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Flash Interview: Elizabeth Ellen Answers To Alina

IMG_6058.JPGEliz­a­beth Ellen is the author of Before You She Was A Pit Bull (Future Tense) and Six­teen Miles Out­side of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press). She is edi­tor of Short Flight/Long Drive Books and lives in Ann Arbor where she runs the Great Lakes, Great Times Read­ing Series. For the record, she doesn’t have a prob­lem with 99% of the peo­ple who write flash fic­tion.

At which point do you know what shape a par­tic­u­lar work will take–that is, “This one’s gonna be a poem,” etc.?

Oh, pretty much right away. You just feel the length of it, I guess. How long it’s going to take you to say what you need to say. 

How did you become involved with flash fic­tion? What attracts you to the form? 

Well, it was the first form I pub­lished in, the first form I read online. And it lends itself very well to online fic­tion, which I’m a big fan of. I like the imme­di­acy of it. I’m more likely to write some­thing fast and not over think or over edit it in this form. For bet­ter or worse. So maybe, for me at least, it’s the least self-con­scious form of writ­ing. The most hon­est and raw. 

Gen­er­ally, how do titles come to you? 

Some­times a word will do and some­times you want some­thing catch­ier, a long phrase. I hon­estly have no idea. Though I think I usu­ally come up with the title last, after I’ve com­pleted the piece. 

Can you describe your work as edi­tor of Hobart’s Short Flight/Long Drive book series?

Well, I feel a great sense of grat­i­tude and pride and excite­ment about the books we’ve pub­lished so far (Michelle Orange’s The Sicily Papers, Mary Miller’s Big World, and Adam Novy’s Avian Gospels). They’re all three so dif­fer­ent and yet so amaz­ing. And I’m just so happy their authors allowed us to pub­lish them. 

What’s the last work you read that totally blew your mind? 

Oh, that’s easy. “I Look Divine” by Christo­pher Coe. It’s eas­ily the one book I can’t get out of my mind or stop read­ing. it’s per­fec­tion. every word. and I owe matt bell for turn­ing me onto it. If I could write a book like this, I would die a happy woman. IF

In the spirit of brevity: In ten words or less, what com­pels you to write?

Neces­sity, ego, anger, pride, and the desire to make things right that I’ve wronged. 

Given the con­fes­sional, raw nature of many of your pieces–how often do you read your work aloud to an audi­ence? Can you describe what that’s like? 

Oh, well, until recently, I’ve hated doing read­ings. I owe the read­ing series Quick­ies! in Chicago for help­ing to change that. Though my reluc­tance was never about the nature of my work but about my inse­cu­ri­ties about being the cen­ter of atten­tion. I don’t even like walk­ing to the bath­room in a bar most nights. But a cou­ple shots of bour­bon (and an awe­some crowd like the ones at Quick­ies!) helps. 

Since you men­tioned bars… This is really cheesy, but I’m curi­ous: Pick three writ­ers (liv­ing or dead) whom you want to have a drink with. Who are they & why (and for the fun of it, what are you drink­ing?)

Oh, geez. Three? Wow. Okay… I feel like in answer­ing ques­tions like this, the more obscure the answer the bet­ter, but I’m going to have to go with the obvi­ous and say Dorothy Parker, F. Scott (hop­ing he brings Zelda), and Hem­ing­way because they’re all leg­endary writ­ers and drinkers, or maybe drinkers and writ­ers. And bour­bon, hop­ing to impress. 

On to another fun topic: What’s the most dif­fi­cult part of writ­ing about sex? The most enjoy­able?

Well, I sup­pose the dif­fi­cult part is try­ing not to be cheesy about it. But mostly I just find it enjoy­able. Sex is always inter­est­ing to me. How dif­fer­ent peo­ple approach it, if they’re bored or ashamed or brag­gartly about it. And if they don’t address it, too, that’s even more curi­ous, I think. 

I keep run­ning into this blunt, fierce, won­der­fully open female nar­ra­tor and/or char­ac­ter in your work. Is she any­thing like you? If so, do you worry about expos­ing too much of your­self in your work, or do you rel­ish it?

Ha. Well, “blunt” and “fierce” are won­der­ful adjec­tives, thank you, So I’d like to think that describes me as well as my char­ac­ters. That said, I don’t worry about expos­ing too much of myself, no. For me, the whole point of writ­ing is to exam­ine my thoughts and to work through them on the page.

And on that note, do you con­sider ‘con­fes­sional’ writ­ing to be a dirty word? It seems like so many writ­ers and poets don’t want that label any­where near their work, even if it’s what they’re doing. 

Oh, I don’t mind it. Though I’d argue all writ­ing is con­fes­sional, to some extent, don’t you think? What other rea­son is there for pick­ing up a pen or tap­ping on a key­board? If not to hear your­self think. 

About the Author

Alina.jpgAlina Ladyzhen­sky lives in South Philadel­phia, by way of Moscow. Her pre­oc­cu­pa­tions include read­ing, writ­ing, and drink­ing mid­dle shelf whiskey–sometimes, all at the same time. She’ll earn an MA in Pub­lish­ing from Rose­mont Col­lege in 2011, if she can man­age to sit still long enough.

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From Michelle Reale

Great interview—I love Ellen’s work so this peek into her process is a treat. Nice job, Alina.

From Alina L.

Thanks, Michelle! I’m self­ishly hop­ing that the winds of flash fic­tion fate bring EE to Philly; I’d love to hear her read.

From Katie Baker

I really loved Ellen’s answer to why she writes. I also really like how she says that flash fic­tion is the “least self-con­cious form of writ­ing, the most hon­est and raw.” I def­i­nitely feel this way when I write any piece of flash.

From Alina L.

Couldn’t agree more, Katie. I’ve really come to appre­ci­ate flash’s impa­tience, of sorts, how it gets me to spit out what I really want to say before I get caught up in writ­ing my way around it. Flash stands in front of me with hands on hips, demand­ing, “Out with it.” 

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