Mini-Interview with Evan James Sheldon

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

 I don’t have a lot of time. Right now, I’m working four different jobs (all part-time, it’s not as crazy as it sounds) and my wife and I have a newborn. When I make time to write, it is really satisfying to be able to complete something. Then, I can make a pass at editing in a different sitting, and then another, and so on. I heard some excellent advice to always finish the scene. I need that momentum to help carry me through and discover what it is I am really writing about. Once I discover that bit, my interest wanes, and if I’m not interested you know the reader won’t be. 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 Neither? That’s not a fair answer, I know, but what really brings me into the story is something weird. Sometimes it’s a character trait, sometimes it’s a strange event, but that is what tends to get me going. That said, once I’m in there, it is all about character. I’ve tried the other way and it always falls apart or feels forced, like I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I think that I need to be able to experience whatever strangeness is going on with the character and let the story grow from there. 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Definitely quick and messy. I carry a notebook in my back pocket and will text myself little tidbits or ideas. I let all of that build until there is something that I can’t get beyond, like an image that I have to reckon with. Then I’ll take a run at it. Most of the time I get somewhere and then can go back and edit the pieces together and bolster the themes that I see appearing. That is a fun part for me because I know that I’m getting close. 

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

 Relationships, particularly family relationships, have always trickled their way into my writing, often when I don’t even intend them to. Now that we have little one, I am so curious how that will influence my work. I probably won’t know or be able to point to another moment that feels so crucial to how I interact with the world, even if I can’t see how it is playing out quite yet. 

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

 I love Lydia Davis, Kathy Fish, Meg Pokrass, Cathy Ulrich. I read a piece by Christopher Allen in Longleaf Review a while back that I can’t stop thinking about. We, by we I mean F(r)iction, recently published a piece by Kim Chinquee that is so short and so perfect. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s collections are probably my favorite books I own, and Calvino’s Invisible Cities changed how I thought about writing. Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God should be required reading. There’s more, but if you are looking to get into reading or writing flash any and all of these writers will amaze you. 

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 I had a story come out with Fictive Dream a while back that I really loved. It has a structure that I was experimenting with that I think gave the ending a lot of force. It’s about a girl who is being chased by horses that only she can see. 

BIO: Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared most recently in Foliate Oak,Gone LawnNew Plains Review, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Coordinator for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com

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Mini-Interview with David Drury

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

I like getting to the point. I like starting fast and finishing in a short amount of time so I can do it all over again as soon as possible. Once I have started, the however, the writing happens very slowly, or at least it feels that way. Keeping the whole beginning-middle-end thing brief really helps.  I could write more, I suppose. I could turn micro-fiction into a short story or a short story into a novel, but why? I like more, but for me more doesn’t mean paragraphs, pages, scenes or chapters. It doesn’t mean sitting around inside of one long story. It means writing more stories. New stories. New settings, new voices, new pants with cake on them, new lightning in a bridle, new black holes, new crushes, new tricks. New ways to turn things upside down. New ways to spell hope. If a story asks to be longer than a few pages, I will listen, but I need a reason.

Flash is a house in a tree hardly big enough for one sleeping bag, but the windows go all the way around and the roof is a skylight, and the stars are out. Writers talk about their appreciation for the restraints of the form. I like those fine. I also like the freedom. Not freedom from something but freedom in aid of something. Flash might be a puddle wide, but it is capable of going all the way down, like a rope ladder or a well or one of those waterslides that takes the heads off of children. 

In the future, flash fiction will be the primary form of communication. On the way out the door, you’ll ask your spouse what they might need from the store, and your spouse will answer with a short story. The short story they tell you in less than a few minutes will bring about two changes. First, it will imprint itself on your heart in a way that opens you to receive love in ever new ways, and secondly, it will let you know in no uncertain terms that you should pick up butter, the good kind of bread, and something strong to drink, like someone’s coming over and we all have reason to celebrate.

In the New Testament, whenever someone turned to Jesus with a serious question, he answered with flash fiction. Just saying.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I don’t think character is the thing—I spend more time looking at what my characters are looking at. But it’s not plot either. When I start thinking about plot all the blood drains from my body and my breathing gets shallow.

