Gemma Rapp, Second Place, Summer 2013 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Let's welcome, Gemma Rapp, to the Muffin to discuss her 2nd place short story, "The Blanket," and learn a bit about her and her writing life. If you haven't read "The Blanket" yet, you can do so here: 

Here's a bit about Gemma!

Gemma is a 20-something-year-old writer (yeah, she’s going to own that) from Washington. She has been writing since she could spell. When she was eight years old, she would rip off Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Boxcar Children series and fill notebooks with stories about Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. In her fifth-grade “Someday” book, the final page is dedicated to her dream of “one day I’ll write a book and get it published.” Someday.

Lately, Gemma has taken a break from her snippets of novels and is focusing on shorter stories. She has realized that flash fiction can be finished now, is much cheaper to have line-edited and, surprisingly, provides more of a challenge for someone so long-winded and detail-orientated.

Her previous publications include “Down Memory Lane” in the M Review for Marylhurst University and a piece in an anthology called Papers, in 2012.

For the future, Gemma plans on writing more short stories while at the same time working on her very raw drafts of two different novels. If you feel like saying “Hi,” feel free to seek her out on Facebook and send a message.

WOW: Congratulations, Gemma, on your 2nd place win in the Summer 2013 Flash Fiction Contest with your story, "The Blanket." It is one of those stories that you are thinking about LONG after you read the last word. What gave you the idea for such a haunting story?

Gemma: Thank you. I was thinking about how they would say this in the movies; based on a true story?

I grew up in dysfunction and abuse, and I think I coped and over compensated by loving inanimate objects, especially stuffed animals and my blankie. They offered love and comfort that I so desperately needed, and the idea of them being hurt or damaged or losing them was unbearable.

I think it’s also important to mention that with childhood abuse in the home there isn’t much choice but to love your parents regardless of their actions. I think that’s the “shocking” or thought-provoking part of the story-the last sentence. I think it’s difficult to recognize that a small child would be faced with such conflict so deeply in her soul. Although the idea of loving the thing that is destroying you is a very grown-up concept, hundreds of thousands of kids are treading in that every single day.

In addition to being based on my history, it is many kids', past and present, true story. I think a lot of people are in denial about the statistics of child abuse in America. “The Blanket” focused mainly on psychological maltreatment, but there are so many different types of abuse--most commonly neglect-- but also physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that are all very prevalent and equal as damaging. has a host of information and ways to help, if anyone is interested.

WOW: Thank you for the link and for drawing attention to this topic with your beautiful story. You show a lot of detail about the main character's relationship with her father and with her blanket in under 750 words. How long did it take you to perfect these details with such a small word count?

Gemma: I don’t have an orthodox or traditional system of writing. I don’t think much about structure or aspects of development. Most of my writing is done in my head; it’s like I’m reading the story as I go. My work is to then transcribe it as quickly as possible, so I don’t forget a sentence that I really, really loved. So, I am one of those people who will scribble a sentence on a napkin and then sort of jigsaw puzzle the pieces together later. Generally, the way I tell if something is “good” or worth continued work is by reading it and deciding if it’s something I would like as a reader rather than it’s author. Once I have a completed story, I will do my own edit, circling things I am questioning, like word choice. When I have a story I like, I will send it in for a line edit and then call it done. If I’m lucky, I can have a story done in a week. If I’m not “in the mood,” then sometimes the story trickles out at a painfully slow pace, and it can take months.

For this particular piece, I didn’t change too much from when it read itself in my head. Initially, it was a bit less than 900 words, so I cut a few sentences. I submitted to an earlier contest and got a critique back that it was great, but it needed more back ground on the dad. I felt like I had bit off more story than I could fit into the 750-word count so I put it in a drawer for about a month. I had deep connection to this story, and I knew it had a lot of potential; so when I dusted it off, I took a pen and crossed out every word that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I think I ended up with 40-odd words to spare. With a few carefully placed sentences about past incidences, I think it opened a window into the type of man that her dad was and how much tension and fear was swimming about in that relationship.

Apparently it did the trick, and I was thrilled to receive my “top ten” e-mail. Once I saw I had been awarded second place, I think my heart slowed down a little bit and I couldn’t stop smiling.

WOW: This goes to show what revision can do! Thank you also for sharing your process with us. That will help many writers! Your bio says that you are currently enjoying working on short stories. Why is that?

