Mini-Interview with Christopher Allen

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

Thank you for these questions, Tommy.

The no-nonsense, practical answer: I think I started workshopping flash because my stories were more likely to get a lot of reviews in the online workshop I took part in 10 years ago. My short stories would get four or five reviews when my flash fictions were getting 40 or 50. And this was at a time when not every journal was running a flash fiction contest.

A more personal answer: In graduate school, I was greatly affected by my readings of Virginia Woolf and what she described as “Moments of Being”. This idea of the deeply experienced moment, as opposed to the day-to-day forgettable actions of life, stuck with me and changed the way I wrote. Flash, in my opinion, shucks the mundane away.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I really have to focus on arc when I write because my lifejacket is definitely character and voice. I write a lot of absurdist narratives in which my characters resist learning, understanding, and progress—which doesn’t mean the reader doesn’t learn or understand something new. It’s difficult to figure out a pleasing structure for a narrative/plot that is in many ways going nowhere.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I would love to say quick and messy. I admire people who post on social media that they’ve written: “3000 horrible words today!” In real-life workshops, I gawp at other people scribbling madly during a writing exercise and think What the hell are you people writing? By the time I write something down, I’ve thought about it for weeks. I’ve hiked up a mountain with the story in my head. My characters and I have cycled a hundred kilometers together. We’ve cross-country skied. We’ve mown the lawn. Twice.

And then it’s still messy.

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

My crazy real-life schedule makes it difficult for me to write for more than an hour or two at a time. If I write in the mornings, I have to get up at four. I’m a lethargic lump in the middle of the day. If I write in the evenings, I have to sacrifice time with my partner. I sometimes write on the train if I have something I absolutely have to get down on paper. So a shortage of long periods of time to write has influenced my writing.

Being an editor of flash fiction for the last 10 years has also influenced how and what I write. All writing—from awful to awesome—is instructional as long as you’re willing to learn from it. There are so many great writers out there, each with their own style and purpose. I’m lucky to be exposed to a wide variety of writers.

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

To avoid offending anyone, I usually try to answer this question without giving names. But this time I’m going to name some names. In 2017 I was a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. I was thrilled to see that so many of my nominations were recognized by the editors of BSF, three of which were chosen to be in the anthology. A few of the writers below were also recognized for stories nominated by other editors/journals as well (indicated below in parentheses). All of these writers deserve more reads:

Kathleen Jones – BSF winner
‘The Exact Coordinates of Eleanor’ at Paper Darts

Ashley Hutson – BSF winner
‘I Will use this Story to Tell Another Story’ at Fanzine

Jules Archers – BSF finalist
‘We Will Set Anything on Fire’ at Maudlin House

Elisabeth Ingram Wallace – BSF semifinalist
‘Ida’ at Atticus Review

(also a finalist for ‘A Chest Full of Spiders,’ The Best Small Fictions Microfictions contest)

Kaj Tanaka – BSF winner
‘In Dugave’ at New South Journal
(also a winner for ‘The Night Is Where It Throws You,’ (b)OINK)

Lori Sambol Brody – BSF finalist
‘I Want to Believe the Truth is Out There’ at Jellyfish Review

(also a winner for ‘The Truth About Alaskan Rivers,’ Forge Literary Magazine)

And of course congratulations and much love to all the writers nominated by the editors of SmokeLong Quarterly. We are thrilled to be able to say that all our nominees were recognized by BSF.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

‘Fred’s Massive Sorrow’ is the centerpiece of my flash fiction collection, Other Household Toxins, which just came out in January. The story—originally in Eclectica Magazine and subsequently in Eclectica’s 20th-anniversary speculative anthology—is a kind of short story in flash, much like a novella-in-flash except, well, shorter but still six times too long to be flash. It’s around 6000 words, so I think online readers scroll down and say, “Sheesh. I don’t have time for this.”

At my book launch last month in Norwich, England four very talented readers and I read the story. What a pleasure that was to hear this absurdist romp read aloud.

