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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
- Denise Long, What We See published at The Tishman Review
- Cathy Ulrich, Your Stepfather, the Giraffe published at Gravel
- Allie Marini, How To Make a Dogpatch Cake (Or, Baking Something Out of Nothing published at Longleaf Review
- Tommy Dean, God’s Eye published at Split Lip Magazine
- Wyndy Lynn Harris, Dear Quiche, I’d Like an Apology published at Literary Mama
Or, just read anything in the following literary journals:
- The Masters Review
- The Bohemyth
- Slice Magazine
- And, of course) Ploughshares – I find something I adore in every single issue. It is the one subscription I can’t let lapse.
- 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.