An interview with Allison Spooner

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I met Allison Spooner earlier this year at Toledo Fantasticon. Since then, we’ve been friends on Facebook and I’ve enjoyed listening to her discuss the way she integrates the “Three to Thrive” into her life and creative practice.

When I read her short stories, I was transported. Her words made me laugh and they made me cry, and they kept me guessing what was going to happen next. Ms. Spooner is definitely someone to keep your eye on. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of her stories. Her first collection is A Flash in the Dark and she’s just released its followup, The Problem with Humans. 

What is your earliest memory of being creative, specifically having written a story?

There is a story written in my mom’s handwriting that was clearly dictated to her by me. It’s a strange stream of consciousness of me just talking about random things– there’s a little story, and I think at one point I sing a song…on paper. I don’t remember doing it but it shows that I was trying to be creative long before I could actually write.

The earliest story I actually remember writing was in second grade, and it caused a scandal.

It was about three friends, named after my actual friends, who sneak into an old, supposedly haunted, house. They are scared by a loud noise and run, screaming from the house. But one friend gets so scared, she pees her pants. This friend was originally Kim. But real Kim did not enjoy her namesake peeing her pants in a story that the whole class would see. I mean, I guess I see her point now. So, the name was changed to protect the innocent…to Beth. A friend in a different class that wouldn’t see the story.

The last line is still one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. As they all run screaming from the house, the last line reads, “Beth did not run. She had wet pants.”

It’s still one of my funnier moments, even if Kim didn’t think so.

Disclaimer: None of my friends ever peed their pants in a haunted house…at least not until college.

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Where do you find inspiration for creativity, particularly for writing?

I’m supposed to say, “everywhere,” right? That’s the most writerly answer.

And I suppose that is true, in a way. I do take lines and details from my everyday life to make my fiction more interesting and relatable and I am slowly transitioning from fiction to more non-fiction, but I think where I get the most inspiration is from the work of others.

A great movie or TV show, or book (obviously) will really get me fired up. I usually say that I know a movie is good if it makes me want to write after I watch it.

I love a good origin story because I like to know how people got the way they are, especially villains.

I actually recently had a realization that I’ve always been inspired by the country songs that tell big, amazing stories in the span of just 6 or so minutes.

Fancy by Reba

When the Thunder Rolls by Garth

Independence Day by Martina

They pack so much backstory and emotion into just a few minutes…who knew that one day I would be trying to do the same thing my writing?!

What is your writing process like? Do you have any rituals or quirks when you’re writing?

My writing process includes a lot of cleaning, walking of the dog, browsing the internet, laundry…wait, that’s…you said…that’s procrastination, yeah…sorry.

But, actually my writing process does involve a lot of non-writing activities. I hate sitting at a computer with nothing to say so, instead of banging my head against the desk, I get up and do something else. With an idea or prompt in my head, I do some sort of mindless activity and let the idea marinate. By the time I sit down again, I usually have SOMETHING I can put on the screen and go from there. It’s much better for my sanity.

I also switch to good ol’ pen and paper if I am stuck. To any kids reading this, that’s what your grandparents use to make their grocery lists. I like to handwrite to brainstorm, too. After I get a prompt or an initial idea, I start by writing down anything I can think of associated with it. Lines of dialogue, locations, images I see…this usually turns into writing a few paragraphs that I can then take to the computer. Once I start transcribing from the paper, I get in the flow and just keep going.

What is a favorite story that you have written?

Honestly, I really like it when I break my own heart.

From my first book, the story that does it is, “The Disavowed Agent.” In the latest book, it’s “The Halfway House.” I think the true mark of a good writer is when they can make themselves cry with their own writing.

I also really loved “The Last Mermaid” which was has inspired a larger project…more details coming soon(ish).

How do you define creative success, and what do you consider your greatest creative success?

I think the definition of success evolves over time. At least mine has. Mine used to be seeing my book on the shelves of a bookstore and probably being on some bestseller list. But as I changed and the publishing world evolved, so did that definition.

Now, success to me would be providing some sort of supplemental income for my family with my writing and writing endeavors, and those endeavors look different than they used to.

At the moment, I consider it a huge success that I’ve actually finished something (or multiple somethings). I’ve always had trouble seeing things through and to realize that I had not only finished multiple short stories but enough to fill a second book? Big win for me, creatively. And, in doing so, I also discovered my niche, which is pretty huge.

