Mini-Interview with Jennifer Wortman

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

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

I write in many genres and forms, but flash has become a mainstay because it invites the best of all worlds: story, lyricism, intensity, authenticity, innovation. Flash really called to me after my kids were born, partly for pragmatic reasons: I’m a slow writer and had less time to write, so flash allowed me to finish what I started in weeks or months rather than years. But also, giving birth and raising kids puts you in close contact with the forces of life and death. Back then, I found those forces lacking in my longer work. The brevity of flash requires a focus on what matters most, not just artistically, but also personally and philosophically. Along with that focus and urgency comes a beautiful freedom: You can get away with much more in a small space than you can in a large. And when you’re done getting away with one thing, you can start fresh and get away with something else. It’s a great drug!

 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My writerly lifejacket is consciousness. I’m fascinated by the human mind: what and how it perceives. Second to that is voice, the personality through which the mind reveals and distorts and conceals. Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying my writerly lifejacket is character.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

All of the above! My writing process is erratic. Sometimes I start slow and precise until I get stuck; then I’ll switch to a fast-and-dirty freewriting session. Other times, I’ll start quick and messy and then I’ll slow way down to hone in on a section until I get stuck and speed up again. The net effect, though, is pretty slow and very messy.

 

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

Anxiety, depression, obsession, compulsion, desire, rage, loss, family dysfunction, love gone wrong, the inescapability of the self, the death wish, and the grocery store—I get some of my best ideas in the cereal aisle.

 

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

This is the hardest question, because there are so many! I’ll start with my flash hero, John Edgar Wideman, who is more known for other genres but has a remarkable flash collection called Briefs­­­­­—it’s out of print but you can find used copies on the internet. A few more of the many flash writers I admire: Leonora Desar, Nicholas Grider, Kathryn McMahon, Tara Isabel Zambrano, Michele Finn Johnson, Raven Leilani, Michelle Ross, Kim Magowan, Christopher Gonzalez, Leesa Cross-Smith, Ruth LeFaive, Tyrese Coleman, Cathy Ulrich, Pat Foran, Sara Lippmann. And, if you’ll bear with me, I’d also like to share some stories I think merit an extra spotlight:

“What If I Never Write a Novel?” by Billy Ray Belcourt

“A Lesson about Love, Featuring Andy Kaufman and Clark” by Lee Matalone

“Sky Like Concrete” by Mike Riess

“Fever Dream, Dream City” by Andrea Lopez

“A Memory of the Christ by the Apostle John” by Adam McOmber

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?          

I’m grateful for any recognition I get and am always touched by how my stories are received. But I’ll use this space to share a story that came out back in the dark ages before I was on Twitter, in case anyone who hasn’t seen it feels like taking a look: “Man in the Night.”

BIO: Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Brevity, Hobart, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and serves as associate fiction editor for Colorado Review. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.

 

 

 

 

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Mini-Interview with Sophie van Llewyn

Sophie van Llewyn_pic

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

I should start by stating that I’m probably a novelist, at my core. I began writing by finishing a novel, but then I didn’t have a clue about editing it. So I moved to shorter forms of fictions. Through AdHoc Fiction, I discovered flash fiction (Jude Higgins & the Bath Flash Fiction Award are doing such an amazing job at promoting the form). Flash gave me the feeling that I was more in control of what I was saying, and I learned to self-edit by editing my flashes. Also, the community is amazing! I connected with other writers through Twitter, I met my writing group during a workshop with Kathy Fish.

Nearly three years later, I can say that my flashes come from a very different place than my novels and that my writing process is entirely different. But I didn’t know that in the beginning. Flash gave me the tools that I needed to grow further as a writer, and the flash community gave me the support I needed so dearly.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I often build my flashes around a particular situation or idea and then start questioning my characters’ motivations, and how they got to that point. Like in my piece ‘The Caesarean’  where a surgeon steals a woman’s kidney during a cesarean section. This is the naked, cruel fact that was my starting point. For my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, it was the image of a hungry woman who had been detained at the Socialist Republic of Romania’s border for days, hiding something very small and precious in a perfume bottle. I built my novella around that, and it branched out in the most unexpected direction.

