Interview With Tara L. Masih

November 17, 2015

The Best Small Fictions 2015I 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.

Now Masih is the Series Editor for a new annual collection, the first of which was released just last month: The Best Small Fictions 2015, published by Queen’s Ferry Press.

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.

Burch

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?

Masih

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.

Burch

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!)

Masih

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.

Burch

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?

Masih

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.”

Burch

Thank you for your time and best wishes for the series.

Masih

And thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to ask me these questions.
 
 
 

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You really must read this:

In this nearly magical room, amid fire-crackle and clink of glass, you can hear them talking. Pipe smoke is in the air, and a certain boisterous chauvinism, and the wet-dog smell of recently rained-on tweed. You can hear the donnish mumbles of J. R. R. Tolkien as the slow coils of The Silmarillion glint and shift in his back-brain. Now he’s reading aloud from an interminable marmalade-stained manuscript, and his fellow academic Hugo Dyson, prone on the couch, is heckling him: “Oh God, not another fucking elf!” You can hear the challenging train-conductor baritone of C. S. Lewis, familiar to millions from his wartime radio broadcasts; hear the unstoppable spiel of the writer/hierophant Charles Williams, with his twitchy limbs and angel-monkey face; hear the silver stream of ideas and argumentation that is the philosopher Owen Barfield. They are intellectually bent upon one another, these men, but flesh-and-blood is the thing: conviviality is, for them, a kind of passion. The chairs are deep; the fire glows gold and extra fiery in the grate. Lewis’s brother, Warnie, rosy with booze and fellow feeling, serves the drinks. And the walls drop away, and the scene extends itself backwards and forward in time …

Philip and Carol Zaleski’s The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings is a mental map, a religious journey, and the biography of a brotherhood. Plenty of distinguished Inklings came and went over the years, padding across the carpets with a Warnie-provided drink in hand, but the Zaleskis zoom in on (and out from) the primary axis of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, and Barfield, the four among whom the invisible correspondences of thought and affection were strongest. Christians all, these men formed what the Zaleskis call “a perfect compass rose of faith”: Barfield the proto–New Ager, Tolkien the rather prim orthodox Catholic, Lewis the noisy and dogmatically ordinary layman and popular theologian, Williams the ritualistic Anglican with a taste for sorcery.

Continue reading: How Tolkien and Lewis Revived Modern Myth-Telling | Book and Movie Reviews |Axisoflogic.com

Let’s not forget that writing is convenient. It requires the simplest tools. A young writer sees that with words and sentences on a piece of paper that costs less than a penny he can place himself more clearly in the world. Words on a page, that’s all it takes to help him separate himself from the forces around him, streets and people and pressures and feelings. He learns to think about these things, to ride his own sentences into new perceptions. How much of this did I feel at the time? Maybe just an inkling, an instinct. Writing was mainly an unnameable urge, an urge partly propelled by the writers I was reading at the time.

via Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 135, Don DeLillo.

via Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 135, Don DeLillo.

Writing for The Guardian, author Dave Eggers insists writers must stand against NSA mass surveillance. Here’s an excerpt from “U.S. writers must take a stand on NSA surveillance.”

In an effort to illuminate the NSA’s effect on free expression, PEN American Center recently surveyed its U.S. members on their feelings about the NSA’s unbounded reach. The resulting report, “Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives US Writers to Self-Censor,” reveals that 88% of the writers polled are troubled by the NSA’s surveillance programme, and that 24% have avoided certain topics in email and phone conversations. Most disturbingly, 16% of those answering the survey said they had abandoned a project given its sensitivity. [emphases added]

Please read the entire article, republished by the PEN America Center.

Essential short videos on NSA mass surveillance:

 

Amanda Morris

July 21, 2012

Please read our latest work of creative nonfiction, “Andromeda,” by Amanda Morris. Morris is former managing editor and nonfiction reader for TriQuarterly Online. She is a science writer and publications editor in Northwestern University’s Office for Research. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois where she received the Bill Geist Award for Broadcast Journalism in 2002. She is now pursuing an MA in creative nonfiction at Northwestern. Her writing has appeared in Triquarterly, CenterPiece Magazine, the Evanston TribLocal, Chicago Sun-Times, LiveScience.com, Yahoo News, MSNBC.com, Huffington Post, and the website for the National Science Foundation.

Mike Sauve

December 20, 2010

A graduate of Ryerson Journalism, Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, The Toronto International Film Festival Group, Exclaim Magazine and other publications.  His fiction has appeared online in Rivets Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, Candlelight Stories, Straitjackets Magazine, Eastown Fiction, the humour journal Feathertale and elsewhere.  Upcoming stories will appear in print in Palimpsest and Infinity’s Kitchen. Read his short story “Would You Please Be Less Terrible, Please?”

Editor’s note

September 26, 2010

LiturgicalCredo is moving to a new publishing format. Instead of having seasonal editions, we will hold ongoing, open submissions, and we will update the site with new work as frequently as possible.

That being said, LiturgicalCredo occasionally will publish special themed editions with limited submission dates.

Writers may submit their works to colin@liturgicalcredo.com. However, please read several previously published works before submitting.

New work will start appearing on our home page soon!

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