Mini-Interview with Thad DeVassie

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

Until recently, I have always described my writing life as that of a poet who gravitates toward prose poetry. But I’ve always felt like a fish out of water with my writing – not really a formal poet, not quite a fiction writer capable of longer formats. That meant falling into that murky, in-between place until I discovered writers such as Russell Edson, James Tate, Charles Simic, Matthea Harvey, and Matthew Zapruder to name a few. They were writing these paragraphs and bits of dialogue that were surreal and absurd, funny but also touching, and it spoke to me like nothing else I had read before. My writing teeters between prose poetry and flash, and the growth and acceptance of flash has influenced the way I write. It has released me from rigid ideas about form and style, affording me to simply write with conviction and outside of convention. Now the challenge is when it comes time to submit. Is this prose poetry? Flash fiction? A hybrid or something else? I think it just is. That sounds like a cop out, but it’s just this little thing I created. 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’ll say plot, but I think scene might be better word. I think that’s the poet in me trained on the economy of words. My characters are more like navigators. I prefer to parachute readers into these micro stories with the navigator and get to the scene at hand. I want the reader to be swept up in the spectacle, to embrace their role as curious eavesdropper at the bar. Plot ends up being something either highly relatable, so the reader can connect even with a vague character sketch, or something ridiculously absurd, sometimes infusing historical characters who need little by way of introduction, and telling untold stories of peculiar happenings (Evel Knievel, Paul Bunyan, Matthew Brady, Ron Popeil). Either way, the goal is to create a thing that evokes feeling, and for me that’s driven by the experience.   

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and somewhat precise. I sprint toward an end point with an idea, but rarely does it hold up as finished concept. Time away from a piece always makes it stronger, when thoughts on a different day bring new and hopefully better ideas to the table. I’ve recently had a few stories picked up that I’ve reworked after they sat dormant for a decade or more.   

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

That part about eavesdropping at the bar…that! I’m constantly listening for language, sending up an antenna on conversations around me. I also search for quirky twists of phrase or peculiar word choices in things I read. Sometimes a single word, spoken or in type, is enough to hijack the imagination. I’m also working through a series of flash nonfiction pieces about my mother’s illness, which is a challenge. I’m grappling with writing in a way that is much more vulnerable. 

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

In addition to the prose poets above whom I love and highly recommend, even for flash writers, I’d vote for Ben Loory. Couldn’t we all use more Ben Loory stories in our lives?   

Given my recent dabbling with flash nonfiction, I am locking in on stories about memory of family. Recent standouts include Eulogy by Dina Relles (Passages North) and Misty Urban’s My Sister Passes Me on a Bench at the Zoo (River Teeth). I want more of what both of these women are writing right now.    

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition? 

I fly under the radar, so my expectations are well-tempered. But I would say a piece that appeared in FLASH: titled Let’s Call This… was a joy to see in print and speaks to my writing style well. Also, the first FNF piece about my mother that landed in Lunate at the start of the year. I was tremendously grateful for their love and care of that piece. It’s the fuel to keep writing the hard-to-write stuff. 

BIO: Thad DeVassie’s prose poems and flash fiction pieces have found their way into numerous publications including New York Quarterly, North American Review, West Branch, NANO Fiction, PANK, Unbroken, and Poetry East, among others. His chapbook, THIS SIDE OF UTOPIA, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press, as is his work in Flash Nonfiction Food – an anthology from Woodhall Press, arriving in Spring 2020. A lifelong Ohioan, he is the founder of a brand messaging and storytelling studio in Columbus, and is the co-founder of JOY VENTURE, a podcast and platform for sharing stories of unlikely and risk-taking entrepreneurs. You can find him on Twitter @ratchetstrategy. 

Mini-Interview with Marcelle Heath

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

I was working at a bookstore in the 80s when I discovered Sudden Fiction. I remember looking for other books like it, and not finding anything, until Sudden Fiction International was released. Then, in the 90s I found Micro Fiction. Amy Hempel’s “Hostess” and “Housewife,” Padgett Powell’s “Gentleman’s C,” and Beauvais McCaddon’s “At the Point” blew me away. “At the Point,” about an alcoholic couple trying to turn it around, is one of my all-time favorites. This was when very short stories were called “short shorts” or “very short stories,” before Flash. I started writing flash in the early aughts. I’ve always loved brevity, formalism, and compression, and how flash lends itself to experimentation and humor.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot. Moving the action forward, even if I don’t succeed and the story falters (which it does more often than not). I don’t need sympathetic narrators or characters I fall in love. I like mystery and opposition. I don’t care about motive.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise. I admire the quick and messy approach, especially because at least you have something to show for it at the end of the day. However, it’s not in my nature. I jot down notes. I write two sentences a day sometimes. A paragraph or two is a stellar writing day for me.

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

Moving around a lot growing up – my family hopped from coast to coast for the large part of my childhood. What I remember of the homes I lived in and the places I’ve lived often comes into play. As does music. I played the piano as a kid and I have genetic hearing loss, and desire to hear what I couldn’t or what and how I hear, especially since I had an “ear” for music, really influences my relationship to sound, writing, people. My collection IS THAT ALL THERE IS? is named after the Peggy Lee song, and there’s a lot of music in it.

Also, my mother.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Cathy Ulrich’s work. I love her collection GHOSTS OF YOU. I love the poet and essayist Anne Boyer, whose vignettes I think of as flash. Renee Gladman’s CALAMITIES. Any and all that Wave Books publishes. I know I’m biased as former series editor of Wigleaf Top 50, but I love Scott Garson’s work. Kara Vernor’s BECAUSE I WANTED TO WRITE A POP SONG.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I am really proud of my short story “Nine times Gretchen King is mistaken on July 12, 1980.” I worked with Katharine Weber, Kenyon Review Editor-at-Large. She was an incredible editor, and helped me transform this story. It went through some intense revisions, and I learned so much. Katharine took it on because she saw potential in it, and I’m so grateful to her.

Bio: Marcelle Heath’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, Little Fiction, matchbook, Nat. Brut, Split Lip Magazine, Wigleaf, and other journals. Her short story collection, IS THAT ALL THERE IS?, is forthcoming by Awst Press in 2022. Marcelle curates Apparel for Authors, an interview series on writers, fashion, and the public sphere.

Mini-Interview with Neil Clark

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

First, I would like to thank you for interviewing me, Tommy. This series is so great. I feel like I just walked into a party I have no business being at. I did bring beer, though!

When I started writing in my early twenties, I dived straight into the novel. Big mistake from me and my short attention span. Once I got to 50,000 words or so, it became clear I was writing a collection of tidbits, not a novel. The only thing tying it all together was the fact that they all featured a man called Gordon. I was bored of Gordon. I wanted to write tidbits about aliens as well, or ghosts, or the secret lovechild of a vending machine and a toaster. I wanted the freedom to explore a new world every time I sat down to write. So I started doing that, without knowing it was called flash fiction. These days, I rarely write anything over 500 words, and I usually have two or three different ideas on the go at any one time.

That’s what makes flash different and special for me. The brevity means you can experiment and take risks at will. If an idea leads to a dead end (as many of mine do) it’s no big deal. But if it does come off, the pay-off is unlike any other form for me. Most of the biggest literary gut-punches I’ve had have come from reading flash fiction pieces.

Last year, I attended the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. On the first night, I was sat there thinking ‘Yep. I’ve found my niche.’

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Narrative movement is important for me. I stop reading if nothing is happening. But I’m going to say character. I’m reminded of a local writers’ group I used to go to. There was a guy who would write these long passages of ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened…’ without spending any time on his characters’ reactions or emotions. Then he’d lash out when it wasn’t well received. He’d wave his glass of pinot noir around and be like, “My passage had several thousand deaths, a military coup and group sex between seventeen different species of alien!” and we’d all be thinking, ‘Yeah that’s wonderful mate, but somehow we were still bored.’ That was an important lesson for me. You can have all the alien army orgies in the universe, but if the story doesn’t have a beating heart, nobody is going to care.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The first, followed by the second. Initially, I use the shoveling sand approach. Chuck whatever is in my head into a document or my phone as quickly as possible, then worry about shaping it into something that makes sense after. That’s one of the great things about creative writing – nobody needs to see anything until it’s ready to be seen. After I’ve shoveled the sand, writing is re-writing. That part is slow and precise, or, more accurately, repetitive and precise. I keep going over it until I’m putting commas in, taking them out, then putting them in again. At that point, I deem it good to go.

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

My mother comes from Guyana and is of Chinese ethnicity, so I looked different to everyone else at my school apart from my sister. Most of the time it was fine, but often enough, something would happen or get said that would make me feel like a complete outsider. Nothing like an unhealthy dose of feeling like an outsider to bring out the writer in someone!

Also, in terms of “real life” on a grander scale, I love space and the cosmos. As humans, we have this capacity for kindness and cruelty. We have empathy. We have a need for community and sometimes solitude. All these things and more. But when we think about it rationally, we are utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe and time. That juxtaposition fascinates me. I was thinking about it when I was out for a real life walk earlier, so I thought I’d mention it here.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I’m opening another beer, because this is some question. One that is going to be such a pleasure to answer.

The Tenth of December by George Saunders is a sublime book. The story ‘Sticks’ is only a page long and was probably my first glimpse into what flash fiction can do. You can read that story online here – http://www.unm.edu/~gmartin/535/Sticks.htm

The shorter pieces in Miranda July’s collection ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’ had a similar effect on me.

This Pat Foran story is one of the saddest, most beautiful things I’ve read recently – https://moonparkreview.com/issue-ten-winter-2019-2020/how-cold-the-morning-how-heavy-the-waltz/

As is this by Anita Goveas – https://intothevoidmagazine.com/article/how-to-obey-gravity/

How does Cathy Ulrich produce so many beautiful pieces so consistently? Is there an army of Cathy Ulrichs? Joking. There’s only one Cathy Ulrich. This is a fantastic story by her about haunted carwashes – https://heavyfeatherreview.org/2019/08/29/ulrich/

This is a fun alien stepfather story by Chris Miliam –

Oh, and this is another Chris Miliam belter (I love this guy!) about a monster made of processed food –

https://themolotovcocktail.com/about/archive-vols-1-3/vol-8/flash-monster-2017/goop/

Here’s something a bit different. If you don’t mind a bit of profanity, I’d highly recommend watching this video of my fellow Scot, Chris McQueer, reading the hilarious ‘Korma Police’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRFFhsDXDKs

Since I started writing micro fiction, I’ve really looked up to Noa Sivan. What she can do with so few words is truly special. This collection in Monkey Bicycle illustrates this perfectly – http://monkeybicycle.net/microfictions/

You know who else is amazing at micro fiction, who I’ve discovered recently? Katherine Kulpa. Here’s is a collection of apocalyptic ones – http://x-r-a-y.com/in-the-time-of-climate-change/fiction/

I’m going to go and reread all of these myself in a bit, with another beer!

But before I do that, speaking of micro fiction, I must mention the Twitter very short story community. If I started listing all the amazing individuals, we’d be here all day. But I’d definitely recommend checking out the #vss365 (Very Short Story, 365 days a year) hashtag on there. Loads of great tweet-length stories posted every day. I’d urge anyone to take part, too. I’ve been doing it for years now and it’s become my favourite way to get the creative beers flowing. Creative juices, sorry! Meant to say juices.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’ll give a plug to one of my micro fictions called ‘Memoir’. It was part of the UK National Flash Fiction Day ‘Flash Flood’, which is exactly what the name suggests – a flood of flash fiction. So people might have missed my contribution, which I’m really fond of – https://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.com/2019/06/memoir-by-neil-clark.html

BIO: Neil Clark is a writer from Edinburgh. His debut print collection – ‘Time. Wow.’ – is scheduled for release on Back Patio Press in 2020. His work is published or forthcoming in a number of journals such as Wigleaf, Okay Donkey, Spelk, CHEAP POP and The Molotov Cocktail. You can follow him on Twitter @NeilRClark or visit neilclarkwrites.wordpress.com for a full list of publications.

Mini-Interview with Kevin Richard White

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

I write more flash now than I did in the past for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m getting exhausted with longer stories, both writing and reading them. This is not out of laziness or anything, it’s said in that I feel a story should be short, sweet, and to the point. A story does not need to be 25 pages and 8,000 words. Why write 8,000 when you can write 1,000 and get the job done quicker? A lot of stories usually take four to five pages to really start going, because the author feels to give unnecessary backstory, and with flash, you don’t need that. You get right to the heart of it. Sometimes, I don’t need to know everything.

The second reason is that I can be quirky and experimental and get away with it. Look, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. It could be all over for me. I’m going to write short, read short, and in most cases, these short pieces of flash convey more emotion, blood and pain than a longer story ever could. Nine times out of ten, the flash story is the greatest gut punch there is, and I love it. This isn’t to say that I’m abandoning longer pieces completely, but chances are, if I see a writer on Twitter I admire post a story, and it’s a flash, I will definitely gravitate towards that more.

In short, flash for me is the best way you can hone your craft as a writer, because you have a limit. Say it fast, say it quick, say it right. Don’t ramble if you don’t have to.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, always. I never care about plot and I’ll tell you why. I could come up with the most elaborate plot in the world, full of intrigue and love and danger and excitement, and it wouldn’t mean shit if it had bland, boring characters. Humans are messy, obnoxious, dumb creatures, and I could spend a whole life time trying to understand them, make sense of them, tear them apart and put them back together. Most of my stories go right for a sense of realism – I write about drunks, liars, cheats, reprobates, young angry yuppies, anxious as hell, broke as fuck people who have to claw their way out of whatever situation they’re stuck in, literally or figuratively. I don’t think you need a plot – you just need a person who makes a terrible mistake. And we do that quite often.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy. I never write drafts, ever. I edit as I go and when the story is done, I never touch it again. I would rather write a good draft once. I’ve been that way my entire life and I don’t suppose it’s ever going to change. I tried to be slow when I first started writing – I had written a few novels that are definitely not very good. I’ll be the first to admit it. If you ever stumble across one of them, you’ll definitely see it. They suck. And I think that’s because I thought about it too much. I’d rather write it out once, at its purest emotion, because that’s when you see the blood, the grit. If you edit too much, you lose your passion in the story. I believe that. The more you touch it and go back, the more meaning it loses.

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

I tend to hit the bottle more than I should, so a lot of my stories involve drinking and some form of self-deprecation. And that isn’t so much a reflection of me in that I feel negative about myself, but I’ve been to some depths in my life, so I just pull from that. So much easier to do so. I think there’s a lot of power you can give to yourself as a writer by focusing on the negative elements, as you can really go anywhere you want with it, and be as creative as you want. Writing happy only gets you so far and it tends to border on the maudlin at times. By writing about this stuff – the bad drunk days, the bitter parts of relationships, the feeling that you’re never going to get away from the banality of life, you know, all that stuff that Camus talks about in The Stranger – you could write forever.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I would say first and foremost, if you haven’t read Gutshot by Amelia Gray, you absolutely have to. No questions asked. Probably without doubt the greatest book of flash I have read and it is one I go back to a lot. Specifically the stories “The Lark” and “These Are The Fables”. Both are readily available via Google and they’ll knock your socks off, as the kids say.

Another one that truly opened up my eyes was Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler. Not all of that book is flash, but the parts that are, truly magnificent.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I wrote a piece called “It’s All About The Breathing” that was picked up by Hypertext back in the beginning of 2018. It’s just a hair over being flash length (about 1,100 words), but I wish this was the one that caught on more. It’s a piece about a woman going through some difficult feelings about her pregnancy and tends to take some drastic actions as the story goes on in order to cope with the concept of creating life. It was important to me that I wrote a story involving this as I have had many friends who have gone through it, and I was stunned on how many times they admitted to me that it was, frankly speaking, all kind of bullshit. How there were so many negative feelings attached to this, how even though the end result would be a child and it would be so wonderful, but how miserable they were and couldn’t admit it to anyone. It was important to me to write a strong voice and I love how it turned out. It did not get as much recognition that I was hoping for, but perhaps maybe someday it will resonate for someone and they can get something out of it. I’m attaching the link in case someone does want to read it after this interview: https://www.hypertextmag.com/tag/its-all-about-the-breathing/

BIO: Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in Grub Street, The Hunger, Lunch Ticket, The Molotov Cocktail, The Helix, Hypertext, decomP, X-R-A-Y and Ghost Parachute among others. He is a Flash Fiction Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and also reads fiction for Quarterly West and The Common. He lives in Philadelphia.

Mini-Interview with Laura Besley

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

In May 2012 I set myself a challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. The reason I did this was because I had ideas, but never got past the first couple of paragraphs (I still have more ideas than finished pieces), and I liked the idea of writing a ‘complete’ piece in around 500 words. Some days I was happy with the results, other days I wasn’t, but every day I wrote something and continued even after the year ended. I’d completely fallen in love with flash. The challenge of writing an entire story in so few (carefully chosen) words became addictive. In fact, the longer I’ve been writing, the shorter my pieces have become.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?


Character. Every time. To be honest I don’t think any of my stories have “a plot”, for me it’s about emotions and relationships, and the shifts in these that provide the movement in my stories.  

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely quick and messy. I write all first drafts by hand (including the first draft to a novel that’s sitting in a bottom drawer somewhere). To me the connection of pen to paper is ingrained.

An advantage of writing by hand is that you can’t hit ‘delete’. You can cross something out, but when you go back to edit it later, it’s still there; and sometimes those words you wrote first, but discarded, are the better ones.

Editing, for me, is painfully slow; picking over every word, every sentence, every paragraph. Reading, re-reading, re-reading, etc. For this reason, I used to hate it (lack of patience being one of my vices). However, more recently I’ve learned to work with it more, seeing editing for its worth: it allows me to polish a piece until it (hopefully) shines.

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

Conversations with people, whether they be members of my family, friends, other parents I chat to at the school gates, the woman who served me at the checkout, the old man who tells me snippets of his life because he, I imagine, has no one else to talk to. I have a terrible memory for certain things (dentist appointments, remembering to phone the plumber, etc.), but conversations with people stick with me for years and will often find their way into my stories in one way or another.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

There are so many fantastic flash fiction writers that I’ve been privileged to read, and interact with, online; too many to name. I would like to mention two writers who are fairly new to me and I’ve been genuinely excited to read their work recently.

Dettra Rose’s ‘Relationship Maths’ (Reflex, March 2020) absolutely blew me away. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since reading it.   

