Interview with Genalea Barker, Fall 2022 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner

Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Genalea Barker is an author, freelance editor, and full-time mom. Her work has appeared in Bookends Review, Gemini Magazine, Grande Dame Literary, Watershed Review, Broad River Review, and others. She is the author of three novels, Life After, A Song I Used to Know, and Lovehurts, all forthcoming in 2023 and 2024. Genalea resides in Southern Idaho with her husband, four children, and two dogs, where she enjoys small town living, playing music with her family, and occasionally getting caught behind farm equipment on the highway. To learn more about Genalea or find purchase links for Life After, visit, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @genalea_barker.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2022 Flash Fiction competition! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “How to Deliver a Baby on the Floor of a Hotel Lobby?”

Genalea: In 2021, I participated in a six-week flash fiction course with instructor Jacqui Reiko Teruya. One of our prompts was something along the lines of, “Imagine two people doing something in a place where they don’t belong.” Inexplicably, my mind went to a couple having a baby, but in a hotel lobby. We were also challenged to write a “how-to” piece. I don’t remember if the two prompts were part of the same weekly assignment, or if I paired the two together on my own. I honestly can’t recall. I just know that somehow, my “how-to” assignment became “How to Deliver a Baby on the Floor of a Hotel Lobby.”

As I crafted this piece, my mind turned to my experiences with miscarriages and delivery trauma, and I began to understand how this couple wound up delivering a baby in a very public place. How a mother’s fear and denial could lead to such a chaotic—but beautiful—birth.
WOW:  Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

Genalea: In the beginning, writing flash was a self-imposed challenge. I tend to be an over-writer, and I wanted to push myself and improve my writing. The first flash piece I wrote, I loved, and I was hooked.

There isn’t a lot of room for frivolity in flash. Every single sentence should hold a purpose. It’s not simply about saying what you need to say in the least words possible, but finding those powerful, succinct phrases.

I still have a lot to learn about writing flash—about writing in general—but I believe my experiences with flash have furthered my skills as an author. I’m still a bit of an over-writer, but I’m also much better at recognizing when a sentence, paragraph, or even an entire chapter needs to go.

WOW:  What advice would you give to someone wanting to try writing flash fiction for the first time?

Genalea: For starters, read flash. Check out past contest winners or published pieces from lit mags specializing in flash. Discuss the pieces you read with other readers/writers. Flash is more than telling a story in 500-1000 words. That story should pack an emotional punch. Look for those tiny details—those “between the lines” nuances that allow an author to say so much with so few words.

If you have the resources to participate in a workshop or class, do it. Check for available scholarships if cost is prohibitive. The course I took was 6 weeks of reading, writing, and discussing flash with other authors. I learned so much.

Whether or not you participate in any in-depth workshops, writing flash isn’t something you should attempt alone. Get a critique partner if you don’t already have one, preferably one familiar with flash fiction.

Additionally, Kathy Fish has some great exercises available online and through her newsletter, “The Art of Flash Fiction.”

WOW: You have three novels coming out in 2023 and 2024, wow. What can you tell us about the process of completing and marketing them?

Genalea: To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about completing the original drafts of my first three novels. I wrote them in my early 20s—over a decade ago—and I did it without critique partners or beta readers. I simply wrote what I wanted to write without much consideration for whether it would be published. Fast forward to late 2020 when I finally decided to query, I chose the project I felt most passionate about and started the re-writing process.

It's taken some trial and error to understand my writing process, but as I’ve gone through all three of those novels, plus several short stories, flash fiction pieces, and essays, I’ve developed a method that essentially looks like this: Initial idea notes, basic character arcs and general plot 🠚 First draft 🠚 Another round of notes, usually several pages 🠚 Revision with minor edits 🠚 Alpha reader 🠚 Revision with more edits 🠚 Beta Reader 🠚 Revise w/more attention to detail/edits 🠚 Query.

The first project I queried was not the project to land me my first publication contract. After over 100 rejections, I shelved that project and moved on to a new one. Since then, I’ve signed all three novels, and I’m working toward completing more.

Being with a small press presents a few challenges, one of them being marketing. I’ve had to do most of it myself. Again, this comes with significant trial and error. One thing I’ve learned—that a lot of authors find discouraging—is that many stages of the process are like querying all over again. You want a better-known author to blurb your book? You send out carefully worded e-mails and wait. Some accept, some reject, some never respond. You want a blogger/bookstagrammer to review your book? Research! Find the right ones, send carefully worded e-mails, and wait. Looking for editorial reviews for your indie book but can’t afford to pay for guaranteed reviews (for context, a basic Kirkus review for an indie author costs $450)? Same process. Somewhere amongst the e-mails and rejection and acceptance and waiting, waiting, waiting, I played around with graphics and video editing software, making promotional material.

I can’t speak to the experiences of an agented author, of course. But for small press published and self-published authors, marketing is often daunting. A ton of effort for little return. All that being said, I’ve loved my experience with a small press. And when you do find that right reader, and you get a new rave review, it’s the most amazing feeling. If I had to query all over again, I’d do things differently, sure. But every moment of that roller coaster was absolutely worth it to see my book in the hands of readers who love it.

WOW:  Thank you for sharing all that, I'm sure it will be helpful to others. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Genalea: I think it was something along the lines of, “You’re never going to think it’s good enough.” As writers (and humans in general), we tend to be our own worst critics. I could read my manuscript 100 times over, making changes each time, without actually improving the story at all. There comes a stage in the process when we have to let go and let someone else be our eyes. This is something that held me back for a long time. I never wanted anyone else to read my stories, because what if they hated them? If their feedback was, “This is awful. Start over,” would I be able to handle it? Honestly, I’ve never handled rejection well, and I think a lot of people relate to that, especially people who experience legitimate anxiety. I’ve been known to lie awake for hours at night, rehashing interactions from twenty years ago, feeling a fool because of something ridiculous I said. So how would I ever be able to get over someone reading 250 pages of my heart and soul bled onto a page and hating it?

That fear held me back for years. I read and edited my manuscripts countless times over the years without making significant improvement. When I finally gave myself permission to let go and welcome reader feedback—good, bad, or otherwise—that’s when true progress happened. Should we take every bit of feedback offered? No. But at the very least, feedback forces us to examine our work with a fresh perspective. I typically approach feedback with a 70/30 outlook (meaning I’ll accept up to 70% of the feedback, but leave the rest).

We’re never going to achieve perfection, but if we welcome critique, we might get pretty close. I recently read my debut in its official, published form and found a handful of things I’d go back and change if given the chance. But I also recognized just how far that book came from its original draft, to a published book. I’m proud of that book. It’s beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful. If I’d never let go and welcomed that rejection, it never would have blossomed into the story it is now.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


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