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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Karen Simmonds, Double Winner in 2010 Summer Flash Fiction Contest!

Karen Simmonds has always tried to shoehorn writing into a busy schedule which currently includes homeschooling the youngest of her three daughters, running a wedding business with the eldest, and preparing to be a grandmother (in three weeks time!) All of this provides endless fodder and, as a result, thoughts of what she will write about next are rare. The great thing about writing is that you can usually do it until a ripe old age, which she plans to do. Karen has been involved with a writers’ group for nearly thirteen years. She has found that having deadlines, even self-imposed ones, helps keep forward momentum. She is also happy to have found a place like WOW! that fosters that final step in the process for every writer: sending out your work. She is glad to have had the opportunity to participate.

Find out more about Karen by visiting her website:

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Top 10 with two stories, an amazing accomplishment! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Karen: Thanks so much! A friend of mine in my writer's group, more fearless than I, told me about the contest and that I should enter. In addition, I was annoyed with myself for hardly ever sending out my work, always thinking it could be better, etc. So what if it can be better--how much better? I have seen stories that are overworked and that flowed better on the second draft than the fourth or fifth. Sometimes the inner critic needs to be bound and gagged.

WOW: Both of your entries were fantastic. Can you tell us what encouraged the ideas behind your stories, 1974 and Vessel?

Karen: "Vessel" was inspired by my twenty-seven yr. old pregnant daughter. Seeing her with her hand on her belly, the devotion already there, made me wonder what kind of person could perpetrate fraud on unsuspecting couples and fail to form such an attachment themselves. It occurred to me that there could be something more going on there, something altruistic. It was an interesting character study, to be sure. Human motivation is such an amazing thing.

"1974" was reminiscent of my childhood years. I was more like the tom-boy character but had a little of the social awkwardness as well. I really wanted to explore those fleeting friendships we all had when we were young and had trouble truly defining. How and why do they start and, even more inexplicably, how and why do they end? It's such a joyful time of life, but also painful and confusing. Whoever says being a kid is easy may have forgotten a few things along the way.

WOW: Have you always enjoyed the genre, and how did you learn to write great flash fiction?

Karen: I've always been drawn to the challenge of making the most of my words. Flash Fiction is definitely a kind of cross between poetry and a short story. Of course, time was always a factor as well. 'Hey, I'm waiting for a child's lesson to end, let me pick out the shortest piece in this story collection and I'll actually get to finish it.' Same with the writing.

I eventually took a course in flash fiction offered at our local literary center "Writers and Books" (a fabulous course offered by Len Messineo.) We looked at a lot of great, already-published writers but there was a lot of talent in the room as well. It's always nice to get positive feedback and encouragement while learning the craft.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Karen: This question makes me squirm since I still allow my routine to revolve around everyone else. It's something I'm working on. I know Stephen King said something about the closed door which, literally and figuratively means "Leave me alone. I'm writing!" As a mother, and now a grandma, I haven't been willing to do that.

I think we all have to find what motivates us. Sometimes, for me, it's simply wanting to tell a story the way I want to tell it. Or it's a deadline situation and, once I get started, it just takes off. Other times, it's pure drudgery. I try not to let that happen and sometimes it's simply a matter of walking away. I have found that sitting down to write when you haven't truly fallen in love with an idea or allowed it to ferment is, most of the time, a fool's mission. I then take a shower, clean out a closet or do some other mindless thing, allowing my brain to take full advantage.

WOW: I think many of us can relate to that. You mention that you’ve been involved with a writers’ group for nearly thirteen years. What do you like best about your group?

Karen: I like motivating others. I like discussing the plausibility of a character's motivation--arguing about it, even. I like raising my hand and saying "I will complete something and submit it" and then going home and vexing about it. Self-imposed deadlines are a wonderful thing. Also, it's nice not to be alone in this crazy longing to put just the right words on paper. I highly recommend a group to anyone who can find or form one, though that's not always easy. Mine evolved from a creative writing class, so that's a good place to start. Online-type groups exist as well.

WOW: What projects are you working on now? Have you made any writing goals for the New Year?

Karen: I'm busier than I would like to be (aren't we all!) and it's finally dawning on me that may never change. My goal right now is to do something every day; could be reading, could be writing. Commit to half an hour and, surprisingly, it usually turns into more. Again, not making my writing a priority is the biggest obstacle. I am going to tackle the book I have been researching, hopefully, when I get my youngest child well and back to school in the Fall. It revolves around a boating accident that took the life of my father's only brother. I have always been interested in the 50's and writing something set in that time is going to be challenging but exciting.

WOW: Best of luck with the book, and thanks so much for chatting with us today, Karen! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Karen: You should do it! When I first went to the WOW site, I allowed intimidation to get the better of me. I did not enter the contest before the deadline and had to wait for the next. Obviously, I'm glad I ultimately decided to leave my comfort zone. I think testing the waters is a good thing and that includes both contests and publications. How else will you know what to improve on? It may sound trite, but the important thing is not to give up.


Come back and join us on Tuesdays for more contest winner interviews!

The Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN

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