BIO: Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press).His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Indiana Review, Eclectica Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Lunch Ticket and lots more. In 2017 Allen was both a finalist (as translator) and a semi-finalist for The Best Small Fictions. He has garnered acclaim from Glimmer Train, Indiana Review, Literal Latte, and more. He is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and in 2017 a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. Allen blogs at www.imustbeoff.com.
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Mini-Interview with Randall Brown

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

 I like the urgency of it, that sense that something needs to be expressed before I run out of space and words. I like its “big bang like” compression, a thing on the verge of exploding. I like the dense weight of it.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 I think it begins with plot, a little inkling of a story. Then as I write, I get to know the character more intimately—and then character takes over, determining what happens next.

 Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Quick and messy, before the anxiety and self-doubt can catch up with me.

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

 I’d say being a husband and parent and dog-owner. Being responsible for others. It brings up a lot of issues that get worked out in the writing. For example, one time I noticed that we had no forks left in the silverware drawer. No one knew where they’d gone. I ended up finding them among my son’s and his friends’ take-out containers in the trash. When I asked him about it, he said, “We didn’t do it consciously.” I asked, “But you did throw out forks.” He answered, “Not consciously.” Instead of banging my head against a wall, I banged some fingers against the keyboard, as if that were actually doing something about the problem.

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

 Kathy Fish and Christopher Allen rock and roll. That would be a great start.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 A story I wrote for Quick Fiction “It Doesn’t” ended up kind of nowheresville after Quick Fiction called it quits. I tried submitting it to a few anthologies, but received polite “no thank yous.” I think it deserves an anthology. But the world seems to think it doesn’t.

BIO: Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in the Best Small Fictions 2015 & 2017The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, and the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Microfiction. He founded and directs FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program and received his MFA from Vermont College.

 

Mini-Interview with Tara Laskowski

 

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

I like being able to “see” the entire story on one or two pages. Longer stuff stresses me out because I don’t feel like I can get my brain wrapped around all of it at once. I also like the economy of flash. It’s great to be able to focus in on the words and really concentrate on what works and what doesn’t, what sounds good, what image would work best, etc. Flash is beautiful in that way.

I also like it because I’m often drawn to dark places, but I don’t want to stay in them for too long. So I can write something really weird or really dark as a flash piece, and then be done with it and move on. But, even if it’s not dark, I just like being able to inhabit different characters, different worlds, for tiny amounts of time without having to do tons of research to make it sound real-ish. You can fake anything for a page or two.

Flash is also full of play. I like how experimental it can be. How weird you can go. There are so many different types of flash out there. It’s just fun to write.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think character. I can hang on with a character. I’m drawn to characters and their odd quirks and turns of phrases. It’s the plot that sinks me. But I’m trying to get better at that. I have to get better at that if I’m going to write novels, right?

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely quick and messy. Like a drunk, I throw it all up on the page and then sleep it off and come back the next morning to clean it up.

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

This is an interesting question. I’m honestly not sure of the answer. I tend to find inspiration in little spurts here and there—a conversation I overhear at the airport, a dream I wake from, a weird story a friend tells at the dinner table.

I definitely write more about children now that I have one. Before I had my son, I didn’t think I knew enough about kids to write them well. I probably still don’t know enough about them, but they do crop up in my stuff a lot more these days. The kids tend to be creepy, though. So I’m not sure what that says about me…

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

Some of my most favorite flash writers: Jeff Landon, Randall Brown, Sherrie Flick, Jen Michalski. I’ve never read a story by any of them that’s been less than fantastic.

I’m biased, but I think our Kathy Fish Fellows at SmokeLong are doing some really amazing things. Check out Beth Thomas, Stefanie Freele, Shasta Grant, Allison Pinkerton, Megan Giddings, Adam Peterson, and our 2018 fellow Tochukwu Okafor.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Well, I’m not saying this story didn’t get any recognition when it came out, because it did. But it’s been a while, and I actually forgot I’d written it until just recently, which is just kind of weird. But I’ve always been fond of “Dendrochronology,” which was published by The Northville Review. TNR isn’t publishing anymore, which is a bummer, but you can still find it online, out there in the ether, and for some reason it’s always been one of my favorite flashes I’ve written.

