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Congratulations on your win in the 2016 Penny Fiction Flash Fiction Writing Competition! Your 16-word story, “The Arcade at Midnight,” was the favorite among the HWP staff. Another entry of yours, “Birthday: Assisted Living,” also made it to the top of our list. Is this your first time attempting micro-fiction?

  1. I’ve written 99-, 100- and 200-word fiction pieces and flash nonfiction (generally in the 500- to 1000-word range), but I’ve never attempted so few words before. The challenge of the 16-word story contest was too compelling not to try. (And thank you very much!)

What other forms and genres do you enjoy writing?

  1. Creative nonfiction is my true love, and flash nonfiction is my favorite to write. 

Where do you find your ideas and inspiration?

  1. Mostly in the never-ending noise in my head; I remember way too much, and I see patterns and connections between unrelated things all the time that strike me as cool ideas for writing. Even my fiction is somewhat autobiographical because I have a cornucopia of bizarre life-experiences.

How long have you been writing?

  1. Since shortly after birth. Allegedly. I’m sure it was all crap. I may have done some cave paintings in utero before I had “the language.” That period is so murky. But, I remember when I began to love writing: sixth grade. (Thank you, Mr. Daniely, for making us write stories with all 20 spelling words each week. Love and hugs, E)

What is your writing day like?

  1. Occasionally, I’ll write during the time that most people call “day,” but it’s generally only when a deadline is nipping at my heels. I prefer the catacomb-hours – endlessly dark, blessedly mute – because I plan and prewrite for hours or weeks (depending upon the scope of the project) almost all in my head, and I need mental quiet for that. (And, I made that distinction because I’m deaf, so aside from a wicked tinnitus affliction, I live in a near constant state of “quiet.”) I usually have several writing projects going at the same time, so I’ll begin with research, then the period of mental prewriting, and then, by the time I get to the keyboard, I’ve got the piece already written. I just have to type whatever I’ve been planning. The one absolute revision step is reading the draft aloud. It is the only way. I write something every day even if it’s only grading feedback.  

Are there any authors who have influenced your writing?

  1. Haven Kimmel (A Girl Named Zippy) and Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and most of his short stories) are the rock-star writers who made me want to write creative nonfiction. They led me to David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, whose work I love. And Ellen Degeneres. These authors write precisely the way they speak, which is a fascinating technique that I heart like a squirrel loves darting.   

What are you reading right now?

  1. I’m always, always juggling multiple works. This moment, I’m working my way through a pile of Time issues, a handful of true crime books like In Cold Blood, plus The New Yorker every Sunday about 3 AM annnnnnnnd anything else I can get in my hands. I’m rabidly anticipating some free time (hahahahahahaha) so that I can crack some new spines including, Sarah Einstein’s Mot: A Memoir and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History.

What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?

  1. “Stupidity is frequently rewarded with intense pain.” Also, “Coffee.”

  2. (My daddy created the first one when I was just a squirt, and his secretary gave him a cactus in a terra cotta pot on which she’d painted the motto. I’m still mad that that cactus looked SO soft.)

Where can we find other works from Elane Johnson?

  1. Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Hippocampus, Superstition Review, Sonora Review, The Indianapolis Star, Indystar.com, The East County Gazette, Current, The Gnu. Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly is an anthology that contains one of my memoir essays, “Porn Star.” And ElaneJohnson.com.

What’s next? Do you have any writing projects on the horizon?

  1. Okay. I have a couple of hot things on the stove.

  2. First is a true crime book. Until last year, one of my high school classmates was serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife, whose body was discovered in a landfill. The couple’s six-year-old daughter – who went missing at the same time – has never been found. After one of the jurors was tried and found guilty of misconduct in the original trial, the conviction was tossed. A retrial is coming soon, and after ten years, both sides now have the chance to fortify their cases; the outcome is anyone’s guess.

  3. Second is the ongoing blog, “Misadventures in the eLane” (www.elanejohnson.com), and you’ll just have to check it out because if anyone hands out awards for screw ups, I’m totally going home with a golden naked man or at least a little statue of one.

If you could share any advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?

  1. Read, read, read, read. And read. Plus, write, write, write.

Finally, any advice for writers who are thinking about entering the Penny Fiction Flash Fiction Competition?

  1. First – again – read winning Penny Fiction Flash Fiction pieces to get a feel for burning off everything but the essence of a story. Then, without focusing on word count, write a flash piece that zooms in on, say, the climax or the falling action. Then, play with word-conservation devices such as hyphenating multiword adjectives, using semicolons (sparingly) to eliminate conjunctions, and exchanging multiple words for a single, precise one. Pretend you’re a poet, and make every word count.

Elane Johnson’s nonfiction has been anthologized, featured in college creative writing curricula across the United States and internationally, and published in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Hippocampus, Superstition Review, Sonora Review, The Indianapolis Star, Indystar.com, and The East County Gazette among other publications. Her award-winning fiction has been published in Current and The Gnu. Elane holds an MFA (with distinction) in Creative Nonfiction and teaches graduate-level creative writing for Southern New Hampshire University. She is married to the writer, Stephen Ulrich. Elane is represented by Veronica Park of Corvisiero Literary Agency, http://www.corvisieroagency.com/elane-johnson.html Visit her website, Life in the eLane at elanejohnson.com or follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ElaneJohnson and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dorkylane/