Bartleby Snopes Writing Blog

Becoming a Better Writer

Month: March 2016

Jayne Martin Interviews Rosie Forrest, Author of Ghost Box Evolution In Cadillac, Michigan

 

Rosie Forrest is a writer of fiction and flash fiction with a background in drama whose collections of stories, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan,” won the 2015 annual Rose Metal Press Chapbook contest. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf and just about everywhere else where fine flash fiction is published. “Bless This Home” (from Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan) is among the winning stories that will appear in Queen’s Ferry Press Best Small Fictions of 2016.

Forrest earned her B.A. in drama from the University of Virginia in 2000 and obtained her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2011. Between those years is an impressive resume of writing and teaching credentials. Currently, she resides in Nashville where she teaches at the Vanderbilt University, and also is involved in programs working with talented youth. We are thrilled to have her participating in Women Who Flash Their Lit.

 

JM: Hi, Rosie. Congratulations on winning the 2015 Rose Metal Press Chapbook contest for your story collection, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan.” Great title. There are so many places in the country like your Cadillac, Michigan, where big box stores came in and wipe out all the local small business. Then they went bust and left behind these giant, cement carcasses. What drew you to this particular setting?

 

RF: Thanks for saying so, Jayne. Titles can send me ‘round the bend, so I’m particularly thrilled when one sticks. About those big box stores, I heard a story on NPR maybe five years ago examining the uptick in abandoned megastores, and that was the first time I encountered the term, “ghost box.” At the time I was moving every year and noting all the empty parking lots and faded letters of store names on concrete facades. You know, another phrase comes to mind—I’m remembering it just now— “residual haunting.” I’m sure it’s a common term in the ghost hunting world, but the idea is that something or someone in life engaged in such a strong routine or pattern, that the ghost it left behind is like an energy imprint on that particular space and time. There’s something to that effect in these stories – not ghost stories, per se, but moments that haunt the characters or the setting beyond the immediate event.

 

JM: Yes. The young people who inhabit these stories seem haunted by the uncertainty of their future, and there’s a sense of unfulfilled yearning, which makes the ghost box store setting so perfect. Your characters are all so multi-faceted, like a prism casting a multitude of colors. Can you give us a peek into your process of creating these characters?

 

RF: Prisms, I like that. Characters are so visual for me. Each one in these stories came from a sort of rough photograph, like finding an old album in the basement. Occasionally the voice is there before the image, but if not first, the voice arrives soon after. I never did so well with the character survey assignment, the one that asks a series of personality and lifestyle questions to build a well-rounded character.

JM: I could never do that either.

RF: It’s a great tool, but it’s like stringing popcorn or cranberries. I don’t know where I’m headed. I need the big picture. I have to start with one of the senses or I’m lost. The characters in Ghost Box (even though I never believed they lived in the same town or attended the same school) felt like I’d dropped a packet of weird Polaroids on the floor. It’s less of a metaphor than it seems. The story, Gun Moll, stems from an actual photo, the one Georgia describes in her opening line: “Once we were Bonnie and Clyde for Halloween and I loved the picture of us holding guns up to our chins like we’d blow our own heads off.”

JM: I absolutely love that line and that image. One of my favorite of your stories is “Where We Off To, Lulu Bee?” published first at Word Riot. As with much of your work, I picked up a whimsical undercurrent. Is this my imagination or your intention?

 

RF: It’s not your imagination, I can tell you that much. I almost can’t help it. I grew up with a puppeteer mother, so whimsy is…well…it’s in my bones. The funny thing, though, is that I find myself cloaking it more and more in realism. Childhood is naturally packed with whimsy, so it felt right for it to color a few stories in the collection. But where whimsy gets interesting, where it moves beyond the sweetness, is when it careens into something raw and brutal. That’s where the good stuff lies.

 

JM: When you started writing, did you immediately gravitate to flash or did you start in some other genre and, if so, how did you find your way to flash? One of the reasons I ask is because your award-winning story, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” published by Dogwood is a over 5,000 words. I would love to write a 5,000-word story, but mine always seem to end before they get anywhere near that length.

 

RF: Longer stories terrify me. I’m a painfully slow writer, and if I embark on a project with a high page count in mind, the expectations alone can be insurmountable. I tripped into flash. One professor at UNH had us write 500 word pieces for the last class of the semester, and the process of crafting that one page got me all buzzy and excited. I carried that page around with me and revised and revised until individual words lost meaning. With tiny instruments and tiny tools, flash suits me, but longer forms can let me paint with a big, fat brush. That has tremendous value as well.

 

JM: You got your B.A. in Drama from the University of Virginia in 2000. Were you an aspiring actress or playwright at one time?

 

RF: Actress, most definitely. Musical theatre. Belting out show tunes. Jazz hands. The works. But I can’t dance beyond a shuffle-hop-step, and the process of auditioning even for college productions turned my stomach inside out.

 

JM: I started out as an actress, too, and quit for the same reason. Those damn audition nerves.

 

RF: But I loved theatre – the imagination, the community, the collaboration – so I stuck it out and bulldozed my way into directing. My advisor, Betsy Tucker, scared the crap out of me daily with her no-bullshit approach to getting the work done. I learned to envision the project, to loosen the reins, and to get out of my own way. Those lessons honed my writing in conscious and subconscious ways. Still do.

 

JM: How has drama influenced your work in flash? I ask because after realizing that acting wasn’t for me, I started my writing career in TV-movies and that has had a huge influence on me, especially in flash.

