Mini-Interview with Stephanie Hutton

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Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

The accessibility of flash is a real selling point for me. Both writing and reading flash can fit into small slivers of time between other commitments. There is satisfaction in getting an entire first draft onto the page in one short sitting. What started as a practical decision is now a love affair! Every word is there because it needs to be.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think that depends on the story. Child-based characters have been strong and in charge of the storyline. Other pieces came from an unusual scenario idea, then building characters into it.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick, quick, quick! I love to spill my words. There seem to be two settings for me: nothing at all (95% of ‘writing’ time) or an entire flash in ten minutes flat (magical remaining 5%).

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

I think being a clinical psychologist has a significant impact on my writing. My work is filled with the painful stories of amazing people. When writing flash, I usually work out a character’s backstory including their early attachment experiences and trauma in order to make their reactions and actions as true as possible. Only hints of their history appear in the story, but it shows itself through actions and skewed first-hand perceptions.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

I have so many flash friends that it feels as impossible as choosing between my children! However, I am going to say the wonderful Ingrid Jendrzejewski. She has not only been a writing inspiration to me, but is also utterly lovely and supportive within the flash community.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I have one flash that is close to my heart and has had kind personal rejections from two great lit mags. My heart hurts a little that it has not yet been accepted, but I have faith in it, so will keep trying.

Bio: Stephanie Hutton is a writer and clinical psychologist in the UK. She came to writing later in life and considers it therapeutic. In 2017, she received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. She is somewhat addicted to writing and submitting flash fiction.

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Mini-Interview with Tara Isabel Zambrano

 

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Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

I think flash is an opportunity to capture a moment and make it bigger than life. As a writer that’s what makes it so interesting and complex to write. I started writing flash when I first joined Fictionaut and a lot of writers admired my work. I haven’t stopped since then and don’t intend to.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think both. It’s always a situation that jumpstarts the story. From that point on, the two are inseparable. I have tried to write character pieces or plot-oriented pieces and have failed miserably.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise. I keep correcting sentence structures, typos as I write. And it’s irritating to keep doing that because until then I have no idea where my story is going. Often, I end up with a completely different story than what I wanted to write. It’s frustrating and rewarding.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

All of it, my day to day work as an electrical engineer in a startup company, my hobby of flying, my role as a mother of two grown-up kids and a wife to a wonderful man who doesn’t want to read my stories because he says, “they’re a bit dark, they need to lighten up.”

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

In the past year, I’ve read some amazing stuff from Megan Giddings. I remember an excerpt of her flash piece at Black Warrior Review and I was blown away. There are several other writers that inspire me, but she’s at the top of the list.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Oh, I have been very fortunate. So far, all my work is admired. I did have a favorite piece called No longer alive or angry, for the longest time because it got rejected at least by sixty journals. Finally, it found home in Visceral Brooklyn:

http://visceralbrooklyn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/vbissue3.pdf

BIO:  Tara Isabel Zambrano is an electrical engineer by profession. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Minnesota Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Vestal Review, Gargoyle, and others. She lives in Texas and likes to read three books at the same time.

 

Mini-Interview with K.C. Mead-Brewer

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Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

