Interview with Nancy Zafris:
NZ: You won
the Flannery O'Connor award for Sky Over El Nido, so you're
in a good position to share your experience and give some advice.
First, how did winning the FOC help your writing career?
CMM: It gave it a huge boost.
An award like this is a signal, like a horn blasting through
fog. On the strength of it, I won fellowships to the Bread Loaf,
Sewanee and Wesleyan Writers Conferences, and I'm sure it was
a factor in fellowships for residencies at colonies such as MacDowell,
Yaddo, and others. It attracted the attention of literary agents
and it brought me opportunities to give readings, lead workshops,
and so on.
My advice? If you think your work merits the award, enter the
contest. After all, you can't win a contest you didn't enter.
But it's important to keep things in perspective. Lovely as winning
an award may be, it takes a lot of grit to keep at a writing
career, year after year; and validation, in the end, has to come
from yourself, not some external source.
NZ: How did
you go about structuring your collection? Did you employ any
helpful strategies you could share with us?
CMM: The first and last stories
in Sky Over El Nido share their main characters, so it
seemed natural to me to frame the collection with them. It was
an intuitive arrangement, like playing around with a puzzle;
NZ: How do
you read a story collection, from start to finish, or somewhat
CMM: Intuitively. Sometimes I
jump around. Sometimes I don't.
NZ: What do
you look for in a collection? What kind of surprises are happy
surprises? What kind of surprises are unhappy ones?
CMM: I look for freshness and
style, and if I don't find it in the first three sentences
what I think of an an "eyespan"
I rarely continue reading. (Because life is short and I have
a veritable Himalaya of books to read!) Exceptional prose is
not enough, however; I also look for writing that comes from
a wise heart. I want to know more about what it means to be human.
I think good fiction is an entertaining and highly efficient
way to learn more about that ever-entrancing and all-encompassing
NZ: What are
you working on now?
CMM: The edits on The
Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, an historical novel
based on a true story of Mexico in the 19th century, forthcoming
with Unbridled Books.