Remi Skytterstad’s ‘Soul Theft’ (Flashback Fiction, February 2020) packs so much into such a short piece, the feeling of discomfort lingering long after you’ve finished reading. 

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s a hard question to answer; I love all of my published pieces. However, I feel that Santa’s Favourite, published on 50 Word Stories on Christmas Day, 2019, fell a little under the radar because people were, obviously, busy celebrating Christmas and not online (which is a good thing!). I’d read an article outlining that children can feel that Santa favours one child over another if gifts from Santa vary in size and/or cost. The thought that some children might feel that, made my heart ache.

Bio: Laura Besley writes short (and very short) fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online (Fictive Dream, Spelk, EllipsisZine) as well as in print (Flash: The International Short Story Magazine) and in various anthologies (Adverbally Challenged, Another Hong Kong, Story Cities). Her debut flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, will be published in March 2020 by Dahlia Books. She tweets @laurabesley

Mini-Interview with Dana Diehl

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

Flash fiction is like a small treasure that fits in your pocket. A perfectly smooth stone, maybe. Or a bird egg you find on the sidewalk, miraculously uncracked. When I write flash, I love that I can see the beginning and end of the story at the same time. If I make a change in the first paragraph, I can instantly see, without flipping or scrolling, how it changes the last paragraph.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I don’t think I fit in either of those categories! I usually start a story with a concept, and when I feel stuck, I always return to that concept. I ask myself: In this world or situation I’ve created, what are the possibilities? Have I played out all of those possibilities to the fullest extent? Which of those possibilities would lead to the most interesting plot or character development?

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I usually start out slowly, painfully slowly. Then, when I feel like I’ve locked into the voice of the story, I switch to quick and messy.

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

I’m so influenced by my students. I teach nine and ten-year-olds who are full of creativity and incredible strangeness and unusual ways of seeing the world. They love asking “What if?” questions, and I think they’ve taught me to do the same. They’ve also given me an appreciation for stories that are fun and playful and don’t take themselves too seriously.

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

One of my all-time favorite flash stories is “Life Story” by Joseph Scapellato. You can read an excerpt on Kenyon Reviewor in his short story collection, Big Lonesome. It’s incredible, and I won’t spoil it by trying to explain why!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really fond of my story, “The Ulcer,” published with Jellyfish Review, because I feel like the narrator in that story is closer to me than maybe any other story I’ve written. It’s based on my anxiety surrounding my body and my wish for simple, decisive answers. Maybe if you’ve ever worried obsessively that you have an ulcer, this story might be for you?

BIO:

Dana Diehl is the author of OUR DREAMS MIGHT ALIGN (Splice UK, 2018) and TV GIRLS (New Delta Review, 2018).

Her collaborative short story collection, THE CLASSROOM, was published with Gold Wake Press in January 2019.

Dana earned her BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University. She received her MFA in Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

Dana has served as editor-in-chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review and The Susquehanna Review. She is a Blog Interviewer for The Collagist. She has taught Composition, Creative Writing, and Humanities at Arizona State University, Florence Prison, the National University of Singapore, and BASIS Primary.

Her honors and awards include a Completion Fellowship from Arizona State University, as well as Piper Enrichment Grants to attend the Port Townshend Writers Conference and the Rutgers Camden Summer Writers’ Conference. In 2014, she received a Piper Global Fellowship to teach Creative Writing at the National University of Singapore. She has been awarded a Glendon & Kathryn Swarthout Prize in Fiction.

Mini-Interview with Tim Fitts

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

In my mind, traditional stories lengths are like pitching a single out in baseball.  Presenting the batter with a variety of images that allow him or her to think you are going to put the ball here at this speed, when, instead, you put the ball there at that speed, leaving the batter stunned, forced to consider how they got into the predicament and what to do, all starting from your body form, angle of release, and so on and so forth.  Flash is when the count is three and two, and they decide to bring in a reliever for a single pitch, and you put everything into that pitch.  It’s a fastball.  You know it, the batter knows it, and the ball snaps into the catcher’s mitt creating a brief cloud of dirt from the air forced from the padding of the mitt.  That’s a flash piece. 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?  Right down the middle.  Half and half – the tightrope between the two. 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?  Probably slow and precise.  With a novel, you can live in that world for some time and crawl around inside it.  Flash seems like laying an egg.  They occur sporadically with the soft shell, and the second draft hardens the shell.

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

These days, I work to set out and catch an image.  For instance, last year I published a story, “Sea Balloon,” in The Baltimore Review about a sea turtle that is about to eat a balloon floating on the surface.  When my brother and I set out to go fishing, just prior to leaving, I closed my eyes and said to myself, “Find the image,” and then went about my business.  About a mile out, I saw the balloon, and sort of perked up, and just like clockwork, I saw the head of the sea turtle making a beeline toward the balloon, too late to do anything about it.  “There it is,” I said to myself, then waited four months for the words to put themselves in the right order.

It is very important to embark on the day, whether it’s fishing or going to class and set your mind into alert mode and wait for the nugget.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Cameron MacKenzie’s “Coyotes,” published in CutBank online.

Jessica Francis Kane’s “Night Class,” from her book, This Close

Amy Hempel’s “Church Cancels Cow”

Raymond Carver’s “Popular Mechanics”

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“Blue Print,” which appears in my collection of stories, Hypothermia, but was written too late in the process to be published in a journal.

BIO: Tim Fitts lives and works in Philadelphia with his wife and two children.  He is the author of two short story collections, Hypothermia (MadHat Press) and Go Home and Cry for Yourselves (Xavier Review Press).  His work has been published by journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Granta, Cutbank, fugue, The Apple Valley Review, A3 Review, Boulevard, among many others.  His flash piece, “Shark Patrol,” will drop on the TJ Eckleburg Online website, February 11.

Mini-Interview with Dan Crawley

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

Maybe it’s because I used to write songs when I was a teen, playing out narratives of specific characters or settings in my songs. So in my twenties, it was an easy transition into writing flash fiction. Plus, I found writers like Carver and Moacyr Scliar. I remember sitting in the used book section, down in the basement at Changing Hands bookstore, reading the translation of Scliar’s whole collection called The Carnival of the Animals and thinking, “I want to do this!” Back then, the writers I hung around called them short-shorts, and I loved the immediacy, the jolt of a moment. Still do. I’m attracted to brevity, glimpses into characters’ lives that reveal their uniqueness in a brief moment. And once I started writing stories, I found very few literary journals publishing flash fictions. This was in the snail mail, all-print days. I wrote long stories to break into getting published. But my love of flash fiction never left me and I’m glad this form of storytelling is robust and vital and growing at this time.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’ll follow my characters anywhere, most of the time having no clue where they’re taking me. I remember a bigtime writer once told me that sometimes your characters will take over your intention and you’re just typing fast enough to keep up. I thought this was a weird, hippy-dippy notion. Sure enough, the more I wrote, the more the characters took over. I have no clue about my endings at times, but my characters, thankfully, save the day over and over again. I’m very needy of my characters, you see.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Once I get to typing out a story, it is fast fast fast. But before I type, I’m writing longhand in a notebook. That is agonizingly slow. Seriously, if you’ve got a five-year-old child, the same child may be in college by the time I finish some of my stories! The good thing is, presently, I have a backlog of characters/settings/conflicts playing out on multiple screens in my mind. If a beginning and a middle of the story look as if might be interesting, I’ll start drafting it out, always hoping my character(s) are leading me in the right direction. I’ve had some story ideas (images of moments) looping on my multiplex for years now. Of course, everything changes with revisions. Everything. I wonder if a story is ever done?

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

Financial woes. Family dynamics. I was raised in a large family (six children) that struggled at times. So all these years, I’ve been able to hang out in the corners and observe not only my own family but have interacted with all kinds of different families and their relationships. Perfect fodder for conflict-rich stories.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

It’s hard to make a list here because I love the work of so many flash writers, producing, I believe, the best in contemporary fiction today. And I’m finding new writers of flash all the time. I will say, to be jolted unexpectedly by a writer I’ve never read before is a gift, truly.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m proud of “What Others Do About It.” I’m grateful that Kim Chinquee enjoyed this flash enough to publish it in New World Writing back in 2017.

BIO: Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Bending Genres, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, and Atticus Review. His work has been nominated for Best Small FictionsBest of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at https://twitter.com/danbillycom.

Mini-Interview with Michael Prihoda

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

I write flash because it has no rules. Or, at least, it encourages breaking the rules. I think flash embraces chaos and novelty and risk-taking. It can flow into and out of genres at the drop of a sentence. It’s far less about character development or an ongoing excavation and more like bumping your toe in the dark so that you stop and feel about to see what you ran into.

And much like poetry, flash fiction is about discovery, requiring a near-instant invitation to the reader. There’s no time to waste. I hope to not so much have readers experience something during one of my flash pieces as to get to the end of a story and feel they have discovered something about the world that they hadn’t encountered before.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Neither. As a poet first, I often approach writing flash fiction similarly to how I approach poetry, which means starting with an image or a naked idea. Then giving the reader a larger view or else dressing up an idea into a pseudo-story. Ideas and images are king for me in writing flash.

If a novel is a Polaroid whose development is slowed and stretched across hundreds of pages, flash fiction is a finger press on a camera phone. The picture springs instantly to life and the reader is allowed to look at it, and turn it over. The reading experience is meant to be short, but the impact is meant to linger, and I find the challenging of crafting impact from 1000 words or less incredibly inspiring and worth pursuing.

Flash fiction also has natural constraints that, instead of feeling suffocated, let me be expansive and, perhaps, even less to the point than a well-plotted novel or short story might aim to be. In addition, like poetry, it often feels like what goes unsaid or unseen carries, or should carry, as much weight.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely quick and messy. I tend to find my first drafts tumble out in only one or two chunks. I’ll let them breathe for a while on their own and if the piece still excites me when I return, I try to massage it down into a more finished product. But, admittedly, I do very little content editing to most of my flash pieces. If they seem to need more than a little polish, I often cast them out and pursue new ideas instead.

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

I’ll cheat and pick two things: my religion and my political views. I identify as Mennonite and might be too far left at times for even the socialists. My religion and politics are inseparable from how I view the world and from how I believe humans are meant to be in the world. My writing is the avenue through which I hope to combat the systems, policies, and sometimes individuals that try to oppress my fellow humans and to advocate and fight for a better world, one where all humans are treated equitably and are able to prosper and live with dignity.

All that loftiness aside, sometimes a story is just a story, meant for entertainment and fun. Because we need that too. I know I certainly do and I hope readers will find that in my writing at times. Nobody ever said we couldn’t have fun and be wildly imaginative while also working toward a more just and humane existence.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I adore Lydia Davis. While she doesn’t write exclusively flash, I am consistently drawn to her shortest pieces. The emotion and depth she can wring from just a few sentences seems otherworldly.

I’ve also always enjoyed Etgar Keret for the way he can make outlandish ideas feel grounded yet thrilling in the space of just a few pages.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

A story I’ve recently published that I feel deeply attached to is “The Last Shia LaBeouf on Earth.” As the title alludes, it plays with the fictional consciousness of Shia LaBeouf undergoing an existential crisis while living through various episodes that may or may not be part of his life. If I had to pick just one piece to show someone who was brand new to my work, that’s the one I’d show them. I also continue to hold out hope that maybe Shia LaBeouf will one day read the piece and appreciate it and write me a letter or something, because he seems old-fashioned in that sort of way.

BIO: Michael Prihoda lives in central Indiana. He is the founding editor of After the Pause, an experimental literary magazine and small press. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology and he is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Out of the Sky (Hester Glock, 2019).

Mini-Interview with Ben Loory

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

A long time ago I decided that I was just going to write my stories the way I’d tell them to someone if we were sitting around talking in a bar or whatever. So that’s what I do. About half the time they end up being under 1,000 words, and the other half a little over. Sometimes they even get up to 2,000 (I think that counts as a novel). But it’s all the same to me; I never know how long they’re going to be until they’re done, and the only thing I care about is that they’re right, that they work and make me smile sentence by sentence and feel like you’ve emotionally broken through to something at the end and don’t make me cringe at any point when I read them aloud. That’s an impossible enough task for me; the idea of aiming for any specific word count really just boggles my mind.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Well, character is the north star; the revelation of it is what you aim for, and the feel and pull of it is how you steer. But plot is how you get there. So 50/50 split.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I write first drafts very quickly, usually in 20 minutes or less, and then spend months or years editing and expanding and shrinking and throwing everything out and starting over and building it up again from scratch and then going back to the previous version and then the later version and then the initial version and etc etc etc until finally somehow the right version of the story clicks fully into place from beginning to end, and then I iron and iron and polish and polish forever and ever and ever.

(I don’t recommend it, but it’s my process.)

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

One night when I was little my dad took my sister and I outside onto the patio and pointed up at the stars and told us all about them, what they were and where and how maybe there were other planets moving around some of them and maybe there were other people, other life forms on those planets, and maybe some of them were standing outside their homes looking up at the stars in the night sky and wondering about us, if we existed and what we were like and what we were up to. That’s the moment I try to live in and hopefully write my stories from.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

“Lemmings” by Richard Matheson.

“Appointment in Samarra” as retold by Somerset Maugham.

And probably my favorite: the 2-paragraph blanket story from Scott McClanahan’s novel Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I had a story up at Wigleaf in 2018 called “Mystery (The Third Man)” which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. Just really gave me that special feeling.

Ben Loory is the author of the collections TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING
and STORIES FOR NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Sewanee Review, and A Public Space, and been heard on This American Life and Selected
Shorts. Find him at benloory.com.

Mini-Interview with Hillary Leftwich

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

I write flash because I’m not a traditional writer, and I like being able to write a piece without having the constraints of the short story form. What makes it different for me is being able to take a character or a scene and focus solely on that one moment or person and then abandon the reader. Flash fiction is a one-night stand. Short stories are a long-term relationship. Novels are a marriage. Sometimes you don’t want the commitment. That’s why flash is so attractive.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Great question. I’ll take character over plot any day. But I’ve always been intuitively drawn to people more than events my entire life. Both are important to writing. But character, character for me is where it’s at.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

If we think of this question in terms of a murder, for me, it’s slow and precise. I have to make sure I don’t rush and make a mistake. That’s when you when you leave evidence behind, or in the case of writing, miss something vital.

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

Wonderful question, Tommy! As writers, we observe, we soak in everything around us, almost without thinking about it. Writers write about their experiences in one form or another. That’s what makes us different, right? For me, every aspect of my life has been an influence on my writing. I write about all the different jobs I’ve had, the trauma I’ve been through, my son and his epilepsy, our escape from domestic violence, the ghosts that follow us, my relationship with the dead and their communication with me, hell, even the death of my beloved cat.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Let’s get a little dark here, shall we? There’s a story that’s always stayed with me over the years that never goes away. It’s called “The Dead Mother” by Vincent Poturica. You can find it at The Vestal Review. It’s something I don’t admit to that often, but it’s a story I find myself understanding in ways I don’t want to face. I use it as an example when teaching classes. Trigger warning, please take care.

Aside from the heavy hitters like Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, Tara Campbell, and Len Kuntz, Desiree Cooper is a name that isn’t mentioned as much as it should be in the world of flash fiction. Her collection of flash fiction, “Know the Mother,” is writing I connect with both as a mother, absolutely, but it’s more than that. It speaks of the secrets of a mother’s heart, the ones we don’t dare share with anyone. But she does, and she does it beautifully. There’s honest darkness to her writing that I connect with that I don’t find too often. Please do read it.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m big on class and the blue-collar workers, the invisible people. If you’ve read anything by me, interviews or reviews or writing, you’ll see that. It’s important to me. So, I try to use my voice to give this a spotlight. But it seems the pieces I write about the trans community and my experiences with my trans mentor in one of my pieces at the Super Eight Motel, or the ones focusing on non-binary characters get glossed over. It shines the ultra-ugly light on the bigger concern of the importance of these voices along with writers of color and women writers overall in the publishing world being ignored or shoved in a corner. It’s a much larger issue with a longstanding history, and as a result, is going to take time to take down, which can only be done by reading more works, buying more books, and publishing more authors.

BIO: Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019), which is featured in Entropy’s Best Fiction list of 2019. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. Currently, she freelances as a writer, editor, and writing workshop instructor focusing on trauma writing. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. She will be attending The Kenyon Review’s Writers Workshop for nonfiction and will be a featured visiting writer at Western Illinois University in 2020. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at http://www.hillaryleftwich.com  

Mini-Interview with Nuala O’Connor

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

I’ve always been obsessed with small things, tiny well-made objects, aswell as prose and poetry in its teeniest forms. I love concision, precision and neatness – I was a fan of Ivor Cutler and Emily Dickinson and other sharp, economical writers in my teens and that love just grew and grew. I write novels, but flash and short stories are my true loves.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. I pretty much hate plot, but I also admire plotty work (well, some of it). I’m disinterested in plot as a concept. I like the ‘what-happens’ to grow out of my characters’ personalities and I don’t know what’ll happen until I’m there with them. I really don’t enjoy thinking about plot or having convos about it, it makes me feel a bit sick.

But characters are fascinating, the way people are. I love the fucked-up, glorious madness of people – the weird things that motivate us, our vast differences, the odd/nasty/sweet ways people can be. I want my characters to be flexible the way most of us are, for them not to sound one note, but to be nuanced and unpredictable.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and precise. I’m twenty plus years writing seriously. I can swiftly get done what I need to get done. I edit as I go. I edit more afterwards. But I’m in a perpetual hurry (that’s my nature), so I tend to be very Carveresque in my method: I ‘get in, get out, don’t linger, go on’.

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

My endless self-analysis, my endless dissecting of other people’s personalities. Or if you mean more materially, my obsession with things/objects – I collect a lot of different stuff (e.g. ceramics, vintage jewellery, blue glass, paperweights, seaglass, miniature figures, dolls etc.). Objects tend to be important in my writing – they can be catalysts, or symbolic/sacred to my characters. Also travel and history.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Inevitably this means I’ll leave people out and I’m sorry about that. But, off the top of my head, I’m a fan of these innovative and wonderful flash writers: Tania Hershman, Sandra Jensen, Meg Pokrass, Lydia Davis, Robert Olen Butler, Lucia Berlin, Sharon Telfer, Frances Gapper, Ken Elkes, Adam Trodd, Jude Higgins, Fiona Mackintosh, Damhnait Monaghan, Tracey Slaughter.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

What a question! It’s not natural for (Irish) writers to blow their own trumpets, it is, in fact, forbidden. But, as you asked, I’m fond of my flash ‘Yellow’ that appeared first in Cease, Cows, in 2014, for its trans credentials and its look at fertility issues.

