Interview with Susan Stites - 3rd Place Winner of the Summer 2010 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Susan's Bio:

Susan Stites is the owner and sole employee of Management Allegories, a management development and technical writing firm based in Madison, Wisconsin. She has a BA in English from Wichita State University and an MA in Education from Northwestern University. Susan has published numerous books and technical training programs for clients, and is currently working on a collection of stories that spoof the absurdity of working in a business setting. Her story ideas are invented and shaped on her daily long walks with her doggie, Tula.

If you have not done so already, check out Susan's award-winning story here, and then return for a conversation with the author.

WOW!: Congratulations on placing 3rd in the WOW! Summer 2010 Flash Fiction Contest! How did you begin writing this story, or what was your inspiration for it?

Susan: I read the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. It is about a Laotian (Hmong) child who has epilepsy. The child's case gets tangled between the family and the California healthcare system. Language and cultural barriers cause everyone to make the worst possible decisions on the child's behalf. In this book, I learned that in the 1910s and 1920s, there were actually companies that held "Americanization" classes for immigrants. They included English lessons and lectures on work habits, personal hygiene and table manners. One such class actually did use a big pot that got stirred. I started to wonder what such an activity might feel like to a child in today's educational system, and the story was born.

WOW!: Great idea! Thank you for sharing your story with us. Does your background and experience with technical writing ever hinder your creative writing style?

Susan: Sometimes it hinders, and sometimes it helps.

How it helps:

1. It forces me to be disciplined, to push through blocks and to meet deadlines.
2. It gives me confidence that I can start and finish huge, book-length projects.
3. It helps me understand my audience and write with clarity using only necessary words.

How it hinders:

1. It is formulaic.
2. It keeps my creativity in a box.
3. Sometimes, after a long day of technical writing, I simply don't have the energy to do more writing. I have to do something that gets me outside and moving.

WOW!: Excellent points. There are only so many hours that someone can sit in front of a computer and write without getting some fresh air and exercise. How do you balance your time writing for your business and writing for pleasure or other purposes?

Susan: As you can see from the above answer, the balance is difficult. The thing that helps me is to set goals and deadlines. Unfortunately, when the goals are self-imposed and don't hurt a client, they are easy to ignore. That's why a contest like WOW is so helpful. If gives me an external deadline.

WOW!: I'm glad we could help! What do you enjoy most about writing?

Susan: Words, creativity, inventing plot twists. When I finish a story or a project, I look at the finished product and wonder how on earth that came out of me! When I write, I'm almost in an altered state, and sometimes I actually don't remember writing certain passages. That's when the creativity explodes.

WOW!: What a wonderful feeling! I love when the creativity tumbles out unconsciously. If you could have dinner with one author, dead or alive, who would you choose and why? (Tough question, I know!)

Susan: Ooh, that's tough. Can I have a party? If just one person, it would most likely be Tim O'Brien. His subtext and duplicity are masterful, and I would love to engage him in a discussion of story-truth versus happening-truth, how story truth can often bring out the real emotion of a situation better than happening-truth.

Thank you, Susan, for your excellent story and your insightful answers! We hope to read more of your work in the future!

Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt


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