Kathy Fish is the author of several collections of fiction including Together We Can Bury It and Wild Life: Collected Works 2003-2018. A UNI alumna and Waterloo native, Fish’s work has appeared in the annual volumes The Best Small Fictions and The Best American Non-required Reading. She also edits the free newsletter, The Art of Flash Fiction and teaches in the MFA program at Regis University.
This month’s Final Thursday Reading Series takes place on March 31 at the Hearst Center for the Arts. The in-person open mic starts at 7 p.m. Fish’s featured reading starts at 7:30. The featured reading can also be streamed live on Zoom. Click HERE for a link.
This interview was conducted by Hannah McConkey.
HANNAH MCCONKEY: You were an undergraduate Psychology major at UNI. What was your path to becoming a fiction writer, and did anything in your UNI experience help you toward that?
KATHY FISH: I had always enjoyed writing stories even as a young child. My teachers always encouraged my writing in English classes both in high school and at UNI. I just never considered myself a “writer” or thought of fiction writing as a career. I was fascinated with psychology so it was a natural fit for me as an undergraduate. And it’s definitely a “writer thing” to be interested in the workings of the human heart and mind. I loved the psychology classes I took at UNI. I do think they contributed to my ability to create characters facing a variety of personal and interpersonal conflicts in fictional worlds. After graduating, I worked in several jobs related to the field of psychology. Then I got married and we spent a few years living in Australia. It was there, after the birth of my youngest child, that I signed up for my first creative writing class. That’s when I truly discovered “my tribe” and became passionate about writing stories. I knew I wanted to pursue writing seriously.
HM: How did you come to develop a specialization in flash fiction?
KF: So as I said, I only started writing with serious intent after the birth of my youngest (fourth) child. I was a very busy mom and my husband traveled a great deal. My writing time was stolen moments at my older son’s cricket practice or in the car waiting to pick the kids up from school or while the younger children were napping. I wanted to finish things so my stories naturally were very short. At some point, I discovered there was actually a thing called “flash fiction” and that I’d been writing it all along!
HM: You regularly offer workshops on flash fiction. What are those like and how did you come to develop them?
KF: I’d begun using the blog on my website to post flash stories and analyze them and offer writing prompts. A couple of my blog followers urged me to teach classes, so I offered the first one back in 2015. I figured out a way to use a Wordpress site to present materials asynchronously and for writers to post their work and give each other feedback. The classes are generative and positive feedback only. Anyway, they became very popular very quickly and now I have to offer registrations via a lottery system! I thoroughly enjoy teaching both online and in person.
HM: Several of your stories have surprise endings, such as "The Children Called Him Yuck-Yuck.” Do you intentionally try to write stories that will have twists or is that something that develops as you are drafting them?
KF: I almost never write to create a twist ending, but sometimes in the process, something unexpected or twisty presents itself and I run with it. Sometimes the twist endings come across as forced or unnatural and readers are pretty good at picking up on that. I like an ending that somehow resonates or casts new light or meaning on the story in a way that lingers in the reader’s mind.
HM: A number of your stories focus on people who are just trying to go about their lives while dealing with stressful, and oftentimes, devastating situations. Is that kind of writing difficult or cathartic?
KF: It’s absolutely both difficult and cathartic! But for me, it’s so compelling as a storyteller to show characters as they struggle with challenging, heartbreaking, life-changing situations. Author Kazuo Ishiguro said, “But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels for me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it also feel that way for you?” It’s how we connect with readers on a visceral level. I love how beautifully this poem by Sean Thomas Dougherty speaks to this idea:
Because right now, there is someone
Out there with
a wound in the exact shape
of your words.
HM: What current project are you working on?
KF: I’m very busy these days working on a novella-in-flash and I’m also writing a flash fiction craft book based on my Fast Flash workshops. Some of what’s in the craft book can be found in my monthly newsletter. Those who are interested can subscribe for free here: The Art of Flash Fiction.