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

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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.

Mini-Interview with Kathyrn Kulpa

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

I started out writing long, full short stories, often so long that I had a hard time finding a home for them. But when I look at them I realize that many of them are written as a series of short scenes. One of the first flash pieces I wrote was a parting scene between two characters from a novel I’d started writing in college. After I wrote it I realized: okay, it’s all there, I don’t need to go back to those characters. It was a relief, actually—not to have to worry about continuity and filling in the chinks. I could leave out the boring parts.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Actually, neither. Often, for me, what sparks a story is an image. Like the awful crab Rangoon restaurant with the dusty old prizes behind glass in my story “When God Closes a Door.” The characters tend to grow out of that. Who’s eating that crab Rangoon? Plot is the hardest, but if I’m lucky, it grows out of character.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy initially. I don’t have much time to write so often my first drafts come out of an exercise in my writing group, and we usually give ourselves a time limit of 20 minutes or even less. But things can simmer under the surface for a long time before I actually write them, and I also have unfinished pieces that might sit in a notebook for years and then I’ll go back to them and think, “I wrote that?”

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

Probably childhood and adolescence. I often think of that Flannery O’Connor quote about how anyone who has survived childhood has enough experience of life to last them the rest of their days.

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

Urgh, tough one. I can think of a few stories I often teach, because they do particular things so well: “I Am Holding Your Hand” by Myfanwy Collins; “We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek; “Lawn of the Year” by Katie Burgess, from Atticus Review; “Hard Time,” by Courtney Watson, from 100 Word Story; and “Wedding Picture” by Jayne Ann Phillips, along with “Snapshot: Harvey Cedars 1948” by Paul Lisicky. And there is so much amazing work coming out right now, and journals that are publishing incredible flash. And yearly anthologies! And podcasts! And I’m definitely seeing more academic recognition. Let’s just say it’s an exciting time for flash.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Probably “We the Underserved,” which was just before Christmas 2017 in Citron Review. I love the voice in that story and the strength and attitude of the young girl characters, but I think it was overlooked in the holiday rush.

BIO: Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her chapbook Girls on Film and is the author of a short story collection, Pleasant Drugs.  Her work has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, and Evansville Review, and she serves as flash fiction editor for Cleaver magazine.

Mini-Interview with K.B. Carle

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

I write flash because I enjoy the challenge of capturing a pivotal moment for a character in just a few pages. In those pages, I need to show readers why this moment matters. However, when writing short stories, I tend to have more than two characters present, expressing themselves through dialogue. Flash allows me to lock two characters in a room, forcing them into conflict that depends less on dialogue and more on their nonverbal cues. Silence, what is left unsaid, has always intrigued me. A lot can happen between two people with two different perspectives, in a locked room. That’s when my characters’ body language (eye contact, uncomfortable tics, and the way they interact with the objects around them) becomes their new form of dialogue.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m all about characters! I always want to know a reader’s favorite character, but when I ask about their favorite part of a flash piece, the scene almost always involves the despicable character. I love writing why or how a despicable character becomes despicable. Exploring how they talk or how their movements change based upon their surroundings or their company. Writing the antagonist doesn’t make me feel safe but hearing readers’ reactions to a racist woman carrying her mixed newborn grandchild into the night while her daughter screams behind her, knowing I could evoke such a strong reaction from that moment, keeps me returning to the page.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

My writing style is a bit of both. The thought process is always slow and precise. If I don’t have the first line, I don’t have the story. I could have several ideas bouncing around in my head but without a precise starting point, the story is just an idea locked away in my mind.

But when that first sentence comes, I’m transported into the world of the story, where my characters know what needs to be done to get from beginning, middle, and end. All I have to do is cross my fingers and hope my pencil doesn’t run out of lead.

I should say another part of the process that slows me down is the fact that I have to write EVERYTHING by hand first, including the answers to this interview. Once the story has made its way into my journal, I start editing as I type. Between the page and the computer is where the mess happens. Those moments when I ask myself, “Why would they do that?” Or I can’t read my handwriting due to a moment I refused to acknowledge my pencil lead did in fact break or an idea transcribed into scribbles. Once the words do find their way onto my computer (and I fight the word count) I’m back to the slow and precise process of searching for the first line of the next story.

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

 Family.

Family is very important to me, especially since there’s still a lot I don’t know about my ancestors. I have the stories my parents tell me, but they only go back so far. It’s also why the Ancestry DNA commercials irritate me because, as an African American, my ancestors were erased from history. I come from an older family. My maternal grandfather was born in 1910 and only a few years separate him from my other grandparents. I didn’t get the stories I wanted from my grandparents, their history too painful to talk about or forgotten. Also, by the time I could talk to them, both of my grandfathers were already deceased. I was too young to crave the histories of my grandmothers and they were too tired to relive them. So, I cling to the precious memories I do have of them, of what history has taught me, what my parents remember of the shadows of their grandparents, and try to portray those struggles in my stories. This is my way of sharing that they, my ancestors, can never be erased.

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

 Amina Harper—Five WivesPaper Darts

Amy Slack—The BathtubFlashBack Fiction

Monet Thomas—A Certain WomanThird Point Press

Annie Frazier—All of Us AnimalsLongleaf Review

Cathy Ulrich—Ghost Among GhostsJellyfish Review

Anita Goveas—Let’s Sing All the Swear Words We KnowLost Balloon

Tara Isabel Zambrano—A Thousand EyesPANK Magazine

Jennifer Todhunter—This is all We NeedAtticus Review

Noa Sivan—Seven Words for SandMonkeybicycle

Dina L. Relles—Where We Landmatchbook

Megan Giddings—The Eleventh Floor GhostSmokelong Quarterly

Meghan Phillips—Abstinence OnlyPassages North

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 The story I wish received more recognition would have to be, “The Widow’s Crow,” in Meow Meow Pow Pow. The artwork paired with the piece is incredible and I had so much fun writing a story about a woman who’s best friends is a crow. I love the dark fairytale elements of this story and all the little details I managed to squeeze into such a short piece.

Bio: K.B. Carle lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her MFA from Spalding University’s Low-Residency program in Kentucky. When she is not exploring the realms of speculative, jazz, and historical fiction, K.B. avidly pursues misspelled words, botched plot lines, and rudimentary characters. Her flash has appeared in FlashBack FictionThe Molotov CocktailPidgeonholesLost Balloon, and elsewhere. She can be found online at http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @kbcarle.

Mini-Interview with Kim Magowan

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

The first flash I ever wrote, before I knew there was this genre called flash, is a story called “Palimpsest,” back in 2010. My writing group at the time said, “We like this beginning a lot, where’s it going?” and I said, “No, that’s the whole thing.” I had an intuitive sense it was done. Really, I became interested in flash as a practical necessity: I’m a professor, and flash is the one mode of writing I can reliably do when the semester’s on. That said, I’ve become addicted to the form. I love its precision. It forces me to choose every word, to trim all the fat, to identify the core of a story and eliminate all fluff. I’ve become a better writer (more disciplined, more particular) because of flash. Reading and writing flash requires attention. Currently, as a fiction editor, I often find long stories flabby: parts seem brilliant, but parts drag. Flash eliminates all the boring stuff.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Definitely character! Plot is a struggle. A friend, not intending to be mean, once said after reading a draft of my novel, “This is great, but there’s no plot.” Which is kind of a huge thing to go missing in a novel! Whoops, forgot to include a plot! Though the English professor in me could point out a dozen novels that don’t have a plot to speak of (The Sound and the Fury, Mrs. Dalloway, most high modernism). I gravitate toward character. The reason I write is the same reason I read, and why in another life I think I would have made a decent psychotherapist: I like to figure people out. People are endlessly interesting to me, so my favorite novels (Emma, Middlemarch, The Remains of the Day, Lolita, The Good Soldier) are character studies.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I veer towards quick and messy. My modus operandi with flash is to bang out the first draft in a sitting. I want the shape of the story splashed out. My revision process is all about chiseling. Even as a college student, I used to feel a dorky gratification when a draft of a paper was too long and needed cutting down. I enjoy removing flab, making stories trim and muscular. When I get a story into more or less presentable condition, I send it to my first reader, Michelle Ross, and she gives me edits. The ones I take graciously are the cuts. Whenever Michelle wants me to add or develop something, I grumble. I tend to write polished drafts, but I am a baby about doing comprehensive revisions. Any chore, no matter how onerous, seems preferable.

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

Becoming a parent fundamentally changed both the way I write and the way I read. Certain books are simply not the same for me now: Beloved, always heartbreaking, kills me now—I cry every time I reread it (which is often, because I teach it). With Frankenstein, I always thought Victor Frankenstein was a self-centered jerk, but now I judge much more harshly Victor’s repudiation of the creature. A number of my characters are flawed parents. Others are struggling adolescents. Writing is a way for me to process some of my worst fears: what would it mean to lose a child, or to let down a child catastrophically? To have one’s own defects and failings damage someone else? One of the fascinating things about having children is the way it makes one confront wrapped-up parts of oneself. Kids hold up mirrors. You can’t hide from yourself anymore.

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

There are so many flash writers I love! This isn’t original, but I am nuts about Lydia Davis—any writer interested in flash fiction should read (and reread) her collected stories. I’ve loved Borges since I was a teenager, when his micro “Borges and I” exploded my brain. Kathy Fish is fantastic: her flash “Collective Nouns About Humans in the Wild” destroyed me. I’m obsessed with Joy Williams’ Ninety-Nine Stories of God. I teach and reteach Jamaica Kincaid’s wonderful mother-daughter story “Girl.” Sherrie Flick’s stories are whiskey shots, they burn going down. George Saunders’s “Sticks” from his Tenth of December collection is a barbed thorn of a story. Michelle Ross, Kim Chinquee, Amelia Gray, and Cathy Ulrich are among my current favorites, writers whose new work I always seek out. I love the micro of yours Pithead Chapel is publishing, “You’ve Stopped”: that was one of my favorite flashes I’ve read all year. That final line about the slowing heartbeat is devastating.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m proud of “Eleanor of Aquitaine.” It’s the first of the linked stories in my collection, and I suspect it gets overlooked next to other stories about Laurel that cast bigger shadows (“Warmer, Colder,” “On Air”). It isn’t as tough, repellent, or disturbing as those two. But I think it’s a strong story, and a sad one, about how a war between estranged spouses is hurting their daughter. Actually, I like the fourth of the Laurel stories a lot, too: “Pop Goes the Weasel.” That story almost didn’t make it into my collection. I worried it was too shapeless. It morphed on me. Initially, I thought I was writing a nasty stepmother story, but almost without my volition, Nina became a lot warmer and messier than my original picture of her. So, I want people to pay attention to the two understated Laurel stories! The two middle ones shout them down. “Eleanor” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” are like the quiet kids in the back of the classroom who won’t raise their hands, but should be called on anyway.

