Please welcome Gwen Hart as part of our interview the author series for the upcoming Twisted Tales 2015 Anthology.
Gwen Hart teaches writing at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. She holds graduate degrees from Hollins University, Minnesota State University, and Ohio University. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in journals and anthologies such as Calliope, Mezzo Cammin, Prism International, and Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior. Her poetry collection, Lost and Found (David Robert Books), is available on amazon.com.
The title of your flash fiction included in this years Anthology?.
What was your initial motivation or prompt to write this story?
When I babysat as a teenager, I had two charges who loved to hear stories about two little girls I went to grade school with–let’s call them Ruthie and Bianca— who were always up to something. There is great pleasure in hearing about other people’s mischief–and, as I recall, in participating in mischief as well!
Is the character in your story a reoccurring character in your writing?
No, this is a stand-alone story. I do have several stories that take place in the fictional town of Bad Luck Lake, Iowa, though. Bad Luck Lake is a lot like the town I live in–except more people are thieves and murderers. One of these stories, “Good Girl,” will be out in the August 15th issue of Heater, a crime fiction magazine: http://www.fictionmagazines.com/magazines/heater/
What sort of message or feeling are you hoping you leave your audience with?
I think the heart of the story is about innocence, experience, and manipulation—how one child might manipulate another child, or how an adult might make heaven sound a bit too exciting to an impressionable little girl.
What sorts of challenges or insights have you had writing this?
My biggest challenge was in cutting the story down to under 700 words, but I do think the story is better in this pared-down form.
What sort of research did you do before you began writing it?
This story was based on memory and imagination and did not require research, but other pieces I have written have required research. Once when I was writing a poem about NECCO candy hearts, I went out and bought a bag of them and dumped them out so that I could see what all of the messages on them were (“I do,” “As if,” “Be mine,” “No way,” etc.). Since that time, the messages have changed to include things like “E-mail me.”
What sort of stories do you normally write? (Is this story a break from your norm?) What sorts of lengths ( short story, flash, micro, novellas, novels?)
I am mainly a poet, although I enjoy writing short stories as well.
Why is that?
I really enjoy writing in form (sonnets, villanelles, etc.). Paradoxically, I find great fun and freedom in restraint. I liken it to what Americans call soccer and the rest of the world calls football–if you can’t use your hands, you end up becoming really skilled at using other parts of your body in unexpected ways. In writing a sonnet, you probably can’t put down the first thing that comes into your head because it won’t meet the meter or rhyme scheme; as a result, you have to try something different, and you may discover a better line and surprise yourself with what you end up saying. My sonnet “To Summer” is in the August issue of The Rotary Dial: http://therotarydial.ca/transom/
Are you focusing on one particular genre or story length style (i.e Flash Fiction, Short Story, Novella, Novel)? What is yours?
I write poetry and short fiction, but I am open to other forms as well.
What projects or new story lines do you have coming up in the near future?
I am just finishing my second poetry collection. I have been having a lot of fun writing one section called “Love Songs for Generation X.” I recently taught a three-week university course on the 1980s, and a lot of the events we talked about in that class (the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion; the fall of the Berlin Wall) are finding their way into these poems. I have been sending these poems out to journals and anthologies.
Do you enter many writing competitions ?
I enjoy entering contests or answering calls for submissions that have some sort of theme or guidelines, even if the only guideline is a word count. I think having some kind of prompt or restriction is a great way to generate new work. It is especially fun to see if I can subvert the theme or come at it in an unexpected way.
Are you a member of a writing group – either online or a physical one?
My husband, Roger Hart, is a fiction writer; he won the George Garrett Prize from Texas Review Press for his short story collection Erratics. We trade writing frequently, and I trust his opinion completely.
Do you think these groups help or hinder a writer’s journey? Why?
I have an M.A. in fiction from Hollins University and an M.F.A. in poetry from Minnesota State University, so I have been in many writing workshops. I think a writing group—like a marriage—can be heaven or hell. See my blog post on The Quotable for my advice for life after the writing workshop: http://thequotablelit.com/blog/life-writing-workshop-gwen-hart
What encouragement or advice do you have for emerging writers?
Keep writing! Keep reading. Explore the web for publishing venues that suit your writing—there are so many good journals out there. It takes a little effort, but it is well worth it! Also, don’t limit yourself to one genre or one style of writing. If you are a fiction writer, but you have an idea for a ten-minute play, why not try it out?
What advice or tips do you have for writers who feel they are stuck or have “writers block”?
Writer’s block is like the villain Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies—it can’t hurt you if you don’t believe in it. But if you do believe in it, it can be deadly. So you need to do whatever it takes to get your mind off of Freddie Krueger trying to kill you—which is easier said than done.
I like to tell myself that I am not writing; I am just “experimenting.” Experiments, by definition, have uncertain outcomes, so I find that relieves the pressure to write something “perfect.” Once I went through my notebook and did a little research. I discovered that only one out of ten pieces I start ends up being worth something (publishable). A pessimist might say these are terrible odds, but as an optimist, I got really excited, thinking, “If I just keep writing, eventually I will get to another good poem or story!”
Try one of these tricks: Start writing in the back of the notebook (instead of that first blank page); dim your monitor so you can’t see what you’re typing; set the egg timer for ten minutes and tell yourself you can quit when the buzzer goes off if you are still miserable (although if you feel OK, you can keep writing!); read one of your favorite poems or stories and try to write the “opposite,” keeping the same structure as the original; pick up a good book of writing exercises (try Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio or one of the Now Write! series by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson, which includes books for nonfiction writers and fiction writers of various genres) and find a prompt that jars you out of your morbid thoughts. You may find your own tricks that work better for you, but the idea is to distract yourself from the guy with knives for fingers who is leaning over your shoulder as you type.
How can others follow your journey?
I post about my writing and about my Newfoundland dogs on Facebook
Twisted Tales is an annual flash fiction competition celebrating (Inter)National Flash Fiction Day, published by Raging Aardvark Publications. Judged by a panel of experienced short story writers and editors, submissions over the last four years have been extremely high quality; making the job of the judge a difficult one. Authors are drawn from around the globe and stories ranging from lighthearted tales of childhood memories, to gruesome stories to make the reader shiver.