Interview Transcripts

Pam Casto: Flash Fiction! 6/29/06

Event start time:

Thu Jun 29 19:03:22 2006

Event end time:

Thu Jun 29 21:08:00 2006



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all and welcome to our Professional Connection live interview.

 

Tonight we're visiting with Pam Casto, Flash Fiction guru. Flash fiction has always had an important place in the world of literature. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, O. Henry, Virginia Woolf, and many other fine writers have given the world fascinating short-short stories. But lately flash fiction has an even larger place in the world of fiction.

 

Pamelyn Casto teaches popular online flash fiction and haibun courses http://www.flashquake.org/online-classes/index.html  She has written five articles on writing flash fiction for Writer's Digest and other Writer's Digest publications and she's also a Pushcart Award Nominee. She's editor of The Flash Fiction Flash Newsletter http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FlashFictionFlash

 

That, by the way, is an excellent newsletter and I recommend you subscribe to it. I comb it regularly for markets for my LR students!

Mary Rosenblum

Pam welcome! I’m so glad you were able to join us tonight!

Pam Casto

Thank you, Mary. I'm delighted to be here but concerned about the typos I'll likely make!

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, don't worry...you're a very clean typist. And everybody in live chat is very good at guessing.  J

 

So tell us how you first became interested in flash fiction!

Pam Casto

That's a relief. Decipher, decipher, decipher. I have lots I'd like to share with everyone so I'll get to it.

 

I first became interested when I grew a little tired of writing poetry. Many said my poetry was... like flash fiction so I began studying flash fiction and discovered a fascinating world.

 

After I studied it on my own I decided to start an online critique group

 

and then discovered that not a lot of people knew that much about it (about eight years ago). So I studied some more, found some excellent pieces and the rest is where I find myself today...

 

Once I got together with like-minded writers we studied together and began getting our work published. Then someone asked me to teach online course and I took that on...

 

I now teach four-week online courses in flash fiction through flashquake and I do the monthly newsletter as well... thanks so much for the compliment on the newsletter. I hope your students will also send me their publishing news on flash fiction for the newsletter.

Mary Rosenblum

You know, we should probably begin with a bit of a definition for those who aren't sure what makes it 'flash fiction'. Is there a maximum length for it?

Pam Casto

Well... that's tough to answer. Some flash fiction is very short and some goes as long as around 1,500 words. Editors often decide on what length they accept for publication.

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks. Most of the markets I've seen have been 1500 words or less. I love the challenge of conveying a story in so few words!

Pam Casto

Writing it sounds easier than it is. It truly does take a lot of work and revision to get a good story going that can stand alone and still linger in the mind after the story's read.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding!!! But as someone who does both short stories and novel form, I swear the shorter the length the harder you work!

 

 

tarsus

Is all short short fiction flash fiction? I'd never even heard the term until a few months ago.

Pam Casto

Some writers revise as many as thirty or forty times before they're satisfied. It's definitely not easy to write but worth writing nonetheless... In fact, one of the editors at Playboy magazine says that there are only six writers of short-shorts. Only six. I interpret that to mean that many are called but few are chosen.

 

Hi, Tarsus. I think almost any short-short can also be considered flash fiction... The genre's been around a long, long time... In fact, I recently picked up a "how to" book on flash fiction that was published in the late 1940s.i

Mary Rosenblum

That's cool!

 

And it was called 'flash fiction' back then?

Pam Casto

It was referred to as "short-short" stories... Some prose poetry is also considered flash fiction and some pieces have been anthologized in both types of publications... Carolyn Forche and Russell Edson have had their works published as both. One other interesting thing I discovered... one publication that published poetry decided to call the next anthology flash fiction so they could attract those not fond of poetry. Smart, huh?

Mary Rosenblum

Indeed smart!  J That's interesting. I had not realized that it straddled the prose/poetry divide! So Pam, what is the value of working in such a short form for a novice writer?