BIO: Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com

Mini-Interview with Sarah Freligh

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

Flash combines the lyric precision of poetry with the narrative urgency of fiction. It’s the perfect storm.

That’s my academic answer. The real reason is because I dole out my life in coffee spoons. I write in grabbed time and flash lends itself nicely to small dollops.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, with a splash of plot, most likely because I am a terrible plotter. If conflict is fuel, flash can run on a buck’s worth, long enough to arrive at a story (not so for a novel, which I’m discovering to my great chagrin). At some point in the writing, I get hold of a tail of something – a metaphor, an action – and hitch a ride on that for a while. I eventually arrive at a story or even better, a hint of a story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Ideally, quick and messy on first swipe after which I abandon the mess for a while to forget what I both love and hate about it. At some point, I start to revise. I might see a potential structure and how that might work to underscore theme. How fooling around with language can create opportunities for metaphor that expand and deepen understanding and meaning. A mentor once said to me that there are no true synonyms in the English language, and I agree. I’m eternally after the right word.

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

I’d wish I could say that I bit into a madeleine and saw my life whole, but the truth is far more pedestrian. My cats, dead and alive. Swimming, definitely. It’s so boring that after 1,000 yards, you develop a rich imagination or go starkers. I have a bank of stored-up images that need homes, and usually I find them in my poems or prose.

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

Jayne Anne Phillips’ book Black Tickets, especially “Wedding Picture” and “Blind Girls.” Gary Gildner’s “Fingers” and Paul Lisicky’s “Snapshot, Harvey Cedars, 1948,” both from the iconic Flash Fiction anthology. Anne Panning’s “Candy Cigarettes,” a flash nonfiction. I’ve used them as prompts in so many classes; they never fail.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Hard question! Probably “We Smoke,” because that might mean that people are reading New Micro, the terrific new anthology edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellero, or reading my poetry book Sad Math, published by Moon City Press in 2015.

 

BIO: Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Sun Magazine, Hotel Amerika, BOAAT Journal, diode, SmokeLong Quarterly, and in the anthology New Microfiction: Exceptionally Short Stories (W.W. Norton, 2018). Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.

Mini-Interview with Lynn Mundell

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

I think it fits in with the amount of time I have to write—which is not that much these days since I have a lot going on, including a full-time job, family, my buddies, co-editing 100 Word Story, swimming, reading, and just living. But it’s more than convenience. Writing flash also harkens back to my writing origins as a poet, where I worked within different structures, with imagery and themes, and with an attention to language. What I am still learning now that I write fiction is dialogue, something that is new to me as a writer and pretty difficult.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

May I say both? If I don’t have a plot, I am lost. I am just writing to write. But I need a narrator and others I can believe in to tell the story. More and more I am holding off on writing until I have a better sense in my head of what I am writing and who is going to do the work for me in my story. I have been making notes, too, and sometimes asking myself how I could make my idea more interesting or unusual.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I am slow and precise. I write some, back up, rewrite and add a bit more, back up, rewrite, add a bit more, until the story is done. Then I might go in and add sections or re-work it. It can be a laborious process, with pen and paper. I think I have probably not entirely transitioned from writing poetry to fiction.

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

I seem to write a lot about moving, being lost, homes, and travel. I suspect this is because I moved a lot as a kid. These days I have written more from the news since I find it very troubling, and about aging and mortality. Pretty much whatever is going on in my life and around me may make it into a story, from the pedestrian to the significant.

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

There are so many talented writers out there right now that it is pretty impossible to pick. One of my favorite journals to read is Jellyfish Review. I think Christopher James has pretty impeccable taste, and I like how he will publish brand-new writers or established one, and across genres. I would be hard pressed to call out specific writers, but I will say that I have never read a Meg Pokrass or a Molly Giles story I didn’t like.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 One of the first ones I wrote when I discovered flash fiction, “Travels through Time and Space with Zora,” which was published in Eclectica in 2014. I really put a lot of myself into that one, and I still like it when I read it over again these days.

BIO: Lynn Mundell’s writing has appeared this year in SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicyle, Thread, Booth, Gone Lawn, apt, Bird’s Thumb, Fanzine, and elsewhere. Her story “The Old Days,” originally published in Five Points, is included in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. Lynn’s work has been recognized on the Wigleaf “Top 50 Very Short Fictions” long lists of 2017 and 2018. She is co-editor of 100 Word Story and its anthology Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story (Outpost19). Learn more about her at http://lynnmundell.com/

Mini-Interview with Leslie Pietrzyk

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

I don’t think of myself as a natural flash writer; I generally write novels and long short stories. I couldn’t write a poem if my life depended on it. But six-ish years ago, I started thinking about flash when I was working on THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, a book of stories that plays around with form. I challenged myself to write something short, to tell a complete and harrowing story in as few words as possible. (Here’s the result.) Now, I love the compression and the gut-punch of a successful piece of flash, that sense of illumination like a firework ripping through a dark sky. I like the power of what’s missing, of the ripples of what is suggested and implied and hidden. I explore the role of silence a lot in my fiction, whether real or perceived, and I find that flash is a way of breaking silence. I’m still challenged by the form; most of my pieces are in the 750-1000 word range, which is kind of long-ish flash. But I accept the form’s difficulty: feeling off-balance and unsure is good for me as a writer.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My instinct is to say character because my finished work tends to be character-driven rather than plot-intensive. Yet when I really think about what a life jacket does—which is it saves your ass when you’re flailing around in wide open water after being dumped from a boat—I think about plot: my writing depends less on lyrical phrasing and poetics, and more on interesting things happening or secrets being peeled away. So, thank you, true and steady Plot, for coming to my rescue, every single time, even as I start out telling myself that I don’t need you!

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Yes! Quick and messy in the first draft (or, actually, slow and super-messy). And then slow and precise in the subsequent revisions. By slow, I do mean slow: it’s amazing how much time I can spend worrying over one word.

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

One of the things I love most about being a writer is being able to throw bits and pieces of my real life into my stories, like keeping a secret scrapbook of memories (“here’s the story I wrote when I first discovered hockey!”). So various interests maneuver themselves into the work, but the single most consistent part of my life that slips in is food. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love interesting cocktails, and most of all I love to get my characters eating or cooking or drinking. In fact, it’s a rare story of mine where no one gets fed or enjoys a cocktail. The bonus is that, of course, what and how we eat and drink is extremely revealing of character, so I get to indulge myself while also helping the fiction along.

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

I loved Sherrie Flick’s book, Whiskey, Etc, and I’m looking forward to reading her new collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars. Another book I recommend is I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life by Michael Czyzniejewski. Amy Hempel is a master, of course. Two individual stories I love are “The Sweet Life” found in Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk and “Sleepover,” in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Ha—I know we’re talking about flash and so it’s probably cheating to choose a 40-pager, the longest story I’ve written: “One True Thing.” It’s included in THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, my collection of unconventionally-linked short stories (and was also published online, in The Collagist), so I shouldn’t complain that the story is unrecognized. But I worked on it for more than a year and most of the time I had no idea what I was doing or even if I could do what I wanted to do, which was to write a continuous story told in the form of a craft lecture about point of view; each of the 10 sections is told with a different point of view choice, i.e. collective first person, third person, second person, omniscient (see how insane this undertaking was?). Anyway, I thought I was done several times before I really was done, and the whole writing experience nearly did me in, so I selfishly and secretly wish this story was required reading for everyone in America!

LINK TO THE 40-PAGE STORY: http://thecollagist.com/the-collagist/2015/2/6/one-true-thing.html

LINK TO THE FLASH PIECE ALLUDED TO IN THE FIRST QUESTION: https://shenandoahliterary.org/622/acquiescence/

BIO: 

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of Silver Girl, released in February 2018 by Unnamed Press, and called “profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing” in a Publishers Weekly starred review. Her collection of unconventionally linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her previous novels are Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Southern Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Iowa Review, Washingtonian, The Collagist, and Cincinnati Review. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches often in the Johns Hopkins MA in Writing program. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia. For more information: www.lesliepietrzyk.com

Mini-Interview with Al Kratz

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

I wrote poetry growing up and then random snippets in journals because it’s all the time I gave to it. So there’s a natural draw to it. That one sharp story. Maybe I like it so much because of music. We didn’t just listen to albums, we lived them. Broke them down and thought about how they worked. An album is basically a flash fiction chapbook. I don’t know how different flash is. I will say it is way more than word count. It is scope and voice. I’ve seen others talk about this, but flash changes the way we read novels too. I don’t hate it, but I definitely notice when things aren’t as compressed as flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

That’s a thing we can have? I probably would choose character of those two, although I’d have to admit I depend on voice over those two. Maybe that’s just character though? I need to get better at both. I need to get a lifejacket.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy when an idea forces itself out. Slow and painful when I’m trying to pull an idea out. Always slow and precise on rewriting. When I’ve got an active idea, lots of phone notes and I keep a mini-legal pad in the car so I don’t lose ideas.

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

I think I’ve always had the mentality that experience should be thought about. Maybe this came from being a preacher’s kid. I’ve never been bored. A lot of my flash is semi-autobiographical bordering on autofiction.

