Mini-Interview with Christopher Allen

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

Thank you for these questions, Tommy.

The no-nonsense, practical answer: I think I started workshopping flash because my stories were more likely to get a lot of reviews in the online workshop I took part in 10 years ago. My short stories would get four or five reviews when my flash fictions were getting 40 or 50. And this was at a time when not every journal was running a flash fiction contest.

A more personal answer: In graduate school, I was greatly affected by my readings of Virginia Woolf and what she described as “Moments of Being”. This idea of the deeply experienced moment, as opposed to the day-to-day forgettable actions of life, stuck with me and changed the way I wrote. Flash, in my opinion, shucks the mundane away.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I really have to focus on arc when I write because my lifejacket is definitely character and voice. I write a lot of absurdist narratives in which my characters resist learning, understanding, and progress—which doesn’t mean the reader doesn’t learn or understand something new. It’s difficult to figure out a pleasing structure for a narrative/plot that is in many ways going nowhere.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I would love to say quick and messy. I admire people who post on social media that they’ve written: “3000 horrible words today!” In real-life workshops, I gawp at other people scribbling madly during a writing exercise and think What the hell are you people writing? By the time I write something down, I’ve thought about it for weeks. I’ve hiked up a mountain with the story in my head. My characters and I have cycled a hundred kilometers together. We’ve cross-country skied. We’ve mown the lawn. Twice.

And then it’s still messy.

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

My crazy real-life schedule makes it difficult for me to write for more than an hour or two at a time. If I write in the mornings, I have to get up at four. I’m a lethargic lump in the middle of the day. If I write in the evenings, I have to sacrifice time with my partner. I sometimes write on the train if I have something I absolutely have to get down on paper. So a shortage of long periods of time to write has influenced my writing.

Being an editor of flash fiction for the last 10 years has also influenced how and what I write. All writing—from awful to awesome—is instructional as long as you’re willing to learn from it. There are so many great writers out there, each with their own style and purpose. I’m lucky to be exposed to a wide variety of writers.

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

To avoid offending anyone, I usually try to answer this question without giving names. But this time I’m going to name some names. In 2017 I was a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. I was thrilled to see that so many of my nominations were recognized by the editors of BSF, three of which were chosen to be in the anthology. A few of the writers below were also recognized for stories nominated by other editors/journals as well (indicated below in parentheses). All of these writers deserve more reads:

Kathleen Jones – BSF winner
‘The Exact Coordinates of Eleanor’ at Paper Darts

Ashley Hutson – BSF winner
‘I Will use this Story to Tell Another Story’ at Fanzine

Jules Archers – BSF finalist
‘We Will Set Anything on Fire’ at Maudlin House

Elisabeth Ingram Wallace – BSF semifinalist
‘Ida’ at Atticus Review

(also a finalist for ‘A Chest Full of Spiders,’ The Best Small Fictions Microfictions contest)

Kaj Tanaka – BSF winner
‘In Dugave’ at New South Journal
(also a winner for ‘The Night Is Where It Throws You,’ (b)OINK)

Lori Sambol Brody – BSF finalist
‘I Want to Believe the Truth is Out There’ at Jellyfish Review

(also a winner for ‘The Truth About Alaskan Rivers,’ Forge Literary Magazine)

And of course congratulations and much love to all the writers nominated by the editors of SmokeLong Quarterly. We are thrilled to be able to say that all our nominees were recognized by BSF.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

‘Fred’s Massive Sorrow’ is the centerpiece of my flash fiction collection, Other Household Toxins, which just came out in January. The story—originally in Eclectica Magazine and subsequently in Eclectica’s 20th-anniversary speculative anthology—is a kind of short story in flash, much like a novella-in-flash except, well, shorter but still six times too long to be flash. It’s around 6000 words, so I think online readers scroll down and say, “Sheesh. I don’t have time for this.”

At my book launch last month in Norwich, England four very talented readers and I read the story. What a pleasure that was to hear this absurdist romp read aloud.