Pam Casto

The value of working in such a short form for a beginner writer is because an idea can be conveyed in a few words... Most of us realize that "truth" only comes in glimpses and flash fiction is a way to convey those special truths. They can be great ways of learning to write effective stories without having to worry about having enough material for a full novel.

xana

So are you suggesting that flash fiction does not need a plot?

Mary Rosenblum

Or is it a matter of conveying plot through glimpses?

Pam Casto

No, flash fiction doesn't even need a plot. Some pieces are mood or tone pieces that convey a moment or two in time. The primary areas of flash fiction are point of view, voice, and setting. Character development and plot take mostly a back seat to the primary elements of flash fiction.

 

Good question, Xana.

 

Maybe a good way to explain some flash fiction is through an example... Jerome Stern wrote this wonderful little short-short about receiving a bad health report and he, the narrator, had only a short while to live. So he and his wife were trying to figure out what to do before his days were up... and they went out and bought the biggest screen television they could find.

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks for the example, Pam. J

sharp21881

Is a certain structure recommended for flash fiction

Pam Casto

You can read that short- short by Stern [click on his name]

 

Hi, Sharp. The structure can be that of longer short stories or it can be completely experimental in structure. There's no set "way" to write flash fiction.

klaxonbeard

Hi. How about other kinds of flash, like plays and memoirs.

Mary Rosenblum

Are there equivalent short short forms in other types of writing, do you know?

Pam Casto

Later in our chat I'll provide you with some good online shorts and you'll be able to see the huge variety in ways of writing flash fiction.

 

Hi, Klaxonbeard. Yes, flash fiction takes so many forms-- radio shows, plays... in fact last I heard Richard Currey was going from "page to stage" with some of his flash fiction pieces. And there are anthologies on short-short memoirs and there are so many opportunities for flash fiction pieces.

beryl

It seems an editor would be more willing to risk a novice/new writer with flash fiction (taking up less space)--is that correct?

Pam Casto

Yes, that's a great point, Beryl. Yes, many newer writers are getting their work published... more and more people are learning to appreciate flash fiction. Oprah Winfrey's O: The Oprah Magazine Summer Reading Issue has eight flash fiction pieces within. I think it's great that even Oprah's onto flash fiction now!

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, talk about suddenly becoming high profile!

xana

What was Stern's point?

Mary Rosenblum

What do you think, Pam?

Pam Casto

Yes, Oprah can do that for writers!

Pam Casto

Xana asked what was Stern's point... So I'll try to interpret the story... As one who myself has recently gone through some terrifying surgeries... I too wondered what I should do with my life now that I got this reprieve. And I couldn't think of a thing that was really really meaningful... So Stern's story really appealed to me because the choice the couple made was so "common"... a big screen TV. was all they could think of... And that seems to be such a probability if we had to make such a choice.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, thanks, Pam.

xana

Were any of Oprah's writers 'unknown' authors?

Mary Rosenblum

That's a good question!

 

Did you recognize them?

Pam Casto

Some are very well known to flash fiction writers. The magazine included such fine writers as Stuart Dybek, Antonya Nelson, Dawn Raffel, Amy Hempel and others-- all well known as flash fiction writers (and writers of other things). It's a great issue and is on the newsstands now.

joana

Can you tell us about the market for flash fiction?

xana

Are there any paying markets for flash fiction?

Mary Rosenblum

I know this question is on many minds, Pam, and I know you came prepared.

Pam Casto

Joana asked and so did Xana about markets. There are tons of markets for flash fiction. Last time I counted in the Novel & Short Story Writers Market I came up with about 500... and there are many more opportunities not in that marketing directory... and the Internet provides even more opportunities. Yes, there are some paying markets as well. Many of them. In a moment I'll post a few you might be interested in... but if you'll subscribe to my newsletter you'll get markets every single month and contests too.

Mary Rosenblum

(It's worth it... testimony from a subscriber, here!)

 

You can read Pam’s list  of markets and her ‘reading list’ for flash fiction stories here, in Writing Craft; New Market Updates.  

 

I had a question about your teaching. What do you focus on when you teach flash fiction? What aspect of the craft?

