Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: Blog

Potentially intrusive—and/or boring—questions from Anastasia Pollack in her blog Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers (Abridged)

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One of the mandatories when you publish a book is getting mentioned on book-related websites. 

You can hire Internet publicists who schedule you on “blog tours.”  A tour is simply a collection of “posts” on different websites.  The options for these posts usually include an interview, a summary of your book, an excerpt of your book or, in some cases, a column or article you write about your genre, your book or both.  My preference is the latter, but in many cases you don’t have a choice and must succumb to an interview.

When this new book came out recently I was eager to gain exposure for it. One of the ways you do that is take a ‘blog tour.”

Usually these blog tour interviews consist of a series of stock questions you are to answer.  You receive a list of questions and you type up your answers.  There are no follow-up questions based on your answers because the whole process is prepackaged. And depending on the website and how you got booked there, the questions even may not be focused on your book type.  The questions often sound as if they are directed at someone who has just published his or her first book. 

Such interviews can be a challenge for the writer.  You want to sound spontaneous and conversational even though you’re really not interacting with an interviewer.  You’re just answering a list of stock questions. Like taking an exam in school. 

With this in mind, here is an abridged sample “interview” from a website published by Anastasia Pollack. 

Anastasia: When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Mark S. Bacon: Relatively recently. I’ve been a writer all my life: newspaper reporter, copywriter, business writer. I wrote several business books some years ago but had always been a mystery fan.  So about six years ago I started writing and publishing mystery flash fiction stories then moved on to mystery novels.

Anastasia: How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Mark S. Bacon: You’re probably talking about “my new, first book.”  That was years ago, but let’s go farther back. I sold my first magazine article, to a national men’s adventure magazine, when I was 16.  Some years later I sold my first book, on business writing, by writing query letters to three big New York publishers. Selling a novel is a different animal. That took years.

Anastasia: Where do you write?
MSB: In my home office with my golden retriever at my feet and a concrete crow statue looking over my shoulder. (It could be a raven.)

Anastasia: Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
MSB: Although I learned to write in a noisy newsroom, I’ve become spoiled at my home office. Quiet is best. However, I sometimes listen to mood music, depending on what I’m writing. For one chapter of the book I just finished, I listened to Ravi Shankar. Does that give you a clue to the story?

Anastasia: Describe your process for naming one of your lead characters.
MSB: How many people do you know named Lyle? It’s a retro name to go with my retro setting. Also, his initials are LSD. I was going to use that in the plot of my first Nostalgia City mystery but never worked it in.

Anastasia: If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
MSB: You could pick any Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald. He was the master of language and characters, not to mention atmosphere.  Raymond Chandler was a pretty good PI writer, too.

Anastasia: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
MSB: We’re talking books, not politics here, right?  I’d say people who ask for free copies of my books.  People think authors get unlimited free copies of their books.  Not true.  We have to buy them from the publisher.  Yes, some publishers give authors free copies when the title comes out.  Back when I was writing for John Wiley & Sons, I received 20 hardback copies of each new book.  My new (mystery) publisher sends me one trade paperback.  Sign of the times?

Anastasia: What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
MSB: One of my first jobs out of college was at a small, neighborhood newspaper in Los Angeles.   My primary duty was to rewrite stories out of the LA Times. I quit after a week. 

Anastasia: You’re stranded on a deserted South Seas island. What are your three must-haves?
MSB: An Adirondack chair, plenty of books, and a lifetime supply of Krispy Kremes.

Three flash fiction writers from across U.S. tell how they create tiny stories

(First in a two-part series)

“Flash fiction takes a big idea and places it in a small container, without any of the substance falling out.”

That’s how Nevada artist-turned flash fiction writer Jim McCormick defines the genre.  He purposefully writes well beyond any imposed word limit until his story is complete.  Then comes what he calls the reductive process.

Similarly, Florida FF writer Madeline Mora-Summonte says she writes “draft after draft” until she’s down to the required length.  Doug Mathewson, a FF writer and journal editor from Connecticut, says that condensing a story can change more than just the word count.

Creating flash fiction sometimes requires meat-cleaver editing but, as McCormick says,  the substance must be preserved.   In recent email interviews, these three flash fiction writers discussed their techniques, offered their thoughts on word length and touched on an assortment of topics related to this literature in miniature.

Word limits are common to fiction journals and flash fiction competitions.  Staying under a specific number of words–or in many cases hitting the number exactly–is formidable when trying to create a complete story and each of the writers has a slightly different perspective.

Mourning News

by Madeline Mora-Summonte

The boy’s on my porch. Come to rob me, I know. I’m old, alone. The gun bucks in my hand. Blood spatters the newspapers in his fallen bag.

“I start to write,” says Mathewson (also interviewed on the phone) “and as the story comes together in my head I have a feel for the word count.”  He says he sometimes edits up or down, but “after a certain point it becomes a different story.”

He said a friend sent him a submission for his flash fiction magazine, blink|ink, that was a good story but too long.  “He edited it [from 155 words] to 52 words and swore it was one of the worst things he ever had to do.  Both stories were great and they were nothing like each other.”

Faced with a length limit, Mora-Summonte says she usually has to take out words to achieve the mandated number.  “I always have to cut it down, to pare it to the core.”

