Hey Lost & Bounders! Welcome to a Q&A to help bring excitement to our readers for our newest book release Little Bird Stories Vol. 4. We have authors, Rachel Ball, Jill M. Talbot and Liz Harmer, who have all graciously answered some writing questions about their work!Order Your Copy Of Little bird stories vol. 4 here!
Meet Our Authors!
Time for the Q&A!
What inspires you to write?
“In a certain sense, everything does. Usually, the desire to shape something into a piece has to do with hearing someone use language in a surprising way, or express beliefs I don’t understand or behave in ways that are puzzling. Or some odd beautiful detail. Self-exploration and understanding the workings of a mind are hugely fascinating to me.”
Jill M Talbot:
“Lately, I’ve been struggling to be inspired, but when I am inspired it can be from almost anything—a bit of dialogue, a piece of artwork, a memory, or ducks at the park. Of course, reading is always a good form of inspiration. Jealousy for the author is a sign that I’m onto something.”
“My desire to write comes from my love of reading. I’ve always treasured books and am continually amazed at the way they can transport you and make you feel understood. I strive to do the same thing with my own writing. Sometimes it’s a single turn of phrase that inspires me; sometimes it’s a scene, or a narrative tone, or the way a story is structured. I’m constantly taking notes about the things I like as a reader, and I often look back through my notes for inspiration.”
How did you come up with this story concept (in Little Bird Stories)? Did having the prompt make writing your story easier or more difficult?
“Especially at that time in my writing life, I loved having a prompt to guide me. I had been using Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts from time to time, and they sometimes became really useful ways to open into a piece without me knowing where it would end up.”
Jill M. Talbot:
“I wrote this story so long ago that it’s hard to say. I only remember bits… I think the prompt did help, it was the first scene and it acted like a portal into the story. A lot of the story and characters came from my own experiences in psych wards. It was a combination of things.”
“The themes in my story are ones that I continually return to: family secrets, childhood, time passing. When I’m developing a new story, it often starts with asking myself, “How can I explore those themes more?” But that question alone doesn’t always get me very far, so having a prompt was very useful and absolutely helped me crystallize an idea for my Little Bird Story. It helped me mentally picture a specific scene (in this case, of a character teaching someone how to do something) and the rest of the story unfolded from there. I’ve learned that prompts only work for me when someone else picks them; if I try to choose my own prompt, it’s too easy to change it or ignore it entirely!”
Do you feel proud of this story looking back or do you wish you had done things differently? On that note, how are you finding the editing process?
“I feel totally far away from this story. I recognized almost nothing from it, as though it had been written by someone else entirely, which is a trip! I remembered the line about a person married to a stone becomes a river, and a few other choice lines seemed familiar, but for the most part I was completely objective about it. The editing process was unlike any I’ve ever had because of this—was I supposed to honor the choices of that former, unrecognizable Liz? Or my own choices? It allowed me more freedom to throw things in and out, but also I felt a little stifled by this story that didn’t feel like my own.”
Jill M. Talbot:
“A bit of both. It’s been so long that it doesn’t feel like it’s my story anymore. In this way, it’s easier to be objective. I turned the story into a play and Western Edge Theatre put on a staged reading of it in 2015. I remember being really attached to the characters, watching the actors felt like watching my imaginary friends become real. Now it feels like they’re somebody else’s friends. But they’re still real, which is all that really matters. It took writing the play for them to become fully formed characters, so I do regret that I didn’t do that for the short story, but that was just the process I needed. I was still very new to writing when this all happened, it was my first short story and my first play.
“As for editing, I’m not sure any other work has driven me as crazy. To be honest, I’m answering these questions now as a way to avoid the story… I wanted to add in dialogue from the play (God In Psych Ward Pajamas), I printed both and cut them up and drove myself mad. Although inspired by the same people and events, they were not the same story, nor the same format. However, some of the dialogue I really wanted to use. Most of it I had to get rid of because it couldn’t fit the short story format, but some I managed to save. Adding exposition was another nightmare… At several points I wondered why I was doing this, why I couldn’t just leave the story the way it was…
“Shelly and Erin started off as fairly similar, and gradually became their own people. The core difference was that Shelly was afraid of being locked out and Erin was afraid of being locked in. Shelly was afraid of getting close to people and Erin wanted to be too close. Shelly was afraid of being hurt and Erin was afraid of losing meaning. Both were attached to their defense mechanisms and symptoms. Some people have called Shelly “unlikable” and I tend to want to defend her. So I guess it was the characters that kept me going, even when I really wanted to quit. I also used a text to speech website to create an audio file. Sometimes I create music playlists to go along with characters. Maybe you won’t find them likable, but I hope you find they give you a new perspective on what it means to be mad, as well as what it means to be human. Letting your characters become human means they might not be likable, and that’s okay!”
