Mini-Interview with Dana Diehl

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

Flash fiction is like a small treasure that fits in your pocket. A perfectly smooth stone, maybe. Or a bird egg you find on the sidewalk, miraculously uncracked. When I write flash, I love that I can see the beginning and end of the story at the same time. If I make a change in the first paragraph, I can instantly see, without flipping or scrolling, how it changes the last paragraph.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I don’t think I fit in either of those categories! I usually start a story with a concept, and when I feel stuck, I always return to that concept. I ask myself: In this world or situation I’ve created, what are the possibilities? Have I played out all of those possibilities to the fullest extent? Which of those possibilities would lead to the most interesting plot or character development?

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I usually start out slowly, painfully slowly. Then, when I feel like I’ve locked into the voice of the story, I switch to quick and messy.

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

I’m so influenced by my students. I teach nine and ten-year-olds who are full of creativity and incredible strangeness and unusual ways of seeing the world. They love asking “What if?” questions, and I think they’ve taught me to do the same. They’ve also given me an appreciation for stories that are fun and playful and don’t take themselves too seriously.

If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?

One of my all-time favorite flash stories is “Life Story” by Joseph Scapellato. You can read an excerpt on Kenyon Reviewor in his short story collection, Big Lonesome. It’s incredible, and I won’t spoil it by trying to explain why!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really fond of my story, “The Ulcer,” published with Jellyfish Review, because I feel like the narrator in that story is closer to me than maybe any other story I’ve written. It’s based on my anxiety surrounding my body and my wish for simple, decisive answers. Maybe if you’ve ever worried obsessively that you have an ulcer, this story might be for you?

BIO:

Dana Diehl is the author of OUR DREAMS MIGHT ALIGN (Splice UK, 2018) and TV GIRLS (New Delta Review, 2018).

Her collaborative short story collection, THE CLASSROOM, was published with Gold Wake Press in January 2019.

Dana earned her BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University. She received her MFA in Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

Dana has served as editor-in-chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review and The Susquehanna Review. She is a Blog Interviewer for The Collagist. She has taught Composition, Creative Writing, and Humanities at Arizona State University, Florence Prison, the National University of Singapore, and BASIS Primary.

Her honors and awards include a Completion Fellowship from Arizona State University, as well as Piper Enrichment Grants to attend the Port Townshend Writers Conference and the Rutgers Camden Summer Writers’ Conference. In 2014, she received a Piper Global Fellowship to teach Creative Writing at the National University of Singapore. She has been awarded a Glendon & Kathryn Swarthout Prize in Fiction.

Mini-Interview with Tim Fitts

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

In my mind, traditional stories lengths are like pitching a single out in baseball.  Presenting the batter with a variety of images that allow him or her to think you are going to put the ball here at this speed, when, instead, you put the ball there at that speed, leaving the batter stunned, forced to consider how they got into the predicament and what to do, all starting from your body form, angle of release, and so on and so forth.  Flash is when the count is three and two, and they decide to bring in a reliever for a single pitch, and you put everything into that pitch.  It’s a fastball.  You know it, the batter knows it, and the ball snaps into the catcher’s mitt creating a brief cloud of dirt from the air forced from the padding of the mitt.  That’s a flash piece. 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?  Right down the middle.  Half and half – the tightrope between the two. 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?  Probably slow and precise.  With a novel, you can live in that world for some time and crawl around inside it.  Flash seems like laying an egg.  They occur sporadically with the soft shell, and the second draft hardens the shell.

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

These days, I work to set out and catch an image.  For instance, last year I published a story, “Sea Balloon,” in The Baltimore Review about a sea turtle that is about to eat a balloon floating on the surface.  When my brother and I set out to go fishing, just prior to leaving, I closed my eyes and said to myself, “Find the image,” and then went about my business.  About a mile out, I saw the balloon, and sort of perked up, and just like clockwork, I saw the head of the sea turtle making a beeline toward the balloon, too late to do anything about it.  “There it is,” I said to myself, then waited four months for the words to put themselves in the right order.

It is very important to embark on the day, whether it’s fishing or going to class and set your mind into alert mode and wait for the nugget.

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

Cameron MacKenzie’s “Coyotes,” published in CutBank online.

Jessica Francis Kane’s “Night Class,” from her book, This Close

Amy Hempel’s “Church Cancels Cow”

Raymond Carver’s “Popular Mechanics”

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“Blue Print,” which appears in my collection of stories, Hypothermia, but was written too late in the process to be published in a journal.

BIO: Tim Fitts lives and works in Philadelphia with his wife and two children.  He is the author of two short story collections, Hypothermia (MadHat Press) and Go Home and Cry for Yourselves (Xavier Review Press).  His work has been published by journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Granta, Cutbank, fugue, The Apple Valley Review, A3 Review, Boulevard, among many others.  His flash piece, “Shark Patrol,” will drop on the TJ Eckleburg Online website, February 11.

Mini-Interview with Dan Crawley

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

Maybe it’s because I used to write songs when I was a teen, playing out narratives of specific characters or settings in my songs. So in my twenties, it was an easy transition into writing flash fiction. Plus, I found writers like Carver and Moacyr Scliar. I remember sitting in the used book section, down in the basement at Changing Hands bookstore, reading the translation of Scliar’s whole collection called The Carnival of the Animals and thinking, “I want to do this!” Back then, the writers I hung around called them short-shorts, and I loved the immediacy, the jolt of a moment. Still do. I’m attracted to brevity, glimpses into characters’ lives that reveal their uniqueness in a brief moment. And once I started writing stories, I found very few literary journals publishing flash fictions. This was in the snail mail, all-print days. I wrote long stories to break into getting published. But my love of flash fiction never left me and I’m glad this form of storytelling is robust and vital and growing at this time.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’ll follow my characters anywhere, most of the time having no clue where they’re taking me. I remember a bigtime writer once told me that sometimes your characters will take over your intention and you’re just typing fast enough to keep up. I thought this was a weird, hippy-dippy notion. Sure enough, the more I wrote, the more the characters took over. I have no clue about my endings at times, but my characters, thankfully, save the day over and over again. I’m very needy of my characters, you see.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Once I get to typing out a story, it is fast fast fast. But before I type, I’m writing longhand in a notebook. That is agonizingly slow. Seriously, if you’ve got a five-year-old child, the same child may be in college by the time I finish some of my stories! The good thing is, presently, I have a backlog of characters/settings/conflicts playing out on multiple screens in my mind. If a beginning and a middle of the story look as if might be interesting, I’ll start drafting it out, always hoping my character(s) are leading me in the right direction. I’ve had some story ideas (images of moments) looping on my multiplex for years now. Of course, everything changes with revisions. Everything. I wonder if a story is ever done?

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

Financial woes. Family dynamics. I was raised in a large family (six children) that struggled at times. So all these years, I’ve been able to hang out in the corners and observe not only my own family but have interacted with all kinds of different families and their relationships. Perfect fodder for conflict-rich stories.

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

It’s hard to make a list here because I love the work of so many flash writers, producing, I believe, the best in contemporary fiction today. And I’m finding new writers of flash all the time. I will say, to be jolted unexpectedly by a writer I’ve never read before is a gift, truly.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m proud of “What Others Do About It.” I’m grateful that Kim Chinquee enjoyed this flash enough to publish it in New World Writing back in 2017.

BIO: Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Bending Genres, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, and Atticus Review. His work has been nominated for Best Small FictionsBest of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at https://twitter.com/danbillycom.

Mini-Interview with Michael Prihoda

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

I write flash because it has no rules. Or, at least, it encourages breaking the rules. I think flash embraces chaos and novelty and risk-taking. It can flow into and out of genres at the drop of a sentence. It’s far less about character development or an ongoing excavation and more like bumping your toe in the dark so that you stop and feel about to see what you ran into.

And much like poetry, flash fiction is about discovery, requiring a near-instant invitation to the reader. There’s no time to waste. I hope to not so much have readers experience something during one of my flash pieces as to get to the end of a story and feel they have discovered something about the world that they hadn’t encountered before.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Neither. As a poet first, I often approach writing flash fiction similarly to how I approach poetry, which means starting with an image or a naked idea. Then giving the reader a larger view or else dressing up an idea into a pseudo-story. Ideas and images are king for me in writing flash.

If a novel is a Polaroid whose development is slowed and stretched across hundreds of pages, flash fiction is a finger press on a camera phone. The picture springs instantly to life and the reader is allowed to look at it, and turn it over. The reading experience is meant to be short, but the impact is meant to linger, and I find the challenging of crafting impact from 1000 words or less incredibly inspiring and worth pursuing.

Flash fiction also has natural constraints that, instead of feeling suffocated, let me be expansive and, perhaps, even less to the point than a well-plotted novel or short story might aim to be. In addition, like poetry, it often feels like what goes unsaid or unseen carries, or should carry, as much weight.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely quick and messy. I tend to find my first drafts tumble out in only one or two chunks. I’ll let them breathe for a while on their own and if the piece still excites me when I return, I try to massage it down into a more finished product. But, admittedly, I do very little content editing to most of my flash pieces. If they seem to need more than a little polish, I often cast them out and pursue new ideas instead.

