Mini-Interview with Emily Devane

Emily Colour

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

Thanks for having me, Tommy. I’ve loved reading your mini interviews series. I started writing flash before I knew its name. To my delight, I won first prize in a local competition for a 200-word story, based on a really creepy portrait of a girl in a party dress. It gave me such a boost and encouraged me to write more. Playing with words has always been something of an obsession for me. As a history teacher, I told stories day in, day out. When I began to write creatively, I had to unlearn my teacherly ways: my love of clarity and purpose, my desire to educate. By letting go a little and allowing the reader to conspire with me in the story, my stories began to breathe.

The more I have written and read, the more I have come to understand the special nature of the form. Not quite prose, not quite poem, it occupies the gaps between. Flash is story at its most pure, the literary equivalent of a fine malt whiskey. The finished piece may be short – consumed in a single sitting – but it can deliver a powerful, lingering taste, and there is so much craft behind each tiny piece, so much discarded along the way in the interests of distilling the story to its essence. There’s a special alchemy at work: the ingredients of the story – in this case, the writer, with his or her particular way of looking at the world – combined with a series of editing processes (akin to the malting, the mashing, the fermentation, the distillation), to create a finished piece. The most satisfying flashes leave a physical impression on the reader, the way whiskey stings, then warms, the throat.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I know it’s cheating but I can’t separate the two. What happens is intrinsically wrapped up in the person or people I write about. Plot comes out of character and character comes out of place. Setting or mood are what I tend to begin with: so, I might start with an idea to write about a specific emotion, then I create a scene and the characters kind of stroll in of their own accord and start doing stuff. I like for there to be an arc of sorts – a satisfying sense of shift – but I try not to force plot in a way that feels contrived. I have Kathy Fish to thank for teaching me the importance of staying true to the emotional core of a story. My memory works like a series of films. I tend to write in that way, like a person orientating themselves in a place – exploring my surroundings using the senses, honing in on the earthy paper smell of a library book, or the crunch of dry grass during a hot summer, or the erratic movement of a beetle across a patio.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I am so bad at these binary choices! I suppose I start messy, with paper and pen. Being a terribly slow typist, I prefer to explore the beginnings of an idea on paper. As soon as I can no longer bear the crossings out, I move onto my laptop, where I start to shape the piece. I keep my old notebooks and find it interesting to see those early scribblings. Because rhythm is important to me – my best tip for editing is to read your words aloud, paying attention to the awkward bits – I often lift whole sentences in their original form. If the rhythm is working, I don’t like to edit the life out of it.

 

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

What a great question! Going back to my time as a history student and teacher, I suppose I have always been fascinated by the unsaid – the story that goes on in the white space between words. I love to explore those hidden places, teasing out truths that have gone unnoticed and the characters whose stories might have been overlooked. I am also a massive over thinker, forever poring over past conversations, wondering if I read them correctly, worrying I may have got the wrong end of the stick and caused massive offense. I think – I hope – we’re all a bit like this. I find flash in those moments of awkwardness, those sudden, uncomfortable realisations. Obviously, I don’t write exclusively about awkward people doing awkward things – but that’s where my eye tends to fall.

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

Trying to narrow this down to just a few is so tough – the list of writers I admire, each for their particular style or tone, is way too long to share. But here are a few stories that have stuck with me and won’t let me go:

Jacqueline Doyle – The Missing Girl (Black Lawrence Press). I read this chapbook recently and I’m still reeling. I was struck by how these stories poke around fearlessly in the darkest of corners. Each flash explores the world of the missing from different perspectives, from victim to onlooker to perpetrator. Nola, originally published in Monkey Bicycle, was a stand-out story for me.

Christopher Allen – The Microbiology of Laiq (Jellyfish Review). I keep going back to this story. It’s so cleverly written, starting with a character whose obsession with microbiology borders on the eccentric, building to a devastating penultimate paragraph and a final line that has me in tatters every time.

K.B.Carle – Tyn (FlashBack Fiction). It’s a bit of a cheat to mention a piece of work published at FlashBack, where I’m a reader – and I’m fiercely proud of every piece we publish – but it was love at first sight with this painfully beautiful story, which appeals to my love of rhythmic prose.  The audio is just incredible, like music – it’s a masterclass in what flash can do.

