Lindsey Duncan is a chef / pastry chef, professional Celtic harp performer and life-long writer, with short fiction and poetry in numerous speculative fiction publications. Her contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, is available from Double Dragon Publishing. She feels that music and language are inextricably linked. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and can be found on the web at http://www.LindseyDuncan.com
What was the inspiration for “Liner Notes for ‘The Promise of Song’”? How did the story develop/change from conception to completion?
Unlike most of what I write, “Liner Notes” started as an exercise in story form rather than originating from a specific idea. I had been following Bruce Holland Roger’s articles on writing flash fiction, one of which suggested writing a story based on a different form of text, such as a grocery list or a warning label. As a musician with a CD of my own, I decided to structure a story as liner notes for an album.
Then, being me, I had to add a speculative element. With something as modern as liner notes, the obvious choice was contemporary fantasy, but I wanted a mythological connection that would (hopefully) be recognizable to some readers. I’m a Greek myth buff, so that led me in various directions.
Starting in on the story, I quickly realized that the usual data included in liner notes would become repetitive … and those are the parts people usually skim over when they read an album liner. So I decided to do two things. First, I reinforced the story elements (or hinted at them) through the change or continuity of the details. Second, I had (too much) fun with callouts to Greek mythological figures. You can still follow the story without reading the producer of each song, etc, but it adds another layer.
What do you like most about writing flash fiction? What do you find most challenging about flash?
My favorite part of flash fiction is probably also the biggest challenge in it: you have to focus on a single idea, image, or moment and make it complete. I’m a novelist at heart, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. I often look at a flash fiction piece as telling a joke: setup, question, and then punchline. That doesn’t mean I’m writing all humorous flash (Liner Notes certainly isn’t), but the resolution of a flash piece does resemble a punchline in that it needs to be short, clear and effective.
Of course, most flash fiction stories are longer than the average joke, so I’m still writing with all the economy of a novelist.
How would you describe your writing and revision process? What have you found to be most helpful for you when dealing with writer’s block?
My writing process involves a lot of incubation. I put story ideas, characters, plot elements on the back burner of my brain and let them simmer. When I do sit down to write, I often find that pieces come together in ways I didn’t expect. My subconscious mind doesn’t always clue me in on what it’s planning, which means that it can be a pleasant surprise when things fall into place. When it comes to novels, I plan setting and characters in detail, but have only a rough idea of the plot. For short stories, I typically create a brief outline. This isn’t so much because I’m big on planning; it’s to keep the short story … well, short.
I actually enjoy the editing process, which probably means I’m doing it wrong. Because of the way I write, I find I don’t often have to make significant changes to the plot. It’s mostly a matter of changing the emphasis on story elements – adding in more foreshadowing, lengthening a too-short ending. I do a fair amount of cutting and streamlining, since I tend to be verbose in what I write. I also keep an eye out for places where I thought I was being clear in the first draft, but it needs more explanation. (Or sometimes, I’ve just flat-out left something out and I’d swear it was there.) On the technical level – grammar, punctuation, etc – I usually write pretty cleanly. That means I’m almost more likely to introduce typos in editing than to fix them. So another pass to find *those* …
For me, I’ve discovered that writer’s block is my subconscious mind telling me that there’s a plot hole or story problem I haven’t yet detected. That molasses resistance to writing further is a defense mechanism, giving my brain more time to chew on the problems. Again, my subconscious mind doesn’t always let me know what’s going on, but I’ve learned to pay attention to the “writer’s block” feeling and step back to examine the story.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received as a writer and what advice would you give new writers?
I don’t know if I could single out a piece of advice as most valuable, but I can definitely pinpoint the one I use the most. I once read – I no longer remember where – that a writer should stop writing mid-sentence. That way, when they resume, they already have momentum … and for those who write by the seat of their pants, that sentence might go off in a completely different direction. This has worked perfectly for me. I always come back to a launchpad. The only downside is that sometimes, I get disconcerted as I reach the end of a story. It almost feels wrong to finish a sentence!
There’s a bewildering amount of advice out there for new writers, and some of it insists that there’s only one way to write: for instance, that you need to have a butt-in-seat routine every day. When it comes to advice about process – whether you should outline, write in a straight line or jump about and write key scenes, start from plot or start from character – the most important thing is to find what works for you.
When it comes to advice about technique, such as the frequent prohibition against head-hopping, I feel that a writer should master those rules before breaking them … but notice I say “before breaking them.” Once you have the foundations, you can depart from any rule, as long as you have a reason.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently finishing Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Shades of Milk and Honey,” which is a delightful novel best described as Jane Austen with magic. Among the feminine arts is the delicate weaving of glamour, and it plays into the plot in numerous ways.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If you’re so minded, you can check out my science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis.