Bio: Sudha Balagopal is honored to have her writing in many fine journals including CRAFT, Split Lip, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. She has work included in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022. Her work is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50: 2019, 2021, longlisted 2022. Find her on Twitter @authorsudha
- We’re delighted to welcome Sudha Balagopol as judge for our 23rd Award which opens November 1st and closes on Sunday, February 5th, 2023 (Results out at the end of February). Read Jude’s interview with her below, where Sudha tells us about her long writing journey and how she became interested in writing flash. There are links to some of her own wonderful stories, and stories by others, showing her interest in different styles and forms of flash fiction plus tips on what she is looking for in competition entries.
- Your flash fiction is widely published in prestigious magazines and anthologies and has been selected for Best Small Fictions and for several years, in the Wigleaf top 50 best stories. Your novella in flash, ‘Things I Can’t Tell Amma‘ was highly commended in the 2021 Novella in flash award and your flash fiction ‘On Our Daughter’s Wedding Day’ was highly commended in the June, 2022 Bath Flash Fiction Awards. When did your interest in writing short fiction begin?
I started writing fiction a long time ago, in the late 1990s. I started with short stories that were about 2,500 to 3000 words long. Those were the days when we had to mail our submissions at the post office and send along a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the journal to return the (rejected) story. I made many such trips to the post office and struggled to garner some acceptances. The journey toward publication wasn’t simple or straightforward but, somehow, a decade later, I managed to have a short story collection published. A second collection followed a few years later, and in 2016, a novel. That same year, I heard the term flash fiction in an online writers group. It piqued my interest and I wrote a couple of flashes without knowing the first thing about the form. Flash is addictive and I became obsessed with the form and read as many pieces as I could. Since then, I’ve almost exclusively written flash fiction and have been fortunate enough to have many of my stories published.
- Judge Tommy Dean, in his comments about your highly commended story from our June Award which we have linked to below, pointed out that it began in a negative place but ended in an empowering way for the character. Would you say this is a common feature of your stories?
In that Bath Flash Fiction story, ‘On Our Daughter’s Wedding Day’, I was rooting for my character even as I conceived of her. I imagined myself as part of an invisible cheering squad sitting on the sidelines at the wedding. My character had to circumvent a difficult situation, find a way out of her dilemma and when she found the strength to do what she must, it so warmed my heart. That strength, that transformative moment is powerful and rewarding to write about. Yes, I do like writing about strong women.
Not all of my stories end the way ‘On Our Daughter’s Wedding Day did’. Still, something happens in the end. Otherwise, the words would just amount to a statement of the situation. Sometimes, that something is only a tiny moment of change, not tied up in a big beautiful bow or anything as extravagant, but a moment of illumination, a moment to hold, a moment that touches the reader in some manner.
- Can you link us other published stories of yours, that you like?
- This longer flash, first published in Matchbook, is one of my favorites and is in the Best Small Fictions anthology this year: Life Times Nine
This shorter piece, first published in X-Ray Lit, was in the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2021: ‘The Prospective or What I Tell the Man in the Cafe’.
- Are you working on a particular writing project at the moment?
- I’m always working on a flash, and honestly, it takes a while for my fiction to find the way from concept to publication. I am also working on a longer project, a novella-in-flash, another form that fascinates me. This one is particularly challenging because it attempts to capture the sweep of decades and the scope of three main characters into the space of a novella-in-flash. I’m hoping not to sacrifice distinctions between the three time periods and the three characters, and to narrate their individual stories, even as I interweave their lives into the story.
- You are also a yoga teacher and we are very grateful to you for offering yoga for writers at most of the online flash fiction festival days that have taken place on Zoom since March 2021.
Does your practice of Yoga have a positive effect on your writing, do you think?
- I am delighted to offer yoga for writers at your Zoom meetings! It has been a joyful experience.
And yes, yoga most definitely has a positive impact on my writing. As a yoga teacher, I know the body and the mind are connected. Yoga helps the body to relax and the mind to become calm. For me, it’s not possible to find any direction, any clarity in my writing when my body is tight or sore, when my mind is restless, churning. I’ve paused in my writing chair many a time, to just reconnect with my breath and to get a good stretch. It definitely helps to get the kinks out, both in body and mind.
- What, for you, makes a stand out piece of flash fiction?
Quite simply, it’s a story that grabs me from the first sentence on, and doesn’t let go. One in which the craft and the writer’s close attention is evident in every sentence, where the language and imagery is stellar. And, most of all, I think a stand-out story is one in which the humanity shines through, one which awakens emotion and makes me let out an audible, “Oof.”
Having said all of that, I will also say that the form is malleable and lends itself to experimentation, and offers the writer so many ways to present their story. Here are four examples of flash I love and each one is different.
I love this prize winning flash by Sabrina Hicks in Five South Lit, All Water Holds a Memory. Hicks evokes such a wonderful sense of place, a desert, in the story, while building up the details to that unforgettable ending.
This story, from Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar, in Hennepin Review, Apple Snake, is excellent. Chansarkar’s story employs a fruit, along with the tiniest of details and captivating memory moments to tell us a about the bond between an ailing father and his daughter.
I am so taken by this tale with an unexpected point of view, the collective-pov approach, by Sarah Freleigh in Milk Candy Review, A Brief Natural History of the Girls in the Office.
And then, there’s this story, Abbreviated Glossary by Gay Degani in Melusine, presented within an unusual structure, that shows us the phenomenal potential of the flash form. This wonderful piece by Degani is spare, beautiful and packs such a punch.
- What are your top tips for writing to a 300 word limit as opposed to longer flash fictions?
Start in the middle of the story―arrive late, leave early.
Build urgency, immediacy and tension quickly.
Shear unnecessary words yet sprinkle details; use taut, beautiful, active verbs.
Keep forward momentum going within the constraints of the word limit.
Finish with an affective ending, not a neatly sealed package, but one that leaves a stamp on the reader’s mind.
Finally, revise, revise, revise.