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.

 

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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.

Mini-Interview with K.B. Carle

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

I write flash because I enjoy the challenge of capturing a pivotal moment for a character in just a few pages. In those pages, I need to show readers why this moment matters. However, when writing short stories, I tend to have more than two characters present, expressing themselves through dialogue. Flash allows me to lock two characters in a room, forcing them into conflict that depends less on dialogue and more on their nonverbal cues. Silence, what is left unsaid, has always intrigued me. A lot can happen between two people with two different perspectives, in a locked room. That’s when my characters’ body language (eye contact, uncomfortable tics, and the way they interact with the objects around them) becomes their new form of dialogue.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m all about characters! I always want to know a reader’s favorite character, but when I ask about their favorite part of a flash piece, the scene almost always involves the despicable character. I love writing why or how a despicable character becomes despicable. Exploring how they talk or how their movements change based upon their surroundings or their company. Writing the antagonist doesn’t make me feel safe but hearing readers’ reactions to a racist woman carrying her mixed newborn grandchild into the night while her daughter screams behind her, knowing I could evoke such a strong reaction from that moment, keeps me returning to the page.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

My writing style is a bit of both. The thought process is always slow and precise. If I don’t have the first line, I don’t have the story. I could have several ideas bouncing around in my head but without a precise starting point, the story is just an idea locked away in my mind.

But when that first sentence comes, I’m transported into the world of the story, where my characters know what needs to be done to get from beginning, middle, and end. All I have to do is cross my fingers and hope my pencil doesn’t run out of lead.

I should say another part of the process that slows me down is the fact that I have to write EVERYTHING by hand first, including the answers to this interview. Once the story has made its way into my journal, I start editing as I type. Between the page and the computer is where the mess happens. Those moments when I ask myself, “Why would they do that?” Or I can’t read my handwriting due to a moment I refused to acknowledge my pencil lead did in fact break or an idea transcribed into scribbles. Once the words do find their way onto my computer (and I fight the word count) I’m back to the slow and precise process of searching for the first line of the next story.

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

 Family.

Family is very important to me, especially since there’s still a lot I don’t know about my ancestors. I have the stories my parents tell me, but they only go back so far. It’s also why the Ancestry DNA commercials irritate me because, as an African American, my ancestors were erased from history. I come from an older family. My maternal grandfather was born in 1910 and only a few years separate him from my other grandparents. I didn’t get the stories I wanted from my grandparents, their history too painful to talk about or forgotten. Also, by the time I could talk to them, both of my grandfathers were already deceased. I was too young to crave the histories of my grandmothers and they were too tired to relive them. So, I cling to the precious memories I do have of them, of what history has taught me, what my parents remember of the shadows of their grandparents, and try to portray those struggles in my stories. This is my way of sharing that they, my ancestors, can never be erased.

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

 Amina Harper—Five WivesPaper Darts

Amy Slack—The BathtubFlashBack Fiction

Monet Thomas—A Certain WomanThird Point Press

Annie Frazier—All of Us AnimalsLongleaf Review

Cathy Ulrich—Ghost Among GhostsJellyfish Review

Anita Goveas—Let’s Sing All the Swear Words We KnowLost Balloon

Tara Isabel Zambrano—A Thousand EyesPANK Magazine

Jennifer Todhunter—This is all We NeedAtticus Review

Noa Sivan—Seven Words for SandMonkeybicycle

Dina L. Relles—Where We Landmatchbook

Megan Giddings—The Eleventh Floor GhostSmokelong Quarterly

Meghan Phillips—Abstinence OnlyPassages North

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 The story I wish received more recognition would have to be, “The Widow’s Crow,” in Meow Meow Pow Pow. The artwork paired with the piece is incredible and I had so much fun writing a story about a woman who’s best friends is a crow. I love the dark fairytale elements of this story and all the little details I managed to squeeze into such a short piece.

Bio: K.B. Carle lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her MFA from Spalding University’s Low-Residency program in Kentucky. When she is not exploring the realms of speculative, jazz, and historical fiction, K.B. avidly pursues misspelled words, botched plot lines, and rudimentary characters. Her flash has appeared in FlashBack FictionThe Molotov CocktailPidgeonholesLost Balloon, and elsewhere. She can be found online at http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @kbcarle.

Mini-Interview with Kim Magowan

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

The first flash I ever wrote, before I knew there was this genre called flash, is a story called “Palimpsest,” back in 2010. My writing group at the time said, “We like this beginning a lot, where’s it going?” and I said, “No, that’s the whole thing.” I had an intuitive sense it was done. Really, I became interested in flash as a practical necessity: I’m a professor, and flash is the one mode of writing I can reliably do when the semester’s on. That said, I’ve become addicted to the form. I love its precision. It forces me to choose every word, to trim all the fat, to identify the core of a story and eliminate all fluff. I’ve become a better writer (more disciplined, more particular) because of flash. Reading and writing flash requires attention. Currently, as a fiction editor, I often find long stories flabby: parts seem brilliant, but parts drag. Flash eliminates all the boring stuff.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Definitely character! Plot is a struggle. A friend, not intending to be mean, once said after reading a draft of my novel, “This is great, but there’s no plot.” Which is kind of a huge thing to go missing in a novel! Whoops, forgot to include a plot! Though the English professor in me could point out a dozen novels that don’t have a plot to speak of (The Sound and the Fury, Mrs. Dalloway, most high modernism). I gravitate toward character. The reason I write is the same reason I read, and why in another life I think I would have made a decent psychotherapist: I like to figure people out. People are endlessly interesting to me, so my favorite novels (Emma, Middlemarch, The Remains of the Day, Lolita, The Good Soldier) are character studies.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I veer towards quick and messy. My modus operandi with flash is to bang out the first draft in a sitting. I want the shape of the story splashed out. My revision process is all about chiseling. Even as a college student, I used to feel a dorky gratification when a draft of a paper was too long and needed cutting down. I enjoy removing flab, making stories trim and muscular. When I get a story into more or less presentable condition, I send it to my first reader, Michelle Ross, and she gives me edits. The ones I take graciously are the cuts. Whenever Michelle wants me to add or develop something, I grumble. I tend to write polished drafts, but I am a baby about doing comprehensive revisions. Any chore, no matter how onerous, seems preferable.

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

Becoming a parent fundamentally changed both the way I write and the way I read. Certain books are simply not the same for me now: Beloved, always heartbreaking, kills me now—I cry every time I reread it (which is often, because I teach it). With Frankenstein, I always thought Victor Frankenstein was a self-centered jerk, but now I judge much more harshly Victor’s repudiation of the creature. A number of my characters are flawed parents. Others are struggling adolescents. Writing is a way for me to process some of my worst fears: what would it mean to lose a child, or to let down a child catastrophically? To have one’s own defects and failings damage someone else? One of the fascinating things about having children is the way it makes one confront wrapped-up parts of oneself. Kids hold up mirrors. You can’t hide from yourself anymore.

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

There are so many flash writers I love! This isn’t original, but I am nuts about Lydia Davis—any writer interested in flash fiction should read (and reread) her collected stories. I’ve loved Borges since I was a teenager, when his micro “Borges and I” exploded my brain. Kathy Fish is fantastic: her flash “Collective Nouns About Humans in the Wild” destroyed me. I’m obsessed with Joy Williams’ Ninety-Nine Stories of God. I teach and reteach Jamaica Kincaid’s wonderful mother-daughter story “Girl.” Sherrie Flick’s stories are whiskey shots, they burn going down. George Saunders’s “Sticks” from his Tenth of December collection is a barbed thorn of a story. Michelle Ross, Kim Chinquee, Amelia Gray, and Cathy Ulrich are among my current favorites, writers whose new work I always seek out. I love the micro of yours Pithead Chapel is publishing, “You’ve Stopped”: that was one of my favorite flashes I’ve read all year. That final line about the slowing heartbeat is devastating.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m proud of “Eleanor of Aquitaine.” It’s the first of the linked stories in my collection, and I suspect it gets overlooked next to other stories about Laurel that cast bigger shadows (“Warmer, Colder,” “On Air”). It isn’t as tough, repellent, or disturbing as those two. But I think it’s a strong story, and a sad one, about how a war between estranged spouses is hurting their daughter. Actually, I like the fourth of the Laurel stories a lot, too: “Pop Goes the Weasel.” That story almost didn’t make it into my collection. I worried it was too shapeless. It morphed on me. Initially, I thought I was writing a nasty stepmother story, but almost without my volition, Nina became a lot warmer and messier than my original picture of her. So, I want people to pay attention to the two understated Laurel stories! The two middle ones shout them down. “Eleanor” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” are like the quiet kids in the back of the classroom who won’t raise their hands, but should be called on anyway.

BIO: Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com

Mini-Interview with Sarah Freligh

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

Flash combines the lyric precision of poetry with the narrative urgency of fiction. It’s the perfect storm.

That’s my academic answer. The real reason is because I dole out my life in coffee spoons. I write in grabbed time and flash lends itself nicely to small dollops.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, with a splash of plot, most likely because I am a terrible plotter. If conflict is fuel, flash can run on a buck’s worth, long enough to arrive at a story (not so for a novel, which I’m discovering to my great chagrin). At some point in the writing, I get hold of a tail of something – a metaphor, an action – and hitch a ride on that for a while. I eventually arrive at a story or even better, a hint of a story.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Ideally, quick and messy on first swipe after which I abandon the mess for a while to forget what I both love and hate about it. At some point, I start to revise. I might see a potential structure and how that might work to underscore theme. How fooling around with language can create opportunities for metaphor that expand and deepen understanding and meaning. A mentor once said to me that there are no true synonyms in the English language, and I agree. I’m eternally after the right word.

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

I’d wish I could say that I bit into a madeleine and saw my life whole, but the truth is far more pedestrian. My cats, dead and alive. Swimming, definitely. It’s so boring that after 1,000 yards, you develop a rich imagination or go starkers. I have a bank of stored-up images that need homes, and usually I find them in my poems or prose.

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

Jayne Anne Phillips’ book Black Tickets, especially “Wedding Picture” and “Blind Girls.” Gary Gildner’s “Fingers” and Paul Lisicky’s “Snapshot, Harvey Cedars, 1948,” both from the iconic Flash Fiction anthology. Anne Panning’s “Candy Cigarettes,” a flash nonfiction. I’ve used them as prompts in so many classes; they never fail.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Hard question! Probably “We Smoke,” because that might mean that people are reading New Micro, the terrific new anthology edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellero, or reading my poetry book Sad Math, published by Moon City Press in 2015.

 

BIO: Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Sun Magazine, Hotel Amerika, BOAAT Journal, diode, SmokeLong Quarterly, and in the anthology New Microfiction: Exceptionally Short Stories (W.W. Norton, 2018). Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.