So You Wrote a Book? Nathan Leslie

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. 

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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!

Links to buy the book:

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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.

Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction Workshop June 22-26, 2020

Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction Workshop

June 22-26, 2020

homunIn celebration of what would have been the release of my new book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (forthcoming 2021 from Ad Hoc Fiction, stay tuned!), I’m running the workshop that started it all (beginning in 2013!)

This 5-day generative class will use chapters from Going Short to examine the fundamentals of flash, try a variety of approaches to the compressed narrative, discuss what makes successful flash, and generate your own original flash pieces.

This course is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form, whether you are brand new to flash fiction, a writer coming from other genres, or a veteran flasher looking for a dose of inspiration and some writing camaraderie.

**In solidarity with Corona-craziness, I will continue to offer (limited) discounts on all my workshops this summer.  

More info or register here

Questions? Feel free to contact me at nancystohlman@gmail.com

“I feel very lucky to have taken three of Nancy’s workshops. They have all been fantastic and exceeded my expectations. Not only are they well-organized and in-depth, but Nancy has a knack for making course material accessible in a way that also reaches beyond writing at times, pulling examples from other mediums to bring a point across in a different way. No one else does that, and I love it! The classes have introduced me to some of my new favorite authors and ways of approaching stories that I’ve not encountered anywhere else. These courses have stretched my skills and my writing has only grown stronger as a result. My only wish is that there were more of them on offer.” ~ Sara Hill

“I am always blown away by Nancy’s insights, comments and concrete suggestions and the deep attention given to each piece by the other writers. Of all the real life and online workshops I have participated in, Stohlman Workshops have provided me with the best critique, guidance and greatest sense of connectedness, albeit brief, to other writers. The materials are organized, clear and interesting. Nancy’s expertise as an instructor, editor and writer are greatly appreciated. I am challenged but never intimidated. Nancy embodies what it means to be a great teacher: she remembers what it was like not to know how, breaks the objective down into manageable lessons, gently guides and raucously encourages every success.”~Katherine Beck

The Sliding-Scale Schedule: Making a Creative Routine in a Virtual World

As summer approaches, and some sort of quarantine continues, there’s been plenty of talk of productivity and the joy of creating “schedules” to maximize our (creative) time.

But most of our lives look pretty weird these days. The days aren’t regular, but they’re not vacation, either. Many of our imposed schedules from the outside are gone, and we are finding ourselves floating in an immense and frightening freedom.

So the question is: how can we have both accountability and kindness for ourselves?

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Now that my semester is ending, I’ve been asking myself this question a lot. I decided to do a little investigating into my stack of journals to see what my daily schedule looked like last summer when I was (both highly productive and) on sabbatical.

And that’s when I discovered something important: I didn’t have a schedule. I had a routine.

  1. I woke between 7-10 am and spent 1-2 hours in bed reading or catching up on social media (but nothing “important”).
  2. I got dressed and walked to the coffee shop and began to journal for the next 1-2 hours, depending on how quickly (or slowly) inspiration hit.
  3. I went home, ate lunch, and worked for 2-3 hours. This part of the routine worked especially well because the afternoon hours were the hottest.
  4. I finished working for the day and went exploring, walking, swimming, dinner, etc.

I realize this is an idealized routine, but the important takeaway is that because this was a routine and not a schedule, there were no set-in-stone times. I did NOT set the alarm to wake up at a specific time or say “I have to be at the coffee shop by noon” or whatever. Instead, the looseness of this routine vs a by-the-clock schedule meant that everything got done every day—but the daily particulars were flexible.

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We all have many routines already. Consider: many of us wake up and then drink coffee. One thing naturally follows the other—we wake up, we make coffee, we drink it. I have never set my alarm to make sure I don’t miss drinking coffee–coffee is part of the routine.

Or: I read every night in bed before I go to sleep. Sometimes I read for an hour. Sometimes I read for 15 minutes. Sometimes it begins at 10 pm. Sometimes it begins at 11 or 8. I never have to schedule reading time because it always happens last in my daily routine.

Not looking at the clock works for me. Letting one thing naturally follow the other in a predictable sequence works for me. Creative work needs creative breathing room. And yes, it also needs discipline. But when we make schedules we can become militaristic—we beat ourselves up, lording the clock and the whip to do those 30 mins of yoga/meditation/writing by a certain time instead of honoring that we are dynamic animals in an ever-changing daily flow.

That’s why I think a routine is truly the sweet spot in the middle. Think of it as the “sliding scale” schedule, a sequence of events. Rather than “I must be at my desk by 10 am”, it can be: “I must go to my desk after coffee.”

That said, some things must be scheduled. Work, classes, events have a starting time that we may have to work around. But for all the rest of the time, especially with summer birthing itself and many of us yearning for more productivity in this strange, in-between time, I encourage you to get investigative: throw out the clock, listen to your your natural rhythm, and discover your perfect routine. When in the day are you the most productive? When do you want to rest? Do you wake up ready to write? Or do you like to wake up slowly? Do you like to take a nap? Stay up late? Take a walk in the evening or after working? See if you can create a routine that really supports that flow this season, rather than imposing a schedule that may be counter to what you (and your creativity) really need.

Remember: Even the bunnies stay out later in the spring, regardless of what the clock says.
Here’s to your perfect routine!
(and check out some of the surprising routines of creative people below)
xo
Nancy

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Let’s Play a Game: Cancelled or Not?

1. Writing Wild in the Blue Zone Retreat to Costa Rica has been….
Cancelled/Rescheduled!
The new dates are May 8-14, 2021

The French Connection Retreat to France has been…..
Cancelled/Rescheduled!
The new dates are June 5-11, 2021

The High Altitude Inspiration Retreat to Colorado has been…..
Cancelled.
Shadowcliff has closed the venue to groups for now.

The June release of Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction from Ad Hoc Press has been….
Postponed!
This will likely come out in early 2021–stay tuned for a new release date. 

Workshops: Not Cancelled!
In honor of my delayed book release I will be running a fun, 5-day “Going Short” Writing Flash Fiction (with preview chapters from the book) workshop from June 22-26 for those of you who want to get your pens moving. Registration opens soon.

And I’ll be running another Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel course again in July.  Read testimonials from past participants.

Stay sane out there, everyone!

So You Wrote a Book? Randall Brown

Extremely spare, the micro stories in Randall Brown’s latest collection, This is How He Learned to Love, function almost as tiny puzzles to decipher. Brown is a master of compression, and these stories are the most delicate of enigmas rupturing page after page with the rhythm of a heartbeat.

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Randall Brown with collaborator Meg Boscov for their latest book, Hand in Hand.

Nancy Stohlman: So in the spirit of flash fiction, describe this book in six words:

Randall Brown: Short bursts of emotion, maybe insight.

NS: I absolutely love your use of titles, and I remember you sharing how to use titles unconventionally at the AWP panel on microfiction in 2019. Your titles, especially the ones in this book, almost feel at times like a classic call and response (I’m thinking of your final story, “Yes, I Knew”). Discuss.

RB: Because almost all of these piece fit on a single page, I thought perhaps readers would read the title, then the story, then the title again. So the title might work as a first line, last line, or both. Other times, the title was an original word or phrase in the piece that, in the process of editing, got deleted. In titles such as “Skip a Life Completely” and “What To Do,” they came from other sources, the first from Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” and the latter from the rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” In a piece such as “Ghost Writer,” the title sets up the reader to think one way about the meaning of a “ghost writer” and then the ending might change that meaning. I do like to find words in titles that might have varied meanings, especially if those meanings might change as the reader progresses through each piece.

NS: I’m curious about your process, especially as you have been on the front lines of flash fiction for a long time. Do you start with longer ideas and then whittle them down to these little micro nuggets? Or do they come out short? Has your process changed over time?

RB: They come out this short—and most of my ideas work no longer than a single 9 x 6 page.  The idea comes first. For example, I recently thought about a guy who fires his inner voice and begins to interview for a replacement. Why would he fire his voice? What might the other voices he interview sound like? What might he learn from the process? I then write to find out myself, to figure it out, to see what happens.  Most of the times, I find that the execution of the idea fails and fails and fails again. That is one great thing about the (very) short from. You can try many, many times to make an idea or piece work. For me, there’s a lot of anxiety around writing, especially the uncertainty about whether each choice is the right one. So getting the piece to end quickly is key to my surviving the process. Also, it helps so so much that, in my non-writing life, I repress most feelings. They get buried deeply, and there they compress themselves, getting deeper, denser, until they just have to explode. I let that happen in the writing. Boom.

NS: I’m laughing. Well said, and how nice of your subconscious to compress for you! So one result of the micro form, then, is that there is often a lot of white space on the page. When one flips through the pages of This is How He Learned to Love, for instance, the simplicity can be deceiving. I wanted to (and did) read most of these stories twice, and I’m pretty sure they will continue to reveal themselves to me on every subsequent read. Is this something you do intentionally or does it happen unconsciously?

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RB: Maybe it’s the nature of compression, that each word is loaded so that each word continues to set-off varied meanings. Frost’s “The Oven Bird” ends with this sentence: “The question that he frames in all but words / Is what to make of a diminished thing.” Perhaps, one answer to that, for Frost, was that one makes a poem, another “diminished” thing in response to a fallen (diminished?) world in which “the highway dust is over all.” One thing I learned from Frost is the use of “indeterminate” words that seem simple but have various possible referents. In the above line, for example, Frost’s use of “thing” allows the reader to fill in that “indefinite-ness” with varied meanings. In my collection, you’ll find many examples of Frost’s technique. Just in the first story: “my father whispered something”; “somewhere, in between casts”; “I’d felt it this time”; “something entirely else.” Those “indefinite” words continually search for a referent, and that feels about right, doesn’t it, for the nature of things.

NS: This sort of nuance and complexity is (in my opinion) where prose meets poetry. How can flash writers hone this level of nuance in their writing?

RB: I learn (surely not steal) from other writers’ techniques. For example, from Kim Chinquee I learned how to remove modifiers at the end of sentences. At the end of the titular piece in the collection, I originally wrote something like “And then he’ll have to decide whether to stay or leave.” Channeling Chinquee, I changed it to “And then he’ll have to decide.” I think another time I had a sentence such as “In the crib, the baby rattled the bars.” This changed to “In the crib, the baby rattled.”

In reading Poe, I came across this line: “I quickly unclosed my eyes.” Cool way to define things, I thought, by what they are not, rather than what they are. In one story, instead of dislike or hate, I used the word “unlove.” In reading Anne Sexton, I found “my heart / is a kitten of butter.” I loved the repeated “tt” that connected the words. That might become something like “he kicked the deck of cards” in a story, not even close to the wonder of Anne Sexton, of course, but an attempt.

And so on.  In Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma,” he ends the song with the line, “It’s life and life only.” Would the line “it’s love and love only” be too much of a “steal” from Dylan? Hmmm.

NS: Hmmm, indeed! So Randall, you are a very funny person in real life (and on social media!), but the stories you write are often quite serious. And yet the humor slips in very gently, in subtle ways and moments. Talk about humor in your writing. 

RB: By being funny, I think you mean I comb the internet for jokes and either post them or memorize them to deliver at the right moment. I think the humor is a preventative against pretension: it helps me not take myself too seriously. It sometimes works.

NS: This is How He Learned to Love was the first runner-up in the Sonder Press Chapbook Competition—congratulations! Talk your journey to publication with this book.

RB: Not much to tell. They asked if I wouldn’t mind having them publish the collection. even though it didn’t win. Such an honor to be asked by such a wonderful press! I was over the moon. Elena Stiehler provided amazing editing suggestions—and I believe I said YES to all of them, except when she tried to cut a reference to Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh stays. I was adamant about that. No one puts Pooh in the corner. Well, unless it’s Pooh’s Corner. Then it’s okay.

NS: Okay, so here comes the genre question: You’ve published many books in many genres, including prose poetry (I Might Never Learn), a novella (How Long is Forever) and even non-fiction (A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction) as well as being a master of flash fiction. Talk about the crossover.  Does it help cross-pollinate your work or do you have to shake off one genre to fully engage in the other?

RB: To be honest, and I know we disagreed about this idea a bit on our panel at AWP, I don’t care what label gets put on a collection or piece. It comes out the way it comes out. So that’s my “real” answer. But here’s maybe a more helpful answer. The longer my pieces get, the worse they get. This has been confirmed not only by agents, readers, editors, and the like, but by the very best scientists. Big league scientists. And I have often wondered why that’s the case. To make things longer, to draw things out, things need to happen, and I find that to make the choice after choice of “what should happen?” means I’m too often going to get it not quite right. I think I’m better at making the language-level choices of what should come next than at making the narrative choices of what should happen next. After a bit, choice after wrong choice of what should happen next leads to a rather confusing, convoluted narrative. I’m working on it still.