BIO: Tara Laskowski grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and now navigates traffic in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. She is the author of the short story collection Bystanders, which won the Balcones Fiction Prize and was hailed by Jennifer Egan in The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017. She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Best Small Fictions, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She was awarded the Kathy Fish Fellowship from SmokeLong Quarterly in 2009 and won the grand prize for the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Series. Since 2010, she has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Mini-Interview with Anne Weisgerber

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

I like it for a number of reasons, and I think the big one is it has a lot of rules. It’s not a matter of telling a story in under a thousand words, it has, seems to me, what Yeats called the fascination of the difficult. Creative non-fiction writers employ some flash forms too, and those are really exciting essays to read. The Normal School is full of them: counterpoint, episodic, monomyths, prose-poems.  Flash is close to poetry, and I am attracted to poetry. Poetry is like New York City: you can never know enough. Finally, as a writer who has a full-time day job, flash allows time for obsessive completion of a single work. I am trying to get a sabbatical to work on a novel, but until then, flash fits my time dimensions.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think at the draft stage a work can be focused on one or the other, but when a writer sits down at the workbench and puts the screws to it, character and plot have to be coerced to high-five.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Drafts: quick and messy, no holds barred, delight in disaster, go there, free-wheeling.

Editing: slow and precise, syntax agony, lean on classics, read aloud and workshop sans merci.

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

My faith and my partner.

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

Oh boy. I read a lot of flash, I workshop regularly with a gifted crew of flash writers, on top of reading for the Wigleaf Top 50. I think there are some artists that I really enjoy deconstructing to understand. I’ll recommend one writer and one fashion designer.  Brian Evenson writes longer fiction, but he’s a short form genius, too.  Check out his story “Smear” in Best American Science Fiction Fantasy (editor Charles Yu). It was originally published in the Conjunctions “Other Aliens” issue. It’s short and episodic, but also follows a clear narrative arc: exposition, escalation, climax, denouement. Amazing. He also has a story in Best Horror of the Year Vol 9 (ed. Ellen Datlow) called “No Matter Which Way We Turned.” It was an ekphrastic originally written for People Holding. It, too, follows a clear narrative arc. Both of those stories are 10s in my book. A fashion designer whom I find to be a good metaphor for flash is the late Alexander McQueen.  Look at this video called “The Bridegroom Stripped Bare: Transformer.” All the Arts spring from universal forms. All the Arts have straws stuck in the same wellspring and flash shares out refreshing sips.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s easy: each of the fifteen currently “in progress” at Submittable! That aside, I believe work selected by editor Sheldon Lee Compton at his small, remarkable journal called The Airgonaut is some of my strongest. “Puppah Fish,” “Mothers + Sons,” “White Plastic Chair,” and “How to Meet Marc Chagall” are in The Airgonaut’s archives. They are a multiple choice story, a counterpoint, a monomyth, and an episodic, respectively. I am a huge fan of Mr. Compton’s writing, too.

BIO:

A.E. Weisgerber is Poetry Out Loud’s 2017 Frost Place Scholar, and a 2014 Kent State University Reynolds Fellow. Her writing appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Heavy Feather Review, Structo UK, and the Zoetrope Cafe Story Machine. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons. [anneweisgerber.com] [@aeweisgerber]

Mini-Interview with Meg Tuite

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

I’m drawn to the tightly wrapped. The truth-tellers. I find as time goes on I have less patience for filler-crap. The in-between conflict moments that allow a reader to breathe. In the midst of a psychotic episode or an altercation with a stranger, how much time do we want to spend trudging through the flora and fauna.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. If plot had anything to do with the space I occupy, I’d live on a shelf in a cupboard.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and messy. I do edit while I’m working a story, but it’s got to saturate for a while no matter how quickly or slowly it drops.

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

Domestic horror and internal degradation.

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

Fernando Pessoa, Clarice Lispector, Djuna Barnes, Janet Frame, Bruno Schulz

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m thankful for any readers. Not many are going online to read as much, so it’s a gift to have someone make a comment about a story you’ve written. Truly!

