Mini-Interview with Chris Drangle

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

I’m not sure if this is comic or tragic, but I started writing flash for the gratification of finishing something. I was in the middle of writing a novel—years of it behind me, years to go—and I just felt starved for that crossing-the-finish-line feeling, that small moment where you feel like a functional human capable of completing a task. It was (I thought) a simple way to get a quick hit of “The End.”

Of course, that’s also where one of the differences shows up. A friend of mine, Adam O’Fallon Price, used to say that while there’s no such thing as a perfect novel, there might be such a thing as a perfect short story. I think there’s some truth to that, since even short, tight, scrupulously edited novels have a necessarily rangy quality to them. With much shorter forms, on the other hand, the entire thing can fit under a magnifying glass, and both writer and reader can bring a high level of attention to the language. (Not that long form writers don’t also strive for that.) So even if “The End” of the drafting process is closer to the beginning of a flash piece than it is with a novel, the end of the revision process remains a maddeningly movable target.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Well, I don’t think they’re as separable as they’re sometimes made out to be. Character without plot, or vice versa, might be like wearing a lifejacket with no air in it. (Do life jackets have air in them? You know what I mean. A pool float without air.) It’s the interplay between plot and character that makes each “work,” or fails to.

All that said, it’s character for me. The soapbox I’ve been using in class goes like this: has anyone seen a superhero movie recently? Has anyone found themselves watching aliens ride jet skis through the sky while cyborgs shoot lasers at them, and felt, like, bored? If we don’t care about the characters, it’s almost impossible to care about the circumstances surrounding them.

Granted, I love empty calories as much as the next self-proclaimed aesthete, and a balanced diet can certainly include car chases and conspiracies along with early-onset ennui and muted domestic strife. But as a writer I find it easier to engineer plot around characters. It’s harder for me to make special order characters for a premade plot.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’ve been trying to change this for years, but: slow and precise? Maybe slow and messy is the inconvenient truth. Although it varies from day to day—sometimes I’m cruising through chapters with the top down, sometimes I’m staring at a paragraph for two hours before changing “fern” to “ficus.” Either way, you have to revise, which is why I wish I was a quick and messy writer. Trying to write a poised, polished first draft is like trying to build a clean, neat stack of kindling at your campsite. However it turns out, the next step is to light it on fire. Speaking of revision, that metaphor could use work.

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

This is a really fascinating question. I’ve been super lucky over the past decade-ish in that I’ve been able to keep a day job (academia) that consists of talking and thinking and writing about writing. But that lets in a classic mode of paranoia—do I have anything to say? Am I embedded enough in the real world to write about it? Have my “life experiences” become a closed loop of intensely uninteresting inside jokes?

The catch, of course, is that all life is real life. And there are innumerable paths from experience to representation, very few of which are straight lines. For me personally, I think that sooner or later pretty much everything influences the writing. An awkward date, a documentary about rock climbing, an argument with my dad, a thousand-mile drive, getting injured, getting engaged, watching the news, reading student evaluations, reading Yelp reviews—all of it goes in the tank. And everything in the tank influences how you write about whatever subject is in front of you, whether that’s engaged rock climbers or aliens on jet skis.

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

Does everyone say Lydia Davis? I confess that I absolutely did not get Davis the first five times I tried to read her. Not sure why. I thought my friends were pretentious nerds pretending to like these odd, baffling little paragraphs. Then I tried again last year, and for whatever reason it was totally different. I went straight from “I don’t get it” to “she’s a legend because she’s a genius.”

I just discovered Tyrese L. Coleman and Krys Malcolm Belc, and their work is awesome. Amelia Gray is awesome. Joy Williams’ Ninety-Nine Stories of God is fairly rad. “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” has a vintage Annie Proulx ending, a simple sentence that is simultaneously banal and horrific and hilarious. Robert Hass’s “A Story About the Body” is lovely and sneakily heartbreaking. “Binaries,” by S.B. Divya, reads like a six-part SF epic compressed into a thousand words. J. Robert Lennon’s collection Pieces for the Left Hand is criminally undersung.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

The next one! Joking aside (although I’m serious about that), I still think it’s extremely wonderful to get any recognition at all. It’s not a given and I hope never to take it for granted, especially since I wouldn’t blame anyone who decided to re-watch Broad City instead of investing their time in some rando Arkansan’s newest made-up story. So if you’re reading this right now, please trust that I appreciate it!

