On Writing: An Interview with Meg Pokrass

When the writer Dinty W. Moore recently asked on Facebook who comes to mind when one thinks of Flash Fiction writers, the name Meg Pokrass was near the top of the list. Meg appears to have an obsession with this form of fiction, which is often considered to be any story less than 1,000 words and is sometimes tagged as prose poems. Meg and I first crossed paths on fictionaut.com a few years ago, where flash is fairly popular genre. Her flash pieces called "The Serious Writer" had me cracking up. In addition to being published in over 150 journals, Meg often drives engaging conversations about flash fiction through her Facebook page. She has a sense of humor also, often referring to her alter-ego agent as Peg Mokrass. I wanted to interview Meg about her writing, her influences, and her thoughts on the genre itself. Meg lives in San Francisco and her latest collection, "Bird Envy", is available through the Harvard Bookstore. Jim: What’s your definition of flash fiction?
1378788_10204018533408357_4020769808589480367_nMeg: Honestly the answer to this question is boringly simple, so I'm going to have to make it boringly simple. It is a story which is under, 1,000 words. Some stories are more like prose poems, or could be called prose poems. Some are more narrative, and feel more like fiction. "Flash Fiction" is a broad label for short form writing. There are many different ways to write flash. But the universal understanding of it always boils down to a story under 1,000 words.

Jim: Why does the form appeal to you?

Meg: I have always found myself stuck on certain parts of longer writings, just hopelessly in love with sentences as much or more than reading an entire novel. When reading novels, I'll read a brilliant paragraph or page a hundred times. Sometimes I get stuck and can't move on. This is how I fell in love with the form. I find a huge world inside of small moments, and observations. I always have.

Jim: I'm enjoying "Bird Envy". These pieces are little gems where I can read one piece and savor it for a few hours, then read another piece. How do you recommend reading flash?

Meg frontCover-1 (final)Meg: I'm glad you enjoyed "Bird Envy" Jim. I recommend reading flash just the way it feels right to. For some people they prefer to digest a bit at a time. Others, it seems, need to read a book straight through and then reread certain pieces later. I feel that reading flash fiction is similar to reading poems. It is hard to take in too much at once. For me, if a book of flash is meaty, the way it should be.. like poetry, it is best to read bits at a time.... to put the book away and return to it later. I don't see any reason to read the pieces in order, though many authors would disagree. One of the nicest compliments about my writing I've received came from the poet Bob Hicok, who said he could open my book "Damn Sure Right" and start anywhere, that his eyes would get caught on words and sentences, and his mind would eagerly hop all over the pages (these were not his exact words, but that was the idea, and it meant the world to hear it).

Jim: You joked on Facebook recently about the flash fiction community being incestuous. Can you elaborate?

Meg: Hm. It is a sensitive and complicated matter. I was disturbed, about 4 years ago, starting out as an online flash fiction editor and writer, about elitism within the flash fiction community— how you always saw the same names in flash magazines, and how closed a community it felt. Because I was new to it and was getting published a lot, I encountered hostility from existing writers, there was a feeling of territorialism which I ran into deeply the more I was published. There were private virtual offices, and I was shut out of the most important flash feedback/writing group. At this point, I was developing doubts about being able to have my work published or read because of the shut-out. What seemed to bother my colleagues the most was that I was comfortable about the concept of promoting my own work. I felt I had to do so, having no advocates. I had to be my own agent, if you will. You have to understand, back then, if a flash writer, for ANY reason, got on the bad side of a flash fiction magazine editor, it could end your publishing career.

With that worry, I created a writing community on Facebook, in which I did the opposite of what was being shown to me by the insiders. I believe I helped to open up the genre to new writers of the form, bringing in anyone who wanted to try hard, giving them prompts and so forth. Not shutting people out. I have, along the way, developed a community with heart. I am very proud about learning from what happened to me and doing something to help change things, instead of being muted.

The good news is that, these days, instead of 7 flash fiction magazines in existence, there are hundreds. Nobody has this kind of power anymore. And though you still tend to see the same names, the same "cool writers" if you will, and "hip" magazines to be published in, it is a more open playing field. There has been progress.

Jim: In this world of short attention spans, do you think flash fiction is on the brink of finding a larger audience?

Meg: It seems to me that flash fiction publications are multiplying in droves. Even some of the stodgier, more traditional print magazines are accepting submissions for flash fiction. I do not believe its growing readership is the result of short attention spans so much as the mobile device revolution and how perfect the form is for an e-reading experience.

Jim: Where's it happening for flash fiction now?

Meg: Flash fiction is being taught in MFA programs and it appears to be gaining slow but steady recognition as one of the most vibrant current forms among academics. The reality of flash fiction’s internet explosion can no longer be denied, so writing students are naturally studying it. There was a great panel about teaching flash fiction in the classroom this year at AWP, 2014. The panel was created and moderated by Sophie Rosenblum, co-editor for NANO Fiction, and I felt so fortunate to attend it. Flash fiction is rapidly gaining popularity in academia. It is an amazing time to be involved in the form!

Jim: You are just starting the New Flash Fiction Review? Can you tell us about it?

Meg: Kirk Nesset, one of my favorite writers and teachers of the short form and I are doing this together. Our first issue will include new work by Gary Lutz, Steve Almond, Chuck Rosenthal, Sherrie Flick, Robert Scotellaro, Molly Giles, Pamela Painter, Natalia Singer, Sean Lovelace, Tom Hazuka, Randall Brown, Cooper Renner, Matthew Fogarty, Leonard Kress and more wonderful, amazing flash fiction writers. The response to this issue was overwhelming. We feel proud and lucky!

Jim: Tell me more about your novella in flash that's coming out this fall.

Meg: "My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form" will include novellas-in-flash by Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, and Aaron Teel as well as essays on the craft of creating the novella-in-flash. I have loved the Rose Metal Press for years, it is a dream to be included in a book like this.

Jim: Tell me about your screenwriting project.

Meg: I am not allowed to say much about this yet. But, I can say that two years ago I was commissioned to create a piece with veteran screenwriter Graham Gordy, an original screenplay. I have had the time of my life. We are about finished with it now, and I’m crossing my fingers that we will see it completed as a film. I learned so much by working with Graham Gordy, enjoying it so much it did not feel like working. I could do this foreer. The last five years have been the most creative and happiest years of my life so far.

You can pick up Meg's latest collection of flash fiction "Bird Envy" at the Harvard Bookstore. Follow Meg on Twitter or Facebook or check out her website, MegPokrass.com.