Archive for the ‘sadye’ Category

Flash Fiction Techniques: Part 1

ESSAY TWO PARTS

“It needs to be longer” used to be a common story critique. However, these days, our editors will sometimes comment that a submission might work better as flash. We’ve said this about experimental stories with a repetitive form, about submissions in which there is simply one interesting, tiny kernel that is enough to carry a story, and about shorter stories that could use some whittling. I’m sure, in the future, we’ll make the same comments about entirely different styles of fiction, too. But maybe, if we may be so bold, we should first answer the question: what makes a flash story succeed?

Flash fiction is being embraced by popular authors from Dave Eggers to Lydia Davis, as well as by esteemed literary publications from Tin House to NANO Fiction. But what is flash fiction, exactly? Other than its length of one thousand words or fewer, how can we characterize the genre?

A better question might be: do we even want to try? It’s impossible to make generalizations about flash fiction and the way it works because, aside from its length, there is really no other description that can even be generally applied to the genre. Statements by authors about flash often contradict each other. In his New York Times essay, Grant Faulkner writes: “Flash communicates via caesuras and crevices. There is no asking more, no premise of comprehensiveness, because flash fiction is a form that privileges excision over agglomeration, adhering more than any other narrative form to Hemingway’s famous iceberg dictum: only show the top 10 percent of your story, and leave the other 90 percent below water to be conjured.” Certainly, there are some pieces of flash that take the iceberg approach to the extreme. However, there are other flash stories that feel complete in themselves; they tell an entire story, and the reader doesn’t feel compelled to fill in the white space, to piece together the larger narrative that the piece implies. In his own essay about flash, Dave Eggers recalls Lydia Davis telling him: “when she begins writing, she’s seeking to answer a question, and if it only takes one paragraph to answer that question, then it seems unnecessary to continue on and on for 8000 words.” For some writers, short shorts are whole, complete worlds. They are answers to questions, not hints at a larger story. For every writer, it seems, flash is an entirely different creature.

In an interview with The Believer, Lydia Davis says: “There is some acceptance of the terms flash fiction, sudden fiction, etc. But I think people may still be expecting a kind of miniature short story when they begin reading a piece of flash fiction, rather than the less usual offering that it might be—meditation, logic game, extended wordplay, diatribe—for which there is no good general name.”

So why even attempt to describe the way that flash fiction works? Because, fortunately, more and more people want to write it. What better way to learn than by looking at the techniques others have used?

In the next installment of this essay, I’ll discuss five techniques used in some of my favorite flash stories. It will by no means be an all-inclusive list, but rather a brief examination of how some writers concoct incredible stories in one thousand words or less.

by Sadye Teiser

Ten Books We’re Looking Forward To This Fall

It’s starting to feel like fall, and along with the changing leaves comes an impressive new crop of books. Here are ten fresh debuts we can’t wait to curl up with this season.  

September

Wolf in WhiteWolf in White Van by John Darnielle

John Darnielle, of popular band The Mountain Goats, has written a novel, and editor Andrew just loved it. The hermetic narrator Sean spends most of his life creating a role-playing game that his clients play through the mail. But he is forced to confront reality when tragedy befalls two of the game’s most fanatic fans. In his upcoming review, Andrew writes: “ . . . through deft construction and well-earned empathy, Darnielle has crafted a memorable character who is guided through the darkest patches of his life by an inner intensity that burns like a magnesium flare.”

WallflowersWallflowers by Eliza Robertson

Eliza Robertson’s debut story collection, Wallflowers, is out mid-September. This young Canadian author has already garnered wide acclaim, and with good reason. The seventeen stories in this thick collection are exquisitely crafted worlds. In the opening story, a teenage girl finds herself alone, the only one in her neighborhood to survive a flood. In another story, Robertson focuses on the fiery, complicated relationship between two roommates. Editor Arielle thoroughly enjoyed this collection. In her upcoming review, Arielle comments: “As a whole, the collection stands as evidence of a truly great new literary talent with a handle on craft, character and subtlety. Robertson can handle the quick turn as well as she can build the slow burn.”

Doll PalaceDoll Palace by Sara Lippmann

We loved Dock Street Press’s second release Naked Me by Christian Winn, and we are eagerly awaiting the next book from this new publisher: Doll Palace by Sara Lippmann. This is Lippmann’s debut story collection, but you can sneak a peak at her writing in Joyland, Wigleaf, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other lit mags. Rachel Sherman, author of Living Room and The First Hunt, has said of Lippmann: “Her female characters see motherhood, womanhood and self-hood through a raw and funny lens: I am about to cry, when I laugh.”
 

