Interview with 2016 NANO Judge Kellie Wells
Kirby Johnson: You are the author of Compression Scars, a collection of short stories (and the winner of the Flannery O¹Connor Award), and Fat Girl, Terrestrial a novel published by Fiction Collective Two. Many new writers of flash fiction are concerned with length. They want to know how to know how long a story should be. Can you speak to how your stories evolve into their final forms? Who are some of your favorite flash writers, and what do you look for in flash fiction?
Kellie Wells: Diane Williams is probably the writer whose work introduced me to the form and its possibilities and is therefore the first name that springs to mind. What I like about her work is the way each story moves by some nearly-but-not-quite alien set of associations that I can only grasp intuitively. I’m drawn to flash fiction that takes advantage of the form by doing something a longer story couldn’t dream of getting away with, the power or effect of which would necessarily be diminished by length.
KJ: You once said that with the help and wisdom of your students, you get to plumb a lot of ideas, work through a lot of issues of craft, and that you hoped this daily engagement in literary conversation kept your imaginatively nimble. Have you ever had a time where you didn’t have that outlet? What effect did it have on your writing, and what sort of advice can you give writers who may not have the luxury of a classroom to engage in their craft?
KW: I lived abroad for a couple of years and during that time wasn’t around creative writers or even many English speakers. This was actually great for the writing. Although I wasn’t being exposed to a variety of narrative strategies, as in a craft course or workshop, it did put me in touch with aspects of my native tongue that had previously operated on autopilot and gone unnoticed, unexamined. Anything that helps to defamiliarize the world, anything that makes you a stranger in the strange land of the everyday, is a great boon to a writer, so certain kinds of isolation can be beneficial.
KJ: What advice do you have for the writers out there who have yet to publish their first story?
KW: You only get to publish your first story once, and no subsequent publication feels quite like that, so there’s something to be said for taking pleasure in the excitement of your impending success, in the lead-up to that inaugural splash. In the meantime, I recommend just reading your liver out.
KJ: What can we look forward to from Kellie Wells?
KW: I have a collection of short fiction coming out in 2018, from the University of Notre Dame Press. It’s called God, the Moon, and Other Megafauna.