I’m chuffed to have a flash of mine published at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. If you’d like to you can read it here
I am a flash fiction writer, a short story writer, a lover of concise, neat, clear prose, and I am trying to write a novel. I want to complete a first draft by the end of the year; it’s a challenge I have issued myself — can you actually do this? Nobody else cares whether or not I can, my friends and family will love me just the same. My job remains satisfying. My life rolls on, nothing changes. For me, though, I care deeply that I do this. I have been telling stories since before I could read and I don’t want to only tell the short ones. There’s nothing comparable to the pleasure of immersing myself in an engaging, layered novel and I want to see if I can create one of those. I have read lots of advice from successful novelists and they all tell of the crappy first draft — it’s essential, it’s necessary. For the first time ever I am ignoring my bad writing and resisting the urge to edit endlessly — that way I get stuck and I must keep moving forward. I am taking part in #100DayofWriting and am grateful for the camaraderie around that. It’s comforting seeing other writers posting woes similar to mine.
One giant issue is procrastination. I don’t understand why knowing I want to write I then spend ways filling my time so I can’t do it. The floor needs washing, there’s endless laundry, I’ll reply to this email and read subs for FLM and constantly chase this mythical FREE TIME when the conditions will be perfect for writing. Of course, we all know there are no perfect conditions. We have to make time. I tried free writing, handwriting (ouch), taking time off work, lighting a beautifully scented candle to trigger creative memory (which smells great and I did write when I lit it and dutifully extinguished it at the end of my sessions, but I don’t want to need a candle). Anyway, as my Day 42 of 100 Days post, I thought I’d share the very ordinary solution I have found. I used to be a late night writer. I would stay up and write and write in the solitude, darkness and quiet of the night, but now I am middle-aged and I get so damn tired. I have nothing much to offer in the evening creatively, so I have flipped everything around. Instead of spending the day racing through chores to get to the time I can write only to find I am exhausted, I write first thing. I don’t open the curtains – I keep the cosy darkness. I try to avoid the morning gubbins that goes on in my house with three adult males getting ready for work, but even if I do get sucked in, it’s ok. When they leave I head back to bed with my laptop and sit in the dark and write. I don’t get a huge word count down, 500 words or so, but it’s something. I am inching forwards. It takes the pressure off the day too. I have done my words, it’s all fine. Today I am not a failure. Tick. If I have time later and I want to write more I can. If I don’t, I have still succeeded. It feels like I trick myself into writing before I have a chance to worry about it. I go to sleep wondering what happens next and if I wake in the night I chase my night terrors away by thinking of where I’m going with the novel. None of this is groundbreaking, everyone has to find their own groove, but for now, I feel like I can get this first draft done. This fits with my work shifts as I work afternoons/evenings most times. The day I start first thing I struggle to get any words done, but hey, that’s ok if the rest of the week I do. I know where my characters are heading, I’m not entirely sure how they will get there. I’m not a planner, hey, I’m making this up as I go along, which, y’know, is what it’s about, right?
I published The Sandwich Judge by Ben Slotky over at The Forge Literary Magazine this week. It is a superb story. The moment I read it in the subs queue I had a glorious “YES ACCEPT NOW” moment. Please do read it.
And then come back and read these daft questions that have nothing to do with Ben’s incredible writing.
1) What would your superhero power be?
Flying, w/o a doubt.
2) What was the last text you sent?
Pink, And I Was Slathered. The Nature of Great Things. Something Classy, Something With Endives. (These are titles for stories I will probably never write, but should.)
3) What has been your most embarrassing moment?
Back when I was in kindergarten, I called my teacher “Mom.” Nothing’s been that bad since.
4) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins? Why?
I’m kind of done with bacon. We get it, it’s delicious, let’s move on. I am a sucker for a good Mapo tofu.
5) Do you have any phobias?
Not a one.
6) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?
Let’s see. That’s tough. It depends on where they were. I’m not good at things like this. I don’t want to swap with anybody. Next question.
7) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?
It’s 96 degrees at 5 PM on September 20. I’ve seen 11 people burst into flames since noon.
8) How do you stop procrastinating and get on with writing?
I don’t. I have been writing the same novel for about 5 years. In the interim, I wrote a novella and about eleven hundred stories. I am always thinking about writing; I will think and think and think about something until it’s pretty much fully formed and then I write it down.
9) What excuse did you use to bunk off school?
Diarrhea. I’m assuming “bunk off” means skip school or get out of school or something. Even if it doesn’t, I’m sticking with diarrhea.
10) Do you have a motto for life?
My grandfather used to say “Never drink out of strange toilets.” That’s served me well. Either that or “I’m sticking with diarrhea.”
11) Have you ever seen a ghost?
Nope. I saw a UFO once. There could have been a ghost in it, I don’t know. It was way up high.
