In SmokeLong‘s “Why Flash Fiction?” series, flash fiction writers and editors explore what draws them to the form, from the first time they wrote a piece of flash to why flash resonates with them. In this column, Santino Prinzi shares how reading and writing flash helped him accept himself and come out of the closet. Submit your own “Why Flash Fiction?” article or other flash-related essays on our Submittable page!
By Santino Prinzi
Omeprazole. I don’t remember the dosage, but I remember the feeling that my stomach was a cauldron continually on boil, a potion bubbling away and, sometimes, trying to escape. Curtains closed, lights out, I stayed in bed and wouldn’t leave. I stopped eating. When I tried to leave the house I would manage for a while before wanting to come home.
The doctor wasn’t sure what it was at first. The pills helped but the feeling would never disappear for too long, no matter how hard I tried to suppress it. When, after two weeks, I was advised to continue the medication for a month, and if that didn’t improve things, we may need to take a closer look, it occurred to me what I was doing to myself. I was making myself ill, all because I had a secret.
But during my reclusive moments I spent a lot of time reading and writing flash, which I was introduced to earlier that year as a part of my course at Bath Spa University. The brilliant Tania Hershman (previously published by SmokeLong) read from her collection My Mother Was an Upright Piano and this sparked my love for flash fiction. I’d lie there in bed reading Tania Hershman, David Gaffney, Lydia Davis, Calum Kerr, Etgar Keret, and many others, and writing my own. These writers in particular have such distinctive voices and styles, and they all helped me develop my own voice as a writer.
The rumbling in my stomach reminded me: How can I develop my own voice as a writer if I can’t accept myself?
Coming out was a paradox; I thought it wouldn’t be okay, except I knew it would be, but there was no way of me knowing for definite until it happened. It was Father’s Day and funnily enough, as soon as I said it, it felt like someone extinguished the fire beneath that cauldron. My stomach calmed, and I was hungry for food again, but more importantly, I was hungry for life. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
I’d been writing flash from the moment I discovered it, but I’d never submitted any; I knew this had to change. I started redrafting my flashes, and I found one inspired by the way I had made myself ill called “What We Do in Our Sleep.”
The story is written entirely in dialogue and is about Mr. Humphries who visits his doctor because his stomach won’t stop making noises. At the time of writing, I had read something horrific about the amount of spiders we swallow in our sleep, but spiders inside your stomach, I felt, didn’t reflect the types of noises I heard. So Mr. Humphries discovers he’d swallowed a kitten in his sleep, according to his doctor, and is prescribed medication so he can ‘digest’ the animal.
Mr. Humphries doesn’t want to digest the kitten, but when the doctor tells him it’s that or let the kitten grow and claw its way out, Mr. Humphries must decide if he wants to allow this creature to continue growing to the point it destroys him, or he can accept it, and take the steps required to make him better.
I found an open call for submissions to the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day anthology, and I thought, why not? “What We Do in Our Sleep” was accepted and published in Eating My Words, and became my first published piece of flash.
Nearly two years on, and I’ve had more flash published in a variety of online and print journals, and I help with National Flash Fiction Day too, and all of this has been possible because I accepted and embraced who I am. Flash has helped me find my voice, develop my style, but crucially has allowed me to accept myself.
Santino Prinzi is currently an English Literature with Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University and helps with National Flash Fiction Day (UK). He was a recipient of the TSS Young Writers Award for January 2016, and was awarded the 2014/15 Bath Spa University Flash Fiction Prize. His flash fiction and prose poetry has been published, or is forthcoming, in various places including Litro Online, Flash Frontier, Ink Sweat and Tears, CHEAP POP, the 2014 and 2015 National Flash Fiction Day (UK) anthologies, Unbroken Literary Journal, and was selected for The Best of Vine Leaves Journal 2015. His website is https://tinoprinzi.wordpress.com and his Twitter is @tinoprinzi.