Creating the Right Balance
An Interview with Rowan Coleman
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 10th WriterAdvice Flash Prose Contest by
April 21, 2015.
JUDGES: Former prizewinners, Gretchen Clark and Lili Flanders and
Carl Small will judge. Read their pieces and biographies by clicking on
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 don’t tell us
your background or where you’ve been published. If you
are a finalist, we’ll ask for a bio.
4. Please double-space your submission. We recommend
that you use a 14-point font that is easy to read. Times
New Roman, Cambria, and Ariel all spring to mind.
5. We're reading these as blind submissions so put both
your name and your title in your cover letter but leave
them off your manuscript.
NOTE: We’re open to previously published submissions as long as you
understand that previous publication doesn’t guarantee that you will also
be published here.
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
WRITER ADVICE ANNOUNCES ITS 10th FLASH PROSE CONTEST
I fell in love with Rowan Coleman’s The Day We Met (Ballantine Books) when I
heard her main character speak. Claire, the protagonist is an intelligent,
competent, wife, mother, and professional who has early onset Alzheimer’s.
It’s robbing her memory, altering her thoughts, and increasing her paranoia.
Her judgment is no longer reliable…except when it is.
Alzheimer’s is an insidious, unpredictable condition and Coleman lets us inside
the mind of a victim so that we can better understand what the disease does
and how it affects victims and their families. I had a particular interest in the
subject because my mother had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s for 6 years before
she passed away. She fought it valiantly, just as Claire does. I always wanted
to climb into her head and see how the memory glitches presented themselves
and what she did to hide them.
When Claire meets a handsome stranger, Greg, she wonders if he belongs in
her life. She knows she should love him. She cannot remember why.
Sometimes she cannot remember he is her husband. He gives her a blank book
so that she can record as much as she can remember while it’s still there. The
stories she tells become her legacy.
The Day We Met is about mothers, daughters, and identity. It’s about
expectations and unexpected discoveries, and I recommend it highly.
In the interview below, Rowan Coleman tells us about her writing process and
BLG: Tell us about your background. When did you first become interested in writing and when did you know you were a writer?
RC: I think I was born a storyteller. I was certainly very fond of tall tales when I was little girl, and often it got me into trouble. As I went to school I
really struggled with writing and reading, and it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I discovered I am dyslexic. It was after that, and after being able to
make a start at learning to cope with dyslexia, that I can began to think about writing down the stories and characters I imagined.
BLG: I am so grateful you found tools to help you deal with the dyslexia. Your portrayal of Alzheimer’s seems accurate to me. How did you learn about
the condition and what research did you do?
RC: Yes, there was a lot of research. To embark writing about AD without doing as much research as possible would have been a disservice to the
people who live with Alzheimer's. I spoke to families living with disease, researched the clinical side, and also read first person accounts, which was
crucial when it came to getting Claire's voice right. There is a fine balance when writing fiction and not letting research hold up the story, but the
most gratifying respond I have had is from people who have a direct experience of AD and who say the book is not only authentic, but has great
comfort and meaning for them.
BLG: That’s valuable information. The voice of each character is distinctive. What are the steps a writer needs to take to achieve that?
RC:I could write a whole book on that subject! But I think the short story is that writing in a character voice is a little like method acting. It sounds
horribly pretentious when I say that, but I can't think of a better analogy. It’s really up to the writer to be that character, to inhabit them, and
through that express their experiences, good and bad.
BLG: As a former drama teacher, I think it’s a perfect analogy. Did you know the ending before you started? How did you decide on it?
RC: I did know the ending, though I backed down from it several times during the writing. I can't exactly tell you how I decided on it, without giving it
away, except to say that the whole idea came about with a chance meeting with a lady with AD who was waiting for her husband in the supermarket.
She knew he loved her, and that he would be coming for her, but in the few minutes since he'd gone to pick up an item they'd forgotten, she'd
forgotten what he looked like.
LG: That is both sad and scary. Your pacing is excellent. What tips do you have for how you pace the introduction of new information?
RC: Why, thank you! I think pacing is hard, particularly if like me, you don't write very plotty fiction, there isn't a murder or explosion every three or
four pages. With the last few books I've written, achieving pace has been a long labor of love. Several passes over each draft and moving sections
around to create the right balance. It’s so important to get that whole first draft down. It doesn't matter if you tell instead of showing because you
are just writing it for yourself, but once you have it down, then there is a whole of a work to sculpt it into something that works. I think the absolute
Queen of pacing this kind of fiction is Anne Tyler. She has me mesmerized from the very beginning.
LG: You are exactly right-especially about getting the first draft down. What is easier with each book you write and what never gets easier?
AC: Wow, well I think it actually feels harder with every book that I write, but I think that is how it should be. I've been a published writer now for
over a decade and I've continued to evolve as a writer, and I try and push myself with each book. So every book is a struggle at some point, usually
at about 30,000 words in, which in when I feel like giving it all for a job in a fine art museum. My spelling and punctuation gets a little bit better each
time. I am still battling that dyslexia!
BLG: You’re winning the battle. I’ve taught adults with dyslexia, so you can take my word for it. What tips do you have for finding a publisher in the
RC: It's very hard out there, so I would recommend that you do everything you can to show how serious you are about writing. Keep a website, and a
blog, go to classes, enter competitions, treat submissions as seriously as you would any job application. After spending months on writing a book,
trying to secure an agent or a publisher is no time to suddenly be flippant! Make sure you work is the best it can be, and spend time on your covering
letter. Show that you have researched the agency, know the other clients, know they are the right agent for you.
BLG: What is the best part of writing for you and what is most challenging?
RC: The best parts are those rare moments when inspiration takes over and you feel like you are flying. It’s the best high ever. The word part is the
98% of the rest of the time when you feel like you are wading through thick, gloomy mud. But even that is kind of fun, to be honest.
LG: Very encouraging. What are you working on now and where can we learn more about you?
RC: I've just finished my next novel, which will be out next year. It’s the story of a nurse, married to a war veteran, and how they each cope with
their altered relationship after he returns from Afghanistan. It’s set entirely at night, so it was an interesting book to write, but I am happy with it
Right now I am working on a new idea, which I am very excited about! You can learn more about me on my website rowancoleman.com but I am often
of Twitter @rowancoleman - so please come and say hi!
BLG: Thank you so much for sharing your very valuable ideas about drafting, revising, and staying motivated. I am so glad I got to learn more about
If you’ve never experienced or encountered Alzheimer’s, be grateful. If you have, let this book give you insights. It can only help. Get a copy of
Rowan Coleman’s The Day We Met and you’ll see why I raved about this amazing book.