12) What is the most over-rated novel you’ve read?
I’m not one to judge novels.
13) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?
I’m not one to judge sandwiches. I’d bring a nice salad, maybe. Something classy, something with endives.
14) What is your favourite swear?
I rarely swear. Does “fudge” count? Mother-fudge?
15) What word or words make you cringe?
I don’t like it when people start sentences with “So…”
16) Mermaid, dinosaur or unicorn?
Dinosaur. I’m a Dimetrodon guy from way back.
17) Who is your favourite TV detective?
I wrote a bunch of stories about a Crocodile Detective. He’s probably my favorite, primarily because I made him up and he’s a crocodile.
18) What’s your favourite fairy tale?
Probably Rocky 2.
19) What is the last thing you Googled?
What is “other” on my iPhone?
20) Give me a question for the next Smash List interview I do.
How great is Ben Slotky?
I published Rose Andersen’s wonderful nonfiction flash – “Dating Profile” over at FLM. Do give it a read. And I interviewed her too. She has excellent taste in TV detectives and swear words.
1) What is your favourite biscuit?
A just warmed chocolate chip cookie. (I am assuming that biscuit in this case is what us silly Americans call a cookie)
2) What was the last text you sent?
“Beautiful! Love love love”
3) Who is your favourite Sesame Street character?
Oscar the Grouch. I think I liked that he was so openly, well, grouchy.
4) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins? Why?
This feels like a turtle and the hare kind of scenario and that I should say tofu but I just can’t see bacon losing out. Mainly, because I think tofu is horrid.
5) Your writing is music, what style is it?
Instrumental and terribly sad.
6) What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?
A ratty NOFX shirt I was given when I was eleven.
7) What’s your worst habit?
Self-doubt or biting my nails.
8) You’re stuck in a lift with a writer of your choice—who?
Jonathan Carroll, so I could ask him about talking dogs and other magical things.
9) What is your favourite swear?
10) Mermaid, dinosaur or unicorn?
Dinosaur. 100%. (I could literally eat mermaids and unicorns for breakfast.)
11) Who is your favourite TV detective?
This one is hard because I watch an unhealthy amount of crime TV. Veronica Mars is up there. But I’ve recently become obsessed with Eve Polastri on Killing Eve.
12) What word (or words) makes you cringe?
Flaccid. Bulbous. Mrs.
13) Do you actually like cottage cheese and fruit at breakfast? (It sounds like punishment food to me.)
I do, actually. I add a bit of brown sugar and I mainly put fresh berries in it, if that makes it sound more appetizing!
14) Who is/was your unlikely crush?
Casper the friendly ghost. Totally had the hots for him when I was about ten.
15) How do you know when you’ve reached the end?
When I can’t feel anything anymore.
16) What is your favourite smell?
My husband’s neck. Aren’t I disgusting?
17) What is the last thing you googled?
“How to sleep with sciatic pain.” Sexy, I know.
18) Have you ever had your fortune told? Has it come true?
I have several encounters with psychics that have been eerily on point. For a few years now, I have been looking into the suspicious circumstances around my sister’s death and a psychic told me a couple things that were eventually revealed to be true.
19) What’s the best flash you’ve read recently?
A MOVIE THE NEIGHBORS COULD WATCH BY ERICA PEPLIN, published on Jellyfish Review. I love how visual this piece is.
20) Give me a question for the next Smash Lits interview I do.
“What does love look like to you?”
I had a bit of an incident with this blog a couple of weeks ago; somehow I deleted the theme (I really have no idea how) and couldn’t get it back as it’s so old it’s no longer available. I switched to this one, which looks clean and simple, hopefully, and I figured it was a good time to check all those links I have to my published fiction. Over 20 of them led to spam adverts or domains for sale – SAD FACE. Of course, when a journal ceases to publish they might not maintain an archive, but it got me thinking how rubbish it is that those stories are now in this limbo of being previously published and unavailable to read. Some of my best fiction, published in good quality places, has disappeared.
I had a chat with Yosh Haggerty, publisher of FLM, and being the champion of writers that she is, she suggested we might want to consider accepting a couple of previously published pieces to help others in the same position. So, for the month of December only, we are opening a special submissions category for such work and I will select two pieces for publication with us. Send me your favourite lost wonders.
Have at it!
I selected Joy Lanzendorfer’s excellent Flash piece “Sleep Disturbance” for publication at FLM & Joy was good enough to take part in this interview.
1) What is your default pub/bar drink?
A dry gin martini with a twist.
2) Do you have a poster/picture on your wall? Describe it.
2) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?
Why? Have you tasted bacon?
3) What colour is Tuesday?
5) How do you stop procrastinating and get on with writing?
Turn off the Internet. It’s the only way.
