Pure Slush

flash ... without the wank

Full interviews from Flash Fiction Chronicles, August 2014

 

A number of writers from 2014 were invited to answer questions by Andrée Robinson-Neal, and a shorter version was published on Flash Fiction Chronicles in early August 2014, which you can find here.

But you will find the longer answers below, from all writers interviewed. Thanks to Andrée, and Flash Fiction Chronicles, and the writers who were happy to be asked the questions!

Click on the links below for the individual interviews:

Matt Potter Michael Webb Shane Simmons

Gill Hoffs Jessica McHugh Vanessa Weibler Paris

Mandy Nicol Lynn Beighley John Wentworth Chapin

Find more information about the 2014 Project, including further interviews, audio stories, tastes of each volume and how to purchase each book (print and eBooks) by clicking here.

 

interview with Matt Potter

Andrée Robinson-Neal: What was the seed for the idea of this project?

Matt Potter: I was reflecting on my wish to have Pure Slush publish a book a month in 2013, and realising very early in the year that this was not going to happen. I first thought one story a day, 365 writers ... and then thought, no. But 31 writers each taking the same day of the month, allows writers to develop longer stories across a wider arc. And it snowballed very quickly from there, and the next day, I think, I sent emails asking writers to be involved.

 

We’re almost halfway through the project. Has it gone as you envisioned?

As I write this, there are 92 stories yet to be submitted and signed off, so while 2014 June Vol. 6 was released last week (early April), 273 of the 365 stories have been written and accepted. Parts have been more difficult - writers saying hey, I need to change something in a story I submitted some time ago - while other parts have been easier. Five of the 31 writers have finished all their stories, with a few not far behind. Some however, are still only half way through writing all their stories. How best to approach these writers and hurry them along is individual, and a challenge. Sometimes it feels a little like I’m cracking a whip.

 

Have there been any surprises? Is there anything you’d do differently next time?

The biggest surprise is the unprompted diversity in stories and styles. Each story cycle really is different from all the others. If I was to do this again (and I’m not) I would start even earlier, 10 months earlier rather than seven months earlier.

 

What hints (topic ideas, voice, etc.) can you give the readers (and perhaps those who would like to contribute their writing) to your next project?

Come prepared to work on your stories. If a requirement is that the stories be written in the present tense, then write them in the present tense! Keep to deadlines and communicate with the editor. Once the twelve 2014 volumes are complete, I will be returning to 2 smaller projects I have put on hold for much of the last year.

There are plans for something new online in 2015, and another large print project in 2016 ... so stay tuned.

 

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interview with Gill Hoffs

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Gill Hoffs: I found the idea of writing in character over the course of a whole year hugely appealing, and try to seize any opportunity to work with Matt (Potter, brains and balls behind Pure Slush) as it’s fun, rewarding, and always helps me grow as a writer. I’ve spent the last two years focussing mainly on researching and writing my nonfiction book The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic (Pen & Sword, 2014) so the 2014 A Year in Stories project was almost medicinal for me: a regular, scheduled, blast of short fiction writing using a character I knew and an editor I love. Perfect!

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

Balancing my workload. Making sure I fit in writing my ‘2014’ story with looking after my six-year-old and promoting my book, which actually started life as a short nonfiction piece in my Pure Slush book Wild: a collection (2012). The weeks pass so quickly!

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

No, but when I mentioned the project to my (very supportive) husband, he did raise his eyebrows and ask if I was sure I had time for it. As with any writing, it’s not a question of having time, it’s a question of prioritising it in your everyday life, in the same way that it’s important to prioritise eating a delicious proper meal (or at least Nutella on toast) over constant snacking on crappy sandwiches from a shop. I want to write therefore I make sure I do.

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

It’s been a jolt of mental caffeine - writing in the first person about a wholly fictitious contemporary sex worker in Manchester is a world away from the check-recheck fastidiousness of documenting the real-life tragedy of a Victorian shipwreck. Just what I needed to get back into my usual balance of writing both fact and fiction.

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

I wish I could remember - to be honest, I usually absorb what Matt says so it’s hard to bear particular comments in mind. When I first worked with him he sent me a lengthy email full of tips and advice which I printed off, highlighted, and taped inside my workbook. I used to tell Matt working with him was like a mini-MFA!

 

 

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interview with Mandy Nicol

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Mandy Nicol: First off it’s a terrific concept, and Matt is fabulous to work with.

I usually write very short stories, so to continue to write about the same characters, to get to know them more than I usually would, seemed like a great way to push beyond my normal.

I’ve always played it pretty safe and felt it was time to have a peep over the parapet. Now there’s no way I’m jumping out of an aeroplane but with this project I thought hey, this could be my leap into the blue yonder.

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

My toughest challenge was to find a premise that would support twelve standalone stories and be conducive to an overall story arc. I’m not a planner or an outliner so I needed to find characters and a situation that I could trust to carry through.

