Exploring the art of prose


Author: Shastri Akella

Author’s Note

My MFA thesis was 185,000 words. If I didn’t write it all down, I thought, I wouldn’t fully convey the truth of my characters. As someone who came out at the age of twenty-seven because of the homophobic environment I grew up in, I was sensitive to my characters living a partial truth.

Editing my novel (in its final form, it’s under a one hundred thousand words) and writing short fiction allowed me to learn to write with restraint while creating fully realized character arcs that had the emotional urgency that, as a reader, I look for in the fiction I read.

Last November, I accepted a friend’s invitation to join his writing group in their NaNoWriMo challenge, deciding to write thirty works of flash fiction to further hone my ability to write with restraint.

I treated my first week’s work that November as a way to understand the form and how I can productively work within its constraints. Toward the end of this tinkering process, I decided  (i) to treat paragraphs shifts as time shifts, (ii) to give interiority, action, and dialogue each a unique narrative goal (ergo, eliminate duplication), and (iii) to land on a subtly striking ending that felt earned.

All the flash fiction pieces I wrote that month had gay protagonists whose disturbing choices I rendered in a humorous tone. Those of us who live on the fringes know that the humorous and the disturbing are linked like lovers in our rhetoric.

Three of these pieces felt like they belonged together: at the heart of each was a character who lived in isolation and had a colorful interior life, so I grouped them under the title “A Triptych of Very Sad Homosexuals.” The “very” gestures toward the widely circulated and not entirely untrue notion that we gay men take pride in our flair for the melodramatic.

This past March, Pat Kearns, a local of Provincetown—where I was at the time a resident at the Fine Arts Works Center—invited me to read at the literary salon he runs. The poet Eduardo Martinez, who was amongst my queer listeners, suggested that I call the piece “Three Very Sad Homos.” Reclaiming a homophobic slur as the title of a piece about queer love felt like an empowering choice, one that would resonate with my queer readers and our allies. And any discomfort it would cause would be a productive discomfort.

I recently started dating a perfumer, Mason Hainey, and I have come to approach flash fiction the way he approaches perfume: the narrative condensed to its complex, concentrated essence; a striking context the top note that draws readers in; language, atmosphere, and characters with unique traits and worldviews the heart notes that fuel the reader’s desire to read; queerness the base note throbbing through the narrative with every word choice, every punctuation.


SHASTRI AKELLA’s first novel The Sea Elephants, a queer coming-of-age novel set in 1990’s India, is forthcoming from Flatiron Books (May 2023). He is a winner of the 2022 Fractured Lit fiction contest judged by Deesha Philyaw, a 2021-2022 writing fellow at the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown, and a 2023 writing fellow of the Oak Springs Garden Foundation. Shastri worked for a street theater troupe and Google before he earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he also got a PhD in Comparative Literature. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Guernica, The Masters Review, Electric Literature, Rumpus, [PANK], The Common, and World Literature Review, among other places. He is represented by Chris Clemans (Janklow & Nesbit). Find Shastri on Twitter @shastriav.