Interview with Molly Van Norman, Runner Up in Our Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Molly Van Norman lives in Rochester, MN with her husband and Small Munsterlander, Afton. She just celebrated her 25th anniversary working in a clinical laboratory at the Mayo Clinic. Last fall she became an “empty nester” when the older of her two sons left to go to school at the University of Utah. Her youngest son joined the Marines last summer and is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

Although she has written several children’s Christmas programs and many clinical laboratory procedures, this is her first submitted piece of fiction. She is currently working on two novels, both are women’s fiction, and hopes to complete them now that she has found some extra time.

Molly would like to dedicate “The Burr Oak” to her aunt who passed away in February. It was the Burr Oak at her aunt’s cabin and the experience of moving this aunt into an assisted living complex that inspired the story.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Winter 2011 writing competition! What inspired you to enter the contest, especially since this is your first piece of submitted fiction?

Molly: I had my story roughed out when I found your web site. I hadn't even heard of flash fiction, but I was so impressed by the stories that were posted from previous contests, that I thought I would like to give it a try. It was hard to click the send button, especially since I’m pretty inexperienced as a writer, but what impressed me about this contest was that you could purchase a critique on your submission. The feedback was excellent and I will use the advice to make this story and future ones even stronger.

WOW: How great that you went ahead and gave it a shot! Describe how you’re working on two novels at the same time. Anything you can share about the process?

Molly: The first novel is something that I've been working on forever. This is the "I have this story in my head" route that a lot of us fledgling writers take. I started by hashing out several chapters, clueless to what I was doing. Then, frustrated, I put the story aside for awhile, only to come back to it, rewrite and hash out some more. Finally I was brave enough to take a writer's workshop and since it was the only thing I'd ever really written, I submitted a chapter to the group. I received some positive comments and some great critique and decided to try to take this writing thing more seriously.

Last fall, a member of my writing group convinced me to try Nan-No-Wri-Mo. Naively, I decided to start a whole new story. My personal challenge was to try to write straight through without going back and perfecting every paragraph. I didn't succeed, but I spent the time developing my characters and working on my plot.

So now I have two works in progress. I find when I've reached a dead end on one, it's good to put it aside for awhile and work on the other one, and then I can come back to each with a fresh perspective.

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 ?

Molly: Since I do a lot of editing as I go, I’m most comfortable writing at the computer. I don’t have a lap top, so I usually carve out an hour or two, after work, in my office. I try to write every day, or at least read something about the writing process.

As I mentioned earlier, I belong to a writing group. The last two months, we’ve chosen to work on a writing exercise to bring back for the next meeting. I never would have chosen to write about these topics, but the assignment forced me to try and I'm surprised at what I came up with. Recently, I purchased my own writing exercise book, with the Amazon gift card WOW sent me, and I’ve already put it to use.

WOW: In your bio you mention that you just celebrated your 25th anniversary working in a clinical laboratory at the Mayo Clinic. What’s your job like, and has any of it made its way into your fiction?

Molly: I work as a technical specialist in a laboratory where we analyze thousands of patient specimens each week. Estrogen, testosterone and vitamin D, are some of the more familiar compounds we measure, and our testing procedures cover the gamut from labor-intensive to more automated tests.

Much of my time is spent trouble-shooting instrument malfunctions or testing issues. None of this has ended up in my fiction as of yet, but maybe this will be my next challenge!

WOW: Being a new empty nester must have its blessings and challenges. Did you prepare for this stage of your life in any way, and what have you learned so far?

Molly: Life prepared me in some ways, without any doing on my part. As my children became more independent in high school, they spent less time with my husband and me. We learned to prepare dinner for two and make our own plans on weekends. But occasionally we’d be able to sit down to supper as a family, or the van would be full again on weekend outings. Up until last summer, we were always able to take a family vacation together. This special family time is one of the things I’m missing the most.

You definitely need activities or interests that you can enjoy sans children. It can be something that you used to do with them, but can continue to enjoy on your own--my husband and I still like to go camping, kayaking and skiing. Or it can be some newly acquired hobby or interest--like writing!
Writing can be very therapeutic when you’re missing your kids. I’ve written a couple “flash non-fiction” pieces about my son in Afghanistan. Putting my thoughts and fears onto paper feels more productive than bottling them up inside.

WOW: Great advice. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Molly! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Molly: Challenge yourself, try some of those writing exercises, and don’t be afraid to hit the send button, regardless of your writing experience!


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

The Summer 2011 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN


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