I also swoon when people tell me my stories made an impact on them in some way. Whether they couldn’t put them down or couldn’t stop thinking about them even after they did, when I can make my readers feel how my favorite books and authors made me feel…boom. Success.

It was really a joy to edit your most recent collection of stories. I was really impressed by how *clean* they were. Can you describe your self-editing process?

READ OUT LOUD. That’s it. That’s my entire editing process.

Ok, it’s not the whole editing process, but it’s a huge part of it. Seriously, you can catch so many things when you read out loud that you wouldn’t catch otherwise. I read to anyone that will listen and when there is no one around, I read to my dog. She loves it. She’s my biggest fan.

I also break one of the major rules of writing and edit as I go *collective author gasp*. There is a time and place for word vomit and since I prefer writing under a tight deadline, I am usually not in the right place for it. So, I write a paragraph or two, then go back and clean it up a little. And sometimes I do just spew all over the page for a little bit before taking a look back, but I feel that editing in chunks (possibly the wrong word to use in the same paragraphs the words “vomit” and “spew”) and then going back to edit as a whole saves a lot of time.

Oh, and I cheat. I use Grammarly and any spellcheck tool that I can. I think the key to being a good self-editor is knowing you will never catch every mistake on your own.

Without giving too much away, can you tell me more about what brought your most recent collection, The Problem with Humans, into existence?

The origin story behind this book is the same as the story behind my first book, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”

Many moons ago, actually just a few years ago, I was convinced I had to write a novel to be a successful writer.

I spent a long time attending workshops on how to write novels, searching for the perfect idea, and beating myself up because I could never finish anything. During this same time period, I started entering flash and short fiction writing contests online (to practice writing in order to finish my novel, of course) and attending a local flash fiction event, Fiction440. Over the course of a few years, while I was feeling like a failure because I was a writer who hadn’t yet written a book, I wrote dozens of short and flash fiction pieces.

I don’t know when it hit me, but one day, instead of beating myself up for not writing a book, I looked at what I had done and said, “Whoa, I DID write a book.” It didn’t look like the book my other writer friends were writing and it didn’t look like the book I always thought I would write, but it was still a book. And it was a book filled with things I enjoyed writing.  So I published them. And then I still had some left and I was still entering contests and attending events so I published another one.

I’m really interested in your panel at Capital City Comicon, and I want more people to hear about it. Can you give an elevator pitch summary of what you’ll be talking about? I love the idea of having “accidentally” written a book!

The Panel: How I Wrote a Book Without Realizing It

The Pitch: Are you struggling to write a book? Or, just to write anything at all? Do you envy the writers that seem to crank out one book or story after the other? It’s not easy, but if a self-proclaimed procrastinator can do it, so can you. Find out how author Allison Spooner wrote multiple books without even realizing it, using prompts, deadlines, parameters, and flash fiction.

The Goal: I just want to help writers realize, like I did (see above origin story), that they can finish something even if it’s not in the traditional way. I was trying so hard to do one thing that I didn’t realize it when I accomplished another.

And I want to help people get through writer’s block. Because that’s no fun.

What is your favorite book/story, or at least one that you return to again and again, and why?

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner. It’s the journal of a young woman traveling across the Arizona Territories in the 1800’s. I don’t know why I love it so much, but I’ve read it multiple times and I imagine I will read it many more. It seriously rips my heart out every single time I read it (maybe that’s why I love it) but it’s also a beautiful love story. It’s one of those books that evolves with you; different parts make cry as I grow and mature.

I also love Harry Potter, lost count of how many times I’ve been through the series, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984. I love strong characters. I love good people just trying to do good and be good in a shitty world. Each of these books show this beautifully.

If you could go back ten years and give advice to your creative self, what would it be?

Full disclosure, when I first saw this question I started picturing giving advice to my high school or college self until I realized that I have been out of BOTH high school and college for more than ten years. So, that was fun.

But, I think the advice I would give applies to all the early versions of me. Just do the things. Do all the things. Finish things. Watch less TV and work harder. Focus on writing and treat it like it’s your job. Take advantage of every opportunity that is put in front of you. Take more chances, take more risks, learn more things. Get committed to your craft.

Don’t settle.

You’ve done more than you think you have. You know more than you think you do. Be impressed with yourself.

Where can people find you to keep tabs on what you’re doing?

Where can’t people find me, really?

I’m on Facebook.

I’m on Twitter.

I’m on Instagram.

I have a website where you can get on my newsletter.

I’ll be at Capital City Comic Con on September 21st.

On Stage

Photo credit Masaki Takahashi

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