Mini-Interview with Michelle Ross

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

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

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Mini-Interview with Sara Lippmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, some syllabi steadies:

Wants by Grace Paley

Yours by Mary Robison

Foley’s Pond by Peter Orner

The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff

Again and Again and Again by Megan Giddings

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

My Wife in Reverse by Stephen Dixon

Hourly by Scott Garson

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

Mini-Interview with Jan Stinchcomb

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

I’ve always been delighted by the challenge of flash. It seems like it would be impossible, or like it sets you up to fail. All flash writers are close cousins of Sisyphus and Charlie Brown.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, definitely. I want to know why people do the things they do. I want to worry about them. I want to see them survive.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and dirty rough draft, with no judgment or self-editing. Then, ideally, I will keep revisiting the piece over weeks and months in an effort to refine it. Sometimes I find myself overhauling the entire piece, and other times I only need to correct the moments where I falter. Also, it’s fascinating how long it can take to discover the right title or final line.

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

My anxiety. I want to believe I have some measure of control somewhere in this world and so I burden my writing with that impossible task. It rarely works out, of course. When I’m being less neurotic, I feel that all art is an attempt to freeze and share moments of beauty.

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

Michelle Ross. Her piece in Jellyfish Review, “Hostage or Accomplice,” is a masterpiece of restraint, resulting in exquisite tension.

I admire everything Melissa Goode writes. I love walking around cities with her and watching characters navigate intimate relationships. “Extreme Unction,” which appeared in The Forge, is so satisfying.

Jen Michalski’s “I’m Such a Slut and I Don’t Give a Fuck” (Smokelong Quarterly) is an extraordinary achievement. Each time I read it, I can’t believe she fits a whole life and career into a single flash piece.

I’d also like to mention two flash collections, which are very different from each other: Jacqueline Doyle’s The Missing Girl (Black Lawrence) is pure danger and urgency, while Leanne Radojkovich’s First Fox (The Emma Press) relies on gentle description and understatement.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I really like a story I wrote in 2016, “Heroine Night,” for Jellyfish Review. Sometimes I wonder what those characters are doing now.

BIO: Jan Stinchcomb is the author of The Blood Trail (forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks). Her stories have appeared in Gravel, Gone Lawn, matchbook, Atticus Review and Monkeybicycle, among other places. She is featured in The Best Small Fictions 2018 and is a reader for Paper Darts. Currently living in Southern California with her husband and children, she can be found at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.

Mini-Interview with Kristin Bonilla

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

Is it weird that I’ve never thought about this?

 I like understatement, efficiency, playfulness, nuance. These are seemingly contradictory things but together they create tension and intrigue. Flash is an ideal form for me, in that regard.

My favorite novelists started out as poets. You can see it in the stylistic choices they make. There is an economy of language without sacrificing any of the texture that makes a story compelling. I see a lot of the same qualities in the flash fiction writers I admire.

The short answer: I have no idea. Most of the stories I write end up short and I trust myself enough as a writer to leave them that way.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m going to be sneaky and say setting. But, setting as character. My stories always begin, at least during the writing process, with a sense of place. For me, the physical geography of a place or moment will inform the larger emotional geography of a story.

I’m currently working on a novel-in-flash that is set on the U.S./Mexico border. I can’t imagine writing about the border without writing about the desert. The desert is as much a character as any person and has as much, if not more, impact on plot than any other element in the story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I tend to think about a story for a long time before I ever write a word. And I edit slow. So, I would say that my writing style is just: slow. Happy and slow. Like a sloth.

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

Being a parent. Seeing and re-learning the world through my son’s eyes. I definitely see his influence on my writing and the choices I make as an editor.

Also, I have this thing about birds. There’s usually one or more in my stories. I’m always looking for birds, every day, everywhere I go. I am one of those obnoxious people who will stop listening to you when I see a bird, which I’ve been told is equal parts endearing and annoying. Thankfully, my husband is a birding guide, so that worked out well.

