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Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller

The uncontainability of each of these remarkable collections published by Rose Metal Press suggests the exuberance of the flash fiction form itself, including the way in which, despite its small size, it pushes past its own borders and into the territory of something larger and impossible to confine.

Blurbs

"A wonderful range of voices comes at you from this collection of flash fictions with stories that haunt, that tell of grit and love and loss and longing with the kind of detail and patience that makes your teeth ache."

– Sherrie Flick, author of I Call This Flirting

"With a collection of collections like They Could No Longer Contain Themselves, you begin to get a feel for an entire generation of writers."

– Robert Shapard, coeditor of Sudden Fiction Latino

"What a fantastic collection. Wow! What emerges is the sense of the possibilities of compression and conviction, each piece complete in itself, connected to the whole."

– Randall Brown, author of Mad to Live

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They Could No Longer Contain Themselves

Flash In All Its Blinding Possibility (Part 1?)

07/06/11

I was a little hesitant to choose They Could No Longer Contain Themselves to feature for July, not because I’m hesitant about the writing in any regard. The book astounds on so many levels in that regard. Each writer brings something really incredible to every page of this book. But because it’s yet another collection of flash fiction, and I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. Next month, I’ll likely snag a novel or if another short fiction collection, then longer form. But, while we’re on the topic, I wanted to talk about flash a bit.

Flash seems to be new to a lot of people. Even I didn’t really know of its existence as a “thing” until later in undergrad, around ’04-’05. To me, it was a natural fit. As a writer, I’ve always hovered between fiction and poetry, so when my professor introduced me to flash fiction as a form, it was simply that I had finally found a space in which I felt comfortable. It was a form that let me stretch and blend and write the sort of cross-genre play I’ve always known as a sweet spot.

When people come to my Vouched Books table, I get asked “What is flash fiction?” a lot when I point them to a book like Easter Rabbit by Joseph Young, We Know What We Are by Mary Hamilton, or Cut Through the Bone. I start basic, “It’s writing, usually narrative however loosely, usually under 2,000 words. The word count shifts a bit depending on who you’re talking to–some believe 500 is the limit, others 1000, etc.”

After that, it gets murky. One of the things I really love about They Could No Longer Contain Themselves is how well it highlights the possibility of the form. The book’s jacket copy says it best, “The uncontainability of the writers and characters in each of these remarkable collections suggest the exuberance of the flash fiction form itself, including the way in which, despite its small size, it pushes past its own borders and into the territory of something larger and impossible to confine.”

And its true: in this book, you have the singsong, surrealism in Lovelace’s “Coffee Pot Tree,” to the simple, sparse realism of Mary Miller’s “Misled.” People often ask what my favorite kind of flash fiction is, and I never really know what to say. Last time someone asked, I told them if you don’t know what you’re reading flash fiction or prose poetry, you’re probably reading good flash fiction. But that’s not necessarily true either. I would never consider Miller’s work “prose poetry,” but her work remains some of my favorite of the form. I don’t know what constitutes “good” flash fiction. What constitutes a good novel? What constitutes a good poem?

I’ve come across a lot of people the past couple years who seem to think flash fiction needs a definition, something by which to judge it against not only other flash fiction, but by other genres. This whole concept baffles me. But usually, these people don’t really even seem to know they’re calling for this definition. To me, it exists as subtext beneath other conversations regarding how much “bad” flash fiction is out there, how people are growing tired of the “fad” of flash fiction.

Yes. Both of these things are true. There is a lot of bad flash out there. There’s a lot of bad poetry, too. A lot of bad novels. These people indict the entire form based on its demerits, but yet refuse to see its enormous possibility. No one challenges the novel anymore, nor do they attempt to box it into some tidy definition. Despite their enormous differences, Blake Butler’s There Is No Year is considered just as much a novel as Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice; there is no great debate regarding the form.

People seem uncomfortable by flash because it exists to them as something new, but of course, it’s nothing new. Sean Lovelace at times quips about the late Jesus Christ being one of the forerunners of the flash fiction form, citing his parables. Hemingway played with flash. Widely regarded as a prose poet, I’ve heard debate about Russell Edson’s role as a flash fictioneer.

