FLASH MOB 2013

The International Flash Fiction Day Competition


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Let the mob begin!

Flash Mob CloudFLASH MOB 2013 showcases more than 100 stories from more than 100 participating writers from all over the globe. CLICK ON THE PHOTOS below to find out more about the flash enthusiasts who wrote from or about those places. To read their stories CLICK ON THEIR PHOTOS. 

And see the WINNERS page plus the Top 25 page for the winning stories of the FLASH MOB 2013 Flash Fiction Day Competition. 

ASIA:  Nicolette Wong, Village House on Water

ASIA: Nicolette Wong, Village House on Water

AFRICA:  Shannon Marsh, Addis Ababa, Outside St George's Church

AFRICA: Shannon Marsh, Addis Ababa, Outside St George’s Church

 

Europe: Cecelia Wyatt, Outing in Bergen

Europe: Cecelia Wyatt, Outing in Bergen

The Americas: Robin Grotke, Okracoke Morning

The Americas: Robin Grotke, Ocracoke Morning

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Oceania: Jana Heise, Fiji Sky

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Antarctica: web image


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You don’t have to go far to find fine flash

Flashers!

chroniclebutton2FLASH MOB will happen in a week, so to get you in the mood, here is a fabulous list of short stories compiled by the editors of FLASH FICTION CHRONICLES every year in May, in honor of Short Story Month.

This year’s list includes 161 stories, suggested by fellow writers. If you’re looking for inspiration and for examples of fine short story writing, check out this list. It includes the beautiful and the absurd, the satirical and the lyrical, the ordinary and extraordinary, the funny and the tragic. And much, much more.

It’s a huge task to compile this list every year. It’s a huge gift to those of us who love short stories.

And in this list you’ll find some 2013 mobsters, including:

FLASH MOB judges Marcus Speh at Fatboy Review and Robert Vaughan at Metazen

plus FLASH MOB organisers Christopher Allen at Smokelong Quarterly and Linda Simoni-Wastila at Blue Five Notebook.

Enjoy! And see you in the MOB in a week!

-Michelle Elvy


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All about flash…

So you want to join the mob…

If you are new to flash fiction, these links will help. If you’re experienced at flash fiction, these links will inspire you further…

FLASH MOB 2013 welcomes all writers — new to flash and old hands.

So here we bring you writers from all over the globe talking about flash fiction in fun and creative ways.

6361655First, check out Awkword Paper Cut, where Flash Mob organiser Michelle Elvy talks with a handful of experienced flash writers about what’s important in flash. Clever and inspiring, these writers find new ways of expressing why they write flash, and why they read it, too.  Check it out here

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cropped-groups-of-three-plus-oneAnd if you want more, see National Flash Fiction Day New Zealand, where you can see another group of internationally recognised writers of short short prose talk about flash. Examples include Susan Tepper:

“Flash fiction is a tray of frosted petite-fours, so tiny and delectably edible, far less caloric than its bigger siblings: the cake slice, the tarte, the piece of pie. So you can take a flash fiction delicately between your fingers and slip it inside you, and savour its sugary warmth, or its sticky jelly center, or its biting lemon curd, and you will hardly put on a pound.  Flash fiction is approved by Weight Watchers International.”

More great insights into flash at NZ’s NFFD page here

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NFFDlogo13And then there’s National Flash Fiction Day in Britain, where organiser Calum Kerr (who also can be seen at New Zealand’s site) and team have put together probably the biggest national flash celebration happening this year — including workshops, competitions, anthologies and other challenges. Go here for more inspiration.

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And, finally, for those of you still figuring out what’s so flash about flash, check out these fine flash journals, associated loosely or directly with organisers, judges and participants of FLASH MOB 2013. In the pages below, you’ll find plenty to inspire.

Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction

Metazen

JMWW

Smokelong Quarterly

Blue Five Notebook

Open Road Review


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Meet the Judges — Leah McMenamin

photoLeah McMenamin is a writer of poetry and prose from New Zealand by way of Australia, Southeast Asia and, most recently, Ethiopia. She is the poetry editor at The Open Road Review. A 2012 Pushcart nominee, her poems and short stories have been published in Takahē Magazine, Poetry NZ, The Avalon Review, The Typewriter, and numerous other locations. As winter draws near in her hemisphere, she can generally be found with an overly large cup of coffee and a book trying to find the warmest spot in her Wellington house.

