Interview with Shannon Norland, Runner Up in the Fall 2011 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Meet Shannon Norland. The former molecular biologist left the field to pursue her other love: writing. Shannon writes short stories and she's currently writing her first novel. The Raleigh, North Carolina, resident enjoys gardening and kendo.

Shannon's flash piece, Last Letter, will tickle your funny bone...and maybe even have you shouting, "Way to go, girl!"

If you haven't had an opportunity to read "Last Letter," it's available on the contest page. Then come back and spend time with Shannon discussing the writing process, balancing family and writing time, and upcoming projects.

WOW: Shannon, hello and welcome to The Muffin! Congratulations on the runner up honors you received in WOW's Flash Fiction contest. "Last Letter" is a wonderfully comedic piece. What inspired the story?

Shannon: One of my guilty pleasures is reading advice columns. I was thinking about relationships and regret when I started the story. At the beginning, I only had the earrings in mind. The murder appeared as I was writing.

WOW: Don't you love when a plot device pops into mind when crafting a story! Speaking of plot devices—revenge is a common theme, yet it drives a story. How did you incorporate the usually serious theme into your flash piece?

Shannon: Humans are irrational creatures, so their interactions are already a blend of comedy and tragedy. I attempted to bring the theme of revenge out in a humorous way through the main character's (mistaken) reasoning; when and why she chose to leave, how reacted after learning of her mistake.

WOW: (chuckling) Well, it certainly made me laugh out loud. Shannon, your bio mentions you quit your career in molecular biology to write. Have you or would you incorporate something from that field into one of your stories?

Shannon: It is definitely something I keep in mind. I love reading that type of science fiction. I'm waiting for the right idea and character to appear.

WOW: I can see how that type of expertise would help with storytelling, especially science fiction. Good luck with that! Hope an idea comes to mind soon. One element of writing all writers have in common is the process. Do you have a special place that inspires you? Any writing rituals?

Shannon: I'm an evening writer. When the day is over, I climb into a hot bath, pull up a chair for my laptop, and get to writing. Some nights, I'm so focused on the writing that the water will be cold before I get out. I tend to only do editing and rewriting at my desk.

Before the baby, I was a sporadic writer, writing in big chunks, then not touching a story for days. I had to play catch-up each writing session to remember where I'd left off. Now I write six days a week, and come to each session with a plan and intention. Having to fight for writing time has made it more precious (and productive) for me.

WOW: Interesting. I couldn't write while in the tub! And I agree that when you fight for writing time, it becomes a lesson in productivity. Great insight! I've been reading quite a bit about crafting fiction and how ideas present themselves. When you begin working on a new story, what comes first: character, plot, or specific setting?

Shannon: Frequently, I hear the characters speaking to each other or to themselves. They are arguing or asking questions or taunting each other. Those snippets of dialogue come with a sense of setting and tension, and from there I tease out the story. At other times the seed idea could be a dream image or a theme and mood. So many things can inspire a story that it's hard to pick which ones to flesh out.

WOW: I agree that inspiration is all around us; picking one element to concentrate on is difficult. As a mother, I imagine it can be difficult to manage the best of both worlds. Any advice to other moms who write about how to balance home, family and writing?

Shannon: What worked for me was to write down all the things I thought I should be doing. Then I assigned priorities and cut out everything that wasn't essential. I realized it was okay if the bookcases grew a pelt of dust and the flower beds got weedy while I worked on my novel. It was difficult for me at first, being a perfectionist and neat-freak, but with every thousand words added to my story, it bothered me less and less.

There will still be bad days. Days when the wipes run out at the worst possible moment, and the cats are sick (probably all that dust), and everyone is in a bad mood. Just relax, order pizza, and take a night off. Come back fresh for the next day.

WOW: At my house, I call days like you described as "life." Agreed. You learn to work around things. With that in mind, what projects are you currently working on?

Shannon: Right now, I'm working on two new short stories. One is a speculative piece about a future in which battle and business have merged. The other is a modern fairy tale. I've also just finished the first draft of a cozy mystery novel and can't wait to start the revision process!

WOW: Sounds like you're very busy! Good luck with your projects.

Interview conducted by LuAnn Schindler


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