Interview with Susan DuMond, Runner-up in the 2011 Spring Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Today on The Muffin, we feature Spring 2011 Flash Fiction runner-up recipient Susan DuMond. Her story, "Lucille's Shoes", will touch your hearts. Once you've read it, come back and enjoy getting to know Susan.

A brief introduction of today's author: Susan DuMond grew up in a children's home in upstate New York. Susan captures her rough and tumble experiences in her memoir, Present Tense. Currently, Susan and her memoir are searching for a literary agent. When Susan was the first "Home kid" to graduate high school, she received an award and ventured to Bennington College. When she arrived via Greyhound Bus, she had only a blue plastic suitcase. Susan received a B.A. in Theater from Bennington and continued her education at Columbia University, where she studied Creative Writing. Susan also has a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon. She is a published poet and actor. Susan also owned her own technical writing and information design firm. Susan lives in Oregon with her husband and two cats: Emmy and Chester.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Susan, and congratulations on earning runner up honors. I'm curious. What inspires you to write?

Susan: I'm inspired by situations and experiences that touch my heart. Sometimes these are funny; sometimes they're like bruises that need attention to heal. I write in the hope of gaining some level of understanding about the experience that create ripples in our lives - growing up, aging, losing a baby, you name it. Although my writing is often triggered by an event, the piece that develops may become fiction and take on a life of its own.

WOW: I like your approach, especially using a trigger from real life. "Lucille's Shoes" reminded me of my mom (and my grandmother) and their battles with arthritis. It's often neglected. What's your experience with arthritis or with someone who suffers from it?

Susan: Like your Mom and millions of others, I too have arthritis. You're right, it rarely makes the headlines, but it's pretty demanding. Staying mobile and flexible takes a lot of effort, which is where the arthritis aquatics work comes in. I've been a "Poolette" (my fun name for our group) for some years now. The Arthritis Foundation trains aquatics instructors in special exercises and movements that are designed to help people with arthritis. I highly recommend finding such a program and getting in the warm water and moving around!

WOW: That's great advice! Hopefully, our readers will take advantage of this type of program. While I'm reading your piece, the symbolism intrigues me. Water washes away troubles, but some pains are too strong to bear. How did you develop the setting, which drives home the water symbol?

Susan: The setting was important to me because I both experienced and witnessed the healing effect of exercising in warm water. The pool felt like the right backdrop for the camaraderie, the caring and support, and the pain that brought the women in "Lucille's Shoes" together.

WOW: To me, it's very powerful. I'd like to take time to talk about your memoir. How did your experiences in a children's home lead to you writing Present Tense? What's the biggest challenge a writer faces when penning a memoir?

Susan: We all have experiences that shape us, that stick with us. Some are good, some not so good. Landing in the Susquehanna Valley Children's Home at the age of 11 tore my world apart. It was a rough place - a reform school for kids who were not old enough to be "sent up," as the kids used to say. At that time, all I wanted was to get good grades and learn to play the cello! By the time I left six years later, the Director had restored the Home to its original purpose - a place for children whose families could not care for them. Overall, I guess my experience in the Home is one of those life-bruises I mentioned earlier. Writing Present Tense helped in the healing process, and I believe reading it will help others who've been through some rough times.

About the challenges . . .There are so many when writing a memoir! I can hear my writers group now. "Show us how you felt when she beat you up." "Why do we need to know this?" "Can you drop that? It's maudlin." And so on. One challenge is figuring out whether an event contributes to a story. I probably tossed out as many situations as I kept in because they didn't advance the narrative. Another major challenge is "showing" versus "telling," something writers deal with all the time. I want the reader to share the experience, to be there in the room with me from my first night at the Home when I wake up to the sound of the housemother yelling, "Fire!"

WOW: Your memoir sounds intense! I wish you luck finding a literary agent because I want to read it! You mention your writers group. I'm wondering how your fellow writers help shape your writing?

Susan: I've been a member of a writers group for five years now. There are five of us - four writers and our instructor who has published four books and is also an editor. It's an intrepid bunch! We meet twice a month and each of us reads from a work-in progress. The feedback has helped enormously in my writing. The group was with me every step of the way as I wrote and revised Present Tense.

Some important decisions came out of my experience with the group. For example, I'd written more than 150 pages when they helped me realize that my story would be stronger and a lot more compelling if told in the first person and in the present tense. So the book went from a reflective piece at arm's length to an immediate, first-hand experience that begins with the voice of an 11-year-old and concludes with the voice of an 18-year-old. The group helped me stay on track as I aged the voice - not an easy task. Your point of view and the way you express yourself evolve a lot between 11 and 18!

WOW: I'm searching for a writing group so I hope I find a group who help me iron out a few issues I'm having. Sounds like you found a great group that provides solid criticism and keeps you motivated. Now, writers usually don't spend all their time writing. We also need to read! What kinds of books do you favor?

Susan: As you might imagine, I read a lot of memoir. Right now, I'm going back and forth between two that are quite different. One is Bossypants by Tina Fey and the other is I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl by poet Kelle Groom. I enjoy seeing how writers of memoir "decorate" their stories, if you will; how they design and frame and color the events in their lives. I am also a fan of literary fiction. For example, I'm reading Olive Kitteridge for the second time right now. I admire Elizabeth Strout's ability to weave together short stories into a novel. Maybe someday . . .

WOW: Someday may come sooner than you think! What projects are currently in the works?

Susan: I'm writing, rewriting and revising poems and short stories these days. I'm also continuing in my search for a literary agent for my memoir. That means lots of research to find agents who handle memoir followed by query letters and sample pages as requested. So the left brain gets to do as much as the right brain these days!

WOW: Good luck with your search for an agent! I look forward to reading more of your work.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website


Shelli (srjohannes) said...

This was awesome ! Thanks :)

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