My Funny Valentine: Love Songs
6014 S. Datura Street
Littleton, Colorado 80120
6014 S. Datura Street
Littleton, Colorado 80120
Sitting at the crossroads between flash fiction, poetry, and the novel, Michelle’s Elvy’s debut book in short form, the everrumble, is an allegory, a fable, a love affair with the world, and, considering what is happening to our planet right now: it’s a warning. In Elvy’s hands the everrumble is alive, the beating heart of the world. Only one small child can hear it. But sometimes one is enough.
Nancy Stohlman: This is your first book, congratulations! Talk about your path to publication with Ad Hoc fiction.
Michelle Elvy: For me, things usually happen serendipitously. I had two collections that were completed and ready for publication, mid-2018, and after thinking over the ideas behind both I decided I’d like to see the everrumble as my first book, because it holds something meaningful for me personally, and because the timing felt right. Jude Higgins at Ad Hoc agreed, and we worked towards publication for the UK Flash Fiction Festival, where the book’s launch seemed fitting, as it’s a small novel in small forms.
NS: I see this story almost as an allegory, similar to a book like, say, The Alchemist. Did you set out to write that kind of book or did it happen organically? Talk about the evolution of this project.
ME: It was an organic process – I had not planned to write the book it turned out to be. The idea of this young girl who would not talk came to me back in 2017, and I started writing down some of her stories. I did not have a biographical time line in mind; I just found moments from her life that seemed intriguing and followed them. Some came from her childhood, when she first starts to speak, then I wandered into her teen and adult years. It was an exploration from the beginning, moving step by step, tuning into Zettie in each situation – much like she listens to the world. First, there was Zettie’s immediate world. Then, I looked a bit further out – down the street, across town, in a different county. And soon I realised that Zettie (and I) did not need to be confined to the immediate physical surroundings – she could tune in beyond what felt like her ‘real’ physical space. As Zettie encountered new sounds, I’d have to tune in as well; I found myself thinking about how she’d respond, how she’d navigate through the different worlds she encountered, where she’d go next. It was an adventure.
NS: You have personally traveled the world many times over (for much of that on your boat), so your view, like Zettie’s, must have a sense of the world as a larger community. How are you like Zettie? How are you different?
ME: It’s true that my travels influence my world view, and therefore certainly the way I write. But as to how I’m like Zettie? Very hard for me to say. I find it liberating to think of this as fiction.
A bit taken from life: the books from Zettie’s Book Notes are all from our family travels and experiences – these are books that hold personal meaning. So in that way, there is a piece of me in Zettie’s story.
NS: Have you ever met a Zettie in your travels?
NS: One of the important moments in this story is Shamu’s capture. Without giving anything away, can you speak to the importance of this story within a story?
ME: I grew up with the idea of zoos and live aquarium shows. Seeing wild animals up close is exhilarating for a young child. Then we moved onto our sailboat and set out across the sea – we left North America, with no idea of where we’d end up. That was nearly twenty years ago. We have spent these years moving slowly, meandering across oceans and observing life at the edges of continents. We are often alone with no one around – no people other than our little community on board Momo (me, my husband and our two daughters) for weeks at a time. My appreciation for quiet and solitude has grown over these years – not something I planned, but something I now need, this space for reflection and energetic examination of my own relationship to the world.
An accumulation of experiences over the last twenty years has deepened my awe of the natural world – and also my sense of loss. Shamu’s capture is a dark moment in our human story. And it’s symbolic of so much more; our entire relationship to the wild animal kingdom is out of balance. From overfishing to contaminating our waterways with plastic to hunting rhinos to near-extinction to the massively corrupt and inhumane ivory trade. You know where I stand on elephants. That’s in Zettie’s story, too.
Am I an activist? Not really. But I feel the pull to saying something – and fiction is perhaps the best place to examine hard truths. I’m not someone who aims to write with a message. I really just wanted to see how Zettie might engage creatures whose voices may be lost.