Pam Casto

The courses I teach run four weeks and they are intense. I believe in total immersion while learning to write flash fiction. In the course we look at a lot of fine works and analyze them. So I'd say my primary focus is on reading good pieces to learn the craft. Every single good piece of flash fiction is its own "how to" manual. We also do plenty of exercises and discussion of flash fiction.

 

My courses are pretty popular and usually fill up right away. I limit the courses to 15 people and it goes on 24-7. l

Mary Rosenblum

I like that approach rather than a 'craft first' approach, Pam. The more fiction I read, the more I see the multitude of ways you can write strong stories. So are these classes online or in person?

Pam Casto

They're online. I teach flash fiction and haibun and this fall I'll be adding a course on more advanced flash fiction (for those who've already taken my original course) and likely a course in writing magical realism. So they're online and I teach each course two or three times a year. I also teach haibun (which can also sometimes be included as part of the flash fiction genre).

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, magic realism...my favorite genre, next to SF. J

 

By the way, could you tell us about haibun...I suspect many people don't recognize the name.

Pam Casto

I was fortunate enough to take a grad course in magical realism from Wendy Faris and I love the genre. What is haibun, you ask? It's rather complicated but a brief explanation is that it's usually about some travel experience (even travel in the mind) and that's the prose part of the haibun. The haibun would then also include a haiku poem and sometimes a haiga (art work). It's an old form and is quite popular even today. Basho and Issa and Chiyo-ni are noted haibun writers. As is Jack Kerouac (though his work is a little more edgy).

 

Wendy Faris, by the way, is a noted scholar in magical realism. She also wrote a fine textbook on the genre.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm familiar with Basho, but the other two are new to me.

 

It's an interesting approach, combining multiple expressive forms.

klaxonbeard

Can you comment on literary versus genre flash fiction?

Pam Casto

Issa is quite different from Basho. And Chiyo-ni was a renowned haikuist and only a few of her haibun are extant.

xana

Haibun sounds like a kind of triathelon for writers

Mary Rosenblum

I had to pop that in! Nice simile, xana!

xana

A tri writealon, perhaps

Pam Casto

Good question, Klaxonbeard. It's tough to separate them but editors do it all the time. I'd consider mainstream flash as something you might read in the supermarket magazine Women's World (a fine paying market for romances and mysteries). Literary would be something you'd more likely read in small press or college publications, who bill themselves as literary publications. A literary piece of flash wouldn't have your typical beginning, middle, end. It's often more enigmatic and oblique and often requires that the reader sort of co-create the story. That's brief but I think it's pretty decent as an attempt to separate the two types...

 

You're right, Xana... good comparison. You have to be adept at writing prose and then be equally adept at writing the haiku poem. Not to mention the art work (if you include it)!

Mary Rosenblum

Pam, I'd like to speak to klaxon's genre question. As someone who comes predominately out of the speculative fiction universe.

Pam Casto

Be my guest, Mary. I'd like to see what you say, too.

Mary Rosenblum

The literary edge of horror and dark fantasy and SF seems to lie in the flash fiction universe.

smashmom

How do we get more information on the courses you teach?

Pam Casto

Speaking of which... I recently picked up some fine little anthologies (circa 70s). One's Asmov's MicroCosmic Tales and it's 100 science fiction short-short stories. The other was also Asmov edited but I can't remember the title!

 

I teach my courses through flashquake.com.

beryl

If the flash fiction was 500 words, would we be able to get away with sending it to (example) Woman's Day--unsolicited or still need to follow guidelines?

Pam Casto

Smashmom... the URL for flashquake is http://www.flashquake.org

 

Hi, Beryl. I don't know about Women's Day. I'm sure they'd be listed in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market or maybe they even have guidelines online. I’m just not familiar with that market.

beryl

So, despite its brevity, and a lack of clips (ugh!) we would do better to not send unsolicited flash fiction?

Pam Casto

I'd hoped I'd be able to cut and paste some URLs but it doesn't look like I can. So I'll try to figure out something to provide some markets and some online reading.

 

I'd never let lack of clips stop me! Every writer has to start somewhere and every writer was an unpublished writer at one time. So send your work and see what happens. I've known several writers who've published in Woman's World.

janp

How does flash fiction incorporate the non-fiction short short? The term seems limited.

Mary Rosenblum

Short short personal narrative, Pam?

Pam Casto

Hi, Jan... there are some great anthologies on short-short nonfiction. Three great ones are In Short, Short Takes, and In Brief. Editors are Kitchen and Paumier Jones. Who can ever really tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction... really. Most of our writing, I'd guess, is at least somewhat autobiographical. Maybe some can tell the difference but I can't always.

Mary Rosenblum

That's a good point, Pam.

Pam Casto

There's a great online publication that Dinty Moore does... the name of the publication is Brevity. You might google that name and check out the writing there.

Mary Rosenblum

What about shortening longer stories into a flash fiction piece? Can that be done?

Pam Casto

Since I can't cut and paste as I'd planned. Here are the markets I had in mind and you can google these names and get their guidelines and pay rates. Some pay an honorarium and some pay a contributor's copy. Check out Flash Me Magazine, Flashquake, Mindprints, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Cezanne's Carrot, Quick Fiction, Vestal Review, and Double Room. Most of these are literary publications.

Mary Rosenblum

Several of them have very strong reputations as markets, too.

Pam Casto

Yes, shortening longer fiction into flash fiction is definitely a worthwhile effort. I understand that Robin Hemley shortened his longer story in one of the Sudden Fiction anthologies and ended up liking his story much better. Not only that but I've purchased many a collection after discovering a writer in one of the Sudden Fiction anthologies. Padgett Powell comes to mind. I read his story, "A Gentleman's C" in Stern's Micro Fiction anthology. I ended up purchasing his collection, Typical, and I'm enjoying his writing so much. So shorten those longer pieces because it's good practice and good for getting "seen" in the literary world.

Mary Rosenblum

Has anyone every put a novel together, comprised of short shorts that are somehow connected?

Pam Casto

Yes. That's another way to work with flash fiction. One of the best known novels done this way is Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. Alan Lightman, a physicist-author, wrote Einstein's Dreams in this manner. And Roberta Allen, who wrote Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes, wrote her novel The Daughter flash fiction style.

janp

James Herriot?

Pam Casto

Offhand I can't answer that, janp... but if memory serves me correctly... I think his Creatures Great and Small (that might be one title) might very well be written in this manner too. Would you consider his work as a novel made up of short-shorts?

Mary Rosenblum

He does have some contiguous threads of story in that collection.

 

Pam, do you think you could sort of walk us through the creation of a short short...not a polished whole

 

but rather the process you might use? Where do you start? With a place? A person? An idea?

 

And how do you start taking that to a flash fiction story?

Pam Casto

If it's okay, I now have a question for all of you. I'm hard at work on a 7,500-word article on flash fiction for a four-volume work on contemporary American fiction. It will be published in England and distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada. I'm trying to locate titles of college textbooks that either cover flash fiction or which focus exclusively on writing flash fiction. Do you know of any titles?

 

I usually begin with an idea I want to convey. Some say just start writing and others say you should have a goal in mind. I also like to write according to prompts sometimes. But I'll get it in my head what I want a reader to come away with and write from that pre-conceived goal (usually).

 

I've also converted several of my poems into flash fiction pieces... and some of my flash fiction pieces into plays... and I just keep tinkering with things until I find the form that most satisfies me.

xana

Try going to the websites of the major college text publishers such as Prentice Hall or Addison Wesley and do a search on flash fiction. Another idea is to try the web text sellers: bestbookbuys.com

Pam Casto

Great. Thank you beaucoups, Xana. That's an excellent way to begin. Why didn't I think of that? Well, because I didn't.

