Interview: Rebecca Styles with 2016 NFFD Judges James Norcliffe and Elizabeth Smither
The judges of the 2016 Flash Fiction Day competition are two esteemed writers, James Norcliffe and Elizabeth Smither.
Alan Riach in Landfall described Norcliffe’s poetry collection Rat Tickling (2003) “as being surrounded by an ‘atmosphere of summer lightning … they act as tilted mirrors, sharp-edged postcards, or glimpsed moments, taste and textures.” Smither’s writing has been described as idiosyncratic, witty, stylish and intellectually curious with narratives that “celebrate the slipperiness and paradoxical nature of language” (Robinson & Wattie).
To interview and read Smither’s and Norcliffe’s work is to be reminded of the wealth and depth of New Zealand literature, and it gave me a perspective on lives devoted to literature, in particular how such devotion and dedication to writing adds up to an incredible body of work across several forms. Dorothea Brande, in Becoming a Writer (published in 1934 – and one of the first books on how to write), says that in order to write we must read effectively so that we “learn to consider a book [or short story or poem] in the light of what it can teach you about the improvement of your own work” (99). Norcliffe’s and Smither’s work offers a masterclass for beginning and more experienced writers on the elements of narrative across many forms.
Given that both authors write poetry and short stories as well as longer fiction, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to tease out the similarities and differences between those forms, and what narrative elements emerge in micro fiction, and what they consider makes a good flash fiction story, as well as their own writing routines.
Flash Frontier: You are judging the upcoming 2016 National Flash Fiction Day competition. What are the characteristics you enjoy in flash fiction? Does it have to have ‘immediate impact’ as mentioned by Lauris Edmond and Bill Sewell in the Essential New Zealand Poems anthology?
Elizabeth Smither: I’m excited about being a judge with James Norcliffe. The characteristic I enjoy most about flash fiction is not so much the ‘immediate impact’ that Lauris mentions as the vast empty space that surrounds each story. I use the word ‘story’ very loosely because it may be nothing like a story. But whatever it is, it seems to be set on a vast plain (the steppes of Russia) with just a few words to come to its rescue. Someone facing a severe panel of judges and given just a few minutes to plead for their life or William Carlos Williams trying to explain why he stole the plums from the icebox. To me it is the space that makes it utterly moving and arresting, the courage it takes.
James Norcliffe: The qualities I enjoy – and look for – in flash fiction are what I look for in all creative writing: imagination; originality either in the sense of a different take on things, or a different way of expressing that take; control; and resonance. To me resonance means that the story – or poem – isn’t over when it finishes; it will still be working on me. “Immediate impact” is fine as far as it goes, but it can lead to cheap effects. I wouldn’t say it was a necessity. Often I prefer slow burners.
FF: Elizabeth, in the Words Chosen Carefully article, you say that “The novel seems to be a much more inhibiting form, almost poetry’s opposite in some way.” James and Elizabeth, do you think micro fiction, and/or short stories, stand somewhere between these poles?
ES: I am trying to recall the meaning of this statement. I think I was implying that poetry is wilder (of course it has the restraints of form, if you wish to use them.) Whereas prose can drop sentences, paragraphs, pages, and not be too adversely affected. Also it may have the inhibitions of plot, character, setting. Or it may not. The interesting thing about modern forms is their willingness to experiment, to flow from one to the other, to create hybrids, to emphasise one virtue, one characteristic over another. I find this enormously interesting and refreshing.
JN: I do like the fact that flash fiction leans towards poetry, or to put it another way locates itself on the continuum between prose poem and short short story. My personal tastes lead me towards the prose poem end. My ‘story’ in the Shapard/Thomas/Merrill book you allude to later was written some years ago as a prose poem, long before I had heard the term flash fiction. To get back to your question, I think flash fiction is a deliciously elastic subgenre with a wide range of possibilities and this is why I enjoy the form.
FF: Who are your favourite flash fiction and/or short story writers (or, who are you reading at the moment)?