Sharon Telfer – My Father Comforts Me in the Form of Birds (Reflex). I loved this Reflex-winning piece before I even read it. That title is a story in of itself. It’s a wonderful example of fragmented flash fiction, told in tiny, perfect nuggets, revealing something much bigger about the power of nature and the nature of grief: a quiet beauty.

Kevin Barry – The Apparitions (about an apparition of Samuel Beckett appearing on a gable wall in Dublin) published at The Forge and monologue for cabman (told in one, never-ending sentence, this one’s all about voice), published at The Stinging Fly. I’ve chosen two because Kevin Barry is ludicrously good at words. He writes funny, dark, brilliant stories and his dialogue is so alive, it’s as if the character is shouting in your ear. His longer work is worth seeking out, and if you ever get a chance to hear him read – jump at it.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel lucky to have landed my stories with some great publications. I’m still fond of Back When The Sky Was Different, published in The Nottingham Review, because it reflects my preoccupation with the odd. More recently, I was pleased as punch to have The Word Swallower up at Ellipsis; this story was one of those rare ones that come out in one sitting, totally going against my whiskey metaphor. But there you go – flash is ever surprising!

BIO: Emily Devane lives and writes in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Her stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies, most recently in Ellipsis and Ripening (the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology). Emily’s Bath Flash Fiction winning story ‘The Hand That Wields The Priest’ was a 2018 Best Small Fictions Finalist. A former Word Factory Apprentice, she also won a Northern Writers’ Award for her short story collection, which is almost ready for sending out into the world. She recently came second in the TSS 400 Competition with ‘Maria Belfiore’s Shoes’. Emily is on the editorial team for historical flash fiction magazine FlashBack Fiction. She tweets @DevaneEmily.

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Mini-Interview with Barlow Adams

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

To me, flash has some kindred connection to poetry. From a craft perspective, they both require special attention to the individual words–the weight of a single one can tip a shortie or poem toward ruin or raise it up high–but they also rely on negative space to function at the highest level. You don’t have the room to tell a story in its entirety. You have to allow the reader to fill in the gaps. So you end up with these glorious ghost words and spectral sentences, where the reader is plugging holes with his or her own expectations and experiences. I love the idea of that sort of collaborative storytelling. Which I think takes place in all writing, but is especially relevant and necessary with flash. This dichotomy of meticulous precision and faith in the reader is so exciting to me. Every piece is an experiment in conjecture.

In terms of practical use, due to its length, flash is a smaller mountain to climb on trying days. I may not be able to complete a chapter or write a full short, but I can craft a flash. It’s a small prayer to the writing gods, and it’s those little offerings that sometimes keep me going, keep me connected to the creative source when I might otherwise drift away.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think all great stories have both. Compelling people doing compelling things. But if I have to choose, I’ll go with character.

When it comes down to it, plot is cleverness disguised as action, and, as twisting and branching as any plot can be, every road reaches its end. We all run out of cleverness eventually. But all writers have had that moment when a character becomes fully autonomous, when she starts acting of her own accord, begins to discover her own plots, her own courses of action. That’s the sweet spot of writing for me when it all starts to get a little easier. At that point, I’m more of a stenographer than an architect. I’m telling a story as I witness it rather than designing it consciously. It becomes more fun than work. Like watching a movie in my mind. I’m lazy. I’ll take that every time.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m a poor typist for a writer. I make a lot of silly, stupid mistakes. From a technical standpoint, I’m very messy. But I’m deliberate with my storytelling from the beginning of the process. I have stories that are effectively first drafts that I’ve been fairly pleased with at the end once the mechanical aspects were corrected.

I write using what I think of as “floodgates,” where I will linger for entirely too long on a single sentence trying to get it exactly right. Once that is finished to my satisfaction I’ll pour on for paragraphs or pages until I hit another sluice in the story. I’m a bit stop-and-go in that way, but these keystone sentences really seem to unlock the story for me. Some days I’ve got the skeleton key and all the world’s an open hall. Others, I’m scratching at the front door like a dog begging to be let in.

Worst of both worlds, maybe?

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

I fell seriously ill as a child and was told by doctors that I likely wouldn’t live to adulthood. They were wrong, thankfully, but that introduction to my own mortality at such a young age has–in retrospect–had a profound influence on my writing. Death and disease linger around my stories and poems like storm clouds, even when they don’t make a direct appearance. My sense of what is a happy story and what is a sad story is frequently a little off. I find hope in dark places and companionship in the idea that all things must have an end, that I am not alone in my guaranteed expiration. As frightening as it may be to some, I find such comfort in the idea that we are all on this sinking ship together, that we get to experience so many breathtaking moments together before this thing goes down.

