Interview with Kay Butzin, First Place Winner in Q4 2018 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, November 04, 2018
Tired of sitting behind other people’s desks, Kay Butzin retired early to homeschool herself in creative writing. Although she took several online writing classes, she learned the most from Strunk and White’s rules and exercises in writing books by teachers Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Phillip Lopate, and Ursula K. Le Guin, among others.

Kay credits feedback from her critique partner and writer’s group for much of her education. She also purchases critiques with her WOW contest entries, and both this essay and her 2013 flash fiction runner up, “Bank Job,” were resubmissions of work revised according to the judges’ suggestions.

A Texas transplant for the past 22 years, Kay is in the process of relocating to her native Michigan. She avoids social media but will respond to email at kaybutzin[at]gmail[dot]com.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q4 2018 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! Your entry, “Before and After,” is a compelling look at what it’s really like living through a natural disaster. What inspired you to write this essay?

Kay: Thank you, Marcia, for both the honor and the compliments. What inspired me to write the essay: the naked trees. As I rode back into town after the storm and saw all the beautiful live oaks stripped of their leaves, I cried. All I could think of were pictures I had seen growing up, of the tree skeletons in Hiroshima after we dropped the atomic bomb.

Then I drove to the Fulton Fishing Pier, where I had watched the sunrise on my first morning in town 22 years earlier; and looking at its destruction, I felt compelled to compare the experience to the idyllic one I had written about just days before Hurricane Harvey wiped it out.

WOW:  You’ve also placed in one of our flash fiction contests, so you’ve written fiction and nonfiction in various forms and lengths. Do you find one more challenging than the others? Are you drawn to one form more than the others?

Kay:  I find fiction more challenging than nonfiction because real situations and events inspire both, and I struggle to fictionalize them. Morning pages, where I scribble about my everyday life, fill the majority of my notebooks. So I find writing prompts and timed writings helpful for turning off the censor and letting my imagination take charge. For example, prompted to write about a bank robbery, I drew on my experience as a teller, asked myself “what if”, and wrote the first draft of "Bank Job" in a 20-minute exercise at a writers group meeting.

WOW:  Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Kay:  I will be writing a blog post for CreateWriteNow on my experience with the journaling course I chose as my prize, Ease Life’s Transitions in 22 Days. Having completed several of Mari’s courses in the past, I look forward to working through this one that has shown up on my computer right on time. I have also uncovered several incomplete book-length projects I want to mine for flash pieces. Years ago I recognized how, in order to stay motivated and productive, I needed the more immediate gratification than novel or memoir writing provided.

WOW:  You mentioned relocating to Michigan after living in Texas for many years. Are you looking forward to returning to your old home? That’s a big adjustment!

Kay: In fact, I have listed my condo with a real estate agent in south Texas and moved to my friend Ron’s house in northern Michigan.

“I’m not on vacation this time!” I said on my first morning. “I live here now!”

Saying goodbye to my sister and friends was difficult, but I am lucky to find love again at this point in my life. And I have returned during the most beautiful time of year, when the maple and birch leaves blaze red, orange, and yellow.

WOW:  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Kay! Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Kay:  Writing is rewriting.

In college I would pull all-nighters to write papers due the next day and wonder why they rarely earned more than a C. So the experts’ lessons on revising have been among the most important I’ve learned. Without them, I would not have won this contest!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Awesome interview, ladies!

Kay ~ I love your essay and your first and last sentence (so excellent!). Your imagery is gorgeous, and shows the devastation subtly through place and description.

I also find writing fiction more challenging than nonfiction. I'm excited to read your blog post on CreateWriteNow! Please let us know when it's live. I love Mari's courses.

Your final piece of advice is spot on. I'm doing NaNoWriMo right now and I know what I'm writing is terrible and rambling, so I just keep reminding myself that this is fertilizer where my real story will grow from next year when I start revising. Lol.

Thanks for the interview and good luck on your next flash pieces! :)

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