Nepal Klipps, Reporter for MSNBC: Tony, thanks very much for agreeing to speak with me and answer a few questions about your writing and also about your blog and website.
Tony Noland: You're very welcome, Nepal. I'm happy to help in any way that I can.
NK: Tell me, is that because you feel a sense of obligation to your legions of fans?
TN: To my... what did you say?
NK: Tony, don't be so modest! It's no secret that millions of people love your work and look up to you as an inspiration. You're one of the most prolific authors of the last decade, with six novels on the New York Times bestseller list. I need hardly add that four of them were made into very successful Oscar-winning films, including "Heart of Stone" for which you won the Oscar for a screenplay adaptation.
TN: What the hell are you talking about? I haven't finished revisions on either of my novels, let alone had them published. My fiction gets rejected all over the place. Look, I was flattered to be asked to do this interview, but you've obviously got the wrong guy.
NK: No, it's you we want to talk to. Authors all over the world have been begging you to share your method for writing compelling, heart-felt yet humorous prose.
TN: Is this a joke? Am I being set up for some kind of reality TV show? Because if it is, I gotta say, this shit isn't funny.
NK: Being funny is one of the things I'd love for you to talk about. Every year since 2017, your website has been in the Google-Salon "Top 100 Blogs" list, first under "Humor", but more recently under "Creativity & Innovation". Tell me, Tony, what is the secret of your success?
TN: I don't have any success! And my blog isn't listed or rated anywhere! I'm purely a wannabe! Nobody's read anything I've written. Nobody even knows who I am, except my friends on Twitter.
NK: Ah, Twitter, that's where it all began for you, isn't it? Where you first got your start.
TN: My start? My start at what, writing?
NK: Of course! You were one of the early adopters of Twitter, one of the first to leverage social networking into commercial success.
TN: You're hallucinating. I only started using Twitter after I read about it in the New York Times or something. That's not early adopter.
NK: But you were one of the first to use the Twitter hashtag system to get word of mouth going about the fiction you were writing.
TN: You mean the #FridayFlash? That was Jon Strother's idea. He's the one who organized it, supported it, devoted a hell of a lot of time to fostering it every week with his listings and link pages. It never would have gone anywhere without his energy and creativity. As a matter of fact, I was late in coming to that party. It had already been going on for a long time before I even found out about it. People like Laura Eno and John Wiswell had been writing flash fiction stories for it for months.
NK: But as soon as you knew about it, you didn't hesitate. You just jumped right in, that very first week.
TN: Well... yes.
NK: You didn't dither about whether your story was good enough, or if it fit in with what everyone else was writing. You just posted it and started tweeting the link, isn't that right?
TN: Yeah, that's right.
NK: Why? What made you so confident? Did you realize even that first week that your story was genius?
TN: Hardly. That first story was a meandering, atmospheric mess. No plot at all, and way too many adverbs. It wasn't confidence that led me to to post that story. It was the comfort that comes with anonymity. So the story sucks - who cares? There are a million crappy stories written every day by newbie fiction writers. Adding my single grain of sand to the beach was not exactly a momentous occasion, you know?
NK: But it was for you, wasn't it? It was one of the first times you posted something publicly and told people about it. It was your entre into the FridayFlash community.
TN: Yes it was, and everybody was very gracious and polite about welcoming me. Some people said that they really liked the story, which was thrilling beyond belief. Others were gentle with faint praise, stuff like, "I liked this. Good work.", that kind of thing. As I recall, one or two people said that they didn't understand what was going on in the piece, what the guy's motivation or history was. That made me realize that I didn't know either, since I hadn't thought about it.
NK: And was that painful to hear?
TN: Not at all! Well, OK, maybe just a bit, but it was so incredibly *important* for me to hear. What that did for me was to make me realize that I needed to understand my characters. Every one of them has a life. They have have hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, the whole gamut of everything we all have. These stories I tell about them are just a little window onto one moment of their lives. Even though I'm not showing their entire lives, all of that has to be there to make them believable in this little vignette. For them to have solid and authentic dialogue and responses, I need to know who they are. It's Rosencranz and Guildenstern, you know?
NK: So you work up entire life histories for every character that appears in your FridayFlash stories?
TN: Not detailed ones, no. There isn't time. But I think about who they are, where they come from, how old they are, what they look like. I try to get a sense of them, so I can get a better sense of how they'd act and react to the plot stuff I throw at them.
NK: And it's been smooth sailing in writing fiction ever since.
TN: Yeah, right. That was lesson number one. One down, ten billion to go. I've been crossing them off the list as I internalize each one.
NK: That's tremendous advice, Tony. Tell me, what would you say is the most important lesson in writing good fiction?
TN: There are two, actually. First, don't be afraid to experiment for fear of writing something crappy. An experiment is only a failure if you don't learn anything. Second, don't ever, ever, EVER pull one of those "...and then he realized it had all been a dream" endings. That's hackneyed tripe. I'm proud to say that I have never done one of those stories.
NK: Until today, right?
TN: Yes, until today. Wait, what?