INTERVIEWS


by Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen

Due to some recent life changes, I’ve had to limit my writing and editing time drastically; stories, though—characters’ situations, lines of dialogue, phrases and titles—keep flipping me around at night. I guess the simplest answer to the question “Why do I write?” is that the ideas keep coming. Brilliant or bollocks, they keep coming.

But why do I write flash fiction? It started at university—or it tried to. I was making up 16 hours of undergraduate English in a summer so that I could start a graduate program in English lit (I’d majored in music and music business as an undergrad). On one of my papers, my Victorian lit professor wrote that my essays were like tiny stories—I think she might have used the word “gems,” but my self-congratulatory memory might have sneaked this in. The papers were those 500-word ditties we’re all familiar with. Later in the semester when I told her I was writing a screenplay, her reaction was “You should write short stories.” This was 1992. I published one short story in the university’s journal in 1993, but between then and 2007 I wrote two screenplays and three novels—never another short story. Call me hard-headed. Go ahead.

Maybe I was resisting “tiny” and “short” and “ditty”—and not only because I’m relatively tiny myself. Maybe I was under the impression that “tiny” meant unimportant, that what I had to say wouldn’t fit into “tiny.” Maybe I’d read way too much Henry James and George Eliot. You are, after all, what you read. (And if this is true, I’m Bill Bryson and Virginia Woolf’s unlikely lovechild.) My love for other people’s words is another reason I write. And edit.

The often condensed syntax of sudden fiction represents a uniquely contemporary voice. Trimming syntax urges the eye along so that the reader experiences text almost in a single moment. Of course this is impossible, but it seems to be the goal. Technology keeps changing the way we read. It’d be dishonest to say some (many?) contemporary writers are not reacting to current tastes and reading formats when choosing to write shorter texts. In Internet writing workshops and communities you’re much more likely to get feedback on a 500-word piece than a whopping 5000-worder. Just have a look at a few litzines’ word-limit guidelines. Scrolling sucks, and it definitely contributes to carpal tunnel syndrome. Faster online fiction is healthier fiction.

As fast as it is to read, though, sudden fiction can take a long time to write (I don’t write sudden fiction because I like to write fast). It’s rare that I’ll sit down at my computer and whip out a 700-word story that I love at first read. It happens, but I usually come back to the story after a week with ideas that rip it apart. Then more ideas rip it apart two weeks later. And so on. Each ripping strips unnecessary bits, refines character—and sometimes completely screws the story to hell and back; yet more often the story evolves, becomes bigger and rounder as it grows smaller, tighter. Tight is, after all, the new big.

Each time I finish one of these tiny stories, I have to look at what I’ve created and ask myself. . .Is this whole? Is the reader’s eye urged along? Will the reader have the same visceral reaction to this moment as I do? Will these characters, whose visit was so brief, stay with the reader beyond the reading? Or is this just a ditty?

I hope other writers of sudden fiction will agree with me that we write sudden fiction because we have so many different moments of being to share: those particularly deep moments my mother Virginia Woolf talked about. In this way, we’re more like painters, songwriters and chefs than novelists.

You know, it might be as simple as feeling satisfaction in the completion of all those ideas that keep coming, the opportunity of plumbing, shaping and completing not just a few pieces of art but many—that’s why I write flash fiction.

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Christopher Allen is grateful to have his sudden fiction in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine and many other great places. His book reviews have been featured at [PANK], Word Riot, The Lit Pub and Necessary Fiction, among others. He’s won some awards and come close to winning others. He keeps trying, and so should you. He lives in Germany and blogs at www.imustbeoff.com about his slight travel obsession.

 

by Susan Tepper

Gay Degani

Gay Degani has published fiction online and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Susan Tepper: Your debut novel What Came Before has been called a crossover book. Its primary scope is that of a literary novel, yet it also contains many elements that appear in the suspense genre plus it’s ripe with plot.

Did you know in advance of the writing that the book would go in this direction?

What_Came_Before

Gay Degani: I always have a plan, but nothing ever turns out as expected. This is what makes writing an adventure! The “plan” for this novel had been to make it a comedy, something along the lines of Compromising Positions by Susan Isaacs. I’d been writing screenplays—comedies, one about a weapon of mass destruction hidden in the main character’s gold crown, one about a playboy who owes a ton of money and ends up as a Tupperware Man, another about a housewife/mother/banker who gets cloned. I realized I didn’t have the personality to succeed in that industry so I decided writing a novel would be the better choice for a house-mouse like me.