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ME: Thank you so much for agreeing to be one of the judges for FLASH MOB 2013, Leah McMenamin. We’re pleased to see you on this panel, and we look forward to hearing a little more about you. Let’s start with something you said a while back…

You’ve mentioned before that you like ‘bare-bones’ writing. Tell us what that means, in terms of the kind of reader and writer you are.

LM: Thanks for inviting me to take part in this experience! I’m really excited about the judges I get to work with, and getting to jump into all the submissions coming through.

When I say “bare-bones”, I think of writing that invites the reader to draw their own conclusions, writing that doesn’t rely on wordy sentences but on the pace of its narrative and the complexity of its characters. I like simple, pared-back writing because I feel the author has acknowledged my intelligence and my ability to follow the storyline without having to add too many descriptive or overbearing elements.

ME: Oh, I know what you mean. I’ve come across some great examples of this in recent years – James Claffey and Susan Tepper come to mind, for example. Can you name some current writers who do this, in NZ or internationally?

LM: I guess this really reminds me of Janet Frame’s writing (you can visit her Literary Trust website here) and Elizabeth Welsh, who I have got to know through the Tuesday Poem collective. Elizabeth won the Auckland University Press Emerging Poet Award in 2012, and her poems have inspired me greatly. You can visit her website here.

I try to remember, when I write, that most people out there are creative, intelligent, and curious, and I would want my writing to encourage those characteristics further in readers.

ME: I like the way you think about your readers. Tell us about one of your own stories that you feel works in this way – honouring and encouraging your readers.

LM: I hope that I continue to improve in doing this as my journey in writing continues. My most recent publication, ‘Jack, Now Gone’, explores a mother’s relationship with a child who is now absent. I try to keep the writing stark and invite the readers to draw their own conclusions throughout it. Something that has worked very well for me in practicing this, and which I would encourage other writers to do, is to engage with the ‘Modern Lettuce’ website, which is an extension of the Victoria University School of Modern Letters, and has so many useful activities to help extend you as a writer, and as a reader, too.

ME: Who are your writing heroes, and why? And have those heroes changed as you have evolved as a writer yourself? Do some of your childhood writing heroes still capture your imagination as they once did?

LM: When I read a short story by Alice Munro, I still get a surge of creativity that is very close to an electric shock. She makes me want to be a better writer, and a more voracious reader, every time I read something by her. I also adore Margaret Atwood, Witi Ihimaera, Zadie Smith and E. Annie Proulx – an eclectic mix, admittedly!

ME: Electric shock – I like that! I feel the same way about Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy. I find an honesty in the starkness of both of these writers – in the form and characters.  And, as an aside, they both read aloud very well, too.

LM: As a child, I found books a source of sustenance for me, both creatively and intellectually, and I have very strong memories of reading two books over and over again – ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘The Secret Garden’. They have both continued to grip my imagination, and the other writers I loved as a child – Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Brian Jacques – still offer the same security and inspiration they did to me as a child.

ME: Classics – agreed! The Butter Battle Book remains a favourite in my family…

LM: Wonderful! Doesn’t it just make you feel all warm inside? I love the cartoons they’ve turned it into – you can still watch them on YouTube.

ME: You work as Poetry Editor at Open Road Review. Tell us about that, and what about reading and reviewing poetry that thrills you.

LM: The Open Road Review (ORR) is an amazing publication that is still relatively new. The editor, Kulpreet Yadav, is a growing force in the Indian literary scene and his work has really brought the ORR to greater attention. The ORR was established by Kulpreet as a journal that would strive to give a voice to new, talented writers (it publishes both poems and short stories, which are edited by Shanti Perez) as well as honoring the diverse backgrounds and traditions our writers come from.

Reading and reviewing poetry gives me a sense of connectedness – it helps me to remember there are great forces of creativity out there from many, many different backgrounds. I love the thought that a poem published in the ORR might spur the author onto greater writing heights, or that it might inspire a reader to have a go at writing themselves, or might speak to someone in a way they never thought possible.

ME: That sounds really interesting. Can you point us to some current Indian writers you admire? We are an international Flash Mob, after all!

