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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Interview with Lori Parker, 3rd Place Winner, Winter 2012 Flash Fiction contest

I don't care for the feel of sand against my feet. Or anywhere else for that matter. When I read the title of Lori Parker's story, Sand, I felt the grit against my toes, felt it cling to my body, like it does when you emerge from a lake or the ocean. Then I read her powerful words, and I realized, I have nothing to complain about.

You will find Lori's story here. You'll want to read it, dust the imaginary layer of sand from your keyboard, and return to join us for a discussion about writing, reading, and inspiration.

Lori Parker lives in Chicago with her beloved husband and his extensive music collection. She wrote her first poem at age eight, her first play at age 15 and finished her first novel last year. So far, these works have not been published, but Lori is an optimistic existentialist, which explains her work on a second novel, plays, poems, and short stories. Beyond publication, Lori's goal is to author a book worthy of Shared Inquiry discussion at the Great Books Foundation.

WOW: Welcome, Lori! And, congratulations on earning 3rd place honors with your story. I like to think that there's a story behind every story, and I'm wondering, what inspired this piece?

Lori: I listen to National Public Radio a lot and last November it seemed the airwaves were saturated with stories about Iraq and Afghanistan and the work our people are doing over there as well as stories about returning vets and the many challenges they face here. Then I heard a debate about the President's decision to leave a certain amount of soldiers behind even after the "draw-down." That started me thinking about what it must be like to know you're going home but . . . not yet. I also drew from an account I'd heard a couple of years ago, also on NPR, about what one soldier found particularly difficult to deal with: "Sand. All that sand. And it gets in everything, your clothes and even your mouth when you sleep." That started me on the path to the story.

WOW:  That's a great behind-the-words glimpse at story development! Thank you for sharing. As soon as I finished reading your piece (and brushed away the imaginary sand), I realized what an important role imagery plays in the story. The image of sand, the drabness of it all, provides an interesting contrast to the matter at hand. How did you develop the imagery and carry it through the piece?

Lori: I started with that image of getting sand in my mouth. I grind my teeth in my sleep, especially during times of severe stress or anxiety. Imagine what that must be like for a soldier. From there I explored the ways sand can annoy a person, can wear one down with its constant presence; in clothes, food, the cracks and crevices of the human body. The image continued to develop as I followed my train of thought from sand to flood which rhymes with blood which brought me back to the human body - a bag of mostly water, to bags of sand, to sandbags against a flood of blood, and so on. Blood, sand and a soldier who wants to go home - for me it was just a matter of following that train of thought.

WOW: Word association can conjure so many mental images. The thought process is a never-ending cycle. In your author's bio, you mention that you showed an interest in writing at a young age. How has that interest changed through the years and how do you nurture your inner writer? 

Lori: It has changed in the sense that I have changed as a person but the pleasure I first discovered as a child remains intact. I like to think my writing is more mature now, a reflection of my life's experiences and gained knowledge. At the same time I still find that same exuberant joy in painting pictures with words. I nurture my inner writer by reading a wide spectrum of well-written books and stories, essays, articles and poems in an eclectic collection of genres and styles. This is complimented, thanks to the wonderful opportunities afforded me in my adopted hometown Chicago, with discussions, classes and open-mic-nights wherein I can bounce off ideas, learn new perspectives and try out my work on a receptive audience.

WOW: It's so important to read a wide variety of works. Sometimes I think writers become constrained and feel they only have time or need to read in their genre, but how can you arrive at the "big picture" if you only have a narrow hole from which to gaze? Great advice, Lori! Reading and writing go hand in hand, and since you began writing at a young age, I'm curious about your favorite books from childhood. 

Lori: Hard choice . . . Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; Rose In Bloom by Louisa Mae Alcott; and every Classics Illustrated comic book I could lay my hands on regardless of topic. Oh, and of course the entire Nancy Drew series which I didn't read so much as consume as soon as they arrived at the public library. That only takes us through my very early years. I was reading Shakespeare and Dickens by the time I was eleven so, you see, I was an avid reader and favorites will only get harder to choose.

WOW: I devoured Nancy Drew books, too. Good memories of spending time in the library with a great book. Speaking of books,  you mention Shared Inquiry and the Great Books Foundation. What piques your interest in Shared Inquiry? 

Lori: Shared Inquiry™ is a trademarked method of discussion developed by the Great Books Foundation and used in schools and book-groups throughout the nation. The Great Books Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization that strives to empower readers of all ages to become reflective and responsible thinkers. Toward that end, they've developed this wonderful technique for civil discourse that incorporates discussion, responsive listening and shared insights with fellow readers. This allows for a deeper, more thorough understanding of the text and, inevitably, oneself. Their motto is, "Read, think, discuss, learn." How great is that?

WOW: It's fantastic! As a classroom teacher, I always searched for ways to pull deeper meaning from the text. It's not always easy! Let's talk mechanics of writing. When do you write and what are your surroundings? 

Lori: I often need to write in the morning because I get so many ideas from my dreams (me and Rod Serling, but that's another story for another interview) but I can write whenever and wherever I am. At home, I'm on the computer, which is set up near the balcony door in the dining room so I can walk outside for a breath of fresh air on occasion. When I'm out and about, I always carry a notebook and collection of pens. I like coffee shops but I prefer old-fashioned family diners - a vanishing breed, unfortunately. I can write for hours in one of those places while the waitress refills my bottomless cup and an endless parade of eccentric customers come through the front door, each one an original character with his or her own story to tell, bone to pick or word of wisdom to impart.

WOW:  I absolutely love the diner as a place for inspiration, especially in Chicago. So many characters to develop. Lori, I imagine writing keeps you busy. What are you working on at the present? 

Lori: I've almost completed a horror novel I've been working on for quite a while and, thanks in large part to the encouragement I found at WOW! Women on Writing,  I'm polishing up some poems and short stories in preparation for submissions to other websites. Ah, websites, the literary magazines of the future . . . Speaking of the future, I've finally accepted the fact that it isn't enough to just write a good story anymore, one must actively self-market too. With that thought in mind, I'm attempting to teach myself how to build a face-page, create a blog and develop a website. All this and I still manage to maintain a loving marriage (thirty-three years this June - yippee!) with my handsome husband while reading Plato, Stephen King and Bill Moyers. Life is good.

WOW: It certainly is! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on your story and about writing, and here's wishing you continued success!

Interview by LuAnn Schindler. 

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