Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Interview with Rachelle Allen, Winter 2018 Flash Fiction Runner Up
Rachelle Allen teaches private voice, flute, and piano lessons weekly to seventy beloved students in their homes. She lives in East Rochester, New York, with her husband, Bobby, and likes writing stories that offer unexpected endings.
In 2012, she placed 50th in the Annual Writer’s Digest Competition for non-fiction, and her story, “A Second Chance For Randall,” was published in The Storyteller Magazine.
She loves that her life is comprised of all the best commodities on the planet: children, music, reading, and writing.
You are going to want to take the time to read Rachelle’s story, "Leopard," before moving on to her interview.
WOW: What was your inspiration for Leopard?
Rachelle: So, my inspiration for Leopard came one day when I was separating my laundry...into - yes, it's true- lights, darks, and leopard.
WOW: You and I both find that inspiration can come at any time. How do you handle it when inspiration strikes in the middle of a chore or some other activity?
Rachelle: I keep a pen and small notebook nearby at all times so I don't forget ideas that pop into my head. I did that the morning of my laundry epiphany, and then let various scenarios steep in my mind throughout the day. I've loved (and worn) leopard apparel for decades now, and I've grown accustomed to the comments I receive. So my McGuffin became: What if someone who was never used to hearing positive comments about her outfits suddenly began to receive them? And that's how my story came to life.
WOW: Obviously it was a heady experience. What was the most difficult thing about writing this story?
Rachelle: The most difficult thing was making the protagonist understandable and likable despite her extreme behavior. There's a thin line between "Relatably Unbalanced" and "Just Plain Crazy," and for this story to work, our girl needed to be enjoyable on both sides of it. The minute we read that it's taken her forty-one years to get noticed by anyone in her life, we begin to melt for this poor woman. Who can't relate to feeling invisible on some scale?
Then, when the unraveling escalates, our knee-jerk reaction is to cringe and turn away, and break our connection with her. But because we feel for her, what we do, despite ourselves, is witness the hilarious horror that unfolds and listen to the tiny voice whisper in our head, "You know, this is not altogether impossible."
Because, after all, who among us doesn't have a breaking point?
WOW: We are often told that art imitates life. How do elements of your life, such as your teaching, music or students, make their way into your stories?
Rachelle: I've written an entire book about it that I've been shopping to agents for awhile now. It's entitled "Lessons in the Key of Life" and is comprised of vignettes from all my years in the creative and performing arts. Before teaching voice, flute, and piano, I choreographed shows and taught dance for twelve years.
"Lessons in the Key of Life" features actual experiences I've had as a teacher- some funny, some poignant, some inspiring and deep - and at the end of each vignette, in bold type, the universal truth, i.e. "lesson," I learned from it.
In fiction pieces I've written, I've used character traits, some admirable, some not, of mentors and students who have touched my life.
WOW: What advice do you have for our readers about balancing work and writing?
Rachelle: I've found that writing is like any other discipline: it requires DAILY practice. If I have limited time - and, with traveling to seventy students' homes each week, this is the case a lot - then I at least make time for an entry in my Fly on the Wall Journal, where I write about something I noticed or experienced that day that kept it from being ordinary.
Today, for example, I was at the check-out counter at the Dollar Store, facing a wall with lettering the size of North America that read: EVERYTHING'S A DOLLAR!!! The cashier proceeded to hold up my first item and shout to her manager, "BOB!!! HOW MUCH IS THIS?" I'm serious! I leaned in and whisper to her, "Um, I think it's a dollar," which caused her to glower at me and hiss, "Well some things are TWO for a dollar." "Ooooookay!" I responded, cowed. Bob shouted back, "IT'S A DOLLAR!"
See what I mean? There is always something to write about, so don't let yourself miss the opportunities that present themselves.
WOW: You are definitely a pro at finding slices of life worth writing down. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to encourage us all to look for stories everywhere we go. And congratulations yet again on placing in the contest.