SmokeLong Quarterly loves short-form work, and when a new anthology that features innovative shorter work is published, talking to its editors is a priority. SLQ’s interviews editor Karen Craigo sat down with Abby Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, the editors of My Very End of the Universe, an anthology of five novellas-in-flash from Rose Metal Press. The two editors shared their thoughts about this innovative form they showcase.
Karen Craigo: Your purpose was to define the form of the novella-in-flash—a form with a long history but, until your anthology, no single, defining name. What are the traits of the form, and what makes it appealing?
Kathleen Rooney: The novella-in-flash takes the brevity and intensity of flash fiction or nonfiction and blends those qualities with the longer duration and more sustained (though still brief) arc of the novella. Its friendliness to various strategies of reading is one of the things that makes it appealing, in that you can read a novella-in-flash in a single sitting, if you’d like to, or you can make your way through one story at a time over a longer period, because each smaller component has a complete and self-contained arc all its own.
Abby Beckel: Exactly—the standalone nature of the stories that make up a novella-in-flash is what sets them apart from traditional chapters. We love the concision and snap of flash, and we also love sustained narrative, and so do many readers, so the novella-in-flash is an ideal form in many ways. It’s also a very engaging form for the reader: Since each story has to be able to stand on its own, there’s not as much filler and explanation as there might be in a novella or novel. The same characters tend to recur throughout a novella-in-flash, but depending on the particular work, there may be big leaps in time or setting. The reader jumps those gaps with the author, which makes for a fun reading experience.
KC: What were your criteria for choosing the five novellas to include in My Very End of the Universe?
KR: First and foremost, we wanted the novellas-in-flash to be the best examples of how that form works structurally: a combination of the concision of the individual pieces that connect and build into a much vaster narrative.
AB: We also wanted to showcase the form being used in different ways, to show the breadth of the novella-in-flash. Within these five novellas-in-flash, you’ll see a range of techniques: One plays with a non-linear time structure, one centers entirely on a character, one plays with the idea of who gets to tell the story, one uses the form to combine an historical setting with a fable-like premise, and one uses the form to invoke the feeling of the fraught, fractured teenage years. The form offers a lot of opportunities for writers to try out different ways of creating a narrative arc.
KC: Your mission at Rose Metal Press is to get hybrid forms into the hands of readers. Are there any other forms like the novella-in-flash that still require definition in an anthology of this type? I guess I’m asking what’s next.
KR: We’re so glad you asked—yes, there are! Next fall we’ll be publishing an anthology called Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres, edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. It’s going to provide examples of these hybrid forms, as well as essays by authors who choose to use them. The hybrid genres included will be lyric essay, epistolary, poetic memoir, prose poetry, performative, short-form nonfiction, flash fiction, and pictures made of words, and obviously all eight of them have been named and defined and discussed elsewhere, but never quite in this way: a family tree of hybridity that showcases how cross-genre works take features from multiple literary parents and mix them to create new entities.
AB: We’re always on the lookout for new hybrid genres that are emerging and need a publishing home and advocate. Over the years, we have gravitated toward the combination of succinct and linked forms like the novella-in-flash. This spring we have a novel-in-poems coming out that is also an art-and-text collaboration: In the Circus of You by poet Nicelle Davis and artist Cheryl Gross. The novel-in-poems is a similar form to the novella-in-flash in that each poem can stand alone, but they are linked and they build on one another to form a book-length narrative.
KC: I see that My Very End of the Universe is a finalist for an INDIEFAB Award for independent publishing in the category of anthologies. That’s such great news! I wonder if you consider it a reflection on the novella-in-flash form, in addition to an acknowledgement of the excellent work you do at Rose Metal Press.
AB: We’re thrilled about this recognition of My Very End of the Universe, both for Rose Metal Press and for the authors of the book. One of the downsides of branching out in one’s writing and innovating in form and genre is that most of the annual awards are pretty genre-segregated and conservative in what they consider. So we’re happy to see our authors rewarded for their work by ForeWord’s INDIEFAB judges. It seems fitting that an award for independent presses would encourage an independent spirit in the writing itself.
We also think this recognition is terrific for the novella-in-flash form itself. Response to My Very End of the Universe has been overwhelmingly positive—readers are loving the book and we’re hearing from more and more writers who are trying out the form. That the book is an INDIEFAB finalist just reinforces what we’ve known for a long time: Just because a literary work is hybrid or groundbreaking doesn’t mean it’s too weird to be a crowd-pleaser—hybrid genres are really just new ways of expressing the human experience.
KR: Exactly—what she said!