I think my writerly lifejacket is paradox. Not like confusion or some dumb riddle, or things being cancelled out, but the search for balance when we spend so much of our life under all this weight of imbalance. Paradox is raising questions and scratching around for the answers. What would happen if a Disney Cruise Ship full of grandmas in white shorts disappeared from the sea and reappeared high in the Andes mountains? How might a room full of houselamps gossip about the sun? Why does life come from death? What do a lake and an onion have in common as it relates to the cosmos? –In my opinion paradox holds the clues to where we come from, where we are going, and how we can best get there. Flash fiction is perhaps best suited to engage paradox. With flash, readers allow their standards for what is a story to slide. And where there is a slide, there is an exposed hillside. And a good student of geology knows that if you look to an exposed hillside, you might find an entire skeleton or a vein of gold.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Most of my stories get their start from a daily writing exercise, essentially an 11-minute, 400-word free-for-all burst of typing. The exercise for me is an unlocking, an unleashing, a bloodletting. Like pulling the sink stopper on a head full of water. Once I isolate an idea from the middle of that rinse, I set it inside a spoon and turn up the heat and to see how the thing wants to melt. I stare at words. I remove a single comma. I put it back in.

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

Lately it has been the search for healing in my family of origin. But more generally it is the places where people/humanity intersect the spiritual/mystical—religion, outer space, death, the supernatural, inanimate objects, the afterlife. Writer and Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr said “Metaphor is the only language available to religion because it alone is honest about mystery.” I’m a preacher’s son who is trying to finally be honest about mystery.

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

Charles Simic, Mary Ruefle, Russell Edson, Albert Goldbarth, Kay Ryan, Kirsty Logan, Seamus Heaney, William Brohaugh, Avital Gad-Cykman, Alexander Weinstein, Kelly Cherry, Zuleema Renee Summerfield. I realize many of these are considered poets. Where they set aside the use of line breaks I like their work best.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Trick question. I can’t say there is one story for which the response was notably underwhelming as compared to any other story. I always get a few likes, a few retweets, and one new follower. For print publications—silence. Nevertheless, the story that first popped into my head when I read this question was one called The Lake and the Onion. But the weird thing is that The Lake/Onion story has gotten way more “recognition” than my other stories (first published in ZYZZYVA and then Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019). I think the story came to my mind because not because I want recognition, but because I want to know what people think. I want them to talk about it—to me, to each other, whatever. I am curious if someone can tell me something about my story I don’t already know. I’ll bet they can. That’s what I want.

BIO: David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. He is the son of a preacher man, and earned a master’s degree in Christian Studies from Regent College, University of British Columbia. He co-starred in a rock-and-roll film set in Tokyo, Japan (Big in Japan 2014) and co-wrote the soundtrack. He counted cards on the notorious Church Team, as seen in the documentary film Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. He has been kicked out of every casino in Las Vegas. His fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio and been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading (2003, 2019), ZYZZYVA, Matchbook, Atticus Review, Pidgeonholes, Paper Darts, Monkeybicycle, Cheap Pop, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Scablands Books, 100 Word Story, New Flash Fiction Review, Best Christian Short Stories, Tiny House Magazine and others. His fiction can be found atdaviddruryauthor.com.

Mini-Interview with Andrew Roe

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

When I started writing flash it was mostly out of necessity. I was struggling to finish a novel and even traditional length short stories felt daunting. I was a new parent, working full time, with a long drive/commute. My time was limited and so I began writing flash. The sense of completion was very fulfilling, but I also really came to love the form—what makes it different for me is the challenge, the possibility of saying so much in so little space.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

That’s an easy one: character. I like to say plot is my kryptonite. I think I’m getting better.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise—that’s me. I labor over sentences, syllables, commas, em dashes, the sound/feel/look of certain letters when juxtaposed against other letters. It takes longer to get a first draft, but usually—usually—it’s a fairly solid first draft. I’m a turtle. I try to focus on achieving momentum—no matter how large or small—every day. Or every week. My writing time lately has been pretty minimal.

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

It’s an obvious answer, but it’s true—I’d have to say being a parent and having a family. It does change how you navigate and view the world, and if you’re squeezing in writing fiction in addition to family life and work and anything else, it forces you to focus and maximize any writing time you have. There’s no later; there’s no putting it off until the moment is right and you find the ideal writing conditions; there are no writing conditions except having a desire and compulsion to write and keep writing.

