Flash Fiction Interview between Christopher Bowen and Nancy Stohlman

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned from being an educator?

I love watching writers fall in love with form. The hardest part is trying to explain and champion the genre to outsiders who are often reticent or suspicious. I often get dismissive reactions, “readers-have-short-attention-spans” or “flash-isn’t-serious-literature.”

Flash fiction is our David against Goliath of literary tradition.

How important is emotional maturity in writing good flash?

All the rules of good writing also apply to flash. Often I see emotional maturity manifesting as wisdom to know what the story wants from you vs. what you want from the story. Word constraint forces you to get really clear. We are midwives of the story and should be in service of the story–what I would call true creative maturity. This is also where poetry and flash fiction meet—the distillation process requires us to sometimes “write” hundreds of pages to accurately distill one small truth.

Writers compare their successes and failures to others’. How do you deal with other writers’ success and failure? What advice would you give a beginning writer who does such comparing?

I see others’ successes as inspiration for my own. But some days I can’t. For all of us there can be hard days, weeks, or seasons, and it’s okay to be gentle with yourself on hard days. Try to take the big-picture view and remember we’re all in different phases of creative process. For instance,I get to enjoy watching my book Going Short finally go into the world. But I’ve worked on it behind the scenes for seven years, and I’ve published very little in the last year. It’s a rhythm.

How important is pride about one’s own work in evaluating its value for others?

We can never be completely objective about our own work—and that’s okay. It’s art. The most important thing is to write what lights you up.  If you try to write for others, you may find yourself heading down a path of complacency or pandering, and art for me is always personal first.

We need to learn from those who have traveled the path before us, to try to remain students and masters at the same time. We are masters of our inner world, our own artistic channel—no one else can make our art.

Ever break your own heart and discard fiction simply because you knew it never had the right qualities?

Normal artistic growing pains—an idea or a piece of writing perhaps written when we were less skilled or experienced and now we can’t seem to make it work because the truth is we’re better writers–is a good thing, but yes, heartbreaking.

Before you discard it altogether, though, you can try rewriting it from scratch without rereading. I talk about this in Going Short, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find a way to integrate your old vision with the new one. You have to stay open-minded and let it evolve.

Nancy Stohlman is the author of multiple books of flash fiction including Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (a finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, and The Monster Opera. She is the creator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and she was a founding editor at Fast Forward Press from 2008-2013. Her work has been anthologized in the W.W. Norton New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Macmillan’s The Practice of Fiction, and the Best Small Fictions 2019. Her craft book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction in 2020. She teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction Debt. He was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Competition and honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards in the non-fiction category. He blogs from Burning River.