Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Meghan Phillips

Steven John, Senior Fiction & Features Editor, interviews Meghan Phillips about her two Flash Fictions in Best Microfiction 2019, edited by Meg Pokrass and Gary Fincke. Final selections by Dan Chaon. Published by Pelekinesis

SJ: Both of your stories selected by Best Microfiction 2019 ‘Abstinence Only’ and ‘Final Girl Slumber Party’ have tension between the sexes as a background theme. This is a rich seam of course for many writers. What other themes are your personal favourites, and do you believe in the old adage that we should ‘write about what we know?’

MP: Kelly Link has this writing exercise that I love: quickly quickly write a list of things you like in other works of fiction, specific or general. I’ve done this exercise a few times over the last five years, on my own and with writing classes. It’s neat to see how the specific things change—the last time I did this there was a lot about outer space, charlatans, and games—and the bigger ideas stay the same. I am always interested in the experience of being a woman in the world, and the way bodies change over time. I also feel like I’m drawn to the in-between spaces, the process of metamorphosis, which is probably why I’m constantly writing about puberty and ghosts.

I studied acting in college, and was trained in the Stanislavski method of acting. This method is all about empathizing with the character that you’re playing, essentially training yourself to feel what the character feels, often by accessing parallel experiences and emotions from your own life. When I think about writing what I know, I think about it in this Stanislavskian way. I may not know what it’s like to be a teenage boy or the survivor of a masked murder’s attack, but I do know what it’s like to desire someone. To be frustrated. To be afraid.

SJ: You go without any spoken dialogue in either piece, preferring the more difficult second person narrator. How do we as writers make these point of view decisions?

MP: I can tell you that the no dialogue choice is because I am not great at writing dialogue. I think writers often develop their own rhythms and quirks by leaning in to what they feel confident doing and avoiding what they struggle with. Or maybe that’s just me.

For myself, at least, the choice of POV is one of the keys that unlocks an idea for me. With both “Final Girl” and “Abstinence Only,” it didn’t feel like a conscious choice to write both stories in first person plural so much as that’s how the story I wanted to tell worked the best. Point of view is how writers adjust the focus of a story. How close do we need to be to the narrator? How much distance do we need from this tough scene, this strange detail?

SJ: In ‘Abstinence Only’ you paint the main characters i.e. the boys and the girls, in a few delicious sentences. Boys – “Old onions and sprouted garlic”. Girls – “All sweet mint gum and cherry blossom hand lotion.” How important are descriptive passages in the short form?

MP: Thank you. They are so important! Descriptions and details, especially those anchored in the senses, do a lot of heavy lifting in flash and micro fiction. Kathy Fish is really exceptional at using sensory details in her fiction and also at teaching her students to use them in theirs. I worry that I am an over describer. Writing description might be the most fun I have while drafting a story, and I sometimes go overboard. I worried sending out “Abstinence Only” that it wasn’t really a story so much as a paragraph long description of what these boys were hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting.

SJ: In ‘Final Girl Slumber Party’ you ratchet up the sexual tension with lines like “Pretty sure fucking’s just another kind of stabbing”. How do we weave the frisson of opposing forces into our writing?

MP: Neil Gaiman has this great essay called “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” in which he tries to answer the titular question for his seven-year-old daughter’s class. One of his answers for where ideas come from is putting two things together that haven’t been together before. I think about that a lot when writing, the tension created when two unlike things are brought together. The strange thing about doing this, though, is finding that there are points of overlap or connection between those seemingly unlike things. And then working through that, those unexpected connection, can add a whole other layer of tension. I feel like the root of so many of my ideas is misunderstanding, which is in itself a kind of tension, and does, in a way, force you to reconcile two different things: what you think you know and the Truth.

SJ: You are Editor in Chief at Third Point Press. What current trends are you seeing in flash fiction, good and bad?