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

Wow. So many. I’m just going to start listing without thinking about it too much…

“Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula” by Lindsay Hunter

“The Once Mighty Fergusons” by Kathy Fish

“Baby Arm” by Roxane Gay

“Wants” by Grace Paley

“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace

And some writers who do flash: Joy Williams, Lucia Berlin, Deb Olin Unferth, Josh Denslow, Meg Pokrass, Ethel Rohan, Robert Vaughn, Len Kuntz, Kim Chinquee, Heather Fowler, Lauren Becker, Ben Loory, Sara Lippmann…

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel like I’ve been very lucky and have been able to place stories in various publications. One of my favorite stories—and I think one of my best—is “A Matter of Twenty-Four Hours.” It appeared in Glimmer Train and it’s in my collection Where You Live. So I can’t really complain about recognition. But I’d love it if more people found their way to this story.

BIO: Andrew Roe is the author of the novel The Miracle Girl, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and Where You Livea collection of short stories. His short fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review, and other literary magazines, as well as the anthologies Where Love Is Found (Washington Square Press) and 24 Bar Blues (Press 53). In addition, his essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and three children. For more information, visit andrewroeauthor.com.

Mini-Interview with William Gilmer

Why do you write flash? What makes it different?
There can be a sort of freedom in limits. A story that’s thousands of words long is going to have expectations about depth, character progression, detailed settings, etc. and flash doesn’t need to be bothered with all of it. When facing a short word count, you just don’t have the time to develop huge sprawling word-scapes or plots that weave the reader through a dozen twists and turns. Flash allows you to hyper focus on the idea or concept that brought you to the page in the first place. I love that can sit down and say, “I want the reader to feel this,” and fully concentrate on that one aspect. I have had a lot of ideas that wouldn’t be able to support pages of story but that work perfectly in the flash arena.
Flash forces us to distill a story down to its best, most critical, parts. It’s the difference between sipping a few fingers of bourbon and drinking a mug of beer. Ideally, you’re going to end up in the same place, one is just going to be a quicker, more intense, ride.  
 
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
Wow, how can you choose? I think we all want to see interesting characters doing interesting things, but if there’s a gun to my head, I have to say characters. I can think of dozens of flash pieces that amount to little more than two characters talking. Maybe they’re two robots roaming Earth after the apocalypse, or a wife visiting her husband on his death bed, if they are characters you can feel for, can root for, then it doesn’t really matter to me what they are doing. The reverse is not usually true for me. I have seen too many great scenarios ruined by hollow or cardboard characters.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
 There’s no doubt that I’m a member of the turtle writer’s club. Is slow and messy an option? I tend to plot things out very carefully when the time comes to get everything on paper. I’m the kind of person that will let a story ride around in my head for weeks or even months until I think I have it all figured out. Fermentation has its benefits, as long as you can be patient.
 
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences you?
  I would be lost without music! Music, for me, is a great way to get in touch with the emotions I want to present in a piece. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to mimic, or represent, the feelings I get for certain pieces of music with words. Sometimes all it takes is a simple melody to get my head into the right “tone” for a particular story. I’ve gone so far as to listen to different music for different characters or scenes in the same piece. The right song can really help get me into the right head-space.  
 
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
My Husband is Made of Ash – By Jennifer Todhunter. While everything that Jennifer Todhunter puts out is amazing, this piece has always had a place in my heart.
http://www.smokelong.com/my-husband-is-made-of-ash/

For Our Light Affliction – By Stephen S. Power. I have a soft spot for crafty Satan characters, and the ending is so “Good Omens”-esque! There probably isn’t a month that goes by that this piece doesn’t pop into my head for one reason or another.
https://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/stephen-s-power/for-our-light-affliction

Offspring – By Brenda Anderson. This piece is pure absurdity and I love every word of it! This story taught me that you can do anything in flash, the only limits on our imaginations are the ones we put there ourselves.
http://flashfictiononline.com/main/article/offspring/

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
Wow, that’s a hard one. I appreciate every eye that finds its way to something I’ve written, so I’m never disappointed by any amount of recognition! Back in 2017 The Sunlight Press was gracious enough to publish a piece of mine titled “Sambuca Zen”. The story didn’t gain much traction, which I always chalked up to the fact that it was off genre for me. This was the first non-speculative piece that I had released into the world. While I’m not sure how much recognition it deserves, it will always be something that I’m very proud of.
https://www.thesunlightpress.com/2017/08/22/sambuca-zen/

BIO: Will Gilmer is a writer and poet living in Metro-Detroit. Over two dozen of his stories have appeared in print and online. When he’s not putting his thoughts on paper you can find him piddling in a garden, brewing beer, or practicing for he and his wife’s imaginary appearance on The Great British Bake Off. If there isn’t enough going on in your feed, follow him on Twitter @willwritethings. BIO:

Mini-Interview with Francine Witte

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

I write flash because I adore the compression of it. I love telling bits of a story and letting the reader fill in the rest. I like this in longer work, too. Subtext has always fascinated me.

I also like to write a lot of different things. That’s why I prefer poetry and flash to longer forms. Whenever I am working on a longer story, there’s a part of me saying. I could have written five flashes by now.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m big on character. You get the character, the plot just follows.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy, to be sure. If I don’t get a story in the first draft, I move on. Not to say, I don’t revise, but if the bones aren’t there, it’s over.

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

Love gone wrong, to be sure.

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

Oh my, so many. Robert Scotellaro, Meg Pokrass, Leonora Desar, Pam Painter, Paul Beckman, I could go on and on.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Every so often, I write a story that I really think hits the mark, and I submit it and it takes forever to get accepted. That one.

BIO: Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbook, one full-length collection, and the forthcoming, Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) and her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction, as well as a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This which is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. She live in New York City, USA.

Mini-Interview with Kristin Tenor

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

My stories often lean toward the quiet details that surround a relationship, a life, with the hope they’ll somehow uncover the extraordinary. Once during a writer workshop at UW-Madison, our instructor introduced the class to Robert Hass’ “Story About a Body.” Without too much of a spoiler here, the piece concludes with the lasting image of a blue bowl filled with dead bees covered by rose petals. I’m continually amazed and inspired by what the well-chosen detail can convey through image and implication alone. Resonance is the gold standard to any lasting piece of literature, however, the possibilities in flash fiction to meld narrative and emotion in such a concise, complex way defines real artistry to me. It’s something I strive for with every piece I write.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: plot or character?

This often feels like one of those chicken/egg questions, but I’d have to go with character. If neither yearning or an emotional connection exist between the character and reader, you can throw all the plotlines you want into the water. Nothing will save you.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

How about messy and slow? The most difficult part of the process for me is actually getting that first draft down on the page. I agonize over it for days, sometimes weeks, writing notes here and there. I’ll take a walk, visit the library, weed the garden, talk to the kids, bake a batch of cookies, eat the cookies, write down a few more notes, rinse, repeat. Once I have the initial draft down, revision picks up the momentum. I realize it’s not the most productive route, but I’ve come to trust both my subconscious and the process.

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

My grandsons, who are three and one, constantly remind me how important it is to stay open and curious about the world. To them everything is a wonder, good or bad.

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

One of my favorite flash pieces is Kathy Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild.” Her work not only illuminates the human condition, but also seeps compassion.

I also love Cathy Ulrich’s Murdered Lady Series. I’m impressed with how these pieces start from the same origin but tell such different and compelling stories. “Being the Murdered Babysitter,” published in Passages North, is both incredible and haunting.

I’m enjoying Josh Denslow’s collection, “Not Everyone Is Special.” He does a fantastic job creating a bridge between his characters and readers.

Christopher Allen’s “How to Shop After the Death of Your Brother” in Split Lip left me speechless.

The footnote structure in Meg Pillow Davis’ “Ten Rules for Cooks on the Verge of Collapse” in Hobart creates such and interesting parallel to what’s on the surface.

K.B. Carle’s “Vagabond Mannequin” floored me with its ingenuity. She’s definitely someone to watch.

Kim Magowan’s “Madlib” and her collection, “Undoing,” are wonderful. The complexity and layers she weaves into the relationships she writes about are so palpable and real.

I appreciate the honesty in Marvin Shackelford’s work. “The Coyote Eventually Has His Day” in Waxwing and “On Water” in Spry both speak to this truth.

Otherwise, I recommend anything written by Joy Williams or Lydia Davis. Also, Garth Risk Hallberg’s novella, “A Field Guide to the North American Family,” combines both flash narrative and photography to present an artistic feast. Great stuff.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Honestly, I appreciate any recognition my work receives. The flash fiction community, especially on Twitter, has been extremely generous and supportive. I’m so grateful.

Bio: Kristin Tenor’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Midwest Review, Spelk Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Bending Genres, River Teeth—Beautiful Things, and Spry Literary Journal, where she also volunteers as a general reader. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband. More at www.kristintenor.com or on Twitter @KristinTenor.

Mini-Interview with Roppotucha Greenberg

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

Because longer short stories are out to get me. I sink into their world, meet some characters, hope to make a few friends, and crash. Boom. They end it all. And I am left hanging in the in-between-books type of abyss . I think short stories dislike me. They want me to think about unpaid bills and mortality. Short stories have staid jobs and live in the 1950s.  Flash stories are different. The world is against them, all they have is a thousand words to create a universe, and they manage. By hook or by crook, by blank space or repurposed forms, or by getting re-written five thousand times over. And they get away with it. Flash stories are great people. I don’t know if you’d completely trust them with your wallet, but they are firmly on the side of the infinity.  

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot is like using heat and darkness to create something out of nothing. You know the way giants emerged out of the blood-warmed earth, or the way you can leave a few rags in a dark corner to make mice. (A professor I admire told me about this life-hack, but I still have to try it). Or maybe plot is already there at the start, and it’s just a matter of realizing what’s going on, so you’d have a scene with a fishnet, and then three drafts later, you’d get someone bringing in the catch.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely slow and messy. I wouldn’t wish my writing style on my worst enemy. I am confident, however, that doodling is good for writing, tweeting is good for writing, staring into space is good for writing, and not writing is good for writing.

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

I moved countries twice, the first time when I was twelve, and the second time as a young adult, twenty or so years ago. I’ve been slowly making sense of that in some of my stories, (‘On the Proper Use of the Mosquitoes’ and ‘Where’s that accent from’). One peculiar result of the first move was that I mistook space for time. My adolescence was literally a new place; if I felt confused and misunderstood by my surroundings that was because I actually didn’t speak the language. The fantastic elements in my writing are probably related to that. Patricia Garcia writes  that ‘space is the fantastic’, that intrusions or subversions of space constitute the common denominator of the fantastic (Space and the Postmodern: Fantastic in the Contemporary Literature, Routledge 2015). And the experience of migration and chronic nostalgia do just that – they turn the space around you into something else, part reflections of the past and part memories of the future. Once you switch countries nothing surprises you. A ghost of an old country behind the radiator, why not. Your boyfriend morphing into the landscape—shame but can’t be helped.

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

The writers involved in the #vss365 daily hashtag game have created a glorious hive of micro-fiction. Most readers would probably be familiar with that and similar daily and weekly games. Still, I think the whole project deserves sky-high praise for the commitment of its founders, the spontaneity of its participants, its non-competitive nature, its inclusivity, but most of all because it reads like a magical book. It’s like that book of legend that changes with each reader.

I stumbled upon the #vss365 a year ago. I’ve had fantastic adventures since, culminating in two self-published creature books of tiny stories and doodle-answers to questions by other micro-fiction writers. I am deeply grateful to the community and would feel wrong singling any favourites out here.  

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’d love for more people to read ‘Their Untimely Lives’ in The Cabinet of Heed (https://cabinetofheed.com/2019/04/01/their-untimely-lives-roppotucha-greenberg/)

A wonderful writer that I admire gave me some feedback on the story. She said one of the characters should have died. So, I worked very hard and re-drafted the story just to convince her and other readers that he’s better left alive (I’d do anything for my characters). And then my sister said wonderful things about the story. I asked her: ‘Do you think I should’ve let him die?’ And she said: ‘No, of course not, besides, he mostly died anyway, and when the girlfriend tried to save him, she was actually trying to save both of them’.

BIO: Roppotucha  Greenberg’s stories have appeared in  Noon (Arachne Press 2019), Elephants Never, Ellipsis Zine, Twist in Time, The Forge Literary Magazine, Virtual Zine, The Honey and Lime Literary Magazine, The Barren Magazine and  several others. She lives in Ireland and doodles creatures. Her first creature book, Creatures Give Advice, is out on Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creatures-Give-Advice-Roppotucha-Greenberg/dp/1091088985/) with the second book, Creatures Give Advice (and it’s warmer now) scheduled for release on 21 June 2019. Web: roppotucha.blogspot.com