A CRAFT CHAT WITH SUE MELL
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
In her flash CNF piece “Transported” (Issue 44), Sue Mell takes readers on a joy ride through a coming-of-age friendship. Mell shares insights about writing the story with senior fiction editor Andrea Caswell.
Andrea: In “Transported,” you’ve packed just about all we need to know into three short paragraphs. It feels like magic! Did this piece begin as something longer, or did you plan to write with great compression from the outset?
Sue: What a great compliment—thanks so much! I’d tried using this material as the basis for a short story as well as telling it in a longer or personal essay form. None of which succeeded. So yes—in different versions I attempted over the years—you could say this piece began as something longer. But with this version, originally intended for Instagram (more about that below), I was always going for great compression.
Andrea: If this piece began with a prompt, do you mind sharing what the prompt was?
Sue: For a while, in my search to find a meaningful way to share my work—and my life—on social media, I was experimenting with a series of Instagram posts and reels that included a snippet of fiction or nonfiction. This was right around the time the Long Island Railroad extended its service to Grand Central Station, and I posted something about having once worked at the Zaro’s in the main terminal, and how those vaulted corridors are haunted by other ghosts of my former selves. I was also part of a small group of writers offering support by commenting on each other’s posts, and that one seemed to hit home, with people asking for more Grand Central stories. “Transported” came about as a direct response to that request.
Andrea: What advice do you have for someone wondering if an experience is “too small” to write about?
Sue: This is a question I ask myself all the time. It’s certainly a frequent refrain of the critical voice in my head. But my advice would be that if an experience nags at you—if it holds a particular significance or maybe just a feeling you’re compelled to express—then it’s worth at least getting down on the page.
Andrea: How does writing flash fit in with the rest of your creative work? I know you’ve published a novel and have a short story collection forthcoming in 2024. Is flash a regular part of your practice? If so, what do you enjoy about it?
Sue: I started out as a short story writer and have written and published a novel. (Whether I ever write another remains to be seen!) And I’m very excited about my forthcoming collection—which I completed, linking new stories with previously published ones, back in the summer of 2022. But since then, flash—and micro, really—have become the primary forms of my writing practice. Partially, this is due to the fractured focus of being a caregiver, trying to build platform, and promote a book. And partially it’s because, in some ways, flash may be the form I’m most suited to. All the things I struggle with in those longer forms fall away, leaving me with the pleasure of finding the most precise and artful way to portray—and convey the feeling of—a certain moment in time.
Sue Mell’s story collection, A New Day, is forthcoming from She Writes Press in September 2024. Other work has appeared in Narrative, Hippocampus Magazine, and Jellyfish Review. She lives in Queens, NY, where she cares for her mom and a gray tuxedo cat named Poppy. For more, visit her Substack, So Much Stuff, where she writes about how the things we collect—and can’t let go of—express who we are. https://suemell.substack.com/
Andrea Caswell runs Cleaver’s Short Story Clinic, offering detailed feedback on fiction up to 5500 words. Whether you’re wondering how to improve a story, getting ready to submit one to a lit mag, or preparing an MFA application portfolio, editorial feedback will be personalized to help you reach your fiction goals. Writers may also schedule a conference with Andrea as a one-on-one workshop to discuss their work further.
Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Writing Tips.