Mini-Interview with Andrew Roe

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

When I started writing flash it was mostly out of necessity. I was struggling to finish a novel and even traditional length short stories felt daunting. I was a new parent, working full time, with a long drive/commute. My time was limited and so I began writing flash. The sense of completion was very fulfilling, but I also really came to love the form—what makes it different for me is the challenge, the possibility of saying so much in so little space.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

That’s an easy one: character. I like to say plot is my kryptonite. I think I’m getting better.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise—that’s me. I labor over sentences, syllables, commas, em dashes, the sound/feel/look of certain letters when juxtaposed against other letters. It takes longer to get a first draft, but usually—usually—it’s a fairly solid first draft. I’m a turtle. I try to focus on achieving momentum—no matter how large or small—every day. Or every week. My writing time lately has been pretty minimal.

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

It’s an obvious answer, but it’s true—I’d have to say being a parent and having a family. It does change how you navigate and view the world, and if you’re squeezing in writing fiction in addition to family life and work and anything else, it forces you to focus and maximize any writing time you have. There’s no later; there’s no putting it off until the moment is right and you find the ideal writing conditions; there are no writing conditions except having a desire and compulsion to write and keep writing.

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

Wow. So many. I’m just going to start listing without thinking about it too much…

“Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula” by Lindsay Hunter

“The Once Mighty Fergusons” by Kathy Fish

“Baby Arm” by Roxane Gay

“Wants” by Grace Paley

“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace

And some writers who do flash: Joy Williams, Lucia Berlin, Deb Olin Unferth, Josh Denslow, Meg Pokrass, Ethel Rohan, Robert Vaughn, Len Kuntz, Kim Chinquee, Heather Fowler, Lauren Becker, Ben Loory, Sara Lippmann…

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I feel like I’ve been very lucky and have been able to place stories in various publications. One of my favorite stories—and I think one of my best—is “A Matter of Twenty-Four Hours.” It appeared in Glimmer Train and it’s in my collection Where You Live. So I can’t really complain about recognition. But I’d love it if more people found their way to this story.

BIO: Andrew Roe is the author of the novel The Miracle Girl, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and Where You Livea collection of short stories. His short fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review, and other literary magazines, as well as the anthologies Where Love Is Found (Washington Square Press) and 24 Bar Blues (Press 53). In addition, his essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and three children. For more information, visit andrewroeauthor.com.

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Mini-Interview with William Gilmer

Why do you write flash? What makes it different?
There can be a sort of freedom in limits. A story that’s thousands of words long is going to have expectations about depth, character progression, detailed settings, etc. and flash doesn’t need to be bothered with all of it. When facing a short word count, you just don’t have the time to develop huge sprawling word-scapes or plots that weave the reader through a dozen twists and turns. Flash allows you to hyper focus on the idea or concept that brought you to the page in the first place. I love that can sit down and say, “I want the reader to feel this,” and fully concentrate on that one aspect. I have had a lot of ideas that wouldn’t be able to support pages of story but that work perfectly in the flash arena.
Flash forces us to distill a story down to its best, most critical, parts. It’s the difference between sipping a few fingers of bourbon and drinking a mug of beer. Ideally, you’re going to end up in the same place, one is just going to be a quicker, more intense, ride.  
 
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
Wow, how can you choose? I think we all want to see interesting characters doing interesting things, but if there’s a gun to my head, I have to say characters. I can think of dozens of flash pieces that amount to little more than two characters talking. Maybe they’re two robots roaming Earth after the apocalypse, or a wife visiting her husband on his death bed, if they are characters you can feel for, can root for, then it doesn’t really matter to me what they are doing. The reverse is not usually true for me. I have seen too many great scenarios ruined by hollow or cardboard characters.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
 There’s no doubt that I’m a member of the turtle writer’s club. Is slow and messy an option? I tend to plot things out very carefully when the time comes to get everything on paper. I’m the kind of person that will let a story ride around in my head for weeks or even months until I think I have it all figured out. Fermentation has its benefits, as long as you can be patient.
 
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences you?
  I would be lost without music! Music, for me, is a great way to get in touch with the emotions I want to present in a piece. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to mimic, or represent, the feelings I get for certain pieces of music with words. Sometimes all it takes is a simple melody to get my head into the right “tone” for a particular story. I’ve gone so far as to listen to different music for different characters or scenes in the same piece. The right song can really help get me into the right head-space.  
 
