Rachel O'Cleary first came to writing as a six-year-old chronicler of family vacations, and has been writing in some form ever since. She studied English with a creative writing emphasis at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and now lives with her family in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs. She is currently planning her first novella-in-flash. You can find a list of her published work at rachelocleary.wordpress.com, and she occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Where did you first get the idea for this “Eleanor Undomesticated?”
Rachel: It all started when my children actually found a fox skeleton on the side of the road. Currently, I live in the Irish countryside, so foxes are not an unusual sight, but I have been fascinated by them since I came upon some baby foxes playing in the snow in my old neighborhood in Milwaukee. There is something so wild and self-assured about them. Anyway, that fox just kept coming to my mind at odd moments over the next few weeks, so I knew I was going to end up writing about it. I am part of an online writing community, Writers’ HQ, and we do a weekly flash fiction challenge based on prompts. (It’s wonderful and totally free, so well worth checking out.) I had been mulling over the fox skeleton for a while when we got a ‘magic’ prompt, and somehow the idea came together in my mind of a woman being followed by this fox spirit. It wasn’t until I actually started writing the story that I realized that, for me, it was actually about all the ways we (as human beings, but especially as women) have been domesticated, and that the dissatisfaction we often feel with life is about not being connected to our bodies or our instincts. From there, the story nearly wrote itself.
WOW: What a great inspiration for a story! Thank you for sharing Writers' HQ with us--I'll have to check that out. What is it you love about writing flash fiction? Is it your favorite form of creative writing?
Rachel: I started writing flash fiction because I don’t have much time, and I thought it would be quicker and easier than longer forms. It turns out that it is not at all easier, nor is it quicker, because the editing required to compress a whole story into a tiny word count is intensive. However, it can be done in short bursts. If I have given a story a lot of thought first, I can write a first draft between one of my (four!) daily trips in and out to my children’s schools, and can also edit in several small sessions, which makes it manageable for me. The thing I really love about it, though, is the freedom you have for experimentation. Because of my participation in the weekly flash challenge at Writers HQ, I have written a different story almost every week since the beginning of the Pandemic. As a result, I have tried my hand at a lot of different forms. It would be difficult to write a whole novel in the future tense, or in second person, or in the form of a list, but all of those things are perfectly sustainable (and exciting) in a piece of flash fiction. So, yes, flash is definitely my current favorite form of writing, although I do hope to try my hand at a novel one day too, as my love of words started with books and I think it would be such an accomplishment to write one of my own.
WOW: You are correct in that flash fiction is not an easy art form, but it sounds like you have developed a great routine for making the most out of the craft. This story is proof of that. Could you tell us a little more about the subject of your novella in flash?
Rachel: Well, I am only in the early stages of planning my novella-in-flash, but I came into it when I realized I had already written a handful of stories following a specific family through a period of upheaval in their lives. When I gathered the pieces I already had together, I noticed that the real story was an exploration of the way women learn to show up for themselves in the world (or not) and how much a good role model can mean for that process, so I have been planning more stories to fall in with the theme and which I hope will form a more complete narrative. It’s a challenging puzzle, writing stories that are complete in themselves but still part of a larger arc, but I am enjoying the process.
WOW: I love that idea! It's so funny how sometimes our writing can pull things out of the subconscious part of our mind, isn't it? We’d love to hear about some of these family vacations you used to love to chronicle as a child.
Rachel: My family traveled quite a bit. We went to lots of different places, sometimes just hopping in the car and driving until we came to a place that looked nice, which I think really instilled in me a sense of adventure and possibility. My favorite, though, was the trip we took every summer, to a place called Moose Lake in Minnesota. We would rent a cabin, and my grandparents and several of my aunts and uncles and cousins would stay in nearby cabins. The adults were so much more relaxed and fun on vacation, and we children were left to roam about the place. Often I would take a notebook and write down every funny thing that happened, like my cousin falling in the lake fully clothed, my uncle water-skiing past a nearby resort wearing a wrestling mask. I really wish I still had those notebooks.
WOW: That sounds like the best kind of vacation, and it obviously created some amazing memories for you. Do you enjoy entering writing competitions regularly? How did you first learn about the ones here at WOW?
Rachel: I do. Writing can be a solitary process, and it’s so much a matter of taste that often you don’t know if what you’re doing is any good, so it can be a real endorphin rush to learn that you’ve made a longlist, or a shortlist, or (best of all) won a prize. I limit how many I enter because the fees can really add up and it can also distract from creating new material, but I would say I enter a competition every month or so (sometimes more, if there are a few good ones on.) I can’t say for sure where I first heard about the competitions at WOW, but I interact with a lot of other writers online, and often we share ideas of competitions to enter or literary magazines to submit to, so it was probably either from somebody at Writers HQ or from another writer on Twitter. I have to say, it has been a wonderful experience, participating in this competition. I received the loveliest feedback on my story from the readers at WOW, which I have printed to keep near my writing desk whe I need encouragement.
WOW: Rachel, congratulations again and we are so happy you've had such a great experience with WOW. We look forward to reading more of your stories!