BIO: Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. In 2019 she won the James Joyce Quarterly competition to write the missing story from Dubliners, ‘Ulysses’. Her fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was recently published to critical acclaim in the US, Ireland and the UK. Her forthcoming novel is about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at flash e-zine Splonkwww.nualaoconnor.com

Mini-Interview with Anna Vangala Jones

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

It is incredible how we can illustrate, evoke, imply an entire life or world in a few pages, in a brief series of moments. Something small that is so much larger and more powerful in scope than it first appears, something that is fit to burst with all that is unsaid and lies beneath those carefully chosen words—I just think that’s a kind of magic that lends itself to being read for new meaning over and over again. I think all writers should play around and experiment with flash as an art form, whether they stick with it or not. Doing so infinitely improves our longform writing.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Between those two, character, but more accurate is probably voice and place. In the best stories, place is a character and voice unforgettable. I’ll let you know if I ever figure out how to write plot. Someday! I have faith. I think.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I know this will sound counterintuitive since they’re not even paired together as an option, but my style tends to be quick and precise. I might go months, almost a year, writing close to nothing. Then an idea or sentence or voice strikes and I rush to get it down as quickly as possible before it’s gone. When that happens, I can finish an entire draft from start to finish in a short time. I’m unable to embrace the “messy” as much as I probably should, just in order to have more of my words exist on paper with more consistency. I find myself revising all the language as I go, even as I hurriedly compose that early draft. Sometimes that results in a story that is ready to be read by a trusted critique partner, polished, and submitted for publication without a huge gap between first and final draft. Other times, it results in a piece with lovely sentences but something is glaringly wrong and I just can’t see it yet—where the story starts or ends, the overall plot structure, pacing, movement, whatever it may be—and then I’ll spend several years trying to “fix” and “perfect” it. Those words are in quotation marks because they’re not real, of course, at least not as far as writing goes. But you get the idea. I wouldn’t recommend this quick and precise style, but I also can’t seem to help it myself?

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

This one’s easy. Relationships, both present and past. The joy, the pain, the longing, the uncertainty, the obsession with them that flares and fades, the nostalgia, the way they haunt us when they end, just the ebb and flow of them—I will never tire of reflecting upon those deepest human connections in my fiction. Some might be of the romantic kind, sure, but I find friendships just as, if not more, fascinating to mine and explore in my writing.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I’d have to say that Donald Barthelme is the writer that drew me to flash fiction. I just fell in love with the form and its potential through my first introduction to all those bizarre and imaginative little stories—they’re strange and out there but packed with honesty and feeling. More recently, I really connected with Leonora Carrington’s book of surreal and wild short fiction. In terms of writers today, it’s impossible not to leave out stories and people I admire with a question like this, but here are several with flashes that have stayed with me long after I read them: Jennifer Todhunter, Melissa Ragsly, Pia Ghosh-Roy, Megan Giddings, Sudha Balogopal, Meg Pillow, Cathy Ulrich, Dina M. Relles, Janelle M. Williams, Allie Marini, Pat Foran, and Danielle Batalion Ola. Many more of course, but there is a depth and beauty to their writing I cannot get enough of, in a way that burrows into my brain and lives under my skin, so I recommend them to everyone. And you know what a big fan I am of your story, “You’ve Stopped”, Tommy!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I write very few micros — I find it even more challenging to do than flash! — so I was happy that one of them, “A Day for Watching Birds”, in The Airgonaut seemed to resonate with so many people. But the other that I hope will reach more readers over time is “How Then”, published in Pidgeonholes. It’s an uncomfortable read maybe, but I tried to use a bit of magic to tackle and grapple with a subject I find difficult to write about using realism. I’ve been grateful to those who have reached out to me about that one.

Author Bio:

Anna Vangala Jones is an Editorial Assistant on the fiction team at Split Lip Magazine and served as Fiction Editor at Lunch Ticket. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net anthologies, and selected for Longform Fiction’s Best of 2018 collection. Her writing has appeared in Catapult, Jellyfish Review, Little Fiction, Okay Donkey Mag, Hobart, and Necessary Fiction, among others. Find her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17.

Mini-Interview with Sarah Arantza Amador

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

I fell in love with flash twenty years ago when I read Augusto Monterroso’s “The Dinosaur” for the first time. It is a perfect diamond of a story – a single sentence long and it contains a whole world! I was so impressed by that. That’s why I write flash: I love the challenge of writing stories with traction and trouble and mystery, all in a single sentence, paragraph, or page.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character forever! But also make it setting and place. Sometimes I think of setting and place as the original characters I’m writing for/towards.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy at first and then slow and precise (and this can, no joke, take years).

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

I love to travel and read and watch movies and go to museums – the world is incredible, and I’m consistently amazed and inspired by all of the things that I learn moving through it. Little tidbits and factoids I come across find their way into my stories all the time – for example, I visited Donner Memorial State Park (located in the California Sierra Nevada and named after the doomed Donner Party) and in the visitor center learned that one of the Donner women, upon her rescue by men who had climbed through the snow pack from the Sierra foothills to get them out of their camp, in a delirium asked: “Are you men from California or angels sent from Heaven?” I was so enchanted by this question that an abbreviated version of it found its way into my story “In Dead Waters” a couple of years later.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

This is an impossible question, so I’m not going to over-think it. Very quickly: Barbara McVeigh’s story “Giants” takes my breath away. All of her work is so smart and clever, but this one’s my absolute favorite. Kate Finegan, my beloved Longleaf Review editrix-in-chief, writes lush and beautiful flash and one of my favorites of her historical pieces is “Botanical Nomenclature.” I read Ottessa Moshfegh’s novella-in-flash McGlue all in one sitting about a year ago and I just thought “damn!” I have deep respect for that book. I recently finished Megan Martin’s Nevers and loved it, it’s so razor sharp. “And What Is Wrong with Spells?” really captured my imagination – also, how great are her story titles?

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of the very first stories I published was a tiny weird thing I titled “Sojourner, along the outer orbits of empire” that made me laugh and was rejected by literary journals many times, sometimes with unhelpful reading notes like: “This is not a story.” I love that story very much. A big thank you to Sheldon Lee Compton for giving it a perfect home in The Airgonaut!

BIO: Residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California with her dog Roscoe and person Richard, Sarah Arantza Amador writes about longing, ghost-making, and the endearment of monsters. Her work is featured in Best Microfiction 2019 and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. She tweets @ArantzaSarah and sometimes blogs from www.saraharantzaamador.com.

Mini Interview with Fiona J. Mackintosh

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

I have always had a tendency to write long, sometimes too long. So flash was a revelation to me. I’ve had to learn how to convey back story in hints and whispers and to pare my language down to the essence. It’s made me a much more disciplined writer. There’s also the fun of being able to finish something fairly quickly and move on. And I like playing with the different lengths within the form – from tiny stories to up to 1,000 words – as well exploring different POVs and tenses. It’s a constant technical challenge, which I love.    

Right now, I’m messing about with ideas for two different novellas-in-flash, a form that presents a ton of those technical challenges. I’m not sure I can rise to the occasion, but I’m giving it the old college try.   

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character because character is almost always what drives plot, certainly in realist fiction which is what I usually write. How individuals respond to the events that happen to them creates the story of their lives. In fiction as in life.

Character is certainly at the heart of the mammoth novel I’m currently writing, Albion’s Millennium. In conception, it’s a five-novel saga of Britain throughout the 20th century in the vein of Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga and the narrative sections of John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy. Nothing like biting off more than you can chew, right? The first volume, The Virgins of Salem, will be going out to my generous beta readers within weeks, and I’m fervently hoping the book will be ready to be sent out on submission by early next year.  

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and messy. Slow, slow, slow, and ever slower. One reason for this is I always have a million different projects on the go and tend to flit among them randomly until a specific deadline presents itself, whereupon I become laser focused and can actually be downright speedy. I used to be a journalist, and these days I’m a freelance editor so deadlines are everything in my working life as well.

I still struggle with the messy part. As we writers know, you have to be prepared to allow the crap to hit the page to keep your momentum going. My trick is to highlight the bits I hate – the clichés, the uninspired descriptions – to be come back to later instead of getting snagged on trying to improve them on the spot. But even so, I’m definitely the tortoise, not the hare, and can only hope the fable is correct about that particular race.  

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

The stories I heard from my grandmothers about their childhoods. The Virgins of Salem is peppered with incidents from their lives. They were young in the early 20th century when technology was changing the world as fast as it is changing it now in the early 21st century. The advent of the telephone, the car, the airplane, modern plumbing – it was all happening, and they lived through it. Also, women’s roles were changing, especially after World War I, and their working and personal lives reflected this.   

Otherwise, pretty much everything I’ve ever experienced is grist to the mill. Everything. Smells, sights, sounds, my memories, other people’s memories, things I’ve read. My real life these days is very hermit-like, but I have many years of experiences to draw on plus the wonderful window on the world that is the internet so I’m never short of ideas.    

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I’ll be glad to give you half a dozen examples off the top of my head to give you a sense of what I like and what resonates with me. However, I could cover pages and pages with equally tremendous flashes as there are many other writers whom I admire and many stories that have blown me away.    

Eileen Merriman This is How They Drown

Sharon Telfer’s Terra Incognita

Dina L. Relles And Sometimes We Meet

Helen Rye One and Twenty-Three

Ken Elkes Extremities

Meg Pokrass The Bug Man

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Thank you for asking this question. A couple of years ago, I wrote a flash written from the perspective of Ophelia in Hamlet, in an attemptto subvert Shakespeare’s take on women as mad and powerless. While I was writing it, I had in mind Virginia Woolf’s discussion of Shakespeare’s imaginary sister in A Room of One’s Own – about what masterpieces could she have written too if she’d been sent to school and hadn’t been told to “mend the stockings and mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.”

Woolf also wrote: “When… one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to.”  With this torture in mind – the repression of creativity and selfhood – I imagined a different fate for Ophelia.

The resulting flash – The Yet Unknowing World – was published by the wonderful Café Aphra in February 2018. It can be found here if anyone cares to give it a whirl.  

http://cafeaphrapilot.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-yet-unknowing-world-by-fiona-j.html

BIO: Fiona J. Mackintosh is a Scottish-American writer living near Washington D.C. In 2018, she won the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and the Reflex Fiction Prize. Two of her pieces were selected for Best Microfiction 2019 and the 2018-19 BIFFY 50 and one for Best Small Fictions 2019. Her short stories have been listed for the Bristol, Galley Beggar, and Exeter Short Story Prizes, and she is writing a five-novel series about 20th century Britain entitled Albion’s Millennium

Mini-Interview with Damon Garn

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

Well, to be honest, my answer isn’t very glamorous. At this point in my life flash fiction is what have time and energy for. I am working on a couple of novels but the reality is that those projects are going to take years to finish. I write for fun, so I don’t feel much pressure. I can create a flash piece relatively quickly, edit it, get it read, and start submitting it on a timeline that fits my life right now.

I do have to say, however, that I enjoy the challenge of fitting a complete story into 1000 words. It is a fun format to write and I suspect that even if my professional life didn’t get in the way of my creative life that I would still write a great deal of flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think it’s character. I try to infuse my characters with personality. When I stop and think about books or stories that have touched my heart, it’s really the characters that mattered to me more than the plot progression. Sure, I appreciate that Bilbo helped kill Smaug and completed his own hero’s journey, but that fact remains that I like Bilbo more than the journey he was on.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy. I don’t tend to do a lot of rewriting, however. That may or may not be good – I wonder if my “quick and messy” style doesn’t hurt me sometimes. When I go back to reread I find many mistakes that were made in haste. Hopefully I catch them all!

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

I read an immense amount of fantasy (and a lot of sci-fi), so those stories probably influence me the most.  I don’t tend to write stories that touch on my career (Information Technology) or my personal experiences. I only have one story that was really ever informed by my own experiences (My Favorite Color – Riggwelter #9 – https://riggwelterpress.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/issue-nine/ ). A novel that I have worked on for several years does take place in a post-apocalyptic winter setting. Some of the environmental descriptions are from my own winter snowshoeing and climbing experiences in the Rocky Mountains. I deliberately write away from my “real life.”

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I know it is sacrilege, but I don’t tend to read much flash. This question makes me realize that I really need to correct that. I tend to prefer multi-book series that follow characters through a much longer journey than a novel can support. I have found some authors this year whose works I’ve really enjoyed, so I’ll give them a shout out. The first is AM Scott and her Lightwave series. I’m a big fan of Lindsay Buroker as well. I really enjoyed AC Cobble’s Benjamin Ashwood series, too. The Chronicles of a Cutpurse by Carrie Summers was a fun read. Finally, I’ll mention Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage series.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

This is a difficult question – as an amateur writer I’m pretty happy when my stories receive any attention! There are several stories that I thought deserved more attention than they received from potential publishers. I would have to say that I’d like to see “The Tigershark Jacket” at A Million and One Magazine get more recognition (https://amillionandonemagazine.com/?p=919).

BIO: Damon Garn has had stories published in The Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter Press, A Million and One Magazine, The Evening Theatre and others. He lives in Colorado, where he hikes with his family, plays guitar, and writes when he can. Follow him on Twitter: dmgwrites or at http://dmgwrites.wordpress.com

Mini-Interview with David Cook

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

When I started writing regularly about five years ago, I didn’t even know the sort of stories I was creating had a name. All I knew was that I preferred writing lots of very small stories to fewer, larger ones. Then I started using Twitter properly and discovered lots of people were doing the same thing, and it was called flash fiction!

What makes flash different is the power that can be packed into such a small space. Flash is excellent for a really close examination of a moment in time, but equally there are epics spanning dozens of years. There’s room for experimentation in form, too, in ways that would prove cumbersome over thousands of words, but really make an impact in a couple of hundred.

Oh, and a practical advantage of flash: so much of my short fiction reading is done on my phone these days and it’s much easier to read a few hundred words on a small screen than a few thousand.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot, generally, comes first, with characters to fit coming afterwards. That’s not always the case, though, and sometimes it’s dribs and drabs of both coming together at once.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

When I started writing, it was always quick and messy. Now, somehow, I’ve become rather slower than I’m comfortable with. There’s a lot to be said for being quick and messy, then tidying up afterwards. I’d like to get back to that.

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

Gosh. I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I write a lot of stories about people who had or are having terrible childhoods. But I had a perfectly nice childhood. I also seem to have a lot of stories about people being horrible to animals. But I love animals. So I guess I like to use my stories to trash things that have been perfectly lovely in my real life. I don’t know what that says about me.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Apologies to everyone I’ve missed out, but if I put down all the authors and writers I’d like to here, this would be a hell of a long list.

Gaynor Jones’ Bath Flash Award-winning Cleft shows just how you can take one small detail and spin a story spanning a lifetime from it.

Jeremy’s Wish by Christopher Stanley is horrifying in all the best ways, but might ruin Christmas for you forever.

Caleb Echterling writes funny, inspired nonsense, such as A Happy Day At The Poet Pound.

Rebecca Field’s The Pickle Jar is the best tale about a pickle-loving good-for-nothing husband you’ll ever read.

Santino Prinzi’s These Are The Rules Of Our Canopy Shyness And Life is like nothing you’ve ever read, with sadness, sweetness and humour in perfect balance.

Joely Dutton’s Stronger Than Stitches, Stronger Than Glue is weird and touching and funny and weird again.

And Damhnait Monaghan and Stephanie Hutton’s novellas-in-flash The Neverlands and Three Sisters of Stone are both tiny works of beauty.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Jennifer and the Scientist didn’t get much recognition, probably because I couldn’t think of a decent title for it – and still haven’t – but I really like it and had a brilliant time writing it. Everyone loves a revenge story, right? Especially one with dogs and robots in it.

Bio

David Cook lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter. He’s had work published in the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Spelk, the Sunlight Press, Barren and plenty more. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Say hi on Twitter @davidcook100 and visit his blog at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com

Mini-Interview with Riham Adly

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

 I’ve learned a long time ago that in my culture, the more a woman speaks, the less she’s heard. Economy is key. Through this form I’ve discovered to self-express concisely without resorting to the drama or flourish-y add on other forms have room to entertain. That’s what makes it so special to me.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I like to experiment, so you’ll find it all in my stories.

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

The fact that I can’t speak, I can’t express, I can’t even complain about anything! I make up for it in my surreal stories.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

“Satin Nightwear For Women” by Elizabeth Ingram Wallace winner of Bath Flash Awards.

“You’ve Stopped” by Tommy Dean published in Pithead Chapel

“A Brief History of Time in Our House” by Steven John published by Ad Hoc Fiction.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 All of them really, but to be honest, I wish my story “The Brief Chronicled History of The Girl as told by the Realist but yet Optimistic African Fortuneteller” received more as I talk about female genital mutilation in Africa, and how it’s still happening up to this day. The story was published in Afreada magazine.

BIO: Riham Adly is an Egyptian writer/blogger/ translator. Her fiction has appeared in over forty online journals such as  Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Afreada, Connotation Press, Spelk, The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, Five:2:One, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Gingerbread House lit, Writing in a Woman’s voice, and Danse Macabre among others. She has forthcoming stories in The Citron Review and Sunlight Press. In 2018 she was short-listed for the Arab-Lit Translation Prize. Riham lives with her family in Giza, Egypt.

Mini-Interview with Melissa Goodrich

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

It feels like anything is possible in a shape that small.  It’s like striking a match – quick friction, heat, a perfect edgeless flame burning-down close to the fingertips. For me it’s different because it’s quicker. There’s less lingering in your sentences and paragraphs–in flash, the details aren’t decorative. They are their most deliberate.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 Oof. I think it’s figurative language. Simile and metaphor especially.  They teach me how not to drown.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 I think I’m quick/messy–and I love it. The messiness is where the magic happens.

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

My anxiety. And how strange it is to be a person.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

 Lydia Davis. Cathy Ulrich. Meghan Phillips. Dana Diehl.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I love “Sapphires,” a story about trying to calm down, somewhat fruitlessly, in the middle of the night.

