Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Fall 2007 Second Place Winner! Pam Hawley
In Pam Hawley’s 2nd place winning piece, “The Pink Dachshund,” a surprise is waiting for the reader, just as the author was caught off-guard when this true story actually happened to her!
Pam lives, works, and loves life in Baltimore, MD. She has been addicted to the craft of writing since childhood and spends much of her free time writing short fiction, creative non-fiction, and content for her blog at http://sixweasels.vox.com. Pam earned a BA in English and a certificate in writing from the UMBC in 1994. She currently earns her living as a project lead and manager at the same university and is hoping to make her break in the world of fiction writing. She shares her home with her boyfriend and two ferrets, Vinnie and Ginny.
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WOW: Pam, congratulations on winning second place in the contest! When you read the prompt, did the idea for your essay about your boss just pop into your mind? Did you have to do any brainstorming first?
Pam: Actually, when I first read the prompt, nothing that came to my mind gave me that “zing” feeling that happens when you know you’ve got a good idea. It happened about a week later, when I was talking with a friend about work issues. My mind just started backtracking to that first “real” job, and my gruff boss moonlighting as a clown. Then I remembered the prompt. Sometimes I just need to put something in the back of my mind and wait for it to click like that.
WOW: I know what you mean. A writer’s mind always seems to be working even when we aren’t aware of it. Your essay was so easy to read—almost like a story. What are some techniques you used to put elements of fiction into your nonfiction essay?
Pam: Well, the incident I wrote about happened over 10 years ago. So when I was writing, I had to sort of visualize and recreate events the way I would if I was telling a story. I can’t remember the exact conversation I had with my boss that day, so I took the gist of it and tried to create an exchange that would convey how I felt and how I thought he was feeling.
Overall, I think there are a lot of similarities in writing fiction and nonfiction, and I used them in this essay. You often have to weave people, places, and events into a story in nonfiction just as you do in fiction. You have to be descriptive and paint a picture with words. I find that when I write fiction, much of what I’m writing is inspired by people or events in real life. So flipping the coin and using fiction-writing techniques in nonfiction isn’t all that different.
WOW: So much fiction does seem to be based on real life events or people, even if authors don’t always admit it. Sometimes, favorite pets even make it into a writer’s work. What about your ferrets? Have they ever made it into your stories or essays?
Pam: Not yet. Although years ago, I hosted a Web site on ferrets at Suite 101, and I’ve been toying with the idea of a children’s book with my ferrets as the main characters. Their antics are regular features in my blog, though. I love posting photos of them and creating captions of what I think might be going through their minds at that moment.
WOW: Oh, so you have a blog? They are so fun to read and write. Why did you decide to start a blog? Does it have a specific purpose or is it just a place for you to write?
Pam: My blog is basically a journal that I choose to keep online instead of with pen and paper. I enjoy the interactivity of being part of an online community and exchanging ideas and experiences. Growing up, I kept paper journals, but I never stuck with them. I’ve been blogging in various places since 2001, so I guess the “sharing” element of writing online keeps me motivated. The other great thing about blogging, at least for me, is that I can capture bits and pieces of thoughts and ideas that might lead to essays, stories, or articles when I have time to go back and think about them. My blog is like a collection of post-it notes I can’t lose.
WOW: I love that description—“like a collection of post-it notes I can’t lose.” I never thought about it that way. Maybe all writers should have something like that. You seem to be full of ideas and really motivated. Have you set goals for yourself? Where do you see yourself in the future?
Pam: In the short-term, I hope to transition into making writing my primary source of income through gradually taking on freelance opportunities and continuing to submit my work to a variety of online and print publications. In the long-term, I’d love to complete and publish a collection of short stories and possibly a novel someday.
WOW: Wow! It seems like you have a definite direction for where you want to go with your career. That is something we all can learn from. So, you are interested in breaking into fiction with short stories and a novel? Tell us more about this.
