Interrogation—Gary Duncan

Who: Gary Duncan

What: A freelance writer and editor based in England. His flash fiction collection, YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO CRY, is available from Vagabond Voices. He is the founding editor of Spelk Fiction.

Where: Northumberland

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

I first came across you and your writing at the excellent flash fiction site, Spelk. What was your inspiration to start that webzine?

I got hooked on flash fiction about four or five years ago and thought the best way to really immerse myself in it would be to start my own magazine. Quite presumptuous, I know, given that I was new to it and didn’t know any flash writers. I wanted to start off small though, so I figured why not give it a go and see what happens. I took a lot of inspiration from some of the flash magazines I used to read back then (and still do), things like Ink, Sweat & Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Pygmy Giant. I wondered, at the time, if there’d be enough room in the market for another one, and was quite surprised when people started sending me their stories.

You recently handed off the reins of Spelk to a new editor. How hard has it been for you to step away from the thing that you created?

It’s tough because I’ve put a lot of work into it. But three years is a long time running a magazine when you’re posting three stories a week and reading thousands of stories and doing all the social media you need to do to keep things ticking over. I don’t miss the admin, that’s for sure. But I haven’t gone for good—I’m still loitering in the background and trying to help out here and there. I still get a buzz reading new submissions, and I’ll carry on editing stuff as long as Cal (Marcius), the new boss, will have me. It seems to be working out pretty well so far.

In your experience as a writer and editor, what makes for good flash fiction? What are some of the common pitfalls?

Good flash fiction can be so many things—a unique voice, an original situation, a new way of saying something—anything that makes you sit back and wish you’d written it yourself. If I’m reading a good flash, I can usually tell it’s going to be good in the first few lines. You often can’t put your finger on it, but you can just tell that this is someone who knows what they’re doing. A light touch is important—you don’t want to hammer it home or lay it on too thick. I like flashes that make you work a little, that give you just enough information to get you thinking. What’s the backstory? What’s being said between the lines? What’s the bigger story here?

The pitfalls? The opposite of all the above! You don’t want too much information—if everything is spelled out in perfect detail, right there on the page, then where’s the fun in that? It’s just an account of what happened and I don’t find that very interesting, even if it is well written. The flipside is stories that leave too much unsaid, that try too hard to be out-there. Or stories that are clearly not flash fiction at all, that read like the first chapter of a much longer story. Kind of missing the point there, no matter how good those 500 words might be.

You recently released the collection, YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO CRY. Why is now the right time to release this flash fiction collection?

Why now? Because I was lucky enough to find a publisher! I sent it out to six or seven contacts and Vagabond Voices picked it up. I might have self-published it eventually if Vagabond hadn’t come in, or sent the individual stories out to magazines. I’m working on some new stories now, and haven’t decided how many I’ll send out or how many I’ll keep until I have enough for another collection. You can do both of course but I think you’re more likely to sell a collection if most of the stories have not been previously published.

Why are you personally so drawn to flash fiction?

I have a short attention span, so flash suits me perfectly. I like the idea of sitting down and finishing a story in a day or two, with another day or two to edit it, and then moving on to the next one. I don’t think I could sustain that level of focus over a novel, or want to spend months or even years on the same story or character.

What role does flash fiction play in modern publishing?

It’s a good time to be writing flash. There’s no shortage of magazines and there’s a very vibrant flash community out there (festivals, workshops, Facebook groups, etc.). In terms of mainstream publishing, however, it’s not so great. Walk into any big bookshop in the UK and you’ll struggle to find any flash at all. Lydia Davis, maybe, or David Gaffney, but that’s about it. My local Waterstone’s in Newcastle doesn’t even have a short-story section, nevermind flash. That won’t change till some of the bigger publishers take a punt on flash and get it out there where people can actually buy it.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on another batch of stories. I tend to write in bursts, so I might do three or four flashes in a week and then set aside a few days to do lots of edits and rewrites. I’m also writing-not-writing a novella—it’ll be around 25,000 words, and that’s practically War and Peace for me.

Find Gary Duncan: SpelkFacebookTwitter

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S.W. Lauden is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). His Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.

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