Bartleby Snopes Writing Blog

Becoming a Better Writer

Thank You And Goodbye

When I started Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine back in 2008, I didn’t have a long-term vision. I wasn’t trying to create the next great lit mag. I launched the magazine because I was a frustrated writer. I was simply tired of waiting six or more months for a form rejection, and I wanted to do something different. Writers deserve better.

I founded Bartleby Snopes on the principle that every submission matters. That’s why I committed to responding to every story within a week. And that’s also why I offered personal feedback on every story. Naturally, this wasn’t too hard at first. A fledgling magazine that lacked a compelling design started by a no-name writer didn’t demand much attention.

Slowly but surely, the submissions trickled in. As the magazine became more well-known, I decided it needed to offer more. I gave the website a facelift. I started the Story of the Month Contest and later the annual Dialogue Contest. I added staff members. I became an early adopter of Submishmash (now known as Submittable) and an early proponent of flash novels. We paid out over $12,000 to writers. Over the course of 8 years, the magazine saw a steady increase in submissions and readership. Times were good.  

In our 8+ years operating, we’ve received over 17,000 submissions. We’ve published over 750 stories and over 600 authors. We nominated stories for every indie literary award. Some of our authors later became published novelists, award-winning writers, and valued members of the literary community. Others were already accomplished writers before submitting to us. And we are grateful for every opportunity we’ve had to publish writers.

Now it’s time to close the book on Bartleby Snopes.

I consider myself a realist (and mostly a pessimist). Bartleby Snopes has been a big part of my life, but I don’t expect the world will end as a result of this announcement. I anticipate it will create nothing more than a minor ripple. A post or two on Facebook about how it’s sad that another magazine is closing its doors.

The people who will care the most are the ones we’ve published. But even their melancholy will be short lived. As will mine.

Some will wonder why. Others will wonder why now. Others will know the answers without hearing them. But most will simply find other magazines for their stories.

The decision to close Bartleby Snopes is something I’ve been kicking around for a while. Mostly, it’s personal. I no longer have the time or the energy to make the magazine into what it should be to give our writers what they deserve. Don’t mistake this for an act of selflessness. I’m doing this mostly for me. I’m getting older. Work is more exhausting than it used to be. My writing has been stagnant over the last few years. I have a novel manuscript that’s been sitting unedited for almost five years because I’m always too busy with Bartleby Snopes responsibilities. My daughters are rapidly growing into amazing little people, and I don’t want to miss an important milestone because I’m swamped in submissions that need a response within a week. I don’t have time to do all these things. If something has to go, it’s Bartleby Snopes.

So what happens now? That’s what people will care about the most. What happens to all the stories we’ve published? Will they vanish into the ether of the internet? As a writer, I’ve seen this happen all too often. At least a quarter of my published stories are no longer available. All that hard work, the time spent writing, editing, and submitting, all so people could click on a broken link on my publication list. I don’t want that to happen to others. After all, there are 600 writers to think about here.

The good news: those stories will all exist indefinitely on the website. We’ve already paid the hosting fees through 2020, and I plan to renew well beyond that. As long as it remains economically feasible, the website will remain alive. But it won’t be active. No new stories. No new designs. No new announcements. And certainly no calls for submission. Just an archive of what Bartleby Snopes was.

Perhaps another lingering question is, why not let someone else take over the magazine? This was considered, but here’s the reality: Bartleby Snopes was my singular vision. Having someone else take over would be an injustice to that person. Anyone willing to run their own literary magazine should mold it to their own vision from the beginning. Furthermore, if Bartleby Snopes were to continue, I would not be able to separate myself from it. It is a part of me, and having it continue under someone else would simply not be feasible for me. Finally, I believe Bartleby Snopes has accomplished everything it was meant to accomplish. This is the right time to say goodbye. 

What’s next for me? I’m going to write. I’m going to enjoy my family more. I’m going to read more. But not submissions. I don’t plan to read any submissions for a very long time.

Thank you to everyone who supported Bartleby Snopes. Someone out there may try to thank me for the gift of Bartleby Snopes, but I’m not the one who needs the thanks. Bartleby Snopes has enriched my writing and my place in the literary world more than I’ve done for anyone.

But before I go, I want to do a few more things. First, I want to publish stories through the end of the year. Shortly after this message goes live, we will begin accepting submissions for our final month of publication (please note that we will not offer feedback during the final two months of submissions). It’s quite possible that no one will want to submit. Why bother sending work to a publication that is admittedly closing soon? Beats me. I probably wouldn’t do it myself. But as an editor, I feel compelled to bring this to a fitting close. I hope the final story we publish will be some type of elegy. Maybe it will be a themed month. Send us your stories of farewell and departure.  

And wait, there’s more. Of course we’ll put out one more print/PDF issue in January 2017. It won’t be any bigger or better than our other issues. It won’t be some crazy special issue with all our favorite stories from the past 8 years. It won’t even be “The Final Issue.” It’ll just be Issue 15.

And one more thing. After we publish our final story, we’re going to have the Story of the Century contest. Every story we published since the very beginning will be eligible. The top vote getter will win $100. That person probably won’t become rich and famous, but it will sound cool to add “I won the Bartleby Snopes Story of the Century Contest” to the old bio.

I want to thank all the writers who’ve submitted, all the readers who’ve read, and, most of all, every staff member who has helped me get through those 17,000 submissions. Without my fellow editors, Bartleby Snopes wouldn’t have lasted half as long as it did. If Rick Taliaferro hadn’t offered to help out way back in 2010, the magazine would’ve been dead in the water before some of our biggest accomplishments. And without April Bradley, who’s done most of the heavy lifting over the past two years, the magazine would’ve tanked long before this announcement.

Speaking of April Bradley, she will continue to operate Women Who Flash Their Lit. It’s an amazing project, and it should be known that she’s been the driving force all along. I’m grateful that this project will continue to give voices to the many amazing women who write flash fiction. It doesn’t need Bartleby Snopes to exist.

So that’s it. This is the end. The last hurrah for Bartleby Snopes. Will I miss it? Of course. But if you asked me to keep doing it, I would tell you that I’d prefer not to.

8th Annual Dialogue Contest Winners

We received over 520 submissions and over 200 re-submissions to our 8th Annual Dialogue contest, making it the biggest year yet. After hundreds of hours of reading and voting, we are thrilled to announce our five winners:

1st Prize: Haikuzilla by Caleb Echterling ($1,722)
2nd Prize: Pillow Talk at the Water Cooler by Christina Dalcher ($574)
3rd Prize: Two AI Walk Into a Bar by Jessica Riches ($287)
4th Prize: Bad Stock by Tara Campbell by ($148.50)
5th Prize: We’re Ready When You Are by Sara Jacobelli ($138.50)

The winning stories will be published in Issue 15 of Bartleby Snopes, due out in January 2017.

