by Aliza Greenblatt
Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. He lives on 80 acres of rural Texas with three dogs, 5 cats, a coop of fowl, 9 donkeys, 14 goats and his wife of 45 years. His story, Halloween Coming Out, was the top story at Every Day Fiction for October.
Aliza Greenblatt: So, let’s start off with some of my favorite questions: Why did you decide to start writing?
Jeff Switt: It was unintentional. My wife had been writing, privately, for a long time. She had expressed an interest in taking an on-line writing class but couldn’t justify the cost. For our August birthdays in 2012, I signed both of us up for an online Beginning Writers Workshop. It gave us something to do together, and we had a lot of fun with it. By the time the workshop was over, I found I really enjoyed the experience.
AG: From your publication credits, you seem to have a fondness for the very short story form. What drew you to flash fiction?
JS: After the workshop was completed, I looked online for short story sites. I soon got the feeling that short stories were the stepchildren of literature, and I was getting discouraged. Most of what I found were short stories written in traditional fiction style, simple in plot and character, lots of adjectives and adverbs, and not really all that interesting to read.
As I kept searching, I came across some sites which involved something called flash fiction, an unfamiliar term to me. The more I read about flash fiction style, and the more examples of flash fiction I read, the more excited I got.
The writing I did for my workshop was quite similar in style to what I found, although my efforts were amateurish in comparison to what I read online. In a couple of days I knew if I was to continue writing that I had found my calling.
JS: As we often say, a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And I had the thought, likely not original by any means, why not see if there is any interest in writing a complete flash story in three paragraphs. There are numerous sites which use word counts as the structure limits. I wanted to try something similar, but different.
AG: Has curating a flash competition influenced your own writing at all?
JS: I regret to say that curating is an overstatement. I have done a poor job promoting the blog and the competition. The day my story appeared in EDF the blog registered 130 hits, and one story was submitted. I need to streamline the contents, make it easier to use. Another writer has graciously volunteered to help me. I need to dedicate some time toward that.
AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?
JS: Often the story is already partly written in my head. In spring and fall I spend a lot of time on a tractor. I can only admire the pastures for so long until my mind starts to wander. Some story ideas come from there, from long highway trips, from grocery stores and parking lots, from checkout lines and distant memories.
When I do finally sit to write, it’s with lights off, TV off, no radio, and likely before my wife wakes or goes to bed. As I write, I tend to get what I call “all Rainman” and become each character in my stories. I have heard the term “method acting” applied to actors when they get in role. They just don’t act like the character, they become the character. That’s what I do.
AG: You mentioned elsewhere that this piece had some very specific inspirations. Can you tell us about them and a bit about how this story came together?
JS: I was at a 12-step organization conference some 12 years ago at an after-hours social. One of the attendees had been shot in the face, similar to my character, but by his wife, not in a hold-up. This was long before I started writing fiction. He was an amicable fellow, and he fit in as well as anyone else in the room. It was I who was uncomfortable. When the conference was over I felt ashamed of myself for not being able to make the effort to meet him, to treat him like anyone else in the room.
My recollection of him and that day surfaced frequently over the years. One very early morning I found myself thinking of that day and I began writing. In about three hours the first draft was written and edited. That was in September of 2013. Over subsequent months I would open the story file and edit this and that. It wasn’t until I began participating at EDF that I knew I had found the place to share the story.
Writing the story was my way of making amends to the man at the conference.
AG: Though this story has only about 800 words, it was jammed packed full of themes like overcoming fears, exterior verse interior personas, and the basic human need to feel accepted. Was it a challenge to balance all the complex emotions and themes in such a limited number of words?
JS: Thank you, but you are giving me far too much credit to think that I know all about such writing techniques. I did my share of writing during my advertising career. That, plus the 8-week online workshop, and a few “How To” writing books is the extent of my writing education. I do read a lot, and perhaps I have benefitted from some osmosis factor from that. I am grateful that you found those elements in my story. I have lots to learn.
AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?
JS: A new story, Going Nowhere, about a carjacking gone bad, will be published at Every Day Fiction on November 30. Another story has recently been accepted at Out Of the Gutter Online – Working Overtime, a story about a wife taking revenge on her husband’s favorite prostitute. I don’t know the publication date. One story, Gas Stop, appeared a year ago at Shotgun Honey.
AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
JS: Thank you for asking. It has been a thrill to have my story accepted so well and to have the opportunity to tell you and my friends at EDF something about myself.
Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt