It’s June and therefore a big month for flash, so we’ve had the pleasure of engaging in a short conversation with the judges of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day competition, Vivienne Plumb and David Lyndon Brown. Thanks to both of them for taking time to share with our readers as well as sifting through a very large stack of flash for this year’s national flash competition. Winners will be announced here after the June 22 prize-giving event in Auckland.
Flash Frontier: Hemingway has been credited with fashioning the 6-word story with his now mythical restaurant-napkin yarn: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” To kick off this interview, could you tell us a 6-word story about yourself?
Brown: What have I got to lose? is my latest dictum (in life and art). This is particularly pertinent in my writing and aspiring writers of very short fiction would do well to keep it in mind.
Often in my writing workshops I challenge the participants to halve the number of words in their poem / story. The result is nearly always an improvement on the original.
Flash Frontier: In what ways do you find flash fiction challenging, or engaging – for both readers and writers?
Plumb: I like the way it feels as if it’s genre-bending, breaking ‘the rules’ a little. Flash fiction or microfiction is a short blast of colour, and it’s quick to read and absorb. The art is to get something enduring and memorable into that compacted piece of writing.
Brown: Your task as a writer is to pounce, grab the reader, shake him or her about a bit and to leave him or her grateful for having been grabbed and shaken.
I would like to quote Frank Sargeson (in a letter to Graeme Lay): Make the reader work for you without having a notion of your cunning. Let the story be its own moral, don’t show your hand, let all the concentration be on the story so that it won’t slip out of focus.
Flash Frontier: As the judge for NFFD 2013, what expectations did you bring into the task of reading hundreds of stories? Did you enter with any preconceived notions of what a 300-word story might accomplish? And (without being too specific, since the results have not yet been announced) did you find yourself surprised in any way?
Plumb: I was excited by the prospect and looked forward to reading all the entries.
Brown: I tried to suppress my preconceptions and predilections. I wanted to be as receptive as I could and to let the story speak to me. On reading the stories I have been sent (so far) I was surprised at how palpably some stories leapt up at me and some lay inert – unformed and unfinished. This made my selection of a long-list relatively straightforward.
Flash Frontier: It has been said that flash has a lot in common with poetry. Care to comment?
Plumb: I see flash as a relative of prose poetry. The Flash is a piece of writing that follows the usual dictates of a usual work of fiction but that has been minimalized, distilled.
Brown: In both the weight of every word is crucial.
Flash Frontier: What are you writing now?
Plumb: Short fiction.
Brown: Editing and, in some cases, re-writing the work that I created during my 2012 Buddle-Findlay Sargeson Fellowship.
Flash Frontier: What are you reading now?
Plumb: Laura Riding, Selected Poetry, Yayoi Kusama, art catalogue, David Beach, Abandoned Novel, Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, Beckett, How It Is.
Brown: I seem to be reading a lot of travel books at present — Paradise, Larry McMurtry’s elegant account of a visit to the Marquesas. And Picador’s Worst Journeys ed. Keath Fraser.
Thank you both for this interview. We look forward to the results of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day competition, and we hope to see more of you both in the flash fiction community.
* For this month’s new shoes stories, please click here.