Curtis Smith: I recently did an interview with Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts about their collaborative novel A Well-Made Bed. But I’m thinking their collaboration, with its central story, was a different venture than a series of flash-fiction. First things first—how did the idea of collaboration come up? Was it something both of you were sold on from the get-go?
KF: Hi Curtis. Robert and I were work-shopping stories online with a group called The Night Owl Cafe along with Bud Smith and Michael Gillian Maxwell. Bud, who run Unknown Press first approached Robert with the idea of putting together a two-author collection of flash fiction. Robert was game, and so was I, but I told Bud I didn’t have many new stories at that point! Bud said, let’s just see how it goes. And over the course of the next few months, both Robert and I wrote a lot of new stories and the proposed collection became a reality.
RV: Hello Curtis! As Kathy mentions, the entire RIFT project, was an idea Bud Smith originally had, and came to fruition within roughly nine months of our weekly Night Owl Café workshop. Kathy and I also had two full exchanges of potential flash story manuscripts- one in July in Denver, and the other through the mail (I’m in Milwaukee) in September.
CS: Many of the pieces were previously published. Did you place the pieces before you decided to work together—or did you discuss/plan the book’s structure and then write pieces that fit that scheme?
KF: We were both furiously writing new stories and sending them out as we were also pulling together the book. We were under such a tight deadline that everything was happening simultaneously. As we work-shopped together, we earmarked stories that we thought would work under the overarching them of “Rift,” our working title. So by the time we were organizing the book itself, yes, many of the stories had already been accepted and/or published. I think we both did have our theme in mind as we wrote the new stories, but I myself didn’t feel bound by it. We also pulled in a few older, pre-workshop stories for the book.
RV: Because both Kathy and I had previously published three books (separately, and all with different independent publishers), we’d both had much experience with submissions, and acceptance/ rejections. It seems as if Kathy was really getting a lot of her new work placed in numerous journals, whereas submitting wasn’t really my focus. I wanted to make sure my work measured up to the greatness in which I held Kathy’s work. Numerous revisions took place as a result. Constant replacements also!
CS: There’s a back-and-forth going on in the book—not just between you as authors but in terms of deeper elements like structure and subject and tone. How did this develop?
RV: Some of the consistencies became apparent as we created more material. We took turns with a weekly “prompt” for the Night Owl Café, and although our stories were often really different, there were themes, a communion, a mind-meld of sorts, that simply develops with a group. Our title, RIFT, came to us early (from, of all things, a skater catalogue!) and set the tone because of its wide-net implications.
CS: The book is broken into themed sections—Fault, Tremor, Breach, Cataclysm—geological terms that bring to mind earthquakes and upheaval. How did these concepts play into the book’s construction? Did you start with these ideas as a structuring element—or did they make themselves known as your collaboration progressed?
KF: We’d gotten to a point where we had 36 stories each for the collection; so, seventy-two in all. We needed some internal organization so the book wouldn’t be this overwhelming mass of stories. Looking at the work, we noticed that there was a spectrum of emotional intensity in the stories so decided to organize along the lines of geological rifts, with that spectrum in mind. So, yes, that element made itself known later in the process, after we’d written and chosen the stories for the book. I remember printing all of my own stories and laying them out on my long dining room table. I went around with different colored post-it notes for the four sections and making quick decisions as to which category they fell into. Surprisingly, I ended up with very nearly equal numbers of stories in each section! I think I moved one or two around.
RV: I had the same experience as Kathy, and we spoke frequently on the telephone during this part of the collaboration, so it worked out rather smoothly and organically. The “pairings” (how one story follows another) came to us fairly easily also. This seemed important to us because we agreed to have the different sections, and wanted each of the four to stand on its own.
CS: Can you talk about the flash fiction form? What draws you to it? What new elements do you continue to discover through working within the form? How has your work in flash influenced your work at other lengths and in other genres?
KF: Flash will always be my first love in terms of form, Curtis. It most closely approximates my thought process. I see and feel impressionistically, in scattered images. Flash always feels new and open to innovation. I’ve never been rules oriented and flash is the form that feels most rebellious to me.
Working in flash has made my writing as a whole better. But it’s also made writing longer works so much harder for me! I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t see any need to write a story longer then 1000 words. And now I’m trying to write a novel. Is there such a thing as a 1000 word novel?
RV: I relate to what Kathy says here in terms of the newness, and innovation that flash fiction permits. And I also write poetry, often hybrid work, crossing the genres of flash fiction’s sister (in-law?) prose poetry! So, flash seems to bode well for tapping into these other areas of writing. You can also generate a lot of work because of its pared down essence, but each word matters (revise, revise, revise!) The concept of white space is often an element used in both poetry, and flash fiction- what is left off the page is equally important to the words selected. The giddiness or thrill I get when someone nails a flash fiction piece is unlike any other feeling I get from writing.
Kathy Fish’s stories have been published or are forthcoming in THE LINEUP: 20 PROVOCATIVE WOMEN WRITERS (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Yemassee Journal, Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is the author of four collections of short fiction, most recently RIFT, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). Her story, “A Room with Many Small Beds” was selected by Stuart Dybek for inclusion in THE BEST SMALL FICTIONS, 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press). She teaches for the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver. Visit her website at kathy-fish.com.
Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, and hike/ write. He leads writing roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. His story, ‘A Box’ was selected for Best Small Fictions Anthology (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2016). Vaughan is the author of four books, and his newest, RIFT, is a flash collection co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press, 2015). He blogs at www.robert-vaughan.com.