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Articles > Behind the Scenes with Jacqueline Brown (5/15/07)




Jacqueline Brown (New York, NY) speaks about her experience in the Short Story Challenge 2007, which attracted over 200 writers from around the world.  Her short stories, “Hortense and the Heir” and “Chocolat Amer”, helped her take home the grand prize.


E-Mail Jacqueline Brown



NYC MIDNIGHT: Congratulations on winning the first ever Short Story Challenge 2007 and besting over 200 writers from around the world. Why did you enter the Short Story Challenge?


Jacqueline:  Thank you. I entered the Short Story Challenge after having competed and drowned in the 2006 Screenwriter's Challenge (my first round heat was science fiction/underwater). Nonetheless, despite my less than impressive showing there, I was intrigued with the concept of the short turnaround writing experience and most impressed with NYC Midnight, so I determined to sign up for future Challenges.


NYC MIDNIGHT: You have also competed in our previous Screenwriting Competitions. Do you prefer screenwriting or creative writing? 


Jacqueline:  “Chocolat Amer” is the first short story I’ve written in 20 years, making the comparison a relatively new one for me. Going forward, my preference will probably depend on which style I’m working in at the time and what I’m trying to convey. I am comfortable with the structured order of the traditional screenplay, but now that I’m inspired to write prose I’m reminded that those same basic rules can be applied to short stories and novels. On the other hand, practicing the word economy dictated by short story writing can only enhance my scripting.


NYC MIDNIGHT: Have you had success in other writing competitions and/or do you have any published work?


Jacqueline:  My entire competition experience has been with NYC Midnight, making the Short Story Challenge only my second contest participation. I have not yet been published nor have I sold a script yet; however, a screenplay, “Miss Otis Regrets”, was optioned several years ago.


NYC MIDNIGHT: How did you get started as a writer? Where are you now in your writing career and what are your goals? 


Jacqueline:  My first writing recollections are of penning and inking little stories to entertain my two younger sisters. I created a little triangle-shaped girl character named JaDonJe (taking the first letters of my and my sisters’ names) and concocted zany adventures for her, inspired by Mad Magazine and “Rocky and Bullwinkle”—go figure.  I am still in the pre-professional stage of my writing career, but my success here has boosted my confidence in my work and in myself … I’m looking forward to a long and successful writing career.  And a pony.


NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you write on a regular basis? What is your general approach for writing a short story or novel, from idea to final draft?


Jacqueline:  I wish I had the discipline to adhere to a writing schedule. I procrastinate and come up with excuses to avoid putting butt in chair and pen to paper, but I justify the delay by telling myself that everything done in the meantime is research.  Then, once I’ve worked up the courage to stare-down a blank page, I beat out (outline) the story and get to work. It has been only recently that I’m able to compose at the keyboard; all earlier writing had been done in longhand on legal pads and in bound notebooks.  I live surrounded by those stacks of works in progress (did I mention that I’m a pack rat?)—my miniature dachshund, Gus, is threatening to move out.


NYC MIDNIGHT: In the first round, you received the assignment of genre (fairy tale) and subject (endangered species). Were you happy or disappointed with your assignment? Were there other 1st Round assignments that you would have preferred or despised, and if so, which ones? What genre(s) do you most prefer when writing your own material?


Jacqueline:  Going into the Challenge, I resolved to accept the assigned genre/subject and go for it, so I didn’t allow myself to waste time pondering how I felt about the assignment. I must admit, though, that I wasn’t as thrilled with fairy tale/endangered species as I was with drama/chocolate, but as my friend Joey says “what’re you gonna do?” Again, it is dependent on the story I’m trying to tell, but I enjoy writing drama, comedy and dramedy. I’m ready for a revival of sophisticated, adult comedies featuring fast-talking, witty ladies and gentlemen. And a dog (roll over, Asta, and make room for Gus).


NYC MIDNIGHT: In the 24-hour final round, you received the assignment of genre (drama) and subject (chocolate). Were you excited to get started or did you have some problems? How was your experience writing a short story on such a tight deadline?  What time did you have your first draft and what time did you send off your story?


