May 5, 2011

Why Small and Quick is Lethal: Joseph Quintela's 'Short, Fast and Deadly'

Every Saturday, Minifiction starts to fidget. Our sandaled feet slap our parquet floor with impatience, our fingers stab the F5 key until it relents with unspringy fatigue, and, by nightfall, Madame Minifiction has been forced to slip something soothing into our bedtime beverage. Why? Simple: Because every Sunday,
Joseph Quintela publishes the next edition of his superb eLit Mag, Short, Fast and Deadly.

Okay, we exaggerate. Only, not really, because
Short, Fast and Deadly is a micro-fan's dream -- original micro-poetry and prose, fewer than 140 and 420 characters respectively, that lambasts Minifiction's earlier assertion that quality English language minifiction is a rarity. Shame on us.

The work featured here, by a growing number of international writers, is fresh, funky and forward-moving. And it is, of course, short. Fast. And Deadly: not like a grand piano tumbling from a fifth floor balcony, but more like a slayer of disbelief in the verve and scope of the ultra short.

Quintela is himself a widely-published author of (among other things) some striking micro writing, examples of which you can find in this blog. Check out "Little White Lie", for example, where he seems to have superimposed the hard cop genre over an ER canvas, in fewer than 420 characters, and made it work:

Little White Lie

Diagnosis split. Half in. Half out. All bad. Nurses and residents turned to white lemmings. Ready to leap at a gasp. Not Dr. Ted Black. Black was cool. Black was calm. A cobra surveying the scene. All mesmerizing eyes and coiled fingers. When Black got home that night he poured a double. “Lost one?” asked Mrs. Black, eyebrow raised. “Didn’t lose shit,” Black snapped back. It was true. He’d signed the certificate DOA.

(by Joseph Quintela, first published by blink|ink)

Minfiction spoke to Quintela about
Short, Fast and Deadly, his views on the process and place of micro-writing, and the impact of technology on literature.


Can you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of ‘Short, Fast and Deadly’? How did you come up with the idea, how did you get it off the ground, and why 420 characters and not, say, 421 or 419?

Like many of my projects, Short, Fast, and Deadly was born out of procrastination. I was kicking around an essay analyzing Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and hitting walls left and right. As one will do in these situations, I logged on to facebook. I was blathering away in status updates when the blathering started to take a fictive turn and I just went with it for a while. But when I tried to post the resulting story, facebook wouldn’t let it go up because of the 420 character limit. So, like a game of literary limbo, I kept paring it down and trying to re-post until finally it made it under. And the result was pretty kick-ass. Then I thought to myself, why not start a weekly review? I stayed up all night putting together the website, sent out some requests for submissions and a week later the first issue went up at 3:59pm EST. We (my Chihuahua co-editors and I) haven’t missed a Sunday since. As for the essay, I banged it out in a bleary-eyed coffee-fueled marathon session between breakfast and lunch the next day before my 1pm deadline. And won a hefty prize for it a few months later. So win-win.

What makes a micro stand out to you?


You write micros yourself, and have been widely published. I’ve read some of them and they’re great: punchy and creative. When did you start writing micros and what got you started?

My affair with the micro form began with writing poetry on Twitter. When I started there was already quite a bit of poetry on Twitter but most of it was Haiku. What struck me as odd was this: here was a tool that offered poetry a completely different kind of constraint and yet people were gravitating to an old form. So I set about writing a series of 140 poems in exactly 140 characters letting the natural constraint offered by Twitter be my guide, my Virgil. See, I’m a little type-A, so having to hit 140 on the nose appealed to me. My predilection for experimentation made the shift to fiction inevitable. And if you’ve read the first question in this interview you know how that happened. I have an electronic chapbook of micro fiction over at Silkworms Ink with a special, expanded print edition coming out in June via Deadly Chaps. Besides that, I’m on a bit of a break from micro right now in favor of some more conceptual expressions of poetry. But the micro is a fine tool to have in one’s toolbox and I know I’ll come back to it again and again.

