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Sunday, July 08, 2018

Interview with Q2 2018 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner-Up Opal Gayle

Opal Gayle grew up in rural Jamaica. She earned a B.A in Spanish and Journalism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a M.A in Spanish Literature from Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she teaches Spanish and French. Her essay has appeared in the Write Angles Journal. She is currently working on a memoir.

Revisit lessons learned during Opal's childhood in her essay Fighting Woman and then return here for an interview with the author.

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Hi, Opal. Thank you for joining us today and welcome! This piece focused on on an integral part of your adolescence and the family dynamics you were living with. Did you have any surprising revelations about yourself or family members while writing Fighting Woman?

Opal: Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my story with WOW! It is quite an honor to make it into the top ten.

Writing this essay made me admit and accept that I was being deliberately defiant. I don’t think that I knew at the beginning of the piece how it was going to end. I thought I was just recalling fond memories of an adolescent spent sharing and reading “love books.” I think my friends and I spent a lot of time hiding them from parents or adults whose opinions we valued. Writing "Fighting Woman" made me really reflect on adults’ reactions, and why they reacted the way they did. I understand their fears – many of them were very religious so, I imagine they would be more pleased if we were reading the Bible instead. And some had genuine concerns that the books would lead us astray, and we’d end up getting pregnant. And some of them thought it wasn’t the most practical use of our time because by their standards, it was idle work.

WOW: From the opening dialogue of this piece, readers are painted a vivid picture of your step-mother. What are some key elements you think are necessary for writing an award-winning creative non-fiction piece?

Opal: I think this is a question for the winner. Haha! But, seriously, I guess I’ll just go with what I look for when I read. I choose to write about events and episodes that still rub me or that have been part of my formative consciousness. You know, the ones you can’t seem to completely shake despite time and distance. And, I think many of these are quite universal or relatable somehow.

For me a good piece of writing is one that entertain, educate, and pulls the reader in from the first line. It should:

1. Make me think or look at something in a way that that I haven’t before.
2. Teach me something new, or make me examine something from a difference perspective.
3. Entertain, and engage. It should make me laugh or enjoy it, and fully engage with it in other ways.

WOW: What are some of the main themes in the memoir you are working on?

Opal: I think my memoir is a story about stories. It is a coming-of-age story. It touches on everything from family, identity, religion, suffering, sexuality, misogyny, love, to even a bit of madness, and ultimately, transformation.

WOW: You mention in the essay that you and your friends sometimes attempted to write your own romance stories. Do you remember the premises of any of those that you could share with us? And . . . do you still enjoy reading romance novels today?

Opal: Oh boy, there were so many! Well, first, I will say that I am still a sucker for a good love story.  I have just graduated to the ones that are not so formulaic, and have more “sophisticated” storylines and backdrops.

The one story I remember us writing is “After the Rain." It was about a beautiful woman out on a walk when it started raining. And, of course, a handsome stranger pulled up on his motorbike and offered her shelter in his nearby mansion. Days passed, and it is still raining, and she’s walking around his house quite comfortable in his shirt. I don’t remember all the details but as the novels were very formulaic, I’m sure we followed the pattern of conflict, separation, and finally a happy ending.

WOW: Ah, yes. I passed around many a Danielle Steel and V.C. Andrews novel (although those were kind of a gothic romance I would guess) with my own friends back in the day! Describe to us your favorite place to write and why.

Opal: I don’t have a special writing routine. I do most of my writing at home in the evenings and at nights. I am a full-time teacher so that is what is most practical for me right now. I cant’ be in a library because it’s too quiet – too sterile, and a cafĂ© is too noisy so, I fare better at home where I can write with instrumentals, wordless music – Yanni, Coltrane, etc, playing in the background.

WOW: You have to do what works best for you, that's for sure. Thank you so much for being here today and we look forward to checking out that memoir one day! 

1 comment:

  1. Renee--Thanks for doing this interview.

    Opal--I enjoyed reading "Fighting Woman." Your beginning had me intrigued (and hooked). Bravo for being a teacher AND a writer. I'm a teacher too, so I know how exhausting it can be.

    I've never been fond of romance novels, but I guess I can (kind of) understand how those books were so educational for you.

    Good luck with your future writing. Are you working on your memoir? (nudge, nudge) I would imagine the story of your life, told in vignettes, would be quite compelling.


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