May 10, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Mental Shrillness" by Todd Russell + Interview (Blog Tour)


Mental Shrillness
by Todd Russell
(2011)

The rise of the e-book is remarkable for providing an outlet not only for authors to release their new works directly to the consumer, but it also offers a chance for authors to dust off some of their older works, too.

Todd Russell, in this modest collection of stories, offers five pieces of flash fiction originally published in the mid- to late-90s on a writers area of AOL, along with a 7,000 word short story published on the same AOL section as a flash fiction serial. It's a small collection presently being offered at a small price of ninety-nine cents. Regardless of price though, what does this collection have to offer?

The flash fiction is about what you would expect from bite-sized stories that average around 500 words. Each carries a rather sinister tone, some more effective than others in providing a chill down the spine. "Falling the Bobbitt Way" is probably the creepiest and most uniquely written among the bunch, with a real stomach-turning current running through it.

The meat of this collection, however, seems to lie in the longest story, "The Illusion". A husband finds himself pulled into a carnival world that traipses between reality and dreams, where he's trapped and slowly robbed of his own identity, and even risks drawing his wife into his mess. Carnival stories are a pretty easy sell when it comes to horror, and the story presented here is pretty good. Aside from a couple of scenes that felt muddled to me, it was a satisfying tale.

Overall, the collection feels too lean. I'm so accustomed to reading collections that cover a wide range of stories--even anthologizing a career at times. Mental Shrillness, by contrast, feels like a brief interlude that reminisces on Todd Russell's earliest work. While interesting to see stories like this pulled from obscurity and a bygone era of the Internet, I was quite literally hoping for more. What's included is okay, but may be better served over time as a piece of a broader collection of works.

 Direct link to Mental Shrillness Blog Tour:

CONTESTS:
Mental Shrillness Blog Tour CONTEST #1 information
Prize
: Win 1 of 6 Mental Shrillness ebooks, delivered via Smashwords coupon
Number of prizes
: *6* unique winners to be chosen randomly from the pool on Sunday, May 22, if more than six elligible entries. No purchase neccessary. Winners will be notified by email (the contest form will have a place to enter in email address).
How to enter
: collect Mental Shrillness Factoids at each blog tour stop and return here to answer the quiz questions (there will be a quiz posted below on May 15, 2011). If you score at least 75% on the quiz you'll be entered into the pool of possible winners to be chosen from random draw on Sunday May 22, 2011. The Mental Shrillness Factoids will either be mentioned in the comment area of the tour stop on the tour stop day OR will be inside the blog post on the tour stop day. The factoid will only come from the author or the blog host. There will be a total of 12 Mental Shrillness factoids shared. One per day, one per tour stop.
Contest eligibility ends:
Friday May 20, 2011
Prizes awarded
: Sunday May 22, 2011

Mental Shrillness Blog Tour CONTEST #2 information

Prize
: PDF version of flash fiction story written by Todd Russell during the same era as the stories in Mental Shrillnesss.
Number of prizes
: Unlimited
How to enter
: Leave at least one legitimate blog comment on each blog during the tour days and then return here and leave a comment using the Facebook comments form below with your name used at each blog. Once verified on May 22 you'll receive a PM through Facebook with download location for PDF of story
Contest eligibility ends:
Friday May 20, 2011
Prizes awarded
: Sunday May 22, 2011

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS for TODD RUSSELL:
  1. What prompted you to republish these stories? Was it as simple as wanting to avail them to a new audience?
  2. Compared to most collections I've read, this is an especially brief one. Was that intentional, to only release stories that were part of the AOL writing community? Do you intend to release similarly segmented collections?
  3. What do you consider the main draw for you towards writing flash fiction?
  4. How easy or hard do you find the transition from short fiction to long fiction?
  5. What writing communities, if any online, do you find yourself drawn to nowadays?
  6. What other works can readers expect to see from you down the line?

7 comments:

  1. Hello Wag The Fox,

    Thank you very much for hosting a day on the blog tour and reading Mental Shrillness. I will be answering questions throughout the day here in the comments, so let's rock and roll.

    What prompted you to republish these stories? Was it as simple as wanting to avail them to a new audience?

    In part, yes, that's it.

    There were multiple reasons I chose to start with this as opposed to one of my novels.

    I started writing short stories in the late 70s and horror in the 80s.

    In my senior year of high school my advanced writing class only had one assignment each week: write a new short story. There was no class to attend, nothing to sit through. I handed the teacher a story once a week and he'd hand me it back on a different day with a grade and comments.

    Then I went through a mostly-novel phase and wrote and completed several novels.

    Later in the early days of the internet when (slow) dial-up was king I came back to short stories, in particular short short stories as we called them (now they are commonly known as flash fiction). The area at AOL keyword: novel ironically a hotbed for writing and sharing flash fiction and short stories.

    In the author notes I explain what this area meant to me and other writers and the level of community and mentioned how the support there was something I'd never been a part of before.

    So back to your question.

    1. I wanted my first book to start with work that had already been published (entered into online contests), if you'll permit that term. Work that had seen peer review as well as reader review and public commentary. A couple of the stories were first place winners in these contests.

    2. Since this area at AOL no longer exists anywhere to my knowledge -- which is kind of sad considering digital should be forever, right? -- I wanted to start my published book journey with work that was first shared there.

    This makes you wonder about all the ebooks being published. Will some or many of these disappear into the digital graveyard? There is an inkling of a story there...

