Flash Mob: A Discussion in Under 1000 Words

"Tender Cuts" cover

The following is what happens when ML Kennedy, author of 100 by 100: Stories in 100 Words, interviews Jayne Martin, author of the newly released flash fiction collection, Tender Cuts.

How would you describe Flash Fiction? What does it mean to you and how would you explain it to Uncle Frank and Aunt Ginny at Thanksgiving Dinner?

In cooking, it would be the equivalent of making a reduction sauce, paring down each tale to its essence, giving it time to simmer, until you have an explosion of taste in just a tiny amount that lingers on the tongue leaving you wanting for more.  

How long does do you work on a piece of flash fiction? Personally, I specialize in 100 word stories, and can create up to five of those in an hour. (A 100 word story bears the unfortunate name of a “drabble,” though that term is not used in my collection.)

Depends on the piece. An hour to several, and that’s just a first draft. Then I need to put it aside and come to it again after a day or two. This process continues until I’m as sure as I can be that it’s actually “there.” 

I don’t think I’ve ever written a second draft of flash fiction, though it’s hard to say — editing a few sentences could be construed as changing a good percentage of the story. Still, focusing on the words and fine-tuning them over a longer period of time is pretty common when writing poetry. What would you cite as the important distinctions between flash and poetry? 

You’ve never written a second draft. I don’t even know how to respond to that. For me a first draft is barely a blueprint. I strive to go deeper. Find better words, restructure sentences, switch around paragraphs, add more sensory detail. It never ends. Even when I hit submit, I’m sure I could have done more. As for distinctions between flash and poetry, they’re completely different genres and only meet in the prose poem, though much language in some flash could be called poetic. But I’m not a poet. I’m not qualified to speak on poetry. 

I toy around enough with things in creating the first draft, as I hold firmly to the restriction of exactly 100 words. As long as the meanings are clear, I like the rawness of the improv style. Don’t get me wrong though: in my long form stuff I’ll produce about 1000 words per month and be happy about it. 

Back to you, though. Your book, Tender Cuts, touches on a lot of themes: loneliness, being an outsider, the parent-child relationship, domestic disappointment. Is there a through line? What would you say is the Unified Field Theory that holds Tender Cuts together?

Overall, the theme of abandonment keeps coming up. All the characters feel alone in their struggles and I think that carries through from the beginning to the end, although it wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. I didn’t really even discover it until recently. But that’s what seems to emerge. 

Is the idea of abandonment something that you struggle with? I will fully accept a no answer. My second book had several references to Popeye for no discernible reason. Sometimes these things are subconscious choices and other times it’s just happenstance. 

Maybe I do subconsciously. Who knows? It must come from somewhere. 

How did this project come together? When did you feel like you should put these pieces together into a book and how did the illustrations come about?

I’d been thinking of doing a collection for several years and always knew I wanted illustrations. I’d made a couple of starts, but the work wasn’t there yet. It wasn’t until 2017 that I seriously reviewed all the material I had and gleaned the pieces that became the Tender Cuts collection. Even then I was switching out stories up until my publisher’s final deadline for doing so. As for the illustrations, I wanted them to contribute to the overall theme of wounded hearts, so you’ll notice that there is a heart placed somewhere in each drawing. The idea was to give the reader another way to experience the story. 

Let’s do an 8 question lightning round. 

1. What was the last great book you read?

On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong.

2. You’re at a hotel with a free breakfast buffet: What is your go-to?

Bacon — lots and lots of bacon — but only if it’s crisp

3. Favorite movie featuring Kurt Russell?

The Thing. Mostly because I’m a fan of old John Carpenter movies.

4. What’s a word that you find under-used or under-rated?

I’d like to hear “please” more often. We’ve become a very rude society.

5. Pie or cake?

Depends on the pie. Depends on the cake. 

6. Which social media app do you find the most frustrating?

Up to recently I’d have said Facebook. But now Twitter has this automatic refresh thing going that’s a real pain in the ass.

7. Can you ice skate backwards?


8. Is there a writer who you love that would surprise people?

What might surprise people, given how dark so many of the stories are in Tender Cuts is that I also write humor. My collection of humor essays, Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry is available on Amazon. My all-time favorite writer is still Nora Ephron. I miss her voice so much in these troubled times. 


Tender Cuts is now available from Vine Leaves Press. ML Kennedy’s latest book is the novel Things You Leave Behind.

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