On Writing

August Guest Writer – Mark Bacon

One of the things I love about the internet is how easy it can be to connect with other writers. People like myself who are doing their best to create a unique piece of the interweb cord that can teach, inspire and create important dialogues in the world of writing. One such fellow is writer Mark Bacon. I happened upon his website www.baconsmysteries.com whilst I was gathering information about flash fiction.

Mark Bacon, folks. (Cool hat, huh?)

Bacon has had his blog for just under a year. He began his blog in an attempt to help promote and sell his books as well as promote the style of flash fiction he writes: mysteries! (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you more about what the heck flash fiction is in a just few paragraphs!)

Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words is Bacon’s first published book of flash fiction mystery stories. He’s followed it up with Mysteries & Murder, another collection of flash fiction mystery stories (designed for smart phones and requires ‘free’ Ether books app). If you’re brain is not computing ‘mystery stories in 100 words’, don’t worry. Bacon will wow you with his ability to get it all in in 100 words. It’s the flash in fiction Bacon is skilled at, folks.

In high school, Bacon started writing “in earnest” for the school paper. He graduated from journalism school and wrote for newspapers, but moved around a bit writing in different occupations including writing for radio, TV, magazines and websites. Not to mention corporate annual reports, executive speeches and direct mail. Most recently, he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle.

I was tickled pink when he agreed to guest write on my blog! Not only so I can promote and support his writing, but so we both can enlighten you on what flash fiction is, how fun it is to write it, and where and how you can submit your own fabulous flash fiction stories.

If you’re interested in educating yourself about the world of writing mysteries and flash fiction, Bacon recommends the following books/sites:

Masterpieces of Mystery and Suspense, Complied by Martin H. Greenberg. (Be sure to look around for ‘other sellers’ selling this oldie but goodie at cheaper prices.)

100 Word Story

Boston Literary Magazine

Vestal Review

101 Words

Monkeybicycle

Smokelong Quarterly

Tara Masih’s Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (www.taramasih.com)

And of course, his site: www.baconsmysteries.com

Shall we get this interview on the road, then?

Where/how did you learn about flash fiction? Can you remember your first attempts at flash fiction? How do they differ from what you can write now?

I’ve only been writing FF for a few years and only within the last year or so did anything get published. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me his writing group was working on an exercise in which they had to tell a story in just 100 words. I was intrigued. I’d never heard of a 100-word short story. I tried it. I tried it again. After writing a few stories, I was hooked. At first I just wrote stories to send to friends. Then I got stories published in online FF journals. Finally, I had enough to put together a short book, then two.

I don’t think there’s a huge difference between my earlier stories and the ones I write now. I’ve always been intrigued with a twist or surprise ending. Creating a solvable mystery in only 100 words is a big challenge.

Define flash fiction.

That’s kind of like asking me to define fiction. The only difference I can see is the inherent limitations of length. And what length defines flash fiction? That depends on who you ask. For a couple of my blog entries late last year I interviewed several FF writers and editors at some of the better FF journals. I discovered that some published writers don’t impose a specific word length but try to keep their prose under say, 500 words. Many notable FF journals focus on 100-word stories. To me that seems to be the most common; however, there are journals that limit writers to 50 words, 66 words, 75 words, 500 words or 1,500.

I like to keep my stories to exactly 100 words because it’s more difficult to do, but a specific number of words is not necessarily a requirement of flash fiction.

A Florida FF writer I know recently published a crime story of 140 characters in an online journal. Sound familiar? Yes, Twitter-length flash fiction.

Hemingway is credited with writing an early version of flash fiction. His “A Very Short Story” was about 600 words long.

Having said that FF is simply a matter of counting words, there are other considerations. Much of the flash fiction you see in journals today is literary fiction or attempts at it. Writers with MFAs write literary FF. Commercial FF is less common. That’s what I write. Some writers’ work is in the middle.

Why flash fiction as opposed to poetry or short stories?

You mean why do I write FF rather than those other forms? Perhaps I have a short attention span. Actually I do write short stories, too. These are often based on story ideas that didn’t fit my 100-word limit.

Tell us about your blog. When did you start it? Why did you start it? In the grand scheme of writing blogs, where/how does your blog fit in?

