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Journal of the Week: NANO Fiction

Sometimes the best things in life come in small packages: Cadbury Creme Eggs, bonsais, the poetry of Kay Ryan. The same is often true of fiction, where in a few thousand words a great short story can convey emotional intensity in a way that a longer piece sometimes cannot.

Engagement Ring [Photo 1]Sometimes the best things in life come in small packages: Cadbury Creme Eggs, bonsais, the poetry of Kay Ryan.  The same is often true of fiction, where in a few thousand words a great short story can convey emotional intensity in a way that a longer piece sometimes cannot.

Flash is fiction’s most compressed form.  If short stories are jewelry boxes, then flash fiction is the tiny velvet box enclosing a jaw-dropping engagement ring. Editors Kirby Johnson and Jennifer Eberhardt learned this early on as classmates in a flash fiction workshop at the University of Houston.  “We were excited about what could be said in so few words,” Kirby remembers.  “A successful flash piece (much like a poem) can knock you on your ass…”

In 2006, Johnson and Eberhardt founded their journal NANO Fiction with the intention of showcasing the TKO-power of their classmates’ work.  But the journal grew quickly and, by the second issue, they were receiving exceptional submissions from all over the country.  In the fine issues that have followed, contributors have included some well-known writers of flash fiction as well as those not often associated with the form, including Matt Bell, Thisbe Nissen, Thom Wallen, Kim Chinquee, Blake Butler, Paul Lisicky, and Jac Jemc.

Now in its fifth year, NANO continues to carve a unique place for flash fiction, prose poetry, micro-essays, and those who write so powerfully in 300 words or less.  To help promote the form to a wider audience, NANO hosts events, most recently expanding their programming to include the Houston Indie Book Festival and the NANO Reading Series at Kaboom Books.  The NANO Reading Series features writers and contributors from the Houston and Austin areas and always includes commemorative chapbooks so the audience can reread these decidedly short pieces.

While events and contests—including the upcoming 2011 NANO Prize—allow NANO to generate funds for printing and general operating costs, the journal remains the driving force behind their mission to advance the genre of flash fiction.  “I want people to feel beat up after reading an issue of NANO,” Johnson asserts.  “I want each story to be a tiny punch that hits the reader hard and stings.”


I’ve been a fan of NANO’s since a story by Kathryn Scanlan gave me a tiny punch in the eye. Her story “Now This” is just seven lines long, but if you read the first line, you might feel a little sting, too: “I’d already washed smoke out of my hair for the day, now this.”  I spoke with founding editor Kirby Johnson over email about NANO Fiction.

What is the role of NANO Fiction in today’s literary community, be it for readers or writers?

LightningMy hope is that NANO Fiction is an outlet writers turn to when they have a piece of flash they want to get out there as well as a place where readers can turn for something short and powerful.  There are only a handful of print journals and anthologies that publish flash exclusively, and we are proud to be among that few.

We also feel it’s important to be involved in the online dialog of flash fiction. Around the month of May our web Editor, Sophie Rosenblum, began developing online content, interviews and reviews to compliment the stories we were already posting. (Visit NANO’s archive on their website.)

How do you see NANO’s mission and tastes evolving in the next two years?  Will the rise of digital publishing impact the composition of NANO?

The aesthetics of the editors of NANO Fiction are very diverse, and I feel like this allows for a wide range of work to make it into each issue. I think with time this may change, but for right now it’s working for us.  We seem to be able to strike a balance with the work we accept, and I like that.

I don’t believe the rise of digital publishing will impact the composition of NANO Fiction much. Our submission and selection process should not change. From the journal’s inception, we have been very committed to print publication despite how cost-effective it may be to publish exclusively online or in other digital formats.  It may seem hard-headed or anachronistic, but I like the physical act of holding a book in my hands when I read. With that said, I acknowledge that we cannot ignore the impact of digital publishing, and this month we have released back issues of NANO in various eReader formats on our website for around $2 a piece.

If you could put three items in a time capsule (or USB drive) to be opened in 1,000 years that would provide a snapshot of NANO‘s aesthetic today, what would they be?

  1. A plastic action figure of a black bear in a plastic, removable space suit
  2. A hand-made canoe
  3. A photo of my brother as a toddler holding a tall-boy and flipping off the camera

work in progress

What album is playing on the NANO stereo these days?

Should we break it down by editors?

Kirby Johnson: Shabazz Palaces, Peaking Lights, Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms (kind of stuck on this in a summer way), and DJ Screw – June 27 (feeling nostalgic).

Glenn Shaheen: Songs The Lord Taught Us by The Cramps, Flashmob by Vitalic, Love Comes Close by Cold Cave and 09/17/2007 by Danger.

Eric Todd: the new Dodos and Bibio records and some old J Dilla.

There’s a lot going on at NANO this summer (in and outside of hand-made canoes). Writers of flash fiction, prose poetry, or micro-essays that pack a punch should consider entering the 2011 NANO Prize. The contest fee is $15 for three pieces, and all entries receive a complimentary subscription. The deadline is August 31; for full guidelines, see the contest webpage.

As NANO unveils their new website, go online to see back issues for the first time in eReader formats, for only $2 a piece.

And for the Houston readers, NANO is hosting a few events this summer, including a fundraiser at a local art space called The Joanna on August 26. (More details will be posted here.)

As a special bonus to readers of Fiction Writers Review, we’ll be giving away three free subscriptions to NANO Fiction! And because NANO wears its love of flash fiction on its sleeve, we’re also giving away three NANO Fiction t-shirts. Those t-shirts come in decidedly larger sizes than the word “nano” suggests. If you’d like to be eligible for this week’s drawing (and all future ones), please visit our Twitter Page and “follow” us.

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