Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?
It is incredible how we can illustrate, evoke, imply an entire life or world in a few pages, in a brief series of moments. Something small that is so much larger and more powerful in scope than it first appears, something that is fit to burst with all that is unsaid and lies beneath those carefully chosen words—I just think that’s a kind of magic that lends itself to being read for new meaning over and over again. I think all writers should play around and experiment with flash as an art form, whether they stick with it or not. Doing so infinitely improves our longform writing.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
Between those two, character, but more accurate is probably voice and place. In the best stories, place is a character and voice unforgettable. I’ll let you know if I ever figure out how to write plot. Someday! I have faith. I think.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
I know this will sound counterintuitive since they’re not even paired together as an option, but my style tends to be quick and precise. I might go months, almost a year, writing close to nothing. Then an idea or sentence or voice strikes and I rush to get it down as quickly as possible before it’s gone. When that happens, I can finish an entire draft from start to finish in a short time. I’m unable to embrace the “messy” as much as I probably should, just in order to have more of my words exist on paper with more consistency. I find myself revising all the language as I go, even as I hurriedly compose that early draft. Sometimes that results in a story that is ready to be read by a trusted critique partner, polished, and submitted for publication without a huge gap between first and final draft. Other times, it results in a piece with lovely sentences but something is glaringly wrong and I just can’t see it yet—where the story starts or ends, the overall plot structure, pacing, movement, whatever it may be—and then I’ll spend several years trying to “fix” and “perfect” it. Those words are in quotation marks because they’re not real, of course, at least not as far as writing goes. But you get the idea. I wouldn’t recommend this quick and precise style, but I also can’t seem to help it myself?
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?
This one’s easy. Relationships, both present and past. The joy, the pain, the longing, the uncertainty, the obsession with them that flares and fades, the nostalgia, the way they haunt us when they end, just the ebb and flow of them—I will never tire of reflecting upon those deepest human connections in my fiction. Some might be of the romantic kind, sure, but I find friendships just as, if not more, fascinating to mine and explore in my writing.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
I’d have to say that Donald Barthelme is the writer that drew me to flash fiction. I just fell in love with the form and its potential through my first introduction to all those bizarre and imaginative little stories—they’re strange and out there but packed with honesty and feeling. More recently, I really connected with Leonora Carrington’s book of surreal and wild short fiction. In terms of writers today, it’s impossible not to leave out stories and people I admire with a question like this, but here are several with flashes that have stayed with me long after I read them: Jennifer Todhunter, Melissa Ragsly, Pia Ghosh-Roy, Megan Giddings, Sudha Balogopal, Meg Pillow, Cathy Ulrich, Dina M. Relles, Janelle M. Williams, Allie Marini, Pat Foran, and Danielle Batalion Ola. Many more of course, but there is a depth and beauty to their writing I cannot get enough of, in a way that burrows into my brain and lives under my skin, so I recommend them to everyone. And you know what a big fan I am of your story, “You’ve Stopped”, Tommy!
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
I write very few micros — I find it even more challenging to do than flash! — so I was happy that one of them, “A Day for Watching Birds”, in The Airgonaut seemed to resonate with so many people. But the other that I hope will reach more readers over time is “How Then”, published in Pidgeonholes. It’s an uncomfortable read maybe, but I tried to use a bit of magic to tackle and grapple with a subject I find difficult to write about using realism. I’ve been grateful to those who have reached out to me about that one.
Anna Vangala Jones is an Editorial Assistant on the fiction team at Split Lip Magazine and served as Fiction Editor at Lunch Ticket. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net anthologies, and selected for Longform Fiction’s Best of 2018 collection. Her writing has appeared in Catapult, Jellyfish Review, Little Fiction, Okay Donkey Mag, Hobart, and Necessary Fiction, among others. Find her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17.