Jennifer Vendenberg won first place in SFWG’s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest with her story, “Advice from Siblings.” The theme of the contest was “Evil Christmas” but it was entirely up to the contestants how they wanted to interrupt that theme in 1,000 words or less.
For those that didn’t get the opportunity to read your story, tell us the gist of your tale and the source of your inspiration.
“Advice from Siblings” is a story about two people who want to break up with each other and their siblings who are giving advice that may or may not be helpful. It explores the idea of what makes a person do evil things and are evil deeds that are done on Christmas too evil to consider.
I had started a dozen stories that were about evil Christmas but I couldn’t finish any of them. They were all heavily Christmas themed, with Santa and elves, and I just couldn’t make Santa evil. With the deadline pressing I started complaining on the page. This is something I often do when I feel I have nothing to write about. I just type all my fears and desires on the page. I am a discovery writer (a pantser) and I find that when I type about what is bothering me a story often emerges. This time my complaining turned into two guys talking over lunch and I realized I could finish this story.
We really liked how “Advice from Siblings” explored a different side to evil than the obvious slasher horror. Could you maybe go into why you chose that approach?
I rarely read horror and I only watch light horror movies. When I heard the theme was evil Christmas I never thought it would be a slasher story. I always knew I would write about the evil that is more devious and emotionally destructive. This was one reason why none of my Santa stories worked. I could not convince myself or the reader that Santa had any evil in him.
Is flash fiction something you write regularly? Why or why not?
I love writing short fiction but I find flash fiction to be much harder. The only time I write flash fiction is when I am entering a writing contest. “Advice from Siblings” feels like one scene out of a larger story. Most of the time I would write out the entire story. However, I really liked the challenge of writing flash fiction and I want to do it more often.
Any advice for those interested in experimenting with flash fiction for the first time?
Keep the number of characters small and focus on one setting. If you do that then you can put a lot of detail in your story even though you don’t have many words to work with. Most of my stories that didn’t work were too complicated and would have been very shallow had I actually squeezed them into a thousand words.
Also, write many versions of the story. I think I was able to finish “Advice from Siblings” because I had written a variety of evil Christmas stories and I learned from those stories what worked and didn’t work for me.
Lastly, never give up. When I didn’t have a finished story two days before the deadline I could have decided it wasn’t important and stopped trying to find the right words. Instead I kept working on it and won. You only lose if you stop writing.
Thank you, Jennifer! Be sure to check out her other work on Amazon.