Three of our winners were re-submissions this year. None of our winners had any previously publications in Bartleby Snopes.

Thank you to everyone who entered this year and in previous years, and a special thank you to guest judges Kathy Fish and Rebecca McDowell. We look forward to sharing the winning stories with the world.

An Interview With Sally Reno by Jayne Martin

Sally Reno smallSally Reno is a writer of primarily flash and micro-fiction. Her work has been among the winners of National Public Radio’s Three Minute Fiction Contest, Moon Milk Review’s Prosetry Contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in a vaporish grotto where she serves as Pythoness to blink-ink print and Haruspex for Shining Mountains Press.

JM: Hi, Sally. Thanks for taking the time to tell us a little about yourself and your writing. Why don’t we start at the beginning? How did where you were born and raised influence you as a writer? Or did it?

SR: Most of my life I would have said that where I was raised (Colorado) mattered a great deal and where I was born (Indiana) didn’t matter much at all, but recently Kathy Fish offered me a photo prompt and out popped all these Indiana stories. I have a decided Westerner’s perspective on most things: I worry about water, my internal GPS is a set to where the mountains are, I count on being able to see an active sky, etc. My father was an airline executive so we lived and visited all over the world. I loved that, but Colorado is home.

JM: Who were some of your early literary influences?

SR: My mother, bless her, read me all the children’s classics. I was especially enchanted by fantasies like The Water Babies, The Wind In The Willows, Peter Pan. My parents had an extensive library so I went seamlessly from Tristram Shandy to The Upanishads. I adored poetry. Myth. History. The Arthurian cycle. The Transcendentalists were big favorites.

JM: What/who are you reading now?

Funny thing, I just picked up Helen Macdonald’s, H is For Hawk on your recommendation. Because I’ve just begun it and I don’t have much time right now, I’ve just gotten to the end of the second chapter where she reflects on her grief, the torrential rains and the dream of the hawk. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. I thank you for pointing me to it.

JM: I’m so glad you like it. I read it twice, turning right back to page one after reaching “The End,” then listened to it on audio. I’m just a little obsessed.

SR: I just finished the Breece D’J Pancake’s collection. How did I miss this guy until now? So, so good. His story “Trilobites” layers thinking in millennia with living in the present microsecond and flashing sideways to all the other places. Before that, Steven Dunn’s debut collection, Potted Meat set my hair on fire. I recently fell in love with Karin Tidbeck, a Swedish writer of folklore and fantasy-inflected contemporary fiction.

I’m old, so I sometimes panic and imagine I’ve already read everything thrilling. At the same time, I have less patience to push through things I do not like. Recently I went as far as I could with The Bone Clocks and A Confederacy of Dunces, and then I just quit because life is short and getting shorter.

 JM: When/how did you discover your interest in writing and what were some of your earliest beginnings?

As a child, I noticed that my parents spent a great deal of time absorbed in these handheld devices called “books.” So, I can’t remember a time when I was not avid to find a way into those things. Brain studies show that we most naturally learn to write first, read later. That’s how it worked for me. I began with simple statements I would write down and pin or tape to household objects that I felt were relevant to the statement. My first narratives were strings of clues like treasure hunts I would hide around the house, often along with rewards like a lovely stone, a small bright feather or a piece of striped hard candy. I have been writing and publishing what is now called flash fiction for 50 years.

JM: Do you have a general theme that you find coming up repeatedly in your work? For example, I’ve noticed in my own that I write an awful lot about death and betrayal, although I don’t consider myself particularly morose.

 SR: Curious, isn’t it? But yes, I have a few personal obsessions. I look to distinguish human nature from what often passes for human nature, but may only be the human condition, i.e., false premises to do with the things people believe. My writing is anchored in the feeling of having something I need to investigate, to explode. I don’t place a very high value on self-expression per se. I mean, who the fuck am I? Who cares? Ah! But have I noticed something?

JM: How do you feel about prompts? Images or words or both?

In theory, I don’t approve of prompts. I feel like prompts are a writing game we play instead of writing. In practice, I have twice been gratefully startled by what a photo prompt provoked from me.

JM: One of those photos produced “Man Like That,” a wonderful story and a winner of the Dr. T.J. Eckleberg Prosetry Contest. You also won an NPR “Three-Minute Fiction” contest with this charming piece, “Mickey, Mickey, You’re So Fine.” Congratulations. How does a story usually start for you? With an idea, a feeling, a first line? Or?

SR: I need a first sentence. And, especially in flash, I never begin at the beginning or anywhere near it. As for characters, I don’t require them to “develop.” I’m looking for a revelation, that flash or glimpse of the character’s humanity. In revising, the work is about syntax—sentence engineering. I will often take a troubled passage or even a healthy micro and investigate what it would take to turn it into one grammatically correct and syntactically secure sentence. Then I know what the thing is made of and how it works.

JM: One thing I like most about flash fiction is there really are no rules per se. It’s wonderfully subversive that way.

SR: Yes. Playing with POV and tense, for example, is where lots of the magic happens and the solution to most of the things we believe we can’t do. Very short fiction greatly antedates the long form and owes it nothing in its own terms.

JM: How does being an editor of the lit journal Blink Ink influence your writing or does it?

 It doesn’t influence how I write or what I write much at all but it does influence my ideas about writing. An editor gets to see quite a bit of mediocre and just plain bad writing. That said, there is usually some merit, some spark or sparkle, some fingerprint of the Muse in everything we see. I have come to see this as a matter of commitment. So often folks aren’t ready to be seen making their best effort, saying what they have come here to say, and so to risk being judged on that. It seems we all must outrun a tendency to hide behind being coy, too-clever-by-half, snarky, tricky, obfuscating and, lord help us, ‘funny.’ It seems we must struggle to overcome evasion.



blink21_21-300x188blink20-233x300JM: As an editor, what do you look for in a piece you’re considering?

 I want to be surprised, delighted,  transported, knocked down by raw truth and hoisted up by rising emotion. Blink-Ink is a print-only quarterly that features stories of about 50 words. Our issues run from 16 to 24 pages, in a format the dimensions of an A-2 envelope. So we don’t have space for work that doesn’t excite us. We are passionate about being inclusive and are tickled pink to hear fresh voices, which happens all the time. We respond to every submission in as human a way as we can, which Doug Mathewson, our noble founder and Editor-in-Chief is better at than I am because he is a nicer person. We ask for stories of about 50 words, which we expect people will understand to mean that lesser lengths are always welcome if they are working, and that we would prefer a few extra words to arbitrary cuts which may mar the fabric of the tale.

