Congratulations to Laura McCarthy, who won second place in the Fall 2011 Flash Fiction Contest for her short story, "The Encounter." Laura, who holds a PhD in mass communication, has been a radio announcer, a college professor, and a weekly newspaper columnist, as well as an editor and publisher. In 2000, she opened a storefront writers’ center in upstate New York; the core group of novelists still meets weekly. More recently, she has been a sometime blogger (http://stardustbed.blogspot.com) and has just completed her first book (http://www.silkpurse.net). She lives in Miami, Florida.
WOW: Welcome, Laura, where did you get the idea for "The Encounter"?
Laura: I recently returned to Miami after fifteen years in other parts of the country. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and lovers, but a lot can change in fifteen years. It’s often painful confronting our fantasies.
WOW: I think that's something many readers can identify with. Why did you chose the first line that you did? Was the beginning difficult to write?
Laura: Actually, the beginning was there as soon as I thought of the story. Driving across country gives your imagination a lot of time for writing scenarios. And I must confess I had read an excellent memoir written in the second person a month or two earlier. I’m sure that planted a seed.
WOW: Why do you write flash fiction?
Laura: This was my second flash fiction story. The format is a natural for me because I’m much better at editing than at writing. I find the honing and polishing process extremely gratifying. I’m planning to go through my extensive collection of unfinished short stories, to see which of them might be candidates for flash-izing.
WOW: I love that term, "flash-izing." You might be able to teach others how to do that! You have had many careers. How do these help your writing today?
Laura: I have always worked with words, my own and others’. Certainly all the editing I’ve done has helped refine my own writing style, although I suppose there’s one of those "fool for a client” sayings about writers who act as their own editors. My work in radio sharpened my ability to be concise. Going to graduate school in my 40s and writing a dissertation showed me that any amount of data and thought and verbiage can be wrangled into something coherent and orderly (and long). In the end, each job was about the satisfaction of clear and correct and pleasing communication.
WOW: All of that experience definitely helped your writing; and obviously, you have learned how to write clearly and pleasingly! Tell us about your completed first book.
Laura: Restoration is an epistolary novel that takes place in 1980, a difficult year for Florida. It combines several of my major interests: Cuban refugees, architecture, radio, the 1939 New York World’s Fair. I began writing it more than twenty years ago, and the two characters have lived in my head since then. By now, they’re very real to me.
WOW: Yes, you've lived with them for twenty years! When your writing group meets weekly, what do you do? How does this help you?
Laura: I closed my writers’ center when I left New York in 2006, but five members of the original novelists’ group still meet weekly at each others’ houses. At a typical session, members read aloud what they have been working on during the week. Comments, questions, and suggestions about both form and content follow the reading. The feedback combines the reactions of an intelligent reader (I think of those folks as "civilians") with the technical analysis of a fellow working writer. I believe there are usually baked goods involved as well.
WOW: You left a legacy there with baked goods--you can't beat that. It sounds like a great critique group. Anything else you want to add?
Laura: Just that I’ve always been a loner, a non-joiner; I get itchy in the touchy-feely ambiance of a “women’s group.” But I think WOW is just terrific, both the blog and the website as a whole. Much food for thought and solid advice. Thanks, guys.
WOW: Thank you, Laura, that is a nice compliment. We are really glad that you entered the contest and of course, that you did so well. Ladies, please check out Laura's story and her blog/website if you haven't yet.
post by Margo L. Dill