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For Writers

January 2008

Liberty Hall Writers: An Interview with Mike Munsil

Liberty Hall Writers Workshop LogoTwo of the writers selected for inclusion in the January issue of Flash Fiction Online, Beth Wodzinski and Rod M. Santos, hone their writing skills at Liberty Hall, a writers’ forum — and I’m not making this up — where you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard.

Whatever the nature of their interactions with floor coverings and felines, they seem to crank out a lot of good stories. We spoke with Liberty Hall’s founder and proprietor, Mike Munsil, to find out more.

Flash Fiction Online: So what’s Liberty Hall?

Mike Munsil: It’s this really cool place with lots of nekkid wimmen... Wait! Sorry, that’s that other site.

FFO: Better be. This is a family publication. I'm already stressed about my kids reading the word “bastard” in a serious article. But you were saying...

MM: Right. Liberty Hall Writers is a website and writer’s online community that I founded in 2005. The basic intent and founding principal is to get people writing and to keep them writing. To do so, we have created and administer writing challenges of various types, the most notorious of which are the Flash Challenges. We also run Polish Challenges and Short Story Challenges and hold Yearly Contests for prizes and publication.

The Flash Challenges are a weekly competition in which folks write a complete story with effective characters and arc, based upon a trigger (writing prompt), in only 90 minutes. To date we have collectively written over 1500 stories. At least 60 of those have been published.

FFO: Sixty-two now: Rod's story won the year-end flash challenge, but Beth tells me that her story also germinated from an earlier flash challenge.

That’s a good number. So you think the challenges are effective?

MM: Yes, we do. At the very least they shake you up and whack the muse with a stick to get her working again. The adrenaline rush of being faced with a trigger and (now less than 90 minutes) to write a complete story can be addictive, so people often participate until they surface for a bit and look around and realize that they have 20 stories or so that need editing and polishing. So, they go off for a while to get those stories out the door to publishers, then come back when they need more inspiration or a jolt of writer’s caffeine.

FFO: You give them no time, you give them a prompt they have to write to, and they have almost no space to develop plot, character, setting, or anything else that makes up a good story. Wouldn’t people be better of working more slowly and carefully?

MM: Absolutely not! Writers are better off writing! Our site does that; it gets you writing and it keeps you writing.

Sure, some crap gets produced, but it all gets critiqued within a day or so of being written, and that means that a very focused group of writers have given you very succinct and effective pointers on how to fix the story.

FFO: What about the social dynamics? What’s the community like, what changes have you seen, and what storms have you weathered?

MM: Because the community is fairly small (so far) and because I require people who want in to provide information that I can verify, we rarely have real issues. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some dramatic personalities, or times when we have some arguments; we do. But in spite of the robust egos, the site is so focused that there is little reward for social chit-chat. In other words, we tend to be focused on what we do, not what people say.

The greatest threats to the community so far have been from hackers and technical issues. We were hacked once and lost everything (the forums were all there were at that time) and another time an upgrade went awry and raised merry hell with our data.

There have been some people who tried to cause a ruckus, but I have absolutely no compunction about deleting them from the site and will do so when necessary. And, after all, there’s the Golden Rule of Liberty Hall: don’t piss Mike off. That works real well. :)

Oh! And we have Beth! She’s the loyal oppostion. She does really well at that. :) But we’re still here, and we’ll be here for some time to come.

FFO: So personally, what role does Liberty Hall play in your life?

MM: It’s my substitute for sex. Really.

FFO: Really. Oh, my, look at the time...

MM: Okay, not even I can get away with that. Liberty Hall is a place where I get to work with some of the sharpest upcoming writers in the English-speaking world on a daily basis. It’s a place where every week I get to read new stories and well thought-out critiques of those stories. It’s a place where I get to watch a story produced in 90 minutes go from a hasty flash, through our Polish Challenges (we have this group of dwarf European miners who... okay, it’s "polish" as in to clean and shine up), to submission and finally to publication.

And they let me think I’m boss.

FFO: What is up with cat?

MM: Hah! That’s Tom the Bastard. He’s our mascot. I usually have him cooped up in his very own cyber-pen, but occasionally he gets out to play. He’s been known to propose all manner of interspecies consensual sex to our members, and non-consensual as well. He’s a real bastard.

FFO: Non-members may not realize that you've just put on a great new look. What’s new?

MM: We went for a while with just a simple html front end and a phpBB2 forum. That resulted in a lot of work administering our challenges via email, etc. Finally, I had a programmer build some web php-applications. What a difference that made! With that and the heavy-lifting that Gwalchmai and a few others do, we are now at our 126th Flash Challenge!

Recently I had to learn the Joomla(TM) Content Management System to build my company a new website, so I took advantage of my new-found skills to set up a Joomla front-end for Liberty Hall. We still use the same forums software we always have, and most of the action takes place there, but I am slowly adding more bells and whistles as we go. Further, gsemones (a very talented programmer) is in process of creating an add-in component to the Joomla CMS that will further automate the administration of our challenges. When that’s ready, it’s all tea and Bunnahabhain, baby!

FFO: What are your biggest challenges and rewards? And tell us about some lessons learned: if you could start over, what would you do differently?

MM: The biggest challenge is learning to delegate to the people who can manage the site better than I can, and to keep my fingers out of things. The biggest reward is watching someone go all spastic in the forums when they make their first sale. Or when a member wins as a finalist in Writers Of The Future, or when someone mentions that a story they first created in one of our flash challenges is going to be included in a print anthology and will be on the shelves of major bookshelves in the near future. All of these have happened. Kinda makes me all tingly inside. Or maybe that’s just the Bunnahabhain.

If I could start over. Hmm. I’d try to get the web applications built faster. And I’d try harder to let more people know just how good writers our members are.

FFO: How has this all affected your own writing?

MM: It is an incredibly elaborate, demanding and complicated procrastination scheme. Liberty Hall has taken a lot of my time and I have written less than I wanted to, but I really cannot blame the site, or all those damn people who write so much better than I do.

FFO: I suppose it's appropriate for a new publisher to give you some sympathy for that. :)

How does Liberty Hall compare/contrast with other sites?

MM: We are distinct. Many sites start out with good intentions but rapidly devolve into chat sites with little, if any, actual writing and critiquing. Other sites are taken over by folks who use critiques to stroke their egos; really unfriendly places. Most sites are fairly good, but are not focused and do not provide the near-instant quality feedback that you need to rapidly advance in the craft.

And we’re free and always will be!

FFO: Sounds like a hell of a place. How can people join, and why is membership restricted?

MM: You can join by going to (the old front page) and filling out and submitting the Invitation Request form. I will review the information you provide and then try to verify it to some extent. If it checks out, and if you’re not an ass, I’ll probably issue you an invite. Upon occasion, I will ask for more information, but this rarely occurs. When it does, it is because I am trying to establish the person’s level of maturity.

So, why require an invitation? Is it because we’re snooty? Nope. Is it because we only want people who are already good writers? Nope. In fact, if you look at the "Invitation Request" form, there’s a dropdown list in which you select your writing stage. The selection "Beginner" is accompanied by "(this is fine by us)"; we included that to demonstrate that we welcome beginners.

No, it’s because we want people who WANT to write and who aren’t overburdened with too much or too little ego.

That is all. You may go now.

Many thanks to Mike for his time and commitment to writers. Visit Tom the Bastard and Mike and many others at

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