Have questions of a #Fiction Editor? Ask Them Here. #IWSG

Writing Flash FictionThanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writers Support Group every month for the past few years! Go to this site to meet the other participants: each insecure writer, trying to feel secure, from across the blogiverse. The awesome co-hosts for today are Misha Gericke, LK Hill, Juneta Key, and Joylene Buter.

For my IWSG ost I’m sharing creative writing insights as part of my guest post series. It is my absolute pleasure today to welcome writer and editor Michelle Elvy, who talks about writing flash fiction, and her work as an editor. She edits at  Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook and is Assistant Editor, International, for the Best Small Fictions series.

1. What drives the Blue Five Notebook? What are your plans for its future?

Blue Five Notebook had its origins in poetry, branching out from Sam Rasnake’s poetry journal, Bluefifth Review. Blue Five Notebook came about in 2011, when Sam decided to add short fiction and brought me in as Fiction Editor. Last year, we changed to a quarterly schedule. We’ve also added non-fiction, with Bill Yarrow serving as Editor – reviews, essays and literary discussions.

2. And Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction? How does it differ from Blue Five Notebook?

Flash Frontier began as a New Zealand journal in 2012 but moved to international issues, with more contributors (artists and writers) and readers with each issue. The one constant at Flash Frontier is the 250-word limit; it evolved as a means of introducing the very short form to NZ writers and readers. With a NZ editing team, and frequent issues with Guest Editors, Flash Frontier changes in look and tone from issue to issue.

writing flash fiction

3. What do you look for in a story you accept for publication?

At Blue Five Notebook, we feature work that is more often poetic in nature, paying tribute to the journal’s roots, and we like the odd, the ethereal, the off-center. A strong voice and beautiful writing win over complicated plot or a surprise ending. The same can be said for Flash Frontier, but the more concise focus creates a space for a different kind of experimentation. We have tremendous variety there.

4. You’ve won awards and have also judged contests. What tips would you give writers who submit to various contests?

  • Don’t let wins go to your head, or rejections get you down.  Your writing is what matters most – not anyone else’s judgment of it.
  • Try writing outside the box – play with setting, character, pacing and language. Surprise yourself; get outside your own comfort zone.
  • Pay attention to the general feel of the journal or contest. Read past content, and read the instructions. Again, don’t take them, or yourself, too seriously. Relax and enjoy the process.

Your writing is what matters most – not anyone else’s judgment of it. ~Michelle Elvy Click to Tweet

5. Please link us to a few of your favorite pieces at the Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier.

Very hard to name favorites, but a handful that remain with me, each for different reasons. From Blue Five Notebook: Renee Chen, Flight: (fourth down the page, here), Nate Graziano, Headless in a Hole (here). And from Flash Frontier: Matthew Dexter, Blizzard (here), Patrick Pink, Taking my Boyfriend to his Tangihanga (here)

6. As an editor, how do you work with writers to help shape their story? What are the various stages of editing?

Sometimes a story needs light edits. If that’s the case, a quick email exchange identifies suggested edits. We work with each individual author as required. There are no set ‘stages’ per se; it’s really a matter of finding a rhythm that works with each writer – to find strengths and work with those, and to identify weaknesses. It’s the same for me: I need a good editor to see things in my own writing I cannot see myself.

In longer works – memoir, novel, etc. – I start with general structure and the larger-picture elements: character and motivation, history, setting, mood. Anything can happen to move the manuscript from A to B to C, but the characters must be believable and the world capture our imagination for the plot to hold up. I edit a lot of memoir, and in memoir voice is quite important: making the voice consistent and real – and true to the writer.

8. You’re a writer yourself. How does that inform your reading as an editor?

I think being a writer helps me find a balanced approach. I am always aware that an individual who sat down to write, say, a manuscript of 100,000 words (and who is willing to go round and round with subsequent drafts) should be treated with enormous respect, because that task – no matter how much a manuscript may be in need of editing – is both thrilling and daunting. I treat the words on the page in a no-nonsense manner, but I try to be gentle to the person who put them there.

writing flash fiction9. What other flash projects are in the works?

