Where Are They Now? An Interview with LM Contributor Windy Lynn Harris
Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
In this series, our editors interview past Literary Mama contributors to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM and talk about their writing journeys.
This week, former editor-in-chief Amanda Jaros chatted via Zoom with writer and editor Windy Lynn Harris, whose fiction was published in Literary Mama in 2015. Windy’s book, Writing and Selling Short Stories and Personal Essays, (Writer’s Digest Books, 2017), is a go-to source for writers seeking to have their work published in literary journals. Find more of Windy’s work at her website https://windylynnharris.com/.
Amanda Jaros: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me and share what you’ve been up to since you published with Literary Mama in 2015.
Windy Lynn Harris: Back then, I knew a lot of writer friends who had been submitting over and over. We were all trying to get into Literary Mama because it’s such a great magazine. We all had kids still in school at the time and we were all reading it. It was thrilling to get in and showcase a piece.
AJ: Your piece, “Dear Quiche, I’d Like an Apology,” is wonderfully humorous. Do you often use humor in your writing?
WLH: Not on purpose! I don’t say I’m a humor writer, although there was a time in my life that that was a goal of mine. But it turns out that being a humor writer is really hard! Yet, humor works in all kinds of stories, and in all of my writing there’s a bit of absurdity and some lighter moments. I tend to be funny some of the time, rather than all of the time, which is more authentic and makes more sense for me.
I keep thinking, well, maybe the next one will be really funny. Then it’s not! You know what it’s like, when you’re starting an essay and you have an idea that this is going to be really funny. Then you write about your father’s death and realize that’s not what you had in mind!
And yet, whatever idea it is that got you in the chair, the story that was close to the surface, you have to be thankful for that.
AJ: Tell me a little about your book, Writing and Selling Short Stories and Personal Essays. How did that come to be?
WLH: At the time I was published in Literary Mama, I was already doing speaking engagements around Arizona about how to get a piece from your desk into the right editor’s hands. I couldn’t find information about that compiled anywhere. Once I had figured this out for myself, I started sharing these ideas with my writing friends and critique groups, then going to libraries and other venues to give presentations. An editor friend of mine said, “shouldn’t you just write a book?”
I didn’t know how much information there was here. I thought, maybe it’s a pamphlet. Then I wrote a thirty page outline!
It turns out we need to know a lot as writers. Some folks want to know all the etiquette and there are so many different situations that can happen. We’re all trying to do our best with the writing side, but if it’s not a book you’re going to hand to your agent, what do you do with it? Short pieces sell really quickly and easily. You don’t need your agent involved. You don’t even need to have an agent. It was really exciting to share that information.
My editor friend was connected with Writer’s Digest and offered to pass it to them. They snatched it up immediately and the book ended up being very close to my original vision.
Since then I’ve been on a book tour. They’ve invited me to do a lot of things together, like conferences and webinars. It’s been fun helping writers learn what to do with their great work!
What I love about short works is that you’re presenting them to literary magazines, which are full of nice people. There’s no money at stake here, it’s just about the art, the piece, the writing. Books are a different financial investment; it’s not necessarily about the art. To me it feels doubly good to get into a literary magazine because I know it’s just about the writing.
AJ: Aside from the book tour and promotion, what kind of writing have you been doing?
WLH: I’ve been playing in fiction and creative nonfiction nonstop. I love both of those worlds. I’ve written and published several short stories and many essays. I also got swept away by flash fiction and have published quite a few pieces. I ended up in a class with about 15 other women writing flash. We all had so much fun writing and trying to break down and understand how flash is different from longer pieces. This group of 15, even though we’ve moved on and done other things, we’ve stayed together. It’s been really good for me to have a group of people who push ourselves further to write flash because it takes me to a fun, creative place for all the rest of my work.
I’ve also been writing and finishing novels, which are all queued up. I was one of the unfornatue writers who had finished a book which had a pandemic in the premise. My agent had pushed it out to the market, but who knew a pandemic was going to hit! At the time, it felt insincere and we pulled it. But it’s great that we can always send our short things out. Regardless of what’s happening in the book world, the world of literary magazines is thriving.
AJ: Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?
WLH: I prefer writing fiction. I think I’m honestly better at writing creative nonfiction, but it’s more painful. I’m a private person and you can’t hide when you’re writing an essay. You can try to keep it light and fluffy, but the truth comes out in your fingertips anyway. It’s emotionally more difficult to produce creative nonfiction. Writing fiction is a different muscle. My style is evolving and I think I’m taking a lot of truth about the world, and about myself, with me into my fiction and that’s making improvements.
AJ: What advice do you have for new writers?
WLH: Don’t let fear stand in your way. Great storytelling trumps pretty words everyday. Great storytelling is the basis of what we do. Sometimes when you’re reading a finished piece you think “Oh, she’s so talented, I couldn’t do that.” But you can! You can be the storyteller. Study structure and scene, find the spine of a piece, unlock those mysteries. Then worry about the pretty words. There is a path to becoming a successful writer.