She has written several work-related blogs about the positive impact Jhpiego-led programs have had on many women and children and has realized she is a journalist at heart. Susan loves to write fiction, pulling from her time abroad, to capture the incredibly rich and varied cultures she has been fortunate to experience.
If you haven't read her story, "Lockdown in Congo," please take the time to do so and then come back to hear about her writing process.
--Interview by Sue Bradford Edwards
WOW: I suspect that when readers see the title of your piece, they expect to find a story about pandemic lockdown. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your story?
Susan: The inspiration for this story are events loosely based on experiences during actual lockdowns in Madagascar, Uganda, and Congo. During our time overseas in Africa, we occasionally had to prepare for lockdowns in case of election violence, or potential coups, or other instability. By "preparing" I mean make sure we had enough food and water on hand for five or so days.
So in a way I felt ready for lockdown during a pandemic and I guess a part of me wanted to convey that this lockdown phenomenon isn't new for many parts of the world. I think it's timely with some of the election drama in our own country, to show that developing countries, with weak democracies, often experience election instability and even violence.
WOW: Now I wonder if you realized just how timely this story would be! Written pieces change and grow through the rewrite process. How did this piece change from first draft to submitted story?
Susan: I've been working off and on for about three years on this story. I think the lockdown due to the pandemic made me want to revive it. This story was originally much longer- an actual short story. I find I do better with flash fiction so I decided to try to condense and tighten the original version.
WOW: Back to the idea that you lived through experiences similar to the ones described in your story. What advice do you have for writers who want to create fictional stories based on real life?
Susan: What inspires me is to tell stories that highlight actual issues in different cultures/societies, whether poverty, human trafficking, prejudice, or other. My advice is to try and strike a balance between talking about issues in a compelling way but not trying to lecture or preach. I struggle with this balance often!
WOW: I think a lot of us work to achieve that kind of balance. What was the most difficult part in creating “Lockdown in Congo”? Why was this a challenge and how did you come upon a solution?
Susan: I think given my background in international development, my constant challenge is to tell a story with rich details about various cultures but not to sound like I'm writing a report for work!
WOW: That would be tricky. Can you tell us something about your current writing projects?
Susan: I'm working on a story about the anti-gay laws in Uganda, where we lived for over 3 years. We've made so much progress on LGBTQ+ rights in our country but many other countries have so far to go. I feel like that's important to highlight.
WOW: What an important piece! You'll have to let our readers know where to find it when you send it out into the world.
For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.