Matt Sailor lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His flash fiction has appeared most recently at Whiskey Paper, Cartridge Lit, and Fjords Review. His editorial background includes working as an associate editor for NANO Fiction, the fiction editor for The Mondegreen, and the editor-in-chief of New South. He writes an ongoing essay series, “Great Moments in Cinematic Drinking,” for Hobart. His awards include the Paul Bowles Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship.
Matt is reading submissions that come in March 16th through March 22nd.
Below is a brief interview with Matt.
An anonymous donor gives you an extravagant sum to design your own writing residency. Where is it? What does it entail?
So many residencies are based in rural areas or at universities in small towns. I understand the appeal of that kind of residency, but I personally chafe a bit against the idea that a writer works best in solitude. I’m just as productive (maybe more) in public spaces–coffee shops, bars, long bus rides, park benches. My dream residency would be urban, taking writers to great cities where they can work in a vibrant community (both literary and otherwise). Maybe an exchange program where writers switch apartments and take advantage of the hosting writer’s literary network.
Create a five to seven story reading list that you think would help people write a story you would love.
“Ripe Figs,” Kate Chopin
More than a hundred years later, it’s still hard to top Chopin’s very short pieces, some of the first flash fiction ever written as far as I know. Ripe Figs contains the entire span of human life–from youth to old age–but only metaphorically, wrapped up in a brief anecdote about a young girl’s impatience for the spring.
“The Fish” by Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis is a master of the form, and this story shows why–a deft and surprising turn in which a lonely woman identifies with the fish she has prepared and is about to eat. The comparison is as unexpected as it is inevitable.
“Brochure,” by Thomas Bernhard
Bernhard’s flash fiction is dark and morbid and hilarious and upsetting all at once. In “Brochure,” a small, mundane event transforms into an eerie depiction of the fragility of human life and the inevitability of death.
“Sometimes We Both Fight in Wars,” by Leesa Cross Smith
For my money, Leesa Cross Smith is one of the best flash fiction writers out there. Her use of language is so unexpected and gorgeous that it can catch my breath in my throat.
“Watermelon” by Kathy Fish
This story paints such vivid images, scenes that we can hear and see and smell. It traces a sibling relationship from the innocent days of youth to the pain of growing up and facing the real world–and all of it is accomplished through the most carefully selected details, in about 100 words.
“Two Photographs by Walker Evans,” by Josh Russell
This story begins as a description of a photograph, which is the perfect metaphor for the narrow scope that can work in a piece of flash. What makes the story great is how much it contains for its brevity–a description of a single photograph expands to contain a love affair, a child’s first exposure to the nude female form, the career of a famous photographer, and a hauntingly beautiful ending.
What are you working on right now? Can you tell us about your writing process with it?
At the moment, I’m working on various short pieces–fiction and essay–sort of sling shotting between them as the mood strikes me. Having wrapped up a novel late last year, it feels good to be able to work on shorter pieces again. I’ve just started a new job that involves a long commute, so I’ve actually been doing a lot of this writing on the bus. My bus ride is very scenic–it takes me on a circuit of Portland at sunrise and sunset, and on clear days I can see Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens out the window. It’s a perfect setting to be generating ideas and allowing my mind to wander onto unexpected combinations of images, words, and ideas. The more focused polishing of these fragments will come later, and will be a much different process, but for now it feels great to generate without any preconceived notions about the final product.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given? What’s the worst?
I took a playwriting workshop in high school, at a summer program. The teacher there told us that we needed to honor our inner 8-year old, let the little kid come out and play. That might come across as a bit cliche, but it was liberating for me at a time in my life when I took myself very, very seriously. It’s something I still try to keep in mind when I’m writing–that making things is fun. It reminds me of an inscription Melville is said to have written inside his desk: “Stay true to the dreams of thy youth.” So much writing advice is about the hard work and the struggle of it. All of that is true…but over-emphasized, I think.
As far as the worst–it’s more an aggregate of advice. All those teachers and writing critics who value simplicity and clarity in writing, who caution you against making things too complicated or attempting too many verbal acrobatics. Clarity is something you attempt down the road, when you’re revising and trying to make sure your meaning didn’t get lost in the way you phrased it. To appeal to clarity as if it should guide you through the writing process…it’s a surefire way to make sure you generate bloodless, uninteresting work.