Jacqueline:  Chocolate/Drama -- two things came to mind instantly: (i) like all dog owners, I am aware of chocolate’s toxicity to dogs and I live in constant fear that Gus might accidentally ingest some cocoa product; and (ii) the ongoing slave conditions involved in the production of African cocoa.  The latter led me to thinking about arranged marriages and child brides and, before I knew it I had the concept on which to write “Chocolat Amer.”  I did some online research on cocoa farming and went to bed at around 2:00 a.m. thinking about my story, but determined to get eight full hours of sleep.  I began writing at around noon and wrote off and on for the next nine hours. I sent the story off at about 11 p.m. with an hour to spare.


NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you have any plans on expanding your stories or adapting them for the screen? 


Jacqueline:  I am adapting “Hortense and the Heir” and “Chocolat Amer” for the screen with hopes of  directing the short film adaptation of “Hortense”.


NYC MIDNIGHT: This year we introduced a short story review forum where writers could share their stories from the competition with each other and provide/receive feedback.  It looks like you participated.  Do you feel that the feedback you received was helpful? What were some of your favorite stories that were posted? 


Jacqueline:  Although I posted my stories on the review forum and welcomed the opportunity to critique and in turn have my work critiqued by my peers, that process was almost as unnerving as awaiting the final judging. The posted final stories were all impressive, and I marvel at how imaginative and broad the other finalists were in their interpretation of the theme. The feedback was thorough and spot-on in most cases; the reviewers’ generosity and concern were genuine.


Favorite stories?  John Dowgin’s “Trick” especially resonated with me—a powerful, well-written story with a Rod Serling-like subtext.  I loved John’s leaving the story’s reveal to the reader’s imagination—a great story, JohnnyD.   


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Besides the prizes, what did you take away from your experience in The Short Story Challenge 2007? 


Jacqueline:  The prizes are wonderful, and the additional bonus was the camaraderie and support I received from my fellow contestants and from NYC Midnight.  I am honored to be connected with a major international contest series for writers and filmmakers, and I am looking forward to competing in future Challenges.


NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you have any ongoing projects you would like to talk about? 


Jacqueline:  Screenplays “Cousin June Bug” about a hotshot corporate lawyer’s comeuppance and “Herman’s Herstory,” a comedy in the vein of “Some Like It Hot,” and the beginnings of a novel dealing with “the little people” at a prestigious white shoe law firm (working title “9:30 to 5:30”).


NYC MIDNIGHT:  Do you have an all time favorite short story?  If so, which one(s)?  Who are some of your favorite writers and who has influenced your storytelling techniques?


Jacqueline:  Annie Prolux’s “Brokeback Mountain” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” are two favorites.  I count Chester Himes, Grace Paley and Charles W. Chesnutt among my favorite short story writers. James Baldwin’s work is a major influence on my writing; he was a brilliant writer and intellect who mastered the balance between rage and reason during a time when few readers and critics were evolved enough to acknowledge his genius.


NYC MIDNIGHT:  What advice would you give to all the aspiring writers out there?


Jacqueline:  With all due respect to you, gentle interviewer, I’d advise us to drop “aspiring” in describing ourselves and to own up to being writers—you either are or aren’t, there’s no in between. One of my favorite film moments is the tight shot on John Turturro (as Barton Fink in the eponymous movie) and his gleeful pride in announcing “I’m a writah!” Goosebumps!


With the clock winding down on my 15 minutes here, I would like to speak to the plight of the older writer.  So much of contemporary writing focuses on younger writers and audiences to the exclusion of mature nascent writers, but our stories are rich and ripe with life experience and our unique perspectives. There should be no place for ageism in art and it should be banished alongside racism and gender bias. I am a founding member of a major New York City screenwriting group, and I am disturbed by the increasing inclusion of demeaning racial, gender and sexual orientation stereotypes -- be they for comedic relief or dramatic effect -- in our racially diverse membership’s scripts.  Let’s strive to advance our culture through our writing.


Write your story, spin your tale, and shake a tail feather regardless of your age, race, religion, sex or sexlife.  Write. Enter contests. Thrive. There’s room and time enough for everyone.


NYC MIDNIGHT: Will you be back to defend your title in 2008?


Jacqueline:  I can’t wait.




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