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a:Interview with Jean Li Spencer, First Place Winner of Fall 2020 Flash Fiction Contest


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Jean Li Spencer was raised in New York City and is receiving her BA in English and Education Studies at Wellesley College. She is currently interning at a literary agency and plans to move back to her hometown after finishing school this spring, where she will continue working in the publishing industry. She enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories, and was recently published on Bowery Gothic (Edition III: Summer 2020). A once aspiring middle school teacher, Jean Li is happiest when she is reading books with children.

--interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2020 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Jean Li: The Fall 2020 Flash Fiction competition was my first time entering WOW! Women on Writing. As someone who has recently cultivated a more routine and robust writing habit, I stumbled across WOW! based on online reviews and was seduced by the previous winning stories and guest judges.

WOW: Where do your ideas for stories come from, including your entry, “Breaking Silence?”


Jean Li: "Breaking Silence" is part memoir, part myth. It is a hybridized story and the kind of coming-of-age experience I am so close to. I wished to write about a young woman between cultures, and I wanted it to be full of humanity and grace.

WOW: You did a wonderful job. Can you tell us a little about your revision process? When do you know a piece is submission ready?

Jean Li: I have a great partner who is also a writer, and I ask him to lend an editorial eye whenever I sense a story is close to completion. As someone who writes flash fiction and short stories, there is an added urgency for concision; for impactful poetry. Having a dependable, reliable person to bounce ideas off of indicates to me when a piece is ready for wider circulation– and that is not a risk I felt comfortable embracing before. The best advice I have for writers is to find a group, workshop, or partner that meets you at your level of artistry and pushes you. I have found that it is painfully apparent when a writer has been the only set of eyes working on a story. However dependent or independent you are on that feedback loop is entirely personal.

WOW: What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Jean Li: I am currently reading two novels, which is an apt representation of my mind. INTERIOR CHINATOWN by Charles Yu (Penguin Random House) is a Hollywood satire– his narrow depiction of a real and imagined Chinatown makes me wonder about the timeliness of period stories. As I'm reading, I am thinking to myself that the best historical fiction has a sense of forwardness and commentary pertaining to the present. I'm a quarter of the way through, and I am curious to see how the author addresses that question– is this book reductive in some problematic ways; how true to a representative experience is this book? What am I meant to take away?

Then I am reading MEET ME AT THE MUSEUM by Anne Youngson (Macmillan), which is epistolary in format and easily enjoyed in one sitting. History lovers and fans of Seamus Heaney will appreciate.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jean! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Jean Li: Absolutely enter into contests! Not only is participation a great way to join new communities, it is also a respectable way of advancing a writing career and network. You will learn so much about how you write when you know there is an audience ready to receive your stories– and especially by a submission deadline!

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For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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