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
My Husband is Made of Ash – By Jennifer Todhunter. While everything that Jennifer Todhunter puts out is amazing, this piece has always had a place in my heart.
http://www.smokelong.com/my-husband-is-made-of-ash/

For Our Light Affliction – By Stephen S. Power. I have a soft spot for crafty Satan characters, and the ending is so “Good Omens”-esque! There probably isn’t a month that goes by that this piece doesn’t pop into my head for one reason or another.
https://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/stephen-s-power/for-our-light-affliction

Offspring – By Brenda Anderson. This piece is pure absurdity and I love every word of it! This story taught me that you can do anything in flash, the only limits on our imaginations are the ones we put there ourselves.
http://flashfictiononline.com/main/article/offspring/

 What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
Wow, that’s a hard one. I appreciate every eye that finds its way to something I’ve written, so I’m never disappointed by any amount of recognition! Back in 2017 The Sunlight Press was gracious enough to publish a piece of mine titled “Sambuca Zen”. The story didn’t gain much traction, which I always chalked up to the fact that it was off genre for me. This was the first non-speculative piece that I had released into the world. While I’m not sure how much recognition it deserves, it will always be something that I’m very proud of.
https://www.thesunlightpress.com/2017/08/22/sambuca-zen/

BIO: Will Gilmer is a writer and poet living in Metro-Detroit. Over two dozen of his stories have appeared in print and online. When he’s not putting his thoughts on paper you can find him piddling in a garden, brewing beer, or practicing for he and his wife’s imaginary appearance on The Great British Bake Off. If there isn’t enough going on in your feed, follow him on Twitter @willwritethings. BIO:

Mini-Interview with Francine Witte

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

I write flash because I adore the compression of it. I love telling bits of a story and letting the reader fill in the rest. I like this in longer work, too. Subtext has always fascinated me.

I also like to write a lot of different things. That’s why I prefer poetry and flash to longer forms. Whenever I am working on a longer story, there’s a part of me saying. I could have written five flashes by now.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m big on character. You get the character, the plot just follows.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy, to be sure. If I don’t get a story in the first draft, I move on. Not to say, I don’t revise, but if the bones aren’t there, it’s over.

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

Love gone wrong, to be sure.

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

Oh my, so many. Robert Scotellaro, Meg Pokrass, Leonora Desar, Pam Painter, Paul Beckman, I could go on and on.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Every so often, I write a story that I really think hits the mark, and I submit it and it takes forever to get accepted. That one.

BIO: Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbook, one full-length collection, and the forthcoming, Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) and her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction, as well as a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This which is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. She live in New York City, USA.

Mini-Interview with Roppotucha Greenberg

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

Because longer short stories are out to get me. I sink into their world, meet some characters, hope to make a few friends, and crash. Boom. They end it all. And I am left hanging in the in-between-books type of abyss . I think short stories dislike me. They want me to think about unpaid bills and mortality. Short stories have staid jobs and live in the 1950s.  Flash stories are different. The world is against them, all they have is a thousand words to create a universe, and they manage. By hook or by crook, by blank space or repurposed forms, or by getting re-written five thousand times over. And they get away with it. Flash stories are great people. I don’t know if you’d completely trust them with your wallet, but they are firmly on the side of the infinity.  

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Plot is like using heat and darkness to create something out of nothing. You know the way giants emerged out of the blood-warmed earth, or the way you can leave a few rags in a dark corner to make mice. (A professor I admire told me about this life-hack, but I still have to try it). Or maybe plot is already there at the start, and it’s just a matter of realizing what’s going on, so you’d have a scene with a fishnet, and then three drafts later, you’d get someone bringing in the catch.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Definitely slow and messy. I wouldn’t wish my writing style on my worst enemy. I am confident, however, that doodling is good for writing, tweeting is good for writing, staring into space is good for writing, and not writing is good for writing.

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

I moved countries twice, the first time when I was twelve, and the second time as a young adult, twenty or so years ago. I’ve been slowly making sense of that in some of my stories, (‘On the Proper Use of the Mosquitoes’ and ‘Where’s that accent from’). One peculiar result of the first move was that I mistook space for time. My adolescence was literally a new place; if I felt confused and misunderstood by my surroundings that was because I actually didn’t speak the language. The fantastic elements in my writing are probably related to that. Patricia Garcia writes  that ‘space is the fantastic’, that intrusions or subversions of space constitute the common denominator of the fantastic (Space and the Postmodern: Fantastic in the Contemporary Literature, Routledge 2015). And the experience of migration and chronic nostalgia do just that – they turn the space around you into something else, part reflections of the past and part memories of the future. Once you switch countries nothing surprises you. A ghost of an old country behind the radiator, why not. Your boyfriend morphing into the landscape—shame but can’t be helped.