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

I’ve been trying to keep up with the flash world for like six years now. It’s crazy how many talented flash writers there are. I recently finished Nicole Rivas’ chapbook from Rose Metal Press and it’s one of the best there is. Sister Suite by Christine Stroud is a beautifully poetic book. I’m amazed by how the story of grief can still be told in new ways. I’m loving everything Scott McClanahan writes. He doesn’t really write flash, but it’s pretty darn compressed.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Ah, recognition. Maybe this one?

http://www.literaryorphans.org/playdb/lamb-god-al-kratz/

Bio:

Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa with his wife and their three old dogs. He writes fiction reviews for Alternating Current and is a Fiction Editor for New Flash Fiction Review. He is @silverbackedG on twitter and pubs are listed at http://alkratz.blogspot.com/

Mini-Interview with Gaynor Jones

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

 I’ve been writing it for so long, it’s hard to remember why I started but I write it now because it’s so addictive. There’s always a publication call out or a competition with an interesting theme (I’m a sucker for themes). The flash community is brilliant too if I stopped writing flash I’d feel like an outsider looking in. That’s happened a little bit recently as I’ve stepped back to work on different projects so I keep a few flashes going all the time, to keep my hand in.

I wouldn’t say I enjoy the challenge of a smaller word count, with me it’s often that my work naturally ends at a few hundred words anyway. This is great for flash but proving to be a real problem as I try and get my short story collection off the ground!

 What’s your writerly life jacket: character or plot?

 Oh, definitely plot. I never think in terms of character when I’m starting a story or even when I’m really into writing it. I feel that’s a big no-no for writers but I think it suits my style. My stories tend to hinge on the odd thing that is happening rather than the people in them. I think that’s what makes my work different from other flash writers, but also what makes it sometimes less popular or less successful? I can’t really do deep and meaningful characters and beautiful, lyrical writing, but I’m okay with that. There’s space for every type of writing.

 Writing style: quick and messy or slow and precise?

 For flash, quick and messy, but that’s only because I have been writing flash for eons. I can tell pretty quickly if a piece is going to be good or not, something about the ease with which the original idea gets onto the paper. These days I often go from idea to submission within a few hours. Again that’s a big no-no, isn’t it? But I’m a rebel! My Comma Press course tutor, Lara Williams, told us ‘write until it’s reflex’ and that’s what has happened with me and flash. I wouldn’t recommend that method to someone just starting out.

However, for anything other than flash (e.g. short stories) it is slow and precise with tons of research, planning and editing. I mean to be fair, maybe my flash would be better if I treated it that way too! Maybe I should slow down and try it…

 What element or part of your ‘real life’ do you think most influences your writing?

 The fact that I’m funny, ha. There is a lot of humour in my work, sometimes it’s dark, often it’s wry but it’s nearly always there. I grew up in Merseyside, where you have to be funny, it’s like a requirement for living there. You have quips with everyone from the bus driver to the milkman to your teachers and of course with your family so you learn quickly to think of a good comeback. One of my proudest writing moments was when a tutor told me I’m ‘often funny’ so now whenever I make my husband (a Southerner) laugh I raise an eyebrow and say ‘Well, I am often funny.’

I wish there was more acceptance of humour in fiction but there’s a bit of snobbishness around it I think. I would like to start a funny flash mag when I have the time. But also, this humour works for me because then when I write something serious or painful, which I occasionally do, it seems to blow people away a lot more as they weren’t expecting it.

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

 

Handily I have a folder for just such an occasion as this!

Final Girl Slumber Party by Meghan Phillips is always top of my list. I don’t know her, but I feel we must have had a similar upbringing in terms of cultural references as whenever I read one of her flashes I find myself saying ‘Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!’ Also, she writes about themes that really interest me, adolescence, sex, girls, pop culture, feminism.

When Stranded on an Iceberg by Tino Prinzi. This maybe strays into prose poetry rather than flash but it’s simple and beautiful and powerful.

I Can’t Explain Anything Anymore by Mary Lynn Reed because I love diner set stories and it has such a strong voice.

Magenta by Molly Gutman because it’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. So dark and intriguing with a touch of the magical.

The Amazing Sleepless Boy by Lynn Mundell is brilliant and brutal.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Well, my story Girls Who Got Taken was well received when it was published by Former Cactus but I wasn’t as known in the flash scene then so I’m not sure a lot of people read it. I developed this as a longer short story on my Comma Press course with a very different ending but the feedback wasn’t great (she turned into snow at the end – I loved it, but it’s not for everyone!) so I slashed it to 1000 words and actually I think it works a lot better like this as it’s such a tight, claustrophobic story. It’s quite a different type of story from my usual and it’s one of my favourites. I hope people enjoy it!

BIO: Gaynor Jones is a freelance writer based in Manchester, U.K. She specialise in short fiction and was the recipient of the Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award 2018. She organises the Story For Daniel Flash Fiction Competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. She is currently working on her debut short story collection and will release her first book of flash fiction, Business As Usual, in January 2019.

 

 

Mini-Interview with Adam Lock

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

Thank you so much for asking me to do this. It has really made me think.

For me, everything about flash fiction is more immediate than other forms of literature. They do take time to write, but still, they are not as time consuming as short stories or indeed novels. The submission and feedback process from magazines and competitions is also relatively quick. And if a piece isn’t working, you can work on it and submit again. I think I’m a writer who needs the constant process of submission and response; flash fiction fulfills this need.

What makes flash fiction different, is its precision. Short stories and novels do share this quality, at times, but flash fiction is all about precision. I love identifying what truth a flash piece is searching for and then cutting everything that doesn’t help convey this truth. For me, a great flash piece is like a ray of light shining on one tiny, yet universal truth.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

This is a naughty question. But I like it. I’ve been thinking about this more and more recently. The conclusion I have reached, is that fundamentally, people want to read about people (or animals – but even these tend to be anthropomorphised, and so end up being about people too). It’s a simple as that. Plot is what happens to characters, so this of course is important too. But ultimately, all good fiction says something about what it feels like to be human. And when a writer hits on something the reader recognises to be a shared human experience… well here lies its magic.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I find it difficult to shut off the editor in my head sometimes, so I tend to be more ‘slow and precise.’ I think it would be ideal to be both — to begin ‘quick and messy,’ and then slow down and be more ‘slow and precise.’

There is a fantastic book on writing called, ‘From Where You Dream,’ by Robert Olen Butler, who writes about how to reach a ‘dreamspace,’ and create a sense of ‘yearning,’ in your writing. This made me see how important it is to be both quick and slow at different times. Being quick and messy can trick your brain into revealing something of which you’re not consciously aware. This stuff is the gold you’re after. Then the slow part of your brain has to sift for that nugget of gold in amongst all the other stuff your brain is playing with.

There is a collection of Norman Mailer’s thoughts on writing called, ‘The Spooky Art.’ I write in the early mornings, and sometimes when I read back what I’ve written, I don’t remember writing it. The writing process really does feel wonderfully spooky sometimes.

In short, I want to be both, but I am definitely more ‘slow and precise.’
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

Has to be the things other people say and do. I think I’ve always watched and listened, but being a writer makes you really watch and listen. People do and say unbelievably wonderful things without even realising sometimes. I use the Notes app on my phone to write these things down – otherwise I’d forget most of it (and don’t think you won’t – you will). Then, when I’m struggling to think of something to write, I look in my notes and I have a first line or prompt to start me off. Sometimes I don’t even use the original idea, but it’s a place to start.

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

This is tough because there are so many writers, and now friends, who I follow and whose work I think is wonderful.

Melissa Goode writes stories on a theme I come back to time and again myself: relationships. She has such a light touch, and this ability to gesture to different moments in time that connect and spark off one another. I’m in awe of the poise and delicacy in her writing. This is her story, ‘Guernica’: https://jmwwblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/fiction-guernica-by-melissa-goode/

Christopher M Drew writes stories that integrates the natural world and science beautifully. I have been lucky enough to share drafts of stories with Chris, and have received his invaluable advice. I don’t think there is a flash fiction writer who plays with white space better than Chris.

‘The Shape of Us,’ is a great story: https://www.reflexfiction.com/the-shape-of-us-flash-fiction-by-christopher-m-drew/

Leonora Desar’s stories are instantly recognisable. She writes with freedom and bravery, generating a feeling of hope and joy. When I read one of her flash pieces I see the word in a slightly different way. A wonderful writer.

This is, ‘Fire, Ocean.’ https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/flash-fiction-fire-ocean-by-leonora-desar/

Peter Jordan is a terrific writer. I’ve been lucky enough to receive his advice and help with my own writing. His stories uncover universal truths that are presented in a clear and visceral way.   

This is, ‘At the Bottom of the Glass’: http://www.ellipsiszine.com/at-the-bottom-of-the-glass-by-peter-jordan/

More great writers, collections and stories:

Christopher Allen’s collection: ‘Other Household Toxins’

Stephanie Hutton’s NiF: ‘Three Sisters of Stone’

Meg Porkrass’ collection: ‘Alligators at Night’

Gaynor Jones: ‘The Thing Between Your Legs’ http://jonzeywriter.com/the-thing-between-your-legs

Damhnait Monaghan: ‘The Neverlands’ https://jellyfishreview.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/the-neverlands-by-damhnait-monaghan/

Jason Jackson: ‘As Beautiful as Blackberry Picking’ https://fictivedream.com/2018/06/29/as-beautiful-as-blackberry-picking/

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s another tough one. Commenting on your own writing always feels a little icky doesn’t it? I’ll choose a story I wrote when I first started writing flash fiction. I wrote this at a time I was learning about white space and leaving room for the reader. I think there are stories in which you recognise an improvement in your craft. I think this story, ‘Step on a Crack,’ is one such story for me.

https://flashfictionmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/07/step-on-a-crack/

Thank you again for this opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Bio: Adam Lock writes in the Midlands, UK. He recently won the TSS Summer Quarterly Flash Competition 2018 and the STORGY Flash Competition 2018. He was placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017, and has been shortlisted twice for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had, or soon will have, stories appear in publications such as Lost Balloon, Former Cactus, MoonPark Review, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Ghost Parachute, and many others. You can find links to his stories on his website: adamlock.net. He’s also active on Twitter at: @dazedcharacter.