Most of our issues are themed so we have a certain vision for each issue. Our next, the October issue, themed “Crossroads,” is slim and specific and darker than we usually publish. This is in response to this specific moment in the body politic. The following issue, in January, will be themed “Space” where the sky itself is no limit. We love it when a writer goes straight at our theme and we love it when a writer takes it sideways. We scratch our heads when they don’t seem to be connecting to our theme at all.

JM: Sally, thank you so much. For more of Sally’s flash fiction, click on the links below:

 “The Light From A Sports Bar A Thousand Miles Away”

“Hotel Khadijah” (Pushcart nominee)

“Gargoyles, Witches, Nihilists, Yoko Ono”


IMG_8680[3] - Cropped

Jayne Martin’s work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, Blink Ink, Literary Orphans ,Flash Frontier, F(r)iction, Sick Lit, and Hippocampus, among others. She is the author of “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry.” Her television writing credits include movies “Big Spender” for Animal Planet and “A Child Too Many” for Lifetime. She lives on a ranch near Santa Barbara, California, where she indulges her passion for horses. Find her at:, where she writes about everything from politics to private parts, and on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

Writing About a Spousal Fight

Guest Post by David S. Atkinson

Intro by Nathaniel Tower

When David S. Atkinson asked if I would read his latest short story collection, I didn’t hesitate. A chance to get a free advanced copy of a book I knew I would like by a great writer and good friend? There was no way I could turn that down. David is a treasured member of the literary community. Aside from being a voracious reader who can somehow read and digest every word of any book within 24 hours of receiving it, he’s one of the nicest and most supportive writers I’ve ever met. And he’s damn funny, which is on display both through his personal interactions and his fiction. Not Quite So Stories is one of the best collections I’ve read, and I’m not just saying that because we’re friends. I’m saying that because I mean it. Unlike David (who must have some sort of time-freezing device) I don’t have the time or dedication to read every book that gets sent my way, but David’s was one that I read and enjoyed thoroughly. And I probably owed it to him. Of course, after reading it, I feel like I owe him even more. Yup, it’s that good. 

If you haven’t read David’s collection, do so now. But before you do, stick around here and enjoy learning a little more about his process and inspiration for one of my favorite stories in the collection.


david atkinson

Writing about people one actually knows is always an uncertain territory. Conflicts with loved ones is particularly fraught with peril. After all, one never knows how the subject will react. Presuming one actually cares, the need to write the story must be weighed against how the person might feel, and what they might do about it.

Writing about a spousal conflict is even more of a minefield, especially if one wants the marriage to continue.

However, I did write about an area of my real life marital strife in my story “A Brief Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012,” which is included in my new short story collection Not Quite so Stories. The issue centers on, as one might guess from the title, toilet paper. There are great disagreements in our household over toilet paper.

To explain, my wife is an “under the roll” believer, whereas I maintain that this is blasphemous. I take this quite seriously, which amuses my wife. Also, she doesn’t tend to replace empty rolls unless she herself needs them. Sometimes, she’ll just set a new roll nearby and start using it rather than actually placing it on the roll. This all bothers me much, much more than is reasonable. toilet paper war

So, it all went into the story. I went wild with it, taking things to ridiculously absurd extremes (I have never, I repeat never, glued toilet paper to a roll in order to ensure that there is always toilet paper on the holder, whether usable or not). Still, the core of our “debate” is there and I’m airing our dirty laundry in public.

Is that a good idea? Should I have done it? One school of thought, advocated by Anne Lamott, is to go ahead…but to: “give the character a small penis,” the idea being that the subject would never claim that the character is them. However, I didn’t want to give my wife any kind of penis at all. Further, I wouldn’t worry about my wife claiming the character is her. Rather, I would be concerned with her being hurt and thus damaging our relationship.

So, what did I do?

Well, first of all, I wrote about a relatively insignificant conflict. Arguments about toilet paper may get heated at home, but this is a fairly petty matter that isn’t particularly private. I think that helps. Also, the story is humorous. I’m trying to entertain and make people laugh, not get validation from the reading public regarding my position in the argument (I’m still right). Beyond that, I made sure to make the wife in the story more reasonable whereas the husband is a loveable yet ridiculously over serious about toilet paper protocol. In short, he’s a buffoon. Even if my wife read the story and felt it was an airing of a private marriage matter in public, I’m the one I made look ridiculous. All of those things work together to make me feel more okay in writing about something from my marriage.

david atkinsonNow, am I guaranteed to be okay? Absolutely not. However, I know what I’m comfortable with and I know my wife. I thought about whether or not I should write the story, and I thought about it deeply before I began writing…no matter how innocuous I thought it was. I considered her possible feelings, and considered them again before getting the story published. Whether or not I’m actually okay, I thought about it a great deal and decided I was. Personally, I think the fact that I considered her feelings mattered more than anything I happened to write.

Of course, it also probably helps that my wife doesn’t hang on every word I write. She’s got a lot of important things going in her life and I’m not the center of everything. Nor should I be. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure she’s read “A Brief Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012” yet. We’ll have to see if my advice on this changes when she does.

Wish me luck.


David S. Atkinson is the author of Apocalypse All the Time (forthcoming 2017), Not Quite so Stories, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and Bones Buried in the Dirt (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is

8th Annual Dialogue Contest Now Open

Our 8th Annual Dialogue Contest is now open. You can find complete contest rules here.

Some quick information:

Prizes: A minimum of $500 will be awarded, with at least $300 going to the grand prize winner. Our five finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine due out in January 2017. Last year we awarded over $1900 in prize money. For every entry over 50, an additional $5 will be added to the total prize money.

2015 Prize Structure:

1st Prize: $300 minimum + $3 for every entry over 50
2nd Prize: $100 minimum + $1 for every entry over 50
3rd Prize: $50 minimum + $1 for every two entries over 50
4th Prize: $30 minimum + $1 for every 4 entries over 50
5th Prize: $20 minimum + $1 for every 4 entries over 50

Entry Fee: $10 for unlimited entries (only one entry allowed at a time; see Response/Notification section for more details). Entry fee is due at time of submission and will be collected through Submittable.

Be sure to read our dialogue writing tips for advice on crafting your entry. You can also read our past winners while you’re there.

Jayne Martin Interviews Rosie Forrest, Author of Ghost Box Evolution In Cadillac, Michigan


Rosie Forrest is a writer of fiction and flash fiction with a background in drama whose collections of stories, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan,” won the 2015 annual Rose Metal Press Chapbook contest. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf and just about everywhere else where fine flash fiction is published. “Bless This Home” (from Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan) is among the winning stories that will appear in Queen’s Ferry Press Best Small Fictions of 2016.

