From the Q & A Desk with Cheryl Anne Gardner

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When I get a bit of fan mail, this question often creeps into the conversation: What made you start writing Flash Fiction exclusively and will you ever write another novella or perhaps a novel? 

I get asked this question a lot, specifically by readers who have little experience with short fiction. There’s nothing wrong with a preference towards longer works, but the biased opinion that short fiction is lacking, stated most often to support the argument for length = quality over brevity, bothers me. When I read longer works, and I do often, it has nothing to do with, and I quote from readers here: “emersion” or “character depth.” A fabulously written piece of flash can do that as well as a thousand page novel. What I expect from a novel is an elaborate effort. I want lots of complex characters, I want multiple plotlines, I want a world, not just a landscape, and I want time: years, decades, maybe even a millennia or two. Stephen King’s The Stand is a good example or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. When I read short fiction, I am looking for a good deal of ambiguity. I want to invest more than just my time. I want to interpret the story my own way. I don’t want to be bludgeoned by character motivations; I don’t want to be dragged through pages of scenery, and I want tight writing with a sharp edge that makes a point and drives it straight into my jugular. I don’t expect or want everything to hit the page. I want a bit of wonder and mystery. I suppose I want experimental storytelling, where the storyteller doesn’t tell me everything and leaves me with a bite sized nugget of truth I can chew on like raw meat for hours or days or weeks and think, WOW! That was really fucked up and really good. Did the author really just go there? When a story is character driven and specifically about one character in particular, I don’t want their every step and every thought; I want their unique perspective. And I want it in a moment that is uniquely theirs in a way that reflects a universal truth. I don’t need to live with the characters, don’t need all that getting to know them shit – I don’t want to — I only need to know them long enough for them to whisper that truth to me.

I suppose short fiction moves me in a different way. I read a lot of novellas and short stories during my literature study days — Novellas are not short novels — and it always impressed me how so much could be done and said with so few words and how many risks an author could take when the luxury of an expansive word count was removed from the equation. It’s a challenge to make a story say what you want it to say in the most concise way possible, which is why appreciate a story that ends when it wants to end. Pushing a story for word count feels and reads unnatural to me as a reader and as a writer.

As for my own writing, I may have another novella in me at some point, but Death Dreamt took me almost four years to write, edit, and get published. It took a lot out of me, and writing flash fiction has allowed me to unwind and flex my narrative voice. It allows me to move effortlessly from character to character and topic to topic based on our ever-changing socio-political climate. I don’t feel confined like I sometimes felt when I had to spend years with a particular character or a specific plotline. I can write to current events, which, as an artist, makes me feel in the moment versus outside of it, voyeuristically interpreting it from afar. It allows me to experiment with points of view, with time and space, and with style. It’s anarchy. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I’ve got over 150 published stories in a variety of literary journals — online and in print — so it just feels right to me right now. So no, I will never write a novel. I don’t think I have the stamina for that. Mainstream novel writing has a lot of rules, and while rules are great as a foundation — I speak to them often in my Thoughts on the Craft articles — they bore me as a reader and as an artist. I don’t care about writing rules, except for grammar. I care about a character, in the moment, and the truth they have come to know, doesn’t matter if it’s 500 words or 500 pages; though those 500 pages better be damn fucking stimulating.

So if you want to bravely stick your head into the world of flash and micro-fiction, come check out our e-zine Apocrypha & Abstractions, and if you want to read some damn fine short fiction collections, there are dozens of fantastic writers working exclusively in the genre: Len Kuntz, Meg Tuite, Robert Vaughan, Jeff Callico, and Meg Pokrass to name a few out of the many. If you are an adventurous reader, Fictionaut is a fine place to start.

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