Mini-Interview with Christopher Allen

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

Thank you for these questions, Tommy.

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

And then it’s still messy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

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