Our Spring 2022 Flash Fiction Contest will be judged by Madeline Anthes, who brings a wealth of experience to the position. She has written two flash chapbooks, won Barren Magazine’s 2020 Flash Fiction Award and has been writing and editing flash fiction for years. When I joined Twitter in 2018, I began by following editors of the lit journals I was reading and Madeline was Acquisitions Editor for Hypertrophic Literary. In 2019, she moved on to Lost Balloon where she has been Assistant Editor ever since. Along the way, she also became a mother. Madeline doesn't know this but my wife often says she considers Madeline a good friend – they've never met but my wife loves Madeline's social media posts about her experiences as a young mother.
Earlier this month I conducted an interview with Maddie via email. Her responses show such wisdom & experience that anyone thinking of submitting to Five South's Spring 2022 Flash Fiction Prize would be wise to study her words carefully.
What makes an excellent flash piece?
An excellent flash piece carries emotional resonance that lingers with the reader long after they’ve put the story down. Yet, it doesn’t feel manipulative in how it creates that emotion – there’s a subtlety to the way the story unfolds and the emotion it creates, and the reader isn’t bashed over the head by it. It’s the difference between planting a seed in the reader, watering it, and allowing it to flourish versus throwing a bouquet of flowers at their head. The flowers may be lovely but are obvious from the start and die quickly. The reader feels assaulted with emotion, and it feels unearned. The garden blooms into what it will in its own time and has the potential to linger long after.
This is hard to achieve in a story under 1,000 words when you consider pacing, dialogue, the feeling of completeness, etc. That’s why flash is so hard.
What are the best flash pieces you have written?
I don’t know if these are my best, but they’re some of my favorites. Love Scream came out in Cheap Pop in 2021, and Beautiful, Violent Things came out in matchbook in 2020. I tried to play with pacing and form in each of these, and I was really happy with the results and with the reception they each got.
Many stories in your chapbook, Beautiful, Violent Things, deal with the theme of death – birth too, though often in a melancholy way. But when I look at your Twitter feed, I often see an abundance of joy and love. Does writing about darker topics work as therapy, so you can enjoy life’s more positive aspects?
Well, first off, therapy is my therapy!
I think that people and the human experience are complex and complicated, and writing allows us to explore this. We are not all one thing; we’re shards of many, many things. I think I am a joyful, loving person, and I’ve also had my share of hardships. I don’t think writing is an outlet for a darker side so I can remain positive in “real life”; I think more accurately my writing is a reflection of how people can be many things all at once. Sometimes those things may seem at odds – like beauty and violence, for instance – but our opposing traits aren’t always mutually exclusive. I have strange interests and dark moods and am loving and a great partner and mother all at once.
The internet is good at stripping away complexity, and thus, anyone’s Twitter feed may look one way, but remember that it’s never the full picture about who someone is. The people behind the keyboards are complex, and I try to build characters who contain these many opposing, complex multitudes.
Congratulations on your recent announcement that you are expecting your second child later this year. How has your writing changed since becoming a mother?
I think the experience of motherhood has expanded my capacity for empathy and forgiveness, and I try to bring this to my writing. I felt like the most basic, almost feral, version of a human in those early savage days of motherhood – when eating, sleeping and drinking is the purpose of every day – and I’ve been really proud of my growth in the time since then. I’ve learned to shift the pieces of my identity to welcome the role of motherhood without feeling as though I’ve compromised the other pieces of my identity – it was challenging and came with a lot of self-reflection, self-forgiveness, and support.
Parenthood is so hard, and makes you feel everything in extremes. I’ve experienced new emotions, challenges, and triumphs. It’s made me empathetic to other people’s struggles, and I am much more forgiving of others and myself.
It’s also made me totally soft and I cry a lot more when writing and reading, so there’s that.
Do you have any tips for time management, especially for moms who struggle with finding time to write?
I wish! I feel like answering this implies that I have figured out some trick to finding writing time, and I haven’t. I haven’t figured it out. I’m just doing my best.
But I will say that I have worked at realistic expectations for what I “should” be doing, and that starts with identifying the reasons I’m not writing. Am I not writing because I’m busy with family, work, and teaching? OK, maybe this isn’t the season in which I’m meant to write a lot.
Or am I not writing because I feel guilty that I “should” be doing something else? I’ve learned to throw that guilt out and write. Ask for help. Surround yourself with people who will help you guard your time. My partner values my writing as much as I do, and he helps me guard my writing time. I know that it is a privilege to have a partner like mine who is my equal partner in life and in childcare. I know that childcare is a struggle for many. That’s real.
Time is what it is; it’s there or it isn’t. If the time is not there because you have a life outside of your writing, you don’t have sustainable childcare, or you have other needs that take precedence, forgive yourself and know that writing isn’t going anywhere. That season will come. If the time isn’t there because you’re doing too much, start saying no. If the time is there and you’re not using it, then look at what you’re doing instead, decide what you need right now to feel happy – if that’s writing, then set some boundaries to get it done.
What’s next for you, in terms of your writing?
I am finishing up the final draft of my novel that I’ve been working on for approximately one thousand years. I am hoping to have it done in the next three months and then start querying agents. In between those edits and reading for Lost Balloon, I’ll probably keep writing tiny dark flashes (when I find the time).