Interview with Dan Crawley, author of the novella-in-flash, ‘Straight Down The Road’

Straight Down The Road , Dan Crawley's novella-in-flash, highly commended in the 2019 Novella in Flash Award by judge Michael Loveday, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction a few week's back and is available to buy in several different currencies on the Ad Hoc Fiction online bookshop.

This is what Michael wrote about Dan's wonderful evocative novella: "As if it were some rediscovered Raymond Carver manuscript, this is a classic novella-in-flash in the mainstream American tradition. A working class family try to keep themselves afloat, travelling the country by car after the father quits his job. The writing is warmly affectionate towards the characters although they’re flawed. There’s an appealing, breezy, summery quality even though real tension bubbles up – it feels like an authentic family dynamic. Some bond of grudging love keeps this family together, when they’re stretched to breaking point. Each flash has the clarity of a distinct memory – like each one might be a family legend. A vivid and highly effective novella-in-flash."

In our interview below, Dan tells us more about writing his novella, gives some tips to those who are finalising novellas for the 2020 Award which closes in mid January 2020 and describes his day to day writing process, his current projects and who he might cast in a movie of 'Straight Down The Road'. We'd love to see a movie of this story!

  • Can you tell us what inspired your novella in flash Straight Down The Road

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    I hadn’t considered writing a novella-in-flash at the beginning of 2018, or even thought about how to start one. Then I read Sophie van Llewyn’s magnificent novella-in-flash, Bottled Goods. This book was a great introduction to this form of using flash fictions (as chapters) to tell a sustained story, with reoccurring characters. I’ve read many other novellas-in-flash since then, and I am pleased to see this kind of storytelling flourish. I published a flash fiction in the summer of 2017 about a family on a tough road trip. So I thought these characters might be the perfect subjects to appear in my own novella-in-flash. Really, it was the biggest challenge I’d given myself on a writing project in quite a while. Of course, a few seeds for some of the stories come from my own childhood and a scattering of road trips with my family. I’m grateful Michael saw something in my novella after I submitted it for the Award. I remember it showing up on the long list and couldn’t believe it. Then it appeared on the short list and I was genuinely shocked. When I received the news it was selected as highly commended and would be published—well, I’m still very elated by this kind acknowledgment of my work.
  • What did you find the most challenging about writing a novella in flash? And what did you most enjoy about the process?
    Big challenges: writing a flash as a stand-alone story, but still connecting it to other flashes in unique ways. And keeping each story fewer than 1,000 words, which was tricky for me at times. I found myself wanting to add on more information, trying to make foreshadowing and figurative language and conflicts align too perfectly between stories, in a more overt manner. Let’s just say I went through multiple drafts, and only a few of the flashes came to me quickly and went down on the page fast, like “Ran Out of Money” and “Five Sugar Cookies and Two Piece of Beef Jerky.”Then I started to send out these flashes to journals throughout 2018. Once editors begin to publish different ones, which I’m grateful for, I knew I was onto something. That I could surmount this challenge of writing a story that wove a thread with others, but could still be read as its own story, made the process of drafting my novella such a joy and spurred me on to keep going.
  • We love that your novella recounts a road trip and think it could make a good movie to join a few other classics in this genre set in different parts of the US. We think Janice Leagra's great cover image could be made into publicity posters for such a movie, too. If your novella was optioned for a movie, who would you cast as the characters? And what about the sound track?
    I love these questions! Yes, to see my novella-in-flash become a movie would be awesome. Everyone, please, send good energy out into the universe (I know I am) so this might happen.I agree wholeheartedly with you about Janice’s cover design. I think she is very cinematic with her digital collages, and that is why I reached out to her. I knew she would understand how visual my storytelling is, how specific sensory details are important in my writing. She went way beyond my expectations with what she created, the details she utilized. And how her cover design has been kindly praised in our literary community is a testament of her immense talent.

    Okay, for the dad, how about John Krasinski? Grow his hair out long. He’d fit. For the mom, I pictured Emmy Rossum when I was drafting a few of the flashes, especially “Breaking Down”— how she’d be kicking ass. The kids could probably be unknown actors, giving their characters a nice authenticity, without any preconceived notions, right?

    Of course, the soundtrack should be wall-to-wall Cat Stevens (Yusef Islam), right? In fact, though I don’t write it, the song playing on the Duster’s radio during the last story is “Can’t Keep It In.”

  • Have you any further projects on the go at the moment?
    I’m working on new flash fictions all the time. I’ve got a full collection of stories ready to find a publisher, but I’m thinking/working on a full collection of flash fictions, too. Also, more novellas-in-flash could be in my future. For instance, I grew up in the charismatic Pentecostal movement in the seventies, so I’m exploring a mother/son relationship in this segment of society at the time. Though I don’t attend church now, being exposed to this intense environment at an early age still fascinates me. Judgment, hypocrisy, agape love, church cliques, supernaturalism, fundamentalism. I’m delving into these themes now.
  • Where and when do you write? Music on or off? Inspirational pets/places?

    I’m inspired by the outdoors. Quite a lot of my ideas, pieces of dialogue, full scenes, and resolutions come to me while I’m out walking most days. One street has been very lucky for me. Just as the road curves, ideas come to me, seemingly out of nowhere. Besides the beauty of the desert inspiring me, I used to live in Flagstaff and found the forests and San Francisco peaks to be very conducive for my creativity. I hardly drove a car back then, opting to walk and hike and ride my bike everywhere.
    I listen to all kinds of music while writing my first drafts. Any kind of music, really. But when I start working on my final drafts, I need quiet. I read final drafts out loud, most of the time.
    Here is one tip that might help: take advantage of what I see as “in-between” moments. Readers are very savvy. I made sure not to sledgehammer them over the head with unnecessary information while trying to tie one flash in the novella to another. For instance, I wrote a story about a heated and pivotal moment between the mom and dad (when a secret is revealed to the mom). Then I realized that this moment wasn’t working; it was veering off quickly into a scene that expanded well over 1,000 words and revealed aspects of the characters that weren’t helpful. Plus, the tone of the piece wasn’t matching up with the other stories. Simplicity was a benefit for me (again and again) as I worked on the different stories.
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