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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Interview with Kathleen Furin, Runner Up in the Spring 2023 Flash Fiction Contest

Kathleen's Bio:

Kathleen Furin is the recipient of the 2022 Eludia award for her story collection Last Sunrise, which is forthcoming from Sowilo Press. She has published work in American Literary Review, Permafrost Magazine, Evanescent, Philadelphia Stories, Literary Mama, Mutha Magazine, and Midwifery Today, among other journals and anthologies. Her story “Body Memory” won first prize in the 2023 Tucson Literary Arts festival. She is an Author Accelerator certified book coach and currently works as an equity consultant. 

Pop on over and read her story, "Jitterbug Gold," and then come back to learn about her writing process.

-----interviewed by Sue Bradford Edwards-----

WOW:  What was the inspiration behind Jitterbug Gold? 

Kathleen: I had entered a competition with Fractured Literary and was advanced to the final round. Our prompt was “talismans.” I started to think about what objects people were connected to and why, and of course began thinking about families and how so many families have a variety of heirlooms and “treasures.” My parents still have a serving dish that my great-grandmother won in a dance competition, which always makes an appearance over the holidays. When I think about what her life would have been like and how things were for women at the time she was alive I think mainly about constraints and a lack of freedoms, so it was fascinating to me to imagine a woman who pushed back against expectations and upended social norms. I didn’t think a serving dish would work, but I loved the idea of a woman being rewarded for doing what she loved against all odds, and the story just evolved from there. 

WOW:  Revision is a vital part of the writing process when a story is shaped and refined. How did this story change during the revision process? 

Kathleen: With flash fiction the ending of a piece is critical. Flash can be sort of like a sonnet; the last two lines in the sonnet might shift your perspective or offer something unexpected, and that was sort of what I was going for here. I was struggling a bit with this ending but my friend Jerome, who is a great reader, offered some suggestions. In addition, revising flash fiction always involves cutting words. This piece was probably three or four times longer than the word count limit on the first draft. So I had to go in and trim a lot! Every word matters when you are so limited. 

WOW:   It is so tight now.  I can't even imagine the piece at four times this length. You could have chosen many different things from a ring to a pendant to a watch to serve as the talisman in this story. How did you decide at last on the watch? 

Kathleen: That’s a great question but I honestly can’t remember. I really was just thinking about items that family members treasure. I wish I had something profound to say – maybe the evolution of Nonna as a character as she was freer to be her true self as time passed in her life connects to the idea of a watch – but that’s as an afterthought, thinking about it now. 

WOW:  Wondrous serendipity then! How does your work as a book consultant shape your own writing? 

Kathleen: I learned so much when I had the great fortune to connect with Jennie Nash and Author Accelerator. I think there is a lot of truth to the idea that you don’t really learn something until you have to teach it. The ways she thinks about structure, organization, narrative tension, and character development are so brilliant and have certainly made me much more intentional about the ways in which I tell my own stories, even when they are super short. My coaching process often involves supporting the writer to draw on what they already know. I don’t necessarily always have answers for my clients, but if I can ask the right questions I can help them answer them for themselves. So this idea of asking questions of myself and my work, especially when I get stuck, is helpful. I learn something new with almost every client I work with and just about every consultation I participate in; I can then apply this knowledge to my own work. 

WOW:  You have a variety of sales and experience. What advice would you give to a novelist or essayist who is waffling over whether they should attempt flash fiction? 

Kathleen: I think attempting new forms is one of the best ways to grow as a writer. Writing flash forces us to really be intentional about understanding our narrative arcs and our character transformations. It's the same thing we are doing in longer works but we have to tighten everything up. Nailing down the arc and transformation is a critical task no matter how long your piece will be. Generally, playing with different forms can be a great way to stay engaged and inspired. We can become freer because we don’t have the same expectations of ourselves when attempting a new form. I would advise writers considering it to try it and see what it feels like.

WOW: Thank you so much for sharing how this piece came to be.  I hope that everyone else feels as inspired as I do.

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