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.
I have to stop. I feel like I’m possessed. I could go on.
Neil Clark. My favorite spaceman.
Chloe N. Clark! Love her!
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.
*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.