October

The WildsThe Wilds by Julia Elliott

Julia Elliott’s The Wilds is the perfect October book. According to the Publishers Weekly starred review, “Elliott’s gift of vernacular is remarkable, and her dark, modern spin on Southern Gothic creates tales that surprise, shock, and sharply depict vice and virtue.”

 

 

By Light We Knew Our NamesBy Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente

We are beyond excited about By Light We Knew Our Names, Anne Valente’s debut short story collection, out from Dzanc Books. The collection features an all-woman fight club,  ghosts, and pink dolphins. We are so there. If you can’t wait until October 14 to be introduced to Valente’s stories, check out her chapbook from Origami Zoo Press.

 

 

Howley7Thrown by Kerry Howley

Essayist Kerry Howley closely followed the lives of two cage fighters for three years. Thrown is the miraculous result: a serious, literary, and entertaining work of nonfiction. John D’Agata said, of the book: “Out of the dank basements and glitzy arenas of a brutal sport, Kerry Howley has created a story that is virtuous, rapturous, and utterly consequential.” This one is not to be missed.

 

WomenWomen by Chloe Caldwell

Women, Chloe Caldwell’s elegant, palm-sized novella is, in the words of publisher SF/LD Books, “about falling in love with a woman, about loving women, about being a woman.” Caldwell has already published an essay collection and has a strong fan base. Elisa Albert, author of The Book of Dahlia, said: “I’ll read anything Chloe Caldwell writes. She’s a rare bird: fearless, dark, prolific, unpretentious, and truly honest.” (more…)

Book Review: Naked Me by Christian Winn

Allow us to draw your attention to a pretty special debut. Naked Me, brought to you by Dock Street Press, is out August 1, 2014. Masters Review editorial director Sadye Teiser, says of the short story collection: “Winn is like a male Miranda July, but with more depth. Coupled with the brashness of his stories is a sensitivity, and it is this combination that makes them so brilliant.” Check out the review, below.

DSP-NakedMe-cover1Summarized, most of the stories in Christian Winn’s debut collection, Naked Me, seem plainly absurd. In the title story, a man makes a bet that he will have sex with the woman who lives across the street from his illegal poker games—in clear view of his fellow gamblers. In “All Her Famous Dead,” perhaps the best story in the collection, an adrift, melancholy woman who (secretly) shares her mother’s lover mourns the deaths of celebrities whom she has never met. However, these stories aren’t in love with their absurdity. More often than not, they bemoan it. In fact, the most remarkable thing about Naked Me is that its characters don’t seem strange at all. They are able to articulate emotions we all feel, though we may not be aware of them, ourselves.

As much as we want to hate the gambling protagonist in “Naked Me,” we know exactly what he means when he describes the uncertain, transitional time in his life: “I craved newness, and I craved what had been.” Meredith, the woman who mourns celebrity deaths, seems bizarre in summary, but, on the page, she strikes a chord with us. This is what she thinks of the people she sees: “Most of them seemed so happy, and together, and she figured that if they were to look over at her right now they would probably think she was happy and together and satisfied just to be alive on such a beautiful day, too, like them, because that’s how most people go through life—putting their beliefs and spirits inside other people.” Doesn’t everyone do this, to some extent? Haven’t you ever had this thought? Won’t you, again, now that you have read it here? Though these stories may often seem odd, callous, or perverted—though the reader may want (initially) to distance herself from them, the characters articulate feelings we recognize, they uncover (brutal) truths. The strange becomes familiar. This is the great triumph of Winn’s collection.

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(Be sure to check out more awesome reviews on our Book Reviews page)

Interview: Laura van den Berg

The amazing Laura van den Berg, whose second collection The Isle of Youth just made the Frank O’Connor shortlist, talks with The Masters Review about paving her own path in the arts, her upcoming novel, and her constantly shifting writers office.

vandenBerg_interviewOne of the reasons I find your career remarkable is that you, so far (and I know you have a novel out soon) have gained success purely as a storywriter in a publishing world that seems skewed toward the novel. You had a chapbook of stories with Origami Zoo Press, then What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, another story collection [with Dzanc Books] and this past year The Isle of Youth, with FSG. I guess my question is: how did you do it? Did you find it was more difficult to publish a debut collection of stories, in particular? Did you ever feel pressure to write a longer work?

