Can you please tell us about your daily life?
My spring term has finally ended where I teach high school, and the pandemic is keeping me home for the summer. So I’m growing a garden. I play guitar. I write a little. I try to keep the house tidy between kitchen-exploding meals of salmorejo or dumplings or strawberry shortcake or salsa. I take a walk every day. I’ve read more than a dozen books since March. More recently, I’ve followed the news of police violence against Black people, and have been attending marches and protests to support the Black Lives Matter movement. My town in New Hampshire is small, very “New England,” with a charming bandstand and all, and it’s been inspiring to go to these Black Lives Matter protests every few days—white teenagers in their hand-lettered signs walking and chanting downtown, the sign-holding older (still white) folks waving as the cars pass by. For years our Black and Brown friends and neighbours have asked white people to help change how this country (and its institutions, from law enforcement to schools to businesses) is run and it’s critical for the present and future of our country that we listen to them and follow their lead. I hope the momentum will continue.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I have kept a journal (off and on) for as long as I can remember, but never really did much with fiction or poetry. I decided to pursue journalism because (coming from a working class background) it would keep me employed. I got out of newspapers just as the rise of online 24/7 journalism surfaced. Part of me is glad I got out of it when I did, and another part of me still misses the deadline rush of a story scoop. I advise my school newspaper, so I do get a deadline rush each week. The fiction writing started about 15 years ago, after I got out of journalism, and it felt like a sort-of third rail—where my background in journalism and where my imagination as an artist could meet. It’s was exciting to see my first flash chapbook Heard Around Town published in 2015, and now Ad Hoc Press (based in Bristol, UK) will be publishing Sugar Mountain, a “novella-in-flash” about the invisible line between youth and maturity.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story?
There are a few stories in Sugar Mountain that are a bit more rooted in a “real” story and “Why My Mother is No Longer a Hairdresser” is one of them. For context, here is the story:
She was always the clip-n-curl girl, the one the blue-haired ladies came to see on a weekly standing appointment: Jeanette on Tuesdays at 10, followed twenty minutes later by her sister Josie, a cascade of rinse and wash, clip and roll. They’d spend a full forty minutes under the dome claw dryer reading the paper or a gossip magazine, checking up every so often to see what Bob Barker was up to. The dryer’s whirr was too loud for conversation, and they sat in happy solitude, the one quiet slice of time in their week when no one needed or wanted them. When it was time for the comb out, the curlers would coil free, one by one, leaving behind stiff whorls of darkened hair, which she’d then comb up and out, tease and tame each lock into shape, fortified by Aqua-Net. And the ladies would go on with their week, hair unmoving and voluminous, cloaked by a plastic rain bonnet, affirmed their standing appointment. But one day Jeannette fell ill, and Josie had to tend to her, and then she got worse, and in time the Tuesday appointment roster shifted, and the ladies who came got older, and then got too old to leave their homes, and in time, the clip-and-curl girl had less and less to do at Nu-Look, and women started wearing their hair long and natural, so they eventually let her go, and she ended up back waiting tables at her first job, Friendly’s Ice Cream, looking longingly at the ladies who came in with their feathered hair and humidity frizz, and she’d think I can fix that.
My mom for years was a hairdresser, following in her barber father’s footsteps, although she eventually had to quit because she was allergic to the dye chemicals. She was locally famous for her “comb-outs” (styling hair from set curlers), and continued to comb-out my grandmother’s and great-aunt’s hair every week until they passed away. My mom’s first job growing up was at Friendly’s, and if I remember right she started working there at age 14, and returned to it for a while after she stopped hairdressing. She cuts my hair on occasion, and still cuts my dad’s hair. With the pandemic, I’ve been cutting my own hair, as well as my boyfriend’s. He arrived looking a bit like a shaggy dog after two months without a haircut, but I trusted the skills lurking latent in my genes. I’ve cut his hair twice and it looks great.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 300-word flash-fiction story?
Entire worlds are, or can be contained, simply by trying to explore a single moment in time. Conversely, 20 years can span a 300-word story. To bolster a sense of urgency or immediacy, I’ll sometimes put myself in the mindset of someone confessing something, and let the story unfold from there. The rationale of someone who tries to justify their wrongdoing can dredge up some interesting stuff. It doesn’t always work, but it can give you a “hook” to tap into a vast universe beyond the words. But always start with something small that feels “unfinished” in the mind of your narrator—a regrettable exchange, resurfaced shame, a loss—and let it lead you where it leads you.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
Any time a writer submits their work, it’s like punching in lotto numbers and hoping for the best. Obviously, it’s not as randomized, but you never really know who is reading your work or how it’s going to strike them. Is what you’ve got to say relative to what’s on people’s minds? Are you offering something completely new? A writer’s desire to share their work is of course wrapped up in ego, and I suppose the affirmation one gets if you are published, or if your writing wins a prize, is enough to keep you wanting to continue writing and move on to the next project. The other side of this conversation is that it’s a great way for writer to support smaller publications (through submission fees). I believe in small presses and literary journals, and the fees are a way to keep them alive and functioning. With my fiction writing, I have never expected it would make me any money, and whatever scant amount of money I do receive from my writing from it goes right back into contest or submission fees.
-Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on flash fiction story and LISP?