Conversations Between Writers

I forgot to get a picture and his site is so Fremont Troll it is.
I forgot to get a picture and his site is so Fremont Troll it is.

J. M. McDermott

March brings March Flash Madness a flash fiction competition broken into brackets. Each week the participants get a prompt and then just the weekend to write it. Readers vote for their favorites and only the winners move on. This week you can vote in the battle between Sun, Moon and Stars and Circle vs. Square. For all this year’s stories check out It is hosted by J. M. McDermott who can also be found on Twitter.

J M McDermott: Okay, then. I always assume the answer to all first questions is either Royal Blue or African or European?

Minerva Zimmerman: Heh. I was going to ask you what is March Flash Madness and why are you doing it?

JM: March Flash Madness is an event, a stunt, and a lot more fun than watching unpaid teenagers make millionaires of everyone else. I pay writers more than the kids playing basketball in March Madness. It is part of why actual March Madness must die and be replaced by my flash fiction contest. It is also a lot more fun to read.

It raises money for SFWA, in its way, and the EMF, which is a very important thing.

JM: After the contest is over and winners are crowned, the stories remain live for only one month. Then, they are bundled into an eBook and sold with all proceeds going to the EMF. Many contestants also donate their payment to the EMF.

 Sent at 1:45 PM on Tuesday

JM: For writers, it is also an amazingly challenging feat to produce pro-caliber flash fiction every weekend for a wide audience. It is a very difficult thing to do, and pushes us out of our comfort zones, our usual tropes, and our easy ideas. We have to run to the bones of ideas and run with them to unexpected places. It is hard. It is also fun, and wonderful to read what happens from our diverse slate of writers.

For readers, it is also, I hope, a lot of fun to read and vote.

MZ: Do you normally write a lot of flash fiction as a writer?

I ask mostly because I mostly seem to write it for this, at least over the last 2 years I’ve been participating.

JM: No. Hardly any story I write comes in lower than 7000 words, naturally. I prefer to write short novels, or long novellas, between 60000-90000 words, ideally. It is my comfortable length. For me, less than 3k for a complete story always feels impossible.


But I seem to pull it off for this… so it’s kind of weird.

JM: Currently, in Asimovs april/may, the short story “paul and his son” feels like the shortest story I can easily write, and it is about 6k, I think, thereabouts.

MZ: I write mostly dialog driven fiction and that’s hard to do in under 1000 words

JM: Yeah, for the challenge, it is almost like because it is so constrained and competitive, something just clicks.

If we had a week to write it, I don’t think it would work. Weekends are much tighter.

MZ: Yeah I’m not sure. Sometimes I think I could do better with a week, and other times… yeah no. I’d just get in my own head too much.

JM: Exactly. Cut to the bones of the idea and run fast. There is no time. It is almost like temporal writing, like that. Almost.

MZ: Not quite, I think there’s more room for editing in a weekend than “during an event” writing.

JM: You must work faster than I do!

MZ: or edit faster 🙂

JM: I think about the story all day Saturday (when I am working) and I write it in the morning of Sunday before my wife and dog demand my attention. It can be constraining to have responsibility, but it is a good constraint.

MZ: it’s true. I write more when I’m working then when I have time off.

JM: How do you find your process changes under the constraints? What do you do if fervently?

Autocorrect is fun. I like that better.

MZ: I’m not sure the process changes so much as is just much more condensed and I get out of my own way more.

JM: Would you do this again if you didn’t have to?

MZ: so I usually take my prompt and start trying out associations and following those rabbit holes

and sometimes I get a concept right away or sometimes it takes a full day

JM: I have been both blessed and cursed to lose in the first round both years. It is actually a relief to know I don’t have to keep going, but I also hate losing, and so early!

Hopefully, next year… But it would be poor form to host a contest and win it.

MZ: It’s probably about the same time actually butt in chair, but how much whining and carrying on before getting to that point changes.

JM: As a reader, has anyone really surprised you? I try hard to put together diversity of voice and style. Have you felt that? Did you like someone you didn’t expect to?

MZ: Alex Livingston’s entry this week knocked my socks off.

I didn’t really have expectations, but man… I wish I’d written that 🙂

JM: Eric Bosarge, I thought, had a stellar entry that was way out of his usual wheelhouse. I am also very glad I didn’t have to pick between Natania and Alex, first week.

MZ: Ugh, man the brackets were rough this year in particular.

JM: Alex is a real surprise! He actually came in over the transom, so to speak, during an open call, and he is KILLING IT with his work. It is impressive.

MZ: And I think it’s also interesting talking with the other writers and realizing how true it is that we’re often our own worst judges.

JM: Everyone is busting out great stories, though, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.

 Sent at 2:02 PM on Tuesday

MZ: I talked with Brooke Bolander about her entry before we both turned ours in this week and she was hating on hers… but my god, it has such a great gut punch at the end.

JM: Bolander was miserable about her story and whining about how little she did, and it looks like it might win the week. One of the readers who voted for her is noted and notable genre critic Jon Ginsburg-Stevens. Erudite ogre, himself.

Seriously, like you said, get out of your own way.

Voting is still open until Thursday. Who knows who will win?!

MZ: And this is the sort of competition that pushes you but also gets in your head and I know I’ve had a lot of “oh god, why am I doing this? I’m not even in the same league” thoughts this week, so there’s a bit of a downside too.

I mean all writers go through that at different times and I know this is just mine, and intellectually I’m good… just, ugh.

JM: All I have to say is that after six novels and two short story collections, I have lost in the first round for two years, and I still feel like I am just starting out, as a writer.

Good is good. It can come from anyone at any length who find their voice, their spark, their effortless awesome.

Some people really do well under constraint, too. It is important to try different things, mix it up, and stuff.

MZ: Yeah, I am lucky to have a really good support structure of other writers. So I can go virtually lean on someone’s shoulder when I need it. I think others do the same to me, and that’s really important to have as a writer at any point in your career.

Also I find out about all sorts of amazing writers every time I do this competition and I hope other people do too!

 Sent at 2:07 PM on Tuesday

JM: I think we, as a genre, fall into our online comfort zone, our bubbles within bubbles, and it takes concerted effort to push out of that comfortable space and find new ideas and influences. I try to make a contest that reflects that idea. Eric is a great example. You’ve probably never heard of Eric Bosarge, but he has a book coming out from Medallion soon, and until this contest, it wasn’t even a blip to a lot of people. His entry was solid SF. People read that who have never heard the name Bosarge. Now, we have this new author in our known sphere. Expanding is a good thing.

MZ: Yes! It’s my favorite part of March Flash Madness. Making new connections and hopefully picking up a few new readers in the process.

[I need to head back to work we can wrap this up with a few last thoughts from you or continue in about 10 min]

JM: I hope to increase that in years to come, and the open call for submissions is very important to achieve that. I hope to see more submissions next year, from as diverse a group as possible.

So, Polish your verbs and sharpen your adjectives out there in Zimmerland. March Flash Madness will be back, and you, too, can step into the arena!


For more March Flash Madness read Round 1:

Water vs. Stone 

Stasis vs. Time

Breaking vs. Mending

Fission vs. Fusion

Hunger vs. Gluttony

Additional March Flash Madness Authors 2015:

Alex Livingston (website, Twitter)

Natania Barron (website, Twitter)

Eric M. Bosarge (upcoming novel, The Time Train, will be released by Medallion Press in April of 2016)

Haralambi Markov (blog, Twitter)

Steven S. Long (website, Twitter)

Steven Silver (website, wikipedia)

Sage Collins (website, Twitter)