But just as often, a flash fiction, especially one that comes from deep within, might be triggered by an emotion. This is often the case with flashes I write in longhand, without overthinking. The story just flows and finds its own focus in my notebook. I just have to step back, find the story, and start typing it up on my laptop.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Ooof. It depends so much on what I’m writing. If a piece comes from within, it pours quickly, and I rarely change everything once it has come into focus while I transferred it from longhand to computer.

But much more often, I write a flash slowly, obsessing over every single word, every single sentence, while my mind tries to figure out if this is indeed the most relevant aspect of the story I’m trying to write. I think writing flash fiction has made me very picky when it comes to what I choose to put on the page when and what I leave out. I constantly question if I’m presenting the most relevant details where plot, character traits or dynamics between characters are involved.

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

If I only had to choose one single thing, I think that would be a certain feeling of displacement, a motive that recurs in so many of my flashes. I grew up in Romania, now I live in Germany and I write in English for English-speaking markets. I guess you realise where the displacement theme comes from.

 

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

There are so many writers I admire for their skill with words, you wouldn’t believe it! So many stories that stayed with me. Flash fiction world is absolutely effervescent right now. However, I’m lucky enough to be the Resident Flash Fiction Writer at TSS Publishing, for whom I’ve written a series of articles. I’ve been able to link to most of my favourite stories to underline certain aspects of the craft of flash fiction. Let me refer you to a couple of these articles, where you can discover some brilliant stories:

https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/unusual-structures-in-flash-fiction-part-i-by-sophie-van-llewyn/

https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/time-in-flash-fiction-by-sophie-van-llewyn/

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

It’s not necessarily about recognition, but I’m very fond of one of the pieces from my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, and particularly a piece called ‘The Saturday When Everything Changed.’ I used an unusual form — the story is formatted like a timetable, following Alina’s steps throughout the day. At the end of each entry, I repeat the phrase ‘Nothing has changed,’ until the very end when everything changes for my protagonist. Then, I put in so many childhood memories, evoked the atmosphere in Romanian classrooms, maths textbooks and the stifling gossips of a small town. Also, I mention chicken Kiew. I love chicken Kiew, but then, my entire novella is peppered with mentions of my favourite foods.

https://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/short_stories/5-minutes/the-saturday-when-everything-changed/

Bio: Sophie van Llewyn was born in Romania, but now lives in Germany. She’s an anaesthetist. Her prose has been published by Ambit, New Delta Review, The Lonely Crowd, New South Journal etc. Her novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS (Fairlight Books) has been longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019 and for the People’s Book Prize. Sophie is represented by Juliet Mushens at Caskie Mushens. @sophie_van_l

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Leonora Desar

headshot_leonora desar

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

My brain naturally loves flash. I’m not sure if it’s a journalism thing (I used to be a journalist).[1]. It might just be an attention thing, or maybe a commitment thing. I think though it’s a bullshit thing. I hate writing/drafting long stuff and thinking, I don’t need this, I don’t need this, I don’t need this—why is this even here.

Flash cuts to the chase.

I do wish I could write long though. At least sometimes. I have this fantasy; I get some Krazy Glue and stick it all together; all the short stuff. Then I get some Magic Marker. I write NOVEL on it and send it to an agent. And she or he is like; wow; we’ve never seen anything like this—CALL US!!!

[1] Sort of. It was mostly tagging along with people who were way cooler than me and trying to get them to open up.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Voice. If I can’t get the voice right there’s nothing else.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

All the pieces I really love are the ones that I’ve written fast. But this doesn’t mean that I write like this all the time. In fact, I don’t. Those pieces you will never see. They are buried in a very dark attic of my computer. It’s labeled “dangerous” and “really boring.”