NS: I first read your essay about flash fiction in the Rose Metal Field Guide to Flash Fiction in 2009, when I was writing my MFA Thesis. How do you think flash fiction has changed (for good or bad) in the last decade?

RB: I think I might’ve been able to get noticed way back when just for writing something so compressed and compact; now, the size itself isn’t enough to get readers interested. There might be more focus on what each writer is able to do with that compressed space—and perhaps editors and readers want to see innovation beyond the challenge “Can you tell a story in [  ] words”? So, I think when I was first writing flash, pieces were partially accepted because of the novelty of the form; places weren’t being inundated with very short fictions. Nowadays, I don’t think there is much novelty in writing flash fiction: editors are quite familiar with the form. So writers might need to push the form into new, exciting places or create content that feels fresh.

NS: I totally agree with you–short and clever isn’t enough anymore. It’s a good thing you are short, clever, and brilliant!

It’s been such a joy to chat with you, Randall. Can you share links to buy the book or other promo links?

RB: I just finished HAND IN HAND, a coffee table photo & essay book that matches the macro-photography of my wife Meg Boscov with my own micro. A weekly dose of image and words gives readers (we hope) a year of inspiration, meditation, and reflection. That makes for fifty-two macro/micro doses. It’s available at Matter Press or Amazon . We also have AFTER available on Kindle. AFTER again takes photos from award-winning photographer Meg Boscov, but this time projects them into a peopleless future, and describes, in the prose poetry accompanying each one, the time after the melting, after the rising, after the disappearing, as Earth begins the recovery, out of the woods, a return to form.

 

Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection MAD TO LIVE, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in THE ROSE METAL PRESS FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH FICTION, and he appears in BEST SMALL FICTIONS 2015 & 2017 & 2019 and The Norton Anthology NEW MICRO: EXCEPTIONALLY SHORT FICTION & The Norton Anthology HINT FICTION. He founded and directs FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. Recent books include the prose poetry collection I MIGHT NEVER LEARN (Finishing Line Press 2018), the novella HOW LONG IS FOREVER (Running Wild Press 2018), and the flash fiction collection THIS IS HOW HE LEARNED TO LOVE (Sonder Press 2019).  He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA in Fiction from Vermont College.

Write a Flash Novel May 11-22

Write a Flash Novel

May 11-22, 2020

This workshop is now SOLD OUT. Stay tuned for additional summer offerings.

7ce163b50c8d11cda50c0af6d803e41cDo you have a large, book-length idea that you’ve been wanting to bring to fruition? Do you love the intensity of FlashNano or NaNoWriMo? Then get ready: In 10 days we will create a flood of words and you will leave the workshop with the bones (at least) of a flash novel.

What’s a flash novel? With the scope and complexity of a novel, and the size and ingenuity of flash fiction, the flash novel is a new type of book, a breakout genre that can deliver a sophisticated reading experience in a compact space. In this workshop will envision, draft, collage and create the momentum for that large-scale idea you have been wanting to tackle.

Participants should come with a basic understanding of flash fiction and have ideas for a book-length concept. Limited availability.

Questions? Contact me at nancystohlman@gmail.com

“Nancy Stohlman’s Flash Novel workshop was so helpful and so much fun I took it twice. Nancy’s wonderful course materials—readings, commentaries, exercises, critiques—arrive each morning like a magical gift to unwrap with the day’s first coffee. Now I’m hoping she’ll offer a Flash Novel Next Steps workshop!”~ Sally Reno

“Nancy will help you to become a better writer—while having an awesome time. The best thing about working with her is that it doesn’t feel like work; the atmosphere is positive, generative, encouraging. I took her “Write a Flash Novel” class. These days I’ve become a slower, finicky writer, but her class pushed me out of my finickiness and into producing work. I wrote the hell out of those two weeks. Every day there was an inspiring prompt and lesson. It coaxed me out of dull perfectionism and allowed me to make a mess (a requisite for any artist).”~Leonora Desar

“The day I signed up for Nancy Stohlman’s “Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel” workshop, I entered with five underdeveloped ideas. By the workshops conclusion, one of these ideas blossomed into a cast of characters with personalized desires, humor encompassed in varying flash forms, and previews of my fellow writers flash novels in-progress. This workshop enables writers to construct a table of contents, toy with characters (new and old), and exchange ideas on how to proceed in writing their novel in flash once the workshop ends.” ~K.B. Carle

“I feel very lucky to have taken three of Nancy’s workshops. They have all been fantastic and exceeded my expectations. Not only are they well-organized and in-depth, but Nancy has a knack for making course material accessible in a way that also reaches beyond writing at times, pulling examples from other mediums to bring a point across in a different way. No one else does that, and I love it! The classes have introduced me to some of my new favorite authors and ways of approaching stories that I’ve not encountered anywhere else. These courses have stretched my skills and my writing has only grown stronger as a result. My only wish is that there were more of them on offer.” ~ Sara Hill

“I am always blown away by Nancy’s insights, comments and concrete suggestions and the deep attention given to each piece by the other writers. Of all the real life and online workshops I have participated in, Stohlman Workshops have provided me with the best critique, guidance and greatest sense of connectedness, albeit brief, to other writers. The materials are organized, clear and interesting. Nancy’s expertise as an instructor, editor and writer are greatly appreciated. I am challenged but never intimidated. Nancy embodies what it means to be a great teacher: she remembers what it was like not to know how, breaks the objective down into manageable lessons, gently guides and raucously encourages every success.”~Katherine Beck

“Nancy Stohlman’s Novel-in-Flash Workshop was a thoroughly rewarding experience. Nancy was an encouraging and passionate instructor. She fostered a supportive community of writers. Her knowledge of flash fiction helped me move out of my comfort zone and try out different techniques I would otherwise have been afraid of trying.”~Candace Hartsuyker

“Nancy Stohlman’s Novella in Flash Workshop moved my writing ahead in a direction I never imagined.  Before it began, I feared I’d signed up for more than I could handle. But, in a ‘flash’, Nancy, a generous person, with an infectious creative spirit assuaged those worries. From the first workshop day to the last I received encouragement and insightful responses to my writing.”~Jo Goren

So You Wrote a Book? Damhnait Monaghan

A deceptively slim book that tells an entire Irish family saga, Damhnait Monaghan’s debut, The Neverlands, is a beautiful treatise on who we love and how do we love–especially those closest to us. In this story love is vulnerable and risky…but it is also redemptive. A stunning mini epic full of equal parts sorrow and hope, each tension-filled story stands alone and yet together they create something powerful and universal. 

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Nancy Stohlman: Describe this story in six words:

Damhnait Monaghan: Family. Motherhood. Habits. Loss. Change. Hope.

NS: I love your opening story—the spray-painted phrase “Seamus O’Riordan is a gobshite” sets the tension and tone for me immediately. Was this story always the opening story? Or did this tale begin elsewhere for you?

DM: The Neverlands began as a mosaic flash written during Fast Flash, an online writing group led by the inimitable Kathy Fish, and was published at Jellyfish Review. A shorter version of the opening story was the first micro in that mosaic flash. It seemed a good place to begin the novella-in-flash as all three family members – Mammy, Nuala and Da – are referenced.

NS: How did the stories find their order—were they written mostly chronologically or did you mosaic around an idea?

DM: The five mini-micros in the original mosaic flash covered a lot of ground. Writing the novella-in-flash provided the opportunity to slow things down and fill in some of the bigger gaps between the original micros. I was vaguely aware of the overall arc I hoped to achieve, but I didn’t write the new stories chronologically, instead writing around images and ideas which then inspired more pieces. For example, I wrote a flash about Nuala’s holy communion ceremony where Mammy cuts down her wedding dress for Nuala. This led me to write a flash about Mammy and Da’s elopement, where Da shows up with that wedding dress.

NS: The title of the book, The Neverlands, comes from a literal misunderstanding of “The Netherlands,” but of course it’s a beautiful mistake. In some ways, “misunderstandings” both beautiful and painful are a defining feature of this epic story. Your thoughts?

DM: Yes, I think Nuala in particular misunderstands things that occur, partly because she wants to believe. For example, in ‘Holy Communion’ she half rises out of her seat to go look for the money tree in the garden that will pay for a new dress; she wants to believe in that money tree. But Mammy too makes mistakes; in “Star-crossed Lovers’ she runs off with Seamus/Da at sixteen, thinking his flattery is “dead poetic.”

NS: Your characters are Irish, and most of the story takes place in Ireland, but Ireland feels almost like a translucent background that you see in hints only. In the same way, I love how you pepper the Irish dialect without having it intrude on the story (as some written dialects can). What are your thoughts around writing in dialect?