First, let me say that I personally don’t tend to make genre distinctions between flash, prose poetry, or micro fiction. For me, these all fall into the same bubbling pot. I wanted to clarify this because I fell in love with this form through Russell Edson’s work, a writer many have called the father of prose poetry. His story, “father father, what have you done?”, is included in Philip Stevick’s Anti-Story anthology under the category of “the minimal story” and, at forty-three words, it is certainly that. As soon as I read this story, something opened up for me. A door. A deluge. I started seeing flash fiction everywhere and was really drawn in by the unique challenge of telling stories in this fashion. Some people think artistic freedom is the key to creativity. But necessity is the mother of invention. In other words, restriction is often the key to truly wild, innovative turns. This makes flash fiction a particularly exciting genre, I think, both as a writer and a reader. You can get away with things in flash that simply aren’t sustainable in longer forms.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 Plot. It’s rare for me to begin with a character and find a story through them. For me, I almost always begin new writing projects by exploring some question or problem, some what if scenario. Stephen King has said that some of his stories were born of things he found funny, and I feel close to this method as well. Jokes often make wonderful roads into stories. Some absurd premise, a bunch of weirdos walk into a bar, and only two of those weirdos walk out. The rest are riding tortoises. Nick Cave talks about just this sort of story-building method in his 20,000 Days on Earth documentary. You start by introducing tension, and if that doesn’t do it, you add more tension, then more, and if that still doesn’t do it for you, kill half the characters. Edson’s method of starting with a truly wild line—but a line that tastes right—and seeing what comes from there, also works well for me. Kelly Link has also shared about this first-line method, about beginning with an obsession, an immediate point of tension. But all these practices always loop back to plot for me: we start with an immediate problem, and the rest is all about facing that problem.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Quick and messy! I write my rough drafts either long-hand or with my typewriter to keep myself from editing (and thereby slowing way down) as I write. My computer is an editorial and submission tool. My notebooks and my typewriter are where all the spaghetti gets thrown against the wall.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

 Definitely my husband and our decision to remain childless. Pregnancy horror is big for me. I love writing and reading about it. As for my love, I take parts of our relationship and I warp them, I look for the ugliest possibility and doodle around with that, I take everything that annoys me and dial it up to fury, I take everything that worries me and massage it into terror, I take everything that grosses me out and try to make it a love song. Immediate tension. Hard details. This is where it’s at.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

 This is such a tricky question! Honestly, it would really depend on who I was making the recommendation for, there are so many approaches to this nutty genre. For readers who are more into realist fiction, I’d recommend Amy Hempel. For readers interested in where flash is at right now as a genre, I’d recommend Kathy Fish or Lydia Copeland Gwyn. For readers who want something off-the-wall, I’d recommend Edson. For readers who want grit and intensity, I’d recommend xTx. How’s that for dodging a question?

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

None. I’m able to write much more honestly and freely if I pretend no one actually reads anything I write.

BIO: K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her writing appears in Carve Magazine, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and elsewhere. As a reader, she loves everything weird—surrealism, sci-fi, horror, all the good stuff that shows change is not only possible, but inevitable. She’s currently at work on her debut short story collection Chameleons. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.

Mini-Interview with Jayne Martin

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Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

It could have something to do with my insatiable need for immediate gratification, or my deeply-challenged attention span. But I think I fall into the genre naturally from years of writing television scripts where most of the scenes are pretty short. You get in, get out, and leave the audience wanting more so they don’t reach for the remote. I write primarily micro. Most of my stories are between 100 and 200 words. If I can do it in less than that, I’m all that much happier. Crafting them is much like the art of bonsai. Never met a story I didn’t want to prune.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. Character. Character. I would argue that plot is always a function of character and rarely the other way around with the exception of mysteries. Or Tom Cruise movies.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

First draft messy. Just get something down on paper and hope for the appearance of that golden first sentence that launches me off and running. Each November, Nancy Stohlman hosts “Flash Nano-30 Stories in 30 Days” on Facebook with a new prompt each day. Last year I made the commitment to myself to write something every damn day without judgment as to its merit. I wrote some real stinkers, but I also wrote several stories that, with some later revision, got published. My latest piece in MoonPark Review, “Tender Cuts,” originated from that challenge.  https://moonparkreview.com/issue-one-fall-2017/tender-cuts/

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

Definitely reading. Some of the best writing advice I’ve seen came from Jennifer Egan: “Read at the level that you want to write.” This is especially true for me because I learn primarily through osmosis. Whatever I’m exposed to through reading I absorb pretty much unconsciously and I will quickly see elements of it turning up in my work. So I have to be careful about what I choose to read and I make an effort to pick authors who are “above my grade level.”

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

This is a hard one. There is so much extraordinary flash being written today. But I would have to say the work of Len Kuntz never fails to send me to the floor. Every piece of his takes the reader on an emotional journey. He never resorts to being clever. There’s truth in each meticulously chosen word.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“Best Laid Plans,” published this past August by Degenerate Lit. It was pretty experimental for me. Originally, I wrote it in all dialogue with no tags. Then I went back and added just snippets of exposition. I’m not sure why it didn’t resonate more with readers but, unlike my friend Len Kuntz, I don’t always knock everything out of the park.

http://degenerateliterature.weebly.com/flash-fiction-jayne-martin.html

Bio: Jayne Martin is the 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award for flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, Five-2-One, Midwestern Gothic, Shotgun Honey, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Spelk, Cleaver, Connotation Press and Hippocampus among others. She is the author of “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” and lives in Santa Barbara, California. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

Jayne Martin Author Page – http://injaynesworld.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

Writing and Basketball

I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between writing and basketball. Not the vocation or career differences but rather the way I think about the practice of either discipline. Both, like many other hobbies or avocations are certainly disciplines that take hours of dedicated attention in the pursuit of getting better. Like a lot of kids, I  grew up wanting to be a professional sports player, starting with baseball, and ending with basketball. I fell in love with sports well before I’d ever tried to write a story. I was attracted instead to the thrill of bat and ball connecting or the crossover dribble that led to a wide open lay-up. This was the 1990s after all, where Michael Jordan and Ken Griffey Jr. were kings. They made it all look so easy. When you’re young, anything seems possible. You take up your bat or basketball and you practice.

Hundreds of shots, quickly become a thousand. I started off at my neighborhood park, a skinny, but tall for my age 9 year old, playing alone, running down my own rebounds for the countless shots I missed, moving closer and closer to the basket until they started going in. Countless hours watching the older kids, teenagers who smoked and cussed, play lazy pick-up games while other kids my age were still playing on slides and making up imaginative games involving the various pieces of playground equipment. So I waited my turn, dribbling on the side of the court, trying to keep a handle on the ball, so it didn’t interrupt the game I hadn’t been invited to, losing the the ball occasionally, trying not to wilt under the cusses directed at my mistake.

Some days, I never got in the game. They had enough players or the game abruptly ended as soon as someone got tired, the boys jumping in their cars and rattling away from the park, leaving me alone with my ball and an empty court, where I’d go back to hoisting up shots until it got dark and I had to go home. Eventually I got older, I got better, the practice paying off until the older kids either couldn’t ignore me or they finally needed another player. In my memory, I made the most of these early opportunities, making a great pass, grabbing a rebound, or scoring a point or two. I know there were a lot of stumbles, a lot of mistakes, more cussing, a few shoves to the ground. But I’d made finally into the game. I was accepted, though grudgingly.

There were still a lot of loneliness on the court. I lived in a town of 500 people, so there were only so many kids that wanted to play basketball, most who were not as obsessed as I was. Shot after shot, my skinny arms growing stronger, my footwork more precise, my hand-eye coordination blooming. I spent hours everyday after school and even more on weekends playing basketball, not walking off the court until I was thoroughly exhausted.  An obsessed 12 year old can put up a lot of shots in just a few hours; the mechanics becoming automatic. Dribble, dribble, shoot. Rebound, dribble, dribble, shoot. The point here is that this activity takes little brainpower, once the rudimentary skills are established. There is a graceful rhythm, where the body just reacts, a muscle memory that I assume is established and then maintained in so many other disciplines, all except writing. I’m not referring to the knowledge of grammar or punctuation, which can be taught, and scripted, it’s own unique muscle memory. No, I’m talking about the struggle against the blank page, the fight against the anxiety of creating something lasting and worthwhile.

Putting down words that lead to sentences, that lead to paragraphs, which hopefully turn into stories has the air of permanence. The jump shot or free throw creates no anxiety, no fear of releasing the ball, because make or miss, it can always be tracked down, rebounded and hoisted up again. There is only the loss of physical energy and the player knows that this kind of energy will return after a set amount of time, because it has always been this way.

The writer though feels the waning ebb of energy with every release of a sentence, the battle of mind over fear, wondering about each word, wondering if it is truly the best the writer can come up with. Sure, the writer should be able to change any word just like throwing up another shot. Nothing physically stops my fingers, but there is the mind, the system of doubt, that constantly outweighs the physical act of writing.

There, at some point, is just nothing to prove with the practice of basketball, no one waiting or expecting the player to become anything more than an amateur. Even the shooter himself, eventually, and quickly in the scheme of growing up transitions to understanding that basketball is not a realistic career path, but something done for enjoyment. Family members do not ask about the the player’s latest workout at the gym, whether they put up good stats in a pickup game. And maybe now at thirty-three, I’m making the same mistake, counting each writing sessions as leading to something larger, some kind of career. So maybe this is the larger scenario that leads to so much anxiety, so much cosmic doubt. I’ve attached serious weight to each story’s possibility for success, where it might lead me. Basketball now leads no where except it’s own enjoyment.

Writing is a war of attrition against time. Whether self-imposed or a figment of the writer’s mind, time feels fixed and fleeting. There are expectations both real and imagined, put together by the writer herself or by outside forces such as family or peers. There is a constant competition against time and self, against the limits of creativity and the willingness to revise. I’ve created this battle, one that in this current musings doesn’t take account of the joy found in creating characters and worlds, the contentment that can come from having a good writing day. A feeling that now is surely sweeter than any round of shooting around, that’s more permanent than even the rare good showing at a pickup game.

The point here, and I’ll put it so plainly, because it’s an understanding I need to come to for myself, because truly it’s a metaphor that might only work for me, is that writing, especially when drafting, could and probably should take on the appearance of playing basketball. My hope is to let my words and sentences come as freely, as mindlessly as any jump shot, to learn the muscle memory rhythm of just shooting around. That time isn’t a barrier. That there is always the rebound, the dribble, and the shot.

Mini-Interview with Jacqueline Doyle

Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

One of the reasons is probably time. It’s hard to make time for larger projects when I’m teaching. But I’ve always been attracted to the lyric fragment and to small moments in larger works, and I love the compression and resonance of very short writing. While short works has been around for centuries, the genre called flash is relatively new and as far as I can see has no rules at all beyond the necessity that the work be complete in itself. I love the freedom that allows me.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Definitely character and not plot. I struggled with plot when I started writing, and probably gravitated toward flash because it’s possible to dispense with conventional plot (though I’m always pleased when I manage a clear narrative arc). Character sometimes emerges as I play with voice. Voice, imagery, the music of words may be my writerly life jackets. Sometimes a formal device. My flash “Zig Zag” began with a picture in my head of someone zigzagging across a cornfield, seen from above. All I knew when I started to write was that I wanted the narrative line to zig zag. The plot and characters that emerged are very obscure. Of course some people may hate “Zig Zag” for just that reason.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The quick ones are the most fun. Often they’re based on something concrete like an item in the news (“Noonday Robbery at Booneville Savings and Loan” in FlashFiction.net) or a painting (“Edvard Munch’s ‘Eye in Eye’” in Flash Frontier) or a mysterious image (“A Murder of Crows” in Cheap Pop, “Avian Portent” in Entropy). But usually my writing is slow and laborious, with many edits as I go along (frowned upon in many “how to” handbooks, but that’s the way I write), and then many subsequent drafts. Especially of the flash, it seems. Slow and messy.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

I taught literature for years before I started to write, and I still teach more lit classes than creative writing classes, so even though it’s literature and not the real world, it’s my “real life” and I have to labor to keep it from influencing my writing too much. I have a weakness for literary allusions, sometimes obscure. Many of my early flash had epigraphs that I deleted later. Some are riffs on literary texts (“Ligeia,” “Lady Lazarus,” “Aubade,” Freud’s case history of “Dora,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” The Haunting of Hill House), even center on teaching literary texts (Citizen), and I worry that they’re too academic. On the plus side, teaching has given me a tremendous appreciation for great writing.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

Does it have to be one? I have a very long list of extraordinary flash writers whose work I jump to read when I see it announced online. Just in the past month, there are so many great flash stories to choose from. All of your readers have probably read Kathy Fish’s powerful prose poem/flash “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” in Jellyfish Review, but I’ll put it out here in case anyone hasn’t: https://jellyfishreview.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/collective-nouns-for-humans-in-the-wild-by-kathy-fish/

