Collins's stories have appeared in print and online. He lives on the NE edge of the Mojave Desert with his Irish wife, Nicky, and Lefty, their dog. Collins used to have a pet desert tortoise named Fluffy.
FlashFiction.Net: What sparked your interest in micro fiction as both a reader and a writer?
Mother Nature staggered me in late rounds with a solid left hook--Primary Lateral Sclerosis, the Prof. Stephen Hawking Disease--thirty years ago.
I was a pretty fair men's room newspaper staff artist and cartoonist in Seattle before I started to lose small-muscle control in my hands. To stay involved with the creative act, I started studying, and writing, fiction in 1997. I instinctively was drawn to the Micro craft because I type with one (1) finger and a cartoon is a form of short-short fiction--you don't tell about characters and settings, you show it. There's a difference between a construction worker and a nurse, between a bank lobby and a barnyard. Micro writers might like to learn how to draw (they'll probably make more money).
FlashFiction.Net: How would you define micro fiction? What are you most certain about in this definition? What are you least certain about?
Roberta Allen describes Micro as "a small container for change." There isn't a better definition because if there isn't some measure of change, nothing really happens. I'm a bit old-fashioned; no change, no story. On the flip side, in more recent trend, some short-short fiction has evolved into prose poetry. Two schools of thought: Traditionalists to invent interesting stories, while the New Wave concentrates on inventing interesting metaphors. Both approaches are fascinating.
When I taught basic cartooning at the Univ. of Washington and the Ohio State Univ., I told students that they must learn to write: "There's not much room in a cartoon balloon, so study the poets; they make the most happen with the fewest words."
I'm the least certain about practicing what I preach.
FlashFiction.Net: What would you consider the upper word limit of micro fiction? Why?
The upper word limit in Micro is generally 500 words. Micro demands a certain urgency, an intensity.
I was taught the "fifth theory" of fiction; 1/5 to open (because Micro happens fast, setting and introduction of characters should be early), 3/5 for the body of the story (rising action leading to the crisis) and 1/5 to close (resolution, although "twists" close very fast). The pattern is approximately 100 words to open and set-up, 300 for the body
of the story and 100 to close.
FlashFiction.Net: As an editor of micro fiction, what are you looking for in a piece to say "yes"? What is most disappointing about the slush pile these days?
My taste should reflect stories that will interest Linnet's Wings' readers. I reread at least four times, so there's no need to make hasty decisions. It's best to put other writers work, and your own, on left-front simmer for awhile. I just reviewed a Micro on Zoetrope that didn't do it to it. However, the next day it hit me from another perspective and the bell rang.
I really don't use the term "slush pile." Because a story doesn't fit our theme or goal, it isn't necessarily slush. Another journal may pick it up and nominate it for a Pushcart.
The most disappointing thing are writers who obviously think, without any study, "Hey, this is easy--500 words--my grocery list is that long!" (They should submit the grocery lists.) Writing Micro and Flash fiction is damned hard work. I spent two weeks on a 77-worder.
Another big irk is writers who lay an imitation stream-of-consciousness epic on me who have never heard of James Joyce and can't spell Kerouac.
FlashFiction.Net: What challenge(s) does micro fiction create for readers? What is the key to becoming a better reader of micro fiction?
A veteran short-short fiction writer knows the key element is reader involvement. Short story readers are used to being led by the little hannie through the plot, while Micro readers must participate in the story. That might account for Micro's and Flash's increasing popularity, especially the younger readers who are more in tune with immediacy. Perhaps it's due to their addiction to computer games and text messaging--they are more in tune with participation.
FlashFiction.Net: As a writer of micro fiction, what have you learned about writing these (very) tiny fictions, both in terms of language and structure?
Early on, I learned to use strong verbs and nouns; to avoid the overuse of adverbs and adjectives. To boil the plot down, prune and polish. As in essay writing, to make every word work, every word to drive to a conclusion. Now I rewrite everything: e-mails, letters to the editor, want ads, even notes to the Little Woman. "The art of writing is rewriting." -- Sean O'Faolain
FlashFiction.Net: Do titles have a unique importance in these very small fictions? What makes a title work?
I feel titles are the Achilles Heel of Micro and Flash. Titles advertise what lies ahead in the story, reflects the theme, piques reader (editor) interest. Too many titles are mere labels. But the truth is, writers seldom write the title and promo (tag) lines to their published stories. They're too close, too involved with the story. They suggest, but the
agent, or editor, can stand back and see the work with a "fresh eye."
The title should lead the eye into the opener, the opener to the body, the body to the closer. Kind of a reading leap-frog.
FlashFiction.Net: If you could wave your magic micro wand, what would you wish for that would make us all better at reading, writing, and/or appreciating micro fictions?
O, please study Prof. William Zinsser's On Writing Well. The short-short literary world will be far, far better place for reader and writer. (places wand on table)
FlashFiction.Net: What do you love about being a micro fiction person? What do you like least about it, if anything?
I honestly think Micro and Flash fiction are the future. It's the way younger generations will read and it's a privilege to pioneer a new craft. It's a pleasure to share creative thoughts--well, maybe Marshall McLuhan thought-probes--for a brief moment. To ask, WOW! Why didn't I think of that?
The least thing I like is there aren't more "print" outlets and publisher's promotion. Outlets that pay a minimum of a dollar per word.
In addition, I suggest Micro & Flash writers study screenwriting. Younger people aren't into things that don't move and make sound. After attending several film festivals I conclude filmmakers are involved with camera work, lighting, audio and the latest bells & whistles but the storytelling (writing) is, generally, horrible.
I spent 1998 and $1,000 trying to write a screenplay. In the end, if I'd studied David Trottier's $20 Screenwriter's Bible, I would have saved time and a lot of money.
FlashFiction.Net: What would I be most surprised to find on your iPod playlists?
"The Best of Lawrence Welk" (tank you, tank you, boyz)