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Interview with Gay Degani

MARCH 2012

This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Gay Degani, who is an internationally recognised writer of flash fiction and the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction. She blogs at Words in Place. We asked Gay five questions about the nuts and bolts of writing flash. 

Definition

FF: Flash fiction has many different definitions, from Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” to a definition framed mainly by word count (such as <1000 words). What, in your opinion, defines flash fiction?

GD: Flash fiction is to traditional short stories what lightning is to a storm. That to me is the best definition of flash fiction. And if no one has said this before, I want the credit!! But I’m pretty sure that’s where the name came from.

Thunder, rain, sleet, wind and lightning are all part of the excitement of a full blown nor’easter or afternoon thunderstorm. The rush of hard rain opens our eyes; its steady drum on the roof soothes us until that first roll of thunder raises our pulse; lightning makes us anticipate and 1 2 3 count. Then rain again and we wait for another loud crack, more electrical fireworks, the clouds to clear, the skies to blue. A good storm is filled with promise, surprise, fear, suspense, relief, joy, and sometimes sadness. So is a good story.

We experience fiction as we do storms with all their noise and fury. However, flash fiction is more like watching a jag of lightning split the sky to reveal a few seconds of landscape in a larger world.  In the span of 1000, 500, 50 words, flash gives us a crucial moment in a larger, less-defined or “suggested” story.

 Flash focuses on the “crux” of interplay between two characters, or one character and nature, or one character and self, when life is illuminated for the briefest of seconds. Flash creates a “close-up” on that moment when a “balance of being” shifts, even if it shifts ever so slightly.

Getting into it

FF: When you read a flash fiction story, what is the first indication that it’s a great one?

GD: An opening sentence that promises to intrigue, seduce and deliver the goods. A voice that engages me instantly and then something about the content — appearing almost immediately through voice, setting, circumstance, dialogue, language — that promises the story will be fresh and new and that the writer knows what he or she is doing.  I want to feel I won’t be let down, that I am embarking on an experience, large or small, that will surprise and intrigue me; that I will not be thrown any curves that make no sense.

Top Tip

FF: What is the single most important tip for someone aspiring to write excellent flash fiction?

GD: The admonition is probably different for every part of each writer’s journey, but for those just starting out, I’d say, “Don’t fall in love with your language until you’ve determined what it is your subconscious is telling you”. Too often we worry about every line when we’re new, not able to move on until each sentence sparkles. This often kills the initial impulse to write the story. My advice is to get the idea down, then take a look at what you have. Ask yourself who your character is, what does she value, what does she want and what stands in her way. There’s a magic thing happening inside you, the creation of a story. Listen to that voice or follow that thought as far as it leads you. Once you have content — the meat of the story — you will be able to figure out your scenes, what can happen to show the reader who she is and what she reveals about our humanity, and then it will be time to write those sparkling sentences.

Zeitgeist

FF: Flash Fiction seems to resonate with the current Zeitgeist. Why do you think this is?

GD: Stories have always given us a life experience without having to live through that experience. However, as society speeds up, we seem to have less and less time to sit down and read.  I have always read voraciously, but I struggle to find time to read books. There is always something else I should be doing, something that gets results. Yet I long for the feeling of being part of another world that reading gives us.

 Examples of excellence
FF: And finally, please share with us some flash fiction stories that you think are especially effective, and tell us why.

GD: This is really tough. I could probably list at least 100 stories by 100 different writers, but here are a couple I thought of when I was answering the second question. These have stuck to me.

Conversion by Gasoline by Marsha McSpadden because it says so much so well in so few words. Stunning.
Running by R.S. Thomas because of its natural yet seductive voice and flow, and the wonderful, sad story.  Authentic.
About Things That Are Lost And The Places That Things Get Lost by Andrea Kneeland because of its unique structure and how it forces the reader to think.  How did she think to do this?
A Shanty For Sawdust And Cotton by Sarah Hilary because has the right kind of surprise and a lovely humanity.  Just a damn good writer.

Bulletproof by Divya Raghavan because of voice.

Thank you, Gay Degani, for this flash fiction interview.

Read more interviews here.

For March’s stories inspired by shades of grey, go here.

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