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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Meet Winter Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Meg O'Connor, Author of "Lost Soul"

Congratulations to Meg O'Connor for your beautiful story "Lost Soul" !

Meg O’Connor is a geologist by trade and a writer by craft. Her writing has been shaped by her travels: from the kangaroo-ridden pastures of the Blue Mountains, Australia to the moose-ridden highways in Fairbanks, Alaska. Meg has taken many odd jobs in order to travel to these new places: a hand at a dude ranch, a paleontology research assistant looking for arctic dinosaur footprints, and a deckhand on a brigantine. These experiences have shaped the settings and characters in her fiction, as well as given her plenty of material for writing creative non-fiction. After graduation from Williams College, Meg worked as a high school science teacher before pursuing a graduate degree in geology at Louisiana State University. Her geologic passion is the Mississippi River and the ways that it uses mud to shape the delta. She is currently wrapping up a contemporary western set on a dude ranch, and she writes short fiction to stay sane while editing her novel.

WOW!: OK - I love your life (and I'm sure many of our readers feel the same); you've been so many places and done some amazing things. Is it hard to decide what you are going to write about? How do you chose when you obviously have so much life experience?

MEG: The people I meet while traveling or working in unique places as well as the landscapes drive my writing. When I meet a unique person, I'm always thinking about how they would react in different scenarios or when facing challenges. My characters are not directly based off of any one person, but they are often inspired by the places my imagination takes me when I ask those questions. As a geologist, I often reflect on how a landscape impacts the way a person or a community behaves. For instance, working on a boat and working at a ranch nestled in a valley were very different environments. But both were isolated, harsh environments where one person's choices could impact another person's safety, and in that sense they produced some similar community dynamics. I have written stories that combine my observations from multiple environments in a new way.

WOW!: I absolutely knew your writing was based on your many experiences. So...what inspired the story "Lost Soul"? You have clearly been a young piano student - or at least your writing convinces me you have an intimate knowledge of it. Is this story based on your life, or can you tell us more about the characters and story line?

MEG: I actually have never been a young piano student, though I casually--and rather poorly-- played the clarinet growing up. I wrote Lost Soul after attending a memorial performance for a music teacher who had lived in my neighborhood. Students of all ages performed tributes, and he had clearly impacted the lives of so many kids. I was extremely struck by the range of expressions of grief in the kids, and I wrote Lost Soul in an attempt to capture some of the poignancy in that experience.

WOW!: I'm absolutely floored that you were not a piano student - thank you for explaining your muse. What advice to you give other writers who may be hesitant about flash fiction and/or flash fiction contests?

MEG: I'm not sure I feel qualified to give advice, but here I go anyway... I think Lost Soul was successful in part because it sprung from an experience that was very emotional and powerful, and I attempted to capture those feelings. However, I have written many other stories that felt important and emotional to me but did not "succeed" in contests or resonate with a broader group of readers. "Be willing to fail" is a fairly common piece of writing advice, but I'd like to add to that: fail quickly and in rapid succession. I tend to be more successful putting a "failed" story away for a while and generating new material than trying to continually edit a piece that maybe didn't have the spark or emotional impact I desired to begin with. I put "failed" in quotations because, like most writers I know, I have gained something from each piece I've written. Especially the awful ones.

WOW!: I agree that your story is very powerful; thank you for sharing your advice!

What is your writing life like? Do you find you need a special space, particular lighting, etc...and what about time management? What advice can you give others about making sure their writing life doesn't take a backseat? Especially with such a demanding career and exciting life - how do you balance it all?

MEG: I have NO requirements for how, when, or where I write. I can focus on writing even in hectic environments like train stations, which is just straight luck that I'm wired like that. When I edit my work, in contrast, I need a calm environment and cannot even listen to music with words. I fit writing into a hectic schedule by doing the opposite of most advice I've heard: I don't write on any strict schedule, I just write whenever I feel like it and have a ten minute or longer chunk of time. The challenge then becomes making sure I frequently "feel" like writing. I keep my motivation up in a few ways. I always create a music playlist (basically a soundtrack) for a novel in progress. I choose songs that help me get in my narrator's head, and I order them so that they progress as the tone and stakes of the story change. Starting the music tends to help kick writer's block. I also recently designed a beer recipe based off tastes and smells that reminded me of the setting of the novel I'm writing (Wyoming), and my home brewing boyfriend helped make it a reality. We agreed not to crack one until a draft was complete, at which point we had a release party. It was a great way to keep me moving!

WOW!: I love your ways - this is awesome! Thank you for being so open and honest.

How did you or how do you plan to celebrate your placing in the WOW!Women on Writing Winter Flash Fiction Contest?

MEG: I can be shy about sharing my writing with friends and family outside my circle of fellow writers. I will celebrate placing in the WOW Winter Flash Fiction Contest by sharing the story with some friends I might not have otherwise shown it to.

WOW!: Congratulations again Meg and thank you for taking your time to have this lovely chat with us and our readers/writers here at WOW! Women on Writing. We look forward to seeing you again in our winner's circle!

Our Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest is NOW OPEN!
For information and entry, visit our contest page.

1 comment:

  1. Meg,
    Thank you again for this delightful interview and thoughtful short story. I hope others love it as much as I did!



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