ST: I’ve heard this scenario before, but the important thing is that you kept the book going in a direction. And you chose a direction you are comfortable with, which to my mind is key to the success of any book.

GD: So, What Came Before started as a broad comedy, but as it developed, I began to see deeper possibilities to it and it blossomed into a hybrid: comedic-suspense à la Susan Isaac’s with the mother-daughter relationship thrown in. It was when I made the decision that the half-sister to Abbie Palmer should be African-American that the heart of the story evolved.

ST: It was definitely a dramatic choice that influenced how the novel would proceed.

GD: Writing the back story to the romance that happened in 1949 also touched on so many of the things I love—history, the movies, and the unique niche I felt my generation of women fills. That change in the female ideal of June Cleaver and Donna Reed to Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong. So many ideas about what the book could be stymied me for years. The original version was told from three different viewpoints: Abbie’s, the “villain’s,” and Billy’s—Billy’s as a memory device to tell the story of what came before.

After many conferences, festivals, groups, and residencies, I accepted the fact that the book was way too complicated, and therefore pared it down to Abbie’s viewpoint. This left the book with most of the elements, the original humor of Abbie’s voice, the suspense created by both the murder and the mystery of the past, and the angst of my particular generation.

ST: Your book is structured in short flash-fiction chapters, a form I also have used and like very much. What made you go this route rather than a continual flow, with marker breaks, or the traditional longer chapters many novelists use?

GD: Publisher Camille Gooderham Campbell wanted my book for Every Day Novels, a new website Every Day Publishing was launching. Because the Every Day Novel concept was to serialize a book and have it appear chapter by chapter Monday through Friday just as Every Day Fiction did with short stories, the flash-sized chapters were absolute.

This adherence to word count proved to be a blessing. It helped me focus on the purpose of each chapter: how does the character feel, what does she want, what stands in her way, what does she do to get what she wants. Just asking myself these questions as I worked through my lengthy and sometimes convoluted chapters made the writing easier. It forced me to move things around, look for additional information if a chapter’s event was light, and to take out bits that didn’t have a purpose.

ST: The situation with her half-sister fascinated me. I’d like to quote a little from the text here:

A few minutes pass and then I turn and ask her soberly, really wanting to know, “Makenna. Will you tell me what your mother was like?”

I wait a long time and realize with mild surprise, there’s nothing else I’d rather do than wait. She says, “She was afraid of elevators.”

To me, this is such a perfect example of how extreme and dramatic we often view personal aspects of life, when, in fact, just the opposite is true. Life is mostly mundane, with the drama sprinkled into the flour like chile powder.

GD: “Life is mostly mundane, with the drama sprinkled into the flour like chile powder.” Beautifully put, Susan. And what we strive to do as writers is hone in on the chile powder, the little details that make each human being unique, and of course the context of the detail is what gives it that charge.

Abbie, my protagonist, is one of those people who is always “there for you.” People call her up to know about the best place to buy lamb chops, how to get to the downtown public library, and can you go with me to this event so I have someone to talk to. She’s spent her life saying “yes,” and as soon as she finds the grit to say “no,” Makenna shows up in her life. Makenna happens to be part African-American and this gives Abbie a path to follow to find out about herself and her own mother. She can’t say no, though for a while she thinks she can. Makenna has been raised to know her own mind, to deal with her problems, to be independent and capable of saying “no.” I wanted them to have a believable dynamic, not one that was exaggerated. I wanted it to feel as if they were people who live next door to us, facing problems as we all do.

ST: You mentioned earlier two female forces (Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong). Do you feel the women’s movement factored into Abbie’s decision to part from her husband? If the women’s movement had not occurred, do you still see Abbie leaving him to go out on her own? Because she is facing a big economic ‘turndown’ from what she’s used to in terms of style of living.

I quote from the text: “The Tiki Palms Apartments are as far away from my house on Woodbine Street as I can get without changing cities.”

This was very interesting to me. She left him, but not radically. A radical move would be across the country, for instance, or across the ocean. What gives?

GD: I have always felt that women of my generation—say born in ’46 through ’56—could be called a “watershed” generation. Our mothers, for the most part, understood that things were different after the war, after Rosy the riveter, but for the most part, in what was perceived as the gentler prosperous “golden fifties,” tended to conform, still embracing the standards their mothers embraced: staying at home, raising their children, and if they had a job it was to be a teacher, a nurse, or waitress. Not saying there weren’t women who were striving to have serious non-female careers in journalism, business, and so forth, but that wasn’t how it was across the nation.

