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Smoking With Chad Simpson

Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette
""Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette"
by Vincent Van Gogh
You so nailed the details in this one. How clearly must you see the a story before writing it? When do these intricacies come to you?
Thanks, Randall. I'm a fairly "visual" writer, and I tend to begin writing a story when I see one small part of it, usually some image or other that I want to explore. Once I have that image in my head, I try to find the story that will help give the image weight, or heft: meaning. With "Miracle" I began with the image of the guys drawing this kind of chalk outline around a living body. The intricacies of the remaining details tend to accumulate as I figure out how to make sense of the image, as I figure out the narrative behind it.

A great first sentence—"...he thinks he just died." What must a first sentence do in a flash fiction piece?
I hate to sound relative, but I think first sentences in flash fiction work the same way they do in all fiction: individually, per the story they're a part of. To be a little more specific, I'd say that first sentences should do more than one thing at the same time: establish tone and convey character, for example; or present the conflict and set the scene. Now that I've made a little list, I think establishing tone is especially important in flash fiction, and that the first sentence should be working to do so.

How does one love the addict?
Jeesh. We were having such fun here. By way of the story: the brothers achieve a kind of synchronization of their heartbeats, though from a distance. So I'd translate that by saying one loves the addict with a combination, however tenuous, of caution and ferocity.

If you are teaching flash fiction to your students at Knox College, where do you begin? What essential "craft" elements are uniquely part of the flash form?
I do teach flash fiction, for the first few weeks of every Beginning Fiction class. I use Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction for that class,
and we usually start by reading her definitions of what makes a story and then comparing her notions with those of our own. Then I give the students a fat packet of flash ranging from Calvino and Jean Rhys to Kim Chinquee and Claudia Smith. For good measure, I throw in some prose poems, too. And then we spend our time figuring out how the stories conform to our definitions of what makes a story or how the stories break those rules and go about creating meaning nonetheless.

I'm not sure what craft elements are uniquely a part of the flash form. Teachers of short stories are always stressing the relevance of every word in a short story; maybe for flash fictions, because they are such compressed forms, we should be stressing the importance of every syllable. But I suppose we'd be talking about poetry in some way or other then, which would bring us to a whole new set of distinctions.

Time for the first (and perhaps only) SLQ deserted island questionnaire. One CD. One novel. One flash piece. One movie. One very much alive famous person. One very much alive writer. One SLQ editor with the initials R.B.. Go!
CD: Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac
Novel: Well, it's not a novel, but it's a big book, which would be important if one were stranded on an island: Amy Hempel's The Collected Stories.
Flash Piece: Etgar Keret's "Dirt," from The Nimrod Flipout
Movie: American Beauty
Very Much Alive Famous Person: Lucinda Williams, because she'd be cool to have around the campfire.
Very Much Alive Writer: Charles Baxter
SLQ Editor with the Initials R.B.: Since Rathy Bish has left the building, definitely Randall Brown, hands down.

Read Miracle.
Issue Thirteen (June 15, 2006): A Foreign Woman by Roberta Allen «» Fetichismo by Christopher Battle «» How the Broken Lead the Blind Until They Both Become Something Else Entirely by Matt Bell «» See Odi Naked by Lisa K. Buchanan «» Memory of Sky by Jai Clare «» The Captain by Ron Currie, Jr. «» Bingham by Steve Cushman «» The Table by David Erlewine «» Daffodil by Kathy Fish «» Fishing by Mike Hagemann «» Real Estate by Jennifer A. Howard «» Emily Avenue by Jeff Landon «» Tough Act by Steven J. McDermott «» Cheering by Srdan Papic «» Something Blew by Ellen Parker «» Euclid's Elements by Mary Lynn Reed «» Miracle by Chad Simpson «» Her Lips by Claudia Smith «» Man and Dog by Girija Tropp «» Randomization by Joseph Young «» Interviews: Roberta Allen «» Matt Bell «» Lisa K. Buchanan «» Jai Clare «» Ron Currie, Jr. «» Steve Cushman «» Katrina Denza «» David Erlewine «» Kathy Fish «» Mike Hagemann «» Jennifer A. Howard «» Jeff Landon «» Steven J. McDermott «» Srdan Papic «» Ellen Parker «» Mary Lynn Reed «» Chad Simpson «» Claudia Smith «» Girija Tropp «» Joseph Young «» Cover Art "Despair" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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