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

I’ll cheat and pick two things: my religion and my political views. I identify as Mennonite and might be too far left at times for even the socialists. My religion and politics are inseparable from how I view the world and from how I believe humans are meant to be in the world. My writing is the avenue through which I hope to combat the systems, policies, and sometimes individuals that try to oppress my fellow humans and to advocate and fight for a better world, one where all humans are treated equitably and are able to prosper and live with dignity.

All that loftiness aside, sometimes a story is just a story, meant for entertainment and fun. Because we need that too. I know I certainly do and I hope readers will find that in my writing at times. Nobody ever said we couldn’t have fun and be wildly imaginative while also working toward a more just and humane existence.

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

I adore Lydia Davis. While she doesn’t write exclusively flash, I am consistently drawn to her shortest pieces. The emotion and depth she can wring from just a few sentences seems otherworldly.

I’ve also always enjoyed Etgar Keret for the way he can make outlandish ideas feel grounded yet thrilling in the space of just a few pages.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

A story I’ve recently published that I feel deeply attached to is “The Last Shia LaBeouf on Earth.” As the title alludes, it plays with the fictional consciousness of Shia LaBeouf undergoing an existential crisis while living through various episodes that may or may not be part of his life. If I had to pick just one piece to show someone who was brand new to my work, that’s the one I’d show them. I also continue to hold out hope that maybe Shia LaBeouf will one day read the piece and appreciate it and write me a letter or something, because he seems old-fashioned in that sort of way.

BIO: Michael Prihoda lives in central Indiana. He is the founding editor of After the Pause, an experimental literary magazine and small press. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology and he is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Out of the Sky (Hester Glock, 2019).

Mini-Interview with Ben Loory

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

A long time ago I decided that I was just going to write my stories the way I’d tell them to someone if we were sitting around talking in a bar or whatever. So that’s what I do. About half the time they end up being under 1,000 words, and the other half a little over. Sometimes they even get up to 2,000 (I think that counts as a novel). But it’s all the same to me; I never know how long they’re going to be until they’re done, and the only thing I care about is that they’re right, that they work and make me smile sentence by sentence and feel like you’ve emotionally broken through to something at the end and don’t make me cringe at any point when I read them aloud. That’s an impossible enough task for me; the idea of aiming for any specific word count really just boggles my mind.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Well, character is the north star; the revelation of it is what you aim for, and the feel and pull of it is how you steer. But plot is how you get there. So 50/50 split.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I write first drafts very quickly, usually in 20 minutes or less, and then spend months or years editing and expanding and shrinking and throwing everything out and starting over and building it up again from scratch and then going back to the previous version and then the later version and then the initial version and etc etc etc until finally somehow the right version of the story clicks fully into place from beginning to end, and then I iron and iron and polish and polish forever and ever and ever.

(I don’t recommend it, but it’s my process.)

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

One night when I was little my dad took my sister and I outside onto the patio and pointed up at the stars and told us all about them, what they were and where and how maybe there were other planets moving around some of them and maybe there were other people, other life forms on those planets, and maybe some of them were standing outside their homes looking up at the stars in the night sky and wondering about us, if we existed and what we were like and what we were up to. That’s the moment I try to live in and hopefully write my stories from.

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

“Lemmings” by Richard Matheson.

“Appointment in Samarra” as retold by Somerset Maugham.

And probably my favorite: the 2-paragraph blanket story from Scott McClanahan’s novel Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I had a story up at Wigleaf in 2018 called “Mystery (The Third Man)” which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. Just really gave me that special feeling.

Ben Loory is the author of the collections TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING
and STORIES FOR NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Sewanee Review, and A Public Space, and been heard on This American Life and Selected
Shorts. Find him at benloory.com.

Mini-Interview with Hillary Leftwich

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

I write flash because I’m not a traditional writer, and I like being able to write a piece without having the constraints of the short story form. What makes it different for me is being able to take a character or a scene and focus solely on that one moment or person and then abandon the reader. Flash fiction is a one-night stand. Short stories are a long-term relationship. Novels are a marriage. Sometimes you don’t want the commitment. That’s why flash is so attractive.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Great question. I’ll take character over plot any day. But I’ve always been intuitively drawn to people more than events my entire life. Both are important to writing. But character, character for me is where it’s at.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

If we think of this question in terms of a murder, for me, it’s slow and precise. I have to make sure I don’t rush and make a mistake. That’s when you when you leave evidence behind, or in the case of writing, miss something vital.

