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Author Focus: Best Small Fictions contributors


 

Emily Corwin

Flash Frontier: Your story, ‘Bildungsroman’, employs the second person and opens with:

If you come upon a fire, trembling still with bark and pine cones, almost out, you go by. If you come upon a rustling, a pair of eyes blinking back, you go by. You go by because this is the woods and you know what happens to little girls, skipping into the brush with wicker baskets and clean socks.

The opening pulls the reader in with a familiar scene, yet it promises mystery, too. Did you know when you set down the first lines that this would be a flash fiction? And did you know how it would end?

Emily Corwin:I wrote this piece for a flash fiction class, so I suppose that I did envision it as flash. However, the first lines are after a poem by Sonya Vatomsky, so it also felt like more of a poem. I truly struggled writing fiction – I actually have not written any fiction since that class because it feels unnatural to me. I lack patience and so that is why I prefer poems, I think – I couldn’t sit with myself long enough write more than a page and a half of prose. All I knew coming into the piece was that it was going to be a fairy tale, most likely one about femininity and grotesqueness – two obsessions of mine. As with poems, I started the draft off strong and I became less certain of where to go as I continued along. My peers in workshop gave excellent advice, as well as Jacinda Townsend, my teacher at the time.

FF:What do you write besides flash, and how does flash influence – or interact – with your other writing?

EC:I am primarily a poet, but I really should try writing flash again. I was truly shocked to learnt hat I had gotten into Best Small Fictions. I don’t perceive myself as a fiction writer at all – if I try prose, it is only in essay-writing, every now and then. My nature leans towards poems, which cover more or less the same territory as ‘Bildungsroman’ – horror, magic, girlishness, anxiety. Right now, I am working on a series of poems after classic horror movie heroines. I can imagine ‘Bildungsroman’ alongside these pieces – you never really escape your obsessions.
Emily Corwin is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Day One, Hobart, Yemassee, THRUSH and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press), which were published in 2016. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.

Nick Almeida

Flash Frontier:Your story, Watchdog, contains a whole family in its sparse lines, but maintains a distinctly distant tone, an almost a list-like quality, as the narrator recalls tattoos: mother, sister, grandmother. It has the thrumming sense that life is felt – and experienced – below the surface, and that we never quite know what’s under there, unless we know how to look. For example, here, the narrator writes of his grandmother’s tattoo:

Cleaning out my brother’s apartment, I found her photograph pressed in a stack of Motor Trends. In the picture, my grandmother has little charcoal eyes. A pinup queen. Shoulders back, a hand wrapped around her neck as if holding it up. The picture is old, but you can still see the little dog on her wrist. Everything else was sold or thrown away.

Did you know when you set out to write this small fiction that the theme might be captured in the one small sentence: No one gets in, no one gets out. – that the dark hours between asleep and awake would come to settle in the heart of the story?

Nick Almeida: When I wrote ‘Watchdog’, I’d been picking through an anthology and found John Ashbery’s poem ‘Pantoum’. To me, the poem epitomizes the cyclical, ensnaring potentiality of a pantoum. One repeated line is: “That is why a watchdog is shy – which provided an image. The poem sets itself in a liminal zone between consciousness and a slippery other, perhaps subconscious or spectral space. It unfurls and turns back on itself, and made me wonder if a piece of fiction could operate with the same communicable sense of enclosure, even entrapment. I’m enamored with fiction for its ability to set human consciousness to a rhythm. A time-flow that I couldn’t have planned impressed itself on this little story, one that rambles a little, and jumps vastly through time. Maybe the line you mentioned was a gift from Ashbery, or maybe it just sort of happened. Either way, I think of that line as a plea from the narrator, as if he’s recycling what he sees as repressive in his life into something maybe productive, or maybe tragic or menacing for his family, or, as is so often the case, unintentionally beautiful.

FF:What do you write besides flash, and how does flash influence – or interact – with your other writing?

NA:I write fiction of all different lengths, and like everyone have my notebooks of poetry too awful to share with the world. Flash fiction distils the form and is so challenging for the pressure it places on each unit of expression. It’s a form that respects the time and intelligence of its reader. That’s the lesson I try to carry from flash into other forms of writing, that each authorial move is not only meaning-making, but also an offering of respect through compression and clearly-rendered complexity. Flash teaches that a relationship is continuous – built and strained and built and strained and rebuilt – between a piece of writing and its reader.
Nick Almeida is the author of several short stories, which can be found in Baltimore Review, Yemassee, Broadsided Press, and The Best Small Fictions of 2017, guest-edited by Amy Hempel. He is a graduate of The Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, where he edited Bat City Review. He lives in Savannah, Georgia.

