If you haven’t already read Cynthia's story about a brief conversation between a husband and wife that says more without words than with them, please do so: Dobie. And don’t forget to come back and read our interview with this talented woman, whose well-deserved first place win should come as no surprise.
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WOW!: Cynthia, you have an impressive, award-winning writing background. Did you have any idea you might win first place in our contest?
Cynthia: I actually happened upon this contest the evening that it was due and decided to give it a shot – so I banged this piece out, sent it via email to one of my daughters to see if it made any sense, and decided to give it a shot. I had no idea what to expect – I hadn’t even read any of the previous winners at that point because I was pressed for time.
WOW!: Your decision to give the contest a shot definitely paid off! Your story contains excellent descriptive passages, especially the use of color. Do you have any of the creative interests in your personal life that Timbro is trying to steer Dobie away from?
Cynthia: I like to think that I live my life with an eye toward creativity. I think we all have that capacity within us – to create, to make our environment pleasing and interesting. I love color and texture and whimsy and I’m a huge patron of the arts – but other than the little bit I can do with words; I wouldn’t call myself “talented.”
WOW!: Our readers may beg to differ on that, Cynthia, as you have a talent for creating such believable characters. How did the characters of Timbro and Dobie come about?
Cynthia: When I was a young woman I read Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, and that was, I believe, the single most influential book of my life. Being from the South and a descendent of families who worked the land for little pay, I realized when reading Alice, that the women in my own background may have been talented artists who had no canvasses for their artistic abilities. They couldn’t have afforded the tools and provisions to pursue creativity, nor would they have had the time or the encouragement, given that they were mere “women”—so in all likelihood, like Alice’s mother, they captured their canvasses wherever they could – in the garden, in the clothes they sewed for their families, in their pantries. This realization both thrills me and breaks my heart. So, maybe with stories like Dobie’s, I can channel a little of the creative energy of my own ancestors onto the page.
WOW!: I like how the story ends, with Dobie humming, as if she knows something her husband doesn't. She's already so creative, perhaps without realizing it. What would you tell Dobie if you could tell her anything?
Cynthia: First of all, I would talk to Timbro! I’d give him a little lesson in how lucky he is to live the life that Dobie has made for him. I’d ask him where he thought his meals and his clean clothes and happy home would come from if Dobie weren’t there doing the equally important work she does – and how would he be able to do his work if Dobie didn’t do hers. Being a woman, Dobie, of course, is already aware of this. I would tell her 3 things: To keep the faith; to teach her daughters well; and to put back secret money of her own whenever and wherever she could!
WOW!: Excellent advice for both of them, especially for women who aren’t allowed to have much control in a relationship. You are a talented writer in all fields, but which is more challenging for you to write: fiction, non-fiction or poetry?
Cynthia: Well, I’m not a good poet – I’m totally unschooled in it and, while I had some success when I was young, I think that was when the bar wasn’t very high because I haven’t been very successful as an adult. That said, sometimes poems just hit me in the face and I have to write them down. I suspect they’re very amateur. In terms of fiction or non-fiction – I have to want to write something to do it well. Non-fiction isn’t difficult, but I’m my own worst enemy and I’ll procrastinate until the last minute just like in college. With fiction though, I sometimes feel like the words just come from somewhere else and my fingers just type them out. I love that, but I can’t always count on it happening. So, I’m probably equally challenged by all three.
WOW!: Very interesting and something that other writers can relate to. What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
Cynthia: Well, obviously I love giving voice to women whose voices may have gone unheard, and I really like looking at the interaction of individuals both with their social environment and with the earth itself. So I often write about people who live off the land in one way or another – I almost always write about Southerners – real, working-class Southerners – not those media created Belles, but real women with dirt under their fingernails. And the other thing that I really enjoy doing is looking at a moment in time – one moment or decision or intention that illuminates a step forward for the character—an emotional or intellectual or spiritual moment of growth.
WOW!: You definitely captured such a moment in Dobie. Is there any type of character you haven't yet written about that you'd like to create?
Cynthia: Well, I rarely write about men, although I’m working on a short story about a boy now and I finished one about a man who had totally repressed his feminine side due to an incident from childhood, not long ago. What I want to do is to take a look at a typical man—in many ways, one like Timbro – and explore why they are the way they are. I want to look at all those repressive, stressful messages that living in a patriarchal society piles on them – and I want to find the authentic self in his character – I want to help him be free.
WOW!: It’s always wonderful when authors try to capture a character from a different perspective like that. Now, what type of writing inspires you?
Cynthia: I don’t want to sound flip, but “good” writing is what inspires me. You know, the orchestration of words – the flow and construction of a beautiful sentence and the use of the most absolutely precise word. That floors me. So, sometimes it Anna Quinlan in the back of Newsweek, and other times its Barbara Kingsolver or Zora Neal Hurston. I like it when words make me feel them.
WOW!: What advice do you have for aspiring women writers?
Cynthia: Be patient with yourself. Try to not beat yourself up but let the muse take you where she wants you to go – not where you think you should go. I, just 5 months ago, came off of a period when I could hardly write. Five years ago my family experienced what I call the “year of death” – my Dad and my Brother and our Golden Retriever all died within a few months of one another and I think I went sort of numb. I wrote very little during that time and I got to the point that I didn’t identify myself as a writer. Combined with that is that I also have what I think may be a real fear of both failure and success, which takes constant rationalization on my part. Then suddenly, I was entering my 49th year of life and I guess the ice cracked. I started writing and I promised my daughters that I would put a collection of my short stories out there and see if anyone thought they were worth reading – and that I would do that before my 50th birthday – which is just about 6 months away. A year ago I wouldn’t have agreed to that kind of timeline – but now, I think I’ll follow through.
WOW!: I really hope you do follow through and I think a lot of readers out there hope the same thing. It’s good that you were able to return from a difficult period in your life back to pursuing your talent. Also, I know you're working on a book with your husband. Are there any plans for a novel in your future?
Cynthia: Oh, I’ve started a couple but then put them aside. But, your site and this contest have encouraged me – maybe it’s time to pick them back up again!
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If you haven't done so already, please read Cynthia's story, Dobie. And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Winter 2008 Flash Fiction 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: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php.