Friday, January 7, 2011

Q&A with M.M. De Voe, Associate Editor here at OS

M.M. De Voe's short fiction has been widely published and has won multiple mentions and awards: The Raymond Carver Short Fiction Competition, PRISM: international Short Fiction Competition, Phoebe's Short Story Contest, nowCulture.com's Annual Poetry Contest, H. E. Francis Short Story Competition, Fish Publishing's Short Story Prize, The Bellwether Prize, The Dana Awards, and first prize nationally in the Lyric's Annual Poetry Contest. Most recently, however, she was one of 20 international winners of the Campaign for Real Fear, which will result in an audiobook, as well as first prize winner of the Literal Latte Short-Short Fiction award. She is a three-time Pushcart nominee, as well as Best of the 'Net and Best of the Web for her stories. She also won the Regina Russo Outstanding Recent Graduate Award in June 1999, and has been listed in Who's Who of American Women and Who's Who in the World since 2004. She won two Editor's Choice Awards for short fiction published in 2007. "Dulce Domum" is available in the anthology "Best of TFL Editor's Picks: 2002-2006." She is also included in the literary erotica anthology Stirring up a Storm (alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood). Her novel in progress won the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Fellowship in 2006 for historical novels with gay-positive characters. The rest of the time, she runs a nonprofit called Pen Parentis that provides resources to authors who are also parents.

You can read more about M. M. and purchase her work at her website www.mmdevoe.com.

Meanwhile, here's a short Q & A we've had with M.M. about her writing and editing ... Enjoy!


Q: In your editing experience, what are some common pitfalls in stories that turn what could be brilliant narratives into ones that become, well, boring?

A: The easy fix (I know that's what you really want to hear) is that people tend to describe the wrong details. Instead of describing the look on a guy's face when his own dog bites him in the leg, some writers will spend a paragraph describing the man's emotional state at the betrayal of his dog. But far better than either of these is to simply focus on and describe the action: the man calls to his dog, the dog trots over, he doesn't stop, his mouth opens, he bares teeth. The man just manages to say No, as Sparky bites through denim to skin to the bone. Dog food avalanches from the man's hand as he grabs for the counter, but Sparky does not let go...he kicks his leg, but Sparky hangs on, growling… Your reader will identify with the owner and you don't have to say a word about what the man's expression looks like.

When I said easy, I didn't mean easy.

Another common pitfall is that novice writers often confuse narrative truth with "what really happened"-- narrative truth is what has to happen in the story to make the story worth reading—make it worthwhile. What really happened after your aunt won 18K at craps last fall is completely irrelevant—and tends to be boring compared to what a clever mind can dream up.  Coming up with the perfect ending to a crazy situation is extraordinarily difficult. What if, instead of paying off her mortgage and putting you through college, she'd bought herself a mink and went parading the streets otherwise naked, handing out twenties to people? We can read facts on Facebook and blogs. Use fiction to really go wild.




Q: Could you share something about your own writing process? When (if ever) is a story "done," or at least ready to be sent out?

I generally get an idea and run with it for as long as I can—without stopping, without questioning—letting my imagination take me anywhere, and acutally these days I try to push the envelope: is this the most interesting place this story can go? Or can it go farther? I remind myself constantly to write scenes. SCENES! Not descriptions of scenes! Somewhere about a page or four into the story, I envision an ending and write towards it. Then I put the story away for at least a few days. When I come back, I try to come up with my "what is it about" sentence, and then I go through the endless editing process to weed out everything that doesn't fit, replace boring verbs with good ones, add description, cut extraneous stuff. I have found that it takes something like ten drafts to get a story tight enough to send out. And by fifteen or so, it gets published. Then it's done. :-)

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