Writing Remix Podcast: Nancy Stohlman, Flash Fiction, and Going Short

In Episode 54, we talk to writer Nancy Stohlman about her award-winning book Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, the power of flash fiction as a fully realized genre, and how to write and teach flash fiction.  

Find Going Short here!

This episode was recorded on March 15, 2021. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @WritingRemixPod

LISTEN HERE

Quotes from the Episode:

“What I really discovered, and was such a relief for me, was not every story is 60,000 words, and if you push it to try to make it cross that finish line so that you can call it a novel, then have you sold out your own idea, perhaps?” @nancystohlmanTweet

“It was so liberating for me to have permission to let my story decide how long it needed to be and not [let] conventions decide.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Flash fiction is like when you’re at the airport and you are sitting next to somebody and they’re gonna get on a flight in 20 minutes and you’re gonna get on a flight in 20 minutes and you end up having this amazing conversation for 20 minutes. And then they go their way, and you go your way, and you never see them again. Is there anything less profound and wonderful about that 20 minute conversation versus if I was that person’s friend since childhood and knew every little thing about them?” @nancystohlmanTweet

 “This is the kernel. This is the heartbeat here. And I can give it to you in this little flash fiction piece.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Sometimes you want to go on the whole journey. But sometimes you just want to see the heart beating and just look at it and just realize how powerful that is.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Poetry and flash fiction, they share brevity, but they also share complexity, and they share a lot of depth. A lot goes on in these tiny little spaces.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Flash fiction is not just a little knock-knock joke on your way to work. It’s like a whole thing that’s going to be ringing in your head for the rest of the day.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“That’s one of the things I really love about the constraint of flash fiction […] You’re playing with the form. You’re pushing against it. It’s like air inside of a balloon.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Knowing what the edges are in any form allows me to kind of create a shape that I may not have created if I just had all the room in the world.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Are you writing what you think other people want, or are you writing what’s really in your heart screaming to get out?” @nancystohlmanTweet

“When you start listening to your own work and seeing yourself as being in service of the story–the midwife of the story–you’re not the creator. You’re the midwife, and it’s coming through you. So get out of the way, and it will tell you when it’s done. I think if that’s where we can position ourselves as writers, I think the best work will come through that way.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“So many of the lessons that I have in the book Going Short come from years and years and years of creating context for [my] workshops.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“I think that most writers or artists in general, just kind of feed off that novelty where everything is unfamiliar and I’m suddenly actually present in my body paying attention to the world in a way that I’m not when everything is familiar…I think that’s really what I love about being a writer who travels–is just forcing myself to slow down and actually not be sure of anything and notice everything.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“I think it’s important to remember too that our creativity [is] seasonal.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Around 2010 or so, I was like all right, well, there isn’t this book [about how to write flash fiction], and there needs to be this book, so I guess I should write this book.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Women have helped create [flash fiction] just as much as the men.” @nancystohlmanTweet

“Learning how to finish a book is just as important as learning how to begin a book, but we don’t practice that enough.” @nancystohlmanTweet

Ten Flash Fiction Tips for the Flash Curious on Creative Indie

Are you flash curious?

by Nancy Stohlman

Read the full article on Creative Indie

An excerpt:

There’s a revolution happening in literature: writers are going short.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve already heard of flash fiction, those tiny, compressed stories flourishing in the literary underground. Writers and readers are falling in love with the form and discovering something delightful and poignant in these small spaces.

Originally called sudden fiction, microfiction, nanofiction, or short shorts, flash fictions are ultra-compressed stories following only two rules: they must be under 1,000 words and they must tell a story. The result is a miniature narrative that creates an entire story experience in just a few well-placed brushstrokes. And the stories, far from trivial or lazy, have their finger on a new kind of urgency.Carving away the excess, flash fiction puts the short story through a literary dehydrator, leaving the meat without the fat.

This is an exciting time to be a flash fiction writer.In my book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, I explore how flash fiction has successfully broken the old story out of its skin and transformed it, cultivating not only a new kind of story but also a new kind of writer.  

So, whether you are flash curious or a flash veteran, here are 10 of my best tips as you embark on (or continue) your flash fiction journey.

1. Become a beginner. This goes for any new artistic endeavor, but if you’re a poet, or a novelist, or even new to writing, embrace the glory of being a beginner. There will be an adjustment period, and that’s good! It’s so much easier to take risks and lower expectations. And when expectations are lowered, the real beginner’s magic can slip through the back door. Allow yourself the possibility of creative play—and creative discoveries.

