Exploring the art of prose


Tag: Tension

From the Earth by Randy Nelson

alt text: image is a color photograph of hanging flower baskets in a nursery; title card for the flash CNF piece "From the Earth" by Randy Nelson

  In the gathering dusk of an afternoon that still lingers, I followed my father into the woods. He had not prospered in his first attempt to start a nursery business, the crimson-budded azalea liners withering only days after he…

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Interview: Tommy Dean

alt text: image is the cover of a book called HOLLOWS; title card for Jill Witty's new interview with Tommy Dean

  In Hollows, Tommy Dean’s first full-length flash fiction collection, the narrative lens captures everyday humans at a pivotal moment, where one decision will change everything. Three boys enter the woods carrying a gun. A divorced teacher borrows money from…

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Author’s Note

The seed for this story came from a moment I’ve carried with me since college: early spring, a late night, running into a classmate who thought a man might be following her. Nothing directly happened to me, but for years, I’ve often thought about this memory, which is really someone else’s memory.

According to my Google Drive files, I started this story back in 2019. It went through many iterations as I tried to untangle what exactly it was that haunted me about this memory of a memory. I wrote it in first person, then third person, then a different character’s first person. The whole thing was one long flashback between a mother and a daughter, then all in present tense. I piled up narrative frameworks and then pulled them down in frustration.

But the themes I was drawn to remained constant—the intimacy of female friendships, the potential violence that men can represent, the fears that women share on a primal level. Letting some time pass helped me better understand my own thoughts. The events of 2020, with the pandemic and murder of George Floyd and attacks on Asian Americans—all of that fear and anger—began to inform the story.

It became more apparent to me that the longevity of how the memory haunted me was, in fact, central to the story. We can’t know which events and whose actions will be the ones that will knock us off course or define us—we live as ourselves but also so closely intertwined with and moving and breathing among others. We can’t know if the ones we love and have invested so much of ourselves in will be harmed, we can only try our best and keep running forward.


WILLA ZHANG is a writer from Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared in The Masters Review, and her nonfiction can be found in The Rumpus and The Sun Magazine. She also interviews Asian-American writers for Hyphen Magazine. More of her work can be found at willazhang.com.