Nan Cuba’s novel Body and Bread (Engine Books), won the PEN Southwest Award in Fiction and the Texas Institute of Letters Steven Turner Award; it was listed as one of “Ten Titles to Pick Up Now” in O Magazine, and was a “Summer Books” choice from Huffington Post and was a finalist for the 2013-2014 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards in the Fiction category. Cuba co-edited Art at our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists (Trinity University Press), and published other work in Quarterly West, Columbia, Antioch Review, Harvard Review, and storySouth. She is the 2016 Dobie Paisano Fellow and founder and executive director emeritus of Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary center in San Antonio. She teaches in the MA/MFA Program in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where she is writer-in-residence.
Nan is teaching a class on August 29 for the Writers’ League called “Fine-Tune Craft While Writing Flash Fiction” at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Scribe: Do you go through the same processes when writing a work of flash fiction as when writing other works?
Nan Cuba: The conceptual part of the process is different for me. I begin with a specific memory, image, phrase, or form. For developing the memory or image, I sketch a narrative arc from the initial idea then start revising. If I begin with a phrase, then voice will drive the piece, influencing the situation and outcome. If I start with a form in mind, say a piece structured through imagery and allusion, then specifics emerge as a result of those dictates. My longer stories, from beginning to end, revolve around character development. This may be true of flash pieces but not always.
Scribe: Do your flash fiction projects ever turn into longer pieces, or vice versa? (If not, why not?)
NC: Yes. Sometimes, the flash pieces expand, but when I decide to write one, I respond to the challenge and try to honor the form’s craft requirements. I consider it a form of discipline and practice, like a poet writing a sonnet or a pianist composing a sonata.
Scribe: What pushed you to write your first flash fiction (as opposed to another medium)?
NC: Friends were writing flash fiction, and I admired other pieces in various journals. I wanted to learn more about it so I taught a graduate workshop focusing only on flash fiction. My students and I worked together to understand and practice the form.
Scribe: Who do you think is the audience for flash fiction? Do you try to write for one?
NC: There is no specialized audience. Anyone who likes stories will be drawn to the form, but flash fiction is especially popular with readers who appreciate language dexterity and enjoy figuring out subtext, nuance, symbolism, and innuendo. I don’t write with an audience in mind. I write what I like to read and hope there are others who feel the same way.
Scribe: Is flash fiction a good genre for new writers to cut their teeth on?
NC: It can be, and we’re going to use it for that in the class, but like poetry, its complex. Since its short, we can practice fundamental craft techniques, and these first efforts can produce evocative, powerful stories. But like any literature, with the author’s acquired knowledge and practice, creations deepen and demonstrate mastery of the form.
Scribe: On your website, you described literary fiction as fiction that uses language the way poetry would. Would it be appropriate to say that flash fiction is similar to literary fiction in that way, since the imagery, diction, etc., have to be so concise and impactful?
NC: Flash fiction is a type of literary fiction, in that, as you point out, both rely on a strategic use of language. After all, “literary” comes from the Latin litterarius, meaning “letters,” as in letters of the alphabet. In other words, literary fiction’s emphasis is on language usage. Since flash fiction is compressed, attention is paid to language because you’re counting words, so they have to perform double, sometimes triple duty.
Scribe: Compression is a key aspect of writing flash fiction, but do you keep it in mind while working on other forms of writing?
NC: Yes I do, but crafted fiction doesn’t have to be compressed. Think of stories by Texas’ own Katherine Anne Porter: lush, lyrical descriptions, in some cases of the Texas landscape. Compression isn’t required when paying close attention to writing, but meticulous editing is. We’ll talk about that during class.
Click here to register for Nan’s Class.
Click here for a full list of our August and September classes.