Behind the Words: Ray Scanlon

Posted by on Dec 20, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

“Simple Pleasures” is a flash fiction piece about, yes, the simple pleasures in life, the ones that come when something irritating—sand in your shoe, an errant eyelash, food stuck in your teeth, etc.—is finally freed. As Ray Scanlon pointed out, we used somewhere around 700 words to describe this 72 word piece. Funny and poignant, this piece deserved every word.


Kelly: I recently read an article about flash fiction by Grant Faulkner, the executive director of National Novel Writing Month. He raised the idea that as writers we are often told in workshops and writing groups that our stories need more: more backstory, more characterization, more description. Yet, as the title of your piece suggests, there is a simple pleasure in stripping down a narrative and focusing on word choice over, say, plot. Would you consider “Simple Pleasures” to be a story in the traditional sense?


Ray: No. Wait, you want more? It would claim way too much to call “Simple Pleasures” a story. I think that’s kind of inherent in how these really short pieces are built—as “many small mundane moments,” in Faulkner’s words. Avoiding plot and characterization in this way is not just the lazy man’s way out of the hard work of writing a real story (though certainly in my case it is). Faulkner nails it when he says “an arbitrary limit inspired compositional creativity.


Simple Pleasures” is 72 words. How long did it take you to write it? What’s your revision process look like?

Revision? They spring fully-formed out of my forehead. It’s rare, but once or twice it actually almost felt like that. Usually it takes, oh, an hour to get the first draft down, drop it in disgust, come back to it for a couple of passes, procrastinate on the internet, and revisit it once again. It’s astonishing how often I get the order of the first two sentences wrong. Letting it go overnight is crucial. I always regret when I ship something without sleeping on it before going back in with the microscope, sharp instruments, and polishing compound. Sometimes two nights.


Grant Faulkner also said that flash fiction, more than any other form, follows Hemingway’s famous iceberg theory: “only show the top 10 percent of your story, and leave the other 90 percent below water to be conjured.” What writers do you look to for inspiration?

Patrick O’Brian. Bill Watterson. Scott Adams. Keen eyes. Endurance.


Your bio is similarly succinct: “Massachusetts boy. Has grandchildren. No MFA. No novel.” If your family were to describe you in a few words, what would they say?

“He’s odd, but we love him.”


My favorite line in the piece is the last one: “Best are the Olympian tongue events: freeing from between molars a wedge of fried clam big enough to feed a cat, or digging out a popcorn shell weaseling with bad intent under my gum toward my heart.” The structure and word choice here is masterful, nearly poetic, especially the last three words “toward my heart.” Do you read your work aloud? Have you ever experimented with poetry?

Thanks, that’s kind of you to say. I’ve read things aloud. I make good and sure I’m alone. It’s unpleasant; I’m not crazy about the sound of my own voice, except on paper. I prefer the visual to the aural, so I’m not sure hearing myself read does much good. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. And I have experimented with poetry, though I didn’t inhale. My old friend Jean, a teacher, had to double-dog dare me to write a haiku. Authentic in English or not, both the structure and 17 syllable constraint do appeal to my inner nerd.


You could make the argument that with Facebook and Twitter this is a great time for flash fiction. Are you on social media?

Yeah, one of the most attractive ways to waste time on the internet. As @oldmanscanlon I use Twitter for shameless self-promotion and to keep track of things and writers I’m interested in. I seldom use it to engage in random 140-character conversations with strangers; that wouldn’t be the way of the introvert. So, another thing I’m not doing right. If Twitter contributes to our attention-span deficit, so do I, by sticking almost completely to flash; really, I don’t have that much to say. I can’t remember the circumstances of our online meeting, but I have to credit Joseph A. W. Quintela and his Short, Fast, and Deadly for introducing me to a length limit of 420 characters. “Simple Pleasures” is 419. “That’s ridiculous” was my initial reaction, but it surprised me by being a natural and felicitous constraint.

Click here to read “Simple Pleasures.”
Kelly Morris is a recent transplant to Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Spalding University, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spry Literary Journal, Sundog Lit, and Red Savina Review. She blogs with three other writers at Literary Labors. When she’s not writing, Kelly can be found hanging out with her kids, who remain unconvinced that being a writer is actually a very cool job

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