One quotation I’ve always loved is Saul Bellow’s observation that “A writer is a reader moved to emulation,” and there is a moment that I can recall when, as an overconfident teen, I looked up from the novel I was reading and declared to my mother “I think it’s time that I start to write my own novels.” I say “overconfident” because it’s taken me about 20 years since that moment to put together what I think might — might — eventually turn out to be a decent novel.
What inspired you to write flash fiction?
When I was a student in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, one of my best teachers was Janet Fitch. In her Fiction Writing Workshop, she would assign us to draft a two-page story — about 500 words — every week in response to a one-word prompt. (She still posts her personal responses to these prompts on her blog, janetfitchwrites.wordpress.com, in the category “The Word: Stories.”) Honestly, at the time, I had no idea that flash fiction would later turn out to be my preferred form. My concentration in the MPW Program was actually on creative nonfiction, and I was mostly toiling away at — of all things — a humorous history of male cheerleaders I had christened Gimme an X! Gimme a Y! After I graduated and started to teach at the college level myself, however, I returned to flash fiction because of practical considerations: Even when the stacks of student stories, scripts, and essays I need to grade seem mountainous, I can almost always carve out the time to write the first draft of a flash.
Describe your writing process.
I honestly do not write every day. Before I went to graduate school at USC, I took a couple classes through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and the best teacher I had there, Dr. Stephen Cooper, told us something along the lines that we should write about as many times a week as we exercised. Unfortunately, I haven’t always followed the advice from doctors of medicine when it comes the number of times a week I should exercise — thus, that excellent advice from a doctor of philosophy hasn’t resulted in as many writing sessions as it should have over the last decade. Realistically, my goal when school is in session is to write one decent first draft a month; when school is out, one a week.
In terms of process, settings are important to me, so I’ll first try to go to the place I have in mind. For example, I wrote “Give Us This Day” — published by FewerThan500 in January — after a day trip to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. While I’m there, I’ll text notes to myself with my phone. When I eventually sit down to compose the first draft of the story in my home office, I’ll have a web browser open on my laptop, so I can research the additional details I need to supplement my notes as I write.
What was the inspiration behind what was published on FewerThan500.com?
Actually, the first draft of “Honeysuckle” — published by FewerThan500 in March — was originally a response to one of Janet Fitch’s one-word prompts. The one word was “ridge,” which conjured in my mind the image of a “ridge of wire twists – worn smooth and dark by the oil of sliding fingers – crowning [a] waist-high fence.” So, basically, I started with what became the first sentence in the seventh paragraph, then built the story out by putting two people on opposite sides of that fence and creating a conflict between them.
What are you working on now?
Whenever I’m not planning lessons or grading papers, I’m attempting to put together a novel-in-stories tentatively titled Trips and Falls. “Give Us This Day” is one of the last stories in it.