Mini-Interview with Sarah Arantza Amador

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

I fell in love with flash twenty years ago when I read Augusto Monterroso’s “The Dinosaur” for the first time. It is a perfect diamond of a story – a single sentence long and it contains a whole world! I was so impressed by that. That’s why I write flash: I love the challenge of writing stories with traction and trouble and mystery, all in a single sentence, paragraph, or page.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character forever! But also make it setting and place. Sometimes I think of setting and place as the original characters I’m writing for/towards.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy at first and then slow and precise (and this can, no joke, take years).

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

I love to travel and read and watch movies and go to museums – the world is incredible, and I’m consistently amazed and inspired by all of the things that I learn moving through it. Little tidbits and factoids I come across find their way into my stories all the time – for example, I visited Donner Memorial State Park (located in the California Sierra Nevada and named after the doomed Donner Party) and in the visitor center learned that one of the Donner women, upon her rescue by men who had climbed through the snow pack from the Sierra foothills to get them out of their camp, in a delirium asked: “Are you men from California or angels sent from Heaven?” I was so enchanted by this question that an abbreviated version of it found its way into my story “In Dead Waters” a couple of years later.

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

This is an impossible question, so I’m not going to over-think it. Very quickly: Barbara McVeigh’s story “Giants” takes my breath away. All of her work is so smart and clever, but this one’s my absolute favorite. Kate Finegan, my beloved Longleaf Review editrix-in-chief, writes lush and beautiful flash and one of my favorites of her historical pieces is “Botanical Nomenclature.” I read Ottessa Moshfegh’s novella-in-flash McGlue all in one sitting about a year ago and I just thought “damn!” I have deep respect for that book. I recently finished Megan Martin’s Nevers and loved it, it’s so razor sharp. “And What Is Wrong with Spells?” really captured my imagination – also, how great are her story titles?

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One of the very first stories I published was a tiny weird thing I titled “Sojourner, along the outer orbits of empire” that made me laugh and was rejected by literary journals many times, sometimes with unhelpful reading notes like: “This is not a story.” I love that story very much. A big thank you to Sheldon Lee Compton for giving it a perfect home in The Airgonaut!

BIO: Residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California with her dog Roscoe and person Richard, Sarah Arantza Amador writes about longing, ghost-making, and the endearment of monsters. Her work is featured in Best Microfiction 2019 and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. She tweets @ArantzaSarah and sometimes blogs from www.saraharantzaamador.com.

Mini Interview with Fiona J. Mackintosh

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

I have always had a tendency to write long, sometimes too long. So flash was a revelation to me. I’ve had to learn how to convey back story in hints and whispers and to pare my language down to the essence. It’s made me a much more disciplined writer. There’s also the fun of being able to finish something fairly quickly and move on. And I like playing with the different lengths within the form – from tiny stories to up to 1,000 words – as well exploring different POVs and tenses. It’s a constant technical challenge, which I love.    

Right now, I’m messing about with ideas for two different novellas-in-flash, a form that presents a ton of those technical challenges. I’m not sure I can rise to the occasion, but I’m giving it the old college try.   

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character because character is almost always what drives plot, certainly in realist fiction which is what I usually write. How individuals respond to the events that happen to them creates the story of their lives. In fiction as in life.

Character is certainly at the heart of the mammoth novel I’m currently writing, Albion’s Millennium. In conception, it’s a five-novel saga of Britain throughout the 20th century in the vein of Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga and the narrative sections of John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy. Nothing like biting off more than you can chew, right? The first volume, The Virgins of Salem, will be going out to my generous beta readers within weeks, and I’m fervently hoping the book will be ready to be sent out on submission by early next year.  

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and messy. Slow, slow, slow, and ever slower. One reason for this is I always have a million different projects on the go and tend to flit among them randomly until a specific deadline presents itself, whereupon I become laser focused and can actually be downright speedy. I used to be a journalist, and these days I’m a freelance editor so deadlines are everything in my working life as well.

I still struggle with the messy part. As we writers know, you have to be prepared to allow the crap to hit the page to keep your momentum going. My trick is to highlight the bits I hate – the clichés, the uninspired descriptions – to be come back to later instead of getting snagged on trying to improve them on the spot. But even so, I’m definitely the tortoise, not the hare, and can only hope the fable is correct about that particular race.  

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

The stories I heard from my grandmothers about their childhoods. The Virgins of Salem is peppered with incidents from their lives. They were young in the early 20th century when technology was changing the world as fast as it is changing it now in the early 21st century. The advent of the telephone, the car, the airplane, modern plumbing – it was all happening, and they lived through it. Also, women’s roles were changing, especially after World War I, and their working and personal lives reflected this.   

