Smoking With Our Retiring Fiction Editor — Kathy Fish

by Randall Brown March 15, 2006
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You recently ended a long and successful stint as SmokeLong Quarterly’s Fiction Editor. As you look back, what sticks?

How much I learned in the process. It’s incredible, as a writer, to work on the other side for a while and see things from that perspective. I loved working with you guys.

Being both inside and outside the process puts in you a unique position to offer advice to writers of flash fiction. What are some qualities that the best pieces possess? What definite no-no’s have you picked up on?

Write something as new and fresh and original as you possibly can! If you must write a story that takes place in a bar, for example, show us something we’ve never seen in a bar before. I think I read seven hundred and fifty million flashes that take place in bars.

The best flash fiction feels complete and evokes strong emotion in the reader. Or tickles the reader with its originality of vision. So many flashes read like a scene from a longer story.

Strip away every single cliché or tired phrasing and replace it with the most original and surprising language you can.

I always think of that scene in Mary Poppins where she pulls a floor lamp and several other improbable items out of her bag. That’s what you need to do in flash. Pack lots of big things into a tiny space.

I’ve learned so much about flash fiction from you, your process, and your work. One important aspect of writing I needed to learn from you is to give each piece the time it needs to develop. Talk about that a bit, if you would.

You give me too much credit, Randall. I’m just a glacially slow writer. But I will say that first drafts rarely go deep and that more time, yes, results in more layered storytelling.

At SLQ, each quarter, about 500 stories receive rejection notices. Sending all those out to writers could not have been pleasurable. How did you sleep at night? Ha. Seriously, we hear a lot about how writers handle rejections, but what about editors? It can’t be easy.

Oh the self-loathing! If you ever want to feel like a jerk, send a rejection to a writer who is better than you! I had to do this several times when the story, for whatever reason, just didn’t work for SmokeLong. And sending a rejection to an obvious beginner is hard too, because all writers remember their first rejections.

What has it meant for you to be able to send acceptance notices to writers at all levels of experience, from widely published Pushcart winners to newly minted writers?

It’s so fun to send acceptances. We’ve been lucky to receive so many superb stories at SmokeLong. I have been known to gush in my acceptance letters. I have no problem with gushing!

Enough about SLQ. Tell us about you. I’ve run into a number of writers who have the most amazing things to say about your heart. Really. For example, word is you saved your puppy’s life during a vicious dog’s attack. Tell us more!

Yes, I did save my puppy’s life! It was a tremendous act of valor on my part. We both got a little beat up but we are fine now. Even as we speak she’s chewing a hole in the corner of my couch. It’s her way of saying thanks!

What’s writing give to you that nothing in the world can? How does one stick with it through the “blocked” times? Why is this struggle important?

I hope it doesn’t sound too smarmy, but writing really does give me a voice. I have a lot to say but I’m very shy. Also, I’m weird! And writing gives me a safe place to put my weirdness. I’m going through one of the blocked times right now. A writer I admire, Liesl Jobson, calls it the “quiet” time, which I think is very apt. There’s work being done on a subconscious level and with any kind of art that’s vital. So I’m reading and listening to music and keeping my eyes and ears and heart open. The writing will come back. It always does.

Why flash fiction, Kath? What about it appeals to you?

Oh the huge challenge of it! The best examples of flash are not just shorter than average short stories, but a completely different art form. I’m writing longer stories now but I keep going back to flash because I’d love to create one perfect example of the form.

You were one of the first members of the Virtual Writer’s Studio at Zoetrope Studios. What has that experience meant for you both professionally and personally?

I joined in 1997 when we lived in Australia and my fourth child was just a few months old. That sense of connection to other writers was and still is, invaluable. I learned so much, so quickly. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten to the point of sending my work out if I’d been writing alone, without support. And I’ve made such great friends through Zoetrope, like all you guys at SmokeLong!

What’s the Fish family up to these days? Has spring sprung in Colorado yet? What should we be looking forward to on the Fish writing front in the upcoming months?

Spring in Colorado sort of breaks your heart. Think eight inches of snow on your newly blossomed daffodils and you get the picture. My daughter, Kendra, is coming home from college for spring break. She’s a writer, too, and so much more talented than her mom. I am hoping that having her home will inspire me to write something new. Maybe I’ll submit something to SmokeLong!

About the Author:

Kathy Fish teaches for the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. She has published four collections of short fiction: a chapbook in the Rose Metal Press collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (2008); Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011); Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012); and Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). Three of her stories have been Best Small Fictions winners, most recently “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” chosen by Aimee Bender. Additionally, two of Fish’s stories will be featured in the upcoming W.W. Norton anthology, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction.

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.