Process


by Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta

There are many reasons why writers fail and one of the biggest–and deadliest–of them is distraction.

You probably recognize its symptoms. You are working well and then you feel like taking a break. Then you remember unfinished chores. You think, let me answer my email and then come back. That is the untimely end of your writing day.

At night, you wonder what happened, where the day went and why was it that, once again, you got no writing done.

There are people for whom this is a chronic condition. I have a friend who leaves early morning on an errand and comes back, late at night, having done a lot of small unconnected things, but not the errand.

Been there, done that.

There was a time when I, too, lived in that garbage heap, amid the obscenely unfinished story bits, novel ideas, dangling lines of poems, rotting remnants of chapters and books. I felt trapped and frustrated and needed a way out but everyone I asked was in the same leaky, listing, capsizing boat.

I had to turn inwards and look at my own behavior instead.

The breaks were the problem. Once I took a break I never returned. So I tried to take no breaks at all. That was even worse. My writing bogged down at once and my stress levels hit the roof.

So, I asked, what happens when I take a break?

That was when I saw that invisible, insidious second bird.

This is how it goes.

Every few hours, distraction hits. One shy bird alights on your shoulder whispering, don’t you want some coffee? Ignoring it does not help. It will not go away.

So, you follow the first bird and make a cup. So far, so good.

The mischief begins here. Distraction never comes alone. It comes in flocks. The first bird leads to a second, Now that you are up, why not finish that job you keep putting off?

If you go there it leads you to the graveyard of writing dreams.

It is difficult to see, but once I caught sight of that second bird, the solution turned out to be surprisingly easy and immediate to implement. It was one of the most important things I ever learned and it took me all the way to the publication of a book.

It worked for me. It worked for a few others who had the same problem. Maybe it will work for you and take you right to the threshold of your dreams.

This is the key.

That first bird is your friend. When it shows up, suggesting a break, take one. Even a long one. The length does not matter. You need that break to refresh and recharge. Take as many breaks as you need.

The second bird is your enemy, the masked and cloaked super villain who only wants to see your writing career die. It reminds you of all the things you have not done.

It has repetitive complaints–too hard, too long, too terrible.

This is too hard. How about working on that story you put away a year ago?

It’s taking too long, why not finish a quick one first?

The first draft is terrible, better try something else.

The second bird speaks in the voice of your doubts and fears and takes you down a very dark road indeed.

What you have to do is wait for it and recognize it.

When it does appear with its siren call, be firm, no, I am going right back to the very sentence I left. Be determined and return to the same page. Be clear in your mind, I will finish this before I go to anything else.

I always finish what I start. I am a finisher.

Get into the habit of finishing everything even if it is worthless. A particular story may be no good but the habit of finishing is worth all the wealth in the world.

That one small adjustment will enable you to leave the junkyard far behind and enter the blue summer skies of writing completion.

It’s a very simple rule.

Go with the first bird and take all the breaks. Relax, enjoy.

Then, return and pick up exactly where you left off.

Never, ever, follow that career destroying, morale sapping second bird.

____________

Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.

 

 

By Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

As part of the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day-New Zealand, a contest was held for the best flash story of 300 words or fewer. Below I interview the winners–Sarah Dunn, First Place for Islands and Cities; Tricia Hanifin, Second Place for With Our Eyes Closed We Begin to Dance; and Sue Kingham, Third Place for Just My Luck.

Flash Fiction Chronicles: What draws you to flash fiction?

Sarah Dunn2

Sarah Dunn: It’s an interesting new shape. I didn’t give the form much thought until it occurred to me that flash fiction could be treated like a hybrid between poetry and traditional short stories, and there’s a lot of fertile space between those two poles.

Partricia Hanifin

Trisha Hanifin: A number of things: the challenge of brevity and intensity, and the sense of intimacy such intensity can create; the process of finding what is essential in a story and what is superfluous; and the condensed nature of flash makes it a close relation to poetry.

I’ve always liked Frank O’Connor’s argument that short stories represent a struggle with time, that they’re an attempt to reach some vantage point from which past and future are equally visible. I think this is especially true of flash fiction because what you often see on the page is a mid pointor flash point—between the past and future, both of which are not mentioned but are somehow made visible by the tiny, spotlighted moment of the story.

Sue KinghamSue Kingham: I am a student on the Hagley Writers’ Institute first year course in Christchurch. This year I began entering writing competitions and submitting my stories to the Flash Frontier website. I enjoy writing flash fiction and the length has enabled me to produce a number of stories in a short period of time.

