Frances Lefkowitz: The Energy and Surprise of Flash Fiction

In just a few spare sentences, Frances Lefkowitz can tell a life’s story—of an aging ballplayer or of a mother’s love. Lefkowitz has published hundreds of fiction and nonfiction stories, and is making a name for herself in flash fiction. She’s also author of To Have Not, which was named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com.

Find out how Facebook reignited her creative writing, what she likes about flash fiction, and where she thinks it fits within the wide universe of words.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how long you have been writing.
I write for love and for money. The money part is writing and editing articles about health, books, travel, and other “lifestyle” topics for magazines like Health, Good Housekeeping, and Whole Living, where I used to be on staff as Senior Editor. The love part is short stories, personal essays, and, increasingly, flash fiction, for publications like Tin House, GlimmerTrain Stories, The Sun, and Superstition Review. I’ve been writing my whole life, or at least since I learned how to make the letters.

Whenand whydid you begin writing flash fiction?
I’d been away from fiction for many years, working on the essays that eventually became my memoir, To Have Not, about growing up poor in 1970s San Francisco. That came out in 2010, and I was sick of writing about myself but wasn’t sure how to get back to fiction. Then I met a flash writer, Meg Pokrass, who was posting a list of random words on her Facebook page every day, and people from all over the country were doing freewrites with those words and posting them so we could all say “yay,” and keep going. This word list technique just ignited me, and I went on to write almost 300 stories. Meg is an editor at Rick Barthelme’s New World Writing, and she gave some of my stories to Rick, who has now published 14 of them.

What do you like about it?
The short form feels like home to me, like it’s my natural way of thinking. In fact, my very first published stories, in Fiction, in 1994, were flash, though we just called them short shorts back then. Also, using a list of random words to write a story really works for me; it engages both sides of my brain, and trying to fit all the words into a story—or find the story in the list of words—is sort of like doing a puzzle and sort of like having a dream. Best of all, it’s fun; it’s a kind of writing that is like playing for me.

What dictates the varying word length?
Sometimes I set out to write “a really short one,” like under 200 words, or “a longer one,” say 600 words, just as a challenge. Other times I let the story dictate its own word length.

Do you have any favorite flash fiction authors?
I do like Meg Pokrass, who has such a strange and probing way with words; she’s one of a kind. And Molly Giles and Pamela Painter, who’ve both been writing short before it was a trend; they both have a wonderful whimsy to them.

What makes for a successful flash fiction piece?
Energy and surprise. We jump right in to the meat of the matter, and end up, very quickly, someplace we could never have predicted.

What is the role that flash fiction fills among the many art forms?
Sometimes we don’t need to be told how the people got there, or even where they are, or what they look like, or everything they’re thinking and feeling, or what their childhoods were like, or if they’re divorced or vegetarians or Moonies. Sometimes the essence of a story tells us all we need to know. For these times, we have flash fiction.

Read Frances Lefkowitz’s stories Lemons and Leering at Careful in 100 Word Story. Learn more about Lefkowitz at www.FrancesLefkowitz.net and read her new blog, Paper In My Shoe, where she shares thoughts from her decades of working in writing, publishing, and book reviewing.

Photo Credit: Richard Cohen

One Response to “Frances Lefkowitz: The Energy and Surprise of Flash Fiction”

  1. Mollia Jewett says:

    Loved this Q&A – if you haven’t read “To Have Not” – you really must. One of my favorite reads.

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