An online conference about women who write flash fiction
January 6, 2016 at 11:14 AM
I started writing flash simply because I don’t like reading super-long stories. I love novels, longer works that are supposed to be longer works, but have never been drawn to super-long short stories. So I just wanted to test myself and see how much story I could get into a small space. The first flash piece I ever had accepted/published is called FIVE SKETCHES OF A STORY ABOUT DEATH and it it went up @ matchbook: http://www.matchbooklitmag.com/crosssmith.html
I’d been reading a lot about flash fiction @ that point and ran across Kathy Fish’s name…devoured her stuff/her book and wanted to try for myself…having attempted to learn from one of the best..(Kathy!) And I found that the shorter form really suits me/my brain well…little snippets…seemingly short and simple, but something new to unwrap upon re-reading.
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January 8, 2016 at 6:17 PM
Lisa, I love “Five Sketches…” Such a wonderful, authentic voice to the piece. Lovely work.
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January 9, 2016 at 6:00 PM
Thank you so much Jayne! ❤
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January 10, 2016 at 7:11 PM
I fell in love with that story, too. The grandfather’s sense of being chased by the moon was beautiful and heartbreaking.
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January 12, 2016 at 12:15 AM
Thank you Leonora! (Bless my granddaddy’s drunk heart that night, fersure.)
January 8, 2016 at 5:51 PM
This reply is on behalf of Ashley Inguanta:
In 2007, I took a life-changing fiction course with Jeanne Leiby at The University of Central Florida. I was an undergrad at the time, and I was feeling (like many undergrads to) lost and defeated, especially when it came to exploring my own art and writing. I remember the way Jeanne believed in me. She wasn’t a liar. She never said what she didn’t mean. I remember when she told me, “You have no idea how to write plot, but you can write the shit out of a sentence,” and then she invited me to become an intern at The Florida Review.
When Jeanne gave the class our first flash assignment, I felt—for the first time in my entire life—true freedom on the page. I wrote about a girl who ran. She didn’t stop. Instead, she saw what she wanted to see—flowers, a sun-colored balloon. In running, she found freedom—but she still had work to do. More than anything, she wanted to find value in sadness and joy, and as she ran, maybe she was on her way to finding those things. This was the first piece of flash I ever wrote, and I remember finding comfort in the way such a small canvas could explore uncertainty.
I later read Jeanne’s piece “Viking Burial,” and I remember how each line of dialogue hit hard. The way the fire’s heat brushed the back of Sam’s neck. The way the sun set in “the wrong corner of the sky.” This story taught me about detail and precision, the way nouns could make or break a story.
After that, I continued reading more flash—Stephen Graham Jones, Kim Chinquee, and Toni Jensen, for example. When I read “Of Mice and Indians” by Toni and “Conquistadors” by Stephen, my writing truly changed. I learned how small canvases offer freedom to leap, freedom to play with language and time, freedom to focus on very, very specific moments and in a characters life.
Ever since then, I’ve been writing flash. I haven’t written a non-flash piece in about 5 years, and I am completely at peace with that. Flash challenges me, yet it feels comfortable, natural.
January 8, 2016 at 6:12 PM
This particular thread fascinates me (and Leesa, in your interview I’d love to hear more about your take on it!) because flash is such a new form for me. I’ve never worked in it; I’m a (self-defined?) novelist and am also guilty of those long-short stories. Recently I tried an exercise with a length limit of 1000 words and found it practically impossible to pull off. I also love Ashley’s thoughts on the immediate and visceral experience flash allows you to have as a writer/reader. That’s an angle I hadn’t thought about before.
I’d love to hear more from everyone about your thoughts on writing flash compared to other forms, whether you find that other forms also come naturally to you or whether you find that this particular form is most adapted to your voice and what you want to communicate as a writer. (It strikes me as very similar to poetry in a lot of ways – does that sound at all accurate?)
