Not that this is really "news", but one of the great things about the internet is the way it allows people to come together and communicate quickly and easily. Earlier this year, after posting the first in my "Dissecting the Short Story" series, I contacted Dave Zeltserman and asked if he would be interested in talking about the story and my thoughts on it. He agreed to do so and my interview with him appeared on the blog shortly after the original post on the story.
This time it's Carrie Cuinn who has agreed to discuss her story, my thoughts on it, and the writing life in general. I greatly appreciate her taking the time to discuss this, as I know she's very busy with both her own writing and her work as a small-press publisher.
Michael Haynes: You've already talked a bit about how the general idea for "Call Center Blues" came to you in your author notes published on the Daily Science Fiction site. As far as the specifics, was the story essentially fully formed in your mind before you started writing it or did you start with the basic idea and see where it took you?
Carrie Cuinn: I usually start with a pretty good sense of what my story is. If I have just a seed of an idea but no framework to build it on, I'll put the story back into my head and wait until it grows a bit more. In this case, I had a moment where I knew what this story was about, and what happened, so I wrote it down. Since it was a flash fiction piece, I did it all in one sitting. Originally it was a little longer, but in edits I took out some of the backstory, which I think helps to keep it inside of that one phone call.
MH: Is this typical of your short story writing process?
CC: It is. I have all kinds of thoughts and ideas; everyone does. We often have the same ideas at the same time. What matters is the execution, the noticing of certain tiny details and the overall perspective that is unique to each person. The author is what makes a story special or different from everything else that's out there. Because I don't worry about finding ideas, I focus on working with ideas that already have some life to them. I don't sit down to write a story unless I have a good idea of what's going on in it. In that way, this story was written the same way as all of the others.
MH: One of the things I focused on in my analysis was how this story worked as a piece of flash fiction. Were you thinking specifically of writing something very short when you started?
CC: I was. I like flash fiction specifically because of its structure as an independent moment in time – by showing the audience that call or hour or day out of your characters' lives, you imply what happened before and what's likely to come next, but you don't show it. It's as if the story is a perfectly formed robin's egg in a woven nest, and the whole nest is what your reader will guess for themselves. You only need to write the egg. If you do it correctly, the rest will fill itself in. When I began writing seriously I started with flash, learning to get impact out of 140 characters, then 100 words, then 1000. After I felt confident that I was going in the right direction I started to write longer pieces.
MH: I really like that analogy about the robin's egg and the nest; I think that's a great way of making concrete how a really good flash fiction story works. As far as the analysis of your story which I posted a couple of Fridays ago, were there some things about it which you thought were especially interesting that I didn't call out and you'd like to draw attention to?
CC: No one has mentioned the origin of “F.A.X. Unlimited”, the name of the company. It's a play on “Facsimile Limited,” the company which makes the robots in the Twilight Zone episode, “I Sing The Body Electric,” one of my favorites.
MH: Ah, that totally slipped by me. That's a nice little homage to both the Twilight Zone and Ray Bradbury, himself one of the masters of short stories. According to your blog, "Call Center Blues" is your first such sale. I'm especially happy we're able to have this conversation since the goal of the "Dissecting the Short Story" series is to help other writers see what worked for stories accepted for a professional (in the sense as used by SFWA, etc.) short fiction market. You're someone who had been reaching towards that point and has now achieved it. What things have you learned along the way to that point which you think other writers might find helpful?
CC: Read everything you can. Not just the author you want to write like, but the authors who inspired them. Read the classics in your genre – go back to the earliest books that your contemporaries reference and work forward in time to where you think you want to be. You will learn so much about what gets quoted and embellished and worked from (or disagreed with) in those stories, and your understanding of what makes fiction work will grow exponentially. It's like touring a museum and then realizing that modern advertising recreates those images all of the time.
MH: What did you do when you got the news that "Call Center Blues" had been accepted? Any celebrating?
CC: I emailed my boyfriend, who was thrilled for me. Then I waited until I got the signed contracts back before I announced it to anyone else. Then we danced.
MH: You're also a publisher, with several books already released or coming out soon from Dagan Books. Have you found yourself learning things from that end of the business which you think will help you in your own writing?
CC: Part of that job entails a lot of slush reading, and I definitely learned a lot about what not to do in my own writing. Volunteering as a slush reader is a great way to learn more about the art of putting a story together – even if the story you disliked isn't “bad”, you have an instinctual reaction telling you that what you want to write isn't that. Or you read something that delights you and you think, “Ah, I have to remember that trick.”
MH: Is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers?
CC: I'm serious about the reading. No one who doesn't read widely will ever be a great writer. They may have one good story and they may tell that well, but there's nothing else. Don't let a sale, even a pro one, stop you from critically viewing your own work, and most of all: write like yourself. Write in a way that if you read it out loud, it will sound like you wrote it. Don't try to write like anyone else, though it's certainly good to think about how your favorite authors are successful in their story telling. It's your story, in your voice, that's going to interest the greatest number of readers.
MH: That all seems like great advice to me. Thank you for your time, Carrie!