LM: An outstanding young Indian poet I really admire is Sudeep Sen. His work is really challenging the landscape of Indian literature, in my opinion, the same way that Arundhati Roy really experimented with her work ‘The God of Small Things’. Sudeep’s writing was featured in Volume 5 of the Open Road Review.

Kulpreet Yadav, the founder of the Open Road Review, is also a source of great admiration to me. You can catch him at his main website here, or read some of his posts on the Open Road Review blog.

ME: Some say there’s a real connection between flash and poetry. Care to discuss that, too?

LM: I think there is a real interconnectedness between flash and poetry. Both require a precise handling of words in a (generally) limited space. Both require the communication of an idea in a swiftly changing format. So in that sense I see a connection between the two.

ME: Yes I agree. I sometimes think some poetry reads like story-telling (like these three poems by Sam Rasnake, especially ‘Lines Torn from a July Morning’ and ‘Little by Little, the Beautiful World’, and ‘8am’ by JP Reese), and some flash reads like poetry (like Bill Lantry’s ‘Somnambulist’ or Nicolette Wong’s ‘Pastoral Hide and Seek’). I really like how the short form allows for such genre-bending.

And now back to you…

What was the first piece you ever published? And what was the most recent piece you’ve had published?

LM: The first piece I ever had published was a poem in Poetry NZ called ‘I Will Know’. I look back at it now and just think about how much I’ve learned over the past couple of years, and I feel so grateful.

Most recently I’ve had a couple of short stories published by Takahe, the most recent of those being ‘Jack, Now Gone’.

ME: Yes, I recall reading this in Takahe 77 earlier this year (my copy’s sitting on my shelf beside me). I especially like the opening of this story, the way you create a salty dark mood:

He left the day the tide receded, three years ago today. Kate remembered it well, the way the seaweed was left on the bare shores, writhing strands of green mermaid heir shed across the rocks. It had begun to rot in the sun, releasing  stench that permeated every area of the house.

I also like the other vivid descriptions in this piece, like this:

Kate could see the toetoe nodding their fair heads in the breeze, and a tui was calling. She sat on the front porch steps and watched as the early sun stained the clouds all shades of apricot and violet and curdled milk.

There’s something very New Zealand about this setting. Is specific geography often important in your work?

LM: Absolutely. I think the idea of ‘bare bones’ writing, if you like, naturally lends itself to specific descriptions, and I try to be careful with the way I describe settings.

ME: And speaking of geography, you live in the windy city of Wellington. Tell us a little about how your environment impacts your approach to writing.

LM: To me, Wellington is the ultimate city for creativity – and I know that’s a big call to make. It sits by the sea, and it might be the open salty air, or the constant wind to wake you up (though all the coffee served in the city will do that too), but I feel my most alive when I’m writing in Wellington.

The environment is physically stunning – lots of beautiful rolling hills, very accessible art work, and a thriving artistic community. I feel like the city and its inhabitants prompt me to be more creative and more productive.

ME: What are you most looking forward to with FLASH MOB 2013?

LM: Hopefully getting to read some experimental flash fiction that broadens my horizons, and working with all those wonderful flash authors out there!

ME: We love experimentation, too. Tell us something you’ve read recently that inspires you for its experimental nature.

LM: I follow The Altered Scale religiously. It is associated with the Altered Scale Press which is dedicated to experimental writing. I particularly loved the poem ‘Death’ by Dan Ryan which featured in May on the website. I love the structure of the poem, the way you seem to physically follow the words like a trail of ants, the humor and creeping sadness all swelling into one fantastic poem.

ME: Fascinating! Thanks for all you’ve shared with us today, Leah. We appreciate the time you’ve given for this interview and for judging the 2013 FLASH MOB competition.

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JOIN THE MOB — Submissions deadline: June 10!


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Meet the Judges — Robert Vaughan

n1188721262_310786_9161Robert Vaughan leads writing roundtables at Redbird- Redoak Writing. His writing has appeared in over 400 print and online journals. His short prose, “10,000 Dollar Pyramid” was a finalist in the Micro-Fiction Awards 2012. Also, “Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu” was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award 2013. He is senior flash fiction editor at JMWW, and Lost in Thought magazines. His book, Flash Fiction Fridays, is at Amazon. His poetry chapbook, Microtones, is from Cervena Barva Press. He has a chapbook forthcoming from Deadly Chaps this summer, and his first full length collection, Addicts and Basements from Civil Coping Mechanisms in February, 2014.