BIO: Meg Tuite is the author of two story collections, Bound By Blue and Domestic Apparition, and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, senior editor at Connotation Press, associate editor at Narrative Magazine and fiction editor at Bending Genres.  http://megtuite.com

Mini-Interview with Kathy Fish

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

I love flash for its immediacy. I can write directly from an emotion or impression. I feel it’s like poetry that way. Flash can go deep into a moment or feeling or image, but can also give a sense of story, of an existence or resonance beyond the page.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, character, character. And from character and setting, story emerges. I don’t think I’ve ever once begun a flash with a plot in mind.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’d say 75% of the time I am a slow, plodding, precise writer. The other 25% I write very quickly, but it’s not messy. It’s often very close its published form. I think the “messiness” is all happening in my subconscious over weeks, months, years. So when something finally clicks, it all comes out in a rush, but very deliberately if that makes any sense.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

Art, music, meditation, yoga, nature. Love. Painful memories and good ones. Poetry. All the things that bring me deeper into myself are what influence what goes on the page.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I can’t possibly go there. Every time I try, I realize I’ve left out someone extraordinary and I feel terrible. I’ll just say there is a band of ridiculously talented writers working in the flash world right now, who seem to publish works of genius on a weekly basis. Scan the lit journals, you know who I’m talking about. I’m in awe. Okay, I’ll mention one person specifically and that’s Melissa Goode. Her stories clobber me in the best way. One of the most elegant, fierce, compassionate writers working today.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Oh, my stories get plenty of recognition, Tommy. Almost embarrassingly so. I don’t hunger for more. But if I’m honest, I’ll say I really wish my collection, Together We Can Bury It had made more of an impact than it did. There were numerous hiccups and delays getting it out into the world which made it nearly impossible to promote. That collection means a lot to me. It represents my best early work and I’m proud of it. I’m absolutely overjoyed whenever someone says they actually got a hold of a copy and read it.

BIO: 

Kathy Fish teaches fiction for the Mile High MFA program at Regis University. She also teaches her own intensive Fast Flash workshops online. She has published four collections of short fiction: a chapbook in the Rose Metal Press collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (2008); Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011); Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012); and Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). Her story, “Strong Tongue,” was recently chosen by Amy Hempel for Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books).

Mini-Interview with Shasta Grant

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

I love the puzzle aspect of flash – of making a story work within the parameters of a word count. It’s often more fun than working on a longer story and lends itself to experimenting more.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Probably plot. If I’m struggling with a story, making my characters do something else usually gets things going. I think it’s harder to create believable characters than it is to develop plot.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

A bit of both. The first draft is usually quick and then comes the slow process of revision. I usually need to set a story aside for a while before I attempt revision although there are those rare occasions where a story comes out nearly perfectly formed on the first attempt. I wish that would happen more often!

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

My adolescence and my hometown. For some reason, I’m obsessed with writing about teenagers and people who live in small towns like the one I grew up in. I live in Singapore now, which is quite literally about as far as away as you can get from where I grew up in New Hampshire, so I’m fascinated with writing about characters who stay in their hometown. I guess it’s that question of “what if?” that lingers in my mind.

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

This is such a hard question! Lucia Berlin was a genius; I can’t believe I only discovered her work last year. Recently I read Myfanwy Collin’s story “I Am Holding Your Hand” and I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read. I keep rereading it and I also used it in a workshop I taught recently. I’m in awe of how perfect that story is. If I was going to recommend one flash story, it would be that one.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel lucky if anyone notices my work so it’s never something I expect or take for granted. But if pressed to pick one story that I wish got a little more recognition, I’d say “We’re All Sinners” in Wigleaf.

BIO:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship. She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project and her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, MonkeyBicycle, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and divides her time between Singapore and Indianapolis.

Mini-Interview with Claire Polders

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

Discovering flash fiction as a reader opened my mind as a writer. Finally, I had found a genre in which I could truly experiment without the risk of wasting months on a story I wouldn’t be able to finish. Once I started writing flash fiction, I learned how to limit my word count and be a better self-editor. It’s a great way to practice my craft. But I mostly write flash for fun. It’s really one of my favorite activities.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My stories often begin with a question, a first sentence, or a character. The plot usually comes afterward. In a novel, I cannot even conceive of what will happen without knowing to whom it will be happening. The plot in my flash fiction is frequently a consequence of the voice I’ve chosen. Only after finishing the first draft do I know what the story is about, and then I rewrite it to tell that story better.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Both. When I follow voice, it’s quick and messy, leading to weird stories or failures. When I follow an idea, I often labor over individual sentences that don’t seem to connect, until I put them in the right sequence and the story starts to make sense to me.

