Q & A with Larry Brown

Contributor Larry Brown and the art of flash fiction
This week we talk to contributor Larry Brown about his love of short stories and even shorter stories, among other matters.

CommuterLit: You seem to like to write short and flash fiction, why?

Larry Brown: I began writing seriously in 1980 and concentrated on short stories, likely because they were a manageable length, something that could be finished in a matter of weeks.   I then moved on to writing bad novels, but kept doing stories in between, adding to my collection of thanks-but-no-thanks letters and returned SASEs. In the fall of 1999, however, I wrote the first draft of “Big Garbage” and something clicked into place. For the first time I had a story that worked as a whole, I suddenly understood something important (I can’t describe it with words) that let me write the thing (took many many drafts to get it into real shape, of course). The 10,000-hour theory, partly, I suppose. It’s all about sitting down and doing it. Perseverance. Developing your voice, your own way into a story. Everything written prior to “Big Garbage” remains hidden away.

Now, partly due to medical reasons, I write a lot of flash fiction. I’ve had Parkinson’s since 1997.  I had always written by hand, that was how the creativity flowed. My right hand became too shaky, though, so I taught myself to write with my left, and that worked for several years. Then the left went. And the transition to composing on my manual typewriter was hard. The keyboard felt like a barrier. I wrote a lot of openings, lost a lot of story threads….until I hit upon flash. Luckily the keyboard is becoming a more friendly place. And yes, early drafts are done with my gun-metal grey Olivetti-Underwood bought used in 1981. (“Big Garbage,” by the way, is included in Talk, published 2009 by Oberon Press.)

CL: What is the most challenging aspect to writing flash fiction?

LB: I like the flash fiction challenge of trying to say a lot (hinting at most of it), but doing it with very few words and saying/showing something significant, even though it may be a small event, a moment or two out of a life of moments. You can’t make a wrong turn or the thing sinks.

CL: What themes come up in your fiction again and again and why?

LB: I never think about themes. Not even afterwards. I obsess on details, smells, sounds, tastes…the house with Christmas decorations still up in June, the road that floods after every heavy rain…and details galore about the characters to bring them to life while trying to avoid obvious choices…and always checking that the tone, language and rhythm are consistent with the character who is telling the story. If you take care of the details, the theme will take care of itself.

CL: What books/authors are you currently reading and why?

LB:  I read a lot of short stories. And when reading a novel I sometimes think, “This would make a good short story.” I read for enjoyment, to learn, and to help show openings/possibilities in whatever I’m working on. Junot Diaz, Daniel Woodrell, Lydia Davis…some all-time favourites include Raymond Carver’s “Are These Actual Miles?” , Hemingway’s  “Indian Camp” and Eudora Welty’s “The Hitch-Hikers.” Canada has a lot of good story writers, Mark Jarman for example.


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