I mean, the most straightforward answer is that I just did it because that was the form that was speaking to me at the time. I think sometimes it can be difficult to engineer a particular path in the arts, as much as we might want to. I love reading novels and I just finished a novel. I started with the first chapter of that novel in 2008. So certainly as I worked on the novel, I’d been writing stories along the way. For me the two forms were kind of bleeding together at a certain point, as opposed to making some sort of holistic gearshift from storywriter to novelist. Everything was a little bit more mixed together than that.

I went to an MFA program and I wrote stories for workshop and my first collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us . . . my MFA thesis was an early version of that book. And then what happened with the second collection, Isle of Youth, was that I started a novel in 2008 and I was working on it, and I had never written a novel before. And so it just took me much, much longer than I ever could’ve anticipated. And meanwhile, you know, I was writing stories and sending them out, etc. At a certain point I felt like the novel still wasn’t quite there, but that the collection was pretty well done, and I showed them both to my agent, and she agreed. We made the decision to send out the second collection in its completion with the first hundred pages of the novel. And certainly we heard from some editors who had difficulty with the idea of doing a second collection and thought that it would be better for me to wait until the novel was done and have a novel be my second book. The idea of doing two back-to-back collections didn’t seem viable to them. They sort of felt like it wasn’t a good strategy for me career-wise. But I don’t really believe in thinking about it that way. I was just sort of like: well, this is the book that’s finished. And I fell in love with fiction by reading short stories. The story is a form that’s very, very close to my heart. And so, I love the idea of getting to build a body of work as a storywriter. And then my editor at FSG just had a completely different take. She thought having a second collection of stories was a great way to build a readership as a storywriter before they publish my novel.

So I think that’s the thing about publishing: it’s a very rare situation where the views are going to be completely uniform. You know, you don’t need everyone to say yes, and you don’t need everyone to think that the path you’ve chosen is the right path. You just need that one person who sees things in a way that you do and I was lucky enough to find that.

I think story collections . . . there’s a lot of bad press for them in terms of salability, and it’s true that there are particular challenges with selling collections. But I think the honest truth is there are particular challenges with selling anything. So a little part of me dies when I hear someone say something like: “Well, I wrote a story collection but I know it’s not salable, so I’m working on a novel instead.” I just think of all of the people I know who have unsold novels or unsold memoirs, which are supposed to be the easiest thing to sell. The reality is that it’s all extremely difficult to sell, and so I’m not really convinced that one form is more difficult than another. (more…)

Interview: Steve Almond

Steve Almond is a short story writer and essayist. He has published ten books of fiction and narrative nonfiction, three of which are self-published. His narratives make great use of traditional plot structure, and in this straight forward, generous interview, he discusses his use of this construction in a surprising way: “The truth is I don’t do a lot of elaborate plotting. It’s not my strong suit. And it doesn’t have to be for a short story, which can ride out one overriding desire.”

Enjoy more of these gems, below.

author interview_steve almond

Interview: Steve Almond

Your stories make great use of traditional narrative structure. By this I mean: a strong tension builds until they reach a climax. A few stories from God Bless America—the title story; “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched”; “A Jew Berserk on Christmas Eve”—come immediately to mind. Do you plot out your stories? When you begin planning/writing, what is your starting point?

My conception of plot is primitive: you basically figure out what your protagonist wants and what they’re afraid of and you push them towards that. The stories you mention seem to have a “strong” plot because the characters have strong wants. Billy wants to become an actor. Dr. Oss wants to gamble. The Jewish college kid wants to have sex. But the truth is I don’t do a lot of elaborate plotting. It’s not my strong suit. And it doesn’t have to be for a short story, which can ride out one overriding desire. But in the case of novels, you do need to do some planning or, like me, you wind up with failed novels.

What are some of your favorite short story collections?

I love Birds of America by Lorrie Moore. Those stories are almost all about women at the end of their tether and they really don’t have strong plots, but Moore is so deep inside their anguish, and so funny, that I can’t put it down. Airships by Barry Hannah just blew my doors off when I first read it. The language is just wild, raw and elegant and precise and unexpected. Jesus’ Son is an absolute monster. Flannery O’Connor’s stories for sure. I loved Stacey Richter’s “My Date with Satan,” and not just because I published that story as a magazine editor. Oh, and The Palace Thief  by Ethan Canin is a stone-cold masterpiece. I could go on.

