So You Wrote a Book? Robert Scotellaro

Robert Scotellaro has been a treasure of the flash fiction community for many years. Back in 2015 I said of his work, “Scotellaro demonstrates that the more we understand our stories, the less we have to explain them. Often the journey of an artist is a journey of learning what to leave out: Rothko’s complex surrealism eventually matures into single or double colored canvases; Picasso’s realistic drawings mature into simple thick lines and shapes—and writers such as Scotellaro say even more with even less… His work takes the leap into mastery, zooming in on the subtle moment at hand and letting that one drop of water tell the story of the entire world.” Now, with the release of his new collection, What Are the Chances? we get the opportunity to take another step on this journey with him.

Author Robert Scotellaro

Nancy Stohlman: Welcome, Scotty! First, and in the spirit of flash fiction, describe this book in 6 words:

Robert Scotellaro: Flash exploring the vagaries of “chance.”

NS: You are widely considered a master of flash fiction, and deservedly so. Talk a bit about how you found the form—or did it find you?

RS: Thank you, Nancy.  I think the form found me.  I was always innately drawn to brevity in literature: poetry, the short story, flash and micro fiction.  Reading the work of Emily Dickenson as a teenager opened me to a level of compaction that (ironically) seemed borderless in its ability to express the intimate doings of  inner and outer worlds with such clarity, emotion, philosophical sensibility, and power.  That was an early eye-opener.

So I started out as a poet.  In the seventies I also wrote fiction (including a short novel in 1971) that incorporated what I called “segments”—what now might be considered microfiction.  It was surreal and reflected the times.  (A joint prior to reading was required.)  Most of the full-length stories I wrote subsequently were comprised of those “segments.”  It was natural for me to write that way.  I guess I was always a sprinter rather than a marathon runner in terms of lit.

After a time I was writing short-short stories regularly.  When I discovered the anthology Sudden Fiction by James Thomas and Robert Shapard I was elated.  The very short form was being showcased (taken out of the shadows of “filler” status in magazines).  Then came the iconic anthology: Flash Fiction (72 Very Short Stories)by James and Denise Thomas and Tom Hazuka, and many such books by W. W. Norton were to follow. 

In 2018 I went full circle and Norton published New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, an anthology co-edited by James Thomas and myself.  I remain as excited as ever about exploring the limitless potential of the genre.

NS: What are the Chances? is very cinematic—in fact I read all your stories almost as if they are mini movies. Does that description resonate with you?

RS: It does.  I think many of the stories I write are not so much language pieces, but rather characters interacting in various settings and situations which lend themselves to those visual possibilities.  Scanning What Are the Chances? one finds characters in a hot tub, an Uber car, a commune, a cave, on a fire escape, a carousel, in a subway car, behind a rectory…  I view the stories in that cinematic way as I’m writing them.

Plus I like creating different characters (delineating them) and letting them interact on their own, as opposed to an “author-recounting.”  Perhaps this adds to that cinematic element in my work.

NS: In the title story, “What Are the Chances?” there are two techniques that I love: the deliberate use of repetition and the way you strategically manipulate your title. Can you let us in on some of your other “masterclass” writing techniques, particularly around flash fiction?

RS: I’d like to do more stories using various refrains in that manner.  They create a kind of rhythm, a word-tumble of sorts, to the finish line.

Far as titles (I almost always) don’t think of them until a story is completed.  In the case of the title story: “What Are the Chances? I was taken with how timing, chance, and random happenstance can alter a life/lives, and that all of these elements were contained within that piece.  I felt this title served the collection, highlighting that occasional theme which runs through it as connective tissue.

Not sure about the “masterclass” part, but what I feel is essential to writing flash, is the “telling detail” (replete with implication).  Perhaps several that create an allusion to something bigger— more at stake upon reflection—after the last word is read, providing a kind of lingering resonance.

NS: Yes, “refrains” is the right word, I think. For example, in Nothing Is Ever One Thing published earlier this year from Blue Light Press, you have a series of “Micro-Fables” that thread through the other stories. Love this idea—can you talk about the inspiration?

RS: With Nothing Is Ever One Thing I wanted to “mix things up” a bit, bend/blend genres.  There are also four “P.S.” stories throughout.  I sought to incorporate lots of tempo/tone shifts.  The micro-fables are prose poems—microfiction’s kissing cousin.  I am, at this point in my career, fascinated with the notion of investigating  form.  Forms within the very short form.  I have a chapbook’s-worth of such stories recently completed and a full-length manuscript I’m finishing up devoted to “like” forms.  And I’m finding infinite possibilities for variety within them.  I’m pretty excited about this new direction.