Which is perhaps another reason why there is debate, this underlying uncomfort. The need for clear lines, clear labels. The question hangs loose: why is Edson considered a prose poet and not a surrealist flash fiction writer? With such a wide definition, what’s to stop a novelist who writes with a particularly poetic flair from writing a “novel-length narrative prose poem?” Why is this poetic piece that doesn’t necessarily have a clear narrative arc considered flash fiction? The form hovers on this strange plane that seems to upset prior systems in a way that makes people want to put it in a box.

Of course, to put it into a box, like all forms of art or writing, is to kill the form altogether. Where would the novel be if public outcry declared Ulysses something else? Where would poetry be if the world called bullshit on vers libre?

I guess I’m out of thoughts. I mean, I have more thoughts on the subject, but they don’t fit neatly into this ranting.

I want to say how sick I am of people blaming the current “fad” of flash fiction on people’s attention spans. I want to say how sick I am of people seeing flash fiction as a fad. I want to say how sick I am of writers who seem to think flash fiction is an “easy” form to write. I want to say how sick I am of the publishers who are willing to publish scrap-rate flash fiction. I want to say how these things ruin the form, but that’s of course not true. Just because publishers publish shitty novels doesn’t mean the novel is a shitty form. And the same goes for any genre or form, really. Why such scrutiny for flash?

But now, I’m sick of what I have to say. I want to hear what you have to say. How do you define flash fiction? What do you think of it? Do you have a favorite style of flash–more poetic, more narrative, more surreal? Do you think it is a silly thing, a playground for half-baked short story ideas? Do you think people should just write what they want to write without thought of form or label?

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36 Comments

  1. ydde said on 07/06/11 at 3:11 pm Reply

    I’m a big fan of flash as a form. I’ve no real preference for style, I suppose, though I tend to lean heavily towards surrealism in life, but I’ve nothing against some well worded realism or whathaveyou.

    I, too, see it as a form with such much possibility. And, really, I think of it in a similar way to how I think of poetry. Packing meaning, condensing and distilling life into a mouthful or ten.

    I think flash is more demanding than a lot of other forms. It’s not about telling a story in a short way, but about capturing a life, a novel worth of words in just a couple hundred. Each word carries the weight of a sentence, each sentence the weight of a paragraph, each paragraph the weight of a chapter. I think subtlety should always be aimed for in fiction, and there’s never a time you’ll need to be more subtle than when you’re only giving yourself 500 or 1,000 words to work with. It’s about giving an entire relationship or an entire character in a handful of words and making that character matter as much as if the reader spent 100 to 200 pages with her/him.

    As far as form or label, I think the story should dictate its own length. I’ve started stories that I meant to be under 100 words that ended up over 5,000, but I’ve gone the other way, too. Form and structure should be inherent and natural, because forcing those things, I think, makes everything suffer.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 07/07/11 at 11:59 am

    Subtlety is perhaps the most important attribute of good flash to me. Not hiding meaning of course, but layering and quietly so. I don’t particularly enjoy fiction that tells me everything it wants me to know. I like a fiction that asks me to work for it a little, a fiction that has intricacies and nuances I might miss upon my first read, that upon a 2nd or 3rd read, it makes itself clear to me, makes me think, “Oh wow! I didn’t notice that before!”

    ydde said on 07/07/11 at 11:44 pm

    Yeah, I think fiction that tells you everything is lazy and ruins all the fun for me. And, yeah, subtlety isn’t about obfuscation, but about gradual illumination, where the story gets better with every read and offers more with each read. I think if you can surprise a reader on their second or third read, you’re definitely succeeding.

    Nathan Goldman said on 07/11/11 at 3:01 pm

    I agree with YDDE that the brevity of flash makes it more demanding, but I want to add: I think longer forms of fiction, from more traditional-length short stories to novels, could benefit from the attention to language on a word-by-word level that tends to be taken for granted in flash. That is not to say that longer pieces come with different “rules” about pacing, development, language, etc. – but my best writing teacher emphasized that if a word is not necessary, it has no place in your piece, and this still rings true for me.

