Monday, April 2, 2012

We Bury the Landscape: The Art of Flash Fiction

Sometimes, more times than I'd like to admit these days, I feel sort of "old school".  I grew up typing papers on typewriters, and using correction fluid or tape for errors. The switch to a personal computer was pretty easy for me (I'm a huge fan of Apple computers), and I'm tech savvy enough to have a blog, but in some respects, I'm rather "old school".  In my mind, I still picture writers hunched over typewriters,  cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. (Not the healthiest image, thanks to Hollywood!) And flash fiction, also called microfiction, is a relatively new concept to me. I've heard of flash fiction (and have tried my own hand at some writing prompts, like Tess Kincaid's Magpie Tales),  and I enjoy reading short stories, very much, but what constitutes the essence of  short, short stories, called flash fiction?  What is flash fiction? Additionally, I noticed the word 'ekphrastic' used in reviews of We Bury the Landscape: An Exhibition-Collection, a new collection of flash fiction by Kristine Ong Muslim; I needed to look up this word.  Before I could attempt to write something about this author's work,  I had to do a bit of research.

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.


  1. I'm old fashioned too Suko. When zi tell my kids I had typing class in school the look at me like I'm nuts lol
    Thanks for the post on flash fiction. I do enjoy reading these types of short short stories. I like it when slot is said with just a few words.

  2. Sorry for the typos.
    'When I'..... and 'a lot' instead of slot lol

    1. No worries, Naida. Typos are unavoidable. Thank you very much for your comment.

  3. I struggle with short stories … so I'm not sure how I'd fare with flash fiction!

  4. What an interesting book! I am definitely going to seek it out. The lines you highlighted are stunning in their clarity, and beautiful in their imagery. Now I am wondering about the difference between flash fiction and a prose poem. Never knew there was a word limit to the former. Thanks so much for this, Suko.

  5. I hadn't heard of the term "flash fiction" so was happy to learn something new to me. I am not a huge fan of short stories for some reason -- not sure why.

  6. Flash Fiction is new to me, it was interesting to read about it. Like Diane, it is nice to learn something new each day.

  7. Sounds interesting! Have a great week.

  8. Having read Kristine's poetry before & enjoyed it, this has appeal & is something I aim to get at some point ( already got Smaller than Most). For an interesting take on Flash Fiction & it's rise check out Lee Rourke's A Brief History of Fables: From Aesop to Flash Fiction.

  9. Very interesting post today. I get the feeling that flash fiction is sort of like poetry on steroids, if you will. I have not ever read any flash fiction but it would be interesting to take a look at some and see what my reactions are. A very unique and wonderful post today Suko! Thanks for sharing this!

  10. I learned something new today too. I suppose even short stories can be made even shorter, almost 'instant' these days:)

  11. I didn't realize there was a book comprised of flash fiction.

    I'm familiar with the concept and I like the micro stories. To me they read like an excerpt from a novel or short story. Most of them leave me wanting more.

    There's a Flash Fiction Challenge at Tink's Place. A new picture prompt goes up every Monday. I don't write but I enjoy reading the posts from the participants.

    1. Leslie, thanks for letting me know about this!

  12. I think I'm really "old school" and didn't know at all flash fiction before reading your very interesting post. Thanks to you and to the author : I'll search if we have flash fiction in France.

  13. This sounds very interesting! I hear you being old school. I took typing class in high school on a typewriter, and e-mail was a new thing when I was in college. LOL


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