Forrest earned her B.A. in drama from the University of Virginia in 2000 and obtained her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2011. Between those years is an impressive resume of writing and teaching credentials. Currently, she resides in Nashville where she teaches at the Vanderbilt University, and also is involved in programs working with talented youth. We are thrilled to have her participating in Women Who Flash Their Lit.


JM: Hi, Rosie. Congratulations on winning the 2015 Rose Metal Press Chapbook contest for your story collection, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan.” Great title. There are so many places in the country like your Cadillac, Michigan, where big box stores came in and wipe out all the local small business. Then they went bust and left behind these giant, cement carcasses. What drew you to this particular setting?


RF: Thanks for saying so, Jayne. Titles can send me ‘round the bend, so I’m particularly thrilled when one sticks. About those big box stores, I heard a story on NPR maybe five years ago examining the uptick in abandoned megastores, and that was the first time I encountered the term, “ghost box.” At the time I was moving every year and noting all the empty parking lots and faded letters of store names on concrete facades. You know, another phrase comes to mind—I’m remembering it just now— “residual haunting.” I’m sure it’s a common term in the ghost hunting world, but the idea is that something or someone in life engaged in such a strong routine or pattern, that the ghost it left behind is like an energy imprint on that particular space and time. There’s something to that effect in these stories – not ghost stories, per se, but moments that haunt the characters or the setting beyond the immediate event.


JM: Yes. The young people who inhabit these stories seem haunted by the uncertainty of their future, and there’s a sense of unfulfilled yearning, which makes the ghost box store setting so perfect. Your characters are all so multi-faceted, like a prism casting a multitude of colors. Can you give us a peek into your process of creating these characters?


RF: Prisms, I like that. Characters are so visual for me. Each one in these stories came from a sort of rough photograph, like finding an old album in the basement. Occasionally the voice is there before the image, but if not first, the voice arrives soon after. I never did so well with the character survey assignment, the one that asks a series of personality and lifestyle questions to build a well-rounded character.

JM: I could never do that either.

RF: It’s a great tool, but it’s like stringing popcorn or cranberries. I don’t know where I’m headed. I need the big picture. I have to start with one of the senses or I’m lost. The characters in Ghost Box (even though I never believed they lived in the same town or attended the same school) felt like I’d dropped a packet of weird Polaroids on the floor. It’s less of a metaphor than it seems. The story, Gun Moll, stems from an actual photo, the one Georgia describes in her opening line: “Once we were Bonnie and Clyde for Halloween and I loved the picture of us holding guns up to our chins like we’d blow our own heads off.”

JM: I absolutely love that line and that image. One of my favorite of your stories is “Where We Off To, Lulu Bee?” published first at Word Riot. As with much of your work, I picked up a whimsical undercurrent. Is this my imagination or your intention?


RF: It’s not your imagination, I can tell you that much. I almost can’t help it. I grew up with a puppeteer mother, so whimsy is…well…it’s in my bones. The funny thing, though, is that I find myself cloaking it more and more in realism. Childhood is naturally packed with whimsy, so it felt right for it to color a few stories in the collection. But where whimsy gets interesting, where it moves beyond the sweetness, is when it careens into something raw and brutal. That’s where the good stuff lies.


JM: When you started writing, did you immediately gravitate to flash or did you start in some other genre and, if so, how did you find your way to flash? One of the reasons I ask is because your award-winning story, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” published by Dogwood is a over 5,000 words. I would love to write a 5,000-word story, but mine always seem to end before they get anywhere near that length.


RF: Longer stories terrify me. I’m a painfully slow writer, and if I embark on a project with a high page count in mind, the expectations alone can be insurmountable. I tripped into flash. One professor at UNH had us write 500 word pieces for the last class of the semester, and the process of crafting that one page got me all buzzy and excited. I carried that page around with me and revised and revised until individual words lost meaning. With tiny instruments and tiny tools, flash suits me, but longer forms can let me paint with a big, fat brush. That has tremendous value as well.


JM: You got your B.A. in Drama from the University of Virginia in 2000. Were you an aspiring actress or playwright at one time?


RF: Actress, most definitely. Musical theatre. Belting out show tunes. Jazz hands. The works. But I can’t dance beyond a shuffle-hop-step, and the process of auditioning even for college productions turned my stomach inside out.


JM: I started out as an actress, too, and quit for the same reason. Those damn audition nerves.


RF: But I loved theatre – the imagination, the community, the collaboration – so I stuck it out and bulldozed my way into directing. My advisor, Betsy Tucker, scared the crap out of me daily with her no-bullshit approach to getting the work done. I learned to envision the project, to loosen the reins, and to get out of my own way. Those lessons honed my writing in conscious and subconscious ways. Still do.


JM: How has drama influenced your work in flash? I ask because after realizing that acting wasn’t for me, I started my writing career in TV-movies and that has had a huge influence on me, especially in flash.


RF: Everything’s connected, right? The major role theatre played in my writing path was the fundamental decision to be a writer. Moving to Chicago after college led to fantastic opportunities working with the best theatres in the city, from The Goodman to Steppenwolf to Northlight. I was lucky enough to partner directly with playwrights in the realm of new play development. My conversations with them during the developmental stages of their drafts left me inspired and hungry and tumbling inside someone else’s imagination.


JM: What an amazing experience.


RF: Oh, it was. I wouldn’t begin differently. Theatre taught me that story has shape. It’s a three-dimensional sensory experience. Because of theatre, I conceive of a story or a piece of writing as though it were a production. The performances that move me require the audience to lean forward, and stand-out moments within a play elicit more than one emotion at the same time. Those are my primary goals within any piece of flash fiction. Beyond flash fiction, really. Those are my goals as a writer.


JM: After an eight-year break, what compelled you to take on the student role again and go after that M.F.A.? To “M.F.A.” or not to “M.F.A.” seems to be a question in the air these days. How do you feel doing so improved you as a writer? Or did it?


RF: The MFA was a vehicle for me to change my travel route. I was entrenched in theatre, searching for new reference points and a whole new vocabulary. I had read hundreds of plays, but I hadn’t read the books I needed to read. I had mental lists of every new play festival and contest, but I only recognized a handful of literary journals. Could I have filled in these knowledge gaps on my own? Sure. But I wanted to sit in a room with writers, to be one of them, and to force myself visible. I wanted to be held accountable.


JM: That being “held accountable” thing is something I think a lot of us can relate to. I still take classes as often as I can for just that reason. Teaching seems to be as much a passion for you as writing and I know you work with gifted kids in this area.


