Meet Winter 2017 Contest 2nd Place Winner Monica Cox

Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Monica Cox is an aspiring novelist who enjoys writing stories about and for women having found being one a fascinating, frustrating and fabulous experience. She is currently working on a historical fiction novel. Monica spent most of her career spinning stories of a different variety while working in public and media relations in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. She also blogs at High Heels and High Chairs, which initially tracked her transition from the corporate world to at-home motherhood and later documented the joys and pitfalls of on-ramping and flexible work arrangements. She now blogs less often than she would like about her writer’s journey and balancing a creative life with the demands of parenthood. Monica is a graduate of the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and their two sons whom they are raising to be unabashed Tar Heel fans and book lovers. You can learn more about Monica at Read her poignant story, "Last Rites," and then return here for an interview with this talented writer.

interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Congratulations, Monica, and welcome! Like many writers (such as myself), you have a background in public relations but left the industry to focus on parenting and more flexible work arrangements, which is also the focus of your blog, High Heels and High Chairs. Was it difficult for you to make that transition into working from home? What insights can you share with our readers about that process?

Monica: Working from home can blur the line between work and home time making it easy to feel like no one - not work, not your spouse, not your kids - are getting the best of you. When I started, I sought out the advice of a friend who also worked from home. She said to be where your feet are: when you’re working, you’re focused on work; when you’re with your kids, you’re completely with your kids. This seems easy to do but with technology making us and the outside world available at all times, it can be hard to resist the temptation to fire off that email or check Twitter when you’re supposed to be helping with spelling lists. This balancing act was especially hard when I first started working from home in public relations - my kids were still in preschool and working after the kids went to bed didn’t always fit with office demands during business hours. Now that my kids are older and I am writing and answer only to my own deadlines, it has settled into a more predictable and manageable routine. I think the key to making any type of flexible or work from home arrangement successful is to understand how you work best and honor that.

WOW: Wise words! Now on to the creative stuff. You've recently completed a historical fiction novel. Can you tell us a little more about the subject of that novel?

Monica: I was actually writing a completely different novel when a secondary character I knew would appear much later in the story kept popping up much earlier than she was needed. She obviously had something to say. When I finally took a step back and focused on her, I realized hers was the story I needed to tell so I shelved the other and started my research.

The novel is set during the Vietnam War and follows a young nurse in the Army Nurse Corps. All of the nurses who served at this time -- the majority of them women -- were volunteers. I was fascinated by what would prompt a young girl in the 1960s to raise her hand for such an assignment. Trying to get this story right in honor of the brave women who served in the ANC as well as the men they treated has been my greatest challenge so far.

WOW: Sounds fascinating! I can't imagine what kind of research goes into something like that. Hats off to you. Regarding our Winter 2017 Flash Fiction Contest, "Last Rites" is a portrait of a young family in the throes of disintegration. How did you get the idea for the characters in the story? I found the children to be especially poignant!

Monica: The opening line for the story actually came to me first: “The fish died on a Tuesday.” As a parent, we all have those days when our worlds may be falling down around us -- we’ve been laid off, a family member is ill, we’ve received our own diagnosis, a tough decision needs to be made -- but we must still carry on with our daily tasks so that our children feel secure, comforted and loved. The idea that this mother needed to focus on comforting her children as they dealt with the death of a pet while she was also struggling with the larger death of her marriage (and all that would mean for her family) really tugged at me.

And thank you! I loved writing the children and thought it was important that they have their own voice. Children so often get to the heart of the matter, whether they intended to or not.

WOW: What are some things you like to do to refill your creative well (reading, painting, exercising, etc.)?

Monica: I, like most writers probably, am a voracious reader, although I don’t know if that truly fills my creative well so much as it keeps me sane! When I’m really stuck creatively, I like to visit an art museum. Visual art raises so many questions about perspective, the setting, the subjects depicted, what happened just before or just after. I love viewing an artist’s work and finding the story in it. I also get recharged being outside. I love walking in my neighborhood or hiking an area trail to clear my mind. Whether it’s art or hiking, I think engaging the senses allows me to get outside of my own head and experience the world in a different way allowing creativity to flow. At the very least, it feels more proactive than sitting at my desk waiting for the muse to show up.

WOW: On your blog you say you are a writer who "manages to find any number of ways to not be writing." I'm sure there are many of us who can relate to that statement! How do you push yourself to be productive? Do you have a set writing schedule you plan around?

Monica: I try to cram as much writing time into the hours my children are in school as I can so that I can spend my late afternoons on mom duty. I block two hours every weekday morning as untouchable time. I don’t schedule appointments, answer the phone, check email or social networks and instead focus exclusively on my work in progress. I find that by protecting that time I have become more productive in the hours that surround it. I may get to my desk and start work earlier or stay longer if I’m in a good flow. That leaves my afternoons, before the boys get home from school, for research, new projects or that really important Target run for all those things I didn’t know I needed.

WOW: Ha ha! I think most of us know a little about that all-important Target run. We look forward to reading more of your work in the future!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Thanks for doing this interview.

Monica--I agree about the value of art museums.

I had a similar experience. When working on a novel, I discovered some "surprises" that sent me in a completely different direction.

Good luck on your future writing projects. I didn't get to read your story, but I will later...

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