JN: My favourites are at the poetry end of the line: the American James Tate I like especially for his unsettling surrealism. Simon Armitage from the UK another surrealist. In NZ, Frankie McMillan and Michael Harlow stand out for me. I see looking at this list that most of these are gentle surrealists, often with an edge of comedy.
ES: I’ve been reading Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory, Gail Jones’ A Guide to Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucie Berlin – and have just finished Hiromi Kawakami’s delightful Strange Weather in Tokyo about a young Japanese woman who falls in love with her former high school teacher whom she meets in a bar. It made me want to drink saké.
FF: In Adam Rovner’s article Alex Epstein and the search for lost time he explains that critics analyse the novel because of the form’s ability to represent structures of time and meanings delayed, whereas micro fiction offers a competing ideology of time, causality and agency. Do you think Rovner’s perspective on time in micro fiction and the novel is accurate, and why, and if not, why not?
JN: If I understand Rovner’s point from what you are saying, it does seem somewhat self-evident given the novel’s spaciousness and micro-fiction’s compression. But they’re chalk and cheese comparisons, aren’t they? Or rowing boat and oil tanker? There are elements in common but functions and effects are quite different.
ES: I’m not sure, perhaps because micro fiction is still developing. Certainly, if you consider a novel like Middlemarch the structures of time are there and vital to the plot: incident and character development are symbiotic. You could say that George Eliot is creating, as well as individual characters, generic ones: the man who marries a beautiful but scatty woman
(also a theme in Jane Austen) or the man who is an obsessive but less intelligent than his wife. Micro fiction seems to have less of this capability but it might compensate for it by being more poignant given the short time it has to be on stage.
FF: In the same article Rovner writes that micro fiction destabilises a reader’s anticipation because the anticipation is cut short because micro fiction can be read so quickly. And yet, Grace Paley says, very short stories “should be read like a poem, that is, slowly.” Paley’s perspective, I think, prolongs the reader’s anticipation. What side of this argument resonates with you?
JN: It depends what you mean by ‘read’, doesn’t it? Robert Kelly once said that the art of poetry is ‘perfected attention’. Given this, the reader should be prepared to read with perfect attention, attentive to all possibilities, nuance and suggestion. I’m probably with Paley on this one, as I like layered, I like being aware of what is not stated.
ES: I think the reader’s anticipation, rather than being destabilised (because of the short time it takes to read) is actually increased. Fast fiction can be read very quickly, but often a reader will re-read with the slowness Grace Paley recommends. Often the reader is looking for the absolute heart of the story. Has the writer found it?
FF: Gerard Ginette identifies three movements of tempo: ellipse (narrative elision), pause (non-dramatic descriptive passages) and scene (dramatic passages). While summary exists as connective tissue in novels pause and scene are considered artistically superior, yet in micro fiction, Rovner argues, summary is not just connective tissues but an essential element of the narrative form. Do you think this is true in your own micro fiction and/or that of others?
JN: I like things unstated, that are left unsaid. Microfiction necessarily elides a lot of what fiction ordinarily demands: character, context, motivation – I could go on – and this is what makes it often so resonant, suggestive, elusive and unsettling. I feel the best flash fiction has these qualities. It’s a difficult balancing act as a writer. Jettison too much and you’re left with bewilderment, jettison not enough and you’re left with banality. In the first, the reader has too much work to do, and in the second, not enough.
ES: Summary is the behind-the-scenes or rock-bottom mode of micro fiction. There is so little time it must be summarising something. But what that something is may be as subtle as a mood or an emptiness, a sense of being spent; it might be the tiniest trigger, unseen by anyone else. Ellipse, pause and scene might be so close together they seem inseparable but I think the requirements of fiction are fairly consistent. We like drama and scene-setting and the clever use of words and nothing is going to change that.
FF: When Robert Shapard was anthologising micro fiction with James Thomas they noticed that “the shorter the work, the more it questioned the terms of ‘traditional’ (realist) short story characteristics.” Have you noticed this in your own, or other micro fiction?
JN: Again, I think this is unarguable, but also rather self-evident.
