Exploring the art of prose


Author: Claudia Monpere

Author’s Note

It took many years before I could write about my husband’s suicide. In one of my failed attempts, it struck me how bizarre it was that I’d experienced so much sudden death or disappearance from boys and men I loved.

Writing flash creative nonfiction, we must leave so much out. I wasn’t ready for this at first. An earlier, nonflash draft of “The Little List of Boys and Men Who Vanished” provided too much backstory about my childhood family—a labyrinth of love, mental illness, and chaos. As the oldest of six children, I was hyperresponsible, skilled at hiding my unhappiness. Winning speech and debate awards in high school yet hanging with stoners whenever I got a chance. Distracting my younger sibs by turning rooms and hallways into mazes and haunted houses when my mother—or one of my sibs—was rushed to the psych ward. Reassuring my father I could handle it all and hiding my own unhealthy behavior. My job, I believed, was to fix everyone who was broken. This backstory seemed deeply important to explain my pattern of unhealthy intimate relationships to readers. I didn’t want them to think I was a naïve fool, taken advantage of by men and roommates. Even if I was.

Who can truly understand human behavior? If we’ve had really good therapy or been lucky enough to be emotionally intelligent from the get-go, we have some understanding of ourselves. But those billions of neurons with their trillions of connections are too vast for us to fully understand ourselves. No backstory, I finally decided. Just me and the boys and men. In leaping through so many decades of my life, I knew I needed a container. So I decided on the segmented form in an early draft. But it was only later that I realized each segment needed the intensity of one rushed sentence. I needed both breathlessness and the container. I’d envisioned four segments. But the memory of standing at the altar next to my soon-to-be husband and hoping the man who vanished would appear and halt the wedding, well, that created a continuum that insisted the two sections be one. Whether or not we’ve lived trauma, we all frame our lives in some kind of narrative. I structured “The Little List of Boys and Men Who Vanished” in a way that I hoped would engage readers, not irritate or confuse them. But in the end, our lives are a kind of mush that we shape to make meaning. And oh, what joy in the shaping!


CLAUDIA MONPERE lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches at Santa Clara University. Her flash appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Forge, Atlas + Alice, trampset, Fictive Dream, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. Her short stories, poems, and creative nonfiction appear in many anthologies and in such journals as The Kenyon Review, The Cincinnati Review, River Teeth, Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, and Hunger Mountain. She received the 2023 SmokeLong Workshop Award and has been nominated multiple times for Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Find her on Twitter @ClaudiaMonpere.