Kathy Fish and I are thrilled that Laura Alexander will be joining us in Costa Rica this January for some rest, writing, and creative play. I chatted with her about flash fiction and becoming a writer later in life.
Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. Tell us about your writing process: How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?
Laura Alexander: For me it’s always about discipline. I am not very good at self discipline. So, I have set aside two full days a week that I devote to writing. I have to physically leave the house because I am so easily distracted. One of the things I have found is that when I am out and about I am always writing in my head. I will see an interesting person or scene and start to describe it in my mind as I would if I were writing. This gives me a chance to practice seeing things from a different perspective and using new vocabulary. I also do a lot of self care now that I have time for that because I believe it is difficult to be creative if I’m not taking care of myself. I go for long hikes, paddle on the Bay, eat well, read a lot and every morning I write what Julia Cameron calls “morning pages” to just empty my brain.
Nancy: Yes, I’m a big fan of morning pages. You shared with me that you are just beginning your writing career at age 61–that’s amazing! What has been your life until now and what brought you to this decision?
Laura: I have been a nurse for nearly 40 years and although I love my work as a nurse, I have always been a writer at heart. I started a journal when I was fifteen when I had my first kiss and have been journaling ever since. I have always loved writing letters and even with the ease of email I still hand write long, newsy snail mail letters to friends and family. When I was going through challenging times in my life I experimented with writing poetry. After 60 years I finally realized that I am a writer. I recently went down to working three days a week instead of five so that I would have more time to devote to my writing. This is my first foray into fiction.
Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction. Have you always been attracted to short fiction or is this a new endeavor for you?
Laura: Flash Fiction is a new endeavor for me. To be perfectly honest I was not much of a fan of short stories until I started reading flash fiction. I am most attracted to writing 100 word stories. To me it is a huge challenge to write a story that resonates with people and brings out some emotion in just 100 words; finding just the right words to be succinct and elicit some response. But now I am looking forward to expanding my horizons a bit.
Nancy: Have you been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to?
Laura: Costa Rica has long been on my travel bucket list so I am very excited. I am a huge nature lover and am looking forward to being in a totally different environment than the ones I experience day to day.
Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?
Laura: I have been writing a book for the past 5 years. It is called “Letters to my Sons” and it is part memoir and part pearls of wisdom. There are so many things that I wish I had taught my four sons before they left home and this is my way of doing that. It includes stories of past experiences that resulted in my learning something about myself or the world. I was hoping to have it completed about two years ago, but, well, you know how that goes . . .
Nancy: That’s a powerful impetus to write. Now react to this quote by Costa Rican writer Carmen Naranjo: ” “Stories break silence and nourish those who work, feel, and dream.”
Laura: Very often while I was raising my sons in an effort to communicate with them, especially when they were teenagers, I told stories to them either about something in my own life or a friend’s life. These stories would “break the silence” and get us talking. Everyone has a story to tell and it’s our job as fellow humans to find those stories and encourage the telling of those stories. In doing so, we will all be nourished and our lives will be richer not only because we heard others’ stories but because we were encouraged to tell our own.
Nancy: You are so right–even in the real world we use stories to get at the difficult things. I love that. Now tell us something we don’t know about you?
Laura: My two favorite quotes are “When something goes wrong, the adventure begins” and “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I am always trying to have new experiences, both large and small. Whenever something goes wrong in my best laid plans I try not to panic. Instead I say to myself, well, this will make a good story.
Nancy: Yes–it’s all writing material! Anything else you want to add?
Laura: This is a first for me, to hang around with a bunch of writers in a beautiful atmosphere. I am very excited to be joining you and look forward to meeting everyone.
Nancy: We are happy to meet you too, Laura!
Laura Alexander currently lives in San Rafael, California with her husband of 37 years and works as a Charge Nurse for an Ambulatory Surgery Center. In her free time besides writing she is an avid photographer, video editor and beekeeper. Three of her four sons live in the area along with her new granddaughter so she tries to get in as much family time as she can.