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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Interview with Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Third Place Winner, Janet Cannon

The next time you feel like quitting because you didn’t make the cut, remember this name—Janet Cannon. When it comes to staying power, this woman rocks! Janet has been entering our contests since 2013. She has received three runners-up, one honorable mention, and (finally) third place. Want to know how she did it? First, take a moment to enjoy her winning story, Old Notes, New Composition. Next, come back for a short interview with this inspiring writer.

Writer, editor, educator, photographer, runner, crafter, wife, and life-long learner Janet L. Cannon is one of those people who thrive on stress. She just finished her second marathon and is now working to break her past speed records on shorter races. Her current projects include a Mars colonization anthology, a YA novel, several unfinished afghans and rag rugs, and keeping one lesson ahead of 650 fifth and sixth graders. As you can see, she’s taking it easy for a few months. You can read her daily motivational catastrophes at, her weekly philosophical conundrums at, discover her other superpowers at, or merely correspond with her at janetcannonwriter[at]gmail[dot]com.

WOW: Hi Janet; congratulations on placing in our Summer 2014 Contest! You are a real trooper and a true inspiration; did I count four previous WOW Flash Fiction mentions? Tell us about your inspiration for “Old Notes, New Composition” and your experience writing it.

Janet: Yes, I’ve worked my way up from Honorable Mention to Top Ten to Third Place in the WOW contests. I’m proud of that! “Old Notes, New Composition” is a nod to several people I love including my father who instilled me a passion for music and a friend of mine who had the courage to fall in love and get married after leaving an abusive relationship. I’m not generally a romance writer or reader, but the idea of using the universal connections music can create to bond two lonely people was intriguing. As I usually do, I tried to frame the story in an unusual and unique way to create interest, therefore the pawn shop, and the rest followed organically.

WOW: I heard you had mentioned making some revisions to your writing style. What changes do you feel you’ve made in your approach that finally lead to receiving third place?

Janet: I’m primarily a speculative fiction writer: science fiction, fantasy, alternative worlds, magic, etc. However, as I teach my students, you have to write to your audience if you’re going to be understood, or in this case, try to win a contest. Despite what some literary critics say, speculative fiction and literary fiction are quite similar. Like literary fiction, speculative fiction is often used as a platform for discussing social, political, and religious views or exploring the human condition with layers of metaphor and innuendo. The difference is, literary fiction does this within a realistic setting. Speculative fiction uses a layer of “otherness” to the story, often to further mask the punch of the satire or metaphor. So all I had to do was learn to cut off the ears from my elves, change my magic system to examining how conflicting emotions effect the environment of a character, and focus on choosing words that fit with the theme, in this case: music. Voila! Literary fiction.

WOW: That’s one of the best explanations of literary fiction that I’ve heard, thank you! I went back and read your previous entries and can see the changes and improvement in your writing. What do you think when you read the past few years worth of writing?

Janet: I have worked hard to progress in my writing skills in the last few years. I think my success is due to 1. opening myself up to criticism, 2. committing to submit more of my work, 3. writing even if I know it’s bad, and 4. accepting more editing jobs.

  1. Because I’ve asked for more feedback from harsh critics, even though it hurts, I know that those people are trying to help me become a better writer. Successful writing isn’t for wimps, and if you can’t take a few negative remarks and grow from them, you need to find something different to do with your time.
  2. By committing my time to submit work, I’m required to write more. By writing more, I improve. It’s a simple equation but one that requires a lot of work.
  3. Sometimes what I write is bad and I know it’s bad but I keep writing anyway. Who knows when the good stuff is going to start flowing? Besides, I can always take some of the good ideas and rewrite them into better prose. Revision is a marvelous tool.
  4. Editing other people’s work has been enlightening. When you see the same mistakes over and over, it highlights what is wrong in your own work. That’s not to say I will ever be error free, of course, but editing has taught me how to divorce myself from my work and read it with a more detached, more critical frame of mind, picking out errors I never would have found before.

WOW: Wonderful tips—I think I should post those next to my computer!

You come across as having a natural “funny” side; tell us about your relationship with humor and writing.

Janet: I grew up in a family of jokes and jokesters. We use it to deal with the hard times and celebrate the good times. I think it’s an excellent tool to not only cope with difficulties in life but build relationships and make your point with someone without offending them. That’s why I don’t like most modern comedy because it’s based on “potty” jokes or explicit language intended to offend you, not to make you think or build a relationship. In writing, when used well, humor has the amazing ability to connect the reader to the text in a visceral way, whether through joy, embarrassment, shared experience, or dark understanding. In my opinion, that’s how humor should be used: to make you think deeper about your beliefs and connect people, not to push them farther apart.

WOW: Many new writers struggle to find that all-elusive “voice.” What has been your experience in regards to this pursuit?

Janet: To have a distinctive voice as a writer I think you need a defined sense of self derived from life experience. “Self” doesn’t mean, “I am a runner,” or “I am a daughter,” or “I am a Christian.” Self is deeper than that. Self is who you are at your core when all your masks have been stripped away and you have to make hard decisions without a safety net. As a culture we’ve tried shelter ourselves from failure, numb ourselves from brokenness, and hide from anything that resembles pain. However, my opinion is that the best way to truly know ourselves is to live our lives fully—both the good and the bad—then figure out how to overcome our failures, rebuild ourselves when broken, soothe our own pains, and learn from those experiences. That’s when we understand who we truly are and find our voice. Through my life experiences, I’m learning how far I can push myself, how deep my will runs, what my strengths are, what it feels like to be broken, and how to heal from that broken state. When written from a place of emotional honesty, that depth of emotion translates clearly to the reader as your voice.

WOW: Janet, thank you so much for responding with such introspection and care; I can’t think of a better thought with which to leave or readers than that last comment.

Janet's Anthology, Building Red: The Colonization of Mars, is due to be published summer of 2015 by Walrus Publishing. Be sure to connect with Janet to receive updates and announcements. Her previous WOW contest entries include the honorable mention Blonde Curls and Scurvy Pirates, and the runner up entries Planning, Peppers, and Pushup-Bras, or Daddy's Three Essential Rules of Success; Final Deadline; and Elevator Pitch.


  1. I enjoyed the interview, ladies. Nice job and congratulations on your contest success Janet!

  2. Thanks Marcia! It was fun chatting with Janet, and I'm looking forward to reading more from her :)

  3. Great post. Especially will remember your words on finding your voice.


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