I’ve been a fan of Bud Smith’s wild, wise stories since reading ‘Junior In The Tunnels‘ in SmokeLong a couple of years ago. Thankfully, he’s no Harper Lee, and there’s usually something new online from him every few days, whether a story, a poem, a piece about his life… When Jude asked me to interview him, I contacted Bud, who I’ve very vaguely chatted with over these two years, and he kindly, enthusiastically, consented to me sending over some questions. So here it is, from London to New Jersey and back again.
- The organisers at Bath Flash Fiction, who have asked me to interview you, wanted me to focus on flash fiction. Before we get to your writing, could you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the Kathy Fish/ Robert Vaughan collaboration Rift? How did that come about? Were you ever tempted to make it a three writer project and contribute to it yourself?
I love Kathy Fish’s writing and same thing with Robert Vaughan’s, so I solicited them for my press, Unknown Press, with the intention of publishing a split book from them. The only problem was neither author had enough new material for a collection… So, problem solved, we worked together for five or so months generating new pieces, from random prompts in an online writing group we were all in, curated by the writer artist Michael Gillian Maxwell, who himself really kills it in all creative aspects.
I don’t like to step on people’s toes as a publisher, and try to give them a lot of room to make their own decisions on their work. The thought never occurred to me to publish my own pieces that were generated concurrently with the majority of those that were selected for Rift. I try not to push my stuff. That being said, I’ve got a collection of short stories that I’m sending around for consideration to other presses that was generated simultaneously with Rift. An example of one of the stories is ‘Tiger Blood’.
- As well as publishing the collection, you edited it. Was this a question of selecting which stories went in, suggesting revisions, chasing them to meet deadlines…?
I trust any author(s) I’m publishing. I don’t get into questioning their logic in the realm of their own art. Here and there I give advice but it’s only that. All Unknown Press books deserve less a credit to me as an editor and more a credit to the faith in the author going their thing solid punk rock style.
- How was the order of stories decided?
With Rift, it was as per usual, the authors were given reign because the authors were picked out of a crowd. They know what is up with their own work. The best thing I could do is stay out of their way and more or less be available to be sure the project came together through osmosis.
- You write flash fiction, short stories, novels, poetry, essays… How do you decide which you’re going to write, or does each idea dictate its own form?
I try not to over think things. First thought is good enough. I just go in any random direction. If a story falters or a novel gets gummed up and I’m momentarily stuck on it, I’ll ditch it and try and make some progress for the day on a poem. Like last night, I came home from work and had an idea for a story, so I wrote it before I went to the gym. After the gym thing, I had to cut a 175 page poetry collection down to 100 pages to submit to a press I like. I had an hour to write the story, and then later I had an hour to edit the poetry collection before my wife came home and we started painting the living room, so I just got it done with as least resistance as possible from my end. I try and get the hell out of my own way. I work a lot of hours doing heavy manual labor, heavy construction; sitting around and debating every single creative chess move hasn’t brought me any happiness. For me, if the writing doesn’t happen organically, it won’t happen at all. So why complicate it and pretend it’s an intellectual pursuit?
- Do you still get many rejections, now you’re a ‘name’?
Definitely. I get them a lot. I know I’m doing things right when I’m getting rejected in piles. Send your stuff. Don’t be shy. They don’t know you, there’s nothing personal attached to a ‘No’. Believe me I’ve worked as a reader for lit journals, as well as reading for my own small press. The publishers are definitely not out to get you. They’re just trying to figure their own lives out, and when they can, they are squeezing your poem in. It’s not life and death. If you don’t fit into that immediate window of what their life is, big deal. Case in point, I had a crush on this girl in the fourth grade and asked her on a date (whatever that’d be) and she said No! DON’T EVER ASK ME AGAIN! And then in Seventh grade we dated for almost sixth months. Don’t give up, but also, don’t be a shithead.
Another thing about writing I like to remember… It’s like that Lorne Michaels quote: “If you’re the funniest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room.”
That’s what submitting is. If it ever gets too easy to place your work … keep moving. I send to sites/journals that don’t know me. I’m happy about that. The longer a person is around participating in a lit community the more connections they make, friends they make. I try not to submit to people I’ve become friendly with. Instead of sending them stories they have to awkwardly reject, or awkwardly accept, I send them Christmas cards. I don’t know, seek adventure, that’s the best way I can say it. If you’re not sending out to places you’re excited about on a molecular level, fix that.
