Flash Frontier

New book: Robert Scotellaro’s Quick Adjustments

Interviews and Features

Flash Frontier Editor Michelle Elvy talks with Robert Scotellaro about writing micros –from the precision of the form to the tragicomedy of life – and, well, Vonnegut.

Michelle Elvy: Let’s start with form. This is a set of micros, all around 100 words. Did you set out to write a set of micros that explore particular themes, or did you write them one by one and then realise you have a collection in front of you? And how, once you start looking at the set of micros as something beyond the individual small story, do you start to see them as a new version of themselves, as something bigger than the one piece? How do you know to begin with ‘We Make Do’ and close with ‘Zigzaggy’?

Robert Scotellaro: I’ve been committed, for many years now, to exploring the very short story “form.” I think a good deal of writers/publishers are seeking, what I call, “unifiers.” Some Quick Adjustmentsuse theme as a unifier, some genre. Diane Seuss wrote a memoir in contemporary sonnets as a unifier. I use “form.”

I’ve written a book of 100-word stories, a book of triptychs in flash, microfiction (all under 300 words), general flash fiction (all under 750 words), a book of prose poems, a collection of six-sentence micro-stories due out this year in collaboration with Meg Pokrass, a collection of six-sentence prose poems I’ve just completed, and, even years ago, a book of limericks for children, which is a fixed form. So form, in this case, was/is the unifier. The themes vary widely, but I think are additionally unified in style. And, they with a couple of exceptions are all in a single paragraph format in Quick Adjustments.

ME: This collection includes moments of breakage and moments of potential for healing or at least a movement towards putting back together. There is light and breath in the opening pages, and also humour. One has the sense you are often looking at our human experience with a heavy heart but also with a shoulder shrug. The folly of our human experiment. How do you weave the trauma of something as big as, well, life with humour?

RS: Tragicomedy is an aspect in much of my work. I don’t think about it at all when I write. It generates naturally, and is perhaps a counterbalancing aspect to the way I view life. I see it as dark and light – replete with irony. I believe humor is what many times keeps the vessel afloat. In a blurb to Quick Adjustments I think Brad Rose said it well: “… the transcendent is often based in the commonplace and that the saddest tales of human frailty are frequently also the most comedic.”

ME: We gain a feeling of being at the edge of something in many of the pieces in this collection. Look once, and you see one thing; look again, and… the view changes, swiftly — and remarkably. When you write, do you think about the specifics of a piece — the detail — or the overall sense of it. What we see, before our eyes, or what we feel, as part of the experience of seeing/ noticing?

RS: When I approach the blank page, I view it as a journey in two parts. The first is mystery (not knowing what will occur or how or what sense it will make, and what a particular detail or set of them might elicit/reveal. The trick for me is to “get started,” which very often is that first line and the sense that there is a mystery worth exploring (terra incognita).

Then, the second aspect (the most exciting for me) is “discovery.” I liken the experience to being in a sailboat or a galleon (paradoxical perhaps for so short a piece, but it can feel that way) and there are many sails, plump with wind, moving it along. But it is not willy-nilly, for small and not so small decisions are made regarding direction. Though the wind (perhaps an unconscious force) drives the vessel, I have both hands on the wheel.

ME: You start with a quote by Kurt Vonnegut – fitting for this collection and also as a kind of philosophy of life. Can you talk a bit about how your real-life experience intersects with your wildly creative life?

RS: As we go through life, we are many people through the years. Making adjustments is part of living. I’ve been a combat medic, a hippie during its heyday, lived in a firehouse with political rebels, was at the center of the underground comix scene in San Francisco, the co-founder of Earth Peoples’ Park in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, worked in the Assets Control Division at the San Francisco Mint, was a poetry chapbook publisher, and so on…

I see a broad, multivarious panoply in the way I view life. Think my life experiences and the places I want to go, via my writing, intersect in this way: I have a sense that there are limitless destinations to explore.

ME: You play with words a lot — meaning, sound, placement, onomatopoeia. In this way, the structure of a story has everything to do with sound and makeup, beyond content. Do you tend to focus more in this way when writing micros, or poetry, rather than longer works? How does your writing focus change, depending on what form you are imagining and putting to the page.

RS: I think with micro, specifically, it often works to incorporate poetic sensibilities and language. And details, however small, can hint at bigger things at stake in a piece, creating a kind of story within a story. One that dwells between the lines. Alludes to what might be built into the backstory, or character development of a longer piece. It is, in those spaces, that the reader can partner, through imaginings, with the writer, fostering greater depth of understanding and nuance. Something that resonates in the mind long after the last note is struck.

ME: And lastly — because you are a wordsmith with a sense of humour and also a good deal of flair: What would you say is the collective noun for a set of micros such as this?

RS: I like to challenge boundaries, to slip out the window of my comfort zone, go exploring and inhabit characters very unlike myself and scenarios new to me. So, I’d say: a “gamble” of micros. Whether in flight, at sea, or on foot: a gamble of micros.


Robert ScotellaroRobert Scotellaro is the author of 8 flash fiction collections, including, most recently, Quick Adjustments (2023) and God in a Can (2022). He has, along with James Thomas, co-edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W W Norton. His work has appeared widely, nationally and internationally, and included in the W W Norton anthologies, Flash Fiction International and Flash Fiction America, and in four Best Small Fictions and two Best Microfiction award anthologies. He is the winner of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Prize in Poetry and the Blue Light Book Award for his fiction. Find him at: www.robertscotellaro.com

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