"We’ll Always Publish a Good Story."
A Chat With Grant Faulkner, Editor of 100 Word Story
For writers who need a warm-up exercise, Grant Faulkner’s got a challenge for you: In 100 words, try to capture a “frisson, a shard, and a tiny moment.”
Officially, Grant Faulkner is a recent runner-up for The Southwest Review's 2010 David Nathan Meyerson Fiction Prize. His stories have appeared in The Southwest Review, The Rumpus, Gargoyle, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Word Riot, The Big Ugly Review, Used Furniture Review, Ink, and Transfer. He's currently the managing editor at the National Writing Project and founding editor of 100 Word Story. He's also working on his first novel, Elsewhere, and blogging about books and writing at Lit Matters. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Faulkner’s blog is now his website: http://grantfaulkner.com/]
Unofficially, Mr. Faulkner is writing in just about every form imaginable: short short story, regular short story, novel, interviews, book reviews, and a screenplay. Plus he’s got a bunch of jobs that add up to enough work for 3.5 people. On top of all that, he’s a good neighbor. Oh, and did I mention that he’s a professional clogger?
Interview by Leslie Cauldwell
In your interview with Paul Strohm on 100 Word Story, you mention he was the inspiration, the flashpoint, for your “100 Word Story” site. Did you mean his memoir of 100 100-word stories? Can you say more? In what way?
Paul has been a flashpoint for much in my life, as a writer, a scholar, a bon vivant, and the father of my best friend. But, yes, when I read his 100-word pieces in Eleven Eleven, I was taken by the form—the brevity, the assertion of a perfect length, the idea of gaps replacing words, and then each word having to do so much more.
You wrote the first two 100-word pieces on your site, one a photo prompt story and one an essay. I’m wondering what drew you to the short short form then and what continues to draw you to it?
After I read Paul’s pieces, a friend and I started swapping 100-word stories. It had been several years since I’d shared writing on any consistent basis, and I just loved the very different types of stories I was writing compared to the novel I was ensnared by and the many more conventional short stories I’d grown bored by.
I think the form can open up any writer because it’s really just a frisson, a shard, a tiny moment—you don’t have to commit to much. It’s also a great warm-up before writing a longer piece. Sometimes I write a quick 100-word story before plunging into the daunting length of my novel just to feel a little poetry.
As for my first pieces, I only published those to get the lit mag off the ground and offer an example of how the form might work for an essay or as a photo story. I don’t plan to publish any more of my pieces. I prefer to publish others.
On top of your jobs at the National Writing Project and the Office of Letters and Light, you’re writing a novel, running a blog (litmatters), and constantly interviewing authors and editors for various magazines. What made you decide to start this new project (100 Word Story) back in April 2011?
You forgot to mention that I’m a parent, a professional clogger, a freelance writer, a volunteer in my kids’ school, and a good friend, son, and neighbor. And a few other things which shouldn’t be mentioned.
I started 100 Word Story for the pure reckless hell of it. I’ve spent so much time trying to get my own stuff published, so I wanted to publish others, and it’s been such a joy. I love seeing others’ creations published—people that I don’t even know, but I just love being a conduit for such a thing. I love to think of them reading their stories, sending them to friends and families, receiving comments from strangers—and then getting an agent, falling in love, and sending me a $10 Starbucks gift card to thank me. Which I’ll then offer up in a 100 Word Story contest.
Maybe what I really should be asking is how do you do it all? Are you one of those people who doesn’t sleep? Are you incredibly organized?
I’ll swallow just about anything that offers optimal stimulation (and that includes Kombucha tea and beet juice for those whose imagination has gone to the dark side). I love being sleepy, except that I rarely am. The hours between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. often seem like mine alone—or mine and the raccoons.
Am I well organized? I have a list of the lists I need to make. I’m on a treadmill trying to get to the next treadmill. I’m horribly disappointed in my movement and curse God for the limitations he defined the world within. I still want to master the trombone, a feat that few have accomplished.
Was it hard to choose a name for your site that wouldn’t be confused with the many other 100-word story sites out there? As a proofreader, I’m dying to ask if you considered a hyphen in your site’s name (100-Word Story)?!
The name was important, despite its grammatical imperfections. When I first conceived of the journal, I didn’t know of any other 100-word mags, and I thought it was important not to name it something obtuse or poetic or hip or pretty or precious—but to seize the niche it’s obviously in and define it up front, especially because there are so many lit mags out there and it’s increasingly difficult to define yourself.
As an editor, I knew that 100-Word Story, con hyphen as the Spanish say, was grammatically correct, but it just looked dorky. Sorry. I often don’t believe in things just because they’re correct.
Why 100 words? Do you actually count them? I was so intrigued that I counted most of the stories and noticed several over or under by a few words (96 words, 102 words). Do you ever get back to the author, ask them to revise until they hit the word count or would that just take too much time?
1) Only a crazed, sex-addled proofreader would count our words. 2) Counting is an outmoded method used only in certain tribal cultures, which is why we leverage robust modern technology. 3) The world is built by its imperfections as much as it is by its perfections. 4) We knew some ornery rascal would count the words someday and nail us in a public scandal. 5) Sometimes we edit; sometimes we count the words; sometimes we smoke cigarettes and watch Jonathan Winters’ reruns. 6) Your one is my two, and my two is your three. 7) We’re usually madly rushing against the clock, interrupted by parent-teacher conferences, yelling at meter maids, feeling guilty because we’re not occupying Oakland, and stealing Drano from Walgreens, so give us a damn break. 8) Next issue—no one goes over or under 100 words, I swear to my God in Heaven! 9) I hate lists that end at nine and don’t make it to 10.
Were you particularly inspired by any online (or offline) pubs? Did you study some of the other flash fiction sites before coming up with the four categories on your site: stories, photo stories, essays, and interviews?
I like to read FRiGG, Monkeybicycle, PANK, failbetter, Quick Fiction, and Word Riot, to name a few. We didn’t look at other sites for categories. We discussed categories, but I have no idea how we ended up with these.
What advantages/disadvantages do you have as an online-only journal?
Advantages: We’re cheap. We’re easy. Disadvantages: We can’t use unsold copies as kindling in the fireplace.
Can you explain your site’s publication schedule? How does a writer who waits until the last minute know exactly when your deadline is?
We don’t have deadlines. We’ll always publish a good story. We come out with a new issue monthly, barring calamities, no matter what the calendar says. We hate writers who wait until the last minute, even if there isn’t a last minute. We despise the notion of panic unless you’re a mouse. Mousiness in general is an undesirable trait in a human being.
How quickly do you read and respond to submissions?
Damn quickly if you live in the South Pole. Less quickly if you live next door. Since we publish monthly, though, writers usually hear back in a month or so.
In a survey of editors by The Review Review, you describe flash fiction in very instructive detail. You say: “I think of flash fiction as being one part story, one part poem. Plot matters less than mood and telling details—yet it does matter. I try to search for a subtle pivot, a surprising juxtaposition.” Is there anything else you’d like to tell writers wanting to submit to “100 Word Story” about what you’re looking for in a story?
That quote is my take on my ideal flash fiction, but not necessarily my editorial criteria. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about editing a journal like this is reading the inventive approaches of others—getting out of the wretched wrinkles of my aesthetic skin and giggling, crying, tap dancing, and praying in new ways. I love the stories that flip my aesthetic.
I should also say that it’s not just about me. My co-editor Lynn Mundell has an equal say in everything, and I rely on her for her wonderfully astute readings and the way she can gently deliver a savvy counterpoint to my foolishness. She’s the perfect publishing partner.
How do you find your special guest photographers for the monthly photo stories?
So far, we’ve asked photographers we know to let us use their photos. It’s a special section because it’s challenging to find a photo that sparks a story in people, and sometimes I don’t know why one photo is more popular than another. We’re learning as we go, though, and I’m sure we’ll open it up to submissions eventually.
I have to say that this might be my favorite part of the mag because writing to a photo truly challenges you to get out of your narcissistic doldrums and write to something else.
Maybe we’ll post music someday—John Cage tunes—and have people write to them. A room with 49 radios.
How many stories come off your Facebook page into the journal?
We’ve tried a few prompts on Facebook that didn’t go very far. We have an idea for a contest in December when we’re featuring Lou Beach—he’s renowned for his 420 character stories, the character limit for a Facebook post. Facebook is a great medium for short shorts, so we’re still experimenting.
We don’t want anyone to submit via Facebook—that’s why we have a submission page on the site.
The number of stories in each issue seems to be growing. How do you decide how many stories to take per issue/month?
We shoot for about 10 stories per issue, but our rule is to not be ruled by rules.
I noticed that you are now on the board of the Office of Letters and Light. Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What does your involvement with the OLL consist of?
Thank God for NaNoWriMo. Thank God for a 50,000-word plunge into novel writing. Yes, I am participating in NaNoWriMo—as an evangelist of the event and as a board member. It’s my technique for developing future novels and shaking up my writing process once a year.
How do you see 100 Word Story evolving in the coming months or years?
We’d like to publish a print publication of 100 100-word stories each year. We’d like to publish Lydia Davis. We’d like to have a special issue just for students. Maybe we’ll have a special issue for prisoners. One thing is for certain: we’ll evolve.
In an interview you did with Ted McLoof for The Review Review, you said he “writes sentences longer than my granddaddy after his third bourbon.” Well, I’ve been wondering about your name and your granddaddy. Might you be related to the southern gentleman of letters?
I’m related to two Southern gentlemen of letters and one Midwestern woman of letters, and then there’s also a Canadian in the mix. We all seem to have been born with the taste of bourbon on our tongues. I don’t know why.
Leslie Cauldwell lives, proofreads, and occasionally shoe blogs (shoeshoptalk.blogspot.com) in Boston. For the fifth year in a row, she is joining the crazy that is NaNoWriMo.