Flash Fiction Flashback: “Face Time” by Matthew F. Amati

APRIL 2015. MESSENGER spacecraft was intentionally deorbited and destroyed. The Age of Adaline premiered. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake near Kathmandu in Nepal, killed 8000, leaving over 100,000 homeless, and destroyed many historic sites.

And here at Flash Fiction Online, we published “Face Time” by Mathew F Amati.

When I started looking for a story in our archives to fit this month’s theme of Horror, I kept coming back to this piece. A story as unsettling in 2015 as it is today because nothing is scarier than the human mind. Psychological horror is ageless. “Face Time” is a unique tale, in a familiar setting in which conflict builds between two characters, they’re each at war with each other and themselves as well. Through the narrator’s eyes, we see all that’s gone wrong in their world.

Go ahead, read our October stories, if you dare! Discover what is wrong in their worlds. But beware, these unsettling tales will stick with you for quite some time.

In the years since your story was published in Flash Fiction Online, what other writing goals have you accomplished? Which publications, awards, or successes are you most proud of?

“Face Time” was only the second story I’d ever published in a professional market, after “The Cratch Thy Keeper” (also in FFO). Since then, I’m proud to have published over 40 stories in magazines and anthologies. I’ve also written a novel that I’m pretty proud of, met the great Howard Waldrop at Armadillocon, and sold the movie rights to a story (again originally published in Flash Fiction Online). Oh, and one of my stories was pirated and translated into Korean without my knowledge or permission. (You know you’ve arrived when…)

The first line is a killer hook. In 16 words you establish tone, character, setting, genre and a twist. Do one-of-a-kind hooks come easily to you? Or do you have a process for creating them

Thanks! Titles and opening lines come pretty easily to me. I go through absolute conniptions trying to write middles and endings, though. I tend to jot down opening lines and then forget about them, just keep them stored somewhere. Then later if I feel like writing paragraphs and whatnot (which isn’t that often) I go back through, pick the most awful one I can find, and try to gin up a story that might go with it.

We love the duality of both Mother and the protagonist being mentally unwell. What inspired you to reveal your unreliable narrator through those Faces?

Horror, especially flash horror, needs an immediate gut-punch concept. Can’t waste time on something complicated. “Scary face” is the original horror plot, right? Followed closely by “evil parent.” So those came together nicely for me in this effort. Whereas when I’ve tried things like “two-headed anthropophagous parrot in the Iowa State Animal Control Bureau” it hasn’t worked out so well. (If someone out there can make that last one work, the concept is yours, gratis!)

“Face Time” is unique and unexpected and left me with lingering sense of unease. Which part of this story formed first for you?

This might be the only story I’ve written that came out more or less fully formed on the first draft. Wish I could bottle that! Usually, I have to rework something several times, over a long period.

Looking back on your story, is there anything about it that surprises you? Anything that you would have changed or done differently if you’d written the same story now?

I think “Face Time” pretty much works as it is. If I were writing it now, I might lengthen it a little. Beginning writers ramble too much, use too many words. So when I discovered that I had this newbie habit pretty bad (in the first 300 wordy drecky stories I wrote before getting published) I went the other direction towards being as minimalist as I could. It worked for a while. I even sold a story (“Meat and Fire”) to Daily Science Fiction that was written using only monosyllabic words. I don’t think anyone noticed!

Since then, I’ve learned it’s good to add a little breathing room, take your time telling the story, even in a flash piece. Words that add character and color aren’t wasted, if you don’t overdo it. Some writers do this very well – some great examples I’ve seen are “A Promise Kept by Candle Flame” by Kelly Sandoval that appeared in FFO a while back, or “They’re Made Out Of Meat” by Terry Bisson (a story that proved it’s possible for a flash piece to win the Nebula!). Anyway, I’m working on it. Getting better, slowly.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers that we haven’t asked?

Pro tip: the “Family Deep Fryer” they sell at Wal-Mart isn’t nearly big enough to fit a whole family in.*

How can readers support you in your current endeavors? (Patreon, book sales/reviews, other new projects, etc.?)

Just, everyone keep reading and supporting online and print fiction magazines! Pick some favorites – FFO, DSF, Clarkesworld – and sponsor through Patreon, subscribe to some print editions. Buy the anthologies. Yeah, sure, we’re all broke, but look at it this way: if you don’t chunk off the money, it’ll just go to booze and parking fines. Might as well help keep our world afloat, we’re in it together!