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Robert Swartwood, 2012 Micro Award Finalist

Today we’re excited to welcome Robert Swartwood to the blog. Robert is an accomplished author who has been awarded Finalist for the 2012 Micro Award, recognizing outstanding flash fiction. In fact, Robert is so awesome that he’s the only person to be recognized by the Micro Award for four different stories (finalist ’09, finalist ’10, runner-up ’11, finalist ’12). Our chat with Robert: 

On Writing

  • Photo Courtesy of Noah Stoner | Robert SwartwoodWhat is your earliest writing memory?
    •  My most vivid memory is back when I was in middle school and had written a short story for some class — science class, I think. The story wasn’t great, but none of my classmates wrote stories, so they were impressed. One classmate even offered to buy the story from me (he always did silly stuff like that). I turned him down. I never made any money off that story, so apparently I should have made the deal.
  •  What does your writing space look like?
    •  Cluttered. Besides my desktop computer, papers and pens and notepads and books and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Just … cluttered.
  •  Describe your writing process.Is it structured (scheduled time devoted to writing and word count goals) or more free-form (when inspiration strikes)?
    •  I wish it was structured. Every day I tell myself I’ll create a structure. Every day I tell myself I’ll start it tomorrow. The trick is just sitting your butt down in front of the computer (or whatever writing tool you use) and write. Trying to find the time to write is not realistic; making the time to write is. 

On Flash Fiction and the Micro Award

  • For those who may not be aware, what is flash fiction? What is the Micro Award?
    • Flash fiction is generally known as any story 1,000 words or fewer. Some people are strict with that word limit, while others are more lax. There is also sudden fiction and micro fiction and nano fiction and hint fiction — a term I coined back in 2009 with an essay called “Hint Fiction: When Flash Fiction Becomes Just Too Flashy” published at Flash Fiction Chronicles. It was inspired by Hemingway’s infamous six-word story: “For Sales: baby shoes, never worn.” I ended up editing an anthology of these very tiny stories for W. W. Norton called Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer and which Jodi Picoult said was “a must-read for anyone who is or wants to be a writer.”As for the Micro Award — straight from the Micro Award’s website, the award is a “literary prize, presented annually for outstanding flash fiction not exceeding 1000 words.” But believe me, the judges are very open-minded when it comes to word count. My story “Between the Keys,” which was a finalist for the second annual Micro Award, clocks in at just 98 words. (“Between the Keys,” as well as the three other stories which were finalists and runners-up for the Micro Award, is included in my flash fiction collection Phantom Energy: [Very] Short Stories.)
  •  How did you get started writing flash fiction?
    •  Years ago when I took a break from working on novels and wanted to build an online presence, I noticed there were a lot of online magazines that specifically dealt with flash fiction. So I started writing very short stories, liking the length restrictions, finding them a challenge. I mentioned the Hemingway piece, which I had heard about many years before — it had always been an inspiration to me, the idea of affecting the reader with as few words as possible.
  •  How does writing flash fiction affect your writing of longer-form work? 
    •  Flash fiction helps strengthen a writer’s word and scene choice. When limits are placed on a story — from 1,000 words to 100 words — that writer has to focus on each individual word and scene and ask themselves just how they help propel the story. If that word or scene can be taken out and not affect the story, then it shouldn’t be there in the first place. The same applies to novels and traditional-length short stories — if you can take out a scene or paragraph or sentence and it doesn’t affect the story, then why keep it? That’s what’s called padding, and readers can’t stand it.
  • What was your inspiration for “Fright X,”your entry for this year’s Micro Awards?
    • Back when I was in high school, there was a culture magazine called Fright X, which focused mainly on indie rock music and movies and comic books. They published one of my very first short stories. I then ended up being a staff writer for the magazine, and learned the name came from an interview with the famous Spanish painter Salvador Dali. Dali was talking about one of his paintings, and every time he said “fried eggs,” because of Dali’s accent the interviewer heard “fright x.” I always loved that phrase, and so I merged Dali and that phrase into my story.

On Marketing and Promotion

  • What types of marketing do you engage in for your work?How do you connect with readers?
    •  I’m active on Twitter and Facebook, and I have a blog, but otherwise I don’t do much. I’m a stronger believer in just writing great stories and books, and if they’re compelling enough, readers will find you. So far that seems to have worked.
  •  Our main readership is indie authors — those who are going it alone through the publishing process. What advice would you give them? 
    •  With the rise of digital publishing, self-publishing has become a very viable option today for writers, both new and seasoned. While before self-publishing seemed like a last-ditch effort, now more and more writers are beginning to see it can be their best first option. I know it is for me. However, just because you can self-publish, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Meaning, make sure your work is the very best it can be before releasing it into the world. Spend the extra time and money on editing and proofreading and cover art. The mass digital distribution has made it a level playing field for newbie writers and pros. Writers who decide to self-publish need to use that to their advantage and produce a top-notch product. After all, you only get one chance to impress new readers. Make it count.

Thanks for a great interview, Robert, and congratulations on your success! Do you have any questions for Robert? Do you write flash fiction? Let us know in the comments!