Today we are talking with Kathy Joyce, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven’t had the chance, make sure you read her incredible story, “Secrets of an Old Maid” and then come back over and read her interview below.
With a certain plan for her life, Kathy started serious fiction writing nineteen years ago. A couple of months later she met her husband. (...plan a wedding, have a family, adopt a few pets, renovate a house, build a business, care for aging parents...) She wrote all those years in between, as President of M. Kathleen Joyce & Associates, serving clients as an organization development consultant, facilitator, and educator.
The fiction laid fallow, but the seeds took root; they now insist on flowering. So, Kathy is pruning a domestic thriller, fertilizing a mystery, and planting other literary seeds. On especially sunny days, she propagates short stories and flash, or sows creative nonfiction. America Magazine has published her essays, and her fiction has won prizes from WriterAdvice.com, Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (forthcoming), and Pulp Literature (forthcoming).
Kathy lives in Michigan with her teenaged son and daughter, bossy poodle, and very patient husband.
WOW: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Your story was so moving and incredibly sad, but so well told. What inspired this story?
Kathy: Thank you! I loved writing this story. Years ago, I saw a newspaper article about a young couple who bought a home from two elderly sisters. They found an infant’s skeleton hidden in a box. The story stuck with me. Did one of the women have the child? Why did they leave the skeleton in the house? I always assumed that they both knew about the pregnancy, but later, I wondered.
Overlaid on this story is my family history, (which relates to the setting, not the incident). My dad’s family homesteaded in the Dakotas in the late 1800s, and that era and location has always fascinated me. Add a familial propensity for storytelling over generations, and I have so much imagination about that time and place.
WOW: I love that you based this on something you read in the newspaper as well as your family history! I can see you are a busy writer and seem to be working on quite a couple of different books right now. How do you handle these projects on top of everything else in your life?
Kathy: Honestly, this is not something that serves me well. I love spinning a yarn, letting the novel flow. That’s the fun part. But I’ve learned that the payoff writing, the part that gets you to publication, comes in revisions, which don’t enthrall me. So, I start new stories to avoid revising the ones I have! My goal for 2018 is to finish the revisions on my first two manuscripts.
In terms of handling projects, I set goals. A lot of advice says to write every day, but getting daily words on a page is difficult with a business, a family, an elderly parent. So, I’ve expanded the definition of ‘writing’ to include making notes about stories, reading, connecting with other writers, and thinking through plotlines and characters. I let it all matter. So, I feel accomplished, even if word count doesn’t rise every day.
WOW: I can completely relate to avoiding revisions! I struggle with that myself. What is your greatest source of inspiration for your stories?
Kathy: My stories are mostly based on experiences or observations of people. I wonder about why something happened, and create a story. For personal experiences, I try to tell the story from the perspective of someone else in the situation, not me. For example, a man once asked me to buy him a loaf of bread. He had spent the last of his money on medicine, and had no food for his family. When I came out of the store with a bag of groceries, he cried. What must it have been like for him to realize his situation, and make the decision to become a beggar for his family’s sake? That question turned into a nice short story that I’m submitting now.
WOW: I love how write stories from real experiences, but from another person’s perspective. What is your advice for new writers looking to make their way in short fiction? What is the best advice you've ever been told?
Kathy: I feel like such a new writer myself! I’m not an expert, but I can offer inspiration. First, writing short fiction has honed my writing skills so much! It is very different than writing a novel, but the revising and editing needed for short fiction benefits my longer work. It also gives me encouragement and a sense of accomplishment. I would advise any writer to try a variety of writing. Second, almost every story that I’ve had published or rewarded was rejected somewhere else first. Keep writing and keep submitting.
In the best writing class I ever took, the professor would have us write something, then say, “cut it by half,” or “add fifty words.” I still do that with my work. Once a story is ‘finished,’ I try to reduce the number of words by at least twenty-five percent. The stories always improve. Then I reduce or add words, based on submission guidelines.
WOW: What great advice that professor shared with you! And I couldn't help but notice the gardening metaphors in your bio. Do you like to garden or spend time in nature? How does that inspire you?
Kathy: As a concept, gardening is a life philosophy for me. The truth that things die and come back to life holds so much hope. Winter comes, and spring follows. Always. If plants die, there are infinite other plots to sow. That’s such a powerful idea when things seem lost or hopeless. It applies to writing too. How often do we bury a story because it’s not working, then a little idea sprouts, and soon that same dead story is blooming and growing? Same with rejection. It feels so lousy, but you plant the story somewhere else, and it thrives. I love the idea of growing words into stories, and ideas into plots and characters. Writing can be discouraging, but, in the end, like gardening, it’s lifegiving.
Thank you again Kathy for taking the time to chat with us and for your beautiful story!
Make sure you can find Kathy over at her blog and Twitter @Kathyjoycewrite and her website.
Interview by Nicole Pyles
View the full article