As I Remember It?
An interview with Monica Wood
by B. Lynn Goodwin
WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running
750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight us. Finalists receive
responses from all judges.
DEADLINE: Submit to the 9th WriterAdvice Flash Prose Contest by
April 18, 2014.
JUDGES: Former prizewinners, Debbie Hagan and Caroline Sposto
are this yearís judges. Read their pieces and biographies by clicking on
Archives at www.writeradvice.com and then clicking on the items under
2013 Contest Winners.
PRIZES: First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place
earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published.
FOR BEST RESULTS:
1. Include your name, contact information, and title in the
cover letter, but only include your title in the submission
so it remains anonymous.
2. Tell us if the submission is fiction or memoir in the cover
3. Since we judge these anonymously, please donít tell us
your background or where youíve been published. If you
are a finalist, weíll ask for a bio.
4. Please double-space your submission.
SUBMISSIONS: All entries should be submitted through Submittable:
You may enter UP TO THREE stories, but each is a separate submission
with a separate fee of $15.
Names of all winners will be announced in the summer issue of
E-mail questions, but not submissions to editor B. Lynn Goodwin at
Five of the winners of
WRITER ADVICEíS SCINTILLATING STARTS CONTEST have their work posted on FLASH
The other three will be in the next issue.
Those earning a Writer Advice Endorsement for being finalists in the Second Scintillating Starts Contest are
Read their submissions in this issue and the spring issue. Let us know if youíd like to send a message to any of the authors.
WRITER ADVICE ANNOUNCES ITS 9th FLASH PROSE CONTEST
Imagine you are a young girl on your way to Catholic school when a neighbor
brings word that your father died of a heart attack on his way to work. Itís
April 1963 and he works at the Oxford Paper Mill in Mexico, Maine and now
your family has to find a way to go on?
When JFK dies seven months later, you find a story with parallels to your own.
Your journey is a unique, private trek through the same territory that Mrs.
Kennedy must navigate publicly.
When We Were the Kennedys is the truth as author Monica Wood recalls it.
Her skillfully rendered, carefully analyzed, and memorable story of her familyís
life after loss shows how her family saves itself once the father dies. Her work
has depth and insight, and it keeps getting better with each book.
LG: Tell us about yourself. When did you first know you were a writer? What
subjects most interest you?
MW: I was writing letters to my sister in college when I was four, so I started
early. But I didnít get serious until I was in my late twenties. I consider myself
a late bloomer, actually. I published a few stories in my thirties, but the first
of my four novels didnít appear until I was forty. I think early success is
overrated, anyway. When you have to wait, you appreciate everything so
very much more.
LG: Thatís very encouraging for those of us over 40. After so many successes
with fiction, what prompted you to tell this specific story?
MW: This book began as an essay I was asked to write. Wes McNair, Maineís
poet laureate and editor of an anthology called A Place Called Maine: 24
Writers on the Maine Experience, asked me to do a piece on growing up in
Mexico, Maine. ďIím sorry,Ē I remember telling him. ďIím a novelist. I donít do
His response? ďI understand completely. And Iíll need it in two weeks.Ē Thatís
where the book came from.
LG: I love it. Tell us about the research you did to separate the facts as you
remembered them from life as it happened.
MW: The research was a delight. I read many, many back issues of the
Rumford Falls Times, our weekly newspaper, to see what else was going on in
town at the time I was writing about. It also helped enormously in putting
together a proper timeline of the labor strike that figures so largely into the
MW: The research was a delight. I read many, many back issues of the Rumford Falls Times, our weekly newspaper, to see what else was going on in
town at the time I was writing about. It also helped enormously in putting together a proper timeline of the labor strike that figures so largely into the
I also interviewed a sweet, sweet man who had worked with my father, who gave me so many insights into my fatherís work, and how the paper mill
operated in the early sixties. I checked some memories with my sisters and my friend Denise. And I had everyone who is in the book read it
beforehand. But nobody asked me to change a thing, bless their hearts.
LG: How much of memoir must be factual and how much can be fictionalized?
MW: Oh, I donít think any part of a memoir should be fictionalized unless you inform the reader very clearly about your strategy. The pact I make with
my reader is this: I will tell you the truth as I remember it. I realize that memory is not fact-and anybody with a sibling knows the slippery nature of
the human memory-but I will try to render the truth as well as I can recall it. I will not use composite characters or change events to suit the story,
no matter how tempting.
LG: What is your favorite part of When We Were the Kennedys, and what impact do you hope it will have on readers?
MW: I canít answer that! Every sentence in a finished book is so hard won, how can I pick a favorite part?
I can tell you, though, what people have responded to most viscerally. Two things: One is how I presented the paper mill as a living, breathing being-
its overwhelming omnipotence, its power to give and take. The other is how I rendered my family with a lot of love without sparing their quirks and
I have so appreciated the mail from people who say they want to be adopted into my family. Itís truly touching. I also get a lot of mail from people
who tell me, ďI lived in a place like that: we made car parts, we made buttons, we made shoes, we made bedspreads, we were an oil town, we were a
coal town, we were a car town, we were a steel town...Ē The list is endless, and itís the quintessential American experience of the 20th century, the
loss of the manufacturing lifeblood of our country.
LG: Tell us about finding your structure. How did the story start out and how did it change as you progressed?
MW: Thatís hard to reconstruct because of the way I write. I usually write about 100 pages, then start all over with the knowledge those throwaway
pages revealed to me about everything: the structure, the story itself, the characters to emphasize or de-emphasize. I do remember that the mill
itself became a bigger and bigger presence with each subsequent draft.
LG: Iím going to try your process on a memoir thatís in my head right now. What is it like to write about family members?
MW: In my case, delightful, because my family members are decent, lovely people. The only thing I worried about was my portrayal of our Lithuanian
landlords, who were terrifying to my nine-year-old self. But I feel I put them in their full context, not simply as crabby, comic-relief characters, but as
strivers who came to America with nothing and made a good life for themselves. At a reading a couple of months ago, one of their grandchildren came
to me and said he loved the book. I sighed an inward sigh of relief.
LG: What advice about writing and publishing would you give to emerging authors?
MW: The first: writing and publishing are two entirely different animals. Be sure you have the first totally tamed before you take on the second. I
encourage emerging authors to write the best book they can write-take ten years if you have to-and then find an agent.
There are a dozen Internet sites with names and specialties of tons of agents. Keep going till you find one. Itís very, very difficult in this tight market,
so you have to persist.
LG: Where can we learn more about you and what are you working on now?
MW: I maintain a website at www.monicawood.com , which includes a writing-tips page and a books-recommended page. My latest project is a play,
but Iím also working on a new novel. I also do quite a bit of magazine work. I have a piece coming up shortly in Parade.
LG: Thanks for sharing your experience and these wonderful insights.
We get to see the emerging author as well as her family in When We Were the Kennedys. I can see why it won Story Circle Networkís Sarton Memoir
Award. It was a pleasure to read your story and weeks later, Iím still thinking about who you were as a girl and appreciating this glimpse of you while
you were growing up. Your father would be very proud of the woman youíve become.