My husband and I set out to live a small, quiet existence. But as it turns out, our personal encounters have changed the way we move through the world. We’ve seen diminishing fish populations firsthand, and we’ve seen far too many dying coral reefs. But we see the sea thriving, too – and that is inspiring. We’ve seen orca, humpbacks, dolphins, manta rays and so much more – vibrant and wild. Sharks and penguins, seahorses and octopuses, turtles and humpbacks. Also an inexplicable and powerful encounter with bioluminescence.
Our personal desire to simply disengage from the noisy world – Let’s go sailing! we said, back in 2000 – has given us experiences that I can’t quite measure. I guess it’s inevitable that they find their way into my writing. And so: Shamu and Zettie. Zettie and the African elephant. Connecting across thousands of miles.
NS: Zettie stops speaking at age 7 so she can start really listening. Do you think too much talking/not enough listening is the main crisis of modern humanity?
ME: I do not know if that is the main crisis – but it’s certainly a characteristic of the world we live in. I think we are in a moment in our human trajectory where the noise is very loud indeed: social media, television programming, news that may or may not be news. We seem to be putting out more than we are taking in – or than we ever could take in. I’m not alone in feeling the world is a bit out of balance.
So yes, sure – and I am not the first one to say this: we ought to try to listen more. To each other, to other creatures, to the sounds of the earth.
NS: If Zettie could speak and she could say only one thing what would it be?
NS: The Everrumble is what I would call a flash novel—coming right at the intersection between flash fiction and a novel. Yet this story could surely be a novel with all the nuances of a novel. What do you think are the advantages and/or limitations of using the short form to tell a big story?
ME: Oh I love the way a small story can convey so much – all that is between the lines, all that is left unsaid. Perhaps this goes hand in hand with listening: we can quiet down, read thoughtfully, and see what emerges with all that space.
In the case of these connected stories, yes: Zettie’s life unfolds over these pages in a way that feels like a novel to me. It’s more – I hope – than the words on the page. It’s what is there, and not there.
NS: What is your best advice to someone who is writing/wants to write a book?
ME: Sit down and start writing. And keep reading all the things – and listening to all the voices – that inspire you.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
ME: Thank you, Nancy, for talking with me. It’s exciting to see the book out in the world, and I appreciate you taking an interest!
(Links to buy the book/other promo links)
Michelle Elvy is a writer and editor originally from the Chesapeake Bay, now based in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her book, the everrumble (Ad Hoc Fiction 2019) – a small novel in small forms – was published in 2019. She is Assistant Editor for the international Best Small Fictions series and founder of Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and National Flash Fiction Day NZ. Her poetry, fiction, travel writing, creative nonfiction and reviews have been widely published and anthologised.
As an editor, Michelle works with novelists, short story writers, memoirists, essayists and poets to help them find their voice and hone their words. This year, in addition to her regular manuscript assessments and editing work, she is teaching an online writing course, 52|250 A Year of Writing, and co-editing the anthology Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand, with Paula Morris and James Norcliffe (August 2020).
More about Michelle’s editing, teaching and writing at michelleelvy.com.
Join me at several free readings and talkbacks to celebrate Wheatridge Reads! Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities is the most “progressive” book they have chosen for their program, so come support art, taking risks, and flash fiction! Free copies of Madam Velvet’s also available (link below)!
The stories in Kim’s Chinquee’s new collection, Wetsuit, are the barest of wisps, impressionistic in their minimalism and yet dense with implied meaning. Each one is a gem, deceptively simple but hiding entire, barely concealed worlds in the silences. With each revisiting you discover the truth: that the stories are shadowboxes that continue into infinity, a magician’s hat with no bottom.
Nancy Stohlman: In the spirit of flash fiction, explain this book in six words:
Kim Chinquee: Water. Swimming. Food. Animals. Motherhood. Men.
NS: I’m super intrigued by your titles, which are very often a seemingly random phrase pulled from the story that becomes the title and then suddenly isn’t random at all. Talk about your process with titles. Does it change the story for you?
