I have always been intrigued by the experimental form in flash fiction. There have been some stunning stories told in truly unusual ways—who can forget K.B. Carle’s magnificent “Vagabond Mannequin”? I’m fascinated by the idea that anywhere there’s text, a story can emerge; however, many of my previous efforts fell short. I struggled to find the right balance between trusting the reader and overtelling. Many times, my peer readers either missed the underlying story altogether, or felt they weren’t given enough credit as readers. I came up with a new idea in an experimental flash workshop and with the support of the wonderful Marisa Crane I went on to develop it further.
Our lives are littered with tiny scraps of us; I often wonder what others might surmise when they take these puzzle pieces and try to assemble them. This struck me especially about medical information, and particularly prescriptions. Every time I hand a piece of paper to my pharmacist, they have a tiny window into my life. They know what medications I take and can guess at the likely causes. What narrative do they construct, I mused, about the people they see on a regular basis, especially those they’ve assisted over a number of years? Do they judge? Is there an unspoken bond, when they’ve silently known people to be at a low point?
The challenge with this, again, was striking the balance between trusting the reader and giving them too much information. Initially, when the story was just prescriptions, the meaning was lost unless the reader themselves knew what these medications were and what they were for. (At this point, I mused on how this story would speak differently to people who used medication to help manage their depression, used medical contraception, or who’d had a medical termination.) My second draft swung too far the other way. In the end I found what felt like a happy medium and submitted it to CRAFT. I was fortunate; they loved the concept and wanted to work with me on the piece to strengthen it.
This piece is all about contrast. There’s the clinical language of the prescriptions themselves, juxtaposed against the pharmacist’s emotional take and her own life experiences. There’s an underlying relationship between Zoe and the nameless pharmacist, but it’s externally invisible. I don’t often write in such close third-person, but for this piece it felt perfect.
The collaborative editing process between me and the CRAFT team was an absolute delight. The guidance I received pushed me as both a writer and an editor. In the end, this piece ended up a significant departure from my usual work, but has given me the confidence to continue pursuing experimental flash.
AMANDA MCLEOD is an Australian author and artist, and the managing editor of Animal Heart Press. Her words and pictures can be found in many places both in print and online, and she’s the author of flash fiction collection Animal Behaviour (Chaffinch Press, 2020). A 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s always got more ideas than she has time for and is slowly learning to say yes to less. See more of her work at amandamcleodwrites.com and peek into her magical everyday on Twitter and Instagram @AmandaMWrites.