Congratulations to Lauren Leatherman, who won second place in WOW!'s Winter 2010 Flash Fiction contest with her story, "Summer Before Junior High."
Lauren is a writer living in Jersey City, NJ. Originally from Syracuse, NY, she received her MFA in fiction from New York University and is the author of the chapbook How To Lose It (Hamilton College, 2005). Most recently, one of her short stories was shortlisted for the Best New American Voices series. In addition to writing, Lauren is an avid runner and yoga enthusiast who regularly publishes articles about running, nutrition, and holistic health and wellness. She currently works in marketing and is at work on a memoir. You can also check her out on the Jersey City Running Examiner.
WOW: Lauren, thank you for joining us on The Muffin today. Let's talk about your winning piece. Where did you get the idea for "Summer Before Junior High?"
Lauren: There are two girls in my family--I'm the oldest. Anyone who is an older sister to a sister knows that an inherent competition exists between even the most loving sisters. In the case of my story, I wanted to convey the idea that sisters--often for unspecified reasons--will compete with one another or be critical of one another. The narrator of "Summer Before Junior High" feels the need to differentiate herself from her younger sister at this crucial point in her life. She's about to enter junior high--a pivotal time for girls, as they're beginning their transformation from child to young adult. The fact the narrator has experienced a kiss with an older boy means, to her, that she's breaking free from the confines of childhood. She's proud of this fact and critical of her sister for still being a kid, still being interested in boondoggle and "childish" trappings. She wants to distinguish herself from her sister as much as possible; yet, she's still inextricably tied to her, not just by blood but the deeper bond that sisters share. It's a complicated relationship, filled with love and misgivings, but most relationships between sisters are complicated.
WOW: You captured all of that so well and in so few words! Great job! You wrote this story in present tense, and it makes the reader feel like she is there with your two characters. Do you often write in present tense? Why or why not?
Lauren: I do write in present tense fairly often. I guess that's just the way my mind works. I really like the immediacy of present tense; like you said, it makes the reader feel as though she's part of the story, experiencing what the characters experience in real-time.
I do, however, thinks there is value to writing in past tense, too. In present tense, you sometimes feel as though you have to explain in minute detail exactly what your character is doing at every single moment in the text. This works well for short stories but can get kind of tedious with longer works.
WOW: Good point. I have read some novels in present tense, and it does take a very skilled author to pull it off. As in your story, when it works, it really works! What themes are you exploring in "Summer Before Junior High?"
Lauren: First and foremost, the complex bond between sisters. Also, the desire to grow up overnight, to leave behind childhood pastimes and become someone mature, exciting, desirable. I think a lot of girls nowadays feel the need to grow up quickly, internalizing cultural messages about how they should behave at, say, thirteen. I do think that hormones fuel this desire, too--you don't quite feel like a kid anymore, but you're keenly aware of the fact you're not a true adult, either. It's a weird limbo period, and you're bound to be confused, torn between a desire to be who you were at ten and a desire to change and become someone new and enticing.
WOW: Besides writing fiction, your bio also says that you are working on a memoir. Can you tell us a little about this project?
Lauren: My memoir is about my battle with anorexia, overcoming the illness and embracing the hard notion of being "healthy" again. Because I'm not a very linear thinker, I'm writing my memoir in a short story format--interconnected chapters that can still stand on their own.
WOW: That sounds fascinating, and what an important story to share. What is your writing routine like?
Lauren: Sporadic! I'm not very good at writing on a schedule. I normally write about three to four days a week, anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours. I have a full-time job, so that doesn't allow for writing during the day. I definitely take advantage of Sundays to write--I sort of reserve them as my "writing" days.
Weirdly, I write best when I'm surrounded by distractions. I find I do my best writing on my laptop at busy coffee shops. I'm not sure why, but it works for me!
WOW: That's actually not as weird as you think--I do the same thing. Sometimes, too much quiet is not good for the creative mind. (smiles) You have an MFA in fiction from New York University. How do you feel this degree prepares you for a writing career?
Lauren: I think an MFA in writing is an incredibly versatile degree. I went to grad school knowing that I loved to write and thinking I'd maybe pursue teaching or working in publishing. I got to teach while at NYU, and that was an amazing experience. When I graduated, though, I decided that I was more interested in working in marketing/communications while continuously writing creatively outside of work. A "writing career" can encompass many fields; strong, clear, compelling writing really is the backbone of so many professions.
WOW: Thank you, Lauren, for sharing a little insight into your story, your writing process, and your career. We wish you the best of luck in the future!
interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, http://margodill.com/blog/