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Simoni-Wastila: You have written many flash stories and quite a few poems. What is it that draws you to these concise forms of writing?

Vaughan: The consistent thing that keeps me molding and sculpting shorter pieces would be the difficulty it presents. One tends to read a short piece and often marvels at how easy, on the surface, it appears: the brevity, the complexities, vocabulary, syntax, form. And yet, I find the exact opposite to be true. All of these factors are much more heightened when there is a word limit, or shorter content. Also, I hit a groove a few years ago with this pattern, and my writing has really charted its own course. I try not to let “what genre” comes out of my pen be the determined pre-set. In re-writes or editing, I might let that play into the mix a little more. Often my work is a combination of prose and poetry; prose poetry, or flash fiction. Better yet, it might be indefinable, in a similar context toward Lydia Davis, Tomas Transtromer, James Tate, or Anais Nin. I like playing on the edges of genre definitions, and bending the gray area. I feel as if my writing is becoming more experimental, more surreal, and dare I say, playful as a result.

Simoni-Wastila: I agree that writing short is more difficult than a reader might appreciate. In writing, every word should count, even in longer forms, but this is especially important in short fictions. How much do you struggle with finding the ‘right’ word?

Vaughan: I struggle on certain days more than others. My technique: get the first draft out, with the least amount of censoring possible. Next, I read it aloud. Then if possible, read it to others. Then I look for certain words I know are MINE (over-used!!! We all have them!). Then I usually wait a few days, or week(s), to let the story germinate (this is the most important step). Give yourself some distance from your work before you return to CHOP IT UP! When you are ready, you can apply those ‘final’ touches – the master strokes: what is essential to the story? What words are superfluous? What word(s) did you read recently that you thought you might want to sneak into a piece? Avoid all clichés. Surprise us with the audacity of your language.

Simoni-Wastila: You write provocative stuff, stories which often take a bit of chutzpah or even courage to address. What inspires the content of your stories? And what is your secret to evoking such grace to dark situations?

Vaughan: Thanks for this interpretation of my writing! I like to take on some of the heaviness or darkness of the human condition: our frailties, prejudices, burdens, weaknesses, or avoidances. Ironic that my first full- length book is titled Addicts and Basements, an obvious play on words (I also love this feature of language, the dualities of words and rich, diversified meanings). But also, the obvious assumptions a reader might make from the word “addicts,” and then the implications of the word “basements.”

I’m unsure if I have any secrets to reveal about the attempt to strike some balance between darkness and achieving grace. I think some of it might be the use of “white space,” and really trusting the reader to interpret the material, especially what is left unsaid. The gaps, the holes, the shadows. Sometimes it can be way more powerful to imply, or to suggest. Often, lately, I find much writing to be too heavy- handed. Predictable. I like surprises (infinitely more in writing than in life!)

Also, I am the kind of writer who benefits from, and has come to rely on, feedback and writing groups, and trusting whole-heartedly the editing process. I’m a member of more than one writing group, and this constant exposure, assessing others’ work, and having the scrutiny applied to my own is essential. I also feel like a piece is never truly “finished.” Put to bed? Sure.

Simoni-Wastila: You are an editor as well. When you read another writer’s story, one you might be considering for publication, what makes you go ‘ah-ha’? This one I must publish?

Vaughan: I like a writer who uses a unique style (voice?), and enjoys exploring topics that rarely get focus. Writing allows us to explore themes that most people might never discuss in “real life,” so immediately I am turned off by first boyfriend heartbreaks, mothers’ dying (we can blame Disney films!), make-outs in cars at sunset. I’m being trite, but clearly risk is inherent. Imaginative, bold, unusual writing grabs me. A writer must be willing to “fail” on the page. Of course, this is so highly subjective.

Simoni-Wastila: Your greatest writing weakness?

Vaughan: I am over-scrupulous, and at times can be too critical of my own writing.

Simoni-Wastila: What do you consider your greatest writing strength?

Vaughan: I feel as if I will never stop learning something new about the craft, about the art form of writing. I will always be searching for what it is, experimenting with new forms, words, structures, mentors. In addition, I really love when other artists are successful. Your success=my success.

