Mini-Interview with Lynn Mundell

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

I think it fits in with the amount of time I have to write—which is not that much these days since I have a lot going on, including a full-time job, family, my buddies, co-editing 100 Word Story, swimming, reading, and just living. But it’s more than convenience. Writing flash also harkens back to my writing origins as a poet, where I worked within different structures, with imagery and themes, and with an attention to language. What I am still learning now that I write fiction is dialogue, something that is new to me as a writer and pretty difficult.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

May I say both? If I don’t have a plot, I am lost. I am just writing to write. But I need a narrator and others I can believe in to tell the story. More and more I am holding off on writing until I have a better sense in my head of what I am writing and who is going to do the work for me in my story. I have been making notes, too, and sometimes asking myself how I could make my idea more interesting or unusual.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I am slow and precise. I write some, back up, rewrite and add a bit more, back up, rewrite, add a bit more, until the story is done. Then I might go in and add sections or re-work it. It can be a laborious process, with pen and paper. I think I have probably not entirely transitioned from writing poetry to fiction.

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

I seem to write a lot about moving, being lost, homes, and travel. I suspect this is because I moved a lot as a kid. These days I have written more from the news since I find it very troubling, and about aging and mortality. Pretty much whatever is going on in my life and around me may make it into a story, from the pedestrian to the significant.

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

There are so many talented writers out there right now that it is pretty impossible to pick. One of my favorite journals to read is Jellyfish Review. I think Christopher James has pretty impeccable taste, and I like how he will publish brand-new writers or established one, and across genres. I would be hard pressed to call out specific writers, but I will say that I have never read a Meg Pokrass or a Molly Giles story I didn’t like.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 One of the first ones I wrote when I discovered flash fiction, “Travels through Time and Space with Zora,” which was published in Eclectica in 2014. I really put a lot of myself into that one, and I still like it when I read it over again these days.

BIO: Lynn Mundell’s writing has appeared this year in SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicyle, Thread, Booth, Gone Lawn, apt, Bird’s Thumb, Fanzine, and elsewhere. Her story “The Old Days,” originally published in Five Points, is included in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. Lynn’s work has been recognized on the Wigleaf “Top 50 Very Short Fictions” long lists of 2017 and 2018. She is co-editor of 100 Word Story and its anthology Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story (Outpost19). Learn more about her at http://lynnmundell.com/

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Mini-Interview with Leslie Pietrzyk

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

I don’t think of myself as a natural flash writer; I generally write novels and long short stories. I couldn’t write a poem if my life depended on it. But six-ish years ago, I started thinking about flash when I was working on THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, a book of stories that plays around with form. I challenged myself to write something short, to tell a complete and harrowing story in as few words as possible. (Here’s the result.) Now, I love the compression and the gut-punch of a successful piece of flash, that sense of illumination like a firework ripping through a dark sky. I like the power of what’s missing, of the ripples of what is suggested and implied and hidden. I explore the role of silence a lot in my fiction, whether real or perceived, and I find that flash is a way of breaking silence. I’m still challenged by the form; most of my pieces are in the 750-1000 word range, which is kind of long-ish flash. But I accept the form’s difficulty: feeling off-balance and unsure is good for me as a writer.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My instinct is to say character because my finished work tends to be character-driven rather than plot-intensive. Yet when I really think about what a life jacket does—which is it saves your ass when you’re flailing around in wide open water after being dumped from a boat—I think about plot: my writing depends less on lyrical phrasing and poetics, and more on interesting things happening or secrets being peeled away. So, thank you, true and steady Plot, for coming to my rescue, every single time, even as I start out telling myself that I don’t need you!

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Yes! Quick and messy in the first draft (or, actually, slow and super-messy). And then slow and precise in the subsequent revisions. By slow, I do mean slow: it’s amazing how much time I can spend worrying over one word.

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

One of the things I love most about being a writer is being able to throw bits and pieces of my real life into my stories, like keeping a secret scrapbook of memories (“here’s the story I wrote when I first discovered hockey!”). So various interests maneuver themselves into the work, but the single most consistent part of my life that slips in is food. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love interesting cocktails, and most of all I love to get my characters eating or cooking or drinking. In fact, it’s a rare story of mine where no one gets fed or enjoys a cocktail. The bonus is that, of course, what and how we eat and drink is extremely revealing of character, so I get to indulge myself while also helping the fiction along.