  2. Kathleen Rooney said on 07/06/11 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Great thought-provoking post, Chris. To answer the easiest of your questions first, obviously, Abby and I love flash fiction (when it’s done well), and we choose to define a flash as a story that’s 1,000 words or less.

    Over our years in working with the genre, it’s been fascinating to see how some readers and writers get uncomfortable with the idea of the genre as a genre in the first place. Back when we were working with Tara L. Masih to put together The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, one of the authors we’d lined up to contribute an essay, an exercise, and an example (and who had written an entire, extremely well-received book of flash fiction) became unexpectedly agonized about the assignment. He was very gracious about bowing out, but when he was doing so, we had some interesting email exchanges during which he admitted–regarding the exercise–that he “does not like the idea of asking someone to write something short, specifically” and also that “I have to be honest that I don’t think flash fiction is quite a genre of its own.”

    So to (start to) answer maybe the trickiest question, authors should of course be able to “write what they want” but the notion of doing so without “thought of form or label” seems somewhat limiting. It’s far easier to have a productive discussion of a piece (or type) of literature when you can go ahead and bring ideas like authorial intention and reader expectation (both of which have a great deal to do with genre distinctions, forms, and labels) into the conversation.

    Reply

    Dawn. said on 07/06/11 at 9:46 pm

    The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction is an awesome book. Read it last fall. 🙂

    Chris Newgent said on 07/07/11 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve always kept an eye on Rose Metal, as I notice we seem to have a very similar taste in flash, and thus far, I’ve not disliked anything you guys have put into the world. I trust your taste, I guess is the best way to put it. Ha.

    It seems ironic to me, in a way, to say that writing without thought of form or label would seem limiting, as to me it seems very freeing, but in the way you discuss authorial intent and reader expectations, I see what you mean. I guess, to me, I wonder how authorial intent/reader expectations really differ between reading flash/prose poetry/general short fiction, and perhaps because I’ve always read them all very similarly, and value most the work that merges/meshes/plays with all those forms at once, e.g. even reading Raymond Carver’s narrative poetry, which is likely the farthest from surrealism you can possibly get, I read it in much the same way as I would one of his flash fiction pieces–the only thing I might read differently is paying closer attention to how he breaks his lines. But, to me, reading “Locking Yourself Out” and “Little Things” operates much the same way.

  3. Erin said on 07/06/11 at 4:09 pm Reply

    I blame my flash fiction on the 80s. MTV — and therefore, at the time, music videos — came to my house right about the time I was also discovering that you could find short stories in places other than reading group textbooks. I was equally captivated by Hungry Like the Wolf and The Lady or the Tiger, by Edgar Allen Poe and The Smiths. Those loves made me see the possibility and the beauty of five to ten precisely orchestrated minutes that aren’t (overtly) poetry.

    I don’t have a favorite form within flash fiction. When I read fiction of any kind, I want to be left with something I didn’t have before, that isn’t easily forgotten. The stories I think about often, range from two words to thousands. As a result, using length as a yardstick for potential or merit seems silly to me.

    I think the current controversies that flash fiction faces are more about how our intake and output of text has changed than the form itself. When I first watched music videos not so long ago, the cultural and artistic dialogue was one-sided. These days, we’re working through the fact that plenty of people want to talk back…and can.

    Reply

  4. Lam Pham said on 07/06/11 at 6:12 pm Reply

    I judged flash fiction before I tried writing it. I think most who aren’t acquainted with the form presume that flash fiction is easier due to its brevity. Personally, I felt that a proper adherence to the form’s mechanics was more difficult than the longer narrative; it demanded concise character development, and quicker theme and motif wrap-ups to name a few.

