I am a writer living in Minnesota, U.S.A. By day, I work in nonprofit communications and marketing. By night (and by weekend, and by lunch hour, and by early morning), I write and read and fall down internet rabbit holes. I recently contributed to Lockjaw Magazine and wrote a master’s thesis on Margaret Atwood. I think obsessively about how to put words together to find truth.
100 words ain’t many. How do you fit a story into so few words? I write a crappy first draft just to get something down. For me, writing is thinking. I don’t worry too much about word count or succinctness during this first pass, and the draft is usually two or three times too long and three or four times too incoherent. Second round is for deep, ruthless cutting. I hunt down the weak and superfluous parts and ax them. Third round I sew the survivors together into something resembling a complete story. Fourth round is for surgical trimming, and looking for places where the language I’m using could be more compact. Fifth round I’m looking for more specific or poetic ways to say what’s there. Have I fallen back on clichéd writing? Has the rhythm become too same-y? Sixth round mostly consists of me obsessing over one stubborn word that I keep replacing and unreplacing for way too long until I let my gut decide and hit submit.
Why do you like flash fiction? I love language, and flash is concentrated language. It’s like when you heat stock or a sauce to reduce it: that which was diluting the flavor evaporates, leaving something thick and intense.
Been writing long? I wrote a bit growing up and as an undergrad (didn’t we all), but am just coming back to it many years later. I recently finished a master’s degree, so my writing energies were all going into academic papers for those years. It’s great to be writing creatively again. But hard, right? You are all heroes.
You write anything else? Yes, I also write longer short stories, poetry, essays, and nonfiction. And killer thank you notes.
Any advice for other flash writers? Lean your weight against each word to test it—especially adverbs and adjectives. If it’s not a load-bearing word, send it away. I think a piece this short should be at least 75% load-bearing words.
Any interesting writerly projects in the pipeline? I have a piece in the awesomely crazy Choose Your Own Adventure experiment over at Lockjaw Magazine. Other than that, I’m focusing on amassing a body of work, but I hope to gather the courage to send things into the wild at some point.
I just finished reading a book. Can you recommend another? My first recommendation for anyone who hasn’t read it is always Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Other must-reads: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler. For short fiction, I love anything by Kelly Link or Alice Munro.
“Soap…he slipped…his head…” Squeak—thud. Ten p.m., my neighbor Jean at my door, backwards nightgown, barefoot in the snow.
Squeak—thud. I heard it through the bathroom wall. Squeak. So close I shot my arms out to catch him, but walls are still solid and living still cruel. Thud.
Squeak—thud. I heard it and knew Jean would come. In the seconds between thud and knock, even as I moved to the door I imagined myself far away, tending sheep on a quiet hillside.
But then the knock, then a deep breath, then Jean in my arms, her grief an aria in life’s savage opera.
The photo made me think about the special intimacy apartment living brings—when you feel yourself as one body in a building full of restless bodies, when the sounds of your neighbors’ private lives seep into your own. “Opera” called up tragedy for me, but I knew I wanted it to be something domestic, an everyday possibility, and “soap” turned out to be that tragedy’s catalyst. In some ways the narrator is as distant from Jean’s tragedy as from a soap opera on TV—it’s someone else’s world breaking apart—but the narrator’s physical proximity to the accident and the unforgettable sound of it, on endless mental repeat, make it very real.
Beat the drums. Shout it out. Write it down. Document everything. Fill the archives. Build more archives. If I don’t describe it, it will remain undescribed.
Walking to work today I saw an old man in boxer shorts open his front door, float up his rosebud fingertips, and fold into a perfect arabesque penché to lift the newspaper from his front stoop. I worry so much that no one will know this.
Hunched modern scribe, I fantasize about ceasing—ceding to the universal subconscious (a gyre spinning slowly below, gathering in all our tiny hearts). Every sigh and sandcastle would be inherited, written onto the bones of the next generation.
The archives got me thinking about legacies and what kind of information is documented (“beat”) and what will be passed down (“generation”). We’re doing our best to fill the archives: Every day we share 500 million tweets, 70 million photos on Instagram, and 26 million minutes of video on YouTube. But so much is missed, or not able to be documented in that way. This story is much more personal than the flash I usually write. The man with the newspaper is fabricated, but serves as a stand-in for the myriad moments of wonder I experience in any given day. They seem so important, these small human adventures or moments of transitory natural beauty, and I feel real sorrow knowing I’ll forget most of them. The idea of all these moments mattering, being recorded and shared in our bodies if not our minds, was intensely comforting to me and to my narrator.