Mini-Interview with Francine Witte
If your writing was having a conversation with a reader, what is it trying to say? What secrets might it reveal?
In a conversation with a reader, the writer says, here is how it is in my head and I’m going to share this with you so that you can see it in terms of your own head. I know you cannot see something exactly as I see it, but certainly, there is enough universality so that we can see a similar moment. The conversation would be: hi, this is what happened, and oh, yes, I know what you mean because something similar happened to me, or I’ve had those same emotions. The secrets it reveals are that of what happens to humans.
What’s more important the writer’s intent or the reader’s discovery?
I think they are of equal importance. A story is a collaboration. Yes, it exists when you have written it, but it lives once it’s in the reader’s hands. You, as the writer, have the job of making your intention as clear as it can be so that the reader is not confused or left frustrated. I’m not saying everything has to be crystal clear, in fact, it probably shouldn’t be, but the reader should be led to a place where they can continue with what you have started. You as writer, give the reader something and like a relay race, they pick it up and continue.
What are your favorite things to write about? Those topics or items you can’t stop thinking about!
I love to write about failed romantic relationships and family dynamics. I think there is so much quiet desperation that leads to good stories. Those quiet moments that one doesn’t express but that are completely universal. I never stop thinking about what isn’t spoken.
What’s your favorite point of view? Why are you drawn to this particular voice/perspective?
I do like first person. I feel like it gets right into the character’s head and I can share something directly with a reader that way. This is how my character thinks, feels, speaks. I don’t find that to be as easy with other POVs.
What’s your favorite craft element to focus on when writing flash? Is there an element you wish you could avoid?
I love imagery, and all the elements of poetry. I started as a poet, and so this is second nature to me. I love concision. I love to make things come to life in very few words. That’s such an exquisite challenge for me. I wish I could avoid setting and too much exposition. Many of my stories have no particular setting and I always limit exposition to what is absolutely necessary.
How do you know when a story is done or at least ready to test the submission waters?
When a story is done, it is clear. There is no mistaking what I am trying to say. And it sings.
When looking for places to submit your flash, what are your priorities for finding a good home for your work?
It’s actually hard to say why I submit to one journal as opposed to another. I will sometimes just send something in and hope for the best. I’ve tried being very meticulous in my research by studying what sort of stories a journal publishes, etc. and it didn’t make that much of a difference. To be honest, I think, if I think this story I’m sending is as good as it can be, then maybe the editor will like it. If not, it might just be that it wasn’t a good fit for them.
What do you know now about writing flash or other forms that you wished you had known from the beginning?
I’ve learned that you don’t have to end every story in the traditional way. In traditional storytelling, there is a clear resolution. In flash, there can just be a suggestion of a resolution.
What resource (a book, essay, story, person, literary journal) has helped you develop your flash fiction writing?
I loved Pamela Painter’s and Anne Bernays’ What if? Roberta Allen’s Fast Fiction, Nancy Stohlman’s Going Short. And I love just reading so many of the anthologies, most notably all the Norton anthologies.
What’s your favorite way to interact with the writing community? Do you have any advice for writers trying to add to their own writing communities?
I do love Twitter and Facebook. I love sharing my work there and reading what my fellow writers are publishing. Workshops are also a wonderful way to connect with other writers.
A novel, a micro, and a poem go to a bar together. What happens?
The novel parks itself at the bar and talks the barkeep’s ear off about the war, woman, jobs, he’s had. A micro gets up on the bar and dances. A poem floats around the room whispering itself into the ears of anyone who is standing still for more than 30 seconds.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
Believe me when I say there are way too many to mention.
What story of yours do you want us to read?
All over the counter in our bungalow kitchen. My mother, bandanna tying up her tired hair. My mother asking me how bad I want to eat. These fish are a mess, she says, all slime and goo and fishsweat. No such thing as fishsweat, I think, but my mother has never, not once in her life, called a thing what it really is.
Every so often she stops to stare out of the gingham window to see if my father’s car is pulling up. He said he was going back to that fishing shack we stopped at last night to pick up some bait. Where he asked the young woman, who ran it, what was the best spot to fish on the lake. How we all of us heard her saying how she’s running the shack by herself since her husband died, her tan belly showing out from her midriff top.
And then my father going out by himself early this morning, coming back with five whole fish, each one slimier and smellier than the one before it, and me having exactly no appetite. Not after watching the sweat trickle out of my mother’s bandanna, her wiping it off with the back of her rubber-gloved hand, her thwacking the heads off the fish one by one and tossing them into a bucket like they were somebody’s father, somebody’s husband. And me standing there next to her, wondering exactly how many fish this is going to take.
Originally published in Atticus Review
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books). She is the flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ Editions in September 2021. She lives in NYC.