Being seriously ill is a constant balancing act between gratitude and alienation. If you let it, sickness will take your humanity from you in chunks, until it’s just you–and everything that is terribly, horribly wrong with you–alone in a world of shiny, happy, healthy people. Beyond functioning as art or entertainment, I believe that reading and writing, the inherent communication between two minds often separated by distance and time, is the most effective balm for loneliness. It’s the closest we get to experiencing life on different terms. It’s magic. It’s skinwalking. It’s being human in real time. Whenever I pick up a book or sit at my keyboard that’s what I’m really after. I think I owe that desire to childhood summers spent in hospital beds, staring up at the ceiling, trying to prop up the weight of the world with the spine of a book. The right story can save someone from being crushed. I want to write that story. For others. For myself.

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

Wow. So many. I hate you a little for this question

George Saunders, who I desperately wish would adopt me.

Amelia Gray. Absolute ace writer.

I think no conversation about flash is complete without mention of the incomparable Kathy Fish, who is not only a brilliant writer in her own right but who seems to be able to pull magic out of others at will.

Noa Sivan is the writer who inspired me to write flash in the first place. It was like watching someone on the trapeze at the circus and thinking, “Look at her fly. I have to try that.” I am consistently amazed by the workings of her quirky, awe-inspiring mind. Her creativity is simply off the charts.

I love absolutely everything Cathy Ulrich has ever written. I want to track down this woman’s high school essays so I can read them. Find her damn diary. Her Japan stories, her “Murdered Ladies” series. Everything she does lights me up.

Stephanie Hutton has a new flash book out called “Three Sisters of Stone.” She’s terrific. More than terrific.

Leesa Cross-Smith. Tara Laskowski. Melissa Goodrich. I mean, have you read Melissa Goodrich? She’s like some invasive species of alien wordsmith that only came to earth to make my own ideas seem pedestrian in comparison.

You can’t just ask questions like these, Tommy!

I recently discovered Tara Isabel Zambrano and regret every day of my life before that moment.

Ryan Werner.

Sofia Samatar.

I have to stop. I feel like I’m possessed. I could go on.

Neil Clark. My favorite spaceman.

Chloe N. Clark! Love her!

Enough.

Amy Hempel.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Are you kidding? I’m being interviewed by Tommy Dean. I’ve already surpassed expectation.

I suppose that as someone who writes both genre and literary fiction, I’d love to see more crossover in my readership, as all my babies are equal in my eyes. But, honestly, I’m just glad people care enough to read some of my work. But I’d like to see more support on both sides of the aisle in the literary community. Build worlds, not walls.

BIO:

*Barlow Adams is a former journalist, the author of two novellas and an upcoming novel. His most recent publications include pieces in or upcoming at formercactus, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, The Disappointed Housewife, The Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, Riggwelter Press, Delphinium, Five on the Fifth, and Finishing Line Press. He’s not sure why he’s wearing a weird hat in every author photo.

 

Mini-Interview with Brianne Kohl

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

Flash fiction is a lightning strike – a whole story in less than 1000 words that begins in the moment right before the bolt hits. It requires three things: character, plot, and immediacy. I like writing flash because I get to drop the reader into the story moments before the crisis. I can put a character in an open field with a metal rod in their hand right before the storm breaks out. The sky is dark and weird. The hair on their arms stands on edge. I don’t have to tell the reader what led them to the open field if I don’t want to.

I love flash fiction because it is like practicing therapeutic mindfulness through my characters. The only thing that matters is the moment they are in. I don’t have to resolve the crisis, I just have to create it and let them exist within it.

  1. What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Never plot. I almost never know what is happening until its written which is why I struggle with long-form writing. Often, I focus on character but can I break the rules a little here? If I’m considering my writerly lifejacket to be that thing that floats me to the top of the water when my writing becomes difficult or choppy, it is almost always location. I tend to orient my writing, even if it is not obvious on the page, in place. It’s how I access my way into writing and if I feel bogged down, it’s how I get back to where I need to be. Drawing connections between theme and carefully selected physical details save my ass every time.

In the above example of the person standing in the open field, imagine it is Spring and the air is thick with the smell of ozone. The long grass sways in the breeze. But, the wind is picking up and the sky is at odds with such a hopeful field. My character has created tension with their world by bringing a metal rod – such a stupid thing to do. The metal rod acts to alienate my character from the landscape. There will be a price to pay for that. That penalty – and how the reader can relate – is the story.

  1. Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and messy like wiping mud off a pane of glass using a wet paper towel.

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

I moved around a lot as a kid. I never lived in the same place for more than two years until I was an adult. The theme I see repeating itself organically throughout my writing is the sense of place I talked about before. Meridel Le Sueur wrote “The body repeats the landscape. They are the source of each other and create each other.” My guess, without the help of a really good therapist, is that through my writing, I’m trying to figure out my physical space in the world.

In college, I read an ethnography by Keith Basso called, “Wisdom Sits In Places” which set my scalp on fire. I’m oversimplifying but it explores the relationship between people, culture, and place as told by four Western Apache storytellers. The book is both academic and passionate about the idea that our physical world holds human wisdom. For a writer, that kind of notion is seductive.

When I write, I’m always trying to recreate that feeling I got when I read that book. Consider this passage, “Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. You must remember everything about them. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother. Then you will see danger before it happens. You will walk a long way and live a long time. You will be wise. People will respect you.”

Doesn’t that passage feel like a lightning strike?

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

Or, just read anything in the following literary journals:

  1. What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Emergency Escape Plan, published at Bending Genres earlier this year, is one I’m really proud of but it was published at the same time that some important Lit Journal changes were unfolding. I am relieved and excited to see the literary community – writers and editors alike – having important conversations about the MeToo movement. I support any organization that holds accountable those people who betray their authority and privilege by behaving inappropriately and abusively. In the case of this publication, the remaining editors moved quickly and pulled the rug out from under the offending party. Which was good and cool and right. But, in doing so, this story was pulled in to the wake. It was disappointing for me personally but globally gratifying to see happen. I think a lot of readers were lost in response to that situation but ultimately, it was a good change that occurred so I support it.

BIO: Brianne M. Kohl’s work has appeared in various literary journals including Catapult, The Masters Review and Bending Genres. She was awarded the 2018 Wigleaf Mythic Picnic Prize for Fiction. She has a novel in perpetual progress but keeps getting distracted by flash fiction. Please visit her at www.briannekohl.com or say hi at twitter.com/BrianneKohl where she is probably tweeting about cheese. 

Mini-Interview with Pat Foran

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

I like how flash can be a story, a glimpse into one, a hint of one. Or something else. How it can sneak up on you in that anything-but-mannered way it has and say, “here’s this thing I don’t know if it’s flash or a prose poem or a story or what but it’s pretty short and maybe you’d be interested in reading it?” How with flash you can snuggle within a moment, unravel it, wiggle within it or sling-shot out of it and not necessarily finish what you started. Or sort of started. I like how freeing flash (or whatever) can be as a result.

I also like how present flash feels. The now of it. I love the music in it, or the music it can have in it. How flash begs you to play — with language, with structure, with expectations, with everything. How it pushes you to let (coax? force?) readers feel the space between the tones. And to fill in the blanks as they see fit.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

It’s usually voice. Almost never and maybe never plot. The voice or character can take me somewhere, possibly toward a plot or a semblance of one. But not necessarily.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Usually quick and messy. Sometimes quick and precise. Almost never slow — if something feels like it’s dragging or going to be a drag, I’ll punt. For me, flash can be just as much the experience of writing the thing as it is the thing I end up writing. It’s a moment or a feeling that might represent something MORE, and if I don’t get the whole thing down or at least the melody line relatively quickly, I’ll lose it. Or so I tend to think.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

The uncertainty of everyday life and a belief in possibility. For me, they’re linked. Listening to people not listening to people — what that sounds and looks like and feels like — definitely influences my writing. So does love. Love and its lack. Kids who matter-of-factly ask questions (“Why do I have to understand what you’re saying?” … “Why are you always like this in March? … “Is this boring?”), Ho Hos flavored lip balm and the Stax recording “I’ll Run Your Hurt Away” by Ruby Johnson influence it, too.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Cathy Ulrich. Melissa Goode. Kathy Fish. Leesa Cross-Smith. I could wax about their work at length and certainly have in short, Twitter strokes — to their chagrin, I imagine. What they see. The moments they choose to snuggle inside of. What they say and don’t say. What they stir. How they stir. What they’re always always always able to evoke. They’re writing things only they could write, and there’s magic in that. Their work also does something more to me — to my heart, I think. But there are a lot of writers of flash (or whatever) whose work I’d recommend. There are so many who knock me out.

Richard Brautigan, Donald Barthelme, Lydia Davis and a flutter in my brain brought me to this short, sudden, segmented, “otherwise unclassifiable” land. Cathy, Melissa, Kathy, Leesa and others whose work I love make me want to hang around if only to see where and how they push things.
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m grateful if people read any of them.

BIO: Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His stories have appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Gravel, Bending Genres, The Disappointed Housewife, formercactus, FIVE:2:ONE #thesideshow and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan

Mini-Interview with Tyrese L. Coleman

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;0Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

I’m drawn to the immediacy, voice, and freedom of the flash form. I think people underestimate flash and what you learn from writing it. It is not easy to draft a complete narrative in under 1000 words. Something about knowing that I am already doing incredibly challenging work is freeing to me. I am then more willing to try anything and see where things go in the piece.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character! If I knew how to write a better plot, I would be a millionaire right now.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise. I tend to edit as I go so that a first draft is as close to finished as I can get it. That means that one draft could take me years, but I am constantly going back to the beginning and perfecting and then editing again and again. I generally do not change my stories much after that first draft is done because I’ve already gone through the process of building and scaffolding.

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

Many of the pieces in my upcoming collection, How to Sit, are based on my childhood. Right now, however, I am trying to focus more on writing that reflects my current life — being an adult, kids, work, marriage. I am interested in examining what it feels like to be me as I am right now and writing for other women who are like me.

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

Jennifer Fliss is my girl and consistently creates beautiful work. Meghan Giddings is also a favorite. Sequoia Nagamatsu blows my effen mind!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of my very first pieces that I published was in Queen’s Mob Teahouse called If the Woodcutter Were a Junkie. I worked so hard on that story and always loved it. It started off as over 8000 words. I chipped away at it over the years and got it under 1000. Flash is amazing.

Bio: Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, attorney, and writing instructor. She is also an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, an online journal dedicated to flash fiction. An essayist and fiction writer, her prose has appeared in several publications, including Amazon’s Day One, Catapult, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and the Kenyon Review. An alumnus of the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, the Tin House, and Virginia Quarterly Review writer’s workshops, and a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow, her chapbook, How To Sit will be published in 2018 with Mason Jar Press. She can be reached at tyresecoleman.com or on twitter @tylachelleco.

Mini-Interview with Kaj Tanaka

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

I like to be able to complete a story or two in a single writing session, so because of that, my stories almost always end up being very short. It’s my big limitation as a writer, and it’s a preference that has really shaped me. I like that we have a name for it now. Back when I started writing these types of stories, we hadn’t quite agreed on what to call them, even—I still remember not knowing whether to call my stories “quick” fiction or “sudden” fiction or “micro” fiction. There were so many names at one point. Love that flash has become a thing. It has been really cool to see the form take off in the last 10 or so years.

 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. When I’m writing around a particular plot, my stories end up reading like shitty Madlibs. Though I think finding a voice or a tone is even more important than finding a character. For me, the voice of the story needs to be fully realized in the first sentence. If it’s not there in the opening line, the story is doomed.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m quick. I try to write 1000-1500 words a day when I’m working on a project—when I do flash stories, for example, it’s always in connection to a larger project. I don’t write every day though. I’m not a day-in-day-out, ride or die kind of writer. That used to bother me about myself—it felt almost like a moral failing—but writing every day is exhausting, at least the way I work. I just get fatigued. I work every day for a month or two and then take a month or two off to read what I’ve written and try to figure out what it means. That’s my process right now, at least.

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

This is something I try not to think about, lest I end up using my stories as some kind of cheap therapy. I certainly don’t try to bring in elements of my life, but of course, I do. Everyone does. I have no idea how successfully I bury the true elements of my stories, and I’m too embarrassed to ask my friends and family. The idea of someone recognizing a shared, real life experience in a piece of my fiction fills me with shame. It feels like a failing of craft.

 

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

My favorite flash story is “Crossing the River Zbrucz” by Isaac Babel. My second favorite is “The Cats in the Prison Recreation Hall” by Lydia Davis and my third is any page of Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. Honorable mention: “A Gentleman’s C” by Padgett Powell.

But here’s the thing…a giant caveat here. I love these first three stories mainly because they are a part of larger works that I love. I think this is something people get wrong about flash. To me, at least, one flash story isn’t much taken on its own. Even a perfect flash story like “A Gentleman’s C” won’t stick with me unless I really study it. In general, I think flash stories are too slight to have much impact by themselves. The real power of flash is the power of a snowball rolling down a mountain. It comes in the aggregate of many flash stories read as a single project. For example, in that giant orange brick of Lydia Davis stories, there are good stories and great stories and some not so good stories, but all of them together present a portrait of a powerful and restless mind at work. For me, that’s what flash can do best. I love reading collections of flash for that reason. I think more than in novels or collections of longer stories, a body of flash work can provide a portrait of a living human mind moving through the world.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I think my stories get what they deserve. I’m not too precious about them. If I find myself getting annoyed about how my stories are received, I go write something new. You can’t really control reception or likes or shares or awards, but you can keep writing. That’s always the consolation.

 

BIO: Kaj Tanaka is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Houston. His stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the fiction editor at Gulf Coast. You can read more of his work at kajtanaka.com and tweet to him @kajtanaka

Mini-Interview with Kara Vernor

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

Flash was just what came out, probably due in part to my natural impatience. Flash also felt most akin to my favorite songs, and music, maybe more than reading, led me to writing. I’ve kept at it because the length is a great frame for experimentation. In longer works, fewer readers tolerate being challenged with less familiar structures, syntax, content, etc. Can you imagine reading a novel by, say, Gary Lutz (in the style of his shorts)? It’s rare that a style so experimental finds an audience for a novel; lucky for us we have flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot? What’s plot? I generally walk all the way out to the end of the diving board before I look to see if there’s any water below. I’d say character sometimes, though id would maybe be more accurate. It often feels like I conjure more than I write.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Unfortunately, mine’s both messy and slow, and then at some point, after I have enough of a slow, messy mess, I steamroll it with whatever precision I can muster.

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

For a while, I was writing sex ed inspired flash (I sometimes teach sex ed), but then I started writing a novel with a teenage protagonist and I think I over-teenaged. I’ve recently come back to flash after the novel, and I’m writing stranger, more violent pieces. This probably has something to do with having gotten a restraining order against our next-door neighbor, who is a Trump supporter with severe PTSD. I could go on about the creepy stuff he’s done, but suffice it to say, he is *affixed-spikes-along-his-fence-to-impale-our-cats* loony. I’ve gotten clear that having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re not also an asshole. Living this way, in Trump’s America with a mini version next door, has me writing some angry shit when I’m writing at all. I’m also finding I used to care more about entertaining people, but in this current climate, I care much more about being true.

 

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

I feel like I’ve shouted my standby faves in one way or another many times, so I’ll mention a few I’ve either never shouted or have been particularly appreciating lately. Kevin Sampsell has been on fire. Check out his recent stories in Paper Darts and X-R-A-Y. I just finished Deb Olin Unferth’s Wait Till You See Me Dance, and it’s as brilliant as you’d anticipate. The flash in Peter Orner’s Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge is full of virtuosic grace.

I consider Etgar Keret to be my flash father—at least I want him to be. I love how frank and creative and funny and real and deceptively plainspoken he is. He’s a defender of complexity, and in this age of social media, that’s sorely needed. Plus, I’ve learned more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through reading his interviews than I have from the (very biased) news. He and a Palestinian writer, Samir El-Youssef, took the revolutionary step of publishing a book together called Gaza Blues. El-Youssef’s novella and Keret’s stories are incredible alone but published together, they’re even more affecting.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

With the phenomenon that is Twitter, that’s hard to say. The writing community is tirelessly supportive, and maybe I have a low bar, but I’m always honored when anyone takes the time to read something I’ve written. This question makes me think of stories that generally don’t get the love they deserve, and I’d have to go with happy ones. Similar to how comedies almost never win the Oscar for best picture, happy stories don’t seem to get their due respect, especially given that they’re more difficult to write, in my opinion. “The Recommendation” is a happy story of mine, so I’ll mention it here. It’s about two nerds negotiating a 69.

 

Bio: Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Green Mountains Review, Fanzine, No Tokens, and elsewhere, and her fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press. She is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation scholarship, and her stories have been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, the Best Small Fictions finalists, and Outpost 19’s Golden State 2017 anthology.