Interview with Michael Twist, Flash Fiction Writer

Today’s interview is with short fiction writer Michael Twist.  I discovered Michael through the very entertaining  Twist’s Tales but he’s written many other books, all available on Amazon. Michael's stories have won several competitions. You can find a full profile of Micheal on his Goodreads Page.  

Here is what he has to say for himself:
I am fascinated by human nature, the human condition, the potential for both kindness and cruelty, the decisions we make, and the circumstances that compel us to thrive as well as flounder; the folly of it all entertains, depresses, and inspires me.  Writing allows me to play both sides of a chess board, with characters I hope readers will find real, enchanting, and as flawed as history has proven us all to be.  

SARETT: You’ve written a good deal of flash fiction. What attracts you to the super-short form?
AUTHOR: I’m drawn to the challenge of beating the word count, whatever that might be.  I write, aware of the mounting count, racing an imaginary fuse as I near the ending.  Naturally, I find myself “sanding” (my word, from woodworking, for smoothing/tightening the story) for a stretch of time that exceeds what it took to write the story.  I’m drawn to what I call “light at the end of the tunnel.”  By that I mean the ability to finish a story in a single sitting (sanding/editing being another story, so to speak).  There is nothing quite like the high of printing that initial draft, allowing it to dry/congeal in the sunlight of scrutiny.
From the standpoint of a reader, I liken flash fiction to potato chips- impossible to savor long enough before being overcome by the desire to engulf the next.  In short (bad pun), the well-written super-short is like the bantamweight fighter: lithe, lean, fluid, and capable of delivering a punch.

SARETT: I find in writing flash that the last sentence seems all-important.  If I can’t get that right, the piece falls flat.  What’s your feeling?
TWIST: I couldn’t agree more.  There is more pressure to deliver a satisfying conclusion to a flash mystery/horror story.  A 3000 word story writer can wow the reader in a host of different ways, fall a bit flat with the finish, and still impress the reader.  The flash fiction writer lives and dies with the last sentence in the way that no one cares what the diver did in the air; all they look for is the entrance.  The last sentence can be like something caught in your teeth; you can’t truly be at rest until it is addressed.  I wrestle with the last sentence even more than I do titles.

SARETT: What’s your POV on the new “tweet” fiction?  Do you think it’s getting too short or is it a viable form?  
TWIST: Let me put it this way. My classroom is never quieter than after I write the word “Worn” on my chalkboard proceeded by “For sale: Baby shoes, Never…”  If Hemingway can evoke such gravity with six words, there’s got to be a place for “tweet” fiction.

SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad.  Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?  
TWIST: While I’m fairly conventional with much of my writing, I do get pleasure from addressing the reader directly from time to time in the same way that Dickens suggested that a ghost might be in the same room as the reader of his Christmas Carol.  I suspect that I walk the line in terms of tone and misdirection.  I don’t think that I ever trusted another writer again after reading Jackson’s The Lottery as a teen.  I’d like to think I can’t be trusted either.

SARETT:  Flash is often considered a “writer’s” form, that is something that ordinary readers aren’t drawn to (this could be said of short fiction in general.)  What’s your response to this?

TWIST:  I would not have understood the question prior to my initial attempts at writing flash.  Several dozen stories later, I smile as if a kindred spirit touched me on the shoulder.  Reminds one of the old saying, “It takes one to know one.”
Until you’ve written flash, it’s hard to appreciate the form.  As a reader you’re tempted to weigh it against standard stories. Forgive the return to the boxing metaphor, but it is like being unimpressed with the bantam’s showing against a similarly ranked middleweight.  Writers of flash or micro-fiction view such stories with an adjusted lens that accounts for the inherent limitations of the medium.  

SARETT: You’ve called much of your fiction “twisted.”  Is that a play on your name, or a description of your work or both?

TWIST: While my name is apt, the twists in my stories are a product of my admiration for a number of writers (Jackson, Salinger, Maupassant, to name a few) as well as a touch of gamesmanship.  I liken the short story reading experience to something of a tacit contest between the writer and reader, wherein the reader warily senses the ground may shift under his or her feet and tries to anticipate its direction. I hope to catch the reader off guard and leave them scratching their head as they review any number of clues they might have heeded.  I reason that if they are game, they will venture into the next story feeling more seasoned and intent on evening the score.

SARETT:  I noticed that you taught literature for a number of years before publishing.  Were you writing during that time, or did writing come later?

TWIST: I always considered myself a writer.  After losing my mother to cancer six years ago, I realized that no one lives forever, looked at my paltry collection of writings, and decided to begin writing in earnest.  Despite better than 50,000 lifetime miles, I hung up my bicycles, abandoned my woodworking, and applied myself to short story writing.
After a dozen or so stories I realized I had little by way of a sounding board.  I decided a bit of deceit was in order.  This caused me to print out my stories, tape them inside a worn anthology and read them aloud to several of my classes. I was pleased and more than a little relieved to see how well my stories were received.
This emboldened me to pitch my collection to an agent or two at a writer’s conference in Seattle three years ago. I was told that short stories were a tough sell before you were an established novelist.  I took two years sabbatical and wrote three novels and a multitude of short stories.  I self published the stories in five anthologies.  

SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new interesting (or forgotten) short fiction writers.  Do you have suggestions for our readers?
TWIST:  I’ve been floored by stories from:  John Barth, Lauren Groff, Beverly Jensen, Stellar Kim, Randy DeVita, Ethan Rutherford, Eleanor Henderson, Katie Chase, Nathan Englander, Bret Anthony Johnston, and Steven Millhauser.

As far as publications: The Tampa Review, Salamander, New Letters, The Iowa Review, Glimmer Train, The New Ohio Review, Arts & Letters, Press 53 Anthologies, Newsouth, The Ledge, and The Pinch, among others.

SARETT: Any lessons from the world of self-publishing that you’d like to share?
TWIST: Readers aren’t going to hit you with kid gloves.  If you are prepared to embrace the positive, you need to be open to the possibility that there is merit behind some [reviews] that are less glowing.  It is my opinion that the best place to start is Goodreads, where a different, unabashed, and serious breed of reader congregates.

Follow Michael here: Facebook Page

You can find some of Michael’s books on his Amazon Page:

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