In this interview, Flying Ketchup Press author Harrison Blackman shares some insights into his experience writing fiction in the genres of mystery and thriller. His short story, “Falling,” a fabulist retelling of Frank Lloyd Wright’s construction of Fallingwater, will be featured in Flying Ketchup Press’ Tales from the Deep anthology, coming in June 2021.
Tell us about that moment when you first considered yourself a writer.
When I was eleven, I entered a writing contest in the Washington Post. It was a serial story for their children’s page, “Kidspost.” Each week, the winning entries set up the next week’s installment. The week I entered, the latest scene had ended with a brother and sister entering a mysterious attic. In my submission, the siblings were surprised to see their grandfather follow them into the space. Then he drew closer. “Your mother didn’t want you to know about this,” he said, pulling out a knife. I ended the scene on that startling cliffhanger.
Needless to say, I didn’t win the contest—my entry was obviously too dark for the YA audience. But in that process, I figured out the genre of stories I wanted to write in—suspense, mystery, and thriller.
What are some things unique to your writing process and the writing life? What works for you? In college, I took a workshop taught by Susan Choi called “Writing the Novel in 12 Weeks.” She tasked us with writing at least 300 words of fiction each weekday and emailing her the output. I think that’s the most effective way to finish a project and it’s how I approach most of my work.
Spending a couple hours in the morning working on a passage can help keep an idea, character, or scene fresh in my mind, so that a “passive focus” remains with me the rest of the day as I attend to more ephemeral matters. Then, by the next morning, I probably (hopefully?) know what comes next, so I don’t get stuck as often.
If you could enter into another author's prose or poetry, who would it be?
I’d be intrigued to enter the worlds of Kobo Abe’s novels, but then I’d be trapped in a Kafkaesque existential nightmare and that wouldn’t be good, either.
What advice would you give a new writer starting out?
There’s that saying in baseball, a batter is successful if they get a hit 3 out of 10 plate appearances—and then they’re headed for the Hall of Fame. In writing, you might have a thousand plate appearances before you get a hit—and no guarantee of the Hall of Fame.
Prepare for a lot of plate appearances.
Describe your writing space now and another time and place that truly inspired you to write. What did you write about then?
In COVID times, I’ve just been at my desk in my apartment. In better times, I’ve been quite productive in cafés—whether they be in Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, or Greece. Oddly enough, those sessions tended to motivate writing scenes set in cafés!
What other art inspires your work besides writers and authors?
I am influenced by film, architecture, and visual art.
What is one quote you have saved somewhere to inspire and encourage your writing life?
In Raymond Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder” about the genre of detective fiction, he wrote,
“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
When has your creative work helped you through new experiences and hard journeys? What was it about your writing that helped you at that time?
Fiction can give you a world to imagine and tease out when your own world is locked down because of, I don’t know, globe-spanning pandemics.
Tell us a little bit about what we should read of your work now and where to find it? What publications of yours should we read right away and what is another author you are reading now?
You can listen to my short story, “The Peacock,” as a podcast on PenDust Radio, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. I will also have a story, “Falling,” in Tales from the Deep from Flying Ketchup Press in June 2021. For more of my work you can check out www.harrisonblackman.com and subscribe to my Substack newsletter, The Usonian, which covers subjects in storytelling and design.
Right now I’m reading Graham Greene’s The Comedians, a novel set in Haiti during the reign of Papa Doc.
Harrison Blackman is a writer and editor based in Reno, Nevada. An MFA candidate and writing instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, Harrison graduated from Princeton University in 2017 with a degree in history. He specializes in writing thrilling narratives about science and architecture; he also consults on TV and film projects. His writing has appeared in The Oxford Climate Review and regional publications in New Jersey and New Mexico. Learn more at www.harrisonblackman.com and follow his newsletter, The Usonian, at www.harrisonblackman.substack.com.
Flying Ketchup Press ® grassroots and artist-run, we are a trademarked small press in Kansas City using traditional and hybrid publishing formats established to develop new and diverse voices in poetry and short story. Our dream is to salvage lost treasure troves of written and illustrated work-- to create worlds of wonder and delight; to share stories.
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