Smoking with Beth Thomas 1

Read the Story June 15, 2007

Where, for you, does the joy emerge in writing? What keeps you motivated to write? What stops the writing?

The joy in writing comes from the construction, the putting together of pieces to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts. You find just the right word, phrase, form, story to tell… that’s a good feeling. And then you put it all together and it’s something more than just the pieces. There is also something pretty exciting about getting an acceptance notice from a publication you admire. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

I am motivated to write mostly by reading things that move me: flashes, interviews, novels, poetry, anything. What stops the writing? There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and trying too hard. When I try too hard, I hate everything I produce. Then I have to take a break for a while and let the words and ideas return on their own. (Pressure is okay, desperation is not.)

What’s the most important thing for a writer of flash fiction to understand about flash fiction? What’s the most overrated piece of advice for flash writers?

I think the only advice I haven’t agreed with is that a flash story must have a fully realized plot and a beginning, middle, and end. I have seen many successful flashes that are only snapshots of a moment, or character sketches, or scene settings. I don’t think you have to follow the rules of standard storytelling in flash. Whatever you’ve written, if it evokes a response somehow, it is successful.

As the first Fish Fellow (say that three times fast), you’ve paved the way for the fellows to come. What challenges have you met and overcome during your current fellowship at SLQ?

My main challenge, both as the first Fish Fellow and just in general, is with having faith in my writing. I write things but then I’m scared to share them. I have this vision of the SLQ staff sitting around a big mahogany round table, reading my stories and shaking their heads and throwing their fists in the air and saying “Arrgh!” and cursing my name or something like that. Which is ridiculous. The SLQ peeps have been extremely supportive and helpful, and of course there is no mahogany table (is there?!?). I wish I could say I have overcome this trepidation, but I’m not quite there yet. I’m working on it. I’m also learning to embrace the revision process. It’s tough, because I want a lot of distance from a story before I start revising. But I am finding that sometimes it’s easier to dive right back in, while I’m still in whatever place the story came from.

“In the Last Frame”—the piece that appears in this issue of SLQ—makes an interesting use of juxtaposition. How did the structure of this piece arrive to you?
This story was written to the prompt “…a photograph plays a pivotal role by revealing something new.” I immediately had two questions: What is in the picture? Who is looking at the picture? I wanted these two things to seem unrelated (therefore the guy finds the film on a train), but then to be applicable to one another if you read the story just right. So, if you read each piece separately, you’ve got two “snapshots” (‘scuse the pun) that tell their own brief stories. If you read them together, they inform each other and you get something deeper.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you’ve ever encountered?
Novels and Stories? To Kill a Mockingbird, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Temple of My Familiar, Interpreter of Maladies. (I like prepositions in a title.)

Movies? To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!, Julie Newmar (but if I didn’t like the movie, I would probably hate this title), Run Lola Run, Dead Poets’ Society.

Worst title ever? I find ADJECTIVE NOUN titles to be a turnoff in general (though there are some exceptions, of course). Fatal Attraction, High Crimes, Desperate Measures, Double Jeopardy, etc. Ho-hum.

About the Author:

Beth Thomas is originally from New Mexico but currently lives in California due to military relocation. She works as a technical writer in the aerospace/defense industry—don't ask what she writes about 'cause she can't really tell you. She has a BA and an MA in writerly things from New Mexico universities. Her work has recently appeared in Pindeldyboz Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, Word Riot, and other places.

About the Artist:

An Old Woman of Arles by Vincent Van Gogh. This artwork is in the public domain per Wikipaintings.