Interview with K. Alan Leitch: 2016 Fall Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner
A former teacher, future author and reluctant blogger, K. Alan Leitch has written the gamut from Young Adult Humor through literary Short Fiction. While he celebrates the infinite buffet of entertainment media that technology has created, Keith’s goal as a writer is to share the amusing and heartbreaking world-views that only language and written narrative can explore. Keith, pictured here with an ill-gotten Thai coconut, travels whenever possible and lives with his wife in a town that is actually called Surfers’ Paradise—no, really, that’s its name—in Queensland, Australia. He is the recipient of five short fiction prizes, and has authored seven novels, at least three of which he would be proud to share. Fellow authors and hungry readers can sample these, along with his blog, on Words from K. Alan, as well as in some guest-posts at Cow Pasture Chronicles.
If you haven't done so already, check out K. Alan's award-winning story "The Malicious Mist of Misery Sound" and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the WOW! Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest with your short story “The Malicious Mist of Misery Sound”! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?
Keith: That question is especially meaningful for this competition because it was the result of some subterfuge. I had wanted to write a story inspired by the wreaths we sometimes see on highways, at the sites of tragic accidents. Before I started, however, I did some sneaky research into the preferences of your judge, Shannon Powers. These were actually difficult to determine because, as a literary agent, she represents such a wide range of fiction... but I got some advice that indicated she prefers "spooky" stories, so I wrote a piece that I masked as being from the Horror genre. Only at the very end did I allow myself to reveal the true inspiration of Malicious Mist.
WOW: Interesting tactic, and certainly a great idea to know your audience. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?
Keith: What I enjoy most about writing is being in the thick of it: watching words spill, like fluid, to fill up spaces that once seemed opaque and colorless. What I enjoy least, by far, is the self-doubt. The industry is so competitive that it is tempting for writers to believe, after hundreds of rejections, that their words are worthless.
What helps most with this is finding communities, like yours, in which to get involved. At the moment, I am on the search for some that are more local; the clubs and conferences that Americans take for granted are sparse for writers here in Queensland, Australia (where men with wide-brimmed hats have been occasionally overheard to mutter a word or two). I know there will be something out there that will allow a mutual flow of ideas. If not, maybe I'll start something!
WOW: I love that description of “being in the thick of it.” And self-doubt is relatable trait among writers, so thank you for sharing how you pull yourself out of it by engaging with a writing community. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Keith: In my youth, I was transcendentally inspired by the writing of John Updike: truly literary prose that still tells a story. Recently—well, past my youth—I discovered Jeffrey Euginedes' Pulitzer-winning Middlesex, and relived some of the experience of being gently oxygenated by the words of greater author. For that reason, I decided to select another of his novels. I chose The Marriage Plot, because it deals, as a subtheme, with the fascinating and exasperating critical-literacy theorists who were such a big part of my education. Truly, anyone who has ever taken or taught an English course will find his absurd treatment of them to be delightfully offensive.
WOW: I read The Marriage Plot years ago and loved it, but I have since taught college English courses, so your description makes me want to read it again! What has been your greatest writing accomplishment to date?
Keith: That question has so many layers in it. I could easily say that winning First Place in two of your previous competitions takes First Place also in my pride. There is another way to answer, though...
There is nothing more frustrating to me than a day when I have not produced any writing, especially if I set out to do so. Last fall, I entered the 3-Day Novel competition, and wrote 34,000 words during that time. I even slept every night! The result was the draft of a young-young adult novel, Olivia of Olympus, which I am currently expanding and editing to marketability...but just having written a working draft in the first place is a contender for "greatest accomplishment." Take that, NaNoWriMo!
WOW: Writing 34,000 words in three days is a magnanimous feat! If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Keith: My advice is likely to be contentious, because it is to question carefully some of the standard advice that we hear. Do not try too hard to "write what you know" because, believe it or not, C.S. Lewis didn't know any talking lions. Do not be obsessed with "starting in the middle of the action" because the first thing Suzanne Collins had Katniss Everdeen do was wake up and stare at her sister's one-eared cat. Most of all, if you are "telling" instead of "showing" some of the time, do not despair, because every successful author in history has had to tell some of every story... well, except maybe for Ulysses.
One of your winners in the previous round gave the advice to pretty much ignore all advice. This is not what I am saying, here; I think that all this advice is good, provided that it is applied judiciously. When the advice you get is more specific to your story, though—less of a cliché—that is when it is time to really pay attention. That tailored advice is like gold, and something you need to find ways to seek. Lucky you and your conferences!
WOW: Thank you for sharing that insight. Anything else you’d like to add?
Keith: I'll add my thanks, as always, to you and Angela and all the editors: not just for the distinction and the cash, but also for being so available to communicate with authors who are just starting out.
With regard to Flash Fiction, I can only add this: if a story can be told, it can be told in 750 words. Subplots and nuances and red herrings can wait until it is time to expand it into a novel, but authors shouldn't be afraid to draft brilliant notions, first, in condensed form. As someone who has written seven novels, ranging from young adult speculative to a full-blown murder mystery, I can remember when each of them was just a very short story. That's one way for a writer to identify when she has more to say.
And that's how inspiration snowballs.
WOW: Great perspective – I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way before. Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. Again, congratulations and happy writing!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.