“Essential tension”—An Interview With Guest Reader Elisabeth Hamilton

by Tara Laskowski See all Guest Readers

What styles and themes are you most drawn to in flash fiction? Any definite turn-offs?

I tend to like things that have some essential tension to them in the way they are formed. An undercurrent of humor or anger or sadness, whatever, but it’s trying to break through the veneer on the surface of things.  If you can do that in flash I’m always extra impressed; I love that it can fill up the white space around a very short piece by suggestion.

Which writer was the first that really made you want to write and why?

This is hard to pinpoint. There are writers that made me love writing and there are writers where I realized that was a thing you could do. But theater had a lot to do with it. Tom Stoppard comes to mind, as does Diana Son. Nora Ephron. Roald Dahl. All of these writers made me want to know how they created the effect of feeling on so many people at once. I was conscious that it had to do with the construction of language, not just a gag or something physically embodied by an actor playing a character.

How does living in NYC inform and/or affect your writing, if at all?

You’re asking me this question when it’s been raining and cold for three days, and I’m a Californian.  So keeping that in mind, in many ways I hate living here, and that can be a drag on creativity. Those ways won’t ever change, because they have to do with how landscape affects you on a cellular level. I ache for mountains and the Pacific. I write about California, so in terms of place, that’s my muse. I’ve tried to write about New York, and I can’t really do it. But Brooklyn helped me become a writer because I met other people who were doing this weird thing and cared about story and I hadn’t met people like that in the Bay Area when I was in my twenties. That sense of community exists in other places, but Brooklyn was a special place to become a writer.

Name a few flash pieces you love.

A friend of mine published this piece, “Skin,” in PANK back in the day. It both grosses me out and feels so rich at the same time.

Another friend of mine did a little project called Every Day, A Century.  I love her work.  Everything was under 100 words (hence the name).  They called them prose poems but some of them are more on the flash side, depending.  This is one of my favorites.

Good news! We’ve just made contact with aliens. But our transmitters are still primitive, so we can only send them one single sentence as correspondence. You are tasked with coming up with that one sentence.

I recommend the cheese.

About the Reader:

Elisabeth Hamilton received her MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared  in The Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, Five Chapters, NANO Fiction, PANK, and has twice been a finalist for the Glimmer Train New Writers Award.   She lives and teaches in New York City. 

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.