Alice O'Brien: Fall 2010 Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Congratulations to Alice O'Brien for placing as a runner-up in the Fall 2010 Flash Fiction contest with her story, "Easter Treasure." If you haven't had a chance to read Alice's story yet, you can do so right here.  We had the chance to ask Alice some questions about her story and her writing, so here we go.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Alice. Congratulations on your win! Where did you get the idea for "Easter Treasure"?
Alice: I have an adopted son who treasures his adoption story, the details of when we met and the way our “hearts found each other.” In our family, we celebrate this day like a holiday. One night before nodding off, he was telling me our story—really cementing it in his tiny heart—and it brought tears to my eyes (like usual). The next day, I went to my first writing workshop and the instructor assigned a 15-minute free write on “Two Strangers Meeting.” It isn’t the norm to think of a mother and child meeting, but I used my experience as an adoptive mother to set a scene of a family forming. I finished the piece during that free write, and it was the first short story I had ever written. I was so nervous when I had to read it aloud; my voice cracked over nearly every syllable!  
WOW: What a touching story about how your flash fiction piece came to be! You were able to get so much description and characterization in a flash fiction piece. What was your process? Did you do a lot of pre-writing and/or revision?

Alice: “Easter Treasure” is the first short story I’ve composed, and I did very little revision. Typically, my work is very descriptive. In fact, I attended the writing workshop I mentioned earlier because I was trying to improve the storytelling aspects of my writing and reign in my descriptive style. The particulars of Jacob’s character came to me fully developed, which is typical of how my mind conjures characters when I’m writing. The hardest part about this piece was writing in a five-year-old voice.
WOW: You managed to do that 5-year-old voice very well. What made you try flash fiction and enter this contest?

Alice: A workshop attendee approached me and suggested I enter “Easter Treasure” in a flash fiction contest. As a novelist, I wasn’t familiar with the genre but fell in love with it when I read past entries on the WOW! website. I sent the short along to my critique partner who specializes in short stories, and she encouraged me to submit it. I’m glad I did!
WOW: We are glad, too. It is a beautiful story. You have several longer works of fiction that you have completed and are now seeking representation. Which manuscript are you currently shopping around? Tell us about it.

Alice: I’m currently seeking representation for ROOTS AT RIVER FARM, a 53,000-word middle grade novel. For six years, 12-year-old Michele Ryan has wanted one thing: to find her father. And it seems like she’ll get her wish in the spring of 1969 when Mama moves the family to River Farm in the Yankee north. But when Mama gets sick and a world of carefully crafted secrets begins to unravel, Michele tries to make sense of her world. She discovers family history carved into wood and strangled by ancient bittersweet vines…a lady made of shadows…memories of her father that wash through her like lemonade on a hot day…a root cellar locking up tragedy…and an always-barefoot neighbor with so much old and young mixed up in her, it’s hard to tell which she is. Set in small town Massachusetts during the tumultuous summer of love, Michele Ryan discovers that there is a lot more to family, love, hope, and even despair than she ever dreamed. Michele’s path of discovery reveals that every place has a purpose. Sometimes, it’s simply to bring us home. To ourselves. To each other.
WOW: That sounds amazing. I love the description of your book. You have been to 35 countries. That's amazing. How do these experiences enrich your writing?

Alice: For me, there is a profound difference between traveling and being a tourist. As a traveler, I aim to fully embed myself in the culture, language, and space of the city I visit. I eat where locals eat, move as locals do. This has often landed me on the back of a donkey negotiating some treacherous terrain, but it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and adapt my lens. I learn other languages, gestural modes of communication, and I pay closer attention to how my cultural biases frame my experiences.

I’ve spent entire days sitting in Italian piazzas watching passionate lovers, eager tourists, and bouncing children--how they speak, touch, communicate, interact with their environment. Listening to the hum of traders in a North African outdoor market is more like music when you don’t know the language. And the smells, tastes, feel of life in a foreign country is a beautiful assault on the senses. I think my experiences traveling the world help me to develop characters that are fully formed, realistic. They have real human problems, dreams, demands of a daily life—and they have a story. I hope my travels make my characters more colorful, more worth meeting.

WOW: I think I would love to do some traveling with you. Your approach and attitude are amazing! Do you have a writing routine? When do you do your best writing?
Alice: I write on the weekends, but use my daily commute to build characters, flesh out scenes, and develop story tension. My writing process is really fluid, and the story pours out of me once my fingers hit the keyboard. I’m very fortunate in this way. I know writers who struggle over every word, and they feel such a sense of frustration. With my process, the words come easily, but I have to be willing to cut huge portions of text if they don’t ultimately work within the manuscript. I’m lucky to have a critique partner who skillfully points out where my work needs improvement, and I trust her insights as a reader. 

WOW: Thank you, Alice, for sharing some insight into your writing world. We wish you the best of luck in the future.

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill;  



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