Has Flash Fiction Come of Age? Writer Richard Bon Discusses His Obsession
Flash fiction has become a growing preoccupation with writers over the past ten years or so, yet still remains somewhat under the radar, except to its practitioners and ardent fans. The form is basically a very, very short story, though it is not bound by typical narrative structure. Like many art forms that at first seem limiting, for flash fiction writers, while demanding a high amount of crafting, the form opens up a world of creative possibilities. We caught up with Richard Bon, who posts a flash fiction story every other week on his site liminalfiction.com, as well as publishing other writers, to pick his brain about this flash fiction thing.
FringeArts: What first turned you on to flash fiction?
Richard Bon: When I finished the first draft of a short novel in 2010, I had never heard of flash fiction. I knew I had an arduous—and to date, ongoing—edit and rewrite process ahead for the novel, but I really wanted to continue writing new stuff. So I started writing these very short stories between the novel edit/rewrite sessions. Then I googled terms like “micro stories” and “micro fiction” and discovered a whole world of “flash fiction” writers, and I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of these little stories ever since. I read a lot more of them than I write.
As an art form, compared to other writing, it presents a unique challenge. To capture a reader’s attention, get them to care about your character(s) or scene or miniature plot and then deliver some sort of payoff for the reader, all in less than 1,000 or 500 or, for some journals, less than 250 words, it forces a certain measure of acuity and inevitably presents some difficult decisions.
I think the challenge connects with me because for as long as I can remember, I’ve been making random, disconnected notes in my head at random times, whether I’m people watching or walking down the street or just sitting around drifting off in thought. I’ll think, “What if some guy did this or some woman did such and such?” If I tried to organize these miscellaneous thoughts into a novel, I don’t think I could do it. But 100–500 words? Sure.
FringeArts: Tell me about liminalfiction.com. How did it get started?
Richard Bon: Knowing back in 2010 that I was years away from trying to put my novel out into the world, and having already started writing these very short stories, I wanted to start getting some of my stuff out there for people to read. I wanted my own forum where I could put stuff out on a regular basis, so establishing a blog seemed like a good way to go. The concept of “liminality” had been of interest to me for a few years and I found myself thinking about liminal situations and concepts within whatever fiction I was reading at any given time. When I was brainstorming one day for what to name the blog, liminalfiction.com came to me, and there you have it.
I post a new story on liminal fiction every other Monday. My initial idea was that I could alternate my focus between editing/rewriting my novel one week and writing/polishing a micro story for the blog the next week. It hasn’t always worked out that way with regard to how I spend each week, but I’ve kept up with posting a new flash every other Monday for nearly three years now.
FringeArts: Since you started liminal fiction, do you feel your work has evolved in a particular way?
Richard Bon: It’s become so important to me to make every word fit. I try so hard to get down to the pith of what I want a story to say, and I try equally hard to stay dialed into that message as I write. With regard to my process, I like to write the rough draft of a flash and then leave it alone for at least a few weeks. When I look at it for the second time, I almost feel as if someone else wrote it, and for some reason that makes it easier for me to slash words, rewrite paragraphs, and occasionally change endings.
FringeArts: What in your judgment makes a flash fiction story work?
Richard Bon: The thing about flash is that it’s just word count, not its own genre. So a flash could be slice of life, noir, comedy, fantasy, etc. It could be entirely descriptive, all dialogue, or anything in between. I think flash works well when it’s a pleasure to read and the story delivers a payoff for the reader. As a reader, I want to come away thinking “I enjoyed that, and it made a difference in my thought processes today.” In other words, in my opinion, a good flash story should read smoothly and also make people stop and think in some way they wouldn’t have otherwise. And it’s a given that the writing has to be tight. If a particular sentence or even a single word doesn’t belong, it stands out severely to intelligent readers. Oddball sentences or words have nowhere to hide in such short stories the way they might, perhaps, in a longer story or novel.
FringeArts: Do you feel Philly has a good community of flash fiction writers?
Richard Bon: Yes, it most certainly does. Randall Brown teaches flash fiction writing as part of the MFA program at Rosemont College, and I’ve read excellent stuff by him and also by some of his former students. Sarah Rose Etter wrote a collection I really like called Tongue Party, published by Caketrain Journal. I read somewhere that Lee Klein doesn’t like the term “flash fiction,” but his site, eyeshot.net, in existence since 2001 and still active, has a lot of quality flash length prose. Marylou Fusco writes beautiful flash, including a piece I proudly posted on liminal fiction. A couple of guys in my monthly writers’ group, James Parsons and Lee Porter, have taken to the form as well. Tony Noland lives in the area and I enjoy his blog, Landless; he and I connected through a global group called FridayFlash.org.
Most of the people I know who write flash length stories also write longer fiction, so I don’t see any divide. I think it would be closed minded for a writer to shun or discount the work of others based on word count, and closed mindedness is something all artists should do their best to avoid.
Agreed! Thanks Richard!
Hey, interested in submitting your flash fiction to liminal fiction? Send to richard[at]liminalfiction[dot]com. For stories, email Richard a 100-500 word submission as inline text; it can be any genre.