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I published my first flash in 2009, but I’m not sure I had any readers at all until a few years ago, so all my flash publications went unrecognized, or at least it felt that way! (Such is the life of the emerging writer.) Of my recent flash, it might be “Hula,” which came out in the print journal Quarter After Eight. I love the magazine and that issue in particular, which was filled with excellent flash, but I’m used to zines and never know who reads print. (I’m also thrilled to have flash in The Pinch, and forthcoming in print journals like Post Road and Hotel Amerika, but I’m afraid those flash won’t reach the community of readers I care about most.) “Hula” is included in my new flash chapbook so I hope it’s being read now. Quarter After Eight also posted it online later on a page of “Featured Work”: http://www.quarteraftereight.org/toc.html#hula

BIO: Jacqueline Doyle’s very first publication was a micro in flashquake (may it rest in peace) and her last will probably be a micro too (maybe on her headstone). She has a brand new flash chapbook, The Missing Girl, with Black Lawrence Press. Her flash has recently appeared in Wigleaf, matchbook, Jellyfish Review, threadcount, Cheap Pop, Monkeybicycle, The Pinch, 100 Word Story, and many other magazines she loves. “Zig Zag” won the 2017 flash contest at Midway Journal, judged by Michael Martone. In another life, she also writes creative nonfiction, and has been awarded three Notables in Best American Essays. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.

Mini-Interview with Cathy Ulrich

Flash Fiction Writer Interview

Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

I love the immediacy of flash, the tightness of it. How you can say so much with so little. In college, I had a writing teacher who thought I’d be a natural at flash, but I was a poet (I thought) and didn’t believe him. Looking back, all the poetry I was writing was actually just flash with line breaks.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m terrible with plot. Just terrible. I’ve always been better at hinting about plot and letting the characters carry the story.

I hope I’m crafting characters who seem real. I believe in them, at least. Like, I think somewhere there has got to be a girl who would marry a bird because he was the one she’d been waiting for or a girl who keeps attracting boys who see ghosts. They’re out there, really. Or they should be.

So: character!

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

It’s actually quick and precise. My biggest weakness as a writer is that if the words aren’t pretty damn close to their final form when I first write them, there’s really no way they can be saved. A lot of my work goes into the shredder or, if I’m feeling really dramatic, into the fire pit.

But sometimes I’m lucky and the words are there and, with a few edits, I’ve got something.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

I’m always watching people, always listening. At work, I overheard a woman telling my boss about coming up on the car wreck that killed her mother. And I’m listening to her and I’m thinking this would be great in a story, and just hating myself for it. But, of course,  I don’t stop listening. I hope I don’t write that story. I still remember how the woman’s hands shook as she described the wreck to my boss, the look on her face.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

I could never choose just one. There are so many fabulous writers out there. I love Lori Sambol Brody, Nicholas Cook, Rebecca Harrison, Meghan Phillips. Those are some of my favorites. They’re all such different writers with such unique styles, and they’re all just so amazing.

But I can’t name all the writers I adore. It would be such a long list. I’m so grateful there is so much wonderful flash for me to read.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

My hardest story to write was a micro piece in Citron Review, “The Size of Your Love.” It’s about a woman leaving her dead baby at a funeral home with the office manager. There’s this moment where she kisses this little fist-sized baby over and over again. I wrote that one in second person because I just couldn’t face it in first.

So that was a really tough piece for me to write — hopefully there’s some beauty in it. I’d be really grateful if people liked it.

BIO:

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. She is a fiction editor for Atlas and Alice, and an editorial reader for Spry. Her work has been published in various journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review and Monkeybicycle. She has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2017, and was named to Wigleaf’s Very Best Short Fictions 2017.

