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Interview: Grossman Grills Graham About All Things Flash & Beyond

cover_sm.jpgBarry Graham's The National Virginity Pledge is a perfect mixture of creativity and authenticity. He explores a wide array of relationships with emotional collision and candor. Even after the stories end, each will remain because of their peculiar and unsettling nature. No story in this collection will go where the readers expects. Graham makes the common day experience so completely uncommon.

When I read "Parable of the Dead Rolling Snowball" I instantly became enamored with your writing. What brought about the inspiration for this piece? Out of curiosity, does the boy's parents ever let him back inside?

My father was an asshole.

I'm sure you have a very busy schedule, so how do you find time to write? And what do you do when you have writer's block?

Yeah, I've been pretty busy, trying to cram a three year degree into a year and a half, while teaching, reading flash fiction subs for Dogzplot, finishing up a novel, and doing my best to be good enough to my kids that they don't wanna trade me in. So, I don't really have a traditional writing schedule. I write when words swell in my brain and the only way to relieve it is to write them down. This doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like. I don't blame it on writer's block though, I'm not sure that such a thing exists. My idea has always been that if you can't get any writing done, quit reading books and sitting in front of the laptop writing and erasing silly sentences until something sticks. Just get off your ass and go outside and move around a little, I think George Clooney said, "Make no mistake, moving is living." I think he's right. Breathe fresh air and look around and listen and stretch your muscles and let your fucking heart beat faster for awhile. Something good and inspirational will happen.

Also, I know how sad it is that I'm quoting George Clooney chick flicks.

When you're revising a piece how do you know when it's done? What does your revision process entail?

For me, my fiction writing process is much more cyclical than linear, so I can't say I really have a "process." Things just happen. I am a very slow writer. I pay close attention to syntax and sentences and the way words feel pressed up against each other, much like Randall Brown and Jayne Anne Phillips do in their short fictions, and perhaps like Dr. Seuss and David Foster Wallace do with their longer prose. I feel like all four of these writers are masters of not only fiction, but individual word and sentence construction.

I think my approach to fiction is very poetic. I can't leave a sentence until I feel that every word is exactly the way I want it at that moment (of course structural and/or thematic revision will come later), and I certainly can't leave a paragraph until I feel that way. Maybe it's because I love the flash fiction form so much, but even when I'm writing longer things, I always envision that every paragraph or at least every chapter, can stand on its own if it was pulled out of its context and read by itself.

What inspires you to write?

The self deprecating feeling that I otherwise have no valuable work skills that will allow me to contribute positively to society.

Do you enjoy reading authors similar to your style and themes, or do prefer to read from all different genres?

I like all kinds of stuff. I go through spells where I will read ten Agatha Christie books, then ten Oprah book club books, then ten religious texts. I don't really remember how or why they happen. Right now I'm reading a bit of Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson, so mid-twentieth-century New Journalists. And flash fiction, I'm always reading good flash fiction.

What kind of music do you listen to, if any, while you write? Is there a certain kind of atmosphere you need to write best?

If I'm writing poems or flash fiction I will throw on my headphones every now and then. My music tastes are all over the place but my truest truest shit is 90's Gangsta Rap--NWA through all the first CDs of the rappers on the No Limit label (especially C-Murda, Young Bleed, and Fiend). Each artist, no matter the genre, plays tricks on my mind and influences it in different ways. Nothing I can properly articulate though.

As far as atmosphere, my mind works best at night time when I am laying down. I think it has something to do with the way the blood flows to the brain and settles there, but I don't know for sure. If anyone has any scientific evidence (no matter how sketchy) to either validate or refute this, please holla.

What is the most rewarding part about writing, and on the other side, what is the most disappointing?