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

Probably my childhood. My life since then hasn’t been as interesting which I guess is also an influence. Sometimes I sit around talking about how Uninteresting things are and try to make this Interesting but this usually doesn’t work. So it’s better just to go back to the Bronx, to childhood—

We had a lot of weird neighbors. There was this babysitter who lived downstairs—Suzi. We used to listen to Little Orphan Annie on the record player and then her boyfriend would come and they’d make out. I’d sit there feeling jealous and imagining that when you got to be a teenager it was all about making out to Broadway show tunes—

Then there was this other neighbor, Mr. Greenberg. He was always yelling at me. He said, turn down the music which was odd because I never played any, only when Suzi was around. So I imagine there was some ghost who probably lived between his apartment, 3f, and my apartment, D11. And that’s another thing; the apartments—they didn’t make any sense. I spent hours trying to figure out why his was 3f and mine was D11, and came up with many different theories, none of which I was really able to prove.

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

Yikes. This is a hard and easy one. Easy because there’s so much great writing out there and hard because that means I’m going to inevitably leave something out—that I love.

Here are a few writers that I am crazy for. (Okay; maybe more than a few but still not the whole deal):

Jennifer Wortman. This piece is amazing and you should just read it and see why for yourself.

Adam Lock. There’s such a good story here which Adam is so great at; creating story. His pieces always feel so deep and true, and there’s a fullness to them, even if they’re flash.

Hillary Leftwich. Because she writes with Voice. I wish I could tag her FB posts. They’re f**ing amazing. Her stories, too. She writes in a way where you feel like there’s a direct line from her pen to gut to screen. Do they make those? I think they do and Hillary has dibs.

Tara Isabel Zambrano. I love this piece. I had read it in a workshop we were in and remember thinking “wow” and “give me more.”

Frances Gapper. This does what many of my favorite pieces do. It’s funny-sad. No, scratch that, it’s sad-hilarious. Frances is so great at this, she reminds me of a modern and sassier Jane Austen.

Jaquira Díaz. I read this at work on the sly and couldn’t put it away. It kept calling to me. A little voice said, do your work Leonora and I ignored it—

Marcy Dermansky. Because I love anything by Marcy Dermansky. She’s amazing. I read her on a plane trip to Orlando and she completely changed my life. When I left JFK I was a writer who wrote Very Serious Stories that-weren’t-very-engaging and when I landed I was still a writer who wrote Very Serious Stories but I wanted to be different, to be funnier, to talk like Sue from her novel Twins.

Miranda July. She is another one I used to read at work. I kept her hidden beneath my desk and sometimes she would sneak out and slip me crackers.

Claire Polders. Because she speaks to you in a way that’s elegant and true.

Pat Foran. I love everything he writes. He has a signature style and an energy and there’s music in his writing. Can’t you hear it? It sounds like: I am feeling so much writing this—Here is my soul, it’s yours.

Al Kratz. Because you need to read this. It’s all about the Voice. And magic. When you read it you will know.

Janice Leagra. This is also about magic—it’s a whoosh story!!! As in it feels like it all came out in one big, magical whoosh!!!

Josh Denslow. His pieces are great. They make me laugh. And not just in a ha-ha way. In a deep way. There’s poignancy here, and sadness.

Paul Beckman. Because he’s a genius. He has a way of writing that doesn’t sound like “writing,” more like chatting in your ear. Plus, he’s a genius.

 Cathy Ulrich and her amazing murdered girls. Especially that babysitter.

Rebecca Saltzman. Because cannibals on the Q train.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I have an advice column. It’s about writing, usually all the ways I’m avoiding it, and how you shouldn’t. I give ways for not avoiding it and then don’t follow my own advice. There’s also been a lot of stuff about TV shows, weird people. Bodega kings and blind photographers; stake-outs, messy socks (that don’t match); and when the writing is all crap.

There is also (sometimes occasionally) actual practical advice. This happens once every 6th-dozenth solar flare.*

*I actually don’t know how common a solar flare is. I should probably google this.

PS:  I’ve also been lucky to have some awesome writing teachers—Meg Pokrass, Lisa DePaulo, Kathy Fish, Christopher DeWan, Robert James Russell, all of them great writers, too.

I wish I could keep them hidden beneath my desk and ask them writing advice but this would probably not be legal.

PPS I know I talked in the beginning here about cutting to the chase. I should probably tweak some of this.

