Publishing Flash Fiction and Poetry, an interview with Dennis M. Lane

I've very excited to introduce this week's Self-Published Writer of the Week, Dennis M. Lane.  He was kind enough to do an interview for the blog, and he provides a lot of great advice to fellow Do-It-Yourselfers.

TL: Thanks, Dennis, for stopping by! First of all, I just want to congratulate you on the awards you have been nominated for over the years such as the Rhysling and Dwarf Star Awards. How did you get the attention of those award organizations?
DL: Nominations for the Rhysling Award come from the members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. One of my nominated poems had been self published (and podcast.) The other had appeared in the SFPA’s Online Journal of Speculative Poetry. During 2012, I had poems in both the online journal and in the SFPA’s Star*Line Magazine. Plus a reading of one of my poems was on their website, so I would guess that being visible (and audible) to members helps in getting nominations.

The Dwarf Stars Award is slightly different; it is an edited anthology. I put forward a number of my very short (10 lines or fewer) poems, and one was included in the anthology to be voted on. Any poet or editor can put forward poems to be considered, and so it is all down to the judgment of the editors what makes the final cut to be voted on.

TL: In addition to being a prolific writer, you have a great life story: You have lived in seven countries across Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, and you currently reside in South Africa. What made you decide to self-publish?
DL: I had a very negative experience with my writing when I was at school (as I wrote about in a blog post “Screw You Mr. Robinson! ) so it was years before I started writing again. It was poetry that brought me back. First of all I wrote and posted on an online poetry site and left it at that; but a colleague of mine was a published poet and she saw some of my work and said I should publish, then my wife weighed in and said that I shouldn’t procrastinate and I should just do it. So, in November 2010, I put together my poetry collection “8 Million Stories” and published it online.

That was the snowball that caused the avalanche, I got such great feedback from readers of my poetry that I was encouraged to put together a science fiction collection of poetry, short stories, and flash fiction (“The Poring Dark” - September 2012) and finally worked myself up to novels.

TL: What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a self-published author? How did you overcome those challenges?DL: The first is that any deadlines are self imposed; one doesn’t have an editor or agent chasing for a particular piece of work. It would be very easy to drift and let a July publication become a December publication, so I am quite strict with myself. For my larger works (either novels or compilations) I set myself a tight but do-able target and stick to it!

The second challenge is getting exposure. My strategy for that is to check out various sites (e.g. the SFPA, Twitter etc.) for calls for submissions, sometimes I may already have something that fits (which makes life easy!) other times I use these calls as inspiration; I may not have been planning a story/poem about gender issues and colonialism, but if someone wants one, why not give it a go? The added benefit of this approach is that I end up writing more stories and poems and with a broader subject matter; so, even if they don’t win the competition, I have more work for my own collections.

Linked to number two, it is important to be persistent. For example, I wrote a story on spec for an anthology competition, I got great feedback but it wasn’t quite what was wanted, it was eventually picked up by a magazine; another anthology competition story wasn’t picked up but it was later accepted for an award-winning podcast. (I’m currently working on a story that, if it places in the top three, would see it in an anthology featuring one of my favourite authors).

Having good quality, engaging cover art is very important and I know that many self-published authors find it difficult to produce good quality covers for their books. If they don’t have the skills, how much will it cost? I’m lucky that, apart from writing, I’m also an artist. When the writing may be slow in progressing I take a break and work on the cover. The cover for my next novel is already finished, even though I have only just completed the first draft of the story!

Finally, a major challenge is time. I don’t have an advance to support me while I write, I work as a freelance management consultant and that takes a lot of my time – writing proposals etc. Also, I have other things that I am committed to (such as writing articles for Limebird Writers, or presenting old movie reviews on StarShipSofa), they are enjoyable and I also think that they help to raise my profile, but I do sometimes wish that I could get by on three hours sleep a night.

TL: You've written a lot of flash fiction. To my readers who are unfamiliar with that medium, what is flash fiction? What makes flash fiction good?DL: Flash fiction is very short fiction; the length can depend on the venue but the maximum seems to be 1,000 words (above that it becomes a short story). There are ‘Drabbles’ which are 100 word stories and ‘Twitter fiction’ which is 140 characters (in the UK, The Guardian Newspaper has a regular feature where recognized authors try their hands at Twitter fiction – with varied success).

Flash fiction is good for a writer because often you are given a prompt and then have to write a full story (not an excerpt) in very limited space; it hones one’s skill and is also great fun! For the reader, flash fiction can be seen as a taster of what the author can do. In China, flash fiction is called a “smoke long” story; as, while having a quick cigarette break, the reader can read a complete story. Hopefully those few lines will spark a response that stays with the reader for far longer than the time it took to read them.

Sometimes, the act of putting together a flash fiction can spark an idea, if I may, here is one of mine, “Edge:”
Carine traversed the cold black corridors of the old quarter. Mother Fay’s words had proved to be true; a whisper of air still remained.
She reached the end and, yes, there was a single ancient escape suit plugged into the wall. Backing into it, she felt the suit wrap around her. Breathing against the glass of the helmet, the displays flickered on.
Carine walked up to the wall and it dissolved. Stepping through, she felt a stirring within the nascent wings of the suit.
Standing on the edge, she looked at the bright blue world so far below.
Smiling, Carine jumped.
The story came together in a few minutes and could be read as just that. However, the idea that I had stayed with me and, later, I wrote a 3,000 word story “Carine” that was featured in a South African magazine.

TL: You are a prolific writer. What is your writing process like?DL: Chaotic! Some people are focussed on one thing, they have a novel that they want to write and that is all that they can think about until it is finished. Looking in my ‘Unfinished Writing’ folder (which I have backed up to Dropbox – ALWAYS make backups...) I have one unfinished novel, two unfinished novellas, and 26 unfinished short stories. Some of the stories may be just titles saved as a Word document, or one-line ideas e.g. ‘Silent Running v I Am Legend Mashup’. I will have an overall schedule for the major work but, between drafts or when the inspiration for a story is just not coming, there are plenty of other stories to fall back on – so I always have something that I can be writing (and that’s before competitions etc. appear in my Twitterstream).

I try to write something every day. If I can’t get space to work on my novel or a near-completed story, I will write something on my phone; it could be flash fiction, a poem, a scene for use in something I’m working on, whatever it is I make sure that I write something. Then I can email it to myself to be worked on further once I’m at my desk.

If you would like to learn more about Dennis, check out his website: