Annie On Writing

August 31, 2015

Gwen Hart – Author in the Spotlight for Twisted Tales 2015

Filed under: Interview with Author — Annie Evett @ 8:00 am
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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.

Gwen Hart

The title of your flash fiction included in this years Anthology?.

“Bianca”

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.

 

August 25, 2015

Simon Sylvester – Author in the Spotlight for Twisted Tales 2015

Filed under: Writing Tools — Annie Evett @ 12:00 am

Our second author from Twisted Tales 2015 to be interviewed is Simon Sylvester. 

Simon Sylvester is a writer, teacher and occasional filmmaker. His first novel, The Visitors, was published by Quercus Books in 2014, going on to win the Book Box prize and Guardian Not The Booker prize. Simon lives in Cumbria with the painter Monica Metsers and their daughter Isadora. 

Simon Sylvester

The title of your flash fiction.  

Vixen 

What was your initial motivation or prompt to write this story? 

Myself and a poet friend, BigCharlie Poet, undertake an informal photo challenge every few months, taking it in turns to pick a picture and each write about it, then bounce the two pieces – a poem and a story – off each other. On my last turn, I chose a striking picture of a woman holding a fox cub. Although it sung to me, it took months before the story dropped into my head.

What sort of message of feeling are you hoping you leave your audience with? 

I wanted Vixen to be an abstract experience, a combination of voices that built into something witchy, something otherworldly. I’m increasingly interested in the idea of threshold spaces, places that are two things at once. If I’ve done it right, then Vixen looks through both sides of the same door.

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 used to only write short stories, but now I have the novel bug. It’s long work and can be exhausting, juggling those thousand things, but I love the immersion of building a world and exploring it with characters I come to know – characters that develop with the story, changing as they go. In between novels, there’s time to recover, and that’s where I tend to write most of my flash fiction. After running a marathon, I quite like having a knockabout in the park… 

What projects or new story lines do you have coming up in the near future? 

In the last few days I’ve finished a new novel, called The Hollows, which is about mud and memories. That’s currently with my agent, and will no doubt need redrafting before we approach a publisher. I’m also printing a second book of flash fiction after the first sold out – I enjoy the design process, building a collection, making a cover, typesetting and so on. When that’s done, I have a dozen flash ideas I’ve meaning to develop for months, and then I’m moving onto my next novel, which will either be about mountains or spices. I don’t yet know which of them comes first. 

What encouragement or advice do you have for emerging writers? 

Eavesdrop in cafes, listen to how people talk, how they think. Take trains. Keep a notebook. Unplug. Smartphones are vampires for all the time you could be thinking. 

What advice or tips do you have for writers who feel they are stuck or have “writers block”? 

Step away. Read a book, drink a beer, take a swim. Everything is absolutely fine.  

Twisted Tales is an annual flash fiction competition celebrating (Inter)National Flash Fiction Day, published byRaging 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.

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