Interview with Stephanie Hutton, discussing “Three Sisters of Stone”
Our founder, Tianna Grosch, had the luck to hold an exclusive interview with Stephanie Hutton and provide some insight into her creative process and the creation of THREE SISTERS OF STONE in general.
To create something all her own, Stephanie takes a single thread of similarity and weaves it into something entirely new. The first flash piece, “Blow Your House Down,” alludes to the looming shadow of a wolf, long ago defeated but still with its presence lurking in the corners of the sisters’ minds.
Just like the novella-in-flash form that this work of fiction takes, Stephanie’s characters all end up standing alone in the end yet still depend on each other for a full understanding. It is a tragedy when they lose Chloe, and they are never the same again… just as I would readily argue Stephanie’s novella-in-flash wouldn’t be the same if it lost 1/3 of its stories. Yes, it would still function, but no, it would not be as clear of a picture, as wide of a view, as deep of an understanding for what these three sisters are going through.
When I read the first flash piece “Blow Your House Down,” I almost expected there to be a real wolf they encountered in their lifetime. What we discover throughout is that the “wolf” is very human... See what Stephanie has to say about her creative process and the work itself.
Tianna: I’m fascinated with the novella-in-flash form. Yours is the first I've read, and it amazes me how each piece of flash stands on its own yet adds to the greater narrative arc as a “chapter.”
How did you piece together each separate work of flash fiction while at the same time creating a whole, seamless work that could be taken apart and devoured in pieces?
Stephanie: I think it’s a wonderful form and probably easier to write than an unrelated group of flash fiction because you already have your characters and know their past and future rather than each flash being unrelated. I wrote out an overall plan of what would happen in childhood, teen years, twenties and thirties. The fact that each flash must stand alone is a challenge as repetition could become tedious. But it’s also liberating – usual flash form can continue including the focus on first and last lines, a shift or movement for a character, and the freedom to step outside of realism in some pieces.
Tianna: Why novella-in-flash? (What appealed to you about the form?)
Was this style your intent from the beginning or did it come naturally as you wrote the story?
Stephanie: Last year I pulled a bunch of my flash fiction together that all focused on a mother and daughter to submit to the Bath Novella in Flash Award. But it wasn’t strong enough and I think that forcing work together was not effective. This time, I wrote a flash based on the story of the Three Little Pigs which was published by Atticus Review. As soon as I’d written it I knew that there could be so much more to say about these three sisters. Initially I mapped out a version in which each flash was based on a different fairy tale. In the end, this didn’t work out as trying to fit into known stories was becoming more of a focus than the characters themselves. So I decided to treat these sisters as living in the real world and figure out how life turned out so differently for each.
Tianna: Was it difficult to hold yourself far enough away from the old fairytale?
What precautions or measures did you take to not “overdo” it with the comparisons to the three little pigs?
Stephanie: I was teaching a workshop that included a prompt to use items in the room in a story. There was a glass bowl on the window ledge that was unusual in that it appeared to be made of glass bricks. This gave me the idea for a house made of glass bricks and how that would allow you to see out in a distorted way. The three pigs came to mind, so I wondered how else two siblings may live. I think because I imagined one sister who is very controlled and hidden away, and another that has poor boundaries and invites anyone in, the link to the original tale was not overdone, which sticks, straw and brick may have led to. Ultimately the strong link was the diverse ways in which three siblings react to the threat of a wolf, or wolf-like figure, with some strategies more effective than others.
Tianna: How do you think your background and experiences in psychology played into the creation of this psychological-heavy work?
Stephanie: I think characterisation is key. In all my work, I tend to think about a character’s attachment style, how their history manifests in their everyday life and relationships, and what coping mechanisms they use. This is similar to the assessment process in therapy when you and the client try to figure out together how things came to be as they are. I also wanted to include a character with neurodiversity and show a more rounded portrayal of both the challenges and strengths this brings, which I do with elder sister Agnes. Finally, the issue of domestic violence is highly relevant to my professional work. It is very common that people accessing mental health services have faced violence in their life, often starting in childhood. However, a traumatic start to life does not dictate a person’s future. I wanted to show the different paths that people can take from challenging circumstances. In the end, each character in the novella is doing her best to survive. It’s not as clear as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ways of handling trauma: each
is understandable but can also come at a cost.
Tianna: What suggestions would you give aspiring authors of novellas-in-flash?
Stephanie: Find a piece of your flash work that pulls you in, that has characters who want to tell you more about their story. Write out a timeline for them that can become a clue to where to place each of your flashes. And consider how people and relationships grow and change over time. There’s no rush of course, just dip in and out. You may just find that your characters come to life in your mind and start to write their own story. I’d also suggest a mix of approaches and mood, be playful and remember that even people with the most difficult of lives have moments of lightness, fun, love and hope.
Tianna: What was the most difficult task, but also; what did you LOVE about the process (what made it worth it and that you would do all over again?)
Stephanie: Well what was a challenge but I also loved was creating the whole novella in a short space of time for a competition. I’m no good without deadlines and just float around from idea to idea. But it was also very demanding on my time and tired brain!
Tianna: Would you be able to share a tidbit of advice?
Stephanie: I recommend that you read We The Animals by Justin Torres and Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn. These are examples of outstanding novella-in-flash that create intense reading experiences which stay with you.
Tianna: What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from this experience, start to finish?
Stephanie: Don’t say “I can’t.” Don’t say “I haven’t time,” or “what if nobody likes it,” or “I should be writing it in a particular way.” Write it just the way it comes out – that’s my version of what a novella-in-flash looks like, which is just as valid as anyone else’s, including yours!
To purchase a copy of THREE SISTERS OF STONE visit : http://www.ellipsiszine.com/three-sisters-of-stone-by-stephanie-hutton/
Stephanie Hutton is a clinical psychologist who came to creative writing by accident later in life. She has published fiction, non-fiction and poetry. In 2017/18 she was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize, Bath Novella-in-Flash Award, was a finalist in Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and won Hysteria Flash competition. Find her at stephaniehutton.com and @tiredpsych.
Three Sisters of Stone is available as print, digital or kindle editions at http://www.ellipsiszine.com/three-sisters-of-stone-by-stephanie-hutton/