Interview with Charlotte McElroy: Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Charlotte’s Bio:

"It’s never too late to pursue a dream. I am 80 years old and because of WOW I might see my dream to be a writer come true. I have been published in Best Rejected Manuscripts of 2018, Rainshadow Poetry 2016, Fifty Word Stories, and Cafe Lit.

"I was born in 1939 and raised in the Texas Panhandle. I migrated to Ventura, California after teaching in Amarillo, Texas. I retired in 1995 and moved to Sequim, Washington.

"During my forty years of service in public education I earned two master degrees in education and a doctorate in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara.

"I wrote and piloted three programs for the Ventura school system during the 70s and 80s. My last job was principal of the first middle school in Ventura county.
The new middle school, called Anacapa, went on to become an Outstanding State School in 1991 and then a National Distinguished School in 1992. We were ranked number 10 in the nation and I was chosen as one of best 100 principals in the US.

"I am grateful for my rich career. Still, in my heart, I never lost that longing to be called a writer."

Charlotte has definitely achieved the goal of becoming a writer.  Click through to read “Demons in Paradise” and then come back here to learn about her writing process. 

WOW: What was the inspiration behind “Demons in Paradise”?

Charlotte: The inspiration behind “Demons in Paradise” was an attempt to present my feelings about growing up in a strict religious small town where your worth was based on how much money your family made and the church they attended. I wrote it to ease my anger about being labeled because I was poor.

I did it with humor because when people laugh they seem to connect with you. I did a story slam first. The reaction was encouraging. The audience cheered when I finished. Friends encouraged me to write the story.

WOW: How did this story evolve during the rewrite process?

Charlotte: The story evolved because WOW gave me the courage to try. I asked for a critique and the suggestions were the inspiration I needed to have the confidence to move forward. Someone cared!

I didn’t think twice about making the changes. They sounded great. I was kind of an old car that was sputtering along on the highway and about to run about of gas. But with the feedback I was born again and ready to go.

This was the show and not tell. I’d read about it and the feedback gave me a picture of what it was. That was exactly what I needed. The detail didn’t just need to be well told. That wasn’t the point. Now when I read it out loud I can hear it after receiving that feedback on what I need to take a look for and do.

WOW: This story is rich in detail. How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?

Charlotte: I started out with too many details. I tend to be married to my words and I would overstate a point. I was vociferating on that point of double names, thinking of it as Southern but I’m not sure that’s really just from the South. I was just making too much of it.

The critique was my guide to help the story begin to flow. I experienced a feeling of freedom I had not felt before WOW proved to me it is never too late to pursue a dream. I was that little girl again who ran through the fields with her dog eager to meet the unknown.

For now flash fiction and poetry seem to work well for me.

WOW: You told me that your favorite poets include Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver. How does your flash fiction writing process differ from your poetry process? Or are they more similar than different?

Charlotte: I wrote poetry because it seemed a good way to express my thoughts in a shorter form. There are so many wonder women poets. They paint beautiful pictures with well-chosen words. Flash fiction and poetry for me are much the same. Most of my stories come from my poems.

We have a local poet, Claudia Castro Luna. When I heard her, she not only taught, you could see her up there living her words. She was working on a book, Killing Marias. It is about the Spanish women who have been killed at our borders and just forgotten. Obviously they aren’t all Marias but she also really listened about my work. You could see it in her face. I feel very lucky to get to see and talk to her.

WOW: What else are you currently writing? How do flash fiction and poetry fit into your long-term writing goals?

Charlotte: I have three binders full of stories about growing up in the Texas Panhandle. Most of the stories are short and seem to fit the flash fiction form. The first story I wrote was a poem about wheat harvest. This turned into a short story.

I also have stories about some of my students. I am now working on one I started many years ago. It is about a twelve year old boy. He, his sister and mother were held captive in his house by his father.

He had been in a Nazi prison camp during World War II. There was a TV film made in 1987 called "Escape From Sobibor." It is the story of about 300 Jews who escaped the camp. Most were hunted down and killed. He lived to tell his story.  

Just a quick note about "Escape From Sobibor". Thomas Blatt was the father. Lenny, was his son, and my student. Thomas was only 16 when he made the escape. The story of my time with Lenny and his father does not have a story book ending. I think the thread that ties my story to this story is called persecution. The persecution of the Jews has always haunted me. In no way does my perceived persecution by the Baptist compare with what happened to Thomas. As a teacher I did what I could for Lenny. It wasn't enough.

From a very young age I fought for anyone who was considered an underdog. I almost lost my job for some of the things I did. Like marching with my Hispanic students to protest busing. Persecution is a subtle and a powerful way to control people. For some reason I seemed to have recognized it at a very early age.

WOW: Your drive to lift others up is so needed in today's world. Thank you again for sharing your insights. It is so exciting that WOW could help you realize your dream to become a writer.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Thanks for doing this interview, and for providing the link to Charlotte's story.

Charlotte--Congratulations. Winning this recognition should be the nudge you need to continue your writing, to branch out if you so desire.

You have had such an interesting life so far. You might already be doing this, but if not, I would encourage you to work on a memoir. (You can always publish it yourself. These days, there are so many ways to get a book published--ways that don't take years and lots of rejection, and ways that don't cost the author any money.) Your life story would be fascinating to read.

Again, congrats, Charlotte. And keep writing. You're quite a story teller.

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