FFC: Once you decided to enter this year’s NFFD NZ competition, what was your process for developing a story to submit? Where did the idea for your story come from?

Sarah Dunn: I might get into trouble for telling you this, but when I’m writing short pieces, I like to email early drafts to my work inbox and then leave the replies open all day so I can fiddle with them whenever I have a spare minute. For me, there’s a bit of a bell curve effect that governs how much effort I can successfully put into editing without sending the story off into wild and hostile territory, so addressing the job in short intervals keeps everything low-key.

The idea for Islands and Cities came from a combination of two pieces of media: Andrea O’Neil’s 2013 news story from the Dominion Post about the Spicer Landfill’s real-life seagull problem; and a majestic clip I saw on a David Attenborough documentary showing thousands of white seabirds plummeting into the sea all at once. Bird (and human) societies are fascinating.

Trisha Hanifin: This particular story developed out of an older, much longer story I’d been working on for a couple of years. I’d tried a number of different versions and lengths and never felt happy with them so this competition was an opportunity to try and find the core of the story again. In a more general way, a lot of my ideas for stories come from an imagined intersection between images, emotions and characters from popular culture and the character’s life in the story. Often I use songs, but in this instance, it was the Peanuts cartoon. I’m fascinated by the way in ordinary life, music, lyrics, images and symbols infiltrate our imaginations, become attached to our emotions and memories and become markers for important phases of our lives. I’ve always loved the qualites of sadness and bewilderment Charlie Brown has, and Snoopy’s joy and imagination, and I wanted to suggest all those possibilities and qualities in the story.

Sue Kingham: I frequently get ideas from reading the newspaper. I spotted the name Rowdy in an article and in the same paper I read a quote from someone who said they thought they were cursed although they didn’t believe in God. Creativity is a blending process, and these ideas were in my mind when I opened a photograph album with the intention of writing a story based on an old holiday. The image which caught my eye was of a South America street performer dressed as Jesus. My story came together from these three prompts.

FFC: Is your approach different depending on the length of story you plan to write? (Do you have an idea in advance how long a story will be?) For example, in the case of this competition the maximum word count was 300. What if the max was 1500?

Sarah Dunn: Whenever I’ve asked my chief reporter how many words she wants on a particular news topic, the answer has been: “Write it for what it’s worth.” It’s very difficult trying to craft story to fit a particular word count, but some ideas are worth more words than others. You get a feeling for which ideas might work with different shapes.

Trisha Hanifin: Mostly when I start writing a story I have no idea how long it will be or what will happen, I’m just exploring a mood or an emotion—sometimes I’ll have particular words or a voice in my head and I just try and follow that. I write very slowly over a long period of time, trying to find the center of the story. Writing flash fiction is often a process of removing everything unnecessary, no padding, no flab, so it’s a great writing teacher, a great discipline to learn. It’s enabled me to go back and look at longer stories and ‘flash’ sections of them—cut and shape them—until they’re clearer, cleaner, tighter. Less is, by definition, more in flash.

Sue Kingham: With flash fiction I enjoy capturing a specific moment in time while hinting at a complex backstory. There is little room for character development or a large cast list. If the maximum word count had been 1500 words, I would have been able to show some of the protagonist’s home life with his mother and Rowdy. However, the joy of flash fiction is that less is always more.

FFC: What other works have you published? What does your crystal ball say about your writing future?

Sarah Dunn: Working in the newsroom sucks up a lot of time and energy, and so far, all of my major writing achievements have been in journalism. I’ve just returned from six weeks reporting in South Korea, thanks to a grant from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the material I gathered in Seoul and at the Demilitarized Zone published as long-form articles shortly.

I’d love to eventually see my work in fiction and non-fiction evolving a little more in parallel, but as long as I’ve got interesting things to write about one way or another, I’m content.

Trisha Hanifin: I’m quite new to flash fiction, I’ve only been writing it for a couple of years. This year I’ve had pieces published in Turbine and in Flash Frontier. In the past, I’ve been shortlisted in longer short story competitions in New Zealand and I completed a Masters in Creative Writing in 2010. I’m currently trying to complete a novel that I’ve been working on for a long time but often get sidetracked by writing other things. I love flash fiction because I get to finish something!

