Mercy by Clare Thoompson-Ostrander. Then join us for a closer look at her story and why she decided to take the plunge and enter a writing contest.
Despite writing her first story when she was in eighth grade, Clare Thompson-Ostrander never shared her work with others. That soon changed. After taking a writing class right here at WOW!, Clare submitted a story to our quarterly flash fiction contest.
Looks like it paid off!
Currently, Clare is a professor of developmental writing at a community college. She feels privileged working and writing alongside her students; Clare thinks they are her greatest inspiration. Her most supportive and encouraging readers are her six sisters, her brother, and her parents. Without them, her stories would still be stuffed in boxes.
Clare lives in Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and her puppy.
WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Clare, and congratulations! How exciting! Let’s jump right in and talk about your story. I am interested in how you developed the theme of the piece.
Clare: Most of the stories I write revolve around navigating relationships. I began writing the story "Mercy" to explore the theme of forgiveness inside of a relationship. I imagined the most difficult situation a couple could face, losing a child. As the characters in the story emerged on the page, I followed the narrator through her emotions of guilt and anger. These two emotions made it almost impossible for her to forgive her husband for introducing her boy to hunting, or to forgive herself for being alive when her little boy is not. I also wanted to explore the role of hope in a tragic situation like the one she faces in the story. I wondered about how she would move on. What form of hope would allow her to move on? Lenny's character is meant to be the glimmer of hope. He makes her laugh and this helps her recognize that her way of thinking is misleading, and that may be the small start she needs to heal and move on in her life. When I imagine Lenny beyond the story, I see him as someone who helps the narrator rediscover herself so that she and her husband can heal from their terrible loss.
To build on the theme of forgiveness, I set the story as a chance encounter at a community college because I teach at a community college. My colleagues and my students are very diverse and just about every day I have chance encounters that take me to new places. I wanted the story's turning point to be based upon a chance encounter. Chance encounters are so rich for gaining insights into emotions like forgiveness. I actually got the idea for having Lenny's character wear biker clothes and boots with bullets from a chance encounter with a student. The student asked me for directions on campus and I noticed his boots. They had a round of bullets around the ankle and I thought that's a great detail for Lenny.
WOW: That’s so cool! And, Lenny’s boots with the bullets offer an interesting element to the story. I’m doing to start paying attention to footwear! As a teacher, I look for the lesson or “moral of the story” I want students derive from a piece. What's the one take-away you want readers to discover or learn from your story? For me, it's that people make snap judgments based on stereotypes and often, people jump to the wrong conclusion.
Clare: I like your take-away about snap judgments. I think you are right. The narrator makes a lot of snap judgments and I think we all do, especially when we are not in a healthy place to accept others and see them for who they really are. I also hope people who read the story feel as though they've been let inside a woman's struggle to find forgiveness. Forgiveness is such hard work. It is wrapped up anger, resentment and guilt. When a person's head is full of these emotions, it's especially difficult to see how forgiveness can lead to hope and acceptance. The narrator's encounter with Lenny is her first step to getting out of her own way so that she can heal.
WOW: And that healing process is extremely important. I also like that Ginny decides to take a class, even if it’s to appease the counselor. Speaking of classes, your bio mentions that you took a WOW! class. What is one writing principle you learned and applied to this particular piece?
Clare: I took Gila Green's Flash Fiction course. As part of our course work, we had to incorporate an allusion. I had written "Mercy" before I took Gila's class, but I revised it to help me complete the allusion assignment. I used an allusion to the relationship between Virginia and Leonard Woolf. I liked how the allusion helped me portray the narrator's grief in a deeper way. I think Virginia Woolf found much needed hope inside her relationship with Leonard Woolf, so I thought the allusion worked for my story. In my story, "Mercy," I wanted to show how the narrator, Ginny, finds hope, almost against her will, when she meets Lenny. Gila was wonderful in helping me shape this allusion. She provided great feedback. In the end, I liked how adding an allusion transformed the story.
WOW: Sounds like a successful class . . . and story. (smiles) What advice would you offer to other writers contemplating entering a contest?
Clare: I have been writing stories for most of my life, but this is the first year I've tried to publish a story. I entered the WOW contest last winter and made the final round of judging. I found some hope there and tried again in the spring with "Mercy." I was amazed my story was chosen! Since then, I've sent two more stories out to magazines to see what will happen next. I will always write stories whether they are published or not, but having a story published by WOW has inspired me to take more chances. It's a great feeling. My advice to writers would be to not wait on taking chances. I wish I had taken a chance years ago.
WOW: Great advice. (Writers, what are YOU waiting for?) What projects are currently on your agenda?
Clare: I am currently revising a novel I have written. The novel is about a young woman's recovery from a brutal rape. The story follows her journey as she forms the relationships that allow her to heal and move on. I've been working on the novel for almost ten years! In between teaching full-time, being a mom and wife, I write stories and work on the novel. Writing the novel has been the most rewarding creative experience in my life. Every time I devote my energy and time to the novel, I like it even more. The characters are a deep part of who I am because for so long they've "lived" inside of my head. I know them very well, and it may sound crazy, but I'll miss them when I finally finish the novel.
WOW: I’m sure you will. Thank you for talking to our readers today, Clare, and once more, congrats!
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.
The next session of Gila Green's Flash Fiction course begins September 30.