Bio: Melissa Goodrich is the author of the collaborative collection The Classroom, the story collection Daughters of Monsters, and the poetry chapbook IF YOU WHAT. Her work has appeared in  American Short Fiction, The Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, PANK,and others.  Find her at melissa-goodrich.com and tweeting @good_rib.

Mini-Interview with Bronwen Griffiths

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

I love writing novels but a novel is like a marriage. Writing a novel requires a long-term commitment whereas flash is more like a passionate affair – it’s often instant and exciting. I think there’s more opportunity to be playful with language and to write on a wider range of topics with flash.    

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. Plotting is not my strong point. I love a twisting plot with a surprising end but that’s not my style.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m probably quick and messy at the beginning but I edit, edit and edit. If a flash piece is rejected I will always examine it again to see how it can be improved. But if you ever visited my writing space you’d definitely come away thinking ‘that woman is very messy.’ I cook like this too!

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

I work as a volunteer for an organisation in the UK which campaigns for the Syrian opposition to Assad. I have friends and contacts who are refugees – some were imprisoned by the regime. As a consequence I have written, and continue to write, about refugees and Syria – a book of mine, Not Here, Not Us – Stories of Syria (flash fiction) was published in 2016. However the natural world is also a strong influence in my writing. I love gardening and taking photos of the natural world and am lucky to live in a beautiful part of South-East England.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

The first flash writer I came across – although perhaps she’s not seen as a traditional ‘flash’ writer – is Lydia Davis. I like her style. I also admire the work of Riham Adly, Megan Pillow Davis, Kathy Fish, Len Kuntz, Nancy Stohlman and Tara Isabel Tambraro. I also enjoyed Sophie Van Llewyn’s novella-in-flash, Bottled Goods. There are so many really good flash writers out there now. I swing between being in awe of the talent out there and a feeling of intimidation at the amount of brilliant work that’s now being published. As for the named writers – my list tomorrow might be different – it’s so hard to choose.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

This is a difficult question. In all honesty I’d like more of my stories to be published but I appreciate it’s a competitive market. My piece War Crimes – published in Barren Magazine last year – is one I’m proud of and yes, I’d like more people to read it.

BIO: Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two novels, A Bird in the House (2014) and Here Casts No Shadow (2018) and two collections of flash fiction, Not Here, Not Us – Stories of Syria (2016) and Listen with Mother (2019). Her flash fiction has been published by Bath Flash Fiction, Barren Magazine, Reflex Flash and Spelk, among others. She lives in South-East England. Website: bronwengriff.co.uk Twitter: bronwengwriter

Mini-Interview with Barbara Byar

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

I started writing flash before I knew what it was. In 2015, I started a writers’ group here in Kerry and set weekly prompts for members. The target word count of around 500 words was dictated by how long it would take to read and critique everyone’s piece each week. At the time, I was mostly focused on my novel, but the prompts were creative jump starts and I grew to love writing very short stories.

All our pieces were a bit messy at first but through honest, constructive feedback, we fine-tuned them and learned what worked and what didn’t. I submitted my first piece for publication in Jan 2017 and it was accepted the first place I subbed. That was easy, I thought. Little did I know.

The beauty of flash is it a mechanism to tell epic stories in a minimum of words. And by epic, I don’t necessarily mean the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but anything from a character study to a thriller; flash’s length belies its enormity. It’s about distillation—a word perfume, with distinct notes forming an overall essence which will hopefully linger long after reading.

Some say you can’t tell a proper story in less than 1,000 words but I say nothing will improve your overall writing craft more than mastering this art of distillation.  

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Oh, plot all the way. To me, the story is key and always a transformative experience for my characters who are frequently just along for the ride.

How my characters react to the circumstances they find themselves in determines either their evolution or demise. Ultimately, the reader learns more about my characters from their actions than anything I can ever say about them. My adage is—you are what you do, not what you say.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise sounds like a death sentence to me. My best pieces usually flood straight out. I may fiddle with bits here and there to tighten the prose but if an interesting idea resonates with me emotionally, a piece writes itself.

For example, Bear which was published by Fictive Dream for Flash Fiction February 2019. I envisioned a child whose only friend was her stuffed Bear. It began innocuously enough but I immediately tapped into the well of impotent rage and confusion I felt as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I wrote it in about five minutes.

If you are writing truth as you see it, the words will come dynamically and with power. It is only when we tamper and tone, embellish and prettify that it all goes to shit.

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

All of it. Anything and everything is material, even if it’s just plucked from the dark recesses of my imagination.  All good stories are rooted in reality—from literary to genre—doesn’t matter, when you read it, you always hear the tenor of truth.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Currently, I’m digging: the bubbling, tragic-comic rage of Gaynor Jones; the hypnotic, raw rhythms of Meg Pillow; and Donna Greenwood’s strange and compelling lyricism.

I’m a fan of the magical realism of Cheryl Pearson and Anita Goveas. Also, the quietly tragic narratives of Chris Drew.  I just finished Peter Jordan’s collection Calls from Distant Places and loved it.

From my writers’ group, Ashling Denney and Davena O’Neill are two to keep an eye on.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Porcelain – this was the first story I ever published and no one took much notice at the time. It’s an alternative-view piece about the Dresden bombing; a romance with the obligatory tragic Byar take.

Bio: Barbara Byar is an American immigrant into Ireland who lives in County Kerry with her two sons and two dogs. A previous Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair winner, she’s had pieces in various zines, including: Ghost Parachute, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Fiction February, Spelk, The Corridor, EllipsisZine, Litro, and Cabinet of Heed. She was short-listed for the 2017 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award and long listed for the 2017 Bare Fiction Prize. Barbara is also a reader and Senior Editor for TSS Publishing, UK and Virtual Zine.

Her debut collection Some Days Are Better Than Ours: A Collection of Tragedies will be published by Reflex Press UK on November 5th, 2019. Pre-order here:  https://www.reflex.press/product/some-days-are-better-than-ours/

Mini-Interview with Chance Dibben

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

I was first really introduced to flash by Deb Olin Unferth. I was lucky enough to take her Very Short Story course when she briefly taught at the University of Kansas. At the time I was thinking more in terms of poetry for what I wanted to do with writing (well that and screenwriting).

I think about the books, stories, and lessons of that class all the time. It was a survey course, but we did have an opportunity to write our own pieces. I sorta tucked mine away. Flash forward (pun intended) some years later and I’m taking on flash writing with a more concerted effort. I was transitioning from a period of performing comedy and running comedy shows. I took that energy into writing stories—so my pieces are very much informed by joke-telling. I write flash because my brain is now wired for it.

What I love about flash is that it is so encompassing! You can have cheeky jokesters like me, you can have folks who create very serious and dramatic scenarios. You can have pieces that subvert fantasy tropes. You can go to space and blow up the earth in a paragraph. You can draw out a characters’ thought over two pages. You can go macro, micro, and everywhere in between. You can break hearts in a sentence. Because the stakes feel lower compared to other forms (and IMO they are not) you get this urge to experiment and explore.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Probably character. Throw an interesting character into the most banal of situations and you’ll probably still have a story. But, in some of my favorite flash stories, the characters are purposefully thin, so the plot becomes the character. I value both voice-driven pieces and pieces that feel like logic puzzles.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy. Build the idea or feeling in your head before you write. Let it be something so weird that a) don’t want to write it and b) you have to write it. Sit down, write quick, and surprise yourself as you go along. Then edit, edit, edit, edit.

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

So many stories of mine draw from real life situations. Some are only very lightly fictionalized. Both these micros that appeared in Gravel are basically real things that happened to me.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Kathy Fish
Lydia Davis

Diane Williams

Mercedes Lucero

Deb Olin Unferth

Franz Kafka’s “Passersby
Cathy Ulrich

Megan Giddings

Amber Sparks
Woody Skinner’s “The Wavering Grass”

Amelia Gray (in particular, “These Are The Fables”)
Adam Levin “The Extra Mile”

Meeah Williams “Did I Say That
Tyler Barton
Marisa Crane, (“Beef and Cheddar with Extra Arby’s Sauce”)
This Dave Housley piece

Troy James Weaver “Tennis Balls”

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Hmm…I don’t know. I’m always happy when a piece gets picked up and someone decides to read it.

My joke answer is: all the ones sitting in Submittable unread!

My real answer is: the flash community is really fucking cool.

**

BIO: Chance Dibben is a writer, photographer, and music-maker living in Lawrence, KS. His poems and shorts have appeared in Split Lip, Reality Beach, Horsethief, Yes Poetry, matchbook, Hobart, as well as others.

Mini-Interview with Peter Jordan

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

I lack stamina, and discipline. And I have a low boredom threshold. Maybe that’s a result of dyslexia (etc & etc.) So, I love reading flash, and I also love writing it. And, of course, I’m an addict: I like to mood alter quickly. Really good flash pieces do that for me. And it’s possible — it doesn’t always happen, but it’s possible — to write a story in one sitting.

Also, I think the very fact that flash is so short has a reader come to a brand new story already primed for the reception of metaphor and suggestion.  Somehow, that makes the writing all the more powerful. In this way, I think, flash is closer to poetry than it is to longer short fiction.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m not sure plot ever consciously features in any of my flash fiction. Character is plot, I can’t remember who said that, but it’s true. In any event, I prefer short stories without plot. The flash stories I write aren’t stories that can be told aloud in a bar or over dinner. It’s all about the combination of words. Often there isn’t a story at all; just a slice of life: a cross section.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I don’t have any set time or routine. A new story usually starts off quick and messy. I write as fast as I can. Then, after a completed first draft, I edit again and again (ad infinitum). It’s a naturally reductive process. So, a 600-word piece will usually end up as a 300-word final draft. I try to do what Robert Olen Butler suggests in his book From Where You Dream; writing from the subconscious (that pre-dream state where all of the answers come), then I let the completed first draft sit and stew for days or even weeks, before doing the edits using the conscious mind.

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

My addiction, most definitely or more precisely the 20-odd years I lost to it — the hospitalisations, the rehab, the psychiatric appointments, and the therapy.

I mean, I hate the idea of imposed themes in short story collections; that’s for bookshop owners and publishers who want to know where to place your book on a shelf, or how to easily promote it.

There is however a thread in my work: often the underdog and redemption. I owe writing a lot. The very act of writing helped me get sober. And it helps keep me sober.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I remember reading a Raymond Carver interview in which his early mentor John Gardener advised him to read the stories in the small presses. I would say to any aspiring flash writer, read this year’s BIFFY50. Many of the stories on that list are quality. That’s where you’ll learn craft and technique.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One particular story does come to mind: The Killing Chair (Spelk https://spelkfiction.com/2017/07/10/the-killing-chair/). A friend of mine, an American professor who teaches inner city kids in Philadelphia used that story in his class. That felt better than winning something.

BIO: Peter Jordan is a short story writer from Belfast. Last year he won the Bare Fiction prize, came second in the Fish and was shortlisted for the Bridport and the Bath. Over 50 of his stories have appeared in literary magazines, journals and anthologies. His debut short story collection Calls to Distant Places can be purchased on Amazon. You will find him on twitter @pm_jordan.

Mini-Interview with Todd Dillard

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

Flash is where I go when I am writing about a sequence of events that happen over a period of time (which I think is the foundation of narrative) but want to use the logic of a poem. It’s like the Shark Tunnel at my local aquarium: I have to start at the beginning and reach the end, but what I see in between is always new, always outside the rules and boundaries of my (or my narrator’s) existence. Flash is where I go to observe what I cannot touch.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m not sure how I want to answer this—for me, plot is the stuff that happens based on the character’s desire. Joey wants a hamburger so he goes to the local fast food joint but on the way a whale falls out of the sky, blocking the entrance to McDonald’s. People are inside the whale’s mouth, arguing over a map, one of them asks Joey for directions to Second Babylon, but Joey is really hungry and McDonald’s is closing soon. How am I supposed to choose character or plot here? My sympathies lie with the whale, I think.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m quick and messy with first drafts—I have to be! It’s a race against distraction all the time. I jot most of my ideas down either right before I fall asleep, or on the bus/subway, or on those scarce moments I’m at work and have a beat. Editing is where things slow down, and I will go word by word, sentence by sentence, weighing each against the other, shrinking the content until it’s distilled into just enough to say what I want to say. Sometimes quick and messy is quick and done too! Bust most of the time I need days, weeks, sometimes years to finish a piece. If I don’t get a first draft down quickly though—if I start and then I stop—I have no idea when I will finish it. I currently have three flash pieces arrested in their first halves because I couldn’t crank out an ending ASAP.

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

I’m a writer specializing in academic affairs content for a teaching hospital, handling the appointment, reappointment, and promotion materials for our hundreds of faculty, as well as official letters and website content for our department, so I think being able to work with words all day really strengthens my sense of what “works” and what can go in my writing. There’s no opportunity for ambiguity in my work-related writing, which I think really helps me maintain lucid narratives in my creative writing. That being said, I also think being a dad has really motivated me to write and create. I messed around with writing novels for a few years after my MFA (Sarah Lawrence College, 2008), but for some reason as soon as I became a father I started writing poetry and flash again. That was only a few years ago, which feels pretty wild to me since so much has happened related to my writing since then!

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I think Kathy Fish, Cathy Ulrich, and Kathryn McMahon are some of the best flash fiction writers who have ever lived and I am so thankful they’re alive and writing today!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

All of them! I love my flash pieces. I identify myself primarily as a poet, so whenever I end up writing flash fiction I’m just so happy because it’s like rediscovering I can still surprise myself. If I had to pick just one though, I’d say my piece “The Hand” in Lost Balloon. It started off as a lyrical, multi-sectioned poem, but it was like trying to dress a bowling ball in chiffon. When I finally adapted it to flash, it suddenly had enough room to make sense, and what came out was a little quotidian horror story about grief and what it means to move on.

BIO: Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including The Boiler Journal, Superstition Review, Nimrod, Longleaf Review, and Crab Creek Review. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.

Mini-Interview with Jason Jackson

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

I write flash for the same reason I write anything: because I love doing it. And flash helps me remember that good writing is about using as few words as possible to tell your story. Writers often like the sound of their own (or their narrator’s) voice too much. Flash reminds me to shut up. Get out of the way of the story. And it’s great for editing practice. Write long if you must. But edit short.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I can’t write plots. I’ve tried. I can come up with a moment, an epiphany, a striking image to begin or end on. But my writing is character-driven. I hear about people who map things out, or they use a card system, colour-coding, spreadsheets, and I’ve read widely about narrative theory, but it’s too “conscious” for me. Pinter said he just wrote what the characters in his head were saying, and mostly, I do that. Once I’ve got the narrative voice, everything gets easier.   

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The best stories come out in an unstoppable flow. But then editing is slow and precise. I enjoy both. I often enjoy editing more, the cutting back, the chipping away. I’ve done exercises where you write a full story to a strict, low, wordcount, say, one thousand words. Then you leave it for a day, and when you come back you have to cut it in half. It’s always – always – a better story for it.

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

I try not to write autobiographically, but the big things in my life bleed into my stories: being a son, being a father, being divorced, falling in love, giving up booze, losing people, and battling – as many do – with four-in-the-morning fears. Getting up and getting on with it, Like Carver said: “Life. Always life.”

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

There’s a huge amount of flash fiction published, and a lot of it is not necessarily very good. It’s like any art form: much of what is produced is mediocre. And I’m happy to include most of my own work in this! But there are some excellent flash writers out there. I want to mention three, to keep it manageable.

Meg Pokrass writes flash fiction which is immediately recognizable as uniquely hers. It’s something I greatly admire in her work.

Peter Jordan is a writer I’ve come to “know” through twitter. He does something in his stories which makes me want to show them to everyone and say, “See? That’s what I mean!”  The words don’t get in the way of the stories.

Adam Lock often writes a particular kind of flash – brief, present tense, deceptively simple, but full of symbolic resonance. I find them incredibly effective.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m going with a story published earlier this year online at The Nottingham Review called Counterpoint. When I wrote it, I had a feeling that I’d done almost exactly what I wanted to do, that I’d had an idea and I’d put that idea on paper in a way which felt very satisfying. That’s what writing can be, when it works. It made me feel a real sense of accomplishment.  

Bio: Jason Jackson’s prize-winning fiction has been published extensively online and in print. In 2019 his work has appeared at New Flash Fiction Review and Nottingham Review. In January, Jason’s hybrid photography/prose piece The Unit was published by A3 Press. His stories have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of Small Fictions. Jason tweets @jj_fiction

Mini-Interview with Benjamin Niespodziany

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

I write flash once the poem begins to grow arms and legs. Almost all of my first drafts are done in lined stanzas, and if I feel like there’s more to be said and I need to expand the story or mold a proper narrative, I’ll form paragraphs and run with it. That being said, I always keep it brief. It’s rare that I write something more than 500 words and my comfort zone is 200-300 words. I suppose the divider between prose poetry and microfiction and flash within my writing is less like caution tape and more like a fishing line dropped in a swampy bathtub.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My lifejacket is a deflating air mattress blown up with internal rhyme and tongue twisters. I love creating pieces around how words sound: like a piece I’m working on called ‘The Indelible Relative’ or another called ‘The Kenosha Poet’. From there, after my mattress has deflated or exploded with words that curtsy in a hearse, and once I begin sinking to the bottom of the sea, I start to (briefly, spastically) pay attention to character and plot.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Very quick and very messy. I write 5-15 tiny pieces every day, most of which I never revisit or revitalize. At the end of every month, with about 250 pieces in the vault, I skim through all of them and print out 25 or so pieces and fine tune them with a hypercritical pen. Then I edit the pieces back into a Word doc and proceed to touch them up 1-10 more times before reluctantly submitting.

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

Working at a library! Not only do I imagine what would happen if someone walked in with a licensed therapy snake, or if someone pulled back a book and unearthed a hidden dungeon, but I also check out (and read) numerous books a week. My library has 4.5 million books and a percentage of those are always found resting by my desk, helping me when I hit a speedbump or crash into a thick brick wall. I’m also inspired/influenced by visual artists (via Behance or Instagram) and surreal films (watch everything by Alex van Warmerdam).  

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

The list would be endless! Okay, instead of mentioning members of the community we all vacate (hi, Cathy Ulrich and Noa Sivan), I’d rather mention those I’ve discovered elsewhere. The short stories of Sabrina Orah Mark and Jen George, for example. Seriously, go read Wild Milk and The Babysitter at Rest. The fairy tales of Kate Bernheimer, for example. Amelia Gray! Also, I know it’s not flash, but please read the new novel by Sarah Rose Etter. She has a great short story collection Tongue Party if you want something briefer, but her debut novel is flash-esque and works so well in short spurts and compact fragments. It’s also devastatingly relentless. Ten thumbs up.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I wrote a piece about ‘Dr. Sky’ in the Spring issue of Gone Lawn that I really enjoy. It’s one of the earlier pieces in my manuscript-in-progress, and while I’ve tinkered with it a bit (with an updated ending), I really like the version over at Gone Lawn. Much love to them.

Bio: Benjamin Niespodziany has had work published in Fairy Tale Review, Jellyfish Review, Milk Candy Review, and a batch of other ‘reviews’. Originally from Mishawaka, Indiana, he now works in a library in Chicago and runs the multimedia art site [neonpajamas].

Mini-Interview with Ken Elkes

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

I dabbled with writing for a good few years, producing some rank poetry, a sitcom pilot that didn’t get commissioned for a series, and a few published short stories that had a cheesy aroma about them. But pressures of full-time work, a lack of confidence and a fat dollop of imposter syndrome stopped me committing to writing. Then I found an online course based around producing flash. I liked the discipline, the production, the way I could fit it into my life. I liked the way the form’s close attention to language nurtures my poetic tendencies while it also feeds my urge to tell a story. I like the way the form defies simple explanation and still feels outside the mainstream. Necessity and intrigue – that’s why I write flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Neither. It’s voice. And by voice I mean a composite of elements (such as tone, diction and syntax, point of view, authorial style etc) that produces distinctiveness within a story.
I write flash when the voice of the piece comes to me. It’s the thing that keeps me afloat during the story. It’s what gives me a sense of how and where to come ashore.
If I have to choose from the given options, then character. In flash you can get away without much plot, but a character has to change in some way, or as Rust Hills points out in his book on the short story, there has to be movement. There’s where the sweet stuff is for me – when I don’t merely find out what has happened, but when I found out what has happened to a character.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The writing stage is, for me, a bit like ‘awkward young man sex’. There’s a lot of anticipation before some very frenetic and messy activity, a bit of ungainly flailing and a sudden, swift end. Sometimes a little lie down is needed afterwards.
The editing stage is a bit more grown up. Although I’ve produced prize winning work in half an hour (which has required no more editing than a wash of the face and a comb of the hair) most times it’s taken several drafts and repeated editing to get a piece right. At the far end of the scale is the flash that has to marinate in its own juices for a couple of years before the story reaches the right level of tenderness.

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

Well, for a start, there’s everything. From the dog with ears dyed blue at the tips that I saw in a park two days ago to the smell of the final letter my first girlfriend wrote. From the sound of my father eating a bowl of cool raspberries a few days before he died to the splashy way the stars show themselves at night in a desert. What I’m saying, in an overly florid way, is that the most influential factor in my writing is an openness to experience and observation, and the ability to recognise potential writing material when it is dredged up from memory or when it presents itself in the moment. These are the waves I ride on in my writerly lifejacket.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Today it is the following. Tomorrow it will probably be very different.

My Jockey by Lucia Berlin

Little Things by Raymond Carver

Mother by Grace Paley

Bs by Eley Williams

Reunion by John Cheever

Roll and Curl by Ingrid Jendrewski

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I never planned to write a flash fiction collection, so I’m pretty happy that the previously published pieces in All That Is Between Us will get a fresh airing, while the new material I wrote for the collection will find some readers. Obviously, I hope for as wide an audience as possible, and that the collection gets more recognition. But I also know that’s tricky, as flash fiction collections aren’t exactly crammed into every bookshop window. So I tread that fine line between being humble and grateful for the readers that I have found, and a grumpy neediness for more.

Bio: K.M. Elkes lives and works in the West Country, UK. His flash fiction collection All That Is Between Us was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. He has won or been placed in a number of international writing competitions, including the Manchester Fiction Prize, Fish Publishing Prize, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Bath Short Story Award. His short fiction has been published in more than 30 print anthologies in the UK and internationally, as well as literary magazines such as The Lonely Crowd, Unthology, Mechanic’s Institute Review, Short Fiction Journal and Structo. He is a short story tutor for Comma Press and has led workshops at the UK Flash Fiction Festival and for National Flash Fiction Day. His work has featured on BBC radio and on school and college curricula in the USA, India and Hong Kong.

All That Is Between Us is available to buy worldwide in paperback or e-book from Ad Hoc Fiction via this link: https://bookshop.adhocfiction.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=65&products_id=192

Accolades and Reviews for All That Is Between Us

“Truthful, revelatory, and beautifully written, All That Is Between Us is a collection you’ll want to read and re-read.”
~ Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works

“K.M. Elkes writes like a fallen angel, making the ordinary divine…This is breath-taking flash fiction at its finest.” 
~ Angela Readman, author of Something Like Breathing

“Whoever you are, whatever you like to read, you need these stories in your life.”
~ Tania Hershman, author of Some Of Us Glow More Than Others

“These insightful and disarmingly honest stories shimmer with quirky brilliance.” 
~ Meg Pokrass, author of Alligators At Night 

Brings a Cheever-esque emotional punch to his stories, married to a sweet, left-of-field insight that is all his own…a masterclass in the heart-jolting satisfaction of great flash fiction.”
~ Nuala O’Connor, author of Joyride to Jupiter

“This was a highly enjoyable collection of flash, a collection often grounded in the everyday but that transcends the everyday in the way of all great fiction.”

~ review from Sabotage Reviews

“Crackles with all the complexities of human relationships, narrative blazes, if you like, that may be tiny in size but vast on matters of the heart. Stories crafted with an emotional wisdom that scythes.
~ review in Storgy Magazine

Mini-Interview with Damhnait Monaghan

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

I started writing flash properly at a point where my novel manuscript had been rejected so many times that I wanted a break from the long form. Then as seems to happen, I got hooked on flash. What’s different for me is its immediacy: it’s a snapshot, a moment in time, a passing glimpse of life, as you drive by in the car.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Can I have a lifejacket and two water wings, please. Sometimes, it’s character, sometimes it’s plot; more often, it’s voice. I hear that voice in my head and bam, it’s on.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy, including literal messiness. Sometimes when I look back at my notes, I can’t read my own writing. I’ve been known to take photos of my scrawls and ask for help in deciphering. Editing is where I’m slow and precise. I especially enjoy the challenge of cutting something down or carefully selecting words to meet a micro word limit.

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

Motherhood, grief, loss, feeling like an outsider. I’ve learned that my best flash stories have an element of truth at their core. That truth may have been altered, tweaked, and polished, but it’s there.

But random things can also spark an idea – walking the dog, road kill, something I overhear in the street: add some ‘what if’ for kindling and I’m off.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I’m going to be a bit cheeky and instead recommend a literary journal that is near and dear to my heart – FlashBack Fiction. Our timeline is replete with cracking stories and I’d encourage your readers to dive in. What’s more, I’d love it if they submitted a historical flash to us.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Honestly, Tommy, I’m grateful if people read any. Shout out to the super supportive flash community on Twitter who read and share my stories.

That said, I have a soft spot for the teenage girls in my micro ‘The Weather Girls.’ It won the Spider Road Press flash competition, but was published only in their subscriber newsletter. I’d love more people to read it someday.

BIO: Damhnait Monaghan was born and grew up in Canada but now lives in the U.K. Her flash fiction has won or placed in various competitions and is widely published and anthologised. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions. Her flash pamphlet, ‘The Neverlands’ is out now with V. Press. She’s an Editor at FlashBack Fiction and tweets @Downith.

Mini-Interview with Evan James Sheldon

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

 I don’t have a lot of time. Right now, I’m working four different jobs (all part-time, it’s not as crazy as it sounds) and my wife and I have a newborn. When I make time to write, it is really satisfying to be able to complete something. Then, I can make a pass at editing in a different sitting, and then another, and so on. I heard some excellent advice to always finish the scene. I need that momentum to help carry me through and discover what it is I am really writing about. Once I discover that bit, my interest wanes, and if I’m not interested you know the reader won’t be. 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 Neither? That’s not a fair answer, I know, but what really brings me into the story is something weird. Sometimes it’s a character trait, sometimes it’s a strange event, but that is what tends to get me going. That said, once I’m in there, it is all about character. I’ve tried the other way and it always falls apart or feels forced, like I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I think that I need to be able to experience whatever strangeness is going on with the character and let the story grow from there. 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Definitely quick and messy. I carry a notebook in my back pocket and will text myself little tidbits or ideas. I let all of that build until there is something that I can’t get beyond, like an image that I have to reckon with. Then I’ll take a run at it. Most of the time I get somewhere and then can go back and edit the pieces together and bolster the themes that I see appearing. That is a fun part for me because I know that I’m getting close. 

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

 Relationships, particularly family relationships, have always trickled their way into my writing, often when I don’t even intend them to. Now that we have little one, I am so curious how that will influence my work. I probably won’t know or be able to point to another moment that feels so crucial to how I interact with the world, even if I can’t see how it is playing out quite yet. 

 If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

 I love Lydia Davis, Kathy Fish, Meg Pokrass, Cathy Ulrich. I read a piece by Christopher Allen in Longleaf Review a while back that I can’t stop thinking about. We, by we I mean F(r)iction, recently published a piece by Kim Chinquee that is so short and so perfect. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s collections are probably my favorite books I own, and Calvino’s Invisible Cities changed how I thought about writing. Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God should be required reading. There’s more, but if you are looking to get into reading or writing flash any and all of these writers will amaze you. 

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 I had a story come out with Fictive Dream a while back that I really loved. It has a structure that I was experimenting with that I think gave the ending a lot of force. It’s about a girl who is being chased by horses that only she can see. 

BIO: Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared most recently in Foliate Oak,Gone LawnNew Plains Review, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Coordinator for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com

Mini-Interview with Andrew Roe

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

When I started writing flash it was mostly out of necessity. I was struggling to finish a novel and even traditional length short stories felt daunting. I was a new parent, working full time, with a long drive/commute. My time was limited and so I began writing flash. The sense of completion was very fulfilling, but I also really came to love the form—what makes it different for me is the challenge, the possibility of saying so much in so little space.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

That’s an easy one: character. I like to say plot is my kryptonite. I think I’m getting better.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise—that’s me. I labor over sentences, syllables, commas, em dashes, the sound/feel/look of certain letters when juxtaposed against other letters. It takes longer to get a first draft, but usually—usually—it’s a fairly solid first draft. I’m a turtle. I try to focus on achieving momentum—no matter how large or small—every day. Or every week. My writing time lately has been pretty minimal.

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

It’s an obvious answer, but it’s true—I’d have to say being a parent and having a family. It does change how you navigate and view the world, and if you’re squeezing in writing fiction in addition to family life and work and anything else, it forces you to focus and maximize any writing time you have. There’s no later; there’s no putting it off until the moment is right and you find the ideal writing conditions; there are no writing conditions except having a desire and compulsion to write and keep writing.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Wow. So many. I’m just going to start listing without thinking about it too much…

“Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula” by Lindsay Hunter

“The Once Mighty Fergusons” by Kathy Fish

“Baby Arm” by Roxane Gay

“Wants” by Grace Paley

“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace

And some writers who do flash: Joy Williams, Lucia Berlin, Deb Olin Unferth, Josh Denslow, Meg Pokrass, Ethel Rohan, Robert Vaughn, Len Kuntz, Kim Chinquee, Heather Fowler, Lauren Becker, Ben Loory, Sara Lippmann…

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel like I’ve been very lucky and have been able to place stories in various publications. One of my favorite stories—and I think one of my best—is “A Matter of Twenty-Four Hours.” It appeared in Glimmer Train and it’s in my collection Where You Live. So I can’t really complain about recognition. But I’d love it if more people found their way to this story.

BIO: Andrew Roe is the author of the novel The Miracle Girl, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and Where You Livea collection of short stories. His short fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review, and other literary magazines, as well as the anthologies Where Love Is Found (Washington Square Press) and 24 Bar Blues (Press 53). In addition, his essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and three children. For more information, visit andrewroeauthor.com.

Mini-Interview with William Gilmer

Why do you write flash? What makes it different?
There can be a sort of freedom in limits. A story that’s thousands of words long is going to have expectations about depth, character progression, detailed settings, etc. and flash doesn’t need to be bothered with all of it. When facing a short word count, you just don’t have the time to develop huge sprawling word-scapes or plots that weave the reader through a dozen twists and turns. Flash allows you to hyper focus on the idea or concept that brought you to the page in the first place. I love that can sit down and say, “I want the reader to feel this,” and fully concentrate on that one aspect. I have had a lot of ideas that wouldn’t be able to support pages of story but that work perfectly in the flash arena.
Flash forces us to distill a story down to its best, most critical, parts. It’s the difference between sipping a few fingers of bourbon and drinking a mug of beer. Ideally, you’re going to end up in the same place, one is just going to be a quicker, more intense, ride.  
 
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
Wow, how can you choose? I think we all want to see interesting characters doing interesting things, but if there’s a gun to my head, I have to say characters. I can think of dozens of flash pieces that amount to little more than two characters talking. Maybe they’re two robots roaming Earth after the apocalypse, or a wife visiting her husband on his death bed, if they are characters you can feel for, can root for, then it doesn’t really matter to me what they are doing. The reverse is not usually true for me. I have seen too many great scenarios ruined by hollow or cardboard characters.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
 There’s no doubt that I’m a member of the turtle writer’s club. Is slow and messy an option? I tend to plot things out very carefully when the time comes to get everything on paper. I’m the kind of person that will let a story ride around in my head for weeks or even months until I think I have it all figured out. Fermentation has its benefits, as long as you can be patient.
 
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences you?
  I would be lost without music! Music, for me, is a great way to get in touch with the emotions I want to present in a piece. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to mimic, or represent, the feelings I get for certain pieces of music with words. Sometimes all it takes is a simple melody to get my head into the right “tone” for a particular story. I’ve gone so far as to listen to different music for different characters or scenes in the same piece. The right song can really help get me into the right head-space.  
 
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
My Husband is Made of Ash – By Jennifer Todhunter. While everything that Jennifer Todhunter puts out is amazing, this piece has always had a place in my heart.
http://www.smokelong.com/my-husband-is-made-of-ash/

For Our Light Affliction – By Stephen S. Power. I have a soft spot for crafty Satan characters, and the ending is so “Good Omens”-esque! There probably isn’t a month that goes by that this piece doesn’t pop into my head for one reason or another.
https://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/stephen-s-power/for-our-light-affliction

Offspring – By Brenda Anderson. This piece is pure absurdity and I love every word of it! This story taught me that you can do anything in flash, the only limits on our imaginations are the ones we put there ourselves.
http://flashfictiononline.com/main/article/offspring/

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
Wow, that’s a hard one. I appreciate every eye that finds its way to something I’ve written, so I’m never disappointed by any amount of recognition! Back in 2017 The Sunlight Press was gracious enough to publish a piece of mine titled “Sambuca Zen”. The story didn’t gain much traction, which I always chalked up to the fact that it was off genre for me. This was the first non-speculative piece that I had released into the world. While I’m not sure how much recognition it deserves, it will always be something that I’m very proud of.
https://www.thesunlightpress.com/2017/08/22/sambuca-zen/

BIO: Will Gilmer is a writer and poet living in Metro-Detroit. Over two dozen of his stories have appeared in print and online. When he’s not putting his thoughts on paper you can find him piddling in a garden, brewing beer, or practicing for he and his wife’s imaginary appearance on The Great British Bake Off. If there isn’t enough going on in your feed, follow him on Twitter @willwritethings. BIO:

Mini-Interview with Francine Witte

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

I write flash because I adore the compression of it. I love telling bits of a story and letting the reader fill in the rest. I like this in longer work, too. Subtext has always fascinated me.

I also like to write a lot of different things. That’s why I prefer poetry and flash to longer forms. Whenever I am working on a longer story, there’s a part of me saying. I could have written five flashes by now.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m big on character. You get the character, the plot just follows.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy, to be sure. If I don’t get a story in the first draft, I move on. Not to say, I don’t revise, but if the bones aren’t there, it’s over.

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

Love gone wrong, to be sure.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Oh my, so many. Robert Scotellaro, Meg Pokrass, Leonora Desar, Pam Painter, Paul Beckman, I could go on and on.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Every so often, I write a story that I really think hits the mark, and I submit it and it takes forever to get accepted. That one.

BIO: Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbook, one full-length collection, and the forthcoming, Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) and her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction, as well as a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This which is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. She live in New York City, USA.

Mini-Interview with Kristin Tenor

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

My stories often lean toward the quiet details that surround a relationship, a life, with the hope they’ll somehow uncover the extraordinary. Once during a writer workshop at UW-Madison, our instructor introduced the class to Robert Hass’ “Story About a Body.” Without too much of a spoiler here, the piece concludes with the lasting image of a blue bowl filled with dead bees covered by rose petals. I’m continually amazed and inspired by what the well-chosen detail can convey through image and implication alone. Resonance is the gold standard to any lasting piece of literature, however, the possibilities in flash fiction to meld narrative and emotion in such a concise, complex way defines real artistry to me. It’s something I strive for with every piece I write.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: plot or character?

This often feels like one of those chicken/egg questions, but I’d have to go with character. If neither yearning or an emotional connection exist between the character and reader, you can throw all the plotlines you want into the water. Nothing will save you.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

How about messy and slow? The most difficult part of the process for me is actually getting that first draft down on the page. I agonize over it for days, sometimes weeks, writing notes here and there. I’ll take a walk, visit the library, weed the garden, talk to the kids, bake a batch of cookies, eat the cookies, write down a few more notes, rinse, repeat. Once I have the initial draft down, revision picks up the momentum. I realize it’s not the most productive route, but I’ve come to trust both my subconscious and the process.

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

My grandsons, who are three and one, constantly remind me how important it is to stay open and curious about the world. To them everything is a wonder, good or bad.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

One of my favorite flash pieces is Kathy Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild.” Her work not only illuminates the human condition, but also seeps compassion.

I also love Cathy Ulrich’s Murdered Lady Series. I’m impressed with how these pieces start from the same origin but tell such different and compelling stories. “Being the Murdered Babysitter,” published in Passages North, is both incredible and haunting.

I’m enjoying Josh Denslow’s collection, “Not Everyone Is Special.” He does a fantastic job creating a bridge between his characters and readers.

Christopher Allen’s “How to Shop After the Death of Your Brother” in Split Lip left me speechless.

The footnote structure in Meg Pillow Davis’ “Ten Rules for Cooks on the Verge of Collapse” in Hobart creates such and interesting parallel to what’s on the surface.

K.B. Carle’s “Vagabond Mannequin” floored me with its ingenuity. She’s definitely someone to watch.

Kim Magowan’s “Madlib” and her collection, “Undoing,” are wonderful. The complexity and layers she weaves into the relationships she writes about are so palpable and real.

I appreciate the honesty in Marvin Shackelford’s work. “The Coyote Eventually Has His Day” in Waxwing and “On Water” in Spry both speak to this truth.

Otherwise, I recommend anything written by Joy Williams or Lydia Davis. Also, Garth Risk Hallberg’s novella, “A Field Guide to the North American Family,” combines both flash narrative and photography to present an artistic feast. Great stuff.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Honestly, I appreciate any recognition my work receives. The flash fiction community, especially on Twitter, has been extremely generous and supportive. I’m so grateful.

Bio: Kristin Tenor’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Midwest Review, Spelk Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Bending Genres, River Teeth—Beautiful Things, and Spry Literary Journal, where she also volunteers as a general reader. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband. More at www.kristintenor.com or on Twitter @KristinTenor.

Mini-Interview with Roppotucha Greenberg

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

Because longer short stories are out to get me. I sink into their world, meet some characters, hope to make a few friends, and crash. Boom. They end it all. And I am left hanging in the in-between-books type of abyss . I think short stories dislike me. They want me to think about unpaid bills and mortality. Short stories have staid jobs and live in the 1950s.  Flash stories are different. The world is against them, all they have is a thousand words to create a universe, and they manage. By hook or by crook, by blank space or repurposed forms, or by getting re-written five thousand times over. And they get away with it. Flash stories are great people. I don’t know if you’d completely trust them with your wallet, but they are firmly on the side of the infinity.  

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot is like using heat and darkness to create something out of nothing. You know the way giants emerged out of the blood-warmed earth, or the way you can leave a few rags in a dark corner to make mice. (A professor I admire told me about this life-hack, but I still have to try it). Or maybe plot is already there at the start, and it’s just a matter of realizing what’s going on, so you’d have a scene with a fishnet, and then three drafts later, you’d get someone bringing in the catch.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely slow and messy. I wouldn’t wish my writing style on my worst enemy. I am confident, however, that doodling is good for writing, tweeting is good for writing, staring into space is good for writing, and not writing is good for writing.

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

I moved countries twice, the first time when I was twelve, and the second time as a young adult, twenty or so years ago. I’ve been slowly making sense of that in some of my stories, (‘On the Proper Use of the Mosquitoes’ and ‘Where’s that accent from’). One peculiar result of the first move was that I mistook space for time. My adolescence was literally a new place; if I felt confused and misunderstood by my surroundings that was because I actually didn’t speak the language. The fantastic elements in my writing are probably related to that. Patricia Garcia writes  that ‘space is the fantastic’, that intrusions or subversions of space constitute the common denominator of the fantastic (Space and the Postmodern: Fantastic in the Contemporary Literature, Routledge 2015). And the experience of migration and chronic nostalgia do just that – they turn the space around you into something else, part reflections of the past and part memories of the future. Once you switch countries nothing surprises you. A ghost of an old country behind the radiator, why not. Your boyfriend morphing into the landscape—shame but can’t be helped.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

The writers involved in the #vss365 daily hashtag game have created a glorious hive of micro-fiction. Most readers would probably be familiar with that and similar daily and weekly games. Still, I think the whole project deserves sky-high praise for the commitment of its founders, the spontaneity of its participants, its non-competitive nature, its inclusivity, but most of all because it reads like a magical book. It’s like that book of legend that changes with each reader.

I stumbled upon the #vss365 a year ago. I’ve had fantastic adventures since, culminating in two self-published creature books of tiny stories and doodle-answers to questions by other micro-fiction writers. I am deeply grateful to the community and would feel wrong singling any favourites out here.  

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’d love for more people to read ‘Their Untimely Lives’ in The Cabinet of Heed (https://cabinetofheed.com/2019/04/01/their-untimely-lives-roppotucha-greenberg/)

A wonderful writer that I admire gave me some feedback on the story. She said one of the characters should have died. So, I worked very hard and re-drafted the story just to convince her and other readers that he’s better left alive (I’d do anything for my characters). And then my sister said wonderful things about the story. I asked her: ‘Do you think I should’ve let him die?’ And she said: ‘No, of course not, besides, he mostly died anyway, and when the girlfriend tried to save him, she was actually trying to save both of them’.

BIO: Roppotucha  Greenberg’s stories have appeared in  Noon (Arachne Press 2019), Elephants Never, Ellipsis Zine, Twist in Time, The Forge Literary Magazine, Virtual Zine, The Honey and Lime Literary Magazine, The Barren Magazine and  several others. She lives in Ireland and doodles creatures. Her first creature book, Creatures Give Advice, is out on Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creatures-Give-Advice-Roppotucha-Greenberg/dp/1091088985/) with the second book, Creatures Give Advice (and it’s warmer now) scheduled for release on 21 June 2019. Web: roppotucha.blogspot.com

Mini-Interview with Melissa Ostrom

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

I enjoy writing all sorts of things: short stories, novels, blog posts, and poems. I’ve even written a play. But I think many of my better pieces are flashes. Crafting flash feels adventurous. It frees me—turns my mind malleable and playful. If churning out a novel is a good marriage, composing a flash is a love affair, precarious, short-lived, and intoxicating. Adherence to a limited word count, rather than curtailing a piece’s potential, somehow, paradoxically, incurs its potent magic. Every word, gesture, and image: fraught.   

What’s your writerly lifejacket: plot or character?

Honestly, Tommy, I don’t know. As soon as I start muddling through a piece, I’ll cling to whatever is working and keeping the flash afloat, whether it be character, structure, plot, tone, setting…

The hard part for me is starting. But once something—a detail, an opening line, a question—snags my imagination and rents an opening into a tale, I just go with it.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m a plodder. I inch along, backtrack, tweak, stumble forward with a line or two, pause, delete, elaborate, tweak, slog onward, retreat, and tweak, tweak, tweak.

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

Probably my children. I didn’t begin writing regularly until ten years ago, around the time my first child was born. Sometimes I wonder why her birth and a commitment to writing coincided. My every moment had certainly changed. Maybe I simply channeled the awareness of my life’s new narrative into crafting stories.

Having kids has also multiplied my fears and joys and made me conscious of vulnerabilities, theirs and my own. Love casts a complicated shadow—in the shape of worry. Life has become more…everything: more precious, more frightening, more exhausting. Turbulent. Perhaps writing gives me a chance to exercise some control.   

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I admire so many flashes, including yours! Your recently published “When the Waters Came” is gripping. I also love Cathy Ulrich’s “Being the Murdered Student,” Helen Klein Ross’s “Birth, Copulation, Death,” Lydia Davis’s “The Cedar Trees,” Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel,” Lauren Becker’s “Sick Girls,” George Saunders’s “Sticks,” Megan Giddings’s “Three Boyfriends,” Kim White’s “Lily Pad,” Kathy Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” Franz Kafka’s “A Message from the Emperor,” Vincent Poturica’s “The Dead Mother,” and (a new favorite) Stuart Dybek’s “Lights.” No doubt, I’m forgetting a thousand other flashes that have amazed me, but these ones readily come to mind.  

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s a good question. Maybe “Severed,” a flash that appeared in Duende. The Twitter literary community generously reads and shares my work, but I only joined the party about a year and a half ago, so I’m not sure how my earlier publications were received or how widely they were read. I’m glad I am on Twitter now and have met so many talented and kind writers.

BIO: Melissa Ostrom is the author of the YA novels The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018) and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, March 2019). Her stories have appeared in The Florida Review, Fourteen Hills, Juked, and Passages North, among other journals, and her flash “Ruinous Finality” was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019. She teaches part-time at Genesee Community College and lives with her husband and children in Holley, New York.

Mini-Interview with Sutton Strother

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

I started writing flash right after I completed the first draft of a novel. For me, it was a chance to flex some writing muscles I’d been neglecting, particularly voice and attention to detail. I’d lost sight of those things because I’d been so focused on sustaining a big plot and a few hundred pages worth of character development, and I wanted to hone those additional skills before undertaking a revision of the novel.

That was over a year ago, and it’s only recently that I’ve even returned to the book, because I’ve fallen so in love with writing flash! I love the immediacy of flash and the challenge of creating an entire world in such a small space. There’s something addictive about it, too. I think it’s kind of retrained my brain, because most of the story ideas that occur to me now are “flash-sized.” I have to get them down on paper right away so I can give them life before the next one crops up.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. For me, plot is just scaffolding for character development. Even in conceptual or “genre” stories, I’m more interested in thinking about what all the weirdness means for the characters living through it. Putting plot before character is a recipe for creating a story without much tension, I think. Readers need to care about characters and how they’re impacted by what’s happening in the plot, or else the story lacks any real stakes.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

It doesn’t always happen this way, but I prefer when a story comes out quick and messy. I like to have something whole written as soon as possible, even if it’s wonky. That way, I can treat first drafts like clay to be shaped into the story I see in my head. If I don’t complete a draft fast enough, I find it difficult to sustain the initial momentum or inspiration and will sometimes lose interest in the idea altogether. At this point, I have a digital graveyard of abandoned story ideas that just didn’t get out fast enough.

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

Mental illness, without a doubt. I’ve written a few pieces that are explicitly about anxiety and depression, but there are also several stories that are less obviously about that. For instance, my time travel story “Palimpsest” grew out of anxieties around climate change and the current sociopolitical climate; writing that piece was very much a way to create something hopeful and loving in the face of all that mess. I’ve also got a body horror story coming out later this year, which was written during a serious bout of health-related anxiety. Writing about, around, and through mental illness has become a very necessary act of self-care.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Oh, gosh, there are too many to name here. Flash fiction Twitter is overflowing with amazing writers and incredible stories; anyone interested in writing or reading flash should get plugged into that marvelous corner of the universe as soon as possible, if they haven’t done so already.

Because it’s on my mind, I’ll say this: I’ve adored every story I’ve read coming out of Monet P. Thomas’s sex-themed challenges. I’m signed up to participate in the next one, and I’m excited but also a littleintimidated, given how much brilliance I’ve seen result from past challenges. I love that Jellyfish Review has dedicated space recently to stories from Monet’s “Big O Challenge.” Probably my favorite of these has been Kathryn McMahon’s “Bone China,” which is so sexy and mysterious. The ending of that story literally gave me chills. In general, Katy’s work is absolute magic.

I’ve also loved everything published so far at Cathy Ulrich’s new journal Milk Candy Review. Everything there hits my sweet spot for beautiful, slightly off-kilter flash. One of my favorites has been “Other Skins” by Chloe N. Clark. Chloe’s another writer whose work I try to never miss.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“Two Chambers” at Fiction Southeast was published fairly recently, but it was actually one of the first pieces of flash I ever wrote. It was inspired by a traumatic period in my young adulthood, and revisiting those memories to make sense of them and make art from them, and then to actually put that story out into the world, required courage I didn’t know I had. While I don’t think it’s my best story – I can see how much I’ve grown as a writer in the time since I finished that piece – I’ll always be so proud of that one.

BIO: Sutton Strother is a writer and adjunct professor living in New York. Her stories have appeared or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel about mermaids, grief, and family dysfunction. You can find her work at her website: suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets at @suttonstrother.

Mini-Interview with Chris Drangle

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

I’m not sure if this is comic or tragic, but I started writing flash for the gratification of finishing something. I was in the middle of writing a novel—years of it behind me, years to go—and I just felt starved for that crossing-the-finish-line feeling, that small moment where you feel like a functional human capable of completing a task. It was (I thought) a simple way to get a quick hit of “The End.”

Of course, that’s also where one of the differences shows up. A friend of mine, Adam O’Fallon Price, used to say that while there’s no such thing as a perfect novel, there might be such a thing as a perfect short story. I think there’s some truth to that, since even short, tight, scrupulously edited novels have a necessarily rangy quality to them. With much shorter forms, on the other hand, the entire thing can fit under a magnifying glass, and both writer and reader can bring a high level of attention to the language. (Not that long form writers don’t also strive for that.) So even if “The End” of the drafting process is closer to the beginning of a flash piece than it is with a novel, the end of the revision process remains a maddeningly movable target.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Well, I don’t think they’re as separable as they’re sometimes made out to be. Character without plot, or vice versa, might be like wearing a lifejacket with no air in it. (Do life jackets have air in them? You know what I mean. A pool float without air.) It’s the interplay between plot and character that makes each “work,” or fails to.

All that said, it’s character for me. The soapbox I’ve been using in class goes like this: has anyone seen a superhero movie recently? Has anyone found themselves watching aliens ride jet skis through the sky while cyborgs shoot lasers at them, and felt, like, bored? If we don’t care about the characters, it’s almost impossible to care about the circumstances surrounding them.

Granted, I love empty calories as much as the next self-proclaimed aesthete, and a balanced diet can certainly include car chases and conspiracies along with early-onset ennui and muted domestic strife. But as a writer I find it easier to engineer plot around characters. It’s harder for me to make special order characters for a premade plot.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’ve been trying to change this for years, but: slow and precise? Maybe slow and messy is the inconvenient truth. Although it varies from day to day—sometimes I’m cruising through chapters with the top down, sometimes I’m staring at a paragraph for two hours before changing “fern” to “ficus.” Either way, you have to revise, which is why I wish I was a quick and messy writer. Trying to write a poised, polished first draft is like trying to build a clean, neat stack of kindling at your campsite. However it turns out, the next step is to light it on fire. Speaking of revision, that metaphor could use work.

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

This is a really fascinating question. I’ve been super lucky over the past decade-ish in that I’ve been able to keep a day job (academia) that consists of talking and thinking and writing about writing. But that lets in a classic mode of paranoia—do I have anything to say? Am I embedded enough in the real world to write about it? Have my “life experiences” become a closed loop of intensely uninteresting inside jokes?

The catch, of course, is that all life is real life. And there are innumerable paths from experience to representation, very few of which are straight lines. For me personally, I think that sooner or later pretty much everything influences the writing. An awkward date, a documentary about rock climbing, an argument with my dad, a thousand-mile drive, getting injured, getting engaged, watching the news, reading student evaluations, reading Yelp reviews—all of it goes in the tank. And everything in the tank influences how you write about whatever subject is in front of you, whether that’s engaged rock climbers or aliens on jet skis.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Does everyone say Lydia Davis? I confess that I absolutely did not get Davis the first five times I tried to read her. Not sure why. I thought my friends were pretentious nerds pretending to like these odd, baffling little paragraphs. Then I tried again last year, and for whatever reason it was totally different. I went straight from “I don’t get it” to “she’s a legend because she’s a genius.”

I just discovered Tyrese L. Coleman and Krys Malcolm Belc, and their work is awesome. Amelia Gray is awesome. Joy Williams’ Ninety-Nine Stories of God is fairly rad. “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” has a vintage Annie Proulx ending, a simple sentence that is simultaneously banal and horrific and hilarious. Robert Hass’s “A Story About the Body” is lovely and sneakily heartbreaking. “Binaries,” by S.B. Divya, reads like a six-part SF epic compressed into a thousand words. J. Robert Lennon’s collection Pieces for the Left Hand is criminally undersung.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

The next one! Joking aside (although I’m serious about that), I still think it’s extremely wonderful to get any recognition at all. It’s not a given and I hope never to take it for granted, especially since I wouldn’t blame anyone who decided to re-watch Broad City instead of investing their time in some rando Arkansan’s newest made-up story. So if you’re reading this right now, please trust that I appreciate it!

BIO: Chris Drangle is a writer from Arkansas. He earned an MFA at Cornell University, where he also taught creative writing and served as an assistant editor for Epoch Magazine. His fiction has recently appeared in Split Lip MagazineThe Adroit Journal, and One Story, and has been recognized with a Pushcart Prize, the Margaret Bridgman Scholarship at Bread Loaf, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship. He is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford and splits his time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Athens, Georgia.

Mini-Interview with Hannah Gordon

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

            I started writing flash fiction because of my short attention span. It works better with how I function. I’ll try to write longer stories sometimes, and I find myself getting bored halfway through or coming up with another idea for a different story and abandoning the previous project altogether.

            I love flash fiction. I think it’s magic. It’s so brief, so quick, but it shows you this whole world. You can get lost in just five hundred or a thousand words. It pulls you out of your own experience, plops you down in another, and then sends you back out, reeling. Just like that. And then you want to read it again.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

            This is a hard question, but I think character. My stories are always about connection, about people. Without that, I have nothing.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

            Quick and messy. I write in short bursts, like if I don’t get it out of me, I’ll lose it. I like it, though. I like feeling like the story is in control for a little bit.

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

            The people in my life. The people I love, the people who’ve hurt me, the people I used to know, the people I met briefly. The good, the bad—it doesn’t matter. People inspire me. Sometimes you meet a person and you think, Oh my God, I have to write about you.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

            I love Dina Relles. There is so much heart in her work. You feel everything. Leonora Desar is like that as well. Marisa Crane is another voice I love. I read everything of hers. Maddie Anthes, too. Sometimes I read her stories, and I’m like, did I write this? I think our styles are very similar. Cathy Ulrich is obviously the flash fiction queen. Her work just floors me. It’s so original. Jenny Fried is also really, really good. And K.B. Carle! She’s so talented.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

            I’m still in this place of feeling like I don’t deserve attention for my writing—imposter syndrome, doubt, whatever you want to call it. I’m trying to break out of that.

            I really loved writing the story that appeared in The Ginger Collect, “Pyres.” I surprised myself with that one. I want to keep surprising myself.

BIO: Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She was born and raised in Michigan, and the Midwest has remained a big influence on her writing. She’s the managing editor of CHEAP POP. You can find more of her work here and follow her on Twitter at @_hannahnicole.