KC: Absolutely! Titles are so much fun. A title can inform a piece, and can also turn it on its head. I’m always experimenting with titles, whether removing the first sentence of a story, and using it as a title. Or sometimes I’ll choose the last sentence, or one from the middle. Or perhaps the title is a word in the story that repeats itself. When I studied with Mary Robison, she recommended (to me and other students) closing our eyes and randomly pointing to places (on the physical copies of) our stories and opening our eyes and imagining the words and phrases (where our fingers landed) as potential titles. That’s a fun exercise I share with my students a lot. Sometimes a title can have nothing to do with the text of the story and can give that entire piece a different meaning. I think I have a few stories with titles like that.
NS: Your stories are very sculpted—sometimes down to almost an impressionistic wisp. I often find myself rereading them several times, as they are slight but extremely dense, sometimes deceptively so. How do you know when to stop? Do you think flash writers ever go too far?
KC: It’s possible to go too far, of course. But one can always save the latest drafts and rearrange the words, add them back, etc. I struggle with writing longer work because I’m always cutting.
NS: Water is a theme connecting these stories, from puddles to steam to oceans to ice. Talk about your connection to water and why it ripples through this book? (By the way I love your picture of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon on the cover!)
KC: Thank you! Pier Rodelon designed Wetsuit (and my books Oh Baby, Veer, and Shot Girls). And (in speaking of titles): I had several other titles of the book before deciding on Wetsuit (I think maybe MILK was one.)–and when I saw the cover, I realized Wetsuit was the one that best “suited,” and included mostly pieces pertaining to liquid and/or water of some form. And I added some words and lines to some of the pieces so they would better fit the overall theme. So, the theme of water was kind of accidental, I suppose. Or something that I didn’t see until later. I had been swimming a lot and doing triathlons when I was writing these pieces, so it makes sense to me now that I was writing a lot about water.
NS: The narrator seems consistent through many of the stories, and we get reoccurring images tagging back to other stories. Was this an intentional weave or a happy discovery? And if intentional, how you would distinguish this collection from, say, a flash novel? Or is it?
KC: It probably was a bit of both intentional weave and happy discovery. Some of these pieces were written long ago, and some were written during the same timeframe and in consecutive order. When compiling the collection, I ordered them to have some sort of arc, and/or storylines that connect and speak to each other.
NS: On that note, your beginning and your ending are also circular, with one image from the end hooking up with the initial one. It gives a certain sense of spiraling around and around a life. Can you about your circular concept?
KC: Thanks for noticing that! My editor and publisher Kathryn Rantala suggested ending on that last piece “My New Skin,” which I thought was kind of brilliant. I suppose, when looking at it now, I like to think it’s a metaphor for the front crawl or the breast stroke, the circular motion and the constant movement that keeps one not only moving forward, but afloat.
NS: About 2/3 of the way through the book your stories start to get super short and extremely dark. It feels like both a shift, a deepening, a quickening, and also, consequently, like the climax of the book. Can you talk about your design and intention with this purposeful pondering?
KC: As I was compiling the collection, it seemed natural to me to put these pieces closer to the end of the book, I suppose like a climax. I was afraid that if I included them near the front of the collection, they might discourage the reader, and that some content before might give them more context. I suppose it’s a lot like writing a novel. Wetsuit feels, content-like, or at least the way I compiled it, much like how I put together my first collection, Oh Baby.
NS: You have been an important voice in the flash fiction movement for a long time, and you’ve authored many books, including Shot Girls, Pretty, Veer, and Oh Baby. How is this book different than your others?
KC: Ah! Good question. I was about to talk more about this in the previous answer. I like to think Wetsuit holds a bit more hope for its main protagonist, and that there is maybe more maturity and depth. The son of Wetsuit is older, an adult, and there is a longing, I think. Artistically and aesthetically, Wetsuit is much like Oh Baby, imo. Veer was compiled as a collection to celebrate the venues where the pieces appeared (and where I’ve published most regularly): NOON, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Willow Springs, Story Quarterly. Pretty was published (as a prose poetry collection) with White Pine Press, under different editorship and is told in three parts. Whereas Shot Girls (also with Ravenna Press) includes mostly longer stories, of women working in “service,” including the military, and it includes a few flashes.
