Emily Rinkema is an English teacher living in the small town of Westford, Vermont with her husband and two dogs. While on partial sabbatical this year, she is working on her first novel and enjoying every minute of it. She has had short stories published in Seven Days and The Sun magazine, and writes whenever she can find the time.
Emily placed in the Top 10 in the WOW! Summer Flash Fiction Contest. Read her winning story, Before, and then come back for a chat with this talented writer.
WOW: Welcome, Emily! It's so cool that you're an English teacher. What grade do you teach and what's your biggest challenge as a teacher for that age group?
Emily: I teach tenth-graders mostly. I love this age group for so many reasons. They are young enough to be able to let go and have fun, and yet they are becoming young adults, so they are able to think critically and analytically. My biggest challenge is probably meeting the needs of all learners; I believe strongly in the importance of heterogeneous classes, yet this makes teaching more difficult. The key to challenging all students is to provide differentiated learning experiences, and I spend most of my non-teaching time trying to become a better teacher in this way.
WOW: I enjoy tenth-graders too, mainly because my 3 grandsons are at that age. Our schools certainly reflect the melting-pot of our society. Your students are so fortunate to have a teacher who reaches out to each of them and at the same time teaches them to work together. Writing a novel is hard work. What is your novel about?
Emily: I'm not sure yet. I'm about 150 pages into it and it keeps changing. I guess it's about the difference between truth and memory...about which is ultimately more powerful or important. And it's about a family. And chickens.
WOW: (Laughing) You got my attention when you said chickens. I love chickens. You're story Before struck home with me. My home state, West Virginia, is a big mining state and my grandfather was a coal miner. Are there a lot of mines in Vermont? Do you have a relative that works in the mines?
Emily: As far as I know, there aren't any mines in Vermont...we're more of a dairy state. I became interested in mining years ago after reading a newspaper story about a mine collapse. It has stuck with me since then.
WOW: You did such a wonderful job on her emotions; I was sure you'd experienced the tragedy first hand. I loved the comparison of Carla and Sue's lives and of the way you described Carla's reaction to the news--the shock that laid under the surface. Did your story start out in Carla's POV?
Emily: The story was originally first person, but third person seemed a more effective way of providing the distance I wanted.
WOW: Often people go into shock and continue doing their routine tasks (like spreading peanut butter), as a way to avoid facing the emergency at hand. You nailed the connection between the center of the mine and Carla's pregnancy. Did that just fall into place or did you strategically plan it that way?
Emily: From the beginning (the first draft), I knew Carla was going to be pregnant. I wanted to play with the connection between the mine and the womb, as well as Carla's feeling of entrapment. The earliest drafts were much longer and were a bit too obvious with connections--I wanted the parallels to be evident, but not hit the reader over the head with symbolism.
WOW: You handled the situation like a pro. How long have you been writing?
Emily: I've been writing stories since I was a kid, but it was only a few years ago that I actually let anyone read anything or tried to publish. In my mind, there was an implied arrogance about sending out writing--I felt that by sending my work to a magazine or journal or contest, I was saying that it was good enough to be in print. That was a tough hurdle for me; I never think anything I write is "finished," but I finally got to the point where I thought what the... Because of my teaching job, I don't find much time to write, but I take what time I can find.
WOW: It seems that as writers we push writing to the back burner way too often. Do you prefer flash fiction or long stories?
Emily: I like writing both. Flash fiction is a different kind of challenge--every
word has to count. I find that writing flash fiction makes me a better, more careful writer. I am much more aware of my use of language when I have to be precise and concise.
WOW: Thank you, Emily, for taking the time to share with our WOW readers. Since I have you sharing--how did you feel when you found out you placed as a runner up? Is this the first contest you've entered? What advice do you have for a writer who's thinking of entering a contest?
Emily: I was excited to place in this contest, and hopefully I will have more confidence moving forward. I have had a few short stories published, but this is the first contest I've entered. My advice for those thinking of entering...go for it. You've got nothing to lose!
***If you haven't already done so, please read Emily's story Before.
The Winter Flash Fiction Contest is open. Deadline: February 28, 2009 (or until we reach 300 entries). Don't wait until the last minute! Visit our Contest Page for details. Happy writing!