Nancy Stohlman is the author of the flash collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, the creator of FlashNano in November, and she has been published in over 100 journals and anthologies including the forthcoming Norton anthology New Microfictions (2018). Find out more about her at nancystohlman.com
- Flash writers from around the world are currently writing a flash a day for November, in parallel with authors writing a novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo (write a novel in a month). You got FlashNano off the ground in 2012. And it’s now in its sixth year. Can you tell us more about its beginnings and what inspired you?
I love NaNoWriMo. I think the idea of cranking out a first draft in a fun, low-pressure challenge is brilliant and inspiring, and I’ve done it several times and “completed” a novel in November twice. But I think NaNoWriMo works best when you are already “pregnant” with a novel idea and just need the motivation to blast out a draft. Back in 2012, in a now almost infamous conversation with fellow Fast Forward Press editor Leah Rogin-Roper, I was lamenting that November was coming and I was too enamoured with flash fiction to possibly switch gears. I didn’t want to write a novel, I just wanted to write more flash fiction. I mentioned, almost casually, that I was going to write 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days instead, just to be in solidarity with all those novel writers. She perked up and said that she would love to do that as well…if someone sent her a prompt every day. I took on her challenge—and the rest is history.
- For those who don’t know anything about it, can you explain what is required for flash fiction writers to be part of FlashNano?
What I love about NaNoWriMo is that it’s a contest/challenge but there aren’t any “judges”. I use the same model for FlashNano—writers can decide the level of participation that works best for them and it’s all on the honor system. I like to say that it’s between you and your god. The ultimate goal is to write 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days (flash fiction roughly defined as a story under 1,000 words), but I’ve seen writers do other things with the prompts: I’ve seen poets write 30 haikus; I’ve seen flash writers use the prompts to attempt a linked narrative, etc. Some writers share what they write, while others do the challenge quietly. So there are no hard and fast rules.
- It seems to me that FlashNano, is now embedded in the consciousness of writers from around the world almost as much as NaNoWriMo. Would you agree?
Wow. It’s thrilling and humbling that you even ask this question. And yes, I’ve watched it grow every year—my FlashNano mailing list doubled this year from last year and there are countless numbers of writers participating on their own. During the year I am often contacted by writers who share with me that something they wrote during November is being published. I’m so happy that it was an idea whose time was right.
- Can writers join in now, even though we are nearly in the last week?
Definitely. Again, the ultimate goal is 30 stories in 30 days, but if there are only 7 days left, write 7 stories! Or write three stories a day for 7 days. Or even write one story that you wouldn’t have normally written—I think that’s a win. There is really no way to fail this.
- You post great prompts on Facebook and Twitter during the month. What is one of your favourite prompts from the prompts you have posted?
Thanks! My philosophy on prompts is that they have to be “loose” enough to be interpreted in many ways. Whenever I’ve been given a prompt that is too prescriptive I always find myself thinking, “Don’t tell me what to write!” So I try to create prompts that just give a hint of direction. Favorite prompts? I always do a “take a story you have written and chop it in half” prompt when we hit the halfway mark. Last year I gave a prompt to “write a story where something turns brown”—there were some crazy interpretations there. I also like giving prompts that utilize found forms—write a story in the form of an interview, a press release, etc.
- Have you some favourite stories that have been created by writers using your prompts during FlashNano?
This month I have particularly enjoyed some of the 13-word stories from the “write a 13-word story” prompt.
- Do you write a flash a day during the month yourself?
The irony of running/facilitating a workshop, a retreat, a class, etc., is that you usually don’t get to be a participant. That said, I will probably disappear from social media during December and catch up.
- You also run the monthly Fbomb flash fiction reading series in Denver, USA. Does this have a special flavour in November for FlashNano?
Wow—what a great idea! I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that already. The Fbomb has guest hosts each month—based off the structure of Saturday Night Live—so I only host once a year or so. This November Jonathan Montgomery is hosting, and he has a crazy event planned—check it out here: fbombdenver.com It gives me an idea for next November, though. Stay tuned!
- We’re thrilled that you are coming to run workshops at the Flash Fiction Festival Festival in July next year. You might run a Sculpting Workshop, which is something you also offer online to help tighten and polish drafts begun during FlashNano. Can you tell us a little about this?
Sure. So I’ve been a professional editor since 2004, including seven years that I also co-ran Fast Forward Press, so I’ve been doing it for a long time. I have worked with just about every kind of manuscript you can imagine from writers on just about every continent.
While I find lots of positives in the traditional workshop style, I also find that sometimes the pressure of students preparing comments for their fellow classmates distracts them from focusing on their own work—and for writers who are easily distracted, it can be counterproductive. So the Sculpting Class is inspired by the tradition of the Master Class in music. In a music Master Class, students perform a piece they have been working on for a guest musician who gives feedback and instruction in front of an audience of peers. The idea is that not only will the student get valuable and relevant feedback about a specific piece in progress, but the audience who gets to watch that interplay will also learn and benefit. As it works in my Sculpting class, rather than having a syllabus or a stack of classmates’ work to comment on, students bring their works in progress to the table and I use them as a catalyst to discuss and demonstrate various editing techniques in real time. This keeps the class dynamic and relevant, and allows writers to focus on their work while still engaging with the work of their peers. And it allows me to have the best of both worlds—I get to work one-on-one with a writer and the whole group benefits.
For those of you who can’t wait or can’t travel, I will be offering several online classes between now and then. I’m releasing a new, self-paced version of my introductory Writing Flash Fiction class on Dec 4, and I have plans to run the Sculpting class as well as a workshop on Flash Books in the winter/spring. Check out my website for more info on those.
I’m looking forward to coming across the ocean for the Flash Fiction Festival next summer!
- Thank you Nancy, and we look forward to meeting you in July 2018.