BIO: Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press).His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Indiana Review, Eclectica Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Lunch Ticket and lots more. In 2017 Allen was both a finalist (as translator) and a semi-finalist for The Best Small Fictions. He has garnered acclaim from Glimmer Train, Indiana Review, Literal Latte, and more. He is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and in 2017 a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. Allen blogs at www.imustbeoff.com.
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Mini-Interview with Randall Brown

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

 I like the urgency of it, that sense that something needs to be expressed before I run out of space and words. I like its “big bang like” compression, a thing on the verge of exploding. I like the dense weight of it.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 I think it begins with plot, a little inkling of a story. Then as I write, I get to know the character more intimately—and then character takes over, determining what happens next.

 Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Quick and messy, before the anxiety and self-doubt can catch up with me.

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

 I’d say being a husband and parent and dog-owner. Being responsible for others. It brings up a lot of issues that get worked out in the writing. For example, one time I noticed that we had no forks left in the silverware drawer. No one knew where they’d gone. I ended up finding them among my son’s and his friends’ take-out containers in the trash. When I asked him about it, he said, “We didn’t do it consciously.” I asked, “But you did throw out forks.” He answered, “Not consciously.” Instead of banging my head against a wall, I banged some fingers against the keyboard, as if that were actually doing something about the problem.

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

 Kathy Fish and Christopher Allen rock and roll. That would be a great start.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 A story I wrote for Quick Fiction “It Doesn’t” ended up kind of nowheresville after Quick Fiction called it quits. I tried submitting it to a few anthologies, but received polite “no thank yous.” I think it deserves an anthology. But the world seems to think it doesn’t.

BIO: Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in the Best Small Fictions 2015 & 2017The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, and the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Microfiction. He founded and directs FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program and received his MFA from Vermont College.

 

Mini-Interview with Tara Laskowski

 

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

I like being able to “see” the entire story on one or two pages. Longer stuff stresses me out because I don’t feel like I can get my brain wrapped around all of it at once. I also like the economy of flash. It’s great to be able to focus in on the words and really concentrate on what works and what doesn’t, what sounds good, what image would work best, etc. Flash is beautiful in that way.

I also like it because I’m often drawn to dark places, but I don’t want to stay in them for too long. So I can write something really weird or really dark as a flash piece, and then be done with it and move on. But, even if it’s not dark, I just like being able to inhabit different characters, different worlds, for tiny amounts of time without having to do tons of research to make it sound real-ish. You can fake anything for a page or two.

Flash is also full of play. I like how experimental it can be. How weird you can go. There are so many different types of flash out there. It’s just fun to write.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think character. I can hang on with a character. I’m drawn to characters and their odd quirks and turns of phrases. It’s the plot that sinks me. But I’m trying to get better at that. I have to get better at that if I’m going to write novels, right?

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely quick and messy. Like a drunk, I throw it all up on the page and then sleep it off and come back the next morning to clean it up.

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

This is an interesting question. I’m honestly not sure of the answer. I tend to find inspiration in little spurts here and there—a conversation I overhear at the airport, a dream I wake from, a weird story a friend tells at the dinner table.

I definitely write more about children now that I have one. Before I had my son, I didn’t think I knew enough about kids to write them well. I probably still don’t know enough about them, but they do crop up in my stuff a lot more these days. The kids tend to be creepy, though. So I’m not sure what that says about me…

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

Some of my most favorite flash writers: Jeff Landon, Randall Brown, Sherrie Flick, Jen Michalski. I’ve never read a story by any of them that’s been less than fantastic.

I’m biased, but I think our Kathy Fish Fellows at SmokeLong are doing some really amazing things. Check out Beth Thomas, Stefanie Freele, Shasta Grant, Allison Pinkerton, Megan Giddings, Adam Peterson, and our 2018 fellow Tochukwu Okafor.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Well, I’m not saying this story didn’t get any recognition when it came out, because it did. But it’s been a while, and I actually forgot I’d written it until just recently, which is just kind of weird. But I’ve always been fond of “Dendrochronology,” which was published by The Northville Review. TNR isn’t publishing anymore, which is a bummer, but you can still find it online, out there in the ether, and for some reason it’s always been one of my favorite flashes I’ve written.

BIO: Tara Laskowski grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and now navigates traffic in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. She is the author of the short story collection Bystanders, which won the Balcones Fiction Prize and was hailed by Jennifer Egan in The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017. She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Best Small Fictions, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She was awarded the Kathy Fish Fellowship from SmokeLong Quarterly in 2009 and won the grand prize for the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Series. Since 2010, she has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Mini-Interview with Anne Weisgerber

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

I like it for a number of reasons, and I think the big one is it has a lot of rules. It’s not a matter of telling a story in under a thousand words, it has, seems to me, what Yeats called the fascination of the difficult. Creative non-fiction writers employ some flash forms too, and those are really exciting essays to read. The Normal School is full of them: counterpoint, episodic, monomyths, prose-poems.  Flash is close to poetry, and I am attracted to poetry. Poetry is like New York City: you can never know enough. Finally, as a writer who has a full-time day job, flash allows time for obsessive completion of a single work. I am trying to get a sabbatical to work on a novel, but until then, flash fits my time dimensions.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think at the draft stage a work can be focused on one or the other, but when a writer sits down at the workbench and puts the screws to it, character and plot have to be coerced to high-five.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Drafts: quick and messy, no holds barred, delight in disaster, go there, free-wheeling.

Editing: slow and precise, syntax agony, lean on classics, read aloud and workshop sans merci.

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

My faith and my partner.

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

Oh boy. I read a lot of flash, I workshop regularly with a gifted crew of flash writers, on top of reading for the Wigleaf Top 50. I think there are some artists that I really enjoy deconstructing to understand. I’ll recommend one writer and one fashion designer.  Brian Evenson writes longer fiction, but he’s a short form genius, too.  Check out his story “Smear” in Best American Science Fiction Fantasy (editor Charles Yu). It was originally published in the Conjunctions “Other Aliens” issue. It’s short and episodic, but also follows a clear narrative arc: exposition, escalation, climax, denouement. Amazing. He also has a story in Best Horror of the Year Vol 9 (ed. Ellen Datlow) called “No Matter Which Way We Turned.” It was an ekphrastic originally written for People Holding. It, too, follows a clear narrative arc. Both of those stories are 10s in my book. A fashion designer whom I find to be a good metaphor for flash is the late Alexander McQueen.  Look at this video called “The Bridegroom Stripped Bare: Transformer.” All the Arts spring from universal forms. All the Arts have straws stuck in the same wellspring and flash shares out refreshing sips.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s easy: each of the fifteen currently “in progress” at Submittable! That aside, I believe work selected by editor Sheldon Lee Compton at his small, remarkable journal called The Airgonaut is some of my strongest. “Puppah Fish,” “Mothers + Sons,” “White Plastic Chair,” and “How to Meet Marc Chagall” are in The Airgonaut’s archives. They are a multiple choice story, a counterpoint, a monomyth, and an episodic, respectively. I am a huge fan of Mr. Compton’s writing, too.

BIO:

A.E. Weisgerber is Poetry Out Loud’s 2017 Frost Place Scholar, and a 2014 Kent State University Reynolds Fellow. Her writing appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Heavy Feather Review, Structo UK, and the Zoetrope Cafe Story Machine. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons. [anneweisgerber.com] [@aeweisgerber]

Mini-Interview with Meg Tuite

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

I’m drawn to the tightly wrapped. The truth-tellers. I find as time goes on I have less patience for filler-crap. The in-between conflict moments that allow a reader to breathe. In the midst of a psychotic episode or an altercation with a stranger, how much time do we want to spend trudging through the flora and fauna.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. If plot had anything to do with the space I occupy, I’d live on a shelf in a cupboard.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and messy. I do edit while I’m working a story, but it’s got to saturate for a while no matter how quickly or slowly it drops.

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

Domestic horror and internal degradation.

