Monday, April 23, 2018

Meet Steve Forti, our flash fiction winner last week

Steve Forti is well known to all of us of course, his deft use of prompt words required the entire category be named for him: The Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words Shout Out!

Last week's entry earned him the grand prize, so I asked him some questions

When do you start thinking about your entry? Do you start with writing?
In general, I start thinking as soon as I see the contest posted. Usually I'll jot the five words down and start noodling over ways to manipulate them. I like to break them into multiple words the most. That's actually my most effective way to come up with the story. I'll play until I get a word or a phrase from contorting the prompt that triggers the story idea. Once I have that jumping point, I just spit the story out, usually out of order. And I prefer ideas that make me laugh. (Although there were a few times when I had an idea of how to play with form (like left/right or up/down couplets), and that drove the story.)

How many drafts did you write?
I'm going to say two? It's tough to say, because these flash entries are usually a very fluid first draft, where I'll be scattered in the sequence of sentences. But once the first draft is down, the second is all about trimming words, replacing phrases with a better single verb, etc, until I'm at 100 words. It's generally just a single sitting, though.

Two? TWO? That odd sound you hear is me howling with envy.

Do you read the other entries before you post? (you're first so often that I think that question is kind of ridiculous!)
Never. I don't want to subconsciously be influenced by someone else's entry. And I definitely don't want to steal anyone's prompt fiddling. Plus, I always write my entry on Friday, so it's sitting overnight, ready to post Saturday morning. (I'm compulsively punctual, so I feel like I should be logged in to post it at 8:30.)

How long have you been entering the flash fiction contests here on the blog?

My first guess was 10 years, since that's about how long I've been reading the blog. But I just checked and official Contest #1 was 2010, and I participated in that (albeit not my finest hour), so the vast majority of them since #1.

What, if anything, have you learned by writing flash fiction?
Making every word count. Having the tiny word limit means you must get your point across, show the action, cut that phrase in the fewest words possible. Learning how to trim, replace, eliminate repetition has been the best thing I've taken from these contests. These are amazing practice for tightening prose. Use better verbs! Oh, and way back in the beginning I had to learn that a vignette does not a story make.

What kind of book are you working on?
The kind that's not getting enough attention from me the past few months, to be honest. With two young kids and two trips into the job market this past year, my mind's been all over the place and it shows in my writing. I've been jumping between two WIP - a caper with a sort of "Psych" (the TV show)-esque vibe, and a nostalgic treasure hunt. But I always eventually drift back to my crime novel roots and chip away at that. Any volunteers to focus me?

What are you currently reading?
I'm currently in the middle of "Hellbent" by Gregg Hurwitz (just finished his "Survivor", as well). Other than that, I'm reading waaaaay too much Elephant and Piggie, Mr Men/Little Miss, and astronomy books for kids. But hey, my kids love to read, which is great!

Astronomy books for kids!!!
Have you seen Mission to Pluto?

This week's contest results will be posted tomorrow.
I was waylaid by travel stuff on Sunday.


french sojourn said...

Very nice, thanks for sharing Steve.

...two takes....ooof! I'm lucky to stay under ten. Sounds like a lesson in there.


AJ Blythe said...

I think there are going to be a lot of green-eyed explosions of "two!" as this post is read. Fascinating insight, Steve.

Unknown said...

Thanks heaps for posting another interview, Janet! It's fun to read.
And I agree with Steve; writing flash fiction/short form does teach you to make every word count. It's a great writing exercise.
P.S.-Since 2010? Wow.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
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E.M. Goldsmith said...

I love these little insights to the winners. I loved learning more about Steve.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Enjoyed this, Steve - thanks for sharing. And I feel the same way about all that we learn from writing flash fiction/these contests.

And yeh for kids who love reading!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Yes! A fellow Psych fan. I am a devotee of the show so let me know if you need beta readers/sounding board/pseudo-psychic pseudo-consultant for that WIP.

Nice to know more about you, Mr. Forti :)

And I echo Hank. Two?

Steve Forti said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone. It's definitely humbling and an honor to be profiled here among all of you. Makes Monday morning easier to face. Looking forward to reading more about the rest of you in the future, too!

To the two drafts comment: while true, it's hard for me, especially on longer pieces, to identify a draft. I'm an "edit as I go" writer, even if I try not to be. For my latest WIP, I've been forcing myself to simply churn out a draft zero with no edits whatsoever (using placeholders, blank spaces, etc) just to get it down and edit later. And it's super alien to me, but a learning experience. Curious how others do it - I'm always willing to pick up effective tips!

And yay for Psych fans!

Dena Pawling said...

Two trips into the job market in the last year?! Ouch. Sorry about that. I hate looking for work, and you had to do it twice within a year? Here's hoping that will be the last of it for a long long time.

Nice to "meet" you!

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I promise to pre-order anything Steve gets published.

Sherry Howard said...

What a treat to see this interview! It’s been a dream to sit down over (insert beverage of choice) and get to know JR and blog dwellers. This gives me something to talk about now when that happens. Steve’s facility with words—wow! And reading with kids will inform your own writing, Steve, not to mention make you so happy!

Claire Bobrow said...
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Claire Bobrow said...

(Seems I don't know how to spell. Trying again...)

Great interview, Steve, and thanks for sharing! But really, can there ever be too much Elephant and Piggie? :-)

Off to figure out what 'Psych' is, other than the word my brothers used to say after faking me out back in the day.

Sam Mills said...

*coughs* Tell me more about these astronomy books for kids! My toddler has memorized the Baby Loves Science books (Thermodynamics, Quantum Physics, and Aerospace Engineering) and I think is ready for something with more words. :D

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Good to meet you, Steve! I'm with the others--two? Wow. Tremendous admiration for that skill set.

I also had the good fortune to meet Janet (and watch La Slitherina from a distance) at this weekend's Loft writing conference. Janet was a panel member for The Fast and The Queryous "Got Talent" game-like session and we saw the Query Shark in action. I'm glad to see she didn't get lost in Minnesota's lakes and is back home safe in NY!

Claire Bobrow said...

Sam: you may know about this one - "On A Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein," by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky. It's a delightful picture book biography. Not astronomy exactly, but wonderful.

Steve Forti said...

Claire (that's my daughter's name!) - you're right. There's no such thing as too much Elephant and Piggie (but there most certainly is such thing as too much Mr Men/Little Miss). Especially since my 4 year old (the one with speech and learning delays) read a new-to-him one almost entirely by himself the other day! I was shocked and proud.

Psych is named exactly for that. It was a TV comedy about a fake psychic detective. One of my all time favorites.

Sam - We've gone through everything the library has in the children's and juvenile section. Trouble is, they're mostly outdated given the discoveries in recent years (and my stash from my youthful obsession are woefully inaccurate now). I'll have to check out those ones you mentioned now.

Sharyn - that's gotta be the best compliment I've ever received :)

Lennon Faris said...

Hi, Steve!

Astronomy books for kids - I will be looking into that. Not sure why their existence didn't cross my mind before.

I love these little glimpses into the minds of the Reef dwellers.

Steve Stubbs said...

If you have been out of work recently, you might get some inspiration from Payne Harrison.

He was an accountant and wrote STORMING INTREPID while looking for work. It hit the bestseller list. He was getting nowhere in his job search (probably because he was obviously over forty) but hey, who cares if you are making TV appearances, signing books, and ringing that cash register? So if you have some extra time, that could be an opportunity if you have a good idea you have a burning yearning to get out.

I know these things because he spoke in Richardson, Texas, which is where I believe he was living at the time. Thousands of people turned out to hear him speak.

Another inspiration could be Scott Adams, who was still working when he started drawing the Dilbert comic strips. When the bosses at his company noticed an unseemly resemblance between what he satirized in his strip and everyday reality at their facility he was not working long. But hey again, he's so damn successful he could probably buy his old company.

I could swear he was a fly on the wall in the company I worked in. (We both worked in the same industry.) Something ridiculous would happen at work and the next day it was satirized in the newspaper. No, I am not an accomplice of his.

So grab that quill tip pen, start shaking it, and write a bestseller (BS for short) and join those other guys.

You've got the talent. A prominent NY superagent admires your work.

Good luck.

S.P. Bowers said...

There is no 'too' much elephant and piggy.

Karen McCoy said...

Great interview! And, I concur with S.P. Bowers: there can never be too much Elephant and Piggie.

RosannaM said...

It was a pleasure to "meet" you, Steve. How you manage to forti-fy all those words never fails to delight me. I literally "ooh" at them.

Your writing style is similar to mine. I edit as I go. The only time I didn't was my one try at NaNo and while I sped to the 50K successfully, it was a hot mess and I'm still stymied at how to fix it. (plot holes and pacing issues mostly)

I seem to be the only one not familiar with Elephant and Piggie. How embarrassing!

Unknown said...

Weird I just rewatched Psych because I haven't seen the movie yet and wanted reaquaint myself.

And I understand the two drafts, at least in the sense that I'm not sure what constitutes a draft for a 100 word story. If I change a bunch of small things because I've had way too much time to think about such a short story, how many drafts is that? What if i change something and then change it back? What about the 3-4 story ideas I had and completely abandoned before writing a word? So I very much relate to the idea of a fluid drafting process.

Anywho, thanks for sharing Steve!

Sam Mills said...

Claire thanks I'll check that one out!

Steve they're board books, very much geared to teenies, but if you've still got any toddlers around they might like them!

Unknown said...

So lovely to put more context to the name. Thank you Steve and Janet.

Stacy said...

I too am an "edit as you go" writer, but the problem for me is that I often edit stories right out of existence--including many I've gone to write for these contests. So I guess you could it takes me zero drafts to not produce a contest entry.

Got you beat there, Steve. Ha. ;)

Theresa said...

Thanks to Steve and Janet for this great interview. I never miss a Forti entry in the flash fiction contest.

Kate Larkindale said...

What a treat to get to know the man behind the most inventive use of prompt words! It's always interesting to hear other people's process even if the two draft thing makes me seethe with envy. I'm afraid I am ignorant of Elephant & Piggie, myself, although all-too familiar with the Mr. Men. My sons coerced me into buying the entire set over about four years. If I never see Mr Bump again, it will be too soon.

John Davis Frain said...

Your best evenings for timeless entertainment begin with the guy you just read.

How does he do it? Well, now he's giving away his secrets. Yaaaaaaassssssssssss.

I bow in your general direction, Steve. Although none of the questions asked where you live, so I'm getting dizzy.

Marie McKay said...

Great interview.Thanks Steve and Janet.

Steve Forti said...

Kate - we, too, have the full box set of both the Mr Men and Little Miss. Could only get them from the UK, though, so they require translating at times (lorry, sledge, atishoo, etc). My son is obsessed - watches the cartoon show, has me build the characters out of Legos, act them out using the books as toys. And of course, I recently redecorated his room by drawing about 30 of the characters onto contact paper and making giant decals for his walls. It's cute, but variety would be nice!

Claire Bobrow said...

Better be careful, Steve. I think you're in danger of having something else named for you: the Best Dad Award!!

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I, too, enjoyed this interview. Thanks for asking him the questions, thanks for answering them :) !

It's interesting to know what Steve (and others) have learned by writing Flash Fiction. Saying a lot with very few words.

A little hard for me to keep up with trying to find better verbs. I wish I could. But then, I try to remind myself of Stephen King's advice in his book on writing, citing a whore speaking to a man: "It's not about what you've got, it's about how you use it." 😀

That's what I'm trying to do :).

And another thing that Flash Fiction has also helped me with (ahem, cough, cough, maybe I shouldn't call myself a Flash Fiction writer (yet) since I've only tried twice...) is what Janet 'preaches':

Don't state the obvious!

I very much (used to!?!?) tend to explain everything... thinking I had to... something my OCD even forces (forced) me to do... Oh God, OCD never ever lets you have so much room for freedom, misinterpretation, or lack of control.

I could almost regard this as a tool to help dropping some obsession and control. Ha, thanks Janet ;).

P.S. Apologies for mentioning my OCD again... I try not to, but in this case it somewhat fits.

Colin Smith said...

*waves* Hey, Steve! Nice to get to know you better. :) I agree with everyone else--these interviews are fun. Who will be next up to the mic? I guess we'll find out tomorrow... DUH DUH DUHHHH!!! ;)

Joseph S. said...


I've probably watched every episode of Psyche at least twice and some three times (except the 2-hour 'reunion' show in San Francisco, which I watched only the one time).

I'd love to see how you transfer the visuals of that show into the written word. And the quick nonsensical patter - yikes.

Amy Johnson said...

I'm still reading comments, but thought I'd go ahead and write one, then get back. Thanks for this, Janet and Steve. I've wondered how that brain of yours works when writing your FF entries, Steve. When I read that you're writing something Psych-esque, I thought that made perfect sense!

Beth Carpenter said...

Thanks for sharing, Steve. It's fun to see how your brain works even a little bit. You have some lucky kids.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Steve (and Janet)! I really like this new feature and learning more about different creative processes.

As for focus, Steve, be careful what you wish for. I'm reminded of this quote:

“Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” -Samuel Johnson

Panda in Chief said...

Thanks for this great interview, Janet and Steve. I do love to hear about peoples' processes. The idea that flash fiction hones your skills in editing your writing down to the essentials is something to ponder.

Megan V said...

Steve — I can't focus you, but I have to say, I'm loving the sounds of those WIPS. Keep chipping away! I'm also glad to see some other edit as you go writers here in the reef. :)

Kae Ridwyn said...

Super-late comment - sorry! But I'm compelled to add my thanks to Steve and Janet for this insightful interview :)
And I'm with those who yowl, 'two?' too.
But the advice to 'not read others' comments?' That's what I should follow. I'm far too psyched-out to compose a 100-word story when I read other Reider's remarkable entries.