November 17, 2015
I first became familiar with Tara L. Masih’s work when I read The Rose Metal Press Field Guide To Writing Flash Fiction, which she edited and introduced. Each chapter had an essay about the craft of writing flash fiction followed by an exemplary text. During several weeks in 2013, I read the field guide each morning like a devotional.
As I later discovered, Masih also had written two chapbooks of flash fiction (Fragile Skins and Tall Grasses) and had edited The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays.
Guided by Guest Editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler, The Best Small Fictions 2015 holds 55 short-short fictions of 1,000 words or less, drawn from dozens of print and online literary journals.
The collection also includes a brief interview with Phong Nguyen, editor of Pleiades: Literature In Context, and another brief interview with Michael Martone, who has two small fictions in this inaugural edition.
I recently did my own brief interview with Masih via email.
Colin Foote Burch
I’m curious about how you became aware of flash fiction as a genre with its own essence and identity. I realize that awareness could have been an epiphany, or it could have been a process. Do you remember when you realized flash fiction was a unique literary form, perhaps unique from short fiction? When was that realization and how did it come about? Even considering all the elements that can be present within flash fiction, what was the first element or set of elements that struck you as a distinctive mark of the short-short story?
Tara L. Masih
It was more of a process. I began writing vignettes in high school in the early ’80s , under the guidance of writer Kathy Collins, who had been taught by Elizabeth Graves. Collins had us write brief scenes, scenes that had a large impact on us emotionally. Once I left high school, I didn’t personally know anyone else writing in this manner. Few journals took vignettes, and as I was at the beginner’s level, I didn’t see the scattered ones being published in, say, The New Yorker. In the late ’80s, I came across Irving Howe’s anthology of Short Shorts and was given a copy of Shapard and Thomas’s Sudden Fiction. I think those were aha! moments of recognition and excitement. What I was doing had more formal names, and there were quite a few writers out there experimenting with the form. I began to consciously shape smaller stories when I didn’t have enough material for a longer one. And instead of writing just a scene, the vignettes had more shape and structure. So the first element I began to work with was to have some sort of story structure in a small space. As I like to experiment, I can’t say all my flash has these elements. Some remain sketches or prose poems. And I think there is room in the flash world for different elements and styles.
Among those flash fiction pieces you discovered early on, what are some of the gems that remain your favorites? And what is it about those pieces that you especially like?
It’s been almost 30 years since I read those books cover to cover, but in looking at the contents, the stories I remember vividly and go back to are all very different. The Howes’ book introduced me to Sherwood Anderson. His “Paper Pills” to me is groundbreaking in its brevity and willingness to discuss sexuality. It’s a perfectly crafted mini story with memorable details and characters. In the Sudden anthology, Lydia Davis’s “The Sock” has become a contemporary classic. I love how this object story conveys in a small space the enormity of a marriage that’s unraveled, and its aftermath. I love her long, seductive, almost run-on sentences and her narrator’s ironic voice. Very different but just as memorable for me is Jayne Anne Phillips’s “Blind Girls.” Jayne’s lyricism is closer to my personal taste in prose, and her use of language and rhythm is unparalleled. It’s a sensual story and captures something special about youth and culture. I love how it circles in on itself, too. What all three have in common is the ability to capture moments with humanistic intensity and all were willing to experiment with the short-short form.
You have such a keen, holistic sense of these short-short stories; I wonder if you have a general sense of where beginning writers of flash fiction tend to get off track, at least in the context of the form. Maybe this is a better way to put it: Are there some common types of revisions for short-shorts written by beginners? Are there some familiar issues in, for example, a workshop setting? Or maybe familiar issues in an editor’s rejection letter? (And maybe those issues are the same for beginners and experts!)
Yes, this is an easy answer. Beginning writers, and as you note some more advanced writers new to flash or short-short stories, think that it’s just about writing short. They’ll take an idea, write in the usual narrative flow of a novel, and then end it abruptly. That’s not what the best brief stories are about. Compression is done in all the story moments. And in the language, characters, setting, plot, and even in the spaces of the plot. I’m not sure I can go into it more heavily here as there are different approaches and styles as those who work in the genre experiment with form and language and continually push the boundaries into hybrid fiction. So, authors are free to play around with the form, but they need to study it. Reading the best authors is a great way to start. Read Michael Martone, Stuart Dybek, Kathy Fish, to name a few contemporary authors, and go back and read Hemingway, Kawabata, and Sherwood Anderson, to name a few classic authors.
