Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is the winner of MB1.39. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog. If you enjoyed Donald’s MB1.39–winning story, you may like to check out more of his work at 1000words and Cast of Wonders.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt lives on neither coast of the United States, but mostly in a haunted memory palace of his own design. His short fiction has appeared in print and online venues, such as Necrotic Tissue and The Drabbler, as well as anthologies such as 100 Horrors. He strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big in impact.
100 words ain’t many. How do you fit a story into so few words? As might be guessed from my Twitter handle, I find a lot of inspiration for my writing in Asian art. Like many forms of Asian painting, micro fiction relies heavily on “negative space” – on what isn’t said. One learns to trust the reader to meet the writer half-way. Or they find something that the writer didn’t intend, which can be even more interesting.
Getting rid of modifiers is helpful too. A well-placed verb or just the right noun can do away with five equivocal words. And it gives the modifiers one does use more impact.
Why do you like flash fiction? It may be a paradox, but I find the limits of flash fiction to be extremely freeing. When I submit a Micro Bookends story, I try to always turn in exactly 100 words (not counting the title), because it’s just a little more challenging.
Flash fiction strips some of the pretension that writers can have. When you have so few words to connect with a reader, you have to make every word count, and I try to take the lessons I learn from flash into my longer fiction.
Plus there’s the instant gratification factor. I can have a story written in hours. If I post it for the Micro Bookends contest, I’m getting feedback on it instantly. A lot more rewarding than sending a 5,000 word story out into the aether and waiting months for a faceless editor to reply in a form rejection.
People who write and read flash tend to be fun people.
Been writing long? I’ve been writing since late elementary school, but only seriously (ie, to get published and paid) since 2007.
You write anything else? Since 2007, I’ve had the good fortune to get a couple dozen of short stories published and I don’t know how many pieces of flash. Haven’t had the persistence (yet) to complete a novel-length project. A fair number of my stories are available for free online. Let me know via Twitter if you’d like a list, or simply Google my name and you’ll find several.
Any advice for other flash writers? Keep writing. Read, and read widely. You never know whence inspiration might come. I never expected Japanese poetry to influence my writing as much as it has. You may find your inspiration in music or biology. Immerse yourself in the flow of others’ words, and you’ll get a better sense how you want to use words.
Any interesting writerly projects in the pipeline? Oh, I’m always working on something. My issue is usually picking something to focus on long enough to bring it to completion.
On my blog, interested readers will find episodes from a “story-in-drabbles” called Trashling Tales. The stories explore an urban fantasy world in a Spoon River Anthology/Winesburg, Ohio fashion, each episode only 100 words long. I would love feedback on what I have so far.
I also have a science fiction story and a couple of horror stories coming out soon. My blog is generally the best place to find what has come out recently.
I just finished reading a book. Can you recommend another? Probably the best book in helping me articulate what I mean by “haiku fiction” – and a book I need to re-read myself is Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho by Haruo Shirane.
The book certainly demonstrates the skill used to create depth in an apparently simple genre like haiku. I think there is much in the work that flash writers would find interesting.
In the Control Room
“Six Five Seven through Seven One Nine — no response.”
“Reroute through the Eight Hundred block, but keep trying those pathways.”
The center worked furiously, busy hands moving wire after wire. But no matter how fast the girls worked, the systems collapsed faster.
The supervisor turned toward the monitor. A hazy picture showed the face of a woman. She should know who the woman was, but…
“Not getting through on the Eight Hundred block, mum.”
“Keep trying. The answer is there. Somewhere.”
Barbara kissed her mother’s cheek. She would not cry. Damn Alzheimer’s. Damn that death by degrees.
I knew when I saw the photo prompt that I wanted the story to take place in the control room of someone’s mind. I had first thought of a football player (American football), the “six” being part of a play call. But I had a hard time fitting “degrees” into that scenario.
The idea of Alzheimer’s as “death by degrees” popped into my head (inspired by thinking of my own grandfather), and I wrote the rest of the story rather quickly, the challenge being to paint the scene while sticking to the word count.