BIO: Chris Drangle is a writer from Arkansas. He earned an MFA at Cornell University, where he also taught creative writing and served as an assistant editor for Epoch Magazine. His fiction has recently appeared in Split Lip MagazineThe Adroit Journal, and One Story, and has been recognized with a Pushcart Prize, the Margaret Bridgman Scholarship at Bread Loaf, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship. He is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford and splits his time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Athens, Georgia.

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Mini-Interview with Hannah Gordon

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

            I started writing flash fiction because of my short attention span. It works better with how I function. I’ll try to write longer stories sometimes, and I find myself getting bored halfway through or coming up with another idea for a different story and abandoning the previous project altogether.

            I love flash fiction. I think it’s magic. It’s so brief, so quick, but it shows you this whole world. You can get lost in just five hundred or a thousand words. It pulls you out of your own experience, plops you down in another, and then sends you back out, reeling. Just like that. And then you want to read it again.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

            This is a hard question, but I think character. My stories are always about connection, about people. Without that, I have nothing.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

            Quick and messy. I write in short bursts, like if I don’t get it out of me, I’ll lose it. I like it, though. I like feeling like the story is in control for a little bit.

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

            The people in my life. The people I love, the people who’ve hurt me, the people I used to know, the people I met briefly. The good, the bad—it doesn’t matter. People inspire me. Sometimes you meet a person and you think, Oh my God, I have to write about you.

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

            I love Dina Relles. There is so much heart in her work. You feel everything. Leonora Desar is like that as well. Marisa Crane is another voice I love. I read everything of hers. Maddie Anthes, too. Sometimes I read her stories, and I’m like, did I write this? I think our styles are very similar. Cathy Ulrich is obviously the flash fiction queen. Her work just floors me. It’s so original. Jenny Fried is also really, really good. And K.B. Carle! She’s so talented.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

            I’m still in this place of feeling like I don’t deserve attention for my writing—imposter syndrome, doubt, whatever you want to call it. I’m trying to break out of that.

            I really loved writing the story that appeared in The Ginger Collect, “Pyres.” I surprised myself with that one. I want to keep surprising myself.

BIO: Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She was born and raised in Michigan, and the Midwest has remained a big influence on her writing. She’s the managing editor of CHEAP POP. You can find more of her work here and follow her on Twitter at @_hannahnicole.

Mini-Interview with Jennifer Wortman

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

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

I write in many genres and forms, but flash has become a mainstay because it invites the best of all worlds: story, lyricism, intensity, authenticity, innovation. Flash really called to me after my kids were born, partly for pragmatic reasons: I’m a slow writer and had less time to write, so flash allowed me to finish what I started in weeks or months rather than years. But also, giving birth and raising kids puts you in close contact with the forces of life and death. Back then, I found those forces lacking in my longer work. The brevity of flash requires a focus on what matters most, not just artistically, but also personally and philosophically. Along with that focus and urgency comes a beautiful freedom: You can get away with much more in a small space than you can in a large. And when you’re done getting away with one thing, you can start fresh and get away with something else. It’s a great drug!

 

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My writerly lifejacket is consciousness. I’m fascinated by the human mind: what and how it perceives. Second to that is voice, the personality through which the mind reveals and distorts and conceals. Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying my writerly lifejacket is character.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

All of the above! My writing process is erratic. Sometimes I start slow and precise until I get stuck; then I’ll switch to a fast-and-dirty freewriting session. Other times, I’ll start quick and messy and then I’ll slow way down to hone in on a section until I get stuck and speed up again. The net effect, though, is pretty slow and very messy.