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

Wonderful question, Tommy! As writers, we observe, we soak in everything around us, almost without thinking about it. Writers write about their experiences in one form or another. That’s what makes us different, right? For me, every aspect of my life has been an influence on my writing. I write about all the different jobs I’ve had, the trauma I’ve been through, my son and his epilepsy, our escape from domestic violence, the ghosts that follow us, my relationship with the dead and their communication with me, hell, even the death of my beloved cat.

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

Let’s get a little dark here, shall we? There’s a story that’s always stayed with me over the years that never goes away. It’s called “The Dead Mother” by Vincent Poturica. You can find it at The Vestal Review. It’s something I don’t admit to that often, but it’s a story I find myself understanding in ways I don’t want to face. I use it as an example when teaching classes. Trigger warning, please take care.

Aside from the heavy hitters like Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, Tara Campbell, and Len Kuntz, Desiree Cooper is a name that isn’t mentioned as much as it should be in the world of flash fiction. Her collection of flash fiction, “Know the Mother,” is writing I connect with both as a mother, absolutely, but it’s more than that. It speaks of the secrets of a mother’s heart, the ones we don’t dare share with anyone. But she does, and she does it beautifully. There’s honest darkness to her writing that I connect with that I don’t find too often. Please do read it.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m big on class and the blue-collar workers, the invisible people. If you’ve read anything by me, interviews or reviews or writing, you’ll see that. It’s important to me. So, I try to use my voice to give this a spotlight. But it seems the pieces I write about the trans community and my experiences with my trans mentor in one of my pieces at the Super Eight Motel, or the ones focusing on non-binary characters get glossed over. It shines the ultra-ugly light on the bigger concern of the importance of these voices along with writers of color and women writers overall in the publishing world being ignored or shoved in a corner. It’s a much larger issue with a longstanding history, and as a result, is going to take time to take down, which can only be done by reading more works, buying more books, and publishing more authors.

BIO: Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019), which is featured in Entropy’s Best Fiction list of 2019. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. Currently, she freelances as a writer, editor, and writing workshop instructor focusing on trauma writing. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. She will be attending The Kenyon Review’s Writers Workshop for nonfiction and will be a featured visiting writer at Western Illinois University in 2020. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at http://www.hillaryleftwich.com  

Mini-Interview with Nuala O’Connor

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

I’ve always been obsessed with small things, tiny well-made objects, aswell as prose and poetry in its teeniest forms. I love concision, precision and neatness – I was a fan of Ivor Cutler and Emily Dickinson and other sharp, economical writers in my teens and that love just grew and grew. I write novels, but flash and short stories are my true loves.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. I pretty much hate plot, but I also admire plotty work (well, some of it). I’m disinterested in plot as a concept. I like the ‘what-happens’ to grow out of my characters’ personalities and I don’t know what’ll happen until I’m there with them. I really don’t enjoy thinking about plot or having convos about it, it makes me feel a bit sick.

But characters are fascinating, the way people are. I love the fucked-up, glorious madness of people – the weird things that motivate us, our vast differences, the odd/nasty/sweet ways people can be. I want my characters to be flexible the way most of us are, for them not to sound one note, but to be nuanced and unpredictable.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and precise. I’m twenty plus years writing seriously. I can swiftly get done what I need to get done. I edit as I go. I edit more afterwards. But I’m in a perpetual hurry (that’s my nature), so I tend to be very Carveresque in my method: I ‘get in, get out, don’t linger, go on’.

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

My endless self-analysis, my endless dissecting of other people’s personalities. Or if you mean more materially, my obsession with things/objects – I collect a lot of different stuff (e.g. ceramics, vintage jewellery, blue glass, paperweights, seaglass, miniature figures, dolls etc.). Objects tend to be important in my writing – they can be catalysts, or symbolic/sacred to my characters. Also travel and history.

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

Inevitably this means I’ll leave people out and I’m sorry about that. But, off the top of my head, I’m a fan of these innovative and wonderful flash writers: Tania Hershman, Sandra Jensen, Meg Pokrass, Lydia Davis, Robert Olen Butler, Lucia Berlin, Sharon Telfer, Frances Gapper, Ken Elkes, Adam Trodd, Jude Higgins, Fiona Mackintosh, Damhnait Monaghan, Tracey Slaughter.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

What a question! It’s not natural for (Irish) writers to blow their own trumpets, it is, in fact, forbidden. But, as you asked, I’m fond of my flash ‘Yellow’ that appeared first in Cease, Cows, in 2014, for its trans credentials and its look at fertility issues.

BIO: Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. In 2019 she won the James Joyce Quarterly competition to write the missing story from Dubliners, ‘Ulysses’. Her fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was recently published to critical acclaim in the US, Ireland and the UK. Her forthcoming novel is about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at flash e-zine Splonkwww.nualaoconnor.com