Sue Kingham: My other two published works have been flash fiction. My story, Family Outing, was chosen for Flash Frontier’s February 2014 collection, and in May I won the Scottish Literary Trust’s 50 word competition with a piece entitled The Twitcher. I am currently working on a YA science fiction novel and my dream is to make a career as an author. I appreciate this is a long shot – my crystal ball must be second-hand, because it refuses to reveal anything beyond this year.

____________

Sarah Dunn is a journalist who lives in Nelson. She graduated from Wellington’s Victoria University with a B.A. Hons in English Literature and Religious Studies. She is 26.

Trisha Hanifin has worked in adult education and adult literacy for over 25 years teaching a range of subjects including reading and writing at both foundational and academic levels. She has written on the nature and extent of adults’ literacy issues in Facing the Challenge: Foundation Learning for Adults in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Dunmore Press, 2008). In 2010 she gained a Masters of Creative Writing at Auckland University of Technology. Trisha writes short stories, flash fiction and is currently working on a novel, Ghost Travellers. Her stories have been shortlisted in a number of New Zealand competitions including the BNZ literary awards. This year her flash fiction has been published in Turbine and Flash Frontiers.

The February 2011 earthquake shook a love of writing back to the surface of Sue Kingham’s life: a case of literary fiction as opposed to liquefaction. She joined Helen Hogan’s WEA creative writing class in Christchurch and went on to become a member of the South Island Writers Association. Sue has attended several short writing courses and is currently a first year student at the Hagley Writer’s Institute. She has written poetry, a play for children, numerous short stories and she particularly enjoys writing flash fiction. She is currently working on a YA science fiction novel. She is married and is a busy mum with two primary aged children. When she’s manages to grab a spare moment, she can usually be found with her nose in a good book.

**Ms. Dunn’s picture taken by Marion van Dijk.

by Aliza Greenblatt

Tina Wayland

Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter, part-time fiction writer and full-time mom to a great wee kid. Her story, Red Handed, was the top story for July.

Aliza Greenblatt: I’m always curious about what drives authors to write, so can you tell me a bit about that? Do you typically write horror or do you venture into other genres as well?

Tina Wayland: Good question. I don’t know what drives me to write—the curiosity to see where the story will take me? The challenge to get a good piece of writing down on paper? I’m not a writer who’s driven to write. It takes a lot to get me to sit and put stuff down. But I’m always fascinated by the outcome.

I used to write horror way back when I studied Creative Writing. It’s something I haven’t done in about 20 years. This story was supposed to be about a simple conversation, but it took a wrong turn down a back road somewhere and I just had to follow along.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

TW: Haha! Fiddle, fiddle, get a glass of water, check my emails, fold some laundry, check my emails. At some point I focus and start writing, and in those rare moments where the writing stars align I find that perfect groove and I’m lost in the writing. For me it’s more about overcoming the obstacles than following a process. But somehow it works.

AG: The desire to escape was a major theme in the story and the two major characters in the story were desperate for a way out. But it slowly became apparent that the boy would use any means possible to do so. Did the characters’ desperation carry the momentum of the story as you wrote it? Do you think the boy will ever stop running?

TW: I don’t know if I saw them as desperate. I think they both believed they would win—that they’d get what they wanted, in the end. In my mind, the boy never questioned that he’d escape, and the detective never questioned that he’d get his answers. But the boy knew better. I don’t know if he’ll ever stop running. All the story gave me is this small glimpse into his life. Once he was out the door in the wall, he was gone—out of my control. I’d like to believe he’ll keep running, though. I don’t know what else he’d leave in his path.

AG: This piece used language very deliberately, and I loved how almost all of the sentences in the story were short and concise. Did you have a reason for writing in this particular style? Was it a conscious decision?

TW: No matter how I start off, I always end up writing like this. Economical. Deliberate. It’s about the words but it’s also about the rhythm of the words. I love the poetry of it. I can spend a whole lot of time looking for the perfect two-syllable word to balance out a sentence just right.

AG: From your bibliography, this is not your first flash fiction story. For you, what is the appeal of flash? What are some of the challenges you face when writing stories with such a limited word length?

TW: I think my writing style lends itself most easily to flash fiction. I cut and cut and cut until I’ve excavated the right sentence, the right words. By the time I get to my third draft, I’ve lost more than half of what I started with.

For me, the challenge of flash is to get the story right, and quickly. It’s less of a build-up to your characters and more of a quick look into one moment of their lives. There’s no time, and no words, to waste.

