Local Author Profile: Randall Brown

[img_assist|nid=7419|title=Randall Brown|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=125|height=155]I  met Randall in October, 2009 at the Philadelphia Stories Push to Publish Writers Conference at Rosemont College.  I’d scheduled a “speed date” with him after reading a couple issues of Smokelong Quarterly, his parting letter as he was leaving SLQ, and several of his flash pieces, which was all it took to be hugely impressed. When I pitched my story to him, I had not yet published any work, but had won a couple writing prizes (that I’d thought might be flukes). Although he didn’t think my story was right for SLQ, he was extremely helpful and managed–in exactly fifteen minutes–to give specific tips on how to improve my piece.  

After connecting on Facebook and becoming a loyal follower of his blog (http://www.flashfiction.net), I embarrassingly confessed (publicly) that Randall was a literary crush of mine. I then had the opportunity to attend his literary short story workshop at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference in 2010.  I bought Mad to Live, his award-winning collection, which I devoured on the train to and from the conference and also purchased the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, which features his essay Making Flash Count. These reads sealed my crush into flashy permanence.

I recently spoke to Randall about why flash matters.

The new edition of Mad to Live from PS Books, a division of Philadelphia Stories, features four “bonus tracks.”  How did you go about selecting which additional stories to include?

They were ones not previously imagined for the collection but, during readings, tended to get an insane response from an audience. These made the literary crowd get up out of their seats, hold their lighters up into the air, and chant "Randall! Randall! Randall!"

You recently founded Matter Press and Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. If Matter Press and Journal of Compressed Creative Arts were the answer(s), what would be the question(s)?

Well, here’s one for the (very) drawn-out journal name: What is the most ironic name for a journal that focuses on compression? And here’s one for the press: "Who will be publishing collections from Carol Guess and Kathy Fish?" 

What is the worst mistake you’ve ever seen a flash writer (or would-be flash writer) make?  

A number of unpublished flashes I’ve read lack an understanding of very short fiction beyond the idea that “it’s very short.” These pieces don’t rise to the challenge of compression and don’t push against the boundaries of the form, don’t take on the implied and explicit rules of fiction and narration, and don’t surprise with what discoveries in terms of language and form they’ve made by writing in such a tiny space. What can be learned from them? Don’t just think of flash as a word-count; think of it as encompassing an attitude about fiction, a chance to do something remarkable, to achieve what cannot be achieved if one is given all the space in the world within which to work.

Many writers are teachers as well. Can you explain the relationship between your teacher-self and your writer-self?

The teacher-self is player turned coach, trying to make those around me better; the writer-self is Allen Iverson.

Do you see yourself writing flash as an old man? Might you ever tire of the form?

The form might become tiring if one doesn’t work to reinvent it with each successive piece. That process seems endlessly interesting and engaging to me.

In your elucidation of other writers’ flashes, you often consider the first word and the last.  If you could be one word in a flash, which word would it be, the first, last, or some word near the middle?  Why?

If indeed every word counts in flash fiction (an idea I’ve seen everywhere but have begun to doubt), I’d like to be the one word that snuck in there somehow without counting. It’s cool to be the one that doesn’t belong. Isn’t that what writing flash is all about? Setting yourself and your writing against the world that would have those things not matter?

Nicole Monaghan’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in Used Furniture Review, Storyglossia, PANK, Foundling Review, and Negative Suck. She lives with her husband and three children outside of Philadelphia and keeps a literary website at www.writenic.wordpress.com.

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