Tommy Dean asks author Robert Scotellaro, co-editor (along with James Thomas) of NEW MICRO – EXCEPTIONALLY SHORT FICTION, to talk about the creation of NEW MICRO and to discuss what qualities successful microfiction pieces share.
(This interview is part of New Flash Fiction Review’s ongoing New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018) interview series, created by New Flash Fiction Review’s Founding Editor, Meg Pokrass.)
TD: As a well-established micro writer yourself, what did you learn from reading/choosing many of the stories for this anthology?
RS: It was somewhat of a revelation to discover how many fine writers have turned their talents to the micro story form. I read thousands of stories, 300 words or less, and was amazed at the variety of approaches and strategies employed in creating them. Each story in the anthology is rife with impact and ingenuity,and fresh, often poetic, language.
TD: Can you define what is so satisfying about reading a story in such a short amount of words? Do you think there’s a limit, an amount of words that a story has to have? Is there a difference between story and vignette? If so, how might a reader identify them?
RS: I’ve often thought of a micro as having flexible borders. And
Our shortest micro is an award winning 53-word story. Blink Ink publishes excellent 50-word stories. I wouldn’t want to go much below that in my own writing. Though I’ve read some fine six-word stories. In the end it has more to do with the quality of the piece than a numerical set point.
Far as story vs. vignette, for me, a vignette is like looking through a microscope. It has that level of focus and limited field. With a micro story, generally speaking, I think it is more like looking through a peep hole to a broader, more expansive and nuanced world.
TD: Is there a set audience for these types of fictions? Do they trend toward the more literary? Are they a bridge for the reader of poetry to experience more narrative?
RS: I think micros do lend themselves to a more literary readership. And I feel there is a lot of genre blending between prose poetry and fiction, often annealing both. With microfiction the form can have the immediacy, and sometimes the metaphorical language, of poetry combined with the narrative storytelling element
TD: While choosing stories, were there any stories that you wanted to include, but they were left out? Any stories here that you especially fought to include?
RS: God, yes! Many I/we wanted to include. The pool of brilliant micros is vast. But there are obvious book size restrictions, and if we were to be able to have our way we’d be in the 500-plus page range, which was never an option.
There was a good deal of horse-trading between James and myself. (Euphemism alert: more like hand-to-hand combat.) There is always individual taste involved. I wish the excellent work of somany more writers who pen micros could have been included.
TD: Were these micros easy to find? Are there places that the reader could go to easily find more?
RS: I’d been writing very short stories for decades. Was completely taken with the form, and had collected every book I could find devoted to the genre. I have an extensive library of flash and micro, so it was the original source from which the lion’s share of stories in New Micro were drawn.
Yes, there is a plethora of superb collections one can find with even a cursory google search. And journals abound online and in print. Some authors sprinkle micros in with longer flash stories in their collections. And there are books devoted entirely to the form. The wonderful thing is that microfiction has caught on internationally as well.
There’s a great bibliography compiled by the directors of the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA) at the University of Chester, England. The University’s Seaborne Library contains the world’s largest archive of flash and micro and the website lists an incredible amount of books devoted to the very short story form: http://www.chester.ac.
TD: What gives micros their power? Language? Silence? Structure?
RS: All three are essential. And, often, an allusion to something “bigger” expanding between the lines, disjunction (at times), telling details, the absence of sidebars and exposition, succinctdefining dialog, and of course, that short meaningful journey straight to what is vital, at stake in a piece…
TD: What’s more important: the opening or the ending of a story?
RS: Though very different, they are equally important. A good opener invites the reader in. Says, “Hey, something different and wonderful is about to happen here, and you won’t want to miss it.” A good ending will resonate, in many cases, may feel like a door is being opened rather than closed. A good story must have both aptly crafted to be successful. That “Come on in, you’ll be happy you did.” And that “Oh, wow!”
TD: What topic or idea haven’t you written about yet? Is it because you have no interest in it or are you afraid to write about it now?
RS: War. I was a combat medic in Vietnam and have written very little about that time. It is a rich resource, and a subject I’ve barely tapped into. Not a comfortable place to revisit, but it is a topic I want to explore. I was just a kid when I put on that helmet, and seeing it through the lens of these old eyes will be a challenge, and I feel in many ways, an asset. I think with time and distance can come nuance and clarity.
TD: What are you working on now?
RS: I am currently putting together a new collection of flash stories with a sprinkling of micros. All that is left to do is arrange them before shopping it. The working title is, What Are the Chances. It is an exciting time for very short fiction, and I couldn’t be more delighted about that.
Robert Scotellaro has published widely in journals and anthologies, including W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, NANO Fiction, Gargoyle, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts,and many others. Two of his stories were Best Small Fictions winners (2016 and 2017). He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and three full-length flash and micro story collections: Measuring the Distance, What We Know So Far (winner of The Blue Light Book Award), and Bad Motel. He has, along with James Thomas, edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W.W. Norton & Company (August, 2018). Visit him at rsflashfiction.com.