So You Wrote a Book? Francine Witte

Dressed All Wrong For This, Francine Witte’s new book of flash fiction and winner of the Blue Light Fiction Award, is a smorgasbord of poignant absurdity, expertly navigating the delicate line between pure whimsy and subtle, sometimes devastating truth. This book will make you laugh at the same time it takes your breath away.

Francine Witte

Nancy Stohlman: Your work is whimsical and absurd, almost slapstick at times, just the way I like it! Where do your ideas come from?

Francine Witte: I get my titles first, for the most part. A phrase might pop into my head and I go from there. The story usually unfolds as I am writing it. I rarely know what the story is going to be about until I start. Just letting myself go where the story takes me often allows for the absurd to happen.

NS: There are so many memorable moments in these stories. This one from the story “Flag” stood out for me:

The waiter brings the Coq Au Vin.

This is chicken, Janie says

I thought it would be something more.

You might also say that about love, the waiter smiles.

This passage is the perfect example of what I love about your work—just when you think it’s pure silly, you swiftly rip away the tablecloth to reveal the truth underneath. Talk about the relationship between absurdity and truth in general and in your writing.

FW: To me, when something is absurd, it’s because it’s true. So very often as I’m thinking of writing how people are getting along in a restaurant, in love, in just about anything, I’m also thinking, what’s really true here. What aren’t the characters saying? In the above passage, it seems absurd that a waiter would just randomly say what he says, but it’s also true.

NS: There are so many recurring themes in this book, including food, betrayal, and of course, chicken. Why chicken?

FW: Betrayal is my go-to theme. It has conflict baked in. I have lots of guys leaving lots of gals for no reason, or lots of reasons. Parents cheating on each other. Friends stealing each other’s boyfriends, and on and on.  It never leaves me. As to food, it seems to be what people do. They eat. Anytime people are getting together there is food. And if there isn’t food now, there is food later. And I suppose that chicken is kind of an easy food to reference, being as ubiquitous as it is in our culture. Also, I think the word “chicken” is funny.

NS: We first shared pages in Tom Hazuka’s wonderful anthology Flash Fiction Funny. Do you think comedic writing is taken less seriously in the writing world?

FW: Humor in writing certainly has less gravitas, even though it’s much more difficult to do well. Maybe humor tends to be more topical, and therefore has a specific shelf life. I love humor and absurdity is like a quieter form of humor.

NS: Talk a little about your journey to flash fiction. Did it choose you?

FW: I started as a poet, and most of my formal writing education, my MFA, etc. is in poetry. I wrote and published poems in the late ‘80’s. Then in the early ‘90’s, I ventured into playwrighting, and wrote a few full-length plays and many, many one-acts. I liked the one-acts more because I love the compression of them. Also, I liked that there are more things you could do form-wise in a short play. That’s pretty much the same as flash fiction. I started to write short-shorts (as they were referred to then) and immediately fell in love with the language and possibility of such a short story. You can set a flash on the moon, for example. That doesn’t work as well in a longer story. I took a class with the great Roberta Allen, who was the only person teaching flash in the late ‘90’s (that I’m aware of.) I started sending my stories out, and got them accepted into the print journals. And that’s how the journey happened.

NS: You are widely published in both flash fiction and poetry. How do you navigate/separate between the two? Or do they bleed into one another?

FW: Flash fiction and poetry have similarities in their language, but for me that’s where it ends. I feel like they do very separate things. Poetry is a meditation. It doesn’t need a story, and if there is a story to the poem, that story’s purpose is the speaker examining a moment and how it helps the speaker learn something. Poetry has an inward movement. Flash fiction, on the other hand, is the unfolding of events that the narrator is living in that moment. The narrator is in a state of discovery as the story goes on. An outer movement.

I always know what I am going to be writing when I sit down and have never wondered if a flash fiction should be a poem or vice versa.

NS: Dressed All Wrong for This was the winner of 2019 Blue Light Book Award: congratulations! How important do you think awards are for writing careers?

FW: Thank you. For me, awards have been important as three of my chapbooks got published as part of a prize. Often, contests are the only avenue to book publication. It’s also nice to get the recognition. I don’t know how important it is to one’s career. I think it’s more of a nice thing than a necessary thing.

NS: What’s it been like to be a writer in New York City during the year 2020?

FW: There is such a vibrant writing scene in New York City. In fact, many writing scenes. Downtown, universities, etc. You could go to a reading every night. Sometimes two. So, the closure of these readings made a significant dent in the networking and socializing aspect. Also the promotion aspect was affected. People who had a book launch in 2020 were kind of screwed. But I don’t think these limitations are distinct to New York. I do shudder, however, to think what we would do without zoom. Online readings have enabled worldwide connections that would have been otherwise impossible. So, while we missed out on in-person readings, a whole other kind of reading, the online reading, was born. Talk about lemonade.

NS: Lemonade indeed! Advice to someone writing a book?

FW: I can only speak to books of flash and poetry. I would say to write and publish the pieces and let the book come together from that. I’ve never sat down to “write a book.” Rather, I put all my favorite poems or stories together. I would find a way for them to tell a story, because usually they did. I do have a novella, The Way of the Wind, but I wrote it as if I were writing flash stories that had a plot tying them together. Most important thing – every story or poem should be a 10 (at least to you.)

NS: “Every story should be a 10.” I love that because, yes, we do get attached to our darlings. Thank you so much for hanging out with me, Francine! Can you share some links to book and other promo links?

Dressed All Wrong for This on Amazon Dressed All Wrong for This: Witte, Francine: 9781421836393: Amazon.com: Books

The Way of the Wind on Kindle The Way of the Wind (Novella-in-Flash) – Kindle edition by Witte, Francine. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Or in paperback Ad Hoc Fiction  The Way of the Wind : Francine Witte [978-1-912095-93-3] – £9.99 : Ad Hoc Fiction, Short Short Fiction Press

Poetry books, Café Crazy and The Theory of Flesh available on Amazon

Flashboulevard.wordpress.com (a web journal of flash that I edit)

Follow her on twitter @francinewitte

Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Passages North, and many others. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and (The Theory of Flesh.) Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) will be published by ELJ September, 2021. She lives in NYC.

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…..!)