Hey, there. Got a sec? Then check out our April web exclusive by Sophie Rosenblum. At under 300 words, “The Importance of Flags” won’t take long to read, but, boy, will it knock your socks off. Turbo-charged with an infectious energy and glittering language, it’s the best piece of flash fiction we’ve read in a long time. And it will light you up. You can read the story on the ASF website, then enjoy our short interview with the author below.
1. Tell us about the genesis of “The Importance of Flags.” Where did the idea for the story come from and what kind of evolution did it go through to get to us?
Marvin is my idea of that person who is desperate to understand the concepts behind art in order to be part of the discussion. He’s heard snippets of conversation, and he’s trying to piece it together to be part of a larger dialogue. My father was an art historian and my mother is an artist, so throughout my time in NY, I was surrounded by discussions on art, the backgrounds of works of art, and the kind of thought process or historical references that were tied in with the art we were looking at. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have the actual artist there to answer questions, but when you’re not, it’s amazing what people will come up with. That’s not to say Marvin is wrong about his theories…
As for evolution, with a piece like this, that is essentially a monologue, it’s important that I continuously read it out loud so the pacing and sounds are accurate. Ideally anyone who reads it can come away and do a good imitation of Marvin.
2. The narrator in the story, Marvin, is completely fascinated by Jasper Johns’s artistic process (or what he imagines it to be anyway). He’s exhilarated by the idea that Johns’s paintings represent some mystical feat of “orderliness,” that beneath their orderly surfaces they contain other, hidden information. It seems like Marvin’s vision might be applied to short stories as well, particularly very short, condensed pieces like “The Importance of Flags.” Is this at all how you think of your writing process? As a kind of ordering or layering? Should we read your stories with x-ray eyes?
I definitely think of my writing as layered, and I think that’s true of flash fiction in general. It’s the kind of thing that goes by very quickly, but then you’re left savoring some of the piece’s density that makes you want to go back and see what it’s really about. You see a car driving by and you think you’ve processed the image, but when you think again, you realize that there was actually a sheep in the front seat wearing a top hat. In flash fiction, you don’t have a lot of room to explicate why the character is acting this way, to tell about the sister’s occupation, a neighbor’s hair color etc., so if you can hook readers with emotional gravity, then hopefully they’ll come back and explore other layers of the story. And, yes, you should read my stories with x-ray eyes and ideally a jar of Ba-Tampte garlic pickles.
3. If you could choose an artist to illustrate your work who would it be? Jasper Johns? Or someone else?
Although I’m pretty patriotic, I don’t think it would be Johns. Probably I’d pick Duane Hanson, whose work is a lot like flash fiction in the sense that when you first see it, your mind feels it can process what you’re seeing quickly because it looks pretty simple. A regular person. That’s clear. I get it. Most times, however, people do a double take when they realize that his sculptures aren’t actual people. My favorite piece of his is in the Orlando airport (MCO). I love standing next to it, then watching people pass by with their wheelie bags and then come back to ask me discretely—so he won’t hear—if that’s an actual person there in that glass box. Hanson’s work gets people to second-guess their initial reaction, and I hope that’s what my flash fiction will do.
4. What are you working on now?
I write a monthly column on food for Spoon Magazine here in Houston where I get to interview people who work in different aspects of food service – sommeliers, cheesemongers, etc. I’m also working on a novel that deals with anxiety and travel. And, of course, I’m continuing to polish my flash fiction collection. It’s getting very shiny.