Q & A with October 1st prize winner, Dawn Tasaka Steffler

We are delighted to post a Q & A with the October first prize winner, Dawn Taska Steffler from the USA. Dawn sent us some great pictures to go with her answers. A view from her sister’s backyard in Hawaii, her pets Rascal the dog, Momo the cat and Coco the chicken. and an extraodinary photo of her at The Broad in Los Angeles, which looks like she is a giant’s house! Be sure to read all the interview for inspiration and to get to the end and Dawn’s great prompt for writers who might want to enter our next Award. Dawn uses, as inspiration, a very powerful excerpt from a Martin Luther King text.

The Early bird discounts for the February Award, end on Sunday December 17th and the competition deadline is Sunday February 4th, 2024. Our Judge is novelist, short story and flash fiction writer Susmita Bhattacharya from the UK. Interview with Susmita coming very soon.

Q and A with Dawn Tasaka Steffler

    • Congratulations again for your first prize BFFA win in our October Award, judged by Sara Hills.It was wonderful to hear you read your brilliant story Détente at the November online Flash Fiction Festival Day. This story has many layers and says a lot about relationships in the aftermath of a loss by suicide. Did it go through a lot of versions before you decided it was finished?
  • Read in Full

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    Q & A with William Davidson, June 2023 First Prize Winner

    To give you some last minute inspiration if you are thinking of entering our 25th Award, judged by Sara Hills, which closes on Sunday 8th October (three weeks), here is a Q & A with our June first prize winner, William Davidson. William also won first prize in our inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award, back in 2015 with Radio Alarm. He is the second writer who has won first prize on two occasions. Sharon Telfer is the other writer who has won twice, with a gap of a few years in between wins. I asked William about rhythm and irony in his stories, among other things. He has also sent us a picture of York Station, where the story was set and a Cold War Bunker in York which inspired another of his stories, which was shortlisted in 2022.
    Jude, September, 2023.

    Q & A with William

    • It came from a prompt in my brilliant writing group – I think it was about using something from nature as a plot point. I’d read a news story about York groundsel coming back from extinction and that was the first thing I thought of. It’s a plant that’s often found by railways and York station is such an evocative setting for me.
    • Tim Craig, our judge, commented on the rhythm of the story and how that adds another, layer to the piece. You also won first prize in our inaugural contest in 2015 with an excellent comic story Radio Alarm, (which I have linked to above) that has a strong rhythmical quality. Is that something that you usually pay attention to a lot when you are writing?
      Yes, definitely. I read aloud as I write – obviously sometimes under my breath depending on where I am! It’s a good way to check the rhythm. I think fiction writers can learn a lot from poets, especially in terms of taking care at word level, and considering repetition and rhythm. There’s a fine line with repetition between being effective and being too much.

    • You have several other stories which have been shortlisted or longlisted in Bath Flash Fiction Award over the years. They are memorable for their disturbing and ironic take on aspects of modern life. ‘House Rules for the Bunker’ was shortlisted by Karen Jones in our Feb 2022 award and is published in ‘Dandelion Years’, our 2022 anthology.’House Rules for the Bunker’, is a list story, playing upon Airbnb instructions. After various chilling rules suggesting the reduced quality of life inside and out of the bunker, it ends with, ‘Don’t forget to leave a review and like us.’ Would you agree irony is a hallmark of your writing?
      I often use settings that exist in York – like the Cold War Bunker. York is like Bath – it feels layered and rich in stories. I’m interested in awkward relationships – between people and between people and places, and irony works there.
    • Congratulations too, on your shortlisting in this year’s Bath Short Story Award with ‘Best in the Living World,’ a story which will be published in the BSSA 2023 anthology later this year. Do you find you think in a different way when you write short stories, as opposed to flash stories of 300 words or under?
      Thank you! That’s such a good question. I remember Sarah Hall talking about there being a shape to a short story. I feel like I’m working out the shape as I write a short story. There’s space to work with different modes, between dialogue, description, action and reflection, and the story takes shape. There’s some give in terms of structure. With flash, I concentrate on every detail working and it has to work and there’s no give in the structure because it’s all there in front of you and it has to stand up for itself!
    • Are you working on any writing projects at the moment?

    Yes, I’m finishing a novel which is set (you’ll be gobsmacked to hear) in York.

    • In our last Q & A with you after your 2015 first prize win, we asked you for a writing tip for flash writers.

      You said
      “Work at it and be fearless and trust your instincts”.
      It’s a very good tip, which I think is worth reproducing again here. I think you have demonstrated it admirably in ‘Remembered Yellow’. Would you add anything more to this tip now, eight years on?

      I’d say keep the faith – keep writing. And talk to other writers. I get such a lot out of being in a writing group – we met at workshops run by the amazing writer and teacher, Susan Elderkin. The Flash Fiction Festival is fantastic! In some ways, writing is a solitary thing to do, but it can be social and collaborative too. In 2015, I was hesitating about starting university to study creative writing, but then winning the Bath Flash Fiction Award gave me the boost to go to York St John and I loved it, so thank you!
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    “Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash” – Review of Haibun, A Writer’s Guide: ed. Roberta Beary, Lew Watts & Rich Youmans

    Ahead of the Flash Fiction Festival taking place 14th-16th July, in Bristol, where this book is being launched and where two of the editors are running a workshop on the form, we are delighted to publish Zen and the Art of Hybrid Flash – a review by poet and flash fiction writer, John Wheway, of Haibun; A Writer’s Guide ed by Roberta Beary, Lew Watts and Rich Youmans. Ad Hoc Fiction, 2023. (Available currently at Amazon worldwide and soon on the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop). Read in Full

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    Q & A with February 2023 Award 1st prize winner, Louie Fooks

    It’s always interesting to see what inspired our first prize winning writers. Here our winner from February 2023, Louie Fooks, from Oxford, describes how a menacingly hot day followed by a storm inspired her winning story about a street seller in Milan. A great example of how a number of things co-incide to create a story with many levels. Read judge Sudha Balagopal’s comments on Louie’s story
    (photo of the Duomo by alexandr hovhanni on Unsplash)

    Q & A

    • Can you tell us what inspired your powerful and resonant story, Market Forces? 
      Absolutely! As part of my MA in Writing, I spent a term in Milan in summer 2016, working with author Tim Parks. The UEFA Champions League final was being played in the city, which was full of tourists and football fans, and it was a really hot, humid day. It felt like something was about to happen… a terror attack or some kind of incident.
      But what happened was a terrific thunderstorm, just as the match finished and everyone came out onto the streets at the same time. The street-sellers were doing a great trade in cheap umbrellas, and it sparked the idea for the story. I wanted to explore the experience and vulnerability of the migrants coming up from Sicily at that time, but also to show their enterprise and agency. And I also wanted to illustrate that who holds power in any situation isn’t static and changes as circumstances change and events unfold.

      (photo by ken-anzai-w3wXkDgXhG8-unsplash)

    • Did it go through many different versions?
      Not really. I had imagined a longer story but found it worked really well as a flash. It only took me about an hour but there was a lot of knowledge and life experience that I drew on in writing it. I’d like to develop it into a longer story or perhaps a memoir piece someday. I worked in Milan as an au pair when I was 18 so it also sparked a lot of reflections on how the world, and my life, has changed in that time.

    (photo by simone-daino-Ji8W2boOb98-unsplash)

    • Were there particular writers that sparked off your interest in flash fiction?

    My friends Hilary and Julie! I hadn’t really considered flash as a form because it seemed too limited. But seeing how beautifully they were able to craft really powerful stories in only three hundred words inspired me to give it a try. And I love the form. You can really hone your ideas and make sure every word counts. You just edit and polish until it works.

    • I believe you are currently writing a novel.  Can you tell us more about it? Are the themes in this novel similar to the themes in your winning story?
      My novel is an adult ‘growing up story’ set in the late 90s and early 20th century and the protagonist is a young English photographer finding his way in life as he navigates work, fatherhood, love, and family relationships. But it’s set against a background of world events and the conflict and migration of the period – so there is a lot about how society and individuals should respond to such issues. It’s a very ‘placey’ novel, and moves between London, South Sudan, Brazil, The Isle of Purbeck and many other locations along the way.
    • Do you have a favourite place for writing? 
      To be honest, most of the time I write in bed. Sometimes in pyjamas! I need absolute silence and no distractions so I’m not good at the café thing. I always write on a laptop, never longhand. And I edit constantly as I write. Things are never finished, I just run out of steam with them eventually.
    • Are you currently writing any more short fiction?
      Not at the moment. My ‘day job’ is as a freelance policy writer, so I have limited time for the creative stuff, and I’m concentrating on editing the novel. But I’d love to do more flash fiction and I’m hoping to return to it later this year. Bath is a great competition in that it gives writers something to aim for and a regular opportunity to get published.