Pam: My current project is a collection of short stories. My father owns a small local pub in the Baltimore area, and over the years, I’ve met some very interesting characters and heard some incredible life stories there. I’m the kind of person who likes to sit back and listen when someone with a few drinks in them wants to talk, so I’ve heard tales ranging from life working in the circus to finding true love at 80. I also see a lot of interesting happenings there. So, the collection will be a combination of the stories I’ve heard and snippets of various events. The stories and snippets will be fictional but based on what I’ve seen and heard over the years. A pub, especially one that is more of a local hometown place than a see-and-be-seen kind of venue, is a great place to find writing material.
WOW: I bet it is. It’s also interesting that your real life is making it into your fiction writing again, like we were talking about before. I, for one, am already interested in reading your short stories inspired by the pub! It sounds like the kind of stories I love. It seems like you are already on a great writing path. What did this contest win do to help lead you toward those goals?
Pam: Most importantly, it really boosted my confidence! I read the entries of the other contest winners and runners-up and was incredibly proud to be included in such a talented group. I have done a wee bit of freelance writing and worked on various creative projects for years, but I have just lately begun seriously thinking about finding a way to earn a living doing what I love –writing. This is one of my first contest entries, and winning really helped me believe I have the ability to do that if I put my mind to it.
WOW: Those are very inspirational words, and some we can all learn from. It’s really important to do what you love and also to get a little boost along the way. We all know writing can be a hard journey. Your bio also mentions you have formal college training in English and writing. Do you feel this is helpful to you in accomplishing your goals? Were these difficult programs?
Pam: Earning my English degree was a huge help to me in becoming a better and more disciplined writer. I’m sure my writing courses were difficult, but I honestly had so much fun completing them that I really don’t remember them that way! What was truly most helpful about being in a college writing program was being surrounded by instructors and students who loved writing as much as I do, sharing ideas and techniques, and critiquing and being critiqued. I miss that, which is probably another reason I started blogging.
My college advisor, who was also a freelance journalist who supported his wife and children by writing and teaching a course here and there, used to tell us he wallpapered his home office with rejection letters. He really helped me toughen up and realize that if I wanted to make it as a writer, I’d have to accept that not everyone would like what I’d created and rejection would be part of my reality.
WOW: Yes, unfortunately for all of us, rejection is part of the writing world. I love that he wallpapered his office with the rejections. I usually throw those letters away, but I know lots of writers who save them, too. So, how do you get all this writing done when you have a full-time job?
Pam: This is probably the hardest thing for me. What works best is giving up all other responsibilities, such as cleaning house and grocery shopping. I’m kidding … kind of!
Right now, I accomplish my writing time by getting up with my boyfriend, who has to leave for work at 5:00 am, and using the wee hours of the morning to write. This gives me roughly two hours before I have to start getting ready for my own day job. I used to try writing at night, and sometimes still do, but often find that my hectic job has sucked away all my creative energy for the day. When I get home, I just want to veg out or play. Writing while still in my PJs and drinking my morning coffee, before I get too far into the day, works best for me. On the weekends, I often spend time writing or researching publishing opportunities, but I also try to give myself a break from both writing and work – time to just get outside, snuggle up with my boyfriend, watch some football, read a good book, or play with the ferrets. I figure that if all I do is work and write, I’ll run out of inspiration. So, I try to find time to just “be,” too.
WOW: Thank you so much, Pam, for taking the time to answer our questions today. You have shared with us a lot of great tips and words of wisdom. Do you have any other tips for people who want to enter future contests?
Pam: I’m new at contests myself, but I think what I’d say is to make sure you get something out of the experience whether or not you win. You can do that by crafting entries that you really enjoy writing or that help you work on a tone, type of storytelling, or style you’d like to practice. That way, you can’t lose! If you enter contests with prompts, choose one that inspires or “speaks” to you somehow, rather than trying to force an essay or fiction piece out of a prompt that leaves you feeling blah. The next prompt may be the one that awakens your personal muse.
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To check out Pam’s blog, please see http://sixweasels.vox.com. To see more about Pam, go to http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/49060/pam_.html
If you haven’t done so already, please read Pam’s award-winning story, “The Pink Dachshund,” at http://wow-womenonwriting.com/17-FE1-FallContest2008.html .
And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay Contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!
For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
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