Mini-Interview with Jennifer Wortman

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

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

I write in many genres and forms, but flash has become a mainstay because it invites the best of all worlds: story, lyricism, intensity, authenticity, innovation. Flash really called to me after my kids were born, partly for pragmatic reasons: I’m a slow writer and had less time to write, so flash allowed me to finish what I started in weeks or months rather than years. But also, giving birth and raising kids puts you in close contact with the forces of life and death. Back then, I found those forces lacking in my longer work. The brevity of flash requires a focus on what matters most, not just artistically, but also personally and philosophically. Along with that focus and urgency comes a beautiful freedom: You can get away with much more in a small space than you can in a large. And when you’re done getting away with one thing, you can start fresh and get away with something else. It’s a great drug!

 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My writerly lifejacket is consciousness. I’m fascinated by the human mind: what and how it perceives. Second to that is voice, the personality through which the mind reveals and distorts and conceals. Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying my writerly lifejacket is character.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

All of the above! My writing process is erratic. Sometimes I start slow and precise until I get stuck; then I’ll switch to a fast-and-dirty freewriting session. Other times, I’ll start quick and messy and then I’ll slow way down to hone in on a section until I get stuck and speed up again. The net effect, though, is pretty slow and very messy.

 

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

Anxiety, depression, obsession, compulsion, desire, rage, loss, family dysfunction, love gone wrong, the inescapability of the self, the death wish, and the grocery store—I get some of my best ideas in the cereal aisle.

 

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

This is the hardest question, because there are so many! I’ll start with my flash hero, John Edgar Wideman, who is more known for other genres but has a remarkable flash collection called Briefs­­­­­—it’s out of print but you can find used copies on the internet. A few more of the many flash writers I admire: Leonora Desar, Nicholas Grider, Kathryn McMahon, Tara Isabel Zambrano, Michele Finn Johnson, Raven Leilani, Michelle Ross, Kim Magowan, Christopher Gonzalez, Leesa Cross-Smith, Ruth LeFaive, Tyrese Coleman, Cathy Ulrich, Pat Foran, Sara Lippmann. And, if you’ll bear with me, I’d also like to share some stories I think merit an extra spotlight:

“What If I Never Write a Novel?” by Billy Ray Belcourt

“A Lesson about Love, Featuring Andy Kaufman and Clark” by Lee Matalone

“Sky Like Concrete” by Mike Riess

“Fever Dream, Dream City” by Andrea Lopez

“A Memory of the Christ by the Apostle John” by Adam McOmber

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?          

I’m grateful for any recognition I get and am always touched by how my stories are received. But I’ll use this space to share a story that came out back in the dark ages before I was on Twitter, in case anyone who hasn’t seen it feels like taking a look: “Man in the Night.”

BIO: Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Brevity, Hobart, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and serves as associate fiction editor for Colorado Review. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.

 

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Sophie van Llewyn

Sophie van Llewyn_pic

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

I should start by stating that I’m probably a novelist, at my core. I began writing by finishing a novel, but then I didn’t have a clue about editing it. So I moved to shorter forms of fictions. Through AdHoc Fiction, I discovered flash fiction (Jude Higgins & the Bath Flash Fiction Award are doing such an amazing job at promoting the form). Flash gave me the feeling that I was more in control of what I was saying, and I learned to self-edit by editing my flashes. Also, the community is amazing! I connected with other writers through Twitter, I met my writing group during a workshop with Kathy Fish.

Nearly three years later, I can say that my flashes come from a very different place than my novels and that my writing process is entirely different. But I didn’t know that in the beginning. Flash gave me the tools that I needed to grow further as a writer, and the flash community gave me the support I needed so dearly.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I often build my flashes around a particular situation or idea and then start questioning my characters’ motivations, and how they got to that point. Like in my piece ‘The Caesarean’  where a surgeon steals a woman’s kidney during a cesarean section. This is the naked, cruel fact that was my starting point. For my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, it was the image of a hungry woman who had been detained at the Socialist Republic of Romania’s border for days, hiding something very small and precious in a perfume bottle. I built my novella around that, and it branched out in the most unexpected direction.

But just as often, a flash fiction, especially one that comes from deep within, might be triggered by an emotion. This is often the case with flashes I write in longhand, without overthinking. The story just flows and finds its own focus in my notebook. I just have to step back, find the story, and start typing it up on my laptop.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Ooof. It depends so much on what I’m writing. If a piece comes from within, it pours quickly, and I rarely change everything once it has come into focus while I transferred it from longhand to computer.

But much more often, I write a flash slowly, obsessing over every single word, every single sentence, while my mind tries to figure out if this is indeed the most relevant aspect of the story I’m trying to write. I think writing flash fiction has made me very picky when it comes to what I choose to put on the page when and what I leave out. I constantly question if I’m presenting the most relevant details where plot, character traits or dynamics between characters are involved.

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

If I only had to choose one single thing, I think that would be a certain feeling of displacement, a motive that recurs in so many of my flashes. I grew up in Romania, now I live in Germany and I write in English for English-speaking markets. I guess you realise where the displacement theme comes from.

 

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

There are so many writers I admire for their skill with words, you wouldn’t believe it! So many stories that stayed with me. Flash fiction world is absolutely effervescent right now. However, I’m lucky enough to be the Resident Flash Fiction Writer at TSS Publishing, for whom I’ve written a series of articles. I’ve been able to link to most of my favourite stories to underline certain aspects of the craft of flash fiction. Let me refer you to a couple of these articles, where you can discover some brilliant stories:

https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/unusual-structures-in-flash-fiction-part-i-by-sophie-van-llewyn/

https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/time-in-flash-fiction-by-sophie-van-llewyn/

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

It’s not necessarily about recognition, but I’m very fond of one of the pieces from my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, and particularly a piece called ‘The Saturday When Everything Changed.’ I used an unusual form — the story is formatted like a timetable, following Alina’s steps throughout the day. At the end of each entry, I repeat the phrase ‘Nothing has changed,’ until the very end when everything changes for my protagonist. Then, I put in so many childhood memories, evoked the atmosphere in Romanian classrooms, maths textbooks and the stifling gossips of a small town. Also, I mention chicken Kiew. I love chicken Kiew, but then, my entire novella is peppered with mentions of my favourite foods.

https://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/short_stories/5-minutes/the-saturday-when-everything-changed/

Bio: Sophie van Llewyn was born in Romania, but now lives in Germany. She’s an anaesthetist. Her prose has been published by Ambit, New Delta Review, The Lonely Crowd, New South Journal etc. Her novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS (Fairlight Books) has been longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019 and for the People’s Book Prize. Sophie is represented by Juliet Mushens at Caskie Mushens. @sophie_van_l

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Leonora Desar

headshot_leonora desar

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

My brain naturally loves flash. I’m not sure if it’s a journalism thing (I used to be a journalist).[1]. It might just be an attention thing, or maybe a commitment thing. I think though it’s a bullshit thing. I hate writing/drafting long stuff and thinking, I don’t need this, I don’t need this, I don’t need this—why is this even here.

Flash cuts to the chase.

I do wish I could write long though. At least sometimes. I have this fantasy; I get some Krazy Glue and stick it all together; all the short stuff. Then I get some Magic Marker. I write NOVEL on it and send it to an agent. And she or he is like; wow; we’ve never seen anything like this—CALL US!!!

[1] Sort of. It was mostly tagging along with people who were way cooler than me and trying to get them to open up.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Voice. If I can’t get the voice right there’s nothing else.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

All the pieces I really love are the ones that I’ve written fast. But this doesn’t mean that I write like this all the time. In fact, I don’t. Those pieces you will never see. They are buried in a very dark attic of my computer. It’s labeled “dangerous” and “really boring.”

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

Probably my childhood. My life since then hasn’t been as interesting which I guess is also an influence. Sometimes I sit around talking about how Uninteresting things are and try to make this Interesting but this usually doesn’t work. So it’s better just to go back to the Bronx, to childhood—

We had a lot of weird neighbors. There was this babysitter who lived downstairs—Suzi. We used to listen to Little Orphan Annie on the record player and then her boyfriend would come and they’d make out. I’d sit there feeling jealous and imagining that when you got to be a teenager it was all about making out to Broadway show tunes—

Then there was this other neighbor, Mr. Greenberg. He was always yelling at me. He said, turn down the music which was odd because I never played any, only when Suzi was around. So I imagine there was some ghost who probably lived between his apartment, 3f, and my apartment, D11. And that’s another thing; the apartments—they didn’t make any sense. I spent hours trying to figure out why his was 3f and mine was D11, and came up with many different theories, none of which I was really able to prove.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Yikes. This is a hard and easy one. Easy because there’s so much great writing out there and hard because that means I’m going to inevitably leave something out—that I love.

Here are a few writers that I am crazy for. (Okay; maybe more than a few but still not the whole deal):

Jennifer Wortman. This piece is amazing and you should just read it and see why for yourself.

Adam Lock. There’s such a good story here which Adam is so great at; creating story. His pieces always feel so deep and true, and there’s a fullness to them, even if they’re flash.

Hillary Leftwich. Because she writes with Voice. I wish I could tag her FB posts. They’re f**ing amazing. Her stories, too. She writes in a way where you feel like there’s a direct line from her pen to gut to screen. Do they make those? I think they do and Hillary has dibs.

Tara Isabel Zambrano. I love this piece. I had read it in a workshop we were in and remember thinking “wow” and “give me more.”

Frances Gapper. This does what many of my favorite pieces do. It’s funny-sad. No, scratch that, it’s sad-hilarious. Frances is so great at this, she reminds me of a modern and sassier Jane Austen.

Jaquira Díaz. I read this at work on the sly and couldn’t put it away. It kept calling to me. A little voice said, do your work Leonora and I ignored it—

Marcy Dermansky. Because I love anything by Marcy Dermansky. She’s amazing. I read her on a plane trip to Orlando and she completely changed my life. When I left JFK I was a writer who wrote Very Serious Stories that-weren’t-very-engaging and when I landed I was still a writer who wrote Very Serious Stories but I wanted to be different, to be funnier, to talk like Sue from her novel Twins.

Miranda July. She is another one I used to read at work. I kept her hidden beneath my desk and sometimes she would sneak out and slip me crackers.

Claire Polders. Because she speaks to you in a way that’s elegant and true.

Pat Foran. I love everything he writes. He has a signature style and an energy and there’s music in his writing. Can’t you hear it? It sounds like: I am feeling so much writing this—Here is my soul, it’s yours.

Al Kratz. Because you need to read this. It’s all about the Voice. And magic. When you read it you will know.

Janice Leagra. This is also about magic—it’s a whoosh story!!! As in it feels like it all came out in one big, magical whoosh!!!

Josh Denslow. His pieces are great. They make me laugh. And not just in a ha-ha way. In a deep way. There’s poignancy here, and sadness.

Paul Beckman. Because he’s a genius. He has a way of writing that doesn’t sound like “writing,” more like chatting in your ear. Plus, he’s a genius.

 Cathy Ulrich and her amazing murdered girls. Especially that babysitter.

Rebecca Saltzman. Because cannibals on the Q train.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I have an advice column. It’s about writing, usually all the ways I’m avoiding it, and how you shouldn’t. I give ways for not avoiding it and then don’t follow my own advice. There’s also been a lot of stuff about TV shows, weird people. Bodega kings and blind photographers; stake-outs, messy socks (that don’t match); and when the writing is all crap.

There is also (sometimes occasionally) actual practical advice. This happens once every 6th-dozenth solar flare.*

*I actually don’t know how common a solar flare is. I should probably google this.

PS:  I’ve also been lucky to have some awesome writing teachers—Meg Pokrass, Lisa DePaulo, Kathy Fish, Christopher DeWan, Robert James Russell, all of them great writers, too.

I wish I could keep them hidden beneath my desk and ask them writing advice but this would probably not be legal.

PPS I know I talked in the beginning here about cutting to the chase. I should probably tweak some of this.

BIO: Leonora Desar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Passages NorthBlack Warrior Review OnlineMid-American ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyHobart, and Quarter After Eight, among othersShe won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She writes a column for New Flash Fiction Review—DEAR LEO. She avoids writing @LeonoraDesar and by fiddling with www.leonoradesar.com. She is the new fiction editor for Pidgeonholes. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions 2019, and the Best Microfiction anthology.

 

 

Mini-Interview with Megan Pillow Davis

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

I started writing flash because I felt like I’d lost something in my writing. In myself, too, to be honest. I’d had some very demoralizing experiences with critique where professors saw nothing of value in my work, and I lost a lot of confidence in my abilities. I would write these 25 and 30-page stories that had interesting moments and interesting characters, but they would just wander all over the place and eventually disassemble all over the page. I would write and write, and after I’d write, I’d cry in frustration. And so I stopped writing. I didn’t write for five years. I had all this old work stored on my computer, dozens of stories that just sat there, but I didn’t write anything new or submit anything for publication for a very long time. For a while, I honestly thought I wouldn’t ever write again.

And then, as I always do in times of stress and sadness, I started reading. And I discovered flash. Well, rediscovered it, really. I remember picking up the copy of the first book I bought when I moved to start my MFA program – The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American Stories Since 1970 – and re-reading Donald Barthelme’s “The School” and thinking oh fuck yeah, I love this piece. I love what he’s able to do in such a compact space. I’ll bet there are a lot of other people out there doing this. And I thought maybe if I focused on compact writing, on compressed narrative, it could teach me a few things about writing longform fiction. So that’s what I did. I started following journals and reading who they were publishing. Some of the first pieces I read were pieces by Kathy Fish and Cathy Ulrich, and I was astounded by their work. So I just read more and more, trying to learn, trying to figure out how to approach this genre that I knew very little about, and then I started tinkering around.

What I discovered by reading and writing flash was that for me, longform had become such a laborious process, a lot like the process of childbirth (I have two kids, so this isn’t just hyperbole here). When I was writing longform fiction, I would get so stressed and so focused on the end game, on gritting my teeth to just get through, that I often missed honing those critical connections that the reader needs in order to invest in the piece. But then I discovered that for me reading and writing flash is for me like a single contraction: pure pain, but also pure beauty and joy, and the intensity of it is so powerful but so brief that I can just give myself over to it completely, let my mind and my body steep in every single word. When I read a really great piece of flash, I don’t just think about it for days or weeks afterward. I feel it for that length of time too, the same way my body can still feel the reverberations of those contractions from childbirth when I think about them: I remember what I was drinking when I read a piece, how it tasted, what the light looked light in the room, the sound of my breath as it caught in my throat when something in that piece tore me open or made me laugh. And while I did learn a valuable lesson about longform from writing flash – which is that, just as with labor, longform is a series of well-synchronized contractions that propel a person along to a moment of impossible revelation – I also discovered that I loved flash not just for what it taught me about longform but for what it was in its own right. And now, I’m devoted. Flash taught me a better relationship to and understanding of longform – instead of gritting my teeth through it, I’ve learned to pace myself, to pay attention to the details, and to love it despite the pain. But flash? Flash is where I give myself over to the pain, where the pain brings me joy.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Characters always come to me first. I’m a people-watcher and very curious about why people do what they do and how we react and respond to those decisions. When I start thinking about what motivates a character, the story usually springs from those motivations. I would love to be one of those writers for whom a carefully-constructed plot comes easily, but I was not blessed with that particular skill.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Both, actually. I’m a very quick and messy drafter. For a flash piece, I’ll usually sit down and have a working draft in an hour to an hour and a half. But that’s after thinking, usually for weeks, about what the story is about and how it will come together, and then it’s followed by weeks and sometimes months of laborious revision during which I sometimes end up rewriting the whole damn thing. I wrote my story “We All Know About Margo” in an hour – and then spent a month and a half in a frenzy of rewriting, reworking the beginning and ending multiple times and switching POV several times, among other things. I like the freedom and fluidity that writing quickly affords me, but I know I can’t get a piece to read exactly how I want it to without spending a lot of time in revision.

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

My Ph.D. program and my kids. Both have taught me incredible time management skills and discipline. They’ve taught me to write in 30-minute increments and even sometimes in 10-minute increments, when necessary, and to still make progress. They’ve taught me to trust in my ability to do thorough research, but they also remind me that I’m never going to be an expert on everything, I’m just going to learn a whole lot about one little sliver of the world, and I need to trust the other experts to guide me in my understanding of the rest. Most of all, they’ve taught me to survive on very little sleep, which frankly is the only way that a Ph.D. student with two young kids is ever going to get any creative writing done.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

This is always such a difficult question to answer because there are so many writers I fiercely admire. But in addition to Kathy Fish and Cathy Ulrich, whom I always read, and the work of the women of color writers I talked about in a recent SmokeLong Quarterly interview, I’ve also been floored by writers like Allie Marini, Marisa Crane, Josh Denslow, Kathryn McMahon, Christopher Allen, Kim Magowan, Emi Benn, and Jennifer Fliss. These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, though. I’m sure I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. thinking of at least a dozen more names I should have mentioned.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I don’t really think I have one. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but I haven’t been back to publishing for very long – my first piece in a long while was published in the spring of 2017 – and since then, I’ve had work accepted at some amazing journals, been nominated for some awards I honestly never thought I’d get nominated for, and most of all, received tons of support from the writing community. So I feel very lucky. Instead of sending you to another story of mine, I’d say instead seek out a writer you’ve never read before, especially somebody emerging, and read them instead. If you like their work, share it, and please tell them it meant something to you. The people who have taken the time to do that for me, those are the people who kept me writing. They’ve made up for all the years where I felt like my work didn’t matter. Right now, there are tons of brilliant writers out there, maybe even reading this, who are racking up the rejections, who feel like their one or two publications this year didn’t get much traction and didn’t have an impact, and they feel very alone. Some of them are wondering whether they’re really cut out for this gig, and they’re thinking about quitting. I know because I was them. And more than anything, they need someone to see their work, to love it, and to let them know. They need that recognition and the encouragement that comes with it. I hope more than anything that we can give it to them.

Bio:  Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared, among other places, in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Memoir Mixtapes, and Mutha Magazine, has been featured in Longreads, and is forthcoming in Collective Unrest, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Longleaf Review, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. She has also been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best Small Fictions. Megan is currently revising her debut novel, has begun work on her second book, and is completing her dissertation. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family.

Mini-Interview with Michele Finn Johnson

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

Flash is like a no-fuss best friend to me—it’s much easier to manage than the more time-consuming, “high maintenance” short stories and essays that I also write. I can usually count on flash to show up when I’ve got limited time to dedicate to writing, to not be too fussy in revealing the truth of what it’s dying to say. Flash also big-time motivates me with my longer pieces, builds my confidence to know I can find many micro-level ways to bring them to the finish line. If I sound like I’m gushing here, it’s because I’m in love with flash!

