What goes on inside the writerly mind?
Let’s sit down with our 1000 Word Sprint Contest winners and see what’s up.
(Click HERE to see the story.)
TODAY: 2nd place winner Allan Smorra.
Allan grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Forida, and spent two years in Atlanta attending college at the infamous North Avenue Trade School. He had dreams of becoming an architect, but was more Frank Lloyd Wrong than Wright. He got married, joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and had a child. His 46 years of work in the Electrical Trade is spread out over 3,000 miles. In 1977 he moved to the high desert of Western Colorado, and in 1981 settled down in the Bay area of San Francisco and never looked back. Allan spent the last 15 years of his career working on the Golden Gate Bridge as a District employee in the Electric Shop. He retired in 2014 and now spends his days with his wife of 50 years as they cater to cats and he pursues photography and elusive words.
He obviously didn’t know about the NO CATS policy here on the blog, but since he was a winner in our 1000 Word Sprint contest, we’ll let it slide this time.
DAN: Did you write your story for the contest or was it part of a larger piece, like a book you are working on, or was it something you had written before?
ALLAN: I wrote this specifically for the contest. It challenged me to take something that could easily be a much longer story and pare it down to a thousand words or less.
Are you considering using this piece for a book?
Looking at it now, I can see where it might serve as some background in a story that I have in mind.
It reads like it’s part of a larger story, but I always like it when people write something specifically for my contest. It shows they are stretching their wings and building up their writerly muscles, it usually ends up in a good result.
Tell us about your writing process. What is the journey from idea to published piece /completed story?
I use the Little-Engine-That-Could method of writing. Once I have an idea of what I want to write I sit down at my iMac and start writing until I can’t write anymore. The end may be determined by time, obligations, or lack of prose.
I let it sit for a day, re-read it, and make a duplicate copy. I start making some corrections/edits on the copy and by the time I get to the end of the prior day’s work I find myself moving along with new thoughts and words.
Where do you do your writing?
I share a home office with my wife and I have the window seat. I find that the early morning hours are a good time for me to write. That mindset may be a result of working so many Graveyard shifts at the bridge. The pre-dawn hours were often a quiet time for me.
Do you have a writing goal you want to achieve?
I am torn between writing a collection of short-stories and a novel. The idea of writing a story as a series on my blog has also entered my mind.
Do both! Writing short stories can gain an audience that will but the book, plus you can be in some of our anthologies. Many books are like a collection of short stories under the umbrella of a common theme. The original Vacation movie with Chevy Chase was like that. Lots of vignette under the overall going to Wally World story arc.
What helps you the most when it comes to writing?
A quiet atmosphere is the most helpful tool in my toolbox. That said, I have used period-specific music to help sustain an atmosphere in my mind while I write a scene. Anything from 1958— 1974 is liable to be on a playlist.
What does writing success look like?
If I can create a story that connects with another person, or imparts a valuable lesson, then I consider the effort to be a success.
Then you are a success. The story you submitted for the contest definitely connected with me and a lot of other people.
What are you working on now?
In addition to my photography, I have two writing projects underway. The first one is a series on my blog called A Piece of Work. It is a look-back at some of my experiences over my years as an electrician. My second project is the potential short-story collection/novel. My goal is to illustrate the transfer of generational knowledge and experience in the construction industry, over the course of time, through the bonds of family, friendship and brotherhood.
There are a lot of writing contests out there. What drew you to this one?
Three things drew me to this contest:
- The price was right.
- The topic was right (there was no topic).
- Dan offered to personally critique each entry and I have come to trust his opinions after following his blog for the last several years.
Lucky for me! How did you hear about the contest?
You posted it on your blog and I have been following the contests and reading the stories from Day One.
Have you ever entered a writing contest before?
Yes, I have entered half a dozen writing contests over the years and this is the fourth one that I have had any success in.
- I had a winning caption for a photo in sweetmotherlover’s contest online several years ago. My prize was her review of my blog.
- J. A. Allen chose one of my stories, The Connection, for her Sunday Scribbles On Cocktail Napkins contest last year.
- 101 Words selected a Flash Fiction story of mine, The Juice is Loose, for their site last year.
Will we see you again in the next Word Weaver Writing Contest?
It will depend on what the topic/genre is. So far, I have not written any Sci-fi, YA, Fantasy, or Crime stories. That is always subject to change and I don’t rule out trying new things.
Sci Fi might be next, with Space Island, and of course in July we’ll have the scary contest, to create a Halloween anthology.
Did you know the piece you submitted was special?
It was special to me, but I had no idea how it would resonate with others. This story is based on a personal experience from almost 60 years ago. I compressed the narrative and used poetic license with the characters. Submitting it to the contest was a “Risky Business” moment for me. Sometimes you’ve got to say, ‘What the F—.’
What’s next for you?
I have a partial timeline for a group of characters and my goal for June is to complete the prep work and decide if I am going to tell their stories as one-offs in a collection or link them together through Time as one complete story.
What was Dan’s critique process like?
I found Dan’s critique helpful and fair. His observations answered questions that I had about how some of the story elements pulled together. For example, Dan picked up on how the scene with the teenagers in the car was meant to give a sense that the story occurred several decades ago. The girl was cuddled under the driver’s arm—an era of no seatbelts. The song on the radio, Soldier Boy, came out in the ‘60s—this story is a throwback to another time.
What element of writing a story is challenging you today?
I love writing dialogue and, speaking personally, I find that many times when two or more people are talking there are two conversations taking place.
THAT is a brilliant observation. You are 100% correct.
There is the primary conversation that consists of words spoken aloud and a second, silent, conversation running through a person’s mind. That second conversation often consists of random thoughts, projections about the future, and most likely a list of reasons for past behavior.
I struggle to find a way of expressing this idea on the page. In my story, The Lost Scout, I used italics as a way of separating thoughts from words. I am uncertain if that is sustainable over the course of a longer story/novel and that seems to be holding me back from moving forward with my next project.
Any thoughts or suggestions will be greatly appreciated from you or your audience.
Your instincts were correct. Italics are often used to show inner thoughts, and the whole structure of a lengthy conversation – what makes it interesting – is that there is usually more than one goal in the exchange of words. Each character has their own. Great catch. Writers, pay attention. That’s big.
Did you have a teacher, or mentor, who inspired you to be a writer?
When I was a junior in high school I had a young, fresh-out-of-college English teacher, Mrs. Fletcher, who opened the door to American Literature and composition for me. She encouraged me to write and to take a Creative Writing/World Literature course in my senior year. Those two years of my life formed a foundation that I am finally building a creative life on.
I had a chance to meet her a few years ago when we were back in Ft. Lauderdale for a class reunion and she is as gracious and supportive now as she was when we were younger. As an aside, Mrs. Fletcher is also an award-winning published poet in her own right.
Well, thanks, Allan, for stopping by and sharing these insights.
Gang, join me in congratulating Allan!
Here’s where you can find out more about this talented writer: