Sixty Seconds III with: Karl A. Russell

Ten answers to ten questions in 20 words or fewer. That’s less time than it takes to burn a match*.

(*Depending on the length of the match and your tolerance for burned fingers, obviously)

Matchlight

Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Karl A Russell.  (Again!) Read his winning story here. Note that this is his third win: read his first #SixtySeconds interview (from Dec 2013) here, and his second interview (from two weeks ago) here. As this is his third win at Flash! Friday, we’re going a bit more in depth than usual. Have a blast getting to know him a bit better today!

1) What about the prompt inspired your winning story? 

This was one of the weirder ones, where my ideas bounced about all day until what I finally wrote bore no relation to my first thoughts. Initially, it was just going to be a father watching his clumsy daughter and somehow not seeing the faults and failures that everyone else saw (all together now, “aww…”). That turned into the clumsy kid’s internal monologue, believing herself to be a perfect gymnast when she’s anything but (much closer to my meta-biographical stuff, where a thinly-veiled protagonist offers commentary on my own thoughts and fears about writing, life, dragons etc…). Then I suddenly jumped forwards a few years and saw that same kid all grown up, and I knew where that total self-belief would get her. And I wanted to test my new tablet, so I sat in the garden, wrote a couple of hundred words, then cut back till it came in under the word count (true fact: I generally wind up with around 25% more words than I’m allowed for any contest).

2)  Tell us about the Halton Haven Hospice and your JustGiving project. What worked? What might you do differently next time? How are you marketing? How’s it going? 

I’ll be really honest here – I thought that I would struggle to hit my first target, which was £25 (about $40US). I just wanted to make a statement about this odd little secret life I was living, almost “coming out” as a writer, and I figured you couldn’t be a writer if you didn’t have a decent back catalogue to your name, so I had to put something together. I’d tested the waters, telling some colleagues I really trusted and letting them read some of my stuff and it didn’t go too badly (it’s pretty nerve wracking though, and really messes with the work dynamic – They think you’re the boss, all sensible and in control, and then you say, here’s a thing I wrote about being lost and alone and full of raw cat meat. Then you invite them to one-to-ones and when they only put down tentative acceptances you wonder if it’s because something you wrote on Saturday night is still echoing around on Wednesday morning. And then they fetch you a tin of cat meat and two spoons and ask if you want to share…).

So I put together a collection – quite badly, in a really basic format – so that I could say, here you go, I did this. But of course, I wrote all of these stories to put online for free. Even with the revisions and edits, I couldn’t see myself having the nerve to charge for it. If nothing else, it would drop the sales figures from a handful to maybe one test purchase by my sister-in-law to check you could see it overseas (she lives in Canada – Hi Abbe!). But JustGiving gave me the perfect excuse – I’m in awe of the great work they do at the Halton Haven and full of bleeding heart leftie rage at the way the government has cut their funding options and got them jumping through hoops for every penny they do get, and JustGiving allows people to set their own price for my stories.

The process itself was fairly straightforward – I printed all of my work from the last two years or so, spread them on the office floor when no-one else was in, then started to pick out the obvious Nos – Anything that didn’t work, anything that relied too heavily on photo or musical prompts etc. Then I weighed up what was left and threw out another fifteen that were too weak for inclusion or too close to a better story I was including. Then I just sorted what was left into a reasonable running order and added a beautiful cover by my good friend @craigsinclair. What I most enjoyed was seeing similarities in tone and plot between older work and more recent pieces, which suggests that I’ve got some sort of thematic constancy in my work. Although what I didn’t enjoy so much was seeing similarities in tone and plot between older work and more recent pieces, which suggests that I’ve run out of ideas already…

And somehow, despite my obviously woeful attempts at “selling” my talents, I burned through that initial target very quickly, to the point where I raised it to £50, £100, then £150. I’m not quite there yet, but it’s no longer the total embarrassment I was expecting. 

3) What’s your biggest writerly pet peeve? 

In my own work, I get annoyed when I look back and see things that I could have done better, made more of, or which plain don’t work. It’s mostly not pushing myself enough; if I went back to rewrite my old Flash!Friday entries, at least half of them would be unrecognisable now – I went through three distinct ideas for this week’s story, but there have been weeks when I’ve stuck with the second or even the first idea I had, and it’s suffered as a result.

In others, it’s less about writers and more about the mechanics surrounding them, the questions of genre and marketing. They may be necessary evils, especially when we’re competing for an ever more limited slice of the reader’s time, but I worry that they are actually getting in the way. I remember reading Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward when it first came out (oh dear, far too many years ago), and not having a clue where it was going next because it was so gleefully imaginative and free. Now, if you can’t capture a reader in a one line pitch and a three page Amazon preview, you’ll never get them.

That’s why places like Flash! Friday are so important – There’s nothing about genre or style in the prompts, and I know that people will read my stories without me having to introduce them, “here is my historical fiction, this is an SF love story, don’t read this if you only like happy endings” etc.

4) Would you say your flash writing has changed/grown in the past months? If so, how? What have you learned?

I judge every couple of months at The Angry Hourglass (@LadyHazmat’s home-grown Flash contest) and I’ve learned so much from trying to work out and replicate what I enjoy in other writers’ work. I see things that I would never have attempted before – @Voimaoy’s work is lyrical and poetic, @BartVanGoethem’s ultra-short stories are as powerful as any thousand word tale, @TinmanDoneBadly is a master of the humorous aside and @Blukris can do raw brutality like no-one else – and then I get to try and work it into my own writing. I’ve done stories without dialogue, some which are nothing but dialogue, some really cold and brutal pieces and some that are warm and fuzzy and even have jokes and happy endings, and it’s all down to seeing my peers stretching at the boundaries and showing what’s possible: Everything.

5) Nods to other writers/contests/communities?

As well as the aforementioned Angry Hourglass, @Beth_Deitchman and @EmilyJuneStreet have a new contest running every Thursday at Luminous Creatures Press, @Paragraphplanet publishes a new 75 word story every day, and @nembow publishes stories up to 1000 words at her site 1000words.org.uk. I’ve made appearances at all of them and found them to be friendly, supportive and great fun, and if you start looking at the other names there, you’ll find a lot of the Flash! Friday team turning up…

6) Final thoughts?

Really, just something that I normally forget about in these things when I’m busy making myself sound far more impressive than I am in real life or giving shout-outs to my ace circle of writer pals, and that’s to say thanks to you; It can’t be easy corralling flash writers and wrangling prompts, but you do it every week without fail, and you do it with a smile. It’s great having an outlet for all the weirdness and words, and if it wasn’t for places like Flash! Friday, I’d probably be hunkered down somewhere scribbling my manifesto for a better tomorrow and fashioning a range of fetching tinfoil headgear, so on behalf of all mankind, I just want to say thanks and hail to the dragon!  {{Editor’s Note: :blushing: Thank you! Writers like you are the very heart of Flash! Friday.}}

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