“I’m proud of my story, but at the same time, I know I would approach it differently if I was writing it today. Which version would be better, though? Who knows—maybe the original! As for the editing process, it’s been lovely to revisit this story and get feedback on it. I always enjoy working with editors; it’s a great way to improve your writing.”
When writing, how do you decide when your story is ready for submission?
“This is one of the hardest things for me to determine for myself—generally I feel good if I feel like I nailed the ending, like I got it somewhere interesting and surprising and satisfying… But often I need someone I trust to read my finished drafts before I’m sure.”
Jill M. Talbot:
“When I start to feel like ripping out my hair, it’s time to move on. I’m ashamed to admit how many times I submitted a story just to get rid of it. I don’t recommend doing this… In some ways, it feels like a story is never actually ready. Sometimes I think of stories as living things that are in a constant state of growth. It’s hard to say if it’s you or the story who decide it’s ready to move out into the world. I would say that when it feels like the characters are imaginary friends, and if you get positive feedback from a fellow writer, it may be time to release the story into the world. They’ll learn to fly over time.”
“A lot of it comes down to a gut feeling. If I can read through the story from start to finish and honestly feel content, that’s often a sign that I’m done with it. A story will never be perfect, and if you ask someone to look over it, they’ll always point out things that could be improved. So, it’s useful to acknowledge that an imperfect story can still be a good story, and be okay with that.”
Do you feel that you are a different writer from the time your Little Bird Story was published? Do you feel you have grown as a writer since then?
“100%. I write very differently now—I guess I feel like one should constantly strive to keep growing as a writer. I have a stronger sense of what makes a story feel rich and complete. Since I wrote “Right, Right, Right,” I became really interested in energy and rhythm in sentences, in a certain magical quality, whereas I was, then, in a phase of really working out techniques and trying out things I was learning about craft. Over time, those things become a kind of muscle memory.”
Jill M. Talbot:
“I definitely have grown. This was the first short story I ever wrote. Afterwards, I took Sarah’s course and had many more publications.”
“Definitely! I’ve changed a lot as a writer since my Little Bird Story was published. I’ve experimented with other styles, have dropped certain writing habits and formed new ones, and have spent countless hours writing, which will change you as a writer whether you want it to or not. Whenever I read over any of my past writing, it always feels like I’m going back in time and temporarily inhabiting my younger self. It’s a little strange, but also nice.”
When it comes to your writing and your accomplishments, how would you define a successful writer (being published in literary magazines, winning awards, etc.)? Do you consider yourself accomplished by your own definition?
“I have always defined success in a way that is very difficult to measure: success to me is if I get to keep writing and have a rich, interesting life. It is fun to be nominated for stuff and to go to celebrations… But I have wanted to be a writer/have been a writer since I was a small child, and the accomplishments I am proud of have led me to have the sort of artistic life (fulfilling, surrounded by interesting people and ideas) I wanted for myself. By that definition, yes.”
Jill M. Talbot:
“I’m not sure how I would define success. I do know that it’s always been more meaningful hearing from readers that they could relate to a particular piece of writing, or that it was somehow meaningful for them. Publications and awards are validating, but it’s not a validation one should rely on. The real work has to come from another place. Otherwise, it’s impossible to say at which point one becomes “successful”. I guess I’m lucky in that I’ve never really been that bothered by rejection, a masochistic part of me might even enjoy it. If success were a recipe, rejection would have to be one of the ingredients. That said, I’m amazed at how many times I’ve come across the notion that since writing is subjective, success doesn’t actually exist. It’s okay to let your success mean something, just don’t let it mean everything. Success is often a moving target, such that I never actually reach it. I think this is the good news.”
“I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, and my definition of success has changed many times. At one point, I imagined that I would finally feel successful if I landed a literary agent and a publishing contract. At other times, I dreamt of getting published in certain literary magazines or winning a prestigious award. I still think those things would be amazing, but when it comes down to it, I really do believe that feeling successful comes from writing stories that you’ve fully put your heart into. By that definition, I’ve found a certain amount of success, but there’s also a whole lot more room for accomplishment. And I’m eager to keep working on it.”