Please join me in welcoming Rebecca House. Rebecca wrote Visiting Friends, a short story published in Running Wild Press’s Anthology of Stories, Volume 2. Here’s a tasty taste, the first paragraph.
The white two-story house loomed above Bram’s head, the windows sparkled and the pristine yard burst with cherry blossoms. Mrs. Baker waved him inside, the flesh on her arm jiggled and her flowered housedress swayed below her knees.
What inspired you to write Visiting Friends?
“Visiting Friends” was inspired out of a different call for submission about four years ago. The stories were to be set in a small town located in Upper State, New York. I researched the town quite a bit, and out of that research came the characters and the story. I like to play the “what if” game as a way to prompt ideas, so my prompt became; “what if some poor confused person found themselves in an unusual and precarious situation?”
I love doing that, too. The story can go in so many directions, can’t it?
Most of my short stories have twists of gothic, supernatural or horror elements so naturally the main protagonist, Bram, has to quickly try and figure out what is going on at this house and the party he is attending. Interestingly, this was one of the first short stories I finished when I decided to try my hand at short story writing. The initial feedback was positive but it just wasn’t a fit for that particular publication. After that it marinated on my computer for a bit then, was edited, resubmitted until it at last found a home with Running Wild Press.
What would you like readers to take away from this story?
I don’t tend to write with a theme in mind, so, that’s a hard one to answer! I start with setting or character and allow my unconscious explore organically. This means that theme becomes more apparent after a story is completed and oftentimes I find readers discover their own themes. I think all I want is for readers to take away is enjoying the ride and keeping an open mind. I guess if I had to choose a takeaway from “Visiting Friends,” it would be that things are not always as they appear.
How long have you been writing?
Since I typed out my first flash fiction story on the green screen of a PET computer in Grade Four. (That may date me a bit!)
Sister, I’m with you. This fellow was in my class.
I’ve always been scribbling away. Ideas, journaling, scripts for plays, song lyrics, poetry, newspaper writing – I’ve probably tried almost everything once so I guess the short answer is; since I learned to write full sentences.
I decided about four years ago to stop wishing I could be a writer and get on with it. My first project was a novel. I had to finish something, and I did. That process led to a second novel and morphed into short story telling and so on. I think once I knew I could buckle down and finish something it was all I needed to really start moving from someone who writes to a writer.
Do you write full-time? If not, what do you do for a living?
Don’t we all? Let us dream about that great, great day when we write full-time:
Right now I’m trying to write part-time, marketing part-time for a law firm and parenting full-time.
Ditto, minus the parenting thing. Phone calls, letters, pleadings, discovery, the copier is jammed. THE COPIER IS JAMMED!
Do you only write short fiction? If not, how does writing a short story differ from writing a novel? (Other than the obvious length/time.)
I write what the story dictates. I also like to take on new challenges so I’m constantly refining skills and acquiring new ones. I have written a couple of novels, freelance articles, blog posts, a one-act play and poetry.
Short story writing is very different than novel writing. I found that after completing two novels I was a bit burned out with trying to keep track of plot lines, characters and in truth, the editing process. The next step submitting seemed almost impossible and I didn’t feel the work was ready. So in 2017 I shifted my focus to short story writing. It seemed more attainable to get short stories published, there are so many opportunities out there and I could learn about the submission process with bite-sized stories. I was also curious how a short story differed from novel writing.
After taking a course and reading lots of short stories, I ended up using some of my same writing processes as for novels but adapted them to be more succinct. I had to learn to let go of my “extra flowery writing” and get to the plot point/conflict very quickly. For example, I needed to be very clear early in the piece what the conflict was or was going to be and follow that up with a dramatic event or action in the first page or two to swell the story towards the main plot point.
