Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Advice From Todd Zuniga

A year and a half ago, I took a Fiction Writing class at St. Louis Community College. My teacher was Angela Hamilton, a person to who I owe a great many thanks for advice and guidance. But, she wasn't the only person I got advice from that semester. A friend of hers, Todd Zuniga (who is the editor of Opium Magazine) sent the class a little advice for writers, and I would like to share that with you because it helped me a very great deal with a particularly difficult piece of flash fiction I wrote that semester.

"To answer your first question [How did you come up with the concept for “A Children’s Book Without Pictures for Adults About Space”]:

I was falling in love with a girl in Vancouver who wanted to move to Toronto or Montreal. We were, maybe, one month into the relationship, but I had very strong feelings for her--in part because in Vancouver no one is interesting, and she was a poet. I knew, from past experience, that a long-distance relationship wouldn't work. I cobbled together all of these ideas in my brain, from the multiple failings of long distance relationships, and inspected those. But a long-distance relationship, as an entity, wasn't very interesting to me. So I do what I do with all of my stories: I throw the idea up in the air like pizza dough, and wait for it to land in a way that's interesting. Ultimately, what I had created was a long-distance relationship with an unbridgeable gap: space to earth.

Also, while living in Vancouver, a great guy (San Shepherd) told me a story about his budgerigar, and how they're insanely intelligent. That parrot served as a way out. Plus, there was a story in Best American Short Stories way back when called, "Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot"--I think that's it. I didn't "get" that story then, but now it breaks my heart.

To answer your second question: My advice is the same as every other writer’s: read (specifically Aimee Bender's "A Girl in the Flammable Skirt" and George Saunders' "Pastoralia"). But beyond that, I'd say take as many chances as you can in the first draft. You're going to scale back if you're worth your salt, but dump a truckload of stuff into what you're doing. Let the story be like a huge clump of rock. Chisel away and create Michelangelo's David.

Also, if you write something long, say a 20 page story, aim to make your next story 3 or 4 pages. And vice versa. If you're going to write something that surprises, you need to surprise yourself.

Don't write about suicide. Don't write about cancer. Don't write about drugs. Unless you're going to undress every expectation possible. Also, don't masturbate before writing. It'll make you sleepy and take your brain out of the equation, and not in a good way. The same goes for alcohol. Don't drink and write."

So there you go. Keep giving me suggestions for Free Write Friday. Look for a book review tomorrow!

1 comment:

the wife said...

What, no quote for today... well lets see are we still trying to find out why Sam was late?

Here is my suggestion:

Sam is late because the 8 ball doesn't give him an answer as to what to do next- he spends most of the days (hours or whatever) before the meeting asking tons of questions and getting answers from the 8 ball that tell him what to do and he is faced with a critical decision directly before going to the meeting and the 8 ball does nothing so he is frozen like a bomb pop in an ice cream truck and decides on his own to...

and go :)