BIO: Leonora Desar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Passages NorthBlack Warrior Review OnlineMid-American ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyHobart, and Quarter After Eight, among othersShe won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She writes a column for New Flash Fiction Review—DEAR LEO. She avoids writing @LeonoraDesar and by fiddling with www.leonoradesar.com. She is the new fiction editor for Pidgeonholes. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions 2019, and the Best Microfiction anthology.

 

 

Mini-Interview with Megan Pillow Davis

pillow davis new headshot

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

I started writing flash because I felt like I’d lost something in my writing. In myself, too, to be honest. I’d had some very demoralizing experiences with critique where professors saw nothing of value in my work, and I lost a lot of confidence in my abilities. I would write these 25 and 30-page stories that had interesting moments and interesting characters, but they would just wander all over the place and eventually disassemble all over the page. I would write and write, and after I’d write, I’d cry in frustration. And so I stopped writing. I didn’t write for five years. I had all this old work stored on my computer, dozens of stories that just sat there, but I didn’t write anything new or submit anything for publication for a very long time. For a while, I honestly thought I wouldn’t ever write again.

And then, as I always do in times of stress and sadness, I started reading. And I discovered flash. Well, rediscovered it, really. I remember picking up the copy of the first book I bought when I moved to start my MFA program – The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American Stories Since 1970 – and re-reading Donald Barthelme’s “The School” and thinking oh fuck yeah, I love this piece. I love what he’s able to do in such a compact space. I’ll bet there are a lot of other people out there doing this. And I thought maybe if I focused on compact writing, on compressed narrative, it could teach me a few things about writing longform fiction. So that’s what I did. I started following journals and reading who they were publishing. Some of the first pieces I read were pieces by Kathy Fish and Cathy Ulrich, and I was astounded by their work. So I just read more and more, trying to learn, trying to figure out how to approach this genre that I knew very little about, and then I started tinkering around.

What I discovered by reading and writing flash was that for me, longform had become such a laborious process, a lot like the process of childbirth (I have two kids, so this isn’t just hyperbole here). When I was writing longform fiction, I would get so stressed and so focused on the end game, on gritting my teeth to just get through, that I often missed honing those critical connections that the reader needs in order to invest in the piece. But then I discovered that for me reading and writing flash is for me like a single contraction: pure pain, but also pure beauty and joy, and the intensity of it is so powerful but so brief that I can just give myself over to it completely, let my mind and my body steep in every single word. When I read a really great piece of flash, I don’t just think about it for days or weeks afterward. I feel it for that length of time too, the same way my body can still feel the reverberations of those contractions from childbirth when I think about them: I remember what I was drinking when I read a piece, how it tasted, what the light looked light in the room, the sound of my breath as it caught in my throat when something in that piece tore me open or made me laugh. And while I did learn a valuable lesson about longform from writing flash – which is that, just as with labor, longform is a series of well-synchronized contractions that propel a person along to a moment of impossible revelation – I also discovered that I loved flash not just for what it taught me about longform but for what it was in its own right. And now, I’m devoted. Flash taught me a better relationship to and understanding of longform – instead of gritting my teeth through it, I’ve learned to pace myself, to pay attention to the details, and to love it despite the pain. But flash? Flash is where I give myself over to the pain, where the pain brings me joy.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Characters always come to me first. I’m a people-watcher and very curious about why people do what they do and how we react and respond to those decisions. When I start thinking about what motivates a character, the story usually springs from those motivations. I would love to be one of those writers for whom a carefully-constructed plot comes easily, but I was not blessed with that particular skill.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Both, actually. I’m a very quick and messy drafter. For a flash piece, I’ll usually sit down and have a working draft in an hour to an hour and a half. But that’s after thinking, usually for weeks, about what the story is about and how it will come together, and then it’s followed by weeks and sometimes months of laborious revision during which I sometimes end up rewriting the whole damn thing. I wrote my story “We All Know About Margo” in an hour – and then spent a month and a half in a frenzy of rewriting, reworking the beginning and ending multiple times and switching POV several times, among other things. I like the freedom and fluidity that writing quickly affords me, but I know I can’t get a piece to read exactly how I want it to without spending a lot of time in revision.

