Kathy Fish is a faculty mentor in Fiction at the Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver. Additionally, she teaches two-week intensive Fast Flash© Workshops. She also runs Flash Fiction Retreats with author Nancy Stohlman. Fish’s fifth collection of flash fiction, Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018, has recently been released by Matter Press.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with flash? Why it appeals and what frustrates you?
I’ve been writing flash for over twenty years now. I was writing it before I knew that it existed as a separate form of its own. At first, it was out of necessity. My four kids ranged from infant to eleven years old. I was writing in stolen bits of time or often in the midst of the usual household chaos. Though highly motivated and passionate about writing, I was dealing with limited time and energy.
Flash’s appeal for me is how closely it can resemble prose poetry. How well it lends itself to experimentation and innovation. The challenge of telling an emotionally powerful story in a small space.
The frustration continues to be that flash is still seen as the homely country cousin of the lit world. We who write and read it don’t see it that way, of course! Thankfully, that perception is beginning to change, if more slowly than I’d like.
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?
Flash lends itself particularly well to fluidity of form. While poetry and prose poetry can give the suggestion of a story or plot, flash must have it. So any technique must allow room for the sense of a story. I say “sense” of a story because I don’t think flash need follow the traditional constraints of plot (the Freytag Triangle, for example), but there must be movement or meaningful change. As long as that is present, then I believe any way into that is fine! The only constraint is word count. This is also basically true of the short story. I do see really innovative/non-traditional approaches to the short story, but not as often, and it’s somewhat harder to accomplish in a longer form.
Fundamentally, for you what makes a flash piece successful?
For me, it’s the presence of three things: Emotion, Movement, and Resonance. (I do think a flash can “succeed” that isn’t particularly emotional, if it engages the reader on an intellectual or humorous level, say. The engagement is what matters most.) But for me, these three aspects make for the best flash fiction. The deepest and most lasting and impactful. How the writer gets there is completely up to them!
What flashers do you admire and why? Are there any specific pieces that you found compelling?
Okay, I just quickly typed twenty names and I knew I was still forgetting some people so I am just going to have to pass on that question. But there have been some flashes that have come out recently that I’ve found especially great:
Pat Foran wrote this and it’s painful and moving and honest and I’ll never forget it: “Tilt” in Anti-Heroin Chic.
This one just came out by Beth Gilstrap and, like the piece by Pat Foran, it simply takes my breath away: “How to Tattoo a Disordered Woman” in Ninth Letter.
And this one by Amy Silverberg: “Dark Arts” in Wigleaf .
What flash piece of your own are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
I am most proud of my piece, “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild”, which Christopher James published in Jellyfish Review soon after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. It has been anthologized (or will be) in Best Small Fictions 2018, Best American Non-Required Reading 2018, Stone Gathering: A Reader, and an upcoming Norton Reader.
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