DM: My parents were Irish, but emigrated to Canada before they married. I’ve never lived in Ireland (although I have visited) so I was over the moon when the wonderful Nuala O’Connor described the dialect in The Neverlands as ‘pitch-perfect.’

Done well, dialect adds another layer to a story, but I’ve read books where the dialect is so dense it’s off-putting (naming no names). I’m in the midst of dripping more dialect into the manuscript of my first novel, which is set in Newfoundland. I’m looking for that balance between a desire for authenticity and the need for clarity.

NS: At some point the child Nuala wants to stay and watch grandpa whittle, “wishing she could see what animal crawls out of the wood today.” I think your writing is a bit like this— you do an amazing job “carving” to the essence of each story. Talk about your writing process? Do you do a lot of editing/whittling or do they come out in big chunks? Or something else?

DM: Flash can be distilled right down to the essentials of the story. When I’m writing flash, I tend to write big, then pare down, changing words, tense, etc to polish the piece. The Neverlands underwent a fair amount of editing, as I explain below, and I was conscious of the need to ensure that each individual piece worked towards the whole, as well as the need for continuity.

NS: I really love the scene with the teabag—anyone who has traveled internationally will relate to being faced with unfamiliar and/or losing familiar cultural rituals. In your hands I felt this story as a point of compassion: being an immigrant is hard in hundreds of small ways (we usually only think of the big ones). Your thoughts?

DM: Thank you and yes, as an immigrant myself I agree that small things matter. When I first moved to the UK from Canada, I thought everything would be so easy. I figured, you know, Canada is a former British colony, we speak the same language, how hard could it be? Ha. There were myriad small differences that made day to day life incredibly frustrating in those early days.

As the daughter of immigrants, I so regret not quizzing them more about their culture shock -imagine their first winter in northern Canada! –  while I still had the chance. The tea bag scene is based on a story my mom liked to tell about her first encounter with a teabag. During a layover in New York, en route to Canada, she had tea in a restaurant with her friends and they all had to take instruction from the waitress on how to “work” the tea bag.

NS: You use both Mammy and Nuala as story “headings.” It’s a simple strategy, but it works. How did you decide to do it this way?

DM: That was a suggestion made by my wonderful editor and publisher Sarah Leavesley at V Press. As there are two different voices in the novella, I think it helps to quickly ground the reader.

NS: The Neverlands is currently called “short fiction”—it could just as easily be called a novella in flash. Why one and not the other? And does it matter?

DM: Great question. At the time of publication, I was hung up on the apparent need for each flash in a novella-in-flash to be stand alone and wasn’t sure if all of mine did. (although reviewers seem to think they do.) But now, I think, why do they all have to be stand alone? Who made that rule?  What is a novella-in-flash? It’s a short novel told in flash. If I was publishing it now, I would absolutely call The Neverlands a novella-in-flash. (Phew, glad to get that off my chest!)

NS: Ha! Now this is your first book—congratulations! Talk about V. Press and/or your road to publication?

DM: Thank you! The whole process was a delight, which I understand is not always the case in publishing. I met Sarah Leavesley of V Press at the 2018 Flash Fiction Festival and discovered they were open to submissions for flash pamphlets. At that point all I had was the original mosaic flash and another flash called ‘Habits’ written in that same Fast Flash course. The original mosaic was in Nuala’s voice and ‘Habits’ was in Mammy’s.

Well, it seemed these two characters had much more to say. While still at the Flash Fiction Festival I attended Karen Jones’ visualisation workshop (highly recommended). I was prepared to go wherever the visualisation took me, but allowed myself to hope it would be towards Mammy or Nuala. It was. The words flowed into rough drafts which I polished, later submitting a sample to V Press. Sarah got in touch to request the full MS and subsequently offered me publication. We then spent some time to-ing and fro-ing on edits until we were both happy with the final result. I can’t praise Sarah enough. She is a fantastic editor and also designed my gorgeous cover.

NS: Advice for writers who are writing a book?

DM: Oof. There’s so much advice out there, much of it conflicting. Do what works for you. Find your tribe, be it online or in person. For me, literary Twitter has always been a brilliant and supportive writing community, but there are lots of other avenues. Find what works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other writers and celebrate their success as much as your own.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

DM: Just to thank you so much for this opportunity to chat, Nancy. I’m sad we won’t see each other again this year in Bristol, but will cross my fingers for 2021!

NS: You are so welcome, and yes, long live 2021!

Links to buy the book or other promo links:

9781916505261

 

The Neverlands is in its second printing and can be purchased from V Press 

Or for a signed copy, contact Damhnait direct via her website: www.damhnaitmonaghan.com

or on Twitter @Downith

Damhnait Monaghan was born and grew up in Canada but now lives in the U.K. Her writing has won or placed in various competitions and is widely published and anthologised. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions. Her novella in flash The Neverlands was published by V. Press in 2019. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction, an online literary journal that showcases historical flash fiction. You can find her on Twitter @Downith.

 

How Coronavirus is Like a Car Accident

How Coronavirus is Like a Car Accident

or Joie de Vivre in the Time of Confusion
So… this month I decided to scrap my original post and share something very personal instead, particularly how this experience is framing the current situation for me. Indulge me a moment…

Almost 4 years ago I was in a car accident on my way to a reading. “In a car accident” isn’t quite right; I was hit head on by a drunk driver going 60 mph the wrong way on a 3-lane highway in broad daylight. And almost as soon as it was over, from the moment I was ripped out of the car, then in the ambulance, and then in the ER, I heard one thing over and over: you are so lucky.

You. Are. So. Lucky.

The first responders were amazed that my back wasn’t broken. The doctors, nurses, even later the tow truck driver who dragged my carcass of a car off the highway were amazed that I was still alive at all, let alone not paralyzed or permanently injured.

I kept hearing lucky, lucky, lucky. You are so lucky you should buy a lottery ticket.

And it clicked for me in the ER, while they were pulling chunks of glass out of my skin and hooking me up to morphine. I was lucky. I’d been given a great gift. And this was a glorious day to be alive.

This story could have gone another way. Not just the way of my demise, of course, but at that precipice between light and dark I could have turned to the dark. In that space between lucky and unlucky I could have allowed myself to become a victim–because I was a victim. I’d been driving sober, doing the speed limit, wearing my seat belt. I’d done everything right—so why did this bad thing happen to me? I couldn’t teach my classes, I couldn’t get out of bed. I even missed my oldest child’s high school graduation. And I didn’t deserve any of it!

During these days of uncertainty, I’ve been thinking a lot about those lessons of 4 years ago. Coronavirus has hit the planet like an out of control drunk driver going the wrong way on the highway, and we’ve all been part of the 7-billion car pile up in its wake. Everyone’s plans just got hijacked, and it’s not our fault.

But, individually and collectively, we are now on the precipice between light and dark. Will I become hardened, bitter, angry, victimized—this isn’t fair. I didn’t deserve it. Because it’s not fair and you didn’t deserve it. The fall out is real. We got hit. The car is totaled. Our lung is punctured, half our ribs are shattered, and our arm is going to need to be pinned back together with screws.

So here’s the point of my story: One night when I was in the hospital I vividly remember when a nurse (angel) I’d never seen before answered one of my late night calls for help. He had caught me at a bad moment, in pain, frustrated because I couldn’t go to the bathroom alone, and having a bit of a breakdown.  And I vividly remember he looked at me right in the eyes and gently said:

 “An accident is a reminder to be grateful for every little thing in your life.”

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Now, whenever I’m in uncertainly, I always try to remember: An accident is a reminder to be grateful for every little thing in your life. And this worldwide “accident” will affect people differently; none of us will emerge untouched. But bad days don’t have to become bad seasons, bad years. In times of crisis, confusion, and change we always have a choice between the dark and the light. The alchemy of this moment has the power to transform either way—the heat of this fire will scorch and burn us up or strengthen us, like pottery in a kiln. We can become victims to circumstance or we can shine no matter what.

Right now I’m grateful to be quarantined in a country where I have clean, running, hot and cold water, a pantry and a freezer full of food, a heated apartment, internet access. I’m grateful to still have an (now) online version of my job and the tools to make it happen (the kids in my friend’s elementary class in New Mexico can’t afford computers to do online school). I’m grateful that it’s spring and that I have a body that still works, a bicycle with full tires. I’m grateful that being out of toilet paper is truly not the end of the world. And I’m grateful for every one of you and for the strange but glorious creativity happening in this unexpected time.

Oh no they can’t take that away from me.

xoxox