2. Respect flash fiction as its own form. Flash fiction is not the bunny slope to something harder. It is not easier or less powerful or less profound just because it’s small. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. The bonsai tree is a marvel in miniature, requiring an entirely different set of skills. And just as learning from other genres can strengthen your existing work, learning from flash fiction will make you a better writer, regardless of your preferred genre.

3. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s flash fiction. A lot of things are short—vignettes, character sketches, prose poetry. These may overlap with flash fiction, but they aren’t interchangeable. Prose poetry is a poem using sentences. Flash fiction is a compressed story with a narrative arc and movement. When in doubt, see rule #2

4. Don’t try to butcher a longer piece and pass it off as flash fiction. You might be able to pull this off one or twice (I did), but it’s a little bit like adding line breaks to a story and calling it poetry. Ultimately you want to start seeing the world through a flash fiction lens, noticing the potential for stories everywhere and honing your radar for great flash material.

5. The word limit matters. At first you might feel like you are battling the word limit. Eventually you will realize the word limit is the necessary container that allows the magic to happen. Without constraints, the story can expands in all directions like an amoeba. Strategically pushing against the constraints, the story realizes itself as flash fiction. Once you embrace the constraint as a vital part of the process, it won’t be an issue.

KEEP READING HERE

Sabotage Reviews: Neil Campbell’s Insightful Review of “Going Short”

An excerpt:

Read the entire review at Sabotage Reviews

This book could become the definitive introduction to the form. It’s admirably lean and devoid of ego.

“This is also a good book for creative writing courses and, even better, a book for that old fashioned entity, the solitary writer, the one excluded from academia by not having thousands of pounds.

You could read this book in an hour and go back to it for years. And there’s a hundred prompts at the back for those of you feigning ‘writer’s block’.”

READ MORE

The Short of It: The Origin Story of Going Short and the Changing Landscape of Flash

Curtis Smith is an amazing interviewer. Here’s a little excerpt from our conversation at JMWW where we talk about origin stories, including the genesis of Going Short, my time co-founding/running Fast Forward Press, and how ultimately most books are smarter than we are.

Read the full interview at JMWW

Nancy Stohlman has been writing, publishing, and teaching flash fiction for more than a decade, and her latest book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2020), is her treatise on the form.

Curtis Smith: Congratulations on the publication of Going Short. Can you tell us a bit about the book’s origins—your motivations and how you came to work with Ad Hoc?

Nancy Stohlman: Thank you, Curtis. And I just want to say that the response to Going Short has been so heartwarming and validating in a year that was otherwise challenging. So thank you all for that.

The book has been simmering for a long time, over 10 years. I think sometimes we’re called to write books that are smarter than we are, so it basically took me 10 years to catch up. There were (and still are) very few flash fiction specific books, and I wanted to write a craft book (as opposed to a straight textbook)—I envisioned it like having a long conversation about flash fiction with a fellow writer. Ad Hoc was a natural choice; I first collaborated with them at the Flash Fiction Festival in the UK in 2018, and I have always been impressed by their vision of a flash fiction community—a vision I share. It seemed like (and has been) a natural and perfect fit for this book.

CS: You’ve been writing flash for a long time. Who were your influences? What initially drew you to the form. How has the form (and market) changed?

NS: Running a flash fiction press before flash fiction had really “caught on” was enormously influential in my education and trajectory. In 2007, during graduate school at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (I never get tired of saying that name!), a group of us co-founded Fast Forward Press, and then from 2008-2013 we put out a yearly print flash fiction anthology as well as some early flash novels. So much of my education came from reading and analyzing hundreds of story submissions, both the ones I loved and the ones we rejected. We had many spirited conversations about was is/isn’t flash fiction, what constituted a story. At that time our answers were purely instinctual, but I see now that we were helping to define the genre in those early stages.

The flash fiction landscape has changed quite a bit, even in the last decade, but I think the work we did there laid much groundwork, including acting as a honing signal for other early flash fiction writers. More than a dozen years after our first anthologies, I can flip through the Tables of Contents and see so many flash fiction giants and friends, names like Kim Chinquee, Robert Scotellaro, Meg Tuite, Chris Bowen, Jane Anne Phillips, Tom Hazuka, Sally Reno—and you!

KEEP READING

Find out more about Going Short