Chris’s Blog. Party time. Excellent. Excellent.
How my poetry became my flash fiction…and then back again until it didn’t matter.
IBR asked me to write a little something for them, so I immediately pitched a children’s book idea (awkward music). After IBR explained they were looking for more of a blog to coincide with a book review of my old collection (Chris, can you hear us? Why do you keep handing us manuscripts? Where are they coming from? There’re so many. Is that possible?) I settled on writing about how I came to find myself writing flash fiction.
To be clear, I’m not one of those writers who feels the need to explain how I wouldn’t call myself a flash writer, and I won’t explain how my writing is more than one mode of communication—because it’s not. Or at least, it’s all similar and typically trying to communicate one to three things, the same one to three things. I mean, it would be easy to say my poetry, CNF, and fiction are each distinct, but more or less they blur. And by the way, there’s probably nothing too wrong with arguing your writing is not one thing or another—but, when it comes to flash, I don’t mind wearing a banner or even marching around with one (while other writers scoff at the form or me…does it matter?). My writing evolved into flash from poetry, and then back again until it didn’t matter, and it seems the most natural and simple thing, like a tadpole becoming a frog (and that is not a perfect analogy), but here’s the thing, even when I’m not writing flash, my writing is reminiscent of the style. I write my poetry like I write flash fiction, and I write flash fiction like I write my poetry.
I started writing fiction about the same time I started writing poetry.
I tend to write about weird things or things in weird ways. It’s sadly really one or the other. Embarrassingly, it really took hold with my smartphone. I’d always written poetry on my laptop, but I started writing little stories via my blackberry phone, sending a friend shorts about deers made out of crystal or a few lines of imagist poetry capturing an overpopulated campground (it was such a wonderful sight, all those fires evenly placed apart burning almost wild).
I’m fine with being a flash writer who is really a poet who is really a flash writer (perfectly fine) mainly because I’ve always felt this way, but also because over time I’ve learned something about flash.
Flash is labeled many things, defined over and over again (how many presses and magazines will tell me similar but different word counts or explain to me how badass my flash should be in experimental nature or how truly realistic to the human core my narrating voice ought to be). There are great and wonderful workshops on crafting flash and understanding it. Essays on flash, blogs on flash. Twitter conversations and confused classroom discussions. Point being—there is a lot out there on this small form of art.
Which brings me to, in the end, flash has established itself as its own art form.
Like say, a poem.
Some readers like confessional poets entrenched in little abstractions woven into realism. Some enjoy conversational observational. Others enjoy tight narratives weaved through verse. Some like their poetry to slip into surrealism, and others like their poetry full of line breaks, erasure, drops—a visual art experience.
There are variations. The same is true about flash. There are different types of flash fiction, and the literary community is vocalizing this more (or beginning to) as flash continues to grow. In the past, I used to more often come across journals, who in their guidelines, touted what made for “good” flash. This is fine, I guess, but journals/writers/editors should consider (and many do) that what they’re discussing, what they’re pointing out, is the type of flash they prefer and enjoy and want to write or publish.
Writers/journals/editors who espouse what flash is and isn’t should be careful of their rhetoric.
It’s a continuing conversation (I hope one day there will be more classes that examine the complexity of flash as we do the novel or short story). At the very least, it shows a disregard for the literary community as a whole, ignoring other writers/journals/editors, and failing to consider the genre of flash as something beyond the definition of a single writer/journal/editor. And by the way, in specific relation to journals/editors, I’m not saying they shouldn’t tell writers and readers what they want and establish their aesthetic. Far from it. I’m just pointing out that the rhetoric of how it is done could be better. I don’t really suppose most writers/journals/editors think that other types of flash (heavy on the image, micro, experimental, full plot arc, weird minimalist, prose poetry) are crap? Maybe, we do, but when we fail to acknowledge that there are different variations of flash, and when we offer, without explanation, a definition of flash, then it limits the genre.
Perhaps, we should stop trying to define it, and rather analyze the differing versions and styles and crafting techniques. I know this has helped me. When I run a workshop now or discuss with one of my classes, I no longer feel the pressure to speak for all of flash fiction (even though, I may be the first introduction to it for some of my students). I like to show them the variety of styles out there, noting the differences (would anyone like to pay me a small bit to write a book on the strains of flash?), but I try to veer away from telling them how to write “good flash” as if flash weren’t like poetry, as if there weren’t variations and styles.
In the end, more or less, I instead show them the way I write flash–like a poem–like I want you to be able to read it out loud and hear the rhythm in every line, and how each line works with the next pushing and pulling you to the end. That it’s meant to be read aloud (this is probably my biggest commonality in my writing). Some flash writers explain it’s about strong plot arcs, full arcs, leave nothing out. Others say experiment with the prose, cross boundaries. Pack a punch. Be subtle. No worldbuilding. Create a whole world in three paragraphs. My way of writing flash is just that—a way. Weird flash (slipstream with poetics?) isn’t the only way, and I wouldn’t it sell it as so—it came from my poetry.
Oh, and I didn’t, and still don’t, pay attention to word count. I never have and never do–until I’m submitting. Probably the one way we can define flash is its word count, something close to a thousand or fewer words, right?
So, I’m not sure how that confuses things or explains why I write flash, but it probably again has something to do with my love of poetry. My love of fairy tales and how that relates to my flash writing is another blog post for another day.
|Purchase So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds: IndieBound|
|Independent Book Review: So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds|
|Author Interview: “I Like an Ending that is a Beginning”|
|What Other Reviewers Have to Say: From Hypertrophic Press|
|Short Story: “When the Sun is the Moon”(New Flash Fiction)|
|Poem: “There is Only One Color Betta Fish and It Is Called Alone” (Maudlin House)|