Greetings, Muffin readers! We're excited to share another Flash Fiction winner with you today. Head over to read "Faceless," if you haven't had the chance, and then return to The Muffin for a sweet treat with author Jennifer Baker.
She works as a production editor in academic publishing, while also freelancing as an ESL tutor, proofreader/copyeditor, and editor.
Her flash fiction has been published in Boston Literary Magazine and Eclectic Flash, and her articles/essays have been published on AroundHarlem.com and most recently Poets & Writers magazine.
Jennifer is currently working on a variety of flash fiction in addition to a multi-generational linked story collection centered around race and family. She enjoys baking and updating her blog (www.jenniferbaker.com/blog) with articles, food/book reviews, giveaways, interviews, and writing information.
WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Jenn. Congratulations on having your story selected as a runner up in our quarterly flash fiction contest. I like flash fiction because it requires a writer to create a vivid picture in a compact amount of words. In your opinion, what makes flash fiction so powerful?
Jennifer: Conciseness. I’ve read some amazing work translated in such a few words from flash fiction to poetry to prose poetry and personal essays. Being able to paint a picture is what I consider it to be and to do so in 1000 words or less is quite masterful to those who do it successfully, I think.
WOW: And you are correct, I think. I also look at a flash piece's title and hope it captures a story's essence. I'm naturally drawn in by a story's title. I like how you weave 'faceless' into the piece. Why did you decide to use that single--but powerful--word to make a point?
Jennifer: Originally the flash fiction piece was named “Invisible” but my friend Ennis (who is also one of my critique partners) suggested ‘Faceless’ because of the fact that the inability to see the wife’s face was haunting for the protagonist and that the wife doesn’t know the protagonist exists. So these women are faceless figures to each other.
WOW: It adds a hint of mystery and tension to the piece. While reading your bio, my curiosity grew about one of your projects. Please share information about the multi-generational story collection you are writing. It sounds interesting!
Jennifer: It’s something I’m very passionate about and have been working on for about five years. Back in 2007 I finished a few drafts of a novel I wrote and had lost interest in it. I started a story about a biracial girl who lost her mother when she was a baby and her father would never speak of her mother. The girl devised a plan to break into his bedroom and find anything he may have hidden about her mother. This turned into a linked collection about the entire family spanning three generations from the girl and her brother to her parents to her grandparents at different times in their lives. The original story has changed immensely from the initial idea but the overall premise of the anthology is about identity, family, and relationships. I’m revising pieces now and hope to have the latest draft done in the next year.
WOW: I'm going to keep my eyes open for this. It sounds intriguing. (smiles) I'm curious: do you outline before you write or do you let characters take you on a journey?
Jennifer: Since I’m mainly working on a story collection I don’t outline. The stories really do have a mind of their own once I sit down to write. For stories (flash/short fiction) I have an idea and build from there. I am writing a YA (young adult) novel as well. That I did outline because it has a straight arc over a long period of time. But for my linked collection I have a huge Excel spreadsheet of who each character is, what they look like, when they were born, what story(ies) they appear in and such to be able to keep track of the cast.
WOW: I like the idea of using a spreadsheet to track characters. I think I may need to borrow that idea, if you don't mind. Jennifer, I know you received your MFA degree. Recently, a lot of writers have openly debated MFA vs. no MFA. How has your degree helped you and your writing?
Jennifer: Sorry to say I don’t think the MFA program I was in helped too much with my writing, time did. In writing more, in reading voraciously, in watching and breaking down character development in film, and observing people, I was able to learn from all these elements to gain a better sense of my own narrative voice.
Graduate school allowed me to meet some great people like my mentor Jeff Renard Allen and my friend Ennis and others through these connections. However my development as a writer took time, a lot of learning what did and did not work for what I wanted to write, and understanding what writers I enjoyed and why I enjoyed their work.
WOW: Those are good lessons that undoubtedly have shaped your writing. I also wonder if working on an advanced degree prepares a writer for navigating the creative process. What's a typical writing day or session like?
Jennifer: For me if a line, paragraph, patch of dialogue, or idea hits me I try to scribe it down as soon as it comes to mind. But when I have a set span of time to write I open Google Drive or Microsoft Word and just go for it. Like you mentioned the characters can take me on a journey in that I am literally not thinking about what I’m writing as I’m doing it. It just happens and when I read it back it either works or it doesn’t. It’s when I’m going back to edit that the thinking and ‘connecting the dots’ comes into play. ‘The zone’ is a pretty accurate word for me when I’m having a good writing day where I cannot be stopped or interrupted and everything just happens to the people on the page.
WOW: Here's to having more days in "the zone" and continuing to write what flows from mind to hand to page. Thanks, again, Jennifer for sharing your thoughts about writing and flash fiction.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler