Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with flash? Why it appeals and what frustrates you?
Flash forces me to hone my language and pare each sentence and paragraph down to absolute essentials, which I really like about it in process. It allows for no looseness which I find attractive as someone who is often given to sprawl in my own writing but prefers to read very tight pieces. I find that sparing prose – not ‘minimalist’ but sparing – hits the hardest, and I want to achieve that in my own work.
Something I’ve found frustrating is that for me, flash can become a siren calling you away from other forms – you might work on a piece for months or even years, but that first draft can come out of you in a single writing session. That can be intoxicating and make you less interested in writing longer, a definite problem for someone who wishes to finish a novel. I have started to approach longer forms the same way I do flash, because I know doing so will make it a tighter, better piece, and so I can stop viewing the writing process as inherently different between flash and longform.
In terms of construction/technique, how is flash fiction different, in your view, from other genres – in particular poetry (including prose poems) and the short story?
I’m deeply uninterested in demarcating hard lines between these genres. I will say that one thing flash opened my eyes to when I was first starting out was that its length often necessitated the author experiment with form and narrative in creative ways to convey the same amount of story in a smaller space. In successful pieces, the structure or conceit helps the reader take leaps that may be longer than one needs in a novel or traditional short story, where there is more room for backstory or exposition. Flash allows the writer to subvert long-accepted gatekeeping rules around fiction, while preserving an essential integrity to what storytelling is and can be.
Fundamentally, for you what makes a flash piece successful?
For me, the must-have attributes of great flash are tight, surprising language, and a full narrative arc complete with tension, climax, and transformation (or the chance for transformation refused or thwarted). Always a happy bonus: ending on a gut punch.
What flashers do you admire and why? Are there any specific pieces that you found compelling?
Wow, way too many to list. Kim McGowan, Meghan Phillips, Lucy Zhang, Neil Clark, Mark Leidner (who, I think, is a poet who writes prose poems, but the only thing I’m interested in less than a labelling quibble is sports), Elisabeth Ingram Wallace, Jacqueline Doyle, Amy Barnes, everyone whose work SmokeLong recently published when I served as guest editor, jeez, the list does go on but we can’t sit here all day. These authors are consistently graceful and surprising in their language use, each word necessary and in its proper place.
These are just a few of the stories I often trot out when people ask me for recommendations:
Madlib by Kim McGowan
The Peach Boy by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Liquid History by Elisabeth Ingram Wallace
Search Party by Rebecca Turkewitz
Little Darling by Jacqueline Doyle
What We Bury by Madeline Anthes
Alfred Untold by Neil Clark
Group Hug by Paul Thompson
Before Happily Ever After by Lucy Zhang
Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild by Kathy Fish
Not Louise by Sutton Strother
And, it’s a novel, but it has a staggering flash sensibility: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
What flash piece of your own are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
I have a piece that’s very close to me appearing in the latest Foglifter (hard copy only) called ‘Domestic Curses for All Occasions,’ which had a long journey both as a piece of fiction (first flash, then a novel, then a novel that started in a new place, then a short story, back to flash) and on its way to being published. It was soundly rejected all over the place for several years despite being among my best work. I kept wondering what was wrong with it, what I wasn’t conveying properly even after careful revision, but then I would read the story and go, no, this is exactly as it should be. When it was finally accepted, the note Foglifter sent was one of the kindest and most enthusiastic I’ve ever gotten. It was a real case of a story landing exactly where it belonged.