By Andree Robinson-Neal
Back in January, Bonnie ZoBell interviewed Pure Slush founding editor Matt Potter and because FFC readers were interested in learning more about him and the Pure Slush chapbooks and authors, your intrepid FFC staffers grabbed Matt and threw a few more questions at him. Also, a number of his authors from the Year in Stories series came along for the ride.
First off, let’s hear from Matt:
So Matt, what was the seed for the idea of the Year in Stories project?
I was reflecting on my wish to have Pure Slush publish a book a month in 2013, and realizing very early in the year that this was not going to happen. I first thought one story a day, 365 writers … and then thought, no. But 31 writers each taking the same day of the month, allows writers to develop longer stories across a wider arc. And it snowballed very quickly from there, and the next day, I think, I sent emails asking writers to be involved.
We are now about halfway through the project; has it gone as you envisioned?
As of April, there were 92 stories yet to be submitted and signed off, so while 2014 June Vol. 6 was released in early April, 273 of the 365 stories have been written and accepted. Parts have been more difficult – writers saying “Hey, I need to change something in a story I submitted some time ago” – while other parts have been easier. Five of the 31 writers have finished all their stories, with a few not far behind. Some however, are still only half way through writing all their stories. How best to approach these writers and hurry them along is individual, and a challenge. Sometimes it feels a little like I’m cracking a whip.
Have there been any surprises?
The biggest surprise is the unprompted diversity in stories and styles. Each story cycle really is different from all the others. If I was to do this again (and I’m not) I would start even earlier, 10 months earlier rather than seven months earlier.
What hints (topic ideas, voice, etc.) can you give the readers (and perhaps those who would like to contribute their writing) to your next project?
Come prepared to work on your stories. If a requirement is that the stories be written in the present tense, then write them in the present tense! Keep to deadlines and communicate with the editor. Once the twelve 2014 volumes are complete, I will be returning to 2 smaller projects I have put on hold for much of the last year.
There are plans for something new online in 2015, and another large print project in 2016 … so stay tuned. And in the meantime, Pure Slush is still accepting submissions for online publication in 2014. The theme is travel, and you can find details here: http://pureslush.webs.com/themessubmissions.htm#831675008
The Year in Stories would not have been possible if it weren’t for the authors who, well, wrote stories. We asked a few questions and here are the thoughtful responses from some of this year’s writers:
Why did you want to be a part of this project?
Mandy Nichol: First off it’s a terrific concept, and Matt is fabulous to work with. I usually write very short stories, so to continue to write about the same characters, to get to know them more than I usually would, seemed like a great way to push beyond my normal. I’ve always played it pretty safe and felt it was time to have a peep over the parapet. Now there’s no way I’m jumping out of an aeroplane but with this project I thought hey, this could be my leap into the blue yonder.
Shane Simmons: Quite simply, I noticed the initial posting on the Pure Slush Facebook page, which outlined the idea for the project and was calling for participants. My first thought was “I love this idea!” My second thought was that it seemed ridiculously ambitious! A single person (Matt Potter of Pure Slush) collating and editing THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE STORIES himself (!) but the opportunity to get involved alongside thirty other creative minds, all working on this mammoth project was the huge attraction.
What’s been the toughest challenge?
Vanessa Paris: For me, the toughest challenge has been maintaining the narrative while ensuring each individual story can stand alone. It’s harder than I expected, because each time I start a new month, I have to think, “Okay, what do I have to make sure is included – or at least implied – or risk losing the reader?” Sometimes it’s easy stuff, like making it clear that two characters are in a romantic relationship, but other details are more subtle. In those cases, not only does it have to be conveyed again, you have to find a new way to do it so it doesn’t get redundant over the course of months. Also, there were points where I wished I could go back and tweak a detail or two from previous months, so it would work better with the month I was working on, but that wasn’t possible.
Jessica McHugh: I’ve encountered a handful of challenges along the way, but I think I’m experiencing the toughest right now, at the end. I’ve written the last two stories in my serial, but I haven’t revised them yet, partly because I don’t want to let go. Unlike most short stories, the serial allowed me to spend as much time with my main character, Edward McKenzie, as I do with novel characters. I know him. I care about him. Edward was plucked from a failed piece I wrote when I was nineteen, and after so many revisions that still led to rejections, I thought I might never have the chance to introduce him to the public. But thanks to 2014: A Year in Stories, he’s experienced more than ‘a day in the sun.’ It gave me the opportunity to explore his personality so much more, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It going to be tough saying goodbye.
Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”
Michael Webb: Towards the end of the project, it got more difficult to come up with events for each story that were plausible and compelling in and of themselves while still furthering the overall yearlong growth of the characters. It was like playing chess against multiple opponents at once.
What, if any, affect has this project had on your writing?
John Wentworth Chapin: I thought this would be a side project. It’s not. It’s a tremendous project, and it has swelled like a gas to fill its container: 2014. I am excited to see where it ends up. Moral of the story: be prepared.
Lynn Beighley: I’m more of a short story writer than a novelist, and while these are essentially connected short stories, there is a feel of the novel about them. I’m learning.
What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?
Gill Hoffs: I wish I could remember – to be honest, I usually absorb what Matt says so it’s hard to bear particular comments in mind. When I first worked with him he sent me a lengthy email full of tips and advice which I printed off, highlighted, and taped inside my workbook. I used to tell Matt working with him was like a mini-MFA!
But wait! There’s more!
Each writer answered all of these probing questions; Matt will be posting the full interviews soon so keep an eye on Pure Slush and his blog for details.
Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury–both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.