Meet Cheryl Fines, Winter 2017 Third Place Flash Fiction Winner

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Cheryl Fines is a secondary school teacher in a small city on the Canadian prairies. She gets the greatest satisfaction from teaching English literature, particularly when she can introduce a reluctant student to a genre or format that makes him embrace the English language arts. Sharing her love of literature—and her love of writing, of course—makes teaching the perfect fit for Cheryl.

Cheryl has a B.Sc. (Psychology) from Trent U in Peterborough, Ontario, and a B.Ed. from Brandon U, but her true passion is writing. She enjoys writing in many genres and formats. She loves the precision of language required to tell a full story within the tight word count parameters in flash fiction. Cheryl has two novels on the go at present, as well as some nonfiction, and poetry. Lately, she has enjoyed reading fiction with a non-traditional narrator, and it’s entirely likely that you’ll see some of that in her writing before long.

Making time for a wide variety of creative pursuits is vital to Cheryl; aside from writing, she enjoys all manner of fibre art, and dabbles in fine arts projects from time to time. She lives in Brandon, MB with her husband and two children, whom she urges to challenge themselves, and pursue their dreams, just as she has done.

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

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the WOW Winter 2017 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?

Cheryl: “Catharsis” was brewing in my mind for quite a long while, and has been through a significant evolution process along the way. As with most of my fiction, I’ve drawn from many different life experiences of my own, as well as the struggles and achievements of others. The sensory descriptions largely come from personal experience in hospitals: volunteering as a teenager, visiting various people, being a patient myself, and spending time in the palliative unit when my mom was approaching the end of her life.

The relationship aspect is a little more complex. There are fragments of my own experiences and thoughts, but equally important, I drew from the fallout I’ve seen in the lives of several others who never had the opportunity to resolve past issues before they lost a parent. It seems to cling to them forever. Personally, I was very fortunate to have a cathartic visit with my father not too long before he passed away, in which I felt like I was seeing him through adult eyes for the first time ever. Pieces fell in place. Resentment and anger really did just fall away. So – that’s the long answer to your question. “Catharsis” is definitely a mish-mash of many experiences and observations, with a healthy dose of straight-up imagination.

WOW: Thank you for sharing that! It’s so fascinating to hear where stories come from. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?

Cheryl: I am passionate about writing. It is so satisfying when the words are flowing, and ideas abound. It’s so rewarding when I read back what I wrote and find that I actually do like it. I love that it is an expression of the creativity that resides inside me, and indeed, inside each of us. I have concluded that creative expression is a genuine need. Not a luxury, not a pastime.

What do I like least about writing? My immediate response to that question is, “finding the time.” But that isn’t about writing, per se; it’s about time management. What I like least about writing is having grave misgivings about something I’ve written, or how I’ve written it. These don’t tend to come from within, but rather when I seek feedback from others. For instance, I’ve been strongly advised against “head hopping” (switching narrators throughout the piece), and was cautioned not to use a flashback format. Both of these pieces of advice stopped my writing dead in its tracks. Once I’ve doubted a piece, and set it aside – or worse, scrapped it and started over – it’s never quite the same. I’m not essentially a blind rule-follower. I wish I’d never had these particular pieces of advice, because when I step back and think about the creative process of writing, I prefer to think that there are no hard-and-fast rules in writing. As an expression of one’s imagination, surely there can’t be rigid rules like those to follow.

WOW: I love that you said creative expression is a genuine need, not a luxury. So often I feel guilty when I take time to write because I do feel as if it’s a frivolous luxury, and that’s one of my biggest creative blocks. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Cheryl: I’m about to set down an unfinished autobiography of Carson McCullers, in order to read Craig Russell’s Black Bottle Man. I’m going to read it for several reasons – Craig is a local author, it’s received many rave reviews, and I’m hoping to include it in the reading list for my English class next fall.

WOW: Can you tell us more about your two novels or other works-in-progress?

Cheryl: Sure. One novel is a drama following the relationship of one couple. I began writing that one when I went through something of a crisis myself, and although there are a couple of things borrowed from real life, it’s definitely a work of fiction. Strangely, feedback from another author was that a particular element of the story was not believable – and that was the one true part in the writing!

The other novel is quite exciting to me. It’s a dystopic, not-so-far-in-the-future setting, which brings in several elements of political and social situations that are actually occurring, as it turns out. When I started writing, these true elements had not yet come to pass; the fact that they now have makes it even more compelling, at least from a writer’s standpoint. What I really want is several days to myself, just to write - to kick start that process again. This is the one that I stopped writing after receiving the advice to avoid flashbacks. I should never have listened.
Other than that, I dabble in short stories, flash fiction (as you know), and poetry.

WOW: That all sounds so exciting! I hope you get some time to yourself—or make some time—to keep working on that novel. If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Cheryl: Be true to yourself. It is your voice, after all, that the reader wants to hear. Adhering to writing rules and formulaic structures is probably not going to be conducive to authenticity.

The reason I’d give that advice is simple: as I mentioned before, it was hearing the well-intentioned advice of others that completely stalled my writing, on two major projects. Even if changes to narrative structure, voice, etc., turns out to be desirable, do that in a revising stage. To start, just be as genuine as you can with your storytelling.

I know you asked for one, but I feel compelled to add a second piece of advice: keep on writing. Life is busy. There is no time for anything, it seems. But you need to carve out time for the things in life that fill you back up. Writing is one of those things for me, and I would imagine for any creative writer.

WOW: Fantastic advice. Thank you! Anything else you’d like to add?

Cheryl: Well, this might seem like a shameless plug for WOW, but it’s completely genuine and unprompted. WOW offers a submissions consultation with writer Chelsey Clammer. I had such a consultation a couple of months back, and it was absolutely fabulous! She has wonderful insights, a professional perspective, and of course, can suggest publishers who would fit your writing. I found this to be such a useful process, and would recommend it to other novice writers.

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.


Jackie W said...

Good for you!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Wonderful interview, ladies! Cheryl, I loved hearing about the inspiration behind your story. The pieces that you pulled from personal experiences definitely resonated with this piece. It felt very real to me and that was probably because of all the sensory detail.

This quote: "I have concluded that creative expression is a genuine need. Not a luxury, not a pastime." I totally agree. It's like breathing.

I think many writers have gone through your experience...when you hear too much advice about writing rules or your own writing, it can cause blocks.

Thank you mentioning Chelsey Clammer's Submissions Consultation! I totally agree. She's wonderful to work with and very encouraging.

I loved your story, "Catharsis" and can't wait to read more of your work!

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