Thu 31 Mar 2011
In my writing life I keep coming across people, both face-to-face and through the Internet, who do interesting things and/or have achieved noteworthy writing success. As part of my column I thought it would be great to meet these people and get them to share their thoughts on this fiction form – Flash – that we all love. I have set ten questions for my interviewees. My first interview is with Tim Dicks, and with good reason! While many of us, definitely me, are happy if we are able to write flash pieces a few times a month at most, Tim writes one every day. Here is the interview.
I first met Tim (virtually!) in Twenty20 Journal, a magazine for fiction that is twenty words or less. (Btw, there’ll be an interview up soon on Twenty20’s editor Benjamin C Krause, meanwhile do look around his magazine and site). Coming back to Tim, his fiction has been published in PANK, Prick of the Spindle and Thieves Journal and blogs at Moonshot. What struck me most about his bio was: Tim Dicks writes a flash piece every day. I had to find out more!
As it turns out he does more than write flash fiction every day. In Tim’s own words, “In addition to my blog, I contribute to Uncanny Valley’s blog, and my fiction most recently appeared in Wigleaf. I started this project (Story Every Day) while engaged in the brutal, numbing process of editing a much longer manuscript as a way to get some new ideas down on paper quickly. I started knocking out short pieces, and wrote so many that I decided to start putting them up on my blog. I’m taking a break right now to finish edits on the novel, but am looking forward to getting back into the flash project, probably next week.”
RB: You write flash fiction every single day! How do you manage that? Can you tell us a bit about your flash fiction writing process?
Tim: I spend 30 minutes getting to work every day, and during the commute I try to think of a punchy central idea, some want or disappointment or discovery to build a miniature story around. With flash I want to eliminate as much narration as possible, so I try to think of actions, etc. that will convey the most relevant information about a character’s internal life. Then during a break I’ll write up a draft, and on another break I’ll return to it, and later I’ll return again, until it’s finished. I know I’m done when I go through and don’t find any words that make me cringe.
RB: What are the difficulties and advantages you face as a writer when working on flash fiction? Is flash fiction your favourite form?
Tim: The economy of flash fiction is addicting; everything the reader needs to know is there in a handful of words, and emotions are packed in tight enough to burst, and a story is opened and closed and over quickly, as a lot of stories in our real lives are. I enjoy reading a good flash piece and feeling like I just crawled into someone else’s brain and found a wild mess inside, but my favorite form is the novel. A novel is harder to successfully assemble, and to read, but I like the incredible possibility in all that space.
RB: When do you normally write flash fiction? Do you write during a break from your longer works?
Tim: I usually use short pieces as a break from a longer project I’m focusing on. At the moment I’ve stopped producing new work altogether, to focus on editing a novel, and I’ve found it’s difficult to fit time for flash in there. But when I’m rolling along on a long, focused project, it’s easy and relaxing to slip off for fifteen minutes and work on a draft of a short piece.
RB: Do you carry a scribbling pad with you for flash (and also poetry)?
Tim: I have no notebook, but I carry a phone I use to email story ideas to myself. Usually I note down half the idea and then forget the other half and end up with an unworkable mess. Sometimes in the dead of night I wake up and email myself some particular rush of image from a half-dream and try to make sense of it the next morning. Recently I woke and emailed this to myself “arm hole dice.” I think it was a note for a story about a man with a prosthetic arm he uses for storage of everyday objects, like a jacket pocket, and from which he draws dice to roll around a table when he needs to make a decision or is just bored. Anyway, obviously, it sounds crazy. I wrote a blog post for Uncanny Valley about these undeveloped snippets, here.
RB: What is your favourite time and place for writing? Give us a peek into your writerly routine.
Tim: My favorite time to write is at night, maybe between 10 and 2. I hate sleeping so I keep typing as a way to stay out of bed. I also enjoy working in afternoons, but during the work week there’s not much chance to.
RB: Which writers inspire you? If you have any short story/flash fiction writers in mind, even better.
Tim: There are a lot of great flash writers working right now—it’s easy to see them, I think, because so many online journals embrace flash—but some whose work I’ve enjoyed recently are Tia Prouhet, Ani Smith, and Laura Ellen Scott. I am probably most influenced by longer works that employ flash-type concision, though. I read Teresa Svoboda’s Pirate Talk recently, for example, and would love to write some pieces that have some of its fire. It’s a novel told entirely in dialogue, but we’re never confused as to who’s talking or what the action is. The entire thing shows incredible control and attention to sentence-level creation, and reads like a moody fantasy typed onto paper.
RB: Do you have any favourite flash fiction piece or writer in mind?
Tim: I admire writers who can produce a lot of good material regularly. J. Bradley comes to mind as a cross-genre writer who is always producing new content, on his blogs and for journals. Probably the writer of short fiction I’ve been most interested in lately is Laura Ellen Scott; her collection Curio is out from Uncanny Valley Press, and shows great variety in its weird, brief stories.
RB: What do you consider a great piece of flash fiction?
Tim: A great piece of flash tells me as much as possible while telling me as little as possible.
RB: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers (of flash fiction)?
Tim: My best advice to writers, particularly of flash, is to read as much as possible, find journals that match their aesthetic, and send out their best pieces. I also try to remind myself to not just think of small or quick ideas before I write a short piece, but to think of sprawling ideas and then figure out how to compact those into a tight space.
RB: What are you working on now?
Tim: I am at work on a few projects. I’m most excited about a novel, which will probably be called Moonshot, like my blog, and which will be a kind of literary/science fiction/adventure mess inspired by Candide. I’m almost done editing it and will be excited to move on, get back into the Story Every Day project, start a new long project, etc. I’ve also been assembling a flash collection, of new stuff and some old pieces.
Rumjhum Biswas is a writer based in Chennai, India. She blogs at www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com.