Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?
I write flash because it has no rules. Or, at least, it encourages breaking the rules. I think flash embraces chaos and novelty and risk-taking. It can flow into and out of genres at the drop of a sentence. It’s far less about character development or an ongoing excavation and more like bumping your toe in the dark so that you stop and feel about to see what you ran into.
And much like poetry, flash fiction is about discovery, requiring a near-instant invitation to the reader. There’s no time to waste. I hope to not so much have readers experience something during one of my flash pieces as to get to the end of a story and feel they have discovered something about the world that they hadn’t encountered before.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
Neither. As a poet first, I often approach writing flash fiction similarly to how I approach poetry, which means starting with an image or a naked idea. Then giving the reader a larger view or else dressing up an idea into a pseudo-story. Ideas and images are king for me in writing flash.
If a novel is a Polaroid whose development is slowed and stretched across hundreds of pages, flash fiction is a finger press on a camera phone. The picture springs instantly to life and the reader is allowed to look at it, and turn it over. The reading experience is meant to be short, but the impact is meant to linger, and I find the challenging of crafting impact from 1000 words or less incredibly inspiring and worth pursuing.
Flash fiction also has natural constraints that, instead of feeling suffocated, let me be expansive and, perhaps, even less to the point than a well-plotted novel or short story might aim to be. In addition, like poetry, it often feels like what goes unsaid or unseen carries, or should carry, as much weight.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
Definitely quick and messy. I tend to find my first drafts tumble out in only one or two chunks. I’ll let them breathe for a while on their own and if the piece still excites me when I return, I try to massage it down into a more finished product. But, admittedly, I do very little content editing to most of my flash pieces. If they seem to need more than a little polish, I often cast them out and pursue new ideas instead.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?
I’ll cheat and pick two things: my religion and my political views. I identify as Mennonite and might be too far left at times for even the socialists. My religion and politics are inseparable from how I view the world and from how I believe humans are meant to be in the world. My writing is the avenue through which I hope to combat the systems, policies, and sometimes individuals that try to oppress my fellow humans and to advocate and fight for a better world, one where all humans are treated equitably and are able to prosper and live with dignity.
All that loftiness aside, sometimes a story is just a story, meant for entertainment and fun. Because we need that too. I know I certainly do and I hope readers will find that in my writing at times. Nobody ever said we couldn’t have fun and be wildly imaginative while also working toward a more just and humane existence.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
I adore Lydia Davis. While she doesn’t write exclusively flash, I am consistently drawn to her shortest pieces. The emotion and depth she can wring from just a few sentences seems otherworldly.
I’ve also always enjoyed Etgar Keret for the way he can make outlandish ideas feel grounded yet thrilling in the space of just a few pages.
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
A story I’ve recently published that I feel deeply attached to is “The Last Shia LaBeouf on Earth.” As the title alludes, it plays with the fictional consciousness of Shia LaBeouf undergoing an existential crisis while living through various episodes that may or may not be part of his life. If I had to pick just one piece to show someone who was brand new to my work, that’s the one I’d show them. I also continue to hold out hope that maybe Shia LaBeouf will one day read the piece and appreciate it and write me a letter or something, because he seems old-fashioned in that sort of way.
BIO: Michael Prihoda lives in central Indiana. He is the founding editor of After the Pause, an experimental literary magazine and small press. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology and he is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Out of the Sky (Hester Glock, 2019).