What Was Never There - Interview with Elizabeth Maria Naranjo (and Join our Reader Review Event)

Friday, May 03, 2024
Today, I'm thrilled to interview Elizabeth Maria Naranjo about her vibrant and haunting short story collection, What Was Never There. We chat about Elizabeth's writing process, the joy of entering writing contests, and her goals for the year. If you love magical realism and gripping stories, you'll want to read this book!

We're also inviting readers to participate in our Reader Review event. Sign up and receive a copy of the book!
You don't need to be a blogger to join in on this event; anyone who can leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon can participate and receive a copy of What Was Never There. By leaving a review, you'll also be entered in a drawing to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

About the book:

What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo
A mother and daughter lost in the woods must overcome their worst fears to find their way back. A father going through a divorce witnesses a seemingly impossible motorcycle accident, which forces him to question the truth of his own perceptions. A little boy with a terrible secret routinely steals away at night to meet a girl beneath a willow tree—only to discover she has a secret of her own.

What Was Never There is a collection of short stories with the common theme of memory, or rather, the way memory haunts us.

Includes Pushcart Prize nominated stories “We Never Get to Talk Anymore” and “The Dinosaur Graveyard” and the award-winning “Windows,” selected for Best Microfiction 2023.

ISBN-13: 979-8866571697
Publisher: Independent (December 2023)
Length: 276 Pages

What Was Never There is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. Add it to your Goodreads list.

About the author, Elizabeth Maria Naranjo:

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the author of The Fourth Wall, The House on Linden Way, and What Was Never There. Her stories and essays have been widely published and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Essays, and Best of the Net, and her short story, “Windows,” was selected for Best Microfiction 2023. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband and two children.

Visit her website at www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.
Twitter/X: @emarianaranjo

----- Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW: Thank you for writing such a delightful book full of intriguing stories! What was the takeaway you were hoping people would have after reading What Was Never There? Each story touched me in one way or another yet they were all incredibly different.

Elizabeth: Thank you, too, for the compliment! I’m glad readers are enjoying What Was Never There. What I hope people take away from it is a sense of empathy. Most of the stories in What Was Never There deal with uncomfortable and even painful internal struggles. Many of the characters are haunted by past decisions or how close they are to making the wrong one. Not all of these struggles will be relatable, but that’s the beauty of fiction; it asks us to strive for empathy, even, and especially, when that’s a difficult thing to do. 

WOW: I felt every bit of what you wanted me to as a reader; it was definitely a whirlwind of feelings. I know you're always working, so that begs the question: What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2024 and beyond? 

Elizabeth: My goal for this year was to publish all three books in my cozy mystery series. The first, Murder by Milkshake, will be released in July 2024, and I’m thrilled to be doing a full blog tour with Women on Writing to promote that one! The second book is on track to be released in the fall, and I’m hoping the third (and final) book will come out in December. Once 2025 hits, I’m back to working on more literary fiction and essays. I miss writing motherhood pieces, and now that my daughter has moved out and my son is driving and preparing to graduate high school next year, I have a wealth of great material to work with! 

WOW: The motherhood deal speaks right to my mama writer heart—all the feels! Before I get weepy, let's talk about writing contests. You know WOW! offers several, so we want to know: What is your history with writing contests? 

Elizabeth: Writing contests are awesome! Most of them provide a prompt, a word count limit, and a deadline, parameters that come in handy for those writers (i.e., all writers) who tend to twist themselves into knots over every little decision. It’s much easier to shape a piece of writing around a prompt instead of facing a blank page with a head full of competing ideas. Deadlines are always a good thing because they add a sense of urgency, and word count limits benefit us as well; we are working toward a definitive end. Also, with contests you can often get constructive feedback; in fact, way back in 2011 I submitted a short story called “Flight” to Women on Writing’s Spring Fiction Contest—my first time doing so. I didn’t win, but the feedback I received guided my edits, and “Flight” became my first published piece when Literary Mama accepted it the following year. 

WOW: I hope everyone reads this interview and is inspired to enter a contest, even if it's not ours. I feel like so many of us have an author inside who is just eager to fly free! Speaking of authors, who is your favorite author and why? 

Elizabeth: If I had to choose just one, I’d choose Peter S. Beagle, since he wrote my favorite book of all time, The Last Unicorn. Beagle’s storytelling is of that rare quality that even if you’re reading the story for the first time, you feel nostalgic, as if it’s a place you’ve been before. His prose is effortless and absolutely sublime—whimsical and lyrical yet simple and never overwritten. That is so hard to do.

WOW: That sounds very similar to your style! You always have the most beautiful words—truly a gift! Where do you write? What does your space look like? I envision you sitting in a very colorful room by the way. I think it's because your book covers are always so intriguing. 

Elizabeth: On weekend mornings my writing space looks like a warm, inviting coffee shop. It’s dimly lit and smells like roasted coffee beans. I’ve written several books there, along with countless stories and essays. On weekday mornings during summer and school breaks my writing space looks a little different. Sometimes I stay home and write on the family room couch. Sometimes I drive to the library parking lot and write in my car. The year before last I spent the majority of my writing time at a cheery and blessedly cool Dunkin’ Donuts while my son worked out at a nearby gym. Now he has a license and drives himself, but I do miss that little donut shop! The key for me is claiming a writing space. Even if it’s at home, while I’m writing I claim the space; I close the door, light a candle, play some movie soundtracks or a fantasy playlist, dim the lights, and disappear into the work.

WOW: Oh Elizabeth, we could chat all day! It's no wonder why I love your writing; I feel like if you lived next door, we'd be besties! I'm happy to let readers know that you'll be back with yet another tour this fall for your cozy mystery, Murder by Milkshake, which means another longer interview! 

What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Join the Reader Review Event!

Readers, if you'd like to receive a copy of the short story collection What Was Never There by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo for review, please fill out this Google Form. Book reviews need to be posted by June 3rd on Goodreads and Amazon. We'll be sharing all the reviews in a Reader Review Event and Giveaway post here on The Muffin on June 7th! Besides receiving the book, you'll also be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!


Elizabeth Maria Naranjo said...

Always fun chatting with you, Crystal! Thanks for the interview, and good luck to all who enter!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great interview Crystal and Elizabeth! :) I'm reading What Was Never There right now and absolutely loving it. The collection is lyrically written and has such great flow. The stories are immersive, and I keep thinking about them long after I read them. I just read the title story, which is riveting, and I love the alternating POVs and the creepy dark woods. Your settings and characters are so realistic, and you do suspense so well! Brilliant writing. I'm savoring this collection and will be posting my review soon! <3

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo said...

Thank you so much, Angela!

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