Interview with Laura Girardeau : Winter 2023 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, July 18, 2023
Laura Girardeau works as an editor at a university, with past adventures as a wildlife biologist. She enjoys writing flash in the voice of her younger self. Her fiction, essays and poetry are published in several anthologies. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her essay in Deep Wild 2022, and a finalist in The Master’s Review, Tulip Tree Press, and Midway Journal contests. “Sixteen” first appeared in 5 x 5 (A Word with You Press, 2019) with a different title and pen name. Laura grew up in the enchanted forests of the Pacific Northwest. She now lives in the Inland Northwest with her teen daughter, also a budding writer, and their pride of small felines.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Winter 2023 Flash Fiction competition! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Sixteen?”

Laura: First, thanks to the editors and staff of WOW for inspiring a supportive community of women writers! I stumbled upon the WOW site and got hooked. I love reading winning pieces, bios, interviews, and articles to learn from others. WOW makes sharing writing fun and connecting rather than intimidating.

“Sixteen” was inspired by loss. Growing up, I kept diaries like many girls, and planned to use them for memoirs when I grew up. But I lost the diaries in a cross-country move. So I started writing stories to capture memories I might otherwise forget. When recall was hazy, I started with one sense memory (sight, sound, scent, etc.) and found that each was hooked to another, filling in the picture.

“Sixteen” was my way of capturing first love and the trials of high school. I wrote in the girl’s voice so it feels more like a diary. What did it feel like to be that age? How was it heaven, and how was it hell? What’s specific to my experience and what may be universal? What do we still search for? And how can I honor those I’ve loved? By writing a story, of course!

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

Laura: Flash is a challenge that can make us better writers. When I first tried cutting a short story to flash length for a contest, I hated the process. Then I saw how weeding down to key details makes writing come alive, like saturating photos. Flash helps me reduce purple prose, a weakness of mine. It helps me show and not tell, evoking emotion and empathy in new ways. Flash is also great in an online format. It’s quicker to read and write for busy people. With shorter pieces being shared online, more writers can share their work, and more readers can access it to experience multiple worldviews “in a flash.”

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

Laura: Have fun playing! Start by reading pieces on WOW and other sites. How did a writer take advantage of the short form to innovate and hit you in the gut? Then try writing vignettes. What might life feel like to a character vastly different from you? What’s your strongest sense memory of being 5, 12, 16, or 60? If you can’t recall, play a song or smell a scent from that time, and go from there. Stop after a few scenes or pages. If someone grows from the story (a character, you as the writer, or a reader) and there’s a surprise or emotional impact at the end, it may be done. No need to tie it with a bow. Life is mostly untied.

Or practice “weeding” a longer story. Make a copy and cut 100 words, then 200. Later, get it below 1,000 words, then 500. What suffers and what shines? Compare versions with a friend. You may be surprised that they like the short form more. Only you were attached to your “darlings” (favorite phrases that only mean something to you). If you need community, check out teacher bios and choose an online workshop.

See contests as inspiration rather than competition. Sometimes we need a deadline or prompt as a kick in the pants, and a small fee or due date is worth it to get writing. Sit back and enjoy watching the game, no attachment to the outcome. Whether or not we win, we can be touched by stories and celebrate each other.

WOW: Great tips! Can you tell us what projects are you currently working on? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Laura: I have several stories I wrote years ago to capture the lost diaries, one for each year I could remember. “Sixteen” was one. I may “mine” the others for gems, weed them down to flash, and submit. A book of connected stories is possible, but I also enjoy submitting single pieces since it exposes me to many journals and writing communities. I like to learn from other writers. I’m dabbling with new topics, characters and creative non-fiction to get out of my head. I also like poetry as a gratitude practice.

I’m relatively new to submitting. I’ve always written for myself and been shy about sharing. But sites like WOW showed me that when women share stories, it’s a gift. If we can experience a moment of beauty, understanding, shared humanity, or healing through writing or reading, we all win. That’s the real prize.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Laura. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

I like to write first thing in the morning before my daughter wakes up, with coffee and a notebook at the window. That half-dream state can make our writing wild and honest, especially if we scribble in longhand. Computers can be used later for editing, but writing first drafts in longhand uses a more creative part of the brain. If you get a few snippets or gems to use later amidst the junk, you succeeded.

Write as if no one’s reading (since they aren’t)! Even if you’re not a morning person, you can still tap your own power rather than the barrage of stuff society throws at us on the news, phones, internet, etc. Just keep it all unplugged for the first 30 minutes and grab that golden time when your thoughts are yours, when dreams and memories swirl in wild ways, and see what happens!


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


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