Fri 17 Feb 2012
Speculative elements collide with romance in Every Day Fiction’s top story for January, “The Smell of Things to Come,” by Ben Carey. During a train ride filled with a smorgasbord of scents, a man’s prophetic olfactory power leads him to foil an accident and connect with a pretty girl.
Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Carey, a college student in Brisbane, Australia, about genre-blending, sensory choice, character inspiration, time-management, and the role of flash fiction in his writing career.
FFC: “The Smell of Things to Come” mingles genres—fantasy, romance, and heroic tale. And the protagonist narrates with an informal, first person point of view (POV), which adds a tone of realism to the blend.
At which stage in story development, did you decide to mix things up?
Carey: Well, I knew I wanted to write a story about someone who could smell the future, and I had a lot of that planned out in detail, but after reading the initial draft I felt that it was a little flat so I decided to introduce an element of romance. It seems that no matter what I write these days it turns into some kind of love story! I used to fight it, but now I feel like it’s obviously something that needs to run its course, I guess it’s just about finding different ways to tell all these love stories.
I also love having an unlikely hero, I like reading about them and I like writing about them. I think most people can connect with the unlikely hero, because no matter how perfect we pretend to be we are all so very flawed.
FFC: A variety of familiar smells accompany readers throughout the story. In fact, the story relies upon reader recognition of specific smells to work. Why did you choose to feature this particular sense?
Carey: Initially, the idea started out as a joke with friends. We were coming up with outlandish ideas for stories and I proposed a story about a boy who could smell the future. It got quite a laugh. I too thought it was very silly for a few weeks, until something clicked in my head and I thought, ‘Hey, you could totally make that work!’
The reason I chose to focus on the sense of smell is because it is one of the most underused senses. I mean, how many stories are there about people who can see the future? Millions, probably. There are also a lot of stories featuring people with superhuman hearing. I felt that using an overlooked sense might add an element of freshness to a familiar formula. The only book I’ve heard of that focuses on the sense of smell is Perfume.
FFC: Although we never learn his age or destination, the protagonist strikes me as a student traveling to or from college, a young man with a similar background to yours. Do tell, which real-life resources did you tap to build this character?
Carey: I think far too many writers lie to themselves about not being in their stories. There is always some kind of remnant of yourself in your stories; I find it more interesting to embrace that. I like to write from a slightly different perspective for each story, using a different piece of my personality as the basis for that character and building upon it. For instance, sometimes I write from a woman’s perspective, which requires me to get in touch with my feminine side.
Sometimes, I am influenced by characters on TV show or movies, but very rarely other stories or books. In this story, I based the majority of the character on myself, but I accentuated certain facets of his personality to draw more sympathy from the reader and make things more interesting. By nature, I’m a very observant person. I took that trait to the extreme here; my character observes everything present and future, something that I wish I could do.
FFC: You’re a college student. Yet, you’re publishing short stories and also writing a novella and novel. That’s enough to impress any veteran writer and indicates to me that you’re efficient and determined. How do you organize your time to accomplish so much?
Carey: Wow, you make me sound so much more impressive than I really am! Well, first of all, it helps that I don’t have work commitments like a lot of other students; therefore, I can dedicate my time to writing. The funny (and also extremely infuriating) thing is that I am the most inspired to write stories during the semester, which is the absolute worst time for it, because I am usually inundated with assignments. Ironically, when I have time to write, during the holidays, I have no damn inspiration! So, whenever inspiration strikes, I make time for it, even if I just scribble an outline down on a notepad for later use.
The novella is something that is very close to me. I feel that it is my best work so far, but I want to give it as much time as it needs, so it’s a long way off, maybe a couple of years. I work on it whenever I have the chance: holidays, weekends, Christmas.
The novel is different, altogether. I woke up one morning after a terrifying dream and decided to write a crime novel. I had written a few short crime stories and they were fun as hell, so I thought, why not try? I scrawled out a basic outline of where I want it to go, but filling it in and overcoming all the problems that come with writing a novel may take five to ten years. Also, I’m sure I will encounter many distractions along the way. I hope so. Distractions are awesome, and they make good material for stories.
FFC: People write flash fiction for a variety of reasons. Some focus exclusively on flash length, with an end goal of writing more and better flash. Others divert to flash periodically, as a quick-fix break from writing longer stories or novels. And others practice flash as a complementary exercise, for example, to augment their poetry-writing skills.
What role does flash fiction play in your current and projected writing plans?
Carey: I think writing flash fiction is one of the best exercises any writer can undertake. It forces you to be extremely economical with language and makes you think about everything in much more detail. Everything you put in, absolutely has to serve the story. It also requires you to establish a convincing character and setting within 1000 words, a tricky task even within three times that word count.
Ideally, my primary focus will be on writing novels. However, I will never neglect short stories or flash fiction because that’s where I started out. When you have a spark of inspiration, it’s so much easier to scribble down a flash fiction story than to write it up as a novel. I think very few ideas can fill out a whole novel, but there are so many possibilities with flash fiction. One day, I would love to publish a collection of short stories and flash fiction. It’s such a satisfying feeling to see your name in print. I don’t think I will ever fall out of love with that feeling.
Ben Carey is 24 years old and lives in Brisbane, Australia. He studies Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology. He likes reading and writing science fiction, but he also has a soft spot for romance. His favourite book is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, followed closely by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. Ben is currently working on a novella and the beginnings of a crime novel.
Sue Ann Connaughton is a former research librarian, who writes compact pieces from an eighteenth century perukemaker’s house in Massachusetts. She has work forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts; The Citron Review; Boston Literary Magazine; The Meadowland Review; and Pendragon Press, Nasty Snips II Anthology. One of her stories was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.