Interview with Abby Everett Tignor, 2nd Place Personal Essay Winner

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Muffin welcomes second place winner in the Fall 2008 personal essay contest, Abby Everett Tignor. If you haven't read Abby's winning essay, "Dust Bunnies," you can do so here.

Abby states, "My most vivid memories as a child are of the local library and the stack of books I’d haul home every month, thinking that someday I’d write that great novel. I have yet to write the first word of said novel—apparently because I’ve been too busy living my life, which has provided all kinds of great material of the non-fiction sort. This is my first major contest entry, but the editors of Women in the Outdoors Magazine did actually pay me real money for an article I wrote a few years ago. So I now call myself a published author, looking for more. When I’m not putting skewed memories to paper, I go to my day job as a death claims examiner for a large insurance company. They frown on using too much creativity, humor, or dicey language in our correspondence concerning the dearly departed, so I’m forced to find my outlet elsewhere.

I live in rural Ohio with my husband of 25 years, who provides me with yet more material. We have two pretty cool sons, an ornery little granddaughter, donkey, mule and a large and grumpy Doberman. When we’re not tending to our five acres of paradise, we’re hanging at our river cabin, which attracts characters that really deserve their own book. Besides writing, I enjoy kayaking, photography, cooking and enjoying a cold beverage with friends and family as the river flows by. Please come visit me at "

WOW!: Welcome, Abby! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Congratulations on your 2nd place win! Was it easy or difficult for you to write to the prompt for WOW!'s Fall 2008 Contest? Why? Did you come up with an idea right away?

Abby: I find it easier to write to a prompt for a contest, which explains why this has been my only major entry so far- I just have a hard time narrowing down my ideas! I lean toward non-fiction, so this prompt was fairly easy for me and didn't take long to draft out.

WOW!: Well, we are glad this prompt inspired you and helped you narrow your ideas. We also hope that you will continue working on pieces and maybe entering contests or submitting your work because you obviously can write! In your winning essay, you do a great job of paralleling what was happening in your home to what was happening in your personal life. How did you get the idea to write about this subject?

Abby: At first, the obvious path was to point out how my decorating affected my personal life and vice versa. After thinking it through, though, I discovered that the real story here was how I had managed to un-decorate my home and myself without realizing it. My emotional/physical state at any given time pretty much paralleled what condition the house was in!

WOW!: What a great self-realization! It makes me want to look at how I've decorated or un-decorated my house at certain points and figure out why. How do you feel about writing to a certain word count? Is it easier or harder to write a short piece or long piece?

Abby: I think it's much harder to write a short piece. As a story idea comes to mind, I never think I have enough material until I start writing. Once the words start flowing, one paragraph leads to another; and before I know it, I'm way over limit. It's a great learning tool, though, as it forces me to cut out the junk and focus on the quality and necessity of each and every word.

WOW!: I think that is something all writers struggle with--writing too much. But as you pointed out, usually when we start cutting, as painful as it may be, we produce a better, tighter piece. What do you feel are the benefits of entering a contest, (besides winning!)?

Abby: Well, the winning was sweet, of course, and totally unexpected, but that's not why I entered. I had dabbled in writing some time ago, but I didn't get serious about it until recently. I read, researched the Web, prepared myself in every way....except for the actual writing part! Fear and uncertainty kept me from putting anything to paper, so I decided that a formal contest with a deadline, prompt and word count, would be a great way to dive in head-first and get over the anxiety. It worked-- I've been writing ever since and winning second place was a huge boost. Another plus is that, unlike a book proposal, there was no direct rejection involved, which I thought was important, just starting out.

WOW!: I think one reason why contests are so important is what you said above. Contests give you a deadline, sometimes a certain genre to write in, and a word-count. If you are stuck in a writing rut, at least by entering a contest, you are producing a new piece of work. And maybe you will get that little extra boost if you win! You mentioned in your bio you want to write a novel, but you haven't started yet. What are some of your writing goals for the future?

Abby: The novel has been put on hiatus for now, as I've discovered I have more fun writing non-fiction and have a daily supply of material. I'm using my blog as a practice tool and like the contest, it's forced me to continue my writing on a regular basis-- I have a small circle of friends who happen to share my sense of humor and demand new material! In the near future, I'd like to focus on gathering some related memoir pieces for a book (with knowledge bestowed upon me during inappropriate conversation and mimosas with Hollis Gillespie and her memoir students in Atlanta-great class!) and also begin piecing together a biography on my great aunt, who was an Alaskan pioneer.

WOW!: (laughs) Any class with mimosas has to be a great class, right? I think it is great that you are listening to your inner writer and following your interests right now--an Alaskan pioneer--just the subject sounds like something I would definitely want to read! Your day job as a death claims examiner for a large insurance company sounds really interesting. Do any of your work experiences make it into your manuscripts? If not, where do you get your inspiration?

Abby: Yes, investigating death claims has been quite an experience, which I'm sure will someday inspire a book or two. We deal with so much emotion, family dynamics, murder, etc., that it's hard not to be affected at the end of each day--maybe that's why I focus so much on humor. I have yet to use any of this in my writing out of respect for the families and as a privacy issue. Some day, when I do delve into fiction, I hope to incorporate some of the more intriguing and quirky aspects of my job into a book. My inspiration at the moment comes from the simple craziness of every day life-- what makes me laugh or scratch my head and wonder, and also from my childhood memories as I had a rather interesting upbringing.

WOW!: It sounds like you have a great writing career ahead of you, Abby! Congratulations again on your 2nd place win, and we look forward to hearing your name in the literary world again.

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Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill,, Read These Books and Use Them


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