Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?
I started writing flash right after I completed the first draft of a novel. For me, it was a chance to flex some writing muscles I’d been neglecting, particularly voice and attention to detail. I’d lost sight of those things because I’d been so focused on sustaining a big plot and a few hundred pages worth of character development, and I wanted to hone those additional skills before undertaking a revision of the novel.
That was over a year ago, and it’s only recently that I’ve even returned to the book, because I’ve fallen so in love with writing flash! I love the immediacy of flash and the challenge of creating an entire world in such a small space. There’s something addictive about it, too. I think it’s kind of retrained my brain, because most of the story ideas that occur to me now are “flash-sized.” I have to get them down on paper right away so I can give them life before the next one crops up.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
Character. For me, plot is just scaffolding for character development. Even in conceptual or “genre” stories, I’m more interested in thinking about what all the weirdness means for the characters living through it. Putting plot before character is a recipe for creating a story without much tension, I think. Readers need to care about characters and how they’re impacted by what’s happening in the plot, or else the story lacks any real stakes.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
It doesn’t always happen this way, but I prefer when a story comes out quick and messy. I like to have something whole written as soon as possible, even if it’s wonky. That way, I can treat first drafts like clay to be shaped into the story I see in my head. If I don’t complete a draft fast enough, I find it difficult to sustain the initial momentum or inspiration and will sometimes lose interest in the idea altogether. At this point, I have a digital graveyard of abandoned story ideas that just didn’t get out fast enough.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?
Mental illness, without a doubt. I’ve written a few pieces that are explicitly about anxiety and depression, but there are also several stories that are less obviously about that. For instance, my time travel story “Palimpsest” grew out of anxieties around climate change and the current sociopolitical climate; writing that piece was very much a way to create something hopeful and loving in the face of all that mess. I’ve also got a body horror story coming out later this year, which was written during a serious bout of health-related anxiety. Writing about, around, and through mental illness has become a very necessary act of self-care.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
Oh, gosh, there are too many to name here. Flash fiction Twitter is overflowing with amazing writers and incredible stories; anyone interested in writing or reading flash should get plugged into that marvelous corner of the universe as soon as possible, if they haven’t done so already.
Because it’s on my mind, I’ll say this: I’ve adored every story I’ve read coming out of Monet P. Thomas’s sex-themed challenges. I’m signed up to participate in the next one, and I’m excited but also a littleintimidated, given how much brilliance I’ve seen result from past challenges. I love that Jellyfish Review has dedicated space recently to stories from Monet’s “Big O Challenge.” Probably my favorite of these has been Kathryn McMahon’s “Bone China,” which is so sexy and mysterious. The ending of that story literally gave me chills. In general, Katy’s work is absolute magic.
I’ve also loved everything published so far at Cathy Ulrich’s new journal Milk Candy Review. Everything there hits my sweet spot for beautiful, slightly off-kilter flash. One of my favorites has been “Other Skins” by Chloe N. Clark. Chloe’s another writer whose work I try to never miss.
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
“Two Chambers” at Fiction Southeast was published fairly recently, but it was actually one of the first pieces of flash I ever wrote. It was inspired by a traumatic period in my young adulthood, and revisiting those memories to make sense of them and make art from them, and then to actually put that story out into the world, required courage I didn’t know I had. While I don’t think it’s my best story – I can see how much I’ve grown as a writer in the time since I finished that piece – I’ll always be so proud of that one.
BIO: Sutton Strother is a writer and adjunct professor living in New York. Her stories have appeared or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel about mermaids, grief, and family dysfunction. You can find her work at her website: suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets at @suttonstrother.