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

Fernando Pessoa, Clarice Lispector, Djuna Barnes, Janet Frame, Bruno Schulz

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m thankful for any readers. Not many are going online to read as much, so it’s a gift to have someone make a comment about a story you’ve written. Truly!

BIO: Meg Tuite is the author of two story collections, Bound By Blue and Domestic Apparition, and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, senior editor at Connotation Press, associate editor at Narrative Magazine and fiction editor at Bending Genres.  http://megtuite.com

Mini-Interview with Kathy Fish

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

I love flash for its immediacy. I can write directly from an emotion or impression. I feel it’s like poetry that way. Flash can go deep into a moment or feeling or image, but can also give a sense of story, of an existence or resonance beyond the page.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, character, character. And from character and setting, story emerges. I don’t think I’ve ever once begun a flash with a plot in mind.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’d say 75% of the time I am a slow, plodding, precise writer. The other 25% I write very quickly, but it’s not messy. It’s often very close its published form. I think the “messiness” is all happening in my subconscious over weeks, months, years. So when something finally clicks, it all comes out in a rush, but very deliberately if that makes any sense.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

Art, music, meditation, yoga, nature. Love. Painful memories and good ones. Poetry. All the things that bring me deeper into myself are what influence what goes on the page.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

I can’t possibly go there. Every time I try, I realize I’ve left out someone extraordinary and I feel terrible. I’ll just say there is a band of ridiculously talented writers working in the flash world right now, who seem to publish works of genius on a weekly basis. Scan the lit journals, you know who I’m talking about. I’m in awe. Okay, I’ll mention one person specifically and that’s Melissa Goode. Her stories clobber me in the best way. One of the most elegant, fierce, compassionate writers working today.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Oh, my stories get plenty of recognition, Tommy. Almost embarrassingly so. I don’t hunger for more. But if I’m honest, I’ll say I really wish my collection, Together We Can Bury It had made more of an impact than it did. There were numerous hiccups and delays getting it out into the world which made it nearly impossible to promote. That collection means a lot to me. It represents my best early work and I’m proud of it. I’m absolutely overjoyed whenever someone says they actually got a hold of a copy and read it.

BIO: 

Kathy Fish teaches fiction for the Mile High MFA program at Regis University. She also teaches her own intensive Fast Flash workshops online. She has published four collections of short fiction: a chapbook in the Rose Metal Press collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (2008); Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011); Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012); and Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). Her story, “Strong Tongue,” was recently chosen by Amy Hempel for Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books).

Mini-Interview with Shasta Grant

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

I love the puzzle aspect of flash – of making a story work within the parameters of a word count. It’s often more fun than working on a longer story and lends itself to experimenting more.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Probably plot. If I’m struggling with a story, making my characters do something else usually gets things going. I think it’s harder to create believable characters than it is to develop plot.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

A bit of both. The first draft is usually quick and then comes the slow process of revision. I usually need to set a story aside for a while before I attempt revision although there are those rare occasions where a story comes out nearly perfectly formed on the first attempt. I wish that would happen more often!

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

My adolescence and my hometown. For some reason, I’m obsessed with writing about teenagers and people who live in small towns like the one I grew up in. I live in Singapore now, which is quite literally about as far as away as you can get from where I grew up in New Hampshire, so I’m fascinated with writing about characters who stay in their hometown. I guess it’s that question of “what if?” that lingers in my mind.

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

This is such a hard question! Lucia Berlin was a genius; I can’t believe I only discovered her work last year. Recently I read Myfanwy Collin’s story “I Am Holding Your Hand” and I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read. I keep rereading it and I also used it in a workshop I taught recently. I’m in awe of how perfect that story is. If I was going to recommend one flash story, it would be that one.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel lucky if anyone notices my work so it’s never something I expect or take for granted. But if pressed to pick one story that I wish got a little more recognition, I’d say “We’re All Sinners” in Wigleaf.

BIO:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship. She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project and her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, MonkeyBicycle, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and divides her time between Singapore and Indianapolis.