How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?
On a cold, wintry night in January, 1971, in Oneonta, New York. With mere months left before graduating from college, I took my skates and walked to the darkened, deserted, downtown public rink. Doing figure eights, I voiced my options: Vietnam, graduate school, a suit-and-tie job, or…wait…writing? I’d taken some English courses by then, and had discovered my love for writing, but never had considered pursuing it as a career of some sort. The blinders fell, and the world lit up. I’d get a menial job to support my writing, and go from there. Six months later, I was a night security guard and writing fictions in the morning.
What inspired you to write flash fiction?
I think it was reading writers like Kafka, Borges, and Calvino in my twenties in the 70s and 80s. Then along came Donald Barthelme, and so many more Americans after him. Also, reading prose poems that have a lot in common with innovative flash fictions gave me permission to experiment with form, subject, and style.
Describe your writing process.
I usually go to bed early so I can get up around 4:00 to write for a couple hours before going to teach. The ritual includes making coffee, reading a few pages of whatever’s stacked beside my chair, and then getting to the writing (or, sometimes, the submitting). I’m much more into revision than when younger (I’m 67), finally realizing the real beauty of a piece comes with the fifteenth or twenty-fifth time you go over it, changing that one word so the sentence sings rather than gargles. For short fictions, I never outline, but rather let the story tell itself. For longer fictions, knowing plotting is most plodding for me, I map out generally what is going to happen to the protagonist, then assure myself it’s okay for him/her to go his/her own way, once the novel’s underway–within reason. Research is minimal, as I find myself writing either extremely innovative (dreamlike, surreal, etc.) fictions, or semi-autobiographical fictions that rely (loosely) on memory and changing reality into a more universal kind of truth.
What was the inspiration behind what was published on FewerThan500.com?
“Left to Ponder” grew out of many years of visiting a long-time friend, once my college roommate, who now lives in Michigan. Whenever our families got together, we’d take long walks down a rural gravel road bordered by woods and a kind of bog or swamp. I’d have dreams about that place, the mysteriousness of its contents weighing on my unconscious. I suppose that’s where the surreal quality of the style stems from.
What are you working on now?
Lately, I’ve written two traditional short stories, one semi-autobiographical about an evening’s fly fishing trip in which the protagonist has an epiphany. The story pays homage to Hemingway, Norman MacLean, and all the other writers who tried to get the wonder of fly fishing down on paper. The second story employs (not for the first time) the setting of a trailer park and the symbolic value of contrails, which, to the main character, signify his angels watching over him. Besides that, I’m continue writing an essay every other week for the Kane County Chronicle, and continue to revise a collection of short fictions, most of which have appeared in literary journals, that goes in search of a publisher.