My Life as a Rose
by Nicole Monaghan
I grew outside the bay window of your dining room; I heard you tell the kids their Mom Mom in Heaven sent me and the other buds to let them know she’s here.
You noticed me once or twice as you dusted the cherry wood table.
Your middle-child, the nature-girl, she came out with meat-shears and clipped my stem just above a thorn, placed me in a tumbler, and set me on the kitchen counter. I knew I started dying the second she snipped, but aren’t we all? Dying, I mean, once severed from our source.
Regardless, I’m glad I spent two and a half days ogled by the kid, her soft fingers caressing my petals often, her belief in all things Heaven-sent unequivocal. She was so pleased by my beauty that, in between sniffs of me, she found the crayon that God Himself must have used to render me this stunning fuchsia, sketched a flattering portrait for the refrigerator door, even captured the curve of my most notable petal.
I’d much rather go out like this--reluctantly transplanted from the drinking glass to the garbage--than to wither outside the house for several weeks more, waiting for your occasional glances to become something more as you spray that oily cloth, waiting in vain.
Nicole is a stay at home mom to three kids, ages 10, 8, and 4. She has written since her Kindergarten teacher gave her a special (marble) copybook in which to keep her stories. She won awards during her college career as an English Literature student and more recently at the Philadelphia Writers' Conference for both fiction and poetry. She has poetry forthcoming in The Foundling Review. Contact Nicole.
Nicole's work appears in Foundling Review, Camroc Press Review, Short, Fast, and Deadly, Six Sentences, and 50 to 1. She loves to write, needs to do it actually.
Hi Nicole, we'd like to learn more about you!: Please tell us a little about yourself, your background and any important accomplishments.
I'm a stay-at-home mom to three children, ages 10, 8, and almost 5. My husband and I are very blessed with an amazing and healthy family. I always knew I wanted to stay home with my children and have been fortunate to be able to do that for the past ten years. I taught sixth grade for a couple years before having my first child. Before that, I earned a B.A. and an M.A in English and was proud of my performance as a student of literature after a lackluster high school record. I loved how I felt in all my lit. classes--like I belonged.
About a year and a half ago, I started writing again after a long hiatus from reading or writing much. I had been focusing primarily on my roles as mother and wife and house-manager. I read a collection of stories by Miranda July, which made me want to write. When I did, it was like returning home. I realized I was a better wife and mother when I was also writing. As a stay-at-home mom, you are never consistently "good" at anything but rather are in a constant state of making decisions and then reassessing them because raising children is ever-changing and complex from day to day, and I think I was hungry for validation of my abilities outside of mothering.
I wrote a few short stories and several poems and picked the brain of a good grad school friend, Marc Schuster, an amazing talent and author of "Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl." He suggested I send my work to literary magazines, told me about duotrope.com, a phenomenal resource for writers, and was generous enough to give commentary on one of my stories. Wanting to connect with more writers, I googled "Writers' Conference" and "Philadelphia" on a whim and found that a conference by the same name, PWC, was in its sixty-first year! Attending that was pivotal. I was invigorated just by being in the company of other writers. I learned a lot and also won Second Prize in the Literary Short Story Contest for my story "Shot," judged by conference board members, and Second Prize for the Words on the Wall Poetry Contest, judged by fellow conferees for my poem "She's Seven." These prizes were infinitely important to me, and I knew that the literary community HAD to be a part of my life or I had to be part of them. It was that feeling of belonging.
Q. How long have you been writing? What made you put that first story down on paper?
When I was five years old, my Kindergarden teacher gave me a special (marble) copybook to keep my stories. I'm not certain how she knew I wrote stories but I'm pretty sure I'd written a story about a zebra and called it "Stripes." My best friend and I wrote stories as elementary students and read them to each other for fun. I kept journals of poetry as a teenager. By college, I fantasized publishing my writing but was too self-conscious, always imagining I'd pursue it in the distant future. Writing is a naked art, and I wasn't ready to be that vulnerable. I was a lazy student through high school but was inspired and encouraged by my English Professors throughout my college career. People look at you funny when you say you have English Degrees, but I've always known they were the only kind I could ever earn happily and with success. I always valued literature and the work of a writer.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
I don't give any thought to genre but like to think of my work as "literary" or at least striving to be. For me, the definition of that is that the characters and situations are multidimentional and that the work is (hopefully) richly layered like life.
Q. Have you been published?
I have, although it took over a year of sending pieces out before I received my first acceptance. Discovering just how many amazing online literary journals exist in addition to print ones has been a thrilling adventure. My first publication was a poem in "Foundling Review" in February. Since then I've had flash fiction published in a handful of other publications which are listed in my bio. They're all wonderful, and I am most grateful they liked my work.
Q. What was the first story? Where was it published?
"New Age" in Camroc Press Review. I love that magazine, and that piece means a lot to me, as they all do.
Q. How long did it take to write and publish?
I wrote it originally as a fifty word piece but then felt the need to expand it into a longer piece of flash and lingered over it for a couple weeks. Camroc Press accepted it after a week, and I cried. I've cried with every acceptance. Fortunately, I don't cry with every rejection. That would be a lot of crying.
Q. What was the process?
Usually a single phrase or sentence comes to me during a mundane moment and I know I will put it into a piece. I type it and save it and then let it take me somewhere later when I can write freely. Rarely does an entire story form itself in my head. It seems to be born of words or images. I had an image of throwing away the children's dress-up clothes and wondered what that might lead to or what might have led to doing that, and that's how that piece materialized. Often, music and coffee are integral to the process of my writing.
Q. Who’s your favorite author and why?
This is an impossible question. The first author who brought me to realize I needed to pursue publishing was Heather Sellers. When Marc Schuster read a story of mine, "Coconut Moon," he said it reminded him of her work and recommended "Georgia Underwater," a collection of short stories from the perspective of a young girl becoming a woman in Florida, and it was so raw and unflinchingly explored the tender and complicated heart of a confused teenage girl. I devoured those stories and felt like the character of Georgia was a kindred spirit to my character Diana or that Sellers was somehow a kindred spirit of mine. Her work resonated deeply for me. Recognizing myself or my writing in hers gave me the courage and hope that my writing might belong somewhere.
Other authors who consistently and profoundly inspire me are Kim Addonizio and Randall Brown. I am blown away by what they do with words and find myself comforted by how their work affects me. I read them and I know I too need to write. Randall Brown's website flashfiction.net is a favorite resource.
Q. How did you deal with rejection letters, if you received any?
At the Philadelphia Writers' Conference, a novelist by the name of Bill Kent said, "You know you're a writer when you can wallpaper an entire room in those little rejection slips." Let's just say, I am a writer.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
I think fearlessness is the single most important element. The one common denominator I find in all the literature that affects me is stark honesty about human beings and an intimacy with the character or characters. I can always see the character's or characters' imperfections, fears, shortcomings, oddities, mixed motivations, all the stuff we hide away. A writer cannot give any thought to "what will people think if I say this?" or "that's taboo to talk about," or "if this character does or thinks that, will readers assume it's me?" The most profound works tend to strip human beings bare and reveal universal truths that connect us. For me, experiencing good literature is like holding those connective strips in your hands. It's gratifying to be on the reading or writing end of that.
Q. How do you develop your plots/characters, ideas/concepts ? Do you use any set formula?
What inspires you? Who inspires you?
Because I start most pieces with no formal idea of what the story is going to be, I tend to see what emerges from disconnected ideas or images. Stories often write themselves and then I play with all the words and connections. The only set formula I use is happens in the "polishing" stage when I dwell on every word because I love words and feel strongly that the presence or absence of each one makes a difference. Often, I feel when I send a piece out that there will surely be at least one word I can switch out or eliminate and so in some way, the piece is never 100% to my satisfaction. I try to let that go when I hit "send."
I think my inspiration comes from all aspects of life, my children often because they are so idiosyncratic but also mundane life experiences and every day glimpses into human beings and how they navigate existence.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
I'm working on several short pieces of fiction and am always revising poetry and attempting to figure out where to send it all. I also have a handful of more traditional length short stories (8 to 12 pages) that I'd love to find homes for. I often spend as much time reading litmags for a good aesthetic match for a given piece as I do writing. When my youngest is in Kindergarden in September, I will have a bit more time to write and submit. I had considered getting an adjunct English Professor teaching position but have decided to treat my writing like a "real job" and one that deserves more time. I am really fortunate that I will be in a position to do this.
I also have some ideas about a website and blog that I hope will materialize over the next year with my husband's help (I have no technical know-how). There are so many writerly and readerly things to talk about and it would be a little place to call my own where others who are interested could interact about such things.
How do you handle Writer’s Block?
I read. The work of others writers lubricates my writing mind, and I'm grateful and ready again.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
Frustration often comes from rejection. It's hurtful, even though not "personal." I am a sensitive soul; it hurts every single time. I also struggle with feelings of inadequacy, the fear that I'll never be as good as the writers I admire, that I'm not worthy of having my work in certain publications, that I don't really belong in the literary community. But as I'm getting to know more writers I'm learning that it's fairly normal to feel that way sometimes. I have always felt that the literary community was the only one, other than family and really good friends, that I could "truly belong" to so when I get a rejection, it's a little like your family un-inviting you to a party. There's a fear that if I'm not one of them (a worthy writer), who can I possibly be? But the only way to end the pity party is, ironically, to get back to the keyboard and write, write, write.
The most rewarding part is having someone tell you that your work moved them.
Thank you for taking an interest in my answers to these questions. I am honored to be able to share ideas about writing in Long Story Short. It makes me feel an important part of a community that I need to be a part of.