The novella-in-flash: What does it mean? How is it even possible? Kathleen Rooney and Abby Beckel, editors at Rose Metal Press, which specializes in hybrid forms, have recently set about defining this lesser-known form. This week, they spoke about My Very End of the Universe, their 2014 anthology of five novellas-in-flash, with Smokelong Quarterly’s Interviews Editor Karen Craigo.
To begin, the pair defines the form in their introduction to My Very End of the Universe:
Flash is characterized by compression, immediacy, and tension, blending the concision of poetry with the narrative tools of fiction . . . the novella’s traits of extended conflict and character development, accumulation and accretion to create a single, unified effect, and conclusions that often hover on the edge of major change are set in tandem with the aforementioned traits of flash . . . The novella-in-flash is valuable because it does something that other forms don’t do, allowing the author to build a world that is compact but complex simultaneously.
In their intro, Rooney and Beckel also develop a quite lovely metaphor for the novella-in-flash structure where each flash episode represents a star and the cumulative effect of each flash/star forms into a larger narrative/constellation. For more concrete examples of novellas-in-flash, the duo cites Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays (1970) Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (1984), and of the longer novel-in-flash form Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) books.
Reading about the form feels like an inviting writing prompt of a more meditative nature. It goes something like: Be in this moment. Be in this next moment. Be. Be. Be. Be. And poof, at some point, the narrative arises. You can hear discussions and excerpts from three of the anthology’s contributors, Meg Pokrass’s, “Here, Where We Live,” Chris Bowers’s, “The Family Dogs,” and Margaret Patton Chapman’s “Bell and Bargain,” on KMSU Weekly Reader out of Minnesota State University, Mankato.
On Tuesday, Little Brown released Luis Alberto Urrea’s newest short story collection, The Water Museum. As the rattlesnake on the book’s cover might indicate, the stories hone in on life in the west—from Idaho to San Diego and much in between. In his review of the collection for NPR Books, Michael Schaub describes Urrea as “a kind of country-punk Lorrie Moore, compassionate but hard-edged, a kind of literary badass who still believes in love, because sometimes, there’s nothing much else to believe in.” You can hear Urrea reading one story from The Water Museum, “The Southside Raza Image Federation Corps of Discovery” over at Orion Magazine.