Conversation with Francine Witte

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Blog, Fiction, Interview, News

by Swetha Amit

SW: RADIO WATER is a beautiful collection of flash stories dealing with poignant themes. What inspired this selection, and how did you put it all together?

FW: I published a book last year, Just Outside the Tunnel of Love, and found that there were stories that did not fit in with that collection. I made a list of those stories published in various places, selected the best and decided to assemble a collection. I made sure that I didn’t have two stories of a similar premise and observed the main themes emerging from these stories: loss, relationships, and family. I touch upon climate change, but that’s more prominent in my poetry. I look at the tone of the stories to see if most of them are serious or if I want to include a story where the tone could be lighter. The length of these stories varies. Some are just a single paragraph, while others are longer. So, I spread them out, keeping in mind what will draw the readers into reading the next story in the collection.

Where do you draw inspiration from for these flash stories, and what is your writing process?

I attend many workshops where prompts are a source of inspiration. It’s interesting how a word is bound to bring out something you might not have consciously thought about. Aside from prompts, walking or moving around always stimulates me. A phrase will occur in my head, eventually becoming a title. Then, I’ll ask myself what the story would be about and go from there. I typically write a half-hour a day and use prompts as a way to get started.

In some stories, you use the first person; in others, the second person; and in others, thethird person. How do you decide on the narrative voice?

I start with “I” or “you,” though “you” is a fancy way of saying “I.” Sometimes, I step back when I find myself too close to the story. The limitation of first person is that we only know what the narrator knows. That’s when I use the third person, which allows me to understand every character’s point of view. I let the readers become observers. It’s fun to do as long as it’s working. So, I tend to choose the narrative voice depending on how close I want the narrator to be to the story.

I was intrigued by the structure you adopted in the stories – “How to Answer the Door” and “Cross Country.” What inspired this unique form and structure?

Sometimes, when I decide a story is going to be a micro, I make it tight by leaving out a lot of words and descriptions. When I decide a story will be longer, I need help with a good start or getting the character arc without sounding boring. That’s when it might work better in sections. I can flesh out the interesting parts and give the necessary space. Using sections also allows me to jump in time with sections and have each character’s perspective.

Your stories contain images of the ocean, fish, and seagulls. What fascinates you about them?

The magnetic charm of the ocean attracts me. I live in New York City and have always lived an easy distance from the beach. When I lived in other parts of the US, I’d always miss it. I notice how vast the ocean is, and it tempts me to explore how small a person feels standing next to it. I also, like all the visual imagery—the boats, fish, and birds flying around it—which compels me to include them in my stories.

Do you feel your poetry writing influences flash and vice versa? Have you often trodden upon blurred boundaries in your writing?

Absolutely. I started as a poet, as my MFA is in poetry. I have always been drawn to compressed forms. Back in the ‘80s, when flash wasn’t around much, I used to write one-act plays and realize an entire story was present. One thing I take away from poetry is saying very little in that space and trusting the reader to understand what I am trying to say. When Flash became more popular, I naturally gravitated towards it. Flash allows you to use metaphor, simile, and imagery, much like poetry. Those devices are difficult to sustain in longer stories.

How did you approach the breathless sentence?

What I love about the breathless sentence is that you can keep going when you start writing. There is a momentum that builds and is really fun for the writer. It’s an opportunity you don’t have in real life to keep going on and on. A breathless sentence is good to use when there is an excessive thought process in that story, and the character is rambling or obsessing about a particular moment or an event that is about to take place. You can throw all your thoughts and go in different directions, which is fun to explore.

Endings are the most challenging part of any story. Tell us more about your approach to endings in a flash.

I find endings very elusive. A beginning and end are essential but don’t have to be noticeable. Endings can work in a way that leaves the reader thinking that’s probably what will happen to the characters. The way I approach endings is to tell you just enough, something suggestive, and let the readers draw their conclusions.

Since you began writing flash, has this form gained the respect it deserves?

I first wrote flash while teaching in a high school in the ‘90s. It was called the short-short story then. My students were drawn to these stories that were 1-2 pages long. I didn’t have many examples, so I wrote one. It was a story about a bear in the window (which is in RADIO WATER) and I discussed the conflict, the character, all of it. Then, I took a class with Roberta Allen, one of the original flash fiction writers, and her prompts inspired me to write more flash. I would send them out to journals, and they would get accepted. Then, suddenly, over time, there was this flash fiction revolution. I think that flash fiction is certainly becoming an important genre. It’s important to remember that flash isn’t just a story in a few words; it is doing something more than traditional forms of stories do. Some publishers might not publish a flash collection. Not yet, anyway. It’s just a matter of time.

Are there any favorite authors/books that inspire you?

I like John Steinbeck, and Of Mice and Men is one of my favorite books, as that was my first introduction to a novella. I also like George Orwell’s 1984, Bernard Malamud, and many others.

Lastly, are there any upcoming projects?

I have a poetry book coming out later this year. I also wrote a novella-in-flash long ago, which I reworked and sent to Roi Faineant. They have been publishing it on their website in serial form and release four chapters weekly. It’s called Me, I Call myself Girl.

Bio: Francine Witte is the author of eleven books of poetry and flash fiction. Her flash fiction Collection, RADIO WATER, was published by Roadside Press in January 2024. Her poetry collection is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. She is flash fiction editor of FLASH BOULEVARD.

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