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?

TW: I have a handful of stories desperate for a second draft. I’ll have to dust one off for my writing workshop soon.

I also have a poem just published in From the Depths. You can read it in here, free.

Plus I have a small collection of published stuff on my work website at http://tinawaylandcopywriter.com/fr/published-fiction.php.

A few of my stories are up on EDF, and it is a great honour to be published alongside so many wonderful authors on such a great writing site. What a thrill that Red Handed touched so many readers! It was unexpected and truly wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to ask me these great questions about writing. It was great fun to think about the answers and pass them along!

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

__________________

 Aliza profile-pic-2Aliza 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

 

by Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan2013

There’s a rebellious element to flash fiction. The form writes against longer works. That rebelliousness, the writing against, and the challenge of starkness in flash fiction hold great appeal. In addition to high selectivity and compression, flash fiction is the art of omission. Greats like Grace Paley, Ernest Hemingway, and J.D. Salinger made excellent use of omission. Omission alludes to the bigger story and invites the reader into the work. Perhaps more than any other written form, flash fiction demands the reader’s participation and interaction, and thereby honors the reader’s mental and emotional intelligence.

Flash fiction is my bullshit detector. This form in particular, in its scantiness, holds up my weaknesses as a writer and demands I police those weaknesses if I wish the work to succeed. My first drafts are always overwrought and often sentimental and thus dishonest. Of all the forms, flash fiction most refuses to tolerate such amateurishness. Flash fiction demands I tell the best story I can with the most skill and the least amount of words and gimmicks possible. To that end, I am a forever student and forever striving.

Here’s something new and tiny and unpublished. Here’s me striving.

Circles

Barry keeps Mya’s mother awake at night. Mya’s father wants to break Barry’s nose and knee-crush his groin. He just hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Three times Mya and Barry have broken-up and gotten back together again. Mya’s mother asks her daughter, Why?

Mya’s father feels robbed of his wife’s left breast and her long luscious hair. Hair like a black velvet lap. He insists she always wear her wig and a loose top, especially in bed. He prefers the black top, with the deep V down her lean, tanned back. Her spine holds him together. He asks her to buy a blond wig too. Might as well go for a third, he decides. Red, he tells her. Might as well have some fun, he thinks. Mya’s mother promises herself that, if she survives, she will put herself first more.

Mya checks her arms and neck in the mirror, impressed by the new concealer. Barry waits outside Mya’s house. To Mya’s mother, sitting inside her living room and searching the TV, the car engine sounds like it’s trying to get away from Barry. Barry’s thick fingers drum the dashboard, sending up dust. What’s taking her so long? The moon hits him like a spotlight. He thinks about all those astronauts, Neil and Buzz and more, and how it must have just about killed them not to ever get back there.

____________

Ethel Rohan’s latest work is forthcoming from The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2014); Drivel: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors (Penguin: Perigree, 2014); and Flash Fiction International Anthology (W.W. Norton, 2015). You can visit her at ethelrohan.com.

 

by Susan Tepper

RStratten

Robin has been a writing coach for almost 25 years. Her first novel, On Air, was a finalist in the Indie Excellence Book Award. She is the author of Of Zen and Men and In His Genes, and co-author of Then She Ran. She also has two full-length collections of poetry and short fiction: Dealing with Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richard’s Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, and many others. Her short story, “Ma Writing,” was a finalist in The Lascaux Review flash fiction award, and appeared in their 2014 Anthology. In her spare time, Robin edits the Boston Literary Magazine. Learn more about Robin at http://www.robinstratton.com/

Susan Tepper: Your novel In His Genes opens in a most unique way. What underlying forces or personal drama drew you toward a medical-mystery as the book’s focal point?

Hiding in Plain Sight — the elusive Carina Dwarf Galaxy

Robin Stratton: It’s a bit of a long story… I have had a passion for genetics for years, and I read a book called Decoding Darkness by Dr. Rudy Tanzi – about the race to figure out what gene mutation causes early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

ST: A pretty heavy topic.

RS: Tanzi’s book, which I highly recommend, is also his story as a young researcher, and the story of a family stricken with the disease… the early onset type can begin in your late 30s… and if you’ve got the gene, not only are you absolutely going to get AD, but there is a 50% chance that you’ll pass it on to your children.

