Will Musgrove, a writer/journalist from Iowa, has published two stories with Identity Theory: "The Funeral Clown," which we nominated for Best Small Fictions last year, and most recently "Demolition." His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review, The Penn Review, X-R-A-Y, Tampa Review, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove or visit him at williammusgrove.com.
Talk about the most recent piece you wrote for Identity Theory ("Demolition"): How did you get the idea for it? How many drafts did you write? What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing it?
As with most of my work, I probably randomly saw a demolition derby somewhere and thought it would be a cool setting for a story. When I start writing, I don’t really know what the story is going to be about other than a small detail or image, so the story usually evolves as I write it. For “Demolition” in particular, I probably had about five drafts. The biggest challenge was connecting the story within the story to the present action.
How do you decide when a story is ready for submission?
I tend to send out stories too early. I get excited and hit send before maybe the work is ready. This often results in a rejection, prompting me to tinker with the story and tinker some more until it gets picked up or I get bored of the piece and retire it. So, I’m always revising stuff even after sending it out to a few places. The real danger is when you’re no longer interested in the flash or the story or the whatever.
How do you celebrate when receiving an acceptance?
Mostly with beer, pizza, and crossword puzzles.
What is your strategy for dealing with rejection?
Mostly with beer, pizza, and crossword puzzles. Just kidding. Even now after receiving more than 500 rejections, at least according to Submittable, rejections still sting a tiny bit. If they didn’t sting a little, I’d feel like I was doing something wrong. I think it’s okay to give yourself some time to be bummed, but you can’t let them beat you. Honestly, the best cure for the rejection blues is writing not to get published but for yourself. If you do that, the rejections won’t hurt as much, and the acceptances will come.
Which authors do you believe are most influential to your writing?
In graduate school, I used to write longer short stories instead of flash. It wasn’t until my thesis advisor had me read Etgar Keret because he believed the humor in his writing fit what I was going for that I saw the power of flash. From there, I got really into Amy Hempel and Lydia Davis and all the other great flash writers, but Keret was my gateway to the genre. He’ll forever have a special place in my heart. Even though I’ve read his books many times, I still pick them up every now and then. He’s my book version of comfort food.
How do you go about improving as a writer?
This may be a boring answer, but what works for me is just writing plus a heavy dose of reading. I aim to write a flash story every week. Sometimes, I don’t have any ideas and end up writing a story about a man finding a tiny window inside his McDonald’s cheeseburger. But these zany stories are the most fun to write. Maybe that’s the key to becoming a better writer, remembering to have fun.
What writing or publishing advice would you give your younger self?
That it’s okay to be goofy and whacky and to not take yourself so seriously.
Is social media good for you?
I didn’t have much of a writing community while in graduate school. Social media has been great for remedying that. Of course, it can be a distraction. Everything in moderation, right? Great for community. Not so great for productivity.
What are some of your favorite online lit mag stories by other writers?
“Ted” by Evan Williams in Had. “Okay” by Scott Garson in The Cincinnati Review. “Dirty Lincoln” by Kyle Seibel in Pithead Chapel. “Insides Like Mine” by Kirsti Mackenzie in trampset. “Or Better Yet” by Melissa Llanes Brownlee in The Cincinnati Review. “Pawpaw Cultivation” by Gabrielle Griffis in JMWW. Really anything by those writers and by Kathy Fish, Melissa Ostrom, Tommy Dean, Corey Farrenkopf, Eric Scot Tryon, Exodus Oktavia Brownlow, L Mari Harris, Pat Foran, Dan Crawley, and many, many others.
Aside from your Identity Theory pieces, what’s the one story you’ve published that you’d most like people to read?
I’m really proud of “The Star Buyer,” which was published in The Florida Review. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I promise it’s a good time.
Bonus: Do you have any pet photos you’d like to share?