BackStory: Six Questions with Elizabeth Burton
Author of Promiscuous
What inspired you to write this ‘Promiscuous’?
I first became interested in eugenics and forced sterilizations several years ago when I heard a report on the radio about individuals who had been victimized by the practice. I was shocked by how recent these sterilizations were, some even taking place in my lifetime. I was particularly interested in how people were targeted simply because they happened to be a member of a minority group or even just uneducated or poor.
One set of my grandparents was brilliant but uneducated (my grandfather went to the third grade and my grandmother the eighth), so it occurred to me that they could have been picked for sterilization and I wouldn’t be here. It was a strange realization, and it made this piece very personal.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
My current long work-in-progress is a novel about a character who is the victim of a forced sterilization, so I didn’t have to do much research specifically for this piece. Something that surprised me a great deal was that poor men, particularly those who were minorities, were sterilized, too.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I love revising! It seems far less daunting to me than staring at an empty page. I tell my own writing students that most of the real work of writing takes place during the revising phase, where you have the opportunity to rethink and re-vision your writing. I also love working with editors because it’s great to have a new set of eyes on my work—those at FlashBack Fiction have been wonderful.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
Callie and I are both from the Appalachian U.S., as you might be able to tell from my accent.
What do you like most about writing flash?
I like the challenge of writing an entire story in so few words. Flash explores a moment of change, a moment that feels complete in some vital way to readers. Whether that completeness is accomplished through story, language, or structure, it’s an essential element of flash. As someone with a busy schedule, I also appreciate that my rough drafts for flash don’t usually take as much time as my longer works. Revising, though, takes just as long!
How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
I want to be historically accurate enough that it helps my readers put themselves in the shoes of my character(s). Beyond that, though, I’m open to play!
Elizabeth Burton lives in Kentucky, USA, with her husband and two willful dogs. She holds an MFA from Spalding University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Roanoke Review, Chautauqua, The Louisville Review, The MacGuffin, Valparaiso Fiction Review, EllipsisZine’s Three, and formercactus.
Image close-up from a lipstick advertisement in Vanity Fair, 1955.