Anna Yeatts: Congratulations on getting “The Cormorant in a Glass-Bottomed Cage” published with Flash Fiction Online! Tell us the story behind the story if you will.
Rebecca Birch: Thanks very much! I’m thrilled to be published in Flash Fiction Online.
As to the story, I’m involved in an online writing forum where we regularly engage in anonymous contests, usually for stories written from prompts. One of this year’s prompts was a “Title Rummage Sale.” I scrolled past pages of possible titles looking for one that spoke to me, and when I spotted “The Cormorant in the Glass-Bottomed Cage,” I knew I had one that I could work with. There was so much conflict just sitting there in the title waiting to be tapped.
I started researching cormorants and my research immediately suggested a setting and the story grew from there. I love writing prompts! They are amazing for pushing me outside my comfort zone and opening me up to new ideas.
AY: For readers not familiar with you, how would you describe your style?
RB: I wasn’t honestly sure I had a style until I asked my son to read several anonymous story openings and try to guess mine. He got it right on the first guess and has continued to do so almost every time I try that sort of experiment. My natural writing state tends towards the lush. I love imagery and sensory details. I do consciously experiment with other styles as well, and those are the few times the kidlet hasn’t guessed me correctly.
AY: What’s your process like for writing?
RB: I’m very deadline-driven. It doesn’t seem to matter how much lead time I have for a given project — the vast bulk of it gets done very close to the deadline. That’s part of why I love contests. When I have a deadline the story gets done, even if I haven’t been able to think everything through perfectly, which usually results in a better story than if I had managed to carefully plot out everything in advance.
AY: What draws you to short fiction?
RB: A couple of things. One is the aforementioned tendency towards bulk-writing. It’s much easier to craft a short story quickly. Another reason is that I love the boundaries required by such a compressed space. You have to find the right moment to enter a tale. The place with the most conflict, the highest emotional stakes. I tend to think of short stories as larger ones distilled to their most potent essences. I love the challenge of discovering those essences and transferring them to the page.
AY: I originally met you at Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop a few years ago. Since then I’ve watched your career skyrocket. What advice do you have for writers hoping to break into the business?
RB: Beyond the standard advice to “just keep writing” and “just keep submitting” my best advice would be to find yourself a community of writers. I am a world-class introvert, and if you’d asked me this question ten years ago, I never would have understood how important community can be.
There are lots of places online to connect with other writers. Hatrack River Writers Workshop, which you mentioned, is one. The Writers of the Future forums is another. Simply connecting through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media may work, too. There’s nothing so encouraging as being in communication with other writers going through the same experiences that you are. They can give you the psychological boost to keep going when you’re in the doldrums or a more active kick in the pants from time to time. I’ve been involved in several Story-in-a-Day challenges at the Writers of the Future forums. Actually, I’m pretty sure I started those. One way or the other, finding yourself a community, either online or in person, is a great way to keep motivated, make connections, and continue moving toward the goal of being a professional published writer.
AY: And then there’s the inevitable question. Do you have a novel in the works?
RB: I’ve always claimed to be a natural short story writer, but recently I was at breakfast with several local writers, where I was strongly encouraged to write a novel. Still not quite sure how it happened, but I kind of agreed to have a first draft completed by the end of December. In public. And here I am saying it again, even more publicly. So, it would seem that it’s about time for the deadline-motivation gene to kick in, and I should have a novel in the works soon. I haven’t missed a deadline yet!
AY: You have some quite varied hobbies. You’re a classically trained soprano and a deputy black belt in Tae Kwon do. And does this show up in your writing? For instance, do you have singing heroines who crack glasses to escape ninjas?
RB: Now you’re giving me ideas! Truly, though, singing heroines have certainly shown up in my work. My one completed novel draft (in my deep dark drawer of doom) includes a heroine who uses song to manipulate stone. It’s a story I’d love to revisit now that I have more experience and better skills under my belt.
AY: What else about you might surprise the average reader?
RB: I performed as a minstrel at a medieval faire for sixteen years. I can play all sorts of period instruments passably well–recorder, gemshorn, krumhorn, harp, psaltery, lute, vielle, rebec, nakers . . . Also, I can write quite authentically about the joys of wearing long dresses in the woods in the rain.
AY: Final question, how do we keep up with you on social media?
RB: My website is www.wordsofbirch.com, and I’m on Twitter as @wordsofbirch.