ES: The shortness of micro fiction seems to be its primary challenge. Could Middlemarch be reduced to 300 words? Like the Reduced Shakespeare Company? I guess it could. But the characteristics of flash fiction will arise out of the form and at the beginning we may hardly know what they are. This is what will make the judging so interesting. Quiet, languid, almost etiolated pieces (like a patient needing CPR) versus bold going-to-the-heart pieces that strike like a dagger.
FF: Where do you write, and when, and is it different for different forms?
ES: I love to write lolling on top of my bed, propped up by big pillows. I usually have books around me and a cup of tea and the concert programme playing. I write in longhand because
I enjoy the hesitations and pauses – sometimes writing very fast, at other times pausing to daydream. The most important thing is for the pen (uni pin fine line) to touch the paper – that’s where thought and word join. As Oliver Sacks says: “It seems to me that I discover my thought through the act of writing, in the act of writing.”
JN: Extended forms, I write in my room or a room I’ve been given. Shorter forms, anywhere. I keep a notebook with me and use it from time to time but not obsessively. When? When I have time. For extended forms – for the novels I write for young people – I need extended time and then I tend to go for it in one long binge.
FF: Do you have set objectives for the day, and does this change depending on what form you’re working on?
JN: I often have set objectives, but very rarely meet them. I’m a delayer. When I’m working on a children’s novel I sometimes aim for a given word count, usually hopelessly unrealistic, and then delight myself when I meet it.
ES: Hardly ever. Though if I am writing a novel or a short story I like to do the day’s allotted words early, while my courage is high, as Elizabeth Bennet would say. Poetry, often in the afternoons.
FF: Do you write words/sentences as they come into your head, tapping into the unconscious, or do you make it perfect in your mind before committing it to paper?
ES: I don’t think about writing until I am doing it. That seems to be like wasting your breath. I often have no idea where I am going but I have confidence that, like birds alighting, one word will attract another and that the unconscious has a finer (though not always logical) sense of direction than the conscious mind which will be responsible for the revision that will come later.
JN: I’m definitely a headfirst sort of person (and sometimes boots and all).
FF: In a recent interview George Saunders said that the best kind of research for writing is to “make sure life is varied” to broaden your experience. Do you agree?
ES: I think looking is most important. Against George Saunder’s directive you could set Elizabeth Bishop’s comment on poets – “As to experience – well, think how little some good poets have had or how much some bad ones have.” Observation and compassion are more
JN: Perhaps, I’d make that “make sure your inner life is varied”. My life tends to be varied, and my inner life more so.
FF: “Rejection is a rich experience. One day when the comes, you will oddly miss it.” Elizabeth said this in an article for NZ Books. As highly successful writers do you still agree with this statement, do you miss the not quite what we’re looking for? And, having been editors and judges of competitions, has this changed your attitude to rejection?
JN: This sounds oddly wistful, and I like wistful. The old adage selection not rejection is useful. I can’t say I especially enjoy rejection although there are times when I’ve been rather relieved having had second thoughts after sending something off precipitately. As a dispenser of rejections/acceptances a little empathy always helps. Rejection is a bitter pill but where appropriate encouragement might offer some sugar. I think, today, people are aware that an outlet may receive hundreds of submissions for a very few places and are accordingly more realistic.
ES: Rejection is a little like being ill. You don’t necessarily want to repeat the experience but once you are recovered (or published) it seems oddly fruitful. You might even admire yourself a little for enduring days of fever or lassitude. To never be rejected would be like being very rich and living on Beluga caviar or drinking only Kopi luwak (Vietnamese coffee, eaten and excreted by wild civets.)
