Mini-Interview with Neil Clark

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

First, I would like to thank you for interviewing me, Tommy. This series is so great. I feel like I just walked into a party I have no business being at. I did bring beer, though!

When I started writing in my early twenties, I dived straight into the novel. Big mistake from me and my short attention span. Once I got to 50,000 words or so, it became clear I was writing a collection of tidbits, not a novel. The only thing tying it all together was the fact that they all featured a man called Gordon. I was bored of Gordon. I wanted to write tidbits about aliens as well, or ghosts, or the secret lovechild of a vending machine and a toaster. I wanted the freedom to explore a new world every time I sat down to write. So I started doing that, without knowing it was called flash fiction. These days, I rarely write anything over 500 words, and I usually have two or three different ideas on the go at any one time.

That’s what makes flash different and special for me. The brevity means you can experiment and take risks at will. If an idea leads to a dead end (as many of mine do) it’s no big deal. But if it does come off, the pay-off is unlike any other form for me. Most of the biggest literary gut-punches I’ve had have come from reading flash fiction pieces.

Last year, I attended the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. On the first night, I was sat there thinking ‘Yep. I’ve found my niche.’

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Narrative movement is important for me. I stop reading if nothing is happening. But I’m going to say character. I’m reminded of a local writers’ group I used to go to. There was a guy who would write these long passages of ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened…’ without spending any time on his characters’ reactions or emotions. Then he’d lash out when it wasn’t well received. He’d wave his glass of pinot noir around and be like, “My passage had several thousand deaths, a military coup and group sex between seventeen different species of alien!” and we’d all be thinking, ‘Yeah that’s wonderful mate, but somehow we were still bored.’ That was an important lesson for me. You can have all the alien army orgies in the universe, but if the story doesn’t have a beating heart, nobody is going to care.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The first, followed by the second. Initially, I use the shoveling sand approach. Chuck whatever is in my head into a document or my phone as quickly as possible, then worry about shaping it into something that makes sense after. That’s one of the great things about creative writing – nobody needs to see anything until it’s ready to be seen. After I’ve shoveled the sand, writing is re-writing. That part is slow and precise, or, more accurately, repetitive and precise. I keep going over it until I’m putting commas in, taking them out, then putting them in again. At that point, I deem it good to go.

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

My mother comes from Guyana and is of Chinese ethnicity, so I looked different to everyone else at my school apart from my sister. Most of the time it was fine, but often enough, something would happen or get said that would make me feel like a complete outsider. Nothing like an unhealthy dose of feeling like an outsider to bring out the writer in someone!

Also, in terms of “real life” on a grander scale, I love space and the cosmos. As humans, we have this capacity for kindness and cruelty. We have empathy. We have a need for community and sometimes solitude. All these things and more. But when we think about it rationally, we are utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe and time. That juxtaposition fascinates me. I was thinking about it when I was out for a real life walk earlier, so I thought I’d mention it here.

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

I’m opening another beer, because this is some question. One that is going to be such a pleasure to answer.

The Tenth of December by George Saunders is a sublime book. The story ‘Sticks’ is only a page long and was probably my first glimpse into what flash fiction can do. You can read that story online here – http://www.unm.edu/~gmartin/535/Sticks.htm

The shorter pieces in Miranda July’s collection ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’ had a similar effect on me.

This Pat Foran story is one of the saddest, most beautiful things I’ve read recently – https://moonparkreview.com/issue-ten-winter-2019-2020/how-cold-the-morning-how-heavy-the-waltz/

As is this by Anita Goveas – https://intothevoidmagazine.com/article/how-to-obey-gravity/

How does Cathy Ulrich produce so many beautiful pieces so consistently? Is there an army of Cathy Ulrichs? Joking. There’s only one Cathy Ulrich. This is a fantastic story by her about haunted carwashes – https://heavyfeatherreview.org/2019/08/29/ulrich/

This is a fun alien stepfather story by Chris Miliam –

Oh, and this is another Chris Miliam belter (I love this guy!) about a monster made of processed food –

https://themolotovcocktail.com/about/archive-vols-1-3/vol-8/flash-monster-2017/goop/

Here’s something a bit different. If you don’t mind a bit of profanity, I’d highly recommend watching this video of my fellow Scot, Chris McQueer, reading the hilarious ‘Korma Police’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRFFhsDXDKs

Since I started writing micro fiction, I’ve really looked up to Noa Sivan. What she can do with so few words is truly special. This collection in Monkey Bicycle illustrates this perfectly – http://monkeybicycle.net/microfictions/

You know who else is amazing at micro fiction, who I’ve discovered recently? Katherine Kulpa. Here’s is a collection of apocalyptic ones – http://x-r-a-y.com/in-the-time-of-climate-change/fiction/

I’m going to go and reread all of these myself in a bit, with another beer!