 

Mini-Interview with Emily Devane

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

Thanks for having me, Tommy. I’ve loved reading your mini interviews series. I started writing flash before I knew its name. To my delight, I won first prize in a local competition for a 200-word story, based on a really creepy portrait of a girl in a party dress. It gave me such a boost and encouraged me to write more. Playing with words has always been something of an obsession for me. As a history teacher, I told stories day in, day out. When I began to write creatively, I had to unlearn my teacherly ways: my love of clarity and purpose, my desire to educate. By letting go a little and allowing the reader to conspire with me in the story, my stories began to breathe.

The more I have written and read, the more I have come to understand the special nature of the form. Not quite prose, not quite poem, it occupies the gaps between. Flash is story at its most pure, the literary equivalent of a fine malt whiskey. The finished piece may be short – consumed in a single sitting – but it can deliver a powerful, lingering taste, and there is so much craft behind each tiny piece, so much discarded along the way in the interests of distilling the story to its essence. There’s a special alchemy at work: the ingredients of the story – in this case, the writer, with his or her particular way of looking at the world – combined with a series of editing processes (akin to the malting, the mashing, the fermentation, the distillation), to create a finished piece. The most satisfying flashes leave a physical impression on the reader, the way whiskey stings, then warms, the throat.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I know it’s cheating but I can’t separate the two. What happens is intrinsically wrapped up in the person or people I write about. Plot comes out of character and character comes out of place. Setting or mood are what I tend to begin with: so, I might start with an idea to write about a specific emotion, then I create a scene and the characters kind of stroll in of their own accord and start doing stuff. I like for there to be an arc of sorts – a satisfying sense of shift – but I try not to force plot in a way that feels contrived. I have Kathy Fish to thank for teaching me the importance of staying true to the emotional core of a story. My memory works like a series of films. I tend to write in that way, like a person orientating themselves in a place – exploring my surroundings using the senses, honing in on the earthy paper smell of a library book, or the crunch of dry grass during a hot summer, or the erratic movement of a beetle across a patio.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I am so bad at these binary choices! I suppose I start messy, with paper and pen. Being a terribly slow typist, I prefer to explore the beginnings of an idea on paper. As soon as I can no longer bear the crossings out, I move onto my laptop, where I start to shape the piece. I keep my old notebooks and find it interesting to see those early scribblings. Because rhythm is important to me – my best tip for editing is to read your words aloud, paying attention to the awkward bits – I often lift whole sentences in their original form. If the rhythm is working, I don’t like to edit the life out of it.

 

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

What a great question! Going back to my time as a history student and teacher, I suppose I have always been fascinated by the unsaid – the story that goes on in the white space between words. I love to explore those hidden places, teasing out truths that have gone unnoticed and the characters whose stories might have been overlooked. I am also a massive over thinker, forever poring over past conversations, wondering if I read them correctly, worrying I may have got the wrong end of the stick and caused massive offense. I think – I hope – we’re all a bit like this. I find flash in those moments of awkwardness, those sudden, uncomfortable realisations. Obviously, I don’t write exclusively about awkward people doing awkward things – but that’s where my eye tends to fall.

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

Trying to narrow this down to just a few is so tough – the list of writers I admire, each for their particular style or tone, is way too long to share. But here are a few stories that have stuck with me and won’t let me go:

Jacqueline Doyle – The Missing Girl (Black Lawrence Press). I read this chapbook recently and I’m still reeling. I was struck by how these stories poke around fearlessly in the darkest of corners. Each flash explores the world of the missing from different perspectives, from victim to onlooker to perpetrator. Nola, originally published in Monkey Bicycle, was a stand-out story for me.

Christopher Allen – The Microbiology of Laiq (Jellyfish Review). I keep going back to this story. It’s so cleverly written, starting with a character whose obsession with microbiology borders on the eccentric, building to a devastating penultimate paragraph and a final line that has me in tatters every time.

K.B.Carle – Tyn (FlashBack Fiction). It’s a bit of a cheat to mention a piece of work published at FlashBack, where I’m a reader – and I’m fiercely proud of every piece we publish – but it was love at first sight with this painfully beautiful story, which appeals to my love of rhythmic prose.  The audio is just incredible, like music – it’s a masterclass in what flash can do.

Sharon Telfer – My Father Comforts Me in the Form of Birds (Reflex). I loved this Reflex-winning piece before I even read it. That title is a story in of itself. It’s a wonderful example of fragmented flash fiction, told in tiny, perfect nuggets, revealing something much bigger about the power of nature and the nature of grief: a quiet beauty.

Kevin Barry – The Apparitions (about an apparition of Samuel Beckett appearing on a gable wall in Dublin) published at The Forge and monologue for cabman (told in one, never-ending sentence, this one’s all about voice), published at The Stinging Fly. I’ve chosen two because Kevin Barry is ludicrously good at words. He writes funny, dark, brilliant stories and his dialogue is so alive, it’s as if the character is shouting in your ear. His longer work is worth seeking out, and if you ever get a chance to hear him read – jump at it.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel lucky to have landed my stories with some great publications. I’m still fond of Back When The Sky Was Different, published in The Nottingham Review, because it reflects my preoccupation with the odd. More recently, I was pleased as punch to have The Word Swallower up at Ellipsis; this story was one of those rare ones that come out in one sitting, totally going against my whiskey metaphor. But there you go – flash is ever surprising!

BIO: Emily Devane lives and writes in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Her stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies, most recently in Ellipsis and Ripening (the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology). Emily’s Bath Flash Fiction winning story ‘The Hand That Wields The Priest’ was a 2018 Best Small Fictions Finalist. A former Word Factory Apprentice, she also won a Northern Writers’ Award for her short story collection, which is almost ready for sending out into the world. She recently came second in the TSS 400 Competition with ‘Maria Belfiore’s Shoes’. Emily is on the editorial team for historical flash fiction magazine FlashBack Fiction. She tweets @DevaneEmily.

Mini-Interview with Barlow Adams

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

To me, flash has some kindred connection to poetry. From a craft perspective, they both require special attention to the individual words–the weight of a single one can tip a shortie or poem toward ruin or raise it up high–but they also rely on negative space to function at the highest level. You don’t have the room to tell a story in its entirety. You have to allow the reader to fill in the gaps. So you end up with these glorious ghost words and spectral sentences, where the reader is plugging holes with his or her own expectations and experiences. I love the idea of that sort of collaborative storytelling. Which I think takes place in all writing, but is especially relevant and necessary with flash. This dichotomy of meticulous precision and faith in the reader is so exciting to me. Every piece is an experiment in conjecture.

In terms of practical use, due to its length, flash is a smaller mountain to climb on trying days. I may not be able to complete a chapter or write a full short, but I can craft a flash. It’s a small prayer to the writing gods, and it’s those little offerings that sometimes keep me going, keep me connected to the creative source when I might otherwise drift away.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think all great stories have both. Compelling people doing compelling things. But if I have to choose, I’ll go with character.

When it comes down to it, plot is cleverness disguised as action, and, as twisting and branching as any plot can be, every road reaches its end. We all run out of cleverness eventually. But all writers have had that moment when a character becomes fully autonomous, when she starts acting of her own accord, begins to discover her own plots, her own courses of action. That’s the sweet spot of writing for me when it all starts to get a little easier. At that point, I’m more of a stenographer than an architect. I’m telling a story as I witness it rather than designing it consciously. It becomes more fun than work. Like watching a movie in my mind. I’m lazy. I’ll take that every time.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m a poor typist for a writer. I make a lot of silly, stupid mistakes. From a technical standpoint, I’m very messy. But I’m deliberate with my storytelling from the beginning of the process. I have stories that are effectively first drafts that I’ve been fairly pleased with at the end once the mechanical aspects were corrected.

I write using what I think of as “floodgates,” where I will linger for entirely too long on a single sentence trying to get it exactly right. Once that is finished to my satisfaction I’ll pour on for paragraphs or pages until I hit another sluice in the story. I’m a bit stop-and-go in that way, but these keystone sentences really seem to unlock the story for me. Some days I’ve got the skeleton key and all the world’s an open hall. Others, I’m scratching at the front door like a dog begging to be let in.

Worst of both worlds, maybe?

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

I fell seriously ill as a child and was told by doctors that I likely wouldn’t live to adulthood. They were wrong, thankfully, but that introduction to my own mortality at such a young age has–in retrospect–had a profound influence on my writing. Death and disease linger around my stories and poems like storm clouds, even when they don’t make a direct appearance. My sense of what is a happy story and what is a sad story is frequently a little off. I find hope in dark places and companionship in the idea that all things must have an end, that I am not alone in my guaranteed expiration. As frightening as it may be to some, I find such comfort in the idea that we are all on this sinking ship together, that we get to experience so many breathtaking moments together before this thing goes down.

Being seriously ill is a constant balancing act between gratitude and alienation. If you let it, sickness will take your humanity from you in chunks, until it’s just you–and everything that is terribly, horribly wrong with you–alone in a world of shiny, happy, healthy people. Beyond functioning as art or entertainment, I believe that reading and writing, the inherent communication between two minds often separated by distance and time, is the most effective balm for loneliness. It’s the closest we get to experiencing life on different terms. It’s magic. It’s skinwalking. It’s being human in real time. Whenever I pick up a book or sit at my keyboard that’s what I’m really after. I think I owe that desire to childhood summers spent in hospital beds, staring up at the ceiling, trying to prop up the weight of the world with the spine of a book. The right story can save someone from being crushed. I want to write that story. For others. For myself.

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

Wow. So many. I hate you a little for this question

George Saunders, who I desperately wish would adopt me.

Amelia Gray. Absolute ace writer.

I think no conversation about flash is complete without mention of the incomparable Kathy Fish, who is not only a brilliant writer in her own right but who seems to be able to pull magic out of others at will.

Noa Sivan is the writer who inspired me to write flash in the first place. It was like watching someone on the trapeze at the circus and thinking, “Look at her fly. I have to try that.” I am consistently amazed by the workings of her quirky, awe-inspiring mind. Her creativity is simply off the charts.

