Len Kuntz interview, with Matti Miller
Some people seem surprised, or even intimidated, by the idea of flash fiction—writing a complete story in such a short format seems impossible. What is it about flash fiction that draws you in, as a writer?
I like the intensity and immediacy of the form.
Flash is like a booby trap, a slap in the face, being rear-ended, or getting hot coffee spilled on your crotch…Nothing dull or predictable can happen. It has to move. Each word has to matter, sing.
When you're reading Flash, a tiny bomb should go off inside your skull, blow apart your eardrums and ricochet through your chest, perhaps nicking your heart. Perhaps many, many times.
But Flash can't be gimmicky.
Even if the piece is less than a hundred words, the writing has to have depth, poetic voice and a sense that some stated conflict is moving toward resolution.
Many of your stories include intimate, sometimes dark details of the characters’ lives. For example, the narrator in “Intended” shares the fact that, during sex, she often sees her dead grandmother. When it comes to writing, I’m often advised to never include a detail that doesn’t move the story forward in some way, and that advice goes doubly so for such a short story format. What makes these kind of odd-seeming details so powerful?
It's the details that make a story come alive. Quirky particulars put a unique face on a character, circumstance, or setting. Without these, the writing slogs, becoming bland or trite. With too many details, however, the writing meanders and gets convoluted.
Real life--the stuff we talk to our friends about--is not always a bunch of rainbows and unicorns. Rather, it's mostly bleeding knees, potholes, shattered windshields and broken hearts.
And in fiction, the writer takes this a step further, or deeper. Add oddity to a story, and the author has fashioned something wonderfully strange. After all, fiction is escapism. Who wants to read about mundane issues and passive people who've never made a blunder?
Most of us, if we're being honest, can identify with flawed characters. We root for them, and in doing so, we're surreptitiously rooting for ourselves.
Your writing covers a very broad scope of topics, situations, and character types. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
I tend to write about wounded people, typically children. I sort of feel as if I’m the union steward for child suffering. Also, more than fifty percent of the time I write from a female point of view because it allows me to reach the emotional pitch of a piece easier.
I get ideas from just about anything. It can be a sentence, a sound, a film clip, a song lyric, newspaper headline, the way you just looked at me now, then turned away.
Also, I never go anywhere without having a pen and paper. Even on the treadmill, in the shower, at the movies—p & p are always close at hand.
Mainly, other writers inspire me. There are so many, but lately it's been people like Alissa Nutting, Aubrey Hirsch, Rae Bryant, and Amanda Deo.
Flash fiction, by its nature, often only gives us a glimpse into the lives of the various people it portrays. But as the writer, you probably know much more about those characters than what shows up in the story. Do you ever feel drawn back to certain characters, to write multiple pieces about the same person or people?
Yes, I do return to certain characters. I even use the same names sometimes.
I wrote a novel last year and so loved the mother in it--she's this dear woman who's suffering a quirky form of dementia and can be known to show up wearing army fatigues, a bee keeper's garb, cheerleading uniforms, you name it--and so I wrote a vignette of it in story form called, "My Mother, Marilyn Monroe" which was published at Blue Print Review.
Sometimes the characters we create are so robust that they break out into other pieces, sometimes in a novel.
With fiction, everything is infinite yet recyclable.
You told me that you have completed nearly 700 stories in two years. That kind of output must take serious dedication. Do you have an established “process” for writing?
Well, I write full-time. I have no excuses.
But I do very much respect the craft by not mystifying it and saying I need to be “inspired” to write. Megan Chance, a mentor of mine, says that “Writer’s Block is really just plain old-fashioned laziness.” That may sound harsh, but I think she's right.
Basically, I just get my butt on the chair and keep it there until something happens. The output might not always be brilliant or even salvageable, yet once I get started, it’s typically hard to stop.
And I write every day.
My favorite place to write, as odd as it may seem, is in the bathtub with suds, a glass of wine, and a good book. Sometimes I'll write three pieces during a soak.
When I’m in novel mode, I have a goal of 2,000 words per day. A word count, I think is always good. It keeps you accountable.
Last but not least, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
First, read a lot. Read what you like to write. And read books about the craft i.e., “Writing Down The Bones,” by Natalie Goldman.
Second, write every day. Just write something. Even a page. Even a paragraph.
Third, befriend a writer you admire. It's so easy to connect today, what with the internet and social networking. Some of my best friends are people I've never physically met. Personally, I'm always excited when someone reaches out to me with a comment or question, seeking advice. When I first started out, I was so horribly lonely. Even now, I sometimes still feel that way.
As writers, we need to be there for each other.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.