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Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Interview With Fall 2023 Flash Fiction Runner Up Winner, Elizabeth Danek


Today, I'm honored to interview Elizabeth Danek, a runner-up in our Fall 2023 Flash Fiction contest. Before you read our chat together, make sure you check out her story, December 1994. Then, come on back!

Here's a bit about Elizabeth Danek:

Elizabeth Danek’s short fiction and essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mid-American Review, and Flash Nonfiction Food, as well performed for the Liar’s League PDX. Recently, she placed 3rd in the 2023 William Faulkner Literary Competition with her short story “The Pet Shop.” For more than thirty years, Elizabeth has been a high school and adult education teacher in Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Munich, Germany (where she lived during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s). She will soon retire from teaching, ready to pay more attention to her grandchildren, writing, travels, and urban hikes. Currently, she is working on a novella and a story collection.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: Congratulations on winning runner up! Why were you inspired to write the story?

Elizabeth: From 1989 to 1998, I lived in Munich, Germany, and watched up close the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Balkan Crisis. One summer, on a visit to Dalmatia, one of my sons was “gifted” a large piece of shrapnel from an attack outside Zadar – a memento of the war.

My father was from Croatia and escaped from the former Yugoslavia after WWII. He believed that armed conflict changes hearts and minds forever, and that brutality devastates families, as it did for him in the 1940s and then again fifty years later.

The convergence of the shrapnel and my father’s history created “December 1994,” (part of a longer piece in progress), in addition to my own experiences with family caught in the turmoil and visits to Croatia over the decade I lived in Europe. I also know many Bosnian refugees who were resettled in Portland, where I now live; their stories are haunting. Turmoil in the world today reminds me of the near past.

WOW: That's amazing you have that kind of connection to that incredible piece of history. You have some impressive publications under your belt. What inspires you about short fiction?

Elizabeth: I have always found short fiction artful, drawn into a new world with so few strokes. Admittedly, as a young mother and full-time teacher, I struggled with focus, frustrated when I lost the thread of a longer work. So I remain loyal to short fiction and let those whose work I love surround me: Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Alice Walker, Elizabeth Strout, Kelly Link and countless others. I don’t always know how they do what they do, really, but I admire their work and find their stories instructive and beautiful.

WOW: As a short fiction writer myself, I know what you mean. I see you’re working on a short fiction collection. As a short story writer, that’s my goal one day too. How are you compiling your stories? Do you have a method? 

Elizabeth: I find that place is prominent in my work. I have to know my characters and where they’re from or what brought them to this point in conflict. My collection centers around San Pedro, California, the L.A. Harbor town where I grew up. The stories are an ode to the coast, the diversity of the people, and my characters’ challenges.

WOW: I think it's interesting how place means so much in your work. How has teaching guided your writing?

Elizabeth: For me, writing is rewriting. Young students can’t always see that, but some do, and they appreciate going the extra mile. I know what it is to struggle with a piece, to write draft after draft to try to get something right. 

WOW: Absolutely! What do you hope people gain by reading your work, and specifically this story “December 1994”?

Elizabeth: I hope that my fiction can bring readers to feel something relatable and perhaps find some “truth” along the way.

WOW: I believe you have! Thank you again for your time today. Best of luck on your work!

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