McCormick, a former university art professor, compares the process to creating visual art.  “I long ago understood myself to be a visual artist comfortable with an additive approach,” he says.   He created collages, mixed media works and low relief sculpture by adding elements.  Taking away was tougher.

“When I was painting I had great difficulty,” he says, “taking a piece of cloth to an unsuccessful passage of wet oil paint and wiping it out.

“What has been surprising to me, [regarding flash fiction] is that I employ essentially a reductive approach–an art of rescission.”

One similarity with his collage work, however, he says, “is shifting words or larger concepts clear across the narrative, like I might move a large shard of colored paper or a cut up photograph in a college…to see if it shakes the work up.”

Mathewson was once asked to write something that would be literally shaken up.   He was asked to write a poem (one of several others) that would be stuffed into a piñata and broken open in a bar to celebrate a city pub crawl.

He got started writing flash fiction by setting a goal of having 50 pieces published in online magazines in one year.  He accomplished the goal, but was then dismayed by what he says are drastically uneven quality standards among online literary journals.  At one end of the scale are publications that seem to accept anything, he says, and at the other are journals that publish only one to two percent of submissions.

One of the things he’s learned about his writing is that shorter is better.  “I have no capability for writing long stuff,” he says.

“Some people have a novel they’ve been working on for 10 years; it’s in its eighth revision,” he says.  “I don’t have the patience for that.

“My idea is, you jump in, you do it and you jump out and it’s a whole piece.  That I can do.”

Mathewson says he’s best at stories less than 500 to 600 words.  His shortest published story appeared in Smith Magazine which focuses on six-word stories.

Mora-Summonte recently published a story of 25 words and another of 140 characters. The latter story, Mourning News, appeared in onefortyfiction.com.   While some of her other published stories nudge the boundaries of flash fiction–one weighs in at just over 900 words–she says she does not have a favorite length.

“A good story is a good story,” she says, “whether it’s told in 25 words or 2,500.”

“Sometimes I’ve written 47 words and that’s all I’ve got to say,” says Mathewson.   “Other times I’ve got 52 words and I don’t want to give any of them up.”

Hyperlinks:

Blink|ink

Shellshank Redepmption

One Forty Fiction

Flash of genius or product of our shrinking attention span?

Time for some flash fiction background, basics.  Where did it come from and what’s all this about our attention span shrinking?  This two-part entry will first examine the origins of flash fiction, then look at attention spans, the Internet and stories so short you can swallow them whole.

Part 1. Where did it come from?

The term flash fiction is apparently only 20 years old, but the notion of telling a complete story in a number of words fewer than the number of pages some novelists have filled goes back centuries, perhaps millennia.  People have been telling stories ever since the advent of conversation.   Parables, tales, fables were being spread long before Gutenberg.  As to the first printed short fiction, authorities don’t seem to agree.  Certainly early newspapers carried various forms of stories, but most would be classified as journalism rather than fiction.

It wasn’t until the publication of popular magazines in the United States and Europe in the early 1800s that an effective and profitable forum existed for short story writers.   “But what is the first literary text we can point to, classify and declaim with confidence: ‘This is a modern short story’?” writes William Boyd in a 2006 article in Prospect Magazine. “It has been argued that the honor goes to Walter Scott’s story The Two Drovers,  published in Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827.  It’s a convenient starting point….”   But later Boyd says that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales published in 1837 could be the starting point for modern short stories.

Short stories were frequently published in magazines and anthologies, their popularity waxing and waning into the late 20th century.   Some early short story authors, notably O. Henry, Chekov, Poe and Kafka wrote stories that might have been classified as flash fiction, if the category had existed.

Hemingway, who gets credit for a multitude of literary innovations, published A Very Short Story in 1925.  Weighing in at a little more than 600 words, Papa’s tiny fiction has a beginning, middle and end.  It’s a love story with a World War I soldier as the protagonist and a nurse as his girlfriend.  The ending is unexpected.  My kind of story.

The Hemingway tale is a touchstone in the introduction to a 1992 book,  Flash Fiction, 72 Very Short Stories.   This collection, edited by James and Denise Thomas and Tom Hazuka, is the book that created the term flash fiction and the editors use Hemingway’s story (which they say is “about 750 words”) as the outside limit for the fiction in the anthology.

In the book’s introduction, James Thomas says the term was created to differentiate the under 750-word stories from longer stories published in two previous anthologies he edited under the title, Sudden Fiction, which contains stories of up to five pages long.   In fact, some of the stories in Flash Fiction are under 300 words.  Thomas notes that “public taste for brevity in fiction has fluctuated over the years.”   In the 1940s, he says, very short stories could be found in magazines such as Liberty, but by the mid-1970s, he says, it was unusual to find a story under five pages in respected magazines and literary journals.

The first true flash fiction writer may have been Aesop, in the sixth century BCE.  Given that his stories were not published at the time and that as part of an oral tradition the fables survived in many forms, an approximate word count still can be made using several current versions of the fables.   Androcles (and the Lion) contains only 265 words, and The Ant and the Grasshopper is a mere 150 words.

Next: Part 2. Short attention span theory

Hyperlinks:

Writer William Boyd in Prospect Magazine

Hemingway’s A Very Short Story

Flash Fiction, 72 Very Short Stories

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