Literary Orphans

An Interview With Grant Faulkner by T.L. Sherwood

T.L. Sherwood: I’m speaking with Grant Faulkner, the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, founder with Lynn Mundell of 100 Word Stories, and a gifted writer.

When I learned I’d have the pleasure of interviewing you, my first question was, “Pantser or plotter?”

Grant Faulkner: Neither. Or, at least not to the letter of the law. I like to call myself a “percolator.” I like to get an idea for a novel and take random notes, write some sketches, jot down notes for some scenes, meander down the street with my characters, and just let everything swirl about in my mind for a spell before starting to write.

I’ve experimented with planning, but I generally find that the more I know about the story, the less inclined I am to write it. I like to write for the mystery of things. As Robert Frost said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” I’ve also experimented with straight-up pantsing, but I find I need to have a sense of the direction of the story, I need to see a bit beyond the light of the headlights.

TLS: Unfortunately, I’ve found the same problem with plotting. I have a trilogy that I can’t “get into” anymore though I love the story line and the characters.  I’m happy to have a new ice-breaking question to ask at meet-ups though, “Panters, plotter, or percolator?” Thank you!

Do you remember the first story you wrote? How old were you?

GF: I remember getting an idea for a series of stories when I was three or four—before I was technically reading or writing. I ran downstairs to tell my mom all about it, but she was on the phone with a friend. This was my first lesson that it’s best to write your story before telling people about itbecause their reaction or receptivity might disappoint you

My mother has been wonderfully supportive of my writing, though. She bought me a little antique roll-top desk, which I still have, when I was six or so. I remember sitting down to write a story, not knowing what to write about. I wrote a story about when the color white ran out in the world. I wish I could still fit at that desk.

TLS: Write it down is the best advice – and what a lovely story. You’re mom sounds like an awesome person. Another one of your talents is that you are also a writer of 100-word stories. I picked up a copy of “Fissures” So many great stories are jammed in there. Some that I particularly love are “Dear X,” “Time Travel,” and “Enough.” I could go on, but I also want to say ending with, “Ooze” was just perfect.

During AWP in Washington DC, I attended the “From Flash Fiction to Microfiction: How Many Words Are Enough?” panel and learned some interesting techniques on reducing word counts in stories. You also write novels. Which form – novel length or drabble – gives you the most pleasure to create?

GF: I’m afraid I can’t do a “Sophie’s Choice” when it comes to writing forms. There are times when a story demands a novel, and then there are times when a story demands a few strokes of the pen, so it depends.

I will say that there is a different sense of satisfaction when writing the short stuff, though. You can feel like you’ve accomplished something in days or weeks rather than years. Sometimes that sense that a story is done is really necessary because it can give you momentum.

TLS: If there was one piece of advice, or a warning, or encouragement, you wish you’d heard when you started submitting to literary journals, what would it be?

GF: As a writer, it’s hard to fathom that your story is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, under consideration. It’s hard to put yourself in the editor’s shoes and realize how arresting your story has to be to stand out. It must prick the editor, present the world with a new slant. It must be lean. There’s no room for flab. Every off-key sentence or word can mean that the editor will stop reading.

I used to think that an editor might see something in a story and decide to work with me to make the story good. Those days are gone, and maybe they never really existed. It’s just damn tough to publish in any literary journal, so I make sure anything I submit has been revised many times. There are no shortcuts. I’m always deeply grateful if I make the cut.

TLS: So true. Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you. For everyone interesting in finding out more about National Novel Writing Month, the link is here. “Fissures,” a book I can wholeheartedly recommend as a pleasure to read is available from Press 53  and you can find other great things from him like Pep Talks for Writers and the new 100-word story collection, Nothing Short Of on Amazon.

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–Art by Jaime Ryan