But before I do that, speaking of micro fiction, I must mention the Twitter very short story community. If I started listing all the amazing individuals, we’d be here all day. But I’d definitely recommend checking out the #vss365 (Very Short Story, 365 days a year) hashtag on there. Loads of great tweet-length stories posted every day. I’d urge anyone to take part, too. I’ve been doing it for years now and it’s become my favourite way to get the creative beers flowing. Creative juices, sorry! Meant to say juices.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’ll give a plug to one of my micro fictions called ‘Memoir’. It was part of the UK National Flash Fiction Day ‘Flash Flood’, which is exactly what the name suggests – a flood of flash fiction. So people might have missed my contribution, which I’m really fond of – https://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.com/2019/06/memoir-by-neil-clark.html

BIO: Neil Clark is a writer from Edinburgh. His debut print collection – ‘Time. Wow.’ – is scheduled for release on Back Patio Press in 2020. His work is published or forthcoming in a number of journals such as Wigleaf, Okay Donkey, Spelk, CHEAP POP and The Molotov Cocktail. You can follow him on Twitter @NeilRClark or visit neilclarkwrites.wordpress.com for a full list of publications.

Mini-Interview with Kevin Richard White

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

I write more flash now than I did in the past for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m getting exhausted with longer stories, both writing and reading them. This is not out of laziness or anything, it’s said in that I feel a story should be short, sweet, and to the point. A story does not need to be 25 pages and 8,000 words. Why write 8,000 when you can write 1,000 and get the job done quicker? A lot of stories usually take four to five pages to really start going, because the author feels to give unnecessary backstory, and with flash, you don’t need that. You get right to the heart of it. Sometimes, I don’t need to know everything.

The second reason is that I can be quirky and experimental and get away with it. Look, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. It could be all over for me. I’m going to write short, read short, and in most cases, these short pieces of flash convey more emotion, blood and pain than a longer story ever could. Nine times out of ten, the flash story is the greatest gut punch there is, and I love it. This isn’t to say that I’m abandoning longer pieces completely, but chances are, if I see a writer on Twitter I admire post a story, and it’s a flash, I will definitely gravitate towards that more.

In short, flash for me is the best way you can hone your craft as a writer, because you have a limit. Say it fast, say it quick, say it right. Don’t ramble if you don’t have to.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character, always. I never care about plot and I’ll tell you why. I could come up with the most elaborate plot in the world, full of intrigue and love and danger and excitement, and it wouldn’t mean shit if it had bland, boring characters. Humans are messy, obnoxious, dumb creatures, and I could spend a whole life time trying to understand them, make sense of them, tear them apart and put them back together. Most of my stories go right for a sense of realism – I write about drunks, liars, cheats, reprobates, young angry yuppies, anxious as hell, broke as fuck people who have to claw their way out of whatever situation they’re stuck in, literally or figuratively. I don’t think you need a plot – you just need a person who makes a terrible mistake. And we do that quite often.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy. I never write drafts, ever. I edit as I go and when the story is done, I never touch it again. I would rather write a good draft once. I’ve been that way my entire life and I don’t suppose it’s ever going to change. I tried to be slow when I first started writing – I had written a few novels that are definitely not very good. I’ll be the first to admit it. If you ever stumble across one of them, you’ll definitely see it. They suck. And I think that’s because I thought about it too much. I’d rather write it out once, at its purest emotion, because that’s when you see the blood, the grit. If you edit too much, you lose your passion in the story. I believe that. The more you touch it and go back, the more meaning it loses.

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

I tend to hit the bottle more than I should, so a lot of my stories involve drinking and some form of self-deprecation. And that isn’t so much a reflection of me in that I feel negative about myself, but I’ve been to some depths in my life, so I just pull from that. So much easier to do so. I think there’s a lot of power you can give to yourself as a writer by focusing on the negative elements, as you can really go anywhere you want with it, and be as creative as you want. Writing happy only gets you so far and it tends to border on the maudlin at times. By writing about this stuff – the bad drunk days, the bitter parts of relationships, the feeling that you’re never going to get away from the banality of life, you know, all that stuff that Camus talks about in The Stranger – you could write forever.

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

I would say first and foremost, if you haven’t read Gutshot by Amelia Gray, you absolutely have to. No questions asked. Probably without doubt the greatest book of flash I have read and it is one I go back to a lot. Specifically the stories “The Lark” and “These Are The Fables”. Both are readily available via Google and they’ll knock your socks off, as the kids say.

Another one that truly opened up my eyes was Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler. Not all of that book is flash, but the parts that are, truly magnificent.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I wrote a piece called “It’s All About The Breathing” that was picked up by Hypertext back in the beginning of 2018. It’s just a hair over being flash length (about 1,100 words), but I wish this was the one that caught on more. It’s a piece about a woman going through some difficult feelings about her pregnancy and tends to take some drastic actions as the story goes on in order to cope with the concept of creating life. It was important to me that I wrote a story involving this as I have had many friends who have gone through it, and I was stunned on how many times they admitted to me that it was, frankly speaking, all kind of bullshit. How there were so many negative feelings attached to this, how even though the end result would be a child and it would be so wonderful, but how miserable they were and couldn’t admit it to anyone. It was important to me to write a strong voice and I love how it turned out. It did not get as much recognition that I was hoping for, but perhaps maybe someday it will resonate for someone and they can get something out of it. I’m attaching the link in case someone does want to read it after this interview: https://www.hypertextmag.com/tag/its-all-about-the-breathing/

BIO: Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in Grub Street, The Hunger, Lunch Ticket, The Molotov Cocktail, The Helix, Hypertext, decomP, X-R-A-Y and Ghost Parachute among others. He is a Flash Fiction Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and also reads fiction for Quarterly West and The Common. He lives in Philadelphia.

Mini-Interview with Dana Diehl

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

Flash fiction is like a small treasure that fits in your pocket. A perfectly smooth stone, maybe. Or a bird egg you find on the sidewalk, miraculously uncracked. When I write flash, I love that I can see the beginning and end of the story at the same time. If I make a change in the first paragraph, I can instantly see, without flipping or scrolling, how it changes the last paragraph.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I don’t think I fit in either of those categories! I usually start a story with a concept, and when I feel stuck, I always return to that concept. I ask myself: In this world or situation I’ve created, what are the possibilities? Have I played out all of those possibilities to the fullest extent? Which of those possibilities would lead to the most interesting plot or character development?

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I usually start out slowly, painfully slowly. Then, when I feel like I’ve locked into the voice of the story, I switch to quick and messy.

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

I’m so influenced by my students. I teach nine and ten-year-olds who are full of creativity and incredible strangeness and unusual ways of seeing the world. They love asking “What if?” questions, and I think they’ve taught me to do the same. They’ve also given me an appreciation for stories that are fun and playful and don’t take themselves too seriously.

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

One of my all-time favorite flash stories is “Life Story” by Joseph Scapellato. You can read an excerpt on Kenyon Reviewor in his short story collection, Big Lonesome. It’s incredible, and I won’t spoil it by trying to explain why!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m really fond of my story, “The Ulcer,” published with Jellyfish Review, because I feel like the narrator in that story is closer to me than maybe any other story I’ve written. It’s based on my anxiety surrounding my body and my wish for simple, decisive answers. Maybe if you’ve ever worried obsessively that you have an ulcer, this story might be for you?

BIO:

Dana Diehl is the author of OUR DREAMS MIGHT ALIGN (Splice UK, 2018) and TV GIRLS (New Delta Review, 2018).

Her collaborative short story collection, THE CLASSROOM, was published with Gold Wake Press in January 2019.

Dana earned her BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University. She received her MFA in Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

Dana has served as editor-in-chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review and The Susquehanna Review. She is a Blog Interviewer for The Collagist. She has taught Composition, Creative Writing, and Humanities at Arizona State University, Florence Prison, the National University of Singapore, and BASIS Primary.

Her honors and awards include a Completion Fellowship from Arizona State University, as well as Piper Enrichment Grants to attend the Port Townshend Writers Conference and the Rutgers Camden Summer Writers’ Conference. In 2014, she received a Piper Global Fellowship to teach Creative Writing at the National University of Singapore. She has been awarded a Glendon & Kathryn Swarthout Prize in Fiction.

