Interview with Jennifer Braunfels, Fall 2022 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Jennifer Braunfels is a writer and high school English teacher from Maine. Her work has appeared in the Whiskey Tit Journal and on the Free Flash Fiction website. She has received honorable mentions in various Flash Fiction contests. She’s currently working with an amazing editor, putting the final touches on her first novel. You can find out more about her and her writing at Find Jennifer on Instagram @jennifer_braunfels

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up in our Fall 2022 Flash Fiction competition! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Surrender Ridge?” It’s rather dark!

Jennifer: This story came to me one night when my husband and I watched the sunset up near our summer camp, located a few miles from the largest wind farm in Maine. The farm consists of 56 turbines scattered along a high ridgeline. You can’t appreciate how massive these towers are until you’re close to them. At 308 feet tall, you would think the noise generated by the giant spinning blades would be unbearable, but instead, the hushed whoosh they create as they turn is almost soothing. So you’ve got these enormous steel towers in front of you, but if you shift your gaze, you’ve got this expansive view of vibrant forest and landscape stretching for miles. While watching the sunset on the ridge that night, I started thinking about what a contradiction it is to have these steel giants amid this majestic forest and breathtaking natural scenery. And then I looked at my husband, an Iraq war veteran, and another contradiction came to mind. As a soldier, one day, you’re in the desert, fighting the enemy, the next, you’re back home watching the sunset with your wife. Right then, I knew I had to write a story about a combat soldier set against the backdrop of this wild landscape.

WOW:  Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

Jennifer: Writing flash is exciting for me because the whole process feels a lot like a game. You have to tell a complete and compelling story, including polished characters and a finished plot, in a finite number of words. The process forces you to cut out all that’s unnecessary and pare the piece down to the bare bones. When I tell a story or recount something that’s happened to a friend or colleague, it always takes me ten minutes just to get to the story itself. There are tangents and lots of unnecessary details. For many years, that is how I felt about my writing. I’d start a story and then never complete it because the storyline just went on and on. I could never seem to get to an ending. Flash forces me to jump right into the action, introduce evocative characters, and tell an extraordinary story in just 1500 words or less. Writing flash isn’t easy, but dabbling in flash has taught me so much about the writing process.

WOW:  We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Jennifer: As a teacher with summers off, I have the luxury of having two months of free time every year. On summer mornings, I get up every morning, pour myself a cup of coffee and head into my study. I close the door behind me, open my laptop, and get down to business. Even if I’m not working on a specific piece, I edit old stories, jot down notes of new story ideas, or just write for the sake of writing with no outcome in mind. I set aside those first two to three hours of my day to be a writer. I find that when the kids are still asleep, and the coffee is still hot, the characters in my head have a lot to say.

The busy school year is a different story. I have to intentionally carve out time to write. I usually find a quiet couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings to sit down and tap away at the keys. Some days, when I get home from work, I sit down and write for an hour or two.

Like all writers, I dream of one day having the time to write for several hours daily.

WOW:  You’re also finishing up your first novel and working with an editor. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far?

Jennifer: My first novel, Waiting, opens on the day thirty-year-old Grace moves to a small coastal town in Maine for a year with her (cheating) boyfriend, Liam, to salvage their failing relationship. Her focus quickly shifts when she meets her boisterous new neighbor, a woman twice her age named Annie. The two become instant friends and bond irrevocably when Annie helps Grace through an unexpected miscarriage. As Grace’s relationship with Liam deteriorates, she meets Matthew, who might prove to be her better match. Grace doesn’t begin to seek real change for herself until she accidentally learns that Annie has cancer.

Throughout the novel, we follow Grace's transformative journey of friendship, loss, heartbreak, love, and redemption.

Years ago, after participating in a week-long writers' retreat, my instructor invited me to join a writer's group she’d been running for decades. I joined the group. The first piece the group workshopped was a short story I wrote. The piece was about a friend watching someone they loved die of cancer. My instructor pulled me aside that night and told me that what I had written was, in fact, not a short story but the ending of a novel. She encouraged me to keep writing. Over the next two years, I completed the novel. And then I did what a lot of writers do. I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it sat for years.

A couple of years ago, I pulled the manuscript out, reread it, and decided that the characters I had created were worth sharing with the world. On the recommendation of a dear colleague, I reached out to a friend of his, a professional editor. I sent her a sample of my work, fully expecting her to tell me it was garbage. But instead, she responded with positive feedback and said she would work with me. Apparently, she thought my characters were worth sharing with the world too.

Much like the main character in my novel, my editor, Courtney, has taken me on a journey that has transformed me into an entirely new writer. I could not have completed this novel without her guidance. I’d need another two pages to tell you everything she’s taught me. So, two years and thousands of hours later, the novel is polished and complete. Now it’s time to search for the right agent for my book.

WOW: Best of luck with your agent search! What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Jennifer: Just keep going. Keep those fingers moving across the keyboard, even if you have nothing to say. And when you’re not writing, read. Immerse yourself in words, and the magic will happen.


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


Barbara Morrison said...

Jennifer, I love your use of a symbol in this story, the way you draw out different meanings of it even in such a short piece. You are so right that writing flash pieces can help us overcome that tendency to dither at the beginning of a piece. Thank you for sharing this story.

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