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

My Ph.D. program and my kids. Both have taught me incredible time management skills and discipline. They’ve taught me to write in 30-minute increments and even sometimes in 10-minute increments, when necessary, and to still make progress. They’ve taught me to trust in my ability to do thorough research, but they also remind me that I’m never going to be an expert on everything, I’m just going to learn a whole lot about one little sliver of the world, and I need to trust the other experts to guide me in my understanding of the rest. Most of all, they’ve taught me to survive on very little sleep, which frankly is the only way that a Ph.D. student with two young kids is ever going to get any creative writing done.

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

This is always such a difficult question to answer because there are so many writers I fiercely admire. But in addition to Kathy Fish and Cathy Ulrich, whom I always read, and the work of the women of color writers I talked about in a recent SmokeLong Quarterly interview, I’ve also been floored by writers like Allie Marini, Marisa Crane, Josh Denslow, Kathryn McMahon, Christopher Allen, Kim Magowan, Emi Benn, and Jennifer Fliss. These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, though. I’m sure I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. thinking of at least a dozen more names I should have mentioned.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I don’t really think I have one. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but I haven’t been back to publishing for very long – my first piece in a long while was published in the spring of 2017 – and since then, I’ve had work accepted at some amazing journals, been nominated for some awards I honestly never thought I’d get nominated for, and most of all, received tons of support from the writing community. So I feel very lucky. Instead of sending you to another story of mine, I’d say instead seek out a writer you’ve never read before, especially somebody emerging, and read them instead. If you like their work, share it, and please tell them it meant something to you. The people who have taken the time to do that for me, those are the people who kept me writing. They’ve made up for all the years where I felt like my work didn’t matter. Right now, there are tons of brilliant writers out there, maybe even reading this, who are racking up the rejections, who feel like their one or two publications this year didn’t get much traction and didn’t have an impact, and they feel very alone. Some of them are wondering whether they’re really cut out for this gig, and they’re thinking about quitting. I know because I was them. And more than anything, they need someone to see their work, to love it, and to let them know. They need that recognition and the encouragement that comes with it. I hope more than anything that we can give it to them.

Bio:  Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared, among other places, in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Memoir Mixtapes, and Mutha Magazine, has been featured in Longreads, and is forthcoming in Collective Unrest, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Longleaf Review, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. She has also been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best Small Fictions. Megan is currently revising her debut novel, has begun work on her second book, and is completing her dissertation. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family.

Mini-Interview with Michele Finn Johnson

MIchele

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

Flash is like a no-fuss best friend to me—it’s much easier to manage than the more time-consuming, “high maintenance” short stories and essays that I also write. I can usually count on flash to show up when I’ve got limited time to dedicate to writing, to not be too fussy in revealing the truth of what it’s dying to say. Flash also big-time motivates me with my longer pieces, builds my confidence to know I can find many micro-level ways to bring them to the finish line. If I sound like I’m gushing here, it’s because I’m in love with flash!

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

If I told you I heard voices in my head, would you have me straight-jacketed? That’s usually what happens. A first line appears generally out of nowhere and I puzzle it in my head until it feels right. Then I start to write and let that voice tell its story. Usually, that voice is a character, but sometimes it’s a question (which I guess is more similar to plot).

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m somewhat slow in my head to nail down the opening sentence or two, and then I’m quick onto the page to finish a draft. I first started writing flash in a game-changing Kathy Fish Fast Flash© workshop, and so fast has stuck as my primary first-draft method.

 

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

Tommy, this could be a therapy session! I’m an engineer and, in part, work on environmental cleanups. It’s a terrific, if not an obvious, metaphor for real life that finds its way, either overtly or subtlety, into my work. While nature can be beautiful, I’m trained to see all the ways it’s messed up. That extends to humans too—I’m an extrovert who probably asks more inappropriate questions of people than I should (always couched with humor!). Revealed details sometimes make for fabulous story kernels!

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

Here are a few flash writers/example pieces I turn to when I want to be awed and moved and inspired. I tried to vary the list from previous interviews as best I could, which meant omitting so many of my go-to writers (sorry!).