 

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

Anxiety, depression, obsession, compulsion, desire, rage, loss, family dysfunction, love gone wrong, the inescapability of the self, the death wish, and the grocery store—I get some of my best ideas in the cereal aisle.

 

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

This is the hardest question, because there are so many! I’ll start with my flash hero, John Edgar Wideman, who is more known for other genres but has a remarkable flash collection called Briefs­­­­­—it’s out of print but you can find used copies on the internet. A few more of the many flash writers I admire: Leonora Desar, Nicholas Grider, Kathryn McMahon, Tara Isabel Zambrano, Michele Finn Johnson, Raven Leilani, Michelle Ross, Kim Magowan, Christopher Gonzalez, Leesa Cross-Smith, Ruth LeFaive, Tyrese Coleman, Cathy Ulrich, Pat Foran, Sara Lippmann. And, if you’ll bear with me, I’d also like to share some stories I think merit an extra spotlight:

“What If I Never Write a Novel?” by Billy Ray Belcourt

“A Lesson about Love, Featuring Andy Kaufman and Clark” by Lee Matalone

“Sky Like Concrete” by Mike Riess

“Fever Dream, Dream City” by Andrea Lopez

“A Memory of the Christ by the Apostle John” by Adam McOmber

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?          

I’m grateful for any recognition I get and am always touched by how my stories are received. But I’ll use this space to share a story that came out back in the dark ages before I was on Twitter, in case anyone who hasn’t seen it feels like taking a look: “Man in the Night.”

BIO: Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Brevity, Hobart, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and serves as associate fiction editor for Colorado Review. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.

 

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Sophie van Llewyn

Sophie van Llewyn_pic

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

I should start by stating that I’m probably a novelist, at my core. I began writing by finishing a novel, but then I didn’t have a clue about editing it. So I moved to shorter forms of fictions. Through AdHoc Fiction, I discovered flash fiction (Jude Higgins & the Bath Flash Fiction Award are doing such an amazing job at promoting the form). Flash gave me the feeling that I was more in control of what I was saying, and I learned to self-edit by editing my flashes. Also, the community is amazing! I connected with other writers through Twitter, I met my writing group during a workshop with Kathy Fish.

Nearly three years later, I can say that my flashes come from a very different place than my novels and that my writing process is entirely different. But I didn’t know that in the beginning. Flash gave me the tools that I needed to grow further as a writer, and the flash community gave me the support I needed so dearly.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I often build my flashes around a particular situation or idea and then start questioning my characters’ motivations, and how they got to that point. Like in my piece ‘The Caesarean’  where a surgeon steals a woman’s kidney during a cesarean section. This is the naked, cruel fact that was my starting point. For my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, it was the image of a hungry woman who had been detained at the Socialist Republic of Romania’s border for days, hiding something very small and precious in a perfume bottle. I built my novella around that, and it branched out in the most unexpected direction.

But just as often, a flash fiction, especially one that comes from deep within, might be triggered by an emotion. This is often the case with flashes I write in longhand, without overthinking. The story just flows and finds its own focus in my notebook. I just have to step back, find the story, and start typing it up on my laptop.

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Ooof. It depends so much on what I’m writing. If a piece comes from within, it pours quickly, and I rarely change everything once it has come into focus while I transferred it from longhand to computer.

But much more often, I write a flash slowly, obsessing over every single word, every single sentence, while my mind tries to figure out if this is indeed the most relevant aspect of the story I’m trying to write. I think writing flash fiction has made me very picky when it comes to what I choose to put on the page when and what I leave out. I constantly question if I’m presenting the most relevant details where plot, character traits or dynamics between characters are involved.

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

If I only had to choose one single thing, I think that would be a certain feeling of displacement, a motive that recurs in so many of my flashes. I grew up in Romania, now I live in Germany and I write in English for English-speaking markets. I guess you realise where the displacement theme comes from.

