Interview with Leslie Fiering: Winter 2024 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Place Winner

Tuesday, June 04, 2024
At the age of five, Leslie Fiering promised herself she’d live in California someday. At fifteen, she was horse crazy and wanted to live on a horse farm someday. At twenty, she got to California but didn't have a horse farm yet. Now, at the age of seventy-three, she has spent the past twenty-three years owning and happily living on a horse farm overlooking the California coast.

In the interim, she worked for a technology think tank writing about personal computing and mobile computing trends as well as their impact on work, play and business. Recent retirement has given her the luxury of spending more time on her farm as well as following her passion for writing both memoir and fiction. Her essay, “On the Road to Being” was recently published in the anthology, The Gift of a Long Life: Personal Essays on the Aging Experience (The Birren Center, March 2024).

interview by Marcia Peterson 

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Winter 2024 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to write your story, "House Specials at the Castaway Grill?” Hope it wasn’t based on your own dating experience!

Leslie: The story started as an exercise in using a hermit crab structure. Like a real life hermit crab, this type of story grows inside an existing structure, maybe a list, an itinerary or a series of social media posts. I chose the courses from a restaurant menu.

Somehow the pre-existing structure made it easy to abandon my usual top-down, plotter approach. I had fun seeing what came up from imagining the most tantalizing course options and then inventing the most outrageous situations to prevent eating any of them. The story just rolled along from there. And yes, it’s totally fiction, except for the parts that aren’t.

WOW: What advice would you give to someone wanting to try writing flash fiction for the first time?

Leslie: Remember that flash fiction’s limited word count won’t let you write War and Peace. Rather than coming up with a big idea and then trying to squish it into the flash fiction format, think small. Imagine a single situation, or a single person, or a single object or place, and try to work out what led to it or where things will go from there. Let the story unfold from that premise, but don’t tell us everything you know. As you introduce people, places or important objects, use a poet’s mind to distill their essence in a few telling details, especially details that you can reuse through the story with increasing intensity.

Over time, you’ll develop a feel for how much real estate flash fiction gives you, how much you can fit in. Surprisingly, as you get more comfortable with the format, you’ll find you can fit more details, more themes, more drama into the limited word count.

Writing flash fiction is a skill you can learn. Be patient. Persist.

WOW:  Since your story had a lot of delicious food and beverage references, what’s your favorite writing snack or drink?

Leslie:  Hot tea and dark chocolate.

WOW:  What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Leslie: The most recent read was H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. While I’m an omnivorous reader, anything from 19th century novels to books on science, history and culture, to contemporary fiction and even YA novels, hard science fiction remains a life-long favorite.

Steam punk is a science fiction sub-genre that Wikipedia tells us “ incorporates retrofuturistic 
technology and aesthetics.” It’s often set in the Victoria era using existing steam-based technology to power analogs for our more modern gadgets. In other words, this style of writing brings its own 20th and 21st century assumptions back in time with it.

Published in 1898, War of the World reverses the trope by relying on contemporary Victorian political, social and technology norms. Taking place in rural England, one is struck by the limits in transportation.

People are fighting each other to acquire horses as the chief means of fleeing the alien invaders. More importantly, communication is limited.

Telephones, even household electrification, are scarce outside the major cities, leaving couriers, post service or word of mouth as the main ways to spread news. Someone living only two towns away might be totally ignorant of catastrophic events less than 20 miles down the road.

From a writer’s perspective, I was taken by the crispness and efficiency of Wells’ language. He quickly sets time and place then builds the level of uncertainty by revealing seemingly impossible and conflicting details. As readers, we learn what is happening at the same time as the characters themselves, following them to the very nadir of hopelessness and despair.

Wells’ understanding of how people in crowds and as individuals react in the face of emergency wouldn’t seem out of place today.

Overall, the work hangs suspended between the romanticism of 19th century novels and the modernism that would soon characterize early 20th century literature. Now, more than a century and a quarter after publication, it’s still a great read!

WOW:  Great recommendation and explanation! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Leslie. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Leslie:  Anne Lamott famously said that no one has to read your first draft. The most important thing is to sit down and write. Get everything out without worrying whether it’s good or bad. You can always go back and revise or even start all over. The important thing is to show up and keep writing.

Of course, that’s also the hard part.


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