MP: I really love the trend of riffing on fairy tales or mythology. Amber Sparks has a story called “In Which Athena Designs a Video Games with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father” in wigleaf that is like my platonic ideal of this kind of story. Another stunner that riffs on mythology is Gwen Kirby’s “Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because at that Point Fuck Them Anyway” from SmokeLong Quarterly (where I’m also an editor!). Kirby’s story is also an example of one of my other favorite things that flash writers are doing, which is just tearing up traditional story structure. Lists, linked micros, hermit crabs forms… I love it. I’m not a fan of flash that has a punchline ending, a story that ends with the narrator waking up to find everything was just a dream, for example. For the most part, though, I am just really excited about the curiosity and creativity of the flash fiction writers working today.

SJ: What’s the best advice you could give to any writer submitting their work to a print or online magazine?

MP: Put in the work of finding places where you want your work to be published. Places where you like the stuff that they’re putting out. You like their aesthetic, how their site or issues look. You like how they promote their writers or how they interact on Twitter. Remember that you decide where you send your work.

Also, please ask for help if you need it. And please please please, be kind to yourself.

SJ: What are the most common mistakes writers make when submitting?

MP: I feel a little strange answering this question because what I might think is a mistake another writer or editor might not care about at all. I mean, there’s a lot of general submitting etiquette, like making sure a publication is open to submissions, looking at guidelines, etc. that’s important to remember. Those small things can add up. I think maybe the biggest mistakes are mistakes of kindness. Pushing yourself to publish anything anywhere. Forgetting that everyone involved in this process is a person with their own creative work and insecurities.

SJ: Which book(s) have you got on your night-stand right now?

MP: Oh no, there’s a lot. I have my to-be-reread-at-some-point stack of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, which also helps raise my lamp a few inches. I have Mallory O’Meara’s biography of Milicent Patrick, The Lady from the Black Lagoon and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey.I have two issues of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Paper Darts, vol. 8 stacked under the little tray I put my hair ties and stuff from my pockets in. There’s Chloe Clark’s chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects and Claire Wahmanholm’s Night Vision that I pick up and read poems from when the urge strikes. There’s my Kindle. And last but not least, my current before bed read, Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman.

SJ: If you could choose one book that was handed down to you, what would it be, and which different book would you like to hand on to your loved ones.

MP: It’s hard to choose only one! I was lucky to grow up in a house with a lot of books. Both my parents are readers. They read to my sister and I, but I think maybe more importantly there were just books around. I encountered a lot of books this way. The one that probably had the most lasting impact on me is Jack Finney’s Time and Again, an illustrated novel about a secret government time travel experiment. A book that I’m constantly recommending and giving as a gift, and that I hope my son will read when he’s old enough is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It somehow examines both the best and worst parts of humanity while also being a just a straight-up great read.

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Meghan Phillips is the author of the chapbook, Abstinence Only (forthcoming Barrelhouse). She is the editor in chief of Third Point Press and an associate editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. Her stories and poems have appeared in WigleafBarrelhouse, and Strange Horizons, among others, and have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, Best Microfiction and The Pushcart Prize. You can find more of her writing at meghan-phillips.com and her tweets @mcarphil. She lives in Lancaster, PA with her husband and son.

Interview with Melissa Goode

Steven John, Senior Fiction & Features Editor, interviews Melissa Goode about her Flash Fictions in Best Microfiction 2019, edited by Meg Pokrass and Gary Fincke. Final selections by Dan Chaon. Published by Pelekinesis

SJ: Can you please tell us a little bit about when and how you started writing.

MG: I started writing as a teenager, secretly. I don’t know why I kept it so secret. It was sporadic and intense, of course. When I started working as a lawyer, my dear friend encouraged me to join her writing group and I loved it so much. It was vastly different to writing for work. That was about 17 years ago and I worked at fiction writing for years at night and weekends, without publishing, just writing, practising and learning. I think there is so much to be said for writing word by word, line by line, for years, without expectation. I started writing flash a few years ago and I adore it.

SJ: What is it about writing short fiction that most appeals to you?

MG: I love the demands of short fiction. The need for compression, no fat. Every single word has a purpose and must resonate. The whole piece has to punch hard. I get impatient with longer stories or novels that waffle or tell me things I already know. I need the impact of tight writing.

SJ: In all of your three pieces in Best Microfiction 2019 ‘Empire of Light’, ‘I Wanna be Adored’ and ‘Tonight, We are Awake’ you use the notoriously tricky second person, present tense. What does writing from this point of view bring to a story?

MG: I think that flash lets me use second person, present tense. I would not use these devices in a novel, because I think in the longer form they can become exhausting. I like second person because often my writing is addressed to a person, it is a love letter. It says to him, remember when we did this, when we were like this, when this was our life? Second person lets me write to him. For the reader, they are him, or the narrator, or they can watch and be pulled in. I like present tense for its immediacy. We are in the room together and there is no getting away. It is happening.

SJ: In ‘Empire of Light’ the plot is simply a walk and then a run through a neighbourhood. There’s no premise or storyline and yet at the end we feel as though we know so much about the couple. How do we take these ‘moments’ in life and turn them into a piece of flash fiction?

MG: Life is made of moments, isn’t it? It is a change of chord in a song, the sky in that instant, the light, your favourite voice, the best laugh, the single saddest second of your life. And it is, as in “Empire of Light”, the conversation that doesn’t need many words, holding hands, the temperature changing from one minute to the next. The way I remember my life is partly those tiny moments when I took a mind picture, when I told myself—it feels like this, remember this. There are also those moments I don’t want to remember but that my brain has treasured for me. The moments are not simply pictures, or isolated details, but feelings and those feelings need to make it into my writing. I think it is those feelings, the predominant emotions, that unite the moments, the elements, and make the work whole.

SJ: In the extremely moving ‘I Wanna be Adored’ the narrator can’t see his or her lover so expresses their deep longing through the other senses; the ‘clean heat of your cologne’, ‘your breath is warm’, ‘I sing my favourite song’, ‘I can taste it – hospital’. Why should we think about the senses in the short form?

MG: I am so pleased you thought it moving. I think the senses are everything in short form fiction. Kathy Fish, a master of flash fiction, talks about this in her course—the senses are paramount. I have to feel what I am writing and that means every one of the senses is working. For the reader, I want them to feel it too, so I try to engage all of their senses. The senses let me reach out to a reader and say, come here, come closer, be here too. This is where the impact comes, because now they are in the room too and we are here together.

SJ: In ‘Tonight, we are Awake’ the plot is seemingly about a residential building on fire, and yet soon after the start of the story the couple vacate and we learn about everything but the fire; someone’s asthma, late night snacks, hot dogs and then finally the couple back in bed listening to the dawn. Please tell us something about how you make this work so skilfully.

MG: Thank you. I think of writing flash like writing a short film. I can see the story like a movie as I am writing. The characters are the most important. It has to be about relationships for me, so whilst there is all of this stuff going on with the evacuation, the spectacle of it, it comes back to the couple, the couple who were booted out of their bed and then return to it and they are changed. I don’t think about these things consciously when writing—I write down the movie as I see it or dream it. I think if there is emotion and yearning in the writing, these form the heart that make the work whole.

SW: Like all writers you must have been in the situation where a great idea pops into your head. You get halfway through writing it, then run out of steam. Where does the inspiration come from to make it to the finishing line?

MG: I think if am halfway through writing something and run out of steam, then I won’t persist. I will usually leave it in its half-baked state and I might pull something from it later to go into another piece. If I am losing the love when writing it, then it doesn’t get finished. How can I ask someone to read it when I don’t even feel like writing it? Usually it means that it has run its course or that it needs to sit and rest.

