Tommy Dean interviews Robert Vaughan about his micro fictions in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co, 2018)
In your story, “What’s Left Unsaid,” what else has this man left unsaid? Is that a fair question to ask of this character? Is it important as the author to know the answer to this question? Is fiction more about questions or answers?
RV: I love this question(s) because it speaks to one of my favorite aspects of writing flash, which is referred to as “white space” or what is not ‘in the story’ but possibly inferred by the story. Often I try to strike some balance between what is obvious and what isn’t. I think questions are always fair, and if a piece leaves me wanting more, or asking more, then I think the writer has accomplished something unique. So, I guess, fiction is more about questions than answers?
What image or thought helped you start drafting this story?
RV: I used to travel internationally for work, so the arrival home was common for me. Also, I lived on a farm in New Hampshire, which contained a sugarhouse, and this image was central in creating the piece.
How much revision did this story need? Were there large sections that needed to be lifted out to get to the overall effect of this story? I could see some writers (well myself, really) over-writing this, searching desperately for just the right details, falling into the need to have this character speak.
RV: This was an organic piece in which the first draft was very close to the published piece. So there was revision, but only a slight amount. It’s a rare thing, but to your question I am more a style of writer that often needs to add more, rather than to delete or whittle a piece down to its final gestation.
Your sentences have this declarative confidence to them. Its the voice of a narrator who knows exactly what the story is and how he/she wants to tell it. Does this come naturally to you while drafting a story or does it take a lot of sentence level revisions?
RV: That is very kind, thanks. I’m so frequently a mess in real life, I blather on, and often can’t make a point. So perhaps in some way, I aim for the obviously different narrative in writing? If I’ve developed this declarative sense, as you claim, then more than likely it only comes as an obsessive need/ habit of writing daily, and practice. And age. And who-knows-what. The inexplicable.
How important is it to establish setting, mood, tone, and character in the first sentence of a micro?
RV: I have no idea. I only know that I like to find that opening line in order to get the wheels moving. I often write from visual prompts (art, photos, etc.) and the first line is often a reaction to, or about the setting, or a sensory detail. I do feel as if an opening line ought to set the tone of the piece, and possibly the “voice.”
What are your writerly obsessions? What theme, idea, or image can you not let go of?
RV: This is wide open terrain. I like the unexplored or unrepresented, those characters who are not in most stories. In real life I tend toward OCD, and being slightly too organized or obsessive. And so, the fluidity, or transgressed, or mildly under-developed. The disorganized, the secretive, the misunderstood, the tri-sexual, the bewildered. Also, there is so much current material to react against in our timely backdrop of America. Plenty to stoke the fictional realm.
What’s topic or idea haven’t you written about yet? Is it because you have no interest in it or are you afraid to write about it now?
RV: I haven’t written much about race, certainly not as much as many writers. I have tons of interest, just don’t feel like it’s my forte. I also haven’t written much CNF and am attempting to change that.
A novel, a micro, and a poem go to a bar together. What happens?
RV: The novel won’t shut up, so the micro and poem go into the bathroom and start making out.
Flash/Micro have increased in popularity. Is there a reasoning behind this? (I don’t think it has anything to do with decreasing attention spans, am I wrong?)
RV: As more writers are attempting it, increasing number of journals are accepting and publishing it. I think it has very little to do with attention spans. If something is unusually well written, no matter the length, it will draw us in and hold our attention.
What are you working on now?
RV: I’m working on my next story collection, finishing a full length play, a possible collaborative poetry collection and a memoir. Thanks so much for asking these kickass questions. Really appreciate them, and you.
Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction at locations like Red Oak Writing, The Clearing, Synergia Ranch, Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He leads roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. He was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction (2013, 2014). He was the head judge for the Bath International Flash Fiction Awards, 2016. His flash fiction, ‘A Box’ was selected for Best Small Fictions 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press). He is the Editor-in-Chief at Bending Genres.
Vaughan is the author of five books: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs+ Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements(CCM), RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press) and FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press). His blog: www.robert-vaughan.com.