 

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

Death, and how it gives meaning to life. I have never looked away from death, not even as a child. And the people I’ve lost are always with me in my mind.

 

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

Forced to choose only one, I will have to name the author who inspired me to write my first flash stories, and that is Lydia Davis. Not an original choice, I know, but it’s her stories that lured me to the genre.

 

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition? 

I never think about it that way. The stories are out there, and I’m already happy they can be read. I’ve been very fortunate with the attention they have received. The stories that sometimes fall into a void are the ones I place in print mags. Readers rarely contact me online about what they have read in print. So I learned: if I crave more direct responses, I should favor online journals.

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BIO
Claire Polders is the author of four novels with a debut in English forthcoming in 2018: “A Whale in Paris” (Atheneum / Simon & Schuster). Her flash fiction has been published most recently in Mid-American Review, Flash Frontier, and Iron Horse. You can find her online at www.clairepolders.com

Mini-Interview with Dina Relles

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

I sort of fell into flash—I was writing these brief bits of prose and then trying to string them together into braided essays or some longer work until I realized they could stand alone. That this was a thing, a form in its own right. Flash? Prose poetry? Micro-memoir? Whatever we call it, it has my heart. I love the challenge to say something resonant in so few words, to craft a sentiment that transcends its small space. I love precise language and lyricism, shifts (however slight), endings that leave you breathless, unsteady, wanting.

I love how flash demands something of the reader—to fill in the white space, to make their own meaning. To carry on where it leaves off. I feel closer to a flash writer/reader because it’s like we’re sharing the story. We’re in this together.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Between those two, character, for sure. Plot terrifies me. In most of my stories, nothing actually happens. There’s infinitesimal movement, if at all. But I love people-watching, people-writing. (Over)thinking human interaction and intention.

Often I feel like there’s something else at work entirely—for better or worse, most of my flashes begin with a memory or an idea. An amorphous concept. I want to say something about how there are as many perspectives in the world as there are people. Or: I want to write about how once you love someone, you never let them go. And then I have to figure out how to get there.

So perhaps, even more than character or plot, my mainstays are: memory and idea.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Can I say both? At first, it’s quick and messy. I HAVE TO GET IT DOWN. But then I obsess over every word, tinker and tweak. That aftermath—the chiseling, the attentiveness, the poring over each line—is my favorite part. It feels like a love affair.

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

Past love. No doubt. I should confess: I don’t really write flash fiction. Or rarely. Nearly all my writing is nonfiction. I envy those who can weave stories out of whole cloth. I lack imagination and ooze nostalgia. Sometimes I’ll get crazy and change a minivan to a truck and think, by golly, I’ve done it! I’ve written fiction! But most of the time, it’s just true stories of people and places I’ve loved and lost.

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

That’s HARD. There are so many stunning writers out there gifting us beautiful, worthy work. I feel lucky every. day. to know them and read their words. But if I had to point to one flash piece that’s had the greatest effect on me, the one I keep coming back to, it would be Minuet by Rumaan Alam. And thanks to Meghan McClure, I just discovered “Distance,” a short essay by Judith Kitchen, and now I can’t stop reading it.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

The writing of mine I love most is sitting in the submission queue at the moment, waiting for the right home. I hope to be able to share it someday.

Mini-Interview with

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

It gives me the chance to create many new worlds. Ideally, I want each flash fiction to be a unique experience for the reader, and to feel like a place, or a memory of a place. Like momentarily stumbling into someone else’s dream, and then shaking off the vertigo and wondering if it really happened. Every piece must have its own earth and sky.

It allows me to be layered. Flash is supposed to linger in you, and I would like the reader to discover something new every time they revisit it. I believe the experience of reading flash has something inherently open and cyclical. Because I like reading this way, many pieces I’ve written are meant to be reread, and hopefully to give a little more, to raise new questions, to help connect a different dot every time.