Having said that, often a piece will evolve, so I will write up to a point and then later come back to it, add more and make it closer to what I wanted it to be. I think to return to a piece, to make it better, the inspiration for that is already what is on the page combined with thoughts and connections that ping into my brain when I am switched onto automatic, in the shower, or driving or running. If my brain is plodding or is too frayed with thoughts, poetry always helps. Poetry triggers my brain from the everyday mundane into more of a dream state. If it is a piece that has a lot of place in it, or history, or art, then reading more about that place or an element of history or an artist’s work, can set the brain running. I adore those moments when the new thoughts and connections come and the whole piece begins to knit itself together.

SJ: You’re going on a two week vacation with any writer, past or present. Who’s your travelling companion and where is that plane going to land?

MG: I don’t know that any writer, past or present, could stand to have a two-week vacation with me. I am not interesting enough, although I could listen to them and maybe that would be sufficient. Putting that aside, my favourite writer is Marilynne Robinson, and the destination would have to be her fictional town, Gilead, somewhere in the middle of the US. What a thing that would be, to walk through that town with her, talk with her, and meet those characters she created who are fallible, real and unforgettable.

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Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in The Penn Review, CutBank, Best Small Fictions, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, Wigleaf, and Monkeybicycle, among others. Three of her stories were chosen by Dan Chaon for Best Microfictions 2019, including her story “I Wanna Be Adored” (CHEAP POP) which was also chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2019. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter

Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Interview with Beth Gilstrap-Barnes


Steven John, Fiction & Features Editor, interviews Beth Gilstrap-Barnes about her two Flash Fictions in Best Microfiction 2019, edited by Meg Pokrass and Gary Fincke. Final selections by Dan Chaon. Published by Pelekinesis

SJ: ‘Becky’ is such a beautifully written flash memoir piece, starting right out with the first sentence ‘It’s hard to think about the whitest of white girl names.’ You have the readers full attention after just eleven words. What can the short form bring to written memoir which perhaps longer forms would lose?

BGB:  For me, I’m most comfortable in fiction so flash memoir is an entry point for me into nonfiction. I’m not sure I could sustain a long piece about certain difficult parts of my life. This brief piece nearly brought me to my knees.  I’ve only read it in public once and I had a hard time holding myself together. So, I suppose, it opens the genre up to folks who might not attempt a whole book. Yet.

SJ: ‘Bone Words’ leaves so much unsaid, so much for the reader to surmise. You’re telling this story of betrayal partly through the insect life ‘praying for rain, praying for horns, praying for horns of my own’. Tell us a bit about your editing process. How do you decide what to leave in a story of less than 400 words?

BGB: A large part of my editing process is reading the piece aloud until it matches the rhythm I’ve got in my head. I play with pacing even in short pieces. A piece like this one I read a bit breathless in parts and then slow it way down at key moments. So whatever words or lines don’t work aloud, goes. It’s all about compression.

 SJ:  In both ‘Becky and ‘Bone Words’ there are startling descriptive sentences. ‘I’d never be the delicate lace of your hem’ (Becky) or ‘The sleeping boy is too sweet for fighting. He writes songs about my hair’ (Bone Words). You sum up two characters in very few words. How important are these quick, sharp descriptions in micro-fiction

BGB: Two former teachers, Sherrie Flick and Lori Jakiela, taught me to look for “luminous” details rather than every detail. These details can and should include aspects of character, setting, atmosphere, etc. and a great way to do that (and Kathy Fish teaches this as well) is to use an important object (or in this case, an insect) as an entry point for all these things. And I’ve learned to trust my instincts with language over the years. The phrasing that is unique to your voice is important, too.

SJ: You’ve written two collections of short stories ‘I am Barbarella’ (2015) and ‘No Man’s Wild Laura’ (2016). Do you have any favourite themes in your writing – where does your inspiration come from?

BGB: Most of my inspiration comes from my dysfunctional southern (USA) upbringing, including the dogma of the Bible Belt which I have since rejected, the phenomenal storytelling traditions of my region, particularly in terms of the southern gothic. I am always drawn to and inspired by the natural world. If I feel stuck, I go work in my garden or take a walk. It knocks something loose in my brain every time. I also find inspiration from my love for other art forms: music, visual & performing arts, etc.

