Interview with Tara L. Masih
Flash Fiction Award Judge
November 2017 – February 2018

Stephanie Clement Photography

Tara L. Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle (both ForeWord Books of the Year), author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, and Founding Series Editor of the Best Small Fictions series. Her flash appears in Word of Mouth, Brevity & Echo, Flash Fiction Funny, Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, and W.W. Norton’s forthcoming New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. Featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for National Short Story Month, her flash received Wigleaf Top 50 recognition and other awards. Her first novel, My Real Name Is Hanna, set in WW II Ukraine, is forthcoming in September 2018 from Mandel Vilar Press.

  • The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction which was proposed by and edited by you, was published in 2009 and is now the go-to text on writing flash fiction. I was very happy to find it myself soon after I began writing flash. Working through the exercises in the chapters helped me see so many possibilities in the form. How do you think short short fiction has developed in the past eight years? And do you think you would ever edit a second edition of the guide?

Actually, for me, it would be almost 10 years since I started working on the Field Guide. Thanks for the lovely words! Rose Metal Press and I have discussed a second edition, but I haven’t had time to do one. Also, we go back and forth about adding authors, as we would not want to drop anyone. If you start adding, suddenly it loses that briefness, that same quality flash has, so at this point we’ve been reluctant. It’s not off the table entirely, but not on the near radar. We did update the recommended reading list at the back of the book and it should appear on the press’s website shortly.

To answer your other question, short short fiction has exploded. Or resurged again, depending on how you look at it. It still has not reached the popularity it had in the early 1900s, when it was in many U.S. households, but it has returned in more literary form and is being taken more seriously. I think Rose Metal should get a lot of credit for paving the way with attractive, quality hybrid books at affordable prices, which can be taught in schools and university programs. Ten years ago the flash world was very small, we all knew each other, now, that world is international and impossible to keep up with. I just got an email from someone in India who is starting a flash group and buying the Field Guide to use as a group text. That made my day, to hear that flash is now being written in Gujarati and that our book is making its way overseas!

  • Your other more recent project is the wonderful series Best Small Fictions which you have edited for the past three years, now handing over the job to Sherrie Flick for 2018. In your introduction to the 2017 Best Small Fictions you said editing the series was one of the best experiences of your life. Can you tell us more about why it was so enjoyable?

As an editor, it’s a dream job to be able to work with such respected writers as Robert Olen Butler, Stuart Dybek, and Amy Hempel. That’s the obvious answer. Beyond that, I am very grateful for assistant editors Clare MacQueen, Michelle Elvy, and Mel Bosworth. While this was a great experience overall, dealing with a large international project each year and a press that shut down has its challenges and stresses. These editors are creative, intelligent, empathetic, funny, and supportive, just amazing human beings who’ve each enriched my life. Then there are the many brilliant authors who have graced our pages and expressed their excitement for the series who have also made this work feel important and worthwhile. I’ve been in virtual contact with editors and publishers all over the world, so this experience really expanded my horizons (as an editor and writer, I tend to stay in one room a lot). Finally, feeling like we’ve contributed something new and special has been rewarding for the whole staff. I hope the series will hold up over the years.

  • You received thousands of nominations from around the world for each Best Small Fictions anthology and I believe you read through all the submissions yourself. We were delighted that three writers who were winners in Bath Flash Fiction Award and our micro contest, Ad Hoc Fiction, reached the final 100 stories. Do you think, even if themes are similar, flash fiction writers in different countries have distinctive styles?

Michelle and I do see patterns (Michelle is our international editor). She could answer this question better than I can, as she edits two international journals and is working on a collection of “bonsai” stories from New Zealand writers. But we’ve had discussions on the different styles and subjects. I think that the Irish and New Zealanders tend to write in a somewhat similar fashion to the North Americans, which is why they tend to get in more, as the U.S. judges may be more comfortable with their ways of narrating a story. In the UK, the stories I’ve seen tend more toward sketches and the subject matter is less about the “I,” the individual. Lots of stories about towns, buildings, places. Which probably says something about Americans, that we are more obsessed with ourselves. From country to country, sentence structure varies, as does rhythm and form. But I think that’s exciting. Best Small Fictions always wants more international nominations and is planning on inviting an international author to guest edit in the future.

  • Do you have any personal writing projects on the go at the moment?

My agent has serious interest and an offer on a young adult novel, set in WW II Ukraine. That’s all I can say at the moment. And I’ve started a new historical novel. So my interest in history and research continues from the Field Guide intro. In addition, writer James Claffey and I are shopping around a collaborative flash novelette. And I am always working on short stories and flash. They keep me sane, during the long waits for novel responses.

  • You have written several times that writers new to the short short form often don’t understand it and believe that short fiction is just about writing to a short word count. Can you say something about the art of compression, and what that means in flash fiction?

I think the art of compression is understanding the art of omission. What gets left out? Narration, scenes, sentences, pronouns, adjectives. It’s about knowing how to fill the empty spaces between words and paragraphs, and how not to fill them.

  • Who are some of your current favourite flash fiction writers?

Current? I’d have to say Michael Martone, Stuart Dybek, Kim Chinquee, Sherrie Flick, Christopher DeWan, Kathy Fish, Grant Faulkner, Robert Scotellaro, Rusty Barnes, Peter Orner, Lauren Becker, Tara Laskowski, Frankie McMillan, Ian Seed, and Randall Brown. There are dozens more, but these are the ones who leap to mind who have a large, consistent body of work. And this is something else that has changed since 2009. There are many more writers on this list, which keeps growing. Those of us who edit these anthologies (James Thomas, Robert Shapard, Tom Hazuka) have talked about how our libraries are expanding beyond our shelf capacity. A nice problem to have!

  • Finally, what advice could you give those wanting to enter our 300 word limit contest?

Try to do something unique. Unique can mean using different subject matter, vocabulary, format, syntax, punctuation. Experiment a bit. Let loose. Find a story that has to be told. Make the judge forget the outside world for a moment.

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