Doug Ramspeck won first prize in our 19th Award, with Snow Crow, a stunning and deeply moving story.You can read judge Sharon Telfer’s comments on it in her judges report. In this interview, Doug, a recently retired Professor of English from Ohio State University in Lima, USA who writes in several different genres, tells us, among other fascinating things, more about his winning piece and his new poetry collections. He talks about looking for the magic in flash and mentions third prize winner Tim Craig’s story That’s All There Is There Ain’t No More as a brilliant example of ‘rule breaking’ in writing. In an amazing co-incidence, we’ve also learned that Doug Ramspeck was the judge who selected Dara Yen Elerath’s debut collection of poetry, Dark Braid as the winner of the 20th John Ciardi Prize for Poetry through BkMk Press. Dara won first prize in our June, 2021 Award with another amazing story, The Button Wife. We’re delighted that Doug is reading his winning piece on November 27th at the next Flash Fiction Festival Day in the 2.30-2.45 pm GMT reading slot. We’re really looking forward to hearing it in his own voice. Hope you can come!
- We agree with our 19th Award judge, Sharon Telfer, that your first prize winning story ‘Snow Crow’ is a stunning piece of writing,”brimming with tension and mystery”. Can you tell us what inspired this story and the process of writing it?
Thank you for your kind words about the story. I am often drawn in my writing to explore the more primitive parts of our brains. Although we do our best to listen to our rational voices, we still hear those superstitious whispers: an owl calling late at night while we are on the edge of sleep, vultures leaning their blood-red faces into roadkill, animal bones half buried in the earth. While writing ‘Snow Crow’,I hoped to capture those ancient stories of the brain. To that end, I wrote quickly, trying not to let my conscious mind interfere, trying to “hear” the primitive voice.
- Each time I read ‘Snow Crow’ myself, I find new things in it. On my last reading, I was struck by the movement in the story. The boy is inside and outside, as readers we are invited to look close up then far away. I liked the sound of the words — auguries, reliquary, sepulchral. Would you say this piece is typical of your style of writing?
“Augury,” “reliquary,” and “sepulchral” are certainly words that have found their way before into my writing. And often I have written about children, probably because the tug of the primitive feels more powerful when we are young. One of my stories, ‘Balloon,’ begins this way: “Her name is Sophia and also Come Here and Quiet and Bring Me One.” Another story, ‘Messenger,’ opens with this line: “Here is a place, as quiet as a whisper.” That second story, like ‘Snow Crow,’ is sometimes distant from the central characters (two young brothers) and sometimes close in. But every line, I hope, reflects their way of seeing the world.
- You write in several different genres. Your most recent collection of poems Book of Years is just out from Cloudbank Books and another poetry collection Distant Fires, which came out in 2020 was selected as winner for the 2019 Grayson Books Poetry Prize, We’d love to hear more about these collections and where people can buy them.
My most recent book of poems, Book of Years (2021),is just out from Cloudbank Books. Here is a link to the press page: https://cloudbankbooks.com/book-of-years/ The collection follows the speaker’s life from childhood through a long marriage to old age. Distant Fires (2020) includes poetry, short fiction, and a brief play. The brothers in the book were devoted to each other in childhood but have since followed different paths, the older one ending up in prison. My story collection, The Owl That Carries Us Away (BkMk Press, 2018), has twenty-nine stories, nineteen of them brief (no more than 1,000 words). Information about all of my books can be found at dougramspeck.com. Click on a book cover and more information will appear.
- Is there anything you can say about the poetry/flash fiction divide (if there is one…).
If I took ‘Snow Crow’ and placed it into lines, might it pass as a poem?
And the days were made of auguries.
And the cricket calls arrived
disembodied from the field.
And a dead mole lay on its back . . . .
Rather than thinking too much about genre, I wonder if it’s more productive to think in terms like this: When does my writing seem to jump off the page? How can I create those jumps more consistently while jettisoning the other stuff? There are certainly ways we can improve our writing by analyzing genre expectations, but I sometimes wonder if worrying too much about the “market” makes it harder to produce work that might make editors sit up and take note.
- You have recently retired from your full professorship of English at The Ohio State University at Lima. Have you many new projects on the go? And do you do any creative writing teaching online or face-to-face?
This past summer I moved with my wife to North Carolina, where we live atop a mountain with bears as our neighbors. They climb the trees beside our house and eat the acorns. They peer in the window while I’m on the treadmill. When I’m not trying for glimpses of bears, I am at work on a new book of stories and a new book of poems. On April 5, 2022, 6:30-8:00 pm ET, I will offer a Zoom workshop session through Flatiron Writers Room Here is a brief description: “We’ve all been there: we want to write a story (full-length or flash), but we don’t have an idea that sparks us, or we worry that the ideas that occur to us are derivative, boring, and unpublishable. For many storytellers, this leads to the worst kind of writer’s block: procrastination. This class will offer creative and surprising ways to generate ideas.”
- Your website blog on aspects of writing and submitting is very interesting and you often write about breaking perceived writing ‘rules’ What rule-breaking advice can you give to those writing very short fiction?
Writing rules, while sounding quite helpful and sensible, can sometimes create unnecessary and even harmful limits. For example, I can easily imagine announcing that flash-fiction writers should use concrete and vivid sensory images, should avoid letting the work sound like an essay, and should include lots of active verbs. What’s wrong with that? Well, Tim Craig’s wonderful story from your contest (I keep rereading it!), “That’s All There Is, There Ain’t No More,” breaks all three rules. Again, it might make more sense to ask a question like, Does this sentence/paragraph have magic in it? If so, how can I tap into that magic and produce more of it? The magic in the opening sentence of Craig’s story, for example, is wonderfully developed throughout the piece.
Thanks very much to Doug for this interview. If you want to create some magic in a 300 word story for our 20th Award, it is open for entries now and closes on 6th February. Judge Karen Jones.