Sally 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.
JM: 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:
“Hotel Khadijah” (Pushcart nominee)
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: injaynesworld.blogspot.com, where she writes about everything from politics to private parts, and on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.