KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Nonfiction: 446 words
Fiction Excerpt: 502 words

Flash Is the Foundation

by Katey Schultz

A few months before Loyola University Maryland accepted my first book of stories, Flashes of War, an agent reached out to me and asked me to write a novel. I laughed—Me, write long? It seemed impossible. I’d spent the previous three years obsessing over concision. What to leave in; what to leave out. Why every word in flash must move the story forward and reveal something new at the same time.

Just as I was about to hit reply to the agent’s email, telling him Thanks, but no thanks, a novelist I was teaching with at a conference that weekend came running into my room.

“What are you doing?” she shouted. The “she” was National Book Award Winner Jaimy Gordon. She had my attention.

“I’m going to tell him no, Jaimy. It’s nice, but I don’t write novels.”

“Oh no, you’re not,” she told me, and commenced to help me compose a reply that said, in effect, I’m so glad you asked. I’m working on a novel right now, based on some stories from my collection.

And the next six years of my creative writing life turned a corner.

The agent replied, requesting the first 50 pages, and Jaimy—bless her—helped me explain why I’d like six weeks to get the pages in tip-top shape. That night, I started writing a novel. I had no idea what I was doing.

But learning to write tight—to write flash—had prepped me for writing compelling scenes that made a difference in a character’s life. I couldn’t imagine long, narrated passages of prose. But I could imagine scenes. I could imagine circumstances that outsized believable people facing believable problems. I started there, with what I knew, and later slowly taught myself how to stitch it all together with prose glue.

Prose glue? Yeah—you know, that middle stuff that makes for seamless storytelling over the arc of a prolonged moral decision.

Many hundreds of pages and eight drafts later, I held the hardback advance reader copy of my novel, Still Come Home, in my hands. A lot of scenes had been born, killed, and re-envisioned in the meantime, to say nothing of the prose glue I’d spilled across writing desks across the country.

But I’d proven two things to myself: First, I could write a novel. Second, flash skills are the bedrock of prose, no matter the length. And even more importantly, because I had a strong foundation in flash, the rest of my brain was freed up to learn about that damn prose glue—which I soon came to understand included a mish-mash of backstory, flashback, summary, half-scene, and exposition.

Excerpt from Still Come Home

Miller zipped his Carhartt vest to his chin and reached into the coat closet for his rifle and ammo. He didn’t know where he was going. It didn’t matter. The hollers were so impossibly maze-like, even Forest Service guys got turned around sometimes. Outside, he stomped around the house and crossed the yard. He didn’t look back.

It wasn’t long before he started climbing. Their two-acre lot was mostly slope anyway, and from there, Miller quickly crossed onto public lands, a Pisgah National Forest boundary marker rusted onto a tree and circled with red spray paint. It reminded him of an exit wound from a bullet. He picked up his pace. Cool air bit at his fingertips. Alert, he scanned the mixed hardwoods for anything out of the ordinary. Occasionally, he looked down, letting his eyes trace the narrow game trail he’d picked up. Flecks of mica glittered atop the soil. He used to find hope in that, the way mica winked at him with promise. But how could a man used to endless Indiana pasture relax surrounded by land like this? Pin-holed, creek-jambed. Ridge after ridge stretching down from high peaks to form a series of cuts deep enough to suggest the whole mountain range had gotten into a bar fight.

Time passed. An hour? Probably longer. He’d followed contours along the hills surrounding their property, the house dipping in and out of sight as he traced a creek to its source or shimmied under outcroppings. Heading loosely back toward home, Miller stumbled upon a scar of land open to the sunlight, an anomaly amidst these peaks. The space would make a perfect firing range, and he made note of his surroundings in hopes of finding the spot again. The wind hissed, and a few territorial squirrels chattered, quarreling over their middens. He considered targeting them but thought better. He had never believed in killing for its own sake. During Officer Candidate School, he quickly realized what a man believed could be far from what a man did. Across the clearing, an old hemlock had fallen across the ridge, its trunk the width of a man resting sideways on his shoulder, as if taking an afternoon nap. Fading sunlight illuminated the back of the decaying tree, its centerline stripped to the cambium so that it almost glowed.

He loaded his rifle and took aim. The wood sprayed.

Echoes of the single shot sang through the hollers below. He loved that. The way the world always felt doubly silent afterward, a sensation strong enough to snap him into clarity before tuning out again. Tenley would have heard that shot and begun to worry. He took his time. Loaded another round.

Firing without reply was a luxury lost on most civilians. The crack and pause. The power and suspension. If he repeated this action, maybe he could normalize himself. Maybe both Millers—the one serving and the one quietly watching—could reconcile and let the silence feel true.

—Novel excerpt appears here with permissions from the author and her publisher, Apprentice House Press.

Katey Schultz
Issue 12, Summer 2019

is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection [of short stories]. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, IndieFab Book of the Year from Foreword Reviews, a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America, four Pushcart nominations, and writing fellowships in eight states. Her novel, Still Come Home, is forthcoming this fall from Apprentice House Press.

Katey lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Author’s website:

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