My email correspondence with Smither and Norcliffe shows their evident style, humour and knowledge of literature, and their generosity in sharing that knowledge. This generosity towards their readers and characters is also in their work. In Norcliffe’s “The Kite” Wang is called by the wind to a small park where he took his son, but his son is no longer there. The feeling of the wind’s urgency and Wang’s dislocation about his son runs through the story until Wang sees a finch in a market and remembers the trauma his family experienced. The poem “Finches in the Snow” similarly cloaks the reader in the sensory details of the environment, and the perceived innocence and joy of watching birds, and slowly reveals tragedy:
it is a white wedding with
a sudden confetti of birds
and such a distraction
from the exploding bus
far in the distance
the cries the flying glass
and the bleeding children
One of the pleasures of Smither’s work is of course her poetry, in particular her recent collection Ruby Duby Du devoted to her grandchild’s development. “Ruby @ 31 cms” articulates the combined fragility and strength of the unborn child:
I get the tape measure from its drawer
and mark 31cms. The height
of a tall vase, a blue iris.
A blue iris with a dreaming head
The other pleasure I discovered was Smither’s The Journal Box which is a collection of her journals over twenty years. In it are her observations, and her joys and frustrations with writing, such as this entry from 1976:
March can’t go out to nonsense. Come now, I must write something of sense. But what? Where is the rain that I was expecting tonight to go to sleep by? It has already stopped. Today I don’t feel like writing – there are two manifold books to type. All day instead I have been making lists of bus times, little chores to be done tomorrow and what shops to visit. This is the result of reading Edna O’Brien.
While there is humour in Smither’s work, the entries in the journal are like prose poems that reveals the writer’s psyche through acute observations.
Readers who are inspired by Smither and Norcliffe are encouraged to check out this year’s National Flash Fiction Day competition. Enter the competition with your best compressed fiction. For more about the 2016 National Flash Fiction Day competition, please go here.
Interview: Louise Wareham Leonard on her new collection, 52 Men
Flash Frontier: In this collection, you offer the reader vignettes of 52 men in your life – straightforward enough. But there is a real craft in drilling down to the essence of each man presented here. And also the line between fact and fiction. Can you tell us about that line, and how you envisioned it, and navigated it, as you wrote these stories?
Louise Wareham Leonard: Ah, fact and fiction — I used to think that people were one thing or another — such as good or evil. But now I think that evil, in particular, can pass through people. So who you meet now, might not be there tomorrow. We are all changeable all the time, fact and fiction to others and even ourselves.
The men in 52 Men (or all but one) are real at a particular time, and as seen by my alter ego Elise, which, actually, doesn’t mean they are ‘real’ at at all. I mean, who is real? When and to whom? And for how long? Real is relative, transient, personal and, for the most part, all about our own flawed if, one hopes, earnest engagement with others. For instance, Elise assumes that people are honest because she is honest; she thinks people men will hurt her because that is what she has grown up with – a primary man in her formative years who deliberately repetitively hurt her. She also chooses who she trusts and sometimes her choices are based on fantasy, or fallacy. As with #31 Lou: “His voice is very deep. It is the deep of the mad, of the man I always try to make love me, the one who finally does love me, until I realize his love is not worth as much as I thought.”
On the other hand, the 52 Men did say in real life what is on the page. And most of the actions are real – Jonathan Franzen in a derelict car on Mt Vic, a saxophonist in Jackson Mississippi shooting up drugs during sex. Everything else though is reception and interpretation. Flash fiction, or fractured fiction, like this allows for the immediate superficial (as in on the surface) episodic and fragmented experience of life. Not everything is tied together as in many realistic long fictions – great to read sometimes but, for some of us (one thinks of W.G. Sebald’s impatience with ‘realistic fiction’) impossible to write – at least from my kind of experience.
FF: The fragmentary nature of this book really appeals – the reader can dip in and glimpse the lives of these men, one at a time, or in a bundle. And yet, they are mere glimpses – flashes. They are not summaries of men but rather fly-bys: glances, moments. Did you find yourself wanting to write more at times? Did you feel cramped by the self-imposed structure? Did you, as a writer, feel satisfied with the experience – quite a challenge – of writing such compressed stories? And did you set out to write them so compacted?
LWL: You’re so smart! That is exactly what I was saying! A critic in the U.S. Alice Quinn apparently told the publisher that I had found in 52 Men a form that fits my experience. It allows for the explosive relationships, the constant change, the myriad of possibilities for this character.