    Since I’ve started writing flash fiction, I’ve also started reading more flash fiction pieces online and in print. Although it’s not the only narrative form I’ll utilize, there’s something about an engaging, short piece with the power to move me into feeling. The pathos is more poignant because it’s so condensed, and it’s the closest a writer can come to capturing a specific moment in time.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 07/07/11 at 12:16 pm

    I’ve actually had a couple conversations with authors who’ve said they write flash because it’s “easier,” which always infuriates me. I don’t understand this mentality, like you said. I understand how people who don’t really practice the form might think it’s easier to crank out a 500 word story than a 5,000 word story, because looking solely at numbers, it seems like that should be the case, but that’s also why theirs so much bad flash out there. It’s quick to produce “easy” flash, and there are even places where it’s easy enough to get said easy flash published, which perpetuates the mentality really.

    Like you said though, to cram so much into so little is such a difficult task. To layer and layer and make each word work perfectly like you want it to, to ask yourself 10 different questions of each word and sentence. How is that easy? Even in a 500 word story, that’s answering 5,000 questions about a text. Of course, I try my best to ask myself those same questions of longer pieces I’m writing, but I tend to be much more lenient in my answers with longer work, which might be my own failing as a writer? I’m willing to admit that.

    Nathan Goldman said on 07/11/11 at 3:07 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with Lam that a great appeal of flash is its ability to “capture a specific moment in time.” I would say my current fascination with flash coincides with a more general fascination with moments and the notion that a life may be best understood as a collection of them.

  5. Jordan Blum said on 07/06/11 at 7:38 pm Reply

    I was introduced to Flash Fiction when I took Randall Brown’s FF course last semester. I usually dismiss extremely brief pieces as worthless, but the class introduced me to a whole new way to think about writing – compression. The idea of flash, as Randall describe it, is to focus on a single moment, emotion, action, etc, and discuss it. Flash isn’t supposed to have back-stories, character exploration, a lot of detail, etc. I mean it can as long as it’s under 1,000 words (most flash is under 500 from what I’ve seen). And, in case you’re wondering what made me change my mind about extremely short pieces being worthwhile, I read this (I think it’s attributed to Hemingway):

    “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.” That’s it, and it’s exactly what FF should do. No backstory. No character, really, and technically, it doesn’t imply anything…or does it? Did someone simply buy shoes without using them, or does this piece imply the most tragic event a parent can experience? All I know is that the way I read it, it affects me more than many other stories I’ve read. If a six-word story can do that, I welcome more.

    During the class, we wrote a lot, and I actually technically have a chapbook of FF entitled “Eccentricities” (it was our final project). Really, I think FF will be my main focus in the near future in terms of trying to get published. I wrote one called “Seesaw” that Randall really liked so let’s hope that can get a spot somewhere soon.

    At Matter Press’ Journal of CCC, we get a lot of FF, and most of it, in my opinion, misses the mark. At lot of it focuses on describing the character(s) history and reasoning. I mean, I’m totally for challenging conventions and writing how YOU want to, but really, you shouldn’t write about that stuff. With FF, you should put the character in a situation and let it unfold.

    Here’s my consensus on plot vs character. I think that pretty much gets my point across.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 07/07/11 at 9:43 am

    I would agree, and go far enough to say that flash should contain all the things you say it shouldn’t, but that to write truly great flash, you have to learn to make words multi-task. For example, simply referring to a character as “an ex-wife” both establishes backstory, relates character, and hints at conflict. Such brief word count puts a lot more pressure on the words, and they have to fit that much better, or the entire structure will crumble.

  6. Dawn. said on 07/06/11 at 9:43 pm Reply

    I love reading and writing short shorts. They’re in no way less difficult than writing longer stories, and in no way less valuable. I’m always up for a beautifully distilled collection of moments, or days, or years. The vast majority of the indie lit I read until late last year was actually short shorts (online and in collections). Now I’m reading a lot more longer stories and novels, but short shorts are still in the mix.

    I honestly don’t like the term flash fiction. The word flash just rubs me the wrong way. Not sure why. I don’t really like short shorts either, but it bothers me less, haha.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 07/07/11 at 9:38 am

    Calling them short shorts just makes me think of the clothing item, though, and subsequently, that damn song, “Who Wears Short Shorts?” Haha.

    But I get what you’re saying. “Flash fiction” is a strange term, but for lack of anything better, I go to it as default. Then of course, there’s “microfiction,” as a sub-genre of flash. I feel like a Venn diagram is needed.

    Dawn. said on 07/07/11 at 10:14 am

    LOL oh no now short shorts is ruined for me because of that song. I’ll have to go with flash fiction now.

    I also consider microfiction to be a sub-genre of flash. Some people seem to think the terms are interchangeable, but I always think of flash (in its most general terms) as 1500 words or less and microfiction as 500 words or less.

    Terms like these are definitely useful when distinguishing genres/forms. I really only use them for the sake of discussion; sort of like guideposts. Otherwise, a story is a story is a story to me.

    Tim Jones-Yelvington said on 07/07/11 at 12:48 pm

    I also have some mostly irrational dislike for the word “flash.” Also that word “bizarro,” I don’t like that word at all, but I really like some of the books I have seen described that way, ie Christian TeBordo’s excellent collection that Featherproof published.

  7. Chris Newgent said on 07/07/11 at 12:20 pm Reply

    Ha. Sorry to ruin it for you! I should’ve kept my lame thoughts to myself!

    That’s generally how I demarcate the forms in terms of word count, too, though sometimes I even consider microfiction as even smaller, 200’ish words or less. But my flash fiction definition hovers around 1500-2000.

    I like how you say these terms exist for you more as guideposts for discussion, rather than really letting them dictate to you how you read something. That’s perhaps the best way I can think to consider them.

    Reply

    Dawn. said on 07/07/11 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks, Chris. 🙂

  8. Tim Jones-Yelvington said on 07/07/11 at 12:42 pm Reply

    I guess I never feel like I have much of a horse in the race re: genre in general, let alone where flash fiction in particular is concerned. What I mean by that is I sometimes find debates and discussions abt genre stimulating and entertaining (this debate FRiGG published btwn Randall Brown & Joe Young abt defining microfiction is especially crackly), but rarely find myself strongly identifying with either the folks who see genre as aesthetic policing or the folks who make strong cases about the specificity and integrity of specific genres (although ultimately I think it’s a lot more complex than two sides, if I have to pick a “side,” I probably affiliate with the former group more frequently just cuz they are often the cooler kats. I am thinking, for instance, of Joyelle McSweeney’s recent series of awesome posts at Montevidayo questioning genre). I really really like what Chris is saying about categorical discomfort being kind of the point w/ very short work, maybe in part because it resonates with my own politics around embracing discomfort and the irresolvable re: queerness and sexual identity, in terms of embracing an identity category — queer — that problematizes categorization and the coherence of identity categories while simultaneously acknowledging the political utility of collective identities and the need for social movements to value the subjective experiences of oppressed folks and do so in a collective space. Not entirely sure how I transitioned from flash fiction into queer theory, except to say that for me aesthetics, politics and identity are always intertwined. In 2008, when I wrote a lot of the pieces that I included in my contribution to this volume, I was very involved with a group of folks through the zoetrope virtual studio who had an explicit commitment to flash fiction as a form, and was influenced by staunch flash fictionists like Randall Brown, Meg Pokrass, Kathy Fish, etc, and I have tremendous respect for what these folks do, even though I don’t think I strongly identify myself as a writer of flash fiction or feel particularly invested in defining and defending the form. I feel like my collection has an uneasy relationship, maybe, even with some of the existing definitions of flash fiction, in that I don’t think the “Evan” pieces I used to frame the collection are really self-contained enough to have been published individually as flash fictions.

    Reply

    Tim Jones-Yelvington said on 07/07/11 at 12:43 pm

    I forgot to paste the link to the randall brown-joe young debate I mentioned.

    Dawn. said on 07/07/11 at 3:49 pm

    Very interesting comments, Tim. I feel very similar to you, re: sides of the flash fiction debate, and I love how you tie it in with queer theory. I identify as queer too, so I’m right there with you re: embracing discomfort. I’m by no means well-versed in queer theory, but I feel very passionately about the label “queer” as a way of subverting sexual and gender norms, and widening our collective view of identity.

