Robert Vaughan leads writing roundtables at Redbird- Redoak Writing. His writing has appeared in over 400 print and online journals. His short prose, “10,000 Dollar Pyramid” was a finalist in the Micro-Fiction Awards 2012. Also, “Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu” was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award 2013. He is senior flash fiction editor at JMWW, and Lost in Thought magazines. His book, Flash Fiction Fridays, is at Amazon. His poetry chapbook, Microtones, is from Cervena Barva Press. He has a chapbook forthcoming from Deadly Chaps this summer, and his first full length collection, Addicts and Basements from Civil Coping Mechanisms in February, 2014.
Simoni-Wastila: You have written many flash stories and quite a few poems. What is it that draws you to these concise forms of writing?
Vaughan: The consistent thing that keeps me molding and sculpting shorter pieces would be the difficulty it presents. One tends to read a short piece and often marvels at how easy, on the surface, it appears: the brevity, the complexities, vocabulary, syntax, form. And yet, I find the exact opposite to be true. All of these factors are much more heightened when there is a word limit, or shorter content. Also, I hit a groove a few years ago with this pattern, and my writing has really charted its own course. I try not to let “what genre” comes out of my pen be the determined pre-set. In re-writes or editing, I might let that play into the mix a little more. Often my work is a combination of prose and poetry; prose poetry, or flash fiction. Better yet, it might be indefinable, in a similar context toward Lydia Davis, Tomas Transtromer, James Tate, or Anais Nin. I like playing on the edges of genre definitions, and bending the gray area. I feel as if my writing is becoming more experimental, more surreal, and dare I say, playful as a result.
Simoni-Wastila: I agree that writing short is more difficult than a reader might appreciate. In writing, every word should count, even in longer forms, but this is especially important in short fictions. How much do you struggle with finding the ‘right’ word?
Vaughan: I struggle on certain days more than others. My technique: get the first draft out, with the least amount of censoring possible. Next, I read it aloud. Then if possible, read it to others. Then I look for certain words I know are MINE (over-used!!! We all have them!). Then I usually wait a few days, or week(s), to let the story germinate (this is the most important step). Give yourself some distance from your work before you return to CHOP IT UP! When you are ready, you can apply those ‘final’ touches – the master strokes: what is essential to the story? What words are superfluous? What word(s) did you read recently that you thought you might want to sneak into a piece? Avoid all clichés. Surprise us with the audacity of your language.
Simoni-Wastila: You write provocative stuff, stories which often take a bit of chutzpah or even courage to address. What inspires the content of your stories? And what is your secret to evoking such grace to dark situations?
Vaughan: Thanks for this interpretation of my writing! I like to take on some of the heaviness or darkness of the human condition: our frailties, prejudices, burdens, weaknesses, or avoidances. Ironic that my first full- length book is titled Addicts and Basements, an obvious play on words (I also love this feature of language, the dualities of words and rich, diversified meanings). But also, the obvious assumptions a reader might make from the word “addicts,” and then the implications of the word “basements.”
I’m unsure if I have any secrets to reveal about the attempt to strike some balance between darkness and achieving grace. I think some of it might be the use of “white space,” and really trusting the reader to interpret the material, especially what is left unsaid. The gaps, the holes, the shadows. Sometimes it can be way more powerful to imply, or to suggest. Often, lately, I find much writing to be too heavy- handed. Predictable. I like surprises (infinitely more in writing than in life!)
Also, I am the kind of writer who benefits from, and has come to rely on, feedback and writing groups, and trusting whole-heartedly the editing process. I’m a member of more than one writing group, and this constant exposure, assessing others’ work, and having the scrutiny applied to my own is essential. I also feel like a piece is never truly “finished.” Put to bed? Sure.
Simoni-Wastila: You are an editor as well. When you read another writer’s story, one you might be considering for publication, what makes you go ‘ah-ha’? This one I must publish?
Vaughan: I like a writer who uses a unique style (voice?), and enjoys exploring topics that rarely get focus. Writing allows us to explore themes that most people might never discuss in “real life,” so immediately I am turned off by first boyfriend heartbreaks, mothers’ dying (we can blame Disney films!), make-outs in cars at sunset. I’m being trite, but clearly risk is inherent. Imaginative, bold, unusual writing grabs me. A writer must be willing to “fail” on the page. Of course, this is so highly subjective.
Simoni-Wastila: Your greatest writing weakness?
Vaughan: I am over-scrupulous, and at times can be too critical of my own writing.
Simoni-Wastila: What do you consider your greatest writing strength?
Vaughan: I feel as if I will never stop learning something new about the craft, about the art form of writing. I will always be searching for what it is, experimenting with new forms, words, structures, mentors. In addition, I really love when other artists are successful. Your success=my success.
Simoni-Wastila: You have a book of prose on the bookshelves, and soon a book of poetry. Tells us a little about how these volumes came into being.
Vaughan: Let me start by offering that it’s possible you’ll never know where offers for books might come from! My first book, Microtones, originated from a reading I did in Boston in April 2012. Timothy Gager runs a monthly reading series called Dire Literary Series. We’d been trying to make it happen and had to cancel for various reasons a couple of times. When I went, another online writer friend, Gloria Mindock, planned to attend, and read in the open mic section of Timothy’s event. She was nervous, adorably so, because she’s a poet, and planned to read her first flash fiction piece (She was amazing, and the piece was eventually published at Thrice Fiction). Timothy, Gloria, and I went for a bite after the reading. We got to chatting about writing, process, and submitting. I’d just started shopping around a manuscript and had a couple of rejections. Gloria, in her sweet and quiet manner, leaned over and said, “I would publish you, Robert!” I was stunned, to the point where I thought I’d misheard her. But no, Gloria is the publisher at Cervena Barva Press, and the rest, as they say, is history.
My next book is forthcoming from Deadly Chaps, publisher Joseph A.W. Quintela. When I first started submitting to online and print magazines, Joseph was an early champion of my work. He loves experimental pieces (as do I), and one aspect of my work in which he’s always encouraged me is form. How can it appear in an unusual, more unique way? This has also helped me to blur the lines between fiction and poetry, which my work reaches toward. So, Diptychs, Triptychs, Lipsticks & Dipshits will be out this summer, 2013. It’s about 30 pieces, many are previously published.
Simoni-Wastila: What’s up next on your writing horizon?
Vaughan: Recently I was solicited with a new offer: my first full-length poetry book- Addicts and Basements is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms, in February 2014. I am completely blown away by this, and so am working at these pieces, generating them as they come. Most of the basement portion is constructed, and now the addict pieces are forming. I also have a chapbook length project, working title is “Female Icons.” This was really fun! Joseph Quintela created a project called “Working Definitions” in which a group of writers re-defined words. Assigned them any poetic re-definition. Then, I selected a lyric from some songstress, say Aretha Franklin’s ‘for five long years I thought you were the man.’ I’d post the lyrics into “The Poeticizer” and it would pop out the new poem:
so supportive that even your underwear shrinks in comparison
of billowing tongue
the edge of what you call home
as a room filled with screens
to have walked trembling with desire
a drawbridge, span down
In addition, I have a first/second draft of a novel, Goodwives River, and it begs to be dusted off and brought back out.
Simoni-Wastila: Robert, thank you for a fascinating chat and a peek into your writing life. And thank you for serving as the North American judge for FLASHMOB 2013. Best of luck with your endeavors! Peace, Linda
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