January 8, 2016 at 6:38 PM
I recently wrote a piece for Gay Degani’s blog called “From Film to Flash and Points In Between,” which explains my journey from writing movies for television to writing flash and the similarities between the two forms. http://wordsinplace.blogspot.com/2016/01/journey-to-planet-write-from-film-to.html#.VpBES1JPJeg
Perhaps the most pivotal influence though was when the late, lovely, most generous Kathryn Handley Hope discovered my work online and encouraged me. She was the first person to ever use the word flash with me and she sent me Rose Metal Press’ “Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction.” I fell instantly in love with the genre. With my background in writing film scenes, it was a natural fit. While I write longer pieces when I’m working in non-fiction memoir and such, in flash my medium is micro, with 300 words being pretty much my outer limit. Kris, I have to smile when you say you tried writing a piece with a 1,000-word limit and couldn’t do it. I’m just the opposite. I try to write longer pieces, but I hit that 300-or-so word mark and it’s done. I could add more, but it would just be extraneous. I find I am impatient with reading stories much beyond that. Maybe I’m getting A.D.D. in my old age, but if a story goes beyond 500 words, the writer has really got to work to hold my interest because my mind is already editing it down.
January 8, 2016 at 7:50 PM
Jayne, I love that blog post. I had never considered a link between film and flash, but it makes so much sense. The four points on writing movie scenes sound a lot like my mantras for novels, which I have yet to follow as well as I should. I need to explore this micro-form more; can see how much it could help with my longer pieces.
Also, “Poster Boy” gave me chills. Beautiful piece.
January 8, 2016 at 8:14 PM
Thank you, Kris. Working in the micro form has helped me enormously in tightening up everything I write now. I don’t know if the Five Sentence Fiction site is active right now, but here is the link to the archives: http://lilliemcferrin.com/about/ Doing these FSF stories was like writing-Pilates for me. Have fun!
January 8, 2016 at 8:33 PM
Excellent – thank you!
January 9, 2016 at 6:30 PM
Love hearing how Leesa, Jayne, and Kris, found or didn’t find flash. I spent a lot of time in a French library in Montreal. Three years. I was reading 19th-20th century literature, but nothing from the 21st century. I was writing long short stories and novellas with long, winding sentences and having the time of my life! I didn’t have an audience. I had myself and it was a great way to find my voice. I found a novel-in-flash by Sheila O’Connor, “Tokens of Grace,” and was blown away by chapters that were two pages long or less. And yes, her novel was magnificent and fully-formed. When I got back to the states and started sending work out I took a thirty page story and kneaded it into 5 or 6 flash pieces. My first story was accepted by ‘Boston Literary Magazine,’ and the rest were published, as well. I found this form of honing to be a new experience and not only loved it, but found it challenging to keep a story intact while cutting out the fat. I still write long stories, as well, and am working on a novel, but am enamored by the beauty of a flash story that gives the macrocosm and the microcosm in less than 1000 words. Not only is a full story told about a life or lives, but there is some philosophy nestled in there that balloons those 1000 or less words into flesh, bones, and history.
January 9, 2016 at 8:11 PM
Meg, Just bought “Tokens of Grace” based on your recommendation. Have you read Mary Robison’s “Why Did I Ever?” Also genius stuff. Right up your alley. I’m reading “Lined Up Like Scars” now. Your work tickles the hell out of me. I sometimes don’t quite know where I’ve ended up at the end of some of your stories, but the ride’s always a blast and I want to do it again.
January 10, 2016 at 12:08 AM
I think you’ll enjoy it, Jayne. So glad you got the copy of ‘Lined Up Like Scars,’ and yes, it is a ride. I haven’t read ‘Why Did I Ever?” But I will now. Thank you for the suggestion. Maybe we should set up a place where we put up our favorite flash collections? Have you read ‘ghostbread’ by Sonja Livingston? LOVE! xo
January 10, 2016 at 12:01 PM
“Ghostbread” looks amazing. I write memoir in addition to flash and am always looks for inspiration in that area. Thanks. “Why Did I Ever” is written in micro-flash that jumps all over the place in time. It’s a Cirque du Soleil of writing.
I love how the same characters keep appearing in all the stories in “…Scars.” You did that in “…Skin…” too. I’m a fan.
January 10, 2016 at 12:12 PM
‘ghostbread’ blew me away. I know you will love that and also ‘Tokens of Grace’. I’m so so happy that you’re liking ‘Lined up like scars’. Yes, same family throughout. And in ‘skin’ and also my first collection: ‘Domestic Apparition’. Thank you so so much!!! HUGS!
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January 9, 2016 at 6:34 PM
Powerful story, Leesa! WOW! Absolutely love it!
