Over the last month I’ve teamed up with my mother as photographer, shipping specialist and part-owner of her new Etsy shop featuring handcrafted gift quality jewelry and paper crafts. Nine Stories High is a handmade gift shop with a twist. Each item comes with a tiny work of flash fiction. This shop was just co-founded by the loveliest NC- based fiction writer Brynn Bonner to fund her nightly zen crafting practice. All the items available from Nine Stories High are handmade to order and come wrapped with unique work of fiction! I sat down with my mom in her study in NC to talk about fiction, crafting and her creative processes.
Here is an interview with the co-founder and principle maker behind Nine Stories High:
What is flash fiction?
BB: Basically it’s just a really short, bare bones story. I was very intimidated when I started to write fiction years ago and I couldn’t get my mind around trying to write a whole book. But I had stories in my head and I thought maybe I could write a short story. I did it and fell in love with the short story form. Years later I got interested in this thing called flash fiction. The main characteristic of flash fiction is that it is short–very short. No one seems to have any hard and fast rules about word count, but it does need to brief while having at least some narrative elements. There are lots of related short fiction forms as well. Micro fiction is a story kept below 300 words. These tiny narratives are also called short-shorts, postcard fiction, postage stamp stories or palm-sized narratives. And then there’s the drabble, which is exactly 100 words long. I salute those who can accomplish that! In these little bursts of stories there’s no room for elaboration so the reader needs to supply a lot of things from his/her own imagination. This makes it a very interactive form; a collaboration between writer and reader. I love that!
Could you give us an example?
BB: A classic example of a short-short is this little piece written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich:
Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, New York or London. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell! (Ponkapog Papers, 1904)
Another classic is by Ernest Hemingway, who is said to have wagered a bet with his compatriots that he could write a short story in under ten words then scribbled this on a napkin:
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
Even though I’m not a huge Hemingway fan, that one hits me straight in the heart.
How long have you been a writer/ what do you write?
I’ve been writing for a long time. I got an undergraduate degree in English (back before the earth cooled), and a Master’s in Journalism. I dealt in facts. It never occurred to me that I could write fiction. I didn’t think I had the imagination for it. In 1980 I took a maternity leave that ended up lasting two decades. I tried writing off and on but I was so in love with being a Mom that I never managed to get around to submitting anything for publication. But during all that time I did have the “what if” bug working inside my head. “What if someone in the car behind me turned and I saw it was my old math teacher–who was nine years dead?” “What if the woman ahead of me in the grocery line was an undercover treasury agent and the clerk kid was laundering funny money through his till?” These kinds of thoughts percolated away for the years when I was raising my three children, then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye they were all older and independent. I realized I wanted to get some of these stories out of my head. About that same time I met a woman who became a wonderful friend and she talked me into joining a writers’ group. In 1997 I submitted my first short story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and was astonished when it was accepted, and flabbergasted when it went on to win a special Edgar award-The Robert L Fish prize. It was all like a dream. I continued to write short stories and then decided maybe I could do a book after all. I studied how other books were written and read, read, read. Eventually I got an agent and she got me writing books-for-hire mysteries set in the Pacific Northwest (where I’ve never been) for Guideposts books. I wrote six of them (as Ellen Harris) and it was a great training ground for learning the discipline and the craft. Now I write my own books for Gallery/Simon & Shuster called the FAMILY HISTORY MYSTERY series, featuring a genealogist protagonist and her sort-of psychic sidekick. The first was call PAGING THE DEAD
; the second, due for release in March, 2014 will be called DEATH IN REEL TIME
, and I’m working on the third installment now. I write other things as well, but I do love the mystery genre.
You have a lot of jewelry but also some paper crafts available in your shop, What kinds of crafts do you do?
BB: I do them all! It’s an addiction really. Well, the exception being yarn crafts. I’ve tried crochet and knitting and I’m terrible at both of those. But I love working with paper (and making it). I love photography and playing with images. I like to sew and quilt and embroider and scrapbook and throw pottery and do stained glass and etched glass and copper hammering and macrame and basketmaking–you name it, I’ve probably tried it. I love learning to make something new and doing crafts is very therapeutic for me. When the writing isn’t going well doing some art/craft like zen drawing, beading, book binding–things that involve repetitive steps-helps me put my monkey mind aside and let ideas and solutions come to me. My only problem is sometimes I get so involved in the craft of the moment that I forget I have this book to write.
How did you learn these crafts?
BB: Back in the old days I picked up new crafts by taking classes, or learning how to do whatever it was from friends or family members. Now we have the Internet and there are wonderful tutorials and instructions on everything imaginable. It’s really amazing.
Could you tell us a little about your process?
When I spot something I like my brain automatically starts with the “how to you suppose they did that?” question and I begin looking at materials and wondering about methods and convincing myself maybe I could make one those (whatever it happens to be). Then I spend WAY too much time and money tracking down the components and researching techniques and then I make a few. By then something new has probably caught my eye and I repeat the whole process. This is how I’ve ended up with a craft room overfilled with materials that I have bought in bulk. Because I’m always convinced I’ll want to make a BUNCH of whatever has caught my interest at the time I always stock up. But maybe that’s not so bad; it’s this quirk that will allow me to make things for the new shop at a good price point.
Whats your inspiration for crafting?
BB: I think this is tied closely to the modern day interest in sustainability. Back when I grew up (on a farm in Alabama, with not a lot of resources), this wasn’t just a philosophy, it was a necessary lifestyle. You had to make do, use everything at your disposal and learn to make things yourself. But I never felt deprived. I liked making things just the way I wanted them instead of being restricted to what I could find in the stores, plus there was the pride in having made it. And that included both functional and “just-pretty” things. I see my kids’ generation (late 20s/early30s) adopting this way of life. So many of them are enterprising, inventive and creative. It gladdens my heart!
Whats your favorite item available in your shop?
I love lockets. I think it goes hand-in-hand with my interest in genealogy and family history. I like the Family History locket and the Living Memory Floating Glass Locket.
Do you have plans for more things for the shop?
BB: Absolutely! I’m a new grandmother and my granddaughter loves to play with whatever necklace I’m wearing. I have plans to make some necklaces with that in mind. Plus I’ve just recently seen some necklaces made especially for breastfeeding moms. I think that’s a splendid idea and I’m already trying to find out “how to you suppose they make those?” I’ll have the answers soon and then the UPS man will be bringing more boxes to my door.
Check out Nine Stories High on Etsy. The Self Sustaining Prophecy readers get 20% off orders through the end of February 2013 using coupon code SELFSUSTAIN20