So I contacted Dr. Tanzi, and asked if we could work together on the movie of his book. He said yes! And so we did… I got most of the way through before the family who’d been featured in the book got cold feet. I think Rudy did, too. Anyway… so I had to let go of the project.

ST: Oh what a pity! I hate to see good work go down the drain.

But your book In His Genes is also a love story. Did you find it difficult placing genetics into the context of a love story? Or, are genetics also about love? Or is it the other way around?

RS: This is the perfect question for this book, Susan! I think romance and love are essential in any novel about human dynamics, which is the topic I prefer, and so there was no question that there would be a romance. Cassandra (Cassie) is very much like me (all my female leads are) and so when I crafted her love interest, I described the man I would be in love with— scientific, kind, warm, great conversationalist, and passionate.

FRONT COVER(1)

ST: The title is great, though I must admit I kept thinking jeans…

RS: I really wanted a blockbuster title, and I had a lot of trouble… there were these three things going on: the science of the story, the romance, and the supernatural theme. I wanted a title that would reflect all those things. When I hit up In His Genes I felt that it was reminiscent of that old book, In His Steps— it directly referred to genes, and it had that nifty sexual innuendo. 

ST:  I wasn’t going to bring up the supernatural theme, don’t want to give too much away… but since you already gave us a whiff…  did you know at the outset you would bring the supernatural into the book?

RS: My boyfriend is a UFO freak and buys into everything alien, and when we started going out, he wanted me to write a book about an alien titled “My Boyfriend Wasn’t From Here.” I am not a big alien believer, but thought it would be interesting to have a character that leaves people thinking, Is he… or isn’t he…. ? For a little while that was the working title, until my writing partners begged me to change it. My boyfriend had to settle for a short poem I wrote with that title that was published in my chapbook Dealing with Men. So, yes, I began with those two intersecting/contrasting themes: rigid scientific testing of data vs. faith without evidence of any kind.

ST: That’s a very cool contrast of themes in a book since they are (traditionally) diametrically opposed. I was captivated by this character you introduced, Palmer, but also leery of him. I am leery by nature. I wasn’t born that way, but over time… I think one tends to grow leery and time-worn. Too many struggles and let downs and you just start to see things differently.

Do you feel your protagonist Cassie becomes leery or time-worn as the book moves along?

RS: I think the whole point is that she starts out by being leery. Cynical, I guess is the word I’d use. To me, she’s a reflection of people today who are cautious about allowing mystery and beauty… what if you’re wrong about something? You’ll feel so let down! Best to just doubt everything.

ST: It is a tough world out there in a lot of ways. Trust can be difficult. It’s sad.

RS: Yes, and that’s typical of a particular scene when her car won’t start, and this guy Palmer (who she just met) comes outside of the bar to see if he can get it going. All she can think about is how she always complains that no one wants to help and yet when someone does… it all becomes suspicious! So her character arc had to involve learning to trust— without using scientific data which is the nucleus of her work life and her thought patterns.   

ST: This book, with its unusual and compelling focus on science, also manages to be character driven. I found Cassie an endearing character. She is flawed like all of us, yet she allows us into that dark space that most people (in real life) work hard at covering up. Do you, as her creator, identify with her?

RS: Cassie is a woman who hasn’t been able to find The One, and is mystified at the ease with which all her friends have accomplished this romantic feat. Like so many single women, she got ditched by her friends when they got married. I think of her as very strong and independent. She’s smart and knows what she wants. Her dedication in the lab and her passion for genetics would have happened even if she weren’t madly in love with her boss.

ST: Ah… her boss. A strange fellow in many regards, because he feels so ‘perfect’… (may I have his number please.) And speaking of please, she goes out of her way to please his every whim, or so it seems.

RS: I think that Cassie was raised to think of others first, the way I was, but I don’t think she goes overboard. She’s not suffering in silence about anything; I think she acts out of love. I sandwiched her between an older sibling and a younger sibling so that age wouldn’t be an “excuse” for her station in life, ie, no money, as compared with her “successful” brother and sister. I wanted to touch on the idea that success doesn’t have to mean money or a great marriage and kids. It can be about personal fulfillment. In fact, it should be about personal fulfillment. (But money and a great marriage are nice, too!)

ST: Not too many people would argue that point, Robin. No spoiler alert here: I just want to say I found the characters and plot fascinating. This book really held me. As we all want to be held.

_______________________

 Susan-Tepper200wSusan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2014, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com

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