Thanks 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.
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.
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.
- 7. You specialize in flash fiction. Could you link us to a few articles that might help a writer attempting the genre?
- SmokeLong Quarterly’s Why Flash Fiction series
- Bath Flash Fiction Award runs a wonderful review series and interview series – anyone interested in flash may find excellent recommendations there
- Robert Shapard on reinventing fiction, in World Literature Today
- Any of the articles in Tara L. Masih, ed.,The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction
- Randall Brown on Dionysian disorder, at Fiction Southeast
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.
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.
Michelle 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 McMillan. Her 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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