I love absolutely everything Cathy Ulrich has ever written. I want to track down this woman’s high school essays so I can read them. Find her damn diary. Her Japan stories, her “Murdered Ladies” series. Everything she does lights me up.

Stephanie Hutton has a new flash book out called “Three Sisters of Stone.” She’s terrific. More than terrific.

Leesa Cross-Smith. Tara Laskowski. Melissa Goodrich. I mean, have you read Melissa Goodrich? She’s like some invasive species of alien wordsmith that only came to earth to make my own ideas seem pedestrian in comparison.

You can’t just ask questions like these, Tommy!

I recently discovered Tara Isabel Zambrano and regret every day of my life before that moment.

Ryan Werner.

Sofia Samatar.

I have to stop. I feel like I’m possessed. I could go on.

Neil Clark. My favorite spaceman.

Chloe N. Clark! Love her!

Enough.

Amy Hempel.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Are you kidding? I’m being interviewed by Tommy Dean. I’ve already surpassed expectation.

I suppose that as someone who writes both genre and literary fiction, I’d love to see more crossover in my readership, as all my babies are equal in my eyes. But, honestly, I’m just glad people care enough to read some of my work. But I’d like to see more support on both sides of the aisle in the literary community. Build worlds, not walls.

BIO:

*Barlow Adams is a former journalist, the author of two novellas and an upcoming novel. His most recent publications include pieces in or upcoming at formercactus, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, The Disappointed Housewife, The Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, Riggwelter Press, Delphinium, Five on the Fifth, and Finishing Line Press. He’s not sure why he’s wearing a weird hat in every author photo.

 

Mini-Interview with Brianne Kohl

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

Flash fiction is a lightning strike – a whole story in less than 1000 words that begins in the moment right before the bolt hits. It requires three things: character, plot, and immediacy. I like writing flash because I get to drop the reader into the story moments before the crisis. I can put a character in an open field with a metal rod in their hand right before the storm breaks out. The sky is dark and weird. The hair on their arms stands on edge. I don’t have to tell the reader what led them to the open field if I don’t want to.

I love flash fiction because it is like practicing therapeutic mindfulness through my characters. The only thing that matters is the moment they are in. I don’t have to resolve the crisis, I just have to create it and let them exist within it.

  1. What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Never plot. I almost never know what is happening until its written which is why I struggle with long-form writing. Often, I focus on character but can I break the rules a little here? If I’m considering my writerly lifejacket to be that thing that floats me to the top of the water when my writing becomes difficult or choppy, it is almost always location. I tend to orient my writing, even if it is not obvious on the page, in place. It’s how I access my way into writing and if I feel bogged down, it’s how I get back to where I need to be. Drawing connections between theme and carefully selected physical details save my ass every time.

In the above example of the person standing in the open field, imagine it is Spring and the air is thick with the smell of ozone. The long grass sways in the breeze. But, the wind is picking up and the sky is at odds with such a hopeful field. My character has created tension with their world by bringing a metal rod – such a stupid thing to do. The metal rod acts to alienate my character from the landscape. There will be a price to pay for that. That penalty – and how the reader can relate – is the story.

  1. Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and messy like wiping mud off a pane of glass using a wet paper towel.

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

I moved around a lot as a kid. I never lived in the same place for more than two years until I was an adult. The theme I see repeating itself organically throughout my writing is the sense of place I talked about before. Meridel Le Sueur wrote “The body repeats the landscape. They are the source of each other and create each other.” My guess, without the help of a really good therapist, is that through my writing, I’m trying to figure out my physical space in the world.

In college, I read an ethnography by Keith Basso called, “Wisdom Sits In Places” which set my scalp on fire. I’m oversimplifying but it explores the relationship between people, culture, and place as told by four Western Apache storytellers. The book is both academic and passionate about the idea that our physical world holds human wisdom. For a writer, that kind of notion is seductive.

When I write, I’m always trying to recreate that feeling I got when I read that book. Consider this passage, “Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. You must remember everything about them. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother. Then you will see danger before it happens. You will walk a long way and live a long time. You will be wise. People will respect you.”

Doesn’t that passage feel like a lightning strike?

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

Or, just read anything in the following literary journals:

  1. What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Emergency Escape Plan, published at Bending Genres earlier this year, is one I’m really proud of but it was published at the same time that some important Lit Journal changes were unfolding. I am relieved and excited to see the literary community – writers and editors alike – having important conversations about the MeToo movement. I support any organization that holds accountable those people who betray their authority and privilege by behaving inappropriately and abusively. In the case of this publication, the remaining editors moved quickly and pulled the rug out from under the offending party. Which was good and cool and right. But, in doing so, this story was pulled in to the wake. It was disappointing for me personally but globally gratifying to see happen. I think a lot of readers were lost in response to that situation but ultimately, it was a good change that occurred so I support it.

BIO: Brianne M. Kohl’s work has appeared in various literary journals including Catapult, The Masters Review and Bending Genres. She was awarded the 2018 Wigleaf Mythic Picnic Prize for Fiction. She has a novel in perpetual progress but keeps getting distracted by flash fiction. Please visit her at www.briannekohl.com or say hi at twitter.com/BrianneKohl where she is probably tweeting about cheese. 

Mini-Interview with Pat Foran

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

I like how flash can be a story, a glimpse into one, a hint of one. Or something else. How it can sneak up on you in that anything-but-mannered way it has and say, “here’s this thing I don’t know if it’s flash or a prose poem or a story or what but it’s pretty short and maybe you’d be interested in reading it?” How with flash you can snuggle within a moment, unravel it, wiggle within it or sling-shot out of it and not necessarily finish what you started. Or sort of started. I like how freeing flash (or whatever) can be as a result.

I also like how present flash feels. The now of it. I love the music in it, or the music it can have in it. How flash begs you to play — with language, with structure, with expectations, with everything. How it pushes you to let (coax? force?) readers feel the space between the tones. And to fill in the blanks as they see fit.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

It’s usually voice. Almost never and maybe never plot. The voice or character can take me somewhere, possibly toward a plot or a semblance of one. But not necessarily.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Usually quick and messy. Sometimes quick and precise. Almost never slow — if something feels like it’s dragging or going to be a drag, I’ll punt. For me, flash can be just as much the experience of writing the thing as it is the thing I end up writing. It’s a moment or a feeling that might represent something MORE, and if I don’t get the whole thing down or at least the melody line relatively quickly, I’ll lose it. Or so I tend to think.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

The uncertainty of everyday life and a belief in possibility. For me, they’re linked. Listening to people not listening to people — what that sounds and looks like and feels like — definitely influences my writing. So does love. Love and its lack. Kids who matter-of-factly ask questions (“Why do I have to understand what you’re saying?” … “Why are you always like this in March? … “Is this boring?”), Ho Hos flavored lip balm and the Stax recording “I’ll Run Your Hurt Away” by Ruby Johnson influence it, too.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Cathy Ulrich. Melissa Goode. Kathy Fish. Leesa Cross-Smith. I could wax about their work at length and certainly have in short, Twitter strokes — to their chagrin, I imagine. What they see. The moments they choose to snuggle inside of. What they say and don’t say. What they stir. How they stir. What they’re always always always able to evoke. They’re writing things only they could write, and there’s magic in that. Their work also does something more to me — to my heart, I think. But there are a lot of writers of flash (or whatever) whose work I’d recommend. There are so many who knock me out.

Richard Brautigan, Donald Barthelme, Lydia Davis and a flutter in my brain brought me to this short, sudden, segmented, “otherwise unclassifiable” land. Cathy, Melissa, Kathy, Leesa and others whose work I love make me want to hang around if only to see where and how they push things.
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m grateful if people read any of them.

BIO: Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His stories have appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Gravel, Bending Genres, The Disappointed Housewife, formercactus, FIVE:2:ONE #thesideshow and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan

Mini-Interview with Tyrese L. Coleman

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;0Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

I’m drawn to the immediacy, voice, and freedom of the flash form. I think people underestimate flash and what you learn from writing it. It is not easy to draft a complete narrative in under 1000 words. Something about knowing that I am already doing incredibly challenging work is freeing to me. I am then more willing to try anything and see where things go in the piece.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character! If I knew how to write a better plot, I would be a millionaire right now.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise. I tend to edit as I go so that a first draft is as close to finished as I can get it. That means that one draft could take me years, but I am constantly going back to the beginning and perfecting and then editing again and again. I generally do not change my stories much after that first draft is done because I’ve already gone through the process of building and scaffolding.

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

Many of the pieces in my upcoming collection, How to Sit, are based on my childhood. Right now, however, I am trying to focus more on writing that reflects my current life — being an adult, kids, work, marriage. I am interested in examining what it feels like to be me as I am right now and writing for other women who are like me.

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

Jennifer Fliss is my girl and consistently creates beautiful work. Meghan Giddings is also a favorite. Sequoia Nagamatsu blows my effen mind!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of my very first pieces that I published was in Queen’s Mob Teahouse called If the Woodcutter Were a Junkie. I worked so hard on that story and always loved it. It started off as over 8000 words. I chipped away at it over the years and got it under 1000. Flash is amazing.

Bio: Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, attorney, and writing instructor. She is also an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, an online journal dedicated to flash fiction. An essayist and fiction writer, her prose has appeared in several publications, including Amazon’s Day One, Catapult, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and the Kenyon Review. An alumnus of the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, the Tin House, and Virginia Quarterly Review writer’s workshops, and a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow, her chapbook, How To Sit will be published in 2018 with Mason Jar Press. She can be reached at tyresecoleman.com or on twitter @tylachelleco.

Mini-Interview with Kaj Tanaka

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

I like to be able to complete a story or two in a single writing session, so because of that, my stories almost always end up being very short. It’s my big limitation as a writer, and it’s a preference that has really shaped me. I like that we have a name for it now. Back when I started writing these types of stories, we hadn’t quite agreed on what to call them, even—I still remember not knowing whether to call my stories “quick” fiction or “sudden” fiction or “micro” fiction. There were so many names at one point. Love that flash has become a thing. It has been really cool to see the form take off in the last 10 or so years.

 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. When I’m writing around a particular plot, my stories end up reading like shitty Madlibs. Though I think finding a voice or a tone is even more important than finding a character. For me, the voice of the story needs to be fully realized in the first sentence. If it’s not there in the opening line, the story is doomed.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m quick. I try to write 1000-1500 words a day when I’m working on a project—when I do flash stories, for example, it’s always in connection to a larger project. I don’t write every day though. I’m not a day-in-day-out, ride or die kind of writer. That used to bother me about myself—it felt almost like a moral failing—but writing every day is exhausting, at least the way I work. I just get fatigued. I work every day for a month or two and then take a month or two off to read what I’ve written and try to figure out what it means. That’s my process right now, at least.

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

This is something I try not to think about, lest I end up using my stories as some kind of cheap therapy. I certainly don’t try to bring in elements of my life, but of course, I do. Everyone does. I have no idea how successfully I bury the true elements of my stories, and I’m too embarrassed to ask my friends and family. The idea of someone recognizing a shared, real life experience in a piece of my fiction fills me with shame. It feels like a failing of craft.

 

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

My favorite flash story is “Crossing the River Zbrucz” by Isaac Babel. My second favorite is “The Cats in the Prison Recreation Hall” by Lydia Davis and my third is any page of Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. Honorable mention: “A Gentleman’s C” by Padgett Powell.

But here’s the thing…a giant caveat here. I love these first three stories mainly because they are a part of larger works that I love. I think this is something people get wrong about flash. To me, at least, one flash story isn’t much taken on its own. Even a perfect flash story like “A Gentleman’s C” won’t stick with me unless I really study it. In general, I think flash stories are too slight to have much impact by themselves. The real power of flash is the power of a snowball rolling down a mountain. It comes in the aggregate of many flash stories read as a single project. For example, in that giant orange brick of Lydia Davis stories, there are good stories and great stories and some not so good stories, but all of them together present a portrait of a powerful and restless mind at work. For me, that’s what flash can do best. I love reading collections of flash for that reason. I think more than in novels or collections of longer stories, a body of flash work can provide a portrait of a living human mind moving through the world.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I think my stories get what they deserve. I’m not too precious about them. If I find myself getting annoyed about how my stories are received, I go write something new. You can’t really control reception or likes or shares or awards, but you can keep writing. That’s always the consolation.

 

BIO: Kaj Tanaka is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Houston. His stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the fiction editor at Gulf Coast. You can read more of his work at kajtanaka.com and tweet to him @kajtanaka

Mini-Interview with Kara Vernor

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

Flash was just what came out, probably due in part to my natural impatience. Flash also felt most akin to my favorite songs, and music, maybe more than reading, led me to writing. I’ve kept at it because the length is a great frame for experimentation. In longer works, fewer readers tolerate being challenged with less familiar structures, syntax, content, etc. Can you imagine reading a novel by, say, Gary Lutz (in the style of his shorts)? It’s rare that a style so experimental finds an audience for a novel; lucky for us we have flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot? What’s plot? I generally walk all the way out to the end of the diving board before I look to see if there’s any water below. I’d say character sometimes, though id would maybe be more accurate. It often feels like I conjure more than I write.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Unfortunately, mine’s both messy and slow, and then at some point, after I have enough of a slow, messy mess, I steamroll it with whatever precision I can muster.

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

For a while, I was writing sex ed inspired flash (I sometimes teach sex ed), but then I started writing a novel with a teenage protagonist and I think I over-teenaged. I’ve recently come back to flash after the novel, and I’m writing stranger, more violent pieces. This probably has something to do with having gotten a restraining order against our next-door neighbor, who is a Trump supporter with severe PTSD. I could go on about the creepy stuff he’s done, but suffice it to say, he is *affixed-spikes-along-his-fence-to-impale-our-cats* loony. I’ve gotten clear that having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re not also an asshole. Living this way, in Trump’s America with a mini version next door, has me writing some angry shit when I’m writing at all. I’m also finding I used to care more about entertaining people, but in this current climate, I care much more about being true.

 

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

I feel like I’ve shouted my standby faves in one way or another many times, so I’ll mention a few I’ve either never shouted or have been particularly appreciating lately. Kevin Sampsell has been on fire. Check out his recent stories in Paper Darts and X-R-A-Y. I just finished Deb Olin Unferth’s Wait Till You See Me Dance, and it’s as brilliant as you’d anticipate. The flash in Peter Orner’s Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge is full of virtuosic grace.

I consider Etgar Keret to be my flash father—at least I want him to be. I love how frank and creative and funny and real and deceptively plainspoken he is. He’s a defender of complexity, and in this age of social media, that’s sorely needed. Plus, I’ve learned more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through reading his interviews than I have from the (very biased) news. He and a Palestinian writer, Samir El-Youssef, took the revolutionary step of publishing a book together called Gaza Blues. El-Youssef’s novella and Keret’s stories are incredible alone but published together, they’re even more affecting.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

With the phenomenon that is Twitter, that’s hard to say. The writing community is tirelessly supportive, and maybe I have a low bar, but I’m always honored when anyone takes the time to read something I’ve written. This question makes me think of stories that generally don’t get the love they deserve, and I’d have to go with happy ones. Similar to how comedies almost never win the Oscar for best picture, happy stories don’t seem to get their due respect, especially given that they’re more difficult to write, in my opinion. “The Recommendation” is a happy story of mine, so I’ll mention it here. It’s about two nerds negotiating a 69.

 

Bio: Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Green Mountains Review, Fanzine, No Tokens, and elsewhere, and her fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press. She is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation scholarship, and her stories have been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, the Best Small Fictions finalists, and Outpost 19’s Golden State 2017 anthology.

Mini-Interview with Ingrid Jendrzejewski

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

I love the way flash provides the opportunity to explore many different ideas and forms without the commitment a longer work requires.  The stakes are low.  If you try something and it’s a disaster, you’ve only spent hours or days on something that will never see the light of day – not months, years or even decades of your life.  However, if you try something that works, you can have it drafted, edited, polished and sent out within a reasonably short timeframe.

I also love the way flash lends itself to experiment and play.  It’s an exuberant form.  You can dally with ideas and techniques that might become tiresome, stale or tedious to read if incorporated into a longer piece.  Flash readers tend to be generous.  They’re often happy to follow a flash down some pretty crazy rabbit holes.

All this makes me feel brave and free when writing flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

May I be vexing and choose structure instead?  If I’m at sea and don’t know what to do with something I’m writing, I often seek out some sort of structure, constraint, or organisational principle to cling on to until I can get my bearings.

This especially true when I’m facing a blank page.  I’m more likely to think, “Hmm, I’d like to write a something in the form of a calculus syllabus today” or “what kind of story could I weave into a framework of proverbs about the weather?” than I am to have any sort of idea about what plot or characters I want to write about.

Even when writing more traditional pieces, I’m often guided by a prompt, constraint or personal challenge that I’ve set myself.  I’ve always liked puzzles and games and maths, so I suppose I take an element of all that into my writing.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Depending on my mood and what I’m writing, I oscillate between both extremes.  In general, I’m more likely to be quick and messy with the first draft or three, then gradually slow down to a methodical plod as I rewrite.  Unfortunately, however, I end up writing slow and messy more often than I’d like…

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

Lack of time.  Before I became a mother, I had much more control over my sleep schedule and free time, and I hardly got anything accomplished.  Oh sure, I wrote stuff – mostly slow, bloated drafts of boring novels – but I published nothing.

Once my daughter was born, the long-form writing went out the window.  I couldn’t keep whole novels in my head and there wasn’t an infinite amount of time to sit around dawdling over things.

I decided I’d just write some little exercise pieces so that when I did get time to go back to novel writing, I’d be primed and ready.  I wrote character sketches, scenes, fragments, unclassifiables.  The more I wrote, the more I loved writing in those short, intense bursts, and I loved what could happen on the page when the compression of poetry combined with the narrative heft of prose.  My daughter didn’t sleep much in those days, and once I figured out that I could type one-handed on the iPad whilst breastfeeding through the night, I became rather prolific.  Once I discovered that there were markets for what I thought of at the time as ‘short shorts’, I was off and running.

As my daughter gets older, my average word-counts are getting longer.  I’m still writing flash (and have no plans to stop anytime soon), but I’ve also been working on some long-form projects as well – only now my writing is much, much tighter and I am much, much more disciplined about how I use my time.

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

Oh, gracious, there are legions of writers that I would love to acknowledge!  It feels terrible leaving people out, so I’m just going to tweak this into recommended flash stories or writers that I’ve read in the past couple days.

Leesa Cross-Smith’s ‘Knock Out the Heart Lights So We Can Glow’

I pretty much joined Twitter so I could follow Leesa Cross-Smith’s work.  I believe this was one of the first pieces of hers that I read, and I recently revisited it to see if it was the piece that used the phrase “baptism-wet” in a perfect way.  (It was.)

Lynda Sexson’s “Pigs with Wings”.

Although most of what I’ve read of Sexson’s work are short stories, some of them slip into flash-like territory.  “Pigs with Wings” appears in her collection Hamlet’s Planets: Parables and is a beautiful example.  How can one resist a piece that begins, “A hardrock man came into this town of butter and cheese people.”

This Line is Not For Turning, edited by Jane Monson

Although this collection is billed as a collection of British prose poetry, many of these pieces could moonlight as flash.  I highly recommend the whole collection.

Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book

I’ve just started reading Meredith Mckinney’s translation of The Pillow Book, a collection of lists, poems, descriptions, and things we might now call prose poems, flash or lyric essays, that was written over 1000 years ago during the Heian Period in Japan.   I particularly like the lists.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

This is such an interesting question!  For me, writing is a pretty solitary act…I do it, then put it out there.  I get really excited when something is accepted for publication, and then I move on to the next thing.  I rarely revisit work unless I have a chance to edit it, because as soon as I reread something, I have the urge to rip it apart and rebuild.

I suppose there are a few pieces in print that I sometimes wish were easier to share digitally.  One of them is ‘We Were Curious About Boys’ which appeared in the Bath Short Story Anthology in 2016.  I’ll be reading it at Rattle Tales as part of the Brighton Fringe on the 16th of May.

Details are available here: https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/rattle-tales-124844/

As for something online, here’s a quiet little story that was published at Flash Flood in 2016.   I still have a soft spot for it.  What can I say?  I like bookcases.

http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/measurements-by-ingrid-jendrzejewski.html

BIO:  Ingrid Jendrzejewski studied creative writing at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge.  Her work has been published in places like Passages North, The Los Angeles Review, The Conium Review, Jellyfish Review, and Flash Frontier, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Vestal Review’s VERA Award, and multiple times for Best Small Fictions.  She serves as editor in chief of FlashBack Fiction and a flash editor at JMWW.  Links to Ingrid’s work can be found at http://www.ingridj.com and she tweets @LunchOnTuesday.

Mini-Interview with Santino Prinzi

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

There are many reasons why I like writing flash, and they’re likely similar to other flash writers. I love the brevity of flash, but also how nothing is sacrificed to achieve this brevity. There are flashes that are easily more powerful and have had a greater impact on me than novels I’ve read. I love what is unsaid, and I love that readers of flash sometimes need to see the unseen in order to really see what’s going on.

What I also enjoy about flash is how well it lends itself to reading aloud. You can go to a flash reading as a reader or a listener and read aloud or listen to many fully-formed, complete stories in a single evening. There’s nothing I enjoy more than reading some of my funnier flashes to a room full of people and making them laugh and smile (though I make sure they’ve had a drink or two first…).

Also, I have the strange inability to write anything much longer. I’d love to write a novel, but every time I’ve had an idea I’ve (accidentally!) turned it into a flash fiction.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think both are important.

As an editor for National Flash Fiction Day and New Flash Fiction Review, I read a lot of stories and I always ask myself the same question: “Do I care about this character and their situation?” This may sound harsher than I intend, but every reader wants to care about what they’re reading, right? If nothing happens, or the character is flat and stereotypical, then it’s difficult for me to keep reading, even if the story is a few hundred words, because I’m not invested in this character or their fate.

Writing-wise, the core of my stories often come to me either as a character or as a situation. Perhaps the plot comes to me first more often than the character. I really love it when an odd situation comes to mind and I can explore this absurd and surreal world, but I also love it when a distinctive character comes along and demands that I listen to what they have to say. Whichever it is, that usually drives the writing of the first draft for me, and I have to be conscious of not neglecting the other while redrafting. I think I’m better at spotting this in other peoples’ writing than in my own, but that’s why I love reading submissions because you learn so much doing so.

What is great about flash is we don’t need to read it and be able to list off a number of traits a character has or be able to plot out the entire narrative arc. So much of this detail can be implied, but it still needs to be there for the reader, and I think the best flash achieves this balance.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Write fast, edit slow. Sometimes. It all depends. Sometimes an idea comes along and I need to get it down right away, whereas other times I will keep it in my head and let it grow. I wouldn’t say I write in my head, but certain sentences or images or dialogue may formulate as a part of the initial spark (that character or that situation/plot) and then I can get to it.

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

I’m fascinated by different perceptions. My first collection of flashes was called Dots and other flashes of perception purely because I felt these flashes explored a lot of different perspectives. I find it intriguing how other people think, how they view the world, and how our perception of reality may not always match up to what really is. How many times have we misinterpreted a situation and then realised we were completely wrong or thought we’d misinterpreted a situation but ended up being completely right? It’s a part of what makes us all human, this relationship each individual has with the world, and I believe this makes for interesting stories. It’s something I think occupies all of my writing, especially in my forthcoming V-Press flash pamphlet, There’s Something Macrocosmic About All of This.

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

There are so many fantastic writers who consistently publish such stellar writing that any attempt at a list on my part is going to omit incredible work by incredible human beings.

There are also many brilliant flash magazines that publish a stunning flash fiction. Again, making a list would immediately mean accidentally overlooking some, but I think you can’t go wrong by reading everything SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, matchbook, and Jellyfish Review publish. I’d also add New Flash Fiction Review, but I’m slightly biased (that said, I do objectively believe we publish killer flashes).

I will say that having just finished reading submissions for the next National Flash Fiction Day annual anthology, there are some really amazing flashes in response to the theme of food. ‘Thirteen’ by Jen Harvey moved me to tears when I first read it. Last year’s title story by Helen Rye in Sleep is a Beautiful Colour: 2017 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology is both hilarious and heart-stirring.

Charmaine Wilkerson’s flash novella, How to Make a Window Snake, is also essential reading. I’m currently looking forward to reading New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro (due in August), as well as Christopher Allen’s Other Household Toxins, which is out now.

Kathy Fish, Tania Hershman, Ingrid Jendrzrjewski… I could go on and on and on…

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

This feels like a weird question to answer. I’m happy for any recognition for any of my work, but what I wish my stories do most is connect with a reader in some way.

If I had to choose one, I think I would choose my story called ‘Plastic,’ which is about a father whose wife gives birth to a living, alcoholic baby-doll, who changes as she grows based on love.

I had so much fun writing this story, but what means the most to me is that this story was published in a fantastic anthology called Stories for Homes Volume 2, where all profits from the sale of the anthology are donated to Shelter, a UK homelessness charity. You can find out more by visiting their website: https://storiesforhomes.wordpress.com

BIO: Santino Prinzi is the Co-Director of National Flash Fiction Day in the UK and the Senior Editor for New Flash Fiction Review. His debut flash fiction collection, Dots and other flashes of perception, was published by The Nottingham Review Press, and his flash pamphlet, There’s Something Macrocosmic About All of This, is forthcoming from V-Press. His short stories, flash fiction, and prose poetry have been published or are forthcoming in various magazines and anthologies, such as Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Litro Online, (b)OINK! zine, Bath Flash Fiction Award Vol.2, Stories for Homes Anthology Vol.2, Ink Sweat & Tears, and The Airgonaut. To find out more follow him on Twitter (@tinoprinzi) or visit his website: https://tinoprinzi.wordpress.com

Mini-Interview with Jude Higgins

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

I’ve never been a big traveler in the physical world but with flash, I can go anywhere and do anything. I wrote much of a novel some years ago when I did an MA in Creative Writing but I began to plod through it after a while. Which wasn’t fun. Someday soon, I’ll get it out, strip it down and turn into flash. Then it will have something to say.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m in a boat with this question as you have mentioned a life jacket. To follow the metaphor, I would be okay floating around for a bit as long as the currents don’t take me too far off course, but I need those characters. They are there in the boat, arguing, helping, eating all the food or sharing it – basically doing what humans do. I am interested in what humans do first and foremost.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I am a messy person. I’ve even braved a photo of today’s desk for you to see.  So I’d have to say that I am either quick or messy as a writer too. Or slow and messy as a writer. Either way, you can dwell as long as you want to on the word ‘messy’.

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

It’s all the ins and outs of relationships, current and past. In the picture of my desk and shelves, there’s a young photo of me on the first shelf together with a portrait of an ancestor of mine. I do draw on past events and fictionalise them but I’m interested in the present stuff too. I’d throw in walks down the lanes and looking at the flowers and plants around here in mid-Somerset. Not that nature necessarily appears in my fictions, but it often does, because I was brought up in the country and I have always done this sort of wandering about – what the writer Brenda Ueland calls ‘moodling’.

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

I would recommend all the anthologies produced by Ad Hoc Fiction available at www.bookshop.adhocfiction.com.

I’m proud to have had a hand in selecting these stories as one of the initial readers for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Bath Novella in Flash Award. There are some amazingly good micros in the anthologies of single flash – ‘To Carry Her Home’ and ‘The Lobsters Run Free’ and the authors represent around 45 different countries. The collections of novellas, ‘How to Make a Window Snake’ and forthcoming ‘In the Debris Field’ are equally good and represent different styles and takes on the genre.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

There’s a tiny micro I drafted in one of Kathy Fish’s fast flash workshop last year which I am fond of.  The group liked it and I’ve sent it out to various submission opportunities and contests, but nobody seems fond of it like me. I shall keep sending it out though. Just in case.

BIO: Jude Higgins is a writing and writing tutor. Her flash fictions have won or been placed in many contests and are published in the New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Frontier, FlashBack Fiction,The Nottingham Review, Bending Genres, The Word Factory, the Blue Fifth Review and National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, among other places. Her flashfiction chapbook, ‘The Chemist’s House’ was published by V. Press in 2017. She organises the Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs Flash Fiction Festivals UK. judehiggins.com @judehwriter

Mini-Interview with Madeline Anthes

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

For one, I like feeling accomplished; with flash, you can start and finish a story all in one sitting (sometimes more than one!), and then I feel really great about myself. I give myself a big pat on the back and congratulate myself for being a “writer.”

Also, I’m struggling with writing longer stuff right now. I can’t seem to stay on one story for very long, and my stories don’t seem to need more space right now.

More than that, I really appreciate that flash is just the best moments of the story. It’s the turning point, the crucial emotion that all stories need. Lately, I’ve been more of a no BS type of person; I feel like I have to guard my resources (time, energy, attention) and I don’t have time for things or people that waste these. Flash works this way for me; there are no wasted moments, no wasted words. Every word matters. No BS.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 I think I’d have to say character because most of the time nothing really happens in my stories.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I am slow in that I take a lot of time off between stories. But when I do write, it’s usually because I have one line that’s already formed in my head. Then the rest usually all spills out in one sitting. I revise it 2-3 times before submitting, but I’m usually happy with what pours out the first time because that’s the story that wanted to come out.

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

I’m very very inspired by setting and I’m very very nostalgic, so all or most of my stories are inspired by some glimpse or flash of real life. Almost everything I write is set in the Midwest – I grew up in Cleveland and spent every summer in rural Indiana.

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

If you follow me on Twitter you know I fangirl over my favorites.

