Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interview with Randall Brown

by Tori Bond

Do you want to make your fiction pop and sizzle? Would you like to see your work published? Then don’t miss Randall Brown’s workshops Flash Fiction and Submitting Your Short Fiction and Creative Nonfiction at the conference. Randall Brown is a fearless writer, teacher, editor, and publisher of flash fiction. Tori Bond caught up with him for a short interview about writing and publishing short fiction.

Tori Bond: There are many labels for short short fiction: microfiction, sudden fiction, instant fiction, nanofiction, and many more. Do these labels all fall under the category of flash fiction, or do they all have specific story lengths that delineate these categories? Is there a broader description of flash fiction beyond a word count? What distinguishes flash fiction from prose poetry?

Randall Brown: Editors of anthologies and journals often create names to define the kind of very short fiction they are seeking, and these names are often connected to a specific word count. However, most editors also have an aesthetic (for example, a desire for a narrative) that is also part of that definition. Beyond a word count, there are many broader descriptions of flash fiction, with each writer, reader, editor, and publisher bringing to the compressed world of flash fiction their own ideas of what needs to be accomplished within that (small) space. In short, flash is usually under 1000 words, sometimes compressing a narrative within that space and other times finding other ways beyond narrative to make that space mean something to a reader. As to when that "thing" becomes prose poem, I'd say that no one quite knows what distinguishes flash fiction from prose poetry. If it is formatted as one paragraph, justified, then it's probably a prose proem. It also might rely less on narrative prose strategies and more on poetic devices. Literally, I guess it's a poem built with prose (the sentence) rather than with poetry (the line break).

T: You write, read, publish and teach flash fiction. What is it that you love about this form and why do you think it is becoming so popular?

R: I often bore myself after awhile, so flash fiction is perfect for someone who can only tolerate his own writing for a page or so. I think it's popular because it doesn't take (too) long to write and doesn't take very long at all to read. I also think it's a great space to write fearlessly and take risks.

T: As founder and managing editor of Matter Press, and former editor of Smokelong Quarterly, what do you think is the biggest mistake writers make when submitting their work to journals and magazines?

R: Oh, I think that maybe they aren't sure what they're submitting to.

T: Since submitting work for publication seems to be a numbers game, do you have one or two shortcuts to share?

R: I think becoming a submissions reader helps you grasp exactly what the "slush pile" looks like. And I think finding a place that you love makes it more likely that you'll find a "match."

T: I have heard you speak about the importance of writers supporting writers. Can you expand on this?

R: I think that most readers of flash fiction are writers of flash fiction, and I think the best way to be part of that community is to find ways that you can help other writers. Too often, I think writers new to the community think first what this community can do for them, rather than thinking of ways that they can help the community.

T: What is one of your favorite flash fiction writing prompts?

R: I like taking five to ten words from a poem I like and using them in a flash fiction piece.

Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning flash fiction collection Mad to Live (Flume Press 2008), a collection recently reprinted as deluxe version by PS Press, 2011. He teaches at and directs the MFA in Writing Program at Rosemont College. He is founder and editor of Matter Press and its literary magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He holds an MFA from Vermont College and a BA from Tufts University—along with an M.Ed. and a B.S. in Education. His essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field (Rose Metal Press 2009), a Book of the Year finalist. His blog FlashFiction.Net is one of the foremost resources for fans, editors, writers, and teachers of flash fiction. His work has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print.

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