My blog is just under a year old. I started it–like many author/bloggers–to promote my books and to promote my preferred style of flash fiction. In the early months I examined flash fiction in general, its roots, forms, writers, subjects and popularity. Since the publication of my second FF e-book, Mysteries and Murder, I’ve started exploring e-book publishing and its effects not only on FF but on all forms of writing. Great changes in the publishing industry are coming soon and while this may be good news for readers, it’s not encouraging for writers.

What I write in my blog now: flash fiction stories, articles on book publishing, reviews of mystery books.

Does your writing pay your bills? If not, how do you include writing and blogging into your life?

Writing, yes. Writing flash fiction, no. I’ve been a writer for most of my career, as mentioned above, writing for a salary as a copywriter, journalist, etc. My two flash fiction books sell for less than $1 each and I get just a portion of that so my income from flash fiction sometimes pays for the cartridges in my ink jet printer.

What was the coolest thing that’s happened since you started blogging about flash fiction? Has one of your favourite authors commented?

You mean aside from your writing to me? My articles on the legal wrangling surrounding the sale of e-books today has prompted writers to contact me for more info. I’ve also met some other FF writers.

Who are your favourite flash fiction writers? Mystery writers? Writers in general?

If your readers want a taste of good mystery flash fiction, I’d recommend checking out the website for the Short Mystery Fiction Society. You’ll find several of my favourite writers and stories here. As to mystery/suspense writers in general I will name only a few of many authors I like: Josephine Tey, Robert Barnard, Joseph Finder, John Grisham, Ngaio Marsh, Jeff Parker, Todd Borg, Lawrence Sanders, Stieg Larsson, Raymond Chandler, PD James, Cornell Woolrich, Bill Moody.

What is it about ‘mystery’ flash fiction that inspires you? Or what is it about mystery writing that inspires you…!

Getting a complete puzzle story that a reader could reasonably figure out in a small number of words–you pick the length, 100 words, 500, etc.–is a challenge for both writer and reader. For mystery novels I appreciate ones that don’t rely solely on guessing whodunit to carry the story but those that include nuanced characters and a good deal of suspense and action.

In your opinion, has the internet made a positive or negative impact on writers and the writing life? For example, do you think flash fiction would have such prevalence if the internet didn’t exist?

Don’t get me started. The Web has had both positive and negative effects on writers.

Researching, networking and self-publishing are far easier and more precise for writers with the Internet. That’s obvious. Finding places to make money writing is also far easier. (You need look no further than Duotrope.com.) Selling books, particularly e-books, is easier on the Web. Those are some of the pluses.

The Internet and electronic publishing in general I think will have the effect of devaluing, the work of writers. If you can get an e-book for nothing on one of the bit torrent sites (I won’t even mention any) why pay full price for a book? And now online retailers are considering selling “used” e-books. Think about that for a minute. Also, the ease of self-publishing has flooded the market with works that otherwise–and sometimes quite rightly–would never get to print. This makes it more difficult for individual writers to get noticed and for readers to find what they’re looking for.

As to flash fiction, it existed long before the Internet. Hemingway, Raymond Carver and Margaret Atwood are flash fiction authors and there are many others. But yes, the Internet makes FF much more accessible and has created a larger opportunity for FF writers.
Perhaps the first flash fiction author was Aesop in the sixth century BCE. The Ant and the Grasshopper, for example, is a only 150 words.

Are there any upcoming contests/submissions that people can submit their flash fiction stories to?

I’m not a big fan of writing contests, particularly those with prompts. But many, many contests are held annually and a quick Google search will yield dozens. Literary agent Janet Reid has sponsored FF contests, Fish Publishing’s contest is one of the best known, and the top contest is the Micro Awards. Entries for these annual awards can come from writers themselves but are often submitted by FF editors. Finally, your readers may submit FF mystery stories to me for possible publication on the flash fiction page of my blog. There’s no prize involved but I will include a small bio and link to a writer’s site.

THANK YOU, MARK!

I don’t know about you folks, but I’m about ready to get down and dirty with some flash fiction. How about it? Mark has generously agreed to critique a flash fiction piece of mine so we can see how it works. Following that he’s also agreed (bless his FF heart!) to be a judge in FLASH FICTION WRITING CONTEST I’ll be having on my blog!! Yes, you may jump up and down in excited joy. (Do it now, please. We’ll wait.)

Please stay tuned as the upcoming posts will include a FF back-and-forth between Mark and I as well as a FLASH FICTION WRITING CONTEST with FABULOUS PRIZES.

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