Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We love how “The Old Women and Miss Fitt” explores the relevant topic and the anxiety surrounding right-wing extremists in the government through the perspectives of four eccentric old women. How did you try to balance the comedic elements of your story with the parallels of real-world problems? 

Lynn Sloan: I want to begin by thanking you for choosing my story for Rappahannock Review. It’s an honor and a delight. But you asked about balance. Balancing elements and tone came up late in the story writing. My first impulse was to write a story based on my upset about our public life today. A story, not a didactic piece. In my messy first and second drafts, I worked to figure out the protagonist and plot. Protagonist first. I wanted an unlikely character and decided on a fiction writer. (A familiar group.) Then I decided on a group of old, cast-aside fiction writers “who are not natural friends.” As soon as these four characters began to interact in my written scenes, they became competitive but they kept this in check, which is natural, I think, and funny. Back to your question about “balance.” I didn’t consider this until I’d finished a couple of drafts and realized what I’d written veered toward the polemical. Not only was this not what I wanted, but it was squashing an unexpected element that had emerged: melancholy. I liked this melancholy. By cutting back on my screeching, I juggled to find a balance between cultural critique, humor, and melancholy.

RR: At the end of the story, Maeve mentioned that one of Ang’s suggestions was to cut the last two paragraphs. If the last two paragraphs were removed how do you think this would have changed the story?

LS: For me, the last paragraphs connect to a question the women asked early on—had they made any difference in the world? This remains largely unanswered in the story. Although they act, there is no triumph or bravado. What does remain are the bonds between the women. At the end, by including that Ang would want some lines cut from the story, and Maeve not taking Ang’s advice, I want to say there is more than one way to tell a story. Earlier, I mentioned that I discovered a melancholic tone as I wrote. Those final two paragraphs provide that tone as the last, and I hope, lingering note.

RR: The four main characters, Maeve, Ang, Charlee-Anne, and Rose, have such distinct personalities, interests, and backstories. Do you base your fictional characters on people that you know or develop them from imagination alone? What’s your process for fleshing out your characters? 

LS: All my characters come from my imagination, but at the beginning, my imagination is guided by practical craft matters. I want my characters to be interesting, which for me means full of contradictions. Here, I have four characters. For a reader to keep track of who is who, these four characters have to be sharply different from one another, and they must be interesting and full of contradictions. So Rose is the daffy writer of cozy mysteries, and she’s a sharpshooter and a great proofreader, i.e. good at details. While none of my characters are based on people I know, don’t they say that no one is safe from the pen of a writer? Gestures, figures of speech, aversions and passions, ways of acting and thinking—these I lift freely from direct observation. 

RR: How do you think fiction serves as an effective genre for conveying and discussing mature messages and topics?  

LS: What fiction does so well is take us inside someone else’s experience, makes them real, often, usually, it makes us care about them. This may not be much in terms of saving the world, but it isn’t nothing. Some wonderful fiction writers directly address the important problems in the world. Policy makers don’t usually consult fiction writers—hey, they may not even read good fiction—but fiction that directly addresses the large issues in our world may raise awareness in those willing to be made aware. It may even enlarge the community of the aware. Willing to be aware—that might be a definition of many fiction readers. 

RR: We read on your website that your creative interest and career started in photography before you got into fiction writing. To what extent did photography influence your choice to expand into writing fiction? 

LS: I love photography. I love the surfaces of the world that photographs present for our attention. What’s important with all surfaces is what’s beneath. As a photographer, I became frustrated that viewers would look at my pictures and not see much of what I saw or what I intended. I loved fiction writing because I want to express what’s beneath the surface.  

An example of what I’m trying to say: If I were to take a photograph of Maeve, Ang, Charlie-Anne, and Rose, you would not begin to know who they really are. Reading my story, you know. 


Read “The Old Women and Miss Fitt” by Lynn Sloan in Issue 11.1.