Mini-Interview with Ben Loory

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

A long time ago I decided that I was just going to write my stories the way I’d tell them to someone if we were sitting around talking in a bar or whatever. So that’s what I do. About half the time they end up being under 1,000 words, and the other half a little over. Sometimes they even get up to 2,000 (I think that counts as a novel). But it’s all the same to me; I never know how long they’re going to be until they’re done, and the only thing I care about is that they’re right, that they work and make me smile sentence by sentence and feel like you’ve emotionally broken through to something at the end and don’t make me cringe at any point when I read them aloud. That’s an impossible enough task for me; the idea of aiming for any specific word count really just boggles my mind.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Well, character is the north star; the revelation of it is what you aim for, and the feel and pull of it is how you steer. But plot is how you get there. So 50/50 split.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I write first drafts very quickly, usually in 20 minutes or less, and then spend months or years editing and expanding and shrinking and throwing everything out and starting over and building it up again from scratch and then going back to the previous version and then the later version and then the initial version and etc etc etc until finally somehow the right version of the story clicks fully into place from beginning to end, and then I iron and iron and polish and polish forever and ever and ever.

(I don’t recommend it, but it’s my process.)

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

One night when I was little my dad took my sister and I outside onto the patio and pointed up at the stars and told us all about them, what they were and where and how maybe there were other planets moving around some of them and maybe there were other people, other life forms on those planets, and maybe some of them were standing outside their homes looking up at the stars in the night sky and wondering about us, if we existed and what we were like and what we were up to. That’s the moment I try to live in and hopefully write my stories from.

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

“Lemmings” by Richard Matheson.

“Appointment in Samarra” as retold by Somerset Maugham.

And probably my favorite: the 2-paragraph blanket story from Scott McClanahan’s novel Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I had a story up at Wigleaf in 2018 called “Mystery (The Third Man)” which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. Just really gave me that special feeling.

Ben Loory is the author of the collections TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING
and STORIES FOR NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Sewanee Review, and A Public Space, and been heard on This American Life and Selected
Shorts. Find him at benloory.com.

Mini-Interview with Damon Garn

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

Well, to be honest, my answer isn’t very glamorous. At this point in my life flash fiction is what have time and energy for. I am working on a couple of novels but the reality is that those projects are going to take years to finish. I write for fun, so I don’t feel much pressure. I can create a flash piece relatively quickly, edit it, get it read, and start submitting it on a timeline that fits my life right now.

I do have to say, however, that I enjoy the challenge of fitting a complete story into 1000 words. It is a fun format to write and I suspect that even if my professional life didn’t get in the way of my creative life that I would still write a great deal of flash.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I think it’s character. I try to infuse my characters with personality. When I stop and think about books or stories that have touched my heart, it’s really the characters that mattered to me more than the plot progression. Sure, I appreciate that Bilbo helped kill Smaug and completed his own hero’s journey, but that fact remains that I like Bilbo more than the journey he was on.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy. I don’t tend to do a lot of rewriting, however. That may or may not be good – I wonder if my “quick and messy” style doesn’t hurt me sometimes. When I go back to reread I find many mistakes that were made in haste. Hopefully I catch them all!

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

I read an immense amount of fantasy (and a lot of sci-fi), so those stories probably influence me the most.  I don’t tend to write stories that touch on my career (Information Technology) or my personal experiences. I only have one story that was really ever informed by my own experiences (My Favorite Color – Riggwelter #9 – https://riggwelterpress.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/issue-nine/ ). A novel that I have worked on for several years does take place in a post-apocalyptic winter setting. Some of the environmental descriptions are from my own winter snowshoeing and climbing experiences in the Rocky Mountains. I deliberately write away from my “real life.”

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

I know it is sacrilege, but I don’t tend to read much flash. This question makes me realize that I really need to correct that. I tend to prefer multi-book series that follow characters through a much longer journey than a novel can support. I have found some authors this year whose works I’ve really enjoyed, so I’ll give them a shout out. The first is AM Scott and her Lightwave series. I’m a big fan of Lindsay Buroker as well. I really enjoyed AC Cobble’s Benjamin Ashwood series, too. The Chronicles of a Cutpurse by Carrie Summers was a fun read. Finally, I’ll mention Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage series.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

This is a difficult question – as an amateur writer I’m pretty happy when my stories receive any attention! There are several stories that I thought deserved more attention than they received from potential publishers. I would have to say that I’d like to see “The Tigershark Jacket” at A Million and One Magazine get more recognition (https://amillionandonemagazine.com/?p=919).