  1. Amanda Miska – check out her recent flash in wigleaf called “Confession Game” — http://wigleaf.com/201805confession.htm
  2. Meghan Phillips – also in wigleaf (man, wigleaf is amazing), her story “Now That the Circus Has Shut Down, the Human Cannonball Looks for Work” — http://wigleaf.com/201802circus.htm
  3. Monet Thomas – love all her work, and this one’s in Third Point Press called “A Certain Woman” — https://www.thirdpointpress.com/2017/04/a-certain-woman/

A few journals that are wonderful (besides HypertrophicLiterary, cough cough): formercactus, FlashBack Fiction, Cheap Pop, Lost Balloon, Longleaf Review, Smokelong, Cease, Cows, WhiskeyPaper, Third Point Press, wigleaf

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of my favorite stories I ever published I actually published with Hypertrophic before I started working with them.

Right before my grandmother passed, my siblings and I wanted to visit her one last time, but when we arrived in Indiana a storm had just coated the whole area in thick ice. It was hard to travel, we could barely walk down the driveway, and it all just felt very eerie, like we were trapped in a snow globe. We all knew this would be the last time with our grandmother, so it added an odd sheen to an already emotional weekend. We visited her in the home where we spent a lot of our childhood, so it was like we were literally frozen in time to be with her.  I funneled all of that into the story “After Storms” that was published in Spring 2016.

BIO: Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary. Her writing can be found in journals like WhiskeyPaper, Lost Balloon, Cease, Cows, and Third Point Press. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.

Mini-Interview with Jennifer Todhunter

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

I love the economy of writing in flash. How stories are whittled down until every word counts. How you can leave someone gobsmacked in such short shrift. There isn’t much to hide behind with flash, you’ve got to get in, get out. It’s like being gut punched in the best way possible. I feel like that sting creates a connection between the writer and the reader and the characters. A connection that lingers a long time.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. Man, I love a good character. There is something everlasting about someone you can’t shake loose. Flash is so honest and intense when done well, and that’s why it hits as heavy as it does. What’s going on in the background of a piece of flash is always secondary for me; the way the character is dealing with it is in the forefront. I try to emulate that in my writing. I want to make those connections.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 I find it difficult to start a story until I have what I consider to be the perfect first line for it. I spend a lot of time agonizing over first lines and I’ve written a lot of first lines that never amount to anything. But once I’ve got a good one, it’s quick and messy from that point forward. Everything sort of spills out once that first line is uncorked.

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

Death and loss and remembrance, and how these things coexist in a seemingly “real life” life. What I mean is, real life is one thing, and a thing that changes depending on decisions and circumstance, but death and loss and remembrance follow you forever, and these are the things I feel most influence my writing. These are the things I can’t shake.

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

There are so many people fighting the good fight when it comes to flash right now, so many different forms and approaches and concepts. It is exciting to see where the genre is going, where people are taking it with their own creativity. I love checking out the short fiction nomination lists every year and catching a subsect of what’s been churned out, and it always floors me.

That said, I am always and forever down with some good old complicated heartache, and stories that have recently slain me include, “All I Have Left” by Dina Relles, “All the Love Songs Are Really About Broken Hearts” by Cathy Ulrich, and “Left Behind” by Kaj Tanaka.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really proud of “Nualla to the Nth Degree” which Lost Balloon published earlier this year. It’s about blown-glass girls and the never-ending search for perfection. It’s part fairy tale, part mathematics, part weird—it was deeply satisfying to write because these things are sort of my makeup, too.

BIO: Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

Mini-Interview with Jonathan Cardew

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

I write flash because it’s fucking brilliant. I love it. I love everything about it. There’s nothing quite like a shot of short-short fiction. I grew up adoring short stories—and I still do—but flash fiction goes beyond and enters a poetic and even psychic realm. Good flash relies on craft like any writing form, but it also relies on intuition and bravery. The courage and/or foolishness to say: ‘that’s enough.’

 What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Probably plot! No, wait, character! A little of each? My life jacket might actually be structure—being able to cut and chop and resize is a skill I think I’ve gotten pretty good at. I feel like anything’s a story as long as it’s packaged right (a student of mine recently wrote an erasure flash/poem out of my syllabus—which is hot-shit in my book!)

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
Slow and messy? I’m a really bad crafter of sentences—like really, really bad and I have to go over and over them and polish until they’re good. Like a pebble. Enough water crashes onto a rock, it becomes a smooth and beautiful pebble. That’s my writing style: wave-like, wave-like, wave-like, wave-like.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?
My addictions/ compulsions.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
Oh my God, I always freeze up when people ask me this, but luckily this is a text-based question and I have time to take a walk and do some deep, steady breaths to compose myself….

There are so many good flash writers out there and my favorites rotate according to the seasons and the stages of the moon, but I’d have to say the writers that hit me every time are: Claire Polders, David Gaffney, Ashley Hutson, David Swann, Nancy Stohlman, Meg Tuite…and more more more!!!

This story “Happy Place” by David Gaffney is one of my happy places: https://www.davidgaffney.org/happy-place.html

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Robocop Infinity, published at Jellyfish Review.

I’ve read this one at a few events, but I don’t think it quite goes over. I don’t think people quite get it. I don’t think I quite get it. But it’s Robocop, man! It. Is. Robocop.

https://jellyfishreview.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/robocop-infinity-by-jonathan-cardew/
BIO: Jonathan Cardew’s stories appear or are forthcoming in Wigleaf, cream city review, Passages North, Superstition Review, JMWW, People Holding, and Atticus Review, among others. He is the fiction editor for Connotation Press and MicroViews column editor for Bending Genres. He recently won the Best Small Fictions Micro Fiction Contest. Originally from the UK, he lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Mini-Interview with April Bradley

A Bradley photo

 

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

Flash is what I end up writing most of the time, and flash is what it is called due to word length. I’ve never been one to write long, although a good long read is immensely enjoyable. What flash has done for me, how it has changed my writing reminds me of what I was taught in biblical exegesis and in the rhetorical exercises of Scholasticism: contraction and expansion of narrative and text. That’s somewhat simplistic, but it is apt. How do I convey this story in 500 words, 250, 100, 50? How do I expand it to 2,000? 5,000? 100,000? The structure of novels is something I like to study and apply it to flash. Flash challenges me as much as writing longer stories, but I have more of an affinity for short narratives. I disagree that readers no longer possess the attention span for long forms and this is why flash attracts them. Flash is an art and a sophisticated genre in literature and attracts readers on its own merits.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character drives plot for me. Different character, different plot, even if the same plot elements occur, it is a different experience, due to character. When a story emerges for me, character emerges first, a distinctive voice that uniquely shapes a story. Without voice, it is not story; it is action, circumstances, description, words.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Both. I have had to form the habit of drafting without self-editing. Otherwise, I will work for days on an opening line, and it does not really show. I give myself fifteen minutes of free writing, then I reward myself with editing. My favorite part of writing is revision. It is an opportunity to do so much with your raw material, take it in so many different directions. This is when I can indulge my desire for deliberation and precision. Revision is creative and generative—it is writing. It is exciting to discover how text changes and evolves during the process.

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

In the past, I would have said something like my spiritual and intellectual experiences, motherhood, my relationships and lovers, my blood clotting disorder, or the serendipitous, weird things that happen to me. But, lately, my real life intrudes upon my writing in uncomfortable, persistent ways. I’m supposed to be a fiction writer and the non-fiction crushes the fictive. Coming up in June, the cycle closes when four close family members died over a series of several months two years ago, including my mother and grandparents.  Some writers write and create through grief. I am not one of those writers. Instead, I’ve been paralyzed. The short answer then is that my writing calls up grief, loss, time and memory, anxiety, and death—and it is emotionally exhausting to write about it through the cracks. And, since I do not want to write about these things directly, I’m not writing very much. What I’ve been doing instead is playing around with structure, which is something I typically don’t do until I have something on the page, allowing form to emerge instead of imposing it. Recently, I have been turning my attention to unusual structures taken from everyday life and expanding how I think about narrative and story in oblique ways: blackout poetry derived from (computer) code, writing narratives using footnotes to an unwritten story or commentary about a story, using my grandmother’s recipe cards and writing stories and memoir about it, writing one-sided love letters and text messages, fictional annotated bibliographies. In this way I’m trying to live in the present using familiar, mundane text while living with the family and life I have lost.

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

What a great question, Tommy. There are so many, of course. One of the first flash writers I came across was Leesa Cross-Smith. Her work continues to inspire me and teach me. The same can be said for Kathy Fish, Christopher Allen, and Gay Degani. It is no accident that these writers remain with and influence SmokeLong Quarterly in one way or another. One author who probably does not consider himself a flash writer but whose work can be read as such is the Italian author Alessandro Baricco. He wrote a short novel in 1996, Seto. A friend gave me a copy of the 1996 English translation Silk by Guido Waldman when it was first published, long before I aspired to write creatively. I still have that book and re-read it every couple of years. It is sublime. It easily can be called a novel in flash or a novella. Regardless of how it is categorized, it is an example of exquisite artistry in brevity. Anne Carson dazzles me (doesn’t she dazzle everyone?). I started reading her work when I was comparing different translations of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia and fell in love. Read anything by her, but for flash writers, Float and Nox would be good places to start.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

It is amazing that what little I have published has received recognition—and I am so grateful!—, especially since the past couple of years have been lost to such devastating entropy where my writing is concerned. My longer fiction doesn’t get much attention, but it is not as recent—and may not be as compelling or interesting—as my more condensed writing. One story I have a soft spot for is part of an ongoing series involving a woman who copes poorly with raising her husband’s child from an affair. “A Conspiracy of Women,” was published in The Southern Women’s Review in 2015 and focuses on the tension between the main character and her husband. Writing longer narratives is a challenge for me and working on the life of this particular character is something that needles at me. I want this family to heal. I am not sure what that looks like for each character, but there is more story to tell.

 

BIO: April Bradley is from Tennessee and lives with her family outside New Haven, Connecticut. Her short fiction has been recently nominated for The Pushcart Prize as well as The Best of Small Fictions. Her writing has appeared in CHEAP POP, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Narratively, NANO Fiction, and Smokelong Quarterly’s “Why Flash Fiction” Series, among others. She has a Master’s in Ethics from Yale Divinity School and is an MFA candidate at the Sewanee School of Letters.

 

 

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.

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

Dina L. Relles

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

Clio Velentza (4)

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.