Today marks the release of my collection of 100-word stories, Fissures, so I thought I’d share the book’s preface to introduce it.
Coincidentally, while preparing for a reading I’m giving at U.C. Davis later this week, I stumbled on this quote from Baudelaire that describes the whole enterprise of writing these short little ditties, which exist in the blurry boundaries between short-short fiction and prose poetry:
Who among us has not, in his ambitious moments, dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without meter or rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of the psyche, the jolts of consciousness?
I don’t know if I accomplished such a thing, but Baudelaire’s quote neatly sums up my attraction to the 100-word form. I like to say that writing 100-word stories allowed me to nurture my “inner failed poet.” The preface from Fissures, below, takes this idea a bit further. And, if you’d like to read some 100-word pieces, several stories are available online.
Preface to Fissures
I’ve always thought life is more about what is unsaid than what is said. We live in odd gaps of silence, irremediable interstices that sometimes last forever. A lingering glance averted. The lover who slams the door and runs away. Unsent letters. We all carry so many strange little moments within us. Memory shuffles through random snapshots. Sometimes they seem insignificant, yet they stay with us for some reason, weaving the fabrics of our beings. In the end, we don’t seize the day so much as it seizes us.
The idea of capturing such small but telling moments of life is what drew me to 100-word stories (or “drabbles” as they’re sometimes referred to). I’d previously written novels and longer short stories, forms that demanded an accumulation of words—to sew connections, to explain, to build an entire world with text. I wondered, what if I did the opposite? What if instead of relying on the words of a story, I relied on the spectral spaces around those words? What if I privileged excision over any notion of comprehensiveness, and formed narratives around caesuras and crevices?
We live as foragers in many ways, after all, sniffing at hints, interpreting the tones of a person’s voice, scrutinizing expressions, and then trying to put it all together into a collage of what we like to call truth. Whether it’s the gulf between a loved one, the natural world, or God, we exist in lacunae. I wanted to write with an aesthetic that captured these “fissures,” as I began to think about them.
Perhaps I could have accomplished such an aesthetic of writing in a longer form, but the hard borders of a 100-word story put a necessary pressure on each word, each sentence. In my initial forays into 100-word stories, my stories veered toward 150 words or more. I didn’t see ways to cut or compress. I didn’t see ways to make the nuances and gestures of language invite the reader in to create the story. But writing within the fixed lens of 100 words required me to discipline myself stringently. I had to question each word, to reckon with Flaubert’s mot juste in a way that even most flash fiction doesn’t. As result, I discovered those mysterious, telling gaps that words tend to cover up.
We all have a literal blind spot in our eyes, where the optic nerve connects to the retina and there are no light-detecting cells. None of us will ever know the whole story, in other words. We can only collect a bag full of shards and try to piece them together. This collection is my bag full of shards.