David Erlewine is the latest member of jmww. Writer and blogger and librarian Michelle Reale finds out whether he is up to the task of, well, everything.
M: Who is David Erlewine anyway?
D: I’m very shy as anyone who really knows me can attest. I am a father, husband, lawyer, and writer! I like to read and write and do good deeds for people (on paper at least). I’m all over the place in life and in fiction. I’m done blabbing!
M: All over the place is not a bad thing! Where are you with your fiction?
D: I’m loving flash, loving it.
I am writing a lot these days, working on a longer project with an emerging press it’s a really cool project, a collaborative one, but not to be James Bondian…but can’t get into it too much, but it’s got me very inspired. Things are really good. I’m also keeping busy with jmww flash subs and I’m doing interviews with Roxane Gay and Molly Gaudry for the blog.
M: When did you start writing flash?
I have written flash on and off since 2003. Since I only wrote three stories from late 2003 – late 2008, I think it would be more accurate to say I really “started” in late 2008. I got invited to Zoetrope’s Flash Factory group. Every week there is a contest and some wonderful writers participate and review each other’s work. I’ve entered a number of times but only won once – the first time I entered. The prompt was write a story up to 1000 words involving a balloon. The story I wrote involved a father who loves playing a game with his son where they bat balloons into the air, trying to keep it in the air as long as they can. Then, in a rush to catch his train, he leaves his son trapped in the car. The story got invaluable edits/suggestions from folks, which helped it get accepted by The Pedestal.
I also do a lot of my writing on the train or late at night (after my wife and kids go to bed). For whatever reason, my stories are considerably shorter than they were pre-2003. Before then, when I wrote in college and law school in the 90’s, my stories were typically 2,000 – 5,000 words. Many of them have not been published. I may go back and shrink them down a bit. Not all. Some make me cringe.
I have a 4000-word story coming out shortly in FriGG. It started out as a 750-word piece in the Flash Factory. Steven McDermott of Storyglossia said he liked it but wanted more. I bumped it up to about 4000 words and he said it was good but needed more work. I sent it to FriGG and Ellen agreed it needed some work but said she wanted it. Perhaps the best day I’ve had as a writer. I’ve admired FRiGG for many years, even when I wasn’t writing anything. She and I worked on a number of revisions. To say I’m dying to see the story go up is not meant to be hyperbole. Stories like this sometimes make me question my flash writing, make me ask whether I’m taking the “easy” way sometimes, whether longer versions would be better. Of course, many times the longer versions are bloated and sad. So I try to let the story dictate its length.
M: Are there any writers who influenced your move to the short form?
D: Joe Young, Kathy Fish, Molly Gaudry, Ravi Mangla, Craig Renfroe, Randall Brown, Barry Graham are the names that come immediately to mind. In late 2008, when I began writing again, I read Barry’s story “Blackhorse” in LITnIMAGE and had trouble sleeping. A few weeks later, I read Craig Renfroe’s piece “Scientist Mad” in decomP and had a similar experience. I felt drunk, fiery, thrilled, overwhelmed. I wanted to do nothing but hole up in a cabin and write. Folks like Joe, Kathy, and Randall…I was reading for years on Zoetrope and admiring quite a bit. Their shorter and shorter work really got me excited. People like Molly and Ravi (and so many others it’s silly to start naming them) just get me excited to write by seeing how they keep pushing things in all directions.
M: How are you keeping it all together?
D: Probably not very healthily, if that’s a word. I woke up at 2 a.m. last night and never went back to sleep – got two acceptances and kinda got fired up to write and edit. I think that’s a good thing. I have moments where I crash and get 9-10 hours of sleep and forget about writing. Other than that, I sleep a few hours, wake up and write, and then go back to bed, write on the train to work, on the train home and then start the cycle again the next night.
M: I’m exhausted just trying to imagine a schedule like that.
D: Yes, it tends to wear me down after awhile. One good thing about being a former law firm attorney—I got used to little sleep.
M: So now you are fiction editor for jmww and not only writing, but spending a lot of time reading submissions. How do you turn off your own writing to focus on someone else’s and vice versa?