This is the world I grew up in, and the world Abbie grew up in. But then in the sixties, what we thought was iron-clad began to melt and disperse, reshape and become something new. Most women wanted to be a part of this revolution, but only in some way. Most did not burn their bras, but they began to push against the barriers. Some were confused because to push at barriers seemed to mean giving up something precious. Abbie found security, love, and a comfortable life with Craig, but she gave up her own aspirations to make it work. She was afraid to push at barriers because she was afraid of what might be on the other side. However as she grew older—and felt her own time running out—she realized that so many women, her generation and those younger, were managing to fulfill some of their dreams. She takes her first tentative steps at the Tiki Palms. Going across country to do the same thing, would have felt too permanent, too final.

ST: I envy young women today because they are less entrenched in marriage. If the marriage sucks, many will get out fairly quickly as opposed to Abbie’s generation, and those earlier, who hung in ‘for better or worse.’

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 Susan-Tepper200wSusan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2014, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com

 

by Gay Degani

Michelle Elvy

 Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in New Zealand and currently sailing in Southeast Asia aboard Momo. She edits at Blue Five Notebook, Flash Frontier and Awkword Paper Cut, where she also curates the Writers on Writing column. She is an Associate Editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015), and has guest edited at Smokelong Quarterly and lent her reading eye to a number of competitions. Her poetry, flash, nonfiction and reviews can be found in numerous journals, most recently in JMWW, Word Riot, The Linnet’s Wings, Takahē, Ika, Html Giant and PANK. More at michelleelvy.com and Glow Worm.

Gay Degani: Somewhere on the Flash Fiction Day site or your own blog spot, I saw this quotation: “Because life is short. And so is some of the best fiction.”I love that. Are you the founder of National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand or is there a group who decided to launch this enterprise?

Flag_of_New_Zealand Michelle Elvy: I am the founder. National Flash Fiction Day was born on the road between Northland and Auckland one day in early 2012. I had tremendous support in the first two years from Sian Williams, who also was the first co-editor at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. Since 2012, National Flash Fiction Day has grown, and we now have a committee of five in our creative brain trust, covering the whole country and making it a truly national project – from Northland to Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch.

That quote – our tag-line for NFFD – came flying out of my mouth one day and stuck. I like the idea that some of the best things in life come in small packages.

GD: You say that National Flash Fiction Day has grown.  Can you talk a little about some of the things you’re doing to make this “celebration” fun and informative?

ME: It feels like a grassroots kind of thing, growing from one starting point and spreading out from there. I hatched the idea, sure, and I still run the national competition and serve as a central contact point for the various events around the county, but in the last three years, NFFD has become a celebration within smaller writing communities as well, so there is both a national component as well as a local rallying around flash every June, with regional activities and competitions as well.

During our first year, we were mainly Auckland-based. This year, we saw three events occur simultaneously in our three main cities, Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. The success of those events was hugely due to the organizers on the ground in each place. I helped co-ordinate from afar, but all went smoothly with our regional co-ordinators taking charge. Our two judges this year were from Wellington and Christchurch, respectively, so they were able to extend their congratulations in a personal manner.

We put a lot of effort into running the national competition as smoothly as possible and lining up details so the winners would be announced at all three events simultaneously. It is quite a lot of work, since it’s not only a national competition occurring online, but a series of real events with readers, judges, readings, prizes, celebrations, etc. I’m grateful for the people who make it happen as it grows bigger and more complex each year.

GD: What is your definition of flash fiction?

ME: Flash fiction is a complete story (emphasis on complete) compacted down to a tiny space – the space of a page or the palm of your hand. A good flash story contains the essentials, and then something else too – something that is often hard to put your finger on but that makes the story feel full, even if the word count is sparse.

GD: What are some of the wrong assumptions new writers make about flash?

ME: Here are five quick notes. I offer more at The Lascaux Review.

  • Flash is not accomplished in broad strokes and it’s not for the lazy writer. It’s an extreme sport, requiring extreme attention to detail and intense concentration.
  • It is not a venue for dumping your emotions, and it’s not merely a vignette. The best flash contains a subtlety and intricacy that reads like poetry.
  • Humor is wonderful in flash, but leave the gimmicks out. Flash is not about the gotcha moment or the aha ending.
  • You can’t cut corners just because it’s short.
  • Writing with an economy of words is hard work. Don’t be fooled by writers who make it look easy. Flash requires as much editing as longer works.