  • For how she evokes emotion: Jennifer Wortman, As It So Happens in Vestal Review
  • For setting and razor-sharp detail: Jason Shults, Dodge in SmokeLong Quarterly
  • For genius structure: Kim Magowan, Madlib, in Okay Donkey
  • For killer dialogue and up-front tension: Cheryl Kidder, Give it to Her, in Atticus Review
  • For slow-boiled tension: Tiffany Quay Tyson, The Neighbors Want to Know Our Secret, in The Ilanot Review

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really fond of a piece of mine, School Lessons, that ran in Noble / Gas Qtrly. It was a runner-up for their 2017 Birdwhistle Prize, but I’m not sure I did my part to promote it. So much of this story is true; it feels like a time capsule of my grade school experience.

BIO: Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions, and won an AWP Intro  Journals Project in nonfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and @m_finn_johnson.

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Michelle Ross

Michelle Ross bw

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

Writing flash has made me a better writer because it’s taught me so much about compression and silences, the importance of what is intentionally left unsaid. It’s also an extremely practical form for when I have only small snatches of time to write.

Although I’ve never whittled wood, the metaphor that comes to mind right now is that whereas writing a longer short story is like carving out an animal or some other intricate shape into wood, writing flash is more like whittling that piece of wood into the sharpest point possible.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

It depends on the story to some extent, but what keeps me afloat more than any other elements are probably rhythm and theme. I get snagged on ideas and love to mine and mine and mine. But in putting those ideas onto the page, rhythm is in command. I will rewrite sentences hundreds of times until they sound just right. I will change the meaning of a sentence in service of making the rhythm right. The most painful thing to me as a reader is prose that is inelegant. Reading prose that is clunky and awkward is like driving a heavily potholed road.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Precise over messy, almost always. Probably this is related to my above answer. If I write quick and messy sentences, I’m instantly compelled to revise them. Whether that precision comes quickly or slowly varies from story to story, though. Some stories come together rapidly. I write the entire draft in a sitting, and all it needs is a little tweaking. But a lot of the time I build my stories slowly over a period of months or years. Even flash fiction. I put stories aside and take them back out again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

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

 So many. Science writing, mothering, running. Above all else, however, the experience of being female in a patriarchal world is what influences my writing most.

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

This is difficult to answer because I want to name so many stories and so many writers. For instance, all the great flash fiction writers I’ve published on Atticus Review. I’m not going to try to list them all here, but let me just say that I’m proud of the great flash fiction we’ve published over the years. Because we publish only one fiction writer a week, we’re highly selective.

A few of my favorite flash fiction stories in recent years outside of Atticus Review include Janey Skinner’s “Carnivores,” Gwen Kirby’s “Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because At That Point Fuck Them Anyway,” Jennifer Wortman’s “A Matter Between Neighbors,” Kim Magowan’s “Madlib,” Michael Czyzniejewski’s “The Nudist Contemplates Cannibalism,” Sara Lippmann’s “Wolf or Deer,” Christopher Allen’s “Blood Brother,” Sherrie Flick’s “How I Left Ned,” which is included in her great new story collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of my favorite flash fictions still is “Prologue,” which was published in Gravel. It was also a finalist for the 2017 Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction and included in my collection, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (Moon City Press 2017). It’s the first flash fiction I ever began, I believe, though not the first piece I completed. I worked on it on and off for several years. For me, the title and the ending make this story, yet oddly, weeks after it had been accepted for publication, an editor at Gravel asked me to cut the last two lines. I’m usually quite receptive to editorial suggestions, but in this case, I refused. And I was a little dismayed to realize that the editor’s vision of what this story is about was so drastically different from mine.

BIO: Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly ReviewColorado ReviewNashville ReviewPidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended ReadingSmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and was a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. www.michellenross.com

Mini-Interview with Sara Lippmann

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

I received Black Tickets as a gift from my first undergrad workshop instructor, the fearless and scary smart Lucy Corin, and that generosity – with her notes in margins – affected me deeply. (I’ve since hijacked that practice, and give books to my students at every semester’s end.) I was 18 and my god how I needed “Strangers in the Night:”

“Eating, she thought about sex and chewed pears as though they were conscious.”

