Beth Thomas Named 2007 Fish Fellowship Writer in Residence
SmokeLong Quarterly is proud to announce that Beth Thomas has been selected to be our Kathy Fish Fellowship Writer in Residence for 2007. We will work with Beth over the coming year to help her reach some of her flash writing goals and will publish a flash by her in each of 2007's four issues. Over the course of the year, she will be awarded a total of $500.00. The process of selecting one winner of this award from the many incredible applications we received was intimidating. We'd also like to thank everyone who applied and made it such a tough decision. In particular, we'd like to thank Terri Brown-Davidson and Kelly Spitzer, our other two finalists, both of whom are stellar writers. We thought we'd share a few of our thoughts about the process here, as well as a few of Beth's goals for the coming year.
So many remarkable flash pieces. My first thought: K. Fish would be very proud, not only of the work, but of how many writers have been influenced and encouraged by her. As I read through the flashes submitted for the Fellowship, the work itself mattered, yes, but I also searched for that dedication to the craft and flash form, along with the sense that SmokeLong could play a role in continuing that commitment and growth. I thought of many times we see at SmokeLong that a story submitted to a workshop is also submitted to us on the same day. Too many times. No one can question the thrill of publication, but other thrills exist in writing, especially in the dedication and love of process and excellence. For me, those tough final choices came down to the very real, strong desire to read more of the work, not only now but then, in the future, during this yearlong journey in the exploration of all that flash might be capable of, not only for the writer herself, but for the rest of us, along for the ride.
When I think about the work of Kathy Fish, several things come to mind: a bare-bone economy; a love for life; an intelligent, sophisticated quirkiness; and the kind of surprising honesty found only in the best fiction. Kathy Fish employs all of these elements in stories usually under 500 words. Reading through all of the pieces competing for the Fellowship was rewarding; itís only fitting that a competition honoring Kathy brought out the best of the best, and I loved the variety and range represented in this particular pool of work. We narrowed it down to ten, then down to three. After much thought by all of us, we chose our winner. The fellowship could have easily gone to any one of our top three. The work represented by these three writers is nothing short of astonishing. We finally settled on the work of Beth Thomas because both in her statement of intention and her work we found evidence of the kind of spirit Kathy Fish has for the form, and many of the same aspects of great flash fiction mentioned above.
During my time with SLQ, Iíve become adept at quickly spotting what works and what doesnít in Flash Fiction. I owe a big Thanks to Kathy Fish for leading the way in this process. Weíve worked together editing at SLQ and creating Flash in workshops. I admire her ability to apply objective factual criteria to the craft in order to create stories with emotional impact. She employed this same process as an editor. The ability to measure what canít really be measured is a talent not everyone possesses. Sharing that ability is what makes Kathy Fish, and the Fellowship, so important.
This was the first time I have been asked to assess multiple works together from any one writer. Having more than one Flash to review from a writer sometimes made the decision to vote the person forward easier, sometimes it was much more difficult. I had to both expand and limit my set of required critical elements to get through the process. Balancing the emotional impact of a writerís overall work only compounded the agony of making the decision. Getting down to ten writers, and then to three from there was tough. Randallís and Katrinaís diplomacy in this process was admirable. I was also surprised at how we came to the same conclusions from three different points of view. The process was truly blind because none of us shared our scoring system or decision process. It goes to show how large, complicated, and multi-faceted is the process of writing. Itís a challenge that Kathy Fish doesnít back down from; she questions every word on the screen and always makes the right choice. Just like the choice of the perfect word, Iím excited to begin working with SLQís choice for the first Fish Fellowship. And just like the perfect word takes us places weíve never been, I canít wait to see where our Fish Fellow takes us.
Because someone had to process all the applications and post them for reading by the rest of the staff, I largely excused myself from the actual process of selecting a winner of the award. The applications were all read blind (although, in a few cases, we recognized the writing of folks we've long admired), and I didn't want to unwittingly bring any prejudices to the table for or against writers whom I already knew. As writers were discussed, the conversations referred to writer #2, writer #23, etc. I was amazed as lists were compiled by each editor, independently of one another, how similar those lists were (and how similar they were to a list I'd have made myself). In the end, I was very excited to see that not only was the quality of writing given careful consideration, but so were the goals of the applying writers. To whom would the award be of greatest value? I think that in choosing Beth, we've found someone who will not only dazzle our readers with the work she produces, but we've also found a writer with potential for enormous growth over the next year. I can't wait to start working with her.
My main goal for the next year is to keep writing and keep my ideas and stories fresh. Beyond that, I hope to produce thoughtful, multi-faceted stories that entertain and enlighten the reader and/or destroy the reader in the most delicious way. My ultimate goal is to publish a collection of stories (shorts and flashes).
I am currently concentrating on improving my writing in a few ways. I would like to develop a distinct voice and point of view, so that when someone reads one of my flashes they say, "Why, that there is a Beth Thomas flash," or something slightly less colloquial. Maybe this just happens organically over time, or maybe I have to work at it. Either way, it seems that writing more stories is the answer. I also hope to increase the depth of my stories. I find that I can write either a plotted story or a resonant metaphor; I have a harder time pulling off both in one story. I think that if I could find that magic combination, I would be on to something great.