Interview With Renee Rockland, Runner-Up in the WOW! Spring Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

 


I'm so excited to be interviewing Renee Rockland, who joins us again as a runner-up in the WOW! Spring Flash Fiction Contest. Before we get to our interview, make sure you read her story Play At Your Own Risk then come on back.

First, here's more about Renee:

Renee Rockland is an award-winning short fiction and flash writer whose stories have appeared in a handful of anthologies including Beach Secrets and Beach Holidays (Cat & Mouse Press), The Year’s Best Dog Stories 2021 (Secant Publishing) and the forthcoming Winter Solstice (Devil’s Party Press) as well as a number of online publications. Her story, “Her Mark,” was a Runner-up in the Fall 2022 WOW! Flash Fiction Contest. A native of Iowa, she’s traded cornfields for seashores and resides with her wife, twin daughters 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: Congrats on winning runner-up! I LOVED the unfolding of this story. As a reader, I wasn't sure what to expect when the game begins but the ending put a smile on my face. What inspired this story?

Renee: I recently took a free one-week class from Nicole Breit on creative non-fiction. My preferred genre is fiction, but I’m always looking to improve my craft, so I stretched myself and was thrilled and surprised at how much I learned. Nicole is a gifted teacher whose advice is both accessible and immediately implementable (regardless of genre). In one of our mini lessons, we were challenged to tell in a story in a different format. (She gave the example of using the symbols in the legend of a map as story benchmarks.) While I was brainstorming, my mom called to tell me she was upset because her cable had been out for five days, and she was missing Jeopardy! The intersection of perspiration and inspiration is how I find most of my ideas, and this one was no different.  

WOW: I love how your moment with your mom led you to this storytelling technique! You had a wonderful way of adding some clever nonverbals (via the husband eating for example!). I love how you did that to convey emotion and the underlying truth behind what was going on. What was your approach in the writing process to incorporate those? 

Renee: When the idea for this story took root, I knew I wanted to have some fun with it. I love the juxtaposition of an emotionally charged, heavy subject (cheating) told in a light-hearted way. We were in the middle of the long, dark days of winter, and I was looking to make myself laugh. The protagonist’s husband is a clich√© and a fool for cheating on his clearly brilliant wife, so I delighted in exaggerating his foolishness and putting him in a position in which he wasn’t calling the shots. I also love a good revenge story and was inspired by one of my favorite books/movies, The First Wives Club, as I was writing. One of the tenants of impactful storytelling is “show don’t tell,” and especially because he wasn’t my main character, and I didn’t want to introduce his POV, the only way for me to tell his story was by showing him reacting to the unfolding scene.

WOW: Ha, I love it! You have many short stories and flash fiction pieces published! Why do you love telling short stories?

Renee: When I first started wearing make-up, my mom’s favorite refrain was, “less is more.” To be fair, it was the 1980’s, and there’s plenty of photographic evidence of my affinity for blue eyeshadow. But her advice certainly applies to writing as well, and I love the challenge of mining small moments in life for larger emotional impact. In the end, regardless of character, it’s emotion that drives any story.

WOW: I have to laugh - I remember having a blue eyeshadow era, too. How did your story "Play At Your Own Risk" transform in the revision process?

Renee: I find that any story can be vastly improved if it’s allowed to marinate after the initial writing/revision process, and this one was no different. The bones were there from the beginning, but I kept picking at it over several months. In fact, the Tammy Wynette reference at the end was late to the party. My first several clues for Final Jeopardy! just weren’t hitting the mark. I knew there had to be something better, but I was stumped. So I put the story away and worked on other pieces in the pipeline. One day I Googled “divorce,” and several rabbit holes later, Tammy’s song came up. It was such a natural fit—like finally finding the perfect pair of jeans after trying on 884 pair—that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it earlier. It’s those lightbulb moments, the satisfaction of feeling like you cracked a code that propel me to persevere, especially when my writing’s not going well. 

WOW: I know that feeling! So, what does your writing space look like?

Renee: I love this question for two reasons: first, I adore when other writers share details about their writing space. It’s kind of like driving around at night so you can see inside other people’s homes or watching House Hunters on HGTV. And second, because my writing space has morphed over the years. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a home office where I do the bulk of my work. (And make no mistake, it is work.) It has a door, so I can shut out the chaos (cluttered desktop notwithstanding), but I’ve learned it’s not the only place I can write (which is what I used to think). And that thinking was holding me back. I justified not writing because I thought if I couldn’t have long stretches of uninterrupted time in my office, then it wasn’t even worth trying. But perfection is the enemy of progress, so I readjusted by thinking and started writing in small bursts, taking advantage of wherever I happen to be. Sometimes I’m sitting in my car waiting to be Uber-Mom. Sometimes I’m sitting on my couch or the beach or a park bench. The writing I do outside my office may not be as focused, but I’ve found that once I’m back in my office, I can dive deeply more quickly because of the work I’ve done elsewhere.

WOW: Great tips on why you should have your own space! What are you working on next that you can tell us about?

Renee: Inspired by my class with Nicole Breit, I’m working on my first piece of creative non-fiction. It’s a stretch for me, but when I feel daunted or insecure, I just remind myself that in the end, my writing is first and foremost, for me. A creative outlet that enriches both my internal and external life. I don’t have to share it with anyone. My decision to do so is a choice. And choice is power. I know that if I do decide to share it, I’ll enter it in one of WOWs creative non-fiction contests and pay for a critique because the feedback I’ve received for my past entries has been thoughtful and encouraging and only helped to strengthen my writing.

WOW: Best of luck on your creative non-fiction work! We can't wait to read it. Congratulations again!

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