Mary Nelson, Runner Up, Fall 2012 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, May 07, 2013
I'm so excited to interview Mary Nelson--she has an amazing spirit and perseverance! Wait until you read her interview below. But first, you should read her winning short story: "The Revenge of Ellie Newsom" by clicking here.  

Mary has been writing since college days at Mt. St. Mary’s Los Angeles in the 1940s. Quick math confirms she is an octogenarian . . . and still hard at it. She credits her creative writing teachers there for intriguing her with the wonder of words, so that she switched her major from music to journalism and literature.

“When I became editor of the first college newspaper, I thought I reached the pinnacle of achievement. That’s how deceptive youthful ardor and enthusiasm can be.”

Marriage and a family, plus a peripatetic path through Arizona, California, and the Northwest reduced writing time, but she never stopped. Encouraging commendations from Writer’s Digest and publication of short stories in small literary magazines delivered enough perks to keep her positive and fulfilled.

“Then I took a hiatus from that genre to write two historical novels. I was always intrigued with my Scandinavian husband’s ancestry, especially the sagas. With some trepidation and the pen name of Celia Lund, I plunged into research and in ten years turned out Square Sails and Dragons and the sequel, New Harbors New Hopes. Both were well received and still available on Amazon.

She’s going full throttle again with short stories. “But I tested the waters with contests first to see if I had lost touch. When they began placing high, such as the recent 'Cecilio Breaks the Law' (4th out of a thousand entries), I felt positive about my favorite genre again."

Mary lives in Salt Lake City near her daughter, still loves music and travel, especially to California to see the other children and grandchildren.

WOW: Welcome, Mary, and congrats on your flash fiction contest win (and a long career as a writer!). Where did you get the idea for your flash fiction piece?

Mary: I read an article about the amazing progress they are making on robots, so the ones depicted in the story aren't really that exaggerated.

WOW: Very true! How difficult was it to get this story into less than 750 words?

Mary: Not so difficult once I had the gist of the story in mind. I first put all the essentials of an ordinary story down (beginning, middle, end, etc.) Then I culled with a heavy hand to reach the limited word count. Flash fiction is a great practice in "killing your darlings."

WOW: No doubt, and I love that phrase for writers! You have published two historical novels. Why are you writing short stories again?

Mary: My two books, Square Sails and Dragons, and the sequel, New Harbors New Hopes, were originally intended as a legacy for my children to learn about their heritage (on their Norwegian father's side). They were based on the sagas, so it took ten years of research and writing for the two. They turned out to be more than a family thing and are still on the market. I'm glad to return to short stories, but they take a lot of work as well, if they are interesting and authentic.

WOW: Yes, we have links to both above if people are interested in checking them out! Have you seen the publishing world change in the last 70 years?

Mary: Have I ever! On the negative side, when new authors are successful, they are expected to turn out more books as fast as possible if they continue to be represented, and that can be detrimental to the quality.
The second difference is probably a result of the first. Books have become "trendy" with the subject matter duplicated.

But the biggest change is in self-publishing, eliminating the "gatekeepers." It's expensive, and without a professional editor, again we are seeing a lot of inferior work glutting the markets. But there are also some surprising successes, even going back to some of the old classics that we would have never read, had the authors not done their own thing.

WOW: Very true and well said. What is your writing routine like?

Mary: I live alone, so I don't have to work around too many distractions. I write on more than one story at a time. Researching for one, editing another, finding markets and contests for the finished ones. One thing worth mentioning is some advice I read, about taking a break while you're on a roll. That way you're anxious to get back to it and without writer's block.

WOW: I love that--it's similar to what I've heard. Don't stop at the end of a chapter or scene. Stop after you've written a sentence or two into the next section, so that you are starting in the middle of an idea. What's next for you?

Mary: I plan to turn out more short stories for a year or two, then compile all of them. The title of the collection will be On a Planet of Purpose because an unintended theme runs through them--about being in the right place at the right time.

WOW: I love that! Thank you, Mary, and best of luck to you.

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill:


Sioux Roslawski said...

I too love the idea of "killing your darlings" and the suggestion to stop when you're on a roll.

Now I'm going to check out Mary's story. Thanks, Margo, for the interview.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I just used the link (thanks, Margo, for including it) to read your story. What a delicious edge-of-the-cliff ending it has.

I can see why it placed so high in the competition. Congratulations.

Crystal Otto said...

Congratulations Mary! Fabulous interview and I agree - you have an amazing spirit!


Renee Roberson said...

Mary, you inspire me! Congrats on all your successes and I absolutely loved your story.

Margo Dill said...

I really enjoyed this interview. ANd glad that you ladies did too. :)

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