The Art of Flashing

The editors of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Dr. Peter Blair and Dr. Ashley Chantler, tell us how short-shorts can be complex, how small stories can be big, and why they chose a 360-word limit for their flashes.

What was the genesis of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine?

We decided that it was important for there to be an international literary periodical that published quality short-short stories and reviews of new short-short story anthologies and collections.

How did you pick the 360-word limit? Why not 1,000 words, or, say, 100?

We feel that this length is just right: long enough to be complex and interesting, but short enough to be distinct from the longer short story. We also chose this limit because it alludes to the 360 degrees of the circle and compass, and so reflects our ambition to publish stories told from all angles and by writers from all points of the compass.

What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve published?

Blimey! How much space do we have? We’ve published seven issues, the first in October 2008, and are editing the eighth (April 2012), and in each issue there are numerous favourites. Our website includes two sample stories from each issue–these aren’t necessarily favourites, but they are stories we particularly like. At some point, we’ll publish our favourites as an anthology, so watch this space:

You’ve published a number of name authors, such as Lydia Davis and Margaret Atwood. How did you get them to write pieces for you?

Some we wrote to, inviting them to contribute; some contacted us out of the blue after hearing about the magazine; some have been featured in our “Flash Presents” section, which reprints stories from published collections and anthologies; some were reviewed in our “Flash Reviews” section.

You list a number of terms for flash fiction on your site—microfiction, drabbles, short shorts, postcard fiction, etc. It’s interesting that there isn’t one accepted word for the shorter side of fiction. What’s your favorite term (other than “flash”) and why?

Given our word limit, after “flash” we prefer “short-short stories.” It has the advantage of being less restrictive than some of the other terms (“drabbles,” for example, are exactly 100 words).

What do you think small pieces can accomplish that longer ones can’t?

Nothing, except perhaps a quick fiction fix.

Do you think small pieces can be large?

Yes. To adapt Paul Theroux, a flash can contain a novel (see Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories, ed. Robert Shapard and James Thomas (Gibbs Smith, 1986)). More recently, Robert Swartwood defined “hint fiction” as “a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story” (see Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer, ed. Robert Swartwood (Norton, 2011)).

What’s your take on the growth of flash fiction?

The flash explosion occurred in the USA in the 1980s. Quite why, no one is really sure. (See the “Afterwords” section in Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories.) The Internet certainly stokes the fire.

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