GD: Who are some of the best Kiwi writers of flash?  Can you provide links?

ME: At the top of my list are Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe. As an Associate Editor for the forthcoming collection of international flash (W.W. Norton 2015), I’ve had the honor of reading an enormous number of talented flash writers from around the world – and was pleased to see two New Zealand writers in the final table of contents. Both have been involved in the National Flash Fiction Day campaign (McMillan as one of our 2014 judges and Norcliffe as a member of our central committee).

I like the way McMillan’s story “Truthful Lies” (selected for the Norton anthology) handles emotional depth with a sense of control and detachment (read it here).Norcliffe writes with breakneck speed and wit (and clever dialogue that hits you sideways) in colorful, delicious prose. “Kissing the Sky,” originally published in Sport, can be found here, and was later anthologized by Richard Peabody in Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix.

Another Kiwi writer I admire for stories and poetry is Mary McCallum, the other judge of the 2014 NFFD competition (you can read her story “Dead Space” here). Other writers I should mention from this year’s competition are the top three winners – all of whom you can read in a special issue of Flash Frontier. I admit that I’m especially fond of the way Patricia Hanifin plays so cleverly with Charlie Brown themes in the second place story.

Flash has been on the rise in New Zealand, made accessible first by the anthologies assembled in the 1990s by writer/editor Graeme Lay. These books provide a good foundational introduction to the short short form in NZ writing, and include nationally recognized writers such as Kevin Ireland, Vincent O’Sullivan, Witi Ihimaera, Frank Sargeson and Patricia Grace, as well as many others. Many newcomers now play with the genre, some quite experimentally. Take Reuben Todd, for example, whose story “Miri” (long-listed in this year’s NFFD comp; scroll down the page and read it here) tickles me each time I read it.

I’m also a fan of Elizabeth Welsh’s writing. She can be found in the June Flash Special at Blue Five Notebook(which includes, coincidentally, Mary McCallum as well, plus a handful of US writers). Other NZ writers whose work has stood out recently at Flash Frontier and/or Blue Five Notebook include Nod Ghosh, Rebecca Simons, DR Jones, Kate Mahony, Janet Pates, Mike Crowl, Alex Reece-Abbott, Jane Swan, Raewyn Alexander, and Celine Gibson. There are many more – too many to name here. It’s a small country with plenty of writers packing a solid punch.

For excellent and current writers of flash, I recommend Flash Frontier (naturally), as it’s the only zine in NZ dedicated to the craft of writing extremely short prose. Some of our issues are focused entirely on Kiwi writers, like our scattered issue from April 2014, guest edited by James George, and dedicated to Auckland writer, Miles Hughes, who passed away in February. Then there are the international issues, such as June’s sugar issue and the forthcoming September falling issue, guest edited by Christopher Allen. In each edition, there’s a real diversity of writers tackling one theme – playing the game with a good deal of enthusiasm and discipline.

GD: How did you discover flash?  Can you give us links to one or two of your stories?

In 2010, I had been working on several longer projects and also travel articles written as a part of our sailing routes around the Pacific – and I wanted to shift focus in my discipline, to drill down to each word. Also, I wanted to push myself to write more creatively, to experiment beyond my comfort zone. I set up a challenge for myself: to write a story a week for a year, and to limit the word count to 250.

I shared this idea with high school pal (and present-day writing instructor) John Chapin, and he said – quite unsolicited: “I’m in.” We set up a website and called it 52|250: A Year of Flash (52 weeks, 250 words every week). And the rest followed: in a very short time, John and I found ourselves in the middle of a wonderful writing community, with nearly 200 people participating in the project. Soon Walter Bjorkman came on board and helped manage the website, which grew in complexity every week: more contributors, more reading, more editing – alongside our stories every single week.

That discipline – writing a story a week for a year – seemed to fit my life so well. This love I feel for small things – sometimes subtle, sometimes explosive – is an extension of my own reality. Seeing the world in my slow-travel way as we meander around the world on our sailboat (Momo has been our home for eleven years), taking life in small doses, glimpsing reality a day at a time: flash fiction fits.

Incidentally, the novel and the travel writing still happen, but flash is deeply embedded in my heart, and the things I’ve learned from focusing on flash have changed the way I write, read, and edit.

