Meet Linnea Dayton, 3rd place Winner in WOW!s Fall 2011 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
After spending 20-plus years authoring and editing how-to books and articles geared toward graphic designers, illustrators, and photographers who use the computer in their work, Linnea Dayton retired and switched writing gears. Now, the Southern California-based author pens non-fiction and fiction. Linnea's short story "3BR, 2BA House on Ridgeview" was a finalist in Glimmer Train's Family Matters competition.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read Linnea's award-winning story "The Scream," head over to WOW!s contest page. Trust me, it will leave a lasting impression.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Linnea, and a big shout out for winning third place in the Fall 2011 Flash Fiction contest. When I read your story, the first image that popped into my mind was Edvard Munch's famous painting. I'm curious, what inspired the idea for your version of "The Scream"?

Linnea: I heard such a scream one sunny Saturday about 35 years ago, and I can still hear it today.

WOW: Isn't it amazing how a single moment of time can resonate with a person and stay there, lurking, waiting to be unleashed again? It's quite powerful! For many writers, putting pen to paper started at an early age. What was the first story or poem you remember writing and what kind of reaction did you receive from friends and family?

Linnea: I'm sure I wrote some stories as a child in school, but I don't remember them. I wrote some poems, doggerel really, when we lived for a year in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. One was about the geckos that hunted moths on the veranda at night. It was called "Leave the Light on for the Lizards," and my kids, then 11 and 13, liked it. There was another about the joy of writing at the computer in the tropical heat (I was working on a book for children about using MacPaint and MacDraw), and another trying to understand the suicide of a friend of our next door neighbors. When I was managing editor of Verbum, the Journal of Personal Aesthetics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I wrote a column called "Look and Feel." Mostly it was essay, but I did a couple of short stories, which seemed to be well received. One was about a woman living with a robot designed specifically to be a companion/personal assistant for an elderly person.

WOW: I've found essay writing to be a welcome break from my daily grind of non-fiction. Linnea, you formerly wrote How-To books and made the jump to fiction. Haw the switch in focus affected your writing habits?

Linnea: I find it harder to set milestones for myself in writing fiction and to keep up a steady pace without a publisher demanding progress and cheering me on.

WOW: (smiles) I completely relate! It's easy to write when the editor is expecting a piece on deadline. You've also dabbled in several genres, including short fiction, novella, and children's books. Which do you find the most challenging? How about the most satisfying?

Linnea: If I can actually finish my novella, which is the most challenging project I'm working on, that will be very satisfying. I really enjoy writing short stories. And flash fiction and children's picture books are such a nice change from 800-page tomes on Photoshop technique. Even if it takes 15 drafts to get the text right, each project is small enough that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel right from the beginning.

WOW: Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is fantastic motivation! Sometimes, I struggle with certain elements of writing fiction. What element do you find most surprising, especially with your extensive non-fiction background?

Linnea: The most surprising thing is the way problems with the plot and the text itself seem to work themselves out in the "back of my mind." When I finally resolve some sticking point I've been working on, I often don't know exactly how I got to the solution.

WOW: Maybe that's a good problem! So many people say good writers are good readers, too. What authors inspire you?

Linnea: My favorite authors — I would read anything they wrote — are Tim Winton, Karin Fossum, Margaret Drabble, and Mem Fox. It seems to me they don't always tell the reader everything; they build tension, and they seem to leave gaps in their stories for the reader to fill in, but they somehow make sure the reader fills in exactly the right stuff. I'm not explaining that very well, but I wish I could write like that. I also admire Armistead Maupin's writing, because he's so good at setting a scene by using just a few exactly right details, from which the reader can generate the rest of the setting. My all-time favorite individual books are probably A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens), A Separate Peace (John Knowles), Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis), Six of One (Rita Mae Brown), The Riders (Tim Winton), Don't Look Back (Karin Fossum), The Needle's Eye (Margaret Drable), the Tales of the City series (Armistead Maupin), Hunwick's Egg (Mem Fox), and Lord of Misrule (Jaimy Gordon).

WOW: You've mentioned a few authors I will have to investigate. Thanks for the tips! Now, I know you have a lot of writing irons in the fire. How about sharing your progress on these projects?

Linnea: One of my children's picture story book manuscripts — Jack David, The Noisiest Kid in the Second Grade — is in the process of being rejected by various agents and editors, and I expect that I'll self-publish it as an ebook and POD later this year, and then maybe as an app. I have a short story, "After the Apocalypse, A Tale of Pluck and Integrity," that I'd love to place. It tells the truth about Chicken Licken's "sky is falling" experience and Little Red Hen, the barnyard Goody Two-Shoes (it isn't a children's story, and it's too long to be flash fiction). The writing of the novella, Planimals, lurches along. Humorous "sly sci-fi" with a touch of social commentary, it takes place in a small toy company, a Southern California cul de sac, and cyberspace. I'm eager to finish it, not only for its own sake, but so I can get going on the next one — about an elderly Southern California man who retires to Cleveland.

WOW: WOW! You certainly have a lot of projects headed in the right direction. Good luck with all your writing endeavors, and again, congratulations on placing third in our Fall 2011 competition.

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


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