Dinah Cox shares her thoughts on flash-prose. Check out her Flash-Contest Honorable Mention story here.
William Ruof: What exactly about the flash prose genre appeals to you? How do you find that it changes your writing style?
Dinah Cox: I like the energy and intensity in very short fiction pieces—they’re like the toy surprises at the bottom of the cereal box, though I’d like, one day, to write something more like the entire grocery store. I’ve read on more than one occasion that the blurring of generic boundaries means there’s no difference between the short-short, the flash fiction piece, and the prose poem, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say I’ve written in all three genres (the short-short, the flash-fiction piece, and the prose poem) and each one has its own distinct attributes. The short-short is more like a joke; without a punch line at the end you can forget it. The flash fiction piece has, as a goal, more emotional intensity than the short-short, and the prose poem, where each sentence is at once more compressed and more expansive, is the highest form of the three, the one chance we prose writers have to aspire to something greater.
WR: You chose to include a lot of dialogue in your story. Did you find yourself having to cut back on your story to meet the 500-word maximum?
DC: I wrote this piece after a fairly long period of not having written anything at all. I don’t remember having to cut anything in particular, but often I remember the writing process as much more effortless than it actually was.
WR: One of the housemates in your story is from Buffalo. I have to ask, being a Buffalonian myself, do you have any ties to the city, or was it just a random choice? How is setting important to you as a writer?
DC: In my story, the housemate from Buffalo brings home a pizza but refuses to share it with everyone else. When I was an undergraduate, I had a housemate from Buffalo who was generous to a fault with her pizza and with everything else. She grew up to be a volleyball coach at the college level. This particular short piece is set in a bookstore because I’d just read something dumb about social media as the twenty-first century bookstore; I’d just had an electronic exchange with an old friend, and I started to imagine how much better and more meaningful that exchange might have been had we met in a bookstore instead. Many of my stories are set in Oklahoma, where I’m from.
WR: If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
DC: The best advice is the oldest and most oft-repeated advice: read everything. Whenever you’re not reading, write. Whenever you’re not reading or writing, think about the next time you’re going to read or write, and make sure, if you can, that time comes sooner rather than later. Seek advice from more experienced writers; listen to them when they tell you about your shortcomings, even and maybe especially when it’s painful to do so. Overcome your shortcomings. Continue to read and write.
WR: You use first person really well here. Why did you choose to write this piece in first person instead of second or third?
DC: At the outset, the narrator felt like a franker version of myself. I was thinking of an old friend—wishing her well—and, though I haven’t seen her in almost twenty years, I wanted to write about what it might feel like to meet her again. The third person felt too distant—I didn’t even consider it. Neither did I consider the second person; I’ve written only a small handful of stories in the second person, and that’s probably enough for the rest of my life.