Also, of course, as said above, Elise has a monster in childhood. That person fractures her sense of self, destroys her ‘normal development.’ She becomes stuck in her need to please and win over men – the more difficult the better. But once she ‘has’ these men, she starts to see who they really are – and she has very strong ideals and boundaries,– the way one does when pushed to the wall. She is independent and takes money from no one, which is to some extent how she is free – struggling lol, can’t afford dinner at a restaurant some times – but she is free. She is also oddly prideful. Fiona Kidman once told me that I didn’t let people get away with lying to themselves — and this is obviously the case with Elise. She has Hemingway’s bullshit detector, though it takes her a long time to trust her instincts and stop trying to please everyone.
Flash fiction isn’t all like that of course, isn’t all fractured, reactive, splintered. The pieces in your magazine are often complete in themselves: beautiful, whole, evocative. I too wanted each of my pieces to be satisfying in themselves, but they find their meaning together; they are meant to be read in order and entire.
In terms of how brief some of the men’s stories are, some of them could definitely warrant whole books! Some women I Skyped with in their book club asked me if I could write longer versions of some of their favorites, which was nice. And I have a few in mind. Oh yes I do… notably the U.S. Marine – and then the charmer who inspired How to Date A Writer in the Rumpus in the U.S….
FF: There is a turning point in the collection – a thing that all the stories hinge around. Did you know when you set out to write the book that this would be included, or where it would land in the whole? Were your motivations for writing the collection clear from the start, or did you find them shifting as you worked your way through your men?
LWL: Yes, I knew that I had one relationship (#53 as it were, her childhood relationship) that would serve as a kind of bomb. That the 52 men are the shards or pieces of the explosion of that bomb. It is basic cause and effect. The cause being abuse – the effect being chaos.
A few people thought I should leave out this ‘instigator.’ The work would be more mysterious without it – and more like life. We don’t run into people and have their major formative experiences written in a bubble for us to see. Should – or could – Elise effectively go around saying “look, this is what happened to me; treat me accordingly”? No, that’s not real.
But I know why Elise acts as she does. And I decided yes I was going to reveal that. Some people – especially men, I have noticed – like to disregard the effect of sexual abuse, to minimize it – whether on a child or an adult. That’s convenient for them. I am not convenient and don’t care to be.
FF: You said recently that humour had to be a central part of this book. Can you speak to that here?
LWL: We all tire of earnestness, don’t we? The way to tell evil is to tell also what got us through evil, past evil. And I am more and more interested in our mysterious strengths. For me, perhaps it is the fact that I appear to have Maori ancestry that I didn’t know about until recently; maybe that’s given me some extra staying power or edge. Or perhaps it was the strength given by a childhood in a landscape as beautiful as New Zealand’s that provided some deep and fundamental base of beauty in life – that, we must realize, not everyone has. When I moved to New York City at age 12, it dawned on me that many people have no vision of the ocean, or mountains or forests – at all. I feel profoundly lucky to have seen so much beauty as a child. I don’t think I could have made it without that. Seriously.
And then humor, lightness – it’s as Calvino says: you can only destroy dark with light; Perseus kills the Gorgon by not looking at it directly (which would kill him) but by seeing it in the shield he holds up to it. When you have no levity, you are leaden and lost. Your writing is lost.
FF: Which was your favorite recollection to write? Which was the hardest? Which one were you afraid to share with your mother?
LWL: My favorite?!! The nipple-squeezing Greek shipping tycoon – the boxer in the Turkish Baths. Charlie – about throwing out every single damn thing your ex-lover has given you, one at a time: “I throw away his collection, I give away the bracelet, I lose the earring, I ditch a hat, I toss a lock of hair. I keep a cassette of his voice messages on my answering machine. Never will I answer their call.” Vengeance can be fun, in writing. I’d like to do more of it.
FF: Do you think this is a book for women only? Why or why not? And what about your other writing? Does this veer from it or do you see familiar themes emerging here that you have explored elsewhere?
