Interview with Joy Givens: Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Joy’s Bio:

Joy Givens mostly writes fiction for young adults and children. She is currently working on young adult fairy tale adaptations that explore classic stories through lenses of empowered female heroism. Her previously published works include the novel Ugly Stick, the short story collection April’s Roots, the nonfiction guide The New SAT Handbook (co-authored with Andrew Cole), and several pieces of award-winning short fiction, most recently published in WOW! Women on Writing and the anthologies Beach Life (2017) and Beach Fun (2018) from Cat & Mouse Press.

Joy resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her terrific husband, their two remarkable sons, and an impossibly lovable dog. In addition to her writing, Joy is the owner and lead tutor of GAP Tutoring, a company serving the greater Pittsburgh area. When not writing, tutoring, or freelance editing, she enjoys singing and listening to most genres of music, cooking for family and friends, volunteering in her church and neighborhood, and curling up with a good book and good coffee. Please catch up with Joy on social media!

Twitter: @JoyEilene
Instagram: @JoyEilene

If you haven't done so already, check out Joy's award-winning story "Smoke, Blood, Fog" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Joy: "Smoke, Blood, Fog" centers around Ro, a Red Riding Hood character who's actually a supporting character in the current novel I'm working on. I initially wrote it as an exercise to get to know Ro better. Her backstory is so dark and heavy that I needed to explore one of the most critical moments in her life. And it worked! I was able to take this created knowledge of her back to the main novel and feel like I had a much better grasp of who she is and how she's been shaped and jaded. That was really exciting for me to see the direct impact throughout my work. And then to be able to polish it up and submit it to WOW! was a wonderful opportunity!

WOW: Awesome! So useful on multiple levels. Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Joy: YES. One thing I struggle with is bringing tension and darkness into my stories. I want to take care of my characters, which would be great if they were real people... but in fiction, that makes for flat stories. My critique group encourages me to "rip the band-aid off" when I'm writing and really let the characters feel pain, both physical and emotional. This was one of the darkest things I've written, and it was probably good I wrote it as a flash. It gave me the opportunity to dive deeper without subjecting myself to writing something really depressing for weeks on end. I now keep a post-it note on the side of my computer screen that says, "Don't feel bad! They're fictional!" and that actually helps, too!

WOW: Got to love those post-it note reminders! How did you get interested in writing fairy tale adaptations?

Joy: I've always loved fairy tales (Disney-fied and otherwise), and in college I had the opportunity to take a class on the origins of fairy tales. I knew I wanted to write one, and one summer evening I got an idea: What if I told the story of the young woman who was dancing with Prince Charming *right before* Cinderella walked in? How awful would that be, right? And then I thought, what if Cinderella and her godmother were actually the villains? And then I was off to the races. So far I've "re-homed" a number of classic Western fairy tale characters in my stories: Beauty and the Beast (who are gender-reversed), Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, (evil) Snow White, and her (non-evil) Stepmother. I'm looking so forward to continuing with well-known tales and using them to create stories that celebrate all the ways girls and women can be strong... as well as all the ways men can be masculine without being toxic.

WOW: Fascinating ideas! I love those concepts. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Joy: I recently read The Poet X, the National Book Award-winning YA novel in verse by Elizabeth Acevedo, and it was jaw-dropping. Incredible. I walked around my house just hugging the book after I was done with it. I was fortunate to get to attend the Winter Conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) where Elizabeth delivered a keynote address, and I had never seen an audience *literally* jump to their feet to give an ovation, but when she finished her keynote, that was what happened! Everyone should read it! I also just read Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, an award-winning middle grade novel by Angela Dominguez, and it was the sweetest! Anyone looking for a book for an elementary reader should definitely pick it up. Next up (and long overdue on my list) is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. My husband tore through it in about two days flat, and he's waiting for me to read it so we can discuss!

WOW: Great recommendations, and Acevedo’s keynote speech sounds amazing. I would have loved to have seen that. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Joy: Be patient. I would tell my younger self to be patient and keep writing. This is such an unpredictable industry, and looking back over the past seven years or so, I am so glad my writing career has begun the way it has: through building friendships and networks of talented professionals, through learning new elements of craft, through drafts and revisions, even through many rejections. I've learned a ton since I started, and I still feel like I'm just beginning. I still need to be patient, with the industry and with myself!

WOW: Thank you for sharing that advice. Anything else you'd like to add?

Joy: I am doing a new monthly series on my blog  this year called "Adventures in Grammar." It is... me at peak-nerd. Each month I explore a little-known or frequently-misunderstood point of grammar through storytelling. My first one was about three sisters called But, Although, and However, and it explained through the course of a folktale-type story how each of those words plays a different role in English grammar. It's different and fun for me, and I hope it is for my readers as well. Thank you so much for hosting me here! I'm honored to be included on The Muffin!

WOW: You are very welcome! Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and 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.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Anne--Thanks for doing this interview and for providing the link to Joy's story.

Joy--As a teacher I use some other-point-of-view fairy tales to teach perspective. For example, one of the books is from the giant's perspective instead of Jack. The giant keeps contending he wanted to have Jack (over) for dinner... he didn't want to have Jack FOR dinner.

I enjoyed your twist(ed) fairy tale. You did a wonderful job of showing (in subtle ways) instead of telling. Congratulations on your win, and good luck with your future writing.

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