Mary Rosenblum

Xana had another idea for a very good way to get word practice:

xana

My Diary - more or less in haiku J

Mary Rosenblum

Or what about keeping your diary as flash fiction pieces...say 500 words!

janp

Or your blog

Pam Casto

Well that would certainly be great practice. I keep journals of writing ideas. And when I'm fresh out of ideas, I turn to my journal and something usually pops up... and idea wanting to be presented in story form. That diary idea sounds great. Didn't Anne Frank do something like that? Yes, I think she did. That would be an excellent way to practice brevity and you could create a story using diary entries, even! Do it!

Mary Rosenblum

We're almost at the end of our time, Pam, and I'd like to give the floor over to you here, to tell us about your projects...

 

what you have out, what you do with FlashFictionFlash...anything you'd like to share!

Pam Casto

Projects... I have at least two million of them. I'm working on that 7500 word article I mentioned earlier and I'm working up a couple of new courses for online classes. I'm also recently involved with someone who has a great idea for short-short fiction. I can't tell you too much more about that right now but the idea is definitely a winner and we've been talking for hours about how we'll get this project launched. And of course I'll continue doing my monthly newsletter for flash literature writers.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, let us know about the new project whenever it's ready for the light of day.

 

Do you have anything out right now that we can go read?

Pam Casto

Oh, I certainly will. I do think it will be a great opportunity for short-short writers and it's nothing I've seen done before. I'll be sure to let you know as soon as I'm at liberty to tell more about this huge project. I have few things online... but I have one little story published at flashquake in the archives and it's called "Get You Dirty"... and it was my experiment with voice...and it might shock you but be sure to read all the way through. I also have some articles online on writing flash fiction. Let me find the URLs and I'll try to type them.

Mary Rosenblum

We'll wait.

Pam Casto

My article on Flash Fiction: The Short-Short to Ultra Short Story can be read at Net Author's E2K http://netauthor.org/e2k/jan2002/features.html or at Riding The Meridian http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/meansarticle1.html

janp

Thanks so much for visiting tonight and sharing the inside story of flash fiction

Mary Rosenblum

You have been an excellent guest.

Pam Casto

You're very welcome. I've enjoyed this and wish we had time to talk more about flash fiction. You've all been great to work with and I hope you've learned a little more about flash fiction.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm so pleased to have you here. I have been delighted with rising profile of flash fiction. I started doing it early in my career just to see if I could write short. I tend to long short stories. And found it a powerful tool to improve my writing.

 

I really appreciate the insights you've shared with us tonight.  Pam’s Reading List and Markets can be found on the LR website at Writing Craft: New Market Updates or click here.

beryl

Pam, this was excellent input for me, thank you for all you put into this. I'll be getting your newsletter (a class, too, as soon as I can) and Mary, thank you as well. I am inspired.

Pam Casto

I don't think it's a type of writing that's going to go away soon. Great, Beryl. I look forward to working with you again!

Mary Rosenblum

You have been a great guest, Pam. I hope you come back again...maybe when you can tell us all about this project!

xana

Thanks Mary and Pam

Mary Rosenblum

And thank you all for joining us tonight!

Pam Casto

You've all been great. Thanks for having me. Over and... out... but always flashing.

Mary Rosenblum

Goodnight, Pam!

 

Thanks for coming!

 

Goodnight all!

 

Have a great weekend!

 

 

Return to Interview Transcripts


Home | Writing Course | Short Story | Full Story Writing Test 
 
Send Me Full Info | Enroll | Our Instructors | Our CredentialsSample Lesson 
College Credits | Tax Deductibility | From Overseas  | Writer's Bookstore  
Free Writer's News | Life Support for Writers | Chat Room  | Live Forum | Writing Craft
Calendar of Events | Professional Connection | Transcripts | Post a Note | Surviving & Thriving
 
Student Center | Privacy Policy | Web EditorComments | Writing for Children 

LongRidge Writers Group
91 Long Ridge Road, West Redding, Connecticut 06896
Telephone: 1-800-624-1476 ~ Fax: 203-792-8406
Email:
InformationService@LongRidgeWritersGroup.com

Copyright Writer's Institute, Inc., 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
No part of the electronic transmission to which this notice is appended may be reproduced or redistributed in any form or manner without the express written permission of Writer's Institute, Inc.