinion pieces! But the revision process is the same as for flash fiction; most of my op-eds have to weigh in under 750 words.
With essays, I can take my time. I explore a theme, sometimes personal, sometimes political, following it wherever it leads. My most recent essay, "My Life in Scars" in 34th Parallel Magazine, came about during a pedicure, when the aesthetician asked how I had acquired a pretty nasty scar on my left foot. That made me think about other scars that led to other stories. And suddenly I came up with the idea of a mini-memoir told through the scars all over my body. The first draft was over 10,000 words, but my writing group convinced me to cut it to 6,000, and it found a home pretty quickly after that.
WOW: As we head into a new year of writing, what do you hope that our readers take away from this interview?
Katherine: Hmmmm. I am feeling pretty sad and scared about 2017 and the next four years. Writing, journalism, reporting and criticism are under attack as never before. It's an especially tough time to be a woman writer, I think.
That said, I guess I hope that my take on writing might offer a fellow scribe something of use. Every writer adheres to a different process. My way of cogitating and stewing on a story for days, weeks and months before coughing up a manuscript in a matter of hours will not work for everyone. So find your method. Own it. Don't let anyone tell you it's weird or wrong. It ain't. It's your way, damnit! Write, read, write some more, read some more, and find some readers who get your work. Then just keep at it.
WOW: Find the method that works for you and own it. That’s the type of advice that can make a big impact if we put it into effect. Thank you for taking the time from noodling over your next story to share your process and thoughts with us, Katherine!