The Void editors caught up over Google Talk with Sir Adam Maxwell, the internationally acclaimed flash-fiction writer, to discuss one-word stories, Raymond Chandler, and — as always — monkeys.
Void: Well, this should be interesting
Adam: I wasn’t even sure it was working
Void: It’s Google, of course it works. Much better than you think — in fact, it’s right now already deciding what to say on your behalf.
Adam: Ha – there is a distinct air of prediction about it all – perhaps they can take over our jobs with predictive text v 2.0
Void: Google can have my dayjob.
Adam: For some reason it is telling me you are busy and I may be interrupting.
Void: Oh, no, I just forgot to turn off the “busy” notification.
Adam: Aha – that is still beyond my grasp I’m afraid… that said it is good to finally get to speak to you!
Void: Agreed. I hope you don’t mind having the interview this way. I thought it would be an interesting exercise in modern communication — and, to be honest, it’s easier for me to look like I’m doing real work here at the office.
So I don’t have this planned out, I was just hoping to fire off a few questions and see where it takes us. Right off the bat, looking at the PDF here of Monkey, I was wondering: Why “flash fiction”? Or do you not consider your work “flash ficiton”?
Adam: I don’t know really – it became flash fiction… I was trying to write short stories for ages and every time I did I got really bored trying to get them to go somewhere. It’s kind of unlike a novel so it just didn’t hold my interest. In the end I gave up trying to write ‘long’ short stories and just wrote them however long they came out. Sometimes that is long, like “Noise Abatement,” but mostly it’s short. In the end I had written a few and started looking to see if anyone else was doing the same. Then I found out it was called Flash fiction.
Void: Had you been a fan of shorter fiction before (even if it wasn’t labelled “flash”)?
Adam: No specifically although I did gradually become more and more interested in the short-short as a form as I started to develop my own style. In the beginning it came from two things: the fact that I have a SERIOUSLY short attention span and that I rarely enjoyed novels that were so thick you could keep the door open with them.
Void: sorry, first flaw of the day. too many windows open here at the office.,
as you were…
Adam: I think that was it… what do you do in the real world?
Void: Um, corporate writer. speeches, memoes, press releases — the standard 9-7 for a struggling writer in America. I think. You?
Adam: Web Designer and general playing-about-on-the-interweb type thing
And what the hell do you mean 9-7…? Whatever happened to Dolly Parton’s 9-5
Void: yeah, nine-to-five…don’t think they exist any more.
So I think you already answered my next question, which was about short-short fiction and how it relates to reader’s attention span. But many people have said it’s a product of the internet — have you found a lot of outlets on the web for your work, other than Void, of course?
Adam: Well when I first started submitting I just found the internet easier… the print mags had limited readership, virtually no distribution and the would make you wait for six months for a reply. My attention span being what it is I could be arsed with waiting that amount of time.
So I started emailling submissions all over the place (notably only to people whose websites I like). Stories started getting picked up pretty quickly – McSweeneys published one, Word Riot and quite a few others. I don’t know if it is a product of the internet – the form changes as time goes by and I think it is easy to blame the internet. In reality I think that the internet is convenient for a form like the short-short.
There are things like prose-poems and the like that have existed longer but perhaps with not quite as many swear words in as my stories
Void: Do you think there’s a place on the web for the long-long?
Adam: Definitely not. I think the long needs to be printed. Althought I couldn’t say why!
Void: But there’s a place for the short-short in print, as evidenced by Monkey on Tonto Press. A little unfair for us long-long writers, no?
Adam: Perhaps there is a case for them online but I think people’s eyes get tired. I believe it is something to do with dots per inch or some such nonsense.
Void: Is that the expert opinion of a web designer?
Adam: As you know my collections has both forms and I have to say I had far more success with short shorts rather than long longs (!) but that could be because the long ones aren’t very good
Void: I’ll disagree with that claim about your long stories not being good, but I will say the shorts seem to be more organic for you.
Was it hard to find a publisher willing to put the short-shorts to print?