I settled on thirty-four year old Nadia, still living at home (on a farm in rural Australia) with her demanding and controlling mother (and her mother’s dog Peregrine). Nadia’s brother and sister have managed to flee, what is Nadia’s fate?

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

There sure was, about five seconds after I said yes. I was sure I’d jumped out of the plane without a bloody parachute. Of course I did have a parachute in the form of Matt, I’m sure he won’t let me go splat.

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

I’m enjoying stretching a story beyond the usual bite size pieces I write. I think I’ll revisit some old stories with new eyes and see what I can turn them into.

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

Sometimes I have to add a bit of flesh to the bare bones if I want readers to see what I’m seeing. Not that Matt actually said that, he doesn’t lecture, he questions or nudges to squeeze out a better story.

 

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interview with Michael Webb

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Michael Webb: I had sent Matt a few pieces here and there since Pure Slush began, so I knew he at least appreciated that I, with some judicious editing, could turn out something passable. It seemed like an interesting idea at the time, but I had no idea what a project it would become.

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

Maintaining tone and tense. I tend to be a little sloppy with my verb tenses, and Matt’s idea that every story has to be present tense really made me focus on that issue. I also know that, when sending something to Matt, I have to prune, something that I don’t do enough of when I’m writing “just” for my blog.

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Towards the end of the project, it got more difficult to come up with events for each story that were plausible and compelling in and of themselves while still furthering the overall yearlong growth of the characters. It was like playing chess against multiple opponents at once.

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing? What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

I know Matt has a sharp eye, so I tried to be on the lookout for phrases and sentences and whole paragraphs that didn’t belong, things that were wasteful or decorative. But even after doing so, the editorial process showed me that I hadn’t done enough, that every movement, every hairbrush picked up or action figure discarded, has to have a meaning of its own.

 

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interview with Jessica McHugh

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Jessica McHugh: The challenge of 1) trying my hand at literary fiction, and 2) writing my first serial story, drew me most to the project. Plus, I’d been impressed by stories released by Pure Slush before, and when I saw my inky cohort, h.l. nelson, had jumped on board, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring as well. I’m so glad I did! It’s been a wonderful experience.

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

I’ve encountered a handful of challenges along the way, but I think I’m experiencing the toughest right now, at the end. I’ve written the last two stories in my serial, but I haven’t revised them yet, partly because I don’t want to let go. Unlike most short stories, the serial allowed me to spend as much time with my main character, Edward McKenzie, as I do with novel characters. I know him. I care about him. Edward was plucked from a failed piece I wrote when I was nineteen, and after so many revisions that still led to rejections, I thought I might never have the chance to introduce him to the public. But thanks to 2014 A Year in Stories, he’s experienced more than ‘a day in the sun.’ It gave me the opportunity to explore his personality so much more, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It’s going to be tough saying goodbye.

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

When novel and short story deadlines were breathing down my neck, the serial installments were often forced to the back burner for a few weeks, but I never let the deadlines pass me by. My character and the project were too important. Plus, because I started the #AStoryAWeek challenge at the beginning of 2014, these stories helped me get through some rough weeks when I was too overloaded with projects to think of a new weekly story. I’d just take a deep breath, pick up a notebook, and say, “What’s Edward up to this week?” Thinking I was crazy was fleeting at most. I was having too much fun.

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

I’ve learned a lot about literary fiction writing, which has improved my genre fiction writing. Matt’s suggestions and revisions are always helpful, and I’ve been so appreciative to learn so much from him. This project has made me a better writer, no question.

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

There were so many wonderful pieces of advice it’s hard to pick one. I mostly appreciated his comments and suggestions regarding certain grammar or turns of phrase. I’d go into details, but it would be boring. I can say, without a doubt, that I take what he’s taught me into my other works every single day.

 

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interview with Lynn Beighley

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Lynn Beighley: I have a lot of respect for Pure Slush. And the idea of the connected stories grabbed my imagination. What happens in a year to a person? In my own life, a lot. In my character’s life, this year, 2014? Oh, what a year she’s having.

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

My own life got really busy, so keeping up with what I need to write for this project has been tough. I could have written all the stories at once, but it feels more natural to have a gap between my submissions.

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Every time I sit down to write! But then I turn it in, and that feeling is gone.

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

I’m more of a short story writer than a novelist, and while these are essentially connected short stories, there is a feel of the novel about them. I’m learning.

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

He’s enjoyed the humor in my pieces. He’s encouraging. He’s the best sort of editor.

 

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interview with Shane Simmons

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Shane Simmons: Quite simply, I noticed the initial posting on the Pure Slush Facebook page which outlined the idea for the project and was calling for participants. My first though was “I love this idea!” My second thought was that it seemed ridiculously ambitious! A single person (Matt Potter of Pure Slush) collating and editing THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE STORIES himself (!) but the opportunity to get involved alongside thirty other creative minds, all working on this mammoth project was the huge attraction. The creative juices starting flowing almost immediately and the very same day as the initial call I set about jotting down rough drafts for ‘January’ and ‘February’. And then a horrible wave of self-doubt washed over as I contemplated my ability to carry the idea through, and I put off responding to the call. When I eventually did make contact I’d missed my chance. It was only a few months later I got an email from Matt asking if I’d still like to get involved as a slot had become available. I simply had to jump on that opportunity having been so disappointed I’d missed out first time around!

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

I’m still a relative newbie when it comes to writing for publication and so the challenges that have presented themselves have been quite basic in their nature and mostly relate to storyline, keeping everything flowing and flowing well, getting a good balance between fun and tension, action and dialogue. I have a habit of playing out scenes as streams of dialogue and forgetting that one well-thought-out action can convey so much more than speech alone!

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Ha! About now actually. I have to say, the process of writing and editing my pieces for ‘2014’ has been far more enjoyable than I thought it would be, but as I head into the last months I must admit that a slight panic has washed over me in regards to weaving together all the threads and taking them all to a worthwhile ending! I really hope I can do it justice, but I’m certain Matt won’t let any of the contributors’ storylines fizzle out! I have a feeling that more than a few of us will be seeing this (fictional) year out with a bang!

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

This project has lead to my very first fiction publications and if there is one major shift which has coincided with my involvement, it’s that I’ve become much more willing to have some fun with what comes out of my fingers! When I first dabbled with this game I felt a need to write how I imagined a ‘real’ writer would. So much of what I penned previously came out in a rather contrived and overly serious manner but after getting involved with Pure Slush I found myself writing for pleasure, real pleasure, without worrying “Will other writers look down on this?” And this new path was given the space and time to flourish in the duration of this project, it feels like a huge leap towards finding my own voice and feeling comfortable in my own writerly skin.

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

One thing I (very) quickly learnt from working with Matt is that you should never take yourself or your work too seriously. Never be too precious about what you’ve got down, always be open to new ideas and suggestions. Matt has never failed to improve upon a draft I’ve sent him, he has editorial instincts far beyond my own and rather than being overly-protective about every word and sentence formation I’ve got down (as some writers undoubtedly can be) reading over Matt’s suggestions nearly always leads onto an epiphany that points me to a much better path!

 

 

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interview with Vanessa Weibler Paris

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Vanessa Weibler Paris: How could I resist? It was too exciting to pass up. Many of the other authors are ones I follow and read with admiration, and the very concept was nothing I’d ever heard of before.

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

For me, the toughest challenge has been maintaining the narrative while ensuring each individual story can stand alone. It’s harder than I expected, because each time I start a new month, I have to think, “Okay, what do I have to make sure is included - or at least implied - or risk losing the reader?” Sometimes it’s easy stuff, like making it clear that two characters are in a romantic relationship, but other details are more subtle. In those cases, not only does it have to be conveyed again, you have to find a new way to do it so it doesn’t get redundant over the course of months. Also, there were points where I wished I could go back and tweak a detail or two from previous months, so it would work better with the month I was working on, but that wasn’t possible.

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Yes ... every time I realized in a panic, “I have no idea how this ends!” I suspect plenty of the other writers had a nice tidy roadmap from point A (January) to point B (December), but I confess I was flying by the seat of my pants a lot of the time.

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

I think it’s too soon to tell! For me, at least. :)

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

There is no one piece of advice, but Matt’s editing instincts are so on-point that I never question or disagree with any direction he gives me. I have no doubt that any changes he suggests are absolutely going to improve the story overall.

 

 

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interview with John Wentworth Chapin

Andrée Robinson-Neal: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

John Wentworth Chapin: When Matt first described it to me, I immediately knew I wanted to be involved. There was no thinking process at all - an interesting project, a flotilla of top-notch writers, and a new challenge. This is unlike anything I have ever heard of before.

 

What’s been the toughest challenge?

These stories are (still) killing me! There are so many difficult constraints - present tense, set on days a month apart, a through-line holding it together, building from a start to a finish ... It’s really challenging. I feel so invested in these characters and so pained that I only get to write about snippets of their lives!

 

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Month three – March  killed me. Then April. Then May ... I’m currently flummoxed by October, tearing my hair out, railing at the gods – typical writer stuff. True story: I wrote 32 pages of drivel, single-spaced, before I could birth August onto the page. Craziness!

 

What, if any, effect has this project had on your writing?

I thought this would be a side project. It’s not. It’s a tremendous project, and it has swelled like a gas to fill its container: 2014. I am excited to see where it ends up. Moral of the story: be prepared.

 

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

Matt has a terrific way of focusing on the concrete bits of craft that spring stories to life. His insistence on showing rather than telling helps me every month. He finds the weak spots in my writing, and I am a better writer for it.

 

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