What is flash fiction? Wikipedia to the rescue! Flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity. Although there are no hard and fast rules or requirements for this genre, many pieces of flash fiction range from three hundred to one thousand words, although to Steve Moss, editor of the New Times, the requirement is exactly fifty-five words. The title of a piece of flash fiction is often short as well, seven words or less. As for the term ekphrastic, it means a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art.
We Bury the Landscape, published in 2012, is a collection of one hundred flash fiction stories based on various pieces of art (mostly paintings), by writer Kristine Ong Muslim, whose short fiction and poetry has been featured in numerous publications around the world. Her short, descriptive, intelligent flash fiction is ekphrastic; each is based on a work of modern or contemporary art, by artists like Salvador Dali, René Magritte, and Joan Miró. Although the artworks were not pictured in my copy of the book, I did not miss them; it was easy to read and savor the power of her pieces, which are bold and evocative, sometimes humorous, and always to the point, in a way that must be unique to flash fiction. Because of the brevity involved, each word must be exactly right. Her pieces are impactful, expressive, and profound. Here are a few lines from her piece, Colored Pencils, inspired by Paulo Rosa's coloured abynthesis--coloured pencils:
"Our eyes bleed a thousand colors as you push us against paper. Funny how you think these strokes are yours. They are our pain, you see, our stories."
As I read We Bury the Landscape, I had a couple of questions for the author, which she graciously answered for me. Fittingly, here is the micro-interview.
1) Why did you choose to write flash fiction? How were you introduced to this genre?
KOM: I chose flash fiction because of its aesthetic quality – it can be forced to appear as a single block of prose. When I planned to write We Bury the Landscape, I imagined the artwork on the left page and the block of prose on the right. I also believe that there is no way I can make longer stories out of paintings. The story is already sort of pre-written for me. I am a big reader of clever, entertaining, pithy stories. Rhys Hughes is one of my favorites; he has clearly mastered the art of the flash fiction. The writers who introduced me to flash fiction were Bruce Boston and Bruce Holland Rogers.
2) What additional work of art, if any, do you wish you'd also written about in this book, and why?
KOM: A Michael Whelan art! Michael Whelan did many of the covers of the books on my bookshelf. I should have done, at least, one mini-tale for one of his paintings. But alas, I already reached the 100-story mark when I realized the oversight. If I did a Whelan story, then I would probably choose this particular minimalist image. It’s called Passage Avatar. And it would probably be about a sentient gate wondering where everybody had gone.
Kristine, thank you for answering my questions, and for sharing this stunning collection with me. You, too, have mastered the art of flash fiction!
Your comments are appreciated as always.