Let’s talk about The Best Small Fictions 2015, the series which is debuting October 6. As Series Editor, you probably have the best gig in flash-fiction publishing. Establishing an annual collection is, in popular understatement, kind of a big deal. With it, we also have the anticipation of a new Guest Editor each year. You could not have found a better debut Guest Editor than Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler (who wrote one of my favorite craft essays in another one of your projects, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction). How did you make the decision to choose Butler as your first guest editor? What did he contribute to the series?
I do feel like this is a dream job. It combines most of my interests: book production and design, reading, editing, and working with writers. I love having the opportunity to work with our best literary authors, and I also enjoy promoting them, especially their flash work because flash is still not widely respected in the lit community. Butler was our first choice to start the series. A combination of his international name recognition, his astute judgment of what constitutes a small fiction, and the fact that he and I had worked together on the Flash Field Guide. I knew his work ethic and that he is generous toward small presses. He brought a lot to the series in terms of sage advice on beginning one, as well as running one to best meet the needs of future Guest Editors. We are grateful for his support of this project, which he is just quoted as saying is an “extraordinarily important literary event.”
Thank you for your time and best wishes for the series.
And thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to ask me these questions.
November 7, 2015
Are you still taping storytellers whom you meet in cafés?
There aren’t any more. All that’s completely changed. There’s a big difference just between the sixties and seventies. For instance, in the sixties people still sat in cafés with a sebsi [pipe] and told stories and occasionally plucked an oud or a guimbri. Now practically every café has television. The seats are arranged differently and no one tells any stories. They can’t because the television is going. No one thinks of stories. If the eye is going to be occupied by a flickering image, the brain doesn’t feel a lack. It’s a great cultural loss. It’s done away with both the oral tradition of storytelling and whatever café music there was.
August 15, 2015
Ivan Jenson contributed five poems to the Autumn 2015 edition.
Jenson is a fine artist, novelist and contemporary poet. His artwork was featured in Art in America, Art News, and Interview Magazine and has sold at auction at Christie’s. Ivan was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled “Absolut Jenson” for the brand’s national ad campaign. His Absolut paintings are in the collection of the Spiritmusuem, the museum of spirits in Stockholm, Sweden. Jenson’s painting of the “Marlboro Man” was collected by the Philip Morris corporation. Ivan was commissioned to paint the final portrait of the late Malcolm Forbes. Ivan has written two novels, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah, both of which illustrate the creative and often dramatic lives of artists. Jenson’s poetry is widely published (with over 500 poems published in the US, UK and Europe) in a variety of literary media. A book of Ivan Jenson’s poetry was recently published by Hen House Press titled Media Child and Other Poems, which can be acquired on Amazon. Two new novels by Ivan Jenson entitled, Marketing Mia and Erotic Rights have been published hardcover and are available on Amazon.com. and at bookstores everywhere. Ivan Jenson’s website is www.IvanJenson.com.
August 15, 2015
Anne Babson contributed four poems to the Autumn 2015 edition.
Babson’s first full-length collection The White Trash Pantheon (Vox Press, 2015) and her current chapbook, Poems Under Surveillance (Finishing Line Press, 2013) are currently available in independent bookstores and on Amazon. The opera for which she wrote the libretto, entitled Lotus Lives, was performed in the Northeast in 2012 and is currently being considered for broadcast by WGBH Boston. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. She has been featured on Poetry Daily.
Her work has recently appeared in Iowa Review, Cider Press Review, Southampton Review, Bridges, Barrow Street, Connecticut Review, The Pikeville Review, Rio Grande Review, English Journal, New Song, The Penwood Review, Sow’s Ear, The Madison Review, Atlanta Review, Grasslands Review, WSQ, Global City Review, Comstock Review, California Quarterly, Wisconsin Review, The Red Rock Review, and many other publications.
In Europe, her work has appeared in Current Accounts, Iota, Poetry Salzburg, Nth Position and in Ireland, she was in an issue of Crannóg last year. In Asia, she was published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Yuan Yang. She has been anthologized multiple times in both the US and the UK.
She has done residencies at Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center.
August 15, 2015
Colin Dodds contributed four poems to the Autumn 2015 edition.
Dodds is the author of Another Broken Wizard, WINDFALL and The Last Bad Job, which Norman Mailer touted as showing “something that very few writers have; a species of inner talent that owes very little to other people.” His writing has appeared in more than two hundred publications, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Poet and songwriter David Berman (Silver Jews, Actual Air) said of Dodds’ work: “These are very good poems. For moments I could even feel the old feelings when I read them.” Colin’s book-length poem That Happy Captive was a finalist in the 2015 Trio House Press Louise Bogan Award as well as the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award. And his screenplay, Refreshment, was named a semi-finalist in the 2010 American Zoetrope Contest. Colin lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife Samantha. See more of his work at thecolindodds.com.