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

The writers involved in the #vss365 daily hashtag game have created a glorious hive of micro-fiction. Most readers would probably be familiar with that and similar daily and weekly games. Still, I think the whole project deserves sky-high praise for the commitment of its founders, the spontaneity of its participants, its non-competitive nature, its inclusivity, but most of all because it reads like a magical book. It’s like that book of legend that changes with each reader.

I stumbled upon the #vss365 a year ago. I’ve had fantastic adventures since, culminating in two self-published creature books of tiny stories and doodle-answers to questions by other micro-fiction writers. I am deeply grateful to the community and would feel wrong singling any favourites out here.  

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’d love for more people to read ‘Their Untimely Lives’ in The Cabinet of Heed (https://cabinetofheed.com/2019/04/01/their-untimely-lives-roppotucha-greenberg/)

A wonderful writer that I admire gave me some feedback on the story. She said one of the characters should have died. So, I worked very hard and re-drafted the story just to convince her and other readers that he’s better left alive (I’d do anything for my characters). And then my sister said wonderful things about the story. I asked her: ‘Do you think I should’ve let him die?’ And she said: ‘No, of course not, besides, he mostly died anyway, and when the girlfriend tried to save him, she was actually trying to save both of them’.

BIO: Roppotucha  Greenberg’s stories have appeared in  Noon (Arachne Press 2019), Elephants Never, Ellipsis Zine, Twist in Time, The Forge Literary Magazine, Virtual Zine, The Honey and Lime Literary Magazine, The Barren Magazine and  several others. She lives in Ireland and doodles creatures. Her first creature book, Creatures Give Advice, is out on Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creatures-Give-Advice-Roppotucha-Greenberg/dp/1091088985/) with the second book, Creatures Give Advice (and it’s warmer now) scheduled for release on 21 June 2019. Web: roppotucha.blogspot.com

Mini-Interview with Melissa Ostrom

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

I enjoy writing all sorts of things: short stories, novels, blog posts, and poems. I’ve even written a play. But I think many of my better pieces are flashes. Crafting flash feels adventurous. It frees me—turns my mind malleable and playful. If churning out a novel is a good marriage, composing a flash is a love affair, precarious, short-lived, and intoxicating. Adherence to a limited word count, rather than curtailing a piece’s potential, somehow, paradoxically, incurs its potent magic. Every word, gesture, and image: fraught.   

What’s your writerly lifejacket: plot or character?

Honestly, Tommy, I don’t know. As soon as I start muddling through a piece, I’ll cling to whatever is working and keeping the flash afloat, whether it be character, structure, plot, tone, setting…

The hard part for me is starting. But once something—a detail, an opening line, a question—snags my imagination and rents an opening into a tale, I just go with it.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m a plodder. I inch along, backtrack, tweak, stumble forward with a line or two, pause, delete, elaborate, tweak, slog onward, retreat, and tweak, tweak, tweak.

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

Probably my children. I didn’t begin writing regularly until ten years ago, around the time my first child was born. Sometimes I wonder why her birth and a commitment to writing coincided. My every moment had certainly changed. Maybe I simply channeled the awareness of my life’s new narrative into crafting stories.

Having kids has also multiplied my fears and joys and made me conscious of vulnerabilities, theirs and my own. Love casts a complicated shadow—in the shape of worry. Life has become more…everything: more precious, more frightening, more exhausting. Turbulent. Perhaps writing gives me a chance to exercise some control.   

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

I admire so many flashes, including yours! Your recently published “When the Waters Came” is gripping. I also love Cathy Ulrich’s “Being the Murdered Student,” Helen Klein Ross’s “Birth, Copulation, Death,” Lydia Davis’s “The Cedar Trees,” Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel,” Lauren Becker’s “Sick Girls,” George Saunders’s “Sticks,” Megan Giddings’s “Three Boyfriends,” Kim White’s “Lily Pad,” Kathy Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” Franz Kafka’s “A Message from the Emperor,” Vincent Poturica’s “The Dead Mother,” and (a new favorite) Stuart Dybek’s “Lights.” No doubt, I’m forgetting a thousand other flashes that have amazed me, but these ones readily come to mind.  