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

I loved Sherrie Flick’s book, Whiskey, Etc, and I’m looking forward to reading her new collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars. Another book I recommend is I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life by Michael Czyzniejewski. Amy Hempel is a master, of course. Two individual stories I love are “The Sweet Life” found in Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk and “Sleepover,” in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Ha—I know we’re talking about flash and so it’s probably cheating to choose a 40-pager, the longest story I’ve written: “One True Thing.” It’s included in THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, my collection of unconventionally-linked short stories (and was also published online, in The Collagist), so I shouldn’t complain that the story is unrecognized. But I worked on it for more than a year and most of the time I had no idea what I was doing or even if I could do what I wanted to do, which was to write a continuous story told in the form of a craft lecture about point of view; each of the 10 sections is told with a different point of view choice, i.e. collective first person, third person, second person, omniscient (see how insane this undertaking was?). Anyway, I thought I was done several times before I really was done, and the whole writing experience nearly did me in, so I selfishly and secretly wish this story was required reading for everyone in America!

LINK TO THE 40-PAGE STORY: http://thecollagist.com/the-collagist/2015/2/6/one-true-thing.html

LINK TO THE FLASH PIECE ALLUDED TO IN THE FIRST QUESTION: https://shenandoahliterary.org/622/acquiescence/

BIO: 

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of Silver Girl, released in February 2018 by Unnamed Press, and called “profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing” in a Publishers Weekly starred review. Her collection of unconventionally linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her previous novels are Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Southern Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Iowa Review, Washingtonian, The Collagist, and Cincinnati Review. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches often in the Johns Hopkins MA in Writing program. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia. For more information: www.lesliepietrzyk.com

Mini-Interview with Al Kratz

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

I wrote poetry growing up and then random snippets in journals because it’s all the time I gave to it. So there’s a natural draw to it. That one sharp story. Maybe I like it so much because of music. We didn’t just listen to albums, we lived them. Broke them down and thought about how they worked. An album is basically a flash fiction chapbook. I don’t know how different flash is. I will say it is way more than word count. It is scope and voice. I’ve seen others talk about this, but flash changes the way we read novels too. I don’t hate it, but I definitely notice when things aren’t as compressed as flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

That’s a thing we can have? I probably would choose character of those two, although I’d have to admit I depend on voice over those two. Maybe that’s just character though? I need to get better at both. I need to get a lifejacket.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy when an idea forces itself out. Slow and painful when I’m trying to pull an idea out. Always slow and precise on rewriting. When I’ve got an active idea, lots of phone notes and I keep a mini-legal pad in the car so I don’t lose ideas.

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

I think I’ve always had the mentality that experience should be thought about. Maybe this came from being a preacher’s kid. I’ve never been bored. A lot of my flash is semi-autobiographical bordering on autofiction.

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

I’ve been trying to keep up with the flash world for like six years now. It’s crazy how many talented flash writers there are. I recently finished Nicole Rivas’ chapbook from Rose Metal Press and it’s one of the best there is. Sister Suite by Christine Stroud is a beautifully poetic book. I’m amazed by how the story of grief can still be told in new ways. I’m loving everything Scott McClanahan writes. He doesn’t really write flash, but it’s pretty darn compressed.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Ah, recognition. Maybe this one?

http://www.literaryorphans.org/playdb/lamb-god-al-kratz/

Bio:

Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa with his wife and their three old dogs. He writes fiction reviews for Alternating Current and is a Fiction Editor for New Flash Fiction Review. He is @silverbackedG on twitter and pubs are listed at http://alkratz.blogspot.com/

Mini-Interview with Gaynor Jones

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

 I’ve been writing it for so long, it’s hard to remember why I started but I write it now because it’s so addictive. There’s always a publication call out or a competition with an interesting theme (I’m a sucker for themes). The flash community is brilliant too if I stopped writing flash I’d feel like an outsider looking in. That’s happened a little bit recently as I’ve stepped back to work on different projects so I keep a few flashes going all the time, to keep my hand in.

I wouldn’t say I enjoy the challenge of a smaller word count, with me it’s often that my work naturally ends at a few hundred words anyway. This is great for flash but proving to be a real problem as I try and get my short story collection off the ground!

 What’s your writerly life jacket: character or plot?

 Oh, definitely plot. I never think in terms of character when I’m starting a story or even when I’m really into writing it. I feel that’s a big no-no for writers but I think it suits my style. My stories tend to hinge on the odd thing that is happening rather than the people in them. I think that’s what makes my work different from other flash writers, but also what makes it sometimes less popular or less successful? I can’t really do deep and meaningful characters and beautiful, lyrical writing, but I’m okay with that. There’s space for every type of writing.

