Interview with Shelley Wood
June 2016 Flash Fiction Second Prize

Shelley Wood

Shelley Wood won second prize with her flash fiction Rags,Riches in our June 2016 award. Her story took an unusual perspective on a photograph of a carefree moment she was given in a writing group. Read more about how she began writing flash and take note of her writing tips when you are editing a longer piece. She tightened her winning story so much she 'almost had to use a wrench.' The result was certainly worth the effort.

  • Can you tell us how your second-prize winning story came into being?

Thanks for asking! This story grew out of a writing prompt, which is pretty cool. A woman in my writing group brought a bunch of photographs and the one I was dealt pictured some kids leaping off a raft into a shimmering bay. It captured such a pure and carefree, sunny moment, it made me think about how that would look to someone who no longer had that kind of joy in his life, and perhaps never had.

  • What sparked your interest in writing flash fiction?

I went to a book launch for a poetry collection by Canadian writer, Anne Fleming, who also teaches at the University where I live. One of her former students stood up and read some of his flash fiction then she read several of her poems, and I think it struck me how much the two forms were just different points along a spectrum, with the same perfection compression (ideally). I really don’t write poetry, but I was inspired to try my hand at flash fiction. I’d had a postcard fiction story called “Lemons for Arthur” published, but this was my first stab at a story under 300 words.

  • You've won an award for Creative Non-Fiction. What do you like about this form of writing. And can we read your winning piece online somewhere?

Yep, this was the Cobalt Review’s Frank McCourt Creative Non-Fiction Prize, which was very exciting. It’s not published yet, but I do have a few other literary nonfiction stories online. One was a story about a traumatizing cycling accident that won honorable mention in the carte blanche / Creative Nonfiction Collective awards in 2013. I also published a nonfiction piece in Room magazine about a cab ride in Paris. I worked for more than ten years as a medical journalist before trying to write fiction and lyrical nonfiction so in some ways telling factual stories in creative ways comes more easily to me than fiction. I also think that writing fiction requires you to imagine lives you haven’t lived, whereas creative nonfiction pushed you to describe your own experiences using language that is richer, more precise, and more surprising than you would otherwise—to find the beauty and larger purpose in everyday moments. Not every moment lends itself to this, of course, but I love the feeling when it does.

  • You're also searching for a home for your novel. Would you give us a short synopsis? 
Do you find you can move fluidly in between forms?

I’m too superstitious to tell you about my novel—I know many people have an unpublished manuscript sitting in the bottom drawer of their desks and at this point I’m still scared I’ll join them, and not have the courage to keep trying. I didn’t write any short fiction (or flash fiction) when I was working on the novel, but I did find it helpful to write creative nonfiction and to blog. I don’t think of my blog as a place to give updates about my writing or my life—I don’t know of many people who would care. But I do think of it as something like a word-gym, a public place to try and get better at telling little stories, to work on my rhythm and my eye, and on matching the right words to something I’ve seen or done. Lots of people do this in private journals, but by putting it online I think I try harder to make people laugh and cry, as if there’s more accountability and more impetus to get stronger, to get better. I think trying to write well, on my little blog, makes me feel more writerly, and makes my fiction better.

  • We'd love your best tip for writing 300 word fictions.

I’m by no means qualified to give tips, but I can say that “Rags, Riches” began as a 600-word story and I winnowed it down, combed out all the excess, tightened it so much I almost had to use a wrench. What I had in the end was much more compact and polished than where I’d started, but I don’t think I would have been able to get it to that point if I hadn’t started with something looser and rambling.

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