Interview with Kathy Fish
Flash Fiction Award Judge
October 2016 – February 2017

kathy-fishWe’re delighted that renowned American flash fiction writer and teacher, Kathy Fish is judging our next award, which opens on November 1st.

Kathy teaches flash fiction for the Mile High MFA program at Regis University in Denver. She has published four collections of short fiction: a chapbook in the Rose Metal Press collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (2008); Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011); Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012); and Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). Her story, “A Room with Many Small Beds” was chosen by Stuart Dybek for inclusion in Best Small Fictions 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press).

  • I read recently that, as a teenager, the UK novelist and short story writer Sarah Hall, felt encouraged by the writings of Richard Brautigan. His work gave her permission to be different and experimental. Was there a writer or writers who influenced you at the beginning of your writing career?

Yes. The first volume of Best American Short Stories I ever read was the 1998 anthology selected by Garrison Keillor. In it were stories by Kathryn Chetkovich, Poe Ballantine, Diane Shoemperlen, Akhil Sharma, Maxine Swann, Emily Carter, Antonya Nelson, Tim Gautreaux, and more. I was 38. I’d not read any short fiction since high school. These stories woke me up creatively. I didn’t know short stories could be so fresh, wild, amazing. I went on to gobble up all the stories I could. And later, I encountered writers like Joy Williams, Edward P. Jones, Marilynne Robinson, Kent Haruf, Annie Proulx, Arundhati Roy. Writers who worked in micro such as Kim Chinquee, Lydia Davis, Diane Williams, Mary Robison. All went into the soup of creative influence on my own work. I’m so grateful to them.

  • Rift (review here) is a wonderful collaboration between you and Robert Vaughan, our previous judge and shows many different ways of writing short fiction. What are your favourite pieces from this collection?

Thank you, Jude! My absolute favorites of the book are the stories we selected to go first: my story, “A Room With Many Small Beds” and Robert’s “Galloping Into the Future.” Both are segmented in structure, both have ten parts to them, and well, Robert’s story is so wildly cinematic. He made such impressive choices. It’s a startlingly original story. I also love Robert’s “A Box” which was chosen by Stuart Dybek for Best Small Fictions 2016.

My own “No Time For Prairie Dog Town” and “Grip” hold special meaning for me as they were both written soon after my brother Tom died. Both served as ways into my feelings of devastation and loss.

  • Can we look forward to a new collection from you soon?

I don’t know about soon, but I am working on new collection of connected stories called “There Is No Albuquerque.” I’m very excited about it.

  • I have participated in, and can thoroughly recommend, your very popular online writing workshops and the weekends you run for Word Tango. They attract flash fiction writers from around the globe. Have you noticed different styles and themes from writers in different countries?

Thanks so much, Jude! You’ve raised a question I hadn’t thought about, but no, I haven’t noticed differences in styles or themes across the different countries represented in my workshops. It seems certain stories are universal. We all care about, worry over, are obsessed by, the same joys and heartbreaks. The themes are universal but there are always new ways in, fresh takes, etc. Countries have their own particular miseries and upheavals of course, that sometimes assert themselves into the stories. And style is all over the place, but they vary from individual to individual.

  • What do you enjoy about teaching flash fiction?

Everything. I mean it. I never expected to fall so in love with teaching. It took some goading on the part of my friends to get me to even start teaching flash fiction, but once I did, there was no looking back. The focus of my workshops is, as you know, innovation and originality. Finding one’s own voice and running with it. I love it when a writer tells me “this took me by surprise.” It means they’ve tapped into their own genius. And of course, I really love it when I learn that stories written in my workshops have gone on to be published and nominated for awards! Best feeling in the world.

  • Do you think you might publish a book on the craft of writing very short fiction? I'm sure that would be very popular.

Ha, that is another thing I’m being nagged to do, Jude! And yes, I’ve begun drafting a book on flash fiction writing. There are already excellent ones out there I must recommend though: the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and Randall Brown’s A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction. I envision my own book as a compliment to these two essential guides.

  • On the subject of craft – do you think all flash fiction needs some sort of 'narrative' arc, or can movement be achieved in another way?

As its own unique form, flash is not beholden to the same “rules” as the short story or novel. And you’ve hit on the very word I use in my workshops: movement. I believe that flash, in order to be “successful” must convey some feeling of movement or meaningful change. This is a subtler form of plot and arc that accommodates the more innovative forms of flash.

  • You've judged many flash fiction contests and in a recent interview you said that competition entries often feel unfinished. When they've zapped the typos and the spelling mistakes, what do you think writers most need to pay attention to?

Emotional depth and resonance. Go beyond your “idea” for the story. Dig deeper. What I often see is an idea that has not been exploited to its fullest potential. Go beyond the cleverness, which only engages the reader’s mind, to something that truly engages your reader’s heart.

  • Finally, we have a 300 word limit for the competition. What would you love to see in a flash fiction of this length?

I love originality and beautiful sentences. Emotional depth and resonance as I mentioned before. I love being shown something new, a new place or idea. I love writing that sneaks up on me. And the combination of funny and sad wins me over every time.

Kathy can be found blogging at www.kathy-fish.com.

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