LWL: Don’t men have a desire to know how women see them? How women both appreciate and read them? I’d buy a book like this called 52 Women – a chance to see how a man reacts to so many women, their different affects, postures, maneuvers – all on the same person. Plus, it’s cut to the chase….. immediate impact.
I do not consider myself a specifically ‘woman writer’, just a person, really, and a writer. At the same time, I have to say that my primary goal so far in fiction has been to reach girls who have been or are being sexualized or sexually abused as children. When I was a child I looked hard for a book that spoke to me of what I was going through. I never found one – not until I was sixteen and read a Carlos Fuentes novel with a similar sexual dynamic involving sex and hatred. That book broke my aloneness. But you know, men are abused also – sexually and otherwise.
It’s the good and bad in a person that makes them interesting. I am not a saint. On the side of the angels, but not an angel, as Sherlock says. I chose very young to put myself out there in the world, to be a kind of foot soldier. Most people couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. But if you believe in fate, that was mine.
FF: Because you hail from New Zealand but have lived and loved abroad for much of your life, we’re curious about your relationship to New Zealand. Where is home for you?
LWL: New Zealand has a strong strong pull for me. We drove all over both islands when I was a girl, staying at motels with hot swimming pools and Maori dances, visiting the pancake rocks and Mt Cook and Franz Josef Glacier. I have come back from New York several times as an adult to live for extended periods in Wellington, and always ended up in Paekakariki. Turns out I have ancestors there, and around Whanganui, and recent revelations around that have made my visceral attachment to New Zealand make more sense. It’s something powerful and unexpected, a draw to the intensity and stunning beauty. I have a good mind to come back and live in a campervan in Northland sometime. On the other hand, my education was mostly Northeastern American and that, as well as being turned inside out – from a quiet reserved NZ girl to an outspoken New Yorker – has formed my personality and my sensibilities as a writer. It’s an odd mix. I have often felt flung out into the world, but now I realize I actually have ties.
FF: What’s next for you? Do you have 52 other things percolating along?
LWL: Oooo, what’s next? Jane Says – about erotic rage; In Love United Unto Death, a little collection on love/suicide pacts; Diamond Life – stories from the ‘underside of glamor’ and blogposts – my most recent is on Loneliness @ Louisewarehamleonard.com
FF: What else would you like to discuss or share?
LWL: I hope the book might help people. I hope people will be inspired to write about their own men or women. I hope it might inspire book clubs, for example, to talk about their experiences of men, and how we invite or refuse pain, move away from pain to love. The way I have been lucky to move from pain to love… being married now for ten years to a man I met through the IIML.
And now, #53…
FF: Thank you for sharing another story with our readers – who will no doubt be intrigued by this collection not only for its content but also its form. We’re pleased to publish #53. Is there anything you’d like to say to introduce the following stories?
LWL: Thank you so much for letting me speak on these things I find so pressing and important to me! This one is a New Zealand man, and a New Zealand story… set in and around Wellington
Louise Wareham Leonard
I work with Steve, at The Dominion. We are both reporters. He lives on Mount Vic, and other times with his girlfriend Diane. She is much older, over thirty. Things happen, Steve says.
We take his motorbike around the bays. The day is blue and cool and the light gold. We stop at my grandfather’s house in Lyall Bay. We lie in my room, and drink wine, and fool around. We go out to Red Rocks, and drink scotch, where the great seals loll. We head out at midnight around the rocky hills along the ocean curves to Makara. We do this so fast, and so drunk, I think it might kill us.
Back on Mount Vic, in his single room above the harbor, he plays me Simply Red: If You Don’t Know Me By Now… You Will Never Never Never Know Me. He plays me “Tiny Dancer” from the 70s by Elton John. Tiny Dancer, he says, is the name he will give his boat. When he gets his boat, which he plans to do soon, and sail away. I start to cry, at the thought of this. Steve cups my head in his hand. “You’re so intense,” he says. “What do you think,” Steve asks, “is the value of that?”
