Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best #Fridayflash of the Month for December

Even though this December I pretty much went MIA at the end of the month, I was able to read "To Begin With" by Larry Kollar, also known as FARFetched in the twitter world. This particular piece was fantastic and my choice was this month's #Fridayflash of the Month!

I liked how this piece felt so smooth as I read it. The transitions from paragraph to paragraph, I could swear, were coated in Teflon. I also never really knew when the story really hit some of the milestones that make a story a story, but when I went back and tried to look for them, sure enough they were there.

Now, I have no idea how, mechanically, Larry pulled this off other than he found a really engaging voice with an interesting enough concept to pull you from the first sentence to the last and have you wondering if that was actually a 100 word story because it read so quick. Incredible how Larry was able to do that, and I think you should all go check it out before you come back here to see what he has to say about that particular piece. Now, on to my interview with Larry Kollar:

From what I understand, your day job has you function as a technical writer. How has that helped/hurt your creative writing pursuits?

Mostly, it's helped. For the last 25 years, I've had to focus on proper writing techniques, file conversion and layout issues, and other issues that help in writing fiction — but without having to worry about creative burnout when I come home. On the other hand, there are times when I've felt like I was writing fiction at work! I've also learned to include all relevant information in my technical writing, which translates to an antipathy toward loose ends in my fiction.

Now I should point out that it's only been in the last few years that I've taken up fiction writing as something more than an occasional short story. I wrote a few stories and a short novel in college, but never tried to publish anything and let it go once I was on my own. The #FridayFlash project has been one of the things that has rekindled my interest in fiction writing.

As for drawbacks, the closest thing would be this: I instinctively structure my stories, but the structure I use doesn't often conform to the classic three-act style. I'm not sure that's really a problem, though.

You also seem to have a quite large ‘cast of characters’ on your blog. Have you been able to get most of them to read your work/blog as well?

My daughter (Daughter Dearest) and my mom have been the only ones to read my blog without prompting. I've handed a few stories to my wife for her to look at, but she doesn't read the genres I write in so I don't do it often. There have been times when she said, "don't put [something that happened] on your blog" though. :-)

I know one of the big projects you have coming out (and really big as the last word count I saw was about 180,000 words) is “White Pickups.” Can you tell me and the readers a little more about this?

I'm glad to! White Pickups was, in its first incarnation, a flash story of 825 words. At the time I wrote it (Feb 2008), I was writing and posting a serial called FAR Future a peak-oil story depicted as a series of blog posts from 2012 to 2045. I got the idea for the original flash story on the way to work one morning, when I was surrounded by white pickup trucks on the freeway for a few minutes. The flash version includes only two characters, Tina Ball and her daughter Kelly.

Anyway, in May 2009, I finished writing FAR Future and posted the last episode in September 2009. In August, I started wondering what I'd do for an encore, and looked over the White Pickups flash. I asked myself “so what happens next?” and the story began pouring into my head from the Great Beyond. That's not to say I had the whole story in my head right then — far from it — but the story and characters demanded that I start serializing it ASAP. That was about two weeks after the last episode of FAR Future went live.

So…White Pickups is a paranormal, post-apocalyptic story. Here's the blurb:

At summer’s end, mysterious white pickup trucks take to the roads and compel nearly everyone to “drive off.” Some of those who remain gather in a suburban Atlanta subdivision, and struggle to cope with a world whose infrastructure is rapidly crumbling. One of the few who are mentally and emotionally prepared for the end of the world is Cody Sifko, a youth who quickly becomes the inspiration for the others. When a strange homeless woman names him “Father of Nations,” is she seeing his future or her own delusions? As winter and a hate group try to destroy Laurel Hills, can Cody overcome personal tragedy and seize his destiny?

I serialized what was essentially the first draft on my blog, usually staying (at a post per week) at least two months ahead. When I first started, I thought it would run 30 to 40 episodes (at roughly a thousand words per episode, oops) plus a few “Conversations” postings that provide the personal canon for the primary characters. Tina and Kelly are still important characters in the novel, and (along with Tina's ex, Charles) are the only known family unit to have survived the Truckalypse intact, but Cody rapidly became the main character. Then the story began growing, and I'm not sure it's stopped growing just yet. The only thing I had when I started posting was the first 10,000 words or so, a commitment to see it through, and a few lessons I'd learned about serializing a long story while writing and posting FAR Future.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the entire story wasn't going to fit into a single novel. I figured out where the first novel would end, and tagged everything beyond that point "book 2" while continuing to fill in the gaps in the first book. Then there came a point where I reached my limit of how many loose ends I'd allow at the end of the first book, and started pushing parts of the story into the second book.

