Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans


Tuesday Flash Focus: Say We Met Jeff Landon When We Were Wondering About Flash

At my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I told Pamela Painter I wanted to write flash fiction and write it as well as I could. I'd read her The Long and Short of It, and knew I'd found a master that I'd gladly latch onto and suck dry of all her insights. Her first piece of advice was that I should get Sherrie Flick's I Call This Flirting from Flume Press and that I should subscribe to Quick Fiction. In Sherrie's award-winning chapbook I found piece after piece of such intense focus on finding the right word as container for emotion & meaning & desire & character & so much more, and in Quick Fiction #7, I discovered Jeffrey Landon's "Flying." 

Say we met, say we met in Virginia and it was snowing in the mountains, and we were standing at the top of a steep hill with a toboggan in my hands, a blue toboggan, and say we were laughing, a little high from your brother's pot, holding on to each other with mittened hands. We could huddle around a tiny bonfire with hot chocolate in one thermos and hot buttered rum in the other, and puff the night air with our words and your cigarette smoke. We would be the tallest people on the top of the hill, the grown-ups, and behind us, over an iced ridge of pine trees, a Chevron sign would glow neon red and blue, and you'd shiver and take off your stocking cap to shake out the ice from your hair. We would face each other on the blue toboggan, side by side, and listen to the way a small town feels after the first real snow in years. And let's say we're laughing and new to each other--let's forget about all the years and the quiet distance.

Our coats crinkle when we move, and right before takeoff you loop your arms around me and we're flying, flying down a hill on a blue toboggan. Stars pour down on pine trees and snow, and I can feel your smile on my neck, a crooked smile, and we slide down that hill and near the end of our ride we kiss each other hard, kiss like teenagers in someone's dark basement, with our bodies pressed together, and we look like one large person, a lumpy one, flying down a hill that is steeper than any hill we ever imagined, back then.

Before reading "Flying," I wondered if the "big ideas" I had inside me could be contained within such a condensed form. Landon's story made me realize (1) that big ideas don't drive flash narratives into existence (characters and their desires do) and (2) that lasting, powerful emotions and ideas could come out of these compressed, urgent stories. I remember wanting to write like Jeff Landon, realizing I never would quite get there, and that being okay, then realizing later it was a silly thing to want to write like, or be as good as, someone else, but that first desire to be like Jeff drove my first flash narratives into existence, to fly as Jeff did in that first Quick Fiction tale I returned to again and again.

Later in my MFA, when it came time to write my critical thesis, I wrote about "tragic urgency in the short short" and went back to "Flying" to find these thoughts:

Landon's decision to begin the story in the hypothetical world--the world that never was but might have been--imbues the piece with that sense of loss. As in Frost's "Road Not Taken," the idea of human limitation--of having to live with what is but be haunted by what might have been--provides a tragic background for the events. That possibility--of becoming one large person if only--creates the tension in the piece, the gain that's offset by the loss, that none of that happened. The image of the ride recalls tragic theoretician and critic Normand Berlin's The Secret Cause  and its insight into American tragedy, "connected with a journey of escape, of going away from...restrictions...from the evil and brutality of the world, only to meet and be wounded by it" (153). In such a world, we confront a tragic truth of our existence--"of escape leading to no escape, of freedom leading to restriction" so that the "ride itself becomes the meaning of life; to ride is to affirm oneself" (159). Landon's characters ride toward a freedom impossible ever to grasp, and that the kissed lips don't exist add to the poignant complexity of the ride. They will never be "one person." The storied ride that promised freedom instead reminds us of what will never be, of the limitations of our ability to recover what is essentially unrecoverable. The gain is offset by a loss.

Of course, that analysis focused on discovering the tragic in "Flying" transforms Landon's work into something else, something other than what it is and might be, but maybe that's part of its greatness, this ability to give to readers what they are looking to find within it. 

If you'd like to apply something of this tragic sense to your own story, you could try beginning the piece with a character's obsessive desire to obtain something--an object, an understanding, a feeling, etc. As the character moves toward that "gain," show how something equally important is being lost. In such a world, each positive motivation--freedom, life-affirmation, integrity, and the like--carries with it the possibility of tremendous loss. It is much like my trying to write like Jeff Landon, each positive thrust toward that end a reminder of what might be lost by such a push, and yet, we all beat on, don't we, fingers pushing against our keyboards, with and against those who have come before, the task both harder and more exhilarating than we ever imagined.

"Flying" appears here courtesy of the ever-generous Jeff Landon.


From S.V. Patrick

Nice post Ran­dall and I love this sto­ry by Lan­don that I’ve nev­er seen before. I won­der though, too, do you think it’s Landon’s great atten­tion to detail that also makes this sto­ry work so well and stay in your mind? I think it was James Wood of The New York­er who men­tioned on NPR recent­ly that con­crete details real­ly do make the very short sto­ry work and I won­der if this isn’t such a good exam­ple of that. 

From Randall Brown

True, S.V. Details take on a kind of super­nat­ur­al won­der here, as if their clar­i­ty and real­i­ty give them a blur­ry unre­al­i­ty. Or some­thing akin to that. I’m not express­ing it well. To read this sto­ry as “trag­ic” is not to read it as oth­er things it also is. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *