Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge

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January 31, 2011


Potomac Review’s Morgan Moyer virtually sits down with Kirk Nesset.

M: Do you start out, usually, intending to write a flash fiction piece?  When and how do you know that what you’re working on will be flash?

KN: Lately, actually, it seems like I’m always starting out thinking I’m writing flash fiction.  It’s less ponderous, less daunting, in terms of build-up, or planning.  How awful can writing two or three pages be?  Thirty or forty pages later, I’ll finally finish, pleased but bemused to see all it gained on its own, almost in spite of me and what I hoped to achieve.  The flash format in cases like these is a spur, or a trigger.  A trick to get the writer writing, thinking it won’t be such a big deal.  Which isn’t to say the tiny tales aren’t big deals, and often hard to deliver.  I spent three weeks working on “I’m Not Camille,” the title piece in my new manuscript of stories—a story barely four pages long.  It fought me every step of the way.

M: What elements make up a good flash fiction piece, in your opinion?

KN: Brevity is essential, naturally.  Which involves concision, compression, compactness, accelerated pacing, economy in delivery on all levels.  Beyond and above and because of all this, we wind up with impact, and depth, especially in closing; we find the kind of universality one expects in a poem.

M: Do you have any advice for flash fiction writers?

KN: Write less, I would say, and read more.  Read all the great works you can get your hands on, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf — and after, and before.  Read Norton’s collections of flash and sudden fictions over and over.  Study the pieces you like best, or find useful as models, with the attention of a jeweler examining texture and color in gems, and placement and setting.  When you do write, revise your piece mercilessly.  Seventy or eighty drafts are just the beginning.

M: Where do you see flash fiction going in the near and far future?

KN: That’s a tough question.  In the near future, the profusion of mediocre micro tales will keep crowding the net.  Farther down the road, flash fiction will help to save literature, I think.  It’ll keep people reading—on their phones, on their pads, and in their heads, where much of what we know, or can know, or experience, will finally be downloadable, and downloaded.




Kirk Nesset is author of Paradise Road, Mr. Agreeable, and Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, others, and most recently The Potomac Review issue 48.