by April Bradley
The first piece of fiction I wrote was supposed to be in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words, but I ended up with 218. I labored over those few words and loved how the careful attention to that moment opened up a world, but I had no idea what to do with it. Who’d publish such a small thing or read it the way I did? I’d never heard of flash, had little familiarity with short fiction or literary magazines, had no training or academic experience in creative writing, didn’t know any other writers. It felt like I had failed because I was supposed to be writing a novel. I abandoned that unintentional piece of flash on my hard drive. That was in 2007.
This was during my mid-thirties when I read even more than usual, feasted on fiction and craft after the house was asleep, or in parking lots of elementary and middle schools, at libraries, doctor offices, the town green, and I did not write. That half-decade hosted an inferno of events and living that converged into a calm focus by the time forty came around.
By the time I was 36, my son and I survived a high-risk pregnancy and birth; I left a graduate program and dropped out of law school; my career was derailed by multiple episodes of blood clots in my legs, lungs, and brain; my spouse and I divorced. I agreed to co-parent my child with my ex-spouse in the same home and to mother full time. I should have been writing. I wanted to write, but coaxing the words to line up into a coherent, immersive story with evocative, vivid characters seemed impossible. I wrote around story; I didn’t create it.
For years supportive friends and family encouraged me, saying things like just sit down and write, keep a journal, free write, take a class, find your tribe, write, write, write. Keep in mind that an intense life was plowing right along; the topic of my creative writing didn’t come up all that often. Peter, my son’s father, and my grandmother were the most persistent.
Peter, also a writer and narrative theorist, knew I’d have to work for it and thought I was wasting precious time; my grandmother was firmly in the sit-down-and-write-a-masterpiece camp. I had outlines, plot ideas, research, and character sketches that obtained a great deal of length, but no life, and certainly no sense of story.
Those years were vital for me to read and re-read and study, turn my thinking around from theory and criticism to creation. Finally, when I was nearly forty-two I started writing what would be my first—and first published—pair of short stories. They too started off first unintentionally as flash. I wrote a vivid moment, put it away and came back to it a couple of months later and developed it into a story of more length and arc. At that time, I had a vague idea about flash that at best could be described as “I think it’s short short fiction.”
I wrote at least sixty drafts of a story over a five-month period, pushing myself to learn with it, and length is difficult for me. My naiveté with literary journals became obvious. After Glimmer Train declined to publish it, I sent it to two others, one of which was Bartleby Snopes. They told me that I had two stories in play, neither of which resolved the conflict of the other. They were right. The two shorter, revised stories immediately found homes at Dew On The Kudzu and Thrice Fiction.
As I acquired more familiarity with literary magazines and worked for one, I gained more exposure to flash. Discovering flash was like discovering a genre no one had ever mentioned. It was more than a miniature short story. Imagine if fiction or poetry were suddenly revealed to exist—that’s how wonderful and dazzling flash was to me. Yet, it was also familiar.
Flash is the medium I gravitate to out of a creative instinct, but it is no less difficult an art form. It intrigues me as a creator and as a philosopher. Narrative time in flash is uniquely experienced and expressed, and this feature of flash is particularly compelling. There is a dissonance in how long it takes to read a piece of flash, how it is portrayed in time through physical space in story time, and how long time and emotion resonate with the reader. The various elements of flash each influence the way time is re-ordered internally and externally.
Flash is similar in some aspects to many familiar forms of narrative, but it owns itself. After I started writing and publishing longer form stories and gained more confidence in my writing, enough confidence to write spontaneously, experiment with structure and form, emotion and content—I wrote more and more flash. Then, I sought guidance and studied with some of the masters of the forms: Kathy Fish, Gay Degani, and Nancy Stohlman. My education is by no means over.
These days, I have more story than time. There are flash projects in the works; I belong to a fantastic writing group, and I have been working on a flash novel-in-progress that suspiciously resembles a novel. Besides writing, the best thing about flash is the vibrant community of writers who shape and create it.
I found that original piece of flash, rewrote it entirely, and it didn’t work at all. In its original form with a bit of refinement, I submitted it Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal. They published and nominated it for a Best Of The Net Award.
April Bradley is from Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Frontier, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Magazine, Narratively, Pure Slush 5, and Thrice Fiction, among others. She is the Associate Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find her at aprilbradley.net.