In the workshop I took with you, you emphasized the importance of being close to your characters. Your stories have a lot of interiority—you fully inhabit the characters’ minds’—and yet the personalities you depict are so varied. I guess my question is, how do you achieve this? How do you establish these perspectives?

Yeah, I don’t know. We all contain multitudes, I guess. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that we all worry about the same stuff, carry around the same sack of regrets and wishes. With short stories, you’re really just trying to get into that one person’s head and heart and see them through a pivotal moment or two in their lives. There are other sorts of stories that are more ambitious. But that’s how mine tend to go. A lot of it really boils down to imaginative empathy—how well you can imagine what it’s like to walk around in somebody else’s shoes. (more…)

Magical Realism: Our Modern Fairy Tales

storytelling opening phrase

A giant beanstalk, a man with a blue beard, a spinning wheel wound with gold: we need only hear mention of these magical emblems to think of the fairy tales attached to them. Fairy tales beg to be retold. It is no surprise that many contemporary authors who often gravitate toward magical realism have written stories based on fairy tales. Magical realist fiction takes place in a world that resembles our own, except for the introduction of a magical element (which cannot be explained by the conventions of our reality). Certainly, a story that takes after a fairy tale need not contain any magic at all; one could write a story based on the plot of a fairy tale, a line of dialogue from it, a moment. But it is interesting to see how many writers who often favor magical realism have plucked the uncanny elements from fairy tales to use in their stories.

Kevin Brockmeier’s first published story, “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin” originates from a version of the story’s ending in which Rumpelstiltskin literally splits himself in two. Aimee Bender’s “The Color Master,” the title story of her latest collection, was inspired by the dresses of impossible colors in “Donkeyskin,” by Charles Perrault. Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum draws on the menacing figure of the Erlking in her New Yorker story of the same name. (more…)

Interview: Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender has written numerous works of magical realism and we were lucky enough to chat with her about it. In this interview, Bender discusses women in magical realism, her use of this construction, and the power of magic in stories. Thank you Aimee, for letting us share your words. BENDER

Interview: Aimee Bender

Who do you like to read? Who are your influences?

There are many—and I do love the magical realists: García Márquez, Cortázar, Borges, Leonora Carrington (more of a surrealist), Calvino, Barthelme, Murakami, if you’d call him that. Kelly Link. Then those into the grotesque: Katherine Dunn, Flannery O’Connor. Then the straight up realists: Marilynne Robinson, James Baldwin, Salinger. And more! Reading Jesse Ball’s new book right now and it’s beautiful.

To me, it seems like the magical elements are organic in your stories because they grow out of your characters’ emotional lives—they are built and bolstered by these worlds. Does this seem sound to you? Does it in any way reflect your experience writing them?

Yes, thanks! Good to hear. I think the emotional life is the core and seed of the story—that’s where the story lives and breathes. So the magic is a way to access that, and I will happily use whatever way I can to get to the emotional stuff. For me, for whatever reason, I like to go to it indirectly, and via metaphor, but hopefully not metaphor that’s too easily unpacked. I don’t know the meaning as I go in, so my hope is it (the magic) isn’t a quick and easy meaning, but instead a pathway in.

One of my favorite stories of yours is “The Rememberer.” (I used to teach it and it was always a class favorite.) Would you mind describing the relationship between the magical and the real in this story? The narrator’s lover is experiencing “reverse evolution,” but both the narrator and her de-evolving lover also seem to be struggling with what it means to be human, to think and to lose. What was your inspiration for this story? We’d love to hear anything about the process of writing it.

I mean, every story has to be real, has to be contending with realness in order to be a story. We don’t want something so out there that we can’t relate at all. In that story it was a way for me to write about/think about what loss is and what it means to lose someone. At the time I was going through a breakup, my grandmother was dying and my mother kept talking about how it was like watching someone go back to infancy, and I’d had a dream years before about reverse evolution and I think it all coalesced to some degree. But I don’t think up the idea and then transfer it to a metaphor—instead, it’s going with an image, a word, a moment, and letting that guide the story. Then the mix of real and less real comes from the writing itself—maybe the clearest way to say it is that I like it if there’s a fluid permeable line between real and less real so then it’s not a big leap to find myself in the realm of magic. It just is allowing the story to go there if it seems like a good place to go.

