6 Questions with Linda Dunlap
For today’s 6 Questions, I’m reaching out to Linda Dunlap. Linda is a Pushcart-nominated short story writer who has been published in numerous volumes. She also has her own book of short stories, called Rail Walking and Other Stories. If you like to read, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
I met Linda when I joined a critique group she was in. She writes multi-layered southern fiction, filled with humor and surprising characters. Simply reading her writing has improved my own. Having her as a critique partner has been an absolutely phenomenal (if sometimes intimidating) experience.
On to the questions!
I’m not a short story guy. I’ve written a few, but I find them very challenging. You live and breathe short stories. Why? What is it about them that draws you in?
I realized how captured I was by the short story only when I tried to write a novel. I cut my teeth on the short work and when I tried to apply the same techniques to the longer work I found that I could not.
The precision of the language that thrummed like a plucked string in a short story escaped me in the novel. I had difficulty maintaining the tension in a novel, something that felt almost instinctual in my short work. I love the short story, especially the immediacy and manageability of it. Once I understood that I got to choose what I wrote, not those friends and fellow writers who read my work and said, “oh what you need to do is write a novel,” I never looked back. Despite that the short work is not for everyone, are difficult to get published and you rarely make any real money on them.
Your characters are some of the most interesting that I’ve read. Can you talk a little bit about how you move from a character concept to having a fully fleshed out realistic personality? Is there a process you go through?
When we write, it’s impossible not to bring ourselves into our work. In real life, I’m especially drawn to individuals, who are quirky and different, indeed those who march to a different drummer.
So, of course, since we write about what we know, these are the people who appear in my stories. They are people who charm, surprise and delight. Sometimes darkly so, since my characters are known for being those family members, who never get put in the Christmas letter and who don’t necessarily live happily ever after.
When I’m charmed and surprised and delighted by them, then I know that my reader will be, too. Since my stories are character driven and tell themselves first in my subconscious, I come to a point in my writing process where I seem to simply follow directions while someone else navigates.
I feel in the beginning of a work that the character is more an acquaintance than someone I know really well but as they interact in the story, I come to understand what makes them tick. Then as I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite–I can’t stress enough the importance of rewriting–both characters and story develop with a clarity that’s astounding. So in essence, my reader and I get to know both the story and the characters together.
How about the challenges that you face? What’s the toughest part of writing short stories? How do you overcome it?
The part of my writing process that I love best is rewriting. For me, the most difficult chore is getting that first draft down. Since my story line and characters are fleshed out and developed in the rewriting, this first draft is only a skeleton of the real story.
But I still spend an enormous amount of time staring out of my study window asking, okay, she said this, so now what does he say? How do I do it? I just sweat the proverbial blood and know that if I keep at it, my reward is coming when I am finally done with that first draft and can now go back and replace the lame verb I’ve used in that first version with a perfect one that makes the fiction come alive.
Part of the fun of being published is interacting with readers. Do you have any fun (or funny) reader stories that you can share with us?
I love talking about my stories with my readers and they’re always coming up with ways of looking at things that I didn’t see in writing them. The subconscious at work. And far better ways than mine, I might add. But of course, I always take credit for them as if their better way of looking at something is the way I initially intended. Oh, you noticed that, I’ll say. It was so subtle I was afraid you’d miss it. I don’t say, because I surely did.
What’s the most rewarding part of your writing? Is there a part of the process that you look forward to with each story?
It’s that moment when the story is telling itself on such a level that you lose yourself in it. It’s what psychologists call a flow experience and is the total absence of ego. It’s when the self is lost in the work. You lose track of time and look up to see that it’s dark outside when you’ve sat down at your computer at noon. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen with every story but when does, it’s a magical moment and keeps me reaching for it with every work.
Last but never least, what are you working on now? Is there anything that you can share with your fans?
I usually have several stories on my desktop and work on one until I get stuck, then go to another. At some point, one of them takes off and I stick with it till the end.
At the moment I have a story seasoning in my head about sibling rivalry. A protagonist’s sister needs a kidney and my protagonist has one to give her. Since she has a contentious relationship with her sister, my protagonist’s dilemma is will she donate the kidney free and clear or with enough strings to strangle a horse?