Then he tells me he has something to say, something he realized when he saw my name in the newspaper. His father, he says, is not his biological father, but his stepfather. His biological father, Steve says, raising a scotch to me in his dim lit room above the dark harbor, “is your grandfather’s brother.” My grandfather? I ask. “Apparently.” My grandfather has more brothers than I have ever met. I pause. “So, we’re related?” I ask. Steve laughs. Steve clinks his glass to my glass. Steve reaches for the baby oil, to rub down my naked body. “I’ve been thinking, Steve says, “that I might change my name to your name.”
Soon, I take him to meet my grandfather. My grandfather takes him to meet his biological father. Diane buys him a new car and he moves in with her in Thorndon. Then he leaves the car in the garage and takes off to Tonga. He does not change his name. He buys a boat he calls Dancer and writes letters from the sea.
People In Our Pages: Tina Barry on Mall Flower
People have asked me what Mall Flower, my first book of poems and short fiction, is about. It’s easier to talk about what it isn’t. One thing it’s not about is malls. The name is taken from the title poem about a teenager recognizing her sexuality while she struts around a mall. That is the only mall in the book. It’s not about teenagers either. There are three pieces written from a teenager’s point of view. The rest of the pieces are about, well, here’s where it gets tricky. When there’s an obvious setting, it’s often the suburbs. I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, so the house and apartments in ‘Three Bedrooms in New Jersey’ are based on the rooms I grew up in; the flooding basement in ‘New Math’ is there, and even the character stretched out beneath the table in ‘Table Talk’ is lying on our red wall-to-wall. Yes, red wall-to-wall was tres chic for about 45 seconds in the early Sixties. But it’s not a book about the suburbs.
The poems in the book are narrative; something the reader has probably gleaned, being that I haven’t said a word about form. Form is important. I care about where the lines break and how that affects sound and meaning. But it’s always story first for me.
Mall Flower is a book about how being the child of divorce colors who you become. I could also say it’s a book about how growing up in a home with red wall-to-wall carpet damages one’s soul. It’s just as much about lousy boyfriends like the cretin in ‘Still Life with Road Kill’ and the universal highs and lows of falling in and out of love. ‘Wool & Spool’ is about a workshop with an ego-bashed sonnet writer who takes revenge on the group’s members; and it’s about the couple in ‘Squirrels in Maine’ who think they’re so urbane until they’re shown just what hopeless rubes they really are. Lastly, it’s about the shock of realizing that people you have loved are gone. ‘No Word for Enchantment’ and ‘Her Hair, a Braid’ focus on those who have died and how they’re missed in ways that startle and wound.
People In Our Pages: Sherrie Flick’s Whiskey, Etc.
Sherrie Flick will guest edit the June issue of Flash Frontier, with Frankie McMillan (oh yes: June’s a big month for flash!). We are pleased to present her new book here, as a way of introducing readers who are not yet familiar with her brilliant and thoroughly readable flash.
Strolling like a possum through neighborhood yards, Sherrie Flick takes it all in: the paperboy seduced over a glass of milk; the dinner prepared for a dead man; the boy on the foyer floor considering a spray of yellow paint. In Whiskey, Etc., it’s the particulars that draw you closer – the stained coffee cups, curled-up dogs, wood-burning stoves and canoes snug in their sheds – to a muddled loneliness housed behind crystalline windows. To follow Flick’s cowboy-possum saunter across these dazzling short (short) stories is to visit life, desperate and languid and dolefully funny, where it happens.
Whiskey, Etc. is a book-length collection flash fiction out with Queen’s Ferry Press (March 2016). Organized into thematic sections that connect to each other and echo across the pages, it explores loss and loneliness, contentment and unease. Author Kathy Fish writes, “Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick is a sharp-edged, intelligent, brilliantly written collection of short shorts by a writer at the very top of her game. One finds glimpses of Joy Williams here, but this is unmistakably Flick’s world, inhabited as it is with dogs & songs & whiskey & loves. Of grace and undoing. The remembered & the remembering. This book took my every last breath away.”
The book is currently in pre-order: http://www.queensferrypress.com/
It is a New Pages Editor’s Pick.