Interview with
Molia Dumbleton
February 2018 Flash Fiction Third Prize

Molia Dumbleton won third prize with ‘Why Shit is Still Like This Around Here and Probably Always Will Be‘ Our judge Tara L. Masih said it was ‘a precise and perfect’ micro and we agree.

Kathy Fish, who judged our February 2017 Bath Flash Fiction Award is renowned for sparking stories that get published and win contests in her Fast Flash intensive writing online course. Molia’s piece was partly inspired by attending one of these amazingly productive courses and also from a random event that stuck in her mind. Her advice to other writers of flash is to sometimes just let the writing ‘come out’ and if this was the case with her piece here, it has worked very well. She also has interesting things to say about finding a title – how it is worth thinking about them for a long time. We think her long title for this story adds much to the story itself and it’s interesting that other story titles reference Shakespeare and the Bible and enhance the layers of the stories in question. She also has another discussion starter in her view that collections can contain a mix of flash fictions and longer short stories. And why not? We’re certainly looking forward to reading her collection that contains both. Finally, we thank Molia very much for her kind words about the Bath Flash Fiction Award and for being ‘with us’ from Day One over three years ago. We love flash fiction, and enjoy helping to build a friendly writing community.

  • Can you tell us how your wonderful story ‘Why Shit Is Still like This Around Here and Probably Always Will Be’ came into being?

In a literal sense, the story arrived as the result of a prompt in a Kathy Fish flash fiction workshop I took this winter. (Thank you, Kathy!)

In a larger sense, I’ve been carrying “Joey” around in the back of my mind for a couple of years, since a day when my dog and I were out walking and passed a house where a toddler in footie-onesie pajamas had his entire open mouth pressed up against the storm door, making this big foggy circle all around his face while his mom got into a car outside — and it was just one of those snapshot moments that burrows into you and won’t leave.

  • Your story ‘If I should wash myself with snow’ was shortlisted in our June 2017 Award and ‘April when they woo’ was longlisted in October 2017. Those stories are now published in The Lobsters Run Free: Bath Flash Fiction Volume Two. Like your third prize winning story, the titles of both those stories are arresting. Do you spend a long time thinking about titles?

I do, actually! The shorter the story, I think maybe the longer I think about the title, actually. Recently, I’ve begun thinking of titles not as a way to represent or summarize or ‘cap off’ a story, but instead as a way to offer something extra, or even unexpected, that’s not already in the story itself. In ‘If I should wash myself with snow,’ for example, the title is a reference to a passage from Job, in the Bible. The full quote is “If I should wash myself with snow And cleanse my hands with lye, Yet You would plunge me into the pit, And my own clothes would abhor me.” I obviously want the story to stand on its own without that reference, but if anyone were to know it – or even look it up – it would add a layer of irony. ‘April when they woo’ is, of course, Shakespeare. The full reference is “Men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.”

  • You’ve been a regular supporter of Bath Flash Fiction Award since the beginning and you were also shortlisted in our inaugural contest in 2015 with ‘Animals’ and longlisted for ‘What was true.’ But we couldn’t include you in the 2016 Anthology because by the time we compiled our first anthology those stories had been published elsewhere. Do you find entering contests gives you a useful constraint?

It’s true – I’ve been with you from day 1! If I remember correctly, that first one was just going to stay open until you hit 1000 entries – no matter how long it took – and I remember thinking, ‘A rolling contest? Is this going to work?’ But it did! And here we are, just a few years later, and you’re at the center of everything. It’s amazing. Thank you for everything you do. I really do credit you with having galvanized the flash community, particularly on Twitter, where writer-strangers from around the world have met and befriended and supported one another, all through BFFA and the new flash community.

Anyway. YES, I absolutely do find contests really helpful. I’ve had teachers and mentors tell me, “Knock it off with the contests already” and suggest that I save my money and just concentrate on regular submissions instead. I really do try! But honestly, yes, hard deadlines are really, really helpful to me. And even more than that, I love how you guys in particular build up to the long list…and then the suspense before the short list…and the winners…and the anthologies…and the interviews…and now the festival… It’s just fun. For a lot of us, writing gets a bit lonely, so the energy and suspense and camaraderie that comes from contests like this one are, to me, absolutely worth the price of admission. It’s like a ticket to the fair. Like, I’m not necessarily paying/playing with the hopes of winning? I just enjoy being part of it.

  • Can you tell us more about your short story collection, God nor Beast which has recently been a finalist in the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award. Does it contain flash fiction as well as longer stories?

You know what? It does. I’ve heard that agents often say (a) short story collections are basically unsellable, and (b) short story collections simply cannot mix ‘full-length’ short fiction with flash fiction. I don’t know about (a) – ouch – but (b) seems like a pretty big tactical error to me? I don’t know about you but I personally love catching my breath between keystone stories in a collection or anthology, or skimming a Table of Contents specifically for something shorter, to match the patch of time I have available. Who doesn’t love a 3-pager for a waiting room? It’s all about options, right? Give the people what they want!

So, yes. The collection, as it stands right now (which is to say, on my hard drive), is a mish-mash of full-length stories and flash-of-various-sizes. I’m still fiddling with the collection a bit, adding and subtracting, but I really would like to keep some of the shorter bits in there if at all possible.

  • What writing projects are your working on at the moment?

I’m incredibly excited to be a part of the AWP Writer-to-Writer Mentorship program this season, working with the author Pamela Erens. I’m trying to balance the urge to work on the collection (see above re: adding/subtracting/finessing/re-tooling) until I think it’s 100% ready to head out into the world, vs. pushing forward on a novel I began last winter, vs. putting my head down and just building new stories. One of my top hopes for this awesome mentorship is that it will help me put on some horse-blinkers and just run toward one thing, instead of all this inefficient zigging and zagging.

  • The nosy question. When and where do you write and what conditions do you require to do your best writing?

Oof. I wish I knew. I’m overly distracted by noise, in general, so I’m not really a coffee-shop or 20-minutes-on-the-train person. Cozy and immersive is better for me, but hard to find.

  • Second nosy question. Do you have a writing muse? Pet, person, place, passion…

I think my only muse might be a deadline. Ha! But sadly, kind of true.

I do go for very, very long walks with my dog and those are pretty essential, just for energizing and de-cluttering the head.

  • Finally, a top tip for perfecting a competition flash fiction.

Hm. Ok, I think the best I can do here is offer something that’s not necessarily a tip for others (it’s terrible advice) but an observation about myself, ok?

I have found that my full-length stories can take weeks, months, or even years to build. I’ll put countless hours into drafting, revising, deconstructing, re-directing, and overhauling a story before I think it’s ready, and will do it all again if the story doesn’t get picked up after maybe a half-dozen submissions. I believe that’s all 100% necessary and tends (I think/hope) to make the stories better in the end.

But – and this is the part that might not go over well – when it comes to flash, for me, the ones that end up ‘landing’ with readers are the ones that sort of just come out. Do you know what I mean? When a story just kind of arrives in your head and spills onto the page, but you don’t necessarily remember making any conscious decisions about it? (I’ve heard poets refer to their version of these as ‘gift poems’.) Whenever I write a flash that takes a bunch of straining and thinking and re-tooling… basically, those rarely end up flying. I have drafts like this from years and years ago, and it bums me out, but I’m trying to teach myself to just let them go. Whatever the kernel was that I sat down to capture, I have to just trust either that it didn’t need capturing after all (probably the case for most of them), or that it’ll find its way out some other way.

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