As many of you know, I’ve written and published a number of short stories — so when I cyber-bumped into Tamra Wilson’s book, DINING WITH ROBERT REDFORD, which is a collection of short stories that are definitely women-oriented, I couldn’t wait to have her on the blog.
Please welcome Tamra to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Tamra Wilson Says Short Stories Are Big Things In Little Packages And Explains How 64 Rejections Can Be Inspiring
Amy: DINING WITH ROBERT REDFORD is a collection of short stories — we’ve never featured a short story author or collection on WFW before, so this is very exciting. What draws you to writing short fiction?
Tamra: It’s been said that the short story is the sprint of writing; the novel the marathon. I tend to be impatient, so sprints bring a quicker sense of accomplishment. I like finishing things, checking them off my list, so for me, novellas and novels are far more daunting, scary really. They’re the hard-core investments. I have to be in love with a character to be willing to live them for a couple of years to see how their story ends up. A lot of characters aren’t that interesting or loveable.
Short stories, on the other hand, are like tough little charms that must be reckoned with. String several finely crafted ones on a bracelet and you have an intriguing collection. Maybe that’s their underlying appeal for me as a reader and a writer. They wear well and don’t bog me down.
Amy: I’ve written short stories and it’s no easy task (ok, no writing is easy). What sets short story writing apart from novel writing besides the length of the finished piece?
Tamra: Stories are big things in small packages. You don’t have the wiggle room to explore multiple themes or juggle many characters. Such tight space can be a liability for the long-winded, but an asset for the brief. I believe a sharp pen is the birth mother of the short story. It’s hard to kill clutter, get to the heart of the matter and exit a messy situation cleverly, but that’s the art of short fiction.
What’s left out is as important as what’s left. The writer spins the pony on stage, lets it bump around a while and then reins it all in with a taut lasso. It’s nothing short of magic. A good story will make you cheer. A great story will leave you breathless.
Amy: Short story writing is daunting for some. What’s your best advice for a writer who’d like to give it a try?
Begin with a vision and a purpose. Where are you going with this character? What’s at stake and why does it matter? Beginners should base stories on actual events, then play the “what if” game and let the imagination take over.
Amy: From where (or from whom) do you draw the best inspiration for your stories?
Tamra: Real life inspires me. Some of my best work has evolved from such mundane things as telephone calls, anecdotes, diary entries and off-hand comments. It took me a good while to learn that some of the most interesting material springs from ordinary stuff.
Amy: We agreed that your collection of stories fits under the umbrella of women’s fiction. How do you define women’s fiction?
Tamra: Well-written women’s fiction is by and about women, but not necessarily for women alone. The message transcends gender. Almost always, family and romance are involved with women’s stories, not that these stories are “soft” or “sweet.” Family and romance seldom are.
Amy: What’s your best advice for writers who’d like to publish short stories?
Don’t get in a hurry. Write what you love and make sure it’s ready before you send it out. Every good story will eventually find a home. Ann Hood told me that once, and she’s been a success in this business for a long time.
Now let me tell you a story about my story “Saving Amy,” a fiction based on a family incident during a polio epidemic. First out of the gate, it was a finalist for the Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Story Contest. Encouraged, I kept sending it out again and again.
Sixty-five rejections and five years later it was accepted by The Healing Muse, a journal of SUNY-Upstate Medical Center.
Why didn’t I give up after 64 rejections? Because I was willing to keep trying for as long as it took. To be honest, it became something of a game to see where Amy would be turned away next. Thanks to the good editors in Syracuse, she finally checked in to the hospital, which is as it should be, the story being about illness.
This ended Amy’s losing streak but not my story. One of my mentors, who had helped revise earlier drafts, asked to use Amy as a “case study” with her students. And so it goes.
Tamra Wilson grew up in the small farming town of Shelbyville, Illinois, but has called North Carolina home for more than 30 years. Her work has appeared in some 60 literary journals, magazines and anthologies such as the North Carolina Literary Review, Epiphany, The MacGuffin, Grist, Pedestal and elsewhere.
A Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she was part of the 2002 Blumenthal Writers and Readers Series and has received grants funded by the North Carolina Arts Council and Vermont Studio Center. She received the Jesse Stuart Prize for Young Adult Fiction 2009. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and holds an MFA degree from the Stonecoast Creative Writing Program at the University of Southern Maine. She lives in Catawba County, NC.
Tamra’s website: http://tamrawilson.com/
Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/Dining-Robert-Redford-Other-Stories/dp/0984639853