    Molly Gaudry said on 07/07/11 at 6:30 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad you mentioned Kathy Fish! She’s the one who made me fall in love with the short form, actually, in Rose Metal Press’s first book of collected chapbooks. Her contribution to A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness made my jaw drop. So many amazing stories. Such an amazing writer.

    Kathy Fish said on 07/07/11 at 7:13 pm

    Outside of word count, I like the definition of flash to be very loose and open. It’s why I love Sean Lovelace’s work as well as Mary Miller’s. Both flash, but vastly different approaches. I’m eager to read this most recent chapbook collective by Rose Metal Press.

    Thanks for the mention, Tim, and Molly, wow, thank you so much. The feeling is quite mutual!

    Joseph Young said on 07/11/11 at 12:31 pm

    we are all waiting waiting waiting for the k-fish book, YES?

    Kathy Fish said on 07/11/11 at 3:39 pm

    thank you Joe Young!

  9. Sean said on 07/07/11 at 2:31 pm Reply

    Fiction writers should read poetry for 10 years and write poetry for 5. It will be bad poetry, but that’s OK. We are not writing poetry. (Where did I lose that something? is a decent sort of prompt) A page is a small thing, but so are mercury thermometers or babies, until dropped and ruptured. Same with atoms and fathers being carried to various impoliteness. Weird how very old people once again prefer the fetal position. Was I at the symphony with a much older woman while on Lorcet or out squirrel hunting the day he died? I can’t remember. Or everything off the page! Roman candle or bedside-flickering-while-fucking candle, is that the question here? Cliff diving or a smoking pipe? Off-the-page! (The dashes make you read more slowly, for like, effect; feel free to steal. Also feel free to build a small wicker Death-Match cage and place inside the cage a fighting rat and a fighting clock.) Which is why the machine works in the first place, tick-tock, so much of it off the page, and the brain perfectly OK with the adding. Fade out, fade in, dissolve. Fill-n-the-blanks. (Or, against all advice yet in support of your own free will, go resume a paused regret.) Most of this we’re doing, this breathing, eating, working, fucking, drinking, sleeping thing is full of blank spaces. The word flung in Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen is a very important word, is what I’m saying. The man could write. Or say things, with very few words. You going to kill 9 million people in 4 years, shit. Well, fuck me and my theater of mayonnaise. (Well, I mean to say the greatest transgression in my society it to go and existentially erase, uh kill, someone, and you’re getting a monthly paycheck…oh, fuck it.) Another word and the whole damn thing explodes. Flung. Last night, while in fog and other disagreements too personal for this forum, I passed an accident in New York, Highway 81, and a semi was sideways atop a very flat car. I said, “This sucks.” And a young lady next to me, possibly misunderstanding my statement, said, “Well, at least we’re alive.” It was an eerie evening. Hundreds of flares (I had no idea cops still used flares—seemed sort of dramatic, but sort of kick-ass, too), the odor of sulfur, three cops waving us off the road, off an exit, and I saw: a streetlight slice of angry river, a kid walking down the street while carrying either a head or a head of lettuce, a woman at an ill-lit bus-stop, crying. (Another good prompt is to prove that birds are lovely, yet stupid.) All of the interstate cars were now on a little, frightened, local street and we all crammed/jammed there hard/moon-shiny like stomach cramps or pregnant beached marine animals, etc. My mind hummed along, filling in filling in. FOR THE-HELL, MAYBE SHOES, NEVER KISSED, never even kissed, like Susan Boyle, a woman who is much more enticing while not wearing makeup. If I say tiger coming at night, or, no, no, blue canoe, that you must visualize one right now, not one of you reading or writing the idea of blue canoe will form the same image in their brain (this is why PET scans prove exponential more electrical activity when reading about blue canoes, versus us sitting in a theater watching a blue canoe on a lake, etc.). Active, passive, or why didn’t Ms. Boyle ever get into an elevator and smooosh a young lad into the corner with her ample frame and kiss him! Real quick. Would blow his fucking mind most likely illegal but let’s pretend this is 1980 (when Atwood and Carver and Barthelme were cranking highly unknown flashes of…) and that the boy never tells…Does anyone ever do road-head anymore? Years ago, as an ER nurse we would bring in these young or old couples (men/men or men/women) and one of them would have these steering wheel contusions on the side of their head and we were like…oh, but I digress. Go mind, go! Sonnets are short, as are sky dives, by definition, yet they have never had to beat off Get-Off-my-Literary-Lawners with a plastic rose/flamingo. The flash, like the prose poem, is an outsider bastard, so embrace the bottom dog, dark horse, longshot, out-of-towner, and fling all the assholes to hell! Or at least to a coffee shop that only serves basketballs. Asshole versus douchebag—the semantics make for fascinating bar conversation, and bar conversation as ancient form of flash. We speak in bursts and narratives, too. We have always spoke in bursts and narratives, sometimes with rhymes and metaphors and other fancy things so WE COULD REMEMBER the damn thing. (This was before writing, before…) Why in the fuck did you paint the hunt where you killed the horse, Stanley or FM3 or Thagoo-Mah or whatever the fuck your name? Jump forward, the brain. The wonderful brain. World War 1 and finally, finally, we humans have the technology—gas, machine gun, flame thrower, planes–to kill millions of each other, wonderful brain, yippee! Hooray. We’d been waiting. A sword looks way cool but is dogshit for true slaughter. Thank God for Armistice Day though, bells ringing, the WAR IS OVER!! (War, why war? Well, look around…where should I pull my metaphors from, Libya?) We’re not all crazy as bristled, pink robots made of sponges! Are we? But, see a week, an exact week, to the day and hour The Armistice (Also called Remembrance day, remember?) was signed…here comes the dĂ©nouement, the end of story, orgasm, the arching shell, BOOM!! Then fade…fade to church bells, oh wonderful celebration…And someone walks up to Wilfred Owen’s mom and hands her a telegram—her poet, her soldier, her son, is dead. Flung away. Blank. White. Space.

