Read her story here and come back for some inspiring writing advice from Kathy.
Kathy was thrilled to hear that her story made the Top 10 list. She would like to thank Women on Writing for creating this contest. She has always enjoyed writing. As a young child, she scribbled poems and stories. During her teens, she won public-speaking and writing awards, and she contributed to her school newspaper. Her career has taken varying directions, including positions as editor of a small-town paper, computer-network administrator, and webmaster. She has also worked on projects in commercial art and cartooning.
This piece reflects her love of speculative fiction.
Please visit her website, KathySteinemann.com, for a complete list of her publications.
WOW: Your story, "The Hitchhiker," is a haunting tale that contains elements of speculative fiction. What works of speculative fiction have inspired you the most?
Kathy: Rod Serling’s Night Gallery series pops into my mind, as well as the short stories of Fredric Brown. Ray Bradbury has influenced me over the years too.
Anyone who ever watched The Twilight Zone will understand Rod Serling’s unique perspective. He could take everyday events and twist them until you saw ghosts in corners when you tried to sleep at night.
Fredric Brown was a master of the short story, providing unusual twist endings that left readers surprised, amused, puzzled—or a combination of those emotions. I wish he had written more.
Ray Bradbury’s unconventional outlook on life produced unforgettable classics such as The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. For those unfamiliar with his work, Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales provides excellent examples of his short fiction.
WOW: With your background in journalism, do you ever find inspiration for your fiction from stories in the headlines?
Kathy: All the time.
Byron wrote, “'Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction.” He was right. In fact, I have taken ideas from the headlines and added a paranormal element to make the stories more convincing.
Who would ever believe that a man could be trapped at the bottom of the ocean in an overturned boat and be found alive after more than three days? But if readers think the man was saved by a time warp, they can accept it as believable fiction.
WOW: You are active on social media, which is an important part of an author's platform these days. Do you have any tips for finding new followers on Twitter and Facebook and finding engaging content to share with them?
- Make interest lists. Then share content from those lists.
- If someone retweets or shares, return the favor.
- If a friend or follower e-mails you, respond immediately.
- Share your Twitter and Facebook links in every e-mail, newsletter, book, literary journal, and on your website.
But beware! An author can spend too much time on social media. Restrict yourself to a certain number of minutes daily, then get back to what you love: writing.
WOW: I am impressed by the varied list of published books under your belt. How do you juggle and prioritize all your different writing projects?
Kathy: I keep lists and tick things off as I do them. My house, car, cell phone, and purse are filled with reminders and story ideas. I maintain a routine, but it’s not an iron-clad schedule that I can’t break. Adhering to the same routine every day can make for a humdrum existence. I like to vary the time and order of tasks. The little changes help to spark creativity.
The important thing is to write. Every day.
WOW: Do you have any tips about writing flash fiction for our readers?
Kathy: Flash fiction, by definition, is short. Ironically, my comments about flash will be the longest part of this interview.
Just because a piece is flash fiction doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. The end might be open, but it should be discernable. For example, in “Hitchhiker”, I let readers decide whether Dianne is an alien hunter or just a deluded woman.
Sit down and write your story. Don’t worry about repetition, descriptions, and moments of brilliance. Then go through it, removing everything that doesn’t further your plot—especially clichés and flowery writing that could be classified as purple prose.
Keep your paragraphs short. Huge blocks of text are difficult for readers to follow, especially on electronic devices.
Only add descriptions where they push your story forward. Do you have enough room to describe textures, colors, scents, sounds, and feelings? Insert if appropriate. Descriptive writing tends to slow a plot. Use that to your advantage when you want to provide a break in action or give the reader time to absorb what you’ve written to that point.
After your first rewrites, put the piece away for a few days—or at least for a few hours—before you revise further. Read it out loud. If your tongue stumbles over difficult phrasing or you lose your breath before you finish a sentence, change it.
Then put the story away again before final revisions.
At some point, you have to stop revising, or you can lose the soul of a piece.