January 12, 2016 at 12:16 AM
Thank you Meg! ❤
January 16, 2016 at 4:17 PM
I have to thank Barbara Henning who was my MFA (Naropa) Flash Fiction instructor. I spent the first half of that class trying to “cull” scenes out of my then hopeless novel and “pass them off as flash”. It took a long time before I actually conceived of a piece as flash fiction, but once I did I GOT IT. By the end of that semester I was beginning to spit out the flashes, experiment with the forms, and even started publishing my first tentative flash pieces.
A bunch of the students in that class, including myself, Kona Morris, Leah Rogin-Roper, K. Scott Foreman, etc, decided “Hey! Let’s put together a chapbook of all our great flashes this semester!” Well, that chapbook became an anthology and that group (plus others) became Fast Forward Press, who put out a flash fiction anthology every year from 2008-2013 as well as one single author flash collection and holding the first ever Flash Novel contest. I became a better flash writer in the trenches, so to speak, and I feel really lucky to have had that experience behind the scenes, both as an editor and as an aspiring flasher, to learn, really learn, what works and what doesn’t.
January 17, 2016 at 11:56 AM
What a fabulous experience, Nancy. I would have loved to have had such an opportunity. When I was starting out in television I typed scripts for a living. I read hundreds and learned what works and doesn’t much the same way. Good story, character, pacing, etc. pretty much transcend all genres, I think. You develop an ear for it, which we discussed in the Voice & Language section. Now I continue to take classes from masters of the form like yourself and Kathy and read, read, read.
I find that I learn best through osmosis. I’m highly influenced by whatever I’m reading. I can see that influence show up in my work almost immediately, so I have to be very careful about what I expose myself to. Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever heard was by Jennifer Egan who said, “Read at the level that you want to write.”
January 17, 2016 at 5:12 PM
I’d been writing short stories for years sending them out to one publisher at a time (in the days of “no simuls”) and waiting six months to have them send me their rejection. I learned nothing this way about how to write better. So I sold Tupperware for a while. Then I decided to write a script about a Tupperware salesman. Wrote six scripts over a few years. One called “Cloned” was actually read at one of the big agencies, but they said no. (Two years later a similar film came out of that agency called “Multiplicity” except the main character was a man instead of a woman. Which made their script psychological false). I moved on to novels turning one of the scripts into a YA book and started another book called “What Came Before.” I joined Sisters in Crime so I could rub elbows and get inspired by published authors. A story of mine was picked for one of their anthologies and we went on a local book tour. One author, Kate Thornton, told me I could read a short story of hers on line. “ON LINE?” I asked. I went home and read it. It was excellent and pubbed by Flash publishers Every Day Fiction. I thought, “They pub a story EVERY DAY???” That means they publish 360 stories a year!! I wrote my first piece of flash. They published it and seven more over the course of a few years. I was launched into flash and ever grateful for the discovery. Flash became the best teacher I’ve ever had.
January 17, 2016 at 10:08 PM
I didn’t end up writing flash fiction; I started out writing short. I have been writing and publishing what is now called flash fiction for 50 years.
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January 17, 2016 at 10:17 PM
These are such terrific responses! I love reading about everyone’s flash journey, and it goes to show how very many paths there are to a particular form. I think I have two answers to this question. The first stems from what I fear, and the second stems from what I love. I’m a slow writer. I move through a piece phrase by phrase and each word is a choice. I have poet-envy. I lack stamina and interest in long form. My mind wanders, and I get hungry for the next thing. But I also resist speaking about flash fiction as a default category. I love constraint and parameters. I love a literary magnifying glass. I love the density of a moment and compression. I’ve been reading a lot about outer space lately (long story), but there are such powerful analogies–collisions that raise the temperature and force a change in physical structures, a heating up and crystalizing of elements into cliffs and ridges. It’s the immediate impact I love. That’s the obsession for me, anyway.
January 17, 2016 at 11:26 PM
There is so much passion in your response, Rosie. I love it. I’m a “slow” writer, too, in that I’m not as prolific as I would like to be. Every single time I’ve ever had any kind of story idea I’m convinced it will be the last I ever have. I’m easily susceptible to long periods of creative constipation where I’m sure I have nothing else to say. But when the Universe smiles down upon me with a spark, I’m pretty fast at executing it if its flash. I don’t think I’ve ever lingered over any piece of flash for longer than a week. But, again, I write micro. Although, revisions can go on right up until a piece is published — or not, as the case may be. In which case, they’re like the adult child who never leaves home.
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