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

That’s a good question. Maybe “Severed,” a flash that appeared in Duende. The Twitter literary community generously reads and shares my work, but I only joined the party about a year and a half ago, so I’m not sure how my earlier publications were received or how widely they were read. I’m glad I am on Twitter now and have met so many talented and kind writers.

BIO: Melissa Ostrom is the author of the YA novels The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018) and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, March 2019). Her stories have appeared in The Florida Review, Fourteen Hills, Juked, and Passages North, among other journals, and her flash “Ruinous Finality” was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019. She teaches part-time at Genesee Community College and lives with her husband and children in Holley, New York.

Mini-Interview with Sutton Strother

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

I started writing flash right after I completed the first draft of a novel. For me, it was a chance to flex some writing muscles I’d been neglecting, particularly voice and attention to detail. I’d lost sight of those things because I’d been so focused on sustaining a big plot and a few hundred pages worth of character development, and I wanted to hone those additional skills before undertaking a revision of the novel.

That was over a year ago, and it’s only recently that I’ve even returned to the book, because I’ve fallen so in love with writing flash! I love the immediacy of flash and the challenge of creating an entire world in such a small space. There’s something addictive about it, too. I think it’s kind of retrained my brain, because most of the story ideas that occur to me now are “flash-sized.” I have to get them down on paper right away so I can give them life before the next one crops up.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. For me, plot is just scaffolding for character development. Even in conceptual or “genre” stories, I’m more interested in thinking about what all the weirdness means for the characters living through it. Putting plot before character is a recipe for creating a story without much tension, I think. Readers need to care about characters and how they’re impacted by what’s happening in the plot, or else the story lacks any real stakes.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

It doesn’t always happen this way, but I prefer when a story comes out quick and messy. I like to have something whole written as soon as possible, even if it’s wonky. That way, I can treat first drafts like clay to be shaped into the story I see in my head. If I don’t complete a draft fast enough, I find it difficult to sustain the initial momentum or inspiration and will sometimes lose interest in the idea altogether. At this point, I have a digital graveyard of abandoned story ideas that just didn’t get out fast enough.

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

Mental illness, without a doubt. I’ve written a few pieces that are explicitly about anxiety and depression, but there are also several stories that are less obviously about that. For instance, my time travel story “Palimpsest” grew out of anxieties around climate change and the current sociopolitical climate; writing that piece was very much a way to create something hopeful and loving in the face of all that mess. I’ve also got a body horror story coming out later this year, which was written during a serious bout of health-related anxiety. Writing about, around, and through mental illness has become a very necessary act of self-care.

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

Oh, gosh, there are too many to name here. Flash fiction Twitter is overflowing with amazing writers and incredible stories; anyone interested in writing or reading flash should get plugged into that marvelous corner of the universe as soon as possible, if they haven’t done so already.

Because it’s on my mind, I’ll say this: I’ve adored every story I’ve read coming out of Monet P. Thomas’s sex-themed challenges. I’m signed up to participate in the next one, and I’m excited but also a littleintimidated, given how much brilliance I’ve seen result from past challenges. I love that Jellyfish Review has dedicated space recently to stories from Monet’s “Big O Challenge.” Probably my favorite of these has been Kathryn McMahon’s “Bone China,” which is so sexy and mysterious. The ending of that story literally gave me chills. In general, Katy’s work is absolute magic.

I’ve also loved everything published so far at Cathy Ulrich’s new journal Milk Candy Review. Everything there hits my sweet spot for beautiful, slightly off-kilter flash. One of my favorites has been “Other Skins” by Chloe N. Clark. Chloe’s another writer whose work I try to never miss.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

“Two Chambers” at Fiction Southeast was published fairly recently, but it was actually one of the first pieces of flash I ever wrote. It was inspired by a traumatic period in my young adulthood, and revisiting those memories to make sense of them and make art from them, and then to actually put that story out into the world, required courage I didn’t know I had. While I don’t think it’s my best story – I can see how much I’ve grown as a writer in the time since I finished that piece – I’ll always be so proud of that one.

BIO: Sutton Strother is a writer and adjunct professor living in New York. Her stories have appeared or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel about mermaids, grief, and family dysfunction. You can find her work at her website: suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets at @suttonstrother.

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.