 

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

There are so many writers I admire for their skill with words, you wouldn’t believe it! So many stories that stayed with me. Flash fiction world is absolutely effervescent right now. However, I’m lucky enough to be the Resident Flash Fiction Writer at TSS Publishing, for whom I’ve written a series of articles. I’ve been able to link to most of my favourite stories to underline certain aspects of the craft of flash fiction. Let me refer you to a couple of these articles, where you can discover some brilliant stories:

https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/unusual-structures-in-flash-fiction-part-i-by-sophie-van-llewyn/

https://www.theshortstory.co.uk/time-in-flash-fiction-by-sophie-van-llewyn/

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

It’s not necessarily about recognition, but I’m very fond of one of the pieces from my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, and particularly a piece called ‘The Saturday When Everything Changed.’ I used an unusual form — the story is formatted like a timetable, following Alina’s steps throughout the day. At the end of each entry, I repeat the phrase ‘Nothing has changed,’ until the very end when everything changes for my protagonist. Then, I put in so many childhood memories, evoked the atmosphere in Romanian classrooms, maths textbooks and the stifling gossips of a small town. Also, I mention chicken Kiew. I love chicken Kiew, but then, my entire novella is peppered with mentions of my favourite foods.

https://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/short_stories/5-minutes/the-saturday-when-everything-changed/

Bio: Sophie van Llewyn was born in Romania, but now lives in Germany. She’s an anaesthetist. Her prose has been published by Ambit, New Delta Review, The Lonely Crowd, New South Journal etc. Her novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS (Fairlight Books) has been longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019 and for the People’s Book Prize. Sophie is represented by Juliet Mushens at Caskie Mushens. @sophie_van_l

 

 

 

Mini-Interview with Leonora Desar

headshot_leonora desar

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

My brain naturally loves flash. I’m not sure if it’s a journalism thing (I used to be a journalist).[1]. It might just be an attention thing, or maybe a commitment thing. I think though it’s a bullshit thing. I hate writing/drafting long stuff and thinking, I don’t need this, I don’t need this, I don’t need this—why is this even here.

Flash cuts to the chase.

I do wish I could write long though. At least sometimes. I have this fantasy; I get some Krazy Glue and stick it all together; all the short stuff. Then I get some Magic Marker. I write NOVEL on it and send it to an agent. And she or he is like; wow; we’ve never seen anything like this—CALL US!!!

[1] Sort of. It was mostly tagging along with people who were way cooler than me and trying to get them to open up.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Voice. If I can’t get the voice right there’s nothing else.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

All the pieces I really love are the ones that I’ve written fast. But this doesn’t mean that I write like this all the time. In fact, I don’t. Those pieces you will never see. They are buried in a very dark attic of my computer. It’s labeled “dangerous” and “really boring.”

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

Probably my childhood. My life since then hasn’t been as interesting which I guess is also an influence. Sometimes I sit around talking about how Uninteresting things are and try to make this Interesting but this usually doesn’t work. So it’s better just to go back to the Bronx, to childhood—

We had a lot of weird neighbors. There was this babysitter who lived downstairs—Suzi. We used to listen to Little Orphan Annie on the record player and then her boyfriend would come and they’d make out. I’d sit there feeling jealous and imagining that when you got to be a teenager it was all about making out to Broadway show tunes—

Then there was this other neighbor, Mr. Greenberg. He was always yelling at me. He said, turn down the music which was odd because I never played any, only when Suzi was around. So I imagine there was some ghost who probably lived between his apartment, 3f, and my apartment, D11. And that’s another thing; the apartments—they didn’t make any sense. I spent hours trying to figure out why his was 3f and mine was D11, and came up with many different theories, none of which I was really able to prove.

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

Yikes. This is a hard and easy one. Easy because there’s so much great writing out there and hard because that means I’m going to inevitably leave something out—that I love.

Here are a few writers that I am crazy for. (Okay; maybe more than a few but still not the whole deal):

Jennifer Wortman. This piece is amazing and you should just read it and see why for yourself.

Adam Lock. There’s such a good story here which Adam is so great at; creating story. His pieces always feel so deep and true, and there’s a fullness to them, even if they’re flash.

