The art of writing #7 : Caleb Echterling

How did you first come to writing flash fiction? What is it about the form that resonates?

My writing journey began with several novels which have mostly not seen the light of day. I got on Twitter to connect with other writers and found a lovely, supportive community around flash fiction, which turned out to be super fun to compose. I like the fact that each word has to pull weight due to the compressed format. With flash fiction, the piece has to deliver in a few hundred words, so there's not any space for rambling.

How does a short story begin?

Some advice I received from a now forgotten source is that if you're writing humor, put something funny in the first sentence. When the idea for a story comes together in my head, it's usually a funny situation plus a few funny things that happen as a result. So if I'm going to lead with a funny bit, my entry point into the story is narrowed down to one or two choices. If necessary, I'll flip a coin.

You post flash fictions regularly on Twitter. How has Twitter changed the way you think about writing?

Posting microfiction on Twitter everyday forces me to come up with lots of new story ideas. Most of the flash fiction I write had its genesis in something I put on Twitter. The constrained character count has trained me to squeeze each word for humor, because I try to get two or three funny bits into each tweet.

Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?

I'm a full-time parent for two boys, so I carve out time when they're at school. If I get an hour to write, I'm doing pretty well.

What are your favourite print or online literary journals?

A few of the journals I read regularly are Ellipsis Zine, which has both online and print versions, Ghost Parachute, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Cabinet of Heed. They publish work that's off-kilter and pushes the boundaries of what literature should be.

Then of course there's Talking About Strawberries, which published me alongside Anthony Etherin, who writes some brilliant poetry for which I suspect the target audience is small, but I'm definitely in that audience.

Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?

One of my favorite writers is Marisa Crane. She writes poetry and flash fiction about flawed characters, so her work is immediately relatable, and darkly funny. My favorite is 'Buy My Trash' ( ), which is so strange and wonderful, you'll want to read it twice.

Sophie van Llewyn's novella-in-flash Bottled Goods ( ) is massively entertaining and functions as a primer on how to write flash fiction.

And a special shout-out to another talented writer, David Cook, whose story 'Cat and Dog Persons' ( ) taught me if I'm going to base a piece around one gag, fully commit and milk the gag for everything I can. I was editing a work-in-progress yesterday, and I realized this lesson is what the piece was missing. Thanks, David!

Caleb Echterling's recent short story collection combines staid bios with insult comedy, ya filthy bastard. He tweets funny microfiction using the clever handle @CalebEchterling. You can find more of his work at