Writing flash makes me feel like a student, happily lost in a great dusty library. Every word has to be chosen and placed with surgical precision. They have to be a perfect fit in meaning and sound. Maybe it’s because English isn’t my first language, but most times I look up even the simplest, most familiar words, and always discover something new in them. No other type of writing has offered me this chance.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character always comes before plot for me. I’ve learned the hard way that forcing characters to fit in a very specific plot is like trying to herd cats. You have to let them evolve, collide and react in their own true ways. With that, plot will organically happen. These surprises are the best part. I believe that plot is crucial to a story, but it’s not a starting point. It’s not even a finishing point – I see endings not as a result of plot, but of each character’s separate emotional makeup. We can throw in as many plot twists as we like when writing, but as the story grows it becomes clear that each character carries something inevitable in them, and they will bring this out if the writer is open to it and attentive. It’s not a fate, but their innate necessity.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy start, a slowing down around the middle and an arduous arrival at the finish line. Very slow and precise editing with a visually messy result, full of arrows and symbols. By the time I’m done it looks like a math pop quiz that’s been corrected to death. When it’s time to type it in, the sober cleanliness of a word document seems eerie.

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

There are the most immediate elements, like reading, observing people and consuming art that takes me out of my comfort zone. But these work on a superficial level, where they are meant to give form and light: these are your ideas, your inspirations, your analytical epiphanies and your shapes of thought.

What is hidden deeper are the elements that I work on as themes, and they most influence my writing: the scary part of me, or the scary part of us. Using the academic as a language for the visceral. How much am I learning, growing up, about my/our relationship with the self, with violence, with death, with sexuality, with that in us which exists but is irrational, unexplained or untapped? These are very real, urgent things to me. I’ve always tried to make it a conscious journey. And whatever I find along the way is what I’m eager to write about.

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

A very tough question! I’ve had the luck to read so many excellent writers in the past few years, and I couldn’t pick one. And all those amazing stories! One of my many favorites is “If There’s Any Truth In A Northbound Train” by Ryan Werner, in SmokeLong Quarterly.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

The Duke’s Dioxide Sunset” in Obra / Artifact last July, was one I was very fond of and really enjoyed writing, but slipped through the cracks at the time.

Bio: 

Clio Velentza lives in Athens, Greece. She is a winner of “Best Small Fictions 2016” and a Pushcart nominee. Her work has appeared in several literary journals such as “Wigleaf”, “Lost Balloon”, “Hypertrophic Literary”, “Noble/Gas Qtrly”, “The Letters Page”, “Jellyfish Review” and “People Holding…”, along with some anthologies in both English and Greek. She is currently working on a novel. Find her on twitter at @clio_v.

Mini-Interview with Jennifer Harvey

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

I will admit I enjoy the immediate buzz you get from completing a flash story. With longer pieces, I need to be in a very different place, psychologically, if I am going to be able to concentrate long enough to complete it. So, there is an element of addiction to writing flash, for me, because I can write it quickly. I enjoy that little hit you get from simply writing something and seeing where it takes you and then, at the end of the day, having a complete story there on the page. It’s very satisfying.

That said, I also like the distillation required for flash. Thinking about the right word or focusing on a single element, the intricacy of a description, say, or the precision in the tone/voice. Flash might be quick to write, but it still requires an intense form of concentration.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I need to have the voice for a piece in my head before I can put a single word on the page. If I can’t ‘hear’ it, I can’t write it. So, this means I probably lean more towards character, than plot. I think that’s the beauty of flash, it can be very self-contained, without there necessarily being an obvious plot. I remember reading a quote by Kathy Fish about this, and she put it very well: that there needs to be ‘movement’ and ‘flow’ in a flash piece as opposed to what you would classically define as ‘plot’, and I have yet to find a better way of explaining it.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Mostly quick and messy. Some pieces come out fully formed. Others I go back to (sometimes over years) and edit and refine – usually as a result of feedback from rejections. But the bones of a piece are always there pretty much immediately. I write often for Visual Verse and they ask you to write from a prompt and take no longer than an hour and I am always surprised at how much you can write in an hour, and also, how useful visual prompts can be to kick-start the creative process. I can definitely recommend it as an exercise.

