Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Interview with Elizabeth Jones Hanley: Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner
Elizabeth Jones Hanley learned almost everything she knows about writing from her father, who was an English professor and poet. Together they started a quarterly poetry journal, The Mid-America Poetry Review, in 2000, and she was associate editor for ten years before the journal folded. She has two published chapbooks of poems: The Art of Making Tea and The Last Winter. Currently, she works in the children’s department of her local public library, writes fiction and poetry, and has successfully survived NaNoWriMo four times. Elizabeth enjoys science fiction, Hitchcock movies, 50’s doo-wop, knitting, and sailing, especially in the British Virgin Islands. Her son has also introduced her to some pretty cool anime. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and two dogs, one of whom knows to the minute when it’s his dinner time and never fails to alert them each day at five o’clock.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Elizabeth’s award-winning story “Feeding the Witch” and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?
Elizabeth: A few years ago there was that movie Season of the Witch with Nicholas Cage. My son and I were both intrigued by the previews, and though the movie fell pretty flat with both of us, something in the way the guards interacted with the witch in her cage struck me, and during the “pelting her with food” scene I just wondered, what if they’re really doing that so she’ll have something to eat? It was a case of paying attention to the writer inside who is always watching and listening and flashing up those little “aha” moments. The idea hung out in my head with nothing to anchor it to until this past summer when I realized it would fit nicely in a flash piece.
WOW: Thank you. I love to hear where writers find inspiration. At least something great came out of that movie! What do you enjoy the most and/or least about writing?
Elizabeth: I actually enjoy the rough draft process of discovery when there are no sensors and you just throw in everything you can think of, and I like the wordsmithing, nitty-gritty aspect of the editing process (there's that lovely quote: “I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out.” Totally me!). I dread, though, the read-through of that crappy first draft and trying to wrestle with the unwieldy mess. It can be discouraging to realize the disconnect between your draft and that shining, brilliant vision you suspect you’re just not capable of.
WOW: Yes, I agree. The first read of a first draft can be very daunting. But then I suppose it’s all that wordsmithing that gets a writer to the “brilliant vision.” What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Elizabeth: I just grabbed up Artemis by Andy Weir; Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, which I am enjoying immensely (I recognize myself on many pages!); and James Bell’s How to Write Pulp Fiction, for an inspiring kick in the pants. I’m also prowling through Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic put together by the British Library; and I’ve just discovered Paul Anthony Jones’ The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities.
WOW: Nice! Quite the array of literature all at once. I read in your bio that you worked on a poetry journal with your father. What did you learn about writing from your father and/or from working on the poetry journal together? Do you think he learned anything about writing from you, too?
Elizabeth: I think the biggest, most helpful thing was witnessing his ability to hone a poem down to the essential words. He was brilliant for focusing on the nugget of a piece. He also instilled a sense of joy in playing with words, with language. His mantra when we were working on the journal was “have fun with it, because if you’re not having fun it’s not worth doing.” He also had an inquisitive mind and read widely and voraciously from everywhere: Fiction, poetry, history, biography, science, philosophy. I’m not sure there was anything he wasn’t interested in on some level.
WOW: I love that advice, to “have fun with it.” If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Elizabeth: Flippantly: apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and keep banging out the words. Seriously, though, and I have tell myself this too: don’t worry about getting it right, worry about getting it down. Getting it right comes later. You can’t fix what’s not on the page to begin with.
WOW: Wise words! Thank you. Anything else you’d like to add?
Elizabeth: Try not to procrastinate too much. It’s easy to do all sorts of other things in your day instead of writing, but even just 500 words today, no matter how lousy, is 500 words further you’ll be tomorrow. I have to give myself this advice a lot too!
WOW: Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses! 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.