Welcome to Miriam Ruff, my guest today. I’ve known Miriam for several years. She was a member of the Editorial Board of Your Information Center when I was Editor-in-Chief. I was familiar with her excellent skills at editing nonfiction, but I hadn’t read any of her creative writing until I read The Shortest Distance, her new collection of short fiction.
Lillie: Welcome to A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye, Miriam. I’m delighted to host you here and introduce my readers to you and your writing. Tell us a little about what you write.
Miriam: Thanks, Lillie, I’m pleased to be here. The Shortest Distance is a bit of a departure for me. I’ve published three books of poetry, but never one of stories. I saw an ad for a contest where the winner would be the person who wrote the best story in the fewest number of words. Since I tend to write long, I decided to set myself a challenge—write a complete short story (beginning, middle, and end) in 150 words or fewer. If I came up with 151, I had to find the one word that didn’t need to be there and remove it. The experience taught me a lot about the importance and power of brevity, and it was a lot like writing prose poetry.
Lillie: Of the different kinds of writing you have done, do you have a favorite?
Miriam: I’d have to say poetry and poetic ultrashorts are my favorites. They allow me to express ideas and thoughts for which I can’t always find the words verbally.
Lillie: I know flash fiction/sudden fiction/micro fiction is variously defined as 50 words, 75 words, 100 words, and on up to 1000 words. You write two lengths of short stories, which you call ultrashorts and minishorts. Did you create the names and word counts? How do you define each?
Miriam: Yes, these were totally my creation. I mentioned before about seeing a “short” story contest, and that was the inspiration for the ultrashorts. I wrote one called “Trapped in Amber,” and then, curious, I decided to see what would happen if I allowed myself up to 600 words. I was shocked when the story came out with an entirely different ending! These slightly longer pieces I call mini shorts, and again, that’s a name I came up with myself.
Lillie: I’m reminded of the Mark Twain quote: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” How can you tell a story in only 150 words?
Miriam: Ah, there’s the challenge. I think the key is to capture the essence of an idea and think about the words crucial to making that idea into the reality the reader finds. Once you’ve found the key words, you need to define the beginning and end points that mark that moment in time; the rest follows.
Lillie: I understand that you dedicated the book to a special teacher you had. Please share with us how she inspired you and how you thanked her.
Miriam: Actually, there are two dedications on the book. The first is to a special friend of mine, Yared, and he was also the inspiration for the story “Chrysalis.” The second dedication is a little more involved. The day before I went to print, I ran into a woman named Doris Tarpley, who was the children’s librarian at the local library when I was growing up. Though I hadn’t seen her in about 20 years, she recognized me immediately, remembered what I liked to read, what I didn’t, what questions I asked, what were my answers to her questions, and the list goes on. She was a great source of inspiration for my love of reading, and I felt I owed her a public dedication. The look on her face when she saw the book made all the work worthwhile.
Lillie: Are your books available both as e-books and print books?
Miriam: Yes, each book is available in a PDF copy and a 5 ½ x 8 hard copy.
Lillie: Some of my readers may have a need of your writing or editing services. What services do you offer?
Miriam: I write, edit, and teach in all different formats and on many topics. I mentioned my poetry, but that’s more “personal” writing. To earn a living, I do a lot of educational curricula, Web site text, letters, grant proposals—basically everything, short of pornography. That I will not do.
Lillie: Where can readers learn more about you, your services, and your books?
Lillie: Is there anything I’ve failed to ask that you would like to share with my readers?
Miriam: I am in the process of getting The Shortest Distance on Amazon.com, and I will let you know when that becomes a reality. Right now I’m working on a second book, which will primarily be composed of short shorts, ranging from 500 to 1000 words.
Lillie: Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us about your writing. Readers will probably have more questions for you. Will you check in during the day to respond to comments and answer questions?
Miriam: Absolutely. I believe every writer wants to connect with readers, and I relish the experience of hearing what visitors to your site have to say. Thanks again for having me here today.
Lillie: I hope my readers leave lots of comments and questions for you, Miriam.
Though she received her degree in Zoology, MIRIAM RUFF quickly moved on to other pursuits. Most notably, she spent several years in the film industry, eventually moving up to writing and producing short screenplays; she has also written and produced several full-cast audio dramas, which have played nationally on public radio.
And while she tackles all forms of writing from corporate newsletters to educational material and newspaper articles, she finds that writing short stories and poetry provide the most satisfying outlets for her imagination, as well as the most direct, and rewarding, connection with the reader. Her first volume of poetry, Telltale Signs, was published in fall 2000; a second volume, Soundings, appeared in fall 2001; and a third, Point of Impact, in fall 2003. Her work has also appeared in the “Journal of Humanistic Psychology,” as well as assorted newsletters, Web sites, and anthologies, including Letters from the Soul and Spirit of Strength. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area, where she divides her time between writing, editing, and teaching.
Miriam provided me with an e-book of The Shortest Distance with no expectation that I would offer to interview her.