Jenna Moen is a multi-genre writer, especially interested in the short story and essay form. She recently earned a B.A. in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. Her blog Write Outside documents her nomadic lifestyle, outdoor adventures, and twenty-something truths. She volunteers as the associate editor for the brand new literary magazine The Chaos. Besides writing, her passions are hiking, swimming, reading, and attending concerts. A New England native, Jenna recently wandered to the Pacific Northwest. This is her first published story.
Please take a moment to immerse yourself in Jenna’s poetic entry, “We Dreamed”. But, remember to come back for our interview! Jenna has some wonderful tips to share on writing in short form (a little something to urge you on to enter our Fall 2016 Flash Fiction contest).
WOW: Good Morning, Jenna, and congratulations! What prompted a Creative Non-Fiction and Sociology graduate to enter a flash fiction contest?
Jenna: My senior year of school I took a writing class called The Sentence Workshop. In it, we studied flash fiction and poetry, focusing on the sentence and all its parts, building our writers toolbox. It was my only poetry class, but it completely changed the way I think about writing in all genres. “We Dreamed” is a result of the many things I learned in that class. It was the first piece I was truly proud of, so I tossed it into a contest to see what would happen. I am so excited and honored to be a finalist.
WOW: We’re happy you entered! What most interests you about writing short form?
Jenna: The conciseness. Each sentence, each word, has to do work. There can be no errors. “We Dreamed” was originally 1,200 words, so you can imagine the trouble and anxiety when I had to cut it down to 750 for the contest. Short form forces the writer to apply William Strunk and E.B White's rule “omit needless words” to the extreme. We must be ruthless with our writing, delete sentences we love for the sake of the form. Short form writing is good practice for any writer in any genre.
WOW: Many writers shy away from flash fiction because they are unsure how to communicate a Big Thought in so few words. Tell us about your experience writing this piece.
Jenna: In writing “We Dreamed,” the Big Thought came second to the form. Sure, you could say the piece is about two sisters growing up whose mom died of cancer. Big Thoughts: sisterhood, motherhood, loss, grief. But I didn't approach the piece asking, how do I put these insanely big topics into a few words? Rather I asked myself, how do I include the phrase “we dreamed” into a variety of sentences? Where can I find alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and repetition? How can I use language that embodies its own meaning? These are the questions that put me to work.
I grew up with three sisters in the nineties. So I asked, what images come to mind when I think of the nineties? What did we want? What did we not want? What did we dream about? What didn't we dream? My mom, however, did not die of cancer, she is alive and well. When it came time to write about the mother's death I didn't toss and turn over the question, how would it feel if my mom died of cancer? What an intimidating, impossible, awful question to answer! The poet Richard Hugo said, “Knowing can be a limiting thing.” Which is funny, because so often we hear the phrase “write what you know.” It's true, though. If you know the reality of an experience, than it will be harder to let go, to fictionalize, to play. Hugo also said, “You owe reality nothing.” Instead of worrying that my piece wouldn't justify the Big Thought, I zoomed in on my words like a microscope. I thought small and relied on creative language to bring me from one place to another. If the writing is tight, concise, honest, and vivid, the Big Thought will crystallize on its own.
WOW: Can you share a little about The Chaos, and your work there?
Jenna: The Chaos is a journal for personal narrative started by Jen Conshue, editor in chief. The first issue will be published in October 2016, so it's still kindling. As associate editor I help Jen decide which essays to include. Soon I'll assist in editing and communicating with the writers. There's still a lot of work to do before publication, but we're getting there! It's exciting to be a part of her project and taste the role of an editor.
WOW: Where would you like your writing to take you?
Jenna: Now this is a question I toss and turn over. It would be nice to write a New York Times best seller, but I should be prepared to work my ass off for the next twenty years before that happens. There are a lot of authors who say writers are fools, desperate, addicted to the freedom the job compensates. Whether I am one of those writers, I don't know yet. I'm twenty-three, of course I'm a desperate fool addicted to freedom and not getting up in the morning. For now, I just want to improve as a writer. I'm totally in that post-college phase where I have no idea what I'm doing with my life and it's scary. I currently write during the day and wait tables in the evenings. Maybe one day it will all add up to something or maybe it won't. I'll eventually go back to school, possibly for an MFA in creative writing if what I want to do is teach and write. Talking about writing is one of my favorite things, and I yearn to do it in a classroom setting again, so teaching could be right for me. Time will tell!
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