The first book,White Pickups, is nearly complete and runs about 95,000 words. I have an editor lined up, and I hope to have it out this spring. My original launch date was September 14, the day the story itself begins, but that obviously didn't happen. I've learned a lot as I've prepared the MSS, and one of the lessons is patience, grasshoppah. Maybe that's an advantage of middle-age; the 25 year old me would have thrown it to the wolves and devil take the hindmost (when I mix metaphors, I use a blender). The second book, Pickups and Pestilence, is about 2/3 complete at this point. I've been thinking hard about whether I'll serialize it as well… and I may, just to give myself an incentive to finish it. If the stars all align, I could have it completed and released by the end of this year.

What style of writer would you consider yourself?

I definitely fall into the "pantser" camp, and that should be obvious from the above, although I prefer to call it "organic." I try to give the characters a lot of leeway — after all, they're the ones who live the story. When things are going really well, it's almost like I'm taking dictation from the voices in my head. They're telling me the story, and I'm just writing it down. It's a cool feeling when it happens. On the other hand, I've done a lot of advance plotting and planning with regard to a YA trilogy that I intend to tackle once I finish Pickups and Pestilence. That's partly because I had a bunch of ideas about it, and didn't want to lose anything important. It's waiting (patiently, so far).

With regards to “To Begin With”, is there anything in particular that inspired this piece?

The opening line was a blatant homage to Dickens, obviously. As for the inspiration, one of my online friends was talking about Christmas-themed ghost stories. I had two ideas, both of which used the same opening line ("The Harley was dead, to begin with").

Wow, that beginning was a brilliant salute to that work. I can't believe I missed it! But let's move away from my literary blindness and go back to you. Are you yourself a motorcycle guy? If so, what kind of bikes do you have?

Yes I am! My primary ride this days is a Suzuki DR-Z400SM, a "supermoto" (fancy term for a dirt bike adapted for primarily on-road use). I also have a Yamaha Virago 1100, which I soon hope to pass to Daughter Dearest. There are pictures of the bikes on my blog: Suzuki and Virago. [You might also remember the Purple Indian story from June that I wrote.]

Have you ever hit an animal on a motorcycle? Is that a more common occurrence then I’m aware of?

I nailed a squirrel one morning on the way to work. He ran out in front of me at the wrong time, then bounced off the bottom of my boot just to gross me out (no, the bike didn't surge at it). Then there was the time that two dogs ran out in front of me and froze; somehow I managed to steer between them. That falls into the category of what I call "the Ex-Lax moment." I don't know how common it is, but I've heard about people who put deer whistles on their bikes to (they hope) forestall impacts with larger critters.

Do you of anybody who believes their restored classic bike is possessed by a spirit?

No, not seriously anyway. There are always gremlins lurking about in the innards of older bikes though — especially in the electrical systems.

Were there any particularly difficult challengers in writing this piece?

None beyond the usual: how I was going to end it. But as happens often with my organic writing style, the ending came to me as I wrote. The repetitive parts ("The Harley was dead" "The Harley is alive!" "The Harley is undead") just flowed naturally into the story.

Are there any other ‘easter eggs’ or inside jokes in that piece that most people would not have caught? Something that wouldn't be as obvious as the opening line?

No. The opening line to "A Christmas Carol" is well-known enough that it wouldn't qualify. Had I more time, I might have tried to put something more subtle in there as well.

What do you find most challenging about writing flash fiction?

Personally, it's a fun challenge to include elements that are required in longer stories but not considered necessary for flash: plot, character development, conflict and resolution. Other than that, doing one every week can be a challenge given the other stuff going on in my life. :-) There are brief times when I have two or three "extra" flash pieces and all I have to do is pick which one goes up, but most of the time the story that goes up on Friday was written on Tuesday. If not Thursday evening.

What do you find most enjoyable about writing flash fiction?

As with longer short stories, the ability to have them ready to share in a few hours. Novels are a long-haul endeavor for me, and they can often be more work than fun.FAR Future was a two-year project, and the White Pickups duology looks like it will take even longer. Even a novella like Xenocide or Chasing a Rainbow (something I completed just this week) can take a long time to complete. Thanks to #FridayFlash, I have an incentive to start and finish a story quickly and share it with the rest of the world.

What would your ultimate goal as a writer be?

I think a lot of writers, myself included, would like to be able to do it for a living. For me, that's still a fantasy (so far). I'll settle for knowing that my stories have brightened someone's life, somewhere, somehow.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

About writing? Sooner or later, there comes a time when one needs to stop reading the advice sites and just start writing. Better yet, write first and look at the advice sites later. You need to find your own voice, your own style, before you start worrying about what other people think.

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


Larry Kollar January 10, 2012 at 12:55 PM  

Thank you, thank you… oh crap, where did I put my acceptance speech?! Guess I'm gonna have to wing this.

Well, thanks to Olga, my BDSM Muse, who makes sure I "sit at keyboard and wrrrrrite!" And thanks to the wonderful #FridayFlash community, that has provided much encouragement and incentive to keep at it.

And, of course, to the judges. ;-)

Helen A. Howell January 10, 2012 at 8:20 PM  

That was a great interview, I enjoyed reading it and To Begin With, certainly deserves to be singled out.

Congratulations Larry!

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