SJ: You are currently Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at Queens University, Charlotte, North Carolina. What are the most important craft skills new writers should work on? What craft skills are most difficult to teach?

BGB: I taught in the First Year Writing Program at Queens this past spring, but was not part of the creative writing faculty. I love teaching First Year Writing because I get to see students who most often fear and loathe writing develop more confidence and work through the challenges that every writer faces with every writing situation. Learning to read like a writer, to pay attention to language, nuance, and analyse what each writer is doing with each piece I teach, is most important from my point of view. Learning it’s not about some magical skill you’re born with—that it takes a lot of work to seem effortless and beautiful—and that anyone can improve, is what I work toward. I always tell them that you wouldn’t expect to know how to play a violin the first day you held one.

SJ:  In your busy writing life you are also Managing Editor at Little Fiction – Big Truths http://www.littlefiction.com/beta/BigTruths.html  What are you looking for in your submissions ‘in box’ and what are the current trends?

BGB: One thing I love about Little Fiction is that we’re quite open to many styles. We’ve recently accepted two mermaid stories. We publish slow burn literary fiction. We publish rural gothic. We publish space stories. We published a story about Jazzercise. If we feel the story in our gut, we publish it. Full stop. I think we’re a bit unusual at Little Fiction | Big Truths because other than our annual flash issues, we mostly publish traditional length (2,000-4,000ish) word stories.

SJ: Do you have anyone else to read your work before submitting?

BGB: Usually. I have two poet friends whom I trust with my life and my words.

SJ: When we receive a rejection to a piece (often with no editorial feedback) what are the most important questions we should ask ourselves?

BGB:  I think the most important thing is to keep submitting it for a bit. I tend to submit a piece a certain number of times and if they all come back as rejections, I consider that evidence that something isn’t working in the piece. Usually, I rushed the submission before it was fully ready. The language wasn’t quite there or the characterization, but the biggest thing I’ve noticed in six years of working for journals is that most pieces don’t have enough tension to sustain the story and simply aren’t compelling. Something has to happen to your characters. I’m guilty of this as well. When I was writing my first collection, my husband kept asking me if the characters got off the porch yet to which I’d roll my eyes and say, “No. Leave me alone.”

SJ: The best chefs continually search for new ingredients and innovative ways to cook them. How will the written word and we way we consume them change for the next generation of writers and readers?

BGB: I imagine since they are so well versed in visual storytelling, it will lean that way—more cinematic, perhaps. I have no idea what they’ll do but I sure as hell can’t wait to find out. My young students last semester showed so much openness to stories & voices outside the traditional canon and less scepticism toward the world than my generation so I find that comforting.

SJ:  What writing projects are you working on now?           

BGB: I recently finished a second full-length story collection and have started a new long project in the past two months. I don’t want to call it a novel, but it might be eventually.

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Beth Gilstrap-Barnes is the author of “I Am Barbarella: Stories” (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and “No Man’s Wild Laura” (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Menacing Hedge, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Wigleaf, among others.

Features & Fiction Editor – Steven John

Interview with Fiona J. Mackintosh

Steven John, Fiction & Features Editor, interviews Fiona J. Mackintosh about her two Flash Fictions in Best Microfiction 2019, edited by Meg Pokrass and Gary Fincke. Final selections by Dan Chaon. Published by Pelekinesis

SJ:        Please tell us about your writing method for short fiction. Can you splurge out the first draft out in a matter of minutes or are you a word by careful word writer?

FJM:     Oh, there’s definitely no splurging – I wish! Often a good phrase will come to me out of the blue when I’m busy with something else, and I’ll scribble it down or tap it into my phone, and then a story will slowly begin to coalesce around it. Other than that, writing flash tends to be a pretty slow process for me, though word limits and deadlines help to focus my mind. I was a journalist a very long time ago, and I think the last-minute instinct was instilled in me then – or maybe I’ve always been that way. So yes, word by careful word, then putting it aside and coming back fresh to kill some darlings.