    Louie can be found on Facebook or contacted at louiefooks (at) hotmail (dot) com

    Our 24th Award ends on Sunday June 4th.Judge Tim Craig

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    Fuel: An Interview about the new flash fiction anthology, compiled and edited by Tania Hershman

    It’s Valentine’s day next week and what better way is there to celebrate your love for flash fiction than buying the new Fuel Anthology a selection of first prize winning flash fiction, compiled, edited and published by Tania Hershman. Read Tania’s really interesting answers to Jude’s questions about the anthology below. If you buy the book now, you may have it in your hands ready to attend the launch on Wednesday, February 15th, hosted by Writers HQ. Buy your ticket to hear readings from the book and more!

    Since Tania sent Jude the answers to these questions she has already raised over £1000 for Fuel Poverty charities from sales of the book. At the flash fiction festival weekend in Bristol, UK we’re sponsoring July 14th to July 16th there will be a further live launch of the book with contributors reading from it and Tania is also running a workshop based on the book. The festival always has a raffle and we’ve been inspired to donate the proceeds this year to Fuel Poverty charities. It’s all very exciting. It’s a brilliant iniative of Tania’s all round. It gives winning flash fiction writers a further boost for their stories and adds a great resource for all writers, as well as raising money for charity.

    Follow and Instagram for updates. Read in Full

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    Q & A with Kathy Hoyle, first prize winner, 22nd Award

      We’re delighted to publish a Q & A with Kathy Hoyle who won our 22nd Award, judged by Emily Devane The picture here shows the coastal town where Kathy was born and brought up, with rainbow. And her stories always offer such a range of colour, tone and depth. She’s had a great year writing-wise and summarises her successes below. We’re looking forward to seeing her first prize winning story in print in the seventh Bath Flash Fiction Award paperback Anthology, which is a little delayed, but out soon from adhocfiction and Amazon and to seeing her at the flash fiction festival weekend, 14th – 16th July 2023 where she will be offering another of her high-energy, inspiring workshops. Another photograph in this interview, shows her in full flow at the 2022 festival weekend.

    Read in Full

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    Review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, by Judy Darley

    Judy Darley’s third collection, The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’ was published by Reflex Press earlier this year and launched at Waterstones Bristol around the time of the spring equinox. Jude’s delighted to review this splendid selection of stories just before the winter solstice. Put it on your reading list for Christmas! It is available directly from Reflex Press.

    Read more about Judy’s work on her website SkyLightRain, which includes links to her other collections, writing prompts, news of her teaching activities and her own excellent reviews of books and theatre productions. She has reviewed many of the books published by our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction and we are very grateful to her for careful and thoughtful reviews.

    Review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain

    There’s an elemental feel to The Stairs are A Snowcapped Mountain. Both because the stories are often located outside in the ‘elements’ and also because many include elemental themes. Judy Darley is skilful in her use of metaphor. She recasts fairy stories and conjures new mythological worlds including creatures and humans, showing how closely connected we are to other living things both physically and psychologically. Oceans,seas,lakes and rivers are frequently present. People traverse them, are soaked in a deluge or are on holiday in frozen landscapes. We learn about lonely and captive sea creatures. ’Honey in Solitude’ is from the point of view of a Bottle Nosed dolphin in captivity in Japan. ‘Why Rivers Run to the Sea’ a story from the point of view of a river, ends tellingly, with the line,”There’s a storm brewing, we’re all invited.”

    One story with a title that suggests much about the very young protagonist’s life is called ‘The Sea Lives in Her Mum’s Head’. The girl’s Nanna has explained why her mother cries and wails. “Storms rile up the waves inside her, and tears happen when the spray breaks free”… “Her moaning, Nanna says, is the sound of the wind whipping salty air over the sea.” It’s only occasionally that the mother is calm.

