Who doesn’t love a great short story?
It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to snuggly sweaters, warm blankets, steaming cups of tea, and books, of course. While we don’t always have the luxury to devour an entire novel in one sitting, we can always find a moment to squeeze in a deliciously crafted short story. And thanks to the exceptional imagination of this month’s interviewee, RB Frank, we have an abundance of fantastic tales to choose from.
Read on to get to know this charming writer of short fiction and kid lit. What inspires her, how she developed her unique collection of Bite Size Reads, and some sage advice for writers that dream of hatching an irresistible story. Be sure to check out the post-interview links to find out how to get your hands on Ms. Frank’s work, and connect with her on on social media.
The Celestial Thread: What propelled you into your writing journey?
RB Frank: I first wrote early childhood educational articles for a peer review journal. That gave me the writing bug – seeing what I produced in print and validated. I always wanted to write kid lit mainly and I had so many story ideas. So I joined a writing group at my local library because I had started MG novels. I finished one and started several others. As assignments from that writing group, we read short stories and I found that short stories were what really grabbed me. Some of the stories in my collection are a result of the prompts from that writing group too, revised and polished there.
TCT: You write a lot of short stories, which we know from experience can be very challenging. What keeps you coming back to this format?
RB: It has to be the immediate gratification. And I find them challenging in a good way. They’re like little Sudoku puzzles. I might have some of the pieces and sometimes I’m not even sure where the story goes. I have a feel for what 250, 500 or 1,000 words feels like. I know what my word count should be and the story unfolds within that parameter.
TCT: Your collection of short stories, Bite Size Reads, is arranged by average read time. Such a cool idea! How did this come about?
RB: Thanks! I started with flash fiction entries on sites like Creepypasta and Indies Unlimited. IU runs a contest every week from a picture prompt and I submitted almost every week for well over a year. This was great because it was consistent practice – so important in writing. Some of my stories won the weekly challenge and some were Editor’s Choice for their anthologies. So I had collected all these stories after about a year. Some I felt had more of story to them so I expanded them. And when I looked at the whole of my body of work at the time, I saw there was a pattern to the stories. Some were really short and some longer. I usually fall asleep after about three pages every night so I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if you could choose a story based on how much time you had – whether it was at bedtime, waiting at the food store or in the doctor’s office. BAM! It was a lightbulb moment. I don’t know of any other book that’s done that. And I decided to self-publish it because I had a very specific format. And, bonus, because educational elements find their way into my writings, I put out a classroom companion on how to use the stories for literacy activities.
TCT: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, and why?
RB: Gosh, that’s like choosing your favorite kid! I like them all for different reasons but please indulge me while I mention these.
From my collection, Miss Agnes Tweedie and Her Very Curious Bookshop. Not creepy and in the Cup o’ Joe section. I love it because to me it echoes the magic of books and their power to change lives.
A slightly twisted, a little dark but has a bit of tilted humor to it is Long Live Wilbur March, a man who would do the ultimate to get away from his exasperating wife and mother-in-law and it doesn’t quite work out as planned.
The other story I have to mention is called The Shoebox which won the Love & Romance contest on the 2Elizabeth’s site. That one is about regret, second chances and realizing it’s never too late. When your own writing makes you cry, you know you have something there. That’s posted on my site under Read in a Flash.
TCT: What words of advice do you have for someone longing to write a story that other people will want to read?
RB: Readers read to be transported, either in time, space or relationship. With that in mind, where would you like to take your readers? Where do you wish you could go or do? Immerse yourself in your story. Dig deep. Read a lot in that genre whether it’s sci-fi, memoir, humor, horror or a good Scottish Highlands bodice ripper. And then look at how you can give it your own voice and just start writing. A lot. Oh, and join a critique group or writing workshop. Writing may be a solitary thing but revision and polishing is a group effort.
TCT: Most writers are avid readers, what books are on your nightstand right now?
RB: I find it hard to fall into a book. It has to grab me in the first 50 pages. So I take out a stack and they’re usually really varied: Garden Spells by Sarah Allen; The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware; Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston which I’m loving because it reminds me of the Miss Tweedie story; Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson and I think he borrowed my idea for bite size readings; Nightfall by Jake Halpern and that’s a YA novel. And a STACK of children’s books because that’s where I’m at right now.
TCT: Is there a season, or a certain time of year that you feel more productive as a writer?
RB: I write all year long. But I take a holiday around the holidays and sometimes family takes priority. Never feel guilty about taking those times and recharging. You have to refill your basket with those apples.
TCT: Have you ever used experiences from your life in any of your stories?
RB: Some of the children’s stories I write reflect things that may be happening at the time. So writing is sometimes therapy. Other times a word, something someone says or a line from a book will spark a new idea. The picture book story I just finished was influenced by the devastating destruction from the hurricane in the Bahamas.
TCT: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing? Do you find that this varies from flash fiction to kid lit?
RB: That’s a really insightful question. The transition from flash fiction to kid lit was an easy segue since the elements of both are very similar. A good short story and a good picture book start in the action. Not a lot of room for set up. I use dialogue to help move the story forward. Every sentence should be meaningful. And every word counts. Every word. And they have to be the right word to convey your meaning. And then there is the technical nitty-gritty that just makes good writing, like varied sentence structure and avoiding passive tense to make your writing more impactful. Finally, a satisfying ending that the reader will not expect. For the collection, I always thought of the Twilight Zone where you’d watch the entire episode and then say, “Oh, snap!”
TCT: What can we expect to read next from the talented RB Frank?
RB: I just finished my twenty-seventh picture book manuscript. Not all are submission worthy and that’s okay. Each one was practice. And each one I write makes me better. So what’s next? I have quite a few submissions out, all different stories so fingers crossed! You only need one Yes to make a dream come true.
Thank you so much Andrea & Denise!
RB Frank is the author of Bite Size Reads: slightly twisted, deliciously dark, really short stories for people with very little time or very short attention spans. They are her versions of the espresso-size three course meal. She has won and placed in several flash fiction contests, and has published highly informative and entertaining educational articles in peer reviewed journals. Currently, she is crafting and submitting picture books.
Go to rbfrank.com for more Published Works: Books, On Writing - “A Time-Traveling Reader”, “The ShoeBox" and On Education articles. Be sure to follow RB Frank on Instagram (@writingoutloud), Twitter (@writingoutloud2), and Facebook (RBFrankAuthor).