here to read a sample.
Read Keith's winning flash fiction story here.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Fall 2015 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?
Keith: I first entered the Flash Fiction competition in 2011, at a time that I was using several competitions to motivate me to write to a deadline. The Flash Fiction competition appealed to me as a means of exhibiting a single ideal, while minimizing the risk of obscuring it to readers who hunger for twenty subplots and six hundred intertwined characters. Of course, I also enjoy writing longer fiction (including novels), but for reasons other than simply promoting an ethic. Flash Fiction is the contemporary answer to the fable, or the fairytale. I remembered feeling that way in 2011, so came back to it this year; I am very glad that I did.
WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story Ease?
Keith: I remember it exactly! I normally work as an English teacher, and one of my colleagues visited my home and made an innocent, offhanded comment about the beaten, decrepit leather chair into which I sank every evening. This triggered an avalanche of reflections about the nature of materialism: how our species is driven to acquire finer acquisitions and, as a result, tricked into abandoning many of the joys that materialism falsely advertises to us. This is the genesis of the circularity and situational irony in Ease.
WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?
Keith: This is a timely question, as I have been experimenting with many of these. Firstly, time is of the essence, but in the opposite manner to how that cliche is usually expressed; my creative process demands a day--preferably several days--of time dedicated to it before it really accelerates. That pesky need to eat is usually what interferes with this, as workdays can drain quality from a writer's expression.
When this happens, changes of scenery and background change the environment around my mind, and changing that environment is the essence of creativity. While I have set up a desk in my home to exploit a very nice view, there are times when my laptop and I need to escape to the beach, and other times to a coffee shop, in order for the writing to continue. I find that the sounds of life are more inspiring than the sights of it. I snatch syllables and inflections from the voices around me, and build, from this mosaic, the new voices of unique characters.
When I absolutely cannot start, I write a "throwaway" story: meaning, essentially, one that I know can never be published. This exercise sometimes takes the form of rewriting a published story, or adding a chapter to a published novel. Sometimes, I write a narrative using characters and circumstances from a favorite television series. In any case, this creates a scaffold of ideas from creators that I respect, and their ideas web intertextually with my own, until I can transplant something new into my original fiction.
Of course, on other days, I just give up and eat a brownie. Those taste nice.
WOW: Can you also share any good books you’ve read lately?
Keith: There are so many! For those interested in experimenting with narrative sequence, Time's Arrow, by Martin Amis, chronicles a man's life lived entirely in reverse. This may seem silly when I describe it, but, using this sequence, Amis manages to give readers entirely new reasons to sympathize with a protagonist that they would otherwise be certain to despise. Also utilising unusual sequence (currently an interest of mine, with which I am experimenting in my next novel) is Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, while John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius provides fans of Shakespeare new stimulation by presenting a prosaic prequel to Hamlet.
Finally, at the risk of out-geeking myself, I have to mention a graphic novel that I just finished. J. Michael Straczynski's Superman: Earth One is a humanization of a character familiar to everyone, and a textbook example of how the voices of narrators and characters can be crafted to rewrite established history without dismissing it.
WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Keith! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?
Keith: Enter now and enter compulsively. Enter the stories you know are great, and enter those that you wish you'd never written. Use a pseudonym, if you are embarrassed. Refine stories that are knocked out, then enter them again: my own winning entry did not even make it past the first reading in a previous competition. It is thanks to Angela's encouragement that I was motivated to give Ease another chance to earn readers, and I now have a new network of professionals I can read, and who may read the online sample of my novel or other work.
Of course, out of respect for the hardworking organizers and editors, you do want to research which competitions are best suited to the genre, style and length of each story you have written. Respecting that, though, give everyone a chance; if you are lucky enough to win some prize money, use that to pay the fee for even more entries. As your stories are celebrated and rejected, you will be left with a clearer sense of the genres and styles that different readers prefer.
The unique thing about this craft, whether profession or obsession, is that writers can measure their success through readership.
A well run competition performs the miracle of giving writers an interactive sense of audience, because we know that, victorious or otherwise, members of the industry will actually read our stories. Any writer should see that, alone, as an achievement. You cannot lose.