Joan Axelrod-Contrada will be leading this year’s workshop on Flash Memoir. She was interviewed by fellow workshop presenter Tzivia Gover.
I started making up “furry tales” for my French poodle, Sherry, when I was eight years old. In high school, I fell in love with journalism, which rescued me from my poor-poor-pitiful-me introverted adolescent self. What I like best about writing – whether it be journalism, children’s books, journaling, or flash memoir — is that it focuses my mind. I need that in much the same way I need air to breathe.
What got you interested in flash fiction and memoir?
I’ve always enjoyed reading the first-person essays and annual short-story contest winners in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. When the Gazette stopped running its short story contest, my late husband, Fred, and I thought of publishing our own anthologies, but we couldn’t figure out how to make them financially viable. So I brought the idea of a literary journal to the WriteAngles committee, and the rest is history.
How has your experience with this short form enhanced your writing and your life?
I started journaling and blogging around the time Fred developed an awful degenerative neurological disease. A couple of my pieces lent themselves beautifully to our 500-word format. I found that writing helped me come up with new perspectives on and solutions to my problems. My challenges found new life as flash memoir!
What’s one tip you can share with us for distilling a story to its purest essence?
Think concrete. An item in your closet or food on your table can evoke powerful emotions. Some of our best pieces in the journal have involved items such as a VW van, a dad’s army jacket, a wooden cane, a purchase on Amazon.com, or a pair of expensive leather boots.
Who are your favorite writers who are skillful at saying a lot in very few words?
Ernest Hemingway is the master! His six-word flash story is classic. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
You’ll be leading this year’s workshop on Flash Memoir. Can you tell us a little about what you’re planning?
Yes, I’ll be talking about what I see as the three key ingredients for successful flash memoir. Writing is like baking a cake. Once you mix the ingredients into a batter, you need to find the right baking dish for it. Just like there are loaf pans and cupcake tins as well as cake pans, flash memoir can take a variety of forms above and beyond the traditional prose essay. Among the different forms: verse, lists, and letters. I’ll finish up with the icing on the cake, which I see as style.