Thursday, July 3, 2014

Six Questions for Grant Faulkner, Editor, 100 Word Story

100 Word Story publishes pieces of exactly 100 words—no more, no less. "Tell a story, write a prose poem, pen a slice of your memoir, or try your hand at an essay." Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Grant Faulkner: A friend introduced me to the form, and I became obsessed with writing 100-word stories. I had been working on a novel for years, so writing these smaller pieces was a nice break, and since I could squeeze them into a somewhat frenzied life as a working parent, they gave me a great sense of creative satisfaction. I could actually finish something. 

As I thought about submitting them, though, I realized how few journals are truly dedicated to flash fiction. Since 100-word stories are such a particular form unto themselves, I thought they deserved their own publication. Also, I thought a 100-word story is the perfect length to read online, and we wanted to reach readers where they were. 

Fortunately, my friend Lynn Mundell was up for a crazy creative endeavor as well, so we got together in coffee shops and living rooms and hatched this thing. And then the fabulous photo editor Beret Olson came aboard. Her photos provide a wonderful interplay between story and image.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

GF: I think the best 100-word stories possess what Roland Barthes, in describing what makes a photograph arresting, called the punctum—“the sting, speck, cut, prick.” It's difficult to describe, but a good 100-word story startles the reader in a similar manner.

A 100-word story, because of its compressed brevity, can resemble a prose poem. I like stories that work with language and mood in such a way, and move with a sense of what is left out of the story. Flash fiction is so much about absences and gaps, after all. 

There has to be a sense of escalation, though. Most of the pieces we publish have an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Each sentence has to carry a symbolic weight forward and tell a story.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

GF: Since 100-word stories are so brief, it's easy to think they're easy to write. They require as much revision as any story, though. Too often we see pieces that read as first drafts and even include obvious typos or grammatical mistakes.

We also sometimes get stories that rely on gimmicks, such as an ending that flips the story with a contrived coincidence rather than through earned character development. We want every story we publish to illustrate life in an interesting, arresting way. 

SQF: In your piece in the NY Times, "Going Long. Going Short.” you say the least helpful feedback you received in a critique group was “I want to know more.” Do you have any other advice for critiquing short-short works?

GF: Everything that applies to a good critique of a longer work applies to short-short stories. Are the characters compelling and drawn without clichés? Is there a compelling conflict that escalates?

That said, stories that are as short as 100 words rely more on nuance, so a critique can be similar to critiquing a poem. Each word and phrase requires close scrutiny, and the sentences can be read like the lines in a poem.

When I critique, I like to focus on what’s left out—to try to see how a short-short can live in its breaths as much as its words. That’s a good challenge for any form, though.

SQF: You’re also the executive director of National Novel Writing Month. How did this come about, given your penchant for short fiction?

GF: My penchant for writing longer works preceded my penchant for flash fiction. I like writing and reading in a lot of different forms, and I think each form influences another in vital ways. One of my grad school profs, Bob Gluck, had us write a novel in one page, so I see long and short forms as very compatible.

One of my favorite things about 100 Word Story is also one of my favorite things about National Novel Writing Month: they both help people who might not otherwise call themselves writers become writers. We’ve heard from teachers who teach 100-word stories in prison programs and high-school GED classes, and they tell us they love the form because it’s not intimidating. Its brevity is an invitation to writers to give it a whirl. 

Likewise, National Novel Writing Month tells people that instead of getting overwrought with the idea of penning a perfect novel, you’ve just got to jump in and write it. Having a goal and a deadline are the foundation of accomplishing audacious creative endeavors.

SQF: What’s next for 100 Word Story?

GF: We want to publish an anthology of one hundred 100-word anthologies. We’re also dedicated to publishing our hero of the short-short form, Lydia Davis. And then we’re long overdue to put on a rollicking party that lasts long into the night. Short stories, long parties.

Thank you, Grant. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 7/11--Six Questions for Lise Quintana, Editor-in-Chief, & Allie Marini Batts, Managing Editor, NonBinary Review

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