Smoking With Our Guest Editor — Claudia Smith
by Kelly Spitzer March 15, 2008
We’re truly grateful and honored that you took time out from Hobart to guest edit this issue. Thank you, Claudia! How do Hobart and SmokeLong differ in terms of the editing process?
They are very different. At Hobart, the online editors take turns reading for each month. I think it’s a good process for us, and it also means each online issue has a distinct editorial flavor and feel to it. We work as a team, and we often communicate through email if one of us has a question or wants feedback on a story. I know I can ask Aaron Burch his opinion about any story I come across.
For Hobart online, we try to limit the online stories to four or five an issue. SmokeLong is longer, and always flash fiction. I solicited more work for the SmokeLong issue; I usually only solicit one or, at most, two stories an issue for Hobart, if I solicit at all.
As I read for both SmokeLong and Hobart, I took pleasure in choosing stories by people whose work I was already familiar with, as well as writers I read for the first time in the slush piles. Each issue from SmokeLong is an offering from all the editors; that’s my impression. Wheras Jensen Whelan, Savannah Schroll and I each have our “months” and those are our respective babies. With a little midwifing help, now and then. And of course, the baseball issue is Aaron’s.
At SmokeLong, everyone votes for each story. I think there is more discussion and debate over the stories; this happens at Hobart as well, but not as frequently. I have respect for both methods, and I think both Dave Clapper and Aaron Burch each has a pretty good handle on how to run a magazine.
What do you hope readers take away from this issue?
A feeling for how intimate and startling flash fiction can be.
We have a huge line-up of great writing, with over 20 pieces accepted. Have you noticed any themes emerging?
It’s a long issue, in part because of the Fellowship stories, but it’s worth a good read. Quite a few of the stories deal with loss; but, as I read, I wasn’t looking for any specific theme. I was looking for stories that spoke to me. A few of the stories deal with the loss of a child, and a few are related to war. They are all very different in style and in tone, but one thing that every story has in common is that each is beautifully written and emotionally resonant.
What’s the most important quality you look for in flash fiction?
That’s a good question. It’s hard for me to choose one thing, but if I have to choose, I’d say I want it to be fully realized. This brings me back to what I said before, about resonance; a good flash piece echoes and lingers. Also, I think, like a poem, it is sometimes about what is left out as much as what is included.
I’m trying to write a novel now, and I’m having to re-train my writer’s mind. In this novel, I’m trying to spend time with my characters, to create that fully realized world, but the process is very different. I’m attempting to contain the characters within their world; if I start something on page 20, I’m going to try to go back to it on page 150. My flash pieces are often about the world outside the frame.
There are masters of the form who write quite differently than I do; some wonderful flash pieces are about language, sounds, or playing with forms. All great flashes are meant to be flashes, though, not vignettes or pieces of stories. All can stand alone and still speak to their readers, inviting them to read them again. That isn’t to say that I believe series of flashes don’t work, just that I think each flash within that series needs to be complete.
What gimmicks do you think writers rely on too much?
This is an interesting question, and I kept coming up with different answers—but, ultimately, my thought is this—that you can probably pull off anything, if you do it well. I could give a lot of examples of gimmicks I think don’t work, because, when they fail, they feel like shallow gimmicks. But then someone, some writer with a bright spark, might come along and shatter that, use that hook and create something amazing.
Your flash fiction chapbook, The Sky is a Well, which won the first annual Rose Metal Press chapbook competition, sold out. Congratulations! Do you have plans for another flash collection?
Thank you, and yes. I sent something off to another competition, actually. Overall, they are shorter pieces and I think they have a surreal edge to them, although I believe they’d be categorized as realistic fiction.
Also, The Sky is a Well chapbook was an entry in the 51st Annual New England Book Show and was chosen as a winner in its category, “Books: General Trade, nonillustrated”. It will be displayed at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston and then archived at the Burns Library at Boston College with the other winners of the New England Bookbuilders Award.
The Sky is a Well was recently rereleased as part of a collection, titled A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness. The book contains four chapbooks, with work by Kathy Fish, Elizabeth Ellen, Amy Clark, and yourself. Will the four of you be giving any readings for this book?
I will be reading in Austin with the poet Dan Boehl, and I’ll be reading alone in San Antonio. I believe that Elizabeth Ellen and Kathy Fish will be reading together in Portland. Rose Metal should post all information about readings on their site soon (http://www.rosemetalpress.com/).
As a mother to a toddler, how do you find the time to write and edit?
He’s climbed out of toddlerhood and into preschool. Now he’s asking me questions about death and calling me “mom” half the time.
And it is hard, honestly. I’m not sure I’ve always done the best job of managing both, but I have tried. I write and read and edit and correspond with writers and editors every chance I get. Sometimes I stay up too late and then I worry I’m not giving him the best of me. But I’m grateful for every moment with him, and every moment I spend writing.
He is going to preschool now three days a week. That means I have time to read and write while he is away. I’m trying to be more systematic about it. Sometimes, he will ask me to put away the computer and when he does, I put it away.
I drink a lot of coffee. My house is often messy.
He knows what I do, I think he can grasp it more easily than he can grasp what his father does—Dad is a programmer. He likes telling people that I’m a writer, and he likes making up stories. So far most of them begin with “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” and I find them pretty confusing myself, but I love it when he tells them to me. He wants me to tell him stories, as well, and he usually wants to star in the stories himself.
What book are you eagerly anticipating the arrival of?
I can’t wait to get Kim Chinquee’s Oh Baby in my mailbox.
While reading through the annual Kathy Fish Fellowship applications, I was struck by the number of writers who were using flash as, to paraphrase, a means to an end. Most people weren’t writing flash because they loved the form, because it took them places other types of fiction didn’t. Instead, they were using it as a gateway into longer works—short stories, short story collections, novels. As a champion of flash, I found this discouraging. Is flash fiction less satisfying, in terms of either writing or reading, than longer works? Or is it that the markets still haven’t accepted flash as a legitimate form? Why do you write flash, and where do you see it taking you?
I don’t find it less satisfying; in fact, I know it has made me a better writer. I’m not sure, really, the best answer to this question. I just sent out some queries to agents a few weeks ago, and, from what I’ve learned, it’s hard to sell flash fiction collections. I’m glad there are places like Rose Metal Press specializing in hybrid forms of writing.
I don’t plan to ever stop writing flash. And, as with any art form, the more I write it, the better a writer I’ll become. That’s my hope.
About the Author:
Claudia Smith's stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. Her flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (reprinted in the book), A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense books, respectively. Her new collection of stories, Quarry Light, is now available from Magic Helicopter Press.