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

I walk a lot and I think this is a very important element of writing, for me. The steady pace, the rhythm of putting one foot in front of another and allowing that pace to dictate your thoughts. It’s so therapeutic and it works for me. It’s a very simple thing, but I really think slowing down at some point in the day is extremely useful in terms of gathering your thoughts together.

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

At the moment I think pretty much everything Cathy Ulrich writes is wonderful. She has a beautiful style and I love the way she manages to weave intricate ideas with subtle psychological observations. She is a master of the form and everyone should read her.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Oh gosh, that’s a very difficult question. So much of what gets published these days have such an ephemeral existence, it’s online one day and forgotten the next in the constant stream of the new, so it’s hard to tell what is getting attention and what isn’t. One flash story I am fond of is ‘Laika’ which was published by Visual Verse. This is probably because it is about a dog. I am very fond of dogs.

https://visualverse.org/submissions/laika/

Bio:

Jennifer Harvey is a Scottish writer now living in Amsterdam. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various magazines in the USA and the UK, including: Folio, Carve, Fjords Review, Cheap Pop, Bare Fiction and The Lonely Crowd. She has been shortlisted for the Bristol Prize and the Bridport Prize, and in 2013 she was the Editor’s Choice winner in the Raymond Carver short story competition. She is a resident Reader for Carve magazine and loves discovering new stories. When not reading or writing, she can be found wandering the Amsterdam Canals dreaming up new stories.

Mini-Interview with Lori Sambol Brody

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

I started to write what is now called flash in the late 1990s, but didn’t fully embrace it as opposed to short stories until my daughters were born. It was a matter of necessity. Once I’d dreamed a flash into existence (planning it on my commute), I could write a rough draft in a couple of hours. When the kids were young, and with a full time job, I didn’t have much time. Short stories would take me months to write.

I love the variety of flash. More than a short story, flash lends itself to being playful. Playful not only in structure, but also in content. It’s easier to maintain a surreal story in a short form, and, in flash, you can jettison certain aspects of a short story. Exposition and backstory are unnecessary and take too much space. Poetic language is a must and words must work double-time.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character – or, as a third option, setting. But that’s really another facet of character. Usually, the story will come to me as a character speaking in my mind or interacting with the setting/characters around her. When I’m writing the story, the character will propel the plot or arc/movement of the story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy! I usually know something about the story to begin with – a voice that’s speaking to me at the beginning and the image or phrase for the ending, so I just need to get from point A to point B. I often write a flash in one big gush, so I don’t start questioning myself. So I sit down and type out one huge paragraph, sometimes without punctuation. (This is why sometimes my stories still have comma splices!) If I can finish it in one sitting I know that it’s worth working on further. (If I abandon it mid-session it’s usually because I’m just not feeling the story; sometimes I will return to it.) The editing process, however, will take a long time, and I’ll do multiple drafts, wait months to send it out, and have people critique it.

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

My experiences travelling – at least as to setting. And then being a teenager – like my necklace being stolen in junior high, which formed the basis of “Butterfly.” I also steal from my daughters, but I usually get their permission to use them, like in “Body Like Paper” and “Second Act Girls.” Not to say that any of my stories are true in all details, but there’s some kernel of truth in all of them, whether it’s a line of dialogue, an emotion, or clothes I wore. I like to say that all of my stories are true and all are false.

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

That’s not a fair question! There’s so many stories and writers I admire. I’m just going to refer you to Amelia Gray, and her stories “Labyrinth,” “These are the Fables” and “The Swan as Metaphor for Love.”

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“Train to the Ends of the Earth” from alice blue review.

Bio: Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California.  Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

Mini-Interview with Stephanie Hutton

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

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

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

Mini-Interview with Tara Isabel Zambrano

 

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

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

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

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

 

Mini-Interview with K.C. Mead-Brewer

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

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

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

Mini-Interview with Jayne Martin

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

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

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

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

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

Writing and Basketball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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