Flash Frontier

Micro Madness 2024 Judges: Mikaela Nyman talks with Christopher Allen and Courtney Sina Meredith

Interviews and Features

We are excited to present this year’s Micro Madness judges, who between them hold such a range of experience and complementary skill sets. Christopher Allen is the editor-in-chief and publisher of SmokeLong Quarterly and judged the flash fiction portion of the Bridport Prize last year. Courtney Sina Meredith is a celebrated poet, playwright, and short story writer from New Zealand of Sāmoan, Cook Island and Irish descent. She is currently the Executive Director of RainbowYOUTH, Aotearoa’s leading organisation to support and empower rainbow+ youth and their whānau. Read more about the judges below and on the Micro Madness page, with information on entering this year’s competition. Running April 15 – May 15/ winners announced in June!


On poetry versus prose

Mikaela Nyman (MN): As a poet and fiction writer, I’m interested in hearing from you where you draw the line: what are the main differences between a prose poem and a piece of microfiction? Is there an overlap, a grey zone?

Courtney Sina Meredith (CSM): I learned of the grey zone haphazardly without meaning to – like many moments in the path of a young writer, it was pointed out to me after the fact. During my residency in Iowa by the river that ran alongside the halls where we lived, I wrote in short furious bursts, and found myself beyond (between?) poetry in the land of microfiction. That the two lands can envelop one another, or lie side by side like lovers connected by some delicious secret, was such a thrill. I read back over myself through many years of journaling, all the way to my younger self, and saw shimmers of it.

Christopher Allen (CA): I’m all for grey zones. I think differences and labels are often artificial. This having been said, I do think microfiction tends to have a narrative arc while still possessing the poetics compression often necessitates.


On writing

MN: What inspires your writing? Has your writing inspiration changed over time?

CA: Observation. I love watching humans in the wild. Many of my own stories come from moments that surprised me. A few years ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t write anything that didn’t surprise and thrill me, and I always encourage my students to write what haunts them – even in a workshop situation.

CSM: I remember reading Moody Bitch by Stephanie Johnson as a teenager and wondering if my life would become like that too. As in, she wrote with such erotic fire at the beginning of her career – and then she became a mother and the page changed with her. She suddenly had something so precious – to lose, to belong to.

I mention that because, funnily enough, my life as a parent has changed the page for me too. I go there seeking something very different, to capture the nectarine light through the curls of our eldest – my brothers sitting with me eating donuts in hospital, their laughter was so much brighter than my pain. I’ve shed many skins through chronic endometriosis and chronic depression, to survive that kind of physical and mental pain together – thank goddess for the will to write through it all, regardless.

MN: Thinking about your own writing process, how do you go about shaping a piece of microfiction or a poem? How important are narrative techniques like structure, narrative arc and content, or are you more informed by form, voice, musicality, rhythm and sound to begin with? 

CSM: Everything I do with words begins with some bigger picture, if I am brutally honest with myself. I’ve lived a very intense life – one that began in a statehouse full of amazing aiga – but I had no idea just how invisible I was until my grandmother passed and it wasn’t on the news. I didn’t hear her name on the radio. I was six years old and it dawned on me that I didn’t exist beyond those beautiful walls. Nobody who looked like me – who lived along that street – had a voice. I wanted one more than I can put into words. That was the start of my bigger picture.

I don’t lean on structure but I know it and respect its comfort. As for sound, rhythm, and emotion – a big emphatic yes.

CA: I haven’t written poetry since graduate school, so I’ll leave that alone. Shaping microfiction is all about distillation. A solid micro knows exactly what’s it’s doing from the title to the last word. The art of the micro is to layer all of these elements – structure, narrative arc, voice, rhythm, and so many other ingredients – into a tiny work of art. It’s important that we give this piece of art time to develop.

MN: What happens during the editing process? Do you revise your drafts a lot, or do your drafts merely require a few tweaks? 

CSM: It really depends on the work or the brief – I have been commissioned to write all kinds of things. I do love a good edit, especially with a strong cup of coffee.

CA: Each story is its own new world. Some happen quickly; some take years. I think most writers experience this. It might have something to do with what you had for breakfast. Who knows. The writing moments that creep up on you, in a good way, and make you think later “Wow, I wrote that?” are the best. I do edit and edit and edit though quite often.


On titles

MN: How important is a good title for flash fiction, microfiction and poetry? How do you know when you’ve found the right title?

CSM: Extremely. So much of the heavy lifting happens in the title – it is integral to the work. I’m not afraid of a long title even my latest book sounds like a piece of short fiction in itself, but not everyone feels that way. Knowing you’ve found the right title is a hard call. In my own process I try quite a few titles until the writing ‘does’ the thing I’m asking it to.

CA: You can look at this two ways: 1) How important is the title to the reader? 2) How important is the title to the editor? The title is so important to the reader. If you’re not using your title to do some heavy lifting, you’re missing an opportunity – for characterization, for scene setting, for tension. But I wouldn’t worry when submitting a story so much. If your story is brilliant, an editor will almost always work with you to find a better title. It helps, though, if you do the work yourself.


Some tips

MN: What are you looking for in a piece of microfiction? What do you hope to see among this year’s competition entries?

CA: I want to see a solid piece of art that tells a story in an innovative, emotionally affecting way.

CSM: I’m looking for unique perspectives, for something fresh and vibrant – writing that comes alive. I am also really hoping to see BIPoC rainbow+ storytelling and that by being a judge, my communities may feel extremely welcome in this competition, afio mai!

MN: What top three tips would you offer to writers of microfiction?


a. Write what you’re passionate about.
b. Read your work aloud and edit where you stumble.
c. Just because it’s brief to read doesn’t mean it should be brief to write. Give the work time.

CSM: Writing is a sacred lifelong relationship. If you can attune yourself to the dips and highs – if you can come to welcome and expect disappointment like an old friend, and keep investing your energy, your mauri, regardless – you may not become a bestselling author, but you will become unimaginably rich in connection. It grows some other world in you, a reservoir of strength and beauty.

My top three tips for writers of microfiction:

1. Write
2. Write
3. Write


Christopher AllenChristopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press, 2018). His work has appeared in Flash Fiction America (Norton), The Best Small Fictions, and over 100 literary journals and anthologies. He has judged The Bath Flash Fiction Award, New Zealand’s Micro Madness, the Cambridge Flash Fiction Award, and the flash fiction portion of The Bridport Prize. Allen, a nomad, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of SmokeLong Quarterly.


Courtney Sina MeredithCourtney Sina Meredith is the author of two poetry collections, two children’s books and one book of short stories. She has been the Honorary Fellow in Writing for the University of Iowa and the Young Alumna of the Year award by the University of Auckland in 2021. Her residencies and delegations include the Island Residency in Sitka, Alaska, delegate to the British Council as part of London’s cultural olympiad, the Bleibtreu Berlin residency, Queensland Poet in Residence and the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In 2019 she judged the Commonwealth Short Story Competition for Oceania. She is currently the Executive Director of RainbowYOUTH, Aotearoa’s leading organisation to support and empower rainbow+ youth and their whānau.

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