Interview with Renee Rockland, Runner Up in the Q1 WOW! Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, February 25, 2024


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 stories, “Her Mark” and “Play at Your Own Risk” were both previous Runners-up in WOW! Flash Fiction Contests. 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. This is her first foray into Creative Non-Fiction. 

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

WOW: There are so many memories, both beautiful and painful, sprinkled throughout “Refracted Love.” Was it difficult to decide which ones to include? 

Renee: Thanks for your kind words, Renee. What I found most interesting about my memories was seeing what bubbled to the surface without any kind of filter. From the outset, I knew I wanted to use the colors of the rainbow to tell the story, so I just played word association to see what presented itself, and I can honestly say the memories for each of the colors are simply my initial responses. From there, I layered in other memories to complete the picture and tell a richer story. First and foremost, I wrote this as a 30th anniversary present for my wife, so I was thinking of her as I wrote, which undoubtedly influenced my memories as well. 

WOW: I bet she loved this very special gift! While you’ve placed in two previous flash fiction contests here at WOW!, this is your first time entering the CNF contest. What inspired you to enter this time? 

Renee: Last summer, I stepped outside my comfort zone and took a one-week class from Nicole Breit. Even though I’d heard many positive comments about Nicole, my expectations weren’t very high because I don’t consider myself a CNF writer. But I figured I might be able to glean some gems that could enrich my fiction, and I love learning new things. To say the class blew me away is an understatement! Nicole is a gifted teacher. Each mini lesson was well constructed and thoughtfully presented. She doesn’t waste time and was so incredibly encouraging. Our challenge each day was to write exactly 100-words of CNF on a given theme, and the last reflection in “Refracted Love” is, in part, the result of one of those challenges. I look forward to taking more classes from Nicole in the future (even though I still don’t consider myself a CNF writer. 

WOW: That story just goes to show how trying something knew can really spark creativity. It sounds like an amazing and productive experience. Do you enjoy reading nonfiction as well as writing it? If so, who are some of your favorite authors in that genre? 

Renee: I love reading non-fiction! I’m so inspired by the vulnerability of authors who bravely share their truth. I adored "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls (who didn’t?). Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones still haunts me. And I’m a sucker for any writing on food/cooking – the intersection of my two favorite pastimes – so I’ve read everything by Molly Wizenberg, Ruth Reichl, and the incomparable Laurie Colwin. 

WOW: Your bio mentions you live with a menagerie of rescue and foster dogs along with your family. Do you have any heartwarming or fun stories you can share with us about your animals? 

Renee: What a great question! During the pandemic we fostered for a rescue organization specializing in bully breeds because we know firsthand how incredibly loving and amazing this misunderstood and unfairly vilified breed is. Shortly after we’d gotten our first foster, Reese, (a total sweetheart who didn’t bark, loved to snuggle, was super smart and easy to train), I took her for a car ride to drop my daughter at a Krav Maga lesson. I walked my daughter inside the building – couldn’t have been gone more than 3 minutes – still when I got back to the car, Reese was gone. I’d left her in the backseat with the doors locked, but the backseat was empty, and all I could think was that someone had stolen her for dogfighting. I immediately called 9-1-1 and while I was pacing in the parking lot, hysterically explaining my predicament to the operator, I noticed a little nose pressed against the rear window. Apparently, Reese had jumped from the backseat into the very rear, so she’d have a better view of me walking into the building. And because she doesn’t bark – and apparently didn’t think my frantically calling her name warranted a response – she calmly sat there until I noticed her. Fortunately, I figured it out before the police arrived. And yes, we foster failed. 

WOW: That's hilarious! I'm sure it was terrifying for you in the moment but I can just imagine what her sweet face looked like through that window. When you're not spending time with your family or pets, what is your writing process like? Do you carve out a specific time of day to work on your projects or is the process more fluid? 

Renee: My writing process involves many middle-of the-night sessions (one of the benefits of menopause-induced insomnia) with several cups of tea. Finding uninterrupted quiet time to collect my thoughts is a luxury. I also work full-time as a corporate controller, which necessitates nocturnal creativity as my days are filled with numbers. I don’t write every day, but I think about writing every day and am always looking for inspiration, for an idea that feels like just enough of a seedling that with some water and sunlight, I know it will grow. One of my favorite quotes is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “We know what we are but know not what we may be.” This fuels my writing because in the early drafting stages when my writing feels disjointed and cumbersome, I’m reminded that with enough perseverance, it will evolve, which gives me courage to stay engaged in the process. Thanks again, Renee. I truly appreciate your time and all that you do to help inspire and encourage women writers.

WOW: No, thank you! It's been a pleasure and we hope to read more from you soon.


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