Interview with Mary Tonne Schaefer: 2016 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, May 09, 2017
Mary’s Bio:

I’ve made up stories inside my head since childhood, but a 2015 “break-out of-my-comfort zone” self-challenge included the high hurdle of actually moving creative writing into real life to share with others. (My prior fiction audience was captive: my children and now my grandchildren listening to the continuing exploits of Toddly, an enviably wildly disobedient child we imagine together.) To venture outside my career area which completely comprised nonfiction writing, I found WOW! classes and began sharing, encouraged by teachers and virtual class mates.

My own early teaching was language arts in the Midwest where I grew up and studied English, journalism and school library (Iowa State University and Purdue). From then on, instructional and technical writing was my only focus. When we moved to the East coast where we now live, my Apple IIe and I telecommuted for over a dozen years, editing a monthly digest, Information Retrieval & Library Automation. Later, I created and managed research libraries/web-based training centers for four DC-area high tech companies, including an outreach that designed modules teaching classroom teachers to use social media in education. Now, I’m excited to explore further into fiction and also to corral my life experiences in a memoir form.

If you haven't done so already, check out Mary's award-winning story "Trending" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in WOW!’s Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?

Mary: Social and political topics, social media, and bullying involve important, highly visible, much-discussed and polarizing issues. I was interested in bringing them into focus through a “regular” person’s eyes, the mom, Jessica, in “Trending.” The hope was to present how “invasive” these issues are and how people use creativity and caring (and chance) to turn negatives into positives.

WOW: This was a great way to discuss some very important issues. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?

Mary: I love to write. Now that I’m taking the leap—and the time—to try to write creatively, there’s almost nothing that I don’t love about this experience. (Perhaps the negative is the household tasks undone, but I’ll think about those tomorrow.) I like the challenges, especially the efforts to make my ideas clear in the minds of others. I like the changes and expansions I have to make in my approaches and the new ways I need to try to look at things and express them.

WOW: I love to hear that you’re tackling the challenges head on—and enjoying them! Ignoring the household tasks while working on a creative project is a huge challenge, so kudos to you for being able to do it. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Mary: Like others, I’m always reading more than one book at a time. Right now I am about half way through Lauren Slater’s Lying because I’m taking the WOW! Women Writers' Book Group: Building Meaning in a Memoir online class with the amazing Chelsey Clammer.

I’m also reading two ‘books about books’ or with stories within a story because that’s a theme I’m interesting in exploring. One nearly finished is My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Bachman which centers on make believe stories a grandmother and granddaughter imagine and how these stories of love and empathy carry each through the difficulties of life (and death).

I’m also about one fourth of the way through Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan, an intriguing read on the world of digital communications and technology and its supposed antithesis, a real world, print books store offering mystical explorations you have to experience for yourself.

WOW: Excellent! A nice array of purposefully chosen literature. Please tell us more about how you broke out of your comfort zone to share your creative writing. What prompted you to do such a brave thing?

Mary: First, thank you for saying it was brave! I imagine all writers feel that their writing is a big piece of themselves and so, in sharing it, you are putting your personal creation and your creativity up for public inspection! When I was a technical writer, it was easy because my livelihood was dependent on it. Creative writing opens an exciting window to explore (and create) times and places, ideas and memories, and … !

WOW: Yes! Creative writing is like offering a little piece of your heart and soul for an audience, which is brave but can also be very rewarding. If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Mary: When I first began, my advice would have been “Just do it!” That still applies, but now I’ve learned that nothing creative (or at least in my own creativity) is diminished by being disciplined, focused and even setting my own deadlines. If I don’t do that, I don’t get things done. So, now beyond that, my advice to myself and others is “Believe in yourself … you and your ideas are worth it!”

WOW: Thank you for that insight! Anything else you’d like to add?

Mary: Thank you so much for this interview and huge thanks to WOW! for the innovative teaching and creating platform!

WOW: Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses. Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.


Donna Volkenannt said...

Congratulations to Mary on her win. I appreciate reading her responses to your questions.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I just loved your story, Mary! Thanks for the interview--you shared some great resources, and I will have to check out your book recommendations. :)

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