I imagine there used to be a time for every writer, the very first time you picked up a pen and paper (or if you're young enough, pounded out them first few sentences on a keyboard) when you wrote because you loved words and loved creating and had something inside your head and your heart that you believed was worth somebody else reading and paying attention to. You scribbled down poems or stories or philosophies and you were proud of them no matter how average or shitty they turned out to be in hindsight. You loved writing and everything that meant. A few times, when asked, you may have even called yourself "a writer" or "a poet" and you ignored the snickers and remarks even though you wished you would have attempted a defense. Then you got a thing or two published and you showed your words to like-minded people, writers and editors and readers. The reaction is fifty-fifty, feedback ranges from people telling you how "strong and powerful" it is to people telling you that your artistic endeavor is a waste of space. From there on out all you hear are their critiques, their suggestions, their advice on how and why your piece went wrong and what they would do to "fix it," to make it better. Then you struggle and rethink and over-think every word you put down until you forget why you even love doing it. Then you take a breath and relax and remember, and you create something beautiful, something you love and will continue to love forever no matter who says what about it. You believe in your words and your voice again and you feel like you did the very first time you finished the final draft of your very first piece. Then you show it to an audience again because you feel so good about it, so great, you trust you accomplished everything you meant to when you crafted every word so carefully. But guess what. Every negative comment rips your fucking heart out, disappoints you so much and you struggle so hard to continue believing in your vision...and you do...but by the time it's over, you don't even remember what the reward is supposed to be...and even more, you barely care if you achieve it.

About the Author

Photo[1].jpgBenjamin Grossman, an MFA in Creative Writing candidate at Rosemont College, writes screenplays and novels, as well as poetry and flash
fiction. He experiments with mixing different writing genres, but prefers fiction. In his free time, Benjamin enjoys listening to music, reading
history, running, and watching sports.

       Flash Fiction Symbol

For further reading, check out FlashFiction.Net's suggested readings of flash fiction and prose poetry collections, anthologies, and craft books, by clicking here.


Wow. I can’t even imag­ine try­ing to write when there is loud music or Gangs­ta play­ing, but, when I paint I lis­ten to books on tape. I’m amazed at how many writ­ers I know work at night. I can’t even imag­ine those two things!

From Katie Baker

Great to read about the positive/negatives on writ­ing. It can be very drain­ing on an author. Also, very inter­est­ing take on revi­sion, real­ly empha­siz­ing the fact that it is impor­tant to make every word count. Very cool inter­view.

From Alina Ladyzhensky

Shit, this was the most inspir­ing thing I’ve read in a long time.

I often for­get why I write. It’s not to pad a C.V or have some­thing to use as ammu­ni­tion at Thanks­giv­ing when rel­a­tives say, “Well, aren’t you sor­ry you were an Eng­lish major?” or for affir­ma­tion of any kind. It’s much pur­er than that. This inter­view brought me back to that feel­ing, syrupy as it may sound. 

Late­ly, I can’t even look at a note­book with­out cring­ing. Too much talk about read­ing and writ­ing, too much analy­sis and expec­ta­tion, too much wait­ing for the words to come. Learn­ing is impor­tant, but liv­ing is.. well, Graham/George Clooney said it best up there.

While we’re on the sub­ject of badass­es, this remind­ed me of some­thing Buk said: “There is a time to stop read­ing, there is a time to stop try­ing to write, there is a time to kick the whole bloat­ed sen­sa­tion of art out on its whore-ass.”

From barry

thanks for the com­ments folks

From Carrie Capili

I’m com­plete­ly enam­ored with this inter­view. I just pur­chased the chap­book and can’t wait to read it. Ben — I think you did a great job with some real­ly insight­ful ques­tions here. 

I have to say I love Bar­ry Graham’s response to the last ques­tion. It was even rip­ping my heart out as I read it. All those emo­tions that writ­ers go through are so intense and there’s nev­er a point where you’re going to feel like you did your absolute best. There’s always this hor­ri­ble cycle of revi­sion and ques­tion­ing. So much so that we can bare­ly admit that we’re writ­ers. Why is it so hard to own that term? 

From ak

holy f. this might be my truest truest shit. thanks for a real­ly invig­o­rat­ing read.

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