Collections that will make you fall in love with flash fiction
May is Short Story Month, otherwise known as a great excuse for me to talk about my love of flash fiction. Flash fictions are short-short stories. They usually run 1,000 words or less and are driven by language, detail, and rhythm. I’ve been the editor of the online flash-fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010 and have read thousands of flash stories. I’ve fallen madly in love with the form, and you should, too.
There are several things that make flash fiction wonderful. They are often experimental and fun, playing around with form and style and language in a way that’s delightful to read. They are filled with tiny epiphanies and moments, those small changes and shifts that make up a lifetime.
They are also brief, which means you can consume an entire world and emotional experience while waiting for your bus to arrive or your tea to brew. (SmokeLong gets its name from a Chinese term that suggests stories should only take as long to read as it takes to smoke a cigarette.)
You can, of course, read a ton of amazing flash fiction in the many online journals publishing today. But the real delight is finding a book-length collection of flash that allows you to absorb the way good flash fictions can play off one another and create something even larger and more beautiful.
Here are some of my favorite collections of flash. If you are new to the form, these would be great books to check out. But don’t blame me if you get all starry-eyed about the form — I did warn you.
Truck Dance by Jeff Landon (Matter Press). Jeff Landon is one of my favorite writers of flash fiction because he makes it look so effortless. You’ll love this tiny collection of tiny stories about men with good intentions who often flounder and sometimes fail. One of my favorites here is “Five Fat Men in a Hot Tub” (originally published in SmokeLong Quarterly), which combines humor with a poignancy that will stab you in the gut.
Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick (Queen's Ferry Press). The places are familiar here. They are warm homes, waking quietly in the dawn. They are dark bars, back yards, your favorite diner. Flick's writing always makes me feel like I've settled under a warm blanket and someone's cooking a delicious bread in the next room. Her writing is frank and her details are always splendid, but there is of course a sense of danger or loss brewing underneath these cozy spaces. I'm always in awe of the way these stories, even the tiniest ones, feel so complete.
Superman on the Roof by Lex Williford (Rose Metal Press). If you like your flash linked — that is, each story works to create a larger narrative — then be sure to snag this novella-in-flash from Rose Metal Press. RMP, known for its amazing hybrid books, hosts a chapbook contest each year, and Williford's wonderful book was the winner in 2016. The flash fictions here follow a young man as he and his family deal with the illness and death of his little brother. In just 56 pages, Williford is able to create a world and an emotional arc that makes you feel like you’ve just read a long novel.
The Best Small Fictions anthology series, edited by Tara Masih (Braddock Avenue Books). Now in its fourth year, BSF is quickly becoming the gold standard for capturing the best of flash writing out there. Each book in the series features about 50 flash fictions published during the previous calendar year, selected by a rotating guest editor (past selecting editors have been Robert Olen Butler, Stuart Dybek, and Amy Hempel). If you want a good cross-sectional survey of the best places to read short-short fiction, these books are the place to get that.
Sudden Fiction Latino edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and Ray Gonzalez (W.W. Norton). The Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction series in general are worth adding to your shelf for the sheer amount of amazing talent that graces their pages. I select Sudden Fiction Latino in particular for two reasons: one because it’s probably a lesser-known edition of the series and deserves more exposure, and two because there’s a story I read in it that has stuck with me for many years. The anthology is filled with vibrant flash writing from Latin American and U.S. Latino writers, and the stand-out story for me was “The White Girl” by Luis Alberto Urrea. You can read it online at the Barcelona Review, but when you fall in love, go ahead and order the anthology for more, more, more.