Going Short: A Flash Interview between Christopher Bowen and Nancy Stohlman at Vestal Review

“Flash fiction is our David against the Goliath of literary tradition.”

Nancy Stohlman

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned from being an educator?

I love watching writers fall in love with form. The hardest part is trying to explain and champion the genre to outsiders who are often reticent or suspicious. I often get dismissive reactions, “readers-have-short-attention-spans” or “flash-isn’t-serious-literature.”

Flash fiction is our David against the Goliath of literary tradition.

How important is emotional maturity in writing good flash?

All the rules of good writing also apply to flash. Often I see emotional maturity manifesting as wisdom to know what the story wants from you vs. what you want from the story. Word constraint forces you to get really clear. We are midwives of the story and should be in service of the story–what I would call true creative maturity. This is also where poetry and flash fiction meet—the distillation process requires us to sometimes “write” hundreds of pages to accurately distill one small truth.

Writers compare their successes and failures to others’. How do you deal with other writers’ success and failure? What advice would you give a beginning writer who does such comparing?

I see others’ successes as inspiration for my own. But some days I can’t. For all of us there can be hard days, weeks, or seasons, and it’s okay to be gentle with yourself on hard days. Try to take the big-picture view and remember we’re all in different phases of creative process. For instance, I get to enjoy watching my book Going Short finally go into the world. But I’ve worked on it behind the scenes for seven years, and I’ve published very little in the last year. It’s a rhythm.

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Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction Debt. He was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Competition and honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards in the non-fiction category. He blogs from Burning River.