Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best #Fridayflash of the Month for November

Back on our schedule of doing one of these each month, I had the privilege to read the story Chances Are by Tim VanSant to whom this award goes out.

This particular story really jumped off the page for me, and in particular it was the voice of the character. Right from the opening we are treated to lines such as: "And then for lunch I found one of them buffets for cheap that have real prime rib and crab’s legs and a salad with four beans, not just three. I ate till I was like to bust." Tim does a masterful job here of taking a particular dialect and using syntax, word order, and even specific details to portray it, not mis-spelled words and funny accent marks.

Things like the four beans instead of three really painted this picture in my mind of a guy who is truly simple at heart, and not just some ignorant rural bumpkin. He's surrounded with the glitz of Vegas, yet the thing he finds neat is the number of beans. This story, like I said before, really captures the character's voice beautifully and lays it out in a well structured piece of flash that has a great twist at the end.

So go out in read that story, yes right now, and when you come back, Tim himself was gracious enough to do a quick interview to let us in on some of the secrets of this piece. Again, congratulations and thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of fiction with the world! Now, on to Tim.

There isn't too much on your about page aside from you being 'a poet in academician’s clothing.' Is there anything you would like to add to that to give your readers a better idea of who you are?

What, is that unclear somehow? [laughing] I enjoy writing poetry. I've spent most of my life as a teacher. I'm afraid if I try to add anything the readers will get bored before we get to the second question. I often say that I am not normal. That doesn't mean that I'm interesting though.

Based on your picture, I would suggest you might be quite interesting. But moving on, do you have any big projects that you are working on? If so, could you share some info on them?

I have a few things going. The one I'm having the most fun with is writing stories featuring J.P. Worthett, a private investigator who has appeared in a couple of my Friday Flash pieces. I plan to publish them as a collection. My other projects are top secret.

What style of writer would you consider yourself? (Unless that's classified as well of course.)

By style do you mean pantster versus plotter? I lean more to the pantster side. I usually know where my stories are going to end and I sometimes list bullet points on how to get there or elements I want to include. But I'm quite willing to throw away any of that if the story starts playing out differently as I write. Strict outlining feels too much like what I have to do when writing instructional materials. I'm much more a plotter for those.

With regards to Chances Are, is there anything in particular that inspired this piece?

Well, it's a story of betrayal of course and I won't go into what prompted that. I was working on another piece with a different song when the image of this poor guy popped into my head and I heard him saying, "I ain't never been lucky." Originally he was on the bed watching his reflection in the mirrors on the ceiling slowly fade away as he died with the song playing in the background. The setting felt like Las Vegas to me. At that point I knew where the story was going to end [except he landed on the floor instead of the bed and I changed the song] and I just had to let him tell me how he got there.

Have you ever had any insanely lucky streaks in a casino?

No. I wouldn't say I've had any insanely lucky streaks anywhere, and I've only been in casinos a few times. I don't have the temperament [or the disposable income] that I think is required to take the risks that lead to insanely lucky streaks.

The voice in Chances Are is very unique and different from your other works. How did you get that to work so well?

First, thank you for saying it worked well. It's always risky to deviate from standard English. That voice is based largely on one of my college roommates who grew up in rural Kentucky tempered a bit by a milder dialect common to the area around Louisville, where I grew up. I have used pretty much the same voice in one or two other pieces, but it has to fit the character. More to the point of your question though, I always write by listening to the story in my head. I let the characters tell the story and I write it down. This is especially helpful with dialog because I can usually catch bits that just don't sound right coming out of a character's mouth. I can hear this character's voice clearly and it feels familiar to me.

Is there any particular reason you chose that particular Johnny Mathis song to post at the end of the story?

When I chose Las Vegas for the setting it reminded me of a recent discussion about how poorly most people estimate the odds of any particular event occurring. The phrase, "What are the odds?" gave me the idea to use "Chances Are" as the song and the title. Plus, come on, it's Johnny Mathis!

Were there any particularly difficult challenges in writing this piece?

This piece flowed pretty easily for me. In the first draft he only played at the blackjack table. Having him move to roulette made it easier [fictionally] to win more money in a shorter time and the frenzied excitement around the craps [there, I said it] table was a natural way to bring in the bimbo blowing on the dice. I know that's cliché, but it helped move the story along so I kept it in.

Are there any ‘easter eggs’ or inside jokes in that piece that most people would not have caught?

Not really. The closest to that is when he says he has ten dollars that he's willing to waste in the casino. It's a reference to my only trip to Las Vegas. Due to a series of unusual and stressful events -- I'll save that story for another time -- I found myself standing in a casino after having been up for 22 hours [and only four hours of sleep the night before]. I had a twenty dollar bill in my hand that I had planned to take to the blackjack table. I decided I was too exhausted to have any better chance of winning than if I just threw the money on the floor. I put it in my pocket and went to bed. I wasn't willing to waste it in a casino. But even if you had suffered through listening to my Las Vegas adventure, you probably would not catch that. I put it in just for me.

What do you find most challenging about writing flash fiction?

I think the biggest challenge is making a story complete with a beginning, middle, and end in such a short format. A lot of flash pieces, mine included, are more of a sketch or vignette. In fact, before I learned the term flash fiction I called my short pieces vignettes. But I think it's okay to have some elements implicit rather than explicit.

What do you find most enjoyable about writing flash fiction?

I enjoy stripping a story down to it's basic elements and finding just the right words to convey big emotions in small spaces. Similar to writing poetry, I want to be able to elicit an emotional response in the reader with most of my flash pieces. I can't ask for more than to get you to laugh or cry or even just stop and think about the world in a different way.

What would your ultimate goal as a writer be?

I haven't decided on an ultimate goal. I have earned money by writing and editing and I want to do more of that. I'm looking into a couple publishing ventures. Through my website and blog I have already joined a world-wide community of readers and writers. I routinely get visitors from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. How cool is that? [Now, if I can just figure out how to appeal to penguins or Antarctic explorers I'll be poised for... TOTAL GLOBAL DOMINATION!!! Cue dramatic theme song.]

I'll see if I can do anything about the Antarctic thing. But in the meantime, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

Seriously? Have you forgotten who you're talking to? Oh, I know. My father told me never to attempt vast projects with half-vast plans. [I am his favorite oldest son.] See, if I wrote longer forms than poetry and flash I would have to be more of a plotter.

I want to extend my thanks out again to Tim, and one more round of applause.


Tim VanSant Writes December 14, 2011 at 11:34 PM  

Thanks, Michael. This was fun.

John Wiswell December 15, 2011 at 9:31 AM  

I am not at all surprised that Tim wants to take over the world. A shame we both assassinated him.

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