FFA (1)

An Interview with Sherrie Flick

Co-Editor of the New W. W. Norton Flash Fiction America Anthology

The newest installment in W. W. Norton’s popular flash fiction anthology series, Flash Fiction America, will be released on February 14. Edited by James Thomas, Sherrie Flick, and John Dufresne, this edition contains 73 stories that “speak to the diversity of the American experience and range from the experimental to the narrative, from the whimsical to the gritty.”

Publishers Weekly says the book “brims with economical, well-crafted prose…Throughout, the authors craft distinctive glimpses of their characters’ worlds within the span of a page or two. [Flash Fiction America] showcases a multitude of talent.”

Co-editor Sherrie Flick took time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions. Thank you, Sherrie! And congratulations on another influential addition to the flash cannon!

—Myna Chang

Myna Chang: Norton has published a number of flash anthologies, dating back to the 1990s. How does this new anthology fit into their lineup? What are the strengths of this volume?

Sherrie Flick: Thanks Myna! We’re so happy to have your excellent story “An Alternate Theory Regarding Natural Disasters, As Posited by the Teenage Girls of Clove County, Kansas” included in the Flash Fiction America.

Yes, James Thomas coined the term “flash fiction” in the introduction to the 1992 anthology of the same name, and since then Flash Fiction Forward (2006), Flash Fiction International (2015), and Flash Fiction America (2023) have all been published by Norton. (There’s also the Sudden and Micro fiction series, which Norton has unrolled alongside these anthologies.) Editor James Thomas is the one common denominator across all these books.

Flash Fiction America is the first of the series to focus exclusively on American writers writing about America. FFA’s constraints are the same as the others—fiction under 1,000 words (mostly) and great crafted storytelling by both well-known and little-known writers pushing at the boundaries of the form.

One unique quality of this anthology compared to the others is how deliberately it explores place. The United States has such a varied landscape, and the people living within its borders are distinct and have such different lived experiences, we wanted to capture that as well as find great flash fiction.

MC: How did you become involved with Norton’s flash series? Did your experience publishing this book differ from your work as editor of The Best Small Fictions anthology?

Sherrie Flick: James Thomas asked me to join him and John Dufresne as the proposal for Flash Fiction America came together. He knew me as a contributor to Flash Fiction Forward, New Sudden Fiction, and New Micro, and I also served as an associate editor for Flash Fiction International.

I had some really specific ideas about inclusiveness that I think appealed to James, plus I’m really organized, ha, which is always a perk with an anthology that has so many moving parts. I’m also in the trenches, as it were, as I work as a senior editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. I’m not unfamiliar with reading thousands of stories and picking out a few that shine above the others.

The process for this book was much different from The Best Small Fictions 2018, where I served as series editor, along with guest editor Aimee Bender. Tara Masih founded the series in 2015 with the intent to showcase the best stories under a thousand words published the previous year in journals and magazines. With BSF, there’s a call for submissions with a deadline, and editors select a number of stories to forward—I think the limit was 5. So, we worked from a long, but finite, list of stories not selected by us, which were organized in Submittable and our goal was to find a solid longlist to forward to Aimee Bender for final selections. Of course, our timeframe to do this was a year.

We began Flash Fiction America with a clean slate. We didn’t have submissions to cull—we just needed to search and read and then narrow selections into packets which we graded in a four-year-long round robin of argument, assessment, and finally, selection. Our associate editors helped with reading packets and/or recommending both stories and authors to us. Flash Fiction America showcases research/assessment skills more than anything, from our side of things. We tried to look high and low—online and in hard copy—for the best pieces of flash published after 2000.

MC: What part of the process did you enjoy the most?

Sherrie Flick: Oh, I love spending hours researching. I have a background as an academic, and I’ve always loved to go deep into a topic. I’d spend days reading through a journal’s archives, not finding anything that worked for us, and then suddenly, I’d stumble upon a magnificent gem of a story. A story unlike anything we’d read to date. I would be so excited about it that I had to send it immediately to James and John.

I really like every aspect of creating a book—selecting the stories, ordering the stories, copyediting, arguing about everything—including hyphens. I’m that nerd. I love all of it.

MC: How would you describe the evolution of flash since you began writing and editing? Has the essence of flash changed over time? Are you seeing any trends? What do you hope to see next?

Sherrie Flick: Tara Masih has written a fantastic history of flash fiction for the Introduction to The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. I would recommend that everyone read it in order to understand the form’s history in this country and others.

Since I started writing and publishing, what we called at the time short-shorts, in the late 80s, I think the form has become more commonplace. I see fewer arguments about prose poems vs flash fiction. I see more interesting discussions regarding compression and craft. There are more workshops and classes. There are more places publishing flash—even The New Yorker has a series now—and I see pieces of flash frequently popping up in story collections that have more traditional-length stories in the mix.

Trends. At SmokeLong we’re getting a lot of stories written in second person. I’m not the biggest fan of second-person stories, which is probably why I immediately noticed this trend. My hope for the future is that flash writers go deeper into third-person narratives where, in my opinion, more complex crafting can happen.

MC: Now, let’s talk about your own work. You’ve found success in so many literary avenues. What are you most excited about right now?

Sherrie Flick: Thanks Myna! I’m working on putting together my third story collection. I’m most excited about this series of bear stories I’ve been writing. They started during the darkest days of the pandemic and have expanded from there. Stories about bears acting like humans, humans being mistaken for bears, a bear carrying a heart and wearing underwear in a Budapest train station (“Breaking” in Booth), bears in the foreground, bears in the background, one guy wears a mail-order bear suit as he works as a home inspector. Friends keep forwarding me real bear stories and videos, so it has been great fun to draft and revise these. They will be a thread in the manuscript that will also have non-bear stories in it. One can only take so many bears.

MC: What’s next for you?

Sherrie Flick: First, promoting this anthology. Next, I’d love to work on another anthology. I’m interested in writing a craft book. Writing more stories, essays, teaching, and editing.

SHERRIE FLICK is the author of a novel and two short story collections. Her collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars (Autumn House Press), is now an audiobook. Adina Verson performed her story “Heidi is Dead” from Whiskey, Etc. (Autumn House Press) for NPR’s December 2022 Selected Shorts. New work appears in Ploughshares, New England Review, and Pithead Chapel. She is a senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, served as series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018 (Braddock Avenue Books), and co-edited Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton).

MYNA CHANG (she/her) is the author of The Potential of Radio and Rain. Her writing has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton), Best Small Fictions, and CRAFT. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the New Millennium Writings Award in Flash Fiction. She hosts the Electric Sheep speculative fiction reading series. More at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.

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