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.
We are honored that Jayne Martin agreed to be a part of the forum and discuss her work with us.
Jayne, although your book Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with A Side of Wry is a collection of humor essays, your micro prose tends to be highly versatile, ranging from noir to family narratives to wonderfully dark and hilarious pieces. Where do you derive such diverse themes and ideas, but maintain a consistent style and voice? I understand that Kirk Douglas is a fan. Please tell me about that.
I’ve always had a sharp, edgy sense of humor and a reverence for the bizarre. If Nora Ephron and Howard Stern had a love child, that would be me. It colors everything I write. Even the more serious pieces tend to have a bit of a twist. Plus I’m a plain-talking person and a plain-talking writer. I tend to not couch things in niceties. I think that’s what gives my voice its authenticity, but I don’t know about a consistency of style. I admire writers whose work you can read without even seeing their name on it and say, “Oh, yeah. That’s a so-in-so piece.” Mine seems to be all over the place. Maybe the “diversity of ideas and themes” is rooted in the fact that most of my pieces have come from a variety of prompts. I’ve never been good at pulling original ideas out of the air and I so envy (and loathe) people who are. When I wrote movies for television, I wrote primarily on assignment. Someone would hire me to adapt a book, or a true-life story, or newspaper article. Left on my own, it all too often feels like you could drive a train through my head from ear-to-ear.
As for Kirk Douglas, a friend was his speech therapist and one of the exercises she had him do is to read aloud. She gave him a copy of “Suitable for Giving” and he sent me a sweet, handwritten note saying he found “a laugh on every page.” Who’s going to argue with Spartacus?
You’ve mentioned over on Gay Degani’s site in your “Journey to Planet Write: From Film to Flash and Points In Between” that your screenwriting career in television formed a backdrop for your affinity for writing what you called “tiny tales’ before you’d ever heard of flash fiction. Do you recall when you heard about flash fiction?
The late, lovely writer, Kathryn Hope Handley, discovered and mentored me. I was posting my flash on my blog, having no idea of what I was doing, and she somehow stumbled across it. She read and left an encouraging comment on every piece, and sent me a copy of Rose Metal Press’ Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. That opened up that whole world to me. Kathryn introduced me to Susan Tepper on Facebook and through Susan I met Gay and eventually everyone on this panel. If I ever have a book of my flash published it will be dedicated to Kathryn.
What a wonderful daisy-chain to a community of women who write flash, Jayne. Susan Tepper and Gay Degani have encouraged and mentored so many. I did not have the pleasure of knowing Kathryn Handley Hope. Thank you for telling our readers and me about her.
Your fiction work tends toward micro expression. Your stories “When the Bough Breaks” that placed in Midwestern Gothic‘s Flash Fiction Summer Series 2015 is 366 words and “Travels With Ivan” that appears in Literary Orphans (Issue 22) comes in at 135 words. Each has vivid, layered character development and is a complete story. You make it look so easy. How long do you work on a piece like these two? And do you have any advice for those who want to write micro fiction or creative nonfiction? I’ve also included the photo prompt from Midwestern Gothic’s contest here so readers can see the source of your inspiration.
Thank you. That’s really nice of you to say. I think my leanings toward micro come from my flash beginnings writing from prompts on the Five Sentence Fiction website. That really honed my skills, but my brain seems to have kind of locked in on that word count. Maybe it just appeals to my insatiable need for instant gratification. I don’t know. I would like to write longer pieces, and occasionally I have, but somehow right around 300 words the story ends. It’s always a complete surprise to me. But, again, my background in television where you have to fit your story into strictly defined time periods between commercial breaks, was a tremendous training ground for writing flash. Now I find it very comfortable to write 25-word stories, but getting over that 300-word hump? We all have our challenges.
As for how long I work on a piece, it’s usually done in two or three sittings. Once I get that first sentence, I’m off and running. But I will tinker with it endlessly until it’s submitted, and sometimes even afterwards. Once I’m fortunate enough to have a piece published, I try not to look at it again, because you can make yourself nuts. There has never been a piece of writing that could not be made better. Someone much smarter than me said that, but I can’t recall who.
Are the elements of writing flash, creative nonfiction, and fiction radically different for you? What attracts you to each genre?
Creative non-fiction is a whole different ballgame. My essays usually run between 1800 and 2500 words. CNF is where you can indulge in the beauty of the language; play with time periods, points of view, even skip around in use of tense. It’s a cornucopia of possibilities. Word count is not an issue, but my flash and TV writing experience keep me always aware of making every word purposeful. I’m particularly proud of “The Only Child,” published in the February 2015 issue of Hippocampus
That essay in Hippocampus is powerful and moving without being cloying. When I read it, I feel a terrible yearning for you. The ending is heartbreaking and redemptive. I don’t want to spoil the details for readers, but encourage everyone to read it immediately.
Jayne, you and I met in Kathy Fish’s beta workshop and I read on your blog that you are “…very big on writing from prompts, which seem to always ignite something – not always something great, but something. The truth is 99% of writing is just showing up.” Where do you find your prompts?
Prompts are my crack. There are so many websites that offer them. Word prompts seem to connect to my brain better than images for some reason, but I wrote “When the Bough Breaks” from a photo of a little boy standing alone, half in shadow, looking out a window, and it’s my favorite piece.
I just discovered the Random Title Generator website: http://mdbenoit.com/rtg.htm. It’s my new playground! I found a great title the other day and the story practically wrote itself. By the way, I hate it when writers say that because normally it’s so damn hard, but occasionally the Universe does bestow such a gift.
Jayne, thank you so much for participating in the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum. Which issues attracted you the most?
First of all, I was honored to be included among so many of my flash idols. The subject of process was an invaluable tutorial. Each woman was so generous in what she shared. I came away feeling I’d done a Vulcan mind meld with each one. One thing I notice about the flash community is the writers are hugely supportive of each other. We all appreciate the difficulty of getting it done well and when any one of us experiences a success, cheers go up all around.
Before you go, Jayne, what are you working on?
I’m in the embryonic stages of an idea for a chapbook, and have notes for a novella-in-flash. Mostly, I’m just trying to get something written – anything. It’s been a strange year so far. A lot of distractions and a bit of a creative draught, but I’m beginning to see some rainfall.
We wish you all the best, Jayne. Your dry spells tend to yield rich work. I look forward to reading what you write late this spring.
Jayne 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 injaynesworld.blogspot.com.