Jayne Martin, author of the collection of tiny stories, Tender Cuts (Vine Leaves Press, 2019), is hailed as “A badass writer if ever there was one,” by no less than the Grand Dame of flash fiction, Kathy Fish. This is terrific praise and well earned. The book itself is beautifully rendered from its heart-in-hand cover to its stark, but eloquent illustrations, and each reflect the aesthetic of the stories themselves. Throughout, Martin’s use of language is blade sharp, every excessive word pared away, leaving clearly defined skeletons of truth, offering up shock, realization, and metaphorical flashes of insight. Despite the compressed nature of each story, there is an arc in each piece taking us into the different worlds Martin creates with characters who react, change, and face the varied moments of life.
Jayne Martin lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her debut collection of microfiction, Tender Cuts, from Vine Leaves Press, is available now. Visit her website at jaynemartin-writer.com.
Gay Degani: In your collection, each story is centered in the middle of the right-hand page with a corresponding line drawing on the left. This makes for a seductive invitation. Can you talk a little about how this volume itself was conceived?
Jayne Martin: I’m not sure about the “how.” All I know is there was never a time when I thought about the collection that it didn’t include illustrations. I knew I wanted them to be minimalist in style so as to support the stories without taking center stage. My vision for the book was absolutely clear before I even had the stories. I was fortunate to find the perfect artists for the project and to have a publisher that totally supported my concept.
GD: There is grit in your world and your characters feel real. While your collection focuses on personal issues (love, family), you also touch on larger ones such as the economy in “Cover of Darkness,” PTSD in “Carry Me Home,” and immigration, “Zero Tolerance.” You also have stories that feel more experimental such as “A Lobster Walks into a Laundromat” and “I Married a 1985 Buick LeSabre.” Flash fiction seems to work with any subject matter. What are the advantages of writing short? Are there any disadvantages?
JM: I’m very much a “get to the point” person. I have always suffered from PDD, Patience Deficit Disorder. Couple that with a short attention span and it’s really no mystery while I’m so at home writing and reading flash and micro. When reading a story, it has to grab me immediately – through action, character, or exquisite language – something because I’m a busy person. When I write, I set out to grab a reader in the same way. With longer stories, the writer can meander, become self-indulgent, or even lose their way. I read stories all the time where I know I could pluck out whole paragraphs and they wouldn’t be missed at all. A writer of flash, and especially micro, has no such luxury: Grab the reader, engage their emotions, and leave them wanting more. I see nothing but advantages in providing such tales.
GD: You have a few stories about Julie-Sue, an American child beauty participant, along the lines of JonBenét Ramsey. Are you going to revisit her in more stories or perhaps a flash novel?
JM: I don’t think so. It wouldn’t be a very happy read. As we learn from the last story in the book, “Final Cut,” told by Julie-Sue’s adult daughter after Julie-Sue’s death, she led a troubled life. I think readers can fill in those years on their own. Besides, there would be no surprise for me, no process of discovery. When I write a story I never know where it’s going or how it’s going to end. That’s what keeps it fun for me.
GD: I know you used to work in Hollywood writing movies for television. How did you get into that field and how has it helped—or hindered—your current writing path?
JM: Long story short: I started out as an actress, and I began writing scenes for my acting classes. Turns out I was a better writer than an actress and, truth be told, I would dissolve into a tsunami of nerves whenever I had to get up and perform. Now I love standing up in front of people and doing readings. I guess confidence comes with age. (Hint to any of you AWP people holding readings) As for the writing for the screen, you learn to think in images and that has served me very well as a flash/micro writer. It’s the old “picture is worth a thousand words” thing. Totally true. My flash is strong on sensory-infused images because our brains are wired to respond emotionally to sensory details. Flash/micro should detonate a reader’s emotions. Otherwise, in my humble opinion, it has failed.
GD: What advice would you like to offer other writers or want-to-be writers tackling the flash genre?
JM: When in doubt, take it out. I’ve rarely read a story that couldn’t be made better through judicious pruning. Take those sentences you think you can’t live without and put them in another file. When you’re stuck for a story idea, go grab one and see where it takes you. Nothing is ever wasted.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a collection of eight stories about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place, gaydegani.com.