Interview with Kristin Lenz: Runner Up in the Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker who has lived in Michigan, Georgia, and California. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was the 2016 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books Award statewide literature program. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have been published by Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, The ALAN Review, Literary MamaThe New Social Worker, and Writer’s Digest. She was honored to win 2nd place in the WOW! Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. She also writes freelance for Detroit area non-profits and manages the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Michigan Chapter blog. Learn more and connect at

Be sure to read Kristin's story Spontaneous Combustion and then come back and read her interview!

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, I notice in your bio that you have an impressive amount of writing publications. What is your secret? 

Kristin: Thank you! Maybe it looks impressive all gathered together in one paragraph, but the reality is I’ve been writing for 20 years and my bio reflects my journey of slowly improving my craft and finding publications that are a good fit for my work. 

WOW: And that is the key! Finding publications that are a fit for our work. So, the character in your story Spontaneous Combustion is a young woman who is burdened by the pressures of her life. How did your work as a social worker influence this character? 

Kristin: In addition to my social work background, I’m also the mother of a teen. Even with my clinical training, there were times that I felt helpless as she struggled to navigate the anxiety-producing, pressure-filled system of competitive sports, testing, and academic expectations. I started writing to vent my own frustration, but then I widened my lens to create characters who embodied and reflected aspects of our society that troubled me. People often complain about teenagers and their emotional behavior, but I wanted to flip this around and show how adults have created many of these problematic expectations while teens see the reality. I wrote this story last year before the Coronavirus pandemic, and now it almost feels like a relic from a time past. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about using this crisis to reshape our priorities, address inequality and discrimination, and make long-needed changes to our nation’s safety net and structures. Today’s teens are going to make sure these changes happen. 

WOW: I think that's so true - and inspiring! I see this is the second time you've won in a WOW contest! For those interested in writing flash fiction, what advice would you give them?

Kristin: I learned a lot from two different workshops (one in-person and the other online) led by local Detroit authors/instructors - Doreen O’Brien and Peter Markus. We read many micro and short stories and discussed what made them evocative. My original draft of Spontaneous Combustion was twice as long, but I challenged myself to reduce the word count for this contest. I still like that longer version too, but it’s a good exercise to try with any writing project; cut redundancy and fillers, and use specific descriptions and actions to convey mood and meaning. Endings are also important, especially in flash fiction. It took me a while to find the right ending to this story, and I waited for over a month before I submitted it. I re-read and tweaked it every week. Finally, I was out for a walk one day and the ending came to me. 

WOW: How awesome is that! Now, a confession: I have major title envy! I personally struggle so much with titling my stories. How did the title of this piece come about for you? 

Kristin: I always struggle with titles too! I came up with Spontaneous Combustion when I was thinking about the mood of the piece and my character feeling so much pressure and anger that she could burst into flames. I had already referenced her AP Chemistry class, and out of curiosity I looked up the formula for spontaneous combustion. I ultimately added it to one of the scenes: “I close my eyes and scratch Fuel + O2 --> CO2 + H2O across the inside of my eyelids.” 

WOW: You have such incredible sensory details in this piece! Can you tell me a bit about your writing process to create such vivid scenes? 

Kristin: I learned so much by working with my editor, Jotham Burrello, on my debut novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go. Whenever a scene needed more emotional resonance, he encouraged me to take a look around from my character’s point of view, keeping in mind how she was feeling. What does she notice and how does this show her mood or reflect what’s happening in her life? What does she see, hear, smell, or touch? Showing vs telling is a lesson I need to continuously practice and re-learn!

WOW: I can't even tell you how much that same advice helps me. I will absolutely apply it to my writing. Best of luck with your writing and congratulations again! 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--Thanks for doing this interview, as well as for providing the link.

Kristin--I agree. Showing (and not telling) can lead to such richness. Your title was perfect. Kids today are under incredible pressure. Life is fast-paced now. Expectations are high. I hope that the quarantine has showed us ways to slow things down.

Congratulations on this piece, and good luck with your future writing projects.

Renee Roberson said...


As I read this, I was also thinking about how family priorities have shifted and things were forced to slow down during the pandemic. "Spontaneous Combustion" is almost like a snapshot in time. I'm the mother of two teens as well, and my oldest daughter is super motivated but also acknowledges the need for downtime. She has friends that don't have it at all (even now) and she worries for them and how it affects their mental health. Thank you for shining a light on this important topic and congratulations once again!

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Congratulations Kristin. Your story "Spontaneous Combustion" was an awesome story. You are indeed a gifted writer.

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