As for my own work, a story written for the 52|250 challenge and read on Radio New Zealand in conjunction with National Flash Fiction Day in 2012 is “Nothing Happens at Sea.” The sea figures rather centrally in my world. Another more recent one – originally longer, but tweaked into a 1000-word experiment and presently under consideration by an editor I greatly admire – is “Cornfield,” which is decidedly different in tone and pacing than my little sea story.

And yet… it’s an unlikely sea story, too, because, well, there’s Cape Horn right in the middle of that mess, and it’s the opening chapter of the series I wrote for the  2014: A Year in Stories project (a project where our paths cross, Gay!). The 2014 project has been a wonderful inspiration for me, along with other things in the works, because it has also offered a set of guidelines steering the work over the course of a year and unleashed larger things in my writing track. For me, in fact, 2014: A Year in Stories feels akin to 52|250: A Year of Flash – and I’m grateful for both.

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gay deganifor WCB choice 3Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

 

by Jim Harrington

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Markets added

Editor Interview Added

Contest added

View the complete markets list here.
View the complete resources page here.

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Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

by Aliza Greenblatt

Tina Wayland

Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter, part-time fiction writer and full-time mom to a great wee kid. Her story, Red Handed, was the top story for July.

Aliza Greenblatt: I’m always curious about what drives authors to write, so can you tell me a bit about that? Do you typically write horror or do you venture into other genres as well?

Tina Wayland: Good question. I don’t know what drives me to write—the curiosity to see where the story will take me? The challenge to get a good piece of writing down on paper? I’m not a writer who’s driven to write. It takes a lot to get me to sit and put stuff down. But I’m always fascinated by the outcome.

I used to write horror way back when I studied Creative Writing. It’s something I haven’t done in about 20 years. This story was supposed to be about a simple conversation, but it took a wrong turn down a back road somewhere and I just had to follow along.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

TW: Haha! Fiddle, fiddle, get a glass of water, check my emails, fold some laundry, check my emails. At some point I focus and start writing, and in those rare moments where the writing stars align I find that perfect groove and I’m lost in the writing. For me it’s more about overcoming the obstacles than following a process. But somehow it works.

AG: The desire to escape was a major theme in the story and the two major characters in the story were desperate for a way out. But it slowly became apparent that the boy would use any means possible to do so. Did the characters’ desperation carry the momentum of the story as you wrote it? Do you think the boy will ever stop running?

TW: I don’t know if I saw them as desperate. I think they both believed they would win—that they’d get what they wanted, in the end. In my mind, the boy never questioned that he’d escape, and the detective never questioned that he’d get his answers. But the boy knew better. I don’t know if he’ll ever stop running. All the story gave me is this small glimpse into his life. Once he was out the door in the wall, he was gone—out of my control. I’d like to believe he’ll keep running, though. I don’t know what else he’d leave in his path.

AG: This piece used language very deliberately, and I loved how almost all of the sentences in the story were short and concise. Did you have a reason for writing in this particular style? Was it a conscious decision?

TW: No matter how I start off, I always end up writing like this. Economical. Deliberate. It’s about the words but it’s also about the rhythm of the words. I love the poetry of it. I can spend a whole lot of time looking for the perfect two-syllable word to balance out a sentence just right.

AG: From your bibliography, this is not your first flash fiction story. For you, what is the appeal of flash? What are some of the challenges you face when writing stories with such a limited word length?

TW: I think my writing style lends itself most easily to flash fiction. I cut and cut and cut until I’ve excavated the right sentence, the right words. By the time I get to my third draft, I’ve lost more than half of what I started with.

For me, the challenge of flash is to get the story right, and quickly. It’s less of a build-up to your characters and more of a quick look into one moment of their lives. There’s no time, and no words, to waste.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

TW: I have a handful of stories desperate for a second draft. I’ll have to dust one off for my writing workshop soon.

I also have a poem just published in From the Depths. You can read it in here, free.

Plus I have a small collection of published stuff on my work website at http://tinawaylandcopywriter.com/fr/published-fiction.php.

A few of my stories are up on EDF, and it is a great honour to be published alongside so many wonderful authors on such a great writing site. What a thrill that Red Handed touched so many readers! It was unexpected and truly wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to ask me these great questions about writing. It was great fun to think about the answers and pass them along!

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

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 Aliza profile-pic-2Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

 

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