Tom DeMarchi teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. When not teaching or sleeping, he’s directing the Sanibel Island Writers Conference.
Years as a Writer: Started keeping a daily journal in 1988.
First publication: a record review in my college lit journal (1991).
First non-crony publication: flash story–one of the first I ever wrote–in the Miami Herald (1996).
Years Writing Flash: 16
Years Teaching Writing: 16
Years Teaching Flash: 10
What do you feel are the main advantages and disadvantages of writing in the flash form?
Disadvantage: other than the obvious length constraints that prevent a highly developed and intricate plot with multiple characters & scenes, I can’t think of any.
How do you continually invent new story ideas?
Writing every day. Reading everything I can get my hands on. Staring at things like an idiot.
How strong do you think the story arc needs to be in a flash? And how resolute the ending?
As with a narrative of any length, arc & resolution should develop organically (or at least appear to develop organically) in service of the story. I hate to speak in generalities, but in general a flash story should be a surgical strike—in and out quickly, delivering maximum payload. This is not to say that the geometry of the story is the linear shortest distance between two points. There can be peaks & valleys & full circles & associative leaps. In theory flash should be able to accommodate any kind of narrative, but as I say above, the length constraints would make it very challenging for someone—(read: me)—o develop something as complex and unambiguously resolved as a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The flash form requires such compression of language that the story should show and suggest as much as it can without explanation. At its best, the flash form can give a reader a sense that something profound has happened in a very short time, that the characters are in the midst of an emotionally charged situation and have risked something of value, and that the characters are somehow transformed as a result of the experience—as often happens in life at pivotal moments. This is a very traditional way of looking at narrative, I know. I enjoy stories that stretch beyond ambiguity into absurdity, that play language games and speak in code, but I rarely feel more alive after reading such stories. Mostly I get a headache.
Much flash is published on the Internet. Do you think this adds to, or detracts from, the field of flash fiction? In what ways?
It adds by giving people more places to read & publish flash fictions.
It detracts for the same reason. Like anything on the Internet, it’s oftentimes difficult to sift through the worst to get to the best. Over time it’s a skill that develops almost unconsciously. Like, remember when you first joined Facebook and read everyone’s updates with interest? After a while you started scanning, looking for something that grabbed your attention. Now you know whose posts are thoughtful & interesting and whose are basically narcissistic and mundane. If you put in the time you can find the good stuff and you can learn what to avoid by reading the bad stuff. It’s interesting how many people want to skip the apprenticeship and publish straightaway. The Internet feeds that impulse, just as it feeds the impulse for someone with no musical training whatsoever to pick up a guitar, strum a few random notes into a soundcard, and post it on the Internet alongside The Beatles as if to say, “We’re all musicians.” Sorry, no you’re not. It takes years to develop your craft. So maybe people don’t skip their apprenticeship. The problem is instead of woodshedding, a lot of people broadcast their apprenticeship online.
What do you think is the future for flash?
Wide open. And not just because our attention is more divided and so it makes sense that people would be drawn to shorter writings. That IS part of it, but not everything. With flash it’s depth, not length. We’re all distracted and divided and overwhelmed by the volume of available information, which is why it’s necessary to slow down and engage with works of art that make us feel deeply. Flash, when executed well, can provide that experience very quickly but in a way that lingers long after we’ve linked to a new page or put away the book. That sounds so lofty, but I believe it. I’ve seen it happen with my students who read & write flash.
FF.Net Author’s Note
Indigo Phoenix is a novelist for tweens, teens, and new adults. She moderates the Flash Dance and Tweens & Teens forums at Writers’ Village University while pursuing her MFA degree at Rosemont College.