Molly Giles: The Art of Chasing Fireflies

Flash fiction goes by all sorts of names—everything from “short shorts” to “micro-fiction” to “postcard fiction”—but Molly Giles has come up with our favorite term so far: “fireflies.” Her fireflies light up the hushes of a night sky, capturing those quick bursts of drama with a vivid lyricism that short shorts are designed for.

Giles has published two prize-winning collections of short stories (Rough Translations and Creekwalk) and a novel, Iron Shoes. A collection of her flash fictions entitled Bothered is forthcoming from Split Oak Press early next year. She teaches fiction writing at the University of Arkansas and divides her time between Fayetteville, Arkansas and Woodacre, California.

What draws you to writing short shorts?
I don’t know. They make me happy. They are the fireflies of fiction, fun to chase.

Do you approach writing flash pieces differently than writing stories of a more traditional length?
No. I always think my flash pieces are going to be longer. I am often surprised and always relieved when they’re not. One thing about being given a word quota, though, it does make writing the flash pieces a bit like doing a math problem or a puzzle—and I’m not sure that’s altogether conducive to Art. Writing to spec can be mechanical.

Are you conscious of a story’s arc when writing short shorts, or do you focus more on capturing a single moment in time?
I think the most successful short shorts are those that follow an arc, have a beginning, middle, and end. They are the ones, at least, that I understand the best. The single moment in time ones are more oblique, closer to poems. I’ve found that my first idea usually dictates which way the story will go, straight or scary, and then I’m stuck with it.

Do you consciously consider what to leave out or is the process more intuitive?
I never know what to leave out until I’ve finished the story and see what can go and what can stay. I edit with a chain-saw. I have a lot more trouble adding than subtracting and when an editor asks for “more” my heart just sinks and I think: Why?

Do you have any favorite flash fiction writers?
Yes!  Donald Barthleme, of course. What a player. I like Robert Coover, Michael Martone, Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass’s perfect “A Story About the Body.” Richard Brautigan is a marvel: “A 53 year old cat burglar from Santa Monica.” I mean! How much more do you need???

I have to add that I have some UNfavorite flash fiction writers—I just do not get Lydia Davis and though I’ve dutifully taught Borges and Calvino, at some level I am immune to their charms. This is heresy but there you have it.

Does writing short pieces influence your longer stories in any way?
Not really. It’s all writing.

For more, read Giles’s Playing House and Self-Diagnosis.

One Response to “Molly Giles: The Art of Chasing Fireflies”

  1. gold price says:

    For those unfamiliar with short shorts (which in the fictional realm are also called sudden fiction, micro fiction, and flash fiction), this genre of writing is reserved for fiction and nonfiction stories clocking in at under a 1000 words. The exact definition of a short short varies by writer and editor—some prefer more rigid word limits of 500 or 750 words. There are even writers who think that 500 words is too long an eternity; for them there is a subgenre which gives stories a mere 100 words to live and die. However, these different lengths are all variations on the same theme, so for this essay we’ll just let them all wear the same short short outfit.

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