In recent years, there has been a wave of popular women authors who write largely (though not exclusively) magical realist fiction. You, Russell, Ausubel (also out of Irvine), the other authors in Tin House‘s Fantastic Women anthology…Would you consider yourself part of a movement? Or, would you even want to?

I do think it’s a bit of a movement! I’m thrilled about it. Also Julia Slavin, Judy Budnitz, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Kelly Link, and more and more.  And some men, too—Kevin Brockmeier, Manuel Gonzales. But more women. I like how folk tales are often called old wives tales and so there’s a history of these kinds of storytellings coming, often, from women. Not necessarily old, not necessarily wives, but something, at root, in the feminine.

Interviewed by Sadye Teiser

Critical Essay: Literary vs Genre Fiction

literary-vs-genre

In the creative writing classes I attended it was not uncommon for science fiction or fantasy stories to be banned from workshop. In college the subject of “genre” fiction was often met with discouraging comments or disparaging silences. However, while I am sure that workshops like that still exist, the always somewhat imaginary line between literary and genre fiction appears to be loosening. In my past three years teaching fiction writing, I saw more students than ever turning in science fiction, horror, magical realism, fantasy, fairy tales, and mysteries. On the whole, these stories were impeccably written; their worlds were fully imagined, their characters complex; their language rich, often lyrical.

It’s no surprise to see this wealth of “genre” fiction in the classroom, as popular literary authors turn out work that could easily be shelved under several categories. Karen Russell, much-beloved author and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, recently released Sleep Donation, a science fiction novella in which insomnia has become an epidemic. The book is beautifully written and insightful, but it also delves deep into its sci-fi elements; the process of donating sleep is described as clinically as the process of donating blood. This is by no means Russell’s only work of genre fiction; her stories include westerns, other sci-fi tales, and works of magical realism (the last of which, admittedly, is more widely accepted as a literary genre). Kevin Brockmeier is another excellent example of a popular literary (award-winning) author whose work spans several genres. He dabbles in science fiction, fables, fairy tales, and magical realism. He even has a story that manages to be both Star Trek fan fiction and Anton Chekhov fan fiction. (If that does not illuminate the ridiculousness of strict genre distinctions, I don’t now what does.) The widely popular George Saunders (also a MacArthur recipient) publishes stories in The New Yorker and Harper’s that have elements of science fiction, stories in which scientists have developed concoctions (tested on convicts) to make people fall in and out of love (“Escape from Spiderhead”) or in which there is a pill that will make you think like a knight (“My Chivalric Fiasco”). There is a strong popular interest in writers whose work blends literary and genre fiction, even if their writing is seldom characterized as the latter. (more…)

Interview: Kevin Brockmeier

The Masters Review is so pleased to share this insightful interview with Kevin Brockmeier. His works are literary, genre, memoir, science fiction, and so many wonderful things all at once, we felt he was the perfect choice to discuss genre and literary overlaps. We hope you enjoy this incredibly thorough and thoughtful discussion with an author who so clearly understands the work, method, and life behind his writing. Brockmeier’s new book is recently out from Pantheon, you can purchase a copy, here.

author interview_brockmeier

Interview: Kevin Brockmeier

Your latest book, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade is your first nonfiction book. In it, you chose to write about your thirteen-year-old self in the third person. Why did you make this choice? Did it help you to view yourself as a “character”? Did this tool make it easier for you to be direct about your own experience?

It’s a strange choice, I know, but that in itself—the strangeness—was a source of inspiration for me. Frequently I find that adopting some oddity or constraint is a help to me rather than a hindrance. Initially it makes the work harder rather than easier—and that’s valuable, because difficulty focuses the mind; then, paradoxically, the work becomes easier rather than harder, because the mind has been focused. In the case of the new book, the third-person, present-tense voice was exactly that kind of oddity: it alienated me just enough from the world of the story—which is to say, from my own life—that each detail felt fresh to me when I won it back over. I was trying to write an immersive memoir rather than a reflective one, to resurrect a long-gone version of my own consciousness. With every sentence, I had to remind myself that I needed to abide by the contours of a very particular mind: mine, as it existed some 28 years ago, rather than my mind as it exists today. One of the rules I embraced was to restrict myself to the vocabulary I imagined was available to me in seventh grade, though I skirted the outer edge of that vocabulary sometimes and also embedded it in a syntax that’s more exacting than anything I would have produced at twelve or thirteen. I should add that this answer is slightly disingenuous, since it implies a rigor of preplanning on my part rather than a rigor of attention. What I knew before I began was the general shape of the book—a seesaw, weighted at its ends by the first and the last days of the school year, and pivoting atop the odd speculative chapter in the middle—but as for the voice, I discovered it by instinct, running the first few paragraphs through dozens of variations until I found an approach that seemed not only as candid but as tensile and suggestive as I wanted it to be.

