Interview by Sandra Arnold
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview Patrick. I first came across your work in Flash Frontier in 2014 and every piece of yours that I have read since has moved me greatly. Could you tell us about the themes that attract you and why?
Kia ora, Sandra and thank you for this opportunity and thank you for your thoughts about my work. One of the themes that I still return to time and again is the perceived Other within society. Many of my characters are not members of the traditional mainstream. They may be a refugee or immigrant, poor or homeless, a LGBTQIA person or someone who is deaf or blind. In one of my fantasy/steampunk flashes, the main protagonist is a stranded earth-bound birdwoman who is trying to return to her home in the sky. What I strive to portray in these stories is the uniqueness of each and every person while holding onto the fact that we are more alike in our drives and hopes and fears and beliefs than what makes us different.
As well as being a writer you are a special needs teacher. Do you find this feeds into your writing?
Definitely. I enjoy working alongside young people with their exuberance and angst and all of the rollercoaster ups and downs that occur as they find their unique voice. I’m happy to be a part of their journey for whatever amount of time that we have together. It may sound cliché, but I learn so much from the young people I work with. I hope the feeling is mutual.
You grew up in the USA. What brought you to New Zealand?
I met my New Zealand partner in Texas, where we were both living and working at the time. As the relationship developed, it was going to prove challenging to remain in the US as a couple. New Zealand has de facto partnerships which allowed us to be together. Then Marriage Equality passed and then it miraculously passed in the US. People ask if we would go back now that the climate and the law has changed, but I don’t think so. I love Aotearoa too much.
When did you first start writing? What motivated you to write flash?
I remember the first book I wrote when I was eight years old. I even illustrated it, though no prizes for me as a visual artist. The story took place during the American Revolution War and was about a dog who carried encrypted notes back and forth across enemy lines. From there, I caught the writer’s ‘bug’ and haven’t stopped since.
Flash was a discovery I made about four years ago. I was always drawn to short stories and poetry, working in both forms. There are so many reasons that I enjoy the flash form. Flash allows me the canvas to express my love for the flow of language, the potency of imagery and the search for the right word that will express what is needed to tell a story in such a small space. Flash hones my skill as a writer and as an editor. There’s no frills or fluff in Flash. Every word and image counts. And when it is right, the story resonates.
There has been an enormous increase in the popularity of flash since the 1980s. The internet, of course, has helped its visibility. Do you think there are other reasons people enjoy reading this very short form?
Flash is very democratic. Anyone can do it and with the online spaces for publishing it is possible to find a niche that fits any writer. Of course, a writer needs to know about character, plot, point of view, description and dialogue. Flash takes all of these aspects of writing and distills them into 100, 200, 300, 1,000 words. You can read a piece during morning tea or on the train home from work, on any device. Flash is mobile. Flash is for these fast, frenetic times.
Is there a clear distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry or can these two forms overlap? Do they overlap in your own work? How do you see the form evolving?
I think flash fiction and prose poetry can overlap. As a writer, I don’t consider such distinctions when it comes to flash. Both forms work with language and imagery to convey a story. One of my favourite poems is The Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost, published in 1914. However, it is also a fine story that shares weighty themes such as family and friendship and mercy and redemption. It is centred around a conversation by a couple, Warren and Mary, who I think are brilliantly-drawn characters who are worthy of further stories. Frost’s piece works both as a poem and story and gives us a glimpse into Warren and Mary’s lives and personalities.
Are there any flash fiction writers and publications you particularly admire? What other forms do you enjoy reading?
I love reading and listening to good story. Any good story. I read all forms and genres. However, I admire everyone who has the courage to try Flash. I recently attended the NFFD 2018 in Auckland. This year there was the opportunity for many more writers, both new and seasoned to Flash, to read their work. I was also privileged to be one of the Youth Judges this year. It was inspiring to listen to writers read their Flash pieces. The use of precise language, the vivid imagery, the good story. It was all there. What a buzz!! Made me happy to be part of the community.
Of all the stories you have written can you name a favourite? Why?
That’s so hard. Every story has elements that I like. A certain image, a turn of phrase, a character who I like so much I want to include them in longer works. Some of my favourites are Across the Border, Icarus Carries American Dreams in his Pockets, Taking my Boyfriend to his Tangihanga and Gunshots are Too Common. There is a new story of mine that will be in the upcoming flash anthology, Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, by Canterbury University Press. Again, this piece explores the concept of the Other as outlaw, both literally and metaphorically.
What is most important to you in your work, character, plot or language or a combination? Do you know before you begin which will dominate or does the story determine the emphasis as it evolves?
All of those elements play a part and must come together as a whole, but for me, without a doubt, it’s character. Whether it is a theme of my choosing or one that is dictated by the publication, it is the character’s voice that comes to me first. They tell the story. They supply the language that I use. From there I fashion a clear beginning, middle and end that glimpses into that character’s life that I am witnessing and scribing. I put myself under their skin. I research, if it is outside my realm of experience. I observe. I ask ‘what does the character want to say and how?’
What advice would you give to new writers wanting to write flash fiction?
Learn the basics of good storytelling. Read like mad. Write even madder. Observe the nuances and minutiae of a place, an experience, a feeling and try to distill it down to its essential sensory image. Play with the language. Experiment. Find your voice.
Thank you, Patrick
Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois and lived significant amounts of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before settling in New Zealand. His flash fiction and short stories have been published internationally. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart prize and Best of the Net. In 2017, he placed first in the National Flash Fiction Day competition for his story, ‘Gunshots are Too Common’. The story addresses bullying and homophobia in an all-boys college. Patrick is honoured to have two pieces in the 2018 anthology, Bonsai: The Big Book of Small Stories from Canterbury University Press. Patrick remains an avid flasher.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia. Her work appears in numerous international journals. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee. Her third novel Ash will be published by Mākaro Press (NZ) in 2019 and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings will be published by Retreat West Books (UK) in 2019. More at her website: www.sandraarnold.co.nz
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