(You might have figured that out by the title alone, but just in case you had any doubt.)
A review on the Vol. 1 Brooklyn website said Atkinson stretches plausibility until it snaps, “sketching quandaries of a surreal bumptiousness far beyond what we read in most flash fiction.”
And a review on Cultured Vultures asserted that Atkinson’s collection is both entertaining and hilarious.
Which it is.
A full review follows.
First, David S. Atkinson (Apocalypse All The Time, Not Quite So Stories) was kind enough to answer some questions by email. David is a staff reader for “Digging Through The Fat” and his writing appears in “Spelk,” “Jellyfish Review,” “Thrice Fiction,” “Literary Orphans,” and more.
Question: How did you develop an interest in writing stories with such a surreal style?
David S. Atkinson: I’m not sure that surreal is actually even the best word, since I typically think of that as more of oddly juxtaposed jarring parts coming straight from the subconscious without real link or explanation. I think absurd might be the better word. I mean, I think of the time the other kids in my eighth grade Latin class were weirded out by me doodling a cockroach version of Imelda Marcos sitting on a chair atop a pile of oranges while Carmen Miranda danced nearby. It both was and was not related to an interest in Bloom County, but that may not be relevant. Some of this stuff just comes out and I run with it. There’s other explanations, but I’ve given some of those elsewhere so I’ll just leave it as connected to the fact that one of my friends didn’t know what he was doing making homemade wine.
Question: What are the sources of inspiration for your stories? How do you know you’ve got an idea that might work?
David S. Atkinson: Inspiration can some from all over. Sometimes something just pops into my head. Other times I start with a prompt. There’s as many different sources as there are stories. As for whether or not I have an idea that will work, there’s nothing for it but seeing whether or not it goes anywhere. If the story works, then I know what I had worked. There’s no real other way for me to know before then as all my ideas seem both wonderful and terrible at the start, sometimes simultaneously.
Question: And how do you know whether it works or not? Is there a beginning / middle / end approach in your mind or are you after the perfect ending? How do you gauge the effectiveness of a story and what does your rewriting process look like? What’s your process from first draft to last? I mean, some readers might think you sit down and let it rip and call it good, but I have a hunch there’s more to the final shaping and editing. True?
David S. Atkinson: It depends on the story. Sometimes I’ll write it for a long time in my head and not edit much later. Sometimes I’ll jot something quick and work on it for years. Sometimes both, muddling the last two parts together. I’ll typically read aloud a lot, often to others to gauge reactions. Sometimes I’ll revisit what I thought of it if I send it out and don’t get the reception I’m looking for. I’m for whatever needs to work for a particular story, and I do that a lot by feel. That being said, every story is different and different things need to work for them and they get to that point in different ways. I’m kind of haphazard that way, letting the story tell me (if it’s talking) how to approach it.
Question: There are so many pop culture and political figures embedded in the stories, names from current day and years and decades past. Barely a story goes by without a reference to Lady Gaga, Elle McPherson, Engelbert Humperdinck, or Ron Howard. Why do the names of so many famous people work their way into your stories as touchstones for your pieces? And are you a big consumer of movies, television, pop culture, the news? Um, like the rest of us?
David S. Atkinson: I think of a lot of this as the flotsam and jetsam that’s flowing around my head as a result of my cultural exposures, intentional and unintentional. The brain forms a mishmash of this stuff, and there is a certain amount of call and response interacting with the various cultural threads (both internal and external) involved. I’m a consumer of a lot of different things, but different things at different times. I don’t watch much TV right now, but that’s just for now. For example, I didn’t watch much of anything for a year and then binged Twin Peaks from the original seasons through the movie and the recent seasons in the space of a week. It’s as much of by feel as I approach my stories.
Question: Who are the writers that inspire you?
David S. Atkinson: I get inspired by all kinds of different writers. Etgar Keret, Amelia Gray, Chimamanda Adichie, Haruki Murakami, Jane Austin, Honoré de Balzac, and more. I read about 200-300 books a year so I can afford to wander where a whim takes me.
Question: How does writing flash fiction help (or not) with writing traditional work?
David S. Atkinson: I think writing anything is good practice for writing most other things. More writing tends to make better writers, regardless of the kind. Flash tends to teach focusing on what exactly is needed and how to do things quickly, but some people are maximalists and wouldn’t want that. Sometimes writing traditional work can teach you things about flash. It’s all a muddle, but everything can be potentially helpful.
Question: It seems like there is a huge flash fiction underground—so many different zines and websites have published your work. How do you keep track of where to submit and any advice for somebody looking for a home for their work, where should they begin to search?