    3. Finally, Mental Shrillness is also paying a tribute to the art of brevity in storytelling in book form. Some might consider it like an appetizer of my short work but there is a better analogy.

    Remember those EPs that music artists used to put out before the full album? It might be only three or four songs. A literary EP.

    I loved vinyl records and it's great seeing a resurgence of interest in the format.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Compared to most collections I've read, this is an especially brief one. Was that intentional, to only release stories that were part of the AOL writing community? Do you intend to release similarly segmented collections?

    Yes, intentional.

    I mentioned earlier on the tour that I like the idea of themed story collections, perhaps around a holiday (Halloween might be too cliched though).

    I have enough material to fill several more short story collections (or a couple much larger collections) plus I've been writing new flash fiction as recently as a few weeks ago (won a key chain from a flash fiction contest online). It might be a nice twist someday to have a collection which contained stories from the AOL era and new stories.

    Flash fiction stories are also good promotional pieces. They aren't so long that readers need to invest a massive amount of time but there is enough meat to whet the appetite for longer works.

    I've already done several fun "Guess The Ending" contests with a few of my flash fiction stories. One of them, "Father Knows Best" is over at To Read or Not To Read This contest ends soon so I encourage readers to get over there and try and guess the ending.

    Nobody has guessed it yet as of this writing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What do you consider the main draw for you towards writing flash fiction?

    Many of them are thinking stories, for those that dig that kind of thing. For example, a story like "Pains in the Glass" in Mental Shrillness is telling more than one story.

    You can read many of my flash fiction stories multiple times and possibly pick up something you might not have gotten on a prior pass. They go deeper than the word count on the page.

    There is a story that you read and the story left out. When I'm reading flash fiction I'm fascinated by the bits that the writer chose to leave up to my imagination.

    ReplyDelete
  4. How easy or hard do you find the transition from short fiction to long fiction?

    If the story wants to be told it's easier, rarely is it ever easy, no matter what the format.

    If you end up having to force things then the story might not be ready. This is something that took me awhile to learn when I first started writing.

    More organizational skills are required for novels -- or at the least the ability to keep a huge amount of information in your brain at one time.

    When I was younger -- and it's not like I'm an old man or anything now, but I'm not 21 any more -- I didn't use outlines for first drafts of novels but I am trying this with my new work WIP.

    Generally, I try to let the story dictate the length. It's more difficult to sit down and say: "I'm going to write a story in 500 words" than saying: "I'm going to write a story about ___."

    I say "try" because this sounds great in theory but doesn't always work that way in practice.

    Some flash fiction has grown out of that size into a short story and some short stories become novelettes. Some novelettes become novellas and some novellas become novels. It's all about the story and how simple or complex the plot is and how much the people inside it need to breathe and have their space.

    Sometimes a small cast of characters can say their piece in a short work and sometimes they need, deserve, require and demand more room. I try not to get in the way of passionate characters. Let them tell the story.

    When it comes to novels there are many scenes that lead to a climax. It's not quite like a bunch of little short stories but some components are interchangeable like description, dialogue and action.

    Pacing is a bigger concern in longer works than shorter ones where you are usually focusing on a small number of scenes. There is also a lot more character depth that can be explored, as long as one doesn't veer too far off the story path.

    I enjoy all the formats in different ways. One is an adventure (novels) the other is quick jaunt (flash fiction) and then there are trips of varying distance between (short stories, novelette, novella).

    ReplyDelete
  5. What writing communities, if any online, do you find yourself drawn to nowadays?

    Since Mental Shrillness just came out about a month ago I've been actively checking out a bunch of different online writing communities.

    I don't have any specific recommendations at this time because I'm too new to all of them. Would be happy to revisit this in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mental Shrillness Factoid #8

    Mental Shrillness the paperback version is 74 pages and will be available through Amazon and their extended retail channels.

    ISBN-13: 978-1461170303
    ISBN-10: 1461170303

    The official release date will be announced on the last day of this blog tour.

    #####

    What other works can readers expect to see from you down the line?

    As you can see from the factoid above, the paperback version of Mental Shrillness is coming next and it's very, very close.

    I'm excited about a number of things with this version and will be spilling the good news on the last day of the blog tour. I'll tease a bit with this: it is more than a paperback version of the existing ebook :)

    The next new book will be a full length horror novel. There will be a major announcement on this on the last day of the blog tour as well.

    Something new that I haven't mentioned on any other tour is that I'm going to try and keep with my #samplesunday streak. I'm up to six Sundays in a row now.

    Those interested can follow my website at toddrwrite.com for updates. There have been more than samples of stories, I've included a few new complete stories and will continue to use this day every week to share some new material around the web.

    This gives me a chance to do something new at least once a week and that's one of my goals.

    Beyond the next novel I have another one that is near the beta reading stage and as mentioned a few questions ago plenty of short stories to fill a few more books (or a couple really big collections).

    And then I've got outlines working for a few new books and plan to get started writing the first draft of at least one of these very soon.

    Oh and one more idea that has been pinballing around in my head is a serial involving not only my writing but other writers in a bunch of different genres. I've got this framework in my head that I think has a lot of promise. I might crank that out before starting on the next novel.

    Thank you for hosting day 8 of the blog tour. I've enjoyed my time here answering your questions.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for the chance to read Mental Shrillness, as well as taking part in the interview, Todd.

    Best of luck with the rest of the blog tour!

    ReplyDelete

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