RF: It is, it is. Teaching is where I attempt to make sense of it all. I can’t quite fathom writing without teaching – the challenges of both require one half of my brain to talk to the other. At Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth, I collaborate with instructors who are passionate about their area of expertise, and seeing hundreds of teenagers connect to complex, rigorous, and global material makes me optimistic about the future. I’m not even going to apologize for the cheesiness of that sentiment because I say it without irony.


JM: Any thoughts about doing an online workshop? And, if so, please sign me up.


RF: Oh, I’d be honored! Plus, I want to take five or six online workshops myself. Let’s all hop in a bucket and divvy it up!


JM: Not me. I’m strictly a student, but I’m going to keep after you, Rosie. What are you working on now?


RF: Answering that question every morning when the sun comes up. I think these days I’m actually struggling a little bit with my relationship to flash. That is, am I bound by it rhythmically? Do I dig deeper inside of it? Do I fragment further? How does flash push but not dictate my next project? I’ve got a number of half-wrought pieces on front and back burners. I’m thinking a lot about cosmology these days and the desert. For both our sakes, I’ll leave it at that.


JM: One more question. What is a typical writing day for you? Tell us a little about your current writing space and surroundings. For example, I must have a view and complete silence. Anything you absolutely must have?


RF: I must have beverages. Other than that, I write on the floor. I record voice memos on long drives. My latest impossible goal is to force myself to write in airports. I’ve set up a cozy writing space in each home over the years, and all-too-often it sits there like a shrine. Writing for me is athletic. It’s a boxing match with time and place, and one of us ends up with a fat lip. Routine is little more than the bell. Do we ever get it right?


JM: Thank you for being so forthcoming and generous about your work, Rosie. For those who aspire to write flash, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan” should be required reading.


Rosie Forrest is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville resident, Rosie teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the assistant director of academic residential programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth.

Rosie Forrest HeadshotRosie Forrest is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville resident, Rosie teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the assistant director of academic residential programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth.


IMG_8680[3] - CroppedJayne Martin’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, Midwestern Gothic, Blink Ink, Literary Orphans, Flash Frontier and Hippocampus Magazine. Her book of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Previously a writer of movies-for-television, her credits include “Big Spender,” for Animal Planet and “A Child Too Many” for Lifetime. She lives in a rural valley near Santa Barbara, California, where she indulges her passion for horses and fine wines, and can be found on the web at

Interview With Jayne Martin for Women Who Flash Their Lit


Jayne Martin is a flash and micro flash fiction writer, an essayist, memoirist, former television movie writer, and horse-lover. She is one of Bartleby Snopes’ Women Who Flash Their Lit authors with recent flash publications in Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Frontier, Hippocampus Magazine, Literary Orphans, and Pure Slush, among others. She is Women-On-Writing’s 2013 Flash Fiction’s prizewinner and Midwestern Gothic’s 2015 Summer Flash Fiction Finalist.

Martin writes with controlled precision, evoking emotion through brevity and creates character through dramatic expression. Her stories are character-driven and influenced by setting. She is a diverse writer who writes humor as well as she does literary fiction. Her essays contained in her book, Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a A Side of Wry demonstrates her ease with satire and laugh-out-loud humor and contrasts with her creative non-fiction that is serious, highly crafted long form essay. In addition, her micro fiction is breathtaking, sparse, and each word carries meaning and utility, a feature of her work I appreciate. In “Travels With Ivan” Martin offers a panoramic view of a couple’s relationship in specificity and illustrates in two bookend sentences how one of them copes with the death of the other. Continue reading

Degani, Fish, Reno and Stohlman F-Bomb Women Who Flash Their Lit


Gay Degani, Kathy Fish, Sally Reno, and Nancy Stholman gather at Denver’s Mercury Cafe F-Bomb and discuss some of the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum topics. What is the appeal of flash fiction to readers? How do we reach readers beyond the world of flash readers? How do we mainstream flash or how and in what ways have people always written short—”because people have always written short…” Continue reading

An Interview With Kathy Fish & Robert Vaughan, Authors Of Rift

Bending the Rules with Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, Authors of Rift (Unknown Press, 2015) by Leonora Desar


Cover design by Casey McSpadden

 Rift, a flash fiction collection by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, is an alchemy of heartbreak and humor, lyricism and subtlety. Here you’ll meet Betsy, a former sideshow freak who falls in love; a man who blows his retirement savings; a woman who holds a graduation party in honor of her dead daughter. The stories are emotionally resonant without being cloying, with strange and wildly inventive characters who also manage to feel universal.

The stories also stand out for their language, the way that they challenge what it means to be a narrative. Fish’s one-paragraph “Akimbo” is replete with sharp, unusual imagery—“walls the color of a baby’s tongue,” a man vibrating like an “electric football game”—with the cadence and energy seen in poetry. In Vaughan’s “If You Have to Have an Ism” we have insight into a character’s world, a vivid portrait of a woman “with her border-lined hoodie and her sellout sadsack song and dance”—all in less than 100 words.

I spoke with Fish and Vaughan about the inspiration behind their work as part of the Bartleby Snopes Women Who Flash Their Lit Forum. How do you write emotionally resonant flash without being sentimental? And how far can you bend the rules?


Interview With Kathy Fish

BS: What was the inspiration for Rift?

KF: Robert was the main inspiration, for me. Once we knew we were doing a collection together, his energy and enthusiasm kept me writing, kept me inspired. It was Robert who came up with the title and the first cover image. Though we didn’t ultimately use that image, it haunted me in a way, made me see all that the idea of “rift” can be. The image was subtle but potent, of two children playing outside a house that wasn’t, but felt, abandoned. We both kept that feeling stored away as we wrote I think.


BS: How did the collaboration process work between you and Robert? How did you decide the ordering of the pieces?

Oh, that was a process! We wrote together in a small workshop that included Bud Smith and Michael Gillan Maxwell. We took turns coming up with weekly prompts and sharing our first drafts, giving feedback, etc. At this point, knowing our theme was “rifts” we would point out to each other when a new draft felt particularly suited for our book. Bud and Michael were so fantastic in helping us shape those stories as well.

When we had the stories we knew we wanted to include, then came the task of ordering the stories, giving some structure to the book itself. We had several long phone calls where we gave each other really substantive feedback on the stories, then in that process, began to see how certain stories worked together. I came up with the idea of sectioning the book by different aspects of “rift,” i.e. Fault, Tremor, Breach, Cataclysm. Then we began sorting our stories to fit those categories. Robert had such a great, intuitive grasp of how our stories paired together, so he did virtually all of that part of the book. We knew we wanted to go back and forth with our stories, like a performance, as Michael Martone described the book.


BS: Your stories in Rift are filled with vivid, memorable characters, from a girl who wants to ascend to heaven to a 13-year-old white kid who pretends he is Malcolm X. What are some things that have inspired your characters and worlds?

