The 2017 anthology Flash Fiction Festival, One published by Ad Hoc Fiction is power packed into a tiny package. These seventy-four works of micro-fiction, all under 250 words, showcase the work of a vital community made up of publishers, readers, writers, and lovers of flash fiction. The work comes from or was inspired by lectures and prompts discussed at the first literary festival entirely dedicated to flash fiction held in Bath last June.
Just like flash fiction at work, where much of the story is set in the implied, the anthology is an iceberg of what happened at the festival. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The life of those stories goes beyond their words and also suggests the thriving energy present at the festival, the communion, the growth.
There is a meta-writing element to reading this collection. I found it impossible to read without thinking about what prompt the work came from. What ideas were they focusing on? What seeds do the 250 words plant? Considering them together became another thought experiment. As a specific reader, what makes some of these work for me and where do some come up short? What makes a great first sentence? What’s a perfectly landed ending versus one that feels like a trick? This is certainly a personal decision, and all of us reading it would come up with disparate opinions, but I found as endless a potential in thinking about the craft as I found classical enjoyment of escaping into fiction. Thinking of it this way puts this collection on my personal list of mandatory reads for the study of flash. My list includes the following additional works: All of the Best Small Fiction collections by Braddock Avenue Books. Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction by Rose Metal Press. SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years 2003-2013 by Matter Press. Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories edited by Thomas, Thomas, and Hazuka. Brevity & Echo edited by Beckel and Rooney. A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction by Randall Brown and Matter Press.
Here are some of my favorite lines and moments of the collection:
One of my favorite endings and an ability to carry a backstory we don’t need to know was Anne Summerfield’s ‘Make Do and Mend.’ “Afterwards the neighbors will say they never knew. For a broken widow weary from greed and hopelessness and air raids every night might brew foxglove or nightshade into a sleeping draught from which she never intends to wake.” (p. 4)
One of my favorite stories was ‘Moss’ by Alex Reece Abbott. She kicks off with the quote, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” and converts it into a whole new story and image. “She wanted to gather moss, bed in it like a nesting blackbird or rook. She wanted to stroke and admire the sporophytes, protonemas, gametophytes. Rhizoids. Seta and sporangium. Operculum, calyptra and gemmae. The peristome. Moss in all of its primitive, minute, leafless beauty.” (p. 9)
Helen Rye with a perfect opener to ‘Aerial.’ “This place, we’ve lived in, you and me, its walls are saturated, warped with words we flung that missed their mark, the windows foxed from sheltering our special kind of tightly-knit unhappiness.” (p.21) Damn.
Tania Hershman’s ‘Hold The Baby’ had one of my favorite open/close combinations. First the open: “They said she had to hold the baby so she held the baby even though she had no notion why she held it, him or her.” And then the close: “Some time had passed, maybe minutes, and then she wanted to drop the baby. Not hard, not on the floor, just not to hold it any more.” (p. 81)