Gemma: Whether by nurture or nature, I tend to be slightly perfectionistic but also easily discouraged-which isn’t the best combination when under taking very large and time-consuming tasks. I have two partial novels I have been working on since 2010. They feel messy to me and at times overwhelming, so I tend to take breaks.

During one of those breaks, I began writing short stories, usually between one to three thousand words. It felt so wonderful to have something DONE. I loved the feeling of completion; it felt relieving and less worrisome. I think the thing I struggle with most, as a writer, is the ending; and when given a certain amount of words to work with, it makes the objective very clear and for me, more obtainable.

WOW: What themes do you like to explore in your writing? Do you notice a pattern developing?

Gemma: Absolutely. I tend to use a lot of feeling in my writing and definitely focus more on description rather than dialogue.

As far as a theme goes, I tend to lean toward writing about difficult things that aren’t talked about. Or if they are talked about, it is done so in whispers or behind closed doors.

My goal as a writer is to offer a glimpse into a life that the reader may not have known about or understood before. If I could somehow provide some type of insight into dark areas and at the same time if I could do it in a beautiful way, then I would consider myself accomplished.

WOW: You definitely accomplished that with your winning story! I think you were an early fan fiction writer with the Boxcar series. Now there are websites dedicated to fan fiction! (smiles) How do you think your early interest in writing and literature has prepared you for your career as a writer?

Gemma: My elementary school did something called the "young author's conference." During the school year, we would write and illustrate stories. We would pick our favorite, and the teacher would type it; and we would be responsible for an illustration on each page. It was then laminated, and it would be comb bound. It even had an "about the author" page with our school pictures pasted on and a blank page for notes.

On conference day, we'd be split into groups of ten or so, and we'd read our books out loud and get comments and questions. I hated that part, but I love the sticker the cover of your book would be adorned with if you participated. To me, it could have been a golden national book award. At the end of the day, the hallway would be lined with long tables, and the books would be on display for anyone to read; and people would write you notes on the comments page.

It is truly one of my fondest memories. Holding a book that I had written ignited a passion in me.

I think those early experiences taught me a lot. It wasn't easy. A book didn't just materialize (to get all the drafts done and illustrations usually took weeks). More often than not. it was more than one person's effort; and that even if you had a book you loved and that was your very best--one that you poured your soul and creativity and all your Kid Pix skills into, even if eight other kids all had something nice to say--some stinky fifth grader might declare he just flat out does not like it. And I think that, the subjectivity of any given person, to poo-poo a story you've scratched your heart into is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in regard to later choosing to do something artistic as an adult.

I think with all art, you're taking a risk. You put a bit of yourself our there, and you are very literally asking other people to judge it. It’s scary, and you have to get comfortable with rejection. But you also have to get comfortable with your own self-confidence and being able to say that even if someone doesn’t like your work, then it doesn’t mean that it’s not good or worthwhile--it just means you need to find another group.

WOW: So many words of wisdom and inspiration! Thank you. What's next for you?

Gemma: What’s next for me? What a fabulous question, and one I would LOVE to know the answer to! I am teasing, but I do think I take the “one day at a time” motto to heart. I, of course, plan on writing. I just submitted to Writer’s Digest, and I am currently rolling a story around in my head about a girl named Moxie. I have two novels I am working on, and I, without a doubt, would like to get at least one done and edited in the coming year and maybe start to look into the publishing process.

It seems like such a lofty goal, but I think that’s where “one day at a time” comes into cliched play.

WOW: Thank you, Gemma, best of luck to you in the New Year!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Thanks for this interview and for the link to the haunting story "The Blanket."

Gemma--Your story was powerful. Years ago, I worked in a residential facility for abused and neglected kids. (I worked with the infants.) The children who were abused were always "easier" to work with, because they had had a connection--a bond--with their family. Being hit, having bones broken--that was at least attention.

Being neglected--and not getting any attention--meant it was very difficult for the child to bond with anyone else.

If you haven't already, I would suggest trying your hand at some creative nonfiction and submit to anthologies (like Chicken Soup for the Soul books) or magazines. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and it sounds like you have a story (or several stories) that others would benefit from hearing.

Bravo, Gemma.

Sioux Roslawski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margo Dill said...

Sioux: That is something I never really thought about. Thank you for sharing your experiences, too. And great ideas for Gemma to try some personal essays, too. Best of luck to both of you!

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