SJ:        Your story ‘Siren’ in Best Microfiction has an historical backdrop with resonant regional dialect such as ‘slap of the haar’, ‘muckled arms ’ and ‘lads home from the draves’. Can you tell us anything about the history of the piece, the geography, and what research you did before writing?

FJM:     The setting for Siren is Anstruther, the town where I grew up on the east coast of Scotland. Fishing was its main industry for centuries and was still going strong when I lived there in the 1970s. Now the town’s become a tourist area with the opening of the Fife Coastal Path and is looking great, but I still can’t get used to seeing pleasure craft in the harbour instead of trawlers. It’s a place steeped in tradition and myth, very tethered to the moods of the sea. So I didn’t need to do any research for the story, though it would have been no hardship because I absolutely adore research, especially the historical kind. The story sprang from a line that popped into my head “the juice of silver fishes runs through her veins” that it immediately made me think of the herring girls who were the backbone of the onshore part of the fishing industry, working in all weathers with their fingers wrapped in rags against the salt and brine. The Fife dialect can be very poetic, but I didn’t want to overdo the vernacular so I tried to use only words that could be understood by the context.   

SJ         In contrast your other story in the anthology ‘The Chemistry of Living Things’ is very much set in the present with the main character’s reliance on pills to get her through the night. Where do your ideas for flash fiction come from?

FJM:     Actually, I intended Chemistry to be set in the 1950s – “the men with bristled hair, the women …with cat’s-eye glasses.” Mother’s little helper and all that. But you’re right that the same situation could still happen today. As with Siren, the first line came to me out of nowhere, “the blue ones make me dream of thistles, make me loop-de-loopy…” and then I started to piece together the woman behind that voice, her alienation. So random phrases often come first. I’m also a big fan of ekphrasis – being inspired by visual works of art. I came 2nd in Retreat West’s annual flash contest in February of this year with a piece based on what I reckoned was going on in Velasquez’s painting Old Woman Cooking Eggs, which is in the National Gallery of Scotland. And several years ago, I also had an Ad Hoc winner based on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

SJ:        There’s poetic rhythm and language in ‘The Chemistry of Living Things’. ‘loop-de-loopy’, ‘they fizz and dazzle, splintering into gaudy reds and greens’, ‘You and you and you’. Do you work on this ‘music’ in your prose writing?

FJM:     Thank you. Yes, I do work on it, though more for flash than for short stories or my novel. Having said that, I’m also a big advocate for the simple declarative sentence. Not only is there poetry in simplicity, but sometimes the reader just needs to know what’s what with no obfuscation. The writers I admire most can change it up, knowing when to dial the “music” back and when to let it rip. I’m still working on that myself. 

SJ:        Are you ever lacking inspiration? Have you got any tips for us on how to get the creative juices flowing?

FJM:     I hate to admit it, but I rarely lack inspiration these days. In fact, I have the opposite problem – too many ideas and not enough time. Finding the right words is another matter. I hate it when the only words you can dredge up are clichés, but all you can do is power on through and not be afraid to keeping writing derivative dross until the good stuff slowly starts to emerge. That’s my tip, I guess. And silence that inner critic. And whenever possible, take classes with inspiring teachers like Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass and the Smoke Long crew.

SJ:        Rejection emails are part of the writing life. What’s the best way we can turn a negative into a positive?

FJM:     By not taking it personally. Easier said than done of course, but here’s the thing. I’ve had flashes rejected that went on to do well in competitions without a single syllable being changed so I’m very clear that there a ton of subjectivity in the mix. And that’s completely fine. Because of the subjectivity, it’s really important to read a lot of what each outlet publishes to make sure your piece is a good fit. I bang on about this a lot.  It’s not enough just to look for markets that take pieces of the right word length, for example. Doing the legwork increases the chances of the story finding an appreciative home.