Otherwise, pretty much everything I’ve ever experienced is grist to the mill. Everything. Smells, sights, sounds, my memories, other people’s memories, things I’ve read. My real life these days is very hermit-like, but I have many years of experiences to draw on plus the wonderful window on the world that is the internet so I’m never short of ideas.    

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

I’ll be glad to give you half a dozen examples off the top of my head to give you a sense of what I like and what resonates with me. However, I could cover pages and pages with equally tremendous flashes as there are many other writers whom I admire and many stories that have blown me away.    

Eileen Merriman This is How They Drown

Sharon Telfer’s Terra Incognita

Dina L. Relles And Sometimes We Meet

Helen Rye One and Twenty-Three

Ken Elkes Extremities

Meg Pokrass The Bug Man

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Thank you for asking this question. A couple of years ago, I wrote a flash written from the perspective of Ophelia in Hamlet, in an attemptto subvert Shakespeare’s take on women as mad and powerless. While I was writing it, I had in mind Virginia Woolf’s discussion of Shakespeare’s imaginary sister in A Room of One’s Own – about what masterpieces could she have written too if she’d been sent to school and hadn’t been told to “mend the stockings and mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.”

Woolf also wrote: “When… one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to.”  With this torture in mind – the repression of creativity and selfhood – I imagined a different fate for Ophelia.

The resulting flash – The Yet Unknowing World – was published by the wonderful Café Aphra in February 2018. It can be found here if anyone cares to give it a whirl.  

http://cafeaphrapilot.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-yet-unknowing-world-by-fiona-j.html

BIO: Fiona J. Mackintosh is a Scottish-American writer living near Washington D.C. In 2018, she won the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and the Reflex Fiction Prize. Two of her pieces were selected for Best Microfiction 2019 and the 2018-19 BIFFY 50 and one for Best Small Fictions 2019. Her short stories have been listed for the Bristol, Galley Beggar, and Exeter Short Story Prizes, and she is writing a five-novel series about 20th century Britain entitled Albion’s Millennium

Mini-Interview with Melissa Goodrich

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

It feels like anything is possible in a shape that small.  It’s like striking a match – quick friction, heat, a perfect edgeless flame burning-down close to the fingertips. For me it’s different because it’s quicker. There’s less lingering in your sentences and paragraphs–in flash, the details aren’t decorative. They are their most deliberate.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

 Oof. I think it’s figurative language. Simile and metaphor especially.  They teach me how not to drown.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

 I think I’m quick/messy–and I love it. The messiness is where the magic happens.

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

My anxiety. And how strange it is to be a person.

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

 Lydia Davis. Cathy Ulrich. Meghan Phillips. Dana Diehl.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I love “Sapphires,” a story about trying to calm down, somewhat fruitlessly, in the middle of the night.

Bio: Melissa Goodrich is the author of the collaborative collection The Classroom, the story collection Daughters of Monsters, and the poetry chapbook IF YOU WHAT. Her work has appeared in  American Short Fiction, The Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, PANK,and others.  Find her at melissa-goodrich.com and tweeting @good_rib.

Mini-Interview with Bronwen Griffiths

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

I love writing novels but a novel is like a marriage. Writing a novel requires a long-term commitment whereas flash is more like a passionate affair – it’s often instant and exciting. I think there’s more opportunity to be playful with language and to write on a wider range of topics with flash.    

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Character. Plotting is not my strong point. I love a twisting plot with a surprising end but that’s not my style.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m probably quick and messy at the beginning but I edit, edit and edit. If a flash piece is rejected I will always examine it again to see how it can be improved. But if you ever visited my writing space you’d definitely come away thinking ‘that woman is very messy.’ I cook like this too!

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

I work as a volunteer for an organisation in the UK which campaigns for the Syrian opposition to Assad. I have friends and contacts who are refugees – some were imprisoned by the regime. As a consequence I have written, and continue to write, about refugees and Syria – a book of mine, Not Here, Not Us – Stories of Syria (flash fiction) was published in 2016. However the natural world is also a strong influence in my writing. I love gardening and taking photos of the natural world and am lucky to live in a beautiful part of South-East England.

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

The first flash writer I came across – although perhaps she’s not seen as a traditional ‘flash’ writer – is Lydia Davis. I like her style. I also admire the work of Riham Adly, Megan Pillow Davis, Kathy Fish, Len Kuntz, Nancy Stohlman and Tara Isabel Tambraro. I also enjoyed Sophie Van Llewyn’s novella-in-flash, Bottled Goods. There are so many really good flash writers out there now. I swing between being in awe of the talent out there and a feeling of intimidation at the amount of brilliant work that’s now being published. As for the named writers – my list tomorrow might be different – it’s so hard to choose.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

This is a difficult question. In all honesty I’d like more of my stories to be published but I appreciate it’s a competitive market. My piece War Crimes – published in Barren Magazine last year – is one I’m proud of and yes, I’d like more people to read it.

