Flash Frontier

December Feature: Micro Fiction Round-Table

Interviews and Features

Micro Fiction Round-Table

We talked about very short fiction with the three finalists from the June ‘Micro Madness’ feature of NZ National Flash Fiction Day. These were Heather McQuillan, Jude Higgins, and Ingrid Jendrzejewski.

The discussion group was rounded out by guest editor of the 2015 Micro issue Eileen Merriman and finally, Flash Frontier associate editor Nod Ghosh.

Nod Ghosh: Micro-fiction: the tiniest mini-skirt of flash writing. How short have you dared go?

Heather McQuillan: I like the mini skirt idea − rather revealing.

I was on a slightly different path − although fabric was my metaphor.

A flash or micro has to cover the same ‘area’ as a novel.

A novel may be a tightly woven bedspread, short story − in order to meet the same measurements with less thread − must leave spaces between the weave, flash fiction has even less thread so becomes a crocheted blanket, whereas a micro − with so few words, must leave more spaces. So a micro is lacework which, to prevent it from unravelling, requires tiny tight stitching around the holes.

It sounded a great idea in the bath last night.

NG:A sort of Bath Flash fiction?

Eileen Merriman: Tempting to add Fish into the mix!

NG: Have you read Three Likely Stories? It’s not Micro, but it is Fish.

EM: A fine example! A truly powerful micro lingers – because, like all good fiction, micro-flash has the power to leave the reader feeling changed in some way.

Ingrid Jendrzejewski: As for the mini-skirt question…

The answer depends on whether you include titles in the word count. If you don’t, then the shortest I’ve ever gone with a story is a two-letter word and a punctuation mark.

Despite the length, the piece took a lot of editing; I played with the wording for over a year before it found a home. It won second place in this year’s National Flash Fiction Day (UK) micro-fiction competition.

EM: I remember that, so funny and distinctive. An example of how a title can work in flash fiction, particularly micro-fiction.

Jude Higgins: I’ve haven’t been able to write stories below about 100 words. I have to get past the six-worder baby shoes one, attributed to Hemingway. There aren’t many so short that carry the same weight.

If I was instructed that six words were all I could write ever, maybe something good might emerge.

IJ: Short pieces that resonate include Lydia Davis’ ‘Samuel Johnson Is Indignant’. I thought about the flash/micro-fiction I’d read (Kafka, Borges, etc.) but not categorized as micro-fiction, perhaps because it was ever-so-slightly longer, perhaps more narrative. Read Kafka’s short-shorts here.

Regarding ‘marinating’, I take my time over even very short stories. Some go out quickly, others I’ve sat on for some years. When I started submitting, there were pieces I sent too quickly. They were published, and later I edited them. They were harder to place, being previously published.

NG: What essential features are required for a very short piece to stand alone?

EM: The piece has to leave the reader with an image, or strong emotion (or both) − but unlike a poem it has to have a narrative.

NG: Graeme Lay says:

‘…The best stories [are] those where the reader [is] made immediately but implicitly aware that something else is going on…’

In flash or micro, the ‘in between’ parts can resonate afterwards. In ‘Object‘ by Naomi Telushkin, I see a world beyond the words.

(i) Do our own interests influence perception? For example in Telushkin’s piece, an interest in gender politics. Or does everyone ‘see’ more than the stated words?

(ii) When writing, do you have the ‘in between’ bits in mind, do you plan subtext? Or is it a happy accident?

EM: I think our perceptions are influenced by our interests. For me, subtext is often a happy accident. Other times I may notice the emergence of a subtext halfway through, and accentuate it. I wonder if sometimes writers themselves are unaware of the subtext. Is it a reflection of a subconscious want by the writer to express an idea or an emotion?

JH: Interesting questions. What I believe, from thinking about perception in my previous life as a Gestalt Psychotherapist – is that our perception can never be separate (or divorced from) the experiences we have accumulated throughout our lives and current context.

On subtext, in a workshop, Kathy Fish referred us to Charles Baxter’s book, ‘Sub Text’. Sometimes I write deliberately considering ways to convey sub-text through minimal language. Sometimes it emerges out of awareness.

HM: You are right into what I am currently thinking about, i.e.; exploring the ‘what is not said’ in short story (flash) but is clearly there through meticulous word choice.

For me subtext is something I become aware of rather than plan. Redrafting is about hiding subtext in shadows and yet revealing it − a literary dance of the veils!

Robert Olen Butler’s ‘From Where You Dream‘ resonated with me. Write without planning − allow the subconscious to come out − and then edit the shit out of it. (My crude paraphrase)

EM: When others find hidden meanings in my writing, it can alter the course of a story, or lead to editing in different ways.

I’ve been reading ‘Best Small Fictions’ 2016. I’m struck by how no piece of flash/micro-fiction is the same as another. I’m interested in how people come up with ideas, especially when struggling with writers’ block.

JH: I find prompts a major source of new ideas. For example, the A3 Review monthly 150 contest has different theme each round.

For the Motel theme for Flash Frontier, I thought of Motels in films, and then ended up with a reference to Psycho.

HM: Prompts are good and can bring fresh connections. I sometimes use a thesaurus and list linking words to get me onto a new track.

Googling the prompt word and ‘quotes’ is also good.

IJ: I’m a huge fan of prompts set by other people or my own. Sometimes I do both at the same time.

I’ve discovered that sometimes the most amazing things come out of prompts I’m least excited about initially.
As for writer’s block, I don’t have enough writing time for it! I carry a notebook for jotting down random thoughts and observations, and keep a file on my computer full of ideas and seeds (sometimes just a phrase or title). That’s one of the great things about flash – you can keep lots of plates spinning in the air at once.

JH: Writing about any item of clothing from the past, or a song or other music is another foolproof way to interrupt any writing hiatus.

HM: An approach I have seen used in workshops is to offer a prompt, and partway through the exercise stipulate what the final word of the piece must be.

NG: And that is the final word.

Thanks for a stimulating discussion.

Keep writing micro-fiction.

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