Today, it is my pleasure to welcome the wonderful Dee Cohen, a poet, photographer and prose author who speaks about writing, and her piece in the The Best Small Fictions 2015, an anthology guest edited by Robert Olen Butler and compiled by Tara L. Masih.
She has shared fantastic pieces of writing wisdom, and I’ve highlighted some of them for you in blue.
1. Tell us about your journey into fiction writing.
I was a weird kid, never quite feeling comfortable or fitting in. Books were a source of escape, information, and inspiration. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading or trying to write. Poems and short pieces were the most direct route to what I needed. Here are a few maudlin lines from my first “grown-up” poem in about 7th grade: “I dreamed of springtime flowers, but God I saw them cry. My soul has lost its powers, I must leave it to die…” I’ve been beating up that poor soul ever since.
2. How does your work as a poet inform your flash fiction?
I don’t actually have much of a distinction between the two. My prose poems change easily into flash pieces. Sometimes I meld two or three shorter poems together with a bit of filler to create a prose piece. The heightened language of poetry translates well into short fiction. I’m always revisiting the same themes, looking at them from one direction, then another. Poetry and short fiction allow me pluck out small moments and shine a light on them.
3. Name pieces of flash fiction that you admire, or authors you like.
I admire the writing of Lydia Davis. In a short amount of words, she can totally unnerve me as a reader. That is fine editing.
I also consider prose poems to be effective flash fiction. For example, check out the opening of Elizabeth Bishop’s The Fish (with line breaks removed):
I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of
water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth. He didn’t fight. He
hadn’t fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there his brown skin hung in strips like ancient
Recently, I’ve read the work of Tara L. Masih. She manages to make leaps into the metaphorical, a kind of collective understanding, as a natural progression in her pieces without it feeling forced, ending them at precisely the right moment.
4. What are your tips on those embarking on the writing life?
- Reading is the best teacher. Read what you love, then try and figure out what makes it so damn loveable. Read what you don’t like and try to articulate what makes it so damn annoying. You’ll stumble upon many answers by reading the works of other people.
- It also helps to find a group of like-minded people that you can share your work with. Critiquing the work of others is very helpful in discovering your own voice.
5. What makes a great piece of flash fiction?
For me, a piece has to offer both safety and surprise. I have to trust the author’s voice, be willing to put myself in his/her hands. Then I have to be taken somewhere unexpected.
6. Tell us about your piece in the Best Small Fictions anthology. What is it about? What did you want to get across when you wrote it?
The piece By Heart started as an assignment in a poetry class to write something with a lot of internal rhyme. I don’t really care for rhyme, it’s so rhymey, and everything ends up sounding like a 3rd grade spelling list. So I took a child struggling with a 3rd grade spelling list and I linked it up with an angry, impatient mother. In that way, the rhyming worked for me, stressing the mother’s frustration and the child’s dread. From there, the poem evolved into a short fiction piece.
Dee Cohen is a poet, prose writer, and photographer, currently living in Albuquerque New Mexico. Her poetry has been published in various journals, including Spillway, Kimera, Perihelion, Stirring, RipRip, Mal Pais Review, Adobe Walls, Mas Tequilla Review, Anthology of Orange County Poets, Fixed and Free Anthologies and others. Her book of poems, Lime Avenue Evening, was published by the Laguna Poets. Two of her prose pieces have been published in DimeStories: California, New Mexico, and Beyond. From there, her story By Heart was selected for inclusion in The Best Smalls Fiction 2015.
Do you write short stories or flash fiction? Do you have tips for those steppin into writing? What issues do you face while writing fiction? Do you have questions for Dee? Have at it in the comments!
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