NS:  As soon as I read “Mr. Nasty” (in What Are the Chances) I had a flashback: I chose (and loved!) this story for a Fast Forward anthology over a decade ago! My, how time flies. Which goes to say you’ve been writing flash fiction for a long time. Tell me: How has it changed in the last decade or more?

RS:  I liken it to a music concert where a performer plays new tunes, but adds a dash of “oldies” that have stood the test of time.  That mix well.    

Fast Forward was a terrific venue for flash.  I think I published four or five pieces in various volumes.  If I’m not mistaken your co-editor, Kona Morris, read “Mr. Nasty” on a Colorado radio station.  You all contributed so much to short form lit with those anthologies.

Far as changes—good lord!—so much has evolved with the genre since then in terms of popularity, expansion, and status.  Flash fictionis no long consigned that “sub-genre” category.  It is its own genre now.  Officially.  Standing on strong legs.  Now you can hardly find a magazine (including the major ones with The New Yorker on the list) that don’t publish flash.  And there are a plethora of personal collections by outstanding authors continually finding their way to print.  There are important anthologies by W. W. Norton and many others in America as well as internationally.  And now there is even a significant Flash Fiction Collection housed at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.  Flash is thriving.

NS: Which leads to the exclamation of wonder that you published not one but TWO books in 2020, a year in which publishing has been challenged like everything else. Can you talk about how these two books are different/complementary to your oeuvre?

RS: Actually Nothing Is Ever One Thing was published in 2019.  What Are the Chances? was accepted in 2019 as well, but Kevin Morgan Watson at Press 53 didn’t want them bumping heads (promotion wise) in the same year, so we waited for a 2020 pub date.

I think both collections tread that territory between misplaced intentions and a quest for connection, solace, and redemption, with humor/irony close enough at hand to grab onto.  Uncertainty, of one sort or another, is perhaps the biggest thing that trips us up.  I like exploring that, and how we stumble or correct to find peace with it. 

Nothing Is Ever One Thing is more experimental because of the genre shifts (prose/prose poetry).  However, with What Are the Chances? I’ve welcomed examining challenging subjects (still at a slant) and in a variety of ways.

I think Kevin was right about waiting.  It’s allowed each collection to breathe a bit.

NS: I agree. What’s it been like to publish a book in the Year of Our Lord 2020?

It’s been a sweet counterbalance to these dark times.  I so miss the hugs of friends at readings, other gatherings, my daughter many states away, dinners out…  But it was so great working with Kevin at Press 53 and his editor, Claire Foxx, on this book and with Diane Frank at Blue Light Press before that, with my previous collection in more stable times.  I’m so grateful.

NS: Advice for writers working on a book?

RS: When you have enough stories for a collection to assemble, see which of them rub together in interesting ways.  Sometimes similar themes side by side with fresh approaches work well.  Sometimes it’s tempo shifts that are more interesting.  Read the stories out loud.  Sometimes that clanking sound in the machinery is what makes the movement more compelling.  Sometimes it’s the smooth purr of words you’re after.  Don’t look over your shoulder.  It’s important to make the process as organic as possible, maybe even fun.  Finding a publisher is something else entirely.  Too bad there isn’t something like a dating service for publishers and writers.  You’d probably learn all you needed to after the first drink. 

NS: That is perfect advice. And I love the publishing dating service! Anything else you want to add?

RS: In terms of writing that book/those stories: show up!  Be bold!  Writing is all about mystery and discovery.  Never let the blank page or screen intimidate you.  You cannot have the reward of discovery without the mystery. 

NS: And this is why you are a master. It’s been such a pleasure getting to pick your brain! Can you share the links to the book/books and other promo links.

Robert’s work can be found at: www.robertscotellaro.com

Press 53: https://www.press53.com/robert-scotellaro

What Are the Chances now available from Press 53!

Robert Scotellaro has published widely in national and international books, journals and anthologies, including W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, NANO Fiction, Gargoyle, New Flash Fiction Review, Matter Press, The Laurel Review, and many others.  His stories were included in Best Small Fictions (2016 and 2017) and Best Microfiction 2020. He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and five full-length story collections: Measuring the Distance, What We Know So Far (winner of The 2015 Blue Light Book Award), Bad Motel, Nothing Is Ever One Thing, and What Are the Chances?  He was the recipient of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry. He has edited, along with James Thomas, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction published by W.W. Norton & Company. He is one of the founding donors to The Ransom Flash Fiction Collection at the University of Texas, Austin.  Robert lives with his wife in San Francisco. Find him online at: www.robertscotellaro.com

Flash Fiction Changes How We Tell Stories

Do you love to travel AND write? Do you find some of your greatest inspirations come when you are out of your comfort zone, stimulated by novelty and absorbing new experiences? Then you are going to want to hang out and listen to Marilyn Ball and I talk about the power of travel, the power of writing, and the gorgeous juxtaposition of my two favorite things.

