Author Interview: Pete Rail

Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Pete Rail–author of Flat Is Best: A collection of offbeat and unsettling stories.


1. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your collection of short stories?
I remember reading a blog from author David Wong:

In it he chastises us all for becoming a bunch of critics who are afraid to create anything because it’s way easier to just complain about others.  This got me thinking that I should stop being critical of other people’s writing and start writing myself. So I did.

I envisioned a collection of short creepy stories–each with a surprising twist like the old Twilight Zone TV show. I believe I stayed true to that genre for “Flat Is Best” because I omitted any stories that didn’t fit that pattern from the final collection of twelve.

 2. Tell us a little bit about your book’s title.
I picked what I thought was the “creepy best” story from the collection and used it as the title for the book. “Flat Is Best” is a mysterious title until you understand that the main character, Laura, has a unique fascination for photographs that gets her into trouble with the police.

3. Do the stories in Flat Is Best have a moral?
There are a variety of morals in the story collection.  One that comes to mind is called “Young Again” which exposes the dangers of vanity and craving youth above all.  Another story, “Hold that Thought” explores the sadness of nostalgia and encourages us to look forward, not back in life.

4. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
My favorite character from the collection of stories is Victor from the final story in the book “Genius Is Made Not Born.” He is a nine-year-old chess prodigy from France with an overachieving father who might be pushing him too hard.  I called him Victor because he wins (which seems appropriate), in fact he is the European under-10 chess champ.  He is a sad but determined character who has a secret.  The craft of writing the story without exposing his secret until the end was a challenge to me and hopefully a shock to my readers.

5. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I like to write at night in my cool, quiet office, and I start with the dialog.  At first I write everything in play form because the interaction among the characters is what drives the entire story for me.  I improvise their conversations to explore their motivations.  I don’t always know where the story is going until the characters speak. After I have a general arc for the story I add atmospherics and setting details as seasoning.

I do not set a word count for myself and I do not use an outline.  During the development phase I type as much as possible because later I cut ruthlessly to leave only the essence of the story.  This is good policy for the short stories in this collection because they will hold your attention and can be enjoyed at a single sitting.

6. What is your favorite book genre?
I like speculative fiction, but not hard science fiction.  I particularly enjoy the stories by Philip K. Dick because of the way he challenges reality.  He asks what is real and even wonders if what we experience is real.  These are mind-bending and profound books with a message.  My favorite was the alternative history called “The Man in the High Castle” where he explored an alternative ending to WW II where the U.S. lost.

7. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
I consider a story a success if it engages the reader in the moment and gets her emotionally invested in what happens to the characters. This is a challenge in a short story where character development is brief by design.

Surprise and mystery make a story good too.  If the reader can anticipate the climax of the story then the author has failed.  It’s a challenge to me as the writer to keep the reader curious enough to turn the page.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?

2. Dogs or cats?

3. Summer or winter?
Winter because summers are just too steamy in Texas

4. Cake or ice-cream?
Ice-cream—strawberry if you please

5. Car or motorcycle?
Car, but not too fast—I want to enjoy the view

6. Ebook or physical book?
eBook for my Kindle

7. Nights out or nights in?
Nights in with a good book, of course!

8. Living in the city or living in the country?
I prefer the convenience of the city

9. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telepathy is better for aspiring authors because we can finally get honest reactions to a first draft without begging

10. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
Recent past for “do overs” would be okay, but travelling into the future would ruin the surprise

11. Working in a group or working alone?
Alone at first, then ask the group for reactions

12. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
I need internet access far more than I need TV/movies–easy choice!

Thank you for joining us, Pete!
Readers: want to connect with Pete? You can find him on Goodreads. Also, be sure to check out his Amazon author page. Those interested in Flat Is Best can click here to purchase a copy.


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