Having said that, sometimes after several rejections, I have to acknowledge that a piece just isn’t good enough yet. It might need more room to breathe, say 500 instead of 300 words, or maybe it’ll work better as a short story. There have been times when rejections have done me a big favour because the piece turned out to be much better in its new form.

Psychologically, I always try to trick myself into win-win situations. Years ago, when I put in an offer on a flat in London that I really wanted, I told myself if I didn’t get it, I’d just carry on renting and buy myself a convertible instead. I got the flat and have never yet owned a convertible! The submission equivalent might be, “Well, if magazine A says no to my piece, that means it’ll be available to send to magazine B.” I try to stay one step ahead of rejection by having a plan for what’s next.  

SJ:        Do you listen to music whilst you write or is silence required? What music brings out the best in you?

FJM:     I do listen to music, but when the writing’s going well, I don’t even hear it – it just fills up that distractible bit at the back of my mind. In fact, I often choose music that will soothe but won’t intrude. Other times I use music very deliberately to set the mood – Vaughan Williams for my novel, jazzy blues for my silent film era flashes, and Joni Mitchell for my American stories.

SJ:        You can invite any one writer to dinner (from the past or present). Who’s it going to be and what’s in the oven?

FJM:     Virginia Woolf. I’d be terrified of what she’d make of me – she was notoriously judgmental and inclined to make up alternative pasts for people when she thought their real ones were too boring. But her diaries sustained me throughout my youth – her courage in the face of her mental illness, her absolute commitment to her craft and her vision, and her passion for gossip of all kinds! And of course her novels were and are revolutionary. 

Whatever’s for dinner, someone else will have to cook it. From a very young age, I rejected the domestic arts as a sexist imposition and vowed never to waste my time on them. I was a very precocious feminist and was having none of it. To this day, though I adore good food, I don’t cook anything much beyond an omelette or a bit of pasta, though I do make lots of salads. The downside of this early rebellion against traditional female roles is that I refused point blank to take typing classes at my secondary school, but ironically these days most men touch type impeccably while I’m still stabbing away with just two fingers.

Back to writers, if Virginia wasn’t available, I’d invite Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Katherine Mansfield, or Laurence Durrell. And I’d spring for a caterer!   

SJ:        Finally, what’s in the pipeline from the Fiona J. Mackintosh writing den?

FJM:     Oh lord, it’s such a long and crowded pipeline. I’m working piecemeal on a flash fiction sequence set during Hollywood’s silent era tentatively titled We Moderns as well as a collection of US-based short stories called Niagara’s Island. But what’s taking priority right now is the rewrite of my novel, The Virgins of Salem, the first in what I hope will be a five-novel sequence called Albion’s Millennium. Yeah, five of them – I must be nuts. It’s taken me literally years to get this first book into anything close to a shape and style that I’m happy with, but I now have a bushel of characters whose arcs I have planned out from 1911 to the millennium. It’s a novel about a century of political and social change in Britain seen through the lens of shame – shame about the body and about who to love and who and what to believe in. 

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Fiona J. Mackintosh is a Scottish-American writer living near Washington D.C. In 2018, she won the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and the Reflex Fiction Prize. Two of her pieces were selected for Best Microfiction 2019 and one for Best Small Fictions 2019. Her short stories have been listed for the Bristol, Galley Beggar, and Exeter Short Story Prizes, and she is writing a five-novel series about 20th century Britain entitled Albion’s Millennium

Features & Fiction Editor – Steven john

Interview with Meg Pokrass, Founding Co-Editor of the Best Microfiction Anthology Series

 

Steven John interviews Meg Pokrass, Founding Co-Editor (with Gary Fincke) of the Best Microfiction series about the anthology

SJ:       Congratulations to you and your co-editor Gary Fincke on bringing out this wonderful collection of Micro Fictions with Pelekinesis Press. There are of course a number of annual short form anthologies out there already, e.g. The Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, Best British Short Stories. What makes Best Microfiction different and how was the journey from conception to publication?

