Interview with Brooke Carnwath, Runner Up in the WOW! Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 30, 2024


Brooke Carnwath lives in Bozeman, Montana, where she teaches writing at Montana State University. She’s the mom of two creative, big-hearted daughters and writes novels for middle-grade and young-adult readers. She, her daughter and mother-in-law published a picture book, Scout & Lucy, in 2022 by Merack Publishing. 

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Congratulations, Brooke, and welcome! Could you take us through the process of writing your story, "Stripes," from original idea, to execution, to revision? 

Brooke: I drafted this story for an online Flash Fiction course I took with The Writers Studio; it was my first class in the genre and I was grateful to have found such a beautifully creative and fun form to ensure I write during the academic year (as I don’t otherwise have time—or stamina—to work on novels when teaching full-time). Eleanor was a version of my middle-grade novel’s protagonist in so far as she’s deeply connected to and fascinated with the sea. Most characters I create have some relationship with water—for despite living in the landlocked mountains of Montana, I dream of living by the ocean. I played with the story for a week or so and then submitted it; the writing was fun and fluid, and the quick deadline thankfully didn’t allow much overworking or overthinking. 

WOW: I love this! I also find that sometimes submitting something when it's still fresh on the page without a lot of revisions makes for the most successful pieces. One of the things that can make flash fiction so compelling is the ending. Did you know how this story was going to end when you began writing it? 

Brooke: I had no idea where Eleanor would end up; I never do—as they say, I am a “pants-er.” The compressed form of flash inherently prevents too many characters or scenes: Eleanor started at the beach and got as far as the shower before I ran out of space. Luckily, the drain and its inevitable relationship with Long Island Sound lent itself to an apt visual metaphor. 

WOW: What topics do you like to write about in your YA and middle-grade novels? 

Brooke: I’ve written one middle-grade, one YA novel and one adult novel. The MG features a 12-year-old girl, Milly, who lives with her mother in coastal Maine. An accident forces them across the country to rural Wyoming to help her grandparents on their ranch. Milly’s story is as much about her search for her long-lost father as it is about how geography and community shape identify—and how love is the strongest, most compelling force in any family dynamic. These are the themes I lean toward; as such, my adult novel likewise features a family displaced from New England to the high desert of rural Oregon. As a mother and lover of all things water, I’m endlessly interested in the tension between water and the lack thereof and how these factors influence character, values and lifestyle—and how experiences of physical (and emotional) displacement affect perspective and opportunity. The YA novel is about a young woman battling an eating disorder. As a mom, a daughter, and just a person taking in and out breaths in this crucial, conditional world, I empathize deeply with the protagonist’s journey. And I share it with the hope of replacing shame with compassion; turning the don’t-talk-about-it to let’s-talk-about-it; and animating tangible ways to work with an anxious mind. And while none of these novels are published yet, I’m hopeful they’ll attract an agent and publisher in 2024! 

WOW: These are all very important topics and themes--wishing you the best of luck in your querying and publishing journey! Can you tell us more about your picture book, “Scout and Lucy?” 

Brooke: Sure! My oldest daughter (then 8, now 12) and I wrote a picture book, "Scout & Lucy," as a pandemic project. My mother-in-law, an artist, jumped on the opportunity to contribute her creative talents and animate our sweet story about an ant falling in love with a peony. Though fictional, the story celebrates science (and more specifically, the symbiotic relationship between ants and peonies) and includes an educational glossary with scientific terms featured in the text. We published in June 2022 through a hybrid publisher, Merack Publishing. 

WOW: What is your favorite thing about teaching writing at the college level? 

Brooke: The students! Daily, I am humbled by students’ earnest excitement to learn and am grateful for the privilege of interacting with and influencing their education. I started teaching writing 17 years ago because I loved to write; I had no formal pedagogical training, but soon found my passion for all things sentences, paragraphs, rhetoric and grammar made up for my shortcomings relative to planning classroom activities and creating assignments. I’ve since loaded-up on professional trainings to support my in-class and online success. Additionally, at Montana State University, I am fortunate to have access to fantastic continuing education opportunities—and to learn by example: I am surrounded by smart, creative and dedicated colleagues. Truly, as someone who loves reading and writing and generally being around books, an English Department is a lovely place to spend time. 

WOW: I can only imagine! Brooke, it has been a pleasure. Thank you again for joining us today and sending positive writing vibes in the new year!


Anonymous said...

Brooke is such a fantastic person, teacher and author!

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