The Hug of Flash Nonfiction

April 25, 2013 § 2 Comments


brendamiller_0Brevity intern Justin Weller interviews Brenda Miller, one of Brevity‘s favorite repeat contributors:

JW: What do you like about writing flash nonfiction? What do you think works better in flash nonfiction compared to what works in longer pieces?

Brenda Miller: I like the way flash nonfiction is so contained. I can feel myself settling in quite quickly and making myself at home, like a guest who’s treated as part of the family. There are no awkward niceties, no tours of the house; instead I bustle right in and throw down my things, put my feet up on the table, and start either laughing uproariously with my host or settling in for a deep talk. Do you know how it feels when you see an old friend you haven’t spoken to in years, but it feels like you take up where you left off without missing a beat? That’s how writing a flash piece feels to me. Because of this, a flash piece, for me, needs to emerge organically from a an unexpected image or be triggered by a line of poetry that rings in your ears. It can’t be thought out too hard (or at all) ahead of time. You need to just walk through the door. You need to welcome whatever you find there and greet it with all your attention, lean in for the kind of hug that happens between old friends. Not the brief embrace. Not the nice pat on the back. The heart-to-heart hug. A hug that hums.

JW: In one of the many pieces you’ve published in Brevity, “Swerve,” why did you choose to write that in the second person, and what do you think this does for the piece?

Brenda Miller: I can’t say that I “chose” to write “Swerve”  in the second person, because the form demanded it. My writing buddies and I assigned each other to write an apology to someone or something in our past. So I started out writing it to an old boyfriend about something trivial, but it ended up in the end being an apology to that young self who put herself in danger.  I couldn’t have thought through that transition ahead of time; it had to happen through the details that emerge through written remembrance.

JW: What is your favorite flash nonfiction piece that you have ever written?

Brenda Miller: That’s a tough one.  I love them all. But “Swerve” is definitely up there because it does so much in a short amount of time. It also has that element of surprise for me as the writer, and I hope for the reader as well. It showed me something I hadn’t quite articulated before. And it validated for me the power of starting with the small detail–something I tell my students all the time, but a truth I need to continually enact for myself.

Brenda Miller is the author of Listening Against the Stone: Selected Essays (Skinner House Books 2011), Blessing of the Animals (Eastern Washington University Press 2009), and Season of the Body (Sarabande Books 2002). She co-authored, with poet Holly J. Hughes, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (Skinner House Books, 2012). She is also the co-author of Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, 2nd Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2012).

Justin Weller is an undergraduate English major at Ohio University.

§ 2 Responses to The Hug of Flash Nonfiction

  • Wow, I just read Swerve, and I am in awe. Perfectly, powerfully written. I love the idea of starting with a small detail and following its story. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • Reinhilde Vandorpe says:

    Just looked up ‘Swerve’ and I’m grateful for this precious example of flash nonfiction. So much happened in so few words. A whole lifetime actually. This story is an experience, and I was there too. Perfect and thank you!

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