Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Meet Michael Kechula Multi-Published Micro Fiction Author

Michael Kechula is a prize-winning multi-published author of flash or micro-fiction. His recently published book MICRO FICTION: Writing 100-Word Stories (Drabbles) For Magazines and Contests---A Self-Study Tutorial) is available from BooksForABuck.com.

Writing micro-fiction is a way to get published without the substantial commitment of writing a novel. Since Michael has been successful at it, I asked him to give us some background on how he got started as well as some tips for authors who want to try this genre.


NANCY:   You write short fiction. Could you describe the different kinds? Do you have a favorite?

MIKE:  I write flash fiction and micro-fiction.  Flash fiction is a literary form in which a complete story is told in 1,000 words or less.  Micro-fiction is another literary form in which a complete story is told in 200 words or less.  One form of micro-fiction that’s popular today is the drabble, which is a complete story in exactly 100 words, not counting the title. I’ve written more flash fiction tales than micro-fiction tales, so I suppose that’s my favorite way of storytelling.

NANCY:  How did you get started writing short fiction?

MIKE:  About 13 years ago, I was browsing books on writing at Barnes and Noble, and I ran across a title that included the words, “Flash Fiction.”  I’d never heard of that, so I browsed the book and bought it.  However, I should have left it on the shelf, because it turned out to be mostly an academic discussion on trying to determine what flash fiction is, or should be.  The book included a few stories, which I thought were mediocre at best, as they had no plots and were just a collection of words that didn’t exceed 1,000 word count.

Feeling intuitively that flash fiction might have more to it than what I’d read in the book, I checked the internet for more information.  That led me to a Yahoo writing group, “FLASHXER” which was short for Flash Fiction Exercise Writing Group.  I joined the group, read some of the stories posted, then tried to write my own.  I was a complete failure at developing flash fiction.  Members of FLASHXER kept sending me critiques saying my stories were dull and mundane.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get the hang of writing flash.

The day I decided to forget flash fiction forever, the moderator of FLASHXER issued a new prompt.  I read it and thought maybe I’d give flash one more try, and if I failed, that would definitely be the end of my flirtation with writing  stories of so few words.
I recall that day very well, because I was in a do or die mood.  Raising my hands over the keyboard, I kept them in mid air, waiting for an inspiration.  To visualize what I might have looked like at that moment, think of a concert pianist who is about to perform a famous classical work with a symphony orchestra.  In about 30 seconds, he will begin his performance, so his hands are raised over the keys with his fingers ready to strike.

While my hands were raised over the keyboard, these words suddenly popped into my head:  “Martian spaghetti, $39.50 a plate.”  I can’t tell you where those words came from, especially since they sounded like something out a wild sci-fi tale--- and I wasn’t a sci-fi fan.  Nevertheless, the words of an intriguing opener came to mind,  and I started typing.  An hour later, I had written a nutty flash fiction tale of 960 words.   I spent a bit of time polishing my creation, then submitted it to FLASHXER.  Within an hour, hoorays filled my screen from everyone who critiqued my tale, which I called, “39.50 A Plate.”   Unbelievable!  I’d created a story that my peers found funny, enjoyable, creative, entertaining.  One reviewer said I should send it immediately to Alien Skin Magazine. 

I took the reviewer’s advice and submitted it to the magazine with some trepidation.  After all, just a few hours earlier I was a total failure when it came to creating a flash fiction story of any genre that anybody would care to read.   Now, I was actually submitting a flash tale to a magazine that tended to be quite fussy about what they accepted.  To my amazement,  the Alien Skin editor accepted the story a few hours later.   Thus, my first flash fiction tale had been written, accepted by my peers, and then accepted for publication in an online magazine, all within 10 hours.
Ever since then, I’ve had no problem coming up with story concepts and developing them.  As of February 2015, my flash and micro-fiction tales have been published in 157 magazines and 55 anthologies in 8 countries.  I’ve been lucky enough to have won 20 flash and micro contests:  1st prize in 12 and 2nd prize in 8 others.  I’ve won 4 Editor’s Choice awards.  Four collections of my previously published and prize-winning tales have been published as eBooks and Paperbacks.   These collections contain a total of 266 flash and micro-fiction stories.   One of my flash tales was nominated by Gemini Magazine for a Pushcart Literary Prize.  Didn’t win, but never expected my work to be nominated for any prize. 

In addition to the 4 books, I’ve written 2 self-study books that teach how to write flash fiction and micro-fiction.  The titles of these books are: “Writing Genre Flash Fiction The Minimalist Way---A Self-Study Book” and “MICRO FICTION:  Writing 100-Word Stories (Drabbles) for Magazines and Contests---A Self-Study Tutorial.”  

NANCY:  What are the publishing opportunities in short fiction?

MIKE:  Hundreds of online and print magazines around the world clamor for genre flash and mirco-fiction stories every month.   A lesser number seeks micro-fiction tales, especially in the drabble format.  Dozens of magazines issue submission calls  for literary flash and micro-fiction tales every month.

In addition, numerous contests are announced for flash and micro-fiction tales every month.   Most tend to seek genre fiction works.

NANCY:  What advice can you give to someone who wants to get started writing short fiction?

MIKE:  Here are some points to consider:
1)    Decide if you want to develop a genre fiction or literary fiction work.  If you aren’t sure of the difference, consider this:  literary works tend to be lyrical, focus on characters, and have little or no plot.  In contrast, genre works are considered the opposite of literary drabbles, because they don’t focus on characters. Instead, they focus on events, plus they have developed plots.  By events, I mean the noteworthy things that happen in a story. For example, if you’re telling about a man who’s on his way to a bank to rob it, you’ll probably focus on what happens when he arrives. You wouldn’t expend words describing his motivations, what he wore, and the color of his hair. Instead, you’d establish the fact that someone wanted to rob a bank, tell what happened when he arrived at the bank, and if he succeeded or not.
2)    If you decide to try your hand at genre fiction, try to be a storyteller first and writer second.  If you’re not sure how to develop your flash or micro tale as a storyteller, consider writing the story using the same words you’d use when telling it to a friend over coffee. For example, suppose you want to tell your friend about a party you went to last night. Would you tell him like this? “I went to a great party last night while the stars shone brightly in the sky and the moon gave off just enough light to give the ground a wondrous, silvery patina.” Or would you say this? “I went to a great party last night.”

Hopefully, you’d use the words shown in the second example. That’s the storyteller’s way of relating a story, while the first sentence is the writer’s artful way of embellishing a sentence with lots of visuals. You can’t help but notice the startling differences between the two.

3)    Another thing to consider:  you aren’t writing a novel or short story.  Techniques you may have learned that work very well in developing novels and short stories usually don’t work when writing very short fiction.  For example, in novels and short stories authors always include first and last names.  We don’t do that in flash or micro, because it wastes one word count each time.  This brings up the idea of always having word economy in mind when developing your story.  For most people, this is the greatest challenge they face when attempting to write flash and micro-fiction.

4)    Consider adapting a minimalist approach to writing flash or micro.  Here are the objectives I’ve developed for minimalist authors:  to tell as much story as possible, in as few words as possible, without sacrificing a smooth read.  If you can do this, you may find yourself getting published quickly and continuously.
5)    Edit your drafts ruthlessly.
Many more techniques are involved.  All are thoroughly covered in my self-study books that teach and drill readers on the flash and micro-fiction development process.  

NANCY:   What are you working on now?

MIKE:  I just completed the final edit on my latest collection of flash tales.  This new book is called, “Revenge Day and Other Tales of Crime and Espionage.”  I expect it will be published as an eBook and paperback in June, 2015.

NANCY:   Do you have any other points you'd like to share about this area?

MIKE:   Yes.  I’ve found that stories of any genre can be told via the flash or micro format.  For example, I’ve written light sci-fi, various subgenres of fantasy, horror, romance, crime, and espionage tales over the years. 
Don’t choose a concept that is too ambitious for flash or micro.  If your concept will require more than 4 scenes, it probably won’t work effectively if presented in the flash or micro format.

Try to use dialog as much as possible. Dialog uses far less words than narrative.
Include an opener that will grab reader’s attention and make them want to read more.
Tell instead of show.  Showing burns excessive word count.

Remember to use word economy at all times.

Edit your work ruthlessly, but not to such an extent that the read becomes choppy.
Read your first draft aloud and record it.  Play the recording several times.  You’ll notice sentences that can be smoother, especially those containing dialog.

Thanks, Nancy, for the opportunity to tell my story. 


Write Publishable Drabbles

Crafting a Drabble is different from writing a novel or creative non-fiction. At 100 words, each word must count. Flowery description, body movements, or the weather use unnecessary words. Kechula, a multi-published micro fiction author and editor, shares his techniques in this self-study guide.

Efficiently telling a story in 100 words is the key to writing a Drabble. The chapters present methods for eliminating words and writing clear sentences. Topics include: tell don't show, hook the reader, and add a twist. Kechula includes his published micro fiction to illustrate the ideas. Questions follow the text to allow the reader to practice. The answers are given at the end of each chapter. A final series of 165 practice questions allows you to test your ability to understand and apply the concepts.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in writing micro fiction and taking advantage of the opportunities for publication in contests and on-line and print magazines. Although Kechula's book is a comprehensive guide to writing micro fiction, it does not guarantee you will be published. Telling a good story is key, but if you have a story, this book will help you hone your technique.


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