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/
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