Mini-Interview with Melissa Ostrom

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

I enjoy writing all sorts of things: short stories, novels, blog posts, and poems. I’ve even written a play. But I think many of my better pieces are flashes. Crafting flash feels adventurous. It frees me—turns my mind malleable and playful. If churning out a novel is a good marriage, composing a flash is a love affair, precarious, short-lived, and intoxicating. Adherence to a limited word count, rather than curtailing a piece’s potential, somehow, paradoxically, incurs its potent magic. Every word, gesture, and image: fraught.   

What’s your writerly lifejacket: plot or character?

Honestly, Tommy, I don’t know. As soon as I start muddling through a piece, I’ll cling to whatever is working and keeping the flash afloat, whether it be character, structure, plot, tone, setting…

The hard part for me is starting. But once something—a detail, an opening line, a question—snags my imagination and rents an opening into a tale, I just go with it.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m a plodder. I inch along, backtrack, tweak, stumble forward with a line or two, pause, delete, elaborate, tweak, slog onward, retreat, and tweak, tweak, tweak.

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

Probably my children. I didn’t begin writing regularly until ten years ago, around the time my first child was born. Sometimes I wonder why her birth and a commitment to writing coincided. My every moment had certainly changed. Maybe I simply channeled the awareness of my life’s new narrative into crafting stories.

Having kids has also multiplied my fears and joys and made me conscious of vulnerabilities, theirs and my own. Love casts a complicated shadow—in the shape of worry. Life has become more…everything: more precious, more frightening, more exhausting. Turbulent. Perhaps writing gives me a chance to exercise some control.   

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

I admire so many flashes, including yours! Your recently published “When the Waters Came” is gripping. I also love Cathy Ulrich’s “Being the Murdered Student,” Helen Klein Ross’s “Birth, Copulation, Death,” Lydia Davis’s “The Cedar Trees,” Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel,” Lauren Becker’s “Sick Girls,” George Saunders’s “Sticks,” Megan Giddings’s “Three Boyfriends,” Kim White’s “Lily Pad,” Kathy Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” Franz Kafka’s “A Message from the Emperor,” Vincent Poturica’s “The Dead Mother,” and (a new favorite) Stuart Dybek’s “Lights.” No doubt, I’m forgetting a thousand other flashes that have amazed me, but these ones readily come to mind.  

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s a good question. Maybe “Severed,” a flash that appeared in Duende. The Twitter literary community generously reads and shares my work, but I only joined the party about a year and a half ago, so I’m not sure how my earlier publications were received or how widely they were read. I’m glad I am on Twitter now and have met so many talented and kind writers.

BIO: Melissa Ostrom is the author of the YA novels The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018) and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, March 2019). Her stories have appeared in The Florida Review, Fourteen Hills, Juked, and Passages North, among other journals, and her flash “Ruinous Finality” was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019. She teaches part-time at Genesee Community College and lives with her husband and children in Holley, New York.

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