Interview with Heather Bourbeau-2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Summer 2022 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, December 06, 2022


Heather Bourbeau’s work has appeared in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, Meridian, and The Stockholm Review of Literature. She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. She floats between fiction and poetry, and lives among the sage and fog. Her most recent collection is a poetry conversation with Irish-Australian poet Anne Casey, Some Days The Bird (Beltway Editions, 2022).

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Welcome, Heather, and congratulations! Setting plays such a large role in “Among the Sharks.” What inspired this story and how did you work with the use of setting to set the stage for this dark tale? 

Heather: The idea started with the net. I had been encouraged to write on the topic of “entanglement.” I immediately thought of the physical as well as the emotional meanings of that word. I knew I wanted to anchor the story in the larger San Francisco Bay. I love mornings on the water—there is a calm beauty—but you are also very aware of the potential dangers in the bitterly cold water and of life on the margins that you see in those early hours, including subsistence fishing on the piers and housing encampments along the shore. 

WOW: I love that the concept of this story is based on such a complex topic. It works beautifully. You are also an accomplished poet. Can you share more about the story behind “Some Days the Bird,” which you describe as a poetry conversation between you and poet Anne Casey? 

Heather: Anne and I met at the end of February 2020 when were the featured readers at Live Poets at Don Bank in Sydney, Australia. As Anne read her poetry, I felt like I had dumb lucked into meeting one of my people. In December 2020, I reached out to her, proposing we engage in a poetry conversation riffing off of Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens by Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. (In 2016, I had fallen in love with the dozen poems they published as part of their exchange.) As someone who is deeply curious about the natural world around me, I wanted to engage in my own conversation with another writer, anchored in the experience of our respective gardens. I thought Anne would be the perfect partner for this, not only because of the fascination of witnessing opposite seasonal changes and dramatically different flora and fauna, but also because Anne’s writing captures the small and sublime amid a backdrop of history and events. The result is 52 poems (26 each) that examine the year that was 2021. 

WOW: What a fascinating project! It looks like it turned out well, too. What advice would you give writers wanting to explore the craft of lyrical poetry? 

Heather: The key for me is to pay attention with all my senses and keep a small notebook where I can jot down images, insights, and overheard fragments that will help me see themes. Sometimes I think I have nothing, that I am tapped out of creativity, but then I look at my notes and realize my brain has been playing with ideas and rhythms all along. 

WOW: You’ve had success being published in a variety of literary journals. What advice would you give to writers looking for places to submit? The list of publications can be overwhelming. 

Heather: First, know your voice. When you have a sense of what makes your voice unique, you will have a better sense of which journals might be the best home for your work. Follow the writers whose work you admire and write in a similar vein as you, see where they are published. Ask for recommendations. Check out and perhaps subscribe to monthly listings like Literistic. And aim to join the 100 rejections club by receiving 100 rejections in a given year. The more you submit, the more you will be published. For every 100 rejections, there will be some stellar publications. 

WOW: Great advice. How did you first hear about the contests at WOW? What other parts of the website do you enjoy? 

Heather: I first heard about WOW through Literistic. I liked learning about the contests (obviously), but then I loved the prompt resource. What a treasure trove!!

WOW: I agree! Thanks again for stopping by and giving our readers to learn more about you and your work.


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