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

If I told you I heard voices in my head, would you have me straight-jacketed? That’s usually what happens. A first line appears generally out of nowhere and I puzzle it in my head until it feels right. Then I start to write and let that voice tell its story. Usually, that voice is a character, but sometimes it’s a question (which I guess is more similar to plot).

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m somewhat slow in my head to nail down the opening sentence or two, and then I’m quick onto the page to finish a draft. I first started writing flash in a game-changing Kathy Fish Fast Flash© workshop, and so fast has stuck as my primary first-draft method.

 

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

Tommy, this could be a therapy session! I’m an engineer and, in part, work on environmental cleanups. It’s a terrific, if not an obvious, metaphor for real life that finds its way, either overtly or subtlety, into my work. While nature can be beautiful, I’m trained to see all the ways it’s messed up. That extends to humans too—I’m an extrovert who probably asks more inappropriate questions of people than I should (always couched with humor!). Revealed details sometimes make for fabulous story kernels!

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Here are a few flash writers/example pieces I turn to when I want to be awed and moved and inspired. I tried to vary the list from previous interviews as best I could, which meant omitting so many of my go-to writers (sorry!).

  • For how she evokes emotion: Jennifer Wortman, As It So Happens in Vestal Review
  • For setting and razor-sharp detail: Jason Shults, Dodge in SmokeLong Quarterly
  • For genius structure: Kim Magowan, Madlib, in Okay Donkey
  • For killer dialogue and up-front tension: Cheryl Kidder, Give it to Her, in Atticus Review
  • For slow-boiled tension: Tiffany Quay Tyson, The Neighbors Want to Know Our Secret, in The Ilanot Review

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really fond of a piece of mine, School Lessons, that ran in Noble / Gas Qtrly. It was a runner-up for their 2017 Birdwhistle Prize, but I’m not sure I did my part to promote it. So much of this story is true; it feels like a time capsule of my grade school experience.

BIO: Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions, and won an AWP Intro  Journals Project in nonfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and @m_finn_johnson.

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Michelle Ross

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

Writing flash has made me a better writer because it’s taught me so much about compression and silences, the importance of what is intentionally left unsaid. It’s also an extremely practical form for when I have only small snatches of time to write.

Although I’ve never whittled wood, the metaphor that comes to mind right now is that whereas writing a longer short story is like carving out an animal or some other intricate shape into wood, writing flash is more like whittling that piece of wood into the sharpest point possible.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

It depends on the story to some extent, but what keeps me afloat more than any other elements are probably rhythm and theme. I get snagged on ideas and love to mine and mine and mine. But in putting those ideas onto the page, rhythm is in command. I will rewrite sentences hundreds of times until they sound just right. I will change the meaning of a sentence in service of making the rhythm right. The most painful thing to me as a reader is prose that is inelegant. Reading prose that is clunky and awkward is like driving a heavily potholed road.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Precise over messy, almost always. Probably this is related to my above answer. If I write quick and messy sentences, I’m instantly compelled to revise them. Whether that precision comes quickly or slowly varies from story to story, though. Some stories come together rapidly. I write the entire draft in a sitting, and all it needs is a little tweaking. But a lot of the time I build my stories slowly over a period of months or years. Even flash fiction. I put stories aside and take them back out again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

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

 So many. Science writing, mothering, running. Above all else, however, the experience of being female in a patriarchal world is what influences my writing most.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

This is difficult to answer because I want to name so many stories and so many writers. For instance, all the great flash fiction writers I’ve published on Atticus Review. I’m not going to try to list them all here, but let me just say that I’m proud of the great flash fiction we’ve published over the years. Because we publish only one fiction writer a week, we’re highly selective.

A few of my favorite flash fiction stories in recent years outside of Atticus Review include Janey Skinner’s “Carnivores,” Gwen Kirby’s “Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because At That Point Fuck Them Anyway,” Jennifer Wortman’s “A Matter Between Neighbors,” Kim Magowan’s “Madlib,” Michael Czyzniejewski’s “The Nudist Contemplates Cannibalism,” Sara Lippmann’s “Wolf or Deer,” Christopher Allen’s “Blood Brother,” Sherrie Flick’s “How I Left Ned,” which is included in her great new story collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of my favorite flash fictions still is “Prologue,” which was published in Gravel. It was also a finalist for the 2017 Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction and included in my collection, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (Moon City Press 2017). It’s the first flash fiction I ever began, I believe, though not the first piece I completed. I worked on it on and off for several years. For me, the title and the ending make this story, yet oddly, weeks after it had been accepted for publication, an editor at Gravel asked me to cut the last two lines. I’m usually quite receptive to editorial suggestions, but in this case, I refused. And I was a little dismayed to realize that the editor’s vision of what this story is about was so drastically different from mine.

BIO: Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly ReviewColorado ReviewNashville ReviewPidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended ReadingSmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and was a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. www.michellenross.com

Mini-Interview with Sara Lippmann

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

I received Black Tickets as a gift from my first undergrad workshop instructor, the fearless and scary smart Lucy Corin, and that generosity – with her notes in margins – affected me deeply. (I’ve since hijacked that practice, and give books to my students at every semester’s end.) I was 18 and my god how I needed “Strangers in the Night:”

“Eating, she thought about sex and chewed pears as though they were conscious.”

Jayne Anne Phillips’s collection is largely what drove me down this potholed path although it would be another 20 years before I really began writing with any kind of purposeful compression.

I came to flash (or flash came to me) out of necessity. It was 2009. I had babies. I was shit. I could barely finish a sentence let alone sustain any lengthy narrative. But could I tell a story in 500 words? 1000 words? Flash demands you get in, get out. There’s no room for bullshit – or neurosis – when urgency + time are the dictates. On those days when the choices were shower or write, and the writing won out (to the chagrin of those who smelled me) I found I could crank out something rough but honest enough to whittle down and play around with later. Flash flexed a natural, undiscovered muscle.

Even when I’m not writing, or not writing flash, or losing years to an unruly novel – I find short form fiction to be the most nourishing as a reader, and most exhilarating to study and to teach – all the magic that occurs in miniature must hold true for the success of literature in any form. Universe in a grain of sand, no matter the size of the grain.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

The extent to which character + desire = plot, I’d say desire. Want is the imperative and it is impossible for me to write without it. Even if the character denies, disavows, or remains at psychic odds from their own urges, that pulse is prerequisite for story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m chasing down that want, so it’s longhand, fast and ugly. Catch it, however, I can. If the energy’s intrinsic, there’s no choice. (On the flipside: I can’t force a hollow.) But then I’m an obsessional editor. Dissatisfaction persists. Until a proof is wrenched from me, I’ll keep slashing for language, rhythm, concision. Editors probably hate me, but there’s always a better, more penetrative, more precise way to say it. Even after publication, my fingers itch. My collection is an embarrassment of ink.

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

It all goes into the pot. Body and mind are as inextricable as real and imaged life. To be clear: I write fiction. But if we aren’t drawing from the world, our lives and all that swirls through us: memories and obsessions, curiosities and histories, hopes and worries, public and private humiliations, past and present traumas, the mundane and the extraordinary, the internal, the observed, the overhead, and everything in between, everything we consume, everything that haunts us in the night, the stuff of nightmares and dreams, what are we doing? It’s funny, in a kind of preposterous/maddening way, whenever I meet people who’ve read my work and they’re like: “you’re so nice in real life.” But I guess I keep my freak flag tucked in at the bake sale or whatever.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

 One of the best things about my twitter feed is how it curates a constant, inspiring stream of new work, with links to wonderful stories (I can never keep up!) and journals and incredibly talented writers to treasure and discover. It is such a thrilling time for flash fiction, and I’m blown away by how fresh and transformative the work is that’s coming out right now. I want to shout every name from the treetops, every brilliant name, but I imagine there’s a word limit to this thing, and if you’re on the internet, you know who you are, I’m teaching all of you, and learning so much as you continue to explode the form, stretch it and showcase its infinite possibilities. I know it’s been said, but the word “flash” is a misnomer, as it connotes ephemerality – whereas quality flash will take up root inside us, sprouting leaves and limbs, living on, unshakable.

Anyway, some syllabi steadies:

Wants by Grace Paley

Yours by Mary Robison

Foley’s Pond by Peter Orner

The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff

Again and Again and Again by Megan Giddings

Five Sketches of a Story about Death by Leesa Cross-Smith

My Wife in Reverse by Stephen Dixon

Hourly by Scott Garson

Amy Butcher’s Women These Days is a nonfiction flash that wrecks me.

And Kathy Fish’s forthcoming WILD LIFE should be beneath every pillow.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Sure, there are pieces that ran in now-defunct journals; longer stories in print that died a swift paper death. But it’s less about recognition than resonance. I haven’t been writing much flash lately but I’m so goddamn grateful whenever anyone chooses to read anything I’ve ever written. I mean, this world. All that demands our energy. If someone takes the time, you hope for that echo, that you/me moment, as it is a sort of love, but also know the story once released becomes its own thing. It’s not yours anymore. I tried to write about this in a Wigleaf postcard once.

BIO: Sara Lippmann‘s collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press) was long-listed for the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She was the recipient of an artist’s fellowship in fiction from NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) and her work has appeared in Slice Magazine, Fourth Genre, Diagram, Midnight Breakfast, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. Find her @saralippmann or saralippmann.com

Mini-Interview with Jan Stinchcomb

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

I’ve always been delighted by the challenge of flash. It seems like it would be impossible, or like it sets you up to fail. All flash writers are close cousins of Sisyphus and Charlie Brown.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, definitely. I want to know why people do the things they do. I want to worry about them. I want to see them survive.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and dirty rough draft, with no judgment or self-editing. Then, ideally, I will keep revisiting the piece over weeks and months in an effort to refine it. Sometimes I find myself overhauling the entire piece, and other times I only need to correct the moments where I falter. Also, it’s fascinating how long it can take to discover the right title or final line.

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

My anxiety. I want to believe I have some measure of control somewhere in this world and so I burden my writing with that impossible task. It rarely works out, of course. When I’m being less neurotic, I feel that all art is an attempt to freeze and share moments of beauty.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Michelle Ross. Her piece in Jellyfish Review, “Hostage or Accomplice,” is a masterpiece of restraint, resulting in exquisite tension.

I admire everything Melissa Goode writes. I love walking around cities with her and watching characters navigate intimate relationships. “Extreme Unction,” which appeared in The Forge, is so satisfying.

Jen Michalski’s “I’m Such a Slut and I Don’t Give a Fuck” (Smokelong Quarterly) is an extraordinary achievement. Each time I read it, I can’t believe she fits a whole life and career into a single flash piece.

I’d also like to mention two flash collections, which are very different from each other: Jacqueline Doyle’s The Missing Girl (Black Lawrence) is pure danger and urgency, while Leanne Radojkovich’s First Fox (The Emma Press) relies on gentle description and understatement.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I really like a story I wrote in 2016, “Heroine Night,” for Jellyfish Review. Sometimes I wonder what those characters are doing now.

BIO: Jan Stinchcomb is the author of The Blood Trail (forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks). Her stories have appeared in Gravel, Gone Lawn, matchbook, Atticus Review and Monkeybicycle, among other places. She is featured in The Best Small Fictions 2018 and is a reader for Paper Darts. Currently living in Southern California with her husband and children, she can be found at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.

Mini-Interview with Kristin Bonilla

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

Is it weird that I’ve never thought about this?

 I like understatement, efficiency, playfulness, nuance. These are seemingly contradictory things but together they create tension and intrigue. Flash is an ideal form for me, in that regard.

My favorite novelists started out as poets. You can see it in the stylistic choices they make. There is an economy of language without sacrificing any of the texture that makes a story compelling. I see a lot of the same qualities in the flash fiction writers I admire.

The short answer: I have no idea. Most of the stories I write end up short and I trust myself enough as a writer to leave them that way.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m going to be sneaky and say setting. But, setting as character. My stories always begin, at least during the writing process, with a sense of place. For me, the physical geography of a place or moment will inform the larger emotional geography of a story.

I’m currently working on a novel-in-flash that is set on the U.S./Mexico border. I can’t imagine writing about the border without writing about the desert. The desert is as much a character as any person and has as much, if not more, impact on plot than any other element in the story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I tend to think about a story for a long time before I ever write a word. And I edit slow. So, I would say that my writing style is just: slow. Happy and slow. Like a sloth.

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

Being a parent. Seeing and re-learning the world through my son’s eyes. I definitely see his influence on my writing and the choices I make as an editor.

Also, I have this thing about birds. There’s usually one or more in my stories. I’m always looking for birds, every day, everywhere I go. I am one of those obnoxious people who will stop listening to you when I see a bird, which I’ve been told is equal parts endearing and annoying. Thankfully, my husband is a birding guide, so that worked out well.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

All of the stories we publish at jmww. Shameless promotion! I can’t help it. We have a great flash fiction team, and I’m really proud of the work we’ve been publishing.

I would also like to recommend Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from The United States and Latin America. It’s a fantastic anthology.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I hear less about stories published in print than those published online, and the obvious issue there is accessibility. I feel pretty lucky, though. I’m hearing from many of the same readers with each new story and the crowd seems to be growing. People who read and share stories are superheroes.

BIO:

Kristin Bonilla is a fiction writer living in Houston, TX. Her work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Hobart, Jellyfish Review, Gulf Coast online, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is a flash fiction editor at jmww. Follow her @kbonilla and read more at www.kristinbonilla.com.

 

Mini-Interview with Kate Finegan

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

In high school and college, I was really into writing poetry. I like how poetry and flash convey an intense experience succinctly. I see flash as a well-sharpened knife that can slice to the heart of the matter quickly, or a bolt of lightning that leaves the landscape forever changed in a matter of seconds. I also love how challenging it is to tell a story in such a short space. It’s an exercise in choosing the most precise details and chipping away at the draft until it has no jagged edges.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, definitely. For years, I was afraid to write fiction because I was afraid of plot.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The first draft is always quick and messy. If I’m not ready to write something just yet, I will write [describe her living room] or [blah blah blah romantic stuff]. I’m extremely imprecise and careless in my first drafts. I think the real work starts once the raw material is on the page; that’s when I get slow and precise, and I love the process of rewriting and editing.

 

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

I spent all my childhood summers in small towns and on our family farms in the Driftless region of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I notice that setting creeping into my stories again and again. That, and the things I learn about the history of women; my feminism definitely influences my writing, always.

 

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Tommy Dean, of course, and Jamaica Kincaid, Kristen Arnett, Gaynor Jones, Chloe N. Clark, Jennifer Fliss, Christopher Allen, Maureen Langloss, Kate Gehan, Barbara McVeigh…oh, this could be a really, really long list. I read a beautiful new flash at least once a day, and they’re like shots to inoculate me against all the crazy in the world.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I really like the atmosphere and repetition in my story “Her Mother,” published by Midwestern Gothic. It was so well-promoted when it came out, and it was super exciting. I still go back to it and am tempted to share it again.

 

Bio:

Kate Finegan recently published the chapbook The Size of Texas with Penrose Press. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead, and been runner-up for The Puritan’s Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and Synaesthesia Flash Fiction Prize, and longlisted by Room. You can find her at katefinegan.ink and twitter.com/@kehfinegan.

 

Mini-Interview with Josh Jones

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

Ever since I first discovered short stories, I fell in love with the form. When I then was introduced to flash, I was amazed at how much could be done in so little space. I read the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories with wonder and delight, reading classics from Forché and Dybek and Kincaid. The compression, the sense of play, the intensity of the language: all of that draws me into flash in the same way my favorite poems grab ahold of me. It isn’t an accident that flash and prose poetry are often conflated.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 I’m going to cheat and say “voice” although character is a close second. But for me, the narrative voice is the entry point into a story. It sets the tone, is like the You Are Here red x on a map; it might even tell me which direction to begin walking.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Quick and messy to start. But I’m a meticulous and methodical reviser. When I’m in revising-mode, my pace slows dramatically, which is one reason I have finished very few traditional-length short stories. I quell at the thought of embarking on anything novel-length.

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

 I work as an animator, so I find myself fixated on the movement of things. I enjoy observing people and nature with both an eye for kinetic motion but also for those unique quirks of life: speech mannerisms, a way of holding one’s head, a plodding walk cycle. Animation—and visual arts in general—is often about distillation and exaggeration of character. Flash can be like that also. We’re capturing a moment in time, a pose. As writers, we often work in miniature, while animators work in 30ths of a second.

 I must also say that my own experiences as a husband, a father, a denizen of the rural South, of urban Los Angeles, and suburban Maryland have all shaped my writing. While I wrote a variety of fairly bad short stories in college, I didn’t resume writing until almost two decades later when I had more of these life experiences to draw upon.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I dread this question. There are so many amazing writers out there. It’s hard to begin recommending any without feeling guilty about everyone I forget to mention. So let me go with some of the writers I’ve been reading in the past couple of days: Cathy Ulrich who has two brilliant pieces out in Black Warrior Review and Atticus Review, K.C. Mead-Brewer and Maureen Langloss and Jennifer Harvey (I’ve been reading/re-reading Cheap Pop’s nominees for various awards), Marvin Shackleford’s beautiful piece in Split Lip, and this just scratches the surface. Right now, it seems like we’re in a Golden Age for flash fiction; there are so many gobsmackingly talented writers out there who are getting published in wonderful journals. I couldn’t possibly name them all.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel fortunate to be a part of such a warm and inclusive community of flash fiction writers on Twitter. Most of my stories have been well received and wonderfully promoted—far more than they probably deserve—and I’m very grateful. If I had to choose one piece that might’ve flown under the radar (perhaps because it’s not as easily read online, even though it’s formatted beautifully in .pdf form), I’d choose my flash fiction “Francine Francis.”

 It is a piece that started as a voice, as an opening set of lines: “Francine Francis is not a nice person. She takes my things. She wears my lipstick, my dresses, my monogrammed sweaters.” I had no idea where it would go, but I knew I wanted to see who this Francine Francis was and what made her so unlikable. This first originated in a Kathy Fish workshop (and I’m sure your readers need no introduction of Kathy) and later was published by The Tishman Review in their April 2017 issue.

BIO: Joshua Jones lives in Maryland where he works as an animator. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in matchbook, CRAFT, The Cincinnati Review, Pidgeonholes, Split Lip Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.