Meg Pokrass is a flash fiction writer, poet, writing tutor and Flash Fiction Editor and Curator at Great Jones Street. Her books include flash fiction collections, Bird Envy (2014), Damn Sure Right (Press 53 2011) and The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down (Etruscan Press 2016) and an award-winning book of prose poetry Cellulose Pajamas (Blue Light Book Award Winner 2015). Among her many other publications, she has a flash-fiction novella and essay on the form in My Very End of the Universe, Five novellas in flash and a Study of the Form published by Rose Metal Press. Meg has recently moved from the United States to England.
- We’re very happy to have you as judge for our single-flash award as well as your being the judge for the novella-in-flash contest again this year. We hope some of the questions below will also help anyone who also wants to write a novella sequence.
Thank you, Jude! I am thrilled to be involved with the Bath Flash Fiction Award.
- You’ve published several collections of flash fiction and also poetry. Do you have another collection ready to go?
There are a few new manuscripts I’ve been working on, thank you for asking. Yes, they are nearly ready.
- You’re well known for your highly inventive prompts, often involving lists of random words. Can you say more about how you think such prompts are useful in creating flash fiction drafts?
Incorporating a list of random prompt words in a first draft is one of my favourite challenges. One way to do this is to open up a novel or a newspaper and grab the first 7 substantial words your eyes land on. Only use them in a first draft. This can help the writer to meander into new places, and to create unusual detail that may not have occurred any other way. The creative brain seems to like this kind of puzzle. The key is in not over-thinking while writing the first draft, letting your imagination grab the words and make use. It’s one of the ways to make the brain stop trying so hard, to get rid of the critic.
- Do you use prompts to inspire your own fictions?
Yes. Many of my own stories have originated this way.
- You recently wrote that even some established writers of longer forms think a flash fiction can just be dashed off and finished in one sitting and requires less skill than writing a novel or a longer short story. We’d love to know what you think about this.
If one were writing a poem, would one think that because of the small word count, it could be dashed off? No. With poetry it is understood that revision is everything. It is the same way with flash. Editing and revising is the hard part, and most important. One must cut out every non-essential word with flash fiction, and work with use of language and imagery. Are the sentences beautiful? If not, you’re going to lose the reader. Sometimes, a lengthy break is necessary – putting a story away and coming back to it much later. I often revise a piece for months and sometimes years before everything settles right.
- Do you have a favourite definition of flash fiction?
For me, the best examples of the form convey a feeling of emotional urgency that we can’t quite define. The best pieces often want to be read again and have a “sticky” quality. They stay with the reader like a favourite song — they haunt. Irving Howe said it so well: “Writers who do short shorts need to be especially bold. They stake everything on a stroke of inventiveness.”
- You are fiction curator for Great Jones Street, an app containing an amazing amount of short fiction for people to read, both longer short stories and flash fiction. Can you tell us more about Great Jones Street and your role there?
Great Jones Street is becoming the Spotify for short fiction. It is a tech company based in San Diego founded with the goal of bringing the best short fiction to readers via smart phone and tablet. If you’re standing in line at the grocery store, or commuting by train, you can now access 1,000 short stories in your phone. It is the brain-child of Kelly Abbott, son of acclaimed American short story writer Lee K. Abbott. Kelly Abbott is the right guy for the job. He grew up with a great short story master, so a deep kind of respect and passion for short fiction lives in his blood. I’m feel fortunate to have been brought on as fiction curator. I’ve been working with Great Jones Street since the beginning.
- We’re so thrilled at Bath Flash Fiction that you are Festival Curator for the Flash Fiction Festival this summer in Bath, the first UK literary festival entirely devoted to flash fiction. What are you most looking forward to about the festival and what would you most like to see emerging from this gathering on the 24th and 25th June?
Thank you so much for having me serve as curator! It’s so exciting. I’m looking forward to meeting the other writers more than anything else. What I’d like to see emerging from this festival is even more interest, excitement and energy about the flash fiction form because it is perfectly suited to today’s mobile device world. There are new opportunities for small presses who wish to embrace collections of cutting-edge flash fiction. I’d like to see more awareness about this form, especially as it pertains to universities and creative writing curricula.
- Finally for prospective entrants, what are your tips for writing and editing a great flash fiction and anything to avoid?
– Trust the reader, don’t explain, let us discover what happens. Anton Chekov said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
– Make use of what is not said. In flash, the unsaid is often more interesting and much more important than what is said.
– Try to eliminate any unnecessary words as you revise.
– For adventurous writers: Re-write your story backwards, beginning with the last sentence. Often it improves! It is sometimes useful to begin a story at the end.
– Try telling your story from different perspectives, different tenses, and feel free to experiment with unconventional linearity (though flashback is not always successful in flash).
– Make us feel something, show us the most unusual human characteristics of your characters, especially characters who are not likeable.
– Avoid overused phrases and any potential cliché character traits. You’ll lose the readers trust.
– With a mental fine-tooth comb, strengthen your narrative voice in each story.
– Surprise us. Don’t attempt to answer big moral questions. Make us wonder. Wake us up.