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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Meet Lynn Nicholas, Runner-Up in WOW's 2013 Summer Flash Fiction Contest

Today we have Lynn Nicholas with us who placed in our 2013 Summer Flash Fiction contest for her humorous story, Mi Amore. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, click on the story title then come back here to join my chat with Lynn. Grab your favorite bevvie and have as much fun as I did getting to know Lynn.

Lynn Nicholas, a prior technical editor, lives in Tucson, Arizona with her supportive husband, two dog companions, and a black cat who keeps everyone in line. He takes his job very seriously.

She is the ultimate late-bloomer. Since adolescence, Lynn has used writing as a means of self-expression, but she didn’t begin writing stories and essays for public scrutiny until her late fifties. Her more recent flash fiction and nonfiction can be found in the e-zines Every Day Fiction, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Long Story Short, Gay Fiction, Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction and Believer Life Christian Magazine. A short essay appeared in the October 2013 issue of the AARP Bulletin.

Lynn is a strong animal advocate and volunteers for a no-kill cat shelter. She also spends several hours a week taking both ballroom and country-western dance lessons.

WOW: A very warm welcome to you, Lynn. Welcome to The Muffin! Please give us a peek into your background.

LYNN: I was born and raised in Canada. My parents were British immigrants, who emigrated again when I was sixteen, this time to the American southwest. My father, traditionally old-school, didn’t believe in college educating a daughter. I married at nineteen, worked while my husband finished his B.S. and then an M.S., and then finally, when I turned twenty-seven, I registered as a fulltime college student. I’ll never forget the feeling of gratification when my test scores in botany and geology beat all the men’s scores in my classes: straight A’s, a few perfect 100s, a moment to celebrate.

It was in college, writing papers for anthropology assignments and essays for writing classes, that I found my niche. I discovered that when I wrote, I could express my thoughts and ideas clearly and cohesively, and my instructors seemed to think I had great potential. No one had ever believed in me before.

I never finished a four-year degree. Marriage(s), work, and a child took precedence. But I continued to write and to learn. Every job, from administrative assistant to marketing administrator, required good writing skills. Every employer took advantage of those skills. I finally worked my way into a position as a technical editor for a geotechnical engineering firm. On the side I wrote resumes for people and did a bit of freelance editing just for fun.

I ‘retired’ early, in 2003 at 54, and although elder care for family members took up much of my time, I continued to write: letters to the editor and politiciansJ, poetry (especially when stressed), personal essays, book reviews and articles on BookCrossing, etc. I discovered Live Journal, then entered and finished NaNoWriMo three times, and joined FanStory where I could edit/review, submit stories, and even take online classes. The BEST discovery was Wow! Reading the work submitted for WOW’s Flash Fiction contests and finally submitting some of my own stories and learning from the critiques helped me grow tremendously. Placing in two WOW! contests last year (2013) means I can turn sixty-five this year feeling somewhere between ‘it’s never too late’ and ‘I’ve only just begun’.

WOW: What a fantastic history! Thank you for sharing. You’ve been writing for quite awhile. What genres do you enjoy the most, and why?

LYNN: My comfort zone is essay and commentary. I like to wax philosophical–let’s just say I’m relatively opinionated and need a non-confrontational outlet. J Flash fiction is a genre I wanted to break into and have. It’s been both a great learning experience and a forum to experiment with breadth of range, from the dramatic to the amusing, while staying concise. I’ve never written a true short story: something between 3000 and 5000 words, but would like to try. I have three draft novels, each ranging from 56K to 64K words. Creating these longer works gave me the opportunity to address more complex relationships and issues through my character’s voices. I tend to be intense. Even my choices in TV shows lean more towards dramas than comedies. I like to dig a bit deeper. (I hate small talk.) With my writing, I try to stay true to myself and create something with substance, while exploring the humorous side of the human condition. If we couldn’t laugh at ourselves we’d all just have to jump off the nearest cliff, like lemmings.

WOW: HAHA!! No kidding. And I truly appreciated your style of presenting the humor and fun side of life in your story, Mi Amore. It caught my attention right away. Please share with us how this story came to be.

LYNN: Thank you. I’m still pleased and surprised that the WOW! editors liked this story. I had no expectations, besides a critique, when I submitted it.

Two years ago I jotted down a few notes for a story that incorporated song lyrics. I made up a verse, wrote a few lines and ideas, but then nothing clicked; so, I closed the file and forgot about it. I was scrounging for a story idea in late summer 2013 when I came across the forgotten song-story file. As soon as I read the first few lines, the embers of that initial idea sparked a flame that kept burning until I’d written a finished story. Timing is everything.

In the two years since my initial idea for this story, I’ve begun taking country-western dance lessons. I think ‘Mi Amore’ is the product of me spending so much time listening to Country Western music. It gets to you with its sad lyrics and super-macho male CW stars (and CW dancers). I live in the southwest where guys drive pickup trucks with gun racks, and wear cowboy hats, and carry side arms. Their macho-ness (is that a word?) can get tedious, so I thought I’d have some fun with it with this storyline.

Florence, a small town close to Tucson, hosts an annual country-western music festival called Country Thunder. All the big names perform. It was on the heels of that festival that I began to work on this story again, and I decided to connect the bar’s newcomers to the music festival and make my main character a CW Star wannabe. The song lyrics developed as the story developed. One side fed the other. I wish I could tell you where the ‘Julie’ idea really came from. She just happened. I think a psychologist would have a field day in my head.

WOW: Too hilarious. And yes…’macho-ness’ is a word. I thought I was the only one who used it. LOL! Do you have a specific writing routine? Give us an idea of what it’s like when you sit down to create.

LYNN: I hate routine, which is a bit odd because I am a confirmed list-maker. But I am sadly schedule-impaired. The only constant in my life is my morning coffee, without which I cannot function. Days can pass without my writing anything more than Facebook posts or emails to friends. Ideas for stories come to me at the oddest times and rarely can be forced. I have a digital folder called ‘Working’, full of WORD files. Some are comprised of just a sentence or two, fragments of ideas and thoughts; some are ideas or outlines for storylines that just haven’t completely jelled as yet. I am constantly adding notes to files and reviewing them for ideas. When a concept connects with me on an emotional level—when I can feel it, see the characters or the setting like I’m watching a movie—then I become obsessed and write almost nonstop. I lose track of time. Nothing else gets done. Once I get a story ‘finished’, I begin to self-edit. I cut, sharpen, re-arrange, ask someone else to read for input, decide I hate it and walk away, then wander back to my computer to tackle it again and do more fine-tuning. Without a doubt, I have to become more disciplined if I am ever going to take a draft novel to a final, which is my goal for 2014. I need to unplug the phone (yes, I still have a landline), ignore Facebook, let the laundry pile up and, good or bad, just write, and do it consistently.

WOW: Good for you! And think many of us here have one of those ‘Working’ files full of half-finished stuff. It has been a lot of fun having you here today, Lynn. Before you go, I would love for you to share any writing pearls of wisdom you might have for our future contestants, as well as our budding writers out there.

LYNN: I am flattered that you’d ask. I’ve had a bit of luck this past year with pieces being accepted, but I am still a novice writer myself. I can pass along what seems to work for me, and hope I can help someone else in some small way.

First, set your ego aside. Be ruthless about your own work. Cut and edit. You can’t become so married to your words that you can’t stand to cut them. If you have to cut phrases you can’t bear to lose, copy them to a file and save them for another piece. Writing flash fiction is a great way to learn how to pare down a story to its most essential elements.

Second, learn from others. Read books like ‘A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Read a broad range of books by a broad range of authors. Pay attention to critiques you receive on your own work.

Third, don’t take critiques personally and don’t expect everyone to like everything you write. My best friend didn’t ‘get’ Mi Amore at all. I didn’t take it personally. Every story is not for everyone. You have to believe in yourself and understand the difference between a valuable critique and someone’s opinion. If you like it then submit it and hope that ‘the people who count’ will agree with you. If they don’t, pay attention to their critiques and consider doing some serious rewriting. The critiques from WOW! helped me rethink and write cleaner.

Fourth (for new writers), get into the habit of playing ‘what if’. Let your mind play. My first FF called ‘Two Hours’ came to me while sitting in a waiting room while my husband was in for a colonoscopy. I started thinking, ‘what if a woman’s only chance to get away from an abusive husband was the two-hour window she had while waiting for him ….’ My story wasn’t super good, but got my feet wet, and my husband still tells people about it.

WOW: Fantastic pearls, Lynn. Thank you for sharing them. Congratulations again on placing in our contest and the very best of luck to you with your future works (not that I think you need much).

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