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.

Mini-Interview with Todd Dillard

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

Flash is where I go when I am writing about a sequence of events that happen over a period of time (which I think is the foundation of narrative) but want to use the logic of a poem. It’s like the Shark Tunnel at my local aquarium: I have to start at the beginning and reach the end, but what I see in between is always new, always outside the rules and boundaries of my (or my narrator’s) existence. Flash is where I go to observe what I cannot touch.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I’m not sure how I want to answer this—for me, plot is the stuff that happens based on the character’s desire. Joey wants a hamburger so he goes to the local fast food joint but on the way a whale falls out of the sky, blocking the entrance to McDonald’s. People are inside the whale’s mouth, arguing over a map, one of them asks Joey for directions to Second Babylon, but Joey is really hungry and McDonald’s is closing soon. How am I supposed to choose character or plot here? My sympathies lie with the whale, I think.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

I’m quick and messy with first drafts—I have to be! It’s a race against distraction all the time. I jot most of my ideas down either right before I fall asleep, or on the bus/subway, or on those scarce moments I’m at work and have a beat. Editing is where things slow down, and I will go word by word, sentence by sentence, weighing each against the other, shrinking the content until it’s distilled into just enough to say what I want to say. Sometimes quick and messy is quick and done too! Bust most of the time I need days, weeks, sometimes years to finish a piece. If I don’t get a first draft down quickly though—if I start and then I stop—I have no idea when I will finish it. I currently have three flash pieces arrested in their first halves because I couldn’t crank out an ending ASAP.

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

I’m a writer specializing in academic affairs content for a teaching hospital, handling the appointment, reappointment, and promotion materials for our hundreds of faculty, as well as official letters and website content for our department, so I think being able to work with words all day really strengthens my sense of what “works” and what can go in my writing. There’s no opportunity for ambiguity in my work-related writing, which I think really helps me maintain lucid narratives in my creative writing. That being said, I also think being a dad has really motivated me to write and create. I messed around with writing novels for a few years after my MFA (Sarah Lawrence College, 2008), but for some reason as soon as I became a father I started writing poetry and flash again. That was only a few years ago, which feels pretty wild to me since so much has happened related to my writing since then!

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

I think Kathy Fish, Cathy Ulrich, and Kathryn McMahon are some of the best flash fiction writers who have ever lived and I am so thankful they’re alive and writing today!

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

All of them! I love my flash pieces. I identify myself primarily as a poet, so whenever I end up writing flash fiction I’m just so happy because it’s like rediscovering I can still surprise myself. If I had to pick just one though, I’d say my piece “The Hand” in Lost Balloon. It started off as a lyrical, multi-sectioned poem, but it was like trying to dress a bowling ball in chiffon. When I finally adapted it to flash, it suddenly had enough room to make sense, and what came out was a little quotidian horror story about grief and what it means to move on.

BIO: Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including The Boiler Journal, Superstition Review, Nimrod, Longleaf Review, and Crab Creek Review. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.

Mini-Interview with Jason Jackson

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

I write flash for the same reason I write anything: because I love doing it. And flash helps me remember that good writing is about using as few words as possible to tell your story. Writers often like the sound of their own (or their narrator’s) voice too much. Flash reminds me to shut up. Get out of the way of the story. And it’s great for editing practice. Write long if you must. But edit short.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

I can’t write plots. I’ve tried. I can come up with a moment, an epiphany, a striking image to begin or end on. But my writing is character-driven. I hear about people who map things out, or they use a card system, colour-coding, spreadsheets, and I’ve read widely about narrative theory, but it’s too “conscious” for me. Pinter said he just wrote what the characters in his head were saying, and mostly, I do that. Once I’ve got the narrative voice, everything gets easier.   

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

The best stories come out in an unstoppable flow. But then editing is slow and precise. I enjoy both. I often enjoy editing more, the cutting back, the chipping away. I’ve done exercises where you write a full story to a strict, low, wordcount, say, one thousand words. Then you leave it for a day, and when you come back you have to cut it in half. It’s always – always – a better story for it.

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

I try not to write autobiographically, but the big things in my life bleed into my stories: being a son, being a father, being divorced, falling in love, giving up booze, losing people, and battling – as many do – with four-in-the-morning fears. Getting up and getting on with it, Like Carver said: “Life. Always life.”