    etc.

    Reply

  10. Elizabeth J. Colen said on 07/07/11 at 7:14 pm Reply

    I have several thoughts I’ll try briefly.

    (a) I like how you say we must “make words multi-task” – in anything short this is perhaps the truest way to divide what is not working, from what is working, from what is working in that big-time-punch-you-in-the-gut way (the way I think all solid work works).

    (b) I didn’t like the term “flash” for this until I learned what “flash bang” was. Now I’m wholly into it.

    (c) For my part in this volume, the pieces were gleaned from a (possibly overlarge) fragmented novel I’ve been working for years. Most of the sections / scenes of that book are short-ish, 2-6 pages, so they naturally fell at least close to the flash bang range. What worked for me in saying oh-em-gee Ilovethispressandeverythingitdoesandwanttosobadlybepartofit was to take a closer look at the sections / scenes that were working well, and further hone them and hone them, and for some of them staring at word count while adjusting and rewriting sentences like I was trying to make a big sandwich fit into a small sandwich bag without losing any meat or any bread. And as artificial and forced as it may sound to cut a piece to genre or wordcount, in each case it made the work dramatically and radically stronger. It was what was needed. And actually broke my eye open to the bigger work so that I’m doing the same to the rest of it. Exhausting, but nourishing sandwich-baggery.

    (d) I really think the prose poetry / flash fiction divide is wholly unimportant, but as a writer who, if she is known, is known for both “genres” I would say that if you are faced with a piece and you are flummoxed and must call it something and it hasn’t been labeled for you: read it again and determine for yourself whether the sound or the story is more important to the work. That to me is the line. Sometimes the line is fine; sometimes it isn’t. And I may define it differently than you. And I think that is not only okay, but is fantastic. Really I think reading is just reading though. And writing is just writing. (See (a), etc.)

