When in the fourth grade, Norma began her passionate journalism career with a piece about whooping cranes for her class newspaper. She has written poetry for as long as she can remember, and years later, took up nonfiction as a regular contributor to Santa Barbara's Coastal Woman magazine. But through her careers in the U.S. Navy, as an attorney specializing in non-profit law, and most recently as a museum director, she never submitted her fiction or poetry for publication. With the encouragement of receiving WOW! final status in her first contest, she appeals to other writers who hold their personal writing close to their hearts to let go. Share what you create. You never know when someone will read your work and relate to its message.
Norma's story, Bluer, shares some a positive message about taking chances. If you haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, head over to the contest page and peruse the story. You'll be glad you did!
WOW: Norma, welcome to The Muffin. Congratulations on receiving runner up honors in WOW!'s Summer Flash Fiction contest. Your story, Bluer, talks about taking risks and having faith. What led you to use the horse racing term?
Norma: I love learning new words and turns of phrase, especially when they have a story all their own. I heard the term "bluer" somewhere, and at first it conjured up a pretty predictable cast of characters, the stereotypes you'd expect to hang around a race track. But eventually, I broadened my perspective . . . the horse racing term and environment led to the realization that we all continually weigh the risks in life. Holding back because of fear, bad experiences, is true of people as well as horses.
WOW: I agree wholeheartedly! Many people hold back because they are afraid or have had a negative experience. Likewise, many are afraid to take a chance because they are afraid of change. Why did you decide to write a story that explores the possibility of a happy ending?
Norma: I'm not so much of a Pollyanna that all my stories must have a happy ending. Claire and Jim aren't married in the end, but the "happy" ending is that Claire stepped out of the claustrophobic little cell she lived in. She got on the bus without the safety net of a return ticket. Who knows? Maybe Jim had left Vegas with a stripper by the time she got there . . . maybe, Claire got a job in a casino and fell in love with a math genius who was working as a part-time dealer while he planned to scam the casino out of millions. I won't tell.
WOW: (Smiles) So, happy endings can take a few twists and turns of their own. Norma, you've written a fair share of poetry. How does that process compare to flash fiction?
Norma: For me, poetry and flash fiction, after the initial inspiration, become something of logic puzzles. Poetry should be lean, just enough meat on the bones for the metaphor to hang together. Flash fiction is a similar challenge; every word counts.
WOW: That's so true. Word count and precision can make or break a piece. Would you wind sharing your writing routine?
Norma: I wish my writing were "routine." I have a demanding career, so I try to write on weekends. I keep a notebook by the bed. And I'm fortunate . . . at home I have a lot of quiet time. The best ting any writer can do is to "kill your television." I decided the last thing I want is my head filled with other people's stories. TV steals your imagination. The other thing I do is read great writers. Right now, I'm working my way through the Man Booker Prize winners. I just finished White Tiger, a first novel by Aravind Adiga. It's an incredible read.
WOW: Writers need to make time to read. It helps writers stay sharp, and it allows writers to see and experience other styles of writing. It's a great source for ideas. I know you're career path has been an interesting journey. You've served in the Navy, been a non-profit lawyer, and now you're a museum director. Plus, you spread your nonfiction wings writing for a magazine. Do you draw on any of these experiences for your poetry or fiction endeavors?
Norma: Ideally, my life and spirit would be so integrated that "drawing on my experiences" would be like breathing . . . inhale, exhale . . . but it's a little more work than that. I've been fortunate to have traveled, met many people, and seen them facing varied challenges, sorrows, and joys. But more important is your inner journey, traveling toward your own complete soul. Writing is putting that soul down on paper, and as you do so, more and more of it is revealed to you. You can be a writer without ever leaving your hometown. Emily Dickinson is proof that the greatest inspirational well is within us.
WOW: Jim, one of the characters in Bluer, is a retired Navy man. Is he based on someone you knew in the Navy?
Norma: Jim is a composite of men I knew in the Navy . . . smart, honorable, and forthright . . . and a risk-taker, but a wise one. I think Claire will be all right, don't you?
WOW: Claire will be just fine with Jim. He has good intentions. I enjoy museums, and one of the best I've visited is the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego. There's so much history and knowledge that most people probably don't consider. At the Maritime Museum you direct, what's the most unique piece or your favorite exhibit? What lessons should visitors take away from touring the museum?
Norma: The Wisconsin Maritime Museum has so many exhibits and incredible artifacts, including the most completely restored World War II submarine in the country and a beautiful 1917 Burger yacht, Lady Isabel, formerly named Swastika - imagine the stories she can tell! But my favorite items in the museum's collections are personal diaries, letters, and photos of people who sailed ships on the Great Lakes, our inland seas, perhaps vanished on them, went to war on submarines built here in Wisconsin, or stayed at home imagining the lives of their loved ones so far away in conflict. Those are the things that touch me most.
WOW: The museum sounds incredible. I hope I'm able to visit some day. The intimate stories of those who live in a our neighborhoods intrigue me, too. Norma, what projects are you currently working on?
Norma: I'm always working on short stories or "modular chapters of an undetermined longer work or works". (How's that for saying whatever my brain cooks up!) I am working on a specific novel, constantly writing poetry. I'm enchanted by haiku and the epiphany or "ah-ha" moment each haiku contains; I've found it a great way to get my creative juices going.
WOW: Brilliant! I enjoy haiku and the challenge of creating a visual image. What advice would you offer aspiring writers? Also, for writers who have never entered a writing contest, what hints can you offer to "take a risk" and enter?
Norma: KILL YOUR TELEVISION. READ GOOD AUTHORS (and the New York Times bestseller list may not be the best way to find them). Do whatever you can to give yourself the gift of quiet. WORK OUTDOORS. . . I think plein air writing should be as common a concept as plein air painting. ENTER CONTESTS. They give you a time goal, a structure, and the promise of a reward. I can't guarantee a happy ending, but don't live your life always buying the round-trip ticket. STEP OUT . . . and HAVE FUN!
WOW: Wonderful advice! I especially like the idea of writing outside. Norma, thank you for sharing your thoughts about your stories and writing. And again, congratulations on the runner up honors in our flash fiction contest.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler