Fri 15 Jun 2012
A motorcyclist, a dead woman, and a resourceful young man figure in Every Day Fiction’s top story for May, “To Catch a Wolf,” by Warren C. Easley.
Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Easley about hero inspiration, conflict choices, story construction, and his future plans for flash fiction.
FFC: Warren, “To Catch a Wolf” captured two honors. Weeks before readers voted it top story for the month of May, the staff of Every Day Fiction had scheduled it for publication on May 16—“Flash Fiction Day”—because they felt it excelled as a model for flash fiction.
Let’s dissect how you put the story together, the mechanics behind a story so appealing that a diverse collection of readers and editors rated it superior. The hero in “To Catch a Wolf” is one of the most engaging characters I’ve encountered in flash fiction, a portrait of aloneness, sensitivity, morality, and stealth—tinted with a youthful bravado that caused me to cringe. What factors inspired the creation of this character?
Easley: The idea for the story came to me after I drove by our local library late at night and saw a boy huddled against an outside wall. He had a computer on his lap and was using the library’s WiFi signal. I asked myself: what if the boy saw something sinister, something he wasn’t supposed to see? I decided the boy in my story should be homeless. Not surprising, since I tutor homeless students at an alternative high school and just finished writing a novel featuring a young, homeless artist (Matters of Doubt), so I have some sense of what they’re up against. Finally, I wanted to highlight the boy’s moral character, which compels him to deal with the situation in a courageous, if unorthodox, manner.
FFC: I love the stacking of conflicts: a truant boy in hiding, a murder, a moral dilemma, unresolved problems at home. Any one of these situations might have been enough for the basis of a flash-length story, but the multi-layering adds depth and suspense without sacrificing clarity.
How did you determine the type and prominence of each conflict?
Easley: I was intrigued by the idea of a smart, homeless kid getting the best of a thoroughly despicable adult. I needed the plot to involve a murder to raise the stakes. I wanted the kid to be a homeless runaway so that when he discovers the body he is confronted with a moral dilemma. Calling the police is not an option for him. He must find a much more creative solution. The unresolved problems at home, which have forced him to run away, provide an opportunity for character growth at the end of the story, i.e., as a result of his actions, he has grown enough to return home to confront his stepfather. So, I needed all the multi-layering to make this particular story work.
FFC: The story comes complete with an intriguing plot, suspense, strong characters, evocative setting, fast pace, and an effective ending. These elements integrate together so craftily that I can’t choose one as more important to construction of the story.
Outline your process for building “To Catch a Wolf,” from designing the initial plan to laying the foundation, framing the structure, adding texture, and polishing to completion.
Easley: I tried to start with a strong first sentence, one that would set the mood (for me as well as the reader). The sentence came to me immediately along with the first part of the story, leading up to the murder and how the boy wound up with the necklace. Then I hit a wall. I wanted the resolution to display the intelligence, grit, and determination of the boy, but I didn’t have a clue how to do that except that it would involve the necklace. I sat staring at a blank computer screen, but nothing came, so I used my best remedy for plot block—a five mile walk with my dogs. The rest of the story came to me in mile four. I ran the completed story by a couple of family members whom I trust to be brutally honest and then made the final edits. When the story was accepted by Every Day Fiction, I received some excellent feedback from their editors. However, I opted to go with the version I submitted. A written piece is never really finished, which can be a dangerous thing for a writer.
FFC: You’re a novelist who successfully detoured into the compressed world of flash fiction with your first flash, “To Catch a Wolf.”
Now that you’ve experienced the thrill, tortures, and success of dovetailing a complete story into less than 1,000 words, tell us how flash fiction fits into your novel-writing plans.
Easley: I love this genre. Novel writing is like running a marathon, at least for me. Flash fiction is a sprint, with the satisfaction of having written a good, stand-alone story coming in days rather than months or years. And the task of compressing all the elements of good writing into 1,000 words is challenging and highly instructive, like push-ups for the creative process. Plus, flash fiction is a great outlet for those ideas that come at random times, the ones that go to die in your notebook for lack of time. Going forward, I plan to do more sprinting.
Warren C. Easley writes mystery novels, including the Cal Claxton mystery series set in Oregon. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two dogs. When he’s not writing, he divides his time between tutoring GED students, skiing, and fly fishing.
During the summer, Sue Ann Connaughton clears out her mental cobwebs from an almost-converted, midcentury church in Maine. The rest of the year, she writes from a former perukemaker’s house in Massachusetts. Her most recent work appears in thickjam; The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts; Barnwood Poetry Magazine; The Linnet’s Wings; The Meadowland Review; and Boston Literary Magazine; and is forthcoming in You are here: The Journal of Creative Geography.