 

RF: Everything’s connected, right? The major role theatre played in my writing path was the fundamental decision to be a writer. Moving to Chicago after college led to fantastic opportunities working with the best theatres in the city, from The Goodman to Steppenwolf to Northlight. I was lucky enough to partner directly with playwrights in the realm of new play development. My conversations with them during the developmental stages of their drafts left me inspired and hungry and tumbling inside someone else’s imagination.

 

JM: What an amazing experience.

 

RF: Oh, it was. I wouldn’t begin differently. Theatre taught me that story has shape. It’s a three-dimensional sensory experience. Because of theatre, I conceive of a story or a piece of writing as though it were a production. The performances that move me require the audience to lean forward, and stand-out moments within a play elicit more than one emotion at the same time. Those are my primary goals within any piece of flash fiction. Beyond flash fiction, really. Those are my goals as a writer.

 

JM: After an eight-year break, what compelled you to take on the student role again and go after that M.F.A.? To “M.F.A.” or not to “M.F.A.” seems to be a question in the air these days. How do you feel doing so improved you as a writer? Or did it?

 

RF: The MFA was a vehicle for me to change my travel route. I was entrenched in theatre, searching for new reference points and a whole new vocabulary. I had read hundreds of plays, but I hadn’t read the books I needed to read. I had mental lists of every new play festival and contest, but I only recognized a handful of literary journals. Could I have filled in these knowledge gaps on my own? Sure. But I wanted to sit in a room with writers, to be one of them, and to force myself visible. I wanted to be held accountable.

 

JM: That being “held accountable” thing is something I think a lot of us can relate to. I still take classes as often as I can for just that reason. Teaching seems to be as much a passion for you as writing and I know you work with gifted kids in this area.

 

RF: It is, it is. Teaching is where I attempt to make sense of it all. I can’t quite fathom writing without teaching – the challenges of both require one half of my brain to talk to the other. At Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth, I collaborate with instructors who are passionate about their area of expertise, and seeing hundreds of teenagers connect to complex, rigorous, and global material makes me optimistic about the future. I’m not even going to apologize for the cheesiness of that sentiment because I say it without irony.

 

JM: Any thoughts about doing an online workshop? And, if so, please sign me up.

 

RF: Oh, I’d be honored! Plus, I want to take five or six online workshops myself. Let’s all hop in a bucket and divvy it up!

 

JM: Not me. I’m strictly a student, but I’m going to keep after you, Rosie. What are you working on now?

 

RF: Answering that question every morning when the sun comes up. I think these days I’m actually struggling a little bit with my relationship to flash. That is, am I bound by it rhythmically? Do I dig deeper inside of it? Do I fragment further? How does flash push but not dictate my next project? I’ve got a number of half-wrought pieces on front and back burners. I’m thinking a lot about cosmology these days and the desert. For both our sakes, I’ll leave it at that.

 

JM: One more question. What is a typical writing day for you? Tell us a little about your current writing space and surroundings. For example, I must have a view and complete silence. Anything you absolutely must have?

 

RF: I must have beverages. Other than that, I write on the floor. I record voice memos on long drives. My latest impossible goal is to force myself to write in airports. I’ve set up a cozy writing space in each home over the years, and all-too-often it sits there like a shrine. Writing for me is athletic. It’s a boxing match with time and place, and one of us ends up with a fat lip. Routine is little more than the bell. Do we ever get it right?

 

JM: Thank you for being so forthcoming and generous about your work, Rosie. For those who aspire to write flash, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan” should be required reading.

 

Rosie Forrest is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville resident, Rosie teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the assistant director of academic residential programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth.

Rosie Forrest HeadshotRosie Forrest is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville resident, Rosie teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the assistant director of academic residential programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth.

 

IMG_8680[3] - CroppedJayne Martin’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, Midwestern Gothic, Blink Ink, Literary Orphans, Flash Frontier and Hippocampus Magazine. Her book of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Previously a writer of movies-for-television, her credits include “Big Spender,” for Animal Planet and “A Child Too Many” for Lifetime. She lives in a rural valley near Santa Barbara, California, where she indulges her passion for horses and fine wines, and can be found on the web at injaynesworld.blogspot.com.

Interview With Jayne Martin for Women Who Flash Their Lit

 

Jayne Martin is a flash and micro flash fiction writer, an essayist, memoirist, former television movie writer, and horse-lover. She is one of Bartleby Snopes’ Women Who Flash Their Lit authors with recent flash publications in Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Frontier, Hippocampus Magazine, Literary Orphans, and Pure Slush, among others. She is Women-On-Writing’s 2013 Flash Fiction’s prizewinner and Midwestern Gothic’s 2015 Summer Flash Fiction Finalist.

Martin writes with controlled precision, evoking emotion through brevity and creates character through dramatic expression. Her stories are character-driven and influenced by setting. She is a diverse writer who writes humor as well as she does literary fiction. Her essays contained in her book, Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a A Side of Wry demonstrates her ease with satire and laugh-out-loud humor and contrasts with her creative non-fiction that is serious, highly crafted long form essay. In addition, her micro fiction is breathtaking, sparse, and each word carries meaning and utility, a feature of her work I appreciate. In “Travels With Ivan” Martin offers a panoramic view of a couple’s relationship in specificity and illustrates in two bookend sentences how one of them copes with the death of the other. Continue reading

Degani, Fish, Reno and Stohlman F-Bomb Women Who Flash Their Lit

 

Gay Degani, Kathy Fish, Sally Reno, and Nancy Stholman gather at Denver’s Mercury Cafe F-Bomb and discuss some of the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum topics. What is the appeal of flash fiction to readers? How do we reach readers beyond the world of flash readers? How do we mainstream flash or how and in what ways have people always written short—”because people have always written short…” Continue reading