Mini-Interview with Megan Giddings

Flash Fiction Writer Interviews

Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

I write flash because brevity brings clarity for me. I also think my brain responds to rules with more playfulness; when I was bored in high school and undergrad, I would write funny haikus to myself. I loved that you could say so much, could even be funny in 17 syllables. And when I finish a flash and I feel like I’ve been funny or said something meaningful, then, a lot of the time, I feel even more satisfied than if I had done that in six times the space.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot? Neither. It’s time. I think a lot of writers could pay way more attention to the ways they create time in a story. Time doesn’t just influence tense, it influences tone, character, plot, pacing. I think often the difference between a good and great story (or even novel) is the writer is willing to push themselves to innovate and/or be flexible in their portrayals of how time works.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

It really depends on the story. I am a really fast reader and writer, in general. But there are stories that I’ve been working on for six years because they don’t feel “right,” and then there are stories, like the one I recently published in Territory that I wrote during an intensive week and a half. Honestly, the only way I keep writing is by reminding myself not to be rigid about how things are and should be.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

I love the different ways people tell stories. I’m an eavesdropper, people watcher, flyer, crumpled-up note found on the sidewalk reader. I’m a person who if someone says—even though, oh holy shit has this backfired on me on multiple occasions—can I tell you something weird, has to almost always say yes (unless I know I really don’t like the person speaking and know what they’ll say will just annoy me). The world can be such a weird and wonderful place. The majority of people have yeah, suppressed their weirdness in many ways, but every once in a while you can get a sideways glance at it and it’s so delicious and inspiring.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be? That’s really hard! I do think a flash story that should have gotten way more attention than it did is Ruth Joffre’s “Softening.” It was the last story I picked at SmokeLong. You could also read all the flash we’ve published at The Offing since I’ve been there.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

It’s not flash, but I published a short story in Pleiades this year called “The Disappointing Earth.” It’s in issue 37.1. (You can also access it if you have Project Muse.) A dog gets abducted by aliens.

BIO: Megan Giddings is a fiction editor at The Offing and a contributing editor at Boulevard. She has two chapbooks, Arcade Seventeen (TAR: The Atlas Review’s Chapbook series) and The Most Dangerous Game (The Lettered Streets Press). Her short stories are forthcoming or have been recently published in Arts & Letters, CRAFT, Pleiades, and Territory. More about her can be found at www.megangiddings.com

Mini-Interview with Jolene McIlwain

Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

Before I switched to literature, I was a studio art major where I learned to appreciate how choices in materials or canvas size could limit or liberate you. Small never meant easier, simpler. Prior to studying flash as a writer, I taught its form in literary analysis/theory courses at Duquesne and Chatham universities. We looked closely at prose poems, micros, and flash from multiple lenses or theories: feminist, Marxist, post-colonial, psychological. One of the first books I taught back in 2002 was an anthology called Micro Fiction by Jerome Stern. These “close reading” exercises helped students engage with many styles, to note specific choices the writers made, to recognize the importance of a word or phrase, of tone and repetition. Years later, I included a craft book in the class (The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction) as well as links to many online pieces, and offered an activity in which students would try their hands at writing in several styles. One day we might try Annie Proulx’s style, as in “55 Miles to the Gas Pump,” and on another day, we’d try out Peter Markus’s style, as in “Good, Brother.” They had so much fun with it. I did, too. Writing flash was both wildly exhilarating and extremely frustrating and difficult—just like welding steel sculptures or molding clay. What I loved most is that we could attempt these 250—1,000 word pieces again, and again, all the while finding our own unique styles, our own voices.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Great question! I think my lifejacket is character if that also includes “character as setting.” I love to fashion a place, its language, its tics, its unique details, as specifically as possible. One of the first pieces of flash I read (it was anthologized as a prose poem) was Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel.” She does an amazing job in characterizing both the colonel and this space where he “lived” physically, psychologically, and politically. (I’ll never forget the parrot, the daughter filing her nails, those ears!) And to open a piece with “What you have heard is true” is so cool.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

I can’t recommend only one (!) but I can list a few that informed my vision of what flash can do on an emotional level and a structural level, specifically around time in narrative. David Foster Wallace’s “Incarnations of Burned Children,” Aimee Bender’s  “The Rememberer,” and Robert Olen Butler’s collection, Severance. And, then, wait! I can’t forget Jayne Anne Phillips’s Black Tickets!