Simoni-Wastila: You have a book of prose on the bookshelves, and soon a book of poetry. Tells us a little about how these volumes came into being.

Microtones157Vaughan: Let me start by offering that it’s possible you’ll never know where offers for books might come from! My first book, Microtones, originated from a reading I did in Boston in April 2012. Timothy Gager runs a monthly reading series called Dire Literary Series. We’d been trying to make it happen and had to cancel for various reasons a couple of times. When I went, another online writer friend, Gloria Mindock, planned to attend, and read in the open mic section of Timothy’s event. She was nervous, adorably so, because she’s a poet, and planned to read her first flash fiction piece (She was amazing, and the piece was eventually published at Thrice Fiction). Timothy, Gloria, and I went for a bite after the reading. We got to chatting about writing, process, and submitting. I’d just started shopping around a manuscript and had a couple of rejections. Gloria, in her sweet and quiet manner, leaned over and said, “I would publish you, Robert!” I was stunned, to the point where I thought I’d misheard her. But no, Gloria is the publisher at Cervena Barva Press, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My next book is forthcoming from Deadly Chaps, publisher Joseph A.W. Quintela. When I first started submitting to online and print magazines, Joseph was an early champion of my work. He loves experimental pieces (as do I), and one aspect of my work in which he’s always encouraged me is form. How can it appear in an unusual, more unique way? This has also helped me to blur the lines between fiction and poetry, which my work reaches toward. So, Diptychs, Triptychs, Lipsticks & Dipshits will be out this summer, 2013. It’s about 30 pieces, many are previously published.

Simoni-Wastila: What’s up next on your writing horizon?

Vaughan: Recently I was solicited with a new offer: my first full-length poetry book- Addicts and Basements is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms, in February 2014. I am completely blown away by this, and so am working at these pieces, generating them as they come. Most of the basement portion is constructed, and now the addict pieces are forming. I also have a chapbook length project, working title is “Female Icons.” This was really fun! Joseph Quintela created a project called “Working Definitions” in which a group of writers re-defined words. Assigned them any poetic re-definition. Then, I selected a lyric from some songstress, say Aretha Franklin’s ‘for five long years I thought you were the man.’ I’d post the lyrics into “The Poeticizer” and it would pop out the new poem:

so supportive that even your underwear shrinks in comparison

five

of billowing tongue

years

the edge of what you call home

thought

as a room filled with screens

to have walked trembling with desire

a drawbridge, span down

not-havingness

In addition, I have a first/second draft of a novel, Goodwives River, and it begs to be dusted off and brought back out.

Simoni-Wastila: Robert, thank you for a fascinating chat and a peek into your writing life. And thank you for serving as the North American judge for FLASHMOB 2013. Best of luck with your endeavors! Peace, Linda

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JOIN THE MOB — The International Flash Fiction Day Blog Carnival and Competition

Submissions Deadline: June 10!


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Meet the Judges — Nuala Ní Chonchúir

20120201nichonchuirNuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1970; she lives in East Galway. Her fourth short story collection Mother America was published by New Island in 2012; The Irish Times said of it: ‘Ní Chonchúir’s precisely made but deliciously sensual stories mark her as a carrier of Edna O’Brien’s flame.’ Her début novel You (New Island, 2010) was called ‘a gem’ by The Irish Examiner and ‘a heart-warmer’ by The Irish Times. Her third full poetry collection The Juno Charm was published by Salmon Poetry in 2011. Nuala’s second novel will be published in 2014.

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This interview is in two parts. We begin with an informal chat and end with a more in-depth look at the author’s craft.

Allen: Nuala, thank you again for judging Flash Mob 2013, and thank you for taking the time to talk to me. You’ve been publishing short fiction–and longer fiction as well–for more than a decade. I remember reading in an interview once that you started writing short stories when the novel you’d been working on wasn’t coming together. How do you know when an idea is better suited for the short form?

Ní Chonchúir: I get asked this question a lot – it is hard to pin down why one thing becomes a story another a poem or novel. It has to do with thinking in shapes, I think. I see/feel the spark of the thing as a long or short shape; it’s a gut thing, hard to put in words. But the story is deep and sharp and it requires a small space and the material (spark/idea/inspiration) dictates that.