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

All of the stories we publish at jmww. Shameless promotion! I can’t help it. We have a great flash fiction team, and I’m really proud of the work we’ve been publishing.

I would also like to recommend Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from The United States and Latin America. It’s a fantastic anthology.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I hear less about stories published in print than those published online, and the obvious issue there is accessibility. I feel pretty lucky, though. I’m hearing from many of the same readers with each new story and the crowd seems to be growing. People who read and share stories are superheroes.

BIO:

Kristin Bonilla is a fiction writer living in Houston, TX. Her work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Hobart, Jellyfish Review, Gulf Coast online, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is a flash fiction editor at jmww. Follow her @kbonilla and read more at www.kristinbonilla.com.

 

Mini-Interview with Kate Finegan

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

In high school and college, I was really into writing poetry. I like how poetry and flash convey an intense experience succinctly. I see flash as a well-sharpened knife that can slice to the heart of the matter quickly, or a bolt of lightning that leaves the landscape forever changed in a matter of seconds. I also love how challenging it is to tell a story in such a short space. It’s an exercise in choosing the most precise details and chipping away at the draft until it has no jagged edges.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, definitely. For years, I was afraid to write fiction because I was afraid of plot.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The first draft is always quick and messy. If I’m not ready to write something just yet, I will write [describe her living room] or [blah blah blah romantic stuff]. I’m extremely imprecise and careless in my first drafts. I think the real work starts once the raw material is on the page; that’s when I get slow and precise, and I love the process of rewriting and editing.

 

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

I spent all my childhood summers in small towns and on our family farms in the Driftless region of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I notice that setting creeping into my stories again and again. That, and the things I learn about the history of women; my feminism definitely influences my writing, always.

 

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

Tommy Dean, of course, and Jamaica Kincaid, Kristen Arnett, Gaynor Jones, Chloe N. Clark, Jennifer Fliss, Christopher Allen, Maureen Langloss, Kate Gehan, Barbara McVeigh…oh, this could be a really, really long list. I read a beautiful new flash at least once a day, and they’re like shots to inoculate me against all the crazy in the world.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I really like the atmosphere and repetition in my story “Her Mother,” published by Midwestern Gothic. It was so well-promoted when it came out, and it was super exciting. I still go back to it and am tempted to share it again.

 

Bio:

Kate Finegan recently published the chapbook The Size of Texas with Penrose Press. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead, and been runner-up for The Puritan’s Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and Synaesthesia Flash Fiction Prize, and longlisted by Room. You can find her at katefinegan.ink and twitter.com/@kehfinegan.

 

Mini-Interview with Josh Jones

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

Ever since I first discovered short stories, I fell in love with the form. When I then was introduced to flash, I was amazed at how much could be done in so little space. I read the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories with wonder and delight, reading classics from Forché and Dybek and Kincaid. The compression, the sense of play, the intensity of the language: all of that draws me into flash in the same way my favorite poems grab ahold of me. It isn’t an accident that flash and prose poetry are often conflated.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 I’m going to cheat and say “voice” although character is a close second. But for me, the narrative voice is the entry point into a story. It sets the tone, is like the You Are Here red x on a map; it might even tell me which direction to begin walking.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 Quick and messy to start. But I’m a meticulous and methodical reviser. When I’m in revising-mode, my pace slows dramatically, which is one reason I have finished very few traditional-length short stories. I quell at the thought of embarking on anything novel-length.

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

 I work as an animator, so I find myself fixated on the movement of things. I enjoy observing people and nature with both an eye for kinetic motion but also for those unique quirks of life: speech mannerisms, a way of holding one’s head, a plodding walk cycle. Animation—and visual arts in general—is often about distillation and exaggeration of character. Flash can be like that also. We’re capturing a moment in time, a pose. As writers, we often work in miniature, while animators work in 30ths of a second.

 I must also say that my own experiences as a husband, a father, a denizen of the rural South, of urban Los Angeles, and suburban Maryland have all shaped my writing. While I wrote a variety of fairly bad short stories in college, I didn’t resume writing until almost two decades later when I had more of these life experiences to draw upon.