    Both the pieces mentioned above are very short and the collection comprises a mixture of short ‘flash fiction’ pieces and longer short stories. There are several stories concerning disrupted relationships — between sisters, parents and children and lovers. The use of the elements often echo themes in these stories. A favourite story of mine, ‘Fermented Cherries’, tells of a grandchild visiting their estranged grandfather in a Fado club to tell the old man the mother, his daughter, is dead. Again this begins with a metaphor of the sea: “The Fado rolls out, washing over me. It’s a salt-weighted tide that ebbs and rises above the listeners’ heads.” As in all of the stories in the collection, much care has been taken with the composition of sentences,the sensory details and the overall structure.The language is beautiful, metaphor deepening the story and adding universal resonance.

    Another favourite story, ‘Old Friends’, does not involve the sea, but instead other aspects of nature. This is a touching story about a relationship between a father and a daughter, where the daughter joins her father’s dawn chorus walk with his old male friends. Everyone on the walk must tell a story. Her joining this long-standing group is an important occasion for the father. It evokes another much earlier shared father/daughter experience which she refers to in her story, reconnecting them all over again.

    As well as stories successfully employing elemental metaphors, there are others with plainer language and excellent dialogue. Judy writes convincingly in the voice of children or young people. ‘In Kitten Shoes’ is a story showing the longing of a tall girl who wants new white patent leather kitten-heeled shoes but who only gets to keep the coveted pair for one day before her mother says they must go back. Judy also brilliantly captures an outsider adolescent’s breakthrough into being part of something, in a story about clubbing, called ‘The Go-Get-Gone’.

    There’s humour, too, in these stories.‘Stealing from Windowsills’ is a darkly wry story based on the fairy tale Rapunzel, where ‘Zel’ hoodwinks the prince into letting her wear his jodhpurs and doublet and leaves him captive while she escapes on his horse.

    I have read this collection a few times now and different aspects of these brilliant and varied stories strike me anew each time. The collection is a full and satisfying read.

    Jude Higgins, December 2022

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    Q & A with Rachel Blake, 1st prize winner in our June 2022 Award

    It’s just over two weeks until our 22nd Award closes on Sunday October 9th. And here’s a Q & A with Rachel Blake our first prize winner, from the 21st Award. Rachel won with her story ‘Sequelae’. She talks about how she wrote this powerfully impactful piece, which was selected by judge, Tommy Dean, and we have reproduced his comments below, just before her answers to the questions. It’s worth a read of both if you want to look over your own pieces again and submit to the next Award which is judged by Emily Devane. There’s lots of interesting things to think about in Tommy’s comments and the interview with Rachel. At the end she’s offered a visual prompt to inspire you to write a story in the time that is left before the deadline. Read in Full

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    London Launch of ‘Now You See Him’, new flash fiction collection by Tim Craig

    Tim Craig’s brilliant debut flash fiction is released for publication, this Friday, 1st July by Ad Hoc Fiction, and it will then also be available on Amazon in paperback worldwide. You can still buy it before July 1st on preorder at a 25% discount from Ad Hoc Fiction. There’s a mini launch of the collection at the Flash Fiction Festival 8th -10th July in Bristol, where Tim will read a couple of his micros and another book launch on Wednesday 20th July at Ink@84 Independent Bookshop in London. Jude’s going to be there representing Ad Hoc Fiction, and it will be great to see lots of other flash fiction enthusiasts at the launch to hear Tim read, drink some wine and buy the book. It’s the first in-a-bookshop-launch coming up for an Ad Hoc Fiction published book in ages! Read the Q & A to find out more about the book and how Tim put it together.

      Q & A

    • Congratulations on the publication of your debut flash fiction collection Now You See Him with Ad Hoc Fiction. We know building a collection involves sifting, resifting, ordering and reordering. Can you tell us about your compiling process? And how you arrived at the title?
      I’m so pleased that Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing Now You See Him. Thank you, and for your patience as I prevaricated, messed around, changed the title, the cover, and the stories, a million times.

      Deciding which stories to include – and the order – was a process not unlike that of writing a story. A combination of logic (eg it seemed to make sense to finish with the story ‘That’s All There Is, There Ain’t No More’) gut feel, and trial and error. But, as with writing a story, I think you can overthink it. I wonder how many people sit down and read a collection of flash from beginning to end. Oh dear, have I just given myself away?

    • Do you think the collection has an overall theme?
      I’m not sure it has one clear overall theme, but there are definitely some subplots! I think loss / death is a significant subject in the collection – as it has been in my life. My relationship with my parents – and theirs with each other – also features in several stories. Sadly, they’re both gone now, but I guess I’m still turning the Rubik’s cube, trying to work it out.
    • Your writing style is very distilled and one of the compelling things about your fictions, is how more is revealed on each re-read. You are on a panel at the forthcoming Flash Fiction Festival where you, Sharon Telfer and Hannah Storm, talk about how your day jobs influence your writing of short-short fiction. You have worked for many years in radio. Do you think this work has influenced your facility in creating layers of meaning in your stories?

      I think the distilled style is certainly informed by writing for radio, where, because you have a lot to say in a very limited time —and because on radio you don’t generally have the opportunity to flit back and forth as you do on the page — the language needs to be extremely succinct and clear. I think any story worth the effort of reading will always have different layers of meaning, not all of which I think the author necessarily intends!

    • You are (or have been) a reader for Smokelong Quarterly and other magazines. Do you think this has influenced your writing of flash fiction too?
    • I was so honoured to be asked to read for Smokelong Quarterly. It is widely – and rightly – thought of as the best journal of short-short fiction. I was also very pleased to be asked to read for the wonderful Janus Literary which, in a very short space of time, has managed to elbow itself onto the top table of online literary magazines. I would encourage anyone who is offered the opportunity to read for a journal to snap it up. It’s a lot of work, and usually unpaid, but it gives you such a great overview of the work that’s out there, and forces you to confront why you believe a story works or doesn’t; generally, you learn to spot stories which are ‘dishonest’ with the reader, and thereby, hopefully, learn how not to be dishonest in your own writing. I’ve certainly been guilty of it in the past.
    • You are also known for your wit, which infilitrates much of your writing. Were you a stand up comedian in a previous life?
      I’m reminded of the old Bob Monkhouse line: ‘People used to laugh at me when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.
      I’m far too much of a coward for stand-up. (though I have written comedy for BBC and independent radio, and elsewhere) Humour is very important to me in my writing. Someone once said ‘all fiction is irony’ and humour is a great tool. It’s an age-old gripe amongst writers that ‘funny’ stories rarely win the big prizes. But that’s as true for the Booker or Pulitzer Prizes as it is for most Flash Fiction awards. Having said that, ‘funny-for-funny’s sake’ has never really appealed to me. It needs to be working harder than that.
    • Now You See Him is being launched at The Flash Fiction Festival and you also have a bookshop launch planned in London on Wednesday 20th July.  Details please for people who might like to attend, have a glass of wine, hear you read from your book and hopefully buy a copy.

    It’s being held at the brilliant Ink@84 Bookshop, 84 Blackstock Road, Highbury Park, London, N5 2XE, from 6.30 pm -8.00 pm. Do come along and say hi!

    • You have been very successful in writing competitions in the last few years and have been placed three times in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, as well as being commended there and winning The Bridport Flash Fiction Prize. Now you have completed this publication, are you taking a break or working on anything else at the moment?
      After I finished writing for the collection, I found it difficult to write anything else for quite a while. Then the deadline for the latest round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award began to emerge from the mist, and my typing fingers started to get itchy. (‘I don’t need time, I need a deadline’ – Duke Ellington)
      It’s funny, though. People do ask if I might try writing a novel now. In the same way that, through all my years in radio, people have always asked me if I’ll ‘move up’ to TV. With radio, I felt at home straight away, and never felt any need or desire to go anywhere else. I feel the same way about flash / micro fiction. It’s not a staging post – it’s endlessly satisfying and surprising, both to read and to write. Why would I go anywhere else?
      (This almost certainly means the next thing I write will be a novel:)
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    Interview with John Brantingham, Judge for the 2023 Novella-in-Flash Award

    John Brantingham was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, Writers Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2022. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction including Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). He is the founder and editor of The Journal of Radical Wonder. He lives in Jamestown, New York.

      We’re delighted that prose and poetry writer, teacher and editor from the US, John Brantingham, is judging our 2023 Novella in Flash Award. He has so much of interest to say in this interview, to inspire you to write a novella-in-flash. We hope you will give it a go and if you want to read a survey of the form and exercises to help you structure, and finish your novella as well as get ideas, the new craft guide book Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash, from blank page to finished manuscript by Michael Loveday,recently published by our small press, Ad Hoc Fction will help you with the writing process.

    • Thank you for judging our 2023 Novella in Flash Award!
      As well as many poetry books, you have written three Novellas-in-Flash yourself. Inland Empire Afternoon, which was a runner up in the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction the same year, Finding Mr Pembroke, The Wapshot Press and Life: Orange to Pear, published by Bamboo Dart Press. Can you give us a few sentences about each of them and their themes?
        Inland Empire Afternoon follows a new character in about forty flashes, all linking to the others to tell the story of a region of the Los Angeles area. The Inland Empire is a much-maligned section of California. It is stereotyped and insulted because it is not nearly as wealthy as Los Angeles, and I don’t like that human tendency toward provincialism and hatred. I wanted to capture the humanity, grace, and craziness of the area, which might be anywhere.

        I wrote Finding Mr. Pembroke after a particularly difficult semester of teaching. It had been overwhelming physically and emotionally, and one day, I shut down. I just couldn’t move, so I wanted to capture that experience. Along with that, I’m well into middle age (as long as I live beyond 100), and it surprises me when I realize that I’m not in my twenties any longer. I wanted to deal with self-concept as well. It’s a book done in one long sentence, and I was hoping that it captured part of the reality of rumination, and the way I was feeling at the time. I couldn’t go to sleep, and I was never really awake.

      Life: Orange to Pear was written slowly, and I understood halfway through that I was asking and answering a question. It is about an alter ego of myself. I started out my adulthood on a journey to become an academic and dropped out of a Ph.D. program in favor of an MFA and the life of a writer. Sure I taught at a college, but the writing I was doing stopped being academic at that point. I was a dismal academic writer. My articles tended to explore the obvious. I also missed the experience of fatherhood, so this answers the question to me of how my life would have been different with those two changes. The answer I came to was that I would have been a boozy, erratically employed father of someone I loved deeply. I’ve written a shadow companion to it called Finnegans Awake to ask and answer other questions about myself. Actually, that entire collection was inspired by an exercise at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival last autumn.

    • What interests you in the novella in flash as a form?
      I like the way that it breaks away from previous modes of expression that were damaged by financial concerns. So much of writing before the new technologies of today was limited by the realities of print media. It was too expensive and too difficult to distribute forms like flash or the novella. A friend of mine wrote and published a flash novella in the 1970s, Gerald Locklin’s The Case of the Missing Blue Volkswagen. It is an absolutely brilliant book that changed the way I understood fiction, but it never got the kind of distribution it needed. It asks us to reconceptualize not only what fiction is but what life is because it can be a series of interlocking moments with or without narrative arc, as our lives often are.
      The problem with this is that when we limit forms of expression, we limit what we can say, and voices that should be heard are silenced. It is part of the process of gatekeeping, and I want to hear as many points-of-view as possible. It’s not just about the kinds of stories that we can tell, but the ways that we see. It’s not just story; it’s point-of-view. Not all concepts can be expressed in 100,000 words, and so these new forms, like the novella-in-flash, allow us to explore other selves and ideas (We need to be able to see from other people’s perspective. David Foster Wallace tells us why.).
    • For many years you were a professor of English at Mt. San Antonio College, California,where you coordinated the creative writing programme and ran the yearly creative writing conference. But you have recently left teaching there and moved to New York State.
      Have you plans to teach elsewhere?
      I might. Technically, I’m just on leave so I might return to Mt. SAC, but currently I’m feeling that I’d rather not. The work I did there was good and important, maybe the most important work I will ever do, but I’d like to focus more on creative writing than I did there. I had a kind of hybrid assignment where I taught creative writing and essay writing, and I worked with and evaluated part-time professors.
      What I’d like to do now is teach creative writing exclusively. I don’t know what the realities of the United Kingdom are, but in the United States there is too much gatekeeping, starting with professors who do not help their students find their own voice and platform. Many educators ask their students to mimic their voices. I want to help people create something that is true to them and their experiences. I love to help marginalized students find their audience for the same reason I love new forms of fiction. I want to hear new things. This might be at a formal college or university or in places like flash fiction festivals. It could be in the United States or outside of it. I don’t know. I’m so new to not being a tenured professor that I’m still spinning a little; after all, for twenty-five years my first name was Professor. Now, I’m back to being John.
    • Have you any new writing projects on the go?
      I always work on many projects at once. I just finished a collection of 100 ekphrastic sonnets about four artists who lived through times of war, Miro, Klee, Goya, and David. Some of their art gives a path forward through international trauma. David often celebrates tyranny, propping up dictators like Napoleon. Of course, this is the nationalistic quest, and I see many in my country acting in the same way. I’d like to understand those people, but I doubt I ever will.

