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Interview with D. Slayton Avery, Runner Up in the WOW! Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Contest


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D. Slayton Avery, recently retired from teaching, now works at playing with words. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in online and print journals and anthologies—Boston Literary Magazine, The Hopper, Enchanted Conversations, and Santa Barbara Literary Journal among others. She is a regular contributor at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. D. has two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls, and a collection of flash fiction, After Ever, Little Stories for Grown Children. D. Avery’s writings are available for online sampling at ShiftnShake. When not writing, D. Slayton Avery can be found hiking the Vermont woods or out on the water catching stories. 



 
----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Welcome, D., and thanks for joining us today! Setting is an important element in creating compelling flash fiction. How did you get the idea to set your love story, "Going," in a diner? 

D.: I don’t think I thought about it, but I do love diners—unpretentious food, unpretentious people. A place where you can comfortably eat alone in the company of others. But none of this story was planned or developed very thoroughly. It began as a response to an online flash fiction blog hop with the prompt word ‘filter’. The first line just came to me and I wrote it down; I had a strong visual of someone stepping out of a big rig. This flash started (and eventually ended) there in the cab of that truck. But once begun the story and the driver had to go somewhere, so into the diner. It wasn’t until I kept writing the story that the driver became a woman. I felt that made the Camel and the boots more interesting. And it made Deborah’s decision more of a risk, and therefore a more compelling story. But yes, diners are special places, both gritty and wholesome, where anyone can come in and anything can happen. 

WOW: Now you have me craving some delicious diner food . . . ha! You’ve published a collection of flash and short fiction called “After Ever: Little Stories for Grown Children.” What types of stories can readers expect to find? 

 D.: That collection is some of my first flash fiction, much of which had also been published online. I have trouble naming a genre for my stories beyond fiction, or flash fiction. These stories are realistic fiction, fables, fairy tales… Many of the stories are only 99 words long or only six sentences long, though there are a few longer ones. Some stories are narrated in a child’s voice, though they are not children’s stories. Much of it is on the darker side. There are also some laced with humor and hope and a sense of wonder. I’d like to think there’s something to think on in each of them. If nothing else it is interesting to experiment with story length, to see how much can be done with a very few words. That is a literary puzzle I continue to play at. 

WOW:  You’ve also published two books of poetry. How did you first become interested in this form of writing? 

D.: I’ve read poetry from the beginning, from nursery rhymes to Dr. Seuss, to Robert Service, Robert Frost; these we had at home. Maybe that’s why I have written poetry since I was a kid. I was a voracious reader so was ripe for the assignments of English teachers in school. I placed in a couple contests while a school kid, which was encouraging. But I never took writing seriously or thought of it as something I could “Do”. But I did it here and there always. When I was a teacher my doodles during the dreadful staff meetings seemed to be poems, funny on one level, pointed at another. I had a small following. Chicken Shift started out to be just silly rhymes that came to me on my bicycle commute, though poems on the theme of crossings kept coming and became more philosophical. For the Girls, a sort of journal of my time dealing with friends’ breast cancer as well as my own, also has serious humor in it. I’m becoming more confident now and writing poems without the shield of humor, though it may still infuse some of my poetry. 

WOW: How does your love for the outdoors help with the creative process? 

 D.: Ha! The outdoors is how I sustain my humor. If I didn’t have so much outdoors I would feel back-against-the-wall, trapped, stifled. But helping the creative process? This is such a tough question I went off in my kayak to think about it and it’s still hard to answer. There is definitely a rich palette of color and images to dip into when I am kayaking or hiking ... or even just sitting outside as I am doing now. Some of that might show up in a piece of writing. The places I go aren’t necessarily settings or scenes of my stories, though they inform the details of some stories. There is so much to see and hear and smell and taste! Mostly being outdoors is grounding and awe-ing for me. It’s where I gather strength and calm. It’s where I am surrounded by beauty and am truly grateful for small miracles. It doesn’t inform my writing so much as enable it. 

WOW: I can totally relate to the outdoors enabling your writing. Spending time in nature helps me work through a lot of my own writing ideas while coming across the occasional, rabbit, fox or deer. What subject did you teach and what do you miss about it? 

 D.: I mostly taught at the elementary level, so got to teach all subjects. I enjoyed learning with the students. It was great fun to integrate the different subjects through project based learning. Social Studies— history, geography— was usually the hub that provided a context— a story! I often said that the best sound to me was the “Aha!” of a student who suddenly ‘got it’. I miss that and the busy hum of a class that is absorbed with their work, sharing ideas, working things out, solving problems. I miss seeing that growth. For years I ran a volunteer student newspaper where kids came to write after school. It was this group that encouraged Chicken Shift. I enjoyed encouraging the kids as writers but then I took on math as an area of interest because it seemed to me that numeracy took a back seat to literacy in elementary school. I made math more accessible to students and teachers by likening it to literacy in approach, understanding the syntax and vocabulary of math, and also to the attendant story. I became a middle school math teacher. It was very gratifying when students who initially claimed to hate math as a subject reported that math class was a favorite. And even as a math subject teacher I found ways to encourage young writers in class and after school. In any class I taught there was always storytelling and laughter.

WOW: D., thanks once again for being here today and for all this great insight into your writing! You are making me want to pull out my old notebooks of poems now. I also loved hearing your about your enthusiasm for teaching and making sometimes not-so-fun subjects accessible. Write On!

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