Discovering Your Voice in Flash Fiction

Writing advisory board member Lynn Mundell helps others find their niche

What kind of story can you tell with just 100 words? Turns out, you can write stories that are complete with plot, written with care and still within that limited word count. And Lynn Mundell, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing advisory board member and local writer, couldn’t be happier that more writers are getting into micro or flash fiction.

cover of Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales From 100 Word Story
Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales From 100 Word Story is the first anthology from Mundell's micro fiction website.

Flash fiction can be best described as work of extreme brevity that contains character and plot development. Writers interested in this type of story can find niche journals and websites that highlight this unique form of literature. One example is Mundell’s 100 Word Story, an online literary journal with co-editor Grant Faulkner and photo editor Beret Olsen that happens to be releasing its first anthology. Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales From 100 Word Story will be released by award-winning publisher Outpost19 on April 3. Nothing Short Of is a collection of the editors’ favorite 117 100-word stories selected from the website.

I asked Mundell about her role as an advisory board member, her 100 Word Story website, the new story collection and how someone looking to get published can get from zero to 100 words.

How did 100 Word Story come about? And how did you select the stories that went into Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales From 100 Word Story?
I set up shop with my old friend Grant Faulkner back in 2011, and we are based out of Albany and Berkeley. A few years later, photo editor Beret Olsen joined us. During the past eight years, we've published 450 pieces by writers ranging from pros published in Paris Review to college students just setting out on their writing careers.

We look for stories that are complete in 100 words—original ideas, surprising plots, interesting structure, memorable characters and care with language. We are constantly astounded by what writers are able to achieve in such a limited space. It is difficult to write stories this short, and this form is not for everyone.

When it came to selecting stories for the book, Grant and I made lists of our favorites, matched them and then did this process until we felt we had mined the site for the best stories. It was iterative and we wound up with 117 very different stories. We were looking for varied voices and styles—from love stories to the surreal. It was incredibly fun for me to contact each writer to share that his or her story had been selected for the book!

How does being co-founder and co-editor of 100 Word Story influence your role as an Advisory Board member for our Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing?
I care very much about writers and how to support them. My experience as a student earning an M.F.A. really encouraged my reading and writing, and shaped me in a positive way as both a creative writer and as a professional corporate writer and editor, which is how I earn my living.

I see the value in Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing courses. I am interested in helping new writers and those returning to the art do their best work and eventually, I hope, experience the sheer joy of having something published.

Do you have any advice for our students on getting their work published?
It sounds a bit tired, but that is because it is a truth that is often repeated: Read, write, edit, repeat.

Just as anyone becomes an expert in any endeavor, you must practice and work at writing. There are so many journals out there, so it is easy to read online and see what is published. There are also a lot dedicated to a niche, like 100 Word Story, but also journals with parameters around themes and word counts, or in genres ranging from hybrid forms to political creative writing. It's best to find your own voice and then send your work to the publication that matches it.

Your work may get rejected sometimes, but just keep working and sending your work out. We have writers who have tried us many times, whose stories have been rejected, and then they hit the right one and get an acceptance.

Read and research journals, but at some point you have to put that out of your mind and not compare yourself to others—and lay off the social media, which can be very unhealthy for the comparison trap. You have to do your own work, which can be scary and lonely but also exhilarating. Hopefully, there is a muse who will give you a great tale or poem once in a while, and then you have something you are super excited to share.

What were the steps that you have taken for your own work, as well as for this book?
I started out writing poems and was not getting published when I was in my 20s. This was back when you sent a poem in an envelope and waited about six to nine months for a reply. It was really painful. I became so discouraged that I put away my dream of writing for a long time.

Then in my 30s I resumed, this time with creative nonfiction. This was successful, but then I became a working mother and I put away my writing once again.

In my 40s, I started all over again as a flash writer, and this time it appears to be sticking because I am now in my 50s.

I would urge writers to not turn your back on your writing. I regret the years I didn't even try, even on bits of paper, even a poem a year. I know many busy, young working parents and professionals and I see that they make the time for their writing. I also know of a woman who wrote her collection of essays in her 90s, and it is an absolutely beautiful, wise book.

I actually now suspect that it was a lot harder for me to not write than to write! Whatever your age or circumstances, pursue your dream, use your voice, do your best work—not what you think you should do or what others are doing—and, please, don't stop writing!