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, WhiskeyPaper editor and past SmokeLong contributor Leesa Cross-Smith shares what flash gives her that longer works just can’t. Submit your own “Why Flash Fiction?” article or other flash-related essays on our Submittable page!
By Leesa Cross-Smith
I devour wordy books and stories and three-hour-long movies but honestly? I prefer brevity when I can get it. A book like the Bible, a book like Les Miserables, a five-hour miniseries like Pride & Prejudice—I know what I’m getting into. I know there are going to be lots and lots of characters, plot lines, locations, stories to tell. Those aren’t easy spaces where I can get the quick and dirty. Flash fiction is where I get my quick and dirty. That moniker alone interests me. Flash fiction. Flash. They are here and they are gone. Did you see it? The stories gathered and told via flash fiction can be just as poignant, just as gorgeous as the heaviest, wordiest tome, but flash is going to get you there quicker—we’re talking not much room for backstory, we’re talking drive-thru stories and quickies and pit stops and sneaky, stolen kisses and breathless sprints and gotta go.
One of my favorite tiniest flash pieces is by Scott Garson from his book Is That You, John Wayne? and in its entirety it reads: They gave me a job at Halloween Town. Strip mall with vacancies. Sad. I was a wizard, vaguely swinging my wand. “Everything change,” I commanded. I don’t walk away from that story wondering more about the protagonist. I got to know them quickly. They’re hilarious, they’re human, they’re me. A Halloween Town in a strip mall with vacancies is sad for anyone and everyone. Those two sentences set the tone easily. But our wizard isn’t giving up! He mentions it, calls it exactly what it is and commands it to change. Not just some of it, all of it. Everything. That little five sentence story brings me joy. I laughed and laughed the first time I read it. That story alone was the price of the book. I believe in flash because it doesn’t try to glamour me into thinking it’s something it’s not. Here is our story, here is our scene, here are our characters—let’s go.
When I write flash fiction, I always have a flicker of an image in mind. It is how my brain processes the creative work, it is what inspires me. I feel at home among the smallness. When I began my piece “Sometimes We Both Fight In Wars,” I knew I wanted to (almost annoyingly, hypnotically, borderline claustrophobically) jam-pack it full of descriptions of smells and feelings and I wanted the reader to immediately feel like they were on the houseboat with this couple or as the man or woman who make up the couple. Houseboats have a sound, the river has many sounds and smells, people have sounds and smells, there is a storm, they play a game and flirt and touch one another physically for both pleasure and pain. I wanted the reader to know that the woman in the story was safe in spite of the man’s strength and past of bringing violence to other men he encountered. I wanted there to be sexual tension and longing and regret in both the past and present. I wanted there to be history there, presented quickly. I wanted there to be tenderness and love. A lot to ask of a story that’s not even 450 words long, I know, but that challenge interested me because I knew it could be Smoke Long. That was the allure of wanting to see it appear in Smokelong Quarterly. I feel comfortable saying I believe most people long for ways to insert more beauty into their lives, more ways to incorporate art and storytelling into their lives, more connection with other humans, more heads nodding yes, more warmth and empathy and amazement. But life is life and life is busy and where’s the time?
Reading and reading and reading requires time, a lot of time. It’s easy to feel like there’s not enough time in the world to read even a short novel or book because there are so many other things we need to do and take care of. But I think an important sell of flash fiction is simply: You have time for this. Even if you don’t think you do! I have two young children. I sometimes feel like I don’t have time for anything and I love seeing a link to a new story on social media where the magazine has mentioned Hey this is a quick read! Read this with your morning coffee or on your lunch break! I think that’s part of the reason people read WhiskeyPaper with such frequency. We only publish flash fiction. People feel relaxed about it, it’s casual and chill, doesn’t require too much time and energy. It’s freeing, I think. To feel like just as easily as it is to turn on some music and listen to one song, I can read one little story even if I feel like I don’t have time to get overly-invested in it. Maybe I can’t handle the entire album right now, but I have time for a song. We all have time for a song! Flash fiction makes me feel like I have time for a song. One Song. Glory.
We find time for the things we want to find time for. We connect and make time for our children, our families, our spouses, our friends, our hobbies, our desires. There’s a time for an 800-page Russian novel the size of a brick and there’s a time for me to be wonderstruck and inspired by a tiny story like “How I Liked the Avocados” by Wendy Oleson. Our lives, our stories, our relationships and loves, made small. Strip malls, avocados, houseboats—these seemingly mundane things made glittery and brought into focus for only a moment. A pocket-sized moment we can carry with us, reach in for and double-check it’s still in there, safe, waiting for us to have time again. A twinkling of an eye, a flash of something you see and then it disappears. But it was there. You have time for this. Did you see it? I saw it. I know it. I just know it.
Leesa Cross-Smith is the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press) and the editor of WhiskeyPaper. Her writing can be found in The Best Small Fictions 2015 and lots of literary magazines. She lives in Kentucky and loves baseball and musicals. Find more at LeesaCrossSmith.com.