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An Interview with Mona Leigh Rose

by Shelly Lowenkopf

Mona Leigh Rose and her husband

Mona Leigh Rose Mona’s work appears in Santa Monica Review, Puerto Del Sol, The Writing Disorder, and Third Wednesday, among others. She is honored that one of her stories appears in the anthology The Best Small Fictions 2017. She lives and writes in Santa Barbara, California.

Shelly Lowenkopf: When you begin a new story, does the itch come from a what-if concept, or a character, speaking to you, asking for help? Mona Leigh Rose: My stories begin with a voice. I'm working on a short piece now that started when the protagonist told me something rather banal. Who cares? I thought. She cared, and for a very specific reason. Once I understood that reason, I was ready to write her story. SL: First date with a character, which comes first--you see or hear the character? MLR: I hear characters. Seeing takes me some time. SL: Please talk about the moments when you know the concept you're working on has the legs to give you a full draft. MLR: I used to think it was when I felt the flush of excitement while composing, that heady time when every sentence flowing through my fingers merits a Nobel Prize (or at least inclusion on the shortlist). Now I understand that, around the tenth draft, if I'm still moved by the story in some way (I laugh at a line, or I choke up when I see some bit of imagery), then that story may resonate with a reader as well. SL: Do you rush to get a draft done before you begin revision, or do you eke out the narrative a sentence at a time? MLR: Both. I rush when rushing feels necessary, and mull for days over a single sentence when mulling feels imperative. SL: What's different now from the way(s) you worked your earlier stories? MLR: I try to rely less on intuition and more on craft and structure. SL: How do you keep your characters from looking and sounding like versions of you? MLR: Every character I write is a version of me. How could one write strangers? Like a tone deaf hack, that's how. As I see it, the object isn't to write characters who are different, but to write characters who are true. There are many voices running through my head, so finding one that works for a particular character isn't as much of a challenge as you might think. SL: What thing gets you into a story from another writer? MLR: A protagonist who feels real. SL: What is most apt to put you off? MLR: Visible agendas. Details for the sake of details. Endless backstory. SL: What thing(s) would you most like from a reader of one of your stories? MLR: A forgiving heart. For the characters, not the writing. No reader should ever forgive (or tolerate) bad writing. SL: Please talk about the steps you take when a story-in-progress refuses to move forward. MLR: I put it away for several months. Naps are quite invigorating, for both writers and characters. SL: A story you've finished (and loved) brings in eight or ten rejects, but you still love it as it stands. Now, what? MLR: I try to consider the story objectively (hard to do), apply what I've learned since the last revision, and submit the revised piece to an editor with good sense, unlike those mouth-breathing morons who rejected it. SL: Please talk about your approach to the way you craft the endings for your narratives. MLR: When the story ends, I stop writing. I've learned that last bit is super important.

Shelly Lowenkopf lives, writes, and teaches in Santa Barbara. Former editor-in-chief of four book publishers; ran the LA office for what was then Dial, Dell, Delacorte Press. Had an editorial hand in three genre magazines and one literary journal. Reviewed fiction for major metropolitan dailies, taught at graduate, undergraduate levels for thirty-five years. Did all this with a BA and abundant chutzpah.

Mona Leigh Rose is featured in Volume 4 "Stardust" of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal.

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