There is also no time in a short story to build up setting. You can really only use a few really great descriptive lines peppered amongst the paragraphs. This was a challenge for me because I love setting. You also have to really think if a character is necessary because you don’t want too many voices in a short story to take away from what is happening. If a character doesn’t move the plot along or create tension – are they good for the story? You also learn to identify how much information a reader needs to stay interested in the story and in turn you end up paring out a lot of the backstory. With more practice, these tools became easier to incorporate on a first draft instead of a third or fourth draft but I’m still learning.
What does your typical “writing day” look like?
I wish I had one. Wearing a lot of hats I don’t get a typical day often. My writing time is sporadic and mostly I’m just trying to catch moments when I can write, type or voice memo something.
But, when I do have a day it looks like: up at 5 am and I usually start the day with coffee, meditation and yoga. I take some quiet time to journal or spend time idea generating. I write a lot of poetry in the mornings. Then after all the kids and pets are taken care of, I set up in my “writing spot” for the day and try to go in two-hour blocks. Two hours writing or writing activities and take an hour to go for a walk, meal prep, errands etc. until the kids get back home from school. I’m spent after that, so unless I’m on deadline I’m asleep quite early. Although, I’ll often sneak away for 2 or 3 nights on my own every few months and just spend the days writing, exploring something new and sipping tea and coffee.
What are you currently reading?
A few things. as my interests are varied. I started putting into my morning routine reading something inspirational or thought-provoking to help set an intention for the day. Right now I’m reading The Judgment Detox by Gabrielle Bernstein. For fun I’m reading Helix: Blight of Exiles by Pat Flewwelling, and I’m making my way through an anthology called Oxford’s Haunted from the Oxford Writing Circle Press. A school friend from long ago recently got her short story published in this anthology, so I am excited to read it.
Other than this spectacular anthology, do you have any recent or upcoming releases you’d like to tell us about?
Another short story of mine titled, “Frozen Beauty”, was launched with ID PRESS’s anthology, Allucinor in March 2018. I did my first public reading with that story. It explores what happens once a fairy tale is over and it didn’t go quite right. Can you get a second chance at true love? It has a gothic romance feel with some twisty, dark elements.
I also have two other short stories being published this spring, “Down By The Creek” will be part of The County Wave, an anthology by Cressy Lakeside Books and will be full of local authors in the area I live. Weirdbook Magazine picked up my story, “Monika Unraveling” for their next publication. This one is based on a character from my first novel and explores her backstory. It’s about transformation, monsters and embracing your dark side.
Breakroom Stories will be producing one of my previously published short stories, “Silent Houses.” The website is a unique endeavor, one where the author’s story is narrated to a moving slide show. “Silent Houses” is a reprint first seen on CommuterLit. I like to find places where I can send reprints of short stories where I still hold the copyright. It’s challenging to find, but often can be unique platforms for storytelling.
You’ve been busy!
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Three pieces of advice; one is forget about perfection. You can only do your best and it has to be good enough.
Two, always be gracious and thankful. People take time to read your work so sending a quick thank you note is just professional and polite. As well, you never know what the future holds. Just because one story isn’t a good fit for an editor or publishing group, another story may be just right. Never burn your bridges.
Three is to embrace your strengths and get help with your weaknesses. This means, I know what I do well (it takes a bit of time but you figure it out.) I know what I need help with. Finding people who can help you learn or just simply help you where you need it can take a story from okay to awesome. For example, I don’t like editing so I get help from my partner or writing peers and have learned a lot about self-editing from them. I love looking at first drafts, questioning, finding parallels and moving a story to the next step and will often help someone out with that. I love the idea of trading your work with other writers. Another suggestion is to find a good writing group or like-minded Critique Partners who you work well with.
Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
The best place to see what I’ve published, what is going on with me and tidbits about my life is at my website, www.smalltowngal.com. I am also on Instagram (@rhousewriter), Twitter (@rhhouse) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/smalltowngalwriting/) and I respond quickly on those platforms. I love hearing from people, so get in touch!
Thank you Julie for having me answer these questions – it is much appreciated!
Thanks for joining me. Now, go un-jam that copier! And the rest of you, go check out Rebecca’s story in this book. Just click the image.