First there was the Best American Short Stories series. Then came the storySouth Million Writers Award for notable fiction published online. Now there's the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2008.
Wigleaf is a relatively new online literary magazine dedicated to the art and craft of short fiction helmed by Scott Garson. His fiction has won awards from Playboy and from the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation and has appeared in many journals. He lives with his wife and two young kids in the Southern Midwest. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions about this bold new enterprise.
TEV: What made you decide to publish an online magazine primarily devoted to flash fiction?
SG: There are a few different ways to tell this story. Here's one: In '06 I was writing a lot of fiction in the 500-1,000 word range. But I wasn't reading any -- not until I placed a short in the print journal Quick Fiction and my contributor's copy arrived in the mail. That sort of changed my life. In Quick Fiction (and on the internet too, I soon learned, in places like elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, FRiGG, Juked, and NOO Journal), people were doing amazing things. There was this clear vitality and openness. It seemed to me that what I was seeing in the very short story was something still new, something still being wandered, explored. Some of my first thoughts about Wigleaf came out of wanting to be a more direct part of that.
TEV: Why "Wigleaf"?
SG: Why "Google"? That's what I was asking myself. Every domain name with forthright meaning -- with commercial potential, that is -- had been snagged by prospectors. On my way to pick up my kid from a playdate one day, I came up with the name 'Wigleaf.' I liked the 'wig.' I liked the 'leaf.' I liked to think of the leaf wigging.
TEV: Why do you think we're seeing more outlets for flash fiction? Do you think more people are writing and publishing flash for artisitic or pragmatic reasons?
SG: If there's a boom, the internet has fueled it. Launching a web journal is cheaper and easier than ever before, and when it comes to reading fiction on a computer screen, people are more likely to commit to shorts than to longer pieces.
As for artistic or pragmatic reasons? I love this question. It's huge. It's a beast.
There are definitely pragmatic reasons for writing, publishing and reading shorts. They're short! Our lives are busy! But there are artistic reasons too, and I'm more interested in these. One of the chapters in my unwritten book on this subject concerns the short's cousin, the formal short story. People who take classes in fiction writing are schooled in the short story, whether they know it or not. And they absorb plenty of rules. For the short story, there are these very clear expectations, ones that you either have to work with or against. I don't think the same is true of the short short. It's really wide open. If you're a writer, you love this. You get to put vision first.
I think readers may be responding for a similar reason. Joe Wenderoth has this line -- I think it's his line -- "Interpretation is a banishment ritual." Interpretation is a fussy activity, for sure. People learn it in high school, and it takes the fun out of the short story for them. If they understand that they don't 'understand' a story exactly, how can they like it? Short shorts, I think, let some readers sidestep all this. They read for the sake of reading.
TEV: All editors love good writing, but what do you look for when you decide what to publish? What makes an exceptional piece of flash fiction irresistable?
SG: Life and craft. For me, it's pretty much that simple. Life and craft. Sometimes you get neither. Sometimes you get one but not the other. Sometimes you get both -- and these are usually fine stories -- but there's a little less of one than the other. When you get both in high measure (borrowing from ESPN's Stuart Scott here) -- "BOO-YAH!"
TEV: What's been the biggest surprise you've experienced as an editor thus far?
SG: That's an easy one. The submissions. I never imagined that I'd get such great stories so quickly. I solicited a few writers before Wigleaf launched; later, when submissions started coming, I braced myself for what I thought was going to be a great quantity of novice writing. But there wasn't a great quantity. And it wasn't novice, or most of it wasn't. I think I accepted the second story that arrived in the inbox.
TEV: Tell me more about your Top 50 project.
SG: The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2008 will be an annual, more in the mode of Houghton Mifflin's Best American Short Stories than Pushcart. As Series Editor, I come up with the 'Long Shortlist' -- 200 worthy shorts that have appeared in web journals during the previous calendar year. From that list, the Selecting Editor chooses the Top 50. Links to these stories will be up on our site between May/June and August.
This year's Selecting Editor is Chad Simpson, and he did just a great job. We're both excited to be able to bring more attention to work we think really deserves it.
A small confession now: the idea for the Top 50 is at least as old as the idea for Wigleaf itself. I've been reading Houghton Mifflin's BASS for just about ever, and in late '06 I started saying to myself, Somebody should really do this for flash fiction. I actually drafted a letter to Meg Lemke at Houghton Mifflin, proposing a Best American Flash Fiction. Then I thought, My arguments will be more convincing if I can show her some work from a shortlist I'm keeping. Then I thought, Am I nuts? Houghton Mifflin isn't going to respond to this letter, no matter what I decide to put in it. But by that point I was already keeping a shortlist. And I liked doing it. So I decided to give the Top 50 to Wigleaf. Which meant I no longer had a choice: I had to bring Wigleaf to life.