MP: Thank you Steve! I’ve been writing microfiction since 2009. When I found the form in online lit magazines, it was just beginning to emerge. There were only a few magazines who would even consider stories of that length. Since then, we’ve seen an exciting emergence of the form.

After my work was selected and published in a recent Norton Anthology Reader, “New Micro –Exceptionally Short Fiction” (W. W. Norton & Co, 2018), I thought about editing a yearly “best of” to keep the focus going strong.

When Pelekinesis Press agreed to be our pubisher, and Gary Fincke, who very recently ran the Creative Writing Department at Susquehanna University agreed to share such an ambitious anthology project with me, it was an instant go. And then, when Author Dan Chaon agreed to be our first Guest Editor/judge, Gary and I were ecstatic.

What makes our Best Microfiction series different from the other anthologies you’ve mentioned is simply the focus on such tiny stories. We’re so proud of our first anthology. Having a pocket-sized book that can travel lightly, can slip into a pocket, we feel this fits the form itself. Our publisher, Pelekinesis, did a beautiful job with the book design. We just found out that Dennis Cooper listed Best Microfiction 2019 as one of his favourite books of 2019 so far!

SJ:       Tell us how you found the stories from around the world.

MP: With the help of smart readers, dedicated scouts, and magazine editors. We asked our scouts to hunt for the best work they could find in international flash fiction magazines. The only criteria was that the stories had to appear in English, in magazines. We hunted for stories from diverse voices, from around the world. This made (and continues to make) what we do even more fulfilling.

SJ:       As a well-established micro fiction writer yourself, what did you learn from reading/choosing many of the stories for this anthology?

MP: What I intuitively knew as a writer of this unique and challenging form was reinforced by reading hundreds and hundreds of micros.

Voice: it’s ultimately about voice, not about “plot”. Exciting plots may be present, but they’re not the reason a story is successful.

Omission: To me, the art of purposeful omission is one of the most fascinating traits in short-form story telling. Ernest Hemingway said: “If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”

Language: The writer’s use of fresh, original language and their gift with compression is what makes a story come alive.

Inventiveness: Reinventing the form. Finding a completely new and original way to tell a story truthfully.

SJ:       What are the magic ingredients for Micro Fiction, or to use the modern idiom ‘where’s the God particle?’ 

MP: Honesty, pain, humour, empathy, originality. These are traits great micros seem to share. But there are no rules; there is no one right way.

SJ:       How has the world of Micro Fiction changed, for better or worse,  since you first started your writing career. 

MP: News from the front lines: Weird is good. Surrealism is “in”. It’s what the most beloved flash magazines seem to be publishing, seem to be interested in. I’m not saying this is “good” or “bad” and I’m not telling anyone to write that way. It’s an observation after reading so many stories in so many literary journals. In the old days, editors would reject a piece and say “It’s not clear enough”. Now they say “It’s not weird enough”.

SJ:       Finally, what’s new for Best Microfiction for 2020? MP: Our Guest Editor/Judge for Best Microfiction 2020 is the amazing Michael Martone, a writer I’ve been fascinated with for years. He’s one of the most original, experimental, quirky writers around. He reinvents the form. Martone is a beloved educator, an author of many collections including a book of 25-word stories and a fictional autobiography, “Michael Martone by Michael Martone”. He’s a superstar and we couldn’t be more excited.

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Meg Pokrass is the author of six flash fiction collections. Her work has been anthologized in two Norton anthologiesincluding New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018), Best Small Fictions, 2018 and 2019, the Wigleaf Top 50 (numerous time), and has appeared in 350 literary magazines both online and in print, including Electric Literature, Tin House, Wigleaf and Smokelong Quarterly. She currently serves as Flash Challenge Editor at Mslexia Magazine, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K. (Bristol) Co-Editor of Best Microfiction 2020, and Founding/Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction Review. Her latest collection of flash fiction, “The Dog Seated Next to Me”, and a novella-in-flash, “The Smell of Luck”, are forthcoming soon. Her website is megpokrass.com/