This week’s “Why Flash Fiction?” essay from Robert Scotellaro charts his journey from loving Emily Dickinson to co-editing a collection of micro-fiction. Submit your own “Why Flash Fiction?” article or other flash-related essays on our Submittable page!
By Robert Scotellaro
Communi Territorio: Shared territory
I came to writing early, as a poet, and perhaps in the vanguard because I didn’t need to be born into the Computer Age to have a short attention span. I was a natural. I devoured Emily Dickinson’s short poems—wrote them, dreamt them, saw them in my alphabet soup. I was hooked. Distance mattered. That point between the first word of a literary work and the last. And, of course, what was skillfully and honestly crafted between.
Because I was dyslexic reading was a particular challenge; words, and how they were put together, had an added heft. An extra weight I carried gladly. I read slowly, but voraciously. Short/small was my MO. Short poems, short stories, and the novels (there were many) I read in segments. Short takes. So, I guess, as a writer, I was always a sprinter. As a reader, I relished the impact of literary works in small containment. Brief, but not slight.
Sometime in my early twenties I discovered prose poetry (my gateway drug) and then short-shorts, and on to what was to be called flash or micro fiction. Forms that would become abiding passions. I wrote/read all the prose poems I could find. I was taken with the blending, the annealing of genres. That shared territory of forms in short prose/poetic blocks, sometimes a single paragraph long. Then, later discovering W. W. Norton’s seminal collection: Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka. And in it, finding Richard Shelton’s poetic piece, “The Stones.” Short, metaphorical, and with the narrative arc of fiction. Along with a plethora of brief arresting fictions that incorporated a variety of strategies in constructing this astonishingly powerful literary form. I was home. Found a genre that suited me, and that I was suited for.
Also in the same anthology, James Thomas (who coined the term flash fiction) asked Carolyn Forché if she would convert her poem, “The Colonel,” from lines into sentences, which of course, she did. It is considered by many to be a quintessential example of this blurring of distinctions between what is considered poetry and what is considered fiction in the very short form.
Now, ironically perhaps, serendipitously for sure, I am coediting a collection of microfiction with James Thomas for W. W. Norton. In the course of our research, we have found many writers of the form who were or are poets. It’s far from a prerequisite, but is a natural enough precursor. In Tara Masih’s stellar flash fiction series, The Best Small Fictions 2016, Stuart Dybek in his introduction addresses this genre bending and blending: “No matter what names these individual fictions go by, this is not a collection of literary cubicles, but rather an anthology where writers locate their work along a continuum of infinite gradations that spans the poles of fiction and poetry, and the narrative and lyric.”
Horror Vacui: Fear of empty spaces. In visual art, it is the filling of the entire surface of
Within flash fiction’s small constructs the opposite is the case. And I like that. “Empty spaces” are in fact capable and vital components—need not be filled in by the author, as in a novel or traditional length short story. Rather, most often, it is allusion the reader places inside them: an allusion to something larger, deeper, more nuanced and telling. A resonance of implications. A partnered, tacit agreement between writer and reader. A detail that hangs in the air, a gesture, a snippet of dialog, something unsaid that swells. A sense that what is lost in extrapolation is gained in the concentration of what can be imagined. The empty spaces do not take away, but add. They are expandable, exponentially so. It is one of the things that draws me to writing flash fiction—its inherent flexibility. The stories are brief and small, but they have borders that do not bind—spaces left open like many windows to a bigger world. And beyond, in those great outdoors, there is fresh earth to sink into, soil that adheres to your shoes and does not kick off easily.
Robert Scotellaro has been published widely in national and international books, journals, and anthologies including: W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International Anthology, The Best Small Fictions 2016, NANO Fiction, Gargoyle, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and many others. He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and two full-length flash fiction collections by Blue Light Press: Measuring the Distance and What We Know So Far. The latter was the winner of The 2015 Blue Light Book Award. He was the recipient of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry. A collection of his 100-word stories, Bad Motel, is scheduled for release by Big Table Publishing later this year. Robert currently lives with his wife and daughter in San Francisco. Visit him at http://www.rsflashfiction.com/.