The Misunderstanding of Jake Sinder

A city snowed under. A trite white cliché of a setting. That's where Jake Sinder was when I found him. Drunk. Making snow angels and pissing on wings. An hour earlier he'd sent a text: "In Central Park—find me". I'd thought: "Why not?" Sinder was always worth a laugh. A year later to the day. The funeral was somber. The family probably hadn't spoken to him in a decade. I winced every time the minister said "Angel."

(by Joseph Quintela, first published by the Camroc Press Review)

In your opinion, setting length aside, does micro literature differ from the longer forms in ways that are easily discernible? I’m always curious to know if micro writers feel that their best stories would still be as effective if they were longer.

I’ll field the second part of that question first. Absolutely not. The form should fit the story and not the other way around. If I’m writing micro fiction it’s because I believe the notion that I’m trying to express is best communicated through extreme brevity. Back to the first part of your question. At first glance I may seem to contradict myself but bear with me. I’m of the camp that believes no great literature is easily discernible. Particularly after Modernism the question of genre has become increasingly difficult to answer. This is not to say that I think form is meaningless. In fact, I think it matters quite a bit. When I critique literature one of my first interests is to try and ascertain how the formal elements are reinforcing thematic concerns. But at this point there is a long tradition of appropriating, de-constructing, and even perverting form to find new entry points for addressing the difficult literary questions that refuse to go away. And I think that’s a good thing. For instance, Douglas Kearney just put out a collection of poems in a format that appropriates the form of the LP and record sleeve. And I think he’s said something there before you even read the first word.

I read an interview with a writer who said his flash pieces are essentially longer stories pared down. I tend to see it otherwise, and consider my writing to be built from the ground up. Do you have an opinion on that?

There’s no way right way to write. That’s a matter to be settled between author and pen (or cursor, these days).

Does micro fiction get the recognition and audience it deserves?

Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. Crap. Recognition? That’s such a hard question to answer. I don’t think any writing gets the recognition it deserves. I mean, everyone knows how important James Joyce was to literature but what percentage actually sit down and read every word of Ulysses (I have)? Or Finnegan’s Wake (I certainly haven’t)? Audience is even harder. I’ve been gravitating toward the avant-garde lately and one of the things you have to accept there is that by definition you’re writing to an audience that doesn’t yet exist and may never exist at all. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about audience. It just means part of your task is trying to guess how the mind of your future audience will be configured and how best to communicate to those minds. And in a way, this should be the mindset of all writers. Another way of thinking about this is to recognize that the size of your audience will always be dependent on the doors you open and the doors you close. Sometimes the closed doors are just as important as the open ones.

What impact, if any, do you think that technology (in particular the Internet) has had on micro fiction?

Huge. Technology (particularly the internet) has re-configured our minds to process vast amounts of information in very short spans of time. This is a problem for the novel (though not an insurmountable one). But it’s a huge advantage for micro fiction. One of those doors I spoke of in the last question is already open; now the writer just needs to put something on the other side of it. I make it sound so easy.

How do you see ‘Short, Fast and Deadly’ developing in the future?

Our most ambitious project right now is the annual chapbook series through our annex Deadly Chaps. We published five last year and have five more coming this summer starting with a double-release of Dancers on Rocks by Neila Mezynski and Radland by Sean Ulman slated for 29 June. Monthly releases will follow featuring: Jim Tolan, Jenny Rossi, and Ken Pobo. Besides that, I probably won’t know the next step until I have another major deadline to procrastinate over. That’s just how I work.


1 comment:

  1. Cool Interview!!!
    Sounds like a crazy/creative genius at work - with all due respect ;)
    Definitely going to check out "Short, Fast, and Deadly"!!!
    And I am also curious about that essay on Mrs. Dalloway - I just read it a few weeks ago and only Reading it make me wanna hit the walls sometimes ;)