Welcome back to The Burning Hearth. June is a big month for me for many reasons. First, it’s my birthday month. Second, due to a journal posting late, I landed a hat trick of publications. When you have the time, please click here to read “A Paranormal Dialogue” at Janus Literary, here to read “Melting Ice” at Bending Genres, and here to read “Whose Nightmare Is It” at Rejection Letters. I am so honored to have pieces in each of these journals. Third, and perhaps the most exciting, is that the venerable Meg Pokrass agreed to an interview with The Burning Hearth.
It doesn’t take one long upon entering the world of flash writing to recognize the ubiquity of Meg Pokrass. It takes even less time to realize why she is everywhere. She is a juggernaut of sorts among her peers. Her dedication to the genre is evident in her published works (they are many), both as a solo writer and those pieces she has written in collaboration. Her love of writing, and her enthusiasm for passing that love on, is evident in her teaching. Click here to visit her website to get a list of published works, upcoming classes and some writing tips.
I first became aware of Meg in the fall of 2020 when I was published in New Flash Fiction Review, the journal she founded. I have since cyber-met her while taking one of her Flash Gym classes. Curious about how writing had come to play such an important role in her life and about her latest book “Spinning to Mars,” (available June 19, 2021, Blue Light Press), I invited her to The Burning Hearth for an interview. I am thrilled she agreed; and, I’m delighted to say she will be back in November for a more in depth, In Conversation interview.
The Burning Hearth’s Interview with Meg Pokrass
“See, every life is a journey and every chapter is interesting.” -Zeenat Awam
1.) As you are aware, and many of my readers are, I am now a fiction editor at the journal you founded, New Flash Fiction Review. What is the story behind your creation of New Flash Fiction Review.
When NFFR was founded, back in 2014, there weren’t many journals around that were publishing flash fiction. New Flash Fiction Review was founded for lovers and writers of the form for this reason. I cut my editing teeth while working as an editor for Smokelong Quarterly and for Frederick Barthelme’s New World Writing.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.
2.) In Michael Martone’s review of your book “Spinning to Mars” he describes you as “A supreme maker of micros.” What made you decide to become a writer? What attracts you to flash over longer forms of writing?
Before writing it was acting. When I was a child I studied acting and went to a drama conservatory instead of college. My two sisters also studied acting, and my older sister was a film actor. So the creative arts are in my family. Perhaps this is why having a form of self-expression has always felt essential to me. When I don’t have some kind of self-expression in my life, I wither.
The reason I write small pieces is that I see the world in bursts. The form fits my way of being in the world. I couldn’t write longer stories (longer than 1300 words) if I tried. It’s just not the way my brain works.
“Exactness is not just fastidiousness but a component of clear thinking, a condition for theorizing, and a deterrent to barren controversy” -Mario Bunge
3.) I have had the pleasure of reading “Spinning to Mars” due out this month by Blue Light Press. “Spinning to Mars” is the winner of San Francisco’s Blue Light Book Award, and I’m sure more accolades will follow its release. Congratulations. When I was reading the reviews on your website, Sherrie Flick took the words right out of my mouth, and since she said them first, and they’re in print, I will quote her. Regarding “Spinning to Mars” she said, “This book will spin you off to Mars with its exacting language and biting insights.” I couldn’t agree more. Your writing seems to be a practice of pairing down. Of removing anything extraneous. How do you know in a piece of writing when you have paired just enough?
Thank you so much for the kind words about “Spinning to Mars” Constance! Microfiction is perfect for ‘slanted storytelling’ which means, not approaching very heavy subjects directly. The form rewards innovation, experimentation and surrealism because it doesn’t have to be sustained. The quality that I keep coming back to is that because of its intensity and compression, microfiction creates a feeling of intimate collaboration between reader and writer, a place that is both private and shared. To me, that place is magic.
“You can’t tell any kind of story without having some kind of a theme, something to say between the lines.” -Robert Wise
4.) Reading this book, and other flash pieces of yours, I’m struck by themes of loss, relocation, searching, accidentals, and animals. Speak for a moment on the themes you are compelled to write about and why.
I’m pretty old! And have had many losses, relocations, searches, accidents and animals. I’m a sentimental and emotional person. These experiences have stayed with me and would probably haunt my waking hours if I didn’t make use of the memories and experiences in fiction. I write as a way to create form from it all.
“A good life is like a weaving. Energy is created in the tension. The struggle, the pull and tug is everything.” -Joan Erikson
5.) Following Joan’s quote: a good story is like a weaving. How did you weave “Spinning to Mars” into a book?
The stories weren’t actually written to fall in any particular order and the stories in this collection were written over a decade. At some point I saw a form and shape for them and went searching for the stepping-stone stories in my archive. Once I determined that the pieces belonged together, the order became important. Putting something like this into a shape is an intuitive process and a difficult one. The idea was for them to create an emotional progression. Because the stories are not logically connected but feel necessary to the other, their placement in the manuscript mattered a lot.
“How luscious lies the pea within the pod.” – Author: Emily Dickinson
6.) You have collaborated on many pieces both with Aimee Parkison and Jeff Friedman. Recently, you and Rosie Garland announced that you have collaborated stories coming out this summer in Flash Frog Lit Mag and The Citron Review. Once again, congratulations. How do you do this? And, with different people? Do you have a strategy in collaborating that allows this process to be fruitful? Is their an alpha dog? Is it more important that your personalities match or your writing styles?
With each collaborator it has been a completely different process. This kind of writng is new for me, and it’s been the most amazing and incredible learning experience. But in a way, it also harkens back to my days in acting. Collaborative writing has some similarity to improvisational theatre — the spontaneity and the surprise of it. It kept me sane this last year, as well as productive and playful.
Two collaborative manuscripts have been accepted for publication. “Disappearing Debutantes”, written at the beginning of the pandemic with Aimee Parkison, is forthcoming from Outpost 19 in 2023! And a book of fabulist pieces co-written with Jeff Friedman (still untitled) is forthcoming from Pelekinesis in 2022. I am currently collaborating on a book of hybrid works with Rosie Garland.
MEG POKRASS’ flash fiction has been widely published and anthologized, most recently in 2 Norton Anthologies of flash fiction, The Best Small Fictions (2018, 2019), Best British & Irish Flash Fiction (2019, 2020), Wigleaf Top 50, Flash Nonfiction Funny (edited by Dinty Moore), Flash Fiction Funny, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies, Nothing Short of 100, and many hundreds of literary journals and international anthologies of flash. Her seventh collection of flash fiction, Spinning to Mars won the Blue Light Book Award in 2020. Recent writing has appeared in Washington Square Review, Electric Literature, Tupelo Quarterly, Waxwing, Five Points, American Journal of Poetry, Plume Poetry, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf, Split Lip and Jellyfish Review. Meg serves as Co-Founder of San Francisco’s Flash Fiction Collective Reading Series, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K, Founding Editor of New Flash Fiction Review, and Founding Co-Editor of the Best Microfiction anthology series. She resides in Northern England.
Calling all Flash writers! New Flash Fiction Review has a contest currently open through July 15, 2021. Visit the website for all the details.
Stay safe, stay well, and enjoy these early summer days!