Adam: Yes and no… I had had a few short shorts published in print. Including one in an anthology by another publisher. In truth I didn’t expect to be ‘allowed’ to release a collection of shorts so they were my pet project until I wrote a ‘proper’ book.
So I hadn’t really looked, then I had a long story published through Tonto and the rest flowed from there.
Void: Have you any interest in a “proper” book? Or now that you know you can get away with short-short, you’re sticking to it? You mentioned something about “Self Assembly”…
Adam: I think I’ll play it by ear. Confuse people. Start writing one word stories.
What do you think?
Void: Spellbinding. A Tour de Force.
Adam: Ha – I always sort of considered that I was a writer and I love writing short-shorts but as you rightly pointed out, ‘Self Assembly’ is Chapter One of a novel I am around 1/3 through. That is kind of weird because it is short chapters, short concepts choppy like sthe short-shorts… keep you interested I hope. I wanted it to have a similar shaped plot to The Big Sleep. Move the detective and the pulp way to England, bash it on the head, drag it into the 21st century then call it something else.
Void: You’re a big Chandler fan — I found a few discreet references to Big Sleep in your work. Are your creative roots very deep in noir?
Adam: I do like the Chandler… I kind of put the references in as a bit of a piss take and to see if anyone would spot them – you are the first! I have been reading him for years but I also really like it when people distort the form. Like in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski… perfectly warped but it could easily be a Chandler plot.
Void: Couldn’t agree more — perfect neo-noir. But crime fiction & noir is such a sub-genre — people automatically think of it the way they do SCI FI or fantasy. Is there a place in the mainstream of noir today?
Adam: I think so but you have to pretend it isn’t. When you write a story (generally) you don’t think ‘what genre will I write in today… noir… ok, chapter one, it was a dark and stormy night, the dame was murder’
Adam: You sit down with an idea and start typing it and it becomes what it becomes…
Christ I sound like popeye – I am what I am
Void: could be worse: you could say “I be what I be”
Void: Okay, so, when you write, the noir just kinda comes out?
Adam: There’s a tendency for people to pigeonhole whatever you do. We expect it and to an extent we demand it. It sounds like Aerosmith crossed with The Beatles. As long as it just a jumping off point it is fine but when someone compares you to shit you hate it must kind of piss you off.
Void: So who would you most hate to be compared to?
Adam: There are so many… where to start!
tawdy shit with descriptions that go on forever
Void: yeah, i could see that. Anyone in the modern realm? Or, to play it safe, what writers today would you like to be lumped in with?
Adam: Who would I like to be lumped in with…well…usually whoever I am reading right now… Elmore Leonard, Kinky Friedman, Richard Brautigan, Chuck Palahniuk from the USA and maybe Will Self from the UK but I feel these guys are in a league above me
Void: What’s your favorite Palahniuk novel?
Adam: Choke or Lullaby …
Void: Really? Hm.
People usually answer either Survivor or Invisible Monsters. You’re a rare breed, Adam.
Adam: I didn’t finish either of those I have to be honest!
Didn’t keep me interested long enough. They’ll probably string me up for that
Void: No, no. Fair enough.
Okay, so, what other important questions should I be asking you in this groundbreaking digital interview?
How about: will you have a book tour for Monkey? And will there be a monkey on the tour with you?
Adam: There are a couple of events planned – a launch party on Thursday and I have requested an orang-utan but they said that they won’t get one in after last time. Did an interview on the radio this morning and they asked me if I ate a lot of carrots.
Void: um…what the hell does that have to do with anything?
Adam: Good question.
A far better one than the carrots – there was a context at the time it seemed plausible to answer but now I’m not so sure
Void: phew — thought i missed something critical in your stories about carrots.
So here’s a softball for you — what should I be reading?
(other than Monkey, of course, which I read)
Adam: Why that is easy… ‘Dial M For Monkey’ by the multi talent….
Void: har har.
Adam: What you should be reading is…. I just re-read Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard and it is one I can’t say enough good things about.
