Monday, October 27, 2008

2 1/2 Questions for Elaine Chiew...

...whose real-fine story "Chinese Equivalent" is just up @ Wigleaf.


SG: A lot of writers come to the short-short story by accident. How is it that you come to it? That's a brief question, but go ahead and be expansive if you like.


SG: I could be totally wrong about this—and feel free to shoot me down if I am—but I have the idea that you're one of those writers who, as a reader, engages happily in the study of fiction. If that's right, who have you been reading lately? And what are you finding?

EC: Good questions, Scott. I've reduced the answer to your 2 1/2 questions to 1 1/2. After the initial flurry of online Zoetrope/Gotham classes, I was hungry for instruction, but was in no position to get an MFA (I was busy making a family across the pond). But I started to read short stories analytically—first with the Best American Short Stories series, then basically any short story anthology compilation, moving onto individual short story writer collections. The most recent I've read is by Tobias Wolff, and he's amazing. I highly recommend Our Story Begins for Tobias' sharp economical prose and incisive moral quandaries. It didn't start out this way. but I don't read fiction to find perfect moral beings. I read them for the flawed ones, and you don't need a psychologist to explain why. They are far more interesting.

In the beginning, reading each short story was painstaking. It would take me ages to finish just one book! But all that work was worth it. It internalizes the form and the craft elements. The longer I read, the shorter my fiction got. From the usual 8000 whopper to somewhere about 2000 friable words. Reading short fiction is critical to developing your ruthless internal editor. I was happier slashing and burning my own prose when I was performing major reconstructive surgery in my head on the likes of Julie Orringer and Miranda
July. :-)

The move towards short-short fiction was therefore organic. Some stories were just that short and needed that starburst exhalation of breath to tell it. And the cloud they release was powerful. I think there are writers so natural at this form that I'm positively green with envy. But I began to read online fiction, and my respect and admiration for flash fiction grew. For me, it took experimentation with flash to get me down to the beauty of an individual sentence. Sometimes, that's all I want with my morning coffee.


SG: What are planning to do with…?

EC: What am I planning to do with this empty coke bottle I'm holding as I write a response for your blog? Finish the last drop. Recycle it.

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