Listen now!

Show notes: For over a decade, Nancy Stohlman has been writing, publishing and teaching flash fiction around the world. Much of her creative process is finding the sweet spot as a writer, performer and innovator and she teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Nancy tells us about her new book on the writing of flash fiction, “Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction,” and her future Flash Fiction Retreats for 2021/2022.  Flash fiction is changing the way we tell stories and Nancy is an enchanting storyteller! 

December Book Special: Dealer’s Choice

December signed book special!

One Going Short

+ One Vintage Book

= $25 (plus shipping)!

Choose:

Going Short

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+

Dealer’s Choice:

Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (2018, Big Table Publishing)
Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009, Monkey Puzzle Press)
The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014, Pure Slush Press)
The Monster Opera (2013, Bartleby Snopes Press)

(Click for more info on these books)

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= 2 Books for $25!

Gift one to your writer friend.

And keep one for yourself.

ORDER NOW!

While supplies last! Some books are out of print with very limited supplies!

Thank you and happy reading!

Love, Nancy

Books By Friends 2020 Edition (just in time for the Winter Book Flood)

Once a year I wish I was Icelandic, because Jolabokaflod, the Annual Winter “Book Flood”, is perhaps the best holiday ever.

I first visited Iceland in 2015, and I fell in love with a lot of things: colorful homes, black lava landscapes, their quirky sense of humor and the fact that most Icelanders have a warm place in their hearts for elves, but the most stunning unicorn of them all was an adorable cozy bookstore, the kind you dream of, on every corner. Every. Corner.

Yes, long winter nights have created some of the world’s most avid readers and created the Winter tradition known as the Book Flood. Publishers will release a “flood” of books from September to December, and all the people giving and receiving books during the winter holidays (traditionally on Christmas Eve) ensures plenty of long nights cozied up by literary fires across the country.

Yeah. Kinda perfect, huh?

So every year at this time, I like to share the new and old books by friends that grace my nightstand and might give you some reading and gifting ideas as we head into the Winter Book Flood season. Because if you’re going to gift books, why not gift books by friends? Whether we are Icelandic or not, or celebrate Christmas or not, we can still embrace the spirit of Jolabokaflod by sharing and indulging our creative imaginations during the darkest nights of the year. And so I present:

Books By Friends 2020 Edition:

The books that I will personally be cozying up with as 2020 comes to a close:

(I’ve provided the publisher or author’s direct link if available)

(in no particular order)

Diane Simmons: Finding a Way  “In Finding a Way, Diane Simmons chronicles a family navigating loss. Told from various perspectives, this series of connected flashes finds words where so many cannot. The often indescribable is distilled in a way that is fresh and full of deep emotional understanding. This debut collection is both delicate and impactful, and the stories within are among the rare that will move any reader.”

gregory SETH harris: The Perfect Stranger  “Liberally sprinkled with incredible, unique images, Harris’s unconventional  Perfect Stranger evokes the impression of Richard Brautigan cartwheeling down an Escherian Stairwell: Very creative, certainly strange, and possibly dangerous.”

Karen Jones: When It’s Not Called Making Love
“When It’s Not Called Making Love is a breathless, breathtaking, unflinching coming-of-age debut you will not want to miss. … I just loved When it’s Not Called Making Love. With an authentic voice, Karen Jones tells the story of the troubled Bernadette as she grows from displaced child to young adult.”

Jeanette Sheppard: Seventy Percent Water
“This collection of thirty-one stories explores familial, social and romantic relationships through a sense of who or what is absent. Several of the stories evoke the theme through magical realism — the title story about a woman who tracks down her ex-lover in a hospital corridor takes a fantastical turn of events impossible to see coming”

John Wheway: A Bluebottle in Late October
“John Wheway’s first full collection places its trust exactly where it should be: in the poetic present tense where every gnomic detail is magnified, every commonplace brought to its own species of transfiguration. At a time when the lyric is so much in need, he rejuvenates it in its most pellucid and most effortless form; the couplet is reshaped and crystallised, and comes to life. A Bluebottle in Late October is a memorable sequence of poems.”

Nod Ghosh: Filthy Sucre
“In Filthy SucreNod Ghosh paints fresh and stinging portraits of human vulnerability and fallibility. The three novellas will pull you fully into the worlds of her characters, mixing lush details with harsh surroundings, tragedy with amusement, and surreal happenings with all-too-familiar human experiences.”

Jennifer Louden:Why Bother?
“In Why BotherJennifer Louden shows with great honesty that feeling what is ours to feel is how we endure our way into a more authentic dream where who we are is more than enough. Without being prescriptive, this book is a strong and sensitive companion on the path of becoming fully human. … This book is a revelation.”

Pamela Painter: Fabrications: New and Selected Stories
“A crowning collection from the award-winning short story writer Pamela Painter. Pamela Painter’s short stories have been praised by Margot Livesey for their “wicked intelligence and ruthless humor.” In Fabrications, which brings together 7 new and 24 selected stories, characters struggle to avoid the chaos in their lives, but—driven by addictions and appetites—often bring on disaster. Nobody is ordinary in Painter’s stories.”

Robert Scotellaro: What Are the Chances?
“Robert Scotellaro has given us a gift with this collection of taut, stunning prose. Each piece is a marvel. The characters, and the situations they find themselves in, are thrilling, unique and immensely entertaining. In seconds he can get your pulse throbbing, or put your anxiety at ease. Scotellaro displays a mastery of the short form.” 

Meg Pokrass: The Loss Detector: a novella-in-flash
“Set in coastal California, The Loss Detector is a funny/sad portrait of teenage blues and of a small, transplanted family of non-conformists. The flawed but lovable characters in Pokrass’ novella remind us of how the world’s most beautiful places are not always the easiest in which to thrive. Moments of giddy, perceived freedom set against resignation dot the narrative in such a way that will leave you changed.”

Tino Prinzi: This Alone Could Save Us
“With This Alone Could Save Us, Santino Prinzi has fashioned a collection of small, smart fictions that read large. Here is work undergirded by innovation, incisive wit, and a keen ability to navigate terrain that is personal, and at once universal to us all.”

Peter Churches: Whistler’s Mother’s Son
“How do you begin to describe a collection of over 100 short prose pieces of varying length and styles when the only thing they all have in common is weirdness? Maybe you say it features parodies, standardized tests, nursery-rhyme anxieties, fables, riddles, collaborations, conundrums, rescued clichés, abominations-in-training, dark Americana, existential misdemeanors, misbegotten mysteries, identity crises, optimistic nihilism, formal experimentation, and polyrhythmic prose, with a side of word salad.”

Tina Barry: Beautiful Raft
“Tina Barry’s Beautiful Raft provides a gorgeously rendered glimpse into the enigmatic lives of UK artist Jean McNeil and her mother, Virginia Haggard. These poems and interludes examine not only the deep complexities of a family but also the interplay between art and society. Beyond Barry’s probing portrayal is an examination of the concept of artistic mastery and what it takes to both create and be seen in the world.”    

Jon Sindell: The Pugilist Poets of Venice
“This is a rollicking, big-hearted tale, full of laughter, bravery and unflinching humanity. The touch is light, but the questions are big: family, loyalty, art, and love are the rightful subjects of Sindell’s troupe of misfits and raconteurs, each of them a poet and each of them a pugilist too in this deeply funny and deeply felt novel.” 

Francine Witte: Dressed All Wrong for This
“Winner of the 2019 Blue Light Book Award Dressed All Wrong For This, (Blue Light Press, 2019) is Francine Witte’s debut collection of fifty-seven flash fictions. The book quickly establishes itself as an absurdist joy with stories that roam anywhere and everywhere. I felt drawn to the possibilities, the humor, and the fact that I had no idea where Witte’s stories might take me.”

KB Jensen: A Storm of Stories
“Sometimes telling a story is just another way to stay alive. Swerving to avoid a hitchhiker out in a whiteout storm, Julie’s car ends up wedged in a snow bank. With the inches piling higher on the dark road, she can’t escape a man who makes little sense. Stranded in the freezing cold, the two tell stories to pass the time. From the Midwest to India, Denmark and Canada, they offer visions of lives and loves from young to old, far and wide. But as the hours blur together, and the snow and ice set in, it becomes less clear how their own story will end. A tale of love, craziness and impossibility.”

Cath Barton: In the Sweep of the Bay
“This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.”

PLUS: Check out the So You Wrote a Book series for more great titles by friends from earlier in the year. And yes, SYWAB will be returning soon and I’ll hopefully be talking to many of the authors on this list! Stay tuned!

Happy Book Gifting and Happy Holidays!

Love, Nancy

P.S. And, in the spirit of the season, check out my special book gifting offer from my own book collection of new and previous titles—2 of which are out of print and you can only get them from me!

P.S.S. (And if a little birdie told you about a Flash Fiction Retreat tentatively planned for Iceland in winter 2022 (fingers crossed)….shhh…..!)