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Interview with Nancy Fowler: Q1 2021 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up


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Nancy Fowler is a longtime journalist who’s worked in radio, digital, print and TV news. She’s earned numerous accolades including Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards. It brings her joy to amplify the voices of those who typically go unheard in mainstream news coverage. You can see some of her journalism clips at NancyMFowler.com.

She’s now beginning to write in a more personal voice. Her creative nonfiction aspirations include a hybrid memoir/literary journalism project about baby-boomer parents mourning a lack of grandchildren due to a national trend: millennials having fewer or no kids. Her Facebook group, Grieving No Grandchildren, is an accepting space for women to connect with each other as they come to terms with this reality. In addition, she’s working toward a memoir about fighting for custody of her young children after coming out in the 1990s.

--interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q1 2021 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

NancyThank you! I’m honored to have been chosen. I stumbled onto the WOW contest during a Google search, looking for opportunities to be published and compensated for my creative nonfiction work.

WOWYour entry, “The Barbie Scale,” addresses something almost all women can relate to in some way. What inspired you to write this particular essay?

NancyMy mother was always obsessed with her weight and I was a chubby child. While she never harped on me about it, I think she cared more about my weight that she let on. “Nancy, you’re so thin!” was the highest compliment could give me as an adult.

But while there was validation in that, there was something lost for both of us in all the years of we depriving ourselves. What might she have done, what might I have done, with the energy it took to maintain bodies that society told us were “thin” and therefore acceptable?

In many ways, my mother and I were not a lot alike. After she died in 2018, I began writing more about our relationship. Weight and the scale hold so much material for trying to figure us out, and therefore trying to figure me out.

WOWWhat is your writing process like? Please describe a typical day.

NancyFor the most part, in between freelance journalism assignments, I’ve treated writing like a job, spending 9-5 (Ok, maybe more like 10-3) either writing, thinking about writing, or researching publications and writing contests.

I’ve just begun an MFA in Writing program with an emphasis on Creative Nonfiction. So some of what I’m reading and writing depends on my assignments. Within these assignments, though, there are always opportunities to write in the vein of personal essay.

Something I’m doing now outside of class is revisiting the million documents on my computer that contain snippets of ideas, and using them to create scenes without forcing them into full essays. I think of these scenes as squares for a quilt. When I amass enough material, maybe I can stitch these squares into full essays and the memoir projects I’m always working on.

One focuses on my fight to retain custody of my children after coming out in the 1990s, the other is about coming to terms with my children not wanting children, a growing trend given the declining birth rate, resulting in what some are calling “grandchild hunger.” Or perhaps I’ll combine the two ideas into one book. Perhaps one day I’ll have an agent who can help me figure this out!

WOW: Those are interesting topics, I hope you pursue them. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

NancyIn my class on Classical Foundational Literature, I’m reading a lot of essays by Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin and other iconic authors and enjoying the online class discussions about them.

For pleasure, I’m always in the middle of a memoir or other book of nonfiction. On my nightstand right now are This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire” by Nick Flynn, about his mother torching his childhood home with him inside, and American Baby by Gabriel Glaser, detailing the shadow history of adoption. I am drawn to stories of family trauma and institutional depravity, I guess.

WOWThanks so much for chatting with us today, Nancy. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

NancyI write about my own life. So I have to hold myself to a high standard of emotional honesty and try to relax into the feelings and sensations of my memories. What did the room feel like when I was having that argument with my parents back in the ‘70s? Was it in the small, boxy den with the heat always cranked up too high? How does my body feel as my father leans over me and the sweat begins to trickle down my face? If I can’t feel it, the reader won’t either.

I find therapy goes hand in hand with my writing. Both endeavors encourage me to be curious about myself and to realize connections between seemingly disparate feelings and events. I journal about therapy, which can turn into writing material, and I also bring into my therapy sessions (via Zoom for now) connections I’ve discovered while writing.

Also, having a schedule is key. When I was working full time as a reporter, I set aside four hours every Sunday for creative writing. It also helps to have a writing partner, someone with whom to share and critique each other’s work on a regular basis.

Classes are a good way to connect with other writers and enhance the writing life. Can I mention some specific ones? Creative Nonfiction literary magazine offers regular webinars. And Washington University in St. Louis has a marvelous Summer Writers Institute, which is online this year. I took it last summer, and it has made all the difference in my work.

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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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