August 15, 2015
Bruce McRae contributed three poems to the Autumn 2015 edition.
McRae, a Pushcart nominee, is a Canadian musician with over 900 poems published around the world. His first book, The So-Called Sonnets, is available via Silenced Press. He also has a short collection of poems entitled “All Right Already” available via a free download from Kindofahurricanepress. To see and hear more poems go to “BruceMcRaePoetry” on Youtube.
August 15, 2015
Donald C. Welch III contributed a poem, “Rainmaker,” to the Autumn 2015 edition.
Donald C. Welch III lives in Brooklyn, NY. His current project @SocialLit (https://twitter.com/SocialLit) explores new forms of poetry and collaborative writing derived from Social Media. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in PASSAGES NORTH, WAR, LITERATURE, & THE ARTS, GRAVEL, THE RAIN, PARTY, & DISASTER SOCIETY, SOUTH85, INKY NEEDLES, THE EMERSON REVIEW, and elsewhere. His collection of children’s poetry WHO GAVE THESE FLAMINGOS THOSE TUXEDOS? was published by Wilde Press.
August 15, 2015
Tara L. Masih contributed a work of flash fiction, “How To Fight Dragons In The Modern World,” to the Autumn 2015 edition.
Masih has won multiple book awards in her role as editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays. She is also author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories and Series Editor for The Best Small Fictions annual anthology. Awards for her work include The Ledge Magazine’s Fiction Award, finalist standing for both the Glimmer Train and the Reynolds Price Fiction Prize, Wigleaf Top 50 recognition, and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. www.taramasih.com.
July 9, 2015
An article by the late Colin Wilson, published in Philosophy Now:
“What is the trick of transforming ordinary perception into creative vision?
“We can begin by noting that poets do it all the time, so do great painters like Van Gogh. Read Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ and you can feel the ‘phenomenological vision’. Or look at a great painting by Van Gogh or Vlaminck or Soutine. When I was working in a tax office in Rugby in my teens, I remember my boss saying with disgust that he thought Van Gogh simply distorted everything he painted. He was missing the point: that Van Gogh was saying: “This is how I see things when I put on my creative spectacles.” Rupert Brooke said that on a spring morning he sometimes walked down a country road feeling almost sick with excitement.
“Brooke realised that he could bring on this feeling by looking at things in a certain way. And what was really happening when he did this was that he had somehow become aware that he could see more, become aware of more, by looking at things as if they possessed hidden depths of meaning. For it is true. He was becoming conscious of the intentional element in perception, that his ‘seeing’ was in itself a creative act….
“The mind can deliberately change the way it sees things. Brooke tells how he can wander about a village wild with exhilaration:
‘And it’s not only beauty and beautiful things. In a flicker of sunlight on a blank wall, or a reach of muddy pavement, or smoke from an engine at night, there’s a sudden significance and importance and inspiration that makes the breath stop with a gulp of certainty and happiness. It’s not that the wall or the smoke seem important for anything or suddenly reveal any general statement, or are suddenly seen to be good or beautiful in themselves – only that for you they’re perfect and unique. It’s like being in love with a person… I suppose my occupation is being in love with the universe.’
“We can grasp what Ricoeur meant by ‘the very seeing is discovered as a doing’.”
Read the entire article by Colin Wilson at Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline | Issue 56 | Philosophy Now.
Filed in Authors, Contemporary Art, Contemporary Literature, Fiction, Modern Art, Philosophy, Poetry, Writing
Tags: Colin Wilson, creativity, mental discipline, mysticism, Paul Ricoeur, perception, phenomenology, Philosophy Now, Rupert Brooke, Shelley, Van Gogh
LiturgicalCredo is going straight for the well-worn phoenix simile. We’re not even going to apologize.
We will publish a new edition this fall, and we’re accepting submissions from July 2 to July 31.
Then, learn what and how to submit.
We will rise like the phoenix to publish again. You can send us that peculiar griffin from your imagination.
From Time magazine:
REVIEW: Black Jesus Laughs With, More Than At, Its Son of God. It’s worth reading, even if you aren’t interested in the show.
July 11, 2014
Kelly Belmonte offers an interesting, sturdy list on 12most.com: