“The lines are blurred”: An Interview with Guest Reader Michelle Elvy

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers

Michelle Elvy will be giving away a copy of Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand to the writer of the story she selects for publication from this week’s submissions!

You have judged quite a few flash fiction contests. What advice would you give to writers interested in entering contests?

Write about something you love to write about, and push yourself to break out of your own boundaries. Experiment and play. Keep it light, even if you are dealing with heavy stuff. Find a groove that feels right and pursue it. Step back from your writing and allow yourself – and it – time to breathe. See what changes with time. Edit, edit, edit.

What ingredients are essential for a great flash fiction story?

These days there are so many writers doing such accomplished things with the short form – there is no easy answer to this question. I read many different kinds of stories for various projects: online journals, Best Small Fictions and, most recently, Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. The best flash fiction may have beautiful poetic elements; the best prose poetry may reveal a story. What I love most is that space where the lines are blurred – I think breaking down the barriers is most exciting.

For me, a terrific piece of flash fiction will surprise the reader in the best possible way: it will enlighten, or touch down in an unlikely place, or meander slowly and subtly to its main point and generate such power that the reader cannot forget it. It may be poetic, or jarring – but it will most likely be language-driven. The smaller the space, the more language matters. There are many ways to write a ‘great’ piece of flash, but the thing that strikes me about excellent flash is that it demonstrates a careful attention to content and form; a memorable piece of flash will balance both.

Editing runs in your family: your daughter is co-founder of fingers comma toes, an online literary journal for children and young adults. Can you tell us more about this? 

How wonderful that you ask – thank you! My daughter Lola founded the journal with another friend when they were 13; they are 17 now. They wanted to create something that was for youth, by youth. They did not want adult authority involved – it was an organic project from the beginning, originating from their own joy for creative space. Both Lola and Tristan are keen about creative writing themselves. They have also both live on sailboats (and met in Thailand, when our two sailboats were anchored in the same small bay), so they are adept at communicating via the internet and reaching out to others across time zones and oceans. The internet provides an excellent platform for them to involve themselves in a creative community, even if their lives are somewhat fluid and unpredictable. The journal has published writers and young artists, including musicians, from age 4 to 25 from New Zealand, Australia, US, Germany, The Cook Islands, Singapore and Tanzania. The most recent issue was themed ‘WILD’ and came out in August (here). They are about to put out the call for submissions for the January 2019 issue (later in October), and they have invited another talented young writer to guest edit with them. It is exciting to see how the project began with a spark and continues to grow. I think they set a high standard – and yet, the journal is also very inclusive. I love how each issue includes poetry and prose as well as excellent art, from the opening image of the inaugural issue – a finger painting titled ‘Goody Goody’ by a four-year-old – to the mural done by 17-year-olds in the last issue.

What kind of story would you love to see in the queue this week?

Something that will challenge me to rethink my answer to Question #2. Build beyond expectations – make me see/feel/ think more and more and more.

About the Reader:

Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor, and manuscript assessor based in New Zealand. She has published poetry, fiction, travel writing, creative nonfiction, and reviews in print and online journals and anthologies. Recently, her work appears in New Micro (W.W. Norton 2018), and she co-edited Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press 2018). She edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook and is Assistant Editor for the Best Small Fictions series.

About the Interviewer:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicyclewigleaf, and elsewhere.