“It’s hot work, being beautiful, but they are willing to make the concessions, to pay cash so their wives cannot track their other lives.”—excerpt from “Hot Work” by Tiff Holland, appearing in NEW MICRO (W.W. Norton & Co, 2018)
MP: Tiff, I’ve admired your brilliant micro, “Hot Work” for years. I first read it as part of your Rose Metal Press Novella-in-flash, “Betty Superman”. Can you tell us a bit about how this story came about?
TH: “Hot Work” started as a poem using five prompt words. The words were perfect for the piece. “Scarf” is not an uncommon word—but it is for me. As soon as I saw that word, I thought of the transvestites that came through Mom’s shop.
MP: It’s wonderful how you’ve show us the way the child identifies with colorful customers in her mother’s salon. I also see it as a time-piece, very much a story from the 1970s, How do memories and images from childhood inform our voices as adult writers? Please describe how you draw on memories from childhood in fiction?
TH: From a very young age, I did not feel like a girl. This seemed obvious to me. It wasn’t until I started writing pieces like “Hot Work” that I connected that my mother had not noticed what I had in common with the transvestites she seemed to understand so easily. I think what I was trying to learn from the transvestites was how to get her to understand me the way she understood them.
Memories and images from childhood have so much to do with the building blocks of our later selves. They seem to exist like ultra-vivid dreams, with an intensity that brings both poetry and fiction to life.
MP: How do you begin? Do you set out to write a story with a strong feeling about it, or is it something that finds itself while writing?
TH: Sometimes I begin writing with a strong feeling about something, but I stumble upon most of my writing, whatever its form. A topic, image, or line usually finds me while I’m doing something else. I wait until I cannot stand to NOT write something before I write it. That gives the piece urgency and authenticity. I don’t want to write because I can. I want to write because I can’t NOT.
MP: Is there freedom in writing pieces of this length?
TH: I love this length, although a lot of my flashes do turn into longer pieces. Flash fiction and micros give me time and space to turn an idea, a single nugget of one, around and really examine it, give it its do. I’m not in a rush to concoct something more intricate, exciting, or plot-worthy. There’s room left for the imagination in the shorter forms. I really like that idea.
MP: The world seems to be falling in love with the short form these days, though it’s been around for a long while. Why do readers love flash fiction and microfiction? What are their uniquely addictive qualities (aside from being very short)?
TH: I think the love of flash and micro comes from readers who, like me, want to have room for imagination. Also, there’s the idea of just enough of a good thing. I love chocolate covered cherries, but I wouldn’t want one the size of a dinner plate.
MP: When writing microfiction, do you begin the way you would when writing a longer short story, or a poem, or a novel? What is different?
TH: I have no idea what genre I’m writing in until I start writing. It all comes down to when and why I stop.
MP: What is it important that a writer NOT say, in microfiction? What should we always say?
TH: In microfiction it’s important not to state the obvious. That’s part of the beauty of microfiction, you don’t get all bogged down in extraneous details. You’re giving your readers credit. That makes it more interesting and addicting.
MP: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
TH: I have a poetry collection in its final stages. I’m also working on a collection of flash fiction.
Tiff Holland’s work has appeared in dozens of journals and received five Pushcart Nominations. Her chapbook “Betty Superman” won the fifth annual Rose Metal Press award for short-short fiction.