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

Flash Frontier:Your story, ‘The Sea Urchin’, draws on one vivid memory to open up a world between the granddaughter-narrator and her grandmother. It’s at once compact and vast, with these opening lines:

Grandmother kept a diver’s knife strapped to her thigh.
Daily, before the night could fray into dawn, she dived half
a mile from shore, inhaling three minutes of air at a time. All
morning she pried abalone and sea urchins from slick rock.
Once, when she returned, I counted the stiff lines around
her mouth, which never seemed to open but held back entire
tides.

How did the connection between food (the slow process of preparation and cooking) and memory become the driving theme of this story?

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello This flash piece draws inspiration from Robert Bly’s deep image prose poetry, and on intergenerational relationships of economics and culture. Food is a powerful symbol that brings people together, not just for meals, but also in preparation and in passing recipes to the next generation. Korean dishes take time to prepare, and each family has their own way to make each dish. Food carries such weight with both personal and cultural history, and for me, the poem’s context is almost otherworldly. In the same way that a single sensory detail can evoke a vivid memory, so this one memory encompasses the speaker’s relationship to her grandmother. Pearl-diving is a fascinating piece of Korean history, and is quickly dying out, so I wanted to preserve a bit of their legacy in this piece and pay homage to fierce women of every generation.

FF:What do you write besides flash, and how does flash influence – or interact – with your other writing?

MCC: Poetry is the form I always return to, but I also work with lyric essays and craft essays. The concision of poetry weaves through the vast imagination of flash and psychological thrill of essays that challenge narrative arcs required of prose. I am always interested in short, sharp pieces that continue to unfold in the reader’s mind long after their first encounter.

Oscar Mancinas

Flash Frontier: Your story, ‘Tourista’, is written in first person, revealing its narrator in a casual tone with one impressively long, almost stream-of-thought sentence which lends it authenticity. How much did you draw on real-life experience for this story, and to what degree does your identity as the son of Mexican immigrants inform your creative writing? And how did you decide that this story would flow in the rapid-pace delivery it achieves on the page?

Oscar Mancinas: First, I want to thank y’all for this opportunity. It’s my first ever written interview, so I hope I don’t write something dumb or confusing. *Fingers crossed*

I’ll do my best to answer the different parts of this succinctly, but if it’s all right with y’all, I wanna try to answer the latter question first and tie it back to my own experiences. To start, the story took on its form – the long, first-person sentence – because when I was working on it, I was obsessed with Roberto Bolaño’s ‘Beach’*. Although his story is significantly longer, I dug how the single-sentence conveyed habituality and the unease of the everyday. In my own story I tried to show how this one significant moment in the narrator’s life – giving a random tour to two Mexicans – can be both disruptive yet completely normal, since he’s had enough time to realize that, as the only Mexican on his very white college campus, he’s gonna confront some weird and awful requests. I’ve had plenty of experiences with those kinds of circumstances. I’ve had the privilege to pursue a few degrees, and all at predominantly white institutions. The initial culture shock at 18 – to go from my mostly brown & black hood and home to one of those types of spaces – was intense, to say the least.

As the son of Mexican immigrants, I feel like I’ve lived this constant tension – as a student, as a poet/fiction writer, as an academic, sometimes even as a teacher – where to realize success also means being pulled further and further away from what’s familiar. It’s only been recently – almost a decade after I left home for the first time – that I’ve been able to reflect meaningfully on some of the joy and isolation of my upbringing, schooling, and diaspora. For many of my classmates, past and present, it seems like we’re always trying to speak these tensions, break the silences around them – especially back in those days, considering we were: a) so young; b) living in a country that was, thanks to the election of Barack Obama, engaging itself for the first time in serious conversations of belonging and race; and c) trying like hell to get good grades, stay outta trouble, and make our families proud.

FF:What do you write besides flash, and how does flash influence – or interact – with your other writing?

OM: Currently, I’m enrolled in a doctoral program** in my home state, so a lot my writing is in response to texts or discussions, but I dig it. I also write poetry, non-fiction, blog posts, and longer fiction stories. I think flash interacts with all these other types of writing in its demand for precision and its ability to uplift a moment to the status of story. I’ve been working on an ethnographic research project recently, and I’ve found that moments – surprising and sometimes accidental – can carry within them the culmination of histories, government policies, and years of emotional journeying. A moment is powerful, and you can capture it in an instant and spend the next ten years trying to explain why it still hums in your mind or makes you think you were once really close to figuring something out.

*Shoutout Stephen Shane
**Stay in school, kids; though, maybe not quite this long.

Oscar Mancinas is the proud son of Mexican immigrants. He obtained an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and is currently a PhD candidate at Arizona State University. His work can be found at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Tishman Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Public Pool and latinxsbelike.com.

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