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

There’s a huge amount of flash fiction published, and a lot of it is not necessarily very good. It’s like any art form: much of what is produced is mediocre. And I’m happy to include most of my own work in this! But there are some excellent flash writers out there. I want to mention three, to keep it manageable.

Meg Pokrass writes flash fiction which is immediately recognizable as uniquely hers. It’s something I greatly admire in her work.

Peter Jordan is a writer I’ve come to “know” through twitter. He does something in his stories which makes me want to show them to everyone and say, “See? That’s what I mean!”  The words don’t get in the way of the stories.

Adam Lock often writes a particular kind of flash – brief, present tense, deceptively simple, but full of symbolic resonance. I find them incredibly effective.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I’m going with a story published earlier this year online at The Nottingham Review called Counterpoint. When I wrote it, I had a feeling that I’d done almost exactly what I wanted to do, that I’d had an idea and I’d put that idea on paper in a way which felt very satisfying. That’s what writing can be, when it works. It made me feel a real sense of accomplishment.  

Bio: Jason Jackson’s prize-winning fiction has been published extensively online and in print. In 2019 his work has appeared at New Flash Fiction Review and Nottingham Review. In January, Jason’s hybrid photography/prose piece The Unit was published by A3 Press. His stories have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of Small Fictions. Jason tweets @jj_fiction

Mini-Interview with Benjamin Niespodziany

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

I write flash once the poem begins to grow arms and legs. Almost all of my first drafts are done in lined stanzas, and if I feel like there’s more to be said and I need to expand the story or mold a proper narrative, I’ll form paragraphs and run with it. That being said, I always keep it brief. It’s rare that I write something more than 500 words and my comfort zone is 200-300 words. I suppose the divider between prose poetry and microfiction and flash within my writing is less like caution tape and more like a fishing line dropped in a swampy bathtub.

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

My lifejacket is a deflating air mattress blown up with internal rhyme and tongue twisters. I love creating pieces around how words sound: like a piece I’m working on called ‘The Indelible Relative’ or another called ‘The Kenosha Poet’. From there, after my mattress has deflated or exploded with words that curtsy in a hearse, and once I begin sinking to the bottom of the sea, I start to (briefly, spastically) pay attention to character and plot.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Very quick and very messy. I write 5-15 tiny pieces every day, most of which I never revisit or revitalize. At the end of every month, with about 250 pieces in the vault, I skim through all of them and print out 25 or so pieces and fine tune them with a hypercritical pen. Then I edit the pieces back into a Word doc and proceed to touch them up 1-10 more times before reluctantly submitting.

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

Working at a library! Not only do I imagine what would happen if someone walked in with a licensed therapy snake, or if someone pulled back a book and unearthed a hidden dungeon, but I also check out (and read) numerous books a week. My library has 4.5 million books and a percentage of those are always found resting by my desk, helping me when I hit a speedbump or crash into a thick brick wall. I’m also inspired/influenced by visual artists (via Behance or Instagram) and surreal films (watch everything by Alex van Warmerdam).  

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

The list would be endless! Okay, instead of mentioning members of the community we all vacate (hi, Cathy Ulrich and Noa Sivan), I’d rather mention those I’ve discovered elsewhere. The short stories of Sabrina Orah Mark and Jen George, for example. Seriously, go read Wild Milk and The Babysitter at Rest. The fairy tales of Kate Bernheimer, for example. Amelia Gray! Also, I know it’s not flash, but please read the new novel by Sarah Rose Etter. She has a great short story collection Tongue Party if you want something briefer, but her debut novel is flash-esque and works so well in short spurts and compact fragments. It’s also devastatingly relentless. Ten thumbs up.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

I wrote a piece about ‘Dr. Sky’ in the Spring issue of Gone Lawn that I really enjoy. It’s one of the earlier pieces in my manuscript-in-progress, and while I’ve tinkered with it a bit (with an updated ending), I really like the version over at Gone Lawn. Much love to them.

Bio: Benjamin Niespodziany has had work published in Fairy Tale Review, Jellyfish Review, Milk Candy Review, and a batch of other ‘reviews’. Originally from Mishawaka, Indiana, he now works in a library in Chicago and runs the multimedia art site [neonpajamas].