Recently, Flyway blogger, Chris Wiewiora, had the chance to ask NANO Fiction Editor, Glenn Shaheen, a few questions.
Chris Wiewiora: I’m curious about the name and background of NANO Fiction. Your guidelines state a 300-word count maximum. That wedges between the heritage of Jerome Stern’s initial 250-word limit of what he called “micro fiction” for the World’s Best Short Short Story Contest in Sundog (currently Southeast Review) and contemporary flash fiction, published in many magazines such as Quick Fiction, with a 500-word count limit.
Glenn Shaheen: Well, to be honest I wasn’t around when NANO Fiction was founded. My coeditor, Kirby Johnson, would probably have better insight into the particular reasons she had for our name, but I’ll take a shot. We chose the name NANO not to imply any new kind of genre, but just to mean small, as a nanosecond or nanometer, and also a little scientific. The 300 word limit was something we chose because, at the time, there wasn’t a journal whose wordcount guidelines were so low. The genre of flash fiction is so fluid that I don’t think breaking stories of less than 1000 words into different, more specific categories. I just call it all flash.
CW: Along with names and background, would you share what happened with the IRS labeling NANO Fiction as a publisher of pornography and thus turning down your 501(c)3 application to be recognized as a nonprofit, and how your progress is coming along for reapplication?
GS: I feel that I should preface all of this by saying that we are reapplying for 501(c)3 status, and I, therefore, don’t want to make the IRS look ridiculous, even though accusing any literary or art publication of pornography is very much ridiculous, which they may or may not have done. (I can answer this more specifically if our claim is denied again!) BUT what I should say is that while we were on some shaky ground, we discovered we had a lot of support, both from our readers and from the people of Houston, and through many generous donations and a benefit dance party we threw we managed to secure the funding to reapply. I mean, Donald Rumsfield wanted to cover Justice’s boobs, right? To certain fetishists a shoe store is pornographic. I have a lot I’d like to say about this but I feel I can’t right now, for prudence’s sake.
CW: What has been the biggest surprise/shock from a submission (i.e. big name author, content, resonance)?
GS: It’s always lovely to receive unsolicited work from authors that I love. It’s weird though when a big name author sends stuff for the contest, which I don’t feel is exactly ethical. Journal contests, to me, seem to be more of an outlet for writers at the beginning of their careers to gain some recognition. I know it’s not a rule, but it seems kind of unspoken. Just because you have a couple books, though, doesn’t mean you’re rolling in cash, so I guess there’s that side. Luckily a big name author has never submitted for the contest that we’ve all wanted to pick as the winner. Once, though, one of my favorite authors submitted, and when I wrote to her to tell her that though the other editors didn’t want to pick it as the winner, I would still love to publish a couple of her pieces, she said no, she’d like to save the pieces for somewhere else, so that made me feel like a bit of a chump.
CW: I’m aware NANO Fiction not only publishes fiction, but also nonfiction. Do you have plans to include comics and book reviews, and maybe even plays in future issues?
GS: We also publish prose poems, don’t forget! Originally, we did specify comics in our guidelines, but nobody ever sent comics in so we just removed it. Briefly I thought about adding book reviews in so I could get free books, but then my conscience chimed in and said if I love literature I shouldn’t be a cheapass about it. Plays, I don’t think so, though – what counts as a word? Dialogue only? Stage directions? Act or scene titles? Besides, we probably wouldn’t get any plays.
CW: Also, you have interviews online. How about contributors/former contest winners interviewing each other and asking one question with a 300-word limited response?
GS: That’s a good idea, actually. Less work for me as far as creating unique web content goes!
CW: It seems like short fiction magazines are unique because they give definite boundaries for writers to follow. Would you give your thoughts on the freedom and confinements of a (small) word-count limit?
GS: I think the extreme restrictions of flash fiction force writers to work in an entirely different way than if they were creating a story. I don’t consider flash fiction to be a subset of fiction in the same way I consider sonnets to be a subset of poetry. In sonnets, you may have some specific moves as far as meter, rhyme scheme, the volta, etc. laid out for you, but you still approach a sonnet on the same general terms of poetry, with attention to line, to image, to stanza, etc. For flash fiction, it’s such a different creature than fiction – can you say you place attention to character in a piece that is 250 words? Not in the same way that you would in a 5,000 word piece. Same thing with detail, or setting. You’re frequently picking the minor tools that you want to amplify briefly. I’d almost call it a genre on its own. Of course that’s self-serving, since I edit a journal of flash fiction, but isn’t life self-serving in its little ways?