Void: very cool. I’ll add it to the growing list of must-reads..
Did you start working on something new right away after Monkey got picked up? Or are you letting the dust settle a bit first?
Adam: I have been a bit busy moving house so have been on an enforced pause but the short shorts just appear when they appear. I really need to start getting my head together to pull the novel back into shape. The planning kind of goes to waste if you don’t keep working on it.
Void: I guess that’s the good thing about short-shorts — crank ‘em out whenever and wherever?
Adam: I try to but even they take work. Dammit why isn’t writing easier?
What’s all this ‘second draft’ business?
Can you spot the story in the collection that was a first draft?
I won’t answer that question.
That’s worse than: “Guess how old I am”
Void: I’m going to assume that it’s not one of the three you are loaning to Void this month..
Adam: The correct answer is – none of them (unfortunately)!
especially not those I specially selected for your readers viewing pleasure
Void: phew. so glad i didn’t take the bait there.
Adam: wanna ask some bits about those stories?
Void: sure, nice smooth transitioning we have here.
Adam: we should use the Smokey and the Bandit classic ‘Over’
Void: First off, did you come up with the title for the collection based on the “Spank the Monkey” story?
copy that, good buddy.
Adam: 10 – 4
The title was actually my wife’s suggestion (she claims)
I just find the monkey is the funniest animal on the planet and sometimes catch myself just thinking about monkeys and laughing. It’s a happy life.
Void: I totally agree — like Homer Simpson says, “it’s funny ’cause they’re monkeys.”
Adam: Hah. A few times I crowbar them into stories (no animals are harmed in the making of the stories) and I didn’t want to name the collection something that was just a name of a story within the collection. The spank the monkey story came from me travelling on the local underground system and smiling at strangers just to see what they would do.
Void: How often would they check for their wallets after catching eye contact with you?
Adam: They just look away like you are going to go over and lick their eyebrows. But I’m just not that kind of guy. It was entertaining for a coupel of days but it starts to get scary when people smile back.
Void: A taste of your own medicine.
Adam: Indeed. It is what I deserved. And the monkeys kept running offf with the wallets and buying fucking bananas, The little shits.
Void: Roger that. Watch out for those monkeys, it’s what I learned when riding the Tube.
Again, regarding the title: it’s obviously a bit of a throwback to classic crime/mystery stories, but taking the piss a bit, to use a British colloquialism. Was it a way of informing the reader what they were getting into?
Adam: I think all internet communication should use CB language, good buddy.
Void: roger that, Alpha Monkey. over.
Adam: In a previous life I had the most boring job on the planet (as I’m sure everyone in the world has). When I was working this shit job I came up with a game to pass the time:
basically you take a James Bond film title…
go ahead name one.
Void: From Russia with Love.
Adam: so now you replace one or more of the words with the word monkey
From Russia with Monkey
From Monkey with Love
I suppose it is like the British equivalent of trying to name every US State.
Until you get to Octopussy
that is one to aVoid.
Void: This is where conducting an interview on the web has benefitted you: i just spit a mouthful of coffee across my desk.
Adam: I’m trying to remember the best one…
Void: Monkey Royale?
Adam: Diamonds are For Monkeys
Void: haha — now that’s a good one.
Adam: or simplicity – Dr Monkey
Never Say Monkey Again
The point of this: I think is that the title of [Dial M for Monkey] was nearly The Spy Who Loved Monkeys. But then I do love a bit of Hitchcock and it seemed more appropriate with the sort of darkly comic with a surreal edge. To get pretenious for a moment
Void: by all means…
Adam: It just seemed to encapsulate the whole lot
Void: I agree. But…why aren’t there more monkeys? And why chickens in the last story of the collection instead of monkeys?
Adam: Just to prove I’m not a one trick monkey
Void: Haha. Adam, I can’t think of a better way to conclude this interview than with those words. Whaddya say, over & out?
Void: Thanks again, and I’ll be in touch soon.
Adam: Look forward to it
Void: Over & out.