        At the same time, I’m working on a flash novella or novel following the life cycle of one person born during WWII. We follow his life and the effect that war has on him. It resists the idea that there are individual wars rather than just one war that shifts all over the world. If we say, WWII ended, then there’s no way that it can. There’s more to it than that. There are other throughlines like how returning to nature heals, but that was the impetus for the work.
        My third collection in progress is a series of free verse poems looking at empty spaces and why they have been abandoned, and how that abandonment feels in a world that is often hostile and feels meaningless to people who live in it. I live in a rural part of New York State and people are leaving for places like the Inland Empire, California. There are abandoned factories and houses everywhere.
      The fourth project, which I’m more or less done with, is about the Santa Ana River Watershed. It’s an 80 page haibun about what makes a watershed. In the Los Angeles area, where the Santa Ana River is, water is so scarce that it must be used and reused. If a drop of water lands on a mountain, it’s likely to pass through 3 or 4 people before it reaches the ocean. That means the human population is part of the calculation that the water resources people make when they try to understand how much water there is. This fact makes it clear that we are a part of nature, not disconnected. We are in fact a part of the watershed; we are a mobile reservoir. I try to explore those connections to nature. “Connection” is even the wrong word because it implies disconnection is possible. It is not. We are of the rivers that run past and through us.
    • You have also recently started The Journal of Radical Wonder on Medium. Can you tell us more about it and how people can submit and what you are looking for?
      It’s a journal that came out of years of conversations with my writing partners. I agree very much with Hannah Arendt about the dangerous nature of the banality of evil, and we’re trying to extend that idea a bit. Being able to see this world, any part of it, as banal is where evil begins. The lens of banality is a way of seeing beauty, oneness, and connection as being disposable (Have you heard Cosmo Sheldrake’s song against boredom? Here it is.). Not everything needs to be positive, but it’s trying to understand how everyday moments are not simple or humdrum. It fights cynicism, which is a sophomoric approach to life meant to make someone seem smart without taking the time to understand.
      What I’d like people to submit is anything that lays bare what is true in this world. I don’t want to read anything merely clever. I hate smugness and punching down. I assume that I’m wrong about a lot in this world. I want to be shown the truth.
      Okay, so on a practical level, what would l like to see? Flash of all sorts. Poetry, although formatting on medium is very limited, so I think it’s best to send poems that rely on shape to other publications. Essays. Book reviews. We’d love more book reviews. Interviews. Art and images, these don’t go to me but to Jane Edberg, the visual arts editor.
      Here’s the link to our submissions page. Please send me work. At heart, I am more of a teacher than an editor. I’d love to have a conversation about your work: Link to our submission guidelines.
    • If you are able to answer this, it would be very interesting to know what kind of novella would particularly grab your attention?

      I want to understand other people in a profound and meaningful way. I want to have a moment of humanity. I’m driven by character and setting. Kathy Fish, Kendall Johnson, Romaine Washington, Aimee Bender, Grant Hier, Tony Barnstone, Pamela Painter, Karen Jones, Lynne Thompson, Michael Loveday, and Stuart Dybek move me. Kareem Tayyar always floors me. I think he’s one of the best living writers. All of these writers and poets show us what it means to be human. Of course, I love others too, but this kind of writing tends to reach me.

    • A tip for the difficult moments in writing a longer narrative in flash fictions?
      When I am having trouble moving through writing, it usually has to do with me running from trauma. When that happens, I try to understand what it means, and what pain I’m afraid to work through.
      A psychologist friend of mine once said that nightmares are not the problem, they are the solution your body is giving you, and you need to listen to them. When we’re entering fiction, we’re entering dreamtime. If you’re struggling, it could very well be this. It also might be that it’s dangerous in these moments to proceed alone. Support systems matter. The image of the alienated writer is a warning, not an aspiration.
      On top of that, if you’ve had the kind of shame-based vaguely religious childhood training grounded on groupthink and cognitive dissonance that I had, everything in your stupid brain will tell you that if you enjoy an experience then it must be without value, that if you create something, it has no meaning, and that everyone around you always has greater insights than you do.
      Let me tell you this:

    Your work is important.

    Your voice matters.

    The world needs to hear what you have to say.

    Also, if you are a beginning writer, please watch this: Ira Glass’s flash essay.

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