Stacy Stephens (aka msstacy13), winner of last year's Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Opening Line, kindly consented to brave some searching questions about her winning entry, "We had all been born Polish, but some of us were more Polish than others" and her other work.
What’s the name of the story the opening line is from?
THE SPACES BETWEEN THE BREATHING (10,000 words). I really don’t know what genre it would be described as. Perhaps it should be called realistic literary fiction.
Tell us a little about it. Is it published? If so, where can folks find it?
The original title was, “SOMETHING ALWAYS HAPPENS” because I actually began writing with no idea what it would be about. I started with the John Mayer song, “83” where he says, “I have these dreams of walking home; home, where it used to be...” and he mentions the names John and Ben, which I changed to Dawn and Jen. I included it in the collection, The Nothing That Is and Other Stories, which is available on Amazon.
How many times did you change the opening line before you settled on ‘We had all been born Polish, but some of us were more Polish than others’?
I never changed that line, but I added the first two lines once I realized that the emotional source I was writing from was the fact that I’m very different from my two older sisters, and that my relationship with our mother is very different from theirs. And I should admit that I’m not actually Polish, although my maternal grandmother’s family came from Pomerania, which has been part of Poland since 1945. Ethnically, people in Pomerania are a mix of Polish and German.
What’s your preferred genre/wordcount?
Most of my fiction is written in a traditional literary style, and tends to be historical. With stories, I like reaching 12,000 words, although if I can put the feeling and sense of an experience into fewer words, I will. With novels, I favour 60,000 words. I consider anything less than that to be only a novella.
What’s your current WIP?
I may have to change the title, but for now I’m calling it A Citizen of London. The daughter of a bootlegger, half Polish half Russian Jew, stumbles into journalism, becomes a war correspondent, and it continues from there. I expect it to conclude somewhere between 320,000 and 360,000 words.
Are you a pantser or an outliner?
I’ve never been good at outlining or flowcharting. With stories, I will sometimes make notes to preserve continuity, and with novels, I do essentially outline, but not the way it was taught in High School.
What are your long term goals as a writer?
Honestly? I want to win the Nobel Prize and change the world. Financially, I fully intend to sell the movie rights to at least one of my novels for twenty-million dollars. I know that sounds arrogant, and arrogant is the polite word for it.
Tell us about your very first sale.
It was canvas, with brass grommets. Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said “sail.” Is it a sale if you don’t get paid? My story, “THE TIN SCARAB” is in The Medulla Review. As long as we’ve established that I’m arrogant, I guess I can say there’s not much market for highest quality literary fiction.
As a reader, does a good opening line make a difference to you?
The only opening line I actually remember is, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but even so, yes, an opening line is like an opening bet in a hand of poker.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
It actually had nothing to do with writing, but with quitting smoking. When a contractor starts building something, they begin by going down, and finding something solid beneath the surface.
What’s the worst?
Someone suggested that I send an unsolicited typescript to an agent, and print on the envelope in large block letters, “REQUESTED MATERIAL!” She insisted that would work, but I wouldn’t want anyone stupid enough to fall for that to represent my work. And I’ve noticed the person who suggested it is still unpublished.
What was the last story/novel you pitched/submitted?
I sent “THE TIN SCARAB” to The Medulla Review. And I queried two dozen carefully chosen agents whom I googled and verified do handle historical/military fiction about that aforementioned 60,000 word novel. Sweet merciful crap, I guess that was two years ago.
What was the last story/novel you read?
The last story I remember reading was GHOSTS OF NEW YORK, by Jennifer Pelland. The last novel I read was Thrall, by Kimberley Todd Wade, which I gave five stars.
Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why?/Why not?
Other than a filter on LJ, no. I not only have a history of coworker cohesion issues related to post traumatic stress disorder, I find it’s hard to soar with eagles when you roost with turkeys. That word “arrogant” came to mind just now, didn’t it? Or maybe a less polite word.
Where can readers find your work?
I do have an Amazon page.
”A door on bust is always open to bustin', but ye can't onbust a door once you've busted en.”
Where on the web can you be found?
Until my recovery is further along, I’m trying to limit my internet presence--other than that amazon page--to private/locked places.
What do you know now, that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
Really, nothing. If I’d known it, I wouldn’t have learned it. And, like Cather said, the road is all.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you, that you want to answer anyway?
Well, speaking of Cather, she’s probably my favourite author.
Also, Peadar Ô Guilin (aka peadarog) suggested that I say a little bit about self-publishing. I only know a little bit, so why not?
First thing, I don’t recommend it. It’s a risk I’ve taken for a number of reasons, and I’m still waiting to see if it actually works. I began by Googling “self-publishing scams” and identified several rackets to avoid. As it happened, the printer I chose is the same one a friend I’ve known since High School uses to print the cookbooks she markets. I’ve known other people who’ve used other printers, and got elaborate marketing packages that cost more than they’ve earned back in revenues. Also, what I’ve published is collections of stories, which seldom sell very well anyway, and I’ve chosen to forego royalties, since I doubt that I’d make enough money to be worth filing a tax return because of it. I’m only hoping to sell enough copies and get enough reviews in order to make a favourable reference toward them when I start looking for a publisher or agent. Another pitfall a self-published author faces is the absence of an editor. You have to be self-editing, and if you haven’t been through a degree program, you might not realize how difficult that is, or the magnitude of tedium it encompasses. And then there’s marketing. But small presses often expect an author to do a lot of that anyway, so it may not be as great a concern.
Who do you think would win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen?
We’ve been all over this like the bubbles on a crumpet. It depends entirely on whether or not the astronauts remember that they have the capacity to think like cavemen, because the cavemen do not have the capacity to think like astronauts. Know your enemy and know yourself, and you need never fear the outcome.
Stacy Stephens was born in Omaha's Near North Side, spending much of her early childhood in the same neighborhood where Malcolm X had spent his. However, she spent her adolescence in Gerald Ford's old neighborhood, her family having moved out of the aptly misnomered Pleasant View Housing Project.
Like Henry Fonda, she graduated from Omaha's Central High School, where she attained the rank of Cadet Corporal in Army JROTC, and got good grades in the classes she liked. During and after High School, she worked a number of food service and telemarketing jobs, finally settling into a retail position at a locally owned pharmacy, ultimately becoming manager of retail merchandise, beverage alcohol, and over-the-counter pharmaceutical products before marrying, having a child, and divorcing.
While raising that child, she attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she was elected to Student Senate three consecutive years, made Dean's List twice, and was selected for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa. She majored in Secondary Education Language Arts, graduating with a 3.08 GPA. Her formal writing classes included Journalism as well as Poetry and Fiction Studio.