Interview With Renee Rockland, Fall 2022 Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

I'm excited to interview Renee Rockland, one of our runners-up in our Fall 2022 Flash Fiction contest. Before you read our interview, make sure you read her story "Her Mark" and then come on back.

First, here's a bit about Renee:

Renee Rockland procrastinates working on her novel by writing short, flash and micro fiction. Her award-winning stories have appeared in a handful of anthologies including Beach Secrets and Beach Holidays (Cat & Mouse Press) and The Year’s Best Dog Stories 2021 (Secant Publishing) as well as a number of online publications.

She is a proud mother of twin girls with whom she barters social media assistance in exchange for editing college papers. Renee resides with her family and a menagerie of rescue and foster dogs in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where she happily hoards books and is a member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild.

---Interview By Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on winning runner-up! What a touching story you wrote that captured the raw reality of the complications of family. What inspired this idea? 

Renee: The idea was triggered when I overheard a woman say that her mother always told her she looked dead if she wasn't wearing lipstick, and I immediately thought, what if the mother was dead? I'm both a mother and a daughter, and I know it's a complex relationship ripe with endless potential from a writer's perspective. In this case, it was easy to create emotional landmines when I considered the juxtaposition of a daughter who wasn't overly feminine with a mother who was.

WOW: What a fantastic direction you took that moment! I loved the balance of present and past in the story. Why did you decide to write it that way? 

Renee: For me, flash fiction is about a moment in time that could be a launching point for a greater conversation. Once I knew the "moment in time" was going to be the act of applying lipstick (in the present), I broke down that process down into parts to figure out how many examples from the past I would have to showcase their relationship. I knew from the start that the mother was dead, so I always heard the daughter's voice in my head, remembering snippets from her life with her mother as she applied her lipstick.

WOW: I love how you did that. What was your revision process like?

Renee: This was one of those very rare times when what I heard in my head just flowed onto the paper. I wrote it a few days before the contest deadline, so I didn't spend as much time editing it as I normally would. I much prefer editing to writing. I like picking at words and putting away a piece for a few weeks and then returning to it. I didn't have that luxury with the deadline, so instead, I paid for a critique, figuring regardless of what happened with the contest, I would gain some valuable insights that would be helpful if I wanted to submit it elsewhere. And I have to tell you, Nicole, I think it's some of the best money I've ever spent! My critique was thoughtful, generous, and encouraging. One of the reasons I wanted a critique is because I was unsure about the line regarding the boardwalk caricature, and without knowing my ambivalence, the editor who reviewed my piece specifically commented that she loved that line. I got my critique before I learned I was a runner-up, so at that point, I knew that even if I didn't place, it was worth entering because I'd be able to make the piece even stronger. 

WOW: That is so awesome to hear! Why do you enjoy writing short stories and flash fiction? 

Renee: I enjoy writing them for the same reason I enjoy reading them; they're short! LOL! I work full-time, have twin daughters in college who still live at home, am married, have dogs and foster dogs, and try to feed my family something other than take-out every night, so like most women, there just aren't enough hours in the day for everything I want to do. Writing short stories and flash fiction feels achievable given my time constraints, and I like the sense of accomplishment when a piece is finished (as opposed to my novel, which may have to wait until retirement to be completed). I believe our lives are made up of many moments that when considered individually may not seem significant, but when harnessed together, take on greater meaning. I'm always on the lookout for flashes of life that I can translate into stories. It reminds me daily that there really are no insignificant moments.

WOW: I love how you balance it all while keeping a look out for creative inspiration! What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

Renee: I'm currently working on a short story for a Winter Solstice anthology as well as a few stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul, which I was inspired to write after reading about their contests in one of WOW!'s newsletters. 

WOW: I can't wait to see them come out! What advice do you have for writers who are uncertain about sharing their work with the world? 

Renee: I would give them the same advice I give myself: take a deep breath, and then, as Nike coined, just do it. Yes, it's scary, but seriously, what's the worst that's going to happen? You'll be rejected. You'll still have your health. Your family will still love you (as long as feed them), and that laundry is not going to fold itself. So I've learned to reframe my rejections by saying, "Well, I guess I just didn't submit that piece to the right place." It's almost like a game to see if I can find the right match for my work. I firmly believe that there are countless brilliant pieces of writing in the Universe that just haven't found the right conduit to allow them to be widely shared. If writers had a matchmaking service for our work, we'd all be better off! Until then, be your own matchmaker...your work will find a home beyond the confines of your own.

WOW: I think you just uncovered the next great idea! A writing match-making service! So, do you have a particular writing ritual you like to do that you can tell us about? 

Renee: Yes, it involves using chocolate chips as a reward system for word count. It's not one chocolate chip per word, but I will tell you, I should probably increase the ratio. Beyond that, I brew a cup of calming mint tea in my mug that says, "Now or Never," beg my family to leave me alone, and close my office door. And if the interruptions are too great to find my flow, I get up in the middle of the night, making good use of my menopause-induced insomnia.

WOW: Your chocolate idea is golden, and I may use that myself. Best of luck on your writing! 


Barbara Morrison said...

Renee, I love how you took a stray memory and created this powerful story from it. I especially like how you organized the story and the way it builds.

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