Interview with Carol Ovenburg: Q1 2022 CNF Contest Third Place Winner

Sunday, February 20, 2022
Carol’s Bio:
Carol Ovenburg has been a visual artist for over 40 years, a writer for over 20 years. She loves writing creative non-fiction essays, was recently published by WOW-Women on Writing as a 4th quarter, 2021 2nd place winner. She is currently finishing her first memoir titled, Pearls about her struggle growing up the daughter of an alcoholic mother with borderline personality disorder. She reads and screens and scores plays for the Ashland New Plays Festival. Carol is in two local writing groups with timed writing exercises a la Natalie Goldberg. On occasion she finds the time to sit down with a good book, usually a memoir or something of historical interest. She and her partner watch good foreign films and foreign detective series. Once a month they travel to Argentine tango dance festivals held in different cities around the US for social, not competitive dancing. She is temporarily living and working in the hills of Ashland, Oregon with her partner awaiting the re-build of their home consumed by the Almeda fire in Talent, Oregon, September 8, 2020. She and her partner hope to be moved in by the end of January, 2022. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Carol's award-winning essay "Marcia" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Q1 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Carol: This essay began as the front chapter of my memoir, Pearls. But the idea or notion of my being a weed in my mother’s garden surfaced a few years ago in conversation with other women about entitlement and privilege and I made the comment that I feel about as deserving as a weed in my mother’s garden. In writing this first chapter, I used that as a metaphor to dive into the complicated relationship I have had with my mother, and it seemed to work. I used the chapter to develop an essay for one of Chelsey Clammer’s classes, and her critique was instrumental in my taking the thread of that metaphor through to the end of the piece. I was so pleased with the way it ended that I added my changes into the memoir. I have Chelsey to thank for that. She’s very good at finding what’s missing. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing that bit of your writing journey. It’s so wonderful to find a writing teacher who can critique in a way that’s so meaningful for you and your piece. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Carol: I’m still learning about structure and the creative elements of structure. I’ve always considered myself a structuralist, but visually, as an artist. Writing needs to be more specific structurally and contextually to feel the more universal quality of the piece. Learning this specificity has helped me develop my writing voice. I’m learning what that voice sounds like. Learning to make the vowels sing. To make the writing sing. Learning to hear the cadences and rhythms in my writing. 

WOW: Please tell us more about the memoir you’re writing. Is “Marcia” related to your memoir? 

Carol: My memoir is about the dysfunctional relationship I had with my mother, Marcia. Her passive aggressive cruelty, her narcissism, her addictions, left a hole in me that I sought to fill through relationships, spiritual groups, dissociations, love addictions. My journey moves to self-forgiveness and healing from a labyrinth of self-hatred and a debilitating inability to stand up for myself. I think a common theme for women of my generation. I asked Chelsey to edit the memoir. I just received her brilliant notes on how to improve it. 

WOW: What a journey – both your lived experience and your process of writing about it to share with others who can relate to or learn from it. Enjoy and good luck with the revision process! Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Carol: I’m new to writing creative non-fiction essays. Chelsey’s classes along with other creative non-fiction writers from Women on Writing – reading them and observing the many possibilities for structure and content has been my biggest inspiration. Before Chelsey’s essay classes, I had no idea of how to write and develop a piece of writing into a good essay. I love reading and learning from authors and writers who know how to use words effectively, writers who draw me into the story and keep me there because their writing isn’t lazy. Their choice of words is specific. Their craft is tight. And I feel honored to be among the pantheon of top ten winners of Women on Writing twice. 

WOW: We’re so honored to have you as a part of the WOW community! If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Carol: I would tell my younger self to keep writing. Let yourself be bad at writing. But keep writing and grow from your mistakes. The more you write the better you’ll get. Follow the example of other good writers. It’s not what you write but how you write it. Don’t feel bad about rejection – all writing is subjective. Break the rules – don’t be afraid to try something new. Be dangerous. Go deep. Let it hurt. 

WOW: I love that advice! Thank you for that, and for all of your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. Tweets @dr_greenawalt.


Renee Roberson said...

Congratulations on such a great piece, Carol, and I'm sure your memoir will contain much of the same masterful writing! I've seen so many of these award-winning pieces come from working with Chelsey that I think it's such a testament to her gift as a writer and editor. I know how hard it must have been to explore the relationship with your mother on paper and I commend you for it. I hope it has been healing for you as well.

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