In 2018, Charlie Fish published my short story, “‘My Love Ana’—Tommy” in Fiction on the Web. Charlie, a New York native, has been publishing stories online since 1996 and now lives in London. In addition to publishing and editing other authors, Charlie has written multiple short stories, which have appeared in different magazines, and some have been adapted into films.

By Jhon Sánchez

I just received his first collection of short stories from England, “The Man Who Married Himself,” along with a personal note that I have on my desk. The book contains seventeen short stories each one illustrated by Yvette Gilbert and accompanied by a short essay, which I found quite unique. Charlie, a man who dared to publish fiction on the web in 1996, is a pioneer and his spirit is also shown in this book. The collection is not only interesting from the point of view of the content but also from the way it was published, through a Kickstarter Campaign.

Well, I wanted to talk to Charlie about all of that and to learn about his self-driving spirit. I guess that in the future he will publish the memoir, “The Man Who Dared to Publish Fiction on The Web in 1996.”

Charlie, thank you for granting this interview.

JS: First of all, I think we want to hear about your personal story, your projects, and how you ended up in England writing fiction.

CF: Jhon, I’m really proud to have published your wonderful story at Fiction on the Web – it’s the best kind of speculative fiction, that reprograms my brain to see the world differently. Since childhood I’ve been fascinated by those kinds of stories, science fiction and magical realism, in which some impossible metaphor thrills you with a sense of wonder and somehow helps you see the real world more clearly. I grew up wanting to be part of that.

I was born in New York to a British father and a Greek mother, and I spent my childhood moving back and forth across the Atlantic until finally settling in the UK. This nomadic lifestyle meant that my most loyal friends were books. I read voraciously, and wrote as soon as I could hold a pen.

When I was a teenager in the 1990s the World Wide Web was making the Internet more accessible, and I saw an opportunity to create a platform for budding short story writers like myself. At the time there were very few places publishing fiction online, and we all supported each other. I got so much joy from the community that I kept it up, long after all the other fiction websites had closed down and hundreds of others had arisen to take their place.

The thing I’m proudest of with Fiction on the Web is that every story I publish gets comments from readers. Those comments are precious to the authors; they are the lifeblood of the website – as long as people keep commenting, I’ll keep publishing.

Meanwhile, in between publishing and my family and my day job and my twin obsessions with films and board games, I occasionally find time to write! Short stories remain my passion, but I’ve also written films, and non-fiction such as The History of Video Games published last year by White Owl.

JS: Tell us about how you came up with the idea to publish your collection of short stories and why you chose a Kickstarter campaign for doing so. What have you learned from the experience?

CF: I’ve been writing short stories for more than 25 years. Many of my stories have been published, and I’m lucky that some have reached a wide audience. I often get emails from around the world – film students asking to adapt one of my stories, or teachers using a story in class, or linguists wanting to translate a story. That kind of feedback helps me to identify which stories have resonated most with readers. I wanted to collect together those big hitters from the last 25 years to serve as a kind of business card, so that if someone asks me about my writing I can give them a copy of the book and say, “That’s me.”

Publishing the collection via Kickstarter has allowed me to ignore commercial considerations and create exactly the book I wanted to make. Not only is the content compromise-free, but also copyright-free. Publishing the collection as a “Free Cultural Work” under a Creative Commons license is something traditional publishing would never have allowed. I’m not interested in making money from my stories, I’m interested in inspiring, sharing, giving. I get a huge amount of satisfaction when people react to and adapt my stories – by publishing copyright-free I am letting people know that they have my blessing.

JS: I was fascinated by the short essays after each story. Sometimes, more than knowing the end of the story, as a writer I wanted to know how or why you wrote the story. While reading, I was anxious to arrive at the essay. I have never seen something like that. Tell us about those essays and why you decided to include them.

CF: I’m so glad you found them interesting! Many of the stories in the book are already available to read elsewhere, so I asked myself what else I could include, to add value for the readers. I added illustrations, notes for teachers, and those little explanations of the story behind the story.

So much of literature and the arts is about context. Our experience of a piece can be hugely enriched by understanding how and why it was created. My stories are all very personal, and the opportunity to explain why they mean so much to me allows the book to represent me not just as a writer but as a person.

JS: In general, I thought that all the stories have a common theme which is ‘relationships’ and that’s why the title of the book is, “The Man Who Married Himself.” Did you intend to have a theme? Is there any story that didn’t make the final cut and if so, why did you exclude it?

CF: I read broadly – not least because I’m constantly reading Fiction on the Web submissions – and that diversity is reflected in what I write. I often experiment with different perspectives and genres. But there are some themes I keep coming back to. Relationships, yes, but also freedom; meaning; how to be a good person. However, the stories I selected for this collection are a kind of “greatest hits” compilation rather than necessarily fitting under a unifying theme.

There are some of my published stories that I didn’t include because I didn’t have enough to say about them in the post-story blurb; for example, I nearly included “Annabel”, a horror story about a cannibalistic relationship based on a comic poem I wrote in my teens. The journal in which that was published sadly went defunct after just one issue. Perhaps I’ll try to get it published again elsewhere, but meanwhile it will gather dust on my hard drive.

JS: “Baggio” is one of my favorite stories ever and I can see why it was adapted into a film. I think the story speaks to us the writers who sometimes want to just write and have no other commitment, don’t you think? Tell us more about the story.

CF: Thank you for your kind words! A friend of mine used to bring a badger puppet called Baggio out to parties, and he imbued the puppet with a hilariously arrogant personality. I was inspired to write Baggio’s backstory, explaining why such a colourful individual had relinquished his free will to our lowly friend – to the extent that our friend literally puppeted him.

At the time I was exploring the idea that having absolute freedom can cause us to become overwhelmed by choice, and paralyse us. We get distracted by the thousands of options available to us, and so end up focusing on nothing. If only a benign master would tell us: “This is your life path. This is what you must do, to the exclusion of all else.” Then, perhaps, we would be able to switch off YouTube and Snapchat and Tinder and Bridgerton – and finally fulfil our destiny. Of course, as Baggio discovers, it’s not that simple.

After “Baggio’s Story” was published, it was adapted into a film starring Jean Reno, and it is a constant source of amusement to me that so many people have enjoyed that story without knowing the in-joke: it is secretly a story about my friend’s badger puppet.

Part II of the interview will be published in the upcoming days. Please keep tuned.

Charlie Fish is a popular short story writer and screenwriter. His short stories have been published in several countries and inspired dozens of short film adaptations. Since 1996, he has edited Fiction on the Web, the longest-running short story site on the web. He was born in Mount Kisco, New York in 1980; and now lives in south London with his wife and daughters.