Spotlight: Flashversary Winner Maggie Duncan, Part I

Our 2014 Flashversary winner Maggie Duncan holds quite a few distinctions here at Flash! Friday. As though it’s not enough to win the entire bamboggledy at Flashversary, she joins FF legends Betsy Streeter and Karl Russell as Flash! Friday’s only four-time winners; she served as one of the first judges here during Year One; AND she was, in fact, Flash! Friday’s very first winner, back in the old days before we even had our own website.

She. Is. Amazing.

To refresh your memories, her story “The Fire This Time” propelled her into the Flashversary semifinals; but it was her bold, didgeridoo tale “Dreamtime” that secured her spot in the finals and ultimately won her the trophy. The judges said, “Can’t overstate the wonderful descriptive writing. The story is full of contradictions that combine to make the MC a unique, fresh character.”

We sat down with Maggie, herself a unique, fresh character, over e-coffee recently and did a bit of brain thievery. Following today and in next week’s Spotlight feature, we are pleased to share the results of our mischievous labors.

Describe for us your journey as a writer. 

I have always written stories, from the time I’d get my weekly set of third grade spelling words. We’d have to use each correctly in a sentence, and my sentences were all related, connected, and usually about horses. (Hmm, my first flash fiction, perhaps.) I graduated to what’s now called fan fiction by writing Star Trek and Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in English class when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher. I worked on my high school and college newspapers, started in the government as a reporter for an aviation magazine, graduated to editor of that same magazine, wrote handbooks for employees and guidance for airlines; all the while writing fiction in what little free time I had. So, when I was eligible to retire from federal service in 2009, I did so to devote all my time to writing fiction. I can’t imagine not writing.

What’s your current writing life like? 

As I said, I’m reworking and reworking two solid manuscripts I want to query to agents, so that’s pretty much occupying my writing life right now. A typical day is breakfast, newspapers, then some morning writing, lunch, some afternoon writing, dinner, and evening writing. So I don’t get house-bound, I go a couple of days a week to a coffee shop and work for a few hours. One or two days a week I keep my four-year-old granddaughter and pick up my six-year-old grandson from school, but since I’ve worked them into a novel,  it counts toward writing time. It does!

I go to about a half-dozen different writing workshops or conferences each year, ranging from one day to a whole week, and I try to find a new one in a different part of the country to attend. My goal is to find one in Ireland. There’s my writing group, SWAG, for open mic night, and my critique group, who is helping me hone one of my manuscripts.

It’s a full writing life, so I feel no qualms at telling anyone I’m a full-time writer.

What would you say to someone behind you on the journey? Where should they begin?

There was a meme circulating on Facebook recently to the effect of “put your butt in the chair and write.” It’s that simple. If you want to be a writer, write. Study your genre by reading the best in it, then write. Go to workshops and conferences, join a writing group, then write. Nothing frustrates me more than to hear people say they are writers, but they do everything except write and find excuses not to write. Yes, you have to research, even when you write fiction, and you have to learn your craft; but that’s for naught unless you write. So, I’ll borrow from the Nike ads of a few years back, i.e., “Just do it.” Just write it.

Who is a writer we should follow, and why? 

That’s so hard to answer. There are so many good ones. If you like engaging with writers, follow Anne Rice on Facebook. She always posts discussion topics and engages with her readers. Of course, she can’t be accused of writing flash, but she’s one of the few who doesn’t look at her readers as necessary evils. Or Neil Gaiman. Not a flash writer either but one whose Tweets (They could be flash, right?) are inspiring.

What is/are your favorite genres to write, and why?

For short stories, I like speculative or science fiction, even magical realism. I don’t think I could sustain either of those genres for a novel-length work, so short stories or flash give me that outlet. My novels are what Alan Furst calls “historical thrillers,” a suspense or espionage story with the emphasis on historical accuracy of the time. My novel drafts in this genre range from pre-Cold War to present day.

Tell us about a work in progress.

Just as an experiment for NaNoWriMo, I decided to bring my two main characters from the espionage novels into the present day, a challenge because the man is now seventy-one and the woman fifty-six. He spends his time as a house-husband and wood-working in his home shop. She is now the head of the U.N.’s global espionage organization, advising heads of state and running covert operations all over the world. On a day off, she and her step-granddaughter go shopping at a mall when a jihadi decides to start shooting. She shoots the terrorist and manages to get him in her organization’s custody before the FBI arrives. Mayhem and counter-intelligence ensue.

How do you feel about dragons?

Frankly, I’d like to have one so that when my neighbor’s dog barks in the middle of the night… No, dragons should be used for good.

Thanks for joining us today; come back next week for the second half of our Spotlight interview with Maggie. In the meantime, I encourage you to bite the ends off a Tim-Tam and use it as a straw in your coffee. It’s possible doing so will change your life.

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