It all started last November at 2nd and Charles, a bookstore in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was there, that my friend Al Clingan handed me a book he’d discovered just moments before – 420 Characters by Lou Beach. I finished reading it today. I’ve dipped into it once every few days for six months, like some sort of fictional candy dish.
Several years ago I read MicroFiction, the anthology edited by Jerome Stern. I remember being attracted to but not hooked by the form. But Beach’s book has caught me, shaped my current writing project, and caused me to lift my snout and root out other important flash fiction collections. Here is the flash in my reading stack (thanks to recommendations from Sarah Manguso): Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon, Novels in Three Lines by Felix Feneon, and The Voice Imitator by Thomas Bernhard.
What is it about this form? Is it the simple, concrete, tight prose that the form demands? Is it the pent up energy, the speed at which the fuse burns and the way it leaves you to imagine so very much of the result?
And yet, for these same reasons, it is an uphill climb to write. The cutting and shaping that one must be willing to inflict on one’s prose requires new depths of heart and concentration. The collaboration with your future reader is taken to new intimacies as well, as you trust them to slow down, care for each word, and thoughtfully conjure all that you’ve left outside the frame. And then there is the ordering of the pieces. I’ve got nothing. You will want to do what I’ve done – ask your poet friends. They know that drill.