Five Questions with Luc Reid
This post is part of the Codex Author Tour.
Luc Reid is a Writers of the Future winner whose fiction and nonfiction have also appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, and other venues. He's the founder of the Codex online neo-pro writers' group at www.codexwriters.com; author of Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures (Writers Digest Books, 2006) at www.subculturetalk.com; a founding member of flash fiction group The Daily Cabal, on which site well over a hundred of his stories have appeared (www.dailycabal.com); a former radio commentator for Jacksonville, Florida NPR affiliate WJCT; and a columnist for Futurismic (www.futurismic.com) with his Brain Hacks for Writers series.
I first met Luc at Writers of the Future workshop in 2004. I've always liked Luc's writing, and I've kept in touch with him through Codex and other means, and it's been exciting to see the rise and success of his projects over the years.
His latest is called Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories, a collection of short-short stories. I caught up with Luc to ask him a few questions about it, and Luc did a great job of providing insightful answers. See for yourself…
Flash fiction (fiction of less than 500 words) is a distinctly different art form from creating longer works of fiction. What was it that drew you to writing in this form? What do you feel are its inherent strengths and weaknesses?
I think the thing that's most attractive to me about flash fiction is how many different ways it can work well, in the best of cases. Some ways I've tried, include everything from a meditation ("This") or a frozen moment ("Exploded") to dialog only ("The Ninja's Girlfriend"), monologue ("Tornado on Fire") to an interruption ("Swine Flew"), among others. And of course in flash, I can experiment with all kinds of subject, genres, and characters. Compared to, say, writing a novel, this lets me try all kinds of perspectives and approaches and gives the reader stories that are nothing like anything they've read before and still are good fun.
Flash is good at creating one image or moment that, if you do it right, can lodge in the reader's mind and really provide food for thought. What it can't do is build up a story in detail over time through letting the reader share lots of experiences with the characters. Even my series, like the Parthenia Rook stories, are more moments with something interesting or fun to offer than they are a real portrait of the heroine of the kind you'd get in a full-length short story or a novel. Flash is a brief conversation with the character instead of an extended visit.
But then, those constraints make me work hard at portraying a character in a few strokes, finding a way to convey as much as I can of what a person is about just in the course of one brief event. That's one of the most challenging things about flash, and one of the most satisfying when it does come off, for readers to read two or three pages and feel like they know the character.
Did it take you time to get used to this art form or did it come naturally to you?
It definitely took some work to get used to the form, but all of my short story writing before that helped me a lot. It's always challenging to say something worth saying in that short a space, and sometimes I'd find myself going on for several scenes and coming up with something too long for flash. In the last year or two, my focus has been on making sure I'm writing about something meaningful to me–not just something interesting, but a piece that digs into something new about being alive. That makes it even more challenging, but then, the challenge is part of the attraction of flash for me, too.
In addition to being a writer of speculative fiction, you've researched and written extensively on the subject of willpower. How has this research affected your writing life?
Researching willpower and related subjects like habit development and how the brain works have made a tremendous impact on all parts of my life, and writing is no exception. Learning about these things doesn't make a person automatically more efficient or focused or balanced (I write about this in an article called "Knowing Isn't Enough: The 4 Steps Between Knowledge and Action"), but it does offer the tools to make those things more possible. All that information has shed light on how I write, why I write, and how I can write better and more effectively: I have a much easier time prioritizing, organizing, and digging into writing now that I've studied the subject so intensively. Much of what I learned to apply to writing went into a free eBook I wrote last year called The Writing Engine: A Practical Guide to Writing Motivation.
For example, one thing that became clear early on as I studied the subject was that we're much more effective when we take on only one big new goal at a time, because building a new habit or making real progress toward anything challenging requires focus, time, attention, and effort, and we have limited amounts of those available. In trying to take this to heart, I realized that I should try bringing my fiction and research together and try to build a really strong novel that brings the character through all the stages of self-improvement that we go through in real life as we learn the strategies I've studied, rather than trying to write fiction one the one hand and non-fiction on the other. It will take some careful writing to make the novel a meaningful and compelling story while still presenting a lot of useful information through the character's experiences, but that's another of the kind of challenge I welcome.
How has this research affected your writing?
Apart from being a writing topic itself, everything I've learned has given me a lot more insight into my characters. I've gotten a much better picture of how we learn and become good at things, why we make bad choices even when we know they're bad choices, how emotions work, how people change, and all kinds of related topics. Subjects like happiness and memory, which I had always assumed were straightforward, have been opened up to me in ways that expand what I can do in fiction. I've really come to think of psychology and brain science as key subjects for me to understand as a writer to develop the kinds of stories that I want to write. I try to use my fiction to delve into identity and relationships, and there's no end to the useful knowledge a person can gain in those areas.
Is there a common thread or sets of common threads in Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories? When viewed as a whole, what do you hope the readers of Bam! will take from it?
I hadn't purposely made the stories all relate in any way, but there are at least two themes that wend their way through the whole table of contents: relationships and new perspectives. I started writing speculative fiction in my flash just because that was what I had always enjoyed writing and reading, but what I found was that science fiction and fantasy and related kinds of fiction provide a lens with which I can magnify or bring closer aspects of life that are otherwise difficult to tease out. For instance, what's the difference between being in love with what a person's like and being in love with what a person is? If someone has a remarkable ability, is it sometimes better to never use it? What happens after "happily ever after"? What the hell do clowns really want? How might a person react to an infinite amount of time, or an infinite amount of power? And so on.
I would never want to put my life through all the fires, floods, storms, thrashings, heartbreaks, and disasters that I put my characters through, even though sometimes they find love, fame, wealth, joy, or enlightenment in the process. To the best of my ability, I want to dive into those things and learn what they learned but come out intact. I think that's one of the key reasons, ultimately, that any of us read fiction in the first place.