Hillary Leftwich. Because she writes with Voice. I wish I could tag her FB posts. They’re f**ing amazing. Her stories, too. She writes in a way where you feel like there’s a direct line from her pen to gut to screen. Do they make those? I think they do and Hillary has dibs.

Tara Isabel Zambrano. I love this piece. I had read it in a workshop we were in and remember thinking “wow” and “give me more.”

Frances Gapper. This does what many of my favorite pieces do. It’s funny-sad. No, scratch that, it’s sad-hilarious. Frances is so great at this, she reminds me of a modern and sassier Jane Austen.

Jaquira Díaz. I read this at work on the sly and couldn’t put it away. It kept calling to me. A little voice said, do your work Leonora and I ignored it—

Marcy Dermansky. Because I love anything by Marcy Dermansky. She’s amazing. I read her on a plane trip to Orlando and she completely changed my life. When I left JFK I was a writer who wrote Very Serious Stories that-weren’t-very-engaging and when I landed I was still a writer who wrote Very Serious Stories but I wanted to be different, to be funnier, to talk like Sue from her novel Twins.

Miranda July. She is another one I used to read at work. I kept her hidden beneath my desk and sometimes she would sneak out and slip me crackers.

Claire Polders. Because she speaks to you in a way that’s elegant and true.

Pat Foran. I love everything he writes. He has a signature style and an energy and there’s music in his writing. Can’t you hear it? It sounds like: I am feeling so much writing this—Here is my soul, it’s yours.

Al Kratz. Because you need to read this. It’s all about the Voice. And magic. When you read it you will know.

Janice Leagra. This is also about magic—it’s a whoosh story!!! As in it feels like it all came out in one big, magical whoosh!!!

Josh Denslow. His pieces are great. They make me laugh. And not just in a ha-ha way. In a deep way. There’s poignancy here, and sadness.

Paul Beckman. Because he’s a genius. He has a way of writing that doesn’t sound like “writing,” more like chatting in your ear. Plus, he’s a genius.

 Cathy Ulrich and her amazing murdered girls. Especially that babysitter.

Rebecca Saltzman. Because cannibals on the Q train.

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I have an advice column. It’s about writing, usually all the ways I’m avoiding it, and how you shouldn’t. I give ways for not avoiding it and then don’t follow my own advice. There’s also been a lot of stuff about TV shows, weird people. Bodega kings and blind photographers; stake-outs, messy socks (that don’t match); and when the writing is all crap.

There is also (sometimes occasionally) actual practical advice. This happens once every 6th-dozenth solar flare.*

*I actually don’t know how common a solar flare is. I should probably google this.

PS:  I’ve also been lucky to have some awesome writing teachers—Meg Pokrass, Lisa DePaulo, Kathy Fish, Christopher DeWan, Robert James Russell, all of them great writers, too.

I wish I could keep them hidden beneath my desk and ask them writing advice but this would probably not be legal.

PPS I know I talked in the beginning here about cutting to the chase. I should probably tweak some of this.

BIO: Leonora Desar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Passages NorthBlack Warrior Review OnlineMid-American ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyHobart, and Quarter After Eight, among othersShe won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She writes a column for New Flash Fiction Review—DEAR LEO. She avoids writing @LeonoraDesar and by fiddling with www.leonoradesar.com. She is the new fiction editor for Pidgeonholes. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions 2019, and the Best Microfiction anthology.

 

 

Mini-Interview with Megan Pillow Davis

pillow davis new headshot

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

I started writing flash because I felt like I’d lost something in my writing. In myself, too, to be honest. I’d had some very demoralizing experiences with critique where professors saw nothing of value in my work, and I lost a lot of confidence in my abilities. I would write these 25 and 30-page stories that had interesting moments and interesting characters, but they would just wander all over the place and eventually disassemble all over the page. I would write and write, and after I’d write, I’d cry in frustration. And so I stopped writing. I didn’t write for five years. I had all this old work stored on my computer, dozens of stories that just sat there, but I didn’t write anything new or submit anything for publication for a very long time. For a while, I honestly thought I wouldn’t ever write again.

And then, as I always do in times of stress and sadness, I started reading. And I discovered flash. Well, rediscovered it, really. I remember picking up the copy of the first book I bought when I moved to start my MFA program – The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American Stories Since 1970 – and re-reading Donald Barthelme’s “The School” and thinking oh fuck yeah, I love this piece. I love what he’s able to do in such a compact space. I’ll bet there are a lot of other people out there doing this. And I thought maybe if I focused on compact writing, on compressed narrative, it could teach me a few things about writing longform fiction. So that’s what I did. I started following journals and reading who they were publishing. Some of the first pieces I read were pieces by Kathy Fish and Cathy Ulrich, and I was astounded by their work. So I just read more and more, trying to learn, trying to figure out how to approach this genre that I knew very little about, and then I started tinkering around.

What I discovered by reading and writing flash was that for me, longform had become such a laborious process, a lot like the process of childbirth (I have two kids, so this isn’t just hyperbole here). When I was writing longform fiction, I would get so stressed and so focused on the end game, on gritting my teeth to just get through, that I often missed honing those critical connections that the reader needs in order to invest in the piece. But then I discovered that for me reading and writing flash is for me like a single contraction: pure pain, but also pure beauty and joy, and the intensity of it is so powerful but so brief that I can just give myself over to it completely, let my mind and my body steep in every single word. When I read a really great piece of flash, I don’t just think about it for days or weeks afterward. I feel it for that length of time too, the same way my body can still feel the reverberations of those contractions from childbirth when I think about them: I remember what I was drinking when I read a piece, how it tasted, what the light looked light in the room, the sound of my breath as it caught in my throat when something in that piece tore me open or made me laugh. And while I did learn a valuable lesson about longform from writing flash – which is that, just as with labor, longform is a series of well-synchronized contractions that propel a person along to a moment of impossible revelation – I also discovered that I loved flash not just for what it taught me about longform but for what it was in its own right. And now, I’m devoted. Flash taught me a better relationship to and understanding of longform – instead of gritting my teeth through it, I’ve learned to pace myself, to pay attention to the details, and to love it despite the pain. But flash? Flash is where I give myself over to the pain, where the pain brings me joy.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Characters always come to me first. I’m a people-watcher and very curious about why people do what they do and how we react and respond to those decisions. When I start thinking about what motivates a character, the story usually springs from those motivations. I would love to be one of those writers for whom a carefully-constructed plot comes easily, but I was not blessed with that particular skill.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Both, actually. I’m a very quick and messy drafter. For a flash piece, I’ll usually sit down and have a working draft in an hour to an hour and a half. But that’s after thinking, usually for weeks, about what the story is about and how it will come together, and then it’s followed by weeks and sometimes months of laborious revision during which I sometimes end up rewriting the whole damn thing. I wrote my story “We All Know About Margo” in an hour – and then spent a month and a half in a frenzy of rewriting, reworking the beginning and ending multiple times and switching POV several times, among other things. I like the freedom and fluidity that writing quickly affords me, but I know I can’t get a piece to read exactly how I want it to without spending a lot of time in revision.

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

My Ph.D. program and my kids. Both have taught me incredible time management skills and discipline. They’ve taught me to write in 30-minute increments and even sometimes in 10-minute increments, when necessary, and to still make progress. They’ve taught me to trust in my ability to do thorough research, but they also remind me that I’m never going to be an expert on everything, I’m just going to learn a whole lot about one little sliver of the world, and I need to trust the other experts to guide me in my understanding of the rest. Most of all, they’ve taught me to survive on very little sleep, which frankly is the only way that a Ph.D. student with two young kids is ever going to get any creative writing done.

