Thinking of writing flash fiction? Writing Padder and Flash Fiction Writer Tammy Delatorre recently wrote and workshopped her flash fiction piece, “Scar Girl,” at the Writing Pad. A few weeks later, she got this piece published on The Molotov Cocktail. Read an interview with Tammy below, conducted by Rutgers University student Nikhila Manchikanti. Nikhila asks Tammy about her inspiration for “Scar Girl” and why she writes flash fiction.
You too can hone your short story chops like Tammy by taking Matthew Specktor’s Flash Fiction Workshop at Writing Pad on June 23.
What was your inspiration for writing this story?
I actually included the inspiration for “Scar Girl” in the story. I was watching Shark Week, an episode called the “Great White Highway” on Discovery Channel. I learned about a female shark the marine biologists had digitally tagged off the coast of California, and whom they called Scar Girl. The image of her stuck in my mind, as well as the idea that a shark’s sexual nature is violent. I imagined what the male sharks did to her in order for her to earn that moniker. The scientists tracked her, and it seemed she went back every year to the same place to mate. It struck a primal place in me. Then I imagined a woman who might see herself as Scar Girl, and I wondered what that woman would be like.
Describe the process of getting it published.
I actually saw that documentary in 2013. I wrote about it in my journal, but I immediately saw the potential for a story, because I was infatuated with her. I input the journal entry into my computer and continued to tinker with it for a couple years until I could imagine a woman who might see herself as Scar Girl. I knew what she did on the weekends, how she liked water. I was having trouble with it, so I brought it to DC Pierson’s workshop at the Writing Pad. After that, I felt pretty happy with it and sent it out to a couple publications. The Molotov Cocktail was the first to get back to me, and I personally love the work they publish so I was thrilled to have it published there.
How did you first get interested in writing flash fiction, and is it your preferred form?
I love reading flash fiction, and so it followed that I wanted to give it a try. I had spent several years writing a draft of a novel, which didn’t get published and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I thought if I kept writing, I’d eventually figure out what I needed to do. But at the time, I wanted to do something different, not a novel, the antithesis of a novel. So I started writing micro-fiction, challenging myself to write a 250-word story each week for about 10 weeks. I guess I had a knack for it because around that time, I wrote a flash fiction called, “Gifts from My Mother,” which won the River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest. I was awarded $1500 and a case of beer. I was amazed that I could earn so much money for such a short story.
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of flash fiction as a form?
The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson had this idea of a “decisive moment,” which he tried to capture in his photographs, when the organization of forms create and express what I think of as the story in his photos. I try to think of flash fiction as having a decisive moment, and try to use the form to flash upon a moment that reflects a rather complex character and emotional life. That’s the beautiful advantage of the form. The disadvantage is it’s deceptively hard to do. There have been many pieces, like “Scar Girl,” that I’ve worked on for a couple years, while there’ve been other pieces that I’ve written pretty much in full form in one sitting. “Gifts from My Mother” was written in about 20 minutes, during a class taught by Judy Reeves, who was also a teacher at the Writing Pad.
Do you think that the growing popularity of flash fiction has any correlation with the shift from print to digital media?
Yes, I love the evolving nature of storytelling. Some people try to write stories the length of a text message. Other people write books on their cell phones. I’ve also seen the use of Facebook posts in stories, so sure, I think the two—digital media and storytelling—are evolving and continue to influence one another. They say our attention spans are decreasing and all that; but in the end, the concept of storytelling endures no matter the form. Long form still persists. Think about petroglyphs. Those storytellers had rock surfaces and some type of instrument to scratch out stories. They might have wondered, do you think this paper thing is going to change things? Sure, it did. Things shift, and that’s exciting.
What are the challenges of writing flash fiction?
As I said before, the challenge is it’s harder than it looks. I’ve read a lot of flash fiction, and to me, my favorite stories focus in on a moment, which reflects a broader understanding of the character. Flash fiction should have sensory detail. It should include as many of the elements of storytelling as possible.
If you’re writing a novel, it’s intuitive that you’re going to have to spend some time creating and getting to know a character. But because flash fiction has fewer words, it seems as if it should be easier to write. I think there are times when writers might sit down and blast out a flash fiction in almost complete form in their first attempt. I’ve done it, but those instances have only been successful for me, when I’ve been carrying those characters around for a long time, perhaps in my memory or in association with another story I worked on.
I personally love sharks, which is why this piece appealed to me. Why did you choose sharks and how did it relate to the story?
I’m originally from Hawaii, so sharks have been a real—and ongoing fear—for me. My family spent a lot of time in the water, swimming and fishing. We saw sharks, and I definitely have contemplated how unfortunate it would be to fall victim to the food chain, and wouldn’t it hurt to be bitten and torn apart. Today, I live in Hermosa Beach. There was a recent shark attack not far from here, which I mentioned in the story. I paddleboard. I snorkel and scuba dive. I worry about running into sharks. They get hungry.
Don’t forget to check out Writing Pad’s Flash Fiction Workshop with Mark Specktor on June 23