Nancy Gardner has had her short stories published in magazines, anthologies and online. Currently she’s working on a mystery set in Salem, Massachusetts and featuring a modern Salem witch who uses her ability to walk into other people’s dreams to unmask a murderer.
Your story in Dead Calm focuses on a very memorable central character. How did you create this story and character and what were the challenges of writing from this point of view?
Let’s start with character development. In “Count to Ten,” the main character, Flo, is one of my favorite characters to write—maybe because she came to me so easily, as did her fellow homeless shelter resident, Rose. So I have Flo’s point of view pretty well down. I suppose this is because Flo and Rose remind me of several loved ones from the past who were homelessness and/or mentally ill and/or alcoholic. It’s plotting that was my biggest challenge. After many iterations and failed submissions I finally figured out I needed to come at the plot from another angle—looking at Flo through a less clearly defined character, the nun who wants to help Flo. Once I did that, I understood how the natural conflict between these women could strengthen Flo’s arc.
Congratulations on winning an honorable mention for the Al Blanchard award for “Count to Ten.”
Thanks. I’m really proud of that award. And I’m also excited that “Count to Ten” is scheduled for republication in an anthology of baseball fiction for release in early 2012, and in time for Fenway’s 100th anniversary.
What is your advice for beginning short story writers?
Take to heart Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” I say this because my biggest newbie mistake was to focus on writing to my strength—which is characterization. I’d write good characters and then submit for publication. It wasn’t until I got tough-love feedback from objective readers that I realized—duh!—readers want the whole enchilada. That’s when I focused more on improving my plots. This newbie mistake is not uncommon. Many of us have heard that competency comes after 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice. And haven’t we been writing all our lives? But it turns out that developing competency requires more than simple repetition. We must do the ugly work of identifying and working on our weaknesses. For more specifics on how writers can develop a more deliberate practice, I highly recommend Louise DeSalvo’s blog posting: (http://writingalife.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/deliberate-practice-by-louise-desalvo/).
What are you working on now?
A short story set in Salem, on Halloween night. It features an aging pickpocket torn between avoiding being sent back to prison and preventing an attack on innocent revelers. I’m also working on a novel set in Salem.