KF: I think people, in their imaginations, are far more interesting than we often see in their outward appearance and actions. That’s the place I love to go in fiction. The stranger the better. There’s such heart in human striving. Who knows why we do the things we do? But that oddness and need makes us kindred.


BS: Is there a story that you particularly enjoyed writing? Is there one that was more challenging to write?

KF: I loved very much the experience of writing “The Blue of Milk.” My friend David Hicks called some of us Denver area writers together for a write-a-thon in the basement of the Regis University library one afternoon. The idea was to quietly write together without stopping for a few hours. I had never done this before. At first I felt very self-conscious, but seeing the other writers so absorbed in their work, I was inspired.

Meanwhile, I’d been asked to write a piece as part of a collaborative issue of Blue Five Notebook, edited by Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake. I’d been given a piece of art, la lecture huile sur toile, by Francis Denis. Though I found the piece beautiful, I wasn’t sure how to begin. I opened my laptop and stared at the image awhile, then began typing. I really just let myself keep typing without any sense of where I was going. The story came to me like a dream. Something about the sound of a dozen or so other writers typing on their keyboards in that basement room put me into a creative trance. The resulting piece is very dreamlike and fluid and strange. I didn’t change much at all when I sent it off to Blue Five Notebook. It remains one of my favorite stories.

“Grip” was probably the most challenging to write. It’s extremely close to nonfiction, dealing with the death of my brother. There was so much I wanted to say. But ultimately, I cut the story to the bone, added in fictional details, and let the story end on an image. I had to trust my writing enough and the reader enough to let it just be what it was. I think it worked.


BS: I was blown away by “Everything’s Shitty at Price King.” I love how you managed to make the story funny, even though you have this psychopath holding a baby and waving a gun around. How did the story come about? How did you decide to introduce humor?

KF: Thank you so much, Leonora! I really enjoyed writing that story. I wrote it in a short story class taught by Hannah Tinti through One Story. That was such a great class. I highly recommend it. I don’t feel especially strong on the mechanics of story writing and her step-by-step process led me to this odd scene I don’t think I would have otherwise written.

The humor came into the story quite naturally. I knew my character. I knew she was hurting, but I wanted her to use humor and sarcasm to get herself through life and this terrifying situation. I think funny people tend to be the most in pain, deep down, so I wanted to work with that in the story. I had to be careful with that, but I think I found the right balance.


BS: In “There is No Albuquerque” you give us Betsy, a woman with three horns on her forehead that look like “three raised fists.” This story has so much resonance and emotional power. I especially loved the ending, where we are left with a beautiful dream that will never be. What was the inspiration for this piece? Why did you end it the way you did?

KF: Oh thanks for saying that, Leonora. This story began as a voice in my head. I heard Betsy before I saw her. I knew what I wanted the story to sound like before I wrote any words. An odd mix of sad and matter-of-fact. The struggle of someone very different to tell her own story. As soon as I gave her Mr. Kenton, the whole thing unfolded very easily. As soon as I gave her something to live for and strive for.

I ended it as I did because I wanted Betsy to have a happy ending, if only in her mind. I was kind of a weird and lonely child, so I’m always taken with outsider types in my stories. Beautiful misfits.


BS: I love how you convey Betsy’s loneliness in the story, but without explicitly stating how she feels. What are some ways that one can show rather than tell in flash fiction?

KF: First and foremost, trust your reader. If you create a strong enough character, a strong enough situation, with strong and tangible details, the reader is going to connect the dots. Better yet, make your reader feel what your character feels. The joy of reading is that connection to some emotion we ourselves have felt. That recognition, right? We have all been lonely. We have all been humiliated. We have all had times of great joy.

As a writer, you can tap into your own emotions, your past, your memories, and mine the details. I remember when my mother was very angry, she’d throw herself into housework with such intensity she was just this blur. She didn’t say a word, but we knew to stay away. Think about the sorts of things that people do when they’re feeling a strong emotion. How do their voices change? What do they focus on? A reader will connect to that and feel that.


BS: In “This is How Eventually the World Falls Apart” we have a white kid who wears an afro and preaches from a garage pulpit, pretending to be Malcolm X. What was your inspiration for this story? Why did you decide to tell it from the sister’s perspective rather than the boy’s, and how does this change our takeaway?

KF: I grew up really watching my older brothers, perhaps more carefully than my parents did. This is not a true story, but it is somewhat emotionally autobiographical. I like the dynamic that’s created from telling a story from the periphery, from an observer, in this case, the watchful sister who sees everything.


BS: “A Proper Party” tells the story of a graduation party held in honor of a dead girl. I love how moving the piece is, but without being overdone or cloying. What are some ways that one can evoke emotional resonance without being sentimental?

KF: Let some humor in. Sad situations are all the sadder when people are trying very hard to be brave. Show the struggle in that. Show people trying, but mostly failing. Mess things up.


BS: Some of your pieces, like “Akimbo” and “Vocabulary,” have the kind of emphasis on rhythm and language seen in prose poetry. What do prose poetry and flash have in common, and in what ways are they different?

KF: I love the kind of flash that straddles the line between story and poetry. I love reading it and writing it. You see this particularly in the very short, one paragraph flash. Like prose poetry, there’s that emphasis on rhythm, language, and imagery. The difference is that flash needs to have at least the sense of an arc or meaningful change (and it can be very subtle) that’s not necessary for prose poetry.


BS: What is your writing process like? What about your revision process?

KF: I’m constantly scribbling in my notebooks. I save most of it on my computer. I have documents with names like “I don’t know what this is” and every once in awhile, I go back and open up the files or the notebooks and mess around with the pieces some more. Almost everything in Rift had its roots in scribblings from three or four years ago. I’m just exceedingly slow. Also I’m a firm believer in setting a story aside for awhile before sending it out. My revision process is mostly about getting the sentences right. And I fuss over endings quite a bit. I read everything aloud.


BS: What advice would you give to a writer new to flash?

KF: Become a religious reader of all the best online flash journals. Subscribe to NANO Fiction. Read the Queen’s Ferry Press The Best Small Fictions 2015. Write every day. Write your heart out. Take one of my workshops (smile).

BS: Tell us about your latest project.

KF: I’m working on something very exciting and very secret.


Kathy HeadshotKathy Fish is a faculty mentor for the Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver. Additionally, she teaches two-week intensive Fast Flash© Workshops as well as weekend workshops for Word Tango. She served as Consulting Editor for the Queen’s Ferry Press The Best Small Fictions 2015. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2015), Threadcount, Guernica, Indiana Review, New World Writing, Denver Quarterly, New South, Yemassee Journal, and various other journals and anthologies. She guest edited Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of four collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011), Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012) and the recently released collection, Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan and published by Unknown Press. She blogs at


Interview With Robert Vaughan


BS: How did you get started writing flash?

