Established in 2015, The Best Small Fictions series is an anticipated event, a yearly tribute to the small form and the many writers involved in its continuing transformation. Series editor Nathan Leslie and guest editor Rilla Askew carry the torch in this latest offering: The Best Small Fictions 2019, a weighty who’s who of the year’s flash fiction standouts and a gorgeous exhibition of the power of the miniature.
Nancy Stohlman: In the spirit of flash fiction, describe this book in 6 words.
Nathan Leslie: I take it you mean Hurry Up and Relax? Satirical-minded stories mostly about blowhards.
NS: Ha. The Best Small Fictions 2019 is the fifth in the series—started in 2015–and your first time as a series editor. How did you get involved?
NL: Founding editor Tara Masih asked me if I wanted to serve as series editor and I jumped at the chance. I have long admired BSF and, as it happens, I have just enough free time to make it work schedule-wise.
NS: You have such an amazing variety of stories and authors–how do you find the stories? What is the discovery process? Do you all agree or do you have to fight it out for your favorites?
NL: Thank you for your kind comments. There are several streams–the nominated stories that come in via Submittable, stories that the crack BSF staff culls from their reading, and stories that I find from my own scouring. From there I just pick the best of the bunch with Michelle Elvy and the consulting editors providing much-needed assistance.
NS: Once you have chosen the stories, how do you and the other editors decide the order? Having edited several anthologies of flash fiction I know that the ordering process this process is not easy.
NL: In talking with Sonder Press and Michelle when I started my first BSF last year, we all agreed that alphabetical order would be the way to go–that way it’s completely non-judgmental. The only exception to this rule is that we also spotlight the top ten spotlighted works. These are chosen by the guest editor.
NS: I love that. The ordering is so important, but also so subjective. How important do you think the first story is in an anthology? Do you think readers start at the beginning and go to the end or do you think they skip around?
NL: It’s important and as mentioned, in our case it’s a spotlighted story so presumably it’s one of the strongest in the book. I think readers most likely skip around quite a bit. I sure do when I read anthologies.
NS: You also have a spotlighted journals section—and as I am looking through the anthology not only is there an enormous range of stories and authors but also originating magazines. How do you choose which journals to spotlight?
NL: It wasn’t too difficult as there were several journals that had multiple pieces in the anthology. From those, I just chose the journals that stood out to me–with considerable help and guidance from Michelle.
NS: Reading your bio I realized you were also the series editor of the Best of the Web anthology in 2008 and 2009 (the same time I was editing the Fast Forward books!). From an editorial standpoint, how have small fictions changed in the last 10 years?
NL: Yes. It’s hard to say–small fictions are much more “mainstream” now than they were in 2008-9 and there are certainly more journals that highlight their importance. I also think that aesthetically there are more writers within the genre taking risks. But for Best of the Web we were not solely looking at small fictions, so I was not quite as attuned to the genre as I hope I am now.
NS: I agree that there are writers taking more risks–which is so exciting for the genre. And you just announced the picks for the next Best Small Fictions 2020—congrats to all the winners! It must feel wonderful to know how much your acceptance means to a writer.
NL: It was nice to be able to give a glimmer of good news to authors this year because we were in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic. The authors were very appreciative this year–more so than usual. My favorite part of the BSF process is sending the notes of acceptance.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
NL: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and for your interest in small fictions.
NS: Thank YOU for all you do, and thanks for including me for the first time in the 2019 anthology–it was such a high point of my year!
Nathan Leslie won the 2019 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for fiction for his collection of short stories, Hurry Up and Relax. Nathan’s nine previous books of fiction include Three Men, Root and Shoot, Sibs, and The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice. He is also the author of a collection of poems, Night Sweat. Nathan is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions, the founder and organizer of the Reston Reading Series in Reston, Virginia, and the publisher and editor of the new online journal Maryland Literary Review. Previously he was series editor for Best of the Web and fiction editor for Pedestal Magazine. His fiction has been published in hundreds of literary magazines such as Shenandoah, North American Review, Boulevard, Hotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan’s nonfiction has been published in The Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and Orlando Sentinel. Nathan lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Julie.