6) Did you have an invisible friend when you were younger?
Yes, I had many invisible friends. I still do.
7) Who is your writer crush?
Currently it’s Anita Loos, who’s unfortunately dead, but still awesome.
8) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Curtis Sittenfeld?
Caprese with garden-grown tomatoes, thick slices of fresh mozzarella, pesto made with good olive oil, and crusty French bread.
9) What’s your favourite swear?
I like a good Fuck.
10) What was the last gift you gave to someone?
I gave my mom a Greek cookbook and a pair of moose earrings I bought in the Rocky Mountains.
11) Do you have a favourite pen?
Sort of. I like writing with black felt tip pens because they make bold marks but don’t bleed through the page. TheSchool Smart brand is great, and the pens are cheap, but I have to order them online because it’s surprisingly hard to find felt tip pens in the stores.
12) What word or words make you cringe?
Preggers. Delish. Vacay. The technological destruction of words like twitter, tweet, swipe, and googol. I’m also sick of words like privilege and triggering, which are good concepts but overused.
13) What was the last text you sent?
To my best friend: “Oregonians hike like they drive: lots of tailgating and reluctance to pass.”
I’m sorry, Oregon.
14) Crows. Discuss.
As you may be able to tell by Sleep Disturbance, I’m obsessed with crows. We have hundreds of them in our neighborhood, and all winter long, they mob in the sky and land in my neighbor’s tree. I like to sit on the porch swing and watch them.
15) What is your favourite smell?
16) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?
I don’t think I can quantify them that way.
17) What would you do if you were invisible for the day?
I guess find a scientist so they can research what the hell is going on with me.
18) Do you have any top tips for dealing with writing rejections?
Submit lots of work. Try not to get overly attached to any one project. The more spread out your work is, the easier it is to take rejection because you haven’t put all your hopes on one thing.
19) Who would play your character/s in the film of your story?
That would be a very strange film. I’m going to say Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep so it wins an Oscar.
That would be such a cool, arty short film.
20) Write a question for the next Smash List interview I do.
When did you last sing to yourself? What were you singing?
I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. I didn’t read them with any pre-conceived ideas – in fact, both were from NetGalley and I knew very little about them – it’s possibly only a similarity of my own thinking, but they seem like a match to me.
Eleanor Oliphant is a massive success; a debut novel that started a bidding war and won The Costa First Novel prize. Widely acclaimed and apparently a prime example of feel good “Up Lit” I feel entirely at odds with popular opinion as I loathed it.
Eleanor is a lonely thirty-something who works in an office and adheres to a strict routine she feels safe with. There is unspecified trauma in her background. She’s an oddball, a figure of ridicule at work, out of step with her colleagues and apparently all of modern society. She’s a cartoon character: LOL she’s so weird cos she gets things wrong! Don’t worry though, she’s going to undergo an ugly duckling to swan transformation via a wax, a haircut, a make-over and some new clothes. The characterisation throughout is wafer thin and the plotting seemed incredibly obvious. Eleanor develops a crush on a lead singer in a band at the same time as meeting Raymond, a man seemingly not at all put off by the things that every other person in the book is. Everything is telegraphed well ahead. The voice adopted is a one-note bright, play it for laughs (never mind the trauma) voice.
The idea of this being a mood-lifting “up” style of novel only works if we can ignore rape, murder, fire, crushing loneliness and abuse. The representation of trauma and (possibly) additional needs is woeful.
Standard Deviation, another debut novel, is about Graham, whose inner voice we are privy to, his younger wife, Audra, and their son Matthew. Matthew is an 11 year old with Aspergers and is described in a wonderfully relatable way and is genuinely funny. There’s a warmth that comes through in this novel, and an authenticity that is lacking in Eleanor Oliphant.
“The terrible twos seemed to have a magical stretching ability when it came to Matthew. They went on for years. Eruptions over milk served in anything other than the Buzz Lightyear sippy cup, over music that was too “tinkly”, over carpet that was too scratchy, over people who stood too close, over the smell of sunblock, the prospect of butter on biscuits, the sight of cheetahs in an animal documentary. The littlest thing could set Matthew off, and there seemed to be no way of calling him back from the land of the tantrum – in an instant, he would be flat on the floor, back arched, legs rigid, mouth a wide open circle of angry scream. They would do anything to prevent it. Graham could remember scotch-taping the last banana in the fruit bowl back into a banana peel so Matthew could eat it monkey-style. Graham’s hands had been shaking with desperation.”
Audra is an excellent (over-loud, over-chatty, gossipy) character who is a great foil to Graham (and his ex wife who seems the opposite of her) and is the stand-out star of the book. I enjoyed this novel far more than I expected to and really am quite puzzled why it doesn’t seem to have garnered more praise. Especially considering how feted that blooming Oliphant book is.