- Have rejections modified your writing in any way over the years, seeing what was and wasn’t accepted, or did you simply take those pieces elsewhere?
My writing changed over the years but I don’t accredit too much of its change being from rejection or a deeper desire to be accepted. It changed out of a search for self-satisfaction/entertainment. I got bored writing one way and am less bored writing another way. I try to remain honest to what I like. And I’ve found what I like is also what I like to read. If I have a story or poem or section of a novel and I am not excited to read it to an audience, deep down I know it sucks. It might stay as a ‘thing’ but also, I know it sucks. I read my stories and poems out at bars a lot, that’s changed my approach dramatically, writing for an audience that is sitting in front of you and who you can see with your own eyes, rather than the stranger sending the rejection notice or acceptance notice, or even the people reading at home on their computer. What it comes down to is keeping everything at play. At the point where you’re so keyed into what you’re doing, you can’t help but learn from it in some random way. Stay engaged.
- One of the first things I got from your writing was a rare sense of freedom. Does it come easily to you, writing ‘loosey goosey’, or you are like a jazz musician who’s rehearsed for years in order to be spontaneously natural?
I’ve always written loosely, like ripping a Band Aid off. I’ve never studied literature, so it’s remained fresh to me and I hope that comes across to the reader. Years of writing and getting comfortable at trying different things, and not minding when things crash and burn. I do believe it takes years to figure out what you’re doing. Trick is to find your medium. I do not believe that writing is the end all be all. If you are so locked in to the writing end and you cannot escape its grasp, power to you, and I’m there too, spend your time and get better from hanging around it, seeing readings, talking to writers better than you, but also from not getting landlocked… do the other mediums, too. You only live once. If you find a ping of joy from being creative, seek out the other things you think you suck at and find out for sure if it’s just a lack of time. Try the synth. Try filming a low budget movie with your friends. Try welding a sculpture. What can go wrong? And also, who the fuck cares?
- Following on from that, do you ever use music to help find the mood or rhythm you’re after?
Generally I write in silence but I don’t mind if the radio is on. But if I don’t have silence on, I’m usually listening to records by my desk when I can be there. Favorite albums to write to: Black Moth Super Rainbow – ‘Cobra Juicy’ (anything by them really), Tobacco – ‘Fucked Up Friends’, Jean Michel Jarre – ‘Oxygene’, Meatloaf – ‘Bat Out of Hell’, Joe Meek and the Blue Men – ‘I Hear a New World’… really, any old crap I can find at the flea market, I’ll try it all. Truth is nobody sounds as good as Paul Simon.
- Some of your stories (like ‘When I Touch Your Face’) have a very definite beginning/middle/end structure, others (such as ‘Some Monsters I’m Friends With’) feel like you came up with a phrase or image and started riffing, line by line, until the moment passed or you ran out of energy. Firstly… is that even remotely accurate?
That is so spot-on accurate. I push off and ping pong until I get bored and give up and hence usually abandon, unless a dream or something tells me that a work was not a minor work. Most of my stuff is one line leads to the next line thing because I was writing them for the excitement of it, my own entertainment. Playing leap frog. I’m not a big battle plan guy. But occasionally if I’m doing a novel I write out a basic sketch of the chapters and carry them with me in my pocket so I can reference them at work. I write on my cellphone when the stars align. Thumbs. When I write a short story there is never an end plan, it’s felt out, it’s improvised as it trickles along. Get good at that and at least you’ll have yourself thrilled, that’s the hardest part.
- Secondly, how important do you feel ‘story’ to be to flash fiction?
I think story or hint of story is important in all kinds of art straight across the board. No matter what, find some way to talk to your audience on a level so human you forget that you’re not in the audience.
- Do you spend much time rewriting? How many drafts would your average flash piece go through before you submit?
For stories/flash I don’t do more than two drafts. Usually it’s just a quick first draft and then a second draft of fixing the typos. If it’s rejected a couple times and I really like it, I definitely revisit it. I try and remain a sponge for ideas better than mine, even if those ideas are just telling my sponge that it sucks.
- You famously write on your phone whilst working a construction job. Could you be as prolific a writer – and you’re releasing stuff all the time – if you worked in an office?
I used to write a lot more before I had a smart phone. I’ve slowed down since the phone. The smart phone isn’t the answer. To be prolific just do a little bit every day, and whatever you make, let the creation of the thing be life-giving to you. Anybody else’s method won’t do anything for you. Search out what makes you happiest. Fuck typing on the phone. Do whatever you have to in order to get the things you want to create to jump out of you.
- How do you feel about creative work courses? Have you ever attended and/or taught one?
I’m so happy people are studying things they don’t understand. Creative writing courses are beautiful. I haven’t had the opportunity to study creative writing, beyond high school, in the classroom setting, but I ask a lot of questions to writers I admire. I just email them and talk about it. Or set up a phone call and have a conversation for a while. Don’t be scared of people that are further along the path than you, just send them a message and begin a chain of mutually beneficial communication. Ask them questions, and in turn tell them how you do things, we’re all learning in unpredictable jolts and jumps.
- I know that you’re a fan of Richard Brautigan. Is it hard, nowadays, to write ‘innocently’, magically, now that we’re all so knowing?
As long as you don’t think you’re irrevocably right about anything you’ll do fine.
- Huge generalisation but it seems to me that American flash writers are much more visceral than their British counterparts. When there’s so much new writing out there, pouring out of the walls and rafters, do you think that fiction needs to hit the senses, bust some taboos, in order to stand out?
I’m a fan of a writer who does their own thing, whatever slips out naturally. Don’t try too hard. Who knows what’s taboo today or what will be taboo five years from now when your story gets read? Don’t sweat standing out.
- I think there’s a temptation for flash writers to rely on emotive topics (with built-in, inevitable responses) to Deliver Something in a short number of words. “Aren’t illness/death/refugees/loneliness/whatever sad?” “Isn’t aging/ bullying/war/etc,cruel?” They might tweak notions and feelings the reader already has and feels, but doesn’t the flash form have scope to do more?
Ignore word count. Ignore topic. Write free. If, later, your things match up to a press’ call for subs, then good for everybody.
- I remember an interview with Jack White when he was in the White Stripes, where he talked about setting himself limitations to liberate his creativity, e.g. only ever three colours for their outfits and album covers, only ever three instruments (including voice). Do the constraints of flash fiction open similar doors in your head?
I am always trying to communicate as naturally as I talk. Just by doing that, I’ve found most writing falls into place as something that doesn’t zoom over anyone’s head. Definitely. I agree with what you’ve mentioned, that approach. Keep it simple. It’s important to remember as you approach your art, that there is absolutely no right or wrong way of doing/making, but that there are a lot of people you can lose along the way if you get all purple prose and blah blah. The goal of write is to communicate in such a way that they can follow along and not zone out, and at the same time be transported away from the drudgery of their hard day.
- Predictable final question: which flash fiction writers, websites or magazines do you enjoy as a reader, and who should we all be rushing out to read before bedtime tonight?
Best writers doing short stuff? Oh man, that’s easy… Ben Loory, Amelia Gray, Scott McClanahan, Brain Alan Ellis, Sam Pink… Presses kicking ass — I love Funhouse, which is actually published out of London. Big fans of the way they mix flash fiction with paintings/illustrations. They are curating some stellar flash fiction at the moment. Also, if you’re not reading SmokeLong or Wigleaf, do. Also check out and send to People Holding, they publish insanely good things but they also send a photo and generate the insanely good thing. Morgan Beatty is the editor of People Holding and I can’t name a better lit mag editor than him, he really takes the time and energy. Plus he’s a great writer too. Really, there are endless websites doing great work… if you are a writer looking to submit, there is no better place to look than entropymag.org.
Interview by Nick Black
Nick Black’s flash fiction has won or been listed for various competitions, including the 2014 North London Lit Fest, the 2015 and ’16 Bath Flash Fiction Awards, and AdHoc Fiction (twice). They have also been published by various literary magazines including Litro and SickLit. Many can be found at www.fuzzynick.wordpress.com