My next collection will also be published with Ravenna Press in 2020! It’s tentatively titled Snowdog. (And involves a lot of snow. And dogs.) Though I tend to change my titles a lot!
My novel-in-flashes, Battle Dress, will be published with Widow + Orphan House in 2021. I wrote the pieces in Battle Dress in consecutive order, while I was running a lot of local 5K, 10K races. So, there’s a lot of running and repetition in that book. Kind of like running the same kind of races (with different results) over and over.
I’ve also written a couple of “non flash” novels, and am currently revising Pirouette, which takes place in Boston, with alternating points-of-view of three protagonists and their experiences during the Boston Bombings. I’ve also started a new book called Stray Voltage, which is mostly about cows.
I probably write flash fictions with the most consistency and frequency, especially when I’m in the midst of teaching and doing administrative work. So, when compiling Wetsuit, I drew upon the flash fictions in my inventory, and put them together in a kind of collage.
NS: Congratulations! I’m looking forward to all of these! Wetsuit is published by Ravenna Press. Talk about your path to publication?
KC: Ravenna Press published my first book Oh Baby in 2008; I had such a great experience with Ravenna, and continue to publish with them. Kathryn Rantala is a great advocate and supporter of my work. I believe we have a mutual respect for each other and I love working with her.
NS: What advice would you give someone who is writing/wants to write a book?
KC: Read a lot. Write your story. Collect advice and keep what’s useful. Pay attention to what’s happening around you.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
KC: Thank you!
NS: Thank YOU!
Links to buy the book and other promo links:
There’s a new review of Wetsuit available at Rain Taxi:
Kim Chinquee is the author of six books, most recently WETSUIT. She’s the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, and serves as AWP Northeast Regional Chair. Her website is www.kimchinquee.com
Perhaps nothing is stranger, more visually fascinating, than human deformities and abnormalities of nature. Before television brought everything into the home and political correctness made drawing attention to the out-of-the ordinary taboo, traveling shows filled with characters such as the four-legged woman, elastic man, Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy, and the albino family drew curious crowds of all ages.
Such is the world of “Madame Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities,” Nancy Stohlman’s flash-fiction novel that is this season’s Wheat Ridge Reads selection. A finalist for the 2019 Colorado Book Awards in Literary Fiction, the book alternatively amuses, shocks and challenges its audience.
The book “requires the reader to be an active participant in the story,” says Stohlman. Unlike a traditional novel, which takes its time unfolding, flash fiction requires one to “be awake, pay attention, or it will fly right by you.”
Stohlman discovered the emerging writing genre while attaining her Masters of Fine Arts degree at Naropa Institute a dozen years ago. She struggled with writing a novel of 80,000 words or so, and finding flash fiction was “an enormous relief,” she says. “I can get rid of the part that I’m bored to write, that connective tissue that is necessary to tie the long novel together. Now when I write, I think about what I can take out.”
The technique — also known as micro-fiction — reduces a story to 1,000 words or less. “Madame Velvet’s” is a series of these stories carefully choreographed to make the whole, using white space as much as words.
“Using white space is an intentional negative, letting what you have written resonate against what is not said,” explains Stohlman, exhibiting a page where the written words take up less than a quarter of the space. Flash fiction “gets at the essence” of a story in a “tight, hard-hitting, sharp, fast” manner that is “over quickly,” she says.
Stohlman herself is larger than life when she performs. With her expressive eyes, bright red lips, and crisp, clear voice, she has a presence that commands the stage.
