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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interview with Doris E. Wright, Runner Up in WOW!s Spring 09 Flash Fiction Contest

Congratulations to Doris E. Wright of Homer, New York. Her flash fiction piece, You Can See, earned runner up honors in the Spring 2009 Flash Fiction Contest.
In addition to short stories and poetry, Doris completed her first novel about a the offbeat relationship between a middle-aged man and his philosophical bedding plant. Now, Doris ponders if agents that specialize in quirky, philosophical, comical, literary-satirical character studies actually exist.

A workshop veteran, Doris has participated in a poetry workshop at Colgate Writers' Conference and previously attended the Colgate Conference's novel-intensive workshop, a fiction workshop at The New York State Summer Writers' Institute at Skidmore College, and the Algonkian novel workshop.

Doris has a varied background: she's been a teacher and a newspaper reporter and feature writer. Now, she concentrates on traveling around the world. In the last three years, she and her husband Don, an African historian, have traveled in China, France, Spain, The Gambia, and Mali.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read her story, saunter on over and read it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!

WOW: Congratulations, Doris, on receiving runner up honors for your story. I'm super impressed with the quality workshops you've participated in. How have these opportunities helped your writing skills?
Doris: While each has had its value, the workshops I attended at Colgate University were especially helpful. This summer I took the poetry workshop and, though I’ve written poetry since high school and studied it in college, I found there was a lot to learn, especially in terms of form. The craft talks and readings were wonderful; inspiring. But for me, the most valuable thing about workshops is being immersed in the writing world for a week or two. Even at meals or on a walk across campus, you are talking and thinking about writing all the time. So you start to take yourself seriously and really think of yourself as a writer (which means, you better get busy).

WOW: I like the idea of being immersed in the writing world and learning to take the craft seriously. What advice would you offer a writer contemplating attending her first conference?
Doris: Don’t be afraid. Most everyone is open and accepting. Approach people, even the established writers, and ask questions about their work and writing experience. Take advantage of every opportunity, don’t miss a talk or a reading; and read your work to others if you have a chance. It can be exhausting, but it will be over soon and you don’t want to miss anything.

WOW: A conferences sounds like workable fun! Imagine how much a writer can learn while participating! You previously worked as a news reporter. How does your background as a feature writer shape your fiction?
Doris: I suppose any writing, in the sense that it’s practice, contributes to your ability. You are constrained by time and style requirements, which is a useful writing exercise. And, when you work for a newspaper you encounter interesting situations and unusual people who can stimulate your imagination.

WOW: Imagination and unusual people and situations really do help stimulate the writing mind. Your story has an unusual situation and even the title lends itself to various interpretations. Plus, the title contains a touch of irony. How important is the title for flash fiction?
Doris: I think finding the right title is fun—I love words, and plays on words. The title in flash fiction is important: it gives you the opportunity to tell the reader something you couldn’t say because of your word limit and point them in a certain direction.

WOW: That's a great point to make. Flash fiction can be limiting, but quality stories create a strong story arc and are filled with details and symbolism. You Can See contains a lot of symbolism about seeing and sight. What's your method for incorporating so much symbolism into the prescribed word limit?
Doris: I have no method. To be honest, it wasn’t deliberate. Perhaps I injected symbolism reflexively or intuitively? I suppose writing poetry might bring that element to my writing. I’m not sure.

WOW: Perhaps you did! It's so fascinating to see how a story and all its details take shape. Let's talk about how the writing process works for you. When do you write? How do you develop ideas?
Doris: I don’t have the discipline I should and tend to let things distract me. I’m better off writing in the morning, before other things snatch me up. At one point I ordered myself to sit down and write for at least an hour most days of the week. I got a lot done that way because once you start you tend to keep going. It’s the starting that’s hard. As far as developing ideas, they mostly just come to me. I tend to see things ironically—like, what would it be like if I was out driving and suddenly there was a rhinoceros crossing the road—and that’s why my writing could be considered dark or quirky.

WOW: I agree that it is all to easy to get distracted. Eventually, I get back on track and stick to my schedule. It helps when deadlines must be met and the project list continues to grow. What current projects are you working on?
Doris: Although my novel is finished, I’m still tweaking it and seeking an agent. I have several longer, short stories that I want to polish, poems that need work, and ideas for other short stories. There’s a memoir in my future, I think.

WOW: Doris, you've traveled to so many interesting spots, I hope your memoir includes stories about your travels. Good luck with your projects! Contests can help a writer fine-tune her craft. You've had success in previous WOW! contests. What elements do you feel are necessary to make a solid flash piece?
Doris: Certainly you must convey an idea or event that is, in one way or another, complete in itself. But, I think, it needs to have emotional weight to it—something that makes the reader think or moves the reader, and makes them reflect back on it. With that emotional component, you expand your word limit, involving the reader and their own experience.
WOW: Great advice, especially for writers contemplating entering a flash contest. Congratulations again, Doris, and I hope to read more of your work.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler
Follow luann on Twitter @luannschindler

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