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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Eileen Merriman

Interview by Robert Vaughan (Read the Story) June 20, 2016

Eileen Merriman

Art by Dave Petraglia

What was the inspiration behind your story? Are there any lines drawn from personal experience?

It sounds like a bizarre writing prompt, but daughter, who’d just turned two years old, was babbling and I plucked some of her words for the beginning of a story: “Sheepie. Bubba. Nappy. Mummy-sit. Book.” For a few days, those words just sat in the notes section of my iPhone, and I wasn’t sure where the story was going to go. Then I had the idea of writing about a girl as she grew up, with a number at the start of each paragraph to denote her age. After that the story just poured out—don’t ask me where the rest of it came from! It certainly wasn’t based on personal experience! After writing, “glass can cut-cut-cut,” I decided that Molly should be fascinated with all types of glass, including prisms. So then I Googled facts about prisms and was interested to find a number of YouTube clips on how to take a photo through a prism. It seemed delightfully quirky and fit in well with the theme of the story.

I completely agree! How long have you been writing flash fiction? Any early mentors?

When I picked up writing again in 2012 (after a 20 year break!) I began with novels and then short stories. It wasn’t until mid-2013 that I was first introduced to flash fiction. A good friend and fellow writer, Nod Ghosh, suggested I submit to Flash Frontier. So I sent my flash, the first I’d ever written, to them, and to my great surprise, it was accepted. I started submitting regularly to Flash Frontier, and was then long-listed in the New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day competition in 2014. I’ve since submitted (and had pieces accepted) in a number of national and international publications, and won awards in various competitions. Michelle Elvy, editor of Flash Frontier has been very encouraging, and Nod has always provided useful, and very honest, critique. I credit Nod with much of my early success.

So happy to hear you are writing again. Michelle is a terrific mentor and writer. Are there any flash collections or journals that were or are informative for you to read?

I first discovered Smokelong Quarterly two years ago, and I’ve immensely enjoyed nearly every piece I read in this journal. Here are two of my favorites: “Determining the Gull Bone Index” and “Twelve Things I Can Tell You About Cutting.” I also regularly read Literary Orphans, Wigleaf, Fiction Southeast, PANK, and Blue Fifth Review (I particularly like this flash by James Claffey, published in Blue Fifth Review.) I’ve recently been enjoying reading through the Wigleaf top 50 list, published on a yearly basis. The Best Small Fictions anthologies also publish some of the best flash from around the world every year. All of these have really set the bar for me as a writer.

How often do you write? Favorite time of day? Pen or Computer?

When I started writing again, I made a promise to myself that I would write every day, so I didn’t lose the habit again. That’s pretty much what I do, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Most days I’ll write for one to two hours. It’s not easy to find time to write, as I work full-time as a consultant haematologist, with on-call commitments, and have two young children. Therefore the best time of day for me to write is in the evenings, once my toddler is in bed. However, my favourite time of day to write is in the morning, as I’m an early bird and that’s when my brain is sharpest (unfortunately, that’s rarely possible!). I travel a lot for work and find long-haul flights provide a long, distraction-free period for me to write too.

I write on a computer—I took touch-typing for a year at high school and nearly died of boredom, but am so glad I learned.

How many drafts do you typically do before submitting a piece like “Prismatic”?

I wrote “Prismatic” within the space of a few hours, off and on, and then revised it the following day and submitted it to Smokelong Quarterly, so that was two drafts. Other pieces go through more like three or four drafts. It really depends on how the story flows. Some stories are easy to write, like “Prismatic” and some are like giving birth—painful and slow, but with a wonderful result! Usually I try to write a first draft without thinking too hard about it, so I can get the ideas out on the page. The fun (and hard work) is in the editing.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a YA novel titled Schrödinger’s Cat, about a girl with leukemia and her boyfriend, who has bipolar disorder. I’m about halfway through the first draft, and enjoying it immensely. My literary agent is also seeking a publisher for another YA book that I completed a few months ago, titled Pieces of You.

Please let us know your favorite places to hang out online? Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram? And why?

I like Twitter the most, as I’ve linked up with many overseas writers this way. There’s a great writing community on Twitter. Having conversations with like-minded individuals in Europe, the UK and the US (as well as closer to home) at all hours of day and night is so much fun. Twitter is also a great way of finding links to competitions and literary magazines. That’s how I became aware of the Bath Flash Fiction and Bath Short Story competitions last year, which was very opportune, as I was subsequently placed second in the 2015 Bath Flash Fiction Award and commended in the Bath Short Story competition. One has to be mindful of not spending too much time online, though, as it’s a great time waster!

About the Author

Eileen Merriman‘s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Orphans, the 2015 Bath Short Story Anthology, the Sunday Star Times, Blue Fifth Review, The Island Review, Takahe, Headland and Flash Frontiers. She was the second place winner in the 2015 Bath Flash Fiction award, commended in the Bath Short Story award, and third place winner in the 2014 and 2015 Sunday Star Times competitions.

About the Interviewer

Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, and playwriting. He has facilitated these at locations like Alverno College, UWM, Fox Valley Technical School, jmww (online), RedOak Writing, and The Clearing and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He also leads writing round tables in Milwaukee, WI. Vaughan is the author of several books: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press, 2012); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps, 2013); and Addicts & Basements (CCM, 2014). His newest, RIFT, is a flash fiction collection co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press, 2015).

About the Artist

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia‘s writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden’s Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney’s, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.

This interview appeared in Issue Fifty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Two

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