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