Interview with Paulina Nelson, 3rd Place Finalist in the Summer 2011 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Good morning, Muffin readers! You're in for a special treat today. We'll be chatting with S. Paulina Nelson from San Diego. Her story, Seeds of Change, placed third in the Summer 2011 Flash Fiction contest. Check out the story, then get to know Paulina. We're going to dish about her story, Internet use, and teaching writing.

S. Paulina Nelson's love of the English language began with her immigration to the U.S. from Poland at age 6. She minored in creative writing, with an emphasis on poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and have placed in the Dorothy Sargeant Rosenberg poetry prize. Inspired by her love of literature, Paula began writing short fiction last year. She teaches 7th grade English at Carmel Valley Middle School in San Diego, where she lives with her husband and son.

Grab that favorite morning beverage and sit a spell. You'll be glad you did. :)

WOW: Congratulations, Paulina, and welcome to The Muffin. As a teacher, I related to the plot of "Seeds of Change." One writing theory says that personal writing mirrors an author's life. Does your story resemble your immigration to the United States? If not, how did you come up with the idea for "Seeds of Change"?

Paulina: I have certainly experienced poverty and its way of stationing children at a disadvantage. In that regard, "Seeds of Change" resonates with me emotionally. To use an authorial cliche, I wrote 'what i knew,' but the main character and the exact setting were inspired by a video on educational funding shown during my credential program. It has stuck with me for 12 years, and influenced everything from the way I dress for work to how my classroom looks. The takeaway is: how do we expect kids to feel valued when everything in their environment screams that they don't matter?

WOW: A well-taken point. Students need to know they are valued. One of the interesting elements of the story is the dahlia, which symbolizes elegance and dignity. How did you weave that symbolism into the piece?

Paulina: The opening metaphor referencing weeds was already tucked in the back of my mind when I began writing this piece, and Meala aspires to be more than that. The seed she steals represents the tiny germ of beauty available to her and how desperate she is to cultivate it. Referencing the seed cycle project furthered the idea that something spectacular can emerge from almost nothing. Technically speaking, the short form doesn't allow room to mix metaphors, but in thinking about it, poems of mine that have been selected for publication all feature extended metaphors based on nature, perhaps because I believe that all living things are interrelated.

WOW: Personally, I like to see an extended metaphor woven through a story. It adds a cohesiveness that a lot of flash pieces seem to lack. I'm curious, I know you pen poetry. Is this your first contest entry and/or win?

Paulina: I have won poetry prizes, but this was my first foray into short fiction. I love it! In scene writing, I can focus on wordsmithing, and the plot arc falls neatly into place. Also, the end result is like a tightly wrapped package: one can imagine pulling the ribbon and having the piece pop open and expand into a novella (or longer). Overall, this has been a positive experience for me. I wrote four drafts in as many hours, sent the final off with zero expectations, and received such valuable feedback in return. I highly encourage others, especially those who have the tendency to speed toward the end result, to give this a try. You might find yourself enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

WOW: Agreed! Sure, it's nice to place in a contest, but the journey to that final destination offers so many lessons! I think the contest world has seriously opened up for writers since the Internet has grown in popularity. Do you think the Internet is a positive tool for authors? Why?

Paulina: Personally, I marvel at the on-hand nature of information these days. We no longer have to wonder; we just Google. While the impersonal aspect of that bothers me sometimes, for writing, the Internet is an amazing tool! Research at one's fingertips, the ability to submit pieces for publication electronically, storycrafting tutorials, query letter guidelines, online access to writer's groups, not to mention sites like WOW! that encourage writers to TRY . . . while it may isolate the writer a bit physically, it certainly eases and speeds up the business / technical side of the process, leaving more time for creative flow.

WOW: It's been an integral part of my freelancing business. I remember having to either fax or hand deliver stories to some of my former newspaper editors. Look how far we've come! Another thing I noticed is that you teach writing. I also have taught English and Journalism at the junior/senior high and college levels. It's fascinating to see how students learn and take that knowledge and make it their own. What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Paulina: The transformation. Seeing a student's face light up when we work together to take a sentence or paragraph from awkward to effective. When a child realizes the potential that resides in their writing, it's a beautiful thing, and I am lucky enough to witness this hundreds of times a year.

WOW: Isn't that such a wonderful feeling?  Still, teaching isn't always easy. As a writing instructor, what do you see as the biggest mistake student writers tend to make?

Paulina: Well, that transformation I mentioned? Unfortunately, sometimes it's a hard sell. Students today tend to think writing is a one-off and not a process of drafting and polishing. Also, I have to temper their desire to be creative all the time and help them meet the purpose of the writing first, then re-introduce their voice and style. And if I want to nitpick, passive voice runs rampant.

WOW: Grrr! Passive voice continues to be a problem for many writers. It's a hard habit to break, even when we age! You obviously keep busy with school and writing. What current projects would you like to share with our readers?

Paulina: This 'win' has given me the courage to resume working on my first novel, a piece about a runaway finding redemption. If I stay on track and do my best to honor the subject matter linguistically, it should be finished by the summer and hopefully see the light of day shortly thereafter.

WOW: Wonderful news! Good luck with your novel and reaching your deadline. And again, congratulations on sharing your thought-provoking story with us.

Interview conducted by LuAnn Schindler. She shares her work at


Bill Kirk said...

Very interesting interview with plenty useful technical content about writing tools, methods and techniques not often seen in an on line interview. Congratulations to Paulina for her well deserved recognition.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Nelson is my English teacher this year, and she has inspired me beyond compare to pursue writing. I feel like my writing has improved so much since last year. She is an amazing person and SO deserved this award.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Nelson is also my English teacher this year, and with the help of her teachings, my writing has drastically improved from last year. Her feedback on my essays are so helpful, that they are priceless! There is no one else, but her, that deserves this award. She truly is the best!

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