Interview with Tucker Leighty-Phillips

Maybe This Is What I Deserve is suffused with nostalgia and childhood wonder. What makes flash fiction the right form for this topic?

It’s a form that feels well-aligned with memory–like when you hear a song you haven’t heard in years, and it takes you to that time you were at the skating rink and someone busted the lock to the crane machine, meaning all the teenagers were pulling out stuffed college mascot plushies and throwing them at each other; that song blasting overhead as you slow to pick up a Michigan State Spartan toy from the center of the rink. A memory doesn’t have a word length, but if it did, it might be flash fiction.

These stories often caught me off guard in the best ways. How does surprise play a role in your work, and how much weight should it hold in flash fiction?

I remember an author who approached short-form writing in the same way they imagined jokes were written. You build a short set up, you provide a punchline. A punchline doesn’t need to operate the same way–it doesn’t necessarily mean humor, but it can mean surprise–an unexpected turn that alters how you read the piece. For me, it’s a method that’s always needed tweaking. Having a surprise “punchline” could veer into your work being considered clever, which could undercut the emotional current.

On your website, you offer to send writing prompts to anyone via postcard. When I received mine, it struck me that a postcard is like a flash essay on place.

I love the idea of postcards. I like choosing the design, writing the text, seeing it all stamped up when you receive one. Like tossing a cup with a string attached to another person. It’s a unique way to engage with a broader community, costs me little, and feels like a nice, personal thing to receive.

Do you use your own writing prompts? If so, what are some of the most effective?

Sometimes I send postcard prompts to people on a whim and don’t record the prompt for myself–but they’re usually influenced by an interest or a method or emotion I want to explore, so they’re sitting in my subconscious, influencing my writing whether I like it or not.

There’s a dreaminess to many of your pieces, but they never feel outright fantastic. How do you negotiate the balance between realism and the surreal in your work?

I can kind of sniff out what a story wants–I know the truth of the thing, which could be anything, like me feeling self-conscious about my ankles or something. I try to write towards that. Sometimes it’s straightforward realism, because it makes sense to use that lens, and others, it feels more exciting to obscure or embed the real concern behind a layer of the fantastic. My hope is that the pieces can feel textured and patterned in conversation with one another, even if they subscribe to different rules.

Tucker Leighty-Phillips is a writer from Southeastern Kentucky. He is the author of the short story collection Maybe This Is What I Deserve (Split/Lip Press, June 2023). He lives in Whitesburg, Kentucky, where he works for Appalshop’s Roadside Theater. Learn more at

Christopher Notarnicola: See masthead.