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a:Interview with Natalie Beisner: Summer 2020 Flash Fiction Runner Up


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Natalie Beisner is a writer and oral storyteller. She is a previous WOW! Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest first-place winner and honorable mention respectively. Her work has appeared in antonym, VISIO, The Dead Magpie, ArtAscent, and Gulf Stream Literary Magazine and has been recognized by Kaleidoscope: A Reflection on Women’s Journeys. She is a StorySLAM winner at The Moth. Natalie holds a BFA in Acting from California State University Fullerton. You can find her on Instagram @nataliejeanbeisner and at her blog: http://thisisnotalie.com/.

Make sure you read Natalie's story, "Out," and then come on back and read our interview.

-- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First of all, congratulations on winning runner's up in the summer flash fiction contest! What was the inspiration behind this story?

Natalie: This was my first fiction piece. I tend to write personal essays, creative nonfiction and the like. It was scary branching out into fiction because--although I'm an avid consumer of novels--I honestly feel terrified by the prospect of writing fiction. I admire all writers; all of it requires no small amount of bravery. However, what I find with writing true stories about my life, is that I feel somehow less vulnerable to "slings and arrows," because the stories are true, they are mine; thus, readers can criticize them only so much (without coming off as...well, insensitive jerks). With fiction, on the other hand, it's a whole different ball game in my brain! When you write a piece of fiction, you're admitting to the world that this story comes (at least to a significant degree) from your imagination, so I feel as though you're really quite vulnerable to criticism and attack in a way that personal essays might not be. 

All that to say that writing my first piece of fiction was really a mini-triumph for me. I had (and still have) no idea what I was doing. To answer your question, however: the inspiration for this piece actually came from my holidays last year. I took the train down to see my family, and when it came time to catch my train home, my dad came with me to wait on the northbound side of the tracks (the direction I'd be heading home), while my mom and brother waited on the opposite side directly across from us. We could see them but not hear them, and vice versa. My mom sometimes has trouble climbing stairs, and the train station in the story is based off the train station in real life (with stairs and a bridge to get to the northbound side of the tracks), so this is why we separated for the brief wait. It's totally mundane and almost wholly unrelated to the story I eventually wrote, but for some reason the image of my mother and brother sharing a bench across the tracks from us--that image stuck with me. Other than that, the story is wholly fabricated (although I did have a former coworker many years ago tell me and a group of women that she went out to celebrate after her abortion, and that idea always stuck with me as well).

As for the inspiration for the imagined parts of the story: I've always been interested in and fascinated by women, fertility, birth, miscarriage, and the pro-choice/pro-life movements. 

WOW: I love how you utilized bits and pieces of real moments to write this piece! How do you approach telling a story verbally vs telling it in writing?  

Natalie: I love oral storytelling (à la The Moth) for its ability to engage an audience in real time and also for its fluidity. Like live theatre (which I also love and was trained in), oral storytelling changes every time, unlike the written word. So perhaps then it's odd that I do always first write down stories I plan to tell/perform orally. Some people can get by with just sparse notes, but not me! I write the story down exactly as I want to tell it and then memorize word for word--almost like a monologue from a script. Of course, I work on getting it to sound "unrehearsed," as if it's my first time telling it (again, sort of like acting). So in the sense of choosing words carefully and (I hope) artfully, telling a story verbally and telling a story in writing are quite similar for me. One difference I can point out, however, is that--when writing with the intent to tell orally--I tend to be a bit more conversational. This is due in no small part to the fact that oftentimes oral storytelling shows have a time limit (and in general, I think it's good to leave them wanting more, not less!), so I do tend to write like I would speak it to a friend, whereas--in personal essays and the like--I tend to be a little more lyrical and well...verbose (to put it nicely!).

WOW: I love that approach with your oral storytelling! How do you know when a story is done? 

Natalie: I don't! I never do. And truthfully, I almost never feel that anything is "done." More often than not, it's just I'm sick of it and don't want to look at it anymore and can't "perfect" it anymore, so may as well put it out in the world. (And in this case, there was a strict word maximum, so that helped give me the shove I needed to shove this story out of the nest :) 

WOW: Word limits definitely help! What is your secret to getting published? 

Natalie: If only I knew the secret to getting published! But alas, I don't believe it exists. Unless you count this obvious and boring one: keep trying and trying and trying until someone says "yes." Before I was a writer, I was an actor for many years, so I guess I'm used to rejection (although truthfully it never gets any easier). What I love about the literary community, though, is that the rejection (or sometimes, the acceptance) doesn't feel quite so personal as when you're auditioning; maybe because it doesn't happen in real time. Sometimes, when you're auditioning in a roomful of strangers, the rejection can feel quite immediate and palpable. Another aspect I love of the literary community is that you receive actual rejection letters! This does not happen often in the acting community. Usually you audition and then just never hear anything at all (so you're left to assume you didn't book the gig). When I submit for publication, I almost always hear back either way--however long it takes. And sure, sometimes the letters are obviously standardized rejections that the magazine or journal sends out to everyone, but many times, the rejections are personalized, which lets me know that the editors actually took the time to read, appreciate, and genuinely consider my piece(s). I love that. It means so much to artists (and to people in general, I think) to hear back either way. I've taken to screenshotting my rejections and posting them on social media--almost like a badge of honor. 

WOW: That's a great idea! What are you currently working on that you can tell us a bit about?

Natalie: I am currently working on--as always--cultivating the discipline to write often and everyday. And to put it out in the world more frequently and even--sometimes--messily. The freedom to be both prolific and also not perfect, as it were. It is, however, a journey--not a destination. And it ebbs and flows--especially in this year of 2020. 

WOW: I am with you on that note! Thank you so much for talking with us today and I can't wait to see what you come out with next!

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