Joanna Howard

Response & Bio

Question 1. Sean Thomas Dougherty has stated that " For the Flash Fiction, I find it hard to believe - or yet to read one I find successful - that includes more than 2 or 3 characters... or is driven by more than one dominant voice or includes more than one or two scenes." Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Dougherty's assertation? Can you think of any writers who have successfully gone beyond these borders?

One of my all time favorite stories, flash or otherwise, is Dino Buzzati's short-short story "The Falling Girl" in which a young girl commiting suicide from the top of a posh appartment building, falls rather infinitely toward the ground in a nice suspension of time. As she falls, she passes many windows, leaving the inhabitants of the floors between her and the ground to comment and examine her, ask her to stop in, to reconsider or postpone. Each of these characters is a type, as the main character is a type, but the way the fall stretches out over time, until the girl herself is terrifically aged, the responses change as the girl changes, and each piece of dialogue is a new characterization. In short, with delicacy and care, the structure of the story will sustain as many characters as there is space for them in story, but the moment of the story must grow to accomodate them, and this perhaps demands the surreal or the fantastic.

Question 2. Reflecting upon the idea of "genreless writing" or "writing that finds its own form" Cole Swensen has said that, " a genre becomes a target, tying down the other end of the piece; the beginning is necessarily tied down to the writer; if the free end gets tied down too soon, options would be missed. Writing without genre would be writing without this target, without a receiving end, with in some way must add up to 'without a reader.'" What writers past and present have proceeded furthest down the road of "genreless writing" and what, if any, constraints have they broken in doing so? What doors have they opened? Or just this: is genreless writing possible?

I have recently been trying to explain to some introductory creative writing students that Italo Calvino's IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER is a noveless novel: a work which seeks to subvert the readers expectations of the genre of novel. Perhaps this is wrong, because in the longrun it celebrates the power of the novel. The saving grace for IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT is that after it has broken its genre boundaries, it snatches them up metafictionally. These are the lines that intersect and the lines that interlace. Truly genreless writing, in my mind, never bows to the desire to metafictionally comment. Instead, like the schizophrenic fiction of Ann Quin, each time the thread of a genre is picked up, it becomes smeared with language play, so the reader must needs forget the form, as the form moves and shifts. The sense of the work being written disappears; it seems orderless, chaotic, and only something like the ocean can rise up out of the background and serve to root the reader.

Question 6. Pedro Ponce has said that his prose poem hero is, " Barry Yourgrau because he invests the minutiae of everyday life - a family dinner, a chance meeting, a fireside nap in an armchair - with the suggestive logic and imagery of dreams." Who is your pp/ff hero? What do they do that makes them so distinct from other pp/ff writers?

My hero of the short-short is easily Gary Lutz. I think that often the trend in flash fiction and perhaps the prose poem is that the language must rise up, lightly, like powder in the air. This is certainly a pleasurable effect, when an image begins to lilt sonorously away from the page. I think however, I prefer Lutz's style, where the language becomes heavily knotted to mind/body. Syntax becomes visceral expression, and after reading a story like his "It Collects in Me" one has a sense of a brutal psychology perpetrated through language. His stories are emotionally apocalyptic and though language is their center, this langauge is not light, and musicality must turn darkly in on itself.


Joanna Howard has published stories in Chicago Review, Quarterly West, Western Humanities Review, 3rd Bed, and elsewhere. She is currently finishing a collection of stories, and at work on a novel in short-shorts.

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