Randall Brown Answers Some Questions
by Jaime Garner
Randall Brown teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Writing and Graduate Literature programs. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live
and has an essay in the anthology The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field.
Jaime Garner: It seems you are well known for writing flash fiction. Do you prefer writing shorter pieces like this or do you feel expected to write them because of your past success in this genre?
Randall Brown: As I write, my concentrated concern focuses upon getting the word right, and then for the words to line up exactly as they should. Of course, they rarely do. But that, I believe, made me a flash fiction writer, this desire to manipulate words instead of characters. I think, in truth, people expect me to write progressively longer pieces because that’s what real writers do, yes?, write long, unending things where characters act and fail, act and fail, act and fail, on and on, until finally the characters get some version of their desire and some hard-earned understanding of themselves and the world. I write flash and continue to write flash because I love writing flash; it fits my own desires for writing in every way. Flash is like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.
JG: You recently contributed to the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Can you tell me a little about your experience writing your essay for this? What do you feel is the most important piece of advice you gave?
RB: Grover’s appearance in this essay saved it and gave the essay its universal message: the monster at the end of every story is really yourself. Continuing with the Sesame Street theme, I do feel as if I’m the “one who doesn’t belong” among this group of writers, but then maybe I always feel that way. It’s a great guide. And Rose Metal Press is very cool.
JG: As well as writing for The Field Guide, I noticed on your blog (http://flashfiction.net) that you have written other essays and reviews. Do you prefer writing fiction to nonfiction?—or are there elements from both that you love?
RB: All writing to me seems to derive from a desire to figure something out, and in fiction I do that by pushing a character through some encounter that forces that character to confront my issues and figure something out about them. These pieces derive from that “splinter in the mind,” to borrow a term from The Matrix, that thing that creates a restlessness with the world. My essays always focus upon my trying to figure out something about writing, something surprising and unexpected. I’m especially interested in the flash fiction form (1) because I think it’s misunderstood as being just a short story told shorter and (2) because it’s a form that’s in the process of being defined and recreated.
JG: One piece of advice that is always thrown around to writers is “write what you know.” Is this true for you? Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from things that have happened in your life?
RB: The first sentence of this story is “We build a Gravity Bong with a 3-liter Thirstbuster bottle,” and you want to know if the writing comes from real life experiences. Very interesting. Of course not. Who would do such a thing?
JG: What was your inspiration for “Graduated” the piece that is appearing in SIR?
RB: It was that word graduated: “a tall narrow container with a volume scale used especially for measuring liquids.” Also a Far Side comic: an orderly in a nursery, rubbing babies on his head and sticking them to the walls. And, of course, gravity: forces that weigh you down and those that don’t.
JG: Besides writing and blogging, what do you do for fun?
RB: Well, I teach at and direct the MFA in Creative Writing and Graduate Literature programs at Rosemont College, outside of Philadelphia. I fly fish the spring & limestone creeks of Pennsylvania. My wife, Meg, recently started a nonprofit organization, Mutt Match, that matches dogs in rescues or shelters with families wanting to adopt, so I help her out with those efforts as much as I can. With two kids ages 14 and 11, there’s lots of driving around to various events and monitoring their Facebook accounts, email, and internet searching. And of course, I read, as all writers do, trying very hard not to be jealous of all the wondrous writing that seems far beyond my current talent.