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Until the next WriteAngles conference on October 31, 2020. Planning is about to begin.

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Joan Axelrod-Contrada will be leading this year’s workshop on Flash Memoir. She was interviewed by fellow workshop presenter Tzivia Gover.

How long have you been writing? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I started making up “furry tales” for my French poodle, Sherry, when I was eight years old. In high school, I fell in love with journalism, which rescued me from my poor-poor-pitiful-me introverted adolescent self. What I like best about writing – whether it be journalism, children’s books, journaling, or flash memoir — is that it focuses my mind. I need that in much the same way I need air to breathe.

What got you interested in flash fiction and memoir?

I’ve always enjoyed reading the first-person essays and annual short-story contest winners in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. When the Gazette stopped running its short story contest, my late husband, Fred, and I thought of publishing our own anthologies, but we couldn’t figure out how to make them financially viable. So I brought the idea of a literary journal to the WriteAngles committee, and the rest is history.

How has your experience with this short form enhanced your writing and your life?

I started journaling and blogging around the time Fred developed an awful degenerative neurological disease. A couple of my pieces lent themselves beautifully to our 500-word format. I found that writing helped me come up with new perspectives on and solutions to my problems. My challenges found new life as flash memoir!

What’s one tip you can share with us for distilling a story to its purest essence?

Think concrete. An item in your closet or food on your table can evoke powerful emotions. Some of our best pieces in the journal have involved items such as a VW van, a dad’s army jacket, a wooden cane, a purchase on Amazon.com, or a pair of expensive leather boots.

Who are your favorite writers who are skillful at saying a lot in very few words?

Ernest Hemingway is the master! His six-word flash story is classic. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

You’ll be leading this year’s workshop on Flash Memoir. Can you tell us a little about what you’re planning?

Yes, I’ll be talking about what I see as the three key ingredients for successful flash memoir. Writing is like baking a cake. Once you mix the ingredients into a batter, you need to find the right baking dish for it. Just like there are loaf pans and cupcake tins as well as cake pans, flash memoir can take a variety of forms above and beyond the traditional prose essay. Among the different forms: verse, lists, and letters. I’ll finish up with the icing on the cake, which I see as style.

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If you are interested in attending the conference, you may register on Saturday.

The registration fee is slightly higher, $120.00 at the door. For full-time students and those aged 65 or over, the fee at the door is $100.

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Pre-registration will end tomorrow at noon. Please be patient if you do not get immediate confirmation (we’re all volunteers).

We are accepting materials for agent meetings until 5 pm tomorrow.

We will accept walk-ins on Saturday.

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We have just published a new flash memoir by Steve Bernstein.

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The conference is this coming Saturday! Registration is still open, and it’s still possible to schedule a meeting with one of the three literary agents, but time is of the essence: The registration fee must be paid and required materials submitted by 5 p.m. Wednesday (details provided upon registration). Mary Bisbee-Beek is fully booked.

Walk-in registration will be available on Saturday.

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Ellen Meeropol interviews Dusty Miller, a panelist on the Paths to Publication panel.

How did you come to write the mystery series?

When I began the first Alice Ott mystery, I had no clue that I would end up writing a series. After a long career in mental health, including writing many articles and non-fiction books, I wanted to do something new. I created Alice Ott, an elderly cane-wielding sleuth who carries a purse and a small oxygen tank. Although she was the perfect fit for a Miss Marple “cozy,” Alice tackled crime of national and international proportions. In the first of the “Danger” series, biological weapons were being secretly developed at a U.S military facility, microbiologists were being assassinated around the world, and Alice Ott was on the case!

Though most amatuer sleuths her age are relegated to the cozy, Alice and her friends went on in the next three books facing the kind of danger more suited to political thrillers. Inspired by Alice Ott prototypes (like Frances Crowe, a peace icon and long-time friend and mentor), Alice propelled me to write three more books in the “Danger” mysteries.

Who gave you the most encouragement early on?

I was lucky to find Dori Ostermiller’s Writers in Progress program as I began my mystery writing journey. The writing workshops eventually evolved into writers support groups, and I continued to be challenged, inspired and loved by my sister writer friends.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer for you?

I love my relationships with my characters. They entertain and thrill me just like playing make- believe when I was a child. I have treasured deeply sustaining relationships with Frances Crowe and Ann Wilson, the two main inspirations for the Alice Ott character. Having Frances at my side for numerous local bookstore and library book talks has been an extraordinary gift.

What do you do in your daily life that supports your writing life?

I walk two to four miles a day year round. This is as important to my writing life as the hours spent at the computer. I also read planfully — perhaps addictively — and find a mix of mysteries, contemporary fiction, and miscellaneous non-fiction keep my “learning” cells alive.

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? How did you snap our of it?

No, not really. I think I suffer from too much social hunger to notice if I have writer’s block. I find it hard to take enough time alone to write. When I get myself to finally sit down at the computer, I’m excited that I have a block of writing time.

What are you planning to talk about at the conference?

I’m talking about my experiences with indie press publishing vs mainstream. In my nonfiction publishing years, I had more success than I deserved, really. My clinical work in the field of trauma and addiction opened a direct path to publishing. I never had to do the work of finding and negotiating with mainstream publishers; they found me. When I switched to writing fiction and got over the shock of discovering that my success in nonfiction wasn’t ready currency, I was lucky enough to find two local indie presses, White River Press and Levellers Press. I will explain how that has worked out, mostly very well.

You’ve said that DANGER IN THE HOUSE is your last Alice Ott novel. What’s next for you?

I’m trying to settle on whether to begin a new mystery series set in Florida where my wife and I live in the winter, or finally get down to working on a memoir centered on my experiences with death. The latter has been evolving in small pieces for too long now, and I have to either commit to it or dive into the Florida series.

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