 Writing style: quick and messy or slow and precise?

 For flash, quick and messy, but that’s only because I have been writing flash for eons. I can tell pretty quickly if a piece is going to be good or not, something about the ease with which the original idea gets onto the paper. These days I often go from idea to submission within a few hours. Again that’s a big no-no, isn’t it? But I’m a rebel! My Comma Press course tutor, Lara Williams, told us ‘write until it’s reflex’ and that’s what has happened with me and flash. I wouldn’t recommend that method to someone just starting out.

However, for anything other than flash (e.g. short stories) it is slow and precise with tons of research, planning and editing. I mean to be fair, maybe my flash would be better if I treated it that way too! Maybe I should slow down and try it…

 What element or part of your ‘real life’ do you think most influences your writing?

 The fact that I’m funny, ha. There is a lot of humour in my work, sometimes it’s dark, often it’s wry but it’s nearly always there. I grew up in Merseyside, where you have to be funny, it’s like a requirement for living there. You have quips with everyone from the bus driver to the milkman to your teachers and of course with your family so you learn quickly to think of a good comeback. One of my proudest writing moments was when a tutor told me I’m ‘often funny’ so now whenever I make my husband (a Southerner) laugh I raise an eyebrow and say ‘Well, I am often funny.’

I wish there was more acceptance of humour in fiction but there’s a bit of snobbishness around it I think. I would like to start a funny flash mag when I have the time. But also, this humour works for me because then when I write something serious or painful, which I occasionally do, it seems to blow people away a lot more as they weren’t expecting it.

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

 

Handily I have a folder for just such an occasion as this!

Final Girl Slumber Party by Meghan Phillips is always top of my list. I don’t know her, but I feel we must have had a similar upbringing in terms of cultural references as whenever I read one of her flashes I find myself saying ‘Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!’ Also, she writes about themes that really interest me, adolescence, sex, girls, pop culture, feminism.

When Stranded on an Iceberg by Tino Prinzi. This maybe strays into prose poetry rather than flash but it’s simple and beautiful and powerful.

I Can’t Explain Anything Anymore by Mary Lynn Reed because I love diner set stories and it has such a strong voice.

Magenta by Molly Gutman because it’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. So dark and intriguing with a touch of the magical.

The Amazing Sleepless Boy by Lynn Mundell is brilliant and brutal.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Well, my story Girls Who Got Taken was well received when it was published by Former Cactus but I wasn’t as known in the flash scene then so I’m not sure a lot of people read it. I developed this as a longer short story on my Comma Press course with a very different ending but the feedback wasn’t great (she turned into snow at the end – I loved it, but it’s not for everyone!) so I slashed it to 1000 words and actually I think it works a lot better like this as it’s such a tight, claustrophobic story. It’s quite a different type of story from my usual and it’s one of my favourites. I hope people enjoy it!

BIO: Gaynor Jones is a freelance writer based in Manchester, U.K. She specialise in short fiction and was the recipient of the Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award 2018. She organises the Story For Daniel Flash Fiction Competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. She is currently working on her debut short story collection and will release her first book of flash fiction, Business As Usual, in January 2019.

 

 

Mini-Interview with Adam Lock

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

Thank you so much for asking me to do this. It has really made me think.

For me, everything about flash fiction is more immediate than other forms of literature. They do take time to write, but still, they are not as time consuming as short stories or indeed novels. The submission and feedback process from magazines and competitions is also relatively quick. And if a piece isn’t working, you can work on it and submit again. I think I’m a writer who needs the constant process of submission and response; flash fiction fulfills this need.

What makes flash fiction different, is its precision. Short stories and novels do share this quality, at times, but flash fiction is all about precision. I love identifying what truth a flash piece is searching for and then cutting everything that doesn’t help convey this truth. For me, a great flash piece is like a ray of light shining on one tiny, yet universal truth.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

This is a naughty question. But I like it. I’ve been thinking about this more and more recently. The conclusion I have reached, is that fundamentally, people want to read about people (or animals – but even these tend to be anthropomorphised, and so end up being about people too). It’s a simple as that. Plot is what happens to characters, so this of course is important too. But ultimately, all good fiction says something about what it feels like to be human. And when a writer hits on something the reader recognises to be a shared human experience… well here lies its magic.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I find it difficult to shut off the editor in my head sometimes, so I tend to be more ‘slow and precise.’ I think it would be ideal to be both — to begin ‘quick and messy,’ and then slow down and be more ‘slow and precise.’

