I arrived at my destination at 11 am on an overcast and gloomy day. It was the first house on the left; a tan-colored, two-story home with many windows and a wide driveway. It was at the driveway that I saw Bruce Holland Rogers standing there. Wearing glasses, jeans and a big blue coat to fight the cold, he welcomed me into his house.
“This is a no-shoe house, I hope you’re fine with that?” I say that I am and we head inside through the living room. Bruce detects a hint of smoke in the air as we walk towards a hallway leading to stairs.
After reaching the second floor where I hope to interview him in his office, we see a thin layer of smoke throughout the room. A smell follows and before I know it, I’m back downstairs, putting my shoes on and evacuating along with his two other house guests as Bruce calls the fire department. Fireman’s boots walking in the house is the least of his worries at this point.
After braving the cold weather for a good ten minutes while fireman parade in and out of Bruce’s home, I decide that this may not be the best time so we decide to reschedule.
No, this is not a piece of short fiction from local author Bruce Holland Rogers. This was our inauspicious first attempt at an interview. Bruce has made a living out of telling stories like the one I just told and he would much rather write it than live it.
Our second meeting is a bit more calm at the Marriott where Bruce is staying while his home is still being renovated. Plus there’s fire exits nearby in case we run into that problem again.
“That was quite the first meeting,” says Bruce. “I’m glad we can do this under better conditions.”
Besides the risk of fire, the life of a writer can be quite challenging. Staring at a blank page can be a daunting and frightening thing and when you know you have to come up with something that is not only good, but sell-able to pay the bills, the pressure can be overwhelming.
Bruce emphasizes that he writes stories rather than novels because he enjoys the idea of writing fiction in brief. The definition of flash fiction or as Bruce puts it, short-short stories, is a piece 100-1,000 words long.
“Shorter stories are harder to write than longer ones because it forces you to focus on every word and every sentence. There’s no room for imperfections in a shorter piece and I like the challenge of that,” says Bruce.
Bruce didn’t always know he wanted to be a writer. In college, he changed his major five times before coming to the conclusion that writing was his path. And in 2002, that path finally began to pay off.
The Eugene resident has managed to sustain a level of success thanks to his story subscription service, shortshortshort.com. But it’s a certain character flaw that he believes is essential to telling good stories.
“I lied a lot when I was young. I think to be a good writer you have to be a good liar,” says Bruce. And it was because of his ability to invent that he discovered a way to consistently make money doing it.
“I read this book once about guerrilla publicity for writers and in it was a story about a limericist (someone who writes short, humorous poems) who offered a daily limerick by e-mail to anyone who would send him a dollar. After doing this for a year, he had earned $100,000. So I thought, ‘what a great idea’ and I used that model for my short-shorts,” says Bruce.
The process began with him sending an email of one of his stories to one person. If they liked it, he would send them another and through word of mouth, he would get more subscribers. Eventually this plan snowballed to where he now has more than 400 fans from countries ranging from Canada, Mexico and Italy to Afghanistan and Australia. Since 2002, he has been selling his flash fiction by e-mail to paying subscribers.
Due to the number of subscribers growing over the years and his fear that writing too many would dilute the overall quality, Bruce eventually settled on a plan to send each subscriber the same three stories a month. So in a calendar year, each person pays $10 to receive 36 stories.
“It’s definitely harder getting new subscribers than writing stories. I’ve had as many as a thousand paying subscribers at one time. But like any service, I lose some through attrition,” says Bruce.
But while the subscriptions may fluctuate, he has discovered other benefits to his model. Because only his subscribers can see the stories through their email, the stories aren’t considered published. This is what’s known as “privishing” rather than “publishing.” But why would someone not want their work to be considered published? Any magazine editor considering one of Bruce’s stories for their publication must pay him like any other writer. So in essence, he’s being paid twice for the same story.
The other benefits serve more as personal gratification for Bruce. He can reach people from all over the world, receive instant feedback on his work and be happy and productive. Plus he enjoys tackling different types of stories.
“I like variety. I don’t like the idea of doing just one genre. I take pleasure in reading different genres so I decided to do the same with my writing,” says Bruce.
Bruce’s flash fiction can be anywhere between 200 and 2500 words and his honors include the 2012 Micro Award for fiction no more than 1000 words, two World Fantasy awards and two Nebula awards for science fiction writing.
While he admits he needs to focus more on getting back subscribers in 2013, Bruce still prefers self-publishing despite the challenges it can bring.
“Distribution is difficult when you’re on your own but that creative control is an advantage. I’ve done it both ways (self-publishing versus traditional) and I feel that the traditional publishing model is in a bit of shambles right now. Making a living as a writer in any form requires just as much creativity in selling it as it does writing it,” says Bruce.
In addition to writing, Bruce has also taught creative writing at the University of Colorado and the University of Illinois. He is currently a member of the permanent faculty at the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program, a low-residency program that is not affiliated with a college or university. It is the first program of its kind.
Our second encounter was much more subdued than the first. We part ways in the lobby of the Marriott. No doubt Bruce is heading back up to his room to think up another work of flash fiction. The mind of a writer can’t afford to slow down.
1996: Nebula Award for Best Novelette for “Lifeboat on a Burning Sea.”
1998: Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “Thirteen Ways to Water.”
2004: World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction for “Don Ysidro.”
2006: World Fantasy Award for Collection for “The Keyhole Opera.”
2012: Micro Award for “Divestiture.”