Interview with Flash Fiction Winner, K. Alan Leitch
Readers can sample one of his award-winning humorous thrillers at http://www.textnovel.com/story/Starlite-Lanes:-We-Bowl-for-Democracy/7398/, and will soon be able to access more samples of his work at k-alan-leitch-author.tk. Often an American at heart, he is actually a Canadian transplanted happily to Australia, where—along with his wife and several wild lorikeets—he watches a river that never freezes go by.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Spring 2016 Flash Fiction competition! What key elements do you think make a great piece of flash?
Keith: Not that I am any kind of photographer, but I fancy that Flash Fiction is as close as a story can come to being photographic. Readers need to know characters through their actions and words, rather than their histories, and each detail of a setting must somehow contribute to the plot or the themes. Achieving this requires, I suppose, some level of exaggeration…very much as one might emphasize color and tone in a photograph’s subject.
WOW: How do you approach a story? Do you start with an image, character, situation etc.? This particular story of yours seems like it required some research.
Keith: The core element of any short fiction is, to me, an emotion. At a moment that I am touched deeply—by a friend’s gesture, a news item or a television show—I try to examine the causes of that feeling, and a very different situation often develops that might cause similar feelings.
In the case of "Mixed Colors," though, the plot developed differently; I was actually inspired by a group of children, who told me that rainbows and policemen were opposites. Someone like my character, Kiet, emerged almost immediately: a man who wants to be kind, but has a job that largely prevents his kindness.
So, I guess that starting points vary, but it is important for an author to expand upon whatever intrigues him or her, no matter how minor.
WOW: What’s your revision process like? How much editing did you have to do on your flash fiction piece?
Keith: I probably edit too much. The version of "Mixed Colors" that won the contest was officially Version 3 of the story, with dozens of passes for each version. Part of this is due to further inspiration; I travelled to Việt Nam, and experienced the eeriness of the Loa Phường first-hand, so I had to include it. Part of this is because I am known, to some, as a “grammar-Nazi,” and I almost cannot bear to write with grammatical imprecision, even in the name of artistic license.
Of course, I also have some trusted friends, particularly one named Alison, who are willing to read the stories I write and tell me when they make no sense. Sometimes, this results in rewriting passages that my lonely author’s voice had convinced me were beautiful.
WOW: It’s interesting that you write both flash fiction and novels. Do you work on both at the same time, or do you alternate, focusing on one project at a time?
Keith: Isn’t a novel just a series of Flash with “To Be Continued…” tacked between them?
Of course, that is not true at all. Short stories, especially Flash, focus acutely on minimal elements, while good novels interweave countless details to connect them in sometimes surprising ways. Writing Flash can help me get through some writer’s block when stumped on a novel, but the two really are very different. My short stories tend to feature literary characters that reflect an average reader’s life in recognizable ways, while my novels are about a bowling team fighting a Cuban terrorist, Driver’s-Ed students preventing a presidential assassination, and a teenaged girl psychically discovering that her psychiatrist is a misogynistic murderer.
See the difference?
WOW: You also mention that you’re currently learning the slippery ropes of the publishing industry. What has your experience been like so far?
Keith: In a word: “Discouraging.” In another word, “Rattling.” I have discovered that the first contract in an author’s inbox is not necessarily the one to sign. There are publishers who are mostly hoping to sell authors copies of their own books, others who skip the editing process entirely, and still others who want to sign authors up for courses. Of course, there are many publishers—probably a majority—who genuinely want to benefit from authors’ good writing by signing fair deals, so what I have learned, above all, is that seeking the help of an experienced agent is essential.
There has been a very uplifting element to my experience, and that is the connections I have begun to forge within the very supportive writing community. Experts and “Gurus,” such as Victoria Strauss and your very own Angela Mackintosh, have patiently advised me about the standards of the industry, and what to look for in a contract. I am significantly better educated, thanks to these professionals, than I was even a few weeks ago. The blogs of such experts are “required reading” for anyone just starting out.
WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Keith. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?
Keith: Find a home for every idea. A humorous quip of dialogue, a description of a sunset, a really cool name: none of it is wasted energy. A story can be built around anything that inspires us…even a bowling ball.
Our Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest is NOW OPEN!
For information and entry, visit our contest page.