Jan Ackerson, Summer 2010 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Jan’s Bio:

Jan Ackerson is a retired high school teacher living with her husband and Sophie, the Demented Cat in rural Michigan. She was first published in 1962, when her poem I Like Deer appeared in her elementary school’s literary anthology. After that, she took a long break from writing, until a family crisis in 2000 drove her to find solace in the scratch of pen on paper.

Her short stories and poetry have been seen mostly on FaithWriters.com, where she has earned dozens of weekly awards. Her stories Sniggles and The Suit Jacket of Grace and her poem A Poet Rests in the 131st Psalm have placed in that site’s yearly ‘Best of the Best’ competition.
Jan is spending her retirement years traveling, playing with her granddaughter, and freelance editing. Her short stories and poetry can be found at http://www.faithwriters.com/member-profile.php?id=11626.

Don’t forget to check out Jan’s winning entry here, then settle in for our interview with her below.

WOW: Jan, thanks for taking time to chat with us today, and congratulations for placing in our contest! What are your thoughts about it all?

Jan: I was astounded! I have a hard time thinking of myself as a real writer; unlike most of my writing friends, I’ve never sought publication. Writing is just a hobby to me, and I entered the contest as a whim. Maybe, in some dim corner of my brain, I was hoping for some validation of my scratchings—but I never expected to do so well against accomplished writers. This feels absolutely marvelous!

WOW: Glad to hear that, you did a fantastic job with your entry! Speaking of which, how did your story ‘A Kind Woman Lives Here’ develop?

Jan: I happened across a website that showed dozens of the ‘hobo signs’ used during the Great Depression. I imagined a sweet old tramp scrawling a primitive sign on a woman’s front gate—and working backward, the story of this brief and grace-filled encounter formed itself. I’d like to imagine that my grandmother might have served such a homely meal in the same circumstances.

WOW: That’s a good example of how writers can be inspirited by just about anything, including an aspect of Depression-era society some might not be familiar with. Besides grace, I also felt a sense of peace as I read your delightful story. Well done!

Let’s turn to your writing background. Now your bio mentioned your return to writing in 2000 after a long break. Can you tell what happened to bring that about?

Jan: In October of 2000, my eighteen-year-old daughter suffered a spinal cord injury in a horseback riding accident. I’m a person who internalizes emotions, but this particular event was so earth-shattering that I really needed an outlet. I started to blog, and I found a website, FaithWriters.com, where I could post my writings in a supportive environment. The funny thing is—I’d intended to write out my rage at God, but writing became a means of emotional healing.

WOW: Thank you for sharing this with us, it must have been quite a difficult time for you and your family. I’m in agreement with you in experiencing writing as a source of healing, as other writers have found. For me, journaling has provided that outlet for years.

Looking back, what’s one thing you know now about writing you wish you knew back when you started?

Jan: There’s a lot of mechanical stuff—dialog tags, writing ‘tight’, choosing the right tense and POV—that I’ve had to learn to do better. But I wish I’d known more about the community of writers. I’ve found writers to be incredibly supportive and helpful; we all want for there to be more beautiful words in the world, and we’ll gladly help each other to get to the point where more beautiful words are being produced.

WOW: I agree! I continue to be amazed at the extent writers go to encourage and lift each other up. Very gratifying!

Now, you’re a writer of both short stories and poetry. What’s your process of transitioning between the two forms? Do you have a preference?

Jan: I love poetry, but it’s extremely difficult for me to write. Nevertheless, every so often an idea simply demands to be written as a poem, no matter how much I resist it. Poems use language in such a totally different way than prose that I don’t find it difficult to switch from one to the other; it’s like playing piano or playing the flute. The tools are the same (musical symbols/words) but an entirely different skill set is required—a different part of the brain, even. I prefer writing short stories, because they’re easier for me, but I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I’ve written a poem.

WOW: Hmm, that’s an interesting observation regarding the need to use a different skill set in creating poems. Something to keep in mind the next time I may write a poem.

I’ve noticed you’ve mentioned FaithWriters a few times. Tell us more about them.

Jan: FaithWriters is a website with all sorts of goodies for Christian writers. Their biggest draw is the writing challenge, where writers submit an entry based on a weekly prompt. There are message boards that deal with every aspect of writing and publishing, ebooks and writing classes, and so much more. Best of all, FaithWriters is a community of like-minded writers who really love one another, and who constantly work to help each other to write better.

WOW: Thanks for passing along details about them. Readers, check them out here. Wrapping things up, please share about Sophie, the Demented Cat!

Jan: Sophie’s not your typical lap-sitting, purring furball. When she wants attention, she saunters into the bathroom and flushes the toilet—and she’ll repeat that until I get up and shoo her out. She doesn’t care much for anyone in the family but me—but only when I pull my computer onto my lap. She’s a notoriously picky eater. Only one brand of dry cat food will do, but she’ll eat rubber bands and string, given the opportunity. She’s the best cat ever.

WOW: (Laughs) Flushes the toilet to get attention, and eats rubber bands and string! What a wild cat Sophie is! Jan, thanks again for chatting with us today, it was a pleasure! All the best with your writing!

Interview by Jill Earl


~Jan said...

Thanks for the interview, Jill. Some friends have told me that the link to my story doesn't work. Is that something that can be fixed?

Thanks again!

WOW! said...

Hi Jan,

I loved your story! I fixed the link to it, so it should work now.

What a great interview. I loved hearing about your demented cat, and the inspiration behind your story. Thanks for sharing! :)

Rita Garcia said...

I enjoyed reading the interview and learning a little more about Jan!
Jan's story awakened all my senses and touched my heart. I love reading fiction that makes me more aware of what a little kindness can mean. Maybe, that is why kindness is a fruit of the Spirit! The story had me hoping Hank returned home--I wanted to add him to my prayer list! Congratulations, Jan!

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