Today, I’m delighted to have the 2010 Best Flash Fiction Title winner, Vaughan Stanger (aka vaughan_stanger), step into the Meager Puddle of Limelight which this blog can provide.
Congratulations on your recent Puddle win for Best Flash Fiction Title. Tell us which came first, the title or the story?
Vaughan: Having checked my notebook, it seems the title came to me while I wrote the story. However, the first entry on the subject, which dates from a month before I started writing the story, refers to "DARK MATTERS OF THE HEART", which while undoubtedly apt is no winner.
I expect that puddle voters will have noticed that I recycled a Ray Bradbury title -- "DARK THEY WERE, AND GOLDEN-EYED" -- for my nefarious purposes. Worse still, I missed out the comma!
What’s your method for deciding titles?
Vaughan: I nearly always devise a working title as soon as the story idea begins to crystallise. Sometimes it survives the writing process. Some of my titles are straightforward, others are more oblique. You can't get much more prosaic than "A WALK IN THE WOODS" or "TOUCHING DISTANCE", but both titles capture the essence of their respective stories. Very occasionally inspiration deserts me and I resort to a generative approach, usually based on keywords. Such titles rarely feel inspired, though.
Tell us a little about DARK THEY WERE AND STRANGE INSIDE
Vaughan: It's a finished but unpublished story of around 1000 words, currently doing the rounds. It mixes lewd behaviour with similarly disreputable physics. I am inordinately fond of the characters, both female. I spotted their prototypes on the train I take when travelling into London for social purposes, which is affectionately known as "The Essex Express" (it's anything but). I'd love to see them in print.
As a reader, does a good title make a difference to you?
Vaughan: I don't believe I've ever bought a work of fiction solely based of the title, but a duff title may stop me making a purchase. A good title helps me to remember a story long after I've read it. Eugie Foster's "SINNER, BAKER, FABULIST, PRIEST; RED MASK, BLACK MASK, GENTLEMAN, BEAST," won't be forgotten in a hurry. Great story, fabulous title!
What are your long term goals as a writer?
Vaughan: Like most writers, I aspire to see books bearing my name on the shelves of the local bookstore. I guess I have maybe two years left to achieve that goal, given the rapid decline of the high street, at least in the UK. Seeing my books on Amazon won't feel quite the same somehow, if it ever happened. Not that I wouldn't welcome the prospect!
To be frank, I have yet to get to grips fully with writing novels. I've written a complete first draft of one, so far. Some of my alpha readers liked it a lot, so I shall persevere. Real Life™ has thrown me a few curve balls this year, leaving me with little writing time, but I will press on with the second draft as soon as I can. I also have a couple of short stories in progress. My writing group will be attending to their evisceration shortly (be afraid, be very afraid...)
I'm fortunate in that my stories have appeared in quality publications, whether print magazines such as Postscripts and Interzone, or large circulation e-mags such as Hub, or niche markets like Futures at Nature and Nature Physics. But I'd love to see my stories appear in Asimov's, F&SF, Tor.com, Clarkesworld... (I can dream!)
Tell us about your very first sale/pitched story.
Vaughan: The first story I sold was "SONS OF THE EARTH", which was published by a small but well-respected British magazine called Scheherazade, edited by Elizabeth and Deirdre Counihan. It’s currently available for purchase at AnthologyBuilder.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever had?
Vaughan: Be persistent.
Seriously, it might seem trivial, but it's not. Editors expect you to keep trying. Five years passed before I received my first acceptance. I'm glad I persisted. Several times I nearly gave up. Since that first sale, I've experienced dry spells lasting up to 18 months, which is hard on the nerves. But I'm glad I didn't give up, because the buzz from obtaining an acceptance, or seeing my name in print or pixels, remains immense.
The worst advice I ever heard was "Write every day". Rubbish! Does anyone seriously think that the majority of full-time pro writers work through their weekends? Maybe when there's a pressing deadline; but really, every day? Much better advice would be along the lines of "Do everything you reasonably can to make writing a habit, but don't feel guilty about not writing." Okay, maybe it could use some editing, but you get my drift.
Do you belong to a writing/critique group?
Vaughan: I'm a member of One Step Beyond, which is an outgrowth of the workshop of the same name run by Liz Holliday in 1998. Its alumni include Karen Traviss, who has seen many original and franchise novels published, to great acclaim. Current members include Jaine Fenn (LJ user maeve_the_red), who has had two novels published to date by Gollancz and recently featured at # 46 in SFX magazine's "Hot 50" list. Other founder members of OSB, as the group is generally known, include Mike Lewis and Liz Holliday, while Heather Lindsley and Alys Sterling joined more recently. All are terrific writers.
Where can readers find your work?
Vaughan: Free to read at Transcriptase and Hub (issues 36 and 99). I also reprinted one of my Nature pieces on my LJ, in support of the Help Haiti fundraiser.
If anyone is interesting in reading more of my stories, Liz Holliday is currently assembling a definitive collection, which she'll put on AnthologyBuilder soon.
As for the future, I have stories forthcoming in two anthologies, namely "Music for Another World" (this summer) and "End of an Aeon"(2011). I'm particularly thrilled about the former, because music is enormously important to me. Musicians and live gigs feature in several of my stories. Sadly, I lack anything resembling musical ability!
Aside from Live Journal, where else on the web can you be found?
Vaughan: I do have a Facebook account, but I don't use it much. That may change. One day, unlikely to be soon, I hope I'll find myself so un-busy that I can sort out a proper web site. Until that happy day arrives, my LJ will have to suffice. That said, if anyone reading this is interested in building/hosting a web site for me, please get in touch!
By day, Vaughan Stanger works as a research manager at a British engineering company. He says this is a less interesting than it sounds, which is why, thirteen years ago, he began setting himself homework. The resulting short stories have been published in Nature, Interzone, Postscripts, Hub and Neo-opsis, amongst others, with translations appearing in Polish and Hebrew. His most recent sale is to Music for Another World, an anthology forthcoming this summer from MutatioN Press. Vaughan is working on a novel, but then isn’t everybody?