You write poetry as well as fiction. How has that helped you in writing flash stories?
Writing poetry has influenced my fiction—whether or not it has helped it, I’m not sure. I’m used to making every word count. And I’m conscious of the sound of a piece, the cadence of the sentences. For a long time I’ve been writing narrative poems, poems with dialogue, so the move to fiction, especially flash fiction, is natural. On the down side, poetry allows for, even encourages, ambiguity—there’s a whole book about it called Seven Types of Ambiguity—and readers often want a story to be nailed down more than I want to do.
In your story the grotesque is made sublime. Do you find that writing helps you see beauty in unexpected places?
I don’t know. It might be just that I see things this way and then my writing gives me a vehicle to share my vision. My mother used to call me outside to look at spider webs and things like that. So she taught me to see the world, really look at it.
Your life sounds very busy and full. How do you find the time to write, and how does teaching affect your work?
Teaching is a boon to my work although it is a huge chunk of my time. However, the constant reading and talking about literature with my students is an extension of what I’d want to be doing anyway: reading poetry and fiction, looking at the clockwork mechanism instead of just the hands going around. When I teach creative writing I do the same writing that I have my students do.
Do you workshop your writing and how has that helped, or not?
I’ve been workshopping since the late sixties off and on, most lately online with Zoetrope. I find that I learn a lot from what others say, and from the discipline of making helpful comments about others’ writing too. An outgrowth of the Zoetrope work has been writing fiction collaboratively via email with Bill Turner.
What advice do you have for your fellow writers?
I usually had advice for every occasion, a bit like Lucy in Peanuts, but each writer is so individual that I don’t have any one-size-fits all advice here.