“A strange and wondrous transformation”: An Interview With Guest Reader Ingrid Jendrzejewski
You have a BFA in Creative Writing and a BA in English Literature from the University of Evansville and a BA and MSci in Natural Sciences (Physics) from the University of Cambridge. I’m always fascinated when I discover someone has degrees in two seemingly disparate subjects. Can you tell us more about your interests, how you came to study these two subjects and whether the science-minded part of your brain informs your writing?
Although creative writing and physics might seem like very different subjects on the surface, I feel they’re much more similar than people often tend to think. The skills sets for a good writer and a good physicist, mathematician, or programmer are quite similar; one needs creativity, problem-solving, precision, attention to detail, and a desire to seek out beauty and truth. And, to get better at any of these pursuits, one follows the same essential path:
* Read a lot.
* Play with the language (be it English or mathematics); one learns by doing.
* Learn the common patterns, conventions, techniques, etc., and see what happens when you challenge them.
* When something doesn’t work, ask yourself why, and figure out how to make it work the next time.
* Wash, rinse, repeat.
At the end of the day, a lab report is storytelling. A mathematical proof is storytelling. A literature review is storytelling. A computer program is a kind of storytelling. They have their own language, style, conventions and aesthetics, sure, but they are all forms of storytelling, and thus provided an excellent framework that has helped me become both more rigorous and more playful in my flash.
The way I write flash and the way I write code are very similar; once I have a story’s endpoint in my sights, I have to figure out the logical steps I need to take to get there. In a program, I wouldn’t include random lines of code that don’t help me get to my end goal; when I write flash, it’s the same. If it’s not part of the solution, it doesn’t belong in the story. The game is to achieve the desired effect in a clear, concise, elegant manner.
You’re very involved in the flash fiction community. You’re Editor in Chief of FlashBack Fiction, an editor at Flash Flood, a flash editor at JMWW, and a co-director of National Flash Fiction Day. What is it that you love about flash fiction? What makes it so special?
When it comes to creative writing, flash fiction feels like one of, if not the most exciting places to be right now. Although very short stories have been written for thousands of years in many different languages, forms and contexts, I feel flash is going through a strange and wondrous transformation right now, in our time. It feels like a huge explosion of creativity; something akin to a supernova.
When I was studying creative writing, none of us were talking about flash fiction. Short short stories were considered curiosities, but they certainly weren’t what you spent your time on if you wanted to be taken seriously. Now, so many people are reading, writing and publishing flash, and writers are doing incredibly creative, ground-breaking things with the form, really exploring the fuzzy boundaries and latent potentials of shortform work. I feel we’re all here together helping give birth to a new sort of lifeform, this thing we’re calling flash. I want to see what this baby looks like, and I want to see how it grows.
I feel so lucky to be in a position where I get to read so much new work, and help some of it into the world. The flash fiction community has been a source of kindness, generosity and support in my writing life, so helping out with literary journals and National Flash Fiction Day feels like an obvious way to give back, pay it forward, and contribute where I can.
If you had to give someone one piece of advice about writing flash fiction, what would it be?
My advice would be twofold: let a piece marinate, and then when you return to it, don’t be afraid to make brave edits, if need be.
Here is my recipe for editing. After I finish a piece, I set it aside until I forget most of the details. Only when I then go back to it, do I feel like I can really see the shape of that piece. At that point, I interrogate every word, phrase, line, sentence, paragraph, section, space, punctuation mark and ask myself whether they are on that piece’s critical path. If not, I cut without regret.
I do think dashing pieces off and sending them out quickly can be dangerous. There is only one thing I find more heartbreaking than reading a story that is almost but not quite there, and that is when I read a story that’s merely great when it had the potential to be absolutely phenomenal. The former will hopefully be developed and published in a stronger form; the latter is likely to be published and celebrated, then frozen as-is, never reaching its full potential. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been secretly grateful that something I hurried through the process didn’t get published so I had a chance to work on it a bit more!
This works for me, but every writer has their own right way of writing, so I might downgrade this from ‘advice about’ to ‘personal thoughts on’ writing flash fiction!
What kind of story would you love to see in the queue this week?
Oh, what an impossible question! One of the things I love about flash is the sheer variety of things people are trying these days, so I hate to lead the witness, so to speak.
In general, I enjoy quirky things, be that quirky characters, plots, themes, styles, techniques, etc. I welcome all manner of experimentation and play, but also love good old-fashioned storytelling as well. I enjoy hermit crab stories, hybrid pieces, and flash that masquerades as prose poems, but I also love traditionally formatted, plot-driven pieces as well. I love sciences, puzzles, games, mathematics, and historical flash fiction, but I also love it when I’m invited to engage with topics that I know little about.
I suppose what I love most is that magic that happens when a writer confidently brings me into their world – whatever, whenever or wherever that world is – and tells me the kind of story that only they can tell.
About the Reader:
Ingrid Jendrzejewski studied creative writing and English literature at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge. Her work has been published in places like Passages North, The Los Angeles Review, Jellyfish Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and The Conium Review, and is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2019. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction among other competitions, and her short collection Things I Dream About When I'm Not Sleeping was a runner up for BFFA’s first Novella-in-Flash competition. She serves as a co-director of National Flash Fiction Day, editor-in-chief of FlashBack Fiction and a flash editor at JMWW. Links to some of Ingrid’s work can be found at www.ingridj.com and she tweets @LunchOnTuesday.
About the Interviewer:
Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicycle, wigleaf, and elsewhere.