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

This is always such a difficult question to answer because there are so many writers I fiercely admire. But in addition to Kathy Fish and Cathy Ulrich, whom I always read, and the work of the women of color writers I talked about in a recent SmokeLong Quarterly interview, I’ve also been floored by writers like Allie Marini, Marisa Crane, Josh Denslow, Kathryn McMahon, Christopher Allen, Kim Magowan, Emi Benn, and Jennifer Fliss. These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, though. I’m sure I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. thinking of at least a dozen more names I should have mentioned.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I don’t really think I have one. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but I haven’t been back to publishing for very long – my first piece in a long while was published in the spring of 2017 – and since then, I’ve had work accepted at some amazing journals, been nominated for some awards I honestly never thought I’d get nominated for, and most of all, received tons of support from the writing community. So I feel very lucky. Instead of sending you to another story of mine, I’d say instead seek out a writer you’ve never read before, especially somebody emerging, and read them instead. If you like their work, share it, and please tell them it meant something to you. The people who have taken the time to do that for me, those are the people who kept me writing. They’ve made up for all the years where I felt like my work didn’t matter. Right now, there are tons of brilliant writers out there, maybe even reading this, who are racking up the rejections, who feel like their one or two publications this year didn’t get much traction and didn’t have an impact, and they feel very alone. Some of them are wondering whether they’re really cut out for this gig, and they’re thinking about quitting. I know because I was them. And more than anything, they need someone to see their work, to love it, and to let them know. They need that recognition and the encouragement that comes with it. I hope more than anything that we can give it to them.

Bio:  Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared, among other places, in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Memoir Mixtapes, and Mutha Magazine, has been featured in Longreads, and is forthcoming in Collective Unrest, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Longleaf Review, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. She has also been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best Small Fictions. Megan is currently revising her debut novel, has begun work on her second book, and is completing her dissertation. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family.

Mini-Interview with Michele Finn Johnson

MIchele

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

Flash is like a no-fuss best friend to me—it’s much easier to manage than the more time-consuming, “high maintenance” short stories and essays that I also write. I can usually count on flash to show up when I’ve got limited time to dedicate to writing, to not be too fussy in revealing the truth of what it’s dying to say. Flash also big-time motivates me with my longer pieces, builds my confidence to know I can find many micro-level ways to bring them to the finish line. If I sound like I’m gushing here, it’s because I’m in love with flash!

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

If I told you I heard voices in my head, would you have me straight-jacketed? That’s usually what happens. A first line appears generally out of nowhere and I puzzle it in my head until it feels right. Then I start to write and let that voice tell its story. Usually, that voice is a character, but sometimes it’s a question (which I guess is more similar to plot).

 

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m somewhat slow in my head to nail down the opening sentence or two, and then I’m quick onto the page to finish a draft. I first started writing flash in a game-changing Kathy Fish Fast Flash© workshop, and so fast has stuck as my primary first-draft method.

 

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

Tommy, this could be a therapy session! I’m an engineer and, in part, work on environmental cleanups. It’s a terrific, if not an obvious, metaphor for real life that finds its way, either overtly or subtlety, into my work. While nature can be beautiful, I’m trained to see all the ways it’s messed up. That extends to humans too—I’m an extrovert who probably asks more inappropriate questions of people than I should (always couched with humor!). Revealed details sometimes make for fabulous story kernels!

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

Here are a few flash writers/example pieces I turn to when I want to be awed and moved and inspired. I tried to vary the list from previous interviews as best I could, which meant omitting so many of my go-to writers (sorry!).

  • For how she evokes emotion: Jennifer Wortman, As It So Happens in Vestal Review
  • For setting and razor-sharp detail: Jason Shults, Dodge in SmokeLong Quarterly
  • For genius structure: Kim Magowan, Madlib, in Okay Donkey
  • For killer dialogue and up-front tension: Cheryl Kidder, Give it to Her, in Atticus Review
  • For slow-boiled tension: Tiffany Quay Tyson, The Neighbors Want to Know Our Secret, in The Ilanot Review

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really fond of a piece of mine, School Lessons, that ran in Noble / Gas Qtrly. It was a runner-up for their 2017 Birdwhistle Prize, but I’m not sure I did my part to promote it. So much of this story is true; it feels like a time capsule of my grade school experience.

BIO: Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions, and won an AWP Intro  Journals Project in nonfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and @m_finn_johnson.