BIO: Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two novels, A Bird in the House (2014) and Here Casts No Shadow (2018) and two collections of flash fiction, Not Here, Not Us – Stories of Syria (2016) and Listen with Mother (2019). Her flash fiction has been published by Bath Flash Fiction, Barren Magazine, Reflex Flash and Spelk, among others. She lives in South-East England. Website: bronwengriff.co.uk Twitter: bronwengwriter

Mini-Interview with Barbara Byar

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

I started writing flash before I knew what it was. In 2015, I started a writers’ group here in Kerry and set weekly prompts for members. The target word count of around 500 words was dictated by how long it would take to read and critique everyone’s piece each week. At the time, I was mostly focused on my novel, but the prompts were creative jump starts and I grew to love writing very short stories.

All our pieces were a bit messy at first but through honest, constructive feedback, we fine-tuned them and learned what worked and what didn’t. I submitted my first piece for publication in Jan 2017 and it was accepted the first place I subbed. That was easy, I thought. Little did I know.

The beauty of flash is it a mechanism to tell epic stories in a minimum of words. And by epic, I don’t necessarily mean the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but anything from a character study to a thriller; flash’s length belies its enormity. It’s about distillation—a word perfume, with distinct notes forming an overall essence which will hopefully linger long after reading.

Some say you can’t tell a proper story in less than 1,000 words but I say nothing will improve your overall writing craft more than mastering this art of distillation.  

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Oh, plot all the way. To me, the story is key and always a transformative experience for my characters who are frequently just along for the ride.

How my characters react to the circumstances they find themselves in determines either their evolution or demise. Ultimately, the reader learns more about my characters from their actions than anything I can ever say about them. My adage is—you are what you do, not what you say.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise sounds like a death sentence to me. My best pieces usually flood straight out. I may fiddle with bits here and there to tighten the prose but if an interesting idea resonates with me emotionally, a piece writes itself.

For example, Bear which was published by Fictive Dream for Flash Fiction February 2019. I envisioned a child whose only friend was her stuffed Bear. It began innocuously enough but I immediately tapped into the well of impotent rage and confusion I felt as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I wrote it in about five minutes.

If you are writing truth as you see it, the words will come dynamically and with power. It is only when we tamper and tone, embellish and prettify that it all goes to shit.

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

All of it. Anything and everything is material, even if it’s just plucked from the dark recesses of my imagination.  All good stories are rooted in reality—from literary to genre—doesn’t matter, when you read it, you always hear the tenor of truth.

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

Currently, I’m digging: the bubbling, tragic-comic rage of Gaynor Jones; the hypnotic, raw rhythms of Meg Pillow; and Donna Greenwood’s strange and compelling lyricism.

I’m a fan of the magical realism of Cheryl Pearson and Anita Goveas. Also, the quietly tragic narratives of Chris Drew.  I just finished Peter Jordan’s collection Calls from Distant Places and loved it.

From my writers’ group, Ashling Denney and Davena O’Neill are two to keep an eye on.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Porcelain – this was the first story I ever published and no one took much notice at the time. It’s an alternative-view piece about the Dresden bombing; a romance with the obligatory tragic Byar take.

Bio: Barbara Byar is an American immigrant into Ireland who lives in County Kerry with her two sons and two dogs. A previous Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair winner, she’s had pieces in various zines, including: Ghost Parachute, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Fiction February, Spelk, The Corridor, EllipsisZine, Litro, and Cabinet of Heed. She was short-listed for the 2017 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award and long listed for the 2017 Bare Fiction Prize. Barbara is also a reader and Senior Editor for TSS Publishing, UK and Virtual Zine.

Her debut collection Some Days Are Better Than Ours: A Collection of Tragedies will be published by Reflex Press UK on November 5th, 2019. Pre-order here:  https://www.reflex.press/product/some-days-are-better-than-ours/

Mini-Interview with Chance Dibben

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

I was first really introduced to flash by Deb Olin Unferth. I was lucky enough to take her Very Short Story course when she briefly taught at the University of Kansas. At the time I was thinking more in terms of poetry for what I wanted to do with writing (well that and screenwriting).

I think about the books, stories, and lessons of that class all the time. It was a survey course, but we did have an opportunity to write our own pieces. I sorta tucked mine away. Flash forward (pun intended) some years later and I’m taking on flash writing with a more concerted effort. I was transitioning from a period of performing comedy and running comedy shows. I took that energy into writing stories—so my pieces are very much informed by joke-telling. I write flash because my brain is now wired for it.

