Smoking with Our Guest Editor — Myfanwy Collins

by Randall Brown December 15, 2005

You survived guest editorship! Man, did we love working with you! How’d it go for you? So what do you think about this cutthroat world of flash fiction? Did you have any writing and/or personal epiphanies? What’s it like to work for an ogre like Dave Clapper?

I greatly enjoyed working with the good people of SmokeLong—Dave, Kathy, Randall, Steven, Thomas, and Marty—each and every one of you have been a delight. There is a wonderful camaraderie and Dave leads with a gentle hand.

I’m no stranger to the slush pile, but I had been missing the whole putting together an issue vibe and so when Dave asked me if I would act as guest editor, I jumped at the chance and I’m so glad I did. Thank you.

You attracted a lot of talent, Myf. Talk about some of the writers you introduced to SmokeLong.

I’m uncomfortable singling out writers and would rather let the work speak for itself. What I will say is that I’m incredibly proud of the issue that we (the writers, the other editors, and I) put together. There is a cohesiveness in tone and voice and within each of these writings, there is a core of honesty. I love nothing more than for writers to implicate themselves in their work, to show me a dark heart, a hopeful vision, to immerse me in shame and let me emerge in catharsis. To bring me to a place that is emotionally new to me.

And these writers brought me to places I would not have gone without them and I am grateful for that. I love their honesty, their pain, and their hope.

What influence does a stint of editing have on your own writing?

It makes me hyper-aware of my story openings. From the first word to the first period to the first paragraph. Every word must count and if it does not count, it must go.

You’ve edited for both print and web-based journals. Any differences?

There is no difference as far as the quality of work expected and accepted for inclusion. Both expect high-quality, original work. The only difference is that at Ink Pot, we published poetry, cnf (though SmokeLong has some of that, too), and short stories, as well as flash. So, we would work to figure out how our tastes for all of these things fit together. Basically, the big difference here was focusing strictly on flash as the final output.

What advice do you have for writers interested in SmokeLong? What aspects of a piece arrests attention? What are some no-no’s?

Presuming that everyone who submits has already read past issues of SmokeLong, I would say the first thing to do is to make sure your opening is beyond reproach. Particularly in flash, when you have so few words to work with, if you cannot grab your readers with those first few, then maybe you need to rethink the piece. Ask yourself hard questions like, “Have I read an opening before like mine where a man wakes in the middle of the night and looks at his digital clock?” If you have, then maybe you had better rethink your opening.

Speaking of freshness, turn a critical eye on your piece and read for clichés. If there is anything in it you have read in the same way before, then you need to either cut it from the piece or rework it. If you don’t know what is a cliché and what is not one, then broaden your reading, or take a writing class, or join a writing workshop (like Zoetrope).

A quick and easy way to critique your own work is to read it aloud and listen for stumbles or awkward phrasing. By taking yourself out of your writer mind, you will hear how your work reads to others. I try to do this with everything I write and it almost always helps me to improve the piece.

Essentially, use this as your mantra: make every word count.

A lot of us only know you from the internet. What would surprise us when we met you face-to-face? What would make us smile and say, “Ah yes, I knew that…”

I tend to see myself as invisible and so I’m not all that reflective on how others might perceive me on first meeting. But really, how I present myself online (in my blog, in workshop, in my writing) is all me. I would tell the same stories, defend the same injustices, and critique with the same amount of effort, face-to-face. As far as what might surprise you, if you get me laughing—really, really laughing—I tend to snort, and I’ve found that an unexpected snort-laugh is almost always a shocker.

What’s next for you on the writing front?

I drew a complete blank at this question. Oops.

I’ll ask you what I asked our writers this issue. A new year approaches (yikes!). So, what’s the best that 2005 had to offer in literature, web sites, music, movies, television, DVD, and the like? Also, any predictions for 2006? And we’d love to hear your New Year’s resolution.

I’m horrible at best ofs and I don’t tend to make resolutions because I feel it sets me up for failure. So, I try to live each year as I’ve lived every other year and that is by learning, growing, improving, moving forward. I want to keep feeling excited. I want to have hope.

What did I miss? Or, in other words, what’s on your mind that I didn’t touch upon?

The only thing I would like to add is, again, my thanks to all of the people of SmokeLong, to the writers who have trusted us with their work in this issue, to all of the writers who submitted their work to us, and to those of you who will now read it. I hope you will cherish this issue of SmokeLong as much as I do.

About the Author:

Myfanwy Collins has work published or forthcoming in Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review, Potomac Review, Saranac Review, Quick Fiction, FRiGG, Mississippi Review, Monkeybicycle, and Jabberwock Review. Please visit her at: http://www.myfanwycollins.com.

About the Interviewer:

Randall Brown is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print. He earned his MFA at Vermont College.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.