Deborah Monk, author of Storytime for Grown-Up Women and the Girls Who Will Become Them, shares insights on writing short stories.
The Inspiration for Storytime for Grown-Up Women
Olivia Edwards: What a unique book! Each chapter reads like a fairy tale, and the book is full of wisdom that relates to real women’s lives. What inspired you to write Storytime for Grown-Up Women and the Girls Who Will Become Them?
Deborah Monk: The first story, Wings and a Tail, had been percolating inside me for quite a while. But as a women’s fiction writer, I didn’t think I had a magical enough voice. I told the story to a friend, hoping she would write it for me, and her response was, “Write it exactly like that.” She gave me the confidence that this was a story I needed to tell. And once I started, I couldn’t stop!
Sharing wisdom through writing short stories
Olivia: The characters in your stories often represent women connecting with their spirituality, undergoing changes, and becoming their true selves. Do you think these themes are especially important in today’s world? How do your own personal experiences inform your writing on these themes?
Deborah: I feel this is an incredibly important message for women at every stage of life. I believe the aspect of empowerment that has been lacking for women in the past few decades is that forward is not the only way to make progress.
Olivia: The stories can resonate with women in many different stages of life, from young professionals to empty-nesters. The title—Storytime for Grown-Up Women and the girls who will become them—indicates that you had adult women as well as young girls in mind as the intended audience. How did you get the idea to write fairytales for grown-ups? What do you hope your audience will take away from this book?
Deborah: Initially, I wrote these stories for girls, hence the line inside the cover, “Be good. Be quiet. Behave. Imagine, instead, if we taught our girls to be brave?” What became clear to me is that there is incredible power and wisdom in the simplicity of a children’s story. For a young girl hearing the stories, I hope they plant seeds of wisdom. For women, I hope they also recognize themselves in the stories so they can find their own simple truth again.
Author’s craft in writing short stories Tweet This
Olivia: Each chapter is so different. Some are traditional fairy tales with magic and animal characters; some are poems. Others are stories about humans in a world like ours, with a magical and spiritual element. Can you please talk about your craft as an author?
Deborah: Sometimes, I find it hard to express my feelings with words, which is ironic for a writer. So when I have a feeling that is expanding inside of me, the character usually comes to me first, and then whether she’s a lamb or a butterfly, she is able to express the feelings for me.
Olivia: Storytime for Grown-Up Women is full of rich imagery and symbolism: a girl with fairy wings and a mermaid’s tail, a lamb in soft bunny slippers walking down a lonely trail, Mother Nature’s wise words becoming butterflies on the wind. Where do you get the inspiration for images like these?
Deborah: The images are attached to the feelings, and “seeing” the stories is how I write them. There was a line in The Lost Lamb that I ended up taking out, even though I loved it, that summarized the story for me. “This-bunny-slipper-wearing-lamb-is-feeling-brave!” In my imaginary world, there is a store that carries only bunny slippers… bunny slipper rain boots, bunny slipper ballet flats, and bunny slipper high heels that are, of course, comfortable.
How writing short stories differs from writing novels Tweet This
Olivia: You have previously written two novels, Well-Behaved Woman Coming Undone and Searching for Julia Stone. Can you talk about the difference between writing novels and writing short stories and poems? Were there any new challenges or joys that came with writing this type of book?
Deborah: One difference between writing a novel of fifty thousand words versus a short story, is I am shocked how much time and focus and energy can go into nine hundred words. With a short story, every… single…. word counts. Which is fun. And sometimes, intimidating.
Writing in a state of flow: avoid writer’s block
Olivia: You host a podcast called Writers Block Podcast NH, which helps writers find their creative voices. Did you experience blocks while writing Storytime for Grown-Up Women? What practices or tips do you find most valuable in your own writing practice?
Deborah: When it comes to these stories, I have not encountered writer’s block in any way. I already have a folder with notes for all the stories in Volume 2.
Lisa Tener: Do you have any tips or secrets that keep you writing in a state of flow?
Deborah: The best way I find to stay in flow is to write what I love. Not what I think I should write. Not what I think will sell. Not whatever the latest fad is. When I write the stories that speak for my heart, that is the only time my writing flows. The bonus is that when I’m in that happy place with my writing, it spreads into every other area of my life. So I figure if it doesn’t sell, or doesn’t meet current market needs, well, I’ve already won so much that it really doesn’t matter.
Writing, Podcasting, Dancing, and Art
Olivia: As a writer, podcaster, designer of jewelry and magnets, and ballroom dancer, you have done many different types of creative work. How do the different art forms allow you to express yourself in different ways? Do you see any similarities between them? Do these creative outlets inform each other in any ways? What is unique about writing?
Deborah: All my creative works are an expression of my feelings. Each one of the things you mentioned have taught me something specific. A good example would be dancing, where movement is used for expression. If you look at the cover of Well-Behaved Woman Coming Undone, we can only see part of a woman walking towards us, with white roses hanging from her hands. If we had that same woman posed and sitting, it wouldn’t evoke the same emotion.
And the cover of Storytime shows a young girl with her mother’s shoe dangling off her foot. I hope the image evokes the memory for many women who tried on their mother’s shoe and wondered what her life would be when she grew up. So in each of my creative forms, whether it be jewelry or book covers or dancing, and I try to take the key ingredients of each art form and use that impact of each across the board.
The design process for Storytime for Grown-Up Women
Olivia: The design for Storytime for Grown-Up Women is beautiful. What was the design process like, and who was your designer?
Deborah: The cover of Storytime was a two month obsession. I believe I had over one hundred cover concepts in mind, from a black and white butterfly to a tree goddess, to coffee dyed paper with dried flowers. I finally wrote down a few adjectives to what I wanted the feel of the cover to be: whimsical, feminine and appealing to young and old. I thought this concept fit the best.
Olivia: You offer keepsakes— jewelry, handmade books, and other keepsakes—as physical reminders of your books. It’s a unique idea! What was your initial inspiration for creating book keepsakes? What role do these talismans play in your own life?
Deborah: I have always wanted to be able to take a piece of a good book into the real world with me. As I was making the individual books on their Seed Paper cover that if planted, will sprout wildflowers, I started making jewelry to match each story, which I offer in my Etsy store, DeborahMonkBooks.etsy.com. When I put all the stories together into this book, it felt important to have one piece and I created “dig deep, fly high” because that felt like the over-arching message, and it’s one of my favorites. My other favorite is the charm “Spiritual Being.” Putting one on at the beginning of the day is almost a mini-meditation, a reminder of how I want to live each day.
Self Publishing Advice for writing short stories Tweet This
Olivia: You published Storytime for Grown-Up Women through your own press. Can you please talk a little bit about the advantages of self publishing? Are there any tips you learned along the way with your previous books?
Deborah: Storytime is published through LifePondering Press, which is my own press. My first book, Searching for Julia Stone, was published through Brionna Glen, a traditional publisher. Publishing this book myself gives me complete creative control because truth be told, I was afraid a traditional publisher might not let me include pictures in a book that is meant, in part, for adults.
Olivia: Are there any questions I didn’t ask that you wish I had asked?
Deborah: The book I am working on now, The Wisdom of Women: 10 Decades, 10 Women, 5 Questions, will have a similar format to Storytime. With today’s technology, a book can be so much more than black words on a white page, and I plan to infuse my books with an artistic flair.
About the Author
After a professional ballroom dance career, Deborah Monk turned her passion back toward her very first love, writing. She has two women’s fiction novels, and a collection of short stories. Stories help her understand the world and her own heart. She is currently working on her 4th book, The Wisdom of Women: 10 decades, 10 women, 5 questions. You can find her book-related and other inspiring art at her Etsy shop. Deborah is also one of the 3 podcasters of “The Writer’s Block Podcast.” You can listen to their interview about creativity, book writing and breakthroughs with our editor, Lisa Tener.