How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?
Of all the family stories my mother used to tell, there was one about me watching TV. It wasn’t so much the programs that fascinated me, she said, as did the commercials in-between. I was hooked on advertising and thought Darren Stevens, the husband character on Bewitched, had the greatest job, working for an advertising agency. And when I found out it was possible to make a living at it, I became a copywriter. I also found out that it can be a tenuous profession; the loss of a big client can also mean loss of employment. When I went to the corporate side of marketing, managing agencies instead of doing the actual creative work, I still needed to flex my writer’s muscle. I spent many years writing and publishing poetry, then moved into flash fiction and short stories.
What inspired you to write flash fiction?
A copywriter has to make every word count when selling a product. There’s a specific space on the page to fill with words, or 30 seconds ticking down to the end of a commercial. The constraints of flash fiction is a comfortable fit for me in this regard. And there’s an old saying in the advertising business, sell the sizzle instead of the steak. When writing ads, I liked to paint an entire picture in the consumer’s mind, of she or he using the product, enjoying it, putting it to use to solve a problem. Flash fiction is like that, too. The challenge is to write a complete story, with realistic characters, in only a few hundred words.
Describe your writing process.
I have a recliner upstairs in my home office and I’m in it first thing every morning, as soon as the caffeine kicks in. Some days I’m there for an hour, other days I can luxuriate for four, before the duties of life are upon me. A story always begins on a legal pad with a snatch of an idea or glimpse of character, then I add to the page randomly. Writing longhand allows me to link ideas with arrows, doodle or draw diagrams, and list topics that may need research. From there, I’ll unscramble and rearrange my notes and type a rough draft into Evernote. I file it away electronically, along with the others ideas, waiting for further inspiration to strike—a unique character trait or dynamic opening paragraph to the story. It could be days or weeks later before I visit it again, and make it into a complete story. If I’m happy with it, I share the piece at my weekly writers group. Reading it aloud and receiving immediate feedback from those five people is incredibly valuable. They spot the flaws, alert me to passages that do not ring true, and give me perspectives on the character that I hadn’t seen before.
What was the inspiration behind what was published on FewerThan500.com?
It started from a spat with my wife, one of those arguments that are over quickly, but linger with the relationship for days afterward. I wrote the story from the perspective of a man who gets a daily dose of bickering and what he does with it after 40 years. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife, and relied on my imagination to generate the characters in the story.
What are you working on now?
One of my rough drafts, no doubt. And I also maintain a list of print and online journals that specialize in publishing stories with lesser word counts. It’s a good resource for writers of flash fiction and can be found at http://bit.ly/FlashFicList.