Jayne Anne Phillips’s collection is largely what drove me down this potholed path although it would be another 20 years before I really began writing with any kind of purposeful compression.

I came to flash (or flash came to me) out of necessity. It was 2009. I had babies. I was shit. I could barely finish a sentence let alone sustain any lengthy narrative. But could I tell a story in 500 words? 1000 words? Flash demands you get in, get out. There’s no room for bullshit – or neurosis – when urgency + time are the dictates. On those days when the choices were shower or write, and the writing won out (to the chagrin of those who smelled me) I found I could crank out something rough but honest enough to whittle down and play around with later. Flash flexed a natural, undiscovered muscle.

Even when I’m not writing, or not writing flash, or losing years to an unruly novel – I find short form fiction to be the most nourishing as a reader, and most exhilarating to study and to teach – all the magic that occurs in miniature must hold true for the success of literature in any form. Universe in a grain of sand, no matter the size of the grain.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

The extent to which character + desire = plot, I’d say desire. Want is the imperative and it is impossible for me to write without it. Even if the character denies, disavows, or remains at psychic odds from their own urges, that pulse is prerequisite for story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m chasing down that want, so it’s longhand, fast and ugly. Catch it, however, I can. If the energy’s intrinsic, there’s no choice. (On the flipside: I can’t force a hollow.) But then I’m an obsessional editor. Dissatisfaction persists. Until a proof is wrenched from me, I’ll keep slashing for language, rhythm, concision. Editors probably hate me, but there’s always a better, more penetrative, more precise way to say it. Even after publication, my fingers itch. My collection is an embarrassment of ink.

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

It all goes into the pot. Body and mind are as inextricable as real and imaged life. To be clear: I write fiction. But if we aren’t drawing from the world, our lives and all that swirls through us: memories and obsessions, curiosities and histories, hopes and worries, public and private humiliations, past and present traumas, the mundane and the extraordinary, the internal, the observed, the overhead, and everything in between, everything we consume, everything that haunts us in the night, the stuff of nightmares and dreams, what are we doing? It’s funny, in a kind of preposterous/maddening way, whenever I meet people who’ve read my work and they’re like: “you’re so nice in real life.” But I guess I keep my freak flag tucked in at the bake sale or whatever.

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

 One of the best things about my twitter feed is how it curates a constant, inspiring stream of new work, with links to wonderful stories (I can never keep up!) and journals and incredibly talented writers to treasure and discover. It is such a thrilling time for flash fiction, and I’m blown away by how fresh and transformative the work is that’s coming out right now. I want to shout every name from the treetops, every brilliant name, but I imagine there’s a word limit to this thing, and if you’re on the internet, you know who you are, I’m teaching all of you, and learning so much as you continue to explode the form, stretch it and showcase its infinite possibilities. I know it’s been said, but the word “flash” is a misnomer, as it connotes ephemerality – whereas quality flash will take up root inside us, sprouting leaves and limbs, living on, unshakable.

Anyway, some syllabi steadies:

Wants by Grace Paley

Yours by Mary Robison

Foley’s Pond by Peter Orner

The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff

Again and Again and Again by Megan Giddings

Five Sketches of a Story about Death by Leesa Cross-Smith

My Wife in Reverse by Stephen Dixon

Hourly by Scott Garson

Amy Butcher’s Women These Days is a nonfiction flash that wrecks me.

And Kathy Fish’s forthcoming WILD LIFE should be beneath every pillow.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Sure, there are pieces that ran in now-defunct journals; longer stories in print that died a swift paper death. But it’s less about recognition than resonance. I haven’t been writing much flash lately but I’m so goddamn grateful whenever anyone chooses to read anything I’ve ever written. I mean, this world. All that demands our energy. If someone takes the time, you hope for that echo, that you/me moment, as it is a sort of love, but also know the story once released becomes its own thing. It’s not yours anymore. I tried to write about this in a Wigleaf postcard once.

BIO: Sara Lippmann‘s collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press) was long-listed for the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She was the recipient of an artist’s fellowship in fiction from NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) and her work has appeared in Slice Magazine, Fourth Genre, Diagram, Midnight Breakfast, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. Find her @saralippmann or saralippmann.com