Besides the Best Small Fictions series, which is an ongoing project (we’re deep into reading for the 2017 issue, and we’re already looking ahead to 2018), I’m also working on an anthology of compressed writing in New Zealand, called BONSAI: The Big Book of Small Stories, with James Norcliffe and Frankie McMillan, targeted for 2018. We also are ramping up for National Flash Fiction Day in June; the competition opens in February 2017. I have two collections completed that I hope to see published this year, as well as a set of New Zealand flash fictions, based on historical documents from a research project I conducted in 2012.


Writing Flash FictionMichelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor. She is editing an anthology of New Zealand flash fiction / prose poetry with James Norcliffe and Frankie McMillanHer fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and travel essays have been widely published and anthologized. She lives on her sailboat, Momo, and currently in East Africa. She can be found at michelleelvy.com and her blog.

Are you a reader, a writer, or both?  Do you read more short stories or novels? As a reader or writer, do you have questions for Michelle Elvy? If you’re a writer, have you checked out the Insecure Writers Support Group yet?

If you have any questions or comments about writing flash fiction, post them in the comments.

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I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

22 comments

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  1. Michelle Elvy

    Wonderful chatting with you, Damyanti. You ask such good questions. I especially like the question about the interplay between being a writer and editor. Thank you, and thanks to your readers too! I love seeing how enthused people are about writing in the compressed form. Glad to answer any further questions readers may have — get in touch!

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Thanks for this interview, Michelle. I hope all is well with you, and I’m sure if any reader comes up with a question, they will post it here.

  2. ericlahti

    “Try writing outside the box – play with setting, character, pacing and language. Surprise yourself; get outside your own comfort zone.” Such excellent advice. It’s easy to get bogged down doing the same thing you’ve always done.

  3. tyreanmartinson

    It was interesting to hear the perspective of a writer and editor on writing. It’s interesting to read about the process. As a long-time fan of flash, I’m excited to be introduced to Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier as a reader and a writer. I’m not surprised that Renee has a memorable story – I just met her not that long ago and started reading some of her awesome work.

  4. Susan Scott

    Thanks Damyanti for this interesting post! And thanks too to Michelle Elvy. Reading is key – I think the more one reads the better one writes?

  5. Beat About the Book

    Loved that interview and got some valuable takeaways. It’s interesting that a ‘strong voice and beautiful writing’ are as important as a ‘surprise ending’. I always thought the latter was the key to great flash fiction.
    Also I loved what Michelle said about how every writer should be respected for putting down those many words on paper.

  6. raimeygallant

    I’m bookmarking those flash fiction articles to come back to. Thanks for putting this interview together. I was looking into flash fiction a few months ago, and it was hard to find good advice.

  7. ianscyberspace

    I had an extended time suffering from writer’s block, but this year the ideas seem to be flowing nicely. I do like reading a well crafted book, but lately have been finding a wealth of educational materials in documentaries on line. We have so many learning tools available to us today.

  8. Shah Wharton

    Whenever I think my writing is becoming perfunctory/bland, I challenge myself to write flash fiction. It is incredibly valuable as a practice of tightening words and using vivid details to capture a seen instead of a few hundred words of description. Same for characters. I also love how character driven FF tend to be, especially for me.

    Great interview!

    shahwharton.com

  9. Crystal Collier

    Sweet! I love flash fiction, but I haven’t had much time to read/write it for a while. Too many other demands. I especially love it when there’s a twist right at the end you didn’t see coming (but that makes sense). –And I second Alex’s comment. It’s so easy to get down on ourselves.

  10. Misha

    Interesting interview. 🙂

    I’m both a reader and a writer, although I haven’t been reading as much as I want to.

  11. Laura Beth

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m gearing up to start editing my first National Novel Writing Month attempt from 2012. I’m nervous, but also really excited!