Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who has lived in the Caribbean and is based in Italy. Her award-winning flash fiction can be found in the Best Microfiction anthologies from 2020 and 2019 and other anthologies and magazines, including 100-Word Story, Bending Genres, Fiction Southeast, FlashBack Fiction, Litro, Reflex Fiction, Spelk and elsewhere. Her story How to Make a Window Snake won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2017 and the Saboteur Award for Best Novella in 2018. Her debut novel Black Cake is due to be published in 2022. She is represented by Madeleine Milburn of the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.
- We are delighted that you are able to judge our 17th Award a few years after winning the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Novella Award with your wonderful and compelling novella-in-flash How To Make A Window Snake, which also won the Saboteur Award for the Novella in 2018. Huge congratulations for your recent publication news. We were so thrilled to read that your debut novel Black Cake is going to be published in Spring 2022. Can you tell us a little about the plot here to whet our appetites?
Thank you! First, thank you for inviting me to judge the Bath Flash Fiction Award. It’s an honor and I know that I will be seeing some excellent stories. I love flash fiction but I love reading novels, also, and I look forward to sharing my novel Black Cake with readers. Black Cake is a multi-generational family drama set in the Caribbean, the UK and the US. The narrative centres around an estranged brother and sister who must set aside their differences to deal with the consequences of their late mother’s hidden past, and fulfill her eccentric, final request involving a traditional Caribbean black cake. The story they uncover is one of secrets, longing, ambition, and identity, and it parallels their own struggles in contemporary society.
- Do you think writing in shorter forms influenced the way you wrote Black Cake
Definitely. The brevity and energy of short fiction, especially flash fiction, had an influence on the pacing of this novel. Most chapters are quite short and mimic flash fiction’s tendency to pull the reader right into the middle of a story and focus intensely on certain sensory details or emotions before moving on to the next scene. Flash fiction sets up a kind of conversation between the writer and the reader whereby the reader gets to wade into the swamp of that fictional world and muck around a bit until they pull what they need out of the story. Facts may be revealed out of chronological order, certain details may be left out of the narrative altogether. These tendencies have influenced my approach to the novel.
- And do you have time to write any flash fiction currently?
- I’m always scribbling something though I don’t submit much. I tend to write in short bursts then file things away. I like to wait to see if what I’ve jotted down is truly a piece of flash fiction or if it will evolve into something else, like a scene from a longer story. Lately, I’ve been spending much of my time exploring the fictional worlds linked to my novel and other, longer stories which I’m currently developing.
- You’ve been an editor or reader for Flash Flood at National Flash Fiction Day, SmokeLong Quarterly and The New Flash Fiction Review (reading nonfiction, in this last case). What type of flash fictions most appeal to you? And do you hold different things in mind when you are reading flash cnf?
- I have eclectic reading tastes but the flash pieces that stay with me tend to have certain things in common: I love the intense gaze and language play that we often see in flash fiction but I do need to see some kind of story. Clever linguistic maneuvers are not enough for me, nor are they necessary. A piece of flash must pick me up in one place and leave me in another, emotionally. This can be done through simple, declarative writing, or it can be done through lush descriptions, surreal happenings, or a structural trick like a laundry list. Tell me a story, take me on a journey, drop me off on the side of the road, and leave me standing there, mouth agape, thinking. This goes for both fiction and creative nonfiction.
- Our word count is limited to 300 words, often called a ‘micro fiction’ in flash fiction parlance. You have had several micros published yourself. What do you do pay attention to when writing to this length?
- I like a first line that pulls the reader in. I like a telling detail or two that will set the tone or remain in the reader’s mind after the story is finished. I try to convey a shift, sometimes barely discernible, that says, this a story and not just an interesting scene.
- And following on from this last question, your top tips for would-be entrants for the next award?
- Write first, think later. Don’t worry about the competition. Think only of what you are trying to say or visualize or exorcise. Then set aside the story and let it stew in its own juices a bit. It could be an hour, it could be a month. Go back, reread, edit, repeat. Try to jump to the heart of the action or grab my attention with an image or sound or language that pulls me along. If you’re looking for some wisdom on how to shape and edit flash fiction, try reading one of the newest titles from Ad Hoc Fiction, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction by Nancy Stohlman.