You also incorporate science fiction into your new memoir, which includes a scene in which you visit your seventh-grade self. What did this technique allow you to accomplish?

In the beginning it was yet another of the strangenesses that braced me toward the project: the idea of writing a memoir with a science fiction chapter—that kind of rule breaking—was one of the things that made me excited to attempt the book in the first place. The chapter is best understood, of course, as an episode I’ve applied to the story retroactively to make sense of my life rather than as something Kevin actually experiences—an encounter with the otherworldly or the fantastic that provides Kevin with a glimpse of his future and also gives him the opportunity not to end his life, as it’s usually understood, but to erase it as though it had never been. It’s the only such speculative episode in the book, and yet it’s very intimate, very revealing. My hope was that though it disappears from Kevin’s memory, it would cast its light over everything else he experiences. It also allowed me to reveal where the next thirty years of his life would take him without violating the immersive quality of the narrative. There’s the kind of late-night time-travel conversation you might fantasize about having with your younger self—love this person; avoid that one; hold on tight when you meet this one; hold on tight and don’t let go—and then there’s what I actually wanted to do with the book, which was simply to say, This is what happened to me, this is how I remember it. Finally, that’s what the chapter allowed me to do: to look myself in the eye and say, I remember you. (more…)

Flash Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors

Join Masters Review editors Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser as they discuss one of their favorite forms.

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Kim:

Flash fiction is one of my favorite forms and I think it’s because in spite of how short the story is, an entire world unfolds. On an emotional level, I’ve felt just as much impact by flash as I have entire novels. I remember one in particular, a story by Neil Gaiman (who I mention here proudly as he is a writer who spans so many genres) titled, “Nicholas Was…” This piece is only 100 words but I remember being so moved by the power and imagination behind it. I understood so much in such a short space. This got me thinking about how flash is actually quite broad, as humorous as it may sound for fiction that is so short. To some, it is any piece under 300 words and to others it can be much longer, 1000 words or more. At The Masters Review, we don’t have a strict word count, but we do have a strong history of publishing what I would consider flash fiction. When do you think a story stops being flash? And do you have any favorites that really pushed you to explore/appreciate this genre?

Sadye:

I agree that flash fiction holds a particular intensity. The best flash stories are complete, concentrated worlds that point to complexities outside of themselves. Broadly, I tend to think of flash as a story of 1,000 words or fewer. And there are all these subsets, like nano fiction, which is 300 words or less, or hint fiction, which is 25 words or less. As you say: I know flash when I see it. The writer who first sparked my interest in the genre is Lydia Davis, which is interesting because her work is not, as far as I know, overtly marketed as “flash” fiction. Her story “The Cedar Trees,” a fable-like tale about the women of a town turning into trees, has a strange cadence that has never quite left me. A new favorite writer of mine is Ashley Farmer, whose stories all communicate a feeling, a particular state of mind, with that economy of language that makes flash so powerful.

These examples illustrate what I love most about flash fiction: its extreme variety in terms of form. Every piece of flash invents a new form for itself; it decides how it will take you from point A to point B, and then it fulfills that promise. Of course, this can be true of all kinds of fiction, but I see a lot more variety in these very short stories. In flash, you can easily have a story that is all questions (like Donald Barthelme’s “Concerning The Bodyguard,” which actually inspired your “Concerning the Housewife”), that is made up of (surreal) dialogue (like “How The Water Feels to The Fishes,” by Dave Eggers), or that is a meditation on a single, cooked fish (“The Fish,” Lydia Davis). It’s so interesting how flash can often focus on a single fictional element: it is all plot, all setting, all interiority — but, more often than not, it tells a full story. Do you feel that, in looking at submissions and in your own writing, there is a certain freedom that comes with this shorter form? Are there any flash stories in particular whose forms have surprised you? (more…)

Interview: Ashley Farmer

 The Masters Review is pleased to introduce the first of four interviews this month, starting with a discussion on flash fiction with author, Ashley Farmer. We recently reviewed Farmer’s new story collection, Beside Myself, published by Tiny Hardcore Press in March, and were so taken with her, she was a staff favorite for this interview. Ashley Farmer is a magician. Her work is spellbinding, and she knows her way in and around this material like only the best can. Take a look as Masters Review editor Sadye Teiser chats with a writer who has quickly become one of our all-time favorites.

author interview_farmer

Interview with Ashley Farmer

I absolutely loved Beside Myself, your new collection of stories. One of the things that I liked most is the way that you give the imagination a physical presence in your prose. I’m talking about sentences like: “My idea of a neighbor is patient, rocking.” Or, as the narrator remembers looking at a house as a child: “My grown self flickered like heat in the kitchen.” How do you achieve this? Is this something that is easier to do in a shorter form? Was this sort of interplay of fantasy and reality something you were consciously trying to achieve in these stories?

I’m interested in the role imagination plays in our memories and the decisions we make. I feel like the characters in Beside Myself are often drawn into imaginary worlds as a means of understanding their choices, reconciling themselves to who they’ve become, or making themselves feel a little more alive. There’s a lot of retreating from conscious reality and into daydreams. In a way this mirrors the act of writing fiction, and reading, too––that process of going away from one world and into another. It’s a lot like sleep. Someone once pointed out that there’s a lot of sleeping in the book. It’s kind of funny to me in hindsight—characters falling asleep. In regards to that aspect alone, I think the short form allows for things a longer narrative might not.

Because so much of your fiction is about the presence of imagination in our lives, I have to ask: Where do your ideas come from? Do any of them come from dreams?

Many of my stories do come from dreams, or at least parts of the stories do. I’m a rookie sleeper—it has never come very easily to me—but when I do sleep deeply, I’m pretty great at dreaming. When I was a kid, I’d dream so vividly sometimes I’d wake up and, even an hour later, be uncertain as to whether or not I was still dreaming (something I was too embarrassed to ask my parents to confirm). I went for a sleep study recently (though I couldn’t fall asleep for it) to try to figure it out. But maybe there’s value in the predicament because I feel a strong connection to the logic of that dream place and I’m interested in it. I’m fascinated with what’s revealed to us there and I feel like it’s always just barely out of reach even when we’re awake. I like how we’re naked (figuratively and sometimes literally) in dreams, how we dream in symbols, how subconscious fears and absurdities and the dearly departed show up for us. I even like other people’s dreams. You know how they say that the quickest way to bore a person is to tell her your dreams? I’m not that person—I’ll listen to them. I’ll eat them up.

I think that memory operates similarly for me and plays that role in my work. My husband has the most intense, precise memory of anyone I know—it’s naturally linear, orderly, omits nothing. It freaks me out. By comparison I’ve come to see that I remember even some of my most important moments in brief images, in sensory perceptions, sometimes in a less-than-tangible feeling. Much how I’ll remember a dream. For instance, I can recall the story of a car accident—what happened and where and how—but the potent memory is just some sunlight shining on the broken glass. Stories are alive for me in images or the flecks of narratives, sometimes in those little parts that fly off. So some of the stories in Beside Myself originated from that place, too. (more…)

Book Review: Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman

together-apart-mockup_7Together, Apart, Ben Hoffman’s debut chapbook, is recently out from independent publisher Origami Zoo Press. Hoffman’s manuscript won the press’s first-ever chapbook contest, judged by Matt Bell. As the title suggests, the stories in this collection transition rapidly between different modes of experience. The prose is by turns funny and sad. The narrators are cynical, then kind. The characters are constantly grappling with the difference between their desires and the realities they are presented with. It is in this impossible, transitional space that Hoffman’s stories flourish.

I have to admit, I studied with the author at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, so I knew some of these pieces from workshops and readings. But as I read this chapbook it was hard to believe there had ever been other versions of these stories, that they were once edited and whittled. Each one is a complete, lived-in world, which is impressive considering that some are just a few paragraphs long.

Hoffman’s stories are paradoxically, fittingly, both funny and sad—often within the same sentence. Even “One For The Road,” a strange piece of apocalyptic flash, contains both elements. This is a story told from the point-of-view of a child, addressed to his then-unborn brother. The narrator announces: “If they live, they will name you Earnest. If not, Charlie.” A news broadcast about the end of the world is punctuated by the moans of lovers in the room next door. (more…)