Her readings and discussions for Wheat Ridge Reads take place 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, January 15, at Swiss Flower and Gift Cottage, 9890 W. 44th Ave., and 9:00 a.m., Thursday, January 16, at Ye Olde Firehouse, 3232 Depew St. The events are free and open to the public. She will also be presenting to students at Wheat Ridge High School as part of the WR Reads program.
In addition to being an author, Stohlman is a lecturer in University of Colorado’s Program for Writing and Rhetoric and is the lead singer in the jazz metal lounge band Kinky Mink. She has published four books and her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She leads writing retreats all over the world and is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series at The Mercury Cafe.
Wheat Ridge Reads is a citywide book club sponsored by the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission in partnership with the Wheat Ridge Library and Wheat Ridge High School. Presented annually, the program promotes literacy and a shared reading experience throughout the city. Complimentary copies of the book “Madame Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities” are available at the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center and Swiss Flower and Gift Cottage as well as Little Free Libraries throughout the city.
Once all hope had truly been lost—after the planets lined up and nothing happened, after churches were roped off with police tape, historical landmarks proven fraudulent, and even sex became irrelevant, the few people still able to feel pain took what was left and traveled to the edge. And once there, they sacrificed the rest of their ruby slipper childhoods and abandoned imaginations and some people even ripped off their own tattoos and threw the inked bologna skins over the edge and together we watched our dreams quietly float away, like deflated balloons and sad water bugs…..Keep reading
In Some Have Gone and Some Remain, Robin Stratton takes us on a retrospective, a slideshow of love, loss, nostalgia and hope. Simmering within these poems and essays is a sweet, simple and honest invitation to witness the many interludes that make up one human life.
Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in six words
Robin Stratton: Sad, funny, honest, bittersweet, raw, hopeful
NS: I really love the way you take the flash fiction form and weave it with poetry to create this flash/poetic autobiography. Where did you get the idea to do this?
RS: Most of the flash form pieces began as poems, but were such involved narratives (“And Then There Was the Time”, “A Tumor Not a Cyst”) that they just looked better structured as paragraphs, not stanzas. The two long pieces, “Moms” and “The Summer of Lizzie Borden” were written years ago, and were waiting for a home.
NS: Unlike memoir, that generally focuses on just one aspect of a person’s life, this feels like a true autobiography—a retrospective beginning in childhood and taking us on the up and down journey through many moments of a life. I imagine this could make you feel somewhat “exposed”, especially compared to fiction writing. Can you speak to this idea?
RS: “Exposed” is just the right word for how I felt. When I was writing the ones I feel were most revealing, like “It’s 4:30 in the Morning” and “Results”, I kept thinking, Just write, but don’t show anyone. I kept thinking how my brothers would feel, knowing some of these things that happened to me, or how much damage I did to myself, emotionally.
NS: I love the reoccurring You Men (Vol 1-5): it reminds the reader that romantic relationships are so often the highest and lowest points. You even dedicate a note of gratitude to all the former boyfriends in your acknowledgements. Talk about this.
RS: Wasn’t it grand of me to acknowledge how their criticism and bullshit helped me grow? All those years of trying out different men introduced me to different aspects of myself; what I was willing to put up with when I was in my 20s, versus my 40s and 50s. Looking back on my evolution was fascinating to me. I hope other people found it interesting, too, and could relate. By the way, thank you for blurbing the book! I have admired you for years, and that meant SO much to me!!
NS: Oh, you are so welcome, thank YOU! Now you publish both poetry and prose, and you utilize both in this book. Can you talk about your own crossover? Where are you most comfortable?
RS: I am not a poet, even though I would love to say I am. I love the visual of stanzas that lead to a kind of unconventional performance of the sentences, but getting it just the way I want it doesn’t come easily to me the way it does to real poets. My mind thinks in terms of indent-paragraph-carriage return. I so admire poets who can break up a sentence right in the middle; especially when it goes against a natural way of speaking and changes the whole presentation. I was happy with the way “Teen” came out… but you can see that most of my poem lines end where you would normally pause in a sentence.
NS: Speaking of crossover, you have published multiple books in several genres, including the novels Blue or Blue Skies and In His Genes, several collections including Dealing With Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species, and even a writing guide! How is Some Have Gone and SomeRemain similar and different from your other books?
RS: Some Have Gone is completely autobiographical, from start to finish, there isn’t a single bit of fiction in it. My novels, of course, have a lot of “me” in them, but I never ever write them that way; it just happens. I always laugh when someone tells me they just read Blue or Blue Skies and they “see” me in the main character – I had gone way out of my way to create a character who was the exact opposite of me: successful, rich, beautiful famous author. I never saw even the slightest bit of me in her until people started pointing it out, and I realized that all my vulnerabilities – about men, and about my loneliness after my friends got married and ditched me – came through in her.
NS: Some Have Gone and Some Remain is published by Big Table Publishing—I happen to have a sweet spot for BTP, who also published my own Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities—and you are the founder and the brains behind the whole shebang. Can you talk a bit about the genesis and evolution of BTP?
RS: Believe it or not, I started Big Table with the sole purpose of being able to include “publisher” in my bio when I submitted my novels to agents, because I thought it would make me sound impressive, and that was all I cared about. I thought I’d publish a few books, create a website, and so on. I never thought Big Table would be so big. It’s why I started Boston Literary Magazine, too – I never wanted to have a magazine, I just figured agents would say WOW, lookit her!
NS: BTP just put out several “Best of” volumes. Talk about these. What do you learn about your own writing from publishing others?
RS: Any writer who is in a group knows you can learn a lot from observing how other writers do it, either badly or well. When your ear tells you that something they’ve written is wrong, it leaves a trace in your memory (hopefully) that alerts you when you find yourself doing it too. So seeing raw manuscripts submitted to Big Table often demonstrates to me how a character or story line can be ruined by writing that’s sloppy or inconsistent. A lot of Big Table novelists are surprised when I tell them I love their book but they have to re-write the whole thing before we’ll take it. Sometimes I’ll suggest taking a character out, or completely changing the ending. Some resist, but most appreciate it. It’s why our slogan has always been “Work hard. Get published.”
NS: What advice would you give someone who is writing/wants to write a book?
RS: This advice has changed over the years. If you’d asked me this ten years ago I would have (and often did!) said, Keep going! Don’t give up! Now I say, Accept that you will probably not be on Oprah, make any money, or sell more than 200 copies of your book; you have to write with the single purpose of creating the best book you’re capable of.
It’s easy advice to give, and I often have trouble accepting it myself. But I lived it this past summer when I posted my novel In Love With Spring on my blog. I started writing it in the mid 90s, and it was a “current” version of Little Women – the four girls are sitting around talking about how John Lennon was just assassinated and Dad has walked out on them. I had a lot of trouble avoiding a Young Adult tone, and wrote it over and over and over. Suddenly a few decades went by and it was no longer current, it was nostalgic, and I knew I’d never find a home for it. I didn’t even bother to send it out, I just decided to put it on line and hope that people read it. I’m working on Volume Two, and there’s a real freedom to writing for the sake of writing, not submitting for publication. When all is said and done, that has to be why we write. If anyone wants to check it out, it’s here: https://www.robinstratton.com/blog
All of my books are available at www.robinstratton.com along with opening paragraphs of each novel and fun little promo vids. Parking is free, and on the weekends we have coffee and donuts! I’d love for people to stop by!
Robin Stratton is also the author of four novels, including one which was a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist (On Air, Mustang Press, 2011), two collections of poetry and short fiction, and a writing guide. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richard’s Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Chick Flicks, Up the Staircase, Shoots and Vines, and many others. Since 2004 she’s been Acquisitions Editor for Big Table Publishing Company, Senior Editor of Boston Literary Magazine since 2009, and she was Director of the Newton Writing and Publishing Center until she moved from Boston to San Francisco in 2018. Now she leads the popular “Six Feet of Poetry” and “Fiction by the Foot” series.