Christopher Allen is the author of Other Household Toxins (Matter Press) and Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire). Allen’s fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in [PANK], Indiana Review, Split Lip Magazine, Longleaf Review and Lunch Ticket, among many other great places. Allen is a multiple nominee for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, The Best Small Fictions, storySouth‘s Million Writers Award and others. In 2017 Allen was both a finalist (as translator) and semifinalist for The Best Small Fictions. He is presently the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018.
- Can you tell us a little more about your recent collection, Other Household Toxins? Which story from your collection is closest to your heart at the moment?
It took me ages to even consider arranging my stories into a collection. Other Household Toxins is a constellation of 48 stories spanning eight years. Originally, my publisher had asked for a book focused on teaching flash fiction methods and forms. I wrote that book, complete with exercises and prompts. This was extremely helpful in analysing how I write, where my ideas comes from, and how my stories evolve as I edit. In the end, however, I didn’t feel comfortable publishing a course book with only my writing. It felt wrong, especially as it was my debut flash fiction collection. In terms of form, Other Household Toxins is a wildly eclectic collection, but the themes are fairly cohesive: death and bad fathers. It’s really funny. Trust me.
One story I keep coming back to is ‘Falling Man’ – and it’s a micro! It’s one of those pieces that started out as a fairly long flash and compressed dramatically with editing. The finished micro is a tiny roller coaster of sentences I love. And it’s about a guy committing suicide, so there’s also the entertainment factor.
- We know you had a book launch in Norwich, UK last year. Can UK residents buy it from anywhere in the UK?
The book launch was the highlight of my year. Many many thanks to Helen Rye for organising it. She put her soul into it. Thank you also to Chris Read for filming it and to all the readers. We actually read ‘Fred’s Massive Sorrow’– the modular 6000-word flash short story at the heart of Other Household Toxins – for the first time with multiple readers. It was great fun. Helen Rye has two signed copies of Other Household Toxins for anyone in the UK who reads this and would like to purchase one. I will of course have copies at the UK Flash Fiction Festival in June. I hope to see you there!
- Any writing projects on the go at the moment?
Yes, I’ve been working on a story for the last 30 years. What once was a completed – but awful – novel has become a linked short story collection. It feels better this way. I’ve published one of the stories and have written several more. And of course I have a hundred scraps of stories on my hard drive.
- As co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, you read an immense amount of flash fictions. I know you tend to publish longer stories, but what for you are the essential ingredients for a micro fiction?
I think a micro fiction – as well as all other fiction – should have an honest, moving, profound idea at its core, but also layers of meaning that imply something larger than the word count. An emotional impact is important to me, plot not so much; but I do think micro fiction should be told through narrative. We do have a lot of labels for what we write, and maybe they’re not so important in the end. I’m open to micros that test the limits of the labels.
- And following on from the last question, in an interview with Shasta Grant at SmokeLong Quarterly last year, when you had an ‘Editor’s Choice’ week, you said you wanted to read a story that ‘ripped you to shreds’. Can you say a bit more about this,and did that story come through for you in the submissions?
One comment our editors at SmokeLong often make on rejected stories is that they were well crafted but lacked an emotional impact. I want to read stories that challenge me to think about my life and about life in general; I want to have an emotional experience. I’m not interested in a beautifully detailed description of the wallpaper, unless of course the wallpaper plays some integral role in the character’s emotional journey. That would be a good prompt.
The story I chose – ‘The Great Abide’ by Brooke Fossey – made me cry. I mourned for the two little girls who were waiting for the father to come home. I cheered them on, still do. So yes: Brooke Fossey drew me into her story and kept me there by making me care about her characters.
- Which themes and subject matters do you think are under-represented in submissions?
I’ve read thousands of stories this past year. I think everything under the sun has been covered. Maybe it’s better to talk about themes that are overrepresented. End-of-the-world stories. Shit stories. Clown Stories. Lots of balloons this year. Robots! Animal metaphors. Disappearing body parts. Right now we’re getting lots of “men are horrible” stories. We could always do with fewer dead-baby stories. If you kill a dog in your story, you’d better be a damn good writer. I love dogs. And otters. Don’t kill an otter. Really. Don’t do it. But seriously, any subject can be made new. Take that break-up story and make it your own. On social media recently writers and editors were talking about how humour is underrepresented, and I agree. Humour is so hard to get right. I doff my hat to any writer who can make me laugh out loud in one sentence and cry in the next. That’s a feat, and that’s rare
- We are thrilled that you are coming to teach at the Flash Fiction Festival again, as well as being involved in several other activities there. Writers loved your workshop last year and you are running a similar one this year What do you most enjoy about teaching flash?
Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed teaching last year. I enjoyed everything about the festival in fact. This is a hard question. My first reaction is to say that I simply love teaching. It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, unless it’s maths or chemistry. That would be funny. I’ve been a teacher and a coach for the last 27 years. From my years of teaching I’ve learnt that I myself have a lot to learn. I’ve learnt humility and patience. So I guess I love the learning part of teaching.
- Any final suggestions for writers entering our award?
Yes. Write from the heart. Edit it and edit it and edit it. Have other people read it. Ask them if it has an emotional impact. Did it make them feel something? Write something you think the world needs.