Dear Zero Flash,
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about writing and publishing. For readers who don’t know me, my name is Christopher James and I’m a flash fiction writer and the editor of Jellyfish Review. I should warn you that talking about myself gives me the heebie-jeebies, so please forgive me if I run away and hide beneath the bedsheets in the middle of one of these questions!
What got you interested in writing and publishing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but running a magazine is far more recent. About two years ago, more magazines began charging for submissions, and sometimes when I drank too much coffee I joked with myself about starting my own journal, which would always be free. Then one day I woke up at three in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep and set the whole thing up.
It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I read more, understand more, know more writers, feel more like part of a community, and my own writing is better than it’s ever been. It’s a lot of hard work, but constant reward. The American comedian Arnold Glasgow says ‘success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You have to set yourself on fire’.
Best moments as a writer and as an editor?
As a writer, some time ago I decided to only submit to magazines I enjoyed reading. Since then, every acceptance has been a joy. More than anything, I love having my stranger pieces published in places like Threadcount and People Holding. These places are the secrets of flash fiction – not everyone knows them, but their contributor lists are phenomenal.
My very best moment, though, was more personal. The first story I ever had published was in the Times, when I placed in a short fiction competition they ran. A couple of years later, I spent Christmas with my best friend Marta in Spain. She and her mum had somehow found a copy of the newspaper, and they gave me my story in a beautiful frame. Obviously, I’m pretty tough as a nut, but I might’ve cried a little!
As an editor, seeing a story you love in the submissions queue is as good as it gets, but my happiest moment was when Elaine Chiew and Cathy Ulrich won places in the Wigleaf Top 50. They will both forever be on my list of lovely, excellent people.
Advice to young and new writers
One thing I kind of knew as a writer, but never really appreciated, was that magazines are looking for pieces that fit their needs. You can write the best story in the world, but if you send it to the wrong place, it’s doomed before it even begins. So read a lot, find out which magazines you’re into, and choose a story that feels appropriate for them.
Also, look for opportunities to befriend other writers. This can be a lonely game sometimes, and it’s good to have others going to bat for you. Twitter and Facebook have vibrant flash fiction communities. And the likes of Kathy Fish run incredible workshops throughout the year which are absolute factories for turning out quality work.
My friend Elizabeth Creith used to say the secret to writing is making sure the pointy end is facing the paper. After that, there are no rules. Writing is whatever you make of it.