 RV: I started writing flash in multiple ways. I’ve kept a daily journal over four decades. That vignette of a daily entry evolves, most days, into a flash, or slice of life. Then the earliest short fiction writers who I devoured in the 1980’s like Grace Paley, Donald Barthelme, Lorrie Moore, or Barry Yourgrau. Eventually I started to read our contemporaries like Lydia Davis, Kim Chinquee, Len Kuntz, Meg Tuite. I read the Rose Metal Press A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (four chaps of four kickass female flash writers) and that ignited my desire. Simultaneously, Michelle Elvy and two other writers started up 52/250—a site with weekly prompts, and pieces that had to be 250 words or less. Let the workshop begin!


BS: Was there a story in Rift that you particularly enjoyed writing? What about one that was more challenging to write?

RV: One of the most fun stories to write was “A Literary Savant.” Once I had the “I would date a dog” concept, it just flew! I love abstraction, and to play with how much a character can get away with. Also the communication disconnection—how often do we really get what another person says? This is a piece that pushes the envelope. A more challenging piece for me to write was “The Rooms We Rented.” Often the more strange or elusive pieces are those which take the longest to hatch. This is also the sort of piece that might warrant multiple reactions.


BS: I found your story “Dehydration” stunning. That final letter from the funeral home, the father’s sense of loss, the details about his daughter playing Desdemona and the way “a woman, all grown up, drifts down her long hair and is lost”—all this felt so real and palpable to me. What was your process of writing this piece?

 RV: A dear friend, Mel, succumbed to melanoma cancer in 2006. She was vibrant, sweet, and her nickname was the Snow Dove. I think I was using the devastating loss as a premise to drop into possibilities as a parent, imagining her father’s perspective on the premature death of a daughter, someone half his age, in the prime of her life. How this kind of death (any?) haunts those who are closest, and still alive.


BS: “Postcards of a Life,” like “Dehydration,” is inspired by letters, but here they form the narrative framework of the piece. How did you decide on using postcards to tell the story?

 RV: I used to be a huge postcard sender, and received many as a result. I worked internationally, and in those days prior to social media, it was a way to include family and close friends in visits to other continents, new experiences. “Postcards of a Life” is one of my older pieces in Rift. The first draft I wrote was in the early 1990s. I wanted postcards to reveal the extreme distance between a father and son. It’s a way to utilize “space” in actual format.



BS: “Postcards of a Life” also has a particularly powerful ending. Did you know what the last postcard would reveal when you started writing? Also, do you tend to know how your stories will end when you sit down to write, or do they come as a surprise?

 RV: The end of “Postcards of a Life” was what I changed the most in the various edits over the years. I am not the sort of organized writer, planning endings, or knowing things in advance. I’m the opposite—I work best when I can write toward the abyss, or a blank canvas.


BS: “What’s Left Unsaid” is another favorite of mine. I love how you started the piece between two dramatic scenes that are never shown on the page—the narrator’s time in Vegas, where he blows his retirement savings, and the moment where he will probably hide this from his partner. Why did you decide to set the story at this particular point in time?

 RV: “What’s Left Unsaid” is based on a distant friend’s gambling obsessions, how in the mid 80’s it nearly destroyed his entire life— home, marriage, job. When you write flash, there is typically no time to get into much backstory, or future. Also, if there is an unbearable secret that weighs on a person, well, as readers we have empathy, no matter how idiotic it might seem.


BS: I loved the one-sentence breathlessness of “What Lies Ahead,” the way you build momentum while at the same time conveying the narrator’s loneliness. What was the inspiration for this piece? And how did you decide on the one-sentence structure?

 RV: In 1987, my roommate from college and I left New York City, and drove to Los Angeles, to start a new life. This piece was reconstructed from that coast-to-coast experience. The one-sentence structure of “What Lies Ahead” is a format that was given because of a journal to which I wanted to submit, almost like a writing prompt. Sometimes a journal’s “constraints” can inform the material that works for the piece. There is another piece I wrote earlier called “Moving to Los Angeles: A Screenplay in Three Acts” which was published in Diptychs + Triptychs. That story is much more fictionalized and experimental than “What Lies Ahead.” Still, any “one” life experience can provide material for multiple stories.


BS: Your story “If You Have to Have an Ism” is tiny in terms of word count, but gut-punching in effect. What does a story of this length need to be a story? Can we throw away all the rules?

 RV: I think there is a bending of “rules” in flash fiction, and it’s a fine line between what works and what might fail. Also, the cliché “rules were made to be broken” comes to mind. I actually saw the woman referred to in “If You Have to Have an Ism” at a local café. I sketched her, jotted notes, then sculpted the piece over time. Generally, the smaller a flash, the more work it requires. Every single word has to be combed over. The requirements—intrigue, tension, a rare or unusual outcome, the element of surprise. To feel as if it was just written, versus the “reality,” which is the amount of drafts it has gone through.


BS: What are your writing and revision processes like? How do you know when a piece is ready to be sent out into the world?

RV: I try to write every day. Or as often as possible. I journal. I sketch. I edit other people’s work (for two magazines, and two independent publishers). As far as submitting, that formula is as mysterious as the day I first did it. I have no idea how to measure when something is ready—journal, or book both. It’s a gut instinct, like intuition, and it seems to work the more you use it.


BS: Where do you see flash in several years from now? How do you see the form evolving or staying the same?

 RV: I would like to think that flash will become more widely read, and the variety will continue to grow. More novels than ever before are being told in vignette format, or short chapters. I am not visionary enough to foresee anything more than more possibilities of publications for short fiction or flash writers. As our lives get more elaborate, with less time for traditional novels, short fiction suits the reader more.


BS: What advice would you give to someone new to writing flash?

 RV: Read as many books of flash fiction as you can! See what turns you on, what excites you as a reader. Then, write some short pieces, give it a try. Be willing to fail on the page (as Beckett says, “Fail better.”). Of course, then try to submit to some journals. Follow some flash fiction writers you admire on their social networks, so you can see what they’re up to, read their latest published pieces and books.


BS: What projects are you working on now?

 RV: Rift was published on December 1, so Kathy Fish and I are doing promotional things around the book. My next book, Fun House, is another collection, and I have about half of that done. It’s slated for a late 2016 or early 2017 publication. I am also teaching two-week long workshops in 2016—a fiction course in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House with Kathy Fish, August 20-26; and “Mixing Genres” at The Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin on Sept 11-18.


