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)
Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Michael Seese, who joins the four others (Maggie Duncan, Karl Russell, Betsy Streeter, Phil Coltrane) who have won FF four times. Read his winning story here. Read his bio and previous interviews here. And now join me for a very fun minute or two for an even deeper look (he’s allowed extra words; he’s earned them!).
1) What about the prompts inspired your winning story? For a while, I was having trouble coming up with stories that really satisfied me. And I recognized that I was focusing on the verbal prompt (so in this case, the Catch-22) rather than the photo. I realized I had gotten better results in the past when I wrote about how the photo made me feel.
I started with the opening line as posted. The next thing I wrote was “She tries to speak. But terror owns her voice.” (More on that later.) At this point, I think the narrator was a bad guy… the menace. And I knew I didn’t want that because it was too easy. Thinking about him sticking his arm through the hole made me remember the catching-a-monkey story. (Which allegedly works.) So then I thought, “OK, if he can grab the key, but not get it out, then he’s not in charge.” Boom! The “slithery baritone” was born, and the rest fell into place.
2) Your last win was in September. Please update us–what’s happened in your writerly life these past 7+ months? What’s your take on winning/not winning contests like this one–what would you say to writers who are new to flash or struggling with winning?
Seven months? You had to remind me.
In that time, I’ve been working on a few new projects (see question #4) and submitting short stories. I’ve had some good luck with the latter. At the risk of being a blog-whore, it’s easier to point you to my bibliography, rather than list them.
My take on winning is that it’s so gratifying, because the competition (here especially) is so tough. My advice is to keep doing it. The thing to remember is that the judges are people, with their own tastes and preferences. (And I TOTALLY prefer this method of judging, rather than something like Internet voting.) So you might write a kick-ass story, but it doesn’t resonate with the judges that week. Nonetheless, you can learn something from each of them by reading their comments on the winners (that includes the runners-up and HMs) and then seeing how their thoughts relate back to the stories. Keep trying. Keep improving.
3) Last count, you’ve got four books out. How’s the marketing life? What have you learned (not) to do? How would you advise others?
Marketing sucks. That’s why they invented marketing majors, isn’t it? I recognize that if I ever sign a contract with WHEN I sign a contract with one of the big houses, I’ll still need to market my book. And it will still suck. Speaking of marketing…
I’m still shilling my long short story / short novella Rebecca’s Fall From… So today (Thursday) and tomorrow it will be FREE on Amazon. And nothing would make me happier than to have you all download a copy, read it, and share your honest feedback. That’s not true… nothing would make me happier than winning the Mega-Millions. But this is a close second.
4) What are you working on now? What have you learned from having written/published four books that you’re applying this round? How would you advise others?
My three current projects (aside from the occasional short story) are:
1. A fairy tale / spy thriller mashup. I can’t go into any other detail. Right now it’s about 19,000 words.
2. A romance novel. Yes, the kind that has Fabio and a bustier-clad woman on the cover. Just because I think it would be funny. A little over 8,000 words to date.
3. A play for this contest.
5) In a previous interview, you said you eventually realized flash fiction still needs to tell a complete story, and how powerful the “Sixth Sense” type twist ending can be. Is this still where you’re at, or has your approach to flash changed?
My approach really hasn’t changed, other than the aforementioned focus on the photo first. I hate to call it formulaic, but with shorter flash (as opposed to, say, 500-word flash) it is. Come up with a good, compelling story. Throw in a few neat turns of the phrase. So for this last one, I liked “terror owns her voice” and “fingertip finds metal.” Then craft an ending that… they don’t have to be the “Sixth Sense” endings that I prefer. But you don’t want you reader saying, “I saw that coming from the first paragraph.”
6) Belong to any IRL writers’ groups? how about online groups? I would love to. But between the day job and three kids, I barely have enough time to brush my teeth. (I know, too much information.)
7) How can one grow/improve as a writer?
My two bits of advice are:
1. It’s cliche, but always carry a pen and notepad with you. (Or get a voice recorder app for your phone and, if you want to be REALLY cool, Dragon Voice software, which transcribes it.) I can’t tell you how many times I think, “Ooh, that’s a good sentence for my current WIP.” And then I start writing, and find that sentence has turned into 10 or 15.
2. Always write, and don’t be afraid to write “bad.” There are plenty of times I start to write, and I realize I don’t “have it” that day. I keep writing nonetheless. Even if it’s crap, I’m moving the plot forward. I can always fix it later.
8) If you won a writerly grant, what would you spend the money on, and why?
A year away from my kids, so I could actually WRITE. (Did I say that out loud?) No, I really couldn’t say that, because my family does come first. So I guess I’d put the money in their college funds. (And maybe buy a Microsoft Surface, so I could more easily jot down ideas anywhere.)
9) What are you reading these days? Primarily Goodnight Moon, Fancy Nancy, and the I Survived series. I hear they make books for grownups, too.
10) Any shouts out? Which writers inspire you?
I hate to omit any of my fellow flashers. (OK, that sounds SO wrong.) Aside from Josh and Tamara, I’m always an impressed with what I see from Foy, Nancy, Margaret, and Stella. And, of course the judges’ work as contestants.
As a final note, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to:
– The judges. I can’t even imagine the effort involved in reading and rating all this quality work.
– My fellow writers. I’m a better writer each week simply because I have to work that much harder to kick y’all’s butts.
– And Rebekah, of course, whose selfless dedication makes this wonderful community possible.