Weird Tales: Mark Budman on When Do You Stop?

Writer: Mark Budman
Weird Tales Story: The Matching Pair
Writer Bio: Mark Budman’s works have appeared in such magazines as Swink, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, Exquisite Corpse, Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Connecticut Review, WW Norton anthology “Flash Fiction Forward,” and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review, the interview editor for Web Del Sol, and a book reviewer for The Bloomsbury Review and the American Book Review. His novel “My Life at First Try” is coming out from Counterpoint in October 2008, and the anthology he has co-edited came out in November 2007 from Ooligan Press.

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When you drive a motor vehicle, the decisions are made for you. You still might not stop at a traffic light or a stop sign, but at least you know when you should. In life’s other decision making times, there is nothing to aid you. When do you stop flirting, watching TV or giving a presentation at work?

As a writer, you face these same problems as everybody else, plus unique writing decisions of your own.

Bruce Holland Rogers who teaches at The Whidbey Writers Workshop, a low-residency program in the Puget Sound, faced this very problem when analyzing “The Dead” by Beverly Jackson. That flash fiction story originally appeared in Vestal Review magazine, and then was reprinted in You Have Time for This anthology.

Bruce didn’t have the copy of the book yet, so he used a PDF file. Because of the nature of the PDF layout, and because many stories in the anthology are just one-page long, the students and he thought at first that “The Dead” is only one-page long as well. Yet most students agreed that the story is complete. When they realized their error, they still thought that the story could end on the first page and that the two-page version maybe just another story. Both versions had their merits. Both versions appeal to the reader, but on different levels.

This reminds me of an old anecdote. An experimental physicist brings a graph to a theoretical physicist for explanation. The theoretician explains it. Then the experimentalist notices that the graph is up side down. He flips it, and the theoretician explains it as well.

Simply put, there are multiple versions of reality, both in physics and literature, equally legitimate, logically and aesthetically. Maybe you can choose your own stop when you journey between them. Or maybe you don’t need to stop at all. A good journey never ends.

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