This story gives us a glimpse of this young girl and how she sees herself reflected in the eyes of her (not terribly sensitive) mother. Did you write the piece with this idea in mind? Or did it come out in the writing?
I never know exactly what I’m going for when I write. Usually a mood, a memory or a setting. In this case it was mother-daughter stuff that popped out, but it started with a remembrance of Trinidad where I lived as a child for three years.
I’m curious about how the child’s head is heavy as hibiscus, and how the sound of this is unattractive, or awkward. To me, it doesn’t matter if the child has a head ache, or is feeling loaded down with trouble, or feeling awkward with the glamorous mother. Can you talk about how you, in this piece (and other pieces) allow the reader to fill in their own sense of meaning?
Ha. As if I had the power to allow the reader to do anything. They usually allow me whatever value I have, not the other way around. But to try to answer your question. Hibiscus is a tropical flower, short lived and flashy (not unlike the mother). But it doesn’t have much of a smell, and it’s fairly commonplace in the Indies. If I was going for anything it was the girl’s perceived selflessness vs the sophistication of her mother—cosmetics, sequins, and Joy perfume.
Can you talk about using sensory detail in writing? I ask because you do this enormously well.
Well, you have to engage everything you can. For me it’s more like writing a movie in my head If there’s a smell or sound that belongs in the movie, one must shoot it!
What authors have you been drawn to lately—what books might you recommend to writers who are specifically interested in flash fiction?
Flash fiction is new and just one form. I read novels, shorts and poetry as well as flash. And recently a lot of memoir since I’m working (using the word loosely) on one. It helps to read flash if you plan to write it, but I prefer a broader spectrum of reading. Some of my recent favorite authors however are Tania Hershman, (a fabulous book of short stories) and Michelle Cameron (a wildly imaginative historical novel) to name a couple of recent reads. For flash it’s hard to beat Randall Brown and Kathy Fish. Whether it’s poetry or flash or the short story form, good reading is always a pleasure.
How does “pace” and a Beverly Jackson story find each other? How important is that sense of urgency to this piece—and to flash overall?
I don’t address such things consciously. The goal is to write a piece that affects the reader in some way. The craft or art of it is in succeeding to do that. Sometimes urgency works and sometimes a slow, melancholy flashback works. It depends on the material. Some flashes leave you with only a glimpse of a reality and let you fill in the whole picture yourself. Some are so obtuse that you don’t even quite know what you’ve read, but it reaches you somewhere inside. I just can’t see any hard or fast formulas for poetry or flash. The fact that Hollywood wants formula movies made me stop writing screenplays. I believe poetry, movies, and flash are closer connected than any of the other arts. It’s the “directness” of the impact on the spectator/reader more than anything, I think. The brevity and conciseness of words and/or pictures and/or word-pictures amp up the impact when you are successful. I love to read/see something and then stop! What was that??!! And the hair on my arms stands up. That was art.