Flash Fiction expert shares tips about the genre with Houston writers

January 2, 2018, by

This January Inprint continues offering a section in Flash Fiction as part of its popular Inprint Writers Workshops offerings, taught by Inprint Fellow (and PhD candidate at the University of Houston) Kaj Tanaka.

Kaj is extensively published, and a number of his pieces are examples of what is often called “flash fiction,” though you may also see (very) short fiction called “nano,” “quick,” “micro,” or hilariously, “sudden.” Flash fiction is generally shorter than 2,000 words, though there are specific forms. For instance, Hemingway made the six-word story famous with “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Some writers now compose on twitter (“twitfic”) in the 140-character length, and there are dedicated online magazines to variations of the flash form – see Flash Fiction Online and 100 Word Story, among others, or even the Flash Friday features on the Tin House site.

The form is far from new. The Hemingway piece is famous, but so are stories from writers like Robert Coover, Amy Hempel, George Saunders, and almost any piece from Joy Williams’ most recent release, Ninety-nine Stories of God.

There are a number of advantages to writing flash fiction, not least of which is the basic rule-of-thumb in placing new work – the less space it requires, the easier it (generally) is to find your work a home. Also, since the pieces are shorter, Kaj’s flash fiction workshop will focus in part on helping writers generate new work.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kaj to get his perspective on the form and his upcoming workshop.

CHARLOTTE WYATT: What do you love about Flash Fiction? What made you decide to teach it?

KAJ TANAKA: Flash fiction is the Wild West right now. It’s an open frontier. It’s a genre that’s so young, no one knows the rules yet. We are all making it up as we go along. This means that writers from all backgrounds and styles can try their hand at flash and leave a mark. When I write flash fiction, I only have two rules for myself: 1) amaze your reader with every sentence and 2) keep it short.

Teaching flash fiction is amazing because writers tend to show their true colors when they write flash. There’s no room for anything but the essential, and I think a writer’s flash fiction says a lot about who they are and what they value most, both in subject and style.

CHARLOTTE: What are some examples of Flash Fiction you are excited about, or authors you would recommend to readers?

KAJ: I don’t know if reading one or two writers can provide a full sense of the genre—it’s simply too diverse. I wouldn’t even say there are “essential” or “celebrity” flash fiction writers yet–though a few are emerging. This is just another thing to love about the genre. The doors are open, and there’s no established hierarchy.

I’d say, if you’re trying to learn what flash fiction is all about, check out the most recent Best Small Fictions Anthology and Wigleaf’s annual Top 50 Best (very) Short Fictions list. That’s where all the best flash fiction writers eventually end up.

CHARLOTTE: What do you foresee doing in your first workshop meeting?

KAJ: I want to make sure all of us (myself included) write and share a flash story during the first workshop. I prefer to get to know my students through their writing—plus, I don’t think there’s anything more liberating than writing a complete story in a few minutes. I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to experience that feeling.

Writing new material is going to be a priority because I want to make sure my students leave the class with a large quantity of work and an idea of where they can send it for publication.


A few spaces are still open in the eight-week Winter 2018 Inprint Writers Workshop in Flash Fiction taught by Kaj Tanaka and beginning on Wednesday, January 17. Learn more here!

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