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.
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/