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  11. Rosalie Morales Kearns said on 07/08/11 at 11:46 am Reply

    From my very casual, random sampling, I’ve had the impression that flash fiction is relentlessly realist. It’s good to know of the “singsong surrealist” work out there.

    This reminds me of how delighted I was to read the famous “microcuento” “El dinosaurio” by Augusto Monterroso. It consisted of one sentence: “When [s]he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.” Talk about carrying a lot of weight!

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  12. DK said on 07/08/11 at 12:15 pm Reply

    I like the more poetic, surreal flash fiction, but I prefer to both write and read longer stuff. Writing flash makes me feel too much like a short-order cook, and reading it is frustrating because the best of it, in my opinion, needs be expanded into something longer and more satisfying.

    I did read one flash piece that I thought was just perfect: a woman goes to a diner for breakfast and ends up running it when the owner gets hauled out by INS. But for the most part, it’s unsatisfying to me and seems more like a shortcut to getting published than anything else.

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    Nathan Goldman said on 07/11/11 at 3:18 pm

    Though I understand you’re framing this as your experience with the genre as a whole, it seems to me that any piece of flash that causes you to think, upon reading, “This would have been more satisfying if it were longer,” failed as a piece of flash.

    It is certainly true that pieces like this exist, and some writers may see it as a “shortcut to getting published.” But I hope the genre as a whole does not earn this reputation.

  13. Jeannine Hall Gailey said on 07/08/11 at 9:47 pm Reply

    I just discussed this on my blog (myblog.webbish6.com) after being fascinated by three new books that lived in the half-world between flash fiction and novel (Monster Party, BoysGirls, And Yet They Were Happy.) Then I interviewed Helen Phillips about her process; as a poet I found her work beautiful and fascinating! I’ve always loved linked short-story collections; these books feel like they are taking it one step further, a little more fragmented.

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    Nathan Goldman said on 07/11/11 at 3:20 pm

    Linked short story collections definitely have a specific magic to them. (I just read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, which I would call that, though some call it a novel.)

    Though i’ve never read a collection of linked flash pieces, I’d be really interested in that.

  14. Joseph Young said on 07/11/11 at 12:05 pm Reply

    nice piece, chris. i like what you say about the discomfort for what it is sitting at the heart of the debate surrounding ff, and i’m never sure either how people can be comfortable dispensing w/ a whole category of writing w/o acknowledging the possibility of good and bad. but, human nature i suppose. who hasn’t said ‘i don’t like rap/country/indie/singer songwriter music’? anyway, that that debate w/ randall comes up once in a while always surprises me–i don’t think i thought that any more than a couple people would ever pay any attention and that allowed me to head into hyperbole a lot more unfetteredly that i might have. seems like a million years ago, but i guess it was 2?? i still think that some of the problem w the mediocrity of some ff has to do with trying to make it into shorter short stories and not letting the form take you, or force you into, new places, but i wouldn’t want ff limited to any particular camp. it’s a matter of being suprised by someone’s particular talent anyway, it seems, however it’s expressed. in any case i feel pretty out of touch w/ what’s happening in ff but glad that it’s happening. have a good one, cn!

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    Joseph Young said on 07/11/11 at 12:09 pm

    for what it’s worth, your comment form seem to have trouble with URLs, not letting me use my blogger address in that field. thanks.

    jy

  15. brian warfield said on 07/19/11 at 6:13 pm Reply

    i tried reading Easter Rabbit. i didn’t get it.
    i’ve discussed flash with some of my writer friends and it seems like something i would be totally down with because i tend towards the terser prose myself. however, i just don’t seem to resonate with flash i’ve see published. i don’t get the sense that flash writers can say more in 25 words than novelists can with 50,000. i don’t get the sense that these stories matter. they just don’t feel enough. and i feel that way about my own writing sometimes. i write extremely short poems and sometimes i look at them and think “this could be just a few lines of a larger poem.” which maybe is indicative of a flaw with my writing abilities.
    i like the idea of flash but i’m not sure if i’ve ever actually had a “yes!” moment while reading any.

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