What I love about flash is that it is so encompassing! You can have cheeky jokesters like me, you can have folks who create very serious and dramatic scenarios. You can have pieces that subvert fantasy tropes. You can go to space and blow up the earth in a paragraph. You can draw out a characters’ thought over two pages. You can go macro, micro, and everywhere in between. You can break hearts in a sentence. Because the stakes feel lower compared to other forms (and IMO they are not) you get this urge to experiment and explore.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Probably character. Throw an interesting character into the most banal of situations and you’ll probably still have a story. But, in some of my favorite flash stories, the characters are purposefully thin, so the plot becomes the character. I value both voice-driven pieces and pieces that feel like logic puzzles.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Quick and messy. Build the idea or feeling in your head before you write. Let it be something so weird that a) don’t want to write it and b) you have to write it. Sit down, write quick, and surprise yourself as you go along. Then edit, edit, edit, edit.

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

So many stories of mine draw from real life situations. Some are only very lightly fictionalized. Both these micros that appeared in Gravel are basically real things that happened to me.

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

Kathy Fish
Lydia Davis

Diane Williams

Mercedes Lucero

Deb Olin Unferth

Franz Kafka’s “Passersby
Cathy Ulrich

Megan Giddings

Amber Sparks
Woody Skinner’s “The Wavering Grass”

Amelia Gray (in particular, “These Are The Fables”)
Adam Levin “The Extra Mile”

Meeah Williams “Did I Say That
Tyler Barton
Marisa Crane, (“Beef and Cheddar with Extra Arby’s Sauce”)
This Dave Housley piece

Troy James Weaver “Tennis Balls”

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Hmm…I don’t know. I’m always happy when a piece gets picked up and someone decides to read it.

My joke answer is: all the ones sitting in Submittable unread!

My real answer is: the flash community is really fucking cool.

**

BIO: Chance Dibben is a writer, photographer, and music-maker living in Lawrence, KS. His poems and shorts have appeared in Split Lip, Reality Beach, Horsethief, Yes Poetry, matchbook, Hobart, as well as others.

Mini-Interview with Peter Jordan

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

I lack stamina, and discipline. And I have a low boredom threshold. Maybe that’s a result of dyslexia (etc & etc.) So, I love reading flash, and I also love writing it. And, of course, I’m an addict: I like to mood alter quickly. Really good flash pieces do that for me. And it’s possible — it doesn’t always happen, but it’s possible — to write a story in one sitting.

Also, I think the very fact that flash is so short has a reader come to a brand new story already primed for the reception of metaphor and suggestion.  Somehow, that makes the writing all the more powerful. In this way, I think, flash is closer to poetry than it is to longer short fiction.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m not sure plot ever consciously features in any of my flash fiction. Character is plot, I can’t remember who said that, but it’s true. In any event, I prefer short stories without plot. The flash stories I write aren’t stories that can be told aloud in a bar or over dinner. It’s all about the combination of words. Often there isn’t a story at all; just a slice of life: a cross section.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I don’t have any set time or routine. A new story usually starts off quick and messy. I write as fast as I can. Then, after a completed first draft, I edit again and again (ad infinitum). It’s a naturally reductive process. So, a 600-word piece will usually end up as a 300-word final draft. I try to do what Robert Olen Butler suggests in his book From Where You Dream; writing from the subconscious (that pre-dream state where all of the answers come), then I let the completed first draft sit and stew for days or even weeks, before doing the edits using the conscious mind.

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

My addiction, most definitely or more precisely the 20-odd years I lost to it — the hospitalisations, the rehab, the psychiatric appointments, and the therapy.

I mean, I hate the idea of imposed themes in short story collections; that’s for bookshop owners and publishers who want to know where to place your book on a shelf, or how to easily promote it.

There is however a thread in my work: often the underdog and redemption. I owe writing a lot. The very act of writing helped me get sober. And it helps keep me sober.

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

I remember reading a Raymond Carver interview in which his early mentor John Gardener advised him to read the stories in the small presses. I would say to any aspiring flash writer, read this year’s BIFFY50. Many of the stories on that list are quality. That’s where you’ll learn craft and technique.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

One particular story does come to mind: The Killing Chair (Spelk https://spelkfiction.com/2017/07/10/the-killing-chair/). A friend of mine, an American professor who teaches inner city kids in Philadelphia used that story in his class. That felt better than winning something.

BIO: Peter Jordan is a short story writer from Belfast. Last year he won the Bare Fiction prize, came second in the Fish and was shortlisted for the Bridport and the Bath. Over 50 of his stories have appeared in literary magazines, journals and anthologies. His debut short story collection Calls to Distant Places can be purchased on Amazon. You will find him on twitter @pm_jordan.