Allen: This description–which I love–reminds me of my own musical training. Is this merely my interpretation here, or do you feel prose musically?

Ní Chonchúir: Very much so. I love musicality in prose and I read everything aloud for sound as I write. If it doesn’t sound right, it gets changed. I like to sing, maybe it comes from that?

Allen: Ah! That makes me feel confirmed (read not crazy). Do you by chance write while listening to music?

Ní Chonchúir: No. I used to study and listen to galloping Irish music at the same time, but I find the older I get, the more quiet I need for working.

Allen: I can’t write to music with someone singing lyrics. Eventually I start writing the lyrics into the story, which almost never turns out well. I have experimented with classical music and instrumental stuff. What is your opinion about experimentation in writing?

Ní Chonchúir: It’s good to experiment, it keeps you fresh. It is fun to play with form and language and try for something new. Who wants to write the same story, in the same way, over and over?

Allen: Agreed. Since we are ankle-deep in a flash fiction blog carnival-slash-competition, what is the briefest story you’ve ever published? And would you consider it flash fiction?

Ní Chonchúir: Oooh, I’d have to think. 100 words or so. Prose poems are so close to flash as to be indistinguishable, and I have published them and shorts of all lengths. Poets will call these short prose pieces prose poems, fiction writers call them flash or short-shorts. I’m not a huge fan of the word ‘flash’ anyway. I prefer ‘short-short story’.The lines get blurrier for me as time goes on. I think we should call our pieces whatever we are comfortable with. Neither the great Lydia Davis nor Pulitzer prize winner Robert Olen Butler likes themother-america-original-cover term ‘flash’ either and, ostensibly, they both write it.

Allen: A lot of writers are moving away from the term “flash”, and I understand this. With so little page space, flash fiction–or sudden fiction, micro fiction, quick fiction or however else one chooses to classify it–often runs the risk of being taken less than seriously. Which writers of the short form do you take seriously, and what are they doing right in your eyes?

Ní Chonchúir: I think ‘flash’ is gaining a reputation. There will always be those who wrongly equate short with ‘unfinished’ or ‘less than’.

Of the well-known people writing short, I love Tania Hershman and Robert Olen-Butler. Lately I read a story in Camera Obscura about a deer and motherhood and anorexia that blew me away.

What these writers have in common is a joy in language mixed with an excitement about what it is possible to write about. They are original thinkers who like to deliver thoughtful prose in exuberant language. I love that.

Allen: I just had to run and get the issue of Camera Obscura I got at AWP to see if the story was in it. I don’t think so. Do you remember the name of the story?

Ní Chonchúir: Apologies, I have been searching in my brain for the author’s name all day. Her name is Thisbe Nissen and the story is called ‘Deer at Rest’. Phew – so glad I remembered that. It’s online.

Allen: Excellent. I’ll get my hands on that story. Let’s talk about your work now. What are you working on right now, and what excites you these days in terms of your characters and themes?

Ní Chonchúir: I am working on a novel set in the 19th century in America and that’s all I’m saying about that. Otherwise, because the novel takes up so much headspace and time (research & writing), I am writing the odd short-short. Recent themes include bullying, egg folklore and magpies.

Allen: Egg folklore? Tell us more!

Ní Chonchúir: The egglore was a result of novel research (there is a lot of cooking in the novel) and I just loved all the extra, weird stuff I found out about eggs e.g that witches make boats from eggshells and sail out to sea in them and brew up storms. Anyway, I wrote a short-short using egglore I had unearthed. It’s called ‘Treedaughter’ and will be in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology in the UK.

Allen: When does that come out?

Ní Chonchúir: As far as I am aware in June (before NFFD which is, of course, the 22nd June).

Allen: It has been such a pleasure chatting to you, Nuala. Thank you again for taking the time.

Ní Chonchúir: Thank you, Christopher, I hope we meet in the real world anon :)

Allen: Same here, Nuala!

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We turn now to a more detailed look at Ní Chonchúir’s craft. In this interview with Flash Mob Organizer Michelle Elvy, Ní Chonchúir and Elvy discuss particular stories in-depth at Flash Frontier, a flash fiction journal out of New Zealand.

On language and form

FF: You were first published as a poet but you’ve diversified into short story and novel writing, and in all these forms, your writing stands out for its intensity, strength and passion which is handled with a delicate appreciation of language. Do you think this balance comes from being a poet first? Does poetry influence the way you go about writing short stories or even novels?

NNC: Certainly as someone who writes poetry I value concision in language and beauty. I was also brought up bilingual – English at home, Irish (Gaelic) at school – so I have always been steeped in language and asking questions of it. Language is hugely important to me as a writer and as a reader – I love those who take risks with language, I love stylists like John Banville and Annie Proulx. Kevin Barry is doing great things with Hiberno-English.

For my own writing, I like to use interesting language because, I feel, it adds richness. Having said that, plain language – like Hemingway’s – can be equally rich. I guess I value writers who take great care with words.

READ MORE


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Meet the Judges — Marcus Speh

Marcus_speh_pic_zweiMarcus Speh is a German writer. He began to write prose in English seriously in 2008. Since 2009, his work has been published widely both online and in print. He’s been nominated for various prizes, shortlisted and longlisted for others, including The Paris Literary Prize. His debut collection of short fiction, Thank You for Your Sperm, has been published by MadHat Press. A mosaic novel is forthcoming from Folded Word Press in 2014.

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Allen: Marcus, first of all, thank you for being a judge for Flash Mob 2013. Over the last three years you’ve written hundreds of shorts, many of which are in your collection–which has just been published– Thank You for Your Sperm (MadHat Press). What drew you to the short form?

Speh: Thank you for having me—I’m looking forward to it: if only to get a creative break from the ego trip of bringing out my first book! When I look at my collection, I’m reminded of my original reasons for writing flash: it’s fast, fiercely flexible and a wonderful medium for eccentric experimentation with style, with characters, with genre. As an art form, it promises a paradox: it’s both hard to do anything wrong with it — who cannot string a few hundred words together? — and at the same time it’s difficult to really get right — how can you put an entire world on such a small canvas?

Allen: Does a story come to mind off the top of your head by someone who gets it right in your opinion?

Speh: Many of the pieces in Charles Simic’s 1989 Pulitzer-prize winning collection The World Doesn’t End strike me so. Here’s one of my favorites from that book: «The hundred-year-old china doll’s head the sea washes up on its green beach. One would like to know the story. One would like to make it up, make up many stories. It’s been so long in the sea, the eyes and nose have been erased, its faint smile is even fainter. With the night coming, one would like to see oneself walking the empty beach and bending down to it.» — One might call this a prose poem rather than flash fiction. In their brevity and condensed beauty, Simic’s pieces resemble tiny, untitled abstract paintings.

Allen: I’m glad you said that. I wanted to ask if this incredibly compact form requires the writer to think more like a poet or a painter. I think I’ve made similar comments about your work, but I think it was a comment that related your prose to sculpture.

Speh: I’ve got an inferiority complex (or perhaps it’s just a mental limp) when it comes to poetry. You must ask a poet! I think you’re absolutely right though — and it’s one of my few remaining discomforts with flash. I feel that getting it right takes a higher toll when writing micro than when writing longer pieces. The lyrical “flash mode” as it were can be hard to stay with for many pages. I experience that with more lyrical writers (Faulkner comes to mind). I didn’t say this very well. I told you I get paralysed around poetry.

Allen: I understand perfectly what you mean about Faulkner. . So intense. What is your opinion about experimentation in prose? In a recent blog post at marcusspeh.com, you said you write to surprise yourself. I like that, and I hope I’m getting that close to what you wrote.

Speh: Regretfully, I continually surprise myself by disagreeing with my own views…regarding prose, I’m hugely fond of experimenting with meaning and with pushing the boundaries of what can be said while maintaining a rather conservative grip on form. I don’t think certain values of writing ought to be sacrificed, such as clarity of expression, narrative arc, and humanity of meaning. Within that, very much is possible, take such different authors as Lydia Davis, Charles Baudelaire or Robert Walser as examples (to name but three of my flash fiction heroes).

tyfys2flat copyAllen: Could you tell us a bit more about what you mean by ‘humanity of meaning’? Maybe use one of your own stories from Thank You For Your Sperm to show us?

Speh: I tried to express it in the 170-word story “The Sodomized Dictator” (first published in PANK) which was prompted by the killing of dictator Ghaddafi (widely, and graphically publicized)—to paint grief and brutality without preaching, as I said in the accompanying interview.