BIO: Damon Garn has had stories published in The Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter Press, A Million and One Magazine, The Evening Theatre and others. He lives in Colorado, where he hikes with his family, plays guitar, and writes when he can. Follow him on Twitter: dmgwrites or at http://dmgwrites.wordpress.com

Mini-Interview with David Cook

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

When I started writing regularly about five years ago, I didn’t even know the sort of stories I was creating had a name. All I knew was that I preferred writing lots of very small stories to fewer, larger ones. Then I started using Twitter properly and discovered lots of people were doing the same thing, and it was called flash fiction!

What makes flash different is the power that can be packed into such a small space. Flash is excellent for a really close examination of a moment in time, but equally there are epics spanning dozens of years. There’s room for experimentation in form, too, in ways that would prove cumbersome over thousands of words, but really make an impact in a couple of hundred.

Oh, and a practical advantage of flash: so much of my short fiction reading is done on my phone these days and it’s much easier to read a few hundred words on a small screen than a few thousand.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot, generally, comes first, with characters to fit coming afterwards. That’s not always the case, though, and sometimes it’s dribs and drabs of both coming together at once.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

When I started writing, it was always quick and messy. Now, somehow, I’ve become rather slower than I’m comfortable with. There’s a lot to be said for being quick and messy, then tidying up afterwards. I’d like to get back to that.

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

Gosh. I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I write a lot of stories about people who had or are having terrible childhoods. But I had a perfectly nice childhood. I also seem to have a lot of stories about people being horrible to animals. But I love animals. So I guess I like to use my stories to trash things that have been perfectly lovely in my real life. I don’t know what that says about me.

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

Apologies to everyone I’ve missed out, but if I put down all the authors and writers I’d like to here, this would be a hell of a long list.

Gaynor Jones’ Bath Flash Award-winning Cleft shows just how you can take one small detail and spin a story spanning a lifetime from it.

Jeremy’s Wish by Christopher Stanley is horrifying in all the best ways, but might ruin Christmas for you forever.

Caleb Echterling writes funny, inspired nonsense, such as A Happy Day At The Poet Pound.

Rebecca Field’s The Pickle Jar is the best tale about a pickle-loving good-for-nothing husband you’ll ever read.

Santino Prinzi’s These Are The Rules Of Our Canopy Shyness And Life is like nothing you’ve ever read, with sadness, sweetness and humour in perfect balance.

Joely Dutton’s Stronger Than Stitches, Stronger Than Glue is weird and touching and funny and weird again.

And Damhnait Monaghan and Stephanie Hutton’s novellas-in-flash The Neverlands and Three Sisters of Stone are both tiny works of beauty.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Jennifer and the Scientist didn’t get much recognition, probably because I couldn’t think of a decent title for it – and still haven’t – but I really like it and had a brilliant time writing it. Everyone loves a revenge story, right? Especially one with dogs and robots in it.

Bio

David Cook lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter. He’s had work published in the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Spelk, the Sunlight Press, Barren and plenty more. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Say hi on Twitter @davidcook100 and visit his blog at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com

Mini-Interview with Riham Adly

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

 I’ve learned a long time ago that in my culture, the more a woman speaks, the less she’s heard. Economy is key. Through this form I’ve discovered to self-express concisely without resorting to the drama or flourish-y add on other forms have room to entertain. That’s what makes it so special to me.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I like to experiment, so you’ll find it all in my stories.

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

The fact that I can’t speak, I can’t express, I can’t even complain about anything! I make up for it in my surreal stories.

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

“Satin Nightwear For Women” by Elizabeth Ingram Wallace winner of Bath Flash Awards.

“You’ve Stopped” by Tommy Dean published in Pithead Chapel

“A Brief History of Time in Our House” by Steven John published by Ad Hoc Fiction.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

 All of them really, but to be honest, I wish my story “The Brief Chronicled History of The Girl as told by the Realist but yet Optimistic African Fortuneteller” received more as I talk about female genital mutilation in Africa, and how it’s still happening up to this day. The story was published in Afreada magazine.

BIO: Riham Adly is an Egyptian writer/blogger/ translator. Her fiction has appeared in over forty online journals such as  Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Afreada, Connotation Press, Spelk, The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, Five:2:One, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Gingerbread House lit, Writing in a Woman’s voice, and Danse Macabre among others. She has forthcoming stories in The Citron Review and Sunlight Press. In 2018 she was short-listed for the Arab-Lit Translation Prize. Riham lives with her family in Giza, Egypt.