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Messy and slow. My Shakespeare teacher Raymond Thomas gave this advice long ago: “Keep a sketchbook. Write or draw something in it every day.” My story ideas, as my sketchbooks and iPhone “Notes” reveal, are always dreadfully messy at first and then I eke my way toward something that (I hope) makes sense, usually suffering over a word, just one word, for days.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

“Meeting” new occupations/hobbies. The slang or jargon of each occupation draws me in. The first time I visited an Amish sawmill I immediately began taking notes and used those notes for a story called “Seed to Full.” In the weeks after one of my son’s science field trips to a local trout stream—which included fly-tying, fly-fishing, and the release of fingerlings—I couldn’t stop finding ways to use the language of angling in the pieces I wrote. I used to work as an X-ray technologist where I encountered a procedure called a hysterosalpingogram—one used to diagnose infertility. That word shows up in my most recent publication in The Cincinnati Review, “Drumming.”

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’ve been so lucky to place stories at journals with very supportive editors. They offered kindness and investment from the start, sometimes discussions around accompanying artwork (two of my published pieces include photographs I’d taken), and sharp edits—like, really, diamond scalpel sharp.

That said, I have a story out in the ether right now that’s getting so, so, SO many form rejections. I think it doesn’t want to get accepted because it’s loving hanging out in submission queues drinking tequila.

Jolene McIlwain’s writing appears online at The Cincinnati Review, Prairie SchoonerRiver TeethAtticus ReviewPrime Number Magazine, and elsewhere, and was recently nominated for a Pushcart and selected as a contest finalist by Glimmer Train, and semi-finalist in Nimrod’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize and both American Short Fiction’s Short and Short(er) Fiction contests. She’s an associate flash fiction editor at jmww and is currently working on a linked collection of short fiction and novel set in the hills of the Appalachian plateau of western Pennsylvania. She tweets at @jolene_mcilwain

Mini-Interview with Kathryn McMahon

Kathryn McMahon author photo 2017 (2)

Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

The urgency and control. I write longer prose, too, but with flash, I don’t always have to think it out before I write it. I can just sit and capture the idea as it blooms in my brain. Even if it’s a very rough first draft. This means I can go back and start tinkering with it right away while I am still fired up and have a feel for where all the pieces go—especially the emotionally resonant parts. Or if I don’t have the time, I can get enough down to know where to pick up next. I also think writing flash makes me a better fiction writer in general because in a small space I really have to justify all the choices I make.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

The importance of each is story dependent. A plot can be subtle, but powerful if hosted by an appropriate narrator or the characters can be observers we don’t really know who guide us through something epic. I enjoy exploring the spectrum.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy but the kind of mess where I know where everything is. My first drafts are full of bracketed notes to myself with instructions or questions about details. This way I don’t interrupt my writing momentum to check things out, and also don’t lose track of the things I want to say but don’t know how to articulate yet.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

I’d have to say interactions with other people. Family and friends, of course, but even conversations in the grocery store parking lot with a stranger asking about my t-shirt have given me fodder. Also, I grew up moving around abroad and returning on and off to the US where I faced culture shock, and then I continued this pattern as an adult. I think I write a lot of fabulism because I am used to encountering things I never expected in places and circumstances that should feel familiar.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

There are so many phenomenal flash writers and so many incredible stories, but one that speaks to me is Jennifer Fliss’s piece in Hobart, “Mail from the Person You Ate.” Its fresh insights made it such a uniquely powerful narrative and I am in awe of how she achieved a balance of resilience and pain in such a small space. Just breathtaking.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“You and Then Some” in Necessary Fiction. It’s about 1,100 words, so a little long for some flash fiction readers. I love that story because it marked a changing point for me as a writer. With it, I began embracing my quirks and I think it showcases the odd depths and dark humor that I can reach in my fiction! http://necessaryfiction.com/stories/KathrynMichaelMcMahonYouandThenSome

BIO:

Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in such places as Jellyfish Review, Syntax and Salt, Wyvern Lit, Cease, Cows, (b)OINK, The Baltimore Review, Split Lip, and Necessary Fiction as well as in the women’s food and horror anthology, Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up to No Good (Upper Rubber Boot, 2018). She is a nominee for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology and a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. More of her writing can be found at darkandsparklystories.com. On Twitter, she is @katoscope.