Frances A. Hogg (left) and Abby Osman share a laugh while discussing the craft of short-story writing in Cuenca’s Parque Calderone. (Photo by John Keeble)
Abby Osman asks Frances A. Hogg about her writing.
Franny, most gringos know you as an author because of What’s Cookin’, Cuenca?, a cooking and shopping guide, but now your most recent book is a collection of creepy stories. What drew you to the horror genre?
I’m not exactly sure of the genre of my writing. Some are horror stories, some aren’t. They all have surprising endings. My first novels were mysteries, but then I was hired as a story editor for Dark Moon Digest. I hadn’t been a huge horror-fiction fan before then but reading all those zombie stories made me think, “I can do better than this!”
How do story ideas come to you?
The title story of the first Poisonous Morsels volume, “Miss Webster’s Little Arm,” came from a dream I had about 40 years ago. I dreamed I was in elementary school and one of the “lunch ladies” was pouring gravy over mashed potatoes using a little arm that grew out of the side of her neck. It was such a disturbing image, I never forgot it. I finally realized it was a story that wanted to be written. So my ideas come from images, snippets of conversation, or people I’ve met. I keep a file of story ideas on my computer. When I’m in the mood, I look through the file and choose something to write about.
How do characters form in your mind?
Characters drive my stories. I try to put myself into the heads of people very different from myself—a shy Mexican cemetery guard, a pedophile museum technician, an obsessed photographer, a jealous eight-year-old Cub Scout. I ask myself questions about them. What are they afraid of? What would be the best thing that could ever happen to them? What would be the biggest disaster? The answers help me build a plot with a fun or creepy ending.
How has living in Cuenca impacted your writing?
Our supportive community makes getting feedback easier.My critique group is packed. I produce The Spoken Word, a monthly performance by writers of their current work. We usually have a full house. At the book launch for What’s Cookin’, Cuenca?, 220 people showed up. That’s pretty amazing! But also, living as an expat, my world view is expanded. I write and think about people with different backgrounds and experiences from my own. That makes for more interesting stories.
What do you find is most challenging about writing short stories?
Mark Twain once wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Shorter is always harder. You must establish all of the elements of a story—character, setting, story arc, resolution—with efficiency. Every word becomes important. It is writing pared down to its core. I suggest to all writers that they practice writing flash fiction daily. Start writing, after ten minutes, stop.
What are you reading now?
I don’t get to read much just for enjoyment. Because I’m an editor, it’s work. But I love reading Cuenca writers—Tom Larsen, Nancy Thornton, Kristen Sawyer, and Su Terry write fabulous short fiction and essays.
What is your writing process?
I let story ideas percolate—sometimes for a few years! I’m always thinking about how I can move a story line or find a believable way to get my characters into the positions I need them to be in, in order to tell their stories effectively. Then some morning I’ll make a pot of coffee, throw the cat out of my favorite chair, and open my laptop. I try to write a new story every week.
What are your next projects?
I’m working with a talented photographer, Kevin Bauman, on new covers for the reissue of my mystery novels based on my 22 years living in Detroit, when I worked as an inner-city legal-aid attorney. The second volume in Poisonous Morsels series, called Fingers and other disturbing stories, will be published in May, and I’m presenting a creative writing retreat with Cuenca and coastal writers in Olón in June.I’m also perfecting my website at francesahogg.com.
How can I obtain your books?
My books are available at the Carolina Bookstore and the Carolina Bookshop (in the Vegetable Bar) and through my website at FrancesAHogg.com. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.