What kind of story would you love to see in the queue this week? Are there certain themes or styles you’re particularly drawn to?
I’m not drawn to particular genres or themes. I look for and am drawn to fierce fiction, fiction that draws me in and won’t let me go. I find that in particular I am attracted to the glimpse authors reveal to readers of the private lives of their characters, moments Charles Baxter calls lyrical dramatic images, “beautiful and eerie…dreamlike” that when we catch sight of them, we readers feel “privileged” and surprised. The image and story resonates, the vivid characters act as they should and yet surprise us. These images and their stories have a sense of the eternal about them. They stay with us long after we read them, and they haunt us.
What do you think is essential to good flash fiction?
Compression, character, and resonance is essential for good flash. Deft utilization of voice and language is critical. Have you ever read “Sometimes We Both Fight In Wars” By Leesa Cross-Smith Or “Tenderoni” by Kathy Fish? Or “Drumming” by Jolene McIIWain? These stories stay with you forever.
What is something that might make you stop reading a story?
A gorgeous sentence or turn of phrase that captures my attention has the potential to pull me out of the world-scape—the dream—of a story and yet expresses it. I’ll read it and repeat it out loud, call it out to others nearby. That’s the sort of moment both writers and readers hope to obtain, though, isn’t it? We hope to be a part of the mystery and miracle of words lined up next to one another that renders a symphonic, experience that transports us. Another kind of stopping is one all too familiar. Typographical errors or insignificant mistakes are easy to overlook on the first read. Unwieldy shifts in perspective and tense tend to throw me out of a narrative. I appreciate experimental work and story forms and like the experience of immersion in story.
I’m intrigued by your education. You have a Master’s in Ethics from Yale and you also studied Philosophy and Theology at Cambridge University. Can you talk about how your educational background influences your writing?
My decision to study ethics was vocation-based and to study it at Yale was particular: Margaret Farley, my mentor in ethics, was a member of an extraordinary faculty of scholars in religious studies that included Marilyn McCord Adams, M. Shawn Copeland, Susan R. Garrett, Serene Jones, Kathryn Tanner, and Ellen Davis. Yale was a breathtaking place to be in the early 90s. I was the first woman in my mother’s family to attend college, the first in generations to graduate from high school—my mother and grandmother earned their GEDs at Nashville’s Watkin’s Institute. Until composing this response, I did not realize this fact about the women in my mother’s family, but my great-grandmothers and the generations before were homeschooled. How this relates to my writing is grounded in my family. We are story-tellers and readers, and we all deal in narrative of some kind: music, visual arts, or fine story. Writing is something I’ve always done. Devoting it to the art and craft of fiction is recent. I’ve never really let go of my vocation in ethics; I’ve re-focused it in how I frame moral and theological discourse into story: human action and existence, human flourishing and faltering, evil, horror, the sacred. It’s all there.