D: Great question
I’m still getting the hang of that.
M: It can’t be easy
D: You’re right, it’s not. I really try to focus on the jmww aesthetic. That helps quite a bit, even if I “like” the submitter
M: What would you describe as jmww’s aesthetic? What do you look for as a flash editor–what makes pieces really *pop* to you?
D: jmww reminds me a lot of SmokeLong Quarterly, which is one of my favorite journals. So many journals are afraid/unwilling to give credit to other places, those that preceded them, etc. I immediately liked jmww after seeing the shout to SmokeLong in the sub guidelines. When I’m reading JMWW flash subs, I’m thinking first and foremost about the story. If it doesn’t engage me, really get me fired up and buzzy, really “pop,” I probably won’t take it, even if has the feel of something jmww might take or in fact has published. If it’s a great story, then I consider what jmww has published in the past and will be publishing in that particular issue. Sometimes it’s like that “you know it when you see it” type thing. Some stories – like Kyle Hemmings “Two Blind Birds” I just knew from the first read OH GOD I WANT THIS STORY. Those experiences are amazing.
M: Is there a difference between vsf (very short fiction), flash, and short fiction? To a newcomer, the distinctions might be confusing, blurry.
D: The distinctions are blurry to me! When I think of “short fiction,” I picture stories between 2000 – 5000 words. My definition of “short” is much different than that of a lot of other writers and readers. In terms of the “micro” versus “flash” versus “very short fiction,” I see a lot of blur. Places like Quick Fiction and Vestal cap at 500, while SmokeLong and jmww like their flash at 1000. Places like Drunk and Lonely Men (Pear Noir) wanted 250 and Tuesday Shorts wanted 100. Then of course Nanoism and PicFic cap out at 140 characters (but allow serials). I love playing around with stories, sometimes dropping hundreds of words during single revision sessions. I love editing. I may have OCD. I shouldn’t enjoy the whittling process so much.
M: How does the process look and feel to you from the “other side” as an editor?
D: I actually really like this POV. I am embarrassed now at some of my hastily-submitted stories. I can understand a little better some of Lee Klein [Editor of Eyeshot] finding me annoying. I’ve also got to compliment Kevin O’Cuinn of Word Riot; his rejections of mine of late have been beautiful. They’ve really shown me how closely I should be reading my stories again and again, examining every bleepin’ word, sound, vowel, comma, etc. He’s like Lee, only a bit nicer. Both have been very helpful to me and how I hope to operate as flash fiction editor. Jen Michalski is also a great guide. She’s great and very open in the sense of listening to my ramblings about why I think a story does or doesn’t work, etc. I made the mistake of saying she was great to work for and I got my first “!” from her – you work with me, not for me! The government guy in me came out I guess!
M: Well, I have to tell you, as a writer, I get annoyed that an editor will express annoyance at submissions, but really isn’t the whole game a mixed bag? The process is so subjective to begin with. . .
D: Yes, indeed, but I was very cocky and reckless as a newbie—I sent new stuff to Lee [Klein] like 10 seconds after getting rejected. Editing is making me even more cautious about sending things out.
M: You know what? Editors need to suck that up. Sorry, that’s the way I feel. [ Interviewers note: just riling David up. Please note, he does not really take the bait!]
D: Yes, it is the name of the game. I just said name of the game unironically—that can’t be good for anyone
M: Perhaps not, but I forgive you
What else would you advise against?
D: Ha! I hate to say what I always hear but it’s so damn true—stop sending to places you don’t read and/or know nothing about. Blake Butler had a good thread on the htmlgiant blog—why are we subbing to places we don’t read? What do we hope to get?
M: Yeah, I agree with you on that one. I’ve NEVER done that. Blush [Interviewer lie, quite apparent.]
D: Ha! Me either!
M: That makes sense. Back to your writing for a minute.
What work would you recommend for a David Erlewine newbie? Can you name four or five pieces you’ve written that you feel really define what you do?