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

I dread this question. There are so many amazing writers out there. It’s hard to begin recommending any without feeling guilty about everyone I forget to mention. So let me go with some of the writers I’ve been reading in the past couple of days: Cathy Ulrich who has two brilliant pieces out in Black Warrior Review and Atticus Review, K.C. Mead-Brewer and Maureen Langloss and Jennifer Harvey (I’ve been reading/re-reading Cheap Pop’s nominees for various awards), Marvin Shackleford’s beautiful piece in Split Lip, and this just scratches the surface. Right now, it seems like we’re in a Golden Age for flash fiction; there are so many gobsmackingly talented writers out there who are getting published in wonderful journals. I couldn’t possibly name them all.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel fortunate to be a part of such a warm and inclusive community of flash fiction writers on Twitter. Most of my stories have been well received and wonderfully promoted—far more than they probably deserve—and I’m very grateful. If I had to choose one piece that might’ve flown under the radar (perhaps because it’s not as easily read online, even though it’s formatted beautifully in .pdf form), I’d choose my flash fiction “Francine Francis.”

 It is a piece that started as a voice, as an opening set of lines: “Francine Francis is not a nice person. She takes my things. She wears my lipstick, my dresses, my monogrammed sweaters.” I had no idea where it would go, but I knew I wanted to see who this Francine Francis was and what made her so unlikable. This first originated in a Kathy Fish workshop (and I’m sure your readers need no introduction of Kathy) and later was published by The Tishman Review in their April 2017 issue.

BIO: Joshua Jones lives in Maryland where he works as an animator. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in matchbook, CRAFT, The Cincinnati Review, Pidgeonholes, Split Lip Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.

Mini-Interview with Kathyrn Kulpa

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

I started out writing long, full short stories, often so long that I had a hard time finding a home for them. But when I look at them I realize that many of them are written as a series of short scenes. One of the first flash pieces I wrote was a parting scene between two characters from a novel I’d started writing in college. After I wrote it I realized: okay, it’s all there, I don’t need to go back to those characters. It was a relief, actually—not to have to worry about continuity and filling in the chinks. I could leave out the boring parts.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Actually, neither. Often, for me, what sparks a story is an image. Like the awful crab Rangoon restaurant with the dusty old prizes behind glass in my story “When God Closes a Door.” The characters tend to grow out of that. Who’s eating that crab Rangoon? Plot is the hardest, but if I’m lucky, it grows out of character.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy initially. I don’t have much time to write so often my first drafts come out of an exercise in my writing group, and we usually give ourselves a time limit of 20 minutes or even less. But things can simmer under the surface for a long time before I actually write them, and I also have unfinished pieces that might sit in a notebook for years and then I’ll go back to them and think, “I wrote that?”

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

Probably childhood and adolescence. I often think of that Flannery O’Connor quote about how anyone who has survived childhood has enough experience of life to last them the rest of their days.

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

Urgh, tough one. I can think of a few stories I often teach, because they do particular things so well: “I Am Holding Your Hand” by Myfanwy Collins; “We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek; “Lawn of the Year” by Katie Burgess, from Atticus Review; “Hard Time,” by Courtney Watson, from 100 Word Story; and “Wedding Picture” by Jayne Ann Phillips, along with “Snapshot: Harvey Cedars 1948” by Paul Lisicky. And there is so much amazing work coming out right now, and journals that are publishing incredible flash. And yearly anthologies! And podcasts! And I’m definitely seeing more academic recognition. Let’s just say it’s an exciting time for flash.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Probably “We the Underserved,” which was just before Christmas 2017 in Citron Review. I love the voice in that story and the strength and attitude of the young girl characters, but I think it was overlooked in the holiday rush.

BIO: Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her chapbook Girls on Film and is the author of a short story collection, Pleasant Drugs.  Her work has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, and Evansville Review, and she serves as flash fiction editor for Cleaver magazine.