Allen: The image/metaphor of the volcano opening under the characters’ feet is quite strong. It characterizes so well the feeling of the sea change in that region.

Speh: Image is everything don’t you think? Especially in flash, a scene is often no longer than a single image. Which brings us back to “getting it right”. A wrong, or a blurred image can fully destroy a flash piece.

Allen: Very true. What are you reading these days? Are you enjoying it? What kind of prose excites you?

Speh: This is my year of Henry James. I’m reading all of his great novels in the New York edition, which means that I live in a very different universe from most people some of the time. I’m enjoying it on many levels, not the least one being his craft. There’s nobody quite like James to observe the art of scene building, of point-of-view changes, and how a change of consciousness transforms everything. He’s making me very, very jealous! Taking lessons from a master is exciting! I seem to be stuck in the early 20th century—for non-fiction, I re-read Freud and Friedell to calm my own discontents with contemporary culture.

Allen: Ah, yes. I actually knew you were going through James right now. Definitely the opposite of flash fiction if there ever was an opposite. When I was going through my own year of James, I was awestruck by his ability to weave in and out of his characters’ consciousnesses. The levels of discourse in his late phase became a major theme in my Master’s thesis.

Speh: I’d like to read that thesis! I don’t think I would ever have finished a thesis on James—I’d have got lost in the bushes looking for bunnies. You’re right about opposites there. It’s a necessity, I think. Broadening your skill horizon and all that.

Allen: I often stayed up all night looking for bunnies. I see James’s prose as an opportunity to read the language at its most intricate, at its technical peak? Like when a painter studies the technique of the masters…but eventually ends up a cubist.

Speh: I like the simile! — James wasn’t a stranger to experimentation with the short form either: you once told me the short story “The Figure in the Carpet” was one of your favorites. I wonder if he’d be dabbling (or excelling) in flash if he lived today.

Allen: It’s interesting that James’s “short” stories would be considered quite long today. “The Figure in the Carpet” is itself around 4o pages. I think James would probably pooh-pooh flash as the work of frustrated poets. Flash fiction has been on a journey away from the gimmicky plot-twist-oriented ending that characterized it years ago. And this is a great thing. Your own prose often defies classification. Where do you think “flash” fiction is headed? Some of your work is a sort of flash non-fiction, or would you resist this label?

Speh: I don’t think I care too much about labels — I’m aware that most of my fiction is fed by the lives I’ve lived. in which the Internet, or the Web rather, has played an enormous role.

Since plot is not my strength I wouldn’t dare twisting it…The recent success of Lydia Davis at the International Booker could cause pressure to turn it into something fixed according to the public’s idea of flash. But what if flash fiction is more like the fruit fly and undergoes evolutionary changes more quickly than any other literary form? In that case there’s no way to say where it’s going. I’d like that because, as you know, I like to be surprised! If it develops, as it seems to have developed for the past decade or so, alongside the Internet, it might become one of the fastest developing and changing forms of writing we’ve ever seen—and few people would try to predict where the Internet is going.

Allen: What influence do you think the internet has had on the condensing of literature in general? What do you think of Twitter fiction, for example?

Speh: I participated in a Twitter fiction experiment a couple of years ago—a Tweetathon of Joyces Ulysses. It was fun and yet a tad tiring. I hear that social media, Twitter and Facebook at the helm, are slowly winding down. I don’t think anything as short-lived as software can really change the course of literature, which gets its strength from the darkest depths and the brightest light that’s available to man. The Internet is but an infrastructure, a road to connect, while literature is a cause to connect, more like love and less like lino. I believe with John Gardner that art moves and shapes society, not the other way around: perhaps the global need for short fiction created the Internet just like the 19th-century novel helped create the Victorian age.

Allen: I’m jotting down “The internet is but an infrastructure, a road to connect, while literature is a cause to connect, more like love and less like lino.” so that I can co-opt it later. Thank you so much for this interview, Marcus! And in real time at that. It’s always great talking to you.

Speh: Thank you — your amazing questions always set me up for deep unconscious journeys. It’s been fun! I’m looking forward to this Flash Mob: our conversation seems to suggest that there’s a lot more to flash than meets the eye, and a lot more to discover.

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JOIN THE MOB — Deadline for submissions June 10.

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