Interview with Dawn Miller: Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Tuesday, January 09, 2024


Dawn's Bio:

Dawn Miller is a Pushcart Prize nominee who writes fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work appears in The ForgeThe Cincinnati ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyRoom MagazineFractured Lit, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in beautiful Picton, Ontario, Canada, and is working on her debut novel. Find her at on Twitter @DawnFMiller1 on Instagram @dawnmillerwriter and on Bluesky

If you haven't read Dawn's story yet, click through here to read "How to Store Your Little Sister's Wig."  Then read this interview to learn more about her writing process. 

-----interview by Sue Bradford Edwards----- 

WOW: This story is an emotional roller coaster! What was your inspiration to write this piece?

Dawn: Like so many of my stories, there’s a kernel of my own experiences in the narrative. In this case, the story is quite close to my family’s history as my older sister died from a brain tumor when she was nine-years-old, and I was seven. I vividly remember the auburn wig she wore, how my mother placed it on the wig form at night and carefully combed it out. My sister’s wig was such a profound reminder of her illness, that these images are imprinted in my memory. Writing about something so deeply personal is a way for me to deal with the memories, to try to make sense of what happened, and hopefully, by sharing some of the pain, to release some of it. 

WOW:  We're so sorry to hear about your loss.  You clearly fed the emotion into this story. Revision is such a monumental part of the writing process. How did this story change during revision? How did you heighten the tension during the revision process? 

Dawn: After I submitted to the WOW! Contest, I continued to revise the story, and ended up changing it yet again. Perhaps a story is never truly “finished” and there are multiple iterations that could stem from one narrative. In early and later versions, however, I included the numbered structure and the repetition of “scratch #” partly because it was easier for me to write the story within a more rigid structure since it’s such a painful topic. 

Using “scratch #” was my attempt to lean in to how we sometimes alter memories to deal with the reality of them or attempt to make them less painful. In the story, the older sister attempts to erase the painful parts and keeps revising the narrative until her sister lives. Maybe it’s an example of “magical thinking”, something we may all do at times to deal with trauma or profound pain. 

WOW:  After reading about how you used "scratch #," I reread the story.  Knowing why you did it that way makes it that much more powerful. The choice of POV character can make or break a story. How did you select your POV character?

Dawn: Often, the eldest child in a family feels they need to be the caretaker of their younger siblings, and so I chose to filter the story through the teenage sister’s perspective. I wanted to explore how that caretaker role would impact a teen in a situation where no one, including the parents or medical professionals, is able to control the outcome. I hoped to show how the illness of a child has a profound and long-lasting impact on the entire family. In the story, there is a significant age gap between the sick sister and the teenager, which makes the older sister feel all the more responsible for her vulnerable sibling. The teen is aware of all the younger sister may lose, and that makes it all the more tragic. 

WOW: Your bio says that you write both creative nonfiction and fiction, including a novel. What advice do you have for writers who are interested in creating a wide variety of work? 

Dawn: I’ve written three novels, all yet to be published. I’m hoping to get literary agent representation soon. I’m drawn to super short micros as well as longer narratives. Some of my stories are purely from my imagination, while others I felt compelled to write about to deal with my own past. For any writer, I think you need to follow what spurs passion inside. 

Some people write only flash, some short stories, some only novels. There’s no “right” way to follow your own creativity. I think the key is to follow what you feel passionate about, what you feel propelled to create, what form you lose yourself in. Sometimes, I write flash, or a short story in between longer works as a sort of palate cleanser since novels require so much stamina and can take years to create and revise! It’s refreshing to work on a shorter piece that can be drafted in a day, and honed and polished within several days. I often have several projects in the works at the same time, and like to toggle between them. 

WOW: What question do you wish I had asked? And how would you answer it? How do you deal with rejection? 

Dawn: I’m honoured and grateful my story was selected as a WOW! finalist, but so often stories are rejected, queries to agents are passed upon, even full manuscript requests from agents are ultimately declined—often for very subjective reasons. I’m always curious how other people maintain their stick-to-itiveness attitude. However, I’ve realized, after talking to so many writers, that we all have moments of imposter syndrome, or wonder if writing is the best path. In the end, I love writing, and time telescopes when I’m in the writing zone. 

I recently traveled to Japan, and there’s a Japanese concept called ikigai, which combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” with gai, meaning “worth”. It’s similar in meaning to the French term “raison d’etre” or “reason for being”. I experience ikigai when I’m writing. Writing fills me with purpose and joy, so if I have to deal with the inevitable rejections along the way, it’s worth it in the end.

WOW: What an inspirational response!  I truly hope that this is something our readers will carry with them throughout 2024.  


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