David S. Atkinson: I’d pick up on a group of flash writers, perhaps on Facebook or something and start paying attention. Personally, I started regularly attending the monthly Fbomb Flash Fiction reading series third Tuesday of the month at the Mercury Café in Denver and started running across all kinds of mentions of different flash authors, groups, journals, and so on. It ends up linking, but connect to one point and it spreads. Some journals, like Jellyfish Review, do a good job of mentioning authors to check out and other journals to look into. The communities tend to be so interlinked that if you jump in anywhere you don’t stay isolated for long.
Question: What’s next?
David S. Atkinson: I actually had an essay book I had done at someone’s request, but that’s kind of on hold while the press project behind that figures out whether it’s actually going to go or not, so that might be a thing at some point or it might not. People probably won’t see it if the press project itself doesn’t end up flying. Beyond that, I’ve been kind of just playing with things one story at a time while I wait to see what larger thing envelops me. I did so many large projects in such a short space that I’m not exactly anxious that I’m not already in the middle of one now. Sometimes it’s good to just wait and see.
David S. Atkinson’s website
For even more, check out this episode of The Rocky Mountain Writer podcast,
Near the beginning of that episode, posted earlier this year, David reads two stories from this new collection.
The first is “Obscure Ex-Presidents and Their Merry Toy-Making Elves.” The second, near the end of the episode, is “The Hardest Part of Italian Cooking is the Master the Way Garlic Changes Matter States When You Switch Verb Tenses.”
Shake it up, stir it up, mix it up … go ahead and hit that button all the way over there on the right. The one past grind and blend. Yes, puree. Toss all those words and ideas in the glass container, make sure the rubber lid is snugly secured, and lean on that power button with all you’ve got.
The stories in Roses are Red, Violets Are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep (Literary Wanderlust), give you that feeling that anything goes. No, it’s not a feeling. It’s a fact. Anything does, indeed, go. The stories are free-floating, free-form, and fun. Words dance, ideas bounce off each other like ping-pong balls on speed, and bold associations fly in your face at warp speed.
There are more than a hundred entries in this collection of stories, but check your definition of ‘story’ before you leave the copyright page. These are idea bombs mixed with characters sketches loosely tossed with Hunter S. Thompon’s worst fever dreams after spending an hour on the psychiatrist’s couch under the nonsensical questioning of The Cheshire Cat. With a slightly different approach toward punctuation and white space, some of these “stories” could be turned into edgy poetry.
The bottom line? They are enormously fun to read and very well written. David S. Atkinson has a comedian’s timing and a playful vocabulary, though you may want to dip in every now and then. Read back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to (well you get the idea), you might feel overwhelmed, like glugging cream when you’re used to sipping low-fat milk.
Examples? You want examples? In “Eternal Insult Comics and Postal Forwarding Claim Forms,” the Apocalypse arrives in the mail. “A few thought about sending it back, marking the addressee deceased and leaving it on their porches again, but there were no longer any postal carriers to claim it.”
In “My Degree in Topatrical Surgery Won’t Stop Vin Diesel From Repossessing my Spleen,” the future involves living on a genetically modified green bean plantation with beans that develop sentience “so they can serve us, satisfying our every chicken-related whim.” This brief story references Norman Rockwell, Richard Marx, M&M packets, Times Square, the Lesser Antilles, George Foreman, Chilean anti-rebels, Little Rock, Marisa Tomei, and Lady Gaga.
In “Exxon Stole my Oatmeal” (the shortest title here?) a pavement crack at a bus stop yields crude oil and our narrator decides to call, of course, the Republican National Committee. But the RNC is getting out of oil because “there was so much bad press. They were going into solar and wind just as soon as they could figure out how to lock down rights on the weather and the sun.”
The titles alone offer smiles. “Keebler Elves Live in Hollow Tress and Can Really Gum Up a Chainsaw.” Or “Polident Commercials for Indentured Servitude.” (Ouch.) Or one of my favorite stories, “Willy Wonka Spent More Time in OSHA Hearings Than Making Candy,” a story that never mentions OSHA but does find its way, in eight quick paragraphs, to reference Daryl Hannah, Peter Boyle, Sherlock Holmes (actually, his deaf brother), and “Marty Feldman commemorative chafing dishes.” Reading these, at times, feels very much like the world we live in today, text-Twitter-Instragram-MSNBC-Netflix-Facebook shrapnel flying our way all day long.
Writers looking for a jolt of stylistic jazz or looking to loosen up the synapses and give the tired old image bank a fresh infusion of goods, keep this volume handy.
Readers looking for an amusing smile every now and then, and a glimpse inside a keen and active imagination, keep Roses are Red (etc). within easy reach.