There is a fantastic book on writing called, ‘From Where You Dream,’ by Robert Olen Butler, who writes about how to reach a ‘dreamspace,’ and create a sense of ‘yearning,’ in your writing. This made me see how important it is to be both quick and slow at different times. Being quick and messy can trick your brain into revealing something of which you’re not consciously aware. This stuff is the gold you’re after. Then the slow part of your brain has to sift for that nugget of gold in amongst all the other stuff your brain is playing with.

There is a collection of Norman Mailer’s thoughts on writing called, ‘The Spooky Art.’ I write in the early mornings, and sometimes when I read back what I’ve written, I don’t remember writing it. The writing process really does feel wonderfully spooky sometimes.

In short, I want to be both, but I am definitely more ‘slow and precise.’
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

Has to be the things other people say and do. I think I’ve always watched and listened, but being a writer makes you really watch and listen. People do and say unbelievably wonderful things without even realising sometimes. I use the Notes app on my phone to write these things down – otherwise I’d forget most of it (and don’t think you won’t – you will). Then, when I’m struggling to think of something to write, I look in my notes and I have a first line or prompt to start me off. Sometimes I don’t even use the original idea, but it’s a place to start.

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

This is tough because there are so many writers, and now friends, who I follow and whose work I think is wonderful.

Melissa Goode writes stories on a theme I come back to time and again myself: relationships. She has such a light touch, and this ability to gesture to different moments in time that connect and spark off one another. I’m in awe of the poise and delicacy in her writing. This is her story, ‘Guernica’: https://jmwwblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/fiction-guernica-by-melissa-goode/

Christopher M Drew writes stories that integrates the natural world and science beautifully. I have been lucky enough to share drafts of stories with Chris, and have received his invaluable advice. I don’t think there is a flash fiction writer who plays with white space better than Chris.

‘The Shape of Us,’ is a great story: https://www.reflexfiction.com/the-shape-of-us-flash-fiction-by-christopher-m-drew/

Leonora Desar’s stories are instantly recognisable. She writes with freedom and bravery, generating a feeling of hope and joy. When I read one of her flash pieces I see the word in a slightly different way. A wonderful writer.

This is, ‘Fire, Ocean.’ https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/flash-fiction-fire-ocean-by-leonora-desar/

Peter Jordan is a terrific writer. I’ve been lucky enough to receive his advice and help with my own writing. His stories uncover universal truths that are presented in a clear and visceral way.   

This is, ‘At the Bottom of the Glass’: http://www.ellipsiszine.com/at-the-bottom-of-the-glass-by-peter-jordan/

More great writers, collections and stories:

Christopher Allen’s collection: ‘Other Household Toxins’

Stephanie Hutton’s NiF: ‘Three Sisters of Stone’

Meg Porkrass’ collection: ‘Alligators at Night’

Gaynor Jones: ‘The Thing Between Your Legs’ http://jonzeywriter.com/the-thing-between-your-legs

Damhnait Monaghan: ‘The Neverlands’ https://jellyfishreview.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/the-neverlands-by-damhnait-monaghan/

Jason Jackson: ‘As Beautiful as Blackberry Picking’ https://fictivedream.com/2018/06/29/as-beautiful-as-blackberry-picking/

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s another tough one. Commenting on your own writing always feels a little icky doesn’t it? I’ll choose a story I wrote when I first started writing flash fiction. I wrote this at a time I was learning about white space and leaving room for the reader. I think there are stories in which you recognise an improvement in your craft. I think this story, ‘Step on a Crack,’ is one such story for me.

https://flashfictionmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/07/step-on-a-crack/

Thank you again for this opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Bio: Adam Lock writes in the Midlands, UK. He recently won the TSS Summer Quarterly Flash Competition 2018 and the STORGY Flash Competition 2018. He was placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017, and has been shortlisted twice for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had, or soon will have, stories appear in publications such as Lost Balloon, Former Cactus, MoonPark Review, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Ghost Parachute, and many others. You can find links to his stories on his website: adamlock.net. He’s also active on Twitter at: @dazedcharacter.


 

Mini-Interview with Emily Devane

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

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

Mini-Interview with Barlow Adams

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

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

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

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

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

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

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

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

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

Worst of both worlds, maybe?

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

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

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

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

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

George Saunders, who I desperately wish would adopt me.

Amelia Gray. Absolute ace writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Werner.

Sofia Samatar.

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

Neil Clark. My favorite spaceman.

Chloe N. Clark! Love her!

Enough.

Amy Hempel.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

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

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

BIO:

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