D: I would recommend reading “Hurlophobia” in Prick of the Spindle http://www.prickofthespindle.com/fiction/3.2/erlewine/hurlophobia.htm, “Not Really” in Keyhole (web) http://www.keyholemagazine.com/david-erlewine/not-really, “A Confounding Plague” in Monkeybicycle (http://www.monkeybicycle.net/archive/Erlewine/plague.html), and “Always With Us” in The Pedestal http://www.thepedestalmagazine.com/gallery.php?item=2815. Hmm, I also write a lot of uh, “racy” stories so maybe check out “Flares” in This Zine Will Change Your Life http://thiszinewillchangeyourlife.blogspot.com/2009/09/flares-by-david-erlewine.html. Stories like that really I like a lot but uh, um, well I’m not all that sure I want to start figuring out where and how they arise.
M: Some of your most recent stories are going in a whole other direction. Do people still use the word “racy”?
D: OH NO YOU DI’UHNT! Did I spell that right?
M: OH YES I DID!
D: My wife wants me to use a different name, as do my parents. Yes, they are even more fucked up than usual.
M: Sweet Maria, what does your mother think?
D: I read a lot of crazy novels in 8th grade—books my mother checked out from the library, books about prison rape…so I blame her like a good Jewish boy does.
D: M wife hates all my stories; she’s said “NO MORE STUTTERING STORIES!” Yeah, things are good at home, ha, ha!
M: She is a long suffering woman indeed! Is a collection in your future?
D: Hmmm, I don’t know. I haven’t made much of an effort in that direction and neither has anyone else. Maybe because I say “ha ha” too often?
M: No, actually, David , I like the “ha ha” part of you. I personally say “whoa” a lot. But now I’m off topic. Back to you.
Answer me this, then: What is the ultimate goal of all of this writing and writing related activities you engage in?
D: Michelle, I honestly don’t know. I should know but I don’t
M: There are no “shoulds,” David.
D: I’m just going to keep writing, keep pushing myself, keep meeting new people and reading good stuff. My wife says I should help around the house more, so there’s that.
M:Yeah, you probably should. How about it?
D: I do a lot more than most guys I know! Ha! I sound defensive.
M: I’ll reserve my opinion until I can speak with your wife.
D: Hmm, my wife is yelling at me to help give the kids baths!
M: Then let me wrap–you’ve been getting a lot of press lately, an “expert” as you will, on the form. Where do you think flash is going, if anywhere? Do you imagine a bigger, ie, mass market or something that will mainly be online and chapbook driven?
D: I’m the eternal pessimist. I see flash staying where it is, maybe broadening its reach a little bit. I just don’t see mass market in its future. Neal Pollack once said that the number of people reading short lit fiction is less than the number of people going to specialty flower conventions. He may be off on that a bit but I never forgot it. That’s okay with me. I’m going to be practicing law until I can retire in June 2032. I don’t see anything happening to change that. Most of the folks posting comments on my blog about my stories are other writers and editors. That’s cool with me. I know how many other things in this world are going on. As myopic as I can be, I know very smart people who make much more money than I do in their jobs who like nothing more than to come home, fire up the Xbox 360 and play all night. They don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want their world views to shift. They aren’t going online to look for new writers. I always try to keep that in mind. I love that anyone wants to read what I write. If something I write connects with someone, I’m quite happy about that.
Even with the quotes, my wife will laugh when I relay the “expert” comment. The MSNBC interview on twitter fiction was really cool. My son loved seeing our basement in the web video. He said he now understood why I went down to the basement with “that woman” and wouldn’t let anyone else come with us. Concerning the MSNBC interview, his reaction is what everyone in my family will talk about in the future. The Barrelhouse thing was really cool and unexpected. I enjoyed the Podcast with Adam Robinson and Michael Kimball. Apparently Dave Housley saw the write-up I did for Laura Ellen Scott’s great vsf blog – about my train writing. I just did the podcast recording with him a few nights ago and can’t wait to see it go live. Will that allow me to say my work has appeared in Barrelhouse? Hmm, I don’t think so.