Gary Powell, author of Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons and Lucky Bastard, recently tagged me in a blog about his writing process. I’m happy to participate. Although every writer’s process is different, I always get some insight from an author who’s willing to share what works for her or him. Plus, Gary Powell rocks! Now I’m tagging my pal and North Carolina’s new Piedmont Laureate Carrie Knowles.
1. What am I working on?
For the last year, I’ve shifted my focus from poetry to short fiction–and most of the latter flash (under 500 words). Some of the shift came from Fictionaut, an online writing community where I could experiment and get feedback from good and generous writers like Gary, Michelle Elvy, Sam Rasnake, Pia Ehrhardt, Barry Basden, Carol Reid, James Claffey, Chris Okum, Jake Barnes (no relation), Amanda Harris and Charlotte Hamrick. (And no doubt others I’ve missed.)
Late summer 2013, Press 53 announced its short/flash story manuscript contest, so I spent three months writing and editing what became Skirting The Dress Code, a collection of 49 stories, which made finalist status. Several of these stories have been published (100 Word Story, Camroc Press Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Wigleaf Top 50, Prime Number) and “Counting” just won the Lascaux 250 contest. So, I’m very happy and grateful about taking the flash fiction path.
Also in 2013, I began an online community project called 14 Words For Love, to encourage everyone—not just writers—to contribute 14 word poems, stories or aphorisms about kindness and community inclusion. Anyone in the world can write a 14-word piece, comment on others’ work and/or download as many creations as they want to hand out. We’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day (over 3000 poems from around the world), Pay It Forward Day (April) and Peace One Day (September).
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
While I try to read as much flash and short fiction as I’m able, I don’t claim to know precisely what constitutes the flash genre. I’m sure it’s evolving just like everyone’s work within it. I started reading Meg Pokrass’s Damn Sure Right in 2010, a big inspiration, and then began reading others’ flash on Fictionaut. One of my favorite books is New Sudden Fiction edited by Shapard & Thomas, a really good anthology, very rich and diverse in its offerings.
If I had to describe my work in comparison to the flash that I’ve read, I would say that my poetry roots are evident. In fact, several of my flash stories began as poems that I was told didn’t quite work as poems. Instead of pitching them, I decided to rewrite them as flash. I was amazed at how relatively easy they were to transform into flash. One of the best examples of one of my poems turned prose, I think, is “My Uncle’s Last Day in Hospice,” at Tupelo Quarterly. The other thing I’d say is that poetry has helped me with economy, image and to some extent, lyricism. I’m glad I began with poetry–not that I’ll ever be done with it.
3) Why do I write what I do?
That’s the big question! Sometimes I don’t know where the first line comes from but there’s always a first line. In most cases that line remains as the lead or at least somewhere in the story. Other times, I overhear the first line and go from there. I have an unusual background for a writer, I think: journalist, labor relations and HR practitioner, business professor. But everything I’ve enjoyed about these jobs has a social justice element. A lot of what I write is about diversity, multiculturalism or inclusion.
4) How does my writing process work?
It’s changed and changing. While I do some planning, I’m what some would call a pantser. But even that fly-by-your-seat label makes me uncomfortable because I’m very focused when I’m inside the story. Sometimes I have two stories or one story and one poem cooking at the same time, but usually I like to throw myself into one piece of work at a time. Multitasking is not optimal for me, unless I’m in the middle of a 14 Words For Love event, commenting on others’ work and also working on a story. I’m trying to get better at time-boxing but I’m the first to admit that when I am productive, it’s hard to quit. I’m like a kid at the fair; to hell with dinner. I hyper-focus until my body says stop.