RV photoRobert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, and playwriting. He has facilitated these at locations like Alverno College, UWM, Fox Valley Technical School, JMWW (online), RedOak Writing, The Clearing and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He also leads writing roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. Vaughan is the author of four books: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press, 2012); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps, 2013); Addicts & Basements (CCM, 2014). His newest, Rift, is a flash fiction collection co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press, 2015). He blogs at



Leonora Desar‘s writing can be found or is forthcoming in Harpur PalateSmokeLong QuarterlyThe Citron ReviewPrick of the Spindle, Psychology and in Bartleby Snopes as a Story Of The Month Winner. She received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and was a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly’s 2016 Kathy Fish Fellowship. Leonora lives and writes in NYC, and holds an MS from the Columbia Journalism School.



An Interview With Gay Degani, Author of Rattle Of Want

Rattle Of WantThank you so much, Gay, for discussing your new book, Rattle Of Want (Pure Slush Books 2015). It’s gorgeously haunting. I’ve read it all the way through and keep picking it up to re-read moments and stories. The collection includes stories and a novella-in-flash. Can you tell me how this collection came into being? The novella, “The Old Road,” sits comfortably next to your shorter fiction. Although the novella is self-contained, I find myself enjoying chapters as individual pieces of flash.

First, thank you for taking the time to talk about Rattle of Want and for liking the chapters as stand alone stories in the novella “The Old Road.” I’m particularly proud of “A Passing” and “Father and Son” in that regard.

After my novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014, I decided the best way to follow it up would be to put my strongest stories into some kind of collection. At the same time, I was part of a project called 2014, the brainchild of writer/editor/publisher Matt Potter at Pure Slush. His idea was to get thirty-one writers to commit to writing one story on the same day of each month. He requested each author to write in present tense as if the story was “taking place” on the author’s designated days. I chose the 19th.

Once the year was over, I had twelve linked stories on my hands and asked Matt if he would consider publishing it as a novella along with my collection Luckily for me, he said yes.


A few of the stories in Rattle Of Want previously appeared in your wonderful collection Pomegranate Stories (December 2009). What was the process involved in selecting stories to be included in Rattle of Want?

 The first criterion for me was to include my most successful pieces. “Spring Melt” had been nominated for Pushcart consideration and “Monsoon” was a Glimmer Train finalist. Both were in Pomegranate, as was the story titled “Pomegranate,” which had never been published elsewhere. I felt all three would make Rattle a stronger book.


“Monsoon” underwent significant revision. You changed the girls’ ages, took away some of the narrator’s fears about her husband, and tightened up the narrative quite a bit. It’s sharper, the narrator’s pain keener, and the setting reflects that pain. It’s also one of the three longest pieces in the book. What compelled you to revise your flash?

April, you’ve answered your own question with “it’s sharper, keener!” The stories in this collection were written over seven years, and I felt compelled to make sure I looked critically at my work and made it the best I could, to see where I could deepen and clarify.

We grow in our craft and revisiting old work with fresh eyes not only shows us what we’ve learned, but also reminds us that we must continue to learn. The revision of “Monsoon” made it better. At least that’s my hope.

 Although I like both versions of “Monsoon,” I agree with you, Gay, that the one in Rattle of Want is better. It’s an example of how revision can strengthen a fine story and transform it into an extraordinary, breathtaking one.


As with your novel, What Came Before, your novella is a domestic drama with elements of mystery and suspense. Also, many of your stories contain an element of the unexpected reveal. I wouldn’t call you a mystery or suspense writer per se, nor would I say that you are genre-jumping, yet you like to dip into fictive forms (“Doing Mr. Velvet” and “Kindling” are two stories I’m thinking about in particular). I appreciate these features in your writing. What is it about mystery and suspense that attracts you and how did you go about incorporating these elements into your characters and stories?

 I look for certain elements as a reader: surprise, pacing, suspense, deep character, stakes, some kind of universal theme so when I write, I try to make my stories into something I would like to read.

I like writers who take care of the language in their work, who make reading a pleasure while still bringing genuine emotion to the characters. I want a story to reveal something about human nature, how we are with each other, both the good and the bad. And I like surprise. I like to think, “Wow, I didn’t know that” or “I wasn’t expecting that but of course, it had to happen that way!”

I used to consider this aspect of my writing, the “not-fitting-neatly” into a category, was a negative, but I try not to worry about it anymore.


Gay, your stories are highly crafted, fluid, and so beautifully rendered that it’s easy to get caught up in them. Part of this is that there’s a great deal of emphasis placed on embodiment, both with characters and with the character’s connection to the setting. Along with the other elements I mentioned, this is a lot to pull off in a piece of flash, some of which are micro. Do you have any advice to offer writers on this aspect of craft and flash?

I love the comedies of the 80s and 90s so my goal at one time was to write something Bill Murray might want to be in. I wrote six screenplays and it was working on these that I learned the discipline of choosing specific language. Screenplays can, of course be any length, but the sweet spot seemed to be 120 typed pages. My goal was to work toward placing the action where conventional wisdom dictated it should be: three acts, act one and three around thirty pages each and the middle, second act, longer at sixty.

Even though there is much distain that paying attention to page-count is too formulaic, I found it helped me to understand structure. The side benefit was that it forced me to pay attention to every word, to make certain that the brief narrative accompanying the dialogue would create a mood, an attitude, and a sense of place, and ignite interest in the screenplay.

I didn’t know this about you and your writing, Gay, and I adore Bill Murray. To think, he was your “audience”—what a great idea!




It’s rare to see illustrations in books anymore. Can you tell me about the one that prefaces “The Old Road?” Are you the illustrator as well? 

 The illustration came first out of a practical need. When Matt Potter said we had to have one more thing to end the book on the correct number of pages, I realized this would be an opportunity to help the reader understand the neighborhood of “The Old Road.”

I’d had feedback that these bungalows located on the edge of town across from an arroyo were hard to picture. While I worked on clearer language in the text, I didn’t want the reader to be confused for even a second. The other thing I realized is that it would act as a kind of cover to the novella, so I jumped at the opportunity to “map it” on that necessary extra page.

It’s worked out perfectly, Gay. Thank you so much for contributing your time to an interview with us and working on the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum. We are delighted to have here at Bartleby Snopes.


LIsten to Gay on


Also enjoy this interview between Kathy Fish and Gay Degani where they discuss the importance of community in Gay’s work.

Writing & The Importance of Community: A Conversation with Gay Degani, Author of Rattle of Want

IMG_6360 Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books released her collection of stories, Rattle of Want, (November 2015). She has a suspense novel, What Came Before, published in 2014, and a short collection, Pomegranate, featuring eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and blogs at Words in Place where a


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