Emily interviewed Litwrap member Christopher DeWan, award-winning creator of short fiction, stageplays, screenplays, and new media, on the subject of flash fiction. Chris has published numerous short stories, in journals recently including Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Jersey Devil Press, Necessary Fiction, Niteblade, Rose & Thorn Journal, and wigleaf. His story “The Garden” was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize.
EK: How would you define the form?
CD: I guess the obvious thing to say about flash fiction is that it’s short (though no one seems to agree on exactly how short: 1000 words?). For me, though, I think a flash piece is an idea that generally can’t be any longer than it is, like the story would collapse in on itself if it had any more mass. A flash story opens up a puzzle or tension or question that’s maybe more interesting in the asking than in the answering. In that way, it’s a lot like poetry, right? It tries to open something up in a very short space. And a writer can open up a lot in 1000 words.
EK: What are some of the challenges involved in writing short-short stories?
CD: I think there’s a perception that flash fiction is a stepping stone to longer forms. People read my flash pieces and ask me if I’m working on a novel; people tend not to take flash too seriously as its own form. Flash fiction probably won’t get you into The New Yorker or Harper’s, probably won’t get you a six- or seven-figure book deal. So there’s that.
I also think flash is interesting in the way all minimalism is interesting: how much can you accomplish with very little plot, with very little character development, etc.? But obviously there are limits to what you can do without more plot, without more character development. There are limits to what kind of journey you can take a reader on in 500 or 1000 words. There are reasons that The New Yorker and Harper’s prefer longer stories.
EK: Is editing short fiction different than editing longer work?
CD: I don’t write a lot of long work, so I don’t know if I can make a good comparison. But I’m pretty sure I probably spend more time belaboring particular words and sentences and rhythms than I would if I wrote 10,000-word or 100,000-word stories. And I think it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite flash pieces are written by authors who are better known as poets. In flash, rhythm matters. Language is everything.
EK: Where have you published your work?
CD: Recently I’ve had short-shorts published in Bartleby Snopes, Fractured West, Jersey Devil Press, Niteblade, Rose & Thorn Journal, and wigleaf, and some longer pieces in Grey Sparrow Journal and Necessary Fiction. There are a lot of great journals publishing flash fiction right now.
EK: Any further reading suggestions?
CD: My real favorites are by Borges, Monterroso, Calvino, Donald Barthleme, Lydia Davis. They’re all so weird and mythic and strange. If I were looking to take a crash course in flash, that’s where I’d start.